The Writers’ Cafe Magazine – ISSUE 1 “Frights and Bites”

First Dates

by Diane Cockburn

The gurgling must mean something and I want to touch you.
Could we have a relationship?
You blink ‘yes’ and slobber suggestively onto my anorak.
Something in you appears to be throbbing.
What will they think when I introduce you?
Should we wear matching blue silk snoods?
What is your opinion of tassels?
Then I notice the bloodstained dribble
from the parcel under your arms.
Are you smiling?
I hear the crunch of teeth on bone.

My teeth on your bone.
Once the ticking and flicking begin just behind me
I know you are there, swishing your tail and flashing those devil eyes.
The ear flapping means ‘approach with caution and snacks’.
Are you from Popelick Creek?
Could you possibly live in the Tesco cold storage unit?
Shall I attempt to seduce you with a chicken drumstick?
Should I offer you a money off coupon for a packet of Brain’s faggots?
Could we share a trolley?
As you turn I see you have eyes the colour of forget-me-nots
and crushed ears like faded roses.
I shall offer you my heart.
Will you suck it or bite it out?

Heads or Tails
by Diane Cockburn

Jane woke shivery and remembered. Her Birthday. 10 today. Heads or tails? A picnic just for her. Mumma and Dad were standing in the kitchen, smiling, but Mumma had red eyes and one was bloodshot with rubbing. Both dressed in green cagoules laced up at the neck. Dad was holding a box wrapped in bright paper. Mumma had the picnic bag.

‘Happy Birthday, Jane. Heads or tails? Come on! Hurry! We love you’.

Dad’s tail was a question mark as they moved towards the front door; towards the silent journey in the silent silver car, with all the other silent silver cars and 10-year-olds, on their way to the picnic site. Mumma just kept gasping and Dad drove hard, clicking his teeth. The Birthday box tinkled in the back seat beside her. Jane noticed Mumma’s tail creeping up over from the front seat, wanting to dance and watching her. Jane wanted her tail now. She wanted to dance.

The picnic site. The special place just out of town. Dad pulled over and so did everyone else.

Families were scrambling out with Birthday boxes and 10-year-olds. There was a clown with six tails and the mask of teeth. Mumma and Dad didn’t smile. No one did apart from the clown. Mumma clutched her hand hard. Too hard.

They all went to the circle and placed their boxes down. Jane waved at Johnny across the path.

‘Hey Johnny’!

His Birthday had been last week but he’d had to wait. ‘Once per Season’. Her letter had said ‘you might be lucky’. Her Birthday was today. Must be a good omen, right? Mr Fieldsman stood in the centre with his glossy face and tail all fanned out in purple bows and special knots. The ‘correct way’. He carried the list of names.

‘Johnny step forward’.

Johnny ran over to his box. It was covered in shooting star paper. Black stars. Everyone watched. Then there was a gush of music as the box fell open. A beautiful tail, green like a sea fox. It sprang up and clipped itself onto his back. Johnny danced. His family took him away to their silver car. They could hear them eating their picnic with loud smackings and stifled laughter. Locking their car doors, ‘click’.

Then Elizabeth. Then Josephine. Then Billy. All tails. Silver cars and picnics.

At last it was her turn.

‘Jane, step forward’.

She skipped over to her beautiful box covered in hand-painted paper by Mumma in moonbeams and forget-me-nots. Music. A song of dark beauty. Night things. The box opened.

Afterwards, it was recorded that the girl Jane stumbled a little and held out her fingers towards the head as it rose up out of the box, as if to welcome it. She saw the teeth first, smiling at her and the air sucked and the head came to her and fastened on to her with a sigh and a bite like the picnic she had become and the picnic her family would become.

Mumma and Dad went quietly and gently to the car. Just one little-broken sound from Mumma. She followed them, skipping. They got inside and locked their doors. Click.

Afterwards, it was recorded that the car blazed red with blood and it took 27 minutes for the frenzy to subside. It was recorded that the car was removed to the usual place and the bonfire was mighty. There was toffee for everyone and much merrymaking and the dancing was the finest of the season.

Heads or tails?

St. Elmo’s Path
by Charley Reay

The storm is sudden, turns torrential
just as we reach the graveyard gate.
Your ears down, fur soon drenched.
Me, no coat, soaked to the skin.
Seek sanctuary, run to the church.
Stop in our tracks as bolt strikes spire.

A crackle then a crack.

You begin to bark at phantoms
in the pattern of the hammering rain:
Chimeric pictures of storm caught ships
horned herds glowing phosphorescent.
Our path, now lit by the old gas lights, violet
with a neon fluorescence born of lightning.

by Charley Reay

I found the first one
hidden in the airing cupboard
tucked behind the towels.
Fixed grin made crazy
by its empty eyes. Knuckles
strung with wire. Marionette limp.

The next one, broken in bits,
piled in an old steamer trunk,
shuffled beyond sense.
Cranium cupped carpals
muffled under moth-holed
eiderdowns, five layers deep.

Soon every space held them:
Clavicles cluttering kitchen cupboards,
ulnas nesting under our bed.
Bonemeal skulked in the sugar bowl
while a baccy tin, rattling with
phalanges lurked in the bureau drawer.

They say every family’s got bones:
Mine’s got an orchestra of xylophones.
We have programmed the doorbell
to play the Danse Macabre
and changed our family motto
to Memento Mori.

by Carolyn Batcheler

Josie stood, looked in the window and studied the rows of books. Everything was covered in a coating of dust. inside was gloomy, she couldn’t see much but there were brown shelves stacked with books. The shop wasn’t on the main drag, she’d found it when she was on an exploratory walk between work and her new flat. Tucked into an alley, with no sign at the end, she wondered who shopped there. The other entrances there seemed to lead to homes or possibly offices but she never saw anyone else. Secondhand bookshops were a passion of hers, she loved searching out something new. It wasn’t necessarily about a bargain, but that was fun too.

There was a sign on the door that said “Open” and although she had tried the door, it wouldn’t budge. She had even dreamt about the shop, the door had opened then, and the bell on the other side had given a pleasant ping. However, even in a dream state, she hadn’t managed to get over the threshold, as her cat had jumped on the bed, waking her at the crucial moment. She’d seen post and junk mail there in the morning but it was gone by the evening. She’d tried visiting on a Saturday but there was no change.

She’d mentioned the place at work. No one seemed to know the alley let alone the shop. She was met with “There’s a Waterstones in the arcade” and “I just use a kindle” or worst of all “Don’t most people just pick up a bestseller at the airport when they are going away. Where are you going?” The explanation that she read all the time, for pleasure, just led to a silence. She knew they thought her odd, she’d just given them more evidence. That lunchtime she went to see if the shop was open but there was no sign of life.

She took her cat Misty to the vet one day. She’d have gone on the bus but Misty had hated it. She’d yowled all the way in her little wicker basket. No amount of cat treats would pacify her. She decided to walk back and use her regular shortcut. Misty had calmed down after the trauma of the bus and then the indignity of the vets. She was fine until she got to the street by the alley. Misty backed up to the end of her container making it difficult to carry, the sound that she made was like no other, some combination of yowl and terror cry. An old woman looked at Josie and especially Misty and said “You would do well to listen to your wise pet, dear. Stay safe” Josie took the long route home and wished she had asked the woman what she meant. Misty sat on her that night and took ages to calm.

The next day she found that the book display had changed. She stared for a good while at the swap, The Hobbit to Dracula. It was odd because the layer of dust had not changed and Dracula had the same covering as the rest. She tried the door, it gave a little rattle but that was it. The metal handle was icy to the touch, it caused her to pull away slightly. When she got home she was ready for a rest with Misty under a blanket watching the soaps. Coronation Street was her favourite, there was always a storyline that made her laugh. However, Misty looked at her from under her grey eyebrows, smelt her hand, hissed, and backed away to spend the evening under the spare bed. She wouldn’t even come out for Dreamies.

Josie went home for the weekend to see her mother. Misty was much happier there, she enjoyed the sun in the garden underneath the apple trees. Josie couldn’t settle, she kept imagining that she’d missed the shop opening. She tried to talk to her mum, but she was distracted and kept looking at her phone. Her mother said “I miss that bookshop in the marketplace” Josie looked at her and said “ Mother, you never went in there” She looked up at her phone and said “Yes, but I knew it was there, if I needed it, for a book token or something” Josie had to button her lip but a “Use it or lose it” slipped out unnoticed. Her Mum got one of her famous curries out the freezer and they had a quiet night in front of the TV. The next morning Josie lay in bed waiting for the smell of cooked bacon to drift up the stairs. It never came, and when she got up her mum was outside on the phone. Misty was curled up beside her. Josie wondered whether to leave her cat there but she would be lonely without her. Josie made the sandwiches and took one out to her mum. She shared hers with Misty and packed her things. Her mum left the call as Josie waved to her. She answered “Just a friend” when Josie asked her who she was speaking to. She was back on the phone before Josie’s car was off the drive.

Her flat seemed small and cold when she got back. Misty disappeared back under the spare bed and wasn’t seen again until food time in the morning. Josie sent a text to her mother to let her know she was home safe but unusually there was no answer even though her phone told her that the message had been read. Her dreams were full of the bookshop again, she could see the open door but she just couldn’t reach it. Her mother was the main obstacle, at one point she presented her with a picnic. They sat on a tartan rug in a park and ate quails’ eggs. Every time she tried to get up her mother plied her with another delicacy. This time when she woke up she was late for work and ended up calling a cab, but she was still late. She felt groggy all day. She didn’t even bother to go up the alley, she just wanted to be home. She sprayed her bed with lavender and crawled under the duvet. She listened to a play on the radio, Misty seemed better and cuddled up at the end of the bed.

The next few days were filled with work, she hated the run-up to the financial year-end. Everyone was tetchy, it was an unspoken rule that you worked late, and didn’t complain about it. The reward was greasy pizza, which smelt good, but had the disappointing taste of soggy cardboard with a cheese with the consistency of plastic filler. Josie got to the boxes to see the last slice disappear. She hadn’t had a proper meal all week, her head was swimming, she’d searched the cupboards in the shared staff kitchen. Even the oat bran bars that had been there for months had disappeared. She looked in the back of her desk drawers and found half a packet of sugar-free polos. They weren’t going to help but she sucked a couple slowly, hoping for the psychological benefit. She spent Saturday in the pajamas, eating the contents of the freezer and drinking copious amounts of tea.

Having slept 10 hours straight, Misty woke her up. She felt like a new woman. She made herself a beautiful cooked breakfast, bacon, eggs, mushrooms, and beans. She drank a couple of cups of rich dark coffee and considered all the things that she could do with her day. She left the dishes and frying pan in soak, put on a load of washing and filled up her water bottle to go in her rucksack. She had a look round the local market, added to her list of possible Birthday presents inside her head, and had a look at the second-hand bookstall. She had read most of what they had.

Books on her mind led her down the alley again. She had never been there on a Sunday before. The shops around weren’t open so she didn’t hold out much hope. As she walked down the bend in the alley, she did a double take as she saw the door was open. She didn’t really notice as she stepped inside that the guy behind the counter said “Good to see you, Josie, we have been waiting for you”

It took a couple of days till the alarm was raised. The neighbours were alerted to the yowling and scratching of a desperate Misty. The RSPCA was called, it took quite a while for them to arrive. They called the police. Misty was taken to the local shelter, people were looking for kittens, rather than an elderly grey cat. She was still waiting in her cramped cage several weeks later. Her owner was never located, police felt that she had probably taken her own life. People described her as “A loner, a bit weird, always talking about books” Her mother couldn’t really help. She moved to Spain with a “Friend” shortly after her daughter went missing so she couldn’t take Misty.

Orange Moon
Villanelle for a Vampire
by Catherine Graham

An orange moon hung low in the black sky.
How fitting, I thought, for our first date.
Pudding and pie, kiss the girls and make them cry.

There was something special about this guy.
I’d met my dreamboat, my perfect soul mate.
An orange moon hung low in the black sky.

He wore a black suit, white shirt, black tie.
When we kissed I watched his red eyes dilate.
Pudding and pie, kiss the girls and make them cry.

His slender hand stroked my virgin-white thigh.
I told him father didn’t like me out late.
An orange moon hung low in the black sky.

He walked me home, I felt giddy and shy.
Like moonstruck lovers we stood at my gate.
Pudding and pie, kiss the girls and make them cry.

I slept like a baby, his bones sucked dry.
The headlines reported his cruel fate.
An orange moon hung low in the black sky.
Pudding and pie, kiss the girls and make them cry.

First published in her collection Things I Will Put In My Mother’s Pocket, Indigo Dreams Publishing

The Cottage in the Woods
by Maureen Barron

Not far from Cresswell are some ancient woods. In the springtime bluebells, primroses and daffodils abound under huge natural trees of beech, sycamore, and oak amongst others. The grass is lush and green. In a secluded part of these woods is a broken-down shell, which once was a cottage. Plants push their way through the ancient sandstone remains and moss clings to what is left of the walls. Around this cottage is a silence that is so deep – that you can actually say ‘You can hear the silence’ even on the sunniest of days. Wandering past this cottage you can feel the air take on a chill, no birds twitter or tweet here, nothing stirs. The dog gets anxious and the horse rears and tries to gallop past, tossing its head and flaring its nostrils. They want to be gone from here.

One day as I was trying to pass I see some signs of recent activity scattered about the ground. Fires have been burning, charcoaled remains of wood and ash are littering the ground. There are lots of feathers and tiny bones scattered. I cannot explore as the dog is pulling like mad to get gone. I need to come here on my own without being distracted by the animals and their fear.

Before I return I ask around for information about the cottage in the woods. No one knows anything about its history. I look at the internet – nothing to say what it was or has been, or who lived here. I am told tales of the nearby castle and the story of the white lady legend that surrounds it.

I return on my own so that I can have a better look around, it is foggy and miserable today. A funny kind of fog, the sort that comes floating along in ghostly shapes. I fasten my coat and shiver, I am nearing the cottage I feel the air become chilled and the silence becomes deep. The ghostly shapes of mist start to take strange forms, Horses rearing and charging. Dogs I recognize from my past leaping and running as if they are trying to round me up and send me away from here. And more worryingly humans forming a ring. I begin to wonder if I am really seeing ghosts.

Chanting figures are raising their arms, they are standing around a fire, a cross is placed upside down – burning. I grab my cross around my neck and begin to pray. I feel arms grab me and push me onto my knees. And then blackness. I look down at the circle of ghosts from above the trees and I see a form burning on the upside down cross. The burning body…’s mine.

by Sam Grudgings

She’s a housewife
Apotropaic and prosaic in her purpose
She’s a dowry and dower all in one
She’s been built up by expectations
And muffled by coarse linen
Wattle daub and tradition

She’s parlour and pantry chambermaid and chamber
You can accuse her of being closed off if you want
But if I were you I’d be wary of any whispers
That her design hides from sight

Her shingles shiver but she is built
To keep you warm enough
She’s cosy insulated
Her eyes double glazed over
Now she’s archaeology, she’s “her, indoors”
Behind closed doors and sealed like a letter
Inviting you cordially to the bricklaying you mistook for
A ceremony, breaking ground and exchanging vows
Keys cut for new lives and the foundation laid for holy matrimony
Brick by brick they led her husband to be  up to the altar
From her lips the words “I do” become “welcome home”
And she slightly quietly falters
Her heart sank and they called it subsidence
She reads DIY schematics like self-help manuals

Her marriage settlement was paid in blueprints and  building contracts
And set in stone

Her hand locked in his by acrid lime
Held in place for good
She is a promise and silence
she is retained by walls and out of sight
Because she is wedded
Brick and bone, mortar and stone
Skin cracked, in tessellating patterns
Her vectors tied into her value
She is as safe as houses
Trapped to her foundations
Empty rooms abandoned as the pit in her stomach
Whilst new occupants move in beneath
Always getting under her feet
She tongues the tiles stuck to the roof of her mouth
Every time her eaves drop secrets
And leaks in the pouring rain
She does herself up like a show home
Tidies the mess and puts on a brave face
Served with cookies and the smell of fresh baked bread
To make you feel welcome
She dreads conception
Builders as surgeons
Scaffolding midwives
And cement mixer nurses
She quotes plans and labour
For the birth of her extension
Planning permission is quite out of her hands
Local government says “benefits” another “housing ordinance”

She’s expecting a loft conversion
She’s expecting a garden shed
Bricked in like a curse caught behind mortared lips learned better manners
In warm weather she settles but
Creaks in the cold, as she tries to huddle into herself
If you’re quiet enough you can hear her sobbing
Deep in the witching hours

As the cold seeps into  her walls
And her pipes ache and groan
She is riddled with damp like questions in hard to reach answers
She is a housewife and woman alone
Can’t call it  a domestic
When her skin’s dry as the paper it was written on
She is a contract
A good luck charm
And she is the ghost
That haunts her own happy home

The Diseasist
by Sam Grudgings

He caught pneumonia whilst we were out catching butterflies,
Scarred his lungs whilst we were grazing elbows,
Lost his health whilst we lost hide and sick.
We waited for fairies to take our teeth
And Santa to bring us gifts.
Whilst he waited for doctors to take his blood
And ashen-faced orderlies to bring him results.
Tested him like we remembered our ABCs.
He never got his health back.
Never wanted it.
He had never been cared for as much as when he was ill,
Never cared for anything as much as his sickness.

He’s addicted to disease, so he should feel out of place in a place of healing.
Where they provide relief to mewling invalids and false hope to the pilgrims seeking succour.
A doctor’s words take two “we’re doing the best we cans” and “I am very sorry there is nothing More that we can do except make him comfortable”. With every meal or evening visit
Piety confined to strict how are yous as vows of concern.
But he’ll stretch out
Ooze into a bed like it was made to fit him.
Get under the skin of any nurse waiting with a soft sillibant susurus of spider webbed lips.
Dehydrated of company, parched for warmth he waits his turn
Wasting time and away.
He’s supposed to be a plughole, a leak in a boat a drain on resources.
But every sanctum, hospice, surgery, doctor and shaman and herbalist
Has at least a bed laid aside for him.
Sometimes its even his own private ward
Where he can swelter and fester
Pick scabs ooze, tremble and convalesce
They couldn’t tell you why.

You will always find him in hospitals.
Wears a coat hanger grin and
Slack scrubs stained and soiled by the years.
Do not approach him unless instructed to
Even then it is not recommended
It’s clear he’s a health hazard.
But he’s irrational like a lucky charm.
Not that you’d ever touch him, nor kiss him to your lips.
In times of anxiety
Hospitals hold that sin-seeker reverie for him.
The shrouded sanctity of a surgeon’s scalpel
And their hypocritic Hippocratic oath
“First do no harm”.
As they cut away tumours, buboes, and burns
Praying the infection doesn’t take more.
On exposed skin, hoping their damage has done more harm than it heals.

But what if someone was nothing more than harm,
Each lessening a quickening for what they were,
More tumour than too little.

Some sought him out, said his infectious nature denatured
Their own symptoms, said their mortality was worth trading
For a chance of something less fatal.
No one could tell for sure if time left could be switched,
For something less immediate.
He doesn’t take disease away
He was not, is not and won’t be a cure.

by Sam Grudgings

People are desperate and his chamois leather scarred skin
Oily with sweat pus and other disappointments
Can tense and pulse beneath your lips for just long enough
That your antiseptic hope
Can wash away all other infection with placebo placations,
And don’t pick at it it will only get worse substitutions

The man is an assembly line of mortician’s morning glory
angel hard-ons as the morgue groans with, dead body relaxing, releasing gases
A cacophony of whispers from those less well than he is
Let’s talk about his seeking, what he’s sought for
Cannot be bought by commerce
Blister packs of pills sit beneath the blisters on his tongue
The dark red raw surface of angst where
Chalky deposits blackboarded their corrections into his bloodstream
Like sailors onto an already sinking ship
Preparing to plunder a bounty of antidotes and macrophages for
Every immunisation
The black bile water closing overheads as promised remedies
Proved nothing much works

Sometimes the pills contain perilous powder that
Weaken the nerves
Sometimes the medicines don’t work the way they should
Despite all the words
Curticuled like insect husks around hurricane lamps
Some chemical hoping to light up the darkness of fear
Or pain, or symptoms or swelling or sickness or something
Indecipherable doctors scrawls over prescriptions scripted for the wrong actor
Sometimes the medicines can suppress the immune system long enough for
A fresh infection to take him

Sleepless he’ll dine on insomnia if he has plans
And he’ll consume narcolepsy just to rest his eyes a while
Offsets each symptom with a corresponding symptom
When his cough gets to chest ridden he’ll make sure pirates find it
He’s got scars for every injection
Recreational and medicinal
Contusions of storms beneath spring day skin
Till the crook of his arms is a tornado
All his track marks embroidered into a map
Each red centipede vein of septicemia
A scenic route for foolhardy hikers of cross infection
That need not be told lead only from one bombsite rash
To itching aching lesions and nothing in between

It’s like being thrown in the washing machine again
by Maggie Mackay

Acned faces squirm-sneer into the sud glass
as he somersaults through the drum’s steel.
White shirts and school ties swirl by,
teenage nasties, as if his mother’s returned.

Her leer, a blur through the porthole,
ensnares him once more, traps his three-year-old self
just as before, on the day she was taken away.
His ears burst in that spew and gush, black days,
wash days, flights down corridors of blood.

The swelling skull – which is his – crushes
her marionette pirouette, taunting him
on a childhood spinning top,
its colours running into rainbow smudge.

Previously published in Unpsychology, Summer, 2016

The South Starts Here
by Maggie Mackay

with houses, shacks,
salons, billboards
piles of tyres, an airport hangar,
a Methodist church, a propane tank,
voids, that ramshackle Whispering Pines,
its shuttered shadow;
always something else burning,
forty-three fires,
the 44th by a piece of cloth I lit.
with unsellable houses destined to crumble
in an emptying county
with flames spurting from farm outbuildings
–  burned wood into crackle.

All I saw was orange in the air,
on unmarked drives veering off
into quiet dead ends
where people share last names
even if they don’t remember
how they share bloodlines.
No traffic off of 13, and deep country roads.
You never run out
of abandoned buildings there.

I had timed it perfectly,
on Valentine’s Day, an arson spree,
I let the hens out first,
too sensible to be caught.

Me, they called stupid, crazy,
close-cut red hair, goatee,
wide blue eyes, good run to bad.

Found poem inspired by a Washington Post article. Previously published in Ink, Sweat, and Tears

by Geraldine Ward

Ink splattered across the page, black blood on blotting paper.
Weeping on the hand that thrust, ungoverned like a splash of rain.
On paper the subtle touch carefully crafted words.
Verse and prose, another’s handwriting.
Dark minions, bad blood, black heart.
Weeping on the pen, from ink to paper,
hand or verse, to curse not bless.
Power of the mind to psychopathically derange.
Smell of sweet flesh, light veins, white flames.
Choose to touch an angel, rather than, oh the pain.
Intoxicant sound of sweat freezing on fried flesh.
Nothing less than an Emperor confined,
to the dark, deranged world of a deluded mind.

Hermione, Queen of Argentina
by Geraldine Ward

There is a land among the prairies,
where between the hill of daisies,
were the wails of fairies.
In Argentina, where Eva waved her last goodbyes.
In countryside bare but for the leaves.
Concealing the body of an ancient tomb.
A nature goddess had opened her unearthly womb.
Adorned with flowers, glaring with supernatural power.
Like the white light of Aphrodite,
The red roar of war from Mars.
Sitting in her garden, adorned with flowers.
Hermione, Queen of Nature.
Reincarnated as Eva Peron.
Murdered by the cancer.
Yet Hermione’s tomb is vandalised.
Not revered. Sacrilege created her harbour,
for her journey along the dark domains.
Where here human remains and organs are pillaged.
For the delight of the flies that swarm all over her breast.

Her Hour Has Come
by Mark Hammond

‘My mother groaned, my father wept,
into the dangerous world I 
leapt.’ ― William Blake

Into batwing doors we clatter, as wild
as the West, as brutal as police
battering through into a booby-trapped
supposed safe house, that when charged upon
explodes with a charge of biting white light.
In a flash we’re thrust into the picture,

Eighteen million bulbs to capture,
like a big game trophy beast of the wild,
this moment more naked than all of the lights
and more shrill, brighter than any police
chase, more desperate still, you lay upon
the table, desperately still. Hog-tied. Trapped,

You are prone Gulliver, thereby trapped,
tent peg cannula, a scaffold structure
built around, manifold and walked upon
by these hundred ant workers who wield
means to plunder with instruments that please.
Their darkness barks when brought under this light.

With a cornet to lips, I’m filled until light,
set adrift on the wind like a blimp strapped
to your hand, clasped – cuffed – as to a police.
Please lock me up for causing this rupture,
let me sip from this horn in bliss just a while,
as dead air spills mute as the lips spilled upon.

Though you’re pliable, fingers pinch, stubborn
in these manacles that cinch tight.
Travelling down to your clavicle, while
the upper half’s in cerements, strapped
down, the lower Big Top is pitched in rapture,
upended, your legs suspended by pulleys,

Flukes protrude; skewered finger food at parties,
prickles of brier or a porcupine.
you’ve been stuck with this acupuncture,
tickled Spanish by some Judas device
that may hem you into its cradle, trapped.
Fed fennel and dragon’s blood all the while.

Why I whiled away pacing palace floors, trapped
in my mind, a fairy tale alone and delayed, I don’t know. Never once upon
a time. But it’s first light, ripped out from the black. Now we suture.

The Haunting
By Mark Smith

It may be quite dark
but that handle is moving!
there it goes again!

I was suspicious
of these adjouring two rooms.
My neighbours shifty!

Well he seems that way.
Those ‘eyes’ don’t half look shifty.
Did I lock the door?

The handle lowers;
moving further down slowly.
Prepare for attack!

The door remains closed,
but I can’t stay here tonight,
he’ll get me I’m sure!

How should I escape?
I’d best climb out of the window
and find some shelter.

But it’s now gone cold,
the ceiling has disappeared!
What is going on?

I am lying down,
but no longer in the bed.
I must be outside!

Suddenly so cold;
darkness with only the odd star,
to give latent light.

Beneath me is grass
along with some crisp, trodden
leaves, under my back.

This is black magic!
I just hope it isn’t them,
you know who I mean:

The Hitman Hatmen:
on very dark nights they meet;
bowler hats on each.

They plot and they scheme.
Cursing the earth; these are the
agents of Satan!

Their powers are strong,
but also mysterious,
these can’t be pinned down.

I need to be off
staying here is too risky
don’t know where to go.

Anything’s better
than staying in the same spot.
Also, I’ll freeze here.

Is that a tree I see?
Whatever it is, has vanished!
No! It’s back again.

I’ll walk towards it,
nothing else is visible
so I may as well.

It is flickering,
one moment, it’s easy to see
the next, almost gone.

The closer I get
the more it appears ‘to move,’
this can’t be a tree!

It now looks the shape,
of a human, but I can’t
make out fine details.

My instincts tell me,
that avoidance is vital,
best change direction!

No clue where I am,
this particular location
might be off the grid!

‘Here’ is anyplace;
any world; in any time
all are candidates.

The land feels possessed.
Maybe I died and have now
stumbled into hell!

Or perhaps I’m close
to finding salvation now,
as I’ve walked for miles.

Could be just moments away,
all I have is hope!

I saw it again.
That figure in the distance.
It is ‘still,’ then shifts!

Coming much nearer
without actually moving,
it’s not there, then is.

The motion spooks me.
Zigzagging patterns appear,
in all directions.

I sense the ‘being’
firstly to my right; then left;
behind; then left again.

I know it’s stalking,
following me with intent.
I’m frozen with fear!

It hates my presence.
I’m on its territory!
How can I escape?

by Emma Whitehall

I can still feel it, you know. The rope around my neck. The flames. The water closing over my head, surging into my lungs, so heavy and cold. I made you uncomfortable, and so I had to die. But I survived your hatred, and it had nothing to do with potions, or curses, or bargains with unholy gods.

There have been so many girls throughout the years. So many scared, lonely, sad or simply furious girls, so many girls who make your kind uncomfortable, who turn to me for guidance. Your great-granddaughters playing with crystals and pentagrams in their bedrooms, telling fortunes for favours, burning candles for good luck – they have all felt my hand upon their shoulder. While you…well. What was your name, again?

You made me what I am. Really, I should thank you.


Emma Whitehall is a writer and book reviewer based in the North East. Her work has been longlisted for the Bath Novella in Flash award, and shortlisted for the Fish Flash Fiction Award. She is currently working on her third collection. You can learn more about Emma’s work at

 Mackay, a Scot and recent Manchester Metropolitan University MA Poetry graduate, has work in a range of print and online publicationsThe editor of Amaryllisnominated her poem ‘How to Distil a Guid Scotch Malt’for The Forward Prize, Best Single Poem, 2017.

Geraldine Ward is a writer of poetry, short fiction, children’s stories and a novella. She has had work published in magazines in the northeast of England including Beautiful Scruffiness and Fires in the North Edited by Katie Metcalfe, Black Light Engine Room Edited by PA Morbid and Kenaz: Sanitos Ek Zuban Press Edited by Bob Beagrie and Andy Willoughby. She currently lives in Kent and enjoys participating in the local folk and writing scene.

Charley Reay is a Newcastle based writer from the Lincolnshire Fens.  Their poems are published by Obsessed With Pipework, Ink, Sweat & Tears, and Three Drops press among others.  Charley also performs on the North East spoken word scene. You can find her on Twitter @charleyreay

Carolyn Batcheler is a Manchester-based writer but has spent the majority of her life in the North East.  Has been published with Writers Against Prejudice, Eleven Magazine and Durham Magazine.  She wishes she could develop wings to fly between the two. She has been writing for 4 years. “It’s what makes me happy…. with a little bit of spoken word thrown in!”

Catherine Graham lives in Newcastle on Tyne. Catherine’s latest collection, a pamphlet, Like A Fish Out Of Batter, poems after L. S. Lowry, is published by Indigo Dreams Publishing.

Sam Grudgings writes stories and tells tales because it’s cheaper than therapy. He can be found co-hosting Milk Poetry in Bristol and occasionally lurking ominously in graveyards.

Mark Hammond is a creative writing graduate with the OU and is a trainee psychotherapist, father and lives in Gateshead.

Mark Smith is a North East based writer who helps to run the Tyneside spoken word night, The Stanza. His poems have been published in The Fat Damsel, The Owl Writers Breaking Bard and Xchangers Writing Group’s Heroes and Heroics. He sings with the Newcastle Male Choir.

Maureen Barron is a retired nurse, an amateur writer of poetry and daily life events and sometimes writes short stories. She particularly likes writing to prompts.

Diane Cockburn was born in Northern Ireland. Vane Women Press published her first pamphlet Under Surveillance in 1999. She is now a member of Vane Women, a writers’ collective based in Darlington. Her work appears in a variety of anthologies. Her latest collection Electric Mermaid is published by Arrowhead Press.








2 thoughts on “The Writers’ Cafe Magazine – ISSUE 1 “Frights and Bites”

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