modern bestiary SWORD & KETTLE PRESS
modern bestiary FEATURING ALEX VIGUE, ELIZABETH LOVATT, TRISTAN MADISON, & DAVE RILEY
SWORD & KETTLE PRESS
ÂŠ 2017 Sword & Kettle Press. Authors retain the rights to their work. Headings set in Lora, designed by Olga Karpushina. Text set in Source Sans Pro, designed by Paul D. Hunt. Cover photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash. Second digital edition. Although we love exploring new fantasy worlds, this issue speaks to weirdness in our own world. Special thanks to Mark & Fran Allen, all dogs (but especially our dogs), and everyone who supports Sword & Kettle Press. Sword & Kettle Press Kayla Allen, Editor-in-Chief Zahan Mehta, Contributing Editor swordandkettlepress.com
THE PARASITE Alex Vigue There is a parasite that lives in the ceiling of Target. It slides along the rafters and clings to the fluorescent lights. It has lived there since 1962. The parasite only sleeps when no one is there; on holidays and between the hours of 3am and 6am. It has bones and a spine but only barely. Its skeleton is soft, it can bend to crawl between isles and maneuver through shelves. Everyone that works at Target must wear red but the parasite is not red. It cannot be seen in the visible spectrum of light. It can hide on the fast, fun, and friendly khaki pant legs of Target team members. The parasite feeds on the sound of children screaming. That is why it lives at Target; there is an abundance screaming children. Hungry newborns wail for their mother’s food supply. The parasite takes large gulps of the noise. Bratty children throw tantrums on the linoleum floors of the toy department. Their whiney cries are savory and filling. The parasite’s belly grows wide and hangs low like a loose telephone wire. The parasite’s favorite meal is dessert. Parents shop at ten o’ clock at night, pulling their over-tired children along. Small feet guided by adult hands, child-eyes closed. The parasite waddles closer, drooling in anticipation. Something wakes the child from their walking slumber. A parent’s impatience. An employee’s too-wide, forced smile. Small eyes open and the child is not home in bed in the comforting glow of their Target-brand nightlight. They are assaulted by the sickly fluorescent light. They fear the emptiness of late-night Target. It is hollow and cold. Their cry shatters the manufactured peace. A fat parasite is a happy parasite.
DARKER WEEDS Elizabeth Lovatt Father brought no Scottish folktales with him to England, only an accent low and shy and an instinctive distrust of Southern men. But stories are strong—they are seeds thrown on rocky ground, and it is shadowy weeds that thrive best in such harsh conditions and soon outgrow pretty flowers. ••• Mother warned my brother David and I about the brook which ran along the bottom of the garden and was the boundary between our domain and the open farmland beyond. My brother, being several years younger, was not to play there without my supervision—never mind that the water was barely a trickle. As is the privilege of older siblings, I made David endure a thousand invented grievances, holding the promise of the brook over him like a special charm to force him to do my bidding. David would bear it all without a word once the brook was threatened. He was small for his age but had a will of iron, unmatched by even Father’s stubbornness. We played there often—simple games—constructing dams from twigs and leaves or making boats and little vessels to race down the brook, captained by unlucky spiders or wood bugs. The water itself was unimpressive and turned a reddish brown from the soil and stones below and on either side was flanked by steep muddy banks. We visited the brook almost every day that summer with nothing to trouble us but our own selfish nature and petty squabbles. And then one day, it was our sanctuary no longer and darker weeds overtook our childish bloom. ••• The morning was warm and breezy and held the promise of idle hours. Mother pushed us outside as soon as we had breakfasted, keen to keep us out from underfoot. We headed straight for the bottom of the garden, passing the line of overripe cherry trees and Father’s failed allotment. The garden was long and dipped down at the bottom to reveal a wild assortment of bushes and overgrown bramble and beyond that lay our brook, quite concealed from the house.
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That day I made up a new game: we would take turns to jump from bank to bank until one of us failed to clear the brook and would have to pay a forfeit of the other’s devising. The only rule was that each jump must be made from further back each time so that successive jumps would be of an ever increasing distance. Run-ups, I declared, were strictly forbidden. David agreed at once, as I knew he would. In my memory I see him always looking up at me with eager eyes and a need for approval which I gave and withheld with an innocent wickedness so common in children. I went first, tanned legs easily hopping the brook and landing on the farmer’s side. On my brother’s turn, as I guessed he would, he started too far away from the edge of the bank—he never could think ahead. I smiled and began to plan his forfeit. We went on this way for three or four more goes. I cleared the brook each time with little difficulty. David struggled on his attempts, landing once with a cry and twisting his ankle underneath him. When I asked if he wanted to give up he shook his head and frowned. We played on. My brother lost the next round, slipping off the bank and falling into the middle of the brook, knees first, hands shooting out too late to stop himself. He stayed like that on all fours, hands and legs submerged in the inch of water and then started to wail. I raced over and grabbed him by the middle to drag him halfway up onto the bank. I had pulled him up onto the farmer’s side without thinking. He tucked his legs beneath him and sat hunched and crying, clutching at his right hand. A thin line of blood welled up from his clenched hands and dripped onto the grass and down into the water. “Wait there,” I said and leapt back over the brook and ran up the garden. “It’s alright, David just tripped and bashed his hand. Nothing to worry about!” I shouted to my mother who stood at the kitchen window wearing her old yellow apron, an unpeeled potato in one hand. She nodded and waved and seeing me wave back returned to her work. It was easier to sort David out myself—Mother only fussed and Father already thought living in the South had made us soft. ••• I returned to David to find a boy beside him that I’d never seen before. He looked about my age and wore a cotton shirt and shorts much like our own, only both were black. But his hair was the strangest thing: it was the gritty colour of charcoal and long—reaching untethered and arrow-straight to the small of his back. One hand rested on David’s shoulder where he sat still sobbing, the boy had stooped over to whisper in his ear.
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“Excuse me?” I said from across the brook. “Was it you who called me?” the boy said, straightening up. His voice sounded older than his smooth long face suggested. “That’s my brother. He fell and hurt his hand.” I thought he might have heard David crying and come to help. “Well, he fell on the wrong side,” the boy said, and added in a tired tone, “Come take him back, then, if he belongs to you.” “I’m sorry—it was an accident.” I held my hand out over the brook. “C’mon, David, get up now.” He made no sign of having heard me. I called to him again and when that didn’t work I tried my usual threats—Mother would be mad, Father would be disappointed, we would never be allowed to play here again if he didn’t get up this second. But he wouldn’t move, wouldn’t even look up at me. David mumbled something inaudible into his chest. The boy translated, “He said he doesn’t want to go with you. You don’t play fair.” A smile tugged at the corner of the boy’s mouth. “Oh, c’mon, David, don’t be like that—fair’s fair, you agreed to the game.” “He said you should have called the game off when he hurt his ankle. That it wasn’t right to carry on.” Then the boy addressed me, “Did you do that? It really doesn’t seem fair.” I shrugged. David often called foul play when he lost. “He can stay with me if you like?” the boy said, and after a pause David nodded his assent into his knees. “Fine,” I said, “stay on that side. I’ll tell Father you’d rather live with the farmers.” I tell myself now that I was only pretending I didn’t care, that I didn’t really want him to stay with the boy. Would that have changed things? Perhaps. Perhaps not. What happened next was this: the boy placed both hands on David and crouched down to coax him up onto his back. As David climbed up the boy seemed to blur into the bright summer light and the air around them shimmered, dazzling my vision. When my sight cleared the boy had gone and in his place, standing there on the bank, was a huge black horse with my brother stretched flat out across his broad back.
DARKER WEEDS • 5
The horse looked old and shabby, tufts of its coat stuck out at odd angles and its mane, while long and jet-black, was tangled and covered in burrs and twigs. Its huge head obscured my brother so all I could see of him was his thin feet sticking out on either side of its wide back and his arms which grasped about the horse’s neck. I took this in quickly, I suppose—I remember the shock, felt it in the sudden wobble of my legs and in the sickness that rolled in my stomach when it spoke to me. “There is room on my back for two. I’m sure your brother wouldn’t mind.” The horse took a step towards the brook. I shook my head. “You do not wish to trade places instead, perhaps? Others have done so in the past. One of you is much like the other to me. Your blood will be just as sweet as his,” it said. Fear came creeping in then at the sound of its voice, deep and ancient, the accent something like my Father’s. The creature, for it was no horse, took another step and I recoiled. “Don’t come any closer,” I said, braver than I felt. But something so old and strange does not listen to a child. The creature stepped in two bounds down the rest of the bank, its hooves clattering as they hit the stones beneath the brook. The moment it did there was a mighty roar and a great sudden gush of water welled up from below, flooding our brook. Soon it was no longer, and in its stead a wild river flowed, its white peaks throwing icy spray into the air. The creature stood in the midst of it, unperturbed by the torrent of water which battered against its flank. David’s toes just skimmed the surface. “Last chance,” the creature said. I gave no answer. My brother did not cry out when the creature started to descend in an eerily smooth motion into the waves. I watched transfixed. When the water reached David’s waist he shifted so I could see his face, he did not look afraid but content, stroking the knotted mane with his uninjured hand. He did not look up. I do not think he even felt the cold and wet as it seeped up his chest and neck. The creature did not speak again but fixed me with its black gaze until at last I could bear it no longer and shut my eyes to what came next.
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••• Sometimes in my memory I wait by the water until it stills and becomes our familiar brook once more, other times I run, half-mad with terror to Mother and we search for David for hours. Sometimes we find him further down the brook, a puzzled expression on his face, no sign of injury to his hand. Sometimes he is lost forever. Sometimes I see myself in the creature's place, my brother’s body below me, the water trickling over him. Sometimes David jumps the brook and gets away scotfree and it is I who trips and falls and bleeds and is taken. Sometimes we do not go to the brook that day but pick the overripe cherries—their juice staining our hands red. Sometimes Mother insists there never was a brook. Sometimes my brother never stops wailing as the creature pulls him under. Sometimes I beg and plead for it to take me instead. Sometimes I am silent. ••• In Norway they are called nøkken, in Sweden näck, in Finnish they’re näkki, in Germany they are nixie—a water spirit disguised as a beautiful white horse. I didn’t learn all this until much later. The story goes that once you climb on their back you never get off—a fairground ride you can’t escape. In Father’s native Scotland they are named kelpies and are black, not white. They rise from flowing water to transmute themselves into handsome men with thick dark hair and black eyes. The nøkken, the näck, the näkki, the nixie. The kelpie. It goes by many names, it is known in many guises, in many countries. It is hard to find the right story among the weeds, no matter how hard you search for it, the truth is choked by time. It is only the darkest stories that find a way to survive, but some I think, are best kept in the dark away from prying eyes.
LAST CALL Tristan Madison Allison was having a great ending to a horrible week. Work had been less than ideal, to say the least, and she felt lucky to be sitting with her friends on a Friday night, third wine glass in hand. She had enough of a buzz that she no longer cared about the client who cursed her out that day, and Julie was regaling them with stories about her kids. “So I confiscated the baseball, and he said, ‘But Mommy, I like tacos!” All six of them laughed uproariously as the server approached them. “Will you ladies need anything else tonight?” she asked, picking up their discarded plates. “Could I get another glass?” Julie asked, raising her nearly-empty chardonnay. “Of course. Anything else?” “I’ll take another too,” Allison said. Mindy laughed at the request. “What? It’s been a long week.” “You should have just gotten the whole bottle!” Mindy said. “Alright, so one more chardonnay and one more riesling. Just so you ladies know, we do close in fifteen minutes,” the server—Karen? Carly? whatever—told them. “Alright, thank you,” Julie said without looking at her, immediately launching into the next story. “So yesterday I told Julian—” The sounds of their chatter and laughter filled the otherwise-empty restaurant. Eventually, Allison set down her fourth wine glass to stumble to the restroom. She hummed along to the song in the background and frowned when it cut off. Maybe they were having problems with the speakers? When she walked past the curtain covering the entrance to the kitchen, no sound in the background successfully obscured the conversation inside. “It’s getting really bad. He hasn’t fed for a while.” “Well, keep him in check! We still have customers! He can’t get out,” the server’s voice hissed to the other person.
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“It’s not that simple, Kelly!” So that was her name. “Well, make it that simple. They might be rude, but they don’t deserve...you know.” Kelly pushed out from behind the curtain with brow furrowed and jaw squared. At the sight of Allison, her face snapped back into the blankly cheerful look she had been adopting at the table. Her smile didn’t reach her eyes. “Can I help you, ma’am?” “Just, uh...bathroom,” Allison said. “It’s just down that hall, on your left.” “Kelly!” the other voice bellowed from behind the curtain, sounding strained. “Please excuse me,” Kelly said, darting back into the kitchen. Allison made it to the bathroom without tripping, miraculously—jeez, she was such a lightweight—and walked back out convinced that there was absolutely nothing wrong. Surely all of the riesling must be making her hear things. She plopped back into her seat in the middle of Sarah venting about her husband—he was a great guy but incredibly oblivious sometimes. She sipped at her wine to maintain her buzz, noting dismissively the upright checkbook that had appeared at her spot while she was in the bathroom. None of her friends had looked at their checks yet either. As Sarah wound down, Allison turned to Julie. “Thank you so much for inviting me tonight. After the day I had, and…” She drank a little more wine, as though it might soothe the lump in her throat, and blinked furiously as though that could vaporize the tears in her eyes. “Well, today would’ve been me and Jake’s anniversary—” “Oh no, sweetie! I had no idea!” Julie said. “It’s okay. It’s not, like… I mean, we broke up a month ago. I should be over it, right?” “You’ll get over it when you’re ready, hon,” Sarah said, rubbing at her back reassuringly. “I guess. I just wanted to say thank you, because I thought this was going to be the worst night of my life, and you guys made it a lot better.”
“Aww!” Clara exclaimed. Allison’s eyes hurt as a single embarrassing tear slipped out. It took her a moment to realize the lights were flickering. “Is there a power outage or something?” Julie asked. “I don’t see why there would be. The weather was great today,” Sarah said as she rubbed at Allison’s back more. “I guess we should get going. It’s pretty late,” Mindy said, picking up her checkbook. Allison clumsily wiped the tear off her cheek and looked at hers too. That was a lot of money. She really had to get it together. Out of the corner of her eye, Allison thought she could see something crawling up the walls. She looked over, and she stared. “I really must be drunk,” she said. “What is it, honey?” Clara asked. “Oh my gosh.” Allison’s hallucination—and Clara’s too, apparently—looked like some kind of warped cat, made of shadows and sparks. Ridiculous, Allison thought, things can’t be made of shadows. But this thing seemed like it wasn’t quite solid, limbs like black clouds swirling in place with blue electric currents crackling throughout them. “Oh my god, what is that?” Sarah asked, and the thing’s fangs sparked when it smiled. It leaped at Julie first, and she shrieked as blue sparks popped throughout her skin, and then...and then she wasn’t there anymore. Allison sat dumbstruck as the thing grew bigger, long tongue zapping at its own lips as it jumped at her too. The last thing she heard before it touched her was Sarah shouting her name. And then Allison didn’t feel her buzz anymore. ••• “God damn it!” Kelly cried hysterically as she ran up to the table. Sparky had grown big enough to lay sprawled across the entire table, tail flicking happily and bulky paws hanging off either side of it. The customers’ ashes covered the seats and surrounding floor. “I’m so sorry, Kelly,” Mark said behind her.
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“You’re sorry? He just ate six people!” “It’s not that bad,” he said as he stopped next to where she was, six feet away from the table. “Not that bad? Are you out of your—” “He hasn’t digested their energy yet. We could get him to—well, to throw them up.” “This is the worst night of my life,” Kelly said, pinching the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger. “And if it doesn’t work out, hey, at least they won’t leave a bad Yelp review, right?” “I hate you,” Kelly told him. Sparky’s long tongue lolled out, and he let out a satisfied belch. The air in front of his mouth crackled.
COMPANION ANIMA Dave Riley Elle came to grips with her mother’s passing ten years prior to the actual event, give or take. Sitting in the moldy settee on the back porch, hunched forward like a gargoyle, she smoked cigarette after cigarette and watched the sudden shower beat the reeds. Hadn’t smoked in years, but she’d found a pack while clearing out one of the house’s countless drawers, shelves, and hidey holes. She’d planned to leave tonight, having had about as much as she could stand of this house, its dust, and its artifacts of a time-lost woman. But it was a real murder of a storm, like the sky was some rainy hell opening up for a gigantic yawn. The piss-poor local roads would wash out for at least a day and a half. So here she was, lungs so full up with dust and decay that she couldn’t bear another moment inside, with nothing else to do but sit, and smoke, and watch at nothing. The funeral preparations took hardly any time at all, not compared to the house cleaning. It fell to her, apparently (not Mark, certainly not Shayna) to decide what needed to be kept, what needed to be thrown away, and what needed to be buried out on some lonesome hill during the apex of an unsacred night. A lot of work, for a house out on a bog that hardly anyone, probably not even the bank, strictly remembered existed. Certainly no one would deign to buy it, this two-story nothing, reeking of forgotten life. The stale tobacco bit her lungs. The cigarettes were ancient, same as everything else in this ramshackle house. If you pinched one it resisted, its core as hard as a finger bone. She hated smoking out here, in the damp, suffering the scourge of mosquitos whose presence stubbornly clashed against the late-autumn weather, but it was better than inside. Inside, an eon’s worth of cigarette smoke suffused every book, every sofa, dug into every inch of exposed plaster or cracked floorboard. The air inside was pained and still, and so the smoke seemed to linger endlessly, having nowhere to escape to. Nobody else came. Mark (doctor) and Shayna (lawyer), both claimed too busy. Besides, the distance made it impossible on such short notice (you couldn’t delay a burial, not for a woman like their mother). Elle still lived in-state, just a couple
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hours by car, and anyway, she’d been there nearest to the end, so didn’t it make sense for her to wrap things up? Here, out on the back porch, the cold, humid air cut the harshness of the tobacco. Elle could drift, lose her mind for a while, watching the clingy miasma of smoke tug away from itself until it separated, disappearing into the night. Along with it, Elle wondered if she wasn’t letting a bit or a piece or a speck of herself vanish each time she exhaled. How many times would she have to breathe out before she vanished entirely? She’d need a lot more cigarettes. Outside the ring of the porch light, the reeds quaked. Elle didn’t think much of it, until the twinned sounds of an animal tussle—a snarl, a whimper—pierced the patter of the rain. She was on her feet, flicking away her rotten cigarette and striding off the porch. Her boots sunk into the mud and her hair plastering to her head in an instant. The flash-soaked weight of her clothes struggled to bring her to heel, but instinct pushed her forward. At her noisy approach the larger animal (raccoon? coyote?) fled back into the thicker brush beyond the reeds, leaving its prey to whimper and mewl. It was a cat—by size, a kitten. Its shadowy body drank the moonlight, and its eyes were an uncanny yellow, like that Broadway poster. It hadn’t escaped the encounter unscathed. On its side, it pawed at the air and yowled in uncertainty, exposing a single fang, bone white. Consumed by how its dark coat seemed to absorb the rain, Elle was startled when she noticed how the cat plaintively reached for her. And so, she reached for it. When she wrapped her fingers around it, its tiny paw imbued her body with a startling warmth, as it melted into her hand. ••• “Hungry?” Elle asked, offering a forkful of her pie. Chirrup looked up at her, settled its shadowy brows with petulant suspicion. It went back to its herculean labor of nudging the sugar bowl ever closer to the edge of the kitchen counter with its nose. “Suit yourself.” She shrugged. “But the only good thing about funerals is all the sweet potato pie you can eat.”
COMPANION ANIMA • 13
Since it needed a name, and since she was awful with them, Elle started thinking of it as Chirrup, after the strange sound it would coo at her, halfway between speech and purr. By all accounts, Chirrup was your everyday, average cat—except for how it was made of pure shadow. As she went for the next bite, Chirrup placed its paw firmly down upon the fork. It ate like an amoeba—or how Elle thought an amoeba might—distending parts of its body into formless mass and subsuming food. Far from unnerving, something about the uncanny motion soothed Elle. No matter how it distorted its body, it always returned to that cat-like shape, with its large, yellow eyes that even managed the slow, pensive blinking of your average, everyday housecat. She let hours dissolve, watching it bumble around the house with its immaculately poor balance and non-existent poise, watching it elide its tiny body against a doorframe or baseboard, as if to scratch some spectral itch. Nothing was out of the norm until it did something weird. For example: when, in its meandering, it got itself stuck in a crevice between desk and wall. Instead of yowling up a storm about its predicament, Chirrup would release the confines of its shape and shadow-slink itself, as natural as you please, out of any environmental snare or obstacle. It didn’t like the smell of smoke. Every time she put her hand on the door to the back porch, Chirrup glowered at her like a judgmental roommate, emitting the ffffting sound of a minor hiss. Suited her fine; her throat was starting to sting, and the pack was basically gone anyway. Not like she could get any more, not with the way this rain kept on. “So what do you do?” she asked, while setting a box of crap atop another box of heavier crap out in the living room. She knew the tricks of her mother’s trade. “You’ve got to have some purpose.” Chirrup paused in its harassment of a passing moth to sit upright. There was an odd sentience to its improved posture. Gazing at her directly, it offered a paw, and held its little head high, looking quite stately—gentlemanly, even, as if asking her to the ball. But as she knelt to take it, Chirrup darted from the room. Elle let out a shock of a laugh and sprinted after. She rounded the corner in the hallway just in time to behold the impact. Chirrup running headlong into, and exploding into a broad splat of shadow against, the cellar door. Elle’s heart skipped a beat.
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The impact-splat lazily poured itself into a puddle on the floor, and, from that, Chirrup coalesced as if drawing the puddle into itself. It bounced a few times and shook out its head in fidgety spasm, apparently judging itself no worse for the wear. Then, cocking its attention back to Elle, it scratched intently at the door. “What?” Elle asked. “No, we don’t go down there.” Chirrup didn’t stop yowling until Elle reversed her position on the matter. ••• It wasn’t that she didn’t want to come down here, where all the important memories lay, it’s only… she thought she might avoid it, if she could. Chirrup took the stairs in a series of leaps, swishing its little backside and striking its tail victoriously at the air upon each successful landing. Elle followed with slightly less exuberance. She should’ve come down here first thing. There had to be something locked up in all the knowledge down here—the right way to bury a witch, the proper ritual. It consumed her, ever since she was young—the idea that she had to Do Right By a woman who only occasionally offered the same in return. But she couldn’t handle it, not this time. Instead, two days ago, she trucked over to the old funeral home, with its scathing fluorescent lights and its bowl of rock-hard grandma candies, asked for a normal funeral, and put down for the third-cheapest casket they had. Asking for the cheapest seemed gauche, and the next one up was fake bronze, severely ugly. Besides, any one of them would max Elle’s credit card, so why skimp? Mark and Shayna would reimburse her, as always. Chirrup offered no further guidance. Elle glanced towards the promising hallway light shining down the steps. She thought she might sneak a cigarette outside, but the traitorous creak of the stairs beneath her boot brought a warning rumble to Chirrup’s throat. Well, she was finally down here, wasn’t she? Might as well make the best of it.
COMPANION ANIMA • 15
The air was stale, but inoffensive, and the coolness of the stone walls brought back memories. She ran her fingers along the touch-burnished gouges in the old mahogany writer’s desk, and tested her weight against the chair, enjoying the pained creaking of its greasy springs. Mom had books for everything—tomes on potions and poultices, spells and counter spells, and nearly every Nicholas Sparks novel, to say nothing of Danielle Steel. But what a younger Elle loved best were the bestiaries. To look at those ragged old volumes, and to imagine what havoc those fantastic beasts would wreak upon this mundane world… It was foreign, but somehow natural, cocooning herself up in the smell of that ancient paper and forgetting the world outside—its rain, its loneliness, and everything else. Nobody had really come to the funeral. A few wizened faces she remembered from back when they told her to stop playing in mud or chided her for cutting all her hair off with scissors (they brought the pies—okra and red beans too). It was because of the oncoming rain, Elle told herself, that nobody else came. They didn’t want to get caught out in it. Which she understood. She also understood that was a lie and that made her wonder, cold and hard, on why a dead woman she couldn’t care less about made her care enough to fashion fresh lies. If there was ever a system to this mess, it vanished with her mother. Elle pored through a dozen manuals, diaries, and grimoires. She now knew potion recipes that would grow hair and ones that would remove it, and she was pretty sure she could name the Really Useful parts of a toad’s guts by memory, but she’d found no explanation of Chirrup’s composition or cause—nor any two-days-too-late information on how to properly put your witch of a mother into the ground. Not that she was particularly looking… It wasn’t that they’d had a bad relationship; more that, at some point, it was simply severed. This mother, in some ways a fine mother, with two fine children who finished post-grad and her one leftover, could never reconcile what Elle was with what she believed Elle to be, and that became the seed of a climactic problem, which, for Elle, was somewhat difficult to comprehend, since what “problem” she embodied was, in her perception, nothing but her default.
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Chirrup flitted in and out of the burnt orange lamplight, tottering around atop the desk and carelessly shoving off artifacts and trinkets, whatever was small enough for it to push, and watching with mute wonder as they crashed and clattered down onto the floor. Her arms started to burn from lifting the heavy tomes, and her chest ached from all the dust she was kicking up. Realizing how badly her eyes burned from lack of blinking, and from the strain of reading her mother’s chicken-scrabble cursive, Elle leaned back in her chair and pinched her nose. A hot pink bookmark peeked out of a beaten folio beneath a stack of manila folders. Tracing her fingers over the time-muted color of its plastic, Elle recognized this old trinket of her own, and wondered, for a moment, where the Babysitter’s Club it belonged to had ended up. The folio was particularly poorly kept, even by her mother’s standards. The laminated pages were split open at the corners, offering, as if in slow sacrifice, the corners of their precious contents to the easy ravages of time’s slow decay. A charcoal drawing of a Chirrup-like creature occupied the center of the weathered page with a dignified pose. Illuminated script, reading “Scáthcait; Companion and Succor Anima,” outlined the illustration. In charcoal, it was a very handsome cat, she had to admit. The rest of the page was illegible—both due to its strange characters and simple wear and time (decades? Centuries?). Her mother’s notes, smudged all over the laminate, were just as unintelligible as any sorcerous tongue, except for the chunky block letters dominating the margin in permanent marker: For Elle? Elle put her face in her hands. As the sobs began to wrack her body, she vaguely felt a scrambling weight tugging at her sleeve. The world became a distant pinpoint and the weight settled around her shoulders. Chirrup embraced her, unspooling atop her skin and imbuing her with its warmth. ••• The storm broke early that morning, and the radio stated roads were safe for travel. The sun was gloomy and grey behind the clouds, but that kind of light had always suited her. Elle put her sunglasses in her hair and patted her pockets by the front
COMPANION ANIMA • 17
door. The unconscious gesture reminded her that cellphones existed. She took it from her jacket and swiped it awake. Seventeen missed calls, in all—a few from work, most from Rae. A fist squeezed her heart and Elle let out a reflexive sigh. With her back to the door, she took in the tableau of her home. The sunlight filtered in precise beams through the closed drapes, illuminating the cracked floors, scuffed furniture, and bare walls in accusatory streaks. She inhaled, relishing in the dust that tickled at her nose, in the miniscule scent of used-up potpourri and the trace-yet-cloying aroma of her mother’s gaudy perfumes. Chirrup pranced aimlessly, bounding up and down from staircase to floor. As the wheezy creak of the door hinges snapped it to attention, Chirrup blinked its oversized eyes towards Elle and cocked its curious head with a flick of its inky ears. “Well,” Elle asked, “we leaving or what?”
AUTHORS Alex Vigue (@kingwithnoname) is a queer poet and storyteller from Washington State. Alex has been published in Phantom Drift, The Fem, and Witch Craft Magazine. He is the fiction editor for Dirty Chai Lit Magazine and he hopes to have a collection of his works published soon. Elizabeth Lovatt (@elizabethlovatt) is a proud graduate of the Write Like a Grrrl programme run by For Bookâ€™s Sake, the website that champions writing by women. Her flash fiction and short stories have been featured in Halo Literary Magazine, Severine Literary Journal, and Popshot Magazine. Elizabeth currently lives in London and works for Tate. Tristan Madison (tragicgenderstory.com) is a former disgruntled server and a permanently disgruntled trans person. Dave Riley (deadsidegirl.com) is a New York City-based writer and podcaster. His debut novel, The Dead-Side Girl, is available on Amazon.