Cut Down the Tall Poppies


The world envied my tail—
elephant tusk, tiger’s pelt.
Green and heavy
and lush with sparkle.

It was the worst thing about me.
I believed them.
A documented federal disability.
Didn’t I want that green growth removed?

They made me weep
because I could not walk
when they were the ones
longing to glide through blue.


Samantha Stiers has published work in Conjunctions, DIAGRAM, and other magazines.

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A Child For Twelve Shillings


People sometimes called her a fairy, when they were trying to be nice, but she was a witch. She preferred accuracy to flattery.

Many people came to her door. The latest customer was a familiar type: broken down, carrying her sorrows with her everywhere. She was good at hiding it. She was well-dressed and well-spoken and you could only tell by a slight stoop to her shoulders and a single tear that hid in the corner of her eye—all the other tears had dried up.

She asked meekly how she could get a child of her own. She was, she said, prepared to pay.

The witch knew a few secrets. She did not sell children (people tended to get tetchy about that kind of thing) but she knew of a dragon that one could slay, and when you devoured its heart—

“I don’t know anything about slaying dragons,” said the woman, with a crease between her eyebrows.

There were other options. She had half a magic apple, but you never wanted to go halves with magic. The other piece of the apple had been eaten by a chicken which went on to produce half an egg—

“I think we’re getting off-topic,” said the woman.

The witch thought about turning her into a toad and decided not to. That kind of thing was bad for business. Instead, she went to the pantry and fetched a jar containing a single barleycorn.

“Do I need to eat it?” said the woman.

“No. Plant it and water it and tend it. Twelve shillings, please.” She added quickly, “No refunds.”

The woman came back some days later, and the witch sighed when she saw her through the window. But when she met her at the door, she saw that the woman was happy. She stood straighter and moved with a purpose and a care, protecting something in her pocket.

“Is she supposed to be this small?” The woman held out something in her hand. The witch looked at it, and then she went and looked at the jar, and went through her books trying to figure out where she’d gotten the jar.

The woman’s barleycorn was now a tiny girl, one inch high. Not even as tall as her thumb. It was like interacting with a flea. The woman hugged her daughter with the crook of a finger. The inch-girl was quite happy to ride in her hand. She seemed too solid to be a fairy, which tended to be ghostly and cold. She danced and gamboled naked, because the woman was still working on clothes for her. The inch-girl would need gossamer-thin material, with stitches smaller than an ant’s head. She could slide her slender hand straight through the stitches of normal fabric.

The original barleycorn had belonged to the witch’s predecessor, and she sorely regretted now that she had never asked about it or studied it. Perhaps its husk had always cradled a fetus the size of a mosquito. Now she’d never know.

“I was wondering if she’d grow,” said the woman.

The witch looked at the inch-girl and said, “Maybe?”

From that point on, the woman and her miniature daughter visited nearly every day. The witch dove into her grimoire, searching for more information, and when that failed her she turned to books of children’s fairy tales. She looked with new eyes at her stale shelves of ingredients. She might have anything in her sea of newts’ eyes and toads’ tails.

But even more than the new draw to her collection, she found herself looking forward to the visits. People usually only came to buy something, or to attempt burning her at the stake. The woman and her daughter came mostly so the woman could sit in the rocking chair and talk, while her daughter played in the field of her lap. The witch held the inch-girl a few times, but it made her nervous. She seemed so fragile, and she never did grow.

And then one day the woman missed a visit. When she did come, the witch could tell immediately that something was wrong. The last tear was missing from the woman’s eye. She’d shed them all and her face was a desert of want.

They looked for the inch-girl. The witch used her scrying-bowl and they scoured the woman’s house and tromped around in her yard, but there was always the fear that their great feet would land in the wrong place, or their booming voices would frighten the inch-girl away. Time went on, but the woman insisted that the inch-girl was still out there—somewhere. The witch had theories. She could have been snapped up by an owl or stolen away for a freak show. Or maybe the fairies had taken her, and she had forgotten living with humans. That happened to people who were fairy-stolen. Even if you got their bodies back, you might not get their minds.

A year passed. The inch-girl had loved flowers, so the woman planted all kinds and the witch did too. All around their houses, marking them out, in case she ever came back and needed a sign. Every morning they sat on a bench in the misty twilight, as the dawn came and the buds opened into an explosion of color.

“She’ll be grown up soon,” the woman said.

“Yes.”

“What do you think she’ll look like?”

“A fairy queen,” said the witch, “made of spun glass, with wings like a fly’s and a train of courtiers dressed like flowers. Or maybe,” she said, “maybe, she’ll come back riding on a swallow, with her skin burned brown, and a cloak of feathers, and a story for us. Such a story as you never heard.”

“I like that one,” said the woman, and they sat and they waited together as the sun burned off the fog.


Sarah Allison is a writer in Florida, currently working on a Masters in Library Science. She enjoys fairy tales and tracking down the origins of folklore. Her short fiction has appeared in Liguorian Magazine.

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The Tin Platoon


Where his number had once been five and twenty, the soldier now awoke to find the spot beside him empty, and his rank now the lowest among his brethren.

As all were in their box when the unipedal soldier first went missing, they initially believed the snuffbox goblin’s story that it must have been the wind that moved him to the windowsill, and onward to further misadventures. Adventures unknown to the soldiers until their wounded comrade returned days later, smelling of the sea and carried by the flustered house cook.

The little boy whose birthday had brought the soldiers to their current station had left them out on the table the night before their compatriot returned, finally giving them a chance to play along with the other toys. The chime of midnight again caused the snuffbox to pop open, and gave the twenty-fourth soldier his first view of the goblin. There was something he didn’t like in the way the goblin stared at the pretty paper castle, or the dainty dancer inside it.

While all the other toys frolicked and enjoyed the wee hours, the twenty-fourth soldier stood silent guard, keeping his eye on the suspicious jack in the box. And when the twenty-fifth member of the platoon returned, and the soldier saw the way his comrade admired the ballerina, he began to suspect that the wind had been a mere excuse.

The goblin’s next move happened too quickly for the soldier to react. The neighbor boy tossed the one-legged figure into the furnace in a fraction of a second, the paper dancer blew in after, and the fire made short work of both. Frozen in place with fear, the soldier could swear he heard manic laughter coming from inside the snuffbox.

None of the other three and twenty had seen the incident, but the soldier knew he would never forget it. When the platoon was put away in its box for the night, he could focus only on the now-permanent empty slot to his left.

Any doubts his fellow troops might have had were erased the following day, when they saw what the maid found in the ashes. Any doubts of his own as to the guilty party fled when he saw the wry smile on the face of the goblin, who pushed up the top of the snuffbox with his head to steal a glance. Nobody else saw it-—they were too busy lamenting the sight of the little tin heart and the seared tinsel rose—but the twenty-fourth soldier noticed.

That night, once he was certain no one would hear, he told the other tin soldiers what he had seen. Their fraternal bond worthy of the St. Crispin’s Day speech, they listened solemnly to the plan he was beginning to hatch…

When the chime struck midnight the next evening, the snuffbox didn’t open. The goblin banged against it as hard as he could, but the jack-in-the-box crank didn’t move, and he found the latch atop the container equally stuck.

Though the goblin tried to command them through the walls of his snuffbox, none of the toys would help him, as the soldiers had spread word of his misdeeds. They simply stood steadfast as the tin platoon avenged its fallen member.

Four and twenty soldiers had carefully wrapped the tinsel ribbon around the crank, over and over, pulling it taut until it secured the gear in place. When done, they lifted the twenty-fourth soldier to the top of the snuffbox, where his two good legs wedged the little tin heart into the gap of the latch.

In the last step of its justice, the platoon pushed the box to a small hiding place in a dark corner of the nursery, where none of the children would find and open it. There it remained until the goblin gave up, and spent the rest of his days in silence, while the tin heart and the tinsel rose stood firm as ever.


Jeff Fleischer’s fiction has appeared in the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Journal, Shenandoah, the Saturday Evening Post, So It Goes by the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, Deep South Magazine, East Bay Review, and Steam Ticket.

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Snow Queen


1.
What should stay buried in times like these?
My skin is creased in the new mirror.
I have been kissed to death by too many.
Great and good, small and ugly, wicked and bad.

Snow melts. Steady drip, drip, drip
all day through the heat and light.

2.
Watch how I smooth the boy’s hair,
tender him with tales as if they might
undress his innocence.

My mother did the same.
Dug for something hidden
under the new skin of her young.
An empty chair sits by the window.

Through the little hole, I see him watching.
Snowflakes grow larger and larger.
The moon is lit white gauze.
Soon we will guess at shapes under snow:
the rounded mound of a ball, a garden tool left out.

3.
My father went north looking for someone.
Strangers spoke in soft voices, invited him in.
He ate Kroppkakor on tablecloths
painted with red flowers.
More cold than he ever dreamed.

When he was a boy,
his mother named him
after the girl who died at birth before him.
He tried to reach the high notes just for her.

The thicker the snow, the sharper the squint.
Something struck my eye, I cannot see you.
Glass fell out of the sky of his mother’s eyes,
cloudy full moons. He led her around
on his arm. She sparkled
while her son-daughter
sang the way forward.
Linked together, glittering ice.

 

The past with its dank nest.
My father saved us gifts from the war.
His skin, with its snow and grit,
Sleeping bags full of must.
A small grain of glass in his heart,
A gun.


Tina Carlson has published poems in Dark Mountain Review, Black Lawrence Press, bosque(the magazine), and Blue Mesa Review, among others, and is the author of Ground, Wind, this Body, published March 2017 by UNM Press.

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Rekindling


I knew the little girl selling
matchbooks, watched her
curl up in a doorway as her light
went out. She smiled at the night,
at the stars, at the fizzled
matches at her feet.

I stole the little match girl’s
body, trundled it away.
She, cold and small in my arms,
like the stiff bodies of crows
I find sometimes on my doorstep

landed in hopes of reanimation,
in hopes that some witch’s errand
could keep their wings beating. I use them
gladly. Bird-spirits prove always
the hardiest, the slowest to die.

At my hearth, I set the anchor:
the little girl-body, wrapped in red
and crowned with a circlet of amaranth.
The crows hiss and shuffle, impatient,
ready for the hounding and herding

of a rosy soul. When they return
in their flurry of black, I will soothe the little
match girl, show her the fragile thing
she was—brittle, sweet—

and teach her the rancorous fire
that she will become.


Kelsey Dean’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in a variety of literary publications, such as Liminal, concis, Cicada, and Spark Anthology. Her YA story “Starfishing” is available on audible.com.

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The Shoes


Ruby shoes dance; red
ribbons lace them up. Inside?
Blood laces ribboned flesh.

The shoes cost my mother a month’s wages, but she was so proud to give them to me. And to show the neighbors that, whether or not her husband had run off with another woman, she could afford to dress her daughter well. No second-hand shoes with holes in the soles for me, and no patches on my dresses, either. Well, not visible ones. My mother’s needle was so clever that the mending never showed. But she couldn’t mend shoes. Hence, the red ones.

I didn’t dare get them dirty; she’d have wept if I ruined that shiny leather with mud, or leached the dye from them with ditch-water. She gave me a loaf of bread, however, and told me to take it to my grandmother’s house—right along the mud-slick road through the woods.

The bread cost a day’s wages. The shoes had cost a month of my mother’s life. I teetered at the edge of a bog, not knowing what to do. I couldn’t go back, having failed to follow her directions. I couldn’t go forward and ruin those shoes.

A crow on a tree branch croaked advice: “Tear off pieces of the bread, throw them in the mud, and walk on them.”

A nightingale, not that I’d asked her advice, chirped, “Oh, but that would be wicked, wasting food so.”

The crow cawed in laughter. “It wouldn’t be wasted, Sister Nightingale. We birds would feast.”

“Surely,” a robin commented, preening, “you must be a very vain girl, to worry about something as meaningless as your clothing.”

“You’re one to talk, Robin,” I told him boldly. “Your feathers are just as red as my shoes, and aren’t you proud of them?”

The other birds tittered in laughter. The robin trilled in annoyance. “My beauty is natural. Your feathers are artificial. You should accept being the drab little wren that you are.”

All these woodland creatures seemed to think they knew a lot about me. Yet they didn’t mention how my mother stayed up late every night, taking in extra sewing and mending to give me these nice clothes, so that we could go to church and hold our heads up, in spite of the neighbors’ whispers. So I found a log and sat on it, careful not to ruin my mother’s careful sewing, and took off those fabulous shoes. I tied their laces in a knot, put them around my neck, and then started to set off down that muddy path. “What about your stockings?” a squirrel chittered. “Won’t you ruin them on the mud and the rocks, too?”

This presented another quandary. Decent women didn’t go around without shoes, and they most certainly didn’t go around without stockings. But I took them off too, draping them around my neck. “Don’t ruin your petticoats,” a fox sniggered from behind a rock. “Lift them up. Who will see your legs but we forest creatures and the trees?”

“Sensible advice,” I told him. I didn’t like the glitter in his eyes, but dragging my mother’s work along the forest floor would snag the cloth on branches and drag it in the mud. I hiked my skirts up (the fox howled) and tucked them through my girdle.

“Immodesty to go with the vanity!” the robin shrilled. “Going about with your bare legs showing! You’ll be set on and attacked, and have only yourself to blame.”

“With all of you around to protect me?” I asked, feeling beset on all sides.

Suddenly, not a one of them found words to speak. “Ah, I didn’t think so. You’re quite free with criticism and complaint, but not a shred of help. Are you perhaps our neighbors in disguise?”

Still not a peep from the branches, and I walked and squelched through the mud, carrying my basket of bread. Wondering if my red shoes, like another girl’s red cape, might attract a wolf. What would a wolf say? Would he berate me for my lack of shoes and stockings? Or would he say “My, what long legs you have, my dear?” and eat me up? Perhaps it might not be so bad to be eaten. I certainly wouldn’t have to listen to the neighbors—or the birds—ever again.

Consumed with these intemperate thoughts, I plodded on. After a mile, my feet, unused to rocks and stones, were raw. And by the time I reached my grandmother’s house, my shoes still around my neck, my feet left bloody tracks on the green of her grass.

It wasn’t a wolf who waited on the porch with my grandmother, but a man, whose mouth fell open at the sight of me. He actually blushed—him, a man grown!—and turned his face aside violently, choking out, “Cover yourself!”

My legs were filthy to the knee. “If I let down my skirts, I’ll get my dress covered in this muck, sir. Grandmother, may I clean myself at the pump?”

She creaked to her feet. “Go ahead, my dear, but don’t set foot back on the dirt before I’ve bandaged you.” She opened the door to go fetch strips of linen, and added, smiling, “This nice young man is writing down all my stories. Isn’t that an amazing thing?”

I sat on the edge of the pump’s station, hiking my skirts up further, to keep the cloth from getting wet, the basket of bread beside me as I cleansed myself, hissing a little as the water hit my blistered, cut feet. And as my grandmother bandaged my cuts, she scolded me all the while, “Girl, shoes are made to protect your feet. Protecting the shoes doesn’t do any good.”

I heard her nice young man call from the porch, never stepping down onto the dirt of the yard with us, “She must be a vain and prideful child, putting her clothes first.”

He sounds just like the robin. Fussing and fretting. “It’s a pity you’re not a wolf,” I told him, while my grandmother frantically tried to shush me, and apologized for my bad manners in a rush and tumble of words. “A wolf would have been more interesting. And I think you must never have been poor. Otherwise, you’d know how important clothes are. Poor children get clods of dirt thrown at them on the way to school. Children who go to school dirty get mocked. Pride isn’t a sin, when it’s the only thing that keeps you going.”

“Pride and vanity! You should teach her better, madam! You should beat the seven deadly sins out of her, before their taint ruins her completely.” He still wouldn’t look at me, his cheeks red as a robin’s breast in his indignation. Which is why I laughed at him, dithering and fussing and twittering as he was.

In response, he glared and scribbled in his book.

When I was older, and read what he’d written, I saw that I must have really bothered him that day. Perhaps a little bit of wolf rose up in his heart, and made his palms sweat at the sight of me with my skirts raised up. In his story, he made it so my red shoes danced, and forced me to cut off my own feet to keep myself from dying of exhaustion. An apt punishment for vanity and pride, I suppose, but an entirely fictitious one. I’m only surprised that he didn’t have me cut out my own tongue at the same time, since surely it was my tongue that offended him, as much as my pride. But then, I learned how not to embrace poverty and shame from my mother.

So what really happened to me? I wore red shoes to my graduation from school. I found myself a wolf who walked as a woodsman by day, and who didn’t expect me to act like a wren.

And at our wedding? I danced all night.


Deborah L. Davitt was raised in Reno, Nevada, but she received her MA in English from Penn State. She currently lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and son. For more about her work, please see www.edda-earth.com.

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Sea Legs


The worst part is the thirst, a crashing wave of it every few hours. Thank Poseidon for the fleur de sel they keep on hand to top the fancy caramel lattes. When she’s homesick, she eats it by the handful. Between customers, she touches the tender places where her gills used to be, stares blankly around at her new life. Her girlfriends come in for iced mochas, teetering confidently on their new legs. Some of them are trying out high heels or the strange sight of toes in flip flops. Come on, they say, we’re going out to get some boyfriends. She smiles. She guesses they all got what they wanted—a little house by the shore, a little sun on skin. A new way to breathe. And her job? Really, she’s lucky.

Still, everyone asks so much of her. It’s hard to get used to the deep fried smells from the Shrimp Shack next door. At closing she stops herself from taking a swim in the mop bucket. She can never go back there, not even under the guise of a scuba trip. None of them can, that was the deal. Sometimes she thinks the sea-witch appears to her on the ceiling of her room, though it might be a trick played by early morning ocean light. The witch’s deep voice curls out of the pink conch shell the mermaid keeps on her bedside table. She says, by the way, being human means washing the same dishes every day. Did I forget to tell you that?


Milo Gallagher’s poems appear or will soon appear in The Kenyon Review, The Grief Diaries, The Fem, Crab Fat Magazine, Potluck Magazine, and Anomaly. He is an MFA candidate at Mills College. You can follow him on twitter @miloemilyg.

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Dear H.C. Andersen


The sun is shining gloriously, the roosters are crowing, and the answers are flowing freely today! Please pen any and all queries about life, love, and everything between and direct to the attention of H.C. Andersen, advice-giver.

Dear H.C.,
The love of my life is a ball, but I am only a whipping top, sadly spinning day after day in hopes she might notice me. But how can she notice me when I know she loves the swallow in the tree outside? How does one compete with a swallow? Yesterday, we were outdoors with the children and she suddenly sprang high into the air. She has not returned! I fear she has left to marry the swallow without saying good bye, and now I have lost my chance forever. What turn can I take?
Pointless

Dear Pointless,
Fear not, for with the sorry tidings, I bring you good news as well. It does sound as though your ball loves the swallow and not yourself, and it is likely she has gone to join him. Know though that swallows are capricious things, and like the wind, hard to predict. It could be that they are married now, a loving pair. However, it could also be that the wind has blown your lovely ball into the gutter, where she will lay, dirty and discarded, soaked with rain, for the rest of her life and yours. Now, don’t you think you can do better than a filthy used up ball lying in a gutter? I think so too.
H.C.

*   *   *

Dear H.C.,
I just can’t stand it anymore! My brothers and sisters are all beautiful, but next to them, I look big, gray, and ugly. They peck at me and mock me, and tell me they wish the cat would drag me away! My own mother used to defend me, to tell them I was a good swimmer and not all that hideous, but even she sometimes seems to wish I’d never been born. To make matters worse, everyone else I encounter seems to laugh at me just the same. How can I get them to look past my ugly facade and respect the real me?
Ugly Duckling

Dear Ugly Duckling,
Good news – you don’t have to! While your brothers and sisters might be fine ducklings indeed, I suspect you are not. I suspect you are something better. Have you ever seen the swans swim by, with their long, graceful necks? How fine looking, how aristocratic they are! However, they are big, lumpy, and gray as cygnets, hardly the most beautiful of birds. Bide your time until the spring, young one, and you might be the most beautiful of all. That will show them, won’t it?
H.C.

*    *    *

Dear H.C.,
I write with the most dramatic of problems. I have seen the man of my dreams from afar and watched to ensure he is a fine and handsome prince. I also once saved his life, when he was thrown from his ship and nearly drowned! Perhaps I have stalked him just a little, but if you could understand – I am a mermaid, cursed to live in the sea with a fin instead of strong legs I could use to run to him…among other things. I have learned of the existence of a sea witch who will help me, but for a price. Is love worth the price I might pay?
Sick of Swimming

Dear Sick,
My dear, love is always worth it! The sea witch might be a conniving, well, witch indeed. She might give you legs that pain you with every step. She might take your voice that you can no longer sing sweetly, or even tell your prince who you are, leaving you with nothing but your beautiful form, graceful walk, and expressive eyes to sway his favor. She might doom you to spend an eternity as sea foam if you cannot win him, never again to return to your family in the sea. And yet, my dumb child, would it not be worthwhile, even then, to have had the chance to look upon his face in true, mutual love? I think so.
H.C.

That concludes our yarns for this day, lords and ladies! Return again another day for new quandaries and new solutions.


Heather Talty is a speculative fiction writer who has been featured in Curiosity Quills anthologies Gears of Brass and Cast No Shadows, as well as in Enchanted Conversation. She is the managing editor of Newtown Literary.

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Haymarket Maggie

This selection is related to this entry from Snopes.com


In Lakeview there is the legend of a dog. Many argue that the legend is nothing more than a children’s story. I know different. The story goes that in the 1920s a little girl, Mary Anderson, had a shaggy sheepdog named Maggie. The dog grew fond of the girl and took care of her, as any nanny or mother would. She helped teach the girl to walk, to swim, and even joined her at mid-afternoon tea.

When Mary turned seven she was diagnosed with polio. They ushered her away, quarantined in a ward of the Haymarket General Hospital, where children afflicted with the disease were kept from the general population. The hospital was built on the site of Lakeview’s old Haymarket neighborhood. Alone and afraid, Mary cried out in the night for days on end. But, after a week, the doctors were stunned when she stopped crying and found Maggie the sheepdog resting across the legs of the little girl. Security came to remove the dog from the hospital, but it growled, baring its white teeth, not allowing anyone near Mary unless she gave them permission. There the dog stayed, across her feet, for eight months, until one fateful winter’s night the girl passed in her sleep.

It was two days before Maggie would allow anyone near Mary’s body. At night, through the halls, the dog could be heard whimpering as she licked Mary’s face.

Mary was buried in the graveyard on the hillside of the small hamlet just outside the city known as Timber Ridge. There, Maggie made her way through the city, following the scent of her young master. The day after they buried the girl, the caretaker awoke for his morning rounds. Amazed, he found Maggie sleeping atop the tiny grave. The caretaker did all that he could to coax the dog out of the cemetery, bribing it with bones and balls and even a T-bone steak. Nothing worked, as Maggie stayed put, undeterred and loyal to her girl. For six years Maggie slept on top of Mary’s grave, sometimes so still passersby thought her to be a statue, until they heard the whimpers coming from the scraggly pile of hair. Maggie stayed in spite of snow and rain and gale force winds. She remained upon the grave until she died, at the age of fifteen, still waiting for her little girl to return to her. Her remains were buried next to Mary’s grave with a small headstone.

That’s not the part that people try to contest, though some details are thought to have been added for dramatic effect. No, the part that people dispute is this: a year after the dog’s passing, it was spotted at the hospital, howling up at the room the girl once occupied. When orderlies went to engage the dog, it had disappeared. People chalked it up to a coincidence, arguing that it was a different dog altogether. But sure enough, the following year the dog visited the hospital again. This time the security guard on duty followed it for three blocks, until he lost it in the shadows. Every year, on the anniversary of the dog’s death, Maggie reappears, a gaggle of ghost story enthusiasts in tow. They say you can sometimes see her clear as day, and other times you can only hear her weeping. But always, she leads the people in the direction of the graveyard, where it is believed she goes to rest up for the coming year.

The story, whether true or not, has attracted quite a bit of attention over the years. In 1974, a plaque was erected outside the door of the room little Mary Anderson once stayed in. That’s how I came upon the story. In truth, I thought the idea of a ghost dog was as absurd as the legends of Ya’hootie, the terrible Sasquatch that roamed the hills, whose photo was printed in the Gazette plain as day.Yet, in my reluctance to believe such a far fetched tale of love and devotion, I set out one year with the group of true believers. By night’s end, I had devoutly joined their fray. I not only saw the bushy dog with my own eyes, but I felt it as it passed by my leg. Upon its touch I felt a shiver grow inside of me, crawling up my back as if my spine had frozen from the inside out.

For years I followed Maggie and her cries through the streets of Lakeview, always losing her along the way. One year I decided to change my approach. While everyone was so focused on following her path from the beginning, I decided to go to the supposed destination: the little girl’s grave. All night I waited as the cold wind blew hard, cutting straight to the bone. I found a spot across from Mary’s grave and leaned myself up against a tombstone. Soon the darkness of night faded, giving way to the light of the sun just beyond the valley ridge. I found myself exhausted and on the verge of sleep when, at that moment, I heard a jingling chime. I lifted my sleepy eyes to find a sheepdog sitting right in front of me. It licked my face, and I felt its cold, wet tongue slide as a shiver erupted through my body. It barked at me once, a happy bark, as if to say thank you. But for what? I did not know. I looked closer and around its singing collar I read the name: Maggie. A great sensation of joy and fear and absolute sadness fell upon my body. Staring into those black eyes, I suddenly understood—no, felt—all the desperation and loneliness that Maggie had endured for so many years. And with that, she passed her burden on to me. The dog walked over to the girl’s grave, laid down, and at first light, she disappeared into the ground. As I got up to leave, I swear I heard, somewhere in the distance, the laughter of a little girl. I’ve been back since, bringing with me witnesses to see the amazing truth of the dog that never left. Yet, in all my visits since, I’ve never heard more than a faint tinkle on the wind.


J. Ryan Sommers has an MFA in creative writing from Columbia College Chicago. He hopes to continue his writing while teaching. This story is from his thesis, a novel in stories, entitled Conduits.

Minnesota Vikings Open Their Stadium to Shelter the Homeless

This selection is related to this entry on Snopes.com


if the church locks its door
the car gets towed
the furnace quits
your boat sinks or crows
steal everything you’ve got
this is the shelter for you

this is where they will hand you a free
christian ponder t-shirt in XXL
whether you wear that size or not

one of the former cheerleaders
will walk at you like she is on a rolling ship
she will wear a neon purple dress
that makes your head spin
whether you’ve been drinking or not
her hands will grab you
by the shirt collar and she will say
I could tell you stories about me now love
that would raise the fuckin hairs
on the back of your neck
and you’ll believe it and you’ll believe it
when she says she once wrote
two bestsellers in a row

and this is where one of the old players
with eyes swimming in sockets of clam juice
will tell you bedtime stories of broken heroes
lost chances
perfect regrets
and how packers fans secretly sell
the kind of maggoty cheese
that tries to eat your brains

sleep here on the fake green grass
beneath a glassy sky filled with fake white stars

all night long you will hear the leftover echoes
of horny people yelling skol

every now and then a bird will die
from flying into the night-colored windowpane

and by morning when you leave
everything in the city will look upside down
the earth like sky
the buildings like hallways
the hungry will look
like they’re rich
and the rich look
like they’re cold


Jeanne Lutz is the author of the chapbook HEARTS AND HARROWS, and her work has appeared in Conduit, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Poetry City, USA, Whistling Shade, and on KAXE radio station.