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The Poisoned Birds Come Home To Roost

It's called a murmuration, when the starlings flock together and swoop like that, as one, a great cloud of them, moving in synchrony. How do they know? Who keeps the choreography?

Elf is considering the squalor of the kitchen at the north end of his (ex-)girlfriend's trailer. Ariel. Or: that tramp, as his mother calls her, which never fails to make Elf wince and flinch, even though he knows that's just the purpose and the point. His older brother only smiles; his younger brother elbows him and laughs... Read the whole story HERE


"A woman hosts her free-spirit sister, who has returned home to deal with a family crisis. Another copes with her husband’s violent death while his mistress, who witnessed it, collects all the sympathy. A husband and wife, both on their second marriage, confront what makes them need to be with someone. In these 17 stories, Chehak delivers a passel of perspectives from the wiser sides of love and death. Her protagonists are largely in the second half of life; they have reached maturity and yet they are no less hungry for understanding. Generally, they do not react to specific problems in their lives but rather to the aggregate problem of life itself. A wonderful sensation of numbness pervades the stories: Readers don’t witness events so much as sift through memories of them. It is not that Chehak’s characters are unreliable; they simply aren’t interested in feeding the reader a straight account. It’s a haunted world of incidental music half heard or imagined, of tragedies witnessed from a distance or not at all. Characters tread through their realistic, complicated inner lives with a fatalistic sense of humor. The prose is a delight of turned-in logic and vernacular philosophy, allowing the occasional halting statement of bleak brilliance. Never predictable, the narratives twist to unforeseen ends: Characters prove to be not as petty (or far more petty) than previously believed. There is an emotional truth to their lives that readers might like to reject but can’t. Despite all the ways men and women dress themselves up, in houses and marriages and careers and middle age, they can’t help but remain self-preserving beasts at heart. The turns these stories take, structurally and emotionally, prove that Chehak is not only a daring literary artisan, but a connoisseur of human frailty. An acerbic, stirring collection from a master of the craft." -Kirkus Reviews


The snow has come early this year. They’re saying it’s going to be a terrible winter. The climate has been having a tantrum from all our neglect, all our abuse. Global warming, is that it?

I’m in mourning, so in a way I welcome the freeze. It seems like it’s going to fit in with my grief just right.

I’m lonely, that’s what.

And I’m a little bit sorry too... Read the whole story HERE

Darling Boy

“That boy is a world of pain,” she says and thinks as she hears the words she’s often thought but never spoken: This is wrong. And then: No, this is exactly right. Wrong that she’s saying it aloud. Right that it’s the truth. A world of pain: her older son, the darling boy who was born in agony (hers) and then wailed in agony (his) for months afterward. He was furious with all that was beyond his control: struggling infant, stubborn toddler, raging and often violent kid.

She stops this train of thought by reaching for her glass. Mustn’t go on. It’s over now. It’s been over for years.

“Was,” she says and shakes her head. “Was..." Read the whole story HERE

I Cradle You

The pane is a frail and feeble separation between here and there. When I press my palm against it I can feel the chill seeping in from the other side, while the room at my back is warm and dry. I know I'm safe in here with you. Out there the neighborhood is cold and wet and that world wants nothing to do with me. The birds are all atwitter about something that's disturbed their peace, but here, in this room with you now, I could be alone for all the company you have to offer me. A moment of stillness settles down on us and freezes me like I'm the window glass. I speak up, because I know you don't like when I mumble: "The birds are all atwitter." A car passes, splashing water. Yes, the rains are still upon us, though the radio says that's bound to change soon. I tell you this, too. I tell you about the blue convertible that passes and then slows at the corner before it turns. Red taillights reflected in the puddles make it seem fancy, like a party in the street. A man comes out of his house, stands in the shelter of his front porch, opens a black umbrella. The clouds above the trees are darkening. I put my hand against my face and feel the chill, as if my hand belonged to someone else, not me... Read the whole story HERE

Wee Woman

I’m in a big house. It sprawls sideways. It rises up and careens down, with many staircases and rooms and hallways and doors. It’s easy to get lost, so I get lost here all the time. The railing on the front steps is ruined, and a man has come to make repairs. He uses rusted barbed wire to lash the boards together. He should be wearing gloves. His hands bleed, but he doesn’t care about that. A stray dog watches warily. I took him in but forgot to feed him. Where’s his bowl? Where’s his food? He’s wild and nobody’s pet, but here he is beside me anyway... Available in The Minnesota Review, 2016, Issue 87.


Do I have a drinking problem? Just wine, mostly. By the bottle. And here at these things I’m at my worst. I teach a class, conduct a conference, show up for the dinner or the lunch or the reading or the meeting, then head back to my room on the attic floor of the rooming house. Narrow stairs. Slant ceilings. Windows all around. Height, privacy, remove. No neighbors in the hall. Air-conditioning on. Windows open. A happy mix of manufactured chill and fresh Midwestern heat. Wine. Bed. A book. I’m an old drunk author, long past my prime... Read the whole story HERE.


I had a good relationship with my husband. I did. We were married for almost forty-seven years before he died, and of course, it wasn’t always wine and roses, so to speak. But we weren’t the fighting kind, either. More like, we simmered. My marriage to Burton Dell was on a low boil from day one until he died, and it was mostly only alcohol that worked to turn the heat up high enough for that boil to roil and rise and bubble over into loud words, or even violence, but that was just at the beginning and even then only once in a blue moon. By the time all those years had passed and we came to the end, when he was ill and weak and had lost his voice and could hardly move without wincing, then that summer we’d gone flat and cold. Which meant that after he died, I really wasn’t all that much more lonesome than I’d ever been... Read the whole story HERE.


The magazines kept coming every week or every month, so it was one or another of them every day, and you didn’t have what we both knew it was going to take to make them stop. That would have meant making some calls to cancel. And then you’d need to find a way to explain the situation. But you just couldn’t bring yourself do it. Pick up the phone, dial the number, say the words that needed to be said. You thought that then the young man on the phone was going to feel a need to pull himself up and argue with you. It was his livelihood at stake, was why. He worked on commission, didn’t he? Just doing my job, he’d say. And then he’d go on to explain that he had debts to pay or mouths to feed. And times were tough, weren’t they? Everybody seemed to think that this was true... Read the whole story HERE.

This Is That

There’s nothing wrong with me. I just happen to be a woman of a certain age, same as any other woman in my particular circumstances. Alone, yes, but maybe this happens to be by choice. And maybe it’s just a temporary thing anyway. Maybe I have a plan and maybe I’ll go through with it. Maybe I’ll show them what I’m made of, though they of all people should know my mettle by now. Maybe I’ll make them pay.

They…who? My husband, for one. Okay, my ex-husband. But this is an old story, one told over and over, everywhere, time and time again. Sure, I was young once. Sure, I was lovely. Maybe even beautiful. Maybe stunningly so. I’d heard this said, now and then. I fell in love with a boy, is what. Or at least I thought it was love. He was the one for me and I for him. Everybody said so. A first date. A second date, and so it goes. Dinner. A movie. The back seat of his father’s car. A blanket in a field somewhere. My mother’s living room sofa. The back seat of his car. His dorm room. My dorm room. His apartment. Mine. And so on and so forth. Wedding. First house. First anniversary. First baby. Second baby. Two miscarriages. Preschool, kindergarten, grade school. PTA. Church. New house. New car. Promotion. Parties. Middle school. High school. College... Read the whole story HERE.

The Rover and Mr. Fox

There’s this: “May hope sustain you, / Friends surround you, / And love give you strength.”
Flowers. Scrolls. Soft watercolors. Subdued shades of gray.
This: “When someone you love becomes a memory, / The memory becomes a treasure.”
And this: “Those we love don’t go away, / They walk beside us every day, / Unseen, unheard, but always near, / So loved, so missed, so very dear.”
All these notes I’ve opened and read. I’m taking care of business. I’ve emptied your closets. Clothes and shoes. Your razor, your comb. Your papers and your books. What’s left behind here in the house are empty places, blank spots that I will have to find some way to fill.
People tell me: “Don’t forget to eat.” “Go out, now that you can.” “It’s time to get on with your life.”
It’s not like your death was unexpected. It wasn’t a tragedy. We knew what was what, and I was waiting for it, you were hoping for it. Today? Will it be today?...

Read the rest in Jet Fuel Review


"There was a fire pit behind the trailer, in a circle dug into the ground and lined with stones. Tinder had been gathered from the woods that ran up the hill and over, toward the creek. These were branches downed by storms, lightning-struck trees, or just some clearing out of brush that the farmer did. The real farmer, that is. The man who worked the land and lived in the real farmhouse. Not to be confused with my husband, who owned the land and worked in the city two hours away. It was our farm but we lived like tenants in the trailer, because mostly we weren't there. With the memorable exception of that summer, when I brought Del out of the city and Harry commuted to and from his office on the weekends. It was supposed to be a vacation, like summer camp, except we didn't go anywhere and there was only us: the farmer and his family in the house and me and my daughter in the trailer and my husband in his car, coming or going, depending on what day of the week it was..." Read the whole story in Moon City Review


The novelist on what atheists and true believers have in common and how Mark Twain, Henry James, and “Sigmund-fucking-Freud” lack imagination.

Read the whole interview at Guernica

On The Moon

"We had to creep past that corner of the hallway where it made its turn and then make a beeline for the stairs because we were being watched. Or so we thought. Or so Gemma thought. That was her story, and I became her friend because I believed it. Or so I said. I didn’t ask awkward questions, and I wouldn’t let minor details impair my imagination. I only nodded, wide-eyed, and peered more closely at the walls.

"'See the holes?” she asked, pointing. 'Just there. And there. And there.'"

Read the rest at Limestone


"It begins like a storm—with that pensive heavy stillness of dead air pressing in, with a soft rustle of the wind just barely stirring in the trees, a bruising over of the summer sky, a somber gray and yellow horizon glittery with lightning, bloated full of thunder, swept by sheets of rain—it begins when old man Krejci bumps his head. And then—like that same storm spent, blown past to leave the ground and the air around feeling new and fresh and washed crisp clean—the next morning when Meena peeks into her father's sun-spilled bedroom to find that he has not moved, but is still lying on the bed with his head flat back on the pillow, in just exactly the same way she left him there eight hours before, everything will be changed..."

It begins when Meena Krejci, not sure what to do and fearing she'll be blamed for the injuries that have caused her father's death, panics and takes flight, driving west across Nebraska and into Colorado, where she encounters an apocalypse-predicting madman, his captive sister—the troubled young woman in whose release Meena will create a violent version of rebirth for herself—and a bear.

Told through alternating narratives—a portrayal of the last few days of Meena's life and an account of the events in the past that have brought her to where she is now—this is the story of a woman running away from home for the first time and the strong, nearly universal desire to shed one's identity to become somebody else.

Mouse Wars

This isn’t even a house, strictly speaking. It’s just an old rundown shack in the woods on the creek, passed down from father to son to son to me. A getaway from the feminine constraints of duty and decorum, a place where a man could be a man, my dad said, having heard this from his dad who had heard it from his dad first. Play cards. Fish. Hunt. Drink. The jolly old camaraderie of all that. I held onto it more out of laziness than anything else, never guessing that Jimmy’s change of heart would one day provide me with the privilege of calling this place my home. Read it in Verdad Magazine, Volume 14, Spring 2013

The Lost Art of Listening

The Moon Glow cottages were set back in the woods, backdropped by a mountain vista with a drastic drop-off toward the road, and from the front porch—it wasn’t really a porch, more like a stoop, four feet square with barely room for a chair—you could get the full vastness of the view, the sky wide and high and your own puny presence there amongst the chipmunks and the crows.

Sam was no one. He was nothing. She didn’t love him. She didn’t know that he loved her. Or if she did, she didn’t care. They were friends, that was all.

What She Didn't Do

What she did: went to see a movie alone, in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week. She left school and rode the bus downtown. She was fifteen years old. This was sometime in the spring and it was not warm yet, so she had a coat. A poncho, to be exact. And boots and a hat and gloves. Black tights. A sweater. Short skirt. Her hair was short then, too—mod-style. She pierced her ears because sometimes people thought she was a boy, which wasn’t very observant of them. An old woman, a clerk in a department store, peered at her and asked, “What can I do for you, young man?” which shocked her, though she didn’t protest. She was wearing jeans then. And a sweatshirt. She had been looking at toys... Read the whole story HERE


Authors were asked to contribute one short story of their choosing. Each anonymous story was given to an artist who was asked to create a piece inspired by what they read. The result is a collection unlike any other.

Sex. Death. Resurrection. features seven established and emerging authors and seven multidisciplinary artists coming together, disparately, around love, loss, hope, and rebirth.

Read "Resurrection" HERE


Maybe it's true what they say, that accidents happen more often to people who live alone. Maybe there's a clumsiness that sets in, as you climb up out of your body and into your head. No one is there with you but the dog, the cat, the bird. A telemarketer on the phone. The television in the kitchen. The radio by the bed. You speak to all of them, but you're really only talking to yourself.

Read the whole story HERE


Yes, I knew what was wrong. And I knew what had happened, and I knew my name, and I knew where I was, and I knew who you were, and I knew what you wanted from me. I would have said so if I could. Not that I had anything to prove. Not that I wanted anything from you. Just to put you at ease, to let you know I was all right. The words were there but I couldn’t get to them. They were trapped somewhere beyond me, and somehow they formed and floated, but when I tried to catch them with my tongue, they dissolved. I know what that must have looked like, me flopping my mouth open and shut like a landed fish. You would have liked to conk me on the head and be done with it, I knew that too. I could see it in your smirk. You’d have liked to give me a good kick. At least a good rattle—the way you used to shake and shake your dolls. You see, I was still there. No matter what it might have looked like to you.

What had happened to me was only a failure of body; it was not a problem of mind...

Read the whole story HERE


“[Chehak's] ambitiously imaginative novel questions the very nature of reality… [a] diverting exploration of metaphysical concepts. Winsome and smartly playful.” —Kirkus Reviews

After being kicked out of her home by her mother, 17-year-old Mollie Mifflin travels from Nowhere, New York, to the home of Emily and Deacon Molene in Brevity, Iowa. Emily is the author of Mollie’s favorite novel, Forevermore, which tells the implausible story of a pair of goblets that will grant any couple their fondest shared wish. Over the summer, Mollie insinuates herself into the Molenes’ lives—cooking and cleaning, and otherwise making herself indispensable to them—even as they are unaware that she has made their attic her home.

After the Molenes meet John and Sarah Steele, a successful but unhappy young couple, Mollie begins to blur the boundary between reality and fiction, coming to believe that the Molenes have used magic goblets to exchange bodies with the Steeles. Is it possible that Mollie’s suspicions are correct, or is she merely a very troubled teenager? And if this fantastical story is true, is it too late to undo the spell?

The Beginning of the End of All That

I will say nothing about what I know. When John comes in, emanating winter in his wool coat and his scarf and his cheeks rosy, his nose bright, his eyes, as always, like ice. If I didn’t know it yesterday, then I will still not know it today. By the time I see my husband again, I’ll have already put it all out of my mind. And he can continue to rest assured...


If you were above it all somehow, at a window, say, and high enough over the street to be able to see what happened, but not so far that the details would be blurred. Many floors, or maybe just a few. Six, say. If you were in a room on the sixth floor of a ten-story hotel and you were at the window, having a smoke, say. In a nonsmoking room. With your morning coffee and the newspaper waiting. The bed still warm. The sheets a mess. Your hair a mess too. His shirt on your back. No, not his shirt, because he was already gone by then; that's why you were at the window, not for the smoke, you don't smoke, not anymore, not since you watched your mother gasp her last...

You can read the whole story HERE

Dear Mr. Fantasy

Memory is a funny thing, not because of what comes to mind, but because of what doesn’t. All the moments, all the faces, all the places we’ve forgotten. They’re in there somewhere, aren’t they? Is it only a matter of access? The right word said, the exact scent, the taste, the touch, the sound.

Take Isabel Cooke. Here she is, in her house in her town in her world as it is now, with her husband dead a year. All the friends and colleagues who came around at first, to honor him and comfort her, have slipped back into their own lives again, leaving Isabel to fend for herself, supposing she must be over her grief by now.

You can read the whole story online at Necessary Fiction: Part One and Part Two

What We Forget

Now available at Juked

Just So

Winner of Folio's 2012 Fiction Contest. Judge and award-winning writer Alan Heathcock praises this story as being “steeped in a kind of temporal beauty, unfurling the mysteries of family and self, and culminating in a moment of clarity, a portrait of a woman deemed shallow but filled with the rich inner wisdom of a dreamer.”

The View From Here

From such a height, clear of the trees and rising toward a silent, floating seven hundred feet, the humps and creases of the rolling Iowa farmland below the hot air balloon look to Leo Spivak like the folds and fur of a beautiful girl, and a young one at that, a virgin untouched and untried, his for the taking, lush and firm and full. She is posed in lazy recline across the lap of the land. A bank of clouds billows against the far horizon, completing the picture with its plume of white against blue, like her cast-off taffeta gown, silk panties, lacy bra. He can't help it that this is what he sees. Leo Spivak is a pilot and a poet and a ladies' man.

The Most Terrible Thing

Whatever it was, it wasn’t good. There were the roses. And the guests. And a rainstorm drove them all away. Thunder pounded the air, smashing it like glass; lightning cracked the sky. The next morning there were snail tracks on the rocks, shimmering like magic; I told William they were fairy trails.


When Jackson Bale crossed the line to collide head-on with a ten ton semi-trailer truck on a Tuesday evening early in November, I was the one who stood up first at the emergency meeting and volunteered to go out to the farmhouse to feed the dog and bring it to the school for Jack's widow to take with her, back to the hometown in Iowa where his mother was waiting, where the funeral services were to be held, and where he would be buried in a plot near the ground that already held the remnants of his grandparents and his dad. Although there might have been some murmurs of doubt that floated around the room, no one had the nerve to flat out look me in the eye and tell me no, I was not the one to go.

It's Not About the Dog

My younger sister Daisy lives in New York City, and big whoop. You can tell she thinks that fact makes her special, like she believes she's risking her life just by getting up in the morning every day. She's an actress, but nobody that I know has ever heard of her... Read the rest at Guernica Magazine



In the little town of Wizen River, Nebraska, a woman called Annie D. lives out her widowhood in a kind of peace, tending her beloved garden and observing the world around her like people do everywhere. There was a time, when Annie D. was a girl, when Wizen River was about the simplest, most innocent place a person could live. But even small towns change – and not for good. In Wizen River folks have taken to locking their doors at night for the first time ever.
Annie D. can't help but wonder and remember and search her soul for a key to what's long buried and forgotten. And the things she has to say could fill a book…


This novel of love and adultery recounts the story of Clodine Wheeler and the small Midwestern town where she was born and raised. As Clodine tells of her upbringing, courtship, and marriage, her narrative circles ever closer to the troubling secret and shocking death that stand at its center. It is a tale of passion and domestic violence – and their incalculable consequences. No one knows exactly when Lilly Duke, wife of a convicted killer, arrived to seek refuge in a cabin on the shore of Harmony Lake, but her arrival changes Clodine's life forever. At first Lilly finds no friends except Clodine – and Clodine's wayward husband, Galen. But after her child's body is found drifting on the lake, the town crowds to Lilly's aid. Still, no one can explain what Lilly was doing when her baby crept out of the cabin.


This novel is a tale of illicit passion, transgression, and retribution, set once again in the very heart of middle America. Bader Von Vechten's marriage to Katherine Craig unites the leading families of Cedar Hill and promises to heal the wounds of three generations. But when Bader commences a love affair with a beautiful young man, Katherine is goaded to the desperate act that will change their lives irrevocably, setting in motion the series of tragic events that will play themselves out over two generations. Only twenty-five years later, in the wake of death, murder, and disgrace, can Bader, changed almost beyond recognition, return to Cedar Hill. There a chance encounter affords Bader his last hope for human contact - and redemption.


Set once again in the heartland of America, this novel pairs two unlikely friends in a dark tale of seduction and murder. It is May Caldwell's sixteenth summer, and life couldn't be more dull in Linwood, Iowa. Vaguely suicidal and haunted by half-remembered scenes from her early childhood, May is a girl waiting for her life to happen. And happen it does with the unexpected arrival of Frances Anne Crane, a.k.a. Frankie, a girl with too much past and nothing to lose. Together they seduce an older man as Frankie awakens all that May has been holding inside: the mystery of her uncle Brodie's illicit past, the painful truth of her grandparents' slow dissolutions, and her own emerging sexuality. Where Frankie leads, May follows, and what's left is a murder no one can pin, a family's buried past resurfaced in a wild night of mayhem, and May's safe world blown to smithereens in this unforgettable of betrayal and desire.


Madlen Cramer has come back home with her two young children to be reunited with her childhood friend Rafe, the sexy drifter who has abducted a four-year-old girl from an abusive foster family, leaving the parents for dead. During this hot Iowa summer, the past will refuse to stay past as painful truths begin to emerge: about Rafe's own foster family; about Madlen's marriage, whose bonds had begun to unravel in the months before her husband's tragic accident; and about her beautiful self-absorbed mother, whose passions bring about the devastating entanglement of two families in an embrace that cannot be undone until Rafe has gone on the rampage that will destroy everything in sight.