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Autumn 2020 Issue

 


Welcome to our much-delayed Autumn 2020 issue! Appropriately, after a year of upheavals and disruptions, our theme is Changes and Processes. The stories in this issue range from a charming tale about cats, chaos, and witchcraft, to truly contemporary re-imaginings of ancient myths, to a dark, dreamlike chronicle of art and obsession. I hope you enjoy and wish you a healthy start to 2021. -MA

     The Crystals are Purely Aesthetic by Alexandra Grunberg
     The Reaper’s Cat by Mary Soon Lee
     Ursula’s Daughter by Alison Bainbridge
     The Successful Suitor Will… by David C. Kopaska-Merkel
     Persephone’s Lament by Shelly Jones
     October’s End by Oliver Smith
     This is the Chase by Gabrielle Roselynn Dina
     The Witch in Winter by Lorraine Schein
     Boy, Reclining by Jason L. Corner
     Werewolf, Interrupted by Hayley Stone

The Crystals Are Purely Aesthetic


The Crystals Are Purely Aesthetic 
By Alexandra Grunberg

The flat reeked with the not-quite-sweetness of smudged sage. Siobhan’s nose did not object to the scent nearly as much as the fire alarm, which had screamed its dismay several times during the cleansing process. She had to manage the disorienting noise, several fans that directed to smoke to open windows, and an anxious cat who was desperate to follow the smoke to the outside world. The languid Kelvin River, curling its lazy way through the gorge beside Siobhan’s tenement building, seemed to mock the cacophony raging above with its contained calmness. But now the fire alarm had gone silent, the sage was only remembered in errant sneezes, and Thistle the cat grumbled audibly as he frantically skittered in some odd attempt at maintaining the chaos. 

Siobhan finished placing clear quartz in each corner of the room, leaving one inside a dish on her nightstand, covered in salt. Amethyst crystals protected her bedposts. Black candles burned, warding away bad luck. And bad spirits. 

She had never attempted this kind of cleansing before. Before last week, she would have considered the crystals and candles purely aesthetic, not even interesting enough for her bored cat to swipe at. But sometimes you hang up a string of threaded tarot cards, and don’t realize that they are intersecting your vertically hanging moon phases chimes, accidentally creating a cross that functions as an open invitation for a malevolent spirit to terrorize your flat with random bangs, upended succulents, and strong opinions about where exactly in the living room the litter box should be. 

It could happen to anyone, Siobhan told herself. 

Luckily, the woman at the crystal shop was kind, and seemed to believe what was happening more than Siobhan did. 

She sat in the middle of her bedroom floor, the offending tarot banner and chimes in a harmless pile on her lap. She waited for something, any sign that the spirit she invited inside was still lingering. Thistle was agitated enough to suggest that more crystals might be in order, but the flat did feel different. Emptier. She tried to breathe out a sigh of relief, but it was hard to feel relieved when Thistle was pacing, punctuating his movement with hisses and pitiful yowls. Siobhan reached out to stroke his mottled black and grey fur, but Thistle nimbly avoided her touch. He did not care much for people. She watched as Thistle stalked through the open doorway and sat in the living room, staring at the corner.

Siobhan held her breath. 

That was how she first suspected something… otherworldly. Thistle, never intent on doing much of anything, had started very intently staring at that corner. Or, more correctly, staring at something that Siobhan could not see in that corner. Before the cross incident, Siobhan would come home late from work to a bored, sleepy Thistle, overeating from the automatic food dispenser or dozing with half-open eyes. After the cross, he become obsessed with the corner. He would play in the dirt that poured out of formerly potted plants. He would follow tissues that floated on a breeze Siobhan could not feel, swatting them out of the air. There was constant activity in her once quiet flat, and Thistle was right in the middle of it. Now, he was back in the corner, staring at something. 

No, that was not it. 

Thistle yowled pitifully and pawed at the air. He was not staring at something. He was looking for something. Something missing. Something that entertained with its cacophony while Siobhan tried so desperately to maintain what must have been a tedious calm for an indoor cat. 

Well… She was at work most of the day. And Thistle had become quite svelte since he started chasing spirits. And the potted plants would have died anyway. And maybe the litter box did look better on the other side of the living room. 

Siobhan sighed as she picked up the string of cards and the cord of chimes. The nails were still in place where she had them hung before, above the window of the living room, and it was not much work to put them back in place. Thistle began purring and Siobhan did not look to see whatever had come back into the flat to make him so happy. It would be easy to pretend that any more mess and chaos was simply caused by a bored indoor cat. Even easier to pretend that the crystals she kept in her own bedroom, an oasis of contained calm in the midst of the chaos, were purely aesthetic.

* * *


* * *

Alexandra Grunberg (website) is a Glasgow based author, poet, and screenwriter. Her stories have appeared in Cast of Wonders, Daily Science Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, and more. Alexandra enjoys obsessing over fictional supernatural villains, hillwalking to eerily isolated locations, and towns that are more character than setting. 

Where do you get the ideas for your stories?
Most of the ideas for my stories come from reading, dreaming, or desperation. I have a big book of fantasy creatures that I enjoy flipping through, and I try to upset the chosen creature’s usual tale with a twist in tone, setting, or genre (What would this nymph look like in a horror setting? How would this vengeful spirit behave on a spaceship?). When I dream, my dreams tend to be heavily plotted and almost always speculative, and writing those stories feels more like transcription than craft. When the stories aren’t inspiring or my sleep is too heavy for dreams, I open a blank document and just start desperation-typing sentences, searching for a character, and hoping they tell me what’s going to happen. “The Crystals are Purely Aesthetic” was a desperation-typing story.

The Reaper's Cat


The Reaper's Cat
By Mary Soon Lee

Winding round the Reaper's feet,
her cat, paws shadow-soft,
fur the gray of rain clouds.

If there's a halt between clients,
the cat may condescend
to settle on her lap.

He wanders where he will,
grooms himself on hospice beds,
chases paper cups down alleyways.

When inclined to solitude,
he climbs up moonbeams
to drink the Milky Way.

When inclined to kindness,
a flaw in his perfection,
he brushes past the bereft.

Unseen, unguessed,
his whiskered touch gentles
a portion of their grief.

* * *

Mary Soon Lee was born and raised in London, but now lives in Pittsburgh. She writes both fiction and poetry, and has won the Rhysling Award and the Elgin Award. Her latest book is The Sign of the Dragon, an epic fantasy with Chinese elements, told in over 300 poems, now available as an ebook with an illustrated print edition forthcoming in 2021. After twenty-five years, her website has finally been updated: marysoonlee.com.

What inspires you to write and keep writing?
Ever since I can remember, I’ve derived huge pleasure from reading, but I didn’t plan to be a writer. It didn’t even occur to me as a serious possibility. Instead I studied mathematics, computer science, and aerospace. Then, after coming to America in 1990, I ended up with some spare time, and decided to write for a bit. Once I’d started, I didn’t want to stop. I would love to be able to give other people the same pleasure I’ve found in reading.