Tag Archives: Issue 13

Ghosts

Previously Published online at Dumpster Fire Press.

By Kaci Skiles Laws

My mother was crazy. She was crazy in love with my dad long after he started ‘working late hours.’ She loved him even after his broccoli casserole was too cold, and he hit her for the first time, two years into their marriage. 

There were times the biscuits were overdone, the ice cubes had not fully set, and the sweet tea wasn’t chilled when he came home at random hours drunk. He choked on a chicken bone, and she stared into his face, a little void, a few seconds before saving him. She could have let him die. 

I came as an afterthought. 


I stared at the oatmeal hanging onto my mother’s chin. Mom. I started to say, annoyed. A reflex inside my arm swept the oatmeal into a napkin and placed the wad next to a bottle of Zestril, prescribed for her high blood pressure. 

Seeing the bottle, I couldn’t remember if I’d given her one. It was like all the times I’d driven the hectic stretch of road between my work and her house, unsure, after I arrived or once the streetlights disappeared into my rearview if I’d stopped at any red lights, unable to remember any green ones. 

I looked at the antidepressant, Celexa, sitting next to the Zestril, as dazed as my mother, the reason I’d stopped at the pharmacy on the way over.

“Your doctor,” I said it as if my mother was going deaf and paused, searching for recognition in the lines of her forehead, “He prescribed them for your mood.” I had the antidepressant’s cap in my hand and was shaking one out. Her jaw slid open, and her tongue was flat, white. I stuck it on and asked, “Did I already give you your blood pressure medicine?” 

She closed her mouth and made a slight sucking motion. I glanced at the bottle again and watched the napkin full of oatmeal disappear under the table. Her Shih Tzu, Hannah, was there eating the entire thing. Oh, well. I thought. Just this one time. It had happened other times too. 

Mom kept sucking but never replied. Her eyes were lost marbles. She carried on that way every day after my dad died.


On the way home from her house that night, tired and struggling to see through the patches of low fog settling around my Jeep like a sinister cloud, speeding up and slowing down in frustrated intervals, I clipped an animal or what I assumed to be an animal. 

I started to cry as sudden as the impact, a well of black water that had been rising inside of me so hard I had to pull over. Outside I recognized the turn-off point my dad referred to as Goatman Road and the dying dagger-shaped tree illuminated in my headlights. In my mirror, I saw a mass stumbling near the cornfield. A person? “No, I saw fur,” I said out loud. A fur coat? It was late winter, and though the days were warming up, the nights were still cold enough for a coat. 

I got out and yelled, “Hello?” and hoped for no answer. I heard stumbling. Hooves? Yes. Hooves. I wasn’t certain, but I wanted to believe it was an animal. 

“I’m sorry. I didn’t see you. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” I ran back to the car and tried to cry more but couldn’t. 


“I hit something by Goatman Road last night,” I told my mother as I spooned a dumpling into her mouth the following evening. The bite was small and her chewing even smaller. She swallowed and opened her mouth again.

A few years ago, she would have spoken in whispers about the legend of Goatman Road, how it was rumoured there was a man who bred with goats that used to live at the end of the road, that there was more than just one Goatman and possibly even a goat-girl or two running loose in the fields.

She would’ve said it’s a bad omen or a curse, the Goatman’s ghost or spawn that I’d hit. She would have gone out and danced around my car with a bundle of burning herbs. I wished she would, but she sat borderline comatose. 

“How is it?” I asked and looked back at the thick soup, scooped up a carrot, had it spit back, a contrived confetti spray across my face to celebrate my incompetence, some in my hair and on the floor. No carrots. Okay. It made me forget about the thing I’d hit and my fantasy of Mom coming back to life. 

Hannah licked at splatters. You’ll be all orange tomorrow—I thought, looking down at her, fishing out the rest of the baby carrots, letting them plop down onto the linoleum like Oompa Loompa fingers. 

In the kitchen, I tore a bag of instant pudding open, happy to steal a moment away from my mother. Trying to push aside the creeping thoughts of last night, I thought of all the times Mom made pudding for me as a kid, as a different mother, one that became a distant memory, a person I must have imagined or dreamed up. 

I stirred the pudding with a wooden spoon, letting some spill out. I started to say something towards the doorway of the living room where my mother sat, a sea cucumber, about throwing the spoon out because of the bacteria breeding in its porous skin but didn’t because it would’ve made me feel more alone.

Once the pudding was thick enough, I used the spoon one last time, licked it and threw it end over end at the trashcan. It didn’t make it. The kettle whined, and as I poured its contents into mugs next to identical bowls, I remembered another thing, something funny, for the first time in six months since my father had died. My mother refused to speak or eat unless I was the one feeding her.

“Nancy,” I said, referring to my dad’s widow, setting the tray down on the coffee table. My mother looked at me for the first time in a week. “You’re going to like this.” I placed a dollop of dessert onto her tongue. “Not the chocolate pudding, Nancy…I was in high school, and it was Dad’s weekend.” I motioned towards the tea, “And Nancy had a cup of Earl Grey steeping on the end table. She went out to have a smoke while it cooled. Her cat, Sammy, came over to see what it was, realized he didn’t want it and turned to jump down, but before he did, I saw a tapeworm fall from his butt into the tea. I got closer and watched it sink. Sammy left the room as Nancy came back in. She must have seen the look on my face because she demanded—What? I was going to tell her, but I could tell she was disgusted.”

The corners of my mother’s lips crawled up higher than they’d sat in a month, and her eyes twisted green and yellow in the light. “Mom,” my eyelids grew like a camera lens on zoom, “She drank the entire thing and never said a word.” I saw my mother’s teeth start to form a smile for a second and heard her almost break the silence.


Driving home, I regretted my decision, worried I should’ve turned back even though the fog from the night before had lifted; the quiet inside my Jeep and warmth of the heater was making me drowsy. I rolled down my window, and the rush of air was unexpected and jarring. I kept it down as I drove along more sombre and sober, grateful for the biting wind keeping me awake. 

I noticed the crooked tree that on this night looked less like a dagger and more like a finger pointing, followed by a sense of dread. I drove on, subconsciously backing off the gas pedal in search of something my morbid curiosity couldn’t stop picking at, afraid I’d not only injured an innocent animal but killed one when I saw something at the edge of the cornfieldI had to know if it was a deer or stray dog or, worse, someone’s pet. The Goatman. 

Getting closer, I could make out sleek brown fur and thought it must be a poor deer. I got closer and was at a crawl on the shoulder of the road when I saw the human hair splayed out, blowing. Surely not. Then I saw a hand sticking out from the edge of the cornfield, its bright red nails glaring back at me. In shock, not sure of anything, but certain I could not have hit a girl the night before, I turned around to go back to Mom. 

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Back in her driveway, I sat staring into the house. It was all dark except for a soft glow, a touch lamp by her chair stuck on its dimmest setting, one with a tarnished silver base and stem, a shade made of frosted glass plates which over time had become so grease-stained no one could see the flowers underneath. 

Years ago, we’d seen it on display downtown, where everything was half-off. The same day I found gold lipstick in the basement of the store. It became my most prized piece of makeup. I took it to a slumber party when I was ten and never saw it again. It reminded me of all the things I loved the most that were stolen from me.

I didn’t know why I was there. I knew I couldn’t go home. I was supposed to be her best baby, most obedient, caring, not killing.

I called first, knowing I wouldn’t get an answer. I wanted the ringing to send a crack up the wall and make the roof cave on one side to survey the damage and fix it. I could hear the telephone from outside, shrill—screaming, screaming—me losing count.

I used my spare key to get in, hoping she might just shoot me dead. I stood at her bedroom door knocking, could hear Hannah’s muffled barking, my mother shuffling, the old knob making a racket in her hand. She looked at me, tired. She had not heard until now.

“I was drifting. I can’t drive. I’m going to sleep in my room.” I lied.

Mom reached, her hand oblong and unexpected from the crack. I drew back. She squeezed, and it was cold, intending to be comfort.


Her spare room, dusty and gray, had not been mine in years. It wasn’t long after I’d laid in my old bed, stiff. My doubts surfaced; the thing on the road ran across the ceiling. Dark vines spread like arthritic hands. I watched the familiar shape of the oak tree outside. After years of summer storms, it was bigger, all-consuming, being spared by lightning and Dad’s bullets and everything that could’ve killed it.

I didn’t make it until morning. If Mom was awake, she heard me saying, “I need to report a hit and run,” over the phone outside her room. I imagined as if stuck in a story, her listening for something beating loose inside one chamber of my heart, an ear pressed into the door that in the story was a floorboard. I saw myself slump as I said it.

I needed someone to blame, but there was no one.

As the police investigated my call, the road where the deer had been a girl, the road where she was running confused before I hit her, she had somehow vanished.


At sunrise, I searched the edges of the cornfield. The police were gone and probably wouldn’t be back; they said they got pranks like this out by Goatman Road all the time. Probably just kids messing around

I got out and walked long stretches inside the cornfield next to where I was sure I saw her body, half-expecting to find blood and fur, some confirmation that it was a deer and not a girl. Afraid I’d find a shoe or earring, purse and ID. There was nothing there, not even a dead deer. It seemed unlikely to hit a girl on a semi-desolate expanse of road. Unless it was a prank gone wrong. Unless it was a goat-girl. 

I looked at the fur still stuck in the grill of my Jeep and grabbed some out; I folded it inside a napkin to send to the forensics lab to prove it was synthetic or mink or cow, whatever they make real fur coats out of these days, so I could say—see, see, I told you, I’m bad. I deserve whatever I get. I’m not crazy. It’s from the girl I hit. I hit her, and I ran. 

I called into work first a few days, then indefinitely. I insisted they keep searching for the girl. Maybe an animal had dragged her body away. 

Restless, I thought about the kids in my homeroom, how I’d disappeared without warning, but I was in no shape to be teaching. I didn’t know if I could go back, feeling as though I was without conscience, disposable. I wouldn’t allow myself to go back. If they found a body, it wouldn’t be a choice. I was relieved at the thought.


After a week passed, exasperated from conducting my own strenuous searches and nobody to show for it, I took my fur sample to the police department. They said they’d—humour me—and ran a test. It came back inconclusive. I think they lied about it and threw my sample away to shut me up and close the case. 

They asked if I’d had my vision tested if I was on any prescription meds. I shook my matted head—no. They told me no new missing person report had been filed. They made me black tea and suggested a psychologist; it was the most mothering I’d gotten my whole life.


“I try not to feel the exhaustion and emptiness, pretend it’s not there or that it’s normal, but I’m not okay. I’m tired, and I’ve been tired, and now I’m certain I killed that girl. No one believes me.” And what about the legend. What about the Goatman? I wouldn’t mention it. My psychologist was a great listener. In our sessions, I realized that psychologists are just people you pay to care about you.


It all rose up over time as I continued on with my appointments. I would do something unacceptable and feel confused by the setbacks. My lack of control scared me. Feelings were a foreign language; they came as nightmares climbing from the well of my esophagus like a cough, spilling into the air. 

I’d lay long under the bent tree limbs floating over the ceiling like a projection and try to listen in my room where it all started, and soon I stopped looking for the phantom girl. She was lost and forgotten in the cornfield because nobody cared to find her, and I had failed. Nothing would be left of her but eventually bones. The Goatman carried his daughter away to rest to bury the legend. Nothing would ever be the same. 

In the daylight, I did normal things; I cooked and cleaned. I fed Mom. I grew resentful and didn’t know what to call it or why, so I asked my psychologist; I witnessed deadly nightshade sprouting up like veins, violet-blue and violent, buds that never should have come at a time so cold, afterthoughts, swallowing the house.

I stared at the wooden spoon on the floor next to the trashcan covered in brown for days, angry that I’d be the one to clean up the mess and it’d be there waiting until I did. It all seemed juvenile and shameful. I didn’t know what to do with myself; I didn’t want to feel anything. I had to practice presence and sitting with myself. I organized the silverware and plates, and cups. I watched shadows to feel less afraid and worthless. I let the sadness twist within me; I identified it coming up. I stopped caring if Mom ever spoke again. I knew it wasn’t my responsibility. 


“When Dad’s liver failed, I was relieved because I didn’t want him to override any more good memories,” I said, setting a plate of eggs and bacon before my mother. “I’m not feeding you today, not your medicine either.”

I looked back for signs of life before I walked towards the door and said, “I killed someone.” There was none, so I started to say—Nancy—to jolt her, but I knew it was mean like I knew the plate would be untouched except for what Hannah could curl her tongue around, and my mother wouldn’t stop her. The certainty of it all was reassuring.

The silence, deafening at times, became bearable. The shadows in the spare room told me what I needed, the same way a cobweb tells you it needs to be wiped. I never knew what I needed before because no one ever asked me. I didn’t know how I thought I was supposed to go on that way forever like people do, like ghosts.


Kaci Skiles Laws is a closet cat-lady and creative writer who reads and writes voraciously in the quiet moments between motherhood and managing Crohn’s Disease. She grew up on a small farm in a Texas town alongside many furry friends, two sisters, and a brother. She has known tragic loss too well, and her writing, which is often dark and honest, is a reflection of the shadows lurking in her psyche. Her work can be viewed here.

THE DISSOCIATION

By Nosam Noj

“The stars are the limit….” Oh, how it sounds like the sweet icing on a cake at first. But when I cut into that very cake, the icing becomes bloodied mud. Those very stars I seek to reach are by something else’s design… my limits, be they endless to me… are simply a box or another canvas to the creator. Must I smile? Нет! I shall not smile. Must I keep my head up? Nein! I shall tear off my head! – The dissociated doll.


Jon Mason, aka Nosam Noj, is a 21-year-old from Trinidad and Tobago. He doesn’t consider himself a writer, artist or musician; he is a creator. This world is beautiful and dark; his life, the same. Therefore his work regurgitates it. He has met many intriguing entities, and some of his work portrays such beings. Find more from Noj here.

Brushing the Silver Lining

By Christina Hennemann

Sleepless for two years and a half,
912 days in the dark but wide awake,
Black circles under my eyes, the shock
Sitting right on top of my pallid forehead.

Blurry Sepia photographs drill into my skin
Like barbed wire, a fence keeping me away 
From a juicy sweet green meadow called peace – 
My scarred fingers cry tiny bloody tears of shame.

But still, the leather photo album smells so
Velvety and soothing, heavenly bittersweet – 
That my prefrontal cortex mourns past’s death.

I turn to look at you closely, examining: 
Is there that uncanny shadow of doom 
Flickering over your eyes as well, like 
A daunting massive cloud of rainfall?

Never can nor will I be dragged there again,
Into the shade of silvery twisted spook,
Where icy droplets burn my sore limbs
And keep me insomniac, accompanied by
Crooked ghosts of the past, overshadowing
My present and future: my nights are always

Haunted, even though I am safe now.

I long to fall for your smile, fall asleep, fall softly,
But my muscles are froze up and tense, while
My heart keeps pumping fear through my veins.

I close the photo album.
Inhale, exhale, just breathe.


Christina Hennemann is a writer and photographer based in the West of Ireland but originally from Germany. At the age of six, she began writing her first English songs and poems with the help of a German-English dictionary. Since then, her English skills have much improved, she hopes. Her most recent publications include orangepeel, Maythorn Mag and The Sunshine Review.

Heroine Wading Through Water

By Christina Hennemann

A grey heron was obstructing my path 
In the middle of the summerly 
Woods smelling of green and air 
I remember it was near a zoo,
A fugitive?

A misplaced augury perhaps –

The heron appeared a few steps in front of me
Out of the blue, 
On the soft organic narrow forest trail,
Immovable, like
A stone with
Watchful eyes.

It seemed giant and gloomy and alien 
In the waterless woody drought. 

Solely for you I managed to walk past it
In fear, shaking, trembling but
Victorious.

The heron didn’t move 
One bit – 
What became of it, 
I don’t know,
I didn’t attempt to take the auspices.

When I told you of my bravery, 
You were proud of me and
My heart was bubbling lava.

But now, creeping from the depth of my
Gut feeling,  
Just before I fall for a warm foggy dream,  
I feel like the heron has reappeared – 
It’s sitting in the dark for sure, 
I can’t see it but 
It’s there, 
Suddenly scary again.

A barrier, stone-grey and frightening 
Insuperable without bait.

An unfavourable omen? 
An obstacle, without question.


Christina Hennemann is a writer and photographer based in the West of Ireland but originally from Germany. At the age of six, she began writing her first English songs and poems with the help of a German-English dictionary. Since then, her English skills have much improved, she hopes. Her most recent publications include orangepeel, Maythorn Mag and The Sunshine Review.

In the Gray

By Cory Austin Knudson

Time gets tangled and glutinous in the gray, so I doubt either Sarira or I could say exactly when it overtook us. I would have called it a month ago if words like “month” still had any significance. It was only when we passed on the stairs that I understood, with anything approaching certainty, that it must have been even longer than that. I saw it in Sari’s eyes. In those punctured coins of flecked ultramarine that always seemed to glow no matter how dim the rest of the world got, I saw just how far gone we really were.

Horror must have flooded my face. Not least because in Sari’s, I read a joy that tipped into the inhuman. 

After a moment, she turned and continued down the stairs, fading little by little into ashen half-light. I don’t remember how long it’s been since we last spoke.

“Months”?

I saw what I expected to see through the oval window in the garret at the top of the stairs. Thank god. The pine barrens stretched out in every direction, canopy thick-laden with snow like an over-iced sheet cake. Buckshot snow whirled against a sky that hung in churning snarls of steel wool. I breathed against the glass and watched a little patch of fog struggle to grow, then vanish. 

Below, the drive was unmarred by snowshoe or plow tracks: a brushed aluminum river on which frozen waves mounted higher than fifteen feet here and there. Everything felt close, domed-in. Like a snow globe constantly awhirl.

My lucidity astonished me. I wondered whether I actually imagined it all and, on thinking it, prayed I would never be so far gone as to actually conjure this kind of cut-ice clarity from inside my own head. Sarira had convinced me to go along on her little psychological adventure, sure, but not without protest. Not without my resolving, before we turned off our lantern, to keep ahold of who I was, and where, and when. I was in the gray, but not of it. Thank God.

Goosebumps stippled up my wrists as I slipped off one mitten, then the other. You couldn’t stand it for long, but there was nothing like feeling the cold to make things sharp and present. To make things real. Though that’s another word whose meaning has started to wander places it shouldn’t.

We did know that this winter would be different, of course. But nobody really saw the gray coming.

The NIW had been warning for weeks that a wave of the polar vortex (or the amoebic anomaly of haphazard currents and vortices where the polar vortex used to be) was diving down our way. It likely wouldn’t recede for an extraordinary amount of time. As in, an amount of time they didn’t even want to try to predict. But given that equatorial humidity had been topping its own records every year for the past decade, they were willing to predict that the snow wouldn’t stop all winter and most of what some older people still insisted on calling “spring.” We had to get used to the idea: most of North America was going to be stuck inside for who knows how long, without power or heat, and wrapped in a constant, penumbral dimness such that day and night would grow largely indistinguishable. A few TV shrinks considered the psychological impact of the coming season of omnipresent twilight, especially for those of us who—admittedly against all advice—still lived year-round outside the settlements. But most people were understandably more preoccupied with survival than to worry about what flavours of madness might brew in the gray.

I heard Sarira’s slippers pad onto the linoleum of the kitchen below. The rustle of one of the ration boxes that appeared in the entryway every week or so flooded my chest with sudden warmth: no matter how gone into the gray she may be, I thought, even Sari still has to eat. Something about that reminder of creaturely need soothed me. Like there really was some ballast still anchoring us to a world outside our heads. 

Loss of appetite was generally the first sign, after all.

In the haphazard reports that filtered through in the early months of the storm, it was said that there was an appreciable—and increasing—number of people who simply stopped eating. They’d be discovered by ration crews withered in their beds or curled up out in the snow with cracked, opiated smiles spread over their teeth. The ones caught on the lip of death gibbered of archetypal chimeras and cathedrals of polychromic ice, of communion with loved ones long dead, of flights through cyclopean forests lurid with Pleistocene flora. Few could be wrestled back from the worlds they had built. Few seemed to want to be.

My fingertips went numb on the glass. A little line of fog circled each. 

Against what might once have been a horizon, dull jewels of light flickered. 

There they were, I thought. The holdouts. Clinging to their lanterns out in the settlement skyscrapers that, now, might as well be worlds away.

Those lights were few and growing fewer. Still, I wished I was among them. I wished that Sari had never convinced me to keep the house after Dad died—to live in it, out here in the boonies—and, most of all, I wished she had never discovered those fanatics occupying the interstitial frequencies on our crank radio’s shortwave band. Without them, I’d never have been convinced to stop keeping the lantern lit in twelve-hour cycles, like the NIW climatic psychology task force advised everyone to do in order to keep our circadian rhythms something approaching regular.

Far off, one of the lights flickered and went dark. Maybe someone was just standing in front of their lantern. Or perhaps they, too, were diving into the gray like everyone else had. Like Sarira had.

Like I had? 

Flakes brushing the window spoke quiet immensity.

Of course, it’s real, I thought. It all couldn’t be in my head.

“It’s a gift,” Sari had said. “Maybe the psychonauts have a point about that.”

I hated the name those freaks on the shortwave gave themselves. But I didn’t say anything.

“Maybe they’re right that the gray gives us some kind of chance at a new world. Even if it’s just… What are they calling it now? Collective dementia, or hysteria?” She laughed. “Either way, what’s the difference? The point is that you get to experience the world as immanent to your imagining. And there’s nobody to tell you otherwise because there’s nobody else around! Or because you’ve gone into the gray with whoever happens to be around.” 

I made a sound at the suggestion, but Sari didn’t stop. “Inside and outside lose their distinction,” she said, her eyes crackling with lapis mica, “and time gets all knotted up in pure presence. Difference becomes identity again. Like we’re all crawling back into the womb—back to the ocean, even. Hell, into the primordial, pre-subjective dream time!”

The snow was deep and deepening, then. Starting to bury everything. Erasing the world outside.

“You’re crazy,” I had said to Sarira. “All that is crazy. Anybody who thinks they know what the gray is is—”

“I’m not saying I know what it is. I’m saying what it does. And I want to experience what it does. You should, too—just imagine what it will be like to actually, really experience what’s inside your head!”

I breathed out and counted the floorboards. “Those wackjobs really did get to you. Come on, Sari, it’s not like mushrooms or spice or stuff like that…. Nothing is exciting, much less pioneering about losing the ability to separate the real world and whatever happens when you lose your hold on it. And you can’t make some kind of religious experience out of not knowing what’s real, what world you live in… It’s the definition of—”

“Crazy?” Sari’s laugh had more razors in it this time. “You’re going to figure out that that word doesn’t mean much when the bottom drops out on the definition of sanity.”

As if in proof, ice lanced through my stomach. The garret’s oval window was fogged over. 

I’d been talking into it. 

I was ventriloquizing, not just remembering that conversation with Sari. Yammering in the dark at myself in two voices like one undergoing some kind of psychic mitosis. 

It always made my guts turn when I realized the distinction between my mind and the world was going fuzzy again. At least it was just memories this time. When things like dreams started invading the waking world, it was much worse. Like the first time I noticed it, standing at the balustrade on the landing while the dream image of a baseball diamond shimmered into being before me. My dad was there next to me, and I wasn’t surprised in the least—as if he wasn’t buried in the backyard of the house he left me. He looked just how he looked when we used to go to games in the settlement together, except his eyes were a phosphorescent, Sari-like blue that they weren’t in real life. At least as far as I could remember. 

It was the strangest thing—there was a field, but no game, no players. The whole diamond was filled with fine, white sand, and little hillocks of it shifted and churned over one another in an unaccountable ballet that my father stared at without blinking.

I found myself backing away from the window, but the phantasm only grew more animated. When the barriers break, they break hard.

The glass suddenly rattled in its frame and resolved, like some crystalline megaphone, into waves of Sarira’s reedy tones: “Great is the power of memory… A deep and boundless manifoldness; and this thing is the mind, and this am I myself—”

I held my temples and stamped a boot on the floorboards. My fingertips were glass-cold. “This is the floor,” I said. “This is my skin. That is—”

What am I then, O my God? What nature am I? A life various and manifold, and exceeding immense!” The voice bounced off the walls of the garret, making Sari’s incantation manifold: a tissue of compounded syllables that rolled and crashed against each other in an ear-rending cacophony.

“—That is a window. Just a window. I smell cold wood. I smell whatever Sari’s eating in the kitchen….”

I continued through my senses until the window became a window again. (It started to quiet down around “the plains, and caves, and caverns of my memory, innumerable and innumerably full of innumerable kinds of things…”) 

I rubbed my temples, and my fingertips tingled as they warmed.

Fucking Augustine, I thought. 

Sari’s reading had gotten more and more esoteric as the storm thickened. Before we turned the lantern off and she went silent, there were whole days when the halls rang with Salvador Ferenczi and Otto Rank, evenings that echoed Paracelsus and Eliphas Levi. The Doctors of the Church—especially Augustine, that prophet of interior infinity—often thrummed through the house as well. She’d cast sentences into the dark like sorcerer’s spells. And it wasn’t long until I realized she really was weaving the house’s reality to her own pattern.

…And caves, and caverns, I thought, in a voice that wasn’t quite mine.

When I woke (or when I fell to dreaming—you can never truly tell), what sounded like water was dripping onto the waxed polyester of my jacket. A stalactite, ribbed and shining, hung viciously over my stomach from the peaked ceiling of the garret. I pulled a mitten off and sank the naked hand into where the weight of accumulated drops made a depression in the fabric. 

The puddle was as cold as I expected, but the consistency was—wrong. So wrong that my fingers clenched without my willing it. 

A stream of cut rubies dripped from my fist, clicking like marbles as they tumbled back into the waxed concavity. Each shimmered as it fell, alive and rutilant as if lit by a fevered power of its own. 

Past my fist, the panes of the garret’s oval window formed the core and fanning corona of a brilliant, prismatic sun.

I looked around.

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Catching the pinpricks and edges of decomposed light lancing from the window, the crystal grotto in which I now found myself batted near-tactile spectra around what had once been the bare garret. Towers of cubic topazes emerging slantwise from calcite congeries bubbled ceilingward, meeting, here and there, more jewel-dripping stalactites of polished jasper. In place of the crown moulding, livid needles interlaced or clotted like syphilitic lesions petrified at the moment of eruption. Everywhere gems dripped from gems. My eyes rolled around the freak of fantasy geology. I thought, Innumerable and innumerably full of innumerable kinds of things.

Rolling over, the rubies cascaded into a scrub of quartzes that had materialized around my sleeping body like otherworldly lichen. I ran my bare hand over them, feeling threads of newborn crystal shatter against my fingers. I pushed into the mineral undergrowth and dislodged a sapphire. It rolled over my skin, feeling—really feeling—like icy silk. 

I bit the mitten off my other hand and plucked a cartouche of emerald. It was textured like a fingernail and heavier than it should have been, as if filled with some viscous liquid. 

I made myself drop it and worked my bare hands beneath the stones, closing my eyes to the brilliance surrounding me. Like I could will it all away.

I reached the floorboards.

“This is the floor,” I said through my teeth. “I feel cold wood. That’s all.”

But how long could a sane person keep their eyes closed to all that magnificence?

“Sane”?

I opened my eyes, and it was all more dazzling than before. Over every jagged surface, waterfalls of jewelled rainbow tumbled. I turned and turned, helpless against the flood, against the impulse to open every sense and drink as much of it as I could. By degrees, my optical tectum started to sputter and short out: turning, and turning, and turning, I heard the colours, tasted the milk of starlight as synapses fired in directions they never fired before—

“It’s not real,” I heard myself say. (Was that me? I sounded a hundred yards off. Or a hundred years.)

I looked down.

“Real”?

The emerald was in my hand again. I didn’t remember reaching for it. How could I doubt that semi-perfect planarity, the heft that seemed possessed of its own gravitational field? Deep in the green, shining causeways crisscrossed one another. They limned an inner space greater than the jewel’s volume, passing into dimensions unbounded by any physical perimeter. Receding past itself, the emerald became an emblem of that excess that makes such stones so expressive of what has no end. A deep and boundless manifoldness, I thought. If that was in my head, then what does “real” matter?

“You know that way lies death,” I heard again. Closer this time.

The window flared, and I heard a gravelly scraping where the garret gave onto the staircase.

Curling on the landing (a moss of amethysts made wine-dark mace heads of the balustrade newels), an opal crocodile turned its crystal-coronated head. Where eyes would be, lapis lazuli flecked with gold incandesced amid an emptiness deeper than black.

My guts turned and, without thinking, I turned with them. With a violence that surprised me, one foot crunched after the other toward the window of the solar diamond. Before me, bare hands stretched forth in a gesture of exorcism. The emerald made a sound like shattering when it fell. But that might have been any number of other lacy rock formations that tumbled about my knees like so much dream-mist. 

Which, of course, they were.

had to see through it.

My vision went photo-negative in the molten pool, and a chorus of rainbows howled into my cerebellum. Supernovas balled up and burst behind my eyes. But I kept them open. 

My hands were twisted mudras, solarized in an oil-slick fire. 

I stepped into the sun.

My fingertips made little circles of fog on the glass. It was clear. And cold, and silent.

“This is a window,” I said. “I smell my sweat and the cold.”

Outside, there was the same smooth river of snow, the gray distance where some few lights twinkled against nothing.

I whirled at a rustle somewhere behind, but it must have been Sari in the kitchen because no jeweled crocodile guarded the way out of the garret. Gradually my breathing slowed.

I looked back out the window. The snow had slackened to a lazy, sidelong drift. There were even fewer lights than before: Lost in the gray or dead, I thought. And that distinction, like so many, doesn’t matter much now. The one gives onto the other at its outer edge.

“What if it’s not death?” I heard Sarira say, however, many months ago. “What if it’s just the doorway to deeper sleep?”

A patch of fog on the glass faded into icy limpidity.

I shook myself. I had to keep hold of the present. The world outside. The real. Had I stayed in that jewelled cavern much longer—

I couldn’t finish the thought. There was movement down below that made my stomach writhe: little hillocks of snow seemed to be rolling here and there with unearthly deliberateness.

couldn’t still be dreaming. After walking through the sun, I felt the world with a sharpness that was almost hateful.

Hands scrabbled at my jacket zipper. It was halfway down before I registered what I was doing.

Cold flooded my chest. A wave of gelid needles followed as I lifted my sweatshirt. White jets banked off glass, roiling. Soon, my skin was on fire. But still, the snow churned and rolled down below.

How was my own mind capable of inflicting this on me? Wouldn’t a sane person wake up?

“Sane”?

As I thought it, one of the roving snowbanks looked up.

The verb repeated in my head. How could a snowbank look at anything? I pressed my forehead against the window, and—yes—I could feel its sting all the way behind my ears.

The snowbank raised a hand in salutation. Only then was I able to recognize that it was a person in a white ration crew suit.

They all were, of course. Had it been so long since the last box arrived? The thought sent me vaulting down the stairs, not realizing until that moment how hungry I was. Hungry for food, yes, but even more so for some kind of interaction—some word or gesture exchanged with a being outside my own imagining. (Though, now that I thought of it, I really couldn’t say when was the last time I ate.)

I passed the kitchen without looking in.

In the entryway, a box lay on its side amid a dusting of snow. Goosebumps washed over my front, and suddenly I realized I hadn’t put my clothes back on. 

There wasn’t time to go get them. 

All I needed was a word. A greeting. Some kind of interaction with another person—

I tore the door open, filling my lungs. I didn’t know what I was going to say, but it didn’t matter, as the frozen air sapped my breath the moment it raced through the door. Before me, the world swam amid freezing tears—really, I thought, how long ago was it that I ate anything?

The neoprene snowmen were already far down the drive. One turned to get a better grip on a sledge. I waved without quite knowing if he could see me.

If I went out after them, I’d go into shock.

I was already teetering on the edge of consciousness. Was it the cold or the hunger? Or just the gray?

I turned back into the entryway and kneeled—collapsed, really—over the ration box. Snow-rimed cardboard came apart like wet bread. 

My breaths were getting shorter.

My hand darted in and closed around something hard. I pulled.

Lantern oil.

With sudden conviction, I thought: Light. Light then food. 

I didn’t care what Sari would say about it. I hefted the box into the crook of my arm. I dragged myself toward the kitchen, compelled by an exigency I only dimly understood.

It was quiet there now. Sarira must have finally finished eating and gone into another room. I dropped the box on its side and reached into the cabinet under the sink. My hand came away gray with dust when I wiped the glass globe.

When the mantle fizzled to life, it glowed unearthly blue. The walls seemed to waver and recede as I stood.

And again, breath left me.

Across the countertop, stacks of unopened ration boxes towered toward the ceiling, each as pristine as if it had only just arrived. The age of the oldest was betrayed only by the faint smell of vegetable rot. In this cold, how long must it have been there to rot?

The lantern crashed to the linoleum.

It sputtered, and I looked down. Light flashed with prismatic rays, and from the depths of the mantle’s glowing core, a punctured disc of incandescent ultramarine swam to the surface, irradiating the air surrounding with the crackling static of lapis mica.

I found myself on the lower landing, clutching the balustrade. A stair creaked, and I looked up to see a figure descending through air whirling with mist, ash, and umber. Eyes glowing ultramarine.

I turned and staggered into the entryway. I didn’t care about the cold anymore—I needed to reach that ration crew, beg them to help me, to take me to the settlement or the hospital or wherever, so long as someone pulled me back out of the gray.

I stopped. Sari stood hunched in the doorway, except now, it led not out onto the stoop but onto another, doubled hallway. I paused as I saw her and straightened. 

She straightened too. 

I stepped forward, and so did she.

…And this thing is the mind, and this am I myself.

Paired, we stretched a hand toward one another. We approached in tentative lockstep.

When we were close enough, Sarira’s features melted into mine. Or mine into hers. A mirror stood where the door once was. It rippled like molten silver.

They were my father’s eyes. They were mine, too. And Sari’s—insofar as, I now understood, Sari was me, a fractured “I” onto whom I could project my own desire to go deeper and deeper into the gray, no matter if death was at the far end of it.

“Or,” she said, I said, we said, “the doorway to deeper sleep.”

A life exceeding and boundless in its manifoldness.

I wasn’t cold anymore. 

I wasn’t much of anything anymore, except tired. 

Scraping past my ankles, a jewelled crocodile bellied its way toward the mirror, crystal claws scrabbling against floorboards strewn with what might have been snow or the shifting sand of my deepest dreams. Its snout disappeared into the mirror, and the surface rippled like a sheen of isinglass. The I that I knew I was turned and walked alongside the gem-studded saurian in pursuit of a world immanent to my imagining.

She must have been shaking me for a long time because when I finally registered the neoprene-shrouded woman gripping my shoulders, the world was spinning, and I instantly bent to heave sour, foamy water over her boots.

“What the hell are you doing out here?” Her shout was muffled by a terrycloth balaclava that framed drawn but not unkind eyes. “Where are your clothes?”

I looked down at myself. Spreading my hands, I saw that the ends of two fingers were black. 

In the woman’s wide, dark eyes, concern orbited confusion. 

“The crocodile…” I said. “The light… Sari…”

She squinted. Then she nodded. Patting my shoulders, the woman turned and shouted something I didn’t follow to someone I couldn’t see.

I looked around and realized we were at the end of the drive. At least I hadn’t wandered too far. Still, something felt off. Something I couldn’t place.

couldn’t still be dreaming.

“Sari…” I repeated.

“Sorry, what?” The woman said. “You flagged me down before. I just thought something might be wrong.”

My teeth chattered. “No, not sorry….”

But then words left me. My chin dropped, and white clouds billowed before me.

“The snow…”

The woman’s eyes betrayed a smile. She nodded and looked up.

Between scudding drifts of gray, great lagoons of brilliant blue pooled. The sun had not found its way through yet, but for the first time in months—and I knew, then, that it had been months, and many more of them than I realized—it was not snowing.


Cory Austin Knudson was born in Vacaville, California, but is a Philadelphian by choice and temperament. His short story, “Una cosa incognoscible,” won Touchstone Magazine’s 2020 debut prize in fiction. His translations have appeared in Viewpoint and Doublespeak. His co-translation of Georges Bataille’s preliminary manuscript to The Accursed Share is forthcoming from MIT Press under the title of The Limit of the Useful. His occasional essays and regular reviews of academic titles and books in translation appear in Full Stop.

NOTHING IS AS IT SEEMS

By Micki Findlay

Cold
hard
crunchy 
Robust, ruby gem 
dangling high on a serpentine limb 
Dancing with the autumn breeze 
enchanting 
enticing 
inviting
Hollow groans lurch from my belly
Reaching up on tiptoes
I gingerly twist the scarlet orb from its branch 
A gnarled leaf clings; lifeless
Careful. Don’t drop it. Never EVER drop it!
I know, only too well, you can’t always see the bruises
but they’re there
Running home, I pause before creeping in the kitchen door
I must be quiet. I must ALWAYS be quiet!
Staring at my contraband
I begin paring off the smooth, red veneer
It lays there dormant in a frenzied heap
But for how long? 
Its façade stripped away, there’s no more pretending 
I can feel it seething 
staring 
glaring 
The silence frightens me
I know what’s coming 
Trembling, I cut into the white flesh
It spits at me, stinging my eye
Mistakes are not allowed. Mistakes are NEVER EVER allowed!
My hands quiver as I cut faster, faster, faster 
before it spews its frothy disdain… again
Slice. Precision. Slice. CAREFUL! Slice. 
Something catches my eye. 
Terrified, I look down
A silent scream echoes in my head
BLOOD!
I should have known 
I dared to believe 
to hope, to challenge
Tasting bloodied tears, I glance at the pasty-white slices 
laying there motionless
small
exposed 
powerless
Today, I fought back
Did I win?
For now…


Micki Findlay is a contributing author for Chicken Soup for the Soul, Jazz House Publications, and a freelance columnist for Oasis Magazine, where she features local artists making a difference. She is also a songwriter, memoirist, poet, and digital artist. She feels very blessed to live on Vancouver Island, BC, Canada, amongst many talented and innovative creatives. You can find her website here.

Season’s End

By Matt Comito

What is the new moon’s yield? Slender,
Quaint as a quill in its curves the dusty
Old thing just leaning there against our
Pull. All summer I watched the swings hold
Against the centrifuge on the old carnival
Ride, waiting bored for the likely carnage.
They should have shut that thing down long ago.
That is part of its appeal I guess. Picking up in
One town and making for the next before the law
Gets wise. A carny’s life for me it is.
Seasonal work though, you need to horde
Your seed and lay up for the bone cold
Months. In spring you step down from the
Rusted runner of your truck into some vacant
Lot and maybe a friendly face greets you
And beckons with a flask. And maybe
There is work enough.


Matt Comito is a bookseller who lives in Los Angeles. He has had a lot of time on his hands the last couple of years. Right now, he is curious as to why there is a mysterious noise coming from his walk-in closet. He hopes it is one of his cats.

Shorn

By Matt Comito

I have allowed, for far too long,
my beard and hair to grow without tempering
or order. The dead parts of me have taken
over and my face disappears beneath the weight
of my indifference; my face an ancient ruin the
hungering jungle chooses finally, to reclaim. 

I’ll tell you a story that I’ve just made up: 

A farmer buys a tract of land, acre
By acre dredges and digs at it. He hauls out
Stones and stumps. He drains and shapes the contours
Of his land. One day I decide, ‘enough’,
Stare myself down in the mirror, ‘enough’.
I pick up my razor and I begin.


Matt Comito is a bookseller who lives in Los Angeles. He has had a lot of time on his hands the last couple of years. Right now, he is curious as to why there is a mysterious noise coming from his walk-in closet. He hopes it is one of his cats.

midwest america part one 

By Emma Geller

your hand 
on my thigh,
when we’re driving,
doesn’t feel like it used to

 & we don’t talk
at the gas station
when we stop 
for water & cigarettes

we keep driving down
highways, curving 
through states 
we don’t stop 
to take pictures

we keep moving
though there is nowhere to go.


Emma Geller is a poet, singer, and actress from Boston, MA. Her poetry has been featured in various publications, including Quillkeeper’s Press, Honeyfire Literary Magazine and Calliope’s Eyelash. You can find out more about Emma on Instagram at em_me_line.

iris

By Emma Geller

between the shutters, i saw
the shadow of your body but

in our dreams we were kissing, 
in a meadow of ashes & iris.

your pretty lips, a tropical storm 
destroying me, so when you 

flew away, i wanted to chase you,
but i couldn’t move.


Emma Geller is a poet, singer, and actress from Boston, MA. Her poetry has been featured in various publications, including Quillkeeper’s Press, Honeyfire Literary Magazine and Calliope’s Eyelash. You can find out more about Emma on Instagram at em_me_line.