The Black River Chapbook Competition Winner


Horsemouth and Aquariumhead

Publication Date: September 2024


Tales of longing and desire for escape, Horsemouth and Aquariumhead features imaginative and sometimes unsettling characters. Whether the characters yearn for a different, unknown life, or they wish themselves out of something else, Turner’s surreal yet relatable collection offers glimpses to the depths beneath, above, or in-between our own domestic realities. One woman purchases a train ticket to a town that may or may not actually exist. Another discovers her life’s purpose through a burgeoning friendship with earnest dry-cleaning bags. A failing circus is organized around the sole act of unstoppering bottles of laughter. Fairy tales told in cars that take only leaded gas, these twelve flash pieces give readers a sense of belonging in environments whose rules we do not know.

from “When the Girls Came Driving” 

The Girls drove a caravan of matching 1970 Chevelles—all chestnut brown and speckled with glitter. The stripes down the hoods were black mica, and the chrome burnt my eyes with its silver. To look at them was to be inside a star; those cars sparkled so intensely that the transformer on the corner of Blight and Wan blew as they rolled by. Those of us waiting for The Girls were showered in white and orange sparks. We cheered as flames licked the wires. George the veterinarian had a smoldering mustache. Celia, I swear, Celia had a halo of lights in her hair, and as they winked out, they didn’t leave a single mark. She tells anyone who will listen that on that day, her scoliosis was finally cured. No one called to get the transformer fixed, because no one messed with an appearance by The Girls.

Usually, we smelled the shift in time before they arrived. The air would blow briny, a whiff of seaweed, a hint of dock rot, a taste of the center of the sun on our lips, and windows up and down the streets were thrown open. Women struggled into moth-eaten tube tops and Dr. Scholls sandals held together with duct tape; men girdled themselves into tiny shorts and old Sex Wax t-shirts. Sometimes people just came out naked, as naked with The Girls was always better than staying inside.

The girls the girls the girls are here the girls the girls the girls have come thegirlsthegirlsthegirlsthegirlsthegirls…the collective whisper built from our houses as we got ready; we couldn’t help but say it out loud as we brushed our hair and searched for our Bonne Bells. We felt the engines first, the thrumming engines of their cars beat in our breasts as we primped and hurried outside. The cars evaporated clouds from the sky with their heat; the sun burned and gleamed off their paint jobs like fire. We’d woozily clutch each other and gulp in the biggest breaths we could, as though inhaling the leaded gas and smoke could trap their essences within us. It was The Girls, you see. We did it for The Girls.


Turner astounds with ample imagination and surreal, Kafkaesque flash pieces which mimic and expose contemporary American life and anxieties. There is clever humor here, a wondrous dreamlike logic, but also tender tragedy. Cumulatively, we are left in awe, wondering where Turner will take us next as we eagerly–almost desperately–turn page after page. Well done!

–Jose Hernandez Diaz, author of The Fire Eater and Bad Mexican, Bad American.

When Elizabeth Horner Turner takes our 21st century malaise and loneliness and blends it with her particular kind of fable, the result, Horsemouth and Aquariumhead, is medicinal. Working with the bizarre and fanciful, Turner builds realms– the milk-stained playground, the relationship checkout stand– that return texture and color to a world gone gray. A woman turns into a snail and watches her family from the garden… A car parade of amphibious girls leaves behind spiky seashells instead of exhaust… To me, these stories are asking again and again, Can we reach each other? And I think behind every sentence Turner is saying yes, yes we can. Although communion is rare in these stories, the effort to connect is made muscularly, magically, over and over. Such a beautiful collection!

–Darcie Dennigan, author of Madame X

Mysterious and charming, effervescent tales; every sentence full of music and surprise.

–Ben Loory, author of Tales of Falling and Flying

About the Author

Elizabeth Horner Turner

Elizabeth Horner Turner’s debut poetry chapbook, The Tales of Flaxie Char, was published through dancing girl press in 2017.  Her work has been published widely in journals such as Cutbank, Fairy Tale Review, Gulf Coast, Lost Balloon, and trampset, and it has also been selected for inclusion in Best Small Fictions and Wigleaf's Top 50 and Long List.  She’s been awarded scholarships to Tin House Workshop and Sewanee Writers’ Conference.  She earned a BA from Hamilton College, an MFA From Sarah Lawrence College, and now lives in San Francisco with her family.

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