Issues /  / Hybrid

Benjamin Bellas


Benjamin Bellas currently lives in Miami, Florida. His work is forthcoming or has been featured in Jet Fuel Review, The Broadkill Review, Qu Literary Magazine, Fives (A Companion to Denver Quarterly), The Pinch, Cadillac Cicatrix, and Drain Magazine, amongst others.

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I. Gar are part of the Ginglymodi group, exceedingly ancient ray-finned fish with a fossil record dating back roughly 240 million years.1, 2
Atractosteus spatula, also known as alligator gar, can grow up to ten feet long, and the heaviest ever recorded alligator gar weighed 327 pounds.3, 4
● Gar have an optional-use organ called “gas bladders,” rudimentary lungs that allow them to surface and take in a breath of air. Thus, gar can survive in stagnant, deoxygenated water.
● Gar can survive perfectly well in properly oxygenated water without using their gas bladders.
● Gar eggs contain ichthyotoxins, which are not always toxic to other fish, even potential predators, but which are toxic to humans and have no known antidote.5, 6
● Gar scales are covered in ganoine, a hard crystalline mineral that results in bony armor.7

II. Eels are also in the ray-finned fish family, specifically the Anguilliformes order. They first emerged roughly 100 million years ago.8
Thyrsoidea macrura, the slender giant moray eel, can be up to twelve feet long, while monognathus ahlstromi, the paddletail onejaw, is a mere two inches.9, 10 The heaviest eel, the European conger, can weigh as much as 242 pounds.11
● Eels have four distinct life stages: larvae, glass eels (also known as elvers), yellow eels, and silver eels.12
● Many species of eels may live for up to 80 years, and it is claimed that an eel named Åle lived in captivity for 155 years.13, 14 The female tuna kuwharuwharu, also known as the New Zealand longfin eel, can live to be over 100.15, 16
● In another example of the optional organ, during one stage of life, eels will dissolve their stomachs.17
● Eel reproduction in general, and European eel reproduction in specific, is shrouded in mystery.18 “Sexually mature eels have never been caught alive in the wild.”19

III. Answer the questions below.
1.Would you rather:
a. Co-exist with humanoid eels who may dissolve any organ at will, resulting in masses of watery, vaguely fish-scented goo in places like supermarkets and break rooms at work.
b. Co-exist with humanoid gar who have crystalline bone armor, resulting in your incurring minor but frequent scratches when sharing small spaces such as public transit and elevators.
c. Co-exist with athletic humanoid eels who can be up to 1440 pounds and twelve feet tall, dominating and thus cutting humans out of all major league and most Olympic sports.

2. Which is preferable?
a. Gar-eel hybrids who can breathe on land and unpredictably turn the translucent clear of the glass eel stage, which means you never know when you might step on or run into an eel.
b. Eel-gar hybrids who can breathe underwater, above water, and use their gas bladders to loft themselves six to eight up into the air in short bursts so that you never know when you might have an eel land on your head.

3. What do you think is most likely to inspire a furry subculture?
a. Sexy lady gars.
b. Femme boy eels.

4. Would you rather:
a. Be bit six times a year by an alligator gar, which look very scary but have a mild bite.
b. Have to tell everyone you meet that electric eels aren’t true eels for an entire day each month.

5. Would you rather:
a. Have to look at a moray eel’s large, round, swiveling eyes for three full minutes every night before you go to bed.20
b. Have to step on the “very slippery coating of slime” left behind by gar every morning when getting out of bed.21

6. Do you think that gar or eels are more likely to be the remnants of a quick intergalactic visit by aliens millions of years ago? You do not need to explain your answer in writing, but please really think about it.
● I thought about it.

7. Regardless of which animal you think was deposited by aliens, do you think it was:
a. A science experiment deliberately left behind.
b. A beloved pet accidentally left behind.
c. A neutral object, like a thistle seed, that tagged along on an alien object and then randomly ended up on earth.

8. Respond to the below prompt in no more than five sentences. You may choose to write about gar or about eels.

“You have to ask yourself: How does a creature like that perceive time?” (Svensson 2020)22


9Böhlke, Eugenia B. “Notes on the Muraenid Genera Strophidon, Lycodontis, Siderea, Thyrsoidea, andPseudechidna, with a Redescription of Muraena Thyrsoidea Richardson, 1845.” Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 146 (1995): 459–66.
20Martín-Moro, Julio & Gómez-Sanz, Fernando & Sales-Sanz, Andrea & Huguet-Baudin, E. & Murube-del-Castillo, J.. (2014). La forma de la pupila en el reino animal: de la pseudopupila a la pupila vertical. Archivos de la Sociedad Española de Oftalmología. 89. 10.1016/j.oftal.2014.04.005.
22Svensson, Patrik. 2020. The Book of Eels. HarperCollins.

Sarah Birgé


A former middle-school English teacher, Sarah Birgé is from the Northeast Kingdom and studied English literature at the University of Chicago. She has lived and taught in the Bronx, South Korea, and rural India, and spent time as the Vermont state education agency's English specialist. Her work has been published in McSweeney's and The Cortland Review. Recent writing can be found on Instagram at @extremelyspeculativefiction.

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one of the first supermodels of the sixties,
twentieth century shit for sure

Reckon my eight year old mind
thought she was hot cuz
I saddled you
my first ride
with her name.

Together we were fierce
slicing across fields
blazing through the forest,
you wild mare-ing
me holding on
ecstatic terrified
both charging hard and fast
from our stalls.

I never said goodbye
home kept changing
but the cell remained the same
and two widows later
I was off to the army =

Reckon I’m saying bye now
thanks for the rides
tearing up a kodachrome
nine lives down the trail
saddled with the weight of forgetting
how much I loved you.

1967, White Go-Go Boots, I Was Eight, the Model and Mare Were Gaunt

I named her Twiggy because we all thought she had been starved near to death. Her ribs, hips even her face barely contained the bony protrusions threatening to break through her mangy winter coat. It took two months before she was able to eat the same amount of grain as the other horses, despite being seventeen hands tall.

The other reason for the name Twiggy was that it was the name of the first super popular model I saw on our black and white, rabbit eared tv with cracked or completely missing knobs where a simple metal post was left to select one of three available channels.

It started the previous Saturday, when me and my dad were delivering feed, a weekly, all-day chore that, after gas, paid for enough grain for our own horses plus one burro. We’d pick up the bags of feed at the mill early in the morning, the day’s drinking starting with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s passed around as the bags filled. I learned to drive the ford pickup after three pm on Saturday’s because I was young enough to only get a sip once in a while to make the men laugh. By the time I was 11, they stopped handing the bottle my way because I could chug a quarter of it in one pull and deliver the damned feed myself. Builds character, the old man said. For sure.

I don’t remember which farm it was, mostly I spent those days thinking about playing basketball or whatever normal kids did on Saturdays. But I do remember seeing the pathetic roan horse in the muddy field and the way the morning sun glared off her bony frame, like she was just waiting for death.

While I sat in the truck, my dad negotiated some kind of deal, because the next Saturday the starved horse would go home with us. Honestly, I was always surprised she even made it another week - she looked like her last day was already on her that first morning. Each of our half dozen horses were ours as the result of my dad being unable to drive away from a neglected or abused horse. One was strung out on meth from the horse tracks, one had her tongue cut in half from a bit made out of barbed wire, one was being beaten with a two-by-four as we drove up, one was five years old and had never had a saddle on his back. I don’t know if it was where we lived or what, but men treated their horses worse than their wives and kids, and that was saying something. My dad wasn’t much different except he had that horse medicine for sure. So it was no surprise that my starved Twiggy would fatten up to win a case full of trophies someday.

For that emaciated mare with a sand cracked hoof, he traded a home-made, half rotten, one horse wooden trailer. The story dad told afterward was that the guy tried to back out of the deal when he actually saw the trailer only described to him before as a horse trailer, but with my dad a deal’s a deal, so we went home with the horse and the other guy dragged that piece of shit trailer somewhere, never to be seen again.

Twiggy became my responsibility, my escape, my partner in crime, my friend.

Doug Bootes


Born in Kentucky, Doug Bootes lives and works in New Mexico. He holds an MFA in poetry from the Institute of American Indian Arts and has published two poetry chapbooks, Heliotropic (Finishing Line Press, 2024), and Maelstrom (Boot Leg Press, 2014). Bootes’ poems and prose also appear in Poetry Northwest, On the Run Contemporary Flash Fiction, The Closed Eye Open: Maya's Micros, World Literature Today, New Limestone Review, Connotations Press, jmww, among others.

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Lady Brincess


Lady B.’s writing has been published in Lunch Ticket, The Columbia Journal, Into the Void, and Permafrost, among others. She enjoys sitting in on Columbia Review meetings and lives in Columbia University housing. However, she is most known for her love of milk and her sense of fashion!

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“I picture nuclear war and only two things surviving.” -Bill Hicks

* * *

Keith Richards and the cockroaches scuttle up and down the aisles of an abandoned A&P. In the grocery store, as in the apocalypse, nothing is immune from ruin. Every once-bleeding animal carcass behind the butcher’s counter has been picked clean. Every frozen food aisle is a fetid river they must ford. Every bottled liquid is fermented wine. The sheer scope of transformation is overwhelming. So Keith Richards and the cockroaches split up, divide and conquer. Keith Richards sky-hooks dusty, dented cans of baked beans, Spaghetti-O’s, and Ol’ Roy dog food into the cart like he is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The cockroaches search in vain for a can opener, until they remember that, oh yeah, everything is a can opener. A rusty nail is a can opener. A brick is a can opener. A skull is a can opener.

* * *

Keith Richards and the cockroaches are thief-thick, hip-joined. They are each other's bosom buddies, best mates, night nurses. They are viruses without a host. They are ghosts with no one to haunt. They are zombies lacking brains to eat. They are librarians, organizing ashes. They are actors, projecting to an auditorium of bones. They are relentless. They are in no particular hurry. They wander about the world like they are stumbling through a dark and cluttered bedroom with their antennae upraised, trying to pick up the signal for Radio Luxembourg.

* * *

Keith Richards and the cockroaches play tennis on the cracked clay court of what was once a country club. But they can’t keep up a volley to save their lives, and the spirit of competition dwindles. The match ends with Keith Richards whacking balls over the high chain link fence, into the seething woods beyond. The cockroaches, meanwhile, roll daubs of clay into little mounds, doing dung beetle impersonations. They do this because at the end of the world, there is no need to explain yourself.

* * *

Keith Richards and the cockroaches are good little Boy Scouts. They weave baskets. They start fires. They collect and identify different kinds of rocks. They carve their initials into each other. They leave no trace. They are resourceful—the world is their doss house. The sight of the sun sends them scampering into the nearest dark corner.

* * *

Keith Richards and the cockroaches descend a long stairwell into a subway station where trains no longer run. Keith Richards jumps the busted turnstile and leaps onto the tracks. He touches the third rail—nothing happens. Meanwhile, back on the platform, the cockroaches peel back movie posters, revealing a never-ending palimpsest of upcoming releases. Tron: Legacy. I Am Legend. Austin Powers in Goldmember. Air Force Once. Sleeping with the Enemy. Spaceballs. The movie posters keep going and going. The past seems to stretch forever, all the way to the dawn of cinema, and perhaps even further than that. But the cockroaches have no use for history. They tear the posters to shreds, then they frolic in the confetti they have made.

* * *

When the whole world is nothing but desert, you see mirages. You also hear mirages, smell mirages, taste mirages, and feel mirages. Keith Richards swears he heard the slap of leather boots on cobblestones coming from behind. The cockroaches swear they caught a whiff of shit on the breeze as freshly pungent as stables. Keith Richards swears his belches are the flavor of battery acid. The cockroaches swear that the mound of dead bodies they just scuttled across was still warm.

* * *

Keith Richards and the cockroaches wander through a shopping mall that had already been forgotten long before the end of the world. Potted palms hang limp and rotten at every entrance. The faded directory lists all the anchor stores that pulled up stakes decades ago. The music store, whose dismal collection isn’t even worth ransacking, still carries unsold cassettes. The cockroaches thread their way in and out of the last remaining pair of shoes at the Foley’s department store, two brightly colored unlaced Rollerblades. Keith Richards paints his fingernails black in the vacated salon. He runs out of polish halfway through, so to finish the job, he goes and slams his unpainted fingers in the door of a display model Nissan Maxima that has been perched in the middle of the ransacked food court for who knows how many years.

* * *

Keith Richards and the cockroaches are having trouble remembering how the world ended. Was it nuclear annihilation? A climate catastrophe? Perhaps a rapture they weren't invited to? They turn up nothing in their search for clues. The waters are poisoned, the air is unsafe to breathe, and nothing grows from the soil. So what else is new? When kingdom come came, it was just another day. They mistook it for Christmas at first, and who could blame them? All of the businesses were closed.

* * *

Keith Richards and the cockroaches come upon a beach. Keith Richards removes his threadbare shoes and walks toward the waves, letting his toes sink into the warm sand. The water feels almost carbonated, the way it froths around his ankles. The cockroaches try on various seashells, in an attempt to take on a different form. Nothing fits. Keith Richards floats belly-up in the surf, staring at the cloudless sky. Now that the world has ended, he spends most of his time philosophizing, offering hard-won wisdom to people who no longer exist. There’s no one to interfere with you, he imagines telling someone, you can do what you want in the end times. But you must learn to live with occasional apparitions—the familiar reflections that dance across shiny surfaces. Your long-gone friends and lost loved ones, shuddering you awake out of dreams.

* * *

Old habits die hard at the end of the world. The cockroaches must always explore every sink and shower drain they come across. They still hurl themselves at windows, still drop heavily from ceilings. Keith Richards must always grope blindly for his phone when he wakes up every morning. His palsied fingers still gnarl into stiff barre-chord shapes.

* * *

When storm clouds mass on the horizon, Keith Richards and the cockroaches make a beeline for the tallest nearby building. Upon gaining entry, they head straight for the roof. Ever watched the rain from above? Keith Richards asks the cockroaches. Look down, you’ll see the tops of the drops. Might get lucky and catch the upperside of a rainbow. Keith Richards didn’t see his first rainbow till he was twenty years old. That hotel pool, in Clearwater, Florida. Before that he thought rainbows were a myth, like unicorns. Or jackalopes. Or Stevie Wonder’s blindness. He’d get to the hotel and head straight for the elevator, he tells the cockroaches. No hesitation, no trepidation. His entourage told us he’d memorized the floor plan of every place we stayed on the ‘72 tour. The Four Seasons, the Hilton, the Chateau Marmont. Bloke knew the exact number of steps it took to get anywhere on the premises. Didn’t give it a second thought at the time but now, like most everything else these days, it smells a bit fishy.

* * *

Keith Richards and the cockroaches discuss blues music. Keith Richards explains the methods used by Black American musicians to coax dissonance out of chords, to make the guitar sound not only like a guitar but also an entire horn section, and in certain cases, an entire band. He tries to make the cockroaches understand what a privilege it had been to study, to experiment, to create the new out of the old. A form of theft, he realizes now. What do the cockroaches have, he wonders, that would be worth stealing, worth transforming? Were I to trade places with the little buggers, Keith Richards tells himself, I would not waste those wings.

* * *

Keith Richards and the cockroaches are being reclaimed by nature. Vines encircle their waists like belts. Their legs sprout branches, and their feet fire roots into the earth with every step. When they unlock their jaws, their mouths release entire ecosystems. Their bodies are becoming uncivilized. Kill them with a shovel, and they split in two.

* * *

At the end of each long day, Keith Richards and the cockroaches spread out pallets on the ground and take turns reading from the only book left on earth, a weather-beaten, taped-together, filled-in old Mad Libs that once belonged to a child named Matthew, if the wavering handwriting inside the front cover is any indication. Every blank in the booklet has been filled in with Matthew’s vivid toilet humor. Will the congregation please fart. Heavy poops the head that pees the crown. Penis,” said the penis. Whenever they are lost, be it spiritually or literally, Keith Richards and the cockroaches find comfort and succor in the words of St. Matthew.

* * *

Keith Richards and the cockroaches stare up at a bullet-riddled highway sign and wonder, what was a mile, anyway? What was a day? What was fat, and what was thin? More to the point, what are all of those things now? Time, distance, weight—there is no accounting anymore, no way to reckon with gains and losses, gaps and bridges. A Keith Richards measures two hundred cockroaches in height. The nearest town is 900 Keith Richardses away. The human soul, as it leaves the body, weighs roughly one cockroach.

* * *

Back in the time before, Keith Richards had a peculiar habit. Any time he was about to undergo a new experience, he would pause to picture the worst thing that could possibly happen. Partying the night away at a bluesman’s house in Chicago? Visualize yourself standing up on a chair to yell out the vilest slur imaginable at the happy throng. Packing the sedan for a family trip down the shore? Form an image of a drowning. Wake up, have a crap? Expect riots, fires, and societal collapse when you open the bathroom door. This practice, he now realizes, didn’t prevent bad things from happening. It just made them unsurprising.

* * *

When the world ends, everything gets you high. Sucking on a smudged piece of broken glass. Snorting sand from a beach. The wind suddenly changing directions. Any one of those’ll put you right on an absolute cloud. Keith Richards and the cockroaches wander the earth, stoned out of their minds. They have become addicted to the apocalypse.

* * *

Keith Richards has been letting his fingernails grow out. Fingernails are the only weapons he has. The one on his ring finger’s as sharp as a Jamaican ratchet. As shiny, too. When the time comes, he will turn his biological weapons on himself. First to get the axe will be his face, and its haphazard collection of mustaches. Soon, he tells himself. Soon.

* * *

Before the apocalypse, Keith Richards and the cockroaches were convinced that there was no God. Now that it’s all over, God is everywhere, the rascal. God draws on their faces in Sharpie while they are sleeping. God plays chicken with them on the cracked, buckled highways, veering away at the last second. God taps them on the shoulder and disappears, giggling, before they can turn around to catch Him. The end of the world was the beginning of God.

* * *

Keith Richards’ memories do not belong to him. His mind is stuffed with stowaways, bright vivid flashes of strange nostalgia. In one, he is singing country songs on a ranch in Peru. In another, he is at a funeral for a friend, hoisting a cardboard box onto the altar, then knifing open the lid and watching thousands of white butterflies explode forth. But the one recollection that visits him most often finds him staring down the black hole of a gun barrel, the muzzle’s circle getting bigger and bigger, until its darkness covers everything.

* * *

The cockroaches are thriving. The cockroaches are ascendant. The cockroaches have entered their villain era. The cockroaches are making more cockroaches. The cockroaches have the run of the place.

* * *

Keith Richards has sprouted wings. It was always a question of who would evolve into who—an inevitability, really. The wings begin at his shoulders and stretch all the way down to his heels. They are opaque and veined, and the ends are frayed from scraping the ground as he walks. When he tries to flap them, the wings make a horrid buzzing sound, and his entire body vibrates.

* * *

A cockroach’s heart runs the entire length of its body. A cockroach’s heart is a whole system, not a clenched bundle. That, not wings, is what Keith Richards should’ve asked for: a heart to race alongside his blood.

* * *

Keith Richards wants to strike out on his own. He wants to fly solo. But we’re a package deal, the cockroaches protest. We are nothing without each other. Keith Richards holds his ground. The cockroaches stand on their hind legs and puff themselves up like little Marseillaise gangsters. After a brief period of detente, Keith Richards relents, and they decide to stick together. Keith Richards without the cockroaches is like a marathon runner with one shoe. The cockroaches without Keith Richards are like a pile of dried tongues licking an electrical outlet.

* * *

Keith Richards and the cockroaches are listening to the last song on earth. But how? There are no more headphones, no more speakers, no more stereos or record players. Every guitar string is broken, and all the wind and brass instruments are clogged with silt. But if they concentrate, if they focus all of their attention and listen carefully, Keith Richards and the cockroaches can hear the faint notes of the earth’s final music. There are no words.

* * *

One morning Keith Richards slips outside, blinks his eyes at the harsh sunlight, and starts walking. He does not stop until he reaches the lip of a large precipice. Ain’t a mountain goat alive could find purchase in this place, he thinks, gazing into the canyon below. He kicks a pebble into the abyss and waits for the distant sound of safe landing. But all he hears is ringing in his ears, like the endless serrated shrieks of teenage girls.

In jazz—in all music, really, but especially jazz—there is a moment he has always called the plunge. It’s the moment where the jazzman, having settled into a groove, flips some hidden switch and rips the listener into a thrilling world deep below the surface of the music. The plunge is a journey that is undertaken together, the jazzman and the listener in perfect sync, floating hand in hand, the jazzman’s grip light but firm as the tune spins out in what seems like a hundred different directions, coming apart and reassembling itself at the same time. Keith Richards has spent countless hours explaining his concept of the plunge to the cockroaches, but although they listen agreeably, they always fail to fully understand. So the plunge is a guitar solo? the cockroaches ask. Not necessarily, he tells them. Sometimes it’s more subtle—a key change, a chord inversion. Sometimes the plunge surprises the jazzman as much as the listener. You have to be ready at the right moment. That’s the crucial thing. Miss the moment, and the plunge reverses its gravity, flinging you upward, earthward.

As he stands at the cliff’s edge, his toes nudging out over the void, Keith Richards feels an old hum in his new wings. The moment insists. The moment is screaming. This is the plunge. Come, take his outstretched hand. Shall we fall, or shall we glide? Let’s decide on the way down.

John Waddy Bullion


John Waddy Bullion’s writing has appeared in BULL, HAD, the Texas Review, and Vol 1. Brooklyn, among other fine places. He lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with his family.
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Everywhere there are orphaned
& widowed cryptids
caught between dimensions,
blistering through
a decadent universe;
you have glimpsed other travelers
in passing: animals unhitched
from timelines,
Sasquatch clomping barefoot
through forests,
Bunyip, Chupacabra, & Kraken;
as is the case with you, Nessie,
these cryptids are functionally
extinct yet still lingering,
their bodies like missing mittens—
as if space somehow
mislaid them in its immense
& wondrous negligence.

You did not envision a future
so phantasmagorical, the whip-
crack slither of extinction, galaxies
imploding like sequins. Sometimes
you still see wormholes
on the backs of your eyelids,
their carnivalesque architecture:
kaleidoscope, intaglio,
reality searing into
smithereens. You remember
tipping through the envelope
between realities
as if you had been lifted
or were falling;
your organs suddenly
yanked, festooning
with pink blooms,
your heart vibrating
like a hummingbird—
how your vertebrae
transfigured one by one
into bars on a xylophone,

You wake to the plop
of raindrops
against Loch Ness;
it is spring. The same
neurons you use
to dream also detect
petrichor, stirrings.
The littlest things.

The fish here are sour,
scales dull. You pluck
& gulp their gristle
in a lake choked
with oil slick auroras,
bags & wrappers that snag
your tail like soggy ghosts.
Humans putter above,
alive, awake,
some of them newly in love,
their boats dragging
prismatic wake.

In the Cretaceous Period, your lover once wooed you with fish. He would shear their scales using his teeth as instruments. You remember paddling to snatch each scale, rose gold, azure, steel gray, all tremoring; afterwards, he would gift you the pillowy pungent flesh underneath & you would eat.

You remember his gestures from across time, as if from the other end of a lagoon. There are still traces of him in the 21st century, though altered by evolution. Lizards reflecting ultraviolet. Crocodiles blowing frothy geysers, head-slaps, dances, bellowing. You are comforted by the persistence of these rituals, yet you yearn for him specifically. His frippery.

You can recall your initial courtship dance—how he snorted little bubbles with his nose that tickled your chin & belly; how the two of you swirled upwards in ever-tightening spirals, paving silvery flipper trails until you were necking like swans & you felt the pulse in his throat. Heartening.

What can be relished
can also be stolen.
All smallness & dearness,
just perishable enough.
Beloved dust. Rancid
flesh & foodstuffs.

Lovesickness is breaking
the lock-
step rhythm of time,
toppling the perpetual
a refusal not to
repeat, but to re-

Kristin Emanuel


Kristin Emanuel holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Kansas where she studied ecofabulism and the comics poetry movement. She is now a PhD student researching Poetry & Poetics at Washington University in St. Louis. Her latest poems, comics, and essays have appeared in journals such as Boston Review, Shenandoah, and Colorado Review, with new poetry forthcoming in RHINO and Ecotone. You can find a list of her selected publications at:

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Hildegard Hansen


Hildegard Hansen is based in Providence, Rhode Island. She received her MFA in Fiction from Brown University and has taught literary arts at Brown and at the Rhode Island School of Design.

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There are a lot more of us reindeer than you might expect. A whole river of reindeer twisting through the cold. The sun won’t rise for months, and the wind does its best to blind us, but as we round the edge of a crevasse, I catch a glimpse of the bucks in front. How they rock their shoulders as they stride, leading us to a field of rocks that bristle with lichen. They always find the best rocks. As we feast, I shake with joy. I feel marathons in me. I start running. The miles are so effortless, I fear I’ll turn around to find I’ve lost the herd. If only I were tethered to them, I think. All this velocity of mine—how gladly I’d share it. How I’d draw their sleigh, take them anywhere they wanted. I can almost feel the pull of the straps against my chest. The sweet ache. But no one pays me any mind. Mid-stride, it hits me: how annoying I must be. The insufferable young buck.

It happens again at the next stop. The need to run. The thoughts of restraints and serving the herd. I’m barreling across the ice, dreaming of it, when the moon breaks free of a cloud, revealing the elder in my path. There’s nothing I can do but leap. I shriek like a calf, certain I won’t make it over. But I’m aloft for so long that I find time to kick my legs, propelling me higher still. Only now, with the moon unsheathed, do I see others doing the same: scaling cliffs of wind. We race each other higher, a great tangle of orbits, until the crooks of my knees burn with each kick. So hot they start to itch. I try to chafe discreetly, but the heat snakes around my sides, up my neck, and as I round a gusty corner, I see a clique in my periphery slowing down to gawk. I try to focus on my form. But now a light engulfs me. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. Unable to work out its source, I have to follow someone’s gaze down to my own chest: all over my body, patches of skin burn electric red.

Back on the trail, the herd keeps its distance. I follow far behind. Though most seem determined not to look at me, a few steal glimpses through the corners of their eyes. My body screams with light. I pray for it to dim, but I don’t think it will. I feel the truth like a pulse: it will burn to the grave. This is what I’m thinking when our destination appears on the horizon, chimney bellowing smoke.

Everyone breaks into a trot.

Getting closer, I see the sleigh at the ready, leather reins coiled in the snow. I see the big man himself, an arm raised against the wind. His robe flutters behind him, cardinal red. When he spots the herd, his mouth draws up like a bow. He waves them on, winks at someone behind him.

I can already picture the corner of the stable they’ll stick me in. I could be contagious. Pawing at the snow, I think of turning back, surrendering to the cold. But when I look up again, something is different. A thick fog envelops the workshop. Without a sound, it rolls over the man, the sled, the runway. An avalanche of clouds with no end in sight. The herd balks.

My spots crackle with excitement. We all know the song. The shining nose, the shouts of glee. But now I linger on the man’s scent—how it stains the air, all sweat and candy. He can’t sprint or leap, can’t sniff the lichen carried by the wind.

My heart doesn’t rev for this man.

It just revs.

All this will of mine. What does a single creature need it for?

My body knows the answer: the harness. The bridle, the heel chains. I burn for them. I don’t care who he is. I want to haul him over the clouds, cut a red path through the sky.

Mike Nees


Mike Nees is a case manager for people living with HIV. His stories are featured in Baltimore Review, The Greensboro Review, The Forge Literary Magazine, and elsewhere. He is the host and cofounder of the Atlantic City Story Slam series. He lives in Atlantic City.
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Seth Wade


Seth Wade is a tech ethicist, fiction writer, and poet. You can read more of his work in publications such as Strange Horizons, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, the Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, HAD, and elsewhere.

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Up goes the bride’s veil, her hands throwing back all the laughter/ she can muster, what joy to be married to a name and to no one/ else but her one true love, dressed to the nines/ in a purple tux trailing just behind/ the end of the first burst of joy.

Neither women learned the yoke, turned it upside down/ and made a joke about the wolf and the man/ wearing a wolf;/ two lovers together scissoring/ the dance floor in two. By two/ they go greeting and handing the glad to each/ and every guest, to every guest each warm hand/ is a spell, I love/ and by loving love you, take my touch/ and my warmth at my wedding. The hotel’s dancehall/ is festooned with watery lights, the lights/ carry the ocean into the dance, even the moon/ is fooled by the trick and leans in to wish all good love/

and all good night.
Good night, the bride sings, on the moon rising in my ribcage quickens

shatters darkness with her
brilliant laugh. She drinks
from it, a flute of laughter
that bubbles even cheap wine
like champagne, in the wedding forever,

the bride has long discarded her veil
for a cheap tiara found
in the quarter. Authenticity is a deal
that carries through
life, her plastic ceremony titled
back on her dark brown hair
already mussed and loosed. The groom
is still on the earth, forgotten

somewhere in the age of my guts, the moon
having long ago wooed the bride
away from country ballads, her soft crooning
over a creek babble, corn fields duplicating sky
for miles, how could the bride
resist such softness? How
could the bride resist
the new name, a moon
rising inside her own ribcage? A name.

A purpose of a wedding, celebrate
a new name and the joy
that comes with it. When the moon rose
she tossed her tiara up like a star, followed
foot with a jump onto the moon’s cables
straight and bright upon her
face, which carries her up

into my ribs
and into my heart, a bride marrying sky
to sky, drunk on nothing but laughter

echoing in the volume of the wedding in my heart, a lavish spread of meats and delights,/ a great wolf roasted and spit/ and curried into a side/ dish served with a root feast, garlicked and wined/ in a celebration of joy. What speed the bride’s new name engenders/ to the dance. To dance, what a clapping/ for our feet which cannot do what the hands do, hold a body gently/ and tightly towards softness and touch/ upon touch.

Our bride and her bride sing
a lark about the larks, sun, the end of the wolf’s laughter.
The old man with the corner klezmer swells the dervish
before unleashing it into the guest already dancing, now dancing
in a sweep, the energy, the joy filling emptiness up,
up. up. The darkness outside gathers like darkness outside, for now,
the lights are enough. For the moment, laughter is enough.

Cassandra Whitaker


Cassandra Whitaker (she/they) is a trans writer from Virginia whose work has been published in Michigan Quarterly Review, The Mississippi Review, Foglifter, Bennington Review, Conjunctions, Evergreen Review, and other places. They are a member of the National Book Critics Circle and an educator. A Wolf Devouring A Wolf Devouring A Wolf is forthcoming from Jackleg Press in 2025.

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