This Issue

March/April 2016

Nights in the Forest

Sarah McCarry


CLAIRE, a girl

PETEY, her brother

NEAL, a boy who knows better 


 the voice of her mother

THE WITCH, a witch



A house in the country or the city in probably any year but really this one, in a place where girls are expected to become women; also, an enchanted land outside of time 


Claire’s closet. It’s bigger than it looks from the outside. Maybe there are some fur coats (not Claire’s: you remember this story from when you were a kid, don’t you?). But also there are things that would belong to a girl. A cracked iPod, lip gloss, gum, stretchy lace bras from Forever 21 (pink turquoise violet), tight jeans with holes in them, tangled necklaces with the gold plating worn off, Claire doesn’t have a lot of money, her clothes are cheap and numerous


CLAIRE: In the back of my closet there’s a door that goes to the witch. Petey thinks the witch lives in Narnia but Petey reads too many kids’ books


PETEY: (from outside the closet) Claire take me to Narnia Claire Claire you promised Claire I want to meet the White Witch Claire I want to go to Narnia Claire Claire she has candy Claire I want to ride in her sleigh I want her to turn me to stone


CLAIRE: (yelling) Narnia isn’t real Petey


PETEY: (crying, pounding on closet door) (incoherent sobbing) (maybe he’s yelling Narnia! or I hate you Claire!) (Petey’s wails crescendo)



Petey knock it off                                       Narnia!

Petey please come on                                Narnia!

Petey baby I gotta go to work come on       Narnia!


Claire shut him up                                     Narnia!

CLAIRE                                                    Narnia!

CLAIRE                                                    Narnia!


CLAIRE: (yelling) Nothing! Fine! (Claire reaches up and yanks open the closet door. Petey falls into her pile of clothes, sobbing. Claire lets him crawl into her lap. He’s too big; only his top half fits. Claire pets her brother absently)

VOICE OF CLAIRE’S MOTHER: (tired, to herself) Thank god




VOICE OF CLAIRE’S MOTHER: I can’t do this on my own


Petey falls asleep in Claire’s lap, still crying quietly. Claire gently moves him to the side without waking him up and covers him with a coat. Claire stands up. She is wearing a long white dress and her hair is unruly. She wraps herself in a fur coat. She’s barefoot. Maybe on her wrists we see scars. Probably she’s tired. She has on too much eyeliner. She has too much hair. She wears too much jewelry. She’s too much for her own body. She clanks and jangles. Her mouth is slick with gloss. She had a long day. She’s had a lot of long days in a row. Being a girl is more labor than Claire bargained for. Being a girl doesn’t pay well. Claire pushes aside the coats and goes to meet the witch. There’s snow on the ground. The light is pale and clear. Maybe we’re in a forest now. Maybe we’re on an open plain. Maybe we’re in a place where we can feel the mountains nearby. The air smells wild and clean


CLAIRE: (her feet are cold but she doesn’t mind) I met the witch the first time Neal came to my house. I don’t think she likes him. I’m not sure I like him either. But what can you do. (Claire laughs but she’s not as tough as she wants us to believe) (in her skin Claire is fragile) (Claire, like you, is a creature made of light and ashes)

Neal isn’t in the forest where the witch lives but he’s around. Maybe he’s been there the whole time and we only just noticed. Neal is tall and his hair falls into his eyes like a boy on television but to an adult he smells mean. He’s going to grow up to be rich and know how to buy a nice suit. Or he’ll grow up to be nobody. Or he’ll grow up to be an insurance adjuster. Neal is at Claire’s house now

NEAL: Why’d you put on that girl music who listens to that shit

NEAL: Don’t be so sensitive

NEAL: Come on this will be fun

NEAL: You’re so beautiful

NEAL: I just want to see you

CLAIRE: I let the wolf in, didn’t I. I opened the door and said yes. He followed me up the stairs. He told me what to do. I took off my shirt. This is an experiment, I said to myself. This is to see what happens next. I lay down and closed my eyes. He got on top of me and kind of moved around. I waited for something to change. Nothing did. When I opened my eyes the witch was standing over us. That was how I met her. I screamed and Neal took his hand away 

NEAL: What’s your problem I thought you wanted this

CLAIRE: (to Neal) The experiment is over for today

NEAL: Come on

NEAL: Why you gotta be like that

NEAL: You said you wanted this

NEAL: (sulky) See you around I guess (Neal kicks Claire’s shirt across the floor as he leaves)


CLAIRE: I knew the witch was a witch because she looked like one.

The Witch is standing behind Claire in the forest. When did she get there? We didn’t notice.

CLAIRE: Her hair was long and dark and stringy and her body was shapeless. Her skin was green and her dress was black. Her long hooked nose crowned with a wart the size of a ladybug

CLAIRE: Her pointed hat

CLAIRE: Come for a walk with me, the witch said

THE WITCH: (She doesn’t look anything like how Claire just described her, but she definitely looks like a witch) Come for a walk with me. (The Witch takes Claire’s hand)

CLAIRE: Get out of my house who are you

THE WITCH: Honey I’m here to teach you how to save yourself

CLAIRE: I’ll scream

THE WITCH: They all say that at first

CLAIRE: I don’t need your help

THE WITCH: (looks at Claire’s shirt on the floor)

CLAIRE: It’s an experiment

THE WITCH: What’s your hypothesis?

CLAIRE: I’ll work that out later

THE WITCH: That’s the wrong approach to the scientific method

CLAIRE: What do you know about science aren’t you a witch

THE WITCH: That’s what they tell me kiddo

CLAIRE: I’m not a kid

THE WITCH: Could’ve fooled me

CLAIRE: Fine I’ll go for a walk with you

CLAIRE: That’s how I got to the forest 


Claire and the Witch are walking together. Maybe the Witch floats a little. Maybe she has a broom or a staff or a crown made of antlers. Maybe she smells like sage and dirt and secrets. What we know about the Witch: she’s strong and old and wily. What we know about the Witch: she is impervious to the will of others. What we know about the Witch: she’s never lonely alone. What we know about the Witch: she’s a witch

Ideas: make wreaths out of dandelion and mallow. Carry roots in your pockets. Turn yourself into a wolf 

Ideas: spend a season or two in hell


THE WITCH: (walking, singing) I am going to tell you about birds

CLAIRE: What do you want me to know about birds

THE WITCH: Eagles can see far but they’re stupid

CLAIRE: How’s that supposed to help me

THE WITCH: Don’t be fooled by a glossy smile

CLAIRE: (exasperated) Are you going to teach me a spell

THE WITCH: You’re already magic

NEAL: (how did he get to the forest? he’s not supposed to be in the forest) What’s your problem Claire you think you can say no to me

NEAL: (following Claire and the Witch) You think anyone else will ever want you

THE WITCH:                               NEAL:

(singing loudly and out of key)       You’re dirty

(singing loudly and out of key)       You’re poor

(singing loudly and out of key)       You’re ugly

(singing loudly and out of key)       You’re excess

(singing loudly and out of key)       You’re female

(singing loudly and out of key)       You’re nothing

Sonny I’m tired of you

The Witch transforms Neal into a dung beetle or a cockroach or something small and slithering / the Witch grinds Neal into the earth with the heel of her boot / guess Neal won’t grow up to be an insurance adjuster after all

The Witch blows Claire a kiss

Ideas: fill a bowl with blood

Ideas: sing down the moon

Ideas: girl, live meaner and less kind


THE WITCH: See you in the woods, sister 

The Witch turns into light, or snow, or a murder of crows

We’re not in the forest anymore. Claire is in her closet, surrounded by coats. Petey is asleep on her lap. Neal is asleep in her bed. Oh! He’s not dead! What happens in the forest stays in the forest! Are witches real or are they only girls? 

Claire’s eyes are 

closed. Claire’s crying. Claire’s 

made of sinew and bone Claire’s

teeth are very sharp 

Claire has roots in her pockets 

Claire has a broom or a staff or a crown made of antlers 

Claire’s heart is full of earth 





Claire’s taken something from the forest  



Sarah McCarry ( is the author of the novels All Our Pretty Songs, Dirty Wings, and About a Girl and the editor and publisher of the chapbook series Guillotine. Her books have been nominated for the Norton Award and shortlisted for the Tiptree Award, and she is the recipient of a fellowship from the MacDowell Colony. She has written for the New York Times Book Review, Glamour, Book Riot,, and elsewhere.


© 2016 by
Sarah McCarry