The Hidden Room

The woman had no set schedule. She came and went of her own accord and when we saw her it was like a glimpse of some elusive animal. She had soft flips of hair and wore furs and costume jewelry, dark sunglasses, always wheeling a carry-on. Sometimes we didn’t see her for weeks and then there she was, strolling past the ostentatious clock stuck at a quarter to three, the old men in faux leather chairs reading The Wall Street Journal, the fake ivy planted in plastic urns.

The manager wanted us to clean the room the woman had occupied secretly since who knows when. It was a hidden room behind a wall, and to get to it, you had to remove a patch of carpeting big enough only for a cat. When we peeled back the carpeting, we saw a small square entrance. We chiseled away at the entrance and saw the lair for what it was, a room the size of a large closet with clothes, boxes piled to the ceiling, a cot with a simple pillow.

The manager in her Talbots suit and Tiffany bracelet was anything but sympathetic as she rummaged through the belongings with an attitude of disgust. She uncovered old blankets, sheets, a stewardess’s uniform with a pair of gold wings attached to the lapel. In another box, there were extension cords and blow dryers and large hot rollers with protrusions like sea creatures.

We did not realize there could still be secrets behind the walls. We thought that these had all been eradicated with the razing of the asylum, back when they used to bring in the crazies confined to chicken crates. But we cannot deny—some of us found things: a small trunk under the pigeon-infested rafters filled with photographs and pressed flowers. A collection of glass bottles with poems curled like messages. The remnants of a leather strap. These were different from the hair ties, half-filled plastic water bottles, and gum wrappers we found in the common areas when shampooing the rugs or mopping the floors.

We hauled away some of the boxes. Some were full of Christmas presents, neatly wrapped and with bows. Others had dolls pressed up against cellophane windows; dolls in velvet dresses with names embroidered on the lapels—old vintage dolls with glass eyes peering out at us apprehensively, as if we were doing something wrong and they were concerned.

Later, in the parking lot, we divided up the gifts and unwrapped each one: miniature china tea sets and tiny spoons, glass figurines, the makings of a toddler’s chair. We thought, perhaps, she was dead. Or was she a ditz, forgetting to give presents and have children? We laughed uneasily, thinking of our own children, and remembering the rows of granite markers with chiseled numbers back by the recycling center where the land slopes gingerly toward the cornfields.


Laurette Folk

Laurette Folk ‘s fiction, essays, and poems have been published in Waxwing, Gravel, Brilliant Flash Fiction, The Mom Egg, pacificREVIEW, Boston Globe Magazine, and Best Small Fictions 2019. Her first novel, A Portal to Vibrancy won the Independent Press Award for New Adult Fiction. Her second novel, The End of Aphrodite, is published by Bordighera Press. Laurette is a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee and a graduate of the Vermont College MFA in Writing program. Her website is


W Va. Hospital for the Insane

Name:              Alona Perrine

Admitted:        6 June, 1866


Summer nights, Clay, the boy my husband hired, peeps through the window as I undress. One night, by the dark of the moon, in the gloom of the barn, aroused by the musky aroma of animals, I feel God-like and make a man out of Clay. His hands, raspy corn husks, shuck off my bodice, as I forage for his needle in the haystack.

My man, he never was a churchgoer, thank God. The Reverend Wilkins lays hands on me, saving me like a gold piece pilfered from the collection. In the choir loft I take up my cross, his belly, pudgy as bread dough. Oh, my Lord! he keeps repeating like grace over dinner.

One Saturday afternoon, at a private quilting bee in the store room of Maxwell’s Feed, the owner stitches me as I lay on sacks of seed, on his breath, the smell of penny licorice, his tongue, black as the snake’s. Afterwards, he beats me. Bloody, I run to the parsonage, demanding retribution or there will be hell to pay. Reverend Wilkins pleads, He’s a pillar. He has children. He tithes! When I threaten to confess before the congregation, he quotes scripture, He wounds, yet He binds. Then he washes his hands and testifies against me like a Pharisee. To prevent further “self-abuse,” he hog-ties me like a rodeo steer with leather straps from a broken mule harness. The following Sunday, a special collection raises enough to ship me off to some asylum.




On the women’s ward, a hen house without rooster, I undress for the doctor. To decipher my insanity, he prods my privy parts with his cock-and-bull, saying my clitoris rivals the size of a man’s penis, and how I would not leave until he was satisfied he’d done all he could to return me to normal.


donnarkevic: Buckhannon, WV. MFA National University. Recent work is forthcoming in The Centifictionist, Blue Collar Review, and Ancient Paths. A Best of the Net and Pushcart nominee. Poetry Chapbooks include Laundry, published in 2005 by Main Street Rag. FutureCycle Press published, Admissions, a book of poems, in 2013. Many Sparrows, a book of poems was published in 2018 by The Poetry Box. Plays have received readings in Chicago, New York, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Stop a Second

It wasn’t a very good time at all, not good.  Edward Whitley stood in the corner like an old floor lamp.  He wasn’t looking at anything.  His beady little eyes just sat there like the last two peas on a plate, lost in some thought, away from everything around him.  Winnie Spencer was passing out homemade peanut butter cookies, a good thing to do, but there weren’t many takers.  It wasn’t that out of place.  This was peanut country.  Everybody loved a peanut.  It’s what made Southampton County tick.

Why is it that the more miserable a time you’re having the slower it seems to move?  It sounds reasonable, even true, but why, really?  Emma Pattersoll’s little girl was sitting on the floor in her best Sunday dress, petticoat and all, playing jacks   The ball bounced and she’d grab one. Then she’d do it again.  George Spencer chewed Beechnut.  He had a sort of slow rhythm to it. The last thing anybody needed was a clock.

Wade and Wayland Bennett were identical twins.  It wasn’t until Wade died that anyone could tell them apart.  “So, that was Wade,” someone said looking down into the open casket.

“Wade was the silly one.  He had a mole.”

The funeral home man said, “I was expecting a bigger crowd.”

“Yes,” said Rosalie Bennett Poole, “I can’t understand it.  Wade was such a good man.  There weren’t no other man like him.”

“People just don’t pay respect the way they used to.  They don’t come out.”

“I know.  I know.”

“I always figured Wade Bennett to be queer,” said Charlie Ingram.

“For land sakes Charlie, don’t say that. Don’t say it so loud.”

“Hell, I thought that was Wayland.”

“Well, it don’t matter now.”

“Cookie?” said Winnie Spencer cheerfully.


James William Gardner

James William Gardner writes extensively about the contemporary American south. The writer explores aspects of southern culture often overlooked: the downtrodden, the impoverished and those marginalized by society. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.



The Obedient Daughter

There once was a girl who lived with her parents in a clapboard house in the Bible Belt. One day, her mother died just as she was pulling a weed from the garden, as if the root had been attached to her heart. When the girl’s father found his wife, bent sidelong in the garden, he pulled out his hair and burned the bedsheets in the yard. Oh dear god, I am cursed, he cried. First my son and now my wife?! He watched his daughter as she watched him, her hair like coal- stained cattails, dents in her cheeks and chin, a Kodachrome of her mother when she was young, and he took her into his bed as his new wife.

After several years, the girl passed her exams on the sly and left the town to attend a school near the sea. She learned how to cook and paint and drove a cab for a living; she did not return to her child-home for a long, long time. One day, she received a letter from her father’s hired man, who had tracked her to the city to tell her about an accident in the woods behind the house. Her father had been paralyzed from his neck to his toes. The next day, the daughter flew to her old town and saw her old enemy, laid out in his old bed.

Oh my daughter, he said, I cannot hold you but please make me something to eat for eating is the only pleasure I have left. So the daughter went outside and slaughtered his hound and sliced it into a stew and served it to him. I can only wonder how you made this, her father said and he ate and ate. The servant, a canny Scot, watching from the window, laughed and said, he ets the screps of the welp he fed his screps to. Then he took from the pantry and the barn in measures equal the pay owed him, left the house, and didn’t return.

The father was still hungry so he asked his daughter to bring him another bowl of the stew. When she told him there was no more, he fell into a hard sleep and dreamt about fleas. As he whimpered in sleep, the daughter lopped off his feet and steeped them in a soup, which she fed him in the morning. This is even better than the last, he said. So that night, she trimmed him a bit more, up to his knees, and served him his shins, smothered in mushrooms she found in the forest. Your cooking makes me young again, he said. I feel like I could stand up and run.

So the daughter kept feeding him his chops. She popped off his knees and served them like halved apples, still sizzling from a buttered skillet over the fire. She cut up to his hip and tossed it with his schmocks in a broth and he gobbled it up. His belly removed, she put together a roux and when he ate, it shot down his throat and onto the sheets. Please tell me there’s more, her father said. I can’t seem to fill myself up.

The last night, she sawed off what remained below his neck, smoking his arms over the fire in the hollow of his ribs. He ate greedily when he woke, his au jus running down his chin. She lifted the sheet to wipe his mouth and when he looked down and saw no body underneath, he gave one final gasp and died of fright. The daughter tossed the head into the fireplace and sold the house, taking the money back to the bay, where she bought a brownstone on Balboa. She wrote poems and died many years later, alone and at ease.

Joel Wayne

Joel Wayne is a writer and producer from Boise, Idaho. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The Chattahoochee Review, The Moth, Burningword, and Salon, among other places. He was an MFA candidate at Boise State University and has won the Silver Creek Writer’s Residency, the Lamar York Prize, and is a Pushcart nominee. Wayne produces the podcast “You Know The Place” for public radio, serves as a judge for the annual Scholastic Writing Awards, and can be visited at

Short Leash

His co-workers lounged against the building, drinking coffee and smoking before punching in for the early shift.  The elbow nudging began as he got out of the truck, walked to the driver’s side window, and kissed his wife goodbye. He sensed the men’s envy as he watched her drive away, and could just make out the familiar, mocking whispers of pussy-whipped, on a short leash, and under her thumb before he turned and the smirks quickly vanished.

They never said anything to his face, the chicken-shits. Must have been something about the way he carried himself or the old knife scar bisecting his right cheek that quelled even bigger men’s voices. But he’d seen their stares when she brought him his lunch every day, wearing those short-shorts and bare-midriff blouses, the way conversations halted and sandwiches stopped midway to mouths when she shook out her blonde curls.

He knew they wondered how somebody who looked like him had gotten someone who looked like her. Hell, he wondered himself. So, if she liked taking him to work, bringing his lunch, and picking him up at the end of his shift, he didn’t complain. A short leash anchored both ends.


Bob Strother

Bob Strother’s work has been published internationally and adapted for film. A three-time pushcart Prize nominee, Strother has four novels and a short story collection in print, as well as several magazine articles.

Chris Rainbow Buddha

Christian Cohen-Muhamed was the fruit of a union that celebrated diversity with some enthusiasm. He grew up in a dumpy, used-to-be kind of city, where the little kids at school called him “Chris”. Later, when a few of those kids paid a little attention to high school social studies, they called him “Rainbow”. In college, his frat brothers called him “Buddha”. They said it completed the cycle, but it was a double joke, because all those beery nights had made him newly plump and oddly peaceful.

Buddha’s dad ran a homeless shelter, and his mom worked for a nonprofit devoted to developing minority artists — preferably with an abstract bent, though that was only her personal crusade and not official policy. Worthiness having its price, the family had no money to keep their son in college past sophomore year. So, plumpness and peacefulness notwithstanding, Buddha joined Army ROTC to pay for college. Mom and dad were not thrilled, but they valued autonomy over autocracy and gave consent by silence.

During summer field training, his company fell out for a 12 mile forced march. The Drill Instructor, who wore a Ranger tab, had them chant Ranger marching songs to keep cadence. So there was Buddha, fast-timing through the Georgia woods, chanting with all the other summer warriors:

“Locked and loaded and ready to kill.

Always am and I always will.”

As the summer went on, Buddha got leaner and harder. In quiet moments, he began to feel a little strange to himself. His first major shift in self-image came the day he realized, after some training in combatives, that he had begun to look at everybody else as a target, automatically figuring angles of attack as they walked by. The second shift came when he scored “Expert” on the marksmanship test and the DI called him “Killer”.

Back at school in the fall, the whole frat heard the stories from another brother who’d been there. Buddha no longer looked like Buddha, nor did he still have that peaceful vibe. They kidded him that he needed a new name. They asked him to pick one, just so they could scrap his choice and pick something else to bug him.

He knew that “Buddha” was out and needed burying anyway. “Rainbow” was too gay to stay, even though it would be kind of backwards-cool. “Chris” reminded him too much of third grade. So, with wisdom born of Budweiser, he picked “Rambo”. One minute later, they’d scrapped “Rambo” and given him the handle that stuck for years. The day after graduation, after the commissioning ceremony, his peers toasted him by his new name: Second Lieutenant Christian (“Shiva”) Cohen-Mohamed, United States Army”.


Thomas Reed Willemain

Dr. Thomas Reed Willemain is a software entrepreneur, emeritus professor of statistics, and former intelligence officer. He holds degrees from Princeton University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His memoir, “Working on the Dark Side of the Moon: Life Inside the National Security Agency” was published in 2017. A native of western Massachusetts, he lives near the Mohawk River in upstate New York.

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