Issue Four: Resolutions

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Haunted Words Press Issue Four: Resolutions

Published digitally March 2023


Cover artwork by Leylah M, entitled New Year, New Me

This magazine is copyright Haunted Words Press

Copyright to all work is retained by the original contributor

Any resemblance to real events or persons contained in the fiction work herein is entirely coincidental. Views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the editor.

Twitter: @haunted press

Instagram: @hauntedwordspress



Introduction MiddleGrade Forget Me Not Freya Elliott Saturday Night Seance Eve Greenlow The Book of Spells Maggie Iribarne The Forest of the Dead Kathryn Reilly Fly By Butterfly Mona Mehas The Girl with Icy Breath L.T. Ward CONTENTS CONTENTS 1 3 MG | SPOOKY | FAMILY MG | COMEDY | GHOSTS MG | MAGICAL REALISM | CURSES MG | HORROR | GHOSTS MG | ADVENTURE | NATURE MG | SUPERNATURAL | LONELINESS 4 8 9 15 18 19
2 Young Adult Grow A.C. Bauer Us Yuu Ikeda The Children of Owl Wilds Lauren Carter The Wanderer C.D. Kester Ghost Vi Oliver Quill New Dog, Old Tricks Jas Saunders YA | HORROR | FUNGI YA | RELATIONSHIP | WARMTH YA | HORROR | TRANFORMATION YA | HORROR | PARANORMAL YA | FEAR | CONNECTIONS YA | COMING OF AGE | REINCARNATION 27 29 30 34 35 36


Somehow, you wonderful people keep submitting to us, and now we are in the new year, and on our fourth issue of Haunted Words Press. For that, we have to say a huge thank you - for submitting, for reading, for following us on our little journey. Thank you. We had so many wonderful and talented submissions for this issue, and we get continually blown away and amazed every time you submit your amazing work to us and want it to find its home within these pages.

This, Issue Four: Resolutions, is a collection of twelve short stories, flash fiction, and poetry all encompassing the titular theme 'resolutions', and split between middle-grade and young adult audiences. In this issue, we've got grave-digging, ghostly alliances, transformations, revelations, sentient fungi, and so much more. Whatever strange and peculiar idea takes your fancy, there's something for all the horror and magic lovers within these pages.

This issue is brimming with so much talent, and we are so proud and delighted with how it turned out. This is also the first issue that we've had a contributor's artwork on the cover, and we absolutely adore it. We hope you do too. We wish you all a happy new year, and hope it's filled with spookiness and strangeness once again.




Here lies Michael Chester Father to Winnifred Chester

Whom he looks forward to meeting again soon

To Winnie’s great relief, the graveyard of St Mark’s church was lifeless but for crows and worms. A year prior she’d learned the hard way that the village folk didn’t take kindly to trespassers This year, she had come in the dark early morning’s most restful hours, so as not to encounter the same problem again.

Standing before the church gate, Winnie was disappointed to learn that she was still a few inches short of the lock. She set down her father’s old toolbox, happy to give her sore fingers a break from carrying it, and climbed on top of it so she could reach. Every year Winnie left a note to the groundskeeper in her neatest most carefully joined up handwriting, politely requesting that he keep the gate unlocked for the night and every year she was (rudely) ignored. Thankfully, the big brass padlock was old, and not difficult to jimmy open with some patient fiddling and well-timed force. Winnie pushed the gate open slowly, trying her best to soften the creak, picked up her toolbox, and padded inside the church grounds.

From here Winnie had a short walk. Along the gravel path, where she passed Ava and Edward Coles (Spanish flu, 1918), down the stone steps by Trevor Humphrey (landmine, 1939) and up a small grassy incline near little Sophie Burton (birth defects, 1959) and Peter Turner (undocumented sickness, 1982). At each grave Winnie passed, she waved, smiled, nodded or curtsied It was only good manners


Last of all was the grave Winnie sought. The headstone was a modest grey granite and the soil either side of it decorated prettily with little blue flowers Winnie unclasped her toolbox and pulled out her folding-spade. She was ready to dig up her father, just as she did on his birthday each year

For the sake of convenience, Michael Chester had been buried three feet below the ground, instead of the customary six. Now that Winnie was nine and an old hand at digging, she made light work of reaching the wooden coffin and piled up the soil in a neat tower beside them. Once it was uncovered in its entirety, Winnie clambered down into the grave and knocked softly on the coffin lid three times. Tap, tap, tap. It was kinder to wake him gently. From within, she heard a quiet yawning and knew she was okay to open it up.

Michael rose slowly and stiffly and the moment he saw his daughter’s face, lifted his arm to touch her cheek. At which point his hand promptly fell off. No matter, Uncle Arthur had warned Winnie this might start to happen around the five-year mark. She reached over the edge of the grave to her toolbox and lifted out the first plastic tray. Winnie rooted through the spanners, saws, and balls of string in the bottom until she found what she was looking for: a large roll of sticky tape Winnie practised her calm but stern voice.

'Show me.' she said, and Michael lifted his stumpy arm for Winnie to see. Winnie held the stump steady and picked up the dislodged hand, careful not to wince Michael’s skin was very cold and a strange texture, but corpses got awfully upset, Uncle Arthur had told her, if you drew attention to the matter of their being ... well ... corpses. Winnie wound the tape tightly between Michael’s wrist and hand until they were attached securely once more. Michael smiled, and Winnie was pleased to see it.

Winnie took her father by his (other) hand and helped him to stand. This was a delicate procedure, but by showing Michael a clever method she'd learned at the swimming pool,


managed to get them both out of the grave and sitting on the grass. From her coat pocket, Winnie pulled out a small flask of tea that Uncle Arthur had brewed for her (Winnie wasn’t to use the kettle until she was twelve). She had cups too, two nice white china ones from the kitchen cupboard Winnie poured herself a cup and handed her father an empty one. Corpses couldn’t drink tea, but she thought he might like to pretend

They sat together for a while, Winnie in her winter coat, Michael in his best suit and they sipped on tea (or air). Michael couldn’t talk anymore, but he’d always been good at listening. Winnie told her father about school. So far this term they’d done volcanoes, the Tudors, and push and pull forces. But she was most excited for next week when Mrs Lewis was going to read them ghost stories.

There was a moment, Winnie thought, that her father’s face turned rather sad, almost as though he wanted to cry, but corpses didn’t have tears. It happened when Winnie told him about the day Mrs Lewis had taken Winnie to another classroom whilst her friends made special cards. Winnie had been very disappointed to miss gluing and sticking. Gluing and sticking was her favourite.

Then Winnie told him about her friends. About Martha and Lucy and Georgia and the new boy, who was called Michael too! Winnie talked lots and lots until the sky started to turn pink, which meant it was time to stop.

She stood, and held her father’s hand again, leading him (very carefully, lest he lose any more limbs) back inside his grave. Michael lay down in his coffin, closed his eyes, and Winnie shut the lid slowly, so it didn’t make a bang. With her spade, Winnie filled the three feet of earth and patted it smooth.

Winnie lifted her toolbox and walked back toward the gate: past Peter and Sophie and Trevor and Edward and Ava, waving or smiling or nodding or curtseying to each in turn.


When Winnie reached the gate the sky was nearly white. She gave St Mark’s church one last glance before setting off down the cobbled road home

Winnie would come again next year Winnie would come again still when she was only wrinkles, and her father only bones.




The quiet fills up the room

Then is met with a haunting BOOM

She asked for her mother

But instead got another

Her desperation is met with doom





Every Halloween night, Mrs. Vera Lane dressed up as a witch and opened her door to the neighbourhood, displaying her collection of vintage costumes for everyone and anyone to see. All throughout her living and dining rooms, she arranged crepe paper zombie faces, spooky wax masks, a moth-eaten clown suit, a devil’s cape, a bunch of craggy witches’ hats, and dozens of other old costumes Her display, an annual pop-up museum, attracted hundreds of children and adults each year. Kind Mrs. Lane, the queen of Halloween, reigned also as the queen of the neighbourhood --

I was thirteen the Halloween Vera’s museum closed for good.

First, rain. The deluge waited until mid-trick or treat, extinguishing every lit pumpkin, driving everyone inside, candy buckets empty.

The news came the next day: Vera died in her sleep. That was the first really bad, unexpected, unexplained thing, the thing that kicked off a cascade of other bad things in the neighbourhood. There were lost jobs, one divorce, a stroke, and countless smaller occurrences. Gossip and fighting erupted amongst normally peaceful neighbours. It wasn’t like bad things hadn’t happened before, just not so many at once.

Worst of all, at least for me, my mom got sick She woke up one day saying she felt draggy, but I could tell it was more than that. Her face looked sallow as she gripped the edge of the counter, not bothering with her usual cup of coffee


The laughter rang in my ears constantly.

They called themselves the Witches of Wharton Street. It had been a joke before, the three friends assuming that nickname, but after Vera died the three haggard women met each night in the cold, laughing echoey, murmury cackles around a roaring fire pit in front of Corrie Beecher’s house.

Mom knew them all from high school. She greeted them politely at neighborhood events, but said they were 'not the brightest bulbs,' which was about the meanest thing Mom ever said about anyone. Now, all they did was laugh.

After Mom got sick, I took frequent walks around the neighbourhood, bundling up without plan or purpose I continually ran into Dodie Masterson, a shy girl my age whom I almost never saw, who barely spoke to anyone. In this weird, post-Vera time, I saw Dodie every day If I was walking, she’d pass me If I sat on my front step, she’d suddenly appear on her front step.

The night Mom didn’t come down for dinner, I shut my front door behind me and there she was, Dodie, standing on her front lawn, facing our houses, hands pushed in her ski jacket pockets, hair hanging in her face.

'What are you doing out here?' I said.

'Why is the sky so dull and grey all the time?' she asked back, 'During the day, there's no

10 --

sun. And at night, there's no stars.'

'Because it's winter?' I said.

'It's technically not winter yet. And the sun often does shine in the winter, and there are always stars,' she said She pointed up past the clouds above our heads to a patch of sky above where the Witches of Wharton gathered. There, the darkness gleamed clear with constellations.

'Do you hear the laughter?' I said weakly.

'All the time,' Dodie replied. --

Dodie and I knew Vera Lane would be the only person who could shed some light on the downward spiral in our neighborhood, so in her absence we went to question her husband.

'When she died, it's like she took all the good in the world with her. I just can't seem to-,' he said, slouched in his recliner by a window

'I know, Mr Lane, I know,' I said

'I'm sorry, girls,' he said. 'Was there something you needed?'

'We came to say we notice it, too. Ever since Mrs Lane died, everything's changed.'

Dodie piped in, listing the litany of bad mojo that had swept the neighborhood, ending with my mom’s illness.


Mr Lane held up a finger as if to say just a minute, and left the room. When he returned, he handed me a slim volume I ran my fingers along the book’s spine, noting its age and wear and tear. Spells for Every Occasion.

'Vera kept this on her bedside table and read these things out loud every night of our marriage ' He went to his chair and fell into the cushions with a grunt 'She had all the faith. What little I had went with her. Keep the book. I won’t use it,' he said, handing the tattered book over to me. --

A few nights later, Dodie and I came out of our houses, drawn out by the witches’ laughter. We walked to Wharton, found a place in the hedges with a good view and hid there, listening closely to the simmering sounds. Words mixed into the hysterics, all of it unintelligible, garbled together. Walking home, I told Dodie how I said the spells out loud each night before bed.

'They're kind of nice, sort of simple: May your troubles be less and your blessings be more'

Dodie broke in, 'And nothing but happiness come through your door.'

'How do you know it?'

'I don't know. I just do. I don't like them, I don't believe in them, but I know them, all of them,' she said.

I began to recite with her, the words just coming to me. 'May you extend compassion to all that hurts within your body, mind, and spirit. May you be patient...' Weird,' Dodie said.


'Right?' I said. --

The last bad thing to happen was the microburst. For Dodie and me, the witches’ laughter became unbearable High winds and slashing rain rose out of nowhere, breaking apart the solid white sky. Houses shuddered, garbage cans and recycling bins skidded across the street, mailboxes shot off their posts, doors to sheds and garages blew open, whacking and thudding against their structures. The electricity snapped off, leaving houses cold and dark, morning coffee makers quiet and useless. The silence that followed was itself disturbing, soon cut by the whines of incoming emergency vehicles.

The next morning, I walked around the house, cranking a hand-powered radio to get the news. Apparently, the whole world around our neighborhood was just fine. I spied from my front windows and caught Dodie out in her driveway, kneeling next to her dog, prone on the blacktop. I ran outside.

'He was. Everything. To. Me,' she choked.

I put both hands on her shoulders and said, 'Well, now you have me.'

'I get along best with animals. Sorry, Meg.' Dodie said.

I had no answer for that, so I said, 'C'mon, let's do see what the witches are up to.'

On Wharton, there were no sticks or trees down. All three of the witches' houses seemed okay - a porchlight on, smoke whirling up from a chimney, each home humming with electricity. A patch of blue sky overhead allowed the sun to bathe the small section of street with warmth and light.


'Well I'm sure glad they're happy!' Dodie shouted. She wiped snot along her sleeve without care Then she took a deep breath and screamed, 'May we be blessed with good health, happiness, success, and abundance! May our homes be scared dwellings for us and our children! May those who visit us feel peace and love! We decree that these homes be shielded from harm, illness, or misfortune!'

A lone sparrow flew to a witch's roof and sat there, flapping its wings and screeching.

I joined Dodie, yelling out Mrs Lane's spells, feeling the force of them, the strength of our voices connected in rage. The porchlight clicked off and the houses fell silent.

I released the air bubble I'd unknowingly been holding in my chest. The blue sky above the witches' houses spread like spilled paint, taking over the vast whiteness. Dodie and I hung onto each other in the driveway. The sparrow took off.

Later that day, Mom came downstairs dressed in real clothes, not her pyjamas and robe. She always told her recovery story like it was a miracle, but Dodie and I knew better




The ghosts convened in the deepest part of the forest, coming together for their once-yearly meeting to discuss the haunting boundaries. Being centuries old, the forest held many bones, most of which had yet to be found Whether they’d died of natural causes or found themselves the victims of untimely deaths, the ghosts gathered united only by their desire to haunt every inch of the dirt that housed them to scare away the living. More and more people were coming to the forest: hikers, mushroom hunters, those seeking to bury things, those seeking to discover things, or those seeking to destroy things.

Centuries-old trees shivered, leaves whirling down to the moss-covered paths as ghosts drifted through walnut and oak and poplar trunks tickling each growth ring. Hundreds of ghosts floated, waiting for the chair-ghost to begin the meeting. They’d been watching the world change, watching the living erase their forest for neighbourhoods, stores, and roads. Once, when they floated above the trees, the forest stretched as far as they could see; but now it was bordered by buildings on every side. The dead didn’t agree on much, but they’d resolved to work together to keep the living away so their remaining bones, hugged by tree roots and providing playgrounds for underground creatures would remain where they lay

'We’ve gathered today to discuss saving our bones We must begin working together to


haunt our forest so well the living will fear to enter.'

The gathered ghosts agreed.

'In the last year, the northernmost expanse of the forest was lost to new homes. Old man Thomas’ bones were crushed as the excavator tore through the soil removing rocks and levelling the land. We didn’t band together then believing it was his land and his land alone. Perhaps if we had come together, we could have been a powerful force: a force unsettling enough to stop the living and drive them from the forest. I propose partnerships. Shake the trees, rustle the leaves, make the rocks roll, and make it seem that blood will flow. Wisp through their skin and shiver their souls. If we can scare the living from our forest then our final resting places will be safe and the forest itself will thrive. We will haunt not just for ourselves but all the creatures who live here. Like us, their world has become smaller, more confined. The forest exists as their last refuge. Let us not lose another tree within it.'

A chorus of agreement rose from the throng.

'And we will scare everyone? Even those walking softly over our bones?' asked a ghost wearing a beautiful, tattered wedding dress. Forced to marry one she never loved, she had run to the forest to hide and in the darkness fatally tripped the ravine cradled her bones, now covered with three centuries of forest litter.

'Yes,' the chair-ghost replied, 'we must unsettle even those that treat our forest kindly. They must leave our forest spreading stories to keep others away. They must help us grow the idea of the dead’s power within it. We must haunt them all.'

'Even children?' shouted a ghost wearing buckskins and furs. 'They can see us if we let them, even sometimes when we don’t.'


'Even children. Let them see us in the forest; let them tell their minders all about us. Let them see us plant seeds and rise from our bones Let them see us creep inside living skin and use their mouths to scream. Let them see us working together, possessing the adults and making them run helter-skelter back to their cards '

'But we will not possess the children '

'Perhaps only the very worst ones,' the chair-ghost conceded.

The ghosts agreed and began splitting into small groups, finding partners and planning their best, most scary hauntings. --

Stories of the haunted forest spread far and wide. Everyone knew someone who had run stumbling from the forest screaming, living to tell the tale. Now grandparents tell their grandchildren to walk along the forest but never within it. Curious children walk as close as they dare, hoping to see the spirits watching them through the trees and they are never disappointed

The dead’s forest thrives and their bones remain, safely nestled in darkness The living leave the dead alone and the dead enjoy their deaths in peace, eternally.



Fly by, butterfly

Go your own way

There's plenty of flowers

To alight on today.

Fly by, butterfly

Do as you please

With wings soft as feathers

You fly with such ease

Fly by, butterfly

Be happy you're free

And that you're not held

In civilization, like me.



The coming year wasn’t a significant year It wasn’t the start of a new millennium, not a new century, not even a new decade. But Olive needed a significant change. So at midnight, when promise and magic tied to wishes, when the last year became the past as the new year became the now, Olive made a resolution: I will be seen.

Briefly after her promise to herself, Olive walked the short hallway of the apartment. She took a left into the smaller bedroom. She climbed into the bed, tucking herself in neatly without disturbing the boy.

She turned to the sleeping child and, although he had never heard her before, Olive whispered, This year, I’m going to be seen, Brayden. I made a promise to myself and the universe that I will be seen. Maybe it’ll be you who sees me.

Olive giggled as she rolled over to her side. The boy shivered and gave a little whimper in his sleep.

Brayden felt like death. He slunk out of bed, padding across the carpet in his socks. He grabbed a robe, a knit cap, and fingerless gloves The chill from the night before was still


stuck to his spine. He felt it radiating into his elbows and behind his belly button.

Every time the girl with icy breath visited, warmth evaded him for hours.

Brayden’s mother scraped the pan of scrambled eggs onto the platter at the kitchen table She looked over the pan to her son Her smile dropped as her gaze caught his hat

'You look rough, bud,' his father said. Brayden’s eyes felt heavy like stones. He was certain his dad was right. His mother flashed him a sympathetic look. 'He’s had another bad dream.'

'It wasn’t a bad dream,' Brayden argued. 'It was the girl with icy breath. She comes into my room and sleeps in my bed and she came last night. My arms get goosebumps when she talks. I got goosebumps last night. She’s real, Mom. She’s not a bad dream, she’s real.'

'What does she say to you?' his mother asked as she plated the eggs and the bacon, then the butter on toast She set the dish before him She cupped his cheek Her hand felt like steam against his skin.

'I don’t know,' he admitted. 'I never understand her. It’s like a wind with no push.'

Brayden scrunched in his seat, tugging his robe tighter around him He pouted He was ten-years-old, but his parents acted as though he were a small child. He knew right from wrong, real from fantasy. 'I know when she’s in my bed, Dad. I know, because I feel her breath and it makes me cold.'

'Have you ever seen the icy girl?'

'No, but I know she’s there,' Brayden whined. 'I can feel her.'


His parents exchanged a look. They exchanged many looks since they’d moved into the apartment last summer Ever since the girl with icy breath He hated that they didn’t believe she was more than a recurring nightmare.

He stabbed his eggs with his fork. The food warmed his mouth, shaking loose some of the night’s chill He would spend the day wearing extra layers When he went to bed that night, maybe the girl with icy breath would not show up. His heart dropped at this wish. She always showed up. --

Brayden was a whiner, constantly complaining about being cold. He doesn't know hot, thought Olive. She knew hot, though. One night when she still lived with her parents, Olive felt the hottest hot. It was a heat which crisped her skin, crackled the air in her lungs, blinded her sense.

It forced her to sleep despite all of the pain. There was darkness with hot.

When she woke after the hot sleep, she no longer felt... anything. There was nothing left behind but loneliness Then the construction workers came They were company who did not take notice of her. Instead they took down the broken and burned walls, put up fresh drywall. They hammered, painted, and laid new carpet and laminate flooring. When the construction workers left, Brayden’s family moved in.

He was much younger than her then. Now he was eight months younger. She felt their age difference sometimes. He was so annoying, with his whining about how he was always cold. Scowling and grumpy most days. And he called her the girl with icy breath.


How absolutely rude.

But there were times Olive liked Brayden. When he played with his LEGOs, spreading cities over the living room floor When he told punny jokes to his mom and dad who rolled their eyes, but laughed anyway. He was loud and obnoxious, but then he could sit silent for hours with a book, reading

Brayden was cute in a little brother sort of way.

Olive followed Brayden to the bathroom after breakfast. She looked at him in the mirror as he brushed his teeth, scowling. She wore a heavy smile, but said nothing.

He yanked his hat from his head, dropping it onto the bathroom floor. His hair was a dishevelled mess. He spat the toothpaste into the sink, tossed his brush into its cup, then used both hands to flatten his hair in place.

He looked ridiculous, like a disgruntled elf, so Olive laughed.

Brayden froze, his eyes widening Before Olive could open her mouth to apologize with words he could not hear, Brayden grabbed his cap, pulled it back onto his head, then raced from the bathroom, shouting, 'Mom!'

Olive’s heart broke a little more She was never going to get her New Year’s wish–her afterlife’s wish–to come true. --

Winter melted away to spring, but Brayden couldn’t shake the cold. The girl with icy breath lingered in every corner of his home. It was growing too much. He didn’t know what she wanted from him. His nerves were frayed.


He only wanted to be warm again.

Curled under his dad’s arm on the sofa, he shivered. His father wore a cotton tee and an unbuttoned flannel Brayden wore his robe, his knit cap, his fingerless gloves over a sweatshirt. He tucked into himself, desperate for the heat from both his father’s and his bodies as they watched the movie

Brayden couldn’t follow it. His fingers felt stiff, the skin cold and blue-ing. The girl with icy breath had talked all night long. It was a miracle he’d managed a few winks before his alarm went off for school. When he got home from school, his father exchanged a look with his mother, then suggested they cuddle on the couch to watch a movie together. He punched his fists into his armpits.

Brayden’s mom walked into the living room, the smell of popcorn floating about her. She plopped onto the seat next to her boys. She peeked from the corner of her eye as she handed the bowl to Brayden. 'You okay, sweetie?'

He dug a hand into the popcorn. Several kernels clung to the knit of his gloves as he shovelled the rest into his mouth 'I’m fine,' he mumbled

Another look was shared over his head

His mom laid her knuckles against his cheek. She frowned, then tugged the throw blanket free from the back of the sofa, draping it over her son. 'You’re always cold, baby.'

'I know, Mom.' Ice coated his words.

His father said, 'Brayden, watch your tone.'


Brayden stood up and spun around to face his parents, hugging the aluminium popcorn bowl to his chest 'My tone is because I’m cold I’m always cold '

'We’ve turned the heat up '

His cheeks burned He threw the bowl onto the floor

'Brayden!' his mother gasped.

'Pick that up now,' his father ordered.

Tears pricked his eyes. 'It doesn’t matter if you turn the heat up. It’s the girl with icy breath. She talks all night long and makes me cold. I feel her breath and I can’t get warm again. It’s her. It’s her fault!'

His dad exchanged a defeated look with his wife. 'Maybe,' he began softly, 'we need to consider moving.' Brayden’s mother nodded.

The room’s temperature plummeted A crackling frost crept along the aluminium bowl

Brayden’s mom leapt from her seat She grabbed her son, pulling him into her body

He pressed his tear-streaked face into her belly 'She’s real,' he wept 'She’s real, she’s real, she’s real.'

She kissed the top of his knit cap. 'I know, sweetie.'

'We’re moving,' said his father. 'I’ll notify the apartment manager tomorrow.'


Olive waited outside the bathroom. She thought about what to do next. Pleading with Brayden each night for him to see her, for him to understand her, hadn’t been working Then she went and yelled last night, making things much worse.

She regretted losing her temper and screaming. She hadn’t meant to. However, hearing his parents talk about moving away was too much She panicked If they left, the loneliness would kill her–again. What could she do if all she had was icy breath?

Then inspiration ignited. A quick flash of brilliance.

Olive worried her tantrum in the living room would disrupt Brayden’s evening routine, but no, he was still on track. Bathroom, shower, brush his teeth. The shower turned off, steam wafting from the crack under the door. She waited.

It wasn’t long before his mother came into the short hallway She knocked gently on the door. 'Honey, remember to brush your teeth.'

The door flung inwards. 'Mom, I know,' he retorted. He held out his toothbrush and the tube of toothpaste for her to witness Water dripped from his wet locks which had escaped his knit cap.

'Okay, baby. Just checking,' said Brayden’s mother. Olive rushed through the open doorway. Her once-heart pounded. As the boy squeezed an obscene glob of toothpaste onto his brush, Olive spoke. Not to him, but at the mirror.

Her breath frosted over the steam. She etched in it, I want to be friends.


Brayden gawked at the words apparating before him, his toothbrush dangling from his lips with minty bubbles slipping down the handle The heated air of the bathroom dissipated, clearing the mirror of everything but Olive’s words and his image. His eyes darted to over his reflection’s shoulder

'Friends?' his voice quivered

Olive’s soul tingled. She spoke at the mirror again, tracing the words into the icy fog. I’m Olive.

'Hi Olive.' Brayden trembled. 'You’re the girl with icy breath.'

With unencumbered glee, she laughed. She spoke and wrote. I am. She wiped the frosty fog away, then said-wrote, I’m sorry for making you cold.

The boy plucked the toothbrush from his mouth. He swiped his mouth free of the toothpaste, wiping the mess onto his pyjama pants.

'You’re real,' he said 'Aren’t you?'

Olive grinned I’m real

'I knew it!'

The girl with the icy breath told the boy what she had wanted to say since she woke from the hot sleep. You can see me.




Eat healthier. Exercise more. Be more outgoing – whatever that means.

They’re all just a bunch of crap. Half-assed goals people give up on by February.

But not me I’m different I’m resolute in my resolutions Well, just the one really

See, I keep my goals simple Keep them down to one word: grow

There’s a lot of beauty in that word In all the shapes and sizes it allows me to be, letting me define success any way I want to. It allows me to grow bigger. Grow faster. Grow stronger. Grow more... influential in a way.

If sentience has taught me anything, it’s that you have to set goals for yourself. And so far this year, I think I’m doing just fine.

I’ve taken over half a square mile of town already. I’ve grown under and over their roads, through their houses and their shops, even begun my little assault on the people themselves.

Every time I breathe, I send out a few more of my little spores – my children, myself. They live in the air, on their clothes, in their lungs. And every day they – we – grow. Grow bigger faster stronger


I am

we are

everywhere. Growing every day in every way. That’s what success looks like And they’re helpless to stop me

Yes, overall, I think I’m doing quite well for myself this year I can’t wait to see what the rest of new year has in store.




We are the moon and the lake.

We are never able to touch each other. We are never able to mix each other. But we are in the same space where only serenity floats with the melody of eternity Your vulnerability wanders on my shroud. My affection cocoons your deepest light. We are the moon and the lake.




There are many different types of woods in the world

The kind that are harmless pathways from one opening to another The kind that keep the monsters of the world hidden from humanity. The kind that houses those who do not fit in

But there is only one forest, known as Owl Wilds woods, that can do something extraordinary. There is nothing that will kill you in Owl Wilds, no souls live there, and no danger stays there. But if you so happen to wander in dying and fall dead amongst the trees and leaves, you will not just pass onto the next life or be at peace like you are meant to.

Owl Wilds will do something else instead. As Cherry is about to find out.

She is lost, a not uncommon familiarity in her life. Being able to go out into the world and see what beauty the lands and skies hold came with conditions. And the main condition is to always be able to find home. Trouble is, every tree looks the same and every path seems to wind the wrong way Nothing is pointing to home

Her only choice is to keep going backwards, re-trace every step and hope familiarity


soon comes. Then, she remembers passing a cliff that overlooks the wide wilderness and surely she would be able to see the right path back It doesn’t take long for her to find it, the ledge being much small than she remembers.

Be cautious, be careful, she thinks, something her father would tell her to repeat in risky situations Thankfully, she can hold onto a tree just in case, to be cautious, to be careful It’s just her luck that both below and around has just more trees and nothing else. There is one thing different, however, that catches Cherry’s eye. The trees just below, close to the cliff’s edge, are in a different season. They don’t belong in the sweltering summer, fresh as flowers, like their siblings near them. The leaves are dark, the colour Cherry isn’t sure about without a closer look, and the trees grow, farther pass their siblings, onto the side of the cliff.

The problem with such a phenomenon is that it brings too much curiosity. The words burn in the back on her mind be cautious, be careful, be cautious, be careful but it’s not enough to save her from her hand slipping and her feet from fumbling.

Falling at such height does not render Cherry unconscious so she feels every blow and every crack her body sustains as she knocks against two trees before the forest floor swallows her, making her feel the impact pulsate through her whole body. The force of Cherry hitting such grounds does not kill her, but is killing her, as slowly as it can Something she does not deserve just because of curiosity.

Cherry tries to move but stops immediately as the pain consumes her too much and her limbs would not move as they should. There wasn’t a breeze earlier but lying there, waiting for death to take her, she feels the leaves moving around her, kissing her face as they move over her.

'Well now,' a voice says. 'Who are you?' Ah, hope. A tricky thing that can either save you or ruin you further. The voice is feminine and comes across as kind, but never trust


someone on the tone of their voice.

Cherry thinks the person is just out of her eyeline. 'Please, I feel. I need an ambulance.'

‘I didn’t ask what you need, I asked who you are.’

Although she’s in a lot of pain, she knows it’s better to do what they are asking. ‘I’m Cherry.’

‘What a lovely name.’ While kind, the voice is also dull and not as helpful as Cherry imagines. ‘I am Owl Wilds, a pleasure.’ Cherry whimpers while trying to move. ‘It’ll be over soon, do not worry.’

Cherry barely hears what the voice is saying, so instead asks, ‘do you have a phone? Or do you live nearby?’

‘I live here.’

Cherry groans with frustration ‘Just, please, walk to the nearest house and ask them to call an ambulance.’

‘I have no legs.’

‘I-I’m sorry?’ Cherry tries to turn her head to see a figure, but she can feel her open wounds flow from her faster.

Cherry feels the tones and notes of the voice close to her ear. ‘And we have no need for houses, I keep us sheltered, I keep us safe.’

It is hard for Cherry to understand what Owl Wilds means, with her life leaving her and


the pain claiming her. She has to try, one more time. 'I'm begging you. Please get someone '

'There won't be long left in this life, this shell of yours ' Owl Wilds says, in a soothing tone. 'Then you can join us.'

There's no more words Cherry can give, the energy is draining from her quickly now. She hears footsteps and that flicker comes back for a second but, as we know, hope is a tricky thing.

Several figures stand over her, watching her die. They are not human, however, and do not resemble a being at all. They look like animals but are distorted, their frames altered and twisted like their limbs were sewn back together. And their eyes, their eyes glow red, it screams of danger. Yet, they don’t hurt Cherry.

They are alive, but no souls can be found.

The children watch over her as she leaves the flesh, her chest no longer rising. They watch as the body distorts and the bones bend to shape into something new, something more fitting for Owl Wilds. Her old eyes fall out as the new ones grow and take shape. There is breath once again in the child called Cherry

‘Welcome, my dear,’ Owl Wilds says, and Cherry stands once more, on all four legs That will be the last you hear her name, however, as there are no names in these woods.

Owl Wilds can do something extraordinary; it can keep you sheltered; it can keep you safe.




I am a wandering soul, lost between the planes of existence. The world seems so new, and I am afraid. How did I get here? Where is here? Where have I been? Where am I going? I glide across the floor out into the pastures of flowers.

I look into the eyes of the animals, they can see me, and it is good. Their eyes follow me as I move through the field. I come upon a group of people. They do not see me. I try to get their attention It is no use

I catch a glimpse of a little one being held by their mother They look at me, they point The mother looks up and looks past me, looks through me, looks all around. She can’t see me, just like the others

The mother is crying. She is distraught. She grips the child, holding on as her chest heaves. She holds on, more for her sake than the child’s, I think. Finally, I see what the people are gathered around.

It’s a person laying motionless. He is dead. I am dead. He is me. Who am I? I don’t know. I’m a wandering soul, and the world seems so new. Where did I come from? Where am I heading?

I continue through the pasture, unsure of what lies ahead of me. Unsure of if I am going the right way. But still I continue.


the lights turn on.



i wake up with a ghost at my feet. she does not speak. she never does. i wonder if she hates me. i wonder who tied me to her eyes & decided that i should never fly. i wonder who pressed terror into my chest when i thought i knew who i was. half-formed, halfawake i am lonely, i am lost, & i am so, so terrified of all the things i cannot see

in the dark // i am in the dark // she is the dark // i am drowning in the dark

& i wonder if fear is what defines us, as the ghost creeps ever closer i wonder if we are just vessels for the terror, vessels for the trembling. i tell this to the ghost. she does not speak she never does i’m pretty sure she hates me i wonder why she haunts me i wonder if i’m the one haunting her.

the lights go out.




My grandad lived twice. When I tell people that, they don’t really understand me. I suppose I can’t blame them; they probably don’t believe me because they’re too busy wondering, ‘What makes her so special that her grandad can come back and mine can’t?’

Honestly, the answer is nothing.

It started exactly how one would expect for a man of his age After all, he was only a year off reaching ninety, so it was probably natural that his health began to decline. Symptoms included the nasty chest cough that rattled in his chest like a snake slithering its way up his throat; scabs forming atop his bald head as if he were slowly moulding and decaying; eyes that wept themselves closed with gunk that no tears could wash away...

Grandad had already lost all his teeth years before – as a young boy, he had a fear of dentists which if I were living back then, I wouldn’t have blamed him. Especially since he had apparently woken up on the dentist floor after an appointment. Like a disease of its own breed, stubbornness had settled in him early, and after that one appointment, he was adamant to do all his dental care himself. That included wobbling his teeth out, one jiggle and jive at a time, until he had none to keep his dentures in during mealtimes as the old man I knew and remember him as.

I'd tell him on his visits as an eager six-year-old how many teeth I had lost, hoping he'd be excited for me that I'd be the tooth-fairy's favourite.


Except he’d beat me to it and tell me he’d already robbed them dry. 'No money left for you, Sam, I’ve got all their money now,' his old voice would croak out in a deadpan reply until I’d run to my mum blubbering. In hindsight, what a dick move.

I don’t think phobias are hereditary, but I’m certain that it was him who added fuel to the fire of my own phobia of dentists Initially, it was courtesy of the Johnny Depp adaption of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Something about that dental headgear little Willy Wonka had to wear looked more like a medieval torture device than an efficient form of straightening teeth. No knight in shining armour would want to wear that for protection! There were so many times we would be at a restaurant, and he’d scramble up, slowly but suddenly, to go to the bathroom and glue his false gnashers back in – or he would just take them out there and then to gum his food. If turtles could do it, so could he, I guess?

When he would visit, I would always snuggle up into his side on the sofa, resting my head upon his soft, sweatered chest. My mum said his sweater smelt of ‘the elderly’ , a distinctive musk of aging To me, it was comforting Warm When I’d rest upon him, he’d try to shake me off him and call it ‘cupboard love’ , but wink at me and let me snuggle in deeper Loving him only to get something in return for it Silly man, he called it that all he liked, but what I wanted from him was nothing but his love in return of my own.

We were never a religious family, my immediate family, so we never went to mass or anything. Instead we had our traditional, routinely video-call every Sunday. That was church for us; a weekly reunion with family from afar over screen. During video-calls, us kids would tell him about our week then run off when we were finished or hide on the other side of the camera to watch and listen to our mum talk to him. He’d complain about the weather –'It’s pissing it down raining and I can’t go outside to do my weeding in the bloody garden!' – or other events he’d overheard on the news. Sometimes we’d


talk about my cousins back overseas.

'He's a shirt-lifted,' I once heard him say about one of my older cousins. 'There's so many of them on the telly these days, it's disgusting to have it on display for every normal person to stumble across.'

'Mum, what's a shirt-lifter?' My brother had asked my mum, tugging her own shirt at the sleeve to get her attention. She didn’t answer him, but I looked it up myself in my bedroom later that night. Google told me it meant: ‘(noun) a homosexual man who lifts up other men’s' shirts, to gain a view of their exposed chests, from which he will glean homoerotic pleasure, British slang’ . I didn’t understand why it was called that. Didn’t everyone lift their shirts up? How else would they get changed, or have a shower? Didn’t men do that to women? I remember looking at my laptop, only twelve years old at the time, wondering what a shirt-lifter would be called if it was between two women.

I don’t think I found the answer I was looking for but talk about a great way of finding out the word that described feelings of my own since childhood that I didn’t dare mention during any of our other calls.

‘Lesbian: (noun) relating to gay women or to homosexuality in women’ .

I never got to tell my grandad about myself though.

By the time he passed away, I had known – properly, fully, known – who I was for seven years. Nor did he get to see me finally get my driver’s license, or my university degree. He had become a stranger in his own home. Eyes glued together with gunge. He didn’t want to leave his seat out of fear of falling. As a result, I hid more from our weekly video calls. The pain made him miserable. His pain made me miserable. I lost comfort in our


religion. I didn't want to see him out of the fear that his pain would end in the way we dreaded

The year after he died, my parents got a dog Not necessarily to fill the empty space my grandad's death had created. You can't replace an old man with a puppy. Obviously.

My parents named the puppy Hank. I called him Hank the Himbo.

When my mum first held him in her arms, she looked smitten. We watched her cradle him in her arms. She looked down at him with a sappy smile, almost as if she was prouder of him than me or any of my siblings... which is pretty unfair. I mean, he didn't get a degree, but he was cuter than me so I'll give him that. Then -

'He just winked at me!' She had gasped. 'He just winked at me with his great blue eyes just like my dad would! He's like my dad reincarnated!'

She made a mistake saying that. I took it and ran away with it.

Whenever Hank was hungry, he cried Like a literal baby would Then when he finally did get to eat, he gobbled it up as if it was his last meal on death-row.

'It’s ’cause he’s finally got his teeth,' I would explain to no one in particular.

Hank would demolish that bowl of dog biscuits like a wrecking ball to an old building – not exactly the same as how Miley Cyrus did it, but both were naked and used a whole lot of tongue.

When I’d get home from a long day of uni, he would be the first to greet me at the door. He’d try to use that tongue on me. He would jump up, to try to climb me like a tree, and give me sloppy kiss-like licks all over my face. Then, when I’d sit down on the sofa next


to him, after dumping my backpack down to properly stroke him, he’d hop off to go out the dog flap or squirm gruffly to shove me off him

'Cupboard love,' I would tell my mum who would be watching us from the kitchen, chopping up vegetables for dinner, 'he thinks it’s just cupboard love.'

Of course, as she would be doing that, Hank would be circling her ankles, pestering her for chopped chunks of carrots. As if he had forgotten all about my attempts to snuggle with him.

Once Hank started to get juvenile acne, when he was still a little stinker, Mum fed him sardines every morning to make his coat nice and shiny, silky like velvet. Sardines with his dog biscuits apparently was the best way to keep his skin clear and combat all his lumps and bumps. It reminded me of Grandad’s bald and scabbed head before he passed, but I knew better than to bring that up.

Some mornings when we would be eating our own breakfast, we wouldn’t be able to find him anywhere. Almost as if he’d decided to play hide-and-seek, but not tell us. Eventually, we’d find him by sticking our head out of the dog-flap and there he would be, curled up in a ball like a soft and smooth jellybean. Snoozing and sunbathing, finally free of wet weather and cold rains

After plenty of months of telling everyone about all of these signs, all of these ways I believed my grandad had come back, my parents ultimately sat me down. It was time for an intervention.

My parents warned me that if I kept seeing him as Grandad reincarnated, it would only make things harder when Hank would pass away.


That I would have to prepare for the fact that when he’d pass away, I’d lose my grandad twice

At the time, I thought it was bang out of order a dog act if you will, no pun intended I’d just gotten my grandad back and now they were telling me I could lose him again? Yeah, sure, keep dreaming, buddy Hank and I were going to be best friends until the grave – and I mean, both of ours. It did make me have an existential crisis. I thought about all the things I wanted but hadn’t yet done. All the things my grandad had probably wanted to do before getting sick. I would still cling onto Hank being like my grandad, but at the end of the day he was just the family’s dog. He was an ‘individual’, my parents warned me as if they were cool youth pastors. Thinking about the things I had wanted but not yet done still drove me crazy most nights. I decided to give in. Life could be equally short as it was equally long. On the day of cutting my shoulder length hair down to a cropped, chopped look with a baby mohawk, I was nervous as to what Hank would think. I got into my car and strapped my seatbelt in but didn’t start the car straight after I had to let my anxious mind run for a few minutes. I’d wanted the haircut since I was a young teen, mostly on the masculine side of femininity, but I knew it could carry the stereotypes and negative connotations that it was something that could transform me from a sexually ambiguous, ‘good girl’ into the cliched and conventional shirt-lifter I was gay, I had known that for years, but I was still me.

I don’t even know why I had let my anxiety be a moron. Hank greeted me as he usually did once I got home; by chaotically licking my face as if he wanted to dig a hole in my cheek with his tongue. Then when he got sick of that, he plodded out the dog flap to sunbathe. He was just a dog being a bloody dog. What the hell was wrong with me? Overthinking yet again.


I decided to put Grandad's - no, Hank's - love to the test a few months after.

One afternoon when we were ready to go home from the park, I let him sit in the passenger seat next to me I was dying to let him know I had been stewing over the idea for ages, most nights before bed. I had to tell him. I didn’t want to lose my second chance Maybe he wouldn’t understand, maybe he would What if he barked at me or growled in disapproval? What if he refused to let me walk him or take him to the park again?

I looked Hank in the eyes. Trying to get a dog to maintain eye contact with you is hard, might I add. I don’t even know how I managed to maintain his focus on me for as long as I did.

'Hank,' I began, my words shaking. Why was I so nervous? He was just a dog for Pete’s sake. He wasn’t going anywhere now, anyway, sitting tired in the seat next to me. I didn’t owe him anything, even if he was my grandad reincarnated. 'I have something to tell you.'

Hank kept the eye contact, his big eyes looking at me with his ears flipped back He did that whenever he thought he was in trouble or when he thought an argument was happening Whenever someone raised their voice at home, he either fought – by giving big licks to whoever was sat down that he thought was shouting – or he flew – out the dog flap to avoid potential conflict Duality of man

'I’m-I’m quite nervous to tell you, so um, uh, I’ll get out with it as quick-quick as I can,' I stammered. I continued to look in his general direction but did the trick of looking behind him so that it looked like I was maintaining eye contact. I took a deep breath. Then, 'I'm gay. Um, I'm a shirt-lifted. I, uh, I remember you calling Liam one years ago, and um, I'm the same except I like girls.'



Was he disappointed? Had I broken our bond?

A beat passed.

Then– two strong, front paws pushed themselves up against my chest. Slop, slick, slap. Licks on my cheeks. Kisses on my face. It was almost like he was hugging me at the same time. We stayed like that for a few minutes until he got sick of it, then he sat down, continuing to look me in the eye. I watched him closely for any sign of discomfort. And I swear, just as I looked away, ready for us to start the drive home, he winked at me.




Cover Artist

Leylah is an illustrator working in a wide range of mediums - from physical to digital, big or small, sculpted or drawn - willing to try her hand at anything. She creates work drawing upon specific interests in horror and the supernatural as well as incorporating whimsy and colourful detail with her work accumulating into a sort of quaint, miniature, haunted house. You can find her on Instagram, and on her website


Freya is a prose and screen writer from West Yorkshire, currently living and studying in Belfast. Her favourite things are old music, Jane Austen and peppermint tea. Freya has previously been published in Queen's University Belfast's literary magazine, The Apiary, and the Musings Publications monthly newsletter You can find her on Twitter @frazzleselliott, and on Instagram @ freyaelliott .



Saturday Night Seance

Eve Greenlow (she/they) is a black and queer writer who was born and raised in the golden state of California. Her Scorpio nature gave her a love of writing, horror movies, and true crime Her work has appeared in Trash to Treasure Lit, tiny frights, Many Nice Donkeys, lavender bones, Troublemaker Firestarter, and The Paper Crow. She is currently earning her MFA in Creative Writing from City College of New York. You can find her on Twitter @earthsfirstlady, and on Instagram @e.liz.g


The Book of Spells

Maggie Nerz Iribarne is 53, lives in Syracuse, NY, writes about witches, cleaning ladies, struggling teachers, neighborhood ghosts, and other things. She keeps a portfolio of her published work at https://www maggienerziribarne com Her story, The Book of Spells, was previously published in Manawaker Studio's Flash Fiction Podcast in October 2022.


The Forest of the Dead

By day, Kathryn helps students investigate words’ power; by night, she resurrects goddesses and ghosts, spinning new speculative tales. Enjoy poetry in Shadow Atlas: Dark Landscapes of the Americas, Last Girls Club, Willow Tree Swing, Blink Ink and fiction in Tree and Stone, Seaside Gothic, Diet Milk, Apologue of the Immortals, and Elly Blue Publishing. Her two rescue mutts, Savvie and Roxy Razzamatazz, hear all the stories first sometimes in a treehouse. When she’s not writing, she’s rewilding her suburban backyard. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @Katecanwrite.



Fly By, Butterfly

Mona Mehas (she/her) writes about growing up poor, accumulating grief, and climate change A retired, disabled teacher in Indiana, USA, Mona previously used the pseudonym Patience Young. She's published in journals, anthologies, and museums. Mona is a Trekkie and enjoys watching Star Trek shows and movies in chronological order. Follow on Twitter @Patienc77732097 and .


The Girl With Icy Breath

L.T. (she/her) writes mostly speculative fiction shorts and novels while spending her days raising her children and satisfying her never-ending thirst for knowledge through reading, meeting people, and first-hand life experiences. She writes for various age groups and has several published short stories in the literary, horror, historical, fantasy, and speculative fiction genres. Readers can find her on Twitter: @Ltward2, Instagram: @ltward.writer, Goodreads:, or her website:


A.C. Bauer is a horror writer who grew up on classic 90s slashers. His work has appeared in The Wicked Library and a dark drabble anthology from Black Hare Press. He lives in the American Southwest with his wife and three cats. He can be found on Twitter @A BauerWrites or at acbauerwrites com



Yuu Ikeda (she/they) is a Japan based poet She loves writing, reading novels, western art, and sugary coffee. She writes poetry on her website, which you can find at Her latest poetry collection “A Knife She Holds” was published from Newcomer Press. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @yuunnnn77


The Children of Owl Wilds

Lauren (she/they) is a library assistant by day and writer by night She is the author of YOUR DARLING DEATH (28/04/23) and LET'S ALL GO TO THE LOBBY. She has published several story stories including ALIVE, JUST with The Horror Tree, THE SACRIFICES WE MAKE with Rooster Republic Press (18/09/23), THE DAMNED WITH THE DEAD and the flash fiction: TEETH WITH ROTTEN SKIN. You can find all of their links and socials here: https://sleek bio/writerlcarter


The Wanderer

C. D. Kester is an author of fiction who does most of his work in the horror genre. He lives in Kingwood, Texas with his wife and two children. Kester recently published his first full length novel, Chasing Demons with Alien Buddha Press. His first self-published work is a novella titled The Bunker. He also had a short story published in Dreadful Nostalgia: Tavistock Galleria 2, a drabble in the Route 13 Anthology, a short story in Horror Tree’s Trembling with Fear Summer Special, a short story read on The Night’s End Podcast, a short story read on the Horror Hill podcast, a short story to be published with Saurischian Press, and two more short stories to be published with Alien Buddha Press. You can follow him on his blog at and Twitter @cd kester, and Instagram @cdkester



Vi Oliver Quill (they/he) is a teen writer and student from Washington State. They enjoy reading, playing double bass, and spending time with their cats. He can usually be found hiding in a corner and drinking alarming amounts of tea.


New Dog, Old Tricks

Jas Saunders is a recent Honours (Creative Writing) graduate from the University of Western Australia, with an undergrad in English Lit and Public Health. Like most writers, she began as a child – her first story being Pokémon fanfiction. Her writing has been published in UWA’s Pelican and Peafowl magazines, Queensland’s Blue Bottle Journal, Perth’s youth magazine Pulch, and recently in Just Femme And Dandy Mag. Her thesis recorded how the ghost can serve as a form of hope for the future and as a mentor figure within bildungsromans/coming-of-age narratives, subverting genre expectations. Her writing interests often focus on - but are not limited to - liminal spaces, nostalgia, and memory, with representation her younger self would have desired to see. You can find her on Twitter @JTownHofT, and on Instagram @jassaunders and @jassaunders writes

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