Dear valued readers and writers:
Thanks for visiting. Please scroll down for the Winter 2022-23 Issue. We've selected 9 flash pieces and 3 prose poems for your reading enjoyment.
We hope our international literary magazine will continue to be a source of enjoyment for English readers and writers around the world as we all continue to get on with our lives during this time of turmoil.
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New and emerging writers of short fiction will find us especially open to their work. All submitters---their stories selected or not---will get a speedy and personalized response.
New and renewed features
Story length: We publish flash fiction of 300 to 1,000 words. We also publish prose poetry of one to three "pages" in length. See Submissions page for complete guidelines.
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The staff at The Zodiac Review
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NEWS NEWS NEWS
February 1, 2023
Announcing the all-time
Best of Zodiac
(click above tab)
We heartily recommend these
20 outstanding works of short fiction, each a polished and finely tuned example of what
short fiction should be like.
January 6, 2023
New issue published
Our sincere thanks for the
excellent pieces writers have
submitted since our last issue. We've selected nine flash length stories and three prose poems for this issue.
We've decided just this week
that the publication will now
begin a kind of hibernation (will be"on hiatus") for an undetermined length of time.
The magazine will continue to be accessible online. We hope you will continue to enjoy the excellent stories here. Be sure to read some of the great pieces that fill our archived issues...20 issues published since our opening in 2011.
Our apologies for asking you to scroll down past the empty space on the left to find the current issue. We blame the gap on the Wix hosting program.
each available via amazon
or order at your
local book store:
The Feminist Gene
And The Election of 2024
The Man Who Was
(anthology of short fiction)
The Aries Obsession
~ a "Zodiac Thriller"
The Gemini Obsession
~ a "Zodiac Thriller"
(a work in progress)
Winter 2021 Issue
Tables of Contents - Winter 2022-23 Issue
Flash Fiction and Prose Poetry
> Sampson's Eyebrows, by Drew Chastain
> Martha's Margueritas, by Michael Neis
> Linger Stink, by Charles Rammelkamp
> Our Lovely Day At Binkley's Brews, by Michael Neis
> D. B. Cooper Dumps The Money, by Michael Gray
> The Tightrope Walker, by Loredano Cafano
> Imagining People, by Saul Kenrick
> Stars, Crossing, by Philip Kobylarz
> A Well Preserved Man, by Brady Rhoades
by Joseph Kenyon
THE COUPLE EMERGES from the trail like hard tack and nougat -- the boy in camo and sandals, the girl in a thistle-colored top and boots like florid sacks. The boy gestures to the flat rock where I’m standing, looking out over the forested Shenandoah Valley rapidly falling into darkness.
Thistle whines that she doesn’t want to go out on the rock, doesn’t want to be there, waving a hand in front of her face saying the woods stink and the dusk is spooky. She says she wants to go back to the lodge.
“Just one picture of us out there at sunset,” Camo insists in a voice rimmed with or else. “This lady’ll take it for us.”
He doesn’t even look at me, but he knows me. Obliging. What several classmates wrote in my school yearbook (will help anyone). What my ex-husband endlessly complained about (too focused on others). What Becky, my best friend, teases me about (seeker of the romance of mystery, not the mystery of romance).
They step onto the rock, and I step back toward the woody edge to make room. Camo hands me the phone sideways as he shifts Thistle into position with the other arm. The sky holds what’s left of the day above trees that are blending together with the night. Finding them in the screen, I’m bringing my finger down on the button when there’s movement behind them and to the left on the next outcropping. About fifty yards away.
The phone clicks, and the picture comes up. Camo smooth-grinning, Thistle pout-smiling. And to that distant left, on that further ledge, what appears to be a furry, pointed head and the profile of a bestial face with one wary eye, turning away against the darkening leaves. That face. That smell.
“We’ll go now,” Camo said more gently to Thistle, stretching out a hand for the phone. The phone I’m staring at. The picture I can’t get out of my mind -- admittedly not completely clear -- of a face not caught on camera since 1967.
“Thanks,” Camo says, sharply. A warning.
I back away, and he lunges. He has the phone that I hold like a lifeline, one foot on the rock, the other on the ground.
“What the fuck, lady? Let go!”
But I don’t oblige. Even though I can’t be sure about what I see. Even though the Patterson-Gimlin film brought more heartache than fame to the filmmakers. Even though Camo will attack with rage. Even though the romance of mystery far too often ends this way.
# # #
Joseph Kenyon is the author of one novel, All the Living and the Dead (Mill City Press, 2016), as well as stories and poetry that have been published in a wide variety of literary journals and anthologies. When not writing, he teaches the craft at The Community College of Philadelphia and contemplates the endless creative utility and freedom inherent in constraint.
by Drew Chastain
“Do you want me to trim the eyebrows, too?” the barber asks.
Or I guess he’s really a hairdresser, or a hairstylist, or coiffeur. I know that sounds better for someone with his career, but when it comes to my hair, I’m utilizing so little of his talent. I just need my hair cut shorter than it was, that’s all – you know, what a barber does. But then hairdressers ask me if I want the eyebrows touched up, too, with that slight grimace, like there’s something very wrong with my eyebrows that no one is ever telling me about.
“No, no,” I say, “I take care of that at home.”
“Okay, okay. It’s free, you know, no problem. It’s easy,” they say, or something like that.
“It’s fine, I got it. I’ve got my own, you know, scissors. I’ll do it.”
But then I don’t do it. It’s not because I’m lazy. It’s because I’m strangely superstitious about this one thing and nothing else. I never trim my eyebrows, and that’s because a college girlfriend told me that I would lose all my luck if I did. The thing is, I am very lucky, and whenever luck happens, I feel it in my eyebrows. They start twitching up and down right before I pick a winning number in roulette, and right before my boss calls with a hugely profitable proposal. I swear to you, it’s not a coincidence.
Her name was Agatha, this girlfriend from college. She really liked me for some reason, and she liked my eyebrows, which is even harder to believe. You see, my eyebrows are really bushy and the hairs are uneven in length, curling out into frayed swirls at both ends, but these swirls never end up looking balanced with each other. It’s the first thing most people notice about me, and it attracted plenty of ridicule when I was younger and less successful. But Agatha liked the wild, unique quality, and she liked me because I didn’t try to tame them.
In bed once, she told me I was like Samson, not because of the hair on my head, but because of the eyebrows.
“What do you mean?” I asked, one hand behind my head resting on the pillow, the other holding her close to me under the covers.
“They give you good luck,” she explained, tracing her finger over my left brow. “I can feel it.”
“But wasn’t Samson famous for his strength?”
“Yeah, but that’s just one kind of luck, and not the most important kind. What I’m saying is, you never want to cut your eyebrows, just like Samson shouldn’t have gotten a haircut.”
Soon after that, I got an internship in Chicago. Agatha told me I should follow my luck, but sadly, she wouldn’t be able to follow me to the big city. It hurt, but I had to follow my dreams, so I pushed Agatha out of my mind. Never since have I met a woman who got to know me because she was actually attracted to me first. It’s my money they’re attracted to, and then they accustom themselves to the man behind the money.
Case in point: my fiancée Lyla. Our wedding is next week. That’s why I got a haircut, but she doesn’t think the coiffeur did a thorough job.
“He didn’t do your eyebrows,” Lyla squawks the moment she sees me. Never before has she mentioned my eyebrows, so I’ve never explained my position on the whole thing.
“I don’t trim my eyebrows,” I tell her. “It’s bad luck.”
“Bad luck? But what about the wedding photos?!”
That night, I read the story of Samson, how he gets lured by his lover into cutting his hair. Then I look up Agatha on the internet for the first time since college. She’s working as a horse therapist in Idaho. My eyebrows twitch up and down. I trust the eyebrows, so I jump in my Maserati and hightail it to the outskirts of Boise.
Eventually, my fiancée calls. I tell her I have a meeting with a client in Idaho, and I can’t get out of it. My boss calls, and I tell him that the wedding preparations are getting out of hand. Neither of them is happy, but I have to know where my eyebrows are taking me. They’ve never failed me before.
I finally arrive at the Willow Creek Ranch where Agatha brings in traumatized clients to ride the horses she trains. I pull up beside a barn where I see a lovely woman with long dark hair riding a mare. I step out of my Maserati and she recognizes me immediately, maybe from the eyebrows.
“Is that really you?” she asks, handing off the horse to her assistant.
“I needed to see you,” I say, a little nervously. “The whole drive here, I’ve been trying to figure out how to explain why I came all the way from Chicago to talk to you.”
“You just drove from Chicago?” Agatha asks, her face softening. “Just to see me?”
“Well, you’re the only one who ever liked me … for me.”
She looks down at the grass, seeming sort of confused.
“I’m sorry, that, that sounds really silly,” I stammer, “I’m just being –”
“I loved you,” she says, looking me in the eyes.
My chest fills with warmth to hear her say that.
“I loved you, too,” I tell her, remembering now how it felt to be with her in college. I’ve always felt emptier since then, but didn’t realize it yet.
Then I get an idea, and my eyebrows twitch up and down, like they do. Her face brightens and she giggles.
“Your eyebrows are doing that thing again,” she says. “You must have a good idea.”
“Well,” I say, blushing, “do you want to have dinner with me tonight?”
# # #
Residing in New Orleans for most of his life, Drew Chastain feels better when he finds time to write fiction. He's been publishing philosophy in recent years, but he's also looking to spill out some stories. He doesn't accept that truth is stranger than fiction, because the boundary separating fiction from truth has not been found.
by Michael Neis
THE DAY had not been going well. The cheese would not firm up and no one had ground the wheat nor swept the floor. The intense heat of the afternoon had sucked the energy out of everyone, especially Martha. It was at this very moment that the Lord and his followers came calling.
And, as if things were not difficult enough already, the blender would not work.
The followers were trying to be polite about it. They did not complain about the day-old barley biscuits they had to choke down with only a few swallows of warm water. James and Nathanial had put rocks into their mouths, just to get the saliva flowing. Peter's coughing and hacking were all but a blatant message, "Martha, bring the Margaritas please, now!" Everyone was wondering when Martha would at last produce and distribute her glorious concoctions for which she was famous throughout all of Judaea.
Martha tried to make up for the lack of beverages with increased attention, but it was not working, and Mary was ditzy as she had been all day. Jesus, driven by his mission, seemed unaware of the coming storm. At last, Martha could stand it no longer.
"Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself? Please tell her to help me. And can you please do something about this blender? It won't work!"
Jesus put his fingertips to his forehead and smiled. "Martha, Martha. You worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part, and it is not to be taken from her. And the Margaritas—they'll just have to wait."
The surrounding faces transformed from blank, to stunned, and ultimately, to outrage.
"But Lord… You can't be serious!"
James was forthright in his opinion. "Mary should help Martha!"
Nathanial was coming unhinged. "I walked twenty miles—all for nothing!"
Thomas took on a practical problem. "Is there something we can do about the blender?"
John became a cultural revolutionary. "We should all, men and women, help Martha!"
Peter stated what would be the clergy's position, enduring through the centuries. "That's woman's work. I will never do that!"
The furor died down with the reassuring, outstretched hand of James, the Buffed (His name was pronounced "Buffet," in the old style). He had just returned from surfing the Mediterranean waves.
"Martha, could I have a look at that blender?"
Martha obliged and handed him the pitcher with the drive unit. Jimmy inspected the two pieces of kitchen gear.
"Oh, it's quite simple. The catch here has become worn, but that's no real problem. You only need to position the pitcher like so, and then give it a quarter-turn, like this." His fingers twisted the two components together, giving them a firm click.
Martha examined the blender, and a delighted grin broke out over her face. "Oh, thank you so much, Jimmy. That is exactly what I needed!" She went back to the kitchen.
As the sound of a whirring blender wafted out over the courtyard, a cool breeze seemed to sweep through the hot day. Margaritas quickly found their way into everyone's hands. Happy noises, "mmmm's", and lip smacking complemented the Lord's illuminating message as everyone sat still to listen. Not even the news that he would be handed over to the Sanhedrin and killed could demoralize the followers.
The Lord guarded his own private thoughts with care. "Effective immediately, we dine in private rooms only, with no Margaritas. And we drink wine. Only wine!"
# # #
Mike Neis lives in Orange County, CA and works as a technical writer for a commercial laboratory. His work has appeared in Amethyst Review and Rind Literary Magazine. Besides writing, his outside activities include church music, walking for health, and teaching English as a second language.
by Charles Rammelkamp
“Identify with your true identity,” our yoga instructor told us, “and walk in radiance in this life.” We’d just completed an exercise where we lay on our backs, holding our ankles, and raised our hips up and down. Now we lie flat on our backs in Shavasana – corpse pose.
“Oh, please, Arnie,” a voice in the back that belonged to a guy named Blake murmured, “can you just freeze the mystical bullshit? You aren’t some sort of swami, for Christ’s sake.”
A slender bald man, Arnie had lived in Bethesda for maybe half a dozen years now, having come east for college from Keokuk, Iowa, about a decade before. Or so he’d told us when the hatha yoga class began six weeks back.
Nobody said anything. We continued to lie on our backs. Silence shrouded us. It was almost as if nobody had spoken. I opened my eyes and looked at Arnie in front of the class. He was sitting upright on his heels in rock pose, his eyes closed, head bent, meditating. I turned my head in Blake’s direction. I thought of Blake as “the chia pet”: he had thick hair all over his arms and legs, even on the backs of his hands, and he had a big beard. I think he was a computer programmer or something. Blake was also flat on his back on his mat, along with the other dozen or so students. The room was silent. I heard a clock ticking somewhere. But it felt like somebody had farted and that everybody was pointedly pretending nothing had happened.
I closed my eyes and lay back on my mat. And then, for no reason I could see, the Cranberries’ song from about thirty years ago, “Linger,” floated into my head. You know I’m such a fool for you…do you have to, do you have to, do you have to let it linger?
After another thirty seconds, Arnie told us to turn over and turn around, lie on our stomachs and put our hands under our shoulders. Then he told us to stretch up.
“Inhale and raise your upper body, then slowly come back down,” he instructed in that dreamy voice he used when he led us through the asanas – the yoga poses. “Cobra pose will help turn venom into nectar.”
“Oh fuck you,” Blake snarled, getting up and rolling his mat up. He headed for the studio door, opened it and left, closing the door gently behind him.
Again, it was as if nobody had noticed what had just happened. We just continued to raise our upper bodies up and lower them back down while breathing deeply.
Do you have to, do you have to, do you have to let it linger?
# # #
Charles Rammelkamp’s latest poetry collection, The Field of Happiness, has just been published by Kelsay Books. Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books. He contributes a monthly book review to North of Oxford and is a frequent reviewer for The Lake, London Grip and The Compulsive Reader. A collection of flash fiction, Presto!, will be published in 2023 by Bamboo Dart Press.
Our Lovely Day at Binkley's Brews
by Michael Neis
I massage an ivy leaf between my thumb and index finger at the front of Binkley's Brews. Ivy reminds me of Ursuline Academy and my high school friends before we all went our own ways, but that was long ago. Bijou sniffs at the vines so I wait like a good dog owner. I know who makes the decisions. She sniffs a black spot on the pavement near our table. Why does she sniff so much?
A new waitress appears almost instantly. Binkley's has cycled through many waitresses, each one slovenlier than the last, but I have a good feeling about this one. She has a buttoned Oxford shirt and a crisp formal air, like the old world. I order a caramel frappuccino for myself and a cinnamon roll for my constant companion. Bijou looks at the waitress with such attention, as if to engage her spiritually. I tell you, that dog is almost human.
I rarely venture from my home in Pittsfield Massachusetts, but no matter. The pictures of Santorini, Monaco, and Paris tell me everything I dare to know about the adventuresome world outside.
A lovely young lady in a faded blue sundress and a gentleman in a sport coat sit down at the far end of the courtyard. The confidence of the man offsets the shyness of the woman. Those two transmit an unmistakable chemistry. They order their drinks and talk, their words low and intimate. Oh, the passionate things young people talk about now, not at all like the young ladies and gentlemen back in my day. I hope they do not notice me staring at them.
Then the magic strikes. The man reaches into his breast pocket and gets down on one knee. The woman puts her hands to her face. My heart pounds as I detect a nod. The man puts the ring on her finger.
To my horror, Bijou starts growling, a sound like a rubber band getting snapped.
I follow Alpha Mistress to the ivy, which has the unmistakable odor of two rat families. I take another sniff. The rat families had a fight the previous evening.
I am always filled with affection for Alpha Mistress, my provider, even though this woman is stupid. She goes through a lot of trouble to keep rats away from her house. Why is she lingering in a place where so many rats live?
On the way to our table I sniff a small stain on the pavement. Does Alpha Mistress know that someone has just used marijuana in the very place where she is about to sit?
The food woman comes, important, but this one is wild. She has not slept in a couple of days, and she has the strong scent of narcotics with small injuries on her arm. Why do humans poison themselves this way?
Two more people sit together, upwind, so I gather information about them. The woman is early in her child-bearing years. The man is twice her age. Smells do not lie. The man wants to mate with this young woman, even though she has none of the pheromones that indicate desire or attraction. Indeed, she wreaks of dread, and a pathetic submissiveness. How can she yield to the man? A male cannot take a female who has no desire. That is against nature.
I protest. Why is Alpha Mistress pleased with this couple? She is so stupid.
The man and the woman exchange the initial gestures of mating, and a blind fury takes me. How? Why? This pairing is an abomination. I bark!
Alpha Mistress gives me that angry look, but she does not understand the crime unfolding before us. I tremble with fury. I am going to stop that couple. I charge! Then I am jerked back. That leash. That damn leash.
Alpha Mistress encircles me in her arms, and I struggle uselessly. She grabs the bag that holds my treats.
We get up from the table. She stops and says something nice to the man and the woman. Alpha Mistress understands nothing. She turns to me and gives me more of that angry voice as we walk away.
# # #
See Mike's bio above (at the end of his other story, Martha's Margaritas).
D. B. Cooper Dumps the Money
by Michael Gray
IT WAS BEFORE FIRST light when I filled a gym bag with the money and drove east, all the way to Biloxi, Mississippi. That seemed far enough from New Orleans without spending the night somewhere I didn’t know. It had been six long, uneasy months of looking over my shoulder since I’d jumped from a perfectly good airplane with my loot. The memory of that frigid November day made me shiver, even as the Gulf sun beat down without mercy:
November 24, 1971
I was sucked into the banshee slipstream and plunged into violent, wet darkness, my raincoat ripped open and snapping like a rapid-fire bullwhip. Like a mad, caped avenger dropping from an angry black sky, spinning faster than a child’s top, I was certain I would rip apart like drumsticks wrenched from the Thanksgiving bird. There was a point, far less than a moment, perhaps the tiniest of measurable time, in which I saw lights from the wing of a jet wink at me. I pulled the ripcord and was snapped upright with such force that I pissed my pants and a coat sleeve ripped away. Numb and beyond fear, beyond feeling – beyond humanity -- I crumpled into a miserable, soaked heap, scant yards from thick trees, and the impact delivered me into oblivion.
I’d barely survived “the event” and made my way to New Orleans, a place from my shrouded past. In Biloxi, I rented a boat and pretended to be a tourist fisherman out for a day’s lark of fishing. At a sporting goods store along the way to Biloxi, I bought the heaviest bowling ball they had and put it into the bag. I piloted the boat far out into the Gulf, past Cat and Horn islands, out to where I felt I would not be observed, and where the water was surely deep enough.
I’d also bought lighter fuel at the sporting goods store and once I was out in the Gulf away from prying eyes, I doused the money and burned it thoroughly before tossing the charred bag overboard. It made a satisfying splash and sank right away– I’d rolled a strike! I was far out into the Gulf, perhaps thirty miles or so. Surely nobody could ever stumble across the bag, but if they did, maybe in a fishing net, they’d find only a bowling ball and think it some silly fraternity boy prank.
Then I became a real fisherman for the day and caught several Spanish mackerel before the trip back to port. I enjoyed the fishing, the brief time on the water alone, but not lonely, and temporarily free from the throngs of people along Frenchman Street, where I lived. I’d even taken a nice lunch of barbecue sandwiches and fries from a dockside joint that smelled good, and a few beers in a small cooler.
Back in port, I made sure the boat’s owner saw my catch. He accepted the fish as a tip and bought me a beer at a waterfront dive. I felt the thrill of being on the run and not living a conventional life. Maybe what I really needed was a boat of my own for escaping when necessary.
All the way back to New Orleans, I somehow felt like a new man. Not a better man, but a different one. Maybe it was even time for a new alias, to transition from Walter Switzer to someone new, and even farther away from that mythical creature, D. B. Cooper.
The money was now no longer money. Just charred fragments of paper the Gulf would dispose of. It would become absorbed by currents and become microscopic flotsam. But it was never about the money. I knew from the start it was money that had no use, no purpose. Because of the serial numbers, the FBI would always be watching for it. It couldn’t be spent or given away or even put in a bank. It was no more than fancy wallpaper. Wallpaper, of course, that no one could ever see. Like a stolen painting by a famous artist, it could hang for only the thief. Exist only for the thief. I’d turned money into nothing. Reverse alchemy.
Taking it away from the airline was what truly mattered. They valued it, and I didn’t, but in the taking, I had my reward. That’s the thief’s true accomplishment—taking. Pulling off the caper. I had my own money. Inherited money. Enough to keep me going. Maybe to maybe propel me to a new caper. I don’t know. It’s too soon to really think about a future. There may not be one. I’m living just day to day.
But I had washed my hands of the airline money. Jettisoning the money had severed the cord to my deed—my crime. The crime was not erased, of course. But absent the money, the crime existed now only in my mind. It also existed in the minds of a curious public, in the minds of those clever boys at the FBI, but that was an issue for their minds, and I only had to be concerned with what was in mine.
# # #
Michael Gray is the author of six published novels. The Armageddon Two-Step, winner of a Book Excellence Award, was released in December 2019. His novel Well Deserved won the 2008 Sol Books Prose Series Prize and his novel Not Famous Anymore garnered a support grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation in 2009. His novel Exile on Kalamazoo Street was released in 2013 and he co-authored the stage version. His novel The Canary, which reveals the final days of Amelia Earhart, was released in 2011. King Biscuit, his Young Adult novel, was released in 2012. He is the winner of the 2005 Alligator Juniper Fiction Prize and 2005 The Writers Place Award for Fiction. Michael earned an MFA from Western Michigan University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois.
The Tightrope Walker
by Loredano Cafaro
SLOWLY. NO HURRY. One step. Then another, and another, searching with his feet for the rope that separated him from the void. He gazed forward, his arms raised at the sides of his body like wings. They would not have helped if he lost his balance and fell. Below him, a few feet down, the daily hubbub of Via Montebello: students, tourists, the stalls of artisans. In the background, the raspy voice of a street musician crooned a rock ballad from the mid-eighties.
See that man? The one up there, playing tightrope walker on the electric cable, stretched between the buildings—the one with the grey jacket and a plain face. See him? No, of course not. How could you? Well, anyway, it’s me, Filippo.
Filippo stopped exactly halfway and bowed to the crowd below. Then he turned around and bowed again, without anyone giving any sign of noticing him.
I like being up here, suspended above the world. Outside the world, actually, in my case. And, having practiced a lot, I must say that I am doing quite well. Too bad no one can see me.
Filippo looked up towards the top of the nearby Mole Antonelliana. He imagined himself on the last, tiny balcony up there, just below the twelve-pointed star, gazing over the arcades of Via Po to Piazza Castello, then turning left and down Via Roma.
It happened one day, right downtown, when my cell phone buzzed, and I read the number of the clinic where my sister was admitted on the screen. She had been ill for some time, and I already knew what they would tell me: I had lost her, too. And with her, probably, myself. I was twenty-seven when my reflection vanished in the window of a store on Via Roma, and I became a ghost.
The street musician’s fingers indulged in the solo, bringing Filippo back to Via Montebello.
You might be wondering how this was possible. I was someone’s son, at least until I was nineteen. A car accident. It happens. I was someone’s brother until that day on Via Roma. I was also someone’s boyfriend from time to time. I have been friends with many, but I have no idea where they are now. Perhaps what happened to me is what happens when you are no longer a son, a brother, a boyfriend, a friend, and alone you don’t love yourself enough. They say that if a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, it doesn’t make a sound. What if it were the same for me? If no one knows you exist, can you really say you are alive? Yes, I think that’s how you become a ghost.
And there he was, playing tightrope walker on the chords of the street musician’s guitar riff. One small step, another, more, until he lost count, and then off with the customary bow to oblivious passersby. He did not immediately realize what was happening when he noticed that red newsboy hat turned toward him…not even when he met, under the visor, the eyes of a woman who hinted at silent applause accompanied by a smile.
Filippo turned to look behind him for whatever might have attracted the woman’s attention. He barely caught a glimpse of the emptiness of the sky, then lost his balance and fell. He tumbled onto the pavement of Via Montebello. He turned in disbelief to her, who meanwhile had come closer and was watching him with wide eyes, then panic got the better of him. He rose to his feet and backed away a couple of steps, ready to flee, but his legs could not hold him, and he collapsed to the ground. He did not need to try again, for it was she who turned and ran away. Sitting on the pavement with one hand on his right knee, still aching, he could do nothing but watch that red hat get smaller and smaller and fade away under the arcades of Via Po.
And when you finally think you have all the answers, suddenly someone changes the questions.
Filippo never left Via Montebello again. He sat at one end of the electric cable and waited, perched up there for days, scanning the bustle below, searching in vain for that red hat. More than once, he gasped at the sight of a spot of color advancing through the crowd, but it was never the face he was waiting for. He got lost in time, relentlessly chasing a thought only to see it disappear under the arcades of Via Po. The street musician was performing a little further on. And every time the song of that now-gone moment resounded in the street, Filippo would rest a hand on his right knee, turn his gaze to the star on top of the Mole Antonelliana, and make a wish. Just one, always the same.
Then, one morning, the cable on which he sat vibrated. She was at the other end, proceeding slowly, her arms perpendicular to her body, her lips arched in a frightened smile. Filippo rose to his feet, the cable began to sway, and she came to a startled halt. Their gazes sought each other, their faces smiled.
“I’m Irene,” she shouted, hinting at a hand wave and almost falling.
“Filippo. I am Filippo.”
Without leaving each other’s eyes, they slowly began to advance.
What if life is someone to say your name to?
They met halfway down the cable. Neither of them could tell who was the first to abandon their hands in those of the other, but they both certainly joined them.
“You see me...” whispered Irene.
And Filippo realized that he no longer knew who was saving the other.
Perhaps we ourselves decide to be a ghost, denying ourselves to the world so that it will not hurt us. Perhaps life is knowing that you could put a foot wrong and fall but still climb the rope. And sometimes, who knows? Just when you are most afraid, losing your balance might be the only way you can be reborn.
“Yes, I can see you,” smiled Filippo.
Then, hand in hand, they let themselves fall.
# # #
Loredano Cafaro lives in the hills of Turin, Italy, with his wife and two children. In the little free time left to him by his work as a computer scientist, every now and then he imagines stories. Sometimes he writes them down. His fiction has appeared in The Dillydoun Review, Speculative Fiction in Translation, Literally Stories, Spillwords, On the Run, and elsewhere. You can find him at https://loredanocafaro.com.
The Toghtrope Walker was first written in Italian as “Il funambolo.” Translated by Sabrina Beretta. Edited by Kate Seger and Zodiac staff.
by Jim Genia
YOUR SON Whitney visits every year, standing on the deck behind the house and gently rapping on the sliding door. He is, as always, how you remember him: tousled sheaf of blond hair like a crown atop of perfect head, expression of innocence, meaty palm against the glass. A four-year old brimming with curiosity and wonder. “Daddy?” he says. “Momma?” he says, and always your wife sobs beside you, as you sit on the living room couch and watch him from the darkness. “Oh, Whit…,” she mutters, over and over.
Your son visits every year—every Halloween night—begging to come inside, and it would be easy to rise from the couch, unlock the door and slide it open. Easy to kneel, arms extended for the embrace you’ve longed for. Easy to pull him close and never let go. But you don’t.
Because Whitney died five years ago.
You moved to Montana to be closer to nature, so you and your wife could raise your son where the air was crisp and clear, cellular reception was spotty, and everywhere you looked was a postcard vista of earth and sky. But you cared little of the air and wished your cellphone worked when Whitney had his first seizure, and those postcard vistas only meant hours-long drives for chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
When the end came, the nurses—indifferent to outsiders at first but soon warm with compassion—went silent with pity.
When the end came, an old janitor with a face like tanned leather leaned his broom against the wall, held his palms up to the ceiling, and sang a prayer.
You and your wife were thankful for that act of kindness, and when you learned that the janitor was a medicine man from the nearby Crow Reservation, you sought him out. Tracked him down to a ramshackle trailer parked in the dirt off a cracked and forgotten asphalt road. Standing inside a tiny living room filled with broken furniture, you asked if he could bless Whitney’s ashes before you put them in the ground. In exchange for an offering of tobacco (a pack of cigarettes), he did.
“Eh-ya, he is at peace now,” said the old Crow with authority, and you believed him.
That first year, after Whitney died, the grief sometimes left you breathless. Where there had been an ocean of affection between you and your wife, there was now emptiness. The only thing you shared was what you had lost.
That first year, that first Halloween night when he appeared, you couldn’t believe your eyes.
“Daddy?” he said. “Momma?” he said, and your wife cried out at the sight of him. You unlocked the door and slid it open, and Max—the family German shepherd, who used to stand vigil next to Whitney’s crib—made it outside first.
Watching Max get torn to pieces, you knew to never open the door again.
The morning after Whitney returned, after the sun came up and you were sure he was gone, you buried Max’s remains in the woods. Through tears and crashing waves of hysteria, you and your wife concluded that going to the police would be futile. But the old Crow, he might have answers, so you drove to the ramshackle trailer.
“Nirumbee,” he said solemnly, as if that would explain it.
“Is that… is that like a skin-walker?” said your wife.
The old Crow shook his head, his face contorting as if her question was painful. “Eh-ya. That’s Navajo. This is a Crow spirit. Similar to the teihiihan or hecesiitteihii of the Arapaho, but more…” He seemed to search for the word, his brow wrinkling. “…More insidious.”
Your words were caught in your throat, until finally you coughed and sputtered them out. “Our son is a what?”
“That’s not your son,” said the old Crow. “Your son—your daakbachi—made the journey. His spirit moved on. That’s just… something that’s making itself look like him.”
In the living room full of broken furniture he searched, first rummaging around inside a drawer, then pulling a shoebox down from a shelf. From within, he produced a leather pouch tied with cord.
“Open this when it’s around,” he said. “One whiff of the medicine and it will never visit you again.”
You took the pouch. Your wife began to cry.
“Why us?” she said. “Why Whitney?”
The old Crow shrugged. Said, “Probably because of your grief.” He dug a lighter out of his pocket and probed a crumpled pack on a table for a cigarette. Beside the crumpled pack was a picture in a frame of a younger man in a soldier’s uniform. “But you should consider yourself lucky,” said the old Crow. “Seeing your daakbachi again is a gift.”
Your son Whitney visits every year, standing on the deck behind the house and gently rapping on the sliding door. “Daddy?” he says. “Momma?” he says, and always your wife sobs beside you, as you sit on the living room couch and watch him from the darkness. “Oh, Whit…,” she mutters.
Your son visits every year—every Halloween night, on the anniversary of his death—begging to come inside, and it would be easy to rise from the couch, unlock the door and slide it open. Easy to kneel, arms extended, holding out the pouch with the medicine that will make him leave you once and for all.
But you don’t.
Because Whitney died five years ago, and this nirumbee that wears his face, this creature that would tear you to pieces if you let it, is all you and your wife have left.
A gift you cannot let go.
# # #
Jim Genia—a proud Sioux—mostly writes nonfiction about cagefighting, but occasionally takes a break from the hurt and pain to write fiction about hurt and pain. His book, "Raw Combat: The Underground World of Mixed Martial Arts," was published in 2011 by Citadel Press. Follow him on Twitter @jim_genia.
by Saul Kenrick
I’VE BEEN TALKING to this old woman for ten minutes and I’ve only just I noticed she’s not real. Her badly dyed hair is only a hanging basket with a length of dead creeper dangling from it, her face the confluence of the knocker and a smear of dirt across the door. I glance around, embarrassed, but the street is quiet.
“Where are you from?” I ask, pointedly.
For a moment she’s confused, then realises what I'm implying. She gives me the indignant look they always do when you try to test their existence, or rather, a raindrop runs through the dirt on the door in a way that appears to be an indignant look.
“I’m from,” she begins, full of confidence that, as a real person, she can answer the question, then she falters, and then there is nothing but a door and a hanging basket.
I march back down the gravel path. The interview had been going so well, she knew nothing about the victim; had nothing to add to the investigation. Knew nothing because she was nothing. Of course.
As I open the gate I get another stabbing jolt of memory: Matthew in the hall, trying to make himself sound ill. “You should call school mum, I really think I'm too sick to go in tomorrow.” Me shaking my head, giving him nothing as I head out for the night shift. The last time I saw him.
Sudden panic- in ten years would this be all I remembered of him? No, impossible, I feel terrible for even thinking that. Matthew, five, grinning as he brings me a dog shit. Matthew, nine, screaming impossibly loud at the bottom of the climbing frame, leg broken. Matthew at my breast in the maternity ward.
Jacobs is bristling at the door of number seventeen as I duck under the blue tape. “Where were you?”
“Talking to a neighbour but,” I shrug, “nobody there.”
“Fuck’s sake Webber, be more careful,” and he’s back inside.
As I follow him I’m thinking, it’s outrageous he’s still talking to me like that with what I’ve just been through. But I find I'm grateful. It would be worse if he felt sorry for me.
Inside forensics swarm the body like ants. They won’t find much, no fingerprints. I wore gloves. One of them is putting a bit of rubbish into an evidence bag, so Jacobs has decided we’re done with survey. Not really his call, given I'm senior officer, but you’ve got to have quite a force of personality to get the boys to actually treat you like a senior officer and I don’t feel like mustering it.
Suddenly I recognise the rubbish. It’s the pot of chocolate pudding he was eating when he saw me. The idiot left his back door open so I was in the kitchen before I got spotted. He was so shocked he started choking on the spoon. Always possible that could have killed him for me, almost perfect really, but I was not in a mood to take chances. Next to his head is the bloody toaster I smashed his skull with.
I keep wishing I’d told Matthew he could have his day off school. He never would have got it, Mr. Chocolate Pudding broke in that night, only an hour or so after I was gone, but then at least he would be smiling in that last memory.
I’ve been staring at the dead man’s face for too long. I look about for something to do. Jacobs is crouching down, in serious cop mode with a pretty young forensic. I wonder if I should tell him. He hates me, but surely he wouldn’t dob me in. That’d be no good for anyone. They’d probably turn it all into some BLM bullshit.
Matthew in the hall, coughing pathetically in a last ditch bid for sympathy. That makes me laugh, and he laughs too and for a moment I think he’ll drop the act. He doesn’t of course, but there’s a moment there, a moment of laughter. Why the fuck did I put myself on this investigation. I'm about to start crying, I can’t stop thinking about his face, the face which is, now that I think about it, just the corner of my jacket and the bowl on the hall table where I keep my keys. His body formed by my shadow as I turn back to grab the jacket.
I shake my head to clear it. First the old lady, now this. Jacobs is right, I’ve got to be more careful. One of the forensics removes a spoon from the man’s throat.
# # #
S.Z.S. Kenrick is a writer (or at least someone who writes all the time) from Edinburgh. Right now he's staring out the window of a coffee shop trying to think of what to put in his bio, but later he'll be doing something else.
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by Philip Kobylarz
THE FIGHTS were nonsensical, tinged with the oregano of jealousy, of a passionate nature that belied the urgent desire to release the pent up sex they had been withholding from one another for reasons of who knows, or pride, or the inevitable yin/yang of female/male power struggles, or to fires the flames of anticipation, thus days became Italianesque or Serbian or Zimbabwean, or [attempt to name a culture here that is not proud of its passion].
With age, the tiffs did not reside in intensity but perhaps frequency, yet the drama usually involved the props of broken plates, wine glasses hacked from their stems, Japanese room separators knocked askance of their fragile footings, accusations of logistically impossible trysts involving the most random of potential lovers: the vitamin store owner, the apartment manager, the friend of the couple who no longer loved one another yet stayed married for the kids and the condo that just kept appreciating in value, the mediator of a recent failed lawsuit, or anyone spoken to in a Trader Joe's.
And then she began to dream of road trips to the great unknown north, to Portland, Settle, Vancouver, anywhere where the greenness of the immediate surroundings promised something more than desert hills and endless lines of traffic fencing in the dune-like permutations of land that had a few canyons covered in oak trees and coyote brush that perfectly hid the beasts inside who nightly howled so distinctly that they both thought this is their theme song, this is a form of longing and remoteness that they now felt every single time their romantic dreams of each other were dash by the stupidity of mean words traded rather than a step back and a return to the lust that originally made their lives here or anywhere bearable because in the end the specific desire of two people wanting one another was the only thing that mattered and there was no form of conflict that could ever resolve this nor was there any map whose legends or bearings could help them escape from the intensity of their lips, when pressed together, made them feel and that to never kiss again would be the worst of all possible worlds, a death blow without aspiration.
# # #
Philip Kobylarz is an itinerant teacher of the language arts and writer of fiction, poetry, book reviews, and essays.
A Well Preserved Man
by Brady Rhoades
IN THE BOGS of County Sligo, worms curl around corpses like pasta. Around the corner, in a gray house with a red door, a family mourns a missing man. Who knows how they’ll feel from one minute to the next. The man's wife, Sara, says he’s in a better place, as if saying it makes it true, but why question the faith that gets her up at dawn? She served breakfast today as Uncle Ted quoted Tagore to two kids eating black pudding and potato farls. Theirs is a childhood without dad, the hunter who kept a taut bow and talked of retiring to Garristown. He’s been gone two years. Sundays are for stories and prayers. If we could only tell them that there in the peat lies a well preserved man who laughed at his mishap, that he was true to his vows. If worms had ears we'd urge them to go easy, stay out of the eye sockets. Thomas is meat beneath the rain-damp grass. Sara plays a game of tug-of-war, her mood ribboned on a rope, but one in a thousand is good enough odds to keep her tightening the hold.
# # #
Brady Rhoades's work has appeared in Best New Poets 2008, The Antioch Review, Faultline, Georgetown Review, Notre Dame Review, William & Mary Review, the Los Angeles Times and other publications. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize twice. He lives in Fullerton, California, where he works as a news editor and animal rights advocate.
by Charles Hayes
FROLICKING in the woods of Appalachia, our hearts singing in the quiet beauty of its protection, we follow the colored shafts of sunlight, their shoots of gold and green choosing our path. In the midst of our home, letting our hands slip at a fork, we part to different ways, each caught by a foreign step.
Out there afar, among the smoky humps of hills, for a moment, in my mind I wander. But from on high, my cover gone, I am quickly back to stand alone, her presence a need within. Returning to the walls of hardwood and fir, I see a fleeing deer, its tail a white spear toward the dappled blue above. Following back its run, I come to her.
Reclining atop a huge rock of old, her long coat for a bed, she spreads her smile to all. And then to me. Her ruling bridge, now awaiting to drift the calm, guides the tack and beckons me.
As if she be a siren known to all but me, the forest vines wrap my legs and pull me to. But the forest, its whisper but wind to me, cannot keep me from the promise of her smile nor the beauty of her eye. Dragging roots behind, I scale the rock and command the heights as I go down. Clasping my head to her softness, her words feather deep, “I want to hear it. You must tell me.” As an absent scent of hemlock wafts from the forest floor, I fold within my vow. “I will love you forever.”
# # #
Charles Hayes, a multiple Pushcart Prize Nominee, is an American who lives part time in the Philippines and part time in Seattle with his wife. His writing interests center on the stripped down stories of those recognized as on the fringe of their culture. Asian culture, its unique facets, and its intersection with general American culture is of particular interest. As are the mountain cultures of Appalachia. A product of the Appalachian Mountains, his writing has appeared in Ky Story’s Anthology Collection, Wilderness House Literary Review, The Fable Online, Unbroken Journal, CC&D Magazine, Random Sample Review, The Zodiac Review, eFiction Magazine, Saturday Night Reader, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Scarlet Leaf Publishing House, Burning Word Journal, eFiction India, Blue Lake Review, Piker Press, and others.
End of Prose Poetry