The Crows Remember—JY Saville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Later, the key turned.

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

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

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

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

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

photo by Casey Horner (via unsplash)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They must be discarded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neither are you.

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

photo by Nick Page (via unsplash)

Solid Wall but the Wall Is Made of Hands but the Hands Are Made of Sheetrock—Sean Noah Noah

The girl named Minus can start hands with her fire. She strikes matches against her skin to light them. As they burn, the flames don’t sputter. They’re overconfident for their size, conical little jets of fire like what comes out of the end of a blowtorch. Minus holds these flames up against dry trees or pieces of paper or the side of the house she’s squatting in and the fire never spreads. Growths start. Spreading out from the point of contact: lumpy knobs that flatten out into palms, with knuckles on one side and heart lines on the other. The palms fold out into jointed fingers as she draws the flame back, reaching forward for the match, ending in nails. They never stop reaching when Minus takes the flame away, even after she blows her fires out, but they never grow wrists or arms. The hands aren’t flesh and blood, they’re the same material as whatever kindling they start from, but every hand is an entire hand. Some of them have knuckles raw with scar tissue. Some have long, perfect nails like acrylics. Some have hair that feels like real hair. Fingers splay out or curl slightly into a grasp, always reaching out, sometimes stretching or shaking as they grow. Minus records every new hand she burns into existence: left or right, young or old, fast or slow as it grows, how long it takes to turn still and solid once the flame is out. She’s compared her own hands to every single one of them, and she knows they do not belong to her.

Sean Noah Noah is a non-binary writer living somewhere in the American Northeast. Their weird fiction has appeared in Reflex Press, Eunoia Review, Bizarro Central, and Plus Literary Magazine. You can find them on twitter at @SeanNoahNoah.

photo by Sabine van Straaten, Danilo Alvesd and Annie Spratt (via unsplash)

You Keep Yourself Alive on the Moon—Jacqueline Xiong

hare.

You keep yourself alive on the moon by weaving cloaks of hare fur. 

When your hare was alive, it bounced from side to side at your feet, and you would always reach down to rub its head. The people on Earth call it yutu, Jade Rabbit. Just as they call you Chang’e

O moon goddess, they sing on the Mid-Autumn Festival, dancing around a table of pastries and fruits. O goddess, bless us with your eternal beauty, bless us with your powers of immortality.

Forget about elixirs of immortality; all you need is the reminder of a companion—and it is worth noting you killed your own companions. I mean that in plural form because you killed me before you killed your hare. 

sun.

You keep yourself alive on the moon by thinking about the husband you left behind. You have no choice but to think about him. You see the single sun across from the moon every day, and of course you’d think of the archer Yi—the archer who shot down nine of the ten suns that scorched the Earth. He kept the people from hardship, but it’s funny how he can’t keep the only person he loved from flying up to the moon. 

He often wonders why. He knows why you’re up there because obviously, you left him. But why did you do it?

No, you silly ghost. I’m not Yi.

Who am I, you ask?

Well… hush. We’re talking about Chang’e. 

But many years have passed—a thousand or something?—and Yi doesn’t lament over his losses now. He sharpens his arrows, angling them at the moon every night, imagining it going down like the nine suns lost in the distant past. 

heroics.

You keep yourself alive on the moon by regretting that you stole that flask of elixir from Yi. You wish that you hadn’t drunk it in a moment of greed, a moment where you were willing to leave your family in pursuit of immortality. You wish that you were back amongst the mortals so you won’t have to seek for life, but it would never be the same because a thousand years have passed and now the people pray to you for good fortune and eternity. Do you hold eternity in your hands? Or are you merely passersby in the folds of eternity?

Now you’re a heroine. Now people praise you, dance for you, sing for you before their shrines. Now people remember Chang’e’s husband as only Yi and no longer the legendary archer who saved the people from hardships. Sometimes he wonders if anyone knows that he was rewarded the elixir of life and that he would be the one on the moon if it wasn’t for his tether to his wife. But no one remembers.

He’s not even sure if he remembers, himself.

sacrifice.

You keep yourself alive on the moon by gazing at Earth. 

You find life during the Mid-Autumn Festival because a huge part of this festival is dedicated to you. I would call it narcissism, but when I was honored by the people, I did the same. 

What? When did I say I’m Yi? Don’t be foolish.

Did I say that the people honored me? You must have heard wrong.

All kinds of sacrifices are made for you. Cakes, wine, fruit. People gather around you in hopes you will bestow anything upon them. Poets recite the tale of how you stole my elixir to become a goddess, but they fixate more on your beauty instead of your crimes. Dancers twist their bodies so they can mimic you, but I know for a fact you don’t dance. Musicians sit under the moonlight to play pipa, guzheng, flute. 

The bones of your children—that you left behind—lay scattered around the land, buried deep beneath layers of soil. Has it been five thousand years already? Perhaps enough time has passed. Perhaps I’m ready now. 

What am I ready for?

Tonight, when the moon is a full circle, I’ll offer my sacrifice.

arrow.

You keep yourself alive on the moon by pretending you are.

My arrow is sharp. A long, hazy time ago, I had ten of these arrows, but they have long sunk into the horizons. Now only one remains. Blazing with flames, polished to a gleam to rival your moonlight,  aimed directly at the pearly plate you live inside.

But you don’t live inside. You’ve never lived inside, never fully, and even if you had, I will take that last bit of life away.

The ghost of the hare you killed for warmth bites the hems of my hanfu, refusing to let go.

We have accompanied each other for five thousand years, hare.

Ten thousand? Well, it’s more of a reason for you to let go.

Let go now.

When the ghost doesn’t move, I banish the ghost.

life.

You keep yourself alive on the moon by vanishing.

Where is my arrow?

Where are you?

Where are you, Chang’e? Where are you, hare?

Maybe you aren’t alive anymore. 

Maybe the only figure dancing on the moon is my own ghost, taken down by my own arrow.

Jacqueline Xiong is an emerging Chinese-American poet and writer. She is currently attending Franklin High School, and is an editor of The Paper Crane Journal, an online literary magazine that can be found on Twitter at @journalcrane. 

photo by Uomo Libero and Luca Bravo (via unsplash)

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)

Likeness—Jane B. Parker

Kate and I don’t go down to the village very often, we have everything we could want here at home and could have anything delivered. But when she becomes so restive it virtually causes the air to hiss, I give in, and we cut what should be a three-hour drive across the dusty plain down to one. 

I figure it’s too late in life to learn Spanish so Kate handles all the interpersonal interactions. She could be telling the shopkeepers anything about me while I keep my hands in my pockets and nod along. She’s so popular, a comedian in any context. Always determined that we use cash so there are pennies for the street children. 

While we’re in the neighbourhood Kate makes me go see Dr Raul for a quick check on my heart and hypertension and insists on hearing the results herself, because as she tells him, “my husband could have a broken leg and I’d be the last to know it”.

Afterwards we walk along the boulevard and have a beer at our favourite little tin roofed dive. Or I do, Kate doesn’t drink and says, “I don’t know why you do either, it goes straight through you”. 

Arriving back home tonight, feeling a little tipsy and sunburned, I sense a soft presence under my foot as I open the door. What kind of mail, more threats? Despite our best efforts someone determined enough can find us, Likeness™ has always been a leaky ship. This here however is just a print, quite artfully made, silver gelatine I reckon. It’s a family portrait; the family is holding a sign that reads ‘you brought us together again’. 

Yes, even after all this time, I can still feel touched by such news. And of course I feel appalled by the opposite sort, when I hear of someone using Likeness™ for fraud or abuse. 

“It was only a matter of time before the nexus of holograms, AI and data banks was worked into a consumer product. And ever since the code was made public domain in my last will and testament we have really no control over what people are doing with it,” is what my Public Relations Likeness™ has been telling people for years. 

But of late less bad news has been reaching us, perhaps enough safeguards have been worked in by now, I don’t know. I don’t control the updates any more. I have lost touch. I’m not even one hundred percent certain what year it is, those facts can be easily manipulated. 

In the morning Fernanda arrives, she’s a tour de force. Can get through the housework, maintenance the solar panels, and check us over for glitches all in an hour’s work. We used to have great laughs with her, but now her friendliness has a formal edge and I can’t always prevent her from being alone with Kate. 

“You’re going to cost that girl her job, if you keep asking to be erased,” I complain. But I know this fixation was inherent in my wife from the beginning, it can’t be altered. 

“You’re so naïve, you think everyone is human,” she replies.  

Indeed, I hadn’t thought of that. So now that I can’t find the will to think up jokes to tell Fernanda even the mornings are quiet. And I have writers block.

I’ve gotten to the point in my auto-biography when in my late years I willed my Likeness™ into perpetuity. But it’s a difficult phase because although I have all the data, my memos, my tapes, even the health of my REM cycles and heart rate, I can’t for the life of me remember what I was thinking or why I did it.

Though what keeps me up nights, staring into the flat blue vista of the desert, is whether I should tell the truth about Kate. What she doesn’t know is how having died so young we didn’t have much to work with, had to exercise some creative licence. At first I was delighted with these inconsistencies and thought they made her seem more alive, but now I see how she suffers I know she wouldn’t have chosen it. 

Going to town to dawdle like tourists and make believe at living is the only thing that will animate her now; but going out so often that it arouses suspicion is just about the only thing we can’t afford. 

The nights after these day trips she’s tired out and will sleep in the bed, which I appreciate, but otherwise she sleeps outside in the hammock at the furthermost point from the power grid.     

“Aren’t you afraid of animals, snakes? You hate spiders,” I protest.

“You should try it yourself,” she says. “When I can just look at the sky, with air underneath me like I’m floating. But the daylight comes so soon. You could ask them to make me an update like that, couldn’t you? Or maybe you could have, before they forgot all about us. God I would be so much happier…”

When she complains she’s so much like herself can’t help but I think, I really did do some incredible work in my time. I brought us together again.  

Jane B. Parker is a writer and photographer from South Africa. Her creative writing and reviews have appeared in Badilisha Poetry X-change, the Silver Birch Press blog, The Poetry Pea JournalDream Journal, and The Poetry Question. She can usually be found tweeting haiku and micro-poetry @nowiammyself.

photo by Radek Grzybowski (via unsplash)

Wish You Were Here—Gemma Elliott

The first person to contact the police was Mrs Melville, of Barnacle Crescent. She told them that she passed by the houses every day but had never noticed anything amiss. Mrs Melville didn’t know any of the residents of this neighbouring suburban street, but she knew that they always kept their gardens very tidy, and had nice cars and neat window dressings, so she could think of no reason for them to be anything other than polite law-abiding citizens. 

On Thursday morning, on her way to work at the bank, Mrs Melville passed down Anchor Road and noticed that not one of the eight households had returned their recycling bin to their property. This was noteworthy because the recycling bins are emptied on Tuesdays, and surely no person of sound mind would leave a bin on the street for 48 hours. Not a nice street like that, in a nice area like this. Mrs Melville filed this away as unusual but continued on to her workplace. 

On her journey home, the bins remained at large, and so Mrs Melville, requiring an answer to this puzzle, stopped her car and knocked on the eight doors of Anchor Road with no answer. There were no lights on inside, but cars were parked on driveways. She did notice that the small sailboat, usually wedged beneath a lean-to at 2 Anchor Road, was gone. Mrs Melville called the police but was told not to bother them with civil matters. They said that she could complain about a missed bin collection or a neighbourly dispute – they weren’t entirely sure which grievance Mrs Melville had – directly to the local council.

The second person to contact the police was Ernie, a delivery driver. Anchor Road was on Ernie’s schedule for the weekend, with four parcels of online shopping to go to three houses. Not one house answered his knock, and he tried them all in an attempt to get a neighbour to take in the parcels. It was really strange for nobody to be in; there was always some keen person who waits home all day for their delivery, but the reason Ernie called the police was that he discovered, when opening a letterbox to forcefully shove through a smallish parcel, that 7 Anchor Road was entirely filled with sand. The golden granules poured out onto his trainers and Ernie watched for several minutes until a live crab tumbled out and he turned and ran back towards his van. 

There was water leaking from beneath the door of 6, he now saw. The police took note of what he told them but didn’t ask any follow up questions. He stashed the four technically undelivered parcels in an empty blue wheelie bin and moved on.

The third person to contact the police was Andrea Murdoch, raising concerns about her sister and family who live at 4 Anchor Road. Andrea’s sister hadn’t turned up for Sunday lunch, and wasn’t answering her phone. Andrea had decided to leave going round to check on things until Monday, she has her own young family to worry about after all, but on Monday morning received a postcard from her sister, an old-fashioned beach scene with girls in frilly swimsuits and men sporting handlebar moustaches, that simply read: ‘GONE TO THE SEA’ in what was definitely her sister’s handwriting. It didn’t have a stamp. 

Only when the search term “Anchor Road” was flagged up as a repeat offender did the police launch an investigation but nothing that they found took them anywhere but to the water. They shovelled sand and seaweed, evicted jellyfish, contacted elderly anglers, plotted routes to the beach, enlisted snorkellers, questioned surfers, and found nothing. Yet it seemed, with no evidence to the contrary, that all of the families had indeed taken to the sea.

Gemma Elliott lives in Glasgow, Scotland and works in the charitable sector. She has recently published short fiction with Paragraph Planet and The Babel Tower Notice Board. Gemma is also the former co-editor of Letters to Barnacle and has a PhD in literature. She can be found on Twitter @drgemmaelliott.

photo by Philipp Klausner (via unsplash)

Full Moon Rise—Caroline Butterwick

You found me here, lying on the lawn, my bare feet pressed into the grass, my knees arched to the night sky.  

“I can’t sleep,” I said. 

“Neither can I,” you said. 

Though we’d only ever spoken to each other a few fragmented times, I clasped your thin wrist and dragged you to join me, to lie beside me, our nightdresses stroking our thighs.  

“I’m sorry,” I said, realising what I’d just done.  

You smiled, stayed. 

The next day I glanced at you when we passed in the corridor. Your milky skin, I decided, was gaunt and grey now I saw it in the sunlight. 

I lie sleeplessly delirious under each full moon, the bed always too lumpy, the pillows turned thin, the sheets suddenly and irreversibly too wrinkled around my feet. You must do, too.  

When another full moon waxed in, I took myself and my restless energy back into the midnight garden. Soon you drifted down the stone steps and over the grass. And again the next month, and the next. We are witches, living for the lunar cycle.  

“Will he find out?” you whispered as you lay beside me on your belly, your right leg tucked over mine. You smelt of sweet musty roses. 

“No. He’s a heavy sleeper.” 

Tonight, he’d been snorting in his sleep while I lay dwindling on the cusp of dreams, unable to shake the muggy room, hot with the stewed smell of me and him, each breath humid as it passed through my mouth. Out here, blanketed by buzzing night air, I lie in the dark and wonder how long I should stay here, waiting to have calmed and cooled enough to return to that room. 

Fingers brush against my leg, and now you lay down beside me, your breath cool on my neck. Curled into each other’s bodies, we drift in and out of tranquil sleep. I wake every so often to feel you still there, your arms wrapped around my chest, then sleep again.  

A cold wind snaps at me. I blink my eyes open. The black sky has melted to early dawn indigo, the quiet now abraded by birdsong. You must feel the change too, for you bury your face into my underarm and huddle closer, nuzzling.  

“We should go inside,” you say. “The others will be getting up soon.” 

In the hallway, the early sun tints your eyes bright pearls. You drag your fingers through my hair and gently untangle it, pulling out a wilted leaf.  

“Again tonight? Maybe, this time, my room?” you whisper. 

I try to find the best words to tell you how it’s a silly thing that takes hold of me only once a month – a lunar madness, lust – and it’s not otherwise grounded in this world.  

As the words begin to form on my tongue, I realise. The sky was dark all last night. There was no full moon. Maybe heavy clouds obscured it, but that’s not true. 

“Your room.” 

Caroline Butterwick is a writer based in Staffordshire. Her writing has appeared in a number of publications, including the Guardian and Mslexia. Her website is carolinebutterwick.com and she’s on Twitter @CButterwick.

photo by Ganapathy Kumar (via unsplash)

Brood Mare—Tim Goldstone

Remote hill country, once of prehistoric tribes; and even today still a land of buzzards, of sparrow-hawks, of drizzle-smoke, of wood, of stone, of bone, of a life for a life. 

Blood dries brown again on the crumpled sheet-nest. For the last time. Now she is prepared to take any risk, to pay any price.

Sudden shafts of low intense evening sunshine squeeze through storm-clouds where a mare stands gleaming under thunder-light. 

She wakes to tell him in the powdery-damp cottage dark, thick walls containing horsehair and lime, she saw their unconceived baby in a dream – as an old man on his deathbed, in this cottage, exhaling his last breath. She falls back asleep, contented, exhausted. She’d opened the bedroom window despite the hammering rain. He shuts it tight, crossly, always the smell of damp: the Welsh earth oozing up from under the floors she’d insisted he stripped back to flagstone. 

Long shining silver-green grass squeals in roughly tugging fingers as he rips it from the rich Pembrokeshire soil – feeds it to the mare with the flat of his callused palm. A soft nuzzling warmth from dilated nostrils.  

Wakes over her – a warm bead of sweat falls from his face onto her cheek, rolls down like a tear. 

He’d chucked the horse’s skull from the foundations into the skip.

Morning sun tugging excitedly at her, she releases a sundial from permanent shade; unchokes a pond; leaves alone the fireweed waving in the guttering; finds a lawn of straw-like tussocks; discovers honeysuckle, mint, creatures tumbling from rotting dog roses – petals falling at her touch. She squats – gathering lullabies and earwigs while petals land as softly as closing eyelids. 

No sound. A frog by the pond. A lizard slips into place on the sundial. A child not yet born leaps from tussock to tussock leaving in its wake an immaculate lawn. A spider  escorts its own elongated shadow across a wall.

She’d secreted shards of horse’s skull, ground them later using pestle and mortar, added water lilies, wishbones, mushrooms, roots, earwigs; boiled them all together in rainwater collected in thunder and lightning – cooking up a storm of her own in spells of summer rain.

She collects moths fluttering around the hurricane lamp, cupped hands caressed by shuddering wings, swallows them with a gulping and elongating of her throat, her chin thrust outwards, grimacing, her head thrown back, her breathing fast and shallow, eyes white. 

She watches him from the cottage – built on land that millions of years ago was under the sea. 

In eyeball-flexing wind the powerfully distilled light vanishes and moving her head sideways to keep him in her eye the mare backs away and in the humid summer evening he realizes spellbound he can see his breath as the storm arrives and the future and the past begin a conjured and ancient border embrace in front of his disbelieving eyes as rain drills exquisitely through a sheep’s skull and grass rushes up through its cathedral ruin of ribs and he is dead.

She sees shadows separate from birds of prey, flow down the sloping undulating fields towards the cottage, vanish through the stone walls protecting her where she sits waiting for the trembling to subside. 

She places the palms of her hands on her stomach. She smiles, the bargain complete.  

photo by Andreas / adege (via pixabay)

Bridget Cleary’s Fingers—Morgan Quinn

  1. You watch her fingers dance, whispering magic into cloth, breathing life into fabric. Her hair is pinned up as she works, a soaring mountain, yielding to the graceful slope of her neck. Your hands long to trace its pale smoothness, touch the tense line of her jaw, taste the perfect tips of her delicate ears. Your lungs burn with un-expelled air and you wonder, with a thrill of fear, if it is your life she is breathing into the garment that pulses beneath her finger tips.

  2. A saucer of milk sits untouched by the hearth, which remains darkened by soot in spite of her ardent superstitions. Those willowy fingers of hers, so deft with a needle and thread – and God knows you love the magic they weave under dark of night – do not make light work of the housekeeping it seems. Disappointing. You twist the band of metal on your own plump digit; sigh despondently.

  3. Her fingers. They are like creeping spider legs, spindly and skeletal, reaching out towards you, pleading and desperate. Your throat constricts. Bile rises.

    This isn’t her.

    She hacks like a stray dog, blood flecks spatter the bedclothes. You stare at her handstitched nightdress, limp and lifeless against her sallow skin.

    In the hearth, a fire leaps, twirls, pirouettes, dancing the way her fingers used to. Her real fingers.
  1. A full moon. You dig beneath a Hawthorn tree, dry lips whispering a fervent prayer. The bundle at your feet is tied with string, like a gift. With mud-caked boots, you nudge it until it slithers into the hole with a muffled thud. The moon sidles from behind thick cloud, but you don’t look away in time. The pale light illuminates her fingers, lithe and brittle and black as coal.
  1. You sweep the hearth. Vigorously. Retrieve a band of burnished gold from the debris. She hadn’t shrieked and leapt up the chimney. That’s what happened to changelings in the stories. She had just shrieked. Loud and long.

    Until she stopped.

photo by Valeriia Miller (via unsplash)