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A place where I can post short stories and poems written by other people that I really enjoy.

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Prompt: A Genie offers you one wish, and you modestly wish to have a very productive 2017. The genie misunderstands, and for the rest of your life, every 20:17 you become impossibly productive for just 60 seconds.



“Well, it was a nice day.” You kiss your sweetheart gently on the forehead and sigh as the last remaining seconds of 20:16 tick away. “See you at 8:18,” you say. 

Then it happens. Every ounce of fatigue or hunger leaves your body. The face of your beloved is perfectly still, their expression exactly the same. The ticking of the clock on the wall has stopped. Once again, it’s 20:17. 

You stretch your arms and walk to the table with the homework for the three doctorates you’re working on. The work is mentally stimulating and enjoyable, but it’s finished far too quickly. You check your pocket watch and see that not even one hundredth of a second has passed. 

You knew it was too soon to be able to see any movement on the watch, but you can never quite help yourself from looking early on every 20:17. Time to move on. 

You clean your home, do your budget, then go outside and fix a noise that your car was making earlier that afternoon. (Oh how you already miss afternoons.) Then you go back inside, boot up your computer (which magically speeds up to keep pace with you as long as you’re in contact with it) and check for any new orders. 

You’ve set up a website for the small business you started called “Magic Elf Services.” People in your area can pay a modest fee on your site to have different tasks and odd jobs done by “The Magic Elf” at 8:17pm every day. It was a little slow to get started, but word has spread and these days you have a steady stream of clients. 

The money that comes in from the business is nice, but you’re mostly grateful that it gives you a clear list of things to do. You print off your updated list of clients, step outside, and start making your way through the neighborhood with your to-do list. 

There’s the apartments down your street where several neighbors have hired you to tidy up, do the dishes, and mop the floors. You do the windows too, just to see if they notice. There’s the large house across town that paid the “Magic Elf” to clean out the gutters. After the first dozen jobs are done, you manage to stop looking at your pocket watch. 

As near as you’ve been able to determine in the past, 20:17 seems to last for approximately one normal year. But it’s not exact. For one thing, it’s hard to keep track of “time” when everything but you has crawled to an almost total standstill. For another thing, time seems to move differently depending on how “productive” your behavior is. One time you tried to spend all of 20:17 sitting at home in your pajamas, but that was getting you nowhere, so you eventually gave up and got busy. (Though you defiantly stayed in your pajamas the whole time.) 

During 20:17 your body doesn’t get tired, hungry, sick, or injured. You’re essentially tireless and immortal for the duration of the “minute.” So sleeping or eating away your boredom has never really worked for you. 

One of the houses on your list forgot to follow the instructions and leave a key for you to get in. At first you figure you’ll just send them an email telling them to pay more attention and that you’ll do the job tomorrow. Then you decide to go home, get your locksmith tools, and come back. 

After finishing up all the jobs on your list, you go into several other homes and small businesses in the area, performing tasks you hope they’ll find helpful, and leaving a hand-painted business card at each one. (The business cards don’t contain your real name just in case somebody thinks “The Magic Elf” should be subject to breaking and entering laws.) 

Speaking of laws, you head down to the local police station to pick up your case file. You’ve been in contact with a detective who’s been investigating corruption within their department, and your ability to investigate unseen and get in almost anywhere between the ticks of the clock has proven invaluable. You see that they’ve also added five missing person cases to your file this evening, which certainly raises your interest in the job. 

You make your way through town gathering evidence, and start making your way to the outskirts of town. Since you happen to be out that way (and you’ve already solved three of the five missing person cases) you decide to swing by the stone castle you’re building and do some more work there. 

The castle walls stand about 20 feet right now, but you know they’ll be much higher when you’re done. You’re far from any roads and pretty safely tucked away, so for now it’s your little secret. You’ve been excavating and moving all the rock yourself, which has been much easier than you first expected since your body doesn’t get tired or sore. You’ve also got a nice system of tunnels going underneath the castle, and you dig and build more of that network for a while. 

All that time spent underground has left you feeling rather lonely, so you walk back home to see the face of your sweetheart. Their facial expression has moved ever so slightly since you last saw them, which is a comfort to you. Looking at them gets your imagination going and makes you dream up a story you’d like to tell, so you sit on your couch, plug in your laptop, and write a book. 

After you finish editing the last chapter for the third time, you finally allow yourself to look at your pocket watch again. Three seconds have officially passed so far. 

It’s gonna be a long 20:17. 


we’re still my favorite ghost story / even if neither of us died / when we wanted to / but the red still drips / the blue still seethes / i never looked good in purple / but the morphine is steady / i’m a quiet unraveling / you don’t know how to break / with an audience’s eyes on you / i sleep and / the static crackles / you sleep / and the wind settles over us / and the sky is more forgiving / than i ever learned to be / and i bet she’s real pretty / and her fist never curls / and the witch weather never hovers / i bet the sun is always shining / and you’re never wishing this / turned out a different way / i should have thrown out / the broken hourglass / the sand is stuck and / i know how it feels / i bet the moon holds grudges too / how could you not / when you’ve got everybody’s secrets / in the palm of your hand / how do you spill out over a sleepy town / and expect everyone else to / clean up your messes / if i’m always spilling my guts / maybe i should just carry around / the dustpan / i’m a ghost town / and you were just passing through / you’re a ghost town / and i liked an unsettling silence / if you’re forgiven / does that bring me any closer / to getting off my knees / you know how the alcohol burns / i know how the sleeping pills cloud / i want to know where the ghosts go / when they can’t stand to be the one being / haunted


Harry disappears from the wizarding world for a little while after the fall of Voldemort and only like Ron Hermione and Ginny know where he’s gone

but he’s traveling. he considered backpacking Europe, but then he realized he’d had enough of camping for at least twenty years, so he teaches himself to drive and pulls enough strings to get himself an American drivers’ license and and then he’s off on a roadtrip in a beat-up car that’s still fast as anything. he doesn’t use magic if he can help it because it feels tainted, feels like it belongs to the war, feels like it marks him out again as someone with power and responsibility and the weight of a world on his shoulders. and for now he wants to find out what it is not to be a world-saving wizard, but just to be Harry.

and he meets a lot of strangers (he figures it’s safe enough picking up hitchhikers when they’re more than likely muggles and he’s got his wand if anything bad happens) and he learns what it’s like to be just another face, another car on the road and he learns all sorts of stuff on the radio, tries every genre out there. and it’s nice to listen to stuff that isn’t specifically designed to remind him of the wizarding world, but he finds so much of it surprisingly relatable and sometimes he just breaks down sobbing at the wheel and has to pull over.

and one of the hitchhikers he picks up is a veteran, and Harry doesn’t tell him much but he does say that he’s been a soldier, too, and it’s hard adjusting to a life that you never thought would exist because things were so hard that you could not imagine yourself after. hard to think about settling down and marrying the girl you thought you’d die loving. hard to think that not everyone around you is an enemy. were you a prisoner of war? the veteran asks. or undercover? both, says Harry. and lost, not knowing whether I was on the run or on a mission that was taking a year. I got back alive in the end but something—something’s definitely dead, you know?

how old are you, says the veteran. I’m eighteen, says Harry. the veteran raises his eyebrows. but they both know that some armies, some wars, don’t care about your age.

I think the dead thing is me, Harry says one day, when he’s going seventy in a fifty-five mile zone and the sun is setting in their eyes. when I killed the enemy, I killed myself.

and the veteran looks at him for a very long moment and Harry slows down and looks back at him and at last the man says, no. no, you lived. and you’re going to keep living, son, and one day you’ll be ready to marry that girl, if you love her, and now that you’ve got out of the war, it’s time to get the war out of you.

(they almost have a wreck when Harry pulls over to the side of the road, gets out, sits in the grass and laughs through his tears. flowers start to spring up around him and he feels the magic in his core, but this time it’s peaceful and pure and fun. unspoiled. and he knows it won’t always feel this way but for now things are leaking out of him, joyful things, because he is the boy who lived again, the boy who lived after the war.)

the man keeps a flower, one that he picks after Harry gets up, in his breast pocket. he brings it home and it’s not wilted, so he sticks it in a book to preserve and press it. as he gets older, he goes back to that book - one on history, focusing on wars, and sees exactly where he put it. in the section about coming home and the joys of victory. he thinks about it every day until he meets Harry again at that white kings cross station, holding that flower out to him.


one time he and i were sitting in bed and i said “where do you feel stuff?” and he said “what do you mean” and i said, “here is anxiety” and pointed to my bottom left rib where the spiders start. he pointed to his throat. “it’s here for me.” 

i keep anger in my breastbone, he holds it in his hands. i feel sadness on my shoulders, he feels it in his lungs. 

we play this game until we come to love, and i realize that i am terrified (jugular vein) of what might come. what if it is not the same. what if he feels it somewhere else, what if it is just a flash fire, not the slow burn, what if it is congealing in one place instead of radiating, i try to change topics, flight response (sternum)

he takes my hands in his and puts them over his ribs and says, “everywhere, everywhere, like a sun is trying to escape me, like i am being consumed and you are filling up where used to be empty.” i say, “don’t be ridiculous humans are 99% empty space,” i nervous laugh (spiders down spine), he holds his gaze with me. 

“everywhere,” he repeats.


the story starts with a window. it’s late and I’m waving. the people I love come back home (one by one or altogether, it doesn’t matter). airports aren’t a sad thing anymore. every plane lands in my backyard and I get back what’s lost. I throw a party to celebrate the way my heart’s acting like a heart again. the flowers stop wilting because they want to stay alive to see this. the long dead plant comes back to life because it’s heard the news. the bad stuff never really happened. we dreamed it all. ate the wrong kind of thing before we slept or something like that. we dance without music because the wind’s enough. a thousand people walk on a sidewalk and they watch their feet, making room for the thousand ants. the diagnosis melts on every doctor’s tongue because the cure has already been found. and I’m not scared of anything, and I’m not tired anymore, and I’m not thinking about the thousand lives I could have lived because the one I’ve got’s enough and even the broken winged birds get their flight back. and no country loses itself to a war and no mother stops being a mother because a war couldn’t keep its hands to itself and every city stays a city and not a city’s ghost, and there’s nothing to mourn. nothing to mourn and the sky is a trustworthy thing and when it rains the whole world blooms and nothing is buried under a whole lot of yesterday and tomorrow is a believable thing. and love hasn’t ruined what it can’t save and this poem stays unwritten because it’s not needed, and nothing is needed, and we forget every word for loss and we live like that forever, where love’s not a small thing and our hands are still big enough to fit it.


hey if you’re out there and you’re listening hey have you ever had that feeling when you’re leaving a concert and it sounds like there are cicadas but there isn’t a tree in sight hey have you ever ordered something to eat and the moment it shows up you don’t want it hey have you accidentally brushed hands with a stranger and looked back have you ever checked the drawer in a hotel to make sure the bible was still there hey have you ever turned the music off and hey hey listen hey have you ever wondered what it’s like to do something perfectly just one thing hey do you ever see things play out in your head long before they do but silently hope they don’t hey have you ever lived a lie have you ever said do or die but didn’t have you ever slept on the floor when your bed time travels hey have you ever wished the violins in your head would give it a rest when you’re down and out have you ever been down and out hey does it ever feel like the punk songs had it right like you cook for two alone like the matching tattoo you got by yourself like the places you said you’d send a postcard from and who you’d send them to hey have you ever cared hey do you care could you care hey this is a bed of nails you asked to sleep on this is the part that can’t happen again the part everyone took pictures of that everyone framed and gave to you on holidays thinking you’d want to remember forever this ruined it this ruined it for good hey have you ever pulled away from a kiss thinking you’d left something behind have you ever left something behind hey do you still day dream hey what’re they about hey have you ever run your fingers over a place where someone used to be have you hey have you or someone you love been exposed to that feeling of


PROMPT: You’re in charge of assigning every child on Earth the monster under their bed. One child in particular has caused every monster assigned to him/her to quit. You decide to assign yourself.


Case: #273402 
Status: Disastrous.

I stare at the file and realize I have no options, over the last 2 years every monster assigned to Charlotte Dower has quit, every last one. Her first monster; a giant goldfish-faced humanoid named Bubba, had been with her for four years, and then she wasn’t scared of him anymore. After that it was a string of different common, uncommon, and rare monsters… I even assigned a sentient sock monster to her. He came back crying! 
I look on my tablet, only one assignable monster left; myself. Field work has never been my cup of tea, but desperate times call for desperate measures. So at 8:03 pm, after Mrs. Gideon tucks in Charlotte and her little brother Daniel; I slither into the space beneath Charlotte’s bed.
Across the room underneath Daniel’s crib is a rookie, Chico, a standard Creep kind of monster. 
I turn my attention to the bed above me, Charlotte is still awake but barely, I reach up over the bed and run an ice cold finger over her cheek, silence, so I do it again.
“I’m not afraid of you monster!” She whispers, but her voice is shaking. I can see a small clock on the wall 8:14, a door somewhere in the house slams and there is an audible hitch of breath from above me. A few minutes go by I can hear Francis Gideon yelling at his wife. There are heavy footsteps on the stairs, and loud panting breaths, Charlotte scrambles off the bed and…
She. CRAWLS. Under. The. Bed. With. Me. 
“Move. Over!” Charlotte hisses at me. I do. 
The door to the bedroom slams open and I smell the stench of human intoxicants before the man even steps inside. 
I know why Charlotte isn’t afraid of any of my monsters; she’s afraid of her own. 
Francis reaches a hand under the bed and I thrust my wrist into it, he starts to pull, I slither out.
“What the…” I cut Francis’s next words off by unfolding to my full 12 foot height. Looming over the drunken man I caress my cold fingers down his face. 
“If you ever touch, scare, or harm my child again, I will find you, and I will do the same to you, for all eternity.” I promise to him. 
As Francis runs from the room he soils himself. 
I pull Charlotte from under the bed, tuck her back under her covers and kiss her forehead goodnight. “I’ll be back tomorrow night, sleep well darling.” 
Charlotte Dower is my child, I am the monster under her bed.


I am not a careless person. I cover my tracks, monitor what I say, look before I cross the street. At least, I do now.

When I was 20 years old, I walked home reading a book. I was so engrossed that I failed to notice the heavy metal vehicle moving at my frail, human body at 40 mph.

It swerved, I stopped, no one was hurt, no one died. They never do.

It was only when I took the cookies out of the oven that I noticed the mark on my arm. I knew what it meant. It was my duty to report to the authorities to be murdered. If I didn’t, anyone who saw it would kill me on sight.

I didn’t want to die. I was only twenty years old! I hadn’t even finished college, much less gotten to all my grand plans and ambitions (never mind that I didn’t have any. I had time to plan out the rest of my life later. So I thought.)

I burned my arm on the cookie sheet. The scar covered the black mark somewhat, and I put a bandaid over it. The people at work didn’t question it.

After some time, the burn healed. The mark remained black over the scar, bigger now. I tried carving it out with a knife. It was winter now, and long sleeves were the norm - no one would notice my injury. The mark remained, the bloody lower layers of my skin black as death’s robes.

From then on I wore long sleeves. When I went to the doctor I covered it with paint and hoped they wouldn’t notice. They didn’t. I was lucky.

The mark grew.

I was in trouble when it reached my wrist. As soon as it covered my hand I would be discovered. I ran.

Soon I will be nothing but a shadow in the night. Perhaps some of the stories they tell of night creatures originate from people like me. Those who escaped, their marks covering them, even the whites of their eyes turned deepest black. In a way, we are no longer human. Isolated, undying, immortal, betrayers of nature’s most fundamental law: all things must come to an end.

If I outlive humanity, will I ever die?

When the sun goes nova, will I still exist?

When the universe ends, will I endure?

Or is death simply a shortcut to that end? When the last star has gone out and matter has been erased, will Death greet me with a weary sigh, saying “where have you been? We’ve been waiting for you for an eternity.”

At that point, will I even remember who is waiting for me?









Don’t fall for your best friend,
even if
cocoa is a really good color on you
and her
shea butter curls feel like silk
in your hand.
Don’t sleep in her bed,
take her to breakfast,
and carry the
so what are?
question under your tongue
while you eat.  You know what you are:

I’m so glad we’re friends.
Don’t make her laugh, because her
silhouette will catch the moonlight
as you sit hip-to-hip
on the apartment roof—
I see constellations.
The Virgo
will give you vertigo,
will turn your vertical to horizontal
on a mattress too small for two people,
and the alcohol on her breath
will turn to guilt on your lips
will turn to choked morning laughter
in the choked morning after,
to choked mourning, after.

Don’t fall for your best friend,
I love you becomes I love you
becomes What are you saying?
When you don’t have an answer,
you’ll kiss goodbye on the cheek
when your eyes can’t meet—
you’ll bite your lower lip
and wish it were hers.
Don’t swallow your feelings with two Klonopin
and half an Asprin
as you sit in the parking lot, trying not
to run back upstairs
and ask,
What are we?

What do you mean?


I’m so glad we’re friends.   


Gods // Marissa Dakin

Are gods really gods if no one believes in them anymore?

Zeus takes walks in the rain and tries to talk up joggers in central park. When they bolt, or only return his advances with polite smiles that look like fence posts too high for even him to jump, he sighs. He tells them he is a god, and his words echo back to him, accompanied by laughter. No one believes him

He picks up his wife, who might be his sister in this time, in a beat up car with a beautiful flame job, Hera is a marriage counselor with peacock feather bags under her eyes, her advice falls on her own deaf ears as her jealous eyes roam over every girl they pass, and she is right to. She knows this. She has always known.

Poseidon’s hands are rough and calloused, he raises cargo too heavy for a man his age, the young ones say. He laughs his fisherman’s laugh, all depths and riptide, because no one should be his age. He reminds himself he is one of the lucky ones, he gets to be around what he loves. He may not have his dominion any more, but salt water and sun still weather his face.

Hades stalks the streets at night, women cross the street to avoid him, and he smiles with his needle-teeth, they are right to. This winter he is without a bride, and he still wants to usher souls into the afterlife, the pistol hangs heavy in his pocket, his tongue glints gold, the coin to pay his Charon, his most loyal employee. He brings knives to gunfights and guns to fistfights, he stands with his arms out like their new God, these fickle humans, he welcomes the bullets. He dares them to kill him. They try.

Ares and Athena spit curses laced with whiskey from across dive bar floors, they are moving human pawns across a chessboard. They were strategists before they were gangsters, but it doesn’t matter now.

Apollo sings in a nightclub, his crooning voice from a forgotten time. He has his sister’s blood under his fingernails, from stitching up wound after wound, Artemis forgets she is not invincible anymore. He sings about the moon and wonders where she is, picking a fight with some would-be rapist, maybe it’s Zeus. It’s probably Zeus. Again.

Dionysus drinks away their shared pain, dealing LSD in dark alleyways, he whispers sweet promises and his followers believe him, he was human once and he can be again, like wine, he knew nothing so sweet could have lasted forever. Icarus sidles up to his side, asking if he’s got anything that can make you feel like you can fly. In this life, he is a junkie, and Daedalus watches with ancient, sad eyes. Icarus is melting and Dionysus is letting him.

Hestia sits by the hearth and waits for her family to come home. And she listens while they all curse their immortality. She shakes her head slow and clicks her tongue, I know, my darlings, I know.

Are gods really gods if no one believes in them anymore?

Does it matter?


Pestilence stalks the hospital corridors, 
frail and pallid as every other half-dead thing around him. 
He pours illness into the tiles and slathers it 
like paint across the stark white walls, 
wheezing a feeble laugh that would be sinister 
if it weren’t so decrepit.

War haunts the law firms,
pressed three-piece suit tailored to perfection.
He is the reason for the palpable sting of separation—
estates and history and children and love
split right down the middle, 
as if along the crack of a broken heart.

Famine curls up on a dirty sidewalk,
dirt covering his sunken skin
and a hole-filled blanket wrapped tightly around him.
His heart beats to the rhythm of 
street drumming and spare change, ma’am?
and the rattle of quarters in empty fast food cups.

Death glides proudly through the cemeteries,
drinking in the names on the headstones,
the tears of the mourners,
adding to his collection of eternal conclusions.
He swallows grief like it’s an energy source,
black and bitter and so, so heavy.


i. when you fall in love with an angel, you must understand that there are things you will not understand. 

ii. when you first go to run your hands through his hair, his halo will slice your palm. and it will 
hurt. he will will mend it with the touch of one golden finger, and will leave so abruptly that he is gone almost before you blink. the last thing you see will be him standing in the doorway, a terrified expression on his face and blood in his hair.
(later, he tells you that he didn’t realize how breakable humans could be. when he explains what it takes to make an angel bleed, you start to understand.) 

iii. ask him about the sky, about stars and suns and galaxies light years away, about how the universe looks like a blooming garden. 
do not ask about lucifer, because your angel will become a soldier before your eyes. 
do not, do not, do not ask about god.
do not ask about rebellious older brothers and absentee fathers, do not infer about a war you know nothing of. 

iv. in a science class you are taking simply to get the credit, your teacher will be talking about quantum physics. she will call planets “celestial bodies” and suddenly you will only be able to think of the way his mouth curls in at the sides, of all the puckered scars that criss-cross his torso, of the graceful arch on the bottom of his foot. when the teacher calls on you and asks you if you are alright, you will flush an even deeper red. 

(at times it is lovely to be in love with an angel. but other times, it is not.) 

v. when you fight, it is like the world is ending. his anger conjures a thunderstorm, and soon the entire state is three inches deep in water. you shatter a picture frame. a bolt of lightening catches the house across the street on fire. you are screaming at the top of your lungs—something about duty, something about god—and there is a crash of thunder that shakes the house. the weathermen talk about the storm for days, and you change the channel. 

vi. then there are the times when he doesn’t visit for months on end, and when he finally comes back to you, he is not himself. there are new scars across his chest, and he does not speak. he sits with you in his arms for hours, his nose buried in your hair and his arms squeezed tight, so tight. 
he does not cry. you do not cry. 

you do not cry. 

vii. when you fall in love with an angel—oh, sweetheart. it’s too late to take it back now.


when she is born, they name her mary. it means “bitter.” her mother—plain, unlovely—knows what her ugliness will mean. how it will feel. knows that ugliness makes everything harder, the mirror image of how being too beautiful makes everything harder. mary’s mother is unlovely, and she is happy, basically. she went to school, and they let her, not pretty enough to earn their scorn but too pretty to earn derision.

mary’s first word—a year old, face too red, eyes somehow too far apart and too close together at the same time, nose a curious hook—is, “please,” and mary’s father says, “no.”

mary’s father loves her, and he always says no. no mary, you can’t go to school; they’ll mock you at school. no mary, you can’t have pretty dresses; they’ll only accentuate your ugliness. no mary, no mary, no mary, no.

“please,” mary says, and her father kisses her too-large forehead. runs his hand along her puffy cheeks. there isn’t any one thing, not any single marker of her ugliness, only individual parts that don’t seem to fit together right. lumps where straight lines should be, pocks along her chin, eyes that were too bright and too big and yet still not considered striking. he kisses her and holds her and says, “no.”


this is what you learn, when you are young and you don’t look how they want you to:

the baker closes at four. if you are hungry, he will feed you, out of pity.
witches are everywhere. witches understand. witches will hold your hand, and run their thumbs along your lifeline. witches will say, take this, and press a bag into your palm. take this, it will help you.
beautiful women look at you once, and then never again. they fear you. they fear what you remind them, which is that natural beauty is unearned and hard-won beauty is unnatural. beauty is arbitrary, but beauty means everything. you are here, you are alive, you are ugly: they do not know what this means.
beautiful men will look at you, and look, and look. they will try to understand. they will say cruel things first, because that is how men are taught to treat ugly things. then they will taper into benign amusement. eventually they will forget you are a person at all, and they will say anything. they will say their darkest secrets and not realize you can hear them.
mary learns. mary listens. mary understands. mary is not as bitter as her name.

they say “ugly,” but what they mean is, “stupid.” what they mean is, “useless.” what they mean is, “defeatable.”

“be good, boys,” she scolds a group of particularly loud stable boys as she gathers their empty pints. the lights are dim enough to ease the angled corners of her broad shoulders. they love her here, gentle dim mary, too ugly for marriage. such a shame. what a nice girl, our ugly duckling. 

“Ugly Mary!” says jonas, the butcher’s son. “have a sit. tell us a story.”

“these tables aren’t gon’ clean themselves,” she answers, even as she sits. jonas always leaves his purse on the table. the more drunk he gets, the less attention he pays to its weight. “what kind of story?”

“a good one,” jonas insists. “make us laugh.”

“all right,” says mary, and leans forward. she wraps her fingers around jonas’ purse and holds it up in front of him. “this is my dowry,” she says. 

he laughs, head thrown back, eyes squeezed shut. the stable boys laugh too. everybody laughs. a dowry, for ugly mary. a dowry! mary palms the purse and leaves an empty one in its place. a witch gave it to her, once. a witch gave it to her and said this will come back to you, no matter how far away you send it.

mary has given jonas the butcher’s son this purse five times. he has always brought it back, confused, asking for his own. “i seem to have stolen this from someone,” he laughed, nervous. “only—don’t tell, mary, eh? i’ll leave it here, and no harm done, eh?”

mary had tutted at him every time. “watch those sticky fingers, jonas,” she’d said. “they’ll get the better of you one day. but it’ll be our secret.”

“last drink’s on the house,” mary says, and whisks their glasses away.

a beautiful woman would walk into any room and have all eyes on her long legs, her round mouth, her startling eyes. a beautiful woman would have them on their knees saying yes. a beautiful woman would say, “i want—” and they would say, “we’ll give it.”

everyone wants to please a beautiful woman.

mary’s first trip to the palace is with a hood over her head. don’t make them look too long at you, edna had said, her hands on her hips. edna loves mary, too. edna loves mary and edna always tells mary no.

she’s here to make a delivery, some chickens for a party, and their usual boy has a broken leg. so mary brings the shipment. mary has her witch’s purse in her pocket, a snack from the baker in her mouth. 

“oh, well aren’t you a bit of a divine accident,” says the royal chef, frowning. “angels were scraping the bottom of the barrel for you, eh? parents couldn’t quite get pregnant ‘till you? asked a witch for help?”

mary flashes a smile. first they will be cruel. two days ago, she had knocked out a tooth specifically for this event, and her mouth is swollen. “where should i leave them?” she asks.

“six of them straight to the kitchens, but leave one with me,” the chef says. he is still looking at her. “i’m hungry too, eh? ha!” he winks at her. then they will taper into benign amusement. when mary moves to obey, he catches her arm. “what’s your name, ugly girl?”

“mary,” she answers. her breath whistles through the gap where her tooth used to be. she smiles again, and watches his eyes soften. good.

“ugly mary,” he muses. “i like you, girl. come again, with the next shipment.”

“yes sir,” she says, and smiles.

the chef cooks laxative herbs into the food of nobles who mistreat him. he tells her this thoughtlessly, sprinkling a leaf onto the top of a perfectly roasted turkey. his serving boy takes silver from the storage and sells it. their errands boy has been sleeping with the queen’s lady-in-waiting, and the queen’s lady-in-waiting told him that the queen is sleeping with the king’s brother.

there are fights, at night, loud and long in the war room. mary gives her magic purse to the errands boy and he comes to her, days later, in a panic. 

“i don’t know where i got it,” he babbles, “but it’s got a note in it, what says there’s some kind of plot, some kind of secret plan, i—it wasn’t me but if they find me with it—”

mary smiles. “shhh,” she soothes. “it’ll be our secret.”

“it’ll be our secret,” mary promises the chef, the purse full of belladonna in her hands. i didn’t mean to, he’d blubbered. i didn’t know, i thought it was sage, i thought it was—

“it’ll be our secret,” mary says to the serving boy, taking the purse from him. the queen’s diamonds are in it. her favorite. she’s gone to war for less. i don’t know where it came from, he’d wept. i must have grabbed it by mistake.

“it’ll be our secret,” mary assures the queen’s lady-in-waiting. the purse is heavy with a vial filled with liquid. enough to terminate—oh god—a pregnancy, the girl had whispered, horrified. i must have taken it from her bathroom, thinking it was mine, i…if she knows…

our secret, mary promises, smiling, smiling. they thank her. they give the purse back, and give it back, and give it back.

mary eats well. her mother sells the diamonds mary gave her—“a gift,” she says, smiling, smiling—and their roof is thatched, their clothing mended. they buy a cow.

mary holds onto the vial. she knows better than to waste opportunities on frivolous purchases.

“are you proud of me, father?” mary asks, and her father says, “yes.”

“so you’re ugly mary,” says the queen, looking at her.

mary nods. smiles. mary is not as bitter as her name.

the king laughs, loud and booming. the king is not a beautiful man, but beneath the glitter of his crown it’s hard to see. he hides his ugliness, with thick capes and gold crowns; mary knows better.

“can’t seem to get anyone to say a single word against you,” the king says. “everyone says: you want something done, ask ugly mary.”

“if i can serve you, Majesty,” mary says, curtsying deeply, “it would be my honor.”

“no,” says the queen. the queen is beautiful, and she looks away. 

“just to do the cleaning,” the king says, and smiles at her, benign. “nothing like an ugly girl to do the ugly work, eh?”

mary smiles. “indeed, your Majesty,” she says.

beautiful women are noticed. you never stop noticing them. they arrest you. they want you to please them, and you want it too.

ugly women are noticed. you never stop noticing them. they arrest you, and you want them to please you. it is not hard to please you. they only have to give you what you think you want.

“what i like about you, ugly mary,” says the king, “is that you never make a fuss. i barely realize you’re here.”

that’s not true, mary knows. but she has worked hard to learn how to make it seem as if it is. she is not unnoticed, she is simply unremarkable. surely someone who looks defeated must be defeated.

“aye, Majesty,” she says.

he trails off, fingers running across the bedspread. “what’s this?” he asks, plucking mary’s purse from the sheets. she keeps her eyes on the floor, scrubbing. 

one dose before bedtime, the paper reads. the pregnancy will end with blood.

“the pregnancy will end,” the king says aloud. “the pregnancy will—the pregnancy—”

mary looks up. she waits.

the king’s eyes snap to her. “tell no one,” he says, and mary smiles.

“Majesty, it will be our secret,” she promises.

father are you proud of me father are you proud father

yes yes yes yes yes

the day of the queen’s death, and the death of the king’s brother, mary stays at the castle. she cleans, and waits. she is careful to be in the king’s chamber when he returns, puffy-eyed. drunk. 

“ugly mary,” he slurs as she tucks him into bed. “she was too beautiful. she lied. her beauty lied, she—you would never lie.”

mary smiles. she takes a liberty she never has before, and brushes his hair from him face. “never, Majesty,” she promises.

“your ugly face hides a beautiful heart,” he slurs, and mary laughs.

“please don’t tell anyone, majesty,” she teases, and he says, “no mary, no. it’ll be our secret.”

you are here, you are alive, you are ugly: they do not know what this means.

at the wedding, mary does not try to look beautiful. she dresses simply. they love her for it, ugly mary with the beautiful heart.

the chef weeps, the serving boy weeps, the errands boy weeps, the lady-in-waiting weeps. ugly mary has been so kind to them. ugly mary keeps their secrets.

they stand at the altar, mary and her king, her simple king. he looks at her and smiles, so fond, so trusting, so sure. a woman like ugly mary could never betray him. a woman like ugly mary is surely so grateful. gratitude is loyalty. gratitude keeps your secrets.

mary smiles.


there’s a cliff in town. you heard somewhere that someone jumped from it back in high school. no one talks about it. you woke up one day and you notice it where your front yard used to be. you’d never actually seen it before. but it’s there now. you tell your mother and tells you to pray. you tell your father and he asks you if you want to fishing. you mention it to friends and they change the subject. you want to ask strangers if they can hear that strange distant ringing too. you don’t want to leave the house anymore. not with this thing in your yard. you start thinking every room is dark with you inside of it. you don’t know if the cliff is moving closer to you or if you are moving closer to it. it doesn’t matter now anyway. coffee shakes without the coffee. who cares. you’re not sleeping anyway. you feel so clumsy. you don’t want to talk about it anymore. you woke up this morning and your feet are dangling over the edge. you can’t remember how you got here anymore. everything is in pieces. everything is rushing. everything is so very very still. you remember the how relieved someone is when they drop something and realize it wasn’t very important when it hits the ground. you wonder if anyone will sigh in relief.


whenever i see a cinder block stuck in the mud at low tide i wonder whose ankles it used to belong to. i want to kiss them and make them better. I’ll kiss everything. i wanted to call and tell you i saw an ambulance today. but then i’d have to tell you i was at the liquor store again. a gray haired man collapsed in line at the register. the paramedics took his lifeless body away. i just wanted to ride back with them to the morgue. i wanted my own cabinet. instead i bought apricot brandy and some ginger ale. anyway, it was strange to watch someone pass away in front of me. i cried. but it wasn’t like when you left. how i expected an obituary. there was no wake. no room full of sympathetic acquaintances gently cooing as i rest a bouquet of sweet williams on a photos of someone i no longer know. lately i just want to blurt things into your voicemail. i’d say things like “i hate the parts of me that miss you. i wish i could cut them out of me.” or “i would be your oyster. i’ll swallow all the things you’ve done to me and still give you this pearl “i love you.” i’m afraid of saying things like “i just want you to be here when the rain stops.” or “i guess i’ll leave the phones sound on in case you miss me.” but you never do. it’s hard you know? doing things people do in someone’s absence. i get so upset thinking about where you sleep or if you’ve been read to lately. i don’t like having to wonder. i hate that you wrote “i’ll never give up on you” on a piece of paper once and then mailed it to me. it makes me think about how the back of stamps taste like goodbye.


Three years later, a new girl sits cross-legged on your bed. 

She tastes like a different flavor of bubblegum than you are used to. 
She opens up a book that you had to read in high school, and a folded picture of us falls out of chapter three. 
Now there are two unfinished stories resting in her lap. 

Inevitably, she asks, and you tell her. 

You say: I dated her a while back. 
You don’t say: Sometimes, when I’m holding you, I imagine the smell of her vanilla perfume. 

You say: She was younger than me. 
You don’t say: The sixteen summers in her bones warmed the eighteen winters my skin had weathered. 

You say: It’s nothing now.
You don’t say: But it was everything then.

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