GERMANWINGS by Christopher P. Mooney

 

I think of
eight minutes.
Eight minutes
from 38,000 feet
to the mountainside.
Eight minutes to fall from the sky.

The businesswoman in the crumpled skirt,
her tray-table stored and her belt securely fastened.
The schoolchildren passing notes,
their luggage placed safely in the overhead lockers.
The flight attendant at the end of a twelve-hour shift,
his seat returned to the upright position.
The noisy baby in the forward cabin.

They had eyes and arms
and jobs, secrets and dreams.
At 430 miles per hour
it took
eight minutes
for them to fall, a second to die.
Strangers, united
by the universal language of fear,
pulverised,
locked together in eternal dust.
Screaming, crying, holding, kissing,
not knowing what to think of first,
having to decide who to look at last.

They had a ticket for an airplane
and all it bought them was
eight minutes
to sit, helpless, and wonder why.
Eight minutes
to mouth a wordless goodbye

as the people who knew them,
their feet on the ground,
paid for parking and coffee
and checked the arrivals board
in vain.

Eight minutes.
430 miles per hour.
Metal.
Mountain.
They’ll never see each other again.

 

 

CHRISTOPHER P. MOONEY was born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, and currently lives and writes in a small house near London, England. At various times in his life he has been a supermarket cashier, a shelf stacker, a barman, a cinema usher, a carpet-fitter’s laborer and a foreign-language assistant. He is now a professional teacher of French and English and an amateur writer of eclectic poetry as well as crime, horror and adult fiction. In addition to two poems on this site, his stories have been published by Crooked Holster, Spelk Fiction, Dead Guns Press, Devolution Z, Out of the Gutter, Yellow Mama, Horror-Sleaze-Trash, Romance Magazine and Open Pen.

ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL, creative nonfiction by Peter Cherches & Bradley Lastname

 

I’ve known Bradley Lastname since 1985. I first met him when I was in Chicago to do a performance, “Love Me Like a Bitter Pill.” Lastname, as you’ve probably guessed, is not Bradley’s real last name. A writer and visual artist, Bradley has long been a legend in the neo-dada and mail art worlds.

I invited Bradley to send me an unfinished piece for my collaborations project. I communicate with Bradley by email and I always get a response by snail mail. He sent me a piece called “Art School Confidential: A Story I Never Knew How to Finish.”

But was it a story or an outline of a story? I suppose it’s a story in essence, but the prose read more like a description of a story. Of course, Bradley being a conceptualist, this made perfect sense.

The three sheets he sent included illustrations on two of them, to go with the story, drawings of a parakeet on a perch progressing, or rather regressing, from a fully formed bird to a simple schematic, two intersecting ovals.

Bradley’s story, or synopsis, began, “The professor of art is a failed painter and terminal alkie who usually comes to class drunk & verbally abusive…”

To give a synopsis of Bradley’s story, or a synopsis of his synopsis, the lesson this particular day is on “HOW TO DRAW A VENN DIAGRAM.” Here’s where the birds come in. The professor “starts by drawing a perfect parakeet, and gradually deconstructs it until he produces the Venn Diagram in panel #6,” i.e., the two intersecting ovals.

A student asks the professor why he doesn’t just draw a Venn Diagram without the preceding five panels, and the professor “lets loose with a torrent of obscenity that would even make Lenny Bruce blush.” And that, pretty much, is the whole story, minus the ending.

Bradley writes, “I came up with 2 possible endings, but wasn’t really satisfied with either one.”

The first ending: The student, who has been told to go fuck himself by the professor, lights a cigarette lighter in front of the professor’s face, causing the professor’s high-octane breath to catch fire, killing him in the conflagration.

“In the second ending,” Bradley writes, “the parakeet in the first panel springs to life and flies off the easel and pecks the professor’s eyes out.”

So now it’s my job to finish the story. Immolation or “out of the inkwell” retribution? For me it’s a no-brainer. I choose door number two. The first ending I find gratuitously violent. Sure the professor is a prick, but does he really deserve to die such a violent death? Plus, though Bradley may not have thought it out this far, surely the student would have to pay the consequences of his actions. I’m sure Bradley wouldn’t want to condemn the poor student, who acted impulsively, to life in prison.

The second ending is highly preferable in several ways. It better integrates the drawings into the story, first of all. And eye-plucking has a long and honorable literary pedigree, Matthew 5:29 and Oedipus, for instance. And he is an art professor, after all, so this is poetic justice. “If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.”

Wait a minute, there’s the same dilemma: eye plucking vs. fire. Am I being tested?

 

 

PETER CHERCHES is a writer and jazz singer from Brooklyn. He’s the author of Lift Your Right Arm (Pelekinesis, 2013) and two previous volumes of short prose. His work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies.

BRADLEY LASTNAME moved to Chicago in 1978 and began creating a body of work that raised dada, existentialism and the absurd to a new level. His work…2- and 3- dimensional collages, paintings, sculpture, poetry and prose…has been published, shown in museums and galleries, and presented in one-man shows, throughout the U.S.

Mr. Siegel’s Sharpshooters: First Battle, poetry by Andrea Wyatt

 

1/

Mr. Howard arrived during seeding
to exhort the young men of Ripley
to take up arms; he wore wired-rimmed glasses
and city clothes, dusty from his long journey.
He carried a strongbox and a pile of broadsides.

Your country needs you!
Protect the western frontier!
Free uniforms, Free firearms!
Stand up with President Lincoln!
Twenty-five dollars bounty to Enlist!
Cost what it may, Our nation must be saved!

Mr. Howard sat at a makeshift table that Saturday
in front of Jenkin’s Feed Lot,
and Frankie and Louis and I signed up;
Mama cried and said I was too young, I wasn’t to go,
Frankie’s Daddy beat him—who will work the fields, he raged.

Louis, who was an orphan, and lived with Reverend Loomey and his wife,
stood up at Methodist meeting and said he was going to war;
the girls rushed to his side afterwards,
where he stood by the lilacs, and said how brave he was.

My sister Maggie started knitting him socks.
I will be back for you in a fortnight, said Mr. Howard,
meanwhile practice your march, and then he left
on the next stage to Washington.

Weary with dread as daylight looms
behind a stand of American elm,
leafed out, filled with the dawn’s light,
we are preparing for battle

It’s August now, and it’s been a hot summer,
but there’s a breeze this morning,
and as we brush the dirt from our uniforms,
we talk about fishing along the Kanawha.

2/

Captain comes to check our feet.
Make certain there’s no holes, he says,
a soldier can’t fight on sore feet
and have a bite to eat, boys,
a soldier can’t fight without a bit of meat

When the drummer starts to beat, we take our place on line
rifles to the ready, shoulders touching;
three sets of eyes strain to see the firing command,
the bells ring out and firing commences

We take our time to aim and a rhythm overcomes us,
aim, fire, load, aim, fire, load and the air
gets heavy with dust and smoke

My fingers ache, holding the rifle tight,
and grit in our eyes makes it hard to see the enemy
who’ve crouched down low in shallow holes
they’ve dug, and our ears ring from the
din of screams and guns

The drummer carries water to the boys on the line
and once an hour the captain comes by;
we’re holding on, boys he says, we’re holding on,
I believe they are retreating, I believe we’ve got them licked.

It’s closer to dusk than dawn when the battle is done,
and we stretch our sore legs and look around
to see who’s left and see who’s down

The medics hurry into the field with stretchers
to carry the bloody wounded away, we take off our boots and socks
as Frankie begins to sing:

“All quiet along the Potomac tonight,
where the soldiers lie peacefully dreaming,
and their tents in the rays of the clear autumn moon,
and the light of the campfires are gleaming.
A tremulous sigh as the gentle night wind
thro’ the forest leaves slowly is creeping,
while the stars up above, with their glittering eyes,
keep guard o’er the army while sleeping.”

 

 
ANDREA WYATT is the author of three poetry collections. Her work has appeared lately or is forthcoming in The Copperfield Review, Gargoyle and Gravel. Wyatt’s poem Sunday Morning Gingerbread was nominated for a 2015 Pushcart. She works for the National Park Service in Washington, DC and is associate editor of poetry journal By&By.

How Hank Does It, fiction by Jack C. Buck

 

I’m not going to tell you how to do it. I know as much as you. Though, making a list can help. I make lists. The lists are all rather comparable, for the most part. Admittedly, I’m too predictable as it. It’s in my best interest to look after what I add or claim to these lists. Comes with age, loss of love, the customary highs and lows of life, and making sure you don’t find yourself doing things you don’t want to be doing. Like, making Friday night plans three weeks in advance when you have no idea how you will be feeling on a particular evening at 7 o’clock, 21 days from now. I used to go along with plans like that, not anymore. What else, watching other people to see they do it can help as well, if you come across the right person that is.

When making a list consider things like the shockingly large amount of time that is spent just repeating indistinguishable conversations from one person to the next when your neighbor counts on you to consistently agree to a conversation each time you physically see one another. I once half-calculated the time, even wrote it down somewhere. It’s why I now wait till nine at night to go down to do my laundry, and why I park my car three blocks away even though I have an accommodating parking spot out back in the alley behind the house. These math computations are also when I decided I liked Claire and Hank. They live downstairs in the basement apartment. Have so for the last six and half years. They have an arrangement with our landlord Bettie. Really no point, more of a hassle than anything to look elsewhere – that’s what Hank says. Claire’s always good for a couple cigarettes for when Bettie stops by to check up on things, and Hank cuts the grass in the summer and shovels the walkway in the winter. So, rent has pretty much stayed the same all these years for Hank and Claire. Stuff like that is good for people like us. We deserve the break, especially them.

Our other neighbors in the rented house, below my apartment and above Claire and Hank, we could do without, but those apartment units never keep any tenants for long. We are not what the new neighbors are looking for in neighbors. Before ever seeing or meeting us (Hank, Claire, and myself), young couples, or some drunk guy in his mid-twenties wanting to party, will rent units #2 and #3, assuming the other people, as in us, will be just as fun as them. Everyone has different means of fun. That’s a good thing. It’s the necessity of checks and balances in order to keep the world somewhat sane. For instance, take Hank’s idea of a good time, over the last 40 years of his life, the man has probably watched nearly 6,000 Los Angeles Dodgers games – not including the simulated seasons he manages during the offseason on his desktop and the countless hours spent in the online forum threads talking shop with other fans . I like baseball as well. Sometimes, when I can hear him shuffling around out back, I’ll throw on a baseball cap to take the garbage out. He doesn’t immediately point it out, but in his roundabout way he always gets to the subject of baseball. The way Claire smiles at me between drags of her cigarette makes me think she knows I wear the hat on purpose.  I’m interested in Hank’s ability to stomach an underperforming season by a favorite team. He has what it takes, I don’t. I know there’s a reason for that and I’m starting to believe I know how he does it.  Most of all, I like to hear out what he has to say about how life is going. Talking with him is better than any list of how to do life.

 

Years ago, while Claire was drunk on one glass of wine, she told me Hank spent two years in the service when he was 19. After putting in his time overseas, Hank didn’t go home, though. He travelled, stayed with friends, took on seasonal work wherever he felt like living. Claire’s mother had a bakery in Ireland. She doesn’t run the business these days. Don’t know if it was because of retirement or being forced to close shop due to finances. Either way, without fail, a couple times a year she mails Claire a box of homemade fudge. Perhaps with her mother’s knowledge, Claire gives the fudge to me. I think so.

Hank has never mentioned his family, but he likes hearing about mine. He tells of his friends’ names in his recollections. They seem like interesting people, people I would get along with. Hank did not have fun at war, but he did meet Claire while stationed off the coast of Ireland; and, I know, by the way they share this here life, in space and time, this is how he does life. I like Claire and Hank, and I think they like me too.

 

 

JACK C. BUCK lives in Denver, Colorado. He thanks you for reading his work. He can be found on Twitter @Jack_C_Buck

2 Poems by James Croal Jackson

 

LOVE NOTE TO WOMEN I HAVE LOVED

 

when the twine grays, know
there is still a lettering
shaped in your glossed spiral.

I gargle Listerine your name
to the thrum of the galaxy
lodged in my throat,

there forever
behind my wolf teeth,
a song alongside you.

 

 

BRAZILIAN MUSIC ALL AROUND US

 

We danced to the Pandeiro

Struck, shaken palms
thumbed words in metal
places we could not fit into

In Rio how the wind would drape
whatever we were hiding,
blonde wind strangling the
açaí palms, cavaquinho in hand,
your rabbit cheek strummed,
wonderland don’t worry
about whatever worries you,
whisper this dream with me
in syncopated beats
until we get it right

 

 

JAMES CROAL JACKSON’s poetry has appeared in The Bitter Oleander, Columbia College Literary Review, Glassworks, and other publications. He grew up in Akron, Ohio, spent a few years in Los Angeles, traveled the country in his Ford Fiesta, and now lives in Columbus, Ohio. Find more at jimjakk.com.

I Can Do It till the Cows Come Home, poetry by Jim Valvis

Slowly, one by one, cows
hoof toward the fence
and lock themselves inside

where the people,
who made that promise,
looking up from magazines

and their manicured nails,
try to recall that long ago day
they quit doing it.

 

JIM VALVIS has placed poems or stories in Arts & Letters, Barrow Street, Natural Bridge, Ploughshares, River Styx, Southern Indiana Review, The Sun, and many others. His poetry was featured in Verse Daily. His fiction was chosen for Sundress Best of the Net. A former US Army soldier, he lives near Seattle.

Music: A Review of Mayhem’s Ordo ad Chao

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by JERENY TACKETT

 

Mayhem is, to say the least, a divisive band. There is no questioning the important role they played in both the first and second waves of black metal, particularly with their now classic album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas.

However, one can argue that they are more known for their actions outside the realm of music including but not limited to murder, suicide, arson, assault via severed animal parts, and just general criminal activity and mayhem (had to say it).

Their musical quality and sound have changed through the years due to a highly unstable line-up including at least 3 vocalists and the length of time between official full length releases. To give you some perspective on this, their first full-length, the aforementioned classic De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, was released in 1994, and their most recent full-length, Esoteric Warfare, was released in 2014. During this 20 year period the band has managed to put out only 5 full-length albums, the other 3 being 2000’s Grand Declaration of War, 2004’sChimera and the subject of this review, 2007’s Ordo ad Chao.

Between these releases have come a slew of live albums, splits, demos, and EP’s (the most notable of which is 1987’s Deathcrush, the band’s very first noteworthy release and 1997’s Wolf’s Lair Abyss). Many of these have included much of the same material along with a ton of live and rehearsal material of dubious quality.

To put it simply, Mayhem has no definitive sound. Each album has sounded different and has been released surrounded by such an apparently never-ending nebulous of low quality demo, live, and rehearsal material one has a hard time pointing to any one period of specific sound for Mayhem. Thus it has been with some understandable trepidation that fans have received each new full-length release.

De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas was a venomous and dark but well-produced black metal album that set the tone for the strong second wave of black metal music (probably the most well-known and most documented period for black metal as the genre became internationally known as much for the music as for the violent antics of some of the bands). Grand Declaration of War was a strange experimental piece of music as different from black metal itself as it was from its predecessor. Chimera was somewhat of a return to a truer black metal style and was a strong if unspectacular release. The most recent album, Esoteric Warfare is another departure with a high quality production value, featuring somewhat of a blend of black metal, progressive metal, and industrial music.

The album that, in my estimation, stands out most from these other releases is 2007’s Ordo ad Chao. This album marked the return of vocalist Attila Csihar, his first album with the band since 1994’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. The first thing that stands out about Ordo ad Chao is the fact that the album begins as if had already been playing and we are joining it in progress. There is no build or intro, just a sudden rush of music that sounds as if someone unmuted a song that had already been playing for a couple of minutes.

This first short song, A Wise Birthgiver, is a mostly instrumental intro to the album and sets the stage well for what is to follow. Without going into a song by song breakdown, a general tone for the album is one of ominous dread. Each song goes through various shifts in tempo including pauses that were they to be experienced in conversation would rate as uncomfortable. The production for this album is decidedly murky, almost demo quality. One can only assume that this is a stylistic choice as the albums before and after this one featured crisp production values. Some fans complained about the production, but to say that it adds to the atmosphere of the album is an understatement. The drums and bass stand out which is unusual as guitar is almost always the focal point in black metal. Attila’s vocals are at the front of the mix as well, which adds to the strength of the album as his vocals slither and wind their way through each song like a serpent rising through the murky depths of a swamp. He alternately growls, whispers, moans, and shrieks throughout this album like a man possessed. The sinister vocals add to the already dissonant and ominous atmosphere creating cohesiveness in an album that at first glance seems to lack cohesion.

The unifying factor about the various parts and layers of Ordo ad Chao is the fact that everything about it appears to be specifically designed to make the listener feel uncomfortable. Everything from the muddy production to the dissonant tempo shifts and pauses to the ominous vocals and lyrics add to the sense of lurking dread. The album’s lyrics deal primarily with enlightenment/awakening from a world ordered by strict religions, technology, and authoritarian values. The way to this awakening as reflected in these lyrics appears to be through a figurative and literal global shift, a dichotomy perfectly depicted by the songs Psychic Horns and Wall of Water. While Wall of Water and Anti feature more apocalyptic visions of global reset, others such as Great Work of Ages,Deconsecrate and Psychic Horns speak of a more psychical enlightenment (i.e. opening the third eye) primarily through rejection of both religious control and blind belief.

Mention of the Annunaki in the final two songs, Key to the Storms and Antihint at an anti-cosmic philosophy (for more on this look up anti-cosmic and Annunaki on Wikipedia). The album’s central songIlluminate Eliminate stands apart as it speaks of a dissatisfaction and disillusionment with the status quo and lyrically can be seen as catalyst for the songs before and after it. It is also the album’s longest song at nearly 10 minutes.

Ordo ad Chao ends as it began with no outro, just a sudden stoppage of music at the end of Anti as if someone hit the mute button mid-song. Overall, Ordo ad Chao stands as Mayhem’s most defining, cohesive, and relevant album since their first groundbreaking full-length, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. For those fans who abandoned Mayhem as having spent their artistic load in the 1990’s, this would be an apt re-entry point.

JERENY TACKETT is a father, husband, poet, pagan, nature lover, ghost hunter, scribe, cryptozoologist, noisemaker, codebreaker, and liberal. Sometimes NSFW. Find him on Twitter @JerenyTackett.

My Theory on the Indomitable Nature of Cleveland, Ohio

Cleveland1973_1000

by JOE KAPITAN

I’ve often heard my hometown compared to Rocky, the movie boxer. It’s not a good comparison. Rocky beat Apollo Creed in Rocky II, Clubber Lang in Rocky III, Ivan Drago in Rocky IV and Tommy Gunn in Rocky V. Cleveland keeps biting the canvas and struggling to its feet for more: KO’d in 1969 (burning river), again in 1978 (financial default), dropped by a quick jab in 1987 (“The Drive”), downed by implosion in 1988 (“The Fumble”), tripped up by Michael Jordan in 1989 (“The Shot”), floored in the late rounds of 1997 (Game 7 of the World Series),  savagely bloodied by the Recession of 2008 and publicly humiliated by LeBron James in 2010.

It’s a good thing that Cleveland’s DNA is steel. Some say steel made the city, but it’s the other way around. The city cut pieces from itself – Eastern European hands, Irish feet – and melted them down together in blast furnaces. Immigrant alloy.

Cleveland’s steel DNA contains traces of my grandfather. He was a first-generation American born to Slovak immigrants in 1904. His own father was electrocuted in a steel mill accident in 1916. It made the local paper. My grandfather dropped out of high school to support his mother; he got work as a mail boy at a local bank. He had progressed to teller by 1929, sleeping on tables in the back room during the Black Friday run on the banks. He retired from that same institution 44 years later, as head of the accounting department.

Cleveland is like that. It’s a car you saved from salvage and rebuilt with your dad or your uncle. Cleveland is that old dull knife that somehow cuts better than a new one. Cleveland spits blood and shouts, hey, hey you bastard, you beat me up last year and last month and last week but one of these days I swear I will catch you off guard and I will knock your fucking teeth out.

Another thing: in a movie about Cleveland, Cleveland would not be played by Sylvester Stallone. Or any real actor, for that matter. Cleveland would be played by that guy whom no one in Hollywood ever expected to make it as an actor.

***

JOE KAPITAN – Architect. Consultant. Cyclist. Husband. Dad. Neatfreak. College football fan. Microbrew drinker. Good teeth. Ugly feet. Writer of short fiction. Online publications (past and pending) include PANK, elimae, Smokelong Quarterly, Annalemma, Necessary Fiction, LITSNACK, Emprise Review, Corium, Metazen, The Northville Review, Eunoia Review, Apocrypha & Abstractions, and Used Furniture Review.

Long Ago, My Parents Were Illegal Immigrants, an essay by Donal Mahoney

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Joseph F. Mahoney, first row, third from left, circa 1920, age 16, all dressed up and looking older than 16. Photo courtesy Waterford County Museum.

 

In 1920, my father, 16, was a guest of the British government. He was a prisoner of their forces occupying Ireland at the time, a group called the Black and Tans.

One day he and seven other prisoners were brought out of their makeshift cells to dig their own graves in a small walled compound. As tradition would have it, they would be shot into their graves and other prisoners would be brought out to bury them.

By prearranged signal, the eight men dropped their shovels and broke for the wall. Bullets stopped five of them but the other three climbed over the wall and made it through the rural Irish countryside to freedom. One of the escapees eventually went to Australia, another to Canada. My father made it to America.

The story doesn’t end there, of course, and he only told it once. But even if you were only in eighth grade, as I was at the time, it’s not a story you forget.

Ironically, his first job in America was digging graves in New Jersey. Then he boxed professionally in New York and sang in Irish nightclubs. A sober Irishman, he never drank. He was an odd fellow in that respect and perhaps in some others as well.

After another boxer broke his nose he stopped fighting and emigrated from New York, this time to Chicago, where without skills or experience he was hired by the Commonwealth Edison Company. He spent 35 years there as an electrical lineman who specialized as a troubleshooter called out during big storms whenever they occurred anywhere in the State of Illinois. He had to retire earlier than he would have liked after absorbing 12,000 volts of electricity trying to save a rookie he was training from touching the hot wire that got him.

At some point he met and married my mother, an illegal immigrant from Ireland. She arrived in 1926 or so, got off the boat and found herself, for reasons she could never recall, in the middle of Harlem among the first black people she had ever seen. They helped her locate her cousin elsewhere in New York. In time she used her cousin’s paperwork to find jobs cleaning the houses of others who could afford to hire her.

My father, apparently illegal as well, didn’t stop for documentation, perhaps because the Black and Tans might have delayed his trip had they found him.

My mother was reared in rural Ireland with eight siblings in a thatched-roof cottage in the middle of a cabbage field. An English landlord owned the field.

My mother didn’t know she needed papers to come to America. She had just grown weary of harvesting cabbage and thought she might try her luck in America. Apparently she had no problem getting on the boat.

These two illegal immigrants had a good if not perfect life in Chicago compared with the life they might have had if they had remained in Ireland.

My father earned good money as an electrician and saved a lot of it to make it possible for his son to earn two degrees. He and my mother died, however, before seeing their first grandson win a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University.

It’s just as well because my father would have been very unhappy to have a grandson studying in England.

Almost as unhappy as he was to learn many years earlier that he had spent all his hard-earned money to send his own son to a university and have him come home with two degrees in English.

Once again my father had proof that life isn’t fair.

The World Set Shaking: Kathy Fish and Robert Vaughan’s RIFT

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by SHELDON LEE COMPTON

 

Rift

by Kathy Fish and Robert Vaughan

Unknown Press

211 pages

 

Collaborations in literature are difficult on many levels. With Rift, their new collection of flash stories, Kathy Fish and Robert Vaughan – both veterans and esteemed practitioners of the form – make it look easy.

The collection, now available now from Unknown Press, is made up of four sections of about nine to ten stories each from both Fish and Vaughan. The sections are titled in keeping with the collection’s main title and slowly building in scale – Fault, Tremor, Breach, and Cataclysm – with a definition of each word prefacing the section. The structure itself is fantastic, and sets the tone for what’s to come.

Fault

“A break in the continuity of a body of rock or of a vein, with dislocation along the plane of the fracture.”

In this section, it’s Fish’s story “Vocabulary” that perhaps speaks most closely to the definition of a fault. A short (one paragraph) glimpse into the heart of a woman’s early fracture as she sleeps with a stranger, saying “I was his paper.” Like much of Fish’s work, this is achieved in a short space that seems perfect in snapshot, just enough withheld and just enough shared.

In duet, Vaughan’s stand-out story in this section is “She Wears Me Like A Coat.” Here, Vaughan does what he does best – showing the reader the edges of a relationship to make us understand its core. It’s more than a clever, literary trick. In Vaughan’s hands, the technique becomes a perfect brushstroke. This, not to mention the story’s first sentence is a genius example for up-and-coming flash fiction writers everywhere: “The first time it was one of those cucumbers wrapped in plastic.”

Tremor

“A relatively minor seismic shaking or vibrating movement. Tremors often precede larger earthquakes or volcanic eruptions.”

In “The Farms of Ohio Were Replaced by Shopping Malls” Vaughan takes an inside look at a bus hijacking and, in one and a half pages, says more about how a life can change when caught to close to a sort of strange seismic shaking. This was one I read three times in a row, finding something new after each reading.

Fish hits a fine stride early on in this section with the story “No Time for Prairie Dog Town.” The narrator is en route to visit her dying brother, pregnant, and accompanied not by her boyfriend, but a friend from work who, despite certain limitations, seems to fill a much needed void in her life. There’s a lot going on with this story, providing the perfect setting for Fish to show how well she condenses a narrative.

Breach

“The act or a result of breaking; break or rupture.”

If condensing a narrative is one of the keys to great flash fiction, certainly tension (as with most other fiction, of course) becomes just as important. In Vaughan’s “The Literary Savant” once again we’re given an expertly honed lesson in the form. In this story, the back and forth between the narrator and his friend is playful in the beginning, much like we find in Hempel’s best stories. By the end, with the final statement from the friend, we see how truly far apart the two are. It’s a clean break.

In “The Possibility of Bears” Fish, again in duet with Vaughan, shows us another couple, this one newly married and vacationing in a wooded area. If Hemingway set the tone for the “pregnancy” story, Fish re-envisions it here. Juxtaposed with the threat of bears (the couple notice claw marks on the cabin door when they arrive) Fish turns threat into protection at the story’s end while also showing a distinct distance between the newlyweds.

Cataclysm 

“A sudden and violent physical action producing changes in the earth’s surface.”

With this final section, both Fish and Vaughan have built their stories up to a collective frenzy. The final moments will provide that change.

In “Me and You and a Voice Named Boo” Vaughan begins the section with another couple and, this time, not simply a fissure, but a suicide. The desperation of voice in this one is the engine.

Near the end of the this final section with her story “A Proper Party,” Fish shows us what is left after a death, when the hearts of those who loved the lost are still beating, sometimes as part of a routine constructed to stay alive. It’s a heartbreaker.

Overall, this collection (along with the publication of The Best Small Fictions 2015) mark this past year as a year in which a great leap forward took place for the flash fiction form. And the leap couldn’t have come soon enough or with as much power. There is no doubt whatsoever that Rift will quickly be added to the top-tier canon of flash fiction, a book that will be referenced for decades to come.