January 2022

Through wood and meadow the foragers run
For fruiting bodies, searching every one
Decay made flesh, delectably so
Except for deadly ones they learned to know
Beware the death cap mushroom, my friends
Its honeyed odor and taste may be your end
Avoid destroying angels, my child
Their chalky taste, their appearance mild
If helium baubles you see on a hill
Do not pick them, for those bubbles may kill
Floating mushrooms most dangerous of all
When on long stems they take form of a ball

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Q: What is the North Shore Cryptid Refuge?
A: The NSCR is a wilderness area set aside for both native and invasive cryptids. These mythical beings need large areas of suitable habitat, and the NSCR was one such area set aside by the Cryptid Act 1972.

Q: Which cryptids are present in the NSCR?
A: By their very nature, cryptids are elusive and impossible to quantify using rational numbers. However, sasquatch, six species of extraterrestrial, greater and lesser Fresno nightcrawlers, a mothman, and more have all been reported. Invasive chupacabras and lake monsters have also been seen.

Q: How can I see cryptids in the NSCR?
A: Park rangers advise deliberately using older, lower-quality digital cameras or actual film stock, preferably around dawn or dusk or in foggy/stormy conditions. Cryptids thrive in conditions that make them difficult to photograph.

Q: This is dumb.
A: That’s not a question, but we hear you. You know what’s not dumb, though? The millions of dollars in tourist revenue that the NSCR brings to the area, including CryptFest.

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It tastes great in soup
And it doesn’t reek
But if there’s one in the roof
Then you’re up a creek

What is it?

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“Oh, hey, I’d forgotten about this.”

Willkins pulled a small figure from the mess of plastic bags in his lower drawer, setting it on his desk. It was a painted plaster figure of a small boy reading a book while perched on a toadstool. The paint quality and shade were of that dodgy, early mass-production era, which gave the figure a look that was at once cheap and creepy.

“Ew, ew, ew,” Kincaid said. “That thing looks haunted and gross. Why’d you keep it?”

“Oh, I got it during an office clean-out when someone left. Just like you’re about to,” Willkins chuckled. “Wife says I can only bring one box home, because she’s not repacking all my junk for Florida.”

“Who had it before you?” McClellan said.

“Oh, it was either Schneider or Murphee, I honestly forget. I only took it because they were adamant it stay in the office and not go to Goodwill.”

“Put it in the dumpster,” Kincaid said. “That’s not Goodwill.”

“Why’d they want it saved? I kind of love its creepy aesthetic,” McClellan added.

“Well, back in the day, office scuttlebutt was that it contained a great and terrible power to aid your career or cripple it,” Willkins said. “Schneider made partner in less than five years. Murphee was fired after three.”

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Morningsii Heights & Westan Piecus

Morningsii Heights, born Ann Liebsworth-Chen, was the daughter of a banker and an au pair and was occasionally called “the scandal that walks” in certain circles as a child. Her father, Ferdinand Liebsworth, left his wife and three children to marry nanny Li Chen. He soon grew bored of the arrangement; in the words of a local gossip rag, Liebsworth had found that “wanting is not the same as having.” He abandoned the family, moving to Europe and making only a very modest allowance for the upkeep of his ex-wife and young daughter. That, combined with the vengeful first Mrs. Liebsworth, left the family with little to their name aside from a rent-controlled apartment.

Though she found some early success as a model, Ann Liebsworth-Chen soon grew bored and resentful, and began operating petty scams and swindles under an assumed name. Morningsii Heights comes from the name of one neighborhood she frequented, Morningside, after she was amused by a misspelled street sign. Naturally, she used a variety of other aliases, though never her birth name.

Westan Peicus, born Sisi Mensah, was of mixed Ghanian descent and born in Newark to a single mother who was originally from Accra. His given name, Sisi, referred to the day of the week he was born on (in this case, Sunday). It was a very traditional, even old-fashioned, name. But needless to say, the fact that it both looked and sounded like “sissy” was a constant source of embarrassment to the young man, and led him to develop a reputation as a formidable brawler. After his mother died of breast cancer, the young man was taken in by an uncle, adopting his last name as a pseudonym. His first name, Westan, comes from his early days as a narcotics dealer and hustler, from his preferred haunt “west and north” or a local landmark.

Peicus quickly outgrew narcotics dealing and graduated into confidence scams and fencing items for petty thieves. Highly intelligent and organized, he was a master of scams that used a confederate and which drew on his ability to play-act as an urban fool. It’s believed that this is how he came into contact with Morningsii Heights, and she soon proved an able partner in a variety of scams.

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The redbelly then came upon a strange tree at the forest’s edge. It was like a pine, tall and straight, but without the odor of sap and scaly bark. Its only leaves were at the crown, and thin; a pair of dark shoots that stretched into the distance in either direction from a strange, single, bifurcated branch.

Mating season was coming, and this tree seemed promising, so the redbelly hopped over to it and drummed out a love song. The wood was perfect for that purpose, and the call resonated through the area. Satisfied, the bird descended to what looked like a weaker spot, to test the tree’s suitability for a nest. It drilled at the wood, but found it unusually hard and unyielding, with a sour taste that soon made the bird feel ill.

Poisoned trees. They did exist, but never in so strange a form, so alien a shape. It was like a mockery of a tree, one specifically designed to attract and then disappoint woodpeckers. The redbelly flew off, still feeling rather upset.

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“Oh snap,” Carlos said. “You’re teaching in ES 215. The Bedroom.”

“Bedroom?” Marco looked at the building map. “It’s a lecture hall.”

“No, no. They call it the bedroom because it’s the most sleep-inducing classroom ever.”

“Classrooms don’t make people sleepy,” said Marco, straightening proudly. “Bad teachers do.”

“The lights in there flicker at 100 Hz, slower than we’re used to, which induces torpor. The chairs are very plush thanks to the renovation that only got half-done, so the kids sink into them. The room is always warm since it’s right up against the utility core of the building. And of course, there are no windows.”

“Bad. Lecturers.” Marco tapped his index finger on Carlos’s chest with each word.

“Well, we’ll just see about that. I recommend bringing a noisemaker of some kind to wake the kids up.”

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“It really is a shame that there’s so much false information on the internet these days, it makes it so hard to get to the truth.” Simona dealt the next card, the Magician. “Of course, it’s not all bad. Streaming the Westminster dog show is so much easier than going in person.”

“So what is a ley line?” Heath said.

“It sounds like something a high school basketball team would do,” Ash said. He had sunk firmly into one of Simona’s overstuffed lounge chairs and lodged there.

“Well, there’s a lot that goes into it, from sacred geometry to geomancy,” Simona said. “But the simple version would be this: every structure has a series of invisible lines that anchor it to the natural world. For large and important structures, like mountains or temples, the lines can be a source of considerable power.”

“What about Deerton?” Ruby said. “Would our lines be powerful enough to do something bad?”

Simona laughed and dealt the next card: the Hanged Man, inverted. “I should think not. This city’s only existed since 1874, hardly long enough to accrue that kind of arcane power. I suppose you could use it for a minor ritual or two, but nothing spectacular.”

“What about all that talk of breaking them?” Jayda asked.

Simona shrugged. “That’s just it, that doesn’t make any sense. You might as well talk about outlawing triangles; ley lines are a natural and immutable feature.”

“What if you could break them?” Ruby said.

The next card was Death; Simona buried it with a little slight of hand, as she knew it often upset visitors. She substituted the next card, The Lovers, instead. “There would be nothing to anchor the structure to the natural world,” she said. “I can’t imagine it would be good.”

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We can’t teach our kids
This liberal crap
They say

What will they think
Being told that they

How will they feel
When they learn about

Let them learn
From actions
Not words
You say

Very well
The book is

The lesson plain
For all

A little rhetoric
Has people
Up in

But school shootings
Are an utterly

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The pavement’s cracked and potholes
By 40-degree temperature swings
No money in the budget to fix it
We can’t afford such luxurious things

The highway bridge is crumbling
It’s concrete streaks with rust
“It’s good enough for now,” they say
“We’ll replace it when it’s dust”

The old school building’s groaning
Beneath the weight of kids and time
“Private school’s right down the road”
“Why should your kids get my dime?”

The city cops are cruising
In brand new patrol cars
Their budget’s quite uncuttable
“It isn’t theirs, it’s ours!”

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