The secret to happiness, naturally, is to be thankful for what you have, to be proud about your accomplishments, not to worry about what you don’t have or can’t change, but have courage and ability to fight what is wrong.
We, at Vestal Review, are thankful for our 17 years so far, for our wonderful editorial staff, for our amazing authors and our supportive readership. We don’t worry about funding, about fame (much) or about literary prizes (well, a little). We are happy with the state of the flash fiction genre that has come a long way since we entered the field in 2000. We are happy with the writing careers our authors have made over the years. We are happy about the proliferation of flash fiction ezines because competition is good for everyone.
Our Thanksgiving is every day.
The winner of VERA 2016:
When the Bough Breaks by Jayne Martin
Nominated by Midwestern Gothic
If they don’t get here soon, he is sure he will bust wide open. The bright yellow lily he’d picked for her this morning was already starting to wilt in the muggy heat of the Iowa noon.
Seems like it was just spring when his father had carried him up the ladder to a thicket of Juniper branches where four tiny spotted eggs rested among the carefully-arranged twigs of a sparrow’s nest.
“It’s no bigger than that right now,” his father explained.
He’d seen babies before, watched as his Aunt Ellen grew large and round as a pumpkin with his cousin Ray. He knew they took a lot longer to hatch than sparrows. His mother, too, had grown large and round as a pumpkin. Some days she could barely get off the sofa. Her ankles had become thick purple rivers emptying into swollen ponds of flesh that he would rub as she stroked his head and called him her good boy.
“She’s going to depend on you to protect her, you know,” his mother had said.
He could do that. He was good at protecting things. When their barn cat tried to climb up to the sparrow nest, he’d chased it away with the hose and it never tried that again. He would hold her hand when they walked to school bus, and teach her how to tell the good snakes from the bad ones, and when it thundered so loudly that their whole cabin shook and lightning lit up the sky for miles around, he would hide his own fear so that she would feel safe.
By then the baby sparrows had flown off, all but one that he had found lying stiff and cold at the base of the tree. When he had cried, his father said that was just nature’s way sometimes, and together they had buried it and said a prayer.
He had clung to his mother’s skirt while his father half-walked, half-carried her to their car. They told him not to worry about the blood that trailed from their doorway.
Soon dusk would begin to cast shadows like ghosts across their land. Still, he waited.
Nature was especially unforgiving that year.
Jayne Martin is a 2017 Pushcart nominee and the 2016 winner of Vestal Review’s VERA award for flash fiction. Her work has appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, Spelk, Literary Orphans, Five-2-One, Midwestern Gothic, Shotgun Honey, MoonPark Review, Blink-Ink, Cleaver, Connotation Press and Hippocampus among others. She is the author of “Suitable for Giving: A Collection of Wit with a Side of Wry,” and lives in Santa Barbara, California. Find her on Twitter @Jayne_Martin.
The winner of the Cycle I Magic Mondays
Clockwork Kid by Michael Chapey
I have this crank in my back with which someone needs to wind me up about every 24 hours. It’s very steampunk. I’m all organic gears inside. It’s how I operate. Click click onomatopoeia. How I’ve operated since I was born. You’ve probably read about me in the papers. The Incredible Clockwork Kid. I’m a medical marvel. Science can’t explain me. I used to have this nurse who would stay with me and make sure I got wound up regularly, but I made a pass at her last night and she quit. Now I’m standing on a bridge in Prague and I can hear it all grinding to a halt. I haven’t broken down in public since that night I got drunk and passed out on the boardwalk. Some busker found me in the morning. Very nice. Had seen my picture in a magazine. Asked for an autograph after he wound me up. People all around me now, but I don’t know the language. I don’t have the words to explain what I need from them. I’m shouting English! English! Crank! but I must look and sound like a madman, because people are turning their faces away. I can feel the momentum from my last wind dying. Movement quickly becomes more difficult until it’s impossible. I’m there, immobile on the bridge, big wind-up key sticking out of my back, desperate look on my face, wishing I could speak Czech.
Michael Chapey lives in Los Angeles. He was born in New Jersey and raised in Connecticut. He went to USC. He’s had stuff appear on The Write Launch and Clumsy Quips. He has a podcast called Chapey Days. He has seen almost all of the Police Academy movies.
A Best Small Fictions 2015 Winner, Dave Petraglia’s writing and art has appeared in Bartleby Snopes, bohemianizm, Cheap Pop, Crack the Spine, Chicago Literati, Gambling the Aisle, Hayden’s Ferry, Medium, McSweeney’s, Mud Season Review, Necessary Fiction, New Pop Lit, North American Review, Per Contra, Pithead Chapel, Points in Case, Prick of the Spindle, Popular Science, Prairie Schooner, Razed, SmokeLong Quarterly, Up the Staircase, Vestal Review, and others. His blog is at www.davepetraglia.com.
She Couldn’t Stop Crying by Rob McClure Smith
When he told her he was leaving, she couldn’t stop crying. “Things are different now,” he explained. “So stop already with the waterworks.” He sighed, scooping their goldfish into a tiny net. “I always said you were a girl whose eyes were too near her bladder.”
And she couldn’t stop crying.
She flopped on her sea-blue futon and wept till the cushions were quite soaked through, and then she got up and took off all her damp clothes and wrung them out in the sink.
Streaming tears smudged mascara. The sad girl in the mirror looked like a startled raccoon. That doleful reflection only caused her to weep the more.
She usually did her important crying in the bath, so she climbed in. It was a claw tub and she was a damp paw. She didn’t have the strength to turn the tap, dripping enough all by herself, a leaky loveless faucet. She sat sobbing for hours or days till the tub was brimful with her tears. The salt lake rose to her lips and overflowed the sides, waterfalling on the tiles below, soaking them slippery green. That pounding at the door would be a neighbor, concerned about the lachrymose Niagara pouring through the ceiling cracks. She was so ashamed, and embarrassment always made her cry, and soon it was a flood, a deluge of biblical proportions. But no smooching pairs on this bathtub ark: no, she was marooned all alone, naked in a white cup, and she couldn’t stop crying until her bathtub detached and floated, unmoored, adrift on a limpid tear-stream, scooting away down a river melancholic, across a dead sea of dejection, into the bluest ocean that ever was.
She couldn’t stop crying, and tears came in waves and made them, too—a tsunami of grief lifting her aloft and drowning the dry earth in the wet of her till she was downcast at last, sodden surfer of sad, upon a hot-red desert whose parching sands absorbed all that water and became at once fertile, everywhere pollen-thick flowers blooming, yellows and greens and purples bursting along sandbars, oh, and the dune-splashed heavy stamens there!
“You have to stop crying,” the Bedouin said, hoisting her naked and sopping out the bathtub. Good thing she’d always had that weird Valentino fetish.
She ambled sidesaddle dromedary across the freshly pastoral dunes, lovely in the night, one blue drop of thunder in a sago sky, till he set her down by one of the palm-shaded oases she’d made, trees luxuriating like bergamot orange gel, and it was there, tussore-sheathed, that she drank sugar-rose water and lip-sipped Koh-i-noor candies and tongued sweetest rahat lacoum till she felt quite rehydrated. And he held her close then, saying, “Things are different now,” and wrapping her in his white silk robes, made love to her, and was so skilled that, ecstatic, she couldn’t help but cry out and, in the throes of such passion, found she couldn’t stop crying.
Rob McClure Smith’s fiction has appeared in many literary magazines in the United States and Europe including Chicago Quarterly Review, Gettysburg Review, Barcelona Review and Manchester Review. A collection entitled The Violence was published by Queen’s Ferry Press in 2015 and stories included were special mentioned in the Pushcart and Best American Series.
Vigilance by David Galef
She’s wary of social media but sets up a Facebook account to track her 15-year-old son. He’s been running with a bad crowd, and she just wants to see what’s going on. When she asks to friend him, he ignores her request.
She finds his Twitter feed, @addled, and adds herself as a follower. He tweets about girls named Molly and, oddly, poetry. She likes one out of every three tweets and retweets some 140-character verse, though she has no followers. She follows some of the people her son follows and is half-shocked, half-intrigued by the casual danger they seem to get into: driving stoned, having unprotected sex. She types a few unsolicited comments, gets both rebuffed and applauded, and starts tweeting as @vigilantemom. She acquires a bunch of followers with hashtags like #useacondom and #donttakethattoke. They form the Vigilante Mom posse.
She gets onto Instagram and finds a cache of photos assembled by her son, having to do with a girlband called Molly Alone. She downloads three of the band’s songs from iTunes and gets annoyed by some lyrics romanticizing blow jobs. She composes alternate lyrics describing what an icky taste, what a messy waste. She makes a short video with her cell phone, singing her lyrics in the kitchen and showing a little more skin than she should. She uploads it to YouTube, getting a boost from her Twitter followers, and the 45-second video gets 5,000 hits.
Meanwhile her son spends up to eight hours a day in his room, then heads out with his oversized iPhone sticking out of his cargo pants pocket like a flat extra limb. So she texts him, adding a heart emoji, and he actually texts her back, but it’s one word: mom!
She emails him, asking if he’ll be home for dinner. She gets an automated reply that he’s away and unable to return her message until September. It’s November 5.
She goes on Tumblr and stumbles out two hours later, amazed at what’s available, from girls on molly to Molyvos to donkey sex. She was just looking to see whether her son had an account, but got sidetracked. As she thumbs through shots of MILFs, she catches a series of images that one of the vigilante moms has posted, GIFs of herself getting funky. She figures what the hell and does her own dance: three stills, including one up close and kinda graphic. That somehow gets reshuffled to a feed featuring Beyoncé, and suddenly her Twitter feed blows up, with links to music and even that stupid girlband, Molly Alone.
She posts on Facebook, this time opening up beyond vigilante moms to singing moms, dancing moms, strip momz, guys who like any and all of the above, and now she has more friend requests than she can handle. One of them is her son. She pauses when she sees the request, pondering her changed status, thinking about what it means to be a mother, wondering whether to confirm.
David Galef has published over a dozen books, including the novels Flesh and How to Cope with Suburban Stress (a Book Sense choice, listed by Kirkus as one of the Best 30 Books of 2006); and the short-story collections Laugh Track and My Date with Neanderthal Woman (winner of Dzanc Books’ Short Story Collection Award). His latest volume is Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook, from Columbia University Press, now in its second printing. He is a professor of English and the director of the creative writing program at Montclair State University.
Her House by Merran Jones
Her house is filled with sighs. The air is stiff with disappointment. Linen covers and long curtains prevent the furniture from fading. A staircase climbs into the shadows, up to rooms we’ve never seen. Our tentative movements waver in the walnut surfaces.
The formal lounge is for guests only. We are shunned into the family room. Shoes off at the door. Tiptoe through. No yelling. No ‘dirty’ words.
Hugo, the basset hound, gets precedence on the armchair. We ease back onto cushions that hold their breath.
She is full of hard edges—quartz, diamond, marble—and serves us tepid tea, pale as her hands. The sugar cubes beg to be toppled. She negotiates the journey from saucer to lips with a slight tremor; a tremor she ensures we can all see.
Scotch fingers are arranged on an ‘everyday’ plate. Dry and bland, each bite creates a desert in our mouths. Crumbs million the floor. Karan spills his juice. Its archipelago stain eats into the fabric. Her eyes widen: Just as well I put the old slipcovers on. She smiles the concrete smile reserved especially for us—the one without any joy.
The children reach for more biscuits with caramel hands. She tracks their every movement. Her cheeks collapse into her mouth.
Her son shares the familial golden hair and blue eyes—an anagram of her looks, stamped with his own copyright. But where are his rearranged features? She looks for them in her grandchildren. One after the other, they emerged from the womb, as dark as the space they’d inhabited; eyes like polished chestnuts, hair as thick as the night.
I wear my long coat, outside and in. I refuse to remove it. She refuses to offer. From above my feet peeps a shimmer of sari. I tuck my legs beneath me.
My tongue manhandles the English language. I am now well-versed in discussing the weather.
My children’s voices bend and snap with fluent Glaswegian. They know all the bad words—damn, shit, fuck; chutiya, gandu, madarchod.
We live in a building with many stairs and many people. My kitchen sizzles with masala and turmeric. The walls sweat with steam. Hindi tumbles from the radio. In the corridor, the neighbours bang and shout as loud as the kids.
My home is far removed from her Edinburgh townhouse. She refuses to visit. I refuse to offer. Instead, she relays her grief through her first-and-only-born. He hangs up the phone, his eyes telling the many ways he’s let his parents down.
On our wedding day, dark henna cobwebbed my skin, inking his love into me. Only its visibility has washed off.
Her house is filled with sighs—I used to be my own worst enemy. Even that, you’ve taken from me.
Merran Jones’s fiction has appeared in Prairie Schooner, After the Pause, and Flash Fiction Magazine, among dozens of others. She’s won several small awards and was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in Adelaide, Australia, and is a physiotherapist and mum in her spare time. See more of her work here.
The House in the Northwest Corner by Sheldon Lee Compton
When David found the house in the northwest corner of his back yard, it seemed already ancient from the weight of the people it held, storm-worn and tilted. But it was empty. Still, it appeared to shine as if beneath artificial lights. A dying star blinking in and out of focus. And it surfaced, or materialized. One day it wasn’t there and the next it was, a two-story farm house of plain white clapboards with shutters the color of peaches.
That first week, he led his children through the house. He described every detail aloud, as much to himself as to anyone else. His children ran through the rooms and their laughter filled the spaces between breaths. Their energy made the very wood tremble. It seemed then the energy would last forever, but on a winter day with a sky like fish bellies stalled midstream, the house disappeared the minute it was empty and could do so. It had sat in the northwest corner exactly two months, but would return again. And again leave.
Many, many years later, with grandchildren, when David remembered where he was, he became confused. What he knew was that it was an old house and belonged to an old man who had forgotten he owned a house at all. When his grandchildren asked where the house had been all the time that it hadn’t been there, David smiled a jagged pink crescent moon and fell into a peaceful sleep.
The grandchildren had children of their own and again went to their grandfather. The years had nearly dashed away all memory of the house and still they asked their questions. Everything was so, so old and nothing shuddered now, but this time the grandfather answered loudly and with great confidence. He said that long ago the house had fallen from the sky. Was it so hard to believe? Many things had fallen from the sky. Why not a house? The grandchildren’s children laughed and said, Why not a house?
When the night came that David was to die, he asked his youngest great-grandson to come closer and leaned in as if to kiss the boy’s ear. He whispered words that disappeared and reappeared, disappeared and reappeared, but the boy was able to hear just enough. He led the family outside and pointed. In the northwest corner a flicker could be seen to Fairmont, West Virginia, as chemicals discharged between breaths to seed the universe all over again.
Sheldon Lee Compton is a short story writer, novelist, and poet from Kentucky. His recent fiction and poetry can be found in New World Writing, Wigleaf, People Holding, BULL, Jellyfish Review, and JMWW. He keeps the blog Bent Country.
Martha X by Marge Simon
When he’s alert—which isn’t often these days—he thinks I’m a simple robot. He’s forgotten that I arrived totally whole at his door, solar batteries included. He’s sure that I came in pieces and had to be assembled, like the robot in Del Rey’s “Helen O’Loy,” a modified AI household robot like K2W88. That story is lost to antiquity, but it’s in my memory banks. Sometimes I think it was planted there to haunt me. Of course, that’s ridiculous. More likely, it was inserted by some sci-fi geek who worked on my assembly.
To this day, I remain fully functioning in all respects, with human hair in proper places. He called me Martha, the same name as his deceased wife. She was from Brighton, a touristy place of slender ladies, fashion-wise and carefree. After one too many martinis, driving home from an affair with a smooth-talking Italian, she drove head-on into a lorry.
It was a difficult time for him afterward. I understand that. He was lonely, drinking too much. Drugs didn’t help. A friend suggested a new digital dating service. At the time, they were trying out an app for AI models with the mix of human subscribers. Of course, my responses easily passed the Turing test prior to my participation. After a brief exchange, he chose me for a companion. It was a relief to him when he learned I was only an AI. He’d had enough heartache.
Twenty years and more, I’ve served him, in both body and mind. Before senility set in, he was a brilliant writer. He used to say I was his inspiration. Now he sits staring at her holograph day after day. He won’t even let me touch him. As the saying goes, they threw away the mold when I was made: I am the last. When the time comes—when he leaves me forever—I know what to do. I’m not supposed to, but it won’t be difficult to demobilize my functions permanently. There is nothing to regret. I kneel by his bed, wishing I could weep—a minor detail the big brains forgot.
Marge Simon lives in Ocala, FL. She edits a column for the HWA Newsletter, “Blood & Spades: Poets of the Dark Side,” and serves on Board of Trustees. She is the second woman to be acknowledged by the SF &F Association with a Grand Master Award. She has won the Bram Stoker Award, the Rhysling Award, Elgin, Dwarf Stars and Strange Horizons Readers’ Award. Marge’s poems and stories have appeared in Silver Blade, Bete Noire, Urban Fantasist, Daily Science Fiction, YOU, HUMAN, CHIRAL MAD 2,3 and SCARY OUT THERE, to name a few. She attends the ICFA annually as a guest poet/writer and is on the board of the Speculative Literary Foundation. Her website.
Bubbles, Mermaids and Broccoli by Riham Adly
Rainbow colored bubbles don’t like me very much. They fly away when I blow and never come back. Some just POP and kill themselves. Teddy bear said we should always use sunscreen because the sun screams at us; lots of sunshine screams can hurt us. Did they hurt my bubbles? Mom’s hurt too. Mom once said, Bubbles are all soap, they drown in the air. I think, sometimes, you drown even if you’re all dry, like when you cry? But that’s water too. Mom also said that even mermaids can drown, if they get feet and sit in bathtubs. I don’t believe it, but Mom never said anything wrong. Mom’s prettier than mermaids and rainbow bubbles. She’s gone now, just like the bubbles. I wish she’d come back, but she’s far away, deep down, like roots of that sad tree called Willow.
We are Twins, Teddy bear said. I’m the wee one and he’s the stronger one, like Batman, he said. Twins look the same. I have long hair, like Goldilocks. Teddy bear’s all fuzzy brown with black button eyes.
Teddy bear has a mama. No one can hurt his mama, he said, not even Uncle Jimmy. Uncle Jimmy likes to tickle me hard where I pee. I never ever laugh when he tickles. He calls me bad girl. I’m not bad. I’m all good, all good except when he tickles. Teddy bear said I’m not bad, I’m just the wee one, and that I should be like Batman. I just like bubbles but I hate it when they POP.
Teddy bear eats bad people who make his mama sad. I wish I could eat Uncle Jimmy even if he tastes like broccoli. Maybe when I become a grownup I’ll eat bad people, even if they taste like broccoli.
As It So Happens by Jennifer Wortman
Today at King Soopers, the produce clerk says, “How are you?” in a searching way. He is refilling the avocados, examining each one with robotic skill.
I lie: “Fine.”
The truth, though, is in my eyes, a message he’s surely gleaned. We’ve noticed each other before. He is almost handsome, a man who would have been good-looking if someone had taken him from the oven in time. Instead he’s burnt around the edges, hard and cooked down, his eyes the clear green of certain candies, the kind I used to suck on before the diabetes. I miss those candies. The missing makes me want to lick him.
“How are you?” I ask.
He says, “Great,” another clear lie.
“Good to hear.” I nod and push my cart forward. As if I can move on from it all: middle age and chronic illness, the creeping deaths of family and friends, the financial strains, the damaged marriage, the heartbreaking kids.
My cart rattles to the next section. A fluorescence of products, packaging, prices. Legions of color, stacked, shelved, and hung. Everywhere, a confusion of need and want.
The produce clerk and I like to think we’re not buying what they’re selling. The produce clerk and I like to think we know a thing or two. And yet, here we are. I turn. He turns. Our eyes meet and part. Candy.
The cart wheels around the narrow lane and pulls me forward. By which I mean backward, toward him. By which I mean I like to pretend I lack control of my actions so I can do what I want. The produce clerk watches my return, eyes steady, lips pinched just short of smug. The smug will come soon enough. We both crave it: my abjection, his arrogance. These are gifts we can give each other.
“Would you find me,” I ask, “your best avocado?”
“As it so happens,” he says, “I was put on this earth to do just that.”
He hands me something perfect and extols its perfection. It is cool and weighty and dark. Our fingers don’t touch. They don’t have to. We feel each other. Our smiles are enormous. We can barely contain our joy.
Jennifer Wortman’s work appears in Glimmer Train, The Normal School, DIAGRAM, Hobart, JMWW Journal, concis, and elsewhere. She is an associate fiction editor at Colorado Review and an online instructor at Lighthouse Writers Workshop.
Seigar is an English philologist, a high school teacher, and a curious photographer. He is a fetishist for reflections, saturated colors, details and religious icons.
His most ambitious project so far is his “Plastic People,” a study on anthropology and sociology that focuses on the humanization of the mannequins he finds in the shop windows all over the world. He hails from Spain.