Sunlight fogs the clearing where the dying trees watch; nothing stirs. But the quiet will soon break. Riders are coming from north and south, and before them fly the ravens. They come in flocks, light spilling dark from flashing wings. Their cries rasp the sky. A wind moves with them.

The ancient oaks shiver as the black birds settle raucously in their branches. The ravens’ agate eyes spark with red as they turn their heads in the sun. The grass stirs now, whispering with gossip as the wind arrives. And there is a rumble in the distance that might be thunder but which the ravens know as the pounding of iron-shod hooves.

Up the last hills toward the clearing the riders come, their thunder shaking the earth now, shaking the trees and stirring the birds into a frenzy. Light ripples off armor, off the heads of lances and the bright pennons that snap with eagerness.

The sky roars with sound, then falls nearly silent as the armies draw to a halt facing each other. In the trees, the ravens preside. And the charge comes, as the birds expect. Battle is joined. Carnage riots in the clearing.

First blood soaks the earth, moistens the dry soil. More crimson follows. Buckets of it. It’s what the dying oaks have waited for. It’s why they’ve been sending hate over the years into weak human minds, urging them toward war, urging them toward this moment and this place.

Quietly, the oaks begin to bloom. And in the trees’ awakening hunger, the ravens are the first to be devoured.

The first. But not the last.

∼ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.


The scissors on the dressing table catch Libby’s eye, which means it is day time.

She takes another two pins, thrusts them into the doll’s eyes then puts the doll’s hand in hers. Hand in hand.

‘Come on, Mummy, let’s go to the corner shop.’

Libby makes the doll walk across her single bed. Doll has a face full of shiny pins. Next door in the box bedroom, Mummy is working at her sewing table. The hum of the Singer machine is continuous, from morning through to night time. Libby knows not to disturb Mummy when she’s busy working, but she is hungry.

She looks at the little pin-cushion doll Mummy made her as if she might tell her what to do. ‘Are you hungry, too?’

The humming stops. Libby puts her ear to the bedroom door expecting to hear familiar movements, like the rustle of fabrics, the snip of scissors, the cheerful rattle of the beads and buttons in those special see-through pots, even a scraping of the chair on the wooden floor – something. Mummy likes singing snatches of a song when her mood is happy. Fancy fabric like taffeta and silk for Mummy’s special customers make a rich sound, but that doesn’t happen very often.

The only sound is Libby’s heartbeat and blood rushing through her ears. Loud rumbling in her tummy. She wants to knock.

Libby fingers the poppy-red ribbons in her pigtails. One ribbon is frayed at the end where she has chewed it, but it is still her favourite because of its colour. When it’s time to go to school, she’ll wear them in her hair and everyone will notice her. Only Libby isn’t sure when school starts, or what day it is. She chews the inside of her cheek until a fly lands on the end of her nose.

Fly is tickly, unlike pin-cushion doll who is stuffed with cotton wool and stitched at the seams, made of gingham cotton in pink and red. Left-overs from something or other Mummy made for someone else. Always left-overs and scraps, hand-me-downs. Cold food from the night before, reheated beans, clothes with someone else’s name written on the label.

Buzzing fly is like the hum of the Singer.

Libby knocks on the door, desperate for food and reassurance. ‘Mummy?’

Spools of cotton in navy and black roll behind the door on the wooden floorboards, releasing a new and unexpected sound into the little room. As Libby edges inside the box room, she spots a red bead that looks like a splash of blood.

It’s a relief to see Mummy at her sewing table, her head resting on the desk for a nap after hours of her machine humming away. No wonder she is exhausted.

The Singer is humming even though Mummy’s hands and legs aren’t moving. Libby edges closer to the table, sensing something – an odour. She sees the peculiar angle of Mummy’s head.

‘I’m hungr—’

When Libby screams a swarm of flies, angry at being disturbed from the stinking corpse, enter her mouth. The humming doesn’t stop; it gets louder.

More flies crawl over the bleeding head with its pin-cushion face, eye sockets of pins, lips of pins, and in between, a flush of gingham pink and red.

∼ Louise Worthington

© Copyright Louise Worthington. All Rights Reserved.

People in the Sun

People in the Sun by Edward Hopper as Explained by the Ghost of One of His Models

Here I am posed in the crowd. Do you see? We’re supposed to be tourists gathered to relax and stare at distant mountains. It’s as if the artist were replaying a silent film of a family vacation. Normally, visitors here get this explanation: ‘The canvas may reflect Hopper’s discomfort in the West, where he found himself unable to paint with his usual enthusiasm when confronted by the harsh light and monumental wonder of the landscape.

I’m that fellow reading in the back row. My wife Lucia is the woman in the floppy hat. Of course, that’s not a real mountain range on the right. It was actually just a pile of lights and equipment, so it wasn’t difficult to look bored or unimpressed – just what Hopper was after, as a fact. I think he was making a statement about how tourists often miss the awe of the place they are visiting. Whatever, the scene marks our fifth anniversary, the last day of our connubial bliss. We started arguing on the way home and she shot me with the pretty little handgun I’d given her as an anniversary gift. It was for her protection, what a laugh! To think, we’d planned a visit to the Tetons to celebrate. A shame, all that monumental wonder we missed.

∼ Marge Simon

© Copyright Marge Simon. All Rights Reserved.

The Widow’s Milk

The sweet milk drew them to the widow, Mrs. Keller daily. Their lips silently spoke of thirst; a parching despair was evident each morning upon their arrival. Mrs. Keller smiled with each new sun as she watched them come in droves. She waited at the door of her barn, tin containers filled with the greenish-white cream. One by one, she’d fill each jug the locals brought. They’d leave with both their spirits, and wallets, much lighter.

They always asked to see the cows that produced her famed product. An off-kilter smile was the only response she ever gave. They talked in hushed rumors of what might be in that old, red outbuilding, what wonderous dairy cattle gave their delicious milk in secret. They imagined a majestic specimen, the fur a color never before seen by human eyes. Others argued she dyed the milk and put something in it for flavor, but they were buying it as well—thus it was unanimously agreed that wherever it came from, it was the very best.

Despite the general consensus on the milk’s quality, some were too intrigued to stay away. Their curiosity made them brave fools, ready to risk a gut full of buckshot at a chance to know. A plan formed, in preparation for the night of the month when the moon would be most dim. A group of three prepped their tools, headed out at nightfall, and waited, watching the barn and Mrs. Keller’s house.

Long after the lights went out, when all went quiet and they thought she must be asleep, they approached the barn. One cut the chain while the others held it and let it down lightly on the ground. They opened the barn doors just enough to slip inside and face the darkness within.

One of them lit the oil lantern they brought and revealed the source of their town’s milk; the commodity they so cherished—the near-godly nectar of some unknown animal’s bosom. Their faces went slack, as did their minds upon the ghastly sight that lay within Mrs. Keller’s barn. It was no cow that produced their prized milk, but a monstrosity they couldn’t have imagined.

In the stall at the far end, a man’s upper half was chained to the wall. His waistline was no more than a scarred line where stitches had once been. Below that, attached to that man, was something inhuman. Its physique didn’t recall anything they could identify. The flesh, if it could be called that, was dark and had the texture of motor oil. It stank of sulfur and burnt rubber. The three intruders held their noses and gagged against the stench.

The man attached to this multi-legged thing beneath howled in agony, raising both the attention and incalculable fear of the trio. His inexplicable bottom half began to shudder and heave. A slit of flesh opened up near its end, which they then noticed was attached to a hose. The human top wailed while that hose pumped green, viscous fluid into tin canisters lined against the other side of the barn.

When the event was over, the wretched smell intensified, and the man atop this beast fell to rest again. Two of the men heard a loud bang, something wet splashed the side of their faces. By the time they realized what happened, Mrs. Keller shot them as well.

As she began with a shovel to bury her unwanted guests, she had a thought: They may be the first to discover what became of my husband, but they most likely won’t be the last.

∼ Lee Andrew Forman

© Copyright Lee Andrew Forman. All Rights Reserved.