The inaugural Halloween-themed issue. From familicide to witches, the dark and pumpkins, everything in this issue goes bump in the night. A spellbinding mix of flash and poetry, sure to chill the blood.
Andrew Cross and Ellis Carr
I Open the Book…
I close my eyes. I take a deep breath, slowly steadying my heart hammering vigorously against my ribcage. I inhale a sharp intake of breath, the musty, yet not unwelcome, the scent of books and ageing wood shooting up my nostrils.
Subconsciously, the tip of my nimble finger runs along the length of the gathered pages, my nail caressing the smooth yet cutting surface of their edges. Until I feel a gap. A dent in the neat pile held together securely, firmly at the spine. I’ve found it.
I take another deep breath before I finally bury the tip of my nail in the gap. Hooking the tip of my finger underneath, with a flick, I open the book. The pages flip open all at once and my palm darts beneath to support the other half of the book. There it is. An old grey key covered in rust. Although ugly of colour, as most would think, though I believe it’s beautiful and unique, the handle takes a sleek, yet old-fashioned, antique shape. The handle curves three times at the arc like it was shaped with a shell inside it. Embedded into each curve is several delicate, thin lines to add detail. Engraved on the shaft of the key is a collection of tiny scribbles which form a sentence that’s hard to make out.
My brow furrows in concentration as I slide one hand along the book’s cover to hold the spine whilst the other moves up from underneath, scooping up the key. I move the key further from the book and closer to my line of vision. Slowly but surely, the words grow bigger, become clearer. Finally, the sentence is clear enough to read.
I open what no man can unlock.
It looks like I’ve got what I’ve been searching for.
For almost a decade, I have been searching for the answer. Now I hold in my hand not only the answer but the solution. I can finally retrieve what I thought was lost forever to me.
Who knew such a small, antique, less-than-picturesque key kept so much power locked away?
I conceal everything I touch like a blanket you can’t remove,
I bring the nightmares and the shadows with me every time I move.
I come to you every single night like a plague that has no cure.
I make no attempt to comfort, pleasure, warm or reassure.
Do you think you maybe could work out what it is that I might be?
If you are indeed still unsure, simply close your eyes and you will see…
I serve only one simple purpose, which is carried out once a year.
I wait and wait for Halloween not in excitement but in fear.
They cut me up and rip out my insides letting out sadistic childish shrieks,
They stick their knives into my face and cut out triangles from my cheeks.
Next, they stick an open flame inside my empty chest,
And leave me burning outside their doors to entertain their guests…
I am created by another creature to serve them all their needs,
I am used to catch their prey for them in my net so they can feed,
I am woven into amazing spirals and memorising shapes,
I cover many rooftops, and over doorframes, I am draped.
Any small insect that comes my way to my creator I will deliver.
And if ever you were to run into them, they would no doubt make you shiver…
(1. The dark, 2. A pumpkin 3. A cobweb.)
How way leads on to way
I know I hear footsteps. I peer over my thick duvet, trying to see any shapes moving in the shadows. I hear them rummaging in the kitchen. That’s good. This is a big house; it’ll take them a while to reach me up here. I have some time. I slip silently out from under the heavy queen-sized duvet in my silk nightie and pad barefoot across the white marble floor to the door. I squeeze through without touching it, to try and prevent it from squeaking. Success. Stay close to the walls – the floorboards are quieter there. Scaling the smooth, plain wall, straining my ears to hear any movements, I make my way to my son’s room. The familiar smell fills me with love and warms me. Thank goodness he isn’t home. He shouldn’t have to see what I am about to do – he’s four. He has gone on a ski holiday in Switzerland with his father. It should have been a family trip. My heart wrenches at the thought of them. I’ve been so lonely this past week without them.
A glass breaks downstairs, interrupting my train of thought and kicking me back into action. I approach his empty bed, neatly made by the maids, and stand on top of it.
The footsteps have left the kitchen. They’re walking across the marble hallway floor. Two sets of footsteps. Towards the stairs.
I reach up and remove my son’s baseball bat from its place of honour – mounted on the wall above his bed.
They’re walking slowly, their heavy steps taunting me. Almost as if they know I’m here.
I scramble down from the bed, sliding into position behind the door.
They reach the top of the stairs.
A moment of doubt flickers across my mind as I wait. Shouldn’t I call the police instead? I think of my phone on my bedside table across the hall.
Their steps echo off the shiny floors and bare walls, as they approach the door of my son’s room.
It’s too late to back out now. I can take care of them myself. I tighten my grip on the handle of the bat.
I hear their breaths on the other side of the door.
I close my eyes and prepare to swing.
--- --- --- --- ---
If I had known that my decision that night would change everything, I would have been more cautious. If I had known that I would end up here, I wouldn’t have been so careless. I did this to myself. I did this to them. I’ve tried to make my cell more like home, but I am alone and everyone I love is gone. Because of me. I chose violence and now I’ve lost everything. I didn’t know they would come home.
That night, the intruders were not intruders at all.
At least they were buried together.
Father and Son, together forever.
Until it cracks
Let death seep in.
Until it cracks,
Imagine the afterlife
Through the cracks
Upon infinite nothing
The Coven’s Cauldron
I’m in a coven. Witches coming together periodically –
We meet and chat and drink tea and formalise and formulate.
And occasionally we hit on something new and we enjoy– things we make ourselves.
Now, the point of contention.
The central star of the conflict.
The word’s worth it. Not everyone agrees.
We meet widdershins, ripped jeans.
We wrap in the black of white noise.
We look bright to the others, having our tryst.
I’m the weakest of the group. Somewhat of a mannish one. I have friends with computers and muzak:
–The Hag, she smokes and runs rallies reproductive
–The Maiden, who wears pink unironically, fearsome and independent
–The Mother. She likes us nearly as much as we do her, we don’t complain when she goes for exams, she gets us drinks
We drink. We huddle around the table.
We draw triangles on it in pepper and beer.
Salt is disgusting, the sea only worse. We move out of the rain where the stand stands.
The vinegar’s missing.
We barrel onto some cheesy chips unadorned
Though I like to stir the fork–ladle into the brine at the bottom.
As a rule, we save the knucklebones for last, once we’re all blasted.
“Jump this!” “Skitter–scatter!” “Through the this’le!”
“Like it matters!”
We chatter. And there we see; the perfect thing.
It’s a wide iron pitch.
Two horizontal wooden handles, shallow, rainwater left as if it were steam runoff.
A wok, points out The Hag, fancy a cookout?
If we wash it first, The Mother. I’ve a better solution, pipes the Maiden.
If we find a lid for it then we can set up us a stash.
Good question, and I find myself listing under the possibilities.
Fetishes, a hunk of comforting flesh, remnants of a loved one’s– lockets, lockup letters, even a red correcting pen.
Pretty much perfect, says The Maiden. Genius she is, but original about her sayings she ain’t.
The decision making process followed the usual form
I took the fall of toting it back
While the others had their pipes.
“Time for dinner” my dad called, “Chinese?”
Unsurprising; we had Chinese whenever he came home tired.
“We could’ve cooked that here, look.”
He lumped up like a boil. One big shrug.
Sat in bed, rereading my dogeared Aromatherapists Guide,
One of the best chapters, on metals,
I get a call, on my cellphone,
Answering despite preferring home phones for their shifting the bill;
“Greetings?” – Carol, I hear her wheeze
“I think I should say sorry,
So sorry to call you.”
We spend 2 hours.
I staccato downstairs to the shed,
My slept dad on the sofa roils.
I take pink salt and cilantro and once in the shed I tong some Esfand
And I have the wok
And a knife.
I’m in a coven. Witches coming together periodically.
We meet again the next morning and I bring cheap lemonade for drinks.
The Hag, The Maiden, The Mother
At the bottom of my shopping, there's a freezer bag.
While the others measure out, I take Caroline aside.
I give her the bag, tell her it's crushed nazar
And she takes the water I offer her from my bandaged hand
I am the coven’s cauldron
And I hold us all in stew.
In the dark, dark
Middle of the night
Monsters come out
To give you a fright!
They nibble your toes
And pull on your ears
They sit on your face -
Their farts bring you to tears.
I'm not a fan, I must be honest.
The thought of fear being instilled into people...
As a creative, my mind is easily spiked to include manifestations of the most horrific kind that purely and surely couldn’t be true.
I’m much more an “I believe in angels and magic” type of person. Thinking of Halloween as something evil and inviting bad spirits around isn’t a welcome thing at my door!
Last year, a simple drive to collect my daughter saw me drive past some child size teddy bear thing on the pavement. Strange. As I drove closer I couldn’t help but take my eyes off the road and stare. The head of this creature seemed to stare straight into my soul and cocked his head to one side with increasing intensity of weirdness. Freaked out, I began to wonder if I had imagined this. I’d never seen anything like it before.
Yesterday, a parcel arrived for me. It was ‘prep’ for an upcoming biopsy I have to have. UGH. 31st October. More horror to add to this day. So where is the light in this shade?
2 years ago my mother came to live with us. People love her. She laughs at everything. Which is wearing, you can imagine. She and I are chalk and cheese. She has dementia and the laughter and chatty side of her is magnified. Her old house was in an area of town where they used to put up signs saying “No trick or treaters” as it was constant knock knock knock at the door to the point of driving everyone crazy.
Yet in my road, there are rules. If you have a pumpkin out, it means you can knock. Despite my surgery that day, we will be well stocked with ‘treats’ and I will leave mum in charge! Opening the door to well-dressed children while parents stand back looking on. No doubt mum will love the banter and if it puts a smile on her face for a few hours, there is nothing evil about Halloween at all.
He didn't feel the poker slice into his head
The red crimson paint on the fluffy bunny white carpet
The crumpled newspaper splattered, read
She took out the paper
From the box behind the door
Smirked and curled her lip at the body on the floor
Mummy, Mummy I can't sleep
Be quiet Carol, I won't hear a peep
Are they coming Mummy are they - are they?
I have the sweets here, in a heap!
The radio gave out its warning
In between Thriller and Werewolves of London
A madman on the loose -
Bolt your doors, hammer down your windows
She sweated, she ran, she scrubbed the floor
Heaved her body, he bumped down the cellar stairs one at a time
They will blame the madman, it will be fine
Knock - knock - knock
The house, it shuddered
Mummy - Mummy I've let them in!
Beginning with a reflection
Looking for clues
History tints the glimpse of ideas
Clearing the surface
Of actual facts
Until the face fits the fable
Such sad eyes
You would be too if you had you for company
Why search in glass
And ask for answers?
The quest for the question
Is much more interesting
Smash the mirror
Let go of the shards
It started to burn
It started to burn. Slowly at first, then faster and faster. You would never believe how long it took to start, how long it took to make that decision. Letting everything go. Finding peace. I walked in and out of that store so many times, nearly backed out. Never have I come so close to having an aneurysm as the moment I went to that counter with the duct tape and petrol canister. You were so specific about the brand. I walked for miles to find the right spot to let go; miles and miles until my feet bled, the soles of my shoes shredded, the rain wiped away any sign of what we did. I felt you there with me, every second. With every drop of rain, every howl of the wind…it didn’t change anything though, did it?
I laid it down in a tiny ditch I managed to claw into the earth. A part of me died with it and that was the only goodbye I could provide. A paltry offering. I rolled onto my back and stared at the sky; I’d never realised how stunning it was until just after the night we finished. It had been a burnt orange and vermilion sunset as if we’d set the world on fire. You used to say it was the only thing we would ever create that meant something and maybe it still will. The ash will fertilise the soil of that forest, returning to an eternal carbon cycle. We all feed the worms. I poured the petrol over it and took a breath before throwing the lighter. It started to burn. My first draft and last testament. I’m sorry.
When your pumpkin grins and candle eyes
Shock my hollow sockets wide
And the hale and hallowed Christ
Is crucified and dies, reprised
Before our dance and gleeful cries
Of trick or treat and closing time
Last calls, we knock and ring benighted
As our aged victim roused, now rises
And some knocking devil deep inside us
Thinks trick and trick now becomes violent
And we kick and kick and so delighted
See spurts of blood, but then unquieted
Step back and back and there beside us
Of the season, there a sign says
“Have a happy fall.”