tiny frights vol. 1 no. 1
Welcome to the Walpurgis 2022 issue of tiny frights! It’s smaller than I had hoped, but I put the word out late.
What this issue lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality! Enjoy the chilling poetry of Matthew Bullen, Mort Duffy, Ida Fogle, Nolcha Fox, Colin James, Megan McGlinn, Eve Ott, R.A. Pauli, Randy Ratliff, and Matt Stefon; the eerie fiction (or prose poetry?) of Alex Bestwick, Jon Davies, Auzzie Jay, Alex Luceli Jiménez, Kaci Skiles Laws, and Maureen O’Leary; and the haunting art of John Pendred and Jennifer Rodrigues.
Submissions will be open from May 1st to September 30th for our Halloween 2022 issue.
– Carl Bettis, 4/30/2022
Reviews & notations
Don’t Break the Oath: Women of Horror Anthology #4, edited by Jill Girardi and Janine Pipe
Reviewed by Carl Bettis
Stuff to get out the way
Compensation for this review: a copy of the ebook. No other consideration, and no solicitation of a favorable review.
Content Warnings: “WARNING: MAY CONTAIN SENSITIVE SUBJECT MATTER… This book contains adult situations and is not suitable for children.”
I don’t review books I don’t like, so if you’re just looking for a thumbs up/thumbs down, you can stop here. I like this book.
This anthology is unusual in that there was no call for submissions. This is the overflow from Volume 3, 23 stories they wanted to include but didn’t have space for. I haven’t read that volume, but this is not a “didn’t quite make the cut” collection. These are top-notch tales. The one slightly negative comment I have is that it’s hard sometimes to see a connection between the story and the anthology’s title, but that could be the result of having the stories first and looking for a commonality among them. Loss is a prominent theme.
Not every story connected with me, but there are no clunkers. All are well-written, and any might be some discriminating reader’s favorite. I won’t summarize each, but I’ll highlight a few that stand out for me. (No spoilers, I promise.)
The anthology opens with “What the Sea Gives” by K.P. Kulsi. This might be more a narrative prose poem than a story (if that distinction means anything), about an island castaway seemingly doomed to a solitary immortality.
The protagonist of Ariel Dodson’s “Black-Eyed Susan” is haunted by her loss, and her own guilt, in a very literal way.
Alyson Faye’s “The Silver Horn” is set in the modern day (including lockdown), but it has the feeling of a macabre old ballad or one of the creepier corners of Arthurian romance.
In Charlotte Platt’’s “Shoot Your Shot,” an incel chooses the wrong library to shoot up.
“Capable of Loving,” by Sonora Taylor, is a chilling, thoughtful, and deep bit of psychological horror, in which the horror isn’t the whole point. I’ll be looking for more of Taylor’s fiction.
It’s cliche to say that robot stories are about exploring humanness, but that’s certainly true of Angela Yuriko Smith’s “Perfect Girlfriend.” It has an interesting point of view and an economical narrative that trusts the reader’s intelligence.
“Sharp Spaces,” by Samantha Ortiz, is another entry in the psychological horror category, with a poetically apt title.
Cosmic horror is represented by Kirby Kellogg’s “Four Corners.” It’s a little reminiscent of Welcome to Night Vale, a bit of Twilight Zone, but completely original.
What can I say about Cecilia Kennedy’s “Soul Grinder” without giving too much away? You may never want to go to a county fair again. (Assuming you ever did.)
The anthology closes strong with R.A. Busby’s body horror parable “Fluid.” The story reminds me of Junji Ito, and it contains some beautiful sentences.
Art, fiction, & poetry
Social Distancing Is Turning Us All into Cyborgs
The mirrors and screens condense our faces into a curation of reformatted remainders, slices of selves wavering through polymer fibers. By casting our carefully composed reflections, the unseen is held at bay; but all unmechanical things now seep into their own variegated infections as the slaughterhouses spit out their knives, empty of hands. Yellowing leaves cluster in the corners of the walkways. Early evening, past the streetlamps by the shore, an electric blue bloom jostles awake in the toxicity of invasive foam, in the obdurate waves.
— Matthew Bullen
The Velociraptor du Jour
could eyeball you from under the glue of an envelope as your nail splits the seam, or from behind your neck’s hairline as you bend to lace your shoes. It could hunch inside the echo of crows at the moment the dawn begins to take itself seriously enough to turn sharply around the corner of the next building, shrieking the flock larger at the stolid joggers pulling at dog leashes to patter a bit faster; or by yesterday’s coffee left in the pot, now a sinkhole bubbling with tar, the machine’s green light staring into the gathering compression of the day, unalerted, incapable of alarm.
— Matthew Bullen
Live, Laugh, Love
by Maureen O’Leary
I follow the tracks with a dead squirrel in my pack to where there is woodsmoke and burning sugar and laughing. The girl says she likes marshmallows burned.
The mom takes apple pie from the car and they don’t see me. This family is dripping sugar and they do not see.
Tell a scary story, the little girl says and the mom and dad argue with their eyes. I have a story about Yogi the bear says the dad, a cartoon bear so not too scary. The girl says, tell a story about a dragon, one who breathes fire, one who burns people on sticks.
They do not see my whittled stick. I think, crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside. I think, burned sugar. I think, burned.
The bumper sticker on the mom’s car says Live, Laugh, Love. She serves apple pie but the little girl prefers s’mores and she wants a scary story. The mom says, no dragons, no scary stories and that’s the last s’more.
Live, laugh, love, I say as I step from behind the tree. They girl tilts her head and points at my dragon and says what’s that? And I say it’s a large tattoo of a bassett hound and the mom she says to the dad with her eyes, danger, and the man says, calm down now. I take another step. I make my own tracks that I will sweep away later while the fire roars between us dripping sugar.
The Glore Psychiatric Museum
Descending down into the earth a tunnel for the passing of bodies cold and damp artificial lights a man-boy ran up behind me to my right side tongue sputtering out a venomous laugh I felt his spray of ghost spit he knew I saw him when no one else could ignoring him like a cat-caller on the street I kept walking so he could run in front of me his body passed through here and stuck to the walls like the murals left behind by other patients — Jennifer Rodrigues
Life Is a Carnival
by Alex Luceli Jiménez
The clown has been following me almost all my life. She offered me a hot pink balloon at the church carnival when I was six. Her droopy face paint made me cry. Her hot pink lips were too big for her face. She wore a lopsided hot pink wig and her eyes were circled in black. My mom dragged me away by the hand but the clown followed us, right up until we were getting in the car. After that I saw the clown everywhere, hot pink balloon in hand. I saw her out on our street at night and outside the playground fence at recess and in the parking lot of the grocery store that accepted my mom’s food stamps. Always in costume, always on the edge of my vision. She eluded the cops my mom called and she never tried to hurt me so eventually I was the only one who cared, the only one who cried herself to sleep knowing she was out there with her balloon. I was seventeen the day she followed me home from the bus stop. I started running, and she ran, too, and I ran out into the street without looking and a car hit me. As I lay on the gravel with my bloody body and broken bones the clown knelt down over me, a laugh escaping her misshapen hot pink lips. She handed me the hot pink balloon. With the arm that wasn’t broken, I took it, fingers trembling. I let it go. It flew away. We both laughed.
Vampire Tanka #1
Once I had warm hands, my shadow strolled all day long, mirrors smiled at me. I’ve forgotten now my face. My veins carry strangers' blood.
— Carl Bettis
In elevator cars, why don’t we talk? While waiting in the lobby we’re so loud, but, stepping through the doors, we always stop; we seem to lose our tongues amid the crowd. Inside we turn, join the forward-facing, assembling like we’re soldiers on parade; eyes locked on luminous numbers, tracing the incremental progress that we’ve made, or casting looks at others on the sly, while taking care our eyes and theirs don’t meet: In case a lengthy breakdown strands us high we’re sizing up which passenger we’ll eat. Contemplating who, through violence, might make our meal is something best performed in silence, we all feel.
— R.A. Pauli
by Kaci Skiles Laws
A short man in a green suit keeps grabbing at all the Easter eggs I touch though he never takes them; only his fingers caress mine, his yellow eyes widen, he shows a row of rotted teeth and whispers, “Tag, I’m it!” The adults cheer me on as I reluctantly fill up my basket.
Sky Aflame - Escape
The sky waves flame Above dark roiling water Everything recedes Hands over ears Eyes wide Boats drawn into the eddy The cliff beckons A bridge of Indeterminate length Needs crossing Indifference in the background Alone All of the action is behind The flame reflects on the guardrail Which way is away Eyes pop Colors bleed into each other Shapes almost make sense
— Ida Fogle
The Old Trampoline
by Alex Bestwick
Christ, would you look at the garden. Totally waterlogged; the drainage always has been horrendous. And the old trampoline, them legs are at least three inch deep in water. Look, you can see the rust flaking off from here.
Remember lugging the great thing out from the shed every summer? Took all afternoon to set up, and kids hardly seemed bothered for five minutes. You about did your back in that last year, and then it were ‘we're not little kids anymore.’ Wouldn't even go on it. Lord, we felt old. Watching them grow made us old. They stole our best years, and what thanks did we get?
It was sort of nice, wasn't it, afterwards, to watch them rot for a change? But you were right, of course. Not safe leaving them out in the open, not with her next door hanging around, nosy bugger. Best to keep them out of the way.
No use bothering putting the trampoline down after that, was there? Even all these years later, I still feel a little younger looking at it. Yes, the old thing makes a fine gravestone. Just fine.
[previously published in an anthology for The Anansi Archive]
The retiree was polite if not forthcoming. His tangerine neck scarf contrasted quite nicely with the curt, brown overalls. He stood slightly sideways to distract from the stains a wound tempered with newspaper. He desperately needed to sit but was discouraged from doing so by some loud voices, so he smiled again easily & not without verisimilitude.
— Colin James
by Jon Davies
The ground stirred, moving with a gentle tremor like the shudder of a tiny earthquake. His hands emerged first, filthy-nailed and puckered, scooping aside the dirt as if swimming against a heavy tide. As he dragged himself to the surface, she reached for him, taking his cold hands in hers and pulling him free of the churning earth.
He lay naked in the cold air, pale and vulnerable in the moonlight. No breath passed his lips. But with her incantations and desire, he had life.
He looked at her, unblinking, with dull, clouded eyes. She saw no recognition there, just confusion, as if he was trapped in the remnants of a slowly receding dream. He didn’t know her. He didn’t know that he had once loved her, before that love had soured. Before he had tried to leave.
She would show him.
He was numb to her embrace. Unresponsive to her kisses. Cold to her wet heat. But as she moved against him, she thought she saw a spark of recognition in those blank, grey eyes.
When she had finished, she sank him back into his grave. The earth shifted around him at her command. As his head vanished beneath the rolling black soil, she saw the light of awareness in his eyes. Stark terror contorted his face as he realised that she would never let him go.
The earth was still. He was gone, until she needed to feel alive again.
Song to the Sirens
Lovely against your coral thrones The crash of waves, the crush of bones, Seaweed tangle of briny hair, Dead men's fingers your brush and comb. Take my ribcage, scoured white, To be your harp, with heart-meat strings; A scale for plectrum, make me sing Your cold salt breasts, their milk of night.
– Mort Duffy
Merrimack ice floes forming
At night they shimmer in the glow of the moon and highway lights like the cells of some eldritch entity thickening into our reality.
– Matt Stefon
He loves the glare of sundown, His orange skin glistens beneath gleaming yellow mane. His eyes glow white hot, lusting All things golden, for everything on fire. Always hungry, his rotund belly longs For red meat. Huffing, he lures them To his breast, his hot breath fills their ears. He engorges their world, grabs them… His small hand stretches to reach Beyond his gargantuan gut, groping For the tiny, spike protein prick Dangling beneath his hams. Failing to find, enraged, he roars. He rolls on top of them Rubbing, rotating, spinning, Spewing urine, feces, virus. Shit-faced, Their round mouths howl with glee. Then infected, bound, breathless, They devour each other. They will eat their children. They will even eat babies, Sliced from their diseased, dying Mothers’ blood red wombs.
– Megan McGlinn
Just after the soft thud. his older sister raced into his room. “Mom!” she screamed, cradling the limp calico kitten in both her hands. Mom’s hand darted to cover the small airy O her mouth formed when she saw the kitten. Then Mom and big sister turned to Ryan. We can get another, he said, the same as he had after he killed the hamster.
– Eve Ott
Wear something dark to shine in, black velvet on white skin. Brush mascara on the moon. Paint black lipstick on the light bulb. Be something dark to shine in. Flaunt the old scars of your soul. Sing your sins. Dance with death. Shine in something dark.
– Nolcha Fox
by Auzzie Jay
Corpses glittered overhead as I ascended the well-lit tower at the edge of the world; surrounded by the ocean of darkness.
“Shifts up!” he startled awake as I knocked his helmet.
“Not funny man!” he wiped the sleep from his eyes, “you know if anybody else caught me sleeping I’d be dead”.
The edge of the world stood still; frost winding its way to the edges of the shadow but never daring to pass. I lifted my gaze to meet the gaping maw of the darkness itself. My eyes made shapes out of shadows.
Francis’ hand landed on my shoulder, “did you hear what happened to John?”
I was in that hallway when it happened. The alarm sounded; soldiers breaking down the door that John had barricaded. His screams echoed through my mind. When they got him out his eyes were bloody pools sloshing around his sockets; face contorted but very much alive.
“Locked himself in his bathroom. Lights out! Why would anyone invite the darkness in like that?”
I nodded- not agreeing with Francis but John. I knew why he did that. His thirst to know if the bullshit they taught us from birth was real. That our gods died, and our planet stopped spinning. Darkness consumed half the world- transforming our friends into demons.
Did he find what he was looking for?
I shouldered my rifle and looked down the barrel into the infinite blackness knowing that I would soon find what I was looking for too. But tonight, I hoped to see only shadows.
See! He trails his toes Through the long streaks of moonlight, And the nails of his fingers glitter; They claw and flash among the tree-tops. His lips suck at my open window, And his breath creeps about my body And lies in pools under my knees. I can see his mouth sway and wobble, Sticking itself against the window-jambs, But the moonlight is bright on the floor, Without a shadow. Hark! A hare is strangling in the forest, And the wind tears a shutter from the wall.
– Amy Lowell
As sudden thunder Pierces night; As magic wonder, Wild affright, Rives asunder Men’s delight: Our ghost, our corpse and we Rise to be. As flies the lizard Serpent fell; As goblin vizard, At the spell Of pale wizard, Sinks to hell: Our life, our laugh, our lay Pass away. As wake the morning Trumpets bright; As snow-drop, scorning Winter’s might, Rises warning Like a sprite: We buried, dead, and slain Rise again.
— Thomas Lovell Beddoes, from Death's Jest-Book, c. 1830
tiny frights will be open for submissions from May 1, 2022 to September 30, 2022 for the Halloween 2022 edition. We already have some excellent work lined up from Alex Bestwick and Jennifer Rodrigues.
You can find our submission guidelines at https://tinyfrights.com/tiny-frights-submission-guidelines/
About the contributors
Only contributers who provided a bio are listed below. If you sent a bio and I lost it, please accept my apologies.
Carl Bettis, the editor of tiny frights, is a software engineer and writer in Kansas City, MO. He is also the tech guy for Riverfront Readings (https://riverfrontreadings.com).
Matthew Bullen is a recent graduate of Lancaster University’s Creative Writing Masters program and the founder and head editor of Red Ogre Review, an online journal of contemporary poetry and occasionally visual art. Matt has previously published poetry with Arsenic Lobster and glassworks and creative nonfiction with National Geographic. He lives in Santa Monica, California where, aside from writing, he works as an engineer for a well-known movie and television studio.
Mort Duffy cultivates a rich inner life, finding the external world too drearily real. His ambition is to one day become a stray thought that troubles somebody's mind before vanishing into the ether.
Nolcha Fox (@NolchaF) has written all her life, starting with poop and crayons on the walls. That led to a long career in technical writing. She retired into creative writing. Her poems have been published in WyoPoets News, Duck Head Journal, Ancient Paths, Dark Entries, The Red Lemon Review, Agape Review, Bullshit Literary Magazine, Storyteller’s Refrain, Wilder Literature, Paddler Press, the 2022 WyoPoets chapbook Emergence, Gone Lawn, and Levatio’s first issue, “Serenity.” Her chapbook, My Father’s Ghost Hates Cats, is available on Amazon. In July/August 2022, Dancing Girl Press will publish her chapbook, Why Chicken Explodes in the Microwave.
Auzzie Jay writes, “As a sucker for a bittersweet ending, I'm always rooting for cosmic irony and woeful tragedy. I'm a lover of realistic science fiction and horror. I'm a web daemon, singer/songwriter and overall proponent of the small and personalized web. You can find me at auzziejay.com!”
Alex Luceli Jiménez is a queer Mexican writer and middle school English teacher living in Soledad, CA. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Berkeley Fiction Review, Barren Magazine, Ram Eye Press, and Tales From Between. She was born and raised in southern California. Visit her online at https://alexlucelijimenez.com and on Twitter @alexluceli.
Kaci Skiles Laws is a closet cat-lady and creative writer who reads and writes voraciously in the quiet moments between motherhood and managing Crohn's Disease. She grew up on a small farm in a Texas town alongside many furry friends, two sisters, and a brother. She has known tragic loss too well, and her writing is a reflection of the shadows lurking in her psyche. Her work can be viewed at: https://kaciskileslawswriter.wordpress.com/
Maureen O'Leary's work appears recently and upcoming in Coffin Bell Journal, The Horror Zine, Bag of Bones Press' 206 Word Stories, Penumbric Speculative Fiction, Bourbon Penn, Passengers Press, Hush Lit, Live Nude Poems, Train Poetry Journal, Black Spot Books' anthology Under Her Skin, Sequestrum Lit, and Sycamore Review. She is a graduate of Ashland MFA.
R.A. Pauli is a playwright, songwriter, and poet who lives on a tiny island just south of Annapolis, Maryland. He is a former Senior Writer for Hallmark Cards (which, unfortunately, does not have a horror line) and a current member of The Dramatists Guild of America. His goal is to have one of his plays produced in every state of the Union. Barring unfavorable supernatural intervention, it’s just possible: Seventeen down, a mere thirty-three to go!
Jennifer McKeen Rodrigues currently lives on Nisqually tribal land in DuPont, WA. She is a certified yoga therapist, mom, and military spouse. She hails from a small town in middle Georgia and has lived in several states on Turtle Island. She considers Kansas City, MO her home.
Matt Stefon lives and writes north of Boston. He has one micro-chapbook, two chapbooks, and 463 wiffle ball home runs.
About tiny frights
tiny frights is a free e-zine, published on the tiny frights website, via Substack, and in EPUB and PDF formats. No print edition is planned.
The goal is to have two issues a year, appearing at the end of April (Walpurgis Night) and the end of October (Halloween).
Facebook: tiny frights
We might at some point have a presence on Discord and/or Mastodon, but not yet.
Editor, publisher, social media team, and webmaster: Carl Bettis.