The Crow—Honor Vincent

With a click and a slick rustle 
the crow brings a question, and drops it at her feet.

It looks like plastic, but it’s too heavy— 
so many ragged edges.

Who would put such a ring on a fake finger?

The crow is her child’s friend, 
they bring each other gifts each day.

Never untoward, never too dear.

The child and bird chatter while they trade,
and each piece is labeled for the specimen box:

rhinestones near river rocks, 
thread near flowers, pens with whittled plastic,
broken jewelry with coins and fruit pits.

Her daughter does not know this, 
but the crow is not quite a friend to her mother.

The things it leaves the woman are never gifts, 
and her own box is full of the bird’s wants:

scratch-off tickets, fish-thin bones, dollar bills, 
shells, scraps of tape, flyers for missing pets,
netting, bb gun pellets, nose ring—

And those are just the things that wouldn’t rot.

She pockets the morning’s finger
purpling, cool, much larger than hers.

Who is it the crow wants to be rid of this time?

Honor Vincent’s poetry and stories are published in Yes Poetry, Strange Horizons, Entropy, Neologism, and elsewhere. She also writes comics, including an ongoing series about Boudicca and her daughters, and a forthcoming series about a rat-plagued near-future New York City.

photo by Dimitar Donovski (via unsplash)

Saving Yourself—Kim Malinowski

Sometimes you have to break out of dark towers with bread knife, tapping and sawing, until there is day and moonlight. Eat raw nettles for supper, then breakfast, tripping, tearing clothes through briars. Sometimes, you must whisper at footbridges, must in low hush sing to doorways—those nettles. The groom isn’t the prize. The prince didn’t save you. Freedom is worth blisters from knives more suited for butter than stone. Freedom is worth whispering and hush. And if you marry, thank the nettles, your handmaid, and the knife.

Kim Malinowski earned her B.A. from West Virginia University and her M.F.A. from American University. She studies with The Writers Studio. Her debut poetry collection is forthcoming from Kelsay Books 2021. Her chapbook Death: A Love Story was published by Flutter Press. Her work has appeared in Faerie Magazine/Enchanted LivingEternal haunted SummerGone LawnAHF MagazineIllumenDoor = JarMythic DeliriumMookychickEnchanted Conversation a Fairy Tale Magazine, and others.

photo by Mimipic Photography, John Hagan and Ave Calvar (via unsplash)

Sabbat—Sadie Maskery

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

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

photo by Jay Mantri and Casey Horner (via unsplash)

Cage Minus Bird—Keshe Chow

How could you have trusted me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo by Deleece Cook and Jonathan Borba (via unsplash)

When It Comes—Sarah Muir

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo by Andrew Amistad and Philip Macias (via unsplash)

Ghosts—Nam Hoang Tran

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

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

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

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

photo by Ryan Gagnon (via unsplash)

Fickle Hill Road—Will Schmit

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

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

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

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

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

photo by Carlos de Miguel (via unsplash)

The Sextant and the Fish—Claire Hampton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She froze. 

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

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

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

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

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

photo by K B (via unsplash)

My First Death—Susan Cossette

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

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

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

The garment bag a sarcophagus, the hatbox a coffin.

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

photo by Rodion Kutsaev (via unsplash)

Lock of Pink Hair—Aura Martin

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

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

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

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