by Tara Campbell


It sits on a new hill now, looking down at the lake at the end of the slope. It eats the same thoughts as always, but they taste different here. Its digestion happens not with a gurgle, but the gravelly hum of tires over rough concrete. Each hiccough is the song of a different bird, most often a crow. Every burp is a snippet of music blasting from a car window—hip hop, bachata, grunge, country—the one thing uniting them: excessive decibel level. Even its skin is audible, emitting a high-pitched, discordant whine, two tones grating a half-step apart.

Its thoughts are still too echoey for comfort. On occasion, a jet engine roars through its head, mercifully brief and far away. From time to time, sub-monsters stomp around in its skull, arriving at random intervals with quick and heavy thudding.

Its sneezes are the squeal of a window sliding on a reluctant track. When it settles down for the night, it sighs a low tumbling hum. Warm. When it sleeps, its snores are either a series of death rattles or the dainty patter of rain.

It regrets that, since moving here, it can no longer sing that one song it sang most evenings and weekends, the one that went click-click-whoosh, click-click-whoosh. It’s lost that ability here. And though it bought new jewelry with which to adorn itself in its new location, it finds itself missing its old plastic baubles, mismatched and old, yet familiar. It’s still getting used to the chime of its shiny new crystals.

When it misses its old things too much, it soothes itself by tapping its feet, toenails clacking like a keyboard. It runs its fingernails over its skin, light as new ink on smooth paper. It looks at black marks on white paper and dreams.

Some evenings it wanders to other parts of town, howling in a way that should feel familiar, but is not yet. It croons into the night, and it listens for more black-mark dreamers. And it hears them: growling, hooting, whispering, shrieking their own songs. They take turns sharing, the shapeshifter and the others. This should comfort the shapeshifter, and mostly it does. It listens, and it howls, and waits for the moment it will recognize itself again. It’s not quite there yet, but that time will come.


Tara Campbell is a writer, teacher, Kimbilio Fellow, fiction co-editor at Barrelhouse, and graduate of American University’s MFA in Creative Writing. In addition to JCCA, previous publication credits include Masters Review, Wigleaf, Electric Literature, CRAFT Literary, Daily Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, and Escape Pod/Artemis Rising. She’s the author of a novel, two hybrid collections of poetry and prose, and two short story collections from feminist sci-fi publisher Aqueduct Press. Her sixth book, City of Dancing Gargoyles, is forthcoming from Santa Fe Writers Project (SFWP) in fall 2024. Find her at www.taracampbell.com.


See what happens when you click below.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Shapeshifter”?

I just moved to Seattle this summer, and this CNF is about readjusting to my new home. It was an experiment in abstraction for me, an attempt to capture the feeling of dislocation through sensory information, without filling in the exact environment or circumstances. Because I don’t quite feel like myself, I’ve imagined myself as my new apartment building, creating a fantastical new body out of all the unaccustomed quirks and sounds around me.

Fortunately, I’m connecting with other hooters and growlers in my new city. But I’m still getting used to the random rattling of our fridge in the quiet of night–it sounds like Predator snoring in our kitchen. And now that I’m cooking with an electric stove, I miss the click-click-whoosh of cooking with gas.


Check out the write-up of the journal in The Writer.

Matter Press recently released titles from Meg Boscov, Abby Frucht, Robert McBrearty, Tori Bond, Kathy Fish, and Christopher Allen. Click here.

Matter Press is now offering private flash fiction workshops and critiques of flash fiction collections here.


Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions are now open. The reading period for standard submissions closes again December 15, 2023. Submit here.


11/27 • Michael Mark
12/04 • Helen Beer
12/11 • Rachel Rodman
12/18 • Betsy Robinson
12/25 • Trish Hopkinson
12/31 • Kim Chinquee
01/01 • Jill Michelle