a conversation with the darkness

Written by Skye Cabrera
Art by brenoanp

“Why do you like the night so much?” the darkness whispered, crippling on the little boy’s back. “For the moon doesn’t judge.” the little boy answered. He danced around his room with a pillow in his hand and a hairbrush on another. “Judge?” the darkness inquired.“Yes, judge.” the boy answered as he continued his performance. “Under the moon, I can be whoever and whatever I want,” he added. Without a doubt, the boy was free under the moon. He danced till dawn and sang his emotions out. Under the moon, the little boy could be anything he wanted. A prince, an actor, a playwright, you name it! And it, he shall become. The moon was his solace, the refuge from the storm called the sun. For the sun comes with morning and, the morning comes with reality. Time is ticking. He knows this, the darkness knows this, and the moon knows this. But for now, all the little boy can do is dance. “Now, let me ask you this.” the boy suddenly stops and faces the darkness. “Why do you like the night?”

Ghosts at Sea

Written by S. Amanita
Art by brenoanp

When brother Khoi fled Vietnam on a rickety fishing boat, the family moved to fill his absence. Mother worked late hours mending clothes to make extra money, and sister Phuong took over some of the household chores. Lien and Anh—the oldest and youngest sisters, respectively—began making his weekly trip to the fish market to pick up food. No one spoke about the empty seat at the dinner table or the fact that it had been three months with no word from him. Any mention of his name was made in a hushed voice, as though the new Communist regime could somehow hear about their vanished son. 

The Monday fish market was an informal affair, like most things in postwar Vietnam: a handful of fishermen laying out baskets of fresh fish and live octopus on the sidewalk at the crack of dawn. For Anh, it was a newfound chance to talk to her ever-busy sister. Lien would wake her in the gray hours of the morning and drive her moped to the docks, the latter clinging sleepily to her older sister’s back. Together they’d watch the fishing boats come in with the night’s catch. Lien would tell stories to pass the time as the fishermen set up shop, and Anh would listen with delight as she talked about unruly patients at the hospital where she worked, or odd little folktales she heard from grizzled old men. Sometimes, with a little prying, she could convince her sister to tell her about Khoi. The two siblings had always been close, and Lien never said she missed him, but the lines on her forehead had doubled since he’d left. 

Today, the older sister in question drove with a white-knuckled grip on the handlebars, and her eyes never left the horizon once the pair arrived at the oceanfront. “What is it?” Anh pried, tugging at her hand. Lien jerked in surprise. Her mouth moved, piecing together words for a long moment before she finally spoke. 

“Remember that old patient I was assigned to a few weeks ago?” she asked. “The one we thought was crazy?” 

Anh perked up slightly, sensing the beginnings of an interesting story. “Was he actually crazy?” 

Lien’s lips thinned into a line. “Yes, but he wasn’t the kind of crazy we thought he was. He’s been waking up screaming in the middle of the night for the past week. We haven’t been able to calm him down, and he keeps talking about seeing his grandchildren on the beach at night.” 

Anh knew the superstition, the one that circulated among some of the older crowd in their port city of Nha Trang: If you go to the beach after nightfall, the ghosts of the drowned will drag you out to sea. A shiver crawled its way up her spine. “Were they…?” 

“Yes.” Lien’s face was grim. “And we think we know why he has those dreams. His grandchildren fled Vietnam back in April, when Saigon fell. He hasn’t gotten word back from them.” 

“Like Brother Khoi?” The words were out before Anh could stop them, and she winced as her sister’s face went pale. 

“He’s alive,” she said. Anh knew that tone, the one Lien used when she didn’t want to hear a single word to the contrary. She squeezed her wrist. 

“I know.”

“He can’t be dead.” 

“I know.” 

“And yet,” Lien’s voice trembled, “I had a dream about him. Two nights ago. I was at the beach after dark, and his ghost came out of the water.” 

“Did he drag you in?” 

Her sister shook her head. “He just stood in the shallows, watching me. He looked like he was waiting for something.” 

“Do you think—” 

“No.” Lien’s voice was firm. “He’s alive. Don’t doubt that.” 

Anh opened her mouth to respond, but stopped short as a fisherman passed by with a bucket of wriggling octopi. He greeted Lien wearily, listing his prices for the day and offhandedly commenting on Anh’s recent growth spurt. Then, “This is probably the last time we’ll be having this market for a while. We heard the new government’s shutting down almost all businesses in a few days.” 

A pregnant pause. Anh could all but hear the gears turning in her sister’s head as she processed the information. Then there was a soft sigh, and listless eyes turned to the sea. It was calm at this early hour, almost glasslike save for a few small waves that rippled across its surface. On bad nights, Anh dreamed that she was stuck beneath its surface. She supposed everyone in the family had nightmares now that Khoi was gone. 

“Anh.” Her sister’s voice was resigned and soft. A few crumpled bills were pushed into her hand. “You buy the fish today. You know how to pick out the good ones, don’t you?” Lien had never let Anh handle the money before. The novelty of the situation brought her little comfort. The eldest’s eyes stayed fixed on the horizon as Anh bought two decently-sized pompano, and her answers were noncommittal even as one fisherman joked about how responsible her little sister was. Lien drove the two home in distracted silence and locked herself in her room for the rest of the day. The next morning, when she announced that she would be fleeing Vietnam, Anh was the only one unsurprised. Her sister had been gone for a while now, she realized—dragged to sea by Khoi, anchored only by a fragile sense of normalcy. When Lien slipped away into the night a month later, Anh grieved the dead.

Here’s to Forever

Written by Solar Lin
Art by Samantha Gades

tw: violence

“Everyone, please,” Helen clinked her champagne glass. “May I have your attention?”

The room immediately fell into a hush, and Helen smiled.

She continued, her nails tapping on the champagne flute. “Today was a very special day. I got to marry the love of my life!”

In front of her, her family cheered as they clapped. The groom’s family, however, didn’t budge. They only stared at the newly-wed couple seated at the front table, not making a single comment. Helen was already well aware that his family would never accept her, but she wasn’t going to let it ruin her big day.

“And so,” Helen turned to Paris, her hand reaching into his cheek, caressing it. “In honour of him finally being wedded to me, I would like to make a toast to our everlasting love.”

A single tear dropped on Paris’ cheek, wetting Helen’s thumb. “Helen…”

“Hush, dear, you’ll have your time to make a toast!” Helen giggled. “To Paris. My darling, my love in life and death. You have no idea how terribly grateful I am to have you join our family. I knew, from the very first time I laid my eyes on you, that you’re someone I’ve been longing to meet. Someone I wished to spend my eternity with.”

“Helen,” Paris whispered. “Helen—”

“Let us make a toast, yes? To our marriage,” Helen ignored Paris and raised her glass. The rest of her family followed her gesture, cheering and hooting louder. Helen took a glance at Paris’ mother and saw tears silently rolling in her grey cheeks.

Tears of happiness, of course. Who wouldn’t want to be together forever with the most beautiful woman that ever existed?

Helen stepped forward to kiss Paris, broke the foot of the champagne flute, and buried the glass deep in Paris’ heart.

“Here’s to forever.”

Man Behind The Camera

Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar
Art by Mohamed Nohassi

I catch a glimpse of the man that he once was, now buried in between torn envelopes and photo albums, on a Wednesday.

I have my mouth filled with water, forming two balloons on either side of my face, when he jogs toward me. He doesn’t look like the thirty-two or forty-two-year-old man that he is. With a childish smile that only a teenage boy at heart could wear, he gives me a one-armed hug before cupping his hands around my cheeks and squeezing. I spurt the water out and look at my father, a slight smile threatening to replace the daggers I was directing towards him. With that, he is off negotiating about P1s, Oracles and Codes. 

The dead man returns later that evening when he tackles my younger brother onto the floor. They’re both laughing and suddenly my father’s face looks seven again, sitting in between his parents with a mischievous smile on his face. His phone rings moments later. The skin of his face falls from the crinkles his smile was tethering and the boy is dead. His skin turns into a pale sheet enveloping his skull as he moves to pick the call.

“Yes, I’ll get it done. It’s no trouble at all,” he says, tone clipped and having no resemblance to the boisterous laughter mere seconds ago.

No trouble at all. His vapid tone implies otherwise.

I hold another black-and-white photograph in my hand. Its edges are worn and creases run along the vertical and horizontal centers of the thin sheet. The polaroid’s musty smell is accompanied by the salt of the sea thrashing behind the people in the photo. A matte pallor covers the sheet but does nothing to diminish the bright smile my father sports. In the photo, he has his arm lazily thrown around his sister, and there are two other people I don’t recognise who aren’t looking at the camera. I wonder who clicked the photograph. There aren’t many photographs my father is in today, as he is always the one to volunteer for the clicking. I wonder if he realizes. I wonder if he remembers that there was a time when he wasn’t the one always behind the camera. I never want him to be the person behind the camera anymore—face forgotten with only the physical photograph by itself a proof that someone existed.

At home today, he flips open his laptop after dinner, the carefree smile back in place as he watches a 90’s comedy show. The phone rings again. His smile droops and it’s like watching a flower in my garden dry up in the blazing sun, pink petals turning brown and wrinkled, until it peels itself away and falls onto the soil. 

He works until 3 AM after the call. 

It’s the mornings after these calls when it feels as though the man that he is now may die. He may die once again. The bags beneath his eyes are filled with charcoal, fog clouding his eyeballs. There is a dry lilt to his good morning. He fills his throat with hot tea, the number of cups an unhealthy amount, but at least it brings a slight flush back to his face. He lives on this—the tea, the murukku, the crime novels he reads, and the ghost films he watches. I wonder if he sees these stories, sees himself in the ghosts. I wonder if he sees the remnants of the man he killed and buried with my birth, my brother’s and the job he carries. 

Lunch is served and he slurps the sambhar, spills the rice as he fills his plate. Food covering his chin, and he reminds me of my younger brother learning to eat as a child. It’s in moments like these, that I see the man in those photographs come to life. 

The man that smiles at my mother in their wedding album, young and not yet torn apart by the world. The man that wrote those diary entries years ago, with spelling mistakes and clever jokes that erupt peals of laughters from within my heart. He’s the man that says very good honey! in a video eleven years before from when I sang an English song I didn’t understand. 

He’s the man behind the camera, the one that made everyone laugh at the lens, the one people will remember as the reason for their smiles. He’s the man behind the camera but not the one everyone forgets.

The Lucky One

Written by Solar Lin
Art by Mason Kimbarovsky

There used to be a swing in Gemma’s backyard.

A swing so tall, she was afraid to climb into it when her brother first set it up. But her sister eventually dared to, and Gemma, as always, followed her lead. When her sister pushed it forward, Gemma soared into the sky as if she had wings of her own. And there, high in the sky, she could see the whole world beneath her feet, as if it was hers for the taking. There, high in the sky, with the cosmos just on the tip of her fingers, she felt as though she could climb to her seat among the stars. Her sister used to giggle, careful, Gemma. Don’t fly too high!

Gemma wished she had taken her sister’s advice.

There was a girl who used to come to Gemma’s home every day after school.

Her name consisted of two words, but now Gemma could only remember the last half: Beth. Back when Gemma knew more of her than just broken memories, they used to promise each other never to stray farther than the other could follow. Back when Gemma still had Beth’s face memorized, they used to say that it would be them together, forever, against the rest of the world. The bracelet they made together was a promise of that. 

It’s a pity that Gemma had sold that bracelet for a bus ticket, a long time ago.

There was a lake Gemma’s mother used to take her to.

It’s a beautiful place with crystal clear water that reflects all the colors of the sky. There, her mother told tales of queendoms and dames who slay dragons; each story made Gemma yearn for more. There, as she watched the golden hues of the sky bleed into the water when the sun kissed the surface, Gemma taught herself to be someone else—to be the ruler of a queendom, to be the mighty slayer of dragons. Her mother only laughed and whispered, be anything you want, dear. But don’t be a stranger.

Gemma wished she had stayed in the blissful ignorance of not understanding what her mother meant.

And there was—

—there are camera flashes everywhere.

Gemma blinks, disoriented by the rapid blinding lights.

Once, those flashes looked like the diamonds—like the stars she always wanted to hold in her hands. Now, every flash only reminds her of the life she’s left.

“Miss Giroux!” Someone calls. A reporter, Gemma knows, though she can’t really tell which one of them is talking among the sea of reporters in front of her. Not that it matters. “Miss Giroux, there are rumors circulating about your involvement with James St. Clair. Do you have any comments on that?”

Gemma grits her teeth, trying to not let her annoyance get the best of her.

James St. Clair. The guy who made her feel pretty and then discarded her like a used toy the morning after. If he had wanted a damned publicity stunt, the least he could do was ask. It’s not like Gemma’s a stranger to the game.

Any involvement I’ll ever have with him, Gemma thinks bitterly as she hides behind a charming smile, will be my knuckle against James’ pretty, punchable face.

“Miss Giroux!” Another faceless reporter shouts, arms flailing wildly in the air. “Is it true that you’ve signed a contract to be in Antonoff’s film? Are you aware that Loren Stirling will play a role opposite to yours? Can you give a clarification on whether or not this is intentional?”

Gemma fights back a smile, refusing to give these snakes any scrap of reactions or information that could be twisted into their own narratives.

Loren Stirling. She and Loren have a not-so-private rivalry that the whole world knows about: Gemma stole his role, and Loren stole back Gemma’s lovers; Gemma exposed Loren’s embarrassing tendencies for an article called Things We Do in Sleepovers! and Loren splashed all Gemma’s secrets for a spread called Getting to Know Gemma Giroux!, and the list goes on and on and on.

Now that’s someone interesting, though Gemma isn’t too happy to see him again.

“Miss Giroux!” Another reporter yells, fighting for a fraction of Gemma’s attention. “Miss Giroux, since things are clearly going brilliantly in your career, we at Q Magazine wonder if you’re as happy in your private life? Will we be seeing a certain Miss Madeline Arden, perhaps making a trip?”

Madeline Arden. Gemma feels a pang of sadness at the mention of that name. Madeline, possibly the only person Gemma has ever felt genuinely secure being with, the only friend she thinks she has… And yet, she’s more interested in the next gift Gemma will give than Gemma herself. Though Gemma supposes she can’t blame Madeline for that—after all, that’s what she had promised her at the beginning of the relationship when she was too scared that Madeline would slip through her fingers if she had no reasons to stay.

Gemma understands too late that no friend is better than a friend who only sees you as a walking credit card.

“Miss Giroux!” At this point, Gemma doesn’t bother to look for the source of the voice anymore. “You look absolutely radiant tonight! Mind telling us all about your diet plan and how to stick with it? We heard Alexander la Rue designed a corset just for you!”

The flood of questions keeps coming, and the reporters shove each other just to get a good photograph of her, barking over each other like a pack of wild hyenas. Once upon a time, when Gemma was still climbing her way to stardom, she would’ve been flattered by all the attention.

Now she’s just numb.

“Miss Giroux!” Hoo, boy. Here comes another stupid question, Gemma thinks. What is it this time—my affairs with the hottest stars around here, or my waist size that seems to be infinitely more interesting than any of my real achievements? “Miss Giroux, I’m from Aleve.”

Aleve. Gemma’s hometown.

Gemma raises her hand, gesturing to all the other reporters to stop. When the chatters die, Gemma beckons the reporter—a pretty young woman with dark ringlets around her face—to continue.

“I—uh…” the woman flusters at the sudden attention she’s getting. “Well, we’d like to know how you handled the big change in… in lifestyle. Since you started out living in a small town like Aleve, and now you’re… well, you’re the biggest star in such a dazzling city, Angelus….”

Gemma smiles at the woman. Such a brave soul, venturing out to interview her in the biggest movie premiere of the year where there are sharks who’re ready to chew anyone alive just to get a glimpse at Gemma.

Gemma wonders how she’s not trampled yet.

Gemma likes her.

She smiles.

Apparently, the young woman takes Gemma’s smile as a cue for her to repeat her question.

“If you don’t mind… would you share a little bit of your experience, when you were still a newcomer? You look right at home around here, and no one would’ve thought that you came from Aleve—”

“Home?” Gemma repeats.

The reporter gulps.

Home, huh?

The camera flashes fizzle out as old memories appear in Gemma’s mind, tinted with a golden glow of nostalgia and reminiscence.

Don’t fly too high, Gemma, her sister once said as she watched Gemma looking at the world from above her swing.

But you saw something else, didn’t you, Sis? Gemma wonders. You saw the seeds of ambition in my eyes, didn’t you? Me, a girl from a small town who had nothing of her own, seeing how big the world could be. You knew right from the start that I wanted it, huh?

Don’t go where I can’t follow, Beth once said. Back then, Gemma only laughed and brushed it off, saying that they would always keep in touch no matter how far the other went.

But that wasn’t what you meant, was it? Because everything would’ve been fine, no distance would’ve separate us… had I not sold my soul to reach success in this place. You saw it coming, didn’t you, Beth?

Don’t be a stranger, dear, her mother once asked. Or maybe it was a plea; Gemma couldn’t decide.

If I come back home right now, as I am, Gemma thinks, would you know me, Mother? Or have I become such a stranger that you wouldn’t recognize the person sobbing at your feet?

Ten years, that’s how long it took. Ten years of sacrificing everything she had for the promises of a glamorous life that she wanted so much. Ten years of forgetting who she was until she had nothing left of her old self, no proof that that girl ever existed at all. Ten years of desperately begging for someone to give her a chance until her knees bled. Ten years of clawing through the lies and deceits of the glittering angel city until she herself became one of the devils inhabiting it.

Ten years and ten million tears.

Gemma should’ve known better.

She should’ve known that home isn’t a place with sparkling jewels that blinds you from noticing people that actually matter. She should’ve known that home isn’t a haunted place filled with vultures disguised as humans with sweet smiles and sweeter promises, only to snuff you out the moment they get the chance. She should’ve known that home isn’t a place where she has to flash her dazzling smile just so people won’t hear the truth rattling behind her teeth. She should’ve known that home isn’t a place of desolation and loneliness amidst hundreds of people screaming your name, fawning all over you just so they can look at your imperfect cracks and make them their headlines.

Gemma should’ve known that home isn’t a place at all.

“Miss Giroux?” The young woman calls, snapping Gemma back to reality. “Miss Giroux, are you alright?”

… Yes, Gemma thinks. For the first time in so many years, yes.

“No more questions, please,” Gemma demands, then steps back and struts through the red carpet, heading for the exit.

Like moths to a flame, the reporters quickly shuffle and run after her. Gemma can hear her costars calling her name, wondering why she’s headed north when the entrance is in the opposite direction.

Gemma keeps walking.

“Miss Giroux!” The reporters call. “Miss Giroux, where are you going? The gala hasn’t even started yet—Miss Giroux!”

No more. No more. Gemma only has one destination in mind.

Home, she lets a smile slip into her face. Home, where warmth crackles from the fireplace at her childhood home, with her sister’s laughter ringing in her ear. Home, where the treehouse she and Beth built was the grandest place she’d ever known, and Beth’s crescent dimpled smile was the only thing she could see. Home, where her mother let her be anyone, anything, as long as she’s not a stranger to those she holds dear.Home, Gemma thinks. I’m going home.

Soldiers of the Sun

Written by Addie Barnett
Art by Alex Konstad

The Soldiers of the Sun are a legendary battalion. Stories talk of beings clothed in shining armour of gold, their stallions neighing softly…but they do not have any heads. There are rumours that the Soldiers ride in the company of golden giants wielding swords that can touch the sky. The Soldiers of the Sun were immortal, said to have delivered the land from ghouls that would feast on every creature brave enough to step out into the sun. Their only weakness – gold. That’s why everything the soldier’s carried, from their weapons to their gear, and even their headless horses, were made of gold.

Or at least that’s what my grandfather told me.

I swore under my breath when the giant leaned over me, its pointed helmet so close I could almost touch it. They weren’t real. They couldn’t be real. My grandfather had been speaking of them for years, but I had dismissed every story as the fantastical tales of a wandering mind.

After all, there were days when he barely remembered my name.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck.” I grabbed the horn with trembling hands, looking at the village behind me.

There was no way the farmers hadn’t seen the giant soldiers making their way towards them, but it was my duty to alert them against any possible threat. I pressed the horn to my lips, but didn’t  get to blow. A golden soldier dropped from the sky, landing beside me with a soft thud. My breath froze inside my chest. His armor clinked softly as he moved to grab my horn. He pressed an armored finger to the place his lips would have been, had they not been hidden behind his crested helmet.

I dropped to my knees in front of him. “Please.” Tears streamed down my cheeks. “Please don’t kill us. We did nothing wrong.”

Except for the fact that the farmers were skimming on the taxes, but that was hardly a crime that would have beckoned a legendary battalion to come. I shook my head, taking my thoughts off all the tiny transgressions that had accumulated over the years.

“We’re not here to impart judgement.”

My head swiveled up so fast, the back of my neck crunched.

“You’re not?”

He shook his head and grabbed my arm, pulling me up.

“Then why are you here?”

“We have been made aware one of our own is in your midst.”

I stared at him, unsure if I had heard him correctly. “That’s impossible.”

The soldier crossed his arms on his broad chest. The gold chafed with his very movement, reminding me that I had no armour of myself. He could cut me down at any moment if he wanted to.

“His name is Ygor.”

“Ygor?” I scratched the back of my neck, thinking of all the people in the village and comparing them against him.

There was no way any of them were a legendary warrior in hiding.

“I have no idea who you’re talking about.”

The soldier shifted from one foot or the other; even without seeing the eyes, I could feel the weight of his gaze.

“Do not lie to me, human. I know he is here.”

I gaped at him. “I am not lying to you-”

“Bertan. You may call me Bertan.”

“I am not lying to you, Bertan.”

The soldier unsheathed a dagger and placed it in my hands. “This belonged to him. He was my captain, but was wounded badly in the last fight; the war against the ghouls.”

Ghouls? He couldn’t not be-

I started. Of course he could be. 

“He might be using another name.” Bertan tapped the hilt of the blade.

Letters formed underneath his touch, but I couldn’t recognize the alphabet.

“It’s our language – you cannot read it. But this,” Bertan pointed to one of the words, “is the name he is hiding under. It means gold.”

“How do you read it?” I asked, my blood stilling in my veins.

I already knew the answer. How could I not?


Grandpa Vos had told me all about his friends.

But it couldn’t be.

He was crazy.

That’s what every doctor who had seen my grandpa had said. Lost his mind, he has. No hope for him.

“You know him?” Bertan asked, sensing my hesitation.

I nodded. “He’s my grandfather.”

Divinity in our Hands

Written by Thanisha Chowdhury
Art by Lukasz Szmiegiel

tw: suicide

The morning we found him, you plucked fiery leaves off the stooping branches and tucked them into the collar of your shirt, like a secret waiting to ripen. He was fresh when we saw him for the first time, hanging from the tree nearest the grove, head cocked to the side like there’d been something pressing on his mind.

“God, look at that!” You gasped, voice tinged purple with wonder. His feet just grazed the grass, and I was beginning to suspect that I would have a much better day than I’d expected. “Do you think he’s dead?”

“No, I think he’s about to jump down and do a dance for us. Of course he’s dead, are you dumb?”

“Well, obviously I knew that. Just asking if you did too.”

We looked at each other then, like we were in some sort of movie, and I was surprised we didn’t burst out laughing and run back, hand in hand. We were smiling fiercely, though, piecing stories together in the space between our eyes with no words at all.


“Clearly. Look at his hands,” I said, and pointed to marbled fingers, “Practically glowing. Those are angel hands.”

“Hmm, but where are his wings?”

“Not all angels have wings, stupid. How else are they supposed to blend in?” I huffed. “Maybe he’s not even dead. Maybe he’s just waiting for someone to reveal himself to, someone who won’t fall for the illusion that he’s dead.”

You shot up at that, and I could’ve sworn I saw your ears perk up like a bunny’s. “Of course! It’s all a test, and we’re about to be the first ones to pass it.” 

“Come on then, help me get him loose.” I ran forward, groping in my pants for my pocket knife. Climbing up the oak was the easy part, but sawing through the rope was another story altogether, like trying to gnaw through a tree with your teeth. 

“What do I do?” 

“Get right down there, catch him when he falls.”

But you didn’t move, didn’t tear through the grass and nearly tripped on your feet twice on the way. “Aren’t there better ways to pass the test? Like ask him questions or something?”

“You’re so boring. Let’s try, why don’t we?” I leaned over the branch, got as level with him as I could. There was blood crusted at his throat, and his face was black, blue, white, and red—like fireworks during a storm. “Hello, sir, do you happen to be an angel? And if you are, are we good humans? Can you grant us three wishes? Can you tell us when we’ll die?”

He didn’t say anything. I was almost surprised. Whether I believed any of it or not, stories had a way of making themselves real. Everything was true in its own form. 

Cherry-faced, you floated to the oak, arms tensed and held out in front of you. “If I get any blood on me, we’re switching clothes.”

“Great, then I’ll get the less bloody clothes,” I said, working at the rope. “See, there hasn’t been any flood or lightning or great fire yet, we’re not in any trouble.”
“So what now? I just catch him?”

“Now?” I loosened my fingers from their grip around the rope, in two pieces now, and grinned down at you through the wisps of his reddened hair. “We see whether he flies.”

Family Sins

Written by Erin Nust
Art by Maria Orlova

Jane didn’t realize that something was terribly wrong with the house until the golden-framed black and white photos of dead people dropped onto the floor in the middle of the night. 

I had fallen asleep on the couch. I had thought the right thing to do was to let Jane sleep in the bedroom as the guest. I had all the time in the world to sleep on the double bed. We had spent our evening losing every sense of direction in the maze-like roads and paths of the small Cretan village until we found some sort of shop to have something to eat. The man that served us looked nice and kind, but he didn’t speak a word of English. 

The couch framed my body with a rocky touch. I turned and twisted in my blanket for half an hour until I fell asleep from mere exhaustion. After falling asleep, I used to be a heavy sleeper back in New York; I wasn’t sure if I ceased to be one in Greece or if something had the power to get me out of my slumber with such force that I came back to the conscious world with short breath and soaked with sweat.

I woke up two times before the frames on the wall shook and fell. The first time was accompanied with a cacophonous, shredding chorus of  blubbering. I snapped the blanket away and pressed my body to a sitting position. 

“Jane?” I asked loud enough for my voice to reach behind the closed door and into the bedroom. I heard no answer. I touched my forehead with my clammy palm as if checking if I had a fever. My mind’s distinction between reality and dreams was thin. I was certain I had heard someone’s terrible crying in the room I was sleeping in, or maybe it was just a terrible dream I couldn’t remember. 

The temperature of the room fell below zero. I couldn’t know that for sure but, although I was dipped into my sweat, my body shook; the room had transformed into an igloo. I wished I didn’t think of myself as simply mad, and woke Jane up to ask her if she had experienced any strange incidents during the night as well, but I didn’t. 

I curled myself into the blanket and forced myself back to sleep.

May 9, 1936

It was Giorgis’s wedding day today. No member of the Florakis family was invited, but Konstantis came. The orchestra played, people danced, I was sitting by my husband’s side wishing the newly-wed every happiness in the world. Konstantis’s step was unsteady. The music stopped when we realized he came to gain the heart of Myrto, the bride. 

We held our breath. Things were very close to bloodshed. One wrong word, one wrong move, and the Chalkiadakis family could tear Konstantis apart for daring to come to this wedding. 

His eyes were locked to Myrto’s direction. He didn’t utter a word. A sharp dagger came out of his pocket. Giorgis’s father asked for his shotgun and I grabbed my husband’s hand in fear. 

Konstantis stuck the dagger in his chest and fell on the ground. Myrto let silent tears fall on her cheek. We gasped at the sight of Konstantis’s death, but nobody dared to move. Giorgis’s father ordered the feast to be continued, the music to be played, and he carried away Konstantis’s body with the help of my husband and his cousins. They brought it back to his mother.    

The cuckoo clock on the opposite wall showed time was quarter past three. I had been sleeping for an hour and a half since my previous nightmare. My eyes turned to Jane’s closed bedroom door again. All was quiet. “Jane?” I asked once more, but again received no answer. 

At least one of us is having a good night’s sleep.

When my mind came back to reality, I felt a thick bead of sweat slowly rolling down my forehead. I wiped it away with my hand, which was saturated with sweat. The temperatures were low in the village, I recalled. How did I get so hot?

My eyes fell on the woolen blanket which provided so much comfort and I set it aside. I inherited this blanket with the rest of the house from some great aunt from my father’s side; he couldn’t even recall her name or their exact relation. I thought moving into the house was my chance for a new start, not some survival test. “Change brings uncomfort,” I mused out loud, and I covered my mouth with my hand. I didn’t want to wake up Jane and let her catch me talking to myself. I was accustomed to being alone. 

When I folded the blanket I noticed that it was decorated with triangular patterns of red and brown. I put it on the end of the couch and I lied down again. To my surprise, I fell asleep almost immediately.

September 26, 1935

There was a family meeting in our house today. Everyone was there, the whole Chalkiadakis family. The spectacle of the night was Giorgis, my husband’s first cousin, who, outraged, declared war against every child, every man and woman who was named Florakis. 

Konstantis Florakis set his barn on fire, destroying his property and his livestock–a total of seventy sheep. I stood in the corner of the room, with a couple of other wives, and listened carefully to the conclusion of the meeting. 

A feud between the two families was born. 

Jane’s screams woke me up the third time. It reached my ears seconds after a loud thud. I opened my eyes and sprung from the couch. On the dusty floor lay the pictures that used to hang on the wall. 

“Lena?” Jane shouted and came out of the bedroom wearing her cotton pajamas. “Are you okay?”

I wanted to be honest and say no. I hadn’t felt okay since staying in this house, but I lied to her.

“Yes, yes I’m fine. What is it?”

“Didn’t you hear the bang? The frames fell on the floor. All at once. And… Please don’t think I’m crazy. I thought I saw a woman in the bedroom.”

My throat was dry.


“Yes. An old woman. She was standing above me while I was sleeping. She had a crane, her hair was white and covered with a kerchief. She was there only for a second. I don’t know what to say right now.”

I opened my mouth to say anything to her, to try and calm her down, but the moment my voice was ready to be used, the cuckoo clock chimed so loudly I had to cover both my ears with my trembling hands. Jane followed my example. From an unknown source, a cold breeze swept through the house, bringing dancing particles of dust with it. The carpetless wooden floor started changing color. Blood spread and spoiled the wood until it almost reached Jane’s feet. 

She screamed. I still can’t remember if I joined her with the same pitched voice I had in my nightmare. I know what I saw though. In the pool of blood that formed, the image of a man on his knees impaling himself with a dagger, then falling with his face on the floor. I grabbed my suitcase and Jane’s hand and ran out of the cottage.

I don’t know why I’m writing all of this. I don’t even have a proper pen and paper. I am typing it in the notes app on my phone. I called my father that night. He sounded upset. I announced that I was coming back to New York. He said he had to share with me some things about that house.  

November 19, 2006

Lenio died today. There are even fewer of us remaining in this village. She died and it wasn’t me, nor someone of my kin who ended her life. We have failed. Our men failed. 

I can feel that my time is coming soon for me too, so I’m writing this letter to be considered an old woman’s wish, my testament. It had all started with a fire and I hoped it would end in fire.

I had no other choice but to participate in the upcoming bloodshed. My husband’s family was my family and our honour was spoiled with injustice. Pity and shame to those who fled, to those who betrayed their kin and left the blamers unpunished. 

The men of the family kept the feud alive. Children almost got killed, properties were gone. We couldn’t walk on roads that the opposite side took, mediators did their best to prevent any more blood from being shed. But their days and nights were filled with it.

When our men started to die from old age, the younger generations believed it was futile to fight for a cause that didn’t serve their interest. My children and their cousins and their children left the village to get out and seek a different route for their lives. At what cost though? They left us behind, they let injustice grow. I’m certain my husband’s and all our men’s bones are shaking under the cold ground. 

And now only me is left walking the empty roads. Now that Lenio is dead and I wasn’t the one who killed her, my life in this place is over. I have failed my dear husband, his father, Konstantis, all the people who died fighting for the right and all is good.

This is my will: I, Eleni Chalkiadakis, wish great misfortune to any of my kin who returns to this place. May my rage and their shame saturate their life in this land. May they and their antecedents suffer a terrible life, like the ones who lived during the great war of the feud.

When my father ended his storytelling, I wanted to laugh. How could I explain to him and to the rest of  the people who would soon ask me, why I ran away from that house? 

I saw Konstanti’s body on the floor that night; Jane did as well. All this bloodshed for the love of a woman, for another Helen of Troy. Konstantis was in love with Myrto, she was promised for another man, he took his revenge by setting the barn on fire.

I saw it all, but my father’s expression, the tone in his voice suggested he thought it was all just an interesting story. What he didn’t know was that the story haunted the present. I was touched by that woman’s anger, I witnessed my family sins.

Smoke and Gold

Written by Carl Malcolm
Art by Anato Finnstark

The cave was inky dark, and unseen things could be heard scuttling about. The drip, drip, drip of water echoed through the stillness, a much slower rhythm than the rapid thumping of Aaron’s heart. Still, he forged ahead. The curiosity of an eight year old wouldn’t be beaten by the dark.

Aaron followed a strange glow that called to him, feeling his way along the slimy walls. The end of the tunnel opened up into a huge cavern, bigger than any building he’d stepped foot in, bigger than the church that Mother dragged him to every Sunday, and even bigger than the smelly warehouse by the river that he wasn’t supposed to go near. His jaw dropped open and a whispered wow escaped.

The whole place burned with the honeyed glow of gold. Red rubies the size of his fist, delicate silver crowns, jewel encrusted rings, more than his eyes could take in, all nestled within an ocean of golden coins. His mouth watered at the thought of all the food he could buy with this fortune. He could have real chunks of meat instead of discarded gristle, and loaves of bread fresh from the oven instead of the burnt heels and green-spotted slices he’d grown accustomed to.

He skidded down the slope of gold in a scattering of coins that actually hurt a little more than he was expecting. As he came to a halt, a gout of smoke erupted from an enormous black stone in the centre of the cavern. A burning bright orb appeared on the stone a few paces away from the smoke. Aaron’s skin turned clammy and cold, despite the warmth of the cavern, once he realised the orb was an eye, and it was fixed on him. The eye was bigger than Aaron’s head, and the smoke was coming out of the creature’s nose. His eyes traced the huge body attached to the head, its gleaming black scales and spikes half-buried in gold. A dragon!

Mouth dry and heart pounding, Aaron couldn’t move, paralysed by the great beast’s glare. But after a painfully long stretch of time, he realised that the dragon wasn’t moving either. He began to wonder, could it be friendly? Maybe it was like Uncle Douglas, who looked big and scary but was actually very nice and gifted Aaron wooden figures that he whittled with his knife.

“He… hel… hello,” Aaron stammered out. His small voice echoed meekly around the cave. No response. “You… you have a lovely home.” Mother had told him to say polite things like that to people, even when they weren’t true at all, but he wasn’t lying this time. He bent down to pick up a coin, so he could continue complimenting the dragon on his decoration choices, but as soon as his fingers touched the gold a terrible, earth-rumbling growl boiled out of the dragon. Aaron threw the coin as if it had burned him. “Sorry! Sorry!” he squeaked.

Aaron backed away, holding his hands up to prove he wasn’t taking anything. The dragon continued to glare at him as he retreated but refrained from lifting its head to attack. Aaron stumbled as he backed away and landed on his back in a splash of coins. He scrambled to get back up and ran for the tunnel. The back of his neck prickled with the fear of being burned alive, but he made it out of the cavern and into the tunnel. The pounding echoes of his own frantic footsteps had Aaron convinced that the dragon was chasing after him. Something twinkled at the end of the tunnel, and it wasn’t gold or rubies. Daylight! He launched himself from the cave, and only then, panting on his back with green grass beneath him and a cheery blue sky above, did he realise that the dragon hadn’t been chasing after him at all.

Sweat soaked through his clothes and plastered his hair to his forehead. After a long moment of getting his breathing back under control, he sat up with his feet splayed out before him and dug around under his shirt. He pulled a glittering diamond free and sat there marvelling at all the colours dancing around inside it. Mother had always told him that stealing was wrong, but he was sure the dragon could afford to lose just one diamond. Plus, maybe with this Aaron could afford to buy the medicine that she needed so badly.

Rules for Feral Children

Written by Thanisha Chowdhury
Art by Donovan Reeves

  1. Leave before the sun sees you and take nothing. You will not be returning.
  2. Follow the moss, and when there is none left, the dark. It won’t hurt you, but if you linger, you will be swallowed whole.
  3. Remember: the calls you hear in your mother’s voice are never your mother.
  4. When you see lights, turn the opposite way. They will be waiting for you where the grass breathes the most dew, where dark and moist breaths vibrate into laughs.
    • Don’t fear the talons, claws, fangs, and yellow eyes. Once, they were you. Once, they slept in their own ribs, coaxed melodies out of themselves by burning their bones. 
    • Nowhere to go, nowhere to live, a whole world to die in. 
  5. There is a difference between mythical and mystical, and you are crackling with magic, head to toe. 
  6. Become a witch, goblin, demon, wretch—become something horrible. Become something with talons and fur. Shed your old skin. Cut your hair. Unfold your tongue from behind your teeth. 
    • There is no one here to strip you of yourself but you.