Your cart is empty. Go to Shop

Circle, Circle, Circle, Slash Jason A. Zwiker

The night before Eli’s birthday, his mother made him watch as she jabbed a mop in a bucket and nodded toward the kitchen floor. She told him not to move. “Poison,” she said. “Poison, poison, boy-son.” The only light was the window’s moonlight and a bare bulb swinging in the pantry.

“But I… I just… Water,” he said. His tongue felt like a wad of rag, dry and thick. He made a motion like tilting a cup, his hand trembling, jerking, bumping his lips.

“Sit, boy. Wait,” she said.

He did.

* * *

Just hours before, he’d been giggling with Aaron Pax in the clearance aisle at Dollar General. Against his mother’s initial tsk of protest and later head-shaking murmurs, the words sin and Devil slipping from her lips, Eli spent money that’d been in a birthday card from his aunt on two sets of plastic vampire teeth: one for himself and one for Aaron. He’d hesitated, thinking she’d say no, but the teeth were 75-percent off and besides, she didn’t say the word no, and besides, Aaron was there. Aaron felt safe, like the olly olly oxen free of hide-and-seek, like a sun-warm metal ladder in the deep end of the pool.

Each boy popped the teeth straight from package to mouth once they were in the car. Eli scooped his mother’s cardigan off the seat, draped it over his shoulders like Dracula’s cape.

“I vant to suck your blood,” Aaron said, fingers curled like claws, pantomiming a lunge at Eli’s neck.

“I vant to suck your stinky toes,” Eli countered, kicking at his heels.

I vant to suck your booger-nose. I vant to suck your… armpit? They couldn’t stop laughing, both red-faced, snorting. I vant to suck your butt!

Then Eli said, “I vant to suck your weenie.” The car skidded sideways as his mother slammed on the brakes. Cold dread clutched Eli’s belly and the words sorry, sorry, I’m sorry tumbled from his lips, but it was already far too late.

She didn’t say a word as she returned Aaron, confused and apologizing, to his home.

A deep silence wrapped around Eli as he watched Aaron’s house grow small in the rearview mirror. His mother let the turn signal flash exactly three times as she neared each corner, her hands like the gears of a machine as she turned the wheel.

* * *

The mop came up drenched, dripping. She moved it across the floor in circles, muttering to herself in rhyme. After every third circle, she made a diagonal slash.

Eli asked her why the floor was poison. “Because the Devil licks his feet,” she said. “Sucks… sucks… his stinky toes.” She hissed as the last word slipped from her lips.

He wiped at his eyes and nose. Snot followed his hand across his cheek.

Then she was down on a knee, gripping his shoulders. “What are you thinking? What are you thinking? Right now! You tell me! You tell me right now what you’re thinking!”

Eli’s mouth fell open. A long, lingering ah-ah-ah poured out. He pressed it down into, “I hope you get him, Mama. I hope you get him this time.”

She dropped onto her bottom, slid back, her pants sopping up a yellow smear of the stuff she’d been mopping across the floor. If she noticed, it didn’t show in her eyes.

“I will,” she said. “This time. You wait. You just wait.”

Something—a twisted imp, hissing, grinning—tried to shape itself in his head as she stood and returned to her work.

“Devil’s nasty,” she said. “Foul and nasty. Stinking beast. You’ll see.” She stood there, head down, and didn’t move. She began to cry. “It’s just you and me. You love me, don’t you?”

“Yes,” he said, the word too loud. Sharp. His neck was a spring. His chin bobbed, a jack-in-the-box. “Yes, I do. Yes.”

She stared at him, her eyes aimed low. “All sin starts there,” she said, barely above a whisper. “Right there. Exactly there.” Eli closed his knees. He pulled them to his chest, wrapped his arms around them.

She went back to the mop and the rhyme. Circle, circle, circle, slash.

He worked on the shape inside his head, tried to see until he could see. In the darkness. Beyond the spiraling mop and the sweat dripping off her forehead. A foul imp, a grinning imp, clutching his calf as his tongue traced the length of a foot, then lingered between each toe. His eyes locked on Eli. The Devil winked once, his tongue dangling down like raw liver. It was split like a snake’s, that tongue, and with it the Devil lapped up yellow trails of poison. Circle, circle, circle around each toe. Then a slash, down and across the bottom.

“The Devil licks himself,” his mother said. “He touches himself. Pulls on himself. And he knows. The Devil knows when we do these things too. He knows. He watches us. Slips inside of us. All sin starts there.”

Eli closed his eyes, then opened them just enough to let the shadows in, keeping the Devil balanced inside of him between her words and the slosh of the mop. A Devil whose toenails caught the moonlight as he licked them, leering. Long, twisted nails, sharp and ragged. Black with rot. Dripping poison.

Poison that he liked. Poison that fed him.

“It’s just you and me now,” his mother said. “Foul and nasty. Stinking beast. You’ll see.”

“I do, mama. I do. I do see.”

She weighed his words in silence.

Then, finally, she nodded, leaned the mop against the refrigerator, and smiled.

“You see,” she said. “You see.”

She closed the distance between them and knelt before him. Then she pulled him close to her, an arm around his back, a hand on his head, pressing him close to her heart.

© Jason A. Zwiker

Meet the Author

Jason A. Zwiker

Jason A. Zwiker

Jason A. Zwiker lives in Charleston, South Carolina with his partner Janet, two cats, and a lot of books. His fiction and poetry have appeared in All Hallows: The Journal of the Ghost Story Society, Apparition Lit, Weirdbook, Eureka Literary Magazine, and Resist & Refuse. He received an Honorable Mention in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror (19th ed.). Find him on Twitter @jazstory.

Become a Patron! Check our our NEW Patron rewards!


Receives weekly links to new stories, exclusive behind-the-scenes content and interviews with the authors, and our undying love.


Receives a free monthly download of our current issue, access to Ask Me Anything chats with the FFO staff, submission statistics, plus benefits from lower levels


Gain access to our monthly Mini-Critique sessions, the FFO Editorial Team slushpile wishlist , plus benefits from lower levels


A chance to have your work discussed by the FFO editorial team, receive 365 Writing Prompts and our latest anthology, plus benefits from lower levels


Receive a monthly mini-critique from the FFO editorial team and request custom writing videos, plus benefits from lower levels


Receive one flash fiction critique per month, mini-critique sessions, an opportunity to “sponsor-a-story,” plus all the benefits of lower levels!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Support Flash Fiction Online

Flash Fiction Online is a free online magazine that pays professional rates. So how do we make that happen? It’s due to the generosity of readers like you.

Here are some ways you can help:

Become a Patron.

Sign up to become a monthly donor and gain access to exclusive Patron rewards like manuscript critiques, insider submission statistics, the Editors’ Wishlist, free downloads of our current issue, and Ask Me Anything chats with the FFO staff. Read more…

Subscribe to FFO.

Never miss an issue! E-reader formats delivered to your inbox. Available from

Buy our issues & anthologies.

Each of our issues and anthologies are available in convenient e-reader formats (epub/mobi/pdf). Available from the Flash Fiction Online Store and WeightlessBooks.


Consider a one-time gift that fits your budget.

Advertise with us.

Have a product, service, or website our readers might enjoy? Ad space available on the website and in our e-reader issues. Sponsored posts opportunities are also available. Learn more…

Spread the word.

Love one of our stories or articles? Share it with a friend!

%d bloggers like this: