Categories
fiction sketches

A Bucket of Tiny Madnesses

It sits on your desk: a bucket, not too big but big enough, filled with tiny, squirming madnesses.

It’s full of spindly-armed things with bulbous eyes; sluggish long things with tapeworm mouths; round little winged things that bite with an unfurled proboscis.

At times, they spill over the edge, tumbling with bumble legs to skitter or slurp across your desk, but you scoop them back up (their little teeth pinch) and dump them back into their bucket. When you press them down, you hear their angry little squeals.

Do they leave the bucket when you’re not looking? You think maybe, yes. They might use the cover of night to sneak under bedsheets, nestle in tennis shoes and ears, but how can you be sure? (In your sleep, you hear chittering, you feel soft barbed toes against your cheek, but those are dreams of course.) They’re always in their bucket the next morning.

You know you should get rid of the bucket (take it to a professional, for instance, or maybe a dumpster), but you’re afraid that would mean trading it in for a larger madness, one that would sit on your lap and yowl to be fed.

So you’ll take your small things; they like their bucket. They’ve never, not once, (okay, maybe a few times) built up the courage to start a good swarm.

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

We Bought a Box of Organs

It sat on the front door stoop: one large, seeping box, addressed to both of us, and we did not remember buying such a thing.

When we opened it up, the stench filled the kitchen: coppery, tangy, rotten. In the box were several shapes: floppy, round, long, glistening, things in purple and blue and yellow. Some we recognized as livers, lungs, intestines, but others were unintelligible. What does a spleen look like? An appendix? We brought the box inside, of course. How could we let anyone know what we’d done? We brought it inside and, after hunting through it, we were relieved to find no hearts, no brains.

We assumed at the start they were animal organs, beef and pork, but who could be sure? Who knew what such things looked like? (We could have checked online, “Beef liver and lungs and intestine,” searched “images,” but we didn’t.) We examined our order history through our account, and there it was: “Box of Organs.” Not “assorted organs,” not “stew meat.” Just organs. No promises for 2 day delivery or refrigeration.

Out of 197 reviews, the box of organs had 3 stars. We skimmed the comments. “Gross,” one said. “Just what I wanted,” said another. “Stained my carpet,” “Does it include spleens?” “I don’t remember buying these.”

We put the box in the deep freezer, of course, and forgot about it. We forgot about it completely when the neighbors went missing, when oxidized-dark stains appeared under their doors, marring the hall carpet. We laid down welcome mats, steam-cleaned furiously to forget. We did a good job forgetting, and we resolved to never drink and shop again, never to drink again, really, and stay vigilant and careful and aware at all times.

The brains and hearts showed up, addressed to us, a week later. It was a much bigger box.

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
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

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.