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!

A Meditation

by Toni de Bonneval

When I was six, I gave up on the God stuff. My sister and I sat, knees clutched. We looked out from the stoop of Dad’s summer cabin, through the clearing to the far side of the valley, to a crouch of blue hills. “Faith can move mountains,” the priest said in the drafty church in the valley. In the kitchen, Dad made scrambled eggs. We sat on the stoop.

“Move.” We were polite, a request. They didn’t. “Move,” this time not so polite. We waited, but the hills didn’t get up, didn’t galumph in all their blueness up the cleared swale from their place to ours.

“Breakfast, girls.” We stood. A final shout, a challenge, “Move.”

After breakfast we went out back to work on our hole to China. We didn’t really believe that. If China was just below us on the other side of the world then people were either standing on their heads or they’d be dropping off.

The still air encloses. The trees are motionless. I’m frightened when that happens. The nothingness. A young plant stirs, tosses its leaves in childish glee. The aspen giggles, while the white birch bows. The old oak doffs its topmost branch. The hemlock shrugs its dolor and observes. I close my eyes and hear the shush of tiptoes in the uncut grass.

Give thanks.


Toni de Bonneval earns a living writing institutional histories and enjoys living writing fiction and short non-fiction.

The Woods at Night

by Heather Adams

Oh – how terrible the woods at night!
How uneven the quality of the light
Where shapes are formed, and shadows grow –
The strange hearts of which soon beat, and glow.
How deep and rough the texture of that wood
To throw up forms where none, before, had stood.

Such creeping madness, a dark blue terror,
Near or far, what does it matter?
All who linger will know the dread
Of a wasted trail in sunlight tread.

For though these woods, you think, are tame,
You hear a hunter’s footsteps just the same.
And in those dusky moments when the day has gone –
And yet in ghostly echoes lingers on –
Each footstep’s fall is death’s hello:
Oh yes, you know that this is so.

The crickets’ call, the rodents’ scurry:
All tell you – yes – oh please – to hurry.
The owl’s harsh cry: a warning blow
That some strange beast no one should know
Is quickly closing in – it’s true –
Is even now, perhaps, behind you.

For when true night walks in, and deepens,
The gloam woods’ sounds may be mistaken
For whispers, calls, both shy and sudden
And danger lurks, at once, unbidden.

No soft blue from the full moon’s ray
Can hope to keep the wild at bay.
Now a world of shadow thrives,
And only the luckiest survives
That array of light, perceived with dread,
That reveals a night both black and red.


Heather Adams is a storyteller living in the admittedly sometimes creepy woods of central Pennsylvania.

Catch and Release

by Steve Carr

Although Carton Laxwell had lived in the hills of Kentucky his entire life, he never liked killing another living thing, but he loved to fish.

He parked his pickup truck on the gravel road about fifty yards from Piney Creek. It wasn’t a creek at all, but a narrow, murky river that flowed gently through the woods just a few miles out of town.

He got out of the cab and went around to the back and lowered the tailgate. He took out a small basket containing his lunch of potted meat sandwiches and two cans of beer, his fishing pole, tackle box, and a folding canvas stool to sit on. He shut the trunk, then with everything either awkwardly held in his arms, or precariously balanced on both shoulders, he stepped into the knee high grass and walked through a grove of maple trees to the bank of the creek.

First making certain there were no birds nests or other woodland creature created habitats in the grass, he then stomped a flat area in the grass, making his own kind of nest, then laid everything down. As he unfolded the chair he saw a piece of red flannel in the grass on the perimeter of his newly created fishing spot. He bent down to pick it up, but pulled his hand back when he saw the cloth was wound around the wrist of a severed arm. The hand portion still attached to it was missing all of its fingers, although the thumb was still there, pointing upward as if giving the okay sign. The skin on the arm was gray and decayed, but teeth marks were clearly visible. There was a tattoo of an eagle on the forearm.

“That’s Neb Duly’s arm,” he said aloud. “I’d recognize that tattoo anywhere.”

With no one else around and uncertain what to do, he covered it with grass and returned to setting up his fishing spot.

Sitting on his chair he took a rubber worm from the tackle box and put it on the hook. He cast the line out into the water and watched the worm sink beneath the surface. He sat back and listened to the birdsong coming from the trees and opened the basket and took out a sandwich and opened a beer. While biting into the sandwich, there was a tug on the fishing line. He sat bolt upright, dropped the sandwich and quickly jerked the fishing pole and began to reel in his catch.

When he raised the line out of the water, a large catfish was dangling on the hook. He stood up and stared into the fish’s eyes as it struggled to breathe. “Well, aren’t you fine lookin’,” he said to the fish. He then removed the hook from the inside of the fish’s mouth and threw the fish back into the river. A few minutes later he threw the line back into the water and returned to his lunch.

“What a great day for fishin’,” a voice said from behind him. Carton turned.

It was Miles Pelroy, the owner of the local hay and feed store.

Miles was wearing rubber waders and carrying a fishing pole and a net. He stepped out of the grove and trampled across his nest and stopped at the bank. “What kind of bait are you usin’, Carton?” Miles said.

“Just a rubber worm,” Carton said.

“You’ll never catch a fish that way,” Miles said. “You got to get right in the water and go after the fish with somethin’ alive on the hook.” He held up his pole and showed a squirming worm that was skewered on the hook. “I always catch a big one on my first try. Pan fried catfish is some darn good eatin’.”

“I don’t eat the fish I catch,” Carton said. “I catch them and release them back into the water.”

“That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard,” the man said.
“Ain’t no sense catchin’ somethin’ if you don’t plan to eat it.”

Miles waded out into the water and cast his line with one hand while holding the net in readiness with the other. A few minutes later he let out a scream and began frantically smacking the water with the net.

Carton stood up and helplessly watched as Miles thrashed about, letting loose of his pole and net and was then pulled under the water. Large blood red bubbles quickly rose to the surface. A few minutes later a bloody leg covered by a shredded wader pants leg was tossed out of the water and onto the river bank.

“If only I knew how to swim,” Carton said aloud, “maybe I could have saved him.” He shrugged. “I never much liked him anyways.”

With his pole still in the water, Carton was surprised when there was a tug on the line. Grasping tightly onto the pole he started to reel it in but lost his footing and was pulled into the water. Quickly submerged, he stared, terrified, at a man-sized creature the color of mud, with long sharp fangs, and an exposed human-like brain on the top of a fish-like head. The creature wrapped its sharp claws around Carton’s forearms.

Certain he was going to die, Carton closed his eyes.

A moment later he was flung up onto the river bank a few feet from his nest.

He didn’t take the time to question why he was still alive. He sprung to his feet, gathered his things and ran to his truck and sped off.


Steve Carr, who lives in Richmond, Va., began his writing career as a military journalist and has had over 150 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies. Sand, a collection of his short stories, was published recently by Clarendon House Books. His plays have been produced in several states in the U.S. He was a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter @carrsteven960