Categories
fiction sketches

Crawling In, Crawling Out

After “Old Woman Skin and Bone,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Schwartz, pg. 18

She was a worm charmer, and she kept her worms to herself. She never competed at county fairs. (Such events had so many people crouched in muddy fields, knocking and stomping at the earth. Making vibrations meant to call the worms out, but who could really gauge their skills in such a noisy place?) When she charmed worms out of the ground, she did so alone, with her wood rattler: a long stick carved with teeth, jammed deep into the earth, scraped so it sang like skeletons clattering. She took her rattler out into pastures and empty lots, undeveloped suburbs and abandoned fields, and she called up the worms: good ones, pretty shiny fat ones.

Her worms lived in tanks along the walls of her trailer: teeming pink-gray-brown behind the glass, glistening, like slippery knitting, crawling in, crawling out. They left cocoons like yellow pearls embedded in the dark, rich soil. She kept the best ones in the largest tanks, big terrariums with moss and mist, and never did she think to sell them as bait. She named them names like Daisy, Gibraltar, Toots. She warmed them with sun lamps, fed them dead things charmed up from the churchyard. She kept rainwater in barrels to sprinkle over them, drumming water drops to call them closer.

The rain reminded her of stormy days as a child, days she cut across the churchyard and watched things wriggle up from the grave dirt, things looking for moisture, following the source of the vibrations, her footsteps. She remembered: the worms crawling in, crawling out. She remembered: her mother saying, that’s what you’ll look like when you’re dead.

These days, she keeps an ear to the ground and listens to see if she hears mother, wriggling up. These days, when she sleeps, she dreams of bones jammed deep in the earth and rattling a skeleton call. The dark, rich soil over her face, teeming. She opens her mouth, she opens her eyes. She lets them crawl.

Categories
fiction sketches

We’re Being Eaten

J– is studying at the kitchen table, pencil scribbling, lamp-lit, while the things slide in from the back yard. They slide out from holes we never noticed before (or maybe we always knew they were there, burrows with milk-gray wrinkled things inside, like overlarge moles, like leftovers we forgot about). J– needs to pass this test because she owes far too much already, and her children sing softly to each other under the covers because the night is too dark. When the things push their noses through the sliding glass door, she clamps down her gaze to her notes, arcane scribbles of magic that might save her, but such talismans can’t stop the barbed yellow teeth that bite through her ankle.

M– is sitting in the park, sipping, his silver flask glinting off the halogen lamps, wondering what to do next now that everything is gone. He hears the things slide up from under the leaves (like skinks or snakes. They’re so large but they only make a slight shushing sound. It must be, he thinks, because of the slime.) He picks at the hole on his right elbow, a twist of thread in his blazer that’s come unraveled, and he thinks of how much it took to get this blazer in the first place, how much he had to give up. The things snake under the bench and needle narrow-tipped fingers through the gaps to poke at his haunches. Their mouths water.

Q– closes the blinds. They avoid the broken slats, not just because they can’t be caught squatting but because the things slide through the streets, a slow tide of sludge, their entangled bodies twisting around each other like a mole rat king. The bloodied parts of meals are dragged along the tide, arms and feet and noses, shreds of clothing, workplace badges, uniforms. Q– tapes up the gaps between the doors and walls, stuffs blankets between the cracks, whatever they can find, and under a tiny lamp they write letters to anyone who may still be left. The letter will be thrown into the air, tossed into the sewer grate whenever they dare venture out again. The shushing sounds move over the door. They do not expect a reply.

Categories
fiction

The Pieces she Kept

Marisol lived upstairs in the house with the others. She never wore shoes. When the others weren’t looking, Marisol broke into the parlor and destroyed the tea services, one piece at a time: cups, pots, saucers, sugar bowls. Each time, she plucked a piece out from the china hutch and dropped it, effortlessly, and smiling as she watched it hit the hardwood floor.

As soon as the others heard the shatter, they chased her out of the parlor, beating her with brooms and rolled up magazines. They wept over the loss of their fine country roses, their Noritake and their gold-trimmed Warwick. They swept up what they couldn’t salvage, but a few shards became embedded in Marisol’s feet as she ran away. She kept those. She plucked the shards out one by one and stashed them in a box under her bedroom floor.

Eventually, after months and months of bleeding soles and plucked shards, she collected enough materials. She stole a bowl of wallpaper paste and Aunt Crinoline’s jar of rubber cement, then she took the shards and glued them together to construct a figure: a three-foot tall hairless Siamese cat, her own feline-shaped gargoyle to loom over her bed.

When the others asked, Marisol promised her cat did not hop down from the bedpost and wander the house at night. That clicking sound was not its claws on the floorboards in the hall. She insisted the cat was just a sculpture, a mosaic of mismatched porcelain, sleek and inert. The dark puddles of liquid around the cat’s heels were not blood, of course, no. Those were just stains from leftover tea.

Categories
sketches

It Only Played Piano

The homeowners were, for the most part, grateful the ghost only made tinkling musack, inoffensive easy listening tunes, and did not wail or howl at all hours of the night. It didn’t even weep ceaselessly. The ghost didn’t throw knives or stomp or bang on the walls. No one’s toes were nibbled. There were no figures in the mirrors, standing right behind them, over their shoulder, glaring a death’s glare (or worse, a grin!). There was just the sound of C sharp, B minor, the occasional chord plunking away right in their ear wherever they turned. They never woke up to scratches (maybe some headaches), and the songs the ghost played were never morose or doomful (although it was clear, from the occasional off-note, the slips, that the fucker needed to practice, didn’t it?). It only played repetitive, uncomplicated modern compositions, (how much Philip Glass can one ghost take at a time?). And while the ghost did help for parties, its origins were quite the conversation starter, at some point they stopped caring whether it was the spirit of a murdered cut rate musician, or a musically frustrated housewife turned to suicide, or if the piano itself was possessed with some poltergeist of bad taste, or if perhaps it was just a curse (they were pretty sure it was a curse, though).Yes, they would say, (before they stopped saying anything at all), the ghost only plays piano. And no: it isn’t very good. And no: it never, ever stops.

Categories
poetry

We Got on the Wrong Bus

After Edward Gorey

It seemed strange the driver didn’t ask for our bus pass. Instead he shook a box full of finger bones and growled exact change only.

Cleo sat down by the hooded figure near the front. She didn’t want to offend anyone by mentioning the smell.

Tyrone stepped over the pink-clear puddles that oozed over the center isle from the seats. He said ahem and I prefer to stand.

The chanting bothered Willem, but only when she took out her earbuds and glanced around at the faces under the hoods.

A skeletal hand was left on the seat Charise wanted. When she poked it, it scrambled under her feet.

Bones to Dust, read the sign above the driver, but Paro couldn’t see very well to read the rest; the purple fog was too thick.

Jacinto thought he heard the giggle of children, checked the seat behind him and saw an empty baby carrier.

Katy pulled the cord and heard brakes screeching, but the bus didn’t stop. Neither did the screaming.

Categories
poetry

Come be an Alligator

After Alvin Schwartz, “Alligators,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
For Levi

Because I love you,
I invite you:
come be an alligator
with me.

We’ll live in the river, float
like logs, quiet
as death
pull those fishermen
down to the bottom

Grasp our babies
gently, between
our massive jaws
teach them
to chomp minnows
and toes
and roll, roll, roll.

We’ll eat things when
they expect it least
sun our bellies
with the moon
and have them all
fooled
because everybody knows
there’s no
alligators
around here

Categories
sketches

Lynette’s Percolator Summoned Cosmic Horrors

Lynette’s antique percolator summoned vast, unknowable cosmic horrors who brought her cinnamon crumb cake and platters of scones. They clasped the baked goods their many unfathomable limbs and asked where should we put these? The spoke without words, in a mind-voice piped directly into Lynette’s brain that, at once, sent tiny aneurysms dancing amongst her neurons.

Lynette retrieved extra chairs to make room for them around the kitchen table. She asked them how they took their coffee they garbled in their eldritch tongue, yes, most definitely two sugars, and thank you. Their abyssal mouths opened, and from out of those mouths reached long, shimmering proboscises that blew on the surface of their coffees before taking a sip.

Afterwards, when they subsumed Lynette, absorbing her in their infinite stomachs full of space dust and bones, she thought how nice it was to have visitors for once. And what a steal that antique percolator had been! At the old professor’s garage sale, she’d gotten it for just sixty six cents.

Categories
poetry

I might be a dungeon

Last night, while cutting onions
I cut my finger and made
a small peep-hole,
a mini-cavern, and bled a little.
Peering inside, I saw
what might have been gray cobblestones,
rough-hewn stairs, old pitch torches
lighting long passageways, smelled
the smell of smoke and moss, heard
the occasional clank of
sword against bone,
teeth against shield,
and the groan of paladins dying
(I heard this, while squinting,
keeping my finger-hole close
to my ear)
the chomp of monster jaws
making short work
of cheap armor,
the clink of emptied riches
into a hoard, the whisper
(or perhaps weeping)
of the party’s magic user
who spoke of terrible secrets, written
in unknown languages, buried
in the levels below.

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.