because I would not dance for Death—he kindly danced for me
and showed me a lesson in graceful—humility
he slowly moved—a deathly pace
serenaded by—the deathly shapes
that hovered over and twirled along
and I stood there... I stood there...
mouth agape, admiring, with composure and grace
that is until—he reached for me, for me alone,
in this phantom ball, in this phantom hall,
beyond the veil of—tranquility
and then—as if by spell, I moved in... I moved in...
and grabbed his hand and took the lead and in the lead—we danced!
oh, how we danced!
swaying and spinning through the air—in perfect harmony
and though our time was brief—all too brief
I found a comfort here
here, in his embrace, his deathly embrace,
relieved by his exalted—civility
because our little dance
it taught me death, it taught me life
within the limits of—possibility
for no matter the gown, no matter the ball,
this little dance unites all
and so I dance here…. yes, I dance here... with bated breath...
for we are all equal unto Death
requiescat in pace
J.D. Harlock is a Lebanese writer based in Beirut.
His short stories have been featured in The Deadlands, Sciencefictionary, Defenestration, Wyldblood Press, and the Decoded Pride Anthology, his poetry has been featured in Penumbric, Future Fire, Mobius and Black Cat Magazine, and his articles/reviews have been featured NewMyths.com, Mermaids Monthly, Interstellar Flight Press, and on the SFWA Blog.
You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @JD_Harlock.
The Black Forest was a dark wood with an even darker history, but winter was approaching, and the larder was bare. The boy packed his crossbow and quiver and as much water as he could carry, then set out just after dawn. Frost festooned the leafless trees, and the ground crunched noisily beneath the well-worn leather of his boots as he traipsed across the countryside, leaving behind the only home he’d ever known.
Plague had swept across the land just the season before, killing his parents and all but the healthiest citizens of the village atop the hill. Marching Flagellants murdered the rest.
He spied the acrid smoke from the funeral pyres as he stood outside the rundown manor and watched the band of maniacal zealots march past on the road to Ravensburg. He remembered their banners hanging limp in the autumn morn, 100 men whipping bloody stripes across the pale flesh of their backs as they chanted prayers for salvation.
His family had been one of means, but coin mattered little in a realm populated by nothing but traveling monks and wandering ghosts. Now that he was alone, the four walls which held him were nothing but shelter from the wind. His needs were few. He only hoped to find and kill a boar for enough meat to last until spring. He’d set several traps in the fields, but they remained as empty as his belly. He knew if he didn’t leave for the forest soon, he wouldn’t have the energy to do so. His father had told tales around the fireplace of hunters who had entered the Black Forest never to return—victims of the wolf packs who called the forest home. This, the year of our Lord 1350, was meant to be the year they finally braved the deep woods to face the wolves and kill a boar together, father and son. Now he would have to face the challenge alone.
He was tall for 15, lanky but strong. Even clad in thick leathers and furs to protect him from the bitter cold, he looked more like a wraith than a man. The moment he set foot in the wood, he became just one more shadow amongst the skeletal trees in an indistinct world of gray.
It was late afternoon, his crossbow still untested when he first heard the monsters howl. They were distant but unmistakable. Long, lonely cries pierced the forest, silencing all other creatures as each held its breath, waiting for what might come next. Seconds ticked away, then one by one, the birds began to chirp, and the squirrels began to scamper once more. The boy was too deep into the wood to turn back empty-handed. He readied his crossbow and again took up his trek for winter sustenance.
The sun began to set, its rays gold and red as they touched the top of the barren trees. His gray surroundings became an orange haze, like a warning fire gone unheeded. When he first saw her, she was in the form of a naked woman: wild eyed, wild maned, and draped atop a tree branch. Too stunned to speak, he stood and stared, his crossbow forgotten at his side until she smiled.
“You must be freezing,” he managed to say. He pulled off the topmost of his furs. “Here, put this on.”
Her smile grew wider, revealing a set of gleaming white teeth. She shook her head and then leapt to the ground gracefully, her bare feet hardly making a sound when she landed. She glanced down at the boy’s weapon, then took off at full speed, racing into the trees as if to escape him. He gave chase without a thought, desperate to know more about this strange woman, determined to save her from the predators he knew must be near.
She was fast, and he quickly grew winded, but he managed to keep her in sight as she dashed ahead. As the last of the day’s light glittered on the frost-laden trees, she finally stopped in a small clearing and waited for him to catch up. He approached warily, careful not to frighten her away. When he stood before her, she stepped close and, without a word, lightly planted a kiss upon his numb lips.
He shivered as he stood in place, unsure what to do next. She took a step backward and directed her deep brown gaze toward the sky. She howled as the last of the day’s light disappeared, and the full moon revealed itself in the darkness above.
It was the howl of the wolves, and goosebumps arose on the boy’s skin as other beasts hidden in the wood joined her cry. They stepped into the clearing, one after another, a dozen winter wolves with white-gray coats and hungry eyes. As he stood frozen in place, the boy watched the woman transform, her beautiful face and body morph from woman to wolf in a matter of seconds. He tried to raise his crossbow, but his muscles failed him. Instead, he dropped to his knees, and like the Flagellants who had heralded the end of the world, he begged for salvation.
She delivered it quickly. She sank her teeth into his throat, and he felt the cold seep into his bones. She drank his blood as her pack watched in silence. Everything went dark. The night swallowed him whole. He was sure he would be reunited with his parents in the afterlife. But it was not to be. He awoke the next morning curled next to his new mother in a snow-dusted den, comfortable and warm despite his lack of clothes. She stroked his hair and smiled, gifting him with a look of utter devotion. She had tasted his heart, and it was pure. He was one of them. He had entered the forest a child of man. He was one of the moon’s children now.
Matt Handle lives in Atlanta, Georgia where he juggles the reality of being a husband, father, and software developer with the imaginary characters and worlds that constantly vie for his attention. His short stories can be found around the web including at Dark Recesses Press, Daily Science Fiction, Verbicide, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Fabula Argentea.
by Stephanie M. Wytovich
In the past decade or so, speculative poetry has presented itself in the marketplace as an equal and valid contender in the field, thereby solidifying its place in the world of publishing, both large and small. Readers now not only enjoy it in magazines and individual collections, but also in anthologies, craft books, and in nonfiction articles exploring its value, voice, and contribution to science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Two great examples of this are the recently relaunched Weird Tales and the 2021 Halloween issue of Southwest Review edited by Andy Davidson.
When I started out as a fledgling poet, I turned first to The Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association (SFPA), and all these years later, I remain a member in this community that continues to celebrate poetry in all its different forms. When I first heard about the SFPA, I quickly researched their website, joined their Facebook group, and signed up for my yearly membership. As someone new to speculative poetry—not to mention someone who didn’t even know that speculative poetry was an avenue to pursue at the time—I devoured the listing of current markets they had and still have on their website, careful to make note of which magazines spoke to me and the work I was doing. I began submitting to their own magazine, Star*Line, and then discovered the themed work they did with Eye to the Telescope.
Later on, I learned about the Rhysling Award, the Dwarf Stars, and the Eglin Award and was fortunate to have some of my work published in subsequent anthologies while my book Mourning Jewelry placed third in the Elgins in 2015. I bring this up because the opportunity to read for these awards and get to know and network with fellow poets was not only inspiring but a kind of professional development in and of itself. I had never formally studied poetry, but I learned and continue to learn so much from this group and it’s provided me editorial opportunities, such as with Issue 17 of Eye to the Telescope, promotional outlets, and camaraderie in a career that is not only isolating but quite lonely at times.
Similar to the SFPA, my involvement with the Horror Writer’s Association (HWA) has proven invaluable to my life blood as a poet. From the Bram Stoker Awards to the HWA Poetry Showcase to the HWA Poetry Blog and then the Dark Poetry Scholarship, the HWA has worked hard to include, promote, and educate writers about how horror poetry can supplement their writing career and lead to a road of publication and higher learning. Similar to the SFPA, HWA members have countless opportunities to publicize their work and/or events, contribute to a variety of initiatives, and teach/attend continuing education workshops. Furthermore, when I attend Stokercon, there are always panels that discuss the state of speculative poetry, or that talk about the intersection of horror, writing, and mental health, and whether I am listening in the audience or contributing to the discussion, the conversation around poetry is always present and well-attended, proving that the form is not dead, but rather very much alive.
If you’re interested in getting more involved in the speculative poetry community, I highly recommend checking out the organizations above, volunteering where you can, and continuing to submit your work frequently. Please note that there are also mentorship opportunities, board positions, jury seats, and editorial work to be sought out, so there are lots of ways to contribute to the market, the genre, and get more involved in the work that’s being done. Afterall, if we want to continue to see poetry flooding the markets, we need to nourish the communities that support it while also educating and promoting each other’s work.
Stephanie M. Wytovich is an American poet, novelist, and essayist. Her work has been showcased in numerous magazines and anthologies such as Weird Tales, Nightmare Magazine, Southwest Review, Year's Best Hardcore Horror: Volume 2, The Best Horror of the Year: Volume 8, as well as many others.
Wytovich is the Poetry Editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press, an adjunct at Western Connecticut State University, Southern New Hampshire University, and Point Park University, and a mentor with Crystal Lake Publishing. She is a recipient of the Elizabeth Matchett Stover Memorial Award, the 2021 Ladies of Horror Fiction Writers Grant, and has received the Rocky Wood Memorial Scholarship for non-fiction writing.
Wytovich is a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, an active member of the Horror Writers Association, and a graduate of Seton Hill University’s MFA program for Writing Popular Fiction. Her Bram Stoker Award-winning poetry collection, Brothel, earned a home with Raw Dog Screaming Press alongside Hysteria: A Collection of Madness, Mourning Jewelry, An Exorcism of Angels, Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare, and most recently, The Apocalyptic Mannequin. Her debut novel, The Eighth, is published with Dark Regions Press.
Follow Wytovich on her blog at http://stephaniewytovich.blogspot.com/ and on Twitter and Instagram @SWytovich and @thehauntedbookshelf. You can also find her essays and nonfiction on LitReactor.