The Witch and the Donkey

by Sophie Kearing

Grating laughter drills up through the floorboards and into our living room.

“She legit sounds like a witch,” I mutter, turning up the volume on our T.V.

“What?” my boyfriend Keagan says, ever tolerant of the antagonistic racket produced by our downstairs neighbors.

“That crazy cackling? Her huge, crooked nose? The black rat’s nest on her head? Slap some green face paint on her and she’d be a dead ringer for the Wicked Witch of the West.”

Keagan tries to cheer me up with a Harry Potter reference. “Should we buy her a broom and make her fly away? Maybe a Nimbus 2000?”

“And waste, like, a thousand galleons on her?”

“You’re right,” he says. “I’d much rather spend all our galleons on butterbeer.”

The next evening, we opt for board games in our kitchen, as it’s usually quieter in there. We’re not playing for five minutes before we hear the bass-filled bray of the witch’s husband.

“Wow,” I say. “He literally sounds like a hungry donkey.”

“Maybe we should feed him,” Keagan says, blowing on the dice superstitiously.

“What do donkeys even eat?”

In the name of research, my boyfriend pulls out his phone. “Looks like… grass… berries… and bark.”

“Well, we don’t have any of that. Too bad they don’t eat ramen or chocolate pudding.”

Later, Keagan and I stand in our bathroom, brushing our teeth and thanking our lucky stars that the only sound beneath our feet is the roar of the neighbors’ shower. But then it starts: the revolting grunts and wails of sex that’s desperate to be heard.

“Oh my god—EW!” I practically throw my toothbrush into its holder and flee into our room.

My boyfriend joins me in bed. “My god,” he laughs. “It seriously sounds like a witch and a donkey mating!”

We pull the covers over our heads and watch YouTube videos on my tablet until we both fall asleep.

Around two a.m., we’re both jolted awake by the cries of the baby downstairs. Angry, we smash our pillows into our heads.

At three a.m., the baby is screeching. My anger has dissolved into a brand of concern that only women know. “Why don’t they just feed him? I legit have milk coming in just listening to him!”

“Ooh, that sounds delicious,” Keagan jokes, slipping his hand under my t-shirt.

I swat him away. “I’m serious. I’m worried.”

By 4 a.m., the baby is issuing horse, ragged shrieks every few minutes.

Tears in my eyes, I whisper, “This is awful.”

Keagan mumbles unintelligibly and rolls over. How on earth can he sleep through this?

My heart aches for the neglected soul downstairs. “He’s confused and scared down there,” I say wetly, perhaps overly fraught due to lack of sleep. Why I haven’t heard the baby’s parents stir or speak once is beyond me. Lord only knows they have no qualms about making their presence known any other time of day.

Three hours later, the alarm on my phone rips me from a dead sleep. I drive to work and move through my blessedly short shift in a bleary-eyed haze. During my commute home, I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to nap a few hours before Keagan, who has showings until six today, returns.

The donkey and the witch will be at work, I reason. The baby will be at daycare.
I pull into my building’s parking lot. I am absolutely crestfallen to see the witch’s car, complete with tacky leopard print seat covers and hot pink dice hanging from the rearview mirror. Who the fuck uses neon dice to decorate their car? Are we in a sleazy drug movie from the 90’s? Does this cauldron-stirring hellion run coke at night instead of comforting her screaming child?

Once I’m inside, it becomes obvious that the witch is determined to prove that no, actually, she’s a doting mother. She’s shouting “Peek-a-boo!” so loudly you’d be able to hear it from space. Her exaggerated volume elicits her infant son’s laughter, but it’s the kind that has a hysterical lilt to it. Sure enough, his confused, overtired giggling transitions into sobbing.

So much for the siesta I had planned.

I yank open our broom closet. It’s time to exact some revenge by having a little afternoon vacuuming sesh with the huge, outdated Hoover Keagan’s mom gave us. I take my sweet time, even lifting furniture to get at the carpet beneath it. When I finish, I’m satisfied to find that a quiet stillness has descended upon the building. I lay on the couch and fall asleep almost immediately. Too bad I’m jarred awake a mere ten minutes later by the howling of the pit bull downstairs. Apparently, the donkey has returned home and is howling as well, egging his canine on.

Does no one work nine to five anymore?

I feel crabbier and more tired than I did before I laid down. I stomp into my bedroom and put on my headphones in hopes that I’ll fall back asleep. But all I do is fidget under the sheets, fling off the comforter then pull it back on, prop myself up on pillows then push them to the floor. When Keagan gets home, he lays next to me with his suit still on.

He threads my anger-tossed hair behind my ear. “Rough day?”

“Awful.”

“I have something that might cheer you up.”

Lifelessly, I ask, “What?”

“See for yourself. It’s in my pocket.”

I sigh loudly and throw my forearm over my eyes. “Can’t you see that I’m too tired to play with your boner?”

My boyfriend issues a loud bark of laughter. “Well, I didn’t have a boner before, but all this talk about my boner is giving me a boner.”

I turn away from him.

Keagan gets up, circles the bed, and sits next to me. “Come on. See what’s in my pocket. By the way, perve, I meant my jacket pocket, not my pants pocket.”

I jam my hand into his suit jacket and extract keys. “What are these? Did you buy a new car?”

“They aren’t car keys,” he says, locking eyes with me.

“Oh my god.” I jerk upright. “Are they…?”

“The keys to our new home? Yep.”

“Keagan!” I stand. “Keagan, can we afford a house?”

He chuckles affably. “Of course we can. My commissions have been off the chain and my galleons are piled high. Plus it was a short sale. I practically stole the place, and even better: it’s unoccupied.”

“But… Will I like it?”

“Only if you like walk-in closets, quartz countertops, wood burning fireplaces, and a whole lotta peace and quiet.”

“Oh my god!” I hop excitedly. “OH MY GOD!”

Keagan jumps alongside me. “OH MY GOD, I’M THE BEST!”

We continue pounding around our room and calling out as if in the throes of passion.

Suddenly, there’s a banging below our feet.

“Um, are they taking a broom to their own ceiling?” Keagan asks.

“Thank god we never bought her a Nimbus 2000. That crazy witch clearly already has one.” I climb onto our bed, launch myself off the mattress, and come to a thunderous landing on the hardwood. “YES, KEAGAN! YEEEEEESSS!”

My boyfriend joins in my nonsensical mockery of the witch and the donkey by opening and slamming our dresser drawers while emitting one loud, final moan. When we’re done with our wild celebration, the building is steeped in stunned silence.

“They know there’s no way they can win,” Keagan whispers and pulls me to him. “What do you say we go take a look at the new house, maybe christen it with a few bottles of butterbeer?”

I bring his face to mine for a lingering kiss. “Keagan, I like the way you think.”

A few months later we learn that after we’d left, the police had knocked on our door because of a noise complaint made by the donkey himself. To this day, we have no idea how they were able to decipher the meaning of his pathetic brays over the phone lines.


Sophie Kearing loves drinking coffee, interacting on Twitter, and writing short stories. Her work has been featured by Spelk Fiction, Horror Tree, Ellipsis Zine, Left Hand Publishers, and Moonchild Magazine. She has pieces upcoming in Mojave Heart Review and Jolly Horror Press. Find her on Twitter @SophieKearing.

The Animals

by Vera Pastore

And the rains stopped, all across the land. Stopped.

The quiet—it hung heavy. It always did. But this time it was so heavy that it was almost visible. Heavy as if each particle of dust in the universe suddenly had been ordered to hold a certain spot mid-air, uniting in a group effort for a particular purpose. Heavy like a stack of unread books unable to be lifted because the glitter between the pages was yet to be sifted out.

Slowly each animal broke through the curtain of quiet and peeped out of its place of refuge, turning first this way and then that, surveying the scene, comparing it to the familiar. They saw that the world—as they knew it—was still there. It was just soaked with the invisible tears of the one above.

And now, stepping out with less trepidation, they ventured back to their paths, because for the moment, all was well. But not being gullible, they knew it would happen again. They were sure of it.

You see, there was a pattern to these rains. But the quiet—the quiet—seemed to be getting worse, and that was something to ponder. For today, though, the running was over, and the sun was back in charge.


Vera Pastore, owner of Word Choreography, writes, edits, and proofreads business materials and books. She counsels writers of all levels on next steps in her free Writing Triage program at local libraries. She writes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, and encourages the use of the Oxford comma.

Grilled Rabbit

by Benjamin Locke

A man without a name stood still in the chill of the evening air, stooped behind a tree, listening to conversation a little ways down the road.

The tree was seemingly the last on this final frontier of civilized vegetation before the unforgiving heat and lifelessness of the desert began proper.

Two men where squabbling over something, gesturing angrily with their hands and leaning in towards each other as they spoke. The man without a name knew all of these tells. He was a great study of people and animals which made him a formidable hunter and a hard man to tail.

The man had been traveling on horseback, but sensing his pursuers two days past, he’d stabled the horse in the nearest town and payed the stable master generously not to mention anything of his passing through, should anyone go asking.

The two men seemed to have stopped, the man without a name presuming they had finally admitted to themselves that they had A; lost their prey and B; lost themselves. They stood now facing away from each other, looking off in to the distance and along the road, looking for any sign of life.

The man without a name knew these men where no trackers. They couldn’t find their own pricks with both hands, he thought. Seizing the opportunity for surprise, he pushed his way through a thicket lining the edge of the thoroughfare, stumbling on to the sandy track.

The two men ahead of him panicked at the sound of rustling foliage and spun around, frantically reaching for their guns.

‘Ho, Ho, fellas I mean you no harm’, the man without a name said, one hand held up in the air before him. ‘I’m just passing through here. Took a detour off the road to catch me some supper.’

The other hand, which had been held up to his shoulder swung down now to reveal two scrawny rabbits which he held out before him also.

The two men, both with a hand on the butt of their guns looked at each other in confusion. The man without a name could almost hear the cogs turning in their brains as they communicated in silence.

After a moment, they both withdrew their hands and let their jackets fall back over the holsters on their belts, concealing the guns once more.

One of them said, ‘Say, you don’t know of anywhere round here to spend the night do ya?’

The other one said, after a violent cough, ‘our horses went lame yesterday and we’ve been walking ever since. Need to make it to salt lake city for our sisters wedding ya see.’

The man without a name swung the rabbits back over his should and relaxed his stance.

‘Nothing round here except desert, Son. You’ve a three day ride in the direction of Salt Lake before you hit anywhere with a soft mattress,’ he paused and one side of his mouth rose a little, ‘or a soft woman, if it please ya.’

The two men looked at each other again. The man without a name continued. ‘Look, dark’s closing in. The nights out here are colder than a Nuns cunny and I don’t plan to be without a fire for much longer. You boys are welcome to join me for some rabbit supper. Don’t exactly look like you have much food on ya, so I’d say you don’t have many choices. Nothing like some good food in your belly to keep the night away.’

More silent communication between the men. One of them eventually nodded and they walked with the the man off the road a ways to a secluded spot sheltered by a few huge sandstone boulders.

Within an hour the man had gotten a fire going with some dried brush and fashioned a spit out of sticks he’d had slung over his back. The smell of grilled rabbit filled their little camp and before long, they all seemed relaxed and ready for a hot meal. Just as the man without a name had said, the air quickly turned to ice. A long way from the raging heat of midday.

As the rabbit began to cook through, the man without a name stood up and asked the others to keep the spit turning while he went for a piss. On his return, the man produced three small tin cups from his satchel and filled them from a water skin hanging from his belt.

‘Tea, fellas?’ He asked.

They both nodded and the man without a name tipped some loose tea in to each of the cups which were resting now in the embers. The three men sat and enjoyed grilled rabbit and hot tea by the light of the fire and each was pleased. Soon after, they were asleep.

* * * *

One man awoke shaking, a warm dribble in the corner of his mouth. Looking up he was startled to see the man without a name hunkered down before him.

‘Rise and shine sweetheart.’

‘Hersh?,’ the man sputtered and coughed. Blood sprayed from his mouth.

‘Hersh is gone. Coughing sickness right? I could tell from the minute we met, the way he coughed and held a rag to his face to catch the blood. It took him quicker I’m afraid.’

‘What do you mean?’ The man tried to get up, but the strain made him hack and spew more blood. He could even feel a warm dampness forming between his ass cheeks.

‘Vorbane. Powerful little thing.’ The man without a name was holding a small dried mushroom in one hand. ‘Very rare, I’ve brought these a long way to feed to you Pinkerton fuckers. Completely undetectable by taste or smell,’ he smiled.

‘Why,’ the man could barely speak now. Blood pouring from every hole like a fountain. ‘Why the rabbits?’

The man without a name stood up. ‘No man should die on an empty stomach, I’m not a savage.’

Then he turned and disappeared in to the black desert night.


Benjamin is a fiction writer living in Yorkshire, England. He writes anything from Epic Fantasy to Thrillers and Adventures and is a huge Stephen King fan!

Important To Be Grateful

by John M. Carlson

“I’m making spaghetti for dinner, with an apple crisp for desert,” Mom said, as she puttered about the kitchen. “I’d thought of making something special, since it’s your first night home. But I just didn’t have the time.”

“Spaghetti sounds good to me!” Indeed, I liked spaghetti. For that matter, I liked everything Mom cooked. Well, everything except liver and onions.

“I hope you’ll eat a lot of spaghetti! You’ve lost weight. You won’t do well in school if you don’t eat properly!”

Not this topic again! We’d just covered it less than a month before. I said: “I’m no thinner than I was at Thanksgiving. As I told you then, I’m eating enough. I just don’t have a lot of stuff I have at home—like deserts—and I’m walking so much.” Time to change the topic. “Can I do something to help?”

“Well, you could open a bottle of wine for dinner.”

“Sure.” I went over to the cupboard where we stored wine. “Any particular wine?”

“A red wine. Beyond that, I don’t care. It’s all the same—good for the price.” Mom sighed. “‘Good for the price!’ I get so tired of always thinking of the price! I get so tired of thinking of money. I remember what it was like ten years ago, when we could completely fill the oil tank—and we kept the house warmer! Back then, I bought nice wine more often. And back then, ‘roast’ didn’t automatically mean ‘pot roast.’ Come to think of it, when was the last time we had a real roast?”

“No idea.” I thought. The last time I could remember was when I was in junior high. I wouldn’t tell Mom that—I didn’t want to depress her by reminding her it had been so many years since the last time she’d roasted a real roast that her teenage boy had become a man. “It’s been a while. But that’s OK. I like your pot roast.”

“Good. Guess what’s on the menu for Sunday?”

I opened a bottle of wine. I reached into the glass cupboard, and started pulling out a wine glass.

“Use the nice glasses,” Mom said.

“Are you sure?”

“Positive. Maybe we should use nice things more often. They are made to be used, after all. And I can trust you now. I remember when you were six, and somehow climbed up to grab one of those glasses. I nearly had heart failure.”

I poured a couple of glasses of wine, using the nice glasses.

We sat down at the dining room table a few minutes later. Mom had me say grace. Then, we began eating. The spaghetti was, as always, wonderful. The sauce was thick, rich, and full of flavor. We had garlic bread that had buttery-garlic goodness with every bite. And the wine might be cheap, but it was good. Really good.

“You probably don’t say grace when you’re at school,” Mom said, “since you eat in the cafeteria.”

“No, I don’t say grace,” I said. Indeed, I could imagine that if I did say grace, everyone around me would think I was crazy. Especially on those all too frequent nights when dinner was beyond horrible.

“I just hope you at least remember to be grateful for all your blessings,” Mom said. “I know it’s hard sometimes—I have trouble remembering to be grateful sometimes, too! But it’s important to be grateful.”

Mom was right. I had a lot to be grateful for. I had enough to eat, even if college meals could sometimes be beyond horrible. I had a chance to go to college, unlike either of my parents. I was doing well. I had good friends. I had my family.

She was also right that sometimes it’s all too easy to lose sight of one’s blessings. One bad event can completely ruin a day that was otherwise perfect.

“I am grateful,” I said. “I am very grateful.”


John M. Carlson lives in the Seattle area. His stories have appeared in a variety of online publications. More of his work can be seen on his website.

The Visitors

by Dustin Pellegrini

The visitors came dressed for darkness.

Alfred watched from his bedroom window as they shuffled up the drive. If the moon hadn’t been so clouded over, he’d have sworn they were shadows.

Alfred and his mother lived alone out in the country, their nearest neighbors only swamps and trees. Their last visitor, the Dr., left only a few days before and they weren’t expecting anyone else. Yet here they came all the same.

They were getting closer.

Alfred saw now that each of them carried something, swung it as they walked. He picked out the head of a hammer, bigger than his own. The point of a pick, ragged from dirt and rocks. And there, in the faintest shard of moonlight, the glint of a shovel’s face.

He got up onto his step stool to follow them through the window. They were only a few steps from the front door now, he had to warn his mother.

DOCK

DOCK

Alfred pictured the shovel banging against the door. Could they pry it open?

DOCK

DOCK

He ran to his bedroom door, ready to shout for his mother, don’t let them in.

DOCK

DO-

Too late.

His mother let out a cry, wailing like he had never heard. He braced himself against his door, slowed his breath.

What could he do? There was no one to help, no one to call. Alfred slipped to the floor, tried to come up with a plan.

With his ear to the wood, he heard the tools crash downstairs. He heard the hammer drive nails that must have been longer than his fingers. Outside, he heard the pick and the shovel bite into fresh earth. And between every swing, his mother cried out with fresh howls of pain.

Seconds.

Minutes.

Alfred chewed through his lip and tried to shut out the sounds as his mother’s sobs grew weak.

When he could take no more, he ripped the door open and flung himself down the stairs, his eyes shut at the terror of finding his mother in pain.

The house was empty, but the front door stood open.

Alfred hurried outside and there his mother stood. There they all stood, forming a circle in the yard. The tools lay quiet on the grass and his mother shook as one of the visitors spoke under his breath.

Alfred approached, took his place next to his mother, and saw her pain.

There, in the fresh wooden box, in a freshly dug hole, he saw himself. His arms crossed, his eyes closed. Alfred watched his mother pass one last kiss from her lips to his, then took her hand as the men shut up the box and reached for their tools.


Dustin Pellegrini is a writer living in Chicago. He studied Creative Writing at Columbia College Chicago, has had his work read at Chicago’s Story Week Festival and currently works at a nonprofit. You can find more of his writing at dustinpellegrini.com