Winter of 2023
- “Growing Pains” by Syd Shaw, a poem
- “Splitting the Baby” by Jessica Kwasniak, prose
- “jaw”, “crest”, and “snout” by Tucker Lieberman, visual art
- “The Electrician” by Ace Boggess, a poem
- “Making Minerals” by John Randall, a poem
- “59.10” by Leslie Foster, visual art
- “The Curator” by Mickie Kennedy, prose
- “Recovery” and “Power in Everything (Barcelona)” by Shantha J. Bunyan, two poems/ visuals
- “Hurricane” by Dudley Stone, a poem
- “Boorish” by Amanda Etchison, prose
- “Terlingua in Pink” and “golden road” by Susanna Herrmann, visual art
- “.Zzzip” by Mar Ovsheid, prose
- “POODLE OF EVOLUTION” by Lawrence Bridges, a poem
- “Old Truck II” and “Hydrant I” by Molly McNeely, visual art
- “Herself” and “Aubade” by Moira Magneson, two poems
- “When She Lived Above Us” by Batool Alzubi, prose
- “The Chapel of the Angel of the Violin, France” by t. m. thomson, a poem
- Editor’s Statement
“Growing Pains” by Syd Shaw, a poem
Runoff from the shower killed the flowerbed.
So Mom and I planted hanging tomatoes,
clinging to the lattice for life. We ate them
on toast – red, fat and shiny, tasting unripe.
As a child I bury trinkets in the garden,
set rules for them; mom’s necklace will grow
if I water it each day. The beer can tabs,
buried under the right stone, will fuse together
into something living. I am a dragon
hoarding spools, weeds, and costume jewelry.
My father comes home late, knocks a jar
over the balcony. It smashes on the sidewalk,
reveals a mint plant with the roots intact.
I save it in my garden, where glass jar shards
stand like sentinels. Plastic jewels catch the light
of flashing sirens. Dad is shouting again
in the distant kitchen, but that doesn’t matter now,
the shoots are coming up.
When mother dies, Dad slaps my hand
for reaching into the coffin. I want a strand
of hair, a tooth if he’d let me. I know
if only it could grow, it would grow beautifully.
Syd Shaw is a poet from the San Fernando Valley. They write about love, witchcraft, and body horror. Syd is Assistant Poetry Editor at Passengers Journal. Her previous publications include Cathexis Northwest, Ember Chasm, Sad Girls Club, Coffin Bell Journal, Waxing & Waning, and Eclectica Magazine, among others. Their work can be found at https://sydshaw.carrd.co.
“Splitting the Baby” by Jessica Kwasniak, prose
When I was two, my twin sister died in her sleep. Some babies do that you know. They just never wake up. When my parents found her, my mother screamed and pulled out her hair; my father just stood over the crib, silently looking at my sister. After a week of my mother’s cries and my father’s stone silence, I decided for their sake to split myself in two. I could easily fill my sister’s place and then the house would be balanced again.
First, I focused on growing another set of arms and legs, because I figured it would be easier to make them while I was still a singular body. I managed to duplicate everything on my left side. I was left-handed as a child. The right side of my body was a little more difficult, I could feel another leg trying to pop out on the outside of my own right leg. The new left limbs were twitching. The right leg descended slowly. I felt the knee pop. Then the shin. Soon toes were wiggling. I held my breath as a new right arm grew in my armpit. Once all the limbs were formed, the second set started to flail. The arms smacked me in the face.
I knew I would have to make another torso to separate and calm my new limbs. I focused on my belly, and watched another form above. Moving upwards, I then saw a new chest and neck form. I pushed the second set of limbs onto the new torso.
Next I focused on creating another consciousness, just so my extra limbs would stop hitting me. It was strange at first, having two minds. I felt myself caught in and out of another train of thought. It was not like the normal switch in thoughts, which feels the same as one train simply switching lines. These were two separate trains on two different sets of tracks on opposite sides of a country.
My train started to slow, as the second train, her train, became an express. I was always local after that. Taking my time, carrying tired passengers a few miles, but not much farther. A kid at school who did a lot of acid told me he had had a similar experience, but I highly doubt it. Two weeks after I had told him what I had done, he went to rehab and I continued being anonymous in a sea of the not-very-extraordinary members of my high school’s student body.
I wanted to give the second me so many good things. I gave her my bubbly personality, and a charming smile. I wanted her to be a dancer, so I gave her gracefulness. I wanted her to be smart, so I gave her some of that too. I realized that I would need to be smart as well, so I didn’t go whole hog on giving her that gift. I realized then that there was so much more, and I wondered if my parents had ever felt the same way. Lastly, I worked on splitting all the newness away from the oldness, and finally, there were two of me in the crib.
The next morning had not gone as I had hoped. My mother and father came into the nursery. My father looked over the crib, his face still blank like stone, and my mother, her hair frizzed and patchy from all of the pulling, screamed still.
As I got older, I feared that I may not have understood the decision I had made at such a young age. When I was six, my other half was excelling in school and she was so graceful. She was delightful at parties, and all the adults cooed over her, particularly Mom. She would take other me shopping, and on lunch dates with some of her friends. I was slower, and a little bit weaker, but as I had put so much effort into the other me, there wasn’t much left.
At one party, the birthday of my childhood crush, a boy pushed me down. I scraped my knee on the cement patio in the very typical suburban backyard. I continued to bleed and bleed. The scrape would not clot. I could see other me hiding behind one of the moms. She watched me bleed and cry. To me, she recoiled in her weakness. Later when I was in the kitchen, being tended to by another mom, she kissed the birthday boy on the cheek.
As we grew older still, the other me moved farther away. All my energy was spent as other me blossomed into a woman, and I grew more jealous. I wanted to swallow her—to bring her back into my body. Those accomplishments should have been mine; I was the first. Although she was another me, she did not seem to notice my existence at all.
I stood in front of the full-length mirror in my other half’s room, naked. I looked at myself; my skin was paler, sallower than hers. I was like a sickly little plant, in a corner of the room. I immediately started doing what I usually do when I am anxious, I stroked the scar that runs the length of the left side of my body, where I split myself in two. My fingers traced the line over and over again, until I felt warm.
“What are you doing?” I jumped. In the mirror, I could see her behind me. She was still dressed from Mock Trial rehearsal. Her tan and matching skirt suit made me feel so exposed; she was the real one, I was the copy.
“I, uh, excuse me.” I ran past her, trying to hide my body. I covered the scar with my arm, running to my bedroom. Once I got into my own tiny room, I could breathe again, feeling a little bit safer in the dark, as the sun started to set.
I could hear the other me changing in the room next door. I quickly dressed before my parents got home.
Later that night my father came to check in on me.
“Tallulah, are you okay?” Was Tallulah my name? I always thought I was Delilah. Maybe it was Delilah who died.
“I’m fine, Dad.”
“May I come in?” He said through the door.
“Sure.” He stepped in and turned on the light, I had just been lying in bed thinking about nothing.
He sat at the end of my bed, looking like he didn’t know where to begin. “Do you ever have trouble sleeping?” He said.
“No, but sometimes it is hard for me to remember things. Like what I did at school a few days ago, or what shirt I wore. Nothing seems to be in focus.”
“Hm,” he said, “maybe it has something to do with the incident.” That’s what my parents call my decision, “the incident.” My mother wanted us to go to group therapy, but my father said it would be hard to explain this to a shrink, no one would believe us. “Have you ever thought about becoming one person again?”
“No.” I lied. I thought about it almost every day.
He looked at me again. The bags under his eyes were dark and permanent, I wonder what it was like to lose my twin, and then to have me so separated from everything. My mother usually doted on the other me, but Dad seemed to be mine.
The following morning, I overslept. I wondered if anyone had even attempted to wake me. The night had been terrible. I dreamt that my family had gone on vacation. We were all at the northern beach during the first week of autumn. My father hated crowds, and my mother loved when the ocean felt cold. Delilah, or Tallulah, whatever the rest of the family called her, was wearing her powder blue backless bathing suit that had earned the attention of her boyfriend. I went into the ocean with her, and pushed her beneath the water. When I got out of the water, I was wearing her blue bathing suit.
I woke feeling guilty. The rest of the morning I hid in my room, until my mother left for work.
It was the following Thursday that I went into my room and found the other me standing naked next to my bed. I do not have a mirror in my room. My mom might have asked me if I wanted a mirror, like other me. I don’t really remember making any decisions in decorating my bedroom. She stood there stroking the scar, the same up and down motion that I had done three days earlier.
I could see her tan lines, on her shoulders. I never noticed it, but her stomach was as pale as mine. I guess she wouldn’t wear bikinis like her friends. She would have to explain. Her hair was down, and had highlights from the sun; she spent more time outside. She played soccer, I guess that was the competitive edge I gave her. Her knees were darker, as were her forearms.
Overall, we were the same. She looked exactly like me, but beyond the physical she was not me. She still stroked the scar, looking lost. I wondered if something had happened to her at school today.
I knew I would never be able to bond with her, for if we grew close, I might absorb her. I think I always knew that. It would have been easy for me to overstep her. There just wasn’t enough of me.
I backed away from my door, and headed downstairs. My father was in the kitchen making another cup of coffee, he quit smoking before I was born, but his addiction habits didn’t seem to stop.
“How do you sleep at night?” I said to him.
“Your mom’s got me on the decaf,” he answered, and kind of looked at me incredulously. Yeah, it was kind of a stupid question.
“I think it might be time,” I said. I kept looking at the coffee cup on the kitchen island.
“Time?” My father’s fingers grabbed the body of the mug, instead of linking through the handle. I sat on one of the stools at the island.
“To be one person again. I think that might be causing my headaches, and the memory loss, if I am honest.” I looked up at my dad, trying to gauge what I should do.
“Would it kill her?” He was holding the mug with both hands, close to his chest. He looked at me squarely. Sometimes it felt like my father already saw me as an adult. Although my father was the only other person in the room, it felt like I had the attention of a large audience. My throat felt dry.
“I don’t think so.”
“I trust you.” He smiled. It was small, and only tugged at one side of his face, but I saw it and felt brave. I wanted to hug my father, but instead I watched him sip at his coffee as I slid from my stool.
When I went back upstairs, the other me was sitting on my bed. It was like she knew. I sat next to her on the bed.
“Do you like living?” I asked.
“Do you think I would stop living if you were one person again?” she said. It wasn’t really a question. It was as if she knew the answer, but needed to fill a space. Maybe it was the space I so eagerly tried to fill many years ago with her. Maybe it was a new space.
I grabbed her right hand with my left, and she smiled. It felt warm, like when I stroke my scar. She turned to me and asked, “Why does Dad call me Delilah?”
Because you’re me, I thought. She seemed to understand. I really don’t remember much.
“Honey, are you okay?” My mother’s voice woke me up. I tried to find her face, but my eyes felt like they had a film over them, almost like when you try to swim with your eyes open in a lake. Everything was murky and confusing. My left side felt hot, and I was in slight pain feeling more whole than ever.
“I’m feeling better, a little sore,” I said. There was only me. “I feel better than I did yesterday.”
My mother let out a deep breath. “I’m so glad you’ve come back,” she said. My eyes came into focus, I could see my mother’s face for the first time in what felt like years. I remembered her eyes were the same color as mine. I saw how tired she looked, and that her eyes were puffy from crying. I sat up, ignoring the pain in my left side. My mother pulled me into her arms, almost halfway into her lap. I was too big, but I didn’t care. I squeezed myself around her. And I cried.
Jessica Kwasniak (she/her/hers) is a writer based in the greater Philadelphia area. She received her BFA in Writing from Pratt Institute. When she is not working or writing, she plays piano, cello, and desperately tries not to kill the plants she has received as gifts.
“jaw”, “crest”, and “snout” by Tucker Lieberman, visual art
Tucker Lieberman wrote the metafictional novel Most Famous Short Film of All Time (tRaum Books, 2022). In queer/trans anthologies, he has an essay in It Came From the Closet and a story in Trans-Galactic Bike Ride. His photos have been featured on the covers of Crack the Spine, Ponder, and Nightingale & Sparrow.
“The Electrician” by Ace Boggess, a poem
Roves box to switch to lights,
a bee thinking one flower sapped,
moving on to the next before doubling back.
There’s no red here, he says. There’s red there,
so should be red here. It’s the green one,
maybe, or yellow, white.
Though he tries to be polite,
he’s growing angry with the long-dead
handyman who installed the overhead fan.
He wants to dig up the floor
in search of a junction box that could be
somewhere. He expected a simple fix,
but this house has old bones,
often broken, the surgeries backroom &
inadequate. He flips the switch. The fuse trips.
He tries speaking complex mathematics,
stumps himself with his equations,
head full of remainders,
a scholar at sea solving for X while drowning.
All this time, it’s getting dark & darker.
He shakes his head. Sorry, he says.
I’ll have to come back tomorrow,
as if the sun illuminates numbers
like a map with routes to buried things.
Ace Boggess is author of six books of poetry, most recently Escape Envy (Brick Road, 2021). His writing has appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, Rattle, Harvard Review, and other journals. An ex-con, he lives in Charleston, West Virginia, where he writes and tries to stay out of trouble.
“Making Minerals” by John Randall, a poem
of the finest material
of river rock along the
of the road
The weight of the land
is that of a bird,
a wing among clouds
a path in the valley
between the large, red eggs
When we graduated
from the mining of gold
into ownership of the best flints
there was eventually a battle
Not listed, a battle.
Don’t say, a battle.
It was a sweet death
in that stone beloved,
uniformed with the kiss
of a clean shadow
Like how a tooth
becomes the jaw
of the land
J Randall has worked as a trash collector, a copy editor, an attorney, and an investments advisor. His interests include property maintenance, birds, firewood, the night sky, and the freedom of speech. His poetry is forthcoming from The Florida Review, The Oakland Review, and Paperbark. He is online at johnbrandall.com.
“59.10” by Leslie Foster, visual art
“The Curator” by Mickie Kennedy, prose
Archway of indigo, plaster and cheese, a platter of fish, lightly-salted, roasted with lemon, and the itemized grocery list of the art thief: a bolt cutter the size of a pack of cards, a pair of non-abrasive gloves, spray paint for the cameras within reach, a small caliber air pistol for those that are not when the glasses of wine are raised in toast.
He is checking the exits and determining how many steps between the Gauguins and the Picassos, and whether to chance a Whistler not because he has a buyer but because he shares a maternal aesthetic with the artist as he asks a beautiful woman standing in front of a particular painting what about it draws her in?
She speaks of colors and brushstrokes, how the painter created this piece while his wife was dying and the receding light matches that of her life slowly dissolving before the artist’s eyes; how he bathed her and cared for her when hope was an exhausted quarry, a postcard from another country taunting, wish you were here, an idyllic beach with colors so intense they only exist in the palettes of travel magazines.
She stares into the busied preoccupations of pigments and oils, and contextualizes intent from biographical details gleaned from a lecture by her favorite professor. She is informed, the way a shaman rattling chicken bones in a pie-tin is informed on the chicken’s plight from majestic bird to domesticated fryer.
The art thief sees the artistry behind the art the way the canvas has been fastened taut against the oak frame aged with coffee and clay, an arc of discrete white wire behind the painting that spaghettis back to a series of relays and alarms.
He imagines the shape the painting will assume in his tube and whether excessive cracking of the paint will occur, knowing to keep the older, more fragile works on the outside of the roll to minimize damage.
He imagines asking her to dinner and then surprising her with the painting, knowing he would never do such a foolish gesture but he does decide to add this painting to his personal collection. When he looks upon it his eyes will fill with nostalgia and desire.
He will imagine the woman in the cobalt blue dress, the glint of string at the neckline where she has pinned the price tag inside rather than remove it so she will have the option to return it to the boutique where she had to divide the purchase among two credit cards. This normally doesn’t happen, she said, but I purchased cufflinks for my father this morning (a lie).
They are neither who they purport to be, but tonight the back of her neck assumes a grace seen only by the likes of sculptors and he longs to ask for her number, and she has already decided she will give it to him, but he doesn’t ask, and she reads of the robbery four days later after the freak car accident that took out all power to the block around midnight and ruptured the water main. A swarm of police handling traffic and directing city workers who failed to notice the off-duty musician on his way home, his guitar case filled with priceless paintings.
She turns the page and looks out the window of her loft; a pigeon on the ledge decides whether to jump or fly, and does neither.
Mickie Kennedy is a gay American poet who resides in Baltimore County, Maryland with his family and two feuding cats. He enjoys British science fiction and the idea of long hikes in nature. A prior Washington Review poetry award winner, his work has appeared in American Letters & Commentary, Artword Magazine, Conduit, Portland Review, Rockhurst Review, and Wisconsin Review. He earned an MFA from George Mason University.
“Recovery” and “Power in Everything (Barcelona)” by Shantha J. Bunyan, two poems/ visuals
Shantha J. Bunyan is a Bi-POC, scuba dive master and former surgical tech who lived abroad as a nomad for over five years before returning to her native Colorado where she currently writes while fighting chronic pain and invisible illnesses. [She also enjoys using clippings from junk mail and magazines such as Rotary and National Geographic to write found poetry which she pairs with photos she takes on her journeys.] Some of her travel adventures and links to her publications can be found at RandomPiecesOfPeace.com.
“Hurricane” by Dudley Stone, a poem
How quiet it is
in the eye of the storm,
when cow and coyote silence
their song, and only machines
have more to say.
How peaceful it is
in the eye of the storm,
before calls, before texts, before
the nurse, before the aide, before
the news, the news, the news, before
the woman down the hall recalls
she’s not dreaming but dying.
How breathless it is
in the eye of the storm,
when you smother like a hothouse
and contract like a haiku stretched
out on the couch.
How complicit you feel
in the eye of the storm.
You should be boarding up the house,
sounding the alarm, but instead
you pull the storm surge around you
like a blanket and think
How sweet it is
in the eye of the storm
the more devastating it is,
the more demonically it blows.
Dudley Stone is a poet and playwright currently living in Lexington, Kentucky, after sojourns to Georgia, Masschusetts, and Minnesota. He received a degree in Theatre from the University of Kentucky and studied playwriting at the University of Masaschusetts, Amherst (alas, no degree).
“Boorish” by Amanda Etchison, prose
Connor and Mags were at McDonald’s.
Jerome would say that he could scarcely believe it, except this sort of behavior was totally on-brand. Here he was, waiting in the brisk autumn air at 5 a.m. on a Saturday, while Connor and Mags sat across town ordering hash browns and orange juice.
He scowled and looked around the parking lot. It was empty, save for Seb’s blue Corolla and Seb himself, who leaned against the hood fiddling with his voice recorder.
“When did he last text you?” Jerome asked, pacing the length of a parking space.
“Three minutes from the last time you asked, which was … eight minutes ago,” Seb said. He pocketed the recorder and took a swig from his thermos.
“And we absolutely need his GPS thing? I think my map will be fine.”
To prove his point, Jerome reached into his jacket and retrieved the folded paper tucked away in a plastic sandwich bag. It was the culmination of weeks of research, tracking down first-hand accounts of trail conditions, shortcuts, potholes, and pitfalls. The result wasn’t much to look at, but he planned to get an Art Club kid to embellish it with some sketches before he posted it online. He wanted it to look like one of those Medieval maps, complete with monsters lurking in the corners.
“You’re a podcast host, Jay, not a cartographer,” Seb said. “And I can’t think of anything I’d want to do less than wander around lost in the woods all day.”
“Oh, really? How are those college apps going?”
“Rub it in, why don’t you.” Seb shifted his weight against the car and sighed. “Not all of us have parents who are down with a gap year spent at a podcast incubator.”
“That’s only if I get the scholarship,” Jerome said. He kicked at a leaf and tried not to think about the hundreds of other podcasts submitting audio clips at that very moment.
Seb raised an eyebrow. “Oh, come on. You know you’re gonna get it. Documenting a real-life cryptid hunt via the magic of audio storytelling? Somewhere, Ira Glass is cursing himself for not thinking of this first.”
Jerome rolled his eyes, though he couldn’t help but smile at his best friend’s optimism. It was signature Seb, and Jerome had become used to it years ago. The two had been inseparable since Seb moved to town in third grade, armed with a Philadelphia Flyers backpack and spouting off a slew of Jersey Devil legends.
The screech of tires skidding to a stop in the parking lot jolted Jerome from his memories.
“So it begins,” Seb said.
The passenger door of the massive cherry-red truck opened, and Mags jumped out, slinging a tie-dyed backpack over her shoulders.
“Hey, guys,” she said. “Sorry we’re a little late.”
Connor, all six-foot-three of him, appeared a few seconds later, clutching a grease-splattered bag of fast food.
“Morning,” Seb said as Mags joined him near the car.
“That smells good! What’s in it?” Mags inhaled the steam emanating from the cup in Seb’s hand.
Seb grinned. “It’s a dark roast. Nutmeg, cardamom, and cinnamon added at the end with milk.”
“Fancy,” Mags said. “I’m gonna try that. But I don’t know if my mom has any of those besides cinnamon. We do have buckets and buckets of five-spice powder, though. She puts it in everything. One time—”
“Are we ready?” Jerome interrupted. Seb locked the car and pocketed the keys.
Next to Jerome, Connor grumbled incoherently.
“What?” Jerome asked.
Connor held up his crumpled bag of food. “I guess I’ll eat this on the trail, then.”
“You had a whole hour to eat while we waited for you. I’m not wasting any more time.” Squishing damp leaves beneath his boots, Jerome led the group to the trailhead and into the trees.
The sun had emerged just long enough to burn off the morning’s fog before disappearing behind a blanket of gray clouds. On either side of the path, the dense oaks flashed their leaves as their branches swayed in the breeze.
“So, what’s the secret to the whole podcasting thing?” Mags asked, hopping over a puddle in her rainbow-laced tennis shoes. The rain that drenched the valley overnight had left the path slippery with thin rivulets of grimy water.
Behind them, Connor sloshed through the mud, nose buried in his GPS as he called out unnecessary coordinates.
“A lot of work,” Jerome said. He knew Mags was hoping for a better answer. But his mind was miles ahead, thinking, planning. He needed everything to go perfectly.
“It is a lot of work,” Seb said, amiable as always. “But I’d say our secret is this guy, right here.” He bumped Jerome gently with his shoulder. “He’s the brains behind the operation. The reason why Midwest Mysterium is the eighty-seventh most popular myths-and-legends podcast in the nation.”
“Really?” Mags seemed impressed.
“Eighty-fifth now, actually,” Jerome said.
“Eighty-fifth,” Seb amended. He looked at Mags. “Wanna see how it’s done?”
Seb took out his recorder, slipping the earphones in and snapping his fingers in front of the microphone. “Hello, Midwest Mysterium listeners,” he said. “Welcome to our special fiftieth episode, coming to you straight from Brichard State Park, home of a scenic railway, miles of hiking trails, and a truly bloodthirsty legend: the Boarman of Hawthorne Hills. As usual, Jay will take the story from here.”
“Sure,” Jerome said. “So, for those listening from outside the Midwest, Hawthorne Hills is a town nestled in a picturesque valley in northern Ohio. Back in the early 1920s, it was just expanding to around a thousand people when things started to go wrong.”
“Dun dun dun!” Connor said, pushing through the group and angling for the mic.
Seb yanked the recorder away. “Loving the energy, but we’re trying to get through this take, if you don’t mind?”
Connor backed away, hands raised in surrender. Seb motioned for Jerome to continue.
“People started complaining about their livestock going missing,” Jerome said. “At one point in the summer of 1921, a whole flock of dead sheep was found damming the creek that ran through town.”
“Gross,” Seb said. “But not necessarily the work of a cryptid. Couldn’t a wolf or something have eaten the sheep?”
“That’s what they thought at first. Until they found the hoof prints, too large to belong to any of the sheep, leading from the edge of town down to the river.”
“And so, the legend of the Boarman was born,” Seb said. Somewhere in the trees, a mourning dove cooed. He waited for its call to fade away before giving Jerome a thumbs-up to continue.
“A few weeks later, tragedy struck Hawthorne Hills again, and this time, it wasn’t just livestock. After the incident at the creek, residents decided to take turns on patrol, eager to collect the hide of whatever was terrorizing their town. One September night, two men decided to split up to do their rounds. A half-hour later, one of them tripped over something in the dark. He bent down to see what it was and found his patrol partner dead, a deep wound piercing his chest, and savage bite marks up and down his arms.”
Jerome looked around the trail, picturing the gruesome scene. It had been a day like this, overcast and blustery, when the Boarman cemented itself into local lore, inspiring countless ghost stories and a chilling truth-or-dare challenge that involved sitting vigil in the woods on moonless nights. Now, here they were, ready to track down this monster in the town where it all began. They could be the first team ever to record definitive evidence of the Boarman’s existence.
Jerome’s nerves prickled with excitement as he continued the story.
“The man was running back to town when he came face-to-face with the Boarman. He later described the creature as standing on two legs, about six-foot tall. Its body looked human, but it was covered in coarse, silvery hair matted with mud. When it lunged toward him, he swore he saw the long snout of a boar and two massive tusks, sharpened like spears and slick with blood.”
“That’s terrifying,” Seb said. “How’d he get away?”
“He swung his rifle at the beast, which was enough to send it running back into the woods. It wasn’t seen again until attacks began in the mid-fifties.”
“You said attacks, plural?”
“Yep. All within the Hawthorne Hills town limits or in the surrounding woods. Some reports even say—”
“Well, golly, what we saw out in these woods was a certified monster, I’ll tell you!”
The unexpected interruption broke Jerome’s concentration and he whirled around, nose almost colliding with Connor’s chest.
Connor grinned, then continued with his impression of a breathy, southern dame. “It gave me such a fright.”
Seb stopped recording. “There’s … a lot going on there,” he said. “Who exactly are you supposed to be?”
“I imagined Miss Julia Beiler as a high-society gal, new to town, married to a steel baron up in Cleveland.”
“What are you doing?” Jerome asked.
Connor shrugged. “I just thought your show could use some reenactments, you know? Like what they do on those history documentaries? Mags and I just watched one.”
“They call them dramatizations,” Mags said.
“Right.” Connor winked at Jerome. “I thought we could liven up your podcast. Mags is pretty good with accents, too. Especially the British ones.”
“Well, I try,” Mags murmured in cringeworthy Cockney.
“Yikes,” said Seb. He hurried up the path to escape the pinecone Mags threw in retaliation.
Connor snorted and rolled his eyes. “Man, you know we’re just having fun. No need to be so serious all the time.”
“Just stay out of our way when we’re recording,” Jerome growled, pushing past him.
“Hey, Jay?” Seb said. He stood next to a rickety metal fence barring a closed section of trail, its rusted links threaded with weeds. “I think we’ve found our first landmark.”
“I was thinking a little bit about what Connor said, about maybe infusing some radio drama elements into the show.”
Seb spoke quietly, his face turned away from Jerome into the trees. After climbing over the fence, they’d walked along a trickling creek, the sound of which Seb had insisted on recording. After a mile or so, it turned sharply in on itself and flowed back the other way, while the group continued to hike up a steadily inclining path.
“Why’d they even come, if they’re not going to take anything seriously?” Jerome said. He looked over his shoulder at Connor and Mags. The pair were engaged in a dramatic sword fight with branches they’d picked up from the side of the trail.
“Connor was adamant that if we were going to use his dad’s fancy hunting GPS, he had to come,” Seb said. He waited a beat before adding, “You know, dramatizations might spice things up a little.”
Jerome chewed on his lip, buying himself a few seconds of feigned consideration. “I think our format is fine. It’s what the listeners are used to. We can’t just change that fifty episodes in.”
Seb cast a worried frown. “I don’t know if they would be that bothered by it. When we added the question-and-answer segment, they didn’t seem to mind. They actually liked it.”
“That’s different, though. It’s still in the tone of the show. This idea is literally adding a bunch of new voices to each episode with no explanation of what’s going on.”
“I mean, of course we’d explain—”
“Someone’s going to turn on Mysterium and hear these weird, scripted parts.” Jerome thought of Mags’s bad accent and shivered. “And crappy ones, at that.”
“It was just an idea, Jay,” Seb said. “Something to think about.”
Jerome wanted to assure him that he had thought about it, but Seb had already moved on.
The afternoon sun was in full strength by the time they reached the top of the hill. Jerome waited in the shade as Seb took a photo of Connor and Mags at the overlook, a forest of amber leaves flickering like flames below.
“Looks like we’re going back down,” Seb said as he handed Mags her phone. He eyed a steep staircase of flat rocks leading down into the valley.
At the front of the group, Connor knocked small pieces of shale loose as he took the steps two at a time.
“So, how are you gonna make this whole Boarman thing sound real?” he asked.
“Well, we’re obviously hoping that it is real. Whoa—” Seb stumbled and grabbed Jerome’s shoulder to stay upright. “Watch yourself on these rocks, guys, they’re slick.”
“Come on. Secret’s safe with me. Who plays the monster? I’ve watched Ghost Adventures. I know how this goes.”
Seb laughed good-naturedly while Jerome ground his teeth together. He guided Seb to the corner of a rock and waited for Mags to pass as they continued their slow descent.
“You’re missing the real question. Why are all these cryptid monsters just assumed to be dudes, anyway?” Mags said. “The Mothman, the Boarman … the Abominable Snowman.”
“You’ve got Nessie,” Seb said, sounding relieved as they neared the bottom of the hill. “And she’s a badass.”
“But Nessie’s not scary,” Mags said. “Do you think this Boarman could be a Boarwoman? Now that would be badass. And—”
Mags’s shoe slipped on a patch of moss and she tumbled forward, knocking Connor off the bottom step. The pair landed in a tangle of limbs amid the dirt and leaves.
“Are you guys okay?” Seb asked, scrambling down the last few stairs. At the bottom, he helped Mags up, picking twigs off the collar of her fleecy jacket.
“I’m all right,” Mags said. “I think Connor broke my fall. How are you, babe?”
Wandering over to where Connor lay sprawled on the ground, Jerome pulled him to his feet.
“Damn, that hurts!” Connor cried. His boot sat crooked on his foot. He leaned heavily against Jerome’s shoulder, and the pair shuffle-hopped off the path, finding refuge on a rotted tree stump.
“I’m going to roll your sock down a little bit,” Seb said. When his hand brushed Connor’s pant leg, his friend sucked in a pained breath.
Seb sat back on his heels. “It’s already starting to swell. My sister sprained her ankle during a volleyball match last year, and it looked just like this. You really need to get checked out by a doctor.” He reached into his back pocket and pulled out his phone. “I don’t have service here. Jay?”
Jerome glanced at his lock screen. “Me neither.”
“How about you guys?”
Mags fished two phones out of her backpack. “Nope and … nope.”
“I bet the cell reception is stronger on the main trail. It’s not too far back. We can call for help from there.” Seb turned and assessed the hill they’d just climbed down. “I doubt you’re up for those steps again. We’ll need to walk around the ravine to get to a connection point that’s less steep.”
Jerome could feel panic rising in his chest. Finding a way back to the trail could take hours, time he hadn’t factored into the day’s agenda. They had at least a mile to go to reach Hawthorne Hills, and daylight was waning.
“Help me get him up,” Seb said, slinging Connor’s arm over his back.
“How soon do you think we can get back to the trail?” Jerome asked. His boot sank into the mud as he pulled Connor upright.
“I don’t know,” Seb said. A slight edge had crept into his voice, and Jerome winced. “We’ve got to get Connor some help before his ankle gets worse.”
Jerome kept his head down as they slowly picked their way back through the woods.
“I’ve got service!” Mags’s voice was jubilant as she waved her phone above her head.
“Oh, thank God,” Connor said.
Seb and Jerome had spent the last hour serving as human crutches, helping Connor hobble along the path and every so often leaning him against trees like a six-foot sack of potatoes.
While Mags called 911, Jerome made his way over to where Seb sat on a log. “There’s actually a quicker way to get to Hawthorne Hills from here,” he said. “I read about it on an urbex blog when I was making my map. See that creek? There’s an old bridge a few miles down. All we’ve got to do is get across, and we’ll be right in town.”
Seb sighed and buried his face in his gloves. “Let’s first just figure out what’s going on with Connor and Mags.”
“They’re sending out some park rangers and a stretcher,” Mags said.
“Do we get to ride in a helicopter?” Connor asked as Mags helped him sit with his leg stretched out.
“You’ll be lucky if we even get to ride in a Gator.” She turned to Jerome and Seb. “Thanks for helping me get him back to the trail. Sorry that it kind of screwed up your podcasting.”
“No worries,” Seb said. “We can always finish it up another day.”
“Not really,” Jerome mumbled. He plucked a leaf off the ground and started shredding its edges.
Jerome bristled at the sharpness of Seb’s question. “The scholarship deadline is next Friday. It’s now or never if we want to get this polished up and posted on time.”
“I’ve got enough sound to throw something together by Thursday. We could even add in some scripted parts to fill in the gaps,” Seb said.
“I don’t want to just throw something together. I want to do it right. There’s a lot riding on this.” Jerome’s voice cracked with emotion. “And I thought we agreed against doing those stupid dramatizations.”
Seb sighed and traded a look with Mags. He’s apologizing for me, Jerome realized. Despite the cold creeping in with the dusk, his cheeks burned with embarrassment.
It’s okay, Mags mouthed, which made Jerome’s blood run hotter.
“Dude, chill out,” Seb said, his attention back on Jerome. “It’s not like Connor got hurt on purpose.”
“Could’ve fooled me, the way he’s been messing around all day.”
“Oh my God, you’re the worst,” Connor said. He’d been sitting with his head tipped back and his eyes closed, quiet for such a long time that Jerome had assumed he’d fallen asleep. “What is it with you and this make-believe monster shit?”
“Hey, now,” Seb said. “Let’s all just calm down.”
The heat drained out of Jerome’s body, replaced with an icy resolve. He brushed off the shreds of leaf from his lap, shoved his hands into his pockets, and walked off toward the creek.
Jerome hadn’t mentioned it to Seb, but the urbex blog photos had made the bridge leading into Hawthorne Hills look like a rickety death trap.
In person, it looked even worse.
“Yeah, no. I’m not stepping on that thing.”
It was the first time Seb had spoken since he’d rejoined Jerome a little way off the main trail. Connor’s GPS was tucked snugly into the pocket of his jacket, but he hadn’t touched it or his recorder as they tripped their way over roots and brambles.
From the bank of the creek, Jerome assessed the rapidly flowing water. It wasn’t a wide distance to cross, but the waning evening light made it difficult to estimate the depth.
“I think we can walk across,” Jerome said. He stepped onto a partially submerged river rock and turned to Seb.
“You’re kidding.” Seb frowned and made no move to follow. “If you fall in, you’re gonna freeze. Come on. Don’t be insane.”
“Hawthorne Hills is right there. We can’t turn back now,” Jerome said, wading farther into the creek. Water gushed into his boots, soaking his jeans up to the knee. Grimacing, he forced himself to keep going, doing his best to ignore the chill.
When he finally struggled up the slippery grass on the other side, he turned around, expecting to see Seb splashing out behind him.
Instead, his friend remained on the opposite bank.
“The water’s really not that deep,” Jerome said. “Just watch out for that flat rock in the middle. It tilts down when you stand on it.”
“I told you I’m not coming. Did you even hear me say that?” Seb didn’t wait long enough for Jerome to reply. “No, of course not. That’s your problem, you know? You never take time to listen to anybody but yourself.”
The water’s phantom grasp melted away, and Jerome’s heartbeat pounded in his ears. In the shadow of the encroaching dusk, he could just make out Seb’s expression, a mixture of exasperation and annoyance. A begrudging, judgmental furrow wrinkled his brow. Seb had never looked at him that way before.
“That’s not true,” Jerome said. He shut his eyes, searching for words. “I know it’s been a little intense today. But getting this scholarship determines my future—Mysterium’s future—and nothing’s going right.”
Seb said nothing, and Jerome let out a breath. He knew, out of everyone, his friend would understand. But when he opened his eyes, Seb still hadn’t moved.
“It’s not just today,” Seb finally said. The anger was gone, replaced by a subdued weariness. “You’re sometimes just exhausting to be around.”
The numbness from earlier returned in a rush. When Jerome spoke, it came out all wrong. His desperation to fix things with Seb became defensive, morphing his words into something uglier, barbed and acidic.
“It’s not like you’re any better. You’ve spent all day goofing off with Connor and Mags. Why does it feel like I’m the only one who cares about this?”
“Why do you only care about this?” Seb shot back.
A strong gust of wind whipped through the woods, and for a moment, all Jerome could hear was the whisper of the dried leaves rustling in the trees. Shhhh, they cautioned.
“Come on. Let’s go home,” Seb said. “It’s getting dark, and you’re soaked.”
“Screw you, Seb,” Jerome spat. The shocking chill of wet clothes against skin was back with a vengeance. He clenched his teeth and refused to show his discomfort. “I’m going to find the Boarman. Are you coming or not?”
He turned on his heel and climbed out of the creek bed.
“Jerome,” Seb called. An object whizzed through the air and landed in a pile of leaves.
Jerome stood motionless, forcing deep breaths between lips that quivered from the cold. When he turned around, Seb was gone.
He wasn’t sure what Seb had thrown. Plunging his hand into the leaf pile, his fingers closed around a soft and fibrous bundle.
It was a pair of socks, wrapped around something solid and rectangular. Jerome pulled one sock away to reveal Seb’s voice recorder. Earbuds were wrapped around its base.
Jerome tried not to think about how foreign the recorder looked out of Seb’s hand. Instead, he thought of the scholarship. He thought of the gap year he’d use to take Midwest Mysterium to even greater heights. He thought of what it would be like, spending hour after hour, just him, a microphone, and his beloved monsters and myths and legends.
Then, he walked. And as he did, he spoke into the recorder, his voice a tinny echo in his ear. It was disorienting, like listening to a stranger.
“I’m on Main Street in Hawthorne Hills,” Jerome said, his wet shoes sliding on cobblestones blackened with mud and moss. Crumbling facades of modest clapboard buildings lined the road, their once-charming gardens overgrown. “It’s a complete ghost town. Nothing left besides decomposing houses.”
The street ended at the gates of a decrepit colonial, larger than any of the structures Jerome had passed so far. It towered over him like a hulking giant, its paint peeling in long, curling strips. The windows were covered by plywood boards painted with graffiti tags in noxious neon hues. Beware the Boarman, one cautioned in streaky red lettering.
“The Boarman rules Hawthorne Hills, having chased all the other residents away years ago,” Jerome said. He paused in his narration to unlatch the gate. It fell off its rusted hinge, startling a cat from under the sagging front porch. “I doubt he takes kindly to strangers.”
As he entered the house, Jerome stepped over an intricate front door laying weather-warped in the dusty foyer. Above him, parts of the roof had caved in, exposing rotting rafters that stretched over the room like a skeletal cage.
A sliver of moonlight filtered through the hole, casting fuzzy halos over piles of splintered furniture and mounds of wet leaves.
“This place is a mess,” Jerome said.
Removing his phone from his pocket, he trained its flashlight at his feet.
Smeared across the decaying floorboards was a trail of dried mud imprinted with v-shaped marks, each the size of a human hand. Jerome sucked in a breath. They were hoof prints, much too large for a normal deer or wild hog, leading to the base of a grand staircase.
Underneath the adrenaline pumping through his veins, Jerome felt something else: vindication. He had found the Boarman. Without Connor or Mags or even Seb. This was why he cared so much.
The phone trembled in his hands as he swung the light up into the second-story hallway.
A pair of glowing yellow eyes stared back from the landing. A growl thrummed in the air.
Jerome reached for the recorder. It slipped through his fingers and landed on the floorboards with a crack.
With a snarl, the creature on the stairs launched itself into the foyer, charging toward the back of the house. Jerome scooped the recorder off the ground and raced after it.
They tore through darkened rooms, leaping over debris and fallen branches. Jerome caught glimpses as he ran, a flash of gray fur, a glint of fangs. Or were they tusks? He vaulted over a collapsed china cabinet, determined to find out.
Glass shattered as the monster barreled out the back doors into the garden. It threw itself over the balcony railing and disappeared into the woods.
Jerome rushed forward, flinging open the busted french doors. Glass sliced his hands and snagged on the headphone cords, ripping them violently out of his ears.
He skidded onto the brick patio, crying out when his shin rammed into an overturned birdbath. Limping to the edge of the balcony, he heard the frantic rustling of something clawing its way through the brush.
Jerome swung himself over the railing and dropped to the ground, landing hard on his side. He struggled to rise. The intense soreness flowing from his shoulder was a complement to the bruise he could already feel forming on his leg.
Charging forward into the dark, he pushed his way through the thicket toward the sound of hooves scrambling in the leaves. Thorns and nettles pulled at his clothes and branches whipped his face.
When he reached the other side, the creature was nowhere to be seen. Jerome stopped and listened for the monster’s grunts, but all he heard was his own ragged breathing.
The Boarman had vanished.
As the adrenaline of the chase dissipated, Jerome felt hollow. His shin throbbed, painfully tender to the touch.
He raked his hands through his hair and let out a frustrated scream. The encounter had happened so fast. He knew most of the sound he’d gotten while running would be unusable.
Sighing, Jerome pressed the recorder to his ear, desperately hoping he’d at least captured the Boarman’s growl. That would be enough. Seb could enhance the audio and polish it in post-production. They could play the clip multiple times, dissect it, slow it down, maybe even add in some special effects.
He heard nothing.
A glance at his empty hand explained why.
Jerome dropped to his knees, fingers clawing at the dirt. His mind raced, replaying his mad dash through the house and woods. When had he stopped feeling the recorder’s weight in his palm?
Somewhere behind him, a twig snapped.
Jerome stilled. A light snapped on. Confused, he held up a hand and squinted.
“Jerome Liston?” A brusque female voice asked from behind the light.
“Yes?” Jerome sputtered, blinking rapidly.
The woman lowered her flashlight and roughly pulled Jerome upright. She wore a stern expression and a mesh reflective vest over a heavy woolen coat. A shiny nametag above her pocket read Allison Kowalski, Park Ranger.
“Your friend Sebastian Grant called and said we would find you here,” Ranger Kowalski said. “I’m sure you’re aware this is a restricted area. Can you walk?”
Jerome nodded, and she guided him through the yard along the side of the house, back out toward the main road. A white sport-utility vehicle was parked in the middle of the street, its high beams illuminating the woods beyond.
“We get calls out here a lot. But ‘kid falls in stream while doing history-paper research,’ that’s a new one,” Kowalski said. She looked skeptically at Jerome as he slid into the backseat, clearly doubting Seb’s cover story. “Usually it’s teenagers whose urban exploration gets them stuck up in a hayloft. Or those weird cryptid-ology folks looking for the Boarman.”
She trained her hawkish gaze on Jerome, who said nothing. She moved to slam the door but stopped short.
“You know, I always swore that the Boarman legend was a load of hooey,” she said. “But you got me there for a second. The way you were down on the ground, mumbling to yourself, hair all crazy, caked in mud … I dunno. I thought for a second you were him.”
With a shrug, Kowalski closed the door and climbed into the driver’s seat.
As the car pulled away, Jerome looked out the window at the desolate town of Hawthorne Hills and the wild-eyed creature whose reflection stared back at him.
Amanda Etchison is a former journalist and writer who works in nonprofit communications. She lives with her husband in Marysville, Ohio, where she plays French Horn in local theatre productions and serves as a human landing pad for her cat, Waffles. Find her on Twitter and Instagram at @etch_ae_sketch.
“Terlingua in Pink” and “golden road” by Susanna Herrmann, visual art
Susanna Herrmann is a designer and visual artist from Bloomington, Indiana. She studied philosophy at Georgetown University before working and then pursuing an MFA in studio art at the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture, and Design at Indiana University. Susanna’s work is based in theories of visual perception and is influenced by space and landscape. Her current work centers experiences of landscapes. Her work has been published in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Big Bend Literary Magazine and Sunspot Lit. Her photographs and paintings have been exhibited in galleries including at Marshall University, Indiana University, Racecar Factory in Indianapolis.
“.Zzzip” by Mar Ovsheid, prose
“BEST! GINGER-BREAD RECIPES 4 YOU’RE X-MAS PARTY’S!”
I should know not to open another clickbait e-mail from Grandma Dana, but I’m scrolling through my mailing-list spam on autopilot and don’t think much of it. I’m half-way through the recipe when my laptop fan hits high-gear and starts to overheat. The virus comes across my screen in the form of static before corrupting all the documents and files into a horde of mating flies.
“Come on—” I repeatedly click the ‘x’ on the top right of the page until it’s crowded out by insects. “Come on.” I smash in the ‘power’ button on the side of my laptop.
“Not dealing with this again.”
Last time I got ransomware, I had to pay $1000 in Apple gift-cards to have some kid unlock my computer. “Dammit. Turn off.” The screen remains illuminated and I watch the flies breed and lay eggs across my desktop.
The maggots hatch within minutes, use my browser history to locate take-out websites, and order thirty-three items from every local restaurant for ‘DELIVERY – ASAP’. I pound my laptop’s touchpad to try and close the check-out pages before the massive orders can go through and drain my bank account.
“Just great.” I give up and watch the little virtual cars navigate the virtual maps of the real-life streets, moving ever closer to my house.
All the drivers show up to my address around the same time, but the maggots have set my drop-off preference to ‘Contact-free: leave order at front door’, and the delivery-persons form a mountain of paper bags and cardboard boxes and drink caddies on my porch. They high-five and have a grand old time. I hide behind my couch in humiliation until I hear the last car leave. I open the door and pull a pizza box from the pile. Might as well make lemonade.
Take-Out Tower collapses and buries me. The fly maggots, having transformed into wonderful adults, swarm through the open door and begin swallowing the food and devouring me. I see a neighbor peeking through her blinds.
“Hello, are you watching this?”
The bugs gnaw out my eyes and I scream until my throat gives in and the neighbor leaves the window to turn off all her lights. No one home.
It doesn’t take long for the flies to make me disappear. Once they’ve chewed the Styrofoam containers ragged, the insects fly back to my computer’s innards. They impersonate me all across the internet—starting social media fights and forwarding Grandma Dana’s emails— until the cable bills are overdue and the internet is shut off.
Mar Ovsheid is a spoilsport who tragically dropped—and lost—her sea monkeys in the carpet as a kid. Her work has been featured in Roi Fainéant Press, Los Suelos, Mulberry Literary, and oranges journal, among others. Mar works as a housekeeper and is visible at @mar_ovsheid on Instagram.
“POODLE OF EVOLUTION” by Lawrence Bridges, a poem
The green hegemony of vines wound round
a power pole and stanchion shaped like a poodle,
art of a trickster with taught humor. But where
does this person live? The dog seems so lonely
standing at show attention by the bland boulevard
on Havenhurst and Plummer. Topiary came our way
with iron, or perhaps the giraffes were artists before us
with the discipline to condense, to make flesh a forest
like a head of tightly curled hair or fauna
from the shrubs where they hide from us.
I, too, am a poodle of evolution with arms hurling spears
and working hides. So how do I finish
when I inhale, setting out to restore dandelions
to their domes, catch a dog stick airborne from joy,
myself, no dog, just legs running leafless in fields.
I grew in the dark on gentle land where we still disembark
under slow growth oaks like hair in the morning sun,
clipped down to fruit and trunk to draw the soil
for blood that feeds our limbs. Our figures,
as we run, make a breeze in green grasses
that wave as we pass, our forms hidden in plain sight.
Lawrence Bridges’ poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, and The Tampa Review. He has published three volumes of poetry: Horses on Drums (Red Hen Press, 2006), Flip Days (Red Hen Press, 2009), and Brownwood (Tupelo Press, 2016). You can find him on IG: @larrybridges.
“Old Truck II” and “Hydrant I” by Molly McNeely, visual art
Molly McNeely (she/her) is a New York-based poet, photographer, and visual artist. Currently, she is working with a Polaroid 600 camera, as she is interested in the limitations of the Polaroid as well as its immediacy. The limited control of light and focus creates images that are dictated by the surrounding environment, a product of its place and time. McNeely is working on a large photo series of discarded objects, including city sidewalk treasures and decomposing wood.
“Herself” and “Aubade” by Moira Magneson, two poems
I have written a poem about an ecstatic
experience I once had looking into the eye
of an elephant. I rode her suffering deep
into the forest, the way she and others like her
have been ridden for centuries. I had thought
the poem was about the elephant, but truly
it was not. The elephant was nowhere
in the poem, only a semblance of the great
sad creature I saw. Somehow I imagined
I could put her back together with words.
Poor elephant. Why can’t her bones rest?
Why must I resurrect her? What else
can the poem be but a boxcar, a cage,
an arena where she performs all day,
a melancholy shuffle under the weight
of idea, the long prod and hook of words,
my desire to make her noble, magnificent.
And look, here come the readers, peering in,
brutal in their innocence, their wish to belong
to something bigger than themselves.
What exchange is this—a pound, a ten-spot
for her misery? Such cruel economy.
Let the big top fall, the lines go slack.
Let my words swirl like dust.
Let her amble to the muddy river
where she can roll and bathe with her kin.
All she ever wanted to be was herself.
The dark peels back, forecast of snow
in the higher elevations. Somewhere
on the hilltop above town, a chained dog
barks. A woman swaddled in a wool blanket
pushes a shopping cart, pauses for a smoke,
turns to observe the show
at the intersection of Spring Street and
Highway 50. Traffic, bumper-to-bumper,
both directions, stopped. People
leaning out windows,
stepping from delivery vans and pickups,
cell phones aloft.
It is strangely quiet.
At the hub of attention,
he is full swagger, tail fanned out
in an umber half moon,
bright blue wick of his neck gleaming.
In proud paso doble, he circles
the plain, shy beauty who eyes him
askance, steps out, steps in, over and over,
each only aware of the other, this dire
dance, heat rising from the macadam,
the whole damn world on fire.
Moira Magneson [she/her] calls the Sierra foothills home and has taught English for many years at Sacramento City College. Prior to teaching, she worked as a river guide throughout the West. Her work has appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies, including most recently the NewVerse.News, Persimmon Tree, Plainsongs, Canary, and California Fire and Water—a Climate Crisis Anthology.
“When She Lived Above Us” by Batool Alzubi, prose
I. Aunt Reem lived above us for 12 years. I was there during five of them and almost remember only two. I should’ve remembered more, but it felt like she took away some of our memories together when she died and left her locked apartment above us. Her long balcony that we washed together, the thin cigarettes she inhaled in between her sentences, and the hate she had for Fairouz. She only sings for and about men that abandoned her, Aunt Reem once explained why I should never listen to her again. I continued to lose the memories as I grew older. I wondered about the extent of their truths. Like smoke, they were blurry and hard to breathe through. I didn’t know many things that I wished to know, and Mama never helped. She kept secrets and stories and used silence when the truth was close. “How did she die?” I would ask Mama.
“I’m not repeating the story again,” Mama would say. After the question, I was punished with her silence for a day, or two. “It’s not your story,” I once told her. She looked at me like she didn’t know who I was, and I feared the wall that suddenly appeared between us. Tell me everything, I wanted to scream from behind the wall.
II. During the summer after I turned sixteen, the urge to know what happened to Aunt Reem took over my mind, and Lana, my summer best friend, didn’t make things easier by confirming that dying at twenty-nine from a heart attack is uncommon. Maybe, maybe, if she was a year or two older, I would’ve believed the heart attack outcome. “How was she like?” Lana asked me. “Everything she wasn’t supposed to be,” I said, and Lana understood what I meant because she also was many things she wasn’t supposed to be. Her father was supposed to love her, but he didn’t. Her dress should have been ironed, but it wasn’t, and a personality like hers would have left our town a long time ago, moved somewhere where she could take more space, but she stayed, roaming our streets with her black curls and straight face.
III. Lana and I stole the key to Aunt Reem’s locked apartment on a Saturday night. Mama’s business with her cousin’s wedding kept her away from our fast pace around her bedroom, stretching our hands into the drawers and feeling what’s between Mama’s folded cloth. It was Lana who found it, and it was me who knew what it looked like. I had seen Mama unlock Aunt Reem’s apartment to clean twice a year, and no one was allowed in. Cleaned and locked again was all I knew about the apartment. Mama didn’t hide the key in an unpredicted spot because she knew I was afraid and obedient, but now, Lana was with me. “It was under this shirt,” Lana pointed to a bright green shirt that I didn’t see Mama wear in a while. My legs were heavy as I went up the stairs to the apartment, but it was too late to return the key. Lana was excited, and this was what I always wanted.
IV. Aunt Reem’s living room looked different from when she inhabited it, more constructed and less of a mess. Her furniture was random and old as if she bought every piece from a different country: a French country sofa, a red recliner, and a brass pendant light. I always forgot how odd her choices were, but once I stepped into her rooms, I was reminded that she really wasn’t meant to be in this world for very long. The living room was mainly filled abandonment dust and dirt and not human’s crumbs. The coldness of the tiles never changed. The same coldness I felt on my legs when Mama told me that Aunt Reem had died. I don’t know what I remember, and what I don’t remember. But I remember how Mama’s hand shook when she touched my face, repeating it’s okay, and it didn’t happen. She covered my eyes, mouth and ears and kept repeating that it didn’t happen. I was confused at Mama’s sudden body change, and I remember how I was left on the cold tiles with Aunt Reem’s mess around me as Mama cried on the other side of the door. I, later, learned that we were the ones who found her dead in the bathroom.
V. I was using her bathroom with the blue sink and bathtub when I saw Aunt Reem’s body. I didn’t want to use any of her belongings, or maybe, I wanted but I was afraid. Lana browsed around the kitchen when I told her I needed to use Aunt Reem’s bathroom. I imagined that I was under the water when I entered the bathroom’s blueness. I looked at my feet, touching the lighter blue tiles, pretending like breathing under the ocean was possible. When I looked around the bathroom, Aunt Reem’s figure sat next to the bathtub, her legs crossed like they did when she wanted to start a game to entertain both of us. When she looked at me, I ignored the heaviness and fear in my legs. I wanted her to see that I can handle her and her truths. I saw a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror. My eyes surprised and my lips dry. I looked back at her, but now, her crossed legs were untangled, and a map of blood formed around them. She was there, quiet, and still. Her face a blur that already traveled away from her body. I was there, too, but now, I was five and Mama stood next to me. She covered my eyes, grabbed my body, and moved it to the living room’s tiles, reassuring me that it didn’t happen.
Batool Alzubi is a second-year English PhD student with an emphasis on creative writing and Middle Eastern Literature at Oklahoma State University. She published two fiction pieces, “Illegally Alive” by Bacopa Review and “Not One of Ms. Aisha’s Stories” by Santa Ana River Review.
“The Chapel of the Angel of the Violin, France” by t. m. thomson, a poem
Sun makes its way in through surrounding hazel trees
& red oaks & arched windows, flickers up to vault
& its sand-colored beams
then lands against filigreed
walls & amid grass & weeds & broken stones
leading to baptismal font, now a pond sheltering frog
& stroked by mayflies with stained glass wings while
wrought iron gates stand ajar peppered by
wall lizards that curl cocoa
& sage in its lacey black spirals.
A figure draped in stone looks on, unseeing,
clutches a violin, catches purpled shadows in her robe.
There are no angels here now
only an arpeggio of crickets
with stridulating scrapers on crystal wings
to rosin & birth evenings until autumn breezes in
& covers chapel floor with alloy of slick & brittle
leaves, spine & shard, for raccoon to rustle
with swoosh & crinkle,
a spell to find tired wasp
& flashing scarab, a feast fit for a masked
minister with long toes & a coat growing shaggier
with the corn moon, a seemly pelt for Pan’s
inky-eyed & sable-hooved
t.m. thomson’s (she, her, hers) work has been featured in several journals, most recently in Soundings East. Three of her poems have been nominated for Pushcart Awards. She has co-authored Frame and Mount the Sky (2017) and is the author of Strum and Lull (2019) and The Profusion (2019). Her full-length collection, Plunge, will be published in 2022. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our second issue, surprisingly, turned out to be much more difficult than our first in terms on compiling work and communicating with artists. Several glitches present on the web service we formerly employed to receive submissions made communication spotty and submission decisions did not always display correctly. It is in part due to these glitches that we have moved away from such web service submissions and back to email submissions. Another reasons for the shift is that using the aforementioned service came with a cost. In order to cover that cost, submitters were charged a small fee. Ultimately we felt that this likely limited the accessibility of the submission process. While we always kept the free email submission process as an alternative, the process of emailing and requesting a free submission might be seen as embarrassing and, therefore, a deterrent to some writers/ artists. In summary, we hope that this decision will allow and encourage a greater number of submissions, especially from those who are tired of paying to submit their work for publication when ideally (in a more perfect world) the journal itself would be able to pay the artist/ writer on publication. We would like to express regret for those submitters who may have been negatively effected by the aforementioned glitch or deterred by submission fees.
Readers will notice that there are fewer pieces in this issue than in our first. This is partly due to communication errors fostered by the glitch and partly conscious as we attempted to narrow down the pool of pieces to those that offered readers with a variety of voices while maintaining some vague sense of harmony. We hope you love these pieces as much as we do.
Holly Eva Allen