Sabbat—Sadie Maskery

Scream, you witches
you forest dwellers, 
muddy faced crawlers.
Feel the shiver beyond the leaves
the rank rotting roots a-tremble.
Fuckery is afoot
and the storm is rising.

Sadie Maskery lives in Scotland by the sea with her family, two cats and something that looks almost like a dog. She is published in various places online and in print,  and can be found on Twitter as @saccharinequeen.

photo by Jay Mantri and Casey Horner (via unsplash)

Cage Minus Bird—Keshe Chow

How could you have trusted me?

From the very first moment when you uncurled from my body and assumed the shape of a glass cage; all fragile and translucent like a frozen drop of water at the tip of a stalactite. Immortally silent but immeasurably breakable

I kissed your damp head and told you I would guard you, and keep alive the tiny black bird that flitted around your insides; the bird that preened its plumage every minute of every day until it was an oil slick of iridescence

But then I forgot to feed it and it screamed louder and louder and louder and LOUDER and my only response was to stopper my ears. I dreamed of when I could fling open the cage door—send the bird off into the greatness—even if it had to flap, lopsided, on one fragmented wing

I don’t remember when I found it dead amongst the droppings at the bottom. I do remember the way its eyes looked, filmy and flat like when you rub at a mirror with a greasy hand. Birds have three eyelids; didn’t you know? I marveled at how clean death was, not a single speck of blood, nothing was in that cage that was not there in life

It had hurt to watch its slow demise. So I didn’t bury it, but threw it in the trash

I swore I would find something to replace it, something more robust this time perhaps a mouse or moth or ferret, but life got busy and I never did, and over the years your cage remained empty

I built up walls around my own Ego while simultaneously dismantling yours. And I told myself it was valid because one has to look after oneself, there’s no sense being a Martyr if you haven’t donned your own mask first

It was inevitable really, and to be expected, though I still acted surprised when it happened—

The day I came to the place where you were hung and instead of seeing your curved barred shape all I saw were shards on the ground

Shards that refracted the light more luminously now you were in several pieces. Shards that threw out rainbows when you could not be put back together. They pricked my skin as I tried to pick them up, leaving me with a bloodied mess, until I couldn’t tell whether the wet stain I stood on was blood or tears or amniotic fluid.

And then the only way I could clean up was to sweep your remnants into a dustpan and discard of you that way, then crush everything else into dust with my boot, even though I know better and I swore to do

Better.
Tell me again; Why did you trust me?

Keshe Chow is a Chinese-Australian veterinarian living in Melbourne with three humans and two cats. She was the winner of the Perito Prize in 2020 for short fiction, and her work appears or is forthcoming in Maudlin House, Okay Donkey Magazine, Hobart, Rust + Moth, and others.

photo by Deleece Cook and Jonathan Borba (via unsplash)

When It Comes—Sarah Muir

Our girl first notices the wolf on a warm summer day in Detroit. She is walking along the river, having wandered away from her friends at a local club for a cigarette break. Truthfully, she quit smoking months ago but still uses it as an excuse to duck out of social gatherings she didn’t want to be at anymore. The water is gently lapping away at the break wall, the only natural sound among the traffic and baseball game running late into the night.  She decides she is going to head home instead of back into the club when she sees him. 

There he is, gigantic and black, standing still on the path in front of her, watching. Our girl stares back, a little unsure. Surely there aren’t wolves in Detroit, she thinks. It must be one of those stray dogs that roam the city, she decides. They stand there staring at each other, sizing each other up, for several minutes. Finally, our girl turns and slowly walks away. Each time she turns around, the wolf is still there. She never catches him moving, but he always seems the same distance away from her. Pinpricks of fear poke at her skin like icicles. She speeds all the way home, trying to shake the feeling of being followed. 

The next day at work, she sees him again. This time in the hallway, standing between the cubicles. Still just staring. Bob from accounting must have been able to feel the beast’s breath on his arm, but he never turns from his computer screen. Our girl tells her boss she’s not feeling very well and needs to go home for the rest of the day. When she catches the wolf in her boyfriend’s front yard a week later, she decides to pack her bags. She quits her job, breaks up with her boyfriend, and dumps her friends. She heads up north. 

Right before she crosses the Mackinac Bridge, she thinks she might see him standing in the median, but she convinces herself that she imagined him there.  She rents a small cabin in a place called Paradise. She goes for long walks along the beach and gets a part-time job doing things around the property for the owner. By mid-October, she’s shoveling the elderly residents’ walkways and drinking at the only bar in town. She even calls the old men she drinks with her friends. She keeps busy, learns how to play guitar and how to speak Polish, and it works! It works for a little while. She hasn’t seen the wolf since crossing the bridge. While she hears wolves sometimes at night, she knows it’s not her wolf. 

But then the winter comes, and she finds her routine to be getting old. She’s tired every day, and she feels his presence. She hasn’t seen him, but she knows he’s coming, and he is. She finds his tracks surrounding her cabin in the morning snow. Sees his claw marks etched in her front door. He howls every night outside her bedroom window, and she can’t take the sound. His lone howls against the sound of the rushing wind echo in her head till one night she opens the door and lets him in. She sits on the floor in defeat, and he curls up beside her, resting his head on her thigh, looking up into her eyes, and they scream. 

Sarah Muir is an emerging writer from Kirksville, Missouri who just graduated with her MA from Truman State University. Her work has been published in the Moon Zine and presented at the Missouri Folklore Society. She enjoys writing in the space where fiction and nonfiction overlap

photo by Andrew Amistad and Philip Macias (via unsplash)

Ghosts—Nam Hoang Tran

Some ghosts are my grandmother’s,
neither liberated nor forgotten,
her hand cold against a warm neck.
Not goddesses, but ghosts
letting their presence known via the steady
rock of chairs like metronomes.

Not all ghosts are grandmothers.
Some are friends with skin tones
the color of photocopy paper.
Not albino, but very pale.
Their bodies unfamiliar with melanin
like old faces during class reunions.

But that isn’t all.
Some ghosts are brothers
under bed sheets, mindlessly bumping
into things like spirits making sense
of worlds departed searching
for bodies they once called home.

Nam Hoang Tran is a writer living in Orlando, FL. His work appears in various places and collectively at www.namhtran.com. He enjoys scones.

photo by Ryan Gagnon (via unsplash)

Fickle Hill Road—Will Schmit

Apples, planted before the road was paved,
wave grey barked branches.
The mercy of pruning long overdue.
Abandoned shovels await an order to turn the plot.

The windows look in more than out.
The roof a sagging gesture under the sky.
The mortgage, the dream, the honey-do-list
now the terrain of squirrels and an eight-point buck.

The wink of Venus won’t distinguish
between foreclosure, or tenant.
Stagnant water gathers in plastic tubs
mirroring the early moon…

I doubt the ghosts care for my interpretation.
The haunt as real as ruts in the road.
A creak in the floor sings under a trespassing wind
as an owl speaks as it will for years.

Will Schmit is a Midwestern poet transplanted to Northern California. Will has been reading and writing poetry, in between bouts of learning to play the saxophone, for nearly forty years. Will’s new book of poems and provocations, Head Lines, is available, by request where ever books are sold. www.schmitbooks.com

photo by Carlos de Miguel (via unsplash)

The Sextant and the Fish—Claire Hampton

‘Twas a long journey through the mountain pass, o’er desolate carpet of brown and green, tae the place where the sparklin’ cyan of the sea meets the powder sands of the west and the vast cleavage of Corrieshalloch – where ice parted the mountains long before the likes of us daunnered the lands -has ‘em all gawpin’. The North Coast 500, Scotland’s grand answer to Route 66. A loon went ‘round peddlin’ a penny farthin’, would you believe? 

Now, our newlyweds were almost there, one bar of fuel – bloody fools – headin’ for a wee hotel that sat on the banks of a loch, four-star reviews, and a restaurant exclusive tae the nephrops (langoustines to you and I, owned by a Frenchman of dubious character, if you heed the gossip of the village folk, mind).  Tin roofed croft houses welcomed them tae the village, abandoned ‘til summer when their keepers cast off their city shackles and the descendants of fishermen past make way for their fair-weather neighbours. But autumn it was, and twilight fell upon our weary travellers, for here, the sun falls from the very sky. 

A bent auld wifey in a woollen hat creaked along the road with a hound so rounded that its bristly undercarriage swept the ground. When approached, she gave ‘em fair warnin’: 

‘Aye, I know the hotel,’ she said, ‘it’s just doon the road on the left, but I shan’t think you’ll find anyone there, the owner ran off, you see, without a peep. Visitors amuck in the village findin’ new lodgin’s… where there ain’t nun to be found.’ She chortled.

Her sunken glare followed them intently as they turned down the lane, passing a church and pictish stone, engraved with sextant and fish. Along the shore they caught glimpse of their lodgin’s, just as the dashboard blinked red. 

Across the gravel, they cast an eye tae the grand hunting lodge that had graced the banks of the loch for three hundred years, the Laird’s extravagant retreat for he and his pals tae feast on their game and drink tae their prize far from the eyes of their fair, gentile wives. 

Centuries three of Atlantic gales forcing sea, salt and watter against its walls. Aye, she could blow a hooley, and fresh white paint was soon mottled and worn. Not this evening though, no… this evening there was an eerie calmness cast over the loch – tonight, the house sleeps.

No light pierced the darkness within as they tried the fashionable lavender door, the brass knob rattled but there it stood, stiff and fixed as a tombstone as they rang ‘n’ hooted ‘n’ hollered, yelling greeting through glass, yet none but an echo replied. 

He pulled out his phone and paced tae find signal, huffin’ n puffin’, his face all aglow. Raising it skyward as if it were Yorick – alas, it was not tae be.  His wife, seduced by her wild surroundings, stepped o’er a wall tae the beach. His disgruntled voice grew distant as she picked across the shore, drawn tae a glint washed up by her feet. A silver coin with tattered edges, worn but still visible, sextant and fish. She rooted ‘round for further treasures but found only this, but oh, ‘twas a fine souvenir indeed. 

And with that, came rain on a bitter sou’wester, and darkness fell like a widow’s veil. A crash and a whine came from above her as the sky led a dance with the sea. They ran for the car, their warm breath misting the windows opaque as the deafening rain drummed upon the steel. 

Yet through the din they heard the slam of the lavender door and with hoods o’er heads they set course for their beds when they noticed wet footprints upon the polished wooden floors. By torchlight they followed them tae a room of blue tartan, where they seemingly faded tae naught, and nothing remained but a banqueting table, dressed for a glorious meal. The blue walls were adorned with photographs of the Frenchman and his wife. As the woman drew closer, she noticed another of black and white, a large naval vessel and men with huge hammers breaking thick ice from the stern. 

Russian Arctic Convoys’ read the plaque, where villagers traded their line and creel for uniform and gun, as their loch was home tae depots of oil, on land and underfoot. The ships would fill their tanks for the long, brutal journey across the Atlantic, the hotel serving as an infirmary for the merchants of the soviet cause. Now the villagers strung nets tae capture the U-boats and swept the depths for iron creel, manning the battlements and protecting their home, kith and kin forever lost amongst the waves. 

Engrossed in the image, she heard a chink and a scrape, looking downward as a silver coin rolled up tae her shoe and stopped with a whirr. She patted her pockets, perhaps the coin was hers. 

She froze. 

Stood in the doorway, she recognised the Frenchman, translucent and slick as sculpted ice, his finger extended towards her, dripping, tracking her as she ebbed towards her spouse, who was lighting kindling and coal in the stove. She whispered his name with an urgent resonance and on sight of the spectre, he screamed. 

Tae the left had appeared a soldier, tae the right – a fisherman, then one by one the room filled with the lost souls of the loch until they were surrounded, corralled intae the heart of the room, outstretched, icy fingers creeping close enough tae touch. They closed their eyes and said goodbyes, then, with a splash, the apparitions collapsed intae puddles and the couple found themselves ankle deep in sea watter. Stunned, they began tae run, but as they tried they were dragged down by scores of cold, watery hands as if being strangled by kelp, the storm maskin’ their cries for help as they gasped ‘n’ gargled ‘n’ their bodies dragged out tae the hungry sea… 

Then silence fell over the tumultuous loch and the lilting waves washed gently ashore a silver coin with sextant and fish, a shiny lure… for some unfortunate soul. 

Aye, they say the loch found a taste for death in war, flesh o’ man quenching the bloodlust beneath, for once it lay still, fat on its riches, the fishermen may fear no more.

Claire Hampton is a neurodivergent writer from Teesside, England who once lived and worked in a small village in the Scottish Highlands. Her work has featured/is upcoming in VersificationThe Daily Drunk, SledgehammerThe Mark Literary Review, Full House Literary Magazine, Selcouth Station Press, and others. Check out her stories at clairehampton.com.

photo by K B (via unsplash)

My First Death—Susan Cossette

I heard my first death whispered—
behind my mother’s prematurely veined hands.
I saw my first death lurking at the bottom of my grandmother’s bedroom wastebasket,
buried under mounds of damp teary tissue.

I saw my first death in the eyes of a blonde babydoll.
Her name was Giselle, her lace and prink frills Aunt Jennie’s last gift.
Giselle was quarantined, 
stuffed into the pull-down hatch of my bedroom closet.
My four-year-old self decided cancer was contagious.

I smelled my first death 30 years later, 
opening a garment bag in the basement to find Jennie’s dresses,
the verbena scent still clung to the turquoise taffeta.
A strand of hair stuck in a pearl hatpin on a matching pillbox hat, wavy and chestnut brown.

The garment bag a sarcophagus, the hatbox a coffin.

Susan Cossette lives and writes in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Author of Peggy Sue Messed Up (2017), she is a two-time recipient of the University of Connecticut’s Wallace Stevens Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Rust and MothAdelaideClockwise CatAnti-Heroin ChicThe Amethyst Review, Ariel Chart, Poetica Review, and in the anthologies Tuesdays at Curley’s and After the Equinox.  

photo by Rodion Kutsaev (via unsplash)

Lock of Pink Hair—Aura Martin

Cento from interlucent by isaura ren & The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

    They wander through the stone halls, finding things to look at and things to touch and things to read. This is their world, starless and sacred. They find stories tucked in hidden corners, and laid out on tables, as though they had been there always, waiting for their reader to arrive.
    Like they know the truths you never will?
    Love letters.
    The page has flipped, left you stranded on its shores. You wanted a happier ending?
    Painted in metallic gold and covered in flames, its pages sealed together with something sticky that turns out to be honey.
    Mirabel turns. Tucks a stray lock of pink hair behind her ear.
    The mind we share tells me you believe the same, Mirabel says. You’re a storyteller. No story ever truly ends as long as it is told.
    The girl comes a breath closer. Close your eyes.
    Fate still owes me a dance.

Aura Martin is a writer from Missouri. She is the author of the chapbook, Those Embroidered Suns (Lazy Adventurer Publishing) and the micro-chapbook, Thumbprint Lizards (Maverick Duck Press). Her poems have appeared in Interstellar Literary ReviewOff Menu PressWrongdoing Magazine, and elsewhere. In Aura’s free time, she likes to run and take road trips. Find her on Twitter @instamartin17.

photo by V T, Rinck Content Studio, Joanna Kosinska, and Aron Visuals (via unsplash)

What They Left Behind—Bradley Sides

Ash, not many years away from entering adulthood, continued with his morning ritual as he had since he’d been trusted to feed himself his own breakfast. Shirtless, he sat on the edge of his bed, stretched his arms above his head, and walked down the hallway to where the soft light from beyond the window barely lit the hard backs of the chairs at the kitchen table. He sat alone and reached inside the chipped porcelain bowl to grab an apple that was past ripeness. As he chewed around the browning spots, he dabbed at the edges of his lips with his open hand, trying his best to contain all of the fruit’s juices. Outside, the moon said goodbye to another night.

Ash’s father emerged with daylight and came into the kitchen. He, husky and balding, patted his son’s back. After wrestling matches and baseball games, it was the same—the unspoken language they both knew. 

As the father began to walk away to find his own nourishment, he turned again to his son. 

“What is that?” the father asked, harsher than he intended. His cracked hands pushed, again, harder as they rubbed his son’s back. 

“Haha,” Ash said. “I’m a beast, Dad. I told you that you should train with me.” 

“Yeah, that’s not happening,” the father said. “I’m serious, though. There feels like something’s on your back.”

Ash hugged himself trying to feel. “Are you joking?” he asked.

The father flipped on the light switch and led his son into the hallway to the mirror. “My God,” he said. His eyes bulged as he looked, not directly at Ash, but at the boy’s unusual reflection.

Ash slowly turned his head to see his image. Instantaneously, whatever sleepiness he possessed vanished. He swatted at his own body. Afraid of who—what—he saw. He spun in circles, bending his arms toward his shoulder blades and slapping at what sprouted from him. “Get them off! Get them off!” he cried. 

The father grabbed Ash’s arms and held him still. Ash struggled to catch his breath. But the father wrapped his arms around his son. “It’s okay. It’s okay,” he said. He drew his son into his embrace. Ash’s breathing slowed. 

This was the father’s job—to comfort his son.

“Let me look again,” the father said, his hands delicately inspecting the boy’s skin. Two small, translucent calamuses, sprouting pillowy barbs, dug into Ash’s back. 

“What’s going on?” Ash’s mother asked, appearing from the darkened hallway.

The father looked into his son’s eyes before he spoke. To reassure him. To tell him it would be okay. Then, he grabbed Ash’s thick shoulders, and he turned his son so she could gaze upon her son’s back. 

She didn’t speak. She couldn’t. Her hand clutched her lips so tightly that nothing could escape. 

“It’s wings,” the father said. 

The doctor looked away when Ash unveiled the pair of unusual wings from under his heavy shirt. But the old man recovered quickly, clearing his throat. “It could be a cancer. Or a benign growth,” he said sternly. “Either way, it needs to be removed.”

Ash and his parents agreed.  

The doctor didn’t hesitate when he took a pair of sterilized scissors to the boy’s back. He guided the blade into the boy’s sallow skin and snapped the thin stems of wing—first under one shoulder and, then, the other. The bloodied bundles of budding feathers fell atop the steel operating table and looked as if they were misplaced bouquets of tattered wild orchids. 

The doctor was still in the room, when a nurse called for him again. “They’re returning,” the nurse said. 

“Sew him up as best you can. We’ll wait on the results to know more.” 

The nurse did as he was told.

The father and the mother didn’t cry when the doctor told them the news. They wanted to see Ash.

The doctor led them to his hospital room. “Stay the night if you’d like,” he said in a tired voice.

When they opened the door, Ash was asleep, turned on his side. He woke only briefly—to ask how the surgery went, but before they could answer, he was already back asleep.

His sprouting new plumes fluttered in the cramped room’s manufactured breeze. His bandages were under him, broken apart, on the floor. His scars already invisible. 

An apologetic nurse finished tying Ash’s left foot to the edge of the bed. “Just in case,” she murmured. She grabbed a blue blanket from the closet and placed it on his legs. 

The father and mother went to hold their son’s hands. “I wouldn’t,” the nurse said. “He could be contagious.” 

She met their desperate hands with two bags. “His feathers,” she said. “They’ve been decontaminated.” 

At the father’s first attempt to doze, a pair of frantic voices in the hallway caught his attention. “What did they say?” he asked the mother. 

She didn’t answer him. Instead, she reached for the television remote. “I’m turning it up,” she said. 

There were more winged children. Boys and girls. Different ages. From countries all over. Canada. Tanzania. Spain. Bolivia. Thailand. Reports updated at the top of each hour. Dozens. Hundreds. Thousands. 

The father and the mother wept.

As the sun rose, Ash flew wildly in his room. His wings strengthening and growing at what seemed like each minute. The nurse who’d tied him down videoed him when he took flight. “It’s for the doctor,” she promised. 

“Try to calm down, son,” the father said, reaching for Ash. “Come on. Try.”    

Ash was still enough to hover above them—the father and the mother—these two souls whom he loved and loved him in return. 

His mouth opened. And closed.

Then, he tried again, but it was no use. 

His feathers fell on them, and it was as if they understood what he couldn’t find the ability to say. 

Before noon, broken farmers seeking the only thing they were capable of loving voiced quick solutions. They offered their empty barns and barren fields. Their containers full of nothingness could be made alive again. “It’s only temporary,” they insisted. “Until the kids are back to normal.” 

They could keep the winged children safe. They could care for them. They could watch over them. Their words, though, broadcasted on screens and speakers throughout the world were static variations of blind assurance. 

Of course, the powers agreed.

The farms were established before the weekend, with newly-ordained “keepers” at the helm. Cleaned troughs and assembled cages shined as the keepers awaited the children.

“We’ll keep him indoors,” the mother insisted to the nurses—and, then, to the doctors. “He won’t burden anyone. He’s our son. It’s our right,” she explained, her voice growing louder with each declaration. 

“He will not be going home. Your son isn’t your son right now,” the doctor said. 

“But he is. He has always been our son,” the father interjected.

“You’ve lost him,” the doctor said. Realizing his pitilessness, he corrected himself. “For now,” he added. 

The keepers went to retrieve Ash first. Boy 1 the paper said. The father and the mother stood at the entrance of Ash’s hospital room door and blocked the six protected men. A cameraman followed behind the keepers. “They are just trying to help,” he said. 

“Yes. Themselves,” the father replied. He stretched his arms from one wall to the other, his legs stout and firm. The mother did the same behind the father. 

But they were only stones to be stepped on by the new kings. 

The keepers did not speak. Not to the father. Not to the mother. And, when they reached him, not to Ash. 

The boy, flying, arched his body toward the men, his wings powerfully rocking the flimsy walls of the room and beating against the window. He looked majestic with his rolling golden wings, which were already larger than the bed below the boy’s body.

His mouth opened. He tried to call. To scream. To cry. Finally, his voice broke through. But it was a new sound—a shriek of otherness that pierced through the entire ward of the hospital that shattered the glass and buckled the tiles beneath him. 

As the keepers crouched, the father and the mother raced frantically to their son to clutch him. “Ash!” the mother called. “My boy!” the father followed. But they knew of nothing to tell the boy because they knew of no comfort they could utter. They sought to touch him—to calm his heart, but the gloved, cold hands of the keepers stole their embrace.  

The keepers unfolded the black tarp tucked under the largest man’s arms, and they stretched it across Ash’s outspread, beautiful body. His wings fought the heavy sheet, but the men swarmed him. 

He, this spectacular winged boy, fell to the ground and succumbed to their power. His feet twitched in submission.

The keepers injected him with a sedative and dragged him down the hallway. His feathers dislodged from his back and littered the floor. “We’ll follow the road to our boy,” the father said. The mother already was, picking up each feather as she went all the way to the fuming truck and its dirty trailer where the cameraman ended his recording.  

Two of the men stayed behind and strutted to the desk to sign the papers. Then, they went to the nearby rooms and grabbed the other recently-admitted winged children. 

The keepers took them all way. 

They were the ones, too, who received the praise when, on that initial transport day, only three winged children dissolved into the sun.  

At the local farm, after he awoke, Ash cradled himself in the back of his dark cage. Morning and night became the same. He didn’t want to see the others because he didn’t want to see himself. 

The father and the mother bagged Ash’s feathers and took them home. They made no distinction in the clean feathers the hospital staff had already given them from the unwashed. They were all priceless relics of the boy who held their joy.  

For the keepers, the feathers were a nuisance. Replenishing. Scattering. There was no easy way to contain them. 

In the hospitals, they were decontaminated and bagged. Eventually, they were sent away as keepsakes of the past. 

But on the farms, it wasn’t as easy. The keepers bagged and tied. Bagged and tied. Bagged and tied. Reminders of the present—and indicators of the unknown future. Incinerators arrived, but those contrived fires were only temporary relief. There were always more feathers in the waiting no matter how much the keepers swept, gathered, and burned. 

After the initial week of isolation, the keepers agreed on evening visiting hours. The only time Ash truly came alive was when the father and the mother came to see him, which was every time they were allowed. 

During these hours, the keepers unlocked the shiny doors and ushered the physically unchanged inside. “Welcome,” they sang. “Enjoy visiting your children.”

The father and the mother walked among many other families who came with the same purpose. 

Although the keepers prescribed specific clothing, few obeyed.  

The gray interior sparkled underneath the layers of bleach that permeated the air. Feathers and hay littered the walkway to each cage, which were placed side-by-side along the walls and in the center to form rows. 

The farm that held Ash held thousands of winged children split among seven barns. “We clean at the top of every hour,” one keeper explained, as he walked the facility in his protective attire. “It’s an ongoing task.” He laughed to himself.  

Ash’s wings flapped furiously against the dense metallic walls that enclosed him each time he saw his parents. He flew to them and rubbed against the bars, their hands petting his ever-growing back of wings. 

The father and the mother cried when they saw the linked chain that wrapped around his foot. 

“You are so beautiful,” the mother said.   

They slipped him apples. He squawked as he tore the flesh from the red fruit and tossed pieces into his mouth. 

He put his back to them and flapped furiously again and again throughout the visit, creating a storm of feathers that encircled them. 

They picked up each loose fragment of their son, and Ash cawed when they did. 

His voice grew louder when they dropped each feather into the bags they’d brought from home. 

“If we can’t take you, we take what you give us,” the father said. 

After the visitors left, the keepers wheeled the cages into the field, where they allowed the children recess. When the keepers loosened the locks, stretched chains polluted the play yard’s packed sky. A pile of cinder blocks polluted the corner of the open space. “Just in case,” one of the keepers warned the children.  

As their wings buzzed in the warm air, their voices cried loudly—creating words that only they could ever know. 

Their bodies flew to the peaks of the adolescent pines, and, then, toward the light of the moon. The metal clinked and broke their ascension. Their bodies collapsed to the ground, with their wings still beating. Defeated, but not permanently. 

When they gathered their strength, they lifted off the ground again, repeating until morning. Stronger by the hour.

Wars ended. New ones began. There was always something new to make a headline. The plight of the winged children lost its sensation. 

The father and the mother continued to visit. Some of the other most devoted did, too. But many who promised love and compassion gave up on their unusual children. 

The children, even those without visitors, continued to offer their feathers to anyone who would take them. 

It was no surprise when the father and the mother came to visit Ash with their own set of sewn wings, which they draped over their backs. “We got tired of you being the only special one,” the mother whispered. 

The other visiting families saw the parents’ display of affection and mimicked their winged creation. 

After a full week of no new diagnoses, the winged children rose with the sun and announced their departure with a synchronized piercing cry. From the keepers employed at the farms to the doctors wondering if their unusual surgeries were over, humans everywhere turned toward the sound.

The cages were broken. The barns were dented. The children were in the sky. Higher and higher. Some still had chains dangling from their legs. With others, it was impossible to tell if they still carried that part of the human world or not because the feathers clouded the sky and fell like rain.

So many of the humans hid under buildings to keep out of the way.

Others merely said, “Good riddance.”

Ash, leading the winged into the sky, looked below one last time. He was curious about what they, these uncompassionate humans, had become. But, then, he focused on love. It still existed. He knew so because he heard two familiar voices calling just behind him. “Ash, our joy. Our beloved boy.” 

Bradley Sides’ writing appears at BULL, Ghost Parachute, Occulum, Rose Red Review, and Syntax & Salt. He is an MFA candidate at Queens University of Charlotte and lives in Florence, Alabama, with his wife. His debut collection of stories, Those Fantastic Lives, is forthcoming from City of Light Publishing. For more, visit bradley-sides.com.

photo by Landon Parenteau (via unsplash)

“What They Left Behind” will be appearing in Bradley Sides’ debut short story collection, Those Fantastic Lives.

Coming October 2021 from City of Light Publishing.

Pre-order here from Bradley’s local bookstore!

Two Poems—Avra Margariti

You Wicked, Wicker Man

The queen awakes in pre-dawn’s syrup darkness,
breaks her fast with milk and honey,
dons her beekeeper regalia and makes for the apiary.
Born of necessity, she hides her body from human eyes
under linen tunics and wicker masks
yet she bears no shame, hates no hallowed horror,
no stinger, antenna, or proboscis.
She fondly recalls her rending metamorphosis:
how her wings tore through her shoulders
blade-like, lepidopterous,
how her fuzzy body shed its human skin,
an exuvia of rice paper.
Now she cares for her bees and awaits for the hatchlings
in hexagon honeycomb sweetness, her hive children
who will join her in humanoid form
to repopulate the ravaged village,
which she will rule with golden crown and scepter.

Down in the lavender field, in a pine forest
of his own making, the wicker man
rips out his straw and wood-wool stuffing:
she loves me, she loves me not.
Although the wicker man wears a thorn crown
fashioned by the local boys, he is no king or prophet,
no drone fit for a queen of her buzzing magnitude.
But, by the mold of his straw head, the holes in his plaid shirt—
he wants to be.
At nights he dreams her cloying honey
smothers his mildew stench.
He sings, of wind and moonlight, bleached, weatherworn
and so filled with love he could fly
with the crows nesting inside him.

The queen watches her scarecrow from a distance,
through compound eyes.
She smiles, licking royal jelly from her lips,
dreaming of straw against her ocher fuzz,
of the wildflowers growing over his heart.
Soon, my king, she thinks. Soon, my wicked, wicker man.

The Dawn, the Dusk

He brings me tasty morsels in his beak
in the same fashion that I carry the dawn
and he, the dusk
every day without fail across the firmament.
I open wide and let him feed me,
curious about his sundry offerings.
Down my throat they go:
honeyed dormice and human silver tongues,
black holes containing multitudes and singularities,
nebulae full of infant stars,
and something else, something I cannot place.

I hack up a pellet
of bones and antimatter, indigestible.
And something else, something that my talon picks apart
my breath wheezing as I watch it unfurl:
one of his own tail feathers
dipped into the sky-inkwell of our spirit realm;
a sign of devotion for all our days.

Yes? he asks, perching on my willow bough.

Yes. Until we are sucked back into the cosmos
from whence we came.
Until dawn and dusk become obsolete,
and our sky’s ink runs dry.

Avra Margariti is a queer author and Pushcart-nominated poet with a fondness for the dark and the darling. Avra’s work haunts publications such as Vastarien, Asimov’s, Liminality, Arsenika, The Future Fire, Love Letters to Poe, Space and Time, Eye to the Telescope, and Glittership. Avra lives and studies in Athens, Greece. You can find Avra on twitter (@avramargariti).

photo by Irina Krutova and Rafal Bartoszczyk (via unsplash)