My name is Naomi! I am this year’s editor. I am very excited to be trusted with this edition. I know that I will be getting to know all of you through the pieces that you submit. If you are curious to get to know me and have a little peak behind the literary curtain, you should follow me on TikTok. This month I will be posting a lot of content that includes motivation for writing, encouragement for submitting, and a bit about all the fun that makes this position magical. If you don’t have a TikTok, don’t worry, I will also be posting on here and our official Facebook account.
2023 All is Fair in Love and War Submission Call
2022 Pushcart Prize Nominations
We are very excited to announce that we are nominating three pieces from our Spring 2022 issue for a Pushcart Prize!
They are, in no specific order:
“An Ode to my Period” by Jaqueline Rose Gregory
“The Bath” by Alex Gibson
“With the Wash on our Hip” by Megan Wildhood
Huge congratulations to these three writers! It’s been a pleasure to publish your work!
Darryl Womack, “Halloween Night”
October’s Final Days, WINNER, Poetry
‘Twas Halloween Night all the children were dressed
As ghosties and ghoulies to scare all the rest.
They set out for adventure – sweet treats for the taking
Clouds swept past the moon – a night of tricks in the making.
Dark streets were lighted – Jack O’Lantern’s glowing
Nobody knew that true danger was growing.
Kids giggled and skipped house to house, door to door
“Trick or Treat” they would shout, rudely asking for more.
The neighborhood houses were decked out as well,
Graveyards with monsters and demons from Hell.
The scene was a treat for the imagination,
Until Sam finally snapped and sought retaliation.
As kids filled their bags up with neighborhood goodies,
Terror lurked in the shadows wearing black pants and a hoodie.
Sam hated this tradition, greedy kids, noise and laughter,
He’d make people think twice from now on, ever after.
As the children ran past him, his patience was waning,
He needed to strike – his insanity gaining!
One house was designed to give kiddies a fright,
The front lawn was a graveyard just for tonight.
Fake zombies struggled to rise from the ground,
It was one of the best Halloween scenes to be found.
Danny crept near a place where he shouldn’t have been,
A quick blade ‘cross his throat and he’s part of the scene.
An old oak spread its limbs in a park down the street,
Fake monsters were hanged there – a cool breeze blew their feet.
Sandy, dressed as a ghoul, got too close to the dark,
A noose tight ‘round her neck added feet to the park.
Red strobe lights flashed brightly from the depths of a well,
A bloody, handwritten sign read: “The Gateway To Hell”.
Away from his friends, Timmy wandered too close,
One little shove – his screams add to the show.
The horror continued all Halloween night,
Kids disappeared to the left and the right.
Sam did his handiwork the whole evening through,
Until one child was left who didn’t know what to do.
He stood under a streetlight, whimp’ring, cold as a bone,
Wond’ring, through sobs, why his friends left him alone.
Sunrise discovered a most grisly scene,
More murders in one night than there’d ever been.
What once was tradition became nightmare that year,
No more tricking, no treating, no laughter, no cheer.
Sam was convicted and locked up for good,
Only one child survived from the whole neighborhood.
That child is all grown now – he’s not been the same,
Stories say now he plays a most frightening game.
He wanders the countryside, from town to town,
He hasn’t got friends and he can’t settle down.
Wherever he visits on Halloween Night,
He pretends he is Sam and gives children a fright.
Once he finishes playing his Halloween game,
It’s said that the children are never the same.
He fills neighborhood children with terror and dread,
When all’s said and done the kids wish they were dead.
So, as you put on your costume with plans to have fun,
Keep looking behind you, be ready to run.
A madman is lurking ‘round every dark turn,
To teach you a lesson all children should learn.
Stick together, say thank you and please be polite,
And you just might survive this Halloween Night!
Darryl Womack’s love for storytelling was spurred from family camping trips and his many colorful tales shared around the campfire in the backwoods of California. A high school English teacher by day, Womack is now brought those vivid campfire tales to life in his 2016 book, Tales of Westerford. When he is not writing, Womack enjoys the outdoors, traveling, mountain biking, reading, and spending time with family and friends. A graduate of Humboldt State University, he currently resides in Redlands, California with his wife of 34 years, Patty. Together they have three sons, Garrett, Kevin, and Christopher, two daughters-in-law, Morgana and Catherine, and two granddaughters, Maddie and Kate.
Vicki Liston, “Molly’s Grave”
October’s Final Days, WINNER, Fiction
“…and the pieces of her body slowly move towards each other, worming and squirming underneath the surface of the dirt until they can reconnect again.”
“Her ‘pieces’? Ewwww….” squirmed Shyloh.
“Well, that’s what they are”, I reasoned. “Pass another marshmallow and I’ll finish.”
“There’s Bailey,” said Shyloh. “Hey, come over! Preston’s telling a true Halloween story! Start it over. The real ones are the creepiest!”
I began again. “Here in St. Charles, Missouri there’s a story most kids hear in high school – Molly’s Grave. Back in the 1800s, a woman named Molly Crenshaw lived by herself outside of town, so people thought she was a witch. One winter, the ground froze and the farmers couldn’t get anything to grow the following spring. They began to whisper among themselves, ‘It’s that witch’s fault!’. They blamed Molly and grew angrier the more they complained.”
The breeze made us shiver and Bailey inched closer to the firepit.
“One Halloween night, the farmers exploded into rage. They banded together with pitchforks and stormed her home. Molly refused to take the blame and argued with the mob. ‘This is NOT my doing, I SWEAR!!’ But despite her cries, they dragged Molly to the town’s square for a horrifying execution. A public death would serve as adequate punishment! She pleaded for help from the townsfolk who’d come out to watch. Wouldn’t anyone stand up for her? But there was no stopping the farmers. As she lay there, she realized that nothing would convince them of her innocence. She was going to die! Mustering her courage, she spun a bone-chilling curse. “Anyone who harms me! Or watching my death!” Molly screeched. “YOU’RE CURSED! I’ll come back to life and bring my vengeance! To YOU, your family, your children, and grandchildren!”
The fire flickered wildly and we all jumped.
“While they didn’t stop, the mob hesitated. How do you keep a witch from resurrecting? Someone yelled, ‘Cut her in half! She can’t come back if she’s not a full body!’ Molly screamed her last words, ‘I’LL STILL COME BACK!!’ Undeterred, they agreed on this solution and Molly was sawed in half.
Molly’s body was buried in separate graves. One at a private cemetery near where the high school is now. The other, miles away in an unmarked grave near the river. The town went back to its everyday life and the farmers returned to their fields. But no crops grew that year. And despite the miles between them, Molly’s body started moving towards each other from the moment of her burial. As if magnetically attracted back together, aching for new life and a taste for revenge. Wiggling like worms underneath the unsuspecting town. Once the pieces meet, Molly will live again and wipe out all of the farmers’ descendants and of those present at her death! How soon will it happen? How close are the pieces now? How much time is left? Are YOU a descendent?! No one knows…”
“Let’s go!” blurted Bailey, already standing.
“Where???”, asked Shyloh, not wanting to know the answer.
“Umm, bad things happen to anyone who disrespects Molly,” I warned. “Some kids went looking for her grave once…and the police found them impaled on a cemetery fence. Like DEAD.”
He scoffed. “Scaaaaaaared?”
I rolled my eyes. “It’s just a story.”
“Well, if there’s nothing to worry about…”, Bailey taunted.
We piled into Bailey’s car, wishing for the first time that he wasn’t old enough to drive. I wasn’t listening as he mapped to our destination – a private cemetery near the high school.
As we pulled up, my stomach knots relaxed. ‘That’s it?!’, I thought, seeing a chain link fence surrounding a dozen markers. Bailey grabbed a flashlight as we stepped out into the darkness. The crickets serenaded us, unphased by our intrusion. We hopped the fence and Bailey lit each grave, mumbling their names. I held back; the fence felt safer than stepping over graves.
Shyloh’s voice unexpectedly cut into the crickets’ song, “Molly, we aren’t afraid of you!” The cacophony of crickets suddenly died to a deafening silence. My neck hair prickled as I realized the wind had abruptly stopped, too. We stood motionless.
My stomach knotted as Bailey shifted his weight and a stick cracked like an old bone. “Look at the ground!”, he sputtered. “Something’s moving underneath!!” Bailey dropped the flashlight and bolted. Shyloh followed but I couldn’t – my legs had hardened into cement. She ran, leaping to clear the fence but caught a barb and she crumpled with a cry into the rail before crashing to the ground. Was she impaled?! I couldn’t see past the stinging tears.
Bailey made it to the car first, keys jangling as he shook. The car simply clicked, refusing to start. I stood frozen solid, watching Shyloh groan on her bloody leg. Bailey cursed at the car as if that would convince it to work. Numb and blurry, all I could do was watch the flickering flashlight cast eerie shadows on the gravestones. Terror took ahold of my body and I saw my breath in the chilly air. Molly was here. We’d been disrespectful and there were dire consequences in store. “I’m sorry,” I whispered, “I didn’t even want to come.” I choked as panic engulfed my throat. “Please, Miss Crenshaw! We’re sorry,” I pleaded with reverence. The words hung like corpses over my head. Throbbing silence beat on my ear drums as I held my breath, not wanting to see it billow out again.
Then, one lone cricket ruptured the nothingness. Then another. The key clicked and the car struggled to life. “PRESTON, MOOOOOVE!!”, Bailey screamed wildly, his voice octaves above his normal tone. I exhaled, my breath no longer visible. “Thank you, Molly”, I sputtered, shaking as the words tumbled off my tongue. My legs, now complying, flew with newfound speed towards the car, grabbing Shyloh and dragging her in as I jumped inside. Bailey stomped the gas pedal to the floor. As I took one more look out across the graveyard, the flashlight’s flicker caught what looked like a woman’s shadow. I squeezed my eyes tight, whispering apologies as we sped away.
Vicki Liston is a multi-award-winning voice actor, video producer, and writer. She served as the resident DIY and Home Expert for DontWasteYourMoney and SimpleMost (both E.W. Scripps companies), writes and hosts for Hometalk TV, and has appeared as a contributing writer in two recent editions of the multi-million-dollar book series, Chicken Soup for the Soul, published by Simon and Schuster. Vicki has been a featured expert in The New York Times, The Today Show‘s website, MSN, Forbes, Family Handyman Magazine, Apartment Therapy, House Beautiful, The Spruce, The Washington Post, and more. She also writes, voices, and produces the award-winning series, ‘On The Fly…DIY’, which has over a million and a half views on YouTube and raises money for no-kill animal shelters and rescue organizations.
And the winners for poetry and fiction…
will be published on Halloween, at 6 am EDT, to boost you up on your Halloween Monday!
Terry Adcock, “Tea, Ghosts, and a Bit of Gossip”
October’s Final Days, First Runner-Up, Fiction
“I’ve always wondered whether ghosts were real.” Granny sipped a steaming cup of sweet tea as she gazed at the apparition hovering ever so slightly above the sofa cushions. “My grandmother was a believer. The stories she told us children would curl your hair!”
The apparition nodded and glanced at the Tambour clock sitting on the mantle. It was nearly midnight. Granny noticed the apparition checking the time and smiled.
Before the apparition disappeared, Granny said, “For years, I refused to accept that our house was haunted, but obviously, I was wrong.” Granny shrugged her thin shoulders. “You’re the reason our family could never sell this old house. Grandmother always said she felt like a prisoner. My parents took over, but they couldn’t unload the place either. I suppose I’m destined to live out my days here as well. All because you died and refused to leave.”
The apparition said, “I’ll never leave, besides where would I go? They say a spirit can’t rest after a violent death. No, I’ll always haunt this place. And if it gets torn down, I’ll haunt whatever they put up next.”
“Grandmother said you fell down the stairs and broke your neck. So, actually, you don’t have to keep haunting the place because it was an accident.”
“Do you really believe that old story? It was no accident. I was murdered by my cheating husband, the rotten scoundrel! In those days, we didn’t have furr . . . for . . .”
“Forensics,” Granny said, supplying the word.
“Yes, that’s it. Back then, I suppose a good wallop upside the head looked much like a broken neck from a fall.”
“Grandmother said you drank too much. Probably missed a step and fell.”
The apparition appeared agitated. “Your old grandmother couldn’t tell a straight story if her life depended on it. Your mother was just like her.”
“Why pick on Mother? What did she ever do to you?” Granny said indignantly.
“And you’re as bad as they were,” the apparition continued. “You scared your children half to death with those old stories, and now you make your poor grand-children listen to that same claptrap like it’s gospel, but there’s no truth in it.”
The minute hand advanced another couple of notches as midnight drew nearer. They caught each other looking at the clock. Granny set her cup down firmly and sat up all prim and proper; clearly miffed at hearing her family disparaged.
“I merely passed on the stories as they were told to me. Besides, scaring the bejeezus out of children makes them want to behave or else bad things might happen. It kept me and my sisters in line.”
“Wouldn’t you like to know the real story?”
“Of course, but first tell me, is the “legend” really true? They say your spirit must return to the turret next to the widow’s walk each night before the clock strikes midnight else the demons will drag you straight to hell. Is it true?”
“You finally got something right, old girl! I’ve never been late, not in a hundred years, and not for all eternity. I’ll always be here,” said the apparition.
Two minutes to midnight.
“Before you go, what really happened that night? Did your husband truly kill you, as you claim?”
“I suspected he was seeing the parson’s wife and that night I caught them together!”
Granny absently poured more tea. “Oh my! What happened next?” Granny couldn’t let the apparition leave now; she just had to know.
“They were up in the tower doing the “naughty deed” as we used to say. They played me for a fool, but I fixed them good!” said the apparition with feeling.
The second hand on the clock swept along ticking off the final seconds. Granny heard the gears click into place as the old clock prepared to chime the critical hour.
“Lord a’mighty! What did you do? Tell me quickly!”
“I stabbed them with a carving knife. They wanted to be together so badly, now they’re stuck with each other for forever.” The apparition cackled with glee.
“But how did your husband manage to kill you.”
“Just before he died, he gave me one last mighty whack that broke my neck and I fell down the stairs. Old Sheriff Coots couldn’t tell the difference between a broken neck and a stubbed toe. He assumed I tripped and fell to my death.”
“Bless your heart! But, you said a violent death won’t let a spirit rest. What happened to your husband and his mistress? All these years, why haven’t I heard them haunting this old place like you?”
“I keep them locked up in the turret tower with me. They treated me badly, and I’m going to enjoy tormenting those two until the end of time!” The apparition laughed, but it sounded more like a screech owl.
Just then the clock struck twelve; the familiar low melodic sound filled the room.
“Oh no! What have you done? You kept me talking for too long! I’ve got to get back to the tower. . .”
Suddenly, the apparition disappeared in a puff of smoke. As the last chime marked the midnight hour, all was quiet, even peaceful.
Granny heard soft footsteps coming down the stairs. Her husband shuffled into the parlor rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
“I thought I heard you talking to someone down here. Who’s calling at this hour?”
“I was talking to myself. Go back to bed,” Granny said. “We’re meeting the realtors tomorrow, and I just wanted to ensure there were no ghosts lurking about and cluttering up the place. I don’t want anything to prevent us from selling this old dump. Not this time.”
Her husband scratched the stubble on his jaw. “I keep telling you there are no such things as haunted houses, so quit worrying. Tell me, you don’t really believe in ghosts, do you?”
“Ghosts?” Granny smiled. “What ghosts?”
Rebecca Bergeron and Emily Butts, “But She Doesn’t Know Yet”
October’s Final Days, First Runner-Up, Poetry
I bought my wife a new necklace, but she doesn’t know yet.
I changed the tires on my wife’s car, but she doesn’t know yet.
I did the grocery shopping, but she doesn’t know yet.
I washed and put away the dishes, but she doesn’t know yet.
I changed the baby’s diaper, but she doesn’t know yet.
I took her dog to the vet to have it put down, but she doesn’t know yet.
I changed the locks on the house, but she doesn’t know yet.
I tampered with her birth control, but she doesn’t know yet.
I killed the man who claimed to be her lover, but she doesn’t know yet.
I cleaned the bloody knife, but she doesn’t know yet.
My wife means the world to me, she is the light of my life, but she doesn’t know yet.
We’ve been living together for three years, but she doesn’t know yet…
Christine Boyer, “The Ghost Pushes You Down”
October’s Final Days, Second Runner-Up, Fiction
Owen Baker was never a good sleeper.
When placed in his bassinet, he squalled until his little wrinkled face was crimson, and his mother picked him up and soothed him. When he got older (when his head finally rounded out and his spindly limbs plumped and when he graduated to a crib in his own room), he still fought sleep. His screams pierced his mother’s heart, and though she was new to parenting, something about Owen’s night-cries always sounded worse than babies she had heard before.
His mother read every parenting book. She tried every method: the chair method, Ferber, feed-and-read. She let Owen cry it out, as his staunchly no-nonsense pediatrician suggested.
She tried everything. Nothing worked.
The cry-it-out nights were the worst. She would sit in her bedroom, tears coursing down her face, watching the clock on her nightstand tick each painful minute away. One minute. Two minutes. Three minutes. Ten. His cries were like little barbed hooks in her heart that dug a little deeper as time crawled by.
She always caved before the clock showed fifteen minutes had passed.
She would run down the hallway to Owen’s room as fast as her legs could carry her. She threw open the door and turned on the light to the same awful sight – her chubby-cheeked son lying in his crib, red-faced and shrieking. Pointing one plump finger at the shadowy corner of his room. The rest of his body was rigid, taut to the point that lifting him into her arms was difficult.
Eventually, the Baker household reached a sort of détente. Owen (by then a sturdy toddler) and his mother (by then a woman with deep circles under her eyes and a recurring fantasy of driving away and starting a new life under a new name) came to agreeable terms. She would leave a lamp on in his bedroom when she turned in for the night. Owen, in turn, could play quietly in his room. His mother trusted that he would sleep at some point in the night, though she never witnessed it herself. All animals sleep, after all. But Owen was always awake when she turned in at night, and he was always awake when she rose in the morning.
He missed out on some of the experiences of childhood, like summer camp and sleepovers, but it didn’t seem to bother him. He made friends easily as a child. Those boyhood friendships never seemed to suffer from the issues around his sleep. He found other bonds of boyish intimacy – through Little League, through elaborate world-building board games – to replace those formed around scary movies in basement rec rooms, tucked into acrylic sleeping bags lined up side by side.
Otherwise, he was a healthy child. He grew into a healthy teenager, and then a young man. He was tall, gawkishly thin, but his mother could see how he might yet put on some weight and fill out his frame with a few more years.
The puzzle of his poor sleep didn’t start to vex Owen until he went to college. Now he had to share a room. Until then, his entire life had been cossetted around his aversion to sleep: the lamp that burned all night on his dresser, the cross woven from Palm Sunday palm leaves that his superstitious grandmother hung over his window. Now, Owen had to rethink the constant light source at night. His roommate, a pre-law student jittery with nerves, refused to leave the light on.
“What are you, two years old?” his roommate asked one night early in their first semester. “Grow the hell up.”
For the first time since he was a baby, Owen Baker was plunged into darkness. It wasn’t complete darkness, of course – there were little bleedings of light from the digital clock on his nightstand, from the crack under the door to the hallway. But there was not enough light to push back the shadows that crowded at the corners of the room.
One minute passed. Owen wriggled his toes under the layers of sheets and blankets, and he squinted to see if he could make out the movement. He could not.
Two minutes passed. He sighed and raised his head a bit, shifted against the pillow.
Ten minutes passed. He felt the weight of the day make his eyelids heavy. He closed his eyes and felt a lax warmth course through his arms and legs. He sighed again, almost a little pleased. Sleep wasn’t some elusive creature after all.
There’s no saying how long it took, whether it was fifteen minutes or fifty or more. When Owen jolted awake, he could not turn his head to study the clock on the nightstand beside him. He was frozen stiff, with only his eyes open wide and staring. Unable to move.
Unable to stop the shadowy figure in the corner of the ceiling from peeling away from the rest of the shadows and descending onto him. She had been a new thing when he was new too, splintered off from something much older.
In his infancy, she had never been fast enough – the mother had always returned to turn on the light just as she started her creeping approach. When the light started burning all night, she had to make herself small, tuck herself into some dark space where the light didn’t reach. Under the dresser. In the narrow black space under the closet door. Behind the stack of books on the shelf.
But as Owen had grown, so did she. She watched, waited. Learned. Her lineage was ancient, and the nearly two decades she waited had passed in a blink.
The patience had paid off. Now, in the nearly-dark room, the roommate snoring in the bed across the room, she descended from the ceiling. Her reflection was visible in Owen’s wide eyes, but he could not scream. He could only lie there, rigid, as she sat on his chest and took what was hers.
Christine Boyer has been published in numerous literary journals, and her essay “Second Person” was named a notable essay of 2020 in the “Best American Essays” anthology. She lives in Massachusetts, and she can be found at www.christine-boyer.com.
Neil Garvie, “Wizard’s Pantry”
October’s Final Days, Second Runner-Up, Poetry
Shades of colour, shades of black
shades of lightning flashing back
echoes distant in the night
fire’s burning — feel its bite
Whispered voices in the ear
magic tones remain unclear
one part pine sap running down
thistle, hemlock that’s been ground
Two parts mandrake, spider’s lace
belladonna, mustard paste
lick of hemlock, myrrh, bloodroot
smell the burdock, burning jute
Toadstool, guano, song of crow
footprint from the beetle toe
forest echoes, termite’s sneeze
rumours from a passing breeze
Image of a demon bug
mucus from the leopard slug
wicked is a wild brew
steeped in venom, feral stew
Jimson, henbane, faerie rings
owl hoots and larvae strings
lurid nightmares, ghoulish dance
curb the shrieks but heed the chants
Spell’s been conjured, spell’s been said
bitter grudges to be fed
smell the sulfur, smoky stone
cauldron boils the whittled bone
Shades of colour, shades of white
rising sun sends home the night
chanted echoes in the dawn
breaking darkness — night is gone …
Neil Garvie resides in Comox Valley, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. His poems appear in various magazines including Vallum, Transition, Canadian Stories, Island Writer, Laureate, Words Less Spoken.Neil has published his own poetry collections: Silence Craves a Voice (Poplar Publishing, 2019); Mother Nature Eats Her Kind (Pod Creative, 2020); Jigsaw (Pod Creative, 2021), and Off the Wall (Pod Creative, July 2022).