Horror & Dark Fantasy



When the Wraith Smiles

My friend, artist John Gallagher, posted a collection of art pieces on social media. And I saw one that had two figures in shrouds, with smoke swirling around them, in a desolate place. It was such a mood—albeit one of predation and despair—and I immediately exclaimed I needed to write something inspired by that. So, I did. Without John, this poem wouldn’t exist.


They curse things, you know—
the men wearing their shrouds,
lingering toward death, offering
smoke and ash
as if it were a kiss, as if wanting
were a gift
instead of a haunting, merciless
and consuming,
they are always hungry, you see.

But you won’t always know them
at first—they can seem so ordinary,
even kind, clever enough
to stand in the light (while there is still light),
refusing the shadows, listening
intently as if they are huntsmen
not wolves, but in the last rushing second,
in the very teeth of it,
you will know the truth,
and so very endless.

That is the gift of them,
their curse, quietly unfurling
like a storm in the night sky,
too late, you see the bones gleaming,
the makeshift grave at your feet,
the wind howling
like a terrible awakening—
only, it’s you
here now, make yourself comfortable,
lie down, breathe in the smoke,
the fire’s burning,
burning so bright—
there’s nothing left to do
but wait.

Enjoyed this article? Consider supporting us via one of the following methods:

Ali Trotta

Ali Trotta is a poet, editor, dreamer, word-nerd, and unapologetic coffee addict. Her poetry has appeared in UncannyFiresideStrange HorizonsMermaids Monthly, and Cicada magazines, as well as in The Best of Uncanny Magazine from Subterranean Press. She has a poem forthcoming in F&SF magazine. Her short fiction has appeared in Curtains, a flash fiction anthology. A geek to the core, she’s previously written TV show reviews for Blastoff Comics, as well as a few personal essays. Ali’s always scribbling on napkins, looking for magic in the world, and bursting into song. When she isn’t word-wrangling, she’s being a kitchen witch, hugging an animal, or pretending to be a mermaid. Follow her on Twitter as  @alwayscoffee, read her blog at alwayscoffee.wordpress.com, or subscribe to her TinyLetter. Four of her poems were Rhysling Award nominees.