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Or Else by Melissa Llanes Brownlee

The scream pierces the surrounding damp. Kainoa drops to the ground, trying to guess where it came from, his sweat-stained tank clinging to his wiry frame. He has been hiking through the rainforests, every day this week, searching the towering trees for maile leaves, the voices of his mother and the aunties, eh boy, we need maile for the luau, your sistah stay getting married, you no like for us for be shame, needling.

Another scream echoes through the valley. He slows, still scanning the trees around him for the precious vines, worried his family will be upset if he returns without them, you bettah come back with plenty, or else Kai Boy, he’s not too old for dirty lickins, according to his father.

The next scream is so close he jumps when he hears it, almost slipping on the muddied red dirt, soaked from the morning rains. What you stay scared for, his father asks in his head, a fist always hovering. He tries to breathe, walking around another empty tree, his heart pumping. When the scream hits again, a glory of green greets him. A beautiful trail of maile vines, perfect for his sister’s wedding, cradles the body of the largest boar he has ever seen, its sides scored with scars, its eyes wild, its mouth a blood froth, its leg clamped, bone cracked in an illegal ring of teeth. When the next scream comes, he answers in reply, throwing his head back, eyes wet and wide.


Melissa Llanes Brownlee (she/her), a native Hawaiian writer, living in Japan, has work published or forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, Reckon Review, The Hennepin Review, Cheap Pop, Milk Candy Review, The Citron Review, Lost Balloon, Cobra Milk, Cotton Xenomorph, Atlas + Alice, and Fictive Dream. She is in Best Small Fictions 2021, Best Microfiction 2022, and Wigleaf Top 50 2022. Read Hard Skin, her short story collection, from Juventud Press. She tweets @lumchanmfa and talks story at

Art by Five South


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