Pick Of The Pack: October 2022

a witch’s heart does have warts

Dawn poisoned dusk as the sun rose hesitantly, its fearful golden light creeping along the shadows of another forgotten night. There was humming somewhere along the creek, its sound patient and delighted. A young woman knelt by the water, picking through the reeds and cattails as if looking for something. She smiled wide when she heard what she was looking for, the familiar croak of a bullfrog. Her slender, pale fingers wrapped around its rubbery belly the moment she saw the tall grass shuffle, and the frog creaked and cried to be let go. The woman simply smiled and continued her hum as she laid the small creature down atop a large plateaued rock, dried blood splattered over it, a warning come too late.

    “Yes, yes, you’ll do nicely,” the woman giggled in a sing-songy voice. Out came her husband’s hunting knife from her apron pocket, the golden light of morning reflecting on the blade like a dangerous smile. She held the frog down with one hand, and with the other, she severed its legs with steady, practiced hands. She avoided the splash of blood with care and removed a scrap of bloody cloth from her apron pocket, cleaned her knife, then tucked the frog legs into the center. She smiled to herself as she carefully folded the corners inward before reaching for the wicker basket beside her. The cloth-wrapped frog legs were set carefully at the bottom beside bound bat wings, a lizard’s tongue, and a rabbit’s foot. She placed an assortment of wildflowers she had picked earlier innocently on top of her animal limbs, concealing the horrors she’d collected like trophies. 

The legless frog croaked no more, for it passed out from blood loss. Unphased, the woman threw it into the creek with a minute splash. Sunfish swam greedily towards the body, picking apart the flesh as the muddy water became a dirty pink. The woman only watched for a moment before she stood, wiped her hands on her black skirt, picked up her basket, and trotted back home to her town, to the husband she so dearly loved.


Five needles slithered through fabric pulled tight by tambour frames. A group of women sat quietly together in the main room of a house only the smallest bit larger than most in Salem. On the window sill sat a cluster of wildflowers in a glass vase, and beneath it an empty wicker basket. One of the young women, Madeleine, hummed to herself as she continued her embroidering, the other four women remaining in a grievous silence. Perhaps they were still in mourning, for it had only been a couple of days since their group had shrunk from six to five. When her friends made no move to start a conversation with her, Madeleine sighed and set her needle and thread down on her lap.

“Friends, what has made you all so grim and somber?” she asked, the naivete in her sweet voice something she had mastered long ago.

“I suppose we are just missing our dear Elizabeth,” one of the women, Rachel, answered, unable to meet Madeleine’s eyes. “Her trial is but only three days past. And she was innocent, the poor thing…” she shook her head. 

Madeleine calculated her response and suppressed a smile. “Yes, our poor, sweet, Elizabeth…may God rest her soul.” The woman all murmured in agreement.

“Shall we pray for her-” one of the other women was about to propose, but was cut off by the sound of Madeleine’s sudden distress. 

Madeleine shot up, “Hold that thought, my dear! I just remembered our tea should be about ready!” She carefully put her embroidery on the seat of her chair and hurried off to the kitchen, her giddy smile on full display once she was out of sight. Madeleine’s delicate hands shook with excitement as she retrieved five teacups from the cupboard and placed them each on the table with quiet clinks. She poured the hot water into each cup first, leaving one significantly less filled than the others. Madeleine’s sweet smile turned hysterically mad as she reached into a hidden compartment and pulled out a potion kept in a fancy glass jar. Clear, almost syrupy liquid fell like molasses tears into the less-than-half-filled cup, and once everything was mixed together, it looked just like the other cups– but Madeleine paid careful attention to which ones were which.

After sprinkling in the tea leaves, the cups were carefully transferred to a tray and escorted to the four women in the parlor. Madeleine handed them each their tea, smiling like a most gracious host. She tried to keep her eyes from turning sinister, hiding her wolfish expression behind hand-painted porcelain as she watched Mary take a sip of the spiked tea.

The effects of the potion took only a little bit longer to set in than Madeleine first predicted, but once she saw Mary’s chest begin to rise and fall with more weight, she knew she and her girls were in for a show. 

“Y-es, my-” Mary’s light-hearted conversation with Edith ended abruptly as she gripped her teacup with almost enough force to shatter it.

“Mary? Is something the matter?” Rachel, ever the worrying type, reached out to Mary with a gentleness that cannot be taught. Mary reacted with a screech that seemed to ring out through the whole village as she flew backward in her chair and began convulsing on the ground, limbs flailing as she continued to scream. The other four women stood up in shock, Madeleine included, as she put her hand over her mouth to feign surprise. 

“Speak to us, Mary! What’s wrong?!” another woman, Margret, tried so desperately to understand, but all Mary could do was cry and shout,

“Demons! Witches!! HELL IS OPENING BENEATH OUR FEET TO SWALLOW US WHOLE!!! They’re here, we’re all hell bound!! Salem is in the claws of Satan Himself!!!” Mary clawed at her face and pulled her hair, spraying spit as she continued to spout her nonsense. 

“She’s gone mad,” Rachel sobbed. “Madeleine, call your husband, please! She is suffering!”

“She is a witch!” Edith corrected, “A witch!!” Rachel whined and looked away from Mary writhing on the floor like a barn animal, unable to bear witness to another one of her friends turning wicked. 

Madeleine ran out of the house in a hurry. She felt elated, she always loved this part of her little spells. She ran to the church as if the wind itself had lifted her off of her feet and carried her there on a cloud. She threw open the tall church doors and exclaimed, “John! My love, come quickly!”

A kindly priest with eyes worn by sleepless nights stumbled out of view, awkwardly clutching a bible to his chest with arms just a little too long and spindly for his body. Madeleine held back a swooning sigh when she saw him and instead ran up to tug on his elbow. 

“John, my love, Mary has turned mad! You must come at once and save her soul lest she be turned into the Devil’s own familiar!” she sniffled, eyes wide and pleading. John tensed, conflict flashing somewhere behind hazel eyes. He lightly drummed the pads of his fingers against the hard leather binding of his bible before finally nodding. 

“Alright,” he murmured in a quiet, distant tone that Madeleine either didn’t notice or chose to ignore. “Lead the way, dear.”


“STOP THIS AT ONCE!! I am no witch!!!” Mary kicked and screamed as she was forced in front of a rickety wooden ladder. 

“C-come now, you know the law, Mary…” John affirmed, hands shaking as he held his open bible. Madeleine watched with her remaining three friends at the front of the crowd, hands folded in front of her, faux sorrow painted on her lovely face. Mary thrashed against the rope that bound her hands behind her back, but the guard only pushed her onward in response.

“NO!!!” Mary struggled all she could as she was forced to climb the ladder, blubbering gibberish about how she wasn’t a witch and how everyone who convicted and executed her would pay for this. Madeleine thought it funny that Mary threatened them, for it surely didn’t help her case. John flipped the page in his bible and raised his head to speak.

“M-Mary Shoemaker, you– you stand here on trial for indecency and accusations of witchcraft. To prove your innocence you have been– been brought to these here gallows. If you– if your neck snaps, then you are no witch. If it doesn’t, then…” John straightened himself and darted his eyes to his wife. “You are a witch.”

“LIARS!! The lot of you!! I am sentenced to die either way!! Curse you, ALL OF YOU!! Go to hell, go to HELL!!” she jabbed the guard in the jaw with her elbow and almost fell backward had she not caught herself. The guard muttered a swear and pushed her forwards as his buddy took hold of the noose. Mary’s eyes widened and she shrieked, “NO!! NO!! Get that wretched thing AWAY FROM ME!! 

They forced the noose around her neck and prepared to push her off the ladder. Mary screamed for the final time, “I AM NO WITCH!!!” before powerful hands on her shoulders lifted her off of the ladder and let her dangle in the air. Mary thrashed and scraped her nails against the thick rope tightening around her throat, writhing similarly to how she did at Madeline’s house. As her face turned a deathly purple-blue, Rachel clung to Madeline’s arm and wept into her shoulder. Madeline gently petted her bonnet-covered hair and looked deep into the light fading from Mary’s eyes. When Madeline let a malignant smile slip, Mary’s eyes widened for a final time before she stopped moving and hung limply in the air, swinging back and forth like a pendulum. Rachel shivered against Madelaine, tears staining her cotton dress. Madelaine looked down at the girl with a thoughtful expression, then leaned down to kiss the top of her head, if only to hide her smile. Yes, yes, she would do nicely.


Dusk fled the earth in a panic the moment it saw a sliver of golden yellow coast past the horizon, for it had learned its lesson several suns ago. There was humming somewhere along the creek, its sound patient and delighted. A young woman knelt by the water, watching the ripples as if waiting for something. A school of sunfish soon swam over, wiggling through the water, traveling peacefully along. Madeline smiled pleasantly and readied the hunting knife she regularly borrowed from her husband. Counting down from three in her head, she drew her hand back and plunged the blade into the midsection of the largest sunfish she saw. When she swiftly yanked the impaled fish out of the water, it squirmed for only a little bit before giving in to its fate.

She laid it down atop her favorite plateaued rock and unsheathed the hunting knife from the sunfish. Then, with trained precision, Madeline carved out its wide golden-green eyes, then deposited them into a jar full of similar-looking organs. She screwed the top of the jar back on, but just before she was about to throw the sunfish back into the river, she paused. Oh, why let this perfectly good sunfish go to waste when she could cook it up for her dearest John? She giggled at her almost careless waste, and wrapped the dead fish in some spare cloth before slipping it into her basket. She began to sing to herself, a simple tune from her childhood she always loved, and skipped back to her home, to the husband she so dearly loved.

…except that the husband she so dearly loved was not at home. He was hiding behind a tree and had been watching his wife work for some time now. His nerves were shot, as they usually were when he witnessed Madeline perform these cruel, gruesome acts. John fidgeted with his shirt cuffs, and oh god, why was she doing this? Elizabeth, Mary– their deaths were both so recent, surely she didn’t have to do this again so soon? But he knew that nothing would satisfy her lust for violence, for blood. 

Ever since John first saw Madeline dancing alone in the woods around a fire, tossing torn-out pages of the Bible into the towering flames, he was afraid of her. John had been counting down the days until it was his turn to become stricken with her power, his turn to see demons and hellfire and be hanged for witchcraft– but that day never came. Madeline never slipped him anything unsavory in his supper, never put him under a hex, never forced him to write his name in the Devil’s book. She never even raised her voice at him, and he didn’t understand why. 

If she loved him, then why did she torture him this way? Why was she doing these terrible things, framing these poor, innocent women for witchcraft and leaving him to point the finger and sentence them to hang?
    John’s breath faltered as a cold tear slid down his cheek. Even after everything, Madeline’s warm smile every time he came home from his work at the church, the way her eyes lit up at the sound of his voice, her desire to take care of and tend to him whenever she could, all of it still made his heart flutter. She still managed to be the center of his universe, no matter how terrifying she was. No matter how much agony she put him through, John knew he would always love her for reasons he could never understand.

He began to cry behind the tree, sank down the trunk and sat in the grass damp with morning dew. His wife, his dear, lovely wife, the woman he promised his very soul to, was a monster. And he loved her still. And he sobbed for this, cried out in the woods, for no one except the comforting embrace of a wife who did not frame innocent village girls for crimes they did not commit, who did not mangle forest creatures for her own twisted desires, who did not smile in the face of death. A wife who was good, a wife who loved him, a wife who was Madeline.


By Mackenzie Anderson

You’re used because it’s easy. They don’t love you because they don’t see you as a person. Just a short time happiness. You’re a placeholder. You’re the pit stop in between states for gas. They don’t see you for the person you are. You’re just someone to them. A person who can be what they want to be. A person that they play with when they’re bored. A doll. They don’t care about your back story. Or the scar on your cheek. They probably didn’t even realize your one eye is smaller than the other. They don’t care if you end up hurt in the process, it’s just a game to them. You’re not on their mind as much as they’re on yours. They don’t try like you do. They will drop you like “I love you” meant nothing. They’ll forget you exist faster than you can type “WHY”. You are the one who has to question your worth. You overthink for hours and hours on why you weren’t enough for them. You can’t stop thinking about what’s wrong with you. And that’s where it starts… the countless nights crying, the self hatred, the pain. You’re the one who has to pick up the pieces, but when do you stop and think that it’s not fair. When do things change and you get that perfect cliche guy who actually cares? When does the pain end and the loving begin? If you know the answers let me know. Until then I’ll go back to picking up the pieces.

The Worst Pies In London

By: Jackie Dyszel

“Die! Die! God in heaven- die!” Mia kicked at the nearly lifeless body gripping her ankle as a haggard woman crawled toward her on the floor of the butcher shop.

Like a morning alarm interrupting a dream, the 5pm school bell rang. “That’s time!” Mrs. Talcon called. Liz brought the stage lights up and the cast of Sweeney Todd walked off of the stage and put their scripts in their school bags.

I liked to watch everyone come out of character. When they started chatting about their weekend plans and the drama in their friend groups, it was as if they were a whole different person from the murderous characters they were just a few seconds before. Nobody’s transition was quite like Mia’s though.

Every day at 2:15 I watched Mia fade away and Mrs. Lovett surface, and in the split second between 5:00:00 and 5:00:01, Mia came back. Through all of my years of performing, nothing has mesmerized me more than Mia’s talent.

“Hey, great job today, loser.”

I could never refrain from smiling when I heard that voice. “You too, I guess.”

“Shut up. Ready to go?”

“Yeah, let me just grab my keys.”

Mia and I walked together to my car, just like every other day. Her parents won’t let her get her license, but she lives right across the street from me and we both have to stay after school for rehearsal, so I drive her to school every day. It doesn’t hurt that it gives me a few extra minutes with her.

“I think tomorrow we’re blocking ‘By The Sea Reprise’,” she said.

“Oh cool, I get to throw you in an oven.”

“You finally get to live out your dreams!”

I glared at her and she laughed, Which made me laugh. 

I dropped her off and waited for her to walk in her front door– mostly to make sure she got inside safely, but partly because I knew she would let Mango run out to my car to say ‘hi’.

Sure enough, Mango came barreling down the driveway, wagging his tail as if his life depended on it. He jumped up and put his paws on my window frame and I scratched his head. Mia whistled for him to come back inside and he obeyed. He was the most compliant, friendly dog I had ever met, and Mia always joked that he was her parents’ favorite child. 

“See you tomorrow morning,” I called out, and Mia waved goodbye as she shut the door.


My fork scraped the bottom of my chicken pot pie tin as my mom went through her daily interrogation about my day.

“It was fine,” was my recurring response.

“How did you do on your calculus test?”


“Great! What did you do at play rehearsal?”

“It’s a musical, Mom.” A misconception that any thespian has undoubtedly corrected numerous times. It doesn’t even bother me when people get it wrong, I think I’m just classically conditioned to correct it.

“Whatever. How was Mia?”


“What? I just want to know what kind of quality content I’m paying 12 dollars to see.” She liked to not-so-subtly hint at her annoyance with the raised ticket prices, courtesy of the district budget cuts. She also liked to not-so-subtly hint that she wanted me to marry Mia.

“Do you even have to ask that question? You know she was great.”

“Well, I can’t wait to see you two on stage together.”

“Whatever,” I dismissed her and put my dishes in the sink.


By 2 a.m. I was just starting to doze off while memorizing kinematics equations when I was rudely awoken by the sound of a dog howling. I looked out of my bedroom window and saw that Mia’s kitchen light was on. The ungodly howling was coming from Mango. Odd, In all of the years I’d known Mango, I’d never even heard him bark I took out my phone and texted Mia.

“Hey, what’s going on with Mango, is he alright?” She took a few minutes to respond and by the time I got a text back, Mango had quieted down and the light in Mia’s house moved from the kitchen to her bedroom.

“He’s fine, I was just practicing my lines and he got a little freaked out.” Then another text, “What are you doing up so late?”

“Studying for physics, my midterm is tomorrow. If ‘Steel-Balls Mango’ is that freaked out, I’m scared for my reaction on stage tomorrow lol.”

“Haha, be warned. Night, Q. Sleep is more important than perfect grades, I better see your bedroom light turn off soon.”

“Okay, stalker. Goodnight.” On that note, I turned off my light and saw hers go out too. I fell asleep to the gross smell of something burning, racking it up to another one of Ms. Stacy’s “Burn-My-Cheating-Boyfriend’s-Belongings” bonfires next door. I assumed my mom would spill all of the details of the latest breakup the next day.


I honked outside of Mia’s house the next morning, letting her know I was there. I got a text then, “give me one second, running a little late, sorry!” I figured she had just overslept from being up so late. I was surprised that Mango wasn’t watching me from the front door, but I guess he was a little tired, too, after his little freak out last night.

I looked around down the street, trying to find some entertainment while I waited for Mia. Most of the houses were still dark, considering high school starts long before most of our neighbors jobs do. A few early birds were dragging their trash bins to the curb in the 6am darkness. I noticed movement at Ms. Stacy’s house.

She was walking to the front door holding her boyfriend’s hand. It seemed like they were just then coming home from the night. I guess the burning I smelled the night before hadn’t come from her after all. Then what…

Mia opened my car door and I jumped, not even noticing her walking down the driveway. She was wearing a pink scarf that made her blue eyes look brighter than usual.

“Sorry I’m late, long night.”

“Guess I’ll just have to speed,” I joked. She hated when I drove fast.


Physics is first period, so I got my midterm out of the way early on and spent the rest of the day running through my lines in my head for rehearsal that day. We got to the auditorium at 2:15 p.m. as usual and waited for Mrs. Talcon. On Fridays there was always a hectic energy of excitement for the weekend. It took awhile for us to settle down on days like that.

Mrs. Talcon made her usual grand entrance through the stage left door and the chit-chatting reduced to a mere murmur before the silence that came when she began speaking.

“Let’s not waste time. Todd and Lovett, on stage.”

Mia and I climbed the steps to the stage and Mrs. Talcon started us off. “‘By The Sea Reprise’ is a difficult scene. Think about the original song and the peace and love your characters felt at the beginning of their journey before all of the conflict began. Now think about how much has changed and the hatred that Sweeney now feels toward the world. He has just killed his own wife unknowingly. Mia, Mrs. Lovett still loves him and doesn’t see the monster that he’s become. She doesn’t want to believe that he has changed. Take a second to get into character and then begin.”

I thought about what she told us. As much as I wanted the performance to be realistic, it’s hard to get into character when you have to kill someone you actually love. But it’s not real.

Okay, focus. My wife, who I thought was dead, has been alive this whole time and Mrs. Lovett, who I trusted most in the world, has been lying to my face since we’d met. And now I had killed my own wife, mistaking her as a common beggar. I imagined Mia lying to me. What that would feel like– my whole life being a lie. The auditorium lights went down, leaving the stage illuminated, and the scene commenced.

“Lucy…” I began, sorrow in my voice.

“Should’ve been in hospital, wound up in Bedlam instead, poor thing!”

“Oh, my God…”

“Better you should think she was dead. Yes, I lied ‘cos I love you.”


“I’d be twice the wife she was! I love you!”

“What have I done?…”

“Could that thing have cared for you like me?”

Soft waltz music began, my cue to shift from sorrow to enlightened. Sweeney started to dance with Lovett. She had convinced him that they could still live happily together. By the sea. Together, they would be at peace. Leaving their past behind, including the murder of Lucy.

We sang.

“Everything I did I swear I thought was only for the best, believe me! Can we still be married? Come here, my love .. Not a thing to fear, my love . . . What’s dead is dead.”

I put my arm around her waist and we swayed to the waltz. She was relaxed, believing that I, or Sweeney rather, had put her deceiving lies in the past. I waltzed her closer to the oven.

“The history of the world, my pet— Is learn forgiveness and try to forget.” Now she really believed me. I could feel her relax into my chest as we danced. “And life is for the alive, my dear, so let’s keep living it—”

In unison: “Just keep living it, really living it—!”

I let a sudden wave of hatred come over me as I seized her. The moment before the final blow, I could feel the fright of Mrs. Lovett’s realization. Mia’s stunning acting once again shone through. I saw true horror in her brown eyes— brown? No, Mia’s eyes were blue. This was wrong. Just go through the motions, follow the blocking.

I plunged Mrs. Lovett into the open oven with a blood curdling scream from her. The train whistle blew, signifying yet another death in our plot. I kneeled by my dead wife and sobbed into her.


A long pause, then, “Great!” Mrs. Talcon’s voice came beckoning from the front row, snapping me back to reality.

I walked to the oven and gave Mia a hand, glancing suspiciously, but not obviously, at her eyes. Blue.

“Good run, Q! You ‘killed it’,” She spoke in her normal bubbly voice, but I had an eerie feeling in my gut.

“Yeah, you too.”

I quietly sat in seat A108, my unassigned assigned seat. Our run of the show moved forward, but my mind was in another place.


The drive home that day was quiet. My mind was playing tricks on me and I didn’t know what to believe anymore. I dropped Mia off and barely even noticed that Mango didn’t come to my car. It was just one more weird thing to add on to the list.

I sat at my desk in my room and got started on my homework. I had work all weekend and liked to get my homework out of the way early on. Mia always called me lame for choosing to spend Friday nights doing homework.

Two hours had passed by the time the sky started to get dark. I heard a door shut outside and looked out the window to see Mia locking her front door behind her. I remembered my mom telling me that her parents were going away for the week. Otherwise she would never be allowed to go out alone.

Before I even knew what I was doing, my feet were carrying me downstairs and out of my back door. Something told me that Mia wasn’t safe. I followed her, sneaking behind houses and trees. Being practically invisible to the world paid off sometimes. I noticed her grasping something shiny in her left hand that looked as if it were a straight razor.

She reached the end of our neighborhood and turned left onto the sidewalk that goes through the borough. Small shops glowed with warmth inside, and lights were strung from building to building across the narrow street. I never really stopped to appreciate how pretty our town was until I was stalking my best friend through it.

I followed her all the way through town, past the church where we sang with choir, past the coffee shop that we sat in and practiced lines time after time. As we went further, the business of the town died down and there was nothing but trees and street lights. It was harder to sneak behind her with no background noise for me to blend into. She turned right and went through a rod iron gate– the cemetery.

My mind started to process what in the world I was doing. God, she was probably just visiting her grandfather or something, I never should have followed her. I was about to turn back and wait in town to make sure she got back safe when out of nowhere she went to the left side of the graveyard where she always turns right. I decided to stick around a little while longer.

She walked a few feet and stopped at a large grave. I couldn’t see very well, the sky was only dimly lit by the moon and street lights in the distance. I went full out Mission Impossible spy mode to get as close as possible. I finally found myself crouched behind a tree, so close I could almost reach out and touch Mia. I realized that she never looked back once while I was following her here. Something was motivating her.

I leaned out from behind the tree to try to get a closer look at the name on the gravestone, which she was now kneeling in front of with her head down. I was confused when I read the name “Nellie Lovett” engraved across the top of the stone. A million thoughts rushed through my head. In my bewildered state, my foot slipped, crunching on a stale leaf on the ground.

My heart raced as I glanced up to see Mia calmly turning her head to me. I was face to face with brown eyes lined with fire when she said, “Hello, Mr. Todd.”


The Garden

By Mack Mela

Calloused hands pressed the soft soil around the delicate sapling, securing it into place. Quinn O’Connell stood, wiping the dirt off onto his grass-stained jeans as he heard the cut of the exhaust from his neighbors old chevy. Excitement filled him as he adjusted his straw hat, pushing open the wooden lattice gate.

The beautiful visage of Amelia greated him, her messy hair concealed under a tattered baseball cap. He noticed a new grease stain across the arm of her blue jacket as she lowered the tailgate, her back facing him. A million questions bubbled in his throat but he was just capable  of choking out a nervous, “H-Hello.”

Amelia turned to face him with a look of surprise, a polite smile curled across her lips before she went back to removing her tool box from the bed.

“D-did… How was the Junkyard?” he asked, casually leaning against the lattice that moved with the new weight, causing him to stumble slightly but he caught himself with a nervous smile hoping she didn’t notice. She hadn’t.

“It was full of junk,” she said now using the first tool box as a stepping stool to help her reach the mangled mound of iron and rust toward the back of the bed. “Nothing like working in a garden all day.” She turned back to him and smiled with a playful wink.

Beneath Quinn’s feet the grass greened and a dopey grin spread across his flushed cheeks, “Y-yeah” he hummed. The thought of Amelia in grass-stained jeans replacing the tattered Cover-all that always was tied around her waist, leaving her upper half exposed to the elements in a tank top that left nothing to the imagination. He was half glad she decided to wear that jacket, or he would be distracted for other reasons. 

“Maybe you could teach me a thing or two?” 

“What?” he asked his eyes wide, a blush exploding across his pale cheeks.

“About Gardening” she prompted with a soft chuckle.

Quinn sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. What else would she be talking about? “I lov- I’d love to,” he said nodding, looking back up at her “I’ll give you some starter plants? You know like ones that are easy to take care of, ‘cause I’d hate if your first plant died on you, y’know?”

“Sounds good,” she said hopping down from the bed with the unnatural hunk of material in her arms, “Oh, and Quinn?”


“I’m expecting one of those straw hats.” 

It was hard to get anything to grow among the twisted metal structures stationed throughout the brown grass and dry mulch. She wasn’t just a mechanic, she was also a collector of alloy. Anything twisted beyond recognition littered her yard, creating her own hardware garden. 

And through much persistence, the bush had remained. No, not just remained– it thrived in the rusted jungle. Adapting to its new habitat the flora spread like the plague, twisting around bent metal creating malformed shrubs that were as appealing to the eye as the orange color they presented. All of Amelia’s best efforts to stunt the growth ended in failure.

Wind chimes echoed from over the ivy entwined fence signalling that her green thumbed neighbor was making his rounds in his own luscious garden. A small oak tree just barely begun to crest the top of their shared fence. Amelia hadn’t noticed the tree before. He must’ve planted it while she was scavenging. 

She huffed, adjusting her wide brimmed straw hat. Luckily the oak was too small to shed leaves onto her already orange yard. 

“Good morning, Quinn.” She called out, crossing the yard to the fence, crushing emerging buds beneath her feet. She climbed on top of one of the only hunk of rusted metal left in her yard so her eyes peered into his garden.

Quinn stood in his crimson morning robes looking up towards Amelia, a blush tinting his cheeks, and when their eyes met he began to overwater his mums. He quickly blinked away his embarrassment, lifting the yellow can to his chest.

“M-Mornin’!” he called out lifting his hand in a wave, causing the can to tumble from his grip and he quickly caught with a chuckle, deciding it was best to place it down beside his feet.

“How are you?” she asked with a bright smile that shone through the thick english ivy curling around their shared fence. 

“Tired,” he hummed with a soft smile, “But good.” 

The orange chrysanthemum bush started to latch onto its next victim, curling up the metal beneath her feet. 

“That’s wonderful… I had a question-” she said, feeling something brush her ankle.

“Ask away!” 

“How do I get rid of these flowers?” she asked with a soft chuckle, but Quinn wasn’t laughing.

“What’s wrong with them?” he asked.

“They are just… too much to handle? I didn’t think they would grow that much y’know? And I don’t really have the space for them… well they’ve kinda taken over my yard”

“Oh… That’s… okay, well, I can remove them for you?”

“That’s really not necessary, I can do it myself, but I just… Don’t know how? Any tips?”

“Spray them with salt water.”

“Salt water?”


“Won’t that kill them?”


“Are you positive you don’t want them back?”

“Yes.” Quinn said, looking down. All the joy he previously had in the conversion drained from him. 

“Alright, thank you!” she called out with a smile before hopping off the rusted metal. The flowers already had begun to wilt.

The next morning Amelia walked outside, spray bottle in hand only to find the garden ridden with decay. The once vibrant orange and green bushes intertwined between her craft, were brown and rotting. She glanced over to Quinn’s small cottage and raised an eyebrow in confusion. 

Where the sapling was once growing stood a stout maple tree taller than both their houses combined. Maybe, she thought, Maybe he got it overnight. But she would’ve noticed a 30 foot tree being planted next door right? And while she knew practically nothing about plants she was fairly certain you couldn’t de-root a grown tree and plant it in a new habitat without it being unstable. She did not want a tree collapsing into her home.

She let out a huff of air as she threw on some slippers and stomped her way next door. She needed to have a word with Quinn.


Quinn opened the door in the same attire he was wearing yesterday only he had deep bags under his eyes and lingering resentment in them.

“Good morning,”

“When did you have that tree planted?” Amelia asked her foot tapping on the welcome mat.

“A few weeks ago? Why?”

“Quinn, you do realize I’m not an idiot– there was not a fully grown tree in your backyard yesterday!”

“Yeah, and there was a beautifully grown bush in your yard yesterday- things change.”

“I don’t know what the h*ll I did to deserve your attitude, but I don’t appreciate it, Quinn.”

“You don’t appreciate a lot of things, Amelia.”

Before she could respond, Quinn had shut the door in her face, leaving her and her bunny slippers alone on the porch. 

Amelia stared at the loaming branches over her yard. She refused to purchase a rake- practically denying the existence of fall. But that didn’t stop the first leaf from fluttering down from the decaying branch into the middle of her yard. 


After the first, it was practically an avalanche of red, brown and yellow. Through the week the leaves formed a mini mount range in her yard. It irked her, but it wasn’t until she noticed the lack of brown bags amongst his trash– did she get pissed off. 

Every leaf that broke away from that god forsaken tree had magically caught wind and fluttered it’s way down into her life. It was the final middle finger from her pissed off neighbor. 

However, Amelia decided she would like the last laugh. Ever since their conversation on his porch, she had purchased an axe.

Rummaging through the plentiful tools littering her garage she found her shiny new toy, tag still wrapped around the handle. She took it in her grasp, the weight feeling right as she slung it over her shoulder. A whistle escaped through her lips as she crossed their front yards, kicking open Quinn’s gate.

She had work to do. 


By Erin McGinnis

“Come on, A, this could be your last,” I could see Rachel’s breath in the gray autumn air as we walked. “Spend it with us.”

“I probably will. I dunno. We’ll see.”

“You think so?” 

I didn’t. I really didn’t. All I could think about was July.  

“I’m glad you changed your mind.”

“Yeah. Me too.”

I wasn’t. I was reliving another walk. A warmer one.

Staring down at the brown leather on my feet, my blue socks peeked out, their graphic, warm peaches matching the crinkled leaves in the cracks of the sidewalk. Rachel continued on about our friends and their plan to reach the Hundred Acre Woods this year. 

“Who’s all doing this again?”

“Ben. Grace. Kerri, Greg, Mads, Sky–the usual crowd.” 

“He’s not coming, A.”


“I know what you’re thinking. Better stop while you’re ahead.” 

“Wishing for fiction.”
The irony was incredible.

“I’m not.”
I was. 

“Stop that. I know you. I see the way you guys talk.”

I didn’t know that everyone else did, too.


The familiar feeling of sunshine on my skin was another version of home, calming my nerves as I waited on the splintering porch. Digging my blue nails into the cedar of the railing,  I stared down the street at the shiny blacktop. Steaming. The trees were vibrant and dry, glowing in that warm, golden shine I appreciated so greatly. 

That was something he would always shared with the sun. Warmth. 

And there he was. 

His sharp, black converse rubbered their way to me, immuning him to the steam of the street. I wished the sun would go away for a moment; just kindly tuck itself behind the clouds and match the sky to my mood. Foreshadow. Fade his dopey smile in the tiniest way.  Maybe even reduce my inevitable sweat. 

Make it all go away.

Clean rubber squeaked closer. Closer.

Make him go away.

There was no chance now. The sun shone on, and the auburn hair poking through his hat stayed matte, unmoving, unshining. Light seemed to have no effect.

Step by step, I made my way down the stairs to meet him on that damned pavement. Instead of him, I watched my tanned feet, dodging the splintering wood and crooked nails. 

Alas: sidewalk. 

Avoiding eye contact, trying to stall a second away, I took note of the hat he had chosen that day. Guilt engraved my gut when it was mine. My hat. I wished I’d never picked out that stupid hat.

I wished he was still the brick walled boy I didn’t know.

“What’s wrong?”


“You’ve got a funny look on your face.” 

My stomach hollowed.  Instead of answering, I looked to the pavement below, ugly and rough.

“Where are your shoes?”

Did I need them?
“Inside. I’ll be back,” I lied. 

But I did not know it was a lie when I said it.  It was honest at first, until I my actions turned those innocent three words into a lie.

I couldn’t face it.  I couldn’t hurt him. 

I could leave him right there. On the sidewalk. I could pretend it had never happened. I could hurt him by staying inside, by not acting whatsoever.

So I did. 

The doorbell rang until it didn’t.


My reflection in the mirror didn’t have goosebumps yet. None on the outside, at least.

“Think I should wear a pink sweatshirt under my dress? I don’t want to be cold, but I’d make a cuter Piglet without the bagginess, don’t you think?” Rachel’s voice was irritatingly loud over the phone. Brushing away the airy curtain, I looked down the street. Cold tonight. Not quite dark yet, but the little munchkins in furry and neon and caped costumes were already making their way towards the Change Center.

“Sure. Does it matter?”

“Well yeah, A. It does. Piglet is known for being cute. And this might be our last Halloween being able to Change. And I’d like to have a costume that enables me to do so.” 

The outcome of her sudden attitude was an inevitable tension.
“Ditch the sweatshirt, then.”

“Fine. How’s yours?”

“My what?”

“Your costume?”


I didn’t know how to tell her.

“I hope you have a detachable tail. You’ll be able to Change for sure.”

  1. Did not. Know how to tell her.

I had no intentions of spending the night in the Hundred Acre Woods. How did the Hundred Acre Woods differ from the woods in our backyards, anyway? I wouldn’t be missing much, and it wouldn’t matter. It wouldn’t matter. I had something I needed to fix. 

It was the only way.

This was the only way.

“You see, Rachel, uh—”

I untied my shoes, slipping them off one at a time, my socks following. My summer clothes would not be comfortable on the short walk to the Change Center, but I could deal with it for a few minutes. 

“–I  really don’t think my costumes’ good enough.”

Yeah. That could do it.

“Oh. Why not? Do you want me to come over and help you with it?”


“We’ve still got an hour before we’re meeting at Ben’s, and I don’t want—”

“No, no. It’s alright, Rachel, I’ll figure it out. Thanks, though. For offering.”

“Yeah, of course.” She took an audible breath, just long enough to make me question whether or not she knew. “Yeah. I’ll see you later, ‘kay?”


Another lie.

I spent the hour applying tanner. It reminded me of the easy spring, a time when it was appropriate to be bronze, but no one yet was. Grace and Rachel would lather up on weeknights , hoping to impress jerk boys in their classes,  the ones that never ended up sticking around.

Mine would.

When did I ever try so hard? They’d have to understand.

I lied to Rachel again at the end of the hour, crying and tired, fifteen minutes late to meeting with people I didn’t plan on meeting. A familiar feeling engraved itself in my stomach after that phone call, but it didn’t diminish my decision. I had a plan. 


It was a relief when my bare, newly tanned feet reached the tile of the Change Center. Goosebumps outside and inside now. It had to work. 

When it was my turn, I stepped up to the grey foot pad in front of the wall sized mirror. 

I stared at myself, holding my breath.

No one–at least not to my knowledge–had used the Change pad to go back in time on Halloween. It was only used for fun, for transportation between fictional universes. Someone needed to toss me a bone, to turn the pad green like it had for the lions and tigers and bears before me.

I closed my eyes.

I opened them, and the world was a vibrant, new color. Summertime. 

Looking down at my feet, I no longer stood on a gray Change pad, but my splintering front porch. I held onto the warm, wooden railing, smiling. I did it. I watched as my blue nails dug into the porch’s cedar, just like they had months before. I waited for him.

My Ghost

By Beau Higman

My ghost talks to me sometimes, late at night. He floats down through my ceiling, comes to a stop above my head, and we talk for a little while, until I get tired, then he goes back up to the attic where he lives.

My ghost is a good listener. He doesn’t actually talk much, but I tell him everything about my day, and what happened, and he floats there, above me, and nods or shakes his head at the appropriate times. He listens better than most actual people. He never forgets what I tell him.

I wish I were a ghost. It’d be so nice to float around and go through walls, but never to scare anyone. I want to be like my ghost. Just talking to someone who needs to talk. I hope I’m a good ghost when I die. 

My brother heard me talking last night. He doesn’t know about the ghost. No one but me does. As soon as the ghost heard footsteps, he left, but I had my eyes closed, so I was talking to empty air when my brother came in. He shook me, and I pretended to be talking in my sleep. The ghost didn’t come back that night. 

I wonder what the ghost does, when I’m at school and no one’s home. I imagine him floating through the house, enjoying the silence, or maybe sleeping in the attic, although I don’t know if ghosts sleep. I’d ask, but he wouldn’t answer.

The ghost is brighter than normal tonight. He used to be a nightlight, protecting me from the darkness, but now he’s a flashlight in my eyes. I asked him to leave, and he frowned and stayed still. I wish he would go away. I’m so tired. I can’t sleep. He is too bright. Why can’t he leave? I don’t want him. 

I went up to the attic today. It’s cold up there. I looked for the ghost for a long time, to say sorry for what happened. I couldn’t find him. I cried and begged for him to come back. I said he could stay in my room for as long as he wants. 

I wish I had not said that. The ghost lives in my room now. He won’t ever leave, so at night I have to put my head under the covers to sleep. I can feel him, hovering above me, and I’m sleeping less and less. My parents are getting worried about me. I tried to tell them about the ghost, and they think I’m having nightmares. When I told the ghost, he didn’t respond. He never will, but that’s fine. I can talk for both of us.

My brother came in to my room tonight because he was having a nightmare. The ghost didn’t notice in time, or maybe just didn’t care anymore, so my brother saw it. He stood in shock for a while, and I could see his tiny hand moving, pinching himself. The ghost drifted towards him, and he got really scared, and told our parents. They accused me of giving him ideas. 

My brother doesn’t talk anymore. He wanders around the house, and doesn’t respond to anyone. My parents argue about what to do with him. Send him to a doctor, or a therapist. Keep him home, or send him to school. I think we should all leave. No one listens to me. 

I was all alone today. My parents were at work, my brother at school, but I had a fever and had to stay home. The ghost followed me everywhere. I tried to hide under the covers on my parents’ bed. He didn’t find me for a while, but when I slept, he drifted down through the floor into my head, and crept into my dreams. I won’t sleep with him around anymore.

I keep waking up in the attic, with no memory of sleeping. I find it hard to believe that I have ever slept. I can’t get a second of peace. He is always there, watching me, waiting for me to let him into my head. The only solution is to not sleep, ever. I need to be strong. I am not strong. I am tired. 

I walk up the steps of the attic. I must be dreaming, because I would never go up there. Not anymore. I am cold, and the cold steps feel rough on my bare feet. I reach the landing, and slowly open the oak door, pausing only briefly to examine the patterns in the wood, looking for familiar faces. Nothing looks back. 

The far corner of the room, the only one completely free of boxes, is where the ghost lives. I walk to the corner opposite, move aside a broken chair,  and wait for him to appear. It is dark out, the moon barely shining through the greasy glass of the rooms one window. The corner where the ghost lives is dark, and I see shapes moving in the deep ink, but not the familiar shape of the ghost. No glow, shining through the darkness to herald the ghost. No drifting phantom coming for me, or kind ghosts, wanting to talk. There are only shadows in darkness. This is a boring dream. Nothing is happening. Nothing is here. Nothing, but an empty room, a cloudy night, and a window. 

Loose Change

By Taylor Creollo

Madelaine woke up with a piercing pain on the side of her head and something wet oozing onto her pillow. Raising a hand to the pain, she frowned as it was met with a warm stickiness that smelled metallic and fresh. It was difficult to see in the dim lit room, but the scarlet blood was unmistakable as it coated her hand, dripping down like wax onto her white sheets. 

It took a moment to register, but once it did, she cursed and scrambled out of bed. The blood dripped onto the floor slowly like a broken faucet, the sound taunting her exhausted mind. Her ear stung even worse as she gradually became more awake and aware, making her way to the bathroom adjacent to the bedroom of her apartment with her hand clasped over it. 

“Shit, shit, shit,” she hissed and flicked on the lights, wincing at the brightness that hit her eyes and burned into them. “What in the fresh hell?”

There was a white shard of something wedged into the dip of her ear. It seemed to be the source of the blood and Madelaine wondered why she hadn’t felt it before. She finally let her hand fall, rinsing it off with ice cold water that left her hands red. Her fingers were too large and clumsy to get a good grip on the slippery object. Digging around in the top drawer of her cabinet, her icy fingers latched onto a pair of rusting tweezers and pulled them up to her ear, painstakingly yanking the object out of her ear. Her teeth clenched as she dropped it onto the counter top, leaning down to peer over it. It was a  tooth.

Her eyebrows furrowed. “Where…”

She turned the piece over in her hands, little patches of blood coating her fingertips. The piece that had embedded itself in her ear was the sharpest edge, nearly piercing the skin of her finger as she held it closer to her face. It didn’t even seem human.

“Maddie?” a croak said from the bathroom door. Her roommate, Nia, stood there in her pajamas, eyes squinting at the bathroom light. “It’s 3am.”

“It… it is?” Madelaine’s voice sounded panicked, even to her own ears. “I’m sorry.” She held out the piece of bone to the other girl. Her hand shook. “But you see it, right?”

Nia yawned. “Do I see what?”

“The tooth,” Madelaine said frantically, thrusting it even further forward. “In my hand. And all the blood.” 

“Maddie, I…” Nia frowned. “Are you feeling okay? Do you have a fever? I can call Lexi if—”

“Don’t you dare,” Madelaine said, lowering her voice. Her fingers began to stiffen “Just look. I woke up and it was on my pillow, in my ear.”

“What, did you leave it out for the tooth fairy to come grab?” Her roommate took a step back, stretching with a soft chuckle. “Go back to bed. You obviously need some sleep.” 

“Nia, I’m not crazy,” Madelaine insisted, pulling the tooth back to her chest. “I don’t get how you don’t see this.” She gestured vaguely to the bloody counter and waved the tooth in front of the other girl’s face. 

“You need sleep,” Nia repeated. “If something really is wrong, I can—”

“Don’t call Lexi.” Her sister would immediately jump to a wild conclusion and send her back to the last place she needed to be. It was always what separated them, the common stubbornness that slowly destroyed their relationship and contacting her about something like this would only make things worse. “Please.”

Nia’s eyes darted down as she quietly said, “I won’t.” 

After she left, disappearing around the corner, Madelaine took a wet washcloth and gently cleaned up the crusted blood around her ear. She yanked a  bandaid out of the medicine cabinet and situated it over the wound before turning off the light and falling back into bed. As she rolled over, she nearly forgot about the previously bloody pillow before noticing it out of the corner of her eye. 

It was pristine. 



The second time Madelaine was jarred awake, it wasn’t from blood, but a clinking sound from beside her in bed. With a groan, she rolled over, reaching out in the general direction of the sound. Her fingers were met with a handful of  irregularly shaped objects. Movements clumsy, she reached over to turn the lamp to the right of her bed on. 

“What the…” she muttered, staring blankly at the pile of bones on her pillow. They were yellowing, a few whole, a few broken in half. They looked like femurs, or perhaps a tibia; like a bone that a dog would bury in its backyard. But they were barely longer than her pinky. 

She had thought the night before was some sort of fever dream. Nia didn’t mention it in the morning, just chattered away like she normally did, her short figure bustling around their shared kitchen while making coffee. It was as if the night before hadn’t even happened.

Madelaine was sure that her history with things like this were not tipping the scales in her favor. She figured perhaps that things would be different if most of her time was not spent alone in waiting rooms, or laying on a frayed couch, or getting her weight checked before a prescription refill. 

The alarm clock on her nightstand blinked red. 


There was no way she was going back to sleep now. 



They always disappeared before the sun came up. 

The third time it was a couple of ribs, the fourth half of a  hip bone, but it was the fifth that drew the line. Madelaine woke up with a  skull clutched in her grasp. It was barely the size of a dodgeball. The round top of it was completely smooth, the bone was a chilling pure white, and the top row of teeth were sharp. Just like the first tooth she had found in her ear. 

Madelaine hadn’t brought it up to Nia out of fear of Lexi, but this was unmistakable. There was no ignoring the tangibility of it, how solid and real it was. She slid out of bed and walked across the soft carpet to Nia’s room, knocking gently on the door before opening it slowly. “Nia?”

A grunt was the only reaction that the creaking of the door and soft call had provoked. 

“Nia, I need you to look at this.” Madelaine approached the bed and shook her friend’s arm. “Please wake up.”

“Jesus Christ,” Nia mumbled, turning over in her bed and rubbing her eyes. “Why are you dead set on not giving me any sleep?”

“Sorry,” Madelaine said, “I just had to show you.” She held the skull out, trying to force her hand to steady. The eye sockets seemed to stare straight through her, as if looking at something beyond, behind her. 

“Show me what?” Nia asked, pushing herself up into a sitting position. “Turn the light on, I can’t see a goddamn thing.”

Madelaine flicked the light switch up and held the skull out again, like a deranged Shakespearean actor. “This.”

“That,” Nia said flatly, “is your open palm.”

“No, the skull,” Madelaine said, pointing at it with her other hand. “Right there.”

“Maddie, that’s just air.”

“No, it’s a skull. With, like, crazy shark teeth. Can’t you see it?”


“Why can’t you see it…”

“Madelaine, if you just—”

“Don’t say it.”

“I already called her.”

Madelaine crushed the skull in her fist and could have sworn that Nia flinched slightly. The distinct, sharp, nasty taste of betrayal sat heavy on her tongue. “I asked you not to.”

“I could tell something was wrong. I’ve been living with you long enough to know that you weren’t okay,” Nia said, sighing. “I was just doing what I thought was best.”

“You don’t get to make that decision for me,” Madelaine said quietly. She stared at Nia, the pieces of the skull falling out of her grasp and onto the floor. The landing was silent. “What did she tell you to do? Lock me up? New shrink, new drugs, new f—cking straight jacket?”

“You know I would never do that to you,” Nia said. “I didn’t mention the… the bones. I just said that you seemed like you weren’t doing well. That’s all, I swear it.”

“But you still said something.” Madelaine pressed her lips into a thin line and nodded slowly. “Good night.”


“I said, good night.” Madelaine slammed the door behind her and left to the sound of jingling in the distance. 



They stopped showing up after that. Nia was around the house less and less, the only words spoken between the two roommates short and clipped, and few and far in between. It was the first time in years that they had a falling out like that, and Madelaine hated every second of it. 

Nia had never been perfect. She was strange; strange looking, strange acting, but overall a sweet person and reliable roommate. She always paid rent on time, albeit in the form of a trash bag full of quarters that Madelaine had to drop off at a conversion machine in the nearest grocery store. She cleaned up after herself, quicker than anyone Madelaine had ever met. And she always seemed to know what to say to strangers that knocked on her door. 

The strangest thing about her, though, was the fact that ‘Nia’ was not the name on the lease that the two shared. Sure, Nia didn’t look completely like the rest of the people in their community, but she’d never mentioned anything about being foreign. The sign on the lease was a jumbled collection of figures that Madelaine had never seen before. It didn’t look like any language she was familiar with, and she had no idea how to pronounce it. So when her new roommate introduced herself as simply ‘Nia’ Madelaine hadn’t questioned it. 

But as odd as Nia already was, as time went on, she seemed to somehow get even weirder. Her light stayed on at night and Madelaine could hear her rummage around in the early hours, too angry to ask her to quiet down. Madelaine found a strange marking on their kitchen counter made in some dark powder, but it was gone when she walked back in with a wet hand rag to clean it up. Nia hadn’t been home. 

The bones had stopped, though, and Madelaine was beginning to question what it all was. Maybe she was crazy, and all the concerned yelling that ensued once she picked up the many calls from Lexi was warranted. Maybe she did need to start seeing someone again. 

It wasn’t until a rainy Wednesday evening that Nia came through the door with a huff and set a bag down on the table. “It’s the first of the month.”

The bag was larger than it usually was. Madelaine approached her cautiously and pursed her lips. “Yeah, it is.”

“This month’s rent,” Nia said, nodding towards the bag. “Thought I’d give you enough time to run down to Walter’s.”

Madelaine mumbled her thanks and lifted the bag up. It was heavy as it always was, perhaps even a bit more. Without saying anything, she slung it over her shoulder and turned away from her frowning roommate. On a whim and surge of bravery, she whipped around and said, “Why quarters?” 

“Excuse me?” 

“Why do you pay in quarters? It’s not the most accessible form of payment, so why?” 

Nia shrugged. “Work is… unorthodox. I’ll start converting them myself if it’s easier.”

Madelaine shook her head. “It’s not a problem. Just tell me why.”

“No.” The reply was quick and snappy, the most confrontation Madelaine had ever heard in Nia’s voice. The short girl was standing tensely, eyes on the bag in Madelaine’s hands. “Just go convert it before Laurence gets here.”

“Why can’t you just tell me?”

“Because it’s none of your business.”

“Except it is.”

“Is it really? I give you the damn money, on time, every month. I pay my share and take care of this place, so I think I’m allowed to not want to tell you where the money comes from.”

Madelaine gave up. “Whatever.” She left straight out the door with the bag, not even bothering to put on proper shoes or even a jacket. She had no clue why Nia was being so difficult all of a sudden, after years of living together. 

The breeze was chilly against her bare arms as Madelaine hurried down the stairs with the bag in her grasp. Trying to let every thought of Nia, Lexi, and the bones out of her mind, she made her way down the frosty sidewalk and breathed ice into her lungs.



Madelaine woke up unable to breathe. Hundreds of suffocating weights were all over her body, her bed; swallowing her whole. She thrashed in place, hands trying to make their way up to hold her throat, but she couldn’t move them. Her eyes stung as she attempted to keep them open, staring into a black expanse of nothing. She didn’t dare open her mouth.

It was silent as she continued to fight to sit up. It felt like something was sitting heavily on her entire body, pinning her to the mattress and squeezing all the life out of her. Breaths came in quick spurts, filled with dust and a little bit of lost hope. It was all-consuming, draining, exhausting to fight against it, but eventually she freed her upper body and was able to situate into a sitting position, head breaching the insane pressure.

Madelaine gasped, blinking around at what she slowly began to recognize as her room. She forced her legs to slide over the edge of the bed, wading through to make it to her lamp. With a shaking hand, she reached forward and tugged it on, pupils widening at the scene that unfurled before her. 

Thousands of skeletons were piled up, completely swallowing her room about halfway like a sick ocean. She didn’t realize she was screaming until her throat began to burn. 

“Where did you come from?” She held onto her neck, trying not to squeeze. “Why me?”

“I told you not to ask questions.” Nia’s voice was haunting. “I figured if the crazy girl found the bones, no one would care.”  

Madelaine froze. 

Nia’s grin was wicked and she flicked her fingers. “And I had to dispose of them somehow.”

Halloween Party

By Jessica Schnur

Jonathan positioned the final pumpkin on his living room mantle as the orange glow illuminated his fingertips. He’d been setting up his house since nine in the morning, meticulously planning, plotting, and purchasing everything he needed for the perfect Halloween party. He had spent countless nights perusing the isles of those pop-up halloween seasonal stores, the ones that take over a dying business venue and eat it from the inside out, like a parasite, converting it into a spooky utopia for the sacred night of tricks and treats. His house was nearly complete, and all he had left was to hang up the last of his decorative lights. He reached up his arms, stretching as far as he could but to no avail: he could not reach the top of his window to line it with a festive twinkle. He slowly tightened his grip around his arm and yanked it down, tearing it from his socket with a small click of his humerus lightly tapping  against his scapula. Arm in hand, he extended it upwards, finally reaching the top of the window as he began to tape the lights around the border. 


The sky melted into an orange hue as the sun departed for the west. Ravens over head chased the sunset, diving into the evening sky and swallowed by the dusk. Their caws echoed through the open window, as Jonathan adjusted his tie, carefully weaving his fingers through the fabric. The party was nearly upon him, and he wanted his costume to be perfect. He had invited all of his coworkers, even his boss, to his little rinky-dink shindig: spending hour upon hour emailing and forwarding information to everyone in the workplace, carefully counting over the RSVP’s and taking names down of those who said they would attend. But there was only one name he hoped for. One name that rang through his skull as he desperately searched through every inbox and spam folder in hopes of seeing her name.


The doorbell chimed in the foyer below. With a final breath rattling through his ribcage, Jonathan propelled himself down the stairs, each step clicking against the hardwood steps. The door beheld his boss and his wife, arm in arm. They exchanged their greetings and Jonathan offered them inside. 

“Ah, a human office worker,” the wife cooed as she stepped through the threshold, “very scary!” Her hair hissed and slithered about her head, the green scales of the tiny serpents contrasting her pale skin. Her husband slipped his arm around her waist, as the two descended into living room. The wife beamed as they ventured further and further into the room, admiring the decorations that adorned every square inch of each surface.

“How adorable, a human office building. Very festive.” 

Her husband, however, was not impressed. He did not care for Jonathan or his paper mache copier machine, and it showed. He reached up and slicked a loose strand of hair back into its greased-back position, his hands pausing over his horns.

“Tacky,” was all he would say. He thumbed the handle of a briefcase he was holding, the leather blending into the sleek black of the suit he adorned. His wife explained to Jonathan that her husband was supposed to be a human politician, and how she was supposed to be his human secretary. Jonathan couldn’t help but admire the wife’s dedication to the holiday. She had made the costumes herself, she explained, and the details were so spot on it was scary, from the orange spray tan to the briefcase full of money. He reveled in thought that his boss was a little too perfectly matched for his costume, considering he sucked the souls out of the living and cast them into damnation as a career. 


More and more guests poured through the door as the night went on, until his living room was nearly overflowing with monsters all donned in people-clothing. There was a low roar of laughter and music all about his house, as others gathered to discuss their costumes. A fish-man in a suit holding scantron paper and money bags leaned against the watercooler, he was in deep discussion with a vampire dressed in a hawaiian shirt and shorts, with a furry winter hat upon his head and a wool scarf hanging around his neck. Jonathan leaned against the wall, his eyes surveying the crowd.

“What are you supposed to be?” He could hear the vampire inquire the fish-man. 

“I’m supposed to be human student loans. My wife and kids just watched that movie about the human that signed forty years of her life away in order to pay for college. It was so scary, my daughter had to sleep in our room for a week. That’s how I came up with this little number.” The fish-man gave the vampire a once over. “And you are?”

“Human global warming,” the vampire lifted his arms as a gesture to show off his costume.

Jonathan’s gaze met the door, the words of the two colleagues blurred as he stopped paying attention and focused on the brass knob. He imagined it turning in his head, and there she would be. Walking through the front door, laughing and smiling and talking to him. He hated himself for getting his hopes up: she never sent an RSVP, so there was no way she was going to show. The shut door taunted him, sealed shut for the rest of the night until the party was over and the guests long gone. But still, all he could do was stand there and imagine the little knob turning over and over again in his head. 

That’s funny, he thought to himself, it really does look like the knob is turning. He craned his neck forward, trying to get a better look as the brass glinted against the light. He felt himself slowly peel away from his corner, dodging party goers and coworkers. He felt something within himself, a spark, a glimpse of hope. He elbowed his way into the foyer, the sounds of the party fading behind him. He stood there, staring at the little door knob before him, staring at his reflection in the brilliantly polished brass. Turn. The only word that relayed through his skull. Turn, turn, turn, oh please turn. 

With a slight click, the knob jiggled. Jonathan held his breath, feeling the air suspended in his ribcage, holding it there for moments that felt like eternities. He slowly slipped his hand around the knob, feeling the cold metal chill his bones. He couldn’t bring himself to turn it. He couldn’t bring himself to open that door and lose this feeling, this hope. He clenched his jaw bone, but just as he braced himself to tear the door open, he felt the hard wood of the mahogany colliding with his face. He stumbled back, meeting the ground unkindly. His bones scattered across the floor, with his arm managing to land in a nearby punch bowl and dowsing partygoers with the red juice. One witch dressed like a human prom queen was unluckiest of them all, as the bowl tipped over and drenched her from head to toe in red. 

“Oh my gosh,” a voice said, a sweet and lovely voice that Jonathan had longed for all night, “I’m so sorry!” 

Jonathan brought his gaze up, his eyes meeting with hers. She cowered in the doorway, tucking herself behind the wooden mass before him, shielding her from his gaze. 

“I thought you weren’t coming.”

She was taken aback at those words, slowly bringing her face out from behind the door. 

“I forgot to give you my RSVP…” She clutched a small red envelope in her wrapped hands, a small heart scrawled on the top right corner. “I was hoping you wouldn’t mind, I have it here with me now…” 

Jonathan’s arm slithered across the living room carpet, digging its bony fingers into the fibers as it pulled itself closer to him. His body noisily clicked along as it reformed into the framework of Jonathan. He couldn’t help but watch her, his gaze following her as she hastily rushed to scoop up his bones, and struggled to help with piecing him back together, occasionally misplacing a femur or tibia. Once his body was intact, or close enough at least, she turned to him. A small smile inched across her face, tucked away by the ancient linens that hugged her features. She slowly bent down and gingerly lifted Jonathan’s head off the ground. Their eyes locked, and for a moment, she froze. It was almost as if they were having a conversation with their eyes, all of the unspoken words longing to be said were exchanged in an instant, and the two smiled. She adjusted Jonathan’s head back into place upon his body, her hands lingering around his cheekbones, until she slowly brought them down to her sides. 

“So, what are you supposed to be?” Jonathan broke the silence. The two didn’t move, keeping their bodies close. 

“A human accountant.”

Jonathan smiled. Impulsively, he reached his hand down and took hers. She smiled, and handed him the little red envelope. “Just so you know, I’m coming to your party.” The two laughed, and entered the party, hand in hand. 

Car Trouble

By: Sam Cavallo

“Are you kidding, Jamie! I told you we should have stopped at that gas station!” 

The red beetle crawled to a stop, the fuel tank now reading below “E.” Jamie slammed her foot on the pedal again, just for good measure. She groaned and rested her head against the steering wheel, a flock of frightened birds taking flight as the horn beeped.

“I swear it was just at half a tank! I’ll just call a tow truck.”

 Max crossed his arms, frustrated with his sister’s antics. He sighed dramatically as Jamie pulled her phone out of her sweatshirt pocket.

“Uh oh.”

“What do you mean ‘uh oh’?”

“Uh oh as in there’s no service…”

Jamie unbuckled her seat belt and stepped out. Crumbling pavement and decaying leaves crunched beneath her feet. She slammed the door behind her, sending a jolt through the whole car. She stomped away down the road, back towards the gas station, Max scrambling after her.

“Wh- where are you going?” 

“The moon, Max.” Jamie responded flatly, rolling her eyes as she turned around to face him. “I’m walking back to the station.”

“Well… I’m coming with you. There’s no way I’m sitting here in the dark all night,” he said shuddering.

Jamie turned towards the sky, just noticing the setting sun, squinting as its harsh rays poked through branches of red leaves. It was getting pretty low, she probably had an hour or so of sunlight left.

Sighing in defeat, she nodded. Max scurried to his sister’s side, eager to get back to civilization. His head swiveled around every time they heard a sound; a crow’s call, a falling branch, a squirrel searching for acorns. It was a vampire or a werewolf, he was sure of it. 


* * *


“Jamie, are you sure you went the right way?”

“Max, the path is a straight line! Where else would I go?”

“I know, I just don’t remember it being this far away.”

Honestly, Jamie didn’t either. She was growing anxious now. The sun was nearly gone, a deep blue night replacing the warm glow of day. A gust of wind tossed her hair behind her shoulder and she shivered, pulling her hood tight over her head. 

“Hey, I think I see a car up there!” Max broke out into a jog, calling out to the vehicle and whoever it may belong to. 

Jamie followed suit, shouting “ Hello?” and “Who’s there?”. She nearly ran right into her brother when he came to such an abrupt stop. Max stumbled forward, swinging his arms to regain balance.

“Uh why’d you stop?” Jamie asked, mildly out of breath.

“It’s your car.”


“What? No it’s not.” She peered around his shoulder, a very similar red Volkswagen sat in the dark. But it couldn’t be hers, right? 

Max grabbed the key from Jamie’s hand and stepped towards the car, turning the key in the driver side door. Sure enough, the door opened. 

“Well, maybe we just have the same key, you know?” 

Max reached in the back seat, picking up a jacket, his soccer team and last name embroidered on the sleeve, and threw it at his sister. She held the jacket in her hands, her eyebrows knit together.

“We must have made a wrong turn somewhere,” she assured him, tossing the jacket back.

“The path’s a straight line, Jamie!” He exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air. “You said it yourself!”

“We must have made a wrong turn somewhere.”

Jamie marched passed the car, which was now most certainly hers. Her mind swirled with possibilities. They were too busy talking to notice the split in the path, a tree branch fell after they had passed and was now blocking the view, they had to have missed something.

Max slipped his jacket on, shook his head, and took off after his sister. A gray fog settled low on the ground. Max was extra careful with his steps, not wanting to twist an ankle before his big tournament tomorrow, but kept a quick pace in order to catch up with Jamie. He was not about to be left behind.

He didn’t like the woods, or the fog, or the stupid birds that kept screaming at him. He didn’t like the cold and bitter night, or the way the shadows danced in the moonlight.


* * *


A car soundlessly approached in the dark. The driver beeped the horn, sending the siblings straight into the air. Jamie and Max whipped around to find a tan station wagon slowing down behind them.

“Jeez, ever heard of headlights?” Max groaned.

The car window rolled down revealing a woman wrinkled with age. Her long gray hair shone in the moonlight. 

“What are you two doing out so late?” she pondered. “Your mother knows you’re out here?”

“She doesn’t. We’re kinda lost, actually. Tank’s empty too.” Max stepped forward, leaning down at the window. 

“You poor things! You’re in luck, I’ve lived here all my life, I know these woods like the back of my hand. Get in, I’ll drive you to the gas station.”

Max reached his hand towards the door handle, the door opening towards him. Jamie’s hand was suddenly gripped on his shoulder. She shielded his body with her own, stepping in front of him.

“We’re good actually, my friend’s place is just down the street.” She smiled brightly. The woman’s smile, however, faltered. Jamie pushed the door closed firmly, tapping the side of the car. “But thank you so much for offering.”

The woman stared blankly ahead as she pulled away, tail lights fading as the vehicle trekked down the path.

“Why’d you do that?” Max screamed at his sister. “How are we supposed to get home?”

“She’s lived here all her life?” Jamie turned her gaze towards the direction of the station wagon, eyes narrowed, pointing to the license plate. Maine.

 “Let’s keep going.”


* * *


Jamie shivered as she marched on. Max limped behind her, after tripping over a tree root. He grumbled angrily about his soccer tournament. Jamie stayed back, looping her arm around her brother, both warming herself up and relieving pressure on his ankle.


The sound of crunching gravel was followed by dim headlights illuminating the siblings. Jamie and Max turned to see a sensible sedan rolling towards them. 

“Uh hey?” A man about mid-thirties stepped out of the car, his tie crooked in the wind. “Is that your car back there?”

Jamie stepped forward, nodding her head. 

The man holds up his index finger, asking for a minute, before popping the trunk to reveal a fuel container. Jamie sighed in relief, taking another step towards the man before Max tugged on her arm. 

“We’re good actually, just taking a little rest. Long drive.” Max gave a tight smile, his hand latched tightly at his sister’s elbow.

The man looked back at Max, eyes dark and sinister.

“Well, then, enjoy your walk. Be careful out here.” He slammed the trunk shut and retreated back into the car.

Jamie whirled on her feet, eyes bugging out of her head. 

“Care to explain?”

“How’d he know we were out of gas?” The two turned around, watching the Maine license plate retreat down the bumpy road.


* * * 


The fog was deep now, encasing the night in a gray blanket. Max swiped at the air furiously, making futile efforts to clear his view. The siblings held tight to each other for safety. Suddenly, yellow headlights were upon them, a horn sounding wildly. Brakes squeal as Jamie yanks Max out of the way. 

“Oh my god! I am so sorry!” A girl about Jamie’s age threw the car door open, stepping out of the green jeep. “Are you okay?”

“No worries, just a little shaken.” 

“You guys should not be out here in this fog! Come with me!” The girl now had each sibling by the shoulder, guiding them towards the jeep. 

“No, no, really we’re okay. You don’t have to-”

The girl’s nails pressed deeply into their shoulders, pointed and sharp. When she spoke, her voice sounded different, more shrill.

“Oh, I’m not asking this time.”