HCE received a lot of high-quality submissions for The Brutal Issue – sadly, too many to fit inside the magazine! So we offered some of our shortlisted contributors the chance to be published on our website.

Keep an eye on our social media for more great writing like this, in the run up to the release of The Brutal Issue…

Going Straight

Sophia Ihlefeld


One morning in the Campidoglio, a man stood talking to a statue. The piazza bustled with people, a lazy blur of tightly wrapped scarves and phones tilted at just the right angle and a never-ending stream of voices, politely ignoring the man. His face was uncomely, weathered by the wind and countless woes of untold miniature or massive proportions.  The scent of flameroasted chestnuts clung to the scratchy wool of his garments, but one could only tell if very close to him, for the Roman wind cleaned the square and all its inhabitants of any context.
He slapped his hand down into the fountain beside which the statue lounged, his fingers splayed and palm flat so as to make the largest, most mocking splash. The statue and the bluenecked pigeons guarding it remained still, unimpressed.
“Tiber, the emperor turned river god,” the man seethed. He paced back and forth over the grey cobblestones, eyes never leaving the marble masterpiece. “You cannot just decide to become a god as part of your midlife crisis, Tiberius.” He scanned the smooth curves of the statue’s abdomen, and his left hand moved unconsciously to his own gut. It growled from beneath his rust sweater and dark coat. He’d been standing there too long.
“I didn’t go crooked like the rest of them. Where’s my reward? This – my – this…breath?”
His right hand had grown numb from the cold of the fountain; he jerked it out of the water and shoved it dismissively in his pocket to thaw.
“You were no doubt just another pompous fatass, like the rest of them.”
The man’s voice became more of a shrill shriek than the intended growl. A mother guided her children in an outward swerve so as to give him a wide berth, her fingers gripping tightly onto the girls’ coat collars.
“I wonder,” the man screamed, “how much did you actually believe in your own bullshit?”
Still, Tiber did not respond. Light gold and grey and cream rippled down his stone skin like the water of his postpartum dominion.
“Answer me, goddammit!” The man advanced on his foe, climbing the stone steps and grasping Tiber’s toe. Hoisting himself up, he straddled the statue’s chest. “I’m fucking curious.”
The stone remained unyielding, uncaring, as it split the knuckles and splintered the bones of the man’s closed fist.

SOPHIA IHLEFELD is a young writer currently residing in Boston. Her writing has appeared in the Boston College Medical Humanities Journal, The Odyssey Online, and The Musing Medusa Zine. She has also published a children’s book, Dophia and Delia Dare the Dune Devil. Additionally, Sophia has a short story in press at Pour Vida Zine.