Jim Hilgartner: Two Flash Fictions

Time Is Running Out

            And once again the water leaves the shore, fading away to the horizon. The shore extends itself into wet flats, miles of rippled mud draped with long strips of sky. These turn back to water, gray like the mud but lit from within, when the wind blows in from beyond the distant waves.
———-Small boats settle and sprawl on their sides, abandoned by the water that lent them grace.
———-We sit on the birdlime-spattered rocks, in the gray wind, and watch the water leaving.  We say nothing, each thinking, There it goes. The water rushes outward, toward the edges of the earth. The gray sky lowers; sheets of it lie on the mud and turn to water when harried by the wind.
———-Time is running out. We see it, we know it. Give me your hand.

Doc Barfield’s Dreams

———-As a younger man, dreaming, Doc Barfield relived incessantly the morning his two boys drowned. He’d smell the bacon and eggs as he stirred them in the skillet, admire the first salmon-colored streaks on the horizon as he walked with the boys to the dock. He’d shake their hands—very manly—and make them promise to wear their life vests. Tell them to bring back a stringer of bream so he could fry them up for lunch. Realize his life was over the moment the sheriff tapped on his door. . . .
———-But in his later dreams, Doc Barfield’s boys remain undrowned. He has lunched with them on the bream they’d have brought back if their canoe hadn’t capsized, attended ball games, graduations. He’s bailed the younger, Toby, out of jail, and discovered with the elder, Frank, that he is gay. The boys he dreams are all grown up now, out living on their own. This is a source of comfort to Doc Barfield, whose cancer is quite advanced, and who can’t say what will happen to his dreams once he is gone.

English Professor (Huntingdon College) and Fiction Editor (THAT Literary Review), Jim Hilgartner has published in journals including Apocryphal Text, The Chapbook, Greensboro Review, Mid-American Review, New Orleans Review, Red Mountain Review, SLAB, and Vermont Literary Review, and twice received Fellowships in Literature from the Alabama State Council on the Arts.


Salvatore Difalco: “Playmate”


Amorphous, hazy morning. The fleshy stocking-clad brunette in my bedroom requests a Coca-Cola and a magazine. She is an image from a dated magazine, and I am the printed ephemera crowding the margins. Instead of despairing, I gaze out the kitchen window.

Blue, red and yellow dots make up the view, with passing people thick-lined in black to separate them from the scenery and from each other. A wandering path with no clear point of departure or arrival meanders anesthetically through different densities of green.

“Where’s that drink? I’m bored. I’m really bored.”

“Coming right up, hon.”

And I am like a defeated nation; fear and dread fill my mind like stick figures fleeing from fire. Many comrades fell during the fighting. The generals are all mad. I need more than psychology to sort out the minefield my thoughts have become.

“Hurry. I’m dying of thirst. And I’m dying of boredom.”

“There are better ways of expressing society’s failings.”

I am not hurrying. I shut my eyes and move through suspended bamboo poles of resentment, into a spot-lit clearing, the poles gently swaying and knocking together behind me like giant wind chimes. Photographic fragments of my past flash by. A lost history. But all memory is lost history.

“I’m getting sweaty!”

“Maybe you’d rather bleed.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? You can’t talk like that to me. I’m American.”

“You’re from Buffalo.”

“I’m still American.”

“You grew up an hour away.”

“You don’t own a gun, do you?”

The word gun slides into my ears like mud. A chill goes through me. The kitchen looks composed of Ben Day dots. I feel like an opium smoker resting against a monument. I feel incongruous.

“I feel incongruous.”

“That Coca-Cola better be cold.”

The hard edges of her words clack together, then soften and merge to form one sound: “Caw. Caw. Caw.” It’s as if a giant eagle occupies my bedroom, with a giant beak and cruel, horny eyes.


Salvatore Difalco‘s work has appeared in a number of print and online formats. He lives in Toronto.

Marina Rubin: “Nefertiti”


For years I’ve had this exuberant bed that looked like The Egyptian Crib for Nefertiti.

A man I was living with in 2001 picked it out, 6 months before we broke up.

I kept the bed.

Last week when I returned from Italy, I was changing the sheets and the bed fell apart, literally crumbled to pieces–one wood panel collapsed, the other became unglued, the footboard dropped to the floor with a loud thud and then the massive headboard plummeted down almost killing my cat…chips and splinters flying everywhere around the room…There was such wonder and magnificence to this spectacle that I just stood there, mesmerized.

Then I tucked each panel under my arm and took the elevator down to the garbage area behind my building. As I tried to maneuver the planks into the dumpster, one of my neighbors–a recently divorced woman with two kids–walked by and asked me what happened. I told her the bed had come undone for no apparent reason.

“You think it ever brought me joy?” I exclaimed, slamming the last panel to the ground.

She paused looking at the mahogany debris scattered all around the yard and then said, “Why don’t you come over to my place tonight for a glass of wine.”

In all the 15 years we had been neighbors, this was the first time she ever spoke to me.

I didn’t even know her name.


Marina Rubin’s work has appeared in over eighty magazines and anthologies, including 13th Warrior Review, Asheville Poetry Review, Dos Passos Review, 5AM, Nano Fiction, Coal City, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Jewish Currents, Lilith, Pearl, Poet Lore, Skidrow Penthouse, The Worcester Review, and many more. She is an editor of Mudfish, the Tribeca literary and art magazine. She is a 2013 recipient of the COJECO Blueprint Fellowship.

Robert L. Penick: “The Empty Poet”

The Empty Poet

He started a poem about how difficult it was to start a poem. Then he gave it up. No one should ever write a poem about writing poetry. It’s like masturbating a corpse. So he looked out the window of the McDonald’s restaurant and searched for a worthy topic. In the next two tables a family was having a reunion with hamburgers and French fries. They talked of Medicare and computer printers and birthdays. This distracted the Poet to no end. He was looking for profundity. Next door, the grandfather urged his wife to finish her coffee. “It’ll put hair on your chest. Then we’ll put you in the circus, make some money.” Grampa will be eighty years old in August, but doesn’t feel it. “Eighty is the new seventy,” the Poet thinks, then scribbles that thought into his notebook.

Outside the window, a young Hispanic man runs a weed trimmer around the perimeter of a small tree. The reaper knocking down life. But wait! The grass isn’t dead, just shortened, so the simile is false. Where have all his grand perceptions gone? Did they ever exist? The Poet blames Facebook and his noisy smartphone for his lack of depth.

Returning home, he will turn on the television and click through countless channels, stopping occasionally to gape at an explosion or an exemplary pair of breasts. Around nightfall it crosses his mind he should adopt a cat from the local shelter. Ten minutes later that notion is forgotten.

As he prepares for bed, a lonely thought wanders into his head:

What becomes of unthought ideas?

Where do they go?


Robert L. Penick‘s work has appeared in over 100 different literary journals, including The Hudson Review, North American Review, and The California Quarterly. He lives in Louisville, KY, USA, with his free-range box turtle, Sheldon, and edits Ristau, a tiny literary annual. More of his writing can be found at www.theartofmercy.net

Dan Nielsen: “Beryl and Ned Live in a Tiny House”

Beryl and Ned Live in a Tiny House

Beryl was a famous flautist. Ned was an unemployed florist. They met on Absurd Criteria, a dating site that matched partners based on how similar their professions sounded.

Beryl, still in bed, sneezed for the fifth time in less than three seconds.

“I’ll get it, honey.” Ned, arranging imaginary flowers in his mind, made his way to the pull-down bathroom with the medicine cabinet just slightly larger than the generic Dimetapp it contained.

Beryl sneezed again, this time so loudly it nearly ruptured her eardrums. She’d worn protective plugs earlier, but previous sneezes dislodged them completely. Beryl needed her ears to hear. She was first flute with the alt-cowgirl/retro-trance dance band Ten Gallon Pyramid-Shaped Hats. But Beryl’s real passion was The Charismatics, a Christian improv group that took its sketch suggestions directly from God.

“Here.” Ned handed the medicine to his wife.

“Thank you, my love.” Beryl tool a swallow and made a face.

“What is it, darling?” Ned stroked his beard in what appeared to be a thoughtful manner, but it was merely a nervous habit.

“The generic isn’t as good.” Beryl took another swallow, and, to prove her point, made the same face again.

Ned read the label. “The ingredients are identical, sweetheart.”

“I didn’t say it isn’t as effective.” Beryl quibbled.

Ned changed the subject. “Honey, you’re not wearing socks.” He saw her pink toes sticking out from beneath the blanket. “Your feet must be freezing.”

Without getting up, Beryl opened the top drawer of their dresser. The room was the size of a walk-in closet. It was the largest room in their Tiny House. The kitchen was a regular sized closet. Beryl’s music room and the place where The Charismatics practiced was a space under the sink.

The drawer had a divider. One side was her socks and the other side was his. Beryl chose a fuzzy pair of his.




Ned didn’t care about the socks. Tomorrow was Beryl’s birthday. He’d hidden a package of hot-pink pipe cleaners in his side of the drawer. He ordered them directly from the factory in Formosa. They weren’t even pipe cleaners. They were chenille stems.

“Now the inside of my skin itches.” Beryl didn’t bother scratching.

Ned looked at his phone. “That could be liver disease, cancer, a thyroid condition, celiac disease, kidney failure, anemia, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, shingles, or pinched nerve.”

Beryl patted Ned’s arm. “Baby, it’s just a side effect of the generic you bought.”

Some people think there aren’t enough hours in the day. There are, in fact, too many.


Dan Nielsen plays solo ping pong, which is like Tai Chi, but fun. His flash manuscript Flavored Water was a semi-finalist in the Rose Metal Press 2017 SHORT SHORT CHAPBOOK CONTEST. Recent work in: Bird’s Thumb, Minor Literature[s], Cheap Pop, Random Sample, Spelk, and The Dirty Pool. Dan has a website: Preponderous and you can follow him on Twitter @DanNielsenFIVES

Charles Rammelkamp: “Men”


I admit, I always had to bite my tongue when I walked past the elementary school at the corner of Beech and Berry, no cars in sight save for the lone yellow schoolbus beached at the curb like the carapace of some prehistoric sea turtle, and Caroline, tricked out in her neon lime crossing-guard safety vest, told me it was “safe” to cross the street, granting me permission, on my way to the post office. Who did she think she was, Cerberus?

But I knew who she was, the jilted middleaged wife of that cad Brent Alford who’d dumped her for a younger woman, leaving her with a shitty alimony and a kid with serious disabilities. Caroline, formerly a housewife, needed this job to supplement her income, and even if she drove me up a wall, my heart went out to her every time I saw her standing at the crosswalk, holding the snotty hand of some little kid who needed to get on the schoolbus. We lived in the same neighborhood, had known each other for years.

There’d been rumors that her son-in-law, Ray Lawson, had lost his temper and slugged her on more than one occasion. Ray married Brent and Caroline’s daughter Elizabeth, and for a year, before they moved to Tennessee, they’d lived under the same roof with Caroline. Caroline had sported a shiner for a while, but she’d claimed she’d “fallen down,” even though the neighbors had called the police when the shouting and sound of breaking furniture had gotten out of hand.

So on this day, ambling down Beech in a stylized manner that looks rehearsed, if not choreographed, comes a young guy in a wifebeater, cigarette tucked behind his ear, a long greasy curl of hair shading the filter. Pimp-shuffle-skip … pimp-shuffle-skip…I’m behind him about fifteen paces on my way to the post office.

Wifebeater steps off the curb without looking around, lost in his head. Pimp-shuffle-skip.

Caroline blows her whistle, bleats, “Wait a minute!” In her uniform of faux authority (I always think of it as a “costume”) – baggy navy trousers with a wide blue stripe down the legs, a shiny badge that looks like it came out of a cereal box, a cap with a stiff plastic bill – she looks more “bureaucratic” than “powerful” or “intimidating.”

Startled, Wifebeater stumbles at the curb, loses the rhythm of his pimp-shuffle-skip.

“The fuck?” he shouts, glaring at Caroline. “Who the fuck are you, granny? Mind your own fuckin’ business, you old fuck!” And then he resumes his dance across the street, no cars in sight. Pimp-shuffle-skip … pimp-shuffle-skip.

Caroline looks offended, then kind of crumples. She looks around. Nobody but me.

Sure, I’m a retired old guy but not decrepit, and besides, I don’t need to do anything physical to come to her defense. Maybe a stern word of warning? But I don’t do anything. I try looking sympathetic, but I only feel like yet another man who has failed her.


Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore, where he lives, and edits The Potomac, an online literary journal–http://thepotomacjournal.com . His latest book is a collection of dramatic monologues called American Zeitgeist, published by Apprentice House, which also published his collection Mata Hari: Eye of the Day.