Murray Dunlap

Posted by Rod on April 26, 2023



The then tiny Charles Bennett Porter Jr. crouched at the spine of the door, peering through the crack that allowed a partial view of my tall and muscular father as he meticulously polished the bow of a one-man sailboat with a chamois cloth.  My father, Charles senior, designed the boat himself.  He manufactured it in wood to moderate interest.  But then came fiberglass and, boom, just like that, they were snapped up by the hundreds all over the Gulf Coast.  Then the thousands.  Then worldwide.  At fifty years of age, my father sold his sailboat company to an international sporting goods corporation for twenty five million dollars.  The then tiny Bennett was seven years old.  

But two decades spent barking orders in warehouses filled with invisible clouds of fiberglass had seeded my father’s lungs with cancer.  He coughed blood into the chamois.  Charles senior would die quickly.  My drunk-driving mother was already dead.  

I crouched at the spine of the door, peering at my tall and muscular father. The family dog, a liver Mastiff named Tank, sat at his heel.  I was not allowed in the workshop.  I was not allowed to play with the tools.  Hundreds of gleaming devices tempting me, washing away my mindfulness with the ease of a hypnotist’s watch.  I had given in once, taking a simple scraper and pretending it was Excalibur.  I sliced the air and pronounced myself king.

Charles senior took the then tiny Bennett by the wrist and snatched the scraper from his hand, breaking an index finger and spraining a thumb. 

Charles said, “Worthless. Just like your mother.  If only you’d been in the car that day.  Then I wouldn’t have to put up with this shit.  You timed your birth all wrong.  You got here as I was going sour. You never witnessed me as a great man.”

On the drive to the emergency room he said, “I should leave my fortune to the dog. Tank understands obedience.  He knows how to behave.  It’s all a crap shoot anyway.”

I crouched at the spine of the door, seven years old, missing my mother and blaming my father.  My twin sister Eleanor was a shadow.  A ghost.  She quietly appeared and disappeared from rooms, scribbling in her diary with delicate hands. When she left home for an all girls’ boarding school, it went entirely unnoticed.  But then, how could I know if it was any different for me?

I had imagined my life with a gleaming sword and a white horse.  An impenetrable suit of armor.  Not the boarding schools and demerits and paddles to come.  I did not imagine Yale, nor did I imagine being kicked out.  I did not imagine finishing school at the University of Alabama, starting a life in real estate, or falling in with dishonest developers and sour deals.  I did not imagine Eleanor’s wedding or the shock of her new, self-assured personality that bloomed with love.

I did not imagine my life in a waterfront mansion bought with inherited money.  Nor did I imagine two wives, a mistress, five scattered children, glasses of whiskey in shaking hands, and skin surely turning yellow.  I did not imagine losing touch with all of my childhood friends.  I did not imagine weeklong blackouts, DT’s, or the ridiculous, useless interventions.  I did not imagine the shame.

Instead, I thought about how the shape of a certain tool, in this case a handheld power saw, seemed to contain magical qualities.  That the shape and size and the terrible beauty of sharpened metal made an inanimate object somehow come to life.  I desperately longed to touch each tool.  I imagined handling them all, conjuring their secrets and unlocking hidden spells.  I imagined a line of socket wrenches beginning to march like toy soldiers.  I imagined table saws humming as a line of teak planks floated across the blade, hammers and nails taking flight with hummingbird wings and swirling about the room.  The tools would work in concert, assembling a sailboat of perfect proportions.  I imagined my life as a master craftsman, no -an artist, whose magical boats would be revered, exponentially beyond my fathers.’

After Charles died, the then tiny Bennett stepped the workshop.  He beelined for the handheld powersaw, plugged it in, and promptly cut off the top half of his pinky finger.  Little Bennett could not have imagined the boundless trajectory of this omen.

I could not have imagined that I would die without love.  I supposed I timed that all wrong as well. My father would have moaned about my lack of grace. Of course, he would have moaned about everything, including my sadly lived life.

Murray Dunlap's work has appeared in about fifty magazines and journals. His stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three times, as well as to Best New American Voices once, and his first book, -an early draft of "Bastard Blue" (then called "Alabama") was a finalist for the Maurice Prize in Fiction. His first collection of short stories, "Bastard Blue," was published on June 7th, 2011 (the three year anniversary of a car wreck that very nearly killed him). The extraordinary individuals Pam Houston, Laura Dave, Michael Knight, and Fred Ashe taught him the art of writing.  See for a look at his work.

This week's Firebox Fiction

Posted by Rod on April 17, 2023

Memory of a Turtle

by Debbie Ann Ice


Sarah sat on the sofa, slumped over her bowl of cereal, a cartoon flashing before her. Small pearl- sized drops of milk lay still upon her thigh; a few more littered the coffee table. Her parents were in the kitchen fighting. She feigned disinterest, but she didn’t miss much.

“One night on the water with all of us is not going to mess her up.” Her Daddy stopped talking a while. The refrigerator opened with a loud suck. “She’ll like it. We’re not doing anything evil for Christ’s sakes.” The fizzy pop and rip of the metal tab interrupted something her mama said--probably, what if y’all get caught. Her mama was always concerned about getting caught.  

 Sarah stirred her Cheerios while she watched the coyote whir around the mountain, dust rising from its feet. This was her favorite show. She loved how the ratty-looking animal kicked up the dry, flat land.  

“I give up,” her mama finally said, now standing in the den in front of Sarah. “I give up on all of you. Take her on your little adventure.” She stared at Sarah, her lips no longer pinched, but limp and sad.  

Sarah kept all facial muscles still. She didn’t want her mama detecting any sign of victory.

The moonlight dappled the white-tipped canyons of water rising up behind the whaler, now going full blast.  Sarah’s daddy stood with her brother at the wheel; behind their boat Mr. Harkle’s Mako jumped the wake as he whooped and held up his Budweiser. Sarah’s Daddy raised his can and yelled back, something manly and as wild as the salty water that stung Sarah’s skin.

It took them a good forty minutes to reach Warsaw Sound, another twenty minutes before they found the Island. Dr. Timmer said he was sure this was the place. Sarah’s job was the same as always when they made trips to islands. She took the rope, jumped into the water and pulled the boat to shore. After everyone was properly anchored, they began the search. The flashlights cut through the dark like the beams at the circus Sarah attended in Savannah the year before; distant dunes, marsh grass, retreating backs of men, flickered on and off as the light passed by. The crackle of small waves sounded like bacon frying on Sunday morning. In the distance, Mr. Harkle whooped and hollered as he drug his cooler inland.

Sarah’s brother found it first. It looked like a large rock until it moved. They all circled it, aiming their flashlights at its head and bumpy back. Behind the creature lay evidence of its hard battle--tracks that looked like a small trunk had been pushed in a straight line away and towards the water.

Sarah kneeled before it, regarded its limpid stare. She grabbed her daddy’s arm and stood on its back. Its movement never slowed; its energy never faltered.

When it finally reached the area where waves succumbed to land, Dr. Timmer’s voice rose from someplace further up the beach. “I found them. She laid a bunch. Go get me a bucket.”

The next morning when Sarah’s daddy scrambled his share of the eggs, he offered a serving to Sarah. The feral taste made her feel sick. As Sarah scraped the eggs into the garbage pail, her mother slowly approached.

“I don’t want to listen to your stories about last night. So don’t try to tell me.”

Sarah put her plate in the sink and stared at it while her mama continued.

“You need to live before you tell this story. After you live a while, you see, your memory ferments. Don’t tell you story till that memory ferments.”

At eight, Sarah recalled the rough carapace under her feet.

At twenty-two, after college but before her settled, saner life, Sarah recalled the wobbling rock-like body disappearing slowly into the waves.

At thirty-two, with two children hanging onto her every breath, she recalled the turtle’s impervious, dignified eyes.

At forty-eight, after she lost her first boy in Iraq, she recalled the indefatigable forward momentum of a mother, as men stole the eggs she left behind.

Coming soon!

Posted by Rod on April 17, 2023

This will be our new home for Firebox Fiction. Next story on its way soon!

Temporarily Shutting Down Submissions

Posted by Rod on April 11, 2023

Night Train has temporarily shut down submissions so we can get caught up. We're busy with AWP, and with some staff turnover. We'll be back later in 2015. Meanwhile, if you've submitted, please be patient while we work through the submissions. Thanks!

The story plunks the reader into a post-apocalyptic scene painted with vivid albeit bleak strokes. The gruesome baggage taken on by the carrier becomes a symbol, a desperate supplication, an irrational bargaining chip against hopelessness and catastrophe. It shows a man coping under terrible circumstances in a way we, as readers, may not understand, but we can feel.

~ The Editors

Why We Took It - "The Big House" by Mather Schneider

Posted by Rod on January 5, 2023

Mather Schneider's work in poetry and prose has gone unnoticed for too 
long. His long and consistent publication history is only part of the 
package. The trenchant observations of the narrator in this piece are 
fully matched by the precision of the prose and the absolute fidelity to 
the felt-life detail. Schneider should be read and reread. His prose 
book will be out soon by the grace of God and a willing forward-looking 

~The Editors

Night Train Seeks Managing Editor

Posted by Rusty on January 4, 2023

Night Train seeks a Managing Editor --

If you're interested, please send an email to [email protected]. PLEASE DO NOT COMMENT HERE.

We are a virtual office, so this role can be performed from anywhere, but preference is US EST. This is a non-paying position, though you'll be rich with our gratitude.

Managing Editor

Our ideal candidate can do this:
Manage the entire submission process end to end via Submittable
Assign submissions to Associate Editors (AE’s)
Monitor progress and process adherence
Make process improvements as needed
Maintain submission/publication tracking system
Read/evaluate submissions as needed
Ensure timely communication with submitters
Set internal schedule for weekly Firebox Fiction 
Serve as liaison between Fiction Editor, Poetry Editor and AE’s
Serve as subject matter expert on Editorial staff, which includes Fiction, Poetry and Social Media Editors
Manage AE’s closely

In short, someone who's smart, experienced, and can get shit done without needing prompting

Other things we're looking for:
Experience managing a staff of readers on a literary magazine strongly desired
Experience managing the submission process on a literary magazine strongly desired
Grant-writing experience desired
Submittable experience strongly desired
Google Docs experience strongly desired

Please Tweet and/or Share at will. Thanks!

If you're interested, please send an email to [email protected]. PLEASE DO NOT COMMENT HERE.

“On Losing My Wife, II” by Brandon Patterson

We love this story for its language, vivid imagery and sensory details. We love its surreal hardships and landscape, and its lyricism and mystery, all which invite readers to suspend their beliefs and go along on the sad, hard ride. 

~ The Editors

Five Questions with Kim Chinquee

Posted by Rusty on December 23, 2022

Kim Chinquee is the recipient of a Henfield Prize and a Pushcart Prize. She writes flash fiction, short stories, novels, nonfiction, and poetry. She is a regular contributor to NOON, DENVER QUARTERLY, CONJUNCTIONS, and has also published work in PLOUGHSHARES, THE NATION, STORYQUARTERLY, FICTION, MISSISSIPPI REVIEW, and over a hundred other journals and anthologies. She is the author of the collections OH BABY, PRETTY and PISTOL, senior editor of ELJ (ELM LEAVES JOURNAL), and associate editor of NEW WORLD WRITING. She lives in Buffalo, NY. She is former fiction editor of and contributor to Night Train. She's one of our favorite writers of flash fiction under all its names and iterations.

What keeps bringing you back to the flash fiction form?

I like the brevity of the form, how a flash can reveal so much in such a small space. How these word arrangements can collectively make a piece its own little gem.

What are you working on now? Is it too much to hope it’s a novel?

Yes, always. I continue to work on both long and short forms. I'm currently working on a novel based on my experiences during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. And I continue to write flash fiction on a regular basis.

What flash writers do you look to for models?

Lydia Davis. Diane Williams. Amy Hempel. Kawabata's Palm in the Hand stories. And many others.

How do you teach flash fiction? How do students react to the form?

I provide a lot of writing exercises, which allows students to focus on something they may not otherwise. (Favorite exercise is: write about a stranger in the kitchen.) We then discuss elements of craft: plot, character, tone, language, POV, etc. I routinely refer to Brian Kiteley's book 3AM Epiphany, and The Rose Metal Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, along with exercises and examples of my own.

You’ve published a book of prose poems. How do you know when prose poems become flash fiction or vice versa?

I would probably consider that book more flash fiction than prose poems. It was a publisher's choice to call them prose poems, which I was fine with. Though the flash fiction form has been around a long time, in 1994--with the publication of the anthology Flash Fiction, edited by James Thomas, Denise Thomas, and Tom Hazuka--the term "flash fiction" was defined as fiction of 750 words or less, and that's become its definition. In the anthology The Prose Poem: An International Anthology, published in 1976, Michael Benedikt defines prose poems as pieces containing the properties of "(1) the unconscious, (2) the use of everyday speech, (3) a visionary thrust, (4) a certain humor, and (5) hopeful skepticism." I talk about this extensively in an essay published in The Rose Metal Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction.

Why We Took It - "Mon Dieu!" by Joan Wilking

Posted by Rod on December 22, 2022

We loved this story for the way it plunges in medias res into the recklessness and adrenaline rush surrounding these characters on the run. Drugs, sex and danger ominously inform the story, and the woman knows what she should do. Joan Wilking’s fine, sharp writing affords us a glimpse into the mess. 


~The Editors

Why We Took It - "Things Unused" by Kim Chinquee

Posted by Rod on December 14, 2022

Kim Chinquee is a model for flash fiction writers. Her ability to imply much and say little is commendable enough, but when combined with her absolute fidelity to the apt felt-life detail, it propels her work into the first rank of fiction writers anywhere. In this story, a couple range about, deciding exactly where their relationship opens and closes. The final sentence, the upward lift of the man's mouth, tells us both everything and nothing when taken in context. A masterful short piece by a masterful writer.

~ The Editors

Why We Took It - "Her Secret Life" by Pamela Painter

Posted by Rod on December 9, 2022

Pamela Painter is a living legend in the world of flash fiction, and we're so pumped to have her work in Night Train. We took this story because of the juxtaposition of the weird and the fun. It's a perfect example of the completely unexpected ending making a story pop with energy.

~The Editors

Posted by