This year 758 writers submitted their brilliant work, and our editors had a difficult time choosing a shortlist of 15, as well as the top three prizewinners. Congratulations to everyone who earned a place on the short and long lists this year.

First Prize: Brittle Battle, chosen by Editor Charline Poirier

Charline’s Comments: “Brittle Battle” transports readers into a mesmerizing and unique world. The story opens with Minerva, a warrior, leading a battle on an alien planet at sunset. The glass miniature soldiers are shattered into pieces with transfixing energy. The sensory details of the combat are so rich and vivid that they engulf the reader, yielding for her a memorable experience. Cay Macres’ voice, hauntingly melancholic, adds a layer of complexity to the violence of war. The imagery and figurative language float like an iceberg, hinting at deeper meanings beneath the surface. The combination of Macres’ eloquence and imagination makes “Brittle Battle” an impressive achievement.

Brittle Battle

By Cay Macres

Red light from Virtus’ setting sun shone through the glass bodies of its inhabitants. Another death shattered Minerva’s daze. Orange skin shards spiraled away from the larger bits that stabbed into the sand with a satisfying crunch. The tiny murderer with its fishlike body, stumbled away. One of its legs ended in a jagged break. Its victim couldn’t be distinguished from the glass flesh of the murderer’s leg or the other body parts slowly sinking into the ground.

Minerva carried out her work without gloves. Picking every piece of alien body from sand was impossible, but she filled her pockets until her fingertips bled. Around Minerva, miniature warriors shifted in the sand. Their bodies made the sound of wine glasses clinking as they shoved against each other, testing how long they could push before cracking. It was her job to repair the odd species on the brink of self-extinction.

Of course, humans strove for preservation out of selfishness. Minerva often wondered if these brittle aliens wanted to be saved. Though Virtans were capable of killing, it was unclear if this tendency was fueled by a desire to be alive. Having no need for food, Virtan violence appeared to satisfy a different type of hunger.

Minerva also had a pit in her stomach: loneliness. Maybe her desire for familiarity was the reason the Virtans were gradually accumulating more Terran animal features. She used prongs in her small workshop to stretch and fold the hot glass like taffy in a candy store window. As she worked, Minerva thought of the figurine she had made years ago for her first girlfriend.

Once it had cooled, the figurine, strikingly similar to the one in her memories, began to breathe. It resembled a horse. Minerva wondered what her girlfriend at the time would have thought if her gift had lungs. Maybe she wouldn’t have placed it carelessly at the top of a bookshelf.

Minerva walked outside and set the horse down before realizing she had forgotten its marble-like heart. It galloped towards the purple sea, away from the tiny creatures that distorted the ground below them. Glass heads turned towards the deserter.

Hundreds of sculpted legs moved across the beach, creating a wind chime melody. With an ear-splitting screech, the horse was crushed by the Virtans. Its skin was swept away with the next wave. Smooth rocks rolled in the tide. The battle raged on.

Cay Macres

About the Author: Cay Macres (they/them) is a sci fi writer who graduated from University of California, Santa Cruz with a degree in creative writing. They love writing fun, yet heartfelt queer novels and short stories, often with a kitten or two curled up on their lap. You can find them on Instagram as @alienoftheweek where they create art to inspire their writing process.

Second Prize: SKY BURIAL, Chosen by Editor Ed Higgins

Ed’s Comments: “SKY BURIAL” hits high notes of an above average flash story: including realized characters and an engaging plotline. The mortality theme suffusing the story is effective without falling into sentimentality. The I-narrator, Susie, and her boyfriend attend a foursome dinner party in which her “AA friend” Desmond of the older couple “suffered late-stage lymphocytic leukemia.” Desmond’s wife Sheryl is disconcerted as her husband jokes about his impending death: “After I die, dump my ashes into a baggie, climb the prettiest hill you can find, and just throw them in the sky . . .”  Desmond, a Vietnam vet, had fallen into “drinking Thunderbird” and sleeping on a park bench until Big Sammy, “a Mohawk who worked at the Bowery Mission” brought him to the Mission. Rescued Desmond “was offered new life, for a while” and in the story’s last line the narrator meditatively observes “My heart burns for more kindness like that, in the world.” The story’s overall life-affirmation makes “SKY BURIAL” an accomplished performance. 


By Lisa Bellamy

When I receive a teaching on the transient nature of phenomena, I like it when it’s ornery. When Desmond, my AA friend who suffered late-stage lymphocytic leukemia, said, After I die, dump my ashes into a baggie, climb the prettiest hill you can find, and just throw them in the sky, as he speared pork Moo Shu at Happy Dumpling Palace—I smiled. Sheryl, his wife, sighed. Brian squeezed my hand under the table. Desmond was all Montana-gruff, a Vietnam vet who wore his black-studded Stetson everywhere here in Brooklyn; the brother I never knew I wanted. For Christ’s sake, Susie, he said each time I pursued yet another unsuitable man—for several years after I stopped drinking, I remained enchanted with my own wretchedness—and finally proclaimed, OK, this one could be a home run. Don’t louse it up, when I met Brian, who discreetly signaled the waitress to clear the table after he watched Desmond lean back in his chair and close his eyes. The waitress brought a flowered plate: fortune cookies nestled among improbably-bright oranges. Of course, no one cared to reach for their fortune. Sheryl eyed the garish fruit, put her hand on Desmond’s arm: Don’t touch that. We should go soon, I’m afraid. Desmond planned to get up at 5 a.m., drive upstate to play Paintball with his Legion post. My Tibetan lama, precious teacher, loves drunks and cowboys, and I believe he would have loved Desmond Byrne, who wandered east after his war until he reached that perfect park bench in Washington Square where he lay, eyeing coeds, drinking Thunderbird, until Big Sammy, a Mohawk who worked at the Bowery Mission, passed him every morning, finally poked him with a stick, told him to get up, grab his duffle bag, and follow. Thus, Desmond was offered new life, for a while. My heart burns for more kindness like that, in the world. 

Lisa Bellamy

 About the Author: Lisa Bellamy writes short prose and poetry. She studies with Philip Schultz at The Writers Studio, where she also teaches. She is the author of two collections: The Northway and Nectar, and has received a Pushcart Prize and special mention in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Science Fiction. Her poem Yoho was featured in the UN Network on Migration’s 2022 multi-media exhibition.

Third Prize: You Are the Mannequin, Chosen by Editor Kari Redmond

Kari’s Comments: There is something so sad, yet also somehow hopeful in this story. The writer masterfully weaves in and out of the mannequin and the ‘you’ of the story. I love how interchangeable they are, as though the narrator truly is unsure, as though a mannequin could replace ‘you,’ as though a $217 mannequin might be enough to ease the narrator’s sadness at not having saved ‘you.’ There are details within this story that I will return to time and again—the empty birdfeeder (I’m pretty sure this will haunt me), a grilled cheese with bacon cut into infinitesimal squares, rocks in her pockets to fool the doctor on her weight in, heartbreaking and so incredibly vivid. This writer tells a story only they can, and I’m so glad they did.

You Are the Mannequin

By Jill Witty

You are the mannequin, thighs skinny as arms, whose grey-dead eyes beseech me from the display window at the vintage clothing shop, her waist encircled by a narrow red leather belt, tightened to the smallest but still too loose, and I wonder if there are rocks in her pockets to fool the doctor on her weigh-in, and I know I need to rescue her, so I buy her for two hundred seventeen dollars, all the cash I have, and carry her to my cold apartment and offer her creamy tomato soup and a grilled cheese with bacon cut into infinitesimal squares and to wash it all down, a peanut butter and banana smoothie but you wouldn’t eat, you begged me not to make you take a bite, you cried from the waning depths of your vanishing core until I cried too, so we set the food aside, tried to find something to do, and watching TV was out, all those size zero actresses, and not eating please not eating, so we sketched the view from my window, and I drew the flowers coming into bloom and you drew an empty birdfeeder, and even now your mental illness stops me cold, the deadly undying hunger, the way your body ravaged itself and your brain said yes to saying no, so I close the sketchpad and take her out to the dumpster, those two hundred seventeen dollars the price I’ll pay today for not having saved you.

Jill Witty

About the Author: Jill Witty writes novels, short fiction and essays from Richmond, Virginia. Recent work has been published in Emerson Review, Pithead Chapel, Baltimore Review, and Leon Literary. Find her online at jillwitty.com or on Twitter @jwitty.


Worm Moon Fury

By Samantha Snow

Silvery light from the Worm Moon catches the rocking treetops of the orchard just past the backyard. I watch from the pitch-dark kitchen, peeking out from behind the cover of a curtain. Drawn shutters rattle against the windows. Every year before this, I’ve spent the Worm Moon’s crescendo with a pillow over my head to block out the worst of it, but tonight I stand guard.

Pa shambles into my narrow view of the yard, his suspicious silhouette illuminated against the darkness of the tree line.

“Come away from there,” Ma whispers behind me.

Her warning pulls me back to reality by my scruff. She’s survived plenty more of the Worm Moon’s furies than I have. I reckon I should listen to her, but we both know I won’t. How can I? Pa’s likeness is chillingly accurate, a swirling mass of debris, conjured and puppeteered by the wind, the fine details built up by grains of dirt. The materials’ mismatched colors are all washed out by moonlight, leaving him spectrally pale.

“Kid!” The wind hollers with Pa’s voice.

When they found Pa’s body in the orchard, I didn’t cry. A man like him deserved no such sympathy. Hate overflowed from his heart, spilled out into his words and deeds, hung around him like the stench of moonshine. The crack of the back of his hand is still fresh enough in my memory to wake me from sleep some nights.

An eye that closed forever only seven months before stares back through a slat in the shutter, perfectly replicated. If only his eye didn’t so closely resemble my own. What else did I inherit from him? His short temper? His thirst?

An entire future of running from him reveals itself to me. No matter how far down under the churchyard his body might be, I’ll never escape him.

I turn, groping blindly in the dark for Ma. In an instant, her arms are around me.

In the morning when the sky begins to lighten, when the wind and its magic, or whatever it is, dies, what sculpted itself into Pa will fall to the ground, lifeless; formless. The Worm Moon and its haints will be behind us for another year.

But Pa will never be gone. Not completely.

Samantha Snow

About the Author: Samantha Snow spends most of her life daydreaming. She lives in New York with her extremely patient partner and their two cats.

Barren Land

By Laura Besley

For our tenth anniversary, we travel to Salinas Grandes, a large salt flat in central-northern Argentina. On the bus, the tour guide stresses, again, we need to apply high factor sun screen and keep our sunglasses on at all times. He bangs his fist in his hand three times. At all times, he says.

We alight. Step onto white. To the horizon and back is only white. Bright bright white, despite the sunglasses we keep on at all times.

The tour guide begins his spiel about water and climate. Evaporation. Precipitation. My husband soaks it up, absorbs the information, stores it away. Just like he nodded along every time the doctor confirmed my body had not provided the right climate, each precipitation an evaporation of our dreams. The voice drones on and I cry, wonder how many tears it would take to fill the desert lake.

Waiting last in line to board the bus, the tour guide taps my arm. ‘Look,’ he says, and points out a purple flower, small and frail. He crouches and reaches towards its petals, but doesn’t touch them. ‘It is a miracle,’ he says.

I force a smile, then climb the steps, thinking I preferred the certainty that nothing could ever grow here.

Laura Besley

About the Author: Laura Besley is the author of collections: (Un)Natural Elements, 100neHundred and The Almost Mothers. She has been widely published in online journals, print journals and anthologies, including Best Small Fictions (2021). Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best Micro Fiction and she has been listed by TSS Publishing as one of the top 50 British and Irish Flash Fiction writers. She is an editor with Flash Fiction Magazine. Having lived in the Netherlands, Germany and Hong Kong, she now lives in land-locked central England and misses the sea. She tweets @laurabesley.

Into the Void

By Danielle Stonehirsch

There is a void under my front steps. I found it yesterday when I was taking out the trash. It’s small, too small for a person, but I can’t find the cat. I called the contractor right away. He came out and took a look and told me it was going to cost fifteen hundred dollars to fix. That’s almost the exact cost of the yoga retreat in November I’ve been saving for. I told him I’d think about it.

It is a relief not to worry about the cat anymore. Feeding it, taking it to the vet, wondering if it likes me. This gives me an idea. I take my yoga mat, roll it up tight, and push it under the step. It squishes and pops and is gone. At six in the evening, I stay home and watch ABC Family.

In the morning, I try to fit my laptop, but the corners stick at the concrete sides. I get a hammer out of the garage and smash away at the already crumbling edges. It is enough. The laptop slides through. I call my boss to say I can’t work today. When she calls me the next day, I toss the phone easily into the widening void.

I make red pepper soup for lunch, and I shave half a block of smoked gouda onto the top and mix it in. I sit on the couch to eat. My daughter’s nail polish and a tee-shirt are on the coffee table. I told her to clean that up before school. They go in the void. I get the hammer out again. The coffee table goes in, but not without a fight.

I’m out there hammering when the neighbor from the left, the one who complained to the city that I don’t join the cul-de-sac in putting up Christmas lights, comes up to tell me to stop all my hammering. He raises his voice. He’s bigger than I am, but he’s surprised, and the void is getting pretty big so through it he goes and it’s not that hard.

When my husband comes home and sees how big the void has gotten, he’s concerned. Now it’s going to cost a lot more than fifteen hundred dollars. He wants to get the contractor back. I tell him I’ll take care of it myself. Or, I think, I’ll take care of my husband.

Danielle Stonehirsch

About the Author: Danielle Stonehirsch lives in Maryland and works for Health Volunteers Overseas, a non-profit focused on global health. Her fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in several places including on the Tin House website and in Bethesda Magazine, Washington City Paper, Montgomery Magazine as well as in anthologies This Is What America Looks Like, Roar: True Tales of Women Warriors, and Grace and Gravity: Love. She hopes to publish her first novel soon.


By Anastasia Jill

There was nothing in the shed but sawdust and Papa’s guns. His prize–a Crossman Shockwave NP 22 Caliber Air Rifle with a 4×32 scope and nitro piston. Damn near perfect, so he said. The nozzle is sparkling clean but tainted black from my dead shots.

“Go on,” he says. “Today you’re gonna learn.”

“I don’t wanna hunt.”

“Nobody cares what you want.”

There’s still blood from yesterday; cracked and copper in the webbing of my hand. My boots hold the red of entrails since Papa makes me gut ‘em and I think of all the ways this isn’t right. I’m too little, and a girl; and still, he makes me kill. Makes me shoot ‘em, dead and skin them after. We never eat the meat. Carcass after carcass sits dead on the ground. The decay turns the earth underneath brown.

“It’ll do you good,” he said. “Knowing how to hunt.”

“I said I don’t wanna!”

He grabs my arm and drags me out of the shed and into the yard, past rotting deers and headless bobcats and the feathered remains of birds. We hide behind a laurel oak. He slaps the rifle in my hand, lithe and quiet, like a willow switch. He pushes me down, forces my eye into the scope.

In the quiet, we wait.

Minutes pass, an hour of nothing. All of a sudden, a white bunny.

“You know what to do.”

A cotton tail taps against the grass.

“No,” I say.


“I don’t wanna kill a bunny.”

“Shoot the damn thing.”


“I told you, shoot it now.”

He doesn’t raise his voice. He never does. It’ll spook the animals. It’s as intimidating as a bellow or a fist. This is his terror: placid fury ricocheting through the silence.

“Do it,” he hisses.

I won’t tell him ‘no’ again.

I stare down the barrel at the nose—not a button, but a honed plank. The trigger goes so lightly in my hand. Pressure knocks me back into the rusty grass. The rabbit hops away, a white bullet in the russet air. My vision narrows into palms maverick red.

Anastasia Jill

About the Author: Anastasia Jill (she/they) is a queer writer living in Central Florida. She has been nominated for Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize, and several other honors. Her work has been featured or is upcoming with Poets.org, Sundog Lit, Pithead Chapel, Contemporary Verse 2, OxMag, Broken Pencil, and more. 


By Alan Zaremba

The geezers were having a 50th anniversary reunion. And it would be a large one. Homecoming had been COVID cancelled in 2020 and 2021. The 2022 gathering would be populated by three classes, all collecting social security. On a website there was a list of who’d signed up to attend. I spotted several familiar names. And one was Annie’s.

Annie and I had a steamy night together when we were twenty. She’d invited me to a sorority Christmas party and later, well oiled, we returned to my dorm lounge. We talked for a spell. I mentioned that it was getting late. I didn’t think she was interested in spending the night and I was sleepy. Annie said, yes it was getting late; then stood, extended her hand and led me to my room. We did not play cards.

After Christmas break, I thought we might reconnect, but we did not. I’d not been holding a torch for fifty years, but when I read that she was attending the geezer reunion, I let my mind travel.

I spotted her at a coffee hour on the Saturday of the reunion. There were clusters of gray hairs at tables embellishing incidents. Annie was standing alone by a doughnut tray. I approached and, after a moment, she smiled. We hugged. Not a passionate embrace, but not an obligatory one either. We conversed about this and that. Then she asked if I had any special memories from college.

I thought that was an invitation to summon up our night, but I didn’t want to travel there immediately. I mentioned other events. And then I asked her, “What do you recall?”  She spoke about campus political unrest. It was time to bring it up.

“Well, of course,” I said, “there was the night we went to your sorority party.”

I smiled. She didn’t. She looked completely and genuinely confused. “We went out?” she said. Despite all nonverbal clues suggesting otherwise, I thought she was kidding. “Come on, you don’t remember the Christmas party when we were juniors?”

She shook her head. “No” she said. “Are you sure it was me?”

Balloons when punctured deflate more slowly. Annie had no recollection of a date, let alone the steam we generated.

I smiled wanly.

We talked some more, then said goodbye. I saw her once or twice during the rest of the weekend. Each time we waved.

Alan Zaremba

About the Author: Alan Zaremba is an Associate Professor at Northeastern University. He earned his doctorate at the University of Buffalo. Before coming to Northeastern he taught at the State University of New York College at Fredonia. He is the recipient of four awards for excellence in teaching and has published several books.


By Allison Renner

We marvel at the steel contraptions rising from the asphalt. We hold our hats as we look up, trying to find the crest of the Ferris wheel in the sky. We have long since stopped hoisting our purses on our shoulders, instead letting them dangle from our fingers as if we haven’t a care in the world.

If we tilt our heads to block the children running ahead, the husbands striding beside us, we can pretend we’re girls again, set free with a dollar and a promise to meet our mothers at the gate at sundown.

We can see our mothers all those years ago, we can imagine our girls in our position. We continued the cycle, as much as we expected to break it. Go to college, move away, return home every break, then only during the stretch of summer, and later only for holidays, which we don’t have to alternate with our husband’s family. 

We dreamed of making our own money and spending it on clothes we didn’t sew ourselves, silk stockings instead of those twisting around our midsections now, strangling us as we walk through the midway, smiling demurely at our neighbors as we pass, cooing “Yes, dear,” when our husbands explain how people can construct the rides so quickly. Our eyes are always watching our girls, keeping them in sight while our hearts cry for them to soar to the top of that Ferris wheel and survey the world that’s theirs for the taking.

Allison Renner

About the Author: Allison Renner is an editor for Intrepidus Ink and Just Place. Her fiction and photography have appeared in Six Sentences, Rejection Letters, Atlas and Alice, Misery Tourism, Versification, FERAL, and vulnerary magazine. Her chapbook Won’t Be By Your Side is out from Alien Buddha Press. She can be found online at allisonrennerwrites.com and on Twitter @AllisonRWrites.

Someone Else’s Kid

By Rebecca Klassen

Cole is a buzzcut silhouette in front of the television, clicking buttons, the lead from the console an umbilical cord to his controller. From the back of his head, I hear, “Night, Mum,” as I take his mother to bed. Months of chatting her up has paid off. Tanya’s kinkiness and foul language feel wrong but satisfying, like purposefully stepping on a snail and feeling it crunch and squelch.

At The Feathers where Tanya pulls pints, a guy in tomato-red trainers tells me my time with Tanya is temporary because she always moves on. His eyes comb her behind the bar like a hand stroking fur the wrong way. He goes to order another beer, licking his lips, white laces trailing from his trainers. I’m ok with Tanya being temporary; I don’t want someone else’s twelve-year-old kid.

When I arrive to take Tanya to Carluccio’s, she’s rubbing herself with tanning mitts on the landing. She tells me to wait downstairs. I slip my brown pleather shoes off and line them up next to her black heels. A tinny tune from the lounge takes me back to page-three girls on my wall, unfinished algebra homework, and a controller in my hand.

‘You’ve got Mortal Kombat?’

The silhouette moves. He has freckles, a missing molar, and drinks Dr Pepper. Cole hands me a controller and shows me the new moves on the revamped game. He also prefers Playstation to Xbox. When he asks me what team I support, I admit I hate football. I’ve never told anyone that, but it doesn’t matter what Cole thinks of me.

‘I don’t even like watching football. Just do it for my dad,’ Cole says. I admit I’ve never watched a full game. He laughs at that, but not at me.

Copper Tanya comes down and reminds Cole his dad is picking him up in five minutes for the weekend. At midnight, when we get back from the meal and drinks, Cole is still there, still playing. Tanya and I go upstairs, and I tell her to keep it down. She doesn’t let me stay over.

When I arrive for our next date, red trainers lie haphazardly in the hallway, white laces draped across Tanya’s black heels. Her bedroom door is closed. I go to the lounge where Cole is playing. Grabbing a controller, I turn up the television. 

Rebecca Klassen

About the Author: Rebecca Klassen is an editor from the Cotswolds, UK. Her work has featured in publications such as Mslexia Best Short Fiction 2022, The Drabble, Superlative, The Phare, Popshot, The Wild Word, and Microfiction Monday. She has performed her work at Stroud Book Festival, and Cheltenham Literature Festival. Rebecca has won the London Independent Story Prize for flash fiction.


By Fannie H. Gray

It is the afternoon after Caleb’s funeral. I had nothing of him to bury. The spokeswoman from the agency informed me that eventually the largest pieces of the space station will fall but even that detritus will mostly incinerate coming back into our atmosphere. She assured me all human remains dissolved almost immediately.

Remember to look for me among the stars, Sierra. I am always with you.

Caleb, I have no proof that you are truly gone except for the millions of images shared round the globe; the spectacular demise of human ingenuity, the fate of Icarus. I don’t even have a feather to hold.

I am fevered with grief, too hot to embrace or console, so I have wandered down to the beach to get away from the mourners and well-wishers. I almost step upon it, barely abreast of the surf. I assume it is a starfish, though it is iridescent. As I bend down, I feel heat radiating from it. Also, I notice it isn’t a proper star, not like a starfish anyway. It looks like an artist’s rendition of the Star of Bethlehem from some Christmas card. It’s silly, but I look up, as if to see a hole above me.

And then the sky begins to unravel. Cerulean waves undulate, crashing and parting. There is a tremendous sound, like battle, like warfare, and I fall to my knees. All the water of the ocean seemingly disappears as if absorbed by the space once occupied by the sky. There is a sudden, veritable precipitation of stars! Everywhere, everywhere light, and ambient heat raining down. All the choruses of the natural world, birdsong and cricket choirs, the falling of water, the rushing of wind, moonlight howls are all in harmony, and as I hover over the little celestial body in the sand, crescendo! I grasp the star, and with the pitch, the impact of a precipitous fall, all of everything rushes back to place and time…the sea rushes to the shore, the sun is safe in its bower, sandpipers dart in the surf at minnows. In my now empty hand, grains of sand are imprinted in the lines of my palm, the whorls of my fingertips. I hold galaxies, universes of love. The crush of everything echoes through my veins, the grind of my own mechanics.

Caleb is all around and within me.

Fannie H. Gray

About the Author: Fannie H. Gray writes fiction inspired by a southern American childhood and an abiding affection for dark fairy tales. Her piece Incendies received Honorable Mention in Cleaver Magazine’s 10th Anniversary Anthology Flash Contest and is nominated for Best Microfiction. Published work can be found at www.thefhgraymatter.com. On Twitter @fannnster.

Chaos at the Texas State Fair

By Wen Wen Yang

The cotton candy machines started clanking. All around the fair, the large pink bird nests turned into fluffy columns. The operators tried to turn it off but the cotton candy kept growing. They grew taller than the customers, taller than the stall. The wind shook one cotton candy tower.

That operator tried to grab handfuls of the pink spun sugar but their hands sunk into the column. They screamed as the column grew still taller and lifted them off their feet. Across the fairgrounds, columns of cotton candy sprouted like dandelions.

Finally, the weight seemed too great and one by one, the columns tipped over. A pink column landed on top of its operator. The pink cotton candy snakes started to slither down the midway. Each person it touched became stuck to the surface. The giant opening mouth vacuumed up fairgoers. The people along its sides were still pulled into the pink fluff.

People screamed and pushed as they tried to get out of the pink monster’s way. Frantic ferry riders called the police. Witnesses could see the shadows of the struggling people on the inside. The spun sugar captured their screams. With each person, the cotton candy snake also grew in size.

The pink snakes finally converged on Big Tex. As the clock struck noon, the State Fair’s giant animatronic cowboy whirred to life.

“Howdy folks!” The jaw opened like a ventriloquist dummy.

The cotton candy snakes climbed up his legs, spiraled around his torso and finally, over the rim of his cowboy hat. The screams of the escaping mob drowned out the whine and pop of the screws and cables as the cowboy unbolted himself from the ground. The pink cowboy strode toward Cotton Bowl Stadium.

Big Tex’s left foot stomped on a police car. The siren whined woo-woo.

Fire engines arrived, horns blaring. They connected to the fire hydrants and within minutes were hosing down the candyfloss pink monster. It tried to swat away the water but with each drop, its composition started to fall apart.

Out slid the captives, panting and covered in a sticky pink goo. Their hair stuck to their faces, their clothes dripped syrup. Big Tex fell to his knees, then slammed face first into the food court. People swarmed around to record the destruction.

Wen Wen Yang

About the Author: Wen Wen Yang is a first-generation Chinese American from the Bronx, New York who graduated from Barnard College, Columbia University with a degree in English and creative writing. You can find Wen Wen’s fiction in Fantasy Magazine, Zooscape, and the anthology Fit for the Gods.

Burt Lancaster In Hawaii

By Laton Carter

Juvenile ghost crabs stay close to shore. They skitter across the sand, scavenging bits of jellyfish and sea cucumber, until their forelimbs are mature enough to act as proper shovels. Then they can move to drier ground. Adults prefer solitude: self-burial is a daily occupation. If startled, the diminutive decapod will self-defend. Pulling off Highway 72, the production crew parked and began tramping down to Halona Cove. From Here To Eternity had a beach scene.

Burt’s buttocks gleamed like dolphin skin. Wardrobe had given him a swimsuit one size down to squeeze into. In contrast, Deborah Kerr’s wrinkled affair was meant to reflect her broken character. She was sexy, but not like Burt. His nipples twinkled under the Oahu sun. The scene called for multiple kisses—tight-mouthed and aggressive—as the tide rushed over their bodies.

Lovers are meant to be oblivious. An incoming wave will only decorate their passion. Sand in the crotch: irrelevant. Displaced crustaceans? Burt would find out. Deborah had him pinned, her non-male breasts positioned against his. Her swimsuit was sticky and smelled like Ban Roll On.

The stinging sensation was around Burt’s perineum. Maybe it was because he was flexing—sometimes he did that, involuntarily. But this was different. His sphincter muscles had never before experienced such needlepoint specificity. What the—and he delivered his line. It came out with an acceptable surge of agitation. Deborah turned away. Now it was her turn to say a line.

What was up there? He could feel it—Burt imagined a metal toy soldier: a configuration both delicate and sharp. No, it couldn’t be, though toy soldiers did have bayonets. This one was making him wince.

Whatever Deborah was saying, Burt couldn’t hear it. How on earth, with such a tight fitting suit, had anything managed its way in? His colleague’s eyes spoke in inscrutable black pools—only basset hounds looked sadder—as Burt sensed this was bona fide Oscar material. Waiting for his line, the image of a gladiator crumpling from an invisible stab wound played in Burt’s mind. Stay focused, he assured himself. Use this.

Deborah had run away. Burt’s direction was to chase her. But how could he—and Burt dutifully limped to her towel. Goddamn. His anus was numb. And the sun on his shoulders—he’d have a burn tomorrow. And Deborah. She needed to be kissed again.

Laton Carter

About the Author: Laton Carter is a substitute middle school teacher in Western Oregon, U.S. Previous flash appears in Atticus Review, Hoosier Review, New Flash Fiction Review, Shirley Magazine, and Split Lip Magazine.

A Slight Encounter

By E. F. S. Byrne

Hairy, stubby fingers fumbled with the tiny cell phone, trembling like a mouse in a cage as they sought the contact list. Four sets of numbers flickered, in order of neediness, his dealer, an ambulance, two family members. His nail hovered over Sean, then slipped on the hard plastic and the number dived off the slippery screen. He wouldn’t answer anyway. Offspring were like that: they chose their company carefully. He coughed with a chesty groan before reloading the image and hesitating over another option. It would be nice to see his sister.

The doorbell rang. He hid the alcohol but left the tobacco on the table: he’d developed the trick of keeping one vice in sight, and another tucked away in the spare room of unseen anxieties. He stumbled for the door and opened it on the third attempt.

She looked a bit nervous, hair tightly tangled into a bob, coat firmly buttoned, lipstick slightly streaked where her lips wrinkled into pale cheeks. He offered coffee in a fluster of red-nosed sniffing and noisy coughing. He couldn’t find a clean cup. She tried not to notice.

He watched her eye the empty ashtray and cluttered sink.

“There’s a café around the corner. I’ll buy you one.”

He hesitated. He didn’t go out much. He had his drugs delivered and he didn’t really want coffee.

“Or we can just sit here and have a chat.”

They smiled again. Her hand touched his across the chipped plastic surface. He winced, almost a stroke as she gathered speed and told him about her children, the unruly neighbours, the bus queue, the lack of fresh bread and the poor showing at local elections.

It was nice of his sister to remember him. He wished his son could. Children. Another addiction that was hard to kick.

She chattered on.

He hadn’t much to say. Her hair wasn’t fit for tugging and he wasn’t up to pulling her leg, but it was nice to see her. Her plump presence filled the evening, warm and glowing like a good whiskey and when he looked up from his dozing she was gone. His phone lay silent as he brought out the drink, lit a joint and imagined his son knocking on the door and the chat they’d have about the good old times.

E. F. S. Byrne

About the Author: E. F. S. Byrne works in education and writes when his teenage kids allow it. He blogs a regular micro flash story. Links to this and over fifty published pieces can be found at efsbyrne.wordpress.com or follow him on Twitter @efsbyrne

Brick by Brick

By Finnian Burnett

The man who is not my husband takes down the structure of what isn’t our home. Brick by brick, his hands pull down the outside walls, the porch, the front flower beds full of rhododendrons. He divides the piles before tearing down the roof, light fixtures, the railing of the front staircase. He splits the dishes, every cup—one for me, one for him.

The man who is not my husband divvies out books, movies, placemats. The quilt his mother made, divided stitch by stitch for him, for me. A can of beans from the back of a cupboard. The Ouija board we last played in grad school. The dog, the cat, the backyard swing set. A rice steamer—he gets the basket; I get the base.

The man who is not my husband tries to be fair. He gives me all the lightbulbs and half the lamps. The cord from the iron and the washing machine drum. The children are divided less equitably—a leg for me, a head for him, three crying mouths for me, six adoring eyes for him.

He packs his share in half the suitcases and leaves with a bag of hearts slung over his shoulder.

And I perch at half the kitchen table among the piles of bricks and glass with pieces of the children he left behind, mostly hands and mouths—mouths that ask, “When is he coming back? When is he coming back?”

Finnian Burnett

About the Author: Finnian Burnett is a college instructor, a doctoral student, and a doting cat parent. Their work has appeared in Reflex Press, Ekphrastic Review, the Bath Flash Fiction Award Anthologies, and more. Finn’s recent novella-in-flash, The Clothes Make the Man, was recently released by Ad Hoc Fiction. Finn lives in British Columbia with their wife, and Lord Gordo, the cat.

LONGLIST (alphabetical order)

Mikki Aronoff, Learning to Vacuum

Jasmine Ayoubi, Hanami

Sudha Balagopal, Rudaali

Lindsay Bamfield, Thoughts on Seeing a Headline in The News

Pauline Barmby, Midwinter Journey

Bryce Baron-Sips, She’s Like the Swallow that Flies so High


Maisie Bishop, Just a Game

Maggie Black, A Proper Diet Is Essential

WJ Briden, Love Letter Lounge

Tammy Brown, Back to School

Michael A. Clark, Ghost Dog

Judith Cohen, Fifth Grade Snapshot—2021


Chris Cottom, Things I Can’t Forget From Six Days That Summer

Francis Lyonga Ngnekou Chinjong, COURTROOM DRAMA

Renee Cronley, The Autumn Beauty

Kathryn Crowley, Bargains

K. S. Dearsley, No Greater Love

Salvatore Difalco, The Beach at Trouville

Bob Ellis, Echo Chamber

Arvee Fantilagan, Win-win

Lisa Finch, P for Park

Tim Frank, Losing the Will to Live

Janis Freegard, The Parachutists

Joe Giordano, Destiny’s Turn

Isaac Grimaldi, Captured Youth

Z. T. Gwynn, Rearrangement of Filth

Banjo Hannah, A Miscalculation

Brittney Hart, Boy Like a Beehive

Kimberly Ihekwoaba, Peeling Petals From Thorns

Claydon Iles, Fallen Leaves

Maggie Nerz Iribarne, Papa Hemingway, Help Me

Doug Jacquier, Knots

Ben Johnston, Acceptance

Izzy Kaur Khatkar, Every Weekend

Jessica Klimesh, The Clock-Watchers

Jessica Knauss, Choose Your Own Adventure With Dog

Neethu Krishnan, Honey

Jennifer K. LaRose, Getting to Say Goodbye

Katherine Leibforth, Haunting

Ella Leith, A Vindication of the Wigtown Martyrs

Joshua Jones Lofflin, It’s Not a Ron Jeremy Thing

Katherine Lopez, The Coat

Kate E Lore, Ephemeris

Tricia Lowther, The Near Death Experience of Fourteen-year-old Stella Davies

Cecilia L. Maddison, The Universal Language of Love

Ashira Malka, The Rapping of the Scallion

Louise Mangos, Never to Have Loved at All

Doug Mathewson, The Mark

Marcelo Medone, Ten Instructions for Loving Amanda

Ashley McCurry, M.A., M.S., Eyelashes

Maureen McGuirk, The Coat

Gargi Mehra, After She Left

Jim Mentink, THE SHED

Michael Monkhouse, LIV’S WORLD

Lee Nash, Aunt D’s Funeral

Mieke Nauta, Survival of the Fittest

Mina Otsuka, The Scariest Thing

C. J. Peterson., Not-Your-Earth Day

Claire Polders, Because I Cannot Travel in Time

seeley quest, blade

Chinmay Rastogi, With Birds and Beasts

Niles Reddick, Porch Shopping

Killian Reed, Cutting Ties, or When a Man Needs a Saw, There are better options

Nancy Pica Renken, The Tapping

Stephen W. B. Rizzo, July Dawn

Chrissy Rosado, Echoes of Eternity

Amy Scheiner, tv kids

Gail Marlene Schwartz, ST-ÉTIENNE

Cynthia C. Scott, Transformations

Shane Thomas, My Funny Valentine

Claire Marie Torn, Small Heart, Big Heart

C. J. Trotter, COOKIE


Hannah Underhill, Amethyst and Black Dahlias

Ed N. White, Sound Advice

Harry Wilding, Change

Joe Williams, Selling Umlauts to Türkiye

S.F. Wright, YOUTH