Tag Archives: long fiction

But Anyway

—like I said, I’m never going back there again. But anyway, did you hear about Claire? Mmm-hmm, keeled over in the middle of a manicure. Just like that, they said. Popped her brassiere in the process, couldn’t you just die? Janine says she said she stopped drinking, but Alice says she saw Claire sneaking one of those mini-bottles out of her purse. Can you imagine? Janine swears it wasn’t the booze, Claire just up and died with the most horrified look on her face, but Janine also swears Frank stopped sleeping around when she caught him five years ago so you know how much weight her word carries. Claire just started flopping around and frothing at the mouth, kind of like your mother that one time on St. Paddy’s’ day, but anyway—

Poor Claire just hasn’t been right since that thing at our old highschool, mmm-hmm. Dean humiliating her like that and all, I mean, couldn’t you just die? Where’s a woman her age going to find another man? And the scandal! Was anyone surprised when she started drinking again? Janine said it was something else, of course. Mmm-hmm. Said she went out to that old supply shed on the other side of the baseball diamond, came out shaking like someone just passed a death sentence on her head. Place is gone now, but Janine says she said there was something written on the wall in there, something that killed her in the end. Have you ever heard of such a thing? Like a cootie-curse, at her age! Alice was too polite to say it, but Claire had been going downhill all week and this was just the capper. Who cares if Dean jumped in front of that car, her social life was murdered right then and there (kind of like your mother on St. Paddy’s day, but anyway—)

Alice says there was someone living in that shed, mmm-hmm, some kinda bum who went around with their face all bandaged up. Whole neighborhood’s gone downhill since we were kids. Disgusting. They say the thing written on the wall wasn’t even english. Some whatsit—called it a wormword? So silly, have you ever heard of a word you can catch like a cold? But that’s what they said it was, written all nasty on the wall like that. And then right after that she finds Dean who jumps in front of the car like he’s chasing a leaf that looks like a $50 bill (again, like your mother.) Too neat if you ask me. I’ll bet their marriage has been on the rocks for ages and Dean just got tired of keeping up appearances—no I am not jealous! Can you imagine me next to that has-been in his little power tie? My Brett might have his ‘gentleman’s weekends” but he’s never humiliated me in public. And even if he did, you wouldn’t see me sneaking Shandies in a sunblock bottle. I mean, the scandal! Couldn’t you just die? ‘Head cheerleader marries quarterback, falls into the bottle.’ It’s worse than your mother with a snoutful, but anyway—

Claire had the sweats and shakes. Delirium tremens, just like my uncle Pete. He thought he had bugs crawling under his skin, used a chisel to try and get them out. Claire said her words burned her mouth, said it hurt her not to say the thing that made Dean jump in front of that car. Mmm-hmm, so terribly sad. When Sherryl started on menopause and kept screaming that the kids were leaving threatening chalk drawings on her sidewalk, that was the saddest old thing. But Claire was worse. The way she kept dribbling all over people just trying to help her, screaming that she was cursed. I know she said something nasty to Harold, that’s why he keeled over and had that stroke. Poor deluded Claire just thought it meant it was all real. It’s a scream, couldn’t you just die? She actually begged us to find the bum from the shed! Like we’d stomp through shantytown for her imaginary problems. I’m sure Janine felt very sorry for her, but if you ask me Claire just basked in the attention. First her husband dies, then she claims magic powers? Please. Next you’ll be telling me the scratch on that war monument isn’t from the night your mother went spinning down the main drag with a pickax she stole from the mining display, but anyway—

Shame about her. Mmm-hmm. Of course I’m sad, don’t I look sad? …damn botox. Anyway, it was a long time coming. She really started to lose her noodle towards the end. Said the wormword infected something, a phrase we use all the time. Called it her killing word. But when Alice asked her what it was, she wouldn’t answer. Clear schizocotic break, if you ask me.

Bitter? Of course I’m not. Claire lived her life however she lived. If she chose to end it as an embarrassment, that’s up to her.

…of course I don’t mind getting lunch. Again. Unlike Claire and all, we aren’t having money problems. Say, you two were close, weren’t you? Did she hint at anything? Some little hint that might let you know what she was talking about? No? All right, just dotting my i’s and j’s. She was clearly beyond help, but you never know…

Of course I didn’t visit her before the salon, when have I ever visited in the morning? And if I had, why would she tell me anything? Your imagination is running away with you. No, I’m wincing because of my sciatica, that’s always been a problem. I don’t have some wicked little wormwood burning a hole in my tongue. Imagine, me with magic powers. I mean, couldn’t you just die? Couldn’t you just die?

Couldn’t you just die?


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We Have Always Been The Smiths

Amelia opened the curtains. Bert, still in bed, squinted at his crossword.

“Come on,” he said, making a sophomoric grab for her waist as she passed by, “coffee can wait.”

“If the coffee waits, breakfast waits,” Amelia said, cinching her robe, “if breakfast waits, I wait. If I wait, Adam waits. If Adam waits, he’s late.”

Bert laughed at her impromptu poem. “Being late isn’t going to kill him.”

Amelia addressed him over her shoulder before she shut the bedroom door and left him to the crossword: “a man doesn’t understand these things.”

Amelia turned the phrase over in her mind as she passed down the hall, pausing to rest her fingertips on the doorframe of the spare room in a sort of caressing motion as she did every morning. Bert, when you got down to it, didn’t understand the intricate system put in place to keep life ticking just so. For all his good-natured affection, he really didn’t get it and by extension her. Yet somehow, as her mother would say, it all works.

She knocked on Adam’s door. A formality. The nine-going-on-ten-year old was awake and making his bed.

“Breakfast in 25,” she said, and took off for the kitchen.

Coffee for her and Bert. Fruit cereal for Adam. Multigrain toast for her. Microwaved turkey bacon and two eggs, post, for Bert. Their dining room adjoined the kitchen, a nook big enough only to hold a 5X5 wooden table and a wine rack.

Amelia set four places. Then she shook her head and picked the fourth setting back up.

Bert was up and doing his morning business, she could hear the water heater kick on as his shower drained the tank. The coffee’s digital clock read 7:37, 28 minutes past her prediction to Adam. He was being a drag-foot this morning, something he indulged in only every so often. Ascribe it to some shift in temper, some temporary caprice of a normally punctual boy.

7:38. She peeked in Adam’s door. The boy was still in PJs, bed unmade as he sat on the end. He did not look up at his mother, but at his cupped palm.

“Adam? Is something wrong?”

The look on his face startled her. It was a very worldly mask of despair for such a young boy.

“Mom,” he said, “I found these by my bed.”

She could see where he’d moved the mattress away from the wall, perhaps chasing a sock. The gap was filled with legos and bookmarks and a motley assortment of crumbs.

Adam opened his hand like a flower. A bolt of terror shot through Amelia, sourceless and directionless, left her feeling weak-kneed.

In her son’s palm were plastic earrings, the kind that were made to clamp painlessly on a young girl’s earlobes. Fake pink gems glittered from the loops.

“What were those doing by your bed?” she asked with a carefully constructed calm.

Adam just looked at her.

The sound of the shower door sliding open startled them both. As one, mother and son moved to scoot the mattress back to the wall, hiding the earrings once more in their secret cache.


Bert chewed with his mouth open. Mother and son ate in a tense silence, each trying not to let on that something was wrong.

Bert washed his bacon down with coffee. “Summer’s coming. What should the project be this year, hmm? Boat? Treehouse?” He set the mug down. “I got it. We should finally do something with that empty room.”

“Actually.” Amelia covered his hand with her own. “I was thinking, maybe we try for another child. I’ve always wanted a little girl.”

Bert snorted and tugged his hand away. “We’ve already got a boy, what more do we need? You don’t want to share your whole life with a boring old girl, do you sport?”

“Actually, I wouldn’t mind having a brother or sister,” Adam said quietly. He didn’t look up from his plate. “It gets lonely being by myself.”

Bert looked between them, incredulity spreading across his face. “Man, I just don’t get you two. What we’ve got here, it’s perfect. Three is the perfect number for a family. You’ve got the head of the house, the mother, and the heir. Enough cash to go around.” He shook his head as he took another sip from his mug. “Anyway, sport, I think I hear the school bus idlin’ out there.”

Amelia spoke quickly, silencing her son with a kick under the table. “Actually, I’m driving him to school today.”

“What? Why?”

“What did I say? If Amelia is late, then Adam is late…” she shot him a coy look.

Bert laughed and plunged a scrap of her toast into his eggs.

“Send him to school half-dressed. That’ll teach him.”

“A man just doesn’t understand these things.”

Amelia waited, motor idling in the station wagon, as Bert got into his sportier chili-red coup. Mother and son were bundled up against the lingering chill in the air.

Bert shut his driver’s side door and gave them a little wave. Amelia smiled wanly and blew a kiss. She put the car in reverse, foot on the brake, as Bert backed the car out of the driveway and rumbled away. Then she put it back in park, and they both got out.

Amelia wasn’t even sure what she was looking for. The closest thing she had to concrete evidence was the sick feeling in her stomach. She tore apart the mantel photos, looking for figures hidden by the frame, secret messages written on the back, anything. No. Just her and Bert doing a series of mundane things, eventually joined by Adam. Amelia stood looking at the ugly jade lamp Bert insisted on bringing into the marriage, fingers throbbing from prying picture frames apart.

What was missing?

What was wrong?

Her whole life semed ajar, as if something had been crudely subtracted and the hole left half-patched. Why did the thought of a girl-child awaken such a sick, sad feeling in her chest?

As her mother said, somehow it all works out.

How? How did it work? Sifting through the pages of her life, Amelia could recall no stirring declaration of her heart for Bert. She remembered his proposal. A vague joy, distant and unremarkable. Nothing more.

Amelia retrieved her bug-out box from the bottom of her clothes hamper (the one place Bert was guaranteed to never go) and flipped through it. Dirty love letters, a recipe for bloody mojitos (a drink invented with her sorority sisters) and jewelry she was no longer bold enough to wear. Beneath all that, pictures of old lovers. Men, with full heads of dark hair and kind eyes and sure hands. Men who looked almost nothing like Bert, with his balding pate and watery gaze( and neither did Adam, now that she really had time to think about it.) What had led her to chose him? Vaguely, she felt that she’d met him and fallen head over heels, but why? What enduring quality led her to marry an ambitionless man ten years her senior?

In the stack of photos, there was a snap of her on a picnic blanket with her college beau, David. The timer he’d used had malfunctioned, there was motion blur obscuring his face as he dashed to the blanket. The wind whipped Amelia’s hair as she laughed.

Amelia knew that picture. She had its sibling on the mantel.

Retrieving the snap, it was easy to see how closely they matched up. Her hair, now tamed by a scarf, was in the same style. The lighting was the same. The duck meandering in the background now stopped to nibble on bread.

But it was Bert at her side, not David.

Amelia clutched the photo as she mounted the stairs. The door of her son’s room was half-open. The boy himself was sitting on the floor, legs and arms wrapped around something she couldn’t quite see.


He unfolded, still holding the object protectively. It was a vinyl bouncing ball, bearing a small pink horse in the middle of a star.

“Mom,” he said, “this ball.”

Amelia nodded. “I’ve seen it. It wasn’t hidden.”

“Mom, look at this ball. Does this look like something I’d want for myself?”

The realization brought a fresh wave of horror. She handed the photographs to her son. He studied them with a severity she had never before seen in him. He looked up. “What do we do?”

“We turn the house upside-down.”


The rumble of Bert’s coup died down in the driveway. His keys clattered against the door as he wrenched it open. “Hey family? I’m home.”

The rest of the house was dim. The only light he found was the den, where his wife and child waited for him. The floor was a collage of photos and small objects. Bert gingerly tiptoed through the mess.

“Whoa, did a tornado rip through here?” His chuckle died away when he saw the stony faces of his family. “What?”

“Bert, how long have we been married?”

Bert furrowed his brow. “…is this about the boat idea?”

“Answer me.”

Bert swallowed.

“Have we ever argued?”

“We don’t fight.”

“Let me rephrase that: have we ever had dissenting opinions? Have I ever been allowed that?”

Bert looked from her to Adam, who held his gaze without flinching. Bert looked away.

“What did I forget this time?” he asked jokingly.

“You didn’t forget. You just don’t think about these things.”

“Baby—” he stepped on something with a plastic crunch. He lifted his foot to reveal a girl’s play earring. He whitened slightly.

“I wanted a girl,” Amelia said flatly, “I’ve always wanted a girl.”

“We can have one.”

Amelia gave him a withering look. Bert was sweating heavily, tie doffed and wrung between his hands.

“I love you,” he said abruptly, “don’t you know how much I love you? My life was so much worse before I got you. And Adam.” He shot a wan smile at the boy, who had not shifted even slightly. “You’re the best thing to ever happen to me. And what we have, it’s good. Can’t you just be thankful for that?”

He began shuffling backwards, towards the mantelpiece. There the jade lamp clashed with every single piece of decor in the house. Amelia did not stop him.

“I can fix this,” he said slowly, “I can fix anything. Just let me—”

A toy ball bearing a horse inside a star, the kind a mother would buy for a small girl, flew across the room and hit the jade lamp. The lamp wobbled and fell to the floor, shattering into pieces. Adam sat back, empty handed, with a satisfied nod.

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Fungisland Part 2

Entry 5

I have reached the far end of the island. It is far less welcoming than my home encampment, though this may just be due to the melancholy that dogs my steps. I have not yet laid eyes on my neighbors, though I suppose it is inevitable. For now I have been seeking out new varieties of fungi that aren’t present on my half. One slime mold I have named Felicitus atramenti, for its tannin-rich blood provided me with the ink in which I pen these words (my inkwell ran dry despite my thrifty efforts.) That there are animals present on this side of the island should be no surprise, for I have often heard the call of seabirds with no visible source. That they should be in some way burdened with infection should come as even lesser shock. One mighty specimen I have dubbed the webbed albatross, for mycelia coats it so. The bird’s eyes are blind and white, how they navigate I can only guess. I see them kiting higher and higher on air drafts like a hawk, gaining altitude enough that they can fly out to sea. They never make it to the horizon. I was unable to see the means of their extinction until I fashioned a clear jelly-like slime mold and a dry hollow stipe into a spyglass.

Far off shore there is a scattering of shoal, and on that shoal other seabirds nest. Once a webbed albatross crosses their threshold, the birds attack the intruder and send it into the sea. While I am overjoyed to find a potential source of food (the nutritious value of those eggs might well make the perilous journey worthwhile) I am alarmed at the scope of the island’s infection. I had heard of fungi affecting behavior, certainly, but only in already mindless insects. If the spores are strong enough to infect the braid of an avian, how does that bode for greater animals?

I must show more caution in what I eat and drink from now on.

Entry 6

I have found my neighbors. My worries of the fungal spores were too slight, it seems. For they have already found humanity.

I must wonder after the people on this island. What were they, Polynesian, Oceanian, some southern form of Esquimaux? Were they here before the fungi dominated? Alas, they put forth no answer.

The people infected by the fungi are covered with webs of mycelium. Like the birds, their eyes are sightless. They operate by touch, and by some internal compass they navigate the terrain. This place and all that live in it are like the clockwork wonders I saw in Munich as a boy, each piece appearing to operate independently while driven by the same infernal internal engine. I have made a grave miscalculation. I am leaving the far side of the island.

Entry 7

After stopping to gather enough atramenti to fill my inkwell several times over, I am home. In such a short time most of the markers of my presence had been absorbed into the jungle. My trunk remains untouched (thank god) and I yearned for a drop or two of manmade chemicals. I have doubts even a shipful of carbolic acid could clear this jungle, though.

I cannot banish the implications of the far side of the island from my mind. Everything in my home camp that brought me joy is recast in a sinister light. Perhaps it was only appealing to me in the first place because the fungus willed it so. No, Phineas. Down that path lies madness and despair.

Now that I am quit of it, I feel more comfortable describing the far end and its inhabitants. Whereas the “trees” near my base are like that of a small copse, the growth on the far end is outsize, with a canopy that blocks out the sunlight. All molds grow to a greater size in those environs; I found a slime mold that normally grew to six centimeters that I could barely span with both arms wide open. Also present in that jungle are membranes throttling the gaps between fungal trees which serve a purpose unclear to me. They dilate only to let the poor fungi-people pass.

My neighbors…I cannot imagine their passage a painless one, yet they look out at the world with placid faces. I cannot ascribe their facial features to any one ethnic group, and their skin is so powdered with spore-dust that skin tone is impossible to place. Perhaps they are not a native tribe but other castaways like myself, trapped here by the fungus I will not give myself over to idle speculation. I must weather these conditions and then when I have reached my apex, I will bind this journal in oilskins and set it adrift. Even if I do not live on, my knowledge will.

Entry 8

I found a slime mold that tastes like chocolate pudding the other day. While in my early days it might have brought me cheer, I am only sickened now. It was like a port Molly painting herself up in an approximation of your own mother’s face to entice you.

Whether I was always the subject of visits and only noticed now or that the fungus has been made aware of me I see the fungi-people on my side of the island with increasing frequency. They are completely silent, communicating in some nonverbal manner that leaves me out in the cold. No different than normal society, then. Their errands are as murky as their vision. Sometimes I see them move a fruiting mold a few feet, only to move it back a short time later. It is my pet theory that their actions are a cover, and they act only to observe me. I will begin caching the journal in a seaside cave, since the saltwater gives them pause.

Entry 9

It cannot be. Yet it is.

I have found the Bosun’s red cap. The crew are among the fungi-people.

I will begin constructing a raft. I must get off this island.


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Fungisland Part 1

Entry 1

The Molly Haggard has crashed, all hands down to the deep save for me. I, Phineas Elmer Rutland, am alive. More importantly, I am free. FREE. No more petty decrees to gather bird feathers and droppings, no more deckhands roughing up my scientific equipment, no more jabs about my sea-sickness, I AM FREE. I have destroyed the preceding journal pages as a symbol of my emancipation, so let me mark down a summary of how and when this came to be, lest I forget:

It was three days prior; the ship was on glass-calm waters when suddenly we hove to port (or starboard, I can never remember.) The ship was caught in a tumult as if a maelstrom was upon us, yet the sky and surrounding sea remained clear. I admit I remember little of this; the boat pitched and yawed so, I spent most of my time emptying the contents of my stomach overboard. I remember one confused soul screamed the dreaded “iceberg” but knew we were too close to the equator for such a thing to be.

I looked up and feared the man right: there was a large, white specter to the fore of the ship, nearly as tall as the mizzenmast. The crew flew into motion to turn us, all too late, when the looming white thing burst like a pig’s bladder. All that was left was a cloud of white dust and confusion among the men. This turned into chaos as those close to the dust cloud began choking and clawing at their faces. All the while we still churned in place, caught by some unseen menace.

I’ll remember the crack of the ship breaking as long as I live. Men fell into the sea without life-vest or buoy. I ran to grab the chest of my instruments. Thank god I waterproofed it by impregnating the wood with bitumen; the chest made a handy floating device when I fell through the burst hull. All night I could hear the other men calling each other, trying to keep within range. Folly, if you ask me. By lumping together, they probably damned themselves. I could have tried to share my floatation device and probably would have wound up back in the sea. But by excluding myself, I was saved. I was so comfortable I even dozed off, only to awake when the reef of this island jarred my chest.

I’ll admit to some trepidation when I made landfall. I had not grabbed any tack or fresh water, I had no idea the condition of my instruments, and I had a mild case of windburn. But all this melted away when I spotted a small brown protrusion at the end of the beach. I took it for some kind of root runner and tried to follow it back to the source, accidentally striking it with my foot in passing. The “root” sent up a brown cloud, and instantly I knew I was home.

I was not the captain’s first choice to man the ship’s science offices. He wanted to replicate the blasted Beagle’s tour of the tropics, wanted some jack-of-all trades with a chest of coarse hair who no doubt guzzled rum as he took specimens. Specializing in fungi was folly, he said. Well, here I am, whole and hale and surrounded by my area of expertise. Who is the fool, I ask?

Entry 2

It has been some weeks since I washed ashore. My early melancholy was tempered by the discovery of my first fungi, now I miss humanity less than I miss trough water in January. I have named that first specimen Phinea elmeri after myself, more of a sentimental gesture than anything. I have discovered dozens of fungi since then, and every day brings new specimens.

I have made steps to map out the island, though some areas remain impassable for the time being. The island is no coral atoll, as I thought when I first arrived, but a volcanic isle dominated by a cinder cone at the extreme end of the island. It has a source of fresh water, which I have yet to locate due to the nature of the jungle.

Ah, the jungle. If I could wax poetic for a moment, such a marvel has until now existed only in my dreams. What I took for tropical hardwood became the stipe of yet another fungal variety. Yes, my new home had mushrooms larger than anything recorded elsewhere. I must admit to hugging one in my fervor. The stipe gave off a slightly malty smell I found delightful. The “vines” that I’ve seen hanging from the canopy are simply above-ground mycelia, strong enough to be made into rope (a property I’ve used to my advantage in attempting more difficult areas)

I will not be so brash as to say all aspects of fungal life are so joyful. The fish that swim in the freshets are covered with a mold that makes them appear furred. While the mold makes them sluggish and easier to catch, it gives them a most unpleasant taste. I take my risks fishing off the reef, though I find more success prying bivalves from the rocks as the sea life prefers to give the island a healthy berth. I assume the fungi itself is stopped by the barrier of the seawater, hence why you don’t see giant mushrooms anywhere else.

Entry 3

Had some interesting run-ins with the local fungi in the preceding weeks. The first was a batch of what I took for ripe fruit on the sole plant on the island: a bush situated ⅓ the height of a seaside cliff. I thought the height and the surrounding stone gave it separation enough that it would be safe from fungal interference, forgetting of course that spores rise. I plucked the fruit while hanging from a woven mycelia cradle and performed the tests for vetting edibility. I found them not only edible, but quite alluring. After consuming three or so, I found my balance off and my temper uneven. What happened is something I have only been able to surmise after the fact: the ripe fruit were in fact infected by fungi that fermented the juices within the fruit. A benign enough lesson, with a steep cost the next morning (such a headache I have never had.) A regrettable loss, for although I enjoy the flesh of a roasted tree-stipe, I do miss the taste of fresh fruit(to say nothing of the dangers of scurvy.)

I observed a faction of the local fauna who makes use of the fungi as well as I do: a small violet octopus who reached out of the water to grasp a patch of mushrooms that hung over the water. They gave off not spore dust but an inky liquid that hit the water and quickly dissipated. Within moments the nearby shellfish yawned open, leaving a feast for the conniving cephalopod. How it avoids the effects of the liquid itself is a mystery, but one I have all the time in the world to solve.

It was near the seashore that I also found the solution to another mystery. There was a circular formation of globular fungi that abutted the shore. They did not burst but simply swelled larger and larger until the wind unseated them from the ground. I had the good luck to be there on an occasion when one flew out to sea: the bulb hit the seawater and swelled many times its size while remaining buoyant. Here, finally, was the “iceberg” that the crew so desperately fought to avoid. I suppose this is the manner which the fungus attempts to spread, yet it is stymied by the saltwater that hems it in at all quarters. No other island is close enough, I suppose. Then my thoughts turned to the wreck of the Molly Haggard, and whether its flotsam was impregnated with the spores.

….I do not know that I care for the notion.

Entry 4

I have found footprints. Blast! I only wanted for a single year alone in this place before humanity invaded. Why can’t a man be left to his own devices?!

They start at one of the freshets and lead inland. The jungle is impenetrable that way, not even fire will thin their fungal ranks.

I have made up my mind. I will form a canoe from a tree-stipe and go around seaways.



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Creepypasta Cookoff 2017

It’s that time of year again! Behold, my entries to the creepypasta cookoff:

The Hoard



While you’re at it, take a gander at the entire friggin’ archive


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Cold Comfort

Marishka lay in the dark, very cold and very still. Splinters from the unfinished box she lay in made tiny rosettes on her skin that would have bled if her heart was beating. Her breast did not rise and fall with breath, her eyes did not track beneath her closed lids. She dreamed.

A door slammed above. Curtis was back. He, the maker of the pine box. He, the one who found Marishka.

“…here. I put it in that.”

That?” A heavy shuffle on the steps. Male, heavier than Curtis. Taller. More careful steps.

“Yeah. Pretty sweet, right? I knocked it together myself.”

“Is that a coffin?” Incredulity, readiness to run.

“Yeah, man. It’s where I keep my undead bride.”

A moment of silence, of pulse slowing to a calm.

“Curt, you funny. You open the damn thing, funny man.”

“Alright.” A hint of chuckle edged Curtis’s voice. The lid creaked back, throwing a sliver of light onto the cold translucency of Marishka’s skin. She lay impossibly still in the coffin.

Curtis’s audience, a black man who wore scrubs that matched Curtis’s own, leaned over the coffin and gaped.

“The fuck—” was all he got out. Curtis was poised at his jugular, bearing a scalpel like an auger ready to drive into a maple tree. The man choked as Curtis tapped his neck, red spattering the white front of Marishka’s dress.

She opened her eyes.

“Come and get it.” Curtis made kissing noises. Marishka rose and clamped her lips to the man’s neck, her mouth filling with arterial spurt. In the yellow light of the single basement bulb, her eyes were ice blue and her hair was as blonde as the saints on smashed church windows. Curtis watched her drink with a self-satisfied smile. Once her belly was fully Marishka was no warmer, no more alive, but she moved more freely.

“I dreamed of my homeland,” she said as Curtis manhandled the body to the nearby bathtub. “I was a girl. The nobleman who ruled over my village was a beast.”

“Mmm.” Curtis held the dead man’s head to the drain and began sawing.

“He would have spells where he rode his horse up and down the valley. When he saw me on the road one day, he fell on me like a dog. When I woke the next night, I was like this.” Marishka rubbed the splinters in her skin, which now flowered with blood the color of old wine.

Curtis sectioned the body, wrapping the parts in plastic bags. He lifted Marishka, bridal-style, onto the embalming table that he usually disguised with a tablecloth.

“Sometimes I wonder if what I dream was never true,” Marishka said as he folded her arms, funeral-style, over her chest, “and I have always been like this. There is no one left to tell me if I’m wrong or right.”

“Sure baby,” Curtis said, undoing his belt, “if you could just raise…that’s it, that’s good. Nice and still, just like that. Ohhhhh…”


Three days of the week Curtis worked at the hospital. The rest of the time he stayed at the abandoned house he sheltered Marishka in, doing odd repairs and the like. Sometimes he brought bodies home from the same morgue where he’d found Marishka and did things to them. Marishka watched him, curled up in a corner with her chin resting on her knee.

“Do you think you will ever find a way to end me?” she would ask.

Curtis would furrowed his brow, not looking up from today’s cadaver. “Why would you want that?”

“This life, I do not care for it.”

“Then kill yourself.” Curtis’s flippant tone could be heard even over the bone saw.

“I have tried. Do you think I have not tried?” Marishka rearranged herself painfully. Her joints ached with a cold that never seemed to go away. “You must find a way, on these bodies. You must free me, if you love me at all.”

“Sure, baby.” Curtis placed the cap of a skull on the wall of the bathtub. Marishka’s eyes followed his actions, the only moving thing in her body.



It was a conversation they had often.


Curtis readied himself in front of the cracked basement mirror. The lights were confined to a plug-in nightlight and a single candle by his suit jacket. Curtis straightened his tie in the mirror. His shirt was the color of an eggplant and buttoned up to the second button. Marishka watched him in a mirror that held no reflection for her.

“You go out tonight?”

“Yeah, baby.” Curtis frowned at himself, wiping at a smudge of shaving cream behind his ear. “Been thinking. I’m sure you’re getting tired of this, so I got an idea. There’s this girl at work, Laura.”

He waited for Marishka to respond. Nothing, not even the sound of breath. She could be anywhere in the room and he wouldn’t even know.

Curtis turned from the mirror. Marishka still sat in the corner, a thin white shadow.

“There’s this girl,” he repeated, “and she’s…I was going to bring her here. You bite her. Then I let you go.”

Marishka blinked, lids sliding over her eyes with the stiffness of many years. “You would bring another girl here.”

“Yeah, you bite her and I let you go. I’ve got a couple different ways lined up, I’m pretty sure one will work.” Curtis turned back to the mirror. He was twitchy.

Marishka did not talk, but long periods of silence were the norm for her.

“You would make another like me?” she asked finally.

“Yeah, I mean, it’s only fair.” Curtis spoke with increasing speed. “I’ve been keeping you, feeding you, making sure—you owe me, okay?”

“Would you keep her here, in this same box?” Marishka’s bird-thin hand brushed against the coffin. “Would you do to her what you do to me after feeding?”

“Look, it’s not your concern.” Curtis finally turned completely from the mirror and grabbed his jacket. “You want out? This is how you get out. I’ll be back at nine.”

He watched Marishka crawl into the box and nodded, satisfied.


The door creaked above.

“…this way.”

“Ugh, what is this?” The girl’s voice had a mellow timber. Her heels clacked on the basement steps.

“It’s where I put all those bodies I steal from the morgue. After I fuck them, of course.”

“Ha-ha-ha.” The girl was uneasy and trying not to show it. Her steps were reluctant. A rustle. Curtis had her by the arm, tugging her down the steps.

“It’s just here. I built the box around it, too big to move.” Curtis’s tone jabbed at her. “Come on, you scared? I only bite on the first date.”

“Good, ‘cause you’re not getting anything else.” The girl’s heels hit the cement of the basement floor. The box lid creaked on its hinges, but Curtis did not open it just yet.

“You ready?”

“Sure.” The girl heaved an irritated sigh.

Curtis threw the coffin lid back completely. Marishka lay within, impossibly still.

The girl, Laura, stumbled back. “The fuck?”

Curtis smiled and crossed his arms. And waited.

“What the fuck?” Laura had a small clutch purse and wore a cocktail dress. Her made-up face was frozen in horror. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”

Curtis glanced over at the coffin. Marishka lay still.

Laura was struggling with her fight-or-flight instinct, hand dipping into her clutch purse. “Jesus, they said you were a sick fuck, Curt, but this—”

Curtis looked over at the coffin and frowned. “No, wait, this isn’t right. Come over here.” He approached Laura, flicking the switch at the base of the steps at the same time and plunging the room into darkness. Laura met his grasping hand with a box cutter she pulled from her purse. Curtis gasped, gripping his hand at the wrist.  He looked back at the coffin, stupefied. Marishka did not move.

“Keep the fuck away.” Laura took another swipe, he danced away from the blade.

“Come on, you bitch,” he snarled, although whether he spoke to Laura or Marishka was ambiguous.

Laura made a passing feint and then stuck the blade in his neck. Curtis gasped all the air from his lungs and sank to the floor.

Laura looked down at him, shaking. “I’m calling the cops,” she said numbly.

As she stumbled up the steps, Marishka’s eyes opened. She put the dainty white form of her foot out of the coffin and onto the concrete that was as cold as her skin. She rose. Curtis could only draw irregular breaths, eyes glazing over. He pulled the knife from his neck. As his life dribbled from the puncture wound, he looked to Marishka with pleading eyes.

The girl stepped over him without a single glance and walked silently up the basement steps, out into the night.


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Feed the Cat

I could describe to you the events that led to me standing outside my former friends-with-benefits’ apartment at nine in the evening, but that is one humiliation I’ll spare myself. Don’t think me some lovelorn stalker. I had a key, of course. And instructions. Sergio asked me to look after things while he was out of country. I agreed to do it because doing so would prove how little I cared, whereas if I refused it would have indicated that my desire for him was too great to form even a casual friendship.

Such were the mental gymnastics I put myself through as I turned the key in his front door and took off my shoes in the entryway.

The place still smelled like him, felt like him, tasted like him. Those insufferable prints still hung on the walls to either side of the hi-fi (no television, not for him) and air plants clustered every available surface.

The only new thing was winding around my ankles and making an attractive purring sound. Sergio had refused to get a cat while we were together, said they were all the drain of children and twice the mess. Well, it looked like my leaving had rattled him more than he cared to admit. I scratched the agreeable creature between the ears and felt a bit of smug triumph.

First order was the air plants. Sergio was an avid collector; his instructions for their care would have filled a book if he could be bothered to write it down. He would never admit it, but I was the only human being on earth who he could trust with his extensive verbal inventory. The cat slithered around my ankles, making each step perilous.

Of course Sergio had not mentioned his new pet, nor had he left instructions on where the food or his bowl was. I was forced to go through cupboards like a common burglar. I found that he had eschewed plates and bowls for a new shallow trencher that served the purpose of both, that he had finally carved his compressed brick of darjeeling to the last hockey-puck sized lump, and that he had painted the shelves without bothering to put down liner paper. I’m sure you’ll notice the absence in that sentence.

The landline rang, and I nearly tripped into the glass conversation table when the cat darted across my path at the exact wrong time. The caller ID was no one I cared about, and I cursed myself for getting worked up.

The succulents in Sergio’s study were listing in their pots, their sandy soil had been scattered and used as a litter box. No doubt Sergio had some newer, fail-safe system that he hadn’t bothered to implement properly before leaving. That had been our relationship in a nutshell, him leaping ahead and leaving me carrying the luggage.

But I wasn’t bitter.

As I stepped out to fill the watering can, a toppling vase nearly brained me. I looked up to find green eyes winking at me from the depths of Sergio’s tallest shelf of collectibles, ten feet off the ground. The feline was a remarkable acrobat; Sergio himself had to resort to a painter’s ladder to reach that spot.

As the pitcher filled, I searched some more. I found his copper mugs, green patina eating the rims. Beneath the sink his all-natural cleaners with all the scrubbing power of weak tap water. His emergency stash of condoms (expiration date showed last year.)

The cat came musing up to my outstretched hand, turning on the charm. I let it tickle me with its whiskers. It was the friendliest thing I had seen in this apartment since I’d left in in a huff so many months ago.

Damp seeped into my sock.

Somehow the watering can had fallen at an angle, now it overflowed onto the counter and down to the linoleum at my feet. I watched the spreading puddle almost idly until I saw the water nearly touching the still-plugged-in electric kettle. I could have cleared a cyclone fence with my leap as I shut off the water. The cat disappeared once more, and I was left to wring out Sergio’s microfiber mop in the dirty sink.

Something speared into my heel as I stepped from the kitchen. I held my foot and saw the floor now littered with broken trinkets, the upper shelf cleared. I cracked. I texted Sergio, editing and re-editing my message so many times it sounded almost nothing like what I wanted to say.

WHERE IS YOUR CAT’S FOOD was my weak attempt at a missive.

As I pulled glass splinters from my foot, I heard a thumping sound and a muffled mew. I looked up at the window to find the cat blinking benignly at me from the other side of the glass. Sergio lived on the seventh floor.

The air was frigid as I heaved open the window, my hands almost froze to the thin concrete apron that ran the length of the building. The cat sat a comfortable distance away from me, curled into itself. I could just barely graze its paws with my fingertips if I leaned all the way out the window. The cat retreated.

I looked down at the ledge and then up at the cat. Truly, if it wanted to it could walk right back to the window and into the safety of the apartment. But there was frost clinging to the ledge and such a long drop beside me and the cat was so tantalizingly close that I thought I could just grab it up and be done with it.

As I half-clung, half-crawled to the cat, it edged away from me. I found a piece of ornamental brickwork and pulled myself fully onto the ledge. Favoring my injured foot, I gathered in a crouch for one final rush.

My phone buzzed in my pocket. As I glanced down, I felt pressure and four sets of nail spikes driven into my leg as the cat leapt past me. I overbalanced and then I was in the air.

Seven stories for a person is not seven stories for a cat. I lived, barely. I broke my fall (and other things) on the way down to the ground, landing spine-first on a filthy pile of snow. Looking up, I could see the cat peering down at me from the window, curled up picture-perfect like something out of a Christmas card. My phone had survived impact in my pocket. The last thing I saw before I blacked out was the cracked screen and a reply text from Sergio reading, simply: I DON’T HAVE A CAT.


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Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

Word came down from the northern camp that someone wanted to speak with Morgan. Someone who knew him.

To Morgan the notion was as alien as the concept of a hot shower or suddenly bursting into song. His days had long since encompassed the sun, the sea, his little flotsam shack, and not much else.

Deandra asked him how he felt about it. Morgan liked to play with her little daughter Lucy as she walked in the shallows gathering periwinkles. The tide made a seething sound as it lapped the shore, due to the many bits of glass that washed in on it. Deandra wore leg protectors.

“I don’t know,” Morgan admitted. Lucy was climbing up a jagged bit of rock, he held his hand up as if cushioning her with air.

“Must be nice, having someone know you,” Deandra said wistfully. The periwinkle in her hand extended eyestalks; she sucked it right out of the shell without looking away from Morgan.

“Depends. My pop was out on the east coast, he’s gone. I can’t think of anyone who might have a burning need to see me.”

“If it is someone you’ve missed, will you leave?” she ducked her head. In many ways, Deandra was like a child. It protected her, as Morgan’s own coping mechanisms protected him.

“Don’t see why.” Morgan hupped to the girl on the rock. “Come on, Lucy goosey.”

Lucy giggled and jumped, landing squarely in his grip. She had never seen a goose. Like most children born after the cataclysm, her corneas were clouded and her skin had a texture like sharkskin. Lucy rode on his shoulder as Deandra carried her harvest bucket back to camp. They stepped around other shanties, other shells constructed of bits of debris. A woman lugging a tub asked if anyone wanted her wash-water. Another woman with hair the color and consistency of steel wire raised her hand. Morgan guessed she would use it to wash but no, the second woman drank it in great, gasping draughts. Morgan didn’t blame her. They were all thirsty. Above them the sky, even in the day, was studded with a thousand pinprickles many times more sharp and beautiful and terrible than the glass in the sea.

“Lucy’s birthday is today.” Deandra fidgeted with her bucket. “I…have some things. Pretty shells. Smooth glass. James said he found some wire, he could do something with it.”

Morgan could sense the unspoken question in her words. “Well, it’s no birthday without a candle, right?”

Deandra smiled, dimpling one cheek.


The visitor was waiting at his shack, dressed in a rough collection of scraps of fancy cloth. It was Christine, his late wife’s sister. Morgan spared a moment of thought for Kelly and the shape she had taken in his life, another life. He felt a pang in a place he had thought totally atrophied.

Christine was one of those performance criers. She demonstrated now, getting up a good head of steam before Morgan had set one foot in his hut.

“Morgan, I…” She made a series of wails. Morgan encompassed her in a hug he didn’t really want to give until her sobbing subsided. Strong emotion made him uncomfortable now. It seemed like frivolous excess. There was no audience for tears, not anymore.

He was allowed egress from the hug.

“You look well,” he said because he had been told that was what people said in these situations.

Christine sucked in a sob. She had found eyeliner somewhere. It wasn’t waterproof.

“Becky heard you were living here. We thought you were dead.”

“Likewise. How…how is everyone?” He didn’t mean for conversation to be so stilted, it was just conducted in a language that had nearly gone extinct in him.

“Mom’s dead. Aunt Midge. Jerry, you remember Jerry? The rest are okay.” Christine gave a gasping breath. “Oh god, it’s so good to know you’re alive.”

Was it? To Morgan, it was a fact as unremarkable as the wetness of water or the red tinge to the sky. “You too. I’m glad that…I’m glad you’re glad.”

Christine grabbed his hand in an iron grip. “You have to come back with me, we have to let the family know you’re alright.”

Morgan felt the strongest emotion he’d felt in a long time. It was discomfort. His conscious mind had dulled to a gray sleepwalk, and now his former sister-in-law threatened to drag him into new, painful colors. He retrieved his hand. “It’s really okay, Christine.”

But she was shaking her head. “You don’t understand, it’s better in our camp. We have nice things.” She produced a serving spoon, silvery with a scalloped handle. It looked like the ones at the hotel where he’d married Kelly. Christine deposited it in his hand and closed his fingers over it, as if bestowing some great secret. “We’re working on rebuilding. We could have power any year now.”

Morgan looked at her bright cloth coat. She had rouged her lips as well, he could see where she had bitten it away.

“While I appreciate what you say,” he said slowly, “I really can’t come with you. I live here now. You live there. That’s how it is.”

Christine stammered, mouth flapping open in a bloom of sickly pinks and reds. There were sores on her tongue. “How can you say that? How can you live without family?”

Morgan had no words for that, so he shrugged. “I’d like you to leave.”

“What if I don’t?” Once upon a time, in a different world, Christine had been a lawyer. You could see it now in the squaring of her posture and the set of her mouth.

Morgan shrugged. “I’ll leave then.”

He turned around. Something caught ineffectually at his coat, but it could just as easily have been the mutant seabirds for all he knew.


Lucy’s birthday party was down in the dell. Just beyond the bright circle of faces was the sea. A few bodies turned on the tide. Morgan looked at the glass that filled the water. In a few decades the glass would be worn smooth and the beach would be pleasant to walk. Perhaps he would live long enough to see it. That was hope enough for him.

“You’re here!” Deandra’s grin showed her underbite, which she was shy of. Morgan kissed the side of her head. For the birthday girl, he produced a scrap of Christine’s monstrous coat. James had twisted the wire into a daisy. The old woman who lived in a cottage made from broken slate had braided Lucy’s hair.

“Didja meet up with your folks?” Deandra asked.

“Sure. Had a nice time.” Morgan bent low and picked Lucy up to toss her in the air.

There was no cake mix, so they mounded sand. Lucy’s candle was a scallop-handled spoon that winked the light of the sun. Instead of Happy Birthday, Morgan sang Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Lucy laughed and clapped and looked as happy as any child had ever been. Morgan bent low and whispered in her ear, just as the red sun slipped behind the horizon and the thousand seething points of the sky throbbed in celestial radiation.

“Make a wish,” he said, “blow it out.”


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Roach Farm

Sea monkeys. Ant farms. Butterfly cages. The ephemera of childhood hobbies I’m sure every red-blooded American kid is well-versed in.

I didn’t get an ant farm or a butterfly cage or a plastic tank with a pack of freeze-dried brine shrimp. I got a roach farm. A 5X7 terrarium of scuffed and yellowed lucite, a packet of dirt, and what looked like a shiny brown cigar.

My dad made a joke of it. “If you can take good care of it, then we’ll think about getting you that slug.” Then he’d laugh and take another drink of Schlitz, thrilled by the weight of his own humor. Like I did with most of his jokes, I played as if it were said completely straight. I set up the box on my dresser top, dumped out the dirt, and set the small brown stub gently within. I had no idea how roaches lived, aside from the popular conception of them as a kitchen nuisance, so I littered the farm with the usual wildlife furniture: a bit of bark, some lichen, and a small, flat rock. Then I left it to its own devices.

My father would needle me about the farm’s progress (“have they learned any tricks yet?”) so I looked up roach facts to parry his derogatory jabs. I learned a single roach can live off the glue from a postage stamp for a week, that a roach can live without its head for up to a month, that their tendency to seek out warm, dark spaces has led to them occasionally found lodged in people’s ears because they lack the ability to back up. Like so many of my father’s attempts to discourage me from a subject, it only led me into deeper fascination.

I can remember rolling out of bed one morning and noticing the cluster of tan dots in the cage. My roach children had finally hatched.

And God help me, I found them precious.

I remember I put my hand inside out of some childhood petting impulse. They scurried under the shadow of my hand to hide, and a pact was born between us. I had to defend them now, I had to keep them warm and fed and alive because they had sought shelter with me.

In many respects they were the perfect pet for me. A cat might have lashed out in fear, and gotten its brains bashed out for the trouble. A dog might have tried to defend me, leading to more brutal treatment for both of us. But the roaches? When my father would rage and scream I would sit on the bed with my cage and we would be quiet together. I could empathize with them because I understood the urge to retreat into some small, dark space when something bigger came at you. My father pronounced the both of us disgusting. When he forbid me from setting foot in the kitchen over some imagined slight, I would sneak out at midnight and steal food for the both of us.

My roaches grew into shiny brown oblongs. They would preen themselves under my care, fussily cleaning their antennae as I held them in cupped palm. I liked to think that they were the neatest, best-kept insects in the world. I read in ancient China that they kept crickets in special cages. Had anyone kept roaches? Perhaps I was the first.

The end came in painful hiccups, rather than one fell swoop.

My father upended my cage, hissing in disgust as my pets scurried away. He beat me for putting my body in between his slippered feet and their retreating forms.

My mother, the new owner of a rather painful collarbone fracture, could no longer keep up with the housework. No amount of shouting on my father’s part could rectify that, and the house grew ankle-deep in trash.

Finally the day came when my father drove us from the house, dribbling and screaming in an alcoholic rage. Perhaps at another time, we would have come back. Lord knows we had already gone back too many times before. But by the time we reached my aunt’s house, the money felicitously ran out. No one in her family would spare money for us to return to our abuser’s den, so we remained happily stuck.

Since my mother was the sole breadwinner, the utilities were shut off one by one. The phone was the first to go, so we were spared the rants that cropped up with each new injustice. I can imagine my father raging in that house alone. Sitting in the dark as the electricity shut off, piling on blanket after blanket as the heat went. Would anything have changed if we went back? Even now, with the wisdom of hindsight, I doubt it.

It was a year and a half later that someone knocked on our door. A policeman with hat in hand, saying he had grave news for us. A former neighbor had called for a wellness check because my father hadn’t been outside for weeks, and there was a terrible smell welling up from the house…

I can imagine my father simplifying his life after we left. Leaving the house only to get food and drink, piling the filth up in a nest around him to further buttress his self-pity. I can imagine him making a fort of blankets in the living room next to the bucket he used as a toilet and a battery-operated TV.

I can imagine my pets. My roaches, stranded in the filth of that house. Growing. Feeding. Breeding. I can imagine their fear as winter set in. How they would seek out the one source of warmth left in the household, nestled in a crusty shell of blankets with a snoring mouth gaping open in invite…

My mother let the city arrange a burial. My father had no family left to wonder why his funeral was closed-casket.

I don’t think of my father much anymore. His memory is a vague, unpleasant smear on my mind that I have no wish to revisit.

I think of my bygone pets. How all they had really wanted was warmth and safety. How they must have been terrified in those last few moments, unable to turn back, unable to fight the press of their family’s bodies as they were forced into every dark, wet cavity available to them.

And, God help me, I find them more precious than ever.


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A Haunting

He did not know how or when it began, but Peter realized over the course of many months that he was reluctant to go home at the end of the day. The excuses grew naturally out of real needs and wants: they were out of milk, he wanted to catch up with an old friend, traffic delayed him. But the excuses wore thinner and thinner. It was on a Tuesday, when he was looking at his reflection illuminated by the last rays of a sinking sun in the blacked-out window of an empty shop, when Peter finally came clean to himself: he truly did not want to go home.

But why?

He spent many days gnawing at the question. He was not tired of his wife, Nina. Their daughter Shannon did not treat him with open hostility. He had no reason to believe the two-story colonial gingerbread he lived in was haunted.

…but he paused on that thought.

What was a haunting but an unfriendly, unwelcome habitation? And, truth be told, when he came home without any family to greet him, he felt himself the unwelcome guest. He was haunting his own house.

Peter laughed. How could he haunt his own house? His paintings on the walls, his aftershave sharing the sink rim with Nina’s antiperspirant, his daughter’s growing heights notched into the dining room wall? True, his family was what made the house his home. But he belonged there, just as much as anyone.

Peter parked the Cheverolet in the driveway and stared up at the dim windows. From this angle, they had a cant that made them resemble unfriendly eyes. The front knob would not accept his key. Peter struggled with the lock, fighting down a growing dread.

“Peter?”  Nina parked and spilled out of her sedan. Shannon pried herself from the passenger side under the bulk of the dry cleaning. Nina stepped primly up the front walk, drawing her key like a sword.

“Door trouble?”

“I guess.” Peter’s face reddened. “Maybe we should call a locksmith.”

The knob accepted Nina’s key without complaint. The door practically fell open. Nina cast a critical eye to Peter’s key. “Maybe we should make another copy.”

Peter mumbled something.

The house was a cold blank until she hit the hall switch and suddenly they were transported to their home, with the ship-rope rugs on the bare hardwood floors and a photo of his grandparents hanging just above the shoe rack.

It would have been too easy to forget about it once snugly confined in the bosom of his family. Nina chattering over pasta, Shannon practising steps in the hall. Peter sat in a snug chair that had survived through college and felt very much at home.

But he did not forget.

“Maybe we should get a dog,” he said later that night. Nina, in bed with her magazine, gave him an aside glance.

“Who’s going to walk it? Shannon is full-time this semester, and I don’t have the kind of mental space for an animal.”

“I was just thinking, you know, when I get home, the house is so empty…” the reasons, so concrete in his head, slipped from his fingers. Nina put a small kiss just above his eyebrow.

“Oh Peter,” she said, in a tone that could have been pitying or contemptuous.

He embraced the time away from the house. He went to work and spoke with colleagues and lived. He was a person who belonged in the world. As long as he kept away from the problem, there was no problem, right?

After a few rounds of pool, long past dark and the point where Nina should be home, Peter received a text. He pulled over and let the cold screen light the car.


Peter parked askew in the driveway. His hands were shaking. Above him loomed the house, dark and disapproving as a tombstone. He sat in the car. How late was late? He could stay in the car, play it off like he’d just got home when they arrived. He thumbed through a paperback under his dome light. He played spider solitaire until his battery ran low. He ran the heater until his head hit the back of the seat and someone was suddenly rapping on the driver’s side window.

“Peter?” Nina’s voice was alarmed. Peter killed the engine. His wife and daughter gazed concernedly through the window. Flushed red, he tried to play it off.

“Late. Must’ve fallen asleep.” The dashboard clock said near midnight.

Peter got out of the car and stretched. Nina was not budging.

“You’re starting to worry me, Peter. You’re staying out later and later, now…this.” She indicated the car with her hand. “What are you afraid of?”

“Afraid?” Peter laughed.

“Daddy, come on.” Shannon looked at him through dewdrop-thick glasses. “You keep coming home late, and you won’t let us leave the house without you.”

Their gazes were sterile pins. He was being dissected. Nina shook her head.

“Come on,” she said, grabbing his arm and turning him around, “use your key. Go in. There’s nothing wrong.”

Peter tried very hard to make his legs bend, tried not to fight them as they pushed him up the walk, but he couldn’t make his body obey properly. The dead front window glared at him, showed him a room cold and empty and unwelcoming. He needed them to go first, to purify the air with their laughter, but they were behind him and pushing.

“There,” Nina stopped. “Key in the lock. You can do it.”

Peter fumbled with the keys. He dropped them twice. Nina was less than amused. The lock stuck, refusing to accept the whole key at first and then refusing to turn one way or the other. He looked to the girls for help. Nina nodded impatiently at the door.

The lock snicked open like a sudden jeer. Peter had to shove the door to get it moving. The front hallway was cold and dark.

He looked back. Nina nodded again. After you.

Peter’s footsteps carried reverb. He walked down the front hall, dark and strange to him. He couldn’t even remember where the hall switch was as he felt along the wall.

“Okay there, I’m…in.” He could bring himself to say ‘home.’ Where was the damn switch?


He turned back. The hall was dark. There was no door.


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