One Last Chance For Goodbye

Written by Erin Nust
Art by Lucas Pezeta

The cat followed him everywhere he went: to the little wooden shed at the farthest point of the graveyard, to the barren paths he traversed during his watch, to the gate to bid him farewell at the end of his shift. 

Mr. Marsh had been Swiftbay’s graveyard guard for forty years and he enjoyed his job because, unlike any other position in the village, it provided him with some unique clarity, deriving from the peace and quiet of the night. He wasn’t afraid of loneliness like most people were; in fact, he had been alone for the biggest part of his adulthood since his parents died in a sea voyage. Mr. Marsh wasn’t married, he had no friends, and he didn’t go to the traditional coffee shops where all the men of the village wasted their afternoons chatting, arguing, and playing cards; he was a weird old man.

It was a white cat—surprisingly clean for a stray animal—and he had found it curled up on the marble grave of a man called Peter S. Fray. He had all the company he needed when he found the white cat in Fray’s graveyard. Mr. Marsh named the cat Mr. Fray, and it was his partner during the long nights he wandered discreetly in the graveyard, when no one was there like an unwanted ghost. He and Mr. Fray had whole conversations in Mr. Marsh’s mind: they talked about the chaos of life, how impossible making sense out of it is, the inevitability of confusion and distress in attempts to navigate it. The more time he spent with Mr. Fray, the more he started to articulate his thoughts out loud to his animal friend. And the cat looked back at him with a pair of eyes more understanding than he had ever found in a person. Mr. Marsh believed deep down that the cat was a human, trapped in an animal’s body.

The thought had been seeded in Mr. Marsh’s mind, but it didn’t bloom until Eliza Garland’s visit in the graveyard. 

Eliza Garland, still a student at the time, had been shocked along with the rest of Swiftbay at the sudden, unlucky death of Peter Fray. Fray was a young teacher in elementary school, and he had been engaged with Eliza. According to the village, they planned to get married and live together in Swiftbay after Eliza’s graduation. Peter’s fatal fall in his bathroom put an abrupt end to their plans. Eliza came back to the village for her fiance’s funeral, and then retreated back to her studies. No one had seen her until her unexpected visit in the graveyard. 

When Eliza came, it was October—the chilliest October Mr. Marsh had to face in years. He was wearing his warm jacket that he usually wore in early December when the weather really called for it. Darkness had already devoured the cosy sun of the early evening, and Mr. Marsh was ready to leave his shed and check the field for any maintenance problems. Mr. Fray followed him with his tail upright, meowing every now and then at the jumping crickets and the coos of crows. 

Visitors usually came as long as the daylight lasted, especially in winter. People seemed to avoid grim places during the night when their imagination woke up, because they were too afraid of their own selves and their dark thoughts. Mr. Marsh believed. In their secluded village, they had no outlaw activities in the graveyard during the night. This was the reason Mr. Marsh, a sixty-year-old man and not a trained security guard, was accepted to take care of the dead. 

His walks in the graveyard were silent, mindful, like he was attending a Sunday’s church, so he wasn’t surprised when he saw the fragile figure of Eliza Garland. She was wearing a long black coat and her blonde hair flew free under the wild gusts of the wind. Mr. Marsh didn’t like moving closer to the visitors of the graveyard. It was sacrilegious to interrupt such a holy moment: the living coming in touch with those who had passed away.

It was then that the cat left Mr. Marsh’s side for the first time since the two of them met. With his tail wiggling, Mr. Fray pranced towards Eliza Garland, who was bending to leave a rose to her fiance. He meowed and made the young woman jump. Mr. Marsh wished to interfere, to grab the cat and leave Eliza alone, but he didn’t. He stood behind a tree and watched the scene unfolding. 

Eliza smiled at the white cat, who rubbed his skin against her boots. She took her eyes away from the grave and reluctantly caressed the cat. Mr. Fray meowed in response to the woman’s touch and for some seconds their gazes locked. Eliza’s eyes filled with water, and salty tears landed on the white fur of the cat. 

Mr. Marsh closed his tired eyes and crossed himself. When he opened them again the woman left the animal’s gaze and touched Peter’s grave with the tips of her fingers. She walked lightly towards the gate with her head facing the ground. Mr. Marsh had a hard time concentrating for the rest of his nightshift and Mr. Fray wasn’t a good company anymore. After Eliza left, the cat went to the shed and slept there for the rest of the night. 

The next night, when Mr. Marsh arrived at the graveyard, there was no sign of Mr. Fray. He hadn’t welcomed him at the gate, nor he was in the shed. He had disappeared. 

It was then that the seed in his old mind had bloomed and he laughed at himself with how poetic he tried to be when he named the cat, and how literal his act was. 


Written by Erin Nust
Art by Mikhail Nilov

“Are you sure? Once we start the procedure, there’s no turning back.”

The room was heavy with sage smoke and other aromas Betty couldn’t recognize. On the walls hung dark curtains that depicted constellations and terrifying tarot cards. One would think she had lost her common sense with all the emissions. 

“I’m sure. He has to pay,” she said to the woman on the other side of the table. 

“Very well.” The woman’s eyelids were almost closed, her eyes slit open. She was one with the atmosphere of the room. Her hair was an unbrushed dark bush rooted from her scalp and reaching her back. It was pulled back from her oval-shaped face with a purple headband. Her fingers were decorated with snake-like rings, some with coloured stones on them.  

“Did you bring them?” she asked Betty with a hoarse voice. Betty nodded and grabbed her purse which hung from the chair she was sitting on. She dug around for a few seconds until she found a small plastic bag with a handful of hair. Betty placed them on the starry tablecloth, besides the kitch crystal ball.

 “Very good,” Agnes nodded and touched the bag with her jewelry-heavy hands.  

Betty had collected some of Jake’s hair during his last visit in town. She had heard from a friend of hers that Madame Agnes was able to do the most unearthly things to someone if she possessed their  hair. It wasn’t easy to make a decision like that, but no one would understand how she felt when for the last year, at random times in the day, she had random flashes of her fiance cheating on her on every port he reached. Betty didn’t know how or why this happened, but she could see clearly in her mind’s eye whatever happened during Jake’s trips. 

“Tell me more about the man,” Madame Agnes asked as she was opening the bag and reached for a square box from the shelf behind her.

“He’s a sailor. We were planning on getting  married this year, but that’s not  happening now. I saw him with all of these women. I’m disgusted,”

Madame Agnes concentrated on finding some objects in the box.  “What do you mean you saw him?” she asked, somewhat absentmindedly.

“It’s hard to explain. I sometimes can see what he’s doing while he’s away. I can see these flashes of him in the ship with the other sailors, with the women.”

“You have the gift of sight. Interesting,” Madame Agnes said as she was laying some tobacco, thin cigar papers and filters. She put the box back to the shelf.

“Interesting? It’s torture! I want this to end, now!” Betty’s voice came out harsh and loud, but Agnes’s face remained composed.

Betty tried to calm herself. She watched Madame Agnes spreading some of the tobacco on the cigar paper with total dedication. Then she added some of the hairs and licked the edges of the paper to stick together when she would roll it. Betty felt her lunch reaching the root of her throat.

Madame Agnes raised her eyes and looked at Betty, holding a perfectly made cigarette. “There’s an old superstition,” she said as she stood to grab for a candle and a box of matches. She sat back down on her seat and put the candle in front of her. She looked so deep into Betty’s eyes that it was uncomfortable, soul-reaching. She took a match from the box and lighted it up, then used it to the white candle. She held the cigar in front of her mouth as if she was ready to smoke. 

“Whenever someone lights up a cigarette using the flame from a candle instead of a lighter or a match, a sailor dies.” Betty was now looking mesmerized by the swift moves of the woman with the wild hair.

“At least that is what my grandmother used to tell me. But what do they know? These things are just an old wife’s tale, right?” she said and put the cigar on the candle’s flame. The paper burned and the smell of tobacco merged with the rest of the aromas in the room. 

Betty didn’t move from her place. As the fire consumed the cigar, Jake’s image floated in her mind. He was in a cabin, drinking beers with some sailors. His head was dizzy and unclear from the alcohol, but he was having fun, watching his friends sing and dance without rhythm. Betty saw him falling dead on the ground, his friends still laughing at him. Jake’s heart had stopped and the image dissipated like smoke under the power of wind. 

“Thank you,” she said asMadame Agnes crushed the cigar to an ashtray next to her. 

The Machine

Written by Erin Nust
Art by Miguel A. Padrinan

 “It’ll be our turn soon,” Orion’s voice jumped with enthusiasm. Jimmy wished he could share his feelings. In front of them, hundreds of small heads waited in a row which moved steadily towards The Machine.

“Come on, Jimmy! This is exciting!”

“Is it, though? What if I end up with some embarrassing skill? It’s big deal.”

Jimmy had Fiona’s brother in mind, who after the Machine’s evaluation ended up with the gift of speaking to fish. Fish. The town didn’t see him for six months; he locked himself in his bedroom trying to figure out how he was supposed to move on with his life with a ‘gift’ like that. What job would anyone offer someone with such a useless ability? 

The Machine hovered above them like a gigantic monster, its running wires hanged in loops like tentacles. The fiery steam warmed the children’s skin like a hot day on the beach.On Jim’s forehead, two perfectly formed beads of sweat ran until they reached his jaw and slid down to the sparkling white floor.

“My brother told me they put wires on your temples and then, poof! You know.” Orion turned to talk to Jimmy. Jimmy knew his friend only wanted to cheer him up about the whole process, but the only thing he managed to do with his vivid descriptions was increase the rate of his heartbeat.

“Are we supposed to share about our gifts?” Jimmy asked but soon discovered it was a silly question. How else would he know about Fiona’s brother if he hadn’t told anyone? The law commanded every child at the end of primary school to be processed by the Machine, but it didn’t state they couldn’t be open with what gift it gave them. Some of the children ended up lying because the Machine had a wicked sense of humour and found it funny to ruin people’s lives. Lies that accompanied them until they were adults. Lies that only lasted until they had to prove their ability in a job interview and they got caught. The same was even more unbearable then. 

“Promise, we’re sharing what we got right after we’re done.” Orion sounded dead serious soJimmy nodded. No matter how embarrassing his gift was, he would share it with his best friend; especially if it was something ridiculous like getting a dog’s ears every time he lies.

Children were stepping closer and closer to the Machine. Jimmy could now see the process with his own eyes if he craned his neck. Standing on his tiptoes, he saw a girl with strawberry hair and funny freckles–her name was Chloe– sitting on a chair. A friendly woman in a white robe, asked the girl for her name, while a man with the same attire prepared two wires with two suckers attached. Jimmy inhaled sharply and nailed his foot on the earth. He wanted to discover the rest of it when it was time.

The Machine above them rumbled and moaned. Electronic sounds and colourful buttons dazzled Jimmy’s eyes. The more Jimmy approached the chair, the more he felt he hated the process, the law, and those who passed it. He couldn’t live with the constant fear that his life would be a living joke after the end of the process. Jimmy wished he would be one of the lucky ones: those who could turn invisible, or fly, or run like a cheetah. They had the best jobs, and the best lives. They were superstars. Was it fair a machine would decide the rest of their lives? Jimmy thought it wasn’t. Although his parents, especially his mom, had made great efforts into believing the Machine was never wrong and there was a good reason behind the gift it gave. All people had to do from then on was to find the reason for their gift.

The long row of heads that previously blocked his view had dissipated. There were only three children in front of him. Orion’s restlessness was glaringly obvious. He hopped in place and made small, awkward dances. Jimmy pulled his feet with difficulty.

“It’s time, buddy!” Orion said and the heat made his face red, covering the first pimples of puberty.

“Good luck.”

Orion sat on the chair and answered all the questions the lady with the white robe asked him with vigour. The man with the wires seemed to enjoy Orion’s enthusiasm for the process. The suckers touched his temples and he closed his eyes. Jimmy noticed Orion’s fat belly jiggle a little and he was scared running electricity was involved in the process. He didn’t want to watch more; he only wished he could run.

Only seconds later, Orion opened his eyes and smiled triumphantly. Jimmy’s anxiety had given its place to curiosity. His insides burned to find out what was his best friend’s gift, but Orion took his coat and walked to the exit. Jimmy hoped he would wait for him to finish when the gentle voice of the woman with the notes in her hand called him. “Next one, please.”

His palms were suddenly wet and soggy. He could feel the skin on his armpit soaked with sweat. He sat on the chair, aware that if he showed any signs of fear, the whole bunch of kids waiting for their turn would know.


“Jimmy. Ehm, I mean, Jim. Jim Colins.”

The woman smiled at him, crossing out his name. The man carefully put the suckers on his temples. He hoped the Machine didn’t record his pulse or they would send for a doctor. As Orion had done, Jimmy closed his eyes. The wires brought with them funny dizziness and his eyes swam. In the darkness of his mind, strange images popped up. He could recognize some of them as memories of past years, like when he and Orion didn’t sleep all night to catch the last episode of Push n’ Pull– their favourite TV show. Like sea waves, images of wires, buttons, metal came and went … and then there was nothing.

Jimmy opened his eyes, the man unplugged the suckers and he walked towards the exit confused.


“Hey,” he said to Orion who was already on his bike.


“You go first,” Jimmy said getting on his bike next to Orion.

“I am shapeshifting! Can you imagine that? Me, changing forms. Just think, think of the possibilities.”

Jimmy nodded carelessly, although he was happy for his friend.

“What about you? Is it bad? That’s why you’re blue?”

Jimmy put his foot on the pedal, but he didn’t push it.

“No. I mean, yes. It’s not what I expected. I’m confused.”

“Well? What is it, then?”

“The Machine taught me how to destroy the Machine itself.”

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall

Written by Erin Nust

She had begun gaining her consciousness. The previous hit had sent her sprawling onto the marble floor and knocked her out instantly. The first feeling when she opened her eyes was the one people have after napping in the middle of the day. For a moment, Kellie forgot where she was, but the thick, impenetrable darkness around her reminded her. The room’s temperature had fallen close to zero and her heart raced in her chest. Too frightened to move, she remained lying on the floor in a ball, trembling on the freezing marble surface. Kellie Kalmar was waiting for the next hit and a hunch in her promised it would be a strong one.

A bright spotlight turned on and broke the blackness of the room. Her eyes were instinctively drawn to it, like a moth drawn to fire, but it hurt her head. Kellie saw a full body mirror with its glass reflecting the poor image of her on the floor. Something called her towards it, an urge too strong to fight with her common sense, which was screaming to get out of the house. She stood gingerly and walked towards the mirror, pausing at the sight of her reflection. The urge commanded her to pull up her light blue sweater and reveal her snow-white skin. Purple marks dotted her stomach, all in different shapes and sizes. Terrified, she looked down and realized the bruises were only reflected in the mirror: in reality, her skin was clear white. Seconds later, just before the chilling atmosphere crawled into her skin, purple marks peppered on her belly at the same spots her reflection did.

Panic rushed through her. She thought she had left of the past and her marks behind. There were not much she could do as a child, she answered, the few times she decided to reveal her most traumatic past to a friend. She could only endure the pain and live by the rules someone else made for her. When someone asked her why she never reacts when people treated her degradingly (like Professor Trevor did when he decided to expose her bad essay as an example of bad writing in the whole class), she answered there was not much she could do but to live by the rules the world made for her.    

Kellie let the sweater down immediately and drew a step back. The only thing audible was the crescent rhythm of her breath. The spotlight turned off, as though the house could read her inner thoughts and grant her wish to disappear into the darkness. It didn’t last long. Seconds later the light turned on again. Kellie’s mouth was half-open. She moved her hand, waved to the mirror just to check what the new reflection would do. The little girl with ribbons in her hair did the same things. Her left hand was raised and then she waved back. As time went by, she realized that the girl looked familiar. She reminded of herself when she was a child-

She didn’t manage to follow the conclusion in her head when the spotlight turned off and on again, but instead of the cold white light, the dark room was illuminated with a red one. A gasp of agony came out of Kellie’s mouth when the image in the mirror showed the shape of a strong woman’s body, with messy curly hair and a wide forehead. The cold, angry eyes were nailed on hers and it was only then that she wanted to run, to run as fast as possible and save herself from this nightmare. But she was paralysed.

“Don’t ever dare to talk to me like that again! You stupid kid! I’m your mother! Don’t ever forget that.” The voice of the reflection seemed so real that Kellie covered her mouth to swallow her own scream. The woman in the mirror grinned at her, a grin crooked and wicked that fit perfectly on the face of a demon.

“Kellie, how many times have I told you to clean up your bloody room?” Sounds of wooden furniture moving against each other, glass objects crashing and human hands striking another body surrounded Kellie. It was like she was watching a movie and she was standing in the middle of the act.

“Come here, Kellie! I’m not finished with you yet!”

A well-shaped, muscled arm came out of the mirror, like the reflection of her mother was striving to get out of her entrapment and jump into her reality to catch her. The previous stifled sounds crescendoed into a scream that filled the room and echoed back from the invisible walls of the house. She didn’t have many options. She had been inactive human flesh, welcoming hits and punches.

(much like when you were a little girl with ribbons in her hair isn’t it, Kellie?)

Images bombarded her, flashes that played tricks with her mentality. She wasn’t even sure why she was going through this nightmare. Visiting the mansion was a joke she simply made with her friends, a bet she had to pay for not being brave enough to tell them she was scared. Now it had turned into a self-torture game. And it had to be over.

She took another step back and ran towards the mirror, driving her left shoulder into the fleshed-out arm. Shattering pieces of glass impaled her skin, oozing blood while the fleshed arm shaped a fist and tried to hit her. She grabbed it and used all of her power to break it. The vanishing screams of the demon filled her ears while she grabbed the body of the mirror and dropped it onto the floor, breaking every piece of glass that remained on its surface.

The red light faded and the room sank into darkness again. Kellie’s breast was heaving. She stood in the middle of the room, lost in the blank waiting for another punch to hit her over. Only this time she was ready to fight.         


Written by Erin Nust

The idea which wandered in his mind and tortured him day and night was that he had to face every single one of them under a new light. What was more, he had just been burdened by accusations for her death and that made his guilt even more unbearable.

Although one might believe that his daily routine would probably change, the truth is none of the things he did while Janet was still alive ceased their flow. He woke up at the same time (7:30 in the morning), he washed his teeth, and he drank his coffee by the window. The difference was that there was no one to keep him out from the toilet or the kitchen where she made breakfast. Since she was gone, breakfast was just a luxury to him and he skipped it. Then, he had to do the hardest thing for the day: go to his office, sit down, and write.

Writer’s block hit him harder after his wife’s death (death, you make it sound like it was something natural, like something that would happen anyway) and going to the office and actually sitting on his comfy red chair was literally harder than breaking an egg without dropping any shells. He decided to go out that day and skip the writing session, as he did with his breakfast. What’s the point in trying anyway, nothing good will come out of it.

He put on his black coat and he took Apple Street. It was his favourite route because it was a small road, all covered with grey stones and a pavement which was stacked with, as the name pointed out, apple trees. Now that the summer was fading out and September took over, the leaves had already started to lose their green brightness. He anticipated the October weather when they fall off and the red colour of the apples pops out in the midst of naked branches. Following that road, he would end up in Greystone, the main street in North Crennal that was always busy but never in the kind of car jam that happens in the centre of Astus. Moving here was probably the best decision I’ve ever made. And it wasn’t even my idea.

He walked along the street until he reached the crossing. He pushed the button and in seconds, the light turned green. A happy green man that paced appeared. George passed Greystone and took the second alley to his left hand. A big label appeared that exhibited the brand of the local bakery shop, CRENNAL’S BREAD AND TOFFEE. He entered and the smell of hot bread and the cookies made his empty stomach rumble. George cursed himself for not having breakfast.

“Good morning,” he said and smiled at the little fat guy (George tried to remember his name. Leo or Louis, he wasn’t sure). The baker smiled until he realized the man standing in front of him was George Frazer. He didn’t reply.

“Two loaves of bread and a box of these wonderful cookies, please,” he said and stood witnessing Leo or Louis moving in curt ways and staring at George impolitely. Of course, they do, they all know who I am, what I did. The smile disappeared from his face, adapting to the situation.

The man outstretched his arm to give George the bread and the box and he looked at him coldly. “Two forty.” His voice was that of the executioner.

George put his free hand to his right pocket and fiddled in clanking coins until he felt the right ones. “Thank you.”

“She was a good woman, your wife,” the man said when George reached the back of the store. “Why’d you do something like that to her?”

George turned around and looked at the man, glad that he had the chance to explain to someone. Even convicts had the right to one last wish.

“I didn’t know, I would cause such harm, mister. Things were completely out of hand lately and…” he didn’t know what else to say. How could he explain the situation in his marriage, in his house to a stranger? He couldn’t, so he decided to spill the raw truth to him. “I’m sorry, for everything that happened.”

He liked the small, fat man–even now. Before his nightmare would begin, he used to welcome him with a friendly smile and he always offered a cookie or two just because. Now things didn’t work that way.

“Sorry is not enough most of the time,” he said with a tone of wisdom and George knew he was right.

He decided he had enough interaction with the world outside and he took the route back home. Suddenly, the idea of sitting behind his blank page was not so terrifying. On his way back he noticed nature around him and he firmly believed that even the apple trees treated him differently. He imagined how they turned their backs on him, how from beautiful and welcoming they became terrifying and apathetic.

A couple of women started chatting when they saw him passing by the road and George lowered his head. He knew these women. It wasn’t much time ago that the one with the brown coat called him and Janet on her birthday. It seemed like he deserved the good behaviour and the warmth of his neighbours as long as he had Janet by his side. Gone, and the smiles were gone with her. Is this really who I am now? Or was I this man all along but Janet made me better?

A cold breeze made his eyes wet and he rushed to find his keys and enter his home. In his solitude, he could define better who he was and who he wasn’t. When he put his foot in the house, an idea electrocuted him and made him stop. It was as if a Muse was waiting for him by the door and hit him with an idea at the moment he entered like a homeowner would do to a burglar.

He put the bread on the table, grabbed his coffee and the box of cookies, and rushed into his office. He opened a blank file and typed like crazy. He would write a story inspired by his life. It was a story about a writer that had an affair with a woman twenty-five years younger than him. His wife had depression and clawed to their relationship when she caught him with that younger woman, she fell off a cliff near their district.  He was left to face the consequences and himself.


Written by Erin Nust

The house was a mess. Empty glass bottles rolled on the wooden floor at her passage to the front door.

“It was great. Thanks for everything, Christine”

She didn’t have the articulation to express her thoughts clearly. Alcohol made her mind stutter.

“I know. I’m gonna miss you a-a-all of you, and this”

She made a feeble gesture to show the house behind her.

“You’re gonna have the best parties from now on. Only don’t forget about us here. Holidays are for coming back home, ok?”

Christine broke a smile and she nodded. “Yes. Holidays. I’ll be back.”

She saw the bodies of her friends turn around and dance in the yellow light of her porch. They got into their cars. She closed the door. The house looked menacingly silent, although her ears still rang from the loud bass of the speakers.

There was no way she could bear the weight of her body. With the broken smile still sewed on her pale face, she supported herself on the right wall, right next to the staircase and slid down until her bottom touched the floor.

She let out a burst of a laugh. She didn’t know why. Alcohol made her mind stutter and she hated it. In two days from now, she’d move to another city and be miles away from her home-town–a thought that felt surprisingly relieving.

On the two corners of her smile, she felt the chemical taste of the liquefied mascara that was running all the way through her face. She laughed out again and the sound of her lonely laugh against the dead silence of the house scared her to death. She sounded crazy, chuckling alone, with her makeup wearing off from her face and running out of her pores, melting away, leaving her


naked and alone.

She stretched her hands and investigated her nails. They wore a fading blue colour and they were long enough to cut human flesh. Another chuckle and another sip of mascara in her mouth and she clawed her hands against her naked skin. Like small razors, they hooked to her arm. Christine welcomed the pain. This was relieving: the instant, cruel sense of something other than mere fear; a fear which boiled in a pot in her for years, fear for anything she hasn’t experienced yet, like the first time she kissed someone or the first time she tried a new ice cream flavour because strawberry ran out.

Yes, she was laughing with pleasure (alone, how you re gonna make it, no one can help you now, alone, alone) when she hurt her own self, down on the cold floor after the best party she ever had, after all of her friends hugged her and wished her the best of luck. And still, neither the love nor the hugs filled the empty vase, none of these put her soul on fire more than that exact moment when she impaled herself with her own nails.

And when she had no more power, she unclenched the claw and her mouth was dead dry from the stuck smile on her face. She pushed herself from the floor, stood for a minute and wiped the tears with her right palm. Christine picked up the first bottle of beer she found in front of her, dropped it in a black trash bag and then picked up the next until the whole house was spick and span. Her parents would come back in the morning and everything should have been perfect, herself included.   

Thoughts of a Dying Man

Written by Erin Nust

The crackling wood in the fireplace and the violent gusts of wind, which slammed their way to the window, lullabies the old man. 

He sank in his red velvet armchair with his legs outstretched on a matching footstool. It was his favourite spot in the whole house. On the walls, hundreds of books with the knowledge of thousands of years watched old Peter Bennet, the Spike as he was known in the military, fading away from this world.

Above the fireplace, a younger version of himself hung in a painted portrait. He still carried the same nimbleness in his brown eyes and, although his age, he maintained the witty smile with the perfect teeth. 

Poor old Peter Bennet had met a lot of women before, during, and after the wall, but none of them managed to break the facade of the charming man other than his Gen. She was the daughter of a baker, but she had the heart of a soldier. They met at a bar where she worked as a singer after her father died. Peter was first attracted by her full red lips and the big green eyes, but when he talked to her he found out Genevieve wasn’t all about looks. 

They spent two happy years together until Peter was called to fight for the War. After six months of his service, he received a letter which announced Gev dead from pneumonia. Peter was crushed and even though his fellow soldiers tried to console him with promises of new loves in his life, he knew well there wouldn’t be another person in his life like Gev; he was right.

He got married of course. He married a nice girl named Grace and they had a son. He never gave his heart completely to her and he was feeling guilty for it. Grace was kind and loving and the mother of his child, but she didn’t have Gen’s lion heart, nor the bravery to win him over the way Gen had done all these years ago.

When Grace died, Larry was already twenty years old and in search of his own destiny. Peter had taken his pension and enjoyed his free time mostly in the library, where he studied history and the achievements of great men. He was unnecessary to his son, now.

He could recall the memory of Grace’s death clearly. It was still fresh in his memory, which played sneaky tricks on him, lying about where he left his reading glasses or if he had taken his pills that day. It was late December and Peter hoped Grace would manage to live another year, but her health was deteriorating since September when the blood tests had bad news for her. She was lying on the bed wearing her favourite satin nightie and Peter was standing by the door. Larry, blessed with the optimism and the vibrance of youth, was holding her hand as she heaved for one more breath. Peter knew the relationship with his son was lost the moment Grace left this world. Peter saw him wiping his tears on his face with discretion as if he was in the presence of a stranger. That night they sat on the kitchen table together and smoked silently in the darkness. 

“After mom’s funeral, I’ll have to go back. Lots of college-work,” Larry said and climbed the stairs to his old, childhood bedroom. Peter was fighting with himself to find the words, any words, to talk to his son, but an invisible wall made the effort worthless. It was too late for them.   

Peter liked to think he had a good life, if not a good, then surely a full one and he rarely regretted things he had done. Now that he was sensing his life coming to an end, Peter realized he had some regrets, always regarding the way he treated his family. He was a good husband,  but not the best father; he always put his duty first and, most of the time, that meant for Larry he would have to grow up fatherless.

 They had years to have a proper conversation with each other, Peter thought swallowed by his armchair. The realisation disappointed him.

I am dying and there is no man alive who will shed a real tear for me, he speculated and it made him sad. All of the generals and sergeants loved him. When you share your life with someone and you even are in danger of losing it as well, your base becomes your family and your real home family are just music in the background. 

An owl hooted outside the window and the fire weakened as the time passed. Old Peter Bennet, the Spike, was happy to know he would leave his last breath in his favorite room, on his favorite armchair with joyful memories and others not so pleasant. Most importantly, he was happy to know he served his country the best and he was loved by most people he met in his life; as for the mistakes he had made during his life, in a time like that, he was proud of them too.     


Written by Erin Nust – Instagram: erin_nust

Young Tristan Jade had his eyes squeezed shut as he turned restlessly around in his bed. He wished desperately for a tsunami of sleep to drown him so that he could stop these dreadful thoughts. What time was it? He couldn’t exactly calculate, but he was sure it was long past his bedtime. The thought made his guilt worse; he should have been sleeping by now. Instead, he created horrifying stories with his mind. 

He sighed and turned with his back on the bed. A deep line appeared between his eyebrows and his irises wriggled restlessly, as if he was having a bad dream. Nope, not gonna happen.  

Tristan Jade suffered from “extremely vivid imagination,” as his grandmother told him the first time he ran to her bed after a nightmare about a monster without arms or legs that floated to harm him. It was five years ago, and he was only six then. 

He opened his eyes and looked at the ceiling. He wanted to sit up, take a walk in the bedroom, or even go downstairs and have a glass of cold water to bring him back to reality, but it was impossible. Fear, panic maybe, glued him to his blue sheets.  

A squeak echoed from the wooden closet. It was opposite to his bed, the first thing he faced if he sat up. His face wrinkled like a crumpled piece of paper before being thrown into a basket. He squeezed his eyes shut. He grabbed his covers and veiled his head under it. The warmth made him feel safer, but not enough to put himself back to sleep. Damn you, Nick.  

When George suggested sharing creepy stories for their “pajama party” at Herb’s house, Tristan knew it would be a terrible idea for his “extremely vivid imagination.” Unfortunately, he didn’t have the courage to be the only one to reject the suggestion. Excitement buzzed in the air and he wanted to be part of it.  

Everyone had a version of the typical haunted house or forest story; these couldn’t get the grasp of Tristan’s imagination, not that easily, but Nick had a real story and that was enough to keep him restless for nights. 

The strange thing was that he already had grasps and glimpses of the Atkinson story, even before Nick narrated with such vigor. Tristan heard his grandmother talking on the phone with her best friend, Lisa, about Benjamin Atkinson who—in an outburst of absolute raging madness—killed his wife and his five-year-old daughter. He didn’t learn these details from his grandmother of course, but everyone in Astus talked about the tragedy for a month or so.  

Nick’s version wasn’t just about a crazy man that came home and killed his family. Nick’s story included more hair-raising details, like the fact that Atkinson believed his daughter’s teddy bear made him murder them (and then kill himself), that he was an alcoholic, and that he had decided he would live with their rotting corpses in his house. Nick said that everything was true. He knew these details first-hand because his father was a cop and he was involved in the case.  

He was even more terrified by the fact that Tristan knew where the Atkinson house was located. He and the gang could go and visit it, breathe some of its air or touch its decaying bricks. He was very much afraid that, in an explosion of excitement, someone might suggest a visit and Tristan would have to share their feelings and follow them. 

There were sounds in the house that he would’ve recognized as normal if his mind wasn’t captured by the Atkinson story. He was afraid that, at any moment, the door would open and an angry man—followed by the smell of alcohol and tobacco—would burst into his bedroom with a belt in his hand to beat him until his breath would stop.  

So he closed his eyes and concentrated on a happier place, as his granny taught him that first night. He closed his eyes and remembered; he remembered the smell of peach perfume and the silk touch of long brown hair; he remembered the soft texture of his mother’s sweater and the strong hug of his father’s arms. A faint smile eradicated the strong line between his eyebrows, and it floated on his sweet, young face. The sounds in the background went away, the image of Atkinson just a shadow now, and he stood in a shiny spot with a female and a male figure, who held him and protected him from his “extremely vivid imagination.”

Sleep, sweet and soft, took him away without Tristan realizing it. It would be morning soon. 

The Letter

Written by Erin Nust – Instagram: erin_nust

Mary Sides was sitting on her uncomfortable, almost broken dining chair with the thin letter in her hands. She held it with elegance and steadiness–no trembling hands or nervousness. Ash accumulated at the head of her cigarette, making it heavier; it brought her back to reality. Mary tapped her cigarette and a generous amount of dead tobacco dropped into the ashtray. She stared at the letter, then back outside the window. She was sure she didn’t want to read it.

Her eyes hurt a little. She hadn’t slept well last night. The phone rang at three-thirty in the morning (witching hour, she thought, when she had looked at the night stand’s clock) and she was sure the news wasn’t good. No good news could come from a phone call after midnight. Only, Mary was wrong: the news was just news–neither good nor bad.

The voice on the other side of the line wasn’t familiar. It introduced himself as Patrick Jasper, a doctor at St Helen’s Hospital of Astus. His name didn’t ring any bell for her, but his profession gave Mary enough information to guess what the phone call was about. She could proceed with the conversation with much less anxiety now.

“I’m sorry for the inappropriate time, miss… Sides, isn’t it? I am afraid you should come to the hospital. It’s your mother.” 

Mary stood next to the bed and scratched her bushy head of curls.  

“Oh. I see. I… I will send someone, yes, thank you,” she said, her voice hoarse by the abrupt wake-up. 

The fact that her mother would soon pass inhabited her mind fleetingly; the thought only visited every once in a while, whenever Mary would accidentally meet a cousin or an aunt, and they would ask about Trisha. She hated that she had to fake a smile, nod and reply that Trisha was fine and enjoyed her retirement by reading books and baking, while in reality, Mary had not the slightest clue what Trisha was doing in her life. She only described to them what she would like to be true, like all the other fantasies she made about her perfect version of Trisha Sides–that she had just left this world by a feeble heart.

She could recognize the confusion in the doctor’s awkward closing. 

When she put the phone down, a satisfying click echoing through the room, Mary let a rueful smile escape from her. The mortuary office took care of everything and none of her involvement was necessary. Her money could pay for a service that offered her more than alleviation from the bureaucratic procedures of death: it could relieve her from seeing her mother one last time. She had no tolerance for any guilty feelings, no; guilt was not allowed in her mind, not after the long nights she spent crying thanks to her mother’s insufficient parenting and interfering personality. This was a promise she made to herself after the huge fight they had in Trisha’s house when Mary had just found out that her former fiance was getting married to an unknown girl named Jackie.

Mary’s cigarette was over, crushed on the bottom of the glass ashtray and immediately replaced by another one. The bitter taste of tobacco was the same she had when she received an invitation from Carl, a wedding invitation with the name Jackie–Jackie and not Mary, as she always imagined it would be. It arrived in her mail with a thank you note, which urged her to grab her purse and drive all the way to her mother’s house. 

It was warm and sunny the day Mary’s mother died; it was rainy and damp the day she drove infuriated to her mother’s one-story house with the little garden. Mary parked the car crookedly by the pavement and huge cold raindrops hit her body as if trying to put out the fiery blaze of her anger. 

Trisha Sides was a small structured woman, but with an authoritative presence that captured everyone near her. Mary was protected by her anger and she couldn’t fall under her spell; not now at least. She entered her mother’s warm and tasteful house, and she dropped Carl’s invitation to the dining table. 

“Why, now, what is all of this Mary? Look at you, when will you finally start to take ca-”

“Don’t you even dare to lecture on me!” Mary’s voice felt like it would break the hundreds of porcelain glasses, vases, plates that decorated Trisha’s living room. “Do you know what this is?”

“Obviously, I don’t. But I hope it’s important enough to explain this unexplainable behaviour.”

Mary grabbed the invitation and wriggled it in front of her mother’s face. 

“It’s a wedding invitation. Carl’s wedding invitation, My Carl’s invitation.”

“Oh, please don’t tell me you’re making a scene for this man. You should be glad you got rid of him. He was a tasteless dog.”

Trisha’s calm position, the way her eyes moved with rejection every time Mary spoke infuriated her even more.

“This ‘tasteless dog’ chose me to be his companion. How can you say such awful things for your own daughter, I would never understand! How can you be so selfish, unkind…inhuman to your flesh and blood! No wonder dad died early.”

“Be careful there, Mary. Don’t say words you’re going to regret later.”

“I waited my whole life for those words. You drove Carl crazy! Every time we visited you, he wondered what he did wrong, he even accused me, as if anyone can face your judgements and criticisms! No one can stand you, Trisha.”

Mary grabbed her purse, but she left the invitation on the dining table. She passed her mother like she was another random person on the road, as Trisha walked to the table and touched the invitation lightly. 

“You have some nerve to come over my house and accuse me of your mistakes. That man was sick of your absurd jealousy scenes, your control. I only spoke my mind on matters of aesthetics. That’s all I did with him. Do you think that was enough to make a man run away from you?”

Mary didn’t turn to face her mother. Her words slapped her in her face, she was one step away from moving away from her and her slaps for good and she didn’t want to give her any satisfaction by reacting. Mary only grabbed the door handle and went out in the cold rain, closing the door behind her forever. She had no news, not another word from her mother, except for the thin paper she held in her hands.

The letter danced between her fingers and she was staring at the busy street outside, where people chatted and laughed and shouted at one another, went on with their lives, while she had to deal with one last loose end before she could do the same.   

She wondered what it would contain. She liked to imagine it was a  redemption letter, a plea for forgiveness for all the bad things she had done and said to her, like the degrading comments about her graduation outfit, or the time she threw away Mary’s favourite shirt, just because it wasn’t good enough for her taste. But no, the letter would most likely contain one last condemning lecture about all the ways she wasn’t a deserving daughter.  

Mary crushed her fourth cigarette in the ashtray and put the letter against the sunlight. She peered into it, smiled, and she grabbed her lighter. She walked all the way to her kitchen sink and she lighted it. When she smelled a hint of burnt paper, she dropped her mother’s letter in the sink and she paced to her bedroom. She permitted herself to move on.