Once, I was a wasteland
stretching across arid years.
Sadness grew on me.
I dug deep into my wounds
and unearthed my raw core,
a seed, small and mighty.
I learned to water myself
love is not earned but grown.
Now, I am fertile soil.
I plant love
and harvest abundance.
Sabine Magnet is a poet, writer, and journalist. She is the author of two poetry collections, a children’s book, a catzine, and a non-fiction book. She is founder of the Indie press Magnet Verlag and co-founder of the art collective DIE VILLA. In 2017, she launched her project POETRY TO GO, a modern rendition of the ancient poet-for-hire tradition where she writes impromptu poems on her typewriter for strangers.
For more, see www.poetrytogo.de
The woman, Ziana, walks in darkness to her trial. After forty years, her time as a warrior is ending. The decades of combat have taken their toll, and she can no longer fight as keenly as she once did. She wears her battle leathers, and draped over her shoulders is a lion skin cloak, the shaggy head fashioned into a hood.
The beast, Loren, had been her friend and comrade. A formidable fighter, he was mighty of limb, steadfast of heart, resolute and incorruptible. Strong in a manner she could only dream of being. When he died of old age, her heart shattered. He’d walked at her side for twenty years, in dark and light, war and peace. What would she do without him, her solace and her strength?
With reverence and humility, Ziana had fashioned a cloak from his skin. Some called defiling the body of an animal she loved a strange act. Yet, for her, wearing Loren’s skin kept his spirit close.
The destination she dreads, the Temple of Souls, is but seventy steps away. Her trial is simple. Approach the temple doors. State her name and proffer a gift. If the oracle accepts her offering, she may enter. If not, the guards will strike her down where she stands.
Ziana has nothing to offer. No gift means instant death, yet hope’s flame burns brightly, and she prays she will survive her ordeal.
The climb up the steps to the temple door is more strenuous than she anticipates. Her legs resist movement, her heart is heavy, and her mind scrambles for the answer to her question.
What is my gift?
On reaching the top, the temple doors open, and the oracle appears in a ball of pure white light. The radiance is so intense that Ziana winces and covers her eyes with her forearms. The cloak slips from her shoulders.
“Warrior. What gift do you bring?” The oracle’s voice thunders.
Ziana stands defiant, ready to admit her failure. But before the words leave her mouth, another voice, full of terrible power, roars from beside her. She glances down to see Loren alive once more, and her heart skips a beat.
“I have walked beside Ziana since I left my mother’s pride,” he says, “privileged to travel with a companion my equal.”
He pushes his majestic head under her hand.
“This woman has fought and suffered. She has won, and she has lost. Above all, she has lived an extraordinary life.”
The oracle pulses brighter. “But what is her gift?”
Loren approaches the oracle, unafraid. “Ziana is the gift. She brings courage, confidence, and compassion. She tames the wild beast that is the human heart. This woman personifies strength.”
Ziana drops to her knees and buries her head in her companion’s mane, overcome with love and gratitude.
“The gift is accepted,” says the oracle.
Together, the woman and the lion enter the temple.
Karen’s passion for writing began as a child when she wrote soap operas for her dolls to perform. These days, it’s her science background that informs her storytelling, a fusion of magic realism, science fiction, horror, and fantasy. She’s published one novel, Fortitude, and several shorter works. She lives in Sydney, Australia.
While they were fucking she couldn’t stop thinking about Lacan. She’d taken a class in college from a beautiful French woman, who’d been everything her mother—who kept a book called French Women Don’t Get Fat on her nightstand—dreamed of being. The French professor told the class that everyone either had a phallus or was a phallus. Men, that is to say, had; women were. Wearing a delicate silk scarf draped around her neck, the professor said that women were immune to castration anxiety because their entire being was the phallus, and so it could never be removed from them. She’d liked that class; there was something reassuring about being told what she was. She’d imagine the neck and head of a penis emerging from the folds of the perfumed scarf; the edge of a foreskin forming a soft but well-defined jawline; delicately veined skin soaked daily in moisturiser to prevent premature wrinkles; scarlet lipstick applied to the squirming urethral slit as speech emerged from its opening.
She had always wanted to work for the wizard because of everything she’d heard about his creative energy. People said that reality rippled around him. By this they meant that while in his presence people would agree to impossible things, and perhaps even see and hear impossible things, as if he were a stage hypnotist who could make you forget the number seven or believe a chair to be made of jelly.
And now, here she was, working for/fucking/for him.
His body had the taut triangular shape of the self-sculpted. His penis itself was unremarkable, honestly a little small, but that was probably for the best, since he hated condoms but wanted to avoid a pregnancy, which left only a few options. As he pushed himself into her she felt a wish gestating inside her body. She’d sought him out, her wizard, and entered his chamber in emerald contact lenses. In the first week after she started working for him, she went out for drinks with the other assistants. One of them said, drunkenly,
“Don’t you think—I mean, those turtlenecks he always wears—I can’t stop thinking about how much he looks like a wrinkly little dick, his head popping up out the top, know what I mean? You know?”
All she knew was what had been taken from her. Since taking the class in Lacan, she hadn’t created anything new, had become calm and barren. She regurgitated everything she was fed onto a page, like a dyspeptic baby bird, and was rewarded well for it. Graduated high, was snapped up straight out of college like a juicy worm, and now: this. His hands pulling down her 20-denier tights, his distortion field surrounding her. Everything nearby looked green. The wish began to protrude from her body. He grunted in her ear and she looked down at her crotch and there it was. Please, sir. If I only—if I only had—if I only had a—
“I wish,” said the milkmaid, a pail in each hand, “that I could wear a wedding band — a sweet young man my burdens to share, someone to kiss and bed and care.”
The Queen of Rods was passing by when she heard the milkmaid sob and sigh. She offered a sunflower to ease her day, but the milkmaid’s hands were full of whey.
So she planted her wand into the loam, and up grew a dream so sweet and frail: a young lad appeared and took a pail, kissed the maid and led her home.
“I wish,” said the miller with a heavy sack, “that I could have a stronger back — for though I toil, my feet are bare, and my back grows weak with age and care.”
The Queen of Rods rambled from her house; she heard the miller groan and grouse. She offered a sunflower to ease his pain, but the miller clutched his sack of grain.
So she planted her wand into the peat, and up grew a dream so stout and fat: a mule now wore the miller’s hat, its baskets filled with the miller’s wheat.
“I wish,” said the beggar, clutching his staff, “that I could have a hearty laugh! My days are lonely; I have no kin — there’s no-one there to make me grin.”
The Queen of Rods was strolling along when she heard the beggar’s lonesome song. She offered a sunflower to lighten his soul but the beggar held his stick and bowl.
So she planted her wand into the path, and up grew a dream so light and gay: a puppy barked and asked to play, and her antics made the beggar laugh.
“I wish,” said the tinker, lugging pots and jug, “that I had a house so warm and snug — I’ve had no roof to call my own since I’ve been a lass not fully grown.”
The Queen of Rods lingered on the trail when she heard the tinker moan and wail. She offered a sunflower to brighten her lot, but in the tinker’s arms was a great big pot.
So she planted her wand into the dell, and up grew a dream so warm and good: where the tinker and her pots once stood, a turtle shrunk into her shell.
THE QUEEN OF RODS
So should you meet a maiden fair with hazel eyes and oaken hair, bearing a sunflower and a wand, as she maunders by with a smile so fond:
Speak not your dreams, but keep them close, for things could go from bad to worse! For who can know what dream may abide — turtle or mule or dog or bride.
Smile instead, say “Kindly met,” let not a tear in your eyes gleam, lest she grow you a fickle dream: instead the flower from her hand accept—
for then she’ll go on her merry way, and a bloom you’ll have to brighten your day.
Sonia Focke is an author and Egyptologist who spent most of her childhood living in her head. She still does, but now she shares those stories with others. She participated in Arcana2020 and has published a Galaxy Quest meets Lower Decks sci-fi romp in The Were-Traveler’s “Women Destroy [Retro-] Sci-Fi” issue; a dragon sports radio show in WolfsingerPress’s anthology “Crunchy With Ketchup” and a sapphic Beauty and the Beast retelling (with turtles!) in the upcoming anthology “Mirror Mirror” from Fractured Mirror Publishing, due out in December 2021. Other accomplishments include defending a hillfort from one (1) very enthusiastic Viking, drawing a 3,000-year-old stonemason’s marking, and designing a tattoo. She lives in Munich with a blacksmith and two padawans.
I stumble out of the house determined to seize this luminous day before it sucks me into the black hole that has been my residence for the past year. The city-center has come to life again with a torrent of tourists, a river that dried up during the pandemic. I claim a table outside a restaurant, wave to a waiter and order a beer, acting as if I‘ve been walking through a desert.
Three young couples sitting around a table give me an eye. I hide behind my sunglasses. They're sipping pink drinks and are so smooth and well-dressed that I feel like a crumpled paper bag. Each couple is wearing a coordinated outfit and one pair, in sporty clothes, has a stroller. They are comparing the perks and bonuses of their jobs. When my beer arrives I notice a lady sitting at a table next to the corporate climbers. A stud in her nose glitters like a star. She has a beer glass in front of her and a glass of red wine. Her hair is a shade darker than her skin and white cords connect earpods to a smartphone in her hand. She seems to be talking to someone but now and again she chants a song.
The sporty couple starts cooing like pigeons. They have lifted their toddler out of the stroller to take selfies. I turn my attention back to the lady. She moves to the rhythm of a tune as she signals the waiter and removes her earpods. A voice howls:
You just scream with boredom!
I know this track, it's from my favourite album with David Bowie. It's been ages since I listened to it. The waiter asks the lady, in English, what she wants to order. She answers in flawless Icelandic that she would like another glass of beer.
``Have you paid for the other drinks?`` he asks.
She nods plugging her ears.
The coordinated couples gawk. The lady stands up and starts to dance, spreading her shawl and displaying a shimmering peacock. A man fishing for bottles in a rubbish-bin gazes at her and an elderly woman utters to her husband: ``How wonderful to be so free.``
The waiter arrives with a beer. He beckons the dancing lady with a card-machine. She sits down, hands him cash and aligns her drinks; first the half-empty beer glass, then the full glass of wine and finally the overflowing glass of beer—as if she were a sibyl reading into the past, present and future. Then she takes a drink, swinging her earpods by the cords. Bowie's voice skyrockets:
All because of what you are. The Prettiest Star.
The sporty couple is leaving. They hug the others and plan their next Happy Hour with expansive gestures. Suddenly a wineglass plummets through the air, followed by a crash. A dark pool, mirroring my state of mind, stains the pavement. Shattered glass circles it like gleaming stardust. The couple with the stroller disappears into the crowd just as the waiter comes running with a broom. The lady shrugs.
The elderly woman mutters: ``Crazy!``
Blood-red wine trickles down the slope. The coordinated couples jump to their feet. One of the guys yells to the waiter that he wants to pay. It turns out that the sporty couple hadn't paid for their drinks. The young people fume. Meanwhile the lady empties her last glass and hums a melody.
The bottle-man totters by. As he passes the table of the peacock-lady he jiggles his hips with a twinkle in his eyes. She laughs and I feel a tingling sensation in my fingers. I finish my drink, brimming with eagerness to get home to listen to Aladdin Sane – and write a new story, elated by a star.
Kristín Ragna Gunnarsdóttir is an Icelandic author, illustrator and curator. She studied graphic design and painting at the Icelandic College of Arts and Crafts. She then completed her BA studies in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Iceland, during which she was an exchange student at the University of Copenhagen for one semester. She finished her MA degree in Creative Writing at the University of Iceland 2016. Kristín Ragna is the author and illustrator of many children’s books. Her books have been nominated for the following literary prizes:
- The Icelandic Literature Prize, 2009.
- The Nordic Council Children and Young People’s Literature Prize, 2017.
- The Icelandic Women’s Literature Prize, 2017.
- In Other Words prize, 2018.
- The West Nordic Council’s Children and Youth Literature Prize, 2018
Kristín Ragna won the Icelandic Illustration Prize – Dimmalimm twice, in 2009 and 2012. Kristín has taught illustration and Creative Writing at the Reykjavík School of Visual Art, the Iceland University of the Arts, and the University of Iceland. She has held various creative workshops and has curated many interactive exhibitions
The philosophers knew about self-restraint
called it a virtue
and so, I was born
over and over in moon-cold marble
bleached white by the Athenian sun.
Impulses stifled, moderation in all things,
especially what you feel, what you say,
watering down wine,
too-strong wine, too-strong truths.
Like my sisters,
but unlike them—
prudence, justice, fortitude—
I keep the balance
over and over.
How long can I continue,
one foot on land
one in the water
forever weakening the sun-birthed wine
the centuries of my self-restraint
I will find my voice
and I will turn the rivers to wine.
You are holding a stick.
It’s the perfect length to race past the trees, a shower of torn leaves churning behind you, tickling your nose with their green tang. Glimpsing over your shoulder to see if someone’s looking, you let out a hoot, right before you decapitate three daffodils in a perfect spin. You beat the long grass, for snakes are known to bask there in spring, and your stick is ready to make short work of the slithering trespassers. Some of your snakes are just hapless worms or lizards without legs, but look at you, defending your garden and your sisters, making everyone proud.
You are twirling a baton.
One stern gesture sends your friends stumbling through the snow, on their way to build a fortress. Your best buddy might have an idea for a really good construction, but it’s more fun to send him to the frontline to be pelted with snowballs. Why should he be the one the others look to when your voice is not so mousy and you wouldn’t just round your shoulders against the impacts? Later, after your group has been defeated, you explain their mistakes, and they admire you even more, especially when you send your buddy away with a smack of your baton, telling him what a fucking loser he is.
You are raising a metal rod.
A Tesla coil whines behind you, and at this coolest of all parties, you are drawing lightning from the sky, like the son of Zeus or Thor’s twin brother. Your name is on everyone’s lips, and nobody can deny you a wish today, well, nobody but the slut you tried to kiss in your new car. Her glittery dress is still taunting you, flitting through the crowd like a magnet to your lightning. It’s a shame you can’t smite with this useless machine; so you leave to take up the pursuit, enough electricity raging in your blood to force your cheering guests apart. Your rod is still in your hand when you find her, and its uses are manifold.
You are wielding a truncheon.
Most of your sticks are metaphorical these days, but sometimes it’s not enough to cancel the carrots of the suckers who think themselves so smart. Sometimes you need to get physical. You’re wearing a mask and pricy gadgets, and you’d really like to hear some cheers, but there’s a decisive lack of grateful audiences in the dark, dark places you stalk to find your low-life prey. You bask in the knowledge that without your gigs as judge, jury, and executioner, chaos might reign.
You are leaving a legacy.
You should feel proud, handing down something of value. But all you are holding is a cane, its rigid point caught in the furrow you are deepening as you trudge on.
Simone Heller lives on an island in the river Danube in Regensburg, Germany. She has been working as a literary translator for 14 years and given her voice to fabulous science fiction and fantasy authors. Her first steps in writing in English were taken in 2016, after workshopping with a group of international writers in Munich, and her award-winning short fiction has since then appeared in several Year’s Best volumes. She loves learning all kinds of things: words most of all, but also history, science, and everything about all the strange creatures of Earth. As a reader and a writer, she is frequently found exploring the borderlands between fantasy and science fiction. Find her online at missnavitgator.com
Calliope had spent most of the day on the bank of the Isar river, wiggling her toes and reveling in the tickle of the autumn breeze lifting the curls from her neck. Last night had been stifling, but today was nearly perfect. She lounged in the partial shade of a willow tree and was turning clouds into galloping horses, a parrot, and a woman doing the side stroke when a silky voice and warm breath in her ear made her heart stutter.
It said, “I see you’re not taking our competition seriously.”
Calliope had pushed herself onto her elbows and scooted away when she’d heard the voice. She attempted, rather unsuccessfully, to rearrange her features into a stern expression. “Lucifer, what have I told you about sneaking up on people? You could give someone a heart attack!”
Lucifer polished his pointed fingernails on his pinstriped vest. “Yes. Well, you know I have no qualms about that.”
Calliope did frown now. “Look what you’ve done! You’ve ruined it.” She gestured toward the clouds, which were now nothing but shapeless blobs.
Lucifer didn’t bother looking at the clouds. He took out his pocket watch and said, “Right. While you were wasting time, I have convinced six poets, six painters, and one memoirist that their art is absolute rubbish.”
“I wasn’t wasting time,” Calliope said. “At least twelve creatives were gazing out their windows in search of inspiration before you interrupted me.”
“And what quality of art would come from a pack of Chihuahuas, a peacock, and a pirate in the clouds?”
“Ooh! Now that sounds like the start of an enchanting tale,” she exclaimed.
“Sounds like a bad joke to me,” said Lucifer.
Calliope rolled her eyes. “There’s still time. The deadline isn’t until Saturday.”
Lucifer shook his head and spoke in a tone one might use when speaking to a child who had not yet grasped the concept of time. “You do realize that it is Friday. How many of the pieces have been delivered?” As if on cue, all the church bells in the vicinity began their ponderous clanging. Ringing out the hour: Six PM.
Calliope held up one hand, and the bells stopped abruptly. “Twelve of the forty-two pieces have been delivered, and I am well aware of the time. Now get thee behind me, Satan. Shoo!” She fluttered her raised hand toward him in irritation. Satan smirked and disappeared, leaving behind a puff of smoke and the scent of whisky and cedar.
Calliope wasn’t worried. She knew there was nothing like a deadline to make one desperate enough to invoke the muse. And there was nothing quite as delicious as rescuing an artist from the brink of despair.
In a former life, Christina Howell was a project manager in Kansas City. When life kept
handing her incredible stories, she began writing her memoir, Magicians, Cross-
Dressers, and My Uterus. In 2018, she quit her job, sold her house, and boarded a
plane to Scotland with a one-way ticket. Thirty months and twenty-one countries later,
she settled in Munich, Germany where she leads an online writing community and takes
writing courses from the University of Iowa. You can find her work in The Abstract
Elephant, HerStry, and in GATHERING: A Women Who Submit Anthology.
Text 1: „Quartett“
Die Kriegerin gelüstet’s nach dem Adler; ihn seiner Würde zu berauben ihr primäres Ziel. Sie begehrt ein mörderisches Haustier, das trotzdem stets so kuschelig und gefügig wie ein süßes kleines Kätzchen bleibt.
Die Teufelsgeiß mit ihren angefeilten Hörnern zielt nach des Löwen Bernstein-Funkelaugen. Geblendet gefiele er ihr besser, wobei sie seinen gleichermaßen tödlichen Geruchssinn ignoriert.
Der Adler träumt sich in den Löwen; die Kriegerin wär schon froh, keine Zicke genannt zu werden.
… Inmitten ihrer Kreise jedoch, hermetisch eingesiegelt, bleibt allein die Dame Welt von allem unberührt – von allem bis auf das streichelweiche Gleiten einer Gladiole über Wangen, die nicht altern.
Text 2: “Endlich sind die Karten auf dem Tisch“
Endlich sind die Karten auf dem Tisch. Ich verdecke sie nur, weil das schöner aussieht. Wir kennen uns ja schon so lange, die Karten und ich. Ein Wunder, dass wir einander noch nicht überdrüssig geworden sind.
… Oder vielleicht sind wir, und dann auch des Überdrusses und vergaßen selbst das.
Vielleicht gelingt es mir deshalb, immer wieder neu zu sein … während ihr immer nur ihr seid.
Aber gut. Das ist nun mal eure Aufgabe. In der Gesamtheit eures fliegenlarvigen Gewimmels macht ihr mich aus, also verzeihe ich – und revanchiere mich, indem ich huldvoll kleine Fetzen Erlösung offeriere … Greift zu, wenn ihr könnt.
Schon der Start beleuchtet das Dilemma: dass ihr euch so schlecht entscheiden könnt, wo es doch so einfach wäre. Aber statt auf euer klügeres Ich zu hören, massakriert ihr alles mit eurem sogenannten Verstand. Er hat natürlich auch seine Meriten; ich bestreite das ja gar nicht. Aber es gibt einen Grund, warum der andere Verstand sein älterer Bruder ist: weil er weiß, ohne verstehen zu wollen. Das Verstehenwollen … das war eure wahre Vertreibung aus dem Paradies.
Und manchmal hätte ich wirklich Lust, euren hoch gelobten Verstand aus euch herauszuprügeln und euch mit einem herzhaften Tritt in den Arsch wieder dorthin zu befördern … in den Schatten der Bäume, und diesmal darauf zu achten, dass eure Diät fruchtzuckerfrei bleibt.
Dann wieder denke ich, dass ich inzwischen selbst Angst vor so einer Welt hätte. Euer nutzloses Vielwissen hat ja auch mich über die Zeitalter ein Stück weit korrumpiert.
Also dehne ich mich aus und verschlanke mich, je nach den Weisheiten und Dummheiten, die ihr produziert. Aus eurer Perspektive mag das aussehen, als ob ich atmete.
… Doch obwohl ich das Leben selbst bin, lebe ich selbst nicht. Ich bin nur auf ewig und immerdar – die Welt.
Text 3: “Manchmal”
Manchmal bin ich diese starke Frau, manchmal nur eine störrische Ziege. Manchmal frei wie ein Adler, manchmal nur auf Kleinere und Kleinigkeiten einhackend, dass es peinlich ist. Doch manchmal reicht es sogar zu leoniner Majestät, zu Selbstgewissheit und Gebrüll, das nicht aus Angst entspringt.
… Aber nie überschreite ich die Grenzen meiner Kreise, weil mich alles gleichzeitig in alle Richtungen zieht. Es ist ein trügerisches, mörderisches Equilibrium. Ein Leben auf Pausentaste, bis eine Sehne reißt oder Glieder bersten, oder mein Wille, diesen Krieg für immer zu ertragen, endgültig erlahmt.
Dann schaut es schlecht aus für die Welt – oder gut. Weil ich mich endlich selbst erkennen oder neu erfinden müsste.
Text 4: Absturz
Der Ouroboros wurde inzwischen zu einem geflochtenen Gürtel erniedrigt. Rhomben und Winkel und Lanzen und Pfeile äffen die Muster nach, die sich einst auf seinem Rücken jagten. Die anämische Dame, die in seinem Sperrkreis gefangen sitzt, kümmert’s nicht. Ihr geht es ja selbst nicht besser: Halb Nonne, halb SpaceCat Barbarella, blickt sie gelangweilt hinaus, kaum noch in der Lage, die Gladiole zu halten, die sie in einem längst bereuten Anfall von Tatkraft im Garten gebrochen hat.
Oliver Jung-Kostick, geboren 1963, schreibt und malt seit frühester Kindheit. Er arbeitet als Dozent in der Erwachsenenbildung und lebt in Lichtenfels/Oberfranken.
Oliver Jung-Kostick, born 1963, writes and paints since earliest childhood. He works as a freelance teacher in adult education and lives in Lichtenfels, Upper Franconia, Bavaria, Germany.
you meet an
unfortunate bear, his
head stuck in a plastic bucket
a terrible mistake
paved with good intentions
–It’s not Fair, The Boy said. We can never bring The Broken Toys from The Old World back to Life.
The Boy was 5 Human Years Old. When He was Born, The Earth looked different. He had no Recollection of it, but His Body did. In The New World, there were no Trees. One could still find Dry Leaves on The Ground. But They would also find their Death soon. Sooner or later, everything died. The Air was dark. The Broken Toys were broken, They would never Live again, but they helped Filter The Air. That was all They could do.
–But The Dogs are still Here, The Dog said, and licked The Boy’s little Hand.
–For how long still? asked The Boy.
–As long as there are Mountains and Little Boys, We’ll Be Here. And when The Moon turns to stone and stops turning around, We’ll turn to stone too. Together. That way, I’ll always Be Your Little Dog. And You’ll always Be My Little Boy.
It’s not Fair, The Boy said, that We shall all go like this, without A Purpose.
He wanted to say more, but Words had to be used scarcely, or one could run out of Breath saying them out loud. The Boy could Feel The Memory of The Sun and The Wind Move through His Body. He could feel The Bodies of The People Who Lived before Him inside His Body. The People who knew what The Sun and The Wind were. His Arms extended upwards towards The Sky like Tree Branches, like an Embrace. But The Future did not move through Them. There was no Future Living inside Him.
–It’s not Fair, said The Boy, that You and I shall Be among The Last.
Diana Radovan is the Romanian-born author of the kaleidoscopic memoir Our Voices and a Best of the Net nominee for her essay On The Way. Her creative work blends magical realism, nonfiction, poetry, and images, and explores the possibilities and boundaries of language, political oppression, intergenerational trauma, and the immigrant experience. She lives in Lenggries, Germany. Find out more at www.naturewriting.net.
She floats on the river, drunk but clear-headed. It’s ten o’clock at night, and the sky is full of tiny lights. All the other bridesmaids are laughing on the bank, most still fully clothed, a few barefoot with their flowing green skirts tied up by their hips. She’s the only one who’s divested herself entirely of wedding garments. Her dress, her heels, and her underwear lie in a molten pile beneath a firefly-filled willow. Beside them: a tumble of empty bottles and plastic cups.
The parts of her breaching the water look yellowish under the yellow moon. They shine with wetness. Her hair spreads out like a raft of weeds, or soft thoughts extruded from her head.
I could float down the Milky Way, she thinks. She wants to. The world of feet on the ground and marriages seems distant. Abstract. She feels warmly towards it, but she doesn’t care to fall back into its embrace.
She sees the stars above her, and she is lying among the stars, too, looking down, down, down at the woman floating on her back among the reeds. Her breasts and face and belly are islands. Her eyes are dark wells. Her feet tingle in colder regions of the river. She is small and she is vast. She smiles at herself, lips a sickle. Like the moon again.
“Where are you?” calls a bridesmaid’s voice from shore, and then the voice says her name. It’s a voice she knows, one she loves. She calls back to reassure it. The words bubble out of her mouth with an undercurrent of delight.
“I’m right here, honey— I’m everywhere!”
Die Häuser zogen an der Bahn vorbei und mürrische Menschen mit trüben Augen starrten ins Leere. Mausgraue Laune in jedem Winkel des schäbigen Wagons mit den abgewetzten Sitzen und doch war ihm nur nach purem, glockenhellem Jubel zumute. Wieder zupfte er, wie auch schon vor zehn Sekunden, nervös an der Feinstrumpfhose. Endlich Nylonstrümpfe, glänzend in Bronze, Lippenstift mit dem erregenden Namen Cherry Kiss, türkiser Metallic-Lidschatten, künstliche Wimpern und pinker Nagellack – er verstand nicht, warum diese Leute alle so übellaunig dreinschauten, wo sie doch jederzeit die Freiheit hatten, ganz nach ihrem eigenen Gutdünken zu leben?
Würde alles gut gehen? Würde ihn suchen? man Vielleicht sogar zwingen zurückzukehren? Er rieb sich ängstlich über die Bartstoppeln ... rasieren, er musste sich noch rasieren! Angstschweiß über der Nasenwurzel und doch ein Lächeln in seinem Gesicht. Als er das erste Mal nach draußen ging, immer noch leicht humpelnd und gebeugt nach all den Jahren mit massiver Krone und schwerem Schwert, starrten ihn die Leute voller Mitleid an. Inzwischen hatte sein Körper sich im neuen Leben wieder behutsam der Sonne entgegengestreckt.
Sein altes Selbst war so lange in der falschen Hülle gefangen, dass er irgendwann gar nicht mehr bemerkte, wer eigentlich in seinem Körper wohnte. Er hatte das hämische Gelächter der anderen Karten noch in den Ohren, bei der Nachfrage, ob er nicht seinen Platz mit der Königin der Schwerter tauschen konnte. Die blöde Kuh! Sie hatte ihn doch vollgejammert, lieber Männerklamotten tragen zu wollen! Dann war sie eingeknickt vor den ganzen Idioten und hatte ihn zum Deppen gemacht. Sollten sie doch sehen, wo sie blieben ohne König der Schwerter! Er stand nicht mehr zur Verfügung, für ihn gab es andere Pläne. Einen dunklen, langen Gang entlang, der eigentlich nur noch aus Efeu bestand. Ihm sollte es recht sein, er versuchte so gut wie möglich das kratzige Grünzeug nicht zu beschädigen, um seine Spur zu verwischen. Ein bisschen geklautes Geld in der Hand, sein scheiß Königskittel hatte ja keine Taschen, kroch er Stunde um Stunde durch den muffigen Tunnel, bis der endlich in einem modrigen Abflussrohr mündete. Sein erster Blick auf die abgewetzte Großstadtkulisse mit vielen Schornsteinen und Rußwolken glich einem Blinzeln in Richtung Himmelreich. Die Krone und der restliche Plunder wurde zum Pfandleiher gebracht. Mit dem Geld, von einem sichtlich misstrauischen, alten Grantler nur widerwillig ausgehändigt, konnte er sich andere Klamotten und ein billiges Pensionszimmer leisten …
Zwei Stunden später thronte der ehemalige Kartenkönig mit einem Strahlen im Gesicht am neuen Arbeitsplatz. Stolz schaute er an seinem blütenweißen Kittel herunter – endlich frei! „Cause we are living in a material world and I am a material girl …“ sang er leise vor sich hin, während er glückselig den pinken, glänzenden Nägeln beim Tippen auf der Registrierkasse seines Lieblingsdrogeriemarktes zusah, die Feinstrumpfhose so gar nicht mehr zwickte und er nie wieder woanders sein wollte.
Lea Rothdach, angenehm. Ich habe mich statt harter Drogen fürs Schreiben als Obsession entschieden, weil es die Lebenserwartung ungemein steigert. Um an eine regelmäßige Dosis schriftlichen Dopamins zu gelangen, betreibe und beschreibe ich einen Blog, den ich zur Erhellung Ihres Daseins nur wärmstens empfehlen kann.
Oben ist unten und unten ist oben, dachte er, als er sich in dieser misslichen Situation wiedergefunden hatte. Erst kürzlich hatte er seiner Freundin Gundela erklärt, dass es gut sei, gelegentlich Dinge auch aus einem anderen Blickwinkel heraus zu betrachten. Dabei hatte er allerdings nicht daran gedacht in einem unbekannten Dorf kopfüber an ein Kreuz gefesselt zu hängen. Nun war es ja durchaus amüsant, dass die Kinder in seinen Haaren Verstecke für ihre Kieselsteine bastelten. Weniger amüsant empfand er allerdings den penetranten Gestank, der von der nahegelegenen Versitzgrube in regelmäßigen Abständen zu ihm herüber wehte.
Man kann nicht immer gewinnen, hatte sein alter Lateinlehrer gemurmelt, wenn er die Klassenarbeiten mit den Sechsern verteilte. Gundela hingegen war immer davon überzeugt gewesen, dass Gewinnen und Verlieren nur eine Frage der Einstellung und des inneren Umgangs mit den äußeren Umständen seien. Er war sich dennoch nicht sicher, ob er seiner aktuellen Lage etwas Positives abgewinnen könne. Vielleicht, dass er, seit er gefesselt war, nicht mehr geraucht hatte. Das war seiner Gesundheit sicherlich förderlich. Nur fragte er sich, was die Gesundheit half, wenn man sowieso bald sterben würde.
Weiter hinten feierten sie ihr Sommerfest. Es roch nach Bier und Bratwürsten, ein paar seltsame Wesen aus den Bergwäldern hatte man mit Kräutern soweit bestechen können, dass sie einen Tanz aufführten. Die dorfeigene Kapelle spielte irgendwas, was man wohl auch bei gestimmten Instrumenten kaum hätte erkennen können.
Er dachte an seine Frau, die ihm vor drei Wochen abhanden gekommen war. Und daran, warum er es eigentlich nie ernsthaft mit Gundela versucht hatte. Ihr Überbiss war zwar gewöhnungsbedürftig und auch ihre Angewohnheit, sich nur an Weihnachten zu waschen. Ob es nötig ist oder nicht, pflegte sie zu sagen und meckerte dabei ihr typisches Lachen, das schon manchen Unhold vertrieben hatte. Aber sie war im Rahmen ihrer Möglichkeiten zuverlässig. Nie hätte sie ihn verlassen, außer wenn sie es für unumgänglich gehalten hätte.
Ein paar Minuten, oder sogar Stunden, war er ohnmächtig gewesen. Eine alte Frau zupfte an seinen Kleidern. Er versuchte ihr mit trockener Zunge zu erklären, dass die Wertsachen schon andere genommen hätten.
Nun, es war Sommer, wie erwähnt. Einer der heißesten dieser Region. Und die Kühe stolperten durstig über die Weiden.
Er versuchte, ein Lied zu pfeifen, was gründlich misslang. Der Dorfschulze hielt das Geräusch für das eines Verendenden. Und er schien recht zu behalten.
The skyscraper doesn't touch the sky. The sterile lights of the sprawling city twinkle all around like demented fireflies, but no light shines up in the penthouse where the old man sits alone. A cup stands on the table before him, its venerable, familiar shape visible even in the dim glow from the street. The old man wonders at its presence. He wonders what it means. The cup unsettles him. It calls to him. It fills his mind with things he spent a lifetime, many lifetimes, trying to forget.
There once was a land kissed by the sun.
``May you live forever,`` the King had said, voice full of promise.
``May you live forever,`` the Queen had said, a smile like the frozen sea.
Time, which touches all things, hasn't touched the cup. The clay isn't chipped. The paint isn't faded. The hand that reaches for it is old and withered, but the cup still is as it was when the world was young and every day was spring.
There once was a city in the clouds.
The old man's fingers hover above the rim, skeletal and frail where once they'd been strong and fair. Anger burns in his chest at the sight, but it's buried deep under heavier things, like bitterness and longing. He yearns to touch the cup. He dares not touch it.
There once was a tower on a hill, in a city in the clouds, on a land kissed by the sun, and in it lived a boy, the golden darling of a golden people.
The penthouse is deserted, the old man is alone, but still he hears the echoes of laughter in the distance, and singing, and the plucking of strings.
``May you live forever,`` the King whispered in his ear.
``May you live forever,`` the Queen echoed with a smile like the blade of a knife.
The boy hadn't known then what the old man has learned since: that something can be both a gift and a trap; that one needs not preclude the other.
The clay sings against his skin in recognition as the old man lifts the cup, and for the briefest of moments he's that boy again, the golden darling of a golden age, with a face to rival Helen's and a pantheon at his feet. And then he looks down at his own reflection, and rage and sorrow claw at him like wild beasts. Vanity, yes. But other things, too. The decay he sees in himself is nothing to the decay he sees in everything else. The old man doesn't recognise the world. He doesn't belong in it. And he can't close his eyes at night without seeing it all again: the dying king, the fallen kingdom, the crumbling tower, the raging sea.
``May you live forever,`` the King had said sweetly, affectionately, carelessly.
``May you live forever,`` the Queen had echoed, smiling at the thoughtless cruelty in what was meant as a blessing.
Inês Simão is a Portuguese translator-turned-marketer currently living in Munich, Germany. She’s a part-time writer, a full-time reader and a coffee enthusiast. Once she spent a summer in high school cleaning 13th-century human bones with a toothbrush for far too little money. Having decided archaeology was entirely too dusty a career path, she turned to words instead. She writes mostly fantasy and romance. Her short stories are sometimes dark, often funny and very seldom short. When she’s not busy peopling imaginary worlds with characters you might not want to encounter down a dark alley, she makes a living writing copy and herding cats.
In a catholic convent school, you are raised on certainties—of good and bad, of us and them, of heaven and hell. We spent one hour of every academic day praying, one week of every year in a spiritual retreat practising gratitude and two hours of every first Friday of the month chanting rosaries. The world was simpler, the limits of it marked out in red and green, it never occurred to us to cross any lines.
Around the time I was in high school a library opened in our village, the librarian was quite unfriendly and he did not entertain any unnecessary questions. So I lacked a compass of sorts, I just went in, grabbed as much as they allowed to check out, went home and started reading cover to cover. I couldn't judge what was good or bad. Amma had studied a year of literature in college so she knew the people. She would look at the covers of the books and tell me if the authors were supposed to be good or bad. M. T Vasudevan Nair was good, Mukundan was okay, and Madhavikutty was unacceptable! The first act of rebellion I might have ever done was hiding her books inside my textbooks and reading them through the night.
It seemed outrageous, all of Madhavikutty’s writing, to the point that it made me wonder if
anybody knew she had published all that she had written. She wrote unflinchingly about love, lust, and the patriarchy. My first encounter with a feminine gaze in literature. For all that rebelliousness in writing, she had a quiet and unassuming presence, with a red vermillion dot on her forehead and the softest of voices. She could sit peacefully on her reclining chair and will a late night November rain out of thin air, she lifts her eyebrows, nods and off it comes undone.
Madhavikutty shook the certainties of three generations of women, her books were the beginning of the end of distrusting our instincts for a whole lot of us. She went into a room full of men telling stories of “proper women” and smashed My Story right across their faces.
Inside my head, she is the high-priestess from the fairy tale. The one where the little girl finds a Yakshi within the remains of an old temple. Together they started a series of small-small earthquakes in a village full of absolutes. That is a story for another day.
For all those moments when my life feels less epic, less grandiose, or less legendary, I go back to her, she tells me in her quiet soft voice, “Child, it doesn’t have to shine, just make it yours.”
Author BIO: Sruthy Sasi is a writer and illustrator based in Frankfurt Germany. She enjoys writing short form fiction in English and Malayalam.
Sruthy Sasi is a writer and illustrator based in Frankfurt Germany. She enjoys writing short form fiction in English and Malayalam.
The staff he carries was once a tree, the crossbars once heavy with leaves. He remembers plucking fruit from the branches, biting into the flesh and letting the juice run down his chin into his beard.
Now there is no more fruit. The tree is dead, the elegant curves of the bark carved away to leave angles. He walks on, putting his weight on the staff.
At his waist a bunch of keys rattles against itself. Some are old and vast. Rusted things with teeth like predators. Others are small pressed and ground then worn with use. Those are the dangerous ones. Those are the ones used to unlock secrets. He walks on through the garden. In the distance the wall rises.
The fence looks like it sits on top of the stone, but he knows that the iron roots down into the dirt below. The gate is the only way to leave. He sees it in the distance, ivy choked and stripped of paint by time. The metalwork curves in on itself like branches, and he wonders if the gate too was grown in the garden.
The gardeners told him there was life in the garden and all outside was chaos. Order within and death without. He knows now this is a lie. There is death of a different kind in the garden. If choice dies what is left? He walks on, feeling the staff flex as his legs can no longer support him.
He stops in front of the gate, leaning the staff against the wall, holding it in place with his foot as if to lose contact would surrender it to the garden. Every key he tries does not fit or, if it does, fails to turn the lock. Only when he is giving up hope, the grass around his feet scattered like autumn, does he push the gate away from him, and though it catches on the weeds beyond, it opens enough for him to leave. He squeezes through, the rusted iron leaving marks on his face like disguises.
Outside he walks a little, and turns. The wall is vast and he can no longer see the garden that was his home for so long. Kneeling down, he digs through the undergrowth to the dirt below and drives the staff into the soil, and the staff remembers it was once a tree. First the bark spreads back across the timber, twisting and knotting together, before the memory of leaves return, and finally the berries, richer in colour than he remembered. With hands as twisted as any branches, he reaches up, some crushing between his fingers as he pops the fruit between his teeth, juice running down his chin to stain his beard once more.
Steve Toase was born in North Yorkshire, England, and now lives in Munich, Germany. He writes regularly for Fortean Times and Folklore Thursday. His fiction has appeared in Nightmare Magazine, Shadows & Tall Trees 8, Analog – Science Fiction and Fact, Three Lobed Burning Eye, Shimmer, and Lackington’s, amongst others. Three of his stories have been reprinted in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year series.
His debut short story collection ‘To Drown in Dark Water’ is now out from Undertow Publications (link).
He also likes old motorbikes and vintage cocktails.
He makes himself crystal pure,
perfectly arranged, trains at the bar,
like every saviour should.
My page of pentacles
stands on his head as if it is
the best trick in the world.
We meet by the tennis courts
under the bridge when it rains
and rains—I am God, he says.
It is true, we both came
from our own worlds.
I care about nothing.
Other moments I am a fountain
regurgitating his love for himself,
while he chases money
as if wealth wears a skirt.
This was how I come to understand
the cost; the currency of being his,
hemorrhaging parts of myself.
I buy my first pair of heels,
turn thirty with blisters on my feet.
Easier if I stay barefoot.
I, pan of boiling water.
I, bicarbonate of soda,
him tangy vinegar.
The froth is poetry,
is art, is a child.
More things leave my body
than I am able to count.
I hadn't known I was multitude.
Under the fraudulent moon
abandonment weeps a new path
out of the woods…
Susannah is a poet and artist, she lives in Niedersachsen with her husband and two daughters. Originally from England, Susannah is a Pushcart Prize nominee and has had poems placed or commended in the Plough Prize, Westival International Poetry Prize, the Frogmore poetry prize, CoasttoCoasttoCoast Pamphlet Competition and appears in various publications worldwide including; Bloody Amazing, Pale Fire, For the Silent, Finished Creatures, Cordite, Channel and Strix.
A little witch sat on the porch of her gingerbread house
Witchcraft diplomas, an enchanted forest and no nagging spouse
Curling the red hair around her finger with glee
–What more does desire thee?
Nothing! she keeps telling the foxes, birds and trees
As she watches videos of kittens, puppies and VIPs
They laugh: Then why do you play with your phone?
They chirp: Oh my god, you do feel alone!
Deep in the forest then by a gurgling stream
She gathers some soulful clay, to fulfill her dream
Well kneaded by the spell book, she can hear it whisper:
How do you wanna shape your lover, sister?
Think carefully though, the whisper continues
Once scrooged and when the clay comes to life
The love spell binds you to it,
It may bring you peace and joy or cut like a knife.
Oh, but it sounds easy at first, and truly merry:
A handsome redhead, kind-hearted and so rich,
Like Ed Sheeran or Prince Harry.
They both would complete the life of a witch!
But her words get stuck as she reconsiders,
What if she gets bored and her happiness withers?
Already in the past she has been that kind of dame
Prefers the fox to the birds, ‘cause the birds are so lame.
So better a wolf, wild and free like herself,
For real adventure, a hero, part villain part elf.
A man to make out her worth to the world
Because he can choose but chose her from the herd.
But… could she keep up, house proud as she is, no jar with a stain?
The forest job so local, no mobile work in this domain.
And we all know how these movies end:
The hero moves on and the lover is bend.
Then perhaps a more settled lover, a father figure well past his prime!
Oh, but how she feels Freud turn in his grave this time
She argues, he could give her safety, warmth and rest.
But to no avail, he does not pass the Freudian test.
The witches’ mind goes in circles now and her fingers they slow
What makes her happy when it conquers her heart and her soul?
Endless tales before her inner eye unfold
Each one a warning, many times told.
But before the clay goes all dry and the moment is lost
There is someone she wants and wants him the most!
An inner spark lights her eyes with an adorable vision
And she kisses the clay and whispers, what is a smart decision:
Make him a good chef, a kitchen wizard
Quiet and with eyes mysterious as the deep blue sea
Guessing his mind will hold me a lifetime
–Especially when he brings cookies with tea!
Ella Voss is a Munich-based author whose creative soul solely speaks English. Her writing is inspired by themes around women’s agency, family, and human empathy. In 2021, Ella published her first novel, Like a Fox to a Swallow, a family tale on overcoming grief and new beginnings, to be followed by a short story collection in 2022. When not behind her writing desk, Ella is found racing with her greyhound or cooking for her friends.
Between the time when NATO bombed Yugoslavia, Bill Clinton had an affair with an intern, and the Perseverances rover landed on mars, one of my classmates decided to let himself go. He jumped down from the 28th floor of our dormitory. The noise when his body hits concrete sounds more like a mattress dropped from a high point.
Quiet, and loud at the same time.
As I looked down from my room, the sky was clear, the crowd formed a circle around him like a group of ants around a sugar cube. I can only imagine what went through his head during that four-point three seconds.
They said life flashes before you die.
“He’s still alive,” I overheard someone talking about him. “He’ll live, but probably as good as a plant.”
Things are simpler when you reduced them to an inanimate object.
I walked through the corridor and went into the shared toilet where there was only one urinal there. I stood tall, let it all out, and aimed at the side of the hole so that it didn’t make so much sound. Then sometimes the flow stops and starts with no patterns. At that moment, I thought of how we are all the same and that most things in life are both beautiful and pointless all at the same time.
How could we make a point if we all wanted to live so loud?
I finished up and turned, someone was waiting to use it. He looked at me. I glanced back at him.
“Hi,” he said “I was waiting and heard how you go. I think you should go check your thing.”
“Go check my what?”
“I heard it, how you go, it’s not good.”
“You should at least go check. Could be something serious.”
“Are you a doctor?” I asked
“No, but my dad had the same problem. When I was young, my bedroom was next to the toilet and the wall was very thin. While I was reading, I would hear my family using it. Then I started to catch the normality of it every day. It’s always the same. That’s why, suddenly, when something is out of the ordinary, I noticed it.”
I paused. Not sure what or how to react.
“So what do I have to do?” I eventually said.
“Go to the urologist and tell them that you might have a frown inside.”
“And what they will do to me?”
“They will take this long thin rod and put it inside the hole where you pee.”
He made a finger gesture of a long rod and a movement of putting it inside the hole that he made with another hand.
“I don’t think I want to do that,” I answered
“Of course, it's up to you. It might be nothing, or it might be something. You can decide whether you would like to know it. Now if you excuse me, I need to piss too.”
I moved away as he went in. I heard him unzipping. Then right after, the sound of the flow follows. It’s strong, one stroke full like clear water running through a clean straw. Quiet, and loud at the same time.
Pung Worathiti Manosroi is an award-winning Thai writer. He won the Young Thai Artist Award (First Prize) for his debut novel Good Morning, Sunshine when he was 24. He co-wrote the screenplay for the Thai full-featured film Last Summer, which received rave critics reviews and reached the top 10 Thailand Box Office. His short story Cliff has been adapted for a screenplay and theatre. Pung lives in Munich, Germany, where he is building his second company, Betterfront Technologies.
Somewhere in the shallow waters of the Thames Estuary, where the waters of the Thames River meet the North Sea, the wild seahorses range. If you head east from London toward the river’s mouth and across an uncounted number of streams, you’ll arrive at Canvey Island and the Preventative Service cottages. From 1883 to 1910, eleven men lived in those terraced homes, next to the earthen barriers, the estuary, and the sea itself: seahorse dreamers, theta wave riders, an upside-down seahorse nestled in the center of both lobes of their almost-human brains.
A hundred years ago there was no concrete seawall, no bridge to the mainland and all those London-bound roads. When the storms blew in from the North Sea, when the waters churned and the gray and spitting clouds obscured the separation between sky and water, the centuries-old earthen barrier and the Preventative Servicemen’s straw-filled mattresses were all that separated the island’s inhabitants from the Knight of Cup’s aquatic herd, his dream thieves and ready liars, his trickster promises and inconsistent love.
Memory is important. History a promise of what can return. For twenty-seven years, peace reigned over Canvey Island, held steady by the servicemen’s nightly charge. A tarot card promise. Upright hope.
Yes, the oaken seawall would always fail. The North Sea Flood of 1953 would always fall upon the sleeping residents— fifty-eight dead by the early hours of that night. And, yes, the Thames River would always suffer and die decades before it emerged, reborn. But for a time, the Preventative Service’s officer, the chief boatman, and the nine conscripts under their charge dreamt seahorse dreams. Upside down creatures submerged within the folds of each man’s brain held the coastline steady against the self-delusions of the Knight of Cups.
And then, like all true promises, the flood came.
It’s 1953. The Preventative Service cottages have been empty for almost forty years—an unexpected period of grace.
Finally, the weather is about to turn.
The sky above Carney Island squalls. The water runs down the wood and stone, soaks and rises over, floods the land.
The woman cries out, a third and final time. The water is nothing but shadows and churned up silt, a storm’s outpouring of rage, the Knight’s damp revenge.
The woman, she disappears alongside her lover, her husband, her dearest friend. All lost in the intruding shallows.
Change as loss. Seahorses as aquatic conveyance.
The truth: It’s not the herd’s fault that their master’s teeth hunger for the release of mangled skin and bloated flesh.
Protection, like most dreams, is a brutal sport on this reclaimed spit of land. The storm is always on the horizon.
It takes work to push the Knight of Cups’ legions down. It takes intent to hold them submerged beneath the waves. It takes the right sort of folds in the brain to believe his visions will remain far from this broken fragment of the human shore.
Julie C. Day’s novella The Rampant is a Lambda Award finalist. Her genre-bending collection Uncommon Miracles contains some of her most beloved work. Julie is currently working on her mosaic novel Stories of Driesch. She is the editor-in-chief of the anthology Weird Dream Society and is currently acting as co-editor and publisher of the forthcoming anthology Dreams for a Broken World under the new Reckoning Press imprint, Essential Dreams Press. In addition to her books, she’s published over forty stories in magazines such as The Dark, Split Lip Maga- zine, Black Static, Podcastle and the Cincinnati Review.