With Emptied Wombs
The mothers gather after sunset, igniting along the shoreline like sparks of flint on steel. The sea grows loud when they appear, agitated by their unrest. What power that must be to upset the sea.
I dig into the gritty sand and watch and belong and don’t belong at the same time.
The mothers’ long, unkempt hair shrieks in the wind. I cover my ears but can still hear its desperate bleating. The mothers claw at their bodies, which wane like the moon. They rip at their throats and eyes and wombs. If I squint, I can see the delicate webs that bind them together. How the silvery threads vibrate stardust and asteroid tails.
No sailors pass this strip of sand. No fishermen drop down the rocky cliffs after dark. They know about the mothers. They hear the howls of the women whose moon dust was ripped from them and the men fear them. We all fear them.
Sometimes I wish I’d never found the mothers. I wish I’d never stumbled onto their sacred sand because now I see them away from the shore. I see them in the muddy puddles after the storms. And in the dingy dishwater. And in the pooling of tears in my palms. They stare at me and reach their long fingers through the water. They hold out their wilting wrists and wait for me to find them again.
Kristin Kozlowski lives and works in the Midwest US. Some of her work is available online at Lost Balloon, Longleaf Review, Pidgeonholes, Cease Cows, and Nightingale and Sparrow, among others. In 2019, she was awarded Editor’s Choice from Arkana for her CNF piece, A POCKET OF AIR. She was also named a finalist in Forge Literary Magazine’s Forge Flash Competition 2019 for her CNF piece, RELATIONSTASIS. If you tweet: @kriskozlowski.
The smell of lavender is overpowering.
I soaked my room in its essential oil to help me sleep, to soothe my mind from the bustle of the apartment building and the din of the city around it. I was a heavy sleeper before I moved to New York. In summer, the cicada’s screeching song would fade to static. An unnoticeable buzz.
But now, the noise is a never-ending reminder of the thousands, millions of lives in motion around me as I flounder and gasp, barely better than stagnant. Now the stench of lavender oil rises from my bed, boxes, books like rot from a corpse. Now I lay, wide awake, drowning in the burning sweet.
I squeeze my eyes shut and try to breathe through my mouth. A camphorous tang curls around my tongue and creeps down my throat, strangles and suffocates me.
I cough out of bed. Throw open my window. Bundle saccharine bedsheets and pillows into the washing machine and jam the button. Wipe my table and the trinkets on it with unscented Lysol, wipe my nose against the bite of sharp overpowering sharp. ‘Unscented.’
Cocooned in a quilt, I lumber to the balcony and huddle on my chair. The city glows below me, above me, around me, an encapsulating constellation of lives. Are the cars headed to jobs? Clubs? Restaurants or grocery stores? Are the shadows in the windows studying? Working? Cooking dinner or washing dishes?
I tilt my head to look at the moon, glowing singularly in the charcoal sky. A shining coin against dark velvet. I stare at it, tracing its shape and shadows with my eyes. And for a moment, we are alone, the moon and me, in a world of stars.
Stella Lei is a teen writer from the suburbs of Philadelphia. Her work has been nationally recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and has previously appeared in Cathartic Youth Literary Magazine. She is also an editor for her school’s literary magazine.
Something Strange and Terrible
A couple towns over they had a funeral for a guy and it even made the news. I think he was in his mid-20s and the mayor, governor, some senator all showed up. Big event. I bet there was a thousand people that went to it. All the flags around town flew at half-mast.
When Tory died they didn’t do anything like that. They made his mom go down to the morgue and identify the body. His sister went with her and said it was a nightmare. He had been dead for days by the time they did a welfare check, so his skin had started turning blue, and his body was bloated. I guess his mom even brought a scissors along so she could take some of his hair home with her. She keeps it in a little plastic bag and takes it with her everywhere she goes.
Then they made them go to his apartment and clean out all his shit. He died on the 25th of the month, and the fucking landlord said they needed to get all of his stuff out by the 31st so he could start marketing it for lease again, or else he was going to charge them for another month. They tried reasoning with the guy, but he couldn’t give less of a shit. To him this was just some junkie.
I went over there to help them out. They were boxing up all his items and movers were coming to do the heavy lifting. His sister asked if I could start packing up his clothes. I pulled out a number of his shirts. He had about 15 of the same damn flannels. Every pair of jeans had a hole in the left knee, and I never knew someone could have so many Metallica t-shirts.
I finished getting everything out of the closet. As I looked at Tory’s entire wardrobe laying on the bed, I noticed his uniform wasn’t anywhere to be found.
“Where’s his blues?” I asked his sister. She laughed a bit as she was taping up a box of books. “At the coroner.”
“What?” I wondered out loud. “Why?”
“He was wearing it when he died. Left sleeve was scrunched up, but other than that – perfectly pressed. Brass polished, ribbons symmetrical. Looking like a fine marine.”
She carried the box out to her car. I went back into his room to fold his shirts and pack them up. I looked at them all laying there, noticing his perfectly made rack. Sheets tucked in tight at 90 degree angles. Tory never forgot a thing they taught us.
Will McDonald is a Minneapolis-based writer focused on fiction and humor. His comedy has been featured on Points in Case, What the Fuss News, and Robot Butt. This is his first fiction publication. In addition to writing, he is a musician and performs improvisational comedy when not sheltering-in-place. He can be found on Instagram at @yawnafterreading.