Miles, our three-year-old, has recently discovered the joys of peeing outside. This is fine when, in the backyard – cloaked by fence and arborvitae - he wanders down to the maple tree, drops his shorts and takes aim. And because he can’t yet pull his pants up, when finished, he awkwardly scrambles up the yard to us, underwear dangling around his ankles and laughing, because if anything, he’s just like his father who laughs at all the wrong times.
     But not so much for the front yard.
     Emboldened by his new discovery, he’ll trundle down the stairs, open the door, toddle to the edge of the porch and drop his pants for the neighborhood to see. And can I rightly blame him for this? Or for picking his nose? Or bothering his sisters? Or jumping off the couch like the Macho Man Randy Savage with an elbow drop flying off the top ropes and onto his unsuspecting father, prone and stretching on the carpet? Or shouting from atop his little potty in the bathroom, “Da-da, wipe my butt!”? 
     Such antics are simply in a rambunctious little boy's nature, after all.
     A biological imperative.
Danny Hankner
Danny Hankner


Iowa Dumping Grounds
(A response to the featured story in our August 2023 issue)
Dear Story Unlikely,
     I can see your value system revolves around playing with toilets, wow, yet you reject amazing stories about heroism and love. No wonder our society has fallen apart. Please, please, please take me off your mailing list so I never have to read such asinine drivel from someone who clearly didn't have developmental needs met as a child due to playing with dirty toilets. I regret throwing my precious pearls of short stories to you.
     Never message me again.
     Enjoying playing with and talking about playing with dirty old used toilets.
     Feral Meryl
     Apologies for wasting your precious time. You could have easily unsubscribed yourself in a fraction of the time it took you to write up this riveting response. Or are you new to email? Ours, like most, have a handy unsubscribe button at the bottom. If you need more specific directions, may I suggest Googling it?
     But perhaps you are capable of unsubscribing yourself, and instead are using that as cover to simply vent your frustrations for...what exactly is it that has you so strung out? You don't like getting a bunch of free, professional-level stories sent straight to your inbox every month? You don't like not having to pay submission fees to submit your own stories? Or is it our free contest? Perhaps it's the thousands of dollars we pay out to our talented writers - is that too much? Oh, I know! It's our three-month turnaround time. Yes, that's it. You'd much prefer to wait a year or two for a form rejection.
     None of that, you say?  So, you don't like the idea of a story? Because, of course, you haven't actually read it (Iowa Dumping Grounds is locked behind a paywall, of which you have not fronted the money), instead reducing yourself to the most classic of who judges books by their covers.
     As stated many times, we publish all over the categorical spectrum, and if you fancy genre (or come to the table with your own topical distaste - a void where a sense of humor is supposed to be - won't help) above technical skill and mastery in the art of telling stories (in their various forms), then, instead of enjoying the sampler platter we offer, you will be forced to grudgingly swallow the crumbs of your own preference.
     Or is it that you, as a writer, clearly having submitted to us in the past and, not accepted and thus wounded, must lash back instead of taking an honest look in the mirror of your own literary capabilities? But of course your writing could never be the problem, could never be what is in need of improvement. No, no, no, the problem is always out there, always someone else. And thus cemented, so we bear our claws at the nearest scratching post.
     Now, what were you saying about society falling apart?
     Danny Hankner, Editor-in-chief

What others are saying about Iowa Dumping Grounds:
"Struck a chord and had me hooked! Outrageously good.” – Author Ronald E. Wright
“A witty memoir of delightfully delinquent teenage antics!...had me chuckling throughout and left me with a smile." – Award winning author David Hankins
"Iowa Dumping Grounds is a hilarious, literary take on teenage hijinks as like spirits come together to celebrate community, life, and laughter. A great read." - Author Judy Dercksen.
"Man that was a fun read." – Crappin' Cody.
(Intriguing / immersive / DSytopian)
~Speculative fiction~

       Gran and Grams lived where the mesa meets the desert, along the banks of a river that used to be mighty. I do not have much more history to share. My existence tends to be consumed with the present. Shutdowns and wakeups, scheduled and unscheduled, necessitate a very zen approach to life. I am where I am. What was and what will be are as real to me as presidents and kings, which is to say, not at all.
       Our family skipped mother and father and went straight to grandparents. All of the spoiling and none of the naivete. By the time they built me, Gran and Grams were already old by human standards, though young by the standards of a generation or two before. No matter how much I read, I cannot make sense of human life cycles. Some are old at thirty and others young at seventy, and some simply wink out at any age they choose. Mysterious creatures, and still they are all I know of what is love and what is real.
       For a long time, the only visitors we had to our little home were the animal sort: birds and bees and lizards and coyotes and burrowing owls and spiders. Some of these were carefully cultivated: back when there was still a trickle of water rollicking down the riverbed and the well still drank deeply from the underneath, Gran and Grams kept a flourishing garden for as many yards from the house as their wobbly legs and knobby knees would carry them. They were beekeepers too, and fermenters of mead that stood, golden-glowing, in cool shelves in the cellar.
       On rare occasions, always preceded by much pomp and circumstance and preparations, their friends would come for a visit. Gran and Grams would give me as much information as they could, of course, but the elements they regarded as vital to my understanding were often quite random in their import.
      “He’ll want lots of honey in his tea,” they said of the traveling preacher who came every few months with his bootleg poetry pamphlets and scavenged batteries of every size and type and his precious little bottles of oil. Him, I was always glad to see. Partly for the oil, of course. Desert life was a perilous existence for a creature of moving metal parts. I fought the grit constantly. 
       That was not the only reason I liked him, though. Not all of Gran and Grams’s friends regarded me with benevolence. But the traveling preacher treated me like any other soul. And after Gran and Grams went to bed, he would sit up in the dim light of my glowing circuits and read me mead-sodden ballads and recount the dirges and dilemmas of his latest journeys. His name was Red. I did not know why. His beard, whatever color it may once have been, had long gone gray. His eyes, whether from the scouring desert winds or the bottles sloshing in his wagon, were always bloodshot. Perhaps that was the origin of his moniker. 
       There was the painter whose team of dogs pulled a wheeled sled heaped high with her yurt and bedding, canvases and pots of paints and brushes and loaves of sourdough bread. “She comes for the sunsets,” Gran would say, as if there were no sunsets wherever she came from. She would stay for a week at a time. A very long week. Her dogs chased off our regular friends, never seemed to have enough food, and frequently knocked me right over. As for the painter – they called her Kit – she did her best to pretend I did not exist at all. She clung to a fine contempt for all things mechanical from which she derived great moral superiority. Gran and Grams humored Kit as if her disdain for their only offspring did not trouble them at all.
       Likewise, I was not inclined to feign sadness when she stopped coming. I did understand from the whispers and tears and increasing preoccupation with the horizon that something very bad had happened. It was not long after that, that the river ran dry and stayed dry.
       The well still produced water, but there was no promise it would do so for long. Gran made up an inventory sheet for all the cellar goods and insisted we keep track of every jar and bottle we used. Grams rigged up a sort of upside-down, inside-out greenhouse in an effort to retain moisture and shade instead of sunlight and heat for the few plants she decided we needed to keep growing. It did not take long before the bees left. Gran buried her face in her apron that day and sat down on the porch and did not move for a long time. 
       There was a little talk of moving, if only for the sake of pretending to consider it, pretending that we stayed because we chose to stay and not because we were trapped. Gran’s autoimmune disease meant there was no way she could traipse all the way to the edge of the desert, if there really even were an edge still. I was more than strong enough to haul her and Grams and all their gear on a sledge or a wagon myself, but then oil became an issue. Sunshine could keep my batteries recharging, but once my moving parts locked up, I would be done for. Dust blew ceaselessly in these parts. I stayed inside as much as possible already. I was no exit strategy.
       The story we told ourselves, though, was that we had worked too hard for our little oasis to abandon it. That these desert cliffs had been inhabited by people for thousands of years. That with some minor adjustments and careful use of our resources, we could thrive here indefinitely. That probably everyone else was in worse shape than we were, and we would be better off staying put, where at least we were in control of our own destinies and not subject to however the people in charge chose to distribute the necessities of survival.
       It was a nice story, and we all worked hard to believe it.
       The last time Red came was two months ago. He stacked four batteries for me down on a shelf in the root cellar. He met my eyes gravely as he pulled a little bottle of oil from his pocket, only half-full.
       “I don’t know how much good those batteries will do you, old friend,” he said. “This was all the oil I could get. Even this nearly cost me more than I had to pay.”
       He raised his arm, and I saw a long, jagged tear in his threadbare shirt sleeve.
       Gran and Grams did not go to bed early that night as they usually did. They stayed up with Red, breaking open one of their now-precious jars of mead, sharing a loaf of bread, and talking well into the wee hours. Their voices sounded happy, and they laughed a lot, but I saw their eyes leaking continually.
       Red would not be back. He was going to try and make it all the way across, he said, into the mountains. 
       “It’s not survivable back there,” he said. “It’s all panic and push and pilfer. The sharing times are over.”
       In the morning, he left us all the poetry he had. After the third or fourth round of hugs goodbye, though, he paused. Bent over to pick up a pamphlet, tore a page from the back. Folded it up and put it in his breast pocket. 
       “A verse for luck.”
       I went out to the well and drew as much water as his little burro could drink. Arguably the creature belonged in these parts more than the preacher did, but still I did not know which of them would perish first. That they would perish before they reached the mountains, I had no doubt. But humans have a need to be doing, even when there is nothing to be done. Movement is a biological imperative. I would not have robbed Red of that.
       So two months later, when Gran looked out and saw dust on the horizon, we all knew it was not a friend approaching. 
       For a while, we hoped they would go right by us. Our little refuge was tucked up against the cliffs. No smoke rose to give us away. Even dry, though, the river was a road of sorts, and whoever was out there followed it straight to us.
       Two men on horses. Their eyes looked as raw and bloodshot as Red’s always did, but they held none of his warmth. Gran clucked her tongue at the sight of their mounts, with their heaving sides and frothing mouths.
       “Go get them some water, won’t you?” she murmured to me.
       Grams gave me pause with an epic glare. “You want them to know we have water?”
       Gran huffed. “Obviously we have water, or we’d be dead. No sense letting those poor animals suffer for a lie we can’t maintain.”
       I rolled out the door, but dread seeped into my gears like tarry sludge.
       By the time I returned to the horses with the water, the men were already inside the house. I was not entirely sure this refreshment would be enough to keep the animals from keeling over. They rolled their eyes at me and drank noisily, their hides dark with sweat. Everybody knew not to drive animals in this heat. A person had to take it slow and steady if they wanted to survive. But these men had been in a hurry.
       My experience with humans was limited, but men in a hurry made me anxious all the same.
       The sound of a rifle blast from inside the house made me even more anxious. I rolled hastily up the ramp to the front door.
       Grams was pulling the rifle out of Gran’s hands as I entered the room. Gran sank back slowly into her wooden rocking chair, her glassy gaze fixed on the man lying belly up at her feet. Grams barely flicked me a glance. She had the rifle trained on the second man, who stood with his hands up and a syrupy smile plastered on his sweating face. I could see a handgun in the back of his waist. 
       “Come on now, mama,” he wheedled. “No reason we can’t all share and get along. You’re doing pretty well out here. And I’m sure you could use some - ”
       Grams rocked back on her heels a little as the rifle sent him down onto his back like his companion. I would have rolled over and taken the rifle from her shaking hands, but already blood pooled thickly on the floor between us. Grams sighed.
       “It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Still, you know what to do.”
       I tried to stay clear of the muck as best I could, but there was no avoiding it. I carried both carcasses out to the butchering shed. Once they were gutted and hanging, I shut myself down to save energy. When my alarm woke me, I finished the work. Grams would smoke what meat she could to preserve it as long as possible. The bones Gran would boil for broth. 
       The horses would have to be next. There was no way we could support them out here with the meager water and plants we had, and to turn them out into the desert would have been cruelty itself. I was not looking forward to that. Butchering one horse, never mind two, is a colossal undertaking.
        But first I needed to dispose of these buckets of offal. I loaded up and headed out across the cracked ground. Dust devils danced around me, and cactus spines crunched under my wheels.
       It was on the way back that I got stuck. Blood, gore, and grit seized me up. I turned on my siren so Grams would know I needed help.
       She came out almost right away. I wondered if Gran was feeling better by now, or if she was still sitting in her chair, locked in the horror of what she had become years ago. Grams was sterner stuff, and she had no qualms when it came to dispatching thieves and then carefully stewarding the resources they became in death. For her, life or death was a simple choice. Gran still clung to rules that did not exist anymore.
       I focused on staying calm. Grams muttered to herself as she worked to clean me, and every now and then she would address a bit of encouragement in my direction, too. She knew how I hated being stuck, how the panic would rise in me. How my consciousness beat madly against the steel walls of my being when it found no outlet.
       Even so, my fine hearing could not fail to pick up the faint spluttering sound when the bottle of oil gave up its last drops. Grams rocked back and landed heavily on her bottom, looking up at me. I still could not move. Even my eyelids had locked up. I could only barely perceive her movements on my periphery.
       “I’m so sorry, love,” she finally said. “That was all the oil we had.”
       She did make some sort of effort, to tip me over and pull me back to the house, but we both knew I was much too heavy for her to manage. I appreciated the pretense, though.
       “We’ll figure something out,” she said, and I could tell she was crying through her lies. “Some kind of pulley. There’ll be something we can do.”
       Grams was the mechanic of our small tribe, but I knew what supplies remained of our little store and how unlikely – if not impossible – that was. Besides, with me out of the picture, Grams would have to use all her strength just to keep her and Gran with water enough from the well. Throwing away precious energy on a useless pile of metal and gears that might never work again was not the choice of a survivor. 
       She stood up then and placed her hands on either side of my face. “It’s time to sleep,” she said. “We’ll bring you home. Just sleep.”
       I wanted to argue. I wanted to watch the sun set, at least. Movement is a biological imperative, I wanted to say, but I am not biological, and I could not say anything. 
       I powered down.
       It turned out to be the cook, and not the mechanic, who saved me. 
       Gran rallied from her stupor as soon as Grams shared my predicament, and immediately seized on a solution. She scribbled down direction for Grams, who hurried to the butchering shed to cut away every scrap of fat she could find. Unfortunately, both the would-be raiders had been hungry long before they struck out in our direction, but Grams was determined to carve away every ounce she could. She built a fire from our carefully hoarded stash of juniper and rendered it down into oil.
       She’d draped my motionless husk with a sheet to keep any more sand off me, so at least my sorry state was not compounded as I waited unknowing for my resurrection. I think I was unknowing, anyway. I do not remember dreaming, but I know humans often forget their dreams as well, so I do not consider that any proof that I do not dream. Only that like them, my mind only retains what it knows in the day.
       Grams’s face had been the last thing I saw, and now it was the first thing I saw. She was crying again, but this time it was happy tears.
       I mostly stay inside now. Going to the well is the one excursion I still regularly make. Gran recovered quickly from the shock of her kill. It had been so long since the last one, I think she had almost forgotten how it felt. But knowing that she had not just saved Grams and herself but me too made it much easier to accept. 
       So we hoard our small stores and read each other bootleg poetry. Gran and Grams share a glass of mead now and then and watch hopefully out the window for the odd jackalope to leap by in the moonlight. Movement is a biological imperative, after all, but humans are masters of adaptation. There is more than one way to travel, and our little family practices migration the only way left to us. We wait patiently for our next supply of meat and oil and hope it does not come too late.
About the author:
Cassondra Windwalker is a poet, essayist, and novelist presently writing full-time from the southern Alaskan coast. Her novels and full-length poetry collections can be found in bookstores and online. 

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The Excrement List
Disobey our submission guidelines, 
and find yourself amiss.
Disobey the guidelines,
wind up on the list.
(It's like when restaurants used to post bounced checks on the wall, but for the digital age)
As a publisher, we have rules that writers must abide by if they want to get published. Some of these aren't that big of a deal, but others, like ‘if you submit to our contest, don't submit this story anywhere else until the reading period is over,' or ‘don’t mark our emails as spam', are a major no-no.  Offenders get put on our ~dun dun dun~ Excrement List, aka lifetime ban on getting published. We keep this list to show people that - for once - we're not joking. Don't be like the perps below - you're much too savvy for that:
Gillian W, Cat T, Adam M, Olasupo L, Mick S, Leslie C, Patricia W, Tim V, Andrew F, Sam P, Aaron H, N. Kurts, Paula W, Marcy K, Mark301078, carnap72, N. Phillips,  A Bergsma, Sharon S.
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