Tag Archives: microfiction

For Sale, Baby Shoes…

“…so I still don’t get it.”

“You don’t need to get it. Just tell me if you want to buy or get off my porch.”

“So the baby died?”

“Never was a baby.”

“So why do you have the shoes?”

“I didn’t get the damned things in the first place, it was Eudora.”

“So she’s selling the shoes?”

“No. Damn it all, I’m selling the things. Now do you want to buy or not, youngster?”

“Just trying to wrap my head around this. May I see them?”

“There.”

“Well, those are nice. Pristine. Is that leather?”

“Kid leather. More than we could afford, at the time.”

“So why did she want the shoes?”

“That’s my business.”

“And you’re sure they aren’t worn?”

“More than sure. I was there every step of the way.”

“Was she…touched?”

“I don’t like to talk about it. Gossip travels like a cold in this little pocket.”

“What have you got to lose? I’ve never been here before and I’m certainly not coming back after I leave.”

“That depends.”

“See, there you go again! You’re being cagey, and nothing makes me want to buy something less than a cagey dealer.”

“Why you want to buy in the first place, you got a kid?”

“Honestly, I’m curious. Besides, I’m sure you’d feel better if those shoes remained unworn, right?”

“Be lying if I said no.”

“Tell the truth: is there some kind of hex on ‘em?”

“Not exactly.”

“So what, then. Did you find these clenched in her hand when you found her mysteriously dead one morning?”

“Oh no. No, not at all. I’d burn the things soon as look at them. No, the plain fact is I watched Eudora get up to put on her face each morning, and I saw her take these shoes out of the cupboard and just…look at ‘em for five minutes on end every morning, just stare. Then she’d put ‘em back and go about her business as normal. For thirty years.”

“Wow.”

“I tried talking to her, believe you me. But she’d just go blank, not answer. Then she’d come back to herself and talk about the mail or the hog pen like we’d been talking all along.”

“Oh dear.”

“Thirty years, no sign of anything wrong besides these shoes. I don’t like to look at them, I don’t like to touch them. They bring out bad feelings in me, and now that I’ve told you I’m sure you feel the same.”

“A bit.”

“I loved that woman, don’t get me wrong. But there’s certain things you can’t touch about a person, even after so many years of marriage. I had my fishing and those deer hunts. Eudora had these shoes.”

“Hmm.”

“You’re lookin’ thoughtful.”

“I was just thinking: I’ve never felt kid leather this fine. It’s almost like vellum. Are you sure it’s kid leather?”

“Not sure. Not sure at all.”

“Where did she get them?”

“Don’t know.”

“Why did she get them?”

“Don’t know.”

“Did you ever have children?”

“Thought about it more than once. But to tell the plain truth I don’t think it was meant to be. I got bad swimmers on account of what I did in the army, and she had a…condition. Her family thought she’d die spinster until I threw my hand in. I don’t think I was the kind of man they’d want for their daughter, normally, didn’t have much earthly riches, but I think they made an exception on account of her biological clock slipping a gear.”

“She see much of her family?”

“They came to the wedding. That was it. I wasn’t much broken up about it, and I never could tell whether she missed ‘em or not.”

“You think the shoes came from them?”

“Dunno. Just came home one day and…there they were.”

“You think she was happy with you?”

“What’s with the interrogation? We were damn happier than most folks, I can tell you that. I don’t throw fancy diamond rings and champagne around, but I treated that woman right.”

“No offense. I’m just asking questions.”

“Well ask something else. Damn, there goes my beer.”

“Oh, sorry. Do you want me to get more?”

“Nah, I got a case down in the icebox. Ned from the store, he keeps me stocked.”

“It’s good to have close neighbors.”

“In some ways.”

“I know exactly what you mean.”

“So do you want the shoes?”

“One last question.”

“Shoot.”

“Do you want me to have the shoes?”

“…damn.”

“It’s very important that you answer that.”

“…I want you to get back in your car, young man. I want you to go back to whatever city you came from—”

“I live in the suburbs.”

“—and you keep your promise not to come back here.”

“I won’t tell anyone I was here.”

“What do I care about that? All you people, you live side by side, you don’t know each other’s business. You tell two people, four people, how’s it going to spread? Strangers, the whole of you.”

“I know. It’s better in some ways.”

“Goodbye son.”

“So long, pops.”

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Roscoe: The End

William J. Roscoe was the result of a congress between landowner William Findlow and a music hall singer. William was given his mother’s surname and his father’s first name, which was the beginning and end of involvement for both parents. His mother retreated once more to the music halls and, except for a yearly infusion of hush-money, his father did the same.

William was fostered by his grandparents until he ran away from home, stealing his grandfather’s meager savings to invest in a linotype company. That turned out to be the first of many bad investments, as William showed equal skill at both gaining and losing money.

His background gave him the drive to legitimize himself, but the urge to come by money quickly would sabotage his efforts again and again. By the time William found himself wandering through Colorado’s silver rush, he had been twice divorced and fathered five children out of wedlock. Perhaps if he had not found the Roscoe lode, he would have died unglamorously in the mountains. But fate led him to a nugget of pure silver and the rest, as they say, is history.

Most accounts point to Roscoe being a fair-minded and generous leader. He treated his force of miners well, his camp was perhaps one of the only ones in the states with company-backed healthcare. He had the respect and recognition he had long craved, and so behaved accordingly.

Many people noted the decline in his health seemed to start with the mine’s downturn. His hair began prematurely graying and he sat when giving speeches. Despite all this, he never gave up on attempting to bring the town’s head above water once more. His closest friend had been Nathaniel Schilling; it was a great blow to him when the hotelier died and his mental health never recovered. He developed a pernicious arachnophobia in the weeks leading up to June, making his maids go over a room multiple times with feather-dusters before he would set foot inside.

“…appearing for the first time this side of the rockies, Miss Vyvyan’s wild west show!”
—discarded draft of an advert

Whether or not Letitia Bannock, posing as Vyvyan McAllister, performed that final day in the mining town remains undetermined. Theories abound that there was no show, that the announcement served as a decoy while William Roscoe issued out his law force to eradicate the townsfolk and hide his failings. Other, more benevolent theories, point to an exodus following the discovery of some life-threatening peril, possibly a noble gas leak from the mines themselves. The absence of any sort of prep work for a journey, any kind of note alluding to a sudden departure, undercuts this theory somewhat. Whatever the case, when Pinkerton agents rode into Roscoe on June 17th, the town was completely empty.

Other, more fanciful accounts supply details like meals left burning on stoves and flatirons resting on cold coals, as if the people had walked away mid-task. Nothing like that appears in the original report. The only salient detail is that the town was empty of animal life as well, and this could easily be explained if the town was forced to make a sudden and swift exodus; taking livestock as well as pack animals would be crucial to a long journey. However the question remains as to where the townsfolk were expecting to travel that they would need such rations; the town lay within spitting distance of several other camps. The Pinkerton group merely made a shallow excursion into town before returning  to Leadville to gather more forces. Nothing, from the mineral content of the well water to the contents of William Roscoe’s safe, could give them any conclusive reason for the town’s disappearance. From June 17th until the day of the November earthquake, multiple expeditions were dispatched to the town. None found anything resembling a clue.

Roscoe had left halfway through a letter he was composing to his second wife, Hazel, with whom he was amicably separated. Hazel herself was found passed away in her rooms at a San Francisco hotel a mere week after Roscoe’s disappearance. A necklace he had gifted her— “real Roscoe silver” he claimed in his letter— lay on her pillow, a greasy burn-mark where the necklace’s pendant would have been. So closes the last, forlorn chapter of Roscoe’s history, ending as insubstantially as it began.

Boomtowns rarely survive past the lode which first gave them life. Roscoe had always been doomed to disappear, to sink into the dust of the Colorado foothills as its population fled for more favorable climes. In perhaps the biggest irony of all, it is the disappearance of Roscoe’s population that allowed it longevity past the lifespan of the tapped-out silver vein. The Mystery of Windy Hills (MGM 1939) serves as an extremely loose adaptation of the town’s disappearance, attributed to “fair folk” brought over with Irish miners. A local ghost town tour group sells chunks of the town’s masonry as souvenirs. One holdout resident of Oro City claimed to see a fata morgana of the town yearly over the local lake, a phenomena he could not reproduce for company. The closing of the last operating mine in Lake County in 1999 seems to have marked the end of the mining era and all its legends. Abner Salt, the last living miner who could say that he’d been in William Roscoe’s employ, died a pauper’s death in 1925. The Schilling mansion, the last intact building of the town, partially collapsed in a mudslide in 2009, the remaining structure was pulled down in 2010 for safety reasons. As the physical connections to Roscoe pass into the aether, all that is left behind is the skeletal wreck of a town that sinks further into the earth with every year. Whatever witness it bore to the people that once lived there, it remains silent on the subject.

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Bogleech Creepypasta Cook-off 2018

It’s that time of year again, boils and ghouls! Here is my lone entry for this year’s cook-off:

In the Dark

And the whole blessed archive:

Cook-off 2018

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Scutt’s Palsy

Records place the first outbreak of Scutt’s island-bound illness at around 1875. Scutt lies just off the coast of Washington and boasted a population of around 300 at the time, not counting the cattle that suddenly displayed Scrapie-like symptoms. Though advised to cull the herd, there was no evidence of the islanders even moving to quarantine the sick cattle, due to the belief of the time that Scrapie was not transmittable to human beings. Instead, we see the outbreak of what came to be called Scutt’s palsy in the spring of of 1881. Victims displayed loss of motor control and speech, trembling, drooling, spasms, and finally death. One surviving brain sample taken from an autopsy (labeled H. Raglin, 24) shows spongiform encephalopathy similar to that of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. While the study of infection and disease was only in its infancy at the time, the similarities between human sufferers and the diseased cattle could not be overlooked. Islanders resisted the ordered extermination of their native livestock to the point that the national guard was dispatched to oversee the cattle’s liquidation. Losing the herd struck a blow to the islander’s pride in their self-sufficiency; too poor to import more cattle, they now had to make do with pricier imported meat or go without.

The Scutt’s palsy sufferers were exported to mainland sanitariums where they lived out the brief remainder of their lives. Scutt’s palsy passed out of vogue; with no cure or cause forthcoming the study was halted and the manpower rerouted elsewhere. Life settled down to something much like it had before the cattle’s illness.

Then, in 1907, it returned.

The fact that the resurgence even made it out to public eyes is owed to one woman: Bess Finch. Bess’s correspondence with her Scutt-dwelling sister, one Hedda Martin, ceased suddenly and unceremoniously. Bess became concerned with her wellbeing, doubly so when Hedda’s husband Edmund sent word that her sister had suddenly passed and the funeral had been held already. Despite repeated missives, Edmund refused to clarify whether Hedda had been cremated or buried, or if she had willed anything to her sister. This reticence had become common on Scutt since since the cattle cull. One anonymous source noted their funerals: “...mean and sparse, even for poor folk. The casket is always closed, the service brief to the point of blasphemy.”

Bess Finch refused to accept the widower’s explanation and created such agitation that mainland officers were dispatched to the island to investigate foul play. They found a number of doors closed tightly to their inquiry, and a grave for Hedda Martin that held an empty coffin. The island’s resident doctor had died in 1895 without replacement, so they had only the widower’s word that Hedda had died from illness alone. What seemed to lend credence to his story were the state of the islanders, many of whom displayed symptoms of Scutt’s mysterious disease.  While the initial outbreak had an infection index of around 15%, now the palsy struck closer to 45% of the population. While in 1881 it had plagued mostly the elderly and sick, now it spread equally across generations and genders.

More manpower was issued from the mainland. What had begun as a murder investigation turned into a mass arrest as newer and stranger evidence came to light. Investigators found Scutt’s slaughterhouse was in good repair despite the deficit of red meat on the island. It was only when they dismantled the building and its equipment that they found evidence of Scutt’s replacement protein wedged beneath a bin in the hide storage room.

It was a human femur.

The bin itself sat upon a trap door, once opened they found the door serviced a massive pit of bones bearing cut marks and “pot polish.” Scutt’s graveyard was subject to a mass exhumation, where they found that only one in five caskets held a body. The island’s priest who presided over the brief funerals was found to be a lay preacher unaffiliated with any church.

How, when, and why the islanders turned to cannibalism is a mystery lost to time. Perhaps a combination of bruised pride, medical ignorance, and lack of spiritual leadership worked together with the isolation of the island.  Scutt dwellers remained tight-lipped, even as they were brought to trial on the mainland. Physical evidence tells us that all funerals, barring virulent illnesses such as cholera, stood as a source of nutrition. Marrow and brains were highly prized, all but ensuring the spread of the encephalopathy.

By the time he stood trial for his part in his wife’s death, Edmund Martin already showed signs of the disease that would kill him and many others in prison. The last islander died in 1910 at 13 years of age, taking with him perhaps the last of the encephalopathy. Scutt island was evacuated after the trial and remains uninhabited to this day.

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Swallow’s Tallow, or: Hubris Deferred

They called the place Hillport, because it was exactly that. It was a port built on a hill, a cityship that clung to the sea-rock like an ugly whelk. Save for one gravel causeway that was the city’s only lifeline to the shore, the city was an island unto itself, building up layers of architecture over the generations. At one point it had been a seafaring city, but their fishing practices left much to be desired and now the bay around them lay as bare as the face of the moon. Struck by such ugly serendipity, they sidestepped the obvious conclusion and invested themselves elsewhere: tallow. The city rendered the tallow from butcher’s blocks for miles around, with such skill and industry the smoke from their fires painted the sky black at times.

They called the place Hillport, but that was not the proper name. The given name to the rock on which the city was built was Swallow’s Crouch, owing to the little birds that flitted in and out of the seaside caves on the far side of the island. The birds were the only thing left uneaten within arm’s reach of the city, owing to their nests being build on sheer cliff-sides (and sometimes on the ceilings of sea caves) that no man-made ladder or crook could reach. What they ate was anyone’s guess. The cityfolk hated the chattering they made and set out poisoned bait, perpetually untouched.

What makes the swallows remarkable is the very thing that kept the city alive. Tallow. The fat from animals does not entirely burn up in a fire, you see, and year-round tallow frosted the roofs and windows of the town. The swallows daubed the fat into nests and by some unknown alchemy the fat became hard as stone in the sea air.

The city of Hillport grew rich, because tallow was quite valuable. The rosy fat from a bull, the white bounty of a whale’s skin, the delicate oils necessary for perfume making, Hillport traded in them all. They grew wary of hubris, because they had grown so skilled at dodging consequence. So when a stranger came along at low tide, picking his way along the sharp rocks, they knew they looked at no mere man. They hauled him up in chains, scraping him against the sheer cliffside until his scholarly glasses broke. The city’s Autarch was unamused at the sight.

“I suppose you’re here to warn us of some great calamity,” he said, “or to beg us to mend our ways.”

“I am not.” The young man reeked of sea mud and his features were raw from scraping against rock. He proffered one of his books. “I am a man of the sciences. I’m taking stock of this countryside. I heard about your swallows from another town.”

The Autarch snorted. “Do you think me a swaddling babe? You’re here on some divine errand, here to hold a mirror up to our city.”

“No, no!” the man protested, throwing a few books at the Autarch’s feet. Pen-and-ink sketches of seabirds and snails spilled out. “I only want to see and to know! Your city is entirely your business, I care only about the swallows.”

The Autarch put a hand to the ripple of flesh at his chin. He prodded a book with his toe. “The swallows?”

“Yes.” the man smiled in relief. “I only care about observing them. So unique are they, I’ve never found a bird like them.”

The Autarch nodded. “That sorts it, then. You’re here to find the true nature of the swallows, and once this purpose is fulfilled they’ll depart. And once they’ve departed on their own terms, some calamity will befall the city.” He nodded to a guard. “See to it that he meets an unglamorous end.”

The protesting young man was pulled from the Autarch’s chambers and to the city square, where a vat of tallow had been heated to the smoking point. In he went, and afterwards they strained him out in bits. No reason to waste good tallow.

The Autarch waited for some sudden, symbolic comeuppance, but none came. The young man did not appear in the smoke of the rendering fires, his bones were tossed unceremoniously into the sea and that was that. That year they rendered five times the fat they normally did, and every inhabitant of the city grew rich with tallow.

Every inhabitant.

It was not that year or even the next, but a brief enough interval of time that certain folk could make the divine connection if they wished, that the weight of the swallow’s nests pulled Hillport in half. The city cracked and slid into the waters, the sea hissing as it was deluged with hot fat. The rock lies bare today, even the swallow’s caves are now deserted, but globules of fat still roll on the tide, some say. Impacted and magicked by sea, they are hard as ice.

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Night Light

It’s hard to sleep.

I have chronic migraines. The slightest hint of a glow sets off this piercing tone in my head, which makes my eyeballs throb in their sockets, which makes my jaw clench until it aches, which makes my scalp pucker and bristle, on and on in a domino effect. You can imagine the work I had to do to eliminate light from my room. No electronics. Blackout curtains. I even wear a sleep mask for good measure. It worked.

Until the street light.

I rolled over one night and found a new needle of agony driven into me. Bright, halogen-white light leaking through my blackout curtains no matter how I adjusted them. Even turned to my other side with my sleep mask firmly tamped down, I could still see it or imagined I could. The glow shuttered shortly after sunrise, and I managed to catch a few winks out of sheer desperation.

After too much morning coffee, I walked up and down my street, trying to determine the position of the usurper. If I could find the culprit, I could call the city service number on its base. Hours later, I despaired of any solution. None of the street lamps were positioned closely to my house (and this had been a selling point for me) or at such an angle that I could easily see it from my window. It looked like another night of agony for me, and it was.

I didn’t even try to sleep, but it didn’t lessen the pain. I tried pushing the curtain aside, but the deluge of light shot through me like a bullet and I had to fall back. I had seen flood lights with less wattage. What possible bulb could the city be using in the lamp?

I admit, I must have sounded like a raving madman on that service line. I was out days of sleep, and my already fragile nerves were shot. I think I begged them to come and take the bulb out because the light was too sharp. I sat on the porch sipping endless rounds of coffee until the city worker came out. He looked sideways at my disheveled appearance, but walked me through the plan nonetheless.

There were six lamps in my neighborhood block, he said, three on my street, three on the street behind my house. He brought out the block blueprint and talked about light pollution, power saving, and many other topics I was too exhausted to untangle. It was nearing sundown and he held up a hand.

“Now watch,” he said, “and see if you can tell me which one shines in your window.”

One by one, the bulbs flickered on. Orange. The same dull sodium orange that shone from every other lamp in the city.

I thanked the worker for his time and walked home. The second I closed my bedroom door behind me, the light returned. Of course.

Even with my prescription sunglasses, I could not determine the source. It was as if the light was a solid block against my window. What’s more, I found something else as I pushed the curtains aside. Despite the harsh power of the rays, I noticed the vase on my desk did not cast even a thin shadow. Nothing did.

So now I sit here, sleepless. In the diffusion around my blackout curtains, I can see the light staring into me relentless as an x-ray. The source, purpose, and means of it are all mysteries I have given up on. I no longer fear that it will keep me from sleep.

I fear the day I will be able to sleep, and what will happen then.

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The Fishermen’s Bend

The old man sat on a barrel of salt pork with his head bowed as if in prayer. A checkerboard with a game half-played sat on the pickle vat in front of him. Dust cemented the pieces in place, not one of the men filling the general store had posessed the courage to challenge him to a game in years.

The old man was known as Murphy. No one alive could tell you if it was surname or given, as it was preferable to know as little about the man as possible. Though each man who owed livelihood to the sea relied on him, they crossed the street when they saw him shamble by.

Murphy was a master of knots. Age had tightened the muscles and chords in his hands until they were knots themselves. His shoulders were stiff as stone in a monkey’s-fist formation. His hair was a tangled mass no brush could brave. His mouth was a blood knot puckered in the worn fabric of his face. He alone brokered a seat in the store, which was packed to standing-room only by fishermen. They gave him a healthy berth.

Murphy opened eyes as sharp and grey as the sky outside. “You be wanting something?”

Which was a considerable outburst from the man.

“Tide’s going out,” one man ventured. He hid among his fellows when Murphy’s piercing gaze combed the crowd.

“Tide’s going out,” another man said. Paddy Keane, a meaty giant of a man who had sired a healthily crowded family. He commanded a crew of six men and did not flinch at Murphy’s gaze. “Time for leaving is past gone. What do you say?”

Murphy grunted and swallowed a load of phlegm. “Not today. Maybe tomorrow.”

The men grumbled. Paddy crossed arms sinewed as steel cable.

“Seven days, we been waitin’. Seven days the market’s asked for fish, and we’ve said no. Seven days we have hungerin’ babes and you say an eighth?” He stepped up to the barrel and set his hands down hard in the fossilized checker game. “We’ve had it, old man. I’ve had it.”

Murphy eyed the new contender. “Piss off, Keane. I knew your father when he were in short pants. You don’t frighten me.”

Paddy stood, retrieving a billhook from his belt. As the men made another empty space around him, he pulled an oilcloth from his pocket and set to cleaning it.

“I don’t frighten you? You don’t frighten I, either.” The metal sounded like a finger rubbing the rim of a wine glass as he polished it. The surface was dulled from years of beating pollock  and flounder into submission. “You haven’t been out on a boat in years. You’re an old wive’s tail, you are. I’ll kill a black hen at sunrise before I ever believe in you.”

The store had fallen achingly silent. Outside, the wind made the wooden shingles creak. Murphy scanned the store and found a crowd of faces turned to the ground.

“You set your hat with him?” No answer. “Who taught ye the knots every sailor needs to know? The hitch that stoppered your backstays? The secret fishermen’s bend that calls truce with Neptune?”

“I’ve not seen a new sailor in a hen’s age,” one man timidly spoke up. He did not shrink before Murphy’s gaze either. “I’ve seen you sit here and run up credit with the store, but I haven’t seen you school anyone.”

“Your son. Or his son, maybe.”

“I’ll teach him.”

The crowd began muttering assent, reeling out their own anecdotes in defiance of the old man.

Murphy stood from his barrel, and the talk fell away.

“It doesn’t take a sailor to read the wind,” he said, “and it doesn’t take a brave man to start a brawl. I say no-one sails.”

Paddy broke out in a rolling guffaw. “How will you stop us, eh? Will you knot the air?”

Murphy, faced by a wall of derisive faces, sat on his salt-pork throne. “Watch me,” he said.

His swollen hands suddenly became like water, years melting away as he moved his hands in a graceful dance. The men could practically see the bight in his hands being twisted and looped this way and that. The sky outside darkened as the old man muttered and sweated and worked his fingers on empty air. Finally, he let his arms fall on the checkerboard and pushed his breath out in a long sigh.

It was a long while before one of the men said, “he’s not moving.”

Murphy sat, sharp upright as he ever had, dead at the pickle barrel with his eyes staring straight forward at nothing. Paddy grimaced and rolled his lids down with the palm of one hand. They sprang open again.

“Ghastly. Get the sawbones.”

The men piled out of the store on their way to the town’s doctor/coroner. It was only then that they realized the wind had sucked in like a heavy held breath. Above the cove where their boats lay on pebbled sand, helpless as fish without the tide, above the tarpaper shacks where their families burned fires to keep away the sea-chill, above their very heads was a maelstrom that roiled in a thick knot of clouds that spanned the width of the sky.

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Thirty Rules for Dating Our Daughter

  1. You will be chaperoned always. No exceptions.
  2. Do not touch her bare skin.
  3. She eats only what we give her.
  4. If she is cold, do not offer her your jacket. She cannot be warmed.
  5. Do not pick at the stitches. Her voice is not for your ears.
  6. You sacrifice your time to us from now on. Your waking hours are no longer your own.
  7. There will be no photographs, etchings, portraits, video recordings, or any other attempt to reproduce her likeness.
  8. Sometimes she will go away and return with the blood of some small animal on her face. It is on you to clean it.
  9. Her hair must be brushed every day.
  10. Her teeth must be picked every day.
  11. Her nails must be clipped on the hour.
  12. Don’t cry. The salt of your tears is harmful.
  13. Other women, even those in your family, are now forbidden you. Walk veiled through the town.
  14. Daylight is a privilege. Privileges can be revoked.
  15. Tell her you love her, right now.
  16. And again.
  17. Her eyes can no longer stand sunlight. You must smoke the glass from now on.
  18. At times, her shadow will gain features and make sounds. It is on you to burn it back.
  19. There will be a yearly toll. We will instruct you which animals to bring.
  20. You cannot go back. Not ever.
  21. If she shows you the pit in her chest where her heart once beat, do not stick anything inside it.
  22. You cannot mourn the man you once were.
  23. If you ever feel the urge to flee set in, remember: we can only dig one hole.
  24. Occasionally you will bleed. It is because she cannot, and you must provide for her.
  25. You are her sustenance now.
  26. You will love her, even as you begin to hate her.
  27. You will love her long after the spark fades.
  28. You will love her long after your body withers to dust.
  29. Your love will be a flower sprouting in a sea of black sand.
  30. If you even manage the miracle of children, this list will be passed on to you.

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Bedtime Rituals

“Check the closet,” the young boy said.

His mother rattled the knob and flapped the door open and shut. “Clear.”

“And the chest.”

She lifted the heavy cedar lid and led it slam down on its own. “Clear.”

“The curtains.”

Mother twitched aside the floor-to-ceiling drapes, revealing only empty window panes.

“Now the bed.”

She approached her son, bent over, fingers curled into claws. She gave a little play-growl. The boy was not amused.

Down on her knees among the toys, she only found errant dust bunnies beneath her son’s mattress.

“Clear.”

“Are you sure?” Which he said every night.

“Sweetheart, there’s nothing.” She kissed his forehead. “Lay down and go to sleep. Morning will be here before you know it.” Which she said every night.

She tousled his hair and hit the switch for his bedroom light and left the door to the hallway ajar. But this time her foot was stayed halfway down the hall by a piercing whistle-shriek of  “mom!

She broke land speed records to get back to her son’s doorway. “What?”

Silence. She could see by the hall light that the bedclothes still lumped in the same way, she could see a vague silhouette of a head (or was it another pillow?) if she let her eyes adjust a bit.

When her son finally spoke, it was not a attitude of panic. It was a flat, dead tone that sounded too adult for him. “You missed somewhere.”

“Where? I’ll start again.” She flipped the lightswitch, fruitlessly. The hall still shed its insufficient light through the doorway, so it wasn’t a power outage. The light in her son’s room had just decided to burn out.

“No. It’s too late.”

“Not for mommy.” Flick, flick. Her finger was getting tired. “Tell me where I missed. I checked in the closet.”

“You did.”

“I checked behind the drapes for nightmares, didn’t I?”

“Yes, mommy.”

“I checked in that box for the pop-up monster.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Is it the bed?” she sighed. “I can check under the bed. Just let me get the flashlight.”

Her son’s “no!” stopped her in the doorway.

“It’s too late for that. Anyway, that’s not what you forgot.”

Mother looked to her son’s bed, where the bedclothes rose and shifted just beyond her range of sight. “What?”

“You forgot to check on top of the bed.”

Her hand went to the lightswitch, where it flicked up and down, up and down. The room remained dark, her son remained an ambiguous mass of shifting dark shapes, but still her hand flicked up and down, up and down. Surely if she kept trying, surely, surely

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Death Records

For many decades, Solomon recording studio sat on Fuller street between a used bookstore and a storefront that was called Sal’s Fish Market long after the building became empty. The interior was no more than 600 square feet, not counting the recording space, almost all of it taken up by floor-to-ceiling shelves of plain wrapped records. The sign fell off the building facade about five years into its tenure, so for years the colloquial name for the store came from the errant graffiti sprayed in the cavity left by the sign: death records.

To truly understand the recording studio, one must understand the man first: Zachariah “Scratch” Solomon started his career as a recording technician for the city’s jazz and soul population. What made his fame was the day bebop singer Cal Benson came in to record what would have been his fifth full album. Benson, 43 years old, had a massive stroke and collapsed in the booth without singing one note. Solomon ran to call 911, leaving the recording equipment running untended. In the 25 minutes it took for emergency services to find the studio, Cal Benson lay dead in the booth. It was only when his body was removed that Solomon noticed his error. Curiosity led him to play back the recording of what would become the first of Solomon’s famed “death records”: a solid 25-minute track of what is undoubtedly Cal Benson scatting in his signature style, all recorded after he had ostensibly stopped breathing. Solomon smuggled the recording home and quit the studio by phone the next day.

The process starting at Cal Benson’s death leading up to the only posthumous recording studio in existence is a mystery known only to Solomon, but somehow he managed to scrape up enough capital to open the space on Fuller. He took out ads in Fortean Times and other similar publications, hoping to draw the occult crowd. What he got was a deluge of hate mail from people who found his idea tasteless. His first client came not from the believer side of things but from the private sector: Hyman Grande, a man of some means who owned a real estate block near the store, was dying of bone cancer. He amended his will so that Solomon would be present at his death bed…which he was, a mere seven months after the decree. The record, labeled H. Grande, contained eight minutes of an unidentified voice singing “You are my sunshine”, shuffling and repeating some verses, and inserting heretofore unknown verses in other places.

This was the event that made Solomon’s name. Long after the storefront sign was replaced by graffiti, the curious could check in and make death dates for the studio or, if they so wished, sample one of the many records under the listening bell. Not all records contained music. One labeled “E. Jones” contained a recitation of the opening sonnet of Love’s Labor Lost in the original middle English. Others contain a candid conversation between two unidentified individuals, a man with a stutter attempting a tongue twister, and an animal growling.

Solomon remained a cipher throughout the years. What few people counted themselves among his friends did not know much about him besides his name and profession. It was understood that his family emigrated from somewhere in Europe in the earlier part of the century, and that he had pursued music study until an injury cut his budding career short. Solomon was notoriously tight lipped about a scar that was usually hidden by long shirtsleeves, a burn in the shape of two saxophone keys. The closest anyone came to an answer of why he chose to pursue such an odd niche in the music industry was Norbert Cane, a local jazz pianist and drinking buddy. Norbert once overheard Solomon remark that he had picked up something in the way Cal Benson had breathed shortly before his stroke, and that his ears were “better than most.”

The recording studio struggled on for nearly seven decades. The rent was 12 months in arrears when Solomon died, quietly and suddenly, in the space above the storefront. There had been no sign of poor health. Solomon had not given any indication he was in pain. Yet in the interval between locking up for the night and the hour when his assistant came to open the store, Solomon had time to tidy his bed into a sort of funeral bower and dress in his only suit before dying of unknown causes. Clutched to his chest was an unmarked vinyl record. Interpreting the gesture as his final wish, the attendant brought the portable recording equipment up to Solomon’s death bed. At his poor and city-funded funeral, Solomon’s friends gathered to listen to the posthumous recording of the man who had provided the service to countless others.

From the point when the needle hit the outermost track to the point where it slid into the run-out groove, Solomon’s record was completely silent.

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