Night Soil—Danny Menter

It was cruel to bring her back this way, he realized. Before, when he had cupped his fist into the graveside earth, his thoughts were only of her: skin warm, pin pricks of wildflower freckles splashed across her cheeks like a forest fire.  Now, she slept in an oblong bed of satin, light extinguished. So, he drove his hands into the earth, reached down and took what essence of her still lingered, and brought it home in a flowerpot, sprinkling it in the vacant patch of garden between the rosebush and hydrangea.

She grew quickly, forcefully, and before long he could hear her as she raked her limbs against his window, calling out to him as her fingers rode the wind. Through the floorboards he heard the groan of her roots pressing against the planks, searching for him, each splintering thrust a longing cry.

And she hungered.

The first to go were the rose bushes, bleached of color until their petals curled into themselves like dirty napkins, littering the yard in a gray carpet. Then the grass grew bald and spotty as an old man’s head, and the hydrangeas turned to desiccated tumbleweeds. And the bird feeders lay dormant, yet bursting with seed, and the squirrels disappeared, and the deer which fed along the fence line, and the foxes, snakes, voles, and the owls.

But nothing was so horrible as the pale rubber soles he witnessed one morning disappearing among the veiny roots at her base, the splayed feet like rabbit ears slowly sucked into the earth.

By the time he excavated the body, it had been consumed, bones picked clean, pearly white in the onyx dirt.

He purchased additional steel bolts for the gate and slung a large tin DO NOT ENTER sign from the post and he spent his nights with a thermos of coffee, keeping watch, ignoring the caress of her leafy fingers on his cheek, asking for more.

And he wondered, as she shivered in the breeze, if she had always been this way, and death had been a safety valve for her cruelty, or whether his selfishness had somehow poisoned the funeral loam.  

He knew that on some level she felt. So, he tossed aside the kerosene can, the chainsaw, the weedkiller, and grabbed his maple handled hatchet.

He hoped it would be swift. 

Her bark was smooth, chestnut brown, flowing upwards into a spray of slender limbs with lime green leaves and delicate flame-colored blossoms. They tilted to him as he entered the yard, holding the hatchet. 

You brought me back, they seemed to whisper, accusing, this is what you wanted.

Tears worked their way down his face as he shouldered the blade, brought it whistling down into the flesh of her trunk.

A sigh escaped from her as he worked the blade free, wiping a hand across his bleary vision.

It took five swings, in the end, and when he finished, she was spread out across the grass, crimson petals and pale skin.

Danny Menter is a writer and educator working outside Chicago, Illinois. You can find his stories in Metaphorosis Magazine and Flash Fiction Magazine. He is currently pursuing a MFA in fiction writing at Lindenwood University. 

photo by cottonbro studio (via pexels)

Addie LaRue is not the only dreamer to make a bargain after dark—Leah Atherton

If I told you I remembered the first time we met I would be lying. 

I would tell you I walked into the forest to find the hangman’s tree and 
buried a box of cat bones and grave dirt at the roots, 
that he emerged from the trees antler-crowned and coffee sweet. 

We sinners are all alike in the end, 
and there is a deeper magic to the predawn quiet between 
the students stumbling home and the morning joggers coming out.

The thing about the old gods is that they never make 
promises they can’t keep. 
I have made myself into a promise. 

Last spring he found me by the canal. 
We sat shoulder to shoulder and watched the sun come up 
and turn the railway cranes into crucifixes. He said nothing, 

only emerged from the shadows 
of the old railway yard like the edge of sleep, 
lit a cigarette and watched the clouds play with the rising steam.

Once, I left him a coin at the crossroads and woke 
the next morning blanketed in wisteria and thorns. 

I have stopped asking how he followed me to the city I call home now. 
Even the old gods get lonely on occasion.

These days I could find him anywhere without looking. 
He finds me in airports and graveyards, 
the kind of gentle people once drowned their daughters for.

I leave small things for him in places 
I know the light won’t reach. Tealeaves and miniatures of rum. 
Seashells and fossilized ammonites.

Once, he was in a dive bar pool room in a nowhere town 
where I had run to escape the noise; all cock-sure swagger, 
cold lager and cheap cologne. He put a coin in the jukebox and we danced 

until I could hear the baying of hounds in the bass 
and names blurred to black lacework up his arms.

In exchange for my peace, the poems are everywhere. 
They crowd the lids of pens and spill out of coffee cups. 
I asked for the chaos that would fill empty pages and he kept me.

There have been times I questioned the wisdom of my wish 
and tried to sink myself in the still waters of a calm kind of love. 
I tore up the notebooks and clamped my lips shut. 

In the end we always find our way back to air. 
He never made me ask twice.

I know what it is to carry unuttered 
yearning in the whisky-laced night. 

So tell me your name, dreamer.

Tell me the promises you made 
to yourself and what you’d bargain 

Don’t be shy; 
the sun will come up too soon.

Leah Atherton is a linguist, poet and runner based in Birmingham, UK. She had poems about her adventures featured by iRunFar and Porridge magazines and Brum Radio Poets. Elsewhere, her work has appeared in Birmingham Art Gallery and on BBC Radio WM, and was included as part of Beatfreeks anthology Wilder Dreams and Louder Voices. Her debut poetry collection, A sky the colour of hope came out with Verve Poetry Press in 2020. She believes in strong coffee, campfire whisky and the power of muddy shoes.

Find Leah on Instagram at @poet_on_the_run

photo by Oscar Keys (via unsplash)

Nymue Rising—Lori J. Torone

I knew the sky would not hold her. The truth in the stories is not nature or magic: there was no deus ex machina transformation into a sparrow. The girl fell from the cliff, her body a final exhale from the world above the lake, until she came to me.

Our water is both a wall and a door. 

The lake laid the girl to rest within the henge of stones inscribed with luminous green algae, embedding her in the centuries-thick humus of leaf, scale, cloth, and bone. Her long hair swayed like weeds.

The fish crept from their hiding spots: only a small band of survivors, with lean bellies and dull scales, eyes darting in hunger and fear. They kissed away her clothing and skin. The lake’s gentle susurration eroded the hurt she had carried inside like a stone, while the fish excavated her, taking meaty chunks of heart and lungs to their broods. 

Had she jumped or been thrown? She remembered a page torn from a book. Wet ink shining in candlelight. Running…towards or away? It didn’t matter. Either way, she was a part of the lake now. 

She lay a long time, sheltered in peace and fecundity, becoming a skeleton girl tied together with sinew scraps and tattered linen. A gold chain tangled around her clavicle, an oval pendant hanging in place of her heart.  

A hook cut through the water and caught on her rib. The lake roared and resisted as the girl erupted from her bed, surging upwards. The speed of her ascent strained at her sinew, and her jawbone gaped in a ghostly scream. She lost finger bones. 

As she broke through the lake’s surface, someone cursed, the sound slapping her hard like a cold wind, or a familiar hand. 

I had made her beautiful. Of course, she had been beautiful to begin with, as we all had been in our own myriad ways: bodies, minds, talents. But, in truth, our water is both nature and magic, so the girl’s bones had transformed to creamy white pearl, her sinew to silk. She gleamed in the sunlight and shuddered as I lost my hold on her. 

The fisher pulled her halfway over the prow of his rowboat. He ran his calloused hands over her cheekbones and the crystals jutting from her spine, but his eyes blazed at the wink of gold between her ribs. He carefully unwound the necklace. 

At the edge of fear is a threshold, like a waterfall I once encountered, thundering outside the mouth of a wizard’s cavern. Stay inside and be mired in the mud. Or leap, trusting the river will take you somewhere better, even though it will hurt. 

There is always a moment before the decision, a moment when a terrible, ponderous knowledge descends, a moment so heavy with fate that we are lost within ourselves. 

And once that moment passes, we know what it takes to push through the threshold. And equally, we know why we turn away from it. 

The girl forced her arms up, placed broken hands on the fisher, and pushed. Pushed. He let go with a scream, scrambling to the back of the boat. It rocked wildly. She heaved herself overboard when the prow dipped, slipping back into my embrace. The necklace sank down after her like a stray sunbeam.

Later, the Great Heron told me the fisher spread his terrifying tale throughout the village. Haunted, was the word he used; the lake is not quite that, but close enough, and that word works as effectively now as any protective spell I cast in life before. The superstitious villagers kept away, turning to their crops and trades to sustain them, and only leaping fish changed the patterns of our surface. Eventually, their boats became hearth kindling. 

The girl gathered her scattered finger bones from the lake bottom and uprooted the strong-stalked weeds that grew there, binding her bones together tightly. She would not lose any part of herself again. 

But now she was restless, unable to settle back into the lakebed.  She swam, enjoying her place within the water’s own movement, and the fish, grown hale and shiny, darted around her. She glided through decades, length and breadth, back and forth, as the lake healed. The water turned a deep royal blue. In the shallow parts, the bottom became visible, vibrant with plants and salamanders. Her bones hummed with frogs’ symphony at dusk and dawn. In the winter she skated underneath the ice. In summer the dragonflies raced her, with the Great Heron watching. She changed her weeds with the seasons. 

One day she basked in the warmer shallows, closer to the trees from the world she had left behind. She listened to the water’s song as it played upon the smooth rocks at the shoreline and watched the trees sway above the surface in wind and ripples.  

A figure crouched at the lake’s edge. They spoke, the words coming to her muffled by the perpetual voice of the water. She did not understand the language. Droplets fell on the rocks, into the channels between. The water carried them back to her, diluting like ink, but she could still taste the underlying emotions: Despair. Desperation.

The words spoken did not matter now. The feelings did, and she felt them again after all this time, the terrible heartache and the urge to run.

She and this person were the same underneath, in the bones.

The skeleton girl rose. She broke through the surface, unflinching as the water slid away. She brushed weed strands from her hollow eye sockets in an old gesture, able to see the person clearly now. 

They had blue eyes the same color as the lake. They stood but did not run or scream. Without hesitation the girl reached inside her chest, broke the pendant’s chain, and offered it.  After a long moment, the person stepped carefully along the wet stones and waded into knee deep water to accept it. They cradled the pendant in long fingers, turned it over and over, found the hidden seam. They went back and searched the shoreline until they found a stone with a sharper edge, broke the seal, and pried it open. 

Out fell a small paper packet. Unfolded, it revealed a poem, annotated in ink: handwritten words scratched between printed lines and stanzas, marked by blots and blurs. The person read it, again and again, devouring the words as sustenance. Finally, they took great gulps of air and looked back across the lake with eyes watery yet defiant. 

I, too, gave something I had, a long time ago, in a different land: a sword, although eventually it was returned, its work unfinished.

I gave it to the wrong person. I gave it without listening, to myself, to intuition.

In hindsight, it was so much more than a tactical error. 

But not so now. The girl had listened. Her bones ignite, crumbling into ash, leaving behind a blazing pure light. She finally sees me then, sees all of us who have been here with her all along, murmuring to her, all of us who had given ourselves to water. We are columns of prismatic flame, burning bright above the surface. The images of who we once were flicker inside, never lost. We are all the Lady of the Lake. 

And now, the person on the shoreline sees us too. 

Lori J. Torone is an adjunct professor of English and Speech and a member of SFWA. She lives in New York with her two teenagers and a small, bossy (but cute) dog. She loves medieval literature and Renaissance Faires.  Her work has appeared in Podcastle and is forthcoming in Metaphorosis’s Museum Piece anthology and 99 Fleeting Fantasies. She is currently writing a mythic fantasy novel. You can contact her on twitter @MedievalLit. 

photo by Lucas Lenzi (via unsplash)

How to Build a Haunted House—Beulah Vega

The trick is
what gets left behind

A chair in dusty brown
cracking under un-curtained

The window seat
cushions embroidered
in amethyst and emerald
two-hundred french knots
forming one hydrangea.

The window latch
never fixed
letting in sighs, starlings
and snowdrifts

Dust mites dancing
on extinct hardwood
dulled under dirtied wax

A single page
its corners nibbled
by the descendants
of rats raised on our bread
all now absent 
as footsteps 
on day-old snow
the letters faded
save those that spell
‘Don’t Forget’

The memory of

Beulah Vega is a writer, poet, and theatrical artist living and working in California’s Bay Area.  Her poetry has been published in The Literary Nest, Sage Cigarettes, Walled Women, and Blood & Bourbon among others. Her first book of poetry A Saga for the Unrequited was published in August of 2021 by Fae Corp Publishing. She is still amazed when people refer to her as a writer, every time.

To follow her lunacy (artistic and otherwise), find her on Facebook @BFVegaAuthor and Instagram/Twitter @Byronwhoknew

photo by Elias Schupmann (via unsplash)

ReCreation—Alba Sarria

My garden is full of weeping, 
my skies are starless. 

Nightly, girls trench my flowerbeds 
“Is that my lung? Is that your heart?” 

Come dawn I wash their blood off 
the cobalt stepping stones overrun 
with weeds while fleet-footed foxes 
pick their bones clean. 
Through the open window She sings, satisfied.
Two new sprouts have come out of the ground today
baring used teeth riddled 
in cavities. 

In the kitchen a being with too many eyes
too many faces—teeth 
flips flapjacks. 
Window open, 
She sings “beloved belated 
the ‘our ends 
draped o’er weary women 
baring bristled broches.”
I come inside and kiss 
her bruised bloody mouths, 
until the songbirds crawl out of the cellar
ready to hunt anew. 

Yesterday She and I went berry picking.
I swallowed sticky berries that 
fizzed as they crumbled 
under my sharp teeth 
and She sang about the end again; 
the six black wren wings growing 
out of her battered thorn-encircled head
twitching in glee. 
The world is full of so much color 
and half of it lives within her ten 
too many fingers.
Tonight, more girls will come 
tilling for the tactile taste 
of their bodies, 
and beloved-of-mine will have Her fill 
and I will lay in bed, 
pretending to sleep while lights whirl overhead,
in violent streaks of coppery-green. 
Invisible trumpets will raise the dead 
and leave them battered, begging on my chalky
salty doorstep. 
All the while the little girls will whisper, witless
blind witnesses “is that my lung? Is that your liver?”
And my beloved—my beloved will tred
and tear 
flesh from bone, precariously burying 
their tiny teeth for tasteful tea leaves. 

“What’s it like 
to live in your body?”
It’s night. I stand in the kitchen 
The girls are screaming and the day 
seems so far away. 
Where has the time gone? 
Why has it always gone? 
My shadow is in the doorway, carefully
out of the casted copper-green glow 
I bathe in, 
scorch in. 
Distant drumbeats push a creek’s dark flow
to the backdoor, lapping 
licking the melting walls clean. 
I sound so much like a boy. 
I could of sworn I was– 
but maybe he–me–is a reminiscent 
of the boys fertilizing my fields, 
who’s jaws and throat apples I found 
with fonding 
and added to my form. 

“Like an invisible museum,”
I whisper “you could fill rooms 
with all my stories–my bodies. 
You could hang me upside down and
unroll my details 
drop by drop. 
Nail by nail. 
The morning 
The night 
The end; 
each flaked flesh a world. 
I birth recreation, 
team with it. 
And She drags in the mixing parts
strip by fleshy strip 
to decompose decompress
deatomaize under my palms.”

Alba Sarria is a poet and flash fictionist fascinated by all things eerie and disquieting entangled with folklore. Alba is the 2018 CSPA Gold Circle winner for free form poetry, the 2021 short fiction CM, a 2022 Pushcart nominee, and the 2021 William Heath Award recipient.

To contact Alba, fog your bathroom mirror at 4:13am and write their name backwards in your (or someone else’s) blood. All inquiries and gossip will be replied to through cryptic temperature changes, hall light flickering, and sudden toilet flushing. Or, you can give a follow on twitter: @albasarwrites

photo by Karolina Grabowska (via pexels)

Restless Rainbow—Marisca Pichette

Don’t forget to change into that dress; now more like a tunic, or a shirt, shrunken by time—lined up and filed in neat little folders under a smudged heading written in purple gel pen: Me. Sifting through these, looking for highlighter, or highlights, I find butterflies.

Butterflies swimming on a field of blue, or grey now; clouds or atmosphere or cotton pockmarked by those soft cousins—moths. 

Remember. Don’t forget.

When the first whisper comes through maple leaves, when they stir and click their edges together in restless waiting; when the porch is no longer a porch but a stage of sense, my bare feet sticking to cold cement despite the summer warm. 

I feel roughly grounded, hauled down into the world of gravity. But breathless like the trees high above—waiting for the barest excuse to take flight.

When you hear it, run. Take the sense of change and spin it into desire. Feel the petrichor as it tumbles over the horizon, and don your butterflies.

I called them from the air as green clouds huddled together in the sky, called them from wood and marble and glass. 

Now they dwell in dustbunny warrens, seeing nothing nearer to rain than banished cells of Styrofoam, drifting from the eaves where only mice make their home. The refuse of an empire built on fluff and seed.

But once I called them, confident in the feel of their bodies, lighter than yesterday and only a breath upon my face. Together we touched our toes to the mist and hurled ourselves across the green grass sea.

In this blue-grey long-short dress-shirt I saw raindrops laughing from sky to shore, horizon to hill. Falling, rising with them my butterflies and I tried and failed to dance. I faltered, slipping on the rain-soaked grass, dirtying my elbows and soiling that blue-grey hem. Drenched in ambition, we forgot how hard it was to fly. 

It’s shut away now, exiled in the caverns of an attic, its walls bare but for the relics of a great empire—castles and cemeteries and all the wonders of life—piled into sunflower shells, slowly crumbling through time.

When my butterflies grow tired they leave me for their home, winging away in an incomplete rainbow against the retreating clouds. I follow their flashing wings to the place I live, walking through the heavy aftermath of gravity’s brief hiatus. 

We went together then, and often, and never anymore. 

Some things, left untended, unattended stay, folded under the sheltering bones of an extinct kingdom. Only mouse droppings remain.

Brush these aside and maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of a butterfly, unchanged but somehow different, somehow smaller, compressed in the eye of memory and reduced to barest fact, where once it was wildness.

And maybe there are still butterflies when all is said and done and wrapped up in starched folds. Maybe that ancient kingdom never faltered, but retreated into reservation. Backed up against the roof—on account of the wetness of butterfly wings.

Marisca Pichette’s work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Vastarien, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Fantasy Magazine, and Flash Fiction Online, among others. Her speculative poetry collection, Rivers in Your Skin, Sirens in Your Hair, is out now from Android Press. She spends her time in the woods and fields of Western Massachusetts, sacred land that has been inhabited by the Pocumtuck and Abenaki peoples for millennia. Find her on Twitter as @MariscaPichette and Instagram as @marisca_write.

photo by Shot by Cerqueira (via unsplash)

Moss Girl—Lyz Mancini

The water tasted funny all of a sudden. Dawn knew when she bought the house she’d eventually need to change out the filter – it was a by-product of the well. The previous owner had even left her detailed instructions on how to do it, in size eighteen Comic Sans font it was now tucked beneath the coffee pot. She just could not bring herself to do it. She couldn’t handle having to ask for help if she failed. She could visit Home Depot or hire a TaskRabbit, but she preferred not to speak to people unless it was truly dire.

Instead, she chewed her bottom lip to a pulp and sipped the tinny water that now made her wince.

Dawn knew she was a shrinking violet who was afraid of every danger that bubbled under the surface of life. It’s why her family was concerned when she moved to New York City after college, why they begged her to move home every time she called scared. She feared the pickling of her organs from pollution. She feared an arm pushing her in front of a subway car. She feared an air conditioner falling from a window and crushing her head like a jam jar on the sidewalk. She feared a man looming over her bed while she slept, having climbed up the fire escape. Bad news bombarded her with every pinging notification on her phone. 

All that and yet nothing actually horrible had ever happened to her. Dawn’s whole life was a never-ending string of not-quites. Not-quite friendships, not-quite relationships, not-quite careers, not-quite disasters. She was a whole not-quite person, she thought. When everything was almost, everything was terrifying. 

Bad things happen where people happen, she firmly believed. And so she sunk her savings into something that was sure, tactile, and with way fewer human beings around. She told no one in her family she had moved, for fear they’d try to talk her out of it.

The black A-frame was tiny with a wood stove and a staircase that spiraled into an attic where she slept cocooned in the largest comforter she could find. She continued her work a few hours a day remotely as a virtual customer service representative for a fine jewelry company, talking ladies off ledges because their princess-cut rings and pendants hadn’t arrived yet. She felt neutral about it. Dawn filled each of her new windows with plants she knew like basil and rosemary and tended to them as if they’d come from her own body. At night she ate tomato confit with plump burrata and unctuous bread blanketed with salted butter and read musty books she bought secondhand in the nearby town.

When the water in the sink grew its funk, she worried the clawing of fear she’d run from in the city had followed her. Her fear was silly, not connected to anything real. 

“Wherever you go, there you are,” her dad always used to say. But Dawn didn’t like that saying. She wanted to believe you could grow into something else if you tried hard enough. What did it mean about her character if one could not? 

She continued to do nothing about the water, letting the minerals fester against the back of her tongue and the front of her teeth. 

One night after treating herself to a farm-to-table, overpriced dinner in town, she decided to stop at a gas station and purchase bottled water – it was an imperfect solution, but one she could handle.

The building glowed dilapidated against the setting sun, complemented by staticky neon signs for Juul pods and energy drinks in gummy bear flavors. Half the gas pumps were out of order.

A sign above the insurance office next store just read “Happy” in block letters. Dawn loved that sign – she imagined all the birthdays and Christmases the word was once attached to, now just a directive, a demand, a promise. The bell rang as she entered the store. 

A rusted bell rang as she entered. The small store was empty, just the arresting smell of eight-hour-old coffee and the cloying pancake aroma from someone’s vape. She grabbed four giant bottles of Smart Water, struggling to clutch them all as the condensation sweat into her skin. The small Indian man at the counter was around her age, smiled tautly, and looked so fully into her eyes that it caused her to almost drop one of her waters. There was an energy in the air now she couldn’t quite place. Perhaps it had always been there, a thick pregnancy that confused her. She fumbled for her wallet. 

“Just give me ten they’d normally be twelve but I’ll give you a sale for ten.”

His voice wavered, his words strung together like a melted candy necklace that left watercolor sugar on your skin. His hand shook as he took the bill.

“Uh, great thanks,” Dawn said. Her words were drawn out like a question. 

“Okay, goodbye,” the man said, rudely. Then Dawn hesitated, just for a second, to reposition the water bottles in her arms. The man hadn’t even offered her a bag. Then, like a freshly-born seal, one slipped from the warmth of her arms and bounced to the floor. At the same time, the cashier sneezed – then a sound so loud enraptured the air, filling up every space in Dawn’s body. There was a beeping no – a ringing, that plagued every inch of her brain. She fell to the floor, and only then did she see the other man, behind the cashier, crouched behind him, holding a gun that pointed up at the ceiling. An acrid, metallic odor clung to the air. There was now a crumbling hole in the ceiling where he’d shot through it. Her arms were showered with confetti from the plaster. Like ash from a fire or glitter at midnight on New Year’s Eve. 

The man’s cheeks were sunken. His gaunt body swam in dirty denim and had a wild look in his eyes behind greasy bleached hair. He launched from behind the counter and pushed Dawn to her knees. Something cold and steel and hard was pushed into the back of her skull. The cashier stared at her, also a statue, as if to say, “I told you to get out of here.”

“Empty your bag,” the man demanded but Dawn didn’t hear it – she could make out the words from the shapes his lips made. She wondered where her water bottles were. When had she dropped the rest of them? The ringing still filled her. She felt the cold steel press harder against the nape of her neck as she emptied every pocket, zipper, and button on her. From the slump of his backpack on the floor, the cashier had already emptied the cash register before Dawn entered. He took her cash, credit cards, old Metro pass, health insurance card, moderately-priced yet used lip balm, her phone, keys, and grandmother’s cameo ring. He seemed pleased, and the air softened. Maybe she would live. But the gun stayed pressed against the hinge in her skull.

There was a pause, a moment, a decision, then Dawn heard a thick metallic click.

Then the man cursed, grabbed his new belongings, and ran out the door – the rusted bell joyful and unaware. 

Dawn slumped forward, feeling the wetness of sweat now, the circle where the gun barrel had been pressed.

Why had he pulled the trigger? Why didn’t he know the clip was empty? Why had he decided he wanted her to die? She’d given him everything she had. She knew that question would haunt her forever – was it something to her face, her expression? Could he somehow tell she was useless?

Dawn and the cashier didn’t move from their spots or look at each other again until he found the machinations to call the police. One would drive her home. She would call a locksmith, then break a window anyway because she couldn’t bear the vulnerability of being outside. 

Bad things happen where the living happens, she thought. 

A month went by, then two, then six and eight. Dawn rarely left her house, at first only to visit a farmer’s market on Saturdays, then decided she could find most resources in the woods that surrounded her so she began making stews from leaves. She crunched them soaked in broth, unsure if they were edible or not but not really caring.

Her shirts smelled like mushrooms, like rich earth and must from the depths of her being. Her sheets were decorated with the shape of her sweat from the nightmares that never ceased to appear the moment she shut her eyes. The funk of the water, still with its aging filter, seemed to hold a pastel green, swampy consistency now.

She let her phone die and then never charged it again. 

She did the same thing with her laptop, realizing if she never looked at her email there would be none to answer. She watched her savings dwindle and wallowed in terror of it, wondering what would happen when the number reached a ripe, aching zero.

She passed a mirror one day. She stared into it. She was a feral child now, her hair a rusted golden from the sun and from rolling in the grass. She plucked a twig from it and then stuck it between her teeth to chew. Her eyes were pools but not the kind she grew up with – the kind with muck and grime and fish guts muddled at the bottom. Thin red scratches like vandalized maps plagued her arms, and she didn’t know if they were from the trees or her own cragged nails. 

One day she wanted to mail a letter, just one, to her mother. It would be vague and she would leave off the address, but she missed the fading memory of her worry. She’d need to drive past the gas station to do so, but she felt she could, just this once. 

The building glowed freshly painted and new against the setting sun, complemented by too-bright neon signs for Juul pods and energy drinks in gummy bear flavors. The gas pumps all worked.

A sign above a used car lot just read “Used” in block letters. Dawn could have sworn it was an insurance building before, with a sign she once liked. But she couldn’t remember now and it all felt blurry in her brain. 

The cashier, who was probably the owner, had given the entire place a facelift. Good for him, she thought. But she knew there were always two paths. He’d gone a different one.

That was the first night Dawn’s house felt too hot. Even with the windows open, and the fan. Even when Dawn removed every stitch of clothing from her body and lay atop her sheets. It was stifling. She couldn’t breathe. It must be the logs they used to build the house, she thought. They’re too thick. Her eyes felt stuck open, cracked, and dry, as she stared at a Daddy Long Legs on one of its beams until morning. 

The next night she decided to venture outside, to feel the breeze relieve the stress that sunk deep within her skin. She lay in her yard, the grass having grown wild with violets and daisies. She felt each blade between her thighs, tickling her neck. 

She felt she could breathe, truly breathe, for the first time in forever.

When she awoke the next morning dew like small clear worlds speckled her breasts and a hawk flew overhead. She shook the drops from her body and went inside. 

The next night she could never go back to the house, she decided. It was also too poisoned by people because someone had crafted those beams and sold them to her in the shape of a dwelling. Something bad could happen there, too, if she just stayed there long enough. A home invasion – she’d seen the movies. A fire. Old age. She needed to escape it.

That night, she forgot to wear shoes and walked up the hill behind her house and deep into the woods. She walked until her tendons ached and sweat lived in the dips of her collarbones. Until the forest told her to stop. 

A small glass bottle leaned against a tree, its body crystallized with time. She uncapped it and tipped it into her mouth, the sparkling liquid inside cold and fresh like melted snow as it poured through her. Did a hunter leave it to quell his post-kill thirst? Or was it presented to her especially, like a mystical gift that appeared effortlessly from the ground?

It was the first clean water that had entered her body in months. 

The moon was a crescent and it seemed to smile at her as she lay down again. The moss was soft. Tendrils of tender greens curled around her ankles and ears, tickling and whispering to her. 

Dawn lost track of time. The first frost encrusted over the warmth of her skin like rock candy. She could feel a deep breath of a deer, a tickling of curious whiskers, as it searched for food. The crackle of springtime and the ripeness of summer and the welcome cool to where she started. Throughout it all she lay there, becoming it.

She could see the death that happened in the woods – animals eat each other, trees let their leaves burn each year brightly then perish, and decay was all around her. 

Bad things happen everywhere, she thought. But these bad things weren’t cruel or malicious, they were just what happened. It was gentle death, coaxing cruelty, gorgeous rot. It was where she belonged. In the sensual nature of cold humidity, in the surrendering reckoning of her organs. 

Her bones cracked to follow the roots of the pines, her blood fed the dirt like fruit nectar. Her heart melted then turned to ash then blew away with the breeze. The irises of her eyes became streams of sunlight through the translucent spines of leaves. 

She melted, and sunk, and dispersed, and disappeared.

This was bad. 

This was beautiful. 

This was better. 

Lyz Mancini is a writer living in Catskill, NY. She is a beauty copywriter for brands like Clinique, and her writing has recently appeared in Slate, Catapult, HerStry, Shortwave Magazine, Huffington Post, Roi Faineant Press, and more. She is a Pitch Wars 2020 and Tin House Winter Workshop 2022 alum and was nominated for a 2022 Pushcart Prize. She is represented by Victoria Marini of Irene Goodman Literary Agency. Find her on Twitter @lyzasterous.

photo by Elizaveta Dushechkina (via pexels)

Vivianite—W.C. Perry

There is a form of crystal which grows on corpses. Whoever decides these things? Rot bringing  rebirth – that kind of nonsense. Gem: a synonym for anything precious. Lord, how I’d love to be  more than a suitcase of flesh, a tower of bones. In owl pellets, you might find bits of bird feather  and mice bones undigested. You may tie a string around the bones and feather, securing it about  your throat. Next to the diamonds and glowing jade of the world, you can be both purposeful and  beautiful. You may ask the bodies: Is it cold where you are? Is it lonely among the outer planets,  sleeping forever on the decaying star? You may look in the mirror, tracing your collarbone, sure  that is holier than before.

W.C. Perry (they/them) is a writer from Chillicothe, Ohio. Their work has appeared in Meat for Tea, GRIFFEL, Taco Bell Quarterly, Night Picnic, the first BULLSHIT anthology, and elsewhere. To contact this author, burn a candle on a starless night and scream into the nearest cornfield — they’ll get back to you eventually — or if that’s too much work, on Twitter and Instagram @remotecatalyst.

photo by Carles Millan (via wikimedia commons)

Advice Regarding Rivers—Elizabeth Murphy

Obey your father when he warns you to steer clear of the river. Especially when the water’s the color of tea leaves steeped overnight. Let the tannin alert you. Think runoff and rainfall, increased flow and volume. Think lungs filling with water. 

Disobey your father and suffer worse than his strap. Be careful. Stay in the shallow edge where the flow is gentle, the energy weak. Hold your dress up with one hand, not two. Use the other for balance. If you slip on a rock and fall in, swim crosscurrent. Tilt back your head and breathe. Don’t panic.

If you’re still afloat when you reach the brackish water by the river mouth, watch out. Where there’s salt, there are tides. Where there are tides, there’s the ebb current on a mission to drain the river, you with it. The ocean and wind currents take over from there. Brace for the cold while it lasts. Fall asleep in minutes. Pray you’ll wash up on shore at the next high tide. 

Expect mourners to tut and shake their heads. Don’t listen when they complain about disobedient children. Take comfort when your father says you were his favourite. Know that your mother’s burden will ease with time. Accept that your older sister didn’t save you. Blame invisible forces like gravity and currents. Curse them, then rest in peace. 

Elizabeth is the author of the novel An Imperfect Librarian (Breakwater Books).  Her short fiction has appeared in various journals and magazines including Quibble.Lit, the Compass Rose Literary Journal, Free Flash Fiction, Monday Microfiction, Nixes Mate Review, MoonPark Review (forthcoming) and others. A retired academic originally from Newfoundland, Elizabeth now reads and writes in Nova Scotia, Canada.

photo by Thomas Somme (via unsplash)

Wildforged—Paris Woodward-Ganz

the trees move closer to the house each day, 
at first i could see the horizon, a thin
line among the sky. 

the manor is empty and dust clouds my throat, 
i search for water and instead i find a rat
squeezing its way loose from the empty faucet.

i stare at him but let him go. we both
do what we must to survive.

i roam the halls and stare out windows. there is an apple in an empty storage closet.
i ate its rotten flesh and the worm inside. the hunger has grown to much to bear.

i swallow my shame. anger curls deep in my gut.

why did you leave me here?

(i am alone, i am lonely)

the trees are close enough to sing me to sleep. 
they keep me company outside my window

i shuffle decks of tarot cards and pull the tower from each one.
ivy creeps up my walls to swaddle me in my sleep

i do not move off my bed, i long for my mother

(she left me here, she did this)

Paris Woodward-Ganz is an 18 year old poet and spoken word artist, and a sophomore at the University of Oregon. He’s an English major with a minor in Creative Writing. When not writing or speaking at open mics, he can be found watching Criminal Minds or working on editing creative writing submissions for his job at a local paper. 

photo by Amos Bar-Zeev (via unsplash)