Cross Country - Adam Eisman
Modesty - Gila Tal Green
Shark Bait - Sarah Hilary
Watching Harlem - Wendy Pinkston Cebula
Dear Mr. Snoopy,
Thank you for your recent submission of "Wartime Chronicles." Unfortunately, your piece does not meet our publication needs at this time. However, we would like to offer the following suggestions to help refine your story.
In the first line: "It was a dark and stormy night," we wanted to know more about the darkness. Was it the sort of darkness that is found around dusk as the sun is setting, or was it more of a "pitch black in the middle of the night" darkness? Was there a moon? If so, was it a full moon or a crescent moon? If a full moon, please explain the cause behind the darkness.
We also found ourselves asking for more information regarding the storm. Where did it come from? Was it brought on by changes in atmospheric pressure? Was it meant to be a foreboding message? Give us some technical facts such as barometric pressure or cloud density. Let your reader know if it was a snow, hail, rain or wind storm.
In regards to your antagonist The Red Baron, we felt that he was presented as being too one-dimensional. Make him more sympathetic to the reader. Tell about his background or his daily life. What circumstances brought him to this point? We also suggest that you give him a same sex partner. We have found that our readers are bored with what has become known as "the heterosexual agenda". Try to work in a bit more overlap between your antagonist and protagonist. Perhaps they were lovers at some point, had a terrible argument, and now find themselves on opposite sides of the war. Work in a statement about "Don't ask, Don't tell." Gays in the military is a very hot topic right now.
Finally, while we were quite intrigued by the use of a dog house as a World War I Sopwith Camel, we wanted to see more information on this. How did it become a warplane? What were the mechanics involved in adapting the dog house for such a use?
Readers love stories that give a good message, so we suggest the installation of solar panels in order to give a more environmentally friendly tone.
In closing, we see tremendous potential in your writing and do hope that you will consider resubmitting your story in the future.
Boston Literary Magazine
Kristin Milstead lives in Providence, Rhode Island with her husband and two ferocious house cats (who do not approve of her writing stories about dogs). She has a life that she can't quite seem to describe in words, but trust us, she has one. Her spare time is spent trying to find the desk rumored to be beneath the large pile of papers beside her computer.
Kevin realized he wanted the Etch-a-Sketch right at the very moment Eddie picked it up and began to fiddle with the knobs. Through Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming-millions and millions of miles-it sat at our feet, doing nothing. Now Kevin wanted it, and Eddie too.
Eddie fiddled harder. Kevin leaned across the back seat, groping. Eddie turned away, put it under his leg, and took one of Kevin's hands. He began twisting. When we left the motel after breakfast, I almost had the middle seat. I looked out the window. It was late in the day. The sun spilled pink and orange across the endless barren hills.
Grandma and Grandpa were small and far away over the bench seat way up in the front of the car. Grandma was reading Reader's Digest. Grandpa drove. Dad, in these situations, would slow down fast, swerve toward the shoulder, and stretch his big arm over the seat. He would tell us to stop. We would stop.
Grandma and Grandpa were my mother's parents, and they were in over their heads on this trip. It was their idea: give Mom and Dad some room, maybe to fix things; work things out. But Seattle—to see Uncle James—was ambitious. We had never left New York, and maybe they thought we'd just ride along with our faces pressed to the windows, quietly awestruck by the Great Plains, or the Interstate Highway System. As if what we needed was space. But my grandparents, like I, had given up three or four states back. Dinosaur theme parks, Stuckeys, Devil's Tower: at what price?
Eddie leaned, pivoted, and with all his might, wailed Kevin in the nuts; and now, with Kevin curled in his seat and sobbing quietly, fiddled away serenely: a little left, a little right; another shot at the perfect circle.
Adam Eisman was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Haverstraw, New York. He's been living in Santa Fe, New Mexico since 1992 and is working on a collection of stories about stealing.
Gila Tal Green
"I was at the bus stop after the game and it was getting dark. A man came up to me. He looked like a Chasid," Elazar said. Then he paused.
"Go on," I said, nodding.
"He wore black pants and a black hat. He had a beard." Elazar passed his hand over his chin as if to show me a long beard. "He asked me if I wanted to do him a favour. He said please."
I thought then about how many times each day we told our children how critical it was to help those in need, how much blessing it brought into the world.
Ruby's hand was suddenly shaking my shoulder. "Mommy, can I have another cupcake?"
I glanced at him. "Yes, you may," then returned my attention to Elazar. "Go on."
"I went with the Chasid and he walked back into the Old City. You know, my bus stop is outside the walls. We went down paths, turned here, turned again." Elazar motioned with both hands as he spoke. His fingers were closed together, so they looked like two snakes crossing paths. "We came to a room. It was like a cave. Then he—" Elazar stopped again and a shadow darkened his face. He looked at the tiled floor. "I don't know how to say it in English," he mumbled.
"Say it in Hebrew. It's OK," I said.
"He took out his immodest thing," Elazar blurted.
I jumped in my chair, as though a litre of milk had crashed to the floor, and Ruby looked at me, his eyebrows knitted together.
"What's that?" he whispered, with one hand cupped around the side of his mouth.
"I'll tell you later. Shush," I answered.
Elazar did not raise his eyes.
"What did he do, sweetie?" I asked.
"He took my hand and I had no idea what was in my hand. I could not see. Then I knew—I don't know how I knew—and I turned and ran. I ran away."
"What is he saying Mommy? What did the Chasid do? What is an immodest thing?" Ruby asked.
"I wanted to tell you, Mrs. Ehrblich," Elazar whispered. Tears darkened his green eyes and now they were the color of grass stains.
"It's good that you told me."
I sighed at the childishly-decorated cupcakes on the table, and the tiny marshmallows suddenly appeared as though they would fall off with the slightest touch. They were so fragile; I should have used chocolate chips. Such silly thoughts to be going through my head then. "Elazar?"
"Yes, Mrs. Ehrblich?"
"When someone tells you they need a favour, someone big, you tell them to please ask an adult."
"Yes, Mrs. Ehrblich."
"Mommy! What happened?" Ruby asked.
"I'll tell you soon Ruby."
My son was halfway through his second cupcake. The remains of the first one showed on his white shirt, marshmallow stuck to his cheek; at the bathroom sink, Elazar was washing his hands, again and again.
Gila Tal Green has been published in Fiction Magazine, The Saranac Review, The Dalhousie Review, Bridges, Kunapipi, Pilot Pocket Books and Jane Doe Buys a Challah (anthology). Originally Canadian, she lives between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv with her husband and five children. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Bar Ilan University and she is working on a new short story collection on life in modern Israel. For more on Gila see firstname.lastname@example.org
Mona has a smile like a basking shark and a suit by Agnès B. She paints her mouth to match her shoes, a charred rib-eye red. Everyone, from the senior designer down, is afraid of Mona. Nell is no different to the rest of them, in this regard.
Circling the boardroom table, Mona stops to inspect the poster campaign for Gear, their new denim range.
"Get your arse into Gear," she recites. "I like it."
Darren chimes in, "Me too."
Nell holds her breath, ever hopeful, always anxious. The world of fashion is a deep sea, its waters dazzle and distort. Nell no longer knows her own reflection. Darren, her junior, fares much better. One of life's surfers, Darren. He depresses Nell, more than she'd like to admit.
Mona is admiring the model in the Gear poster, a ravenous grin riding her conveyor-belt of teeth. The model is young, male, a new discovery. Nell's discovery. She gestures to Darren, who swishes to the door and beckons Rip into the room.
Rip is all of sixteen, doe-eyed, smooth-skinned. He's naked save for a pair of Gear jeans, his narrow hips struggling to hold up the slouch of dark denim as he approaches. Plush carpeting eats the sound of his feet. To look at him, you'd think he'd not had a square meal in weeks.
Mona twirls a finger, prompting Rip to pirouette. "Arse in Gear," she purrs. "Whose idea was this?"
"Yours," Nell lies. In this game, she's learned, flattery trumps truth every time.
Mona turns to Darren for a reading. "What do we think? Is the Pink Pound burning a hole in your pocket, begging to be let loose?"
Darren makes all the right noises.
Rip's thrown what weight he has onto his right hip. Nell can see the goose-bumps on his torso from right across the room. It's pitiful, really.
"Where did you find him?" Mona asks Darren.
He defers reluctantly to Nell. "Not me."
Well, what's a girl to do? Nell lacks Darren's advantage, doesn't have the right appendage to win Mona's allegiance the easy way. This business will swallow you whole given half a chance, and Nell's not afraid to admit she's been treading water, running scared.
Rip understands. He's a good boy. She'll buy him a fish supper on the way home.
"Only don't call me Mom in the boardroom, all right?"
Sarah's stories have been published in The Beat, Neon, SHINE, Bewildering Stories, Every Day Fiction, LitBits, MYTHOLOG, HeavyGlow, Twisted Tongue, and Kaleidotrope. Her short story, "On the Line," was published in the Daunt 2006 anthology. The Subatomic 2007 anthology features her story, "LoveFM." She won the Litopia Contest in 2007 with "The Chaperon." Sarah lives in the Cotswolds with her husband and young daughter. Website: http://www.writewords.org.uk/sarah_hilary/
The stars were flying all over the place. Thousands of them, swarming like fireflies. I thought it had something to do with the tab I'd put on my tongue. My eyes were jerking every which way, following their crazy paths. I jammed my eyelids shut and grabbed hold of the arms of my lawn chair.
"Whooee!" I shouted.
Brian came right over. "What is it, the stars?"
"God yes—I can't look at them!"
"It's not the drug," he said. "It's really happening."
"The stars came loose, I think!"
"No way." I peered at him through my fingers. "We're just having the same trip."
"Uh-uh, I didn't take it yet. I was waiting to see how you were doing." He grabbed at my arm. "We gotta get out of here!"
"And go where, if the universe is coming apart?" I still had my wits. I was shielding my eyes from the sky with my arm and I rolled out of the chair onto my knees. The grass was waving at me, which was soothing, and more like what I'd expected.
"My parent's basement! Come on!
I still didn't believe him but he was acting so desperate I let him drag me up off the ground and we stumbled up the long hill towards the house. I was getting used to the sky. It was so beautiful, all that glittering motion. I wanted to stop and stare but he jerked me along.
"Do you hear that?" His voice was ragged, panicky. I did hear something—a crackling roar from the other side of the hills that sounded like it was heading our way. That got me moving, and then I was racing him towards the basement doors at the side of the house. I looked back once, at a tree silhouetted against the sky, just as it burst into flames.
Between us we managed to lift the doors up and we ran pell-mell down the concrete steps. The doors crashed shut behind us and it was black dark in there. Brian fumbled around and found the string pull to turn on the light bulb dangling from the ceiling.
The basement is where we used to play when it rained, mostly war games with Brian's plastic soldiers, using his Lincoln Logs to make our forts. They were still there, layered with dust and cobwebs in a red plastic bin. The old beanbag chairs were slumped up against the wall. Brian dragged them to the middle of the room and we flopped down, panting. In the dim light from the overhead bulb it was hard to see, but it looked like Brian's eyes were bleeding. He didn't seem to notice, and he leaned across the floor to pull the bin of toys between us.
We divided up the soldiers and arranged our battle lines, and waited for the world to end.
Harley Crowley lives in Bellingham, Washington, smack between a great independent bookstore and an old Carnegie Grant library, and is part of a roving band that gathers to write in local coffee shops. She has another story coming up in Every Day Fiction.
Don't be afraid. Clutch your official notebook. Walk up the cracked sidewalk, past the beer cans and boxes from the pizzeria strewn over the brown grass. Climb the broken steps in the dark November evening. There. The cop is waiting for you on the porch. You can do it. You can decide where the children go. So what if the neighbor complained for two days before the police came and called Social Services. You're here now.
Go through the house with him. There isn't much to it: a kitchen stinking from garbage; a saffron colored sofa, its armrest ballooning stuffing; a television blinking cartoons from the Nickelodeon channel. Follow the cop to the bedroom where he found three kids sleeping head to foot in the only bed. The cop's as green as you are. Listen to his wisecracks about the one boy who still lays there, his legs pulled tight up to his neck, his large brown eyes darting every which way; his thumb in his mouth, sucking like a greedy baby.
"He thinks he's got a bottle there," the cop says.
Nod your head. Force yourself to look competent. Don't gag on the smells of sweat and urine coming from the bed, and the dark corners of the room. Now go into the living room. See the four kids waiting there. You know how to ask the questions. Ask the oldest girl. She's probably 13.
"Where's your mother?"
"When did she leave?"
"Two days ago. But she always comes back."
Breathe slowly. Be gentle. "What's your name, honey?"
"Did she leave you in charge, Debbie?"
She shrugs, nods.
Get the other kid's names and ages and write them on the DSS form. Brian, 8, in the bedroom. Ruthanne, 10, lounging sullen on the couch. Michael, 6, mesmerized by the cartoons; Amber 3, prancing around while her diaper sags around her knees.
Ask: "When did you eat last?"
Listen as Debbie's eyes dart to the debris on the table. "We had macaroni before."
Don't think when "before" is. It's okay if you look into the refrigerator and the cupboards, taking inventory: two cans of Chef Boyardee, a half empty box of elbow macaroni, a tub of margarine. You're only trying to help. Empty the curdled milk from Amber's baby bottle into the sink and run the water.
Watch while the cop turns away in disgust and hear his muffled: "Whadaya expect from these people, anyway."
Tell him what you need to do before you make the call to the office.
Don't notice Debbie listening with the tears sliding down her cheeks. It's not your fault that her mother's gone. Take Amber's hand as she swings by, her chubby fingers clutching your pants, but don't look into her sweet face. Answer the cop's whispered, "What's happens now? Can they stay together?" with a furtive shake of your head.
Shudder to yourself, because, even though you are new to this business, you know the answer.
Florence Kraut lives and writes in Rye, New York. Her short stories have appeared in national confession magazines and magazines for children and her op-ed essays have appeared in Westchester news magazines. She has upcoming stories in The Rambler and Writer Advice. She is a social worker and formerly Executive Director of a family service agency in Connecticut.
Wendy Pinkston Cebula
"I hate passing this neighborhood," she said to her husband. But that was a lie. Observing this urban decay thrilled her, much more than the leafy meandering roads upstate.
The expressway snaked around the edges of Manhattan like a ribbon of concrete. Each Sunday evening, she returned from their weekend home, kids ensconced in the backseat of their SUV watching movies, husband driving. Back to their urbane lives of private school and Wall Street Journals. They skirted Harlem, lit only in spots under streetlights, like goliath invisible policemen interrogating the residents below. She could peer between housing projects and down trash-ridden streets. Desolate, mostly, save for a few individuals shuffling about.
It was a playground they passed that held her attention. In traffic, she could get a long, safe view of the basketball game against the spray-painted mural on the wall. "Crack is Wack" it read years ago, but now depicting some indecipherable urban landscape. Baby swings swung empty, few children used the slide.
So much to see. These lives, so unfamiliar. Each time they passed, a feeling that anything could happen. Maybe even a murder.
Once, she saw someone exchange something (money?) for a small package (drugs?). Right in front of all these cars! Often she witnessed fights. Should she call 911? But she never did. She just thanked God that she didn't have to live like that. Her excitement waned after a few years, then after the divorce, she rarely drove out to the country at all. Her kids lost interest—friends and activities replaced the need for togetherness. Their country house, once such a source of pride, suffered from neglect.
"You'll get a good price for it. Don't worry," her realtor said on the drive home. It was dusk before they crossed the bridge onto Harlem. She would be downtown in time to pick up the kids from her ex-husband's apartment, if this traffic lightened soon.
She saw them out the window, under one of those interrogation-lamps. A man wearing a hood and puffy jacket, twirling a child by the arms, round and round. Her own kids loved it when their father did that, years ago, on those days he wasn't too consumed with work. A woman (wife? mother.) nursing an infant on a bench nearby, the cold probably sneaking up her belly when she raised her shirt.
She stared, alone, envious.