Categories
poetry

A Letter from Your Love Interest (who is not an Embalmer)

When you leave
I’ll preserve you
(your memory, I mean).

I’ll tuck my dreams of you away
in a bed of Egyptian sand
for centuries and centuries, until
the treasure of your face is uncovered
a rich and ancient icon,
ossified,
priceless.

or I’ll dip you in brine
(my feelings for you, that is)
a recollection of our love suspended
in formaldehyde
or honey, like the Persians did.

or I’ll nestle you down deep
in a peat bog bed.
The unusual conditions
of low oxygen, acidic water
and Irish cold
will transform the reminder of you
into silky black leather.

or I’ll lay you down
on a long steel table
pierce your carotid artery
and expel your
blood and interstitial fluids
(uh, memories),
flush your veins with
methanol
(love)
and other solvents,
so the time we spent together remains
chilled forever
a tag on the right toe.

This is to say,
when you’re gone,
My thoughts of you will
never rot
they will never decompose.
you’ll remain forever
precious,
refrigerated

(in my mind).

Categories
fiction

This Town has too Many Dark Festivals

In April, there is the Feast of the Black Finch, where a number of townsfolk are strung up in the trees, their limbs covered in feathers and sweet hazelnut mash, whereupon they are left to dangle until throngs of local songbirds swarm the branches. The songbirds devour the mash so slathered over the townsfolk, and in so doing peck incessantly at the hapless participants with their tiny, dagger-like beaks. The rite has been described as highly uncomfortable.

In November, during the Circus of the White Newt, the most disliked members of the community are draped in red robes with their lips sealed shut with masking tape. The town elders lead a procession of the chosen disliked into a winding maze of catacombs beneath the town, until such time as the morose group arrives at a cavern riddled with blind albino cave salamanders. The blind albino cave salamanders swarm the chosen with their sticky little feet and weird little noses, until such time as the chosen ones are itchy and disturbed and drenched with slime. Then, the procession leaders serve coffee and sweet yam pie, of which the chosen are not allowed to partake. It is tremendously cruel.

In May, the local children build floats for the Parade of the Everlasting Cud, their dioramas comprised entirely of bubble gum wrappers and half-digested alfalfa.

Every forty-third year on the Winter Solstice, there is the Carnival of the Dark Perambulation, during which an effigy of the titan Iapetus is constructed at the edge of town. The titan is comprised of the residents themselves, nervously stacked on each other’s shoulders, bound by dried blackberry brambles and old beeswax, and during the construction the participants sing a cacophony of unholy hymns, a dark ruckus of malicious oratorios, a canticle the likes of which drives sane folk mad, and this song lasts all hours of the day until, just before the onset of night, the titan begins to walk, lumbering with the screams of the townsfolk screeching at its very joints, every movement a crush of tiny limbs and heads within, and the titan trudges into the blood-red sunset, to the edge of the fields where the bones of hundreds of the townsfolk’s ancestors lay littering the soil, those sad remnants shed off where the titans of past Carnivals once walked, as though a massive constrictor shed its scales upon the fields or a dark star rained down in hot particles of unknown cosmic matter. The townsfolk within the titan dance the dance of the untold ancients; then they head back to town and finish up their Christmas shopping.

 

Categories
fiction

This Old Hellhouse

Ralph and Edna Larned built Maalphegor in 1951, shortly after Ralph got a job teaching 9th grade geometry at Thomas Edison junior high. At the time, Edna had just been promoted to head nurse at the rehab ward of Cowley County Memorial Hospital.

Maalphegor, at first, had three bedrooms, two baths, six walk-in closets, and a fully equipped kitchen with all the modern conveniences. It was built by Ralph’s own hand (although much of the design and decor was handled by Edna) and due to the concrete and ectoplasm construction, it would never fall, never collapse in the event of an earthquake. No disaster could ever loosen the house from its foundations (or, at least, so it whispered to Ralph and Edna at night).

Living there, however, was always a strange crisis. The end of the world was always coming in Maalphegor, at least for the neighbors whose hellhouses weren’t as well built, and Ralph and Edna became convinced that preparation through consumerism was the only way to save off Armageddon. Thankfully, Maalphegor came with it’s own door-to-door salesmen; at the beginning, they looked a little like Bela Lugosi clones, but as the years wore on, the shadows in the salesmen’s faces deepened, a bit like Pazuzu from the Exorcist. Increasingly they began to look like Slender Men once Ralph and Edna’s children came of age.

The salesmen sold the family new appliances and luxurious additions to Maalphegor: delights such as weatherizing strips and desk lamps and a new washer/dryer, a sun room and a study and fifteen guest bedrooms. When the neighbors asked, the family insisted they’d do anything–anything–to halt the advance of apocalypse. For everyone’s sake of course.

By the time Ralph and Edna spent up all their retirement, the neighborhood looked considerably different, as Maalphegor had devoured the entire block, and the neighbors had all moved away. But Ralph still grilled up dinner on the massive back patio every Sunday (using what pigeons and squirrels still remained in the attic as meat) and Edna did her best to keep all the curtains tidy.

Categories
journaling

My Kid and I Made this List for Reasons I Can’t Remember (but We Must Have Been Hungry).

  1. Whole planet of spaghetti with spaghetti people with everything on it spaghetti.
  2. City of mustard with little hotdog people chasing cookies on legs.
  3. Hamburger with pigeons on it, cooing and pooping chocolate eggs.
  4. Pizza with doughnuts and chocolate chips.
  5. Snake pushing a lawnmower through a field of pizza to make pizza-aide.
  6. Little boy of fried eggs doing the samba.
  7. Man with chocolate belly, sriracha face, lasagna hands, paper arms, feet of milk, and legs of wire.
Categories
journaling

A Note on Cosmic Horror

I’ve been re-reading some of my favorite stories from people like Laird Barron, Thomas Ligotti, and the anthology Dreams from the Witch House: Female Voices of Lovecraftian Horror, and I have to say I love this stuff. Eldritch horrors lurking in tombs, interdimensional beings wanting to eat us and drive us mad. Love, love, love it.

It bothers me, though, whenever I get that nice, terrified thrill of the unknown that, in the past, this thrill has been associated with HP Lovecraft’s prejudice and xenophobia. It could be said he wrote about ancient eldritch gods returning to the earth because he was actively terrified of immigrants bringing their non-American traditions to his tidy New England life.

The subtext of why I love this kind of horror is, I’d like to think, largely based on my unflappably pessimistic view of our own insignificance in the grandiosity of the cosmos and the universe’s ever-present spiral towards doom.

Regular horror, with its re-confirmation of conservative normalcy (according to Stephen King), just doesn’t do it for me. Too hopeful.

Still, it haunts me to know I’m enjoying essentially the same plot devices that were created by xenophobic jerks.

I think people who suffer from xenophobia are broken on some level. Really, despite whatever perceived differences you can find in a person, someone with even the most basic empathetic abilities should be able to see that people different from themselves are intrinsically human. I lived in Vegas for six years, and over the course of that time I couldn’t understand much of what my neighbors said (despite hundreds of dollars in college courses which, at a certain point I realized were not, in fact, designed to actually help me speak the language). I certainly didn’t understand why my neighbors bought gargantuan pinatas or stopped five times a day to pray, but I never doubted they were people. Those differences didn’t make them not people. They put their kids on the bus to school and called their parents and got pissed off at parking tickets. People stuff, just like me.

I have to remind myself that good cosmic horror is not actually xenophobic, nor does enjoying such fiction make one xenophobic. In a lot of the stuff I’ve been reading, the monsters are very, very far from human. Often, the monsters are wholly alien or unknowable beings that exist on a completely different plane. Rather than xenophobia, I think, good cosmic horror and weird fiction practice something closer to exophobia–this fear of things outside human perception or outside what it means to be intrinsically human.

But because of this confusion, I think we should altogether stop calling this genre Lovecraftian. We don’t often name buildings after the architect (or, really, the construction foreman, because one could argue that no writer builds inventive ideas in a vacuum. Great artists steal, and all that). And with the world as it is today, we really don’t need more excuses to be jerks to each other.

Ultimately, good exophobic cosmic horror works without maligning anyone’s personhood. We can all read exophobic horror with a clear conscious. Such fiction is full of reasonable monsters, monsters in the form of bizarre otherworldly intelligences hidden in the dark and performing strange machinations that will ultimately doom us all. That makes perfect sense.

Categories
poetry

Nothing Fun will Happen this Halloween

This Halloween, I’m afraid
there will be nothing fun
that will happen to us on this dark moonless night
no ghosts will pop out as we sneak through the yard
no ghouls will rise up out from under the porch
no goblins will glare out of dark cellar shadows because
we all know, for quite certain, that monsters aren’t real.

This Halloween, I’m afraid
will be boring and tame
as we invade the house under cover of night
no vampire will hiss when the door slowly creaks open
no werewolf will howl as we all creep slowly through
no zombie will groan as we slink through the halls because
we all know, for quite certain, that monsters aren’t real.

This Halloween, I’m afraid
will be just like the last one
with the usual, quite regular holiday feast
no demons will care when we tug off the covers
no angels will hark all the shrieks from the beds
no monster at all will join us for dinner because
we know, for quite certain, that monsters aren’t real.

Categories
fiction

You Have Been Visited by the Weasel of Sorrows

You almost don’t see it. One afternoon, as you push through the front door, overladen with your sustainable shopping bags full of produce from the farmer’s market, you nearly step over the tiny card that’s jammed beneath the door. In microscopic script, the card says:

Sorry I missed you.

The card is doll-sized on cream card stock, and the shaky letters are somewhat Dickensian. On the other side is an image: a ferret with a top hat and unbearably sad, moist eyes. Below the portrait, it reads:

Sorrow.

You figure it must be something your son picked up at school, maybe something from the book fairs he loves, or an earth science project of your daughter’s. You forget it quickly, but then the next week, you find another card, this one stuck to the door like a UPS sticker:

I will return: Monday, Tuesday, Friday. Blank checkboxes sit beside each day’s name.

On the other side, again, is the impossibly miserable ferret. This time it’s wearing a brown suit coat, complete with a little watch tucked into the breast pocket. You’re reminded of a character from a low-rent Alice in Wonderland.

The card says again: Sorrow.

For a few days after, you wonder about the cards and what sorrow could mean. It’s easy enough to imagine. Since you’ve turned 40, it’s been inescapable: all the ways sadness could creep into your life. Car repairs, lost friends, your children’s grades, species extinctions, global starvation, various cancers. You keep the cards tucked into your bag, behind your cash and ID, and find yourself thinking of them frequently. Eventually you start checking the porch before you enter the house, peering under the juniper bushes or beneath the drought-conscious decorative rock you’ve used to replace the lawn.

Soon, you can’t even go near the house without first spending a half an hour sitting in your Subaru, staring at the door, checking to see if anything’s coming. Anything short and soft footed, or black footed, sneaking morosely around the corner. For weeks, after you think you’ve seen a shadow flicker across the welcome mat, you speed up and drive around the block for an hour. You start parking two blocks down and sneaking into the house through a back window. You start avoiding unnecessary trips outside altogether. Your son and your daughter start riding the bus to school (lower carbon footprint anyway) and you start ordering your groceries online (an unfortunately higher carbon footprint). On weekends, you live under a blanket, huddled on the couch, spying on the neighborhood using a busted slat in the blinds. You spend all day searching for the horrid messenger, that fuzzy prophet of cards.

One day, your eyes drift shut for a moment, and suddenly you hear it: a knock at the door. Soft and light, near the threshold. After a moment, there’s a tiny cough.

You pull the blanket over your head. Don’t let it in, you whisper to yourself, madly. Don’t let it in.

 

Categories
fiction

That Thing Standing Behind You

That thing standing behind you
Just wants to say hi
It was stuffed under floorboards for so many years
It just wants a stretch, to uncurl all those legs
And visit, just briefly, with another kind soul

That thing standing behind you
Just wants a big hug
The house was so quiet and dark and alone
There’s so little to eat, the icebox is empty
Is it too much to ask to dine with a friend?

That thing standing behind you
Gets a little bit bigger
Its mandibles stretching as wide as the hall
Such an affectionate gesture, you won’t even feel it.
Won’t you turn, just a little, and give it a smile?

Categories
fiction

The Snuggly Dead

I. Evangelina thought death would be super terrible; then, she died. When they lowered the coffin into the ground, the coffin was a tidy little space, all firm cedar and clean corners, but eventually the coffin walls decayed into soft mounds of rotting mulch, and the soil leaked in and the worms crept in to nestle under her head. She began to think it wasn’t so bad at all, like a cool Sunday morning spent under the covers, dozing in and out of consciousness, particularly when her flesh slid off her bones and decomposed in pale, folded piles of decayed matter like a bundle of linen. She found herself smiling (the teeth on her skull bared clean), as she snuggled deeper into the earth with the beetles tickling her cheeks. The whole thing was made all the better for the fact that, thankfully, she couldn’t smell anything.

II. Tyrone, too, was really nervous about the whole death thing, particularly when they shuttled him into the fire and the automatic door of the crematorium slid shut. The flames weren’t as mean as he’d expected; they were more like the heat from a campfire while nestled under a wool blanket with a hot cocoa full of marshmallows and cream liqueur. He found himself sighing as the warmth tickled his toes and slid up his knee caps, and when his body dissolved into dry particulates, that felt pretty nice, too, a bundled up and folded feeling, safe and protected, like collapsing upon himself in child’s pose during yoga class.

III. Arturo’s body was never found, and that was all well and good because after getting chased around by that chainsaw-wielding maniac, he really could have used a break. After a long tumble down a ravine, his head found a spot to rest by the creek bed, the milkweed and thistles having caught him before he rolled into the water. His arms and legs were somewhere in the bushes; his torso flopped in the mud under a sapling. And, sure, after screaming his soul-guts out for a while, he was soothed by the trickling water over the rocks, the birdsong, the sunshine. It was like all the vacations he’d never gotten around to taking. So he lounged, warmed by the sun and listening to the breeze. He giggled as he felt the feet of ants and beetles tip-toeing over him, their little pincers like kisses. (They took parts of him to live in their colonies, little chunks of flesh to nibble on, which gave him a glimpse of life better than any David Attenborough documentary he’d ever seen.) Small carnivores snacked on him at night, those coyotes with their soft, wet noses and crows with their feathers brushing against his skull. Soon enough, the ivy grew over him and the soil covered the bleached surface of his bones, and he nestled in, the whisper of grubs and worms soothing him to sleep.

Categories
fiction

There’s a Big Demon Alligator Sitting on the Lawn

It’s certainly not regular-sized. It’s very big, in fact (the demon, not the lawn, because of course the lawn is tiny. In this housing development they put up last year there’s not much grass; each duplex’s swath of green is hand-tailored by the landlord, tidy squares of Kentucky bluegrass that the landlord says cannot be touched by flowers or junipers or decorative butterfly stakes that glow pink and orange. You love the decorative butterfly stakes; they remind of you of the yard of your grandmother’s trailer, cluttered with wildflowers and gnomes, but when you put the decorative stakes up the landlord said the only thing you can put in the yard is a lawn chair and grill). (You don’t own a grill.)

It slumps in the grass, it’s long snout sulking, the spiny ridges along its back a strange color between oxblood brown and peacock purple. Even just sitting there, its as tall as the whole duplex (and the neighbors glared at you, of course, because they think it’s your fault, this mutated crocodilian that looks like it borrowed a horned page from Tim Curry’s satan, and you don’t try to convince them that there’s no way you could have summoned this thing, you wouldn’t even know where to start, but the neighbors glared at you since you moved in, that day you said hello and they shuffled back into their house, leaving you wondering if you had your underwear showing or something stuck in your teeth. All the neighbors here only glare, they don’t say hello, so you’re beginning to think it’s not actually you). (It’s them).

Every now and then, it sighs, the big demon alligator, puffing out a plume of sulfuric smoke (and it seems kind of lonely, you think, and the more you stare at it from your kitchen window you wonder if it really is an alligator or just a long, scaly beast. Maybe you’ve projected onto it some vision of your childhood, those afternoons your grandmother fed the caimans that scuttled under her flowers, smallish versions of their hulking swamp cousins that grandma said loved little rare cutlets, bits chicken and pork, and everyone wondered how she hadn’t lost a hand yet, the gators would get her, but it was ultimately her neighbors who got her, hopped up on bath salts and playing with kerosene. And you wonder how flammable bluegrass can get, if it dries out for a few days while the demon sits on the sprinklers, and maybe grandma would be proud if you gave the big demon one little bite, something small and meaty and bleeding to eat). (Maybe you will.)

Categories
fiction

“Great, but Too Many Floating Eyeballs”

Review: Carpathian Dream Resort Hotel and Casino
4328 Cliffs of Despair Road
Cahul, Cahul District MD-3909, Moldova

4-out-of-5-stars1

My husband booked a room at the Carpathian Dream hotel for our anniversary, and for the most part it was a great establishment. The decor was super run down with moth-eaten curtains and faded antique rugs, candelabras everywhere full of these murky yellow candles that might have been made of real tallow. Wolves howled at all hours during the night, and there was always a full moon. The hotel would have been just what we wanted for a romantic, atmospheric honeymoon, if it hadn’t been for all the floating eyeballs.

When we checked in, the maî·tre d’ leered at us cruelly and refused to really say much beyond “We’ve been expecting you.” The bell-hop looked to have a little grave dirt left on his shoulders, his hat was a bit worm-eaten, and he dragged all of our luggage up by himself. (It must have been tough for him–he was so skinny!) Our room was bitter cold and no manner of warmth from the fireplace could chase away the chill, so snuggling deep into the pillows on the antique canopy bed was just the ticket. The moaning from the hallways really helped my husband get to sleep in the absence of his white noise generator, and breakfasts were served right on time, with plenty of black, crusty bread and what looked like cold, somewhat coppery tomato juice. Yum!

I’d have given the whole experience five stars, really, if it hadn’t been for the eyeball thing. God, they were just everywhere–and sticky, too. There’s nothing like stepping out of a hot shower to bump into a swarm of bloodshot ocular organs trailing their spindly pink nerves behind them. You wake up in the morning and find them in your hair, in your coffee, stuck to your forehead. Gross. The floor was just sopping wet with aqueous humor. And other guests maybe like the feeling of constantly being watched, but it’s not really our thing. My husband and I tried that for a bit in the 70s and it didn’t work out.

But aside from all that, the experience was great. The Carpathian Dream Hotel and Casino is now a tradition for my husband and I, so we’ll be looking forward to booking them again for our next anniversary. 9/10 would go again. (But not looking forward to the eyeballs.)

Categories
fiction

That Fish is Going to Eat You

Look at it, all way down there in the deep watery shadows
With black marble eyes that seem inhuman and strange
It looks at you coldly, without hardly a quiver
I think that fish is going to eat you.

It wasn’t the best idea to go swimming, of course
Despite how warm it is on this lovely June day
How spontaneous you seemed, jumping into the pond with a whoop
Now you shiver, very quietly, because that fish is going to eat you.

This secret forest pool seemed so placid, idyllic
You paid no heed to the arcane markings carved into the trees
I didn’t carve them myself, but I read them (before I hid the brushes)
Those markings pretty much said that fish is going to eat you.

Is it a fish? Maybe not. Who knew this pool was so deep?
How many sharkish eyes does it have? Two? Twenty-seven?
Those strange, greyish eyelids stretch wide open to see you
…Well, to do more than just see you. (Specifically, eat you.)

What can you do but scramble for shore?
Your legs kick frantically as the waves start to froth
Foul bubbles rise up–are those tentacles? Teeth? Whatever,
they wrap around your ankles, preparing to eat you.

Down you go, down to the deep, struggling as you descend
What a terrible way to go out, I must say.
I’m sorry I had to watch such a scene, but thanks to you
I’m at least happy that fish is not going to eat me.