“Into the woods
But careful not
To lose the way
Into the woods
Who knows what may
Be lurking on the journey.”
–Into The Woods
Letter from the editor
I know with every fiber of my being that there is magic in the Autumn. The leaves changing color, the nights getting longer, as Lord Byron would say–There are witches in the wind. When this project first came into being, I just wanted to put together some short, spooky stories with other online content creators. I originally shared this issue on my old blog, it was meant to be a one time thing. But the experience of working together with other creators for a collective goal–to create something we could share with others for free, something that encapsulates our art and honoring the changing of the seasons–well that was just too good an idea to do just once. Thus The Elephant Ladder was born. This issue has been tweaked and re-formatted a bit since it’s first incarnation on my old blog, but the stories stay the same.
Molly Likovich (she/her)
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by: Michelle Doering
You wake up in an unfamiliar room in an unfamiliar house.
It takes you a moment to place who you are and why you are here. Once you do, you allow yourself a small smile. It is a new habit of yours. You never used to smile, but something about your surroundings must be rubbing off on you.
You get dressed in plain red and black clothing and go downstairs. The house, as usual, is empty.
You pour yourself a glass of water from the sink. It is something you have learned not to do in public, for the others seem to be concerned about disease or contamination.
As if there weren’t much bigger concerns for them to worry about.
You drink your fill and load up on carbohydrates; sugary cereal that dances across your tongue and makes your heart spike uncomfortably.
Having satiated your body’s needs for the moment, you disappear into the bathroom to begin your daily ritual of primping.
This part of your new life you do not mind. It took awhile to learn, but the concept is simple. It is like the human equivalent of putting on a new skin.
You stare at your face in the mirror and admire your handiwork. With a thick coat of makeup obscuring every aberration, you look just like all of the other girls at school: too-orange skin and overdrawn lips and eyebrows much darker than they ought to be.
You gather your empty backpack and venture outside. It is hot. Much too hot for your liking, but the others are wearing many more layers than you. You hunch over as you walk, so as not to draw attention to it.
You make it to school, passing through the gate and into the crowd of adolescents without incident. The one called Brian saddles up beside you, looping his arm over your shoulder in some sort of display of possession. You fight the urge to recoil from the heat his body produces.
“Hey Babe,” he says, showing his teeth. “Aren’t you cold?”
You mirror his expression and shake your head.
“I am finding the weather quite pleasant today,” you lie.
Brian laughs and touches his lips to your forehead. You squirm away from the touch, which only makes him laugh.
He walks beside you all the way to the first of your classes, telling you about a sporting event he is excited to partake in. You forget which one he plays, but you nod along regardless.
Eventually the bell that seems to herd the other children into their designated classrooms sounds, and you are finally able to rid yourself of the overly affectionate male.
You enter the class and take your seat near the back. Slowly all of the others trickle in, followed by the teacher. The bell chimes once more, and the learning session begins.
You enjoy this class immensely. They call it ‘history’, but you learned very early on that it is essentially just a crash course on all of the things that have driven humans to slaughter each other.
You find it incredibly fascinating.
Alas, the one called Mrs. Starchman is not talking today as she normally does, instead opting to write out what you assume to be inquiries on the board.
This visual translation of human speech is not something you have yet mastered.
You watch the teacher call on students one at a time to answer numbered questions. She makes it all the way to number five before singling you out.
“Amy?” Mrs. Starchman says.
You look again at the jumbled letters on the board.
“I do not know what that means,” you answer honestly.
The others begin laughing quietly, their shoulders hunched.
Starchman gives you an expression of anger, but does not push the issue further, choosing to move on to the next person instead.
The rest of your day passes uneventfully.
You return to the empty house, satisfied; you are growing more accustomed to this life every day.
You settle into your evening routine, staring at the pages the others call homework and watching the pictures move across the primitive screen in the living room.
Finally, after darkness has descended outside, you return to the kitchen to once again remove the painful squeezing feeling in the pit of your stomach.
After preparing and consuming a meal for yourself, you get to working on another.
This one consists of scalding hot water–everything is always so hot here–and a block of flavored dehydrated starch.
You like this meal because it has images on the back that explain how to prepare it, rather than words.
Content with the state of the food, you pour it into a smaller vessel and carry it with you down the long stretch of stairs that takes you into the room that is partially underground.
At the end of this room, there is a door. You approach it, again struck by how simple, yet needlessly complicated it is. Hundreds of tiny bits of dead trees pressed together and varnished to serve as a blockade. A first line of defense against intruders.
Slowly, you bring your fingers up to the metal part and twist the small locking mechanism before pulling the door outward, revealing what is inside.
You look down at the meat, identical to you in every way. Her eyes are wide and popping, her wrists rubbed raw from all the struggling. There is moisture running down her cheeks; tears, you think they are called. Your eyes cannot produce these tears, but it seems like a useless and dehydrating function anyway.
You reach down and untie the strip of fabric from around her mouth.
“Let me out of here.” she begs. Her voice sounds raw and wet.
You ignore her plea and hold a spoonful of soup to her mouth. She chokes it down despite her sobbing. She is starving. She has no choice.
She finishes the bowl.
“How long are you going to keep me here?” she asks.
You cock your head, considering. It is a good question. You really have no use for her now that the mission is in full swing. In fact, your superiors would probably be angry that you have not disposed of her yet.
But something inside of you finds this girl intriguing.
You feel as though you know her. You know her friends and family and daily routine. You know her likes and dislikes and romantic preferences.
And yet you are not her. You are something else entirely.
And her loved ones like you better.
They have to know that something is off about you. That you are either more or less of the person you once were, and yet, they are happy to ignore this fact. Happy to leave the complicated and dramatic Amy Reinhart locked in a closet while you become a better her than she ever was.
Also, looking down at her now, you have to admit that there is a part of you that enjoys seeing her breaking down and losing hope as the days go on. How long will it take for the girl whose life you stole to become an empty shell?
Irony, you think it is called.
You flash her your best paper-thin smile and shrug.
She starts crying again as you re-affix her gag. It barely muffles the sounds of her displeasure, but it does not matter really. You have already disposed of anyone who would care.
Satisfied now that the meat has been fed, you re-lock the door and climb back up the stairs until the sound of her manic cries fades into the distance.
Michelle Doering is a reader, writer, and self proclaimed “cool dude” from sunshine-y Phoenix, Arizona. She loves cats, hails from the same high school as Alice Cooper, and thinks Wally West is a better Flash than Barry Allen will ever be. When she’s not watching cartoons and preaching about social injustice she can be found discussing books, comics, and other nerdy things at https://www.youtube.com/iamnotaworm
by: Susan Marie Doyle
It is the hunt. The moon, the smells of the forest at night. Pine trees in this land, tall, majestic loblollies, swaying in the slight breeze, carrying the scent. The scent of prey. The scent of fear. She lopes through the forest, treading on pine needles, making no sound, not even panting. Pure joy. Her prey runs, stumbles, makes far too much noise. She backs off a little. She does not want to catch him too soon. She loves the running. She loves the chase. She loves the smell of his fear. She wants it to last. She does not get to do this at each full moon. She must enjoy it, savor it. The taste of blood will come soon enough.
He is terrified. What is that thing? He knows why. He knows, deep down, that there is no reasoning, no apology, no begging, no reprieve. If he can get to the road, there’s a Royal Farms a little ways down. If he can just get to the road, but it’s so far. Maybe he’ll get lucky. Maybe a car will come. Maybe he should stop, call for help. But no, it is too close. Run. Run. Run.
It spoke to him. That thing. Told him why, it was in his head.
He’s not evil. He’s not even bad. Not really. She wanted it, she deserved it. He didn’t hit her that hard. She was so mouthy. She didn’t even need to go to the ER. This monster. This thing. How did it know? How could it talk? How? He was sobbing. Pleading with God. Please. I promise. I won’t hit her again. I won’t hurt her. No more sex. The thing said rape. But really, his sister was almost 15. She wanted it. He could tell. And she was only his half sister. So it wasn’t really wrong. It was just sex. And only a couple of times. What’s the big deal. He was sobbing, stumbling, running, running.
She could smell the fear, growing, the sweat, he was tiring. Now, before he gave up, before he collapsed. She loved the hunt.
She pounces. He screams. So much blood. So much screaming. He pleads to God. The stomach bleeds. The warm taste of blood in her mouth. And the throat. But stomach first, to see the fear in his eyes. The terror. He is the real monster. She is justice.
Ms. Lucy Farkas stood at the front of the room, waited for the bell. As soon as it rang her pupils settled down. Students. It was November. They knew the routines by now. They liked her, respected her, feared her a little. She liked American schools, but sometimes missed the structure of Europe. It took longer here to get classes into the proper routines. They were so innocent. More brash, less worldly. Lilly was crying. Her friends were comforting her. Lucy felt a pang of sympathy. The poor thing.
“Ms. Farkas! Can I take Lilly to the girl’s room?” This was where girls went to resolve emotional issues.
“Yes, of course. What’s wrong?”
“Her brother was killed last night.” And they hurried off. Lucy knew that Lilly hated her brother. But still. A death is a death, and family is family after all.
Lucy had learned that letting the girls go off and deal with their emotions was much better than trying to keep them in class and focused. She sighed. Americans. She began the lesson.
“Today we will learn about the phases of the moon.”
James stood at the crime scene. It was daylight now. The body was gone. The blood was there, but seeped into the ground. Not the same as a scene in a building, or on a street or sidewalk. They might not have found it for days, weeks even. But some teens from the local private school had been in the woods drinking. Rich kids. Too much money, too little supervision. They heard the screaming.
And the growling. They claim they saw a shape. An animal. A monster. They were drunk, stoned, scared. He figured it must have been a big person. A monster, for sure, to do that much damage. They hadn’t found a murder weapon, were not sure what they were looking for. It was the worst corpse he ever seen. And he was no rookie.
He was familiar with the victim. No love lost there, but he would do his job. The scene had been processed. Something was off here. A crime of passion, yes, but something else. He wanted to run this, see if there were other murders like this one. It was so brutal.
Eventually Lilly and her girl squad came back. The bell rang, the next class came in. The day went smoothly. It was Friday. Lucy turned down her colleagues offer to go out after work. Really. Why did they still ask? Lucy did not drink. Not at bars, not with colleagues. Rarely, and only at home. Old whiskey. Dark, thick Hungarian wine. Brandy. Very fine brandy. Things school teachers did not drink and could not afford.
Slim, athletic, intense. She gathered her things, carried her bike down three flights of stairs. Never the elevator. She took off. Down the streets, into the woods, following old trails towards the river. She walked along the river’s edge to the tunnel entrance, downstream. It was behind some bushes and old trees. A remnant from the days of the Underground Railroad. The school was built on the site of an old warehouse. The warehouse dated to the civil war, and the tunnel led to the basement of the old warehouse, a stop on the Underground Railroad. There were many such stops here on the Eastern Shore. Undocumented, unknown, still in existence.
If you knew where to look. If you remembered.
Lucy entered the tunnel, walked the long way back towards the basements, the school, the hidden door in the wall. Home.
Thanksgiving came and went. Another full moon. The hunger was strong. Another human monster to hunt. But she was careful. Further towards the bay, rural, small town sheriff. They blamed this one on coyotes. Or wild dogs. It was a brief blip in the local paper, which no one really read anymore.
James didn’t find much to solve the case. Some suggested maybe a dog. Someone’s Rottweiler or Pit. Some pissed off hunter. Who knew. The victim was scum. Move on. He did.
But then, a few weeks later his computer search paid off. Montana of all places. Almost identical. They had figured they had a serial killer, five years worth, then, nothing. They never got close to solving the case, and then it stopped. About two years before this one. He was interested again. Not because of the victim. Hell no. But it did keep popping up in his thoughts. He decided to pursue it in his free time. Hah. Free time.
“What do you think about Farkas?” Bobby taught history. Gossip at Friday happy hour. No one gossips like teachers.
“What about her?” Carlie, always the first to jump in.
“She’s kind of odd. Cold, ya know.”
“Why? Because she won’t have sex with you?” Everyone laughed.
Bobby flushed, got angry. “What makes you think I’d want to have anything to do with that cold fish.” In truth, he had asked her out multiple times, and everyone knew. And he knew that. But ya know, pride. Guys.
They gossiped some about Lucy. They all thought she was odd. They liked her well enough. Maybe she’s gay. Maybe she doesn’t like sex. Laughter. They had fun, moved on to administrators they didn’t like.
Farkas. Wolf in Hungarian. Lucy sits in her favorite chair, sipping her brandy. It has been a long time since she has been home. She wonders about her ancient enemy. She has sensed him for some time now. She wanted to wait until the end of the school year. But she may not last that long. She had thought he was long gone. But he was there. Near, getting nearer. She may not have that much time.
And the hunger. It is becoming more difficult to skip moons. She doesn’t want to. The yearning. When she gets hungry, she gets angry. Her eyes can give her away. Yellow. So far she has kept a low profile, the odd European with the dark hair and the green eyes. But she is getting restless, and hungry. Always hungry for the hunt, for the blood.
She is hunting tonight. Prowling. It feels so good. Free. Sometimes the running, the night, the light from the full moon, a deer or fox. It is enough. Not enough, but it sates her appetites for a while. Eases the pain.
He is near. Has he found her again? Once, he found her lair. That time was close. It has been a long time. Is he not an old man now? Too much thinking. Later. For now, she runs.
Lazlo Toth had an appointment with detective James Walston. James wondered why the well-known Hungarian computer whiz kid wanted to meet with him. Well, maybe not a kid anymore. But computer geek. Rich computer geek. But what the hell. Not well known to him, of course. But his young colleague was impressed. A quick Google search showed that Mr. Toth was wealthy, well-known in certain internet circles. He wanted to talk about the murders. So, that was interesting.
“Mr. Toth, sorry to keep you waiting.”
“Please, detective. Call me Lazlo.” Thick accent, perfect English.
“I’m not sure I understand your interest, or how I can help. But since you seem to have come a long way, I figured I could at least talk to you.”
Lazlo looked at the detective, took a moment to answer. “You misunderstand Detective. It is I who can help you.”
Lucy had long since mastered the internet. She controlled her identity, managed her finances, her properties. Her old enemy had a great-grandson. Lazlo. And he was here. She could feel it, yes. He looked the same. The same name. The same face. Different century.
She also got his schedule. His private jet had landed at the Salisbury Airport. She stood tall. Her eyes went yellow. The hunt was on. This time, she was the prey.
Lucy retreated to her lair to think, to plan. Silence. Time. Patience. Old skills by now.
“I’m sorry. Maybe it’s a Hungarian thing. You’re telling me a person did this? We had figured a pack of wild dogs. ” He wasn’t sure he actually believed that. He wanted a reaction.
“Yes.” Not dogs, he thought. Almost.
“What kind of deranged monster is this person? How do you know? How has someone this twisted avoided law enforcement for so long?” James didn’t buy it. There was something Lazlo was hiding. Was it him? Serial killers liked to insert themselves into investigations. This guy was placing himself front and center.
“Yes, a monster. But not deranged. I can help you.”
“How?” James hoped the dripping skepticism was obvious in his tone.
“I have a picture of her.”
Lucy called out sick. Family sick leave. Indefinite. Elderly aunt, Lucy would be in touch. The full moon was in two days. She would be much stronger if she waited. If she hunted. Meanwhile, she set her plans in motion and waited.
She always had plans. She had done this so many times before.
James looked at the picture. Old, sepia. An old brown photo of a woman who had surely been dead for a hundred years or more.
“So what, she looks like this old woman? Do you have photo from, oh I don’t know, this century? Or even the last one?” James was getting pissed.
“Does she look old in the photo?” Lazlo was calm. Patient. Idiot. Americans know nothing. Everything is so new to them.
“Um, no.” Jesus, maybe it was the language barrier. “But the photo. That’s really old.”
“Nonetheless, this is your killer.”
Not, the killer looks just like this. “We are clearly not communicating here. Explain to me in a little more detail what you are trying to tell me.”
Lazlo placed the photo on the detective’s desk. “This is your killer.”
James stood up. Time to throw this nut case out of the station. One of the other detectives came by, picked up the photo.
“What is this? From the boardwalk or something? Why do you have this photo of Ms. Farkas? Did something happen to her? My daughter said she’s been out for the last couple of days.”
James turned and looked at Jason. Lazlo gasped.
“Did you say “farkas”?” He was tense, pale, trembling. It was her. She was here. He hadn’t actually expected to find her. But he had promised his grandfather to look. His grandfather’s stories, of his father’s hunting. Stories. He had followed the trail, but had never truly believed them. Until now.
James looked back and forth between the young cop and the foreigner. He took a deep breath. This was too weird.
He pointed at Jason. “You. Who does this look like?”
“Not “look like”. That’s her. My daughter’s science teacher, 8th grade, over at the middle school. I met her at Back to School Night in September. That’s definitely her. Is she ok?”
“I don’t know,” muttered James. He looked up at Lazlo. “Your turn. You, sir, have some explaining to do.”
She heard them, through the walls. A brief thrill of terror ran through her. She remembered what they did to her brothers. Lazlo. He even sounded like him. The original Lazlo. Her old, old enemy. Long since dead. But back. She held her breath, waited for them to leave. She had to leave. The moon would be up in a few hours. Everything was in place. Time to move on.
“Well, we talked to everyone, searched the school. Everyone likes and respects her. There is nothing, I repeat, nothing here to suggest that Ms. Farkas is anything other than an excellent, well respected teacher.”
Lazlo shook his head. How much to share? He took a deep breath.
“Tonight there is a full moon,” he whispered.
There was silence. Complete silence. There was water dripping somewhere. There was the musty smell of basements. A mouse scurried somewhere.
“Full moon? Look, I don’t know much about Europeans, but what the hell does a full moon have to do with a serial killer or a middle school science teacher?”
Lazlo started to speak, but James held up his hand. “Rhetorical question. You need to go. Go now, go home.” He started to say more, his temper starting to rise, bit back the words. “Get the fuck out,” he said, low and angry. “Get. Out. Now.”
Lazlo stood tall. Gathered himself. Looked the detective in the eyes. “She is neither serial killer nor science teacher. She is a monster. A verfarkas. And you underestimate her.” He turned to go. “I suggest you stay out of the woods tonight, detective. She will be hunting, and you have become dangerous to her.”
Lazlo found his own way out. James sat down on a stool, there in the basement. “What the fuck was that?” he said to himself. “Stay out of the woods? What the hell? Is she a werewolf or something?” But even as he said it, knowing how ridiculous it was, there was that little sense. He couldn’t just dismiss it. A werewolf? Oh, fuck no.
He was about to stand up when he thought he heard something. But no, he was imagining things. Then he heard it again. Monsters, James. Jesus. Get a grip.
On the other side of the wall, Lucy was putting in the blocks that prevented it from opening. She liked this lair. She hoped to come back someday. It was better back when the school had been first built, and there had been so much more forest. Perhaps she could return. Someday. For now, time to move on.
But first, hunt. Four more hours, the moon would be up. Six, it would be at it’s strength. As would she.
James was on his way out of the school, wondering about what he should do, when an older teacher came to talk to him. “You know,” she said, “there used to be legends about this school.”
He looked at her. Today just kept getting weirder.
“My grandfather went to this school, when it was first built and was a high school.”
He nodded. What the hell. More stories.
She continued. “I saw that man, the European man. My gramps said that people said there was a monster in the woods around the school. Sometimes they heard howling, like a wolf. A couple of times, people went missing in the woods. Like now. That young man who was killed. And last year, a couple of hunters. Always on a full moon. Until the old Hungarian came. Then the monster was gone.” She looked at him, nodding. “Sometimes, there is truth in those old tales. You should listen.” And she walked away, still nodding.
James didn’t know about the hunters. But, seriously? C’mon.
Lazlo knew he was on his own. He would have liked to have the detective accompany him. Lazlo did not know these woods. This would be the first time he had hunted the vérfarkas. He wasn’t prepared. He didn’t like to admit it, but he was frightened.
James went back to work. Sure enough, over the last five years other people had disappeared in the woods. Same woods. Always people who no one would care much about. He picked up Lazlo’s card. Sigh. He was really going to hunt a werewolf tonight.
She crept out of the tunnel, fully formed by the time she reached the end. The moonlight shone on her. Loping easily. Fur sleek, eyes yellow. She threw back her head and howled.
James froze. The hair stood up on his neck. His scalp. No, he thought, no. Coyote. Get a grip of your self.
Lazlo’s eyes gleamed, excited and terrified both. “It is her. The vérfarkas. We must be careful. We are human. She has the intelligence of a human, but the cunning and instincts of a wolf. And she is hunting.”
James looked at him. This is insane he thought. And it cannot be possible. They were hunting a serial killer. A monster, yes, but not some mythic beast. Not that. Still. He gripped his gun tighter, wished he had brought back up. But of course, how could he? Hey guys, wanna help me track down a werewolf. Yeah, no.
He is close, she thought. My enemy. He hunts me. But I hunt him. She had planned on tracking down the drug dealers who had been using these woods lately. But perhaps, not. Perhaps tonight there would be other prey. She ran on.
For two hours, the two men hunted, tracked. They did not find any tracks, but they followed the howl they had heard earlier. There, again. Towards the sound of the howl, deeper into the forest. James had never thought there was that much forest left here on the shore. But tonight, it seemed dark and endless. Then they heard once again, that howl. They rushed onward.
After another 45 minutes, they came upon a grisly scene. Like the last one, but two young people, eviscerated. One quivering against a tree. And huge wolf paw prints near the bodies.
“ A wolf. A giant, giant wolf. Yellow eyes. It looked right at me, after, after…” he sobbed.
Lazlo froze. He had never seen this, only been told tales. It was so much worse in person. So much blood, so little left of what had once been a person. He could not take his eyes away. It was true. He was not sure he had ever fully believed it. He believed now.
James spoke to the young man. “Tell me, what you saw.”
The young man was shaking, “it was a wolf. So big. Yellow eyes. It looked at me. Came right up to me. But, it didn’t .. didn’t…”
“It’s ok. What happened?”
“It said…” He sobbed again.
“Wait. What? It said?”
The young man nodded. “I heard it. In my head, it said: Remember. Tell him.”
Lazlo was standing behind James. “That message is for me.”
She was nearby. She needed to see. Them. Him. She watched, as he understood. Then turned, and looked right at her. She was thrilled. The connection, it was there. It was almost like finding an old friend, enemy mine.
Lazlo turned, towards the forest, the darkness. He could feel her. His grandfather had told him that, but Lazlo had doubted. Tales of an old man. But he could. And then. He saw them. The yellow eyes. He froze. There, in the forest, perhaps the shadow of a shape. A giant shape. And yellow eyes, mesmerizing him. He couldn’t have moved if he wanted to.
James spoke, but did not turn. “We need to get this kid to help, and we need back up. I’m going to call this in, if I can get service on my cell.” James looked up, saw Lazlo standing there, rigid, staring. He followed Lazlo’s gaze and gasped. Eyes. Yellow eyes. Too high off the ground for a coyote. Too tall. He went for his gun. Oh my god. He fumbled, could’t get it, got it, dropped it, never taking his eyes from the darkness. The kid screamed and screamed. He turned to look at the ground for his gun, got it, looked up, Lazlo still motionless, the kid still screaming.
She saw the man drop the gun. She ran. She ran and ran. Strong, effortless, joyful. The thrill of the hunt, the joy of the kill. And him. He was back. She put back her head and howled. She had missed him. It was like old times. And then she stopped thinking and ran on. Through the woods, through the darkness. Her world. The men were far behind. She howled again. And the moon shown down on her in her glory.
Susan Marie Doyle is a weirdo, old, hippie, science teacher by day, author of scary stories by night.
A Twist in the Tail
by: Austin Webberly
Once upon a time there was a little tuxedo cat. The cat was very observant of his owner, who was the most powerful wizard in the village. The wizard, who was a very solitary wizard, spent most of the day practicing different spells and potions. The cat only wanted one thing from his owner: to be turned into a human. Now, the wizard barely knew the cat existed, and the fact that “Oscar”, which was, apparently, his name according to his bowl, got fed every day was a shock. Oscar was hoping, just hoping, that there was going to come a day when his master would either create or try a spell or potion or something to give him a human body. It’s not that he didn’t want to be a cat, he just wanted to be a human so he can steal his owner’s magic and take over the world, or at least try to. That being said, he left his owner clues, which were just overlooked or used in potions. The cat became furious with his owner. So furious, in fact, that in his sleep, an old witch appeared to him.
She comforted the cat as she told him of a spell, one that can remove him from his cat body and put him in a human’s body. All he needed to do was bite the left middle toe of the human, where their magic is stored during sleep, and draw a symbol on the bottom of his right foot, and the transformation will be complete. HOWEVER, the witch told him that the only thing he needs to be watchful for is the time, for the spell will only work at midnight. Oscar couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t wait any longer.
So, when he awoke, he waltzed into his owner’s bedroom to see that he was still asleep. So, Oscar decided to act. He looked at the clock, but being a cat, he couldn’t really tell time and he didn’t care enough to pay attention to the one “rule” that he was supposed to take seriously, but he was a cat, what do you expect?
Oscar made his way to his owner’s left foot, which smelled disgustingly of magic and fungus, and, holding his breath, bit the middle toe enough to draw blood. He took his tail, and drew the symbol that the witch told him to draw. The blood glowed and illuminated the entirety of the room. When Oscar wasn’t being blinded, he looked around and saw that he was looking around the room from his owner’s eyes. When he looked at the foot of the bed, he saw the old witch from his dream.
“Oh, you stupid kitty,” she said, emitting a golden glow. “You should have done it at midnight like I said.”
The next thing Oscar knew, the witch took her wand from her pocket, pointed it at Oscar, whispered some magic words, and Oscar was now at the foot of the bed, staring at his owner’s body. He was trapped in the old witch’s body!
“Aha! I knew you were trouble since the day I found you,” said his owner. “Now, you can be my servant! Go make me some tea.”
Austin Webberly is currently studying English while dreaming of being a novelist. He spends his time planning out novels, and sometimes writing them. He has been published in his college’s literary and arts journal. He continues to write about whatever comes to mind, such as what he ate for breakfast or how a cat wants to take over the world. He lives with two golden retrievers, both of which love him more than anything.
“Look until the leaves turn red, sew the worlds up with thread. If your journey’s left undone, fear the rising of the sun.”
Katy Likovich is a 4th grade teacher in LA. She has a BA from Salisbury University in Theatre and is currently finishing her Masters in Education at UCLA. She has had poetry and photography published in Echoes & Visions. She also has a
cat with whom she is obsessed.
“As you’re pretty, so be wise;
Wolves may lurk in every guise. “
The Light in the Woods
By Peter Rivkin
It started with the music. I was sitting on my back porch, reading a book for school. The trees were like swaying clusters of marmalade. It was one of those autumn days when the air is light and fresh, and yet totally sterile. I enjoyed it. My parents didn’t enjoy it. My parents always hated autumn. To them it was no more than a reminder that winter was coming. That death was coming. But I enjoyed it. In those last moments, the world bursts into a blazing vermillion, only to settle in a cold, ashen heap. And then, out of the snow-drenched winter is born a newer, younger world. Something I’ve come to notice is that the people who don’t like autumn are the people who are afraid of getting old.
I had been reading for a while now, and my eyelids were beginning to sag and the words on the page dissipated as my gaze passed over them. I stopped reading and closed the book, and blinked a few times. I saw some movement in the trees, and I squinted, everything blurry. We got a lot of animals in this neck of the woods; squirrels, birds, deer—I had spotted a falcon flying overhead at one point.
There was a spot just off our back porch where the lawn ended and the woods started, and the land rose into a slight hill. There was a boulder at the edge of that hill, and if I were to stare just over that boulder, I would see the entirety of the woodland—or perhaps all of Connecticut, or all of America, if I really looked well enough—unfolding before me, in layers, like in an old brush painting or a pop-up book. Sometimes the ground would be covered in a hazy mist, and as I stared at the turkeys and deer scavenging over the mounds, I felt that something else lurked there. Something old.
I stood up and turned around to go back inside. But I stopped with my hand on the doorknob. I was not sure if I had heard it at first, but as I listened, it became gradually more noticeable. There was music playing somewhere in the woods, a faint, simple melody that reverberated through the trees like a whisper in the silence of the afternoon. I could not tell what or where it came from. As I turned around to see if I might find the source, the sound died off. I went inside.
It wasn’t the last time I heard it, either. I heard it again and again, once when I was walking, another time when I was raking leaves. It was the same strange music, enigmatic, ethereal, and sorrowful, and very, very old. I couldn’t say why, what it was about it that was so old, but it felt old the way a person feels old. The music felt alive; but it played in the hands of death.
What unnerved me so much about it was knowing that whenever there’s music being played, there’s always someone playing it.
It had been a few weeks since I first heard the music. The trees were nearly barren and the ground was covered in a soft brown blanket, and Autumn was on its way out. It had snowed for the first time that year, and it continued well into the evening. I went to bed, with little on my mind, and let dreamless sleep take over.
I woke up in the middle of the night with a parched throat. I checked the clock by my bedside—1:24. After lying half-awake for a few minutes I roused myself, and went downstairs to get a glass of water. The house was silent, and the windows were dark, but I could see without turning the lights on. I walked past the back door, and into the kitchen, taking a glance out the window as I reached for a glass in the cabinet. And then I paused, and blinked heavily a few times. I had caught something glowing far off in the woods. I went back to the window, and saw a single clearing amid the sleeping forest that had somehow resisted the autumn purge. It was green like emerald and yellow like goldenrod, glowing like starlight in the gloom, frozen in the midst of its vibrant immortality, waiting. I stared at it for a long time, unable to think or move or do anything.
What was it? I couldn’t guess. And suddenly I felt this strange yearning, to go and see what the source of the light was. I feared that if I didn’t—if my gaze even broke from it for a second—it would disappear. It was the dead of night and it was freezing outside, but my senseless need to go closer triumphed. I found my sneakers and put them on as fast as I could, for fear of losing the light in the woods, and then I ran, opening the door and not even caring to close it behind me, keeping my eyes on the spot. It waited, and waited.
The snow was still fresh and light, and I knew it would soak through my shoes. I walked quietly. I did not want any living thing to stir, to disrupt this fragile stillness. I entered the forest, the canopy swaying above me, shedding flakes of snow. The light grew brighter still. I traversed the rocky, spindly slope, being careful not to lose my footing or to make too loud a sound. And I began to make out the clearing. It would have been just like any other clearing in those woods, had everything in it not been perfectly alive. The trees around its edge were golden, as though in the late weeks of September, and the ferns on the ground were beating with the greenery of summer. As I approached, the light that had been so brilliant and real dimmed, and reddened as though dusk fell with every step, and soon the only light in that clearing came from what I made out to be a small fire in the middle of it. I froze where I was. I could hear music. It had been difficult to tell what the instrument was from far away, but now that I was close I could tell it was a guitar. I crept closer. Soon the light from the fire lit up everything before my eyes. Then the guitar playing stopped.
There was some guy sitting on a rock by the fire. He had on a brown suede jacket with a fleece collar, and ripped blue jeans and hiking boots. There was coal-colored stetson hat on his head, and he had thick, greasy black hair that fell unevenly to his shoulders. I couldn’t see his face.
‘Fine. I’ll just keep playing then. Come sit down, if you’re cold.’
He resumed his playing, picking the strings individually, producing a melody that had no rhythm or theme—a song that could hardly be retained by memory—but it made me feel like I had never really heard music before. I found myself walking into the clearing.
‘Sorry to bother you,’ I said.
‘I don’t get bothered very often,’ he said. I still could not see his face, but he had a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. I tried to think of what to say next.
‘Look, uh—could you explain something to me?’
‘I guess it depends on what it is,’ he said. I could hear that he was grinning.
‘Well, see—it’s November, right? Everything is dead—except for where we are right now. That doesn’t really make sense to me.’
‘The world doesn’t make sense,’ he said.
He turned his head up to reveal a youngish, tanned face, with slitted eyes and sharply angled eyebrows and protruding cheekbones. His eyes stared at me; those same, hard, eyes that stare back at you from the history books, the ones in the cloudy, sepia photographs that keep them frozen in time. It took me a moment to pinpoint why he looked familiar.
‘Are you an Indian?’ I said.
‘Mohegan,’ he corrected, with an edge of steel to his voice. ‘And you’re not.’
‘No,’ I said. ‘I guess I’m not.’
The Mohegan took a long drag from his cigarette and blew out a trail of smoke. It resembled a wolf running off into the gloom, and he laughed, his expression softening. ‘Sit down, kid.’
I stood there stiffly for a moment, and then I sat down.
‘You from around here?’ he asked.
‘Not originally. My family comes from California.’
‘Not familiar,’ he said. And then he said, ‘Me—me, I’ve been here for a long time. A very long time. The woods have changed, you know.’
‘Have they,’ I said.
‘Yeah, they have. Used to be bigger, then they got cut down. Then people replanted them. But now it’s all twigs everywhere. It used to be nice, back in the day. Sometimes I find those parts. The old parts, the parts they didn’t cut down. I bet you couldn’t find them.’
‘I probably couldn’t,’ I said.
The fire hissed and spat, crackling and wheezing as it licked the black air. It seemed to burn all by itself, the wood beneath it completely consumed but not burning, not charring or smoldering or breaking from the flames. It was warm; it wasn’t hot like a campfire, but warm like a morning in spring.
‘You know, you look like those guys in the wigs,’ the Mohegan said.
‘They killed my parents, those guys,’ he said passively. ‘They killed a bunch of us.’
‘Oh. I, uh—I’m sorry. That’s terrible.’
‘Yeah, well, people do terrible things. Such as it goes. What about you? Do you have parents?’
‘Yeah, I have parents.’
‘You live nearby?’
‘Yeah, I do.’
‘Mm.’ He nodded. ‘So that’s how you found me.’
‘Do you usually come here?’
‘Around here,’ he said. ‘Here, there, I travel a bit. Don’t like sticking around in one place for long. But I should be getting back.’
‘I’ve got some friends,’ he said. ‘They live—well, if you’ve ever been down that way,’ he pointed off into the darkness, somewhere I couldn’t make out. ‘They’re good people. They’re not like the rest of you.’
‘In what way?’
‘I dunno. They’re more—wholesome, I guess. They get it. They see everything for what it is.’ He paused. ‘How old are you, kid?’
‘Fifteen,’ he sneered. ‘Fresh out of the oven, then.’
‘How old are you,’ I said, ‘twenty-five?’
‘Twenty-five…’ He twisted the cigarette between his thumb and middle finger. ‘Twenty-five… Something like that,’ he said. ‘Or… Hold on, was it twenty-five or was it two hundred fifty? Or three hundred fifty? No, two hundred fifty—I don’t remember.’ He frowned and took another drag on his cigarette.
‘You’re awfully well preserved,’ I said.
He started playing his guitar again. Something about it eased my discomfort. It was like being with a friend, in a way, only I was certain the person I sat next to was a madman. He stopped short, and held out the guitar to me. ‘Wanna play?’
‘No thanks,’ I said shyly.
He sighed, and said, ‘Suit yourself,’ and resumed his playing. ‘I learned how to play when I was a kid—I was probably just a little younger than you. Those were good days. The world was green, green for miles. Well, not anymore.’
He stopped playing and lowered his head for a second, and I think he was trying not to cry. He cleared his throat.
‘Hey, kid,’ he said. ‘You want to meet some Elves?’
‘Not really,’ I said, yawning.
‘You’re no fun.’
‘I thought Indians don’t believe in Elves.’ He shot me a look. ‘Mohegans, I mean.’
‘Neither do Christians,’ he said.
‘They do in Iceland. I mean, there are Christians in Iceland, right?’
‘Never heard of Iceland.’
‘It’s an island where the Vikings used to live,’ I said rubbing my eyes, ‘and there are lots of Christians but they also believe in Elves, even though no one has ever found Elves in Iceland.’
‘Well these are real Elves,’ he said. ‘They’re as real as—well, they’re real. And they get it, you know?’ He held out his guitar. ‘Here, why don’t you play something?’
I said nothing.
‘Come on, you know how to play the guitar, don’t you?’
‘Not really,’ I said. He sighed.
‘Course you don’t,’ he said, disappointed. ‘Don’t you people know anything nowadays?’
We sat there silently for a while, and he was puffing on the cigarette between his teeth, staring at the spidery flames as they twitched and flared. Finally I said:
‘Look, can you tell me what’s going on here?’
‘The trees are different. It’s the middle of autumn but everything in this clearing is alive.’
‘It just is, kid.’
‘Oh for Christ’s sake, can’t you just say something normal? And stop calling me kid, will you?’
‘What else am I supposed to call you?’ he said.
I sighed, not really sure if I wanted to give him my name.
‘Kid, I guess.’
‘Well, kid, maybe if you stopped asking all those questions you’d start to realize they don’t matter. Fuck, you people get so caught up in what you don’t understand.’ He squinted. ‘You know what I don’t understand, kid? Thinking everything’s yours to kill. That the Earth never did anything for you, and you can look at the way she’s dying and not even shed a tear, not even blink an eye.’
‘What do you mean?’
He looked up at the sky.
‘What do I mean,’ he said quietly. ‘I’m talking about what you guys did. Not just to us—I don’t just mean what you did to us. I mean, were we really the savage ones? What did we ever do to the Earth? Nothing. The Earth is our mother. To us you guys were the savages, raping her like you hated her, fencing her off and drilling through her and fucking her up even more than you fucked us up.’ A knot started to form in my stomach.
‘I’m sorry,’ I whispered. ‘Hey, look, that wasn’t my fault, okay?’
He sighed. ‘If you say so, kid.’ He took a long drag on his cigarette, and blew out what looked like gun smoke. The clearing got colder, then. I shivered.
‘Hey, I should go,’ I said.
‘Come on, you’re killing me here,’ he said, hanging his head back. ‘First you call me an Indian, then you say you don’t know how to play the guitar and then you want to leave once the conversation starts getting interesting. Do you like living that way?’
‘Yes, I love living this way.’
‘You’re impossible,’ he said. ‘Hey, at least say hello to my friends before you go. They’re Elves, you know. You’d love them.’
‘I’ll have to pass,’ I said.
‘They’re white,’ he said. ‘If that helps.’
‘You know that’s not why I—’
‘Fuck, don’t you get it,’ he said, ‘I’m all alone out here. Do you know when the last time I talked to a stranger was? I don’t think you were even born, yet.’
‘Why don’t you go into town?’
‘You don’t think I’ve tried? I can’t get there. I’m stuck in this place.’
I shook my head. ‘You’re not making sense.’
‘The world doesn’t make sense.’
‘So are you.’
I huffed. ‘I need to go. It’s been great talking to you, but it’s the middle of the fucking night and I’m tired and I left the back door of my house open.’
He looked down.
‘Well, don’t want to be leaving the door open,’ he said. ‘I’d say I’ll see you later, but I probably won’t.’
I stood up.
‘I hope you, uh, resolve your problem,’ I said.
‘Me too,’ he said.
I turned away from him, and that spot, and I marched back in the direction of my house. When I was maybe ten or twenty feet away from the clearing, I heard him call out from behind.
‘Nice talking to you, kid. You’re fucking blind, you know that? Blind like everyone else.’
I slowed to a halt, and turned back around to take one last glance, to shout something back, if I could think of anything. But the light in the woods was gone. No more twitching firelight, no twilight on the horizon, not even the faintest sign of dawn on those green leaves—just the cold, dark, windy night. I shivered, the wind howling around me, the darkness stretching around the woods like a web, and I ran back home.
Peter Rivkin is a speculative fiction writer from Connecticut. The pinnacle of his career thus far has been as script editor, part-time writer, cast member and graphic designer for the web series Ravenclaw Rules. Aside from writing, he has a passion for animals, plants, ancient ruins, and music.
“All that was good
All the was fair
All that was me is gone.”
–The Skye Boat Song
An Autumn Night
by: Maisie Dickson
“Autumn always brings a change, unexpected or not for better or worse – there was always something the changing of the leaves that made me believe I wasn’t going to be the same person I was at the start of autumn at the end of the season. “
The autumn night was cool, and the harsh winds whipped through the crime ridden streets of Silver City. The Fall season had a grip on the city, from the trees that sprouted color-changing leaves, to the air feeling colder as the wind picking up. Most of the City’s residents were asleep, save for two in particular.
Autumn was never Diego’s favorite season; it was wet, cold and the days seemed shorter and the wind was just a tad annoying when he was being shot at–as was the case right now…
It was just past midnight and as Diego stepped into a puddle in the east district of Silver City; a stray bullet flew passed him as he quickly turned down a familiar side street towards a shop. Quickly scanning the area to make sure he had lost his attackers, gripping his upper left arm he walked up the stairs at the back of the building that led to familiar living quarters of his close friend, Anita.
Knocking on the thick brown door three times, he waited anxiously as the small outside lamp came on and the door opened reveling Anita in her full-length grey nightie, her brown hair hung around her shoulders, fly aways everywhere and her glasses hastily hanging on her face. her expression turned from annoyance to worry and she hurried him inside and closed and locked the brown door, turning off the lamp.
“Diego, what happened?” she said ushering him into the small kitchen and made him sit on one the barstools.
She made quick work of boiling the kettle and grabbing some bowels, towels and her stash of first aid equipment. As she poured the freshly brewed hot water into two small bowels.
“Just a flesh wound, no biggie ‘Nita”
She shot him a look of disapproval which he matched with a grin as she sat across from him as she told him to remove his shirt and he did, he offered his body for her inspection and her gaze fell on him he became keenly aware of how green her eyes were and the focused look she held as she examined him–his fingers were red, and sticky no doubt from holding his wound, the wound itself was medium sized and his neck and face were covered in cuts and bruises.
She made short work of the bullet–digging it out and placing the it into the first bowel of hot water, then placing the bowel back on the kitchen counter before grabbing the second one with a cloth inside of it. Then she began carefully squeezing the excess water out. She started disinfecting the wound in a comfortable silence. As her fingers touched his skin he became keenly aware of how soft her hands were, how gentle, he couldn’t count how many times she had done this for him and she always did it in silence, never scolding him.
“Thanks, Anita, really”
Anita gave him a small smile. As she fixed up the wound and dressed it, then took the cloth and took his right wrist in her free hand and bought his bloody hand towards her, then started wiping the blood away from his fingers. She looked up from his hand to his face and her green eyes caught his blue gaze before seeing the scars on his cheeks, she rolled her eyes, he wasn’t the most careful assassin. She finished cleaning his hand she let go and Diego reached out pulling her close and catching her off guard in a hug, Anita slowly relaxed into the hug putting her arms around his torso reassuringly.
“I’m happy you’re safe, Diego…”
They lingered like that for a while, Diego buried his head into her shoulder, mumbling incoherently. Anita let him let it all out, and after a while of them just staying there she spoke up.
“Come on, you need rest. You can take the guest bedroom”
Detangling himself from her, Diego yawned. He had often stayed over so he knew the guest bedroom, blue wall paper with a queen-sized bed and two beside tables with small lamps either side.
Anita quickly put everything in the kitchen sink as Diego walked towards the guest bedroom. She was happy that he often came to seek her out at times like this, but she couldn’t help but worry that one day instead of him buying flowers from her that she would be laying flowers at his grave.
Diego was the first friend that she had made when she came to Silver City. He had introduced her to his boss and that helped her business grow from all the orders. As they became more involved day to day she found different sides of him that fascinated her and in turn she let him in on her different sides and experiences. She felt completely herself when they spent time together, no pretenses, no having to pretend. This was something she loved about their friendship.
Getting two glasses of water and some Panadol for Diego, Anita headed towards the guest bedroom; she entered the bedroom and placed the Panadol and glass of water on the left side table. Diego sleepily thanked her as she gave him a smile before leaving and heading for her own room.
Maisie Dickson lives in regional NSW and when not reading, drawing or writing she’s escaping into a book with tea in hand. Check out her YouTube for more bookish content: https://www.youtube.com/user/MariWired92
“I am confident that what terrifies me will terrify others.”
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