Even now, with her bones thinning more every day and her memories leaking out the base of her skull, Lucille’s hands dance. She’s playing along with the music she hears, music that gifted her a career as a virtuoso violinist decades ago when women hardly ever did such things. It’s louder out here in the oak woodland behind her home.
Her hands falter on her imagined Stradivarius as she forgets again. How did she get outside? She doesn’t remember coming outside. Her cotton nightgown is too thin for the night air, and her diaper feels heavy and wet against her skin. Why is she wearing a diaper? And why do her joints ache? She’s a young woman in her early twenties.
She looks at her fingers and is surprised by the crepe-paper skin, the joints thick with arthritis, and the nails yellowed and too long. Panic begins to well up in her. Her heart beatbeat beatbeats in her chest, like her aortic valve might rupture at any moment and bleed out into her chest.
What has happened to her body? Has she been cursed by the faeries her mother used to warn her about? She used to dream about meeting real faeries, wondering what magical gifts they might give her. Is that why she’s out in the woods? Is she here to beg for a gift? For mercy?
The music grows louder, a haunting and driving dance. Almost like a Chopin waltz but with a jazz undercurrent, reminiscent of Gershwin or Cole Porter. She lifts her hands to play along on a violin that isn’t there, the way she always does when one of these compositions pop into her head. She’ll play along to develop muscle memory and write it down when she gets home, and then she’ll release a new vinyl, and it’ll sell spectacularly, and won’t she be adored? She walks as she plays, following the melody deeper into the trees, crushing common violets and bloodroot underfoot.
She trips on her nightgown, forgetting the music for a moment. She looks around herself, confused and cold. How did she get outside? She doesn’t remember coming outside. The music gets louder. She must remember this composition! She lifts her hands and plays. She follows the music deep into the woodlands.
Sharp branches catch her papyrus skin as she walks, and it tears into delicate tatters. Her blood flows too thinly from these wounds, thanks to the aspirin she takes to reduce the stress on her heart. When she stumbles, her fragile veins break, and bruises bloom across her silken flesh. She plays on. It sounds like there are lyrics.
Strange lyrics, these. Lyrics lacking verse or chorus, lyrics she forgets as soon as she hears them. They are like talking with an old friend. She hardly even pays attention. She already knows what they’re going to say.
An eye for an eye
A tooth for a tooth
A gift for a gift
A noose for a noose
A deal for a dream
A world for a wife
A dance for a song
An end for a life
The moonlight grows stronger. Lucille’s hands grow more certain. Her fingers dance in time with the bodhran drum beat, the goat hide’s oily surface thrumming a driving pulse. She approaches the clearing she’s been returning to all along but can’t quite seem to remember visiting before, and there’s nothing inside other than clover and deep green grass and a ring of tawny mushrooms on the outskirts.
She steps over the mushroom border, and she can see them.
The faeries are tall and sinewy as they dance. They fly, though they don’t have wings. Rather, as their feet strike the soil in time with the bodhran, they lift and float in concentric circles, clasping hands with one another and weaving under and over and in between and outside arms. A handsome fae with knifelike cheekbones, jawbones, and collarbones spins off to invite Lucille to the dance.
She steps backwards, finding an invisible, impenetrable wall has appeared just behind the mushroom ring. The handsome fae laughs. “Come now, human,” they chide with a voice that rings like bluebells, “You made your deal, a dance for a song. The time is nigh.”
“No,” she refuses, and scrabbles at the wall behind her back with her feeble fingernails. They would dance her until she died; that’s what her mother always said.
“No?” the handsome fae stares at her for a moment. Their pupils slowly expand until the entirety of their eyeballs are a yawning abyss. They pull back their lips, flashing mandible teeth that part in six directions to reveal a straw-like maw designed to suck life from mortals.
“I don’t remember making any deal,” she cries out in desperation.
“You don’t remember?” the fae’s pupils shrink back to normal size, and the mandibles and lips close, and they are handsome again. “Listen. Do you remember the song?”
She listens. The music is a waltz, ethereal and rich. She raises her hands to mime playing along on her violin, so she’ll remember it later. How did she get outside?
The handsome fae snaps their fingers, and a violin made of frost and gold leaf materializes in her grip. She plays perfectly, a virtuoso, as was the deal. She dances as she plays, enjoying the rhythm and the company of the other dancers. Even once she grows weary, she dances. Even once her brittle bones snap (first the tibia, then the patella, then the femur, and up, and up), she dances. It’s only when her heart beatbeat beatbeat beatbeats so hard that it bursts, a great wine stain bruise leaking across her chest, that she falls. The faeries close in with clicking mandible mouths to suck the spirit from her corpse.
When they rise, her body has already decomposed. The mushroom ring has spread a little further.
Grace Daly (she/her) is an author with multiple invisible chronic illnesses. In her writing, she often explores the experience of living with disability through horror, romance, and low fantasy. Her work can be found in anthologies by Ghost Orchid Press and Sliced Up Press as well as in JMWW Journal and MIDLVLMAG. She lives near Chicago, Illinois and spends most of her time with her dog, who is a very good boy. She can be found at www.GraceDalyAuthor.com, or @GraceDalyAuthor for Twitter and Instagram.
There’s a little ghost that swings under a tree.
In my backyard, every night when the sun goes down.
I put that tire swing up for my kids.
When they outgrew it, I left it to remember,
Their youth and those days that I’ll never get back.
On a night when I couldn’t fall asleep
The creak and the groan of old rope called me to my window.
I pushed aside the curtain, a flutter of material hitching my breath.
A little ghost was swinging under my tree.
A little child pumping its legs and smiling with glee.
I wanted to go down and ask who they were.
I wanted to go sit and watch them awhile.
Instead, I remained and offered a wave,
The little ghost saw and offered one back.
They’ve come to swing under my tree for years,
As long as I’m alive I’ll leave that swing there.
For there’s a little ghost who once died, their life over too soon,
If my swing can bring them joy, then that’s what I’ll do.
A 2X Splatterpunk-Nominated Author, Steve Stred lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, with his
wife, son and their staffy, Cocoa.
His work has been described as haunting, bleak and is frequently set in the woods near where he grew up. He’s been fortunate to appear in numerous anthologies with some truly amazing
He is an Active Member of the HWA.
Follow Steve below:
Tik Tok: @stevestredauthor
Universal Book Link: author.to/stevestred
The final three miles of the ride,
that part when you drop down into the Cliff Creek drainage,
is mostly alpine meadows.
In early summer the grasses wave and the birds sing
except for one stretch where the forest has taken over, pine and fir from creek bottom to cliffside.
When you come to it you know you’re finally getting close to camp and it’s where
in late summer the evergreens offer cool dark respite from the sun and the heat and the dust
but it’s late fall now and late fall here in the high country might as well be middle of winter in the lowlands.
Trouble with the pack string has me running behind
past sundown and still facing an hour on the trail
thank god for the full moon on the crusty snow--
the world is drained of color, all blacks and whites and greys in-between--
but it’s enough that I can keep an eye on the string behind me and watch that the packs are riding true.
We hit that stretch of pines, though, and everything is different;
the trees eat all the moonlight, drink all the sound and swallow us up.
I’ve traveled this path more times than I can count, I’d thought it a familiar friend
but now I’m desperate to be done with it, to be gone from here.
The darkness has weight and mass and form from which I might never emerge.
Dry mouth and pounding heart.
Reins slack in my hands, I leave it to my saddlehorse to lead us onward
he plods, unconcerned, no thoughts beyond the feed bucket waiting at the end of the trek.
When he and the rest of the string have been unsaddled and fed
And I’m in the cook tent at the stove
warm and dry and tired
I laugh at myself to be so shook at a little bit of darkness.
There was never anything going to reach out at me from the shadows
there was nothing in the forest or the fields turning its attention to my passage.
Years away and miles later, I think I understand why my thoughts return to that night.
I think I’ve come to realize that a country breeze can seem a loving caress,
a storm may appear to be all anger and fury,
but to the wind, to the trees, the rocks, the wilds, it’s really none of it to do with me;
we flatter ourselves that nature notices us but it’s all playacting
on someone’s part.
Plants grow and waters flow;
where the sunbeams and moonbeams fall, there is light and where they don’t, there is not.
With me or without.
That night, I glimpsed the indifference that is the truth of the wilderness.
RK Rugg is a non-Native native of the American West, a Jewish cowboy who spent most of his life wrangling both horses and words in the Montana Rockies and the Great Basin of Nevada. He currently lives in New England where he teaches middle-school writing by day and writes genre fiction, nonfiction and poetry by night. His work has appeared in Utopia, Illumen and Asimov's, among others, and he regularly presents at academic conferences on the topic of identity in speculative fiction. He can be found online at www.raymondkrugg.com.
No flowers grow there, just glass eyes
Glaring out of the dirt
The tops of their porcelain heads peeking
Mouths full of mud
Limbs woven with weeds
What secrets planted there?
Can be inflicted
On ones so small and still?
No little hearts to stop.
For rocks and stones
Spilled like milk
Gone sour in a swollen breast
The dog has defecated here
The headstones have been disturbed
The sacred ground made profane.
Nothing will grow.
Then nine months
Then nine months
Ripped from the earth
Torn out and cast aside.
Whose secrets do you, dear ones,
Melissa Pleckham is a Los Angeles-based writer, actor, and musician. Her work has been featured in or is forthcoming from Rooster Republic Press, Flame Tree Fiction, Luna Luna, Mind's Eye Publications' The Vampiricon, Head Shot Press’ Bang! An Anthology of Noir Fiction, and more. She is a member of the Horror Writers Association. She also plays bass and sings for the garage-goth duo Black Lullabies. Find her online at melissapleckham.com or on social media at @mpleckham.
You will linger, he told her,
In murksome memories made manifest
Through the guttering glow of tallow candles
And the mold-tinged stagnant bathwater.
You will howl from the other side
Your face pressed into the superviscous Veil
Your ectoplasmic essence seeping
Through pinprick perforations of bobbin lace.
Your return, an inevitability for those left behind
Who will denude every gilt-edged mirror
And, with the slow reluctance of death-row prisoners,
Lower the temperature to greet you.
You will sit at the kitchen table, he told her,
Facing the unctuous contrition of your family
And dance your slow-solidifying fingers
Through the blackest of bitter coffees.
The cemetery soil will congeal into a paste
Under your fractured fingernails,
The long-ingested poison
A regurgitation upon your tongue.
Avra Margariti is a queer author, Greek sea monster, and Rhysling-nominated poet with a fondness for the dark and the darling. Avra’s work haunts publications such as Strange Horizons, Vastarien, Asimov's, Reckoning, and F&SF. The Saint of Witches, Avra’s debut collection of horror poetry, is available from Weasel Press. You can find Avra on twitter (@avramargariti).
This night, I walk within empty echoes
Of waist-deep weary fog, sinking to
The crumbling floor of futility
Dripping minutes bleed through cracked
Rusty hours, as wafting feathers
Of broken rest circle dreams
Devoid of lullabies--
In waning monotone
Pillow smothered murmurs
Cover breath of crushed voices
Not even stealing a skeletal whisper
Past my withered lips.
Michelle Faulkner lives outside Portland, OR, with her husband, her cat Little Miss, and her dogs Mr. Peabody and Sherman. Her work has appeared in The Literary Yard, Alternate Route, Westward Quarterly, Sparks of Calliope and others. She has also been published in two poetry anthologies, PS: It’s Poetry and PS: It’s Still Poetry, both available on Amazon.com, and also in several upcoming anthologies from Poet’s Choice. When not writing, she enjoys true crime shows and watching the Food Network, although does not actually cook.
The sleek straight walls of our arcology
Penetrated by organic rot.
A flower brought in, unseen,
On the sole of a shoe or in a guilty heart.
Our antiseptic citadel protected us
From burning seas and mistakes long made.
We sustained ourselves with sterile survival
While the world outside decayed.
An expedition to the wild outside
And some failure of our defences
Brought in our first fresh flower
And long buried consequences.
Stems and springs sprouted
From burnished glass walkways.
Escalators and elevators grew silent,
their gears all clogged with grass.
Attempts to decontaminate and control
Only spread unsettled seeds.
Vines clung about our structures
and ruptured slowly from our skin.
The first few people tried
To rip or tear these new appendages.
The fungal tongues growing from their chests and
The poison ivy tangled in their hair.
But they only grew back stronger
Until all resistance stopped.
The sinews coiled around our community
Tendrils spreading one-by-one.
Soil dripping from vacant eyes
As they forgot their dull humanity.
They shuffle around the corridors,
Overtaken by new life.
Bursts of red and green and yellow
pulsating from walls and floors and mouths.
Their minds are gone, but some life remains.
Rebirthed in the barren womb of our last redoubt.
I watch and wait for the dirt to take me.
The last, but not alone.
Butterflies and insects
Spring from living, moving bone.
Tangled metal flowers
Grow around me in this room.
I feel the fear of death abandon me.
I know the world will be here soon.
Danny Shaw is a conflict researcher based in Scotland, but in his fiction he prefers horror to war. He loves horror with existential and political themes, like Thomas Ligotti, Brian Evanson and Hailey Piper. You can find his short stories and poems @WeirdAndFearty and his political work @DanielOdinShaw on Twitter.
Don’t try to monetize a poltergeist.
Greed’s bad ghost karma can’t be rectified.
Disgraced, divorced, and homeless, one man saw
Redemption’s outstretched hand where others paused.
Abandoned, curiously cheap to rent,
This mansion’s past inspired its second chance.
Accomplices were needed. Two arrived
When Gerald Laughlin hatched his hapless plot
To profit from aged, angry entities.
In 1967, he lured folks
Who paid to tour dark rooms suffused with gloom
Inhabited by visible deceased
Who followed paying guests—but would not speak.
Published accounts have chronicled his woes.
Too many harrowing encounters there
Encouraged Gerald and his cohorts—men
Who never were right-minded after that--
To flee, unseen foes hanging on their coats.
Since bad ghost karma can’t be overcome,
Investigate who’s haunting your house first.
Respect the dead, whose turmoil can’t be priced.
Don’t try to monetize sly poltergeists.
Background: After a professional crisis cratered his chiropractic career and his marriage, Dr. Gerald Alexander Laughlin [c. 1926—24 Jun 2001] needed inexpensive lodgings and a new purpose. A dilapidated 33-room mansion [1161 N. Liberty at Atlantic Ave.], rumored to house inhospitable spirits, was vacant and well below market value. In 1967, Laughlin transformed the 19th century residence into New Castle, Pennsylvania’s first “commercial” haunted house with the help of two young bachelors from Lawrence County whose work was compensated by free room and board. Tours ($5) were popular.
Increasingly, however, witnesses told of unsettling things. Spectres attached themselves to attendees.
The longer Laughlin let folks explore the premises, the more mayhem ensued.
Were numerous car accidents and heart attacks really caused by vengeful apparitions?
In June 1970, the three-story structure was closed for fire safety violations; condemnation proceedings were considered. When the haunted mansion was totally gutted by fire on October 9, 1970, arson was not suspected.
For more information, please read, "The House of Lost Souls" by Patrick Glendon McCullough
Native New Yorker LindaAnn LoSchiavo, a Pushcart Prize, Rhysling Award, Best of the Net, and Dwarf Stars nominee, is a member of SFPA, The British Fantasy Society, and The Dramatists Guild. Elgin Award winner "A Route Obscure and Lonely," "Concupiscent Consumption," "Women Who Were Warned," Firecracker and IPPY Award nominee "Messengers of the Macabre" [co-written with David Davies], and "Apprenticed to the Night" [Beacon Books, 2023] are her latest poetry titles.
Who came knocking, softly, softly
crouching in the midnight gloom?
Who came stealing, lightly, lightly
from the closet of my room?
Who said nothing, loudly, loudly
at the foot of my cold bed?
Who said curses, darkly, darkly
with a tongue that was long dead?
Who crept formless, shifting, shifting
face of menace in the air?
Who crept closer, searching, searching
for someone who was not there?
Who regretted dying, dying
when his house at last was built?
Who regretted love he squandered
with unfinished ghostly guilt?
Who departed, madly, madly
when I finally bid him go?
Who departed, silent, silent
out into the Vermont snow?
Dayle (she/her) hosts poetry open mics and haunts old graveyards. Her poetry has been published by Haunted Words Press, Coast Weekend, HipFish, The Chinook Observer and Humanities Washington Poetic Routes. She recently presented her highly commended poem at the Angry Ghosts Poetry Competition in Suffolk, England. The ghost of her beloved cat, Dinah, occasionally visits and causes mischief. Twitter @daylejean
Read more of her work here.
They spew from Heaven’s ruptured seams;
inside my waking dreams.
They skulk along the veil
of night and gaze
upon our world so frail.
Beware, the squirming swarms
of limbs and
and obscene forms.
Look up to the skies.
Everywhere you look,
they are watching;
the stars, they are eyes.
Pedro Iniguez is a speculative fiction writer and painter from Los Angeles. His work has appeared in Nightmare Magazine, Helios Quarterly, Star*Line, Space and Time Magazine, and Tiny Nightmares, among others.
He can be found online at Pedroiniguezauthor.com