The flash of light appeared. But when she adjusted her eyes, she was looking around at the emptiness of a dark room. Her mouth was dry and acrid, full of dread.

Who am I?

            Her body gave off a sense of numbness, tingling throughout as she tried to move. One long breath and then another as she touched her face. Feeling her lips, cheek, and eyebrows. Then slowly, heavily, she rose up off the bed, her black hair falling loosely about her shoulders. Standing, she scanned the space in the room to walk, and stumbled. Her black hair loosely falling off her shoulders.

Before long, she leant up against one of the cold, plastered walls. Its rough surface sent chills through her body. She grimaced, making her way to the door. Then dropped to the floor crouching, when the locked door rattled.

            “Help me,” she said, tears welling in her eyes.

            Crouched against the door desperately pleading, she heard a sudden noise come from outside. The steps came detectably closer, then stopped.

            “Help me,” she whimpered again.

            “Ah. Da! I must go get help,” a man replied from outside.

            She heard him set off and it was too late to say more. A few minutes later, a set of heavier footsteps rushed to the door.

            “Are you well?” came the voice.

            “Yes, are you here to help me?” she asked.

“I am, but I need you to understand,” he paused. “I’m sorry… I need you to stay in the cottage and not go wandering outside,” he said.

            “Why?” she asked.

            “Well you…,” he hesitated. “You have been injured,” he continued. “You will need to recover, and if you were to go outside, then it would be detrimental to your health.”

            There was a long silence between them.

            “I understand, can I walk around the cottage?” she finally asked. He then unlocked the door and nodded as he helped her get up. She looked at him and felt a strange warmth in his eyes.

            “My name is Stein, I will help you, if you need anything, please let me know. Or Goren, he was here earlier,” he said.

            “Thank you. I-I don’t kno-”

            “It will be alright. You have injured your head and have a few stitches, but we shall call you Nessy if you like,” Stein said.

            “Ness-sy, Nessy, yes, okay” she then smiled for the first time.


Eventually, Nessy had gained sufficient strength to stroll around the cottage unassisted, and enjoyed the company of Goren and Stein. They were both vastly different in character but lived together as a family. Goren was like a father and a man of science, whereas Stein defined himself as a student of the arts and philosophy. Meanwhile, they encouraged Nessy to read and find her own interests. She began reading poetry, and sometimes would be daydreaming whilst looking out of the window into the forest, trying to catch a glimpse of the animals that would come close to the cottage.

“You should talk to her,” Goren insisted.

“I do,” Stein shrugged.

“Da. Hurry along then,” joked Goren. He beckoned Stein closer to Nessy and left. The moment Stein got closer, her glare was off.

“You okay there, Nes?” he asked.

“I’m feeling better,” Nessy said, not looking at him. “Why can’t I go outside?”

“We have everything we need here,” Stein replied. He moved beside Nessy and saw her face full of indifference. Before she could look up, Stein had become resigned. “…don’t you see we care about you?” his voice coarser.

“I do,” she said. “I want to see and try to remember. I want to know…”

“You can’t! You’re not well enough,” Stein shook his head. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I could jus-”

“Not now.”

She sat in silence for a while, and then walked to her room, shutting the door.


The months passed and the snow stayed on while Nessy couldn’t. She waited into the night while Stein and Goren were sleeping. Then she slowly approached the front door, quietly pulled the latch and sneaked outside.

            All around her were dark cider trees surrounded by white snow and mist clinging to the air. The cottage was built in a chilly dead place within a forest. Nessy drew her coat tighter, then quickly made her way through the dense wilderness.

She remembered a time when Goren explained that the nearest town, Kenyon, was over a week’s hike. That Stein had built the cottage as a place to get away from the town. Every once in a while, however, Goren would need supplies and have to make the journey east.

            With the surrounding snow, Nessy noticed all that was visible in the moonlight. Her eyes wandered to the fallen trees, branches, twigs, and dead leaves. The frosty air filled her lungs, her cold fingers stiff and clammy. She crouched down, taking a moment to close her eyes and rub her hands.

            Finally, her breathing was strong again and her eyes didn’t sting from the cold. Nessy got back up and suddenly heard a shuffle in the snow. It was a little rabbit. The furry creature with dark round eyes and long ears fascinated her. Nessy stood still, while the rabbit hopped forward sniffing the twigs in the snow, its ears pricked, alert to its surroundings. Nessy tried to get closer but the rabbit scurried away.

            Hours passed and Nessy found the snowy terrain strained her legs and abdomen. The mixture of dirt and snow had been much wetter and softer than anticipated. A large fallen tree became too hard to climb over so she decided to rest.

Her mind wandered off to the time she had asked Stein about the people in Kenyon. She remembered how the topic had brought up his past and the pain he had endured. Stein explained how he was a social outcast because of his different skin colour and hair. That was why he decided to leave the town and live out here in peace. Nessy had wondered at the time, of her own hair and skin being similar to Stein’s.

            Nessy woke up to a sharp pain on her head. The daylight had changed to a gloomy grey. Her hair had fallen down her face, and she quickly moved her hand to scratch her head. A crow cawed suddenly, startling her with flapping wings to get away. The crow swooped down and in a flurry of feathers pecked at Nessy’s head, making her bleed. Nessy realised she had fallen asleep. Feeling the spot where the crow had pierced her skin, she got up and continued on her way to Kenyon.

The hike during the day was just as perilous, Nessy struggled to make out the horizons. The snow had begun to fall, making her line of sight more difficult. As the trees dispersed, the terrain rockier, the hike became rougher. The deceptive fresh snow had covered the cliffs and rocks. When Nessy nearly twisted her ankle, she became more cautious, breaking off a long thin branch to use as a walking stick.

Then Nessy heard a howl, followed by another in rapid succession. The first was long and the second shorter, meaning that some wolves were gathering nearby. She was hoping the call wasn’t for her, but fear of getting attacked made her more alert to noise.

Stalking their prey and licking their snouts, the wolves had caught Nessy’s tracks and gathered in numbers at the prospect of food in winter. Nessy caught one of the wolves’ eyes on her. Its mark was clear and it lingered, pawing the earth, and observing her movements.

Nessy paused, holding up and gripping tighter onto the stick. The wolf growled, indicating its understanding to Nessy’s resistance. She slowly stepped forward swinging the stick, her hands shaking. Breathing deeply, Nessy tried her best to not let her nerves overwhelm her. She could not turn away, instead looking around, stepping sideways. Then two other wolves joined in with the exact hungry stare. There was little time before the wolves’ confidence would grow. Nessy needed to move fast. With a scream, she swung the stick and braced for the wolf to lunge and when it did, Nessy shoved the stick forward like a spear. Striking the wolf in its throat. It made a last hollow growl and dropped to the ground dead.

The other wolves snarled in anger, stopping in their tracks. Nessy then pulled the weapon out, scrambling up into a defensive stance. She started backing away slowly. The wolves advanced, growling for the loss of their own. They paused, snouts sniffing at their alpha before howling and suddenly backing away. Nessy became aware of the enormity of her luck and survival. The blood was all over the stick and she stared at the sight of the dead wolf. Nessy dropped to her knees and allowed herself to tremble. Damn you! The wolf’s jaw clung open and its teeth didn’t look as vicious as before.

She knew that night was rapidly approaching. Before heading off, she broke two more branches to use as both walking sticks and spears, also tending to her new wound from the wolf. The adrenaline of still surviving had given Nessy some strength to continue walking till it was dark, eventually, finding another spot to rest.

When Nessy woke up, the stars were visible and she knew it was late. She assessed her wound and continued on. Her mind wondered about when she had first thought about leaving to see Kenyon. She didn’t expect the hike to be so hard. Maybe she should have tried harder to convince Goren and Stein to come with her. Perhaps she should never have left.


Kenyon was a rural town that was based around a small farming community. It was off the common roads between the cities. Most would travel there to collect mail or trade goods from the general store. In winter, it was rare to see a wagon on the main road, even more scarcely to ever see a carriage.

Nessy had travelled night and day. Her face, wrapped in a shawl, was wind burned, and raw from the snow. Fortunately, the snow had stopped and it was a foggy morning when she arrived at one of the outskirt farms. The smell of meat being smoked and cured drifted from the house. When Nessy approached, a boy stepped out and saw her. He stood frozen at the sight of Nessy and dropped his bucket.

“Mother?” the boy called.

“Excuse me for intruding,” Nessy said.

“Father! Father!” He screamed, taking off in a panic.

Nessy, alarm by the boy’s reaction, ran back to the forest and hid behind the tree line. The boy came back with a man to the spot where she had just been. Nessy could see that the man was holding a rifle and was looking around.

“Nessy!” Stein cried out. Then he appeared with Goren close behind him.

“We don’t have time,” Goren called. “We have to go Nessy.”

“How did you…?” Nessy went to ask.

“Please Nessy, I’ll explain when we are safe,” Stein pleaded with her. Nessy then followed them, feeling confused.

Moments later, when Nessy couldn’t take the silence anymore.

“Tell me, I’m sorry I left bu-”

“Nessy.” Stein cut her off. He then took a deep breath and looked at her full of sorrow. “I’m sorry I didn’t explain it better. I was trying to protect you from the world that I once had to face the cruelty of… My maker was a man named Victor Frankenstein. And then, Goren and I made you. We made you out of existing parts of all the best parts of the town’s dead,” he said. Stein continued but his face was all strained as he spoke of his sinful anguish and pain.

When they were all back at the cottage, Nessy contemplated, now noticing the differences between herself and Goren. She thought about the boy calling for her, thinking she was his mother. And she thought of the crow. Then she understood how the wolves reacted. Then she mourned for her own strangeness, her horrid existence, her unnatural life… But afterwards, she rejoiced for Stein and Goren and their home far from Kenyon and its people.

Ngoc Bui is a writer and student at Macquarie University, studying Creative Writing and Philosophy. Supported by his wife Tricia and family, he resides in Melbourne Victoria as an avid for rescue dogs. He is working on educating youths in prisons, specifically with indigenous Australians and migrants. 

THE GOLDEN POTHOS, Elijah Gamaliel Rokos

A fire flickered behind the grate, holographic logs crackling, and though it looked and sounded real (to the untrained eye), it gave off neither the smell of pine nor the dry heat of a real log fire. The living room was warm and moist, lit only by the fake fire, the perpetual orange glow of the city, and the bright blue glow of Louise Hurd’s smartphone. She took one final scroll through her Insta feed, locked it, and placed it face down with a gentle clack on the coffee table. There was an article she read a few weeks ago about how humans weren’t meant to live inside, how thousands of years ago, humans made beds from ash and grass, and slept beneath the stars – or in caves, if it was cold. Computers were making them stupid, smartphones were shortening their attention span, technology was diminishing their ability to communicate. And houses and buildings were full of pollutants: from the paint and the bricks to the finishing on the hardwood floor. The article said that the key was to fill one’s house with plants. Plus, there were science backed benefits to indoor plants! They boosted creativity! They relieved stress! 

            That was why she’d bought the pothos. The big, beautiful golden pothos. The plant was supposed to be able to grow without sunlight, to thrive no matter how many weeks Louise forgot to water it for. So far, Golden Pothos appeared to live up to that reputation. Though she’d only watered it twice (when she first brought it home and then weeks later, when she noticed it was drooping), the vines had spread over her TV, over the grate of her fireplace, touching its glossy green palms over all her walls. She was surprised – no, floored – at the plants vivacity. She’d never heard the term “prolific”, but apparently, this pothos was a prolific grower. It had barely been the size of her palm when she’d brought it home a few weeks ago, and now, golden pothos had nearly taken over the whole of her lounge room with trailing vines taller than her!

            But though the pothos had swallowed her TV and taken root in her cable box (she couldn’t even keep up with her shows anymore!), technology, the blue glow of her smartphone, still haunted even her dreams. 

            Every window of her childhood home was replaced by the screen she held in her hand. She dreamed of a thousand little thumbs sprouting in the garden like lilies-of-the-valley on a spring gathering.

            “Oh, these lillies are just lovely,” said Aunt Edna. Lily-of-the-Valley smelled like home to Louise, it reminded her of her mother. Mama Hurd loved propagating her plants and sharing them with her sister. It was possible she loved her garden more than she loved her children, for she spent more time with her hands in the dirt than she did with any of them.

            “They came from Great Grandmama Orpa’s garden in Apollo,” said Louise Hurd’s mother, “Grand Mammy planted them in 1945. Look how much they’ve grown!” Louise gazed absently at the blue thumbs jutting up from the green stems. She had heard Mama’s stories about Apollo more than a hundred times. 

            “You just have to let me have one,” gushed Aunt Edna. 

            “Of course, Edna,” said Mama Hurd. As she dug the blue thumbs from the garden, they doubled – no, tripled – no! The flowers towered over Mama Hurd and Aunt Edna, their great mouths baring blunted, gnashing teeth! One thumb lowered, and Aunt Edna was gone – another, and Mama Hurd was gone. One by one, the thumbs ate up Louise’s family, but all she could do was stand there and scroll, scroll, scroll, scroll. 

            On the bus to work, Louise sat with her shoulders hunched over her lap. On the elevator, all the way up the fourth floor, she stood at a ninety-degree angle, her crooked neck dangling her blue face over the glow. The elevator beeps at every floor, but she’s ridden it up so many times, she doesn’t budge until the seventh beep greets her.


            Louise Hurd was an HR representative for Pendleton & Pendleton’s, Inc. (“The Pen of the People!”), even though she’d never actually learned to write by hand. Not many people did anymore and as those numbers dwindled, so did Pendleton & Pendleton’s, Inc. In addition to her, there were five other people left in the company (and not one of them was a Pendleton), but there was the ever lingering threat that handwriting would finally fall out of fashion and Pendleton & Pendleton’s, Inc. would close forever.

            Louise knew she had to keep optimistic and so did her coworkers. That (and science backed benefits!) was why she’d brought in a clipping from Golden Pothos to her workplace.

            “Golden pothos will clean the air!” she informed them, “People aren’t meant to breathe in cements and paints and carpet all day. People aren’t meant to sit in front of a computer screen. People are meant to live with the plants!” 

            “One plant won’t make a difference,” scoffed Penny Weinburg, the accountant. 

            “And neither will your negative attitude!” Louise rolled her eyes, placing her little pothos clipping in a glass of water.

            It was a long day at work. With only five other people working at Pendleton & Pendleton’s, Inc., there wasn’t a whole lot for HR to do. Long gone were the days of solving disputes, hosting presentations on workplace diversity, sexual harrassment, and misogyny in the workplace. Now Louise Hurd was paid to scroll through her glowing screen all day, to visit vending machines, and to drink copious amounts of Starbucks. 

            She’d only popped out of her cubicle for a second, but the Golden Pothos had already rooted in her computer, tangled through her keyboard, and swallowed her mouse. The plant had taken over the desk, its fingers stretched out for the desk chair, still spreading. Louise dropped her coffee and the hot latte quickly turned cold on her feet. This was amazing! It grew even quicker than the pothos at home.

            “Wow!” she exclaimed, “Check it out, guys! I never knew plants could grow so quickly!” Penny’s face appeared over the cubicle wall, unamused. 

            “Wow, Louise,” she mocked surprise, “We’re all so impressed with your… Whoa.” So Penny Weinburg wasimpressed with Louise’s beautiful pothos. Louise gave her a knowing smile. The pothos’ tendrils stretched over the cubicle, and Penny watched it. Her eyes were wide, probably because she was so impressed.

“Are they meant to grow that fast?” she asked. “It’s kinda freaky.” 

“Don’t be stupid, Penny,” said Louise. “It just came from Bunnings.” She stuck her tongue out at her. No one else even bothered to look. Well, whatever, she rolled her eyes, they’ll all be swallowing their feet when this office is a bonafide jungle on Monday morning! 

            Louise Hurd’s phone glowed 4:58. Two minutes until it was time to leave. It beeped to remind her – you get to go home now! And there was a reminder for everything else, too! Showering, eating, sleeping – she’d even been meaning to set a reminder to water her home Pothos, though she supposed she’d need a reminder for Pendleton & Pendleton’s, Inc. Pothos now, too! She knew it was easy to propagate these pothos plants (there were so many articles about how to propagate pothos in water), but it really seemed like she must have quite the green thumb. Maybe she really was her Mama’s daughter after all. 

            Bubbling with excitement, finally! This must be what it was like to live amongst the plants. This must be why people aren’t meant to live amongst material things. On the bus ride home, she stared at her new lockscreen: the green striped hearts cascading over the filing cabinets. What ran through her mind was: golden pothos, golden pothos, golden pothos.

Golden Pothos is repeated eighteen times in green text, variegated with golden text intended to represent the leaves of a pothos plant.

            Golden Pothos waited at her front door to welcome her home, the vine, with flowers weeping, slithered through the mail slot into the hallway. How magnificent! Louise had never even seen a flower on a pothos plant (and she’d read an article somewhere about how pothos plants don’t flower in cultivation). Mama always had so many in the house, but they’d never spread out this much – not even close. Why, while Louise was at work, the Golden Pothos had taken over nearly her entire house! Her things were tangled in its tendrils: her mail, a copy of TIME magazine, her coffee mug, sandals, and a never-used, still-wrapped reusable water bottle (which she’d been meaning to bring with her to work for months – she’d read an article about how new york city was built on top of a floating island of trash which inspired her to do better by the world for just long enough to make the purchase). 

            The Green-Striped Hearts beat against her hair as she stepped through the door, grin plastered to her face. Mama should see this, thought Louise, taking her phone from her tote bag. It was so Instagrammable, and Mama would be so jealous. A tendril reached down from the ceiling, edging and curling slowly closer. Louise didn’t notice – she was too busy searching for the perfect angle to show off Golden Pothos’ beautiful flower: drooping purple, with a long white spine, like a lily. The tendril wound its way down her arm. 

            Louise giggled. 

            Golden Pothos opened its flower and within it, Louise saw teeth, brimming with golden pollen, and beyond the teeth, a great, yawning nothing – a pool, slick like an oil spill – and a sweet smell like maple syrup, like moon flowers on a hot summer night, the tremulous poison of a lily drifted through the apartment. The tendril lifted Louise and threw her through the teeth. Her phone landed on her chest. She smiled into the glow of her screen even as she stuck in the sap. A single fly buzzed frantically beside her ear and all she could do was scroll, scroll, scroll, scroll. 

Elijah Rokos is an American expat and an aspiring educator and author. He enjoys writing poetry and speculative fiction, and wishes true crime was about art theft and forgery instead of murder. 

FORSAKEN, Sarah Hemat-Siraky

I sat there face to face with a man staring right back at me, inches away from my carrier cage. 

He seemed to be older, strands of grey hairs sprouting out by his temples and the thin lines of wrinkles embedded on his thin skin. His eyes were large and a deep, dark green colour.

A soft smile formed on his dry lips that sent a wave of comfort through my body.

After what seemed like forever, the vehicle stopped and I could feel my stomach churning with sickness from the long ride.

Opening the door, he pulled me out of the car, moving towards the humble home. 

I peered out from between the metal bars, my eyes adjusting to the bright sunlight reflecting off the yellow-painted walls. Wilted roses in vases sat beside the wooden door, their once bright red petals now on the concrete.

He didn’t speak a single word as we entered the house, only placing my carrier down. Freeing me from my temporary prison, he allowed me to get accustomed to his living quarters. Curiosity forming in my chest, I gave in to the urge and ventured through the maze of his home.

I saw rifles framed on the walls, animal hides and bits and pieces of military memorabilia that clearly meant a lot to the man strewn about. 

Hopping onto the table, my stomach grumbled for food but the old scraps which were there made the hairs on my back stand tall from the rank stench. 

I noticed vintage photographs placed on dusty shelves and hanging on the dull walls. I couldn’t quite identify who the people were in these photos. They were mainly male, holding long rifles, wearing long boots and tough, rounded helmets on their heads. Sometimes they were in dirt trenches, sometimes they weren’t.

I recognised my new owner as one of these men. Though, he seemed so much younger and fresher than he did now, like the life had been sapped right out of his bones. 

With each photo frame I glanced at, I would see the same smiling men holding up those guns, dirt and grime all over their youthful faces. Yet, one by one they would disappear from each photo until there were only two left, my owner and another man.

The second man by the end of it held a wooden cane clutched in his left hand, his eyes lifeless…resentful.

“Tsk tsk tsk,” a voice came from the bedroom, accompanied by the sound of food clattering against a metal bowl. 

From instinct I hurried towards the noise, moving past mountains of empty bottles scattered about. 

Seeing cat biscuits served to me, a disapproving mewl left my mouth.

“Sorry uh…s’all I got…” he paused, crouching down in front of me. He reached out a veiny hand which trembled slightly, lifting up my collar with my name tag. “Lucky.”

Feeling rather elated to hear my own name for the first time in a long while, I decided to make do with the food for now. 

Over the next few days and even weeks, everything seemed to go by quickly as I enjoyed my stay with the man. 

He often sat me down on his lap and would turn on the television, petting me leisurely and flinching every time there was a loud noise. Whenever he went to sleep, he would place me down beside him and his large arm would wrap around me. Sometimes he would jump awake in the middle of the night, waking me up as well. His sweaty fingers would gently caress my fur with great care, the tremble in his hands never ceasing. 

I would do my best to ease his pain, licking his clammy palms and humming a repeated beat to him. 

He would whisper, over and over again:

“Sorry, Lucky…sorry…”

I was just happy he was okay.

We often sat down at the worn-out dinner table and he would allow me to jump on top to eat with him. Never had any of my previous owners allowed me this pleasure they would usually scare me away, but he didn’t. I would have my separate bowl and he would have his. Whenever he needed some salt or pepper I’d carefully push it over to him.

These were the good days…the days I would give anything to relive over…and over again.

Finally, the very first visitor arrived since I moved in. 

His daughter, a woman with flowing dark locks and such luscious lashes that they would flutter like small butterflies whenever she blinked. 

In comparison to the man, she didn’t seem as ecstatic to be seeing him– seeming to be there out of duty than care. Even so, they embraced each other as though they hadn’t seen one another in many, many years.

The woman looked around the house, her thin brows furrowed together and her nose scrunched up. Her hand batted away the musty air. Her foot pushed away full pill bottles, making a rattling noise echo through the crowded halls.

She clearly didn’t even want to be here and I simply couldn’t understand why. The dim light, the familiar smell, crowded rooms felt like home to me.

Sitting down, they talked for a while and I crept up closer, sitting against the man’s leg.

She looked down at me, her eyes widening in shock. Without wasting a moment, she pointed her dainty finger in my direction and spoke loudly to the man. My ears tensed and the hairs on my back stood up tall. 

My owner was a very frail man, loud noises frightened him, she shouldn’t have been speaking to him like that. I tried to communicate this to her by meowing loudly, but she just disregarded me.

The man flinched at her loudness, his back hunched over as he shook his head. 

She continued shouting, shaking her head in grave disapproval.

“I…don’t need h– help…with anything. I’m fine…I’m…okay…now…”

At that moment a man walked in. The younger man stood beside the woman, his arm around her shoulder as he calmed her down.

He scowled at the older man, and I scowled right back at him.

“Dan…Alice…p– please don’t worry. I can take care of him…myself…too…”

Alice said something else, pointing to his house and eyed him up and down before Dan cut the conversation short, dragging her out of the dusty abode.

‘Good riddance to them,’ I thought at the time.

“I don’t need the medication anymore. I don’t need help with anything. I’m fine…I’m…fine…”

They were already gone, but he continued…

I glanced up at him and he just smiled…though, this smile seemed different. I couldn’t place why though. His long brows were knitted together and the tips of his lips were slightly curved down.

My concern for the man grew with each word he mumbled. I purred softly and nuzzled my face against his leg.

“Don’t worry about Alice. She’s just…trying to look out for me, Lucky…”

His hands shook violently by his sides.

The next day the man was getting ready to go out somewhere for the first time in months.

“Gonna be late…forgot the memorial gathering today…” the man mumbled from inside his bedroom.

When he emerged he was dressed in an odd dark green uniform, the only object in his dwelling kept pristine. Many small colourful badges were stuck to the left side of his breast and to the right was a nametag. He looked the best he’d ever had, I felt rather proud.

I blinked up at him with intrigue.

“You like it? Y…yeah, s’been a while since I wore…” he stopped himself and picked me up in his arms. “Come on, let’s go.”

Sitting me down in the passenger seat of his car he promptly drove off.

We arrived at a large open area where there was a pool of water streaming down and a big building at the front along with many white headstones placed around. There were many people there, more than I’d ever seen.

Parking his car, I thought he would leave me there but instead brought me with him. His hands still shaking. I clung to his chest, glancing around at the men who were dressed similarly to him. The women who stood by their side grimaced when they saw him and urged them to move away from his presence.

His eye fell upon a certain man with a cane.

When the other old fellow saw him…his eyelids widened and his features scrunched up in an almost repulsed manner.

I recognised the man from the photos.

“Mark…” he spoke breathlessly, pulse racing rapidly. “I haven’t seen you since–”

The man by the name of Mark cut him off, shaking his head and refused to speak with him. Saying something harsh under his breath that clearly affected my owner as I could hear his heart pounding against his ribcage. 

Turning on his heel, he slowly limped away.

“Mark, p– please! I already told you years ago I tried my best to help themyou…! But–” he stopped when he noticed everyone’s eyes on him with expressions of disapproval, shaking their heads at his loud ruckus. “I never meant to leave you there! I told them to go get you–”

I noticed some pointed at me and scoffed in disbelief. I stared back, wondering if it was such an odd thing to bring a cat along to such a place.

A few of the men shouted obscenities in his direction.

He refused to give up on Mark and continued.

“We f– finally get to see each other a– after all these years and you still blame me for that!?”

Crowds of people formed around Mark, ensnaring him and swallowing him whole.

Another man came up to him, placing a hand on his shoulder and whispered something which made him push them away before bolting through the crowd as fast as he could to his car. He shoved me into my carrier and sped off, swearing and shouting at the top of his lungs, his dirty nails digging into the steering wheel.

“After all this time…”

Soon, his shouting morphed into a shaky guttural noise and it was the first time I heard such a sound leave his throat.

“What was I supposed to do…”

I peered at him.

“Lucky…what do I do…am I really…such…a bad person?”

In that moment, my heart yearned for only one thing:

I wished I could speak…and tell him otherwise…to tell him how kind-hearted, soft, gentle and caring of a man he truly was.

Arriving back home, he didn’t bother changing back into his regular discoloured clothes. Instead, we sat down on the sofa and he turned on the television, as per our daily ritual.

“Let’s stay…here from now on. I prefer…staying…here w– with you, Lucky,” I remember him mumbling to himself as I slowly drifted off to sleep beside him. The comforting heat from his warm body being the last thing I recalled.

I woke up after a long nap to the telephone ringing…and ringing…and ringing. The noise irritated my ears and forced me to abandon any desire to go back to sleep. 

Sitting up, I recognised the absence of the man. 

I looked out the window seeing the night beginning to envelop the sky.

Assuming he’d gone off back to his bed to sleep, I followed suit. 

The door was left open a crack and I pushed my nose against it, opening it.

I halted in my tracks.

A chair was placed in the middle of the room and beside it was the man, a thick rope was suspended from the ceiling which wrapped tightly around his jugular. His hands lay beside him, pale and blue, eyes open but droopy as he peered out from beneath his lashes. 

The only sound that could be heard was the rope struggling to hold his weight as his body levitated from side to side.

And I just sat there, staring at the hypnotising sight…unable to move.

Sarah Hemat-Siraky is a young female writer with a deep love for both writing and cats, especially her feline friend, Steve. She began writing when she was twelve years old and has continued this passion since. She is a huge nerd and loves everything comic and tv-show related.

COMING OF RAGE, Freya Lili Petterson

Themes of domestic violence and misogyny.

When Willo was in the first grade, there was a boy who would watch her during lunchtime and recess. He wore his elementary school jersey sloppy and oversized, the collar pulled long where the elastic had begun to fail. His face was always sunburnt red, and his ruddy blond hair stuck up in odd places. His gaze felt sharp on her skin. He sat in the sandpit alone, cupping handfuls of sand in a loose fist and letting it escape out slowly between his fingers.

He always kept his distance, until one day, when Willo was sitting alone and out of sight of the nearest adult. Her thought had been to remove herself from his eyeline, but instead she had drawn him in closer when he moved to follow. He stood above her then, the skin around his mouth was stained Ribena red and his brown eyes shone with determination.

‘I’m Josh,’ he announced. ‘I want you to be my girlfriend.’

A memory came to her in startling clarity. Willo recalled her mother crying on the bathroom linoleum.

The sound of her heartbeat was loud in her ears.

‘Why me?’ she said.

‘Because I said so! I want a girlfriend and I like you!’

‘Well, I don’t like you.’

Time and space shifted to make room, and then the two moments began existing in the same space. In one frame, she sat in front of Josh, and in another she hovered anxiously outside a bathroom door. One under another under another under another, seamless.

She, noticeably smaller, opening the door and approaching cautiously. Her mother’s body fragile as a baby deer, shaking. The sound of her sobs ricocheting off the tile and echoing back again.

‘So what?’ Josh challenged. ‘I want you to be my girlfriend! If you don’t do it then I’ll get my big brother to beat you up!’

Past and present blurred further. Josh was also in the bathroom now. Her mother was no longer crying but the echo persisted. From behind her child eyes, she watched chubby fingers push her mother’s hands away from her face. Oh, Willo thought calmly, I remember this now.

She stood up, brushing sand off her skirt. Josh’s face lit up in a beaming smile and he rocketed forwards.

Her mother’s face, a shock of purple and red blossoming like spilled paint into water. Crying. There was blood on her fingers, the toddler’s chubby fingers. Someone somewhere was screaming.

The ringing in her ears got so loud that it drowned out everything. And when Josh gripped tight to her shoulders and put his face in front of hers, she realised that silence was not powerful. If only one of them got to be powerful, it was going to be her.

She tried at first to pull away from him, but his grip only tightened. Then, she balled up a fist and slammed it into the soft line of Josh’s jaw. He was so close to kissing her that his teeth clipped her nose as he fell backwards.

It was instantaneous. Reality snapped back in on itself to return her wholly to the present. The skin of her knuckles throbbed. Josh’s lip was split and he was cradling his jaw and wailing pitifully.

Absently, Willo registered that she really ought to go tell a teacher what happened, but the impulse passed quickly and with little consequence. Instead, she knelt in front of him – hovering over him. His nose was running like a faucet. He shuffled in on himself under her gaze, whimpering.

He was scared of her now.

Coasting on a violent giddiness she could not yet understand, Willo laughed.


After that, parents had to be called in, and Willo’s father made a begrudging appearance. The principal had repeated to them the typical ‘violence is bad’ spiel that was required of him, and Willo had listened. Then the principal sighed heavily, looked down at her and said:

‘Now, you should be more careful. You could have been badly hurt, little girl. Call for a grown-up next time. Don’t try to handle it all on your own.’

Sitting beside her father, his impatient frame towering over everyone else in the room, she nodded dutifully and apologised. It was later that she let herself feel angry.

Because… she hadn’t been the one to get hurt? Josh was sitting there with a handful of paper towels wadded up and pressed to his lip, his shirt splattered red-brown. But she ‘could have been hurt?’ What nonsense.

The other kids seemed to understand at least – they recognised the poisonous fury awoken in her and tread carefully in accordance. The boys kept a wary distance. The girls seemed awed and kept asking her to retell the story again and again, each seeking a taste of the vicarious heat that came with righteous, violent retribution.

Even then, she’d been too young to recognise the gravity of her own anger or anchor it to anything concrete. It ached and tore at her like a cancer. She spun, directionless.


It was in one of the earlier high school years that Willo became aware of a fundamental difference between herself and other girls her age. It wasn’t that they were any less full of anger, they just aimed it differently. They took that anger and internalised it, harnessed it to make themselves smaller. If you turn your anger inward though, you become another victim to it.

They were all so nauseatingly eager to give up their power in exchange for any small amount of external validation. They stripped themselves naked, laid on the floor with their big eyes and fragile wrists, and begged to be treated gently.

‘Look at me, I’m so weak and pathetic. Don’t you feel sorry for me. You would never hurt me, right? That would be wrong of you.’

They were like lapdogs, prioritising cuteness over sensibility. They thought if they only looked pitiful enough, no one would ever want to hurt them. The girls around her lapped this ideology up like the declawed defanged mutts they were.

It was revolting. (Secretly, it was also terrifying).

The more aware of this deep divide Willo became, the less effort she put towards appealing to her peers at all. She no longer acted out of politeness or of fear of entrapment by social expectation. If she could not connect, she would rise so far above that they would all fall into irrelevancy. It surprised her however, that this same aloofness and purposeful othering of herself attracted an influx of admirers – elevating her to a level of new level of popularity she had not sought but found herself becoming quickly comfortable with.

At lunch, Willo could openly insult a classmate and all the consequence she would receive was a timid self-dismissing laugh. She was introduced to a different kind of violence. One that did not need to threaten openly; not when a smile was just as effective. The more she pushed, the more they gave to her. The world in all its potential presented itself to her as an unfolding flower.

There was a day when she had taunted another girl so that the girl had curled up and cried, fallen against a brick wall. She seemed to have it in mind that this public display of pitifulness would force Willo to relent – perhaps even apologise. But attempting to appeal to Willo’s sense of compassion was a fruitless act. All she felt was disgust, and all she held was contempt.

Willo felt herself atop a great height, stood at an unflinching precipice. She took in the sight of this girl on the floor, a pathetic wet tissue of a thing, and her heart curdled. Heat filled her lungs. Her mouth flooded with a heady sweetness. Other students milled about awkwardly, tutting and murmuring to one another, otherwise content to remain spectators. The only active players were Willo and the crying girl.

The girl – Willo was unable to remember her name – glanced up through teardrop heavy lashes, the picture of quintessential pitiful sweetness. Willo was struck with a primal urge to spit on her; but she didn’t.

‘Pathetic,’ she said, lip curled in a cruel smirk.

The girl burst open into a fresh bout of miserable sobbing, and Willo turned heel and continued to her next class. Her heart felt light, satiated.


Willo went to university because she had the grades, her parents had the money, and because she had nothing better to do. It was there, at the bookend of her first year as a business major, that she first met herself as she was.

The animalistic anger she had carried for so long felt different, hungrier. It had matured alongside her, grown specific in its preferences. 

She had always felt somewhat drawn to acts of depravity and cruelty, whether by her own inclinations or through vivid unenacted fantasies. It had been easier to stem the tide of that longing when she was still young. Her whole body was a raw nerve, and now she was surrounded by swathes of equally hormonal, aroused adolescents eager to experiment sexually. 

At a party – she’d not bothered to learn whose – she had been teetering on the edge of intoxication and found herself in an upstairs bathroom, with the door locked, and a soft body pressed under hers. The woman she had brought upstairs with her was bright eyed and deeply flushed, her dark hair fell in a halo upon the tiled floor. Willo pressed kisses over her mouth, and her chin, then to the crook of her neck. Heat consumed her utterly, urged her forwards.

The air was saturated with the sounds of their breathing. The music blaring below vibrated through the floor, its rapid hyper-pop cadence rocking through Willo’s body like a second heartbeat. She carded her fingers into the woman’s hair and pulled back harshly. The pained gasp that elicited made Willo lightheaded.

‘Ahh, baby,’ the woman gasped wildly, between breathless moans. ‘Please, please, just like that! Oh god, please don’t stop!’

Willo responded in kind. The boundaries in her mind set between what was morally okay and what was not were crashing down in rapid succession – overpowered by blind, mindless desire. The woman arched her back and Willo pulled harder at her hair so that her chin jutted up painfully. Willo’s unengaged hand crept towards the woman’s bare neck. Something in her ached to do more. Hurt her more.

‘Choke me,’ the woman spluttered, pushing her head back farther.

Willo’s free hand stilled instantly, hovering over the crest of the woman’s neck.

She had been moments away from doing just that; in fact, she had been aching to. It was different if she was acquiescing to someone else’s demands though. It wasn’t liberating anymore; it wasn’t about power. And if it was about power, it was no longer about Willo’s grasp of it.

All in a breath, Willo felt herself come crashing back down. The magic – the unreality of it all – melted away. She looked down and instead of the woman’s face, she could see her own looking back at her.

‘Choke me,’ the faux Willo repeated, pleading.

It was like her head had been shoved into a bucket of ice water. Her whole body jerked in recoil. She, voyeur-like, was hovering over herself, watching herself act out the role of both predator and prey. 

She couldn’t climb back out. It was as if she was suddenly a stranger. The same tale, the same ending. She couldn’t allow herself to be within that scene. Because as soon as the woman’s face was her own, it was also her mother’s. Willo felt herself thrust into a role she had distantly fantasised about but, now that she wore it, burned wherever it touched.

That same memory, but wider. She saw her mother bleeding and alone. Then time moved backwards until she was in her child bed, listening to her father yelling, the sound of crashing furniture. Her mother bleeding and alone.

She wrenched herself up off the floor just in time to bury her head over the rim of the toilet seat and vomit.

The woman – whose face Willo could not bear to look at – asked her timidly if she was okay. The words swam through the air, garbled and nonsensical. 

The ensuing events were so harried and frantic that she only recalled them in fragments. Pushing off the wall with one hand to keep herself steady descending the staircase. Shoving aside someone who was blocking off the exit. Calling for a lift home. Crying under the sheets. Feeling terrified. Disgusted.


It was mechanical. The way she was able to pull herself out of bed the next day, dress and make herself presentable for her Monday morning seminar. She refused to be weak, no matter how shaken she was. Her armour felt hollow, but still, she could not discard it.

Throughout the lecture, given by a supervising professor, she felt a steady tingle at the back of her neck. Goosebumps rose up along the flesh of her arms. Slowly, she turned her head to look at the seat behind her and was met the fierce gaze of a man she only distantly recognised from previous classes.

He was watching her. 

In what felt like slow motion, she watched him press a single finger to his lips and blow towards her a kiss embellished with a sly wink.

The class continued on, and the lecturer fell to white noise. The sound of her heartbeat was loud in her ears and her neck felt hot. Fury consumed her. White hot and mind-numbing, it sped up her spine and crackled as unspent adrenaline in the curve of her tightly clenched fists.

She envisioned him – this stupid, arrogant man – below her. Crying. Repentant. Terrified. And it spoke sweetly to the core of her. Worked like a balm to her frayed nerves. Her mind ran rampant, building momentum and speeding through fantasies in which she brought him to his knees and he regretted ever looking down on her. By the end of the lecture, she was a live wire, every nerve ending raw. 

Every so often her fantasies were interrupted by that woman’s face, eclipsed in unencumbered bliss. It made her stomach turn.

Freya Petterson was born and raised in The Huon Valley. She has published a collection of free verse poetry with BookLeaf Publishing in 2022, ‘Fragments’. Her writing expands into many genres but she primarily works in the realm of fantasy and YA fiction. Her short story, ‘Coming of Rage’, was Highly Commended for the Future Leaders Writers Prize in 2022. 

Further examples of her writing can be found at


Matt opens the greasy containers of Chinese food we just bought from the food court; his blue eyes instantly turn red as the pungent smell of chilli wafts into his nose and eyes. I look towards Rachel as she pushes her red hair behind her ears, her cheek and lip piercings glistening. She cheekily grins at me. Matt can’t handle spicy food. 

We are sitting in the Myer car park with views of Goulbourn Road and Forest Oval in front of us. The black and white logo sits above my head, alongside other stores’ advertisements and colourful graffiti kindly left behind by local teenagers. I lean my head against the grey wall and watch as Matt rolls the sleeves of his black hoodie up to his elbows, accentuating his scrawny arms. The trees along the oval thrash against one another as the wind picks up, but I don’t care too much as I rush to lift the lid on my favourite chicken noodle dish and smell the spice and soy.

It’s school holidays.

I squint my eyes as I notice other students from my high school playing with a soccer ball on the other side of the oval. I scoff, as Amanda screams for apparently no reason, probably just wanting attention. Rachel snorts loudly as Matt spits out a mouth full of food and attempts to skull an entire bottle of water.

‘Hey you little shits. Time to clear out.’ A security guard snaps. The large round man stands with his tattooed arms crossed in front of his chest. There is a small Security badge written over his left chest next to a brown stain. I groan, not again.

‘Leave now or I’ll call the cops.’ He runs his hand through his greasy blonde hair, purposefully showing off a scar that runs from his pinkie finger to his elbow. Tough guy.

‘What? Why should we leave?’ Rachel’s voice booms, mimicking the security guard’s attitude and stance. ‘We are sitting eating lunch, what is wrong with that!’

‘Show some respect.’ He snaps as spit drools at his lips, ‘You have been using monstrous language, not to mention you draping yourself over this guy.’ He points to Matt, ‘How am I meant to know if there is actually water in that bottle? Leave. Now.’

‘Are you fucking serious?’ I look at Matt, worried, but he’s mad and there is no stopping him. ‘You can come here and swear at us, but we can’t swear amongst each other? That is so hypocritical.’

I stare at the security guard in disbelief. Yeah, sure. Pick on this kids in hoodies. I wonder where he would like us to go? Maybe down a hole until we come out as adults? Yes, we had been laughing loudly in the mall and probably swore a handful of times, but hey, so does every other teenager and adult in our town – how else do they expect us to act?

The security guard’s eyes are black and soulless as he stares at the three of us. He’s at his limit and so are we. Neither Rachel, Matt nor I make an attempt to move from our spot. I almost feel sorry for the security guard. He’s only doing his job, but his random hatred of us has left me with little empathy.

‘Leave. I’m done asking you.’ He smiles as a woman and her toddler walks past, as if he is doing them a favour.

The three of us look away from the man and sigh, realising that this is a fight that we are not going to win. Plus, who wants their holidays ruined by having the cops called on you? I’d be grounded for life. I reach for my tote bag and help Matt pick up our food containers. I laugh quietly as Rachel mutters dirty insults to the security guard. I’m not sure if he hears or is purposefully ignoring the comments. 

‘We aren’t leaving because you told us to, but because it will probably rain soon.’ Rachel is putting the lid back on the container in the slowest most deliberate way ever. The security guard snickers in response.

‘I can’t believe he said that to us!’ Matt exclaims, ‘That guy is worse than Mr A. If you’re not at home, you’re in trouble at school, if you’re not there then you’re in trouble at the mall!’ His eyebrows are lowered and close together in anger. Rachel and I have similar expressions. I have so many thoughts racing through my head that I can’t put a complete sentence together.

I speed ahead of Matt and Rachel and walk to the other side of the oval; kicking my white shoes into the freshly cut grass. I am aware that the families who witnessed the conversation with the security guard probably think that I am having a tantrum, but I really don’t care what they think. I chuckle to myself remembering that he thought Matt had alcohol in the water bottle. If only he knew about the things Rachel has stuck in her pocket that she hadn’t brought out. I can feel the eyes of the security guard watching us like a hawk, I turn around to see if I am correct just as he brightly beams at a family beside him as if he just slayed the bad guys in a villain movie.

I make eye contact with the mother of someone I go to school with, her striking blue eyes and neat blonde hair pulled back in a tight bun. She looks me up-and-down, taking in the oversized grey jumper and blue tights I am wearing. She clears her throat and raises her perfectly shaped eyebrows at me. She must be happy that her daughter and I stopped being friends in primary school. To her I am just another teenager that comes to public areas to create havoc by swearing and yelling at anyone who looks in my general direction.

Thunder booms and I catch the final glimpse of blue sky before the entire oval is concealed by grey clouds. I feel a sprinkle of rain onto my forehead as the clouds begin circling in a distressed manner, ready to release at any moment.

‘Hey, Elena!’ I hear a small voice call behind me, ‘Did that security guard just ask you guys to leave?’

‘Oh hi Skye,’ I recognise the black-haired girl from a year below us at school, ‘Yes he did.’

‘He said the exact same thing to us yesterday! Apparently we looked like we were going to cause trouble because we were wearing hoodies and trackies! It’s literally winter, what does he expect us to wear?’ Her response holds the same sassiness as Rachel, I laugh. It’s a good question.

‘Did he actually?!’ I know that talking to Skye will only fuel our anger and I suspect that’s Rachel’s intention.

‘He only heard us swear once, I mean, how else were we expected to describe the Principal when he suspended Jade for having her skirt one centimetre shorter than school rules. It was so stupid!’ Skye rolls her eyes. I remember that story coming out, I didn’t know that it was true.

‘You’re joking?’ Matt suspects to Skye, ‘You swore once and that is what pushed the security guard off the edge?’ They propel each other’s anger.   

I turn my attention away from the three to look over to where we were just sitting. Most families and groups of kids playing around have since left, probably from the fear of being wet from the dooming rain, leaving only us on the field and the power-hungry security guard. If looks could kill, we would be goners. The annoying thing is that I understand why the security guard assumes us for the worst. I get annoyed when students back chat our teachers and when people bring unnecessary attention to themselves. But we were just sitting down eating, not close to any other families, and enjoying each other’s company. I can think of a lot of inappropriate things teenagers inside the mall are actually doing. So, why are we the ones being punished?

Distracted by my own thoughts I don’t see Matt, Rachel and Skye walking with intention in their step towards the security guard. He stands leaning against the same wall we were once sat at, with his arms crossed and a smug smile inching over his face. From afar, his eyes don’t look human, but almost demonic circles of black. I widen my eyes as I realise that my friends look like small zebras marching into a lion’s den. From this distance I can see the word Protection written down the leg of his pants, more like Devil I think to myself.

His deep and patronising voice rings through the empty oval one last time, ‘Keep walking you shits and don’t come back! I’ll be waiting!’ He has courage to speak loudly as most families have left. My friends immediately stop walking. I sneer at his vulgar language.

My blood boils as I start to lose all sight of what surrounds me. I can’t feel the cold breeze sending goosebumps across my neck and face. Rather, the trees scream in agony, coercing me to change. My jaw begins to involuntarily twitch at his insulting words, how he made my friends feel like we were committing a crime. My eyes darken, I am the predator now. I can hear the faint shouts of Matt in front of me growing closer and closer.

Is this the monstrous behaviour he refers to?

Zara McElroy is an Australian writer residing in Sydney. She is interested in writing Young Adult fiction focusing on the passionate emotions and struggles of the everyday youth. You’ll find her reading romance novels and questioning the meaning of life. Zara enjoys spending time with her dog and dancing.


Contrary to popular belief, the big bad wolf is not only present in fairy tales and Little Red Riding Hood is not safe once she grows up – just look at the awful fate her grandmother suffered. It’s something I’ve learnt the hard way living in New York City: the city that never sleeps. It’s such a romantic notion, personifying a place and idealising the bustling nature of commodity it harbours. But no one takes into consideration what this lack of slumber really means – or rather, how fictitious it is. The city does sleep. Sure, the lights may never go out; the traffic may never come to a total standstill; the streets may never be completely void of life. But civilisation does sleep. It must in order to remain civilised. The glowing eyes of Broadway do not sleep and, as a result, I am wary of the walk back home before I even make it to the bar.

My name is Genevieve Thompson – daughter of Greg and Elisa Thompson, who can be reached at +1 (929) 478-0358. I’m on my way to meet a man I know as Daniel Montague, at The Dead Rabbit – a bar on the corner of Water and Broad Street in Lower Manhattan. My name is Genevieve, it’s 8pm, and already I’m being followed by a pack of wolves.

I keep my eyes trained on the way that my feet collide with the cement and focus on the audible crunch of the litter underfoot; anything to diminish the glowing eyes illuminating my path. Some of them shout confidently in their moonlit disguise, beads of saliva falling into their unkept beards or dripping down their stubbly chins. Others simply make comments under their breath – a soft growl that sends shivers every which way. The goosebumps rising on my skin aren’t a result of the brisk fall weather, but rather their tones which mock genuine admiration and concern.

‘Well, hello there darling. How are you tonight?’

‘Oh my, aren’t you beautiful?’

‘Can I help you out there at all, sweetheart?’

It’s impossible to even tell where each comment comes from, and instead they all mould into an aggressive shouting of the one word that dominates the hunt – SLUT.


The room is lowly lit as I step into The Dead Rabbit, boding well for the performance I have planned this evening. Without the spotlight on me, I’m given the opportunity to characterise myself as what they want me to be – the effervescent angel seeking a simple life. Yet at the same time, I’m expected to remain an enigma – giving just enough of myself away to leave them wanting more. Never too much. That is the most important part. Especially when it comes to me, whose very core houses so many opinions not appreciated by the silent but relentless majority.

The bartender smiles at me and looks me up and down as I take a seat at the bar – I pretend not to notice. I order an old fashioned, which earns an odd look from my new friend and the comment ‘but, isn’t that a man’s drink?’ from the wolf a few stools down. I smile politely and thank the bartender for the glass, rewarding the other with nothing but an inward roll of my eyes. This night is already off to a great start. Downing my glass, I watch the hands on the clock of the wall opposite marching ever so slowly and taunting me all the same.


Although I’ve only seen a carefully curated scrapbook of his life – friendly pictures and exaggerated biographical notes that would suggest one doesn’t have a single clue who they actually are – I know it’s him as soon as he walks under the low-lying arch of the entrance. I chose the venue; it was a risky move, and not somewhere I’d usually find myself, but I thought it would make me exude a carefree attitude. He looks right past me as his eyes scan the room – I knew he would. Not because he doesn’t recognise me or because his eyes have betrayed him, but as a part of that one-player game. He’s trying to make me feel insecure, as though my physical appearance doesn’t match up to what he saw and liked online. I know better, but I won’t let him know this – at least not yet.


I didn’t realise we knew each other well enough to already be using nicknames, but I’ll go along with it.

‘Hi! Dan?’

‘Hey, how are you?’

Is he asking because he genuinely wants to know, or is it merely a box that he’s ticking? Assuming the worst and in an attempt to remain on the same wavelength, I don’t give a genuine answer.

‘Great, thanks – and you?’

‘Good. A bit chilly outside – isn’t it?’

Oh god, we’re already onto the uncomfortable small talk. Of course, it’s fucking cold, it’s November for heaven’s sake. Have I not been enthusiastic enough? I should probably work on that.

‘Tell me about it! Shall we order a drink to warm up?’

Anything to distract me from the social awkwardness and total lack of connection. Anything to speed up this arduous process. I suppose I’m not really giving him a chance – he could be lovely; he could just be nervous. But unfortunately – for both him and me – I’ve been through this far too many times to not be sceptical. Not to mention, all I can think about is that dreaded walk home through the metropolitan wood.

‘So, I’m not gonna lie – you’re actually the oldest chick I’ve ever dated.’

I sit and ponder this. His profile definitely stated an age of twenty-seven. Interesting.

‘Oh, really? How come you did in fact match with me then – if you don’t mind me asking, of course?’ I mind asking. I am a whole two years younger than him, and suddenly I dread where this conversation is going.

‘Most chicks around my age want children – I’m not ready for that. But your profile said no children, can’t have them, huh?’

‘I just don’t want to…’ I don’t even get the chance to finish that thought.

‘Oh, strange, but cool. You’ll probably change your mind though, hey? Accidents happen too. You wouldn’t get an abortion, would you?’


I’ve known this man two hours, and already that’s more than enough. It’s clear we have different views on the world and I suddenly feel sick to my stomach. And, just like that, I feel his bare hand breaking the smooth flesh of my abdomen and digging deep within the depths of my soul. He doesn’t retract it until he has a firm grasp on my bleeding womb; untimely ripped. He pockets it, without any regard for its delicacy – as though it’s merely spare change that he’ll ultimately forget about and find in the bottom of his washing machine weeks, maybe even months, down the track. Stitching me back up with his piercing gaze, I sit in silence; mourning what is no longer mine to have or to control.

The conversation thankfully changes course, yet it doesn’t take any turn for the better. My modern Frankenstein is back to what he does best. I watch his gaze flicker from my lips to my breasts; I watch his eyebrows scrunch in disappointment; I watch as he mentally enlarges them by at least two cup sizes. For a moment, I think I even see his eyes glow. All in a minute’s work. If circumstances were different, I might have found it impressive. As I tuck my dirty blonde hair behind my ears, I see him turning it a few shades lighter – turning my skin a little more sun kissed. And as I speak, I see him searching his briefcase for a needle and thread – anything to stop the drone of words leaving my mouth. I am his monster – both before he has had his way with me and afterwards.

I can see him clear as day, subconsciously moulding me into his own creation; something that could never naturally exist. But there’s nothing I can do to prevent it. At that moment, I feel the weight of Anne, Maria, and Diana; of Zelda and Zora; Virginia and her Judith; of Edmonia and Artemisia – of the women that history neglected. The flames of their stories extinguish as the candle wax wanes. They are perched on my shoulder, floating around my head, clinging to my ear. I hear their whispers of consolation in anguish, and I hear their voices; a collective roar of feminine force. My skull holds the whirlwinds of absolute rage manifesting as a single tear on my cheek upon an otherwise poised demeanour. To compromise my composure would be interpreted through a funnel of innate femininity. Innate not in womanhood, but in the gaze we are met with.

‘Oh, what’s wrong?’ The man I barely know looks at me with a crooked brow.

‘Oh nothing, just a really long week.’ I’m struggling to not let my emotions get the better of me.

‘On your period, huh?’

It’s shock. That’s what this feeling is. I struggle to contain myself any longer, despite the fact that we are in a very public place that is filled to the brim with male customers. I imagine myself on the stake, their fiery wrath licking my hard skin as it curls around my wrists. The pain is there, a distant stinging sensation – the kind you can forget about when your mind is occupied. My mind is always occupied, and they don’t like it. But I don’t let it encompass me. Don’t let it devour me in one foul swoop. It means I’m still here, and I’m still me. I drown out their growls and protests, barely even able to make out their unshaven beards and bare feet behind the gates of my prison cell. I instead focus on the calming sounds and sensations of my own bare feet on the hot embers as I shift my weight from one foot to the other in discomfort. Judging by their behaviour you’d think I’ve got pit of snakes erupting from my skull, ferociously snapping on command and wounding my next victim. But in contrast, the hair on my head, although messy, is an ordinary dirty blonde. In fact, the base of my neck still hosts the ringlets of a young girl – innocent and unsuspecting.

‘Evie, you good?’

He hasn’t even taken notice of the pure anger and hatred brimming in my eyes, and the men at the tables surrounding us are looking on in amusement. I won’t flee. I’m not a damsel in distress. I can do this.

‘Yeah, all good. I think I should probably get going, though – it’s getting pretty late.’

‘Oh, so soon? At least let me walk you ho–’

‘Somehow, I think I would be safer without you.’

I don’t wait for a response; I don’t even look back to gauge his reaction. I walk out of the bar calmly and with confidence, back onto the uncivilised streets. Back to the rest of the wolves. The eyes are still there, glowing at me in the darkness in their threatening way. But they’re silent. They wouldn’t dare utter a single word, for they’d be met with the beast.


I make it back to my apartment safely, all twelve blocks alone. I change into my pyjamas, grab a tub of Ben and Jerry’s cookie dough ice cream and sit on the couch I have bought in a living room I pay for myself. Staring out the floor-to-ceiling windows at the dazzling lights and full moon, I smile to myself. I’m okay here, exactly as I am. It’ll be a long time before I go on another date with a man. And I realise that I am completely okay with that; with having myself – away from the faceless monsters whose glowing eyes have turned me into a beastly thing myself.

Jasmine Oke is an English and Creative Writing major previously published in both The Quarry and Grapeshot. Experimentation and the exploration of feminine identity are what excite her most about fiction but, when not reading or writing, Jasmine is also an avid consumer of period dramas, theatre, and live music.

LADY ANTANASIA, Nicholas Aravindhan

‘When did you become like this?’

‘Like this?’ her voice had a cold sting, ‘Meat, be careful with how you speak to me, lest I turn this conversation into a banquet.’

The glass chandeliers chimed as the autumn wind breezed through the dark hall. Dried maple leaves came fluttering in from the open balcony. The only source of illumination was the red glowing eyes of my interviewee. Dressed in a maroon evening gown, she sat on her leather couch holding a goblet filled with red. She stared at me with intense, scarlet, and glimmering eyes.

Her threat, in truth, was just a compulsion that her people couldn’t resist. Scaring anything at any chance they get. I played along, just to get the interview going.

‘Please forgive me, Lady Antanasia.’ I dipped my head. ‘When were you turned into a vampire, may I ask?’

Her shoulders slackened and her brows ceased to crease. ‘It was in the year 1416.’

I checked my recorder in my pocket and it was still running, at least we were getting somewhere.

‘The fifteenth century? How did it happen?’ I proceeded on to the next question.

The couch creaked as Antanasia leaned back into it, her fingers twirling her raven locks.

‘Let us turn this around, whatever your name is,’ she said.

‘It’s Jona-’

‘What do you hope to gain from this interview? Did you seek an audience with me, hoping I’d grant you the gift of immortality?’ there was a smirk at the corner of her lips.

‘No.’ I shook my head. ‘I’d rather not stay in the shadows and restrict myself to one type of drink for eternity.”

‘Hm.’ Antanasia’s eyes narrowed before taking a sip from her goblet. Her fangs were stained in thick red before she licked them clean. ‘Then what are you doing here? Why would a human come to my domain in the cold of night?’

‘Well for one, the secret’s out. Vampires exist in Romania. People, as far west as Hungary, are too afraid to go out at night. And since everyone sees you all as either animals or a cannibalistic cult, I think we’d all benefit if your side is heard.’ I paused, eyeing her cautiously. ‘But the real reason I am here is that my editor-in-chief from The Guardian thought that the story of Lady Antanasia would sell loads.’

The things I do for my career, I’m probably insane.

‘So you came here to satiate your curiosity?’ an elegant chuckle escaped her, ‘Knowing full well you could be drained to a husk or be enthralled? Why do you think I agreed to this interview little one?’

The constant threats were admittedly scary at first, but at that point it got tiresome. In fact, it was getting annoying.

‘You do realise that if I do not check back with my editor-in-chief, he’ll call the calvary over, and pretty much blow this whole place up, right?’ I told Antanasia.

‘How adorable,’ her chuckle resonated through the hall, ‘The humans are trying to show bravado.’

‘I’m just saying what will happen if you try-’

My feet dangled in the air, a cold vice grip tightened on my throat, and I choked out spittle. Antanasia lifted me up in a split second and her nails dug into my neck.

‘I warned you of how you speak to me, meat,’ she bore her fangs and hissed.

I felt blood pooling in my head, my senses were leaving me, but I managed to wheeze out. ‘Okay, prove it to the world then.’

It felt like forever as I ran through all the morbid endings in my head. Whether this vampire was going to bleed me dry, turn me into a thrall, or just crush my trachea. Through my blurry vision, I saw her scarlet eyes narrowing, and her fangs disappearing behind her lips.

‘Hmph,’ Antanasia huffed, before releasing her grip and I plopped onto the onyx marble floor.

‘Well played.’

I rubbed my neck to warm it up after that icy grip, painfully gasping for air. Thankfully, the recorder was still working in my pocket. I got back to my seat and Antanasia to hers. Sporting that same dismissive expression, she took another gulp from her goblet.

‘I’m just gonna forget that ever happened,’ I said to her.

‘Carry on with your interview, whatever your name is.’

‘It’s J-’

‘I suggest you be quick before I get irritated again,’ she cut me off once more.

I rolled my eyes. One would think that someone over six hundred years old would have acquired some semblance of patience.

‘How did it happen?’ I repeated my question.

‘What?’ she raised a brow.

‘How were you turned into a vampire?’

‘What kind of dull question is that? Don’t you have anything more exciting to ask?’ Antanasia groaned and ran her fingers through her locks. That was the second time she avoided the question.

She tapped her finger on the armrest of her couch and said, ‘This is getting boring, meat. You ought to remedy that, or I may get irritated again.’

‘Do you actually remember how you were turned into a vampire,’ I twisted my question, “Or have you forgotten?”

I had nothing to stop my heart from leaping to my mouth when she shot right up into my face. She peered over, forcing me to sink into my chair. Her hiss stung my ears and it rumbled around the hall.

‘Of course I remember! You miserable speck of feculent scum!’ Antanasia bellowed, ‘No amount of time on this God-forsaken Earth will ever make me forget!’

Drops of blood mixed with spittle pattered on my cheeks. Neither of us moved a muscle. Antanasia’s pale face was inches away from mine, her fringe brushed my forehead. She growled before pulling her head back. Antanasia stepped away and glared into the night sky.

‘I remember it was storming when this very coven came to my village in Wallachia,’ her voice was losing that angered tone.

‘A village? From Wallachia?’ I uttered, wiping off the blood and spit on my face. 

‘Before it all began, the pens were populated with cattle, the fields yielded bountiful harvests. Everything was plentiful.’

‘You were a farmer? For real?’

I was expecting a princess, or a noblewoman maybe. But a peasant? Lady Antanasia, the bloodthirsty vampire, raised cows? She eyeballed me for a second and I straightened up.


She edged towards the balcony, still having that frown on her face. ‘Indeed I was. My family supplied the village we lived in with barley and milk. It was a good life.’

‘You had a family?’ my eyes perked up.

Antanasia froze. I could see the melancholy and reminiscence in her.

‘I had a husband and a daughter. Adrian and Elena.’

Oh God.

‘Adrian was as strong as an ox from ploughing the fields, but he was also gentle and loving towards Elena and me. Our daughter was so pure and joyful, the child could sing like an angel.’ 

‘I suppose I don’t need to ask what happened to them.’ I tread cautiously with my words. Antanasia crossed her arms, she kept on staring into the night.

‘The vampires of the Din Ardelean Coven attacked my village in the stormy night with no warning. I remember fire across the fields and the cows disembowelled. The barn, the lumber mill, everything was destroyed. We heard the screaming, and we tried to hide in the house. But they found us, and dragged us out into the storm.’ Antanasia’s crossed arms tightened, and her shoulders trembled.

‘I was the only one, in the whole village, they didn’t kill.’

All the while, my mind tried painting the scene, but there was no way my imagination could recreate what truly happened to her.

‘I’m sorry to hear that, Lady Antanasia.’ I offered my sympathies, as if it was worth anything to her. But I had to ask, ‘Why didn’t they kill you?’

She went back to her seat and carried on with her story, ‘They spared me because the vampire master of this coven wanted me bound to him in his castle. I remember the fiery pain when he bit into me, no other pain could compare. The moment my heart stopped beating, I became one with his coven. He robbed me but gifted me with immortality, and he said he would give me the world.’

Her tone grew bitter, ‘That didn’t happen, as you can see. Centuries passed since he turned me, and he did nothing. He became old, mad, and useless.’

‘Where is he now?’ I asked.

‘I would not suffer his lies any longer, so I took his life and his coven for myself. His head is now on a pike down in the cellar.’

Pretty macabre. Though, well deserved I suppose. I snuck a quick peek at my watch, it wasn’t much longer till sunrise.

‘Okay…so after that, what did you do?’ I asked the next question on my list.

‘Do you need to ask?’ Antanasia snapped back at me, ‘We ruled here in seclusion for centuries. Then somehow the secret of our existence got out and now you’re here,’ she slurped on her goblet.

She started to look dishevelled. She leaned back, stared at the ceiling, and sighed, ‘Unbelievable. It took until now that I get to be truthful, and to a human of all things.’

Ignoring the comment, I asked, ‘What do you mean?’

‘No one has ever asked me what I was before I turned. No immortal undead cared to ask.’ She pointed at me. ‘Then this bastard comes here, asks these questions, and manages to get a rise out of me. So congratulations.’

Antanasia threw her goblet. Admittedly, I flinched when it shattered into the wall, painting it red. ‘That stupid old man. All he ever did was pace around the halls, whining about expanding his coven. But he did nothing!’

She shot up to her feet, her voice echoed through the darkness. ‘My farm! My village! My husband! My daughter! Adrian and Elena! Dead! Because of him! I got turned into a vampire just so I could watch a stupid old man become senile and useless! He took everything from me! So I took everything from him!’

Her ruffled hair and dress flowed with the breeze, bags were forming under her eyes.

‘And yet, there’s nothing. Here I am, hiding in the shadows with the rest of the vampires. Doing nothing but feast until my mind rots. Like that old man.’ Her body trembled. ‘I’m in limbo, going on forever in an abyss with only my memories to tear me apart.’

‘So what is it that you want?’ I calmly asked Antanasia.

She gazed out the balcony again for what felt like ages. She had a thousand-yard stare, and the quivering in her body slowed to a halt.

‘I want to see my family again.’

I stood up immediately, ‘What?’

There was a mix of despondency and resolve in her. ‘I know redemption is beyond me, and I cannot ask for forgiveness. For the lives that I have taken over the centuries, for the pain I’ve inflicted. Whatever happens to the Din Ardelean Coven, I’ll have no part of it. Do what you wish with my story, but I will not carry on like this anymore. I want to be with my Adrian and my dear Elena again.’

She sauntered to the balcony and dawn was almost upon us.

‘Jonathan?’ she turned back to me.

Well, I’ll be dammed. She actually paid attention.

‘Would you stay with me? Until the end?’

I needn’t reply. I turned off the recorder in my pocket and joined her on the balcony. We both stood by the parapet, I felt the air getting warmer.

‘I’d almost forgotten the warmth of the sun. I remember basking under it, with them in my arms.’ Soon after, light was breaking at the horizon, and she turned to me.

‘Thank you, Jonathan. Goodbye.’

‘Goodbye, Lady Antanasia.’

Nicholas Aravindhan grew up in Singapore and is currently studying for a BA in Creative Writing in Sydney. He served in the Singapore Armed Forces as an Ammunition Technician for two years. An enthusiast in palaeontology and Japanese culture, he is currently writing his own novel series, ‘Tokyo Juraki’ which encompasses both elements.

GUTTER RATS, Charlie Adam

The second time that Marnie Stanvelt shows up at the (highly nondescript) Bureau of Malignant Phenomena, it’s ten pm on a Thursday, and pissing down buckets. She doesn’t bother removing her boots, leaving a snail-trail of muddy water across the yellowing linoleum. Thea, the omnipresent receptionist, lets her hammer the call bell for a good minute before bothering to look up. Her greying hair falls over her tortoiseshell glasses in neat curls.

‘We’re closed.’ She wraps her hands around a steaming coffee mug. It’s freshly brewed.

‘I hope you choke on that,’ Marnie informs Thea, scowling, though it’s not very effective with rain dripping into her eyes and squelching into her socks.


‘Is there anything I can help you with, tonight?’ The light of the computer reflects off Thea’s spectacles, faintly green as it limns the crags of her face. ‘Our typical business hours are listed as five-to-seven-pm.’

Marnie rummages in her pockets, producing a compact-camera and an envelope of photos. ‘There is something, actually,’ she says, ‘and I’m not leaving until you can look me in the eyes and tell me this isn’t the weirdest shit you’ve ever seen.’

‘Weirder than that cat run over by a car?’

‘I’m telling you, that’s not what—yes. Weirder than that.’

The photos, when removed from the envelope, are from a few days ago. They’re grainy and sepia-tinted, but Marnie doesn’t care when the subjects are clear enough. Thea waits for her to slap them down before she leans forward, sliding her desk lamp over for a better look.

Earlier this week, Marnie made the effort of climbing down to the sewers and braving their depths in a two am chill. The results lie on the peeling Formica-topped desk before them. She waits for Thea to sift through the detritus, hovering over the one of the mangled cat from below 27th and Rue Street. It goes unmentioned by both of them that she’s the reason it’s down there in the first place.

It went like this: a few days before The Sewer Trip, Marnie found a cat with its stomach ripped open down the street from her flat. The thing’s paws had been chewed off in hunks, with the legs splayed about its gutted belly. She’s ashamed of it now, but she shoved the cat in a plastic bag and threw it down the gutter. And sure, sue her. It was a beastly thing to do, but the sight of it had sent such a chill through the lining of her teeth, the kind that tugs at open nerve endings and splits them wide. The mangled cat felt like a threat. More so when she nearly walked right over its rotting cadaver in the tunnels. And so she turned it in to Thea, who’s been the receptionist of the Bureau since probably the 1800s.

Thea taps a plum-lacquered nail on one of the later photos. It resembles nothing so much as a monstrous warren of a sewer tunnel, the brick walls prised apart by roots the size of Marnie’s forearm. (She knows; she measured.) Even shot with an old Kodak and a torch-light, the image picks up glimmers of bloated corpses, their tails knotted together. Wheels of dead rodents floating in the shallow bilge-water. ‘These look like rat kings,’ she says.


‘Rat kings. It’s when a bunch of them get stuck together by their tails, usually with sap or something else sticky.’ Thea taps at her keyboard, then twists the computer monitor around. It’s archived material, Marnie guesses—a full-colour image of a specimen box and a tangle of rats inside.

‘Huh. Creepy.’ It takes a moment for Marnie to get her bearings again, the way she’s been doing more and more lately. Part of her feels like it’s still there in the sewers. Maybe coming here wasn’t the best idea. There’s a lingering, ever-present smell in the office building, something like potpourri and vinegar, and it’s pulsing a headache through her temples.

Thea makes a face that could almost be a smile. ‘Photos are plenty malleable, I want to make that clear. But when a woman sloshes into your office with something this interesting, you begin to entertain, just the tiniest bit, the notion that her statement’s worth looking into after all.’ She clicks around with her mouse, then jabs a finger at the ‘Enter’ key.

Something below her desk makes a death rattle as she plucks a sheaf of papers from the unseen printer. The half hour that follows instils vicious loathing for bureaucracy that Marnie will carry for the rest of her life, probably, as Thea drags her through a formal statement of paranormal esoterica.

Yes, she did first encounter signs while working on the subterranean storm drain expansion. Yes, she’s the main worker tasked with the deeper sewers that nobody else will even touch. Eventually, they work their way towards the Associated Phenomena section, during which Thea’s jaw works tighter and tighter as Marnie bleats about scores of red-tinged eyes while she worked in the tunnels.

The really nasty bit comes when she mentions the kid who asked her for a cigarette yesterday. She couldn’t be older than fifteen, but her eyes stared Marnie down as she shuffled towards the maintenance entrance and clocked in.

‘Got a smoke?’ the girl asks.

‘Definitely not,’ past-Marnie gawks. She notices, with her hindsight-sharp eyes, that the kid’s dark cheeks are hollowed from the inside out. Now-Marnie watches absently as Thea’s lips press into a thin line, writing it all down.

The girl laughs. It sounds like teeth hitting the ground and cracking apart. ‘They’re wrong about the walls having ears, you know.’ She looks around emphatically at the empty dawn streets, then takes a pack of Marlboro’s from her jeans and puts one in her mouth. ‘It’s the gutters you should be really worried about.’

It’s here that Marnie dips out of yesterday and back into the rickety seat she’s pulled up in front of the desk. Thea waits impatiently with a colour printout, full of faces. MISSING PERSONS, the heading shouts in 35-pt font. Marnie has a bad feeling about it.

(That feeling is correct: the girl grins up at her from the second row. She’s been missing for three days. Her name is there, but Marnie only vaguely registers it.)

Marnie doesn’t mention to Thea the other things. Those moments when she can’t sleep for the sounds of skittering right beneath her floor—persisting even after she’d ripped up the floorboards one night, hands shaking.

She doesn’t mention that this isn’t the first time she’s gone down there off-duty, either. Not even close. Or that she isn’t scared of it, not the way she used to be. That’s—that’s not even the reason she’s here, she thinks, as Thea carefully feeds the images into a banged-up fax machine. She’d been… excited, when the photos had developed. She wanted someone to admit that she was right.

And maybe that’s the nature of secrets. Some secrets can’t help but be dug up. Some rot in the ground for years, pitted with worms and crawlers. Others still burrow into heartflesh, grow fat on blood beneath the breastbones of the guilty who fed them.

There’s an odd sort of poetry in how the worst secrets of all come from underneath—carried in sewer pipes and loamy tunnels. Those ones don’t stay buried. They come looking for food.

But Marnie Stanvelt isn’t pondering the nature of secrets as she pushes out into the night, leaving Thea to sip at her long-cooled coffee. She’s counting down the minutes until the metro gets to the nearest station, until she can tuck herself into bed with a hot water bottle and enough blankets to build the bloody Taj Mahal of pillow forts.

She probably should’ve been thinking more about secrets.

First, it’s the kh-shnnk of a manhole cover sliding over the sound of a thousand scurrying feet—tk-tk-tk-tk-tk-tk-tk-tk. A creeping awareness of how her steps squelch against the pooling water on the pavement, her shoulders hunching further and further inwards. Steady dripping of rain into her cheap earbuds. Water-logged music filtering into her head.

‘Man, you’re bad at taking a hint.’  

It’s as if the girl has always been walking next to Marnie, her thin arm looped into hers. She’s wearing cheap sunglasses that don’t quite cover the ghoulish cast to her skin, stringy hair knotted up in clumps and braided with filth.  ‘I mean,’ she continues, ‘it’s not like we’ve been that subtle. You’re practically a guest.’ The girl looks up at her with a barbed-wire smile, teeth stained brown. ‘You wouldn’t happen to have a smoke this time, would you?’

Marnie’s earbuds sputter out with a weak crackle, rain trickling past the deadened plastic and into her ears proper. The girl has deteriorated a lot since the photo in the Missing Persons file, as if her skeleton’s begun eating itself down to the marrow. ‘God, tell me you’re not Ingrid Ashram,’ she says weakly. That had been her name on the file, hadn’t it? Her eyes were a bit panic-blurry at the time, but it sounds right. Definitely Ingrid-something. The letters had been squeezed together in an impersonal little lump under her picture, gripping the lower border between hers and the next missing persons’.

The girl starts to snicker. ‘I won’t, if that makes you more comfortable.’ Her fingers bite into Marnie’s elbow with a disquieting kind of over-familiarity. ‘Normally folks seem to like pretending that the people are still here. Adds a bit of humanity to the whole affair.’

Half of this, admittedly, is going over Marnie’s head. It’s the way she talks, all menacing and dancing around the actual point. What does stick the landing, though, is a thought. She looks down at Ingrid, something sickly flooding her stomach.

‘What do you mean, pretending people are still here?’    

Ingrid’s face beams as if she’s letting Marnie in on a private joke. It’s a profoundly unsettling thing, her features working in tandem to split open the mouth like a rotting grapefruit. ‘Well, that’s an interesting question,’ she says, reaching a thumb up to wipe some blood from her gums. ‘What is pretending, you know?’

It’s only when the clustered buildings fall into too-familiar shapes that Marnie realises they’re in her own neighbourhood, drifting unerringly closer to her flat on Rue Street. The girl’s—Ingrid’s—footsteps are nimble, skirting around the puddles of light shed by streetlamps as if leading them through a dance.

‘Oh, hold on,’ Ingrid chirps as they approach the side of the road, pulling Marnie to a stop by an open gutter. Marnie winces at the damning streaks of dried blood smeared across the drain lip. ‘A bit rude to dump one’s party favour, but that’s something we can put to rights.’ Her brittle fingers flex as she bends a knee, stirring through the air in a come-hither motion. Her sunglasses betraying nothing but her smiling mouth, Ingrid seems to make direct eye contact as the dead cat is spat from the drain. Even though Marnie can’t see her expression proper; it feels far too old, too self-satisfied to belong on the face of a fifteen-year-old. Behind Ingrid, the gutter flashes with knotted-up tails—rats, hundreds of them, a roiling sea of fur and night-red eyes.

With a one-handed flick, the dead cat soars into Marnie’s arms. A scream gutters and dies in her throat.

Ingrid sits down, right in the middle of the road. ‘But it’s getting late, isn’t it?’

The swarm of rats spills onto the street, a black rippling sheet sewn together with thick, glistening pink veins. They eat up the tarmac, the pavement. Cover every square inch of free space.

‘You’re welcome down there any time you like, of course.’ Ingrid flaps a wasted hand towards the hidden sewers. ‘Same as Ingrid was, the little asshole.’ She lets out a fond chuckle. ‘Oh, she was a fun one to have. I’m glad she stuck around—the others went much more quickly than her.’

The thing wearing Ingrid’s skin removes her sunglasses. The sockets are empty, the eyes rotted away. Worm larvae trail from gaping holes. That rotting-grapefruit mouth peels back again in a friendly grin.

‘Don’t be a stranger, Marnie,’ she says, then pauses thoughtfully. ‘But maybe don’t go tattling again to Thea and her ilk. They’re not ready to deal with the likes of me.

The street echoes with the sounds of rodents. Hundreds and hundreds of them, as the creature throws back her head and laughs. And Marnie starts to run.

Charlie Adams is a horror folklore enthusiast with a love of video games and things that go bump in the night. Currently a BA Creative Writing undergraduate, Charlie is drawn to fantasy and paranormal fiction with dreams of writing the next cult indie game. Her past works are lost to time (and several government cover-ups).


Once upon a time, there was a young boy called Joseph who lived in a village on the edge of the jungle. He wanted to prove to everyone that he wasn’t like the other kids. He wanted to prove that he was the man. Against his parent’s pleas and the fears of his friends, he marched deep into the jungle at midnight. He invaded her territory. Like a siren, a screech — the type that could shatter glass — echoed through the column of trees. The hairs on his little legs stood. But he kept exploring. He told himself again that he was the man. Then he stepped on something slimy. He opened it. Illuminated by the moon, a tiny face with empty sockets stared back. Joseph shivered as the screech returned. He looked at the full moon. The silhouette froze Joseph. She had two giant bat-like wings, scraggly hair, and a long tongue that slithered like a snake. She had no legs and like a million tiny tentacles, her guts dangled from her ripped torso. Wrapped around the tree, the street urchins — the children who didn’t listen — piled high. He should’ve listened.

Most Filipino children were told a story like that. They call her the manananggal. The manananggal was the woman across the street, the one so sweet and cute. The woman who, at the stroke of midnight, separates herself from her legs, grows wings and flies, hunting down pregnant women and other delicious things. Everyone has a story of a manananggal. Uncles boasted of being chased by them after skinny dipping in the lake, pregnant mothers were warned to shut their windows, and boys would throw salt at girls in the playground.

Well, that’s what they say anyway.


Once upon a time, there was a barangay — or small village — deep in the mountains of Cagayan named Conda. There were no high rises, no harbours, no concrete roads. Instead, shanties and shacks of scrap metal and planks lined the village. In the wet seasons, typhoons would flatten the barangay and the only structure left after the typhoon had passed was the white brick cottage on the hill, the envy of the village. It belonged to the town doctor, Maria del Rosario, the richest person in Conda who lived alone with her medicine and chemicals the witch doctors scoffed at. Everyone knew each other since birth. They woke up, worked on the farms then spent the evenings in the town square belting ballads beside the karaoke machine and the TV, the village’s only window to the outside world. In the dry season of ‘92, after the decades-long storm of dictatorship and rigged ballots, the people got their first taste of democracy. The villagers were hypnotised by the smiles of presidential hopefuls and found themselves, at the flick of a candidate’s finger, on the streets to fight in their name. It was the only way they knew how to debate. The barangay Kapitan, who governed over 100 men and women, almost lost both eyes breaking up brawls. One of these days, someone in Conda was going to get killed. One of these days, the barangay was going to melt under the heat of the election.

Jay Contrales and his wife, Elma, lived in one of those shanties when, one midnight, Jay woke up to an empty bed. He heard something faint from the bathroom, the sharp sucking of air through teeth. He lit a candle. ‘Oh god,’ murmured the woman behind the door. Jay’s hairs stood as the wind breezed through the cracks and he tasted metal in the air as he approached the door. He opened it. The candlelight fell upon Elma. Hunched over, her white dress was stained at the edges as she did her best to hold herself off the ground as a pool of blood congealed beneath her. In the centre of that pool sat a slimy sac. A face was trapped inside. The villagers rushed to the sound of Jay’s cry. The Kapitan vomited at the smell. Maria rushed to Elma’s aid. It was too late.

‘Our child,’ Jay sobbed, ‘why us?’ As Maria examined Elma, she asked questions about her diet and activity, searching for an answer as to why the miscarriage occurred. Elma stared blankly at the doctor.

‘I… can’t remember,’ said Elma, ‘but weirdly, I feel an angel answered my prayers.’

‘Prayers…’ Maria muttered, ‘I think I understand.’ She shrugged and then continued her examination.

Jay noticed the bathroom window ajar before he and the villagers heard a screech in the forest. Jay remembered the story he heard when he was a child. The story of Joseph. His stomach churned. He glanced at the shrivelled face in the sac and grabbed Maria’s elbow. ‘This was the work of an aswang. I think a manananggal attacked my wife.’ That’s when Maria saw, on the side of the fetus’ head, blood oozing from a thin puncture. The Kapitan and Jay inspected the wound when Elma shot up in her bloody dress and shouted, ‘I remember now! A manananggal… it killed my baby!’

While the aswang attack subdued the village for a week, the election soon returned to the villagers’ minds and the Kapitan struggled to maintain order. But soon, the villagers heard a shriek from the Kapitan’s house. When they arrived, the marital bed was soaked in the blood of the unborn. The Kapitan trembled as his wife sat motionless on the bed, a gaping wound in her side. The window was wide open. Families clutched each other tightly. A pregnant woman made the sign of the cross. Maria examined the wound. She’s seen something like this before; too many times actually. She was about to speak when the Kapitan wept, ‘Why God? Why me?’ Maria chose not to say anything. She offered her condolences and returned home with the rest of the villagers while Jay and a few men stayed with the Kapitan. Amidst his sobs, the Kapitan thrust a finger into the sky, eyes wide and shouted, ‘Aaswang!’ The villagers looked out the window. Nothing was there. The Kapitan said they just missed it. He then traced a line from the moon to the white brick house.

The spectre of the aswang paralysed Conda. No one talked about the election anymore. Seeing this, the Kapitan ordered a nightly curfew and educated the villagers on what the manananggal looked like, how it behaved and how to defend against it. Men sharpened sticks into stakes and the women prepared pouches of salt and spices. The Kapitan appointed himself, Jay, and three other men to a task force to investigate aswang sightings. Jay was particularly hellbent on capturing the manananggal. The Kapitan noticed this and told Jay a secret.

‘There’s one thing I couldn’t mention to the village,’ he told Jay, ‘the manananggal is just an ordinary-looking woman in the day.’ And so, the Kapitan and Jay surveilled every woman for anything remotely suspicious. They said they were doing this for their wives. They said they were doing this for the children.

Manananggal sightings were reported almost nightly. The task force would hear a cry across the barangay. ‘I saw something with batwings fly there!’ or, ‘I heard scratches against my door!’ Their testimonies were full of hysterics and hyperventilating. Frustrated, the Kapitan translated their chaotic cries. ‘So you said it flew from here. Is that correct?’ he’d ask. The witnesses perked up and pointed confidently to the place suggested by him. All the witnesses pointed to the same place. Jay remembered that on the night the Kapitan’s wife was killed, the Kapitan pointed to the same place too. Jay smirked. He told the task force his theory. The Kapitan, with a glint in his eyes, grinned.

Five men knocked on the door of the white brick house. Maria answered. They entered before she said anything. The Kapitan asked what she did the other day; she said she was working. Jay asked if she saw anything with batwings; she said bats usually visit her place for her fruit trees. Another asked if she saw anything resembling an aswang; Maria chuckled.

Aswang aren’t real!’ No one laughed back. The Kapitan asked her to put out her hands. ‘A test,’ he said. She obliged. The Kapitan poured the vial of salt and spices into her hands. Maria sprung up, swore and flailed her hands back and forth to get it off. Everyone flinched.

‘Sorry,’ said Maria as she showed them a laceration across her right palm, ‘I was clumsy with some glass yesterday and the salt stung.’ She forced a smile. The Kapitan frowned. He bashed his stick against her skull and Maria collapsed. Jay stuffed her inside a bag and the others bound her arms and legs with rope. They dragged her to a tree in the centre of the village and hung her upside down. At dusk, the Kapitan rang the bell for a town meeting. Darkness swallowed the village.

Maria woke up to the torchlit faces of a hundred villagers. The crowd murmured as she wriggled in place. The Kapitan boomed: ‘Don’t be fooled. During the day, a manananggal looks just like us. Here she is. For the charges of the murder of Jay and Elma’s child and the murder of my wife and our child, the people find you guilty.’ Maria squirmed and screamed. She protested it wasn’t her. She protested that aswang aren’t real. She protested that she could explain the wounds on the Kapitan’s wife and the hole in the fetus’ head. The Kapitan gagged her. Then, tears in his eyes, he turned to the crowd.

‘It’s not her fault,’ the Kapitan said, ‘she knows not what she’s done. In every manananggal lies a black chick trapped inside. That chick is the true monster, the one that possesses our women into monstrosities. The one that preys upon our children.’

Jay remembered all the times Maria brought fruit to him and his wife and Maria’s perfect renditions of ‘My Way’ on the karaoke. He couldn’t believe that the same sweet Doc was the host of a devilish parasite. The Kapitan wiped his tears and continued.

‘But I know that she is the same Doc we all know and love. And by God’s grace, she can still be cured! All we need to do,’ the Kapitan picked up a bat, ‘is force it out.’

Nobody spoke as Maria’s gag struggled to contain her cries. The Kapitan offered Jay the bat. ‘For your child,’ he said. Jay grasped the bat and stared into Maria’s beet-red face as tears streamed down her forehead and dripped onto the floor. Jay scanned the crowd. He couldn’t find his wife but he saw children cower behind their parents. Jay smashed the bat against Maria’s stomach. The face in the sac of flesh flashed in his mind. He set aside her muffled screams. He swung harder. Then harder. Then harder. Jay collapsed onto the floor out of breath as Maria swayed under the tree. The Kapitan took the bat. A grunt. A thump. A crack. A muted wail. He passed the bat to another. Then another. In this ungodly game of pinata, every strike leaked blood through Maria’s gag. ‘Take a good look,’ said a woman as she gave her daughter the bat, ‘aswang can take many forms, even those you least expect.’ The girl looked into the eyes of the woman who helped bring her into the world. She raised the bat. Another crack. The cries stopped. The Kapitan removed the gag. A stream of food and acid and blood flowed onto the floor. ‘Where’s the chick?’ a man shouted and ripped the bat from the girl’s hands. With every blow, he got more desperate.

After an hour, the only sounds were the panting of the villagers and the creaking of the rope. Jay stared at Maria: the corners of her mouth were crusted red and her forehead dried in tears. A villager tapped Jay’s shoulder. ‘That’s the chick right?’ He pointed at a black particle in the pool of vomit, blood and tears. A pit formed in Jay’s stomach but before he could answer, the Kapitan nodded. ‘We’re safe now.’ The villagers snuffed their torches and returned home. Jay and the Kapitan dumped Maria in the woods.

Soon after, the election passed over and the village returned to its habitual state of torpor and karaoke. The new government built roads and phone lines to connect isolated barangays like Conda with the wider world. They worked alongside barangay kapitans, who were now promoted to mayors. Because Maria had no family, the Mayor of Conda moved into her house and over the years, he would never leave office. No one fought on the streets again.

In contrast, shortly after the election, Jay spotted a coat hanger, glinting outside his house beside the bathroom window. Elma flinched when Jay showed it to her. When Elma reminded Jay of the mayor, the couple never spoke of it again. Deep into old age, the couple moved to an apartment, smaller than their shanty, in the bustling streets of Manila. Despite the ever-present beeping of car horns, Elma seemed to sleep just fine. But Jay, no matter how far from the mountains they now were, could never seem to escape the strained, creaking cry of the rope.


Some say that once upon a time, there stalked a black chick in the woods. She heard the weeping of a soul, imprisoned in the husk of a battered body. With pity, she forced herself into the body’s mouth. Then, at the stroke of midnight, the body’s torso tore itself from its legs, its arms transformed into wings and the wail of a thousand tears pierced the forest, alerting the birds to flock away. Luckily for her, a street urchin arrived just in time to witness her metamorphosis.

Well, that’s what they say anyway.

Bradley Cagauan is an academic coach and writer studying creative writing and law at Macquarie University. He has a keen interest in the law, justice and politics which underpins his feature articles and stories. ‘The Folk Tale of the Manananggal’ is his first published short story, a cosy tale drawing upon Filipino mythology and mob justice.

OUR MONSTERS, Sharon Cabasag

This story deals with themes of suicide

The air is rushing past my face, pushing my entire body forward like the entire world wants me to do it. Ants scatter the pavement below, walking to their workplace or grabbing coffee with some friends. And my creature mocks me from the lick of my ankles, a distorted recording of that video I replayed a thousand times in my head now coming from its drooping mouth.

‘Can you tell me how a perfect love goes wrong!’

My friends scream at the top of their lungs as they ‘sing’ for karaoke, their happy faces seemingly etched right into the core of my brain. The monster attaches itself to my back, cackling as it continues to play the memory of the video again.

‘Alone again! On your own, like always!’ It screeches something I don’t want to hear, cementing itself as my truth. Last night my friends had gone without me to a party I wasn’t invited to, my ex in the video along with them. “They chose him because they hate you. They hate you! They hate you! They hate you!”

‘Shut the fuck up!’ I scream at the top of my lungs and almost choke on those words as my right foot slides along the roof’s edge, half of it now above a twelve-story drop to the ground. Vertigo takes over, and my body feels like it’s rocking back and forth, the buildings around me tilting side to side. It feels like a nightmare and I can’t wake up – I’m not in control of my body even though I know what’s going on.

A scream echoes from the streets, and all the little critters there stop to look up where the lady is pointing at. ‘She’s gonna jump!’

Is that what I’m going to do? The stranger’s conclusion sends my head spinning even more and my left foot staggers until it matches my right. With one wrong move, I’ll fall. Everyone will see me, and I can see them take their phones out. The whole world will see me now and maybe my friends will see me for once too.

‘Be careful, haha!’ That same scratching imitation of a friend’s voice sparks the memory, of a video of them messing around in their backyard. I should have been there, they were my friends first. All of them chose my ex over me, to have that man fool around and have fun while I sat at home and cried the whole night. Would they still have done that if they knew what he had done to me?

‘What difference does that make?’ My creature hisses into my ear, its black sludge winding around my body. The simple question makes my heart beat in my ear and I find myself forcing air in and out of my lungs. He touched me without my permission, is that not a big thing? Wouldn’t my friends get rid of him if they knew? Wouldn’t they choose me instead? The lump in my throat forms and tears prick the edge of my eyes, blurring the entire city in front of me. I’m not a choice, I’m a friend and I know that, so why – Why didn’t they choose me?

‘They hate me. That’s why.’ Clarity sets in, and my heart slows down as I feel a wave of calmness sweeping my body.

‘She jumped!’ The woman screamed and all I thought as the pavement came closer was:

‘Shut up, shut up, shut up.’ My nightmare laughs into my ear.


Katherine sits on the top bunk bed with headphones plugged in and the volume up way too loud. Mae does not scold her for it, the older sister is frozen on the first step of the stairs. The blur of lights is flashing in front of their eyes but Mae’s brain isn’t processing anything. Instead, there’s a sinking feeling.

            A door slams outside, Mae flinches. The shared bedroom door is cracked open just a little and Mae hears her mother begin to yell.

            I need to close the door. She shuffles past the mess of toys on the carpet floor.

            ‘Why?! Why would you do this?’ It feels like she needs to throw up everything in her stomach but her stomach is empty all at once. Her mother’s anguished voice is enough to completely freeze Mae over that she’s not even shaking. ‘Did I do something wrong, huh?! Is that why you’re going out all the time?!’ She won’t stop yelling and it’s always followed by silence, not a peep from the other person her mother is addressing.

            The silence stretched on as if a reply was pending silently in the air, waiting for Mae to press play again when she was ready. It’s enough for Mae to pull the door open wider, her head sticking out in what children could not understand as a feeling of morbid curiosity.

            The kitchen and dining area are within view down the hall and in between those two spaces is her mother staring accusingly at someone behind the corner. Her tear-stricken face is contorted in so much rage and so much sadness at the same time, that Mae wanted to cry too. Who was she talking to? It could have only been her father but that didn’t make any sense, nothing bad happened today, he’d only been out this late because of work.

            ‘You spend all our money and you can’t even look at me!’ She swings the door until it’s back to just a crack in the wall, one eye looking through but it is now just a blur of her mother. Her figure leans over and it is followed by the crash of the plastic stool, the familiar sound of it being knocked down and Mae realises she’s thrown it at him. ‘You should have stayed out! Don’t come back next time.’

            That was the end of it, her mother storming towards the hall where Mae was hiding in the bedroom. She must have seen the door was a little open because the door slams shut, the doorknob hitting Mae near the eye and it took all of her to not cry out, whimpering in the pain.

            ‘I miss dad.’ Katherine says from the bed, her headphones now off. ‘When will he be home?’


The ship creaks, as she rocks gently from side to side. The scent of sea air is familiar but never fails to feel refreshing on the lungs as it whisks away the smell of dead fish. Kreol is hunched over the steering wheel, surveying the still waters. It’s too quiet, with not a single bird flying over or fish near the surface despite it being close to known heavily populated waters during migrating season. The sun is high above, obscuring a part of his view.

            A school of orange faintly appears on the left, a large body of god knows what swim under the ship at blinding speed and it knocks the ship with its weight. ‘Piranials!’ He shouts and the crew bursts from under, flooding the deck in their rags and spears, gunners rolling the canons into positions.

            ‘Captain, we can’t-’ A scream tears through the Quartermaster’s words, both of them spinning towards the sound as a piranial jumps out from the ocean, their mouths full of four rows of sharp teeth sinking into the side of their head. The ungodly three-eyed fish shrieks but doesn’t let go of the man who is trying to tear it from his flesh. Kreol covers his ears and the sound signals a whole hoard to jump from the ocean’s surface, the vicious display of teeth grabbing onto the rest of the man’s body, tearing at him until one side was a mess of blood and mangled organs.

            ‘It’s over.’ Kreol whispers, drawing his sword as a piranial from the dead body spots him, its blood-red eyes glow in daylight. The fish shrieks and he watches as the ship is surrounded on both sides. The predators biting into the ship and his men, their screams drowning out the sound of his own heart dying.

Sharon Cabasag is a young adult that mostly stays at home unless she is invited to go hang out with friends. She has only had enough time to read comics instead of novels because of university, although, she has taken to gaming late at night for some much needed isolation.