The Oracles gathered at the ordained time and place, as they had since the world was young. The meeting place was a sacred place, a powerful place, a place made sacred and powerful by millennia of sacred, powerful men calling it so — habit turned tradition, turned superstition, turned dogma.
The Young One thought it folly and dangerous folly at that. The green meadows and open fields of old had long vanished under a sprawling mass of high, misshapen tenements. Narrow streets coiled around these honeycomb monstrosities, leading those foolish or desperate enough to enter them into an unforgiving maze of deep courtyards, dark alleys, dead ends.
Deadly things perched in high places or followed unseen, lurking in the shadows, biding their time.
One such creature grew tired of waiting.
Rage and fear ripped through the bond, and the Young One flinched as the Dying One clawed at the fraying link, desperately, stubbornly, uselessly trying to hold on.
Uncouth, the Old Ones whispered, their words like movement on a spider's web.
Black fluttering wings melted back into shadows, and the Young One modulated her grief to match the bored indifference of her elders.
The attack had come as no surprise — not to the Old Ones, not to the Young One, not even to the Dead One. It'd been a surprise to no one, except perhaps the lucky thief who'd found his night greatly improved by the unexpected bounty.
The rest of them had seen, and because they'd seen, they'd known.
The Young One reached into her pocket and ran her fingers lightly over her deck, willing the familiar shape of the cards to soothe her.
The words of the Old Ones reached out to her like a reminder, a caress, a rebuke:
What will come to pass has already come to pass
It has always come to pass
It must always come to pass
Perhaps. Perhaps not.
Ah, little sister, they said, kept saying, had always said.
What is already was
Has always been
No more would-be killers emerged from the shadows looking for easy prey, nor did the Young One expect any. Like the Old Ones, she'd seen. She knew.
As she took her place among the Oracles, the night lit up with visions of what was and had been and would—
Sharp iron met soft flesh, and the bond shrieked and snapped, buckling under the strain.
Dark wings fluttered in high-up places, but no one came to the aid of the Old Ones as they choked in their own blood.
The Only One reached into her pocket and ran her fingers lightly over her deck. Grief gnawed at her as the blood cooled on her skin, but no regret. There was no regret.
What point was there in seeing what they could not change? Now they could.
Now she could.
What now was had never been
Was all its own
Was brand new
Inês Simão is a Portuguese translator-turned-marketer currently living in Munich, Germany. She’s a part-time writer, a full-time reader and a coffee enthusiast. Once she spent a summer in high school cleaning 13th-century human bones with a toothbrush for far too little money. Having decided archaeology was entirely too dusty a career path, she turned to words instead. She writes mostly fantasy and romance. Her short stories are sometimes dark, often funny and very seldom short. When she’s not busy peopling imaginary worlds with characters you might not want to encounter down a dark alley, she makes a living writing copy and herding cats.
You blink awake and wonder how long it was this time.
You are in the Garden, and you look down to see an extension cord tight about your neck. You don't know who you are, so you often go and mimic others. You tried to steal the Hanged Man's rope, for the cord never works to make you sway, or maybe it's just your cowardice that stops you.
There's a Tree in your Garden precious beyond measure, the oldest plant with the deepest roots. It's been long since you watered and tended to it, but you often forget where you are. You forget your own name. A month passes while you take a breath in-and-out, and the Garden is full of weeds. You are full of weeds, sprouting out your flesh, rainbow-colored but rancid in scent. Roots moving through veins, burrowing into bones. All your flowers are being choked out. They are dear to you. You can't remember much anything, but you remember that.
The Tree is safe: it's strong, it's old, and it's weathered worse. It will remain. Your mind can't focus on multiple things anymore, but you need to help the dying flowers. They are screaming to you while shedding tears of starry nectar. There's briar about them like the cord about your neck, briar you carefully unwind. You smile while your hands bleed, even when no one unravels the cord slithering tighter like Ouroboros about your neck. It's okay. Foolish as it is…being a Gardener brings you comfort.
But then you blink. Three more months gone. You remember one day out of each month, while the rest is a blur.
There are so many weeds spreading. Briar below every step, so you paint the earth red as you walk. There are wilting leaves on the Tree, a branch that looks like a storm tore it off. But it's strong—it alone is immovable of all things in the Garden. These smaller, weaker creatures around you are dying. You have to save them, and it will survive. And your arms, frail as porcelain, are too weak to climb its branches right now.
It doesn't get better, though.
No matter how much you tend, give, or help. How many weeds are torn out, briar cut away, the flowers in the Garden are still weeping. You can't save them. Your body scarred over taking their wounds upon your flesh, a crown of briar on your head. You have to be their savior. Their martyr. Why be a Gardener if you can't help them grow?
A flash like lightning
You're older again.
You don't know time anymore. Yourself anymore. You lost those things in another world.
You smell burning, and turn around to see the Tree is gone. Just a charcoal husk that's left behind, still smoking. You want to weep, but you can't. If you weep, the cord will tighten. The flowers are still crying. You can't help them, but you'll still try.
It's all you have left now.
Marnie Desdemona is a pretentious lout who fancies herself a gift upon the world of writing, while simultaneously hiding herself and most of her works like a dragon in its lair. She loves to write queer fiction and romance with broad strokes of the surreal and fantastical, and never shies from exploring the darker side of the human experience. She lives with two cats who tolerate her for the food, and an ever growing trunk of dreams.
One trait shared by neurodivergent and preterm individuals – I am both – is a passion for myths and stars.
Greek gods had their muscles drenched with ichor. I picture their écorché thick and fibrous, like a safran-colored beefsteak.
We called Hermes Chrysorappis, with golden wand.
When I was five, it struck me.
Apart from Venus, the planets are named after dude-gods.
The mission aiming at grazing the Moon was named after Apollo and not Artemis.
We called Apollo Hecobolus, the far-shooting.
Watching Apollo kills you. Frail, insignificant you.
The first trump card of the Tarot, The Magus, is associated with Hermes. Jodorowski notes, between the legs of the figure, a frail, insignificant yoni-shaped plantlet. Yoni is the symbol of the goddess Shakti. Pure energy, supreme force. Jodorowski speculates that Hermes/Magus, stepping on the humble vulva-seedling, bends Nature to his will with his wand.
We called Hermes Empolaios, engaged in commerce.
When I was twenty, my friend Mai gave me a Tarot deck imagined by Nikki de Saint-Phalle. Since then, I keep picking the High Priestess and eluding the Magus.
Mercury was carved on the Assyrian tablet Mul.Apin under the name Udu.Idim.Gu. Twinkling planet. The ancient Greeks thought there were two Hermes, one seen at dawn, the other at dusk.
In Ancient Greece, travelers used to place a stone at crossroads, like poorly informed Instagrammers. At some point in History, authorities replaced these increasingly invasive cairns by dull border stones, soon adorned by a phallus and a bearded head. The origin story of Hermes is as simple as that. Herma. A blunt rectangle with a dick and a beard but no arms, no legs, no neck…
At some point in History:
- He-Apollo killed She-Python with a golden arrow.
- He-Hermes killed She-Medusa with a golden sword.
- He-Shiva expediently mated with She-Shakti. She who was everything became the yin of a yang.
When I was forty-five, I watched three billionaires reach space, each one in his own herma-shaped contraption. Elon Chrysorappis. Richard Hecobolus. Jeff Empolaios.
I was born in 1975, on a Wednesday. Mercredi. Mercurii dies. The day of Mercury.
Mercury has an erratic course, impossible to decipher with Newtonian mechanics. After centuries of speculations – my favorite being Urbain Le Verrier’s hypothetical planet Vulcan – Mercury’s orbit was explained by general relativity.
I was very close to dying in my mother’s belly.
One of my personal myths theorizes a hypothetical twin brother.
Today, only chaos mathematics dares to tackle Mercury’s behavior. It may hit Venus in five billion years. Or be thrust out of the solar system.
- The current NASA Moon mission is called Artemis.
- Shakti is still worshiped by Shaktas. In the Devi Bhagavata Purana, we can read the following: I am the Sun and I am the Stars, and I am also the Moon. I am Female, I am Male.
luvan (she/her) is a European writer, poet, translator and radio artist. She has lived in Africa, Scandinavia, France, China, Belgium and a few islands in the Pacific before settling in Germany. Her work has been labelled weird, slipstream, science-fiction or experimental. Some of her texts (‘Trolleriet,’ short story; ‘Cru’ and ‘Few of Us,’ short story collections; ‘Susto,’ novel: ‘Amatka,’ translated novel) were shortlisted and/or awarded (Prix Merlin, Bob Morane, Mary Shelley, Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire, Prix Littéraire des Lycéens). Her fourth novel, Agrapha, was published in France, in 2020. Photo credit: Mareike Post
She never sleeps but lies
in the bedside lamp-light—
a pomegranate hid beneath sheets,
a twist of red silk.
Her body is a book on loan
It´s easy work but for the insomnia.
It could be worse.
This is woman-myth
made fresh— a bed
or vision fitted to skin.
Friend, woman, sister, lover.
Fat-bellied deity, perhaps.
Would you be my mother?
Never and always my mother.
When owls call from the forest
she hoots back —woo hoo
woo hoo—feels it in her intestine,
a crop of eyes
feasting the acid dark.
No one sees as well as her.
Priestess to the dusty corners,
the blank, forgotten places.
She won’t starve you there.
She puts apples on her horns
for you to reach, a gift to your Eve.
Susannah Violette, a Pushcart Prize nominee, has had poems placed or commended in the Plough Prize, Westival International Poetry Prize, the Frogmore poetry prize, Coast to Coast to Coast Pamphlet Competition and appeared in various publications worldwide, most recently, well Dam! (poems for parching times), Pale Fire (anthology of contemporary writing on the moon), For the Silent (anthology supporting the work of the LACS), Finished Creatures, Channel, and Strix.
Manchmal wäre es ihr lieber gewesen, Arthur hätte sie einfach umgebracht. Zack, tot, kein Happy End und vorbei. An Tagen, an denen sie sich tot wünschte, war alles aussichtslos, unendlich unabänderlich und sie konnte kaum atmen.
Gefangen in der Wiederholung einer schmerzhaft repetitiven Endlosschleife, hatte sie versucht sich zu widersetzen, wie ein kleines, trotziges Kind die Füße in den Boden gestemmt, während der Albtraum sie an der Hand weiterzog. Es war zwecklos, der Schmerz im Kopf wurde unerträglich und die Bilder hinter ihren geschlossenen Augen so blutrünstig, dass sie nachgab, sich ihrem Schicksal ergab und weitermachte.
Sie hatte ihren Bruder ausgelacht. Immer wieder und einmal zu viel. Gepiesackt hatte sie ihn, beim gemeinsamen Abendessen mit den Eltern, bei diversen gesellschaftlichen Verpflichtungen. Die Heimlichtuerei schien so läppisch, wenn er sich mit den anderen Spinnern traf und sie so taten, als könnten sie zaubern, Menschen verfluchen und das Universum manipulieren. Lächerliche Männchen, die albern kostümiert in dunklen Stuben hockten und sich auch noch etwas darauf einbildeten. „Hermetischer Orden der Goldenen Dämmerung“ nannten sie sich und hatten sonst nichts zu tun, in ihren privilegierten, nutzlosen Leben. Firlefanz, billige Jahrmarktzauberei und Egozentrismus des verzogenen Patriachats war aus ihrem süffisant lächelnden Mund gekommen, als er von seinem affigen Kartenspiel erzählte, das angeblich die Zukunft voraussagte. Ihr Fehler, nicht zu ahnen, dass der eitle Gockel sich rächen wollte. Als aus vagem Wollen final ein sicheres Können wurde, ließ er sie verschwinden. Arthur hatte ihren Tod als tragisches Ertrinken ohne den Fund einer Leiche inszeniert. Sie lachte auf bei der bitteren Wahrheit, dass ihr Scharlatan-Bruder doch gewonnen hatte.
„Frederika, noch 5“ die heisere Stimme des Disponenten und ein lautes Klopfen an der klapprigen Garderobentüre rissen sie aus ihren Gedanken. Sie holte hastig das Kleid vom Ständer, rümpfte die Nase, weil es immer noch nicht in der Reinigung gewesen war und die roten Rosen auf der weißen Seidentunika inzwischen wie ein Komposthaufen rochen. Als sie drinsteckte, stank es nur noch halb so schlimm, während der Kamm grob durch ihre blonden Haare fuhr, um die Locken in Form zu bringen. Keine Ahnung, wie er es fertiggebracht hatte, aber hier war sie nun in der illustren Gesellschaft all der anderen Idioten, die sich mit ihm angelegt hatten. Zweimal am Tag ging es in die Karte, auf ihren Empress-Thron, die schwere Krone auf dem Kopf, Zepter in der Hand. Sie konnte ihn aus weiter Ferne lachen hören, während sie sich in Pose setzte und dem Leben, das keines mehr war, bittere Tränen hinterher weinte.
Doch eines Tages geschah das Unmögliche. Ihre Karte wurde gezogen, ihr Auftritt, sie war dran und was sie normalerweise als nichtssagendes Laientheater abspulte, verselbständigte sich. Bilder fluteten ihren Kopf, sie spürte die Zukunft der Menschheit und auch ihre eigene. Unendliche Hitze, die aus der Karte quoll. Gleißendes Licht strömte aus ihrer Dermis, während der Brustkorb platzte. Als die Wirklichkeit in jeden Winkel zerbarst, begrüßte sie lachend ihre Freiheit und wünschte Arthur Edward Waite zum Abschied einen Platz in seiner eigenen Hölle.
Lea Rothdach, angenehm.
Ich habe mich statt harter Drogen fürs Schreiben als Obsession entschieden, weil es die Lebenserwartung ungemein steigert. Um an eine regelmäßige Dosis schriftlichen Dopamins zu gelangen, betreibe und beschreibe ich einen Blog namens www.meinwortdrauf.blog und auch ein erster Roman ist in Arbeit. Meine Geschichte hier und heute dreht sich um Großmeister Arthur Edward Waite, Vater des Tarots und seine Schwester Frederika, denen ich ganz dreist eine Geschichte angedichtet habe. Tags darauf suchte mich eine schlimme Migräne heim – bin fest davon überzeugt, dass er das war. Fand mich wohl zu despektierlich.
Viel Spaß beim Lesen, ich hoffe doch beschwerdefrei.
The Emperor’s boots are made of leather so supple it feels like a kiss against our necks.
The Emperor’s scepter is made from gold so pure it leaves gilding on our swollen brows.
The Emperor’s lash is tipped with steel so sharp it carves our backs into the finest lace.
The Emperor’s shackles shine so bright they gleam like jewelry on our wrists and chime like bells on our ankles.
Ours is an empire of prosperity.
Our empire’s towers reach so high that the clouds have fled in envy.
Our empire’s carriages drive so fast that the deer have fled in fear.
Our empire’s lights shine so bright that the stars have fled into darkness.
Our empire’s wells have dug so deep that the water has fled into dust.
We are a people of power.
We built this empire with our sweat.
We built this empire on our hopes.
We built this empire with our hands.
We hold this empire together with our tears.
Our children will inherit it all.
Our children will hold our tall towers up with their shoulders.
Our children will drive our fast carriages till even the wind flees.
Our children will shine our bright lights till the sun shrinks away in shame.
Our children will wear soft boots like the Emperor’s, hold a gold scepter like the Emperor’s, wield a tipped lash like the Emperor’s, and dance with the Emperor’s bell shackles on their ankles.
The Emperor wills it so.
Sarah Read’s stories can be found in various places, including Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year volumes 10 and 12. Her collection, OUT OF WATER, is available from Trepidatio Publishing, as is her debut novel THE BONE WEAVER’S ORCHARD, both nominated for the Bram Stoker, This is Horror, and Ladies of Horror Fiction Awards. ORCHARD won the Stoker and the This Is Horror Award, and is available in Spanish as EL JARDIN DEL TALLADOR DE HUESOS, published by Dilatando Mentes, where it has been nominated for the Guillermo de Baskerville Award.
Three hundred million years ago, sedimentary rock clung atop turbulent upthrusts of magma, an earthbound intrusion, raised peaks heaven-bound. Before the fall and the linear movement of time, the Hierophant built his basilica from this primordial stone. Though his worshipers have followed other paths, that ancient mountain range endures—transformed by intrusive roots, shifting tectonic plates, and the Atlantic Ocean’s weathering wind. Time doesn’t bind Heaven or Her priest. The Hierophant’s stony voice remains in the soft echo that is Cornwall’s granite hills. God’s voice to human ears. Human laments carried heavenward.
And in a southeastern backwater of Cornwall, the Hierophant abides in the stone walls that make up Carwether Marsh’s Memory Café. Listening. Transmitting. An ancient conduit.
The café is the latest in a series of stone structures. It stands only meters from the River Fal, a waterway marked by tides and tree roots that rise twice daily, like unsettled bleached bones. In a region dotted with the remains of the Neolithic and Bronze Age, Celtic and Roman sites, the village of Carwether Marsh is one of the truly ancient places. It is here that God still speaks and the Hierophant understands.
Some residents, born and raised beneath the stone lintels of Carwether Marsh, recognize the village’s significance, though fewer with each new concrete foundation, each brick-and-mortar wall. “No judgement,” the unobservant declare, forgetting God and the Hierophant and all those ancient prayers.
Some days it feels like not one living believer remains. A mortal untruth.
Human belief in linear causation is a biological weakness, like cellular suicide and telomeric shortening. Such short, insignificant lives. The timespan of God’s conversation befuddles us, answers sometimes whispered eons before the questioner is even born. It takes an interpreter, a turn of the Hierophantic card—aimed heavenward—to lay out God’s words in a sequence that homo sapiens can understand.
A more human, comprehensible truth: the basilica’s fall changed nothing. Cornish granite, hundreds of millions of years old, still cradles the keys to heaven. And on a Sunday in April in the Memory Café of Carwether Marsh, the Hierophant releases God’s words into a chipped sugar bowl and small squares of cake, collects prayers from tepid liquid and pottery mugs. Questions from a millennia ago are finally heard. Responses are offered to laments not yet spoken. A momentary connection.
The human memory inescapably ephemeral: the living neurons, cells entangled, momentarily firing—electric—and then, inevitably dying, dead, gone. And yet the Hierophant endures, a stone key forever ready, offering a momentary opening into God’s domain.
Julie C. Day’s dark fantasy novella, The Rampant (Aqueduct Press, 2019), was a Lambda Literary Award ﬁnalist. She is also the author of the genre-bending collection Uncommon Miracles (PS Publishing, 2018) and editor-in-chief of the charity anthology Weird Dream Society (Reckoning Press, 2020). Julie has had numerous stories published in magazines and journals such as The Dark Magazine, Black Static, Podcastle, Interzone, and The Cincinnati Review. She’s currently at work on her mosaic novel Stories of Driesch (Vernacular Books). Julie lives in a small town in New England with her family and a menagerie of variously-sized animals.
It would hurt, but it had to be done. Another skype call with his parents had gone by, his brother had held his little niece into the camera, his father lifted a samosa as they were eating dinner. He waved back with a bag of crisps and his mother shed a tear. And again, he had not mastered the courage to mention her. For endless weeks in a row, he vowed to break the news of a girlfriend to them, and failed. And next week would not be any different, he could not even imagine the conversation.
Later that night, when she opened the door, he again felt his determination wither. There was another sense of home that hit him, her smell, the smell of her place, the dinner that was half prepared because they enjoyed finishing it together, experimenting with spices and feeding each other. Then discussing the movie they would watch. They would eat on her bed, and he would not leave this spot if there was not a class or tutorial scheduled in the morning.
She was about to settle down next to him but then got up to get the salt from the kitchen when he finally jumped to his feet. Sentences came out in quick succession. He said that all this dating had to stop. “It isn’t fair to you,” he said. And that he was surely going to marry a girl back home and that it was time to end this. That he could have dated anyone, just being curious.
She sat silently for a minute, her eyes in painful disbelief. Then she darted at him, pushed him out the door, her fury turned her face unrecognizable behind her tears. “And I thought you liked me!” she yelled through the closed door.
Out on the street, he started walking aimlessly, shocked by her tears.
You have done the right thing, he kept whispering to himself. He walked past his dorms and left the campus behind, the streets had no shops anymore and the distances between the lanterns grew bigger. And slowly, slowly, his breath calmed down. In a dark spot, he stopped and looked up into the night sky. A deep sense of peace moved from his chest into every pore of his body. Not because he had done the right thing. But because he knew, he would go back. And whatever came then, whatever mess would follow, it would be all right. Because a true love is a fixture of life, way above the human categories of right or wrong. It is like a new star in the night sky, it is simply there. You can turn your back and start walking, pretend it is a dark night. But it would never be true again.
And so, he turned around.
Ella Voss is a Munich-based author whose creative soul solely speaks English. Her writing is inspired by themes around women’s agency, family, and human empathy. In 2021, Ella published her first novel, Like a Fox to a Swallow, a family tale on overcoming grief and new beginnings, to be followed by a short story collection in 2022. When not behind her writing desk, Ella is found racing with her greyhound or cooking for her friends.
My carriage arrives. Not what I expected. No sparkle. No glitter. No ornamentation at all. No protection from the elements. It is remarkable in its plainness. And in the fact that there is nothing connecting it to the black and white horses pulling it.
With a forced grin I ask, “Are you taking me to the ball?”
The coachman, who is more a charioteer and not a man, looks down at me with sombre eyes. I bite back my next lines about being taken to meet my Prince Charming. In the silence I gaze at the fleshiness of her thighs, her stomach, her breasts, her arms. I want to sink into her. Not as a metaphor. But as a reality. To sink into her mass and be dissolved by the supremacy of her beauty. She grips a wand in her right hand. I imagine what she can do with it.
“I’ve been waiting a long time, but you are my Fairy Godmother, aren’t you?” I ask.
She speaks over my question with one of her own. Her voice is the moon in a midnight sky.
“Do you rush towards victory or defeat?”
“Neither. Either,” I reply.
“Do you wish to come with me?”
“I don’t know. Where will you take me?”
She turns away from me and stares silently forward. I stare at her.
Her skin is a darker shade than mine. Her curls tight against her scalp. Something, perhaps the regal way she holds her head, tells me she knows her ancestors in a way I never will. She can travel into the past and the future in the same moment. But she cannot stay still. Not for long. She won’t wait for me to make a decision. She will go when she wants to go.
My brain is all pulsing blood, nerves jolting with messages of pain and fear.
I long to throw off my tiara. Discard my wig. Tear off the constricting dress. I am dressed in the dream of someone who died decades ago, someone who would have looked at me with disdain and contempt.
“Where will you take me?” I ask again in a quieter voice. When what I want to ask is how do you become strong? how do you live in your own skin? how do you travel when you have no destination? how do you survive in this world which is ruled by people with pitying smiles and hateful eyes?
She doesn’t move, but the horses do. They start to walk. I know in the twisting of my gut, that soon they will be trotting, cantering, far away.
I jump forward. Clumsily. Grabbing her. Grabbing the wood. She doesn’t help me. But she doesn’t push me away. The skirt of my dress gets caught in the wheel. The expensive borrowed fabric rips away from me, is ground into the mud and left far behind.
The thundering of the horse hooves, my ruined gown, the silent woman next to me, this is my fairy tale.
Clarissa Pattern studied English language and literature at the University of Oxford and has lived in the Oxfordshire area ever since. She has been writing ever since she could hold crayons and scribble across the wallpaper. Aside from writing, she spends as much time with her kids as they’ll put up with, ignores almost all the housework, and has an ever increasing list of books she’s frantic to read. Her stories have been published in various anthologies over the years, and in August 2021, she released her first novel, a magical, historical YA called Airy Nothing.
cracks the jaws
of the lion
teeth of poppy and flame
- the sun eats their shadows -
tip the axis
the lioness opens her jaws
and swallows the sun.
Now in my case, I had suffered a stroke, which meant I had failed to “exert cause” over my body, which is to say, I had failed to accomplish what I’d set out to do, which was to “exert cause” over life and death. Because the blockage that had occurred in my brain had been caused by nothing more than my own blood vessels, the object of injury, which would have had to make contact with the injured part in order for a “contact assist” to occur, was, in this case, the injured part. You can’t force something to make contact with itself unless you divide it into pieces, at which point it is no longer the thing it was. Therefore Annie had found a substitute for my actual head, which was a picture of my head.
She got down on her knees and touched the picture to my head. She crawled away. She crawled forward and touched it to my head. She bit her lip in obvious agony. I knew why she was on her knees—once during a lecture I’d claimed “contact assists” worked best if performed on a gradient. With the last reserves left to me I howled, but my mouth would not open. I gagged. A terrible, mortal noise resounded from my face.
There was pounding on the door. Annie put her hands on the floor and shoved herself to her feet just as her husband, Pat, stuck his head in the trailer. She slid the picture of my head under her dress.
Pat said nothing. He just looked at me. His face was wide and white, his ears spiked little impish things. His nose and lips were equally sharp, as though Pat’s head were made of small blades. The more he stared at me, the more his head resembled a tool—a spade—rather than a living creature’s body part. His observation began to feel like a physical force, as though his head was shooting stones in my direction that bounced off the bed. And then I realized it wasn’t Pat’s face that was as lifeless as all that, but the thing Pat beheld, as if his expression had absorbed the inanimateness of the object under his consideration and reflected it back at it—men are mirrors, after all—and I knew then, even before Annie cried out and ran to me, that I was merely a set of shoulders and a head lapped in the infinite mineral waters of the non-living, and then, as I stopped being a man and became a revolting yet inevitable thing to be wary of and then swiftly dealt with, I experienced three final, bizarre desires: to be eaten by a creature who needed me and so return even on a molecular scale to the kingdom of the living, that the lizard only I knew was under the bed could live in the cavity of my skeleton, that the lizard would become pregnant.
Seyward Goodhand’s stories have been shortlisted for the Writers’ Trust/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize and a National Magazine Award, and longlisted for the CBC Short Story Prize. Her first book, Even That Wildest Hope, was a finalist for the Manitoba Book Awards’ Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction and the Eileen McTavish Sykes Award for Best First Book, and longlisted for the 2020 Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic.
She spins starlight and the sound of fresh snow on ages-old towering trees; the imprint of a primordial bird’s wings on sand that might once become a window; the taste of the last sliver of a lush island as the sea licks it bare. She spins as she has always done, nimble and quick, instinct taking over her limbs. One moment, it was ordinary fiber, silken and strong, and next the nornish thread of destiny, the thread leading through the labyrinth of life.
It glistens, gliding between her legs, and reflects a multitude of lights: the sparkle in the eye of a man waiting patiently for the dough to rise in what is to become his baking masterpiece; the glint of the grinning moon on a car’s windshield as it is crashing into a tree, to be trapped and twisted; the wet sheen on the skin of a woman about to fall in love, even as she knows her emotional needs will sap every last bit of strength from her lover; the glow of a candle in an empty house soon to be swapped for a smaller one after the children it has cocooned have flown out. All of it and more together, all one thread, indivisible, or it would fray and snap. One thread, and she spins it around and around, from the inside out, ever wider.
She might have wishes and desires of her own as she spins, juicy impacts and frantic twists of fate she’d like to feel, but she never thinks of them as she works, drawn only to form and structure, creating a wheel, an orb, a whole globe of glistening avenues and gluey tightropes, because everyone is entangled in fate, and everyone is destined to be sustenance.
Just for a moment, when the dew gleams on her thread like a princess’s necklace ready to wear, she spins fortunes larger than her web, fortunes in the billions. Then the light is gone and fate is threaded on a spindle in the hands of an experimental archeologist and on a cat’s cradle in a shady backyard and with a crochet hook clumsily taken up by a teenager to memorize his grandma.
She hangs on a thread now, her last, her own, waiting for the winds of fortune to toss her onto a well-lit windowsill.
Simone Heller lives on an island in the river Danube in Regensburg, Germany. She has been working as a literary translator for 14 years and given her voice to fabulous science fiction and fantasy authors. Her first steps in writing in English were taken in 2016, after workshopping with a group of international writers in Munich, and her award-winning short fiction has since then appeared in several Year’s Best volumes. She loves learning all kinds of things: words most of all, but also history, science, and everything about all the strange creatures of Earth. As a reader and a writer, she is frequently found exploring the borderlands between fantasy and science fiction. Find her online at missnavitgator.com
I was covered in blood when they finally caught up with me – warm blood. I had cast the knife into the bushes on the run but held the meat up to my heart like a new born baby. My two children were waiting for me. They deserved to feel the sweet taste of justice on their tongues.
I was sent south in an animal cart like a lamb to slaughter. The fetter wounded my wrists but the hopelessness cut deeper. My children had been placed in foster on the innermost farm in the valley. From there news travelled like a bird about the farmer's loose hand – as if his hand were a ghost that no one could tackle. But it was me they decided to place behind locked bars.
I stumbled over the threshold on my way to the prison yard and fell on my knees with the taste of iron in my mouth. Six months had passed in the dark chambers of the soul. I braced myself on the prison wall and stood up to meet the freezing wind – an old friend from the past that had come to visit. ``They will survive,`` he whispered and kissed me on my cheek.
The wind has always been on my side, cold but reliable. It had my back when I was on the run and my feet were about to give in. On that hungry afternoon when I sharpened my courage until the blade was ready – determined not to walk in my mother's footsteps. She screamed like the sea when my sister and I were taken from her weary hands.
I wrap my shawl tightly around me as the prison doors slam behind me. The stinking cell of justice will not be missed. My pride is well hidden within the few possesions I carry in my sack and my back is bent. But just they wait! The wind has started to blow – I will find my children. And next time, when anyone tries to stop me, my blade will be sharpened and ready.
Kristín Ragna Gunnarsdóttir is an Icelandic author, illustrator and curator. She studied graphic design and painting at the Icelandic College of Arts and Crafts. She then completed her BA studies in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Iceland, during which she was an exchange student at the University of Copenhagen for one semester. She finished her MA degree in Creative Writing at the University of Iceland 2016. Kristín Ragna is the author and illustrator of many children’s books. Her books have been nominated for the following literary prizes:
- The Icelandic Literature Prize, 2009.
- The Nordic Council Children and Young People’s Literature Prize, 2017.
- The Icelandic Women’s Literature Prize, 2017.
- In Other Words prize, 2018.
- The West Nordic Council’s Children and Youth Literature Prize, 2018
Kristín Ragna won the Icelandic Illustration Prize – Dimmalimm twice, in 2009 and 2012. Kristín has taught illustration and Creative Writing at the Reykjavík School of Visual Art, the Iceland University of the Arts, and the University of Iceland. She has held various creative workshops and has curated many interactive exhibitions
What did I see from up there? I am the loneliest man after Adam, apparently, but it wasn’t so tame, there was the weight of anticipation, the weight of all the scientific training, the weight of the entire world’s gaze. My failure meant that you look at the moon and see a dead man orbiting it for eternity, I could have ruined the moon for you, but I just thought of the other side. What if we did make it back?
I am the man who didn’t go to the moon, the man who almost did, the man whose name you can’t remember.
An astronaut goes all the way to the moon to not walk on it. His name falls out of our collective consciousness one tiny step at a time. How can someone be content being the forgotten one?
I think about it often:
The parts of us that want to be seen, to be understood, to be accepted.
A dancer focusing on the millimetre precision of her hand movement for years only to realize that most gazes end up on the girl who can let go on stage. The white swan lives within the eight-count; the black swan feels the music in her bones.
I slow danced with a girl at a garden party this summer, we get to the end of a song and only one of us falls in love. The depth of my love was my pride, now I flinch at my heart’s readiness to rename it.
I sat down every morning after to write this story, but it only came out in fragments.
Grief is a foreign language for those outside of it, but then, so is love.
My craft came from a place of not belonging, an identity built around being misunderstood. Fear glued me to the blank page, stay or the world will see through you. I tortured the prose out of me to buy a seat at the table. The stories were always funnier than me, they always had a beginning, a middle, and an end, exactly in that order. Now I walk into people and rooms that only see me whole. In this newfound sense of belonging, all the words have momentarily come home.
Today, right now, I am blissfully out of stories.
Sruthy Sasi is a writer and illustrator based in Munich. She enjoys writing short-form fiction and poetry in English and Malayalam.
when change hurts
cut thirteen flowers
and watch them
wither and die
carry the bodies
to the secret place
in the backyard
and bury them
with the others
release my soul
renew my powers
let go of your pain
and walk away
Karen Bovenmyer earned an MFA in Creative Writing: Popular Fiction from the University of Southern Maine. She teaches and mentors students at Iowa State University and Western Technical College. She serves as the Assistant Editor of the Pseuodopod Horror Podcast Magazine. She is the 2016 recipient of the Horror Writers Association Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Scholarship. Her poems, short stories and novellas appear in more than 40 publications and her first novel, SWIFT FOR THE SUN, debuted from Dreamspinner Press in 2017.
Exactly 12 hours after I, Aspiri 2.0, was born, 670 people in This Side Of The World Where Everything Was Easy, had to get scalp transplants at Emergency Care for turning up their head-warmers too high. Manufacturers scrambled to warn consumers that on no account should devices meant to keep the head from freezing be used to generate a halo. Within twenty-four hours, World Water Watchers sounded the Orange Alert. 539 mega liters of water had disappeared. People were trying to pour water in a slant, some recklessly posting videos of the act on the Darknet, risking detection by the WaWa surveillance teams and lifelong incarceration. According to one expert on WNN, the key to successful water-pouring at such a steep angle was to use the particular gold goblets that I had, engineered to confine water in any trajectory. But those who had the means, naturally preferred to flaunt their wooden cups instead, purchased from the black market at a price that would be considered obscene on the Other Side Of The World.
There, Where Nothing Was Easy, people licked their parched lips on seeing the abundant water at my feet, while they waited in line with their dented gold buckets for a water truck. Innumerable people went missing, many succumbing to thirst, as they scoured all the lands for birds. Enough people on This Side were willing to pay a fortune in water for wings like mine.
Even more people were willing to pay exorbitantly for exact copies of the robe that I was wearing. Especially popular were those with a triangular Tracker embedded on a white Emosensor, embellishments that had been loudly condemned by the Humaners last season as “too dehumanizing.” The canceled designers had gone bankrupt. Now, there were only acrimonious debates about whether the colour of the fabric was silvery gray, pearl gray or white. People could not decide, I shimmered too much, some said. Others claimed I was too translucent. As it turned out, the most successful designers were those that made the dress in every possible shade of white and gray, thus forcing customers to buy all of them, each with its own Tracker and Emosensor.
Amidst all this madness, one child pointed out in a rather plaintive voice, “But she doesn't even look happy!” But nobody heard, focused as they were on their guided aspirations. I tried to smile at the child, so she would not be traumatized at being so ignored, only to realize that the SMILE IF subroutine was missing from my code. So what was a virtual being like me to do? With my grim face, I kept staring at the water that I poured so perfectly, wondering why nobody marveled at the spectacular flowers blooming in spite of the blazing sun, or the snow-covered mountains behind, or the undulating green, carpeting the land. Then I noticed a child, busy drawing a landscape exactly like mine. One thing was missing. I, Aspiri 2.0.
In another life, Moushumi Sen Sarma was a scientist with a Ph.D. in animal behavior, studying the neural basis of honeybee communication. Now, through her fiction and non-fiction, she studies the nature of memory and emotions. Her first novel, coming next year, explores the role our taste buds play in shaping our experiences and personality. Her nomadic upbringing in India and subsequent life as an expat scientist in America and writer-mother-actor in Germany, inspire her stories.
She’s standing at the bar in a dress of gleaming amber
Cool as thirst, smooth as enticement,
She slides into my mouth and I drown with her name on my lips.
Speak of the Devil and Hell is not far behind.
He’s lying on the couch in a suit of white and silver
Sharp as lust, hot as obsession,
He spends himself in me; I black out with his name on my lips.
Speak of the Devil and Hell is not far behind.
They’re on a street corner wearing a mask of otherness,
Scared as rage, small as challenge,
They’re frail under my hands; I squeeze tight with their name on my lips.
See the Devil wink as Hell comes to take me home.
Sonia Focke is an author and Egyptologist who spent most of her childhood living in her head. She still does, but now she shares those stories with others. She participated in Arcana2020 and has published a Galaxy Quest meets Lower Decks sci-fi romp in The Were-Traveler’s “Women Destroy [Retro-] Sci-Fi” issue; a dragon sports radio show in WolfsingerPress’s anthology “Crunchy With Ketchup” and a sapphic Beauty and the Beast retelling (with turtles!) in the upcoming anthology “Mirror Mirror” from Fractured Mirror Publishing, due out in December 2021. Other accomplishments include defending a hillfort from one (1) very enthusiastic Viking, drawing a 3,000-year-old stonemason’s marking, and designing a tattoo. She lives in Munich with a blacksmith and two padawans.
Maidens in Towers light the way, beacons
a reckoning for those about to plunge
into Chaos, Calamity, and Ruin.
We’re the daughters imprisoned to preserve
power over women, the sacred fruit
a prophecy seeded by divine loins.
We are the oracles speaking in tongues.
We are the sinners, the saviors, the saints.
Together, we predict Catastrophe.
And when we call, lightning strikes. Fires blaze.
The Deception unveiled, tyrants topple
and Adversity reigns. A broken Crown.
Eve’s daughters Disgraced, we fall from favor,
cast into a garden littered with swords,
embers still burning—a Liberation.
Carina Bissett is a writer, poet, and educator working primarily in the fields of dark fiction and fabulism. Her short fiction and poetry have been published in multiple journals and anthologies including Upon a Twice Time, Bitter Distillations: An Anthology of Poisonous Tales, Arterial Bloom, Gorgon: Stories of Emergence, Hath No Fury, and the HWA Poetry Showcase Vol. V, VI, and VIII. She is also the co-editor of Shadow Atlas: Dark Landscapes of the Americas.
Cali’s heart beat even though it was empty.
This sojourn on the mountain had promised rejuvenation. Perhaps the green of the trees would free her, the blue of the skies save her. Instead, an illimitable void within swallowed hope and joy, starving her of fulfilment.
This would be her last night here. What was the point of staying? Her soul’s impenetrable darkness blighted the beauty of this place.
She’d climbed to the peak as the sun set, bathing in its amber glow, yet absorbing nothing of its gift. Now she stretched out on the ground, the cool of the earth seeping into her bones. The midnight sky arched over her, its celestial spheres dancing a stately promenade, moving toward the dawn.
One star shone more brightly than the others. Cali basked in its twinkling, mesmerised by the ebb and flow of its luminosity. It reminded her of a lighthouse beacon, or morse code. She imagined it reaching out to her, another failed attempt to fill her emptiness.
The light grew brighter until it outshone all other stars and challenged the Moon. In two blinks, the battle was over; lunar glow diminished before the awful beauty of the Star.
Gossamer threads imbued with energy wrapped themselves around Cali’s shoulders. At her feet flowed a river, clear as glass, whispering tales of days gone by and years to come. It called to her, a song she somehow remembered, but from when or where, she did not recall.
Slowly, she rose, her feet insisting she follow her heart’s unsaid wish. At the river’s edge, she crouched. With one hand fixed to the earth, she allowed her other hand to drift in the water’s flow. She knew this river. It had sung to her Celtic ancestors, mixed into their blood, fired imaginations, birthed songs and stories. Now it sang for her.
But why her? She was no-one with nothing to offer.
The river tugged at her hand. Though she pulled back, the water rose to grasp her wrist. Fearing she’d fall into its depths, she plunged her fingers into the earth.
The river pulled harder. She sat on the ground and dug in her heels.
Still the river insisted, rising to engulf her elbow, shoulder, pulling her down until her head rested on its surface.
Music and words drenched her senses, reviving forgotten dreams, reawakening a part of her she thought she’d lost, flooding her emptiness with a wellspring of creation. Then she was drowning, infused with bliss, succumbing to water and light.
When she awoke, the Star occupied her heart, now exquisitely vulnerable and pure. And circling her wrist, the one captured by the river, lay seven star-shaped marks.
Karen’s passion for writing began as a child when she wrote soap operas for her dolls to perform. These days, it’s her science background that informs her storytelling, a fusion of magic realism, science fiction, horror, and fantasy. She’s published one novel, Fortitude, and several shorter works. She lives in Sydney, Australia.
Carved from moonlight, the wolves flinched as their paws touched the mud of earth for the first time. Their fur glittered and glistened, tempting spiders to leave the hollow thorn tree where they knotted together their homes. One by one they wove nests upon the backs of the wolves, cradling their egg sacks upon the moon dust skin.
With silk strong as silence, the spiders lifted the wolves into the hollow thorn tree. Between the branches, the egg sacks hatched and the spiders spun across the wolves' pelts with precision. Working together, they shaped tatting lace and ribbon pass. Chantily and smocked. Trapping dew upon their many legs, the spiders pierced the globes of water to cover the wolves' faces in beaded lace, and once the insects were finished, the wolves were quietened in their silk cocoons.
Above, the moon looked on baleful, watching with chiselled eyes as its offspring were transformed beneath nets and knots.
For thirty hours and thirty days and thirty months, the wolves were hidden from view, and when the seasons changed for the final time, the rain rotted away the now yellowed lace.
From within, the wolves emerged, not as the howls and teeth and pelts once encased, but as moons of their own. Freed from their silken tethers they rose through the air, taking with them enough soil and enough spiders to start new worlds of their own, far away in distant skies.
Steve Toase was born in North Yorkshire, England, and now lives in Munich, Germany. He writes regularly for Fortean Times and Folklore Thursday. His fiction has appeared in Nightmare Magazine, Shadows & Tall Trees 8, Analog – Science Fiction and Fact, Three Lobed Burning Eye, Shimmer, and Lackington’s, amongst others. Three of his stories have been reprinted in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year series.
His debut short story collection ‘To Drown in Dark Water’ is now out from Undertow Publications (link).
He also likes old motorbikes and vintage cocktails.
There is a sun inside me
rising and setting
on the shores of my life
My body an earth
turning and shifting
The moon of my thoughts
makes oceans move
I count the stars like my blessings
Once in a while, black holes appear
spitting me out a changed woman.
Some nights are darker than others
but the sun inside me
Sabine Magnet is a poet, writer, and journalist. She is the author of two poetry collections, a children’s book, a catzine, and a non-fiction book. Her work has been featured in various magazines, anthologies, and other publications, as well as in art exhibitions. She is founder of the Indie press Magnet Verlag and co-founder of the art collective DIE VILLA. In 2017, she launched her project POETRY TO GO, a modern rendition of the ancient poet-for-hire tradition where she writes impromptu poems on her typewriter for strangers. This concept is the foundation for her art performances and installations that have been shown at exhibitions and art events. Sabine lives in Munich and London.
I ordered a cappuccino. She ordered Vanilla Milkshake Venti. In winter? I asked. She said yes. She needed it.
We sat at the table and she started to drink her Milkshake long and hard. Half of it was gone in a few seconds. Her eyes were wide open. She shook her head and made a meaningless high-pitched voice.
Like a drug addict who just had their fix.
Like a runner who just got their runner’s high.
“Why did you do that?” I asked
“Do you know what causes brain freeze?”
“When something cold touches the roof of your mouth, it cools your sinuses and makes your blood vessels shrink. Then your sinuses try to warm themselves, which causes pain in your nerves.”
She gulped. Then continued.
“And if you have brain freeze long enough, you will remember this forever.”
“This,” she pointed at herself, “don’t you want to remember this forever?”
I paused for a moment.
“Yes, of course,” I said.
She handed over the big cup. I took it from her hand.
“All of it, at once,” she commanded.
I put the straw in my mouth, glanced at her as if I were asking her permission. She nodded, held my hand, and gave it a small push towards my mouth.
Ice particles flew through, hitting my tongue and then the roof of my mouth. Flowing like a river during the rainy season. I tasted the sweetness of cold vanilla. She squeezed my hand and told me to keep going. The whole place suddenly smelled like the night when my mother brought me a hot chocolate, read me a bedtime story, and kissed me goodnight.
And just like injecting heroin directly into the bloodstream, when it hits you, it never holds back. My mind was clear and wide open. I traveled to a very strange place where the light was so bright and everything was so blurry.
I’m right here, with her.
“Look, mom!” I shouted, “No hands!”
She didn’t turn.
“Mom look!” I shouted again
I lost my balance and touched the handle, turned my bike around, set straight, and peddled forward. Once I gained enough speed, I lifted both of my hands in the air again.
Still, she didn’t turn. Her black hair played along with the slow wind. The summer breeze sounded like someone was blowing quietly into a trumpet's mouthpiece. Her hair fluttered and lifted showing a part of a faded rose tattoo on her neck.
“Mom!” I shouted, as loud as a three-year-old can. “No hands!”
I then fell to the ground. My elbow hit the concrete floor. The pain went through my whole body. She glanced at me for a few seconds with the corner of her eyes and then walked away.
Years later, I met my sister at her son’s birthday party. I mentioned the time when mom abandoned me at the park.
“What are you talking about? You don’t remember?” She said, “That was not mom. Mom died long before you even knew how to walk.”
That’s when I remember it all.
Pung Worathiti Manosroi is an award-winning Thai writer. He won the Young Thai Artist Award (First Prize) for his debut novel Good Morning, Sunshine when he was 24. He co-wrote the screenplay for the Thai full-featured film Last Summer, which received rave critics reviews and reached the top 10 Thailand Box Office. His short story Cliff has been adapted for a screenplay and theatre. Pung lives in Munich, Germany, where he is building his second company, Betterfront Technologies.
You becomes I when you surrender, love becomes possible.
The limbs of that little girl, too tall, too shy, too skinny,
Never exactly what the world expected
Grew into this possibility that you now call existence.
As walking the earth becomes tomorrow,
As remembering life and family becomes you.
The hawk lands in hunger and the forest remains standing.
Look at that cliff, the trees growing around it,
Grabbing it with all their power, their roots in full expansion!
Look at yourself, there is a mirror everywhere!
The entire world echoes in heartbeats: I, I, I, here, alive.
Diana Radovan PhD ELS is a Romanian-born multilingual writer living in the village of Lenggries, nested in the Bavarian Alps in Germany. Her hybrid lyrical essay On the Way was nominated for the Best of the Net award. Her poem if you want to know me won second place in the first international Calgary Poetry Contest; it was first published by Wax Poetry and Art and subsequently included in world’s best poems, vol. 1. Her poems have also appeared in Wildroof Journal, Feed, Headline Poetry and Press, Poetry Breakfast, Dog-Ear, Evadarea din sine, and elsewhere. Her kaleidoscopic memoir Our Voices, integrating poetry, fairy-tales, myths, imagery, and personal narrative, is forthcoming in the UK in early 2022.