I Want to Hold your Hands, Michele Piper

November 29th 1963


If your child displays the following symptoms, please contact the police

  • Mood swings
  • Shrieking/squealing
  • Abdominal pain
  • Blood lust
  • Tiredness
  • Growing of limbs
  • Isolation/lack of communication
  • Mutation

The Australian government is here to ensure your safety. Prime Minister Menzies will address the public shortly.

She was just seventeen. Like any other girl her age. You’d think a girl caught up in politics and movements would be last person to listen to the Beatles. Lynne O’Farrell, school captain for Bonnyrigg High. Tall, ginger, bursting with potential, that’s what her teachers said. A proper smart girl. Those darned Beatles, Joan would think. Beatle fever: an epidemic spreading across Australia. Their world recovering from Vietnam. To avoid public hysteria, Menzies had to quieten down the rumours.

I’ve lost her now for sure, I won’t see her no more.

I can’t conceive of any more misery

It all started Christmas morning 1963. The family gathered in the small loungeroom, Lynne sitting cross-legged on the brown carpet, still stained by last year’s wine fiasco. Kenneth was fooling no one but himself if he thought that he pulled off the Elvis haircut. Lumped into the lounge, he meticulously combed his hair. Henry sat proudly in his brown worn leather armchair. I got the kids something good this year. I just know it, he thought to himself. Joan ran around frantically for the camera. Although Lynne had just turned seventeen, being the youngest meant she opened her presents first. As she unwrapped the green metallic paper, Joan bent down getting ready to capture the moment. Imagine poor Joan’s horror to see four bowl haircuts. Henry grinned.

‘All the kids are listening to them these days. Wouldn’t want my sweet pea to miss out!’

Oh lord. Henry you idiot, Joan thought.

My Lynne wasn’t going to listen to that garbage. Don’t want it turning her brain to mush. Those boys were a distraction, making girls go gaga. They sang of love and dancing, adult things. Joan grinned painfully as she took a picture of Lynne, who was proudly holding up the album. Kenneth moaned loudly,

‘C’mon mum, can I get going now?’

Joan scolded him; it was family time. Whatever he wanted to do wasn’t important. He was quite desperate to meet Cassie his new girlfriend, who scored grass from a mate in Liverpool. Getting up, he kicked his boots into the carpet and left.

Lynne played that record every afternoon. At teatime, Joan would rush to the record player and turn it off. She found them tolerable at first. They were well-dressed boys, but their shaggy hair was most unflattering. Their songs tunnelled into her ear drums, a painful ache. Joan’s efforts to kill this boy band obsession was quite trying. She occasionally nagged Lynne every afternoon.

‘Lynne my darling, you won’t be listening to that stuff when you’re my age.’

At least she wasn’t hypnotised by Elvis’ swinging hips. She never had this issue with Kenneth. There was the obsession with John Wayne but what boy didn’t have a cowboy phase? Despite her efforts, Lynne became submerged into new waters and girls all over the world were jumping in. It grew by collecting Woman’s Weekly, reading articles about John’s new girlfriend.


February 20th 1964

Lynne went to Gemma Smith’s place. They were laying on Gemma’s bed taking a quiz on which member was most likely to be your boyfriend. The new album playing in the room. I Saw Her Standing There played for the second time and Lynne bobbed her head along. Gemma got up to use the loo and left Lynne alone. She wouldn’t mind if I borrowed it, right? Lynne thought to herself.


Joan opened the door. There Lynne stood looking down at her feet like a guilty child. Mrs Smith stood next to her fuming. Caught stealing—my daughter! Punishment was necessary. Henry didn’t help, instead he bought her the album encouraging her bad behaviour.

As well as religiously listening to the record, Lynne would plop herself in front of the TV and watch the Ed Sullivan show. Joan was quite cross as this meant she couldn’t watch the news. Lynne wasn’t sitting at the table anymore. Spent no time eating that one, she had to watch her boys. The way Paul looked, almost as if he was right there. Close enough to touch. The girls on screen went into some kind of state, almost like collective hypnotism. The unholy sounds that would come out of that box, Joan thought. Them screamers, it became infectious. Parents around the world saw it, the crazed look in their daughter’s eyes. Lynne’s love for the Beatles grew furiously, coinciding with her accident.


March 12th 1964

Kenneth brought home a beat-up FJ Holden for his first car. The old tin box hadn’t been driven in years. Red interior covered in dust and cobwebs. Sun rays beamed down on his naked torso as he worked on the car. Lynne ran up to it and jumped in. She twiddled around in the seat and noticed a redback scuttling across the dashboard. It crawled onto her thigh and dug its fangs into her white leg. That evening she vomited and sweated through her sheets. Sticky residue leaked from her pores. Henry put the record player in her room as it soothed her. No one could enter her room. The record played for forty-eight hours straight. In her sleep, the sweet voices of Paul and Ringo soothed her pain. They were there for her and now were hers forever. Joan waited to enter the room. At 1am Joan entered and turned on the lamp. There were slits slashed deep into Lynne’s back, covered in thick yellow pus. With her finger, she cleared it slowly from the openings and noticed small tiny hairs on the inside. She wanted to scream, but could not awake Lynne. Slowly backing away towards the door, Joan was careful as to not trip over sticky webbing.

The Sun published stories of local girls being admitted to hospital for severe abdominal pain and high blood pressure. Scientists were saying the Beatles caused this epidemic, “the music exaggerates violent tempers, triggering dormant genes in their brains.” Psychologists were saying it was just irregular levels of estrogen, caused by the weather. It didn’t help that the Beatles just released tickets for their first Australian tour. Only Australian fans were becoming a threat, seen as silly teenagers’ excitement. Girls across Australia were turning into ‘Spider Girls’. Joan knew she couldn’t wait until Lynne’s condition would become worse. The thought of her sweet child turning into some sort of animal frightened her. She was never a religious lady. All she did was take the kids to Sunday school, only because her parents took her. Whatever she could do to make sure they were raised right.

The day after her hellish discovery, Joan woke up at 8am and cooked a full breakfast for her family. The eggs were perfectly cooked, the toast slightly under. She had always cooked—enough for the whole street, Henry would remark. As Joan set the last plate onto the table, she walked to Lynne’s door and knocked loudly for breakfast.

Lynne curled out of her blanket, slowly crawling out of her cacoon. As she sprawled out her spindly legs, she felt a slow pain spread across her muscles. Walking towards her cupboard, she passed the blinds wincing at the bright sun. “I must get ready,” she thought to herself. “Mum’s already pissed at me; I don’t want to make it worse”. Standing at her wardrobe, she looked at the peeled scented stickers. When she went to open her cupboard, she pulled on the doorknob and ripped the door clean off! Shocked by her sudden hulking strength, she haphazardly dropped it. Continuing about her day, she picked up a dress her Nan gave to her to grow into. It was brown and collared, a bit short now. It wasn’t the nicest dress, but she thought of Joan. See, a week or so ago, Gemma leant her a magazine about dressing like a Beatle. Joan confiscated it while Lynne was sleeping. Most of her pictures of the boys were taken. As she pulled the dress over her head, there was a loud CRACK in her back. Her back arched forward with a jolt. Joan knocked once again at the door, more quickly. Lynne slowly pulled it down and got ready to leave.


The bugs are here and have made girls queer’, read the newspaper laying on the coffee table. They sat side by side on the hard, plastic couch. The surgery smelt of chemicals and sullen notes of dirty diapers. Lynne was next to be called. She stared at the newspaper, angry. How dare they treat her boys like that. Joan sat; legs crossed with her hands in her lap.

Dr. Layton walked out of his office and gestured at them to enter. They walked into his office and shut the door behind them. His organised desk was placed against the wall, opposite the examination table and a green curtain. Joan had already informed Dr. Layton about Lynne, over the phone. Lynne stood behind the curtain and removed her clothes. She had to listen to her mum, she had no authority here. Dr Layton went behind and took out his wooden stick. He didn’t know what he was looking at. Not all girls who’d come in had progressed this quickly. He pushed his stick through the thick film of pus and hit something hard. He withdrew the stick disgusted, and in fear asked her to dress herself.  Joan waited in anticipation to hear the diagnosis.

‘Mrs O’Farrell, your daughter will be fine. Now as you have informed me, she was bitten. You see there has been an infection of sorts. I can only recommend you limit her listening to this band. The correlation is unsure, but I myself have had bite victims recover quickly.’

He hid the truth, that there were no studies conducted and there was no clue. Every doctor in Australia had to lie. A spider infection caused by music sounded bizarre, and some who were bitten were not affected. There were links to puberty or redback symptoms. Little did the Australians know that this was only the beginning.


June 17th 1964

Lynne laid in her bed, leaving the door slightly opened as agreed by Joan. Lynne still locked herself away, keeping the blinds closed. Joan kept walking by her bedroom, looking inside to see the webs strung across the ceiling. All the mums at school were talking about it, how their daughters kept giggling to themselves and would argue all the time. The newspapers called the fans a cult. Joan did not want her poor Lynne to be associated with a cult.

There was a knock at the door. It was their next-door neighbour, Gemma with messy hair.

‘Hi Mrs O’Farrell, I’ve come to see Lynne… about school’.

As Joan let her in, she noticed the dark circles under her eyes. She also noticed how Gemma’s mouth was quite full, her top teeth poking out of her mouth. Gemma slinked into the bedroom and banged the door. Joan stood outside the room, listening in. Lynne was laying on her stomach, sewing ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah’ onto the collar of her brown dress.

‘Did you hear what happened?’, Gemma asked Lynne.

Lynne pushed up out of bed and dropped the dress,

‘What happened?’

‘Ringo’s been rushed to hospital. He’s not coming anymore!’

They both started screaming, facing their heads upwards, almost like a shriek of pain.

‘But he must come!’ Lynne replied.

They grew very angry, as tall legs sprouted out of their backs. Lynne picked up the record player and threw it against the wall. Gemma started pounding at the walls and cried loudly. Scuttling to her pile of new magazines, Lynne began shredding the pages with her fangs. Their screaming became quite loud, but unrecognisable to Joan’s ears. Its piercing frequency alarming dogs and notifying all the girls in the neighbourhood. Reports of physical violence popped up around the nation. Joan barged in; the two girls stopped in their tracks.

‘What on earth is going on here?’

Gemma hissed and ran past Joan, pushing Joan to the ground. Lynne just stared at her mother, seething in anger. Joan didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t call the police, otherwise they’d take her daughter away. If she told Henry, he’d call her a monster and lock her up in the house. Perhaps she should pretend nothing happened at all, just carry on. Looking into those red eyes, that wasn’t Lynne anymore. Lynne hissed at her mother.

‘No one can stop me; I must see them!’

Lynne dashed past her injured mother; hell bent on going to their concert.

Well, my heart went “boom”
When I crossed that room

I saw her standing there


June 19th 1964

The Beatles beheaded! Chaos unfolds at Rushcutters’s Bay. (The Sun)

Last night The Beatles played their first Sydney show at Sydney stadium. There were 200 officers present to manage the 12,000 screaming fans. The ‘Tin Shed’ built as a boxing ring was used as the venue, to hold the large capacity. The venue was dimly lit, flashes from photographers providing little light. Thousands of girls under sixteen who occupied the most expensive seats seem to be in a state of delirium. As the band played their first song, the room roared in excitement. There was a turn however as a group of fans started shrieking and chanting.

‘Yeah, you got that somethin’
I think you’ll understand
When I feel that somethin’
I want to hold your hand’

Their chant being lyrics for The Beatles own song. This eerie sentiment from large spider girls. Then they crawled onto the stage and seized George Harrison. The other members dropped their instruments and officers sprung to the scene.  The howling crowd had grown 8 legs and sharp fangs; a father commented.

“They became angry. I don’t know what happened to them. I looked over to my daughter to see her transform. Then she jumped on stage and ripped Ringo’s head off, that’s some strength for a fourteen-year-old.” (Leonard Pax, father)

The fans then proceeded to fight over the boys, pulling their legs and arms. Officers pulled out their guns, firing into the dark. Their piercing screams grew louder as officers covered their ears. Some did manage to tackle the large creatures. Many did not survive. As such, The Beatles concerts are indefinitely cancelled due to this horrific event.

You hurt me then
You’re back again
No, no, no, not a second time

Caged, Shailee Robertson

She stared outside of her small window that she had to kneel on a chair just to see out of. The window was placed unnaturally high, and nearly impossible for even her tall figure to see out of. Valerie watched the other kids from her street run after each other with large smiles plastering their sweet faces. Every day she would watch the same group of kids run past her window and wonder. She wasn’t sure what it was like to go outside other than for her trips to the hospital, let alone have friends. Though, she could only imagine it was better than being locked away.

‘Valerie, get down from there. You’ll hurt yourself,’ her mother cried out, her eyebrows furrowing so far down her forehead that her eyes were almost hidden by the folds in her skin. Valerie turned away from the face of her mother and laid her eyes back on the kids having fun.

‘Relax mum, it’s nearly impossible to hurt myself. Sheesh.’ Valerie looked back over at her mum, who rolled her eyes. You see, her mother was paranoid. To her, anything could open up its mouth and swallow her precious little daughter alive. Just because she was sick, and unlike the other kids around her, that was no excuse for Valerie to live in a cage of her own house.

Now, her mother wasn’t cruel. She just thought she was protecting the only real thing she had in her life. It hadn’t always been like this, in fact, they used to be what their neighbourhood would call the ‘perfect’ family. Then Valerie got sick when she was twelve and her father made a run for it, taking Valerie’s little sister alongside him, leaving just Valerie and her mother behind in this great big house.

‘I’m not leaving until you get down.’ She rolled her eyes and jumped off the chair.



‘Now, do you mind leaving?’

Her mother nodded her head and swiftly left the room. She only wanted her to leave so that she could get straight back on the chair and look back out the window. She shouldn’t have to live like this, but in a way, she had accepted it and chose just to watch others enjoy their lives and be left wondering what it was like.

In a way, her mother was trapped in their house too. For four straight years she had not left Valerie’s side. She would take her to doctor appointments, stay overnight or for months at a time with her at the hospital and hold her hand as she fell asleep, fever like. There were other times, though, where Valerie would be at home doing well and she had clear memories of her mother locking her bedroom door for days on end, only entering to give Valerie her medication, check up on her, feed her, then leave again. Every time she would leave her bedroom, her mother would always come back with a red, splotched face, deep purple bags underneath her eyes and dry cracked skin.


When Valerie managed to look back out of the window, the kids had disappeared, and the street was quiet once more expect for the few birds that flew past the window, and the occasional adult who would walk past. Valerie smiled when she spotted their neighbour, Winifred, the old lady with her black, short haired Chihuahua, Rudi. The dog was probably almost as old as Winifred.

Once Winifred was out of her view, she gave up and jumped back off the chair. She thought she’d better be safe in case her mother came back through the door to yell at her again. She seemed to do that a lot, but she just knew what Valerie was like and that she’d more than likely make her way back up the chair. It was actually strange she hadn’t come back in here already, but she shrugged her shoulders and jumped onto her bed, making a sinking dint in her mattress in the shape of her body. Valerie snuggled her face into her pillow and hoped she didn’t hear the voice of her mother re-entering her bedroom.

With her face snuggled into her pillow, Valerie thought back to the days when it wasn’t just her and her mother. They would eat together at a table every night, where Valerie would watch her younger sister shovel food down her mouth with a cheeky grin as her mother and father would stare at her with rolling eyes. Her sister’s response would always be to continue shovelling her food down her mouth, so much so that it would occasionally dribble onto her chin. Then Valerie’s father would stand up and point a finger at her sternly.

‘Jessica Sinclair, you better be more of a lady when you eat otherwise you will not get your desert.’

Jessica would give her father puppy dog eyes before shovelling food back into her mouth. Valerie would be sitting beside her sister doing her best not to laugh and egg on her bad habits and stubbornness. That was before. This is the now. The slow strangle of overbearingness that had exploded long ago.


A sudden knock on their front door caused Valerie to raise her head from the pillow with a listening ear. She heard the creak of the door and slowly stood up, as not to cause the blood to rush to her head. She opened up her own door and wandered into the hallway, remaining hidden by the curve in the wall. All that could be seen was the back of Valerie’s mother and a mysterious figure that was dressed in dark denim jeans with shiny black shoes that came to a point at the toe.

‘Paul?’ her mother spoke. Valerie’s eyes widened, and she backed away in response. As she backed away, Valerie knocked her heel on the side of the wall creating a loud enough noise for her mother to turn around, revealing the straight face of Paul. Her father. His sandy blonde hair replicated the short locks that sat on top of Valerie’s head. His bright green eyes were always the first thing that a person would notice about her father. Valerie’s were much like her mother’s blue eyes, though they did have a slight mix of green throughout them and had always thought she looked more like her father.



Valerie remembered the last time she saw her dad. Four years ago. They were at the doctor’s office, with Valerie sitting between her mother and father, waiting for the doctor to come back into the room. Valerie never thought she was there for anything serious, but then again why would a twelve-year-old jump to conclusions about something small that was happening? Valerie had gotten tests done, but she had assumed they were just being careful and checking everything. Not that they would find anything in those tests.

‘Acute lymphocytic leukemia.’

The moment the doctor’s told her those words, was the moment Valerie assumed her father decided he would up and leave. Well, she gathered so by his reaction when they left. Valerie remembered the quietness that surrounded the family upon exiting the building, she could still smell the stale air. Nobody spoke a word until the three of them got inside the house, ten-year-old Jessica at their Grandma’s.

Valerie wasn’t entirely sure on the exact words that were spoken, but she remembered the way her parents were whispering to each other as though there was some huge secret that couldn’t be said in front of her. Nothing much actually happened until they all went to bed that night. Valerie was lying awake, staring at the ceiling where paint had begun to crumble. Valerie remembered that her father had been meaning to re-paint the ceiling for weeks but had never quite managed to get to it.

She could picture the sounds of her father’s footsteps on the creaking floorboards as he shuffled through the hallway, a suitcase rolling behind him. That was the day he left, and neither Valerie or her mother had heard from him since, other than from their Grandma who had to tell them he’d taken Jessica with him, and now—here he was. At their doorstep.

‘Hi Beth, Valerie.’ Valerie looked at her mother who was wearing a frown and her eyebrows furrowed into each other causing the familiar folds of skin to appear.

‘I have to go,’ her mother squeaked. She turned around and ran past Valerie. Moments later Valerie and her father both heard the loud slam of a door.

‘What are you doing here? It’s been four years Dad.’

Her father shuffled his feet and moved closer into the house.

‘I know. I couldn’t come back. I couldn’t be around you while you were sick.’

Valerie stared at her father, a single tear running onto her pale cheek.

‘I’ve come to take you away. You deserve a better life than this Valerie.’

‘You have no right,’ Valerie whispered at her father, another tear slid out of her eyes, the previous one touching the edge of her lip. As much as Valerie had longed for the outside world, she couldn’t leave like this and she couldn’t leave her mother. They’d only had each other for the past four years. That was a long time to be alone. She stared between her father and the slightly ajar door. The warmth of air welcoming a slight calming sensation despite the tears now flowing from her eyes and into her mouth. She peeked a flock of birds that flew across the orange and yellow sky and disappear in an instant. Her father continued to stand there, every so often inching his way further into the house, the door creaking shut in a slam as he moved forward another inch. Valerie flinched and stood back, her blurry eyes on the timber floorboards where a bloodied stain sat.

‘I know it’s been a long time and I have a lot to make up for, but I’m ready for you and your mother to be back in my life. I don’t care what it takes. I’m not walking out of your life again.’

‘I can respect that, and I want to see my sister, but I can’t do this with you yet and I don’t think mum ever will. You know just as much as I that she’s not the person you left.’

Her father nodded his head and looked to the floor.


Valerie thought back to her mother before her father and sister left. There was one moment that stood out.

Valerie was ten and her mother had dragged both her and Jessica to the shops so that they could pick out new outfits for Valerie’s eleventh birthday party. At the time Valerie didn’t care much about what she wore, but her mother had adored buying them cute outfits, and she often enjoyed dressing them in matching outfits. Valerie kind of gathered her mother had wished she’d had twins. She was always obsessed with that type of stuff with the two of them.

While they were out shopping Valerie had walked past the pet shop and spotted a small grey cat that had fur sticking up in a frizz.

‘Mum, look at the frizzy cat,’ she had said. Her sister and mother turned around and looked at the cat. An “O” shape forming on her mouth.

‘It’s so cute,’ Jessica had said.

‘Do you want that cat Valerie?’ she had asked, and of course Valerie told her she did. So, her mother strode in and bought the cat for her birthday even though she had already gotten Valerie a present. Valerie hoped that one day her mother’s pain would disappear, and she could be that mother to her again, but Valerie wasn’t naïve. She knew she needed help.

Sometimes Valerie would see bits and pieces of her old mother, like how she held her hand and refused to leave her side while Valerie was really sick, but those moments were becoming rarer and that left Valerie feeling more alone and caged than ever.

‘I can understand that. I realise now what I’ve done to this family. I scared myself into believing that I would lose my daughter and I couldn’t live with that, so I ran and gripped onto the child who I knew I could have forever, and that’s the biggest mistake I’ve ever made.’

‘Thank you for admitting that.’

Behind her, Valerie heard footsteps that sounded like the clang of heels against their floorboards and turned around to see her mother wearing her old favourite pair of heeled boots that reached the knees. She hadn’t worn them since her father had left. Her mother’s face was blank in expression, her greying hair tied up in a messy bun. There was no sign of tears or redness. In fact, it looked like her mother had applied makeup to her face.

‘Hi Paul.’

‘Hi Beth.’ Valerie stared at the two of them and wiped away the loose tears from her face.

‘Did you want to stay for dinner?’ Valerie’s father stared at her with a raised eyebrow, his green eyes locking with her mothers. Her father was about to answer when the phone rang. At first, they ignored it but when it continued her mother let out a low sigh and rushed to pick it up. Her heels making the same clanging noise against their floorboards.

‘Oh, hi Doctor Roberts.’ Valerie snapped her head to stare at her mother and tried to read her expression. It was blank as she replied with a couple of yes’ before hanging up the phone. Valerie knew these expressions all too well though. Her father looked at them both, confused.

‘It’s back again,’ her mother spoke, but she already knew before the words had come out of her mouth. Valerie let out an almost in-audible sigh and fought back the tears that welled up in the back of her eyes. What was life worth living as a caged animal anyway? Just because her father had returned to be in her life didn’t mean it would change her mother.

‘But they assured us that I was in remission?’ Valerie questioned, confused by the outcome of her tests after having felt so good about her health for the last few months since they had told her she was in remission from Leukemia. This wasn’t the first time she’d been in remission, though. In her whole sixteen years of life, and over the past four years, Valerie had been told she’d had cancer once, and that the cancer had come back now three times so why did she expect anything different?

Valerie looked away from the watchful eyes of her parents and looked out of the large window at the side of their house. Across the street there was a house with their lights on, and inside Valerie could see a bird in a silver cage with its wings flapping about the place, sitting on the window sill. The tears that were stuck behind her eyelids made a reappearance and slowly dribbled down her face. She was this bird, and that bird was her.

Welcome to the Jungle, Claire Oxley

Rex’s Tuesday morning went slow, but he enjoyed it, nonetheless. He woke up with the sun and went for a walk, always interested in all the new sights, sounds, and smells of the new day. He caught the train into the city instead of driving; he never invested in a car as he enjoyed being around people and saying good morning to anyone he sat next to. He’d stepped onto a quiet carriage once by accident, because he got distracted by a toy a mother was showing her cub and got some looks from the big cats when he tried to start conversation. The odd glare finally clued him in, but up until then he thought it was just because they were tired, considering they had heavy dark circles all around their eyes – perhaps the night shift.

Rex had been working as a paralegal for a few years now; he’d changed careers during a midlife crisis. Usually it’s a boat or a car, but Rex wanted to challenge those old dog stereotypes, and he learned some new tricks. Rex saw the world in shades of grey, and he figured that’s what big, scary law firms needed: the input of the everyday mutt, not just more of the pedigree; they already control the status quo. He was the only Great Dane in his finishing year. He sped through his retraining and quickly found a place at the best firm in the city. The law office culture was a shock though. He knew the stereotypes, but it really was like stepping into the jungle; the food chain hierarchy, the behaviour being truly animalistic.

After leaving the public service working as a tax agent, he wanted to help his community and stick up for the underdogs who always get trampled by the herd. Law was how he was going to do it. It had been tricky, but he found his place alongside the spry young scamps at the top of their game in the courtroom.


Every morning when Rex got to work, he walked slowly through the building saying hello to all his colleagues, regardless of how close they were. He believed everyone deserved to have a smile on their face in the morning. Even the big sharks on the top floors would get a wide toothy grin, jowls dragged upwards.

The lunchroom was hectic, where people from all over the firm would gather at the closest watering hole to refuel for the rest of the day. Everyone sprinted to get to the coffee machine as quickly as possible. The biggest, tallest, strongest, got in first and got the best pickings. The freshest fruit and crispest water out of the fridge, and everyone else got the leftovers. Those in Rex’s mature age group were the slowest to get there and were tied with the meek. Rex was scared they would get eaten alive by the sharp-tongued lawyers. They were always ready to run circles around anyone they saw any weakness in, slowly squeezing out any confidence. The new intern, Josie, had borne the brunt of this in the office for the last week. Rex had only seen her once in the lunchroom. He was passing by when he saw her trying to talk to people. Disappointed he couldn’t stop by to help, he hurried to his meeting.

Josie had made it to the lunchroom first that day, ready to smile and greet everyone that walked in. Her sweet plan didn’t quite work though, as most towered over her small stature and didn’t even notice she was there. She hopped up onto a chair to elevate her chances of getting noticed, but despite her cheery hello’s, no one heard her. She tried making eye contact as a different approach, but the simple fact of everyone else’s eye level being far above her was an insurmountable obstacle. Finally, in scuttled Harold from IT; conversation was easier but still a challenge. He was quiet and about the same size, so Josie was able to keep up with him. But whenever he turned to grab a tissue, Josie had to hop back to avoid being skewered by his spines.


It really was a rude shock when Josie went to get a snack on that first day. With a big family, she was used to busy kitchens at mealtimes, but it was a little trickier when you’re significantly smaller and more fragile than everyone else rushing around. Josie’s small frame and soft paws could get squished in any wrong move. It was quite the safety risk, so she just stood back and witnessed the melee. Heavy clip clops, huffs and snorts, grunts and munches filled her small ears as the swathes of employees fought for the freshest fruit and savoury treats. The loud chatter amongst friends and colleagues rose and fell as everyone grabbed their fix and made their way out to find somewhere to sit and graze.

When the coast was clear, she scampered in to get the last of the brewed coffee and sat down next to the only one left in the room: good old Rex. Josie’s soft brown fur had flopped over her eyes, so she kept flicking her head to try to restore her sight. In between fur, she caught glimpses of the warm smile Rex was offering her. She could finally let out the breath she didn’t realise she was holding in.

‘What type of practice are you interested in?’ he asked gently.

It took her a second to gather herself to answer.

‘Family law. It’s always been important to me. Got a big family. You know it’s true, we really do breed like rabbits my grandma used to say.’

‘Well that sounds lovely, and this place will give you a great start. And don’t let anyone here get you down, they’re all just big cuddly bears deep down, eh?’ He offered her his muffin. ‘I can’t have the choc chip, so it’s all yours.’ Rex assured.


It was late on the Friday of her first week when Josie sat it on a meeting run by Leon Major, the associate partner of the firm, and a real pig. Every second sentence ended with a crude joke which was followed by his own snorting laugh, gaining the approving giggles from the inner circle who all worked on the top floor. They were like hyenas the way they milled around together and picked up any scraps Major deigned to throw them: a clan of greedy dogs.

Diligently taking notes, Josie didn’t notice Major’s beady little eyes fall upon her.

‘Fresh meat,’ a grunt got Major’s attention.

‘Well, gents, who do we have here?’ His lips dragged up over his teeth into a snarl, encouraging the rest of the conference attendees to turn to Josie. She finally looked up and froze under all their gazes.

‘Josephine, or Josie, my mum always liked Josie, I’m new, hello,’ she managed to stutter out.

‘Aw your mummy likes it?’ a snide voice piped up, getting some snickers.

‘That’s not what your mum said last night!’ Another wave of taunting giggles washed over her, bringing her close to tears.

‘Wittle wabbit gonna cry?’ The quips kept coming, and in a futile effort to escape them, Josie slowly backed up into the corner of the room. She tried to negate the questions, but no sooner had she turned to one voice, another chimed in.

The sound of the glass door creaking open was masked by the many voices in the room, so Josie jumped when Rex’s grey head appeared in front of her. He barked at their vulturous behaviour, demanding they stop at once – they were scaring the poor girl!

‘Oh no, watch out! She’s got her guard dog! Wouldn’t want him to maul us or something, you know how aggressive this guy is!’ The howling continued, snorts, whinnies, and hisses, until a thunderous bark quietened them to whimpers. Josie stood there frozen, staring at Rex.

‘Well look who finally grew back a pair!’ Major pushed his way through the huddle and clapped a trotter on Rex’s shoulder. ‘We always like to see grit like that in these offices, keep that bark up and maybe you’ll get somewhere.’ He nodded his encouragement.

‘With all due respect, sir —’

‘And he lost it again!’ Major cracked to the conference room. Bored of their target, they all huddled again and returned to making each other laugh. Josie was left alone, still frozen in the corner.

‘You alright, dear?’ Rex approached slowly, as not to spook her. She slowly twitched her nose and scratched her ears as she came back to herself.

Rex guided her out of the conference room and started showing her down the corridor.

‘How have you been here so long? That was awful,’ a shake in her voice.

He made sure to slow down every so often so Josie’s little hops could keep up with his lanky strides.

‘They’re not that bad, you just have to get to know them. It’s all a front, I promise you. Once you figure out what they like, you can have a conversation with any of them,’

Stopping in front of a glass door, he nodded with his snout for Josie to look inside.

‘Take Bruce, he really is a great shark.’ They watched as he sat, swivelling in his chair, chatting on the phone. Absentmindedly he fiddled with a tiny basketball between his fins, and as he laughed at what was said into his ear, he threw the tiny ball into a tiny hoop stuck on the wall. Rex chuckled to himself at Josie’s shock as she stared at his giant smile showing rows of teeth.

‘Ask him about any sport and he’ll be happy to talk your ears off, he’s really good at golf too. If you ever see him around, just ask him about the game last night.’

‘Which game? I don’t really follow any sports, sorry.’

‘You won’t need to specify, there’s always something he’s watching, and he always loves venting about whatever the score was. Let’s keep going.’ They carried on down the corridor to stop in front of another office. It was dark with a bright lamp on the desk, illuminating an intricate miniature forest.

Rex’s voice lowered a little. ‘Remember Harold? He loves making models, any kind really. I’ve seen him do cars, armies, houses. At the moment it’s landscapes, I think this one’s the woodland his family is from in England.’

Josie hopped along with a renewed enthusiasm. ‘Who’s next?’

Rex took two steps to get beside her. ‘Geraldine.’ He smiled. ‘She’s really involved with charity work around the city, even volunteers at shelters on the weekends.’ The orange and black stripes made it look like Geraldine was pacing way too fast for the limited size of the square office, and Josie was worried she’d soon walk right into the wall.

‘Gerry’s tough, don’t get me wrong, but once she knows you work hard, she’ll have your back.’ Rex was nodding and his ears bobbed along, fondly remembering. ‘She’s helped me get out of a few tricky situations before, she just wants what’s best for our clients.’

‘So, everyone’s actually really nice then?’

Josie jumped when the office door clanged open as Geraldine stalked out. Josie tried a smile and a wave, but the black and orange was a blue before she knew it. Turning to Rex, Josie’s face was awash with naivety. Devastated, he had to crush it.

‘Well no, but you just need to figure out who to avoid. Come with me.’ He led her to the other side of the floor where the fluorescent lights flickered intermittently. Rex made sure to stay in front of Josie, easy since she hardly made it above his knee. He slowed and his steps became softer. She peered around his legs, whiskers twitching, wondering.

‘What is it?’ She was promptly hushed.

Spanning the length of the office, there were connected grey cubicles with feathery heads jutting up above the walls. They were facing away from them, sitting with excellent posture, staring at their computer screens.

‘Human resources. You need to watch out for these guys, they really give a hoot about the smallest thing.’

At the sound of voices, feathered heads spun around a near 200 degrees with unexpected ease. No one stood up or shuffled their chair, but unblinking eyes stared at Josie and Rex. They were silent. When they were satisfied the noise had ceased, the unnerving reach of their eyes returned to their work. Eager to get out of ear and eye shot, Rex and Josie hurried back to the noisy side of the floor.

‘I know you’ve had a rough start to your time here but give it time.’ Rex guided Josie back to the lunchroom, empty before home time. He leaned up on the counter and found the last two muffins of the week.

Josie hopped up onto a chair, big enough for her to sprawl out exhausted. ‘It’s just tough when you’re the size of some of your colleague’s hands,’ she huffed.

‘It’s all about finding common ground.’ He chomped into his blueberry muffin. ‘Then you’ll have a friend in everyone around the firm.’ He offered her the chocolate one.


Monday morning rolled around far too quickly, as it always did. Josie was eager, and right away started using her new intel to spark conversations around the office. She even asked around for more hints on her colleague’s interest. This was a far more successful technique, having a topic to jump into right away instead of just her simple and sweet greeting. The hustle and bustle of the firm was far more accommodating of pointed chats over small talk. By Friday she nearly had it all down pat; only a keen nose would notice her clever plan.

Rex made his way to work on Friday morning with his trademark chipper attitude, greeting everyone he passed. He made a point to visit Josie that morning to check how she was getting along and was pleasantly surprised when he turned the corner. The usual empty corridor was buzzing with chatter – and not broken up with mocking sneers this time. As he padded closer, he could hear Bruce, of all animals, hammering on.

‘I was on the edge of my tank, I swear! And the ref, oh don’t get me started. It was a clear violation, but that absolute bonehead probably hasn’t seen a golf ball in his life!’

‘Tell me about it, he definitely wasn’t looking!’ a tiny voice piped up. ‘Hey, I’ll see you at lunch, we’ll talk about that other game of – uh, yeah see you then!’ Josie hopped out of the crowd over to a spiky ball waddling past Rex. ‘Harold, just who I wanted to see! I was just wondering which brand you’d recommend. I was planning on getting a model plane for my dad but there’s just so many to choose from!’ This stopped the old hedgehog in his tracks, astonished at such a clueless question.

‘Freedom Models, obviously. They use higher quality materials. If you go with any other brands, you really can’t be surprised if they just fall apart,’ Josie nodded along, feigning concern.

Rex watched, amused and really quite impressed. Hopping from one colleague to another, Josie started conversations more niche than the last, with the ease of someone who’d been working there for years. A thumbs up and a wink, and Rex was off to his office to start his day. She’d done her research. She’d be just fine.

Sealskin, Emily Murrell

The sea hurled itself against the rocks. Water thrashed and churned, white foam flashing against steely waves. Thick clouds gathered on the horizon. On the beach, two figures walked alone along the shoreline.

‘These seas are dangerous, Eisla. You be sure not to go out there alone, especially when the tides are coming in.’ Mairi gestured to the narrow strip of sand that led between the shore and the rocky island that crouched in the water out beyond the headland. ‘Many a lad has been trapped there o’ernight and forced to wait til morn before they could come ashore again. It’s cold and wet out there. You’d be frozen to the bone by sun-up.’ She pinched her granddaughter’s cheek affectionately. Eisla’s eyes widened in horrified delight.

‘Couldn’t Pa come out in his boat and fetch us if we got stuck?’

Mairi picked up a shell from the edge of the water, rolling it over in her hands. Its creamy brown surface shone in the early morning light.

‘These seas are rough and dangerous, lass. At night the waves are dark and black, and hide the rocks beneath. The hull would shatter against them. Not even your father would dare to try.’

‘Not even to save me?’

Mairi laughed, handing her granddaughter the tiny shell. ‘You know your Pa would fight an army of Finfolk if it meant saving you, my girl.’ She stared at the horizon, at the smudged outlines of tiny fishing boats against the pale winter sky.

‘Jaimie says Finfolk aren’t real.’

‘And what does young Jaimie know about these things?’ Mairi asked.

Eisla scooped up a shell and slipped it into her pocket with the others. They clinked together as she skipped along, her dress weighed down by the laden pockets. ‘He says they’re just stories told by old fishers-wives to scare the children, so they dinnae do anything naughty.’

‘Well, you tell Jaimie that I’ll beat some fear into him with my broom, if he starts misbehaving.’

Eisla grinned.

‘But he’s right,’ Mairi continued. ‘You’re much more likely to be seeing selkies bathing in the sun, than worrying about any of those cunning Finfolk.’

Eisla squinted out at the island, searching for the sleek grey shape of seals lying on the rocks.

‘There’s been tales of reckless bairns like yourself getting caught as the tide comes rushing in, who would have drowned if it weren’t for a woman emerging from the water and carrying them to safety.’ Mairi smiled softly. ‘When their terrified mothers came to find them, all to be seen was a seal swimming away and the bairn alone on the beach, shivering and soaked to the skin.’

Eisla’s eyes widened. ‘What do selkies look like?’

Mairi smiled down at her, tucking a dark curl behind her ear. ‘They have beautiful long hair, just like yours. In the water they look like seals, but on bonnie days when the sun is warm and bright, and there are no earth-born men around, they come ashore and slip off their sealskins, and lie naked in the sunshine. Then they look just as humans do.’ She looked wistfully out at the horizon. ‘They’re deathly beautiful, with eyes big and black as night.’

Eisla grinned excitedly. ‘Like yours?’

‘Aye, and yours too, my love.’                                                                           

‘Do you think we’ll see one?’

Mairi shook her head. ‘Even if you did, they’d grab their skins and disappear into the waves as soon as they saw you.’

Eisla rattled the shells in her pockets. ‘Why would they hide?’

‘Well, love, if someone manages to steal their skin, they cannae go back to the sea or they’ll drown. They’ll be trapped ashore and forced to live among the earth-born folk, until the day they can steal back their skin and go home.’

‘So if I found their sealskin I could make them stay and talk to me?’

Mairi crouched down beside her granddaughter, grasping her shoulders. ‘Listen to me, Eisla,’ she said earnestly. ‘You should never cross a creature of the sea. Selkies live long lives, and are not likely to forget.’

The girl looked at her, wide eyed.

Mairi’s expression softened and she took Eisla’s hand. ‘Now come, lass. We best be getting home.’ They turned and walked back along the sand, with the dark rocks of the island crouching in the water behind them.

Mairi settled into her chair, watching as the firelight sent shadows flickering across the walls. Her gaze shifted to her granddaughter. Eisla sat next to the fireplace, her legs swinging as she sorted through the seashells in her lap.

‘Pass me some of those shells, love.’ Taking a handful, Mairi rolled them between her fingers. ‘You know, your mama used to collect these,’ she said softly.

The girl smiled, the shells clinking as she played with them. ‘What was she like?’

Mairi leant back, unwinding a spool of thread. She took a handful of the tiny seashells, and began stringing them together as she talked. ‘Your mama was a wild lass. She would spend hours roaming the cliff tops or along the tideline instead of helping me with the chores. She longed for a boat of her own, like her father had.’

Eisla cocked her head. ‘You never talk about him.’

‘Your grandfather?’ Mairi was quiet for a moment. ‘He was a fisherman, like most men in this village. The bonniest lad I’d ever laid eyes on.’

Her husband had been charming, at first. He had a smile that made her heart thud and stormy grey eyes that flashed like fish scales in sunlight. She had been exploring rock pools at the base of the ragged cliffs a few miles down the coast when she first saw him. He had been so gentle, so kind.

He told her stories about his village, and showed her the sweet-smelling wildflowers growing along the cliff tops. And when the cold fingers of night crept in and she should have returned home he coaxed a fire alight and entreated her to stay. She had watched the flicker of flames and the glowing of embers, entranced as the fire spat sparks up into the night.

‘But he was young and reckless, and didnae respect the sea.’ Mairi closed her eyes. ‘There came a storm, one evening.’

The water had thrashed dark and black against the rocks, and the clouds gathered thick and brooding in the sky. It had been bitterly cold, and the wind roared around the cliffs as she stood watching for him to come home. The boats had come in early, one by one, as the rain began to fall in great spattering drops and thunder rumbled through the night. But he had not come.       

‘He stole from the sea, and so the sea stole from him. It smashed his boat to splinters, and without a boat a man cannae survive in the water.’ Her eyes had taken on a strange intensity. ‘The ocean is a dangerous thing, my love. Be wary not to anger it.’

Eisla watched her with wide eyes, not quite understanding, but recognising the gravity of her tone.

Mairi looked down at the string of shells.

She had been left with a belly swollen with new life in a village that was not her own, where the people eyed her warily and murmured as she passed.

The bairn was born midwinter. A tiny girl with a wisp of dark hair and eyes big and black as night.

Perfectly human.

Before the storm, when she had first discovered she was with child, he had been overjoyed. She kept it secret from her sisters, slipping away to meet him on starlit nights to lay with him beside the dancing fire. But as her belly began to show he grew restless. He had heard tales of bairns born of the sea. Clammy-skinned children with webbed fingers and toes.

He had begged to see where she had hidden her fur.

Early one morning she woke alone. Smoke swelled softly from the embers and a dusting of ashes had settled in her hair overnight. She crept barefoot along the cliffs. Silver dewdrops clustered on the grass and a think grey mist swirled in over the ocean. A silent, still morning.

As she reached the familiar cluster of rocks at the base of the headland, she paused, her heart beating faster. Something was wrong.

She scrambled around the rocks to a narrow crevice in the cliff face, hidden behind a jutting shelf of rock. The hollow space was empty. He stood there, staring vacantly out to sea.

‘No.’ She shook her head, backing away. ‘Where is it?’ She choked on the words.

He couldn’t meet her eyes. ‘Think of the bairn. It will need its mother.’

‘No.’ She looked around, searching desperately.

He gestured at the ocean, his voice so soft she could barely hear it. ‘You would have left us.’

Over the next few months she had raged, and wept, and begged, but he refused to tell her where he had hidden her sealskin. She searched everywhere. She hated his house, with the rough stone floor and the roof that leaked, and the walls that seemed to close in around her. At night she would lie awake beside him, listening to the distant crash of waves on the shore.

Everyday he would go out in his boat with the other fishermen from the village. She would stand at the edge of the water and feel the tide tug at her feet and the salt singing in her veins, but she could not follow.

Mairi’s grip tightened on the string of seashells. The fire spat and crackled as the wood shifted. She blinked, eyes shining in the firelight as she looked over at her granddaughter. Eisla hummed quietly, examining the polished shells in her lap.


It was the thunder that woke her.

The fire had died down, and the embers glowed softly in the darkness. A thin haze of wood smoke filled the room.

Mairi pulled the blankets closer. Outside, the rain lashed against the stone walls.

She shivered as she rose, drawing her cloak around her shoulders. She added wood to the fire, stirring the coals to coax the flames alight.

The thunder rumbled heavily. She could hear the ocean raging, the waves crashing furiously against the cliffs. The door banged restlessly in its frame, the thin latch struggling to hold it in place.

Eisla rolled over, murmuring in her sleep. Mairi smiled, leaning down to stroke her hair. The string of seashells hung around Eisla’s neck, tangled amongst her dark curls.

A loud crack tore through the air. Mairi looked up in alarm. She heard the crash of stones tumbling to the ground. A gust of cold air swirled down the chimney, scattering ash across the hearthstone.

Mairi rushed to the door. As she lifted the latch, the wind ripped it from her grasp and it battered wildly against the wall. She slammed it shut behind her. She shielded her face from the rain, making her way around the side of the cottage.

The old hazel tree had been torn up by the roots. Mairi stared desperately at the tangle of broken branches. The knotted trunk rested against the chimney, where a pile of thick grey stones had tumbled to the ground.

Mairi pulled at a branch, trying to dislodge it. Loose stones shook as the tree shifted. She was soaked, her hair clinging to her skin. Wood cracked and splintered, and the branch fell to the ground. Another stone toppled over, crashing down.

Something caught her eye.

The corner of the roof had fallen away, and a thick bundle was wedged beneath the exposed timber rafters.

Mairi climbed onto the pile of fallen stones, steading herself against the tree trunk. She couldn’t breathe. She lifted a trembling hand, pulling it down. The sealskin shone soft and silver in the starlight. Mairi breathed in the musty fur, coated in decades of dust and crusted salt. The wind swirled around her and the waves crashed frantically against the rocks on the shore below. Thunder rolled and roared across the sky. She looked down towards the sea.

‘Nana?’ Eisla stood huddled in the doorway.

Mairi looked back at her. ‘Hush, my love. ‘Tis only thunder. Go back to bed.’

The girl rubbed her eyes sleepily. Mairi kissed her head, stroking her hair, then ushered her gently back inside. She paused for a moment, her hand resting on the door, then turned to face the sea.


Mairi stood at the edge of the water, her hair hanging heavy and wet down her back, a dark silvery grey in the moonlight. The stone was cold beneath her feet. Water thrashed and churned, white foam flashing against steely waves. The sea called to her, the salt singing in her veins. She clutched the sealskin tightly.

And she remembered watching and waiting, as the rain fell in great spattering drops and thunder rumbled through the night, and the boats came in early, one by one.

But he had not come.

She remembered the scream that tore itself from her throat, raw and ragged, as wind whipped around her and waves crashed relentlessly against the rocks. And the smell of the salt, so close.

She remembered the wind whistling through her hair and the familiar embrace of the waves as she threw herself into the sea.

And she remembered the weight of the water. Breathless. Desperate. A thrashing of limbs. Each wave a wall of water, pushing her down, spluttering, guttering, gasping for air. Helpless, hopeless. One arm flung upwards, grasping the air and then under.

And she realised she was going to die. Even as her leaden legs continued to kick and she thrashed madly against the foam, she knew. And she fought. Fought the force of the water. Fought as she felt her strength fading, draining with every stroke as she struggled, sank, strove for the surface, for the shore.

The salty air filled her lungs and she shuddered. A new kind of hunger.

And she had laughed, laughed so hard that it hurt. She laughed for the sake of laughing, for the rush of air and the pumping of blood, and the ache in the pit of her stomach that told her that she was alive.

Mairi gripped the sealskin tighter, staring out at the dark water. She stepped forward to meet the ocean, as she had done the night her husband died, when she lost all hope of finding her fur again.

She thought of her home, and the sisters waiting for her out beyond the waves, the family she had left behind all those years ago. And she thought of Eisla, with a pocket full of seashells, and eyes as big and black as night.

And for a moment Mairi stood on the edge of the rocks, listening as the sea called to her, feeling the water spray across her cheeks and the salt on her tongue. Then she turned, walking back towards the beach, and the little house where Eisla lay curled up asleep, with a string of shells around her neck.

Behind her, the sea hurled itself against the rocks. The wind whipped at her hair, stinging her cheeks.

Droplets clung to her skin, shining silver.

Platform 14, Gemma Boffa

Trains rush past.

An old piece of machinery, dripping in graffiti, opens its doors with a groan and people spill out onto the platform. They push and pull. As a mass, they gravitate towards the exit. The group collects people like droplets along a stream, leaving the station to carry on.

Worker bees stride in shoes that have been shined down to the rim by women bred to stay inside. Their hungry fingers, hairy and plumped with expensive sterling silver rings, grip briefcases with intensity. They angle their bodies past the rest of the crowd, eager to take their first step inside the office, to fill a glass from a tap of instant sparkling water, to smack their wet lips together and sigh and mention to the others trailing behind them how this truly is the life.

School girls chatter and laugh, lounging in the sun on the overweight platform. They flit back and forth through conversations, chewing sticks of gum with gnawing, wide jaws. They pop spearmint bubbles into the faces of stubbly teenage boys while they whine about the upcoming formal and how they haven’t even found a date yet. The gaps between their teeth tighten within metal braces until there’s no space left behind. Their hair braids frame youthful smiles and they dance along the station, ignoring the bustle of people around. Queenie sits on the bench, paint peeling around her thighs. One of her lenses is smudged, quickly she wipes her glasses against a decrepit edge of the worn-out jacket that lives in her bag. She hurriedly squashes them back onto her nose and subconsciously smooths down little strands of hair to frame her face. She recommences her surveillance.


The commotion of the morning on Platform 14 brushes past her as it usually does, and she sits, safe in her little spot where her initials are carved into the belly side. She watches, waiting for the tap of a steel-capped cane to jut out from the rest of the noise. For a one-sided smile to appear out of the mass like relief from a dust storm. For the blend of body odour, cigarettes and lavender to rise from the smell of trackwork and greet her.

Young women in active wear stretch their limbs against handrails, sipping from ambiguous plastic bottles and snapping generic fitness tips at each other that they all read in the same article. University students shuffle in a coffee-deprived sludge, sleep embedded in the corners of their eyes. A woman plays with her dog next to the staircase, feeding it snacks every time it performs a miniscule trick. An old man picks at his teeth with a weathered, dirt-encrusted finger. A scruffy teenage boy waits by the cubicles.

Bull shuffles awkwardly. The smell from the toilets works its way under his skin, his head, it permeates into his clothes. He gazes at the city buzzing by, dazed by the sun streaming through the filthy, scratched Perspex that borders the ticket gates. Squinting, his eyes flick to the plastic banded watch on his freckled wrist. It reads twelve minutes past eight – Sloth is late.

He doesn’t exactly know what Sloth looks like. What if Sloth is already here and they’ve both been waiting, side by side, in the station for each other? No. He glances at the people around them. The text simply said Sloth would be wearing a red flannel but Bull can’t spot a single lick of colour through the constant stream of people, bustling through the six ticket gates, trying to force their bodies into empty spaces. Bull sighs. His hand grips against the money in his pocket, sticky with sweat that drips between his fingers. Ninety dollars. Rolled up neatly and tied up with a rubber band that Julie found lying around.   

A red flannel suddenly appears from within the crowd.

‘Bull?’ His voice is deeply Australian, thick with a country accent. His smile, Bull thinks, is somehow too confident for a twenty-two-year-old boy with a receding hairline.

Bull nods, his fingers shaking inside his pocket. Sliding up and down against the notes. His heart stammers against a bird-boned ribcage, choking in between each pulse.

‘Huh. For someone named Bull, I thought you would be a bit – bigger?’

Bull puffs out his tiny chest. Sloth could definitely take him in a fight. ‘So that makes you Sloth then. Makes sense you would be late.’ Somehow, his voice does not break.

If Julie was here, she would be hissing at him in tiny stilted breaths. What are you doing Bull?! Pissing off our one contact?! But Julie wasn’t here. She was stuck in a stuffy school hall using a scratchy, borrowed pencil to finish off the last of her trial English exam. Bull has to step up.

Sloth pauses then laughs. ‘Fair enough,’ he says, shaking his head. ‘So – uh – just the seven today?’

Bull looks around, fervent eyes darting from pole to pole. No one seems to be watching. In the chaos of morning coffee and frantic phone calls, no one is paying attention to the freckly teenage boy in an oversized jacket, torn t-shirt and rolled up jeans, awkwardly shuffling in his worn-out shoes next to the bathrooms. He pauses, locking eyes with the young woman sitting on the scratched bench, her glasses glinting in the sun. He’s seen her here before, he thinks. Always in the same spot. Never doing anything other than watching the people around her. For a moment, their eyes remain locked. Then the woman looks away, head shaking.

Bull pulls out the clammy roll of notes with a weak hand, wincing as he wipes his palms on his paint splattered pants. Sloth takes the money almost lazily, barely in any rush, pockets it with ease, and pulls out a strong-smelling bag. Its perfume bleeds through the open-air building. It seeps into the pointed stiletto heels of ladies waiting in line for the singular, decrepit cubicle; it soaks into the holes of the brickwork that crumbles around them.

In a school hall on the other side of the bridge, surrounded by mismatched school uniforms of green and white, Julie sighs. The point of her pencil prickles against the paper, then snaps. The tiny trickle of lead rolls over her exam. She blinks at it. Then at the now useless pencil still clutched in her dry, small hand. Minutes bleed into each other, seconds swirling together. Around her, frantic pens slide across printed lines in a last-minute dash to record half-hearted answers. The giant clock at the front of the hall, which until this point point had been ticking in a rather insidious way, buzzes, signalling the end of the final exam. Students are jolted out of their academic hazes and pass up their papers. Sunshine greets tired, weary eyes, as they congregate on the lawn, discussing how question three was somehow impossible to answer. Julie looks at her frayed, sweaty fabric watch. Bull must be finished by now.

The young man thrusts his hand out. Clutches the bag. Tucks it into his pocket. Departs.

Trains rush past.

Queenie crosses her legs, her glasses twinkling in the light from the rising sun, the glare sparkling across her eyes. Chaos engulfs her. Peak hour descends into a mid-morning shuffle. Late risers stagger from platform to platform, seeking shelter and a shaded place to sit, where they can wait for a destination that suits their fancy.

 From her vantage point, she can see the group of new mothers coagulating, ready for the ten-thirty-two train into the city. Every week they meet, strollers clogging up the flow of passengers. The women fuss over their spawn. Feeding them packaged puree and daintily wiping at the miniature mouths, that so resemble their own. A little piece of mashed pear manages to escape. A high-pitched squawk beckons from one pram, and then another, until each mother is bent over her child, regurgitating soothing words of comfort that their own mother must have murmured to them at one point or another.

She lets her eyes rest on them for a dangerous, overextended minute. Something rises in her, something she wishes she could keep clenched down. The mothers push their identical strollers onto the carriages, laughing with each other absentmindedly. They disappear inside the train, carried away to the zoo or the movies or whatever adventure awaits today. She watches the train depart with a sigh that begins deep in her ribcage and rises through to her eyes. Crescent moon nail marks have been cut into her palms without her even realising. Slowly, she lets go. Adjusts her glasses. Places a stick of cheap, fruity gum in her mouth that releases a wave of mild flavour, inducing a small rush of saliva. The tiny underlay of mint causes her nostrils to slightly flare. Queenie pauses. Absentmindedness temporarily incapacitates her. The lazy sun meanders in the sky, pathless. It urges her to lose focus, to relax. She recommences watching.

Julie steps onto Platform 14. Her socks sit lazily around her freckled ankles. Her tight brown curls hold all the humidity that the sun could spare. Her fabric watch has amassed sweat and it clings, sticky and tight, to her wrist like the wisps of a dandelion, until the wind curls through the station, and it shimmies its way to freedom. Julie takes in the old couple sitting on the wrong platform, their lined hands clasped together as they wait for a train that won’t come for them. She sees the mop-haired banker leaving early for a lunch meeting which, he hopes, will result in a promotion. She sees the young woman with red-rimmed glasses watching the crowds in the same way that mirrors her own. She sees Bull, waiting for her against the ticket barrier, a nervous smile stretched across his pale face, a smile that relaxes and morphs into something sweeter and younger when he spots her.

They approach each other slowly, cautiously.

‘How did it go?’ Her voice is scratchy and tired, Bull notices. Purple lids are drooped over her brown eyes, long thin lashes flicking side to side as she keeps careful watch of their surrounds. In her faded school uniform, she looks like a child that someone let loose onto the world, a child that knows a little too much. He coughs a little, clearing a murky throat.

‘I picked it up, all good.’ Uncertainty clouds his face for a second that passes too slowly for Julie’s liking. She grabs his hand with a possessiveness, a tightness that causes him to grimace ever so lightly, a grimace that Queenie spies from her seat.

She’s spending too much time watching the young couple. But her attention continues to wander, with nothing to bring her back to Platform 14. There’s no mixed blend of cigarettes and lavender. There’s no tap of a steel cane. There’s nothing keeping her here. She turns away from the two, twisting in her seat.    

Queenie bites into a doughnut, the powder and jam bursting with unlimited sweetness, soaking into her gums and making her nostrils flare from the overextended release of sugar. The sky turns a crisp starfish blue above her sun-drenched head. Midday arrives and departs with a sigh, and afternoon sheds her skin like a cocoon, spinning silky clouds into the world.

The worker bees’ hungry hands exhausted from a day of repetitive droning, make the passage home, once again visiting Platform 14. Their belts are tightened over bulging stomachs. Their shoelaces, strapped like armour, contain wandering feet. As the sun sets on another day bred to look just like the others, they sit in pairs on carpeted train seats. For a second, they allow themselves to wonder about the point of it all. But that thought is squashed, alongside all others, once they draw out their individual devices and allow the news of the day to be filtered to them through a lens. Queenie can’t help but imagine them travelling home to families that sit around the dinner table and say prayer together. Every night they tuck their little girls into bed with a protective swoop of their wings that guarantees sweet dreams.

And the schoolgirls, with their tight braces and even tighter braids, head to after school jobs where they work for a mediocre wage so they can save up money for parties and alcohol and festivals and drugs. They study on weekend mornings, scraping for an A but only ever attaining a B. They smoke and hide the cigarettes in between their socks so that their little sister never finds the pack. White collar dreams of offices and law firms and conferences on medicine infiltrate their study sessions until all they think of is working for that ATAR that their private school promised would be granted. They ride the trains at midnight, pulling their skirts down over too-orange knees, watching the world from the safety of a carriage that delivers them almost straight to their door. And they sleep in beds that are remade everyday by a mother who wistfully remembers how she felt when she rode the trains with her friends.

Night descends on the back of a summer haze. The click of cicadas ebb and flow, drowning out the conversations that are beginning to die down. Queenie dreams. Queenie waits. She sits at the station, watching the hordes of people going home, looking down the line of train carriages for the familiar steel-tipped clink of her father’s cane. For that one-sided smile. For that scent that sometimes she swears she made up. And it doesn’t come. And neither does he.

She drifts home, her soul thin like the edge of a crisp butterfly wing. Her bed offers no solace, and she only sleeps to pass the time until the morning trains push off from platform 14. There she will be, tomorrow and the next day and the next day. Watching and waiting.

Dependence Day, Arturo Alegre

*Content warning: mentions of domestic violence, sexual abuse.

I sit on the window seat and peer through the glass, gazing out into the midnight velvet. The starry starry night is made a vibrant Van Gogh, with those distant lights scattering the tranquil sky. The brilliant stars are ablaze like radiant snowflakes, calling out to me as they each promise a new life in the gloom. I place a bruised hand flat against the cool glass. If only I could reach out to them somehow. They’re so minuscule even against my pinkie finger, yet so beyond my grasp. However, against the familiar white and black sky, I quickly notice the flash of metallic silver rushing towards me through the window’s blurred reflection, and I instinctively remove my hand from the window. My father’s crushed beer can had bounced off my foggy hand-print with a loud clunk and landed between my blackened legs.

‘Fetch me another one, why don’t you?’ my father grunts. I turn and scowl at him for having interrupted my solace, his plump figure slouched before the television. Despite my resentments, I oblige and walk briskly to the kitchen. I hear the anchor-woman’s soothing voice from the TV as I pass the mouldy sofa, her tone neutral despite having to relay an assortment of dreadful realities.

‘Now for today’s breaking news, another unidentified aircraft has just arrived on our soil, marking its fifth occurrence this week in the United States alone.’

Another visit? I wonder what it is they seek? As I reach through the refrigerator and retrieve the Miller Lite from its chilly interior, I look over at the back of my father’s seated figure and imagine their eventual disappointment at discovering nothing of significance here.

‘You take any longer back there and I’ll make them bruises bigger than they already are, you hear me?’ my father threatens from the living room. His booming voice reverberates throughout the house and the words fade into nothingness, perhaps uniting with his countless other threats. I shut the refrigerator door and walk back to him with quick steps, presenting the frosty can just beyond his shoulder. Snatching the drink out from my hand, he opens it with haste and drinks its contents fiercely, devoid of any gratitude. I make my way back to the window seat and continue listening to the anchor-woman’s disclosure of tonight’s hot topic, a safe distance from my father.

‘Multiple residents of suburban Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania witnessed the arrival of the aircraft but were also quick to dispatch of its mystery passengers.’

The screen transitions to grainy video footage of the triangular mass that remained between the rows of Tudor houses, perched like a bird about to take flight. Its metallic body, surrounded by onlookers, resembles that of the previous four aircrafts that had appeared in other parts of the country; its base decorated with those glaring white lights. The news then cuts to footage of two blanketed bodies being wheeled away on stretchers before returning to the anchor-woman’s calm figure.

‘And now, here we have fellow resident Martin Louis, one of the nation’s proclaimed heroes responsible for the purging of the strange visitors.’ I jolt back as my father had let out a sudden guffaw across from me.

‘Way to go buddy,’ he cheers, clapping. I scoff quietly so he doesn’t hear. He never took a liking to foreigners, let alone the extra-terrestrial. I glare at his bulbous figure, his clammy hands clutching onto his beer can as though it was his lifeline, before shifting my attention back to the television screen. Presented before me now was a close-up of a middle-aged man with dishevelled hair. He spoke in a southern drawl, with a toothy grin.

‘I took them sons-of-guns out with my G98, popped ‘em right between their two eyes. The first one came out of the thing slow and steady, its skin as pale as winter’s snow. People around me were panickin’, backing away into their mothers and husbands, but I stayed right where I stood. It was holdin’ this rectangular-shaped thingy and it was about to put it up to what I believe was its mouth before I took ‘em out, and it fell back like a ragdoll. Wasn’t about to take no chances. There was this red sploosh that had gone oozin’ out from where the bullet struck. The whole thing was nuttier than a squirrel’s turd I’m tellin’ you. And then the last one came out, but this one was little. Skin brown like caramel, it came runnin’ out and charged right at me, screamin’. But little did the little shit knew, I had put the bullet right through its head before—’

I jolt again as my father let out another of his hearty laughs, which were reserved only for such merciless happenings.

‘That’s how you deal with them fuckers. Hope they take the hint from here on out,’ he says, smirking. I shake my head only slightly, so he doesn’t see, as the impartial anchor-woman returns on-screen.

‘As mass hysteria continues to spread across our great nation, secretary of defence Marcus Esther has issued another public statement regarding the emergence of unidentified aircrafts, urging civilians to steer clear from any potential future visits. In addition, the United States Air Force has decided to incite “critical action,” taking full responsibility for protecting—’

The broadcast was suddenly intercepted by TV static, the ongoing black and white fuzz similar to that of an abstract moving picture accompanied by steady audible buzzing.

‘What the shit?’ my father bellows in frustration. With a flushed face and gritted teeth, he stands and trudges towards the television, through the sea of empty beer cans, and gives it a good beating. Expectedly, it was to no avail as the droning static remains. And yet, he continues to strike it with the flat of his palm repeatedly, as if it were my own body. I watch and listen to the incessant thumping, again, and again, until what had been the black and white distortion was finally replaced by silent blackness, against jagged cracks which now pervade the screen. I watch as his head slowly turns towards me, his chest heaving rapidly. Our glowing-red eyes meet momentarily as he stands enveloped in darkness, while I remain seated, bathed under the effervescent moonlight.

‘Why don’t you go to bed, Aeryn?’ he snarls, foamy saliva sprouting through his bared teeth. I comply and get up from the window seat immediately, allowing the surrounding darkness to swallow me as I pace towards the dilapidated staircase. ‘I’ll be with you shortly,’ he adds as I ascend the stairs.

I enter my room and slam its lockless door shut before lying on my bed, teeth rattling in the chilly atmosphere. I look through the half-open window, up at the dazzling sky once again. The stars are more luminous now than before, I realise, as I watch the blip of a shooting star soar through the night sky. They come and go unexpectedly, but I appreciate the warmth they generate as they pass by. But then, that familiar cold feeling creeps in as I hear his crescendoing footsteps, heavy against the peeling wood, and ceasing once he has reached my bedroom door. His menacing shadow is cast through the door’s bottom gap, and I grasp my blanket, pulling it up over my chin. I focus on the cragged ceiling as I listen to the hinges creak and watch his shadow gradually expand as he prowls towards me at a leisurely pace. Close by, I hear the familiar sound of his belt unbuckling, followed by the slow undoing of his zipper. I look back through the window, up at the shining stars, and as I sense his hot liquor-scented breath against my face, I watch them gradually extinguish, one by one, leaving the sky a total black void… a blanket of darkness.


With a closed eye and a conscious mind, I continue lying in the freezing darkness, tossing and turning endlessly over crumpled sheets. The obnoxious cacophony of chirping field crickets, alongside my father’s snoring from the adjacent room, only heightened my insomnia. The throbbing from the fresh bruises along my arms and legs didn’t help either. However, my frustrations eventually subside as I hear the sudden sounds of deep humming and whistling from outside, followed by the profound buzzing of a trumpet. Could it be?

I get up and approach my bedroom window. The breezy air had turned into gusts of warm wind. I look out at the open meadow, unable to locate the sound’s source as only the typical sights of the Missouri countryside appear before me; the ever-swaying greenery amongst vast marshlands and the occasional car headlights zooming by in the distance. That was until the triangular mass had materialised before me, hovering above the flat expanse of grass. I watch, perplexed, as three dazzling white lights slowly transpire, one by one, as did its burnished body. It looked just like the others that were broadcasted throughout this week’s news.

I immediately scamper out of my room and run down the staircase, skipping three steps at a time. I couldn’t believe it… they were actually here, of all places! I continue descending the stairs and, as I reach the first floor, I am suddenly stopped by his sweaty palm, placed against my bare chest. I was so engrossed by what I had seen that I had failed to acknowledge his stout silhouette before me. In his other hand, I could see the outline of his .308 Winchester rifle. He places an index finger against his lips and lets out a faint ‘Shhh.’

‘Stay put, girl,’ he commands with a raised hand and sets off towards the front door. Again, as to not challenge him, I abide by merely making my way to the window seat and gaze through the now steamy glass, at the landed aircraft.

‘Who’s there?! Show yourself!’ was the first thing I heard my father yell as he stood out on the porch, his legs quivering like jelly. While it was a shame I was to remain inside, it was satisfying to watch him in such a vulnerable state. His gun’s barrel was instantly facing the aircraft. It stood on three legs, so its bottom remained hovering over our grass a good 200 inches. It wasn’t too large, nor was it too big; about the average size of a tennis court. I knelt before the glass, transfixed, watching the vehicle’s lights go out as a set of stairs descended from its base. I looked intently up at the head of the staircase, where there was nothing for a while but steaming darkness.

But then I saw it… a moving outline of a figure within. I climbed subconsciously through the window and tippy-toed my way towards my father.

‘What the fuck are you doing here? I told you to stay inside,’ he says in a hushed tone as I arrive at his side. But I don’t listen this time and, instead, I edge closer to the aircraft as the shadow from within enlarges. I hear the sharp cocking of the rifle behind me, followed by my father’s set of muttered profanities.

And then, what appears to be a pale bare foot has emerged from the gloom, followed by another. What came next were a pair of naked legs.

‘Get back here, Aeryn,’ my father shouts this time. ‘Before I shoot the both of you.’ I remain where I stand, however, and continue to watch as it descends further down the aircraft’s staircase. What looks like its groin, followed by its exposed stomach, manifests from the darkness. As it makes its way a little further down, it places a hand on the staircase’s railing, while the other hand holds a rectangular object, seemingly the device that Martin Louis had described in the news from earlier. By then, my father’s third and fourth arm have grabbed the gun’s stock, for steadier aim.

And suddenly, with a tumultuous bang, the unknown figure tumbles down the set of stairs, like a ragdoll, landing with a great thump on the grass. Wafts of smoke escape from the rifle’s barrel beside me.

‘No!’ I yell and begin running towards the aircraft and fallen figure. I promptly hear my father’s own fleeting footsteps from behind as he quickly catches up to me. My dad grips my arm tight as we both tower over the body.

‘What the hell are you thinking? You’re gonna get us both kill—’ he began to say, gasping for air, before I escaped his grasp and knelt before the injured visitor. It was a brave course of action stimulated through seemingly unfounded courage. Perhaps it was due to the other-worldly being that lay before me, which made everything in this world seem inconsequential. By now, I had expected my father to have grabbed me by my neck, lifting me up from the ground, though that had yet to occur. Whatever facial expression he may have at this very moment, I do not know, for I have devoted full attention to the body, now lying in a pool of red liquid.

It has two short legs which sort of resembles ours, and I see the bullet from my father’s rifle lodged inside one of its kneecaps, from where the red liquid exudes. Its hanging genitals looks just like my father’s, albeit smaller. But it only has two arms, much shorter than ours. I inspect its small hands and notice that it has only five fingers on each one. I grasp its trembling left hand, which was caked in the red liquid, with my six fingers and it encloses mine with its own. It feels deathly cold to the touch and its skin is so unbelievably smooth and light, as opposed to our dark blue and purple complexions.

I continue to scan its body upwards. As I observe its head, I see these weird curly brown strands that protrude from the top of it, whereas ours are merely smooth and clear. And while its ears do look similar to ours, its face bears a pair of dull-brown eyes instead of a single glowing-red one. There is also this strange thing jutting out from underneath its eyes. Its tip consists of two holes which expand and contract repeatedly. Below this is its half-open mouth where, inside, contains many chattering teeth that are unusually flat at their bottoms.

I almost stagger, however, as it suddenly opens its mouth wide, and makes a high-pitched whistling sound. Its hand’s tightened grip had prevented me from falling back.

‘Please help me,’ it utters with a voice, while too light and feeble, was hoarse and wheezy like ours. And as it seems, it speaks our language too.

At once, I hear my father’s approaching footsteps as his shadow engulfs its body completely.

‘We must get rid of it,’ my father orders. ‘We don’t know what the thing is capable of. It could be dangerous.’

Wordlessly, I slowly stand and face him. It was obvious that the creature wasn’t from this world, but that doesn’t necessarily mean danger. The only danger present at this very moment is the thing that stands before me.


I sit on the window seat beside his bandaged body, with the rifle in all four of my steady hands, and peer through the glass, gazing out into the midnight velvet. It, who remains sprawled across the grassy field, illuminated by the aircraft’s gleaming lights, ceases to be a threat. The starry starry night is made a vibrant Van Gogh once again, with those distant lights scattering the tranquil sky, coming closer and closer to us. I look down at him as he lies next to me with closed eyes. I had heard him speak through the rectangular device, once I had brought him in to safety. ‘This one doesn’t appear to be hostile,’ and ‘Come to Missouri, it’s safe here,’ were some of the things I heard him say while he looked at me. So now, I gaze at the sky once more. The brilliant stars are ablaze like radiant snowflakes, calling out to me as they each promise a new life in the gloom. I place a bruised hand flat against the cool glass as they come even closer now. And, as the metallic bodies that surround them slowly emerge from the darkness, their triangular masses slowly transpiring, I find myself smiling for the very first time.

Beau and the Beast, Annie Tooby

The village was nearly deserted at this hour. He stopped and listened. The night was dark. The moon vacantly stared downward, the clouds like eyelids blocking out its glow. Those who were still outside immediately abandoned their nightly tasks for the security of their homes. They called him ‘the Beast’. They hated him. He was wild. He didn’t belong.

His gaze lay upon each of the inhabitants, for quiet as they were, the night was quieter, and his sensitive ears located every movement. He twitched at each closing door, his head snapping toward each sound. Suddenly he was still, focused on something different. A straggler, unaware of his presence. How foolish.

She stood at the foot of the town well and continued to scrub at a stubborn stain on an apron, water sloshing, fabric grating against washboard. A good distraction. He approached his prey. His eyes were wide, his movements slow and calculated. One foot ahead of the next. He was but twenty metres away when the splashing ceased, and the straggler turned to hang her washing. A scream escaped her lips as she caught sight of him.

She ran.

He chased.

Her apron lay crumpled and dirty on the ground.

The door shot out a gust of wind as it slammed in his face. He growled and trudged back to the centre of the village, moaning and whining. Pawing at the earth beneath him, he blew out puffs of air.


Sabre watched him from the safety of her armchair, rocking back and forth in time with the passing seconds. Like all others, the house was darkened as to not bring attention to its inhabitants. But he, of course, was a spectacle. Threatening at most but not deadly, she believed.

She watched as the Beast chased her neighbour. She heard the scream; a sound which seemed to send a collective shudder throughout the town. She saw him stomp away, moaning and whining, agitated by his failure. She turned to her pet and stroked its long hair. Its body curled contently in her lap. She had rocked it to sleep, its breathing steady. They were safe behind the locked door, no fear of it being opened.

The Beast had a mouth on him; a voice that could howl for hours on end and a jaw that chomped violently. But after many months of observation, Sabre had watched his wounds close and his need for attention open. A glance, a glare, a yell – anything. She had watched him play on it: lunging at those who shuddered at his presence, growling at others who yelled at him to stop. He would smile as they filled with rage.

The Beast howled, a jarring cry from his gut, that woke her pet with a start. The pet shrieked, and jumped out of her lap in shock, its lips pursed in discontent. 

Shaking her head, she smiled at her pet. What a silly little thing.

Sabre rose from the rocking chair and made her way toward the window. From the other side of the glass, she saw the Beast stamp a frustrated circle of dirt between the houses, whining every few steps.

She couldn’t just sit and watch any longer. She knew that there was once some good in him. She would find it. 

She reached for the door, quickly looking back toward her pet and motioning at it to stay. Before pushing the door open, she took a quick, short breath. This would change everything.

It was rare that anyone was exposed to the cool night air after dark. It was too dangerous they thought. But the only fear Sabre had that night was of catching a cold.

The village was shrouded in darkness, the inhabitants tucked away in their homes and the moon, still oblivious to the goings-on of the night. Her warm breath was the only thing that stood out in the darkness, as it formed pale grey clouds in front of her eyes.

Her breath being like a target meant it didn’t take long for the Beast to locate her. He charged at her, kicking up dirt as he slid to a stop in front of her face. His breathing heavy, eyes wide.

Sabre stood perfectly still for a moment. She watched his lips tremble, his eyes waver. These weren’t the reactions of a Beast. Then, she gently reached out and stroked the hairs on his chin, ignoring the gnashing teeth and the bushy furrowed brow that shaded his narrowed eyes. She made contact.

He quietened for a second, confused. Not for such a long time had the Beast been touched like this, being more used to the violence and cruelty inflicted upon him by the inhabitants. Ever since the incident with Niabi. He could still see her lifeless eyes. Ever since they destroyed his home, his family. This kindness coming from one of them felt strange and foreign, yet it quenched a thirst he wasn’t aware he had. The tension in his brow released, his lips quivering with the echo of a growl.

He stared into her eyes, his own bright blue reflecting in her brown gaze. There was something almost familiar about her – a defiant spark perhaps? Their breath coalesced into a larger cloud and the anger and fear drained from his body. Was this a change? Was there finally someone here to accept him? His mistrust began to dissipate.

But it was short lived. His body was torn away from hers with such force that, as he hit the adjacent house, he cracked a wooden panel in two. He staggered back to his feet, trying to shake away the pain.

‘Stay away from her, Beast.’

The Beast heard the noises uttered by the attacker, but his only understanding lay in the violence enacted toward him. He located the one who had thrown him, his instincts returning immediately. He bared his teeth and swayed his head from side to side, surveying his enemy. The attacker’s ears were large. They hung low. They would be the Beast’s target.

A loud crack disrupted his focus. It came again, sparking like lightning. The attacker waved a whip-like object attached to his person, the leathery grey appendage lashing around like a vine in a windstorm. The Beast tried to retreat but found himself pinned against the wooden wall of the house.

‘That’s enough!’ Sabre’s voice sliced through the tension. ‘Leave him alone’.

‘He’s a menace. Everyone is petrified of him. It’s time he’s culled. Beast no more.’ The attacker yelled louder. ‘Beast no more.’

The inhabitants heard the hollering of the attacker and were drawn out from the safety of their homes. They amassed into a flock of bellowing aggressors. ‘Beast no more.’

It had only taken one monster to turn these timid beings into creatures.

Beast no more!’

They collected around the Beast, a cage of bodies closing in and shutting the door.

His spine was on fire, his ears ringing, echoing their chants. He shrunk toward the ground. But just before he closed his eyes, he watched the one that was trying to help him shield her body across his. Her orange hair stood up on end.


In his own inflicted darkness, he remembered Niabi. That stare. Those dark doe eyes. They haunted him.

She had been unlike anything he had ever seen.

He had called her Niabi and, although he could not understand her, she seemed to refer to him as Beau. They had been friends. He used to come and visit her most afternoons in the field just out from the village. She liked the dandelions there, but just the fluffy white ones. She liked the way they smelt, the way they tasted. She could not pick them, so one day he collected a bunch of them for her. He searched the entire field for them. Only when he was satisfied that he had them all, he wove a basket out of the tough grass so that she could carry them home around her neck.

But then winter came, the worst they had ever experienced. His family – they had been hungry. No longer did they have enough vegetation to feed off. The last of it lay frozen under the ice.

The inhabitants were hungry too. Both took from either side. The only food they could source was each other. The inhabitants killed his mother. His heart had frozen over along with everything else.

He was angry. He waited in the field for Niabi, tears crystallised as they ran down his cheeks. Being young, he didn’t have much in the way of hair coverage and the snow cut right through to his skin. As much as he now detested the ones that lived with Niabi in her village, he could not bring himself to hate her.

Within the mounds of snow, he found a dandelion crystallised by the cold weather. He lifted the icy object from its glacial bed and tossed it from palm to palm. Quickly, he placed the flower behind his ear and brushed the snow beneath him aside, before replanting the dandelion back into the earth.

A light scattering of snow sprinkled onto his face. He looked up to see Niabi, who tilted her head, grunting softly. Despite the cold, he managed a chuckle and brushed the snow from his eyes. She made him feel more like himself again. He smiled, his cheeks twitching as they struggled to hold his lips up.

His stomach growled in pain. It had been some time since he’d eaten anything. He bit his lip, his teeth easily piercing through the hardened skin. He tasted blood. It was salty, warm, and his body began shaking in response. He looked up at her. Niabi blinked slowly and brushed her head into his shoulder.

If she was there, he knew that he would be alright.

Suddenly she fell away from him. Her eyes glassed over, two perfect, icy balls. On the ground, her legs were splayed out like a deformed compass. She was still. An arrow gored through her chest. She was a beautiful, bloody angel against a cloud of white. Her tawny coat now one of red and white.

Shrieks and yells echoed around him. Relief. Satisfaction. He felt none of it.

His family gathered around the corpse. It had been an easy kill for them. They reached for their meal. But he couldn’t defend Niabi for long and his malnourished body eventually gave up. They were starving. They carried her above their heads, out of the field and beyond the trees.

He trudged behind them. His toes were numb, his fingers shaking, his mind blank. Numb. All he felt, was numbness.

As he reached his home, he saw that his family had laid her out on the ground as they assembled a fire. He knelt beside her and pressed his palm to the fur on her cheek. He wanted her to come back. He wanted his mother to come back. He was alone.

The dandelion back in the field had been broken in two.

He went hungry that night. He no longer belonged with these wild ones and, surely, he had no place in the village. He felt stationary in a spinning world, like the sun could awake but he still would be trapped in the night. The moon was nowhere in sight as he sat watching everyone else sleeping comfortably under the black sky.

It was then, in a moment of complete silence that the inhabitants attacked the family.

He ran.

They chased.

The screams of his family were frozen in the night air. The smell of blood and fear saturated his senses. Beau was the only one who escaped their wrath, or so he’d thought. An elder of the village hunted him down, pinning him against a tree.

‘This is the last time your kind hurts ours. You Beast.’

He recognised the face. The stripes of orange and white, the eyes edged in black tear trails.

The elder grappled his paw to the Beast’s naked hand. The other paw ran a claw down the Beast’s cheek, slicing the skin.

‘Dad! Stop!’ a small voice growled.

The elder released the Beast and turned.

The Beast briefly took in the image of the similar orange creature from which the growl came. There was an innocence in her eyes, a pleading, much unlike what appeared in those of the elder. Now was his chance.

He used her distraction to escape, sliding down the icy trunk of the tree and running. His getaway echoed with the dominant cries of the inhabitants. No longer was he Beau, but a Beast.



The scar across the Beast’s cheek glinted in the candlelight. The splintered wood jutted into his back. He gritted his teeth and opened his eyes again. This was it. After too many years to count, they would finally do to him what they did to his family. They would take him, like they took his mother, like his family had taken Niabi. He had nothing left. Really, he wasn’t even sure why he was still alive.

The only thing standing in their way was an orange body spread out in front of the Beast. Her striped orange tail looped aggressively, and her ears, pinned to the back of her head, were threatening.

The inhabitants charged toward him.

She stood firm.

He felt helpless. He had no claws to scratch, no sharp canines to bite, no wings to fly away. He wasn’t really a beast; not like they were. He curled into a ball and sobbed.

Sabre launched herself at the crowd but was quickly thrown aside. The strength of the pack defeating the lone assailant.

The Beast could feel hot breath on his face, drool dribbling onto his head, and whiskers brushing his cheeks. He dared not look his fate in the eyes. He took in what he believed to be his last breath.

A loud bang disrupted the tension. A door thumped against its house and a body ran through the crowd. A collective breath of shock blew into the Beast’s face and yelling from the body sent the inhabitants running. One by one the inhabitants flew back into their homes until only the original attacker remained.

From between the fleeing bodies, the Beast saw her. Two legs, two arms, long blonde hair and pale skin. She was like him. A child, she was a child.

The attacker stamped his foot into the dirt, ready to charge. They ran toward each other, the child grabbing onto his long ears and swinging herself up to his face. From one side to next the attacker swayed as the child clambered from eye-to-eye, pulling lashes as she went. She slid down his long, whip-like nose, tugging and pushing him in every which way until, disoriented, the attacker retreated, dragging his battered body to his home.

As he watched the grey giant lumber away, Beau let his head rest against the wooden panel behind him, his taut muscles loosened. He sighed and the shaking of his hands slowed. He glanced up as he heard a purr from the other side of the street.

‘My Pet, you saved the day.’

The moon awoke, its light finally shining down on the village. He saw her. Her orange body radiant in the moon’s glow.

The child ran up to Beau’s saviour and gently reached for her orange tail.

She looked from the child to Beau, and softly chuckled.


Beast, no more.

Liam and the Swan, Thomas Noss

Liam had gotten pretty good at using his telescope with one hand. Unimpressive, sure, unless you consider that it was this piece of rickety plastic crap that’d been part of a junior astronomer’s kit he’d received for his sixth or seventh birthday or something. Before the growth spurts and the angry red acne, anyhow. If you didn’t hold it right, the stupid tubes and lenses would slip out of alignment and all you’d see was the distorted, blurry shape of Justine Fowler, instead of just seeing Justine Fowler, which was the whole point of the exercise. Well, not the whole point. That had more to do with what his other hand was holding: a contraption assembled from one sock, one optimistically purchased condom, and one good glob of spit.

He could have saved himself the trouble of holding the telescope – not to mention the familiar wave of post-climax self-loathing – if he’d only exercised a bit of patience. ‘JustFitJustine’ would be uploading all the footage to Instagram, Twitter and YouTube soon anyhow, all with a much better view than he could hope to get from his bedroom window. But this would be it. He meant it this time. The videos would be enough from then on; even if the final edits never kept those precious moments between the deep stretches, sit ups and the yoga poses, where she’d stop to adjust her sports bra or check how her butt looked. Even if they didn’t show her like this, sitting with her feet in the pool, throwing a ball for Lucky the Labrador, who had no goddamned idea just how lucky he was to be that close to Justine freakin’ Fowler. God, to be that close. To be with her, to be touched by her, to be so close

 ‘Damn, bro’, a voice said from beside him.

It was only all the practice from having his mum knock on his door that prevented Liam from shrieking. Instead, he pulled his shirt down over his crotch as best he could and spun around, managing to knock over a small tower of plates and bowls that had accumulated on his bedside table.

‘I didn’t! I mean, I wasn’t…’

On the foot of his bed stood a pigeon, flicking its head from side to side to look at him with one eye, then the other. If pigeons could grin, then this one was grinning.

‘Looked like you were gonna start a fire, there,’ it said.

‘Wha… What?’

‘Hah! Only joking, bud. Didn’t mean to ruin your finishing touches. Think you’ll be alright? Need me to turn around for a bit?’

‘I—no, but—’

‘Fair enough. Sometimes helps me clear my head, but if you wanna save it up for later, I can respect that.’

Liam only stared, barely registering the wet plop of his masturbatory aid falling to the carpet. After a long pause, the pigeon sighed.

‘I swear, mortals these days. No sense of humour at all. Gods appear to you and it’s all “Oh no, I’m hallucinating, get the lithium”.’


The pigeon grinned again, and was replaced in a blink’s instant by a man wearing a flowing white robe. Grey-haired but powerfully built, with olive skin and eyes like thunderclouds, complete with the occasional subdued pulse of lightning. Liam was startled all over again, but soon managed to put down his telescope and accept the man’s proffered handshake.

‘Zeus. At your service bro,’ he said, giving Liam an enthusiastic slap on the shoulder.


‘That’s the one, man. Lord of the Sky and King of Olympus. Jupiter, if you’re feeling a bit Roman,’ he said with a wink. ‘You know you’re allowed to pull your pants up, right? Feels like I’ll keep getting one-word questions until that happens.’

Liam did so, struggling to tug his pants and underwear up while still trying to hold his shirt down. Zeus looked on, waiting until Liam was all tucked and settled.

‘There, that a bit better?’

Liam nodded.‘Um, listen, I’m… I’m really sorry for not, like… praying to you or anything. I think my mum has some candles. I can go make a shrine or—’

The god held up a hand.

‘That won’t be necessary. Actually, I’m here to help.’

‘Help… me?’

‘That’s right, my dude. With the object of your affection. ‘Cos you, my young friend, have got yourself a problem.’ The god nodded his head to the side, gesturing out the window.

Liam peered out to where Justine Fowler had begun her routine again, shifting herself from a push-up to a squat position, jumping in the air, then lowering herself back down to her yoga mat. She was speaking, no doubt giving instructions that her viewers could follow along at home. Liam had tried to do the exercises plenty of times, imagining building the bulging muscles that a girl like her might actually go for, but she was just so… distracting. Even without his telescope, he could have sworn he could see the beads of sweat rolling down her skin, glinting in the sunlight, dampening her clothes and—

‘Yep, that’s the look you get, right there. All that desire, all that passion. And the furthest it goes is into a tissue, a shower drain, or a banana peel that one time. Do you realise how frustrating it is?’


‘What you need,’ he said, spreading his arms wide, ‘is a wingman.’

When Liam next blinked, he found himself looking at an immense eagle, no smaller than the man that came before it. Its white-brown mottled feathers flashed gold with every minute movement, creating a dazzling display that did nothing to distract from its viciously pointed beak and a set of shining black talons. Zeus allowed Liam a moment to gawk.

‘Cool, right? Anyhow, what form were you thinking? I recommend bull. Big, powerful, definitely a classic. You think she’d dig it?

‘Wait, I’d be a bull?’

‘Yeah dude, keep up. Ooh, does she have a husband? We could give you his form and then be all like “Honey, I’m home.” Trust me, works every time.’

‘Uh… I don’t think she does, but I wouldn’t wanna—’

‘You’re right, let’s stick with animal. Snake?’

‘But I—’

‘Nah, too Christian. Ant?’

‘How would that even—’

‘Mm, yeah. Too freaky for a first timer. Let me think.’

Zeus stared out the window, furrowing his feathered brow and tapping one wing to his beak.

‘Zeus, I… you know, absolutely no offence, but I thought you meant we would, like… go talk to her.’

The eagle paused, pivoted to look at Liam, then threw back its head and let out a booming laugh.

‘I mean,’ Liam murmured, hardly able to hear himself. ‘Maybe she would like me.’ He sat down on his bed, staring at the skirting board while he waited for an oversized god-bird to stop laughing at him. It took some time.

‘Oh, Liam. Liam, Liam, Liam. You? Talk to that? “Hi, I’m Liam. Wanna hold my telescope? It’s a bit sticky.” Oh, you’re adorable. I take back what I said about your sense of humour.’

Liam frowned, clutching at the mattress.

‘Oh, hey now, don’t get upset. It’s not your fault. You can’t help being so modern about it. See, I’ve been around for eons, man. Long ones. And let me tell you, the rule of nature still applies. Might makes right. Did you know dolphins will gang up to separate a female from the pod until she lets them have a poke at her?’

‘Ew, what?’

‘Not so cute anymore, are they? There are these hermaphroditic flatworms, too, that like to swordfight with their dicks to see who has to be the pregnant one. And man, don’t get me started on ducks. Their junk’s all spiral-shaped so that—’

‘Alright, but I wouldn’t… I’m not a duck. Or a flatworm, or a… weird, rapey dolphin. I wouldn’t do that.’

‘Oh, because you’d need permission? Is that what you tell yourself during your little perv sessions? You’re a beast, Liam.’

‘No… no, I’m a human.’

‘Exactly. You are. You’ve just forgotten what that means. The whole damned lot of you have. Well, I’d say it’s time for a reminder.’

It took Liam a moment to realise that he was no longer gripping the mattress. He turned his gaze downward and saw only feathers. White, gleaming, pearlescent feathers. He craned his neck further, eyes wide, to discover two stubby legs ending in a pair of orange webbed feet. Then, realising that no neck should bend that far, he half fell, half flapped his way to the closet mirror. It confirmed what he already knew – that his gangly, misproportioned self was gone.

‘Oh my god oh my god oh my god.’

‘Yes, yes, and yes?’

‘I’m… you’ve made me—’

‘Striking. Majestic. Enrapturing. Everything we need to execute our plan.’

Our plan?’

‘’Esh, ouw ‘an,’ Zeus said, tugging the window open with his beak. ‘Just follow my lead, I’ve done this plenty of times. Now, get ready to evade.’

‘Evade what?’

And the eagle rushed at him, talons extended.


Justine frowned at the small screen attached to her video camera. She rewound the recording again, watching the miniature version of herself babble away.

‘So that’s it for today, everybody. Thanks for tuning in, and if you think this video helped you out, don’t forget to hit follow and leave a comment – it really means a lot to know that—’

Ugh. She shouldn’t beg. People hate begging. And look, she was hardly even smiling at the point she’d paused it. She needed to smile more.

Lucky came over and flopped next to her, letting her stroke his fur while she whipped out her phone to flick through her account details. Still only a trickle of ad revenue, nothing like the spike from when she’d posted the bikini bod video. A couple hundred bucks from that diet shake company, but she’d need to at least double her subscriber count before the big sponsors would start showing any interest. Everything would be fine then. She could pay down her study debts and relax a bit. God, she hadn’t even looked at her assignments yet.

She sighed, hitting the record button, pulling down her top a touch further and moving back into view of the camera. She put on her best smile, making sure to include her eyes. People always noticed if you didn’t smile with your eyes.

‘Thanks so much for tuning in, everyone. If you enjoyed today’s workout, don’t forget to—’

A noise interrupted her – something between a cry and a… honk? She looked toward the back fence in time to see a streak of golden-brown sweep down from above, dip out of sight behind the palings then shoot up into the sky again. Some sort of enormous bird? Lucky was barking, but a booming voice drowned him out.

‘I swear I’ll get you for real if you don’t stop farting around and get in there!’

The bird dived again, sending up a burst of the same cry-honking, but before it could swoop a third time, something blustered its way up over the fence and into her yard.

It… it was…

Striking. Majestic. Enrapturing. Utterly perfect, in a way she had never known could be possible. Its resplendent white plumage seemed to emit a light of its own, glowing in the afternoon sun as it spread its wings wide, glided down, and crashed into the pool in a somersaulting heap. It returned to the surface, hacking and spluttering.

‘Ju-Justine,’ it coughed. ‘You should—’

‘You’re supposed to be a mute swan, Liam! Mute!’

Something within her recoiled, twisting in her gut. She tore her gaze from the brilliant swan, looking up and down between it and what looked like a massive eagle circling overhead.

‘Come on, little man. Before she snaps out of it! Unleash the beast!’

A sense of wrongness welled up inside her. A sense of danger. She looked back down at the swan.

‘Uh, you should get inside, I think,’ it said.

She edged away from the pool at first, then bolted for the back door. Lucky darted through after her and sat whimpering at her side, as she slid the door closed and flicked the latch. The wide glass plane did little to muffle the sound of the booming voice outside.

‘Damn it!’

The eagle swooped down and landed at the pool’s edge, dwarfing the swan that was trying to clamber its way out of the water. It rounded on the smaller bird, hauling it out by its neck and leaving it in a dripping, panting heap on the ground.

‘You have one job, Liam. One! How hard is it to be an animal? Damnation, to be a man? Don’t you want to get the girl?’

‘Not like this. No. Just… no.’

‘Well that’s too bad, bud, ‘cos we’re doing things my way. The old way. So stop being such a pussy about it and stand back.’

The eagle took to the air again. Even from inside, Justine could see it gaining distance and height. Her head felt cloudy. Should she… call someone? The cops, at least? But her phone was out there. She was about to retreat to the bathroom, talking wildlife be damned, when she heard the swan mutter something that sounded like “oh no”.

She saw the eagle reach its zenith, then turn and dive down, gaining speed. As it neared the ground it levelled out its flight, rocketing straight towards them. Towards her.

The swan looked back at her, then out at the eagle. It scrambled in front of the door, planting itself between her and the monstrous bird, and spread its wings wide. As the eagle neared, it shouted out, its voice a piercing cry that shook the glass. That shook her very being.


The swan cringed, tucking its head against its body, but held its place, wings outstretched.


The eagle flared its own wings out to their full breadth, arresting its momentum mere millimetres from the quivering swan.

‘You think she’ll thank you? Take you in and make sweet love to her little white knight? Hm? What are you without me?’

Justine blinked, and a lanky teenage boy had appeared in the swan’s place. He stood, looking up at the eagle, his messy mop of hair and baggy, ill-fitting clothes trembling along with the rest of him.

‘Better,’ he said, in his small, wavering voice. ‘Better than this.’

The eagle pressed its face close to the boy, feathers bristling and eyes full of fury. Justine felt certain, in that instant, that the eagle would strike – would bury its talons in the boy’s flesh and leave him bleeding on the ground. Instead, it let out a quick, dry laugh and turned away.

‘Guess I overestimated you, Liam.’

It gazed out at the sunset, letting the warm light play over its form, and breathed a sigh.

‘Oh, but don’t you worry too much. I’ll get by. Never gone long without finding someone who wants a bit of help from old Zeus,’ it said and, with a wink and a smirk, vanished.

The teenager slumped to the ground. Justine looked past him to her camera, wondering if there was any academic policy that would help turn an animal attack into a deadline extension.


Liam’s telescope had proven harder to break than he’d thought, and in the end he’d had to bend it over his knee and twist it to get it to snap. It made him feel better, though – much better than he’d felt muttering half-apologies to Justine on the way out of her house.

The “Justine Fowler” folder on his computer went next, sent to the recycling bin without so much as a glance through for old times’ sake. That felt good too.

He got distracted while deleting bookmarks he’d saved for her social media pages, and some online galleries of her more risqué photo shoots. One of those included a link to a website where he found photos of girls with bodies like Justine’s, but who wore less clothing than her. There were videos, too, where the girls did things that he had only imagined Justine doing.

He clicked on a few of those and stared at the screen for a while. Before long, and without much thought, one hand had found its way into his pants.

Chasing Eve, Aylish Dowsett

The shop was small and quaint, maybe even cute – if you were into that sort of thing. It even had a thatched roof and soft cream walls and an inviting sign.

Demelza tugged at her woollen coat, squinting up through the rain. Mrs Upton’s Umbrellla Repair Shop greeted her in rose pink writing. It really was convincing. To all passers-by, it was completely, utterly human. Except umbrella was spelt with three L’s. And she’d been able to smell the mash of creatures from a mile away.

Demelza glanced behind her, glaring at the scruffy, muddy hill she’d just dragged herself up from. Fields of mottled green spanned out in every direction, whilst the sun, golden and wavering, rested just above the hill. She had always wanted to visit Wales – she’d wanted to go everywhere. But now, like every other place, she left feeling even more hopeless.

When she’d arrived in Tenby this morning, she wasn’t surprised when the taxi driver seemed reluctant to take her up here. Still, he’d hurried her to his cab, only to shove her out halfway muttering “too steep, love” and left her stranded. Humans were always frightened of things they didn’t understand; they just didn’t know why.

The spring rain turned heavy, forcing Demelza to cower under her hood. Raindrops slipped down her cheeks and nestled in the knots of her dark hair. Of course, she loved the water. All Selkies did. But land rain was different, cold, bitter. Not home.

The last time she’d visited land she’d been with Eve. It’d been raining that day too and Eve had insisted they get chips as “all the Lanneys did.” Demelza watched as she giggled, drenching their chips in vinegar and then she’d run out into the rain, spinning and dancing. Her blonde ringlets swayed with her body and every human eye watched her. Demelza had stayed inside, until Eve dragged her outside too and they both splashed and danced in the puddles, chewing on hot chips and laughing. Eve had always been the more optimistic sister, carefree – beautiful. Even after mama died, Eve would still be the happy, smiling girl she’d always known and always looked after. Or so she had thought.

Demelza turned back towards the umbrella shop, the taste of vinegar turning sour on her tongue. Eve couldn’t be dead, she just couldn’t. She’d have felt it. Felt something, anything. Selkies have that sort of intuition.

Demelza held her breath and rapped on the shop door. Eve had been missing for six months, but she wouldn’t give up on her. She’d look for another six months, and another and another, until she found her. Demelza wiped her eyes, only causing them to sting further due to the mud on her fingers. She would find Eve. She had to.

The door swung open with a creak. Clearly Mrs Upton wasn’t home. A man, or what looked like a man, beamed up at her from under a mop of brown hair. His eyes were large and round like his belly and his clothes looked like they’d seen better days. Holes dotted the grey fabric, showing scuffed pink skin.

The man raised his eyebrows, looking expectantly at her. She hadn’t realised she’d been staring.

‘Can I help you with anything, Miss?’

Demelza cleared her throat, readjusting the tight strap of her bag. “Oh yes–sorry–yes I’d like to purchase…’ She looked up at the sign. ‘I have an umbrella…an umbrella that needs fixing.’

The man chuckled. ‘Right you are Miss, come on in. Come out of the glaw.’ He gestured to her, stepping aside so that she could squeeze through the doorway. ‘Mrs Upton’s just nipped out for a bit, so she’s left the store in my capable hands.’

Demelza didn’t know where you could ‘nip’ off to out here. Unless you were visiting a family of goats. She’d seen plenty in the taxi ride over.

Safely out of the rain, she pulled down her hood, raking a hand through her messy hair. Someone had sprayed perfume in an attempt to hide the smell; but it just smelt of fur laced with cheap lavender. The man winked at her.

‘Call me Mayhew, Miss, Mayhew.’ He waved a hand so she would follow him. ‘I’ll soon have your ambarél fixed.’

Demelza nodded and smiled, feeling blood rise to her cheeks. She decided to ignore the wink. A little flirting would be fine. Besides, if she were friendly, it would be better for her. It got them to trust you.

Mayhew lead her down a narrow hallway, passing a cluttered room and faded blue stairs. As she got closer, Demelza realised that the blue was a series of tulips edged in gold, weaving and looping around each other. The stairs would’ve once been quite lovely, grand even, but now they were worn and dull. It was a shame, really.

They’d arrived at the back of the house, in a small room lit by a flickering bulb. Rows and rows of pale umbrellas gawked at her. A peeling clock was perched on the wall. There were no windows.

‘So,’ said Mayhew, holding out a pudgy hand. ‘Where’s your ambarél then, Miss?’

Demelza hesitated, trying to keep her breathing steady. Now that she was further inside, the smell of creatures was unbearable: soggy fur mixed with burning scales, excrement smeared in vomit. Pain. Fear. All her instincts were screaming at her to run, to get out now. But she couldn’t. She wouldn’t leave. Not without checking first.

“I-I’m here,’ she tried to control her voice, but it came out as more of a squeak. ‘H-here to trade.’

Mayhew narrowed his eyes.

Demelza’s cheeks burned and she pulled off her bag, ripping open the zip. Carefully, she reached inside and pulled out an orb. To a human, it would’ve looked like a normal object, an ornament you might add to your antique collection. But to a creature, magic radiated from it – Selkie magic.

Demelza rolled the orb in her hands slightly, letting the cool surface nibble her skin. Inside, she could see the miniature waves of her home, crashing against the pebbled shore. Their little white hut sat far out in the water. Mama had given it to her before she died. She said it would keep Eve and her safe. She’d made them promise that it would never leave the family – to keep it safe, always. They had nodded wildly, their wide, bright eyes taking in its beauty. Mama had smiled.

Demelza watched as the waves swelled and fell onto the shore again. And now, she was breaking that promise.

Mayhew’s eyes somehow stretched wider and he grinned. A few gold teeth winked at her.

Without taking his eyes off the orb, he clicked, moving his hands in a circle around him. The umbrellas surrounding them seemed to shimmer and melt, slipping away to reveal what hide beneath: boxes and cages, in every size, in every colour, with every breed of creature trapped inside. Demelza gulped.

‘Finally, a real customer,’ said Mayhew, sighing. He shook his head and flicked his nose until all the magic was gone. Now his nose was green and lumpy, and he had pointy ears. Demelza guessed he was some type of troll.

‘I’ve been serving them rats all week.’ He rolled his eyes. ‘Pft, tourists. You know, I think I’d have keeled over if I heard one more ruddy thing about the weather.’ Mayhew leaned towards her with outstretched hands. ‘Now Miss, give us that here and I can see —’

Demelza flinched back, cradling the orb to her chest. The waves inside had turned dark and angry and lighting cracked across the water. She shoved it back in her bag quickly, ice scratching her fingers. Mayhew scowled.

‘A-Actually I’m after something else – a gift.’ Demelza scanned the room, pretending that she couldn’t see the gloomy eyes watching her. Dirty fur prickled her nose. ‘What have you got that’s rare?’

Without another thought, Mayhew bounded towards her, chattering furiously. He grabbed her by the arm and steered her to the back of the store. Demelza tried not to pull away.

‘And over here we have Knucker scales, all the way from Sussex.’ He pointed a green finger at a silver bowl. ‘These beauties are very rare and flamin’ hard to capture.’

Demelza peered forwards. The scales sat in a cluster, midnight blue glinting in the low light. But they weren’t all like that. Some were pale and brittle: lifeless.

Knucker dragons were Eve’s favourite. She’d begged and begged mama for one, but she always said no; that it was cruel to keep a creature, no matter how much you wanted one. Eventually, Eve had given up, but there had been a hint of sadness in her eyes.

Mayhew nudged her, and Demelza turned, quickly shaking away her tears.

‘Plus, Knucker scales are a great aphrodisiac.’ He winked again. ‘Not that you need any help with that, Miss.’

He laughed and when she didn’t join in, he slapped a hand on her back, hard. She forced a smile, pulling her bag closer to her. She could feel his eyes lingering on it.

‘Now, let me show you this.’ He herded her to the left, where a rusty cage stood. ‘What you think is in there then? Hm?’

The small cage was empty, aside from a bowl of – what looked like flour – next to it. The white substance decorated the cage, coating the thick black bars.

 ‘Erm…’ She bit her lip. ‘Some sort of…shadow spirit?’

Mayhew chuckled but didn’t respond. Instead, he pinched the white powder and threw it over the cage.

Instantly there was movement and she jumped, instinctively reaching for her bag.

Whatever was in the cage was now screeching, its dark eyes blinking violently. It shook the cage, whilst Mayhew poked at its little clawed hands.

‘This here is a Leery. Now, don’t get too close. The bitch has a nasty bite.’

Demelza watched as he poked his finger in again, pulling back a second later as the Leery chomped down on the empty space. She couldn’t have been more than four inches tall, with tiny black ears. The Leery leapt around the cage, shaking the bars and snapping her teeth. Demelza wished she had bitten him.

‘Leeries are invisible to the eye till’ you have this stuff.’ He shook the bowl. ‘Crushed Leery bones. Perfect for the little buggers.’

She felt like she was going to faint.

 ‘So—’ he turned to her, searching her face. His eyes flickered to her bag. ‘Anything taking your fancy, Miss?’

Demelza hesitated. ‘I was wondering if y-you have—’ She swallowed. ‘If you had a…flibberty…jam…baroo.’

Mayhew looked like she’d slapped him. Red grazed his cheeks and beads of sweat rolled down his temple. She had no idea what she’d just said. The words just came from nowhere. But it had worked, she’d said something right.

Demelza winced as his sweat rolled from his temple to his chin and splashed onto the floor. Creatures had the strangest names and whatever she’d said must be dangerous. She hoped he would go look for it. She had to see if Eve was here.

‘I-I’— Now it was his turn to choke on his words. ‘I–well you see Miss–I don’t think…wouldn’t you prefer something else—’


Mayhew stopped. His mouth hung open. What was that?

There it was again. A creature howled from a nearby box. The Leery screeched. Demelza slowly looked up, watching as plaster from the ceiling drifted onto them like snow.

‘Take no notice,’ said Mayhew, trying to shove her behind a cage so she couldn’t see. ‘I’ve got a goblin upstairs. You know how they are. The blighters are always making a racket.’

Another bang. And then a different sound. This time it sounded like wailing, or to the more inclined ear, muffled cries.

She turned to Mayhew, but he was already gone, running out of the store. ‘Apologies Miss!’ he yelled. ‘Be back in a tick.’

Demelza froze, listening as he thumped up the stairs. A door slammed.


She breathed out.

Now was her chance.

Demelza ran, tripping over a pile of boxes as she reached the nearest cage. Wilted eyes stared back at her, its violet fur matted and dirty. The creature slouched forward, pushing its long snout through the bars. Demelza couldn’t help but reach out.

But she couldn’t help him – help any of them. She bit her tongue, forcing back the tears. She had to find Eve.

Demelza turned away, hurrying on to the next cage. The creature yelped at her. But when she reached it, it was empty. She slid the cloth back over it, noticing that a box lay open next to her. She pounced on it, but found it was filled with torn up papers and at least a dozen books on beard growth: troll edition.

Eve loved to read. She remembered the many hours they would sit huddled together, pouring over every Selkie story that she’d managed to find.

Demelza shoved the box away, reaching for another that was also bursting with books.

Eve always chose the ones involving humans – she preferred creatures. Mama always worked late, in fact, she was barely ever home. So every night, they would read and wait for her. Every night she would come home smiling, her long hair full of salt and moonlight. Until one night, she didn’t.

Demelza rubbed her eyes, hurrying past a crate labelled as Ignis Fatuus.

That had been when the arguments began. Which turned into fighting, which then became screaming matches. Eve would slip out at night and not return for days at a time. Demelza would yell at her. Eve would leave again. When Eve finally returned home after a week away, Demelza couldn’t take it. She shouted at her, pleaded with her, cried; but Eve only screamed back and slammed the door as she left, shattering the glass. She cried at her to come back, sobbed. But she didn’t come back. Eve never came home.   

Demelza stiffened. Something had moved upstairs. Was that…a footstep? She didn’t dare breathe. The eyes watching her also seemed to freeze. From where she was standing, she could just make out the hallway that lead to the front door. The last of the sun’s rays were seeping through the stained-glass window, creating splotches of blood on the carpet.

Demelza finally moved, shaking her head. She had to get out of here.

Clutching her bag, she stumbled to the desk at the front of the store. There had to be something here. Anything, anything, to show Eve had been here. Demelza frantically pulled open drawers, tearing open books and boxes.

It didn’t take her long to find his record book. It was leather bound, dating back to purchases from the last three years. She skimmed through the ‘S’ section.





But no Selkie.

Demelza slammed her hands against the book, slumping across its thick pages. She wasn’t here. She wasn’t…here. It was all her fault she’d run away. She shouldn’t have yelled so much, shouldn’t have tried to be like mama. She should’ve just… listened. But she was scared of losing her.

Demelza screwed up her fists, letting her nails dig into her skin. Nothing mattered anymore, not without Eve, not without mama. She was alone. And she deserved it. Demelza finally let all her tears spill out, the tears she’d been holding back for months. The words beneath her cheek turned blurry, the ink clutching at her skin. Some big sister she’d turned out to be.

But then, something furry touched her palm. And Demelza sprung back. Something was poking out of the back page. Something she’d felt a hundred times before…

Madly, she flipped to the back and there squashed in between the pages, was fur.

But it wasn’t just fur.

It was a cut out of someone’s skin.

Eve’s skin.

Demelza’s blood ran cold. She barely noticed the orb in her bag stabbing ice down her thigh.

And then she couldn’t breathe. A sweaty hand grabbed her from behind, pinning her mouth shut, stopping her from screaming.

She thrashed and kicked but she couldn’t move. The creatures in the room were screaming for her, banging and shaking in their prisons. And then, above the noise, a voice lapped against her ear.

‘I was wondering when you would show up, my love. You’re mine now, Miss Demelza.’