"The Gardener" by Stefan Harich
There’s a strange boy in town. He wears his cap all wrong and doesn’t seem to realize that jeans showing off ankle are not long, but in fact too short. Every time he comes through Hillary Gardens, I see him panting with the strain of walking up the hill. He isn’t bigger than your usual Scottish teenager but that rise always gives him the shakes.
Today – I am just brooding over dead weeds and lost friendships, feeling deserted - I notice him coming to a heaving halt half way up the climb. He is coughing and retching and looks right miserable.
Against the lethargy, I decide to step from the safety of the flower beds and approach him.
He has his hands on his knees and is sweating worse than a bomb defuser deliberating wires. He stops me with a look. “Don’t bother”, he manages between coughs, “there’s no helping.”
I cock my head. “Sure there is.” I take his side and offer my arm. He considers me and after a pause, he places his hand on the glove covering mine. I notice neatly trimmed nails at the tip of filigree fingers. “Hold on now," I tell him.
We start up the rise, his arm’s weight feeling minimal on mine. With every laboring step however, his grip tightens and he inches closer until, three quarters of the way up, he is clinging to me with all his might. Tears are streaking his cheeks and the coughing is relieved by sobs.
He feels on my arm not like a stranger at all now. And as we crest the hill, the desolation in his heart is mine and mine is his, and it begins to heal.
"The Mark" by Livia Kovacs
It stood next to other regular chairs at the kitchen table. Sometimes her mom moved it around till it got lost among the others. She had to know. Had to. When it was time to dine together she wouldn't sit on it even with the threat of torture. Her stomach became wobbly from the thought.
Something had to be done.
One afternoon she accidentally pulled out the string inside of her favorite pants while trying to pull it tighter on her waist. The light gray color made it more visible on the faint green fabric of the seat. Sinking into graveyard's green grass. She tied a knot around the chair back and let the rest hang down on the wooden legs. From now on, she thought, her mom could shuffle the chair around but she will always remember it.
Dinner time the old man sat down unaware of the change. His funny smell filled the room and mixed with the pork slices. She was too young to diagnose liver failure but subconsciously understood the message. He reached his fork out with an indifferent facial expression. Mom was extremely nice and pulled the meat plate closer to him. The girl sat there smiling at the old man, thinking about her victory.
"Sinister Summoning" by Shelbie Kellum
They cross the river, their feet dipping into the warm water before finding purchase on the steep bank. The only light to guide them is the full moon overhead.
“You think she’s here?” Willow whispers, afraid that some monstrous creature will spring forward if she speaks up.
“She wouldn’t invite us if she wasn’t here,” her older sister says in a scolding voice.
As if sensing their doubt, a light at the front of the old cabin flickers to life. The door opens with a creak and Aunt Bel steps onto the porch.
“Come on in!” she bellows. Willow can’t help but giggle and both girls break out in a full run.
The cabin is one big room on the inside with a kitchen, sitting area, and a cramped loft. The décor is rustic but imbued with magic, alternating between old tools and dusty bottles of herbs. They gather around the rickety table, the girls bubbling with excitement and Aunt Bel smiling at their enthusiasm.
A collection of rocks, animal bones, and rose petals are piled in the middle of the table. Once the girls settle down, they eye the centerpiece with suspicion.
“We aren’t doing anything scary, are we?” Willow asks.
Aunt Bel chuckles. “Oh yes,” she says.
The girls exchange a worried glance. Aunt Bel runs both hands through the air, making them dance in the dim light of the cabin. After a tense moment, a spark of magic appears between her palms. The girls gasp.
Aunt Bel flings the drop of magic onto the dark stones with a flare and a wink. Willow and her sister scoot their chairs back and almost bolt away, but what appears stops them. It’s a large bowl teeming with…
“Ice cream!” They shout in unison.
Aunt Bel cackles.