The Shoes

This selection is part of Nonbinary Review Issue #14: The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen. Get NonBinary Review #14 from the Zoetic Press website. 

Ruby shoes dance; red
ribbons lace them up. Inside?
Blood laces ribboned flesh.

The shoes cost my mother a month’s wages, but she was so proud to give them to me. And to show the neighbors that, whether or not her husband had run off with another woman, she could afford to dress her daughter well. No second-hand shoes with holes in the soles for me, and no patches on my dresses, either. Well, not visible ones. My mother’s needle was so clever that the mending never showed. But she couldn’t mend shoes. Hence, the red ones.

I didn’t dare get them dirty; she’d have wept if I ruined that shiny leather with mud, or leached the dye from them with ditch-water. She gave me a loaf of bread, however, and told me to take it to my grandmother’s house—right along the mud-slick road through the woods.

The bread cost a day’s wages. The shoes had cost a month of my mother’s life. I teetered at the edge of a bog, not knowing what to do. I couldn’t go back, having failed to follow her directions. I couldn’t go forward and ruin those shoes.

A crow on a tree branch croaked advice: “Tear off pieces of the bread, throw them in the mud, and walk on them.”

A nightingale, not that I’d asked her advice, chirped, “Oh, but that would be wicked, wasting food so.”

The crow cawed in laughter. “It wouldn’t be wasted, Sister Nightingale. We birds would feast.”

“Surely,” a robin commented, preening, “you must be a very vain girl, to worry about something as meaningless as your clothing.”

“You’re one to talk, Robin,” I told him boldly. “Your feathers are just as red as my shoes, and aren’t you proud of them?”

The other birds tittered in laughter. The robin trilled in annoyance. “My beauty is natural. Your feathers are artificial. You should accept being the drab little wren that you are.”

All these woodland creatures seemed to think they knew a lot about me. Yet they didn’t mention how my mother stayed up late every night, taking in extra sewing and mending to give me these nice clothes, so that we could go to church and hold our heads up, in spite of the neighbors’ whispers. So I found a log and sat on it, careful not to ruin my mother’s careful sewing, and took off those fabulous shoes. I tied their laces in a knot, put them around my neck, and then started to set off down that muddy path. “What about your stockings?” a squirrel chittered. “Won’t you ruin them on the mud and the rocks, too?”

This presented another quandary. Decent women didn’t go around without shoes, and they most certainly didn’t go around without stockings. But I took them off too, draping them around my neck. “Don’t ruin your petticoats,” a fox sniggered from behind a rock. “Lift them up. Who will see your legs but we forest creatures and the trees?”

“Sensible advice,” I told him. I didn’t like the glitter in his eyes, but dragging my mother’s work along the forest floor would snag the cloth on branches and drag it in the mud. I hiked my skirts up (the fox howled) and tucked them through my girdle.

“Immodesty to go with the vanity!” the robin shrilled. “Going about with your bare legs showing! You’ll be set on and attacked, and have only yourself to blame.”

“With all of you around to protect me?” I asked, feeling beset on all sides.

Suddenly, not a one of them found words to speak. “Ah, I didn’t think so. You’re quite free with criticism and complaint, but not a shred of help. Are you perhaps our neighbors in disguise?”

Still not a peep from the branches, and I walked and squelched through the mud, carrying my basket of bread. Wondering if my red shoes, like another girl’s red cape, might attract a wolf. What would a wolf say? Would he berate me for my lack of shoes and stockings? Or would he say “My, what long legs you have, my dear?” and eat me up? Perhaps it might not be so bad to be eaten. I certainly wouldn’t have to listen to the neighbors—or the birds—ever again.

Consumed with these intemperate thoughts, I plodded on. After a mile, my feet, unused to rocks and stones, were raw. And by the time I reached my grandmother’s house, my shoes still around my neck, my feet left bloody tracks on the green of her grass.

It wasn’t a wolf who waited on the porch with my grandmother, but a man, whose mouth fell open at the sight of me. He actually blushed—him, a man grown!—and turned his face aside violently, choking out, “Cover yourself!”

My legs were filthy to the knee. “If I let down my skirts, I’ll get my dress covered in this muck, sir. Grandmother, may I clean myself at the pump?”

She creaked to her feet. “Go ahead, my dear, but don’t set foot back on the dirt before I’ve bandaged you.” She opened the door to go fetch strips of linen, and added, smiling, “This nice young man is writing down all my stories. Isn’t that an amazing thing?”

I sat on the edge of the pump’s station, hiking my skirts up further, to keep the cloth from getting wet, the basket of bread beside me as I cleansed myself, hissing a little as the water hit my blistered, cut feet. And as my grandmother bandaged my cuts, she scolded me all the while, “Girl, shoes are made to protect your feet. Protecting the shoes doesn’t do any good.”

I heard her nice young man call from the porch, never stepping down onto the dirt of the yard with us, “She must be a vain and prideful child, putting her clothes first.”

He sounds just like the robin. Fussing and fretting. “It’s a pity you’re not a wolf,” I told him, while my grandmother frantically tried to shush me, and apologized for my bad manners in a rush and tumble of words. “A wolf would have been more interesting. And I think you must never have been poor. Otherwise, you’d know how important clothes are. Poor children get clods of dirt thrown at them on the way to school. Children who go to school dirty get mocked. Pride isn’t a sin, when it’s the only thing that keeps you going.”

“Pride and vanity! You should teach her better, madam! You should beat the seven deadly sins out of her, before their taint ruins her completely.” He still wouldn’t look at me, his cheeks red as a robin’s breast in his indignation. Which is why I laughed at him, dithering and fussing and twittering as he was.

In response, he glared and scribbled in his book.

When I was older, and read what he’d written, I saw that I must have really bothered him that day. Perhaps a little bit of wolf rose up in his heart, and made his palms sweat at the sight of me with my skirts raised up. In his story, he made it so my red shoes danced, and forced me to cut off my own feet to keep myself from dying of exhaustion. An apt punishment for vanity and pride, I suppose, but an entirely fictitious one. I’m only surprised that he didn’t have me cut out my own tongue at the same time, since surely it was my tongue that offended him, as much as my pride. But then, I learned how not to embrace poverty and shame from my mother.

So what really happened to me? I wore red shoes to my graduation from school. I found myself a wolf who walked as a woodsman by day, and who didn’t expect me to act like a wren.

And at our wedding? I danced all night.

Deborah L. Davitt was raised in Reno, Nevada, but she received her MA in English from Penn State. She currently lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and son. For more about her work, please see

Sea Legs

This selection is part of Nonbinary Review Issue #14: The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen. Get NonBinary Review #14 from the Zoetic Press website. 

The worst part is the thirst, a crashing wave of it every few hours. Thank Poseidon for the fleur de sel they keep on hand to top the fancy caramel lattes. When she’s homesick, she eats it by the handful. Between customers, she touches the tender places where her gills used to be, stares blankly around at her new life. Her girlfriends come in for iced mochas, teetering confidently on their new legs. Some of them are trying out high heels or the strange sight of toes in flip flops. Come on, they say, we’re going out to get some boyfriends. She smiles. She guesses they all got what they wanted—a little house by the shore, a little sun on skin. A new way to breathe. And her job? Really, she’s lucky.

Still, everyone asks so much of her. It’s hard to get used to the deep fried smells from the Shrimp Shack next door. At closing she stops herself from taking a swim in the mop bucket. She can never go back there, not even under the guise of a scuba trip. None of them can, that was the deal. Sometimes she thinks the sea-witch appears to her on the ceiling of her room, though it might be a trick played by early morning ocean light. The witch’s deep voice curls out of the pink conch shell the mermaid keeps on her bedside table. She says, by the way, being human means washing the same dishes every day. Did I forget to tell you that?

Milo Gallagher’s poems appear or will soon appear in The Kenyon Review, The Grief Diaries, The Fem, Crab Fat Magazine, Potluck Magazine, and Anomaly. He is an MFA candidate at Mills College. You can follow him on twitter @miloemilyg.

Dear H.C. Andersen

This selection is part of Nonbinary Review Issue #14: The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen. Get NonBinary Review #14 from the Zoetic Press website. 

The sun is shining gloriously, the roosters are crowing, and the answers are flowing freely today! Please pen any and all queries about life, love, and everything between and direct to the attention of H.C. Andersen, advice-giver.

Dear H.C.,
The love of my life is a ball, but I am only a whipping top, sadly spinning day after day in hopes she might notice me. But how can she notice me when I know she loves the swallow in the tree outside? How does one compete with a swallow? Yesterday, we were outdoors with the children and she suddenly sprang high into the air. She has not returned! I fear she has left to marry the swallow without saying good bye, and now I have lost my chance forever. What turn can I take?

Dear Pointless,
Fear not, for with the sorry tidings, I bring you good news as well. It does sound as though your ball loves the swallow and not yourself, and it is likely she has gone to join him. Know though that swallows are capricious things, and like the wind, hard to predict. It could be that they are married now, a loving pair. However, it could also be that the wind has blown your lovely ball into the gutter, where she will lay, dirty and discarded, soaked with rain, for the rest of her life and yours. Now, don’t you think you can do better than a filthy used up ball lying in a gutter? I think so too.

*   *   *

Dear H.C.,
I just can’t stand it anymore! My brothers and sisters are all beautiful, but next to them, I look big, gray, and ugly. They peck at me and mock me, and tell me they wish the cat would drag me away! My own mother used to defend me, to tell them I was a good swimmer and not all that hideous, but even she sometimes seems to wish I’d never been born. To make matters worse, everyone else I encounter seems to laugh at me just the same. How can I get them to look past my ugly facade and respect the real me?
Ugly Duckling

Dear Ugly Duckling,
Good news – you don’t have to! While your brothers and sisters might be fine ducklings indeed, I suspect you are not. I suspect you are something better. Have you ever seen the swans swim by, with their long, graceful necks? How fine looking, how aristocratic they are! However, they are big, lumpy, and gray as cygnets, hardly the most beautiful of birds. Bide your time until the spring, young one, and you might be the most beautiful of all. That will show them, won’t it?

*    *    *

Dear H.C.,
I write with the most dramatic of problems. I have seen the man of my dreams from afar and watched to ensure he is a fine and handsome prince. I also once saved his life, when he was thrown from his ship and nearly drowned! Perhaps I have stalked him just a little, but if you could understand – I am a mermaid, cursed to live in the sea with a fin instead of strong legs I could use to run to him…among other things. I have learned of the existence of a sea witch who will help me, but for a price. Is love worth the price I might pay?
Sick of Swimming

Dear Sick,
My dear, love is always worth it! The sea witch might be a conniving, well, witch indeed. She might give you legs that pain you with every step. She might take your voice that you can no longer sing sweetly, or even tell your prince who you are, leaving you with nothing but your beautiful form, graceful walk, and expressive eyes to sway his favor. She might doom you to spend an eternity as sea foam if you cannot win him, never again to return to your family in the sea. And yet, my dumb child, would it not be worthwhile, even then, to have had the chance to look upon his face in true, mutual love? I think so.

That concludes our yarns for this day, lords and ladies! Return again another day for new quandaries and new solutions.

Heather Talty is a speculative fiction writer who has been featured in Curiosity Quills anthologies Gears of Brass and Cast No Shadows, as well as in Enchanted Conversation. She is the managing editor of Newtown Literary.

Haymarket Maggie

This selection is part of NonBinary Review #13: Urban Legends from Get NonBinary Review #13 from the Zoetic Press website. 

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In Lakeview there is the legend of a dog. Many argue that the legend is nothing more than a children’s story. I know different. The story goes that in the 1920s a little girl, Mary Anderson, had a shaggy sheepdog named Maggie. The dog grew fond of the girl and took care of her, as any nanny or mother would. She helped teach the girl to walk, to swim, and even joined her at mid-afternoon tea.

When Mary turned seven she was diagnosed with polio. They ushered her away, quarantined in a ward of the Haymarket General Hospital, where children afflicted with the disease were kept from the general population. The hospital was built on the site of Lakeview’s old Haymarket neighborhood. Alone and afraid, Mary cried out in the night for days on end. But, after a week, the doctors were stunned when she stopped crying and found Maggie the sheepdog resting across the legs of the little girl. Security came to remove the dog from the hospital, but it growled, baring its white teeth, not allowing anyone near Mary unless she gave them permission. There the dog stayed, across her feet, for eight months, until one fateful winter’s night the girl passed in her sleep.

It was two days before Maggie would allow anyone near Mary’s body. At night, through the halls, the dog could be heard whimpering as she licked Mary’s face.

Mary was buried in the graveyard on the hillside of the small hamlet just outside the city known as Timber Ridge. There, Maggie made her way through the city, following the scent of her young master. The day after they buried the girl, the caretaker awoke for his morning rounds. Amazed, he found Maggie sleeping atop the tiny grave. The caretaker did all that he could to coax the dog out of the cemetery, bribing it with bones and balls and even a T-bone steak. Nothing worked, as Maggie stayed put, undeterred and loyal to her girl. For six years Maggie slept on top of Mary’s grave, sometimes so still passersby thought her to be a statue, until they heard the whimpers coming from the scraggly pile of hair. Maggie stayed in spite of snow and rain and gale force winds. She remained upon the grave until she died, at the age of fifteen, still waiting for her little girl to return to her. Her remains were buried next to Mary’s grave with a small headstone.

That’s not the part that people try to contest, though some details are thought to have been added for dramatic effect. No, the part that people dispute is this: a year after the dog’s passing, it was spotted at the hospital, howling up at the room the girl once occupied. When orderlies went to engage the dog, it had disappeared. People chalked it up to a coincidence, arguing that it was a different dog altogether. But sure enough, the following year the dog visited the hospital again. This time the security guard on duty followed it for three blocks, until he lost it in the shadows. Every year, on the anniversary of the dog’s death, Maggie reappears, a gaggle of ghost story enthusiasts in tow. They say you can sometimes see her clear as day, and other times you can only hear her weeping. But always, she leads the people in the direction of the graveyard, where it is believed she goes to rest up for the coming year.

The story, whether true or not, has attracted quite a bit of attention over the years. In 1974, a plaque was erected outside the door of the room little Mary Anderson once stayed in. That’s how I came upon the story. In truth, I thought the idea of a ghost dog was as absurd as the legends of Ya’hootie, the terrible Sasquatch that roamed the hills, whose photo was printed in the Gazette plain as day.Yet, in my reluctance to believe such a far fetched tale of love and devotion, I set out one year with the group of true believers. By night’s end, I had devoutly joined their fray. I not only saw the bushy dog with my own eyes, but I felt it as it passed by my leg. Upon its touch I felt a shiver grow inside of me, crawling up my back as if my spine had frozen from the inside out.

For years I followed Maggie and her cries through the streets of Lakeview, always losing her along the way. One year I decided to change my approach. While everyone was so focused on following her path from the beginning, I decided to go to the supposed destination: the little girl’s grave. All night I waited as the cold wind blew hard, cutting straight to the bone. I found a spot across from Mary’s grave and leaned myself up against a tombstone. Soon the darkness of night faded, giving way to the light of the sun just beyond the valley ridge. I found myself exhausted and on the verge of sleep when, at that moment, I heard a jingling chime. I lifted my sleepy eyes to find a sheepdog sitting right in front of me. It licked my face, and I felt its cold, wet tongue slide as a shiver erupted through my body. It barked at me once, a happy bark, as if to say thank you. But for what? I did not know. I looked closer and around its singing collar I read the name: Maggie. A great sensation of joy and fear and absolute sadness fell upon my body. Staring into those black eyes, I suddenly understood—no, felt—all the desperation and loneliness that Maggie had endured for so many years. And with that, she passed her burden on to me. The dog walked over to the girl’s grave, laid down, and at first light, she disappeared into the ground. As I got up to leave, I swear I heard, somewhere in the distance, the laughter of a little girl. I’ve been back since, bringing with me witnesses to see the amazing truth of the dog that never left. Yet, in all my visits since, I’ve never heard more than a faint tinkle on the wind.

J. Ryan Sommers has an MFA in creative writing from Columbia College Chicago. He hopes to continue his writing while teaching. This story is from his thesis, a novel in stories, entitled Conduits.

Minnesota Vikings Open Their Stadium to Shelter the Homeless

This selection is part of NonBinary Review #13: Urban Legends from Get NonBinary Review #13 from the Zoetic Press website. 

This selection is related to this entry on

if the church locks its door
the car gets towed
the furnace quits
your boat sinks or crows
steal everything you’ve got
this is the shelter for you

this is where they will hand you a free
christian ponder t-shirt in XXL
whether you wear that size or not

one of the former cheerleaders
will walk at you like she is on a rolling ship
she will wear a neon purple dress
that makes your head spin
whether you’ve been drinking or not
her hands will grab you
by the shirt collar and she will say
I could tell you stories about me now love
that would raise the fuckin hairs
on the back of your neck
and you’ll believe it and you’ll believe it
when she says she once wrote
two bestsellers in a row

and this is where one of the old players
with eyes swimming in sockets of clam juice
will tell you bedtime stories of broken heroes
lost chances
perfect regrets
and how packers fans secretly sell
the kind of maggoty cheese
that tries to eat your brains

sleep here on the fake green grass
beneath a glassy sky filled with fake white stars

all night long you will hear the leftover echoes
of horny people yelling skol

every now and then a bird will die
from flying into the night-colored windowpane

and by morning when you leave
everything in the city will look upside down
the earth like sky
the buildings like hallways
the hungry will look
like they’re rich
and the rich look
like they’re cold

Jeanne Lutz is the author of the chapbook HEARTS AND HARROWS, and her work has appeared in Conduit, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Poetry City, USA, Whistling Shade, and on KAXE radio station.

Lincoln, Kennedy, and Me

This selection is part of NonBinary Review #13: Urban Legends from Get NonBinary Review #13 from the Zoetic Press website. 

This selection is related to this post from

You think it’s a coincidence? Consider the names before you answer. Consider my name: John Lincoln. You say I’m not political? Sure I am. I ran for senior class president. Even won. And by the way, that happened in a year ending in zero and divisible by fifteen. Don’t look at me that way. All you need to do is flip the number nine on its head, and you get six. Ninety. Sixty. There you are.

Never mind about the theater part. Or the gun. We’ll get to all that later. Right now, it’s important you see the connection.

If you’re stuck on the number thing, I should remind you there are seven letters in our surnames. Not that it matters. Identicality trumps all. If you still have a problem making the pieces fit, don’t forget this slice of high school trivia: the year after I graduated, guess who they elected to follow me? That’s right. Amy Johnson. And she was from the south.

God, Amy was beautiful. I remember how she used to flounce into class on the day of a football game, that miniature skirt floating around her hips like a bi-colored star when she sat in the front row. Would you believe she turned down Jeff the Jock to go to prom with me? I didn’t either. I still don’t. But there’s a whole mess of stuff I don’t believe.

Sometimes it’s a million miles away, high school. Sometimes it’s yesterday.

See, the thing I don’t get is that we’re living in the twenty-first century. Not 1860, not 1960, but the modern world. We got ourselves modern medicine and social medicine and chemo that doesn’t make you puke out a lung. We got midwives and doulas and birthing baths and all that shit. We got five fucking million songs in our pockets. So I don’t know why when Amy’s baby came out early, they couldn’t do something. Fix the little four-pound bugger. Incubate him.

That’s another connection you forgot—the dead kids. You know Lincoln’s sons died, right? And you know Jackie delivered prematurely? At least she had a couple days with the baby. A couple days more than Amy had.

Listen to me. There’s a flick playing down at the cineplex. I slipped the manager a few fifties—what the hell, I don’t need money anymore. No one to spend it on now that Amy’s gone. Anyway, I bribed him to keep the place empty after we get in.

You’re from Georgia, right? That’s good. I like that you have three names, too, I mean, I like that you use all three of your names. And seeing as it’s a Friday and my secretary warned me not to see this stupid movie, seeing as I already got the gun and a wad of cash like you asked, I thought maybe now that I’ve explained it all we might just go ahead and get it over with. One to the head will do it.

Christina Dalcher is a writer from Virginia with over sixty worldwide credits. Recognitions include Bath Flash Award’s Short List, nominations for Best of the Net and Best Small Fictions, and second place in Bartleby Snopes’ Dialogue Contest. Read additional work at here


The Mexican Pet

This selection is part of NonBinary Review #13: Urban Legends from Get NonBinary Review #13 from the Zoetic Press website. 

This poem is related to this story on 

I am not a cactus full of scorpions
or another brown and jumping “bean.”
I am not a chupacabra or La Llorona
come to life from legend.

I am not a rat, of sewer or any other origin.
I do not want your job or your money or your life.

I do not want to be a member
of the permanent underclass.
I will not fight some toothless meth-head
for the dishwashing position.

I do morph, however, into different forms:
—the benighted indigena in my colorful huipil
—the narco with silver skulls on my boots and AK-47s
embroidered on my shirts
—the abuela who has given up on Guadalupe and her
fucking Spanish roses and prays
to a skeleton in a wedding gown
—the fourth-generation American who is still asked
where I come from
—the fantasmas of the many, many girls whose murderers
will never be prosecuted as the wind whistles
through the cementarios of Ciudad Juarez.

I kneel on my daughter’s Disney-character blanket
as I crawl to the grave of folk saint Juan Soldado.
He was wronged in life, but in death they say
he heals whatever he can:

He can never solve my problem,
but as I am only a pet
I continue to smile, to defer,
to serve, to settle for less.

It is my only hope that in time
I will fade into an urban legend,
something nobody really believes
ever existed, and which, quite frankly,
indeed, never did.

—Written on May Day, the International Workers’ Day, 2017

Denise Dumars most recent book of poetry, Paranormal Romance: Poems Romancing the Paranormal, was nominated for the Elgin Award. Denise is a native of Southern California, with roots in New Orleans and the Caribbean, and has traveled widely in Mexico.

The Squirrels of Madison Square Park

This selection is part of NonBinary Review #13: Urban Legends from Get NonBinary Review #13 from the Zoetic Press website. 

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It was mid-April and the days were nice enough again to take my lunch breaks in the park. Somehow every year this is a revelation: it can’t have ever been so green before. It can’t possibly have been so warm, last time around.

In my cubicle it was still winter, would always be winter.

It had been a strategic decision when I first got the reservationist job: no tchotkes, no photos, no plants. Just grey everything. A way to trick myself into believing that I wouldn’t stay. This was just a new-to-the-city, young-and-figuring-it-out, tide-me-over gig. I would quit before year one was out.

Okay, before year two was out, then.

Before year three was out or god help me.

So it was a bleak route to hopeful that my cubicle took, desolate as a reminder that this was not real life. Real life was outside, on a bench for an hour in the middle of the day. The warm sun, the cool wind. Lunch breaks in the park were a refresher course on sky.

The only problem was all the damn squirrels. The squirrels of Madison Square Park were city squirrels and foreign tourists fed them, posed with them, played paparazzi to the pests. So the squirrels had all become fucking entitled little assholes. One ran right across my lap — across my lap — one day and up a tree.

When something that ought to be scared of me isn’t, I become scared of it.

So I screamed and dropped my sandwich. I felt like I’d been violated.

When I looked up I saw Linda Leigh.

Linda. From work. Feeding the squirrels.

Linda Leigh was someone I had no feelings about at all until I caught her scattering bread crumbs that day, a wide smile spread out across her flat, circle face. After that, I was curious. I mean, what kind of maniac, you know?

So I set about befriending her. I cornered her at the coffee maker and accosted her with “How’s it going?”s in the elevator. I wore her down with my best work stories — the celebrities who’d called: which ones were nice and which ones were mean and which ones had finicky requirements: never by a window, booth if you have it. I toned down the sarcasm. I softened the resting bitch face. I ended up getting pretty close to Linda Leigh.

Linda was from a small town in the middle of the country, had come to New York just to be in New York, didn’t want to be an artist or anything, just wanted to be here. She was still starry-eyed with the city, didn’t even mind the subways, but went to the park whenever she was feeling low (Linda was the type of person who said cutesy things like feeling low).

Linda liked stories of celebrities being nice better than stories of celebrities being mean.

Linda took five sugars in her coffee.

And Linda had a boyfriend. It was one of the main things about her, part of every sentence she spoke: Last night at dinner with Boyfriend. Well, you know, My Boyfriend. As The Boyfriend always says.

I never outright asked her about the squirrel-thing but I came to understand it as some kind of Disney Princess fantasy. In her head, they must have been cartoons. I thought that somehow she must have failed to sense the threat of them, or know to be wary of their unearned arrogance.

Then one day Linda came into work all fidgety, holding her shoulders like the victim of a lightning strike, because she and her Boyfriend/My Boyfriend/The Boyfriend broke up.

She told me all about it by the Keurig machine:

“He left me,” she said. “I moved all the way to New York for him, and he didn’t even care.”

“I thought you just wanted to be here?” I asked.

“I can’t effing stand it here,” she said.

She talked to me less and less after the breakup, ditched me during lunch breaks. Instead I’d see her across the park, feeling low, I’m sure, and feeding the squirrels. Day after day, feeding the squirrels.

In my head I was so condescending, thinking how if I’d been dumped I would do something about it. Cut off my hair. Have revenge sex with one of his friends. Something.

Eventually Linda stopped coming to work all together. Ghosted the place without ever giving notice. But on my lunch breaks I’d still see her in the park. After a month of this, it had reached a new weird: Linda, standing in one of the concrete pits that would turn back into a fountain as soon as the summer came, with squirrels circled around her feet like worshippers at a temple, their little bodies held perfectly still, waiting to be smiled on by their benevolent god. I watched, transfixed, as Linda relinquished bits of bread, sparingly, according to some logic I couldn’t understand. I watched the squirrel’s chubby little cheeks move, their sharp little teeth chomp, and felt that familiar fear. Fear of the squirrels. And now fear of Linda too.

Then one day she wasn’t there. I didn’t think much of it — maybe she’d finally moved on — until I saw the headline on my phone, the reports of the odd arrest. Her name, her unflattering mugshot, the articles detailing the injuries sustained by her ex. The scratches down his face, the chunks of flesh taken from his arms and legs. The squirrels had rushed him en masse, climbed his body like a tree, dug in their claws and jesus.

I looked around the park where I was sitting on my lunch break.

There wasn’t an evil little varment in sight.

Phoebe Cramer is a writer and performer living in Brooklyn, New York. Her short fiction has appeared in Slink Chunk Press and Bard Papers. She can be found, very occasionally, on twitter @PhoebeLCramer

8 Maxims For The Toys R Us Ghost

This selection is part of NonBinary Review #13: Urban Legends from Get NonBinary Review #13 from the Zoetic Press website. 

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Acts of mercy are best done
in secret. He enacts his death,
every night begging for the axe.

A secret rests in the stock room
where the boxes gather. If you stay still
Johnson will whisper your name.

All excesses shall be corrected.
Johnson knows this with his bruised neck
& hacked thigh & tears fleeing his face.

The cashiers don’t complain. Instead
they make a game of it. New hires must meet
Johnson, must wait in the back stock for his mutter.

Lord help the sanity of the keyholder.
Before the sun rises and the doors open
horses are heard galloping though the store.

A torn bag holds no contents. All the plastic
bags are torn one winter morning. The stacks
of bags in the back all chopped and mussed.

Those who handle the money are apt to fall
into his lap. The managers all quit. Insist it’s not
Johnson, but what else could it be.

Death solves all problems. Johnson was poor
and in love with a girl who owned horses. He croaked
in an orchard and they built a toy store on his grave.

Cameron Schneberger is a recent graduate of Kalamazoo College where he studied comedy, theater and other employable things. His work has appeared in The Minetta Review, Yellow Chair Review, and once in a paperback gay romance novel. He believes in ghosts even though he’s never seen one.

Living in the House of Usher

This selection is part of NonBinary Review #12: The Works of Edgar Allan Poe. Get NonBinary Review #12 from the Zoetic Press website. 

Evidence of some bitter struggle [was] on every pore of her emaciated frame.”  Poe

I was Madeline in those lost years.  Unable to waken my better self.  Voices blew shoulds through our damask-covered windows. I could not stop them.  Expectations echoed in our halls, ricocheted off walls, brought our house down.  Don’t misunderstand.  I saw the fissure in our foundation—toed quietly around it. You said I should have known the perils of an aging house—that wandering grounds at night would tear my white gowns.  You dismiss the danger of sidestepping sense with sensibility.  Let me tell you:  I was scared of what you didn’t see.  The acid reflux of dissatisfaction, the sound of gears grinding behind the public face, the silence of disapproval.  Misophonia and migraines sent me to bed, a pillow over my head.  Usher’s love of mother and the Scout creed but mostly of himself built bricks of resentment.  Add mortar of alienation.  You see how tendrils of melancholy formed the cement that immobilized me.  The implosion of the house we built is the B-grade nightmare that prevents me still from wearing white.  Sometimes Usher is just the tale of a madman, but after the dream, I catch the rock hard, moonstone face of Madeline in my mirror and feel ice in my veins.

Janet Reed teaches writing and literature for Crowder College in Missouri. She is a 2016 Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work has been published and is forthcoming in multiple journals, and she is at work on her first chapbook.