Under the Texan Sun

Bernadette lives in a flat house in West Texas. She often forgets being old until she walks past a mirror or a window and sees the skinny, slightly hunched, somewhat wrinkled body she knows is now hers. She ignores it by keeping busy, tending to the flowers and trees in her yard which seems to get a little bigger each year.

“Hello, kitties,” she coos as she comes outside to sit under her patio awning, shielded from the relentless sun. She listens to them mew as they slink around her, making overlapping curvy trails that crisscross her legs and each other as if they are weaving a tale.

“Here’s your dinner, my sweets,” she says, wishing she was serving watermelon to grandchildren and not stray cats looking for Meow Mix. The cats stop crying and eat without fighting when she puts all the aluminum pie plates down.

I’m still here at ninety-one, she tells herself. My legs work and brain work and I have a roof over my head, owned free and clear. I have my telenovelas and Lester Holt every evening. I have leftover barbecue chicken and a fresh peach from my neighbor. I am fine.

The warm breeze dries the sweat on her face and arms, cooling her. She leans back in the lawn chair and closes her eyes for a few minutes to rest. Bernadette sees someone walking in her yard, coming toward her from the road so far away. It’s a woman who is very small at first but keeps getting bigger as she comes closer. She appears gray and nearly transparent but gradually becomes bright and solid, and the old lady gasps, seeing the woman wearing a multi-colored dress.

Bernadette remembers that dress from long ago, recalls buying the fabric and carefully cutting it out, using a special pattern begged from her older sister. Bernadette pinned the parts together and sewed the seams one by one, fit each of the sleeves into the arm holes, which was always tricky and took patience, something Bernadette had little of then. It took hours to set in the zipper and make it smooth and even. Finally, she ironed each seam flat like her mother had taught by her.

This dress was for a dance. A nice young man had invited her, and her mother had said okay. It was her first dance and her first date. The dress had to be perfect. She could still feel the fabric resting on her arms, soft and clingy. The skirt cascaded from her tiny waist, hugged her hips, and fluttered against her knees.

Bernadette was sixteen. She had long black hair and eyes so dark people swore she had no pupils. Everything was brilliant and new and special that night. She danced for hours, and her feet didn’t feel the floor. He held her gently like she would break if he let her go.

Suzanne C Martinez

Suzanne C Martinez’s fiction has appeared in Vestal Review, The Citron Review, Gone Lawn, and The Broadkill Review, among others, and was nominated for Pushcart Prizes (2019, 2020), The Best of the Net (2020), and Best Short Fictions (2022). She was a finalist in the 2023 Tartts First Fiction Award for her linked story collection. She lives in Brooklyn. Website: www.scmwrites.com X: @SuzanneCMartin3 • IN: s.martinez1441 • FB: scm1441

The Coat

She saw the coat. Its colors and its wool and its plaid and its extremely careful collar rounded to fit a grown-up man and make him happy—all this contained in the glass storefront window—and its dryness in the humid air yet its ability to contain the magic charge of the moisture and the dryness of the air—and to keep scents and aromas of the body, and of rooms the wearer had been in, the scents of other clothing stored in his closet on sad lonely hangers—excited her. She imagined the perfect person to wear the jacket, a person who was completely soft and restful in his life, was only waiting for the strange and somewhat painful junctures of travel to change his life, his trajectory in the world. And then, would he return? Or never come back?

We were all once creatures underwater, she thought to herself. Yet we never wanted to go back to water, except to splash around in it briefly, or lie on a beach and feel the wind and hear the lonely seagulls which made you feel less lonely in comparison.

School was tomorrow and a chance to see him again, the boy who could grow up to wear the jacket and to stay in the town or travel far away from it and never return.

For days she would be what people called high, whenever she thought of the warm camel color at the base of the plaid, and the coolish dark green and dark red working through the camel color, as tightly wound and woven threads which traversed and simultaneously anchored the camel color. The camel color was caramels, almost an edible color, but also the forever color of sand.

His parents, everyone said, had given him the new car. Of course they had given him the car, of course he had never had a job, and would not bother with part-time jobs: he had better things to do. Plotting out his future. Or letting his future be plotted out, by gravity of boredom.

She was sending submissions to magazines called things like The Sun—it was fun to send a submission (only poor people submitted; rich people laughed at the idea of submitting, surely, as the word submission indicated your willingness to be a slave to something, namely, your poverty). Her last submission had begun Dear Mr. Sun—

Rebecca Pyle

Stories by Rebecca Pyle appear in Pangyrus Literary, The Third Street Review, The Lindenwood Review, The Hong Kong Review, The Los Angeles Review, and Guesthouse. Also a frequently-published poet and visual artist, Rebecca’s fiction has been nominated for a Best of the Net award and the Pushcart Prize. She is currently living in France. More information about Rebecca and her work can be found in rebeccapyleartist.com.

Queen’s Gambit

Sweat loosened the bandages covering the welts on Billy’s buttocks as he dribbled up court.  The black road colors of his uniform masked the blood stains.  On the sidelines, Coach shouted instructions.  Coach had the best players in the city, often the state, sometimes the nation, but didn’t trust them to think for themselves.  Billy deked the defender, stepped back, canned the three.  Another national high school championship.  Coach’s tenth.  Billy’s first.

“Play for me,” Coach promised.  “There’ll be shoes, basketball camps, cash under the table, one and done in college, NBA millions.”  The memorabilia on Coach’s office walls vouchsafed the truth of his boasts.  Humiliation was not part of the sales pitch.

It started the third game of the year, a 120-48 rout.  As Billy showered, Coach lashed the air with a towel.  Disgusted by the way Coach ran up the score, Billy feigned an injury, hobbling to the bench early in the fourth quarter.  Coach’s obsession with the USA Today national rankings stripped the fun from winning.  Coach snapped Billy’s butt with the towel.  His first welt.  Coach flicked the towel again.  Second welt.  “You want a future, you march to my tune.”

Billy heard stories how Coach forced players to have sex.  “Coach’s queen,” said a senior.  “Picks a new one each season.”  Billy didn’t know what he’d do if Coach queened him.

Coach made his players practice five days a week during the off season.  At one practice, Coach distributed new shoes, switching brands.  “These give more support.”  Coach collected the old shoes to donate to the local landfill.

A senior explained.  “None of us can be seen wearing the old shoes.  Not even on the streets.  Violates Coach’s contract.

Billy absent-minded his way through practice, flubbed fast break drills, missed jumpers, didn’t switch on defense.  “Laps,” Coach shouted.

“Too much basketball, too little study hall,” Billy replied.

“Play for me or play for no one.”

Billy fell into a rhythm as he ran.  He imagined where he’d be after high school if he transferred.  A public college.  Working two jobs to pay tuition.  Living at home to save money.  No time for hoops.  Watching the NCAA tournament on television.

Coach waited by the door to the locker room, his arms folded across his chest, his stinger bulging inside his sweat pants.  Running gave Billy clarity.

A custodian found Coach the next morning.  “Blunt force trauma,” ruled the coroner.  “Accident.  Slipped on wet tiles and hit his head on the floor.”

Billy didn’t attend the funeral.

Frederic Liss

Liss is a multiple Pushcart Prize nominee and a nominee for the storySouth Million Writers Award. His short story collections have been finalists for the Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Prize sponsored by University of Georgia Press, the St. Lawrence Book Award sponsored by Black Lawrence Press, and the Bakeless Prize sponsored by Breadloaf Writers’ Conference and Middlebury College. He has published 60 short stories in literary and commercial magazines. Please visit his website at www.sfredericliss.com for more information.


Alicia pulled over at her ex’s house to allow the storm time to pass. They were not-unwillingly stranded in the darkness, submerged in a pile of greasy pizza boxes and crushed beer cans. Rain pounded the roof in violent sheets. He lit emergency candles and crafted a pallet of old, musty comforters that felt like quicksand. Alicia had wanted him to take her that night. Instead, they stroked each other’s hair and ate rum-raisin ice cream.

She awoke to him smashing a bag of whole-bean coffee with a hammer and promised to buy him an electric grinder the next time she was in town. One day, I’d like to make you the best cup of coffee you’ve ever tasted, she thought. Alicia hopped onto the edge of the kitchen counter, wrapping her thick legs around his waist, feeling his downy-soft scruff across her cheek.

“I think I’ll move to Savannah and open a bed and breakfast. For women who need a fresh start,” she said. “Maybe you could go back to school, have more options.”

He was already heading back to the living room for a day of gaming. “Do you think ants can have caffeine?” she yelled after him, watching a procession of black specks march toward the cracked coffee beans on the floor. Through the window, she noticed uprooted trees and her car’s smashed windshield.

Alicia’s phone vibrated, the screen briefly illuminated by her husband’s name. He asked if she’d made it to her mother’s house safely during the storm.

“I did,” she whispered, mostly to herself, feeling a lump form in her throat. “We’re fine. Just fine.” She placed her phone on the counter, opened the kitchen door, and followed the line of ants into the wreckage.

Ashley McCurry

Ashley McCurry (she/her) is a contributing editor for Cream Scene Carnival and staff reader for Okay Donkey literary magazine. Her most recent work appears in Sky Island Journal, Five Minutes, Heimat Review, and Flash Flood Journal. Her work recently received an Honorable Mention award in the Scribes Prize microfiction competition, with additional stories longlisted in the 2023 Bath Flash Fiction and Brilliant Flash Fiction writing contests.

Time Travel Sublet

By the time I realized why this sublet was so cheap, it was too late—I was being tortured by the Inquisition. In case you were wondering, it was nothing like the Monty Python skit. How awesome would that have been? Well, it doesn’t help that I started giggling when they told me to, “Confess the heinous sin of heresy.” Oh God, hah! Oh, hah, huh. Hmm, sorry, can’t help it, makes me snort every time I remember that bit. But yes, my burns are still healing. Dear God, who knew screaming into a small transponder would cause so much hullabaloo. I forget how touchy the early Spanish empire could be.

I mean, I grew up Catholic, for Christ’s sake, but I never had to learn Latin, thank you, Vatican II. So when they asked me to prove my religion by reciting a few prayers, I busted out what I thought as “Profession of Faith,” but these guys thought I was spouting heresy because I was speaking modern Spanish. I did forget my Babelfish, which may have saved my ass. Wait – is it even programmed for medieval Latin? Well, lessons have been learned, that is all I have to say.

And here they are:

(1.)       Double-check that your sublet to Andalusia’s Golden Era is for BEFORE 1478.

(2.)       Remember to look at the profile of the person you are subletting from to make sure they aren’t a bored, rich sadist who wants to watch you suffer a bit AND pay for the “pleasure” of it.

(3.)       Always, and I mean always, remember your Babelfish. Modern languages are always a tip-off and can mess with history. Ah shit, did I just change history? Has my guest rating gone down? Thank God for the fixed term on the sublet and automatic return to our time period. Not sure how the empty shackles will be explained to the Inquisitors. Hold on, I am quickly checking Spanish history on the network to see if anything has changed dramatically. Hold please. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit!

Which leads me to

(4.)       Always do a thorough research of the current understanding of the history of your destination and write that shit down or copy it somewhere where it cannot be altered in order to do a thorough comparison afterward.

And if all else fails,

(5.)       See if there is a cheap ticket back to the immediate past to prevent yourself from buying the sublet in the first place.

Heather Bourbeau

Heather Bourbeau’s award-winning poetry and fiction have appeared in The Irish Times, The Kenyon Review, Meridian, and The Stockholm Review of Literature. She is the winner of La Piccioletta Barca’s inaugural competition and the Chapman Magazine Flash Fiction winner and has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her writings are part of the Special Collections at the James Joyce Library, University College Dublin. Her latest poetry collection Monarch is a poetic memoir of overlooked histories from the US West she was raised in (Cornerstone Press, 2023).

Behind the Garden Wall

A cracked skull the constables told me, must have happened when I hit the flagstone walkway. And the bruises, obviously caused by my convulsions. There was no doubt in their minds that I had succumbed to a fit of hysteria, which was perfectly understandable considering the recent spate of molestations in area. The dark stains on my bodice they attributed to a bloody nose, a matter of a weak constitution to be sure. They weren’t concerned about the volume of blood and didn’t seem to notice that there wasn’t any of it around my nostrils. They also didn’t seem to notice the rumpled grass at the edge of the walkway—or that it continued to the garden.

It was an uncivil hour, and he made quite a racket banging on the front gate and yelling that the beast had been seen prowling the lane. He said he followed its curious spring-heeled footprints to our garden wall where they simply stopped, as if it had leaped straight up into the air and over the top. If I could just spare a candle, he could continue the hunt.

From what I could see of him, he wore a long, dark cloak and carried a bullseye lantern that was spent. As I opened the gate, I offered a candle fetched from the kitchen—but instead of accepting it, he threw off his cloak with a sudden jerk revealing a devilish visage and claws that glinted in the moonlight as if made of metal.

He seemed surprised that I didn’t immediately faint at the sight of him or run as he belched out a gout of blue-white flame and clawed at me. He seemed equally surprised at what else I had brought from the kitchen—and at just how much blood a dinner knife could draw.

I wonder if, after I rolled his body off me and began dragging it to the garden, the thought crossed his mind that I might have been expecting him.

Francesco Levato

Francesco Levato is a poet, professor, and writer of speculative fiction. Recent books include SCARLET; Arsenal/Sin Documentos; Endless, Beautiful, Exact; and Elegy for Dead Languages. Recent speculative fiction appears in Savage Planets, Sci-Fi Shorts, and Tales to Terrify. He holds an MFA in Poetry, a Ph.D. in English Studies, and is an Associate Professor of Literature & Writing Studies at California State University San Marcos.

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