A Boy Called Strawberry—Emilia Joan Hamra

Teeming with tender electricity, his scalp became a playground for her bitten nails. That’s when he told her about the ceremony. He’d learned it from a bearded man with a gospel name, who’d learned it from a boy called Strawberry. 

The first step was confession—not of sin but of the weight of sin. The weight of dream. We’re all afraid of the tongue we dream in. But that tongue is our only tool. So they’d start out by talking, talking truth. Language to ruin language. Then he’d have something to show her. Something that would change everything. Something to spread like petals of stolen white roses, something to spread like rebellion. Something to suck clean the cowboy horizon, to burn up our tyrants with alien bullets of starlight. Something unveiled and apocalyptically pretty. 

The ceremony. She wished he would explain it more. But how can you explain an abyss without color regulation? How can you explain the dream at the base of your spine?

Emilia Joan Hamra lives and teaches in Philadelphia. She studied Creative Writing at Arizona State University, has worked as a copy-editor for Four Way Books, and was the recipient of the national Norman Mailer College Poetry Award. Her work is published in Occulum, giallo lit, Recenter Press, Santa Ana River Review, the tiny, and others.

photo by Vincent Ledvina (via unsplash)

One For Sorrow, But Sorrow Sleeps—Hadassah Shiradski

The magpie wouldn’t go away, no matter how many times Baudelaire glared at it, or asked nicely. Baudelaire could only assume that it had found its way in by using the oak opposite her – the tree that had been old when Baudelaire had arrived was still living. Its branches arched over the entire forgotten courtyard and annually coated all in a shower: first of acorns, then fallen leaves. The snow would always follow, blanketing the paving stones, Baudelaire and bench in a stifling smother. 

Baudelaire saw them sometimes, the mice and corvids alike, and preferred both over the magpie that had shown up in an ungainly flutter and refused to leave. Instead of being sensible, like a raven or crow, it just hopped closer and closer on the bench, trying to provoke a reaction.

Go on, I dare you. I dare you, little girl.

It wanted the coins in the bowl that it – or was it she – kept at her feet. That much was obvious; magpies were thieves, and her skin had long since tarnished to the point of no longer being attractive to pesky birds. A relief; it had taken ages to remove droppings from her head, shoulders, and arms. The only shiny things were the thirteen coins, glinting in the snow that had collected in her bowl. The coins had been a present from her last visitor; she wanted to treasure them for their full value. That magpie was getting none of them, no matter what it thought. 

There hadn’t been many visitors lately; a shame, but not unexpected. In winter, her garden was too cold, too unwelcoming. Not many people knew of this place, and even fewer found the wherewithal to attempt entry through the twisted iron gate at the far end. She treasured every gift.

Baudelaire knew that one magpie meant incoming sorrow, but she didn’t want it to be hers. 

One for sorrow, two for mirth, three for – 

She didn’t know what three stood for; the inscription had become unreadable, and lowering her head to decipher the rest of it would take effort that she wanted to save, not to mention distract her from the one magpie that was sneaking closer and closer and closer. Clawed talons left twiggy imprints in the snow; in her peripheral vision, she saw the mist of displaced snowflakes drifting down between the bench slats.

You can’t prevent me from taking those coins. The snow’s slowed you, but I’m just fine. You couldn’t catch me if you tried. I dare you.

It was partially right, but she’d never admit that the arrival of winter had been to her detriment. The snow that had settled over her form would have been comforting in its softness, but this blanket sapped her latent strength and replaced it with an insidious lethargy that wound deep in her statuary, forcing her into slow slumber.

That blasted bird hopped yet closer and closer, cocking its head insolently, and jumped, flapping its sleek wings and swirling up a flurry of settled snow until it was perched on her frozen arm.

Not gonna stop me? Oh wait, you can’t. Or rather, you don’t dare.

With that, it slipped down to the book in her lap and strolled across the pages to squat on the far edge, ignoring the scratch of talons on sculpted brass. It waited there for a moment and Baudelaire fought to act now, through the seeping stillness, but –

Too slow! Ha, too slow!

It teetered and fell from the open book just in time, spiralling down like a sycamore leaf. She felt feathers brush against her shins and heard the infuriating scrape of claws against metal, the thump of snow falling onto more snow. It had reached the bowl, then.

A fresh bout of snow began to drift down from the grey skies above; adding another layer of down to her blanket, dusting the exposed rim of a newer coin with frosted, frozen white.

The bowl at her feet was half-hidden by the furthermost edge of her open tome, but she could still see some of what laid there.

The black beak poked and prodded at the gifts, impudently tossing the snow into puffs of frozen cloud. Two oak leaves, brown and long-dead, cracked and split under the talons, the fragments scattered, the mouse skeleton underneath gaining a new comforter of snowflakes. A warning and an offering wrapped up in one tiny, curled frame, ignored in favour of the closest coin. 

An irritated chik-chik, a frustrated ruffle-snap of wings, and the magpie shuffled a bit to try again, yanking fruitlessly on the coin that had adhered to the brass when the ice had come. That beak was sharp enough to chip away the ice, but to Baudelaire’s delight, it instead leaped up her lap to screech in her face and stamp its stupid feet, opting to harangue and berate instead of persist with stealing the coin.

Unfair, girl! A dare’s a dare and you weren’t playing properly. Cheat –

The brass book slammed shut with a screech of metal. Cut off in the middle of a self-righteous, scurrilous stretch, a black-and-white flight feather drifted down from the dust of the magpie’s wing-tip to join the carcass and the coins.

Baudelaire did dare, magpie. She’d been trying to call your bluff the entire time you taunted her – you’d been too slow to spot her sanguinity.

Too slow. She creaked her book open again. The only sign of the magpie was a mound of crushed bone, quickly freezing in the spine of the book, and a third tally mark near where her right-hand thumb rested on the page.

One for sorrow, two for mirth, and the third made… 

Well, the snow was falling thicker now. She had no hope of reading the rest, even if she hadn’t just spent her reserves on that magpie. Maybe another visitor would come along soon, and read the rest of the poem to her.

She was so very tired.

Hadassah Shiradski (she/her) is a bisexual horror writer from Hertfordshire, UK, who graduated in 2020 with a BA (Hons) in Creative Writing and Philosophy. She has a love of gothic fantasy, quiet horror, and folklore, and tends to fixate on horror puzzle games. Her ramblings can be found on her twitter, @DassaWrites.

photo by Natasha Miller (via unsplash)

a place—Vic Nogay

a place by the canal sells frozen custard.
you sit in an old canoe,
washed ashore decades before,
and lick your drips
while cicadas sing
and fireflies hang in the humidity—
a summer snow globe.

you’ve heard the stories of the kids who’ve fallen in,
and you’re careful not to be reckless,
but some days you inch down
the concrete wall to find them.
you shed your shoes and rest
just the soles of your bare feet
on the surface of the water,
and call,
like magnets,
the pieces of their bodies logged in water’s memory
to you.

when someone asks you cheekily: do you believe in ghosts?
you flinch because you do.

Vic Nogay is a proud Ohioan, writing to explore her traumas and misremembrances. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Lost Balloon, Emerge Literary Journal, perhappened, Versification, Ellipsis Zine, and others. She tweets @vicnogay. Read more: linktr.ee/vicnogay.

photo by Chris de Tempe (via unsplash)

Secrets of the Mole People—Jennifer Crow

Never look directly at above-ground folk—
they carry light with them, light that burns
the eye and sears the soul. Never wander
too close to their deep, clattering machines
and their shouting mystics. They dangle
little boxes of magic as bait, and drag our kin
screaming into the aching glow of day.

Beware the rat swarms, hungry and sharp-edged
as a knife stolen from an unwatched bag.
they teach us the dangers of a unified will
unfettered by heart-debt, a lesson learned
in bloodied tooth and whipping tail. Respect
the rat, carrier of disease and wisdom,
as you respect the ancients of our own people.
watch how they move, patterns of fear
and reckless need, and make their dance your own.

Follow scent where no light reaches, dark passages
carved out of the world’s bones, redolent
of sewage and old cooking oil, bodies living
and dead, fungi and crumbling basements.
Scurry into the deepest shadows, listen for whispers
falling through storm drain and grating
like the chant of a wizard calling down dark fire
on the homes of the unwary. 

Our shamans and wise women, dressed in soft
layers, wizened and unwelcoming, eye each child
in turn and tell them some unwanted truth. 
The sun seeks to burn us—best to prepare early, harden
skin and soul, contemplate all threats bright
and beautiful, ruby gems falling from the wound
in the earth where we have hidden ourselves.

Shy and nocturnal, Jennifer Crow has rarely been photographed in the wild. It’s rumored that she lives near a waterfall in western New York. You can find her poetry on several websites and in various print magazines including Asimov’s Science Fiction, Uncanny Magazine, Liminality and Kaleidotrope. She’s always happy to connect with readers on her Facebook author page or on twitter (@writerjencrow).

photo by Clarence Ominus (via unsplash)

The Crows Remember—JY Saville

Once upon a time a man had three daughters. No wife, not any more – he’d plucked her from the village like a delicate flower, and hill-farming’s a hard life – but she’d left him three bundles of laughter who chased crows from the farmyard and sheep across the fells. Eventually the two older girls began to chase shepherds instead, and first the eldest and then the middle daughter were carried off. One went far away, the other stayed close by on a farm where no love grew, and was worked into an early grave before two winters were up.

“I can’t lose you, my poppet,” the father said to his youngest daughter, the one who looked so like her mother it made his heart swell and then shatter ten times a day.

“I’m not going anywhere, Dad,” she said, and he knew she meant it.

He also knew about temptation, and he saw the looks his daughter got from the lads in the market.

“I don’t think you should leave the farm any more, poppet,” he said.

“Alright, Dad,” she said, because she knew the depth of his grief.

So she stayed on the fell. She missed the laughter of the girls down in the village, but she would never hurt her father by saying so.

One day in the yard her hair cascaded over her face as she bent forward.

“I wish I had a new ribbon,” she said, though only the wind and the crows were there to hear. Her father didn’t have time to buy ribbons, so she didn’t ask.

Next morning as she swept she saw something flutter past the open doorway, and when she went to look there was a velvet ribbon the colour of fresh blood lying on the flags. She stepped out and looked around but there was only a crow watching her, head cocked. 

“If that was your doing,” she said to it, “I thank you.” And she picked up the ribbon and plaited her hair.

“I don’t think anyone should visit any more, poppet,” said her father, who had noticed the ribbon.

“Alright, Dad,” she said, because she knew how much he loved her.

So he locked the gates, and the girl stayed within the farmyard all summer. 

“I wish I could see the meadow,” she said, though only the wind and the crows could hear.

That afternoon it rained flowers. Crows dropped cottongrass, buttercups and campion, and the girl gathered the long stems into a jug.

“I don’t think you should go outside any more, poppet,” said her father, who had noticed the flowers.

“Alright, Dad,” she said, because she knew his heart was breaking.

So he shut her in with a heavy key and left it in the lock.

“I wish I could feel rain on my face,” she said to the crow at the open window. It flew to the door but couldn’t turn the key. The girl smiled her thanks but there was sadness in her eyes.

Later, the key turned.

“Dad?” she said, but when she opened the door there was a stick wedged in the iron loops of the key. A crow fluttered back as she stepped outside and lifted her face to the sky.

“I don’t think we can go on any more, poppet,” said her father, who had noticed the mud on her feet. The crows swooped as he raised his shotgun, but they couldn’t get in.

The girl’s bones were hidden long ago beneath ground that keeps its secrets, but the crows remember her still, carrying ribbons and wildflowers over the crumbling walls.

originally published as part of the 52 Crows project by illustrator, Bonnie Helen Hawkins (2018)

JY Saville lives and writes in northern England, and made it onto the first stage of the Penguin Random House WriteNow scheme for writers from under-represented backgrounds in 2017. Her short fiction has been published in more than forty places including Confingo, Ellipsis Zine and Untitled: Voices.

photo by Casey Horner (via unsplash)

Buttons and Silk—Claudia Lundahl

The mouse is in the parlour sifting through a pile of vertebra, plucking out gold buttons and pieces of silk. As he finds them he ties the silk in knots, threads the buttons through and counts to one hundred with his eyes closed. A child looks through a window dreaming of the color red as the snow falls in glistening glass-like fragments blowing chaotically in the wind. They press their ear to the wall and listen to the gentle cooing of the pigeon in the rafters with wings as black as soot and plucked thin who sits in a throne made out of molars and bits of twine. He sings a lullaby and is completely indifferent to the drip, drip, drip of melting wax from diminishing beeswax candles in brass holders. A sound that mimics the tears of the child – a lonely room waits patiently for supper. 

Claudia Lundahl is a writer from New York. She is a graduate of the City University of New York at Hunter College. She now lives in England with her husband and two rescued hounds. Find her online at www.claudianlundahl.com or on twitter @claudrosewrites.

photo by Ralph (via pixabay) and Merve Sehirli Nasir (via unsplash)

These winter woods—Megan Finkel

After Alexander Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin

Dust leeched over her damp eyes, she goes into her deep sleep

Once upon a time
a girl was running
sick with lovesickness
lamenting the life 
that evaded her at every
grasp and clutch
She ran from the animal
drifted through the misty
haze of these winter woods
alone… 

We do not part ways at the stream
There we wish to capture love’s 
Returning guile: Tatyana’s dream
It is true that Svetlana suffered first
though I am beckoned to join Tatyana
at the border of her sleep
A horn grows through
the center of my head and I wonder
if this is the paradise beyond death
where you tempted me long ago
I’ve taken my potions and 
raked my body of its charm 
shaken free leaves…

Here in the forest, far from home
she remembers she has no home
She fears the outstretched talons coming up on her
The bear that breaths down her shoulders
pounds the ground in her tracks
A woman is a woman is a woman:
she runs simply because she must

Her fears are perched in the long bodies of trees.
Her feet do not touch the ground.
Snow falls to meet the shape of her shadow.
She floats into a fire she knows not of.

Daughter to no one, stranger to all
she treads where there is no path
and lets the tears fall freely 
For these are such emotions
as full-time dreamers are made on

She enters into a hall where a
feast is at hand, the sound of
restlessness traversing her ears
Tatyana’s eyes awaken to
the room’s monsters
She wonders if she is meant to die in order preserve this dream…
She finds she has stumbled upon this
awesome otherworld where
animals fuse into beasts over dinner and champagne
A ring of mutilated breeds, dogs and skeletons
and among them her extravagant lover
The master of this unlikely crowd
The master of every wish and will

If I could kill him myself, I would

The shiver that runs through Tanya runs through me too…
There is no stumbling back into the
light to arrive calmly at the shore of ‘home’
or plucking flowers from the earth to carry with you
on the return journey
There is only the pain of being severed from this world
and plunged into the next by a wound
left by the one you love most
Tatyana, I hold her like a crystal up to one eye
and try to see what it is she sees…
If only for an instant, we embrace in bardo
Neither wake nor sleep on our flesh, 
her body and my body are no different
We breathe a single unified breath before daylight shoots us dead

Megan Finkel (she/her) is a queer writer and a student of Comparative Literature at NYU. She is published in Anti-Heroin ChicCP QuarterlyDaily Drunk Magazine, and more. You can find her on Twitter @megfinkel.

photo by Simon Berger (via unsplash)

How to Sort Through a Laundry Basket Holding Ten Years Worth of Single Socks—Jerica Taylor

First, do not get your hopes up. While statistically there are likely to be accumulated matches, lost socks have long defied established data.

Next, do not dump the whole pile out onto the floor. You will be flooded with the despair stored in the toes of every singleton, constricted in the rectangular prism of a holding basket. Start laying a few out at a time, like dealing a deck of cards.

In fact, consider acquiring a deck of tarot cards. Deal them and match the cards thematically with sock patterns. You will feel better as these purposeless items have found function in the newly invented approach to vestimentomancy.

If you have allergies, you may regret direct action. Dump the basket directly into the washer and call it a full load, but life is busy, and you risk returning the socks to the same basket unsorted and dooming them to continued dormancy.

Look deeply into the fact that you have waited ten years to deal with this problem. Consider the number of baskets of laundry you have balanced on top of this basket, compressing dust and socks and a singular handkerchief into metamorphic rock. 

You will eventually reach the bottom. Your problems transmute at the full exposure of that scuffed expanse of white. You must face that there are no more socks. Those unmatched remain unmatched. 

They must be discarded.

If you are the sort of person who associates memories with details as delicate as the fit of socks over the ankle of a loved one, you may frame one single sock in a shadow box. Prepare yourself for questions about it from guests. 

You will try to keep them for crafts, a patchwork quilt though you never made it past batting. Stuffies with buttons for eyes though you balk at the repetition of hand-sewing. Some unknown future possibility. All eventualities lead you to another container full of socks that you will have to sort through ten years from now.

If it’s too much, turn your face away. Decide to embrace the eccentricity of mismatch. Stripe with stripe, color compliments or color opposites. Close enough shades of black.

Once your task is complete, fill the laundry basket with something else immediately. Such an object will inevitably have taken on any latent accessory-related magic and in the vacuum may begin to attract single socks from neighbors. Now might be a good time to wash your curtains, or clean out the dry goods at the very back of your cabinets.

Prepare yourself for the reality that sock matches to the abandoned singles you have rid yourself of may appear. You could not have known or anticipated this outcome. Some may have been under a curse to only reveal themselves once they were sufficient distance from their mate. They do not want your pity. Banish them from your sight.

Face the loneliness. They were once together, worn together, folded together. They are no longer what they were. 

Neither are you.

Jerica Taylor is a non-binary neurodivergent queer cook, birder, and chicken herder. Their work has appeared in Schuylkill Valley Journal, Postscript, Stone of Madness, and perhappened. She lives with her wife and young daughter in Western Massachusetts. Twitter: @jericatruly 

photo by Nick Page (via unsplash)

Two Poems—Annmarie McQueen

Lucid dreams

You grow wings in the dark 
lurk in the spaces between my eyelids 
and the thick summer heat, the most 

undead ghost I can conjure
and somehow you still walk away
five steps ahead, retreating like a tide.

In the morning, I roll back my blinds 
hear the clatter of wooden bones, a spine
unfurling like a flower. The sun is 

relentless. I can only think in fractures: 
violent skies cracking apart, a sea splitting
between us. You, blinking awake in a bed

that was once mine, the imprints I left
getting fainter each day. I’m certain that
if you look, you’ll find tiny shards of 

porcelain in the kitchen corners from the 
plates I dropped. I remember how they
exploded like suns, how they sounded

as momentum ripped them apart.

I have not forgotten

The forest held my secrets better than I could. 
Each week I came and tried to solve the 
labyrinth of trees like a crossword, followed a trail of 
breadcrumbs back to myself until I grew
hungry and desperate.

I saw a water snake in the river once, lime green
and Poseidon blue. I wanted to reach in and grab its throat,
milk out the venom in its fangs and see if I, too, could 
be a source of fear. But the currents swept him away and 
left me stranded with those stoic willows, half mad, 
their roots a tangled drama of love and jealousy. 

I envied those silent witnesses, keepers of confessions. 
For centuries they have cycled through their green/gold 
armour and observed fragile lives splitting, 
coming together, burning quick like firewood.

Now, whenever I return, I feel those histories pulsing 
through their rough bark, hot like blood. I feel my own grief, 
slow and stale after so many years, echoing back at me
like an ocean trapped inside a seashell.

Annmarie McQueen is a London-based writer, marketer and candle-maker with a BA degree in creative writing from Warwick University. She’s been published in numerous magazines and anthologies including Dear Damsels, Buried Letter Press and The Little Book of Fairytales released by Dancing Bear Books. You can find her full portfolio on her creative writing blog www.loreandink.com 

photo by Tengyart, Diego PH and Tom Barrett (via unsplash)

A Trick of the Light—Chiara Situmorang

(best viewed on desktop or tablet, for best view on mobile please click here)

After Plath

You were the first
person she met from Beyond.
It was quiet, her feet scuffing
the floor as she climbed up into the
dustlight. There was nothing but yellow
everywhere she looked. She heard the glint of silver
as she was trying to see past the haze; a whisper reached her
from behind the cloth – brittled with age – that wrapped around you.

She said you faded in and out of focus when she first saw you,
like a mirage, or a dream. You were young – you are young:
skin like sheets of water, eyes rippling.
You were her mirror image then.
She was fascinated, she said.
You are truthful but she sees only lies.
She spent hours with you. You were a reverie
that she wished to understand. She didn’t notice that
the room had turned brown; light barely skittered across the floor anymore.

When you look at something for too long you don’t realise that they’ve
changed. When she looked at you she only saw a reflection – her
desire was so strong that she never saw the waves in the glass.
You were replaced by an old woman: skin like dried petals,
eyes sorrowful puddles. She jumped when the woman
appeared, like she had suddenly woken up from a
dream. She asked where you were but there was
no answer.

It’s dark now, too dark, to see
the all-knowing eye that looks back at her,
but she stays up there even now, looking for you.
She is saturated with time, poor girl, and she doesn’t even know
that there is only one of you; that there has only ever been one of you.

first published in Perspektif, Volume 11

Chiara Situmorang writes about identity, family, and love in all its forms in her writing. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Uncanny, Perspektif, and Dwelling Literary, among others. She lives in Jakarta with her family and her three little poodles. Say hello to her on Twitter @chiarastmrng

photo by Soragrit Wongsa (via unsplash)