Month: October 2023

The Scientific Method

by Robert Garner McBrearty


Henderson and I walked up a valley, with brush to either side of the trail. His eyes scanned right and left as if he was worried something might spring from the brush. Henderson, my lab partner and hiking friend, did not like being surprised. Whether hiking or in the lab, he was methodical, cautious, competent, but lacking in imagination. He knew that about himself, and it bothered him. He was afraid that he would miss out on something, be left behind by new scientific methods.

Just now he was frowning at the profusion of coyote scat on the trail. “I’ve never seen so much of it on this trail,” he said. “From the red in it, it looks like they’ve been eating lots of berries.”

“I see meat mixed in too,” I said.

He stared more intensely at the brush. “There’s something else wrong,” he said. “Look at the size of it. I’ve never seen such big coyote scat before.”

“Maybe it’s not coyotes? Mountain lions, maybe? Bears?”

“No, it’s coyotes. But big. These are super-sized coyotes,” he said with alarm. “It’s not natural.”

“Hybrids? Genetically engineered?”

Just then the brush ahead moved as if swept by a wind, and three very large coyotes trotted onto the trail. As Henderson said, they were super-sized, bigger than wolves. Their fur bristled and they lowered their heads and moved slowly toward us. Their lips pulled back and showed their fangs.

“My God,” Henderson gasped. He was not imaginative, but he could put a puzzle together. “What have you done?”

The hypodermic needle was already in my hand, and I plunged it into his neck. He twitched, grabbed at me weakly, then slid to the ground, motionless.

I backed away as the coyotes hovered over him. We seemed to understand each other. After all, I had created them. Henderson would have caught on too soon and exposed my research. I would need to break the news carefully, in the best scientific journals. I didn’t want to raise any undue concerns. I turned and ran now, as flesh and bones began to tear.


Robert Garner McBrearty is the author of five books of fiction, most recently a collection of flash fiction When I Can’t Sleep (Matter Press). His stories have appeared widely including in the Pushcart Prize, Missouri Review, Fiction International, MoonPark Review, Laurel Review, Fractured Lit, North American Review, and previously in the Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. His writing awards include a Sherwood Anderson Foundation Fiction Award and fellowships from MacDowell and the Fine Arts Work Center.


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

My son is a scientist, and we have had conversations about the nature of research, what constitutes reliable research, and how some experimentation, in the wrong hands, might lead to risky results. One morning, I took a walk in the countryside, and I noticed an enormous amount of animal scat on the path. Somehow this connected with those conversations about research, and my mind concocted a scenario where there was something sinister about all this scat. I hoped that the conversation between the two scientists in the story would represent differing points of view and foreshadow the macabre ending. Of late, I’ve been watching some Masterpiece Mystery shows, so some of my recent stories seem influenced by the mystery genre. On the walk home, I was already writing the story in my mind.

The World Is at Your Fingertips

by Nicolette Jane


I like to remind myself of just how much control I have over my life by eating a gallon of birthday cake icecream for breakfast. Oh, and life hack: If you’re running late or just having an existential crisis, I highly recommend winding the clock back about three hours. Gives you plenty of time to finish getting ready or experience your mental breakdown without feeling rushed. My newest hobby consists of ripping pages from my favorite books and stuffing them in my boots, taping them to my forehead, and when I’m feeling really wild, turning them into paper planes that I throw at people who make fun of me for having chapter one of Anne of Green Gables fanning around my head like a crown. Lately, I’ve also really been into only responding to emails using Taylor Swift lyrics. My professors have expressed concern, but my coworkers are grateful ‘cause it’s really good fuel for workplace gossip. When men twice my age approach me in the frozen food aisle, I’ve made a habit of ripping open a bag of brussel sprouts and throwing them at the men while alternating between growling and screaming the lyrics to “I Did Something Bad.” The whole act really throws them off their game, and I consider it a win for women everywhere. With a bit of shame, I’ll admit I sometimes sit in trees with squirrels and drop acorns on people. I’m not always such a menace though. Sometimes I just like to cut a random chunk of my hair off so I look kind of silly. And sometimes I like skipping and dancing and stomping on my way to class. And if I’m feeling really wild, I’ll do nothing out of the ordinary at all. I’ll wait at the bus stop. I’ll flip back and forth between TV channels. I’ll double knot my tennis shoes.


Nicolette Jane is a poet and fiction writer from Indiana. She primarily writes poems and stories about the human experience, especially experiences that engage with themes of childhood, nostalgia, new adulthood, and identity. When she’s not losing herself in words or worlds of her own creation, she enjoys reading a good book, going on adventures with friends and family, and consuming an unreasonable amount of coffee. She can be found on Instagram @nicolettejanewrites.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “The World Is at Your Fingertips”?

I wrote “The World Is at Your Fingertips” at about one o’clock in the morning during the spring semester of my senior year of college. Moments before writing this piece, I had quickly thrown together an assignment and turned it in minutes before it was due. My brain was very tired, and I was dreading the monotony and stress that the following day would inevitably bring as I anticipated a day full of more assignments, annoyances, and responsibilities. With a slightly bitter mindset, I began to imagine and write a reality in which a person engaged in little acts of rebellion against ordinary life in an effort to regain a sense of control, and by the end of my rambling, I came to the conclusion that we don’t always have to take life or ourselves all that seriously and that we don’t have to be passive participants in our own lives.

CNF: What the Oncologist and the Literature Professor Talk About as They Walk the Dog

by Deborah Thompson


Socks. They talk about socks, and how many times you can re-wear a pair before washing them.

They talk about the day’s Wordle word, and whether or not it was fair, and what constitutes a “foreign” word when all language spreads.

About what it really means when a dog licks your face. He might be asking you to vomit up your last meal for him.

About what the dog actually ate today and how many times he took a shit.

About the latest Supreme Court shitshow and the shits they really do give.

About the difference between a horrible person and a person who does horrible things. They disagree about whether the difference matters, or even exists.

About which word is funnier, monkeypox or chickenpox.

About how if there were a vaccine for stupidity only smart people would take it.

About America’s death drive.

About how the world will end, and how much time we’ve got left, and what to do while waiting, and whether Godot will come (he hopes) or not (she despairs).

About how her undergraduate student hinted at suicide, and how his oncology patient’s cancer recurred.

About the unfathomable blackness of black holes.

About the exact number and diameter of holes it takes to declare a pair of socks dead.


Deborah Thompson is an emeritus professor of English at Colorado State University, where she taught modern drama, cultural studies, and creative nonfiction. She has published numerous articles of critical and literary essays, including in the Bellevue Literary Review, Briar Cliff, Calyx, Creative Nonfiction, Fourth Genre, Hobart, Kenyon Review Online, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Missouri Review, Passages North, Sweet, and Upstreet. She was the winner of The Missouri Review’s 2008 Jeffrey E. Smith Editor’s Prize in creative nonfiction and the 2010 Iowa Review contest in the nonfiction category. The latter essay, “Mishti Kukur,” was awarded a Pushcart Prize. Her book manuscript Pretzel, Houdini, and Olive: Essays on the Dogs in my Life won Red Hen Press’s Nonfiction book prize and was published in 2020. Her essay collection Animal Disorders was published by Black Lawrence Press in 2021. She is also the author of Dog of the Decade, a cultural studies approach to dogs and dog breeds in the U.S., which was published by McFarland Press.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “What the Oncologist and the Literature Professor Talk About as They Walk the Dog”?

The first draft of this essay, written in first person, started with the sentence,’You must have the most amazing conversations,’ a student surmised upon learning that my partner is a radiation oncologist. ‘What do an MD and a PhD talk about?’ That actually happened, and she wouldn’t believe that our conversations were not as lofty as she imagined. I thought of her question when my partner and I started talking about socks and laundry on our next dog walk. I think we all live in many different registers at once, and often flip from profane to sacred to momentous to trivial within a few steps. I ended up shifting the piece to third person because it captured the way I felt when I tried to observe the conversation as an anthropologist would.

Incidentally, “What the Oncologist and the Literature Professor Talk About” has now become a punchline between my partner and me. We pronounce it every time our conversations disintegrate into an absurdity of pettiness.

If all your words were jokes, we’d all be Laughing

by Tommy Dean


The year of bee stings because he refused to wear shoes as he ran through the backyard full of clover and dandelions. Kicking up indignant bees, wings hovering with the sound of blades near his ears, but only for a second, because he’s running. In circles, up the slide and down, back on those dirty toes, and around the boundary of the backyard, until overhead comes the blob of the blimp, a balloon you can ride, and for once, he wants to leave the ground and be in the sky, where his feet are weightless, and his heart hammers to a slower musical score, and his parents and their threats of divorce, of wanting to burn down the house, and the lack of money for property taxes, and the insecurity of wanting all of their words to be jokes he can fill his belly with laughs, and not wonder if they will end up on the TV, another one of their murder shows, and hoping never to hear their names on the broadcaster’s mouth, no tip in tone, and the scrunch of forehead skin in question, because he wants to go into the world nameless, a boy who could take a sting and keep on running, who could live in obscurity as long as his legs kept moving.


Tommy Dean is the author of two flash fiction chapbooks and a full flash collection, Hollows (Alternating Current Press 2022). He lives in Indiana, where he is the Editor of Fractured Lit and Uncharted Magazine. A recipient of the 2019 Lascaux Prize in Short Fiction, his writing can be found in Best Microfiction 2019, 2020, 2023, Best Small Fictions 2019 and 2022, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere. Find him at tommydeanwriter.com and on Twitter @TommyDeanWriter.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “If all your words were jokes, we’d all be Laughing”?

This was one of those stories where I used an aerial-type camera to look back at my younger self, adding a dash of real life here and there, fictionalizing when necessary, and rode the wave of this voice, this moment!


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