It’s come to my attention that I’ve overlooked two segments of the population, and have been acting about in utter disregard of the growing chasm between these factions. Sure, we’re all aware of the many ways in which we as humans are constantly divided (race, gender, creed, wealth, God-help-us-all), but this one perhaps is the most hotly contested – a volcano bubbling under our very noses! What am I talking about? Simply, the divide between those who believe we did and did not land on the moon (who I will henceforth refer to as the Yes-Moonies and the No-Moonies).
          Now, as the Benevolent Dictator of Story Unlikely (and self-appointed Mr. Sensitivity), I think it’s high time I address this powder keg in the form of an apology tour. You see, to even acknowledge one will put you in utter contempt of the other. So, let’s begin!
          To the No-Moonies: a lifetime of apologies for being so blind to the mountain of evidence of this clear farce – to the people murdered, blackmailed and threatened by the CIA, the money embezzled to other countries to keep their traps shut, the ‘miracle of technology’ to send a man to the moon which we can’t pull off even today and which was ‘lost’, according to the corrupt government agency that has a snake’s tongue stamped on its logo for God’s sake! What a fool I have been!
          To the Yes-Moonies: please accept a thousand apologies for doubting decades of established science, spitting in the face of all those courageous astronauts, the hundreds of thousands of hands that worked on the Apollo missions, and all the hard-earned taxpayer dollars infused into the greatest achievement of mankind. Only a fool would believe a hoax of this magnitude could ever be pulled off! And a fool I have been!
          Isn’t it great licking your finger, sticking it in the air, and signaling your virtue to whichever way the wind blows? Being nothing but an empty shell, devoid of all thought, meaning, and agency? I feel so invigorated, so authentic!
          And if you dare sniff an ounce of sarcasm from Mr. Sensitivity, allow me to go one step further. You see, every month I write an intro loosely tying into the featured story, so to further prove my pure heart, I’ve written an intro for each camp – a chose your own adventure! In other words, wherever you land (ha!) on what is clearly the biggest issue of our day, I hope you enjoy this month’s story, so much that you might say to read it makes you feel blessed, or lucky.
          Or over the moon.

Introduction for those who know/believe we landed on the moon:
          Time doesn’t make sense: Like how the older we get, the faster it zips by; like how the gap in time between my birth and the assassination of JFK is the same distance between now and when I was in high school; like how The Fast and the Furious - which debuted my freshman year - is still cranking out sequels to this day.
          The old roommates and I were reminiscing about that recently.
          “Fast and Furious, as a franchise, has always been a brainless popcorn action movie for its entire span,” explained BJ. “It has been so un-yielding in this regard and lasted so long it's actually become refreshing in the current age of "modern" action movies. There's no agenda, no woke message, just muscle-bound meatheads driving fast cars to accomplish arbitrary goals and impress scantily-clad women, all held together by the barest of storyline threads and the limits of believability.”
          “One might say,” quipped Cody, “That The Fast and Furious franchise is a…sequel opportunity employer.”
          I laughed and then grew serious. “The whole racing lifestyle seems like a relic now. Do youth these days even care about their ride, or speakers, or any of that? Not that souping up sports cars and drag racing equates to virtue, but it's better than wasting away on social media.”
          Sometimes, I wonder what things will be like 20 years from now - so much comes and so much goes that it's hard to keep track of it all. Will the youth of tomorrow still burn with a sense of adventure? Will they dream big dreams? Will they, as JFK once remarked, dare to go to the moon?

Introduction for those who know/believe the moon landing was a fake:
          So I had this killer idea for an alt-history story the other day, check this out:
          America wins WW2, but we shuttle all the Nazi scientists over here after the war (with the help of a secretive order (weirdly) representing both commercial builders and Egyptian archaeologists – The Affordable Brickworkers) to start a rocket program called Operation Pooper Scoop, but instead of sending men “to infinity and beyond” – as they claim is the mission - it's just a bunch of C-list celebrities collecting rocks in Antarctica and floating around in wires in a Hollywood basement.
          Well after a few decades and a trillion dollars embezzled to fund (make-believe) documentaries, they eventually “land on Mars”, where they are promptly gunned down by the native aliens unveiling themselves from their red ghillie suits (if you zoom in close, you can barely see the Made in Taiwan tag on one of the costumes – to which the counter-argument is that everyone manufactures in Asia, even the Martians, it’s just standard business).
          Miraculously, just as the ambush begins, the Sears Tower comes crashing down (sneaky aliens - they were here all along!), so in a mad rush to save humanity from more bombings, the Patriot Facts are passed, a series of bills re-writing every nation’s constitution to unite the world under one government to collectively oppose the Martian threat.
          Well guess what, it turns out the DOD has been studying the aliens for decades, and not only do they acknowledge the existence of these creatures – they call them You-Ain’t-Me’s just to tamp down on the hippie stigma – they reveal that these dastardly entities have been abducting and breeding with humans to create an entire race of hybrids to take over the earth!
          What to do!?
          At this point, our engineer pals – distant relatives of ol’ Pooper Scoop - present their idea to create bio-engineered nanomachines to inject into every human (via your favorite Twilight vampire tattoo) that attacks and kills the muggle You-Ain’t-Me DNA, but leaves the pure-bloods alone. Application Warped Seed is passed unanimously, funneling billions of dollars to the titans of Big Tattoo.
          Within a year, 90% of the world’s population is dead, the remnant enslaved by the Affordable Brickworkers and their AI minions, fighting over factory-grown breadcrumbs and still bickering about the authenticity of the original Mars landing. But hey, they all get an endless subscription to Cineflix, which predominantly airs shows starring C-list celebrities floating around in wires and collecting rocks in Antarctica.
          Well anyway, thank God that's all a bunch of fiction. Now where did I set my remote...
Danny Hankner
Danny Hankner

“Every great story begins with a snake." - Nicholas Cage (who probably approves this message)
(A word from our editor-in-chief)
       I got this story submitted to us last year that was a real knockout – smooth writing, great hook, proper pacing, dynamic characters, and an intriguing plot, but the sole problem is one we so often see, that the ending just didn’t quite live up to the rest of the story. So I emailed the author, asking if he’d be open to rewriting the ending. He then asked if I had a specific direction in mind. I didn’t. But as I lay in bed that night, the pieces just sort of fell into place. You ever have that, fellow writers, like the universe angling together? And you get so excited because it feels as if this was meant to be!
          I responded with my elaborate plan (which of course would alter the entire narrative and require healthy reshaping throughout the story). This was his response:
          My GOD!!! What fantastic ideas!!! Incredible(!) and thanks so much for all the hard work/living-with-the-story, letting it ferment in your mind and mature in its much-improved manifestation!
          That’s a great feeling, when you get feedback like that. What’s interesting is that the author was in a busy season and didn’t think he’d be able to implement the changes any time soon, so he asked if I’d be willing to polish it off. Now, outside of editing, I’ve never collaborated with another author on a project before, but the idea was intriguing, and because I was so captured with the new story arc, I said what the heck, let me take a swing at it!
           That story – Flower as Big as the Sky – is the one you're about to read. Just thought you’d like to know how the sausage got made - and am I the only one who dislikes that term? Can we switch it up? What about, “How the heifer got skewered”? Yeah, let's go with that.
          Well anyway, now you know what happened behind the story.


(Intriguing/ Immersive / Period-piece)
Flower as Big as the Sky
By Matt Dennison
& Danny Hankner
Early one morning near the beginning of summer, Mister Jones opened the back door of his house and stepped into the light. He angled the brim of his hat to the sun, lit, tamped, and relit his pipe, then picked up the shovel that leaned against the house and continued on to the far corner of his lot. Once begun, he dug without pause, stopping only for lunch and the lemonade that Mrs. Jones brought out every hour or so, for it was, as I recall, a frightfully hot summer. As our backyards were only separated by the low fence that Mister Jones had put in several years before, we had a full and easy view of this seemingly commonplace event.
      “Looks like Mister Jones is putting in more roses for Mrs. Jones,” I can still remember Ma saying as she looked out the window by our breakfast table. Only now am I able to appreciate the wistful tone of envy for the fortunate Mrs. Jones that I heard whenever Ma and her lady friends spoke of our neighbors—and my father’s sinking a little deeper in his chair, shaking out his newspaper and making vague, grunting noises in reply. Behind him, on the television, a news anchor – too early in the day for Walter Cronkite, who, when he appeared, the volume would instantly be dialed up – chatted away about the looming threat of nuclear winter and other things far bigger and more important.
      Yet as the days passed and the digging continued, our curiosity was turned a little to the side of confusion, for it was obvious that Mister Jones was not planting roses this time. 
       “A swimming pool!” I heard Ma excitedly telling Mrs. Crenshaw on the phone one Saturday afternoon as my father grumbled and shifted about in the next room until he finally yelled out that no man, not even Mister Jones, would dig a swimming pool all by himself. “Well, then, Harold,” Ma shot back, her hand clamped tightly over the phone, “if you’re so smart, what is he doing out there?” When all we heard was the snappish flip of a newspaper page, she said, “Just as I thought,” and raised her hand from the phone. “As I was saying, Eunice, he’s building a swimming pool. Of course all by himself! That’s just the kind of man he is. Yes, she most certainly is...” she added, shaking her head in sorrowful agreement.
      “He is not building a swimming pool!” we heard my father call out as he marched into the kitchen, trailing sections of newspaper behind him. Ma sighed and slowly covered the phone once more. “You couldn’t force a convicted child killer to dig a swimming pool all by himself in this heat. They’d call that cruel and unusual. Now, I’ll tell you what he’s doing.” He moved to the window, pulled back the curtain and stood there, his angry look dissolving, softening into one of simple bewilderment. “He’s digging a hole,” he announced, gripping the edge of the curtain as he turned and faced Ma. Behind him, a news anchor chattered on the television about archeologists on the other side of the planet, also digging holes. Could these new discoveries shed light on the secrets of the Egyptian pyramids? the newsman asked. Did the ancients possess secret knowledge that has been lost, a knowledge that could change our understanding of physics, and even the universe itself?
      Ma, oblivious to the irony, smiled as stiffly as her freshly done hair. “And in the hole goes...?”
      “How would I know?” my father asked, calmly spreading his hands. “Why do I have to know? Why does anyone have to know? Maybe he just likes digging holes. Not swimming pools, but holes,” he added, pointing at both of us. “A pretty big hole,” he said, his finger beginning to conduct some wavering melody, “but...” He frowned, spun with the curtain and looked outside once more before quickly turning back. “Well, God forbid a man dig a hole without all you women going crazy,” he muttered as he shuffled past us on his way back to the den.
      Ma rolled her eyes and slowly removed her hand from the phone. “Eunice, darling, I’m so sorry you had to hear that. No? Well, Harold just now informed me that Mister Jones is digging that hole simply for the fun of it. Why, yes! Me too! As if a man like Mister Jones would ever do something that silly. I’m telling you it’s a swimming pool.”
      When the hole was so deep that all we could see was the top of Mister Jones’s shovel as it tossed out the dirt, the digging stopped and the building began. A strange-looking plat­form like a minia­ture diving board started to grow from the edge of the hole, which only added cre­dence to the swimming-pool theory, much to my father’s disgust. Of course, no one would do the sensible thing and ask Mister Jones what he was building. Instead, the neighborhood men would gather in our backyard in the evening, slowly gravitating toward the fence as they talked about baseball, wives, and the weather until one of them would suddenly lean his head back and call out, “When you gonna get that thing done, Mister Jones?”—the “Mister Jones” part coming just a bit late. And Mister Jones would smile, wipe the dirt from his hands and say, “Oh, any day now, any day.”
      Soon, The Thing, as we kids took to calling it, reached a height of about ten feet, still without revealing its true purpose. And although this was causing quite a bit of consternation among the adults—what with the wives already wanting one and the men, on top of having to pretend to know what it was, now having to think of reasons for not building one themselves—we kids thought it was the greatest thing that had ever happened. It had angles and arms sticking out every which way, ropes and pulleys and winches—just about every mechanical gizmo we could imagine. All anyone could say for sure was that it was put together by a true craftsman, that possibly it was the finest, sturdiest, most practical thing anyone had ever built. Ma had to give up her convic­tion that it was going to be a swimming pool, but the satisfaction of knowing my father hadn’t the slightest idea either of what it was going to be, soon restored her spirits.
      As the days passed, Mister Jones’ early-morning whistle began sounding downright jaunty as he walked out of his house at precisely 8:05 a.m.—upon hearing which my father would drain his coffee, yawn once and stand as my mother began to clear the breakfast table. And when he stopped work at 6:00 p.m., Ma and I would begin setting the table for dinner. Never even thought about why, were just moved by the spirit of correctness that emanated from next door. Simply put, Mister Jones had become the calming clock and rhythm of our existence.
      One Saturday near the end of that summer, I was sitting on the fence, thumbing through a comic book about space invaders and watching Mister Jones drive nails into The Thing with stronger-than-usual blows of his hammer when he looked up and asked if I wanted to give him a hand. Did I!? For the next two hours, I carried lum­ber, fetched nails and held boards as he sawed and hammered, trying hard to give myself a splin­ter or at least a blister to show the guys as proof of my involvement with The Thing. Finally, Mister Jones put down his hammer and considered his work. 
      “Well, Billy, I think that about does it,” he said as he took off his hat and slowly fanned his face. At first, I thought he was only through with me for the day. But the way he stood there and looked at his handiwork made me feel that he meant something more. 
      “Do you mean it’s done?” I blurted out. I had come to believe that he would work on it forever, continually adding to it until it was simply thick with mechanical beauty and wonder.
      “Yep,” he said, as he placed his hat back on his head at a slightly higher angle and lightly slapped his hands together, “I believe that’s that.” 
      I felt like running in circles and yelling, It’s done! It’s done! but something held me back. I think it was mostly because I still had no idea what it was. To tell the truth, I didn’t want it to be anything in particular, especially not practical. I don’t think any of us kids did. That way it could be whatever we wanted it to be. But then I thought of how no one had been brave enough to ask Mister Jones what it was and how he might feel bad about that, so, with fingers crossed, I asked.
      “Well, if I had to describe it,” he said, as he felt for his pipe, “Then I’d say…it’s something that will take me back home.”
      I scrunched my brow. “And where is that?”
      Mister Jones, his eyes wide and dreamy, whispered in what almost felt like a foreign accent, “A place with flowers as big as the sky.” And then, quite abruptly, his face changed, as if he caught himself revealing too much. “Our little secret, ok?”
      My imagination exploded with images: some new-fangled, lightning-fast car speeding over the highway in a tornado of dust, then somehow gliding across the water, or maybe – yes! - it could even fly.
      “Can I watch?” I asked. “When you take it out for a test?”
      Mister Jones puffed on his pipe. “No sir,” he replied as he began rolling the nails in his tool belt, smoke curling around his words, “I’m afraid it’s going to be too late, much too late at night for that.”
      “Oh,” I said. The very life of me stopped with his simple words. And though I knew that the best things were always happening when I couldn’t be there because it was too early or too late, too hot or too cold—always too much or too little of something—this refusal hit hard. 
      “Then why’d you let me help you?” I asked. “You never let nobody help you before.”
      Mister Jones smiled at me, but it was a strange smile, like it was sad or something. “I guess you remind me a bit of myself; always watching, always thinking, always dreaming.” Mr. Jones squatted then, and his eyes suddenly flicked to my comic book and back to me. “Tell me, Billy, do you ever feel out of place?”
      I shrugged, not really sure what he meant. “Sometimes my friend Joey tells me to get back to planet Earth. Actually, he tells me that a lot.”
      Mister Jones laughed, and his smile melted, kind of like how Grandad looks at Grandma, eyes twinkling as they sit on the front porch swing, sipping lemonade on cool summer evenings.
      “You know, Billy, I’ve always felt out of place, too – and I suppose rightfully so.”
      I scrunched my brow. “What do you mean?”
      “Oh, nothing much, nothing much. But listen to me. If you’ve got eyes for the sky, then never stop dreaming. Never let them drag you back down to Earth.”
      I remembered Miss Thompson teaching us about metaphors and symbols and whatnot and wondered if this was the same thing, but then I glanced at The Thing and imagined Mr. Jones scorching the countryside at 100 miles per hour, seeing all the sites grown-ups like him always talk about one-day visiting.
      “Will you come back?” I asked.
      Mister Jones stood up, and though I couldn’t see him very well because of the blinding sunlight, I could tell he was studying me.
      “Tell you what,” he said. “I’ll bring you some flowers. Would you like that?” Just then Ma called me in for lunch. Mister Jones looked over the fence and then back at me. “This stays between us,” he said, releasing me back to the world.
      “Okay,” I heard myself say as I struggled with this impossible turn of events, slowly backing away until I turned and ran to my house. Not only did I (kind of) know what The Thing was, but I couldn’t even tell anyone about it. Of course, the first thing I wanted to do was tell my parents, but at the thought of breaking a promise made to Mister Jones, I knew I would have to be strong. Real strong, as I was about to find out.
      “What’s the matter, Billy?” Ma asked as I sat in front of my hamburger and stared out the window at Mister Jones’ backyard. “Didn’t you have a good time helping Mister Jones?” Behind her, President Kennedy spoke from the television, a crowd roaring behind him and a solitary flag whipping at his side, “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon!”
      “Oh, yeah. I had a great time.”
      “That’s nice. Not everyone gets a chance to work with Mister Jones. You just might be the first,” she said, giving me a knowing look. “So keep your eyes open and maybe he’ll let you help tomorrow, too,” she said, spooning salad onto my plate.
      “No, he won’t,” I said, pushing the food into little piles.
      “Why, honey,” she said, the salad spoon dangling midair, “you didn’t get in any trouble, did you?”
      “No, Ma, it’s just that it’s...  Well, it’s done,” I said, looking up.
      “Done? That’s funny,” she said, gazing out over the fence. “I kind of forgot about it ever getting done. Don’t look like anything I’ve ever seen before,” she said with a dismissive wave of the spoon.
      “It’s not."
      “Why, Billy, it sounds like you know what it is,” she said, looking at me quizzically.
      “I do,” I replied sadly.
      “Well, then,” she said after a slight pause, beaming as if she had just de-riddled the sphinx, “tell us what it is.” Bits of salad fell from the metronomic spoon as she fed each word to the air.
      “Oh, Ma!” I looked up at her. “I can’t. He made me promise not to tell.”
      “He did?” She snorted and dropped the spoon back into the salad bowl. “Harold, did you hear what your son just said? That Mister Jones won’t let Billy tell his very own mother what that crazy-looking thing in his backyard is. I just might give that man a call and let him know what I think about that."
      “What is it, son?” my father asked, lowering his paper.
      “Dad! I just told you I can’t tell!” 
      “All right. Now that that’s settled, could we have a little food or must we all starve to death?” he asked, staring at my mother.
      “Harold! How can you just sit there when that man is torturing your own flesh and blood? Can’t you see how upset he’s got him? Baby,” she cooed, putting her hand on my arm. “I know you’ll feel better if you tell Mommy all about it. I bet you’ll be able to eat that nice, big hamburger I made just for you because I know it’s your favorite.”
      “Oh, Ma, I’m sorry, but I really can’t. You probably wouldn’t believe me anyway.”
      “Not believe you! Of course I’d believe you! I know you wouldn’t tell a fib to your very own mother! Now, tell Mommy what it is so we can all eat this nice big lunch that I worked so hard on.” She pulled back the curtain and squinted at Mister Jones. “You’re keeping Mommy waiting, dear.” I just sat there. “Billy! Tell me what it is!”
      “Oh, for God’s sake, Gladys,” my father barked as he smacked his paper on the table. “Leave the boy alone! He’s already told you he promised not to tell.”
      “Harold!” she shot back, eyes flashing. “We are his parents! We have a right to know what our son has been getting into! Not that you’ve been getting into anything, Billy,” she added, giving me a quick smile. “It’s just that you’ve got us worried now, your father and me, and I can tell that you’re unhappy, too. It’s nothing bad, is it? Is that why you’re afraid to tell us? Is it something bad?” She queezed my arm so hard that I couldn’t pull away.
      “No, Ma, it’s not bad."
      Her grip slowly released. “Well then, why can’t you tell us what it is?” When I didn’t say anything, she looked out at Mister Jones. “I know,” she said as she turned back, “I’ll just guess and then you tell me when I’m right--no, even better, you just tell me when I’m wrong. That way you won’t really be breaking your promise.”
      “Oh, Ma,” I started to protest.
      “You just be quiet, now, and let me think.” She fingered the curtain and squinted out the window. I was beginning to think she had forgotten what she was doing when she spun around with a look of triumph in her eyes. 
      “I know what it is,” she declared in sing-song rhythm, lowering her finger straight at me and ending with a wink. “It’s one a’ them giant plant holders like they had back in Baby­lon. He is reduplicating the Hanging Gardens of Babylon right in his own backyard! Well! I don’t know why he has to make such a big secret out of that. It’s probably a surprise for Mrs. Jones. That’s just the kind of man he is." She added the last part with a slight sniff in my father’s direction.
      “No, Ma, that’s not it.”
      “No? What do you mean, no? Anyone with an ounce of brains can see that’s what it is. Have you even looked out the window?” When I didn’t say anything, she rolled her eyes and sighed. “Well then, we’re packing up and moving on.”
      “You amaze me, Gladys, you really do,” my father intoned from behind his paper. “Though sometimes I think that’s not quite the word for it.”
      She waved him away with a flip of her fingers. “Shhh. I’m thinking.”
      “I can’t eat this right now, Ma,” I said. “I think I’ll go up to my room.”
      “You sit right there young man until I figure this out! Now…” She s exhaled deeply. "Let me see.” A few seconds passed as she stared out the window and I pushed the food around on my plate. Then she swiveled back, her eyes glowing. “Got it! Oh, I got it now!” She placed both hands flat on the table and leaned forward. “I know why that wonderful man made you promise not to tell me!”
       “Not just you, Ma.”
      “Because... Oh, that kind, dear man!” she exclaimed, practically hopping up and down in her chair. “Harold, do you remember last winter when Mrs. Jones and I were talking across the fence and how I said I’d give any­thing in the world to have one of those mechanical bird feed­ers that moves up and down so you can change the food pans and clean ‘em out but how you, of course, would never take the time to make me one because you’re always so busy, dear, and work so hard at the office and need your rest? Well, he’s gone and done it! He’s gone and made me my mechanical bird feeder!” She stopped long enough to catch her breath and straighten her spine before plung­ing back in. 
      “I’m going to go over there and thank that man right now." She moved from the table and fussed with her hair. “Don’t know how he’s going to move it all the way over here to our place, let alone what that silly hole’s for, but... Oh, I’m so excited!”
      “Sit down, Gladys,” my father said as he helped himself to the salad.
      “But Harold, my bird feeder!”
      “Oh, for crying out loud, Gladys,” he fumed, slamming his fork on the table. “You want to know what it is? I’ll tell ya what it is.” My father paused, like a bird dog spotting a fowl. “It’s a bomb!”
      Ma’s jaw dropped.
      “That’s right, Gladys, a bomb. Mister Jones is building a bomb to blow the whole damn town up, and you want to know why? Because he’s a Soviet spy – a bloody commie, that’s why!”
      “Don’t. You. Dare.” Ma hissed. “Accuse dear old Mister Jones of such a crime!”
      “Why so secretive, then, unless he’s plotting the destruction of the West?” My father smiled darkly at this, feeling the momentum shift. “Or maybe not a bomb. No, maybe a satellite to radio right into the Kremlin, a direct line to Krushchev himself! Next thing you’ll see, before a big mushroom cloud, is a shiny new hammer and sickle painted in gold. Mark my words, Gladys! The communists will stop at nothing to destroy us!”
      Ma, on the verge of tears, untied her apron, threw it on the counter and stormed out of the kitchen, while my father simply leaned back in his chair and picked up his newspaper, grinning.
      And me, somewhere in the middle, sitting in front of an uneaten hamburger, not happy or hungry, just thinking about the very incriminating words Mister Jones had confided to me, the ones he told me to keep secret.
      It’s something that will take me back home.
      I sat looking out my bedroom window at The Thing, exalted and proud, the very knowing of its true nature too dan­ger­ous to share. Surely Mister Jones was no traitor. But what if my father was right? What if he was finishing up some sort of Soviet spy mission, and once completed, he could go back home, to Mother Russia? It was impossible – and yet the way he spoke about home, and that accent that I just couldn’t place…
      I closed my eyes and imagined it detonating in the dead of night, flames shooting out from its base and the deafening roar as it slowly mushroomed, absorbing the neigh­borhood and the town and the countryside until the last billowing waves of its hunger consumed all, even heaven itself.
      A flower as big as the sky.
      The roar of my mother’s vacuum cleaner advancing down the hall woke me from my reverie. By the way she lingered outside my door, I knew she wasn’t done with me yet. I grabbed my glove, put on my cap, and when I heard her pass my door just a little, pushed it open and ran to the stairs.
      “Billy! Where are you going!” I heard from behind me as she snapped off the vacuum at the sight of my escape.
      “Big game, Ma. Gotta run!” I yelled back, taking the steps two at a time. 
      I ran out the front door and then stopped and walked slowly around to the back of our house for another look at The Thing. Mister Jones was putting away his tools. I watched him until he looked up, then quickly ducked around the side of the house and ran all the way to Joey’s house and knocked on his front door until he came out, a peanut-butter sandwich drooping in his hand. 
      “Come on, Joey,” I said, “get your glove.”
      “What is it?” he asked between bites as he looked at me through his thick, lopsided glasses.
      “Let’s go." I tossing the ball into my glove with such force that his mother called down for us to be quiet. “Let’s get the guys and get a game up!” Anything to get my mind off The Thing.
      “All right, all right. Relax, will ya? What’s the hurry, anyway?”
      “I just wanna play. Come on!” I grabbed his glove off the step and shoved it under his arm.
      When the game was over and we were sitting around on the old, wooden bleachers, the conversation made its inevitable bypass to The Thing. 
      “My mother said it's gonna be a big antenna,” Little Stevie said as he pushed the hair out of his eyes.
      “An-tenna? That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard!” Tony cried out, looking at Little Stevie with disgust. “How’s it gonna be an antenna when it ain’t even got no ‘lectricity? And besides, it’s made all out’a wood and ever’body knows an antenna’s got plenty of metal in it, tons of metal! How else it gonna ‘tract them waves?”
   “I don’t know,” Little Stevie said, looking at the ground. “The Egyptians built the pyramids with less.”
      “What the pyramids got to do with it?” Tony shot back. “Your mom must be stupit or something. And besides, she wears curlers on her head, so what’s she know?”
      “I don’t know,” Little Stevie mumbled. “She just said...”
      “Well it ain’t, so you can forget what your mom said,” Tony sneered back.
      “What do you think it is, Tony?” I asked, trying to sound as casual as I could, what with all kinds of warning signals going off in my mind about how I should just keep quiet about the whole thing. But I couldn’t help myself, I hated Tony so much. And even though he was older and stronger than us, I was tired of how he always picked on Little Stevie.
      “What do I think it is? I’ll tell ya what I know it is." He looked us over real careful. “The other day I was walking down Main Street and old Mister Jones come running up behind me, all excited like. Says he wants to talk to me, says it’s important. Says how he couldn’t stand all the stupit things he was hearing about The Thing and how he had decided to tell me what it was so I could straighten all you jerks out. So after I got him calmed down and promised I wouldn’t tell no one but that I’d tell you guys ya was stupit and wrong, he told me what it was.”
      Well, you wouldn’t believe the ruckus that caused. Everyone was jumping all over the place and begging him to tell. But Tony just sat there until they had all settled down, more or less. “So that’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna tell ya. But only if each and every one of ya promises on your mother’s eyes not to tell no one else. ‘Cause if ya do, he said he would just tear it all down and use the wood to make his fence so high that none of you could watch him no more. Understood?”
      After everyone had promised not to tell, even me because I was half afraid that Mister Jones had told him the truth, and partially just to see if it was going to be Tony’s biggest lie ever, he said, “All right, then. When it’s done, and it ain’t done by a long shot, it’s gonna be one of them rolla’ coasters like they have at Coney Island, only better. It’s gonna have tunnels and everything. It’s gonna go up in the sky for half a mile and then all over the neighborhood and down by the school so low ya can spit in Miss Thompson’s eye. And he said he might even put in a couple of nekkid women on both sides of the tunnel and have ‘em kiss ya when ya go by. But!” he said, raising his hand as if to quiet a protesting mob, “he’s gonna put me in charge of selling tickets, and if I say ya don’t get on, ya don’t get on. Understood?”
      I glanced over at Joey who was sitting there with his mouth open, looking off into the sky. I could see his head moving, slowly following the path of the invisible roller coaster as it headed off toward the school and Miss Thompson, an especially attractive target for him. Little Stevie was still staring at the ground. Sammy Tate’s eyes were darting every which way to see what the others thought before saying anything himself. Then Little Stevie looked up and said, “Wow,” and I knew Tony had at least one convert. 
      As for me, I didn’t know what to think, especially about the naked women. I could not imagine Mister Jones saying either of those words, let alone one right after the other. But one thing I knew for sure was that Mister Jones would never run down Main Street. Tony was lying and that made me mad.
      “That’s not true and you know it,” I said.
      Tony looked at me in surprise. “Whattaya mean, not true? You calling me a liar? Say it again and I’ll bust ya in the mouth, is what I’ll do.” No one had ever challenged Tony before, and believe me I did not want to be the first, but I couldn’t keep quiet, not with the others believing Mister Jones would run down Main Street to tell Tony, of all people, about naked women and roller coasters. And although I was afraid to look at him, especially did not want to see that wispy beginning of a mustache, I felt myself growing taller.
      “Ah, ya jealous ‘cause he told me instead’a you,” he snarled.
      “He did too tell me and it ain’t what you said.”
      “How would you know, you little twerp." Tony's face began to tighten.
      “Talk about stupid!” I yelled, gesturing to the skies. “You can’t have a roller coaster made all out’a wood!”
      “Oh, yeah?”
      “Yeah!” I threw back, almost enjoying myself. This was going to be easier than I thought, now that I was actually doing it. Like learning how to dive headfirst. Once you’ve done it you forget how scared you were.
      A thin smile parted Tony's lips. “Well, what did he tell you it was, then?”
      I remembered why I shouldn’t have started this in the first place. “I ... I can’t tell you,” I mumbled.
      “Can’t tell ‘cause ya don’t know!” he crowed, looking at the others before he turned back and pointed at me. “He wouldn’t tell no twerp like you nothing anywaysHe almost didn’t tell me ‘cause he especially didn’t want you to know!”
      “Did too!” I yelled, attempting to make up in volume what my argument lacked in evidence.
      “Well then, what is it?” he asked, feigning great patience and interest.
      All of the possibilities began rolling in my head like a giant spinning wheel on one of them television game shows: cars and boats, bombs and satellites, so fast that when it finally landed, I simply blurted out the first concrete idea that surfaced.
      “It’s a rocket!” And with the words now spoken, confirmation washed upon me like a soothing flood, for how could the calm and sincere Mister Jones be anything but benevolent? “And I helped build it—look at my hands!—and he’s gonna fly it at nighttime when no one’s there and he’s gonna bring me back some flowers from outer space and he wouldn’t ever tell you nothing ‘cause you’re fat and stupid!”
      I fully expected Tony to clob­ber me, now that I had dared to defy him, but he only stood there, staring at me like I was crazy. Then he started laughing.
      “Rocket! Did you hear that? Says it can’t be no rolla’ coaster but it can be a rocket! And!” he sputtered, “Mister Jones is gonna fly out there and bring him back some space flowers! Can you believe it? Maybe he’ll bring back some little green men, too? Maybe a whole fleet of aliens to slurp our brains right out?”
      A few of the others started laughing. Sammy Tate looked around nervously, then joined in once he saw it was the thing to do. Pretty soon half of them were on their toes with their arms above their heads, trying to spin as they cried out, “Space invaders! Aliens from Mars!”
      As I stood there, feeling my face grow hot and watching Tony egg the others on, his fat gut pushing through his sweaty T-shirt, I got so mad that before I knew it, I was flying through the air, fists swinging. I landed on top of him and knocked him to the ground, hit­ting and kicking as hard as I could. I even managed to get in a few good punches before he recovered from my surprise attack, punched me once real good in the eye and pinned me to the ground. Suddenly no one was laughing. 
      “Get off me, you fat, stinking bastard,” I panted, not really knowing what the word meant but that whatever it was, Tony was one. “Stupid, stinking bastard,” I said over and over.
      “Take it back or I’ll break your arm!” he yelled. I tried to squirm away but he leaned on me until I cried out in pain. “Say it!
      “Fat and stupid, fat and stupid, fat and stupid,” was all I said as fast as I could. He squeezed my arms until tears came to my eyes but I wouldn’t stop saying it until he hit me again.
      “Now say it ain’t no rocket, neither!”
      “Won’t,” was all that came from between my clenched teeth.
      “Say it ain’t no rocket!” Tony hissed. “No rocket!”
      “Aw, come on, Tony, he don’t really think it’s gonna be no rocket,” Joey said, breaking the silence. “He’s just trying to make us laugh, is all. Come on, now.” A few more members of the mumble choir joined in, quietly petitioning for my release.
      “He’s a liar, is what he is, and now he ain’t ne-vuh gonna ride on my rolla’ coaster, that’s for sure!” Tony's voice grew strangely high and broke up like he was going to cry or something. I didn’t care. I just lay there, feeling my eye swell up, smelling his lousy breath and hating him. 
      “Ah, ya little shit,” he finally said when he saw I wasn’t going to say anything else or try to get away. “Don’t know why I’m wasting my time on ya." He moved off me with a shove. “And you neither!” he said, pointing at Joey after he had brushed himself off. “You ain’t getting on it neither. Now.” He turned around and surveyed the others. “Who else says it ain’t no rolla’ coaster?” No one made a sound. “That’s right. That’s right. ‘Cause if any of ya had said so, I would’a gone and told Mister Jones just to go ‘head on and tear it down." He swooped his arm dramatically. “Tear it all down. So watch yourselves," he added as he picked up his bat and pointed it at the offenders, “cause I’m watching you.” Then he turned and smacked our ball over the fence and walked away, whistling.
      After Tony left, Little Stevie whispered, “Let’s go,” to Sammy Tate and they both slunk off. That gave the others a chance to do the same. Soon there was only me and Joey.
      “What would you go and do something like that for?” Joey finally asked as he walked back and forth behind me. “You must be crazy or something – always got your head in the clouds. You know it ain’t gonna be no rocket.” 
      I slowly stood up and started walking home. 
      “Hey! Where you going?”
      “Leave me alone,” I muttered.
      “All right,” said Joey, and stopped. “See you tomorrow, okay?” 
      But I didn’t look back.
      When I got home, I ran upstairs and hopped in bed, hating everyone. I even blamed Mister Jones for starting the whole thing. When Ma knocked on my door for dinner, I buried my face in the pillow to hide my black eye and pretended to be asleep. I heard her call my name and then walk quietly up to my bed. I must have done a good job of pretending because she turned and left my room, taking at least five seconds to let go of the doorknob. 
      I knew I couldn’t hide forever, and by morning I was pretty starved, so I went on down and told a story about being hit by a bad pitch. They seemed to believe me, especially my father. And though my mother made me stay inside all day, I didn’t mind too much. Also, staying inside gave me time to think. I flipped through my old copies of Rocket Science Magazine, studying the tall, shining, metal rockets, and then looked out the window at what Mister Jones had built. Of all the things, why did I say rocket? Then again, if anyone could make a rocket out of nails and wood, it was Mister Jones. The hole was probably to protect the rest of us from all that fire.
      I only saw Mister Jones a few times in the weeks to come, and then he never even looked at The Thing, would only walk around his yard like he didn’t know what to do with himself. Maybe he was just tired, I thought as I watched him through my window. He sure looked it.
      Then school started and everyone forgot about The Thing. I still looked out my window every morning to see if anything had happened during the night, but nothing ever changed. There were no canisters of jet fuel being carted on-site or other cosmic preparations, but neither were there any hammers and sickles being painted about. Mister Jones was simply being delayed by the weather. Just like in Cape Canaveral.
      A month later, I staggered downstairs one morning to find my father sitting at the table, beaming as he thumbed through the paper. Behind him, my mother was moving about, clattering dishes and clanking pans in frustration. That’s when I glanced out the window.
      “Hey!” I said. “Where’d it go?”
      My father looked up coyly from his paper. “Oh, the bomb? Probably stashed in a dumpster behind the capital.”
      “It’s not a bomb!” Ma insisted, slamming a pan on the counter.
      “Well, it sure as hell ain’t a swimming pool!” my father countered. 
      And so the argument went.
      Days passed. No sign of The Thing. No sign of Mister Jones. I went to school, returned to my mother and her chores, my father and his news.
      “The Joneses lawn is getting a bit long, don’t you think?” Ma asked one morning.
      My father grunted.
      “And there are letters piling up in the mailbox,” she continued. “Do you suppose something has happened to them?”
      My father peered from over the top of his newspaper. “I’m sure they’re fine, wherever they are.”
      “But suppose something…bad…happened to them?”
      “They’re fine.”
      “They could be hurt.”
      “They could be fine.”
      “We better go check.”
      “We better not.” But when my father finally looked up from his paper, my mother standing stiff as a rail, arms crossed and boring holes unto him, he sighed, set his paper down, and grumbled, “I’ll get my hat.”
      Not only was the lawn uncut, but the porch hadn’t been swept in days. There were even cobwebs growing on the window sills. Ma knocked, waited, knocked again.
      “See?” spoke my father. “They’re gone – probably back to Russia, just like I said – damn commies, and good riddance. Now, can we go back home?”
      “Oh please, dear. If they’re spies, and this was their bomb, where is the explosion?”
      “Well, see, being spies and all, they were probably listening in on our conversations. Must have heard me talking about them. Yes, that’s it, I spooked em, real good. They had to abort the mission with their half-finished bomb because I was on to them!”
      My mother, dejected – and I couldn’t tell if she truly cared about the Joneses well-being, or if she just wanted to prove my father wrong - quickly brushed past him. “I’m just going to check around back,” she said.
      “Now that’s trespassing. If anything, agents from the CIA will be sniffing around here before you know it. You don’t want to get caught up in that mess, lest they think we were in on the whole chicanery!” But my father, now sensing victory, tailed after, and me behind him, not sure what I was rooting for, just feeling an emptiness - like a personal theft - at the prospect of being taken in by a pair of traitors.
      But when Ma opened the gate, she gasped and quickly ran into the backyard, disappearing behind the fence. My father and I chased after. The first thing I noticed was the smell – the distinct, pungent aroma of sulfur – how had we not smelled this from our house? And then the grass. It was blackened to a crisp, but for one spot – the hole that Mister Jones had dug. The hole was now gone. Or covered, rather, in a blanket of beauty.
      Father was silent, and Ma knelt down at the edge of where the hole had been and carefully picked up the largest – Daffodil? – I had ever seen. And as the tears burst and streamed down my face, I wondered: Who were they, and what did they know? How far away had Mister and Mrs. Jones flown? And then to return, in the darkness of the night so that nobody would know, see, or tell, and give away their ancient secrets, but just to let me know – know that what, I wasn’t crazy? Just a kid who dared to dream, and if I held on to those dreams long enough, would it propel me to chase after them? Would I dare to try?
      Would I dare, one day, to go to the moon?
      And when we finally touched down on that rock, what would we find?  A lifeless, frozen desert, or another civilization thriving on the dark side? Would we discover new life? Answers to all of our undying questions?
      Would we find Mister Jones?
      “What is this?” asked Ma, to no one in particular. 
      All I could hear was the sound of distant engines, the roar of hungry fuels. All I could see was the cosmic swirling of stars and nebulas and galaxies. And all I could manage was to kneel beside her and offer the one answer I had, the truth I had held on to from the beginning and never let go, and would hold on to for the rest of my days.
      “It’s a flower,” I said. “A Flower as big as the sky.”
About the authors:
         Matt Dennison is the author of Kind Surgery, from Urtica Press (Fr.) and Waiting for Better, from Main Street Rag Press. His poetry has appeared in Verse Daily, Rattle, Bayou Magazine, Redivider and Cider Press Review, among others. His fiction has appeared in ShortStory Substack, THEMA, GUD, The Blue Crow (Aus), Prole (UK) and The Wondrous Real.
          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 reputation of many a publisher, garnering tens of thousands of reads in more countries than not.

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Publisher attitude
       Greetings from Thailand. You sound a bit off the wall, so I'm not sure my therapist would approve of me talking to you (mind you, she was wrong about that thing with sharp knives ). I came across you in a publisher search base called I like the concept and the lack of a, 'you're lucky to be breathing the same air as me' attitude that so many publishers have.  I will submit a story,  but that is by the by, I'm just enjoying the chance to talk to an outfit that doesn't want three copies of my manuscript written in virgin's blood before they'll acknowledge my pathetic existence.
       I hope you are successful in your venture for a long time.
Sawat dee krap,
Raymond Cooper

Literary Spotlight
       Geoffrey Drumm is the author of 'The Land Of Chem: An Initiation Into Ancient Chemistry Through The Degrees Of The Egyptian Pyramids’, which delves into the story of a young man's initiation into an ancient secret society responsible for the construction and operation of the Egyptian pyramids. This story works as a conduit for Geoffrey’s incredible theory: that these structures were not the tombs modern science has so espoused, but were the works of a highly sophisticated ancient society, producing chemicals on an industrial scale.
          But what were they doing with all these chemicals?
          Buttressed by rigorous research and hard science, Geoffrey reveals the why and the how of these remarkable operations - operations that have connections as far away as the earthworks of Newgrange in Ireland.
          Pick up The Land of Chem today by clicking HERE. You can find more about Geoffrey Drumm, and his extensive research at The Land of Chem YouTube channel, which was intended to provide supplemental evidence to support the story presented in the book.

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The Price of Victory
by Wulf Moon
“Victory is reserved for those who are willing to pay its price.”--Sun Tzu, The Art of War
The gold mine in prizewinning stories is the climax. Readers invest their time and usually their money in a story, so when they get to the end, they expect a payoff. When a climax delivers, they cheer. Or laugh, if it's the payoff on a successful humorous story. But in writing, the biggest payoff of all comes from making a judge, editor, or reader … cry.
Why is that? Wouldn't we rather laugh than cry? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Like all things, it depends. Like the Pete Seeger song “Turn!, Turn!, Turn!” made famous by the Byrds, there’s a time to laugh and a time to cry. Of course, they were paraphrasing King Solomon’s words from the biblical book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon also wrote: “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2, New International Version) Death is weighty, and the wise king advised us not to ignore the fact that it’s an eventuality of life. As the chapters proceeded, Solomon reminded us that we have the responsibility to do something good with our lives while we have the power to do so.
Sound advice that has stood the test of time for three millennia.
Since fiction mirrors life, we also expect our story heroes to do something worthy of the read by the end of their story. And the weightier the sacrifice made to achieve their heart’s desire at the climax, the weightier the story will appear. Surprise! Weight determines worth. Cost determines value. Even in fiction.
Does this mean everything we write must contemplate the meaning of life, the tragedy of death? That, as in The Princess Bride, “Life is pain, highness, and anyone that says differently is selling something?” No, that would be the Man in Black’s viewpoint. Life has joy and pain and everything in between.
Laughter is associated with lightheartedness and cheer, and we all need more of that. A good laugh is good for the soul, it can even heal the soul, and humor is fun and entertaining to read. Ask me who my favorite comedic writer is, and I’d say hands down, Terry Pratchett. But when do I read his Discworld tales? When I’m in the mood for something light and witty. (However, his Tiffany Aching series will tug your heartstrings and that’s because the price of sacrifice is involved. It is of interest that Pratchett himself said those are the books he hopes he’ll be remembered for.*)
Ask me my favorite cinematic comedy, and I’d tell you it’s a toss up between The Princess Bride and Shanghai Noon. You’d be hard pressed to find another movie with more lines people love to quote than The Princess Bride. And in Shanghai Noon, pairing Jackie Chan with Owen Wilson in a movie with all the Western stereotypes is hilarious, especially the shootout at the climax. Are these deep movies that will make us mull over their symbolic meanings for years to come? No. They’re feel-good shows that make us laugh for the night when we’d rather escape a tiring day, the trials of the world, or simply crave some fun entertainment. Nothing wrong with that.
But a cry, even a good cry, is associated with something weighty and important. When you’re handing out a weighty award, you want to make sure the work receiving it is weighty to match. This is why at the Academy Awards ceremony, serious epic movies with heart-wrenching climaxes dominate receiving Oscars. Humorous movies? Rarely do they even make the nominations. Yes, Barbie was an exception this year, but despite its brilliant social commentary, the story about an iconic plastic doll did not win the Oscar. It was the true story about the man behind the creation of the atomic bomb, Oppenheimer, which took the gold for Best Picture and more. A movie about someone that can truthfully say, “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”? Weighty.
Why is that? Why does death get the gold and comedy gets the shaft when we all love to laugh? Any comedian will tell you it is challenging and takes great skill to make an audience laugh during a skit. Fewer yet can earn their livelihood from getting crowds to laugh throughout an evening’s show, a requisite for successful stand-up routines. Popular comedians that do are extremely talented, often becoming talk show hosts and actors. Yet, the actor that grabs your heart instead of your funny bone is the one that walks away with awards every time. The reason?
The price of victory.
Would you like to be published in professional publications? To win prestigious awards that can launch your career? Or more importantly, to write the kind of stories people talk about long after they close the book or turn off their tablets? That’s the stuff of bestselling careers. Understanding the concept of The Price of Victory and embedding it in your stories cannot help but enhance your chance of success. Weighty stories matter. They stand the test of time. That’s even the case, I will argue, if you choose to write comedy.
Want to learn how to wield this weighty tool? Then read on…
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Moon teaches the award-winning Super Secrets of Writing Workshops and is the author of The Illustrated Super Secrets of Writing and the runaway bestseller, How To Write a Howling Good Story. He invites you to join his free Wulf Pack Club at

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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., Mfaulconer, Mikeandlottie, Rebecca C, Nathaniel L, Maxine F, Patrick W, Brendan M, William S, Sandra T, Daniel L, Jennifer C, Chuck G, Salmonier, Bernie M, Stephan R, Elizabeth E, Lisa C, Bob E, Titus G, June T.
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