“Do not stand by my grave and weep. I am not there. I do not sleep.”
–Mary Elizabeth Frye
Letter from the editor
I believe in ghosts. Some think such a belief is valid, while others find it absurd and laughable. And maybe both of those beliefs in my belief, are valid. Because even if I am, in fact, correct–and ghosts walk among us–how absurd is it that after a life lived, a spirit that posses cosmic powers so beyond our own, would choose to hide in old houses and make things go bump in the night. This issue is being released on Halloween, otherwise known as Samhain–the ancient Pagan sabbat of honoring the dead. A time when it is believed that the veil between the worlds is thin enough that the dead may cross over, back into the world of the living. Whether you believe in this or not, the stories, poems, and photos collected for this issue of The Elephant Ladder all tackle the topic of haunting, in one way or another. On this Halloween, the one year anniversary of this magazine, I hope you can take the time to set aside any skepticism you may posses toward the notion of ghosts, and let yourself fall into these stories. Maybe by the end of this issue, you will indeed hear something go bump in the night.
Check out The Elephant Ladder merch shop!
by Lauren E. Wilson
“He teaches attention to intuition and timing, keen senses, awareness and how to move in the emotional waters balanced with the mental world”
–Google generated answer to ‘what do minks symbolize?’
My business is words, your’s is haunting
stroke with your hands–ethereal.
Carnations dot your eyes,
and bees fly around in your skull.
My brain is
like an attic–with dead
bees on the floor. Each one a poem waiting to be created.
I find myself thinking, What would happen if I just–
(die) I don’t want to–
not anymore. I’m only applying the confessional lessons
you taught. I wonder how
your last vodka tonic tasted.
Did it mingle with the scent of intention and exhaust?
You’re not ashamed to do it.
A woman like me is too stubborn to.
Anne–It’s not time yet–
to put on mother’s fur coat.
Don’t get lost. I’ll carry both.
Lauren (she/her) is a Barista, Poet, and storyteller. She resides in Maryland, and she can make a kick ass latte in addition to writing poetry.
“I was as pure as a river, but now I think I’m possessed.”
–Haunted by Halsey
by Kathy Mire
As I step outside, I am pleasantly surprised by the cooler temperature. I walk in the yard and feel the wind. I open my hands and fan out my fingers to feel the silky breeze pass through them.
The moon is out and shining her light down on me through the white clouds that are coasting between us. This is when I feel REAL. Finally, I can breathe. I think to myself as I light a cigarette, immediately recognizing the irony of that thought.
I slide my feet out of my shoes and walk barefoot in the cool grass. I treasure these grounding, meandering moments when I can connect with my body, mind, earth, and just be.
I can’t see him though the fence, but I know my neighbor is out because I smell his cigar. He gets it. The escape. He’s probably taking a break from his nagging wife, or maybe just relaxing after a long day.
Me? I’m running away from myself, or the version of myself that takes over each day. The version that gets me through society’s expectations. The version that smiles and shakes hands when she really wants to run wild through the forest and climb trees. The version whose thoughts run rampant–replaying conversations, over analyzing every interaction, assessing how my performance stacks up against others. Both the main stage and the back alleys of my brain are full of worry, doubt, fear and stress. But that all changes when I’m outside. When I am both alone, yet surrounded by mother nature.
There are many supportive solutions that people have suggested to help deal with the day-to-day things that wrack my brain and make my body go rigid. I’ve tried the mediations, the mantras, the breathing exercises. They are not enough for me, especially on these hot days. Yes, a hot day in October. That’s Bayou Country for you. This heat that makes people go mad, makes me wonder if I am mad. At this idea, a sneaky smile slowly crawls across my lips because I know the truth of what’s inside me. It’s a memory of a past-self. This wildness that longs to break free is always within me. I admit, it’s worse during the heat, and when the moon is full.
I roll my eyes just thinking about the ridiculousness of it all–werewolves, vampires, bigfoot. These are all such overdone portrayals of attributes that every human possesses. I guess some of us are just more connected to our wildness. It’s not about evil, or scary dark nights. Hollywood got that wrong. It’s about leaning into that itch, that intuition to reconnect with the feral.
There must have been a time in my lineage where my ancestors stalked and hunted prey. They also had rituals and ceremonies of gratitude, appreciation, and love. They sang to the heavens and danced barefooted. These were the things that were important. There was no deadline nagging at them; no boss breathing down their necks.
That’s why I’m standing in my backyard. I’m calmer. I’m one with the wind, the sky, the moon, the ground. I often wonder what life would be without the daily grind and hustle of work; the distractions of this modern world. I dream of living wild in the mountains somewhere with only one job–survival.
I finish my cigarette and throw the butt over the back fence into the empty field. No need for everyone to know about my dirty little secret. Yet, I immediately feel guilty for adding to the littering and trash problem plaguing the earth. “I’m such a hypocrite,” I mutter to myself, feeling disgusted. Humans are the worst. Post your most attractive selfie, show the world how absolutely perfect your life is, spend your money on the trendy clothes and accessories, and don’t forget to take pictures of your food #livingmybestlife #goals….UGH!
But, I must rejoin them. Back to the predictable grind, to forever be haunted by these urges to release some otherness that hides inside of me.
One last time I open my hands, raise my palms to the sky and worship the moon. I have the urge to strip naked and howl, but I remember the neighbor. Ha. Wouldn’t that be a funny reaction to witness? Instead, I just find my shoes and return back to my life and wait for my next little opportunity to escape the person I have become, to tap into my other nature, even just for a short moment.
Kathy Mire (she/her) is a Louisiana teacher with a background in Psychology who is always seeking new opportunities to be a student herself. Her hobbies include: hiking, dancing, journaling, and intuitive tarot.
“I learned how to find you in whispers.”
–A Song of Cups and String by Molly Likovich
even when you’re not
by Linda Crate
you made a ghost of what i once was.
let me haunt you.
it’s the least you could do after everything
you took. said you don’t use technology, then
wrote me off in an email. i will hold that against you.
i’ll make sure you sleeping
at night is not a usual occurrence. murdered birds
of me—that won’t come back. so i’ll send
my ravens and crows.
maybe when you’re faced with the music
of the monster—you’ll go as i did.
Linda M. Crate’s (she/her) poetry, short stories, articles, and reviews have been published in a myriad of magazines both online and in print. She has six published chapbooks A MermaidCrashing Into Dawn (Fowlpox Press – June 2013), Less Than A Man (The Camel Saloon – January 2014), If Tomorrow Never Comes (Scars Publications, August 2016), My Wings Were Made to Fly (Flutter Press, September 2017), splintered with terror (Scars Publications, January 2018), more than bone music (Clare Songbirds Publishing, March 2019), and one micro-chapbook Heaven Instead (Origami Poems Project, May 2018). She is also the author of the novel Phoenix Tears (Czykmate Books, June 2018).
“Pitiful creature of darkness, what kind of life have you known? God give me courage to show you, you are not alone.”
–Phantom of the Opera
by Katy Likovich
I’m sorry for the way
that I am. There is so much
I wish I could forget.
Memories that I wish
I could erase from
my brain, so that they would no longer cauldron
bubble to my semiconscious mind,
roused by a seemingly innocuous sound.
Or word. Or smell
Or gesture. Or tone of voice–
bringing with them
the endless supply
of tears that frustrate you.
No idea as to what they took as an invitation
to resurface. I assure you, I don’t invite them.
Most of the time they
make their presence known.
No knock at the door.
They slip in through the cracks
when my back is turned–
hide in shadowed corners. Hunting.
Haunting. Sucking up oxygen and energy and light
and staring at me until I am sure
I am being watched, but
have no evidence
to prove my paranoia. I check
that the door is locked. It makes no difference.
The call is coming from inside the house.
I am the intruder.
Katy Likovich (she/her) is a public school teacher in Los Angeles, California, where she has lived for the last ten years. She grew up in Maryland but has also lived in Delaware, Arizona, and Pennsylvania, and has spent extensive time in New York City and Massachusetts. She has also driven across the country three times. She lives with her dog, Dragon, and her cat, Ollie. She has healthy obsessions with both Harry Potter and My Favorite Murder. Some of her other works can be found in multiple early 2000s issues of Echoes and Visions as well as Wordstock Magazine ’09.
“I, myself, am strange and unusual.”
–Lydia Deetz (Beetlejuice 1988)
Andrew Likovich (he/him) is a senior Marketing Major at Salisbury University. He’s the director of photography for the docu-series, Hidden History, and his YouTube channel, MythicalRedFox, reaches nearly 7 thousand subscribers.
“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”
–The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
Coming in 2020, the FINALE of The Hidden History mini-series.
We’ve discovered the history behind America’s most famous ballet, the cultural phenomenon of Mary Shelley’s timeless novel, and the ancient roots behind the world’s most well-known folktale–but in this final episode, we will discover the truth behind one of the most beloved storytellers of all time–Edgar Allan Poe.
We will hear from poets, performers, teachers, and writers. With special guests: The Manager of The Poe House in Baltimore Maryland, Enrica Jang. the Producers of the Shipwrecked Comedy web-series, Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Mystery Dinner Party: Sean & Sinéad Persaud, Mary Kate Wiles, and Sarah Grace Hart. As well as the author of the poetry collection ‘Mapless’, Erin Anastasia.
Filmed on-location across Maryland and Delaware, comes the most ambitious episode yet–The Hidden History of Edgar Allan Poe
“The past is a very determined ghost, haunting every chance it gets.”
by Jordan E. McNeil
tracing my steps through the house—
desk to kitchen
to toilet to desk—
footprint in footprint
small kit, following her vixen
through the harsh snow
i have her keen sense of
on my neck
as i balance work-from-home
and house work
i feel him over my shoulder
as i write my reports
my desk a white avalanche of clutter
i feel him at my heels
as i make my lunch
a cold sandwich on a cold countertop
i haven’t fixed the stove
i feel him—
his eyes his hands his breath—
on my hips my arms my back
as i pull my laundry
wet from the faulty dryer
i haven’t fixed that either
i feel him and
but dusty air
Jordan E. McNeil (she/her] writes fairytales, rages at videogames, and takes selfies with goats. Her work can be found (or is forthcoming) at Curating Alexandria, The Arcanist, Arsenika, and Liminality. She can be found on Twitter, @Je_McNeil.
“But to die as lovers may–to die together, so that they may live together.”
–Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan LeFanu
in these sad clouds
by Linda Crate
on the anniversary of your death
there is a moody little rain fall
lingering on the clouds
is the ghost of you, in hymns of gray
there are few bursts of sunlight
mostly a gray day–
soft and silent, yet standing proud and tall.
and i remember when you blue eyes
went sometimes gray;
always admired your ability to pick up
on the littlest details in your paintings
thought maybe one day you could teach me,
but your demons were stronger than any love
that could find you—
i am sorry i couldn’t give you the light you needed.
that’s something we must all find for ourselves,
but i miss you;
and the ghost of you lingers in these
“Death ends a life, not a relationship.”
Haunting, a Sestina
by Lauren E. Wilson
This tale is of my mother the vessel.
On the day she died, everything we adored exited her
chest. You could’ve filled ten thousand vases with the silence in that
room. The sun will still
rise; leaves will still dance on the wind;
But mother is without breath.
I think of my mother’s breath; How wisdom resided in that vessel.
I can still hear her
heartbeat on the wind. My own heart still beats in my chest;
Each molecule causes the auditorium to fall and rise.
Those ten thousand vases still haunt
my room. The restless pump of her heart fills
my room. I can hear the pulsing sound of her breath. This haunting is like
the sun, set and rise.
I am its vessel.
This pain sits deep in my chest,
I can hear her whispers on the wind.
She watched the sun rise; Her smile danced on
the wind. Now my body is
her vessel. She fills
my room. The sorrow sits in my chest–still.
A hollow auditorium resides in my chest.
I wait for light to rise;
I feel it’s warmth in my lungs with each breath.
I hear her melody on the wind;
She fills this room.
She is my vessel.
The wind fills the room.
My hollow-auditorium-chest rises;
This vessel is nearly out of breath.
“Beware, for I am fearless and therefore powerful.”
–Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
by Liz Alterman
Alone on the platform Miranda hugs her cardigan tight to her body, blocking the chilly October wind that rushes through the station offering false hope that the subway will arrive momentarily.
It’s past midnight. She’s disoriented from falling asleep in Jeremy’s bed and suddenly being awakened. Kicked out, really. They’re in the same study group. She’d meant to leave when the others did.
“Stay,” he’d said, refilling her wine glass.
Since moving to New York to start school six weeks ago, sleep has eluded her. She won’t admit she is lonely, homesick. The warmth of Jeremy’s body, though foreign, had been enough to lull her into a deep yet abbreviated slumber.
Another gust lifts her skirt. She peers into the tunnel and spots the flyer taped to the column. The girl is everywhere and nowhere. Eighteen, brown hair, brown eyes. Same as Miranda. The bubblegum pink straps of her ironic Hello Kitty backpack clash with the bold red “Missing” typed beneath her photo.
Miranda thinks of her mom.
“Girls go missing there. She’s too trusting,” her mother had said after the financial aid package made it a real possibility.
“You name her after a ‘Sex in the City’ character and then don’t let her go to the city? Girls go missing everywhere, Darla, wake up. Women ain’t safe no place,” her mother’s boyfriend, Lonnie, had reasoned.
Every so often Lonnie, whom Miranda considers mostly useless with his love of infomercials and cheap beer, surprises her by saying something rational.
Still, her mother isn’t wrong. She’s just had bad, fast sex with a classmate who made her pay for half a pizza though she ate just one slice, then shook her awake saying, “You gotta go, Melinda. My girlfriend’s coming over.”
The subway screeches into view, obliterating the memory of Jeremy’s voice. Stepping into the near-empty car, she sits, focusing on her reflection in the dark window. Her hair is tangled from sex and sleep. A man sitting diagonally across the car smiles at her. He’s holding the first Harry Potter novel.
“My niece insisted. She says we’ll ‘discuss’ it at Thanksgiving.”
His use of air quotes and the way his blue eyes twinkle beneath the harsh light as he rolls them sarcastically make Miranda smile, forgetting about Jeremy.
As she tilts her head back, giving in to exhaustion, a man from the far end of the car slides into the seat beside her. Birdlike, his nose is a beak, his eyes black as a crow’s against his pale skin. They burn into her cheek. The hairs on her neck prick to attention. She wonders if she should get up, move to another car as his heavy, clammy hand cups her bare knee.
“You’re coming home with me.”
His breath, rancid as roadkill, hits her face, making her recoil. She wants his hand off her leg but refuses to touch him. He licks his lips, then his goatee.
“Mmm-hmm. I’m gonna carve you up like a jack-o’-lantern.” He laughs. Spit darts through the gap between his teeth, landing on her chin.
“Please leave me alone.” Her voice shakes and she hates her automatic midwestern manners.
As his hand slides up her thigh, she prays she’s still in Jeremy’s bed having a nightmare.
“Hey!” The blue-eyed man says. “That’s enough.”
“Fuck off, cub scout.”
Fingers claw toward her underpants.
The man tosses the book aside, stands, and crosses to them.
“Leave her alone,” he hisses.
Lights flicker. Miranda holds her breath. The birdlike creep stands. Moving toward the next car, he turns back to face her.
“I’m gonna see you later.”
His wink and swagger send fear ticking up the notches of her spine. A sweaty sheen mats her cardigan to her skin.
She tries not to look, but each time the train rounds a curve, she sees him watching her from the window of the other car.
As the subway lurches into the station, the blue-eyed man exits. It isn’t Miranda’s stop but just before the doors close, she leaps out, afraid to stay on without him.
Her legs are rubbery as she climbs the steps out of the station; her breath comes in shallow, quick bursts.
Above ground the moon is golden as a kettle chip. A hunter’s moon, Lonnie would say.
“A lot of creeps ride the subway at night,” the blue-eyed man says.
“I’m realizing that,” she nods, trying to determine which direction is north.
“If it’ll make you feel safer, I’ll walk with you a bit.”
“Thanks,” Miranda says.
They head west ignoring the crosswalk signals, orange hands urging them to stop. The streets are eerily quiet.
“How are you enjoying the book?” Miranda asks to break the silence.
“It’s better than I expected. But fantasy really isn’t my thing,” he says.
“What is your thing?” she asks. Once the words are out of her mouth, she realizes how flirty they sound.
“I prefer thrillers,” he says before coming to an abrupt stop. “Shoot. I should probably let my dog out.”
After giving her last $10 to Jeremy, Miranda has no cash for a cab. Her phone died an hour ago, so “you-ber,” as Lonnie calls it, isn’t an option.
“My place is around the corner. Mind if we swing by and get him?”
She knows it’s insane to go home with a stranger but then she pictures him scaring away the animal on the train. She looks into his soft blue eyes, gleaming in the moonlight, and notices gentle creases forming in the corners. She wonders how old he is. Is he hitting on her, and does she want him to?
“Okay,” she says.
They walk until they reach a brownstone. He unlatches the gate and gestures toward the basement level. Leaves crackle underfoot as he slides the key in the lock. She braces for an excited dog, but all that greets her is an odor, mold mixed with metal.
Her eyes scan the room. Something silver shines on a table. The clip of a leash? Her gaze turns to the wall. Bolted into the mortar between bricks are plastic cases, the kind Lonnie uses to showcase his high school football trophies.
Inside she sees a feathery earring, a leopard print ballet flat. She moves down the wall listening for the dog. She is about to turn to look for food and water bowls, a half-gnawed bone, when she spots them. The bubblegum pink straps.
Her mouth turns dry, her tongue sandpapery. Then she smells it. Him. His breath, hot and foul, against her neck.
“It’s almost getting too easy,” he laughs. “Settle a bet for us: What made you trust him? He says it’s his blue eyes. I think it’s ‘cause he’s carrying that boy wizard book.”
A sound like the ocean roars in her ears. Above it she hears the deadbolt slam into place.
“Told you I’d see you later.”
Liz Alterman has been writing in print and online for close to two decades. Her essays have been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and more. Her short fiction appears in the spring 2019 issue of Chaleur Magazine.
“We’re gonna rattle this ghost town.”
–Walk The Moon
by Catherine Hay
At first Silvia thought it was a mirage. A hazy town-like shape that blinked in and out of reality. Mirage or not, the sun stripped Silvia’s mouth of any moisture hours ago.
The town had been designed by a shotgun. One shot from Town Hall to a dark gate. Indistinguishable houses and shops lined the bullet’s path. Silvia stumbled into the town.
“Hey, hey you. Where am?” Silvia called out to a child on the dirt packed road.
The child looked up “You’re in Town.”
“I know that” Silvia murmured harshly “What’s the name of the town?”
“Town.” the child said
Silvia took a breath, she didn’t have time for this, her legs were seconds from collapsing into the sand. “ Whatever. Point me towards the nearest place I can get food.”
The child pointed to a shop with black smoke billowing from its window.
Silvia opened the door and more smoke enveloped her.
“No need to be alarmed. I’ve got it–” the man was interrupted by his lungs releasing a hacking cough, “under control”.
The air was surprisingly clear once past the doorway. The child (Silvia had never gotten her name) had directed Silvia to a bakery. A burning bakery, but a bakery nonetheless.
“I’ve been walking for days. I don’t have any money but I’d appreciate anything you can spare.”
“Of course, Stranger.” the man waved away any remaining smoke clouds while searching through baskets of black bread for the least burnt loaf. “Here you go, Stranger.”
“My name’s Silvia.”
The man blinked. His face hardened, even the blood running under his skin froze.
The man reanimated and smiled “Hello, Stranger, my name’s Baker.” The Baker wrapped the loaf in brown paper and offered it to Silvia. Silvia took it gingerly, as if it might explode or crumble at the slightest disturbance.
“Thanks. ”Silvia turned slowly and left the bakery.
“Hey, kid,” the same child was still in the street, “what’s your name?”
“Girl” she said. “What’s yours?”
“Nice to meet you, Stranger.”
“Girl! I told you not to play in the street!” A woman materialized in the doorway of a house lining the road. Her apron flapping like the sail of a great ship.
“I was only playing, Mother,” Girl protested as the woman grabbed her arm. “And I’ve made a friend. Mother, this is Stranger”
“Silvia. My name is Silvia.” Silvia extended her hand to the woman.
The woman looked at it, at Silvia, and back at her hand. Silvia retracted her hand. “May I ask your name?”
“Mother.” She tightened her grip on Girl. “Let’s go, Girl. It’s deafening out here.”
Mother dragged Girl back into the house and slammed the door.
“What is with this town?” Silvia wondered aloud as she tore into her loaf. Even the charcoal bits were delicious. Sated, Silvia’s throat cried out in neglect. There was a man in wide-brimmed straw-hat dosing in front of a house.
“Excuse me, sir, do you know where I could get a drink?” Silvia tapped the man’s wide-brimmed hat. He startled awake, almost falling out of his chair.
“Sorry to wake you.”
“Not a problem. What can I do you for?”
“I’m looking for a drink, know any good spots?”
“Tavernowner disappeared weeks ago and we haven’t had a decent drop of liquor since. But there’s a fountain at Town Hall.” The man pointed at the building from which the rest of the town originated.
“Thanks. What your name by the way?”
“Name’s Farmer.” Farmer leaned back into his chair and repositioned his wide-brimmed hat.
“Of course it is” Silvia started towards Town Hall
“Hey! What’s your name?” Farmer called after her.
“Silvia.” she said over her shoulder as she beelined for the fountain.
“Have a nice day, Stranger!” Farmer yelled before resettling back into his nap.
“Farmer! What have we told you about napping? It’s dangerous!” There was a sudden shout from behind Silvia. A collection of people spoke with one voice.
“Ah, I was just resting my eyes.”
The throng moved and Silvia blinked hard to make sure that this wasn’t another mirage. They moved in perfect synchronicity. Each muscle movement matched and all their heads swiveled with the same force and purpose. “By decree of Mayor and us, her Advisors, it is illegal to sleep until the ghost problem has been rectified”
“I know, I know.” Farmer got up, “I guess I’ll go shovel sand. At least that’ll keep me awake.”
Advisors nodded, satisfied, and turned in one motion. Silvia watched, unable to move, as the mass moved briskly to Town Hall. Silvia followed the shallow trench left by Advisors many footsteps to Town Hall.
Town Hall looked like all the other houses that lined bullet street, except it had a bell tower precariously perched on its roof. The fountain that Silvia had been promised was a metal spout attached to the outside of Town Hall. Water had never tasted as good as it did when it flowed down Silvia’s throat for the first time in days. Silvia worshipped at the fountain until the entire front of her shirt was soaked in its blessing.
“Slow down there, Stranger, don’t want you to choke.”A shadow fell over Silvia. Its caster was a blurry fragment in Silvia’s periphery. Silvia rose from her knees and came face to face with a woman.
“Welcome to Town,” the woman extended her hand “I’m Mayor.”
Silvia wiped the remaining drops from her mouth with the back of her hand. “Silvia”
“I know. My Advisors told me that there was a new person in new Town. We don’t get many visitors as you can imagine.”
“It is quite remote.”
“Yes, and the ghosts aren’t exactly a tourist attraction.”
“Mayor, it is time for the offering.” the mass of Advisors was holding a mason jar filled with a red liquid (Silvia hoped it wasn’t what she thought it was) and a woven basket filled with prickly cactus fruit.
“Yes, of course. Bellman! Ring the bell!”
The bell’s vibrations threatened to topple the shaky bell tower. As the bell rung Girl and two other children approached Advisors, unafraid of their collective mannerisms. Girl took the mason jar while the other two carried the basket between them. Their somber parade was accompanied by the toll of the bell. Down the road they marched, people in their houses peeked through cracks in permanent window coverings to watch this tiny procession. At the last house stood Farmer with a wrinkled and frail donkey. He helped the children strap the offerings to the donkey’s back.
“Goodbye, old friend” Farmer whispered into the donkey’s good ear before leading it up to the dark gate.
The gate, towering and gothic, swung open unassisted. Silvia shielded her eyes against the setting sun. The donkey’s rope hovered in the air, held by an invisible hand. It was lead into the beyond. Iron and steel slammed shut, causing the surrounding sand to scatter.
Silvia felt the town exhale. Everyone ran into the street: Mother, Baker, Farmer, Girl, Advisors, and unnamed folks who Silvia had yet to meet. Someone grabbed Silvia’s right hand and someone else her left. She was dragged into the festivities.
“Woah, who are you?” Silvia protested as the two people joined hand, closing the circle.
“We are Lovers.” They said in unison.
“Oh boy.” Silvia prepared herself for the weirdest.
“It has been..” one started.
“…so long…” the other finished.
“…have been able…”
“…to be together.” They released Silvia’s hands and embraced each other.
“The ghosts were too loud and we were too tired to love each other properly.”
“Well, I’m glad that you two have reunited.” Silvia shifted her feet backwards but a Lover caught her waist and pulled into their embrace.
“We are Lovers. We love everyone, even strangers”
“Especially strangers.” They pulled Silvia in closer. She could smell cloying sweetness of their breath.
“Alright,” Silvia forced herself out of their arms “Too weird. Personal space.”
The Lovers were too lost in each other to notice that Silvia had slipped from their grasp.
Town was exploding with color and music. Girl and her friends were smearing storefronts with bright colors and a band of musicians brought life back to Town. There were too many noises and colors and touches and smells and people. Silvia stumbled backwards, tripping over her own feet and falling into the sand.
“Be careful, dear. The sand may look soft but it’s hard as a rock” a wrinkled woman smiled down at the confused and overwhelmed girl who had just fallen at her feet.
“Thanks, my butt just learned that.” Silvia couldn’t bring herself to stand, so she sat at the feet of the elderly woman. “What’s your–wait let me guess–Grandmother”
“Close, they call me, Old Woman. Now let me guess yours.” Old Woman’s eyes locked onto Silvia’s. They pushed past the iris and into the darkness of her mind’s eye. They rifled through her memories and read her inner thoughts. “It seems you had quite a week, Silvia.”
Silvia, her name had never sounded so sweet.
“That’s my name. Everyone here calls me Stranger.”
“Take no offense, child, it is all they know”
“What is with this town?”
Old Woman smiled “All will be clear soon; we’ve just about reached the climax”
There came a great cry from the formerly festive townspeople. Mother was sobbing into her apron, Baker tried to bury his head in the sand, Mayor sat on the ground with her head between her hands.
“What’s wrong?” Silvia knelt in front of the distraught Mayor.
“I thought the offering would work. Advisors said it would work. What are we to do?”
“What is wrong? Why did you send that donkey into the graveyard?”
“You don’t hear it? The constant moaning? The ghosts been like this for weeks. They refuse to cease.”
Silvia looked to the cemetery. It had a dark aura that stood out against the setting sun.
And then she saw it. A wispy grey hand floating through the bars of the gates. Connected to that hand a familiar face. She hadn’t aged a day. Any scars the car wreck would have left on her body had been blotted out.
The moans were deafening. Is this why the townspeople didn’t sleep?
“I can’t stay here. I…I need to go” Silvia backed away from the Mayor, from the crying people in the street, from the ghost of her mother. She ran. Past Old Woman, past Town Hall, past Farmer’s farm, into the dessert. Waves of red gold sand surrounded her on all sides. The sun grew hotter. Silvia’s knees gave away and she collided with the crumbs of the earth. How had her mother been in that cemetery? She had been buried in Albany (At least Silvia had told her cousins to bury her in Albany. Silvia couldn’t bear to plan or attend her mother’s funeral). Why was her ghost in the middle of the desert? In a town where no one had a real name? Silvia fell face first into the blood red sand. That was a problem for another lifetime.
Catherine Hay (she/her) is an aspiring writer from Bethesda, MD. She loves all things magical, mysterious, and slightly spooky.
“You’re invisible when you’re sad.”
–Beetlejuice The Musical
The Scales of Guilt
by Maisie Dickson
The enchanted forest yielded for him as he walked the all too familiar path towards Amelia’s house. Clutching the basket in his left hand, filled with her favorites–mead and parchment.
He had grown to love her, not in a romantic way, but in a way that was complete, platonic, them side by side, facing the world–forever. He found her, as always, trimming the vines and forget me knots. The vines intertwined around her waist, bunching her light brown dress, and her crown of forget me knots around her rose colored hair, those were gifts from the forest that allowed her to walk freely without his help and without the use of her Kaye Walker.
She had always called to him even before he reached the front of her cottage. It had been a habit from her previous life; now she belonged to the forest, as it’s caretaker, its guardian. She stood in her yard tending to the vines that grew around the outside her home.
Upon hearing his footsteps, she turned to face him, greeting him with a warm hug. He returned her affections in kind by assisting her to sit on her verandah steps. Serving the small picnic, he’d made, they ate and in companionable silence until Matthew spoke up.
“I’m going away.”
“You’re going away? Why?” Amelia asked while pouring the mead into two goblets. Passing Matthew over one, she run her fingers around the rim of hers.
“There’s a ship bound for new cities that’s leaving tomorrow, I was asked by the captain to accompany him.”
“Do you have to go?” Amelia asked with a sadder tone then she would have liked to convey.
“‘Lia, you know as well as I do that this is a big opportunity for me as an invitation from a captain is like invitation from the king himself.”
Matthews excitement bubbled to the surface. Amelia watched as her best friend excitedly gush about tales of sea life on ships and long voyages, of new cities and adventure.
A few hours past and they two were walking through the forest, the sun starting to set across the wood. As they reached the edge of wood, Amelia reached out and grabbed his hands, placing a long round piece rope with a glass vile tied to it. Feeling the glass in his hand, Matt looked towards Amelia, catching her gaze.
“A gift for you to remember this place” Amelia said quickly as Matthew examined the object curiously, it was simple brown rope with a glass vile attached it, inside a few forget me not petals and parchment.
No doubt that the petals were to symbolize Amelia and their friendship and the parchment for his love of writing.
“Its beautiful” Matthew remarked causally slipping it around his neck and tying it securely. Giving Amelia a wink as he posed for her.
“Thank you, Amelia.”
Amelia laughed and smiled before reaching out and adjusting the vial around his neck. She was overjoyed that her creation had brought Matthew a bit of joy.
“If you’re ever homesick or need comfort, then let this gift help you. I will be awaiting your return, sailor.”
With one last hug, Matthew walked out of the forest as Amelia watched him go offering a silent prayer to the gods of the sea to watch over him.
Several months later
He had been at sea for months and yet the feeling deep in the pit on his stomach had never faded, not for a second. Guilt.
Memories would haunt him, when they met, her smile, learning how she run her letter writing press and taking over after she gave herself to the forest, the conversations they had, the forest accepting her into the wood and seeing her finally walker or his assistance, and the smile on her face as she realized she could walk freely.
And yet, he had left Amelia all alone in the forest and even with feeling the coolness of the necklace against his skin brought him some comfort, he couldn’t deny that he felt guilt for leaving her alone–no one to help her, save for the forest. Running his fingers over the vial again he sighed, closing the door to the sleeping quarters after a final check.
“I wish you were here, Amelia”
The waves crashed around the anchored ship, the balmy air smelled of sea salt and mango’s as Matthew did his final nightly checks of the ship before going up to the ships’ bridge, coming up the stairs from the broiler and stepping onto the bridge, he stepped in in tracks near the steering wheel of the ship.
“This life suits you, sailor”
He knew that voice. A voice he had wished to hear many times when he was missing his city, his home. He didn’t want to blink in case it was just a dream or illusion of the sea like many nights before.
He didn’t have to move before in the blink of eye she was sitting on the balcony just next to the steering wheel on the ship, overlooking the rest of the ship, Her pink tresses had grown longer but her dress and flower crown had remained the same, only thing missing was the vines around her waist and her bulky Kaye walker. she turned to face him, and his blue eyes met her chocolate ones before she spoke.
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost, Matthew”
To his credit, Matthew didn’t faint. Having had daydreams of her appearing to him when he was homesick had prepared him for this. Except this time, she looked very real.
“What are you doing here?” He asked after clearing his throat while walking towards her. He stopped before the steering wheel and leaned onto it, looking away and gazing out towards the sea.
“You wished me here, so here I am. I’d thought you would be happy to see me,” Amelia replied looking at Matthew curiously.
“But why now? Why not when I was craving our home, the print shop and the forest? Why not a month ago, or after I left port?”
Amelia watched as Matthew continued on, his voice raspy and on the verge of breaking. All the feelings that he had experienced of guilt came bubbling up to the surface as seeing her again made them spill out.
“Why now, when I feel like a left you defenseless in the forest, why now when I feel like I left you alone? Why couldn’t you have come–”
He was silenced in that moment by a pair of arms wrapping around him in a hug. He didn’t move to hug her back, scared that his arms would just go straight through her. But his body slowly relaxed into the hug, releasing the tension in his shoulders that he didn’t know he was holding, he felt his eyes water as everything that was going on finally sunk in.
Amelia released him from the hug, reaching up to his face he swept his hair back and brushed away the small tears from his eyes.
“Matthew, I promise you that I’m alright. You always talked about sailing the sea’s and adventure beyond our town. I’m okay, I miss you, but I know that you’re out living your dream”
Amelia gestured to the rest of the ship and the sea, and Matthew smiled wryly.
“You are doing what you always wanted and what you always talked about. That’s makes me happy, you must know that, you are my closest friend, I love you and I will always have a place for you whenever you return.”
Matt looked at her and smiled, sadly as he held her hands. He understood the words that she was saying to him but still felt a prickling of guilt.
“I should have brought you along with me. Instead I left you to the trees and the vines of the forest,” he finally let out. It felt so good to say that to her. Like all the memories that had been haunting him at been leading him to release that that was troubling him, that he left, and she stayed–when he should have at least offered to take her.
“But you know that I’m the forest caretaker, you watched me become it, you saw how happy it made me. I can walk without relying on anyone or anything, there’s a freedom in that. I spend my days amongst the leaves or tending to my cottage. I’m happy there”
“I know and am happy that you are happy, Lia.”
As the moonlight hit the ship, he pulled her into a hug which Amelia returned in kind as the moonlight covered them, he felt her presence fade until there was no more of her.
Maisie Dickson (she/her) is a demisexual creator who lives in regional Australia & when not reading, writing or illustrating, you can find her escaping into a book with tea in hand.
“To die, would be an awfully big adventure.”
“Now as then, tis simple truth, sweetest tongue has sharpest tooth.”
–Little Red Riding Hood by Charles Perrault
An Exercise in Empathy
by Michelle D. Ring
On the first Thursday in October, every K-12 student in America was to gather together in their school’s gymnasium to perform what was known as the fear swap. It was a relatively new practice; it had only been proposed a few short years ago, but it was already mandatory nationwide. “An exercise in empathy,” the news liked to call it, but in actuality, it was just an embarrassing and invasive excuse to get out of class for an hour or so.
Jet absolutely hated the fear swap and always begged their parents to let them opt out, but like most grown-ups these days, Jet’s moms had no sympathy for the struggles of ten-year-olds. Anytime their child would complain, it was always the same old response:
“You should consider yourself lucky. Back when we were in school we had to dissect dead animals, carve ‘em all up and take ‘em apart like some sort of mad scientist!”
It was, in all fairness, a somewhat valid comparison, but Jet doubted they’d be saying such a thing if they had to experience the swap for themselves. There was no use arguing about it though. All that would do was start a screaming match lose them their dessert privileges.
And so, when the date and time came, Jet followed their classmates out into the auditorium where the entire student body was lined up by grade. Once every class was accounted for, their principal, Mrs. Lee, took to the podium and began speaking.
“As I’m sure most of you are aware, today you will be using a virtual reality helmet to experience one of your fellow classmate’s worst fear. This is an opportunity for you all to step into someone else’s shoes and empathize with the struggles they may face on a daily basis. This information is not something to be taken lightly and anyone who is caught sharing details of their partner’s simulation or purposefully trying to frighten them will be punished severely. Now, I’ll hand you over to your regular teachers for the duration of the exercise. Once you and your partner have finished your simulations, you may head to the cafeteria where snacks and counselors will be available for the rest of the afternoon.”
Once she was finished, the assembled students began talking amongst themselves, creating a dull roar of nervous anticipation.
“Everyone find a partner!” Jet’s teacher, Mrs. Emerson, chirped above the noise.
There was a momentary scramble in which all of Jet’s classmates moved toward one another, dead-set on securing a partner they could trust. Jet wasn’t quite that lucky. All of their friends were older than them or in different classes. They scanned the group for other outliers, but couldn’t seem to find any. Several minutes went by. Jet folded their arms in front of them and tried not to make it too obvious that they were alone.
“Okay, so who doesn’t have a partner?” Mrs. Emerson asked eventually. “Raise your hand.”
Jet kept their arms to their side, as did everyone else. The teacher scowled.
“There’s an odd number of you,” she said. “I know there has to be someone.”
Jet sighed and took a tiny step forward. Mrs. Emerson nodded and told them to go find Mr. Kahn, who also had an odd number of students in his class. Jet was annoyed over having to work so hard for something they didn’t even want to do in the first place, but they did as the teacher said. They could feel the eyes of their classmates following them all the way.
The kid Jet got paired up with was a small mousy girl named Madeline. The only reason they knew her name and pronouns was because she had transferred to their school at the end of last year under suspicious circumstances and had hardly spoken a word to anyone since. Jet had often heard other kids refer to her as “The Ghost,” and standing face to face with her, it was easy to understand why. Her long black hair was stingy and lifeless like something out of a Japanese horror film. Her skin was a sickly grey-ish beige and there was something haunting about her eyes, almost as though they were completely devoid of joy.
Jet gave her an awkward smile and politely introduced themself, but Madeline made no indication of hearing them. She was too busy tapping her right index finger against the side of her knee and gnawing on her bottom lip. Jet could definitely relate. Fear sims could be really scary, especially when you had no idea what was coming at you.
“I’m not scared of anything too crazy,” they said, trying to calm her nerves. “Mostly just spiders.”
This time Madeline craned her neck at them. In that moment, she didn’t look nervous or scared. Her expression was pitying and perplexingly sad. The look was so out of place in the bright fluorescent light of the gym that it sent shivers down Jet’s spine.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
Jet was just opening up their mouth to ask for clarification when Mr. Khan came up and placed a hand on Madeline’s shoulder, making her jump.
“We’re about to get started,” he said and handed each of them a headset.
Madeline put hers on with trembling fingers and sunk down to the ground without another word. Jet watched her for a moment before doing the same. The two of them sat back to back, staring into a blank screen as the teacher linked and connected their headsets. Jet waited with bated breath as the simulation loaded all around them. Then, with a muffled beep, they found themself lodged in Madeline’s subconscious.
At first it seemed as though Jet was watching a sped-up, but relatively normal day in her life. She got up, went to school, came home, worked on homework, and ate dinner with her family. As nighttime grew nearer though, she began showing increasing levels of distress. Her natural frown deepened and her shoulders sagged. Her nervous ticks became more pronounced. She purposefully avoided looking at herself in the mirror while she was brushing her teeth and there were several times when she’d stop in the middle of whatever she was doing just to glance over her shoulder. Once under the covers, she didn’t even try to sleep. Instead, she kept her eyes fixed on the window overlooking her bed. Jet watched the window too, heart racing with sick anticipation.
Slowly but surely the hours ticked away until finally, right around midnight, a shadowy figure emerged from the woods. The creature had no face or distinguishing features to speak of. It was just a black and vaguely feminine shape outlined against the moonlight. Only, it wasn’t made of the kind of blackness that could be found anywhere in nature. This figure felt like it was consuming every ounce of light around it, making it ten times darker than the moon was bright. It moved with unnatural grace, walking an impossibly straight line from the copse of trees at the back of Madeline’s house, all the way up to the little girl’s window where it stood for a few moments, as if luxuriating in Madeline’s terror.
At this point, Jet was starting to get a little bit spooked. This was more detailed and specific than any fear sim they’d ever been in or heard of. They didn’t quite know what to make of it. Was this a memory? A recurring nightmare Madeline had? Or maybe just some over the top way of expressing that she was really afraid of the dark?
As Jet and Madeline watched, the figure lifted a gnarled hand up to the glass. Almost instantly the creature sank through the cracks in the windowpane, reappearing on the other side like smoke. The creature took two long, purposeful strides and then stood at the foot of Madeline’s bed, staring at her. Madeline was looking back at it with sad, tired eyes. It was clear that this scenario, whatever it was, was a common occurrence.
Then, almost faster than Jet’s eyes could register, the monster leapt up and hovered overtop of her. All at once, the soft buzzing sound of electricity vanished and the moving screensaver on Madeline’s computer came to a halt. The alarm clock on her bedside table remained stuck at exactly 12:05. This was when Madeline finally started struggling and letting out screams, but it was no use, Jet realized. In this stalled place between seconds, no one could hear her.
It turned out that Jet was wrong about the creature not having any facial features. As they stood there, paralyzed by fear, the bottom half of the thing’s face dropped down as if on a hinge, revealing a wide, disgusting mouth full of shark-like teeth. Madeline’s screams quickly turned into pleading.
“Please…” she whispered, eyes wet.
The creature craned its neck. It was clear that it could hear her, but it did not listen. It bore down on the girl, pressing its spindly limbs into hers until she could no longer move. Then, with the same languorousness of a moviegoer reaching into a bag of popcorn, it lifted Madeline’s hand to its mouth and started gnawing on one of her fingers.
Madeline screamed out in agony, but the creature remained unphased; a spider slowly enjoying her midnight snack. This continued on for what felt like hours until Madeline’s wailing faded into quiet sobs and then a wet gurgling and then, when there was not enough left of her to keep her mind working, nothing at all.
Jet felt ready to keel over from nausea, but it was impossible to look anywhere else. It was something so shocking and horrible that their brain kept them rooted in place as it desperately tried to work out a logical explanation. But there was none. And so, they bore witness to every flesh-tearing, bone-crunching, bite until Madeline ceased to exist, completely devoured by the beast.
Seemingly satiated, the creature closed its mouth and climbed down from Madeline’s bed. It stretched out its arms and rolled its neck. For just a split second, Jet got the sense that it was looking at them. Then the moment passed and the thing made its way back to the window, exiting the same way it had come in.
As soon as the nightmarish woman was gone, time started to move again. The screensaver resumed its usual path and the sounds of wind whistling outside filled the room. Jet sank down to their knees. About a million half-formed thoughts were swirling around in their brain, but chiefly among them was, why am I not waking up?
Then the clock finally moved to 12:06 and Madeline rematerialized in her bed with a gasp. The queasiness in Jet’s stomach intensified tenfold as they realized the implication of such a thing. Jet watched as Madeline laid there choking on sobs until her exhaustion finally won out and lulled her to sleep. Then, and only then, did the simulation finally collapse.
Jet ripped the headset off of their face the second they regained control of their physical body. Madeline was sitting cross-legged in front of them with tears in her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” she said again.
Jet reached up and ran trembling fingers through their hair. The child was in complete and utter shock over how someone could be afraid of something so disturbing and specific. They allowed themself a moment to get their racing heart under control before speaking.
“That woman,” they asked carefully. “Is she from a scary movie or something?”
Madeline clenched her fists in the fabric of her pants and laughed a manic, humorless laugh.
“No,” she said, shaking her head and turning to them with helpless eyes. “I first saw her in a fear sim. Just like you.”
Michelle D. Ring (she/her) is a freelance writer and self proclaimed “cool dude” from sunshiny Phoenix, Arizona. Her hobbies include reading, soap-making, and overanalyzing everything. Her short story collection, To the End: Six Short Stories About Life and Death, is available now on Amazon and Amazon Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/End-Short-Stories-About-Death-ebook/dp/B07XB3V5TG/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=to+the+end+six+short+stories&qid=1568699766&s=digital-text&sr=1-1&pldnSite=1
“‘Faith, sir,’ replied the storyteller, ‘as to that matter, I don’t believe one-half of it myself.‘”
–The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
This Halloween marks the 1 year anniversary of The Elephant Ladder! Originally a short story collection among friends, posted over on our founder, Molly’s, old blog, quickly grew into this marvelous indie magazine! We’d like to take this time to thank everyone who made this first year possible:
Our kind donors and patrons: Susan Marie Doyle, The Groove Theatre, and a very generous, anonymous ko-fi donor
Our first year artists: Liz Alterman, Bridget Barnsley, Sarah Chang, Natalie Cuddington, Maisie Dickson, Susan Marie Doyle, Claire Elazzoui, Kat Marie Ervin, Catherine Hay, Kirsten LaMonica, Andrew Likovich, Katy Likovich, Jordan E. McNeil, Kathy Mire, Danni Maxwell, Fiona Murphey-McCormack, Michelle D. Ring, Peter Rivkin, Austin Webberly, Lauren E. Wilson, and Alex Z.
Thank you to all of you who read the issues, retweeted tweets, followed our instagram, and shared the love of The Elephant Ladder and the marvelous work our creators make.
And lastly, thank you to our Founder & Lead Editor, Molly Likovich, for all the work she does, everyday, to make The Elephant Ladder the best it can possibly be.
Here’s to another wonderful year! Happy Anniversary, and Happy Halloween!
“They say that somewhere in Africa the elephants have a secret grave where they go to lie down, unburden their wrinkled gray bodies, and soar away, light spirits at the end”
–Robert R. McCammon
Follow The Elephant Ladder on twitter @LadderElepant and on Instagram @theelephantladder. If you’d like to help fund the next issue of The Elephant Ladder, please consider donating to our ko-fi page at: http://www.ko-fi.com/theelephantladder Lastly, if you’re interested in running an ad in the next issue of The Elephant Ladder, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org