Author Archive

The Advantage is Decadent and Depraved

Sunday, June 26th, 2022

by Bobby Harrell

It was then and there I decided to kill the bastard who made me drink all that rotgut and sleep in my EVA suit. Prying the helmet off, I watch it drift towards the ceiling of the shuttle. 

Luckily, I had a sick bag ready, just as the smell hit me. Old air scrubber fluid, weeks old body odor and that frying bacon smell of cramped humans floating in a beer can. 

“Rabbit,” I screamed. “Rabbit, I am going to kill you, then myself, by opening the airlock. It’ll be a mercy, I swear.”  

Rabbit drifted in from the cockpit, the reek of patchouli and marijuana coming off him in tidal waves. Long ears, and his habit of jumping at the mention of a freight run earned him his name. He was naked from the waist up, his jumpsuit stretched out in less gravity like extra arms at his sides. “Born to fly, Forced to work” was tattooed over his left nipple. 

“No one made you drink all my moonshine,” he says slowly. “I told you to take it easy.”  

I reach down to untether myself from the floor and feel my gorge rise again. “How was I going to stand another minute in this outhouse of a capsule? How far off are we?” 

About an hour, Rabbit says. Force Fed magazine paid for my zero-gee flight from San Francisco to Orbital Three, which left me with enough credit to convince Rabbit to fly me. But after two weeks in this goddamn death trap of a shuttle, I think he owes me. 

“What are you supposed to do out here?” Rabbit asks as he floats a cold packet of coffee to me. I gulp it down through the straw. 

“Fleet’s got a brand new carrier about to make way. State of the art. Want to see if it’s any better than the one that took me back from the war.”  

“I still can’t believe they pay you to write about this shit,” Rabbit says on his way to the vacuum shitter. “Some of us have to work for a living.” 

“If it makes you feel better,” I say, “they don’t pay me much.” After a rubdown with an antibac cloth and a change of jumpsuits, I feel less like a shaved ape. 

I’m back in the EVA suit and strapped into the copilot seat just before coming within range of Station Alpha’s scanners. Some no-neck with too much authority roars at poor Rabbit over comms for confirmation of access codes before he blows quote that piece of shit outta his sky end quote. Rabbit’s too stoned to muster anything resembling anger. Which is good. Last time I saw him angry, Rabbit had already cut one miner across the forehead with a broken barstool and was getting ready to put the hurt on three more. He’s fast, too. 

“Transit Eileen Gutierrez to Advantage, over,” Rabbit says. 

Rabbit flies Lydia into the massive maw of the station. It feels like being swallowed. I want to puke again. 

Rabbit tries to hug me as I’m heading out the airlock and for once I let him, because he’s not all that bad for a hippie type. Payment in full goes from my hand to his suit pocket. I put my helmet on and the doors cycle open. The umbilical walkway is partially transparent, so I get a good look at the station’s guts. Industrial on an almost planetary scale. Cargo loaders swimming in lesser gravity with containers twice their size like sucker fish with too big a bite to swallow. Out here I get my best look at the Advantage

The carrier I rode home on looked like an orbital construction platform, all antenna and asymmetrical flanges, emergency yellow. This thing’s sleek, black and curved, with the flight deck facing backwards, slung underneath the main engines. It vaguely reminds me of a stapler. Something in my stomach slides left and I focus on getting to the other side of the airlock. 

Waiting for me is a very green ensign. Curly black hair cut tight. The uniform, some cross between a flight suit and a dictator’s utilitarian business suit, sits crisp and smart. He’s so young that I gain ten years just looking at him. 

 “Ms. Gutierrez?” The ensign says. I crack open the helmet and a blast of cigarette smoke hits him dead in the face. Between coughs, he tells me there’s no smoking on board. I extinguish the cig and turn on the fan. The smoke gets sucked back into the suit. 

“Better?” I say. 

“If you’ll follow me,” the ensign says. “I’ll show you to your quarters.”

If it seems like I’m being an asshole, it’s just because I can’t stand myself. I’m such an introvert outside of a job that being a shithead helps me overcome my timidness. 

 The carpeted decks in this section of the ship have that industrial glue smell people mistake for new. Some workers in bright green jumpsuits are tearing plastic wrap off holographic emitters, directing bots to vacuum up random dust. 

The pain’s a constant companion. The EVA suit braces most of my body, dealing with years of low grav travel. Bones become more fragile. My spine lengthens without gravity to hold it down. THC pills and nerve dampers help. 

Some of my stash is prescribed. The rest is recreational. I take too much too often. Let me be honest to myself about that, if no one else.

 My quarters are no bigger than a Martian jail cell, only cleaner and neater. Crisp linen sheets on the twin bed. Warm ambient light from the edges of the ceiling. The ensign leaves me to it, visibly happy to be going. I have that effect on people. 

I sit down on the bed, wanting to sleep for two days straight. I’m exhausted just from walking here. My breath comes with a small clicking sound. Instead, I place my helmet beside me on the bed and start running a sweep. No easily spotted bugs, audio or visual. Some sensors for fire and hull breach. Modify the fire so I can smoke in here. I place a clear plastic sensor next to the door. Hard to see on sensors and the naked eyeball, it tracks whenever someone other than me passes through the door. This isn’t paranoia. Being cautious with the military is just good sense. 

A blinking icon appears on the corner of the wall just above eye-level. Calendar reminder. I snap two fingers and an invite takes up the majority of the wall. Subtle. 

Meet-and-greet with the ship’s Executive Officer in Lounge 3 in half-an-hour. Best I get ready. 

I send a few programs into the ship’s systems through the fire alarm security vulnerability. They’ll signal when they’ve found what I’m looking for. 

Lounge 3 ends up being three tram stops from my closet of a room. The doors hiss open and representatives from Buzzfeed, InterStellarCast, Al-Qarr look any direction but mine. Everyone else has a good look then goes back to their drinks. My reputation precedes me.  

Mikki Anders waves me over from the bar. Mikki’s a good one. Covers military affairs for the Crease. Great reporter. Owner of massive locs and self-proclaimed blackest woman alive.  

“Who did you piss off to get assigned this?” she says. 

“That’s hurtful, Mikki,” I say. “I have great interest in the Fleet’s maintenance of military superiority.” 

“Bullshit,” she says. “Ten to one you’re here about the cost of this carrier, too.” Did I mention smart? 

She’s about to continue when the door hisses open and what can only be the XO comes in, flanked by two lieutenants. He’s a grizzly old bastard, square cut grey hair, trimmed beard, hands the size of construction gauntlets. He rubs those bear claws together and smiles like a shark. 

“Welcome, everyone. Welcome. I’m Executive Officer Trent Lantham. Now, before we begin the tour…” 

I raise my hand. “Eileen Gutierrez, Force Fed.” 

Lantham frowns. Mikki puts a hand over her eyes. 

“We’ll have time for questions at the end of the tour,” Lantham said. 

“What’s the retirement age for senior officers in the Fleet?” I say. 

“I’m not sure what that has to do with…” 

“Because the last time I checked it was 50. You’re 53, according to your bio.” 

Lantham frowns deeper. “I have special disposition…” 

“Given by Admiral Takanawa when you personally led the mission that rescued her granddaughter from pirates off Saturn Station. Must have been a rough mission, seeing as how there’s no helmet cam footage of it.” 

The skin under Lantham’s haircut is flush. Anger issues, according to his last psych eval. 

“Are you insinuating, Mizz Gutierrez, that I’m responsible for the lack of helmet cam footage?” 

“No,” I say. “I’m just thinking out loud.” 

Then we glare at each other for a few seconds. 

“Now,” he says, almost gritting his teeth. “The tour.” 

The other reporters follow him out of the room. 

“What the fuck was that?” Mikki said. “He was never going to tell you anything. You’ll be lucky if you don’t get kicked off the ship.” 

“Then I’d better stay out of his way,” I say, walking out. 

Lantham’ll be so busy trying to be personable that he won’t miss me for a while. 

I’ve got a few places to check out, data to sample and sift through. Plus press tours are boring, scripted shit. 

First, I turn on my displacer tag, confusing on-board sensors for a while. Then I pull up the map I built from leaked info about the Advantage

The tram drops me off at the ship’s largest med bay. I put the suit’s ears out. Data starts to trickle in. Wartime capacity of the med bay is 200. Only 9 of the beds are in-use. Skimming patient info tells me it’s basic stuff: fractures, bruises. 

One guy’s getting treated for pain med abuse. Speaking of, my spine’s on fire. 

“Excuse me,” I say to one of the nurses. “I’m sorry to bother you. I must have eaten something nasty on-route to the ship. What would you suggest for a throbbing headache and general hatred of the universe?” 

The nurse stares at me.

“Where is your security badge?” she says. Shit. 

Then someone else comes up. I’ll call them Doc. Not an actual doctor. Blue scrubs. Thin, of Indian descent, hips you can grab onto. It may have been a while since I got laid. 

“I’ll take care of this, Keenan,” Doc says. “How can I help you, Ms. Gutierrez?” 

“Only on board ten seconds and I’m already well known.” 

“We’ve been briefed about our guests,” Doc says. “And you’re the only one confined to a suit at the moment. I like your work. Does the International Surgeon General actually prescribe himself antipsychotics?” 

“No,” I say. “But he should. He’s batshit insane. Hangover cure?”  

“Bloody Mary’s are nice, but I think I’ve got something else for you in the pharmacy.” We walk across miles of curving floor to a frosted sliding door. Doc locks the door behind him. 

“Okay,” he says. “How much do you want?” 

It occurs to me then that Doc is trying to sell me drugs. My lucky day. 

“Well, I’m coming down from some uppers, so opiates would help. The Alzheimer’s cure, because I’m a little sleep deprived and that hangover cure.” 

I pay with an anonymous credit chip. The hangover cure ends up being an IV canister and some caffeine pills. Waste of time. I ask Doc why they would risk getting court-martialed by selling on a military ship. 

“Because I get paid next-to-nothing,” they said. “Fleet spends more money on making a pretty hospital than actual medical equipment. And because I get bored easily.” 

Once I’m adequate, I stroll out of the med bay and take in the recycled air. There’s something wrong with this ship. Or maybe I just hate the idea of it. The future now before it works properly. 

Another tram stop, another datapoint to exploit. The Simulation Chamber was supposedly designed to practice emergency procedures with the crew, along with occasional recreational use. Carriers can spend years in space during a tour of duty. I’d have killed for a little reminder of Earth back when I was enlisted. Or something fun that wasn’t drinking until I blacked out. I pop the Chamber door open and walk inside. Its neutral state is like the inside of a golf ball: grey panels curving at ceiling and floor. I step up to an operating panel and have the suit send some commands. 

The chamber hums and bright light flashes from the walls. The floor changes to holographic grass. Trees sprout from them. The room grows in depth. A horizon behind a wide open field. 

From behind a tree trots out a centaur. Usually the torso of a human and the body of a horse. Only this one’s switched. Giant black eyes look out of a horse’s head with brown fur and a diamond shaped white patch between the eyes. The fur continues past hooves where there should be arms. At the waist the human part starts, but with the largest set of Combined genitalia I’ve ever seen. The centaur flicks its head in a way I have to assume is come hither. I make a note of who’s listed as the program’s owner and move on to other simulations. There’s a few orgies, which are boring after you’ve been to a few. I check to see if anyone’s run anything remotely combat related in the past two weeks. Nope. 

Humans. Can’t chuck them into space without them wanting to fuck. 

I walk the decks for a while to clear my head. Next on the list is… I’m near some gymnasium when my feet give way. I stumble, but the suit manages to keep me upright. I do a med check, but its green across the board. Something’s up. I’ve been getting high since I was ten years old. This feels like nothing I’ve ever done before. 

Then I remember Doc and his “hangover” cure. I tell the suit to search for pathogens or poisons. Gotcha. That asshole dosed me with Asteroid Miners Fever. Guess Doc wasn’t on the take, unless you count Fleet as a racket. There’s no cure, but it works its way out of your system in a few hours. The bastards are more prepared for me than I thought. The hallway swims in front of my eyes. If they think I’ll give up and go back to my room, they’re full of shit. 

I try to tell the suit to steady me, but the buttons have been moved. I’ve got to find somewhere to rest. 

My memory skips. I’m in a large room with massive bulkheads ahead of me. A few lobsters….crewman…are working on an eggplant…fuck… there’s got to be a chair somewhere around here. Skip. I’m sitting down. Finally. I try to follow a thought, but I only get so far before having to go back and try it again. There are people staring at me through a window. Are they trying to kill me with their eyes? Can’t connect with the suit. 

I get up and walk out in a daze. The screaming alarms and lights shake me out of it. Time to see what’s going on. I tap into the nearest data node as crewmen rush around me. 

The Captain’s signaling the station. External sensors ping several unrecognizable ships.  

The deck lurches under my feet and the suit topples over. 

My head bounces off the deck. 

Things go black. 

I’m gone for a while. When I come back, the alarms are still sounding. Somebody’s shuffling around nearby. 

I lean up and touch my head. 

“Fuck,” someone says. “This one’s still alive.” 

My eyes crack open. 

Two men in patched EVA suits are standing in front of an exposed vent. Plasma cable is coiled at their feet, torn directly from the wall. 

“Either of you have any pain killers?” I say. 

The nearest one, head shaved clean with a maze of scars across his forehead, grins at me with rotting teeth. Lot of pirates smoke meth before raiding a ship. Funny the things you remember when you’re piss scared. 

“I’ve got just the thing,” he says and a sharpened length of steel comes out of a leg holster. 

“I don’t think you understand,” I say as he surges forward. 

The baton pops out from underneath my right gauntlet. The steel glitters in the red alarm light. 

He raises the sharp high and I slap him across the cheek with mine. 

Runny white pours out of his mouth. 

Riot baton. Makes you leak out both ends. I had my taste once while covering a food riot in New York. Knew I needed one for my collection. 

His friend is confused about what happened, which gives me enough time to get to my knees and smack up with the baton. It catches him on the nose and he pukes on his friend. 

Time to run. 

I’m several doors down the hall when the lift opens and a dozen sailors pour out of it, stun pistols at the ready. I dive down on my knees and put my hands over my head.  

Fun fact. Stun pistols can actually kill you. Stops your heart at higher doses. Sweat pools in the suit. Boots pound down the hall. 

“Who the fuck are you?” one of the sailors screams into my ear. 

“Reporter,” I say. 

“Nice try,” he says and disables my suit’s power core. With my arms zip tied behind me, I’m not going anywhere. 

They actually high five each other as they drop the puking twins next to me. 

The Advantage’s brig is not nearly as nice as the rest of the ship. It’s a metal box with plastic molded benches and one toilet. The two assholes who tried to kill me keep glaring at me from across the room. I’ve been peeled outta my suit like a crab. I’m so weak I can barely keep from sliding onto the floor. Only thing I’ve got going for me is the guard glaring at us from the other side of the doors. The moment he takes a break or gets the nod to take a walk, it’s going to be none. I’ve spent enough time in jails to figure that out. 

The door behind the guard slides open. My jaw sets. An ensign comes in. He whispers something to the guard. Here it comes. The guard pulls his stun pistol out. 

“Get against the wall,” he says. Only the gun’s pointed at the two pirates. 

“Let’s go, Guiterrez,” the ensign says, pushing in a float chair. “XO wants to have a word.” 

“Can’t I just stay here with my friends?” I say. Hate radiates from their eyes, but neither pirate moves a muscle. The ensign loads me very gently into the float chair and it follows him out of the brig. 

Lantham’s waiting for me in his office, his back to the door. His desk’s made of actual wood, large enough to serve as shelter during planetary bombardment. He swirls a glass of bourbon around as he stares out a port window. The implication is clear. The float chair parks several feet away from Lantham and the ensign retreats out the door. 

“Do you know what I love most about this job?” Lantham says. 

“The view?” I say. 

Lantham chuckles. “I’ve been staring out portholes my entire adult life. The view never changes. No, getting to serve as XO of this ship. Brand-new. Gleaming in the night.” 

He turns and glares at me. 

“Well, it’s mostly good. I’ve been learning a bit about you since our encounter earlier. Studying your articles. Lot of violence in them. Lot of drugs being taken.” 

I shrug and fire crackles up and down my shoulders.

 “I write about my life.” 

“It makes you an untrustworthy journalist,” he says. 

The bourbon rocks in his drink clink together as he takes a big pull. 

“Along with a danger to my crew and other guests. Trespassing on government property. Hell, how do I know you didn’t help those pirate bastards onto the ship? I’m just guessing, but with what we’ll find in your suit and in your bloodstream, you’ll be lucky if you can get a job writing obituaries. Fleet has its own narcotics policies, thankfully more strict than the rest of the universe.” 

I can see we’re getting to the point. Finally. 

“What is it that you want?” I say. 

Lantham props himself on his bunker of a desk. 

“I want a written apology that will be sent to the far corners of this station, along with my command staff. I want this apology read out loud to the guests that were at the reception. And if you don’t do that, your chair might malfunction and drop you out an airlock. Am I being clear, you little shit?” 

I have to say, I’ve been threatened by a lot of people over the years, but this guy’s got them all beat. 

“Of course,” I say. “What’s my deadline with the apology?” 

It catches the man a bit short. 

“ASAP,” he says. 

“Got a tab I can use?” 

He doesn’t let me near his terminal and he has nothing else in the room that would transmit for security purposes. So Lantham orders the chair to find my EVA suit, which a few technicians are turning inside out. 

I shoo them away and haul myself back inside the suit. I’m a sweaty gross mess, but I don’t have time to clean up. Lantham wants this done within the hour. So I bring down the helmet’s visor, lock it in place and light up a cigarette. My fingers dance over the touch keys inside the suit, words appearing on the visor. Time gets so short I go full voice recognition, which makes for shit copy, but I clean it up after. 

My meetup with destiny happens in the reception area. 

Lantham taps a spoon on a flute of champagne. 

“Before we celebrate our victory over the pirates, I believe Ms. Gutierrez has something she’d like to say.” 

I walk up to the mic. 

“Thank you, XO.” I face the crowd. Mikki’s in the front, eyes sympathetic. “My remarks are being downloaded to your sites even as I speak them.” 

Lantham had to verify every word before it went out. 

He’s standing just to my right, a small smirk playing across his lips. 

“Earlier today, I made some accusations about Executive Officer Lantham’s storied military career. That he had erased helmet cam footage of the rescue of the Admiral’s granddaughter. I’m here to say today that those accusations were false and that I apologize to the XO for any embarrassment my statements may have caused him. A malfunctioning engine core set off an EMP which wiped the hard drives.” 

I turn to look at Lantham. I make sure our eyes are locked when I speak again. I want him to see me say the words. 

“Along with that is evidence of other accusations I’m about to make right now. Such as the fact that the Advantage is a trillion credit project that not only doesn’t make our Fleet stronger, but will cost lives.” 

Lantham shoots me a death glare and whispers into his lapel mic. No doubt he’s trying to stop the downloads. Only he can’t.

My suit’s spent the past few hours burrowing into the networks onboard. Any intelligent programs probably think my digging is part of its normal functions. 

“Along with records of millions spent on luxury accommodations for officers, when most crewmen don’t even have hot water, are deep scans of the ship itself.”

 I’m really going to owe Rabbit for that one. He’s the only one that could do the scans without getting caught. 

“I’ve highlighted in my reporting the thousands spent on its infrastructure and hull, when the ship budget shows it should be millions. It’s why the Advantage couldn’t uncouple safely when the station was attacked. There’s about a million in damage to the station and the ship.” Which would probably have been hushed up if I hadn’t just announced it in front of these bloodhounds. 

“Funds diverted from the budget into an extremely expensive simulation chamber used mainly for sexual activity, along with building a cigar lounge, bar and pool. But not all of the money went into these frivolous things. Some of it went into a particular account. One that was very difficult to source.” Until I was let right into the office of the person I was gunning for. 

“You’re retiring next year, right, XO? I wonder where you’ll go. Anywhere, I suppose, with the millions you’ve siphoned away…”

Lantham leaps at me, fingers splayed like claws, pure fury boiling out of his eyes. He gets an armored gauntlet to the face, which knocks him out cold. 

He flops to the ground and I stare down at him. What did he expect? That I’d fold because he threatened to kill me? 

I hit my comm. 

“Rabbit. Now would be a good time to leave.” 

I’m running for the launch bay as fast as the suit allows. Just because the information is out there doesn’t mean someone won’t kill me as revenge for the XO. There were more partners in this scheme. They just need tracking down.  

Chatter on the shipwide comm goes berzerk. 

“This is the XO. We have a spy onboard. Stop Eileen Gutierrez from leaving this ship at all costs.” Fuck. He’s never going to stop lying. Doors slide open and confused crewmen stare at me as I rush past them. Some of them try to latch onto the suit and drag me to the floor. Problem is, the suit’s slow at first, but once it has momentum, it’s hard to stop. 

Case in point, an entire platoon of sailors comes to a halt in front of me, plasma rifles at the ready. I plow through them and keep going. I’m trying not to hurt them. Change of plans. 

I find a semi-empty hallway and pull down a latch on a wall. A door hinges up and I squirm into an emergency pod. An engineer stops to stare at me. 

“It’s anarchy!” I say, closing the hatch back. I strap into the seat and yank the emergency releases. The capsule tries to fling me against the hatch, but the straps keep me in place. Fire frames the small porthole in the hatch, then the Advantage. There’s massive scarring across the ship’s hull. I catch a few thousand frames with my suit’s camera. 

“Rabbit, you copy?” I say. 

“Roger,” he crackles in my ear and I breathe a little easier. 

“I’m about to hit this capsule’s locator. I need a super-quick catch.” 

“I figured as much. This is beginning to be an expensive trip for you.” 

“Not me,” I say. “Force Fed. But you’ll get paid well, Rabbit. Hell, I’ll probably get a bonus. Maybe even a column.” 

“This is your life?” he says. 

“Is there any other way to live?” I say. I can almost hear him shaking his head over the comms. The capsule shakes and veers sideways away from the ship. I pop a few uppers and sip on my emergency stash of bourbon in the suit and reroute comms through Rabbit’s ship. Offers for articles from other sites are rolling it, but Force Fed’s still outbidding them. For now. They’ll probably take the cost of being sued by the military for hijacking a capsule out of my pay, but it’ll have been worth it. I lean back into the seat and think about the next story. 

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Meet the Finalists for the 2022 !Short Story Contest!

Sunday, June 26th, 2022

Including our Defenestrationism tradition of
a photo of our author’s favorite chair.

Bobby Harrell is a public librarian who lives in South Central Kentucky. With over a decade of library experience, Bobby tries to inject into his writing the familiar and the strange living side-by-side. Bobby’s been a lifelong writer and reader, creating worlds and characters to populate them for as long as he can remember. 

Lucy Zhang writes, codes, and watches anime. Her work has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Fireside Magazine, Wigleaf, and elsewhere. She is the author of the chapbooks HOLLOWED (Thirty West Publishing, 2022) and ABSORPTION (Harbor Review, 2022). Find her at or on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.

Gregory Nooney earned a master’s degree in social work (MSW) from Loyola University in Chicago in 1983, has worked as a mental health therapist for over 35 years, and has conducted numerous workshops on various topics. My book Diagnosing and Treating Dissociative Identity Disorder: A Guide for Social Workers and All Frontline Staff has been published by NASW Press. He is passionate about reducing the stigma of those with early childhood trauma, especially those with dissociative disorders. He is currently working on a novel about a man with a diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder.

Robert Bagnall was born in a doubly-landlocked English county when the Royal Navy still issued a rum ration, but now lives by the sea. He is the author of the science fiction thriller ‘2084 – The Meschera Bandwidth’ and over fifty published short stories, twenty-four of which are collected in the anthology ‘24 0s & a 2’. Both are available on Amazon. Three of his stories have also appeared in NewCon Press’ annual ‘Best of British Science Fiction’ anthologies. He blogs at and can be contacted there.

Ginger Dehlinger waited until she retired to begin writing “for the love of words, not money.” She writes in multiple genres and topics, whatever interests her at the time. She has self-published two novels (Brute Heart, set in Oregon, Never Done, inColorado) and one middle-grade children’s book (The Goose Girl’s New Ribbon).Her poetry has appeared in over a dozen journals and anthologies.

Ginger has won or placed in several writing competitions, including best nature essay in the 2011 Nature of Words contest for Pacific Northwest writers and first runner-up in The Saturday Evening Post’s 2022 Great American Fiction Contest. You can find her in Bend, Oregon or at

Brad Kelechava is a professional blogger whose writing you might come across while searching for topics spanning renewable energy to the history of rats. His short fiction appears in Tales to TerrifyHyphenPunkUtopia Science Fiction, and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and their cat.

Steve Loiaconi is a journalist and a graduate of George Mason University’s MFA program. His fiction previously appeared in Griffel, True Chili, the Good Life Review, East by Northeast, River River, and the New Plains Review. He lives in Washington, DC with his wife and son.

Ross West has placed fiction, essays, journalism, and poetry in publications from Orion to the Journal of Recreational Linguistics. His work has been anthologized in Best Essays Northwest, Best of Dark Horse Presents and elsewhere. He edited the University of Oregon’s research magazine, Inquiry, was senior managing editor at Oregon Quarterly, and served as text editor for the Atlas of Oregon and Atlas of Yellowstone.  

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Finalists Now Announced for the 2022 !Short Story Contest!

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2022

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Raising a Critical Thinker

Monday, May 30th, 2022

an excerpt from “Because of My Guardian Angels”
by Francesca Alicea

Raising a critical thinker was quite a challenge. He always needed an explanation for everything required of him. Even today he questions my advice. But, I’m glad he at least takes the time to seek it.

I should have known I was in for a rough one when his independent play involved a mathematical game he enjoyed as a little tyke.

He would start with 1 +1 is 2, 2 +2 is 4, 4 +4 is 8 and so on. I can’t remember exactly how high of a number his little game reached before he stopped. But I do remember I stopped doing the mental math before he did.

He grew up to be a modest man of few words. But the few words he speaks will stop you, and he’ll surely have your attention.

Yet you’ll never hear him boast of his accomplishments. But this proud mom not only has the memories, but the trophies, medals and certificates to remind him of them for whenever he’s in doubt.

Like being the youngest Chess Champion of his Elementary School.  He was only six when he earned this title, which qualified him to compete in the State Competition.

The state competition was tough, and he had a choice to resign after losing his queen. But instead, he continued with a vengeance and conquered the rude opponent who had smacked his queen off the board.

He won the match and moved on to the next round. That year he placed in the top three in his division in the State.

You’ll never hear from him that he met and received guidance and advice from some amazing Chess Masters. Or that he received State recognition for his performance when he took the SATs in 5th grade. 

I’m also positive that he does not even remember that he received The Paul Robeson Recognition Award for Academic Achievement in High School.

So, to my youngest, the humble, critical thinker and numbers guy, I’d like to say, don’t ever forget the many accomplishments that you may deem as small for they created the man, you are today.

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A Girl’s Pocket Guide to Protecting Her Heart

Sunday, May 22nd, 2022

by Chantelle Tibbs

I don’t believe in “love at first sight,” but I do believe in “high at first sight.” I don’t believe that women get attached faster, I think we get high faster. And I think there is a way to date in the world that does not run our hearts through the ringer. How do we as women make the way we are wired work for us, and not against us, in an ever-changing dating climate more geared toward men coming out ahead? Out a head. Get it?

But enough of my childish quotes and lofty claims, let’s talk about the Bible. In 2020 my father died suddenly. We aren’t sure how exactly, but it was January 23rd of 2020 in Los Angeles, California. He had a mysterious virus and died of underlying conditions. Less than two months later, we were under a “two week” quarantine for COVID 19. I’ll let you connect the dots or not. I was feeling lost and decided to hang out with a neighbor who posed as a possible new friend offering their condolences. I made the mistake of driving this neighbor to and from where we planned to go. It turns out he was a foaming at the mouth Christian (not the real kind, the victim of politicized religion kind). He was so rabid, he would have punched Jesus in the face for disagreeing with him. The car ride lasted for what seemed hours, as his head turned 360 degrees on his shoulders, and he spouted off every scripture he had ever memorized. 

Ironically, one line of a scripture stuck with me though. So much so that I asked him to repeat it three times. I don’t remember the whole scripture, but I remember the part I asked him to repeat. 

“Guard your heart with vigilance.” 

I live by this code. I’m not saying close your heart. I’m not saying to hurt and use others and pretend it’s self-preservation. I am not into being savage or trying to hurt anyone, for that matter. But I do believe in treating our hearts like treasures and guarding them with vigilance. And I do believe that as resilient as we are as humans, the human heart can only take enough. 

But what if you – a fun loving woman in this world – just want to have some fun and hook up a little? Great. I recommend using protection, making sure you really want to do it and that you’re not being persuaded. And if you are resistant to sex in general, I recommend making sure again, you are not being persuaded. But let’s walk into this battlefield armed with facts. Recent studies done on One Night Stands ( show that only 40% of women will have an orgasm during a one night stand whereas a man will reach an orgasm 80% of the time. And, yes, as a queer woman I can say that this pocket guide still applies. Our chances of having an orgasm are higher, though, if that helps soften the blow – because the percentages change for lesbians. It jumps to over a 60% chance of reaching an orgasm. But if you’re still looking for some 40% fun, or for that percentage to rise ever so slightly after a few encounters, I can’t say I blame you. 

This “high at first site” has much to do with oxytocin – a hormone from the pituitary gland, often called “the love hormone.” But remember, oxytocin is not your friend. Most women mistake an oxytocin rush for what they believe to be true love feelings. A lot of research has been done on this. One of my favorite takes on what has come up, is that in general women don’t need men in the way men need women so nature has to trick us into attaching ourselves to a man long enough in order for a child to be conceived. Whatever the reason, the oxytocin rush of meeting someone new for a woman, is a high like no other. And that high may have us crying for days, keying cars, confessing our love from mountain tops. 

So what goes about bringing on that high and what can be done about it? The answer is simple. Smell. Human beings are capable of sniffing-out certain parts of our potential partners’ DNA that make up their immune system, called major histocompatibility genes, to determine whom we’re compatible with.

We are often drawn to people whose MHC compositions are different from our own so that the immune system of our offspring covers as many diseases as possible. The reaction to this scent causes an oxytocin rush that has you believing you are attached to the person you are smelling. But it’s not them. It’s their scent. 

So here’s what I wish someone told me when I was eighteen. To guard your heart with vigilance, I recommend you try to avoid situations where you smell new lovers often, like cuddling too much or sleeping over. Take a shower immediately after any sexual encounter. You can also go to the gym after seeing a person you are intimate with so your body isn’t sure where the oxytocin came from, the workout or the hookup. 

Another option is to take herbs such as wood betony to help with any withdrawals you may feel when you separate from a lover. Wood betony is an herb used to treat withdrawals in folks recovering from drug addiction. 

The truth is, it takes a lot more than sniffing out what will keep our offspring’s immune systems popping. Armed with the right kind of tools we can set our dating life up so we get to take time to get to know someone. We can find out if they are kind or if we really even want to see them again. We can discover what their love language is. We can figure out if we ever even want offspring. Or we can choose to pick our partner with the very heart we intend to protect.

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Concept Albums Explained

Sunday, May 15th, 2022

The First Concept Albums:
Gustav Holst, Woody Guthrie, Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis

What are the first concept albums? And what is a concept album, anyway?… read more

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Concept Albums Explained

Monday, May 9th, 2022

Highway 61, Revisited

by Paul-Newell Reaves

In 1965 when Bob Dylan creates “Highway 61, Revisited” the first rock’n’roll concept album is born, and the well traveled subject of the road trip album is established.

US Route 61 historically traversed from Minnesota to New Orleans, providing a path for much of middle America towards jazz, booze, excitement and escape. The road follows the Mississippi River, so Dylan’s work is immediately placed in the company of Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”… read more

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My Children’s Father

Friday, May 6th, 2022

an excerpt from “Because of My Guardian Angels”
by Francesca Alicea

The subject of my children’s father is one I rarely discuss.  Perhaps I’m just ashamed of the many years I tried to make it work. 

At times I wonder was I too young or did we just grow apart as I matured?  After all he was my first and I had no one to compare him to.  I had no idea of what a healthy relationship or what a good father or husband should be like.

I disregarded many red flags early on. Probably because I did not know any better. And when my children came I was even more determined to make it work. Looking back I realize that my determination to break the trend of growing up without a father totally blinded me.

Dagger after dagger, red flag after red flag went unnoticed or downplayed.  My priority was the children.  The thought of them growing up without their father would send chills up my spine.  But, since we all have our limits, that day came for me as well.

It took much to awaken me from a deep state of denial, but when I awakened, all I had buried or kept deep inside finally burst. There was no going back.

I can’t judge him. I know that we all have our burdens to deal with. Whatever was and is going on within him is not for me to criticize, but I can’t condone his actions either. I can’t change, judge, or help him. The battle within himself is his alone.

I can admit that, despite our differences and our altered missions in life, that he’s an excellent chess player, pianist, portrait artist, and that foreign languages are very easy for him to learn.

So as part of my healing I choose to focus on the positive things. I will always remember the beautiful oil on canvas portrait he painted of me and “Francesca’s Song” a piano instrumental he wrote for me.  Hey, I can even play a mean game of chess.  But, the best gifts of all are my two amazing children and now my grand.  These beautiful gifts were the result of my determination to make it work.

I differentiate better now and recognize exactly how I want to be treated.  So my next if I so choose I’m positive will not be random selection.

I hope to always remember that my children and grand all have or will have their mission and burdens to deal with in life. So I would like them to know that I will not judge them, but will always be a good listener.

And they should also be aware that the advice I give them comes from a loving mother’s heart.  And, that I’m human and made and will make mistakes.  I just hope they can forgive me whenever I do.

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Announcing the Winners of the 2022 Lengthy Poem Contest

Monday, May 2nd, 2022

What a contest, what a contest–
what a contest.

From the cerebral to the emotional, from the natural to chaotic, from the mystical to the mathematical– this year’s poems defied our expectations.

Never one to waste time,
the Grand Prize Winner is

How to Find a Black Hole in Your Kitchen
by Dana Kroos

Fan Favorite:

My Love Letter to Divine Femininity
by Nicole Del Rio

Read all three finalists for the 2022 Lengthy Poem Contest, here.
Want more Lengthy Poems?
Submit a Lengthy Poem to next years contest.

Submission for our
2022 !Short Story Contest!
is now open until June 7th.
The contest will begin publishing weekly on June 19th.
Winners will be announced Labor Day (US), which is September 5th.

Join us at
all of May and into June for our
Summer schedule,

Turn Off Shuffle: Concept Albums Explained
a column by Paul-Newell Reaves

An excerpt from “Because of My Guardian Angels”
by Francesca Alicea

A Little Bit About Vastu
a five part series by Chantelle Tibbs

Back to the Lengthy Poem Contest
What’s New at
!Short Story Contest! guidelines
even more contests from

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Concept Albums Explained:

Sunday, May 1st, 2022

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

by Paul-Newell Reaves

There are no other contenders: “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” is the greatest concept album in the history of recorded music.  Her lyrics are powerful and often profound.  Her rhymes are multisyllabic, and her rhyme schemes complex.  And not a single track deviates from its simple, yet sophisticated concept: Lauryn Hill missed school the day they taught us all about Love.

We’ve heard a lot of songs about Love, before. But Hill doesn’t give us just another lesson on Love, or another sob-story, or another fairy-tale. She tells us what she wasn’t taught about Love, and what she should have been. 

But what makes “Miseducation” so very great is the full realization of its concept, beyond the wildest dreams of its potential… read more

Winners now announced for the 2022 Lengthy Poem Contest
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