Due to unforeseen events beyond both publisher and staff, Duckbill has been forced to close. All submitted stories should be considered rejected, with Duckbills publisher’s sincerest apologies. Staff no longer have access to the Duckbill email account–any inquiries will remain unread. Once again, our sincerest apologies.
When Ana was born, she weighed 8 pounds, 11 ounces and had beautiful monarch butterflies with brilliant orange hues where her hands should have been. How does this happen? we wondered. Nothing like this had ever occurred in our town before. No one knew who her father was except her mother, and she wasn’t telling. What will happen to her? we asked. How will she write, hold things, read?
Her butterflies grew with her body and thrived at the ends of her arms. She used their wings to pick things up, wrapped their legs around her pencils. There were, of course, some things she never did. She never played the piano, never played basketball. But still, she was happy.
Even as her classmates gawked, their stares and jeers never seemed to affect her. When Ana and her mother ran errands and we whispered, it was like she didn’t hear us. Her mother would glare, but Ana just kept smiling, kept laughing. And as she grew, the whispers ceased. Her joy was infectious. We found ourselves coveting her butterflies, her uniqueness. They really are beautiful, we’d say wistfully to each other over coffee.
She was eighteen, just graduated from high school, when we began to wonder about her plans for the future. Some children her age were going to college, while others were readying themselves for new jobs or internships. We didn’t know what Ana’s plans were, and whenever we saw her mother around and asked, her mother just shook her head. “Ana will do what Ana will do,” she said with a smile.
She did end up leaving, all right – just not the way any of us expected her to.
It was a Sunday morning when she kissed her mother goodbye, lifted her arms, and rose into the air. “We’re off to see the world,” she called, laughing as she flew. Her butterflies flapped their wings, pulling her behind them. As she shrank into the distance, we stood and waved, sure she had a bright future ahead of her.
She came back a year later, bloated, pregnant, landing in the town square as her mother ran to meet her and we crowded around the edges, eager to catch a glimpse.
“He loves me, butterflies and all,” she said.
Her mother cried, but we couldn’t tell if it was out of joy or out of sadness. “What if it’s like you?” her mother said, and we could see the horror on her face when she realized what she’d said.
“What’s so wrong with being like me?” Ana said, and we wept with her as she said it.
It was no surprise when she again took to the skies, leaving her mother below. We waited for her to come back, but we never saw her again. Every so often, though, we’d see a beautiful monarch butterfly with a color pattern just like Ana’s and we‘d smile, knowing that a part of her was still here with us.
Chelsea is a mythical creature who suffers from time dilation due to constant faster-than-light travel. She lives in a houseplant in Jamaica and dances on water. Her work has previously appeared in Freeze Frame Fiction, Everyday Fiction, and others besides.
Dark hallways leading toward sketchy bathrooms always terrified me. This corridor had Assault Me shoved in the curves of angled graffiti vying for space between confessions wrapped in heart-shaped promises. The farther along, the faster my pulse raced. Ears cocked and sweaty palms, listening for footsteps. Like someone was gunning for me, coming for me. Halfway down, and in the middle of a slam-dancing beat taking up the space inside my head, the only light, covered with a smoke-stained shield, flickered and died. Fuck the footsteps. I couldn’t hear them anyway.
Instinct propelled me through the door of the men’s room, away from the dark and into the arms of my last one-night stand.
“Hello, Roger.” Disentangling myself was tricky. He wasn’t pissing but he had his dick in his hands like he was about to.
“Uh, Faith. Trolling for men?”
“The light in the hallway went out.”
“You’re scared of the dark?” A yellow stream arched into the trough below. He pushed his hips forward and scratched his ass.
“Screw you. It’s a thing—I have a hallway thing.”
“I remember. You spent the night because you didn’t want to leave until the sun came up.” He stuffed himself into his oversized shorts.
The smell of the sticky, urine-coated walls made my eyes water. Men were only good at aiming when you wanted them to miss. Silence passed between us. I grabbed the bathroom door with a sweater-covered hand and peeked my head out. Still dark.
“Fancy a fuck?” Always the charmer.
“No, but I have to take a whiz. Can you keep an eye out for me?”
“Whatever. Why the hell aren’t you using the ladies?”
“Because I didn’t make it that far. I was outside the men’s when the light went out.”
My bladder tipped past full, causing a Kegel to kick in. The practice was paying off. “It’ll only take a second.”
Roger shrugged, a lackadaisical move of nonchalance like the one that had attracted me to him in the first place. He held the crooked stall door closed, the lock probably busted by some peeper with a penchant for willies.
“Can you hum? I’ve got stage fright.”
“Christ. Seriously, Faith? After all we’ve been through.”
One night, two quarters of Russian vodka and three joints of Californian kush. That’s what we’d been through. Roger started humming, some ska-funk song. It clashed with the bass beatboxing through the floor.
My baggy shirt slunk off my shoulder while washing up. Roger pulled it up, his hand grazing my chest.
“Get your hand off my tit.”
He scowled. “It’s not on your tit. What’s up with you? I have half a mind to stick you back in the hallway with the boogieman if you can’t play nice.”
Always the hallway. “I’m pregnant.”
Roger choked on his tongue. The one with the piercing that flicked and furled.
“It’s not yours, you asshole.”
He leaned into the space that was meant to be mine — an imaginary hula hoop with a diameter of ten feet and a radius of fuck you.
“Then whose is it?”
Jennifer is a dinosaur, with feet made of spiders. Her seagull is called Charlie and she eats chocolate made of sock bunnies. You can find more information on Jennifer and her sock bunnies (not actually) here, or follow her on Twitter.
And you’re sitting there and it’s the final round. Sweat drips into your eyes amid rivers of blood. Your ears ring and your lungs cry out for mercy. Months have been spent honing muscles which have served their purpose and now cry out in revolt.
And then, “Thirty seconds,” Sal says.
Sal’s left hand wipes a sponge across your forehead while his right holds smelling salts beneath your nose. Your head rears back momentarily, the fog parts and “One more round!” resounds.
It’s the warmth that gives the tell between sweat and blood, and the blood’s been flowing since the right hand in the seventh. A straight right, angled just-so, a tear at the skin just above the eyelid and therein lies the rub. A cut below the eye is no problem — compression between rounds and you’re fine as long as the ref isn’t the squeamish type. Raise the cut a few inches however and it’s a different story. The blood drips into the eye and there goes your vision. You become a punching bag, your jabs are blind, hooks sent out with a wish and a prayer. These last four rounds have been blurred, at best …
Sal says “You’re doing good kid.” He calls you kid. Sal calls everybody kid though. You’ve been together three years, this is your fourteenth professional fight and the first time you’ve run red. A loss tonight and it’s all over. No one wants a fighter with a 13 and 1 record, you’ve gotta be unbeaten nowadays to be anybody, at least until you’ve made it into the big leagues. A loss is unthinkable, a loss ends it all, a loss and three year’s work goes down the drain.
“One more round kid, run, just run!” Sal yells. “Run, just run!”
You’re ahead on points. You’re a dancer, always have been, you’re the kid that can’t be hit. That one kid in the gym who frustrates everyone, not a great puncher but hard to catch and quick to reply with a punch in kind.
You’re twenty three now. You’re twenty three and you’ve filled out, a little more weight, a little more power and now you’re a threat. “Get’em drunk then mug’em,” Sal always says and that’s what you do. You pepper your opponents with punch after punch after punch, it might not be much but it all adds up and sooner or later the mind rebels and the guy starts to stand on legs less than sturdy. A few more and he’s shuffling toward you, a few more and then it’s time to chop him down.
That’s the plan, that’s the strategy and that’s what got you thirteen KO’s as a professional. But this guy is different. Stubborn. Bullheaded. This guy, he simply refuses to go down. This guy’ll last all night. It’ll be a decision. It’ll come down to points. It’ll come down to points and so you dance. You dance and dance, round after round flicking out that jab, scoring those points and moving to the left. Jab, jab, flick, flick…
And then you’re cut.
You’ve never been cut, not even as an amateur.
The cut’s not the problem, the bloods the problem. Blood in your eye and a guy can’t see. Blood in your eye and suddenly you’re flicking at a vision, a miasma, a mirage. You keep the jab out there though, let him know you’re there, find your way round the ring, feel your way round the ring. You’re ahead on points, just gotta make it to the end, the final bell.
But he knows you’re hurt. He knows you’re damaged goods. He knows you’re troubled and now, after round after round of chasing, he’s finally managed to trap the rabbit, finally he’s able to catch the rabbit and he’ll be damned if he’s not gonna’ give the rabbit a beating while time allows.
So for four rounds you take punch after punch. Fist to face. Fist to face, over and over and you bob and you weave but you can dance no more and he lands, and punch after punch rains down. For the first time ,you’ve just gotta take it. Take the beating, survive the rounds, count the clock down till the ref raises your hand. And it’s your first beating and it’s everything you ever feared it would be.
Slap to the face. You look up at Sal as he gives you another.
“Last round kid, last round. You got this, just stay standing. Be a man kid!”
And you stand for one more round.
Michael Tyler lives in a shack on a cliff at the bottom of the world. He has had several short stories published and hope to have a collection of his work published sometime before the Andromeda Galaxy collides with us and all turns to dust.
Judy stares at the dying houseplant on the table. The last yellow leaf clung to the stem byits petiole, attached only by stillness. First the African violet, then the begonia, now the philodendron. She avoids any movement of the table, the pot, the air around it. Judy holds her breath, believing in hope, in resiliency, the regenerative power of nature. But she knows. Somehow, things aren’t working.
She lives a mundane life. She comes home from the same job she has held for 20 years, to eat bland food under cloudy winter skies. She longs for just the tiniest bit of colour in her life. A touch of green. The promises of spring.
Rose, at work, suggested a cat or a dog; Rose volunteers at the animal shelter. But Judy sticks to her rules: If she can keep a house plant alive for a year, she will get a fish. If she can keep a fish alive for a year, she will get a cat. She memorized the advice from the magazines: Take small, realistic steps. Set attainable goals. Envision success. She dreams of herself in a white dress; her husband-to-be waits at the front of the church. He has no face, not yet. If she gets a fish, she will add another goal—one after the husband. That goal is so precious she scarcely permits herself to imagine it. She doesn’t want to jinx anything. One step at a time.
Her secret compromise with herself is a stuffed cat. If anyone ever comes over and asks, she will tell them it is a beloved memento of childhood. It gives her comfort. Sometimes, for just a few moments, before she falls asleep, she pretends it is real.
Anthony in his overalls with the dinosaur on them. She in her favorite top, the pink one with the kitty cat. They loved watching the coyote chase the road runner off the cliff. It was only when he looked down that he plunged to the bottom of the canyon. Who doesn’t long to fly, long to hang suspended in mid-air? The key is to not look down. Now, sometimes in her night time dreams, sometimes on the bus to work, or in the shower, she hears her mother’s words: It’s a beautiful day. Turn off the TV and go play outside. Keep an eye on your brother.
Together, she and Anthony planned. The ladder lay propped against the wall of the garage, where yesterday the man cleaned the gutter. The soft grass will be the canyon. She held the ladder steady as Anthony climbed. “Don’t look down,” she said.
You had one job.
The stories in magazines and on television give her hope. They promise: Love will come when you least expect it, from an unanticipated source. Still, she wants to be prepared.
So she waters her plant every day. She reads that central heating makes apartments very dry so she waters it carefully, until the water runs through the hole in the bottom of the pot, just like the article said. Judy talks to the plant, strokes its leaves. She places it right up against the window, so it can get all the good sunlight it needs. She feeds it with the blue powder once a week.
No, the philodendron is a goner. She turns her back on it so she can think. The articles tell her: Trust your heart. Trust your gut. They do not say what to do when the two conflict.
The cartoon images from childhood come to her. The devil sits on her left shoulder, an angel on the right. It is the devil who tells her to get another one. She wants it. She must persevere. The angel suggests that perhaps she should take some time. Reflect. She should trust the angel. But isn’t the devil just a fallen angel? Just an angel who made a mistake? We all make mistakes. She can understand an angel who made a mistake.
She thinks: I don’t have time. At the DIY store, from the array of tabletop palms, succulents, and tiny potted tropicals, the lucky bamboo calls to her. With the faith of a lottery player, she puts the stems in her basket. This will be the one.
A.W. Hill graduated from Duke University in the mid-1990s with a degree in English. Today, she lives in Durham, NC, where she works as a consultant to higher education publishing. This is her first fiction publication.
in a blue pot,
he grows kisses
on my lips
makes wild wine
measure and whisper
with the naked caress
of perfumed tongues
the fathoms and nauts
Chaitali Gawade lives in Pune and is a freelance writer. Her writerly musings are fueled by tea and coffee. Her work has been published by Twenty20 Journal Daily Love, Postcard Shots and Vagabondage Press.
Oh my God! Trevor thought. I forgot to feed Jackie! If the Drakle got hungry it would go in search of food, not caring where or who it might be. Trevor hurried to Jackie’s room and found it empty. The door was always kept locked, but apparently the monster had simply broken a window and escaped.
He didn’t dare call the police. Owning a Drakle was illegal in the first place. He could be fined, or imprisoned or both. Certainly Jackie would be taken away. And if it had done any damage, his pet could be put down. No, he’d have to track Jackie himself.
Fortunately Drakles were easy to trace. They were extremely scaly and shed skin as they moved. Trevor found scales under the broken window and began following them. The trail led at first to Humphrey’s house. Humphrey was an unpleasant man, constantly reporting to the neighborhood association if a hedge was too high or a fence too close to the street. He knew nothing about Jackie, and Trevor didn’t want him to. It wouldn’t be such a terrible thing if Humphrey disappeared; still…
Then the trail led away from Humphrey’s house toward the Johnston residence. That was bad. The Johnstons were nice people. Also they had a new baby. A plump, rosy baby. Probably tender… Then Trevor saw with relief that the litter of scales veered away from their house. He followed it out of the residential district and finally it led into Charley’s Chicken Shack.
In a back booth he saw Jackie, chicken bones piled high in front of him. Quietly he approached the monster. “Jackie, what are you doing here?”
The Drakle smiled, light reflecting off his fangs. “Delighted to see you, old boy. Have a seat. You know, I was feeling a bit peckish, so I came to this marvelous place for dinner. Used your credit card. I hope you don’t mind.”
“How did you get my—” Trevor reached in his pocket and discovered his wallet was missing.
“You left it in my room last time you were there.” Jackie handed a worn billfold to him. “I noticed you have three credit cards. I’ll just keep one, if it’s all right with you.”
“Of course.” Trevor sighed. “Did anyone…notice you?”
“I got a funny look from the cashier when I first walked in, but when I showed her the credit card and ordered two family sized buckets of chicken, she was all smiles. You know, I’ve really enjoyed the raw chickens you’ve been bringing me, but it’s really much better cooked. I’ll have to remember this place.”
Trevor looked around, wondering what the other customers might be thinking.. He saw a couple of bored teenage boys, so jaded or stoned they didn’t recognized anything as being peculiar. A drunk mumbling to himself. A bag lady, shopping cart beside her, whose eyes had seen so much strangeness in the world that nothing was strange now. No. None of them would have taken the slightest interest in his Drakle. It was safe to leave now. Nobody had noticed anything in here; it was safe to assume no one on the outside would notice anything either. People were indifferent. “Well, I guess we should go now. Are you finished?”
“Quite. I’ll just get a snack for later on.” Jackie got an order of a dozen chicken tenders, and they stepped out into the night. I understand there’s a Chinese place just down the block,” Jackie said happily. I’ve always wanted to try sweet and sour pork. And there’s Roy’s Ribs, Pistol Pete’s Poppin’ Pizza, Tommy’s Steak House, a sushi bar…”
I’ve created a monster, Trevor thought. And then No, Jackie was always a monster. Now he has the appetite of one.
Lela Marie De La Garza has had work published in “Creepy Gnome,” “Passion Beyond Words”, “Black Denim,” “Yellow Mama,” “Bewildering Stories,” and “The Western Online”. Her latest novel, “Mistral,” was published in December of 2014. She was born in Denver, CO. in 1943 while her father was serving in WWII. She currently resides in San Antonio, TX. with three and a half cats and a visiting raccoon.