Reliquary

Tiny bones arranged on a bed of cotton. A single daffodil snuggled in golden glory and lavender sprigs – an offering of love and fidelity. A stone from the garden to keep her beloved grounded; Lucy’s favorite toy sacrificed so she’d never be alone. To say her tears could fill a sea would be an understatement, though today they flowed with intent as each drop was captured in a small heart-shaped vial. Once stoppered, this too was placed with care. A final relic, the band she wore the day she came home. A watershed moment in a life yet unlived. With broken heart, the young one spoke the words only an eight year old’s grief could conjure before the lid was sealed and the small box buried at the base of Great-grans favorite tree.

As they turned to walk back to the house, the ground rumbled, the clouds darkened, and the tree began to shake. Brilliant fingers of light spread below them; enchanted, the child ran back to the tree. She hugged the bark and called out to her beloved Lucy, and Lucy answered in vibrant hues of orange yellow and red. As the phoenix burst through the canopy, the young girl began to scream. Flesh melted from bone. Blood ran free to quench the earth. Flaxen strands crisped in the heat.

∼ Nina D’arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’arcangela. All Rights Reserved.

Forest Full of Mirrors

The forest is full of mirrors that reflect the thirteen angels of the land. It is the only safe way to gaze upon them. To see their glory directly would hammer one to silence. It would chain a throat with despair.

The first angel is the angel of moss. She has long hair that drips gray from the limbs of oaks. Her wings are invisible but you can feel them in the breeze as they stroke your sweat to coolness. On hot days I sit beneath her perch, though I dare not sit too long. She might notice.

The angel of leaves wears many colors, changing them with every season. Green is her favorite but sometimes her silks flame red and yellow. At other times they are threadbare, showing the branching of her veins. In the cold, damp winter they are rotted black.

The angel of stone has pitted eyes that glitter like mica. Those orbs watch the little creatures wandering past. They study those who squirm and crawl and hop the forest floor. They decide who to sacrifice and who to spare.

There is another angel who lives in the hives of bees. Striped in black and yellow, she has feelers upon her head. It is said that her coat of pollen is an aphrodisiac. I believe that is true though I have never chanced a taste.

The angel of owls sweeps in silence through the tangled woods. Nothing hears him in flight, but everything flees when he calls. I have heard this piping on eldritch nights—and remain haunted.

The misted angel wears a diaphanous gown. She is cool to the touch. Through the darkest hours, she pants wetly with want. But in the dawn she floats in innocence to heaven. Do not bother to wave. In return she will offer naught.

The river angel’s wings are white in the rapids, deep and green in the pools. Like a child, he chuckles and laughs as he plays. But do not make him angry. He thrashes against his banks then. He turns the world to shambles.

The angel of light glitters like a hoard of gems. She dances with the mirrors, preening for the trees. I suspect she is vain. But why shouldn’t she be? She is more lovely than the sweet face of the moon.

The wings of the ninth angel make a gate. It opens and closes like a bellows. Sometimes things come through. Awful things. Monstrous things. They hide in the light; they stalk the night. Even though they may know your name, do not make them your friend.

The angel of wicked dreams leaves his feathers scattered on the forest floor. Never seek them. Their promise is honeyed; their taste is foul. They often resemble  mushrooms and toadstools. Sometimes they follow you home and beg to come inside and bleed.

Even the worms have an angel. He is small and ugly and his pinions are lost. He crawls on his belly in the soil. He has no throat with which to scream. But listen close and you still may hear him. Pray that you don’t.

I once knew the angel with the dirty wings. We were lovers in a snake’s embrace. She left me a gift when we parted, half of one of her fangs broken off in my heart. The thirteenth angel is the worst. Or the best. If you should look right at him, you’d only see yourself. He is a mirror all his own. He would laugh when you laugh, cry when you cry. But in the end he’d eat your soul with a wink.

∼ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

Futurity’s Shoelaces

I stare out the window of my cottage, a refuge from a marriage lost. Even the trees are dying. I hear the click of my pen, knowing it must have its way.

“On a sand-scaped shore where life squirmed out from its beginnings, a mother is suspended just above her shadow which grows longer as the sun recedes.  The children rise from her shadow …”

Yes, it is another story, I have it in my head. My novels sold well, once. Now, there is no market for novels, no words, no stories. Libraries are a thing of the past, but writing has become a habit.

 Yesterday the internet began shutting down. Communications are failing around the globe. I never thought it would come to this.

I make a fresh pot of tea. It is the last of the package. The last of all packages. Richard worked for NASA. He expected sons, or even girls to carry on his dream. I failed.

Esher’s multiples on a plane, pleasing, confounding, petrifying, Stravinsky’s complex compositions, Hegel’s theories, Einstein’s gifts merge into a helix of variables, where past and present play tricks; the child called Futurity ties his shoelaces, draws the bow taut.. I add to my former lines,

“The children know forever. The children never tell, they owe no explanations. Listen, say the children, there’s music everywhere.”

I lay down my pen. Before me is a blank screen. It is past time for the broadcast, the one that will tell us what we need to do.

∼ Marge Simon

© Copyright Marge Simon. All Rights Reserved.

Utopia

I beg to have this morsel of bread, my knees on cold stone. The clean hand which gives does so with apathy. This weary skeleton is not worthy. It shakes and rattles as it moves away in contorted gestures. Shame used to have meaning, now it is only the infinite permanency of a worn soul.

They know what’s best for me. They always have.

I’ve no coin or cloth; blood is the only currency I have to give. And so my debt is paid by suffering. The countless ways in which they thrill their hearts baffles the mind. No imaginings of one man could conjure how many ways there are to inflict pain. Never has it been said that they lacked creativity.

I once viewed a piece of art. I suppose this is theirs.

Feeble, frail, am I. No longer do I recoil at the thought of the black hood coming to take me. I’ve eaten my share and lived long years. Time is precious, gifted by the keepers of this world by keeping us unworthy alive. And greed has never been my vice.

I’ll see the reaper soon. And gladly give my head to his axe.

∼ Lee Andrew Forman

© Copyright Lee Andrew Forman. All Rights Reserved.

Paper Dolls

Carefully pleated, intricately folded, all the creases sharp and her work precise before she displayed them on the shelf. Mistakes wouldn’t do. Things went wrong from mistakes with strange consequences.
She looked up and smiled. Six dolls sat on the shelf presently, no seven. She always forgot Annabelle; such an unassuming thing, cream-coloured, not bright hues like the others. A breeze from the window rattled their delicate substance, but none fell off their perch. They remained, in their exacting row.
Watching.
Waiting.
Afraid.
She smiled. She knew what the dolls were thinking, so she reached out her hand, her thin fingers tracing the edge of the shelf. If they could have moved the dolls would have trembled. On the shelf they were safe. Once removed, well… a deal with a devil is non-negotiable. Some had been there long enough to see the fate of several past dolls.
Not pleasant memories.
She withdrew her hand. “Not today, my lovelies. I don’t need any of you in my spells today.”
But one day she would. One day they would all leave the shelf. After all, they should have read the fine print in the contract…

Fifteen years of happiness will be granted, whereas at the end of the contracted wish you will forfeit your body and soul to the witch as final payment. You will be transmogrified and housed within a paper doll until used as raw ingredients.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2022 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

In Her Chest

It nested in her chest. It was a scrawny, featherless thing, forever screeching for more. But she had already given it her whole heart. Strip by tattered strip, every valve, vein, artery had gone to its ceaseless appetite. Still it cried from inside, rattling her ribs in its hungry fury.

“Hush,” she told it. “Soon.” But words could not soothe it. Only beating flesh.

And so she went into the night, searching for a fresh supply. Hearts were easy enough to come by in the city.  Here was one ripe for picking—so ready to pluck he almost tumbled into her hand.

“I can feel your heart race,” he murmured as they slipped into the shadows.

She did not have the heart to tell him it was only the beating of wings. He would learn soon enough. And as she fed her pet, she pondered again the readiness with which we give ourselves away, wondering what might yet grow from it all.

∼ Miriam H. Harrison

© Copyright Miriam H. Harrison. All Rights Reserved.

The Drifting Snow

The wind blew the dry snow across the road, reducing the visibility to about five feet. Don was forced to slow the car to a crawl.

“We’ll never get home at this rate.”

“Better late than never.”

It wasn’t a good night to be traveling, but they had no choice. They were on their way back from the crematorium. Grandma had died on Christmas Eve, her heart finally giving out as she took the garbage to the roadside at minus twenty.

“I’ll miss her. I loved her so much,” said Linda.

“You were her favorite. She always went the extra mile for you. Remember when she punched that kid who was bullying you?”

She smiled at the memory, looking out the car window at the snow-covered fields.

“She always loved this weather. I thought she was crazy, but it was her favorite time of year. She was such a tough old lady.”

“She had to be, living by herself on the farm.”

“She was so stubborn. Didn’t want to sell up after Grandpa died. She might have lived a bit longer if she hadn’t had to drag those bags to the end of the driveway every week.”

“Well, she’s at peace now.”

Linda glanced out into the darkness. The wind blew across the open landscape, lifting the snow into huge whirling clouds. She saw something moving in the drifting snow, a figure.

“What was that?”

“What?”

“I saw a shape in the snow.”

“A deer?”

“It looked like a person.”

“In this weather? No way.  It’s minus thirty out there.”

“We should stop.”

“I guess, it could be a stranded driver.”

He pulled over and Linda got out.

“Hello? Is anyone there?”

There was no response. The snow was blowing into her face, the flakes sharp against her skin. Her face started to freeze. She knew she wouldn’t be able to stay outside for much longer.

“Hello?”

A figure appeared, standing about ten feet away. It was human.

“Grandma?”

She spoke without thinking. The figure danced and twisted in the wind. It whispered to her.

Go no further…”

The wind stole the rest of the sentence.

Linda’s nerve failed and she bolted for the safety of the car. Don looked up as she climbed back in.

“Anything?”

“No.”

She thought back to the words she’d heard.

“Just be careful. Drive real slow.”

“Slower than I have been?”

“Yes, I have a feeling.”

“Okay.”

Don crawled along at a snail’s pace. A pick-up truck roared past them, horn blaring. Its taillights disappeared into the snow. Suddenly Don braked. Hard. Even at such a slow speed, the car skidded for a few feet before crunching to a halt on the icy road.

“Look!”

He pointed in front of them. The road crossed a narrow bridge. It had collapsed. The taillights of the pick-up truck were visible in the water below. If they hadn’t been going so slowly, they would’ve had no chance of stopping in time. Linda, suddenly aware of what had happened, looked out at the drifting snow and silently thanked Grandma for looking out for her, one last time.

∼ RJ Meldrum

© Copyright RJ Meldrum. All Rights Reserved.

The Suit

She had always feared this day would come.

The dark musings had been anxiety provoking and had included the suit being handed over ceremoniously. But that could only happen in a world where her identity was known. Where the true identity of her husband was known.

Instead, a man had stumbled out of a nondescript car and handed her a box sealed with tape. Not the nice kind of tape, either. Not the smooth type, but the brand with the biting string embedded in it.

The cheap kind.

She had looked at the box and looked at the man. His eyes had been hidden behind large sunglasses. He had been as generic as the box. He had turned and left without so much as a nod.

The box, when opened, had given off a smell that she recognized. Even superheroes had favored brands of soap and deodorant.

The suit itself was harder to recognize; it looked different without her husband in it.

God, she missed him.

She wondered if she would miss him less if they had been able to recover his body; if she had had something to say goodbye to.

Without the suit, her husband was just a man. Without the suit, he blended in. Recovering the body would have required someone knowing who to look for.

She needed to have the smell of the suit around her. In their years together, she had barely touched it. It had been his: his responsibility, his power. She had respected that. But he was gone, and she was grieving, and the only thing she knew to do was to put the suit on. It slipped over her skin as his hands once had. It didn’t snag, it didn’t require awkward tugging. Despite their differences in size and shape, the suit fit perfectly.

The suit was made of latex and some charmed materials and had been secretly manufactured in a hidden lab. The suit maker was no longer alive. No one who knew the identity of the suit’s owner was alive, except her.

She wrapped her arms around herself, capturing the first hug she had felt in weeks. Still holding her arms tightly, she moved to the mirror, wanting to see something of him, anything of him. The suit had looked blue on him; it was a deep purple on her.

Inside the suit, his scent grew stronger. The feel of him, his essence enveloped her. She closed her eyes, to catch her breath, to ground herself. She whispered, “I wish I could see him.”

The mirror granted her wish in the worst possible way. The perspective was startling. It appeared as if she were on her back, looking up at the sky. She could not move: her hands and feet were bound. A cold wind blew over her and she shivered. The air bit at her skin, giving her the impression that she was naked. The sound of breathing filled her ears. It was breathing she would recognize anywhere. It belonged to her husband.

She was not seeing him; she was him. She was him in his last moments. But why was he on the ground? Why was he naked?

The vision of the sky was blocked by a face she has seen on the news. It was the Disposer. He had been terrorizing the tri-state area for months. The Disposer smiled at the shivering body, he smiled at the gasping breath. He was more menacing in person than he was in his mug shots. The Disposer’s eyes were like black holes: they absorbed everything and gave off nothing.

The Disposer pursed his lips as if blowing out a candle. Instead of spewing air, dirt poured out, filling her husband’s eyes and nose and mouth. The dirt smelled of rot.

The Disposer, watching her husband die, said, “I get to teach you something today, professor. You get to research death first-hand.”

She understood. Without the suit, the Disposer had no idea who her husband was. He only knew the alter-ego. Feeling her husband die did not provide closure. In fact, it provided the opposite: a thirst for answers.

She felt raw and battered as the mirror switched perspective to reveal a bit of distinguishable scenery. That glimpse could help her find her husband. Or it could help her find the Disposer. She did not know which outcome she wanted more.

The suit had always been an image of trust, of safety. So why had her husband taken it off when a known villain had been near? She had been accustomed to her husband’s strange hours and secretive behavior. The months leading up to his death had been filled with greater absences and a larger gulf between them. He had not been confiding in her as he had before. Had he been confiding in someone else?

The suit was now the cause of mystery and confusion. What had once been a source of pride was now a source of uncertainty. The only thing she was sure of was that someone knew her identity. The person who returned the suit was either someone close to her husband or an enemy inciting a new foe.

Strangely, she hoped it was the latter.

∼ Elaine Pascale

© Copyright Elaine Pascale. All Rights Reserved.

Inconvenient

Click and whir, the soundtrack to my life. I’m to be grateful, Mother says, Father worked very hard on my new heart. It’s meant to keep me alive, but it offers no life. It ticks and clacks, and occasionally stops, but that’s why I have a winding key in my side. A bit awkward, the weight of it, the mechanical heart, not the key – that would be daft! I know I’m to be appreciative for the inconvenience, but I really would have preferred the key in my back. Dressing is awkward, standing even more so as I always lean to one side. If I’m not careful, I tip forward, making a spectacle of myself. Father says it embarrasses him when I fall, but what am I to do? I asked for a crutch, but Mother doesn’t want a cripple, she says the ladies at the club would shun her if I gimped around like a palsy victim. It would be a blight on our good name if I were to need sticks to walk. So instead, I stumble.

The gentlemen at the club are kind. As Mother lunches with the others, frilly napkins and finger sandwiches that would leave even me hungry, the waiters watch and catch me if I begin to list. Very kind, that. But I’d rather walk, and run, and play like a normal boy and girl. Oh, did I not mention that beyond a failing heart, I was also born a hermaphrodite? It doesn’t bother Mother, she always wanted one of each – a little girl named Suzy, and a little boy named Joseph, so she calls me Jozy. Father is appalled by my duality, says it’s an aberration that God should not have allowed. I suppose I was lucky to be born to a clockmaker, but as others stare and make fun of me as I hobble past, I don’t feel lucky. I feel broken. Not my heart, not my gender, not even because Mother dresses me like the dolly she wants to play with that day, but because if I’d had a choice, I would have chosen crib-death. It’s really not as horrible as you think, at least not as horrible as living as a wind-up freak.

∼ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’arcangela. All Rights Reserved.

Sea Burial

The priest-like movement of the waves did not soothe Edith. The darkness is an honest friend, the black sea, too. It did not soothe her though the waters are calm and ripples are an echo of itself. The urn in her hands was not only shaken by the movement of the boat. Guilt made her hands tremble. It had come to this.

The moon and torchlight shed the darkness on the lids of the night; it was just her and the boat they’d once rowed together, fishing, swimming naked, living—a singular task, a secret ministry to scatter his ashes at his request. She received a short letter a month ago asking for this one thing. Before that, he wrote all the time. In one long letter, he said at long last that Geoffrey’s mother had forgiven him, and he felt something close to joy after atoning for ‘their sin’ for the first time since his crime. She didn’t reply, not once. ‘Their sin?’ Then she couldn’t bring herself to read his desperate and demented letters saying he would starve himself to death unless she wrote or visited. Her patience had run out. It made no sense to her why he raked over what happened years ago. It was a broken sternum healed to a misshapen cage.

All those years Herman had served in prison, Alice had been in exile too. The local people of Bicton said she was a heartless witch who put a curse on men. Herman’s jealous rage turned his handsome face into a rapid mask. He bit and tore, punched and kicked another man to death. Poor Geoffrey, a gentle lover, she thought blithely. Could love make men mad?

She hadn’t loved him well, nor deep like the ocean. He was a strong man with a big heart. She had not loved him these years, for she only knew his absence and her own changed, quiet life, keeping out of sight of fingers and whispers. Watched by the sleepless stars, it was right to admit this now. There was no peace here, either. Out at sea, she was no more and no less isolated than she was in her humble cottage.

Tomorrow, she thought, the church bells would ring in the morning, the vicar would come and go, and families would send their children to school. And Edith would be alone again. The smoking blueness of the sky and the bitter-sweet smell of the infinite ocean reminded her of this.

Was she selfish to contemplate her suffering? She clutches the urn, rocked by the cradle of the boat. If only she had a child for company. No man would come near her—the chance of a slippered quiet or contented happiness again was snuffed out forever. Yes, she was an inmate, too, and her sentence was not over. Her twin is in the waters. She thinks that solitude has withered her like a prisoner as she touches her beautiful hair. Day and night were all one. Yes, her furnished cottage was quite comfortable with a fire lit and simple stew to eat, but who would act on her dying wishes?

“Herman was spared. Blessed to die in prison,” she said, peering into the waking black waves, though he died just before he had almost served his sentence.

She resolved then there was no need to pray, having not prepared anything, and nothing came to mind amidst so much blackness; just her and the sea, inhaling and exhaling—a sea which never sleeps.

Then there was a slight movement in the air, a strengthening of the wind, a sound like the crumpling of paper. The ocean swelled ominously, and the wind whistled sharply around her neck as it lifted her long dark locks off her back and shoulders before dropping them down again. She clutched the urn to her chest as she lost her balance in the swaying boat. Herman used to say to peer into the depths of the sea is to peer into a mirror, into one’s conscience. Vapours rose from the waters and a door opened in the waves. She studied the perilous gloom illuminated by the unquiet moon. Glass bottles containing a handwritten letter bobbed to the surface—one after the other.

“What?” she stammered. “Is this —?’

Not hesitating a moment later, Edith shuffled to the edge of the boat, clutching the urn with one hand to her chest while using the other hand to hold onto the wooden seat to inch forward, gazing fixedly at the open door. Situated at the most northern part of the boat, she removed the lid from the urn and slowly rose to her feet, wobbling as the waves became restless and ever boisterous. The door in the waves was still open—a trapdoor, Alice thought, where the evil mortals go. So, in her outstretched hand, she turned the urn upside down.

Nothing came out.

Not a speck.

From the gloom came a satanic cry, and a black power appeared like a thunderbolt. An enormous bird with blinking plutonium eyes perched on the boat and burned its eyes into Alice’s lovely face.

“Oh! Help!” she called, “take it!” she said, offering the urn out to the evil-looking bird.

But the eager creature—a giant cormorant—winked, then began pecking and tearing at Edith’s pretty face with persistent rapture. Her arms waved, the urn fell into the boat, rolling under the seat, and with every cry and scream, another black bird appeared from the ominous sky, dressing every inch of her in black plumes. A cacophony of fluttering wings and restless waves made demented music damp with her tears and spit-soaked shrieks in the air. The boat ceased to rock violently. One satisfied bird carried the urn away to its nest to nestle beside ink-spotted eggs. In the wind, the sounds of sobbing and grieving rained into her ear. Herman’s voice twisted the sinews in her shrunken heart, cleaving her like another hungry bird. At last, she listened and heard.

“Edith.Edith.Edith.”

Into the shadowy water she fell, down and down deep below the waves so deep nobody knows.

~ Louise Worthington, Guest Author

© Copyright Loiuse Worthington All Rights Reserved.