And the Winners of the 2023 !Short Story Contest! are…

September 4th, 2023

Never one to waste a moment:

the Grand Prize winner is
“Blood” by D’vorah Shaddai

and the Runner-Ups were
“Blood Curse” by Muhammad Musa
“Where the Wild Things Were” by Garth Upshaw.

How the Judges Voted
Each grand prize vote is worth two runner-up votes.
(click here for more on how we judge)

Glenn A. Bruce:
Grand Prize: “Where the Wild Things Were”
Runner-Ups: “Best Barista in a Time of Spiders…”
& “The Genome is Greener on the Other Side”

Aditya Gautam:
Grand Prize: “Blood”
Runner-Ups: “Where the Wild Things Were”‘
& “Blood Curse”

Lady Moet Beast:
Grand Prize: “Blood Curse”
Runner-Ups: “What Goes Around”
& “Blood”

Fan Vote: (click here to view all the results)
Grand Prize: “Blood” (30.42%)
Runner-Ups: “Best Barista in a Time of Spiders…” (13.74%)
& “The last five cigarettes” (12.70%)

Back to the 2023 !Short Story Contest!

The 2024 FLASH SUITE Contest
is now open for submission.

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Mi dispiace tanto

September 3rd, 2023

By Gaurav Bhalla

The only two Americans staying at the hotel were holed up in their sea-facing room, even though they were leaving the next day. It was raining. Both were thinking the same thought—wish I was alone. They had come to Italy because their marriage counselor had suggested a vacation. “Get away, may help you get a different perspective, look at each other differently.” With only a day to go, that perspective had yet to materialize; would have to wait for the next vacation, or the intended separation.   

The wife stood at the window looking down on a green table dripping wet. A few hours ago, a cat was crouching under that table, trying to make herself round and small so the rain wouldn’t drench her.

Kelly wanted that cat. She didn’t know why, but she wanted it. She had gone down to get it. The padrone had sent the maid after her with an umbrella so she wouldn’t get wet. But by the time she reached the table, the cat was gone.

Sprawled on the bed, her husband was reading a book. “Still thinking about the cat?”

“I wanted that cat so much. I wish it would come back.”

The husband yawned.

“Forget it. She isn’t coming back,” he said, his words muffled.  

“I wish it would. It couldn’t be any fun being a cat in the rain.”

She looked back to see if her husband was listening. He wasn’t. He was reading.

Kelly left the window and made her way to the dressing table. Something she saw in the mirror made her grimace.

“I’m tired of my short hair. I wish I had long hair that I could pull back and wear in a bun. That would be fun.”

Still sprawled out, the husband stretched.  

Kelly continued, “Fun, fun, fun—I wish I could have more fun. Buy fun clothes. Dance the tango. Eat mangoes. I really wish there was more fun in my life.”

Kelly caught her husband looking at her in the mirror. If he had heard her, he didn’t show it.

“And I want a cat. Now. I want a cat. If I can’t have long hair or any fun, I can at least have a cat. I must have a cat. Now.” 

“Oh, shut up.”  Finally, she had got him to stir.

She left the dressing table and went back to the window. The square was empty. All the cars and people had left. It was still raining.

Everything—the bronze war monument which attracted visitors from all over Italy, the tall palm trees, the green grass and the green benches in the garden, the gravel path—everything glistened in the rain. The brightly colored facades of the hotels looked scrubbed clean. Under the awning of the café across the square, a waiter retreated into the wall to save his cigarette from the rain.

The sea was coming in, frothing as it broke on the shore. Kelly liked the hunger with which the sea consumed the beach. She liked how the beach yielded itself to the sea’s passion. She liked how the sea and the beach lusted for each other. Watching the sea and the beach meld and separate, again and again, was a spiritually erotic experience for Kelly. She thought back to a steamy, hot night, a few days after they’d arrived, when she had shared the experience of the frothy sea with her husband. But he couldn’t relate to either the erotic or the spiritual elements of her experience. For him, it was just ebb and flow; the sea came in, the sea went out. She remembered how she had wanted to punch him. They were on vacation, she was aroused to the point of spilling over, and all he could think of was sating her lust with a sermon. She remembered turning her back on him and pleasuring herself; fingers in, fingers out, her way of saying who needs you. But she didn’t think he got the message.

The rain had thinned to a drizzle. A single light came on in the square. It was getting dark.

Someone knocked at the door.

“Avanti,” Kelly said, and turned to face the door. Her husband turned on his stomach and propped himself on his elbows to see who was knocking.

It was the housekeeping maid. She stood in the doorway, holding a big tortoiseshell cat tight against her body.  

“Excuse me, signora,” she said, “the padrone asked me to bring this for you.”

Kelly grabbed the cat and hugged it.

“For me? A cat? I have a cat, I have a cat,” she chanted, twirling with girlish delight. “I don’t care if I can’t have long hair, I have a cat. I don’t care if I can’t buy new clothes, I have a cat. But I still want to tango, still want to eat mangoes.”

The maid had not seen this girlish side of Kelly; she smiled.

“You should thank him,” her husband suggested.  

“I must thank him … I must,” Kelly said and ran into the hallway.

“But he’s not there, signora.”

“Not there? How can that be? He just sent me this wonderful gift,” she said, stroking her kitty. The cat purred. “I want to thank him.”

“He had to catch a train, signora.”

“A train? But he lives in town.”

“Si, signora. His mother is ill.”

A moroseness sulked across Kelly’s face. “But we’re leaving tomorrow.”

“I will thank the padrone for you,” the maid said, tightening her face.

Kelly patted the maid’s hand and returned to her room. The maid shut the door and left.

“What are you going to call it?” her husband asked without looking up from his book.  

“I don’t know,” Kelly said, without looking at her husband.

Hugging the cat, she returned to the spot where she was standing when the maid had knocked on the door. More lights had come on in the square, but they were dim, making the square look darker and more distant. Lights were also on in the room, she wished they weren’t.

Kelly stroked her kitty and thought of the padrone. She liked him. She liked the way he made her feel important. When it was raining, he had sent the maid with an umbrella so she wouldn’t get wet. When the cat in the rain was gone before she could reach her, he sent the maid again, this time with a European Shorthair so she wouldn’t feel sad and empty.

She liked that he was older, she knew he was wiser. His old heavy face, his big hands, reminded her of her father when she was little, made her feel secure.

Thinking of the padrone, Kelly went down. The lobby was dark, his office was empty. She hugged her kitty and imagined him standing behind his desk, greeting her. He was a very tall man who stooped when speaking with others as a gesture of courtesy. Seeing him, even if only in her mind, made her happy. She hoped he would magically emerge from the darkness so she could thank him, but he didn’t.

She thought of going back to her room but decided against it. Instead, she stepped out in the courtyard into the lavender-scented night air. The thought of leaving without thanking him troubled her. Made her feel small. Inadequate. And she didn’t like feeling small, didn’t like feeling inadequate. She went back inside and wrote him a note on a letterhead bearing the Padrone’s name.

Mio caro padrone, I wanted to thank you so much before leaving. But you are not here. I wanted a cat; you gifted me one. I will never forget your kindness. Grazie. Grazie. Grazie. I will call you. Con tanto amore, Kelly.

Her husband woke up when Kelly entered the room. “Stop making a racket, come to bed.”

But Kelly didn’t want to come to bed. Stroking and cuddling her kitty, she alternated between reclining on the couch and looking out of the window. She barely slept that night. Not even a catnap. But her kitty did, enjoy a few catnaps. After one of those catnaps, the cat wriggled free and jumped on the floor. Kelly wanted her back, but the cat wanted to roam. She circled the couch, then walked toward the window and leaped on the window ledge. Kelly marveled at her kitty’s grace. If only she could be as graceful ice-skating. She rose from the couch and joined the kitty at the window.

The kitty moved away from Kelly. She didn’t want to be held.

The sky was getting brighter. One by one, the lights in the square went off. Kelly thought of the day ahead. They were booked on the 9 a.m. train to Rome, and from there on the 14:40 Pan Am flight to New York.

Her chest tightened at the thought of leaving. She wanted to stay longer but had failed to think of even a single way of extending her holiday (Kelly liked holiday better than vacation; more romantic). Still, she was glad she tried.

The alarm on the bedside table rang. It was 5:30. Her husband rolled over, turned it off, and continued sleeping. Kelly decided to pack and get into her travel clothes. She liked wearing loose-fitting shirts and pants while traveling. The cat followed her into the bathroom while she was showering and returned to the window ledge when she came out to dress.

Kelly’s stomach gurgled as she buttoned her shirt. She liked to eat early on days she traveled. Since the kitchen didn’t open until eight, she had placed a special order the previous night for breakfast at seven—American-style French toast, crispy bacon, and cappuccino. Her husband didn’t eat breakfast; he started his day with several cups of black coffee. 

As she moved to the window ledge to cradle her kitty and head down to the cafe, she noticed a man entering the garden carrying a bag, an easel, and a small folding stool.

An artist? So early? Kelly was surprised. Artists usually rolled in later in the day.

She watched him as he made his way to a bench with its back to the rising sun. He set his easel directly in front of him, his palette of colors, brushes, and sketch pens within easy reach to his left. Next, he opened the folding stool and placed it to the right of his easel.

Kelly wondered what he was going to paint.

The artist bent down and unzipped the bag. A small dog jumped out. It was a Maltese. Kelly knew the breed. Her best friend had a dog just like the one running circles around the bench.

The artist tapped the stool with a wooden ruler. The Maltese jumped onto the stool and smacked its lips in anticipation. The man rewarded him with a biscuit, which the dog devoured. The artist tapped the stool again. The well-mannered Maltese sat up erect and held his pose.

Oh my God, he’s going to paint the Maltese.

Ignoring the gurgle in her stomach, which had now grown to a growl, Kelly scooped up her kitty in her arms and ran down the stairs, through the lobby, and into the garden. Startled at seeing a woman holding a cat running toward them, the Maltese began barking and jumped into his master’s lap, knocking the artist’s mug of brushes and pencils off its perch.

The artist was furious. Kelly apologized profusely. “Please forgive me. I can explain. I’m here for a very important reason.”

The artist glared at Kelly, and waved her off, Vamoso.

“Please, signor, please. A quick portrait of my kitty and me and I’ll leave. I must thank the kind man who gifted me this cat, and since I can’t thank him in person, I would like to thank him with a portrait of my kitty and me.”

“OK, come tomorrow,” the artist snapped, strutting his best spaghetti western imitation.

“Tomorrow? No, today.”


“Today. Our train leaves at 9, we’re leaving the hotel by 8:30.”



The artist looked at Kelly as if she was kooky. “Even God can’t paint you a portrait before 8:30,” he snarled, tapping his watch.

“You’re right. God can’t but you can,” Kelly shot back, unfazed. “I’ll pay you double.”

Kelly had a history of playing the money card on international trips; it had served her well. She hoped it would today too.

“Ah, double money,” the artist said, looking at his well-worn shoes and patched clothes. “I wish I could say I’m not for sale, but I am.” Looking at Kelly with hapless honesty, he held up three fingers.  

“Triple?” Kelly asked.

The artist nodded.

“OK, three times it is.”

The artist set to work. First, he gave his dog another biscuit and put him back in the bag. Next, he seated Kelly and her kitty on the stool. But the cat wouldn’t sit still. She didn’t want to be held. She was curious about in the Maltese in the bag, whose barking was peeling the duvets off those still lazing past waking time in bed, in the apartment buildings and hotels around the square. The artist gave up, pulled out his Polaroid from his bag and took three quick photos of the cat. He took Kelly’s photo too, all the while mumbling and complaining, and pointing to his unoccupied stool.  

“Want to name the portrait?”

“Si, signor. Kelly and Sophia.”

“I’ll see you in the lobby at 8:15.”

“You’re a godsend, signor,” Kelly said, and hugged the artist.

“Don’t expect a da Vinci,” the artist said, waving Kelly and her kitty away.  

“I know you’ll do your best,” Kelly said and jogged back to the hotel. The growl in her stomach had become embarrassingly loud.  

The artist reached the lobby five minutes before the promised time. Kelly was waiting. He held the painting up to sunlight and said, “It’s not a da Vinci, but …”

“You’re right, signor. It’s not a da Vinci. But da Vinci would have been pleased.” Kelly clapped heartily to express her gratification. The portrait had heart, had soul—had connected with her heart and soul—more than what she had hoped for.

She handed the artist an envelope. “Triple.”

The artist accepted the envelope and saluted Kelly with it.

Then she gave him two carry-out bags from the hotel’s restaurant and said with a flourish worthy of a British butler, “Breakfast for the signor and his Maltese.”

The artist bowed and said, “You are very generous, signora.” Then he winked and held up his right hand, fingers and thumb flared. “Next time I’ll charge more.” 

Kelly laughed.

Buon viaggio.” The artist waved and left.

Kelly had the portrait. All she needed now was a note.

P.S. Padrone, I hope you like the portrait of the kitty and me. I like it a lot.

Since I couldn’t thank you in person, I had to find another way. I named the kitty Sophia, after my favorite Italian actress, Sophia Loren. Grazie.

She gave the portrait and the note to the housekeeping maid, who promised to give it to the padrone the minute he returned.

After reaching New York, Kelly called the padrone on the Monday he was scheduled to return. But the padrone wasn’t back yet, he had extended his stay by a week; his mother needed additional medical attention.

A week later, Kelly called again. The padrone was expecting her call, but he was not at his desk. He was resolving a guest complaint. Kelly recalled the gravitas that covered the tall padrone’s heavy face when he handled guests’ complaints. She felt her cheeks flush as she remembered the lenity with which he had settled her complaints.

Thirty minutes later, the padrone called back.

“Padrone, is it you? Is it really you?”

“Si, signora, it is me. Thank you so much for the painting. Bellissima. How did you know Sophia Loren was my favorite actress?”

“I knew, I just knew.”

Mi dispiace, Signora, I …”

“No, no, padrone, it is I who am sorry.” Kelly cut the padrone short. “Mi dispiace tanto. I’m so sorry, padrone.”

“Why, signora? What happened, why so sorry?”

“You gifted me a cat. She’s sitting here in my lap, makes me so happy, makes me feel so important. But I’m so ashamed, so embarrassed.”

“Why, signora? Why so ashamed, why so embarrassed?”

“Because … mio caro signor … I like you so much … but I don’t even know your name.”

Winners of the 2023 !Short Story Contest! will be announced tomorrow.

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But yet 30 hours left to Vote, 2023 SSC

September 1st, 2023

You read correctly. 30 hours.

All the judge votes are in, and
with over 2,000 Fan Votes cast


one story has a substantial lead, HOWEVER
the following three are within 50 votes of each other.
Only two of these three will receive
Fan Voting Runner-Up votes.

Fan Voting closes at 11:59 Eastern Standard Time
on Saturday, September 2nd
(that’s TOMORROW)


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The Turning Point

August 31st, 2023

prologue in five parts to the short film “Blood Run”
by Chantelle Tibbs


I’m sure you’ve seen bags go over heads in many movies. I promise you the experience of it is much more horrifying than Hollywood could ever portray. The lack of oxygen and the darkness are only the tip of the iceberg. It’s being handled and not knowing where to punch, who to kick. The sounds around you that you can’t quite make out and the realization that even if you do it won’t change anything. I felt myself shoved into a vehicle. I heard an engine start and made the choice to count the turns. Four left turns, two right, one slight right and then a complete stop. I braced myself for the worst. 

When the bag came off my head I was sitting in the front passenger seat of a sedan parked at a park staring at Dee Stanley. Jen’s voice boomed from the back seat. 

“You wanted Dee, you got her. “

More like she got me. 

Dee’s eyes locked with mine. They were black as ever. 

“There he is.” 

Dee pointed to a couple walking in the park arm in arm. 


I asked. My voice sounded far weaker than I wanted it to. 

“Look closer.”

I peeled my eyes off of Dee and stared harder at the couple walking. It was Dan and his wife whose name briefly escaped me. It hit me that I never pictured the two of them together. They looked like highschool lovers arm in arm, laughing. She was beautiful. A sinking feeling came over my heart. I felt ugly. 

“I knew he was married. What do you want from us?”

“She’s glowing.” 

I looked down at her stomach instinctively as the two grew closer to the car. She was pregnant. 

Dee reached into her pocket. I jumped. She pulled out two bottles of what seemed like medicine. Upon looking at them closer I could see they were prenatal vitamins. 

“She’s pregnant?” 

I didn’t know what else to say. Why did Dee have prenatals? Why was Dan’s wife pregnant? What the fuck was going on?

“Recognize these?”

Dee handed me one of the bottles. As I read the label I could see they were the prenatal vitamins I had been taking before the miscarriage. The same purple label and wholesome white letters wrapped around the bottle. I opened the bottle and poured two of the white capsules into my palm. 

“When you got them did they have a safety seal?” 

“I don’t know.” 

Dee handed me the second bottle. I opened it quickly. Silver foil covered the top. I peeled it back without having to be asked and pushed through cotton until I reached two gigantic sized, green tablets. My heart began to pound so hard I couldn’t feel myself breathing. 

“What is this?”

“It’s a prenatal vitamin. The white capsules, the ones he bought for you, are not.”

I tried to open the car door. It was locked. Panicked, I tried the handle again. Dee put her hand on my shoulder gently. I brushed it off aggressively. 

“Get away from me! Let me out! I want…what the fuck is this? What are you doing?”

Dan and his wife were long gone. I figured if I called out for help they could turn back. Maybe someone else would hear me. I needed to make it out of the car. I screamed as I felt Jen’s hands from the back seat cover my mouth. I tried biting her to no avail. Dee moved in close to me. Her eyes pulled me into her. 

“I take no pleasure in telling you that Dan was drugging you with a compound that would terminate any pregnancy along with your own life. It’s a miracle you are alive ma’am.”

Her voice carried a silent reverence and an overwhelming pity I couldn’t ignore. She was telling the truth. 

I jangled the car door until it suddenly opened, spilling me out onto the curb. I fell twice trying to get up. I heard the car doors open and close behind me. Looking around I could see we were alone. I tried to scream but nothing came out. My breathing heavied as I panted and puffed out long deep breaths in a rhythmic fashion. Dee and Jen walked up and stood over me. Dee’s hand once again touched my shoulder. I let it. Her hand was grounding and warm. It brought me comfort. I looked up at her with childlike eyes. 

“It was a girl.” 

I felt nothing. 

“No one’s going to let him get away with this.”

Jen chimed in. She sounded horrified. It hit me that it must be the first time she was hearing what Dee had just told me. 

“I want to die. Please?”

Jen walked off over to the car. I heard her kick something and mumble to herself. 

“I can fix it so you never have to feel this way again. But I need your help.” 


“I want Camille.”


“Blay Reyes’ niece, I want her.”

“She disappeared. No one in my office has been able to find her.”

“Where are they keeping Blay  and the other women with symptoms?”

A blood chilling scream rattled my rib cage as I howled into the night. Dee knelt beside me in the grass. I let her hold me. 

“I can help you strike him down in the worst of ways. I know you’re hurting but look around you. How long have we all been hurting? How long is too long? Some things are fate. The time is right. Help us. Help me. Give me Blay. She will lead us to Camille and what that woman carries in her blood will make it so that we will never find ourselves at the bottom of the food chain again. 

Fan Voting is still open for two more days
to close Saturday, September 2nd, at the EST Witching Hour

Join us for Mi dispiace tanto, a short story by Gaurav Bhalla 
on Sunday, September 3rd.

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The Turning Point

August 27th, 2023

prologue in five parts to the short film “Blood Run”
by Chantelle Tibbs


Newman’s was closing. The aging hipster in the vitamin department made sure to let me know twice as I stood aimless in the aisles staring at an unnecessarily wide selection of probiotics. A tired, impatient voice rang out over the loudspeaker. 

“We are closing in five minutes. Thanks for shopping at Newman’s, we open again tomorrow at eight. Have a good night.”

I felt their pain. No one should show up to any retail job even a half hour before closing. My older sister, Kennedy, got me a cashiering gig at the grocery closest to our school when we were Seniors in High School. She managed the bakery department. 

“These people. We have a life outside of this God forsaken market.” 

That was life-times ago. Before bags cost a dime. Before our mother made one fast left turn too many. Before Kennedy’s blood type led to symptoms that got her taken away. 

I looked around the store one last time. Nothing. Another bust. I checked my phone. No response to any of my follow up texts. The walk to my car was long as I felt my cheeks grow wet. I was a sad woman chasing lesbian ghosts in the parking lot of a natural grocery. Just when I thought the miscarriage was rock bottom. Before I could find my keys in the oversized pockets of my jacket, I heard a sharp whistle. I looked over at the grocery store, all the lights were off. The parking lot suddenly felt vast and empty. 

“Hey you.” 

I turned to see Jen’s round face. She was smiling down at me, her hot breath building an ominous steam around her. I’ll give it to that girl. She even had the guts to check me out before she knew a bag was going over my head. 

Join us for PT. V of The Turning Point on Wednesday, August 30th.
Fan Voting is open for the 2023 !Short Story Contest!

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The Turning Point

August 25th, 2023

prologue in five parts to the short film “Blood Run”
by Chantelle Tibbs


I fled trying to make my way through the dense crowd. A flood of people entering desperately escaping the rain pushed back against me. As I looked up ahead at her I could see everyone in her path part like the seas to make way for her to leave. Dee was royalty here among the crowd of women who would soon head home into the night without fear thanks to her. The distance between us doubled and then she was gone. I pushed forward a little further to no avail. By the time I made my way back to the entrance, she was nowhere. 

“Did you find her?”

Jen pulled up an umbrella to protect me from the rain. I held it while she lit a smoke. 

“I didn’t.” 

“Well, at least I know you are into younger women.”

Good one, Jen. 

“I might know where Dee hangs out. If only I had your number.” 

Yet, another good one. 

It was five days later in the middle of another sullen dinner with Dan, and I feared it could be my last, that I got her text. 

Meet me at Newmans Natural Grocery. Get here as soon as you can.

Join us for PT. IV of The Turning Point on Sunday, August 27th.
Fan Voting is open for the 2023 !Short Story Contest!

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The Turning Point

August 23rd, 2023

prologue in five parts to the short film “Blood Run”
by Chantelle Tibbs

PT. 2

The infected struck at night.  

Some folks were handing out fliers with tips on how men could keep themselves safe from women showing signs of Contentious Rhunosinusitis. The fliers listed local government officials and their phone numbers in an effort to get people to call and push them to enforce an official curfew for all males, for their own protection. 

“No way. It’s men’s turn to be on guard all the time. Fuck em’,” I heard a woman saying in line for Thursday’s lesbian night at the Perch. Her friends laughed. 

The line outside was fairly long and it was drizzling.

I pictured my client’s face in court. Diana “Dee” Stanley had marked him with the stink of fear and as it turned out, he was one of the lucky ones. Everywhere she went men disappeared. 

By the time I got in it had gone from drizzling to raining. I could feel my socks were wet. I ordered a shot of whiskey from a bartender I didn’t recognize and feverishly shot my eyes around the crowd praying my trip wasn’t all for naught. Two shots later, I feared it was. And then-

“You get that shirt from Delvins?”

The woman speaking to me barely looked at me. 

“Oh, I’m not sure. Yes. Yes actually.”

“You forget what you were wearing?”

“I guess I did.”

“I’m here every week and I’ve never seen you.”

“First time for everything.”

“First time huh?”

She was looking at me now. Brown hair in a bob framed her round face. She was half my age and almost twice my height.

“I’m Jen. You are?”

“Misty,” I lied.

“At the risk of sounding tragically Los Angeles what do you do Misty?”

“I work in marketing for an organic makeup company. What do you do?” 

“I manage the Delvins at the mall in Studio City.” 

A tall figure pushed by us. The perfect excuse for Jen to move closer to me. She smelled like bourbon and opium oil. I smiled politely looking around for my escape when I saw Dee. She was hastily making her way through the crowd toward the exit.

“Sorry, I just saw my ex. She owes me money,” I said, slipping away. 

Join us for PT. III of The Turning Point on Friday, August 25th.
Fan Voting is open for the 2023 !Short Story Contest!

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The Turning Point

August 21st, 2023

prologue in five parts to the short film “Blood Run”
by Chantelle Tibbs

PT. 1

Dinner was a bust. I’d lost count of how many failed meals I shared with Dan since the incident. Dan was married. I was not. All I could see as Dan mouthed words to fill the silence was the defendant.

My world had been dialed down to a dimness just a shade above dark. Keeping his attention had been the center of everything. Trying to stay sexy enough for him to stay, alluring enough for him to leave. Leave her.

That afternoon in court was another bust as I tried my best to prove how dangerous the defendant was. Diana Elizabeth Stanley. She was an empty shell who stood accused of violently beating my client, a twenty-seven year old man twice her build. In my career I’d never seen anything like it. We could barely get my client into the courtroom. The fear in this grown man’s eyes at even the mention of having to face her in court. 

“I can’t do it.”
“She doesn’t have the rage. She was tested twice and never showed any symptoms in custody.”
“She doesn’t need the rage. She is the rage.” 

He was physically pushed into the courtroom, his feet dragged forward. I needed the courtroom to see his cast, the blood, the scars, black eyes. The bandage over his head. In the end none of it mattered to the judge or the jury. A new blood disorder that made women with the second rarest blood type violent, in particular towards men, was the main focus of everyone now. There had even been talk about enforcing a curfew for all males before they could “get this thing sorted out.” 

Diana Stanley’s blood type didn’t match. She didn’t have it. So the case didn’t matter. She was a tall, wiry yet pixie-esque looking girl with strong but not necessarily intimidating features. Shaggy brown hair framed her face. Then there were the eyes. The eyes that stood my hair, deep pools of black. 

When the verdict read “Not Guilty,” she looked directly at me. I forced my eyes to meet hers. She needed to see my strength even in defeat. I could swear she smiled at me. What haunted me for weeks was that I could feel myself smile back. 

After my silent dinner with Dan, I found myself in the tiny bed of my chic city pad staring up at the ceiling. It was her face I saw staring back down at me. I had to find her. Before she struck again. I flew off my bed and out the front door. 

Join us for PT. II of The Turning Point on Wednesday, August 23rd
Fan Voting is open for the 2023 !Short Story Contest!

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August 20th, 2023

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Where the Wild Things Were

August 13th, 2023

by Garth Upshaw

I learned about Carolyn’s diagnosis when my kid sister, Ashley, phoned me at work.   “Cancer,” she said, and I felt sucker-punched.  A co-worker, in marketing, told me my niece would be fine.  “Modern medicine’s a miracle.”

Two months earlier, at Carolyn’s eighteenth birthday party, my dad had joked. “Now you can legally be a stripper.”  

“What the fuck, Dad?”  I said. 

Ashley ignored him, but Mom gave Dad the hairy eyeball.  “Mister!”  

Carolyn looked at her plate and pushed the chicken around in little circles. 


Shortly after Carolyn was born, Ashley asked me and my wife, Irene, to sign a document she’d made.  If anything happened to her, we agreed to take her baby.  Ashley stroked Carolyn’s cheek.  “The sperm donor’s an asshole.  He’s out of the picture.”  She turned to her new boyfriend.  “Make us tea, huh?”

Irene and I took Carolyn most Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.  Her straight blond hair and fierce smile reminded me of Ashley when she was a toddler.  Carolyn had barely turned three when our daughter, Katie, was born, and Carolyn threw herself into the older cousin role with gusto, reading picture books, making up stories, dressing Katie in outlandish clothes, showing her how to hold a toy stethoscope.

In first grade, the drama teacher cast Carolyn as Max in the school play.  Stroke of fucking genius, I thought.  Ashley sewed a white one-piece with whiskers and a bushy wolf tail.  Carolyn stomped around the stage, fifth- and sixth-graders cowering away.  “And now,” she cried, “let the wild rumpus begin!”

It was a wild rumpus.  Ashley pieced together shitty part-time work, and stayed with friends-then-enemies for a couple of months at a time.  Her boyfriends were all older, grayer, between jobs, professional drinkers.  She met guys at the Laurelthirst who fell hard for her beauty, her sparkle, her grand ideas and loud, captivating energy.  Dad bought Ashley a funky condo ten blocks from us, and she threw herself into remodeling, making curtains, and painting the basement black.

One soggy Portland winter evening, when Carolyn was in second grade, I got a phone call from Ashley.  “Come and get Carolyn.  Now.”

“Okay,” I said,  “what’s –” but she’d hung up.

I knocked at the condo door, and Carolyn answered.  She wore her coat and hat, clutched the handle of a pink kids’ Miss Kitty rolling suitcase, and held a sleeping bag under her other arm.  The living room was a mess of toppled bookshelves, overturned chairs, and drifts of torn paintings and paper.  In the kitchen, Dad tried to calm Ashley down while she methodically smashed every plate and glass in her cupboards.

“I’m supposed to go with you,” Carolyn whispered.

She stayed with us for two months that time.  On a class trip to the Portland Art Museum, the kids played hide-and-seek and Carolyn hid so well everyone left without her.  When the class took an all-day excursion to the Newport Aquarium, her teacher said she couldn’t come, so I played hooky from work and drove Carolyn myself.  She held my hand while we walked through the underwater tunnel, sharks gliding silently by like deadly submarines.

 On the way out, Carolyn’s class begged the teacher for ice cream, but he refused, and tried to wrangle the kids into two straight lines for the bus.  I bought double scoops for Carolyn, and she licked her rocky road with relish, staring daggers at the teacher.

The summer before high school, as part of a full-life makeover, Ashley moved in with a guy in Vancouver.  He had a ramshackle two-bedroom place on a main road across from Fred Meyer.  That lasted a year, and when she broke up with him, the condo was still leased to someone else, so she couch-surfed with friends.  Irene and I vacated our bedroom and slept on the landing, surrounded by sheets pinned to the ceiling, so Carolyn could have her own room.  We enrolled her in an alternative private school, walking distance from our house.

Carolyn was deeply wary of me and other grownups, men, especially.  She’d hunch her shoulders and answer questions with a monotone “Yes,” or “No,” or “Maybe.”  I couldn’t do anything right, from not cooking pasta long enough, to liking the wrong bands for the wrong reasons. The contempt in Carolyn’s demeanor was palpable.  She was stick-thin, and Ashley worried that Carolyn was anorexic. That Irene and I didn’t feed her right.  At a family vacation at Cannon Beach on spring break, Ashley screamed at Carolyn.  “Eat your goddamn meat!  You need protein!”

But that year, when Carolyn was around Irene and Katie, her sparkle shone with big, bright energy.  They laughed and cooked cupcakes together.  Katie and Carolyn talked for hours, and read the graphic novel series, Bone, out loud.  The school was a perfect fit, and when Ashley and Carolyn moved back into the condo, I was deeply relieved my sister kept Carolyn enrolled.

Carolyn took classes at the School of Rock in the evenings, and we attended the end-of-term show in an old warehouse in the industrial district.  Parents and friends milled around the stark space, but when Carolyn got on stage and belted out the blues, the crowd was entranced.

It’s a new dawn / It’s a new day

It’s a new life / For me

And I’m feeling good / I’m feeling good

We took road trips during her high-school summers, bombing down to Arcata to visit our nephew and his partner.  Irene and I in the front seats of a rented SUV, the kids in the back.  We blasted The Killers, Lady Gaga, Pink and, in deference to the oldsters, Natalie Merchant and Paul Simon.  Buckets of freshly picked blackberries from Humbug State Park stained our mouths purple, and we threw a graffiti party with spray paint at an abandoned bridge over the Madd River.


The hospital was a crazy maze of winding streets and skyscrapers on steep hills looking over the Willamette River towards Mt. Hood.  Ashley told us which parking garage was closest, and we started doing shifts, sleeping in chairs or on the padded benches in the lounge when we weren’t needed in Carolyn’s room.  Other hollow-eyed families drifted in and out, voices hushed, hair disheveled.  Irene’s brother was visiting from his monastery in England, and his orange-robed presence and careful calmness comforted us.

My brother, Ben, threw himself into errands and fix-it mode, bringing take-out food, gathering clothes for laundry, and watching Game of Thrones with Carolyn in her room.  Our couples therapist recommended “Grief”, by Matthew Dickman, which starts:

When grief comes to you as a purple gorilla

you must count yourself lucky

We didn’t feel lucky.  

A cancer specialist wanted to meet, and Ashley asked me to come with her.  A dozen doctors squeezed around the table.  Ashley stared down at her clasped hands.  The specialist cleared his throat.  “This cancer is unusual.  Quite aggressive.”  He was short and balding and sweating and his leg jiggled.  “We’d like permission for samples.”  I didn’t like him.  He seemed too eager.  Excited, even.  Like he cared more about publishing a paper than about Carolyn’s life.  But Ashley nodded, a short, quick jerk of her head, and we all filed out. 

Katie drew pictures of My Little Pony, a kids’ cartoon, which Carolyn was totally into.  I never got why.  I mean, what the fuck, right?  She was eighteen years old, not a kid.  The doctors scheduled the first chemotherapy for early the next week.  Katie and I made a postcard-sized layout of Carolyn baking, flipping the camera off, and labeled it “Fuck Cancer.”

The appointment was all the way down the hill by the river in a satellite building accessible from an aerial tram.  Ashley, Ben, and I helped Carolyn into a wheelchair.  She hated rolling down the halls, worried she’d draw people’s attention, or that she’d have to pee, which happened with great frequency because – well, cancer.  “Excuse me, excuse me,” I said, while the tram operator encouraged everyone to “pack on in.”  Sunlight blazed out of a clear blue sky as the mechanism unlatched with a loud clang and we were off, swooping over roads and trees and houses towards the Willamette.

The doctor, a lovely woman with flowing brown hair, told us, “Chemotherapy is actually contraindicated.”  She was clearly trying not to cry.  “It wouldn’t do any good, and might even make Carolyn feel worse.”

“So I just die?”  Carolyn stared at the doctor.  “That’s it?”


It’ll be ten years ago this October.  Carolyn’s ashes are at Lone Fir Cemetery, a few blocks north of our house. Ashley still lives in the condo with her new husband.  I don’t like him, but he’s head and shoulders above her other boyfriends. Ashley hasn’t spoken with me or Ben in years. She’s angry.  I text her on her birthday, wondering if maybe this time she’d like to grab a coffee, reconnect, but she’s certain. “No, not interested.  You never– You always–”

– END –

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