I wish I could say that creating a literary magazine was something that I’d wanted to do for a long long time but that isn’t the case at all; I decided to start a lit mag on a rainy December day that was spent in a dingy Parisian apartment I called home for 4.5 months. A little while later, the website was made.
I can confidently tell you, however, that when I first opened submissions and shouted into the void (the internet) that a new lit mag had been made, I had absolutely no idea just how many people would be interested.
Over 100 submissions and two and a half months later, I present to you the very first issue of All Existing Literary Magazine. I have to admit, this issue is massive. It’s an absolute doozy. But the sheer amount of talent within these “pages” is truly unreal and I implore that you really read the whole thing. Art deserves to be consumed and these contributors have talent oozing out of every pore of their bodies.
Thank you for trusting me with your work. Thank you for reading. And I hope you love it just as much as I do.
Cover art by James Diaz
Tony Osgood, The Moon In The Turbulent Air
Isa Ottoni, The Switch
Cinnamone Winchester and Sebastiàn Ungco, The Death of Koschei The Deathless
Daniel David Froid, Goods
Mehreen Ahmed, Sweet Wood
Syd Vincent, Driving Lessons
Victoria Male, The Crone of Cader Idris
Kai Groves, Closing Grief
Lauren Nicholas, The Portrait of a Woman's Rage
N.H. Van Der Haar, Dear Mr Corcoran
S.T. Brant, The Gods
Caroline McTeer, The Second Face
Emily Coppella, Shade and Night
Hugh Blanton, Joining In
Penny Milam, Salted Ground and Tomatophagia
Bobby Wells-Brown, Journey Through The Other
Sahi Padmanabhan, Darling
Megan Poe, The Dead Fish Between Us
Audrey T. Carroll, Revelation
Emily Strempler, The Encounter
Dylan Bunyak, Grapefruit
Clara Guidry, The Bad Thing
Sura K. Hassan, Practical Potions For Impractical Witches
Willow Delp, Three Hundred Years
M.K. Hale, Change Can Be Hairy And Scary
Adrianne Reig, The Scatterer
Tinamarie Cox, Eleanor
Sara Collie, Pulse At The Centre Of Being
Joanna Theiss, A Time For Work
Timothy C Goodwin, Must Love Eating
Megan Jones, Helianthus
Dave Nash, What I Can See From Here
Wolfgang Wright, Eternal Life
Matt Rowan, A Municipal Zoo
Ramona Gore, The Wind Was Chill
Megan Jauregui Eccles, Love Like Blood, Lilacs, and Wine
Micaela Here, Cost of Living
Karin Schott, Mombie
Andy Larter, You Were Having That Dream Again
Grace Magee, God's Favourites
Brandon Shane, No Body Like You
R.S., Mona Lisa
Kanishka Kataria, Between us let the silence scream
Shamik Banerjee, The Companion
Terry Trowbridge, Instrument of Interference
Emily Kurc, Backyard Potions
Sonika Jaiganesh, eyes within the hedgerow
Bryan Vale, lost in the everglades: or, how life feels to me
Ace Boggess, The Start of Football Season
Ali Ashar, Farewell Party
Grace Sinkins, The Boy Who Doesn't Know How To Read A Clock
Karissa Garza, There Is Still Beauty Here
Savannah Jones, No Signal
Mark J Mitchell, Capping Verse
Christian Ward, Chloe
Alex Missal, Aphorism #18
Salvatore Difalco, Clydesdale With Wife In Tow
Sabrynne Buchholz, The Evergreens
Quinn Matteson, Eve
Abigail Guerrero, Snowball
Claire Beeli, When Forty Men
Irina Tall Novikova, Sivka-Burka
Jeremiah Gilbert, Bergen Street Art #1
Aislinn Feldberg, Insect In A Pool Of Light
James Diaz, A cloud of bees
Phoenix Tesni, gold-tinted, honey-veined
CJ The Tall Poet, The Aspiration Bird
Charlie J Stephens, One of the Rabbits - Self Portrait
Alan Bern, what's left of the Liberty Bell
The Moon In The Turbulent Air
by Tony Osgood
Doogso Ynot waits on Margate Sands for the perfect moment in what will be his landmark day. The shimmering Bank Holiday air is ornamented with moon and sun, is filigree-hazed at horizon. Dreamland’s doors are thrown wide for the trickle of exhausted wet-backed customers to shade themselves on dodgem and ferris wheel. Open-beaked gulls line promenade railings waiting to witness a miracle. Pointless kites wilt ground-bound beside locked bicycles. So many abandoned sandals wait in line for the comfort of soles that Doogso is reminded of a shore-side mosque.
Imagine a stork, still as a petrified branch, waiting on a carp to rise from cool depths. Doogso abides, tilts his head to the sky, closes a blackened eye, wets a finger, raises it to the air, inspects the desert-day, wonders whether limp flags on flaccid flagpoles will serve as windsocks. He supposes.
Aircraft lattice the sky, ships vein the sea. Tourists kebab the beach, Arlington House gravestones the railway station. And all the while the weight of the sunshine in the cloudless sky mocks chewing-gum gut-stuck and guttered. Slot machines thrum hopelessly. By the time whipped ice-cream hits the wafer it is nine-tenths liquid. Helium balloons leak gas until a specific-gravity’s achieved. They gaudy-ballet-chorus at knee-height, bold-coloured, wander the promenade at noon among mad-dogs, Englishmen, burger wrappers, ketchup chipped lips, lost children.
It is coming, change is coming. Inevitable as the downshifting of morning into afternoon, the gearing of before to ever after. Not even Doogso Ynot can be sure., But he is ripe with expectation, he supposes, he supposes, bed of roses. Change is coming. It is for him to fetch.
Why not be a have than a have not? Be an is rather than an is not?
About Doogso’s feet fizzle supine families of all geometries, colours, categories. The scalding singing Sands became, as morning wore on, a wasteland patchwork quilt comprising many yarns and textures. Bright umbrellas shade quaking black-lipped dogs. Cheerful buckets and spades border-guard towelled territories. A weary silence has cloaked the beach; lungs compressed by fever dreams permit no words to rise above a murmur.
Though the white sun vetoes any shadow’s appearance, though suncream and vinegar choke amber sand petrichor, though hokey-cokey penny amusement arcades orchestrate small change, though kiss-me-quick-or-not-at-all passes for scripture, through two-thousand thoughs, Doogso Ynot shall not be deflected, diverted, distracted from his becoming, his coming out as who he is.
The kind of man he wants to be is rare about these parts of little England. Here is not home. Never was never will be. Here he is unable to become what he is not. He’s chosen a untrod path. His is the dilemma known by children of immigrants: to collect from lost property at the border the identity his parents abandoned, the old clothes they judged might frighten the natives. Doogso, unfitting, round peg.
Upon waking this morning he knew the truth so deeply he vibrated. Any child threatened by adult-shaped tomorrows might choose, like him, the turbulent air over the tumultuous ground. Better to take a chance on impossibility than suffocating norms. If he were to turn left his family would heft him right. They’d only exalt or cherish him if he chooses to mimic their decisions. He supposes, he supposes, that’s the fate of every child: to accept the confines and thorns or escape to someplace other.
He waits for a change in the wind. The clock tower celebrates the passing of another hour. Doogso watches a girl too thin, impossibly white, tiptoeing between slumbering flesh, step-stoning into the sand with pointed toes so her feet do not have time to burn, fetching her prize of cloudy seawater carried in a plastic bottle, a bag of seaweed, and a palmful of sea-glass. Diamond-drips fall from her green nylon fishing-net to startle seal-like men awake. They rise white, flap red, curse blue, then fall exhausted and scarlet-backed upon gaudy towels, there to grumble-groan and utter walrus-gruff drowsy obscenities.
Doogso imagines this a Winter Garden show, follow the words, you at the back, all together now: ’Fucking kids, fucking kids, fucking kids,’ these fathers of countless children chide, chanting like a rising wave as she passes.
Fathers urge you to leave, then berate your going.
There’s no winning, he supposes.
One afternoon several days ago, during a few final hushed hours in the last public library in the county, before being closed to save an ugly penny, Doogso Ynot had crouched by a couch and read a sentence of a purple paragraph in a hundred-year-old book written by a man later shot by a Nazi in a small Polish town. He read words meant for everyone set apart. Sentences assuring him that Doogso Ynot would turn out just fine, no matter what the world seemed to suggest; the word on the street of crocodiles was transposed in tense and place and person to be placed within his ear. Others like you have lived, and some, even, survived.
His stunned steps took him back to a home he no longer recognised. Through time he drifted until today, this instant. Hence the beach. And his standing as the slumbering masses sprawl. Hence the uplift of his manifesto: ‘It’s not so bad being whoever whatever wherever, at least it is your choice rather than theirs.’
And if this does not work then he will have gained nothing he did not already possess: ridicule. He’d have gifted himself a blessing by trying. And if it does work? He’ll see.
They’ll all see.
His family he thinks are concrete buildings: crushing, cutting out the light of neighbours.
One tower-block ignorant father, half a bungalow low-slung mother, an older dulled brother apprenticed to their parents’ well-trod footsteps. Each had in their own manner said Doogso was an afterthought. Loved, they intimated, too casually to convince, yet coda. Other, mainly nada.
Since that sentence in the library, Doogso Ynot is beginning to live a life lived well, assert his choices, have opinions. You’d have thought, given their reaction, that having a creed was harmful as chlamydia. And well, look, suddenly his family do not like him anymore.
To raise a child – even an epilogue babe – until it grows ugly seems mighty cruel to Doogso Ynot. In response to their son asking, ‘Are you not happy I am I?’ they trawled the ocean clean of silver fish-wishes, put their son on ice, chanted, ‘Ho yo, we do not know you anymore.’
Long-listed his shortcomings. ‘Master Ynot, why why why, who do you think you are?’
Encouraged conformity, convention, comparability. He was not to call attention to them. They lived in a trench: turn your light out! ‘Herr Haughty, Mr Uppity, you shall amount to nothing if you flout the norms of the land.’
Doogso Ynot repeated his father’s mantra, got in quickly a pre-emptive: ‘I am so terribly disappointed.’ Became banished for several days.
Being barely able to ever insert an askance word into the stream of conscious straightness of his family’s conversation, Doogso Ynot had the reputation of silence awarded him as if it were a laurel rather than a crown of thorns. The quiet boy became more quiet still as time passed. When thirteen he had been moved to speak when his father decided to euthanise Doogso’s dog for being old. Growing elderly in this family, the boy guessed, would prove hazardous.
Their child’s guess proved right. Everything he said from thirteen on was deemed more wrong than all that came before. Just so at school, where the colour of his skin prompted questions of his homeland from teachers making mention of a third world, rife with debt and bloody history, in places crammed with disease and poverty. Here, too, thirteen had come calling before Doogso felt able to point out this was his country. He had not been imported, and he owed no tariff-duty. As English as the royals. ‘Say no more, son, say no more.’
On this matter his parents were silent. Head-down, keep squeaky clean, do not frighten the locals. It makes sense until the sense of who you are has been wrung out of you. Thus the meaning of his difference was Doogso’s to discover. They wished him well, but they could not guarantee they’d be about when the time came to pick up his pieces. If their youngest insisted on climbing out of the trench, it wouldn’t be their fault when he was shot.
He was busily colonising himself, declaring his ownership of self, there, in the foredoomed library, and after, at a hotel-feeling home, mid pronouncement, when his family mocked him most cruelly. ‘Skid-doo hush-mouthed weirdo, put the kettle on, it will suit you better than such airs, hairs and graces.’
‘What makes you so special?’ his brother wondered.
‘Nothing, nowt, not a dicky-bird,’ his father hollered hollowly.
‘Certainly not his uncut sausage,’ his mother growled.
‘We do not know you any more,’ they chimed.
The oven-ready-child becomes today a fresh-baked-man, grows-up-up-and-away, feathers outstretched. He will bathe this old-shore town in shadow, restore awe. Remodel the flaccid stupor of shrivelled razor-shells, seagulls, stall-holders, potted brown shrimp, footsore tourists padding footslog pavements. He supposes, bread and roses, as his old self slowly closes, will come the beauty of this day.
He gathers himself, spits in his swim goggles, adjusts his crotch, shakes arms.
His family, who might one day have read of him in red-top tabloids, more recently have gathered their opinions, propensities, and prejudices from unsocial media. This’ll teach them.
Doogso Ynot is about to go viral. Become an earthquake. He is due to shimmy boundary markers of this sad conservative parish. Shuffle the expected sleight-of-hand that comes with junctures. Speak without words what has so far remained silent. Doogso will tango the TikTok schlock world, Jenga expectations of obedience.
In a minute, one sliced moment, just as the slither of the tock of the tick of his final earth hour comes to tear open his sternum, showing to slumbering tourists unused colours any of them might own if only they searched inside, the boy-no-longer-a-child will unfurl, uncurl in public, and make a timeless mark that will never be rewound, lost, forgotten, or untagged. Some kids grab forever by scratching their name in stone. Some tag motorway bridges. Doogso Ynot will scribble his one life on hearts.
Today will never be erased. Ynot: the final graffiti. Doogso: a modern cave painting. A snorkelling aerialist contorting an echo on earth of a moon ghosted by daylight. The boy who is now a man has learned family is finite in its beauty, limited in forgiveness and loving-tokens, and boundless in its greed for twisting him into a clone of itself. A family is an autocracy, an oppression Doogso Ynot needs to overthrow so he might breathe. Without remorse his family grips.
To grow up is to grow apart.
He shakes his legs, loosens his limbs, rolls his head about his neck.
On your marks.
He is the only once-boy standing on a beach sardined with drowsy tourists. Doogso is an exclamation mark at the end of a sunbathed sentence. He is the beginning of a new paragraph. The only figure wholly clothed head to toe in a world of naked skin. He wears doubled-over wild-swim gear, swim shoes, a scarlet cap, mirror-goggles, holds high in gloved hands an orange safety float tied to his waist, so that should he be pulled out by tide or down by undertow, taken in the shallows by shark, observers will spy his float and maybe alert the life guards.
Doogso Ynot, bringer of a new swim-stroke. Doogso Ynot, capital letter of a new verse, adopts a dive position on the sand.
Head tucked safe beneath his steepled arms, each ear protected by his biceps, every finger spiring, the boy lifts a foot free of coarse sand, of ground-down shell and pebble, and there, he balances for a moment, gaining his bearings, before he pivots, pirouettes, and is away.
Sculls into air.
Kicks up from beach.
Strikes out from land.
Particles of plastic, particles of sand, fall from Doogso Ynot’s shoes. Specks of astonishment tumble slowly down, glitter as they settle on the beach, sprinkle resting bodies red and tan, infect sandwiches with caustic pollution, coarsen apple cores, grit the widening eyes of disbelief.
A boy must not fly. He must stay like the rest of us. A boy of uncertain origins must not go searching for his past and thus his future. A boy – he must not – must not – boys must not –
Doogso Ynot is a line from Lorca – the one you read that summons orange-peel longing at midnight, or the ballad of a firing-squad moon at dawn. He is a fantasy of Rushdie sketched on the real – that makes your stomach chocolate-curl from the deep rightness of your first wholly selfless and most beautiful kiss, as you fail to distinguish between lips, longing and tenderness.
Doogso backstrokes above sun worshippers. Pulls the atmosphere between his fingers. Kicks hard ten meters in to sky. Swims a lazy breeze. Casts umbra over children juggling fear, fascination, ice cream.
A few hands reach up as Doogso Ynot tumble-turns down, pauses to tread air, gain his bearings. He backstrokes among swooping oyster-catchers. Orange-eyed gulls rest on Doogso Ynot’s stomach. Toddlers chase the flying boy. Terriers foul themselves, hackles form mountains. Mothers turn away the heads of the children they can reach. Grandmothers confess they once dreamed of this. Fathers follow the flying boy with bright nylon fishing nets, as if he is a butterfly they wish to collect. Pale poets wonder if they too might abandoned the dead-weight of their lives. Earphones are lost along with surety.
High he reaches, high. Stretches for the calm of the moon in the turbulent air. Doogso Ynot leaves the earthbound to their blue despairing depths. Endows footprints to air, to fable, eddies searching for meaning.
The video of the floating once-boy goes pandemic, solo epidemic. The rest of us, living bound by a deterministic universe, feel undone, strangers to physics.
His brother resigns from the family, his father sabotages his own elevator, his mother locks tight her shutters.
‘No Ynot he, no nah nee roar. We do not know him any more,’ family parrot in exclusive interviews, the evening news, on poe-faced podcasts.
Catholics claim Doogso Ynot for their own, each sect and cult, the same.
A jet is scrambled but detects no trace of the boy who stepped beyond the beach, climbed with a soft-stroke dance intangible air, became a dot, a speck, a spot, to leave us grieving in his shadow.
The next day’s copy-editor headlines fail to find new words to describe the boy’s ascension. Influencers, opinion-shapers, conspiracy constructors, befuddlers, Rupert Murdoch, struggle to comprehend Ynot’s regenerated world. He will pass, they hope. Bury the news, steal the narrative.
He leaves behind… gravity.
All we assumed was true.
He is survived by… those he left behind.
A family pleading for his non-return.
Only Ynot does not pass. His shadow-shape glows gold as a secret angel whispering into the ears of sons, daughters, others, reinvented forms of selfless life, who taste, as if taking in strange pheromones, a change upon the wind. Ynot’s floating presence comes to be a sentence of a purple paragraph in hundred-year-old book written by a man shot by a Nazi, assuring all who let the words show them, that they will turn out fine no matter what the world seems to suggest. Children and teenagers gather in public parks to sing, to raise joined hands toward the sky their parents cannot comprehend, why not Doogso Ynot why not us, too? ‘Why not be a have than a have
not? Be an is rather than an is not?’ the chorus melodies.
The following week, the millstone Government borrows billions in order to supply weighted shoes for every child approaching puberty. Issues each parent heavy chains when the fee for a birth certificate and citizenship is paid. Public information films are produced warning against youth radicalisation, doubling-down on class-speak, chance-speak, change-speak. Doogso Ynot’s face appears on wanted posters throughout England, though he always fancied himself, he muses, oaring invisibly through the cool of the turbulent air, toward an untouchable moon, unwanted.
Tony lives a skipped-stone’s bounce from Margate, England. His short stories and poems have found homes in Litro, Blue Nib, Literary Stories, Scarlet Leaf, Extinction Rebellion and Templeman Review. Two non-fiction books are published by Jessica Kingsley. He is working on a novel.
Clydesdale With Wife In Tow
by Salvatore Difalco
A horse bred for hauling, the man;
the woman, in a dank cantina cured.
Strides without care in the world, braying
to smiles and sneers alike, tipping his hat
to skeletal beggars reaching for alms.
Over the cobbled street, wife in tow,
her breasts like folksy chimneys,
but her eyes like bottomless holes.
Does she know something we should know
or should we mind our own beeswax?
Perhaps life has augured foully for her;
or a fetish for brutes forms her shackles.
Hale and hearty do not enter her look.
But living in a dungeon will do that,
the damp and stench of ancient stone.
The man whinnies, I swear, as he passes me
standing in a storefront shiftless, killing time,
killing the seconds one by one like lice,
for time means nothing to me
as it likely has no meaning for said wife.
Dreary Is The Room
by Salvatore Difalco
I am an alien. Look at my skin.
The sheen alone should alarm you.
The uncanny alopecia also a clue.
The hue, as well, should begin a slew
of interrogations and investigations
and inquiries into my provenance.
Look at my hair—blue-gray flames
burning without heat or smoke.
Look at my neck, a stalk supporting
a cognizant granite globe.
Look at my feet: I walk like a squid
and cannot shimmy to save my life.
What is my name? The Earth one
or my real one? Call me Joe
down here. Back home I’m known
by a name unpronounceable to humans.
My mission is to find proof
of intelligent life on other planets.
How is it going? Predictable data
thus far, no real breakthroughs
to message back to my meta-base.
But in my sort of hand nestles
the secret to the people of Earth:
The Haunted House by Thomas Hood.
A Tall Tall Man
by Salvatore Difalco
You stood there like a man on stilts,
ginger-haired and piano-toothed,
dressed in a forest green suit,
tall as a maple tree, and puffing a cigarette.
The road is long and I have met many
singular people on my walks
but no one else compares.
How tall are you, friend?
Tall enough to be your canopy, your sky.
I didn’t know whether to laugh
at your ready identification,
your intentions unclear. Then I heard
the squawking of a hawk,
but you blocked my view of it passing.
How far can you see? I asked
Very far and wide, you stated.
Across several time zones.
A flock of sheep came trundling by,
wooly and smelling of cheese.
The shepherd followed swinging
a stick and shielding the sun
from his eyes to regard you.
You are a tall tall man, he said.
Yes I am, you said, taking a last haul
of your cigarette and tossing it aside.
The shepherd and the sheep moved on,
glancing back now and then in wonder.
Maybe the shepherd would tell his people
what he saw; maybe he would dream
of you, casting your long shadow.
Sometimes I get carried away.
The bewildering variety of people
never ceases to amaze. An inevitable
question clanged from my lips.
Have you ever played basketball?
You laughed and lit another cigarette.
Ask me if I ever was the Statue of Liberty.
Ask me if I ever was the Tokyo Skytree,
the CN Tower, Millau Viaduct, Kingda Ka,
Burj Khalifa, the Great Pyramid of Giza,
or Hyperion, the tallest tree in California.
O me of little mind! And smaller
imagination! O you, freakishly tall man
telling me in your way to go fuck myself.
I actually imagine I will see you again.
An air of inevitability lingers.
If not, I will climb the closest mountain
and seek out your ginger head,
bobbing purposelessly above the clouds.
Salvatore Difalco is a Sicilian Canadian poet and satirist.
by Tinamarie Cox
The weather was bitterly cold and the snow fell without mercy. Large white flakes swirled and whipped in the gale, circling Eleanor like an angered hive of bees. Despite the raging wind pushing her along with the current of the flurries, all was quiet. Or perhaps her ears had frozen under her hat. She pulled a quivering, mittened hand out from her coat pocket and touched the outline of cartilage under her wool cap. Numb.
Eleanor began to suspect she was traveling in circles. There was nothing to be seen between the specs of white in her blurred vision. Her tears turned to crystals on her cheekbones. The fury of the storm had erased the colors and shapes of the forest scenery.
Her heart sank into her belly as she wondered if she would die like this, here among all the enraged and beautiful white.
Another strong gust shoved Eleanor forward. She held herself tighter, the chill leaching through the fibers of her scarf and prickling up her skin. The storm knew where it wanted her to go. Each rounding burst of wind guided her steps. No matter how deep she dug her heels into the snow, the squall pushed her onward, demanding her obedience.
Eleanor realized her mind was turning numb, too. She tried to remember why she had ventured out into the miserable storm in the first place. She searched the recesses of her mind but the hallways had gone dark. The rooms that held the knowledge were abandoned. The freezing snow had erased everything inside her as well.
Eleanor held onto her name like a lifeline, desperate not to lose herself. However, the rope was fraying. She could have been walking for hours or even days. Did it matter anymore? The snow was her world now.
Before long, all she was left with were a few vowel sounds on the tip of her tongue between her chattering teeth.
When the last of Eleanor disappeared, she surrendered and anchored herself in the snow. She wasn’t cold anymore. She felt nothing, knew nothing, and stared blankly ahead. This was a place between life and death. This was where Eleanor would meet her inevitable fate.
To her surprise, the end of the storm came shortly after. The wind slowed its tempo and the snow changed rhythm. Small white flakes danced in the air to a gentler tune and settled peacefully on the ground around her. Tall evergreens reappeared across the landscape. She felt a flicker in her heartbeat, a glimmer of hope.
Ahead of Eleanor was a small cabin. Her gut churned and formed a tight knot. Something in the air whispered that she’d never reach it.
The little log structure looked at her with a hollow face, teasing her with empty promises of shelter. She looked up at the sky, now clear and bright and glistening like glass. And where she thought the sun should be was a pair of blue eyes. Two large, twinkling orbs watched her.
“Ready for another blizzard, Eleanor?” A cheerful young voice echoed through the air around her. The eager eyes blinked at her.
Eleanor could not answer. She stood, glued in the little winter wood scene, the cabin sanctuary out of reach. There was no compassion in the eyes above her, only joy and excitement. If there were tears left to cry, Eleanor could have washed all the snow away. Her entire, terrible world was in a child’s hands.
“Here we go!” the girl cried. “Whoosh!”
And the ruthless wind came whirling around again, pulling up the fallen snow that had finally found rest. The ribbons of flakes whipped at Eleanor, turning everything white and cold and hopeless once more.
And when I looked at you askance,
One dainty spring-morning in France,
I said, "Oh Mona Lisa, what a prize!
Why does your smile not reach your eyes?
You are all set in glass and frame;
In Louvre next to Notre-Dame,
And million men that you do eye,
Have they e'er stopped and asked you why?
What lies behind your mystic smile,
Which so does charm and so beguile?".
And, when you heard me call your name,
With grace you stepped out of the frame,
Then took my hand held out for you,
And smiled the smile so well I knew,
And said, "Oh will you ever know?
This mystic smile is just a show;
The pain I do so well disguise,
The tears behind the smile in eyes,
For men have seen me smile for years,
Yet never could they see my tears,
And you who set your foot herein,
How did you know the pain therein"?.
And said I, "It's the heart's surmise;
I know the pain behind those eyes,
For oft in smiles are we misled,
Not knowing when the heart has bled,
And when in smiles are tears contained,
Then woe in garb of joy is feigned".
This hearing so she smiled again
And said, "Ah! dear, this world is vain,
I should return from where I came
And smile once more in Louvre's frame".
R.S. is a denizen of Delhi, India who writes Poetry to find harmony in life. She had fallen in love with versing during her days as a student of literature. She rises early to feel inspired with the morning star and create new rhymes.
by Isa Ottoni
There is a light switch in our living room that doesn't control any light or outlet. It doesn't match any of the other switches in the house with its round iron frame, faded scratches on the surrounding wallpaper, or the high pitch ringing it emits whenever I come close. Mum says that's because of disconnected wires inside the walls of this old house, and that I shouldn't play with it.
Mum doesn't understand.
Every morning, I turn it “on and off” exactly ten times. It has to be ten, there's no way around it. Mum waits by the door not looking at me before sending me off to school. When I get back, I do it again. Then again before dinner. And again before bed.
The doctors say my compulsive behaviour is expected, considering everything we've been through, and that the new medicine should fix me up. As we leave the clinic, Mum forces a smile and promises to buy me any toy I want. I tell her toys are for kids, and her smile widens. We settle for the new spider-verse video game on our way home.
Ten times. On and off, on and off, until the ringing in my ear stops. Mum fumbles with the tap of the medicine bottle, some pills falling on the floor. As I help her gather them, she asks what I think would happen if I didn't do that. I shrug, eyes on the ground. I don't want her to be sad, but she insists on it, and when she holds my wrist, I cry because it hurts but she doesn't let me go. Grabbing my shoulders, she shakes me until I blurt out the truth — she will die and I'll be alone!
Her voice cracks when she asks why I would say such a thing, and her face gets pale and weird when I say that's the truth. She has died before, and I can't let that happen again.
Mum pulls me into her arms and I hold her as she cries. I tell her not to worry, that I will protect her, that I am not letting anything bad happen. I got this.
We will be together forever.
The pills are bitter and too big for my mouth, but I swallow them to make her happy, even though I don't like how I feel after that. My head gets all sluggish and my arms too clumsy — but I made Mum a promise and I won't let her down. I drag myself to the switch, one, two, three, five…six, eight…ten? I'm sure it was ten.
When Dad comes home I hug him, burying my face in his jacket. He smells of cigarettes and beer, just like I remember. He pulls away, his eyes landing on everything but me, before dragging himself to the couch and ordering pizza.
We sit in front of the TV and eat, but I barely taste the food or notice what show is on. A man with a thick moustache ramps about alternative realities as the flat screen flicks with static noise. I keep glancing at Dad, at his loose stained shirt, the greying stubbles on his jaw, the dark circles around his eyes. I'm so glad he's here. I hadn't seen him in… in… Dang pills, I can't think straight.
I ask if we should save Mum a slice and Dad chokes on his beer. Coughing, he says I am too old for this nonsense, that he has put up with my weird behaviour for too long, and if I insist on not taking my medicine, he will have to check me into the hospital again. My stomach turns inside my belly — I don't want to go back there. I shiver at the memory of those blinding white corridors with rolls of empty beds that always reek of bleach, burning my eyes and throat. The doctors and the nurses with that weird look on their faces, that whispered tone in their voices, shutting you up like they know better. And if you complain, they bring the syringes. I run my hands over my arms, remembering the blue bruises around my wrists and legs, and bite my tongue so I don't upset Dad further.
He fidgets with his wedding ring as I take my night pills, opening my mouth afterwards so he can see I have swallowed them.
When he passes out on the couch, I sneak to my bedroom, but not before turning the switch ten times. Was it ten? I'm sure it was.
Mum wakes me up with a smile and kiss. She says that because I've been a good kid, we are going to the beach today, and spend time with my cousins. I jump out of bed, running around my bedroom gathering my stuff; my trunk, my bodyboard, my spiderman towel. When I find my football, I ask if Dad will join us, and Mum freezes on the spot. She touches her necklace and the two gold rings hanging there, and says Dad's in our hearts and watching over us, as always. I say of course he is, we had pizza together last night and her voice cracks when she says I should cherish dreams like those. She gives me my pills and rushes me into the car.
The beach is amazing and the summer has just begun. I play and laugh, and bury my cousin Matt in the sand. I don't think I've ever been this happy. When we get home, Mum carries me to bed because I'm already asleep, lulled by the ocean's movements imprinted on my body…
Waves come and go, washing over me. Quietly. Gently. Gradually growing in size and strength, crashing on my chest, raising water to my neck and face, and suddenly I can't breathe. I thrash and turn as cold water burns my lungs, but it’s not water that drowns me, it's bleach, and from the depths of the ocean, a high pitch ringing calls and morphs into words: the switch, the switch, the switch.
I jump awake — the switch! Running downstairs, my pyjamas damp with cold sweat, I almost trip over the last step but reach the living room in one piece. Ten times. Then ten more for forgetting about it in the morning. Another ten as a way of apologising. That should be enough.
Mum's not there to kiss me when I wake up in the morning. Dad sits at the kitchen table, reading his newspaper. He says I should eat something before we go. I ask where, and the corners of the newspaper crumple in his fists.
Through clenched teeth, he says we will go to the beach to see my cousins, and I can't believe how lucky I am — going to the beach two days in a row? I tell him all about yesterday's trip, how Matt's trunks filled with sand, how we tried to surf and got our asses kicked by the ocean, how the seagulls stole our sandwiches, and I'm still babbling about all the fun we had and how I wish he had been there when he grabs my arm and drags me to the car.
He doesn't say a word as we drive off. His face is red and he ignores me as I ask where we're going and why we haven't brought any beach things with us. I ask about Mum, and why he's being so mean and driving so fast, throwing me from my seat whenever the car makes a turn. When he parks, I breathe out relieved that I didn't throw up — but then I see it.
The rusty iron gate covered in poison ivy. The broken stone gargoyles perched on the top. The naked garden and dead trees around the crumbling building.
I can't breathe but I can smell the bleach. I try to open the door and get away, but my hands are sticky, and the safe lock is on. Tears blur my vision, sickness getting hold of me. I beg Dad to drive away, I say that I'm sorry, that I won't ask about Mum again, that I'll take my medicines — I'll be a good kid! Dad lowers his head on the steering wheel, his body shaking, as two men dressed in white drag me out of the car.
I call Dad, over and over again, and when he doesn't answer, I call Mum and beg her to save me. I cry at the top of my lungs, but nobody listens. They twist my arm and I cry. I thrash and scratch a nurse's cheek — he strikes my face and I plunge to the ground.
The world comes in and out of focus, my ears ringing. The nurse pins me down and shoots something up my arm. I fall asleep immediately.
Days are long in the hospital. The medicine makes me dizzy and slow. Dad comes sometimes, but he barely looks at me. He says he's sold the house because the memories were too painful. I beg him to take me home, but he says this is my home now.
I forget about the switch eventually.
I never see Mum again.
Isa Ottoni (she/her) writes fiction with a spark of magic and fantasy with a spark of reality. Her short story “Braza” is featured in Funemployment Quarterly Summer edition, and “Dea Sulis Minerva” in the FSF Writers Alliance anthology. When Isa is not writing, she is teaching and putting her PhD in food consumption sciences to good use, even though she would much rather be writing or reading about --- you guessed, magic. Isa was born and raised in Brazil but moved to Portugal seeking a new adventure. Say hi to Isa on Instagram at @isa.ottoni.writes or check her website https://isaottoniwrites.wixsite.com/website
by Quinn Matteson
Long before we were born,
you could look up into the night sky and see the stars. People would
travel the world by starlight, back then. Ships embarked
on odysseys with only the starlight for company.
You wouldn’t remember. Your father used to tell you that
a person was only as good as where they came from.
It seems, then, a rib bone is all you’ll ever be. There it is -
you’re starting to feel something again.
Quick - a drag, a needle, a puff, a shoved thought,
forced somewhere you'll only find
late at night, at the end of the roller coaster
when there's no more track left to run on. Your father, after all, is never wrong.
The dirt beneath your fingernails is all you’ll ever be.
Same as it ever was. The holes in your hands will never be healed,
for how beautiful are they? They are you;
to lose them would be to lose yourself. Even a circle can look like a line if you go about it right. Your father loves you,
even if he doesn’t ever show it.
Just because you are lost, does not make you a voyager.
It only means you are lost. Get in line. You let what remains flow into the ground -
maybe, there, you’ll feel at place, as it was
before the waves so unceremoniously broke her -
from dust to dust at last.
up is where you think it is
by Quinn Matteson
why am i always made to wander amongst dunes
and to never know why it is here that i have fallen to never find the right questions to ask
to climb them
and view the stars atop them
privately, in my own vicinity
why can i never lay claim to what i want most?
i admire flowers from afar, never able to grasp them, show them
how i respect their beauty-
always damned to watch them wilt
so unable to tend to them
and meticulously arrange them
so as to maintain their beauty forever
i want nothing more than to treasure them
in a vase so solid and secure
to hold them carefully to my chest
and to be intoxicated by their aroma
i yearn to ponder their colors
watch how they bloom and collapse
resurrect them when they are ruined
i worship their delicacy
value the tumultuous torment of
watching them die
in the embrace of my own creating
and the inevitable rejoice
when they return to the beauty i cherish them for
the beauty i long for
i wonder if the stars that I gaze upon
will ever know
how coveted they are.
Quinn (he/him) is a student and pilot in Colorado, where he also helps run a charity providing resources for Afghan refugees. He has been writing for fun for four years, and enjoys playing the piano. He will be attending college next year.
by Lee Eustace
The sound of perturbed water alerts her. Her son, all five years of him, jumps repeatedly on the reclaimed concrete. The water disperses. Quickly. “Not in your new shoes!” she cautions. She watches him stop to consider her words, exploring their depth like the puddle that has since vanished beneath him. “But the lady says it’s okay, that you did this when you were my age.” She goes to speak but she cannot find the words. Any words. She glares in her son’s direction. “She misses you… Grandma,” he states, as if remembering a woman he never met.
Ramblings and Stumblings
by Lee Eustace
Ramblings and stumblings: A series of approximate turns and alleyways. Does this one cut through horizontally? Diagonally? Kotor, with its medieval-style architecture and its rich ambiance, leaves you guessing whether or not it’s the right path that you are on; though the biggest lesson it imparts is that there is no wrong path! Kotor’s sun-drenched lens gives scope to a tapestry of accidentals and purpose-builds. Its charm is underscored by an homage to that which is old, and grandiose, juxtaposed against a rich beckoning of what is to follow. Somehow, in the midst of that dichotomy, the present becomes inescapable.
Lee Eustace is a writer and poet whose work centres on the themes of relationships, social constructs, and culture. Lee is in the advanced stages of producing a debut novel, a collection of poetry, and a standalone collection of short stories. His works have featured in Apricot Press, The Martello Journal, Please See Me, Free_The_Verse, Hot Pot Magazine, Gypsophila Zine, Dipity Literary Magazine, Eunoia Review, and the London Wildlife Trust. @creativeleestorytelling on Instagram.
Between us let the silence scream
by Kanishka Kataria
stalking between the bars of the cage
you are held within,
your feathers are clipped,
seldom you turn to me.
you sing of freedom (with fear?),
i hear you, the inner self always does,
of the unknown, of the mystery,
you are the sound, i’d love to echo.
a wanderer searches for a home,
an empty heart for a soul,
you look for caffeine,
helps you forget yesterday.
yesterday was a bonfire night,
they say, you created a mess of it,
i say, the mess had already burnt,
you collected the ashes. and, cried.
you are numb to feeling anything,
counting all the worst that occurred,
everything has made loving so hard,
let me love you for you.
you are exhausted from the blood inside,
i stand behind you, you faint once, i’ll hold.
my hand is stronger than you believe,
you are stronger than they believe.
you might not remember your first kiss,
you wrapped them around your wrists,
like a threaded bracelet, mom and dad
came and you were filled with sobs.
do you recall yourself howling
in the nights like the wolves,
loudest in the pitch, hollowest in the heart,
let’s peel off today what’s left; deserve it.
you wish they were just strangers,
cherish the happiness after all’s ended,
dare to claim the sky in the winds?
i know, you’ll capture what you dreamt yesternight.
pondering about yourself in vain,
if you ever sit in the dark,
every time your heart aches,
between us let the silence scream.
by Kanishka Kataria
an expanse of pure serenity,
who used to breathe peace and contentment,
who used to hold itself in the chains of stoicism,
who used to believe in the renditions of the universe,
why does it now crave an indomitable spirit?
it stayed back, it was uncertain.
in the subtle corner of insecurities,
it accepted its seclusion with quiet surrender.
it all commenced with a disastrous decision.
entropy, the degree of randomness of a system,
a system, myself. not so closed, but isolated.
i typically raised the temperature and checked,
the system was disrupted, on the contrary.
thought the burnt soul loves fire,
its flame diminished the former glow.
kinetics showed how time takes its toll on the system,
slowly interfering, rapidly damping.
how reserved i was, how hustled i am.
have faith, hell and heaven are not found in maps.
the creator created rooms,
the empty ones seem large
like the heart. several visitors arrive,
why should the system greet them all?
the crowd of dark thoughts and malice,
the noise of joys, you exhaust this system.
the idea of ‘it might be’ is secure for mere speculation.
the reality, maybe it does not exist, even if it does,
sometimes, the facts appear stranger than
the fantasies, i believed.
this system is disillusioned
with the hypocrisy of the world,
how easy it is to put out an empty hand,
how easy to fabricate an estranged relationship,
how easy to peel a tangerine and
adore a sun, both of the same color.
all i needed was a rapprochement,
a healing touch, i wanted to be
clasped tight so that i would not break.
i was hoping against hope
to resuscitate a precious bond,
but it’s just regret that lingers
in the thick silence placed between our bodies.
i knew i was dying,
something in me said, “go ahead,
the abode of the spirits of the damned
are holding back their horses.”
something else in me also popped up,
“you need some interaction to cause the transition.”
they had made me a picture,
it took me my life to come out of the frame.
i choose to move ahead,
the vast expanse waits for me,
to elicit the undeniable passion within me.
my heavy heart seems lighter than our fantasy.
as if the asymptote just met its hyperbola.
Kanishka Kataria (She/Her) is a girl of vision who possesses the immense strength to transform the world with her articulation. Grown and brought up in New Delhi, India, she is a writer and orator who strives to drive the world toward exhilaration and liberty. She is recognized by 30+ organizations for her work in literature, social issues, and scientific research. She brings out the best of herself and holds faith in the universe to render back the vibrations of concern and appreciation.
The Death of Koschei The Deathless
by Cinnamone Winchester and Sebastiàn Ungco
In a certain kingdom there lived a Prince Ivan. When winter came to its deadliest on the eve of his twenty-seventh year, his father the king took Death’s hand in his own and departed this mortal realm, leaving Ivan with but one command:
“My dear boy, take you an arrow, draw your strong bow and let your arrow fly; in whatever court it falls, in that court you will find and take a consort before the last of the snow melts.”
Though he felt that the black clouds in the sky above might never give way to gentle spring, Ivan let his red-fletched arrow fly over the bounds of his kingdom and into the next, where it settled to roost at the doorstep of the Princess Marya Morevna.
When at last the prince alighted from his steed, he found the warrior-princess idling in wait of his call. “Dear Fate! I have been led to the dwelling of a handsome maiden. I am Prince Ivan, and I have come to collect my arrow.”
“Your arrow struck true indeed,” said she, “though I am inclined to keep it, as a token by which I may remember the fortuitous crossing of our paths. I pray you tarry awhile, prince—if your business be not pressing.”
It was not, nor had he any business but with her.
In the days that followed, Ivan delighted to take shelter from the icy frore in the warmth of Marya Morevna’s palace, until at last she was obliged to leave for the unabated warring on the borders of her country. With her journey on the near horizon, Marya Morevna took great care to render all the pertinent house-keeping affairs to the prince before parting from him with the following instructions:
“Go about everywhere, keep watch over everything; only do not venture to look into the closet in the west wing.”
But Ivan could no more stop himself from sating his curiosity than a seabird could remain grounded. The great doors of the palace did no sooner close behind Marya Morevna than Ivan turned about, followed the setting Sun to the west wing, and opened the closet door nestled into a shadowed alcove. The prince descended the stone-carved stairs, holding his candlestick aloft to quell his distant trembling—and below, in a tawdry cell, found Koschei the Deathless.
“My prince,” Koschei rasped, brittle hands clasping at the iron bars of the rusted prison; from behind the empty aperture through which one typically served meals, Ivan could see that they were fettered by twelve chains. “Please, my prince—grant me mercy! It hath been ten long years since even a single morsel flattened mine tongue with its weight, ten years since I last knew not what it was for mine throat to be set ablaze by thirst. Water. Please, my prince. Spare some water.”
With pity building in his breast like kindling in a hearth, Ivan fetched the prisoner a pail of water, and watched as they took their fill. Once finished, they pleaded again:
“Please, my prince. Another.”
And so it went on until the third bucketful, when the wizard cast the empty pail onto the stone floor and shattered each of their twelve chains with a shake of their great shoulders. No longer was Koschei an old man; rather, they now stood taller than Ivan himself, dust-kissed rags crumbling to ash at their feet in exchange for a gleaming, crow-feather cloak.
“You have my thanks, princeling,” Koschei crooned. Tucking a sturdy finger beneath Ivan’s chin, they fondled the prince’s head into a rough slant and nested their lips against his temple. “In return for your generosity, I offer you a glimpse of your future: you will sooner see your own ears than my captor, Marya Morevna!”
“What of Marya?” questioned Ivan, skin crackling with whispered remnants of Koschei’s magic—but in a terrible whirlwind, the wizard vanished, and he was left alone.
With his horse gone from the stables, Ivan fastened his cloak, determined to thwart the wizard’s vengeful ambitions. Time and distance muddied his memories of his father, and even of Marya Morevna—but curiously, he could still recall the touching of Koschei’s mouth to his skin, the sweeping of their lashes as they had slipped from his reach. In the harsh snow, he discovered a baleful trail of horseshoe tracks leading into the woods; unperturbed by Koschei’s head start, he hastened to follow.
Morning turned into night and back into early morning as the prince trudged through the evergreen forest, knees and shins damp with frost. At the dawn of the third day, he came upon a felled tree and decided to rest at the hoar-covered log—but from behind its stump hopped a jackrabbit with a flaxen coat and a belly as white as snow. It thumped its foot raptly upon the solid wood, squarely regarded the prince, and asked:
“Are you a wizard?”
Ivan shook his head, and let his finger point ahead of them. “The wizard went that way. You had better steer clear of the blizzard, or else the cold will get you.”
“Oh.” The curious jackrabbit deflated, before it shot back up again to inquire, “Well, would you like to be a wizard?”
The jackrabbit then took it upon itself to elaborate on what, exactly, a game of chase called ‘wizards’ entailed. Starved for excitement after having spent days ploughing the snow with his boots, Ivan set down his weapon and shook the jackrabbit’s paw. He would soon come to find it a challenging playfellow, with its furry legs built to evade the forest’s most ruthless predators, but their cavorting and gambolling was nothing short of merry—even for the weary prince—and so they played wizards until the Sun sank into the earth.
“That was fun,” the jackrabbit chirped to the victor—it seemed not to care at all that Ivan had an unfair advantage in the end, tall as he was, only sullen that the games had ended. “My mother never lets me play outside. You should have this.” White paws took his hand and gently enclosed a shard of a heart inside his fist. The prince thanked the jackrabbit, and went on his way.
He let the Sun and Moon make their weary exchange in the sky overhead, only minding the tell-tale divots in the ground for their steering of his journey. Hours passed in much the same way before there suddenly came a thunderous noise from afar. The earth shook and quivered, compelling Ivan to press himself against an unyielding tree and wait for the tremors to pass—but subside, they did not, and so he set out to follow.
At last, he came upon a small hut, tilting and tottering on restless hens’ feet. As he approached, Ivan put his hands to his mouth:
“Izbushka! Turn thy front to me!”
And lo, the hut did so at once, scaly legs buckling at the knees with two great thumps. Down from the house stepped a peculiarly beautiful old woman; she lifted her broom high above her head as she peered at the prince, who was illuminated only by the light flooding each windowed eye at the izbushka’s brow.
“Speak, boy,” called the woman. “What brings thee here? Free will, or the call of fate?”
“Free will led my search inside this forest, dama—but it was fate that I be drawn to thy lively abode.”
With a deep, tremulous wheeze, the old woman laughed. “Lively?” said she, looking back to the hut. “Hear that? And so—not only is he courageous, but spirited, too!”
“I mean no harm,” said Ivan, but the old woman shook her head:
“Naturally, naturally. Thy skylark with the lagomorph proved as much. Nothing escapes Baba Yaga, boy—not here, in the woods.”
She took Ivan into her hut, where he was swallowed by the izbushka and soothed with an herbal tea that smelled of anise. “Now, then: what do you seek that does not already lie in your pocket?”
“Baba?” From his purse, Ivan drew the rabbit’s gift. Beneath the glow of the furnace, it almost appeared brighter.
“Fate knows your path, even if you yourself do not. There, in thine own hand, is the heart of Koschei the Deathless.”
His hold became less grip than cradle. “You know of Koschei?”
“I know that this is not their first visit to mine forest,” said she. “Here, boy. I will strike a deal with thee: a story for a secret.”
And so Ivan put his mouth to Baba Yaga’s ear, telling her of his father’s command and how he had, perhaps, enjoyed the journey into Marya Morevna’s kingdom a great deal more than his destination and all that it entailed. As if in a trance, he admitted to his hope that Koschei might yet discover life could be more than this bitter war they had begun within their own body, and upon pulling away, the prince was surprised to find himself feeling a great deal lighter than he had before.
In return, she pointed to Koschei’s heart with a gnarled finger.
“A great many years ago, Koschei suffered a terrific tragedy at the hands of those who thought them a monster for their abilities: unable to destroy what they could not understand, the peoples’ ire turned to the one Koschei loved most. Their heart lay shattered, and so they entrusted a piece each to the animals of this wood before embarking on their reign of terror. This is but one of five such fragments.”
“And what must I do, once I have all five?”
“If I gave you all the answers, boy, the journey would no longer be yours! The heart is the soul; the heart is life. Do with it what you will, knowing that Koschei’s destiny will rest in thy hands.”
Cup drained of tea, Ivan thanked Baba Yaga and went on his way.
The snowfall grew harsher still in the days that followed, but the prince paid no more heed to the weather than he did the creatures scuttling from thicket to thicket in search of shelter from the blizzard that rattled the distant woods. None, in turn, tarried long enough to regard him but one: a peevish little hedgehog who bickered and raised its quills in petulant contempt even as Ivan’s hands cupped its soft belly.
Though the hedgehog sheathed its blades once it was petted and exhausted of its scorn, it only truly lapsed into docile silence when the second shard of Koschei’s heart was passed from paw to open palm. There was no conversation to be had while it sniffed at his gloves and stiffened at the sound of snapping twigs—so Ivan brought it to a hollow tree where it might take shelter, and went on his way.
The wizard’s tracks led Ivan over hills, through valleys, and past many precious spectacles in his trek about the woods—though none struck him quite like the welcome sight of a dry cave tucked into the foot of a low hill. Yearning for refuge from the building storm, he crept into the cavity, blind to the slumbering brown bear who had already claimed the cave as its own until the beast lifted itself onto its hind legs with a great groan.
“Hail, friend,” called Ivan, scrambling to his feet. “Sorry to wake you!”
But the bear was in no real mind for forgiveness. “Damned human!” Lurching forward, it swiped its claws at the startled prince; though he raised his hands in a gesture of peace, it was clear that no amount of reason would keep the bear from hacking him into smithereens. Unable to flee, he drew his sword.
The worst of the storm had begun to roar at the precipice of the cave by the time that Ivan dealt his final blow. Lacking proper protection from the winter chill, he turned the great beast over and closed its unseeing eyes before beginning to cut away at its skin for protection—and lo, an eerie light seeped through the cleft at the bear’s sternum, so bright and blinding it could herald only one rarity: there Ivan found another shard of Koschei’s heart, nestled inside the bear’s stiff chest.
He shed his winter coat in fair trade, blanketing the bloodied cloth over the bear before winding its pelt tightly around himself. Leaving the creature in its resting place, Ivan set off once more, weathering the pitiless blizzard all the way to the hollow of a snow-blanketed fallen tree: there, he fell into a deep slumber. He soon roused to calmer skies, and went on his way.
Baba Yaga’s woods were beginning to warm well enough for ice to melt into puddles; this, Ivan discovered when he came upon a pond so still it stirred with his approaching footfalls. Here he met a pair of swans, one of whom bent its slender neck to pluck a flower adrift in freshwater with its yellow beak. The other flapped its wings, preparing to accept the blossom from its companion, but alas, the flower was swept away by a strong breeze. Surrendering to the unlucky swan Ivan’s own swaddle of peony petals, which he picked from a nearby thicket, returned their thanks and a fourth piece of Koschei’s heart.
Ivan lingered, for a moment, to watch the swans preen one another. When it was time for him to take his leave, he marched onwards, unrelenting; with every step, the tracks in the snow grew clearer and seemed fresher, until he reached a canopied glade and found that there was naught left to follow.
By the last of the hoofprints, Koschei’s cape slithered over the wet snow. “I hear that thou hast been seeking mine heart.”
“I am,” said Ivan, unwilling to deceive the wizard. “Do you still seek Marya Morevna?”
“And what do you intend to do with her, if you find her?”
“If?” Koschei laughed, coming to a standstill before him. “I could very well ask the same of thee. What will you do with mine heart, princeling?” A long arm encircled Ivan’s waist. “Keep it tenderly?”
To this, Ivan had no answer. “I cannot let you hurt her,” said he, finally.
“And so you come to me, expecting a hearty concession. Dost thou take me for a fool? Dost thou believe thyself the first in this attempt? I know precisely what you seek—but I would sooner spend another ten years as Marya Morevna’s mounted insect than let you take my power, my only protection!” Their grip loosened, but did not fall away entirely. As they averted their eyes, Ivan studied the troubled divot between their brows. “Now, leave me.”
“Your protection blinds you to your cruelty. As the fool who freed you from your prison, I cannot stand back and let you take up your path of old; I have found thy heart, Koschei, and I will keep searching until I have every piece. Do you not hear how it calls to you?”
At this, their expression grew cold. “Then so be it: a heart for a heart.” Releasing their hold on Ivan’s waist, Koschei raised the stone dagger at their hip and struck a neat slash across his chest, through the linen strap of his purse and the thick furs that shielded him from little else but the snow. As the former began to slide from his hip, Koschei snagged it between their fingers, clutching the shattered remnants of their heart close to their breast.
Again, the wizard disappeared from beneath their fluttering cloak, leaving Ivan alone in the bitter cold. Still determined to pursue, he dragged his feet across the snow as he clutched his wounded chest—but he did not travel more than a dozen paces before a distant rustling from between the trees snared his attention.
Heavy hoofs bore down on the earth as a great stag straggled into view, antlers spread wide like tree branches reaching for a sliver of sunlight, mane rippling in the wind. Its head drooped toward him, as slow and graceful as any gigantic thing could—until its snout thrust forward to nudge at his bloodied palms. The stag snorted, a white cloud swelling from its flared nostrils and into the frigid air as it began to fumble in terror.
“You are bleeding,” it bellowed, gently biting and tugging at Ivan’s sleeves. “Please, please be still, I am here!”
“Peace, fair stag,” said Ivan. “Peace. The blade did not cut deep.”
The stag took no heed of his words. Still stricken with panic, it continued:
“I must tend to your injuries. Please, do not leave me.”
“Then I shall stay.” At this, the stag fell silent, and in the end finally seemed calmed. It led Ivan to a
clearing left untouched by snow, where the two made a pile of drywood and huddled close to one another as Ivan cleaned his wound with the gentle moss retrieved by his companion.
“Who hurt thee so?” the stag asked.
“Peace, fair stag,” said Ivan. “Peace. Allow me to rest, for now.”
And so the stag remained with him through the night, the firm press of its grey barrow against the prince’s body keeping him warm long after the campfire dwindled to ash. Left in its place, when at last Ivan awoke, lay the last fragment of Koschei’s heart.
As the Sun rose over the forest, Ivan journeyed back to the glade and untethered his horse, whom Koschei had left behind in their hasty flight. With no tracks left to follow, he instead took the final piece of the wizard’s heart into his hands, listening to the way it hummed and glowed with each step in the right direction and letting its call guide his journey back to its kin.
Ivan raced through the melting snow, past great pine trees and around their ice-capped branches before finally catching sight of a black speckle in the distance. He urged his stallion onward, even as a great river approached them in their path—undeterred, it charged and jumped an impossible jump across the rapids, the distance between prince and wizard steadily dwindling.
At last, Ivan’s steed galloped past Koschei’s dark mare, the prince drawing rein a few paces ahead to obstruct their path. As he leapt from his horse, Ivan watched Koschei unsheathe the sword at their saddle before they, too, alighted.
“Let me pass, or draw thy blade.”
“I will not take arms against you,” said Ivan, “but I cannot in good faith allow you to continue.”
“Then you have chosen.” Ivan was ready, this time, when Koschei raised their weapon, and as he parried their blow, a clanging of steel rang so thoroughly throughout the wood that their mounts grew disquieted, snorting and stamping at the melting earth. When Ivan next struck, it was to disarm—though Koschei caught his blade with ease.
“Naïve mortal,” panted the wizard, “I am Koschei the Deathless. Dost thou believe I can be stopped?”
“I do,” came a third voice, speaking from over Ivan’s shoulder.
A barded destrier stood before them, Princess Marya Morevna saddled on its thewy back. Without ceremony, she drew her bow and let fly a red-fletched arrow, which whistled through the air for an instant before it pierced Koschei’s chest. The wizard gasped in pain, buckling at the knees as the princess watched from her mount:
“Take their heart and burn it. Koschei the Deathless shall torment my kingdom no longer.”
But Ivan remained deaf to her orders, casting aside his sword and hooking his hands beneath Koschei’s arms as they fell. Carefully, he lowered them to the grass, called to them once, twice—but Koschei did not hear him, dark eyes cast upon the Moon above, which was just now coming to its apex in the upper sky. “Beautiful,” they mumbled. After a moment, their eyes closed, and they moved no further.
“Pitiful creature!” said Ivan, cheeks guttered with tears. “You knew not what you were missing, knew not what you were giving away when you gave it.”
“Prince Ivan,” repeated Marya Morevna. “Their heart.”
At once, Ivan remembered the fragment in his pocket. It thrummed and sang to the others of its kind well before he placed it upon Koschei’s still body; hearing its call, he reached into the hollow of his purloined purse and ordered the five fragments over the cavity at their breast. “You were good, once. It is not yet too late to make you good again.”
And though their heart lay rearranged, it was only when a solitary tear slipped from Ivan’s nose and wettened the fifth piece that light began to spill from its shattered cracks, and it was drawn into Koschei’s chest once more. With a sombre breath, the wizard silently unclasped their lips:
“Alas, I am whole again—and you have doomed me to a mortal’s death.”
“And a mortal’s life,” said Ivan, tucking an errant lock of hair behind Koschei’s ear, “if you will have it.”
And though their heart was a heavy burden, Koschei came to treasure their mortal life, filled with mortal things. Dreary winter bloomed into spring, life erupting within the barren thickets of Baba Yaga’s wood once again. Prince Ivan returned to his kingdom, hand in betrothed’s hand—his father had led him well, even if his arrow had taken twice to strike true—and with a promise to Marya Morevna that the wizard would mend their ways as company mended their heart, his people made merry all the way to winter next, for Koschei the Deathless was no more.
Cinnamone Winchester (she/they) is a Malaysian writer and storyteller based in Australia. Their work has been published in Bossy Magazine, Chestnut Review, and Panorame Press. When they aren’t working on their debut novel, they can usually be found playing terrible horror games or writing yet another think piece about The Chronicles of Narnia’s queer narratives. Find them on Twitter @ciniswriting.
Sebastián Ungco (they/them) is a Filipino illustrator and multimedia arts student based in Metro Manila, Philippines. They specialize in hybridizing visual arts and other creative forms which showcase their attraction to the delicate craft of story-retelling. If not freelancing and developing fantasy visuals, they can be found curating their 220th Spotify playlist and daydreaming about animated music videos.
by Christina Hennemann
I push the glass door open with both hands, gripping the iron handle in the shape of a pretzel. Guten Morgen, was darf’s sein? I’m greeted by the baker’s wife and the heavenly smell of fresh bread and warm pastries. Has time not moved on since I left? I feel not one year older than the girl who came here after school to spend her pocket money on a scrumptious chocolate-covered croissant with an unhealthy amount of soft nougat cream inside. I’d like a loaf of the Westphalian, I say, and point at the fat, tanned corpse on the shelf. She understands me despite my English accent and grabs the bread with her plump hands, embellished with sharp red plastic nails, impeccable. Plop, bread in bag, twirl and seal.
She looks at me, expecting me to say something. Anything else? she prompts as a glimmer shoots through her eyes, a subtle smile flits across her face. Nein danke, I stammer. That’s everything. She tuts and asks if I haven’t seen the sign outside. About the special offer. A wink. I feel my hand stroke an invisible strand of hair from my forehead. The discomfort of not knowing what’s appropriate. I should’ve been more attentive. She explains it’s International Women’s Day. We have a special offer of fresh men today. Baker-made. Can I get you one? She licks her lips. Well, how does that work? I shift my weight from left to right. I should probably leave, I think, but I’m intrigued. He’ll be ready for pick-up in the afternoon, she says as if we’re talking about a birthday cake.
My mum always said you can’t bake yourself a man, love. You gotta deal with what you get. I go through my list: six-foot tall, blue eyes, greying dark-blond hair (short, please, like him in the picture over there, yes), a six pack, but not too poster-boy-like, you know what I mean? And nice feet, that would be great. I tap my fingers against my thighs as she takes notes. And down there? Another wink. Oh, well, just…reasonably sized. No banana shape, but like, straight, if possible. I blush and she shows me samples. I pick number six. Nummer sex, she repeats in her middle-aged rural accent. What flavour? I can’t decide between chocolate and vanilla, so I choose marble cake. Lovely, consider it done. Paying now or later? I hand her a few coins for the Westphalian and a fifty euro note for the man.
I return with my hair curled and red lips. The door glides open with a mere tip of the fingers. The baker’s wife grins at me and snaps her fingers. Just one moment, and she slips through the sliding doors, into the boiling hot womb at the back of the shop. I stand waiting with butterflies in my stomach. Shame and anticipation feel exactly the same. She comes back with a beautiful man in tow, just the one I had in mind when I ordered. The baker surpassed himself. My man’s bright-blue eyes seem a little empty, but then again, hasn’t he just been born? He wants to be filled with the world. The woman moves to the side and presents the baker-made man in all his glory, butt-naked. I fumble with the top button on my coat. Happy with your order? she clasps her hands. Yes, that’s perfect, vielen Dank. My eyes run over his body, then fixate on the baker’s wife, my anchor. Off you go then, enjoy, the woman winks and waves.
I’m a bit thrown off. The baked man apparently comes without clothes. The first time I understood that I was German was when I wondered why people wore swimwear on beaches abroad. I shrug and take his hand. It’s warm and doughy, and I feel the urge to curl up inside him like an embryo. Or eat him. He smells deliciously of marble cake. He opens the door for me like a gentleman and we step outside. His penis is dangling against his testicles with every step, and I pull my eyes away. Am I obscene or is he? There’s an elderly couple on the other side of the road. They’re throwing us not one glance. A teenager almost bumps into me with his head buried in his smartphone. A father and his little daughter pass us. The girl admires my glossy hair, and the father gives us a lazy wave. This is perfectly normal. We take a turn and find ourselves in a secluded alley. He stops and looks at me as if he’s in love. That should be included in the price, shouldn’t it? I kiss him and he feels real, just tastier. Can you speak? I ask. He nods.
Fawn Sinking In Moss
by Christina Hennemann
You led me on a string of candy pearls, told me you didn’t do relationships when it was much too late. I should’ve cut my losses, but you wanted to stay friends. The kind of friends that make love in the dark, so much love that I couldn’t believe it when you said you had no feelings for me. After all, you were swallowing a rock when you left me the first time, your eyeballs mashed strawberries. And then you always crept back like a rueful serpent, knowing well enough that I’d fallen for you long ago, slithering up and down my back on oil until my spine cracked once more. You bathed in my lovelight, absorbed it gladly until you were full and warm.
Your mixed signals served me my favourite cocktail: a gin fizz, bitters softened in their scrumptious coat of bubbly sugar. In the end you said it wasn’t fair on me when I had those feelings for you, and I asked if it had ever been. You didn’t have an answer really, your fingertips already swiping, having learned nothing about a fragile heart. I wonder often whether you’re cruel or broken, and imagine you did love me, haunted by a swallowing angst. How else could you have made me feel so special, said that I’d put a spell on you? You let me steal more of your hidden treasures, your abysses, than any of these girls.
I squirm at how you dumped me like I was nothing to you. Be honest, I tell myself: it would be so easy for you to get me back. I’d run to you like a fretting fawn, hide inside your mossy chest, hoping once again that your coldness won’t find me there. Is it possible that you’re my home while yours is a shot between cold stars?
I have recently received a twin flame reading. I don’t believe in magic, but pain is my religion. Our reunion will come, my beautiful, terrible witcher. I’m preparing to land within a frosty sky: my heart keeps pumping spiky platelets through my veins as my feet walk on purple clouds, green moss winding its way up my ankles.
flames under her tongue,
his naked hand burning her,
she kissed the darkness.
Astronomy Lecture, Or Mayo Dark Skies
by Christina Hennemann
You’re sitting next to me, hair combed like an innocent schoolboy, flannel shirt tucked in jeans, your woollen cardigan a tight hug, even though it’s April and I laughed at you. You dragged me here to learn about the stars, and although the astronomer is speaking well, I feel as if little kettlebells are pulling on my lashes, my eyelids drooping, the lecture of lightyears, facts and figures lulling me to sleep. But suddenly I jump, you shift in your seat and beam at me: the light that meets our eyes from the night sky is hundreds of years old, some thousands and millions. We’re gazing at ancient stardust, at matter that’s long evolved, or died, or changed its mind. I begin to wonder what stars and planets see, what they catch us doing right now – scenes from Renaissance, Stone Age, an earth ruled by fungi. Tingles conquer my limbs and I swallow the truth, that we cannot see each other as we really are now, we’re just not on the same page, lightyears behind, clinging to a shiny illusion of history. We cannot come together here & now in this universe. But it’s irrelevant matter, I figure. You’re still beautiful.
Christina Hennemann (she/her) is the author of the poetry pamphlet “Illuminations at Nightfall” (Sunday Mornings at the River, 2022). She won the Luain Press Poetry Competition and was shortlisted in the Anthology Poetry Award and the Onyx Fall Contest. Her work is published in The Moth, fifth wheel, Ink Sweat & Tears, National Poetry Month Canada, Tír na nÒg and elsewhere. She is based in Ireland and currently working on a novel.
Instrument of Interference
by Terry Trowbridge
Our acts of inference are prior to our picture of Nature almost as the telephone is prior to the friend’s voice we hear by it.
-C.S. Lewis, Miracles: A Preliminary Study, p. 36.
Wonders of Lewis/Blowing my mind/Five after midnight/and the Sun still shines.
-The Waterboys, Dream Harder, “Wonders of Lewis.”
Telephones: musical instruments
that play voices over all the distances of the Earth.
Thought: an instrument of the liberal art we call “logic”
which is the a priori medium of inference.
Bloom, of “Bloom’s Taxonomy” said “Thinking is a skill,”
and certainly, this lousy poem demonstrates
how setting up premises to reach a conclusion
does not, of itself, stretch over a poetic grid
(oh great Apollo, i pray to You, send me the Eumenides,
Your servants, in Your dual capacity as God of Music and Logic).
(oh great Apollo should i have asked You for help
before the Sun set? Before You left my longitude far behind)?
Wandering mind, through what medium are you conducted,
strung across which ethereal cables spanning which astral planes?
Which of Descartes’ rough drafts crosses out
images that rappel down intimations of electricity,
colonization, pole-to-pole conquest of latitudes linked by instruments
of instantaneity, changing the laws of jurisprudence
to include instant communication
even while changing the laws of physics
to deny the existence of simultaneity?
Which instrument was the bassline and which the harmony,
Telephone or mind? Sound or inference?
If nothing is simultaneous then
can there be coincidences instead of causes
can there be prompts instead of premises
can there be doubt instead of conclusions
can there be a way to be there when a message arrives
can there be any skill to thinking when the instrument for inference
is replaced by the electronic instruments that colonized spacetime?
Terry Trowbridge’s poems have appeared in The New Quarterly, Carousel, subTerrain, paperplates, The Dalhousie Review, untethered, Quail Bell, The Nashwaak Review, Orbis, Snakeskin Poetry, Literary Yard, M58, CV2, Brittle Star, Bombfire, American Mathematical Monthly, The Academy of Heart and Mind, Canadian Woman Studies, The MathematicalIntelligencer, The Canadian Journal of Family and Youth, The Journal of Humanistic Mathematics, The Beatnik Cowboy, Borderless, Literary Veganism, and more. His lit crit has appeared in Ariel, British Columbia Review, Hamilton Arts & Letters, Episteme, Studies in Social Justice, Rampike, and The /t3mz/ Review. Terry is grateful to the Ontario Arts Council for his first writing grant, and their support of so many other writers during the polycrisis.
by Irina Tall Novikova
by Irina Tall Novikova
Irina Tall (Novikova) is an artist, graphic artist, illustrator. She graduated from the State Academy of Slavic Cultures with a degree in art, and also has a bachelor's degree in design. The first personal exhibition "My soul is like a wild hawk" (2002) was held in the museum of Maxim Bagdanovich. In her works, she raises themes of ecology, in 2005 she devoted a series of works to the Chernobyl disaster, draws on anti-war topics. The first big series she drew was The Red Book, dedicated to rare and endangered species of animals and birds. Writes fairy tales and poems, illustrates short stories. She draws various fantastic creatures: unicorns, animals with human faces, she especially likes the image of a man - a bird - Siren. In 2020, she took part in Poznań Art Week. Her work has been published in magazines: Gupsophila, Harpy Hybrid Review, Little Literary Living Room and others. In 2022, her short story was included in the collection "The 50 Best Short Stories", and her poem was published in the collection of poetry "The wonders of winter".
by Daniel David Froid
Ernestine Boggs decided she would throw it all away. It, all of it, all her worldly goods, all the years’ accumulation of junk that she sometimes called, that she routinely thought of, that she often faced the temptation to identify with, her very life. Piles of sweaters and dresses and pants and scarves and socks and sundries in every conceivable—and some inconceivable—shade and texture. Countless pairs of shoes, mostly tooled from animal skins into the tapering shape of little feet. Her collections of porcelain dolls and stuffed animals, whose wide painted eyes leered at her in rows, observant, curious. Kitchen appliances with purposes specific and obscure. Sets of dishes in patterns floral and geometric, enough to set a table for the entire population of the small village in which she lived. The toys, beds, sweaters, and astonishing variety of miscellaneous accessories for her elderly Vizsla, Cheryl. And the books! The books that would one day exert a will of their own and crush her under their sheer tonnage; the books that crowded every spare wall of every room; the books that at one time represented this or that—intelligence, taste, class, lofty idealism—but which now lacked an audience to convey any such symbolism, because nobody ever paid her a visit. The books that she thought she wanted so very much and now found she did not much care about at all. Ditto everything she owned; she no longer cared.
What chills me, she thought, is a burgeoning suspicion: that all my worldly goods have entrapped me, have inextricably locked me into a certain kind of story. My claims upon it, and even Cheryl’s, are tenuous at best. At best, and at worst nonexistent. My life belongs to, has been captured by, my worldly goods; its territory has been ceded. Goods! And what, dare I ask, is the nature of their goodness? A good answers the call of a desire, unless it meets a need, of which I have, truth be told, very few; but whether it is good to satiate my desire, or whether I ought to have spent my life in privation—redirecting the energies that propelled me to accumulate more and more goods toward some nobler end—and whither I ought to direct those energies now, seem to be more pressing than anything else.
The decision arrived like the appearance of an angel—an annunciation. Sudden, beautiful, sharp, and bright, it brought a sense of clarity and giddiness that bordered on euphoria. For an hour Ernestine wandered her house’s seven rooms and chortled with delight at the thought of watching it all disappear. And then she thrilled with the delectable impulse to destroy it all herself.
An annunciation, she thought, is an event horizon. There is neither going nor looking back. One rushes into a different and more numinous world, whose contours are unknown until one has stepped into it—which is precisely what I want. To enter that new world. To outside observers, I would appear to be mired in infinity. To myself, who knows? I have traversed it, have entered that new and mysterious space. Destiny announces itself and one must follow its heed, which is to say that one might as well plunge into the black hole’s depths and never worry about looking back.
She began with that which seemed most expendable. The porcelain dolls leered from the shelves and atop the bed in her spare room. She grabbed one, a doll dressed in the glittering garb of a harlequin, purple and gold, and held it in her hands. Its body was soft, cloth stuffed with cotton, its heavy porcelain head listing to the left. Swiftly she moved to the sink in the bathroom and, placing her fingers on the doll’s head, pushed them inward. The porcelain shattered easily under such pressure. Fragments of alabaster skin and cherry-red lip showered the recess of the back of its head, as well as the sink beneath it. She giggled, rotating the doll and watching the fragments descend into the sink. She tore the doll’s head away from its body and glanced at the stuffing within. “Farewell, farewell, farewell,” she said and patted its back.
Handfuls of dolls made of felt, whose leering grins and grimaces she used to treasure, met the force of a firm ferocious grip. Stuffing surged out of seams like foaming waves upon the tide, and she grimaced, too, with a savage delight. She smashed the heads of dozens of dolls, tearing them off and tossing them into the trash one by one. They will soon, she thought, populate a landfill, this army of maimed clowns and jesters and ladies in petticoats, all these little animals of plastic skin and synthetic fur, and perhaps one day they shall take it upon themselves to form their own parliament of the broken and shattered and to enact decrees that will govern the lawless wilderness, which will be all they shall ever know. They shall rule from atop thrones of steel and plastic.
And then she found the materials that might serve as those thrones, as the foundation of the city center from which they should build their empire. She reached for her convection oven, her air fryer, her blender, her juicer. All such contraptions she heaved into the bin, listening carefully, hand cupped behind one ear, as each one landed with a wonderful, cacophonous crash, prompting Cheryl to bark. She imagined them in piles as tall as the sky, glittering and garish metropolis of rubble overseen by broken dolls.
Bags of trash swelled by the dozen. They sat, sagging, as Ernestine conscripted still more of her things, still more bags, to join their ranks. She turned to her closets full of clothes and began to grab nearly at random. Fistfuls of thin silky scarves and wads of socks sailed into flower-scented bags. Ernestine moved on to her underclothes; to dresses in loud prints that she formerly favored—leopards and zebras danced on hangers and soon coalesced into piles—and novelty t-shirts with unfunny slogans, most of them concerning various states she had had the misfortune to visit, and so on and so on. She grabbed heaps of clothes and drove them into bag after bag. Soon rows of teeming trash bags barricaded her bedroom and closet.
She pictured the clothes in piles at the dump, lasting an eternity perhaps, as their fibers refused to degrade. These, she thought, shall form the very bedrock of that new society—the foundation upon which the empire shall grow.
Her relish soon drove her to the most arduous obstacle: the books. They towered before her in the bedroom, the living room, the office, in shelves and in piles on the floor. A sense of prudence prompted her to lock Cheryl away. Then Ernestine marched to her office and faced the shelves, taller than she was, that lined the walls. She held a crowbar. Moving gingerly toward one bookcase, she slipped the crowbar’s pronged tip behind it and positioned herself to one side. As hard as she could, she gave the crowbar a wrench, and with a thud the bookcase fell to the ground. The books flew. From a distant room, Cheryl barked. Ernestine climbed atop the fallen piece of wood and stamped her feet.
Returning to the floor, she repeated the procedure with two more bookcases, watching them topple, listening to the wood of the first one crack under pressure. She grabbed hardbacks, one in each hand, and hurtled them against the wall. She held one very thick book in her palm, a mass-market paperback with roughly textured, yellowed paper, and ripped it down the middle. Pages fluttered in the air. She laughed. She picked up more paperbacks, by turns tossing them far above her head or tearing them in two, and continued to laugh. And “Farewell, farewell, farewell,” she said again. She was bidding adieu not to the books but to her very self, whose disintegration she observed in bits and pieces. She walked over to one corner of the room, where near her desk she stored her own books in numerous identical copies. She took a copy of each and ripped them, too, in half, tossing the remains behind her back. She would be glad to see them go.
She left the room with one last glance at the fallen shelves, the ruined books, the pages that coated every surface. Downstairs, she released Cheryl and retrieved a box of garbage bags; the pair climbed the stairs and waded into the mess. With considerable speed, Ernestine stuffed the pages into trash bags. These, too, would fill the empire that ever expanded in her mind. Perhaps pages would coat the ground like roads, lanes, alleys between skyscrapers of broken microwaves and tattered sofas, and her dolls would happily glide across those roads. The torn-up pages would knit the empire together, just as Roman roads did; and, Ernestine, thought, why should they not last forever? We may still walk along those viae as often as we like, as I have done and likely will not do again, at this great age and at this late stage of the world. But my roads, my paper roads, shall do their own work of unity and strength. Notwithstanding that the paper shall degrade. Notwithstanding that the dolls are not alive. Notwithstanding that none shall live to walk those roads.
She saw in a flash the dizzying heights of the towers, metal and plastic tickling the belly of the sky; the endless roads of stiff yellow papers, soiled and stained, no longer smooth, their text illegible and therefore meaningless, serving only to protect dainty and unnatural feet from grazing the earth; and the dolls, the dolls with chipped porcelain faces—this one missing an eye, that one bearing cracks at either side of its mouth, another with no face at all—who laughed atop their thrones, surrounded by a court of felt and polyester creatures who heeded their bidding. Shall even the angel, she wondered, who effected my annunciation notice? Shall an angel descend and pay them a visit and instruct them to do—what? Into what waste could their waste be made? What goods could they do without, what goods could they relinquish, given their nature? Being pure goods, or pure waste, themselves, they remain innocent.
So she thought, still frozen, oblivious even to the pacing of Cheryl, who persistently nudged her companion’s hand and, after a short time, began to whine.
At last the world dredged Ernestine up from out of her reverie. The pair went outside, and the dog soon earned the reward of her evening meal.
The goods were packed. Ernestine worked for several days and nights, allowing it all to pile up within her home. Where furniture once stood, the elements of her life, the symbols of her being, now rested trash, in quantities innumerable and indistinguishable. Her house was in the process of emptying, and she felt, along with it, the draining of her being. The idea pleased her. Her personality was nothing more than what might fill a vase, a fragile structure, thin and brittle, full of the flowing liquid of the self. With her home, the vase that housed her, now poised for destruction, the liquid would disperse. She relished the thought.
She set aside a whole day for the trip to the dump. It was a long way out, past the edge of town where she had never been, past the sad decrepit park that the town did such a poor job of maintaining. Peering into her rearview mirror, she gave Cheryl a meaningful look, intended to convey a wistful disdain. Though Cheryl likely did not notice her companion’s eyes, nor register the meaning of the glance, she nonetheless seemed to return the look with a glint of humor.
At the dump, Ernestine parked, stepped out, and stretched. Nearby a squat brick building safeguarded the entrance to the landfill. It looked deserted, though it was a warm, bright, pleasant morning. She opened the back door for Cheryl, clipping a leash to her collar as she stepped down, and then the pair marched to the back of the car, where Cheryl waited as Ernestine unloaded the trunk. With Cheryl’s leash wound around one hand and two bags of trash clutched tightly in the other, Ernestine forewent entering the building itself and instead moved directly toward the landfill.
The landfill stunned her. Never before had she seen one—had she glimpsed such a colorful sea, which seemed to sprawl for miles. A congealed, confetti-colored sea, it looked neither solid nor liquid but something in between, or something utterly other, a new state of matter. She gasped. Here, she thought, is where my things shall come to rest. Here is where my self shall dissipate, where all those things that, I’ve decided, no longer matter shall forever sleep. If this is sleep, if this is rest. And it is from here that my dolls shall rule; and paper roads shall leech out of this sea and connect one to another, and something else, some new primordial life, shall crawl out of the sea and walk and breathe.
“Oh, Cheryl,” she said. “There it is.”
She heaved one bag into the landfill and watched as it fell with a thud. She held another in her hand and, before permitting it to join its kin, ripped it open, to see its innards—mainly socks—splay with its descent. “And there it goes,” she said.
She spent hours moving back and forth from the car to the landfill. Nobody disturbed her; she saw not one single other soul. And somehow their solitude, hers and Cheryl’s, seemed right, seemed to uphold the notion, faint but growing larger, that what she then underwent was a pilgrimage to the sacred site of the future. And when she was done with her initial load, she went back to her house, leaving Cheryl there this time, and spent the rest of the day and a second day, too, hauling more from the house to the great wasted sea just past the edge of town. Each batch of clothes and dolls and books and mementoes that she flung into that bewildering sea moved her a little more.
When the house stood empty, and almost nothing remained inside save for Ernestine and Cheryl, she smiled at her dog, gave her elegant golden head a pat, and clipped the leash onto her collar. “Come, Cheryl,” she said. “One more thing remains.” The subject of no empire, of none that yet existed, she exalted her new state.
Ernestine lit a couple of matches and tossed them into different rooms, and she and Cheryl fled into the night. “Farewell, farewell, farewell!” she said. She felt the thrust of her launch into the future, which was utterly blank, exquisitely so. “Who am I?” she whispered to her dog. “And who are you? Isn’t it marvelous not to know?”
Daniel David Froid is a writer who lives in Arizona and has published fiction in Lightspeed, Weird Horror, Black Warrior Review, Post Road, and elsewhere.
Pulse at the Centre of Being
by Sara Collie
There are all kinds of reasons why a person might find themselves in a grimy underground nightclub at 2 a.m. The poet told herself she was there for some fresh inspiration. She hadn’t found a poem in the usual places for quite some time. The tree-tall woods no longer whispered their secrets to her on the breeze when she wandered among them alone; the quiet mornings when the garden softly shook itself awake offered no fresh insights; even the green bends of the river had dried up. Where would a poem hide, if a poem could hide? She would have to look somewhere new, somewhere out of her comfort zone.
Her hands, her feet, they knew it before she did; they recognized the rhythm, remembered the time when she had lived inside it. It felt like the heartbeat of the world. She told herself that was why she was there on the dance floor amidst a sweaty crowd of strangers. The DJ was mixing together soundscapes that felt like technicoloured jolts of electricity waking her up from a deep sleep. For the first time in a long time she felt wildly, viscerally alive. She had drifted away from her friends almost as soon as they had arrived in search of something completely unfamiliar and here it was, surrounding her. She kept catching glimpses of a poem in the hammering bass line that was not so much a series of sounds as a web of powerful feelings surging up through her body, rattling her bones, setting her pulse racing.
Surely, she could find a poem nestled there, in the strange pulsating space where the crowd was moving as one in a vast sea of arms that was welcoming her, holding her in its sway? She could sense something forming as her heart thudded, pumping chemicals and illusions around the circuits inside her as she danced and danced and danced…
Suddenly the dots were connecting up too fast. Suddenly the dance floor rose up to meet her at an angle that was all wrong. There was a rush of noise and heat. When the confusion cleared she realized she was coming round in a small white room. The bass was still pounding on the other side of the wall, muffled now, as she pieced together what had happened: the concerned bystanders crowding round as she slumped to the floor, the bouncers carrying her unresponsive body out of the crowd after she had fainted; the kind paramedic taking control of the situation, insisting that he monitor her until she made a full recovery. She kept apologizing to him but he reassured her that it wasn’t her fault and for once, she half-believed it. But as colour flooded back into her cheeks and a vague feeling of shame settled, she knew her quest was over.
She realized it hadn’t really been about a poem at all; she had just wanted to escape herself for a while. She had wanted time to open up and stretch out so she could hide too, somewhere where her feelings of failure couldn’t find her. They had been looming so large lately, colouring her days, making it impossible to think about anything constructively or feel anything but worthless.
Moments later, reunited with her friends, she was ushered out into the cold, dark night where the brash pink light of a neon sign glowing brightly through the window of a nearby bar caught her eye. It read:
IS A MISTAKE
She thought perhaps that was it, those six words – that was the poem. It hadn’t vanished after all, but was reverberating onwards, outwards, like the music ringing in her ears, offering up a reminder of her place in the world, providing a different kind of baseline to explore.
She would put the poem on a page where everyone could read it, and just like her, take their first tentative steps on the long journey back towards home. The trees and their secrets would be waiting for her there. And when she was ready to dance again, the sea of arms and the new space of belonging that she had found in the music would be waiting for her too.
This title references the Max Cooper song of the same name, track 6 on the album Unspoken Words 2022
Sara Collie is a writer, language tutor and psychotherapist-in-training living in Cambridge, England. She has a PhD in French Literature and a lifelong fascination with the way that words and stories shape and define us. Her writing explores the wild, uncertain spaces of nature, the complexities of mental health, and the mysteries of the creative process. Her poetry and prose have appeared in Neon Door, The Selkie, Confluence, Synkroniciti, Stonecrop Review, Outwrite, Full Mood Magazine and elsewhere.You can read more of her writing via her website: saracollie.wordpress.com/writing/
by Shamik Banerjee
The road, for workstead, that I pass,
is mid-width with over-turfed grass.
A composure of soundless air,
circulates 'round this lode allwhere.
No bird, no squirrel here does trace
and this is an unpeopled place.
At morning, it is very toom—
a few trees only the sideways groom.
At day, the Sun's my attendant,
and its sunlight my confidant.
No wheelbarrows, no cycles roll,
except me pads here not a soul.
At mirkning but, when homeward bound,
a stomping and a clomping sound,
is clear heard from a pair of boots,
aside this path where came new shoots;
but no one is there when I see;
I know not who's this company.
And all I know- with me it walks.
It nudges not, neither it talks.
It keeps always a genteel meeting,
yet never has it made a greeting;
but I think in me it did find-
a like and amicable mind.
But what startles me- it does turn,
when I almost to home return.
Its alacrity then does fall,
when we approach a Cedar tall,
which bears two cross-shaped boughs from bark,
from there its footings, I don't hark.
The Face of Olga Moretti
by Shamik Banerjee
From her window, would Olga Moretti,
during my bimbles, greet and smile at me.
Same instants, she would stand there everyday,
when I would shuttle on the footpath's way.
Not much about this elrig I had heard.
Of her, the townfolk spurned to say a word.
They'd adhort me, 'bout her, to not enquire
and say, talks on her, are baleful and dire.
This provoked me to Olga's annals know.
So I did to the local rector go.
What he unveiled, had then ruddled my eyes:
a year agone, she met with her demise.
One sunfall while this girl was at her play,
a storm- murderous, made the Hawthorn sway;
and splitted a knifelike branch from the rest
which darted and transfixed poor Olga's chest.
When I professed that our sights did meet,
he unheeded, saying 'twas a conceit;
of things untested, unfond was my mind
hence for the truth myself forthwent to find.
It was under a starless night of June;
the sky was mirksome, livid was the moon;
I entered and near to the front door stood
where welcomed me a minatory wood.
Same was the bosk the rector had detailed.
A fremd and trenchant air around me trailed.
Within this curtilage all I could see:
ruined trellis, creepers and the Hawthorne tree.
There were wrecksome walls, a raddled shielding
and a ghoulishness within the building;
an eldritch sense I was not lone that night
allwhere redounded a feminine shright.
When I clambered the old and fractured stairs,
too engirdled me the outlandish airs.
Half-hour in her empty room I spent
and goggled the spot from where smiles she sent.
Assured all was imaginal, I ended
my find, and while midnight too descended,
saw the window when homeward were to trace,
there bestood Olga in her smiling face!
Shamik Banerjee is a poet and poetry reviewer from the North-Eastern belt of India. He loves taking long strolls and spending time with his family. His deep affection with Solitude and Poetry provides him happiness.
Must Love Eating
by Timothy C Goodwin
He got a job with the government, since he loved eating. Working for the Good Guys, he did his duty by eating secrets: paper-flavored codes. Wilting lists of their secret police’s real names. Expired booby traps. General Beauregard and Admiral Blanch would stand aside and chat while [Celebrity Chef’s name redacted] stood over him, arms crossed, astonished at his ability to just. Keep. Eating. Undercooked microfiche, stale propaganda, bland secret cameras. He was constantly, sternly reminded of his duty, but he couldn't care less: he never had it so good, since there always was so much of it, even though it never filled him. When he was captured, the Bad Guys diced through the eater’s doody for clues to their imprisoned loved ones’ whereabouts, what was being done to their water, which of their villages was next. Famished, the eater asked for a little something-something. The Bad Guys gave him their local specialty: a delicious concoction smack-dab in the center of greasy, fatty, salty, and sweet, made with the confident ease of tradition. He ate one. “General Beauregard meets a woman who isn't his wife at the Timberline Hotel every Tuesday,” the eater burped, licking his lips.
Timothy C Goodwin (he/him) has work included/upcoming in Maudlin House, The Centifictionist, CLOVES, Soor Ploom, BULLSHIT, and elsewhere. He lives in NYC with his partner and their dog, Awesome. timothycgoodwin.com
by Emily Kurc
Witches are born when
their first spell is
mixed with onion grass
when bookshelves are
filled with jars of shells
and sea glass
when the moon becomes
a passenger in the back
seat of the car
witches are born when
the flame flickers just right
and the room whispers:
here she is.
Emily Kurc is a poet and artist from the Jersey Shore. She is the author of Heartbreak Inferno and her self-published chapbook, Where the Ivy Grows. When she isn’t writing, Emily enjoys thrifting, introverting, and doing witchy things.
eyes within the hedgerow
by Sonika Jaiganesh
mother always feared I’d be a snake
sampling the unseen in the air
as I slid out
even though it was a mark of the divine
she’d always in girlhood
faint at the sight of gold-tipped scales
when I was still buried
in that plasma-whetted dirt
she’d make ovals
of the dome chanting
feel secured in the liminal within me
let the boundaries of your consciousness
be my linings
I slithered out into corners
in the delivery room sterile white flickering
as the crust shook
and grandmother by the window
waved premonitions into auras like victories
when I was a child I once spied
blue-lidded eyes closed looking out
nestled in the hedgerow on trail
from school I ran home
all the way throat thinning
with the acrid taste like a coin for tongue
oh that the wandering scent of god had found me
now I’m footless over oceans
in the lonely infinity of subliminal pantry
swallowing whole a hot cross bun
and I betrayed you back then I didn’t slide
out but I was lifted
out from quartered bloody
the apples skin tastes sweeter than the seeds
Sonika Jaiganesh (they/she) is an undergraduate student based in Scotland. They enjoy writing poetry to create variable, shareable experiences from their current fixations, thoughts, and niche interests. Their work has appeared in 'The Ekphrastic Review', 'Visual Verse', 'Literary Veganism', 'Serow', and more. You can follow them on Twitter and Instagram: @sonika_jaigs.
Bergen Street Art #1
by Jeremiah Gilbert
Bergen Street Art #2
by Jeremiah Gilbert
Jeremiah Gilbert is an award-winning photographer and travel writer based out of Southern California. His travels have taken him to over a hundred countries and territories spread across six continents. His photography has been published internationally and exhibited worldwide. His hope is to inspire those who see his work to look more carefully at the world around them in order to discover beauty in unusual and unexpected places. He is the author of the collections Can’t Get Here from There: Fifty Tales of Travel and From Tibet to Egypt: Early Travels After a Late Start. He can be found on Instagram @jg_travels
by Mehreen Ahmed
Late afternoon drizzles blighted the lights. Layered clouds, hungover in translucent folds. Dusky shadows fell upon a gully’s end. Next to this, a cinnamon farm lay stretched to the horizon. Tia Magnolia stood on this farm, under a cinnamon tree. Her red sari wavered in the moody winds. She stripped off a clump of sweet wood from the scented bark of the tree. With a secured knot, she pouched the bark inside the sari’s loose trail. It dangled, as she threw it over her shoulder. The sticks of the ancient spice were sturdy, yet delicate to crumble at the slightest twist of fingertips. She pulled a branch of the tree and reached for its leaves. She plucked a few to squash them in the middle of her palm. An aroma was released. The sweet smells of the cinnamon pervaded the air of the gully. She wandered down the bush paths.
Apart from the drizzling sounds of a southerly, there were no other sounds. Rains skewed over her as the intensity increased. She heard the lashing of winds on the lowland by the basin. Down by the basin, wisps of vapour rose. They covered the cinnamon pathways in a smoky haze. She had to get away. Trespassing through the cinnamon garden was an offense entailing harsh punishment. She had to avoid it at any cost. This belonged to a merchant who traded the spice to the West. She headed for the hills. Her plans, to ascend it on her nimble feet, toward a cottage on the peak. But the winds escalated; the roars louder. She struggled on the sharp incline. Winds kept pushing her down.
The hill was covered with feral trees and shrubbery. Rare dragon blood trees and wild cinnamon. Through it all, she tried to climb. Her sinewy arms ached from stretching for balance. Ravens and wet crows flew over her in a rush to get back to their nests. A nasty storm brewed. Tia, kept up her journey. Its end appeared a long way away. Rains dribbled down her smooth, dark face. Her clothes drenched in water clung to her body. She stopped to take a breath and looked at the basin. She saw a silken enigma of coloured Borealis envelop the hot spring. Tia’s breathing shallow and difficult, she viewed gods,’ engaged in seductive frolicking in a warm bath. Gods’ hand in all this. Indifferent to the human cause, their laughter rang in the winds, as they splashed water, and plopped playful rocks into the basin. She stood there, clearly enraged. Tired, but resilient, amongst the fallen debris of a gathering storm on her homecoming.
Close, but not close enough. She must make sure that her journey ended up in the cottage. It was the final destination. One that she must fulfil. When she came to pick the cinnamon bark, she did not think that far. That the heavy rain would make it all blurry. Now, it fell everywhere and blinded her, made this journey difficult; her way up through the deep forest.
She tumbled. She assumed she fell by the loop-root mangroves. Why? This place had always been dark. She thought, she almost saw a white unicorn on the mangroves’ edge. But no, it was just a figment of her mind. Her journey ensued. This golden cottage mounted like a pearl of paradise. A cry pierced through the pattering rain. It was but the gusty wind, cutting past her in hasty rage. With each step forward, she went a step backward. Alas! The winds beat her to it, getting in her way. Reptiles crawled back into their holes. Tia Magnolia kept pushing on. The wrong day perhaps to come for the cinnamon, Oh! The sweet wood! It could drive anyone crazy with its perfume. This forest, in the grips of the winds; even the soft rains wouldn’t let her pass. Too dense, she could not see far, afar. She fell on the slippery terrain. Her knees bled. The gods smiled.
Living in this forest, some days she ate, other days she ate her hunger. She was poor, but she didn’t feel poor. Not until she met her terrible fate. That the cinnamon merchant had come after her. He took her to his great mansion and cajoled her into believing that he would take her places. The fool! The colossal fool, she was. His maddening charms pulled her toward him like the black iron-ore, that middle-aged cinnamon merchant, of fifty years. She, a tender sprout. A romantic nomad, he told her stories. Breathtaking stories of places he had visited, which melted her heart. Wonderful tales of giant hawks, and sweeping vultures scouring the sky and the earth. He described one palace after another. Magnificent ruby summer palaces of the East, sapphire winter palaces of the West. Beautiful princesses covered in blue and red head jewellery, danced in their primrose flowing robes when they walked up to see what he sold. The aroma of his cinnamon floated high in the air. The infusion of cinnamon tea made way for a porous imagination. Imagination from where a pantheon of visions flowed; of scarlet battles, glittering diamonds on crowns and studded sceptres. Victors and vanquished Kings and Queens of their kingdoms.
Tia Magnolia listened in a trance. The more she listened, the more she became enamoured, and drawn into the spell of the sweet wood. She wanted to become a princess. She wanted to live in a mansion. She wanted it all. She wanted the impregnable walls to fall flat at her feet, to open passages strewn with silver tinsels. Time and time again, he told her these stories behind closed doors, and then left her mesmerised in a bloody contortion of heartaches. He would be gone for years after that. And his tales would arouse curiosity in her loneliness. She would feel poor for the first time. Such illusions were a reality for her. She lived in that bubble, night and day. Bubbles which could burst, and leave her exposed. But she paid no heed to those warnings.
Now this passage was hard. This rain. This soft thumping on the lush mountain, the sweet wood soaked in the sari’s pouch. The winds stood in the way. A hunger seized her. A hunger to see a blue butterfly in the first Sun, and a dazzling, plumed peacock of extraordinary colours. That dream, this storm could destroy. She took the difficult route. A choice she made. She must make it to the top of the hill, no matter what stood in her way. She kept on going. She kept plodding along. The higher she went, the harder it got. She pushed herself up the slope. She slid and started anew, a yoyo of rising and falling. She felt like giving up, this arduous journey, which was what it had become. She wouldn’t come undone. Just as well, her heart a heaving heap. That mansion, and the golden cottage up the hill streamlined in her imagination. Her strength did not dissolve like any molten lead. This was what kept her going. Life was not meant to be defeated. She was not a defeatist. This journey’s end was at the tip of the mountain. That’s where her happiness lay, her little bundle of joy. The joy that came at low tide. Tears. That was what it was, tears. In the midst of tears, came her joy, this dream brought blessings into her little golden cottage. The cinnamon merchant would never know that this worker who worked on his farm had such a strong inclination to learning. His tales acted as her impetus to dream big; maybe a bit too big, to harbour within her small chest.
Steal? Yes, she stole the cinnamon bark to feed that dream. She stole to avenge the merchant for letting her dream of the impossible. In her heart, hopes fed an undiminished desire, to not to surrender, but to reach out. The top of the mountain meant the end of a chase, an accomplishment of a dream. However, the more she chased it, the harder it became. It was but the golden cottage on the mountain peak, her lost unicorn on the mangroves. The aromas of the sweet wood tangled her mind.
At midnight, in a final bid, Tia struggled to get to the top. The forest at midnight; she stopped short to inhale its smell, sat down at the foot of the wet mountain. She tried to listen to the forest, after a short interlude from the rain. Then she saw fireflies of fiery jinns, flying ubiquitous, through the summer’s night. She contemplated their ambient sound.
Before the night was over, she knew the merchant was back. He had returned yet again, from his travels at last. He brought with him yards of lazy, decadent satin; sunflower yellow, saffron, and soft baby pink; nuanced, along the deep contours of Aegean Mermaids. The merchant spoke to her. He told her softly in the ears. He showed her a path paved with a great history. But there were also some untold hidden miseries that eluded her.
“The Greek Islands, this time,” he said.
“What about them?” she asked.
“Islands were woven on alentejo wrinkled wine at the behest of the sea nymphs.
“Mesmerising, especially, when the turbulent waves of the emerald Aegean broke on its shores,” he answered. “I traded spice, and the incensed cinnamon to entice gods to draw them out of heavens.”
“Were they enticed?” she asked wide-eyed.
“It made them drunk, both mortals and gods alike.”
“How would you know?”
“Because on this land, mortals waged a hundred-year war. A war which would not quench Paris’s thirst for the Helen of Troy. The nation’s total immersion in the young blood of men, not shaken by their cries. War thundered on the scarlet sands for ten long years. Men trampled over each other. All but to win a divine beauty, a mortal, the Helen of Troy. Gods were delirious."