Me, Myself, and I Make Five by Naomi Sheely

The room wraps me in its unrelenting chill, its sterile atmosphere amplifying my unease as I cling to the unforgiving chair. I make every effort to conceal my discomfort, determined not to give in to the growing unease that threatens to overtake me. Instead, I wrench my attention back to the man before me, ignoring the clammy sweat that beads on my palms as his gaze pierces through me. He smiles. Yet it doesn’t soften the blow, it only serves to deepen the disquiet settling within me. It’s a strained, unsettling expression, far from comforting.

“Do they have faces?” he asks with his pen hovering over his notepad, waiting. Ready.

“No,” I answer, my voice barely a whisper in the frigid room.

A heavy silence hangs in the air as his refusal to speak mirrors my unwillingness to continue. There is a deafening absence of a clock’s reassuring tick, no steady rhythm to measure the relentless march of seconds. Yet, I perceive the weight of each passing moment, as if they bear down on me, leaving no room for escape. A suffocating pressure claws at my chest, each breath feeling like a struggle for air. The silence is too heavy. My finger twitches involuntarily, tapping the table with a quick, almost imperceptible sound. His sharp gaze, akin to a cat locking onto its cornered prey, seizes on the subtle movement.

“Not usually, anyway,” I correct, my voice holding a note of vulnerability. “But sometimes, when I’m tired or the walls I’ve built in my mind are weak,” I pause, drawing a deep breath before continuing, “ones with faces slip through. But they don’t look normal, like you or me. No, they’re …terrifying.”

“Terrifying how?” he pushes, his fervent curiosity unwavering.

I think his smile is meant to be reassuring, yet it feels colder than the room itself. Memories of my mother’s solemn warnings flood my mind, her voice echoing through the years, cautioning me against ever revealing the unsettling truth of the demons that seem to exist only within my reality.

But she’s gone now, and I can no longer bear to confront these horrors alone.

“They’re… un-unnatural,” I stammer, my voice trembling and barely audible. My throat tightens, choked by the words needed to describe their grotesque features. I’m unable to describe how their eyes bulge hideously from their sockets, their limbs stretching to nightmarish lengths. These evils that haunt me through the day are things of true nightmares.

He doesn’t press me to describe them further, though. Instead, his continuous smile expands, stretching wider and wider until it seems impossibly large, like a grotesque caricature.

A shiver runs down my spine, raising the hair on the back of my arms, as an eerie, prickling chill overtakes me. It’s as if my body has locked into survival mode, instinctively recognizing a threat in the doctor’s demeanor. I silently plead with myself to act normal, to break free from his stare, but despite my efforts, I find myself unable to tear my eyes away from his increasingly manic expression.

My attempts at composure fail miserably, and his wide eyes shift to lock onto my forearms with an unsettling knowingness. His mouth stretches even further, and his gaze flicks back to mine, and I can see excitement and anticipation gleaming in his unnaturally prominent eyes.

The room is shrouded in an oppressive silence, the weight of his anticipation hanging in the air like an ominous storm about to break. It’s as though he’s waiting for something, something that I can’t quite comprehend. What truth does he possess that remains just beyond my grasp?

Without breaking our locked gaze, he slowly lowers his notepad onto the table.

Tick. Tick. Tick. The seconds drag on, each one a deafening echo in the room, a relentless reminder of the tension that engulfs us. Three seconds. Five seconds. It feels like an eternity.

His eyes finally release mine, their intensity shifting downward to the pen he still clutches tightly in his emancipated fingers.

My eyes involuntarily follow.

His grip on the pen is almost inhuman, his fist wrapped around it so tightly that his knuckles have turned an eerie shade of black. And then, with a speed that defies all reason, he reaches across the table and seizes my arm.

The thunderous rhythm of my heart fills the room, its frantic beat a stark contrast to the thrill that dances in the depths of the doctor’s unnaturally wide eyes. In that moment, I’m rendered speechless and paralyzed by fear. I can’t scream. I can’t think. I can’t even draw a breath.

I slam my eyes shut, reaching deep, desperately searching for any shreds of mental barriers that might shield me from this nightmarish ordeal. Desperation fuels my struggle, and every second feels like an excruciating battle against the relentless assault of a demon.

As I fight to maintain control, something shifts. The steady ticking of the clock, which had once echoed so loudly in the room, ceases. The sensation of his sharp nails biting into my skin begins to fade, but the memory of that terrifying grip still sits in the back of my mind like a haunting refrain.

I continue to build those mental walls, higher and higher, blocking out the outside world. My chest burns from the moments when I’ve forgotten to breathe, but I can’t afford to falter now. I’m exhausted, drained by the relentless battle raging within me.

Then, like a beacon of hope, there’s a knock at the door, followed closely by the soft scraping sound of its opening.

Still, I don’t dare to open my eyes. Not yet. I squeeze them almost painfully shut, offering a silent prayer to whatever forces might be listening. Just this once, please let it be over.

Each moment that passes feels like an eternity, and the oppressive silence becomes unbearable. Finally, unable to endure it any longer, my eyes snap open, their desperate gaze fixating on the open door.

In the doorway stands a gentle-looking woman, dressed in a warm cream sweater with her hair neatly tied back. She balances a clipboard and an open file, seemingly engrossed in reviewing the contents for our appointment.

With a loud exhale, I release the tension that had constricted my chest for what felt like an eternity. For once, it seems, my prayers were not in vain.

I wait patiently for her to look up from her clipboard. Then tentatively smile at her in welcome, in relief.

She smiles back at me, her grin a little wider than I had expected. The strained stretch of her lips causes an unsettling familiarity to wash over me, sending a shiver down my spine.

Unexpectedly, she winks at me with one of her deep-set, dark eyes, that seem slightly too large for her face.

“Welcome to Oak Meadow Psychiatric Hospital,” she says in a voice that isn’t quite soothing. “Don’t be nervous. I just know that once you settle in, you’ll never want to leave.” Her words hang in the air, heavy with promise.

Naomi Sheely thrives somewhere in chaos and caffeine. This has led her to the Dean’s list and literary publications at HCC, all while completing a double major and several all-night study sessions. It has, somehow, also given her a steady and calm husband and a well-behaved dog. Predictably, though, her three children are feral. There is no free time for hobbies, only the sweet escape of the written word.

Haunting Daddy by Michele Cacano

Daddy was a preacher,
stern and full of fire,
paranoid of sinners,
adulterers, and liars.
He left when I was five,
Mama nursing little Tommy,
When she cried, I asked her why. She’d say:
“Not for him, but– why, God, me?”

It was hard for Mama, taking care of us,
in a drafty, falling-down home;
the rent was cheap, but nights were cold,
so we never slept alone.

Mama took in sewing.
We raised chickens, selling eggs.
She started working at a bookshop–
no more Bibles, blood and plagues.
The sewing room was vacant,
cleaned and rented out
to the widow, Ginny Meadows,
our new Grandma, just about.

Ms. Ginny made us cookies,
and we learned to help her bake,
We all became a family,
happy, happy, give or take.

That’s the year that Mama
first got sick with cancer.
How to live? was the question,
but only death gave an answer.
Ms. Ginny fretted fiercely
‘bout losing us and home.
State notified our Daddy,
our family’s carcinome.

He came back with a vengeance,
crystallized our grief.
He sent away Ms. Ginny,
as if she were a thief.

He preached about our wickedness,
tried to toughen Tommy up.
He called me names, like Jezebel–
at seventeen, he locked me up.
I’d never even kissed a boy,
but Daddy didn’t care.
He thought all women evil
and wouldn’t chance it on a dare.

The first night he mistook me
for his wife would be my last.
I fought him hard and wished him dead,
which made him damn me fast.

His fists flew with a fury,
bludgeoning my head.
He beat me to the ground,
until I lay there, dead.
“Twas an accident!” he swore;
and the coppers did believe him.
Left Tommy with him there,
to mourn and sing my funeral hymn.

And now I’m trapped, forever,
inside this house of sadness.
Doomed to haunt my dear old Dad,
who lives inside his madness.

“Who’s there?” he’ll say,
as I moan, drifting in the room.
“Tis I,” I cry, in whisper tones,
to drive him to his tomb.
“Let him live in shame,” says Mama,
“tortured by his past.”
“Yes,” I agree, “He’s doomed to live,
in torment, sure to last.”

We roam the house in frightful form,
at night, disturbing sleep;
while Tommy is our precious hope
for life we aim to keep.

We breathe our frigid air at Dad,
watching as he shivers.
Mama flips a crucifix–
religious fear delivers.
Daddy pales and prays to God,
but Mama? She just laughs.
I hope you die in fiery Hell!”
while I rattle photographs.

Daddy has begun to drink
and Mama’s proud of us
for making life unbearable
for that awful blunderbuss.

Poor Tommy has the worst of it–
left in chaos, amid clamour.
We try to give him comfort,
in our cold, unearthly manner.
He seems all right when he’s asleep,
his worry lines relaxing,
but I worry for his sanity,
in this house that keeps collapsing.

Tommy keeps his head down
and listens to the songs
that Mama always sings to him,
trying to right the wrongs.

Still, Mama tries to push him
to grievous acts of harm,
telling Tommy Dad deserves it,
for all whom he’s strong-armed.
I wish she wouldn’t do that,
but I cannot blame her, truly;
since Daddy is a bastard,
slowly killing him’s our duty.

Michele Cacano is a neurodiverse writer, artist, and massage therapist born and raised in Harford County, MD, now settled in Seattle, WA. Her poetry is informed by a love of place, travel, history, words, and language. She is the organizer of the Seattle Writers Meetup, a weekly critique and support group est. 2007, and a founding member of Camp S’more Writers. Her work has been published in anthologies from Bag of Bones Press, Mind’s Eye Publishing, Firbolg Publishing, Thirteen O’Clock Press, as well as magazines such as Penumbra and Haunted Waters Press. She can be found on Chill Subs, Twitter, and Instagram @MicheleCacano, and @SeaWritersMeet. 

Absentee Landlord by Faith Allington

With sharp bolts of pain fracturing her skull, Hazel listened to the night sounds of the field. The myriad chirping of crickets magnified the darkness and made the whispering columns of ripening barley seem endless. The wind blowing into her face smelled like the farmland she’d grown up on.

Ahead of them, the dirt road extended only as far as the headlights, as if beyond them there was only inky night that they’d tumble into. Neither she nor Diana spoke as the ancient engine sputtered and then caught again, like a flame about to go out.

If they broke down now… but Hazel banished the thought as a form of bad luck and glanced sideways at Diana. Her best friend was as tall and broad-shouldered as the goddess she shared a name with, though Hazel doubted her parents had thought of the virgin huntress when they named her. Her profile was fierce, her dark eyes fixed unswervingly on the road and what would come after.

Hazel doubted she would ever be able to repay the debt. Her hands were still trembling and she reached for her bag, tightening her grip until the strap dug into her palm and distracted her from the pain in her chest. She knew what she had to do, but the thought of it made her feel sick. What had she been thinking, calling so late?

“Di, I’m sorry,” she began, regret overflowing in her lungs. She should call it off. She shouldn’t drag Diana into the disaster she was embarking on. It wasn’t going to work, why had she thought it would?

“Don’t,” Diana said curtly. She pulled the motor over suddenly but left it running.

She and Hazel got out of the car and went round to the back. Diana opened the boot and the two of them looked down at the bundle that had come undone. The carpet spilled half open from its roll, the stain spreading darkly across the fine wool.

“I’m sorry about the carpet,” Diana said.

Hazel had bought it with Charles last year. In a rare moment, she’d insisted on the 100% silk and wool blend with its intricate pattern of flowers and vines. She’d loved the carpet so much. Now, she could hardly face it, her stomach churning.

The bruise on her chest would be visible tomorrow. She should’ve expected the sleeping pills crushed in his cider wouldn’t be strong enough. But tomorrow would bring bigger problems than a fractured rib.

Diana squeezed Hazel’s arm. “Come on.”

“I don’t know,” Hazel whispered, as the lump inside the carpet jerked. Now that they were out in the darkness, she couldn’t help remembering Charles as a loving husband. “Do we really have to do this?”

Diana said nothing, but the chill in the air reminded Hazel that it was up to her to stop Charles from raising the rents. People had died, unable to afford food or heat in their disintegrating cottages. With another winter coming on, she couldn’t live with any more deaths.

What does it matter to you, he’s not your kin, Charles had said. You live on this money just like me. The thought of it shamed her, hot and slick as the blood of the deer that he liked to hunt.

“If you think this is funny, you’re dead wrong,” Charles snarled, his voice muffled by folds of wool and silk. “Both of you.”

Diana took one end of the squirming bundle and Hazel took the other. The rows of barley yielded and rustled as they passed, and from the headland came the salt smell of the sea. They carried him some distance into the field until Diana dropped his feet unceremoniously. Hazel lowered her husband’s head down gently. The rope strained and creaked with his efforts to break loose.

“They’ll find me,” Charles said, quietly but with grim satisfaction. “That’s even supposing you two have the balls to leave me here.”

“Your mates finding you is sort of the plan.” Diana gathered stalks of barley into one hand and cut them free with her shears.

“Hazel, you’d better let me go right now,” Charles growled, and his voice rose up from the carpet like something monstrous, a half-forgotten nightmare. “Or I swear–”

Diana’s boot shot out, quick as a serpent’s tongue. “We ask Cernunnos and the Morrigan for aid.”

Hazel pulled out a bundle of holly and yarrow tied and dipped in wild heather honey. She opened her hands to let the foliage fall onto his face–blotting out his eyes, catching in his hair. The smell of the yarrow was bitter and jolting, underlaid with the earthy sweetness of the honey and barley.

“Let the sentence be rendered,” Hazel whispered.

She scrambled away as he thrashed free. His eyes were silver coins or full moons, edged with madness. He opened his mouth to laugh, blood speckling his teeth, spilling from his tongue.

“You should’ve hit me harder, you stupid hags,” he said, rising in the dark. He flexed his hands, knuckles cracking like old bones. “Wait till you see–”

He collapsed to his knees with a wailing cry that carried across the landscape. His shoulders jutted upward as if someone were pulling his bones out. His fists seemed to harden as his arms scrambled for purchase. His throat turned to russet. From his forehead, a V-shape of two horns dug through the skin.

And then a pair of large, inky eyes stared at Hazel, his muzzle a blaze of white in the dark. The roe deer barked at her, a low harsh cry that scraped the night. He pawed at the barley, tossing his head, hate spilling out in waves.

“You’d best get moving, Charles. It’s nearly October and you know what that means,” Hazel said. “Hunting season.”

Faith Allington is a writer, gardener and lover of mystery parties who resides in Seattle. Her work is forthcoming or has previously appeared in various literary journals, including Honeyguide Literary Magazine, Hearth & Coffin, Crow & Cross Keys, The Fantastic Other and FERAL.

HCC Halloween by Alyssa Stickley

In a college town, where shadows creep,
Amidst the autumn’s chilling sweep,
A haunted campus, old and grand,
Where tales of Halloween expand.

The library, a ghostly sight,
Whispers echoing through the night,
Books fluttering on shelves so high,
As students wander, passing by.

In lecture halls, where knowledge thrives,
Phantoms take their seats in rows of fives,
Their wispy forms, once students bright,
Forever bound in spectral plight.

The gym, once filled with youthful cheer,
Now hold a sense of eerie fear,
Footsteps echo in empty halls,
Mysterious whispers against the walls.

The Hilltop Grill prepares a spooky feast.
Where apparitions rise like yeast,
Ghostly hands reach for the fare,
Unseen voices fill the air.

Underneath a moonlit sky,
The student center draws the eye,
Where spiders crawl up the brick walls,
And spirits dance in ghostly thralls.

A professor, long since passed away,
Returns each year on Halloween day,
To teach his class of spectral lore,
As students gasp and question more.

The softball field, an eerie game,
Where phantom players etch their fame,
The cheers and roars, forever heard,
Though players vanished, not a word.

The science lab, a mystic place,
Where experiments took a wicked pace
Bubbling potions, eerie lights,
Creating monsters in the nights.

The Kepler theater, draped in velvet black,
Where actors tread a spectral track,
Their voices echo through the years,
Rehearsing lines that none else hears.

In every corner, every nook,
A haunting tale, a ghostly spook,
The college breathes on Halloween,
A spooky realm, forever seen.

So gather around, both brave and bold,
In this college’s haunted fold,
Embrace the chill, the eerie air,
For Halloween’s enchantment tale.

For in this realm where spirits dwell,
The college’s secrets, they will tell,
A haunting tale, forever told,
Where Halloween and college mold.

Alyssa Stickley is currently a student in HCC’s Marketing program. In addition to her studies, she has been working alongside local and remote companies to expand their businesses to gain valuable experience and knowledge that will allow her to expand her own business on a larger scale in the future.

Trick or Treat by Tenzin Geygong

Tenzin Geygong is a Tibetan-American artist from Vermont who is pursuing a career in healthcare but still has a passion for art. As most people hold buckets decorated like jack-o-lanterns when trick-or-treating, she thought a headless figure doing the same would be an interesting parallel.

Autumn Aviators by Alyssa Neff

Alyssa Neff is an artist and photographer currently attending Rochester Institute of Technology for a BFA in Visual Media. While spending her days between the studios, computer labs, and chasing stories for the college magazine, she never passes up a chance to do silly shoots with friends. Her current passion is trying to catch a glimpse of the stubborn turtle hiding in the local Koi pond.

The Halloween Cat by LaVern Spencer McCarthy

On Halloween nobody knows
where Mr. Golden Whiskers goes.

His eyes of emerald green turn red.
He bounds across the garden bed,

jumps the fence and disappears
with eerie howls and laid-back ears,

then takes a trip across the sky
to scare the clouds and make them cry.

I thought I saw him through the gloom
behind an old witch on her broom.

The north wind told me it believes
he guards the spirits of autumn leaves

and guides the goblins as they pass
through walls and shuttered window glass.

When his long journey is complete,
he wanders home on weary feet.

Mr. Golden Whiskers sighs
and looks at me with haunted eyes.

He’ll never tell the things he’s seen.
He’s had enough of Halloween.

LaVern Spencer McCarthy has written and published twelve books of poetry and fiction. Her work has appeared in Writers and Readers Magazine; Meadowlark Reader; Agape Review; Bards Against Hunger;  Down In The Dirt; The Evening Universe; Fresh Words Magazine; Wicked Shadows Press; Midnight Magazine; Pulp Cult Press and others. She is a life member of Poetry Society of Texas. She resides in Blair Oklahoma where she is currently writing her sixth book of short stories.

Bad Man by Scott T. Hutchison

 “You don’t know all the cruel and unhealthy things that a dude like that might do.” Ned grabs a napkin off the table where we’re having beers, wipes sweat off his neck, dabs at his brow. “Everybody in the neighborhood runs scared of the man like he’s a walking piece of Evil on Earth. Have you seen those prison tats on his arms, and on the knuckles of his hands? Hey, I’m sorry that he’s beating his wife–but when he stomps over to your place the next day and smiles, saying It’s quiet around here while giving you the gun finger, shaking it in your face–then let me tell you, brother, you’ve gotta stay quiet. You don’t get involved. And get a For Sale sign on your lawn, soon as you can. The thing is, he’s a bad man. Know what I mean?”


 I gave myself a week to process the information. I’m touched by Ned–his genuine fear for the neighborhood, plus his concern on my behalf–the way people should be. Caring. Looking out.

But the thing is, Neddie, you don’t need to worry about me. I’ve been living in the midst of all these sins for a while now, and after due consideration–I’ve made my kind of peace.

The thing is, I don’t expect apologies for the rudeness, the injustice, the overt fallacies of superiority that loaded and lode-stone people strut around with, magnetized for money, drama, selfishness. The tart tongues, the unthinking dismissals, the laughs at a lesser person’s expense. They see you as the little piggy living in a house of sticks, act like they’re the big bad wolves who huff hot air and dare more than you.

The thing is, and the thing I will never tell you, Ned: I’m the middle school kid who put twenty Ex-Lax pills in Mr. Johnson’s coffee pot after he wrote me up for cheating when I didn’t. I’m the teenager who slipped the proverbial turd into the punch bowl at Lily Beazley’s Sweet Sixteen party a month after she made fun of my zipper being down. I’m the college waiter big shot customers impolitely bark at–who goes into the kitchen’s shadows and spits into his fashionable bowl of ancient grains and salad greens. I’m the one my nepotistic boss fires, dismissing me when it was actually his impatient son who made the colossal and costly mistake for his family’s business–I’m the premeditated individual who one year later happily discovered the old man’s vintage sports car didn’t have a modern locking cap that might have prevented the fine pour of sugar into the gas tank.

 I’m the simple fella who knows how to navigate the nets, both light and dark. I’m the wanna-be chemist who searches for and finds the perfect fix-it recipe: Drano, tin foil, and a little water. The guy who wears gloves and plucks a used but still-capped plastic drink bottle out of a random person’s garbage can–along with DNA that isn’t mine. The one who carefully plants it on the front lawn of Mr. HELL tattooed across his right-hand knuckles, FIRE inked across the left. I create a sweet spot of foreign waste right outside his door.

The one who doesn’t rush the process, who doesn’t make a peep while slowly combining it all together, who sets it just so and then drives on, past sleeping dogs–losing gloves, shoes, foil, and the Drano can down various sewer grates of the moon-shady city. I’m the calm soul who reads the over-editorialized paper the next morning, about how the poor man found this odd bottle with liquid on his grass, cursed litter bugs and rubbish, lifted the irritating, innocuous bottle; I serenely read how he shook it uncomprehendingly, confused by the solids inside. I perused the newspaper’s extra feature box with its dire words of caution, warning good citizens about how the insides build up, then explode with enough force to remove your extremities. The paper corroborated every volatile detail I’d stirred up–about how such a wrongful mix will scald and burn with the intensity of an inferno. I go back to the main article, to the writer’s documentation of how Mr. HELLFIRE’s eyes boiled to tears, how he no longer has hands–to announce himself with, to beat anyone with, to point fingers in malice and judgement.     

The thing is, dear Ned, the world is full of men. All types. You just never know who a bad man might be.

Scott Hutchison’s previous work has appeared in Liquid Imagination, Reckoning, The Raven Review, Weirdbook, and Heroic Fantasy Quarterly. New work is forthcoming in Flash Fiction Magazine, Fiction Southeast, Vestal Review, Hearth and Coffin, and Slipstream.