Category Archives: Fiction

He Is Survived By _________

By Chad Greene


My father
Has died.
He was


My father wrote, for many years, too many, obituaries for our hometown newspaper. Why “too many?”

Because, in the newspaper business, he explained, the obituary desk traditionally serves two functions. For young reporters, it’s a proving ground. Promotion to the obits beat is supposed to help them to understand the importance of speaking politely in phone interviews and spelling correctly the names in articles. For old reporters, it’s a dumping ground. Demotion to the obits beat is supposed to help them understand the importance of retiring quickly and quietly.

For my father, there were no “glory years” in-between two traditional tours of duty on the obituary desk. There was only one that lasted for many years, too many. But even after he had lost hope of a promotion from the obits beat that would, admittedly, inevitably lead to a demotion to the obits beat, he continued to take pride in his craft.

In particular, he was proud that – despite the if not hundreds, then thousands, of obituaries he composed for the paper – he never repeated himself, with the exception of four sentences. These four sentences, his time on the obits beat had helped him to understand, were the most important.

Near the start of the obituary, he always wrote both of the first two sentences.


_________ has died.

He was _________.


The blank in the first, he explained, was filled in with the name of the subject of the obituary, which was always different. But it was the next two words, “has died,” which were always the same, that my father insisted were most important in this sentence.

Why ‘has died’?” I asked.

Because a newspaper is supposed to deal in facts, not in fantasies – however comforting they might be,” he explained. “So you must state the fact that the subject ‘has died.’ So you must resist the temptation of euphemisms: no ‘has been called home,’ no ‘has gone to a better place,’ no ‘has gone to his reward,’ no ‘has gone to meet his maker.’ Until there’s some evidence to prove otherwise, those euphemisms are fantasies, not facts.”

The blank in second, he explained, was filled in with the age of the subject of the obituary.

What’s most important in this sentence?” my father quizzed me.

Feeling philosophical, I guessed, “‘He was’?”

He sighed. “Only three terms to choose from, and you choose the two that aren’t right.”

The age is most important?”

The age is most important,” he confirmed, “because that’s how the newspaper’s readers keep score.”

Keep score?”

If they’re younger than the deceased, he’s winning. If they’re older than the deceased, they’re winning.”

It’s that simple?”

It’s that simple.”

Shouldn’t it be quality of life that’s most important, not quantity of life?”

Quality is subjective,” he scoffed. “Quantity is objective; it’s a number, a fact. Newspapers are supposed to deal in facts.”

Near the end of the obituary, he always wrote one of the last two sentences.


He is survived by _________.

He leaves no survivors.


Although filling in the blanks in the former meant more work for my father – more names to spell correctly in the article – he hated to write the latter.

The most painful line of all,” he sighed. “The saddest sentence in the English language.”

He hated to write it, but he had – if not thousands, then hundreds of times. So, after finally retiring if not quickly, then quietly, he made a silent promise to his successors on the obits beat: He would not make one of them write it in his obituary.

So, at the age of 65, he – somehow, even my mother herself can’t recall how he did it – managed to seduce one of the nurses at his retirement home. That’s where he explained what his time on the obits beat had helped him to understand, as I sat by his bedside. When he died – not ‘was called home,’ not ‘went to a better place,’ not ‘went to his reward,’ not ‘went to meet his maker’ – I composed this simple poem.


My father
Has died.
He was
He is
Survived by
One son.
I am


Then I forced myself to do something poets hate to do. I did the math.

For those keeping score, he’s winning.


A graduate of the Master of Professional Writing Program at the University of Southern California, Chad Greene is an assistant professor of English at Cerritos College. Whenever he isn’t planning lessons or grading papers, he is attempting to put together a novel-in-stories tentatively titled Trips and Falls.

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It Stays With You

By Andrew L. Porter


The sniper’s round finds you. It plows a path through your shoulder and out through your chest, only to be returned once it strikes your ceramic protective plate. The plate is designed to resist even a projectile this size––a good thing indeed if struck from without, but in this case, the round comes from the underside, within your little shell. The plate returns the round nonetheless, sensing no difference between external and internal threat, the round traveling back through you again—a straight shot this time—to strike the opposing, mirroring plate positioned to protect your spine, your kidneys. Again the round travels straight through your simple flesh and you shudder with little, rapid convulsions as the plates return the round across and through you again, back and forth, like a pinball in a bonus round.

This happens so fast that it confuses those around you. One of your men mistakes your spasms for regret, he suspects that you’ve AD’d. His reaction betrays his impression of your combat readiness—asks you, sir, what the fuck?––all while the round ricochets inside of you, trapped by the plates. Its energy redirected, again and again, as it cuts a carefree path through you until it finds an exit somewhere soft outside of you and you drop to the dirt.

When Doc gets to you he finds an awful lot of blood pooling beneath you, turning the dust where you rest into clay-colored mud. Doc tears open your vest and cuts away your shirt to find your chest riddled with holes, like you’ve absorbed a machine gun burst point blank. Stunned, Doc pauses to count the holes. Then curses to right himself and begins, methodically, to plug you with tampons from his improvised kit. Doc calls for others to pillage their own, there being more holes in you than even a medic’s tricked-out bag can fill. Keeps plugging but you bleed out right here, your self a sea of blood and water opened to the earth.


When you sleep deep enough to dream, you dream of the sniper. Sometimes you jolt as he hits his mark and you feel your spine snap and you lie in the dust, struggling to both breathe and move as your soldiers circle around you overhead, silhouetted by the harsh sun, their sweat dripping into your eyes. You try to scream but find you have no voice, it having been taken by the round’s flight through your neck. You are deaf now, also, and silence envelops you as your soldiers hold vigil for you to bleed out. No one moves to touch you.

You die in the dirt, with everyone watching, if you’re lucky. Or, in those dreams where the air isn’t black, you die on a bird, almost alone. Floating above a dust cloud, strapped to a gurney below strangers bent over you with eyes you can’t see no matter how much you strain, their faces obscured by flight masks, your final vision clouded by morphine.

Often it is when your breath slows that you find yourself trapped inside yourself. Suffocating, you try to scratch, claw, and scream your way out. You can hear the ceiling fan swirling overhead, yet you cannot pry open your eyelids or make even a peep, as much as you try.

Finally, you break through with a howl the perfect pitch of terror, tearing away the bedding in your struggle to free yourself. You jolt up, howling and gasping for air, your swampy sheets smacking the floor at the foot of your bed. You’ve awoken your wife—you’ve scared the shit out of her—and she sits up with a start. She knows to say no words, but rubs your back, coolly, to remind you of where you are, now. Ostensibly, you are not alone.

Recoil from her, pile the sheets back onto the bed. Go to the bathroom and fill a glass with cold water from the tap. Here, it is the same. You seek no comfort, but only space—more space than a house might hold—as you hunch at the sink, massaging your throbbing shoulder, where the round passed through you.


During the day, your dreams follow you. You cross a street and sense crosshairs bisecting your neck, wait for the sting that signals the shot, followed by a crack that only others hear. This feeling, it comes and goes––reminding you to blink coolly as you stand on the lip of the curb like the others, waiting for the light to change, you feign nonchalance as you scan rooftops, looking for a rat hole or a darkened open window––but it is not something to fear. It stays with you and you are certain you will die this way and since there is no question, there is no reason to resist. You know it makes no difference and you are only passing time as the round makes its way to you.


While these are neither the only nor the worst ways you could have gone, each could have happened—and has or will—to others you know or knew. And so, what if it wasn’t you who caught a sniper’s round? What if it was only your friend? And you had heard his story more than once and touched the scar at the thick of his neck. Could you still have these dreams?

Could you dream that you are the bullet, twisting down the rifle’s barrel, across the room and out the window, swimming through the air to slice through your best friend’s throat, seeing the red of his tissue and the white of his bone and the blue of his blood before it piles out before you as you punch through him to pack deep into the clay of a filthy desert wall?

Or would you dream that you are the sniper?

Or could you be all three—the sniper, the round, and the living dead?


– Andrew L. Porter left a philosophy graduate program in order to deploy to Iraq as an Infantry officer in the U.S. Army. He divides his time between New York and London. This is his first published story, which is taken from his first novel. Read more here:

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By Michelle Brooks


Some of us say Nothing is keeping me here, although we do not leave. We have two bars and a theater that plays movies that opened somewhere else last year. Our parents own the town or work for those who do or don’t work at all. Our high school boyfriends bought us mums for homecoming, the flowers adorned with streamers and glitter that spells out our names. After graduation, the chosen vanish to colleges we have seen in brochures, but the population sign at the edge of town never changes.

We work at places where nothing changes until the doors shut for good. We fall in love. We have children. We cheat and repent. Our streets are adorned with signs we stopped seeing years ago. We get lonely and don’t know why. How can we be lonely when we know everyone?

The faithful departed return at homecoming or Christmas or on a random Wednesday with significant others in tow, buying water or milk or a Kit Kat. They stop at the convenience store and squint under the bright lights. We duck behind displays of beer, avoiding small talk that always ends with You’re still here. We don’t age, although we place classifieds that say, Lordy, Lordy look who is forty! We go to church, even though some of us have fallen away and forget to hide our lapses. We don’t die, although the graveyard is full.

Once a plane crashed into a power line, leaving nothing behind except a strip of charred earth, two sets of teeth, and the pilot’s watch, still ticking, a bomb that will never detonate. Is this what the end of the world looks like? An explosion in the sky instead of waiting rooms and laundromats and standing in the Ten Items or Less line at the Safeway to buy the one thing we forgot?

For an hour, most of us couldn’t turn on the lights, the computer, the television, the radio. We pushed our strollers out to the crash site even though we knew that the rumors were true. They always are. The local radio station that urges us to stay tuned went silent. Most of us had lost our power that morning, and we wanted to see why.


Michelle Brooks has published a collection of poetry, Make Yourself Small (Backwaters Press), and a novella, Dead Girl, Live Boy (Storylandia Press). She enjoys photography and watching the Detroit Pistons.


What Happened

By Anney Bolgiano


It smelled like Tide Detergent in the upstairs classroom with the direct morning sunlight that made the teacher close the blinds. The light strips cut across our desks. I was sleepy then and I’m sleepy now, and I remember the skinny history teacher, how he gripped the edge of your desk. He was desperate; he said, “You need to know what happened, you need to know what happened,” and you stared, with your mouth shut, and blinked once.

Do you remember the last time they asked us what happened? I remember you pointed, at the wreckage, but you couldn’t open your mouth.


Anney Bolgiano lives in Maryland where she teaches English, knitting, gender studies, and other topics at School for Tomorrow. She holds a BA in English from Guilford College. Her work is published or forthcoming in the Greenleaf Review and Dirty Chai Magazine.

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Omniscience on Route 6

By Sarina Bosco                                                                         

Peacocks make a disturbing sound—almost nightmarish, even in daylight. How strange and tiring to come home and find an exotic animal perched on the gate to the backyard. Out beyond him, the maple with the branch ruptured by lightning and the stand of pines that is too quiet for my taste. I turn instead to the dishes.

Watching him pace the yard later I think it odd that I was aware of her death before he was. They are large animals, not easy to catch, as I discovered during a moment of weakness when I used the rake as a representation of my sympathy.

She was hit across the road from my driveway, in Bob’s front yard. Bob attends church every Sunday and has invited me to the potluck. He has a large white shepherd and a wife who doesn’t leave the house. The female’s body, unlike her noisy mate’s, is an unexciting dun color. I would have missed her if not for the length of her throat exposed on the curb. I wonder if the skin is pimpled the way a chicken’s is, if there is nothing more than meat, really, covering that small fist of a heart.

For two days he roams the area. At night he cries out from my neighbor’s roof, and I remember then—suddenly awake—trying to keep the cigar tree branches flowering in jars, on bookcases, in the windows. The white of them disappearing in the night. For a few days desperate and spreading the blossoms across my thighs. I move to the window to be sure that her body is still there, weighted under the constellations.

I am gone for most of it, but I hear his form weaving through the pines—the sound of his searching lost in the layers of needles. Walking back to the house at twilight I know that he will find her. His small black eye turning and catching the ruffle of feathers. Something will swell in his breast—not hope, but a primitive vibration. A soundless call. He will find her and try to get to her. And in doing so, lose his life.

I know the moment that he has seen her through the passing cars. The dishes need to be washed again.


Sarina Bosco is a chronic New Englander and part-time gardener. When not writing, she can be found pursuing academics, hiking trails, and growing tomatoes. Her work has previously appeared in The Missing Slate, The Cider Press Review, and The Little Patuxent Review

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By Jeff Bakkensen                                                                         

First went the naming rights to the schools. My own alma mater Desert View High School became Boss DigiTech Academy. Our crosstown rivals Arcadia were rebranded Universal Distribution Center. Then Consultative Edited Textbooks were approved, and suddenly Lucy – that’s our daughter – was telling her mommy and me how George Washington wouldn’t have been able to cut down a Lambert SteelStrong™ Cherry Tree or how, definitively, his crossing would have looked captured on a Nikon. That’s a phrase we’ve all started using to mean when something is true to life – captured on a Nikon.

Next the city parks were auctioned off and started charging admission. The art museum was liquidated, as were the instruments of the Symphony Orchestra. Obviously we weren’t going to disarm the police, but we did, for a time, allow advertisers to dress individual policemen at a rate based on arrests per month. Now we’re back to letting them dress themselves.

The City Council wasn’t so daft to miss the symbolism in renting out space in City Hall to corporate pirates, so they sold the building from the foundation up. Some suckers up in Canada bought it lock, stock and barrel, picked it up with half-a-dozen helicopters, and flew it away.

You probably wonder how things got to be this bad, but there’s no easy answer. Some poor decisions were made, to be sure. Monies routed into the wrong hands. Risks taken without heeding the signs. Advice was given and not followed, or followed slavishly. We’re not always sure which.

After the most recent elections, some of our elected leaders finally took responsibility for the mess, and bravely sold themselves into bondage. My neighbor the County Assessor is working off the vig for a Japanese gangster. I’ll never forget the tears in his eyes as he spoke from the steps leading to the toothless spot where City Hall had stood. When he was done, two men in Lycra suits came and stuffed him into a waiting Datsun.

We’ve promised ourselves to be thriftier, and we know this means that certain items will be cut. I just wish they’d kept a few of the garbage men behind when they sent them all to Nicaragua for the picking season. The trash is calf-deep along Alameda Street, and we have to shuffle to avoid breaking bottles on our way down to work. Surely, there is a way to get them back. This is still a free country, after all.                                                                                                                                                     

– Jeff Bakkensen lives in New York with his partner and, someday, a dog. You can find his most recent work in Smokelong Quarterly, The Antigonish Review, and Straylight Literary Magazine.

This piece was originally broadcast on the flash fiction podcast No Extra Words. You can listen to the episode here.

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By Hyl Norman


My daughter comes with three hot dogs and my sandals she fixed, and calls me back to earth. I count the thirty-two beads on the neckline of her shirt. A happy number.

She says, “The boys will be here soon.” She always tells me because I sometimes mistake one of them. His face, I’ve told her. It’s in everything.

“Is it almost the day?” the younger one asks.

I pretend I have to check.

A winter morning. I am twenty-three, prime. He works in the factory, the one across the road from this old house, my station. I have a night job, counting money. I wait in Lot C for him to come away on break. We sit in my rumbling powerful car and fog it up and share a little flask of Hennessy. He leans in to me and whispers that I smell like summertime. His face presses into my neck, molding its shape.

Now I count the squares with glass, then the squares where the panes are missing, the pigeon-holes. They are not in perfect rows. Some are slightly higher or lower or a different size. I count these separately and add them to the total. I begin to suspect before I finish that there will be 151. There are, exactly. A lucky prime. You can put yourself between its halves.

If I smoke a bowl while they cut the grass I can fly up to one of the pigeon-holes and go right into blackness where I will hear his voice. The boys pretend they don’t see.

I sit in one of the two Adirondack chairs he made. Its arms are his arms. When I have been away and come back, the lawn looks inviting with the chairs sinking into it, beautiful but heavy with symbolism, like a cross on a hill.

But there’s no savior. This row of factory housing is falling down. I am the last struggling fly on the windowsill, bodies all around me.

Add three for the stories of this house, five for other men, two for the chairs, one for our child. Add 1995, the year he left, the year the factory closed. Across other work, other men and all the years, reminders persist. Across the road, the peeling paint of the factory wall draws his shape, the big shoulders and bushy hair.

He comes today. He strides across the grass, toes wet and green. I rise to meet him. I am almost floating, big and powerful. And stoned. He is ruined. An eyelid permanently closed. He leans in, drops into the face-shaped hollow of my neck. I stand between the halves of my life, kissing him. Once for every month I’ve remembered to count. A happy number.


Hyl Norman lives in the Midwest. Her writing desk is cluttered with a pile of unpublished novels. Her short fiction has appeared in Midwestern Gothic and an anthology by Cat & Mouse Press. She recently completed a psychological mystery for young adults.  

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To Be Afraid

By John Michael


Every Wednesday I watch a game show called To Be Afraid. Contestants admit their deepest fear while hypnotized and they wake up the next day confronted with that fear for 24 hours. If they guess it by sunrise, they get to spin the prize wheel.

My favorite episode is with this middle-aged guy named Dennis. Dennis wakes up and his wife is vacuous and frumpy. Before saying good morning, his Ivy-educated children ask for money. At work, the guy Dennis trained five years ago is now his boss. He informs the whole office that the C-suite drained the pensions and ran to the Caymans.

Dennis goes home to decompress. He flips through a thousand channels but everything is asinine. On the news, they report that the leaders of all faiths have called a press conference to admit that God is a scam. The President interrupts to announce that the evil cabal puppeteering all governments has become powerful enough to rule openly. Under talking heads debating if this will affect the price of gas reads the caption: “NEW TYRANNY ONTOLOGICALLY SIGNIFICANT? Sixth Extinction Already Under Way, Majority of Biologists Agree Too Late to Stop.”

Dennis drives to a bridge and steps over the railing. He stares at the water and feels the velocity of his tears dragging him down with them. “There’s no point!” he screams into the void and lets go of the railing. Several spotlights punch on and the key grip grabs Dennis by the collar. Dennis guessed correctly.

Back at the studio, Dennis spins the wheel with little more than gravity. He wins a rider mower worth an economy sedan. The skin on his cheeks is transparent and he doesn’t appear to be looking at anything when he says, “We live in a condo.”


John Michael doesn’t have a Boston accent. His work is published or forthcoming in Really Short Stories, The Finger, and NANO Fiction, among others. He is currently working on a novella. Read more at

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None of This is Your Fault

By Rebecca Fishow


Last Sunday, I nearly ran over your dog. I couldnt have done it without you. Why wasnt he secured in the yard? Why wasnt he tethered by some kind of leash, to some kind of tree?

I admit I had been looking down at the time, rummaging for something below the passenger seat, for a map, a lost love letter, my own severed hand. It seems I am always looking down. On the good days, I am rummaging too.

Last Sunday was not a good day, despite the rummaging. I do not know if life is precious. I do not know who gets to choose what lives and what dies.

Your dog lived, another dog died. Later that day I came out of my apartment, and because I had been looking down, I saw it lying on the empty patio of a French restaurant. He was still, save for the slightest tide of his fleeting breath. His eyes were open. They had become two landing strips for flies. Underneath his tail, a small brown splotch. A wet spot on the concrete around his body widened. I called my lover, who rushed home to help. But he could not help the dog, and he could not help me. I could not help him. Funny, how we felt like help was what we needed.

I am not doing a lot of living these days. Living requires a name. Ive misplaced mine somewhere. Im still searching though, beneath the passenger seat, where I could not find my severed hand. None of this is your fault. Nonetheless, I implore you, please be more careful.


Rebecca Fishow is a writer and artist living in Montreal. Her fiction and illustrations have appeared or are forthcoming in Joyland, Necessary Fiction,The Believer Logger, Mud Season Review and other publications. She is a contributing editor at Cosmonauts Avenue and holds an MFA from Syracuse University, where she received the Joyce Carol Oates Award in Nonfiction and the Cornelia Carhart Ward Fellowship.

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Save Your Soul

By Kenny Torrella


I drove with my hand on Mia’s thigh as we passed by bonfires in the night, and joked about how anything goes in these small towns. I took country roads unknown to us both, the car’s headlights beaming into the trees and lighting up signs for farm stands and churches. Again, she asked me where I was taking her.

“I told you, it’s a surprise,” I said.

It’s already 11:30… Are we going to Detroit?” she asked.

I laughed to myself.

What? What’s funny?”

No, nothing. It’s stupid.”

Tell me!” she said, squeezing my hand.

OK, well, I was going to say, ‘I’m going to kill you and bury you.’”

“What? Why would you say that?”

“It was a joke. It was stupid.”

“But why would you joke about that?”

You know I make stupid jokes like that with friends sometimes. But I shouldn’t have said it. Just forget I said it. I’m sorry.”

We continued in silence. She knew I was incapable of doing that. I’ve never even been in a fist fight. I’m vegetarian. I take spiders outside. In our months together the furthest I had gone was raising my voice to match hers. But I think the sudden awareness of her vulnerability—out in the pitch black night, no phone, no sense of place—had struck her mute. She hadn’t told anyone where she was going; she didn’t know herself.

I rerouted the directions to take 96 and after I merged onto the interstate she sighed. Civilization.

We arrived in downtown Detroit. I parked the car and we stood on the sidewalk next to the dancehall.

“Again, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”

“Don’t worry. So, what is this surprise?” she asked, trying to smile.

We entered, I paid for the tickets, and we walked down the spiral staircase as Motown blared from the speakers. A poster taped on the door read “Souled Out: Detroit’s Premiere Soul and R&B Dance Party!”

It’s really white in here,” she said, looking around the room.


My parents and their generation left Detroit in the white flight during the ‘60s and ‘70s. They drove their American-made Cadillacs and Chryslers out to Redford, Dearborn, and Wyandotte, listening to Wilson Pickett and The Supremes all the way there. Now our generation—our friends—had made their way back in, into foreclosed homes and lofts in neighborhoods on the Courier Times’ up-and-coming list. “The venue was in a black neighborhood, in a black city, playing black music—it’s a violation of space,” Mia later said.

But there we were, a part of it. She swayed left to right with her arms by her sides, out of step with the music. This wasn’t like my Mia, who could attract crowds of men and women, at night clubs, weddings, and dive bars—and sometimes in the street—to watch her go at it to whatever was playing.

Before the first song ended I shouted into her ear: “Let’s go home.”

She nodded. “But don’t feel bad, OK? This was a great surprise. I love the music, I’ve wanted to dance, I needed a night out, but—”

I took I-96 back home. We pulled into the driveway and I turned off the car. The crickets droned. “You know I’m a survivor. You know as a woman I already feel scared all the time,” she said.

She rattled off examples: “Men holler at me in the city, at school, in the elevator. They ask me my sign, what country I’m from, where I live. Sometimes they stare, sometimes they follow, sometimes they get really close to me.”

I’m sorry.”

Listen, I know you’re sorry. I know what you said was a joke, and you know I trust you. But when you said it, there was something visceral about it. Like, if you wanted to, you could kill me. I’ve been in these situations before with men capable of hurting me. With men who did hurt me. You know that and you still said it.”

The next morning I woke up early and tiptoed out of the bedroom and into the kitchen to start on breakfast. Between bites Mia circled back to the night before. “There’s power in every moment,” she said.


Sometimes, in the dead, silent space of an argument, after each point has been exhausted and apologies have been proffered, I repeat this sentence in my head. The five words echo like some kind of mantra, written by a character on the losing end of it.

Can unearned power ever grasp its inverse? There’s another one. We struggle with these declarations and questions in an effort to make sense of inequity.

There’s power in every moment.” She must’ve written the mantra herself. She didn’t read poetry or stories, only textbooks.


Kenny Torrella is new to fiction writing but has been ghostwriting throughout his career to improve conditions for farmed animals. He currently lives in Washington, D.C. with his girlfriend and a wonderful dog named Rihana. His work can also be found in NAILED Magazine.


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