Issue 11

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Image by Dakota Smith

Table of Contents

Introduction

The other day, my friend and roommate insisted we sit down and watch Over the Garden Wall, which she has insisted will become an autumn tradition so long as we live together. As luck would have it, my partner was with us to enjoy the show as well. And as the music kicked in and the cold fall breeze of an introduction monologue began, I could not help but see that my roommate was completely correct that this should be our autumnal custom.

 

This time of year, and this month in particular, comes in with a cool breeze and falling leaves and brings with it a feeling of incoming endings and the return of those who have left us. The fall is not a time of tragedy and cold like winter, nor is it a time of life and warmth like the spring, it is a time to hunker down and find comfort in what we can as we await the harshest months. As we gather, there is a feeling of strangeness that inevitably surrounds us as the world sheds the costumes of life and adopts its skeletal and macabre fashions of the end of the year. It seems wonder and magic reenters the world as life leaves it, and the donning of our own costumes and the embracing of spirits only serves to enhance this.

 

We hope that we have captured this wonderful feeling in our latest issue, and we welcome you to enjoy it as we did while we were putting it together. So without further ado, welcome to issue 11, Magic and Mystery!

-William Eichler

Co-editor, Next Page Ink

Poetry
 

winter solstice for the modern witch

By: Darah Schillinger

it’s the darkest day of the year 
and I’ve made a spell jar with incense and rosemary 
maple syrup in the bottom 
and a few bark pieces from the dogwood tree in the front yard 
my boyfriend’s bed frame became the altar 
and the ground allspice fell like dirt in his sheets
I spoke magic with matches and blessed glass vials with tap water and salt 
corked and melted wax to seal the power inside 
his dogs licked the syrup from my fingers when I was done 
and he smiled at me from the pillow 
a jar for health and luck 
anointed by the blue glow of his tv

church point caught fire on May Day

By: Darah Schillinger
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the sand ablaze with laughter 
the sky flaming purple, 
the clouds white ash above our heads 
we danced on the black sand and drank sangria from plastic cups,
whole slices of orange caught in our mouths,
snail shells clung to the rocks we wobbled over
our sandals collecting river water and dust 
and of everything that happened that night 
I remember how she looked over it all as the sun grew dimmer,
before the tarot readings started and the smoke of a unlit bonfire filled the night,
and said “this moment should be a poem”
and how I promised us both 
I would make it one

Frogs

By: Hiram Larew

Sleep is like a flat-bottomed boat--
You can feel splashing all around it
When the sun is pearly.


Yes, good rest is how dirty hands smell right after washing.


If I ever get a wish granted
Or if I should somehow be caught in ice late at night
Or if I finally learn the hard ways of money,
Then I’ll surely dream more deeply with a purpose.


But for now
My eyes close with the future
While puddles and such
Have me hopping around.

Age Again

By: Hiram Larew

Endings that won’t
Answers that don’t

stay put that roams
solids that foam

Love that’s more loss
Hope that’s pure cost

change that’s the same
truth that’s all blame

Smooth that seems rough
Soft that turns tough.

Your Other Life

By: Hiram Larew

You will outlive you

And beyond all memory or lakes
in bunches of grapes
in every shaking tune and brimming

You will be.


You will outlive you again and again

as travelers know
as mossy whispers go
as leaves under lamplights blow

so truly.


In every bundle of rain

or distant train over hills
with every urge that’s alive–


You will outlive you entirely

behind closed and grateful eyes
above each try or farther still
inside these glowing pies.

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Everyday Illusions

By: Cheryl Scheir

I don’t have premonitions

Not like my husband’s aunt

Who tells me whenever I call

She was just about to call me

 

It might seem as if

I can foresee impending doom

But anxiety has its way of 

Rehearsing every possibility

 

Curiously, I often know

Seconds before it goes off

That a timer’s time is almost up

And I wonder, intrigued, 

         What kind of magic is that?

Short Stories
 

A Harmless Little Shop in a Lovely Little Town

By: William Eichler

It is a miracle no one has found these bodies yet. 

 

I finish digging the hole and push the stiff corpse of yet another shop assistant into it, and begin the slow and frustrating

process of filling it in once again. Thankfully the stretch of beach I chose to be the final resting place of this and many other identical shop assistants is completely empty. I hadn’t been totally certain that it would be, Rehoboth was funny like that. Though I suppose that most beachfront towns are that way. Full of people who think that a late night or early morning stroll on the beach is romantic, and spend the late hours walking under the moonlight as the waves lap lazily against the shore. I can barely stand to be up this late, knowing that I’ll have to begin the growth process as soon as I get back and open the shop in a few hours is already giving me a headache. 

 

“Stupid assistant, gets smarter every time I grow him but he still can’t bother to figure out not to sit in front of the

CURSED TELEVISION!” I whisper-scream to myself. I honestly wasn’t sure how many assistants I had done this with at this point. I think eleven? Maybe twelve. When the assistant comes with the shop, and they all look exactly the same, get buried in the same place, and are successfully cloned the next day, they start to blend together. Besides, the only thing I can properly focus on right now is the horrible stretched feeling in my back as I toss pile after pile of sand into the hole I had dug for the one man I could actually properly call a friend. Thankfully, by this time tomorrow, I’d have a new one. 

 

I let the final scoop into the impromptu grave and turn to walk back home, slipping my hand in my pocket to ensure that

I have poor Fred’s severed finger resting there so I can actually manage to make myself a new assistant. 

 

Wait…I  check every pocket, even the silly one on my shirt that I never use. I take out my phone and turn on its flashlight

sweeping the bright cone across the ground, but I see nothing, just the yellowish sand shifting ever so slightly in the night's breeze. 

 

“Son of a bitch.” I turn to look back at the hole I spent hours digging, and slowly tread back towards it. With a soft shunk 

bury the shovel into the sand, and begin the arduous process over again.

 

I stumble back down my street just before the sun rises, and walk up to the source of both my income and every

nightmare I have had since 2006. The faded wooden sign hangs on iron hooks and swings in the breeze; the name painted on it is just barely visible in the darkness of the early morning, “Ogden’s Oddities.” Just beneath it, attached the the wall next to the door, is a metal plaque with the word “ESTABLISHED” in large brass letters, while the year beneath it is weathered and tarnished beyond any form of legibility. 

 

I push the door open and hear the small bell above it ring as I walk behind the counter. I stash the shovel in a supply

closet and head for the back of the Shop. A lone exposed bulb illuminates the brick wall and gray concrete floor of the back room, and sitting against the wall is the oddity I need. It stands just a little taller than my own five feet and nine inches, a rectangle of yellowed white with strips of silver dividing it into two asymmetrical parts. The Fridge.

 

I think it was made some time in the 1950s, at least it looks that way. Its gentle curves and simple appearance reflects the style of that era, but the year it was made is not nearly as important as what the appliance can do. I walk up to it and pull the door open, letting the cold air fill the back room and I dip my head inside. I stare down at the contents, though it has never changed in all my time as Shopkeeper: leftovers from a Thanksgiving dinner, perfectly preserved, rich and delicious, the source of my lunch for over a decade. The Fridge had a knack for making things last quite a while, and I quickly found out that it also had a knack for...growing things. The first time I had eaten the meal left inside, I couldn’t finish it, so I did the reasonable thing and returned what remained to the fridge to finish it another time. When I came back, the whole plate was back, every piece of turkey, every drop of gravy, every scoop of mashed potatoes was in the exact same spot that I had spooned it from just hours before.

 

After that first incident, I decided to test it with something else, so I left a half-empty beer in it overnight. It wasn’t just full the next morning, it was full, recapped, and I swear it tasted better than it had the first time I drank it. At first I thought it would only work with food, but then one night, after one too many supernaturally restored brews, I went to lock the shop’s door and broke the key off in the lock. I managed to fish the broken bit out of there, and after drunkenly deciding that I might as well give it a shot, I left the key inside the fridge. One night and one hangover later, I found a whole key resting in the fridge’s door next to the tub of butter that I had been reusing for the last eight months.

 

This time, though, it would not be refilling a beer, or providing me a lunch that I was somehow still not sick of, it would be growing me a brand new assistant. I dig through my pocket and pull out the now shriveling finger of poor Fred. This was not the first time he would be birthed from the frosty womb of the Fridge, and it likely wouldn’t be the last, but the Fridge tended to make whatever was left to grow within it just a little bit better than it was when it was originally put inside. Those beers were always a little crisper, the turkey a bit richer, and Fred always got a little bit smarter, a little bit fitter, and frankly, a little better looking every time. Which was good for business at least, can’t go wrong with a bit of eye candy.

I place the digit on the rack, shut the door, and set an alarm on my phone to ensure that I remember to let the poor bastard out in a few hours so he doesn’t get too cramped, or squish my turkey. When I leave the backroom and the Fridge, I find the Shop has decided that the layout of the floor is going to be a little different today.

 

“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me,” I groan to...the Shop, I guess. Stupid creepy old place. Musty and dusty and full of inexplicable things. Not everything in the Shop is evil, per se. But all of it has some sort of strange effect on people. How all these things end up in the Shop, I’m not really sure, I’m not Ogden, despite the fact that everyone who walks in the door asks me if I am. Every now and then I just get a package at the door from a shipping company I’ve never heard of and it’s some new thing to put on a shelf, set in the window, or display in the center of the Shop. The most recent addition had been an incredibly rusty old Schwinn bike. I haven’t had a chance to see what sort of supernatural bullshit it can do, but I’m sure it’s something like “makes the rider push the pedals until death,” or “forces the rider to go to the site of their own grave,” or some ridiculous crap like that. All I know is that the day it arrived the Shop had already cleared a spot for it in the front window, so that’s where it sits. 

The Shop also apparently felt it necessary to move the Knife Set up to the front and center of the main display table, and even marked down the price. “Oh COME ON!” I shout, “the KNIVES? REALLY?!” There’s really no point in trying to argue, if I tried to move it, it would just end up back in its place, there was only one thing for me to do. One by one, I remove the knives, each one perfectly maintained despite my purposeful neglect, and using the carving knife, I nick the tip of my index finger, and then I take each one and hold them under the flow of blood. “Fucking knives, stupid goddamn knives.” As I grab each one of them, a harsh, grating voice bursts into my head, screaming “BLOOD, FIGHT, KILL, MAIM” and a slew of other violence-related verbs until the blades get a taste of my blood. As the drops slip onto the pristine steel, the voice immediately goes silent, sated for the time being. “Fucking knives, it just had to be the knives.” Last time someone bought these things, there were four murders in two days, and a local butcher’s sausages were found to contain human flesh. Great fucking time, and of course, the knives ended up right back at the Shop

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before the end of the week, having vanished from the evidence locker at the police station and dropped right back on the doorstep of Ogden’s Oddities. The Shop will always regain its belongings.

Now that I've dealt with the kitchen set’s bloodlust, I continue to get the shop ready for opening. There is always a layer of dust scattered across many of the objects, no matter how often I sweep it off, but the Shop gets upset if I don’t at least make an attempt to clean the place. So I grab the duster and make my way through the nooks and crannies of all manner of cursed knick-knacks: the masquerade mask that inspired that inspired far too much confidence in its wearer, the toy car that moved around the floor of shop on its own, the diary that forced you to write down such dark thoughts that no one outside of the lowest circle of hell could have actually come up with them, the phone book that erased any trace of someone by crossing out their name, and then there was the TV. That one had gotten Fred a few times now. I’m sure what it actually shows someone, I’m not brave enough to watch the thing, but I always know Fred has when I hear him thud to the ground with eyes turned to balls of TV snow. Each one of these things had been misused in one way or another in my time as Shopkeeper, someone bought them and then all manner of chaos broke out within days. Can’t stop a sale though, the Shop wouldn’t like that. So I just dust everything, check the register to make sure there’s enough money to make change, and sit down in the leather armchair I keep behind the counter and close my eyes.

~

When I wake up, my phone is buzzing in my pocket, shaking between my leg and the chair and making a horrible rattling sound. I pull it from my pocket and see the alarm I set for Fred is what’s waking me. I drag myself out of the chair, one of the only things in the entire Shop that I brought in myself, and head to the back room to let Fred out of his freezing incubator. I can already hear him battering against the door and shouting for his release. I guess the Fridge is a little tough to open from the inside. I walk up to it and pull the handle, and tumbling out comes a pale man with a shock of brown curls on top of his head. He falls onto the floor, naked as the day he was born, and the day of every rebirth since, and he stands up, taking deep breaths and running his hand through his dripping wet curls. 

“Good to see you, Fred,” I say wryly to him. He’s built like a Greek statue, chiseled muscle under smooth, unblemished skin. He had been a fairly fit man when I had first met him, the same day I had inherited the shop, but with each rebirth his musculature had slightly improved until he had become noticeably toned and lithe. The hair on his head is thick and lush, framing the sharp features of his face perfectly, and it has a gorgeous sheen that most people could only hope for. His eyes shined a bright blue, and they were slightly more symmetrical and evenly spaced on his face. There was a tasteful bit of stubble on his chin, enough to make him look ruggedly handsome but not enough to give the impression that he was neglecting it. Damn Fridge, one of these days I’ll have to let myself get taken in by some of the merchandise so Fred could regrow me. I wouldn’t mind a leaner build and fewer wrinkles. 

“Hey boss,” Fred responds. “What got me this time?”


“TV again,” I say flatly. He seemed particularly susceptible to that one. 

“Damn, really?!” Fred exclaimed. “Maybe I should crack open a book like you say. That’s what, the fourth time?”


“Fifth,” I say back, and Fred’s face sinks. “No use beating yourself up about it bud, go get dressed, we gotta open soon.” And with that I turn back and head out onto the shop’s floor. Fred follows behind me, mumbling something about the TV and how mad he is, but I don’t hear what he says. I just walk to the front door, flip the sign to open, and pray that we don’t have any customers today. I turn and head back behind the counter, and Fred slams into a table while he walks to the stairs, and a spiel of curses fills the air along with a few metallic clangs from whatever he knocked over. 

“Shop rearranged itself overnight,” I shout in his direction. He doesn’t answer, and I don’t have a chance to check on him before I hear the bell ring as someone walks inside.

“Son of a bitch,” I mutter to myself, and look up to see Marie Kovacs, kindest old lady you’ve ever seen, staring wide-eye while the door swings shut behind her. 

“Oh my,” she says, her voice high and crackly, “I’m so sorry Fred, I saw the sign and thought….”


I turn and see that she’s staring at Fred’s naked body as he bends to pick up the items he had knocked over. 

“Oh…. Mrs. Kovacs! I’m so sorry, Fred just…. spilled coffee all over his clothes, he was about to go upstairs and change!” I exclaim,  jumping out from behind the counter and placing myself between Fred and the silver-haired old woman who, admittedly, didn’t seem to mind all that much that she stumbled into the shop while Fred’s admittedly impressive form was unclothed.

Fred stands up, and something in his hand catches the light as he turns to face me and Mrs. Kovacs. 

Suddenly, Fred raises his arm above his head, and I see the pristine carving knife resting snugly in his hand. Fred lunges forward at me, swinging the knife downward in a reverse grip directly at Mrs. Kovacs shocked face. I jump between them and the knife plunges into my shoulder. I don’t feel it pierce my skin, it just vanishes into my flesh, and I feel the warmth of my blood spill down my chest and soak through my shirt. The fabric feels heavy and thick as my blood coats it, and I can feel it stick to my skin as each gush leaves the wound. Fred pulls the blade free and prepares a second strike, but I am able to shove him away before he brings the knife down on me again. 

“Mrs. Kovacs, RUN!” I shout, grabbing the old woman by her shoulders and pulling her as hard as I can towards the front door.

 

“Oh GOSH! Fred, what are you doing?” she cried while I dragged her behind me. She feels as if she is made of lead, and when I turn to look back, I can see that she’s swinging her purse at Fred as he continues pushing forward, knife slicing the air. 

Finally, I muster the strength to swing Mrs. Kovacs ahead of me, sending her reeling towards the door as Fred brought

the knife down once again, cutting through my soaked shirt and narrowly missing adding an additional hole to my body. Fred ceased his onslaught for a moment and stood in front of me. He had been taller than me when we first met, but now he seemed to be a titan to my own mortal frame, and maybe he is. He’d been reborn enough times, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’s somehow moved past being normal and ascended into something more. And now that something more is standing in front of me with a carving knife. His naked frame leaves me in shadow, he is a Greek statue made flesh, and his chiseled muscles tense as he moves once again to strike. Just as he lunges, I catch movement of the corner of my eye, and see Mrs. Kovacs’s purse fly past my head and slam into Fred’s head with a hard thunk. 

He stumbles backwards for just a moment, and I spin on my heels and run towards the door. My feet slam against the hardwood floor and my arms flail around me, grabbing different things from the shop’s tables and throwing them behind me. I could hear Fred’s dogged pursuit behind, his own feet falling heavily and filling the normally quiet shop with crushing thuds. My shoulder begins to burn and I swear I can feel the skin around the wound tearing further as I push myself forward. Mrs. Kovacs is still standing there in stunned silence, and her eyes stare back at Fred as he bounds towards us both. As I run, I feel my foot slam down on something and I become weightless. I soar through the air for a moment, watching Mrs. Kovacs finally turn and run out the door, and then I slam back down to the floor. I turn my head to look back at Fred, I see a little red race car wheeling across the floor from the force of my own sprinting. I plant my palms on the wooden floor and push myself upward, but I just fling myself up into Fred’s grasp. He pulls me backward and I feel the blade sink into my back, scraping my ribs and popping out of my chest. I watch the blade poke into my shirt, but in a moment it recedes, exiting my back just before Fred releases his grip on my collar. My knees meet the ground and my head follows a moment later, slamming into the ground as my blood pools around me. I pull in a wheezing breath and my lungs feel as though they have filled with needles. Black spots fill the edges of my vision, and they grow until there is nothing left. 

~

Fred stared down at his friend’s body, lying still on the ground in a pool of blood so dark it was nearly black. The screams of whatever possessed the knife quieted within Fred’s mind, and he let it slip from his grasp. It clattered to the floor and the last of its influence left Fred. 

“Oh sh-shit,” he stammers, and stares down at his blood-soaked hands. “Shit shit shit. I’m sorry buddy, I’m so sorry. Stupid fucking knives.” Fred kneels down next to his dead friend and picks up the knife one more time. Now that its bloodlust had been fully sated, its cries for more carnage are barely above a whisper in his mind. He grabs his friend’s limp hand and quickly slices off the pinky finger, placing it up on a sales table next to him. “Okay, okay, gotta close the store,” he mutters to himself, walking to the front and flipping the sign over. He has not prepared for something like this, the keeper always handled this sort of thing. He’s just the one who gets killed by all the merchandise. His mind moves frantically as he paces back and forth, until he finds himself standing next to the checkout counter. His eyes scan along it until they rest upon a thick yellow tome sitting at the end. He grabs it and quickly flips through it until he gets to the Ks. 

“Kole, Konnor, Korde, and…Kovacs, there you are,” he mutters to himself as his finger slips down the page. When he finds Marie’s name, he reaches behind the counter and grabs a pen and scratches out the name of the only witness of the day’s events. “Okay, okay…” he continues to say to himself, heading upstairs to finally put on some clothes. Thankfully, they all still fit his now slightly larger body. Once that is done, he returns to the sales floor and pockets his friend’s finger. He approaches the body and squats down to lift it, letting out a long groan as he pushes himself upward with it lying limp in his arms. He carries it to the backroom, where the Fridge is waiting for them. He rests it on the ground, in a corner out of sight. He will have to bury it once the night falls. Until then, he places the finger in the fridge, pulls out his phone, and sets a timer. In the meantime, he’s going to mop up the blood on the floor, and then he thought might go for a bike ride. That new one in the window looks nice, and it was beautiful outside. 

Mother

By: Morgan Donovan

“Mother?” I called out, barely audible against the sounds of the night. The cicadas screamed against the summer heat, and the

creaking chorus of pond frogs thumped in time with my heartbeat.


Nothing happened. I twirled the cigarette in my hand, and took a deep breath.

“Mother!”


Still nothing.
 

I felt tears sting my eyes, this search had stripped me of everything but my exhaustion. My knees buckled and I crumbled to the

ground. I looked around at the empty intersection and felt my hands come together in prayer.


“Mother, please,” my voice cracked in despair.


Then something and yet nothing.


The world seemed to halt, pause for this moment in time. All was quiet, so quiet it left me dizzy. I tried to stand, but found myself

unable to move.


An oncoming storm began to form in my head as memories flashed like lightning.

...

I had traveled all down the coast, stopped in every small bookshop, spoken to every psychic, fortune-teller, and charlatan who would

listen. I read every piece of folklore that could possibly grant me my wish. All I had left was my rusty old car, everything I could stuff into it, and my desperation.

The bell rang overhead as I walked into a dusty occult bookshop a waitress at the local diner had pointed me to. I sighed as I glanced

around, I had lost hope so long ago of finding what I needed, but what else could I do?


The search for an answer was all I had left. That, and the memories of Ricky.

Oh Ricky...

“Welcome, cher,” A thick cajun drawl greeted me and cut through my melancholy.


I looked over my shoulder to see a short man sitting behind the counter, toothpick in his mouth and book in hand. His hair was

obviously balding but he combed it over in denial. The white shirt under his flannel had coffee stains near the neckline and his body odor lingered in the air.

“Anything you’re looking for in particular?” He asked.
 

I just shook my head, not wanting to get any closer to him, and walked over to the shelves lined with various books. I ran my hand over the spines, barely glancing at the titles.


Then I felt something like static against my finger tips. The book I had landed on sat at the end of the shelf, leaning to the side. I wiped the dust off my hand and slid the book out.


The title had been scratched out, the lines jagged and rough against my skin.


It was thin, the pages looked old and worn. I skimmed the first few pages but nothing stuck out.

 

“She’ll eat your heart out, cher.” The man said.


I spun around in his direction, shutting the book and holding it to my chest.

“Excuse me?”


The man closed his book and took out the toothpick, “I said, would you like to buy that there?” Something felt off, like warning bells going off in my head, begging me to drop the book and run far away. It had been so long since I’d felt anything but numb, so fear was an improvement. Hell, it was down right exciting.


I nodded yes and walked up to the counter.


He rang me out, placed the book into a plain paper bag. I took my purchase but as I opened the door to leave, the man called out, “Don’t look back, cher. Whatever you do, don’t look back at Her.”


I turned to respond to him but he was already back to reading his book, chewing on his toothpick in concentration.

...

The air began to chill, the sweat on my brow turned to ice as I heard footsteps approach me. They echoed against the silence, I began

to tremble the closer they got to me. I dared a glance upwards, my entire being vibrating from the sense of danger.


She was, well no, not a She but also undeniably a She. The Mother was... oh but no not that at all. She had what looked to be, then

again, it looked more like something similar to... Holy fuck...She was..Something.

Something and yet nothing.


All I can say for sure is that in that first glance I felt calm. Despite all that my eyes were perceiving, I felt at ease. When She spoke, He

voice rang in my head, like She had always been there.


Is that for me? She pointed to the cigarette I held in my trembling hand. At least, I think She pointed to it. Something pointed to it.


With all the speed I could muster, I lit the cigarette and handed it to Her. She took a long drag and let the smoke slowly fill the air

between us.


Ask your question.

...

“Ricky, stop dragging your feet and come on!” I yelled up the staircase as I tried to put in my earrings. I looked at myself in the mirror

and took a shaky breath. My face was flushed with anxiety, but inside I was hopeful.


How naive I was.

I fidgeted with the neckline of my dress, and it felt like my whole body was on the verge of breaking out into hives.


“You look like you’re going to throw up,” Ricky said as she descended the stairs. I glared at her and she grinned ear to ear.

God, she was beautiful. Her short, dark hair in perfect curls that framed her face, her deep caramel eyes sparkled as she looked at

me. Oh, but her smile, it set my heart ablaze. How I miss that smile. How it haunts me.

“Don’t be nervous, mon amour. Everything is going to be perfect and later on I promise to rip that dress off you and kiss all your

troubles away.”


I wrapped my arms around her neck and kissed her hard, “What if your parents don’t like me?” Ricky chuckled as she led me to the

door, “Impossible, Felicity, you are divine.”

 

...

“M-my question?” I stuttered.


She sighed and took another long drag of the cigarette.


You are running out of time, cher.


My heartbeat was growing increasingly louder. The question, just one question, has been my driving force up until now. I took a deep

breath, trying so hard to think clearly.


“I-I can’t seem to remember.” The cold began to make my teeth chatter.


She laughed, if the sound could be called a laugh.


Try harder, cher. I don’t have all night.


I pushed the palms of my hands against my eyes, willing my brain to work properly but it was all filled with Her. She consumed my

head and raked it against the coals.


Then something.


I sprung up, “Ricky!”


How could I forget?


I managed to stand, wobbly at first but with clenched fists I steadied myself.


“I just want to know...Why?”


She took one last drag from the cigarette and let it fall to the ground. She stomped it out with Her heel, maybe Her heel, and it felt like

she was stomping on my head.


Then She reached out Her hand, and with one long finger, touched my temple.

...

I had read the book three times, checked every fine line, but nothing seemed helpful. I took another sip of my coffee and opened the

book to its first page for the fourth time. Something had to be in there. I just knew it.


“Want a top off, cher?” The waitress asked, coffee pot in hand.


I nodded my head and thanked her as she refilled my mug. I turned back to the pages, my eyes sore and tired.


“You’ll need this,” The waitress said, placing a cigarette on the table next to my mug.


“Oh I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t smoke.”


“It’s not for you, cher. It’s for Her.”


Before I could ask what she meant, she walked away. I watched as she talked with another customer, they both seemed to laugh at

something she said.


I glanced at the cigarette again before turning back to the book. Then something caught my eye, there in the margin, a poem of some

sorts.

“The Mother?” I read aloud, and the whole diner seemed to hush from the sound of it. I glanced around and everyone was staring at

me. Their eyes glazed over, unmoving. I quickly shut the book, threw some cash onto the table, and left.


I practically ran out to my car, and fumbled in my pockets to find my keys. I felt my hand brush against something foreign and pulled

out the cigarette the waitress had given me.

I don’t remember picking this up. I thought to myself but quickly pushed that aside as I found my keys and drove off.


I drove for hours, with no destination. I would sneak glances at the book, but every time I thought about stopping to read it again, my

foot would hit the gas and I would continue on. Once the moon held firm high up in the sky, and the empty gas tank light sprung on, I finally stopped.

I pulled into a gas station and got out of my car. I exhaled deeply not realizing I had been holding my breath. As my car was filling up,

the urge began to build up inside me. I grabbed the book and flipped it open, and there it was. The poem, the ritual, the answer.

Look for a crossroad.

Cigarette in hand.
Call out to The Mother.

Invite Her for a smoke.

Ask what you seek answered.

Give Her three coins.

Don’t you dare look back.

I shut the book and tossed it into my back seat. I heard the gas pump click and finished up. I was back on the road for barely a

moment before I stopped again. I glanced back at the book in my rearview mirror and then at myself. I barely recognized the eyes looking back at me.


When did I become this stranger?


I pushed away the thought and rummaged around in my car for coins; one, two, then three. I hopped out and locked it before I starte

to walk.


I walked a long time, the moon the only light guiding me.


Then I saw it.


A crossroad.

...

Fuck what was the last thing I needed to do?

Her hand slowly stretched wide, her palm up in expectation.

Oh shit, that's right!

I pulled out the three coins, and I carefully placed it in Her hand without touching Her. Afraid that if I were to touch Her, I would never

turn around and leave.


They fell one, two, then three.


I hope you are satisfied.

I choked out a thank you before I turned away.


Then I ran.


I ran until I couldn't breathe, and when I stopped to catch my breath... I thought about the last rule.

Don't you dare look back.

And I have to say, I tried so hard not to. Every part of me knew that looking back would mean the end.


I started to run again. To keep gaining distance away from Her.


But each time I stopped to catch my breath I would think:

Maybe now I’m safe. I can look back now.

Then I would remember and start to run again. I made it all the way to my car, when I finally decided it was safe.

It wasn't.

 

...

“I want to thank you all for coming.” Ricky’s mother managed to say with a shaky breath. “I know it would have made her so happy to

see you all gathered here today.”


I sat next to Ricky’s dad and sister, they were both in tears, holding on to each other for dear life. My tears were silent. I could hardly

move a muscle.

Ricky was gone and all I wanted to know was why.


Every doctor tried to explain her illness, but I didn’t want to hear it. I wanted to know why. Ricky’s mom had their pastor talk to me, bu

he didn’t tell me why. My therapist, the third one in a month, tried to prescribe me something, but all I wanted to know was why?


No one could tell me.


I barely spoke to anyone at the service and walked alone to my car shortly after it ended. Ricky’s sister caught up with me and knocked on my window. I rolled it down for her.


“Won’t you come over to the house? We have food there.” She asked me. I just shook my head in response and drove off.


And I just kept driving.

...

I felt like throwing up, the smell of cigarette smoke clung to me. It filled my nostrils and made my eyes water. I was stopped at a red

light, trying to catch my breath, trying to make sense of everything. The book was right. She was real, and She gave me an answer.


I knew why.

As the light turned green, I heard a voice say, “Felicity?”

No, It couldn’t be.

I chanced a glance in the rear view mirror.


“Ricky?”


It was like she was sitting there, smiling at me, like nothing had happened at all. Her smile twinkled in the moonlight.


That damn smile.

As I turned around to look at her, my whole body was washed over in bright lights, and the blaring of a truck’s horn was the last thing 

heard.


...

“Is this real?” I dared to whisper.


Ricky’s leg was lazily wrapped over mine, as her fingers ran through my hair. “Real as anything, mon amour.”


She kissed my forehead, and I smiled. In the distance I thought I heard sirens blaring, but before I could focus the sound was gone.


“We should probably get dressed and start our day, no?” Ricky asked, pulling me into her embrace.


“I’d rather stay here.” I sighed.


“Forever?” She asked.


“Yeah, forever would be nice.”

...

No one really understands what Forever means until it's looking them in the face. It stretches across eons; spanning generation after

generation.


Everything to witness, forever to see, and yet I find myself back here.


To this moment.

“Thank you all for gathering here today,” The Preacher greeted the crowd. I found myself miming his words as he continued on. “We

are all here to mourn the passing of Felicity Childs. A dear friend and beloved wife to the late Erika Bernard.”


I heard a sigh come from behind me, “They never get my name right.”


Ricky walked up beside me, taking my hand in hers. I lifted it to my lips and kissed it.


“Why do you keep coming here and torturing yourself?” She asked me.


“I’m not sure,” I replied without looking at her. “I guess I’m just waiting.”


“For what?”


“Something,” I paused before adding, “and nothing.”


She dropped my hand and started to walk away, “Let’s go now, mon amour.. please.”


I turned to follow her when a figure in the distance caught my eye.


No, it couldn’t be, I thought to myself.


Without hesitating, I start to walk towards it, right up to the edge of the small gathering of people. One by one, they all threw in a

single rose into the open grave.


Last to step forward was Her.


She held out Her hand but She wasn’t holding a rose.


The thud of each coin rang out and flooded my head; one, two, then three.


I froze, unable to look away.


An old frumpy woman walked up to Her, I barely registered that it was Mrs. Crawford. My whole being seemed fixated on only Her.

“Shame to see it happen to someone so young.” She stated, as if they had already been in conversation. “I was her old neighbor,

before she moved out and seemingly vanished. The news said she was homeless, such a shame indeed.”


Mrs. Crawford paused and seemed to finally take in the figure who she was speaking to. Ricky began to yell out something, but the

ringing in my ears drowned her out.


Something, and then nothing.


“Look at me prattling on, I’m sorry dear. I don’t get out much these days.” She said, “May I ask how you knew Felicity?”


Then I felt Her eyes look directly at me. Her gaze bore into me and burned me from the inside out. Something akin to a smile widened

on her face.


“Of course,” She said, Her voice rusty from lack of use.


“I’m her Mother.”

Artwork

By: Remi Poindexter

129 North State Street (1910).jpeg
Howe House, 11 North State Street (1870s).jpeg
34 North State Street (1892).jpeg
11 Cecil Street (1896).jpeg
Dr. Henry Ridgely House, 6 South State Street (1869).jpeg
219-221 North State Street (1904).jpeg
 

11 Cecil Street

Dover, Delaware

129 N. State Street

Dover, Delaware

219-221 N. State Street

Dover, Delaware

Howe House

11 N. State Street

Dover, Delaware

34 N. State Street

Dover, Delaware

Dr. Henry Ridgely House

6 S. State Street

Dover, Delaware

Artwork
By: Robert Fleming

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01 Fleming Robert 1986 Summer vt.jpg

Artwork and Photography
By: Evan Jackewicz

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9DB68579-4809-4140-AAA8-CED6544A3243_1_105_c.jpeg

Photo
By: Hayley Scheir

IMG_8386001.jpg

Contributors

Morgan Donovan Bio Forthcoming

 

Robert Fleming lives in Lewes, DE. Published in United States, Canada, England, Ireland, and Australia, Robert is a member of the Rehoboth Beach and Horror Writer’s Association. His achievements include 2022 winner of San Gabriel Valley CA broadside-1 poem, 2021 winner of Best of Mad Swirl poetry, and double nomination for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net.

You can follow Robert at https://www.facebook.com/robert.fleming.5030. 

Hiram Larew's poems have appeared widely.  His latest collection, Mud Ajar, appeared in 2021 (Atmosphere Press) and his next, Patchy Ways, is forthcoming from CyberWit.  He lives in Maryland, USA.  www.HiramLarewPoetry.com and www.PoetryXHunger.com

Remi Poindexter is an artist and art historian from Newark, Delaware. While at the University of Delaware, he painted landscapes in White Clay Creek State Park and took several electives in the art department. After graduation, Remi moved to New York to pursue a Ph.D. in art history at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. In the city, he enrolled in classes at the Art Students League of New York and painted in his free time. His favorite subjects were landscapes based on photographs of home. Remi returned to Delaware during the pandemic and started painting the back roads and countryside between Newark, Pike Creek, and Hockessin. He also began an ongoing series of linocuts based on historic buildings in Newark and Dover, Delaware. He recently participated in the Paint Dover plein-air event and painted "The Gumball Machine" as part of the Trolley Square Mural Project.

Hayley Scheir is a recent graduate of William & Mary, now serving as an AmeriCorps Service Member in Connecticut. She grew up in Diver, Delaware, and loves taking pictures to preserve special and ordinary moments. 

Darah Schillinger has been published in the St. Mary’s literary journal, AVATAR, on the Spillwords Press website, in the Maryland Bards Poetry Review 2022, and in the first edition of Solstice Magazine. Her first poetry chapbook, when the daffodils die, was released in July 2022 by Yellow Arrow Publishing. Darah is currently pursuing her Professional Writing graduate degree at Towson University and lives in Perry Hall, Maryland with her dog, Moby.

 

Cheryl

Dead Again & The Spanish Prisoner

Two '90s movies with plenty of mystery, deception, and suspense...and thankfully just a small dash of insensitive cringe. Both have Hitchcock flair (tension without horror) and have aged pretty well. Perfect for those autumn nights when 7 pm feels like midnight.

Dead Again available on Prime Video

The Spanish Prisoner available on Peacock

Recommendations

The Seventh Seal

One of Swedish director Ingmar Bergman’s most acclaimed works, The Seventh Seal follows a knight returned from the Crusades to the horrors of the Black Plague. During his attempt to return to his home and his wife, he plays a game of chess with Death himself, with his life and the lives of his companions hanging in the balance. This is considered one of the greatest films ever made for a reason. A beautiful, quiet, and eerie meditation on life, religion, and death, it is a fantastic watch for the Halloween season, and a watch that might make you appreciate everything around you a little bit more.

Available on HBO Max

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Will

dakota.jpg

I have spent each day this October watching one horror (or at least spooky) movie I haven't seen.This has been my favorite one by far. Vincent Price is such a captivating actor. On top of that, this movie is just wonderfully weird. Please give this one a watch, I promise you won't regret it.

 

Available wherever digital movies are sold

Dakota