Kissing Teeth by Kayla Pongrac Schwerer

May 30 2014

My husband Troy was born without lips. I often mistook his constantly exposed teeth for clouds or marble countertops, which led me to believe that he was the kind of guy who would sit me down and read me Thoreau’s “Walden” from cover to cover, or at the very least, write me a poem that reminded me of a balloon being released from captivity between a little girl’s toes.

While classmates made fun of Troy, I stood beside him in gym class, shared a seat with him on the bus, and combed his hair every day after school. There was only one thing that Troy enjoyed more than getting his hair combed, and that was kissing. I was Troy’s first kiss; it happened during our sixth grade dance. He leaned in; I leaned out; he leaned in some more. I would compare that kiss to building a sandcastle in the middle of a snowstorm: it just didn’t work. Not because everyone was pointing and laughing at us, but because I had no experience whatsoever when it came to kissing teeth.

Even if the person you’re currently dating was born with lips, I bet you don’t know how to kiss that person’s teeth in such a way that would make butterflies-to-be perspire in their silky cocoons. And I bet you wouldn’t know how much pressure to apply to his teeth with your tongue so that you could use his plaque to tell the current temperature of Alaska.

No one ever said that kissing teeth was easy. But there, in Troy’s open cavern of a mouth, I’ve since discovered hieroglyphics that make Egyptians look like porn stars. I’ve baptized and named all of my unborn children. I’ve lifted my lantern above my head and sang “Hallelujah” in my best operatic voice.

Every night while tucking Troy into bed, his mother tried to comfort him by insisting that he could kiss any girl he wanted and that there were other people in the world just like him—people born without certain body parts or features. Armless people, legless people, hairless people, fingerless people: these people exist, she would say, so let’s try to dream about them tonight!

Instead, Troy dreamed of another group of people: the heartless.

“Lipless Loser” remained Troy’s nickname all throughout school, and despite warnings from teachers, our classmates still found ways to remind Troy that he was a “freak.” Combing his hair every day after school, as simple a task it was, became a way for me to help Troy relax and forget about the relentless teasing.

So, too, did kissing.

We kissed so much that I eventually realized that it wasn’t I who was teaching Troy how to kiss; he was teaching me. There were times when Troy would kiss me so passionately that I thought I was capable of counting all of his tastebuds. Other times, he kissed me so gently that I thought his teeth were made of freshly spun cotton candy.

This year for our 10-year wedding anniversary, I’m buying Troy a new comb: a fine-toothed comb that’s not nearly as fine as the teeth in Troy’s mouth that I never tire of counting with the tip of my calloused tongue.

 Kayla Pongrac Schwerer is a writer, reader, chai tea drinker, and vinyl record spinner. To read more of Kayla’s work, visit

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Meta by Benjamin Judge

Apr 18 2014

Spiderman has stopped replying to Gregor Samsa’s letters.

Benjamin Judge graduated from the Centre for New Writing at The University of Manchester with a master’s degree in Creative Writing. He writes words. He feeds the birds, but he doesn’t trust them.

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The Drinking Game by Siamak Vossoughi

Apr 04 2014

It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized that all the games my uncle had taught me when I was a kid had been drinking games. A kid can still get a thrill out of flipping a quarter into a cup whether there are any consequences to missing or not. It was a very nice feeling because my uncle had died, and I had to say something at the fraternity party when they started playing Celebrity, even though I only knew a couple of the people there.

“I played this when I was nine years old!” I said, and I thought it was the kind of thing that would make everybody stop and think about time, but it was the serious focus on drinking and on playing the game right and a couple of guys wanted to join the fraternity and a couple of guys were glad they got to decide who joined, and there wasn’t room in there to think about being a kid, and it was true that they didn’t know that my uncle had died, but I thought they ought to tell from my voice that there was something important about it.

So I left the game and went outside and sat down and remembered him. My uncle was the kind of guy who would hear a thing like that in a person’s voice. He would always have time to listen because he didn’t always have a job. He would take care of me sometimes when my mother was working.

I thought of how there was a way to go back inside and say, instead of playing this game, let’s talk about childhood and about death. But I sure didn’t know it. Maybe I should join the fraternity myself, I thought, and then I would have to figure out how to do it.

But that would be giving up on the people who already could do that. I didn’t want to give up on them.

So I sat outside for a while and went inside and watched the game, and then I left with my friend Paul, who wasn’t sure if he wanted to join the fraternity either.

“What do you think?” he said.

I thought about my uncle and about how there must be people who were ready to talk about anything at the drop of a hat.

“I don’t think it’s for me,” I said.

Siamak was born in Tehran and grew up in Seattle and lives in San Francisco. He also works as a tutor. He’s had some stories published in Faultline, Fourteen Hills, Prick of the Spindle, and one is forthcoming in Glimmer Train.

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My Boyfriend is Stuck in a Tree by Michael Giddings

Mar 21 2014

My boyfriend is stuck in a tree.  Great.

He looks good up there, all pale and panicky.  I like seeing him embarrassed.  It was his idiot move to climb up there in the first place.  I cannot radiate sympathy.  I have never been able to.  I’m sitting on the lawn winding my ghostly music box.  I refuse to run and find help because I’m nobody’s servant.

My boyfriend is stuck in a tree.  Wonderful.

It’s definitely a good thing that this happened.  He’s been getting quite uppity and full of himself lately.  Being trapped in a tree for a few hours will knock him down a few pegs.  He won’t talk quite so much about his indie rock shows after this.  He won’t compare himself to David Bowie.  He won’t buy other girls chocolate éclairs and cappuccino.

My boyfriend is from France.  He pronounces my name “So-Fee-Yah”, which I like.  Sometimes it’s “So-Fie-Yah” when he’s being funny.  Every once in a while he is extremely funny.  It’s one of his redeeming features.  That and high cheekbones.

My boyfriend is stuck in a tree.  Stellar.

His striped sweater looks good.  It’s an April kind of sweater, but it’s still March.  I cannot wait to graduate and go to college.  I cannot wait to waste my summer with The X-Files.

My grandmother gave me the music box.  The song freaks people out.  It’s the kind of song that makes you think of empty halls leading to empty rooms that were once filled with sadness.  My grandmother is dead.

My boyfriend is stuck in a tree.  Lunar.

It is becoming nighttime and I’m still ignoring his pleas for help.  He’s going to be pissed at me when they finally get him down, but I don’t care.  I’m going to lie on the grass for a little longer.  The first bat of the season is flying in dizzying spirals across the velvet sky.

So-Fee-Yah, you must go get help.  Please.

Good one, lover.  You’re stuck in a tree.  Just like a cat.  I could lure you down with tuna, I bet.

I wonder how many stoned teenagers the FDNY has to pull out of trees per year.  Probably at least thirteen.

My boyfriend is stuck in a tree.  Great.

Michael Giddings writes stories about junk food and the laughter of cartoon dogs.  He occasionally performs music under the stage name Mikey Parasite.  A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, Michael is currently pursuing his MFA at Northern Michigan University.

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Luck by Richard Mark Glover

Mar 06 2014

Lori got swept out to sea about two hours ago. Yes. Sure did. Playa Grande. I saw her in the zone, then checked again, beyond the surfers. She waved. She waved again. Fuck. I handed my glasses to Mesa and Reef and yelled Stay on the beach. I ran. Heart pumping crazy. Hit the surf. Swam. Big MFer comes. Under or over? Over. Wrong. Swim through another, under this time, and another and another. Where is she? I’m fuckin dying. There. I spot her. Blurred. I get there. Somehow. She’s scared. I’m scared. I’m glad you’re here, she says. I’m spent. The waves are breaking. Big. Gotta get back. Hold on I say, hold on to my waist. I’m swimming hard with what I got left. Not much. We surf one, we surf another but this one sucks us down. And out. GD I think this is it. Something in my mind clicks, swim diagonal.  Diagonal. Then a rock. A fucking rock in the sea. Five seconds on a lucky rock. Recharge. Mouth just above the froth. Next wave knocks us down. It’s enough. We surf another and gain. I see the beach, the final line of breakers. Crashing. Touch. Sand. Mesa at the shoreline. Reef building castles. Friday the 13th. Luck.

Richard Mark Glover has published short stories with Oyster Boy Review, Oracle, Weird Year, Sinister Tales, Canary, and won the 2004 Eugene Walters Short Story Award. His journalism has appeared in the San Antonio Express News, West Hawaii Today, Ke Ola and the Big Bend Sentinel where he won the 2010 Texas Press Association Best Feature Award, medium size weekly.

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Three Speeches by Jeff Bakkensen

Feb 14 2014

Class President Brittany Brophy starts us off with a typically sappy speech that draws equal parts laughs and tears and quotes liberally from a selection of pop songs three years past edgy.

“I have no doubt that all of my classmates will go on to do great things,” finishes Brittany, “as long as they are willing to look into their own hearts for the guidance that…”

Cheering.  Parents of Brittany’s field hockey and student government friends rise from their seats beyond the fifty yard line to snap pictures as she retakes her place by the stage’s left edge.

The second speech belongs to Salutatorian Lee Drahusek.  Following protocol, each speaker has previously submitted a title along with a text to be approved by Asst. Principal Holly Whitmore, Ed. D., Brittany’s being Guidance of the Hart – a stretchy pun, of course, on Hart’s Brook and by extension Hart’s Brook High School – and Drahusek’s, the far more descriptive if not exactly catchy Technology in the 21st Century: A Call for Skepticism in the Face of Widespread Adoption.

The thing of course is that Brittany is a natural; Drahusek, not so much.  He’s an A/V kid, a Rube Goldberg tinkerer who repeatedly near failed gym and only got the Salutatorian spot because he was taking all of these high level engineering classes at Hart’s Brook CC.  I mean, he’s clearly brilliant, but not in the public speaking way; he’s more the type to spend his weekend titrating or whatever in his basement, which is why we’re all actually pretty excited to hear what he’s got to say about technology and our need for skepticism, given that he opted off the chess team in order to make time to build his own CPU or whatever, social consequences be damned.

Drahusek waits patiently for the applause and picture-snapping to subside, and then he steps out to the podium.  The entire class is silent, along with our parents in folding chairs behind us.  He spends some time fiddling with the microphone, producing those muffled microphone noises as he lowers it.

“Good afternoon,” he says, and his voice cracks.  Of course it does.  Audience members exchange looks full of private meaning.

“Good afternoon,” he says again.  “My name is Lee Drahusek, and I’d like to speak with you today about the dangers posed by the level of technology employed by most of us on a daily basis.”

We all settle in.

“We will begin with a definition of terms.  For the purpose of this speech, technology will mean all tools which are not found in nature, but are crafted by the human hand.  This microphone,” he gestures, “this paper,” he holds it up, “even the clothes I wear today, are all pieces of technology.  They are in and of themselves neither malevolent nor beneficent.  They are useful in that we are able to deploy them to our own purposes.  However, I am extremely distressed by the increasingly extensive adoption of…”

And it proceeds mostly along those lines.  It’s a very carefully worded speech; Drahusek’s obviously a heavy user of his shift and F7 keys, or, given the skepticism that he’s trying to market, a paper thesaurus.  But it’s coherent and well-practiced.  He looks up from his page at regular intervals.  The opening paragraphs behind him, his voice finds its natural pitch.  In fact, as he goes on, Drahusek becomes louder and clearer, and audience member smirks turn to mouths agape because as he reaches the five minute mark and the meat of his argument, he begins to cast off the timidity that has been one of the prime markers of his Drahusekness for the past four years, and he starts gesturing wildly and pounding the podium as if to physically drive each point into our capped and overheated skulls.

“It challenges the very definition of what it means to be a person,” he says at one point, “if we continue to treat the frontal lobe like just another memory stick to be filled and drawn from at will.”

I mean, Jesus, you’d think that technology had taken physical form and stolen his prom date or something.  He talks about the corrosive effects of internet growth in the Third World, and the suffering of Language, which you know he’s typed up on his paper with a capital L, and how we’re in danger of “enslaving ourselves to a new caste of robotic overlords” if we don’t recognize where we are and tack hard in the other direction, pronto.

Behind him, Asst. Principal Holly Whitmore, Ed. D., is making faces at certain audience-member parents to suggest that this isn’t at all the speech that she vetted but what’s she supposed to do at this point, pull the poor kid off the podium?  Which he literally is, is on the podium now, as in climbing skyward, yelling without the aid of a microphone as he brings the speech towards its conclusion.

“Cast off the chains of digital repression!” he shouts.  “Rise against the false wisdoms of the technocrati!  Take action before it’s too late!”

More than a few members of the audience have at this point taken out mobile phones to record what’s happening, and you know it’s going to be up on Youtube before he gets back to his seat, which is terrible, obviously, to take advantage of the kid like that.  And all this is doubly and triply awkward because the Valedictorian’s Speech, which is next, is set to be delivered by Ramses, the computer that Lee Drahusek built towards the end of his sophomore year and which basically lapped him academically-speaking about the same time college admissions were going out.  And poor Ramses has to just perch there on his four-wheeled cart the whole time while Drahusek rants and froths in front of him.  It takes all we have to keep from jumping up on stage and dragging him away to somewhere safe and dry, where the electricity will never be shut off.

Jeff Bakkensen is a writer who makes a living fundraising and a Chicagoan in the body of a New Yorker.  His fiction has appeared in Line Zero, Toasted Cheese Literary Journal, Vestal Review and Anobium, and been included on short or final lists for prizes from Hunger Mountain, Fringe Magazine, Line Zero and the Bridport Literary Festival.

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Redundancy by Bob Hudson

Jan 31 2014

“Explain to me again what’s wrong with making someone push a giant boulder up a hill and having it roll down at the last second,” Zeus said.

He was losing his patience with Melvin Sanders.

Melvin Sanders looked down at his watch. 3:00 p.m.

“Zeus you hired me to do two things. One was to trim the fat. The other was to modernize your brand. I can’t do either of those things without your cooperation,” said Melvin Sanders.

Zeus sat back in his chair, unsure if anyone even believed in this particular set of deities anymore. Everyone in the room knew they were on a sinking ship, but nobody wanted to say it out loud.

“Make them marry someone,” said Hera.

“Depends on the lover, doesn’t it?” said Melvin Sanders.

“Really, Melvin? We’re going there today? After all of the progress we made yesterday? They can have my husband. My ex-husband, Melvin,” said Hera.

She lit a cigarette.

Everyone in the room knew the goddess of marriage was going through a messy divorce, but nobody wanted to address it out loud.

Nobody was comfortable. None of them ever envisioned sitting in on a punishment-modernization seminar. Not even Melvin Sanders.

“How about a flight,” said Hermes. “Just a flight. But they never get there. They can have layovers, but they never reach their destination.”

“Yeah that’s true hell,” said Hades.

“I don’t know, I kind of like flying,” said Aphrodite.

“Oh please,” said Hades. “How about they have to listen to ‘She’s so High’ by Tal Bachman on repeat until they rip their own ears off.”

“You told me you thought it was catchy,” replied the goddess of love, pulling her cardigan overly-shut, trying not to give away to the rest of the room that she had spent a vulnerable weekend in the underworld.

Everyone already knew, they just didn’t want to address it out loud.

“Let’s try to refocus,” said Melvin Sanders.

Melvin Sanders knew coming into this meeting he was in for an uphill battle. He never wanted to be a consultant. Does anybody ever actually want to become a consultant?

These were his thoughts in that very moment. The very moment before he began to speak again.

“We’re rebranding,” said Melvin Sanders. “We’re not rewriting the book. Boulder rolls down the hill. Somebody just has to be stuck doing something. Nobody has had to push a boulder since the last time Poseidon got laid.”

This particular joke got a laugh, even from Poseidon.

No one was comforted, though, just distracted. Even to gods, a merman and mermaid’s reproductive biology remained a considerable mystery.

“A never-ending AA meeting,” said Dionysus, the god of wine.

“A permanent Atkins diet,” said Demeter, the goddess of grain.

“A weekend getaway with Hades,” said Aphrodite, who began to cry.

“Jesus,” said Hades.

“Who’s that?” said Zeus.

“Does it matter? You promiscuous swine,” replied Hades.

Hera had not stopped smoking since the meeting began.

“It’s all over anyways,” Hera said. “Can we just say that out loud? Can we just finally realize what’s going on here? We haven’t been gods since the last time Poseidon got laid, OK?”

Everyone laughed again, then sighed and then looked up at Poseidon.

“You know, to tell you the truth, I don’t even know if I have the tools for reproduction,” he said, bringing the mood in the room down. “I guess that’s what scared away my ex-wives. I just don’t think they envisioned adoption as a legitimate option.”

Nobody wanted to say anything. The memories of their reign together began to pour over them.

Melvin Sanders was getting to witness what no man since Hercules had gotten to witness. He was a man amongst gods, and they were revealing secrets unbeknownst to the Titans.

But his hour of allotted work time was almost up, and at no point was Melvin Sanders comfortable, as he was getting nowhere. He was on the clock. For the first time in his life, Melvin Sanders had lost control of a situation, and the uneasiness that came with this new sensation was palpable.

“Explain to me again what’s wrong with making someone push a giant boulder up a hill and having it roll down at the last second,” Zeus said.

“Excuse me?” said Melvin Sanders.

He looked down at his watch. 3:00 p.m.

Bob Hudson is a Browns fan. He writes to deal with the complications that come with being a Browns fan. He wishes John Cleese was his grandpa.

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The Patrol by William Lapham

Jan 18 2014

We walked in formation through a desert village. It smelled like an outhouse.  We broke down doors, cleared rooms, but found nothing warworthy, no cache of weapons or explosives, and nobody to shoot. I was in the mood to kill somebody for his country.

At the end of the street, we kept marching into the desert. We climbed a rise and took a break. Some of us smoked. The lieutenant looked back at the village with a pair of binoculars. “I’ll be a sonofabitch,” he said. “They’re back.” He handed the glasses to the sergeant.

“You’re right, sir,” the sergeant said as he fiddled with the focus knob. “You are a sonofabitch.”

“Leave my mother out of this, Sergeant.”

“What are your orders, sir?” the sergeant asked.

“We’re going back.”

“Yes, sir. Won’t they see us coming, sir, and bug out again?”

Most of us were not paying attention to them. Some guys had dozed off. Others were munching MRE’s. I lighted a second cigarette from the butt of the first. A cold beer would have tasted good, but we had no beer.

Nelson spoke in a high twang that originated somewhere south of Atlanta but north of Florida. Everybody liked to listen to him talk. He would make a great Southern orator someday.

“Why don’ we call in one ah dem fucken air strikes the Air Force do, suh?”

Crocker blew smoke and laughed. The laughter was contagious.

The lieutenant smiled. “Because, Private Nelson, an air strike would kill everybody in the village, including women and children. You wouldn’t want their innocent blood on your hands, would you?”

“No, suh.” Nelson said with a far off gaze. “Ah don’ reckon ah would.”

“Good, then. It’s settled. No air strike.”

“Yes, suh,” Nelson said. He had such a sad face.

“What about artillery, Lieutenant?” the sergeant said.

The Lieutenant kind of nodded and reached for the radio. He called for a fire mission he had apparently prearranged with the division artillery officer.

The explosion just happened. We didn’t hear the howitzer shoot, and we didn’t hear the incoming round whistle through the air like in the cartoons. We saw the shell’s effects before we heard their cause. War was surreal that way. Shit would happen and you wouldn’t know why right away. There were delays caused by distance, echoes caused by shadows.

When the dust settled, the lieutenant said he could see no movement in the village. When we walked back to the village and searched the rubble, we found nothing.

There was just an empty space where a house had been. The street looked like a dentist had extracted a rotten tooth: house, house, no house, house.

“Fucken arty is ack-rit, boy,” Nelson said.

Crocker laughed.

William Lapham lives in Michigan. He is a Navy veteran and a graduate of the Goddard College low-residency MFA program. He teaches Freshman Composition at Davenport University.

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Old Friend by Janet Clare

Jan 05 2014

The man isn’t dead as I’d thought, but the woman, the wife is. He’s in trouble though, besides a dead wife there’s something about a terrible injury he’s had, a foot. He’s younger than the last time I saw him and I’m not sure how that’s possible, but it’s the foot that’s the problem now. They, the doctors, want to take this foot off and there’s been a family meeting to discuss it. A meeting at a restaurant I just happened to walk by when we spot each other after so many years apart. We, the man and I, leave, get into a car. He’s driving, which he can do because it’s the left foot that’s affected. That’s a blessing which hadn’t occurred to me until now. He holds onto the wheel and hands me an article torn from a magazine about another man, a stranger, who, suffering from the same foot condition, jumped off the roof of his building. The doctors have advised him to do the same.

I tear up the article and crumble it to bits as we continue to drive, now through inexplicable gunfire, a bad-guy-cop situation in progress and out of the blue in this small village within our city. It used to be quiet here many years ago, when the man and I were together. But nothing’s quiet anymore. And now there’s this foot trouble. And the gunfire, although we make a fast left, he does, the driver, the man suffering with this foot and avoid the bullets. But still, there’s a decision to be made. My advice, because I don’t trust doctors who suggest a man remove a body part or jump off the roof, is to ignore them. I suggest we have a drink instead. Let’s go have a drink, I say. For old time’s sake even though we didn’t drink in old times. The man stops the car and we walk, he awkwardly, of course, with the offending foot in multiple layers of bandage. It’s in there somewhere, the foot, under all of that. It’s still a part of him, although it makes him hobble. I don’t think you should jump, I say. Life without a left foot is tolerable, I don’t say and only imagine although I can’t imagine. You can still drive, I say, and you’re a man and never have to wear a skirt and high heels. Which, I can’t help thinking no woman should ever have to wear, either. The man rests his left leg with the bandaged foot on a chair next to the table where we sit in the back of the dark bar. Bars are always dark or used to be or should be. It’s still light outside and our eyes adjust as we stare into our glasses. If color was an emotion, the liquid would be brooding. We are silent. After the foot talk and the dead wife talk we have nothing to say. I am helpless as this man with this sorry foot sits across the years from me and slowly starts to cry, saddened beyond repair.

Janet Clare is a writer living in Los Angeles and currently working on her third novel.

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Something Authentic by Justin Gold

Dec 20 2013

I’m the only brown employee at the only Mexican supermarket in Bright Springs. Our customers are mostly Johns and Georges, Barbaras and Bethanys. I’m Jaime, pronounced Jay-mee, not High-may. My parents were inventive spellers. My manager says they did me a solid.

“I want something authentic for my dinner party,” a Barbara says, tapping my shoulder. “My husband John and I went to Bolivia for a fundraiser, and we had the most fabulous tinga sopes.” She smiles for no reason, the way old people do. There’s booze on her breath. “Our guests are Bolivian. We’re helping them,” she says. By her smile, I see she means it.

“For tinga sopes, adobo sauce is key,” I say. I heard a customer mention “adobo” once, figured I’d try it out.

Barbara says, “hmmm.” She likes the sound of “adobo.” It’s close to “adobe,” and that’s pretty Mexican. Or Bolivian.

“Let’s get you some sweet chipotles,” I say. “And some Spanish onions. Real authentic stuff.”

“We’re hosting the charity head for dinner,” Barbara says. She stumbles into me on our way to aisle 4. “You know…” Her eyes are half-closed. “John raised $17,165 for the children in Bolivia.”

“My parents were from Bolivia,” I say.

“I had a feeling you were the right one to ask.” Barbara says. “This means a lot to John.” We get to aisle 4, and Barbara waves to a man dangling a string of ghost chiles.

“Let’s just get these for the gardener, Barb!” John holds up the ghost chiles. “For Paco…Pablo!” John drops the ghost chiles. A Bethany squashes them under her stroller. “Aisle 4, cleanup! Andalѐ!” John yells. People don’t usually yell in the only Mexican supermarket in Bright Springs.

“He’s just nervous.” Barbara burps. “The Peruvian conquistador, it means a lot to him.”

John stumbles into the Bethany, who stumbles into a rack of yellow rice. A box falls, then another. The floor is ghost chiles and yellow rice.

“Isn’t he just a hoot?” Barbara says. She laughs, hands clasped. She leans into me. “I’m cheating on him,” she whispers.

“I’m actually Jewish,” I whisper.

Barbara picks up the only intact ghost chile. “Adobo!” she shouts. She purchases the ghost chile for $3.05 and, leaning on John, heads to her Bright Springs home, where she’ll put the chile into a sauce she’ll name adobo.

Justin Gold learned to read before any of his pre-school alumni, and then lost all literary momentum until his father read him Ray Bradbury’s ‘The Fog Horn’ in high school. In his little home on a little lake in New Jersey, Justin’s creativity is often survived by his wife, Carol.

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