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    Plumbed - Michael C. Keith
    Alden, a trophy salesman - Robert Laughlin
    Cheating - Lesley Mace
    Buried - Amanda Heraux
    A Candle Flickers - Michael E. Crawley
    Gone - Jayne Martin
    Family Time - Jayne Martin
    Centepedes (New York City 1999) - Uzodinma Okehi

    Michael C. Keith

         When the judge’s votes in the annual “I Am” competition were tallied in Kingsborough Haven, Willow Sweet was declared Most Beautiful Woman in the county. She was not happy with the designation, because she sought to be recognized in another category—Plumbing Queen. Since she was 16 years old, she had apprenticed with her father, a Certified Master Plumber, and she came to love installing, repairing, and maintaining piping systems.
         Willow was equally adept plying her quickly evolving skills in different work settings, be they residential, commercial, or industrial. Over the years, she had developed a formidable affection for PVC cutters, crimp tools, and cinch clamps that rivaled the love she once had for her My Little Pony collection.
         “Oh, Father, I do not want to be Most Beautiful Woman. My true place is under sinks, behind walls, and in the damp cellars of our village.”
         “Worry not, Willow. We shall consult with the judges and see if you can decline the award. Although, I cannot recall when such a thing was permitted.”

         Willow and her father were granted an audience with the lead contest arbiter, and they made an impassioned plea to have the decision reversed.
         “Well, it may not have been an appropriate decision anyway,” said the official, scrutinizing Willow from head to toe.
         “What do you mean?” asked Willow.
         “Well, seeing you close up, I’m not sure you were the best choice.”
         “How dare you say such a thing to the Most Beautiful Woman in the county?” snapped Willow indignantly.

    Michael C. Keith is the author of seven story collections and two-dozen non-fiction books. His is a professor of communication at Boston College. www.michaelckeith.com.

    Alden, a trophy salesman
    Robert Laughlin

         Danny’s the veep at a local country club. Last month he wanted a booby prize to add to his carton of trophies, so I showed him what I had. He fell in love with our brass-plated dumbbells. Prize dumbbells we call ‘em, and he said he would award one to whoever made the dumbest play of the tournament. He was still chuckling as he left, talking about how a new tradition had begun. When he came to the shop today, his nose was sticking out at a new angle—there’s a tradition that didn’t last long.

    Robert Laughlin lives in Chico, California, and is a frequent contributor to Boston Literary Magazine. His "Men at Work" stories will be collected for book publication at a later date. Mr. Laughlin has published 100 short stories, two of which are storySouth Million Writers Award Notable Stories. His website is at www.pw.org/content/robert_laughlin.

    Lesley Mace

         Suzy had put Jake on a diet again. No problem. The McDonald’s in Liverpool Street was an easy stop off.
         He didn’t skip a beat—in the door: Big Mac; fries; chocolate shake; ‘Go large,’ and pay. Then eat on the train, travelling home for prawn salad and fruit cocktail.
         Even Suzy’s famous nose didn’t give him away—hands washed in the Gents on Stortford station, and any mention of French-fry-smelly hair put down to the guy he’d sat next to all the way from Harlow.
         Jake had gone soft on sex again. Suzy put it down to the ever-expanding girth of his gut. No problem. The new guy in Human Resources had a key to the Conference Room.
         They didn’t skip a beat—in the door: two, or sometimes three, positions on the stretch of mahogany table; his ‘n’ her orgasms; ‘Fab fuck, Sweetie,’ and dress. Then home to make prawn salad and fruit cocktail for flabby Jake.

    Lesley writes in a garden room that’s stuffed with books and notebooks. She is an Escalator Award winner, and has received Arts Council England funding for her writing. Published in Writers’ Forum (three times first prize-winner), Bewildering Stories and previously in Boston Literary Magazine, she is currently working on her second book, a crime novel, set in the underworld of 1860s London.

    Amanda Heraux

         I can’t move, speak, or breathe, but I can feel the heaviness of the ground under which I am buried. I can hear footsteps over top of me as muffled voices place flowers on the graves of lost loves. The dusty, library-book smell of a wooden casket fills my decomposing nostrils, and maggots are my only company while I lay here, helpless as they eat what’s left of me. My only refuge is the distant sound of thunder, followed by the cool, wet feeling of the dirt on a rainy day. Had I known what life was like after death, I would have been a lot more grateful while I was alive.

    Amanda Heraux is a psychology student and military veteran. She now lives in a small apartment in New Jersey, where she sits and fantasizes about becoming a famous dystopian novelist. This is her first published work of fiction.

    A Candle Flickers
    Michael E. Crawley

         A candle flickers in the window of the cabin. She lies there alone waiting for his return. At the break of dawn a ray of sunlight seeps through the cracks of the cabin’s wall. The fireplace is cold, all that is left is the glow of a few embers. The flames had died in the early hours of the morning. She awakens to another day alone. He had not returned. She goes about her daily chores gathering the eggs, milking the cow, tending to the freshly planted garden and bringing in the fire wood. She tries not to think about it. He had survived Hoover’s Gap, Hanover and Gettysburg. At the end of the day she lights the candle, place it on the window sill and once again she lays down for another night alone, waiting for his return. At some point in the dark hours of the early morning she feels a gentle touch on her shoulder. She opens her eyes, he is standing there, a smile on his face and waving to her. In an instant he is gone. With an agonizing pain in her heart and tears flowing down her face; she rises from her bed, walks to the window, bends over and gently blows out the candle.

    Michael is the fourth in a line of six siblings. As a child he and his family moved back and forth across the country from the east coast to the west coast numerous times. Michael attended a total of nine different schools before graduating high school in 1967. After graduating high school he joined the Marine Corp and served in combat during the Viet-Nam War. Once discharged from the Marine Corp, Michael worked in law enforcement for several years. Eventually he went into construction where he spent the majority of his adult life. He now is retired and lives in Arizona; he is currently attend classes at Mohave Community College.

    Jayne Martin

         The shirt was neatly pressed just the way he liked. She’d hung it on the refrigerator door where he’d be sure to see it first thing as he entered through the garage. He’d wonder where her car was at that hour and why the house was so quiet. He’d call out for Buddy, his beloved Schnauzer, who was usually leaping against the kitchen door and barking to greet him. At first he wouldn’t understand, but the large burn mark on the hem would draw him close and the trace of red still visible underneath would bring his memory into sharp focus.
         She’d laid the hot iron against the stain again and again as she thought about the woman who’d put it there. She knew her well. She’d been her at one time before the years had made her, too, vulnerable.
         The sea breeze washed over her, taking the past with it as she sped up the coast. Knowing this day would come, she’d planned well. She imagined her husband picking up Buddy’s empty food dish from the floor; maybe going to fill it before he remembered just how alone he was now.
         Her cell phone rang. She looked down at the screen. From the back seat, Buddy barked as he tried, over and over, to catch the wind in his mouth. She smiled and tossed him the phone.
         “It’s for you.”

    Family Time
    Jayne Martin

         My father’s fury thunders down upon us as we cower on the cracked and cold linoleum floor, my mother’s body wrapped tightly around my own, taking his blows for us both.
         He says he is going to kill us, but he doesn’t. It is our terror he most enjoys and the power he cannot feel in any other way. Yet each time he goes a little further until one day, like insects caught in a web, I am certain we will finally perish.
         My mother tells the police that it was she who slid the carving knife deep into his fleshy abdomen as he lay passed out on the worn sofa, soaked in his own urine, and they believe her.

    Jayne Martin lives on a ranch in Santa Ynez, California where, when not writing, she indulges her passion for horses. Her short story “The Heart of the Town,” won the Fall 2013 WOW-Women On Writing Flash Fiction Competition. She has also had work published in Hippocampus and Pure Slush online journals. Her book of humor essays, “Suitable for Giving: A Collection of Wit with a Side of Wry,” published in 2011, is available in paperback and digital formats. Previously a screenwriter of movies-for-television, her credits include “Big Spender,” for Animal Planet and “A Child Too Many” for Lifetime. Since 2009, she has been sharing her views on everything from politics to private parts on her blog, “injaynesworld-where nothing is sacred.

         Man, that glad-act, all that drink-fueled shucking and smiling! It was all fake, a kind of necessary evil, but there was a tipping point, after which neither of us could stand it anymore. Often it wasn’t even when those nights wound down, but like a switch within the both of us, after which we’d fold up and leave the party without so much as a parting word. And after so many nights that frustration was palpable, so much so—even surrounded by girls—that I’d look up on cue, my pal Valdes, his hand in the air, and it was a kind of telepathy in the way we wrapped it clean with that single, orchestrated chop . . .

    Uzodinma Okehi writes and draws a zine called Blue Okoye. (More Episodes!) Over for Rockwell—Blue Okoye finds himself locked in a fevered battle for inspiration as he struggles, drawing comics in his Hong Kong hotel room. Over-for-Rockwell. okehi@hotmail.com

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