Between the trees—Becki Hawkes

After they were finished 
they left me in the woods 

and there are only trees now: 
white birches owl brown grooves between 

each pathway out 
a passage further in 

some days 
I am so hungry I eat the scared things the velvet
skin the inquisitive mammalian skulls 

their outraged little hearts flicker 
against the roof of my mouth 
pulse in my gullet sleep in my acid 

floppy crops of mushrooms 
tug in all my torn holes bleed
weakly when I pluck them out 

and I am a hut 
on tensed yellow chicken feet 
an oven that yawns with bones 

other days 
I turn cunning snout out 
the cool forest berries 

splatter my rose and nipples 
with their juice 

let my lips grow fat 
inviting 

them all back in: the lost prince 
the huntsman the handsome wolf 

most don’t make it 
and those that do 
say that they were lucky 

but there is no luck 
there is only me now 

scabbed and crowned in lichen 

only I decide

Becki Hawkes is a writer, communications worker and former arts journalist from London. She has had poems published in magazines including Ink Sweat and Tears and Trouvaille Review, and short plays performed in various small theatre locations.

photo by Elisa (via unsplash)

Planet of the Monster Girls—Jessie Lynn McMains

Come come, out into the streets with us. Us, monster girls. Come run through the streets of the Planet of the Monster Girls. The Planet of the Monster Girls is a planet within a planet. It’s a planet you can only find when it’s autumn on earth. It’s always autumn on the Planet of the Monster Girls. Always the season of hooded sweatshirts and Halloween costumes, hot cider and dead leaves crunching beneath monster girl feet. Always autumn and always nightfall, always the hour when the streetlights come on, when the shadows lengthen and girls lurk, monstrous in the shadows, waiting for their next victim. We monster girls know secrets. We know the secret of how all girls are victims. We know the secret of how all girls are monsters. We take turns playing monster, playing victim. One of us wears a black cape and the rest are her pale, trembling virgins. One of us menaces the night with gloved hands and a knife, the rest of us give her our most bloodcurdling shrieks. Come. Learn our secrets of menace, of night. Learn our secrets of fangs, blood, fur. Secrets of tombs, of swoon. Come howl at our five moons. The Planet of the Monster Girls has five moons: Lorre, Lugosi, Chaney, Karloff, Price. They are named for our favorite monster-men. We bathe in their cold old-film light, draw power from them. We love them so not because they are men but because they are monsters, and only they can understand how monstrous we are. When we fall asleep at dawn we dream of them. Of our Doctor Gogol and the fiendish need in his bulging eyes, we dream he loves us mad enough to kill us, dream of his hands around our throats. Of our Count Dracula and his black cloak, his leather-winged alter ego, we dream we are the ones he vants. We dream he flies into our bedrooms and mesmerizes us with his eyes until we gladly offer up our pale throats to his undead bite. We dream of our Wolfman, his taste for flesh and how his desires are so strong they transform him into pure desire, all animal, all monster. We dream of our Creature, of his hulking frame, the way he grunts instead of speaks. We dream we were made for him, his firm-boned brides, how his touch could electrify us alive, Alive! We dream of our Professor Jarrod and the silken somnolence of his voice, how we would love for him to turn us wax, keep us forever in his house of horrors. Come, b-movie lovers and midnight monsters. Come visit the Planet of the Monster Girls. See our five moons pinned against the night sky by the church spires and weathervanes that loom high above the streets we roam, the streets as wide as a studio backlot. See the stars, their celluloid flicker. See us roaming the streets, trick or treat, breathing hard beneath our rubber masks. Us: mummy, werewolf, madgirl, creature. Dance with us in the falling leaves, a red-gold-orange-brown orgy of decay. Come. It is autumn. The wind sinks its fangs into the veins on our necks. Smells of candy corn and candle wax, the rotted guts of pumpkins. We are waiting in the shadows for your arrival. Only a girl who is full of screams and casts her spells by night can find the Planet of the Monster Girls. Come, find the Planet of the Monster Girls. The wolf bane is blooming and the autumn moons are bright.

Jessie Lynn McMains (they/them or she/her) is a writer, publisher, and zine-maker. They run Bone & Ink Press and were the 2016/17 Poet Laureate of Racine, WI. Find them at recklesschants.net, or on TumblrTwitter, and Instagram @rustbeltjessie.

image compiled using photos by Johannes Plenio and Curly Girl (via unsplash), and brushes by Obsidian Dawn

The Guilty Pleasure of Parthenope—Kathy Hoyle

He wakes, pushes himself up to rest on his forearms, his pale shoulders jutting like scallop shells. He blinks against the blur– blue water, to no avail. Everything moves in flux, rippling in slow time. Whispers dance around him, muted echoes ebb and flow. He blinks again, tries to focus, but the world remains a curved and fluted half-dream. 

He stands up, takes slow and buoyant steps toward the cavern where she sleeps. He is curious about her secrets. Standing before the ink-black mouth, he is hesitant. He peers inside then blushes, ashamed that he’s afraid to enter. He wants to call her, but when he tries to remember her name, it slips from his mind like shifting sand. 

‘Parthenope,’ she whispers.

Tiny bubbles of her ripple out from the cavern. He breathes them in. His lungs fill, his veins flood with her memory, sharp and clear. Her touch, insistent, her tongue, salt-tanged and probing, his entire body, powerless, awash with her lust. 

He wants her, wants more.

When she emerges, he steps back, delighted, as she shimmers around him in playful circles. Her flame red hair fans out in delicate wisps, caressing his body. She winds her way up, up, up, to his mouth and fixes him with ocean green eyes. 

‘I’m awake,’ he says, heady with joy. 

‘Not quite,’ she answers, ‘not yet.’

She brushes his lips, replenishing his helpless lungs.

‘It is time,’ she smiles, ‘time to decide.’

He watches as she recedes back into the darkness, leaving only the faintest imprint of her tail in the ochre silt. 

Without her, his lungs begin to tire. His body starts to twitch and buck. His heartbeat quickens and a cold fear clutches him. He pushes himself up, sand grains flying from his feet. He thighs ache with effort as he surges toward the light above. He pierces the surface, heart hammering, and pulls in great lungful’s of glass-sharp air. 

He bobs gently in the water until the panic subsides, then heaves himself up onto the side of the ocean to rest. 

He looks down at his feet, dangling in the water, refracted, ghost-like, as though separated from his body. The scent of death floats on the breeze. A rotting carcass, pungent, ripe fish, the taste of melted plastic, oil, and fish guts fill his mouth. He gags and salt-water spills down over his chin. 

He leans back. Above him, a dappled osprey soars then dives, squabbling with a rival over whitebait. He takes in the great expanse of the turquoise, cloud-flecked sky. The space engulfs him. The huge bleached sun feels hotter than he remembers. It scorches his skin. He longs for the cool, womb of the ocean. 

He hears his mother’s voice and turns to see her standing on the shoreline. She is calling to him through megaphone hands. She carries the remnants of his old life in a lobster basket. Everything he knows seeps through the net. He shivers. 

Far below, Parthenope strums her Lyre with a mollusc pick and begins to sing.

The music rises, drowning out his mother’s cries. Suddenly, it is as though he is newborn. He feels all things stir within him. His mind fills with unwritten poetry, his hands long to sculpt. He hears the sweetest melody. I have been gifted by the most glorious muse, he thinks and his heart soars.

Parthenope smiles. Let him have hope for a moment. This one pleased her, more so than others. She leaves him awhile, pondering the choice he thinks he has, until finally, she tires of waiting and purses her lips. She blows sweet promises through a conch, marvelling, as always, at man’s arrogance. That he thinks he should be worthy of her gifts. 

He feels the crescendo of her notes rise through his body and answers her call. I am yours. I surrender.

Once it is spoken, it cannot be reversed. 

He watches, mesmerised, as his feet web then shimmer in the dappled water. He closes his eyes, takes his last breath and plunges forward into the depths of the ocean. His mother cries out to him from the shore, but her words are lost on the breeze. 

Parthenope emerges from her cavern, glistening with promise. He swims into her arms. 

‘I’m awake!’ he cries.

‘At last,’ she whispers, smiling as delicate bubbles rise from her mouth. 

He waits for her to brush his lips. Instead, she pulls him to her and begins to bind. Around and around, she twists, red tendrils of hair gripping tighter and tighter, fingers of kelp curl and knot around his body, tethering him to her. 

He gasps for air. The gifts she gave him seep from his mouth. She laughs, low and melodious, then swallows them all. He struggles, his eyes large with fear and longing. 

After a time, he succumbs, like the others who came before.

Parthenope smiles. 

Everything begins to move in flux, rippling in slow time. Whispers dance around him, muted echoes ebb and flow. He tries to focus, but the world becomes a curved and fluted half-dream. 

Parthenope hums to him gently, until his eyes grow dull.

Kathy Hoyle loves to write Flash Fiction and Short Stories. Her work has appeared in a variety of literary magazines including Spelk Fiction, Virtualzine, Ellipsizine, Lunate, Cabinet of Heed and Visual Verse. She has been both long and shortlisted in competitions such as The Exeter Short Story Prize, Reflex Fiction, Fish Publishing Short Memoir Prize, Flash 500, The Strands Flash Fiction Competition and Retreat West Novelette-in Flash Competition. Recently took Third Prize in the HISSAC Flash Fiction Competition. She is a 2019 Pushcart Prize nominee. 

Kathy is currently working on her first novel powered by tea and chocolate biscuits. You can find her on twitter @Kathyhoyle1

photo by Tim Marshall (via unsplash)

Two Poems—KC Bailey

Harvesting Seconds

she collects minutes
plucks them
from dawn’s early morning air
              the freshest hours
places them in odd socks
to hang from oak trees
for rooks to pick at
and unravel time

Suggestion

The radio tried to warn me, with songs
that spelled out disaster. Lyrical omens

I kept way back behind thought
of action – cynical superstition,

a frequency unheeded. Consequence
of dismissive coincidences.

Specks of toothpaste on the mirror
making foreign constellations –

they spoke of another place
within this time, dared me

to follow them. I chose the truth
I thought I knew, and stayed behind.

Now ravens that rule
from Pugin’s pinnacle

taunt me – mocking calls
they know all the directions

that don’t lead home, they see
I am misplaced and know

I burned the map.

KC Bailey is a writer/poet from the UK. When not writing, reading or walking her dog, she practices Tai Chi and drinks Earl Grey tea, though hasn’t yet mastered the art of doing both at the same time. Publication credits for poetry, fiction and non-fiction include Black Bough Poetry, Monkey Kettle, The Ekphrastic Review, CaféLit and the BBC. She has recently completed her MA in Creative Writing and can be found on Twitter @KCBailey_Writer.

photo by Mehmet Turgut Kirkgoz (via unsplash)

Three Poems—Amelie Robitaille

Cold Bodies

Carve me into ice, fashion me into a 
glassy sculpture one that lets you see 

just enough of what lingers behind
through me. Lift your chainsaw made to 

sputter my edges into smoother curves
chisel an ever-tapering body to last me 

just beyond the winter. My body will distort
those who hide in the shadow of the frost 

I will cast upon them. Any flaws upon my 
surface are your own. Scratch the tools that 

built me off until your nail becomes the very 
colour of my flesh. My mass is yours to wear

out. Mould yourself to my unbending hips
worship the creator’s masterpiece a legion 

of crystals to outlast the hypothermic hearts.
Deceive yourself into exposing your neck 

warm, throbbing––
I yield only to the sun.

Death’s Price

In bright sunlight Death will tap your 
shoulder if it senses you forgetting that her growing 
up will bring about your growing old.

She’s four there’s pitter-patter on the 
stairs she cracks the door and tumbles in she asks you
how to blow the moon into an air balloon;

if you could moor the stars to make a midnight 
sunroom; will you look below the mattress to make sure 
the mice returned to their own mother;

do you think the shadow’s feeling sad
about her being scared; could she befriend a fallen 
fly and teach it how to dance—

murmurs in the night remind you Death has
wept for worse than swollen hearts and taken more than 
pregnant bellies made of dreams.

There comes a time for Death to 
stare you down despite the night light 
you plugged in for her.

Headed West 

The used-up film rolls on,
a bird’s wings flap migrating up and down,
two-legged creatures long to flutter away too.

They cause a ripple in the clouds with 
a flash of en-lightning they become—
the used-up film rolls on.

Feathered up humans with rough talons 
sit upon thrones throwing shit at rodents:
two-legged creatures long to flutter away too.

Birthed by greedy mouths they want
more easy prey, more skins to lay—
The used-up film rolls on.

Come autumn birds fly off for good,
the man-made human feathers turn to shit.
Two-legged creatures long to flutter away too.

Yet they refuse to pay for the feathers now only 
good for dusting rolls they still refuse to change.
So the used-up film rolls on while the
two-legged creatures long to flutter away too.

Amelie is a writer based in Mississauga, Ontario. She is the Publisher and Creative Director of the Savant-Garde Literary Magazine. She holds a BA in Media Studies from Western University and is currently completing a degree in Creative Writing & Publishing at Sheridan College. Her work has been published by Crêpe & Penn and Headline Poetry & Press. French is her first language and she loves cooking, great puns, and cooking up a great pun.  

photo by Pexels (via pixabay) and Arttu Päivinen (via unsplash)

Ferrari—Helena Baptiste

I stand at the bedroom window, my fingernails digging into the window sill and worry about Gregg’s prized Ferrari because there’s a bull—big and black and threatening like a bull is supposed to look—outside near the detached garage in the too-bright glare of the security lights. Sometimes the bull gallops back and forth across the lawn, tossing its great head, scaring me with its horns, other times it just chews its cud, waiting. I first noticed the bull last night when I couldn’t sleep. Gregg was snoring as he usually does, his exhalations and inhalations Hoovering up the carpet and the roof and the walls. It felt like I was in an earthquake, everything rumbling and the ground undulating beneath me, making me dizzy and lightheaded and shaking me out of bed. I steadied myself against the dresser I hadn’t wanted, the one Gregg insisted we buy because he says his taste is better than mine. That’s when I first saw the bull.

Gregg keeps his cherry-red Ferrari in the detached garage. He only drives it during the summer, so he has limited insurance on it for the rest of the year. I’m not allowed to go into the garage or near it. Gregg says the garage is the inner sanctum, the “holy of holies.” I park my car (a Ford, which Gregg insists stands for Found On Road Dead) on the street as if I’m only here for a short visit.

I watch the bull out the back kitchen window as I make chamomile tea to wash down a couple of melatonin tablets. I mean, it’s not doing anything, really, just being a bull. But still. I wonder if I should tell Gregg. He’ll probably just say that he doesn’t see anything, or if he does see it, he’ll say that it’s my fault, that I’m the one endangering his Ferrari, that there was no bull in his backyard before I came.

The night before I first saw the bull Gregg had told me that I didn’t dress sexy enough, so I think about where I can go to find sexier clothes as I sip my tea. I don’t want to spend too much: Gregg will have something to say about that as well. When I was younger people used to say I dressed too sexy. They were always commenting on the neckline of my shirt, the length of my skirt or how it clung to the contours of my ass. I thought once I said “I do” I wouldn’t have to deal with that bullshit anymore. Marriage would cloak me in the most respectable of garments: virgin white, dove gray, pale pink; refined, reserved, delicate. Something classic. Something worth cherishing. Now it turns out I’m not sexy enough.

I’m wearing the new dress I bought and we are going out to dinner. I like the dress, form-fitting, black and sleek, sleeveless. It does make me feel sexier. I found it at a consignment shop but I don’t tell Gregg that. We pull up to a ridiculously expensive restaurant, one of those lauded places where they pile your food up in the middle of the plate in some sort of design and you’re not really sure what it is or if you want to eat it, but it looks stylish. Gregg likes these kinds of restaurants. I remember how he took me to a ritzy steakhouse when we first started dating and I ordered my steak well done. He said that he’d be taking me to Western Sizzler from then on. I’d laughed.

Gregg parks the Ferrari himself because he never trusts valets and I walk into the restaurant to wait for him. When he returns, later than what it should have taken, he seems flustered and snaps at me for no reason. I want to order the filet—I love filet mignon—but don’t because now that I’m wearing sexier clothes I really should lose ten pounds. Perhaps this was what this was about all along; Gregg wants me to lose ten pounds but didn’t want to come right out and say it. I eat my thin soup, making sure to sit up straight and lift my spoon correctly. I imagine I’m a movie star filming a scene of a woman dining alone.

As we leave the restaurant, a man looks at me appreciatively and I almost smile, but then Gregg blurts out, “Take a picture, it’ll last longer!” so I don’t. He stalks off to get the Ferrari and then we’re home and he’s asleep and snoring and I’m awake at the kitchen window again, sipping chamomile tea and looking at the bull.  I don’t like my tea without sugar but I’m drinking it unsweetened because I’ve got to lose those ten pounds and maybe it’s thinking about all the little things I love that I have to give up—like sugar in my tea—that drives me outside into the backyard.

The bull is still near the detached garage, but the Ferrari is locked away and safe. I, however, am in my dorm shirt and slippers with a cup of bitter tea and a bull on the lawn. Greg had promised he’d keep me safe. Long nights we’d spent talking when we were dating until I’d spilled everything: my childhood, the poverty, the abuse, the abandonment, my fears and he’d made me the promise. One night, when we’d been dating for a year, when I was sure he was “The One” he’d said, “You know, I really can’t understand what you’ve been through. I’ve always had a good and happy life,” and I was stunned how intense the hatred was that I felt for him for a moment.

The bull is pacing back and forth across the yard, tense. I watch the powerful muscles bunch and undulate beneath the glossy black hide, the massive penis bobbing and the heavy scrotum swinging low. Looking at it I am fascinated and disgusted at the same time. I think about giving the bull a name. After all, he doesn’t seem to be going anywhere now that he’s taken residence in the backyard. I try out different names in my head, but I can’t settle on one. Some of the names are too dark, terrifying; others so light and inconsequential they might float away into the starry night sky. I lose myself in a waking dream about dancing in a field of wildflowers, weaving a garland of blossoms and draping them around the bull’s horns. The end of the garland in one hand is comprised of beautiful spring flowers, bright and lush; the other end turns black and wilts as I hold it and I wonder how one thing can be two different things at once.

On the grass, here and there, I notice black spots. Then it dawns on me what it is. Cow patties! I stifle a giggle and steal a sideways glance at the neighbors’ houses. All their windows are dark. Whew! Gregg would blow a gasket if he knew. A friend—he was my friend, what happened to him?—used to joke that Gregg spent his spare time lying on his stomach on the lawn with a ruler and a pair of manicure scissors and he wasn’t far wrong (Really, what happened to him? My friend? He used to make me laugh). I run into the house to get a garbage bag, a gardening trowel and some rubber gloves. I clean up as much of it as I can until my back starts to hurt, but I worry that Gregg will see spots where the dung was fresh and stuck to blades of grass, particularly near the detached garage where the Ferrari is stored.

The bull remains by the garage, thoughtfully chewing its cud, watching me frantically pick up its shit in the moonlight. Then it tosses its head from side to side, snorts, and disappears behind the garage. Standing in the backyard in my dorm shirt, my favorite slippers I’ll have to throw away and orange rubber gloves now brown with shit, I can’t help but feel the bull disapproves of me and it makes me disapprove of myself.

The next morning I cook Gregg his favorite breakfast—bacon and eggs—because he has an early golf game. I read somewhere that bacon and eggs used to be considered a king’s breakfast because, at the time, only royalty could afford to have meat for breakfast every day. I imagine Gregg sitting in the sunny breakfast nook, an ermine robe casually tossed over his sloping shoulders, a golden crown cocked precariously on his bald head. I stand propped against the kitchen counter and have only black coffee myself, though I like it pale with cream and lots of sugar. Gregg will take his truck to the golf course; he wouldn’t dream of stuffing a bag of golf clubs in his Ferrari, so I don’t worry about him seeing the shit stains that remain on the grass. Gregg loves golf and talks about it all the time. I don’t understand the game, but that may be because I’ve never played. Whenever I’ve tried to learn about it I always think about the old George Carlin joke that all golf courses should be used for housing the homeless.

When we were dating Gregg had relished telling me about one golf game he attended where someone had hired strippers who passed out beer naked and turned cartwheels for tips. I didn’t let it show but I’d been appalled by the story. I thought that people who could afford to play golf had more class and valued women and I wondered why Greg had even told me about it in the first place. I imagined the girls tumbling forever end-over-end across the greens like blow-up sex dolls caught in a gale and asked Gregg why he had participated. He said that’s what those girls were there for and that they had been doing them a favor, saving them, really, because the girls needed the money.

After Gregg leaves, I clear away the breakfast dishes and go through the motions of washing them: lift, wipe, rinse, dry, put away, repeat. Simple routine for simple dishes. In the dining room we keep our wedding china in a lighted glass display cabinet. Gregg had let me pick out the pattern, but only with his approval. We finally settled on one exquisite pattern, almost too beautiful to eat off, so we didn’t. 

Outside in the backyard there are more cow patties dotting the lawn like the round part of exclamation points. The bull is closer now, standing near the sourwood tree and the cherry tree halfway between the garage and the house; pawing the ground, his eyes bloodshot and wild. Watching. Waiting. I press my whole body against the kitchen window, willing the bull closer, daring it closer; my heart revving, wheels spinning, red blood pumping, pulse racing, feeling myself open, drawing it into me, but the glass keeps me safe.

Helena Baptiste is an aspiring writer whose work has been featured in The Weeklings and Aforementioned Productions. She is currently working on a young adult series.

photo by Mrdidg (via pixabay)

Catches Dreams—Jowell Tan

there’s a ghost
who’s lived here
for years now;

while we sleep,
he floats in –
eats our dreams.

//

“why our dreams?”
you might ask.
well, you see;

dreams scare us.
make us shake,
scream and shout. 

dreams hurt us. 
keep us up
late at night.

the ghost comes,
eats our dreams;
grants us peace.

//

“just bad dreams?”
you might ask.
well, you see;

as payment,
the ghost eats
good dreams too.

we part with
memories
of past joys.

we wake with
gaps in our
histories.

//

to keep peace
in our lives,
there’s a cost. 

his service
requires
sacrifice.

Born, bred, and based in Singapore, Jowell Tan writes prose & poetry after hours for fun and emotional release. His nights consist of writing, rewriting, watching videos on Youtube to avoid writing, and finally, writing again. Please say hello to him on Twitter / Instagram at @jwlltn.

He thanks you for your time.

photo by Jr Korpa (via unsplash)

Goblin Fire—Amee Nassrene Broumand

Your eyes burn beneath my lids.
The smoke of sadness penetrates the walls, the drapes,
the sun-haunted dust.
All’s crooked and full of longing.
Pomegranate seeds festoon the table, garnets
mooning over their unrequited love, the winter sun. Glaring
datura white, the tabletop gleams through the bite and slash
of perennial knives, the grooves pooling with shadows
and hints of sugar. The sun faints,
stirring a hum—
within this slab of hewn pine,
wingbeats.

Cranes circle each other above the river,
becoming the whole sky.

Amee Nassrene Broumand is an Iranian American writer from the Pacific Northwest. A Best of the Net nominee and a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, her work has appeared in numerous journals including Glass: A Journal of Poetry (Poets Resist)Rust + MothBarren MagazineSundog Lit, and Empty Mirror. Find her on Twitter @AmeeBroumand.

photo by Viktor Talashuk and Cecile Hournau (via unsplash)

In the Trees—Brandon Applegate

content warning: domestic violence, death

The Texas summer shone yellow with dust and dry grass and sun. Daniel was eight years old and lived on a triangular plot of land. Two sides of the triangle were bordered by oak woods, tangled and gnarled and parched. The bottom third of the triangle, though, was road, hot and dark and flatter than the earth was supposed to be and more dangerous than a rattlesnake. More than anything in the world, Daniel loved the wood and hated the road. 

The wood loved Daniel in return. 

In the spring, the wood was green, with a canopy of leathery, wide leaves that acted as cover for the ground and that shot intense rays of sun through the gaps. In the fall, the leaves turned brown and dry and light and fragile and fell from the trees to create a blanket that you could gather over you and hide. In the winter the blanket acted as shelter for the things on the ground, the rabbits and snakes alike, and rotted on top of them with wet and mold as they bedded down and waited for the earth to come back alive. But in summer, as with all things in Texas, the trees, still green and full from the spring, stood defiant against the baking heat, staring down the sun to see who faltered first. In this behavior, this defiance and patience, Daniel found a kindred spirit, and so, in he, did the wood. 

So, in the summer, when Daniel was free from school and homework and the intrusions of friends, he would walk in the woods and talk to the trees, and they would shelter him as best they could from the intense, withering heat, and they would hold out together, until either the heat broke, or Daniel could take no more and would go back inside with the manufactured cool air and the manufactured entertainment and make plans to try again tomorrow. On these occasions, the trees of the wood expressed their disappointment. 

“You cannot stay a little longer?” They whispered. “You cannot stand a little more?” 

“I can’t,” Daniel said, and would be disappointed in himself, and would feel inadequate, and would hang his head and watch the ground as he walked back to his house, wishing he were a tree so that he could be strong and hard and gnarled and rough and thereby could weather anything and live for a thousand years. 

One summer day, when Daniel had run and played until he couldn’t anymore, he sat down between the roots of a particularly gnarled and tall and old tree at the center of the wood to rest. He and the tree were old friends, and so they talked for hours, Daniel of his family and his interests and his troubles, the tree of its life and changes it had seen and things it heard when it thought nobody was watching.

“I wish I were a tree like you,” Daniel said. 

“It is indeed a great life, long and slow and rich,” said the tree in its raspy whisper like two sticks rubbing together, “but why would you wish to be anything other than what you are?” 

“I am small and weak, and humans don’t live for very long,” said Daniel. 

“But you have dominated so much of the earth,” said the tree. “Surely you are strong, for your kind have felled many of mine.” 

“Tools,” the boy said. “We make tools so we can cut down even the tallest tree.” 

“Ah, but surely you grow large, because you take up so much space,” said the tree. 

“That is only because there are many of us,” said the boy. “Well then, you must be long lived, because when you cut us down, you never give us the chance to grow back,” said the tree. “That is only because we pass our property and our stories from one generation to the next, so they know how to use the tools, and they also take up too much space and even more,” Daniel said. 

The tree was silent for some time, and the more he thought about what the boy said, the more angry he became, until he vowed not to speak any more that day.

When Daniel realized what he had said, what he had done, he said, “I am sorry,” and he left the wood with his head hung low, this time not because he wished he was a tree, but because he feared he had destroyed a friendship, and that he would no longer be able to speak to the trees. 


Every night when Daniel went to bed, his parents screamed at one another. They would wait just long enough so that Daniel would be quiet and comfortable and wrapped and warm, and so they thought he was asleep, and then they would begin to talk. They never spoke to each other while Daniel was awake, but on these occasions they would start in whispers that Daniel could not make out, that sounded like painful secrets. The whispers would escalate into hushed voices, and Daniel, staring at his wall in the blue moonlight that filtered in through the blinds, could just make out a few words, most of which were no help and some of which were things like ‘beer’ and ‘money’ and other words that he was told were strictly for adults. Then, after some time had passed at this volume, and with a number of long pauses and thumps and doors slamming and feet stomping, the screaming would start. 

Sometimes, if he tried hard enough, Daniel could be asleep before this happened. On this night, though, his conversation with the tree kept him awake and worried, and his worries about his friendship smashed together with his worries about his parents fighting so that he could not have slept if he tried. So there, as always, was the whispering. It went on for some time and, if Daniel hadn’t known better, hadn’t been fooled on dozens of nights before, he would have hoped it would end there. After a while, as expected, came the hushed voices filled with words he either didn’t understand or wasn’t allowed to say. After a long pause filled with stomping and slamming, came the screaming. Tonight, though, Daniel thought it might be more than usual, louder, more desperate, and he lay there, trembling slightly, trying to determine if that was true or if it was just in his head. 

Then, there was a sound he hadn’t heard before. It was sharp and brief and meaty. It was followed by a scream and a thud. That scream belonged to his mother. 

If there was anything in the world Daniel loved more than the wood, it was his mother. She was gentle and kind to him. She protected him. She played, laughed, danced with him. When she punished him, scolded him, Daniel always believed it was because she loved him. That scream, short, like a mountain lion howl, had been hurt, angry, cornered, but it started with real pain. Daniel was afraid. His heart was beating so fast he could hear it in his ears and feel it in his fingertips. All the same, he knew what he had to do. She would for him. 

Daniel snuck out of bed. 

One foot and then the next, he tip-toed across his bedroom, down the hall and stopped before he entered the kitchen. The lights were on like they always were until his parents went to bed. He could hear his mother crying quietly. It was a low sobbing that did not sound like sadness to Daniel. It sounded like hate and pain. 

“Shut up,” his father shouted, sounding unhinged, out of control, his voice cracking with the effort, dancing around in too high an octave. 

The sobbing continued and Daniel stuck his head around the corner just in time to see his father, shirtless with starched jeans and leather boots, freckled, huge and hulking, all lean muscle in the arm and huge belly around the front that drug his spine forward in a curve, raising his right hand into the air, golden ring glinting in the fluorescent kitchen light as it arced back downward toward his mother’s pink face, already streaked with blood from her nose. There was that sound again but now it was loud as a gunshot and Daniel flinched. His mother let out a yipping bark of a scream from where she sat against the wall between the trash can and the refrigerator. She continued to sob, her left eye already starting to purple and swell, and she wiped her bleeding nose on her shirt sleeve. 

Daniel felt a jolt of panic. It started in his toes and shot like lightning up into his legs and spine and brain. He pulled in as much air as he could without making any noise and held it in his lungs, felt it burn with the want of release and then let it out. His eyes darted around the room looking for a way to stop this, to set this right. It will never be right, he thought. It will never be the same again. He felt a hot tear crawl down his cheek.

In the corner next to the dining table, against the wall, lay his father’s tool belt. Daniel’s father always discarded it there after coming in the back door after work, usually on his way to the fridge for a beer. Daniel’s eyes locked on to the pouches and scanned before finding what he was looking for.

The hammer. 

Daniel moved. It was three steps to the hammer. He scrambled for it and scooped it up. He pivoted on his right heel and made a bee line for his father. Daniel’s mother moaned, “Oh, god.” 

Daniel screamed, squeaky and cracked and panicked, “Leave her alone!” He swung the hammer out blindly. 

Daniel’s father just had time to turn his head toward the scream. His green eyes were unfocused with drink, his movement sluggish. The hammer made contact with his left kneecap and something cracked and moved in a way it wasn’t supposed to and pain shot up into his head, widening his eyes and toppling him back and to the left. As he hit the floor, injured leg shooting out in front of him, head flopping to the side and sounding a loud thunk against the refrigerator door, Daniel had the wild urge to scream timber. 

Daniel’s father lay against the refrigerator, still conscious but only just. He moaned incoherently and his eyes rolled in their sockets. His left leg jutted out in front of him and was already starting to swell. Daniel stood, stunned, unable for a moment to process what he had just done. He looked at his mother, her wide right eye red with fear and crying, her left swollen shut. Blood was coming out of her nose and her lip was split open. Her chest was spasming with sobs. 

“Oh, baby, no,” she said. 

“Mom,” Daniel said. They locked eyes. 

Just then, his father’s massive hand swiped at his face. He only just ducked out of the way. 

“Go,” Daniel’s mother growled. “Go,” she repeated, louder.

Daniel was already sprinting. He hit the screen door hard and it swung open. He was out on the porch and down the steps before it slammed behind him. Now he was at the edge of the lawn. 

His father stumbled through the screen door onto the front porch.

“Daniel,” he yelled. He might just have been calling him in from playing.

Daniel flew toward the wood. The wood was different at night. It whispered. Normally, upon entering the wood, Daniel would stop to greet a few of the trees, but he did not have time. The trees noticed his hurry, his panic, and they whispered to each other about it. Daniel could not make out the words and he did not stop to try. Daniel ran so fast that his tears didn’t fall all the way down his cheeks, but were swept back across his face and into the hair above his ears. The leaves crunched beneath his feet. He held his arms up to protect his face from the whipping twigs and branches that would dig at him as he ran blindly, but tonight his way was clear, as though it was deliberate. Daniel said a silent thanks. 

“Daniel!” His father’s voice sounded behind him, echoing, distant, crazed.

Daniel doubled his effort. His father would have seen him entering the wood, would have followed him in, but Daniel knew where he was going and his father did not and that might be an advantage. He was also faster and did not drink. But his lungs were aching as they emptied and refilled with damp night air, and each breath didn’t go as far as it did before and Daniel was starting to gasp and sob. 

“Daniel!” Closer now. Could his father hear him tearing through the leaves and grass and twigs on the ground? Daniel was looking over his shoulder, trusting too much in the cleared path ahead, so he slipped. He went down hard on his shoulder, the seam of his t-shirt tearing as a dead branch snagged both cloth and skin. He lay on his back, looking up and smiling. This was exactly where he wanted to be. 

“Tree!” Daniel shouted up at the massive old oak at the center of the wood. 

The tree said nothing, but Daniel swore he heard a grunt. 

“Tree, old friend, please listen,” Daniel said, mindful now of his shouting and lowering his voice. He could hear his father’s crazed shouts from somewhere off in the wood. 

“Say what you must,” whispered the tree. 

Daniel got up onto his knees. “My friend, please, you must protect me.” 

“From what?” The tree whispered. 

“My father is angry with me and is looking for me and I am afraid he will hurt me,” Daniel said, desperation creeping into his voice as he looked back over his shoulder.

The tree did not speak for a long moment, then said, “Surely a boy of your kind would have nothing to fear from his father.” 

“But he is drunk,” said Daniel, “and he has already hurt my mother.” 

“You must have done something to wrong him,” the tree said. It was difficult to make out, but Daniel swore he could hear a petty anger in the tree’s whisper. “Who am I to stand between a boy and some much-needed discipline?” 

“Please,” Daniel said, “Just let me climb up into your branches to hide.” 

“Surely,” the tree said, “you have some tool at your disposal you could use to protect yourself. Your kind have felled so many of mine. One of your own should be no problem. Or is it that you would like to give your father a reason to knock me down as well?” 

“Friend, I am sorry,” said Daniel through sobs that wanted to choke him. “I’m sorry, okay? I know you are angry with me, but I need your help.” 

There was a long pause, and the tree said, “No.” 

Daniel, too tired to run more, too afraid to scream, too small and weak to fight, simply turned his back to the tree and leaned his weight upon the solid trunk. He felt its warmth and rough bark through his shirt and his mind was taken away from here for a moment to days spent running and playing and he smiled in spite of his situation. He said up to the tree, “It’s okay. I know I hurt you and that you are angry, but I am still your friend, and I know you are mine. I will sit with you until this is over.” 

The tree did not answer. 

So Daniel sat and waited. 

Out of the woods in front of Daniel came a monster. His father, stumbling, shirtless, drunk and injured, dragged his nearly dead leg behind him. He was covered in cuts and bruises from the branches he had run through, and Daniel had the satisfaction of thinking that at least not all of his friends had abandoned him. His eyes, usually kind or worried when he was sober, blazed with green fire fueled by hate and violence and drink. 

“Dad,” Daniel said. “I’m sorry.” 

“There you are, Daniel.” His eyes darted around as if looking for anyone watching. 

“Dad, I’m sorry I hurt you. I love you. Please don’t.” 

But Daniel’s father did not answer. He dragged himself, grunting, toward Daniel, one step at a time. And when he got to Daniel, he reached down with both hands and picked Daniel up from under his arms and stood him on his feet and pressed his back against the tree and wrapped his shaking hands around Daniel’s throat and squeezed, and as he squeezed a scream built up in his own throat and as he screamed all the pressure, the anger, the fear, the hurt flowed out of his mouth and his hands and he was unable to stop himself as he saw the light, the life leave his son’s eyes, and when it was done and Daniel wasn’t moving anymore, he dropped Daniel on the ground again where he lay against one of the tree’s giant gnarled roots and began to cool to the temperature of the air around him. 

“Are you the boy’s father?” A voice whispered. 

“What?” 

“How could a father do something like that to his son?”

“Who is talking?” Daniel’s father spun in a circle, stumbling, eyes darting. 

“Is he dead?” More voices were whispering now. 

Suddenly, there were a chorus of voices all around him. They were asking so many questions, questions he didn’t know how to answer, didn’t want to answer. 

“No,” he said. “The boy’s fine, he’ll get up.” Daniel’s father looked at his son, crumpled on the ground by the tree root, small and helpless as the day he was born. “Get up, boy. Dan. Daniel. Get up.” 

“He will not get up,” the large tree at the center of the wood said. “He is dead. I cannot feel his heart beating in my roots, and I always could before.” 

“What? No.” Daniel’s father was swatting at the air around his head now as if trying to clear away a persistent gnat. “Who’s talking? Where are you? Get up, Daniel. We need to go home.” 

“You have killed him,” the tree said, and it was the loudest thing it had ever said. Its voice sounded like a saw through a log. “You have murdered your boy. You have murdered my friend.” 

“Murderer,” the other voices began to say, and it became a chant. “Murderer, murderer, murderer.”

“No,” Daniel’s father said and clapped his hands to his ears. “No!” 

He began to run blindly through the trees, through branches that stuck out into his path and he was sure they were being thrust there, jabbing him, scratching and poking him. The ground itself seemed to become softer, to give way beneath his footfalls and grab at his boots, pull at him, slow him, and all the time the whispered chant of “Murderer” followed him until he came to the edge of the wood where it bordered the road, and he stumbled out onto the pavement weeping and dizzy. The air out here was quiet and he curled up on the hot tarmac and convulsed with weeping until a car he didn’t see, and that didn’t see him, came and took his life. 


Long after the dogs had been called off and the searchers left without ever finding Daniel’s body, a sapling grew near the base of the big, old tree at the center of the wood. The big, old tree would talk to the sapling. “Is it everything you wanted?” Said the tree. 

“Well,” said the sapling, “I am small, and I am weak.” 

“Yes,” said the big old tree. “This is true. It is the secret that nobody ever tells you about being a tree, that first you must be small and weak and frail and if you can survive this, you can survive anything. In that way, I think that being a tree is very much like being a man.”

Brandon Applegate is an American writer focusing on dark, weird, and fantasy fiction. When he isn’t writing he is working at his job at an Austin, Texas-based technology company. He lives in Hutto, Texas with his wife and two girls.

photo by John Reed (via unsplash)

Three Poems—Izzy Peroni

don’t go (home)

ribbon lightning laced around your brain stem
pulled taught to your sinew

the way the camera picks up the shadows in your voice
the gaps between the strikes, rain-scented
bed sheets blue or grey overexposure

the way the ceiling fan air smells after you’re done crying
the way the blanket can’t stay over both ankles at once, the way
your back hurts when you curl up
and your brain stem aches
the same

laces pulled undone sneaker holes
the storm won’t roll in but your skin is wet, the ribbons
are nothing more than camera effects
but your spine rolls like clouds anyway

i wash’d thy face

(in conversation with “The Author to Her Book” by Anne Bradstreet)

what pain to afflict on a thought-offspring,
an ill-form’d kiddo in raggs to be dissected without anesthesia, what
blood to draw from deep-set veins that continue to be missed and
missed by nurse untrained. what to make of so much Irksome, so
much blemishes blemishes the spot the spot i leave on my child,
birthmark or cigarette-butt scar.
what can a misformed critter do to satiate its parent, to be
allowed into the light without shriveling up in God’s sun,
God’s eyes, to be allowed to be bleached and pressed between flat
iron and smoothed. what pain to afflict on paper skinned babe, that
cannot be stretched to meet the feet
lest its new skin be shredded and blistered. what middle is met
to prevent pain. what unfathered thought-offspring can be loved by
more than mother. you tell me, kiddo. you tell me how to
wash thy face and not peel your cheek like candle wax. how do i
crimp and crop you until your mindless tufts frame your little
face like your poor mother wants them to. how do i mother a thought
without pulling it apart.

counter

I’m only awake because you want me to be
              Because my gums bleed faster in my sleep
              Everywhere I knew a greyed out switch in the settings
              Perfect till the last                     drop

Of paint, and I shift from foot to foot
Black matte nail polish in tin can cuts on peachy fingertips
Just below the skin un-deep
              Wondering how many of these people             care      that they could             kill
              Me, but I’m awake anyway

I can’t stand still. I’ve got holes in my fingers.
I’m treading two steps from dead all the time
              All the time loving and waiting
              Hating, and waiting and bleeding                    but breathing

Izzy Peroni is the book review editor of The Sock Drawer Literary Magazine. A poet and fiction writer, she comes from an entirely inconsequential town in Central Pennsylvania, where she currently resides until the world opens back up again. Her passions include Elizabeth Bishop, cats, and horror movies. She is forcefully bisexual, and lovingly queer.

photo by Allef Vinicius (via unsplash)