Category Archives: Fiction

Our Most-Viewed Pieces of 2017 Were…

Eyes – Nuri Iyem, 1979

Before we set our sights completely on 2018, let’s look at the pieces from 2017 that attracted the most eyeballs to our site…

10. “When I Die Someone Just Fuck My Body Please,” Ian Kappos’ punker-than-hell poem from our Summer 2017 issue.

9. “Picnic” A. E. Weisgerber’s potent & evocative flash fiction which served as the opening piece of our killer & cinematic Spring 2017 issue.

8. “Drought,” Kim Coleman Foote’s eerily surreal & fable-like flash prose which kicked off our Fall 2017 issue.

7. “Summer Water,” one of two witty & intoxicating poems by Sarah Bridgins in our Summer 2017 issue.

6. “Mission Concept,” Pete H.Z. Hsu’s trippy & unearthly (and Best of the Net-nominated) flash fiction that launched our Summer 2017 issue.

5. “Caulking the Wagon,” Devin Kelly’s poetic meditation on suffering & classic computer games, from our Summer 2017 issue.

4. “Love Song of a Femme Fatale on Scholarship,” Maria Pinto’s frisky & infatuating flash fiction from our Winter 2017 issue.

3. “Torture Game”, Ryan Bradford’s fiendish short fiction about a dark night at the drive-in, from our Spring 2017 issue.

2. “Left Behind,” Kaj Tanaka’s brief yet profoundly haunting flash fiction, and the grand finale of our Summer 2017 issue.

1. “The Cake,” Jonathan Wlodarski’s deliciously disturbing (and Pushcart Prize-nominated) short fiction from our Winter 2017 issue.

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“Ecotone” – Fiction by Chelsea Laine Wells

A Bear in a Moon Night – Niko Pirosmani, 1913

The grand finale of our Fall 2017 issue is “Ecotone,” Chelsea Laine Wells’ haunting & heartbreaking story of a young woman who feels “the edge of what she wants fitted close and suffocating against the edge of what she has.”

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SHE THROWS UP IN THE MOTEL BATHROOM with the light off so the crack in the toilet and the constellation of toothpaste spit on the mirror are hidden. Then she wafts out all slow languid like women in the movies stricken with love or fever, and drapes her body over the bed. Breathes. Flutter of the eyelids. Imagine what it looks like. Looks glamorous. Beleaguered by life. Like the bathroom, she is better with less light. Everything here is better with less light. The room is small and dirty but the bad details fade to nothing in the yellow bedside lamp glow.

She loves to throw up. The ritual of it, the euphoria of emptying, like turning back time. Redemption. You can change yourself and become new, if you reach far enough into yourself, turn inside out. After there is the fever of ache that comes with deprivation and physical strain and that too is a relief. Something to sink into and grow still inside of, sainted by sacrifice. Holy holy. Stomach flat under the fat and mouth sour. She lies moored in the forever inescapable horror of her body, pacified for now, stewing in heavy heartbeat bodyheat. She thinks of the throwing up and the reverse communion of it and then the cartoonish juvenile words boys have for it. Calling the dinosaurs on the big white phone. What does this mean? Worshipping at the porcelain God. She prefers that, but they say it with a backwards twist of sarcasm that denigrates the ritual. The toilet is not really godlike. Worship implies profanity. Everything pure must touch edges with impurity and in that lose meaning and significance.

Ecotone. This is the term for the point of contact between the natural world and the manmade one. She turns this word like a warmed coin in her fingers. Like the border between what is sacred and what is embarrassing and corrupted. Like the border between the holiness of purging and the ugly reality of vomit in a toilet. Even her internal use of the word ecotone embodies this idea – knowing this beautiful word, but in an unfortunate way as opposed to from a smart book she’d never read or a sophisticated conversation she’d never had. She knows it from a television show she watched at a birthday party she wasn’t really invited to, but overheard about, and then was reluctantly included in, and she went knowing she wasn’t wanted there but somehow her self-awareness did not extend to a behavior that prevented social pain. This was another ecotone. Understanding herself and her frailties with the separateness of a child you cared for and looked down on, but not possessing the ability to change anything.

Being here is beautiful. She is the one he chose to come with him, in spite of all her sickness and flaws, her body that stubbornly persists in a gelatinous layer of fat no matter how much she purges. This body, big and squared off, round broad shoulders, thick jaw. She isn’t pretty. But he looks past it and he touches her like she is small and sometimes she feels it, the smallness that might exist within her if she was able to carve herself physically away as strategically as meat for consumption. This is an ecotone of self, the way he makes her feel with his hands and mouth and body, rubbing itself sore against her offensive corporeal reality. His worship, the sacredness. Her body, the vomit in the toilet. Pure against impure.

Right now he is out getting something, which is how she was able to throw up. He would be mad, she thinks instinctively, for her to waste food. They don’t have much. They ran so fast and immediate. No time to think. Not that she would have arrived at any other conclusion, had she been given time to think, had the question been asked of her. There was nothing to stay for.

Her eyes wander up from the bleached light of old television shows to the painting above. It is a forest, a bear, dark colors and blunt forms. Unbeautiful, inelegant. A rough ugly version of something meant by design to be lovely. Girls are meant to be lovely, and loved. Nature is meant to be lovely. She, like this painting, is a crude representation. She wonders about the artist, if he thought the painting was good, if it looked different in his mind than it did on the canvas, from the outside. Ecotone: the border where your biased perception and understanding met with unforgiving reality. The border where what you wanted met with what was. Continue reading “Ecotone” – Fiction by Chelsea Laine Wells

“Transformulation” – Fiction by Serena Johe

Metamorphosed Women – Salvador Dali, 1954

A young lady undergoes some bizarre & bewildering changes in “Transformulation,” Serena Johe‘s gloriously gruesome short story from our Fall 2017 issue.

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A SERIES OF HARD SCABS FORMS JUST BELOW SAM’S LEFT ARMPIT. Brown and oddly geometric and bedrock dry, they overlap down the length of her torso, creating tiny roadways in the subtle spaces between her ribs. On Thursday, they darken to the color of dried blood, but Sam remembers the perpetual red and white volley of immune responses in her preteens, the patchy scabs like rows of magnified cells, and she convinces herself there’s probably nothing wrong.

The week after, she finds a lump at the base of her spine, and she begins to worry. It’s round and dimpled like a golf ball, in the space where her last vertebrae should be. When it distends and breaks the skin like a clay-colored bone cap, gleaming wetly in the light of her bedroom, she begs her parents to take her to the doctor, but they brush aside talk of cancer and laugh outright at the idea of mutating poisons.

Their nonchalance doesn’t convince her. True enough, Sam has seen many doctors for the multitude of anomalies that sometimes raise her flesh like a topographical map, and half the time they turn out to be minor irritations that hardly warranted medical attention. Still, she never regrets the visits. Nothing unsettles her quite like the appearance of an unidentified object bursting from beneath her skin. She is reminded of the parasitic creatures on the Discovery channel, of the long yellow stalk of cordyceps fungus she once saw blooming between two bamboo trees, and of the mutilated bodies of its hosts. They splinter apart in hardened sprays of tissue like a still-life explosion.

Sam taps the bulbous growth on her back and it clicks like hollow plastic. The dread and disgust pierce deep. When it doesn’t disappear by the end of the week, the sensation transforms into outright horror, but her parents insist she’s being melodramatic. Her arguments of flesh-eating bacteria and mind-controlling fungi don’t appear to help her case.

On the way to school on Monday, her mother’s eyes keep meeting hers in the rearview mirror.

Sam asks irritably, “What?”

“Don’t worry so much,” her mother smiles. “You’re going to give yourself wrinkles.”

Wrinkles are the last thing Sam’s worried about, and her mother’s lackadaisical attitude towards the quickly spreading rash does nothing but exacerbate her distress. When she gets out of the car, she pulls her shirt over the bulge at her back, which by now has discolored to the same blackish-red as the network of scabs on her side. She attempts to blend into the crowd as always.

At lunch, on her way to Izzy in the far corner of the cafeteria, she feels the pressure of a hundred pairs of eyes and tries not to tug at her sleeves or the scarf around her neck. She reminds herself that not many people would likely pay her so much attention. Then again, Izzy has known her since third grade. She notices something amiss soon after Sam slides into her seat.

“What’s with the outfit?”

Sam pokes a plastic spoon into her yogurt and tries to sound indifferent. “What do you mean?”

“No offense, but you’re dressed like a nun.”

“I am not.” Sam freezes as Izzy tugs at her scarf.

“It’s cute, don’t get me wrong, but it’s like eighty-five degrees outside–” Sam feels the scarf come loose and slaps Izzy’s hand away. “Ow! Sam, I hardly touched you!”

“I’m sorry, I’m not feeling well,” Sam says. She abandons her yogurt and hurries to the bathroom.

Standing over the sink, she pinches the spot where Izzy brushed her collar, right above the bone, as if to erase the sensation of having been touched there. She traces the line over and over to be certain that Izzy hadn’t discovered the mutinous spread of scabs that now reach her chest. Continue reading “Transformulation” – Fiction by Serena Johe

“A Bullet for Mr. Sweet” – Fiction by E.L. Siegelstein

Chocolate – Salvador Dali, 1930

An infamous candyman becomes the target of a disgruntled former associate in “A Bullet for Mr. Sweet,” E.L. Siegelstein‘s scrumdiddlyumptious short story from our Fall 2017 issue.

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DEATH HAD CAUGHT UP TO THE OLD MAN AT LAST. 

After too many years and too many miles. Six times, the trail had gone cold, but the killer persisted. Three times, he had come close, missing the old man by mere minutes in Pittsburgh, seconds in Dublin. The old man had seen him then, electric blue eyes meeting his through the glass of the taxi window, but hadn’t shown any sign of recognition. But the killer, who most people knew simply as Chuck, persisted. The Salt Family provided him with all the money he needed. The fat German furnished an extensive network of contacts throughout Europe and the Americas. Little Mikey T. provided the gun, the cold steel Derringer .45 Chuck clutched in trembling fingers in the pocket of his green army jacket. And now, in a hotel bar in Cleveland, of all places, he finally had the old man cornered.

The old man bellied up to the bar, pushing himself up onto the stool with the cane he always carried. He had to be at least 90 years old, but he didn’t look it, not at all. His hair was white, but it was all there, an unruly puff of cotton candy on his head. His eyes still held all their power, darting around the room, laughing at everything they saw. The old man had gone by many names. In some places he was known as the Candyman, in some places he was Mr. Sweet. Then there was his original name, the most famous name of them all, but he hadn’t used it in ages, which was just as well, as the very thought of that name made Chuck want to vomit.

The old man caught the bartender’s attention, and ordered a Double-W on the rocks, adding, “And you know what? Let’s make it a double,” smiling like it was the cleverest thing in the world. It was the old man’s own whiskey, too, from a distillery he’d founded only a few years ago. Nobody knew how he managed to make young whiskey taste like it had been aged for decades, but knowing him, Chuck guessed it was something inane, like boring it with political speeches or something.

Chuck took the stool next to the old man’s and ordered a beer. The old man didn’t even look at him, seeming completely enwrapped in tasting his own drink, swirling the whiskey around his teeth with eyes closed.

“Hello,” Chuck said, simply.

The old man swallowed. “You know,” he said, opening his eyes, “most people drink to make themselves happier. But the problem is that alcohol, on its own, is a depressant. Everyone knows that, of course, but strangely nobody’s tried to do anything about it. They just accept it as a ‘fun fact’ and go on making depressing whiskey. Except for this one. It has happy things, like childhood memories of Christmas morning, the first ray of sunshine after a summer storm, a new lover’s smile. They’re subtle, but they’re there.”

“I heard it was just a trace amount of MDMA.”

The old man shrugged. “For a whiskey to be classified a bourbon, the mash needs to be at least 51% corn. What you do with the rest of it is entirely in the hands of the maker.”

Chuck took a slug of beer and turned in his stool to face the old man, his right hand still clutching the Derringer in his pocket. “You’re a hard man to find,” he said.

“No, I’m not,” the old man replied. “I’m right here. You’ve found me.”

Continue reading “A Bullet for Mr. Sweet” – Fiction by E.L. Siegelstein

“Big Game Hunter” – Fiction by Matt Patrick

Successful Hunter – Alexander Pope, 1912

An old hunter’s animal head collection gets inquisitive in “Big Game Hunter,” Matt Patrick‘s curiously surreal flash fiction from our Fall 2017 issue.

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IN HIS OLD AGE, THE HEADS MOUNTED ON THE WALL STARTED TO TALK TO HIM. At first asking the obvious whys, but over time the conversations began to wander.

The lion asked: Does the sun still beat on the savannah?

The shark inquired: What’s it like to live without gills?

The human head, as always, stays silent.

Every once in a while he toys with the idea of getting rid of them. Stripping the walls bare. He can’t do it, of course. He would miss the company. Not that he’s particularly hospitable to them. The questions often go unanswered as he drifts into his imagination and hunts far more elusive game.

The hippo asked: What did you do with my body?

The gazelle inquired: How does it feel to take a life?

The human head says nothing.

The hunter tries to picture what sort of gun he’d need to bring down happiness, or a bond with his son. And if he did bag them, what sort of mount do they need? Can they be taxidermied?

The second hippo posits: You must hate hippos. Why else would you kill so many of us?

The third hippo concurs.

The human head motions, as if to spit.

Someone visits the hunter. A young person. Not his son, maybe a grandson? Granddaughter? The young person politely follows his lead and ignores the heads as they pester him. The young person leaves. The hunter is alone for a long time. He isn’t sad, he tells himself, but a lesser man would be.

Continue reading “Big Game Hunter” – Fiction by Matt Patrick

“Scent” – Fiction by Cooper Wilhelm

Soir d’orage, Strange Perfume by Mem – Rene Magritte, 1946

A young man’s bargain with a mysterious shopkeeper has some revolting repercussions in “Scent,” Cooper Wilhelm‘s magically disturbing story from our super-spooky Fall 2017 issue.

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THE PORTION OF THE INTERROGATION THAT FOLLOWS was entered into the public record as part of a murder trial that commenced in the Eastern District Court of New York on August 14th, 2015. The suspect [name withheld] is described as male, Caucasian, DOB 12/5/1986, Height 5’ 11”, weight 190 lbs. The interview was conducted by Detective [name withheld] of the New York Police Department 94th precinct, 100 Meserole Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, 11222.]

INTERVIEWER: When did you first meet [name redacted]?

SUSPECT: In the shop. I was walking past two weeks ago and I could smell the incense. My girlfriend had been ragging me for weeks about how my room smells bad. Like a men’s—like a boy’s locker room. So I figured I’d get some.

INTERVIEWER: And you talked to him then?

SUSPECT: Not at first. I was looking around, picking up different kinds of incense and smelling them. But they had all this hooky-dooky stuff, too.

INTERVIEWER: “Hooky-dooky stuff”?

SUSPECT: Yeah, like crystals, star maps, and like, these little white sticks he said would clean bad spirits out of stuff or something if you burned them. It was all like stuff I’d hear people in my Warcraft guild say they needed for a raid, but in real life. And not cheap.

INTERVIEWER: So that’s when the two of you started talking?

SUSPECT: Yeah. I’m buying the incense and I ask, you know, like making conversation, is this your shop? how long you been selling stuff like this?

And he’s like oh we’ve been doing this for a couple years. We used to be a perfume shop, but we couldn’t make ends meet. And then I tried this money incense and I thought I should start selling it and I branched into other magic whatever since then.

And he starts talking about the crystals and about talking to ghosts and spirits and gods and it’s creeping me out. And the credit card machine won’t work and I start really wanting to leave, like I’m getting the willies from this guy, and he’s sweating a little as he talks to me, and his eyes were, um, they were. . . .

INTERVIEWER: Yeah?

SUSPECT: They were too big. Maybe it was because he was so tall. A lot of people are taller than me, but he was a lot taller. Like 6’ 8”– 6’ 9”. So he felt threatening. He loomed.

INTERVIEWER: Did he threaten you then?

SUSPECT: No, not then, no. He just told me he would give me a free sample of this cologne. And he pulls down this big plastic bottle, like the kind bulk cheap paint would come in in art class. He squeezes out this dark oil, like purple but almost black. And he tells me all cologne and perfume is oil, it’s just that the stuff people buy is watered down usually. This is the pure stuff. And he puts some on my finger for me to smell.

INTERVIEWER: What did it smell like?

SUSPECT: Weird. I mean, I don’t know how cologne is supposed to smell. I mostly just use Axe. But this smelled weird. Like ammonia and rust.

I really just wanted to get out of there because he keeps staring at me. Even when he puts some cologne in a little vial and hands it to me he never stops looking at me.

INTERVIEWER: Did you leave then or stay longer to chat?

SUSPECT: That’s it. I go home and I make dinner. And that would’ve been the end of it. But when I’m pulling stuff out of the fridge, I see this thing on my finger. It was gooey, like three soft little yellow eggs or little balls or something, that were sticking to my finger with this yellow goop. Like what wasps use to stick their hives to the undersides of roofs.

I washed my hands. I figured it’d gotten on me on the subway, but now I think maybe it was on those little sticks I picked up at the store. Continue reading “Scent” – Fiction by Cooper Wilhelm

“My Teen Ghost is Hungry” – Fiction by Caroll Sun Yang

Ice Cream – Evelyne Axell, 1964

Until today, Caroll Sun Yang’s vibrant & Proustian experimental flash fiction “My Teen Ghost is Hungry” could only be read in copies of our Spring 2017 issue, FLAPPERHOUSE #13… but now, as a special treat, it’s freely available to read on FLAPPERHOUSE.com ! Dig in…

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Prognosis. Oakland, 1974.

FATHER’S MATE SERVED STRAWBERRY ICE CREAM IN DEPRESSION ERA BOWLS. We prodded lobsters in ten gallon barrels. Babysitter froze colorful fluids in Gerber jars—I chipped away for taste and to birth gemmy shards. Nurse fed me marinated fish on sticky rice. Mother pushed me in a special stroller, post-hospital chocolate cookies leaving muddy smears on me. Picking Froot Loops out of olive shag while loving mangled dolls in heat. I taste/d air, a bustling mid-70’s melting pot with boiling grease, steamy grates and desperate immigrant kisses.

Prayer. Vallejo, 1981.

Fingered globs of Duncan Hines lemon frosting when none noticed. Held stolen Olive Wood rosary beads in my mouth. Balmy winds thrashed as devils chased me on my bike—mouth open to the antiseptic, wild fennel and sour flower fumes. I smoked candy cigarettes. Grandmother fed me bloated Captain Crunch in warmed milk. Fevers. I burned, snuck out in rain, pressed my cheek to a crippled Oldsmobile Cutlass, and lapped up lukewarm raindrops.

Remission. Oxnard, 1985.

Father arrived wielding a fluffy banana birthday cake with a tub of PB&J ice cream. Guzzled grape Slurpees with Randall while watching scrambled sexy movies. Malt-O-Meal quicksand drowning sliced hotdogs blanketed in Kraft Singles. Sunshine frolic with grimy kids, sucking Tang covered ice while wading in muddy backyard ponds. Slabs of Jolly Rancher Fire! Manure fields. Hot. Grainy Orange Metamucil doled by mother frowning.

Relapse. Camarillo, 1988.

We undressed easily, bodies collapsing on heaped clothes, chewing homework pencils and breaking Miracle Whipped bread with Libby’s corned beef that never met my hips. Final rays filtered through pale lavender drapes, faces painted in dreamy shadows, first/ last kisses. Radiant sick eyes, blather about heaven’s boys between sips of Minute Maid Punch in crystalline tumblers. Feverish. Settling sadness. Tongue fade.

Outcome. Here, Now.

Hunger.

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CAROLL SUN YANG earned her BFA at Art Center College of Design, an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University, and holds certification as a Psychosocial Rehabilitation Specialist. Her work appears in The Nervous BreakdownNew World WritingMUTHA MagazineThe Los Angeles Review of BooksMcSweeney’s Internet TendencyNecessary FictionIdentity TheoryWord RiotColumbia Journal and Juked. She lives and toils over her gestating debut collection while writeressin’ and matriarchin’ in Eagle Rock, CA. She can never have enough personality-disordered friends/ lo-fi anything/ human touch/ sarcasm/ cell photo filters/ art films featuring teens/ Latrinalia/ frosting flowers/ bio changes. She spews forth as Caroll Sun Yang on Facebook.