A Time for Change


Resolutions. Endings and beginnings. Doors opening while others close. These are the things that make up winters: this feeling of new things blossoming up from the frost, and new dreams rising out of the cold. I’ve been thinking a lot about this as the year’s end draws closer and closer.

Back in September, I spoke a bit about wanting change. In fact, I anticipated it, and urged you to do the same. I’ve taken the last few months to step back and to think quite seriously about what I want to do next. The truth is, I’ve been feeling uneasy for a while now. The past year has been long, yes, but it has also. been full of lessons. I don’t know if I understand them all yet, but I do think I’m ready to listen to the bits and pieces I’ve been able to fit together.

This is all to say that I am changing my self-publishing methods in 2019.

As of January, I will be pulling my books from Amazon and stepping away from print-on-demand production. I will instead be printing books in small batches and selling directly from my online shop. I have thought long and hard about this, and had even considered these options prior to the CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing merger that ultimately pushed me to take this leap of faith. These changes will put me back in the driver’s seat. It will put me in control of my own prices, of my own content, and of my own earnings.

What does this mean for my current books? A lot, actually.

Ready Aim Fire, Basket Case, and Exit Ghost will be leaving Amazon, but I assure you that they will not be gone for good. Instead, I have been working on extended editions of each of these titles. So, yes, they’ll be gone for a time. But then they’ll come back! And they’ll be even better!

(Also, the ebook version of Ready Aim Fire will remain available through Kindle while I figure out ebook options moving forward. So I’m not stepping too far away from Amazon just yet.)

And what does this mean for all of you? Will this change pricing? Shipping?

The short answer is: Yes. Because this new method of publishing will be more costly on my end, it may result in a slight increase in cost on yours. I am doing my best not to hike up prices, and I can promise there will be no astronomical changes. But there will be changes. I can’t avoid that. Which is a good segue into the thing I always feel awkward promoting…

PATREON! Here’s the sales pitch: Teirs are currently set at $1, $2, and $3 levels with rewards including early access to blog posts and book reviews, monthly discounts to my shop, and exclusive poems and stories that are only shared on Patreon. Funds from Patreon will help me cover production costs, which will help me produce more content at a quicker pace, and will also help keep book prices lower for everyone. Okay? Okay.

And, finally, I want to touch a little something that’s been dragged out for far too long.

What does this all mean for Fictitious?

I have not forgotten about this book. I could never forget about this book. It has not been scrapped. This book is my heart and soul and I’m so frustrated that it is not yet in your hands. One of the reasons I postponed the book even further was the changes Amazon chose to spring in its independent authors. Now that I’m taking steps away from Amazon, I’m excited to finally - finally, finally, finally, finally - release Fictitious.

I don’t feel comfortable announcing a release date just yet. I have a date in mind, but as I’m navigating this new process, I anticipate some bumpy roads and don’t want to make another promise I cannot keep regarding this book. But I do feel comfortable announcing that Fictitious will be part of a poetry duology called POP POETRY. And if that’s not exciting enough for you, the two full-length POP POETRY collections will be accompanied by two limited edition chapbooks!

The series will be laid out as such:

  • Fictitious (POP POETRY NO. 1)

    • Director’s Cut (LIMITED CHAPBOOK)

  • Rhapsody (POP POETRY NO. 2)


I’ll be laying out more information regarding how this will all work shortly, along with announcing official release dates. For now, just know that these books are all slated for 2019/2020 releases, that this series is essentially my heart on a platter, and that I am so overwhelmingly excited to share them with you.

I have learned so much over the past year alone, and even more in the three years I have been in this self-publishing game. I am anxious about these changes, of course. But I’m also excited, and I think that excitement is occupying the majority of my nerve-endings.

Thank you all for being on this journey with me. Thank you all for your support, for your kindness, for your patience. You are the reason I am able to do all of this, and you are the reason I will always press forward.

Be brave and take risks. You don't have to have it all figured out to move forward.
- Roy T. Bennett -

NaNoWriMo 2018: Wrap-Up and Final Thoughts

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As I write this, we are a week removed from the madness of National Novel Writing Month 2018. Over the past week, I’ve found myself at a loss for breath as I slink back into some kind of normalcy (which, admittedly, not very normal.)

During November, I found myself the proud owner of a brand new job - in the publishing industry, no less! Which is exciting, but also scary, and landed me in marketing assistant boot camp just days after I crawled over that 50,000 word finish line. I’m also still in the throes of law school prep, which is now back in full swing as I’ve doubled down on my LSAT preparation and picked up my program research. Also, the holidays are a think. There are cards to be sent and gifts to be bought and dishes to bake for the parties that need attending (and sometimes planning, too, if you decide to offer up your house for ugly sweater festivities - guilty!). So. There’s all of that.

I’ll spare you my anxious, frenzied thoughts about all that.

Instead, let’s talk about NaNoWriMo, as long as you’re not too bored with that topic by now.

2018 was my eleventh year participating in National Novel Writing Month, and on November 30th it became my tenth win. I had set out a goal of over 50,000 words and did reach it. While I’m disappointed about this, a conversation with my mother offered some perspective, as mothers are apt to lend. She said it as simply as anyone could: “You had a lot going on this month.”

And she’s right, as mothers often are. This November I traveled, I went on interviews, I got a new job; I went to weddings, I babysat some dogs, I reconnected with old friends. I studied for the LSAT, and I stressed about studying for the LSAT, and I got so stressed that I had to put the LSAT books away and deal with the anxiety they caused. I set up the foundations for Little Lion Literary, the literary & arts journal of my dreams. So, yeah, NaNoWriMo was not the only thing on my plate. And with all that considered, I’m damn proud of myself for crossing the finish line.

I began the month with four potential story ideas to entertain. I wound up working on two of those: a superhero epic, and a slasher story that was a little bit Halloween and a little bit Dexter. A few years ago, I worked on multiple stories for the first time, and I’ve found that this kind of split attention actually helps me keep my focus. One thing that plagues me around week two or three of every National Novel Writing Month is the inevitable burn-out - that tired, beaten down feeling that makes you look at your work with a hyper-critical eye and makes you feel trapped in quicksand, sinking deeper with every word you struggle to write. By giving myself multiple options, I’m able to bounce back and forth depending on which story speaks to me that day, and this year I’ve come away with workable drafts for both projects.

Another thing I’m proud of is my dedication to writing every single day of the month.

Sure, I didn’t always cross that 1,667 threshold. Some days I managed to spit about hundred words onto the page before throwing in the towel, but each of those hundred words got me closer and closer to my goal.

Over the past year, I’ve drifted in and out of depressive episodes. This isn’t exactly uncommon. I’ve spoken about my mental health issues before, and these diagnoses are an every day kind of thing. They don’t go away; I’ve just learned to manage them. However, quite a few times this year I’ve found that managing them took time away from my work, which only deepened the depressive feelings I was battling. Therefore, I was determined to use NaNoWriMo to break the on again/off again writing cycle I’ve developed and begin writing every day again.

It worked. I wrote every day, even if it was just a little bit, and I came away with two pieces that I’m proud of and excited to work into something publishable.

And on top of all of that, I’m glad for the new friends I’ve made. In hosting #NaNoWineO chats on Twitter this year, I’ve found a small circle of incredibly encouraging, kind, and compassionate fellow writers who I am glad to now consider friends. We may only meet once a week over social media, but those connections are invaluable as an artist. They kept me motivated and confident, even when I wasn’t sure I would make it to the finish line, and reporting word counts to them each week kept me accountable for my work. I can’t thank them enough.

So, to wrap things up, this National Novel Writing Month, with all its ups and downs, was one of my favorites. It was certainly one for the books, full of new friendships and lessons that needed learning, and I believe its helped me create some books that I hope to one day share with you.

And isn’t that what NaNoWriMo is all about?

NaNoWriMo 2018: Self-Care During NaNo

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Week two of National Novel Writing Month 2018 is drawing to a close and I, for one, am beat.

Over the years, I’ve found that NaNoWriMo exhaustion exists in a league all its own. It’s not like normal writing exhaustion, where you take a breather for a few days, put down the pen for a week, or bounce around with some other ideas while you let your current work-in-progress finished. It’s not that you can’t do these things during NaNoWriMo, of course. But there is a lot of pressure not to, because the whole point of National Novel Writing Month is to get down a 50,000 word first draft of one single novel in one month’s time. That kind of goal requires at least a little bit of writing every day, and leaves little to no room to play around with other projects simultaneously.

With a challenge as intense as NaNoWriMo, it becomes all the more important for participants to heed their mental health and practice self care. It’s easy to get caught-up in the chaos of writing 1,667 words every day, jumping into word sprints and word wars to push the daily quota, but the mania of it can leave one feeling drained at the end of the day - or even the hour, if that’s all the time one has to cram in their writing for the day. NaNoWriMo isn’t exempt from the pitfalls of regular, day-to-day writing, either. You can still get stuck in your story. You can still plateau. And this becomes all the more frustrating when your goal was to push through an extra thousand words, or when you feel you’re falling behind in the challenge.

Basically, as fun as NaNoWriMo is (and I swear it is!), there’s a lot of potential stress that comes with it. It’s a lot to deal with, and all the more reason to find ways to unwind, let go, and let your mind rest in the midst of such a literary frenzy.


Even the smallest accomplishment, like getting one hundred words on paper or sitting down to write for five or ten minutes, is still an accomplishment. In a challenge where the end goal is a lofty 50K, it can be easy to overlook the baby steps we take along the way.

A little tip? Take a moment each day to look at your manuscript, look at word count, and congratulate yourself for how far you’ve come. Only wrote fifty words today? Great! That’s fifty more than you had yesterday, and those fifty words are nudging you closer to the finish line. Be proud of them.

And a little bonus tip: stop using the words only or just when you talk about your daily word counts. “I only got 200 words.”; “I just have 10,000.” No, no, no. “I wrote 200 words!”; “I’m have 10,000 words!” Change your language, change your perspective, and give yourself the credit you deserve. You’ve taken on a pretty hefty challenge, and it’s important to acknowledge and appreciate your progress. You’re doing this. It’s hard, but you’re doing it, and that’s pretty exceptional no matter what your word count looks like.


We’ve all been there: we sit down to write with a big cup of coffee in the morning, and by the time we go to take a sip we discover that five hours have gone by and the coffee’s gone cold. And sure, these marathon sessions can really help boost our word counts and get us that much closer to hitting 50,000 words. But they shouldn’t be the norm, and we certainly shouldn’t buckle down for another three hours once we’ve figured out how much time has passed.

You and your novel will need to take breaks from one another. It’s important for your relationship. Trust me. Set a timer, write until it goes off, and then get away from the computer. Go take a walk, or go to a fitness class, or meet up with a friend. Watch a movie, catch up on some Netflix, take a nap. Whatever it is that will let you untangle yourself from the fictional world you’re building? Do that. I promise you, it works wonders, because when you sit back down you’ll be refreshed and probably a bit more inspired than you felt when you left.

Your novel will still be there when you get back. Your characters aren’t going anywhere. They’ll probably thank you for the breather, and you’ll definitely feel less drained at the end of the day.


We’re halfway through the month. Some people have already hit their 50,000; some people have gone beyond that goal; some people are right on track; some people are stuck at 10,000 with no idea where to go from here. Some people feel great, others are struggling.

It can be easy to look at someone else’s word count and think, “Wow! They’re doing so great! I should be there, too. Why am I not doing as well as they are?” Get this out of your head. You don’t know what other WriMos are going through or what their circumstances are, and other WriMos don’t know what you’re going through or what your circumstances are. No two writers’ experiences are going to be the same - so why would you compare your journey to someone else’s?

It’s okay to feel a little jealous. We’d all love to be crossing the finish line sooner rather than later! But it’s important not to let that jealousy eat us up so much that it distracts us from our novels. And while the NaNoWriMo community is great and supportive and tons of fun to be in, don’t be afraid to take a little step back if you find yourself getting hung up on other people’s word counts.

A little internet break can do a ton for both you and your novel. It’ll give you the chance of focusing solely on your work while preventing you from holding your book up to someone else’s. Take some time away from word count reporting and just focus on you. When you come back, shout what you’ve accomplished to the rooftops - be proud! - and take the time to congratulate your friends on their word counts, too.

Ultimately, when you’re feeling stressed and bogged down and like NaNoWriMo has entirely devoured your soul, the most important question to ask yourself is: What do I need right now?

Take a few minutes out of each day to seriously consider this question. The answer will probably vary from day to day. Maybe you need to get away from your novel and get coffee with a friend. Maybe you need to go for a run to clear your head. Maybe you need a short internet hiatus to refocus yourself. Maybe you need to work on a different project for an hour or so, or to take a day off all together. Whatever it is, honor your mind and body’s needs, because the better you feel each day, the better your NaNoWriMo experience will be.

A Letter to Stan Lee

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A letter to Stan Lee:

You don’t know me, but I know you. Not in the sense that we’ve met. We’ve never shook hands or sat opposite each other at a dinner table. We’ve never chatted over coffee. We’ve never even been in the same room on the same day at the same time. I know you in a difference sense - in the sense that you spilled your heart across comic panel pages for me, and hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of others, to pick up.

You built safe places to run to and heroes who hurt and bled and cried and who I could, without even having to squint, see myself in. You fought for these make believe people and their make believe worlds, pushed and pushed against all the stubborn boulders in your way. You said yes when an entire industry told you no, and then you held that industry in the palm of your hand and said, “I told you so”.

You worked endlessly, tirelessly, relentlessly to give breath and voice and life to little paper people on glossy comic book spreads and you stood beside them when they leapt up onto the big screen. And you never stopped. Not once. You kept creating, kept building, kept making people out of paper and ink and gifting them to a world they could belong to. You never put the pen down, and because of you, I’ll never let go of mine.

You don’t know me, but you saved me. Over and over again, you saved me. You saved me, and you inspired me, and you taught me. To tell the truth, you saved and inspired and taught so many people, and I think if we all tried to thank you at once the sound of our gratitude would ring so loud that they would hear it in the space station. And you know what? I think that they when they heard us, they’d join in and thank you, too.

You have changed and shaped the lives of so many people. You have spread so much light in the world that you could be your own sun - and maybe that’s what you are now: one great big star warming some far away planet. Maybe you are out there somewhere shedding golden light over a land your own creations might inhabit, and maybe they’re all cheering and basking in your glow, all of them so incredibly grateful to see you again and to welcome you home.

I will never get to thank you in person. I will always regret never having that chance (no matter how far fetched it might have been even before you left). But I’d like to thank you now. So, thank you. Thank you for showing this weird little big-dreaming writer that the underdog can win, and that if you believe in something, the whole world might start to believe in it, too.

Rest easy. You will be missed.


NaNoWriMo 2018: Noveling Survival Kit

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Well, friends, November is finally here. Week one has already come and gone and with it pages and pages of frantic prose have been scrambled through, coffee-stained, and cried over. As of writing this I’m sitting at a grand total of 11,543 words at the dawn of day eight.

While this isn’t exactly where I wanted to be, I’m proud. I’m proud because I’ve had one of the most hectic beginning weeks to NaNoWriMo in my eleven-year participation streak (and that includes senior year of high school and all my years NaNo-ing in college - combined!). So, sure, I’m not quite where I want to be, and I’m still a little disappointed about that. But I’m still on track. I’m writing every day, and I’m meeting minimum word counts, and I’m inching my way towards 50,000 words (and, hopefully, beyond!). That’s a victory.

And it hasn’t been accomplished alone!

Every writer has their own tools of the trade - the things we can’t live without, the things that make our craft possible. They might be little motivators, they might be the rewards we use, they might consist of towers of coffee beans and a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones. It’s all fair game! Personally, I have a mixture things that seem to rotate in and out of vogue every year. For 2018, I’ve found that these five things are my Top Five Most Important Most Inspirational Most Necessary Survival Kit Must-Haves to get through this wild month of non-stop noveling:


You know those signs you see in home-goods stores and souvenir shops? “Coffee keeps me busy until it’s time to drink wine”; “AM: Coffee / PM: Wine”. Well, that’s literally my life. My hot drink of choice seems to change year by year. Sometimes I’m a tea all day, every day girl. Some years I just want endless supplies of hot cocoa. This year, I’m all about the coffee. I can’t start writing without at least one cup in my system and one on deck (aka: on my desk getting cold and subjected to multiple trips to the microwave to keep it drinkable).

A few evenings a week, I’ve also found that indulging in a glass of wine is a nice way to both unwind and inspire a more laid-back writing style in order to meet my daily goals. I joined Winc (not sponsored! I just found them through Wine & Crime and really love their selection. but if they want to partner up, I won’t say no!) and ordered a few reds to try. I also started hosting #NaNoWineO chats on Twitter this year, mostly to increase my community participation, but also as an excuse to pop open my Winc bottles with some other writers.


I tend to change up what my writing rewards are each year, if only to keep myself motivated. Sometimes it’s getting to go to movies every 10K words, sometimes it’s watching an episode of Netflix & Marvel’s Daredevil after 5K, sometimes it’s getting to go to a pop culture convention. This year, I’ve decided to reward myself with books! Cheap books, yes. Discounted used books, to be exact. But books nonetheless!

I’ve been using online discount book services since a college professor had mercy on her English majors and told us to order our texts from AbeBooks. Another professor was kind enough to grant us the gift of Thriftbooks, and BookOutlet and I found each other during a Shakespeare stint at the end of last year. Now all three show up on my Google homepage because I stalk them to intensely. Which is a good thing! Because for every 10K words I write, I’m allowing myself to order one book. My first 10,000 words earned me a UK edition of Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies, and I’ve got my sights set on The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson when I hit the 20K mark.

Do I really need to be adding to my overstuffed bookshelves? Probably not. But is it keeping me motivated? Absolutely! And having so many deals available on thrift sites virtually erases the guilt at buying a new book every few thousand words.


While we’re on the topic of books, let’s talk about how hard it can be to keep up with reading while NaNoWriMo is in session. The answer: it sometimes feels impossible.

I tend to stick with poetry during November. I find that reading poems can both inspire my work and serve as a reprise from my frantic, rambling, scrambling prose. It also allows me to keep reading without getting overly influenced by another writer’s style, structure or voice while I’m in the heat of a first draft. I’ve found that reading fiction can push me so far into another book’s world that sometimes my own work slips inside, so poetry is a great way to keep my reading goals in play while avoiding this realm-hopping phenomenon.

This year, I opted for Cheyenne Raine’s bilingual collection Lemon Acuarelas. It’s a beautiful book, and reading in two languages is keeping me in the head space to write the bilingual dialogue of some of the central characters in my main NaNo project. It’s a lot easier to make their speech fluid when I’m filling my spare time with their second language!


Spotify is my best friend during November.

Usually, I’m a strictly music-only kind of writer. I’ll shove a whole bunch of songs into a playlist for my novel and listen to the whole thing non-stop throughout NaNoWriMo (or whatever I’m working on, really; this process isn’t NaNo-exclusive). This year, I’ve found myself further intrigued by podcasts and the odd documentary as well. I have two primary plots that I’m working on for NaNoWriMo, and both of them are heavily crime-based. They include criminals, vigilantes, crime journalists, police officers and government agents, so on and so forth, and I’ve found myself getting in the mindset of these characters with true crime podcasts and documentaries. Even if all the cases don’t quite line up with what I’m writing, hearing the terminology and getting a taste for the cases covers helps me set the tone for my work.

My current favorite is And That’s Why We Drink! The paranormal element ties in with the second half of one of my plots, so this show is the perfect mix to set the stage for particular story. I’ve also been into Wine & Crime, and I’ve just started dabbling in hits like My Favorite Murder. For documentaries, I’ve been focusing heavily on HBO specials including Beware the Slenderman, Mommy Dead and Dearest, and There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane as well as Netflix hits like The Staircase and season two of Making a Murderer.


This one is a little abstract.

It’s not an object. It’s not something tangible. It’s not something you can pull out at a moment’s notice, when you’re strapped for inspiration or you’re feeling drained or you just need a pick-me-up. It’s something that’s around you - something that you feel rather than touch, but this technicality doesn’t make it any less important.

One of the things that has kept me coming back to NaNoWriMo, one of things that has pulled me through almost eleven years of this madness, has been the community. These incredible writers are the backbone of the challenge. The word sprints, the forums, the Twitter chats, the postcard swaps - everything! WriMos are a unique breed of people, let me tell you. They are kind and encouraging and supportive even when they themselves are feeling frazzled and unsure. You can’t get through a challenge like this without people like them, and I’m so grateful to be a part of this crazy, wild, worldwide community!

Everything I Read in August, September, & October

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I guess you could say the last few months got away from me. Maybe I was little burnt-out from all the summer reading I did, maybe I was feeling the weight of some emotionally heavy anniversaries, maybe I was just bogged down with books of a more academic nature. Really, it’s combination of all three that lead me to read a little less per month on this summer-fall cusp. But that’s okay - but I still cracked a few spines and flipped a few pages, and now I’ve got three months worth of reviews to share with you! Here’s a round-up of everything I read in August, September, and October.


I found it difficult to stay focused through a lot of this edition, especially through the last poem and the last essay of the issue. There were some gems - such as Terrance Hayes' excerpt from "To Float in the Space Between" & Krista Franklin's excerpt from "Under the Knife", both of which made me want to run out and read the full works. I also fond of some of the poems, especially pieces by Dunya Mikhail and Tony Lopez. Overall, though, I felt like this was a weaker issue. The lengthier pieces made it feel like work to read through them, and it felt like there was too much focus being placed on featured, big-name poets. It took away from the magic of the other pieces.


I'm obsessed with this book. Absolutely, positively obsessed. I've wanted to get my hands on it for a long time, having read quite a few of Trista's chapbooks already. When Trista announced that it had been picked up by Central Avenue Publishing, I couldn't wait to see this beautiful little book with all of Trista's beautiful words perched on a bookstore shelf. Seeing that publishing house dream come true for other writers makes my heart swell, and this was no exception. 

Trista has such a unique style to her. It sits somewhere on the hazy border between simplistic and modernized poetry and more layered, metaphorical forms - and each every word is tied up with the poet's own raw nerve-endings. These come from somewhere deep inside her, and reading something so intimate feels a bit like an intrusion and a lot like a privilege. It's one of those poetry books that makes you feel - happy, sad, heartbroken, lost, hopeless, hopeful. And all of that wild emotion can even inspire you to pick a pen. I've always felt that that's how you know a poetry collection works; if a book makes you feel so many things that you have to take a blank page to empty it all out on, then that book has done something right. That' Honeybee. A roller coaster ride of emotions that makes you get off ready to build your own theme park. 

I just can't sing this collection's praises enough, and I truly can't wait to see what more Trista has hidden up her sleeve.


I first watched the film adaptation of this play in a high school creative writing class about seven years ago now, and again had it discussed in college lecture halls, but I'd never - not once - actually sat down and read the book. 

I'm so glad I did, because while these words are meant to be read aloud on stage, there's something visceral about letting them playing out in your own head. The most interesting thing about this story to me is that in all my years studying the material, and now in finally reading its source, I don't like a single one of the characters. Not one. And yet, they're still sympathetic. I still feel for them, even if their personalities rub me in all the wrong ways, I still feel for them and I still care about how the story turns out. For a while, I thought this was just from acting choices in the movie pulling at my heartstrings, but just reading the words on a black-and-white page still made me feel for this dysfunctional little cast. That's pure talent on Albee's part: making unlikable people sympathetic. But I think it's also pretty true to life. There have been plenty of people I've met who I might not be crazy for and might not want to grab drinks with on a Saturday night, but I still feel for them when they hit rough patches, because we're all human and we're all just trying our best, and sometimes our best is messy or things just don't work out. 

Checking this one off my reading bucket list felt good, but now I'm eager to dive in again and dissect it a little further. I'm just fascinated by the structure of the play and the nuances of its rough-edged players.


I so wanted to love this book. 

F. Scott Fitzgerald has long been one of my literary idols. The effortless way he drips detail into fluid, poetic prose has dragged me since that one day in eleventh grade English when I scanned the opening lines of The Great Gatsby for the first time. I've been hooked ever since, and have even tried (and failed, and tried again) to capture its essence in my own work. 

That easy, languid style is present in this book. That's what made it so sensational, and it's what still has copies flying off shelves and into the hands of eager literature buffs. I appreciate that style, and I appreciate the story that it tells, but the characters just didn't grab me the way I wished they would. I found myself just not caring what happened to them. I was bored by them, and that made me apathetic toward the book as a whole. I wanted to care - I tried to care - but, ultimately, I just couldn't. From a literary standpoint, I can understand how this book boosted Fitzgerald to fame. The prose is absolutely beautiful, and he weaves thoughts and actions in a seamless blend that pull you easily from page to page. He threads themes of love and lust and greed and ambition effortlessly into even the simplest of sentences, and he truly as a talent for building fictional words on the foundations of his world's reality. But personally, I just didn't find myself rooting for Amory or caring much about what happened with his varied courtships.


I've had this book recommended to me by the same person, over and over again, for about a year. We were book browsing one day (as in, we're two penny-pinching twenty-somethings not looking to spend any money but wanting very much to look at, but not buy, new books - which, in hindsight, was a mission destined to fail) when she got excited and yanked this one right off the shelf. "This one," she said, "This is what I've been telling you about." So I read the first page, and then the second page, and then wound up at the cash register passing bills to the store clerk because damn it I needed to see this thing through. 

If you're into the creepy, twisted nature of something like American Horror Story: Freakshow but prefer it with a dash of black comedy a la Beetlejuice or Young Frankenstein, this is the book for you. The world inside these pages is wild and weird and, yes, pretty twisted. But the vivid characters, the moral hopscotch played by Johannes Cabal himself, and the spectacular landscape make the ride so incredibly worth it. It's comedic horror with a heart and everything about it just works so well. The carnival, the demons with their odd-shaped skulls and ghoulish bodies, the portrayal of Hell as a glorified and overheated DMV. It's funny and poignant and everything in between, and I can't wait to dig into the rest of the series!

Honestly, my dream now is to see this story portrayed as a film or mini-series. I'm telling you, it could be Netflix's next cult hit. And I might not have any screenwriting credits to my name, but if Jonathan Howard wants to talk adaptation rights, my line's open. Seriously. Call me.


I like Tom Hanks. I like short stories. I like mundane, slice-of-life fiction. Put this all together and you'd think I'd be all about Tom Hanks writing mundane, slice-of-life short fiction and for a few precious moments in this book, you'd think right. There are some real gems in here, and Hanks really does tell all of stories with a genuine and honest voice. I just missed the spark I was really looking for out of this book.

Maybe the problem is that I went in with high expectations. I've read some of his writings before, so I was really ready for Tom Hanks to deliver. On a few pages, he did. On most, there was a lot to be desired. The majority of this book felt like it was scratching the surface of something special, and perhaps a little more digging would've broken through to the full potential each of these stories has. Because they're good. Their characters are solid and their concepts are rich. There's some really unique ideas in here, including a group of friends and a trip to the moon in a DIY rocket ship (a story that feels a little out of place among the other more contemporary pieces in the book, but that is perhaps all the more intriguing because of this). I just wish that there was more to them. This book really could be something incredible - it has so much untapped potential inside. As-is, though, it seems to sit on the cusp of greatness.


This is such a beautiful book.

I'm going to be completely honest and say that even though I've heard this title batted around hundreds of times before - in and out of classrooms, with other book enthusiasts, on Gilmore Girls - I never really knew what, exactly, it was about. I'm also going to be honest when I say that I'm glad I went in a little ignorant to the content. It made opening up the pages and exploring Blixen's world like an expedition to a new land. 

Out of Africa shows the continent, its people, and its daily life in such a warm light. You can feel the love that Karen Blixen has for her farm and for the people she knew because of it. She formed such honest relationships with people whose customs were foreign but whose hearts were big and open. This is like a cross-cultural exploration of a place that truly deserves a bigger spotlight. It's also so historically rich, offering a unique perspective on European colonialism and its direct affects on both native African peoples and the colonists themselves, through Blixen's eyes. 

I expected this to be a quick, easy read - and it was, but it was also so much more. It was a living snapshot of Blixen's life, and the life of those on her farm, bursting with color and with pride, with respect and with love.


I absolutely loved this issue, but it was the prose that really stood out to me. The fiction and non-fiction contributors in number eighteen held absolutely nothing back. They pulled at my heartstrings, they made me think, they made me more afraid of swarms of cicadas than I have been since I was a kid. If you want some weird and unique short fiction or seek poignant reflections from fathers and punk rockers, you need to pick this one up. You won’t be disappointed!


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demon: a supernatural and often malevolent being prevalent in religion, occultism, literature, fiction, mythology and folklore. In Ancient Near Eastern religions as well as in the Abrahamic traditions, including ancient and medieval Christian demonology, a demon is considered a harmful spiritual entity which may cause demonic possession, calling for an exorcism. In Western occultism and Renaissance magic, which grew out of an amalgamation of Greco-Roman magic, Jewish Aggadah and Christian demonology, a demon is believed to be a spiritual entity that may be conjured and controlled.

It is a small black book with small black writing, first ink dragged a tight and careful curious but turned progressively looser and messier with each turn of the page. The names inside are long and near-illegible, but I have seen them before - I have heard them in the unearthly voices breaking through split lips.

The small black book came from a small black room. I am told that the room did not used to be black, but that it turned a different color on That Night. That is how people refer to exorcisms. That Night. That Day. There are no dates tied to these phrases. People know what you mean. On That Night something evil threw itself against the wall and tried to bleed into the folds of our reality. On That Day strange tongues rang off the heigh ceilings, screaming strange names at the sky and spitting curses at the holy water poured over a writhing body.

I have traveled thousands of miles, by plane and train and boat, to get this small black book. It comes from a priest I never met who spoke a language I can only stammer in broken phrases. But it has to help. It has to.

There is something inside of me. Something that twists my tongue in languages long dead and whispers things inside my head. It lives inside my skull and I can always hear it scratching there. Even when it stops its murmuring I can feel its claws scraping inside my bones. Because this something wants out. It is fighting and my body is getting weaker and weaker. The small black book was inside a church I could step inside because the something inside me burned me from the inside when I tried. Its heat still simmered beneath my skin each time I looked at the spiraling towers with their perfect little crosses shadowed by the sun - a punishment for wishing, a punishment for opening.

The something inside me pulls at the threads of my eyes when I try to read the small black book, and sings in my ears when I have it read to me. But I can’t stop trying. I whisper prayers that make it angry, let it scream itself to exhaustion, just so I can keep going.

It leaves me exhausted, too. Some days all I can do is sleep.

When I sleep, I dream terrible dreams of goat eyes and snakes, hordes of flies, blood spilling from black storm clouds and runes whose meanings are lost when, at last, I wake.

I am at war with this thing inside me. I don’t know how to win. But I have the priest’s black book and a Bible blessed  by Cardinals. I have Crucifixes that I right again and again, for the thing inside me gets out to flip them while I sleep. I have holy water and I have will. I think I still have will. It is smaller than it used to me, a little flicker in my belly that I have to cling to or else let slip away. It cannot slip away. The thing inside me tries to cut and shrink and shrivel it, but I cannot let it slip away.





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dr. jekyl & mr. hyde: Dr. Henry Jekyll and his alternative personality, Mr. Edward Hyde, is a fictional character in Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novella Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. He is the title character, but the main protagonist is Gabriel John Utterson; Jekyll feels he is battling between the good and bad within himself, thus leading to the struggle with his alter ego, Hyde. He spends his life trying to repress evil urges that are not fitting for a man of his stature. He develops a serum in an attempt to mask this hidden evil. However, in doing so, Jekyll transforms into Hyde, a hideous creature without compassion or remorse.

There is a picture in the morning paper that I think might me. It sits above the fold, and it is blurred with motion in the center of its focus, but I think it looks like me. Not the me that awoke stiff-boned and yawning from the folds of fresh white sheets, not the me that poured hot coffee and sat on the front porch waiting for the paperboy in his rickety bike with the squeaky wheels to fling a bundle onto the drive. If it were that me I would not be on my porch because I would be in a cell because I would have been recognized by the corner store clerk who sold me cigarettes last night or by the pubescent boy that flung the morning news behind the back tires of  my Buick.

The other me is still at large. A wanted man.

The charge is murder. Actually, the charges - as in, multiple counts, as in, multiple murders,  as in, more than one person was killed. I found a spot of red on my gray shirt collar and I think the charges are for me. Not the me sitting at the breakfast nook over half a leftover buttered croissant, but the other me. The wanted me.

I’ve never talked to the other me. I don’t how to ask him what he’s done. But I don’t have to, because I can read about it, because the morning paper is urging citizens to look out for the other me.

The other me is taller. The other me is broader. The other me has a deeper voice and stronger hands and calluses on all his fingers. The other me likes the dark. The other me is short tempered. He lingers at the edges of my consciousness and waits for little grievances to pile up, and when he has to wait too long, he tips the scales himself.

The other me knows that I hate him. I do not need to speak to him to know that he knows this. We understand these things about each other because we live on opposite hemispheres of the same brain and sometimes our wires get crossed. Sometimes he taps into me, or I tap into him, but I have more to hide from him - because I can read about him in the morning paper, but there are no headlines about me.

We can hear each other sometimes, too. I linger at the edge of his mind  when he rages and sometimes I catch glimpses of his thoughts. Because I do this, I know that he can, too. And I have talked a great deal lately about how I wish to extract him.

He does not want this. He wants to live.

I cannot blame him. I want to live too. This is why I want to erase him.

Not erase, I suppose. Erasure is permanent, and he exists in print. I will never truly get rid of him., and perhaps this is exactly what he wanted. Perhaps this is why he swells and breaks my bones and tears my skin. Perhaps it’s why he storms into the straights and lets people see him.

Because if he exists to them, he will always exist. And if he always exists, I can never escape.





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haunted doll: a handmade or manufactured doll or stuffed animal that is reported to be cursed or possessed in some way. The earliest report of a haunted doll goes back to Ancient Egyptwhere the enemies of Ramesses III attempted to use wax images of his likeness to bring about his death. The dolls used in this ritual were said to be living and would curse anyone who bore their resemblance. The ancient Egyptian poppet, effigy and voodoo dolls are often said to be cursed because of their long history of being used to place curses on other people and their association with the occult.

Olivia does not scare easy.

She pushes the planchette during her sister’s Oujia seances (Is there someone in this room with us? YES. Can you tell us your name? NO. Is there something you want to say to us? G-E-T O-U-T N-O-W.), she lets her friends huddle in nervous giggles behind her as she takes the first step inside the “Scariest Haunted House on the East Coast!”, and she doesn’t check behind the shower curtain or peek into the closet to check for serial killers after slasher movie marathons.

Olivia allocates her fear toward things she considers real: taxes are real, and so are car accidents; plane crashes are rare, but no less real for it; bears exist and their pure, brute power and probable anger management issues are more than enough reason to stay out of the woods. Olivia thinks that she should, perhaps, be afraid of abandoned buildings, but finds herself fascinated, instead.

“This place gives me the creeps,” Tim says.

“It’s four walls and a roof,” Olivia rationalizes.

“And asbestos,” Kelly quips.

They are armed with cameras and slowly-thinning determination. It’s Olivia who kicks at the first door. It groans under the force, but does not budge. Dust falls from its frame. Olivia tries again and gets the rusted lock to rattle. The dust coats her Chucks in a thick, gray layer.

“See?” Kelly says. “Asbestos.”

“Let me try,” Tim says. Olivia steps aside and lets him take a hard swing at the door with the baseball bat he’d dragged with them - for protection, he’d explained, and Olivia had decided this was sound. Ghosts aren’t real, but who knows who might actually be hunkering down in those halls. He gets the rust the flake and fall, unlocking the latch and making the door creak eerily inwards. He jumps backwards.

“Four walls and a roof,” Olivia reminds him. “And maybe some homeless dudes.”

She pushes the door wider and steps inside. Her footfalls echo in the hollow, empty foyer. There’s a large, round reception desk a few feet ahead of her. There is flaked paint and crumbled pieces of plaster piled in the corners of the room, and the cracked fluorescent lights are so caked in dust they probably couldn’t illuminate much of anything even if they did work.

Olivia raises her camera and snaps a picture. The photograph that plays back makes the whole room look even more bleak, and the power of such an artistic playground inspires a smile.

“Come on,” she says. “This place is sick.”

“Probably literally,” Kelly says, but she steps inside anyway. “Holy shit.”

Tim is the last to step inside, and he keeps the door wide open behind him.

“Let’s go,” Olivia says, and together they press forward into the dark.

It is tradition, on these urban expeditions, for everyone to take a suvionier - a token of proof that they’d gone somewhere they were not supposed to go and saw things that they were not supposed to see. Tim takes little things, bits of broken wire and buttons left floors, anything small enough to stuff in a shoebox shoved in the far corner of his closet. Kelly went for florals - dried up weeds and dead leaves and little bouquets of wildflowers that she pressed inside her biology textbooks.

Olivia, true to form, is the most bold. She keeps a crate in the back of her parent’s shed, hidden behind the ride-on mower and a large assortment of rakes, behind the boxes her mother packed up for the yard sale that they never had. There she had books from the library of an old orphanage and an unopened package of surgical masks from the county hospital that closed down when they were just kids; she took full staff manuals with the covers missing and cracked coffee pots from retired break-rooms, state issued blankets that were no longer fit to be issued. She takes things that once mattered, things with names on them - full folders of files that once meant something, and now doesn’t. She likes to go for the weird things: the single shoes left in empty halls, the jackets forgotten on dusty coat racks.

This time, though, she finds the strangest treasure of all.

“Don’t take that,” Kelly says.

“Why not?” Olivia asks.

“It’s creepy is what it is,” Tim says.

“That thing’s possessed for sure,” says Kelly.

The thing in question is a doll. A simple doll made of felt, with black button eyes and a smile made of squiggled switches that were probably endearing before some spiders made their webs across it. It wears a dress that looks like it used to be a tablecloth; homemade, Olivia thinks, and that makes her want it more.

“You guys are nuts,” she says, sweeping her sleeve across the doll’s face to clean off the dust and cobwebs. “I think it’s cool. Kind of cute, once you clean it up.”

“You have a weird definition of cute,” says Kelly, but Olivia is not listening. She’s turning the doll over in her hands, inspecting it. It’s well made, she finds, the stitching hardly frayed except for at the hem of the little blue dress. On one of the doll’s feet the name Libby is written in black ink.

“Look at that,” Olivia says, pointing to the ink. “She’s even got a name.”

“That just makes it worse,” Kelly says. The doll goes into Olivia’s bag anyway.

When she arrives home, she bypasses her parents’ shed and instead goes straight inside. She cleans the doll up with some washcloths from the bathroom cabinet and and sets it on a high shelf in her bedroom. No one seems to notice it, no one but her sister, who swears it changes positions throughout the day.

“You can stop moving it,” Olivia tells her, “you’re not going to scare me.”

“Are you kidding?” says Natalie. “I’m not touching that thing!”

“Sure,” Olivia says. “So it just jumped on my bed of its own accord?”

“It was on your bed?!”

“Very funny, Nat.”

“Liv, I swear,” says Natalie. “You brought home a goddamn demon.”

Olivia dismiss this with a quip about Natalie’s Oujia board, a quip that does not go over well because apparently when Natalie is really scared of something she doesn’t want to try to talk to it with the stupid spirit board. Too bad. Olivia would have liked to mess with her - make the planchette spell out things like I’m here, and Right behind you, and Yes, I am a demon.

Little Libby the Doll continues to move around Olivia’s room. Once, it even ends up in the living room, just perched on the couch like it was gearing up for Sunday football.

Natalie stars to have nightmares, too. She tells Olivia about them. She talks about finding the doll at the foot of her bed with a knife gleaming in its little felt hand. She talks about blood dripping from the doll’s button eyes and sometimes woke up with terrible headaches, swearing that they were all the doll’s fault.

“The joke’s getting old, Nat,” Olivia tells her sister one night when she found Libby sitting on the front porch when she’d come home from school. “Give it up.”

“It’s not a joke, Liv,” Natalie swears. “Get rid of that fucking thing.”

Olivia just rolls her eyes and sets Libby back on her shelf.

Kelly doesn’t go into Olivia’s room anymore. Eventually, she stops coming over all together, instead inviting Olivia and Tim to her basement rec room for movie nights and to plan their next expeditions into their next condemned building. One night, over popcorn and bottles of cola, Olivia tells Kelly and Tim about Natalie’s obsession with Libby.

“It’s not scary,” Olivia says. “I don’t get why she keeps at it.”

“Do you ever think that maybe she’s telling the truth?” Tim asks.

“Natalie? No,” Olivia says firmly. “She’s just stuck on this gag.”

“If you say so,” says Kelly. “But I still think that doll’s bad news.”

Olivia stands firm in her belief that Libby is just a doll and nothing more. She swears allegiance to rationality when Natalie’s headaches grow into migraines so severe their mother rushes her to the hospital. She swears this when her mother starts to get nauseous whenever she steps in Olivia’s room, and when the family dog stops crossing her narrow threshold. She swears it even when her father wakes up in the middle of the night pacing the ground floor with her mother’s cooking knife in his hand, nearly stabbing Olivia when she tried to wake him up. (It was my mistake, Olivia reasons, because you’re not supposed to wake a sleepwalker, and that’s all that was happening.)

The hardest thing to rationalize is when Natalie tries to burn the doll in the firepit when her friends are roasting marshmallows, only to have the doll show up on Olivia’s shelf with a thin film of ash on its little felt hands.

She thinks Natalie is lying about using Libby as kindling, that her little friends are all in on it and backing her little sister up when they swear up and down that they watched the thing go up in flames so high Olivia’s father came out of the kitchen to dump water over the pit.

The nightmares come and go - for Natalie, and their mother, and their sleepwalking father, and eventually even to Olivia. The dreams are different for Olivia, though. Different than the way Natalie and their mother describe them - Olivia does not dream of blood and knives. She just hears a soft voice whispering in a language she doesn’t understand.

Kelly tries to get her to get rid of the doll.

“We’re going back anyway,” Kelly says. “You can dump it there.”

“It’s a doll,” Olivia says.


“But nothing,” Olivia swears. “It’s just a doll.”

Even when she’s drawn to the knives her father drags from the kitchen each night. Even when the takes one for herself instead of waking him. Even when she brings it into her little sister’s bedroom. Even when the police put it, red slicked, into a plastic bag and slap cuffs over Olivia’s slender wrists.

It’s just a doll.

Just a doll.





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zombie: a fictional undead being created through the reanimation of a human corpse. Zombies are most commonly found in horror and fantasy genre works. The term comes from Haitian folklore, where a zombie is a dead body reanimated through various methods, most commonly magic. Modern depictions of the reanimation of the dead do not necessarily involve magic but often invoke science fictional methods such as carriers, radiation, mental diseases, vectors, pathogens, scientific accidents, etc.

Don’t look them in the eyes.

The eyes are where they start being human, and when they start being human, you go soft. The way you keep from being afraid is not to look them in eye. This is what my mother taught me. She was born before they came. She remembered a world full of tomorrows, but she didn’t talk about it much. She was not the kind of mother who told you sit up straight and eat all your vegetables. She was not the kind of mother who flashed the porchlight three times to call you in for dinner. Those were the kinds of things they did in that world ripe with tomorrows and next weeks and next years. They went to grocery stores then, and I know my mother went to those grocery stores when she lived in that great big yesterday because she knew all the names of all the hollowed out concrete husks we sometimes camped in when I was a child. Stop & Shops were different from Shop Rites were different from Whole Foods, and Fresh Market, and King Kullen - they were different to my mother because she knew what they were before. I only knew them by their shelf sizes, because sometimes, when I was small enough, I would sleep on them in a bundle of threadbare blankets and my mother’s clothes. They were mostly the same, but my mother knew their names.

My mother could not be the kind of mother who stood in line at the deli counter or stuffed fruit into thin plastic bags. She was, instead, the kind of mother who dug through the weeds outside the broken of shell of what used to be a Waldbaum’s and showed me what plants were safe to eat. She was the kind of mother who threw food scraps up in trees and wrapped thin wire like a fence around our house each night. She was the kind of mother who traded fresh grown tomatoes and cucumbers and sweet peppers with neighbors so that we could share their apples and their lemons and their almonds and tea leaves. She was the kind of mother who ate berries right off the wild bush, and she was the kind of mother who taught me not to look them in the eye.

“Are they people?” I asked her sometimes, and she would get this really somber look on her face - like she see the whole world and all its problems and she was overwhelmed by all the ways she absolutely could not fix it - and then she would sigh.

“They were,” she said. “Once.”

But the eyes, she told me, stay human.

My mother would never talk about that world she grew up in, the one where all the postcard pictures of bright, rolling landscapes and smiling faces came from. She would talk about The Beginning. She would talk about the day she knew she would never get her world back.

She would talk about the eyes.

My mother taught me all about their teeth, too. That was the first thing she ever taught me. You don’t go near them, and if they get near you, you don’t let their teeth get close. Their teeth is were the sickness lives. That’s how my mother explained it. They sink their ugly teeth into your skin and swallow pieces of you down into their bellies. If they don’t finish you off then you get the sickness, too. My mother taught it was better if they finished you off.

“They suffer,” she said. “Before they’re them.”

Before they’re them, they’re still people, and bitten people come down with fevers so high they scream out in the night. Their whole bodies hurt because the sickness eats them from the outside out.

“They eat you,” my mother said, “it’s from the outside, in.”

She thought that this was better, because you’d probably pass out and not feel it when you died. If they left you, then you felt it, every single second of it, before you become one of them.

I’d seen bitten people before. My mother took me with her when she went to help a neighbor. They said that their son was sick. My mother was a nurse in the world of tomorrows, so people were always calling her when someone took sick. They said that is was a fever. They said maybe it was the flu. They forgot to mention that their son had fallen into the creek and that one of them was swimming there. It grabbed him, and it bit him, and my mother took one look at him and got pinch-faced mad. She dragged the parents into another room to talk to them - she said talk, like, “Shelley, I’m going in there to talk to Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So, you sit tight and I’ll be right back” - but I heard her voice getting louder.

“They’re mad at me,” the sick kid said. His voice was really weak and he wheezed as he sucked in air. His eyes were rimmed watery and he was shaking all over, like he was cold, only there was sweat slicking up his forehead and pouring all over his skin, so much sweat it was like the sun had laser-eyes on him.

“I don’t think at you,” I said.

“Can you get me some water?” the sick kid asked. Our neighbors lived in a tiny one-floor ranch, and there was a jug of water in the kitchen right outside his room. I went to get him some, and was handing him a plastic cup when my mother came back in. The sick kid had forgotten about the water. He was shaking really hard then, so hard the bed shook, too, and his mother starting crying. Her cries sounded more like screams.

“Shelley, get out,” my mother said, and she shoved me so hard out the door I spilled the water glass. The door shut behind me before anybody noticed. I heard muffled crying on the other side, and more screaming that could have been crying, and my mother’s voice still half-mad and sharp-edged.

It was a long time before she came back. On the walk home, she told me about the eyes.

I’ve learned how to kill them. My mother was the kind of mother who taught me how to kill. We had shotguns and rifles and revolvers, we had a crossbow that we used for hunting, we had thick knives and penknives and everything in between. You had to know how to kill in this world. The world that was born in was broken and dying, and if you didn’t know how to kill the things that broke it, they’d take you down, too.

My mother is gone now. Not becomes of the things, but because her time ran out. Or rather, her heart did. It seized up right in her chest when she was gardening - an unspectacular end for what I’d always considered the most spectacular life. It didn’t fit her, and on the rare occasions I have to tell her story, I leave out the way it ended.

I don’t ever lookthem in eye, just like my mother said.

Not until I have to.

Not until I’m trapped inside an old hunting shack surrounded by dead things. They are pounding their gray fists against the walls, the door, the windows. The building is low and I can their faces through the mossy, grimy glass. Their mouths open and close like guppies. I am safely away from their teeth. Their eyes, though, I cannot avoid.

A gnarled hand breaks the window and the glass shatters at my feet. They all swarm like bees at the sound, and they fight each other to take the first peek inside. One round head wins. It pops through the opening, not caring as the broken glass slits its skin. No blood comes out of the cuts.

The eyes find me.

I have no choice but to look back, to see them for the first time in my twenty-five years.

They are blue and glassy and clouded with edge. The eyes don’t move inside their sockets, even as the jaw works up and down the teeth gnash against each other. They are still. They may as well be marbles stuck inside a skull.

My mother was the wisest woman I’ve ever known, but she was wrong about one thing. She was wrong about those eyes. They’re not human. They haven’t made me soft. The longer I look at them, the more I know that they are anything but human, and I am anything but soft.

Those are monster eyes. The kinds you see in the woods at night when your parents swear it’s just the light playing tricks. I grab my knife and charge - charge at the broken glass and those broken eyes - and I jam the blade right through one, if only to stop it from staring at me - to stop it from making me look.







Frankenstein’s monster: often erroneously referred to as "Frankenstein”, is a fictional character who first appeared in Mary Shelley's 1818 novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Shelley's title thus compares the monster's creator, Victor Frankenstein, to the mythological character Prometheus, who fashioned humans out of clay and gave them fire. In Shelley's Gothic story, Victor Frankenstein builds the creature in his laboratory through an ambiguous method consisting of chemistry and alchemy. Shelley describes the monster as 8-foot-tall (2.4 m), hideously ugly, but sensitive and emotional.

He calls me many things, but Fable most of all.

I am told that is my name, but that I used to have others. There is a name for every piece of me. A name for the heart, a name for arms, a name for the legs and the throat and the head, a name for the lungs - aided by mechanics that creak and sometimes need repairs with wrenches and pliers and tanks full of gas called oxygen that The Great He says make me real.

I think I am real without the machines, but He does not agree. He tells me that I need Him to stay alive. He tells me that I would not exist without Him. I cannot disagree; I do not remember a life before him. The brain, with its other-name, does not hold memories before the bare lightbulb in the basement and the silver bed He laid me on, still lays me on each night. He covers my mouth with masks that pump oxygen into my half-robotic lungs and forces my chest to heave up and down and up and down with more force than I could produce on my own. It’s fascinating to watch, until He tapes my eyelids shut because, He says, they to rest. I need to rest. He says that He must close my eyes for me, because He could not make my nerves and reflexes work the way they’re supposed to. He must help me rest, He says. He does this because He loves me, He says. But I don’t know if He means it.

He attaches sticky circles to my chest and sometimes they shock me with great big jolts that make skin tingle. He says that’s for the heart - it sometimes stops, because it thinks it’s dead, but he knows it wants to be alive.

“Where did it come from?” I ask, but he does not answer.

He does not like to answer questions. When I ask them, he shakes his head and turns away to the picture on his desk. It is nestled in a gold-plated frame. The picture is of a boy, and the boy has His eyes and His nose. The mouth looks similar, but the boy is smiling, and He never does.

I think He wants to love me, but he does not know how.

I think He wants me to be someone else, but I do not know how.

I do not know why He made me. I know it has something to do with the boy in the gold-plated picture frame. I know this because when I look in the mirror, I think I look like the boy. We have the same kind of shaggy dark hair and the some color eyes - mine look more gray, but I think that when they had their other-name they looked more like the boy’s.

The boy’s name was Seth. I know this because it is the name He whispers when He has put me to sleep for the night. I can hear Him on the nights that He forgets to plug my ears - for quiet, He says, is important for rest. I hear Him pick up the picture frame and tell Seth how much He loves him. How much He misses him. How hard He’s trying to keep him alive.

He calls me Fable, and when I found his library and his battered college dictionaries, I found out what that means. A Fable is a story. A Fable is not real. It is make-believe, sometimes called a folktale and sometimes called a myth, sometimes written to teach a lesson to children in storytime circles so that they might leave that circle better people who make better choices and live better lives.

I do not think that I am make-believe, and I do not think I was made to teach lessons.

But still, He calls me Fable. He calls me Fable, and He calls me Son, and there are tears in His eyes when He sometimes slips and calls me Seth. And the longer we live together, the more nights He tucks me onto that metal bed and covers my nose and mouth and glues those little circles to my chest and tables my eyelids shut, He kisses my forehead and then He kisses the picture and when He turns out the lights I hear Him start to call me Monster.

I look up this word, too. Another name that I am not sure suits me, but I have learned that it does not do to argue - not with Him. He calls me Monster, and if my eyes could still cry I think I might shed tears. He stops kissing my forehead. He stops calling me Son.

He even stops calling me Fable.

He has given me all the names I have, including all the other-names my body is made of. He has given me my names and my life and I don’t know why, but when He starts calling me Monster I think He is taking it all away. He stops letting me rest. My lungs revert; they seek their other-name and give up mine. They do not want to be Monster. My heart, too, starts to slow.

“I’ll die,” I tell Him, “if you do not help.”

“Monster,” He tells me, “you were never meant to live.”

“But I want to,” I tell Him. I tell Him over and over.

“Monster,” He tells me, “you were never meant to want.”

“Why, then?” I ask Him. “Why am I here?”

“Monster,” He tells me, “you will not be much longer.”





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poltergeist: German for "noisy ghost" or "noisy spirit"; in ghostlore, a type of ghost or spirit that is responsible for physical disturbances, such as loud noises and objects being moved or destroyed. They are purportedly capable of pinching, biting, hitting, and tripping people. Most accounts of poltergeists describe the movement or levitation of objects such as furniture and cutlery, or noises such as knocking on doors.

It starts with a bang.

“Literally,” Christina swears. “Just bang bang bang, over and over again. It’s, like, three o’clock in the morning and all of a sudden the whole house is shaking with this crazy banging. Sadie started losing her shit. But she wasn’t barking. She wasn’t defensive, you know? She was scared. Whining and pacing with her tail between her legs. She bolted straight down the stairs and started pawing at the front door. She wanted out. Like, bad. I tried to lead her to the back door, but she wouldn’t go. Wouldn’t even walk through the living room. It’s like there was some kind of force field holding her back. That sounds stupid, but it’s true. She would take two steps forward, four back, and just go back to the front door and scratch at it. So I go into the kitchen, and that’s when I see it. The cabinet door just open, close, open, close - all on its own.”

She waves her hand back and forth to demonstration.

“And it’s slamming,” Christina continues. “Slamming hard every time it closes. Bang bang bang. Over and over and over again. So I walk up to it, and it starts to go even faster - bang bang bang bang. And I can still hear Sadie crying at the door. And I stand there for a while, like...I mean I was scared, you know? Of course I was scared. But I can’t just stand there and do nothing, right? So I wait until the cupboard closes again and I slam my hands on it. One last big bang. And I can feel it, like, shaking under my hands. Just shaking, but only for a second. It stops. I take my hands away and it stays closed. It gets really quiet.”

“So that was it?”

“No,” Christina says. “I thought it was, but then - out of nowhere - it starts again. Bang bang. Real slow. And this time there’s another noise, like something clattering. Like, um.” She takes her silverware up off its folded napkin and clangs the fork and knife together. “Like that. Sadie’s going nuts again, barking a little bit this time, and I can still hear her scratching at the front door. I turn around and bang bang, my drawers are just opening and closing and opening and closing, all on their own. Everything inside is getting all shaken around and thrown together, and when I move closer, just like with cabinet, it starts to happen faster. Bang bang bang.”

“What do you do?”

“Same thing,” Christina says. “Basically. I go over and grab the handles and I slam the drawers shut. But I can only do one, maybe two at a time? So it turns into this crazy, fucked up game of whack-a-mole.”

“That game’s fucked up as is.”

“What I mean is that I’m the mallet and the moles are possessed kitchen drawers.”


“What else would you call it?” Christina asks.

“I don’t know. Keep going.”

“Fine. So, I’m playing whack-a-drawer, or whatever. Everytime I get one closed, another one pops open. It’s like they’re mocking me or something. Until it just stops. Out of nowhere. I take my hands off the handles and all the drawers stay put. Sadie quiets down. Everything just...stops. I go back upstairs, go back to bed. And that was it.”

“Woah,” Jenna whistles.

“Yeah,” Christina agrees.

“That’s one crazy dream.”

“Yeah,” Christina says again. “But it’s weird. It didn’t feel like a dream. It felt...real.”

“Nightmares usually do,” Jenna says, always rationalizing. “And you’ve been having some wild ones lately, last night’s not excluded. Maybe you should talk to someone? I mean, this could all have to do with-”

“-Michael,” Christina finishes.

“Well,” says Jenna, fumbling. She recovers with a sigh. “Yeah.”

“I know I’ve been weird since-” Christina knows how the statements ends, but she can’t bring herself to finish it.  Saying it makes it real. Saying it means it happened, means that there’s no turning back, and though Christina knows that this is her reality, it’s a reality she’s not yet willing to face. She shakes her head. “I know I’ve been weird,” she says.

“Not weird,” Jenna insists. “Grieving.”

“Right.” Christina says. “Yeah.”

“I can help you look,” Jenna says. “For a therapist, I mean. Make a few calls.”

“Thanks,” Christina says. “I just feel like everything’s falling apart. Like, I’m just unraveling or something. Like I’m a ball of yarn and some kid found Grandma’s knitting kit, and now they’re pulling me apart strand by strand.”

“I know,” Jenna says. “I miss him, too. I know it’s not the same.”

“If you can find someone that specializes in dreams that don’t feel like dreams-”

“-They’ll skyrocket to the top of the list. In the meantime, if you’re up for some company

“That’d be great,” Christina says. “Thanks.”

“White or red?” Jenna asks, then, “Forget it. I’ll surprise you.”

The surprise is Pinot Grigio in a bottle far too big for two people, but Jenna and Christina make a valiant effort. By midnight they’ve left little more than one glass worth. Christina offers it to Jenna, who raises her half-emptied glass and says, “All yours.”

“I’m good, too,” Christina says, pointing to her own empty glass on the coffee table. She goes into the kitchen to grab a bottle stopper - black rubber with a silver dog perched on top - to plug the bottle. When she returns, Jenna has risen from the couch as well, and is standing by the front door sipping at her wine.

“You okay?” Christina asks.

“What are these marks?” Jenna asks. Christina moves closer and looks where Jenna’s points, finding shallow grooves carved into the wood of her front door. Her brows knit together and she leans forward, reaching out to touch the cuts. Her collie, Sadie, trots up to her and nudges Christina’s hand with her nose.

“Must be Sadie,” Christina says, patting the dog on the head. “Can’t think of anything else.”

It starts with a bang.

“Literally,” Jenna whispers. “From there.”

She points toward the kitchen. Sadie has taken up residence by the front door, turning in desperate circles and jumping up on the wood. Christina listens carefully; Jenna holds her breath. Bang bang bang. “Shit,” Christina says.

“Should we…?”

“I’ll go,” Christina says. Jenna rises with her, though, and follows her cautiously into the kitchen. Bang bang bang. The cupboard door opens wide and slams shut, over and over again. Bang bang bang. Of its own accord, the door swings on its hinges. Bang bang bang.

And then it stops, the last bang ringing in their ears. Sadie sits on the welcome mat, still whining. In the dining room, a chair slams hard against the floor. Christina and Jenna swivel around in time to see it rattle to the ground, then the legs scrape against hardwood as it floats up to right itself.

“Holy shit,” Jenna says. “Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit.”

Sadie jumps onto her four feet and walks backwards until she bumps into the wall, barking all the way. The chair levitates centimeters off the ground, then slams down with a thud so hard it shakes the whole house.

“Chris,” Jenna says. “I don’t think you’re having nightmares.”

“No,” Christina says. “I’m pretty sure I’m not.”







witch: a woman thought to have magic powers, especially evil ones, popularly depicted as wearing a black cloak and pointed hat and flying on a broomstick; Witchcraft or witchery broadly means the practice of and belief in magical skills and abilities exercised by solitary practitioners and groups.

I am a witch of Salem.

Regardless of trials, regardless evidence and arguments, regardless of testimonies, regardless of proof. I have been accused - therefore, I am. Because I will die without regard for the judge’s ruling, in the same way that my mother and my neighbor and Giles Corey under his rocks. I will die to prove innocence and I will die if I admit guilt. Silence cannot save me, nor will it condemn me. My fate was sealed the moment fingers began pointing and whispers stirring, so I have sealed my lips to match.

“You must tell them,” says my father, weepy under candlelight.

Mother tied two days ago. She became a warning; one of many, swinging from the hanging tree. Father choked on sobs every time a breeze whistled through our windows. He could not erase the picture of her body thrown by the wind, and at night he begged God to save her soul.

I cut her down.

This is why I am witch.

I cut her down to bury, to spare her a mass grave far from hallowed ground. I buried her in our yard, and an old man saw. He went to his neighbor’s house to share the news - news that trickled from doorstep to doorstep, until it rounded on the judge’s desk. The Bell girl, it said. The Bell girl stole her mother’s body and used it for a spell - a curse - to damn us all. The Bell girl, it said.

The Bell girl is a witch.

Perhaps I am, I think at first. Perhaps, I think, I should tell them yes.

It won’t change anything. This, I know. It won’t change the trial and the girls collapsing and writhing and pointing. It would stop the men from grabbing their heads and claiming I am inside their brains, whispering in tongues and luring them toward the dark.

And it would kill my father, wouldn’t it? For me to confirm his worst fears. He already lost Mother. I cannot stop him from losing me. He begs for miracles, pleads with me, “You must tell them. Tell them the truth. You must tell them.”

I haven’t a truth to tell. The truth does not exist in Salem.

You are witch, or you are dead, or you are both.

“I cannot tell them,” is all I say, and let Father riddle out a meaning even I’m not sure of.

I am a witch of Salem no matter what I say. I am a witch of Salem no matter what the judge decides. No one is proven innocent until they are dead. I will drown, or be hanged, or perhaps even buried alive under stones, because Salem fears its daughters - and so it stamps them out.

My name is Theodosia Bell, and I am a witch of Salem.





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werewolf: in European folklore, a man who turns into a wolf at night and devours animals, people, or corpses but returns to human form by day. Some werewolves change shape at will; others, in whom the condition is hereditary or acquired by having been bitten by a werewolf, change shape involuntarily, under the influence of a full moon. If he is wounded in wolf form, the wounds will show in his human form and may lead to his detection.


The shatter of broken glass and the spill of something through the space leaves behind. That same something skids across the floor and bang! crash! knocks into what could be a bookcase or could be a coffee table or could, perhaps, be both. There is a groan amidst the falling and the thudding and the breaking sounds that float up the empty stairwell.

These are the sounds that shock Elizabeth from sleep.

She bolts upright in her bed. In the dark, an unsettling silence swells in the cabin. It rings against the walls, broken only by the scuffling of feet against a wooden floor. And then, a voice -


Elizabeth swings her legs over the side of the bed.


She stands, grabbing a cardigan off the post of the bed.



Elizabeth wraps the cardigan around herself and pads into the hall. One hand pressed to the wall guides her into the yawning expanse of the living room. At first all seems normal, save for the shards of glass sparkling across the floor. Then the shadows begin to pull together to form more solid shapes: an end table, knocked slightly out of place; a quilt on the floor, fallen off an arm chair; the couch, overstuffed and layered with afghans; the figure on the couch, which stands when it sees Elizabeth shuffle into the room.

“Emmy?” Elizabeth says. “What the hell?”

“I’m sorry,” Emmy says. She stands somewhat stooped, one arm cradled against her chest like a broken wing. In the silver moonlight spilling in from the broken window Elizabeth can see sweat gleaming on her forehead. Her hair is wild and tufts of pine needles shake free when she moves. “I didn’t know where else to go. I-I’ll fix the window, I just- I didn’t know what to do.”

“Slow down,” Elizabeth says. “Don’t worry about the window.”

Elizabeth looks outside, through the jagged opening in the living room window, but there is nothing but dark woods and a chorus of crickets. Somewhere high in the trees a branch shakes and an owl flutters into the sky.

“What’s going on?” Elizabeth asks. “Are you hurt?”

“It’s-” starts Emmy, and then she says, “I’m-” and stops again.

“Let me see.” Elizabeth holds out her hand. Emmy looks at it, bright eyes glistening in the dark. She worries at her bottom lip, sighs heavily, then reluctantly unfolds her arm. It is all Elizabeth can do not to cringe when she sees it - Emmy’s sleeve torn off and her skin folded open, cuts so deep Elizabeth thinks she can see bone under all the pulled threads of the muscles and blood, some thick and crusted, the rest bright red and pouring out in gushes. “Shit,” Elizabeth says. She reaches for Emmy’s arm, gingerly lights her fingers around the open tears of skin. “Shit.”

“I know,” says Emmy.

“How did this happen?” Elizabeth asks.


“How long ago?”


“Let’s get this cleaned up.”


Emmy stays with Elizabeth. At first it is just for the night, but one night quickly turns into two and then three and then a week of nights all strung together and tied off with cups of coffee and kettles full of tea and big, chalky pills of maybe-expired antibiotics that Elizabeth gives Emmy in a weak attempt to ward off infections in her split-open skin.

Everyday, Elizabeth putters downhill to the campsite in a bulky, outdated four-wheeler that wheezes on the gas but gets the job done. There she checks in guests, cleans up after they leave, chops firewood and cleans ash from used pits.

Emmy, to earn her keep, putters around the cabin in her absence. She tidies their shared spaces and washes mugs and dishes left from the night before. A few times she’s started the backyard grill and cooked them both dinner. Elizabeth tells her not to, but Emmy insists. Her arm has healed quickly, anyway, and she doesn’t want to crash without doing her part.

A month passes in this fashion. Elizabeth leaves in the morning, Emmy cares for the cabin, and the two share dinner and mugs of coffee and tea and, a few times, after Elizabeth had gotten a thank-you gift of cocoa powder from a family of campers, hot chocolate doused with vodka Elizabeth had forgotten she’d stashed away last season. The moon wanes, and waxes again.

“Are you alright?” Elizabeth asks when Emmy hisses suddenly one morning. She nearly drops her breakfast plate on her way to the sink, and when she slides it on the counter she grabs at her injured arm.

The cuts have sewn themselves into thick scars, an angry red despite Elizabeth’s best efforts to clean and dress and keep them from infection. Emmy forces a laugh.

“I forget it’s there sometimes,” she says. If Elizabeth knows it’s an excuse, she doesn’t let on. She simply scoops up Emmy’s plate and dumps it with her own into the sink.

“Take it easy today, okay?” she says. “I’ll try to get back early.”

“Sure,” Emmy says.

“Emmy,” Elizabeth says seriously.

“Take it easy,” Emmy says, looking Elizabeth square in the eye. “I got it, Liz. Go.”

Elizabeth lingers, but eventually concedes by grabbing her quad keys and heading out the door.

And for her part, in Elizabeth’s absence, Emmy did take it easy. She spent more time on the couch than she had since that first night, when she’d crash-landed through Elizabeth’s window and tumbled and stumbled into her quiet living room. The window was still boarded up, repairs on hold until Elizabeth’s handyman (who was a handywoman, Emmy learned, named Paula, who was on vacation visiting her grandchildren somewhere even colder than the hills of the Catskills.

She had finally had enough of sitting around when the sun went down, however. Emmy perched herself on a step stool perched on top of a kitchen chair so that, should Elizabeth come home early as promised, she could say that she was technically sitting and therefore technically still taking it easy even as she washed the morning dishes and last night’s vodka-rimmed coffee mugs. It is a perfectly sound solution, Emmy thinks, that works perfectly well until the moon starts to raise its weary head.

That’s when the pain comes back.

It crawls beneath Emmy’s skin, first just by her scars, and then all through to prick pins-and-needles from the insides of her fingertips. Her wounds split back open, a slow tear at first, but then the skin peels back and Emmy drops the mug she’s washing -

She screams - collapses to the floor, the step stool teetering to fall after her.

The moon, silver and round, is high when Elizabeth returns home. The cabin is quiet.

She takes this as a good sign at first, thinking that Emmy had heeded her advice after all. Elizabeth takes the front steps two at a time and lets herself inside the tiny wooden shack. It is dark inside, too. “Emmy?” Elizabeth calls, but there’s no answer. “Em?”

Elizabeth sheds her coat and drapes it over the arm of the couch. The cushions, she finds, are indented but empty - used, but now vacant. There is ragged breathing coming from the next room. Her heart quickens and worry and fear fight for dominance in her tightening throat.


She finds a shadow in the kitchen, curled up on the floor, and she turns on the light -

But Emmy isn’t there. Or she is, but not the way Elizabeth had left her, because instead of the slight and slender Emily Coster who had taken up residence in Elizabeth’s home and spent her days sweeping and scrubbing and doing dishes, there was something larger heaped on the tiles of Elizabeth’s kitchen floor. Large, and furry.

One pointed ear swivels when Elizabeth takes a step. When a gasp catches in her throat, a great big paw claws at the floor.

The creature launches itself upright and turns on Elizabeth. She scrambles backwards, struggles to stay upright. There’s no blood anywhere on it, she finds. Nothing around the mouth or on the snarling teeth. Not yet.

Elizabeth whirls around and races through the main room of the house. The animal, the wolf she thinks, barrels after her on all fours. She can hear its claws cutting jagged grooves in the floor. It grabs for her, and she clips her chin on an end table when it drags her backwards. Elizabeth tastes blood. She kicks and kicks with all her might until her heel catches the wolf’s snout and it lets her go.

Elizabeth scrambles to her feet, then yelps. Her ankle is sliced to ribbons.

Grinding her teeth against the pain, Elizabeth forces herself to her feet. She grabs the bookshelf squatting next to the door and throws it down, spilling paperbacks and old flashlights and the glass bowl filled with spare change across the threshold. This buys her time to get outside. She heaves herself onto her ATV, reaches for her keys -

Her keys. Her keys are in her jacket pocket. She left her jacket in the house.

The wolf is climbing over the mess Elizabeth made to distract it. It’s on the front porch. It’s shaking off its snout, perhaps sore from where she had kicked it, but she knows she hasn’t bought herself nearly enough time. She can’t get back inside - not that way.

Elizabeth hurls herself over the side of the quad. She lands hard, but swallows the pain. She steels herself with one deep breath and then she bolts.

She races to the back of the cabin, out in the yard where her barbecue sits with a pile of coals beside it and her fire pit waits with last night’s ashes still huddled inside. She pushes at the coals as she passes them - another obstacle - and carries on past her clothesline, a sheet billowing in the slight evening breeze. She can see it in her mind, flashing on the backs of her eyelids with every tear-filled blink: her axe, waiting by a pile of waiting logs, ready to work.

The wolf howls behind her, and in the distance, another answers its call.

“Fuck,” Elizabeth swears. She doesn’t dare turn around. She can hear the wolf getting closer, its paws pounding against the beaten Earth, and she can feel its teeth snapping at her when the axe, perched on a tree stump, comes into view.

Elizabeth somersaults on the ground and crouches behind the stump. The wolf is huffing and snarling, but it slows as it comes into the small clearing. It paws at the ground, kicking up puffs of dust. Saliva drips from its mouth and onto the ground.

A shaky hand reaches for the handle of the axe. The wolf’s shoulders hunch - ready to pounce.

Elizabeth yanks - once, twice, and as the wolf launches itself toward her she finally pulls the axe free. She thrusts it out in front of her and catches the wolf across the mouth. It yowls and howls in pain, and somewhere in the woods another howls in solidarity. With the wolf dazed, Elizabeth gathers her strength.

She raises the axe over her head.

Pause - beat - a howl in the night.

And with a yell, she plunges the blade into the animal’s spine.

It howls the most agonizing sound Elizabeth has ever heard, a sound that squeezes her heart so hard all the tears she’s tried to swallow come pouring down her face. The animal twitches when she pulls the axe free and its blood spells it a great waterfall down both sides of its back.

“Fuck,” she says. “Oh, fuck.”

And as the wolf lays dying at her feet, that companion howl rises up. It’s searching, Elizabeth realizes, for its sister. Her arms shaking, Elizabeth tightens her grip on the axe. She feels sick to her stomach. She feels afraid.

“I’m sorry,” she says, though she doesn’t know what she’s apologizing for - not yet.

She spares the dying wolf one last glance and the tears seem to surge even harder, hard enough to blur her vision. She shakes her head and shakes a spray of slick, fresh blood off her blade.

“I’m sorry,” she says again, and then she runs - runs as fast as her legs will carry her, runs even though she doesn’t quite know where she’s running to.

And in her absence, the second wolf comes. It finds its dead companion - the mate it wished for, the mate it tried to have but could not find and could not keep. It howls one long, deep, mournful sound and the sound carries down the campgrounds for bleary eyed children and their bleary eyed children to poke their bleary heads out of their tents and cabins and RVs to puzzle over.

In the morning, the wolf is gone. Its mate is, too.

In her place is Emily Coster, scars on her arm and blood on her back





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lich: from Old English līċ meaning "corpse" is a type of undead creature. Often such a creature is the result of a transformation, as a powerful magician skilled in necromancy or a king striving for eternal life using spells or rituals to bind his intellect and soul to his phylactery and thereby achieving a form of immortality. Liches are depicted as being clearly cadaverous, bodies desiccated or completely skeletal.

Bones snap. Sweet marrow is sucked out with a single, greedy slurp; the hollow shell cast aside and lands upon the top of  an ever-growing pile stacked haphazardly in the corner of the room. A shadowed figure kicks its feet of the wooden slab of a desk and rises. Outside, the moon swings high in a blue-velvet sky made soft by wispy clouds leftover from the rainy afternoon. Pale fingers twist a pendant swinging down from a slender neck - a small red crystal worn down to a sphere, nicked in places, and fastened to a chain by thin, twisted wire.

A sigh only in sound passes parted lips; no air escapes, for the lungs have long been shriveled.

A great door swings open. The night chill sweeps in and the shadowed figure steps out onto the lush grass, dampened by a day of passing storms. The door closes. The figure melts into the dark.

“Sloppy,” says a voice down low.

“I don’t recall asking your opinion.”

Magda looks down, one slender eyebrow raised in question or in judgement or perhaps even in both. A pile of sagging skin and bones raises a weary skull and shrugs its knotted shoulders. A gnarled finger taps where its temple should be.

“Then,” it says in a gravelly voice, “shouldn’t...give...this.”

The finger drops down to where the skull’s lips should have been had they not already rotted away and taps there, too. Magda does not grace the skeleton with a response. Instead, a hand emerges from her heavy cloak and proffers a small collection of bloodied scraps: a slice of a liver, a chunk of shriveled smoker’s lung, a tangle of torn veins and fraying arteries. The skeleton slides up on its mossy headstone, peels of its remaining gray skin peeling off and sticking to the rock. The scraps are dropped into its would-be palm and it grinds them all between its once-yellowed, now-browning teeth. As it eats, Magda perches on grave marker, her back to the bones, and swipes her sleeves over her mouth. Still-sticky marrow comes off; sloppy, indeed.

“This,” the skeleton says, “old.”

“So are you,” Magda says.

“And,” the skeleton retorts, “you.”

“You’d be dust without me,” Magda says.

“Be dust,” the skeleton says, “soon...anyway.”

Magda says nothing, but she knows the words are true, and she does not feel like facing the truth. She hasn’t looked the skeleton in the eyes - or sockets now, probably, with maybe something dry and shrunken inside -  in decades. This truth used to be commented on, too, but has fallen out of vogue. Magda trains her gaze instead across the large expanse of Duskswallow Cemetery, straight out to the thin black line of the horizon, to the tiny bumps of gravestones perched along it - to one in particular, in the center of the long-stretched row, with weeds so overgrown Magda could spot each leaf from miles away.

A cold touch lights on her cold hand.

“You,” the skeleton says, “still...try?”

“It’s none of your business,” Magda says.

“My business,” says the skeleton, “if...kill me...for it.”

“You’re already dead,” says Magda.

“You,” says the skeleton, “not much...better.”

The words spark flashes of red across Magda’s vision. She rises, rage swelling in her chest, and whirls on the skeleton - that crumpled mass of skin and bones and hair still clinging in places it no longer belonged. She raises her arms, black tendrils pulled from the red crystal around her neck snaking all the way to the tips of her fingers and fizzing in half-broken streams toward the creature on the muddy ground.

A choked sound gurgles from the dead being’s rotten throat and it clutches at its own neck with bony fingers. It looks at Magda, and Magda makes the mistake of looking back - looking at those miraculous eyes still rolling in the sunken sockets, growing wide with alarm.

She drops her hands. The skeleton sags against its tombstone.

“You,” it says, its voice thinner and more garbled, “still,” it huffs, “try.”

Magda drops beside it. She feels drained, and the crystal around her neck glows and warms her throat with scarlet light. She leans against the stone beside the skeleton - beside the skeleton whose name might have been Alexander or might have been Alistair depending on how one interprets the faded letters on its cracked marker.

The fingers touch her hand again.

“You,” says the skeleton, the voice slowly dripping back to normal, “still...care.”

“Maybe,” says Magda.

She thinks of the overgrown grave across the cemetery, the one she’s too afraid to visit, the one untouched for centuries. She thinks about the coffin sunk into the earth there, the body stuck inside.

“I,” the skeleton says, “am...test?”

“An experiment,” Magda says.

“You,” says the skeleton, “keep...try.”

“I fear I might kill you,” she says.

“Already,” the skeleton points out, “dead.”

“Me, too,” Magda says.

“I,” the skeleton continues, “not...who you...want...to live.”

“No,” Magda agrees.

“You,” the skeleton says, “will...drink...my marrow...like...the others.”

“I don’t want to anymore,” Magda relents.

“Not,” the skeleton asks, “kill?”

“No,” she says. She pushes herself to her feet and returns to her spot on the top of the headstone. She feels the skeleton’s tiny eyes on her, following, and she hears its bones scrape against the stone as it climbs up to see what she is seeing. She is stuck on that same grave again, miles away but haunting her nonetheless. Haunting her with memories of touches a thousand years old and a thousand years gone, memories of kisses that still ghost on her lips in the middle of the night, memories of magic too strong and dreams too big to contain between two people. Of spells gone wrong, trials and errors, and a funeral with a single attendee.  “I want you to live.”

“Me,” says the skeleton, “or her?”

“Both,” Magda says. “I want you both to live.”

“Then,” says the skeleton, “keep...trying.”

“For centuries more,” Magda agrees. “For centuries more.”





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black-eyed children (also called black-eyed kids): an urban legend of supposed paranormal creatures that resemble children between the ages of 6 and 16, with pale skin and black eyes, who are reportedly seen hitchhiking or panhandling, or are encountered on doorsteps of residential homes. The supposed origins of the legend are some 1996 postings written by Texas reporter Brian Bethel on a "ghost-related mailing list" relating two alleged encounters with "black-eyed kids." Tales of black-eyed children have existed since the 1950s.

Jamie Wright’s entire life fits in the 36 by 60 inch square of a Shell station bathroom stall.

The contents of her backpack spill out over the once-white tile: wrinkled tees and a balled-up sweatshirt, a pack of Camels with about three cigarettes left rattling around inside; her dead cell phone, tangled headphones, a lighter well past its prime; a matchless matchbook, a magazine with most of its glossy pages missing and a puzzle book with the cover torn off; car keys with a faded Publix rewards card and a broken, one-armed Statue of Liberty keychain. Jamie fishes her worn leather wallet out of the bottom of the bag, where it floats among silver gum wrappers and mints spilled from an open tin box. She counts the crumpled bills inside.

Jamie has forty-seven dollars and, after plucking the change tucked into the credit card folds, eighty-nine cents to her name. She has a quarter of a tank of gas in her ‘94 Corolla and fifty miles left to go.

“Alright,” she says, her voice shaky. She tucks a twenty dollar bill under the strap of her bra and stuffs the leftover twenty-seven dollars and eighty-nine cents back into the wallet. She grabs the gray sweatshirt from the pile on the floor and yanks it over her head. “Okay,” she says as she flips her ponytail out of the back of the crewneck. She returns everything to the bag and rises, hiking her jeans up and kicking the lever until the toilet flushes. “Okay.”

With a shaky breath, she steps out of the stall.

The taps have one setting: ice cold. She watches her hands under the frigid water and dries them of on her jeans. As she does, she hears a knock on the  bathroom door. This strikes Jamie as odd, because there’s no key needed, no lock to undo, and the bathroom is your typical bank of stalls and sinks build for customers to come and go as they please. She slings her backpack straps over her shoulders and swings the door open.

There’s no one on the other side.

Jamie swivels her head left and right, but she’s as alone as she was when she first went inside. The sun has since abandoned the sky and the gas pumps across from the building are illuminated by harsh lights spilling from their overhangs.

Deciding that she must have imagined the knock, Jamie shook her head and stepped into the lot. The clerk behind the register is playing some game on his phone she walks up, and Jamie has to clear her throat to get his attention.

“Twenty,” she says, sliding the bill across the counter. “Pump four.”

“Sure,” the clerk says. He’s not exactly young, but not old either - he teeters somewhere in the interim, with salt-and-pepper sprays creeping down his temples and lines pulled at the corners of his eyes. He clutches an e-cig in one hand and puffs from it when he takes the cash. “You’re good.”


When Jamie goes back outside, she stills.

Across the lot, standing by the passenger side of her car, two figures with their backs to Jamie look to be peering inside the Toyota. She glances back to the clerk, but he’s too engrossed in his outdated 8-bit game to notice. Jamie turns back toward the car and sighs.

“I don’t have time for this,” she mutters, and then calls out, “Hey!”

The figures stiffen. As Jamie gets closer she can see they’re two kids - the taller one might be a teen, with the younger maybe a decade or so their junior. They don’t say anything and they don’t turn to look at her, but when she’s about five feet away they bolt. Jamie doesn’t think she’s ever seen someone run that fast in her life - maybe the kids are track stars.

She inspects the window, runs her hand along the door. Nothing’s scratched or broken, and there’s no graffiti to speak of. She doesn’t quite know what the kids were getting at, but brushes it off as a poorly planned prank and carries on with filling her tank. The twenty bucks gets Jamie just over half full, and she prays that it’s enough.

When she drops back inside the car, Jamie fishes a charger out of the glove box. It’s worn gray and the cable is split in several places, exposing stranded copper through the slits, but it’ll do. She jabs into the cigarette lighter and unzips her backpack, reaches inside to find her dead phone when-

Tap, tap, tap - the sound of knuckles on glass.

Jamie jumps. Her heart does, too, way up in her throat so far she thinks she might puke it up.

The kids are back, and this time she sees their round faces pressed up against the passenger window, the taller one stooped down to see inside. Both have their hands cupped around their dark eyes to better see inside. Jamie swallows her fear and  it comes back up as rage.

“What the fuck?” she shouts. “That’s not fucking funny!”

The kids don’t budge. In fact, the taller one leans in closer, their forehead bumping the glass.

“We need help,” the little one says. “Please, can you help us.”

The girl’s voice is muffled by the closed door. She presses her little palms against the window and leans in like its - what? Brother, most likely. They have the same dark eyes and unruly black hair. The girl might be six, her brother sixteen, and they stare into the car with blank faces. Even the little girl’s voice is expressionless, though Jamie figures that could be exhaustion on either her part of the kid’s. She shakes her head and points toward the station mini-mart.

“Talk to the cashier,” she says, a little louder than needed to be sure her voice carries through the shut window. Neither kid moves. They keep staring into the car. “Hey, did you hear me?” Jamie says. She pumps the gas and the engine roars, but the kids don’t startle.

“We need help,” the little girl repeats.

Jamie revs the engine again and says, “Go inside.” When the kids still don’t move, Jamie cracks the window. “If you need money, I don’t got any,” she says. The kids don’t budge. Jamie sighs, and grabs her wallet from her open backpack. She plucks out a ten dollar bill and holds it toward the kids. “Go on,” she says. “It’ll get you some food at least.” The kids stare at her, and in the darkness of the night Jamie can’t see any whites to their eyes. Eventually, the boy pinches the bill timidly between two fingers. He takes it, leaving Jamie with seventeen dollars and eighty-nine cents to her name.

The boy stares at Jamie, and so does his sister, and Jamie glances between them, suddenly feeling more nervous than she ever has in her life. “Alright,” she says slowly, the vowels all drawn out, and then she says, “You’re welcome, I guess.” The kids don’t move, even as she closes the window and revs the engine. The boy is holding the ten as if he’s never seen one before. Jamie watches him a moment longer before she pulls away.

As Jamie’s little Corolla putters down the highway she can see the kids standing stupidly in the gas station lot, their heads and strange dark eyes following her until she dipped down a great hill and out of sight.

Logan lives on the far edge of Lee County, off a sharp turn down a dirt road without street lamps and dotted with black-and-yellow wildlife crossing signs. Cougars, chickens and ducks, horses. After the third sign with a bobcat on it Jamie turns down a long dirt-and-gravel drive.

The porchlight is on - a single bare bulb screwed in over the front door. On the edge of its yellow glow a shadow pushes off a wooden rocker and steps into view. Logan is wearing tattered jeans and no shirt. His feet are bare and he’s got a cigarette tight between his teeth. He smiles around it when Jamie steps out of the car. A chorus of barks, both high and low, clamour on the other side of the door.

“You made it,” Logan says. Jamie walks into his open arms. She lets them wrap around her shoulders and squeeze. She rests her head against his shoulder for just a second, breaths in the scent of hay bales and cigarette smoke.

“Hey, brother,” she says.

“Hey,” Logan says. He guides her inside where dogs big and small jump up to lick her hands. Logan shoos them all away, but they just circle around one another to take another turn. This continues until they get to the kitchen table where Jamie drops into a chair. “Drink?” Logan offers, already halfway to the fridge. Jamie scrubs at her face and nods.

“Yeah,” she says, and when she opens her eyes just a second later a Pabst is already set in front of her. She pops the tab and takes a long sip. “Thanks for letting me crash.”

“Ain’t like you wouldn’t do the same for me,” Logan shrugs. He downs half his beer in one long gulp and sets the can down on the table. “I’m just glad you’re outta that fucker’s house.”

“Amen,” Jamie agrees.

“You still got the ring?” Logan asks.

“Gonna pawn it tomorrow,” Jamie says. “So I can get outta your hair sooner.”

“Ain’t in it,” Logan says. “But I can put some feelers out for you, if you want. For a place.”


“S’what family’s for.”

They lapse into a comfortable silence, broken only by the tick-tack, tick-tack of dog claws o the hardwood floors. Logan has four of them, and when they all line up they look like those old raising the bar cell phone commercials. Every now and then, the littlest one jumps up on someone’s leg to sniff at the table.

“So,” Logan begins, rising from the table to get himself a second beer. “I don’t got a guest room. But you take mine, and I’ll crash on the couch for however long you’re here.”

“I don’t wanna put you out,” Jamie says.

“You’re not,” Logan says.


“You’re not.”

“Fine,” Jamie concedes. “Thanks.”

Again, that easy silences washes like a gentle wave, and stretches on until-

Tap, tap, tap- knuckles on the front door. Jamie looks at Logan.

“You expecting someone else?” she asks.

“No,” Logan says, rising out of his seat. The dogs have already crowded the door, their barking less excited this time and, the longer they stand there, growing almost panicked. Soon enough the little one is whimpering and whining, turning circles around Logan’s ankles as if begging him to keep her safe. Curious, Jamie gets up, too, and stands where she can see the doorway as it opens.

“Little late for Girl Scout cookies,” he says at the same time Jamie says, “What the fuck?”

She races to the door, grabbing at her brother’s elbow if only to have something to steady herself. That same feeling of ice-cold dread runs all through her veins. It seems to seep through her very fingertips and catch under Logan’s skin because she feels him stiffen, too, and hears him swallow thickly. She wants to look at him, to tell him to shut the door, but she can’t turn away from the kid’s strange eyes.

Black. Nothing but black eating up iris and sclera, like their eyes are just huge pupils stuck in the sockets. They seem to stare both at and through Jamie at the same time. She holds her brother’s arm so hard her nails dig into his skin.

“Please,” the little girl says. “May we come inside?”

“We need to call our parents,” the boy says. He is still clutching Jamie’s ten dollars in his hand. She can see the green of the bill poking between the fingers of his clenched fist.

“We need help,” the little girl says. “Please, can you help us?”

“We need to call our parents,” the boy repeats. The little girl opens her mouth to speak, but Logan slams the door in her face. His breath is shaky. The dogs scramble around Logan and Jamie, each of them whining, each of their tails tucked nervously between their legs. After a few seconds-

Tap, tap, tap- the sound of knuckles of the door.

“Don’t open it,” Jamie says.

“I feel like-”

“Don’t,” Jamie says firmly. She yanks Logan away from the door and all the dogs follow them. The knocking picks up pace, rapping the same monotonous beat against the wood.

“Their eyes,” Logan says. “Did you see their eyes?”

“Please,” a muffled voice calls through the closed door.

“I saw,” Jamie says.

“May we use your telephone?” a second voice calls.

“I feel-”

“Weird?” Jamie suggests.

“Scared,” Logan says. It’s the first time Jamie’s heard hims use the word since they were kid, and that makes the ice inside her freeze colder.

“Me, too,” Jamie says. The knocking continues, and even from his spot perched on the couch, one knee bouncing nervously up and down and Jamie’s hand still tight around his arm, Logan’s eyes are drawn toward the door.

“I feel like I just-“

“Don’t,” Jamie repeats. “I saw them back by Bonita, at a gas station. Tried to get them to go away by giving them some cash, but they just stared at me. It was dark, so I didn’t get a good look at their eyes.”

“They followed you all the way from Bonita?”

“I don’t know how. They didn’t even have a car.”

“Please,” the girl’s voice calls. The knocking continues, but it never grows frantic or loud. It sticks to the same steady rhythm, like a rock band drummer.

“May we use your telephone?” the boy’s voice follows.

“What do we do?” Logan asks.

Jamie considers this, then says, “Wait it out?”

Wait it out they do. For hours. They turn on the TV, watch bad comedies to drown out the sounds of the knocks of the door and the monotonous pleas for help. Wait between bursts of all the dogs barking, then whining, then whimpering, and then back to barking again.

And then suddenly, the knocking stops. Not fades. Not quiets down. Just stops. Logan flicks the TV off to be sure, and sure enough the house is plunged into silence. Silence, and the pitter-patter of dog footsteps circling round and round the floor.

“We have to go now,” the girl’s voice says eventually.

“Thank you,” the boy’s voice follows.

Logan and Jamie share a cautious glance. Their heads turn the door, then back to one another. Slowly, wordlessly, the both stand and make the quiet trek to the door. There is now sound on the other side.

Jamie reaches for the handle and opens the door just a crack. Logan peeks through the sliver of right. At the bottom of his drive, there are two tall men. It’s hard to tell in the dark, but they seem to wear nearly tailored suits. Their heads are down, faces covered by the brims of their hats. The kids were walking towards them like two little soldiers, each step meticulous. When they meet the men, the little turns around. Her black eyes land on Logan. She waves him, but the expression on her face remains unchanged. Logan pushes the door closed.

He and Jamie stand together; they soak up the silence for a long while before Logan finally says, “I need another drink.”





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sasquatch (also called bigfoot): from Salish se’sxac: “wild men”; a large, hairy, humanlike creature believed by some people to exist in the northwestern United States and western Canada. It seems to represent the North American counterpart of the Himalayan region’s mythical monster, the Abominable Snowman, or Yeti.

October 1998
Windber, Pennsylvania

“Did you hear that?”

“Shut up.”

“I’m serious.”




“Did you hear that?”


“I’m serious.”


The tent fills with the sound of rustling nylon. Small hands grab for the electric lantern tucked away in the corner. The bulb inside buzzes and flickers to life, casting strange shadows across the taut temporary walls. There was the snick of the zipper and the door folded out and flopped toward the ground. More nylon rustles as Heather scrambles to sit upright. She perches in her knees with her fists clenched tight and frightened around the cool fabric of her sleeping bag.


“I’m gonna find out what it is,” Abigail says. There is a hint of annoyance in her voice that does nothing to calm Heather’s fears. Abigail steps outside, taking the light with her, and when the warm glow of the lantern is gone Heather jumps to her feet. She scurries after her sister.She bumps Abigail’s back, shaking the beam of light so that the shadows all around them seem to stretch and grow along the gnarled bark of the trees.

Abigail doesn’t startle. She never does.

“There’s nothing out here,” she declares. “See?”

She sweeps the light across the trees, yawning as if to prove fear futile and even useless. When she’s hit each bramble and bush she drops the lantern to her hip. She seems ready to turn back to the tent, intent on getting back to sleep, but Heather grabs her arm.

“Ow!” Abigail hisses. She tries to tug her arm away, but Heather won’t let go. “Get off!”

Heather is holding her so tight Abigail can feel her little nails cutting half-moon slits into her skin. She thinks it might break and bleed and when the jostled lanterned spills toward Heather, Abigail finds her tiny knuckles gone white as she squeezes. She shakes her sister to no avail, and when she pushes for Heather to let her go, Heather’s big eyes only grow wider with fear.

“Do you see it?” she says, finally. At last one hand frees Abigail - the other still holding on like a vise - to point at a high point between the trunks of the trees.

“See what?” Abigail whispers. She shines the light, but all she finds is a lot of brown and black and green muddled together like paints on a used up palette. She takes a small step forward, stopped only by the tug of her sister’s firm grip still latched upon her arm.

“Abbi,” Heather squeaks. Her voice is tinier than Abigail’s ever heard it, so small and high she nearly misses it in the wind. Heather’s feet shuffle in the dirt as she sidles closer. Her free hand grabs onto Abigail again. “Abbi, it’s watching us.”

“Heath, there’s nothing there,” Abigail insists.

The leaves rustle, but there’s no wind to move them. Heather jumps and presses her little body against her sister’s back. She is trembling all over, almost like the way she did when they found a buzzing hornet’s house on the belly of their treehouse - almost like that, but worse somehow, because this kind of shake seemed to start in her bones and radiate out. Abigail thought she felt the ground beneath then shudder with the force it.

“Abbi,” Heather says again, but the leaves move again and a branch snaps and falls.

Both girls scream. They turn, Abigail dropping the lantern in her frenzy, and stumble over one another as they race back to their tent.

“Close it!” Heather shrieks. Abigail wrestles with the zipper. It goes a few inches, then snags. A few more, then it happens again. Heather cries, “Close it, close it, close it!”

“I’m trying,” Abigail says through gritted teeth. She feels sweat prick her forehead and she wipes it away as one hand still tugs desperately at the zipper.

Outside the tent, the shadows move. Something massive comes out of the trees, a hulking figure that walks stooped over but isn’t fooling anyone. Abigail can see the rippling ridges of its over-broad shoulders. Thick fur hangs off of it like moss from a tree.

It hands hands like Abigail’s. She can see that much as it pokes a curious finger at the lantern still rolling on the ground. It crouches down and Abigail thinks she sees it bow its head to sniff at the offending object. She is frozen in both terror and awe, watching the strange creature prod at her lantern. It plucks it between two fingers the way she sees her father sometimes pick up peanuts from a jar. It holds the lantern up to the moonlight, then howls when the harsh light of the bulb hits its eyes.

For the second time that night the lantern falls, and this time its plastic panels crack in spiderwebs. The creature rubs at its eyes, shaking its head and crawling back  into the shadows again.

Abigail and Heather sit in stunned silence.

They watch the shadows, but nothing happens. The large creature doesn’t come back. In the morning, their father will hike from his site at the bottom of the slope and find the lanterned shattered, the handle cracked in half, and his daughters huddled together at the far end of their tent. He will try to explain away what happened - a dream, a nightmare, and when the girls insist they were both awake and both saw it, it suddenly became a trick of the shadows.

“People see all sorts of things in the woods,” he says, but they had never seen something like that before.

October 2018
Portland, Oregon

Abbi Warren sits cross-legged on the hood of her F150. A tin mug of steaming coffee is cupped between her gloved hands. It is a cold October morning, and the mist has yet to clear. A wool hat is tugged so low over her forehead it nearly covers her eyes.

The sun has just begun to rise. The first golden fingers stretch high over the treetops and dip into the lightening blue of the sky. Abbi tips back her head and downs her coffee in one hot, burning gulp. Then she leaps off the car and raps her knuckles against the passenger window. “Heath,” she says, and the lump of blankets on the seat starts to move. “Heather, let’s go.”

Heather is now twenty-five, but in many ways looks much like the frightened girl in those dark woods those two long decades ago: the same wide brown eyes, the same white-knuckled fingers - though this time they were wrapped around a diner take-out cup instead of Abbi’s wrist. She slurps at her coffee and drops the empty paper cup into the holder before sliding out of the car. Her blanket caccooon sheds itself behind her and falls into a heap on the truck’s leather bench.

“Why are we doing this again?” she asks. Her hair is in two long braids slung over her shoulders and, without gloves to warm them, shoves her hands into the deep pockets of a winter coat it was still too early to be wearing.

“I just-” Abbi starts, and she quickly falls silent. She looks at the woods ahead of her, the rolling expanse of green and brown and black. “I just need to know.”

“We haven’t found anything,” Heather says.

“No,” Abbi agrees.

“We might not ever find anything,” Heather says. She’s right, and Abbi knows it. They’ve followed the stories up and down both coasts and still, nothing. They’ve spoken to experts who were always just fantasy enthusiasts begging to prove the skeptics wrong, the people with books on cryptids perched on their coffee tables begging you to ask about them. They’ve read those books, and all the forum threads online, and the'y’ve followed every lead to no avail.

Abbi sighs. She’s not willing to give up. She’s not willing to let her sister give up, either.

“You just don’t want to go in,” Abbi retorts.

Heather thinks on this, then says, “Maybe.”

“We probably won’t find anything,” Abbi concedes. The words leave a bitter taste in her mouth.

Again, Heather thinks on it, and this time she sighs. It has been twenty years since that night, since the thing in the woods that crept out of the shadows and scared them half to death. They had tried to forget - tried to rationalize the way their father taught them, tried to find an explanation that could ease their minds. But at night, when the moon was high and the wind whistled like it did that night, they’d whisper to each other, “Do you remember?” What it looked like, what it smelled like, the way its hair mimicked the trees.

Abbi couldn’t let it go, and the more she spoke about, the more Heather realized that she couldn’t, either. She steels herself and looks into the wide expanse of trees laid out before them, resisting the urge to jump back in the car and peel away back down the mountainside.

Heather nods firmly and says, “But we have to try.”

They spend the day hiking. Hiking, and searching.

They kneel on the ground and brush at the dirt. They veer off the trail and inspect rogue branches for tufts of foreign fur. Once, they heard a rustling that sounded almost right, but when they investigated further they found only a small bear on the far side of the woods, a mere speck with the distance between them. It paused and seemed to look to them, then lumbered on unfazed.

“I’m sorry I dragged you out here,” Abbi says as the sky turns purple and the bumper of their car emerges through the trees. Her hat has long been removed and her hair is tossed and wild.

“Don’t be,” Heather says with a shrug. “It was kind of fun. Like revisiting our old stompin-”

She trails off, and stops in her tracks. Abbi keeps moving but Heather’s hand at her elbow holds her back. Abbi feels annoyed for all of a second before she sees the look on her sister’s face, that odd mixture of terror and awe Abbi herself had only ever felt once before.

Abbi follows Heather’s gaze. Follows it down the trail, down the yawning gap of its head, right to the truck -

And the hulking giant perched on its hood.





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mermaid (sometimes called sirens): a fabled marine creature with the head and upper body of a human being and the tail of a fish. Similar divine or semidivine beings appear in ancient mythologies. In European folklore, mermaids were natural beings who, like fairies, had magical and prophetic powers. They loved music and often sang. Though very long-lived, they were mortal and had no souls.

A red sky warning breaks with the dawn.

The sun bleeds bright crimson across the horizon and spills scarlet rays across the waves. From the shore, Ollie watches the rich sunrise dip into the foam fizzling along the shore. Strong bursts of wind throw sand in wild spirals and churn the frothy water. In the distance, far-far along the thin, blurred line of the horizon, a shadow begins to grow.

“Ollie,” his father says in that gruff-but-soft way of his. “Let’s go.”

Ollie’s father is a hulking man. He has scars all on his hands and a scraggly sort of beard that looks like something might live inside it. One of his eyes is permanently closed with a thick, raised scar and splotchy pink-and-white marks that never seem to go away. Ollie asks about what happened almost every day, and almost every day his father tells him that he’ll find out when he’s older.

But Ollie gets older every day, and he’s yet to learn the truth.

He follows his father down the steep slopes of the dunes. He nearly tumbles once, twice, even three times as he scrambles to keep up with his father’s long strides. Ollie wonders if one day he might be as tall as his father; if, maybe, he might wake up one morning and spring to six feet. He hopes he will. He hopes with all the hope he can find in his heart and in his head, because maybe on that day he’d finally hear the stories his father tells him he is too young - too small - to hear.

“Be careful,” his father says as they approach the dock.

“Of what?” Ollie asks.

“Watch the waves,” says his father.

It’s not much of an explanation, but there is no elaboration, and Ollie doesn’t think he’s supposed to ask for one. When his father stops, Ollie continues on to the end of the dock.

The sky has already begun to turn hazy, the red blurring into something of a deep pink - less scary, less intimidating, but nonetheless otherworldly to young Oliver Kidd. He’s mesmerized, until the memory of his father’s advice jolts him. Ollie turns his attention downward to the water, where the silver scales of frantic fish flicker haphazardly under the spray.

“What am I watching for?” Ollie asks. His father stands behind him, his single eye trained on the growing black smudge pulling farther away from the horizon.

“You’ll know,” is all his father says.

There’s no clarification, so Ollie turns back to the water. The swirl of the foam, the way the waves fold over one another, is hypnotizing. Ollie becomes lost in it. The wind roars and whistles and throws salty seafoam against Ollie’s skin and the water - the water bends and bows and lets the wind drag it to-and-fro, reaches up to light on his hands and catch in his hair.

Ollie is lost in it all, so lost he doesn’t notice when the sound of the wind begins to melt into song; soft, and lilting, and in a language foreign to sand and soil. He’s so lost he doesn’t hear the hoarse voice behind him, the sound of his name shouted over and over, the voice growing louder and louder yet always drowned out by the singing that seemed float to the choppy surface of the water.

Something reaches out of the water. Slender fingers slip between turbulence.

There is a face, Ollie thinks. Angular, but pretty. An older man might call it beautiful.

And then there are hands behind him, strong and firm, and a force yanking him backwards. The dock splinters beneath him, and though Ollie feels shaved little slivers of wood stabbing into his hands and his arms but he can’t bring himself to care. The face is still there - the woman, he swears it’s a woman, with dark hair billowing around her slim face and soft eyes. Her lips move under the water but not in the way that s fish’s do, not that mindless open-close-open-close - no. She’s singing. She’s the music in the wind, and Ollie wants to let himself dade into that song, wants to take the woman’s hand and dive into the depths with her - wants to hear her sing forever.

When he’s pulled so far he can no longer see her, Ollie screams.

He screams, and there is a heavy heat in his face that could burn it clean off.

He screams and he screams. His throat turns raw and, when he can’t scream anymore, his mouth sticks in what might be a permanent ‘o’. Ollie reaches out with desperate fingers because he thinks he sees those slender hands grabbing onto the edge of the dock. He thinks he hears that voice, and that song he doesn’t understand, and he wants it - he needs to be near it, with it, in it -

And then it’s gone.

And the world goes black.

Ollie’s father is sitting at his bedside.

It is dark outside, and the moon spills silver light across the knotted wooden floor. The first thing Ollie notices is that his throat hurts. He wants to talk, but no sound comes out, and it hurts when he tries to force it. He snaps his mouth shut and leans back against the pillows.

The second thing Ollie notices is that the pillows are not his own. He blinks, and the candlelit room shifts into focus. The high ceilings. Ropes pulled taught by sailor’s knots tacked onto the walls. A bed as big as a boat - or, at the very least, as big as the dinghies his father keeps at the shore.

Ollie is in his father’s bed, in his father’s room.

His father is slumped in cracked chair from the kitchen. Ollie suspects he dragged it in, though he’s not sure how long ago he’d parked it in the bedroom. The sheets rustle as Ollie pushes himself upright, leaning against the many pillows his mother had insisted on but that his father usually left on the floor, and he tries to remember what happened. All he can think of is the voice. The voice that rose out of the water, the voice that spun inside his head and made him want to sink deep into the waves and vanish from dry land - forever, for good...he didn’t care.

“Pa-” Ollie starts, and then coughs. He tries to tamp it down and hold it all inside his chest, but the stinging in his throat makes a fit explode out of his. The force of it wakes his father.

“Easy,” Ollie’s father says. His big hands, calloused and worn, land on Ollie’s shoulders and press him back into the pillows. When Ollie is finished, his father combs back his hair - a gentle gesture that hardly seems to suit his stature or his scars. “Easy,” he says again, and Ollie forgets all the questions he has. Tears prick at his eyes and he flings himself into his father’s chest, his little fingers clawing at his dad’s broad shoulders and clinging there as his father is the only thing keeping him tethered to the earth.

When Ollie returns to the water, he is called Oliver.

He stands where his father always had, at the far end of the dock where the boats look like specks that grow into hulking beasts. He has not set foot at the edge since That Day.  

He knows what happened to his father now. That his father has his own That Day. He knows he’s lucky to come away with scars inside his head and not out, thought sometimes he thinks maybe outside would hurt less. That song still stuck inside his skull, plastered there and refusing to peel. He wonders if he’ll ever get it out. Wonders if that woman in the water, the woman who he thinks had fish scales - maybe he had imagined them, and maybe he hadn’t - and who reached out of the waves to take him down to the bottom of the raging surf, down where it might be quiet and he’d be able to hear her song and her song alone.

Oliver is older now. He has spent much time away, much time where the ocean can’t crawl up to his feet or try to swallow him whole, and now his skin looks like his father’s had when Oliver was just a boy.

But the song has never left him, not in all the years he’d tried to drown it out with whisky and scotch and whatever stinging sludge sloshing at the bottom of dirty bottles. He could never get it out. He still hasn’t, and he’s tried everything but one. So Oliver has come home. He has returned to the dock where it happened, to the water where he’d seen the woman of the waves and heard that damn song for the very first time.

It is a red sky morning, just like that day when he was a child and the song stuck to him like a moth to a flame. Oliver waits until the clouds turn hazy magenta, watches as the red bleeds into the water, and then he starts to take slow steps toward the end of the dock.

His heart sinks. The song is not there. He doesn’t hear it. It’s only the wind.

Only the wind…

Until it isn’t only the wind, and the whistling turns to soft hums that float out of the seafoam. Oliver takes a long, slow breath. He clenches his hands into fists, then unclenches them again and rolls his shoulders back.

He peeks over the edge.





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thirteen haunts of halloween
day one

vampire (also spelled vampyre): in popular legend, a creature, often fanged, that preys upon humans, generally by consuming their blood. Vampires have been featured in folklore and fiction of various cultures for hundreds of years, predominantly in Europe, although belief in them has waned in modern times.

Music - or, at the very least, what passes for it - throbs through the ceiling and down the concrete walls. The cellar shakes. Bottles rattle and one falls off the shelf, spreading shards of glass and splashes of Shiraz across the dusty floor. A trickle of wine kisses bare skin, hesitates, then pools around the body curled in the corner.

It does not notice.

Not at first. Not until the head turns and the red tickles the nose and the slumped figure wakes, sputtering, hands and feet scrambling for purchase. It kicks up dust in a frenzy and when it finally stills, back to the wall, the spilled wine has formed a rivulet across paint-peeled molding. Ripples tremble and the wine snakes toward the stairs.

Dark eyes find the ceiling. The bass shudders, then kicks back in with a stronger beat.


Nell pushes herself to her feet, her sleeves dripping wet and her jeans stained red. She shakes her arms and soft droplets spray across the floor. “Okay,” she says again and, sighing, she tears off her soaked shirt - peels off her jeans - digs through the tattered backpack sitting at the edge of the spill and fishes out fresh clothes. She combs her fingers through her tangled hair and stuffs her feet into the unlaced boots flung sloppily at the bottom of the stairs.

“Let’s do this.”

The room is dark save for the spotlights swinging from the stage. Their bright beams sweep across the writhing crowd. Faces glisten in their harsh glow, slick with sweat, hair of all shades clinging to foreheads and lips and cheeks and shoulders. The music swells to fill every last pocket of air; any sliver of space missed is plugged quickly by slurred voices crooning misheard lyrics out-of-tune.

An average Saturday night at The Chain.

Nell slinks through the throng of people, the rubber soles of her shoes squelching and squeaking over spilled drinks. She wonders if there was ever a time when the floor was not sticky with beer and vodka, fruit juice and spritzers, and then thinks maybe she should clean up the wine sloshing all over the basement floor.

Once she’s crossed the club, she decides it would be a hassle to turn back.

“Usual?” It’s Christian who asks. He’s behind the long black slab of the bar sweeping a gray-ish dish rag along the rim of a martini glass.

Christian’s name is ironic, because he looks anything but: swollen muscles speckled with sailor tattoos, long hair pulled back as he works, silver studs stuck through the tail of his brow and a matching ring poking through his lip. He wears a cross around his neck, though, on a thick chain that belonged to his father, and sometimes Nell sees him grab it when he thinks no one is looking. Once, she even heard a Hail Mary in a gentle whisper. Christian keeps the cross tucked under his shirts and jackets, a tiny little secret, something just for him, but sometimes Nell can see it glint under the strobe lights.

She doesn’t know what he prays for.

Christian has a warm smile, the kind that makes him look like a friend, the kind that rakes in tips from drunk girls when he makes their vodka sodas and that makes drunker guys feel insecure.

Nell likes Christian. He’s kind in the real sort of way, he doesn’t skimp when he pours bourbon, and he’s never asked questions when Nell ends the night with a smudge of blood on the corner of her mouth.

Well, he did ask once. And a few times after that he seemed concerned. Then it clicked.

“Please,” she tells him. A glass lands on the bar before she even sits down. She hooks the heels of her boots on the rings of the stool and listens to the Old Crow trickle and splash into the tumbler while she watches the dance floor. She turns back in time to see a drop spring onto the back of her hand. She licks it off, then slides the glass closer. “Thanks.” There’s a pause that would be silence if the DJ wasn’t scratching and the crowd wasn’t certain of its (not so) perfect pitch. Nell watches the shadows, the flashes of arms and legs and hips swaying under frantic lights.

“Something on your mind?”

Christian is back to cleaning glasses. He smiles the tiny sort of smile that lets you know he cares, and Nell smiles back. She sips from her glass, shrugging as she does, swallowing before she says, “A wine bottle broke.”

“Downstairs?” Christian asks.

“Yeah.” Nell takes another sip. “Shiraz.”

Her gaze has trailed away again, attention fixed on the crowd. She finds herself drawn to the fringes where young couples go to argue, friends snap photos, girls adjust shoes too painful to dance in but too cute to take off. A drunken frat boy is trying to start a conga line. He fails.

The clink of glassware pulls her back. Christian is sliding wine glasses upside-down on the rack over his head. Nell lifts her glass, swirls the amber liquid inside. She downs the rest of her drink. Christian reaches for the Old Crow, but she holds up a hand. “No?”

“I’m good,” she says. His hand lingers on the neck of the bottle.

“You sure?” he asks. But Nell isn’t looking at him anymore. Across the room, something catches her eye. Christian notices, and he isn’t surprised when Nell slides off her stool, leaving her empty glass on the counter and his question effectively answered.

It’s easy to lose sight.

Nell learned this quickly. In a club, in the dark, in the shadows of the alley where the cooks steal smoke breaks out of the watchful eye of the security cameras. People like dark clothes for nights out, and that makes them look like the shadows they move through on the dance floor and out in the street.

Scents, however, are much easier to lose.

Scents cling to a person and permeate the air. They drift and they linger and they leave trails. If one is enough in-tune with another’s scent, one can track them for miles - across highways and state lines and continental borders if one wanted to. Nell doesn’t often have to go that far. Tonight, she doesn’t even make if off the block.

The man is in his thirties; on the tail-end if Nell has guessed correctly - and she usually does. When Nell first spotted him, he was with a woman not much younger - late twenties, Nell would say, if she had to put money on it. They’d been dancing. He’d been close. A few times she twirled away, but he’d take her hips and pull her back each time until, eventually, she grabbed the wrist of a friend in a pink sequined dress and declared that they were going to the bathroom. A code, Nell knew. A code for, “we need to talk” or “this guy is bugging me” or “I need to borrow a tampon”. Judging by the scent, it was one of the former - perhaps both.

Scents tell stories - blood most of all.

In their absence, the man turned his stumbling, drunken attention to a blonde girl nearby, who scooted closer to someone who could have been her boyfriend or could have been her husband or could have just been a safe spot to land.

Whoever he was, he got the hint, and whirled the girl away.

The man gave a few more tries.

Nell watched him flit from a redhead to another pretty blonde to a busty girl in a silver top who seemed to take a liking to him. Until he got too close, that is. Too handsy, one might say. The girl shoved him away, but kept dancing with a distance between them. As one song bled into the next, the man closed in again, and again his wandering hands got the better of him.

The girl slapped him that time, clear across the face. Nell swore she saw red in his eyes, but his backwards stumble had turned some heads, and he seemed to shrink under the sudden attention.

So he bolted.

Nell followed, and now she is on the edge of a quiet back alley, watching him take a piss against a wall. He mumbles to himself when he finishes, speech slurred and words incoherent, and staggers when he steps away.

He doesn’t see Nell - not until he slams straight into her.

“The fuck?!” the man blurts. He glares at Nell, but she says nothing. “Watch where you’re goin’.” The man adjusts his jacket - worn, made of leather that smells beaten and old - and side steps. He’s about to say something else in his attempt to move past Nell, but all he gets out is a short, “B-” before she grabs him and shoves him hard into the brick exterior of The Chain. He hits the wall so hard his head bounces against it and dust and crumbled bits of mortar catch in his unruly hair.

Nell smells blood.

The man blinks, dazed, and scarlet drips down to his shirt collar. It smells boozy, like iron soaked in rum, and when it snakes around the front of his neck Nell leans close enough to taste it. The man wriggles beneath her. She hisses as he struggles and presses her forearm hard against his chest, pinning him so firmly he can barely move. “What th’ f-..fuck!” he growls, though it comes out more like a whine. He trembles, breath hitching, as Nell scrapes her teeth against his neck. She hears his heart hammering in her own ears, hears the blood streaming through his veins. “Ge’off!” he says, and tries to push her. It’s to no avail. “Ge’off!”

Suddenly, Nell stops. She raises her head to meet his eyes. She licks his blood off her lips.

“What’s the matter?” she asks. “Don’t like strangers touching you?”

Before he can answer, teeth tear open flesh. A vein snaps like a thread.

The man gurgles, his hands clutching at Nell’s wrists. She ignores him in favor of ripping at the wound. Warm, rich blood oozes out. Nell drinks greedily, drinks until the man’s hands fall away from hers, drinks as his body goes still and slides down the wall, drinks until there is nothing left to drink.

She straightens, wiping her mouth on her sleeve. Behind her, a door swings open. Nell turns to find Christian carrying overloaded garbage bags to the dumpster. He pauses, eyes flicking between Nell and the slumped body at her feet. He sighs.

“Tell you what,” he says. “I’ll clean up the Shiraz if you...take care of that.”

He gestures toward the corpse, and Nell considers the dead man.


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NaNoWriMo 2018: Prepping, Plantsing, & Pre-November Projects

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A comprehensive list of reasons to love fall:

  • Halloween

  • everything smells like cinnamon

  • everything tastes like apples & pumpkins

  • NaNoWriMo

As October raises sleepy eyelids, November lies in wait, and hundreds of thousands of writers around the world sharpen their pencils and prime their word processors for the thrill ride of the year. For the past ten years, I’ve tackled National Novel Month along with them, and you’re damn right I’m ready to dive back in.

Or at least…mostly ready. Which is like being ready, with a dash of apprehension and a pinch of uncertainty. What I mean by that is as I’ve started to pick through the plots I’ve been stashing away for the annual literary mad-dash, I’ve found that I can’t choose just one.

I’m a plantser, and always have been. Non-NaNoWriMo speakers probably think I just spelled “planter” wrong. I didn’t, I promise. A plantser, you see, is a mixture of a “planner”, or one who carefully plots out and plans their novel before November first, and a “pantser”, which is not a misspelling of “panther” (thanks for trying, autocorrect) but instead a novelist who chooses to forgo planning and fly by the seat of their pants for thirty wild days. Plantsers like myself sit somewhere in the middle. We don’t live by our outlines, but we’re going to do some molding of our ideas before we jump into the fray. For me, this normally means going in with what I call mystory skeleton. This is a set of ideas that outlines the basic structure of my plot. Once I have the bones set up, I can layer on top of them throughout November until I have my finished draft.

In the past, when I’ve had trouble choosing a plot, I try to make skeletons for all my ideas and pick a winner based on what skeleton feels the most solid or which one intrigues me the most. The problem this year? I have two skeletons, both anatomy-class-quality, and both equally interesting to me. So…I’m stuck. And I’ll be spending October trying to get un-stuck, or else going into November with a plan to write two stories - a NaNo first for me. (Well, kind of a second? In 2016 I wound up finishing my planned story early, and used the rest of the month to work on another, less developed plot. But this was a fluke occurrence, and I had no intention to write two stories. It just happened. This year, however, would be the first time I went in with a plan to work on two stories.)

That’s what my prep will consist of for 2018. I’ve got one plot that I’m leaning towards, so I’m using that for the plot-related prompts in the Preptober Instagram Challenge, but I’m truly confused about what story to actually write. Ah, indecision. A phenomenon I’ll never escape.

In the meantime, I’m also working on an excited project for Halloween!

THIRTEEN HAUNTS OF HALLOWEEN will be a 13-night short fiction event. Each day will find a new flash fiction story featuring a classic Halloween monster. I’m incredibly excited about this series! Halloween has long been my favorite holiday, and I’m a long-time fan of spooky stories and the creatures that inspire them - contributing my part to the lore of these incredible beings is something I’ve always wanted to do. So grab your wooden stakes and silver bullets and mark your calendars for October 19th! And keep an eye on my Twitter for updates on the series. I’ll be posting some hints soon!

If you would like to be a part of the series, you can become a story sponsor by donating on Patreon! My first thirteen Patreon supporters will be listed as sponsors in a special “brought to you by” section of the thirteen spooky shorts. Tiers are currently set up at $1, $2, and $3 levels. Join my Patreon family today to support Thirteen Haunts of Halloween and so many more stories to come!