Sunday, February 22, 2009

New Woman

by Doug Murano

She catches him by surprise when she opens the door for him. She says it’s a new century and she’s a “new woman.”

Later, at their table, the way she stares at him makes him shift in his chair like he’s sitting on one of those big rubber exercise balls and can’t find his balance. This is nothing like I’d planned, he thinks. He asks her to tell him about what she does. She looks down at her plate and says he wouldn’t be interested in hearing about it. After so many years, it feels like more of the same. She says she wouldn’t even know how to talk about it anymore.

“I want to know you,” she says. The way she leans forward makes him consider every definition of “know.”

He’s used to asking the questions, to making reservations, to setting the tone of the evening. That’s how the game works. His game. But this restaurant—her choice—he never could have gotten a reservation here. The script evaporates. The only thing on his mind tumbles out of his mouth. “I love the way you’re looking at me. Nobody’s ever…”

“Keep talking and I promise I won’t look away,” she says and runs her delicate fingers along the top of her left ear. She keeps her promise, even when he’s ordering lobster tortellini and his second glass of pinot grigio.

He talks about his job writing patient education brochures at one of the big hospitals in town. He waits a few beats for her to break her expression of awe. When she doesn’t, he lies and tells her that some days he comes home knowing more about human anatomy than he ever wanted to learn. She rolls her eyes in sympathy and smiles. He rambles on about his dreams for a little too long, but she listens.

The only moment of disappointment comes when she doesn’t order much; just a glass of merlot and a dinner salad. Just once he’d like to see a woman tear through a big, rare cut of red meat. The thought of it alone makes him a little hard. “New woman or not, some things never change,” he chuckles, wondering what she would taste like grilled in olive oil with asparagus.

“You go ahead,” she says after the food arrives, and she watches him eat. He wonders why so many beautiful women feel the need to starve themselves.

When the food is gone and the conversation slows, she says “I’ll take care of this,” and asks for the bill.

He follows her out of the restaurant into the cool night air. She says she better drive them home and guides them to a new, black BMW. He thinks nothing of leaving the ten-year-old Pontiac in which he arrived sitting on the street overnight. The registration in the glove box doesn’t match the name on the I.D. in his wallet, anyway. That could cause trouble if they hit a sobriety checkpoint.

He gives her directions and guides her to his modest two- bedroom ranch home. The two of them sit in silence while the engine idles. He wonders if now’s the right time to lean in.

“I know what you want,” she says before he can make up his mind. “But the things I want to do…well, the car really isn’t the place for them.”

“So…you want to come inside then?” he asks with astonishment. He wonders just for a moment whether he might not want to go through with it after all. Nothing else has gone according to plan. Why should this? He decides to play it by ear. Perhaps they’ve made a real connection. Perhaps the knives can wait.

“I was hoping you’d say that,” she says, opening her door, flashing a playful grin and swinging her long legs out of the car. As she follows him up the concrete walk, she thumbs the sharpened edges of the needle-nosed pliers resting inside her jacket pocket and smiles at all the wonderful things they’ll share.


Doug Murano lives somewhere in the wide-open spaces of the Great Plains. Armed with only his blazing speed, charming good looks, a box of red pencils and the masochistic streak that is prerequisite for all writers, he recently embarked upon a career that has (so far) included journalism, public relations, marketing, freelance writing, and regular attempts at writing short fiction. In addition to Fifty-two Stitches, his stories appear at the pulp fiction podcast Well Told Tales (, in Deadlines: An Anthology of Horror and Dark Fiction, ( and are forthcoming in the spring 2009 issue of The Rose & Thorn ( and the July 2009 issue of Necrotic Tissue.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Bubble Gum Tongue

by Adrian Ludens

Me and Barry were bunkmates at McCrossen’s Ranch For Troubled Teens. He always bragged about all the tail he’s chased. I had no interest until Barry described the new girl, Candy.

“Cherry lips,” he said.

“Honey hair.”

“Bubble gum tongue.”

I wanted to meet her.

So one night I asked Barry to arrange for Candy to meet me behind the horse barn after ‘lights out’.

We met, but things turned real bad, real fast. I leaned in for a taste and next thing I know, Candy’s screaming and gargling blood.

Bubble gum tongue? Barry’s such a liar. Tasted like copper and raw meat to me.


Adrian Ludens is a radio announcer in the Black Hills of South Dakota. He majored in journalism but prefers to stretch the imagination via speculative fiction. Visit him at

Sunday, February 8, 2009


by Felicity Dowker

It was the most extreme working-over I had ever seen.

Both her eyes had been blackened; bruised purple-ebony circles framed the eyeballs. The whites were shot with vivid threads of red as her blood vessels rose in rebellion against the assault they had endured. Her lashes were thick with the dark after-crust of the attack, and her cornflower blue irises stood out in desperation amid the carnage.

Fuck, I thought. Whoever did this was no amateur. They knew what they were doing. You gotta admire them for that.

The skin on her face looked bloodless, drained. It was white and smooth; a porcelain death-mask. Except for the cheeks, where bright pink slaps of colour rose on the abused flesh. They swelled with pain, and my heart throbbed for her.

Her mouth…oh, God, that was where it had really gone down.

Nothing was left but a gaping crimson wound. The bloody slash cut across her face, her pointy little tongue and small white teeth sitting in moist horror behind it. Her lips were puffy, and they bulged like cushions of exquisite agony towards me. A certain part of me bulged back in response.

They had even terrorised her hair. The blonde strands had been tugged with such force that her scalp was inflamed in angry blotches. Patches where the hair had snapped under the pressure dotted her head; the broken strands littered her shoulders.

It looked like they had even torn out the fine hair that peppered the fragile flesh of her brow; yanked it out right at the roots.

Was that… Yes, dear God, it was. They had sliced into the soft, fuzzy tissue of her earlobes. Sharp steel had been thrust through with such power that it had erupted clean out the other side, on both lobes.

“What are you staring at?” she said.

I smiled at her, planting a kiss on her cheek.

“Just you, darling. You look beautiful; I was just drinking you in. You’re stunning.”

She beamed back at me, pleased.

“Thanks! It was a bargain; $50 for a full makeover, and they threw in hair straightening as well. I even lashed out and got my ears pierced. I wanted to look extra special for you tonight.”

“Well, you do. I’ll be the proudest guy in the room; I can’t wait to show you off.”
I held her hand as we walked to my car. I opened the door for her and waited until she was settled in the seat before I closed it and walked around to my side. I whistled as I stepped into the car and started the engine.

I love it when a woman takes pride in her appearance.


Felicity Dowker is a 28 year old Australian writer with a husband, two young children, and a not-so-hidden feminist and atheist critique nestled in much of her work--especially the flash pieces, for some reason. Quite a few people have been foolhardy enough to publish her short stories, and she has a limited edition chapbook due for release soon. For ramblings, news and a bibliography, go to but enter, stranger, at your riske; here there be Tygers.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


by Donna Taylor Burgess

She met them on her first night out alone. Mother fretted over driving the car, but college loomed and so did adulthood. Father brushed her rosy cheek and pressed the keys into her hand.

“House is a home, not a cage,” he told her. And away Lucy went, not quite happy, but happier than being at home under Mother’s watchful eye.

Perhaps she drew him to her with her own strangeness: head always down as if searching for a lost bit of change. She wore her dresses too long for someone so young. Lucy was not ugly, not pretty. She was not much of anything to speak of, except trapped by a mother afraid of the world both day and night.

The Vorhang stayed tucked in the shadows of buildings. They thrived in alleyways that smelt of corruption and piss and hopelessness. He called to her in whispers as dry as leaves in autumn as she trudged passed, an armload of library books. She was singing a Partridge Family song under her breath, almost happy as she wound her way to her father’s car.

Like a sightless salamander she saw once on Discovery Channel, his face was smooth as his cheeks, where his eyes should have been. Bone-white and hairless. Pretty mouth, but his expression was so downcast in the moonshadow. Maybe she should have been afraid, but that glumness was very much like her own.

He sniffed the air—his way of taking in the sight of the girl. Lucy became acutely aware of the sweat smell of the pits of her arms and the trickle of wetness between her almost nonexistent breasts and her thighs.

The boy-thing, made for sex and not much else, moved from the dark. He took her hand—hot skin against cool.

“What’s your name?” he whispered.

She told him and he frowned even deeper.

“You are a gift from the sun. She should be named Heliodoros.”

Lucy liked that. She had never felt like a gift to anyone before.

He was Dallan and he told her, “I like the smell of your books. Especially the old ones.” She liked the smell, too, she answered.

Almost happy, she returned home to Mother’s complaints and Father’s silence.

“Where were you, so late, Lucy?”

She did not answer. She was Heliodoros now.

Lucy returned night after night to the shadow of the alleys, loving Dallan’s pretty blindness and his smooth body that had never been kissed by daylight. They sat on someone’s cardboard house beneath the glow of a haughty pink neon sign that screamed “topless” all day and all night.

Heliodoros read to him, squinting hard in shadow, and Dallan cried every night when she told him, “It’s time for me to go.”

Dry and choking and somehow more tragic that tears were not shed. She kissed his forehead and his cheeks and the smooth places where his eyes should have been.

At home and Mother’s shouts. “Who is the boy? Why would anyone love the likes of you?”

“Why do smell of darkness and garbage? Why is your dress stained?”

why, why, whywhywhy

One night Father followed Lucy to the alley. He watched, silent as always, from shadows even deeper than those in which the Vorhang dwelled. He returned home brokenhearted, for he knew he had lost his daughter to the shadows. Yet he was also happy. He had never seen the girl smile in the sunlight. In shadows, her smile glowed.

When Lucy came home, her father met her with a book of Saint Lucy of Syracuse. He brushed her pale cheek with a kiss and pressed a silver spoon into her hand. “Saint Lucy was blessed in light, my dear. In blindness she saw and became free.”

“Time for you to become free.”

In the shadows of her bedroom, Lucy worked the spoon around the pretty valleys of her eyes until she wept blood. In the end, she was not sad when the world became very dark. It was what she wanted, after all. She placed the smooth orbs of her vision into a satin box that smelled of rose petals. Tomorrow, she would offer it to Dallan.

Face a sticky mask of red and eyelids only empty silk pillowcases, she fell asleep. She dreamt of eyeless salamanders swimming in her womb.


Donna Burgess is a realtor who enjoys surfing and all facets of art, from painting to photography. She has been married for eighteen years and has two children. She is currently pursuing her MFA in creative writing, in the hope of leaving the world of real estate behind to focus on writing and teaching. Find out more at: