online magazine for short, good writing

Month: April, 2014

Five Things that Terrified Me When I Was Young

by a contributor

from Ian Starttoday, author of My Housemate’s Dead Cat:

  1. The Peanut Butter Solution – A boy enters the remains of a burnt-out, abandoned mansion. Opens a chest to find a glowing, green light of terror! Goes home, begins going bald, and has to wear a wig. Boy’s wig gets snatched at school by a bully. A ghost tells the boy in his sleep that he can regrow his hair by slathering peanut butter on his head. This ludicrous Eighties movie was too much for me as a six-year-old. It’s embarrassing to admit, but hey—it’s not like we get to choose what freaks us out.
  2. The Witches – I saw the movie adaptation of this Roald Dahl book in the theater and it stayed with me for years to come. The scene where the boy is hiding under a table in the hotel’s function room, and fifty proper English ladies turn into the most hideous collection of witches imaginable, very nearly ruined my childhood, or made it a million times better. Still trying to decide which.
  3. Disturbing painting at my grandfather’s apartment – My grandfather was a prolific painter, and naturally, his works adorned his home’s walls. When I stayed over night there, I slept in the living room on a sofa bed that was directly across from a portrait of a woman on a handsome, gold-colored canvas. The woman’s face was looking away from the observer, but my grandfather had drawn an ornate mirror in which you could see a portion of her milk-white face, framed by long black hair that screamed WITCH to me. The negative space was painted entirely black, and the woman’s grotesquely long fingernails also appeared in the mirror. For sure, the painting had some kind of dark energy about it.
  4. “Riders on the Storm” – My dad used to play this haunting track a lot, as he was a Doors fan. The stormy sound effects in the beginning, combined with Jim Morrison’s grim vocals, just unsettled me. I didn’t know who sang the song at the time, and I think I thought it was some sort of old Halloween song.
  5. Unsolved Mysteries – I was mesmerized by this TV show. It boggled my mind that there were things that happened in this world that had never been explained. It also rattled me something fierce. This was before the Internet was popular, and so you couldn’t go poking around on your computer for more information after the show ended. You had whatever Robert Stack gave you. The details were filled in by your imagination, and that was where things got truly frightening.

My Housemate’s Dead Cat

by a contributor

Ian Starttoday

My housemate’s cat died a few days ago. On my way out to International Relations class, I came across Zippy’s flat, lifeless body on the tan carpet in our living room. I had never before been so close to anything dead—unless you count insects and roadkill. But this animal, with its handsome, dark gray coat, was something I’d seen alive before. It was something I’d touched, and considered, and a couple times even slapped across the face for scratches it inflicted.

I bent down and pushed gingerly against the cat’s hind leg—only confirming what I had already known to be true. As far as I knew Zippy wasn’t sick, and he wasn’t particularly old. So I figured he ate something that killed him. He was always chomping down large clumps of my housemate’s wool sweaters and vomiting soon afterward.

Zippy and I might have traded blows once or twice, but Sarah, my housemate, could be pretty awful to him—leaving him in the bathroom for entire weekends for pestering her and knocking over her beauty products. I, myself, would let him out, but then she’d stick him in there again. Sometimes, she’d leave a note on my bedroom door that read something like: “he’s MY cat.”

It wasn’t long before a profound sadness came over me, and my eyes grew wet with tears. Soon I began talking to Zippy about how he was in heaven now, how he could have all of the wool his little heart desired and never get sick, how he’d never get locked in the bathroom again.

Then I called Sarah and told her the news. She fell apart, and I could hear the voices of people trying to console her on the other end.

“What happened?” she asked when she finally got back on the phone.

“I don’t know. Maybe he ate something he shouldn’t have. I was in my room having a nap, and later I opened up the door to leave for class. That’s when I saw him, and weirdly, I knew right then.”

I was actually in my room masturbating, but I didn’t think this piece of information was vital to this story.

“Oh my God. I saw him just this morning, and he looked fine. I… I can’t believe it.”

Sarah cleared her throat, and I heard her say something I couldn’t make out to someone who I assumed was beside her.

“I’m a mess, you should see me, Kel,” she continued. “Will you call Animal Control and have them take the body? You don’t mind?”

“You’re not coming home to see Zippy?” I said, a little shocked.

“I just can’t—please, Kel?” she cooed. “You’re better at dealing with these things than me.”

“Sarah, I really think you should come home,” I responded, suddenly angry. “I am already late for IR. And he is your cat.”

She took an audible breath.

“You’re right Kelly—he IS my cat, and if you please, I’d rather remember him the way he was when he was alive.”

She said this with a touch of annoyance.

“It would be too disturbing to see him the way he is now.”

“Okay,” I said after a few moments.

“Thank you, Kel.”

“You’re welcome.”

I hung up, took another look at Sarah’s dead cat, and walked out the door to go to class.

Ian Starttoday has work forthcoming or published in Apocrypha and Abstractions, Eunoia Review, Foliate Oak, and He lives in Northern California with his wife and two cats. He once entertained the idea of starting a lit magazine devoted to cat-themed fiction.

See Ian’s list of 5 Things tomorrow in our ongoing contributors’ series.

5 Things I’ve Learned From My Students

by a contributor

from Jacob Little, author of On the Seventh Day: Losing Faith:

  1. “The government should keep its hands off our guns and not enslave us with any more gun control. It should also make background checks mandatory and outlaw automatic weapons.”
  2. “Studies have shown that cannabis can cure cancer, lupus, and the hiccups.”
  3. “Only a short time ago, it was a great achievement to put men on the moon. Now, men walk around up there every day.”
  4. “There are no poor people in Minnesota.”
  5. “If you write like a Tyrannothesaurus Rex, no one will understand your roars.”

On the Seventh Day: Losing Faith

by a contributor

Jacob Little

On Sundays, my father wakes up before light, lets the dog outside, and lays down on the floor to stretch out his aching, aging back. He reads the newspaper as he stretches, twisting and holding a position, grunting in discomfort inches from the words. He takes a walk under the dawning light and rehearses the sermon he’s prepared. Because he recites so much while walking, when he gives the actual sermon, he paces the stage, appearing unable to stop, powerless to contain this energy that has been building in him.

I recall debating Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale in a Monday morning class in undergrad. I listened quietly as my classmates argued whether Hermione was brought back to life. She waits in the wings the whole play―presumed dead, frozen in granite―until a master sculptor carves out her warm, blinking shape, and she steps forward to hold her long-lost daughter. But most of the class seemed to think she had been alive all along, simply hiding under the sculptor’s white sheet, still as stone. My suspicion was that Shakespeare had decided suddenly, halfway through, to make his tragedy into a comedy. So he put away the props he had planned— the blood-stained cloaks, the rusting daggers, the wines laced with poison. Then he invented the Oracle to be God, able to resurrect those long dead. It didn’t matter to me whether or not Hermione had been hiding. I only cared that in the story Shakespeare had started, Hermione would have been dead, would have stayed dead.

My dad used to walk me and my sister to the playground every Tuesday. One time I fell off a balancing bar. I don’t remember the drop or seeing the wound that would become scar. I only remember my father pulling me home in my rusting wagon. When I wrote about it years later, I omitted my sister’s presence because it required more work to fit her in. The shame of that decision has spilled over to the memory itself. Remorse still pricks me at the thought of that little red wagon when it is not trailed by my sister picking me dandelions to stop me crying.

I spoke with my father last Wednesday, and I talked about how hard it was to teach composition and write at the same time. He talked to me about writing sermons, explaining how his methods have changed over time. He told me how he had always loved to write for the page, to write work that stands up to intense scrutiny. But he said he couldn’t do that anymore. “I have to write for performance,” he said with something close to shame in his voice. “So now, if you read it silently, it’s childish.”

Once, I took a film class where we discussed the use of soundtrack. My professor showed a scene of Jaws and explained how the music enhanced the fear of that unseen threat. She then began showing that menacing fin over and over while mismatched songs played. It reminded me of when I ran the soundboard for Thursday night worship practices at church. I would listen intently through the headphones, push and pull the dials, and turn up the reverb on the less skilled singers. I would take what I could from their raw, competing voices and meld them together so anyone listening would believe that they were in harmony with one another.

My dad doesn’t go in to work on Fridays. He types his sermon on the dining room table, a fan whirring up into his decade-old laptop. One time, when he was done working on his sermon, he charged out to the backyard and began mowing from one side to the other, going over the same spots time and again. I remember him sitting down after with a glass of ice water, and looking out back through the kitchen window, surveying his work. It was just a mowed lawn, but he made it his metaphor.

On Saturday I wrote. I pulled out all the notebook scribbles from the week and I trimmed them or tossed them. I tore down my words and dissected them, examined the trunk, searching for scars. I read the same lines: once loud, once soft, once staring hard at the language, once with my eyes closed. I listened closely, trying to find a way to make it all sound like harmony when it was really nothing more than a childish outline, a regret, a carefully scripted deception.

Jacob Little is a writer of poetry, CNF, and screenplays. He is a second year MFA student at Minnesota State University. He teaches a freshman composition class and is managing editor of the Blue Earth Review. He also conducts weekly interviews with published authors on KMSU 89.7’s The Weekly Reader.

See Jacob’s list of 5 Things tomorrow in our ongoing contributors’ series.

Five Things I’ve Learned Watching the Reboot of “Cosmos”

by a contributor

from Justin Runge, author of Clamor:

  1. Tardigrades are eight-legged micro-animals that can exist in extreme conditions, such as heavy radiation, boiling heat, and sub-zero temperatures. They are also known as waterbears or moss piglets, and are most likely inside of you right now.
  2. The black gaps in spectra comprise a code revealing the elements in stars, planets, anything. Reading this code is spectroscopy, and it is a foundational discipline of astrophysics.
  3. Isaac Newton was an alchemist and biblical cryptographer.
  4. When Edmond Halley successfully predicted the exact date, time, and location of a comet’s return, he essentially disproved comets as augury.
  5. Our entire galaxy is surrounded by a cloud of icy planetesimals. This cloud is called the Oort cloud, and it is where asteroids are born.


by a contributor

Justin Runge

Good morning debris, yawping power generator, steel toe and tack, shingles chiming, light rock radio. We will rise to your thuds if they patter like limerick at our door—otherwise, we’ll stay swaddled, our cat in the box springs below.

Your ruckus enhances when we press our ears to the mattress, ambience like houseflies in our cupped hands. Standing still even fills the vacancy, pneumatic nail guns popping toward our heads, noon patinated in smoke, yesterday still a plaque on our teeth.

But if we add a running sink to this rattle, the day has won; we become percussionists in it, have to know its song, meet the men our landlord has laddered up to our roof. Instead, we’ll spend the day watching slate like snowflakes blanket our lawn to the par-rum-pa-pum-pummeling of bootfeet.

Justin Runge lives in Lawrence, Kansas, where he serves as poetry editor of Parcel. He is the author of two chapbooks, Plainsight (New Michigan Press, 2012) and Hum Decode (Greying Ghost Press, 2014). Recipient of a 2014 Langston Hughes Award, Runge has published in Best New Poets 2013, Linebreak, DIAGRAM, and elsewhere. He can be found at

See Justin’s list of 5 Things tomorrow in our ongoing contributors’ series.

Five mornings this year, so far

by a contributor

from Rachael Nevins, author of And Then Comes January and Parturition:

January 6
Minutes before dawn, the clouds and fog glow blue.

January 13
The sky mysteriously bright, 25 minutes before sunrise.
Stray cats lurking in the last shadows of night.

February 26
Sky still glowing from the dawn, but gray.

March 22
Blots of blue and white, like a child’s watercolor of the sky.

April 2
Look carefully. See the velvety texture of this morning’s gray sky.

For more than a year now, I’ve been tweeting the sky. I was inspired to do so by Sarah Buttenwieser (@standshadows) and recommend the practice.