The Kuleshov Effect* ~ by Nora Nadjarian

i) How quickly time flies on a council estate and I tell you it’s a kind of freedom because you can have a fight and a baby sleeping in a crib in the same scene, or a polar bear and a sinking ship. It can all be both ethereal and real. The heroine grows up pretty. I wish the director would hurry and juxtapose her, in this chilly, crisp, almost scene, with a boa or a fox. Woman, fox, woman, fox. The audience thinks: Aha, woman! Therefore foxy.

ii) The waitress in the diner, burger and fries. Someone has lived this moment before, a million times in this scene and the ketchup has dried at the edge of the table. Can I take your order? Your order is here. She hates being told, a sudden quagmire, she’s nervous in her mini skirt. Close-up of a wolf whistle. Wolf whistle, spot of ketchup, wolf whistle, spot of ketchup. The implication is: He kills her. The blood, the blood of it, the bloodiness of it.

iii) A fairy-tale forest. Mushrooms, leaves, a quizzical silence. A bushy tail the colour of henna, dream, dream, a sort of dream. A bushy tail, a leaf, a bushy tail. There is a house, a grandmother, police. But when she left the house she was a girl, says the grandmother. The mouth of the wood where she lives is pursed and stubborn and silent. Were there any witnesses? ask the police. Question, silence, question, silence.

iv) Over and over in the story the girl was a fox, was a creature, was a colour, was wild, was devious. When the man stroked her she bit his hand, when he tried again, she bit it again. The blood was courageous and the girl was relieved when he walked out pressing his hand to stop the gash of it. The owner of the diner sacks her: Too fierce for my liking.

v) The girl gets home and the grandmother says: The police said you’d gone missing.  The grandmother cries and hugs her with relief, her chest rising and falling. With her high cheeks and pointed chin, the white patch under it on her glossy thick fur, the girls looks almost different, the girl looks almost the same.  

*The Kuleshov Effect is a film editing effect invented by Soviet filmmaker, Lev Kuleshov. It is a mental phenomenon where the audience derives more meaning from the interaction of two back-to-back shots than from one shot in isolation.

***

Nora Nadjarian is a poet and writer from Cyprus. She has been commended or placed in numerous competitions, most recently in the Mslexia Poetry Competition 2021 and Live Canon International Poetry Competition 2022. She was chosen to represent Cyprus in the Hay Festival’s Europa28: Visions for the Future in 2020. Her short fiction has appeared, among others, in the National Flash Fiction Day anthology 2020, Reflex Fiction, FRiGG, MoonPark Review, Ellipsis Zine and was selected by Kathy Fish for Wigleaf‘s Top 50 Very Short Fictions of 2022.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Grand Canyon, 1967 ~ by Bill Merklee

Write a story about my beautiful mother: A petite, light-skinned Puerto Rican with dark hair and shocking green eyes. Write about her nervous breakdown.

Write about the doctor recommending she terminate her latest pregnancy. That he knew somebody who could do it discreetly and safely. For more money than she had saved. More than Dad made in a month, and how he would never permit it anyway.

Talk about Rh incompatibility. But try not to sound clinical about it.

Talk about a wife’s duty to her husband.

Talk about the abomination of contraception.

Have a scene where she makes the mistake of confiding in the wives of the church elders. Where she’s told only God holds the reins of life and death, and she’s made to feel like a sniveling idiot.

Write about the impromptu trip to visit friends in Arizona, just an hour north of the Mexican border. How her friends figure out her plans, and drag her back to Jesus.

Tell us about her fourth fruitless labor, and how she added this stillborn’s name to the others in the family Bible, as if they would grow up, move away, and simply forget to call.

Show us how her green eyes dulled, how her mind went places we could not go.

Yes, write a story about my beautiful mother. Then tell it from her young son’s point of view. Highlight the epic road trip without Dad. Include the greasy roadside stands, the singalongs with the radio, the bugs swarming motel lights, the friendly strangers who talked funny. How flat and tedious America was. The promise of the desert after rain.

Write of the son’s disappointment at cutting the trip short, about the drive north before heading home, how he stood at the south rim of the Grand Canyon and watched his beautiful mother weep at God’s perfect creation.

***

Bill Merklee’s work was included in Best Microfiction 2021 and nominated for Best Small Fictions 2022. He lives in New Jersey. Occasional outbursts on Twitter @bmerklee.

A Solid Contribution ~ by Kathy Fish

We have failed at Lincoln/Douglas debate. We have failed at Speech. We have failed at Hygiene. We have failed at Square Dancing. We have not been invited back to Improv. We have not been invited back to Taxidermy. We have not been invited back to Surgical Procedures 101. We have been whooped upside the head. We have been whipped into a frenzy. We have been told we lack initiative. We have been told we must learn to finish what we start. We might at one time have said, let’s start a formal club, association, society, or religion. But of course, as we’ve been told, we lack follow-through. We have been told we take up too much space. We have been told that, at times, we appear to be in our own world. We have been told we need to stack the blocks in the corner neatly before we take our turn at the easel. We need to learn the skills of being invited back to formal clubs, associations, societies or religions. We need to learn the skills of judging distances. For example, distance can be judged by sound. If we see a gun fired in the distance, we can count the number of seconds between the flash and the sound of the explosion reaching us. In this way we can tell how far we are from danger. If we see a gun fired close up, judging the distance will not be necessary and won’t help us anyway. We have been told these are good skills to learn if we wish to make a solid contribution. We will learn the skills of basic survival. We will learn to tuck and roll. We will learn to make ourselves invisible.

***

Kathy Fish’s stories have most recently appeared in Ploughshares, Wigleaf, and Washington Square Review. Her work has been widely anthologized, notably in the Norton Reader, Best Small Fictions, and Best American Nonrequired Reading. She is a recipient of the Copper Nickel Editors’ Prize and a Ragdale Foundation Fellowship. 

How to Find a Prehistoric Ghost ~ by Paul Thompson

A hilltop conversation with the ghost of my brother. His image threadbare, glowing like some deep ocean creature.

“How many people do you think have ever lived?” he asks.

Always a numbers guy. Some strange statistic or guessing game. I snuggle into him, aligning as best I can, propping myself up to maintain the illusion.

“It’s billions,” he says. “Hundreds of billions. We outnumber the living; you are in the minority, little sister.”

Still little sister, despite me now being ten years older.

“Down there,” he says, pointing towards a field. “A man in the wildflower, still in army uniform, one arm missing. Do you see him?”

I see nothing but shadows. He laughs and prods at me, his finger slipping into my shoulder.

“Can you see them all?” I ask. “Right now, how many do you see?”

Before his reply, he does a mock scan of the horizon.

“We are sparse, despite our numbers,” he says, “We cover only a fraction of the planet’s surface. Imagine – the current living population could fit shoulder-to-shoulder in the city of Los Angeles. Did you know that?”

He pauses now, deliberate. Something is distracting him, far beyond the rocky edge where we sit.

“I brought you here to show you the dinosaurs,” he says. “You asked me why no one ever sees their ghosts.”

I sit up, confused. Did I ever ask him that? Maybe a joke or passing observation from our childhood, kept close all these years.

“The reason you never see them, is because you actually see them all the time,” he says. “Think about how many dinosaurs ever lived. Now think of their size – they were massive! They cover the entire planet, many times over. Everything you see is through the filter of a prehistoric ghost, sometimes more than one! They surround you like a blanket.”

He is bursting, enthusiastic, more alive now than ever before. I touch the air, trying to imagine the oldest of ghosts. Sensing my curiosity, he hovers an arm across my shoulder.

“Now, look,” he says, pointing to the valley. “I can show you proof, by showing you where they are not.”

And then I see it, without his help – a tiny square of light, pulsing and bending above the crop. It vanishes before expanding outwards, a rip in the atmosphere, hints of green and yellow.

“It’s a gap,” he says, “Between the ghosts. Sometimes, very rarely, you can make one out. That’s how you find them – you find the gap, the bit that is missing.”

He opens his arms out wide.

“Ta-da!” he says. “That’s the actual world you are seeing, without the filter, without the obstruction of ghosts. Beautiful, isn’t it? Now hurry.”

He runs ahead, beckoning me to follow.

 “I thought you were stuck on the hilltop!” I shout, trying to keep pace.

 He ignores my question as we approach. Up close, the gap is fragile in definition. A glare of rainbow; no heat, or sound, or shadow – a space between ghosts, an inverse of everything. It skips in the air, the illusion of being alive.

“It’s not the gap moving,” he says, “it’s the things around it. An Apatosaurus, late Jurassic, a whole herd of them.”

Before I can respond, the gap lunges forward, consuming our position. Our hands go in first, an incredible warmth, the true heat of the sun, unfiltered on our skin. We become illustrations, figures in a stain-glass window. Raw colour fills my brother, an oily volume, swirling within his form.

Looking outward from within the space, the ghosts are everywhere, now visible without obstruction. Crunching and writhing around us, a mist both alive and dead. Species from every period, compressed many times over, smudging the atmosphere.

“Amazing,” he says. “I’m so glad you got to see this.”

And with that he leaves me once more, the almost tangible feel of his fingers brushing my hand. I turn back to the hilltop, to the spot where he fell, looking for his image – a faint pencil sketch, a dream within a dream.

Around me the spectral herd begins to shift; the colours fading in its wake. Invisible giants fill the space, smoothing into a fog and smudging my vision. The gap implodes around me – reforming up ahead, flickering and thin, barely able to maintain its presence. I run toward it, toward the colour, keeping pace with the dead, and the gaps they create.

***

Paul is from Sheffield, UK. His stories have appeared in Milk Candy Review, Okay Donkey, Ellipsis Zine and Janus Literary.

To Saturn and Back ~ by April Yu

To Saturn and back, you said. Told me about seven rings made of ice, a wedding ceremony in space. Braided constellations into my hair. Aquarius. The Big Dipper. I left the window open at night. Sometimes, your sock feet and black-hole eyes. Other times, nothing but stars. Where is Saturn? I asked, drunk on moonlight. It must be so far. Light-years away from our luminescent breath. You took my hand. My heart, you said. This is Saturn. Seven rings of ice. Frostbite. I thought of elastic hair, stomach kisses. What made a body. Wished you were made of anything else.

***

April Yu is a young writer from New Jersey with an affinity for language, running, and human anatomy. Although she was indeed born in April, her favorite season is winter. Her work appears in The Aurora JournalIce Lolly Review, and Lit. 202, among others. She is a graduate of the Alpha Workshop for Young Writers. Visit her on Instagram @aprilblossom, Twitter @aprilgoldflwrs, and at aprilyu.carrd.co.

Fire is an Open Mouth with an Empty Stomach ~ by Chelsea Stickle

The psychic smells the fire before the smoke alarm goes off. A Molotov cocktail through the front window of her shop. She’s wearing all her important jewelry, has her car keys in her joggers, slips into her sneakers and grabs her rose shawl off the end of her bed. Douses the shawl in water and covers her head and mouth with it. Her important papers are in the bank. Her valuables are at her sister’s. All she has to do is make it out of the house alive. She has two to three minutes to achieve this. She feels like an actor in a movie. Going through the prescribed steps to get the hoped for effect. But she hadn’t thought about how the heat would feel on her skin. As she descends the stairs, watching her foot land each time so she doesn’t slip, she wonders how close you have to be to fire to get burned. For it leave a mark. The clock melts off the wall into pile of plastic on the floor sliced through with a sheet of glass that shattered on impact. At her back door, she uses the shawl as a barrier between her and the hot metal. Propels herself outside into the chilling night air. Drops the shawl. Coughs out smoke. Breathes in deeply. Feels the solidity of the earth, how far down it goes. Roots herself to the present. Touches the wet grass and lies down to watch the stars.

***

Chelsea Stickle is the author of the flash fiction chapbook Breaking Points (Black Lawrence Press, 2021). Her stories appear in CHEAP POP, CRAFT, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and others. Her micros have been selected for Best Microfiction 2021 and the Wigleaf Top 50 in 2022. Her second chapbook Everything’s Changing is forthcoming from ThirtyWest Publishing in January 2023. She lives in Annapolis, MD with her black rabbit George and a forest of houseplants. Read more at chelseastickle.com and find her on Twitter @Chelsea_Stickle.

Live and Let Die ~ by Mary Grimm

The remaining weeks were fairly quiet. Their color was green, as mandated by the oldest cousin. Green was the color of grass and of her favorite sweater, she explained, and so we must all love it. The oldest cousin could be demanding and autocratic, but they all loved her, or said that they did. The second oldest cousin had dark thoughts about a game last year where she had always been “It” because the oldest cousin said so, but she kept them to herself. The boy cousin banged his head against the floor, because it was soothing, a little pain that he could own. The floor was patterned, “parquet” the adults said, and it left a mark on his forehead that he could trace with his fingers for some hours after the banging. They swam in the color green – the green of the cherry tree’s leaves, the green of the ice cream that the redheaded cousin wouldn’t eat (because she thought it was a disguised vegetable), the green of the sky on that one evening when there was almost a tornado. When we grow up, we’ll remember this always, the eldest cousin said, but none of them did. When we grow up, it will always be the same, the baby cousin said, but she was wrong, although she fooled herself about this for many years.

***

Mary Grimm has had two books published, Left to Themselves (novel) and Stealing Time (story collection). Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Antioch Review, and the Mississippi Review, and her flash fiction in Tiferet, Citron Review, and Helen.  Currently, she’s working on an urban fantasy set in Cleveland. 

Why Renaissance Artists Never Got the Babies Right ~ by Nora Esme Wagner

It was almost impossible for Renaissance women to escape an ess: seamstress, murderess, goddess, mistress. The same s-sound that, when attached to the end of a word, multiplies it. But muse already sounded female. Muse demanded a singular bite.

In the same way that women blame their own big hands for making a cock look small, muses assumed responsibility for how their artists painted babies. Droopy babies. Emaciated babies. Benjamin Button babies. Babies who resembled smokers, drinkers, gluttons. Jesus babies, clawing at Mary’s cloak, half-animal, like they don’t want to be crucified. 

Muses squashed their babies between their poky breasts and begged artists to paint them. Proud artists wouldn’t look. They knew what a baby was: like them, only miniature.

Of course they didn’t want to see the babies with the little, floppy penises. Too often, they shared the same tubelike nose.

The girl babies grew up to share beds with artists. When the artists left to invent things, they dipped their fingers into the salty stain on the bed to learn how to finger-paint.

***

Nora Esme Wagner lives in San Francisco, California. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in JMWW, Litbreak Magazine, Flash Boulevard, and elsewhere. She is an assistant fiction editor at Pithead Chapel.

Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board ~ by Melissa Fitzpatrick

By now, we have learned the real story of one of our deaths. But back then, we only imagined. The stories we told were part of the game.

You’d arrive at your friend’s house, clutching your sleeping bag. Toothbrush and toothpaste stowed in your pillowcase. Maybe you’d still have a little-girl nightgown with rosebuds and ruffles. Or maybe you’d sleep in a t-shirt big enough for two girls. You’d smudge your face with smuggled eye shadow and blush and ask Lisa to give you French braids. Judy would show the trick for growing boobs by winging your elbows back and forth. You’d debate which Charlie’s angel was prettiest and if no one thought your favorite was best it somehow felt like maybe you’d never be beautiful too. And then Christine would gripe about crumbs on her pillowcase and Angela would turn on the soundtrack from Grease and you’d all shriek and sing greased lightning and summer nights and when it got to hopelessly devoted you’d rewind and rewind and rewind to sing it again until Pam’s dad yelled from the doorway that it was time to turn the music off and that’s how you’d know it was time for the game.

The lights would go off, and flashlights come out. When it was your turn, you’d lie down on the floor. Your friends would surround you, kneeling, heads bent. The girl at your head told the story of your death. A fall from a ladder. A murderous kidnapper. A bus with failed brakes and you in the crosswalk.

We didn’t know then how slow death could be. How a cell could go wrong and quietly spawn until it amassed a hard lump. We didn’t know about radiation, surgery, remission, recurrence. We didn’t know how long you could fight to stay, or what remained when the fight was lost.

In our nightgowns, high on sugar, clamoring to make our voices heard, death was a only story we told.

And the best stories had blood and fear and the moment you knew you were about to die.

Those were the stories that made your body want to float.

The stories that made you light as a feather.

The stories that made the floor fall away, when with delicate fingers, your friends lifted you into the air.

***

Melissa Fitzpatrick lives in the Los Angeles area. Her work appears or is forthcoming in CHEAP POP, Scrawl Place, and Corvid Queen. Connect at Twitter @mfitzwrites.

An Injured Brown Towhee ~ by Dilinna Ugochukwu

Yesterday: we found a bird in Leila’s backyard. An injured brown towhee. She wanted to nurse the brown little bird back to health, like we’d seen other little girls do on TV, perfect little girls with pale skin and white teeth and straight blonde hair and blue eyes that sparkled. Our skin was dark, hair coiled, teeth crooked, and our eyes didn’t sparkle. They were wide black potholes that you could fall into, and that absorbed every bit of light that might shine on them. But they looked beautiful on Leila.

Today: her shitty abusive father warned us that the bird wouldn’t live. We don’t know how to take care of birds, it’s best to just put it out of its misery, let the poor thing not suffer, he said. But Leila didn’t listen, she had fantasies of saving the towhee, of watching the brown little bird take flight and disappear into the electric blue sky. And I had my own fantasies too. I wanted injured birds to live. I wanted my life to be like the girls on TV. I wanted Leila to be happy. I wanted us to heal all our wounds, sprout long strong brown wings, fly into the electric blue sky, and never return again.

***

Dilinna Ugochukwu (he/they) is a writer from California. He is obsessed with jolly ranchers and enjoys reading and writing all sorts of things.