Columns from Toasted Cheese 10:1

“The Regular” by Amy Gantt
It’s Sunday, which means it’s time for me to write another story, in my quest to fulfill my New Year’s resolution, such as it was. “Tell more stories” seemed like such a reasonable thing to promise myself at the beginning of the new year. It’s not even the end of January, and I’m having a hard time coming up with a story I both want to and can tell. There are plenty of stories I want to tell, and some of them I probably will at some point, but right now, they’re in quarantine.
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“Cherry Blossoms” by Theryn Fleming
For many of you, this time of year, almost spring, means piles of slush.
But for us west coasters, it means cherry blossoms.
Sometimes I see statistics on slush piles posted, e.g. if a publication gets 1000 submissions and it publishes 10 of those, then anyone submitting there has a 1% chance of being published. Such stats assume that publication is like a lottery: you buy a ticket and if you’re lucky your number is drawn.
Of course, that’s crazy.
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Dead of Winter Writing Contest Winners from Toasted Cheese 10:1

“Inside Voice” by Lana Thiel

She wasn’t opposed to the bitter cold; at times she welcomed it. The icicles clinking outside of her window summoned noise to drown out the voices. The wind ricocheted against the glass begging her to allow it inside. Violet remained focused on her work, ignoring the temperamental outbursts. She was never satisfied with her accomplishments; a small mistake could cost her. Everything. She sewed quietly, weaving the needle in and out, as she rocked in the creaky wooden chair. It had been her grandma’s. Grandma Ninny, with the slanted eyebrows and crooked mouth, who said children were to be seen and not heard. Ninny, who wore pleated wool skirts that smelled like mothballs and worn shoes. Ninny, who scrubbed Violet’s hands with bleach and antiseptic when she wrote with her left.

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“The Red Blanket” by Tamara Eaton
The Pueblo—1682

In the time of the great disease she watches as one after another the people of her pueblo sicken and die of the fever from the pale-skinned ones. Her husband falls ill. The pueblo shaman performs the healing ritual, but when the chants and prayers are complete, she stares at her beloved’s lifeless body. She wrenches away from the bed pallet. On the other side of the room the baby cries. With a last look at her husband, the young mother clasps the infant in her arms, and runs across the village.

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“Whitcher Cemetery” by Erica L. Ruedas

There was a graveyard at Fort Ord.

Madge found out about it on her second night while patrolling with Ronnie, the cocky sergeant. He took her out beyond the barriers on Inter-Garrison, where only bikers, hikers, and cops and military personnel were allowed.

“See the kennels over there? The military used to keeps dogs on the base, and they’d have guys sleeping in those buildings nearby. Some of the fellas here, they say they can hear them howling at night when they drive by. I’ve never heard it, though.”

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Editor’s Picks from Toasted Cheese 10:1

“Body of Water” by Kristi Denke
August hadn’t taken a bath since he was six.
It was at that point that his father had closed the shower doors around him and declared him a man. A real man didn’t take baths.
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“Adjusting Little Things” by Lori Volante
His routine smell of 5 a.m. coffee strongly brewed like the thick air of July percolates in her mind. It is Saturday. She listens to the calico scowling at the man who can’t resist his urge to pester.
It is on this day, the wife begins to count the number of times her husband enters and exits the back door announced repeatedly by the squeak of the pull chain and final retraction to the frame. What he does with all this entering and exiting is an adjustment of little things. Like how her eye doctor flips lenses. Asking, can you see clearer with lens one or two? Here’s one again. Any difference?
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“Jenny’s Apartment” by Anne Greenawalt
Jenny’s apartment was a shrine to her ex-boyfriends, Jason decided when leaving her apartment after his fourth visit.
On his first visit, Jason noticed the paintings on the living room wall. They were the types of pictures that looked like splattered paint on a canvas, something his six-year-old niece could have done with her eyes shut. The term “vomiting rainbow” came to mind.
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Featured Writing from Toasted Cheese 10:1

“A Girl Named Autumn” by Ariana Cisneros
The autumn leaves
That we saw as we walked
Were baked into your hair
Woven with cardamom
And bleached your eyes
A brilliant gold
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“The Bottom Line” by Ryan Quinn Flanagan
When the average age
of a town
is 56
the ambulance in the driveway
means a new home
will soon be up for sale.
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“Thanksgiving” by Vicki Wilson
I was at the Thanksgiving dinner table with them, and was finding it hard to hold back my hysteria. Soon, someone would do it. Someone would say that one thing that gets said after having too much wine, and that would allow all the other things to get said, and then, boom, it would be like a truck crashed through the oak table knocking the half-eaten turkey to the floor for the dogs.
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“Blue Baby” by Joseph LoGuidice
Arthur Muro liked the sound of trains. He rarely took a train, and had never had a train set, but he liked the sound of trains. Especially one blowing its whistle in the night while he was lying in bed. It comforted him, the mysterious train moving away, speeding. Possibly it was an association with youth; there is innocence with kids and trains. Whatever it was, it would require some thinking. But Artie lay in his bed preferring not to ruin things with too much thinking. It was better to let the sound of the train remain a pleasurable mystery, not another thing exhausted by overanalyzing. That was a habit Artie possessed dormant like a virus resting at the tips of his nerves.
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“Ducks and the Dead” by Andy Shalek
There is a wholly different feel to the morning when you come upon it from the other end. Waking up to the sun shining in a bedroom window, a person is completely clueless about the things that have happened overnight. The truth is, watching the sun come up at the tail-end of a shift is akin to watching a golden bath wash a city clean of the deviance, the debauchery, and the death that commonly hide in the dark hours of early morning. I know this now. I have been the reaper’s witness on occasion, heard the crying of the family and smelled the awkwardly comforting hominess of the houses where the bodies lie. Over time I have come to conclusions about life and death and how to deal with it as a paramedic, but I haven’t always had these ideas; every healthcare worker must go through a period of uncertainty and growth during which they form an attitude towards the end.
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Columns from TC 9:4

Best of the Boards
“The Stiff” by Kirk Becken

Sandra looked at the lifeless form in front of her. A few minutes ago, he had been alive. Very alive, in fact. But apparently she had misinterpreted his last few cries. Pleasure and pain could be quite close in Sandra’s experience, but never had that concept been quite this clear. She didn’t know how long it took a body to become stiff after death, but one particular part seemed intent on leading the way there. Amazing. Suddenly Sandra felt a wave of embarrassment and covered him with the sheet, then immediately felt foolish as she looked down at the little tent he made.
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The Snark Zone: Letters From The Editors
“Pattern Recognition” by Theryn “Beaver” Fleming

As I was putting together this issue, I realized that we have six repeat contributors this time around. Five of those are appearing for their second time: C.L. Bledsoe, Kate Gibalerio, Kimberley Idol, Charles D. Phillips and Janice D. Soderling. Two of those writers (Gibalerio and Phillips) have pieces in different genres than they did in their first appearance in Toasted Cheese. One (Bledsoe) is returning after a four-year absence. From an editor’s perspective, both of these things are rewarding to see.
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Contest Winners from TC 9:4

Gold: “Dante’s Grid” by Liz Mierzejewski
When I first met Dante I was still in college. I was in my junior year attempting to earn my degree in English Lit. At that time I was planning on becoming a teacher. “You know what they say,” Dante would tell me back then. “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” He would laugh at his own joke, and at first I would get all insulted, but to be honest, I was never much of a writer. So eventually, when he’d tell that joke, I would have to agree. After all, I wasn’t the creative one. Dante Benedict, future world-famous inventor, was the creative one, and I loved him then even as I love him now.
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Silver: “Tech Support” by Ari Susu-Mago
Albert Woodler had been poring over ancient volumes of text for nearly three days when he finally found what he was looking for. It was almost dusk, and the dusty light that filtered through the workroom window pooled on the long worktable as Albert thumbed through the heavy books before him. His vision was beginning to blur even with the help of reading glasses and he paused to rub his eyes and glance over at Julia, who was once again settled on her perch with her head tucked under her wing. Lucky bird, Albert thought. He sighed and took a swig from his water bottle, managing to slop a sizable amount down his shirt and jeans in the process.
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Bronze: “Prisoner’s Potion” by Dixie Sorensen
The prison door banged open, and my eyelids flew apart. I scrambled to the door in surprise and peered out of the small barred window as two guards and a soldier walked down the rows of cells. I frowned. Meal time was not for another three hours.
I slipped back to the corner of my dark cell. Their arrival couldn’t have anything to do with me. I hadn’t had a single visitor in the eight years I’d been a prisoner.
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Editor’s Picks from TC 9:4

Boots’s Pick * “Infidels” by Jim Harrington

The photon blast rocketed past my ear and hit the metal wall behind me. Fiery tendrils exploded from its core like fireworks on the Fourth of July. I uncovered my eyes in time to see the heel of Zorton’s boot disappear down the hallway leading to the crew’s quarters.

I paused when I reached the junction of the two passageways and snapped my head around the corner and back. No Zorton. I edged into the hallway and was greeted by a waving Nolander. He wore a purple and yellow tunic. His hair sprouted from his head like the branches of a willow tree. The thump, thump of a cane tapping the floor preceded him down the hall.

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Baker’s Pick * “Meegan Kissinger Wore White” by Amanda Viviani

In my opinion, weddings are just a pissing match for girls. You get 100 of them in one over-priced, floating-candle and gardenia-bedecked banquet hall, and the hidden agenda becomes whose five-inch heels and $90 celebrity knock-off commands the most attention. The rest of the evening is spent taking bets on which member of the Sex and the Single Girl set, sloshed with champagne and teetering around on her gold spikes, is going to fall into the decorative fountain or drip rivers of cocktail sauce down her purple silk frock.

When we aren’t going to weddings, we work at them. The Old Man makes food for apple-cheeked, hand-holding young couples, wanna-be hipster brides, white-trash family barbecue nuptials and politically correct lesbian faux-ceremonies.

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Ana’s Pick * “One Last Storm” by Chris Yodice

The snow was relentless that year—and surprisingly consistent. The first storm came on a Friday. It lasted three days, leaving ten inches at the shallowest point and drifts that threatened to consume whole houses like ocean waves. It had been twenty-four hours since anyone in my family could see out the windows; we knew it had ended only because we were told by the woman on the radio.

She was the one we really listened to. The television weatherman appeared once every few hours; through a practiced smile, he spoke of satellites and radars and air masses. He was unaffected; he could have been talking to us from anywhere. His suits—he wore a different one for each appearance—were unwrinkled. His hair was perfect. This woman, though, seemed to stay with us the whole time. If she slept, I don’t know; she must have, I suppose. But I am sure she didn’t go home. And as the hours wore on, her tired voice only grew more intimate.

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Creative Non-Fiction from TC 9:4

“Muse at Work” by Kate Gibalerio

You need to write something. Anything. Emails don’t count. We’ve gone over this. The same for tweets, texts, and Facebook chats. Just say ciao to your cousin from Rome and log out. Peek at Google News, if you must, but limit yourself to one article about swine flu—you’re on deadline. You need to write something for this evening. Get your venti latte, then sit, and start writing—anything—to share at Writers Night.

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Fiction from TC 9:4

“Stowaways” by Kimberley Idol

Catholic girls who fail their families learn to lie to their loved ones and tell the truth to strangers. My grandmother shared her secrets with cast offs and drifters who bunked at her place, pawned her knick-knacks, and forgot to let the dog out until it shit on the carpet. She lived in that kind of company because finding caretakers for aging addicts is a grueling chore. She would drink all day then drive through town in her big blue Thunderbird looking for spies or dead husbands or houses she no longer owned. If we hid the car she called the cops and blamed her minder. The cops didn’t respond, but the calls made them testy.

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“Cotton-Eyed Joe” by Charles D. Phillips

I spent week after week clearing my land in west Texas. Hour piled on hour in an avalanche of brain-stunning heat, gnarled cedars, thorny mesquites, chainsaws, pickaxes, and long-handled shovels. My four-wheel-drive pickup never left first gear. Its engine growled, and then it howled with all its wheels spinning as we fought for possession of stumps welded to the dry ground.

Sunburned shoulders, crackling knees, and tortured muscles incessantly reminded me this was work for younger men or for men with bodies stripped and then rebuilt strand on hard strand by years of killing heat and unending labor. The once-sharp lines of my own body were now blurred. Decades of wielding little more than a keyboard and wrestling with nothing more substantial than recalcitrant software had taken their toll.

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“Louvre Is All U Need” by Jason D. Schwartz

The rabbit’s neck bulged where the fence cut in. The fur around its new double chin blushed with blood. Its ears pointed to heaven and its grey body stretched straight back in the air like dry papier-mâché that would crumple if touched.

Ari felt the grass soaking through his white cotton socks. He could taste the rabbit’s creamy, rotted breath. He took a step forward. The trees whispered.

A fly landed on the rabbit’s left eye. Ari watched it dip its legs into the black bead and scrub itself. When it was clean, it buzzed away, weaving through the fence’s rusty rectangles.

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“Midnight at the Oasis” by Melodie Starkey

It’s not that Dad tries to be a loser. He just doesn’t even seem to realize it. Like last summer: we went to Boston for our annual road trip. I wanted to see the aquarium and drive to Springfield to see the Basketball Hall of Fame. He took me to tour Emily Dickinson’s house. Maybe there are lots of fourteen-year-old boys who would consider this the high life. It gets worse: at Emily Dickinson’s house, the old lady tour guide showed us the original manuscripts of some stuff, and asked if anyone wanted to read a poem. Now I’m about 100% sure she meant, “Do you want to look at these and read them silently to yourself?” But not my dad. He picked one up and proceeded to give a dramatic public reading of it, complete with the hand turning gestures my sisters make so much fun of. The other people in the room just stared at him, including the guide lady.

I died.

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Flash Fiction from TC 9:4

“Scraps” by Ethel Rohan

The waitress brings Elizabeth a glass of water with lemon. She wants red wine. It’s too early for wine. She returns to her book—The English Patient, which only adds to her longing—and waits.

He arrives at the restaurant dressed in a yellow raincoat. She checks the sky; it won’t rain for hours yet. If he can look like that then she can have wine. She signals the waitress. He places his keys on the white tablecloth, and gives her that disapproving look. Her gaze jumps to his germ-laden keys, and back to him. His face is milky pale and eyes cold. She recalls him sucking her nipples, and looks away. He doesn’t remove his raincoat, yellow as mustard.

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“The Repairman” by Janice D. Soderling

What she said was that she’d had an unhappy childhood and I was supposed to fix it. I can’t fix it, I said.

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“Punctuation” by Andrew S. Taylor

Your face is always the same sentence, but the punctuation keeps changing. Around your eyes and mouth, quotation marks appear, like weather patterns of localized irony. Above the bridge of your nose, sometimes I find ellipses, and other times marks of exclamation.

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