In the House of Memory—Ariel K. Moniz

Some rooms of my memory
are flooded with golden light, 
and you are there, Cupid-lipped—
inviting me into your arms
from the coldness of living. 

In other rooms, too many of them
you are cavern-eyed and so hungry
the very touch of it undoes me—
I too become a phantom who doesn’t know
it’s her own heart she is haunting. 

Ariel K. Moniz is a lifelong writer, emerging poet, and avid reader. She is a witch, a womanist, and a wanderer who embraces life through the written word. Her work has been published in Bloodbath Literary Zine, Vamp Cat Magazine, and Pussy Magic, among others. She is currently working on her first poetry collection as well as a novel. Visit her at kissoftheseventhstar.home.blog.

photo by Eleni Trapp (via unsplash)

Likeness—Jane B. Parker

Kate and I don’t go down to the village very often, we have everything we could want here at home and could have anything delivered. But when she becomes so restive it virtually causes the air to hiss, I give in, and we cut what should be a three-hour drive across the dusty plain down to one. 

I figure it’s too late in life to learn Spanish so Kate handles all the interpersonal interactions. She could be telling the shopkeepers anything about me while I keep my hands in my pockets and nod along. She’s so popular, a comedian in any context. Always determined that we use cash so there are pennies for the street children. 

While we’re in the neighbourhood Kate makes me go see Dr Raul for a quick check on my heart and hypertension and insists on hearing the results herself, because as she tells him, “my husband could have a broken leg and I’d be the last to know it”.

Afterwards we walk along the boulevard and have a beer at our favourite little tin roofed dive. Or I do, Kate doesn’t drink and says, “I don’t know why you do either, it goes straight through you”. 

Arriving back home tonight, feeling a little tipsy and sunburned, I sense a soft presence under my foot as I open the door. What kind of mail, more threats? Despite our best efforts someone determined enough can find us, Likeness™ has always been a leaky ship. This here however is just a print, quite artfully made, silver gelatine I reckon. It’s a family portrait; the family is holding a sign that reads ‘you brought us together again’. 

Yes, even after all this time, I can still feel touched by such news. And of course I feel appalled by the opposite sort, when I hear of someone using Likeness™ for fraud or abuse. 

“It was only a matter of time before the nexus of holograms, AI and data banks was worked into a consumer product. And ever since the code was made public domain in my last will and testament we have really no control over what people are doing with it,” is what my Public Relations Likeness™ has been telling people for years. 

But of late less bad news has been reaching us, perhaps enough safeguards have been worked in by now, I don’t know. I don’t control the updates any more. I have lost touch. I’m not even one hundred percent certain what year it is, those facts can be easily manipulated. 

In the morning Fernanda arrives, she’s a tour de force. Can get through the housework, maintenance the solar panels, and check us over for glitches all in an hour’s work. We used to have great laughs with her, but now her friendliness has a formal edge and I can’t always prevent her from being alone with Kate. 

“You’re going to cost that girl her job, if you keep asking to be erased,” I complain. But I know this fixation was inherent in my wife from the beginning, it can’t be altered. 

“You’re so naïve, you think everyone is human,” she replies.  

Indeed, I hadn’t thought of that. So now that I can’t find the will to think up jokes to tell Fernanda even the mornings are quiet. And I have writers block.

I’ve gotten to the point in my auto-biography when in my late years I willed my Likeness™ into perpetuity. But it’s a difficult phase because although I have all the data, my memos, my tapes, even the health of my REM cycles and heart rate, I can’t for the life of me remember what I was thinking or why I did it.

Though what keeps me up nights, staring into the flat blue vista of the desert, is whether I should tell the truth about Kate. What she doesn’t know is how having died so young we didn’t have much to work with, had to exercise some creative licence. At first I was delighted with these inconsistencies and thought they made her seem more alive, but now I see how she suffers I know she wouldn’t have chosen it. 

Going to town to dawdle like tourists and make believe at living is the only thing that will animate her now; but going out so often that it arouses suspicion is just about the only thing we can’t afford. 

The nights after these day trips she’s tired out and will sleep in the bed, which I appreciate, but otherwise she sleeps outside in the hammock at the furthermost point from the power grid.     

“Aren’t you afraid of animals, snakes? You hate spiders,” I protest.

“You should try it yourself,” she says. “When I can just look at the sky, with air underneath me like I’m floating. But the daylight comes so soon. You could ask them to make me an update like that, couldn’t you? Or maybe you could have, before they forgot all about us. God I would be so much happier…”

When she complains she’s so much like herself can’t help but I think, I really did do some incredible work in my time. I brought us together again.  

Jane B. Parker is a writer and photographer from South Africa. Her creative writing and reviews have appeared in Badilisha Poetry X-change, the Silver Birch Press blog, The Poetry Pea JournalDream Journal, and The Poetry Question. She can usually be found tweeting haiku and micro-poetry @nowiammyself.

photo by Radek Grzybowski (via unsplash)

Did You Hear About the Girl—Alexandra Grunberg

And no one will mourn
or ask where I have gone
There will be no mysteries
to be read 
               in the footsteps
I leave behind
               in the snow
clues in a mystery 
leave them be

When the sun rises and you wake
a dream,             half-forgotten
a person,            who you knew
who once left 
               footsteps 
               in the snow
Wonder quietly 
Keep your theories
They are all wrong
They are all unwanted

Did you hear about the girl
               who floated,                                   so high
                              like a snowflake
                                             on a whispered breeze

hear 
she 
never
touched 
the 
ground

               again.

Alexandra Grunberg is a Glasgow based poet, author, and screenwriter. Her poetry has appeared in Honey & Lime, Red Eft Review, and From Glasgow to Saturn. She enjoys obsessing over fictional supernatural villains, hillwalking to isolated locations, and towns that are more character than setting.

alexandragrunberg.weebly.com

photo by Jp Valery (via unsplash)

Two Poems—Halcyon

Empty Knots

Sometimes you are a monster 
with crocodile eyes, vulpine fangs, and a forked tongue.
You will steal, deceive, mangle, and curse. 

Sometimes your shadow will appear twice as large.
The hollows of yourself that you never expected to hold any power
will frighten you. 

It is nothing but hot air. 
You will realize the shapes you see are just tricks of the moon.
Every bedtime creepy-crawler: 
a figment of play. 

Sometimes you are the monster, bearing the clench of a smile.
Sometimes you are the one staring back with the eyes of a child.
Remember the hot air; 
those are bags full of ghosts.

Past Tense

Yellow eyes leer out from empty streets
They multiply behind your shoulder as you pass
Temptation licks your ear 
You want to look back— 
don’t. 

Wait until the road has caved in 
Wait for the moonlight to blaze the sky white
When they tell you to calm down—
burn everything.

Halcyon (they/them) is a non-binary, queer artist of Mexican and Pin@y descent. They’re also an online sex worker, student, and artist. Halcyon’s work is eclectic and fluid; ranging from playful to serious, erotic to sombre. They explore all realms as they believe it an important expression in reclaiming one’s sexuality, spirituality, and autonomy.

photo by Francesco Ungaro (via unsplash)

They—Amy Wolstenholme

The night They came was a thunderstorm night, the very sky a black-feathered bird calling: Now. Now you are at the place of oblivion. The stars above us were in flight, one moment visible, the next concealed, startling from the branches. In the day everything has its place and is confined to exist there. In the darkness, we all have the gift of wings. The moonlight unfurled along the razor edge of the leaves and the lightning pecked the Earth with the indifference of a beak: Now. Now you are obliterated. 

We ran through the storm as only children can, the sky fizzing over our skin, sparking against our teeth, certain in the belief we would not be struck down. After all, our feet fractured the ground just the same as lightning, gleefully cracking the spine of twigs and frozen puddles. That night only two of us had braved the storm, slipping out from bedroom windows into the cool embrace of darkness, eager to run wild and return wearing thorns.

My friend was the embodiment of savage childhood, all bowed knees and short, cowlicked hair, shaking raindrops from their skin, wearing them encrusted on their eyelashes. They were as wild as the sky, the very symbol of what it means to be young, alive and utterly uncaring. They swore brilliantly, not knowing or understanding the meaning, merely in love with the sound of fuck and goddamn and you son of a bitch whore you. They spoke the way birds sing, with complete dedication, enough that I would imagine birds turning to one another, singing: These humans, I wonder if there is any meaning to their tune?

That night was all human song, my friend’s chirruping voice and my listening ears and the sky screaming out a dirge, coming untethered like a funeral balloon.

‘Fucking rain,’ they said, but they wore it in every inch of them.

‘Fucking rain,’ I echoed dutifully, traipsing along behind them, my own skin cool and slick and damp with the fucking rain, and the way it squelched unpleasantly in my socks. My long hair was pasted to my head, stuck inelegantly over my mouth, such that it made a wet rattling sound against my lips when I breathed. My skin was so wet that I imagined breathing through it instead, more frog than child. 

Ahead my friend was a racing shadow; one moment visible, the next concealed. They headed for each puddle and mud-slick bank, running up and rolling down, their skin eventually so muddy that their eyes stood out like chips of struck flint, uncomfortably blue and ready to spark fire. They were eagerly contemplating death, playing out soldiers, and a stick was soon found and pointed, a bullet shot cleanly through my chest. I fell with an exaggerated groan, although I immediately regretted it. The ground was much too wet even for pretended death. Above me my friend danced in and out of their soldier skin, smearing mud further down their neck and up their arms, simply to feel. They threw themselves hard down onto the muddy bank, peering over the top.

‘We’ve got a live one oh boy, oh boy,’ they said, their voice warped in poor imitation of the Americans, their hands clenched around their gun-shaped stick. A cowboy now, they pushed their fringe off their head like the brim of a cap. The sky made a strange ripping sound and then fractured like eggshell. 

‘I’ll get the horses,’ I whispered, and went down into the night clicking my tongue softly, seeing the gleam of white mushrooms as the shine of hooves and satin black holly as wild, rolling eyes. I found a stallion and a mare, black as night the both, frothing at the mouth and gleaming with sweat as pure as starlight. I brought them up the bank to where my friend lay, gorgeous as a fucking bruise against the moonlit ground, and murmured: ‘Ready.’

‘You got the ammo?’ 

I handed over bullets, white as struck teeth, and then we slung them in belts across our bodies. I found a stick and pushed a bullet with a quiet snick into the handle, steadying my shaking hand against the butt. We were ready to ride. With a yell we threw ourselves up from the bank, hands clenched around invisible reins, steadying the wildly excited, plunging horses. We fired, screaming obscenities, whilst the sky cracked and whined like bullets, singing out our game of war. Now. Now you are obliterated.

Afterwards we could not have said what it was that made us stop. Everything has its place and is confined to exist there; the horses turned back to silent shadow. Perhaps it was the smell, the air suddenly sweet and coppery as blood, or the sucking sound of the sky. There was the feeling of something vast taking a breath, the world a single, wet alveolus, ready to burst.

‘Would you look at that goddamn tree?’ 

I screwed up my eyes to see. It was difficult to focus on, like trying to track the false image left by a camera flash. It was hard to pinpoint precisely what was wrong with it; perhaps it was that the bark looked like newspaper, paper-thin and tattooed black and white, or that the leaves appeared veinless even under the harsh moonlight. Many years later I realised that the most uncomfortable thing about it had been its symmetry. It looked like the tree children always draw – dead straight and uniform, unintended for three dimensions. 

As we backed away, eyeing the strange branches, the sky gave an electric hiss. We recoiled instinctively, closing our eyes, but the tree had already tattooed itself onto our eyelids. There was the sensation of breathing again, the world hacking up white foam from poisoned lungs but, although I counted, the thunder never came. For several minutes my world was a beautiful, blackberry purple, the image of a tree that looked too much like a tree burnt into my retinas. I felt my way to the ground, finding my friend already curled up and shuddering. When my vision returned I was facing them, their frightened eyes inches from my own, their skin curdled milk under the muck. 

‘We should go home,’ I whispered, but they were whimpering, their eyes darting up to something just over my head, then racing back to the ground again. 

‘What?’ I breathed, the words barely making it past my teeth. I imagined wolves with dripping red jaws and real soldiers, their eyes gun-metal grey and cold. My friend raised a trembling hand and pointed, their fingernail a ragged white moon against the sky. 

Summoning all my courage I rolled over, my eyes shut, flicking them briefly open. The tree still stood against the sky, black and burnt, a jagged snarl struck through the centre of the trunk. And there They were, the two of them, one silhouetted against the bruised sky, the other barely visible against the tree bark. One. Two. The only definite we were ever able to give. I opened my eyes again, ready to scream, ready to call on the God my parents took me to church to visit, but they did not move. 

‘The fuck?’ whispered my friend, sounding marginally less shaken. 

They were the colour of an oil slick, simultaneously black but seething with rainbow. They moved the way origami does, occupying the space they already inhabited over and over and fucking over, folding it rather than existing within it. Something was writhing in their centre, tendrils opening and closing like a fist over something else that might have been a mouth, and there was a strange, high-pitched sound, the soft chink of a moth hitting a bulb. Afterwards, I wondered if it was the sound of screaming. 

‘Aliens.’ 

My friend was standing now, slick with mud and rain and starlight, the child of thunder, and as alien as could be. Silently they walked in an awkward, hunched position and picked up a thick, knobbly stick and then searched for another, passing it to me. We did not need to pretend these were guns. These were vicious enough without imagination.  

They stood in front of us, ripping and sewing space, opening and closing like a fist. They were so out of place, so wrong to look at, that my eyes were only half-focused and I was shaking, sick to my stomach.  

‘We have to defend the planet.’ 

The American drawl was back, born of false bravado and sheer, gut-wrenching terror, and my friend held their stick aloft as if trying to channel the lightning. Children are all too ready to believe in the danger of things that appear suddenly from the dark, so I did not question this. Every fairy-tale has a lighthouse warning buried within: There are so many things waiting to dash you against the rocks. Now. Now you are at the place of oblivion. One of them suddenly released an eerie, grating wail that was felt with a skull-thumping pain more than heard, and that was all it took. Suddenly, we were ready to ride. 

We went for the one on the left, the one that stood most brightly against the sky. Where we struck it, screaming fuck you and go to hell you son of a bitch whore you, it twisted like layers of coloured tissue paper, occasionally releasing that bone-shaking cry. Many years later I dared to wonder how we had looked to it, whether we had been too alien for it to see, all mud and flesh, all screams and savage blows, and whether the sound that made us want to pull out our teeth was a cry for mercy. Thin, wavering tendrils struck out at us, stinging across our hands and faces. Where we hit it the rainbow-black turned to grey as if we really had become lightning and all we touched was turned to ash. 

When it was simply mush against the ground something slipped out from the mulch with a liquid shine. We stared at it for a long moment and, although I could not be certain what it was, bile rose in my mouth. The glimmering disc was just a little too familiar. The eye stared up at the sky, reflecting the drifting moon, as it dissolved into grey flakes. I dragged a hand backwards across my mouth and scrubbed violently at my lips. My throat was clogged with the taste of copper. 

‘Wh-what about the other one?’ I stuttered. 

But when I turned to my friend they were crying, shimmering with the strange night-dark rainbow that had spewed from the creature, leaning heavily on their stick. The other one had fallen to the ground, if fallen was the right word for the way it had jammed space open, and was making the sound of a thousand flies having their wings fried. It was already covered in a veneer of mossy grey and, somehow, we knew it was dying without a single blow. Perhaps they couldn’t breathe our air. Perhaps the lightning had allowed two worlds to collide and they had been ripped, blindly, from wherever they had been before, the strange tree a conduit. Perhaps it was dying of grief. We would never know. 

We crouched cautiously and watched the creature shuddering, turning to ash as the sky cursed at the ground. It clicked more and more quietly, tendrils unfolding and waving around in the air. Eventually one tendril shuddered, or slipped, or fell open, revealing a dark eye which rotated wetly in our direction. There was a reverberation suddenly deep within my head, a noiseless sound, as if it was speaking words we could not hear. The meaning seemed to slip across, or maybe we completely made it up, but I could have sworn it said to me: boy and my friend swore they heard: girl. An odd distinction. A poor, garbled translation of something we probably misunderstood entirely. But perhaps it was trying to say: I recognise that you are children, that you are scared, and I forgive you. Sometimes, I even like to believe it. 

On impulse I ran across to the rain-slick bank and pulled up tufts of wild garlic, the flowers tiny and only faintly white, closed in defiance of the night. I brought it back and held it out in front of the creature without knowing why, perhaps trying to show the tiniest piece of fragility in our violent, thunder-stricken world. That must have been the last thing it saw before it died, as the eye slipped wetly to the ground. The flower of an alien world. 


We spent most of adulthood silently convincing ourselves that They had just been imagination run wild, fuelled by vicious lightning, but in old age we could no longer believe this lie. Children and the elderly accept the reality that adults deny. So that is why I am not surprised when they turn to me, with their uncomfortably blue and beautiful eyes, after seventy years of silence and ask: ‘What do you think They were, exactly?’ as they lean on the rail of our porch, blowing smoke up into a sky that is gathering clouds like lost sheep. 

There is no need to ask what they are referring to. I know exactly what they mean, instantly, as if I have been waiting for the question all my life. What were They? Those strange things that were just enough in phase to be difficult to look at, as blue as they were orange and no colour we could recognise, with all those shimmering appendages, twisting like plant stems searching for the sun. I give the only answer that can be given, the worst answer in the world. 

‘I don’t know.’

‘But where did They come from?’ they insist, ‘what was the point?’

‘Do you know where you come from?’ I counter. ‘In eighty-two years, have you ever come across anything remotely resembling a point?’ 

They snort with laughter. ‘Don’t spend too much time yelling at the sky and asking why God, why bloody why, you mean?’ They run a hand through their short, grey hair the colour of an English sky, mussing it so it stands up in random, electric spikes. 

‘There was something that always bothered me more,’ I say slowly. 

I walk forward and lean against the porch rail next to them, wondering how long it’s going to be before the rain starts striking the ground. I stare down at my hands where they clutch the rail, tracing my eyes over the blue, knotted veins.  

‘Why did we treat them so differently when they were exactly the same?’ I murmur. 

I see my hands clenched around a stick, beating bright and oily rainbows out of the first creature; I see my hands clenched around a bunch of ragged flowers, holding them up to the eye of the second. One moment visible, the next concealed, the image opening and closing like a fist. I suddenly remember the echo of a non-voice: boy, and to my partner: girl. The horizon flashes. I start counting. 

They look at me then, raising an eyebrow, all long limbs and creased skin, and those eyes like a chip of struck flint, those savage, shining eyes that I had fallen in love with so long before. They take a long drag of their cigarette, and blow smoke out across the misty lawn.

‘Sometimes that just happens,’ they say at last, and shrug. 

The growl of thunder finally reaches us. Now. Now you are at the place of oblivion. 

Amy Wolstenholme is a biochemistry PhD student at Cambridge, where she researches some of the amazing intricacies of DNA replication. In her free time she loves to write poetry and short stories, and has been previously published in Visual Verse, Oxford Poetry and on the Young Poets Network. Her other hobbies include hiking, drinking tea and tie-dyeing her lab coat different colours.

image by Florian Olivo (via unsplash)

On Being An Angel—Jessie Lynn McMains

content warning: suicide mention

(for Francesca Woodman)

o morbid angel your death-show opened
the year i was born
your suicide
predicted mine
who hasn’t felt the desire to die

o fascination when i was young
it was easier
to imagine dying than growing up 

o cunning ghost you’re a piano wire
snapped and curling
from the piano’s wooden warp, its corpse
hidden in the home behind the pines
o lovely dead body disappearing
into the woodwork of the house of childhood
and the camera clicks
and you’re still moving, a shocking shadow
in the periphery
in the peeling flowers
you ectoplasm
you wallpaper paste

you flour yourself whiter
rabbit-mask and clothespins
your bodies a prop a provocation
a masochism

o whenever i snap a selfie i seance you
whenever i refuse
what age would make of me
whenever i tear down
the water-stained veil and marry the portal
between the worlds

this is an anti-domestic
a reverse domestic
a house of wood rotten
and howling ghosts
go ask alice
i think she’ll know

o seductress every time i die
i resurrect you every time
i’m naked in the library
sprouting wings from my
shoulder blades
being an angel

o every time i take a knife
to the frame
lie immobile
on the floor too sad to move
and drape myself
with snakes or move too much

soft-furred legs quivering ready
to spring into flight
doe-eyed angel-winged
stained with light

what happens in a museum when
all the visitors go home what happens
to a house when
the owners leave

what happens to a body when the heart stops
it breathes its final
noxious sigh
it putrefies

what happens to the floorboards when a body
leaks what happens
to a girl when they call her
a woman

woman is domesticated
sags like floorboards under a body’s
dead weight
sags like frown lines

it’s fleshy in a way that stains
it’s empty like a museum that’s closed
for the night
it’s a decision already made

girl is naked innocence
girl is untamed
girl is in the forest pulling up her dress
girl is blur, is transient
girl is still becoming
girl could be animal or dead body or ghost
girl is a growl in the back of the throat

o i wish we could forever be unfinished could belong
to ourselves and the other feral girls this fleeting
femininity muddies my instincts my

clumsy fingers can no longer find the keys

o you left a smudge on the mirror
flowered yourself
into the wall
stepped right out of the frame into
the in-

between

photo by Olivier Guillard (via unsplash)

Every New Beginning—Bethan Rees

I have something to say.

Sometimes I see baby spiders make webs in front of my eyes.
It keeps them open, and I see them embalm bigger flies in their
stretched cotton wool blankets.
Cuddling them to death.

I have something to tell you.

I listen to life around me, and while beanstalks of experience grow
violently out of the mouths of my friends, the vines wrap and coil around my ankles,
my throat.
Until they trip themselves up.

I have something to do.

There’s a switch in front of me.
And every time I click it the door opens, but it has another closed door ahead of it.
It has a solution. I’m sure of that.

I have to do something.

There is always a solution. An end.
Even if it doesn’t seem

Bethan Rees lives in Swindon, Wiltshire and has appeared in Fly on the Wall, Atrium, Persephone’s Daughters, Domestic Cherry, Daily Drunk, Fresh Air, The Poet’s Haven Digest, I am not a silent poet, Lonesome October Lit, Amaryllis and Three Drops Press. She currently studies MSc Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes, runs Wellbeing Writing groups and can be found sharing wellbeing work on: www.safeandsoundpress.com

photo by Jannet Serhan, and Isabella and Louisa Fischer (via unsplash)

A Spectral Sigh—Amanda Crum

Lizzie buried her best friend on a chilly October day, the kind that ushers in a cold storm and turns the sky a deep watercolor blue. Pregnant clouds hung low over the fields, threatening those who stood on the hillside—dressed in Sunday best—with their fecundity. Lizzie clutched her bag tightly, grateful to have something to tether her to the world. She could barely feel her hands inside the gloves she wore. 

“And now, from Revelation 14:13, a few words of comfort as we lay Tabitha to rest,” Reverend Townsend intoned. “‘And I heard a voice from Heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.’”

He paused here for dramatic effect; it was a tactic he used during sermons when he felt the congregation slipping. The sudden silence jolted them into guilty attention. “We say goodbye to Tabitha knowing how much she did for our community and how beloved she was in all her 40 years. If you would like to leave a flower with her, you may do so now.”

The group separated from around Lizzie and reformed shoulder-to-shoulder at the grave, a murmuration of mourners with single roses in hand. One by one, they dropped the blooms onto Tab’s coffin; Lizzie could hear crumbling dirt pattering on the wood. A sudden gust of wind swooped across the hillside, waking the trees in a rush and flipping their leaves up to expose pale underbellies. To Lizzie, it sounded like a spectral sigh, an expression of exasperation on a different plane. It sounded like Tab.

Back home, the woodstove was nearly empty and the sky bloomed like India ink across linen. The storm was still threatening from its perch, darkening the day so deeply that Lizzie was jolted when she heard the clock strike 4 p.m. Her sorrow was a fist-sized knot in her abdomen, a hard and cancerous thing with teeth, and the day had drawn out like a blade because of it. She sat at the kitchen table, tracing rings and scars with her fingers, and didn’t look up when Steven came in laden with a cord of wood.

“Startin’ to feel more like winter than autumn out there,” he huffed. “Gonna have to cut more wood tomorrow.”

He was whistling past the graveyard, and she ignored it. “Maybe we should leave. Take the train into Tennessee and visit for a while.”

Steven had begun loading the stove; now he paused, kneeling, without looking at her. “Why would we do that?”

“Because I can’t stop thinking about her. The way she looked.”

Lizzie rubbed her hands together. She wasn’t that cold anymore, but the blue light of the day made her wish she had a hot cup of tea.

Steven placed the last piece of wood inside the stove and closed the door softly. “It’s going to be bad for a little while. You got to put that out of your head. Things’re hard enough without all that.”

He stood near and touched her cheek softly. She had always marveled at his hands; not the hands of a farmer at all, but those of a sleek magician who had traveled with the Ringling Brothers show in his younger days. 

“Push it away,” he said. “Tomorrow we’ll take the Hudson into Greenville and have a nice dinner.”

“You’re leaving?”

“Have to. It won’t look right otherwise.”

She pressed her face against his palm and nodded, knowing she wouldn’t be able to keep the tears out of her voice if she said anything else. When he’d closed the backdoor behind him, she stood at the kitchen sink and watched him walk through the gate, past the lavender wavering softly in a gathering wind. She stayed until she saw his porchlight come on, and then she poured three fingers of whiskey into a coffee mug and let it carry her into sleep. 


She dreamed of Tabitha. They’d met in grade school, Tab the tomboy with auburn braids and Lizzie the one who dreamed of being a movie star, her flaxen hair a beacon for attention. They were opposites in every way but quickly grew to love each other as sisters, with Tab fighting her way through the bullies who thought Lizzie was putting on airs. It got especially bad in the 9th grade, when she began to bloom and every boy in the county wanted her attention. Tab didn’t feel jealousy like the other girls. Instead, she shook her head at Lizzie as she recounted another date and scowled magnificently, unable to grasp why her friend would want to waste so much time with boys.

It was this version of Tab she dreamed about, the sullen girl who didn’t understand her own beauty. They sat together beneath their favorite tree, the town spread below them in the bowl of the holler. The two of them wore blue dresses of different shades, their bobbed hair glinting spun gold and bonfire sparks into the dusk. 

“Don’t you want to go to school? Travel? Get out of this damn town?” Tab was asking.

“I’m gonna do all those things, but I need to save some money if I ever want to get to Hollywood,” Lizzie said. “That part can’t wait. My looks won’t last forever, you know. Those directors aren’t going to cast a 40-year old woman as their star.” Ain’t had been carefully rendered to aren’t with much practice.

“It ain’t all about your looks. It ain’t all about what men want you to be. Christ, Lizzie, you’re the smartest girl I know!” She was high-tempered, her cheeks flushing just below those dark eyes that saw everything. She leaned back on her elbows and plucked a strand of tall grass, split it, and put it to her lips, where it made a sorrowful sound like a train whistle when she blew. “All I know is, I won’t ever let some man tell me what I can do.”


Lizzie jerked awake, into the silver gloom of dawn. Into the strong scent of freshly cut roses.

The women in town often made the trek up the hill to see Lizzie when they needed something that was out of their reach: true love, a child, money. Sometimes what they wanted was to be rid of something. She had learned at her mother’s elbow from the time she was very young, watching as she mixed small but complicated batches of desire for the women of Pine Hollow. A homemade wind chime made of colorful glass bottles hung from the eaves of their front porch, calling them forth, and her mother always knew exactly what they needed. 

Lizzie looked over her collection of herbs and tinctures, separated and organized by color. She never labeled anything; she knew from the feel and smell what they were. One small blue bottle was nearly empty. She picked it up and held it to the light, remembering. It seemed to her that blue was the color of memory.

A knock on the door stirred her and she set the worktable to rights, carefully replacing the blue bottle amongst the others. It was Jocelyn Baker, who had once sought Lizzie’s help to conceive a child. Five consecutive miscarriages had driven her nearly out of her mind; her son, a healthy towheaded boy who sometimes helped Steven with field work, was now 12. 

“Lizzie,” she said as she October breeze swept her in. She wore a dress the color of fresh cream, with tiny purple flowers printed all over. “I need to talk to you.”

“What’s the matter? Is Matthew well?”

“Oh yes, he’s doin’ fine, healthy as a horse and eating me and Jacob out of house and home.” She paused, tilting her head to look over Lizzie’s shoulder. “Is someone else here?”

Lizzie looked behind her, so powerful was Jocelyn’s gaze. Like she’d seen something. “No, I’m alone. What’s got you so shook?”

Jocelyn fiddled with the oversized buttons on her coat. “I debated whether or not I should even come. I know you’re grieving.”

Lizzie remembered seeing Jocelyn standing at Tab’s grave, dropping in a rose with the rest of the town. They hadn’t known each other well, but it was expected. Small places run on courtesy and gossip. 

“I just… I thought you should know what people are saying about you,” Jocelyn said finally. 

Lizzie felt her face lose its openness; the eyes narrowed, the jaw clenched. Her mouth was a tightrope no one could walk across. “And what’s that?”

“They say that you’re… takin’ up with a married man. It ain’t none of my business and you know I’ll always be in your debt for Matthew, but I thought you should know. Because of, you know. What you do.” She gestured toward Lizzie’s worktable, the rows of bottles and jars. “If they turn on you, it won’t be long before they start talkin’ about that. Even good people can be cruel.”

She was right, of course. Half the town knew about Lizzie’s gifts, but once the talk started they would recuse themselves from her orbit. It wouldn’t matter that she’d helped them when no one else could; she would become a prize to be held aloft by all those who couldn’t wait to pounce on someone else’s sin. Lizzie leaned against the kitchen sink, looking out the window. From this vantage point, she couldn’t see Steven’s house; the grass had grown too tall. A large crow sat on the plank fence, presiding over all.

“Still growin’,” she said hoarsely. 

“Pardon?” Jocelyn said.

“The grass. It’s the middle of October and the first frost has come and gone but that grass is still growin’. Why do you think that is?”

Jocelyn shook her head, confused. “I couldn’t say, Lizzie.”

Lizzie turned to her, saw the worry on her face, and smiled tightly. “It’s alright. Thank you for tellin’ me. The holler wouldn’t be the same without the rumor mill churning.”

Jocelyn’s mouth turned up cautiously. It was a smile that wondered why Lizzie wasn’t denying anything. “I’m so glad you aren’t upset. I thought for sure you’d run me out of here on a rail!”

“You’re a good friend,” Lizzie said. “The world needs more people like you.”


Later, after Jocelyn was gone, Lizzie walked out back, crossing her arms against the wind. The grass was knee-high and yellow, wavering down the hill toward Steven’s place. She was too far away to see anything through the windows, but she imagined he was in there, or out in the barn working on one of his wood pieces. 

Her boots were sinking into the soil. She looked down at the spongy black dirt and frowned. Swiping a finger across it brought a shudder; it was like touching rot, like feeling decay. She wiped the finger absently across the hem of her dress and examined the grass, which was dead and so dry it rattled in the wind. The sound was bones in a coffin. A warning.

“Lizzie,” the breeze sighed. “Oh, Lizzie.” 

The crow took flight, beating its wings so forcefully that Lizzie felt their wind on her face.


November brought an erasure of snow.

Lizzie normally enjoyed the cold, loved the way the fields were blanketed in white, the color of non-memory. Now it only magnified the sense of loneliness she felt and made her think of endings. 

Steven hadn’t been to visit in four days. She had wondered if perhaps he’d heard the gossip, suspected he had. He said everything was fine, but Lizzie had felt him retreating since the funeral, a slow removal of his presence that left her wondering whether their relationship had mostly lived in her body. In fact, she couldn’t remember ever feeling so out of sorts. 

Things were changing inside her home. She woke most mornings to find that the bottles on her workstation had been rearranged or even knocked over; certain rooms were broiling hot, while she could see her breath in others. She poured milk into her tea one evening to find that it had curdled, even though it was only a day old. And always, the powerful scent of roses followed her. 

When the crow perched on her fence one evening and wouldn’t leave—demanding her attention with his beady gaze—she made a sudden decision. Bundling up, she marched out the back door and shooed the dark omen away. The bird flew ten feet from her and landed in the snow, staring sullenly over its shoulder. Ignoring it, Lizzie kept walking down the hill, not caring about whether anyone saw her. 

Steven was home; she could see his shadow flitting through the lamplight like a moth. 

“Lizzie,” he greeted her. “What are you doing out in the cold?”

“I need to talk to you,” she said, looking over his shoulder. “Are you alone?”

He frowned. “Of course I’m alone.”

She searched his eyes for a moment before sliding past him, into the warmth of his living room. It felt strange, being there after so long. Steven always came to her place; it was easier for both of them. 

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

Lizzie sighed. “It just feels like you’ve forgotten me. Where have you been?”

He shook his head, looked at the floor. “I’ve been busy, that’s all. Takin’ care of things.”

“What things? Not me, not anymore.”

“Lizzie.”

“I thought the whole point of all this was so we could be together. I’m goin’ crazy up there alone in that house, do you know that? I don’t want this.”

“I warned you it would be bad for a little while. Didn’t I tell you that?”

“Yeah, you warned me. But I wasn’t ready for it, for the way she looked. Her eyes saw right through me. It was horrible, and you don’t even care.” She had begun to cry despite her resolve not to.

Steven had been standing in front of the door; now he shifted his weight slightly, revealing two large suitcases. They sat benignly, offering an explanation Lizzie didn’t want.

“Oh,” she said. “You’re leaving?”

Steven held up his hands, as though she had turned a gun on him. “Just for a little while. I wanna get my head right.”

She walked slowly toward him, her anger curling up from a place deep in her body. “I can’t believe you’re doing this to me. I’ve loved you since I was nineteen. I gave up my dream of becoming an actress for you! I stayed here in this shitty town. For you.”

“I never asked you to stay,” he spat through his teeth, advancing on her. They stood inches apart, a different sort of heat gathering between them. “That was your choice.”

“But you did ask me to kill your wife,” she said softly.

He snapped his arm out and clenched the collar of her coat in one strong hand, pulling her into him. She could smell sourmash on his breath but didn’t turn away. She took courage in her fury, cradling it against her bosom like an infant.

“You wanted her gone as much as I did,” he said. “I never promised you anything, Lizzie. I’ve been stuck here the same as you. Do you think I ever wanted to be a farmer? You stay in one place long enough and it grows into your bones like cancer, it eats at your plans until you can barely remember what they were. I can travel now, the way I used to.”

Lizzie reached up and placed her hands over his, suddenly overcome with grief. The weight of her madness fell upon her and she began to wail, keening like a mother who has lost her child.

And suddenly, a knock at the door.

Lizzie quieted immediately and turned her head towards the sound, the tendons in her neck so tight they creaked. Steven turned as well, eyes wide. When it came again, it sounded less like a hand and more like a series of pecks. 

And when the wind blew the door open on its hinges and they saw what awaited them, Lizzie recalled the words of Reverend Townsend over Tab’s grave. She could almost hear them on the fragrant gusts that rolled in, redolent of roses.

“‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.’”

Amanda Crum is a writer and artist whose work can be found in publications such as The Hellebore, Barren Magazine, Eastern Iowa Review, and more. She is a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Indie Horror Book Award nominee; two of her collections of horror poetry, The Madness In Our Marrow and Tall Grass, made the shortlist for Bram Stoker Award nominations. Amanda currently lives in Kentucky with her husband and two children.

photo by Ameen Fahmy (via unsplash)

Two Poems—Susan Darlington

Moonbird

Moonbird glides while the town sleeps,
her silver wings blanketing dewy gardens
and parks where the heavy heads of flowers 
rest on pillowcases made out of petal.

She soars past windows that are shuttered 
against the night’s dreamtime intrusions,
her constellation wide eyes bright and alert
as they search for his slumbering house.

There’s a partial eclipse in her blink when,
her target coming into view, she hovers
and then wheels in diminishing circles
that bring her closer into his mind’s eye.

She soars through his yawning casement,
comes to rest on his moon shadowed sheets,
and watches his chest slowly rise and fall
before she gently gathers him up in her talons.

He blinks, suspended between sleep and wake,
and hangs helpless and naked in the empty air 
as she swoops over the still sleeping town
back to the warmth of her sunset high nest.

She drops him among swirling nebulae,
nestles down around his foetal body,
and as feathers melt into warm flesh
he dreams of sprouting wings of gold.

Autumn

Fox carries autumn on her back.

Windfall brambles that are sweet with frost
are slung in the hollow of her shoulder blades
and pinecones that are open to the breeze
line the valley ridges of her spine.

She slips across fields, strands of fur
that snag on fence posts and barbed wire
flaring brightly through the mist
before tumbling into a carpet of golden leaves.

She scoops handfuls of these crisp sunbursts,
pulls the harvest moon into her eyes,
and tricks summer into giving her five-minutes
from each day. She takes them into the woods,

checks that she’s not being watched,
and caches the daylight in a den.
She stands guard while, in a nearby clearing,
leaves mulch and it starts to snow.

Susan Darlington’s poetry regularly explores the female experience through nature-based symbolism and stories of transformation. It has been published in Fragmented Voices, Algebra Of Owls, Dreams Walking, and Anti-Heroin Chic among others. Her debut collection, Under The Devil’s Moon, was published by Penniless Press Publications (2015). Follow her @S_sanDarlington

photo by Louis-Etienne Foy (via unsplash)

The House that Jack Built—Sarena Mason

This is the house that Jack built.

This is the entry: rows of shoes, feet still in them, bones dogs chew.
Slip them on and walk a mile, see what made dead people smile.

This is the living room: dead strings of eyes, bobbing low and bobbing high.
Pop yours out and pop theirs in, perspective’s easier to change than skin.

This is the kitchen: morgue-fridge, priests serve the slain with olives and figs.
Wash your hands in the blood of the lamb, season judgment, slice sins like ham.

This is the closet: body bags, cadaver jumpsuits for teens and old hags.
Tired of living? Pull out a hanger—be warned—death doesn’t kill sadness or anger.

This is the mirror, traveling souls, ghastly gate
for those who loved and loved to hate. Summon
a dead one, green from the grave, ask
what they regret and what they forgave. Too late
for them to change their mind, but you can
walk straight out the house and

live or die.

Sarena Mason holds a B.A. of Science in English, with a minor in psychology, from Middle Tennessee State University, where she was awarded the Homer J. Pittard Creative Writing Award scholarship. 

photo by Dan Meyers (via unsplash)