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Fall/Winter 2023-2024 edition of Magnets and Ladders

Magnets and Ladders
Active Voices of Writers with Disabilities
Fall/Winter 2023-2024

Editorial and Technical Staff

  • Coordinating Editor: Mary-Jo Lord
  • Fiction: Kate Chamberlin, Abbie Johnson Taylor, Winslow Parker, and Marilyn Brandt Smith
  • Nonfiction: Kate Chamberlin, Marilyn Brandt Smith, lisa Busch, and Brad Corallo
  • Poetry: Abbie Johnson Taylor, Leonard Tuchyner, Brad Corallo, Sally Rosenthal, and Sandra Streeter
  • Technical Assistants: Jayson Smith

Submission Guidelines

Writers with disabilities may submit up to three selections per issue. Deadlines are February 15 for the Spring/Summer issue, and August 15 for the Fall/winter issue. Writers must disclose their disability in their biography or in their work. Biographies may be up to 100 words in length, and should be written in third-person.

Do not submit until your piece is ready to be considered for publication. Rewrites, additions, deletions, or corrections are part of the editorial process, and will be suggested or initiated by the editor.

Poetry maximum length is 50 lines. Memoir, fiction, and nonfiction maximum length is 2500 words. In all instances, our preference is for shorter lengths than the maximum allowed. Please single-space all submissions, and use a blank line to separate paragraphs and stanzas. It is important to spell check and proofread all entries. Previously published material and simultaneous submissions are permitted provided you own the copyright to the work. Please cite previous publisher and/or notify if work is accepted elsewhere.

We do not feature advocacy, activist, “how-to,” or “what’s new” articles regarding disabilities. Innovative techniques for better writing as well as publication success stories are welcome. Content will include many genres, with limited attention to the disability theme. Announcements of writing contests with deadlines beyond April 1 and October 1 respectively are welcome.

All work submitted must be original. We do not accept work written by an AI or any form of plagiarism.

Have You Published a book? If you would like to have an excerpt of your book published in an issue of Magnets and Ladders, please submit a chapter or section of your book to The word count for fiction and nonfiction book excerpt submissions should not exceed twenty-five hundred words. Poetry book excerpts should be limited to five poems. Please include information about where your book is available in an accessible format, either an eBook or audio format. We will publish up to one book excerpt per issue.

Authors under age 18: Please include a statement from a parent or guardian that indicates awareness of your submission of literary work to Magnets and Ladders.

Do you have a skill, service, or product valued by writers? For a minimum contribution of $25.00 we will announce it in the next two issues of “Magnets and Ladders”. All verifications of products or services provided are the responsibility of our readers. Book cover design? Copyediting? Critiques? Formatting for publication? Internet access or web design? Marketing assistance? Special equipment? Make your donation through PayPal (see or by check by March/September 1. 100-word promotional information is due by February/August 15. Not sure about something? Email All donations support Magnets and Ladders.

Please email all submissions to Paste your submission and bio into the body of your email or attach in Microsoft Word format. If submitting Word documents, please put your name and the name of your piece at or near the top of the document. When possible, please send your submissions as a Word or txt attachment as many email programs have been reformatting poetry and putting unwanted line breaks in stories and essays. Submissions will be acknowledged within two weeks. You will be notified if your piece is selected
for publication.

Final author approval and review is necessary if changes are needed beyond punctuation, grammar, and sentence or paragraph structure. We will not change titles, beginnings, endings, dialog, poetic lines, the writer’s voice, or the general tone without writer collaboration. If your work is selected for inclusion in a future “Behind Our Eyes” project, you will be notified; your approval and final review will be required. To insure we can contact you regarding future projects, please keep us updated if your Email address changes.

Audio Versions of Some Past Issues are Available for Your Listening Pleasure

The Perkins Library for the Blind has been recording issues of Magnets and Ladders for several years. In 2017, these recordings became available on cartridge to patrons of The National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled. For many of our readers, the Perkins recording of each edition of Magnets and Ladders is their only access to the magazine. Other readers may enjoy the pleasure of hearing the stories and poems performed by the Perkins narrators after reading the magazine online. In the fall of 2022, we were given permission, by Perkins, to upload mp3 files of magazine recordings. Back issues starting with the Spring/Summer 2019 edition of Magnets and Ladders are available now at Please check back often, as we anticipate adding more back issues soon.

About Behind Our Eyes

Behind Our Eyes, Inc. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization enhancing the opportunities for writers with disabilities. Our anthology published in 2007, “Behind Our Eyes: Stories, Poems, and Essays by Writers with Disabilities”, is available at Amazon and from other booksellers. It is available in recorded and Braille format from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

“Behind Our Eyes, a Second Look” is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other booksellers, and in E-book format on Amazon Kindle. It is also available in recorded format from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. See our book trailer on Youtube at

Several members of our group meet by moderated teleconference twice monthly to hear speakers; share work for critique; or receive tips on accessibility, publication, and suggested areas of interest.

Our mailing list is a low-traffic congenial place to share work in progress; learn about submission requests; and to ask and answer writing questions. If you would like to join our group and receive access to our phone conferences and mailing list, please complete our quick and easy membership form at

If you would like to learn more about Behind Our Eyes, or if you would like to make a donation, please visit our website at

Table of Contents

Editors’ Welcome


The Fall/Winter edition of Magnets and Ladders showcases many new contributors alongside Authors that readers have enjoyed from past issues.

The Behind Our Eyes community has some exciting news. Our third anthology, Behind Our Eyes 3: A Literary Sunburst, featuring poems, stories, and essays previously published in Magnets and Ladders along with new material is available to purchase in an eBook format. It is available from Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and others. The print edition will be available soon.

Once again, we welcome a guest judge for one of our contests. Nolan Crabb has generously volunteered to be our guest judge for the nonfiction contest for the Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer editions. Nolan has an extensive background in editing and disability services.

Nolan Crabb is a native of Ogden, Utah where he attended the Utah School for the Blind and graduated from Weber High School.

Nolan holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from Brigham Young University. He also holds a certification as an assistive technology trainer from the Accessible Technology Institute in Tucson, Arizona.

Nolan spent much of his working life as a writer and editor. He was a general assignment reporter for the Ogden Standard-Examiner, and he worked briefly for what is now the Deseret Morning News in Salt Lake City. He has held editing jobs in northern California and Chicago and was, for nine years, the editor of The Braille Forum, published by the American Council of the Blind in Washington, D.C. He also worked as the assistant editor of Dialogue Magazine, published by Blindskills, Inc. of Salem, Oregon.

Nolan was first introduced to computers in the winter of 1977 and has been working with them steadily since. In the late 1980s, when he was serving as the director of an independent living center, he began providing computer training to many of the center’s consumers. In 1999, when the opportunity became available to provide computer instruction to the staff at Rehabilitation Services for the Blind in Missouri, he was eager to once again enjoy the benefits that come with offering computer training to others.

In June, 2007, Nolan was hired at The Ohio State University as its Director of Assistive Technology-a position in which he provides training and software to disabled staff members and university faculty.

Nolan has been a member of the Missouri Assistive Technology Advisory Council. He served as a member of the advisory council for Oregon’s Talking Book and Braille Services, and he has been a member of the Oregon State Library Board of Trustees. He represented the American Council of the Blind as a member of the National Association of Radio Reading Services board of directors. In 2023, he signed on as a co-host of Legend Book Talk, a weekly podcast dedicated to reviewing and recommending books to podcast listeners.

Nolan describes himself as a voracious reader. In his spare time, he continues to do some freelance writing and dabbles in the field of audio book narration and digital audio production. In early 2008, he created an Internet mailing list dedicated to the writing and distribution of book reviews focusing on books from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Known as DB-Review, The list specifically focuses on digital talking books, and its members are encouraged to share reviews and comments regarding books they have read. From an initial membership of some 50 people, the list has grown to include more than 300 members, most of whom post their reviews and thoughts on books.

He and his wife, the former Valerie Hekking of Benyon, Utah, are the parents of four daughters and the grandparents of ten grandchildren.

I would like to give a big thanks to all of the committee members, Nolan Crabb, Marilyn Brandt Smith, and Jason Smith for your hard work and support throughout the production process.

We had contests with cash prizes in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Along with our contests, we had a Finish the story exercise. See “The Writers' Climb” to read the story starter and the top two story endings. The Authors of the top two story endings are recognized along with the contest winners.

Below are the Magnets and Ladders Fall/Winter 2023 contest winners.


  • First Place: “Seasons” by Robert Gardner
  • Second Place: “Thoughts and Prayers” by Marcia J. Wick
  • Honorable Mention: “All I Need Is the Air That I Breathe” by Brad Corallo
  • Honorable Mention: “Assume Nothing” by Nicole Massey

Finish the Story Exercise:

  • First Place: “Hero Ending” by Abbie Johnson Taylor
  • Second Place: “Hero Ending” by Kayla James


  • First Place: “Wasp Hunting and the Revolution” by Tong Ge
  • Second Place: “Fishless Crab Cakes” by Nancy Scott
  • Honorable Mention: “The Odd Couple” by Sarah Das Gupta
  • Honorable Mention: “Review with Commentary: Rebel with a clause: tales and tips from a roving grammarian by Ellen Jovin” reviewed by Marilyn Brandt Smith


  • First Place: “Hospice” by Marilyn Brandt Smith
  • Second Place: “The Art of Remembering One’s History” by Christian Ward
  • Honorable Mention: “In This Quiet Place” by Brad Corallo
  • Honorable Mention: “Parallel Life” by Sally Rosenthal

Congratulations to all of the contest winners.

The Magnets and Ladders staff hopes you have a safe and happy holiday season.

Part I. People, places, andLife Events

Seasons, fiction First Place
by Robert Gardner


Jessica ambled down the sidewalk, the world around her beginning to turn green, the morning unusually warm. She'd convinced her mom to let her wear shorts outside for the first time that year. Then she stopped three houses down. Someone was moving in.

She stood outside the chain link fence, gaping at the disarray in the front yard. Boxes of all sizes, a bicycle, a table with stacked chairs, a sofa with several matching easy chairs. No one seemed to be around.

A thunking sound came from the driveway around the side of the house. Jessica sniffled, rubbed the back of her hand over her runny nose, then stepped over to stare up the driveway.

She gawked at a brown-haired boy about her own age. He wore jeans and a red soccer shirt, and he was throwing a tennis ball against the garage door. The ball would hit the door with a hollow thump, bounce off the driveway, then the boy would catch it. He glanced at her, but continued playing with the ball as though she wasn't there.

“Hi,” she finally called out. She wiped her dripping nose on the sleeve of her T-shirt.

Without turning around or stopping his play, the boy answered over his shoulder. “Hi.”

She watched him throw and catch two more times. “My name's Jessica.” She tugged up her drooping shorts, her eyes never leaving him. “I live down the street. I'm nine.”

He half-turned toward her, now bouncing the ball off the concrete. He seemed to be trying hard not to look at her. “I'm Steven. We're moved from Mendota.”

“I don't know where that is.”

“It's not too far.” He took a quick peek at her, then returned his attention to the tennis ball.

Jessica continued to watch him, sniffling occasionally. “I got a cold.”

The boy kept bouncing the ball. “I'm in third grade.”

Jessica smiled. “Me too. We'll be in the same class.”

He looked up. “You only have one class in third grade here?”

“Uh huh.” Her gaze remained fixed on him. “You want to play or something?”

“Nah.” He bounced the ball hard on the driveway so it went high over his head, then caught it on the way down. “I got to help move things in. Mom and Dad went to get donuts somewhere.”

“I live down there.” She pointed. “The blue house. Can you come down sometime?”

“I don't know.”

Jessica wiped her nose, watching him bounce the ball.

Steven eyed her sideways. “You look like a boy.”

“My mom likes my hair short.”

His eyes flicked up, meeting hers for a second. Without thinking, her words spilled out. “Your eyes are green!”

“Yep.” He whirled and aimed at the garage door. The ball thumped, bounced, and he scrambled to his left to catch it.

She spoke as he wound up for another throw. “I got to go. Bye.”

The ball clunked against the garage door and bounced. Steven let it roll away as he spun around to address Jessica. “Maybe I can come down later.”


She skipped out of the supermarket into the sticky heat of the July afternoon. With sandals flapping, a single plastic bag dangling from her hand, she scurried down the aisle of the parking lot toward her car. She kept her head down against the glare of the sun, her long chestnut hair falling into her face.

“Hi, Jess.” The voice, low and ahead, was that of a young man.

She jerked her head up, automatically brushing aside her hair. “Steve!”

“Hi. How you doing?”

“Oh, Steve,” she moaned, tugging at her shirt.

“What's wrong?”

“I look terrible. After all this time, and now all I have on is this old shirt and these ratty cutoffs.”

He smiled at her, perspiration wetting his brow from the heat and humidity. “You look great, Jess.”

Saying nothing and biting her lower lip, she lowered her head again.

“Nobody's going to think you're a boy anymore. Remember how I used to tease you about that?”

She looked up, her voice unsteady. “I'm sorry, Steve. You know, about… everything.”

“I missed your emails. You know, after they stopped. It got lonely over there.”

“I'm so sorry.” She edged over as an SUV crept down the row, its windows up, the air conditioning fan whirring. She raised her head once more, her voice weak. “How long have you been back?”

“I got out a month ago.”

“Oh. Have you been back here all that time?”

“I thought about calling you one of these days.” When she didn't respond, he went on. “I've been looking for a job.”

“I see.”

“I thought being in the Air Force was supposed to open all these doors for you. That's what they tell you when you go in.”

“I'm sorry. About not writing anymore.” Then she looked straight into his green eyes. She hesitated, then the words rushed out like air from a balloon. “I'm getting married, Steve. In five weeks. August 16th.”

His eyes stayed locked with hers. At last he said, “I guess two years is a long time.”

Jessica was wet with perspiration. She forced a smile. “Aren't you going to congratulate me?”

“Congratulations.” His sports shirt was damp, his posture not quite as erect as before. “Is it anybody I know?”


“I guess it's good I didn't call after all. That doesn't seem exactly right, now.”

Her voice was tiny. “You can call any time. You know, like an old friend.”

“Yeah, sure.”

Jessica wiped sweat out of her eyes and tightened her grip on the plastic bag. She lowered her head once more, her voice a whisper. “I'm so sorry.”


She finally got the attention of the bartender, then had to yell to make herself heard. “I'd like a white zin, please.” With all the shouting around the bar, with the music blasting in from the adjacent hall, she was surprised the bartender could understand what she said at all.

Someone brushed lightly against her as another person wedged their way through the throng around the bar. “Hi, Jess,” a man said in her ear.

Turning her head, she blinked, then smiled. “Hello, Steve. I figured you'd be here somewhere.” She took in the surprising puffiness of his face, his thinning and unkempt hair. The too-tight jacket, the unbuttoned shirt collar, the necktie pulled askew. She put a hand on his sleeve. “It's been a while. How are you?”

“Let me get another drink.” The slight slur in his words was obvious even in the flood of noise. “Then let's go back there and talk.” He indicated the rear of the barroom.

Over her protests he paid for her wine, then led her back to a table for two. He spoke first. “Five years. I only get to see you like this every five years. At the class reunions, I mean.”

“Actually it's been ten years. We didn't make it to the last reunion.” Sitting there knee to knee with him, she found her heart rate quickening. She faltered, then put on a smile. “Can you believe it? Twenty-five years. It seems like high school was just yesterday.”

Stephen stirred the ice in his Seven and Seven. When he spoke, his voice was mushy, his head still down. “Who ever thought up this idea of having a reunion this time of year? I thought they were supposed to be in the summer.”

“I thought it was rather clever. October can be such a beautiful time of year around here. It turned out to be a great fall weekend for those who've moved out of the area.”

Stephen raised his head. “I like your dress. You're still a looker, Jess.”

“It's… good to see you too, Steve.”

“You and George?”

“Things are fine. We just celebrated twenty-one years. Amy, our daughter, is attending Western. Her major's physical education.”

“I saw that in the paper.” He took a swig of his whiskey. “When she graduated from high school, I mean.”

Jessica sipped her wine. Her tone was cautious. “And you? How's Pat?”

“We're divorced. I thought you knew. It was final last year.”

She nodded. She had known.

“I'm living with this great gal. Her name is Jean.” He waved a hand toward the main room where music from their teenage years was blaring. “She's out there at our table. I'll introduce you.”

“That would be nice.”

He lowered his head again, letting out a sobbing breath. “Pat was my third. What's wrong with me, Jess?”

She swallowed. “There's nothing wrong with you, Steve.”

He gulped at his drink. “I've got a nothing job, Jess.” All his words were slurred now, his voice quavering. “I've got three marriages behind me. I got two grown kids and they don't give a damn if I'm dead or alive.” His eyes teared as he gazed into hers. “I wanted it to be so different.”

Jessica lowered her head, pretending to play with her wine glass. Her own lips trembled. She'd known all that. All of it.

“What's wrong with me, Jess?”

She started to reach for his hand, stopped, then stood up. “Let's go on out, okay?” Her own voice wavered. “I want George to meet you again. And I want to meet Jean.”


Jessica burst into the hospital room, then jolted to a stop at the sight of him. He lay there on his back, his eyes closed. He could have been sleeping, but she sensed he wasn't.

The older of the two nurses tiptoed over to her. For some reason she whispered. “You're Jessica Wilson?”


“Here, let me take your coat.”

Mechanically, Jessica jammed her gloves and scarf into the pockets of the heavy coat and handed it to the woman. The nurses all looked so young, she thought, pushing a strand of gray hair back in place and straightening her glasses.

The other nurse bent over Steven. Snakes of tubes and wires connected him to life support equipment. A heart monitor beeped in the corner; the smell of antiseptic hung in the background.

The first nurse, the obvious senior of the two, spoke softly in Jessica's ear. “Thank you for coming. I know you had to come a long way, but he gave us a written request when he was admitted. His instructions were to call you when we thought it was appropriate.”

“It's okay. I wanted to be here. We've been friends for a long time.” Jessica gazed down at her hands, bone-thin and arthritic. “A very long time.”

“You must have come straight here?”

“Yes, As soon as I got the call, but it was a struggle. We couldn't get any flights out this morning. The best we could do was to leave Orlando late this afternoon. Then due to the weather, we had a long layover when we had to change planes in Atlanta. We came straight here from the airport.” She glanced at a clock on the console next to the bed. 11:27 PM.

The nurse's whisper was both sincere and practiced. “I'm afraid Steven slipped into a coma late this afternoon. I doubt he'll be conscious again, that you'll be able to talk with him. We're sorry about the timing of all this, but I'm sure you understand.”

Jessica became aware of the lump in her throat. “Yes, I understand.”

The older nurse still whispered. “We'll leave you alone.”

“Where is the family? Are they here somewhere?”

The nurse met her gaze. “I'm not sure. I haven't seen them.”

Jessica averted her eyes. “I'll only be ten or fifteen minutes. I know there's really nothing I can do here.” Her voice cracked. “And I'm not sure I can take it any longer than that.”

The nurse smiled and patted Jessica's arm, then left with her companion.

Jessica stared into the slack face of Steven. Tubes fed oxygen into his nostrils. Some type of monitor was clipped to one ear. She stepped forward and took his hand, careful not to disturb the IV in his arm. His hand felt so warm, so dry. “Steve?” She kept her voice low and soft. “It's me, Jessica. I'm here. I'm sorry I'm so late.”

His fingers in her hand remained lifeless. His closed eyelids didn't even flutter. She held his hand and studied him. Somehow, Stephen had been transformed to have the face of an old man. “Think of all the years,” she murmured. “Of all the memories.” Her lips started to quiver. She squeezed his hand, her voice becoming a pleading whisper. “Steve!”

He didn't respond in any way. The ragged beeping of the heart monitor seemed to fill the room.

Jessica stood there, she as immobile as him, his hand in hers. At one point she remembered all
the way back to that first day. Had it started then? She thought about what could have been. About what maybe should have been?

Finally she leaned over, inches from his face. Her eyes became moist. “I've got to go, Steve.” She kissed him on the lips, whispered something in his ear, then straightened up. “Goodbye, Steve.” She had managed to keep her voice quiet and under control. She grabbed her coat and shot out of the room.

Tears ran down her cheeks as she picked her way across the ice and snow of the parking lot. She held her coat collar together and kept her head down against the biting wind. Ahead, the maroon rental car was a black blob in the dim light, the engine running to keep the heater going. George was inside, smoking and listening to the radio.

“So?” he asked as she jumped in.

“I said goodbye.”

George grunted. He turned off the radio, put the car in gear, then crunched slowly through the parking lot toward the street. “Jeez, am I glad we left all this winter crap behind.”

Jessica huddled against her door and remained silent. She sniffled, her nose curling against the cigarette smoke. She wiped away the condensation on her window and peered out.

George glanced at her as he pulled out onto the street. “This was a long way to come, just for that.”

“We can go see Amy and the grandkids.”

They drove on without speaking. They passed endless houses, darkened in the middle of the winter night. Streetlights slid by in rhythmic intervals, the only guardians against the blackness of the world around her.

George exhaled smoke, his eyes on the street ahead. When he broke the silence, his voice was dispassionate. “You always loved him, didn't you?”

She said nothing. Gazing out into darkness, a thought kept repeating itself in her mind. Was she the one person who knew the story of her only child, her daughter, Amy? Amy with the green eyes. Jessica looked over at George with a hint of a smile and remained silent.

Bio: Robert Gardner worked his entire adult life as an engineer, that after receiving degrees from Purdue University and Stanford University. He grew up sighted, then lost his eyesight as an adult. Despite becoming totally blind, he continued to work as a civilian engineer for the US Army until retirement. He lives with his wife on the Mississippi River in the small Illinois town of Hampton.

Hospice, poetry First Place
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

I am
The one who feeds,
Cares for all her needs, and
Makes her believe this day is good.
We sing!

She is
Rewinding time;
Hoping for a comeback;
Like Penelope with her yarn,
She clings.

They are
Too busy now;
Say goodbye too early.
She still needs to see them, love them,
She weeps.

I am
The one who calls;
“She was at peace,” I lie;
She will have no rollicking wake,
She sleeps.

“Hospice” was published in Chasing the Green Sun, 2012, available from Amazon and other bookstores as well as in audio form.

Bio: Marilyn Brandt Smith worked as a teacher, psychologist, and rehabilitation professional. She has edited magazines and newsletters since 1976, and was the first blind Peace Corps volunteer. She lives with her family in a 100-year-old home in Kentucky. Her first book, Chasing the Green Sun, published in 2012, is available from Amazon and other bookstores and in audio form. She loves writing flash fiction stories, and was the primary editor for the first Behind Our Eyes anthology, as well as Magnets and Ladders from 2011 through 2013. She enjoys college basketball, barbershop harmony, and adventure books. Visit her website:

Barny's Waning, nonfiction
by Leonard Tuchyner

Barny, my dog of 15 years, has had a long history of my wife and I wondering whether he was going to live or die. He has had a number of seemingly close calls with death. Yet his overall life experience has been impressive.

Barny's lineage is mixed. His mother was a purebred American eskimo. Basically buff-colored, his face is a mask of black highlights. The dark etches of black eyebrows and snout give him a distinctively human look, with deep brown eyes that give the impression of intelligence. His ears are pointed and long, and he sports a thick mane of hair around his shoulder area. There is a slim, less furry appearance on the rest of his short torso, ending in a question-mark tail that usually is worn cocked over on his left side like a high flying flag. Those characteristics speak of a mysterious father, with unknown genetics. His sire must have been a large dog, because Barny is twice as large as his mother. At his best, he was about 50 pounds, but today he is below 40.

Barny's body has changed substantially over the years. In his old age he has lost fat and muscle, so that now the aft part of his body looks like he has the backbone of a large canine, while the forepart resembles a small husky. It is as though his physical aspects are at war with themselves in deciding what kind of dog he should be.

Once hale and hearty, ready to take on any physical challenge, he is now frail. His back legs are unreliable. Sometimes he has great difficulty getting up. Stairs, which were no barrier to him, are considered for a long time before he undertakes to climb them. Nevertheless, he is still eager to patrol his back yard domain and chase squirrels that frequent his back porch.

I remember when he was fearless, ready to take on any dog, regardless of size. I recall an incident when our man Friday, Bruce Woodfolk, forgot to close the gate and Barny was free to roam. It took only a minute or two for him to find Jimbo, his Irish setter nemesis, being taken for a walk, which included the area in front of our house. Jimbo lived in the house next to us, and Alexis, our neighbor, whom both our dogs loved, was walking with him. Barny always considered her part of our family, and therefore his property. So when Barny saw him out of his yard and being walked past our yard, he immediately saw it as an opportunity to teach Jimbo a lesson and attacked. It didn't matter that the other dog was far bigger than he. Jimbo, who was basically a peace- loving animal, knew he had to rise to the challenge, and the two of them went at it. By the time we were able to separate the two combatants, blood on both sides had been shed. Both dogs needed medical attention, with Jimbo the worst for wear.

Alexis is one of the best neighbors we have ever had. She wouldn't consider our paying for Jimbo's trip to the vet. She also was still quite loving in regards to Barny.

Ordinarily, the two dogs are in their respective side-by-side fenced-in yards. On one occasion our little dog became so frustrated by Jimbo, who responded to his antics with quiet amusement, he grabbed a branch of our privet hedge and took out his grievances on it. He succeeded in mutilating the branch, but also damaged his own teeth in the process.

In those bygone days, he not only chased squirrels, but actually caught a few.

I also remember that he often cornered snakes. He kept harassing them until they died of a heart attack, or Diane, my wife, could pull him away or kill the snake, so we wouldn't have to worry about him getting bit, which did happen on one occasion. The snake was a copperhead, and it happened at night. The snake got him on the lip, and it was off to the emergency vet. He was out in a day, just as feisty as ever. My wife had to do the dirty work because I'm blind and probably would have been bitten myself. In two episodes, she had to cut the poor snakes' heads off, because Barny could not be convinced to leave them alone. He would evade her attempts to grab him. So, the only way she could protect him was to decapitate the serpent. That's a moral conundrum that there isn't any good answer to. The instrument of decapitation was a straight-edged shovel.

Barny still goes on a 2-mile walk with me. But it is becoming an increasingly rare occasion. Besides being unable to physically handle the walk, he is very aware of his vulnerability due to bodily decline. Now a barking neighbor's dog intimidates him. He has learned that he can depend on Diane or me to protect him, and he no longer wants to turn around and go home.

Regardless, the bad old days are gone. Barny's ability even to stand is unreliable. He's lived a long life by dog standards. His canine age is comparable to my 83 years. Next year, if he makes it, he will be the equivalent of 90 years compared to humans. So, we can't complain.

Bio: Leonard, now 83, uses assistive technology to read and navigate. He
has been writing for 40 years and has published three books of
fantasy, poetry, and drama. Currently he is working on a sci-fi novel.

He lives with his wife of 43 years and one old dog. He is an avid gardener and enjoys long walks.

Leonard facilitates three critique groups for BOE, and one Writing for Healing and Growth group at the local senior center, which he has been doing for
16 years.

Parallel Life, poetry Honorable Mention
by Sally Rosenthal

Random nights, through the alchemy of dreaming,
I wander familiar never-trodden paths
of seasonal markets while holding my husband's arm.
Once more alive, he chooses a plump pumpkin
to become the jack o' lantern we never carved in life.
Glistening cranberries, ripe for winter muffins,
join loaves of rustic bread in our basket.
Bright holly berries adorn a pine wreath
we will hang on our cottage door
to welcome village neighbors' Yule calls.
In the darkness of the present, he fades
to return in future dreams of harvest and community.

Bio: A former academic librarian and occupational therapist, Sally Rosenthal lost all of her sight slowly from retinopathy of prematurity.
A stroke survivor from infancy, she is profoundly deaf from genetic age-related hearing loss. The author of Peonies In Winter: A Journey Through Loss, Grief And Healing, she is the book reviewer for and is a frequent contributor to animal-related and literary publications.

Wake-up Call, poetry
by Lynda McKinney Lambert

Gentle movements
resting on my shoulder
tender strokes
insistent caresses
secretly urge me to wake up.

Early morning wake-up call
begins in velvety darkness.
sensations of soft- feathered

My entire body is erect
feels mellifluous pulses
muscles throbbing gently.

Like a Passeri bird
perched amid tangled branches.
I flutter.
Stretch my feet deeper
Into a comforting quilt.

Instinctively, I know
like the nesting songbird,
clutching White Lilac branch
it's time to wake up.

I reach out, grasp layers
of floral-patterned aqua
percale sheets and
white woven cotton blanket.

My bird-like fingers grasp
silky ribbon binding
beneath willow-green plaid
seersucker bedspread.

My cousin made this
hand-stitched quilt.
Years ago.

“For your birthday,
I made this quilt
in your favorite colors
shades of orange,
designed by Kaffe Fasset.”

Bio: Lynda McKinney Lambert is an award-winning artist, teacher, and author. During her years as a tenured professor at Geneva College, she taught studio art, English literature, and lectured in art history. Lynda created a travel/study month-long course, “Drawing and Writing in Salzburg” that she taught each summer in Austria, Germany, Italy, and Czech Republic until her retirement in 2008.

Her first public art exhibit was in 1976. Her art is in private and public collections. Lynda's publishing career began in 1980. She currently has five published books available at Amazon and other booksellers. Lynda launched, “Walking by Inner Vision Blog” December 2009.

She loves tending her flower garden, walking her two dogs, caring for her six cats, and being with husband, Bob, who was her high-school sweetheart. The couple have five children, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

FISHLESS CRAB CAKES, poetic micro-nonfiction, nonfiction Second Place
by Nancy Scott

October flirts, reminding that some warm things are not what they seem. The kitchen cats are sluggish, allowing pets without hissing or hiding.

Alchemy fueled by chai and sending edited poetry into the ether. And now it's time for the experimental lunch of vegetarian crab cakes from a kit with careful directions. Hearts of palm, garbanzo beans, breadcrumbs and seasonings. Preparations packaged, paid for and shipped for the cook, the daughter and the friend.

Bargain struck by opening tiny containers, bags and a can. Food processor churns. Hand-shaped patties fry. Spell and expectation sizzle and scent air.

Promise and surprise. They taste like the sea. And the sauce (lemon juice, vegan mayo, Grey Poupon) is better than any tartar sauce.

A conjuring toward discipline and health. An internal stirring to match autumn leaves. An intention, culinary and collusional. Creativity masquerading true nature. Or perhaps enhancing it?

Bio: Nancy Scott’s over 925 essays and poems have appeared in magazines, literary journals, anthologies, newspapers, and as audio commentaries. Her latest chapbook The Almost Abecedarian, appears on Amazon. She won First Prize in the 2009 International Onkyo Braille Essay Contest. Her recent work appears in Black Fox Literary Magazine, Braille Forum, Chrysanthemum, Kaleidoscope, One Sentence Poems, Shark Reef, Wordgathering, The Mighty, and Yahoo News.

Vacation, poetry
by Thomas Smith

It's been a long time
Since we've had much of a vacation
Worried to travel
With a wheelchair

We land in Boston they bring my wheelchair up
From the belly of the beast
A little scuffed but runs alright
It gets us to the hotel to dinner to our room

After breakfast they go for a walk I keep up
Then I don't
My electric wheelchair becomes not electric
Then it freezes and they cannot push it at all

I need a wheelchair repair shop
On Saturday in Boston
I find four not far away
Two are not open one has appointments next week

The fourth will be open until I get there
A pleasant gent comes to their door
Who speaks very good English with a heavy accent
My wife explains our situation

Their technician stops what he is doing and comes out
It could be the motor it could be the wheel assembly
They might need to order parts
He would like to take off the wheel and look

As the wheel comes off, a screw drops to the ground
The other screws are loose
He puts the one back tightens all of them
When the wheel is back on the wheelchair is fine

Sometimes you get lucky
I don't believe in luck
We are saved by nice people who stop to help a stranger
On his way to Jericho

Bio: Thomas Smith has written poetry since high school for a number of reasons, including encouraging his wife to marry him. His first book The Search for King: A Fable, written in verse, was published in 2022. It was recently named to the 2023 Skipping Stones Book Awards Honors List. He has published Haiku and limericks in Soul by Southwest, Fireflies’ Light, Frog Pond, cattails, and Blythe Spirit. Smith lives in Austin, Texas with his family.

Child Shoplifter, fiction
by Hàn Bang Vu

On a sweltering afternoon, he strolled down the bustling street, observing everything with a sense of ennui. Only those with business to conduct ventured outside their homes, but he preferred being outside. It was a marvel that amidst this flashy center, populated by the city’s wealthiest, his house tucked away in a back alley resembled an old, dilapidated slum dwelling. Its roof was made of corrugated iron scavenged by his mother from a landfill, and the walls were made of various discarded items used to construct makeshift sheds. Moreover, the house was stifling and cramped. At present, his intoxicated father lay sprawled across the doorway with his threadbare shirt hiked up to his chest, in a state of semi-consciousness, muttering about his chance for prosperity. Meanwhile, his mother toiled away, scavenging for fortune in each trash can. In the past, she had worked as a street vendor, but her disheveled appearance gave urban dwellers a negative impression, resulting in her being pursued by the police. If she attempted to sell her wares in front of a store, the shop owner would shoo her away, fearing ill luck. As a consequence, his mother had to abandon her peddling job.

His fingers slipped through the holes in the pockets of his trousers, brushing against the skin of his thighs. Despite his worn-out sandals, repaired countless times, and the haphazard patchwork of his clothes, he maintained a cool demeanor. He felt a sense of pride, for he could still repair his own sandals and mend his own clothes. In the past, whenever he found torn sandals or clothes, he rushed to his father, displaying the damage and exclaiming, “Dad! It’s torn!” His father would nonchalantly respond, “So take the damn thing off and be naked.” He would approach his mother and repeat the same scenario. She would be sitting amidst garbage, mentally calculating how much she could earn while hiding it in a place her husband wouldn’t discover. She was distracted by his interruption and became angry, hitting him with anything within reach. Though it didn’t hurt much, it was enough to make him flee. As a result, by age seven, he learned to wash, cook, sew, and clean the house. He was proud that he knew his date of birth. He rarely felt sad; his loneliness stemmed from lacking friends. Those who came close to him would wrinkle their noses, commenting on a foul odor, and shoo him away. At other times, they would ask him, “Hey, are you feeling down? Do you have a box of crayons? Can you read?” Unable to respond “yes” to any of these questions, he would be offended and run away. He didn’t need those things, even though he pondered over them, feeling as if he were floating in heaven.

From A shoe-shine boy, he learned how to get a satisfying meal. He would approach the front of the fried chicken restaurant and search through the cardboard box that contained the leftovers from an employee’s meals. Only during that man’s shift could the boy find these treasures; one day he discovered a whole fried chicken wing and a portion of a chip packet. That day brought immense joy, but such fortunate occurrences were rare. Then he overheard the shoe-shiners discussing the employee responsible for those leftovers and how he had been terminated so he no longer frequents the store’s front to search for food.

Appearing bored, he made his way to his favorite place, the candy store, adorned with an array of captivating blue, red, purple, and yellow treats. Among them, he particularly favored round cakes adorned with brown droplets (unaware that it was chocolate) and drizzled with colorful sprinkles. He also had an affinity for lollipops, some as large as his outspread hands, twisted into a variety of vibrant hues. Transparent resin boxes of jelly also caught his attention. The alluring packaging, boxes, and cartoon prints heightened his desire. Yet, his utmost delight was a candy cane affixed to a plastic stick with a white rabbit face and a bow wrapped in cellophane. He wasn’t entirely certain if the rabbit was meant to be eaten, but he remained captivated by the candy, amidst a collection of other assorted large and small lollipops on a towering tree. The white rabbit stood alone among a forest bursting with colors, capturing his intrigue from his very first glimpse. Here, everything existed in boundless abundance.

At times, he longed for the rabbit on the lollipop tree as if it were a dear friend. Occasionally, he would sneak up, stealing a glance to check if the rabbit had been sold, finding solace in its presence-untouched and unmoved.

Typically, upon witnessing his lingering presence, the owner would swiftly shoo him away. However, today, the stall was tranquil, and the owner, like everyone else, was likely seeking respite from the scorching heat through slumber. This provided an opportunity for him to approach his “friends.” He stood nearby, lowering his face, and observing intently. He extended his dirty hand, ready to pluck the rabbit out at any moment. While he gazed fervently, an abrupt sensation of tightness and pain gripped his ears. His entire body was lifted.

“Bastard, are you planning to steal?” The accusation sent a jolt through his body, causing him to instinctively tug at his ear, as if afraid it would be torn from his head.

“I don’t steal. I’m just looking,” he protested, struggling to defend himself.

The store owner's furious outburst prompted others to peer out from the doorway. He felt as though countless eyes were fixated on him, attempting to humiliate and falsely accuse him of theft, a deed he had never intended to commit. The store owner snatched the candy, flinging it aside, and pointed to the door, bellowing, “Get lost! If you ever show up here again, I’ll have you sent to juvie!”

In a rush, he darted out onto the street and fled. Seeking solace, he found his way to the corner where two houses stood adjacent to each other, forming a slight angle, with the sheltering presence of a large ancient tree. His face flushed red with anger. The overwhelming desire to unleash a loud cry bubbled inside, yet he remained silent. Instead, he punched and kicked the trunk of the tree, pouring out his frustration until exhaustion took hold. His sense of humiliation was overwhelming. He yearned to return to the store, hurl rocks at the candy display case, and unleash the harshest of curses. He wished to call the owner a dead rat or a repugnant shrew dwelling in the sewers. Amidst these thoughts, a horrible realization struck, and it was enough to shatter his resolve. He attempted to flee, only to find himself drawn back towards his original destination. He circled a few times before arriving back in front of the store, silently observing. The rabbit was on display again.

The owner furiously waved his fan, his face filled with anger. Then he motioned for the boy to come closer. He retrieved his favorite candy, extending it towards his cheek with a brush-like gesture.

“Take it. It’s yours. Then get out of here, understand?” he ordered, waving his hand dismissively.

“I won’t take it. Are you hiring me to work?” he replied defiantly. He didn’t know why he had said that, but there was no taking it back now.

“Do you know how to do anything?” the proprietor asked, licking his lips and looking at the floor.

“I can wash dishes, sweep the floor, clean, and do laundry,” he replied.

The owner pondered for a moment, then nodded in agreement. “Alright. You clean the shop, and I’ll give you the candy.”

He took a damp rag and meticulously wiped every nook and cranny of the candy store. The proprietor eventually told him to stop, handing over the candy, but the boy brushed the offering aside. He washed the rag again and resumed wiping, going over the tables and windows until not a speck of dust remained. Observing his eagerness, the shop owner chuckled, assuming that he must have been driven by a craving for candy. Little did he know the boy’s enthusiasm stemmed from resentment, from being insulted. The owner grabbed his attention, pulling him up, but he refused to meet his gaze. He presented the coveted bunny-shaped candy, along with a handful of other small treats and a crisp new bill. However, the boy only took the rabbit candy from the owner’s large hand.

“I only took this one,” he murmured softly.

With a newfound sense of dignity, he stepped out of the door, no longer burdened by humiliation. The scorching heat had subsided, replaced by a gentle breeze that cooled the perspiration on his skin. He walked at a leisurely pace. When he reached the foot of the ancient tree, he sat down. In that moment, he extended his hand and gazed at the most beautiful possession he had ever owned. A single tear welled in the corner of his eye, tracing a path down his cheekbone before dissipating. He cradled his face in his hands, and succumbed to tears.

“Child Shoplifter” was published in Vietnamese in 2014.

Bio: Han Bang Vu is a Vietnamese author with a passion for storytelling. Han has had the privilege of publishing 11 books and translating 18 books from English to Vietnamese. This talented author also edits books and designs covers. Han's desire is to reach a broader audience, particularly the English-speaking community. Han is wheelchair-bound and unable to leave home (spine injured after traffic accident at age 18). Han says, “My imagination knows no boundaries, and I believe that my stories can travel much farther than I can. It is my fervent hope that my literary creations will resonate with readers from different cultures and backgrounds, offering them a unique and thought-provoking experience.”

Spirit twins, poetry
by Valerie Moreno

for Annabel and Par

She is beautiful,
female image of her
late father
always pointed out to her.
She dyes her thick, dark hair gold,
sings sweet fire
running through her voice
Like electric tide.
Folks speculate about her music,
is she a rebel or tigress?
Too young for temperate ease?

She is rock reality,
inherited from her dad
now gone, too soon.
Her songs are laced in
deep loss and resilience
battled for with her soul.
Determined to thrive, she keeps her pain transparent, yet protected by strength gained hard and deep.

Two women surviving
unaware they are different strangers,
one shakes her fist, weeping..
The other cries,
wrapped in silent need.
Twin hearts searching for peace.

Bio: Valerie Moreno has been writing fiction and poems since age 12. Her inspiration is music, life experience and prayer. Her work has appeared in anthologies, magazines and fan fiction. She is totally blind.

Anhedonia, poetry
by Sandra Streeter

Where is the terminus of my boredom
And sense of overload?
Aging tween, behind
Black-out curtains,
Zombie now, ADD and bipolar
Merely blunted,

Immobile, I glue eyes
To the TV screen,
When not similarly tethered
To phone, Ex-Box or porn:
None engaging me.
Still, these compel and bind.

Parents out of the frame,
Yet intrusive: they tried to help,
Which is how I landed
On a sphere void
Of what matters:
My story in bold relief,
Depicted in hues more electric than
The flat plain of affect
In which I now dwell:

Brilliantly enfleshed,
In shifting rhythms,
Guitared melodic lines,
And voices trained on
Words I cannot fine:
I live,
I know not how or why.

Grateful acknowledgement to the band Porcupine Tree, for their album Fear of a Blank Planet, from which I drew this poem's concepts.

Bio: Sandra Streeter, a blind graduate of the youth ministry program at Gordon College, and of Western Michigan University's Blind Rehabilitation program, has had a lifelong passion for excellent communication of all kinds. Previously, she has dipped her toe in the “publication pool” through successful submissions to Dialogue, Our Special and Magnets and Ladders. A self-described “rabid fan of the progressive-rock band Rush,” she is currently embarking on the adventure of writing a chapbook about, and dedicated to, its late drummer/lyricist, Neil Peart. Lighter pursuits include serious crocheting, participation in several Facebook groups related to either Rush or autism, and conversing in “meow” with her beloved 12-year-old tuxedo girl, Emily, who is pleased as punch that she gets included in some of Sandra's verse.

Sailing Troubled Waters, poetry
by Brad Corallo

Unlike Ralph Stanley,
I am not a man of constant sorrow.
Though at certain points,
life can dish up
myriad sorrowful portions,
sour and hard to swallow.

Embittered and worn down by outrageous circumstance
she is bereft and cast adrift.
The quicksilver girl whose magic beguiled me
survives unattainable, beyond my reach and hers.

Though once, her skillful navigation
would have set the needed course correction
my floundering barque so badly needed,
the coordinates to bring me home.

Yet, like a foolish clown I continue
to cling to the burning rope of maybe?
If I could just learn to loosen my hold
perhaps I'd be free of
the anguished pain from
a love that has no compass bearings.

But alas, we've all learned too well,
again, and again that
life and love are
rarely, if ever that easy.

Bio: Brad Corallo, a writer in multiple genres, is a Long Island native. His work has been published in eighteen previous issues of Magnets & Ladders, in The William B. Joslin Outstanding Program Awards Journal “NYSID Preferred Source Solutions”, The Red Wolf Coalition, L.I. Able News and several additions of The Avocet. He has been a life-long student of fine wine, food, music, books, space exploration, several professional sports and relationships of all kinds. Brad is now happily retired after thirty eight years of employment in the human service field. Due to LCA (a very rare genetic retinal condition) Brad has experienced impaired and worsening vision throughout his lifetime

Red Roses, poetry
by Dominik Slusarczyk

I choose you but
You choose to lose
Yourself among the red roses.
They surround your fine figure and
You spin and twirl and dance
To a beat built from burnt bridges.

The roses are dangerous.
Their thorns are sharp as lemons and
I worry they will tear your fragile skin.
We were not made to feel pain.
We were made to share the same
Bed in the same lodgings in the same town.

The sun sets and you still haven't returned.
I understand completely.
You chose the roses over me.

When roses choose to be red
Grass chooses to be dead.

Bio: Dominik Slusarczyk is an artist who makes everything from music to painting. He has various mental health problems including schizophrenia. His poetry has been published in various literary magazines including Fresh Words, Berlin Lit, and Home Planet News. His fiction has been published in moonShine Review.

Love Poem With Moths, poetry
by Christian Ward

My love for her is weightless like a Ghost Moth.
Oh wait. Love poem. Let’s start over, shall we?
My love for her is like a Luna Moth: tinged with spring, transparent as a sycamore seed. An arrowhead poised for the shot. Perhaps it’s more like the delicate linen
of a Common Wave Moth. Too plain? Perhaps it’s more like the razzmatazz of a Garden Tiger Moth. A charming velvet suited playboy known for charm. Flatters
all the flowers,
even the weeds with raggedy locks. Too much?
Maybe it’s like the sloth moth hacking through
a dense forest of fur. Or maybe it’s the Miami Vice of a Madagascan Sunset Moth, flashier
than the latest rapper’s teeth grills. Let’s not fight over this. Perhaps it’s not cute like the Beanie Baby rosy maple or an exotic Diva Hemerophila cosplaying
as a silicon chip. Perhaps it’s just the most common moth of all: a Poplar Hawk-Moth boring and reliable as the brown ’70s sofa
your grandmother had. We expect no surprises from one another and take comfort in blending into each other's light.

A Version of “Love Poem With Moths” was previously published in the 6ress.

Bio: Christian Ward is a physically disabled UK-based writer (paralyzed from spinal cord compression) who has recently appeared in Open Minds Quarterly, Double Speak, Obsessed with Pipework, Primeval Monster, Tipton Poetry Journal, Amazine and Wild Greens*.

If we Live Long Enough, abecedarian, poetry
by Lynda McKinney Lambert

Apple trees will be loaded with fruit.
Bountiful fall harvests will
carry us through winter's storms.
Despite bleak predictions that
everything will turn topsy-turvy,
feast your eyes on higher ground.
Gardens are a gift from
Heaven, like a Matisse painting
if we live long enough.
Just remember to
keep a faithful watch.
Listen to windchimes on the porch
marking our place on winds of time.
Not to be forgotten, or
overtaken by fears, We were
planted by the Holy Spirit, long ago.
Quietly, sealed in Jesus, before created time. I
rub my eyes in wonder, to
see towering trees made by our
thirst-quenching, Master-Gardener.
Unexpected storms always abate.
Vivid. Vulnerable. Victorious.
We sit in the golden global glory
“X' marks our spot in the sky.
Yesterday's visions led us to
Zion, our eternal home.

Part II. Looking Back

Wasp Hunting and the Revolution, creative nonfiction, nonfiction First Place
by Tong Ge

I grew up in the residential area of a college campus in central China in the sixties and seventies. Besides me, there were only two girls in the area who seldom came out to play, so I played with the boys in the neighborhood. We climbed trees, caught cicadas, fought crickets, played with mud, marbles, and sling guns.

Among us, the most daring and naughty boy was Little Tiger. His house and mine were in the same row facing the campus wall. A gravel path separated the two houses. His father was a labor worker, his mother a housewife. Every time he caused horrible mischief, he would get a beating from his father. When I heard Little Tiger's howling, I would shiver. Yet he never remembered his punishment. After receiving a good beating, he would go on to be a bad boy as if nothing had happened. During one such beating, he got angry and threw his father's hammer over the campus wall. On the other side of the wall was the rural area. Any unwanted item would be picked up right away by the peasants passing by. Back then, even needles and thread were precious items, never mind a hammer. As a result, his father beat him even harder. We all admired Little Tiger's nerve. It was an era that demanded children to be respectful and obedient.

Because Little Tiger was rebellious and fearless, he became our leader by default. When we got bored with other games, he would suggest the most daring game—wasp hunting. We would each find a long bamboo stick as a spear and uproot a sagebrush as a shield; it was believed that the smell of sage could block the wasps. Then we set off for the adventure. It was not hard to find a wasp nest hanging in a tree somewhere. Carrying our bamboo sticks with one hand, holding the sagebrush with the other, crouching low, we would cautiously approach our target. Then, Little Tiger would suddenly straighten and give the nest its first blow. We would all join in, give the nest a few blind pokes, then run.

A swarm of wasps would be above us instantly and their buzzing sounded like bombers we saw in war movies. Waving the sagebrush frantically over our heads, we would run for our lives. When we escaped the wasps, we would stop to regroup and check for casualties. Amazingly no one was hurt. Then we would go back to the nest to see if it was destroyed. If not, we would launch our second attack. If the nest was on the ground, the boys would pull out the larvae from the nest one by one and squash them. This was too gruesome for me so I always walked away; I couldn't even stand to watch. The strange thing was, once the nest was destroyed, the adult wasps would scatter and never come back.

We played the wasp hunting game for its danger and heart-racing excitement. Yet, another game was more materially rewarding. In our area there were earthbees that looked like honeybees but didn't have the stinger and lived underground. They also fed on nectar and pollen of flowers.

In short, because earthbees had no way to defend themselves, we would snatch them without fear or concern. We would then carefully shake the pollen off their legs onto our fingers and lick it. A dab of pollen was sweet but not enough to satisfy us. Little Tiger had an ingenious idea. He taught us to press the bee's head onto our thumbnails, then using the thumb and index finger of our other hands to give its belly a light squeeze. The honey would ooze out from its belly onto our fingernails. This was real honey! Therefore, when the nectar-gathering season came in summer, we became the happiest little robbers. Discarded, the bees wouldn't die. They painfully crawled away. Little Tiger still thought the process was too slow and cumbersome. He would throw the live bee into his mouth, chew it, then spit out its remains.

Finally, karma caught up with him. One day Little Tiger mistakenly threw a honeybee into his mouth. A honeybee was not to be messed with. He stung the inside of Little Tiger's mouth. We followed the sound of Little Tiger's howling to his front yard, finding him clutching his mouth and rolling all over the ground. Without showing the slightest concern or sympathy, his mother stood nearby, ranting on. We all knew she was not berating the honeybee but Little Tiger. I am pretty sure from that day on, Little Tiger wouldn't dare throw a bee into his mouth again.

On a summer day after a rain, I discovered that earthbees couldn’t fly with wet wings. They crawled slowly, looking for their hole. The narrow path was littered with the holes. Unable to determine which was whose home, I gingerly picked up the little creatures from the muddy puddles one by one and put them in different holes. I figured if it was a wrong hole, the bee would either be chased out or crawl out on its own. After observing the situation for awhile, none of the bees crawled out. My confidence soared. I squatted on the muddy path and proceeded to rescue the bees.

God knows after how long, a bigger girl passed by. When she saw what I was doing, she said, “You're too nice. So many bees. How can you rescue them all?” I was too young to make a chicken soup speech so I said nothing and continued my rescue operation.

At suppertime, I went home. My cloth shoes were soaked. The legs of my pants were also wet. Mother scolded me, saying that the cold dampness would give me arthritis. I knew I didn't save every bee that day, but I surely saved many.

That year the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution spread across China like wildfire. Teachers stopped teaching; students stopped going to classes. The Big-Character-Posters were plastered everywhere. More and more bad guys were identified and paraded on campus. The revolution didn't hurt us kids. Furthermore, the sound of beating drums and gongs, the parades, and the shows put on by the Mao Zedong Thought Propaganda teams added so much excitement in our daily routine. We couldn't be happier.

One day when we were playing in a grassy area along a narrow path, a man with salt and pepper hair walked by. A bigger boy suddenly shouted, “Down with He Shan!” Others joined in. I didn't want to but I joined in with a timid voice; I was ready to run for my life. Much to my surprise, the man seemed to have a deaf ear. Head slightly bowed, he walked past us without slowing a beat. I asked others who this man was. Someone said he was the dean. For no reason a pang of sadness welled in my heart. I felt sorry for him.

Not long after we heckled the college dean, while I was playing with my friends nearby my house, a group of big brothers and sisters marched by. One of them stayed behind to chat with us. He wore a green army uniform without the red collar badges but had a red armband—the standard uniform for the Red Guards. He asked for our parents' names, then led the other kids—his new little admirers away to another spot, leaving me behind, alone.

I went home in a sulky mood, only to find our front door was wide open. My parents stood in the yard, facing away from the door, heads bowed. The same Red Guards I saw earlier walked in and out of our house, carrying boxes. When no one was looking, Mother whispered to me without lifting her head, “Go play.” I suddenly understood my special treatment just minutes ago. I climbed onto a nearby small persimmon tree, watching everything in silence. It was the first time our house was raided.

After that day, I seldom stepped out of my home. Nobody would play with me anyway. Father didn't need to go to work anymore. The three of us stayed at home all day, each minding his/her own business. We hardly talked to each other.

One day, a group of boys came to our front door and shouted, “Down with so and so.” They were calling out my father's name. After a few insults, they ran away. I heard Little Tiger's voice and the voices of my other friends. I knew they were afraid of my parents dashing out and chasing them. I peeked at my father, hoping he would go out and teach those little bastards a lesson. But Father was stone-faced, not moving a muscle. I glanced at my mother, who also pretended not to hear a thing and continued her sewing work. So I pretended nothing was wrong as well but remembered how we heckled the dean. Regret and sadness churned in my heart. That was the first time I felt humiliation, the first time I felt what it was like to be treated as less than a dog.

In 1968 when I just passed my six-year birthday. Father was taken away and locked up with all other professors. Mother said his crime was his knowledge. She and I clung to each other for warmth and survival.

One day we came home from outside and were horrified at the sight of our bamboo curtain smeared with oozing sticky remains of wasps' larvae. I was sure Mother would ask me who did this, even scold me for it. I stood outside the door, too afraid to say anything. But Mother only unlocked the door, took out a basin full of clean water and a piece of rag, and painstakingly washed away the larva remains. I helped as much as I could. We worked in silence. We never talked about the incident. As for my childhood playmates, I have never spoken to them since.

Bio: Born and raised in China, Tong Ge moved to Canada in 1988 to pursue her master's degree. She has been suffering from repetitive strain injury in both arms since 2001. Since 2012, her writing has been published in various publications including PRISM International, Canadian Stories, Ricepaper, FLOW Magazine, Vineyard Poetry Quarterly, and Polyglot Magazine*. In addition, she has won three literary awards and has been short and long listed for another five.

Tong Ge's highly anticipated debut novel, The House Filler, will be published in Canada in October 2023.

The Art of Remembering One’s History, poetry Second Place
by Christian Ward

I do the same ritual every morning
while the clouds wrap their blankets
around the sunlight: Practice Italian
and Spanish. Trace my fingers

along paths of cheekbones inherited
from my mother and all the mothers
before her. Gaze into the bathroom
mirror to make sure my chestnut eyes,

a hand-me-down from my mother
borrowed from autumn, are still
in good health. Sometimes I’ll bake
a focaccia and remember how its dimpled

surface contains the history of my
grandfather. The salt on my lips
after tasting it is a lesson in understanding
how you’re just borrowing bones

for the next generation. Every room
I’ve lived in will be left a part of me.
Perhaps, after I’m gone, my son
will assemble this map I’ve made
to show the direction our souls go
after we’ve parted.

“The Art of Remembering One’s History” was Previously published as “The Art of Remembering Your History” in Wild Greens.

The Odd Couple, memoir, nonfiction Honorable Mention
by Sarah Das Gupta

As usual on a Sunday morning I was sitting on the top deck of a bus being regaled by stories told by my grandfather. While the bus chugged slowly towards the nearby town, I listened, enthralled by his tales of the Boer Wars when he had run away to join the army.

He dreamed of being in the cavalry, a sort of re-run of the Battles of Balaclava or Omdurman. Since he was less than five foot eight, he had been gently guided into the Infantry by a sympathetic recruiting officer.

His lack of height had in fact saved his life. Camping out on the South African Veldt, his battalion had been attacked by a group of Boer farmers under cover of darkness. He awoke to the sound of grenades exploding! The two men on either side of him had their legs blown off. He lowered his voice and, in a stage whisper, recounted how he had been afraid to move for several minutes. He had then gingerly checked to see if his own legs were still intact.

In fact, Grandad was a very talented fast bowler and spent much of the war playing cricket for his regiment on the North West Frontier. This did not detract from his hair-raising tales of derring-do.

On most Sundays he would return to his favourite subject, left wing politics. A staunch supporter of the Labour Party, he would talk about Keir Hardie, Lenin, Trotsky and Marx's grave in Highgate cemetery.

These lectures would be punctuated by, “mind your head,” as low hanging branches wacked the front windows of the bus.

His family were from the Highlands of Scotland. He was proud of his Scottish tartan, a rather gloomy black and green. The skeleton in the Fenton family cupboard concerned his parents' elopement to London and the subsequent shot gun wedding! Never mentioned in front of the children!

Grandad had made a great discovery at the age of seventy. This was the magic of tennis. He was a hopeless but fanatical player who ambushed the unwary and shanghaied them into playing for hours. He took me to my first Wimbledon to see the brilliant, but tragic, Little Mo. Yet, the minute anyone saw him heading to the garden with a racquet, they would “twist” an ankle or wrist immediately.

Among his many interests was breeding Dandie Dinmont terriers, popularised through the novels of Walter Scott, but now sadly an endangered breed. He was often to be seen with a cluster of these dogs running ahead. However, the question of dogs often puzzled my younger sisters and me. Grandad would suddenly say he was going “to see a man about a dog.” One day I burst into tears when he once again failed to return with the expected puppy. I finally learnt that ladies “powdered their nose” and men “went to see someone about a dog.” Etiquette is so much easier now with plain “loo” or “head” for everyone!

Like all Fentons, he adored music, staying up to three o'clock in the morning, listening to “light music with a tune.” He had built his own radio and never really took to new-fangled TV. His greatest love was Charles Dickens. Every week he would take the bus to the local library with a Dickens' novel under his arm. Once he had completed all the novels, a feat in itself, he would start again.

His wife was his opposite in so many ways. Neat, slim and organised, I often wondered how they'd met and married? He was a romantic, a dreamer who had no ambitions beyond this. He had imagined a heroic role in a war where he was actually a successful cricketer. His only hopes were to have a Labour Prime Minister and for Spurs to win the Football Cup.

My grandmother, on the other hand was highly ambitious. She had run away from a harsh childhood in a Cambridge pub at the age of fifteen. Each night she and her ten siblings were washing up glasses till the early hours of the morning. At first, she worked in a railway buffet where she had one of the last views of the royal families of Europe: the Russian Tsar, Nicholas, the German Kaiser and King George V on their way to the Sandringham Estate for Christmas.

Above all, she was a gifted cook. She served an old fashioned 'high tea' with delicious homemade brawn and pickle. Grandma was a born organiser and manager. She moved on from her first job in the modest railway buffet. By the time she retired, she was managing half a dozen restaurants in the City of London.

She was a natural gardener – Queen of the Rockeries. In every new garden she created exquisite rockeries ablaze with purple aubretia and alpines. A genius in her own way—she even brought up her cat on brown bread and marmite. He lived to the ripe old age of eighteen! How many able women like her never had the opportunities they deserved?

She had a twin brother, Harry, who had joined the navy. He jumped ship in Hong Kong and disappeared. Years later she received a postcard with the picture of a young Chinese girl smiling shyly into the camera. The trail then went cold.

As she grew older, she feared dying. Every time a death scene appeared on television, Grandma would stand up and poke the fire vigorously and loudly. One morning she came into the kitchen and told everyone she was feeling dizzy. My mother gave her an aspirin and she went to sit down for a while. Ten minutes later we found she had died peacefully.

My grandparents, Ellen and Charles were certainly, in theory, a mismatched couple, he a philosopher and dreamer, she organised and efficient, a planner and a performer. Yet they had a long and happy marriage. This may partly be explained by the fact he never knew that throughout her life, she voted Tory!

Bio: Sarah Das Gupta is an 81 year old, retired English teacher from Cambridge, UK who taught in India and Tanzania as well as UK; She started writing 6 months ago after a long stay in hospital, resulting from an accident. She is re-learning to walk but uses crutches.
Her work has been published in Shallot, Cosmic Daffodil, Green Ink, The Moonlit Path, Pure Haiku, Paddle and others. Her interests include early music, art, history, nature and animals.

Shades of White, poetry
by Wesley D. Sims

The last time I saw you, standing against
an aquamarine sky patched with cottony clouds,
your bun-topped hair glinted late day sun
like a handful of white peonies.
Like the ones I played around as a child,
not realizing their bounteous beauty,
their strong aroma, their very glorious essence
that began to seep deep into my soul.
You couldn't know how they would imprint
my psyche. Now when I see one, I hear
your alto southern voice, see your silvery hair,
your lightly powdered face, and your hands
dancing across ivory piano keys, those same
nimble fingers that crocheted the snowy doily
adorning the dresser in my room of heirlooms.
Next time we meet I expect to find you
wrapped in a robe of pure white, your head
glowing with a crown pasted with bright
peony petals just like the ones you picked
from your front yard and placed in a crystal
vase atop that old upright piano in the little
sins-washed-whiter-than-snow country church.

Bio: Wesley D. Sims has published three chapbooks of poetry: When Night Comes, 2013; Taste of Change, 2019; and A Pocketful of Little Poems, 2020.

He has had poems nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. His work has appeared in Artemis Journal, Connecticut Review, G.W. Review, Liquid Imagination, Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, Plum Tree Tavern, Novelty Magazine, Poem, Poetry Quarterly, Time of Singing, Bewildering Stories, and others.

He lost hearing completely in one ear and has severe hearing loss in the other.

Carpentry, poetry
by Wesley D. Sims

You had a large frame and broad shoulders,
needed equipment to carry a burden
of eight children. A carpenter building
houses when the Roaring Twenties collapsed
like an unsteady scaffold in a wind storm.
The wounded economy fell like a rotting
roof, killing contracts, wiping out construction
jobs. You had to hammer out an existence
on a rented ten acres with a pair of mules
and horse drawn implements, contending
with hills and rocks, and farming not your
strength. The thirties depression stalked
like a hungry monster, devouring lives
and unsecured fortunes. Though the walls
seemed shaky at times, your hard work
kept the family sheltered. You fended off
starvation with staples of corn and potatoes.
Framed a fertile plot where Grandmother,
your gifted garden god, drove stakes
for pole beans, coaxed squash and tomatoes
to peak production with green thumb
and bent back. You two kept ten bellies
from shriveling with frequent pots
of Dominecker chicken stew, stretched
with homemade holy water,
blessed by tears and calloused hands.

Down to the Wire, nonfiction
by Marcia J. Wick

As a young girl, I recounted my sins in the confessional-I fought with my brothers and sisters six times, I disobeyed my parents nine times, I lied five times. Truth was, I padded the number of lies to cover for under-counting the times I had disobeyed my parents. Call it Catholic accounting.

Over the decades, the times I disappointed my parents mounted-too numerous to tally. A baby boomer, a rebel, a wanna-be hippie, I tested their patience and fortitude.

The gravity of my transgressions escalated during high school. I confessed directly to God so the poor priest wouldn't have to grapple with the future of my soul.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned…I drank too much Boone's Farm Apple wine and vomited behind a bush on school property; I smoked marijuana during our senior skip day-and liked it; I slept with my boyfriend, but I took the birth control pill before indulging.”

God didn't strike me down for my offenses, so I figured what Mom and Dad didn't know wouldn't hurt them.

Once I reached adulthood and moved away, my parents were forced to endure my wrongdoings from a distance–retribution was beyond their reach. It pained them when I divorced two times and married again, the third time to a Jewish man who introduced me to Buddhism. Surely, I would burn in hell. My father prayed at our unconventional wedding to the Christian God on our behalf. Always willing to hedge my bets, I figured it couldn't hurt.

Between marriages and moves across the country, the distance between our viewpoints widened. When I reconnected with my family for holidays or reunions, our spirited debates sparked heated disagreements. Words regretted couldn't be recalled.

Dad and Mom lived well into their nineties. Over time, forgiveness and forgetfulness calmed the storm. Muddied by tears, water eventually ran clear under the bridge. Diminished vision and dementia dulled the sharpest edges. Ultimately, happy memories rose to the top, like champagne bubbles blunting the pain.

After a lifetime of wrongdoing, reconciliation came down to the wire.

My mother took a fall and suffered a head injury. For three weeks, her health declined while her family resisted the reality that she wouldn't recover. Of course, we all hoped for a miracle. Alone by her hospital bedside, I promised Mom we would bring her home under hospice care. Promise kept. Mere hours later, she succumbed in comfort at home with our dear old Dad by her side.

The day Dad's hour came, his bedroom was over-crowded with children and grandchildren, clergy, caregivers, and neighbors. When the volume of voices in denial became intrusive, I suggested the vigil migrate to the living room. Kneeling by Dad's bedside with only the hospice nurse as a witness, I held my father's hand at the end. “Thank you,” he seemed to sigh as he took his last breath.

Despite a lifetime of regrets, I managed to redeem myself with Mom and Dad before it was too late.

Bio: Marcia J. Wick is a blind, grey-haired grandmother retired from a professional writing career. She write freelance if it pays, for fun if not. Her work
has appeared in the Motherwell blog, Chicken Soup for the Soul, The Bark, Guide Dogs for the Blind Alumni News, and Magnets and Ladders. Her personal
essays reflect on parenting, caregiving, living with a disability, and adventures with her guide dog. When not reading or writing, Marcia volunteers with
Guide Dogs for the blind, advocates for public transit, and enjoys the outdoors with family and friends. Contact her at

The End of My World, memoir
by Abbie Johnson Taylor

REM's “The End of the World As We Know It and I'm Feeling Fine” was heard through the speaker, as we jogged around the YMCA pool on a warm spring afternoon in 2023. “Doesn't it feel like that sometimes?” the water exercise instructor asked. I agreed it did. At certain points in my life, I felt like it was the end of my world.

On a cold January day in 1988, I was completing a music therapy internship in a nursing home in Fargo, North Dakota. My supervisor said, out of the blue, “I don’t think this internship is working.”

I’d been there three months, enduring days where twenty degrees below zero was the high. A couple of weeks earlier, after I’d returned from Christmas break, my parents, who’d driven me back from my home in Sheridan, Wyoming, couldn’t get their car started because it was so cold.

I thought things were going pretty well, despite my difficulty with paperwork and other tasks due to my limited vision. I loved working with the residents. But there were some bad days, and this was one of them.

My first instinct was to agree the internship wasn’t working, pack my things, and go home. But a quitter I was not.

I asked my supervisor to give me one more chance, saying I would do everything I could to make it work. She reluctantly agreed.

Things didn’t get much better after that. Another intern had just started working in our department, and she was sighted. The supervisor, who eventually told me I wouldn't succeed as a music therapist, wasn't giving the other intern the grief she was giving me. I wondered if the problem was my visual impairment and worried about how this would affect my career. But I survived and became a registered music therapist. I worked for fifteen years with senior citizens in nursing homes and other facilities before getting married and writing full-time.

But one of the supervisors at the nursing home here in Sheridan did have a problem with my visual impairment, which she made clear one day a few months after she started working there. I'd been employed at the facility for several years. After telling me she couldn't work with my disability, she drastically reduced my hours and often wrote me up for minor infractions. I was finally told that if she had to write me up one more time, I would lose my job.

It was December. I'd planned to sing, for a church service, a song about peace, hope, and love abiding during the holiday season. I didn't feel any of that peace, love, or hope but managed to perform the song, anyway.

Desperate, I contacted my uncle in Colorado Springs, an attorney. He helped me file a complaint with the Wyoming State Department of Labor Standards. After six months of mediation, during which we got nowhere, the supervisor finally quit, and things got back to normal.

On the afternoon of December 15th, 1999, I was home when I received a call from my father. He was caring for my mother, who had been suffering from cancer for the past six months. “I have bad news,” he said. “Joan died.”

This was a shock. A couple of weeks earlier, she’d received a good prognosis from the oncologist. How would I manage without my mother? Although I was living on my own and didn’t need her to take care of me, I still felt an empty space where she once was.

The good news is that I’ve managed without my mother for many years, even before her death. My family grieved her loss. We had a nice celebration of life. We celebrated Christmas, albeit somberly. Then, life went on.

In September of 2005, I married my late husband. He was totally blind. We’d met a couple of years ago through Newsreel, an audio magazine where visually impaired people could share ideas, sell or trade items, and more. He lived miles away in Fowler, Colorado. Long story short, after he proposed to me, he agreed to move to Sheridan, and I said yes.

Three months after our wedding, Bill suffered the first of two strokes that paralyzed his left side. After nine months recuperating in the same nursing home where I’d worked as a music therapist, he came home, and I was his caregiver.

We’d hoped he would eventually be able to walk. But a year later, he suffered a second stroke, not as severe, but enough to set him back. He never walked again.

I cared for him for six years until he passed in October of 2012. There were some rough times during those years, but I made it through and managed to publish two books during that time.

After his death, I mourned his passing, singing “Stormy Weather,” at his request, during his graveside service in Fowler, Colorado. Life went on.

A year later, my father passed away. With him, my mother, my husband, and all grandparents gone and my brother and only sibling living in Florida, I felt truly alone, but not for long.

I became involved in a group called The Friendship Club. We went out to lunch once a month and sometimes attended movies and other events. That, along with my participation in singing and writing groups and water exercise classes, helped fill the void. After the COVID pandemic started, I began attending ACB community activities on Zoom, making even more friends. Of course, there will always be empty spaces in my heart where my loved ones once were.

That morning as I walked home from my water exercise class, where we worked out to the song, “The End of the World As We Know It,” having forgotten to grab my phone before leaving the house, I couldn't help thinking that it would be just my rotten luck if I were to be in an accident with no way to call for help. But if that happened, I would survive, just like I survived everything else. We humans are more resilient than we think we are. No matter what curve balls life throws our way, we’ll make it through, one way or another.

Bio: Abbie Johnson Taylor has published three novels, two poetry collections, and a memoir. Her work has appeared in The Weekly Avocet, Magnets and Ladders, and other publications.
She is visually impaired and lives in Sheridan, Wyoming, with her robotic cat Joy, where she worked as a registered music therapist with nursing home residents and in other facilities. She also cared for her late husband, who was totally blind and suffered two paralyzing strokes after they were married. This is the subject of her memoir and many of her poems.
Please visit her website at:

Just Five Minutes More, poetry
by Leonard Tuchyner

I'm eight and engaged in things of weight.
Billy is slipping around the house,
softly sneaking to take me by surprise
and then shoot me dead with his pistol.

I hear my mama's voice calling me
from the kitchen window above my head.

“What,” I ask in an anguished, impatient voice.
I know she needs me to go to the store
for a loaf of rye bread or some sliced lox.

“I want you to get a loaf of bread.”

“Ah, Mom, I'm too busy. Just 5 minutes. Please.”
I know I'm good for two extra grants.

“Okay. Just 5 minutes then. You promise?”

I don't say nothing. I'm good for 5 minutes.

Ten minutes later, I hear her again.
“You've had your 5 minutes; now go to the store.”

“I'll be there in 5 minutes, just 5.”

“This is your last 5 minutes, no more.”

Now I've secured another reprieve.

The next summons, I go to the window.
She drops a quarter from the second story,
Just enough to pay for the loaf of bread.
I reckon I wrangled an extra 30 minutes.

Saint Valentine's Story, fiction
by Rhonda T. Spear

It was a mid-winter afternoon in Rome. The sun shone bright in a cloudless sky, giving a little warmth making things pleasant. The air was beginning to lose winter's chill, but it was not quite spring.

A priest, Valentine sat in his garden. It was a peaceful place and he liked to come there to pray. He sat with his head bowed, eyes closed, and his hands were folded. The garden was pretty, and the fragrance of roses wafted to him on the gentle breeze. Not sure how long he had been praying, Valentine looked up when he heard something approach. He was to have company this afternoon. Valentine liked visitors, especially his friends. A priest can't pray all the time. He smiled at that thought and wondered who was coming.

A golden carriage drawn by beautiful doves glided into the garden. In this carriage were Venus and Juno, the goddesses of love and marriage. Valentine greeted them with a smile as he always did. “Good afternoon lovely ladies,” he said as he helped them from the carriage. They returned his greeting.

“We thought we'd drop in and pay you a visit to see how you've been doing.” They all sat down on a bench in the sunshine.

Venus looked breath taking sitting in the garden with Juno and Valentine. She had a girdle of pearls around her waist and red roses in her long, golden hair, which cascaded all around her. A dove sat on her delicate shoulder. It softly cooed, filling the garden with a pleasant sound as they chatted.

Juno had a matronly air, giving off a grave and majestic appearance, befitting her regal station. She was without her usual goatskin coat, spear, and shield. Today, she was wearing a crown of lilies and roses, and carrying a scepter. Her favorite bird, a stunning peacock sat beside her. The crest on his head looked like a crown, but it was his tail feathers that caught the eye. Colorful yellow, blue and green feathers reflected in the sunshine giving him a distinguished attractiveness as he spread them for all to see. In contrast to the dove of Venus, the peacock had a loud call, which Juno hushed. The goddesses looked magnificent as they sat together. Valentine was in awe in their presence.

“Valentine, how many couples have you married today?” Venus asked.

“None today. I'm sure more than one couple will come soon. The men drew the maidens' names just before the festival started,” he answered.

“It's a shame Emperor Claudius doesn't allow his soldiers to get married,” Juno sighed. “I suppose he fears if the men get married, they'd want to stay home by the hearth rather than go off to fight for one of the many campaigns Claudius decides to wage. Love is a good thing and shouldn't be stopped. I'm glad you perform marriages,” she said to Valentine.

“I was there when he issued that decree,” Valentine said. “My ears could not believe what they heard.”

“I don't care about Claudius's proclamation that no soldier shall marry under any circumstance. Indeed!” Venus huffed.

“That's why I have to marry couples in secret,” Valentine continued. “I'll do all I can. If I get caught, there will be a serious punishment.”

“Let's hope that doesn't happen,” Venus said uneasily, for she knew what Valentine's punishment would be if he were discovered.

Valentine liked helping young lovers. He had to be careful because disobeying the emperor brought a heavy penalty. The garden where he was visiting with Venus and Juno is where he conducted weddings for young couples. Christians and Roman soldiers alike came to the monastery to have the priest marry them despite the emperor's decree.

As they were talking, Cupid flew in with a rush. He was a chubby little cherub with wings and at times could be a mischievous god. The group noticed the bow over his shoulder and a quiver with no arrows.

“What have you been up to today, son?” Venus asked. Cupid kissed her and replied, “Look Mom, my arrows are all gone! I've been busy shooting them. There will be a large crowd at the festival, so I had plenty of targets,” Cupid mischievously grinned. “Valentine will have lots of people to marry!” he excitedly told them.

Late one night, during the festival of Lupercalia, Valentine heard a light knock on his window. It was a couple wanting to get married. Under cover of darkness, in the garden Valentine loved, he performed the secret ceremony. There was no time to spare. He had to hurry, and they spoke in whispers for fear the Roman guards would find them. When it was over, Valentine presented the couple with a parchment heart with their names inscribed to remind them of their promises to one another and he gave the young bride some of the roses he grew.

The couple quickly fled the garden. Valentine lingered a bit too long praying for blessings on the newlywed couple. The soldiers arrived. Valentine was arrested and taken off to jail. He knew what would happen if he got caught. Refusing to change his faith, Valentine was condemned to death.

Time passed slowly for Valentine sitting in his cell. Hours turned into days and days to weeks. He continued to pray and tried converting the prison guards to Christianity. His friends visited him, and it was nice to know how much he was loved. Having visitors helped keep his mind off his execution.

While Valentine was in jail, he attracted the attention of Asterius, the jailer. He was impressed with Valentine's great faith. Asterius had a blind daughter, Julia, and he asked Valentine if he could cure her. Valentine went with the jailer to his house. Placing his hands on Julia's eyes, Valentine was able to restore her sight.

The miracle of the restoration of Julia's sight was enough reason for Julia, Asterius, and his family to convert to Christianity. Julia visited Valentine daily. They would talk for hours and eventually he fell in love with her, but she could not save him from his fate. Everyone desperately appealed to Claudius to free Valentine. Claudius would only free Valentine under certain circumstances. The conditions to let him live were, he would have to give up his faith and agree not to marry anyone else. Failure to meet those conditions meant he would die. There was no way Valentine could agree to those terms.

On the morning of February 14, just before his execution, Valentine asked Asterius for some parchment. He left a note for Julia in his cell signed “Love from your Valentine.” A crowd had gathered to witness the event. Juno, Venus, and Cupid were there. Their appearance was Not to glorify Valentine's execution, but to honor him. They watched as Valentine was led from his cell and put to death. A heavy silence hushed the crowd. The only sound to be heard was the soft cooing from the doves Venus brought with her. Valentine heard them just before he was beheaded. After his death, butterflies appeared and lightly fluttering to Valentine, they landed on him, forming the shape of a heart.

The kind priest was killed for showing the courage to disobey Claudius and doing honorable deeds. Many years later he was made a saint. His memory lives on as we remember love and friendship when we celebrate Valentine's Day each year.

Bio: Rhonda T. Spear is a native of Richmond, Virginia where she currently lives. Her education came from being mainstreamed in both public and small Catholic schools. She works as a Director of First Impression/Customer Service Specialist. She enjoys listening to country music, watching sports on TV and collecting trivia.

Rhonda has been completely blind her entire life, but that has not stopped her from living independently. She writes with hopes of sharing her work with a broader audience. It has been a privilege contributing material to this magazine.

Part III. From a Different Perspective

Thoughts and Prayers, fiction Second Place
by Marcia J. Wick

NOTE: Some readers may find subject matter in this story disturbing.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with you…” outraged parents jeered the congressman as he stepped away from the podium. “There's nothing I can do to stop gun violence,” the politician muttered to his assistant. “These people should understand it's my job to uphold the Constitution and protect the 2nd Amendment.”

The congressman climbed into bed that evening, content with his decision to oppose a ban on assault weapons. He snuggled up to his wife of 45 years and promised her a holiday trip to Hawaii. The soothing sound of ocean waves lapping the beach soon lulled him into dreamland.

Tat-a-tat, tat-a-tat, tat, tat, tat, tat. The sound of rapid gunfire jolted the congressman out of his reverie.

“What the hell is that noise?”

“I don't hear anything, dear. You must be dreaming-go back to sleep.” His wife rolled onto her side and soon was snoring.

The man shook off his abrupt awakening and pulled the blankets up to his chin. He whispered a silent prayer, thanking God for his loving wife and happy life. Before long, he slipped back to sleep.

Tat-a-tat, tat-a-tat. A blood-curdling scream pierced the silence. This time, the congressman bolted upright without disturbing his wife. He trembled, trying to shake off the realistic nature of his night terrors.

“I must be working too hard,” he thought. “The sooner we take that vacation, the better.” He quietly slid out of bed, gulped a glass of fresh water, and peered out the curtains at his peaceful neighborhood. There was nothing to fear. As a precaution, the tired man swallowed a sleeping pill to ensure he would get a good night's rest.

“Hello, can you help me?” A child appealed to the sleeping congressman, her voice hushed as if from far away.

“Can't you see I'm sleeping? Leave me in peace,” the man grumbled.

“I'm sorry to wake you, but my parents can't sleep. They cry every night, asking God why their nine-year-old daughter was murdered.”

The man cautiously opened his eyes, convinced he was dreaming. A bloodied girl stood by his bedside. She was missing an arm and half her face was blown off. The man shut his eyes and covered his entire head with his pillow.

The girl's soft words were muffled. “Mister, can you hear me? I've been trying to tell Mom and Dad that I'm okay. It didn't hurt much—it happened so fast—but I don't think they can hear me.”

“No, no, no,” said the man. “You're not real, you're just a bad dream. Go away and leave me alone.”

“But I am real,” said the girl. “At least I was alive recently. One minute, I was taking my spelling test and the next minute…”

Tat-a-tat, tat-a-tat, tat, tat, tat, tat.

“Not again,” the man groaned. He threw off his covers and opened his eyes wide, determined to shake off his nightmare. A young boy stood sobbing by his bedside. Where the boy's stomach should be was a black hole.

“Can you help me,” the boy cried. My younger brother can't sleep because he's having bad dreams. I promised him I won't mind if he plays with my toys, but he's crying so hard I don't think he can hear me. Can you hear me?” the boy asked the man.

The man held his hands over his ears and shook his head back and forth.

“Why is this happening to me?” he cursed.

The boy and the girl looked at each other quizzically.

“Nothing's happening to you,” the boy stared at the congressman. “We're the ones who were murdered,” he sniffled.

“We came here to ask for your help,” the girl pleaded. “More children are murdered by guns every year than die from cancer or car crashes. If you can't hear the children crying, maybe the sound of gunfire will waken your heart.”

Tat-a-tat, tat-a-tat, tat, tat, tat, tat. Tat-a-tat, tat-a-tat, tat, tat, tat, tat. Tat-a-tat, tat-a-tat, tat, tat, tat.

The congressman's wife called the doctor for advice. “He claims he keeps hearing gunfire,” she cried. “I think he's losing his mind.”

“My thoughts and prayers are with you,” the physician said. “There's nothing I can do to help your husband…”

The weary doctor muttered to his nurse, “The congressman's wife should understand I'm too busy treating gunshot victims to worry about over-worked politicians.”

Judgment: A Prophecy of Doom, poetry
by Winslow Parker

Your ideas and ideologies
Smash and clash,
Divide and grind
What once was shining and new,
The Pilgrim's pride
You tarnished and tainted.

Your arrogance pits you against your brother,
Who seeks the benefit of others,
Feeding and clothing the poor.

Your greed seeks the last dime of the dying hungry,
To balance precariously on the piled peak of your wealth.
It clothes you in misery;
The impoverishment of your soul.

Your poor, your homeless, your least,
Their stolen wages feed your coffers,
They weep and wail and clang at your gates,
Begging to lick the floor under your groaning board
For the crumbs you brush aside
Perhaps to rise in howling fury
To claim their due.

Your pride of place, position, power
Betrays you in the critical moment
The time of testing.
Your assumed strength,
your weapons,
Fail you 'When you come against your abandoned, now hated, friends.

Your gold is rusted;
Your silver decayed
Worth nothing but to be cast aside and trampled under your fleeing feet.

Your nation, your mine of wealth,
You trampled into ever smaller dust,
No longer a green money tree.

Fall, you oppressors, weeping in the street,
You who controlled and commanded
By money, greed and power.
Taste the dust
Into which you ground the poor.
Weep and howl
For the misery you dealt is trebled onto your head.
Your time has come;
You are weighed in the scales and found wanting;
The handwriting is on the wall,
Declaring judgment against you.

Change your ways,
Turn greedy grasp into gracious gift,
Sustain, uphold, share your ill-gotten gain,
For that is life to the body of the poor
And nourishment for your own starved, neglected soul.

For it is an unchanging, universal law,
That what you sow, you also reap.

Bio: Winslow is retired and lives with his wife of over half a century in Portland Oregon. Together, they have two adult children and three grandchildren. He has, during his work years, been a hospital chaplain, school teacher, associate pastor, Mental-health tech, social worker and finally an adaptive technology instructor. He did not begin to write seriously until 2007. He wrote his first poem “tears,” in 2019. He delights in word manipulation and loves to sharpen his quill alongside other authors. He has self-published two books of short stories and he has several poems in Magnets and Ladders and The Avocet.

Assume Nothing, Fiction Honorable Mention
by Nicole Massey

I sat at the bar, wanting nothing more than a few drinks and maybe a bit of conversation. I was wearing nothing special, and doing all I could to keep from standing out. You act as the center of everything for a while and not being noticed gets to be difficult. I was a nothing woman wearing nothing noticeable and being a nothing. It was refreshing to not have so much on my shoulders.

A group of guys were at a table behind me. From the bits I caught they were celebrating a birthday. I let my smile slip on for a second before tamping it down. Boys having fun. Enjoy it while you can, guys.

One of them came over to the bar. I wondered why; they had a server, though I was curious about why she wasn’t slapping a couple of them silly. I would, or maybe something a lot more than a slap.

“Excuse me, miss, you look like you need someone to talk to.”

I glanced at him. Yep, young, fresh-faced, typical dyed blond hair and green contacts. Amateur.

I said, “Don’t let me keep you from enjoying time with your friends.”

“I’d rather talk to a pretty lady like you instead. They’re pretty drunk and they’re not making much sense. A couple of them, Jake and Paul, are starting to sound like Ozzy Osborne, so they’re way gone.”

“You their designated?”

“Yeah, I decided it was safer that way.”

“Smart. Pack your own parachute.”

That was a bit much for him, so he changed directions. “Hey, why are you here in a cheap bar, dressed down, drinking alone?”

“I needed a bit of a break. I needed some time to think.”



He got the clue – I wasn’t going to tell him what was going on. He was, what, twenty-two? I had a decade and a half on him, at least.

“What you drinking?”

“An Old Fashioned.”

“Isn’t that bitter?”

“Yeah, that’s the point of it.”

“You don’t seem like a bitter lady.”

I couldn’t help it, I snorted, glad I didn’t have a sip in my mouth yet. “You think your powers of observation are that good? We’ve been talking for a couple of minutes, tops, there’s no way you can know me well enough to say that. But still, thanks for the compliment.” I figured I’d throw him a bit of a bone. I wondered why he wanted to try to chat me up instead of hanging out with his friends, friends that were a lot louder than they were when he came over to me.

“I’m a good judge of character.”

I didn’t say anything. I gave him a glance and went back to staring into the mirrors, taking a pull from my drink.

He said, “So why are you here on a Thursday night, sitting at a bar and drinking alone?”

“I don’t have a problem with drinking alone. And I don’t have a group of friends like you do. Also, I’ve got some things to contemplate, so I figured going incognito to somewhere nobody would think they’d find me could give me time to think. The bartender here mixes a top-notch drink.”

“Why no friends? You seem nice enough.”

I gave another snort. “Again, your powers of perception aren’t what you think they are. And I’ve realized over the years that someone is far better defined by their enemies—who hates them—than by friends. I don’t have much time for friends, I work a lot.”

“I think friends are a key part of life.”

“Yet you sit here talking to me instead of partying with your friends. Care to explain that to me, because I’m curious about how you reconcile that.”

He didn’t respond. After a few minutes I said, “I thought so.”

I was surprised, he had a fast response to that. “I know, they’re kind of idiots. They haven’t grown up. They think that college is a way to extend high school for four more years. I’m here because I can do something to keep them out of jail or maybe even the morgue.”

“So it’s altruism? You get nothing out of it?”

“I get something out of it. I get the good feeling that I’ve helped someone who was going to possibly do damage to themselves, and others besides. They may do something self-destructive or fatal the moment I leave them, but at least I’ve done what I could.”

“And you consider this to be a good thing. Interesting. What are you studying in college?”

“Pre-med. I’m already accepted into medical school.”

“Okay, and what will you do with your medical degree?”

“Pediatrician. I want to work at a low-income outreach hospital helping little kids have as normal a life as possible.”

I couldn’t help myself. “Admirable. You know this doesn’t pay well?”

“Yeah, so what? For some people it’s not about the money, it’s about different currency. The saying is wrong, greed isn’t good, unless it’s greed for a good life for everyone.”

“I don’t think I’ve met anyone like you.”

“That makes me sad. I wish there were billions like me. Because we’re in it together, not everyone against each other.”

I finished my drink. I got up from the bar stool, dropped a twenty on the bar, and said, “Thanks for the conversation. Have a good night.”

“Good night. Drive safe, and all the best to you.”

I waved a hand and headed through the door.

In my car I said, “Phone. Call headquarters.”

The phone dialed and rang once before it picked up. The dark male voice on the other end of the line said, “Hail, all powerful Lady of Pain. How may I serve you?”

“Transfer me to Handmaiden Veronica Vengeance.”

“Yes, my lady. I live to serve you.”

I woke Veronica. I wasn’t surprised, with such a huge operation coming down the next morning I suspected most of my minions were asleep. A bit groggy, she said, “I live to serve you, my Lady. What do you command?”

“Veronica, I have an alteration to the plan. Remove Kansas City from the annihilation list.”

“Yes, my Lady. Kansas or Missouri?”

“Go ahead and make it both.”

“You are most lenient, all-powerful Lady of Pain. How else may I serve you?”

“I have nothing more. Go back to sleep, I’ll need you alert tomorrow.”

“As you wish I make it so.”

I hung up; if I stayed on the phone the bowing and scraping would take us up to the next morning’s waves of destruction. I started the car and headed out of town. On the road I marveled at one college man’s ability to impress me. He seemed to believe his altruism. I found it amazing, but that happened sometimes. He didn’t seem to recognize, even though he thought himself so perceptive, that he was talking to one of the most dangerous supervillains in the world today. And he’d probably never know that his talk saved his city from elimination. No matter, I don’t have to be the Lady of Pain all the time. And this thing of visiting some places before I wipe them from the map had merit. Maybe some people were worth saving after all, but I wouldn’t know unless I saw it for myself.

I headed down the road into the night. And I rolled some things around in my head – things about possible worthy people all the way.

Bio: Nicole Massey is a writer, composer, and songwriter, a lifelong Dallasite, and sixth generation Texan. Her degree in music was earned from the University of Texas system. She lost her sight in 2003; if you find it, she’d like to have it back. Nicole doesn’t drink coffee or wear t-shirts and sweats. This may make her an atypical writer and musician.

She can be reached at:
She’s not on Instagram, TikTok, or Twitter, but her website:
has occasional updates and writing on it. The real finds there are the subscription buttons for her newsletter and mailing list.

Time and Place, fiction
by Colm O'Shea

“What did the universe look like at the start of time?”

Stuart had to scratch the inside of his ears when he heard that. He had only been asleep for around two hours after he was called ahead at 4 in the morning. Between the rude awakening and the fact that he was walking down a cold, dirt and granite run tunnel with lab coat scientists looking at him made him wonder if he was in another drug crazed dream like the night before.

“Fionn, is this the reason you called me again? You never said on the phone.”

“Well it wasn't the only reason.” His guide told him, straightening out his greased back hair like he had it done for a press conference. “The coffee machine isn't working again. Whatever you told me in the email isn't fixing it.”

“You forgot to turn off and on again?”



“You’re interrupting my monologue.”

“Right, so, start of multiverse and-?”

“Exactly!” Fionn continued, stomping along like the head of a marching band, following his own tune as Stuart walked lazily behind him. “The universe as it is still a concept very few of us can muster to grasp. Where we came from, why we came there. Every story is said to have its genesis, but why haven't we discovered it?”

“Isn't there already a book called Genesis about that?”

Fionn pursed his lips together but said nothing.

For as much as he disliked the time, Stuart did have to admit that it was one of the reasons why he liked Fionn as a character at least.

When he first met the scientist, back when the figure was simply called Jack, they were in a bar together, Freshers Night at College Dublin University. While Stuart talked about how he was a first year in Gym Leadership and Sport Strategies, Jack talked about his work in Theoretical Physics. One talked about getting into sport because of his love of rugby, learning from when he was a teen about Brian O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell, Ross O'Carroll Kelly, and the hopes of teaching a new generation of likeminded leaders. The other spoke of being the only man capable of matching the combined strength of Einstein, Opehinheimer and Curie, with dreams of becoming more famous than all of them since he was two years old. It was even why Jack eventually chose to change his name to Fionn, referencing a celtic myth about a man who gained ultimate knowledge. For as much as Fionn often spoke of glory, he was never truly wrong.

And though Stuart questioned how Fionn and his team always seemed to get such a large block of funding for their endeavours, as they rounded a stone coated bend, he quickly saw why. Staring at the far end of the corridor was a massive, no, ginormous, steel door. The kind so big that it could only be used to house every nuclear warhead in the world. It was so large that the entire stretch from where they were standing, at the beginning of the corridor to the point where the doors were, was about as big as two full scale rugby pitches smushed together into a wide and cold sandwich.

Stuart wondered for a second why a slice of college campuses were even allowed to have something as abnormally large as this door, knowing that any possible intruder would know just where to find all the goods. But as they kept walking, he saw it. Just under one massive glass panel, the yellow and white outline for the US Army. Stuart felt like a jug of icy water had splashed down his back.

“I'm guessing they ran out of space in Roswell for what you’re working on?” he asked, pointing at the star symbol just as they went through the imposing doors.

“It pays to hide their best research far from unsuspecting eyes.” Fionn explained, almost proud of the amount of cash he and his team were able to flex. “Besides, I thought you liked your grandfather and his General days.”

“My grandfather never did.” Stuart said quietly.

If he tried to remember it, Stuart could picture a time when he was barely taller than a couch table, his uncle taking him up on his knee and telling him, “Stewie, in the places I went through, you were either being fucked or the one doing the fucking. Often without even knowing it. I came to Ireland to avoid all of that. So you could never see what I've seen.”

“Stuart, were you not listening to me?”

“Hm? No actually, do you mind repeating it?”

“No need,” Fionn said quickly, “but on a more important note, my earlier question has been just the issue me and my team have been trying to solve. And thankfully we won't need to wait long to find out.”

“Find out?” Stuart asked. “Wait, you don't mean-?”

“Oh I do.” Fionn said proudly. “We built a time machine. It's right next door.”

Stuart felt physically sick. But not as much as when they eventually went next door.

Sure enough, there it was. A giant semicircle in the centre of the room, spiked in and around its middle like the protractor's Stuart used to smash on his desk in secondary school. Around the sharpened glass object, a bunch of more lab coat dudes examined every angle of the device, either on notepads or on ipads that were so clean they might as well be brand new.

One of the assistants, with metal welder goggles strapped to his head, hobbled over to Stuart and Fionn, but mostly addressed Fionn.

“What's it doing here?!” He whispered panickingly as if the scientist only learned about the concept of humanity because he spent all of his life underground. “We can't have anything without permission down here sir.”

“He's not a trespasser Donovan, he's a test subject.”

Stuart looked at Fionn curiously. For some reason, only now, Stuart was starting to get some ideas of why he was called up.

“Hey uh…” Stuart began casually “You don't think a monkey or a goldfish would be a better test subject than me?”

“Monkey's don't know how valuable the tech in this room is. The time machine is practically big enough to blow up the entire universe, it's that traced in radioactivity. And as for goldfish, we all have enough here.”

He left a pause for a laugh but no one said anything. Stuart was trying to figure out who that jab was being directed at. Fionn shook it off and took Stuart aside, one arm placed entrepreneur-like around Stuart's back.

“Look, I know you’re scared but this could be our big chance to go down for the ages. We could be charting out a query that has long pondered our short existence. We could be seen as gods in the eyes of these people!”

“That's a lot of “could's” my guy.” Stuart said, brushing the arm away. “I mean I trust you guys did your homework but this could blow up in our faces. Literally!”

“Oh please,” Fionn waved away casually “Science always comes with risks. And besides, there's a fire down here at least once a week. It's practically mandatory!”

“Riggggght,” Stuart said, unconvinced “but if it's alright with you and the others, I'm going over to the rugby pitch. Hugh and the others wanted to practise.”

Fionn sighed disappointedly. “If you wish.”

Stuart smiled to himself a little as he turned back towards the doorway he just entered. Until he heard Fionn whisper not so quietly to his colleague:

“Get the cyanide ready.”

Stuart turned around quicker than he could process the words. “Cyanide?” he asked.

“Strict protocol I'm afraid,” Fionn said sadly “As you are no longer a test subject you are hereby now a dirty Russian spy to steal US secrets. That's the response we need to fill in regardless of the person.”

Stuart paused. “Where did you want me to sit again?”

It took some time but eventually, about an hour and a half later, Stuart was standing just under the protractor, grateful that the science team had managed to find a red space suit and helmet that were just about able to fit him. For some reason, he never questioned why that was the case.

Fionn watched from a very safe distance. “Just remember. We're sending you back to the very dawn of time, around the point where the universe began. Nothing fancy, just grab the photos and we'll pull you back in no time. We'll be on the front pages by tomorrow morning if all goes ahead.”

“What do I use to take the pictures?”

“Use your phone. Are you ready?”

“No actually, what-?”

Fionn flipped the switch. Someone turned some knobs on a wall as a high pitched whining sound began to drain out his ears. As the sound got louder, Stuart felt his entire body ripple and pulse, harder than the last time he went skydiving. Faster and faster, louder and louder, until no more.

When Stuart opened his eyes he had to blink twice to make sure his eyes were working. He had to flick the flashlight button on his phone, he couldn’t tell what he was supposed to be looking at. Until it hit him. Beyond where he stood was… nothing. If you could call the occasional tiny bits of planetoid rocks floating around something to make an omelette out of.

Obviously the lack of light was making him chill up quicker than if he slept in an ice frozen water tub, but something about the sounds of the tiny rocks moved around him, enough that he could feel them rub up against his hands like mini stones down a waterfall. He could swear the whole thing was better therapy than going cold turkey on alcohol.

Then he remembered the pictures. He quickly reset his phone and began taking pictures of the environment. A portrait shot of the rock stream obviously, followed by a landscape picture of the void riding horizon. And a selfie of himself for good measure. As he looked through the pictures, Stuart got to thinking more about life as a whole. The idea that when he got back he would go from Stuart, the kind of local man who taught rugby to Stuart, the first man who probably travelled back in time. The man who took photos at the start of the universe. Being paraded around the world like Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and… the other guy. Every chat show he could think of would want to have an interview with him. And the lads as well…! How jealous would they all be once they heard where he was just a few hours ago.

But as Stuart closed his phone, satisfied with all of the photos, he quickly lowered his expectations. What was a boring name like Stuart ever supposed to do in their life? Fionn was the one who came up with the idea so maybe he'd be the one to get all the attention. Stuart would expect a reward from his buddy’s team, at the very least.

Finally, as he turned back around to face his time machine, getting ready to give J. Jonah Jameson his beloved pics, Stuart ran a hand across the left hand side of the time machine. No annoyingly large buttons were there to send him back. Then he tried the other side. That's when it hit him.

Stuart was given a one way trip. And the staff had even said they'd collect the evidence for him. He was trapped in the past. Thousands of years away from home without any food, water or heat to keep him going.

Struggling to breathe, Stuart jerked his head all around, trying to fixate on some of the mini rocks to slow his heart. Then he wondered if they were space rocks. Or were they just space debris? Space debris that was left behind from other experiments that Fionn and his team had done? That he was part of another assembly line of people who were picked to be their test rabbits?

His heart quickened. Stuart latched onto the time machine, banging on a tank by the bottom left of the machine. “Please, PLEASE!” He screamed, his echo nearly shattering his ear drums as he continued to punch and thug at the tank.

Pretty soon, the tank began to glow green. Sludging loudly like evil scientist goop with the blue screen effects of some bad kids action film, slowly trudging louder and louder. The lime green energy going from blue to red to bright, bright yellow.

Whatever Stuart had said to himself in those last few minutes, the universe never heard.
Not before the time machine tore through his skin, bones and atoms quicker than he could blink. The blinding yellow light racing its way across all corners of the universe. Planetoids richotted off each other like marbles in a corridor as the galactic wave slowly merged them together to create larger, planet sized rocks.

When the cosmic dust settled, all evidence of Stuart and the time machine were lost. Burned away as if they had never existed. Those reports became true when Fionn and his team eventually built another time machine, making extra sure to include a return function in their device. But when Fionn drifted off towards the crash site, he remembered that he didn't give Stuart's phone the protective sleeve he had created. And thus, Fionn's attempts at being called a god went alongside the phone.

Yet after the experiment, there was one thing that remained. Millenia and millenia later, on a small blue world, the residents of that planet began to dream. Of what their place looked like when their space was brand new. And the possibility, that someone was responsible for creating it all. Some claimed it was the power of one being, who existed before all else and carved the universe into his image. Others saw it as multiple beings, figures that divided but no less bickered about the roles they were given. Many more would hunt, fight even kill those who disagreed with them on that viewpoint.

This being however, the ruler of them all, went by many names. Jehova, Lord God Almighty, Kronos and many other names that defined cultures for generations to come. That figure only had one name though. His name was Stuart. He liked rugby.

Bio: Colm O'Shea is a writer living in Dublin. He is a fourth-year student in English with Creative Writing at University College Dublin. He has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder since he was 16 years old. His first published short story “On the Subject of Bedroom Ceilings” was initially featured in 2022's Contemporary Subjects, a blended collection by LibraryCats Publishing. In May of 2023 he was invited to the Listowel Creative Writing Week to accept the Creative Writing Award for Adults with Learning Difficulties for his short story “The Job”. He hopes to publish a teen/YA novel.

Song of the Elements, poetry
by Tyler Zahnke

Earthy water,
Fiery air,
Wooden metal,
Elemental spirits set me free.
Tree trunks sprayed with chrome glitter, Dryads making magic herbal tea.
Undine in the river,
Oh my gorshkins!
Five young men and six old women make sassafras candy.
Spirits may let loose with dry water and wet wind.
It’s never too late to walk upon the earth with your snow white feet.
A lion, a witch and a warmongering werewolf wandered into the wild woods of the west.
As a lecherous father and a saintly mother climb up the sticky hill of life, The sound of chewing can be heard from all major sources of the ancient elements.
Egg man and butter wife take care of their omelette sons and daughters.
Only an elemental spirit can save the egg and make a friendly chicken.
Angry vegetables grow in the river where undines exchange water with their lips.
Dryads give each other tree hugs and leaf kisses.
Nymphs clap their hands at invisible concerts.
In a land where adults feel like kids, and kids feel mighty enough to be adults.
Eat a carrot, a pea or a sparage,
Let the spirits embed themselves in you after consuming their vegetables.
Fruit love, plant affection.
Water makes up 95% of fairy drinks.
I hope I look good in my fireproof metal hat, With the flaming sticks on top.
The wooden shoes on my wrinkly old feet, And the wind in a young lady’s hair.
The spirits we attract are more than just elves.
They are the same size, but much mightier.
But these tiny magicians can take ordinary milk, And turn it into creme d’amorre.

Bio: Tyler Zahnke is a singer, songwriter, musician and writer from Grand Rapids, Michigan. His writing has appeared in various publications including Behind Our Eyes: A Second Look, Leaves of Ink, and New World Encyclopedia. His music has been featured on podcasts Lost in the Libraryand DisTopia, web series Song Fight! He was featured on a technology-related interview on Jetzt TV. With over twenty years of music and writing experience, he puts a new, sometimes poetic or surrealist take on what it means to be a totally blind artist, advocating for accessibility and the power of music.

All I need is the air that I breathe, fiction Honorable Mention
by Brad Corallo

The year is 2040. Seventy-four-year-old grandmother, Angie Miano calls to her grandchildren to “put on their ESARP suits and hurry up or they will be late for school.” As the API (air pollution index) is under 250 today, school will actually take place onsite. For the last six days it has been virtual.

Angie is remembering when there was no need for ESARP (environmental skin and respiratory protection) suits. She is having a vivid recollection of a picnic at the beautiful beach on Fire Island fifty years ago. She and Vinnie, her beloved husband to be, sipped chilled Long Island Rose wine and enjoyed cold barbequed chicken as the warm sun caressed them and the fresh sea air was like an intoxicant. She crosses herself and whispers” rest in peace my dear, sweet Vinnie.” Angie has lost so many loved ones, especially in the initial days of the environmental collapse.

In addition to Vinnie, there was her dear, dear daughter Marie and her delightfully irreverent son in law Tony. Tears come to her eyes as she dons her own ESARP suit and pictures her beautiful grandbaby Lorenzo gasping for breath as his little lungs could not extract enough oxygen from the tainted atmosphere to sustain him.

Quickly, she dries her tears and puts on a placid face for her two grandchildren, Joey and Mary. All three, now dressed in their ESARP suits head out through the Dura-Glass air filtered walkway to their electric, zero emission vehicle. When they are all inside and secured in their safety harnesses, Angie activates the active air processing system (AAPS), depresses the starter button and heads off into the hazy early morning rush hour. The bleared orange sun shines dimly. As she drives carefully toward their school, Joey points out an advertisement for vacation packages for one week stays in the blooming Antarctic paradise “Lost American Dreams.” He asks “have you ever been there grandma?” “No,” she replies. “It is new. When I was young no one went there for vacations.”

They finally arrived at the Charles Koch Memorial Grammar School and Angie pulled up to the air filtered walkway which led to the school's entrance. Patting each of them on the shoulder, the suits made kissing impossible, she watched as they entered the building. Not for the first time she wondered “what will the world be like for Joey's and Mary's children? Better not to think about it” she thought.

On her way home, Angie decided to give herself a treat. She made her way to the “Free Air Oxygen and Memory Bar.” She entered and made her selection at the “happy choice” kiosk. After swiping her currency card, she entered a small but comfortable cubicle. She doffed her ESARP suit and sat in the luxurious, contour recliner and activated the high oxygen protocol and the virtual reality imaginarium. Suddenly, Angie found herself back in that glorious day of the beach picnic with Vinnie. She breathed deeply and smiled. For at least a half hour, she could once again, feel a sense of freedom and joy.

NOTE: The title is a line from a song by the Hollies.

King Crab, fiction
by Leonard Tuchyner

I'm an old man now and occasionally like to visit a campground near Virginia Beach. I do that about every three years. So, I guess I'll only be doing that a couple of times before circumstances will force me to quit. I have this old dilapidated camper. I think we'll both run out of gas at the same time. I suppose I could leave the camper to one of my kids, but they probably wouldn't be seen dead in it. Anyway, I was on one of those could-be final trips, sitting on the sand of the bay. I was waiting for my collapsible crab trap to bring me dinner. It had been out there for over 15 minutes, and it was time to wade the 75 yards out to where a bobber marked its location. There, in the trap, was a king crab. I was surprised indeed to see a king crab, because they are cold water arthropods and I'd never seen one that far south. It was a huge creature.

He seemed to be looking at me as I held the metal cage and him at arm's length above the mid-chest level. This device lay flat when lying on the bottom, but as the rope to raise it was engaged, it quickly morphed into a cage. He didn't seem frightened as most captured crabs appear to be. His huge fighting claw may have falsely bolstered his confidence. It definitely raised my anxiety level.

“Don't worry, I won't bite you,” he said suddenly.

The fact that he spoke to me threatened my heart health. I was stunned. A crab, who didn't belong where he was, and had a huge claw, speaking to me stupefied me.

“You wouldn't be scared by me, would you,?” he said, waving his weapon at me.

His voice was kind of crabby. I mean crabby as in a grouchy mood. Which I believed he had every right to do, considering that he was caught in a cage that wasn't a cage until I showed up.

He and I were in a quandary of what to do next. If I put him back in the water, he might take a bite out of my hand as I let him go. That could lose me a finger, at least. Or if I let go of the cage, which would collapse as soon as it hit bottom, he could attack all my toes, or even more. On the other hand, if I let go of the rope and got out of Dodge, I wouldn't know what he was doing. I couldn't see him. I had 75 yards to reach the shore. He could have easily caught up with me. It was even conceivable that he could drown me before I reached the shore. As I said, I was nervous. If I brought him to shore, I could drop him and run for it. I probably could have outrun a crab.

“Quite a problem we have here,” he growled. “What are you going to do?”

Rather than talk to him, I started to make my way shoreward. I was not even sure I could hold him up for the distance. Somehow, I managed, and dropped him in the collapsible trap about 5 feet above the shoreline. Then I proceeded to run up the shore. Well, I suppose it was a hurried walk. I hadn't run for over 20 years. I went about 20 yards before I turned around to catch a glimpse of what, I presumed, was my pursuer, a grouchy crab. A very large crab.

I looked around to make sure nobody was within hearing distance and inquired of this talking creature, “What are you doing? Why aren't you running back into the water or trying to catch and bite me?”

He looked at me calmly and said in his deep, rumbling voice, “I'm just watching you. You're quite interesting, or even funny, you know.”

I eased my way closer to him, watching for any signs of aggression.

“Don't worry. I won't bite you,” he tried to assure me.

However, I've never met a talking crab before and was not sure I could trust him. Especially since he was so big, at least for a crab.

“You can always put a rubber band around my claw so you can be sure I won't hurt you.”

“Aren't you angry at me? After all, I was planning to have you for dinner. And how do you know about the rubber band thing?”

“In case you haven't noticed, I'm not your run-of-the-mill crab. Besides, humans like you are an old story. It won't do any good for either one of us for me to let anger get the best of me. Besides, I'd rather we talk. Why don't you have a seat next to me on the sand, and we'll have a chat?”

Everything he said made sense, and he didn't threaten me with his claw, so I decided to take a chance and sat down gingerly next to him. This was a brave thing for me to do, because old codgers like me can't get up that quickly once they've gone to ground.

“There. That wasn't so bad, was it?”

“Easy for you to say, but here I am. This hallucination I'm having of a giant talking crab is probably just a mark of senility. Anyway, as I say, here I am.”

We sat there in silence for quite a while, and I began to wonder whether the hallucination was losing its effect.

“You know you are sitting next to royalty,” he declared.

“What do you mean?” I asked, my mind trying to keep up with surprises.

“I'm the King Crab,” he said with a hint of amusement in his gravelly voice.

“Of course you are a king crab. A big one. But nevertheless, a king crab.”

“You don't get it. I'm not just a crab. I'm the King Crab. I'm king to all crabs. Do you understand?”

I stared at him, trying to determine how to respond to his ridiculous claim. “Ah — How do you know you are The King?”

“I was born that way,” he replied immediately. It was as though he was expecting the question.

I stared at him with consternation. Then, “How do you perform the duties of a monarch?”

“I was born with certain qualities. Would you like to see one demonstrated?”

With trepidation I said, “Yes.”

That's when he disappeared. As I sat there doubting my sanity, he reappeared. “Would you like me to do that again? Or would you like to see something else?”

“Aaa —Yes.”

He immediately grew to gigantic proportions, with his claw held out like the sword of Damocles. I froze. He went back to his normal very-large-for-a-crab stature.

“I'm the real McCoy. I can tell you're impressed. So, why am I here talking with you?”

That is the question I was thinking about. I just shook my head in an affirming manner.

“You know, I was waiting in that trap, wondering when you were going to raise it.”

“I'm sorry. If I'd known who you were, I never would have dreamed of trying to eat … I mean, catch you.”

“It's okay for people to crab and fish, but not to do it without a conscience. The thing that gets me angry is that they don't take responsibility for causing tremendous pain. At least you eat what you catch, but you don't seem to understand the issue of fear and pain.”

“But I didn't know that crabs felt pain and fear,” I pleaded.

“What brought you to that enlightenment?” He asked.


“What is there about me that made the difference?”

“You, you talk.”

“So, does a crab need to talk to prove that they have feelings and emotions?”

After thinking about the question, I answered, “No.“

He replied, “I wish I could trust that this is a permanent change of attitude. But I know better. This little episode will go down as an aberration. It doesn't hold weight. Your so- called humanity will leak out in time like so much water. I have to make this a lasting experience.”

“What do you mean?” I asked with a feeling of trepidation. “Why are you spending your time with me?”

He sighed. “This may seen strange, but it is because you show promise of really developing a full conscience before you die.”

“I will try,” I told him.

He sighed again, “trying is not good enough.”

“What, then?”

“I believe that only experiencing this fear and pain as a crab has a chance of changing you.”

He made a gesture with his large claw, and suddenly I felt myself growing small. Instead of 4 appendages, I seemed to have at least 10. I felt very strange. I tried to scream. This was not right. I didn't belong here. I didn't belong in this body. I can't explain what it feels like to be a crab. Then I noticed I was in a box with fish heads inside. They were not at all appealing. Trying to find my way out was futile. It looked like it should be easy, but it was not. I was not alone. Two other crabs were in the box with me. I looked around desperately for a way out. I saw King Crab outside the box gazing at me with his stalked eyes. I wanted to ask him for help, but speech wasn't there for me.

“Don't try to speak.” The words came to me without hearing. They weren't really words—just concepts that I realized I should not be understanding.

“You're a crab now. You are in a crab trap. Now you will know what being trapped and ready to be slaughtered is like.”

The next thing I knew was that a rope on the box was pulling it up to the surface. I was pulled onto the deck of a boat. Hands reached in. I tried to bite them. But they held me so I couldn't. Then I was thrown into a larger box with ice. I was absolutely petrified. But the ice made me slow and seemed to calm me down. Time passed, and then other hands were reaching for me again. I was thrown into a pot of heating water. Becoming fully conscious, I felt the water as it started to boil. I tried with everything in me to climb out. The pain became excruciating.

My senses began to fail and I almost relaxed, until I was once again an old man sitting next to an overgrown crab. My emotions were on a roller coaster ride. My nerves were shot, and I felt angry and grateful. Anger for what I just went through, grateful for being out of it and realizing life would never be the same again. Even though speech had been returned to me, words would not come.

“You're tongue-tied,” he said. It's not an uncommon reaction. When the shock wears off, I think you'll have plenty to say. But I doubt you'd say anything about this experience to anyone else ,” he said.

With that, he side-walked down to the water's edge and disappeared.

Since my encounter with King Crab, my emotions have changed. Now gratitude is for a different reason. There is a fuller understanding about the unnecessary pain and fear that prey animals go through. Now I rarely eat meat. Meat definitely includes crabs. When I do eat animal flesh, it is with a sense of gratitude for the creature who gave his body for my sake. I always say a prayer about that. After all, only life gives life. So maybe King Crab was right. Perhaps I have grown in consciousness, and I'm not dead yet. That has to be worth an hour or two of bad experience.

I've never told this story, and I'm not sure who is reading this, if anyone. But as long as I am telling it, I will also tell you that King Crab has become a very good friend.

Free Flying, fiction
by Deborah E. Joyce

Perched for takeoff, her heart was pounding. This could be a dangerous part, as the wind could shift abruptly. Timing had to be perfect, but she was a pro. She had been flying all of her life, it seemed.

She watched them go, one by one. She called them her students, because she was their teacher. She tried to teach them well, but they just wouldn't listen.

Her heart broke with each one, the unsuccessful takeoff. Their singing silenced, it was time to leave.

Catching a thermal, the wings lifted her high in the air. It never ceased to amaze her, soaring over mountains, valleys, and cities. Cities were the worst. The concrete jungle kept spreading, ever changing. It was difficult to map the terrain and flight route in her head. Thermals were especially treacherous through that sea of concrete and glass, but it was the only way through to where she had to go. Her instinct was to go home.

Her parents always came to mind during this leg of the trip. It fascinated her to hear about the wide-open spaces, the fresh air, flying in group formation with family and friends. She would have loved to have seen that. It would never be the same.

The pain shot through her with a jolt. She had never been struck by lightning, yet that was the only thing she could think of. Coming out of her reverie, she realized that she clipped her wing. Her fault, being stupid and not paying attention. The blood rose in her ears like a flood. She remembered her parents talking about an aunt she never knew.

Was it like that for her? What had she felt during the last moments when her body was sucked through the vent of that horrible airplane. Worse, they blamed her for the damage to the plane.

Her world was shrinking fast. She had to watch as that horrid cat ate one of her babies. Her second died of shock. She couldn't stand it anymore after her third baby fell out of the nest, her crumpled body splattered on that horrible concrete.

Now it was her turn. She would never pollinate a flower again. The world would be quieter when her singing, and those of her family were silenced. Molted feathers would never decorate a headdress, clothing, or jewelry.

In her new state, she joined her children and her family. They soared up to the heavens where the air was clean, the only thing in their way were clouds. She looked down at her crumpled body, but it was no longer hers.

Taking flight, she breathed a little easier. She was free.

Bio: Deborah E. Joyce is the author of Identity Theft: A Victim's Search for Justice, available on She also writes a blog about identity theft at In addition, she writes a column for Consumer Vision Magazine about identity theft. She holds a MA degree in Psychology from Marist College and a BS in both Psychology and Criminology from University of Wisconsin. Deborah is totally blind. She lost her vision 14 years ago due to undiagnosed cataracts.

What the animals say, poetry
by Ann Chiappetta

Hound sang the chasing song
And Crow spoke of bad tidings
Squirrel soared and leaped, leaped and soared
Dislodging tree nuts
To clatter and bounce
Down down down
On route to the ground
Along The leaf highway

Bio: Ann's poems, creative nonfiction, essays and fiction appear in anthologies, popular online magazines, periodicals, blogs and small press reviews. Her poems have been featured in The Avocet, The Pangolin Review, Plum Tree Tavern, Magnets and Ladders, and Breath and Shadow.

Ann is a cohost of the Art Parlor podcast produced by Friends In Art, of which she is president. She is a sought-after keynote speaker presenting topics to audiences of all ages and interests.

Annresides on the East coast with her husband, guide dog pet dog and cats, striving to develop a mutually-beneficial relationship with her assistive technology.

Contact Ann by visiting her website:

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Spells, poetry
by Toby Ameson

I shan't wrap my words around it, for my words are spells.
Mustn't interfere with fervent prayers last moon-dark.
Wrapped in silence, secret kept within my hopeful heart,
not to scatter with an idle conversation's hour.

Sometime later, once the seed has taken root and sprung
from the topsoil, nurtured into brightness of first youth,
then I may consider showing what I planted here,
only to the trusted who tread lightly round the cradle.

I shan't wrap my words around it, sealed secret safe,
nor admit that I have planted aught in soil dark.
When the flowers blossom into final beauty's glory,
then and only then shall I release my silent warding.

Just what have I planted? I won't share just yet you know,
but a hint to whet the hunger ready now to grow:
a better life, for that is what all magic can do best.
A hope, a dream, the end, the means, a path to journeys bright.

And should you find yourself on moon-dark ready for a change,
plant a seed and keep it secret, lest they think it strange.
For if you take into your heart the doubtful words of others,
You could lose the magic and your spell could wither, smothered.

Keep your magic pure, my darlings, keep it strong and true,
And keep it hidden till the world sees what it grows into.

Bio: Toby Ameson is a queer, transgender, disabled American writer whose work has appeared in International Human Rights Arts Festival Publishes. Their diagnosed disabilities include ADHD, PTSD, hypermobility syndrome, and chronic fatigue.

Queer Forest Ecology and Trans Conservation, poetry
by J.D. Gevry

“Queer Forest Ecology and Trans Conservation” was previously published in a local nature conservation’s magazine, Hale Magazine.

didn't you know: trees communicate
with their offspring and familial elders through
chemical signals leaked from roots—
vital substances shared among them
sustaining lives in times
of lack; a family-sharing system
operating solely underground, but
isn't that Us? We
found each other in
tender tendrils reaching roots We
rustled our leaves in shifting winds
until heard in open sky
you see that? A pale gray bird
landing on my branch, to
bend the swishy switch beneath
bosoms plumped with curiosity—
curiosity; isn't that what they always say in the
straight(s)-forward way
never mending the places they break their
uninvited weight
pressing in their passing
a careless seat claimed before
hurry burst departure their
dull-feathered flight home
my family, they gather
blue hydrangea tears in baskets
woven with
slender twigs and
heavier things; a nest to carry abundant blossoms in then
gently place the browning-petal orbs in Our heirloom vases
as though still beautiful—
how they wilted so swiftly in that
hostile sun, once cut
revived with gratitude in the solace of
familiar home I am
never a solitary oak quivering
among the lumberjacks
I am of your acorn
I have been conserved

Bio: J.D. Gevry, MPH (they/them) is an emerging poet whose writing is influenced by their experiences as a queer, polyamorous, non-binary trans Vermonter with psychological and physical disabilities. Their work has been, or will be, published in The Bitchin' Kitsch, Remington Review, just femme and dandy, and others, and was longlisted for the 2023 erbacce-prize.

In This Quiet Place, poetry Honorable Mention
by Brad Corallo

In this quiet place:
I listen, I read, I feel.
Deep emotion roils
slowly burgeoning
the tears fall
providing cathartic release.
The broad palate of human sorrows
is all too familiar travelled ground.
But perhaps, it is better this way.
For, when genuine sorrow can no longer be felt
and all hearts harden,
truly hope for our broken, fallen species
may be lost forever.

Yet also, in this quiet place
I thrill to love and beauty.
Knowing that upwelling sense of exhilaration and
mornings unbounded joy.
The glorious pageantry of sunrise.
The dramatic, riveting power of its setting.
The wonder of all creation and being.
And I am glad!

Perhaps such are the wisdom and
gifts that come with advancing age.
A crystal growing from droplets
of time and the ever
bitter-sweet carvings of experience.

Part IV. The Writers’ Climb

Review with Commentary: Rebel with a clause: tales and tips from a roving grammarian by Ellen Jovin, nonfiction Honorable Mention

reviewed by Marilyn Brandt Smith

Harper Collins, 2022
Available on Kindle, Audible, Bookshare, and BARD as DB111231 and BR24539.
Reading time: 7 hours, 30 minutes. Read by the author.

This book depicts a delightful romp across the country with an enthusiastic teacher and writer who enjoys the details and quirks in our spoken and written language. This book is a ticket to learning, laughing, and looking at language through the eyes of curious visitors along the way. Since the author narrates her book, the reader is captured by her excitement.

In 2019 Ellen, who likes informality, took a vacation with her husband from their Manhattan lifestyle. There were a few sideline and time out moments during the pandemic, but it became a three-year adventure. With grammar table, professional style manuals, camera, phone, and writing equipment in hand, they persevered to bring answers, questions, pronouns, and participles to passersby, and sometimes crowds. Visitors to their table were there because they chose to be. They were there because she presented grammar information in a helpful and non-critical way.

I won't cover all of the lessons that she taught. I encourage you to read for yourself and absorb the interaction between Ellen and her visitors. Hear her tell and show how people reacted with body language and audience attention.

We get the if’s, and’s, and but’s on the apostrophe, colon, and semicolon. Commas and clauses get plenty of attention. She shows us what to do with interruptive marks as in ellipsis, dashes, parentheses, etc. At the end of—or in the middle of—a sentence, we learn about etc., I.E., and E.G.

Understanding and remembering are a task too extensive for most visitors or readers. She often sent visitors away with handwritten examples answering their specific questions or using their wording or punctuation in a sentence. In her narrated version, she indicates that a PDF enhancement is available. Unfortunately, the content of the PDF is not included in the audio version. It is often possible to find answers for word usages and punctuation preferences through use of a smart speaker.

If an answer does not satisfy a guest with a question, she often uses a style manual to verify her point or to go into greater detail. She is perfectly happy if the questioner still doesn’t agree on the matter at hand. Homophones receive attention. She acknowledges that examples such as there/their/they’re are sometimes pronounced differently, and may not be homophones in a particular culture. She tackles “less” vs. “fewer, “which” vs. “that, and “then” vs. “than.” I personally was never challenged by that last example. “May” vs. “might” and “though” vs. “although” still sometimes give me trouble.

Ellen discusses her pet peeves when she can turn the conversation in that direction. One of hers, and one of mine, is the use of a nominative pronoun like “I” when the correct choice would be the subjective pronoun “me,” “him,” “them,” etc. “Please join James and me for dinner.” “The discussion took place between Ellen and me.” She shows people how to substitute, reconstruct, or keep sentences short to clarify meaning.

Will “whom” ever go away? What is the Oxford comma? No one badmouthed the “ly” adverbs Stephen King avoids with such fervor. Conjunctions at the beginning of sentences have been hot potatoes for some time. You’ll have to read the book to get her take.

Ellen acknowledges that texts, Email, social media posts, and notes left for coworkers are often adaptations of language as we knew it. They aren’t going away, just changing to meet needs, save time, and satisfy trends. “LOL,” “ROFL,” and “LMAO” reflect degrees of humor as perceived by the recipients’ responses. Those examples are mine, not hers.

Most nearby businesses welcomed her table because crowds draw business. Local and national media have been fascinated with this unique project to improve language. Under our Freedom of Speech protection, Ellen was free to set up her table, still she obtained permission before setting up at a location. News usually spread quickly when she was in a neighborhood.

As far as I know, she has not launched online seminars or classes. I haven’t seen marketing for any merch such as t shirts reading, “Grammar is just something I put up with,” or “I like the tail…get creative here…on my Oxford comma.” If she did reach beyond her road excursions, wouldn’t it be nice to be part of the fun?

If you like to play with words, find fun in open-minded alternatives you may never use, and enjoy a little humor with your homophones, this book is for you.

P.S. What do thesauruses eat for breakfast…Synonym rolls!

Hero, finish the story exercise
by Cheryl McNeil Fisher

Editor’s note: Cheryl started this psychological family drama with a heartbreaking beginning and left the story open for many possible resolutions. Magnets and Ladders readers were invited to finish the story. We received four story endings. Below is the beginning of the story written by Cheryl McNeil Fisher. The top two story endings will follow Cheryl’s story starter.

I took my bracelet off last night and put it right here on the dresser. I'm not crazy. Where is it? “Mom, have you seen my cuff bracelet?”

“No, I haven't seen it. Maybe you should be more careful where you put things.”

Last week it was my favorite shirt, then Friday the earrings I love so much. I know I'm not crazy. Sometimes I'm messy, but I always know where my stuff is.

“Marley, you better hurry, or you'll miss the bus. I can't take you if you miss it.”

Guess I'll look for it later.

Just in time, I run out the door and down the driveway to the bus's open door. Breathing heavily, I say, “Good morning Mrs. G.”

“Good mornin', darlin'. Glad you could join us today.” Mrs. G says with a warm smile and twinkles in her eyes.

No matter how I'm feeling, I feel warm inside as soon as Mrs. G. opens the door.

Monday and Tuesday come and go with no sign of my missing items. Finally, Wednesday after school, my mom says, “Marley, aren't you supposed to take the garbage out?”

“I took it out this morning, Mom.”

“It doesn't look like you took it out to me.”

Maybe Mom did some cleaning today, and the garbage is full again. When I look in the can, I stand in wonder.

“Don't just stand there. Take the garbage out.”

“I could have sworn I took this out this morning.”

“Well, apparently, you didn't because it is still full,” Mom says sarcastically.

Sure enough, it looks like the same stuff on top of the garbage that was there this morning. “Well, Okay, maybe I'm thinking of another day.” I take out the bag, tie it up, and head to the door.

“Watch what you are doing, Marley. You are dropping garbage all over the place.”


“What is wrong with you?” Mom yells. “You are so stupid. Look at the mess you are making.”

Sure enough, I look back, and there is a garbage trail behind me. I look at the bag, and there is a hole the size of my fist in the bottom corner. There are coffee grounds and garbage all over the kitchen floor and down the stairs.

I put the bag down, run up the stairs and get another garbage bag. As I'm wrestling with the torn bag to put it into the new bag, Mom comes over to me and smacks my head. She screams right into my ear,

“You are the dumbest girl. You can't even take a bag of garbage out. You lose your things. You can't keep track of where you put things that are supposed to be important to you. You are garbage! You are no good! You are just like your father, no good!”

Now the tears are swelling in my eyes. I don't want to cry. Why does she say these horrible things to me? I'm a good girl. I really am. I do well in school. I have a lot of friends. Why doesn't my own mother love me?

I get the garbage into the bag and take it out to the trash can. I know I took this garbage out this morning before I began looking for my bracelet. I know I did.

“Hi, Marley. Whatcha doing?” says Mr. Hal. “You and your mom must be cleaning out.”

“Why do you say that, Mr. Hal?”

He scratches his chin and says, “Well, you brought a bag out just before you went to school this morning,.”

“Yeah, we are cleaning,” I said with a forced smile.

So, I'm not crazy. I did take a bag out this morning. No, she wouldn't have brought it back in and then put a hole in it……would she? Mom is standing just inside the door when I walk in. She pushes the broom and dustpan at me.

“Here, clean this mess up. Then mop the stickiness up too.”

I hang my head and say, “Okay, Mom.”

“What did you say?” She smacks me hard on the head. “What did you say to me? Are you smart mouthing me?”

“No, Mom. Not at all.” My tears were almost ready to flow at that point.

“You are such an ungrateful, selfish girl. I don't know why I put up with you. I should just put you in a home somewhere and leave you.”

My tears begin to flow. I am crying now. Why can't my dad come back? Why can't he save me? Why can't someone care about me and love me? God, help me. Do you love me?

While I'm cleaning up the mess, I hear my mother talking on the phone.

“I don't know what it is, but I like hearing Marley cry. I like seeing her search all over for her things, wondering where her stuff could be. Do you think I'm a sick mother?” She is hysterical, laughing now. “No, I don't either. I'm having a lot of fun getting back at Bill through his Marley. The little bitch. He always paid more attention to her. He loved her more. Well, I'll teach him. I'll make the little bitch's life miserable, just like he has made mine. Hero, my ass. How dare he die!”

After hearing her demonic conversation, I wipe my eyes and sit quietly in prayer. “God, how can a mother talk like that about her own daughter? It hurts, but thank you God for allowing me to hear her words. I'm not crazy. She really does do things to hurt me. I'm counting on you to help me survive this nightmare life with her. Thank you for adults like Mrs. G and Mr. Hal. I will survive. I feel blessed and loved knowing I have you, my Heavenly Father. And that my daddy is with you too.”

I miss you Daddy. I know you're my angel, but sometimes it's hard. When I need your hug, I hug my big teddy bear you gifted me and imagine you hugging me back.

Daddy – YOU Will always be my Hero.

Bio: CHERYL MCNEIL FISHER has authored fiction and non-fiction books through her publishing company, L.I.F.E. Books. For the past 25 years, she has been a keynote speaker and workshop leader throughout the US. Her inner, and spiritual strengths inspire audiences to excel through their challenges. Additionally, she co-hosts the award-winning phenomenon Writing Works Wonders.

She says, “Sudden sight loss created a lot of changes, but I refused to let it drag me into a dark place. Instead, my faith and my inner vision have been the driving force that enables me to live a life beyond my wildest dreams!”

Hero Ending
by Abbie Johnson Taylor

As I finish cleaning up the mess, the TV in the living room comes on. Looking at the clock, I realize it's time for my mom's favorite game show. Good. This means she'll leave me alone for a while. Then, I think of something. I drop the dust pan and broom and dash out the back door, anger boiling inside me. At the dumpster, I lift the lid, take out the double bag I just put in, rip it open, and start taking things out one at a time and tossing them on the ground.

“Marley, what are you doing?” This time, it's Mrs. Hal. She doesn't look mad but like she wants to help me. I can't stop the tears.

“My mom's crazy. She made me take the garbage out this morning before I went to school. Then when I got home, she made me take it out again. She poked a hole in the bag to make it look like I was deliberately spilling garbage and called me stupid. Then, she hit me. She does that a lot now that Daddy's gone.”

“Oh, sweetie,” cries Mrs. Hal, opening her arms. The next thing I know, I've dropped the bag, and she's holding me, and I'm crying on her shoulder.

“And that's not all,” I sob. “I lost my bracelet and my favorite t-shirt and my earrings. She tells me I need to keep better track of things, but I know where I put my stuff. I think she threw them in the trash. She also tells me I'm garbage and she should just put me in a home.”

“There, now,” Mrs. Hal says, rubbing my back.

Mr. Hal is standing next to us. He puts his arm around us and says, “I thought something was up when I saw your mom bring in the garbage you took out.”

“And just now,” I say. “I heard Mom on the phone, probably to her friend. She said she likes seeing me cry and lose things, that she wants to get back at Daddy for paying more attention to me than to her. She called me a little bitch.”

“Marley, what the hell are you doing?” I turn and see my mom rushing toward us.

Mr. and Mrs. Hal both hold me tight, and Mr. Hal says, “It's all right, honey. We won't let her hurt you anymore. You two go in the house. I'll talk to her.”

“Come with me,” Mrs. Hal says. “I just took a batch of chocolate chip cookies out of the oven.”

I can't help smiling. But as Mrs. Hal walks me across the alley to their place, I hear my mom apologizing to Mr. Hal for her stupid daughter. “Don't pay any attention to her,” Mrs. Hal says. “You're a smart girl.” I want to cry.

In her kitchen, when I smell those chocolate chip cookies, I forget about everything for a moment. She sits me down at the table and hands me a Kleenex. After I blow my nose, she gives me a cookie from the rack next to the oven. I take a bite and chew, letting the warm chocolate taste fill my mouth before swallowing it. “I don't remember the last time you brought us your homemade chocolate chip cookies.”

“I know, dear,” Mrs. Hal says, sitting next to me and taking my hand. “Last month after your father died, I brought some cookies round while you were in school. Your mother told me she didn't want our sympathy or charity and slammed the door in my face.”

I gasp, not believing it. “Oh, I'm so sorry.” It's all I can think to say, and I want to cry again.

Mrs. Hal laughs. “Irwin's out there apologizing to your mother for you, and you're in here apologizing to me for her. Neither of you needs to apologize to us. Some people have a hard time when they lose loved ones.”

“I miss Daddy, too.”

“I know, dear,” she says, squeezing my hand. “We all do. You know, our daughter got married last year and moved away. We hardly ever see her. This old house gets pretty lonely now. How would you like to stay with us until your mom sorts herself out?”


“Really. We can help you fix up Michelle's room the way you'd like it. I'm sure she won't mind, since she doesn't sleep there anymore. And what's more, we won't make you take the garbage out or hit you or call you stupid or…that other awful word.” She grimaces.

I can't help laughing. “That would be great!”

We talk a little longer about school and other things. Then, the kitchen door bursts open and in comes Mr. Hal, grinning and holding something up. “Look what I found in the trash!”

“My t-shirt!” I jump to my feet. He hands me the shirt, and I put it on. It's covered with bits of tuna and other stuff, but I don't care.

“That's not all Santa Claus has for smart girls like you,” he says. He reaches into one pocket and pulls out my earrings. I can't believe it. He wipes them off with a handkerchief and hands them to me, and I put them on. Then, he reaches into his other pocket and pulls out my bracelet. He wipes that off and hands it to me. This has got to be a dream, I think, as I put that on. “Now, aren't you a sight for sore eyes?” he says.

Mrs. Hal wrinkles her nose. “That shirt needs to be washed.” I giggle. “But let's not worry about that now,” she says. “Irwin, did you tell Carolyn about our offer to have Marley stay with us?”

He sighs. “I didn't have a chance. After she told me she was sorry for her stupid daughter, and I told her I didn't think her daughter was stupid, that I saw her take in the garbage you took out, Marley, she told me to mind my own business, slammed the gate in my face, and ran off.”

“Oh, I'm sorry,” I say again.

Mrs. Hal puts a hand on my shoulder. “Now what did I tell you about apologizing to us? It's not necessary.” I look at her face and am glad to see she's not mad.

Mr. Hal takes my hand. “She's right, honey. None of this is your fault. We'll sort it out later. The important thing is you're safe here with us, that is, as long as you don't eat all the cookies.”

He's grinning again, and I laugh. The three of us hug, as I say, “You're the best neighbors ever.”

I know for sure I'll survive and that my Hero in Heaven is looking out for me.

Hero Ending
by Kayla James

After hearing Mom's conversation, I watched my step for the next few years. I doubled the garbage bags, making sure to say hi to Mr. Hal after dropping them off at the curb. At a thrift store, I found a small wooden box with a lock on it. I kept all of my jewelry in it. I hid it under a loose floorboard beneath my bed and always took inventory after school before doing homework.

Sometimes, Mrs. G would come by and take me to church with her. I knew at church that other mothers weren't like mine. I saw them ruffling their kids' hair and even inviting other kids over to their house. Mom hated it if I brought the few friends I had over.

It was a sad day when Mrs. G retired from the bus company during seventh grade. Now I was met by a man with a bristly mustache who always smelled like beef, cheese, and cigarettes.

That began my downfall away from home and away from God. I couldn't stand going to church anymore since my home life wasn't mirroring the Christian homes I saw around me. I did my best to keep out of Mom's way by making friends who always let me stay at their houses as much as I wanted. I made sure to pack my jewelry box in the false bottom of my suitcase.

I was seventeen when I packed it for good while Mom slept on the couch. The TV was the only thing to wish me goodbye.

I bounced around from friend to friend, even staying with Mrs. G during the summer. She helped me sign up for local college courses. I won a partial scholarship and worked in the cafeteria to pay for the rest of my tuition.

I liked dorm life. I stayed on a meal plan, slept in a warm bed, and didn't have to worry about anyone yelling at me or stealing my stuff. It was great, but I felt empty inside.

I filled my time with parties, maintaining good grades, and boyfriends. Relationships didn't last long and I always kept somewhat detached from everyone even without meaning to do so.

I was walking back to my dorm when my cell phone rang. It was Mom.

“Marley, I'm going into the hospital in a few weeks. Something about a test. I keep telling them it's just a cough but those doctors don't listen to anybody who isn't making six figures.”

I stopped cold. “Okay,” I said shortly. “Want me to come?”

“No,” Mom replied stiffly. “I don't want you here. I'm just letting you know.”

I heard a click and the call ended. I slipped the phone back into my coat pocket and continued to the dorm.

My thoughts were racing and then vanished. I felt cold for the rest of the day. Friends asked what's wrong but all I could say was:
“It's just my mother.”

I was like a zombie for several days, wandering around campus, doing my work, talking to people but not knowing what I said. Memories piled in on me like an avalanche.
Daddy getting sick… hospitals… bracelets… coffee grounds on the stairs. I reached for my old teddy bear on the top shelf of my closet one night and held it tight but not a single tear fell from my eyes.

Two weeks later while I was in the library, Mom texted me.

“Cancer. Six months to two years,” was all the text said.

I picked up my books and satchel and raced from the library. I couldn't stop running. It hurt to breathe as I raced from the university, down the sloping lawn, and toward Cherry and Vine.

My calves burned. I took deep breaths to keep the stitch in my side at bay. I reached the grassy churchyard I often passed with my friends on the way to grab dinner or get drunk. I sank to the grass, books and all, and lay on my back with my face to the sky.

“God,” I whispered. “Where are you?”

The softest whisper I had ever heard came floating to me as my heart began to slow down.

“I'm here.”

The first hot tear slipped down my face and into my hair.

“Why do I care about her?” I asked. “God, You saw what she did.”

I recalled the verse about honoring father and mother. I ignored it.

“Try again, God,” I said into the breeze that floated over my sweaty body. “She doesn't deserve it.”

“Love those who persecute you,” came another verse. “Do good to those who hate you.”

I punched the grass, sending up a few clods of dirt into the air. I sneezed and sat up, knowing God was right.

“Young lady?” called a voice.

I looked up to see a white-haired man in blue coveralls wheeling a cart behind him.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

I stood to my feet., brushing bits of grass and dirt off my jeans.

“I'm the janitor here. You looked like you were sleeping from the upstairs window. I just wanted to come out here and check on my way to the tool shed.”

“Yeah,” I replied. “I'll be all right. Thank you.”

The janitor nodded. Before turning to walk away, he looked back over his shoulder and said:

“God loves you.”

“Mmm-hmm,” I said with a smile. “I know.”

“Tell others,” he said, then walked away.

I blocked my mother's illness and my experience at the church from my mind as the semester crested into the week of finals. I was doing a Chemistry exam when my professor came over and whispered I was needed in the student affairs' office.

When the administrator told me my mother was calling me from the hospital, I took the phone from him and heard my mother say in a voice half-choked with tears:

“Marley, I need you.”

I told the administrator to email my professors that I could not take exams that day. Regardless of the consequences, I left school grounds and took two buses to get to the hospital.

Mom sat in the room where she received her chemo. We didn't say anything. We just sat there until the treatment was finished and I drove her home.

It went like this for weeks. I deferred my exams and signed up for online summer courses and looked after mom.

Some days were good. Most were not.

I had to be like stone while my mother yelled, cussed, and sometimes when she had the strength, hit me. I clung to the verse cards in my old Sunday school Bible I had abandoned over the years and strengthened my relationship with God. I had to cling to the fact that God loved me and my mother and He died for us both.

One day while Mom was resting in front of an episode of Days of Our Lives, she said, “I hated you so much. I could hardly believe it when I realized it. My own kid who came from me and I hated you.”

I stood by the sofa and waited for her to say more.

“I never believed your dad when he said he loved me. I've had some time to think though. I guess it must have been true.”

She never apologized. I tried to tell her about God's love but she refused to listen.

Mom died on Mother's Day two years later. In that time, I married and had my own little girl in December. Every day I satisfy myself in God's constant love, then my husband's, and finally my daughter's.

I think about Mom a lot. The anger and fear I once had toward her evaporated into a mournful sorrow. I doubt I will see her again.

I don't pretend to understand why she did what she did. I can only do my best to be the mother she wasn't and to let my daughter know that I love her with every breath in my body.

I will praise her for the little things she gets right and gently correct her for what she gets wrong. I will start a new cycle of love and trusting friendship between me and her.

I watch as my little girl holds tight to the paw of my old teddy bear as it leans faithfully against her crib. I look down at this lovely creation who has the eyelashes passed down from my mother and me and I thank God.

Bio: Kayla James was born premature, resulting in total blindness. Since she was seven and discovered people actually wrote books for a living, she wanted to do it too. Now it is her goal not just to make money, but to use it for God, bringing the gospel to people. She wants to write in multiple genres. She enjoys reading, crafts, music, and radio shows.


We will be holding contests in the areas of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for the Spring/Summer edition of Magnets and Ladders. All submissions will be entered into the contest. Cash prizes of $30 and $20 will be awarded to the first and second place winners.

Please note: Funds for contest prizes are provided by Behind Our Eyes. Checks for prize winning entries not cashed within 6 months of the issue date are void and considered a donation back to Behind Our Eyes. No additional payments will be made to replace the uncashed check. If you intend your prize winnings to be a donation, please let us know upon winning so we can send you a donation receipt letter.

Remember, the deadline for submissions is February 15, so be sure to get your entries in on time.

Here and Now, nonfiction
by Melissa L. White

What qualifies me to speak about the “here and now” with authority? Uncanny psychic ability? Perhaps. I've found that living with mental health issues for many decades has taught me a lot about “psychic abilities.” Hearing voices? Check. Repeated manic episodes? Check. Years of therapy? Check. Check. Check. However, I've found that my most profound experiences of the “here and now” have happened when I am writing. That's when my psychic abilities have soared. That's when I am most assuredly living my passion, fulfilling my purpose-in synch with the Universe.

That pivotal life-altering moment-when I knew that writing stories was my life's passion- occurred long ago and far away when watching Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope for the first time, and Obi-Wan Kenobi said, “I felt a great disturbance in the Force. As if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.” I was so young, with very little life experience, and even less experience as a writer. But the shared experience of “millions of souls being silenced” rocked me to the core.

I wondered what happened when so many people die like that; would they all travel down that tunnel toward the light together?

Conversely, the Star Wars films also caused me to wonder about the interconnectivity of everyone and everything in the Universe in a more light-centered manner, as opposed to only focusing on death “en masse.” After realizing that “May the Force be with you,” was more than just a snappy line of dialogue-I literally started feeling emotional, psychological, and even spiritual connections to certain groups, especially during shared experiences. Feelings of being one with a community of others could occur anytime. Moments as ordinary and mundane as standing in unison and singing the National Anthem in a crowded stadium prior to a sporting event—to something as once-in-a-lifetime-unique as watching my partner hold his newborn grandson for the first time.

These shared experiences of universal connectivity were most easily recognized when experienced as profound moments of love, joy, peace, or belonging. I've called these “ah-ha” moments because of the sheer delight they incited, causing me to feel as if I'd resonated with a power greater than myself, or somehow tapped into a universal consciousness, which allowed me to feel at one with the Universe. But how can a middle-aged woman, suffering from bi-polar disorder and career burnout, make sense of life when those “ah-ha” moments of feeling in synch with the Universe occur with less and less frequency? How can we understand the here and now with any sense of purpose?

The answer came to me in a flash of white light. Write to George Lucas, thanking him for the incredible influence his Star Wars films have had on me. I wondered how to approach this filmmaking icon, whom I'd admired since I was a teenager. The solution? He's a storyteller. Send him a story-many stories, in fact. Then invite him to join me in the creation of a new genre of film and literature, that eschews “conflict” as its main tenet, in favor of character development and life-force-affirming themes. So, I wrote him many letters. For three years. Until he finally responded-about storytelling.

Storytelling trends have come and gone, it's true. But even though Nora Ephron, Stanley Kubrick, Francis Ford Coppola, and of course George Lucas, were always my favorite writer/directors, their films have become even more meaningful to me, as time has passed. The more I've aged, the more nuanced my viewings of their films have become. When I've thought about the consistent message in most of their films, it seemed the core tenet common to all their writing included feeling loved by someone—and “feeling like you belong” to something-greater than yourself. In essence, these core tenets seemed more vital than anything else, profoundly worthy of conveying to others.

In fact, one of my favorite quotes about what truly matters in life came from a film that Francis Ford Coppola produced called Don Juan DeMarco (1994):
“There are only four questions of value in life, Don Octavio. What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for, and what is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same: only love.”

Only Love. This was what mattered most, at least to me: How much love could one experience in a lifetime, and how much could one learn from that love? Perhaps in this context, the evolution of “soul” could be achieved, or at least strived for. Thus, the evolution of humanity—beyond merely being dependent on primal instincts such as fight or flight-could finally produce a type of being with something more than a purely physical countenance. A more intellectually and spiritually “evolved” version of humanity would emerge.

Could this be what is meant by the term “fully realized human being?” To look outside oneself, not so much for validation, but for inclusion and communion with others, and more importantly inclusion and communion with a higher consciousness, sometimes referred to as God. Is this how humanity will survive the threat of extinction, due to unfettered development of AI technology, which may make most occupations obsolete? Will AI allow humanity to become “fully realized” or “virtually extinct?” Am I crazy to let this worry me?

Are notions of humanity “perfecting” love—becoming one with God, or one with the Universe—losing relevance in today's world? Even though they have existed for eons in Eastern religions and ancient cultures, I worry that pondering God has become less vital to younger generations than posting on Instagram or scrolling Tik Tok videos.

This worry has led to my core belief that writers, and not just writers but audiences / readers as well, (i.e., all of us) have a moral responsibility to the future, to think about how we should answer those questions posed by Don Juan DeMarco. In essence, have we pondered how to let LOVE guide, strengthen, and lead our lives- individually and together as a society? Or are we too preoccupied with social media, or even just making it through our daily lives, to think about such ideas? I asked George Lucas, this very thing:
“If humanity is to keep evolving, do you think we should attempt to write about this theme whenever possible- 'Treat everyone and everything only the way you wish to be treated yourself,' which includes animals, nature, and the environment. Is that a worthwhile goal?”

He replied: “Yes, it is. In fact, people must find something they love enough to jump over hurdles and break through brick walls. It's like that with any talent, it's something you love a lot, and that you can lose yourself in. For you, it's storytelling. And the way I see it, storytelling is about two things: character and plot. And neither of those things should rely solely on conflict for their development. So why not write about the beauty of love, courage, loyalty, or any other character strength that inspires us? Not conflict! But rather…love.

So is the purpose of life to experience as much love as possible? The evolution of soul-becoming all-loving? More God-like? And why are these questions important? Because we as a culture consume more content than any other group in the history of humanity—thus, the role of storyteller has taken on an even more urgent leadership role than ever before, like it or not. Storytellers must create art they feel passionate about, but they also have an obligation to guide and inspire us, more than ever before due to the interconnectivity of global audiences and our rapidly advancing dependence on, and ever-evolving use of technology to create and disseminate information and “stories.” Not to mention our roles as writers are now being encroached upon by a WGA Writer's strike which may do more than any one other action to usher in the wholesale reliance on AI-created content.

In fact, in recent conversations with George Lucas, we discussed this very thing. Here is the context of those talks, taken from a recently published essay, which I amended, after Mr. Lucas finally responded to my many letters written to him over the past three years. The transcript below refers to the topic of violence in film and the media in general:

MLW: “Don't you think it is up to us as writers and critical thinkers, to stop this madness and offer an alternative to centuries of conflict-driven, war-centered, strife-oriented content?”

GL: “Yes, I do.”

MLW: “As storytellers, don't you think we must lead the way in turning our collective unconscious toward a hopeful, peaceful, and light-oriented future?

GL: “No, I don't. I think artists must create art that moves them. And not try to prove a point. Like your work, for instance. I've read many of your stories, and none of them appear to use any subtext or hidden agenda to convey any hidden meaning. You write from the heart about your life. So do I.”
(Amended From: Thank You, George Lucas, previously published on Feb. 1, 2023 Issue)

He's right! We both write from the heart. About love and belonging. That's how what I am calling “Life Force Storytelling” evolved, due to my quest for love, and my aversion to conflict as the sole tentpole for storytelling. But conflict has always been demanded by gatekeepers, either as editors, literary agents, or contest judges. Though my work frequently received high marks for character development, dialogue, theme, and other story elements, it was often rejected by gatekeepers, due to its overt lack of conflict.

Since I loathe conflict, and am probably the most non-confrontational person to have lived and breathed in this century, I began to focus on character-driven, emotionally developed and layered “slice-of-life” storytelling utilizing the three core tenets of “Life Force” storytelling:
1. Reincarnation
2. Life-Altering Love (as in meeting people you've known/loved in a past life)
3. The Interconnectedness of Everyone and Everything in the Universe

But is this enough? Or should we rely on new technology? I asked George Lucas if he believed humans would eventually be replaced by AI “writers.” He replied with the following insights:

“No, I don't think AI will replace human writers. But I do believe people will augment their writing with AI technology, the same way Cro-Magnon men drew on cave walls, and ancient Greeks performed plays using a chorus. I do think AI will liberate writers from relying on “conflict” to advance their plots because storytelling will become more succinct. It will evolve so that written and spoken language will no longer require conflict to maintain momentum. That will come from the ideas, themes, characters. This is what I believe is the Life Force of the Universe. Not conflict. You hit that nail head-on.”

I'm so grateful for these conversations with George. I'm also excited to discover what may lie ahead; and explore ways of reaching mass audiences, like Star Wars did in 1977 when it first burst onto the scene. Wait!… Is this merely a bi-polar fantasy? Why else would a 60-year-old lady with minimal publishing and screenwriting success hope to achieve something that audacious and preposterous? Short answer: People have pondered what happens after they die for eons. That is precisely what “Life Force Storytelling” has attempted to do. Tell stories that deal with things people care about. Not war, crime, violence, or obstacles meant to simply create more and more conflict. Instead, it focuses on finding love. Finding souls whom we've loved before in past lives. And it explores the journey into the hereafter once we've finally exited the here and now.

“Here and Now” was previously published in Sapphire Selections – Main Line Magazine, October 2023.

Bio: Melissa L. White is a screenwriter, novelist, short story writer, and essayist. Her screenplay about Georgia O'Keeffe won BEST SCREENPLAY DRAMA, and BEST
BIOPIC at the 4Theatre Film Festival in June 2023. It was selected as a Finalist for the Catalina Film Festival in Sept. 2023. Her LGBTQ+ Rom Com screenplay,
Modern Marriage, won 4th Prize in the Writer's Digest Annual Contest 2021. Her essay, Can AI Learn How it feels to Cry? won 2nd Prize in the Writer's Digest Annual Writing Contest 2023. Melissa lives in Encino, with her fiancé, Mark, an award-winning commercial photographer. She has bi-polar disorder.

Dawn of a Poem, poetry
by Mani G. Iyer

At an ungodly hour, my broken
circadian clock awakens me.

I surrender to an inky tranquility.

Strands of words enter
the sanctum with no periphery,
linger just enough
to be held.

I rise to the first light,
eager to berth the gift.

Fragile, unnamed, and engraved she's now
ready for my nurture.

Bio: Mani G. Iyer is deaf-blind due to Usher Syndrome. He was born and raised in Bombay, India. He holds a graduate degree in Computer Science and an MFA in Poetry. His recent publications include Right Hand Pointing, Naugatuck River Review, Muddy River Poetry Review, Lily Poetry Review, and Sonic Boom. His
debut chapbook,
I AM the Dancing*,, was published by Yavanika Press in the fall of 2019 and available on Amazon. He loves Braille and wishes he had learnt
it much earlier.

Another Tool for Your Creative Poetry Box, nonfiction
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

During National Poetry Month of 2023, I, like numerous other poets of Behind Our Eyes, achieved my goal of writing at least one poem on each day of April. Among the thirty-three poems in my portfolio of poems from National Poetry Month, 2023, is the following poem which I wrote on April 9. I do hope you enjoy reading the abecedarian as much as I liked writing it. Besides being an abecedarian, this 28-line poem (which includes two introductory lines) may also be considered a “list poem.” You may want to try writing an abecedarian or a list poem as these winter nights grow longer.

An abecedarian is a poem of at least 26 lines, with each line beginning with a subsequent letter of the alphabet-yes, even the challenging letters “X” and “Z.” The abecedarian need not contain any end-rhyme pattern.

For beginning poets, as well as more experienced poets, writing an abecedarian is an outstanding starter tool to have in your creative poetry box. For each of the 26 stem words (word which initiates each line), be sure to use a strong word-pedestal-type noun, vibrant verb, descriptive adjective, or penetrating adverb. In your “A” to “Z” effort, try to avoid articles, demonstrative adjectives (this, that, these, those), conjunctions, and prepositions. Select stem words that allow your abecedarian to flow. After you have carefully proofread your poem several times over a few days, you may wish to make the initial letter of each line stand out by using a somewhat larger font size, a different color, boldface type, and/or another formatting option.

Writing a creative abecedarian can be an enjoyable word game for the budding or published poet. Enjoy reading the example below.


Oh, the kindness of poems I love! abecedarian

Oh, the kindness of poems I love!
“What kind of poems?” you ask.

Abecedarians, from “A” to “Z,” as well as autumnal poems;
Butterfly cinquains and ballads;
Clever poems and poems of comfort;
Diamantes and other spatial poetry;
Epistolary poems and everlasting elegies;
Father's Day poems and poetry filled with figurative language;
Guide-dog, garden, and graduation poems;
Haikus, holiday and heartfelt poetry;
Indiana poems and inspiring poems;
Jingles that stick in my head and make me smile;
Kindness poems from a kindred spirit;
Lyrics that make me want to sing;
Mother's Day poems and miracle poems;
Nature poems and poems for National Poetry Month;
Object poems about our treasures, great and small;
Pi poems for the fourteenth day of March;
Question poems, “Queen-for-a-Day” poems, and double quatrain poems;
Rhymed and unrhymed poetry;
Sonnets, sestinas, springtime and summer poems-even silver-aged poems;
Tennessee-mountain poems;
Under-rated poems that should be published;
Velvet poems that evoke the sense of touch;
Willow poems and winter poems;
Xylophone poems from my happy, musical childhood;
Yesteryear poems about family history;
Zoo poems-poems about all animals who make our planet even more pleasant and poetic.

Bio: Celebrating thirty-three years of working with four amazing Leader Dogs, Alice Jane-Marie Massa distributed 150 posters, featuring photos of her Leader Dogs and poem “A Guide Dog's Prayer to Saint Francis of Assisi.” To view a photo of the poster, visit: On her author's page, you may also read more about Alice's book, The Christmas Carriage and Other Writings of the Holiday Season–a collection of memoirs, short stories, poems, and essays.

Each week, you will find more of Alice's writings on her blog, initiated in 2013-after her retirement from being a full-time college instructor of English:

Midwinter Muses for a Midwestern Poet, poetry
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

In the midst of a long Midwestern winter,
poetry comes.
Yes, poetry comes
on the delicate lace of a snowflake,
midst the feathery wings of a snow angel,
but also in the stinging bites of sleet
around the snowdrifting barnyard.

Poetry also comes
beneath the streetlights of salt-covered sidewalks,
on the rosy cheeks of a happy child,
and under the big hat of a forever smiling snowman.

Still, still in the midst of a long Midwestern winter,
poetry comes.
Ah, yes, poetry comes
alongside the clear chimes of the cathedral bells,
in the snap of Jack Frost's fingers,
upon the cutting sounds of gliding ice skates,
in the padded applause of mittened hands,
within the whirl of a wintry wind,
with the muffled laughter of sledders on a sloping terrain.

From the mesmerizing stillness of a below-zero night,
oh, at this midnight hour,
poetry has come
and has settled into my old wooden rocking chair,
is kept warm with this woolen afghan
beside which my Leader Dog Willow
softly sleeps.

“Midwinter Muses for a Midwestern Poet” was posted on Alice’s WORDWALK blog last winter; additionally, her audio version of the poem appeared in the December, 2022 issue of NEWSREEL magazine.

Part V. Perceptions and Resilience

Dislocation, poetry
by Vivian Delchamps

I had a bone to pick, I guess.
See, some swelling wasn't meant for thin skin;
some gangly albatross girls
are painted red in public.

I wasn't angry (so I thought) at
the Way your eyes bent my Way.
Near-strangers touched my flesh;
they gawked at dislocation.

When these hands unclench they'll feed pity to the fire.
I'll take revenge served in a cone:
I'll teach your kids to see you
seeing me seeing you stare at me.

Bio: Dr. Vivian Delchamps is an Assistant Professor of English at Dominican University of California. She received her Ph.D. in English at UCLA in 2022. Delchamps researches and teaches American literature, disability studies, and entanglements of gender and race. She is also a chronically ill and disabled dancer and poet. Her favorite symbol is the ampers&.

Invisible, poetry
by Thomas Smith

I remember walking around a street fair
I am tall and can look over most people
I see store windows racks of clothes
Tables of everything out front
I see the face painter the cotton candy
Plastic badges and magnets
The town's police are giving out
The basketball game

At the Tisbury Street Fair I see none of these
I hear a band but don't know who's playing
My electric wheelchair navigates through
Groups of people who walk unpredictably
To avoid the others
All looking forward to see gaps in the crowd
Small children look up
Bump into people who don't see them
Without consequence

I have a flag that is insufficient
To draw attention down where I am
I see a gap drive toward it
Only to be cut off from left then right
My family follows
Grimace at every move I make
People bump into me
They shake my chair then walk on
They never see me
I am invisible

Body Geography, poetry
by Roger Barbee

The geography of my body is broken,

causing me to stumble

as I navigate its terrain, finding that

the river has no delta

and the mountain no pass.

My body does not communicate

with itself;

confusing instead of guiding,

it requires me to walk

without moving my legs.

Bio: Roger Barbee is a retired educator living in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with his wife, one hound, and four cats. His words have appeared in the Washington Post, the Birmingham Arts Journal, Page & Spine, Memoir Magazine, Rain Taxi, Potato Soup Magazine, Ailment, New Southern Fugitive, and other print or on-line publications. His poetry chapbook, Applewood Street, was published in 2022 by Plan B Press. He is a regular contributor to The Sports Column and He is entering his 21st year as a T 5-6 paraplegic.

My Body is a Forest Fire, poetry
by Emily Jo Scalzo

On better days, lines are dug and held,
the pain contained to a few hot spots,
a few nerve endings sizzle and spark
the fumes a haze in my mind.

The best days rain pours,
douses the flames to embers,
sends the remnants into hiding—
pain is always lurking deep inside.

Fibromyalgia has no known cause—
so no treatment or relief exists.
Sufferers trade tips for supplements;
turmeric, vitamins C & D, magnesium, fish oil…
a cornucopia of pills to keep the flames at bay.

Most days, I muscle through,
smother it with medicine,
sit down while teaching
or lean over a table
when it feels like thumbs
dig into my muscles,
search for words
through haze and smoke
brain clouded,
thoughts suffocated.

The worst days are when it jumps the line,
whipped into a frenzy of fire tornadoes,
eats its way through muscle and nerve,
and I can only wait for the storm to pass,
chase the pain barrier with stacked remedies,
sift through the ashes of the day.

Bio: Emily Jo Scalzo's work has appeared in various magazines including Midwestern Gothic, Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, Blue Collar Review, New Verse News, Halfway Down the Stairs, and others. Their first chapbook, The Politics of Division (2017), was awarded honorable mention in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards in 2018. Their recent writing has focused on disability as a person living with mental illness and fibromyalgia.

Deformed But Not Useless, poetry
by dawn colclasure

I may have this deformity
That marks me as different.
As someone who is
“Not like everyone else.”
But that doesn't mean
That I am worthless
Or useless
Or unable to be a
“Productive member of society.”
My brain still works.
My heart still works.
The rest of me is the same
As you and you and you.
But all society sees
Is this deformity that
I must live with.
This “thing” they perceive to be
As unnatural and therefore
Something that means
This person is better left alone.

Bio: Dawn Colclasure is a Deaf burn survivor living in Oregon. Her poetry has appeared in: The Desert Woman; PANIC! Poetry & Arts; Happy Insomniac; EOTU E-Zine of Fiction, Art and Poetry; among others. She has authored many books of poetry, including the autobiographical collection, Touched by Fire. She was poetry editor for American Bard, a magazine of poetry and art as well as a literary magazine. In addition to poetry, she also writes nonfiction books, novels and story collections. She is also a freelance writer, ghostwriter and book reviewer. Her Web site is at and Her Twitter: @dawncolclasure

Relate-Ability, memoir
by Kaley Jemison

There are approximately 36 million blind individuals worldwide. When I'm out, I strain my ears for the tapping of a cane or double-take when I see the blur of a neon guide dog harness. Yet, we pass like ships in the night unable to connect.

It wasn't until I was about six that I met someone else blind like me. The county vision teachers had organized a picnic for blind students. Taking my hand, my mom led me over to a girl with curly, brown hair who I'll call Rachel. She was playing in the sand and I sat opposite her. Even then, I knew that not all blindness was exactly the same. Rachel had a prosthetic eye, which, she later told me, she had frequently thrown out the window as a toddler. In explaining my vision, I gave her the description that my parents had given me: “I have a bug in my eye, so I can't see out of my left eye and not far away in my right.” I had pictured a large, black beetle perched somewhere behind my pupil, obscuring my vision. When I was eleven, I learned the correct language: to say that I was blind with residual vision. As we went to different elementary schools, I only saw Rachel sporadically at pre-arranged gatherings. However, much to my surprise, we ended up at the same middle school.

I walked into the study hall room and Rachel greeted me, as was custom, in an affected, British accent, “Hello, Optic Glioma!”

“And, good day to you Retinol Blastoma,” I replied in kind.

After working quietly for an hour, Rachel and I both declared that we had to use the bathroom and left the classroom. We took the long way, whispering so that our voices wouldn't echo off the tile floors.

“A kid took my magnifying glass off my desk in math.”

“Rude, a guy asked me if I would pull out my eye! He wanted to see my eye socket.” I shook my head at the stupidity of sighted, adolescent males as we stepped into the bathroom.

“You've got ink on your nose again.”

I wet a paper towel and rubbed the tip of my nose self-consciously. To see what I was writing, I would have to bend so low that my nose brushed the paper. On many occasions, I had been asked why I was smelling the paper and frequently ended up with blue ink on the tip of my nose.

“Is it gone?” I asked Rachel and she shook her head.

“Why don't you just use the mirror?” Asked another girl who had entered behind me.

“I just wanted to be sure,” I replied haltingly. In truth, I didn't have the distance vision to see the details of my own reflection. Rachel and I were quiet on the walk back to the classroom; the girl's judgy tone still echoing in my mind. At that age, Rachel and I would always lie, trying to come up with a normal rationale for why we acted seemingly abnormal. Suddenly, I felt small as the aqua walls and tile floors of the middle school converged around me. I realized, then, that out of all the students behind those classroom doors taking notes and staring at the board that Rachel was the only person in this entire school like me.

Rachel and I drifted apart in high school. She clung to a pretense of normalcy, which led her to spend her lunches with a group of girls with perfectly straightened hair and matching designer bags. I had doubled-down on academics, but still felt the loneliness in her wake. Afterall, she had been the only one who could relate to me. While we had been grouped together due to our blindness, we were still very different from one another.

Up until my junior year of college, I could count the number of other blind people that I knew on one hand: Rachel, my neighbor down the street, and Lacey, who lived in my dorm. There were no campus clubs for the blind. At twenty, I wanted to finally find my community and friends, so I turned to social media and, a couple months later, found myself standing outside in Fort Lauderdale for the state convention for the blind.

I entered the hotel lobby and felt as though I was in a medieval street market. People called to locate one another and the town crier shouted the locations for water bottles, raffle tickets, and registration. Tentatively, I approached the desk, where I was given a program that had both large print and braille. Paul, the president of the student division, led me into a back room that was scattered with tables and attendees talking excitedly to each other. He introduced me to the other scholarship winners whom I'll call Chris and Caitlyn. Chris was a high school senior, tall with his white cane held out far in front of him like an extra appendage.

“Hi Katie, I'm Chris,” he said, reaching out and mistakenly shaking my breast. Clearly not discerning a lack of bones, he did not apologize but proceeded to ask me my age and university. Over the next three days of the conference, he would continue to get my name wrong beginning with Katie and Kathy and inexplicably reaching Mary. Caitlyn, the other scholarship recipient, kept her head down, spoke in a barely discernible whisper, and replied with one-word answers.

I prided myself on my ability to pass as sighted. I eschewed using a cane, consciously attempted to make eye contact, and would hold out my hand first for a handshake. I did all this to cover up the fumbling that would give it all away. Now, I recognize the differences in how one becomes and adapts to being blind, but then, I was self-conscious and distanced myself from their awkwardness.

At 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, I followed the “town crier's” prompting, “General session this way” and entered the auditorium-style room. Hearing Chris's voice, I found my way to where the student division was sitting. Stepping around Chris whose legs and cane took up three seats, I found the other students. I had heard all of them on a couple conference calls but hadn't officially met them. To my surprise, they were all older, around their mid-twenties. I had been picturing them as college-aged. Jorge had been out of school for a while and now worked at a university disability center. He sat next to Rafael who worked for Apple and kept flicking his fingers across his iPhone to listen to texts. Next to them sat Paul and Miranda the president and vice president who, to my surprise, were engaged. They asked me general questions about my university and visual acuity before returning to some convention gossip that I was not privy to. Not sure what to say, I turned to face the podium.

General session commenced and quickly became reminiscent of a southern Baptist service. A pastor led us in prayer followed by the mayor who gave an enthusiastic speech. He was met with cheers and shouts of “hallelujah!” The next two hours were of leaders of various chapters, all with acronyms delivering announcements. A woman from the National Association of Guide Dog Users spoke against the discrimination of guide dog handlers by Uber and Lyft. She was followed by an older woman from another string of letters who decried the youth's lack of braille literacy, “If you are blind and do not know braille, then you are illiterate.” She was met by a chorus of “amen”. My face grew warm; I didn't know braille; I had enough vision to read large print.

“Do you guys read Braille?” I whispered to the other FABS members. Most of them replied, “No”

“A lot of the blind don't and just use screen readers and audio,” Paul explained. I was relieved. I too usually used a combination of large print, magnification devices, and audio versions of my textbooks. Braille was cumbersome, making pages extremely thick.

The next day's opening session started early again. I returned to the student row, clutching a large cup of coffee. “Hi, Kathy”, Chris said and I didn't bother to correct him. One of the organization's lawyers took the stage. In a grave voice, he described the custody cases that they had handled, where the courts questioned a blind mother's ability to raise a child. He went on to discuss cases of university discrimination where professors had refused to give blind students extra time on exams or accessible material. Most of these students had been forced to transfer schools, accept a failing grade, or even switch majors to avoid unaccommodating professors.

I had endured many accessibility issues of my own and they had always been resolved. I hadn't realized that the blind community still faced so much legal inequality and prejudice. I left the convention with a new sense of purpose. Yet, I had not found another blind student with whom I could closely identify.

I returned to the next year's convention in Tampa. The first night, I joined the student division at a leadership workshop hosted by Paul where we were tasked with creating the largest gumdrop tower. Across the table, Rafael called, “Hey Kaley, this is Hindley, she is our representative from the national student division. Hindley was small and blond as was her guide dog, Delight, who lay quietly under the table. Hindley had a high, warm laugh that made it easy to locate her. Later, I joined her at the booth where we were selling raffle tickets. “Sorry, I'm late,” I said as I pulled out the chair and looked over to see Hindley.

“No problem,” she replied and began showing me how she arranged the money that we had collected, “I tore the corner off of this envelope so that I know its donations.” I didn't realize that she was handing it to me until she said, “here” about twice.

“What's your visual acuity?” I asked, noting that she had folded each bill in a different way.

“Oh, I'm total. It makes it so much easier to explain. I used to have vision like yours but it degenerated when I was about sixteen.” Rafael had walked over just then as I was explaining my vision and he interjected, “I thought Kaley was normal when I first met her.”

“She's not,” Hindley quickly refuted. “She had trouble taking the money from my hand. She sees how I used to.” Evidently, Hindley had seen right through my performance of normalcy. A middle-aged man in jeans and a yellow polo shirt approached our table and we all sat up straighter adjusting the pile of tickets. Examining the Apple watch box, he asked, “How much for a raffle ticket?”

“It is one for five and two for eight.” Hindley replied.

“So much,” the man protested.

“You buy one every year,” Rafael said exasperatedly. “Why don't you just go ahead now?”

“But what if I feel that my money is better served helping the parents' division,” he retorted, gesturing at the empty table next to us.

Rummaging through my purse for my phone, I felt the banana that I had saved for breakfast. “With the purchase of a raffle ticket, you will receive a complementary banana,” I said, trying to keep a straight face but feeling my lips twitch into a smile. On either side of me, Hindley and Rafael broke into loud laughter.

“What is the state of the banana?” he replied.

“No returns or substitutions,” I replied. After a bit more haggling, the gentleman purchased a raffle ticket and left with only a slightly bruised banana.

Hindley and I sat on the floor to pet Delight and she told me that she was in her senior year of university.

“I'm going to take a gap year and then start law school,” she added. When I told her that I was also graduating in May and was working on my senior thesis about blindness in literature, Hindley replied eagerly, “I love Jane Eyre.” It felt like I had known Hindley for much longer than a day as we continued to sit there on the hotel floor discussing books and petting Delight.

For the last night of the convention, the state affiliate hosted a banquet. I was seated at the student table with Hindley, Rafael, other students, and an elderly woman from the deaf-blind division who sat diagonally from me. Turning to Hindley, I asked, “How do you pick out such cute clothes? I love your dress!” Hindley didn't seem to find January in Florida at all cold and was wearing a silver, spaghetti strap dress.

“I ask whoever is shopping with me a lot of questions about the color and cut of clothing. I remember color from when I could see and I remember what looks good on me.” Waiters were coming around to pour water and on the stage a man in a deep baritone was recounting his fame as a talking book narrator.

“Someone tried to take the Apple watch,” Rafael whispered to Hindley and me. “At a blind convention,” he emphasized. This was actually amusing. Outsiders usually thought that the blind were extremely virtuous and wouldn't believe them capable of theft. In the background, the baritone voice was still rambling on and we were already bored, and so we pulled out our phones.

“They're being so disrespectful with their phones out.” The older lady across from me said in a loud, nasal voice. The rest of the table collectively ignored her. Turning to the baby that someone was holding next to her she boomed, “He is so cute! I just want to take him upstairs for a sleepover!” Hindley and I burst into shocked laughter. Under the table, I felt Delight lift her head too. The waiters began serving dinner and our table returned to its previous respectable demeanor. Hindley and I began discussing our upcoming trip to Washington D.C. In two weeks, we would try to get Congressional support to pass legislation for the blind.

The dining room quieted as the organization's president took the stage and began his speech.

“Our organization continues to fight for equality…” The elderly woman's nasal voice cut across the audience's respectful silence: “All I want is a male stripper in my room tonight!”

“Uh, don't we all,” the president said into the microphone, barely a beat later before continuing his speech. Hindley and I clutched each other, our bodies shaking with silent laughter as we almost joined Delight on the floor. Later; someone told me that the lady had forgotten to take her medicine. Perhaps that is true or perhaps she had just decided to stop her act of normalcy. In that hotel ballroom, I was surrounded by members of my community, but I had also found those who could see me beyond my disability.

Bio: A third-generation Floridian, Kaley Jemison received her B.A. from Florida Atlantic University's Wilkes Honors College and a Master's in English literature from Florida State University. She now works as a high school English teacher. Besides reading and writing, Kaley enjoys traveling and hiking with her guide dog, Anakin.

Accounting, poetry
by Sandra Streeter

Rhythm inside rhythm:
Fitting parallel, when social norms
Are not what I expect or know,
From other contexts.

I have a Q and a Z-many points, but
Few squares left for them
On a full board.
I only partly understand my score-keeper:
I learn I must reclaim my “indoor voice”.

Not all the “why” and “when” make sense to me,
Too soon to shed
Frustrated tears that might-
Just might-unlock the cuffs.

Too soon to reveal, 'mid scolding,
That no reprimand is needed-where I
Shoulder the crushing weight of shame, and
My wrongs become earworm-
Though the explanations help,
Without wounding.

Not asking for escape
From Spectrumite mind:
(Much acknowledgement has brought much freedom,
After all):
But, when ASD brings pain to me and them…
Love alone can train and stabilize:

Love without truth can't awaken me…
Truth without love, resurrectless, kills:
I pursue the agonizing
Quest for integrity…

Plod along,
With my usual functional, adaptive,
Deliberate, focused tenacity–
Tiger-like persistence:
Petition the Lord
For necessary grace,
And wholeness.

Confessions of a Ghost, nonfiction
by Charlotte Amelia Poe

I'm back in my agoraphobia era. Which is frustrating to tell you, believe me, because I lost most of my twenties to this. And yet? The idea of leaving the house isn't –

It isn't scary, it just isn't possible. It's like asking me to fly or turn into a bug or something. I don't know how to do it, I can't make myself do it, and no amount of believing in myself will change that.

According to the NHS, “Agoraphobia is a fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult or that help wouldn't be available if things go wrong.”

When I was a teenager, I went through the worst four years of my life, trapped in a situation I couldn't leave, aided and abetted by everyone around me, all of whom couldn't understand why I was putting up such a fuss. There are people I blame and people I don't blame, and sometimes that gets mixed up in my head, but the end result was that going outside got really, really hard for a really, really long time. Because help hadn't been available when things went wrong, and escape had been difficult.

I wonder what you picture when you imagine someone who is agoraphobic. It's a difficult thing to imagine, isn't it? Because of course, you rarely see these people. You don't exactly bump into them in the streets. They could be anybody, the spaces on the pavements where they should be.

I'm a writer, it's what I do, I write about disability and gender, and sometimes werewolves, and you know what? I'm not terrible at it. It's a skill, like any other, and I've been chipping away at it over the years, figuring out how words work and what's going to hit and what isn't. It's a constant work in progress, but it's nice to look back five years and to see how far I've come.

The thing about writing, though, is that it's, by its very nature, very solitary. Not really a group opportunity, and unless you're in a city, not much chance to meet other writers. Which actually suits me just fine, most of the time, but +, I feel the ache of it sometimes. Now, especially.

See, I don't actually know how you break the pattern once you're in the midst of agoraphobia. I suppose you just—go outside. But I don't think I'm there quite yet. I want to be, god I do. I missed my little brother's wedding. I'm not proud of that.

I'm afraid of causing a scene. What if I pass out, or get sick, or have a panic attack? What if my brain screams at me that I'm going to die? What if I can't go home?

What if I can't go home?

I think having experienced what it's like to not be able to go home, it sets a precedent. It's not an irrational fear, because it actually happened. And it could happen again.

It did, and that's why I am where I am now.

I did get myself home, that was all me, but it's cold comfort. I shouldn't have had to, and I don't know if I trust myself enough to do it again. It's awful, the things anxiety whispers to you, isn't it?

I want to be brave! But being brave is exhausting, and I've been brave so many times and it doesn't get easier. I thought it was supposed to. But it never does. And I'm tired of being scared and of not being able to breathe properly and my vision scudding, and my legs feeling like they're about to fold beneath me.

I will leave this box, these four walls, again. Like, I know that I won't be inside forever. But there really is no timeline for this. And that, well, quite frankly, that sucks.

If agoraphobia is a monster, then it is one that digs its teeth into your ankles and pulls you back into the house when you run for the front door. It pins you with its claws and wrestles your shoes off. It doesn't hurt you, but it doesn't like you very much, either.

This is impossible to explain. Like any other ghost, I have to rely on static signals to talk to you. I can't make myself clear. But know that I'm at the window, staring out, hoping that I can rejoin the living soon.


To read about agoraphobia , go to:,travelling%20on%20public%20transport.

Bio: Charlotte Amelia Poe (they/them) is an autistic nonbinary author from England. Their first book, How To Be Autistic, was published in 2019. Their debut novel, The Language Of Dead Flowers, was published in September 2022. Their second novel, Ghost Towns, was self published in 2023. Their second memoir, (currently untitled), will be published in 2024. Their poetry has been published internationally.

How Oscar Changed My Life, memoir
by Kurt G. Schmidt

I needed a hero to save my life, and that's when a small wisp of a woman took over. The first time I met this smiling little woman with the long skirt and white doctor's coat, she'd immediately cupped her hands around one of mine. In what sounded like a Slavic accent, she said, “I know you don't want to do this again, but I would like to see the enemy. I promise I'll be gentle. Then we can form a plan to defeat the enemy.”

I feel the weight in Doctor B's examination room of having to make the final decision about my upcoming colorectal surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. Now on my second visit she presents two surgery options: reversal surgery (two surgeries that leave the anus intact but often produce an unpredictable
colon in older patients) or a colostomy, which produces a permanent hole (stoma) at the waist with a pouch attached and usually entails sewing up the anus.

I tell her I've already researched both options and have pretty much decided that I don't like the idea that an unpredictable colon would force me to be forever anxious about diet and the nearest toilet. I think living with a colostomy pouch will eliminate that anxiety. She says she thinks I've made the best decision and that we should schedule surgery, which she'll perform with laparoscopes and robotic arms. She holds my hands in hers. “Try not to worry. We're going to defeat the enemy.”

After guiding my wife Shelley and me to her assistant to set up a surgery date, Doctor B holds my hand again and smiles. “You're so cute.” Then she hustles away to other patients. I don't believe “cute” really describes a small, anxious man, but her remark makes me feel as though she sees more in me than a damaged patient and that her empathy is genuine and loving.

Following surgery, I name my stoma after Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street, because my Oscar becomes grumpy whenever I hunger for food that he finds offensive. However, his vocabulary is limited to sounds that are similar to air escaping from a balloon.

With a stoma, gas usually leaks silently into the colostomy pouch. But because stomas have no nerve endings to warn of some larger action, fart-type noises can blast forth without warning. When he speaks, Shelley often asks if Oscar has a problem. I say, “It was probably the cream sauce.”

I try to console myself with the knowledge that famous people have had stomas. At the hospital the stoma nurse had pointed out photographs on the wall outside the examining rooms: President Eisenhower, actress Loretta Young, football player Jerry Kramer. I remembered meeting Eisenhower as a teenager on the White House lawn as part of my Boys Nation group. There had been some doubt that he would meet us that day because he was recuperating from surgery. Little did I know when he shook my hand and spoke to me that he was concealing a medical anomaly we would have in common sixty years later.

I also read about Napoleon Bonaparte, who is often pictured with his right hand in his shirt, a method some said he developed to conceal his goat bladder ostomy pouch. But famous company doesn't mean I can shed the feeling my body is broken. I'm hiding my ostomy pouch under long jerseys and sweatshirts. Whenever the bottom tip of my pouch becomes visible, my wife says, “Pull your shirt down.”
“Just say it's my money belt.”

Some weeks after beginning chemotherapy, I begin to feel stronger, like I could almost do a cartwheel. I'm walking a mile with Shelley each day and performing light yard work. Despite my improvement, I can't shake the feeling of being broken. The numb toes and fingers from the chemotherapy, a nagging open sore on one toe, a bulging hernia that will need surgery, and daily visits with Oscar are constant reminders that my body, and perhaps my mind, will never be whole again. But in a moving book, Just Mercy, A Story of Justice and Redemption, Bryan Stevenson writes, “I guess I’d always known but never fully considered that being broken is what makes us human… In fact, there is strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need and desire for mercy. When you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise. You see things you can’t otherwise see; you hear things you can’t otherwise hear. You begin to recognize the humanity that resides in all of us.”

I've already begun that process, observing others in the chemotherapy room who are struggling. I ask my empathetic nurses about their lives and families. Some have cancer stories that move me. A hospital chaplain stops by my seat and starts talking with my wife and me. Learning I'm a writer, he says he read a compelling book that shares many perspectives on how writing heals. Not only the act of writing, but the memories. Not as in remembering someone's name, but in recalling events. It's called Narrative Medicine.”

I join the online Inspire network, where cancer survivors express their fears, questions, and stories. I find comfort and useful information in the discussions of these survivors as they speak to solving day-to-day problems associated with recovery. Some even provide humor. One woman announces her 34th anniversary with a stoma named “Sam.” Another writes that she has spent 38 years with “Helen.” One contributor describes a cookout in which his “Chief” is known to most participants except a new guy who declares in some random discussion involving beer that everyone has an asshole. The man with the Chief says he does not have one. The new guy expresses disbelief, as in, “What you been smoking?” An offer of a hundred dollars is extended to new guy if he will put his hand down Chief's pants and find anything to stick his finger in. After much laughter from the cookout crowd, new guy stutters “ttthat's nnnasty,” jumps in his pickup truck, and drives off. Crude humor? Definitely. But I suppose every cancer survivor needs a coping mechanism.

I didn't laugh much about Oscar and how he entered my life. But I found solace in writing about the journey and my mother's death, which occurred two months before my surgery. Later I learned she had passed a cancer gene called Lynch Syndrome to my sisters and me. How did her three children contract cancer while she never did? Her sister had survived breast cancer and a double mastectomy at fifty. I didn't think Mom knew she had the cancer gene. Even when her health was declining, I'd felt obligated to tell her that I was being treated for colon cancer. She had said, “You'll be fine,” which had been her reaction to all the trials of life. She'd been a fashionably dressed woman who wore stilettos and never worried about cancer.

Since I'd always endured past trauma, I thought perhaps I'd be fine this time too. Whatever feelings I had about being broken, I wanted more time with those I loved.

Although I've lived in other places when I was younger, Shelley and I have now lived in my childhood house for thirty-five years, made some renovations, and raised a child here. Often as I pass through a room, especially one in which we've hung one of Mom's watercolor paintings, I feel her presence. Whenever this happens, I feel optimistic that I may find new joy in life.

Shelley continues to be my coping mechanism, having been with me through all of it. She is a stellar example of love when a husband is at his worst. She emailed my progress to friends and told of those who were praying for me. Her friend Joan sent me a napping blanket similar to the one she used years ago during her recovery from breast cancer surgery. I often thought how lucky I was to receive mercy from so many.

Many friends have written notes of love and encouragement. I wrote them my thanks and felt a renewed connection with humanity…less broken. Knowing my interest in birds, Shelley's mom sent cards with bluebirds and cardinals, noting her love for me and those of her friends who had me in their prayers. My son told his friends that his dad was beating cancer. Shelley’s love and that of many others seemed to be what pulled me toward physical recovery and a less anxious mind.

Now, six years later, Oscar reminds me that an annoying thing like a pouch can symbolize the continuation of a life that I'm not yet ready to relinquish. I want more time.

Bio: Kurt Schmidt's essays have appeared in The Boston Globe Magazine, Bacopa Literary Review, Discretionary Love, Grown and Flown, Your Teen Magazine, Parent Co, The Good Men Project, The Bacopa Literary Review, Barzakh Magazine, Discretionary Love, Eclectica Magazine, The Adelaide Literary Award Anthology,
and others. He is also the author of the novel Annapolis Misfit (Crown). He lives with his wife in New Hampshire and last year overcame anxiety to fly in a small plane piloted by his son from Nashua to Portland, Maine, although he was nervous that his son was newly licensed and inexperienced.

He Lies Down, poetry

Flash has lied down.
Signaled to me his job is finished.
Yes, my friend, know it's not long now.

I remember saying that exact phrase to another black lab,
Spencer, my fifth guide.
Tired and needing to leave his comfortable bed for heaven's cushion
he too lied down.
I remember telling him that it was okay.
Urged him to sniff everything he loved,
from humans to food bowl to outside favorite pieces of earth.
Then quietly take advantage of the open gate.

Flash, lying prone on the floor, are you showing me the gate?
Today's doctor's visits offered serious words,
somehow absorbed by you.
Isn't that right, Flash?
You heard the torrent of upsetting diagnoses given to me.
As you lay on the floor, the doctor carefully moved over and around you,
as she examined me, witnessing our special bond at this moment of crisis.

Your reluctance to relinquish your position as close to me as you could be
messaged to this new medical professional
not to interfere with this sacred connection.
I didn't feel alarmed. I was not scared, my lovely partner.
I felt you, lying on the exam room floor, keeping me calm.
Allowed my body and spirit to feel your strength.
That small scenario spoke volumes, Flash.

I brought that message home with us.
When I called you to come and take me for a walk,
you didn't push your lovely head against my leg to comply.
I clearly saw your picture-perfect image lying down, instead,
with a gate a little farther away but yet visible.
This vision has never appeared on my internal canvas before.
My time to lie down too may be close.
When you don't come to accept your harness,
I'll understand your job is over.
This is one gate you can't guide me through, my friend.

Bio: A native Long Islander, Ria Meade crafts poems about her adult life as a blind woman. Painting since childhood, her passion culminated with a degree in fine arts. Twenty-five years after losing her sight, she began to paint again with words. She survives this vulnerable existence independently with her beloved 8th guide dog and many newly discovered senses.

Where Is The Light? poetry
by Elizabeth Fiorite

I want to be safe,
to have peace cover me like a soft gown in winter,
like a mother with warm breath holding me close.
I seek solace in the dark caverns of my thoughts and dreams.

I want the chaste music of angel choirs to fill my soul.
I search for a hiding place from fear and hopelessness.
The long shadow- fingers in the forest sway and beckon to me.
Where is the light?

I thirst.
I hear the river sing my name.
I kneel to drink,
but the water turns to dust in my mouth.
I have lost my way,
and wander into the purple bramble of self-doubt.

Where is the light?
I seek its strength to pierce the darkness of my soul,
its blinding, burning heat to purify and mold me,
its transforming power to make me whole

Do I perceive a pin point of light,
That seeps through cracks and shatters shields of ignorance and shame?
Will it find its way into my mind and heart?
It flickers and I flounder, Yet, briefly, I perceive the light!

Has my light been here all along, where it has been smoldering within me,
waiting to be set ablaze?

Bio: Elizabeth Fiorite has been a Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa, Wisconsin, for over sixty years. Her first career was devoted to Catholic elementary education. After vision loss due to retinitis pigmentosa, her second career began as a social services counselor for the adult blind in Jacksonville, Florida. Since retiring in 2013, she has enjoyed participating in church projects, Justice and Peace activities, facilitating peer support groups, and “Women of Vision.”. Her art work has been displayed in the Cummer Museum, and her articles have appeared in Behind Our Eyes, Behind Our Eyes: A Second Look, The Braille Forum, and in the National Catholic Reporter.

For Lack of a Better Listener, nonfiction
by Dawn Colclasure

One thing that matters when it comes to working with people is the ability to be able to listen to what they have to say. As someone who is deaf and able
to speak, however, I ran into a few roadblocks with this, especially when I was working as a Direct Support Professional (DSP).

No matter the workplace environment, being able to communicate effectively with others seems to improve morale. It makes the shift easier to get through,
allows for things to go smoothly and without interruptions, and it helps create a bond not only among employees but staff and clients.

This is especially true if the clients are seniors. Many seniors I have crossed paths with enjoy being able to communicate with others.

Thanks to accommodations the agency I worked for made on my behalf, we found a way for me to do my job and communicate effectively with individuals I supported.

With one residence I worked at, supporting two nonverbal individuals who used sign language, my manager installed sound-sensory monitors for me to wear
so that I could know anytime one of them was yelling for assistance.

At another residence, a coworker was able to communicate with me quite well thanks to a speech-to-text app that was used on an iPad. Unfortunately, this
did not work with the individuals I was assigned to support there, so I was left to my own devices.

Fortunately, however, one of the nonverbal individuals who I was to support used home signs, so he used these alternative forms of sign language to communicate. Sadly, however, he tended to be violent with me, so most of the time, other staff worked with him.

Another individual who was not nonverbal liked to talk – a lot. And this was especially true when he went on outings with staff. I am not able to read
lips and drive at the same time, so he understood that if he wanted to say something to me, he had to wait until we were either stopped at a red light
or at our destination. Usually, I was able to tell what he said, mostly from his own communication habits of repeating stories. He liked to talk about
how he volunteered at Goodwill or he would ruminate over whether or not to make a purchase at a grocery store. I also managed to communicate with him quite
well when we watched sports on TV together, something he enjoyed. I would ask him what team he rooted for and, normally, he would say the uniform
colors to distinguish which one.

Even so, I started to detect that he had some frustration over the inability for us to have long conversations together. We often went for long drives,
and when he tried to communicate with me at safe times to do so, and I was unable to understand him, I could tell he was frustrated. He often resorted
to writing things down for me but, most of the time, he used his voice to communicate. Oftentimes, he would just walk past me to talk with staff who could

Thankfully, the agency I worked for tried to pair me with nonverbal individuals, but often there were hearing staff and individuals around who experienced
difficulty being able to communicate with me like they did with other hearing people. One hearing and verbal individual, in particular, was NOT happy about
the difficulty she had in communicating with me, and used it as one of the many reasons to dislike me and act out against me. I once turned to see her
standing behind me and, with a look of anger on her face, she turned away and walked off. I could only wonder what she had been saying behind my back that
I couldn't hear.

These days, I am no longer able to work as a DSP. I enjoyed the work and it was extremely fulfilling, but due to health problems, it's no longer feasible.
How ironic that my own health, and not my disability, prevents me from working a job I loved!

I have accepted this development, though it is hard to do so. I often watch commercials advertising jobs in supporting individuals with disabilities, as
well as seniors, and while it brings happy memories, I also feel sad that I can't do that kind of work anymore.

Then I remember how being able to communicate effectively with these individuals plays such a key role in building bonds and promoting a positive environment.
I did what I could as someone who is deaf, but I was only able to take my efforts to communicate with the individuals so far.

The bottom line is that these people receiving support from caregivers want someone they can talk to without problems in talking to them. In the event
there are nonverbal individuals or individuals who are also deaf and use sign language, I can absolutely support them. The sad truth is, though, that there
are not many of them in my area, which means my options are few and far between.

After I lost my job as a DSP, I wondered if I could ever again work as a caregiver. I loved the work—it was extremely rewarding—but the barriers Communicating with hearing people made me feel as though I was not an ideal candidate for such a position.

Later on, however, something happened that changed my mind.

I had the opportunity to support a senior who was recovering from surgery. She is hearing, speaks well, and does not know sign language. When I was hired
for the position, I shared how I work around my deafness to communicate with others who do not know sign language: Lipreading, handwriting, a voice-to-text
app, and stomping on the floor or flashing a light to get my attention. Thankfully, I had no trouble reading her lips. Anytime she needed me at night,
she flashed her flashlight in my direction. Fortunately, my health problems didn't flare up anytime I was on shift with her, but this job was less demanding
than my work as a DSP.

That experience gives me hope that, in some small way, I can continue to do that kind of work with a hearing person, should the opportunity arise. It also
gives me hope that perhaps my deafness is not such a huge barrier for that kind of work after all.

Learning To Read Again, poetry
by Mani G. Iyer

Across the night sky
of my Braille primer,
my index finger glides over
the mosaic of stars,
a constellation at a time.

I can tell with ease
the solitary A,
the devoted duos of B and C,
the impish grin of G,
the J just being itself,
the L looming large,
the open-mouthed O,
the lofty perch of P,
the Q with its quirk of the tail
on the wrong side,
the stiff bow of S,
the twisty T,
and the hippo’s yawn of Z
while the others demand a scrub.

Oftentimes, I stray off course
to land on a blurry past
or a bizarre future
only to flounder my way
back to the lucid now-
a word revealed on a clearing
or a sentence traveled when I rest
on a period’s bench.

A/Trophy, poetry
by Margaret D. Stetz

My prize hand
was gotten in a contest
between a surgeon and my ulnar nerve
that neither won
that left it shrunken stiff
a withered weed
that will not blossom
a reed that quivers when there's wind
and when there isn't
a twig that thinks
it is a burning bush
(please notice its imagination)
a fiercely twisting rope
that binds the tendons
to my thoughts
and keeps me ground-
and when earth is someday layered over
that will offer
no impediment—
it will rocket to the surface
with its unextinguished sparks
its spindly tapers lit
and burst into
a poem
of eternal flame

Bio: Margaret D. Stetz is the Mae & Robert Carter Professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Delaware, USA, as well as a widely published poet. She experienced a life-changing injury in July 2021 and now lives with chronic pain, neuropathy, and impaired functioning of her left hand and arm.

Part VI. Seasonal Delights

Ode to Orange, poetry
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

Wear it in Austin to a Longhorns game,
Ride in Boston on its namesake train,
Find it in Belfast and in jail.

Carve old Jack upon its face,
Decorate weddings amongst the lace,
Pretty color for a tomcat’s tail.

In a glass or on buttered toast,
They say bunnies love it most,
Makes a rat believe he’s bold.

Water safety, caution lights,
Be sure to wear it walking at night,
Rangers’ enemy, Florida’s gold.

India and Niger use it in their flags,
Roadwork cones, “Trick or Treat” bags,
Crosswalk banners in the snow.

Catch it in a warm sunset,
How much better could it get?
Thank red and yellow for its glow.

Wind, poetry
by C. S. Boyd

Whipping across land, through trees, up mountain sides and creating power with windmills
In constant motion except when you really want some
North and south to the poles
Distributing heat and energy around the globe

Bio: As a person with Retinitis Pigmentosa, Cleora Boyd first pursued a career in Accounting. After receiving a B.S. degree in Math from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, she went on to obtain employment with a major pharmaceutical corporation in Fort Worth, Texas, where she still lives. Now retired, she joined a writing group, enjoys reading, taking adult education courses, watching TV with her cockatiel Dusty, and writing about whatever
may be on her mind. Her creations have found a home in Magnets & Ladders
and Consumer vision. Cleora also writes under the names Sly Duck and C.
S. Boyd.

Seasonalscapes Adapted Senryu, 5, 7, 5, poetry
by Kate Chamberlin

Maple and Beech leaves
peek autumnal foliage
aflame by sunlight.

Pods like angel wings,
fluffy seeds blow everywhere.
Milkweed pods have burst.

Little bird in nest,
Queen Anne's Lace smells like carrot.
Fall in the meadow.

The branches are bare
The wind scatters our raked leaves
We rake them again.

Geese are migrating
Frost has covered the pumpkins
Children trick or treat.

Ashes on the breeze
From burning piles of leaves
precursors of snow.

Teachers meet students
Back-packs, Chrome books, and cell phones
Charter school begins.

Thanksgiving day treats
Indian corn molasses
Roast turkey and yams.

Frozen rain on roads
Cars and trucks slide here and there
Safety first, stay home.

Ice coats each tree limb
Ice bombs crash with each chill breeze
Beware! Brave walkers.

Snow drifts in big stacks
People bundle in layers
Snowman dons a scarf.

Snowshoe prints infields
Exercise with rosy cheeks
Join the winter fun.

Left, right, left right, sush
Cross-country skis leave runners
Winter family fun.

Beneath the feeder
Little birds scatter the seed
Ground feeders abound.

Babbling brook seethes
Under a thin sheet of ice
Harbors Spring is near.

Bio: Kathryn G. (Kate) Chamberlin, B.S., M.A., and her husband have lived and raised three children plus two grandchildren atop the drumlin in Walworth, NY, since 1972.

With the assistance of computer screen reader software, this former Elementary teacher, developed a Study Buddy Tutoring Service, presented her Feely Cans and Sniffy Jars Workshop, became the published author of three children's books, edited a literary anthology featuring 65 writers with disabilities, andis a free-lance writer.

As empty nesters, Kate and her husband enjoy having lunch out, country walks, and mall cruising or walking on their side-by-side treadmills during inclement weather.

A Wintry Tale, Memoir
by Lynda McKinney Lambert

Dusky light seemed to flow into the house like an old friend reaching out to greet the three of us. Our daily morning ritual is a leisurely walk along the wooded ridge overlooking the creek. Our dogs, Miss Mitchell, and Rocco were anxious to explore our familiar rural path this morning, regardless of the seasonal challenges.

Rocco, our furry little Pom-Sheltie dog, is the first one that people usually respond to when they see us. “Oh, I love the little fluffy dog, he looks just like a teddy bear!” I like to call him, “Fuzzy Bunny.”

Rocco bounced out the door this morning into the brisk day. His long silky tail waved in the bitter wintry breeze; it curled up over his back like a waterfall. He did not need a leash because he understood his boundaries and he usually stayed with me for our morning walk.

Miss Mitchell is quite a contrast to Rocco, as she walks beside him. She is a lean, long-legged terrier. Her short white coat looks even whiter next to Rocco's deep black and tan body. When people ask about her, I usually say, “She is a TERROR.” Miss Mitchell must wear her red leather harness and stay on the leash because she just never understood that we have boundaries. On those rare occasions when she slipped out the door and ran off, she dashed around the neighborhood like a Banshee flying through the night sky on Halloween Eve. She ran a race with the wind, back and forth, across the two roads near our house. She made wide circles around every house on the road. I saw only fleeting flashes – quick explosions of a white dog darting about in ever widening circles. She moved so fast her brown spots were invisible. Once that happened, all I could do was wait for her to finally come back home. In fact, once she realized she was free to run, she never recognized her name. Obviously, she had no clue that she was in danger.

Mitchell and Rocco became quite excited by the frolicking fun in the snow. They sniffed the air and looked around for fresh deer tracks. Mitchell held a pose that told me she was looking for something in the woods. She stood perfectly still, one front paw lifted and curled in a frozen position. It must be something big, I thought. Her slender face and dark red-brown eyes pointed towards the frozen, ice-covered trees. This stance always made me a little nervous because I did not want to encounter a bear in any season. I certainly did not want to see a deer in the late fall because the males could be dangerous. I have been chased out of the woods before, with a large buck stomping his feet and snorting on the path just ahead of me. I was cautious now. I knew that Rocco liked to chase a deer deeper into the woods if he had the opportunity to do it. On several previous occasions after a chance meet-up with a wild deer, Rocco immediately began to chase the deer. When he finally returned to me his long-haired body trembled with excitement. But today, no bear or deer in sight. Mitchell soon began sniffing, and we kept going down our path.

On wintry mornings when snow covered our landscape, crisp air was pierced by the loud calls of a lone crow gliding high above the tops of the trees. A couple of cars drove by on the main road as we stomped through the wet snow. Finally, we three early morning travelers turned around and headed back up the hill to the house. It always looked magical to me because it is a black house. Each time I stop to think about it I feel like it hovers at the top of the silvery snow-covered hill. I often felt like I was walking in a dream or in the mythical land of Narnia where it is a perpetual winter. That image made me smile because I love winter. I walked with my thoughts focused on the beauty of this day.

I must have looked especially strange because I wore my tall rubber “Wellies” to get me safely through the deep snow drifts. Since this is a rural area and no one would see me walking through the woods, I was also wearing my long lavender nightgown under my purple plush bathrobe instead of a winter coat.

Suddenly, frisky, impulsive Mitchell jerked me into the center of a snow drift that was higher than my boot tops. My long flannel nightgown caught the snow as the three of us launched into the drift. Heavy snow surrounded me with shocking wetness against the bare skin above my boots. My bathrobe flapped in the wintry coldness that blew up from the creek bed. I tried holding up my snow-laden nightgown, but the snow blobs stuck fast. Icy snow clung all around the inside hem of my flannel nightgown as I plunged headfirst down the hillside into the meadow on the ridge overlooking the frozen creek.

I barely recall the short second, I felt my right boot slip beneath the snow, and I was thrown down onto my face with my hands extended outward above my head. My legs apart, the toes of my Wellies dug into the drift thrusting my face deeper into the snow. Mitchell quickly turned around to see what was happening when she felt the leash pull her to a stop. Fortunately, I held tight, and was still laughing as I staggered back up onto my feet.

It happened so fast I could never have prevented this fall. It was painless. I began to laugh aloud. I hoped my husband was not looking out the window. I did not want him to see our morning plunge into the newly fallen snow. But my desire for secrecy was soon shattered when my husband greeted us at the kitchen door. He was laughing and so was I. We laughed together as I realized he saw me rolling out of control, head down, as if I were on a fast-moving sled pulled by a frantic white dog. I was completely covered with snow. I giggled as I came through the door and I announced, “Here come the snow bunnies!”

Changes, poetry
by Carol Farnsworth

Cold winds swirl the first of many snowflakes.
Dry leaves crackle in passing.
Flakes decorate forgotten pumpkins in the field.
Shorter days create longer nights.
Her work done, Mother nature exchanges her gown for a white nightie.
Pulling up the snowy blanket, She rests ’til spring.

Bio: As a poet, blogger and family historian, Carol Farnsworth relates stories with a humorous twist. Born with a congenital eye disease that slowly caused her blindness. She strives to see the light side of life. With her daughter Ruth and husband John, She has traveled by bike, car and plane discovering the natural world. Her writings have appeared in on line magazines and publications. Her books include Leaf Memories, a chapbook of nature from a tandem bike. She contributed to Strange Weather Anthology, True Quirks of Nature by Marlene Mesot.
Visit her WordPress blog at

Snow Magic, poetry
by Carol Farnsworth

New snow sticks to the gray picket fence.
Forming a pattern marking the boundaries.
Tired corn shocks stand as sentinels.
While snow piles between the rows.
Tiny tracks make their way to the abandoned barn.
A single bulb pools a feeble glow in the yard.
Freezing winter holds ice crystals suspended in the frozen air.
Nothing moves, nature holds its breath.
Waiting for eastern glow.
The only sound is the squeaking of my boots.
I stop feeling the magic of this subzero morning.

Tamsin's Prayer, poetry
by Sally Rosenthal

The night before Christmas,
all through the flat,
no one was moving
except for the cat.

Her whiskers aquiver,
she sat on the sill
and gazed through the window
at valley and hill.

The night was a cold one
all covered in frost,
and she thought of the creatures
forgotten and lost.

So sad for the beings
chilled in the snow,
the hungry and homeless
with nowhere to go.

She prayed for their comfort
to heaven above
and hoped the bright star
would lead them to love.

Hark! A New Leaping Year! (Taking the 'H' Challenge of 2024), poetry
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

Hello, New Year!
I see halos around 2024.
While “Hark! The Herald Angels sing,”
I bring to this new year
for more hope and humor,
for a hiatus from harsh words and harder feelings.

Resolution of the healthy kind?
Oh, yes, each day, I want to hydrate more.
Throughout this young year, I want to heighten my expectations
and expect a hefty load of happiness.
I plan to hoist all havoc behind
and hobnob only with very positive people.
Along the “Yellow-brick Road” of 2024,
I want to shake more hands,
also bring my hands together to applaud
hundreds of good deeds and good people.

Finally, I want to continue holding onto the harness
of my most faithful and wonderful guide-ten-year-old Leader Dog Willow-
as we hasten through
these 365 remaining days of 2024
to write poems of hometown, history, and hearts
for heralded, heavenly you.

An earlier version of “Hark! A New Leaping Year!” was posted on Alice’s wordwalk blog.

Winter's Finale, poetry
by Sally Rosenthal

Bundled into tired winter coats
and pulling on pilled woolen mittens,
a friend and I reluctantly
face fickle March's icy wind
as we leave the supermarket's warmth.
Only the scent of brave hyacinths
from an in-store flower stall
reminds me of hope and spring.

This literary magazine is produced by Behind Our Eyes, Inc, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization of writers with disabilities.