Back in high school, a few of my buddies worked at this trashy, yet surprisingly palatable deli inside the walls of a dysfunctional grocery store, Jack & Jill.  Our small town was a breeding ground for weirdos, and they’d wander in at all hours for beer, cigs, lotto tickets, and cheap deli food.
        Cody once told me about this oddball who sauntered in one day like a gunslinger through the doors of a saloon in the Wild West, struck up a few words with him and BJ, then topped off the conversation by proclaiming in solemn, naïve error, “And here’s to you, DJ,” as he winked at BJ right before dramatically taking a swig from his 24-ounce deli pop.
        Not much later, Jack & Jill went under, and a spritely sixteen-year-old BJ found himself walking into the unemployment office and getting soundly rejected.  Decades later, things came full circle when BJ found out his employer was once again going under…a month before he was planning on putting in his two-week notice.  Can someone say, “Well-timed compensation package?”
        I like it when stories come full circle.  Maybe it’s a feeling of completeness, or wholeness - I’m not sure.  But take our short story contest, for instance.  We received hundreds of submissions, but the name I remember most was from a guy who went by the pen name ‘DJ Cockburn’.  What an idiot, I thought to myself.  This is a lit mag, not a strip bar.  Then again, he’s probably some 19-year-old kid who still thinks anatomy jokes are the pinnacle of comedy, and who am I to tell him otherwise?  After all, when I was 19, I was running around with a toilet and camera crew, documenting ourselves pretending to defecate on our buddies’ front porches.  And if I’m honest, has anything really changed?  I’m still taking dumps in all the wrong places, writing stories about it, and sending them to all four corners of the globe.
        Will DJ Cockburn win the contest, or end up with an honorable mention?  Only time will tell.  But he’s out there, somewhere.  Maybe he’s still writing, maybe he’s parading around with a broken toilet, or perhaps he really is a DJ after all, burning the midnight oil.  Whatever the case, let us all raise a plastic, 24-ounce cup filled with our favorite fountain pop, and proclaim together:
        “And here’s to you, DJ…”
Danny Hankner
Danny Hankner

A note on all issues prior to 2023
In 2023, we switched email sending services. Converting entire issues into our new sender and their formatting is a fair bit of work, and with our limited resources, we've decided to expedite the process by focusing on converting only the story and intro. Perhaps some day we'll get around to the rest of it, but for now, enjoy the story.

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(Comic / Adventurous / Reminiscent)
My friend Auggy Doggy is the most interesting man in Maquoketa, despite not having lived there for many years.  He’s always up to something: becoming a handwriting analysis expert, learning hypnosis, or busting up con men (and perverts) as part of a casino SWAT team.  When he’s not engaging in strange endeavors, strange things are happening to him, like the time he bumped into Tim Tebow while sampling smoked-cheese in a crusty farmer's market, or the bizarre episode that started out as an innocent psychology project for school and ended with him giving step-by-step instructions to a hapless mother over the phone on how to properly spank her daughter.  I suppose Auggy knew a thing or two about child discipline, as he heralded from a large Mormon family, though the only sibling I ever really corresponded with was his brother, Charles.  My dad, who delighted in Auggy and his curious adventures, would often regale me like a car salesman proudly showcasing the finest ride in the lot.  "I can see it now: August and Charles Meyer,” he would proclaim, simply out of a love for the pairing of such stately names. "Investment brokers.”  Then he’d pause and reconsider.  “Or maybe lawyers, Dan.  Yeah.  Meyer and Meyer."
The brothers never sought either of those careers, although Auggy did become a world-class magician (that’s an exaggeration, but only slightly) who unofficially holds the Guinness record for flipping a quarter in his fingers the most times in a minute.  It was at Fareway where he perfected his sleight of hand by palming coins while he bagged groceries, and where our friendship really blossomed.
Now, years later, I’m sitting on my porch steps, contemplating how to evict a skunk from my backyard when Auggy and my old roommate, BJ, roll up.
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According to my neighbors, the previous owner of my house ran a lackluster daycare with half-clothed children scampering wildly about the premise and screaming murder as they brandished make-shift plastic toys of war.  This carried on until someone complained to higher authority and a wooden fence was constructed to contain the little mongrels, though the owner cheapened out and only went halfway down the yard with it.  A few years later, the family moved out, replaced by the roommates and me, which was, at best, a lateral move in the eyes of the neighborhood.  The half-naked children were exchanged for half-naked young men parading wildly about the premise, hollering as we fused the immaturities of youth with the overwhelming responsibility of home-ownership: spear-tackling old closet doors into splinters small enough to fit into the fire pit, yanking bushes out of the yard in grand redneck fashion with a truck and steel chain, even running a last-minute campaign for board of directors for the HOA with a platform promising to ‘prevent homeowners dues from rising and secure the border’.
Eventually, I got married and the cycle repeated.  The roommates moved out and half-clothed children took their place.  Throughout all these changes, the ill-built wooden fence stood idly by, a grand testament to laziness and/or financial destitution.  “Look at me,” it goaded, “Cutting off half your yard.  It’s like you don’t even own the back end, since you can’t use it for anything.  Except for mowing.  Hah!  You must still mow the cursed grass, yes, of course.  And pay taxes on it.  Lucky dog.”
A man can only be tormented by a fence for so long before he takes action.  Opening my yard to the world, I removed the back span of fencing, wrenched out the old 4x4’s and flagged the locations for the new posts. 
It was at this point in the project when I stumbled upon another mishap – completely unrelated - in my backyard.  I stood on the patio with my hands on my hips, examining a pile of feces in the woodchips.  I promptly cleaned up the poop and moved on with my life, assuming that would be the end of it.  Instead, the pile of crap reappeared a few days later.  Over the next couple of weeks, as I slowly dug out the post holes for the extended fence, I kept finding more piles of scat.
Something (or someone, thanks to a blown-off fence and an endless supply of weirdos wandering out of North Park Mall) was pooping in my woodchips and had to be stopped.
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Seeking counsel, I texted a few pictures to the former roommates.  Due to the shape and consistency of the excrement, they ruled out feral dogs, the homeless, and Bigfoot.  Racoons, they finally concluded, and suggested I grab a rifle and camp out on the roof.  Instead, I borrowed a live trap from my friend Dan Bowie (no relation to David Bowie), loaded it with old muffins and leftover bacon grease.
The following day brought success.  The racoon stirred and hissed at my approach.  I smiled and loaded the cage into the back of my truck, drove a mile out of town, pulled off an unnamed gravel road (where I and the roomies may or may not have previously offloaded a few bushes we yanked out of the front yard with my Dodge Dakota), and let the critter go.  I drove home, proud of so easily besting this creature, and secure in my benevolence upon its safe release.
The next day, the poop - like an ace of spades in the hand of Auggy Doggy - reappeared.
“You little bastard,” I said.  Apparently, racoon can find their way home.
Once again, I baited the trap.  It took three days this time, but it was him all right.  I drove way out into the sticks, past West Lake and the Casey’s General Store until I was several miles beyond even Blue Grass.  I opened the cage and the perp scurried out.
“Find your way back now,” I dared him.  Stupidly.  I don’t need to say it, for you already know what I found the very next day.
“You gotta be kidding me,” I vented, once more standing over the daily dump.  He must have an accomplice, I thought.  There’s no way that coon made it all the way back in one day.
And so began my life as a trapper.  My catches weren’t limited to mere trash pandas, but opossums as well, those ratty, albino creatures that look so cute curled up and so hideous when they bare their ugly face.
Several weeks into this expedition, I was laying out my fence posts down by the shed when I noticed that the trap had, once again, been sprung.  I made my way towards the cage, wondering which of the two animals I had captured this time.  As I drew closer, I realized that it wasn’t an opossum, as its fur was too dark – almost black.  But neither was it a racoon, as I detected tufts of pure white.  A knot formed in my stomach as the suspicion morphed into recognition. 
Not an opossum. 
Not a racoon.
Curled lazily behind the metal bars was no other than a Midwestern striped skunk.
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Auggy Doggy and BJ emerge from their vehicle slowly, smirking like a pair of juvies on the precipice of mischief.  “Alright,” says Auggy.  “Let’s see it.”
I lead them inside, down the stairs to the guest bedroom, where the rear window provides a perfect vantage point of the live trap, and the little fellow inside.
“Oh yeah,” says BJ.  “That’s a skunk all right.”
“You weren’t joking,” confirms Auggy.
“Now what?” I ask.
Our first instinct is purely millennial - get someone else to deal with it.  We call Animal Control, but as soon as I mention the word skunk, the guy gets all spooky and hangs up.  I try the DNR with no luck.  Same with the Davenport PD. 
“Looks like we’re on our own,” I say as I end the call.
“Maybe…” says BJ, fingering his goatee.  “We could try a Hail Mary Craigslist ad.  ‘Free skunk in a cage’.”
I snort a laugh, but none of us take it seriously.  We are alone; this is our battle to fight.  With that realization, I move to the laundry room and rifle through the rags.  I strip down and don a ratty old pair of shorts with a rip in the back and an old Viagra T-shirt (I was hilarious back in the day, lemme tell ya).  I then loop a piece of wire around as a belt and report for duty.
A few hair-brained ideas are knocked around before we finally settle on a plan.  Then we don our safety glasses like the three amigos and get to work.
Phase one begins.
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We gather materials: trash bags, blankets, fishing line, and scrap 1x4’s.  I slip on an old paintball mask and take my position, but every time I squat my pants rip a little more until the flap finally catches and shreds on a door handle so half my ass is hanging out.  BJ is hunkered down in the guest bedroom window while Auggy holds out behind the tree.  I ease the door open and assess the area.  The cage rests cattywampus in the woodchips.  From where the skunk is curled, he cannot see me.  However, before I can even get near him, a running lane on the patio must first be cleared. 
Auggy gives the thumbs up, BJ the all clear.  I sneak to the patio chair, grab a hold and make a hasty retreat, leaning it against the house and out of the way.  I return a moment later, snatching the table like a backwoods grinch and clearing a path for step two.
I shuffle through our materials and move the boards and black garbage bag into place, but I’m too bold.  The skunk senses me and stirs.  I shoot off like an almost-caught peeping Tom, but before I can get our makeshift contraption set up.  We reconvene in the safety of the basement.  BJ confirms the severity. 
“The skunk ‘presented’,” he warns.
This introduces a new problem.  The items we were going to use to subdue the skunk cage are now too close to the alerted skunk.  We realize we must do something to block the creature’s line of sight.  BJ proposes lowering a blanket from the rooftop.  Auggy asks if we have any drones on hand.  I lament the fact that the neighbor kids, T-Shane and T-Mitchell, who are always willing to help (and are now swift and nimble teenagers, ahem), are nowhere to be found.  Bereft of robots and youth, we settle on a little scheme using the safety and distance provided by a pair of fishing poles.
“The cage is pretty close to the fence,” I say, “So whoever is on that side will still be within the blast radius of the skunk.”
We eyeball each other.  Nobody volunteers.  Eventually, Auggy pulls a quarter out of his pocket.
“We can flip for positions,” he says.
BJ scowls.  “I don’t trust that coin.”
Regardless, Auggy flicks the quarter in the air, and in the world’s most not-shocking event, I’m chosen.
We haul a bedraggled bedsheet into the yard.  The thing is crusted and flecked in an array of paint splotches and hasn’t been used in years, except, of course, when repainting a bedroom.  We puncture the blanket with the fishing hooks and start moving towards the house, I to the far side of the fence, Auggy to the end of the patio, and reel in the line.  The sheet hovers awkwardly along the grass like a disoriented stingray.  My line gets snagged in the tree, but I yank it free.  As we pull, the blanket rises like a kite, buffeted in the wind.  We angle and pull, maneuver and reel.  Despite the absurdity of fishing with a bedsheet, it’s actually working.  The sheet moves past the grass, up the stone edgers and over the woodchips.  Just as it starts to engulf the metal rungs of the cage - right when I believe we’re really going to do it – Auggy’s line snaps.
The bedsheet flops and buckles in the wind, coming to rest on the little shrub tree adjacent to the cage.
Dejected, we reconvene behind the tree, speaking in hushed whispers so the skunk can’t hear.
“We need to remove the grill,” insists BJ.
“It got snagged on the tree,” says Auggy.
“The wind didn’t help matters,” I chime.
We scrap the fishing poles, conjure up a new plan, and send forth Auggy into the fray.  He sneaks along the fence like a black and white movie thief, quiet and careful with each footfall, until the bedsheet – still slumped over the shrub tree - is between him and the skunk.  Auggy slinks closer, slowly now that he’s within range, and reaches up to untangle the blanket.  The fishing line is wrapped around the tree.  Auggy works it delicately, but it’s time consuming.  When the line is at last untangled, the branch whips back into place.  The skunk moves, startled by the noise.

“Get out!” cries BJ. 
Auggy bolts.
We share a chuckle – the uneasy merriment of escaping criminals – and get back to business.  With the line untangled, I grab the pole and reel the blanket back. 
BJ holds it in a paw and wonders aloud, “What if you just covered yourself with the bedsheet like a poor man’s Halloween ghost?” 
We had bandied forth some pretty rotten ideas throughout this whole sordid affair, but this is likely the worst.  So how on earth is it the plan that actually sticks?
What am I thinking as I clutch the sheet in front of me like a frightened matador?  Am I supernaturally emboldened as I step towards the skunk, or am I just high on stupidity?  Perhaps I’m shedding the last remnants of my sanity and am going out with a bang?  Whatever the case, I pace steadily forward, so close that I can hear the creature stirring.  When I’m within striking distance, I raise the blanket, but it’s caught on my feet.  Criminy! I think, feeling the sweat run down my side.
“Twitching,” BJ warns from a safe position away.  Then suddenly, “He’s up, HE’S UP!”
I give the blanket a desperate toss and sprint away, putting as much distance between me and the skunk as I can.  When I look back, the bedsheet now covers half the cage.
Out of options, we revert once more to the fishing pole.
BJ sets a ladder against the fence to better view this escapade.  “Venture number three to subdue the skunk cage,” he announces to the world.  “Master angler Auggy Doggy is going to attempt to cast his line.”
Auggy pulls back and flicks his wrist forward.  The treble hook sails in the air, coming to rest perfectly atop the bedsheet.  Bingo.  Auggy hands me the pole.   

“You do the honors,” he says.
I reel the line in until the bedsheet completely envelopes the cage.  The skunk is now blind to the world outside.  Granted, he can still spray the bejesus out of us, but at least he can’t see us.
Phase one complete.
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We haul an old tarp out of the shed. 
“You remember our last adventure with a tarp?” asks BJ.  “In the back of your truck?”
We filled the bed up with water, sprinkled in some cans of Busch Light and drove around the neighborhood, sloshing the roommates and blaring Lynyrd Skynyrd.
“What?” asks Auggy.
“Redneck Pool Party,” explains BJ.
We drape the tarp over the cage like a flag over a casket, then drag the ensemble across the woodchips and up onto the wooden runners.  I take a new position at the back of the cage, and push.  BJ helps angle it in while Auggy holds open the garbage bag.  Inch by inch, the cage is swallowed by a chasm of black plastic.
“This is progressing surprisingly well,” remarks Auggy, as if trying to jinx us.  The skunk cage is now secure.  We celebrate with a round of awkward high fives.
Phase two complete.
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BJ and I carry the covered trap to the tailgate of my F-150 and slide it into the bed.  As we lean against the truck, we discuss our exit strategy.  Ideally, we’d like to let the thing go, but the trap’s mechanism is simply too complicated to maneuver without getting sprayed in the face.
Understand that we’re not a bunch of namby-pamby, tree-hugging do-gooders.  We own firearms, salivate over any glorious cut of meat, and down ungodly amounts of gluten and high fructose corn-syrup.  Yet despite these red-blooded inclinations, neither are we hardened criminals accustomed to harming small, furry creatures.  With no viable alternative in sight, I have no choice but to float out a slightly darker plotline.
“We might have to just kill it,” I say.
There’s a brief talk of a firing squad, but dismiss this simply from not wanting to damage Dan Bowie (no relation to David Bowie)’s cage.  As I stare into the bed of my truck, visions of the Redneck Pool Party dance in my head; the roommates floated around in the back, slamming into the sidewalls and shouting in pained merriment every time I took a corner.  We drove down Kimberly Village, honking as we passed the playground and taunting the residents floating in the neighborhood pool with catcalls of inferiority for not being mobile.  By the time we pulled into the driveway, half of the water had sloshed out on the turns, but even so, when we opened the tailgate, it was like unleashing a geyser.  All that water, so powerful as it swept aside spent cans of beer and young adults alike.
An idea strikes.
“What if we just drown the skunk?” I ask.
There’s a moment of silence as everyone mulls over the prospect. 
“It wouldn’t damage the trap,” agrees Auggy.  “Is there a creek around here?”
“Duck Creek,” I say, thinking about the easily accessible - and heavily trafficked – bike path that runs right through the heart of Davenport.
BJ frowns.  “Best not to be done in a public space.”
“Is there a river nearby?” asks Auggy.
“I think the Mississippi is somewhere around here,” I jest.  Then, more seriously (but only slightly), “We could do it right here.  Stand the trap on end and fill the bag up with water.”
Auggy considers this.  “But would the bag hold the water?”
“A tarp would,” I reply.  “We’ve seen that happen.”
“Yes, we have,” confirms BJ.  “Redneck Pool Party 2.0.”
I briefly toy with the idea of cracking some pun about skunky beer, but think better of it.  Instead, we move inside and open Google Maps.  I pull up an overhead view of the entire Quad Cities.
“There,” I say, pointing to a pond just north of town that may or may not be on John Deere property.  We hop in the truck and roll out, three men and a skunk.  The engine rumbles softly, the air whips through my fingers tapping against the door, while the classic hillbilly anthem “Sweet Home Alabama” wafts through the speakers.
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The sun hangs low in the sky by the time we pull off the road and park the truck at the undisclosed location.  I fished here once, a few years back, sitting on the cement culvert a stone’s throw away, on a quiet, still summer’s eve just as this.  I didn’t catch anything, and I’m not sure if that’s a good omen or bad.
I pop the tailgate down and, in a rare moment of foresight, cut a slit in the end of the garbage bag and loop a yellow rope through.  BJ and I lift the cage, haul it to the water’s edge and start swinging it back and forth.
We count out loud, and on “three” chuck the cage into the pond.  The contraption lands with a clumsy splash, ruining the tranquility.  The garbage bags lend it more buoyancy than expected, so it doesn’t sink, exactly.  Instead, it floats contentedly in place, like a drunk on an innertube, and slowly takes on water.
“Would anyone like to say a few words?” asks BJ.
We wait for the trap to sink.  Seconds morph to minutes.  The garbage bags begin to float away, revealing the poor skunk paddling for dear life.  The cage is nearly submerged, with only a little window for the creature to breath.  And it’s here, in this awkward position, where the cage decides to come to a halt.  And why, you might ask, does it decide to pull such a dastardly plot twist?  Because of a little thing called shallow water.  For crying out loud. 
We tossed the cage in shallow water!
All of our careful planning, elusive maneuvers and daring tactics come crashing down in a low tide of failure.  It takes a moment before I manage to speak.  “Well, I didn’t see this coming.”
BJ crosses his arms.  “I’m not going out there.”
“And we can’t pull it in now,” says Auggy, helplessly holding the rope.
“Then what’s a boy to do?” asks BJ.
I sigh.  “There’s only one choice left.”  I turn to my friend August Meyer, the handwriting analysis expert, the hypnotist, the semi-pro magician, the firearms instructor who travels throughout eastern Iowa teaching concealed carry classes.

Auggy nods and unholsters his Glock 23 veiled behind his waistband.  For such a small target, it’s a considerable longshot at this distance.  Auggy takes aim, draws in his breath, holds.  One moment the skunk is treading water, the next, a sound like thunder shatters the silence – the up close and personal whipcrack of a .40 caliber – and the skunk’s head explodes.  Our celebration at Auggy’s marksmanship is cut short by an engulfing storm, a foul stench, a black death without equal.  We all know this – everyone has driven past a dead skunk on the highway – yet for some reason we didn’t consider the consequences of killing a skunk, and are completely unprepared for the potency of its reserves.  I hack and cough as I flee the scene for clean air, so bad that my eyes begin to burn.
We have to run all the way back to the truck – about 100 feet – to clear ourselves from the blast radius. 
I catch my breath and hack phlegm off to the side.  “Wow,” I say.  “That’s nasty.”
BJ grabs his inhaler and takes a desperate puff.  “Let’s get out of here.”
“Not yet,” pants Auggy between breaths.  “We still have to retrieve the cage.”
I don’t waste any time.  “Wish me luck,” I say, sucking in a gulp of air.
BJ’s words, speed-bumped by his asthma, “Once more, *INHALE* into the breach!” fade as I sprint back to ground zero, grab the rope and start pulling.  I get the cage ashore before running out of air.  We take turns, but it’s slow work, especially when we get hung up on the stupid locking mechanism.  Eventually, we open the trap, dump the carcass back into the water and escape with our lives.
We ride home with the windows down, yet despite not being directly hit, the scent lingers.  It’s dark by the time we pull into my driveway.  We strip down to our shorts, lay our clothes out on the concrete, grab the hose and a bucket of soap.  We wash the truck down, then our clothes, and finally ourselves.  My wife delivers a load of towels.  Once dry, we take a seat and absorb the event in solace on the front porch.
“Well, this turned out to be quite the day,” says Auggy.
I wring out my old Viagra t-shirt over the sidewalk.  “Indeed.”
BJ fingers his goatee.  “I’m blaming you for this, Auggy Doggy,” he says.  “You’re like a magnet for bizarre events.”
Auggy shrugs.  “I don’t know what to say.”
BJ furrows his brow.  “Have you ever considered chronicling all your misadventures?” he asks.  “Perhaps a weekly publication is in order?”
Auggy rolls his eyes.  “And what would I call it?”
BJ smirks.  “The Auggy Bloggy.”
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You’re still sitting on the porch when pair take their leave.  You don’t know this, but BJ will move away, bouncing around eastern Iowa for a number of years before landing in Utah, while Auggy Doggy will sample various parts of the lower 48.  New friends will come, old friends will go, and in the wake of it all, you’ll consider the trade woefully unfair.
You don't know it - can't articulate it – but you can feel something like a tide turning, or a changing of the seasons.  Your once-glorious youth is at its end, and really, has been for some time.  Soon, children will emerge, and layoffs, and unemployment.  You’ll start your own business, take on new responsibility.  You’ll experience the rawness of life not just as an adult, but as a husband, and a father.  And then death.  It will come in the night like a thief, like a wrecking ball destroying all that you once held dear, a blow that brings you to your knees.  Again.  And again.  And again.  Your once lively, joyous laugh will be replaced by silence, your wit by sorrow, merriment with grief.
And the stories you’ll write will evolve with them.
You know none of this now - not the details, anyway - but just a feeling: that life is changing.
You’re still seated on the porch by the time their headlights fade into the distance, unaware that a decade from now – after you’ve weathered all those storms, and healed - you'll be sitting down with Auggy Doggy and two of the old roommates, stuffing your face with shrimp and noodles and recounting all the old times, and Auggy will mention how of all the places he's lived, that there’s something special about coming back here, where you grew up, with friends whose history goes so far back.  Out of nowhere, Auggy will pull up his laptop and ask if you have a memory card.
Later that evening, as you laugh your tail off over recorded footage of the old skunk adventure, you'll realize just how right Auggy was, about what we had and who we were.  And in that moment a thought will surface, and you'll know it to be true.  Yes, you'll think with the conviction of a prophet, or priest, or maybe just a guy who’s been through hell and lived to tell about it. 
It's time to write another story.
About the Author
Danny Hankner began penning stories about himself and his idiot friends as a teenager. Now, masquerading as an adult, he lives in Davenport, Iowa with his wife and three children, working as a master electrician for his own company. In his spare time, Dan rides and builds mountain bike trails, scrapes infinitely spawning cat hurl off the basement floor, and runs Story Unlikely, an award-winning literary magazine where he floats around self-important titles like 'Editor-in-chief'. His work has besmirched the good reputations of Downstate Story, SQ Mag, Tenth Muse, and many more unfortunate publishers, as well as being awarded semi-finalist in Writers of the Future.

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