biting back—Marisca Pichette

with each step
the world we left behind
curls
into ghosts.

We Draw Blood
to remind ourselves
of the fires we built

Together.

Marisca Pichette is a queer creator of monsters and mischief. More of her work appears in Strange Horizons, Fireside Magazine, Fusion Fragment, Vastarien, Baffling Magazine, PseudoPod, and PodCastle, among others. Find her on Twitter as @MariscaPichette and Instagram as @marisca_write. Website: www.mariscapichette.com

photo by Cassi Josh (via unsplash)

Openings—Roseline Mgbodichinma

The grave is the colour of an open mouth,
What if death is just people falling off a cliff
And softly landing into the deep?
My mother says spirits dance
But with a whirlwind of voices
So I lick my fingers and smack my lips
This is how to lure a ghost into a tap dance
This whir is the reason for thunder
Or the whips that strain itself
Through the needle of God’s eye
And calls itself a drizzle

Roseline Mgbodichinma is a Nigerian writer, poet and blogger who is passionate about documenting women’s stories. She is currently pursuing a law degree and actively freelancing. Her work has been published on Isele, Native Skin, Down River Road, Amplify, JFA Human Rights mag, Blue Marble Review, Kalahari Review, Indianapolis Review, The Hellebore and elsewhere. You can reach her on her blog at www.mgbodichi.com where she writes about art, issues and lifestyle.

photo by Jari Hytönen (via unsplash)

Hallow—Bex Hainsworth

An echo of a dead season.
November slips into the world
like a blackened afterbirth.

Pumpkins sag into a grotesque
mimicry of age on doorsteps
and in damp gardens.

Wallowing, rotten yolks: 
melting faces spit
seeds like knuckle bones.

Trees throw their arms open
to the wind, shivering at the root
with mushrooms and moss.

Time is an old house
with a creaking door.
Everything is edge.

And an antlered god walks
the woods with the stiff body
of the earth in their arms.

Bex Hainsworth is a poet and teacher based in Leicester, UK. Her work has appeared in The Coachella Review, Atrium, Okay Donkey, bath magg, and trampset. Her debut pamphlet of ecopoetry will be published by Black Cat Poetry Press in 2023. 

photo by Sarah Murray (via wikimedia commons on a CC BY 2.0 license)

The Daughter of a Witch—Bianca Grace

content warning: implied violence, trauma

My mother 
was born 
on All Hallows’ Eve
in a hospital with cauldrons 
of potions
beside the delivery table
and doctors 
dressed 
up as butchers. 
I flew into the world 
six days early 
with a birthmark
branded 
on my backside,
evidence of magical 
spells cast 
in a past life.
The night she lays
my future on the table, 
I confess 
my sidekick is a ghost
who haunts 
my dreams, 
delivers dark messages 
and sinister warnings.
It’s true, 
this is too much voodoo 
for a healer
when she cries, 
you must protect
yourself. I ignore her pleas
and my spirit 
comes alive 
when I dance
with the devil 
on the desk
in my bedroom.
I join a coven, 
write spells
and create 
ingredients
with metaphors
and line breaks
to pack a punch 
of love and tenderness.
We bring political issues
to the forefront
and cast 
poems out with a click 
to all parts of the web
to reach
the entire world.
My circle
softens me.
They wave
a wand 
and shred
my heart open
like no other witches can.

Bianca Grace is a poet living in Australia. She is a reader for Sledgehammer Lit and Full House Lit. Her work has appeared in Anti-Heroin Chic, Selcouth Station, Capsule Stories, The Daily Drunk Mag, Postscript Magazine and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter: @Biancagrace031

photo by cottonbro (via pexels)

wombmagic—Vera Hadzic

content warnings: mentions of miscarriage & infertility, descriptions of death and injury, allusions to abortion

You can find the school for wombmagic if you look hard enough—
buried in groves of white-skinned trees with red berries
door rattling behind a net of thorns
roof bending under a promiscuous wind
All day long, you hear crows:
at noon, at night, voices deepened with shadow and snow
the mushrooms so old you can count the years in their faces

They teach you all sorts of things, at the school for wombmagic
spells, potions, secret chants to weave into stars, breathe into lakes
they give you textbooks with spidersilk pages, lectures under candlelight;
And then, the lesson everyone’s waiting for—
where they teach you to enchant the uterus
to bind flesh and blood and pelvic cradle
dig through cartilage, braid thoughts through fallopian tubes

A uterus, they say at the school for wombmagic, 
is a greenhouse—or a garden
imagine, they tell you, the walls of blood and tissue
are rich as black, wet soil
the ovaries hang from green vines, tremble
with golden fruit
a living cave, long white roots twine around the bones
and green leaves finger at the placenta
the cervix inhales pebbles of sunlight and CO2
and breathes out silvery oxygen
and flowers twisted of air and water and earth
grow

At the school for wombmagic, they show you all the things you can do
when a uterus is a greenhouse, or a garden
You can make it rot and collapse on itself, last
buds of life peeling from its walls
You can turn it dry and barren, wasteland of
empty promises
Or you can fill it with green, swell and grow until it 
might split from colour, shivering vibrancy

You see students wandering halls, turning their faces up to streaked skies
hands on bellies, fingers lengthening over abdomens
empty gardens, or worms eating at the sunlight
which falls from greenhouse roofs
some whose gardens bulge with lumps of darkness
or with unwanted embryos
Sometimes, the magic goes wrong—
sometimes, you’ll be the one to find the students who made mistakes,
strung from trees with shrivelled umbilical cords like hoary twine
skin patterned with gooseflesh, frozen blood
Often you’ll find them in the bathroom
shoulders caving to bone
stomachs hyperinflated with viscous fluids
when punctured, they ooze out, hot and thicker than light
Maybe they added too much holly, or mandrake
maybe they left the cauldron too long 
over the fire
Sometimes, they die in bedrooms
embalmed in smoke from candles that went out
past midnight
on the floor, snake thin, ropelike ghost runes 
copied from a book
Maybe they used too much blood
said the wrong words
dug too deep

Under elastic birch and gleaming red berries,
the school for wombmagic swells with the murmurs 
of people with gardens, or greenhouses
They have nowhere else to go, so you watch them sow their souls
into the stars until they tear 
in two

Under crow calls, while the door leans into the wind,
they teach wombmagic and pluck all those shining lights
hide them away in glass jars even as they say
a uterus is a garden, or a greenhouse
it can be tilled and it can be sowed
it can be ploughed and it can be harvested
when it’s infected, it needs to be sprayed with pesticides
and if it grows too fast, it needs to be
trimmed

You can find the school for wombmagic if you look hard enough—
and if you do find it, red with berries, blood, sinking into snow,
Maybe you will say what I never had courage to
that a uterus is no garden, and not a greenhouse
not to be hidden away, cursed and worshipped
under the cries of crows and dead trees
that it’s just another chamber of tissue
that it belongs to the people who carry it
and to no one else

previously published in Hecate Magazine

Vera Hadzic (she/her) is a writer from Ottawa, Ontario, currently studying English and history at the University of Ottawa. Recently, her work has appeared in flo., Minola Review, Idle Ink, and elsewhere. She can be found on Twitter @HadzicVera or through her website, www.verahadzic.com.

photo by Natalie (via pexels)

a transformation—Calia Jane Mayfield

the sun sets on dead plants hanging in the carport / climbing into windows and through trees my body feels ghostly / somedays i can still feel the boards under my bare feet where i ran toward the water / my teeth feel too sharp for my mouth and the shuttering won’t stop / i convince myself the devil doesn’t speak through ceiling tiles / white curtains frame open window / moonless and grey water perfect for dying in your hands  / you can’t see my smile you can’t find my hands / my breathing doesn’t stop / the water looks aflame as a star falls / lovers dying in the dark in town with no name / the sun never reaches the deep water where we lie

Calia Jane Mayfield (she/her) is a Black poet from Georgia that loves chaos and is always looking for new music. You can find more of her writing in Wrongdoing Mag, Not Deer Mag and Ample Remains. You can find her on twitter @yetiwaterbottle.

photo by Berend de Kort (via pexels)

To Craft a Coven—Shelly Jones

Materials: Wool, heather, fennel, salt, water, willing initiates  

Directions: 

Draw the curtains before you begin, so cowans cannot look upon your divine magic. If you feel a shuddering at the door, wood shimmying as the wind whips, slip fennel in the keyhole: no demon will scry on your covenstead. 

Soak and scour the wool in salt water. Let it dry in the chimney, a cloying trap for any bad spirits invading your work. 

Spin the wool with a sprig of heather from a besom, speaking the incantation of the All-Maker with each undulation of the treadle. 

Blessed be the cord that will unite the coven. 

Weave the binding cord around the wrists of each initiate, turning the cloth widdershins. Repeat the pattern until all initiates have been grafted to the All-Maker like scions to the rootstock, two lives bound as one.  

Remember those whose life already feeds the earth, feel the connection to them through the trailing ends of the binding cord sweeping the dusty ground. 

Steep the athame in the fire until its blade glows, like the starry oracles of Asteria, mother of Hekate, born in the dark. Run the steel across the binding cord and wait, breathless, to see if the cord unravels: the crossroads of a coven. 

If the cord breaks, scatter the unworthy, driving them from your home, and salt your doorstep to prevent their return. 

If the cord holds true, blessed be the union knitted in the name of the All-Maker.    

Shelly Jones is an Associate Professor of English at a small college in the Catskills, where she teaches classes on mythology, folklore, and writing. Her speculative work can be found in PodcastleThe Future Fire, and elsewhere. 

photo by Ksenia Yakovleva (via unsplash)

The House—Christel Thompson

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I don’t remember when 
I first woke here anymore. 
Or perhaps it’s not that I don’t remember, 
but rather that I simply don’t know— 
when this started, where I am. 

{You’re nine and in bed, shaking 
from the stomach flu. 

No. This is your college apartment, mid-February, 
and your pipes have frozen. 

Quiet, don’t speak so loudly. Don’t you remember 
that you’re subletting a room in a third-story walk-up 
and the downstairs neighbours are both night-shift nurses? 

This is your family’s home. You are your mother’s child.} 

Some things I do know— 
I brush my teeth and wash my hands. 
I scrub at dishes that I don’t recall dirtying, 
answer the ringing phone to silence. 
I sit in gem-green water and my eyelid twitches, gnaw 
at my lips until they raw. I listen 
to whispered urgings that are not my own; 

cold iron shavings 
{collected only from the rusted kitchen knife} 
rosewood splinters 
{buried in my fingertips} 
palo-santo 
{burned, thick, every 21 days} 

and turn them ritual.
Somehow, I think the house is breathing. 
The corridors inhale, hold onto their 
sighs— the rooms get bigger, bloat. 
They warp at the edges. 
I used to see people 
at the ends of those distant halls: a nurse 

{with straw for eyes} 

who smiled and shook 
my pill-bottle, a baby’s rattle— 

{have you taken your medicine yet, pup?} 

a blind child who hummed The Itsy Bitsy Spider, 
the cobweb-shrouded figure of something 
that never moved until I blinked it away, 

{but it has been so long.} 

The walls seem to know me now. 
Sometimes, a woman peels herself out of them 
and stands over me in the night. She croons —a boneless song— 
until I crawl to her, supplicant. Until I stand and tuck my head into her 
shoulder, melting into a body that smells like my own. 

I can taste iron in the air, rust 
and summer salt. The floorboards mutter 
as I pace them, heel-toe heel-toe. 
There is a drip in all of the sinks; 
and just before dawn, 
their steady tip-tip-tip’s begin to chorus, 

{you were human once, 
you were human once.} 

Something alive runs through the faucets. 
I open my mouth and suckle; 
let it feed me, wrap me up in a womb of rest. 
In the half-moments between dreaming and waking, 
                        I breathe my thanks: 

{the house provides, 
the house provides.}

Christel Thompson is a prose writer and poet, with a keen interest in dissecting themes like isolation, yearning, and what it means to be seen. Her work has appeared in giallo lit, pier:to cultural collective, and 433 magazine. Outside of her literary endeavors, she is a portrait photographer and avid Neon Genesis Evangelion fan. You can find her work/contact at christel-thompson.com

photo by Vladimir Konoplev and Piyapong Sayduang (via pexels)

The Hike that Breeds Desire—Alba Sarria

content warning: dubious consent

This one opens in Green.
His feet are hooved, clovered in
dark curling
Fur.
There is a fragrance in the air you do not know,
or do not want to remember.
It stings the hair in your nose,
fires the nerves under your feet.

His hands are clawed, rusted with blood
gritty with mud.
One brushes your sunburnt sweating shoulder,
One curls around your neck.

You do not remember how you got to be so 
Bare.
The breeze that rustles endless 
green—bushes, weeds, trees—
blows through your bushes, your weeds.

The rocky path that you were hiking—
Yes, that’s right,
You were hiking—
unfurls into a lush
Cloven bed.
The leaves are lined thinly in Violet, 
in dreary dreamy Blue,
slippery as the silver flash
of fish downstream.

His breath is hot, turning
Summer’s stagnant air sweltering.
Summer?
Was it summer when you
left?
Where is your phone?
Where is your guide, your brother?

But the air is too hot to think
too hot to breathe,
and the fragrance is like something out of a 
Dream.
It is familiar. 
You have been here before.
You have been laid here and sown.

And his claws are like that of every
fainted faded 
Lover.

I have known you since your first
Birth, 
through your every spring
your every summer.
Since you swam out of every mother’s waters.
I have known you from infancies
And every hour after.

The air is so hot 
and the hour is so late—
When did it get to be so late?—
The night is starless
Moonless
Lightless
and his breath keeps saying:

I have known you since your first
Birth, 
through your every spring
your every summer
Since you swam out of every mother’s waters.
I have known you from infancies
And every hour after.

 And your phone—
Where is your phone?
Why does this night have no hour?
There are no crickets.
There are no croaking frogs 
singing their loves songs.
There are no paths
no forsaken hiker’s paths.

I have known you since your first
Birth, 

And the fragrance is so familiar.

Through your every spring,

And his touch is like every fated
Fainted
Faded 
Lover.

Your every summer,

And his hand has slipped to your
Hip
And his third hand
His fifth hand
His sixth,
Your eyes
Your lips
That sliver of a dip
High between your thighs.

He is so familiar
It is all 
              so
                    familiar.

I have known you, too
you hear yourself say.
In every garden sprig,
every hazy half-sleep blink.
Down the shadows of the hall.
Since my infancies,
my so many infancies
I found you once, too,
in the fall.

Not me,
He replies
guiding you down into downy cloven
dreams.
Of me, of you.

In the Fall they find
You 
dazed and confused
Beholding
a cloven-hooved child.

Alba Sarria is a poet and flash fictionist fascinated by all things eerie and disquieting. Alba is the 2018 CSPA Gold Circle Award winner for freeform poetry and an avid lover of orchids.

photo by Matheus Bertelli (via pexels)

LOVE IN THE SARGASSO—Sarah Zell

I.
When I was young, thin and bright as glass, I flew upon the ocean currents to find where the sweet water poured into the salt. I drank until my teeth ached and thought, this was good, this was what I wanted. 

II.
The day comes when a shadow twists inside me. My mouth is suddenly parched, my heart scorching in my chest. I travel by night, slithering across wetlands and flopping over dams. When I finally get there, the saltwater unmakes me upon impact. 

Salt is a preservative, a means of remembrance. It scrapes into my throat and sears into my eyes. A darkness howls within me and says, swim

III.
The ocean is an empty blue desert. My eyes flicker and change; my belly dissolves. My flesh consents to it so easily, shifting without my permission. It horrifies me, that all this time, there’s been this secret grave haunting me from the inside. Sleeping, until now. 

The salt is greedy for me. It chants my name and clutches at me like a ghost. It says, you thought we were done?

My new body is all sleekness and efficiency, no food no air no sunlight no splashing in the rivers ever again. We soar through the darkness, mouths agape, shimmery creatures propelled by memory. I dream of bubbles rising from a deep, black pit. 

IV. 
Haven’t you felt before that you weren’t made quite right? That someday, you’ll finally learn to cut off your scraggly, convulsing edges and settle into your true, clean shape, your abominations over and done? 

I see your hungry eyes, your awful heart. Imagine us, long tube bodies twisted up together, pulling back our skins, my body a slick wet envelope around yours. The ocean’s heart is cold and snarling, but I can already taste how you would burst sweet between my teeth. 

There is no mercy in this life. Listen to the salt of your flesh. Follow it to the end. 

V.
The life I lived seems like it happened in a dream, how is that fair? 

I loved my brute gleam of teeth, my long row of fins, my overwrought jaw. I loved to swim and play and eat; I loved that impossible dream of sunlight. The real sum of me, it turns out, is a deranged tangle of ancient urges and sliding muscle. How odd to meet what has always been coiled up in my tiniest cells, this promise hidden in me like a knife in the dark since the beginning. I was always meant to dissolve, the sea was always meant to take back the wreckage of me. I have coins for eyes, now; listen to them sing. 

Sarah Zell is a writer and teacher from Minnesota. Her writing usually involves body horror, romance, and other gross things. You can find her on Twitter @SarahZell_, where she tweets very sporadically. 

photo by Teryll KerrDouglas (via unsplash)