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Dick and Jane, Together Again-Fiction by Marcy Dilworth
Lay Down Sally-Fiction by Jack Coey
Cleaning Up After the Narc-Fiction by Walter Giersbach
Faith-Fiction by Don Stoll
Cigarettes-Fiction by Gary Lovisi
Blood Will Bloom Like a Watercolor Flower-Fiction by Hillary Lyon
Toast, Jell-o, Tea-Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
The PLacebo Effect-Fiction by Paul Smith
Aftermath-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Just Like Fish-Fiction by Paul Lubaczewski
Waterworks-Fiction by Sue Cmileski
Saith Me-Fiction by Robert Ragan
The Return of the Ladykiller-Fiction by Michael D. Davis
Fire Man-Fiction by Terry Butler
Lost in Greenwich Village-Fiction by Dr. Mel Waldman
Never, Ever Bring This Up Again-Flash Fiction by Ralph Benton
Hip-Hop Baby-Flash Fiction byJ. Brooke
Idylls of the Queen-Flash Fiction by Dini Armstrong
Looking Cold-Flash Fiction by Stanton McCaffrey
Camera_Flash Fiction by Leyla Guirand
Ashes and Dust-Flash Fiction by Janet Hartwell
Family Man-Poem by Ann Marie Rhiel
Heads-Poem by John Grey
The Architect-Poem by Marc Carver
economy class-Poem by Meg Baird
She Knows-Poem by Bradford Middleton
Rain-Poem by Maddisyn Condora
Counter-Intuitive-Poem by Henry Bladon
An Eerie Journey Down the Invisible Staircase-Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
A Sonnet for Elvira-Poem by Juan Perez
Unforeseen Endings-Poem by Michael Keshigian
When Her Kisses-Poem by Richard M. Prazych
In Your White Cadillac-Poem by Richard M. Prazych
Love in the Time of Wolves-Poem by Jennifer Lemming
I Do-Poem by Jennifer Lemming
a bite better-Poem by Ayaz Daryl Nielsen
hot afternoon-Poem by Ayaz Daryl Nielsen
registry-Poem by Ayaz Daryl Nielsen
Dirty Pink Lipstick-Poem by Ian Mullins
Wrestlin' Gal-Poem by Ian Mullins
Between Takes-Poem by Ian Mullins
Banjo Bob and Cassy-Poem by David Spicer
Neurotic-Poem by David Spicer
I Imagine It's Goodbye-Poem by David Spicer
A Date with Destiny-Poem by Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal
Under Moonlight-Poem by Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal
2020 (The Heart and the Thorn)-Poem by Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal
She Loves You-Poem by Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal
Cartoons by Cartwright
Hail, Tiger!
Angel of Manslaughter
The Gazing Ball
Strange Gardens
Gutter Balls
Calpurnia's Window
No Place Like Home
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Art by A. F. Knott 2020


by Don Stoll


     Detective Inspector Ellen Flay reckoned that she enjoyed the taste of roast goose, Yorkshire pudding, and pigs in blankets as much as anyone. But the words “Christmas dinner” awakened her own Ghost of Christmas Past.

     That Christmas when she was only seventeen, she’d told Ralph she loved him even though she didn’t. Realizing that even though she didn’t love this boy the choice of what and whom to love was hers and not Mum and Dad’s imparted a certain strength, which in turn imparted a certain determination. Course, strength and determination can be misused by a young girl who hasn’t yet got her head screwed on straight.    

     She’d run off with Ralph, but on the bus they counted their money and saw that from Leeds they’d have to thumb it.

     “Could of thumbed it from York,” he said. “Left us more for a bite to eat.”

     “And if we didn’t catch a lift straight off? If one of me dad’s mates saw us? Make everything right in London, anyroad.” 

     Not sure we belong down South, Ralph thought. But you couldn’t argue with Ellen once she’d decided that it couldn’t get any worse than Mass every Sunday and school with the nuns and Mum yapping at her about nothing and Dad having nothing to say except to tell her to listen to her Mum.

     “Could of waited till after Christmas to run off,” Ralph said. “Make for a hard Christmas for me Mum and Dad. And yours.”

     “This our Christmas gift to ourselves, Ralphie. Grab some kip and remember that when you wake up.”                           

     Can’t argue with her, he thought. Best do what she says, grab some kip.               


     “Not a sodding brolly between us,” Ellen said as they got off at the Leeds station.                                              

     Tucking their faces onto their chests against the drizzle, they made their way to a spot that looked right for getting a lift.

     “Be easy, it not dark yet,” she said. “Our young beautiful faces illuminated by the legendary Yorkshire sunshine.”

     Ralph wished she would shut it.

     “Pervs won’t be able to resist,” she laughed. “First priest drives by. . .”  

     “That’s not funny.”

     “Bloody is.”                                         

     A car stopped. The window came down. A man in a tie studied them. To Ellen and Ralph he looked like a businessman, despite the sleeves too long for his jacket.

     “Need a lift?” he said with a heavy working-class accent. 

     Ellen and Ralph admired the car: black Vauxhall 14-6 saloon car, pre-war. Ellen smiled and said “Look like Frank Sinatra” because the pomade in the man’s dark hair hadn’t prevented a lock from tumbling onto his forehead. He pushed the stray lock aside to show the small ugly scar beneath his hairline.

     “Still look like Sinatra?” he said. “But didn’t have to fight the Jerries, did he?”

     “Perforated eardrum, I heard. Yanks’ army wouldn’t have him.”  

     “You believe that, lass?” he said. “Sings like that, got bad hearing?”                 

     Ellen and Ralph climbed in back. Tobacco stink, cheap-rum smell of pomade. Cold.

     “Heat not working?” Ralph said.

     The man drove in silence.

     “Meat pie here you’re welcome too,” he finally said. “Took one bite.” 

     The man handed Ralph something wrapped in a paper napkin.

     “Tuck in,” he said.

     Ralph unwrapped it.

     “Oniony,” Ellen said quietly.

     “No thank you,” Ralph said.

     “Valentine’s Day two months off,” the man said. “Can’t let him eat onions till then?” 

     “Always Valentine’s Day for us,” she said brightly.

     “Won’t press you about what that means,” he said, his voice changing slightly. “But young enough anyroad, reckon you got the stamina.”

     Ellen pressed her knee against Ralph’s.          

     “Mum and Dad know he’s your Valentine?” the man said. “That why you run off?”

     They felt his eyes in the rearview study their dark silhouettes.  

     “Fancies Frank Sinatra she does, lad,” the man said to Ralph. “So maybe sing to her for Valentine’s Day. ‘All or Nothing at All.’”        

     “Out of date you are,” Ellen laughed. “Not heard him do ‘How Deep Is the Ocean?’”

     The man drove some more.

     “You Catholic, luv?” he said.

     Ellen tucked the tiny crucifix hanging outside her jumper inside its V-neck.

     “Habit,” she said.

     “Were Catholic, but lost your faith? Pity. Cruel world. Need faith to get you through.”

     “Yeah, pity,” she said in a tone suggesting the conversation had ended.                                          

     Ralph examined the dashboard. From a spot where there might have been a cigarette lighter dangled a wide-mouthed flexible hose, the length of Ralph’s hand. It reminded him of the gas masks used during the First World War. He tried to suss out what it could be. He tapped Ellen’s knee to get her attention. She’d dozed off. He’d stopped trying to make sense of it by the time she woke up. 

     “Got a name?” she said.

     The man answered impassively. 

     “Spencer is it?” she said. “First or last?”

     “That’s right, lass.”

     Ellen and Ralph stared out the windows.       

     “Traveling light,” Spencer said after he’d driven many more miles. “Skint, are you?”

     Ralph answered vaguely.

     “Buy you a meal, next town?” Spencer said. “Sort of a Christmas dinner, don’t know you’ll get a real one.” 

     Ellen accepted.

     She noticed the hose hanging from the dashboard. She tapped Ralph’s knee in the same way he’d tapped hers earlier. He shrugged.

     Spencer turned into a country lane. Darkness had settled upon the land while Ellen slept.

     “You lost, Spencer?” she said.

     He took a hand off the wheel and held it up, as if to reassure them. He pulled off the road. Ellen and Ralph looked at the trees in the headlights.

     “Going for a slash?” Ellen said.

     Spencer swiveled around to look at them. He rested his left hand on top of his seat.

     “Skint, aren’t you,” he said. “Fiver then, since I’m feeling generous.”

     Spencer had left the engine running. Some light came from the dashboard. Ralph noticed the hose again. Then he saw Spencer’s right hand. It held a gun.

     “Get on before I reduce my offer,” Spencer said. “So who’s first?”

     Ellen looked at Ralph thinking Twat doesn’t get it. She removed her coat.

     “Cold,” she said. “Can keep me jumper on?”

     “You’ll heat up soon enough, lass. Want to see nowt on you. And you, lad.”

     While Ellen and Ralph undressed, Spencer opened the glove box. He found the torch. He switched it on. Ellen and Ralph covered their eyes.           

     “You’ll adjust,” Spencer laughed. “But won’t do the trick in that state, lad.”

     He pointed the gun at Ellen.

     “Don’t play the innocent schoolgirl. You can see what needs to be done.”

     “I am a schoolgirl.”  

     She fingered the silver crucifix between her breasts.     

     “You Catholic too, Spencer? What about that?”

     “Cruel world, lass. Why faith’s needed.”                    

     She complied with Spencer’s wish.

     “Don’t make a Christmas dinner of it, lass. Was taking the piss when I offered one.”

     She pulled away.  

     “Now want to see you licking her right up to her liver, lad.”

     Ellen lay on her back. Ralph bent over her.

     “Hang on,” Spencer said. “In a proper state now, so shouldn’t waste it. On top.”

     “No, Spencer,” Ellen said. “If I get pregnant. . .”

     “Ways to deal with that,” he answered. “Clever lass like you. . .”           

     Ralph complied.       

     “Hang on,” Spencer said.

     “Bloody make up your mind,” Ellen said. “He’s happy to act your monkey.”

     “Flip over,” Spencer said. “Like you’re an egg wanting frying.”

     “Oh God,” she said. “You’re thinking. . .”

     “You’ll get through it, lass,” he grinned. “Lad’s excited enough it be over quick.”

     “Never done it that way,” Ralph said as he looked down at Ellen’s backside.        

     “On your knees, lass,” Spencer said. “Like you’re scrubbing the floor.” 

     Ralph moved up against Ellen. He reached for her breasts.

     “No,” Spencer said. “Let them hang. Want to see a good shake when you drive in.”

     Ralph looked at Spencer.

     “Problem, lad?”

     “I’m trying,” Ralph said. “Wish I could. . .”   

     “You wish you could?!” Ellen said.

     Ralph began to weep.

     “Fucking hell,” Spencer said. “Then manage dog-style, you think?”

     Full-on sobbing, Ralph nodded.

     “Hands off her tits, though, and drive in hard. Can see they’re firm, so you’ll need to get really stuck in to get a good bounce-about.”

     Ralph made several thrusts.

     “That all right?” he said, using his right hand to wipe away his tears.

     His left hand gripped her buttock.

     “Hand blocking me view, lad,” Spencer said. “Put it on the roof, you want leverage.”

     Ralph had stopped crying. He’d settled into a comfortable rhythm. Ellen closed her eyes. She tried to pretend that Spencer wasn’t there. But he kept talking.         

     “Before it’s over just like that—was a young lad meself—I need one more thing from you: need you pulling well out every time. Want to see shaft.”

     Ralph slowed his pace.

     “A natural you are, lad,” Spencer laughed. “And lovely glisten on your shaft.”  

     “Fucking hell,” Ellen said.

     Ralph found a rhythm again. Nature took its course. But the intensity of his orgasm was undercut halfway through by his awareness of Ellen’s silence. 

     “I do something wrong?” he said.

     “Twat you are, Ralph.”         

     “Proud of you, lad,” Spencer said. “Break for the loo?”

     Ralph pulled up his trousers as he climbed out of the car dying to pee.

     “Need your clothes,” Spencer grinned, “now the body heat’s dissipated.”

     Ralph shot off to the side. Ellen went round back of the car. She read by the taillights: 410 NQ. She headed the opposite way from Ralph.    

     Ralph returned to the car first. Spencer had locked the doors. Ralph could see him in the light from the dashboard. The flexible hose now stretched from the dashboard to his crotch. Ellen was now on the other side of the car.

     “Got me coat and bag in there,” she said.

     “You promised a fiver,” Ralph shouted.

     He banged on the window. Spencer’s contorted face looked up.

     “Give us our money, wanker.”

     Turning toward Ellen, Spencer switched on the overhead light and withdrew from the hose. The semen pooled at the end of his penis. The expression on his face was that of a man who’d just taken his first mouthful of cold coffee. He grabbed the gun from the top of the dashboard and pointed it at Ralph. 

     “Wanker,” Ralph shouted.           

     With his free hand Spencer stuffed his penis back into his trousers and rolled the window down a couple of inches. He fired. Because of the shooting angle through the high narrow opening, the bullet went over Ralph’s head. He turned and ran, shouting to Ellen to do the same. Spencer pulled his car back onto the country lane.

     Ellen shivered violently.

     “You that cold?” Ralph said. 

     “That angry.”          

     Ralph took off his coat and draped it over her shoulders.

     “Looking to redeem yourself, Ralphie?”             

     He wouldn’t meet her gaze.

     “You want to play the hero,” she said, “then do what I say. Knob I was to leave me coat and bag. But I’ll get them back.”

     “They’re gone, Ellen. He’s got a motor and we’re hoofing it.”

     “Notice his petrol gauge?” she said walking away. “Nothing open now, he’ll be stuck in the next town.”

     Ralph caught up.

     “He low on petrol?” he said.

     “Too distracted to stop. And you see he didn’t head back to the main road? Knows there’s a town not far. So I’ve got him.”

     “He’s got a gun,” Ralph said as he blew on his hands.

     Ellen smiled.


     For perhaps an hour as they walked they heard only the occasional screech of a barn owl or the occasional barking dog far off. Ralph didn’t know what to say. He thought under the conditions best to say nothing. Ellen said twice “Best if we get where we’re going with the pubs still open, that’s my hope.” Ralph didn’t ask her to explain her plan.  

     When they finally heard something other than a barn owl or a barking dog, Ellen knew she was in luck. They heard pub noises.  

     Ralph didn’t know she was in luck because he didn’t know her plan. In fact, he knew as they approached the pub that they were both dead out luck because there was Spencer’s black pre-war Vauxhall 14-6 saloon car and he was a nasty bloke with a gun.

     Ellen knew what Ralph was thinking.  

     “No need to piss yourself, Ralphie. Wrong license plate.”

     She took off his coat.

     “Wear it so they don’t think you’re daft, attract attention,” she said. “Ask there’s another pub here and how far’s the next town.”

     “Half a mile,” he said when he came out. “Next town’s maybe five mile.”           

     He paused.

     “Just gone nine o’clock, Ellen.”

     He thought that increased their odds of seeing Spencer come out of the pub. He thought that couldn’t be good.       

     “Want the coat back?” he said.

     “Bugger the coat,” she said as she walked away. “Got business.” 

     Ralph followed. He’d started to feel like Ellen’s pet Spaniel, but he was warm enough.

     “Keep your eyes peeled for a big rock,” she said. “But not too big for swinging.” 

     He obeyed. She was pleased when he handed her what he’d found.

     “Making yourself useful, Ralphie.”                               

     She thought the walk to the next pub seemed less than half a mile. She also thought the steps might have flown by because she was excited.   

     “Our lad: 410 NQ,” she said when they came upon the black Vauxhall 14-6 saloon car parked outside the next pub. 

     Town proper began far side of the pub, handful of darkened shops with the first houses a good way off. Mild ruckus from the pub, otherwise quiet as the dead. Perfect, Ellen thought.

     “Even way it’s parked,” she said.

     The driver’s side faced the pub.              

     “Lord truly is my fucking shepherd,” she said. “I shall not want.”

     She hefted the rock.

     “Anybody comes we run back way we came,” she said. 

     She hurled the rock through the back left window. They waited. No one came. She reached through the broken window. She found the door handle. She got inside and climbed into the front.  

     “Get in,” she told Ralph.

     She opened the glove box.

     “Gun would be better,” she shrugged. “But torch will do. Or rock.”

     “Got the gun on him,” Ralph said. 

     “If you do need to piss yourself Ralphie, not in here. Manky already.”

     She returned to the back.

     “One requirement I got besides not pissing yourself in here,” she said. “Stay awake.”

     They waited in silence. Ellen thought maybe another hour. The minutes didn’t fly past like the steps had coming from the first pub.  

     Spencer came out. He’d had a few. He got in and started the engine.

     “Wanker,” she whispered. 

     As he turned around she struck him in the left temple with the torch, producing the desired result.

     “Need help scooting him over, Ralphie?”

     Ralph jumped out. Opening the passenger door, he dragged Spencer toward himself.

     Ellen studied the fuel gauge.    

     “Five mile to next town, Ralphie? Go three.”

     He looked at Ellen.

     “Drive,” she said.

     She watched the odometer.

     “Here,” she said after three miles.

     She got out. She opened the passenger door. Ralph had pulled Spencer up against it. She tipped him out.

     “He’ll freeze to death.”

     “You the weather bloke, predict the overnight temperature?” she said.

     She felt in Spencer’s trouser pockets. She found his wallet. She looked inside.

     “We’ve done well,” she said.            

     She climbed in. She climbed out. She opened Spencer’s coat. She found the gun in a shoulder holster. She took the gun. She climbed in.             

     “Freezes to death, Ralphie, that’s the weather done him in, not me.”

     Ralph hesitated.

     “Want the police, want a doctor?” she said. “Answer questions, have the whole story come out? What you done to me?”

     Ralph started driving.

     “Don’t know if there’s lodging in the next town,” she said. “Sleep in the car at worst.”

     Ralph realized that Ellen frightened him.

     “Maybe torch the car in the morning,” she said.      

     Ellen’s laughter frightened Ralph even more.

     “Share the joke?” he said timidly.

     She became serious.

     “Wanker on about faith,” she said. “Faith this, faith that. Silly bugger.”

     She’d rested the gun in her lap. She looked down at it.

     Ellen Flay’s got faith in herself,” she said. 


Don Stoll has fiction forthcoming in The Helix; Green Hills Literary Lantern; The Main Street Rag; Sarasvati; Between These Shores (twice); Down in the Dirt; and Children, Churches and Daddies. His stories have appeared recently in Eclectica (tinyurl.com/y73wnmgqand Erotic Review (twice: tinyurl.com/y8nkc73z and tinyurl.com/y36zcvut). In 2008, Don and his wife founded their nonprofit (karimufoundation.org) to bring new schools, clean water, and clinics emphasizing women's and children's health to three contiguous Tanzanian villages.

A. F. Knott is a self-taught collage artist focused on book layout and book cover design as well networking in conjunction with Hekate Publishing, one of its missions, bringing together artist and writer. Sometimes seen selling in New York City's Union Square Park. Work can be found on 

flickr.com/photos/afknott/ Any exchange of ideas welcome: anthony_knott@hekatepublishing.com

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2020