Category Archives: microfiction

Ink Sting

There are tattoo artists who are wizards of pigment, skin painters whose work is so beloved their subjects voluntarily tan their own skin after death. There are those who sculpt with white ink, transforming scars into masterworks of lace.

Then there was Juliet. Her mastery was not of the ink and tattoo-pen, but of her pets.

Juliet lived in a little village not too far from here. She was not an artist by trade, but an apiarist. Her hives were great house-sized mounds that only she dared approach. She sold no honey at the local market, the excess wax she burned without ceremony. They were unsalable because they were tainted with the byproduct of her real goal: the bees themselves.

By some unknown alchemy, Juliet had bred her bees to sting color. Her pets lacked the barbels that marked the death of other bees, so they could sting again and again with impunity.

The process for getting a tattoo was this: one made a reservation months to years in advance. Juliet would plant a special bed of flowers in the shape she wished to tattoo and train her bees to it again and again. One hive to one color, the next to another. When the time finally came she marked out a pattern on the customer’s body with a pheromone pen and trained the bees on the skin. Each session was spaced out by weeks so the subject would have time to recover from the venom.

Was it worth it? Juliet had her detractors, like any artist. They called her command of imagery clumsy, that she relied on novelty to make up for her lack of mastery. But she was popular enough to make a tidy enough living, right up until she died.

The first deduction of the scene judged her pets responsible for her death, for her corpse was swollen with stings and the scene reeked of pheromones. After a deeper examination, they found that someone had probably doused her in the concoction hoping the stings would disguise the knife wounds in her torso. 27 stabs in all. The motive of the killer was probably the deepest mystery. Juliet had her detractors, but no one who hated her enough to stab her 27 times.

Lacking closure, the case languished. Her cottage fell into disrepair. The bees thrived on, because no bear or badger wanted honey so tainted with pigments as theirs.

It was predictable that the bees would become a menace, unmanacled from their keeper as they were. But the shape this menace took was a surprise to all. The bees began clustering around a man who made salves and creams for the nearby market, a man who had always lived below suspicion.

It came trickling through the village’s gossip stream that he’d made overtures towards Juliet a time or two, though no one could decide if they were romantic or professional in nature. Perhaps he harbored a secret scorn that had led him to deprive the bees of their keeper. Perhaps the bees only smelled their own product, the wax he melted with various oils for his salves, and hated it. No one felt strongly enough to accuse him, or intercede when he became so plagued by the bees he was forced to wear beekeeper’s attire at all hours.

When he was found dead in a field a year after Juliet’s passing, no one could be sure if it was justice or mere happenstance. The only thing that was truly clear was when they rolled his sting-swollen corpse over, it revealed a perfect portrait of Juliet herself tattooed on his chest.


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A Poem of White and Gray

There were 15 centimeters of snow hushing the wheels of the train that came for Mariko, only for Mariko. Part of an arrangement with the government. She was the only child living in the village; the train only ran twice a day, ferrying her to and away from school.

Mariko stamped her feet. Red boots. White snow. Red boots. White snow. For today’s writing exercise, she wrote the words “my life is a white poem.” The snow from afar looked like the coolant foam they had sprayed on reactor 2. Mariko squeezed her eyes shut until the snow was gray through her black lashes.

The train slid to a stop, snow squeaking beneath its wheels.

Mariko boarded the train, taking with her the only color to be seen. Red boots, floral winter coat, pink scarf.  Far away she could see the plant like a gray brick dropped in the middle of a while pile of fire-extinguishing foam.

It had been June, the day Mariko’s father left her at home and went into work on his day off. Seven years. She had been eight then. She did her homework and listened to the radio and when night fell she made dinner for herself. Her father had taught her to be sufficient on her own, perhaps knowing even then what must become of him.

The heat of the train car melted the snow on her lashes and in her hair. Mariko took off her gloves. The train started again. It was an old line, built in the days when the plant had been new and ferried workers to and from the village. Sometimes she sat swaying in the heat, dozing, dreaming of simply sitting on the train as it ferried her away and never coming back.

“You have yourself to think of,” her father would say. Sometimes he would cough after he said that, and in that cough would be blood as red as the snow boots they both wore. And in that blood was the reason she could not leave yet. Her father may have been tied to the village, but she was tied to him.

The way the track looped, Mariko was forced to see the plant twice. The reactor that melted down had not been unlucky number four, but number two. Steaming away its coolant, throwing poison into the bodies of the men working that day. They had died first, and violently. That violence was easy to understand. The slow decline of the workers that were left was something no one understood. Other students avoided Mariko. The coach made her shower before and after PE.

Her father had gone back to work. Her father, Shigeta, Yamashiro, and several others. They worked there still. They walked along the path from their houses to the plant, to tend to the functioning reactors like eggs in a phoenix’s nest. The slightest misstep and they would all burst into fire.

“You have yourself to think of,” Mariko’s father would say, older than his years. He walked with the stoop of a grandfather and his hair fell out in clumps. He and the other men could not think of themselves. No one else would hire them, they could live nowhere else. Each day they shuffled to the plant, and each evening they ran a geiger counter over their bodies before they went home. Sometimes they would simply fall where they were, as if suddenly remembering their own mortality. They could even go  back to their families to be cremated. Their fate was a gray lead coffin that would seal their poison away.

A white man-made hill cut between Mariko’s gaze and the plant. She thought of leaving sometimes. Her mother’s family beckoned her out, writing letters full of pleading and appeals to logic. There were more easily accessible schools where they lived. There would be no drench showers, no Geiger counters. Mariko could eat vegetables grown from the garden and the well water would always be pure. What kept her in the village?

The letters were stuck, unanswered, in an old cedar box where her mother had kept her festival Yukata. Their white dinged with years until it too became gray.

Too soon, the plant was back in sight.

The block building, sinister in its ordinariness. The gray of the concrete sucked all the warmth from everything surrounding it. The gray weight of it pinned their lives to this place, buckled her father’s back and knees so that he stooped. Mariko averted her eyes, tracing the trodden snow from the plant’s entrance down to a knot of people who stuck like grey flags in the white. Shigeta. Hayashi. All the plant workers struggling through the snow in their aging bodies…

Mariko stood, rocking against the train’s sway. The plant workers, like gray ants, clustered in the dirty white of the snow. Mariko looked and looked, but could not help her gaze retreating with the train, could not remain as the train bore her away from the gray plant and the gray body lying prone in the snow. The body grew smaller and smaller until it was indistinguishable from the snow around it, all that remained in the distance were two boots red as blood on a white handkerchief.

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Before the Fairy Tale

This is not how you get a happy ending.

First, you must cast aside every blessing given you. Slam the door on everyone who was present at your christening. Grind luck beneath your heels.

Fortune favors those who set off in search of nothing. So you must look for something. Make it unsavory. Vengeance, perhaps. Spite. Scorn everyone you meet on the road, every fairy in disguise. Steal from beggars. Trick innkeepers so you rest on feather beds while the seventh son of a seventh son slumbers in the barn outside.

Leave to a country where no one knows your face. Invent a life for yourself. Lie frequently and boldly. Care not who you hurt, this is the callous you must form on your soul.

Is there a wonder nearby? Perhaps a flaming bird comes to rest in the tallest tree in the forest. Or a giant buries the eye that can see through rock under a church every night. Or a prince lies wreathed in iron thorns, awaiting the gentle kiss of an understanding woman.

Take this marvel in your hands and warp it so that none can lay hand on it but you. This is power, now. You are feared, whispered about.

In every forest trail, take the most well-lit fork because the easiest path always leads downhill. Yield to temptation. If a fox bids you to bite from a wicked apple, bite. Shun mirrors, because they will tell you the truth. Covet finery. Grasp at debauchery. Pleasure is fleeting so you must dose yourself with increasing highs.

There will come a day when you find a path that does not split but rambles into the darkness. Follow it. Through the muck and the mud, through thickets and brambles and beasts, through all sorts of indescribable horrors…

Until you find a cottage. It will be empty.

Fill it.

Open the door and step inside. Light a fire in the fireplace. Seize the nicest chair for yourself and draw it close to the heat.


Notice how time has taken the flush of health from you, how you’ve bargained away the tautness of your skin.

You are the hag now. And the only fate you have is one you made with your own two hands.


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Le Masque Blanchâtre

The three surviving reels of Le Masque Blanchâtre reside in a vault of the Cinémathèque Française, and with good reason. The film has been lost, found, dropped, stolen, set on fire, eaten, and buried underground. The fact that any of the highly flammable nitrocellulose stock remains is nothing short of a miracle. But why is this film so frequently targeted for demolition?

Because it holds the dubious honor of being the only known film adaptation of The King in Yellow.

The film itself is not the only “lost” element. The director Louis André disappeared in Vichy France in a suspected political assassination. Greta Ors, at one time set to be the European Louise Brooks, made only one other film before dying of a morphine overdose. Jean Fleuret, cinematographer on every single André production, was one of the film’s first detractors when he kidnapped the reels just before the aborted premiere. Similar tales of woe afflict the assorted cast and crew; if a film can indeed be cursed then you could find no better candidate than Le Masque Blanchâtre.

The production itself was no stranger to misfortune. Plagued by setbacks, mishaps, and funding troubles, the fact that the film was even finished is a testament to the sheer doggedness of its director. Even before reading the infamous play, André was a man possessed by his own ambition. Yvette Andréyor called him “a nightmare of a man” after contracting pneumonia on the set of his historical biopic Alexandre. But once he laid hands on the mythic text, he was a man bewitched.

Little remains of the shooting script, but a vague summary can be pieced together from scraps and secondhand references. The film expands the role of a nameless courtier who delivers news to Cassilda towards the end of the first act that causes her to run shrieking into the empty streets. Filmed entirely from his perspective, all the established beats of the first act are there, from the return of Cassio from battle to the preparation for the bal masqué. Other, murkier elements from the second act are hinted at. One screen direction calls for Cassilda being shot “[…] through a kaleidoscope of mirrors, her hollow-eyed image retreating in all directions until there is nothing left but the empty face of the glass.” From costume orders we can infer that the bal masqué took cues from Rococo design with a sleek modernist flair. Of note is a single edict, two words dashed off in André’s increasingly manic handwriting: “no yellow!” Greta complained that her role(which combined elements of Cassilda and Camilla) required hours on end of “lying…beneath a great fish tank as they filmed me through the water.”

These snippets do two things. One: they paint the picture of an ambitious shoot filled with offbeat techniques.

Two: they make almost no mention of the plot at all.

The play itself is quite infamous for its disjointed format; the banality of the first act almost farcically belying its infamous (but never summarized) second half. André took it one step further, eliminating nearly all spoken dialogue from the script save for a single exchange near the end, the famous “mask” dialogue shifted from the first act to the final.

Had it survived its own premiere, it most certainly would have been revered as a masterpiece. But alas, dissent built even as early on as the editing suite. Fleuret wrote in his journal “[the film] has changed him. He is no longer my beloved Louis but a beast with wide, staring eyes and no heart. I fear his ambition may doom us all.” These two cryptic statements are the only clue as to what led Fleuret to kidnap the film and attempt to incinerate it. He succeeded only in destroying the final reel and was taken to jail laughing that he had “lessened that monstrosity’s taint on the world.” Indeed, without its final reel, Le Masque Blanchâtre could never be screened for the general public. André would attempt smaller private screenings, leading to the incidents listed in the opening paragraph.

André was a man broken in the years after. He never attempted to film another movie, but spent his remaining days carting the surviving reels around, screening for whomever he could. It is rumored that this is what led to his disappearance in occupied France, lugging around canisters of “entartete kunst” was practically signing his own death warrant.

The film eventually resurfaced after the war. André did not.

The film was available for private screening up until 1988, when a film critic ate 23 feet of the second reel. Time and wear will diminish the remaining film, as no attempts to preserve it have gotten past the fundraising stage. Le Masque Blanchâtre languishes in the safe, the greatest unseen masterpiece in the world.



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In Pursuit of Red

Illustration provided by the excellent Bill Draheim

The story of China’s first true red glaze is a well-known and probably apocryphal tale: a rooster wandered into the vent-holes of a royal kiln. The smoke from its cremated body starved the fire of oxygen, creating the first recorded instance of the fabled “ox-blood” glaze. The emperor was struck by the color and demanded more. The potter did all he could to replicate it but in the end, despairing, flung himself into the fires of the kiln. Thus was ox-blood obtained.

That is where the tale, apocryphal or not, ends in most tellings. But there is a further chapter that is not often repeated. For there was another potter.

This potter rivaled the man who flung himself into the kiln, coveting the color that dripped red from the funerary pots. Now ox-blood was all the rage in the imperial court, and so this potter set out to replicate it. After careful examination of the circumstances around his rival’s death, the potter concluded that human sacrifice was needed.

In the country there was no shortage of beggars, vagabonds, orphans, human detritus that would not be missed. The potter’s first experiment buckled under his enthusiasm; too many bodies stacked like kindling put the fire out. His next attempt, a single beggar, yielded only three ox-blood specimens.

The potter’s mania grew like a rash. In his haste to fill the kilns, his craftsmanship became sloppy and haphazard. The potter began insisting he heard a voice coming from the kiln itself, the cracks and pings whispered to him over the sleepless nights he fed it with firewood. The kiln he had was not enough. He must build a more magnificent kiln, one that bit into the hillsides like a dragon. The potter dug and plastered and bricked until his fever dream was made flesh and the dragon-kiln stretched 2½ li into the surrounding countryside. He had servants fill the kiln to bursting and, as the last man delivered the last cup the stack, he bricked up the entrance and set fire.

They say the heat from the kiln boiled a nearby lake. They say the agonized wails of the servants reached the capitol. When the potter cracked open the kiln, he found half the pieces were ox-blood. Not good enough.

The potter continued his experiments until the country was stripped of passer-by. With diminishing outside influence, the potter grew deeper into his mania. No longer content to speak, the potter claimed the kiln beckoned him with shapes in the fire, indicating the next sacrifice. His eyesight dwindled as he stared deep into the white-hot belly of the kiln, pots exploding from the thermal shock each time he removed the spy-brick. Each new setback only strengthened his determination. He finally made his most audacious claim to date: he would deliver to the emperor an entire kiln-full of blood red pottery. Audacious because if he failed to deliver he would forfeit not only his but the lives of every single member of his family.

The allotted interval passed. Officers of the crown set out to the pottery works to find the compound devoid of all life. Curious and malformed lumps of clay occupied the stands that should have held elegant vessels. The officers followed a large patchwork bloodstain to the rear of the compound, where the last bit of motion remained.

The kiln had been bricked over not with stones but skulls. The potter complained that he could not yet make the delivery as the kiln would not reach temperature, sightlessly tossing log after log into the cold firebox.



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Rare Animals

The antelope mount by the door didn’t look like a real animal. Its face had cartoonishly lengthened proportions, gave it a slightly melancholy cast.

“Hartebeest,” Prender said, just beyond Victoria’s left shoulder. The jump took a few years off her life. Vic accepted the glass of sherry he proffered to slow her pulse.

Prender waved at the mount with a now-free hand. “Bubal Hartebeest to be exact. Fine specimen. Done by a king among taxidermists.”

Vic’s smile showed her teeth and nothing else. “Fascinating. About the position I’m interviewing for…”

Prender took her by the elbow and steered her deeper into the room. The green carpet patterned with eight-point stars crackled with static beneath her feet. “How about this one? It’s not as good as the Hartebeest or even the Honey Creeper, but it’s still fine.”

Vic cleared her throat, stalling. “What a funny penguin.”

“Not a penguin. Great Auk. And here—” He maneuvered her to a skeleton in a glass case. “Stellar’s sea cow. Couldn’t get a mount, so this is the next best thing.”

Vic made a noise in the back of her throat. Prender led her through the room, past mounted heads with horns shaped like lyres, javelins, and sickles. He showed her a soft kittenish mammal that made a pang in her chest. He even took her hand and made her pet a stuffed zebra whose stripes seemed to fade to brown halfway down its body.

Prender stopped mid-sentence and said, “this upsets you.”

Vic made vague noises and looked to the ground.

“I get it. You’re a good person. I checked out your CV. That’s who and what I wanted, Victoria, a good person.”

“For what position?”

Prender swigged a sip and cheeked it, swirling it like mouthwash. He rested an elbow on a small, foxlike wolf mounted mid-snarl. “I’m very proud of my collection, as you’ve probably guessed. I add to it whenever I can. But the flavor has worn off a bit, you see. I’m digging the same wells but not getting as much oil.”

Vic nodded along.

Prender passed his finger over a carnivore’s tooth. “I want a challenge. Man subjugated all the best beasts long ago. What’s left are pale facsimiles of the real thing. Can you imagine a dairy cow facing down an Auroch?”

Vic shook her head earnestly. She couldn’t because she had no idea what that was.

“I have found a way to make do, though.” Prender sidled over to a glass-fronted cabinet of skulls and leaned his elbow against it.


“Oh,” Prender vaguely waved his hand. “I’ve had to recruit from other areas. The poorer nations. Ghettos. Employment agencies.

Vic stared at him, slack-jawed.

“You’re not drinking your wine.”

Vic set the glass down on a table made from an elephant foot. “Mr. Prender, I am not at all sure of the position you want me to fill, but I can tell you right now that I don’t think I qualify at all.”

Prender did not say anything for a long moment. “You’re a good person.”

Vic looked searchingly at him for a moment, before shaking her head and turning to go. Halfway across that starry carpet, she fell. Her legs cracked. Her screams became brays as horns bloomed from her head. A horrible, rashy burn flared all over her skin as she grew fur.  Struggling to breathe, Vic shook as Prender straddled her prone body.

“Yes,” Prender said, brandishing a ceremonial knife, “you’re a good person. That’s a pretty rare animal in today’s world…”


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The Image of the Goddess

Photographed by Ned Daughtry(deceased)

“The Treasures of Nepal,” was what they titled the museum show.

Trouble was, the goddess was from nowhere near Nepal. It had been gifted to Prithvi Narayan Shah along with a monkey’s head carved from mammoth ivory and an articulated golden cobra, both now lost to time. The idol itself was rediscovered in an oil jar, wrapped in a twist of red cloth. The lead archaeologist proclaimed it an image of the goddess Lakshmi, an error which persisted even to its life as a museum piece. Testing found the figure to be a mixture of copper and some unknown, slightly radioactive metal. Examination under a microscope showed that the idol did not bear the scrape of tool-marks, nor bits of matter left from the moldmaking process. It was as if it had grown organically into the image.

The idol was nested in a display case next to a gold tilhari and a Newar headdress. Three days before the museum’s opening, a curator noticed verdigris had spread from the goddess to its cellmates. The other ornaments were removed for cleaning. The goddess stayed.

By the opening night of the show, the verdigris was as plentiful as moss and grew indiscriminately on any surface. The glass from the display cases was left off for the night, the blistering panes stacked beside the tilhari and headdress and all the other things that had caught the strange corrosion. The curator hid green, flaking hands as he introduced Frederick Horton, the speaker for the night. Horton went around the room, describing each piece after a surreptitious shake to rid it of green dust. When it came to the goddess he palmed it like a coin, thumb rubbing over it as he spoke of Thakuri kings and trade routes. In the photos that survived the evening, he sweats through his tuxedo jacket.

Halfway through a rehearsed speech, Horton began to trail off. He seemed confused and rubbed his forehead with his free hand, leaving a green streak. He spoke of plateaus that receded from every angle, of metals that could be grown like a seed, of the true first kings of Kathmandu. By the time he was removed from the podium, he was screaming about the images of Hindu deities not being of multi-limbed gods but a depiction of beings who squatted spiderlike over multiple timelines. He died ranting in the ambulance. His teeth were orange and his skin contained impressions of his clothing fasteners as if he had been exposed to a low-grade radioactive pulse. What guests were left at the museum would complain off and on of health problems for the rest of their lives, most notably a green discoloration of gums and other soft tissue. The idol disappeared sometime between Horton’s collapse and subsequent hospitalization. It has not resurfaced since.


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I Cover the Waterfront

Curtis drained the spit valve over a cement planter where a few begonias valiantly held on to life amidst stubbed-out cigarette butts. The saxophone case in front of him had a scant few bills and one quarter. The only other person out at this time of night was the shaved ice vendor across the way. The old man kept up his cry of “ices! Genuine Italian ices!” as his handmade signs swayed from the push-cart. The boardwalk was practically deserted at this hour.

Curtis checked his watch. 8:05. At 8:25 the theater across the way would let out. Crowds. Crowds were good.

The push-cart creaked closer.

“Slow night?” The old man’s accent was unplaceable.

Curis tooted a note. “Not for long, I hope.”

“You stick with it. My son, he has the other cart, he likes to run around a lot. I tell him: ‘stick to one place, they will come to you.’”

“Preach.” Curtis smiled and nodded politely, hoping that was the end of it. He didn’t like talking too much on a job.

The old man decided to take a seat on the lip of the planter instead. He pointed with his chin at the sax case. “So little.”

“Ah.” Curtis shrugged, lighting an unfiltered camel. “Everyone keeps ignoring me.”

“You should come around five. Many people, then.”

Curtis shrugged again. “I’m a night owl myself.”

“Ah.” The old man chuckled and waggled a finger. “You musicians. You drum your own beats. I might give you tip.”

“Oh no, man, that’s really okay.” Curtis held a hand up.

“No, it’s good.” The old man grinned. His dentures were very straight and white. “Tonight will be a good night for me. I must spread fortune around, or it is lost.”

Over Curtis’s protests, the old man undid the brake and went back to lurk around the theater entrance.


Curtis tapped an ash in the cement planter. A girl walking past with her friend tossed her hair and barked a cruel staccato laugh.

“That’s gotta do great things for your lung capacity.”

Curtis worked his hands over the keys, puffing air soundlessly over the reed. Californians. You could be in deep with the mob  and still get elected to public office, but smoke and you were persona non grata. He would rather be in New York. Or Chicago. He liked Chicago. His skills never went unappreciated in Chicago.

Curtis took a long drag. Patience. If he did well here, he could write his own ticket. That’s what the other guys didn’t get. They got enthusiastic, jumped the gun. Slumming showed your worth. Showed you could put in the hours, whether the job had glamor or not.

Across the way, the cart man filled a cup and dashed syrup over it. The recipient bounced with a childlike joy as her paramour shelled out bills. The old man held out change, but the young man blocked it with his hand. His date saw, cuddling into him as they walked away. The old man saw Curtis watching and held up the bill with a smile. Curtis shot him a thumbs-up.


The theater door slammed open, and the first of the evening crowd trickled out. Curtis rose and leapt into motion, plunging the reed past his lips and taking a deep breath. He was Coltrane, he was Hawkins, he was Adderly. He eyed the crowds as his fingers danced across the keys. He could pick out some local big players pressing past the crowd to get back to Lincoln town cars and black SUVs. A socialite, three council members. Desmond Morales, the ADA,  ascending the steps with the help of his fourth wife.

Curtis fingered a heretofore unused key. There was a puff of air from his saxophone bell and Morales bent double, clapping a hand to his neck. Curtis improvised a series of hard bop trills to accompany the man’s sudden tremors as he fell to the ground, gasping. He only gave up on playing when the ambulance arrived.


The cart man approached the saxophone case, where Curtis was sorting through bills. He clicked his tongue.

“Ah. Not nearly enough for such an artist.”

Curtis shrugged. “A job is a job.”

“Tonight was maybe not your night, then.”

Curtis shrugged, scooping bills into his hand. An ice cup was thrust into his face.

“No, I couldn’t—”

“Take.” The old man pressed it forward until Curtis took the cup. It was Piña Colada with a dash of vodka.

“I had a good night. I can spare.” The old man grunted as he sat on the planter. Curtis forgot the bills and joined him. The ice was really quite good.

“You have off nights and you have good nights.” The old man mopped the back of his neck. “This I know from years of work.”

Curtis swallowed a mouthful. “I count success in more than bills.”

The old man snapped his fingers. “That’s the way to think. Where do you go from here?”

Curtis smiled. He dug out a cigarette, brushing the paper envelope bearing more darts hidden in the back of the pack.

“Chicago. Always call for someone like me over there.”


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Dream Journal

July 1st

The falling dream again.


July 8th

A flock of roaches took the shape of a man in a trenchcoat and begged me to extend them a line of credit. They would not leave, not even after I threatened them with fire and the lash.


July 10th

My brother’s death. In this one I arrived in time to hold him in my arms as he drew his last breath. I am never earlier than that. I suppose part of me will go on blaming myself for it.


July 15th

The lake dream again. I’ve decided to give up bathing. The thought of being submerged in anything makes my skin crawl.


July 20th

A series of dreams where I woke up and checked behind the door. Each dream ended the second I touched the knob. Each new dream started a second after that.


July 27th

Phillips started stocking the violet pastilles again. I dreamed the round I bought was porcelain and an unchecked bite broke my molars. Phillips refuses to special order anything for me.


August 1st

I was descending a ladder into the sewers. I did not dream of entering them, and I never reached the bottom. Simply descended, rung after rung. My arms began to shake and my hands tired, but I could not stop myself descending. I think my reasoning was that I had to hit bottom eventually. When I woke, my shoulders were sore from my sleeping position.


August 3rd

That girl, Bettina Kane, I had a crush on in grade school. Her skin broken out in spider bites, her hair a nightmare web. She slavered as she told me she was ready to elope. Her mouth was a jagged hole of blackness.


August 7th

I was in Phillips’ store, and the lot of them were trying to convince me my name was Bachmann. I’ve never even known a Bachmann. Could this have something to do with my indecisiveness on the new art exhibit?


August 10th

I took a long, cold walk to the edge of town. There I stopped and stared at a rock no different than the one either side of it. Then I dreamed the long walk back; every footfall, every dull breath. I had to check my sheets to make sure I hadn’t tracked in dirt.


August 13th

I did not get to sleep until after 1 am. My alarm somehow defaulted to the chime it came installed with, and the song crept into my dreams. It was part of a piano recital I could not leave. I woke at 6 and could not lay down again. I cannot nap.


August 16th

In-between dreams I have a black expanse of nothingness. I like it less than even the worst dream.


August 19th

Dreamed I walked to Phillips’ store and bought a pack of saltines and a new pen nib. Woke up to a half-eaten cracker on my pillow. I don’t know what to believe anymore.


August 20th

Phillips swears I came by. He also swears my appearance has changed. In my dreams last night I wore a hat as I hunted my doppelganger through the city.


August 23rd

My brother died again. He had miraculously resurrected and while out looking for me, he fell from a building. I did not cry in my dream, but my pillow was damp with saltwater this morning.


August 24th

Phillips claimed I ate his last round of Gruyere. I think he’s just trying to offload his odds and ends and blame me. I did not dream last night. I don’t even like Gruyere.


August 30th

The lake dream again. This time there was no land. I tread water and let the chill steal the feeling from my body. Maybe I’ll die soon.


September 2nd

I did it again. It wasn’t until Phillips called me Bachmann that I realized I was in a dream. This morning I have a new pack of cigarettes and some mints he swears he sold me. I will tie my ankle to the bed and get to the bottom of this.


September 3rd

My brother came and untied my foot. He explained that it was my job to wander out into the world because I was the last member of our family left alive. Sleep was immaterial. My ankle was still tied when I woke.


September 8th

I had a dream of being cognizant through my own funeral. It was very much like an interminable headache.


September 14th

I dreamed I sat down at this very desk and wrote all these pages, all these entries, one after one. This morning I turn each crisp page spotted with my handwriting and I just wonder. I can’t prove it one way or the other, can I?


September 21st

After weeks of no dreams, Bachmann came. He looked like me, but he was not me. He thanked me for holding this place for him, but now it was my time to go. I denied his agency after seeing how he cast a distorted reflection in my mirror. I took up this journal to write, and he stares at me as I inscribe these pages. We shall see who bends first.


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The Echo Pipe

The echo pipe stuck straight out of solid bedrock. 3 ¾ inches of rusted iron, it was Hawley’s biggest mystery. Mrs. Strickland’s spontaneous combustion and the meteor shower that made the town smell like spent matches lagged behind in the dust. Those were one-time things. The pipe was ongoing.

The bit of road that curved before it went into a tunnel leading out of town, that was where you found the echo pipe. On the hottest day, you could still feel a cool underground breeze wafting out of the mouth of the pipe. That’s how folk knew it was real, not just a bit of leftover sewer pipe stuck in the mountain by some joker. Maybe once the pipe had been capped, or maybe it continued into the ground and that section had broken off, but now the end was a jagged mess. The legend went, if you put your ear (carefully, those shards were sharp) to the hole, you could hear an echo back before you even said anything.

Hawley kids have been using the pipe as entertainment for decades. It’s a telephone, planchette, almanac, and confessional all in one. Early days, the pipe would only give an echo out after you said something into it. Nowadays, all one has to do is wait and something will come out. Girls will have listening parties, collapsing into giggles the second they hear a man’s voice. Boys will ascribe terrible crimes to the sounds they hear, labeling every conversation as some sort of code. Once in awhile some loner will pretend the echoes coming from that rusted hole are part of a conversation being held with them and only them. They usually give it up after the strain of belief becomes too much, usually two-three days camping out by the pipe. It was one of these loners that was the unwitting instigator of the end, boy by the name of Ethan Madden.

As he described it to the rest of the town, Ethan’s experience went like this: he set up a camping chair by the pipe, intending hours of listening. He caught faint snatches of conversation. Nothing important, some couple arguing about who was to take a mysterious “her” up to the city. There was a flat silence for all of six seconds, and then the scream.

The scream was so loud that Notch Evans, the man with the house closest to the road, could hear it. Ethan swears he’s still deaf in the ear that was facing the pipe. The scream went on for hours. 3 hours 25 minutes to be exact. In the wake of such a noise, the silence seemed to ring. The whole town camped around that thing, even 93-year-old Mrs. Van der Waals struggled up the hill. All eyes trained on that pipe, waiting for the next sound.

What came next was a cacophony, decipherable to no one. Occasionally there were snatches of quiet, leaving orphan phrases to be interpreted. A man called Mark shouted for Melissa to bring the kids. Ten-year-old Mark Drisson blushed and looked at the ground, not at Melissa Eckhart. Men called to each other to patch the hole where Notch’s place stood with parts of the roof. Notch drained of all color. On and on it went like that. Some terrible catastrophe was befalling the town, one they could only partially discern. Was it a flood? Earthquake? On they listened, eager for any information that might help avoid the end.

At 2:14 pm on June 6th, amidst the roar of a crowd in turmoil, the pipe went silent. And silent it has remained ever since.


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