struck horse – ron burch

Struck Horse

Coal-black mare. Solitary in the darkened field, its crooked, broad teeth grasping green strands. Gray clouds heaped upon one another, a thunder inside, one strike, two strikes, the mare on its front knees, slow-motioning as it tilted on its side, thick muscles shaking as the large body smacked the wet earth, mouth open, singed, a thin drift of smoke rising from the trembling haunches, tongue out, eyes wide.

A lone farmer ran through the field toward it, yelling its name. His green hat flew off in the rushing wind that embraced him with arms of rain.

The farmer dropped knees-down, wrapping his long arms around the mare’s head, its eyes all white. Spittle dribbled out of its agonized mouth.

“Please,” he pleaded, “don’t die.”

The horse rested in his arms, breaths like unanswered questions. The eyes returned to their normal state, the eyes of the mare meeting the eyes of the farmer, firmer breaths as the farmer’s hands stroked the dark horse head, until the mare asked, “What the hell just happened?”

The farmer, astonished, stuttering, “You, you, you were struck by lightning.”

The horse, whose name was Mare, leaned back its large head, the nostrils flaring, “Did you just talk to me?’

The farmer, more astonished, “You talked to me first.”

“Holy fuck,” replied Mare. “I guess I did.”

Once the miraculous had been accepted by the farmer, his immediate thought was, naturally, commerce. With this in mind, the farmer approached the mare who declined his offer of public performance.

“I wouldn’t like that at all,” she said.

“It’s no different than the conversation we’re having now,” the farmer protested. “You just have it with other people.”

The mare neighed in response, saying, “Other people may not be as kind as the farmer.” The farmer laughed.

“Nonsense,” he said, “I’ll be with you the whole time.”

Using his phone, the farmer recorded a short video of he and the mare discussing the weather while standing in the farmer’s north pasture. The video lasted less than 30 seconds and the mare completed three complete sentences and expounded on what she believed tomorrow’s weather was going to be like – crappy again. The uploaded video went viral, making the major social media sites, with ongoing arguments from the viewing community as to whether it was really a talking horse or not.

To confirm, the farmer and the mare were invited to one of the national televised morning shows, followed the same day by visits to two late-night shows. One of the late-night shows had on what they were calling a “Talking Horse Expert,” some guy dressed like a country rube with a straw hat and a pitchfork, a joke until Mare unmasked the man as someone knowing nothing about contemporary farming. The actor dropped his pitchfork realizing that the horse was actually talking.

Mare’s fame exploded. Her likeness was put on coffee mugs, t-shirts, plates, and hundreds of other trinkets. Even her own calendar. Crowds greeted her at the events she attended whether it be the opening of the local county fair to television shows. She was even asked to do the play-by-play for the national horse-racing derby, which she turned down, citing that she believed that humans racing horses for money was wrong. The derby representative, a stern, pasty old man who was a local politician, complained to the farmer, who apologized but felt the same way.

She didn’t understand why she had to do a dog-food commercial. “I don’t even eat dog food,” she said. “Do you?”

The farmer shook his head and said that it was just for the money. Mare complained that too many humans only cared about money. The guy holding the boom said she didn’t know any better because she was only a stupid horse. Mare cantered over to the boom operator, backing him up against the wall and said that if it wasn’t for humans and their slaughter of innocent animals to feed their overweight, smelly bodies, that this world would be a much better place.

You could hear the hum of the background lights.

They finished the shoot but the atmosphere was tense. As the farmer led out the mare, she said to him, “I’m only telling the truth.”

The farmer nodded his head. “I know.”

Later, that night, someone leaked a shaky video of Mare’s comments from the commercial. The comments were excoriating, and the farmer didn’t see the need to tell the mare about it. This was bad press and perhaps, the farmer considered, that they had made enough money to live happily for a number of years.

In the living room of the farm house, where Mare was now living, he told her it’s time to retire.

“Thank god,” she replied and nuzzled his neck as she once did when she was much smaller.

They still had one more talk show to do and decided together that it would a great way to say goodbye. The farmer would say that the mare woke up silent again, and she would merely stand there while the camera pushed in on her face.

Minutes before she was to go on live television, the farmer couldn’t find her in her assigned dressing room. He asked a couple of the people backstage if they’d seen a horse but nothing. He heard a shot – he knew it was a shot – he was a hunter, he knew. He ran toward the direction and out an emergency exit. A white car pulled away. She was on the ground behind the building, crumpled across two parking spaces, her body broken on the cement dividers, her mouth bound with white rope, her blood, from a gunshot, pooled around her mane. He held her still head in his arms and even as the grief broke across him, he refused it, so it would feed him for a long time, never letting him forget.


Ron Burch’s fiction has been published in numerous literary journals including Mississippi Review, New World Writing, PANK, and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His novel, Bliss Inc., was published by BlazeVOX Books. He lives in Los Angeles. 

Photo: Erin Dolson

a wink may be the same as a nod to a blind man, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to lend you his credit cards to get a bunch of new spongebob squarepants tattoos unless you’ve got some pretty serious collateral – david s atkinson

raw pixel

“The world ended today,” Carl told me as he sat down to watch TV.

“What?! How?”

“Dunno.” He cracked a beer. “Everybody was talking about it after the staff meeting, but I didn’t listen too close. Didn’t seem important.”

I sat up on the couch. “How could it not be important? It’s the end of the world!”

“Well,” he said, considering, “it doesn’t seem to change anything, does it? We’re still here. Plenty of stuff happens that doesn’t affect my life. Why would I care more about this than any of that?”

“I understand,” I replied, “but particularly in view of that, how are we still here? We couldn’t be if the world ended, right? Maybe it didn’t.”

“Nah, it did. Everyone was pretty sure.” He took a drink. “I’m betting they’d know. They aren’t the sort to get that kind of thing wrong.”


So that was that, the world was gone. There was nothing else for it but to watch Will & Grace.

SBGS December

David S. Atkinson is the author of books such as “Roses are Red, Violets are Stealing Loose Change from my Pockets While I Sleep,” “Apocalypse All the Time,” and the Nebraska book award winning “Not Quite so Stories.” He is a Staff Reader for “Digging Through The Fat” and his writing appears in “Spelk,” “Jellyfish Review,” “Thrice Fiction,” “Literary Orphans,” and more. His writing website is

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hopper house – james h duncan


Down the hill stood a house beside a set of railroad tracks, a house I always called the Hopper House because it reminded me of those Edward Hopper small town scenes he would paint, quiet and windswept, forlorn. Shades of chipped emerald and hunter green paint, scalloped awnings, spire staircase, slanted chimneys. This house stood on Orient Avenue with dirt for macadam and a green-striped folding chair on the front porch, a radio playing in the window and a dog barking somewhere deep inside, but no one ever sat in the chair or came out when I walked by every day.

I was in a bad way, unemployed aside from some very fortunate writing jobs or some small checks coming in for poetry, $10.00, $5.00, even a few for $2.00. I would walk to the bank and cash them and then take Orient Avenue and a short-cut through the grounds of a dilapidated trolley station to a small tavern by a rock-strewn river where I’d eat an inexpensive meal or just blow the whole shot on two-dollar bottles of beer.

I often stopped at the Hopper House and looked up, wondering what it must have been like to live there during its heyday. All three stories were gorgeous and ornate, though falling apart from years of neglect and agoraphobic hibernation. Save for the dog and the radio I would have called it abandoned. Even haunted maybe, and that green folding chair always gave me an odd feeling like someone I couldn’t see watched from within, waiting for me to leave.

All that summer I wrote letters to a woman in Germany about the house. She wrote back and told me of a similar manse near her father’s summer home outside Bremen. Her haunted mansion was not green but yellow, bleached by the sun and empty, and stood back from the road on a small rise, its black hollow eyes watching their car drive by whenever they went back into town from their seaside cottage. She asked if I named my green house, and I said yes. I told her of Edward Hopper. She knew him and adored his work, most especially Automat.

One afternoon someone at the end of the bar said a car went off the road and had rammed into the house and some of us got up and half-walked, half-ran up the street to the Hopper House. A white Subaru had crumpled into the front porch and paramedics, police officers, and firemen surrounded the car and were climbing onto the porch. We watched for a while but no one came outside, no one sat on the curb with head in hand, not even the driver, who apparently ran off. The dog didn’t even bark.

Soon we all walked back to the bar, but for weeks afterward blue tarpaulins covered the broken portions of the porch and stairs, with no dog, no radio, no green folding chair. I wrote a letter to Germany and told her what happened at the house, and two weeks later her reply said I should avoid it. My story gave her a bad dream, a bad feeling. It was haunted, she said, and a magnet for bad luck. I believed her. I always believed her. She signed her letters Yours, so I did too.

I avoided the house after that, as she specified, but I had dreams of the house as well. I had them then and long after I moved away. In the dream I walked up those porch steps and put my hand on the doorknob. A fear filled my chest about what waited inside, about going up the stairs to the second floor, the third floor, the attic, and then I was there, in that attic space. I heard the radio far below me, the dog barking somewhere. I closed my eyes and a claustrophobic warning in my heart told me that what if I opened my eyes again I’d discover something unbearable. In the dream I would run, painfully slow, and leave the front door open behind me, the green folding chair sideways, the dirt driveway littered with bottle caps and gravel as I raced for the horizon, for that wildfire sky.

And then I’d wake up—somewhere else, far away. But the dream was hard to shake and I wrote to Germany about it, but after three letters with no reply, I stopped writing. Now there is only the dream, wherever I go.

sbgs cowskull

James H Duncan is the editor of Hobo Camp Review and author of such books as Nights Without Rain, What Lies In Wait, and Dead City Jazz, among other collections of fiction and poetry. For more, visit

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put me on a dog leash and make me eat taco bell off the floor – nathaniel kennon perkins

taco bell

You keep thinking you will grow accustomed to a feeling of worthlessness, but you never do.

Your goal was to pay off your debt by the end of the year. Your credit card. Your overdrafted checking account. The last three thousand or so dollars of your student loans. The payments on the van you bought but that your ex-wife sold to get the money to buy herself a truck.

You are just making payments on her truck, basically.

You’ve been working, but you realize it isn’t going to happen. This is not the year that you pay off your debt. Even on days you have off from your regular job, you go to work for your friend Gruber to make extra money.

He owns a landscaping company. You meet at his house in the morning and go together in his truck to a client’s yard, where you pull weeds.

After a while, Gruber says, “That’s good enough.”

He says, “That’s the good thing about trying to go for a quote-unquote natural look. When I’m sick of pulling weeds, I just stop pulling weeds. It’s natural.”

Time for a break. You go with him to the coffee shop where he used to work before he started his own company. The baristas there are cute. They are excited to see him. When he realizes that he has forgotten his wallet, they make jokes about scanning his retinas. He giggles and puts his face over the cash register, as if it might be accepting a payment from an account linked to his eyeballs.

One of the baristas grabs the back of his head and slams his face into the cash register and laughs.

It looks like it hurt.

“Sorry,” says the other barista, addressing you. “I know that seemed violent, but we all love each other. We love Gruber so much.”

You can’t think of anything clever to say.

You are thinking about all the times that you have wanted to grab your friend by the hair and smash his face into something, but you feel like you probably shouldn’t mention that.

You pull some crumpled bills out of the pocket of your work pants and pay for the espresso.

You wish someone would grab you by the hair and smash your face into something.

You don’t think you deserve it, but you’ve been wrong before. You probably do deserve it.

It’s a safe bet.

Maybe that’s how you could make some money.

Frustrated service industry workers could take out their rage and frustration by paying you to let them smash your face into something.

It could be donation-based.

You don’t want to be classist.

You could print up flyers and pass them out:

“Smash my face into something! Suggested donation: $5 – $10. No one will be turned away!”

Back to work, sort of. You drive with Gruber to a plant nursery almost an hour away.

On the way there, you listen to the college radio station and think about how you recently got laid.

You certainly didn’t see it coming. Why would you?

So, even though you knew that you were going out on a date, you did nothing to prepare.

She came back to your house, and when you opened the door to your bedroom you said, “Sorry. It looks like a depressed person lives here.”

You thought about saying something similar about your neglected, untrimmed pubic hair, but you didn’t want to call any more attention to the complex ecosystem of chaos in which you seem to live.

Does any of this make you an asshole?

Probably not.

If anyone ever calls themselves an asshole, you should probably believe them.

You make a resolution to believe every self-declared asshole.

And then let them smash your face into something.

But you’re not an asshole.

You’re just a loser in a mountain town populated with extremely rich people.

They know some secret that you don’t.

This is because you are dumb.

You and your best friends are a bunch of dumb drunks who will never pay their debts.

Like Paul, who lives out of his car.

And Jimbo, who pours shitty whiskey into a Maker’s Mark bottle that he carries around in his backpack.

And Avagyan, who is dating a 21-year old.

Though, when you think about it, dating a 21-year old actually doesn’t seem like such a loser thing to do.

Seems pretty cool.

This creepy guy at some hot springs once told you, “You’re only as old as the woman you’re holding.”

You imagine dating a 97-year old woman.

About letting her smash your face into the hood of a Lincoln Continental.

About fading into the sweet peaceful caress of the universal void together.

No, you’re not a loser, you decide.

And neither are any of your friends.

How could you think such horrible things about your best friends?

You dumb dick.

You asshole.

You really do deserve to have your face smashed into something.

And you’ll get rich from it.

You’ll finally pay off your ex-wife’s truck.

sbgs cowskull

Nathaniel Kennon Perkins is the author of Cactus. He lives in Boulder, CO, where he works as a bookseller and publisher at Trident Press. His creative work has appeared in Triquarterly, The Philadelphia Secret Admirer, Keep This Bag Away From Children, decomP magazinE, Maudlin House, Timber Journal, and others. He is the recipient of the High Country News’s 2014 Bell Prize. 

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all things resound – jordan a. rothacker

Actions have resonance. Actions are things. All things resound. They continue to resound in the place they happened.

Driving back home one night from visiting her mother in Atlanta, last Tuesday actually, Lara sung along with the stereo, the low highway rolling by with yellow ticks of paint and reflectors in the dark. The song was melancholy with a refrain to belt out legato and intense, allowing Lara to emote while belting, tears forced from her eyes. The last time she heard this song was through headphones in the much more public location of the treadmill at the gym. She couldn’t do her listen then the justice that she could now. As it ended, she stopped at one of the annoying stoplights on this highway.
She started back off from the light into the darkness, building up speed again, and she saw a flicker of light ahead on the right shoulder. She wondered what it was. It was a quick intense wonder and she released the gas gradually to look. When she saw it was a candle flickering at a flower-decked cross, she braked and pulled over.

The night was chilly, but she left the car without getting her jacket from the back seat. She hit the hazards and shut the door, scanning the night. Whoever lit the candle was gone, for how long she didn’t know, but it was still lit against the windy whizz of the cars on the highway. Lara knew what the cross meant, and she always thought the concept was strange. Why come here when the person is most likely buried somewhere else? Do the loved ones, family members, always go to both, here and the grave? She thought they probably went to the latter on the birthdays and here on the other day.

Today must be that day, she thought, and this must be the spot. Lara stood in front of the cross. Three cars passed behind her, all big sport utility vehicles, all fifteen miles per hour over the speed limit and the wind they brought cut through the knit tights she wore under her skirt. The flame flickered, flickered, flickered, cutting hard back against the wind each time in its partial glass enclosure, finally standing hard again.
This was the spot.

Lara turned around and looked at the highway. It didn’t look so violent now. There were cars with their lights far back to the left, behind the red light, and far taillights to the right horizon, but right here, right now, it was a dark peaceful place. She lowered at the knees and sat down her dark skirt into the cool damp earth.

Her ass cooled and a chill went up her back. She lay her legs out flat and slowly down her back went to the earth; just a t-shirt marring little of its chill. The flickers of the candle were just above her head. Every few flicks brought the shape of the cross or the flowers, or both, a terrifying shadow. Lara held her breath with such force she choked. She coughed and jerked against the earth, loosening it and generating more chills. It was hard to breathe, hard to catch her breath again. The white lights on the horizon to the left closed in on her. She held tight to her breath, pressed her back to the slight hill of the ground, and the candle went out as the torrent of traffic overtook where she was.

In that one moment, in that place, there was so much noise from the cars, released from the traffic light, Lara could hear nothing; from the bright of their lights she could see nothing; from the intense pain of the place she could feel nothing, and through the thudding off-time beat of death her heart could not complete. When the traffic abated and she could see again and hear again her breath released and her heartbeat resumed.

Lara knew everything and felt it all, all the pain. She rolled to her side to retch, and retching and rolling slushed in the wide puddle she had released and in which she now lay. It was awful, all awful. She stood and whipped her face with her hand and against her short sleeve. She was achy and cold, wet from the waist most of the way down. Without turning to look back at the cross, flowers, or candle—the cross made and laid by Jose’s mother Marisol, and the flowers from both his Tia Julieta and Tio Juan, and the candle placed and lit tonight by his sister Miryam—she slowly staggered down the hill to her car.

Pushing her legs through the ache she got to the car swiftly. On the hillside of the car she leaned on the back passenger for a moment to catch herself. She needed to get out of here fast. She got in the car and gunned it, just drove, off from the shoulder and out down the highway, as a panic overtook her and her nerve endings. She cried and wanted to scream and punch the wheel, but held it, she had to focus and get away. Twenty miles and fifteen minutes down the road she pulled over on the shoulder and got out to run around to the side and retched again. Ducking down into the back seat she took off her t-shirt and wiped her face with it, cleaning her mouth and dabbing at her eyes. Luckily the jacket she had with her was a raincoat-style and came down to her mid-thigh. She removed her skirt, tights, and panties all in one motion, stepping out of her boots to get it all down. With a clean corner of the t-shirt she wiped at herself where she was still wet and then balled all her clothes up into a wet gross mess and shoved it into a plastic grocery bag littering the floor of her car. Lara then stood with the jacket on and put her back to the road to button it. With a newspaper from the backseat she padded the driver’s seat so she wouldn’t get filthy again and got in to leave.

Why me, was all Lara thought the rest of the way back to Athens. It had all already happened to Jose, why did she need to feel it all too. It lingered in her memory, her whole body, her muscle memory, in a way that it couldn’t for Jose, for he was dead. She kept wanting to scream but instead just ached and drove. Other than “why me,” she did think “poor Jose,” but what he felt only lasted a moment whereas for her it continued to linger; she could even see the car that hit him, hear the crunch of plastic bumpers and metal frames, and feel again and again the metal into skin and into bone. Her seatbelt felt so tight as she drove, Lara felt the way it choked the breath out of Jose, but she was scared to take it off.

She needed to go straight to the library. Lara had been cutting close the drive all night.

She left Atlanta with just enough time. The stop at the flickering candle slowed her down and now she had no time to remedy the situation that she was naked under her coat except for a bra. She could call in, but what would she say, “I see dead people, or really just one dead guy, but mostly I just feel him, the pain of his death;” and the absurd humor in this potential interchange gave some levity to her state. But Lara still couldn’t think straight and come with any good excuse, passively with no better option to cross her mind she headed to the library for her late evening shift.

When she pulled into the parking deck a clear thought cut through the residual ache and lit upon her consciousness, Rose. Rose would be working the front desk. Rose is always either to or from the gym on one end of her shift or the other. Rose would have a change of clothes, gym clothes at least.

Lara grabbed her purse and phone and ran from the deck into the library. Rose greeted her with a smile at the front desk.

“Hey girl, why you rushing, you are just in time, and just in time to do a lot of nothing.”

“Hi Rose,” she gasped out of breath, “do you have your gym bag with you, or is it in your car? Please say you have it.”

“I have it, Jeez, I was gonna go late after work. Why?”

“Excellent,” Lara leaned on the desk and then paced in a circle catching more breath.

“Can I borrow your gym clothes right now? Maybe you will have time to go by the dorm before the gym after work for more. Please, its important.”

“You need my gym clothes? Why? What are you wearing under that coat? Girl, what have you been up to? Seriously?”

“Please, I can’t really explain. Will you just help me out?”

“Sure, relax, it’s fine, here you go,” and Rose reached down beneath the high desk and drew up a red and black gym bag. “But you owe me a story at least and an explanation of why I wasn’t invited to whatever craziness you have been up to.”

Lara took the bag and agreed, laughing off her friend. She clocked in and then changed in the bathroom glad that she and Rose were roughly the same size, except for in the chest, but luckily her bra had survived the filth and soiling. She quickly cleaned her face and crotch the best she could with hand soap and set to work. There was a full cart of books needing to be reshelved and she hoped the methodical mindless repetition of her slow uneventful job would cool and calm her down.

What was on the cart brought her first to the third floor and then up to the sixth. Up and down the stacks she breathed slowly, focusing on each breath, like she learned in yoga. She paid close attention to call numbers and her work and her mind wandered about the books, up and down each aisle, film theory, biographies of directors, then African oral literature and folk traditions. It seemed funny to her that all of this should be on the same floor, but there were only seven floors so it had to all mix together in some way. At the end of an aisle Lara noticed a wooden chair off in the corner, a chair that should be at one of the study tables in the floor’s common area near the elevators. This section of the sixth floor was the most private part of the library, and Lara knew, though not first hand, of its reputation as a popular make-out spot. Most likely explains the chair, either way, it was her job to straighten up behind the library visitors so she went to get it.
The chair faced the plain off-white corner, cold and isolated and for the second time tonight Lara felt a compulsion, she needed to sit in the chair. The second she sat down she shut her eyes and felt the tongue. She opened her eyes and there was no one around but her eyes slammed shut again and she felt the tongue again. It was right against her, it was right against her and it was right. A boy’s face flashed before her shut eyes, a boy she had never seen before, his eyes shut too, just going to town and humming and she could feel the humming burn-cooly out from the spot into her thighs; and then a different boy’s face, and then a girl’s. Lara pulled her eyes, open no one around. There was a girl’s face she didn’t know, a second ago before her shut eyes, between her legs, but they weren’t her legs, and the girl was more than just tongue, she was lips and mouth and sucking, so warm. And then Lara felt the waves, three hard-breaking waves over her, stiffening everything, boiling her blood. The first two were familiar, similar to long orgasmic waves she had felt before but the last broke shorter, cresting earlier, in three stalls and jerks and then nothing, no resolution. Her hair follicles on her head and down her arms, toes, and fingertips tingled as she drooped out of the chair and crawled into the stacks towards her cart.

All the pain from earlier was gone, and the aches had transformed; Lara was spent. Slowly she pulled herself up to sort of slump against the cart. She hadn’t bothered to borrow panties from Rose’s bag, but now the gray sweatpants she did borrow were a wet shade darker in the worst, most obvious location. Lara was done. She was done with this night. She was spent, wet, and freaked out. She was so done with other people’s feelings, other people’s experiences. She didn’t feel like herself and she didn’t feel real.
Lara rolled the cart as cover in front of her to the elevator and down to her coat for better cover. She clocked out and on her way past the front desk she told Rose to tell their supervisor she was sick, it was food poisoning, she had to go. Lara was very done with this night.

Over the next few years these moments of heightened sensitivity continued to occur, but never as bad as this first night, never two in one day. The world became a minefield for Lara, and as she slowly understood what was happening, she became increasingly careful of where she sat or lay down, where she let herself relax with her guard down. She could never really know though, hence the minefield feeling. She never told anyone about these experiences and could think of no practical use for this ability of hers. Her “sensitivity to locations” was more a curse than a power. Mostly it was just disruptive and embarrassing, but she did learn to control her reactions to some degree. Sadly, all her practice and preparation couldn’t prepare her for that one fateful night where and when she learned how her father really died and what kind of person her mother really was.


A curious amalgam of the corporeal and phantasmagoric, Jordan A. Rothacker will birth forth his fourth-birthed book in February, 2019 under the title, Gristle: weird tales (Stalking Horse Press). As every story is a ghost, “All Things Resound” will haunt that book as it does this site. Close your eyes… can you see her… what dark truth does Lara know about her family…