There are some places where the trees rise up like potted plants. In the centers, though, with mounds of dirt pushing out around them until they're stretching toward the ground you're standing on. If you were to take a measuring tape and open it across these open craters, with someone on the other side to hold the end, you'd see they meet the trunks about midway. Just to give you an idea of the depth.

Of course it's strange to realize that you're just one layer above another which could easily collapse, assuming the conditions were right. But there's no need to worry about earthquakes, at least, not until one happens.

Right, that's why you're down here looking at the sky, your fingers dirtied from thinking that you could climb out from beneath the tree that split, cracking heavy on your back. Oh, but you felt the kind of pain that signals something serious, the reason it's hard to do more than claw, your face twisted from the effort, the taste of grit still on your tongue.

The way that you're positioned, though, a local would need to be closer to the crater's edge, looking straight down to see your shoes, the tips pressed in, your calves flexing from the strain. It's not good now, the way the sky's turning color and the weather's getting colder.

It would help to scream, but your throat is dry. Also, when you lift your head, a spasm grips your neck, your mouth opened wide the way a maniac might do in movie posters, and, instead of words, you do nothing more than gurgle.

Really, it's that the tree caught you wrong. You lost your balance at that unexpected shake which made you slip, just sitting when you caught the bark against your body. Only it was three of them competing in a dive that trapped you there and made you hardly visible, the other two on different sides of you. Only that one made you hurt enough to keep you there.

Are you imagining it? It sounds like barking. Mean, angry growling, too. More whoofing, followed by some whining, voices too.

“Careful!” a woman shouts.

“Yes, yes,” a man answers, and there’s the sound of movement near you.

You feel scared but hopeful as another man asks, “Are you okay? My son is going to get the axe. Don’t worry, we’ll get you out.”

Relaxing your feet, you wait, anxious. You’re guessing, from the way things look that, in an hour, all the light left from the sun will fade. You can see it through the spaces between the branches, but you refuse to turn your head again, squeezing at the ground instead.

Later, you’ll sleep from medication at the hospital. All this stress has made you close your eyes, dimly aware of what’s going on around you, of them lifting you, the noise of cluttered people worrying how bad you are, the medics at your side with questions you don’t understand, drifting in and out of consciousness; yet somehow knowing that you’re going to be okay.

Vanessa Raney is an American living in Croatia and studying the Croatian language. Her fiction has more recently appeared in *Crab Fat Literary Magazine*, *Flash Fiction Magazine*, *Cliterature*, and *S/tick*. For her complete publication history see http://vanessa-raney.blogspot.com




When I made my way to the table, the feast was already well under way.  As chief steward, I was responsible for coordinating the meal service for the king and his court.  I ducked beneath an ornate purple curtain, and turned towards the great oak table.  The table was wrecked.  The eaters had delighted themselves on fruit, vegetables, meat, and drink.  Bones lay strewn about. Candles burned, and all around, shadows and laughter echoed in the chamber of the great hall.  At the head of the table sat the King.  His orange face was drawing closer to the table with each subsequent passing of his mighty chalice.  He sat surrounded by his most trusted knights and his Queen.

The King said, "This morning, I had council with the oracle of the lake.  The prophecy said I would be murdered, this night, in this very hall.  It said one of you would betray me."

"Dear lord," said Sir Michael, the King's master of war.  "Surely, that wench was incorrect.  She must have mistranslated the prophecy."

Sir Card said, "We should be wary of the intent of the sorcerer.  Perhaps, she had ulterior motives."

Then the Queen said, "Don't pay heed, to the riddles of a slut."

The King said, "For a thousand years the oracle of the lake has advised rulers of this land.  It is up to the rulers themselves to decide what to do, once they are given the prophecy."

"What are you saying, your Majesty?" said Sir Card.  "Who amongst us would dare betray you?"

"Perhaps, someone with designs on my throne!" said the King. 

He snapped his fingers.  On cue Sir Thomas stood and unsheathed a dagger.  He lunged at Sir Card and slit his throat.  The dead knight fell onto the table.  The servants were prohibited from entering the hall to clean up the murder.

"I suspected Sir Card of plotting against the throne." said the King.  "That is why I had it arranged to have him murdered.  I apologize for the ghastly nature of the crime, but no one is to leave or enter until the thing is done."

"Absolutely, brilliant your majesty," said Sir Michael.  "You've snuffed out the traitor, so the prophecy can't come true!"

"True," said the King.  "Still, with prophecies one has to take extra precaution."

"How do you mean, Sire?" asked Sir Michael.

"Well prophecy doesn't like to be wrong.  If you prevent one destiny, something else has to take its place.  More oft than not the prophecy will find a way to fulfill itself," said the King.  "I cannot allow this."

By now, Sir Thomas was drooling face down in a plate of vittles.

"What's with him?" asked the Queen.

Sir Michael was staring at his own trembling hand.  His mouth was frothing. 

The Queen checked her jaw.  Her muscles were tense.

Sir Thomas fell out from his chair and collapsed on his back.  His chest arched upwards as he convulsed, and contorted his hands and fingers.

"What have you done to us?" asked Sir Michael.

"You have all been poisoned." said the King, "Poisoned by the roasted duck!  Poisoned by the grapes!  Poisoned by the wine!"

"But you consumed these, too?" said Sir Michael.

"I did not." said the King.  "Not one morsel."

"But why?" asked Sir Michael, now teetering on the edge of the table.

"You know why!" said the King.

"How could you?" screamed the Queen, as she slumped and twitched.

"Why was Sir Card slain?" asked Sir Michael.

"I slew Sir Card, in order to provide some theatre, some entertainment whilst the toxins kicked in." said the King.

Sir Michael looked at me, eyes bulging.  Then he straightened both his arms and sent goblets, pottery, and wax crashing to the ground.

The King was now wiping his beard of whatever food and drink he had pretended to eat.  He threw his linen onto the corpse of the duck.  He backed up his chair, and stood.  He turned away from the table.  He cupped his palm on one of the columns that surrounded the table.  He looked up at the ornate carvings in the archway above.  His rings tapped against the stone masonry.

I stood and stealthily walked over the bodies of the dying.  I lifted my cloak and unsheathed my dagger.  I walked directly behind the King who was now turning towards me.  As he raised his hand to his face, I buried the blade deep within his neck.  The king fell.  Blood streaked down the granite column, and onto the floor.  The King was dead.

I wiped my blade clean, and surveyed the wreckage of the tragic feast.  It was true that there was a conspiracy to circumvent the succession of the throne.  There were many.  Sir Card had most certainly, wanted to kill the king.  The Queen in her many adulterous affairs had sought to trade sex for murder.  She had seduced Sir Thomas on numerous occasions.  The fact is, none of these plots had come to fruition until the King had sought the oracle of the lake.  It was through paranoia, that he set into motion the series of events which would bring about his own demise.  Had he not had I, douse the dinner with poison, then I never would have had the chance to kill him.  The true conspirator was he.  The prophecy had come to be.  I walked towards the great oak door.  I pulled my hooded cloak over my face, opened the door, stepped out into the corridor, and locked the great hall.

Scott Rooker is an artist, musician, and writer from Raleigh, North Carolina.



There was an occupational hazard involved in his type of play.  Not really what he was doing but where he was doing it.  He would have thought something if he were capable of any thought similar to what we might consider comprehensible but he wasn't.  Wrong gene pool.  He had been standing on the side of the road for quite some time.  Sniffing.  Looking.  Backing up.  Sniffing.  Moving forward.  He did this long enough for the acorns he ate to leave him feeling hungry again.  He was a squirrel and had been running around with another squirrel doing whatever squirrels do when they play. 

Squirrel's competitors and locations:
Open Fields; Hawks and Owls,
Power Lines; electric surge
Farms; Target practice [gun]
Freeways; Target Practice [car]

Trying to tell either one of them about the occupational hazards of playing near interstate 280 would earn a person a room at the nearest nut house, free of charge, pun intended.  Also, that kind of lecture wouldn't change the outcome of that day.  The two had been playing since the sun came up, which was not so long ago but long enough for the morning rush hour - more like three hours - to end.  People that were late for work sped by trying to get where ever they were going on time.  It was one of these late risers; Carmine, Machinist, over-the-hill-party-animal, drank 'til 2:30 this morning, wouldn't pass a breathalyzer - zoomed these fuzzy rodents; 90 mph, headed for San Jose. Carmine's car pulled churning wind mixed with a sandy asphalt as it blistered past.

The squirrels had become familiar with these large, loud machines.  Work was lost on them but they understood without understanding the damned confusion when they tried to pass the path of these screaming things.  These things weren't hunters.  Another churned towards them, they both ran out of fear, fear of what?  Neither would have been able to say even if they could speak, most likely the noise. 
Squirrel sense: They run, it doesn't chase. 
Good enough. 

Speed didn't bother them.  Hunters did; owls, skunks, foxes.  Squirrels are skittish 'cause they're food.  Don't have to be told, it's wired. What did scare them about these non-hunters was the low pitch, wrenching howl from nowhere and everywhere.  Rumbling noise in their feet, whiskers, all around.  It was there. rumble. Whiskers. feet. fur. here, rumble, whiskers, feet, fur - felt it through their feet, smelt it through their whiskers no matter where they went. Their tiny, little minds can't decide.  Let their feet lead. This way. no. that.  back. forward.

Frustration and Confusion but they couldn't have told you that, no lips.  

They sure could feel it. 

Cars came by regular enough.  Even squirrels get complacent.  These damned noisy things don't attack.  Occasionally, some driver's texting.  Swerves.  Too close.  Squirrels bolt.  It took the two some time to get the guts up to come out of their hiding places but it was back to fun as usual.  They couldn't remember a damn thing except food so they forgot about the close encounter.  In the back of their minds, can't get too far in their hemmed in skulls, Beasts still pulled wind and rocks, vibrating feet and whiskers.  Squirrel Nightmares.

His friend ran across the path of cars and he didn't watch him leave, too busy eating seeds.  What kind?  Really doesn't matter but - thistle growing just off the shoulder past the fog line, lane 4, just before the Alameda de Las Pulgas exit, pretty purple flower.  He turned around to find his friend and couldn't.  Ran to the edge of the road and sat there.  The friend was nowhere in sight.  Something caught his eye.  In the pathway of the wild beasts was a pile.  The sight registered.  He started across the freeway when he saw none of the beasts - feeling for them in his feet as much as looking for them.  He made it to another patch of land [center divide] that was not as big as the land he knew.  He looked behind him to see what he had done.  "Food," he would of thought, when his stomach rumbled, "I should have eaten more."  Something like that but in squirrel lingo, crossed his mind.  The rush of wind and roar of the wild beast scared his last squirrel shit out of him as a car shot by.  Didn't even feel that coming.  The terrified little critter cruised as fast as he could, peeing all the way.  Ran down one embankment, into the water channel, up the other side, spanning the divide.  30 yards later he stopped, still peeing.  That didn't matter much to a squirrel, in the wilderness, without pants, and no one to laugh at him.  He looked in the original direction, scanning his path with his paws still tingling from the car.  His eyes locked on that unnamed pile, which meant as much to him now as it did when he first looked at it.  He passed it off with the same blank gaze as last time.  Not enough juice in the noggin to connect the pile to his friend or his friend to the car; the cause of the mess.  He started across the interstate, running.  As he ran, three things crossed his mind.

1.  The first squirrel thought that wiggled through his brain was it was 'a close one'. 

2.  The second thought that crossed his mind was that he could smell his friend and another scent.  If he could swear, he would have to the fact that he knew it yet had never smelled it before.  He got across the freeway, confused because he lost the scent of his friend.  Looking back he realized that the smell was stronger.  Checking, feeling, forward, back, foorrrwarrrd, backbackback. Finally, he started back, slower, following his nose.  Steps at a time, checking.  Stopping.  smelling, feeling, going.  Stopping, smelling, feeling, going.  It led him to the unnamed pile. THAT was the other scent.  Death.  He never saw his friend look quite like that and if that was what death looked like, then he wanted no part of it.
He turned to run and stopped as the third thing crossed his mind.

An Eagle GT Radial.

Joseph L. Izzo Jr. lives in California nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada with his wife Lara and 5 children. While she raises the children and tends to the small farm, he works as a Civil Engineer for a local power company.



The only weapon I had in my apartment was a butter knife. Mind you, it was a pretty impressive butter knife. I had never partaken in such a clean slaughtering of butter until I acquired that butter knife. However, human flesh was hardly buttery and I doubted I could make a dent in anyone’s skin that required more medical attention than a generic brand’s Band-Aid. Still, I brandished the knife in front of me as I crept towards the room where I heard the mysterious ruckus two minutes earlier.

“Who goes there?” I grumbled, mustering up any Scarface courage my Italian roots could manifest within me.

“Did you intend to sound like a pirate with a speech impediment?” The intruder let out a loud laugh, complete with a concluding snort. I could recognize that snort anywhere: unexpected, but not at all intrusive, it was one of those snorts that made people appear more endearing than repulsive.


“You know, you could have just done this,” the light flickered on, revealing the intruder, my Cassandra, in all-black garb. “Is that…my mother’s antique butter knife?”

I threw the butter knife on the guest bed, “What butter knife? Why would I have a butter knife?” I had always been the reigning king of reflexes.

“David, I just saw you throw it,” She spoke through gritted teeth. “You told me that you lost the knife; why do you still have my mother’s antique butter knife?!”
I was cornered, trapped. I tried to recount about what I had learned in Sunday school – The Ten Commandments never said anything about stealing your ex-girlfriend’s mother’s antique butter knife, did they? I prayed that this one lapse in judgment would not result in an eternity of hellfire.

“This is the best butter knife in the whole world!” I yelled, pumping my fist in the air.


“This is the best butter knife in the whole world,” I took a deep breath before partaking in the inevitable word vomit, “Not only because this butter knife cuts butter like the sword of fucking Excalibur, but because you would always use this knife in particular to cut your brie cheese into exactly 10 squares. Because I would sometimes catch you in the kitchen, fondling the handle in admiration of the craftsmanship of the creepy cherubs some old guy in Germany welded on it. Because of that one fourth of July where we accidentally brought that exact butter knife in our picnic basket, and rather than risk losing the goddamn knife, we completely disregarded the tub of margarine we had and just gnawed on that painfully dry French bread.”

Before I could regurgitate further humiliation, Cassandra interrupted me. “If you knew I loved my mother’s antique butter knife so much, why did you keep it?”

“I wanted to have something you loved, because I knew that something was no longer me.”

Cassandra’s lips curved into a shy smile as she patted the spot next to her on the bed, her brown eyes glowing despite the poor fluorescent lighting of the eco-friendly light bulb she insisted I install.

“Wait, wait, wait. Before you do that ‘come hither’ shit that I always fall for, why don’t you inform me why you broke into my house?”

“It’s more romantic this way, isn’t it?”

Call me pathetic for allowing my ex-girlfriend to commit burglary, berate me for keeping one of her collectables, and then have sex with me on the guest bed which until that moment had only housed my former in-laws. But she and I had finally, finally felt the warmth of each other’s bare skin, the want, no, the need to swallow each other whole each time our lips slammed together, and the gaze that metamorphosed from an adolescent lust to an all-encompassing love.

She rested her head against my arm as I inhaled the familiar scent of artificial flowers. I was likely going to say something completely inappropriate about the safety conditions within the perfume industry when Cassandra gasped, clutching her left side.

“What? What is it? Goddammit Cassandra, don’t you die.”

“I’m not dying, you blockhead,” Cassandra snorted, which provoked her to grab her side once more, “Ouch ow ow, what the hell?”
She removed her hand from her side and we both peered at the red line snaking its way down her body. It wasn’t very deep but the broken skin still demanded some attention.

Cassandra snorted again, “Oh my god, look.”

She pointed at a silvery cherub that poked itself out from underneath the bedspread, slipped the knife out, and compared it to the wound on her flesh.
I chuckled and pushed myself off of the bed, “I’ll be right back; I know just the trick,” I turned to walk in bathroom: my mission to navigate the labyrinth of my scarcely-arranged cabinets.

A Band-Aid, just for her.

Jessica Gregory is a recent graduate from Sonoma State University with a BA in English. Her adventures in the realm of flash fiction have only just begun. Other hobbies include telling long-winded stories about her cats, drinking tea, and crying over her student loan debt. She currently lives in Fairfield, CA.



She left this time last year.

“I can’t love you anymore.” The words replayed in my head.

I don’t love you anymore at least that I could understand. I can’t love you anymore. What the fuck does that even mean?

Every day is the same. I wake up, work a dead-end job, eat alone, sleep alone.

This time of year is the worst. Every station is Christmas music.

“I’ll be Home for Christmas.” No you won’t.

“Last Christmas, I gave you my heart…” SHUT UP.

“You’re All I Want for Christmas.” I am convinced Bing Crosby fucking hates me.

You want a Christmas miracle? I drove home from Bowsie’s and I am still alive. Why is finding the handle in this car such a goddamn Sudoku puzzle?

After much struggle, he unlatches the lock, cracks open the driver side door, and places his left nubuck leather boot on the pavement. In seeming retribution, and with both palms, he shoves the door the rest of the way open. The car door swings open and doubles back, pinning his leg against the car. The weight of the door and the force of its strike were sure to leave him bruised and limping for at least the next few days.

After a whispered “Motherfucker,” he exits the car. He proceeds to the trunk to retrieve the rest of his merry tidings – three bottles of eggnog and a handle of Popov. A coat of black ice at the rear of the car sends him staggering, striking the better part of his face on the right rear tail light. The only witness to his fall, the Patterson’s cherished snowman – an inevitable contender at the Mendon Ponds Annual Winterfest.

After nearly thirty seconds unconscious, he remembers how to breathe.

The ringing of his ears is an alarm clock he cannot snooze.

As he regains his vision, a set of seemingly judgmental coal eyes immediately greet him. He low-crawls perhaps five feet and lurches erect.

“What the FUCK are you looking at? HUH?!”

Eight-year-old Natalii Patterson stretches in her bed and yawns a youthful yawn. As much as she knows she must sleep, she is too excited for tomorrow’s activities. For tomorrow is Christmas Eve and the long-awaited Mendon Ponds Annual Winterfest. She slips out from underneath the quilt of her bed and approaches the window. Natalii has committed to regular service checks on the Patterson’s prize snowman, Vortex, named in honor of the blustery weather that has assailed the State of New York in recent weeks. Natalii brings herself atop the cushioned window seat, from which her mother and father often read her whimsical tales of holidays past. Through the frost of her window, Natalii observes a man speaking in gestures to Vortex. With ease and curiosity, she unlatches the locks and cranks open the glass panel.

“He’s perfect, isn’t he?” she questioned the man. “A surefire winner, my daddy says!”

The man’s eyes shift from Vortex’s coal eyes to the upstairs window, to Natalii Patterson.

“You tell your daddy that he has one hour to take the wreath off the door and the lights of them gutters, or you can say goodnight to Vort-imort.” Or so he thought he said.

In his drunken stupor, what Natalii Paterson really heard was “Damn twinklin’ little fires, son-of-a-bitch snowman,” among other mutterings.

What happened next reduced young Natalii Patterson to tears. With stumbling force, the man ripped Vortex’s head from his body. The sheer brutality of the assault caused Vortex’s hoarfrost-covered nose to perform a forward dive into the four inches of fresh powder snow below. As an unfortunate consequence to an already unfortunate decapitation, Vortex’s abdomen gradually began to fissure. Ultimately, the rightmost portion of Vortex’s portly abdomen, weighted by the heavier of the two tree-branch arms, seceded from the rest of Vortex’s body, taking two of the three coal buttons with it. Young Natalii Patterson, as with the sole remaining coal button, stood frozen, expressionless. As the man carried away Vortex’s head, Natalii began to cry.

*  *  *

When he awoke the next morning, he knew what day it was. Spilling out of bed, he placed one foot down on the floor and immediately retracted it – not for a want of staying in bed, but for the damp cold beneath his foot.

What in the hell…

He lay on his stomach and peered beneath the bed. There he found what appeared to be a wet sock. Unraveling it, he immediately realized what it was – a blue and lime green checkered scarf. Then, as if dice from a Yahtzee cup, out tumbled two lumps of pitch-black coal.

He touched his palm to his head – half in attempt to quell the pounding, half because suddenly he was acutely aware of that which transpired the night before.

What have I done?

He got out of bed and began getting dressed, all the while contemplating how in the world he would hand a child two lumps of coal and a checkered scarf on Christmas Eve and tell her he is sorry for annihilating her snowman.

I lost her and she lost him.

Merry fuckin’ Christmas.

Nicholas R. Larche