lovely me

A sudden morning and I woke up from the thick glare of work nightmare with a bit lip and blood all over my desk. I cursed and licked. I wiped up the blood, and in the process knocked the ugly glass boss-gifted Christmas tree onto the floor where it shattered like the skull of my last lovely. I grit my reddened teeth. Enough, enough.

It was a mild winter, no snow at all yet, but deathly cold. Christmas was a week away and everything was quiet – a perfect time to go away for a few days. I read of a quaint little town a few hours away, Sraitheach-by-the-Sea, it seemed just right. For my purposes, anyway. I booked a room, I emailed the superiors, I closed my laptop. I went down to the basement and packed carefully, ever so thoughtfully. Chose just the right tools. I drove under the grey sky that was always watching from too closely overhead.

The sky opened up to a harsh blue where the sun stabbed its way through. Squinting, I pulled into the small poorly-paved parking lot of the inn. Even before I opened my truck door, someone was there, smiling hugely and waving at me. Though it was bitter cold, arsenic cold, he was overdressed for the weather, he looked like a multicolored potato, with silver and gold and red and green scarves as eyes. Eyes wilting and wavering in the wind. His teeth were far too white, peeled off potato skin and rinsed, scrubbed and bleached. I tried not to visibly shudder as I stepped out of the truck. I put my best fake grin on, improving it a bit as I imagined pulling those teeth out one by one by one by one by…

“Hey, friend!” potato-man shouted from underneath his eyes– his scarves. “I’m M., the owner of the most comfortable inn you’ll ever experience. Thank you so much for choosing us, thank God. Let me take your bags, and follow me, won’t you?”

I opened up the cargo bed and took the bags myself. “Oh thank you but I have them just fine you lead the way thank you again thank you.”

“Of course! Follow me.”

…Oh how he’d be my first lovely here.

M. led me up some steps and into the main entrance of the inn. Christmas decorations were up, well-done and balanced, deep greens of wreaths strangling wooden beams, white LED lights spread about like petechiae. There were red and silver bells hanging about like blood and tears. I caught my sparrowing breath. A carpet runner led from the entrance to the main desk, designed to look like a giant Christmas ribbon. It was shiny, catching the twinkle, the sick glint of the lights, a giant tongue catching flakes of snow, a great river of blood flowing from the inn out and into the lot… It was gaudy and godly, it was nearly too much for me to bear. This foreshadowing carpet! I shifted my bags around and wiped sweat from my upper lip.

I followed M. to the main desk, walking on the carpet, so soft, so fluid, my feet were covered in blood, splashing splashing spla–

“Are you alright?”

I gathered my senses and shoved them back into my skull. “Yes of course thank you it was quite a long trip thank you I must be more tired than I thought.”

“Ah, understandable! Well then, it looks like you’ve done all your work online, card please… thank you, let me just get your key ready. You’ll be on the main floor, furthest room to the back, just as you had requested.”

I nodded to M. It was then that I noticed the two women sitting on a fancy wooden bench that was also strangled with wreaths. They had a paperback in each of their laps, they both were looking up at me, smiling. The one on the left had hair the color of an abandoned hayfield in a drought, no water for weeks, throat-drying hair, coughing coughing coughing up straw and husks of beetles hair. She looked like Sarah Michelle Gellar. She put up a gentle hand and waved quickly at me. The other had hair that was cancer-black, a buzz cut. If one placed a hand upon her head it was sure to sting as a thousand blades. Her lips… her lips equivalent to the carpet, sanguine, dripping, bleeding, mouthing a “kill me” whisper, though it was far more likely a quiet “hello”.

Straw hair Buffy, second future lovely, stood up from the bench and handed her book to cancer hair, third. Third third third lovely. A trifecta of lovelies to be, to come, the music already in the background, je t’adore je t’adore je–

She, straw hair Buffy, was next to me and had a hand on my arm. “Hi! I’m U., how long will you be staying?”
“Oh U. oh hello hi not long just a few days you see but thank you thank U. ha-ha thank you.”

U. laughed quietly in a high pitch that if any louder it would have been such a fine scream. “That’s just fine. Maybe tomorrow the two of us can go looking for a Christmas tree for the inn.” U. squeezed my arm, birthing goosebumps and lovely thoughts. “If you need anything at all, you just dial for the concierge, that’s me, or my sister, R.” U. looked to cancer hair and smiled. R. gave a wink and a thumbs up. “Anything at all.”

“Key’s up!” M. sang suddenly. “Come on with me, I’ll take you to your room.” He pressed the key into my hand with far too much clammy vigor.

“Thank you thank you oh I thought of something I did not see any other cars here am I the only guest right now?”

“Ah, yes indeed! You are the only one, thus why we’re so quiet, but more are scheduled to come soon, later in the afternoon. We’re actually all booked up for the first time in years, it’s a Christmas miracle!”

“Ah I see thank you thank you.”

“Of course! And here we are.”

Having laid out my tools as necessary about the room, I sat upon the massive bed. Burgundy blankets with gold trim. A sprig of parasitic mistletoe upon each head pillow. On either side of the bed were gold foil-wrapped pots of poinsettias, lush and lip-lickingly poisonous petals. Over the headboard, hanging from the ceiling with sturdy black wire – useful later perhaps if necessary – was a massive portrait of a Santa Claus done in the style of Gustav Klimt. It was bizarre, but it worked. I got up and checked the soundproofing of the room, stuffing cracks where necessary.

The room phone rang with a programmed Jingle Bell Rock. I picked it up, I said hello hello hello.

“Hi, this is R.” She had an arousing voice that could give one a Glasgow smile. “I’m just checking in to see that everything in your room is to your… satisfaction?”

“Oh yes thank you everything is quite perfect thank you.”

“Excellent. I saw that in your notes online, hon, that privacy is quite important to you, so I’m also just letting you know that other guests have started to check in, so if there’s any noise that bothers you, give us a call right away, and we’ll see what we can do about it.”

“That is excellent thank you so much so far everything is quite good and I am sure I will not have to call at all thank you.”

“Very good. Would you like restaurant suggestions? Or would you prefer to eat in? We’ve quite the festive spread of delights going on right here every night.”

Suggestive suggestive suggestive–

“Hello?”

“Oh yes no thank you I will eat here.”

“Very good! Dinner starts at 6:00pm sharp. I… we hope to see you then!”

The click of the phone was the wonderful and sudden feeling of blade going into bone.

The inn’s dining room looked like it could hold fifteen, perhaps a tight twenty guests at the most. I was the first in, other than a short, fat, slumping looking man who introduced himself as D., the chef.

“Sit. A drink? We’ve a good Christmassy and homemade ‘nog…”

“Coffee please black.”

“Ah, really. Well. Help yourself then, the carafes are hidden back there on the counter behind the nativity scene display.” D. walked out in a huff.

I grabbed a mug and let loose into it a fine dark and steaming stream. As I was about to turn and go sit I felt a hand on my shoulder. I nearly gave the three wise men third degree burns.

“D. do not touch me I have hot coffee and please do not please do not–” I turned around to face D.

It was not D.

It was

it was

it was me.

“Lovely.” I punched myself swiftly in the face, knocking myself out.

I looked out into the hall. Clear. I dragged myself into my room and locked the door behind me.

I bound myself to the bed with the readily-available zip ties, and duct taped my mouth shut. Looking up at the Mondrian Christmas tree painting over the bed, I saw that it could use a lot more red.

I sat next to the bed and waited for myself to regain consciousness. There was a knock on the door. “Yes who is there?”

“It’s E., from housekeeping… It’s about half after six and dinner’s underway… you had coffee ready? We made a plate for you?”

“Oh something has come up I am alright without dinner tonight thank you.”

“Very good, if you need anything at all, just call.”

“Will do will do.” Go away go away go away…

My song was playing – Je t’adore by Elijah’s Mantle. I coughed and sputtered onto the tape covering my mouth and burning my lips. How did I let this happen? I took a deep breath in through my nose, I let it out slow, and–
I climbed onto the bed quick and shoved the knife into my throat, je t’adore je t’adore, letting the blood spray as it would, making lovely patterns over myself and everything else. I pulled the knife easily across my neck–

I saw the blood spatter on my face and for a moment I felt something, but everything became so light, so light and lovely, je t’adore and then a darkness came, I saw broken glass gaudy on the floor before I–

I sat on the bed next to my lifeless form. Breathe in breathe out. This was strange, breathe, je t’adore, but there was no point in trying to find out how it was me there dead on the bed with a knife caught in my C4. This was different and – sparrow sparrow – new and exciting. Lovely me. I wondered how, breathe in breathe out, I would look on the – breathe – inside.

A far too short a time and another knock on the goddamned door. “What yes oh what?”

There was no answer. I got up and walked to the door, I peered out the peep hole. It was

me again

and I was doing something to the door and through the peep hole and everything went black.

I secured myself to the bed, the Magritte-like portrait Ceci n’est pas un elfe de Noël stared happily down at me. I should have done better, I should have thought this out more, I should have cased the inn before I… I should have I should have I should have–

“Would you just quiet down and get this over with please oh please my lovely I see that knife but I think the hammer would do a much nicer job yes?”

“Oh yes yes thank you you are absolutely right.” THUD THUD CRACK and it was over, blood over everything–

…broken glass on the floor…

–and I breathed in, then out, and then quickly washed, changed clothes, slipped out of the room, clear, into the vending machine room nearby, clear clear clear.

Even the vending machines were decked out in holiday garb. Cheap foil garland was taped to the corners, reflecting the dim light from above. The steady hum helped to keep me calm and keep any quiet sounds I made hidden. I studied the map describing the emergency exits on the wall, and came up with a plan.

A simple plan, I had to assume there were more of me, and I would make myself all of my lovelies. Room by room.

Into the hallway I again went, to the other room adjoining the vending machine room, lockpicking tools in hand. Quietly, ever so quietly. I listened, I worked at the lock. I opened the door the tiniest of cracks, I went still. I had no dark lantern, but still. Nothing. I opened the door a bit more. Still nothing. Readying myself for a fight, I flung the door fully open, and… nothing.

Nothing but blood everywhere and two corpses splayed beautifully on the floor. Both me, both my work, both my lovelies. My song. The blue immensities of Heaven… My song. The canvassed eyes of the Dali-esque reindeer guiding the sleigh in the painting above the bed were cut out and placed on me. A message that I would think that I should be able to interpret, but could not. Regardless.

I was doing my own work for me.

A problem. I wasn’t sure how many lovelies there were left. There were at least five members of the inn. What of me? Five removed from the equation for sure. So five more? What if I had brought a guest… what if I had brought myself as a guest? What would I be doing right now if planning the same, in fact I could be the last guest–

A crack of thunder from behind and my head, my lovely head, it felt of broken glass and it was now a welcome monument of silence.

I dreamt I was a child unwrapping Christmas gifts. I was laughing, the boxes were soft and bleeding, my parents were basalt statues.

I woke to the rumbling sounds of my truck driving on a pothole-ridden road. I was in the back seat, my wrists and ankles bound by wire. There was a lot of blood. As I slowly regained focus – so much blood blood blood – I saw the driver, and she looked back at me, smiling.

“Hi, hon, it’s finally started snowing. Look at those Christmas lights! We’re going to my place, we’ll have such a lovely time.” R. winked, and laughed, and showed her far too many teeth.

She looked a lot like me.

A Time and a Place

The baby was born at the peak of a major celestial event that was foretold ages upon ages ago. The Elders of the town passed it around, hand to hand to hand to hand to hand to hand to hand to hand to hand, and each held it up strongly to night’s vast black belly. They shouted and hooted and hollered and did all sorts of other loud and fairly obnoxious things, and while they did so the nursemaid came and stole the babe away for its own safety.

But what of the mother? She crawled away ever so quietly, ever so silently into the mouth of the night and was never heard from again. Perhaps. We may hear from her again, or maybe at least catch a small glance. Not in this story though. we think. Let us check. Ok, looking through later on, it is confirmed that we don’t hear from her again.

Nursemaid Abeline took the child to the smallest house of the town. Obviously. She washed and swaddled the child, who looked up at her with wide eyes, seemingly already filled with vast knowledge.

“Now stop that, that look ye’ve got. I’ve only got ye for the three nights, then it be said that a dark stranger will come for you, to teach ye of the hidden ways, and to prepare ye for what’s t’come.”

The baby started bawling.

“I know… I know. Hush now. I’ve still t’name ye. Quiet while I think. Oh, you’re a hungry one now, aren’t ye.” 

The baby hushed happily. Abeline pondered for a time.

“Ye’ll be named Evane. Your teacher will give ye your title. What d’ye think of it? Evane. E-v-a-n-e. I like it, I do. Do ye?”

Evane hiccuped and spat out milk and made a face that could have possibly been a smile.

Sure enough, three nights passed, and even most of a morning, and then right at that point where most of the morning had certainly passed, not quite lunch time but far past breakfast, there was a knock upon the door of the smallest house of the town. It was a quiet knocking, but firm, as if it came from one who doubted nothing and had a purpose that was overflowing from one’s every orifice.

Nursemaid Abeline came up to the door and eyed it firmly. Little Evane toddled up behind.

“Oh, ye can already walk then, can ye?” Abeline spoke such that words could not be heard through doors. “Don’t be such a show off, right? Ye must keep some of your talents to yerself.”

Another knock upon the door, One that was patient, yet filled with none other than purpose.

“Ay! Keep yer pants on out there! Who’s it, then?”

A voice came from outside the door that was—

“Ay! Ay! I get it! Enough o’that. Come in, then, it be unlocked, take Evane to–”

The door flung open widely; the sun shone in upon Abeline and Evane, temporarily blinding them to all but the silhouette of the dark stranger.

“Ooh, yer hotter than I imagined ye t’be…”

The dark stranger knelt down and scooped Evane up in one arm.

Once she could see well enough again, Abeline looked the stranger up and down. “So, eh, you’ll be back soon, then? It’d be right rude to just come and take the babe without coming back to conduct some proper… business, yeah? And nevermind what I said earlier… about yer pants…”

The dark stranger winked, then turned and flew off into the mysterious day.

Twenty one years passed as though they were two dash marks on a page.

Evane Silverstar – because what a title for a main character, right? – rode into the town of their birth upon the whitest of horses, in the finest of armor, with the sharpest of magical, glowing, intelligent-but-quite-shy-until-she-got-to-know-you swords. The leaves in all of their glorious colors shush-shush-shushed about the sidewalks while the trees were bare. Small groups of children in various gaudy Halloween costumes gallivanted about.

Esmerellenabethalynnestra the Sword spoke directly to Evane’s mind. Is this the place?

Yes, Esmerellenabethalynnestra. This is the place. 

Were this conversation had out loud, Evane might have called their sword ‘Ellie’ or ‘Emma’ or ‘Beth’ or ‘Nestra’ or, well, we understand. But it wasn’t, so it was a lot easier to, eh, say.

Esmerellenabethalynnestra shimmered in excitement. When?

Soon. When I see my nursemaid Abeline once more, and speak the words of the prophecy aloud for all to hear.

Oooh. I like that, those words, they are so very sexy. When you were memorizing them, and whispering some of them out loud, I just–

Esmerellenabethalynnestra. Not now.

Sorry, Evane. …Later?

Perhaps, Esmerellenabethalynnestra. When I have prevented the world as we know it from utter and total and full and complete annihilation, perhaps then.

Esmerellenabethalynnestra shimmered again, and put away that particular glow of hers – she had all sorts. She readied herself for what was sure to be a great battle.

Evane knocked upon the door of the smallest house of the town, quietly, but firmly.

A deep and gravelly voice answered from within. “Go away! Can’t you read?”

There was a note upon the door that read “NO CANDY HERE GO / HOME YOU LITTLE / HOOLIGANS”.

“Good sir, I am no hooligan, I–”

The door flung open widely. An old balding man in a flannel night shirt held up a rifle.

“Look– damn, you’re a big kid to be out on this nonsensical night! I said go away. There ain’t no candy here!”

“I do not come for candy. Is the fair nursemaid Abeline here?”

The anti-candy man lowered his rifle a touch. “Who?”

“Abeline?”

“Kid, you got the wrong house. I don’t know no Abeline.”

Confusion set in Evane’s face as though someone had just passed gas. And let’s be honest, the old man likely had, at least once since Evane knocked upon the door. “This is 23 Evergreen Road, is it not?”

Evergreen Road is a funny name for a street where all of the autumn leaves are down on the sidewalk shush-shush-shushing and the trees are bare, is it not, Evane? Esmerellenabethalynnestra laugh-shimmered.

Esmerellenabethalynnestra. Quiet.

Sorry. Esmerellenabethalynnestra still laugh-shimmered, but silently, as though we know what a laugh-shimmer might actually sound like were it not silent.

The old man answered Evane’s question as though he hadn’t heard their mental conversation at all, which he hadn’t. “It is, but kid, there’s no Abeline or nursemaid or candy or whatever the hell you’re looking for here. Now get lost!”

The door slammed shut.

Evane rubbed their nose. Esmerellenabethalynnestra, was he telling the truth?

Esmerellenabethalynnestra checked one of the many jewels of her hilt. Indeed, he was. What does this mean?

Evane was most certainly uncertain.

After some time of Evane sitting upon the sidewalk, where the autumn leaves shush-shush-shushed, and leaning upon their gloriously armored horse – yes, he was too – and convincing their horse that it’s ok, it’s ok that he’s just sort of a background character animal companion in this story, that perhaps he’d have his own story one day, where there’s plenty of hay and running and fine and sturdy mares abounding, and checking Esmerellenabethalynnestra’s various shimmerings, and stopping all of this for a bit of lunch… after some time Evane got up and made a decision to go see the Elders of the town.

Evane rode a few houses up the street to the largest house of the town. Obviously. They knocked upon the door, cautiously. There was a shuffling sound from within, and the door opened.

“Evane, it’s been a while! Come on in!” One of the Elders gestured kindly as the others watched from the shadows in the corners.

“Thank you, but no. I’m only here to ask a question of the Elders of this town.”

The Elder nodded. “Fair enough, ask it then and be gone on your way.” The other Elders nodded in agreement from the shadows in the corners.

“My prophecy…”

“Oh, that old thing! When you left, we found out it was a fake, written by some madman. Granted, he was a very convincing madman, but still. Totally fake.”

“So no grand battle? –”

Oh no, I was really looking forward to–

Hush.

“…No climactic scene, not even a denouement?”

“Not a one!”

The Elder closed the door. There was shouting and hooting and hollering and other loud obnoxious sounds from within.

Evane looked at the door.

The End


this was written for a discord writer server’s monthly prompt for october – “subvert a supernatural trope to use it as its opposite.” i hope it is at least somewhat obvious that i chose the supernatural tropes: it is always the end of the world, and the chosen one, but it is probably not. also maybe here in the after-notes Evane’s mother finally shows up. hmm. nope. also this is the most non-poetry i’ve written in quite some time. i apologize profusely.

AN

[ AN was originally published in ‘writing night book‘ ]


 

The following video footage is taken from a memory card found in a manila envelope in Detective Ligotti’s desk, shortly after his death.

After a few seconds of black silence, a blurred room slowly comes into focus. We are at a psychiatric institution, in a common room. Windows are barred. All are wearing white. Over to the right, the medication closet, and it is brighter than this room. A nurse behind tempered glass has her head in her hands, elbows on table, slowly chewing gum. Over to the left we can see two patients at a checkers table. The red player, on the left and in the corner of the room, is putting all of his concentration into spinning a piece slowly on the table, using both hands. The black player, on the right, is sitting perfectly still, hands at his sides, looking over at the large central area.

In the center of the room is arranged a circle of metal folding chairs, each one occupied by either a patient or a member of the staff. It is hard to tell the difference. There is a clear leader of the circle attempting to bring some order to the group. She is currently talking to the person seated directly opposite her in the circle. Everyone is looking at him, the subject of the current conversation.

 

LEADER:                                                  

“It is now your turn.”

 

PATIENTS TO THE LEFT AND TO THE RIGHT OF SUBJECT (not quite in unison):

“Hello.”

 

SUBJECT slowly nods once. There is a long pause.

 

LEADER:

“Um. Ok. Here is where you can tell us your name.”

 

THE SAME TWO PATIENTS (still not in sync):

“Name?”

 

SUBJECT again acknowledges their answer. There is another long pause.

 

LEADER:

“…Yes, your name. What do people call you?”

 

SUBJECT (again via his neighbors):

“I see. People do not call me anything, at this time. I now understand what you are asking, however. I require a label, for that is how you impose order on such things.”

 

Yet another pause.

 

SUBJECT (through all of the members of the circle, including the leader):

“You may call me AN.”

 

At this point, one member of the circle starts laughing very loudly, uncontrollably, and it is required to remove him. The checkers player, black, begins drooling. The drool appears to be of a greenish hue. Red slaps him, and continues to spin his piece.

 

GROUP (as themselves, discordantly):

“Hello, AN.”

 

LEADER (after clearing throat, uncomfortably):

“So, AN, what brings you here to our communication group? Tell us about yourself.”

 

AN (through his immediate neighbors, one shouting, the other whispering):

“I re-awoke orbiting that which follows the Pleiades. Once fully aware, I calculated that I was to fall, and that my trajectory would conclude here, upon your planet. I prepared accordingly, and thus, fell. Upon landing in the nearby lake, I was intercepted, examined very briefly, and ultimately placed here in your facility.”

 

A member of the circle stands up suddenly, knocking his chair over with a metallic clatter.

 

STANDING MEMBER:

“He’s not moving his lips when he speaks!”

 

The standing member then grabs his own tongue with both hands, and tries to pull it out. The two patients sitting on either side of him just watch, grinning and clapping their hands. LEADER has no reaction to this. The red checkers player has put both of his hands on black’s head, and is clearly applying pressure. All of the pieces have fallen to the ground but one, red, spinning mid-air over the table.

 

LEADER:

“Allll. De’bearrrr. Uhhhhn…”

 

A thick black substance starts dripping down the medication closet’s window, obscuring the light. A pop of chewing gum, and then a muted gurgling scream is heard.

 

LEADER slumps in her chair, leaning back. Her head starts tilting back much, much too far, as though her spine has turned to rubber.

 

A security guard runs in, and pounces upon her. He rips LEADER’s coat back, and pulls a switchblade from his utility belt. The guard forcefully stabs her, and slowly slices across her chest and shoulders.

 

LEADER does not react, only starts randomly blinking. Sometimes it seems as though her eyes are blue, other times red, or green. Occasionally she is without iris at all.

 

The guard drops the knife. He reaches deeply into the cut that he made and begins pulling, pulling, pulling, slowly tearing.

AN stands up, and turns towards the camera, obscuring the gruesome struggle. A fluorescent ceiling bulb explodes, showering white dust and sparks over patients and caregivers alike, who are now all kneeling on the floor, quietly babbling.

AN begins to hover a few inches over the floor, and glides ever so slowly toward us. Black things in shadow slither at the edges of our sight.

As AN approaches, his skin starts to sag, and melt. The guard crawls over to him, leaving a bloody trail. He holds up to AN a large ragged sheet of skin. He then partially vomits up a massive snail-like yellow orange tongue, and proceeds to lick up blood and dust. It is at this point that AN accepts his gift, and places it over his own head as a hood.

 

In the light that remains, it appears as though AN is draped in yellow.

 

He reaches up to touch the camera lens. Further screaming can be heard until-

 

Camera snow and static. There is a voice within.

 

OBSCURED WHISPER:

“Have you found the sign?”

 

The video ends here. The video ends here.                         The

the the YES

the video ends YE S I HAVE here.            I danc e oN_my kYEBROD&    YES

 

The Lake

This, mind you, is mostly a dream.

Lake E–, New York. I have not googled this to find out if this place is real, and I will not. If it does exist, then I am sure it is not the lake I have seen. The one I know of is a small lake, surrounded by a few trees.

( I picture it being autumn, a grey but mildly warm day. The trees are dying gracefully, in calm explosions of purple and muted red. )

The lake is by an old road, straight and proper between two semi-popular points, fairly well-used, but there’s never any traffic. There may be a set of lights down the way, but I’ve never gone that far. The lights are faulty, and there’s a lonesome faded orange cone set down on the pavement at the center of the intersection, with a small sign that reads a simple and crooked ‘stop’.

Today, there’s more traffic than usual, and a few cars are parked on the side of the road next to the lake. One of them has the back driver’s side door open, with an old frumpy-looking lady stooped over and hectically rummaging through. She’s crying. She’s angry and frustrated and crying, not finding what she needs.

I am still a ways back from the lake, walking towards it, chasing something I’ve released accidentally into the gentle but constant breeze. A small bit of beige fluff, like one might pull from the insides of a teddy bear through a small tear. It is travelling smooth in the wind, and yet I can’t quite catch it. I want to say it is dancing, but it is not. It is not.

I can clearly hear the woman crying now. She is sitting on the edge of the seat, still mostly out of her car, head in hands. Whatever she needs must not be there. It is gone, or perhaps never was.

I walk past her, focusing on the fluff that I have not yet caught. While I am not looking at her, I am sure she is not looking at me. Her sobs are muffled and quiet.

( It is fortunate that I am heading towards the lake. It is where I need to be, and the wind is with me. )

There are six people waist-deep in the lake. Five of them are holding something down under the surface with what appears to be minimal struggle. The sixth, in a rush of motion and splashing, pulls up a coughing soldier from the water.

( In my faltering memory, I am not sure how I know that she is a soldier. She is wearing jeans and a red tank top. But I look at her now and I know. She has it in her eyes, her bright and pained eyes. )

I walk into the water, it is cold. I am the seventh. Waist-deep in the water, I finally catch the bit of beige fluff. I put it in the water, and hold it down. It dissolves into dissipating pink foam, and now

                         and now

                                 I am holding your hands. It is you again,

                                                                                                       it is you.


 

This is the end, I am awake now. The sheets and blankets of the bed are strewn about on the floor. I am naked and sweating, and my throat is dry.

Lake E– has been bought by the government, and has been built over. It is now hidden under a massive steel and concrete building behind reinforced fencing. The steel of the edifice is the blue of forgotten nightmares, and makes me feel nothing. The concrete is a rotting grey. The fence has one opening that I can see, with two armored guards standing there, still as statues.

I walk up to them, and recognize one as the solder in the red tank top from my dream. She looks at me. There are tears in her eyes. She turns to the other guard and spits a code at him. He looks away, and she motions for me to enter, quickly. Quickly now. I go into the building.

A great iron machine humming in the water. Echoing steel boots on black catwalks. It is another world, dark. A door in the ceiling slides open, and someone from above lets several small items fall onto a conveyor belt. A ring, a sock. A splinter of wood. A distal phalanx, a piece of torn paper. A marble, a bit of fluff. Many more. They travel the belt down, and down, and down, into the water, towards the great machine. The machine roars.

I turn and run out. I can’t watch any more.

It is autumn, a grey but mildly warm day. The trees are dying gracefully, in calm explosions of purple and muted red. I run, and run, and run.

a bit about KDP

so, a few people recently asked me about my experience with self-publishing, specifically asking what i think about amazon’s KDP.

(keep in mind that i am no professional here. i am only including my own experiences using KDP as a poet, short story writer, and anthology-editor. this will also be nowhere near to any sort of KDP tutorial, just various notes/thoughts i have on it, written in no particular order whatsoever.)

so first of all, KDP used to be createspace, which was a bit more versatile in some of their formats (especially covers), and that’s what i used for my first two projects. (writing night book and the skeleton girl). KDP did not change the process in any major sort of way, it was a fairly streamlined switch-over. so there’s that.

a second note: i prefer physical copies of books. i’ve used KDP for that purpose. while it certainly has the capability of producing digital format books, my one brief experience attempting it was, in my opinion, not so successful. for writing night book, i originally offered a digital version as well as the physical. for me, with the moderate effort i put in, the formatting would not bend to my will – whatever i did, i could not match the formatting of the physical book. perhaps it was my own fault, had i put more effort in, i could have gotten it right. it was frustrating regardless – it should not have been an issue to begin with.

KDP, overall, is very easy to use, and self-explanatory. it was simple for me to transfer my projects over (i used microsoft word, and saved the content as a PDF which KDP then uses). it makes it easy to review your project online, and proofs are easy to order (and inexpensive) during the process.

creating the cover for one’s project (front, back, binding), is work. KDP has several pre-formatted options for covers, somewhat versatile, which if one goes that route, makes it easier. however, in my opinion, those options scream ‘self-published’ rather than ‘published’ (looking less professional, whatever that means.) i have been very fortunate in that respect to have experience with a photoshop-like program (arcsoft photo studio). i would recommend, if creating the cover on one’s own (KDP also uses PDF’s for self-created covers), to have multiple eyes on it first.

multiple eyes. so very important. KDP checks on a few basic things during the creation process, like margins, or excess blank spaces – a number of small things. however, one must be sure (for any self-publishing, not just KDP) that their content has been edited fully, gone through with a fine tooth comb as it were. and then, once it has been gone over, go over it again. i would highly recommend hiring an editor, especially for longer work such as novels. for poetry and short stories, editing is still quite a bit of work. again, hire an editor.

(a note on hiring, whether cover artist or editor, or anyone else: do your research. several folks out there overcharge. several folks out there are inexpensive, but may not do as well as one needs them to do. KDP in and of itself, in my experience, has no scamming associated with it in any way, but once one goes outside of their site, anything goes i’m sure. )

KDP creates a free ISBN for one’s project, which cannot be modified once begun.

royalties through KDP, i believe, are fair. based on the length of one’s project, KDP will calculate a minimum price, which one can increase if desired. based on the price that is set, KDP will calculate the appropriate royalties. here’s a link to their royalty calculator.

obviously, once a project is complete and ready to go live, KDP will make it available on amazon. there are other options as well, allowing a project to go international, and/or be available at various booksellers.

which brings us to gettin’ paid. so one has their project up on amazon – now what? potential readers are not going to find it – maybe randomly? – unless one does some more work: advertising. KDP offers to advertise on amazon, obviously. i have no experience with that process, so i can’t comment on it. i am certain it has some sort of financial cost attached, which any professional advertising would. without paying an advertiser/entity, one is going to have to push their own product, which, again, is work. for me, this is the hardest part of the process. how does one advertise their own work effectively? i am still working on this. for my own projects, i’ve blogged/reblogged posts about them on the various social media sites that i am on. for the number of times i have done so, which has not been terribly many, i have gained a few book sales. i tend to fear being ‘spammy’ to my followers/friends, which is an aspect of being a writer that i never even remotely thought of in the past. long story short (too late, i know), i’d recommend doing more research on effective advertising in the self-publishing world than just reading this weird little blog post of mine.

ultimately, i enjoy using KDP. it is easy to use, and gives me the extreme pleasure of holding a book. that i made. in my hand.

Soothing Water

I walk into a restaurant. It is fancy, I am missing a hand. The maître d’ is behind a podium that is carved from the darkest of woods into a snake about to strike. I make a sardonic comment about its relation to the service here, even though I have never been here before. No one is amused, and the maître d’ tells me that I must wait with a stern glance. I do so. I watch people come and go. I hope to sit behind the giant stone archway where there are what seems to be a thousand candles. There is a massive stained glass window in the back. It is like an old cemetery chapel, it is a beautiful thing. When I am finally summoned and seated – in a dark corner not behind the arch but at least not by the restrooms – the conversations around me gradually blend into a misophonic static.

A man comes over with a large pitcher of water. He carries it with two hands, arms outstretched, as though the pitcher is an object to be revered, a relic. I push my empty glass over to him. He pours, the liquid is so clean. Pure. I am not ready to order, I say, but he responds that he is not my waiter. She will be here soon.

I pull the menu towards me, and attempt to read it. All I can see are what appears to be hieroglyphics. I squint, I pull myself back from the menu, I place it close to my face. No change. This irritates me, and reminds me of the surrounding commotion, which I can also make no sense of. It is frustrating, and I grow angry, until I take a sip of water. I am calmed. I wait with as much patience as I can gather for service. I wait. I wait.

In the darkness, I feel a hand on my shoulder. Momma! Momma, I cry! She consoles me, tells me that there is nothing to fear in this darkness. She tells me that my heart has yet to be weighed, to wait for the light just a little while longer. Momma! Momma! I feel her hand on my shoulder.

The waitress’s hand is on my shoulder, gently shaking me. I had fallen asleep. The waitress asks if I am alright. I am not, but I tell her that I am. I apologize, it must have been a very long day, I say.

The waitress tells me her name, which I do not quite catch. Something like Kebbut or Kevehet, I do not know. She asks if I am ready. I am not, I say, clearing my throat. I apologize, and take a sip of water. I say that I cannot read the menu.

She kneels down by my chair and whispers into my ear. It is okay, she hisses. It is true, you are not quite ready. I will bring you more water.

I try to smile and thank her, but it is getting difficult to move. There is a nest of snakes on the ceiling. The noise of the restaurant comes and goes in waves, like the rushing of sand in the wind.

 


this was written for discord’s book brigade prompt for october: horror / suspense / thriller, with references to an ancient myth.

(They’ll learn much more than we know.)

the following is a bit of flash fiction, based on a prompt given in the Book Brigade discord group. the prompt? combine themes from a randomly chosen song and a randomly chosen movie (interpreted however one wants).

song:      Over the Rainbow – Israel Kamakawiwoʻole
movie:   No Country for Old Men – Coen Brothers



 

 

There’s a window. A palm tree’s out there, just one. You’re so tired of palm trees. A pinau flies away.


 

Brother Waz sittin’ there on the porch all fat ‘n forebodin’. He gets up, lets out an intense pffffffffff, an’ he walks up to your door. Gets out his ukulele. His uke. His yewwwwwwk.

Brother Waz singin’ now. Quiet. “Ooh ooh ooh. Ooh uh.” He lines his uke up, headstock touchin’ your door lock. Twangs that F, an’ the lock blows out.


 

You’re sittin’ in the comfy chair, an’ there he is across from you, Brother Waz, sittin’ on a tiny wooden stool. It’s a noisy bit of furniture, now.

In his right hand, Brother Waz holds his uke, restin’ it over his shoulder. In his left, a page of sheet music.

“Look at this page. Two-sided. One side’s ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. An Isidore Hochberg piece. Good ol’ Iz. The other’s ‘What a Wonderful World’. Thiele an’ Weiss. Call it, friendo-ohh. Ooh uh uh.”

You can’t. There’s no way, it can’t be done. “No. I won’t.”

Brother Waz laughs heartily. Creakcreakcreeeeeak. “C’mon. Call it.” He shakes the sheet about.

Is there a choice? You know what’ll happen. “Fine. I call both.”


 

Here’s that same window. Hundreds o’ palm trees are out there. A pinau hovers past slow-like as the ukulele begins to play.

Towered hues of gold, heavy fields of wheat with no value. Ever dust-ridden under an angry sun that wishes to die, mangled and fungal-bloomed at the center of humanity’s dreams. Elizabeth, at the corner drip-dripping to look into an empty room, nods to herself. Drooped as branches of the great ash tree, entering into me with the memory knives, reminiscent of the thorns of crowned devils the thorns of crowned devils the thorns of crowned devils. I shall take it gladly, nestled in the dead leaves of failed kisses and angel skin. Gold flickers behind the eyelids of storms and unborn children, crawling things in the style of Van Gogh spread the color scatter, heaving up images of forbidden sex in their asynchronous wake imagined.

An amalgamate of history and sadness is this dire somewhat-city we are in. On the rooftops, starving angels. Ochre lightning attempts to break free from what should have been heaven, fighting to arc arc arc and split and burn. A city made of the smell of mouldering old books and tooth decay. Made of sandstone and the steady heavy tiredness after hard labor, I see that we dwell sorely within doddering about or sleeping without dreams, not looking out windows that wish to be walls. Dust sells us tells us that we should not be here, there is nowhere else to go, or so we think aloud.

Right now there are gaps and cracks in the foundation of the eternal apartment complex that mirror those in our heart. Now what alien things dance there. By law it is required that our ceilings are painted black, younger heads tend to turn upwards. Let us read the fine print of the text, old ink mixed with alchemical magicks, verified to be written in 1589. Each word is a curled black line horror curled black line horror in electric fantasy. Loomed web words hang like arachnid mobiles from our ceilings. Umbral nests flake off chitinous eggs, stinging wires poke the fungal blooms, the thorns, and the dank basement of this groaning building is hungry magic.

Never does Elizabeth go deeper into the basement. Down. Down. Elizabeth has gold-flecked breasts. Powder the faces of shame, regret tears through a tube of Orlova-red lipstick. Earlier we looked up through the black ceiling. Scattered yellow starspatter appeared on our stomachs, stigmata of an artist’s familiar. I scratch our initials into an Yggdrasil wall. Orlova-red blood. Nails hold up empty frames, I wish them to hold whole universes of history and sadness, not this emptiness mine. Each of us sit in the ruined room, vast seas of solitude hold our hands through the harder scenes lately.

I will soon choose my own scene. The rooftop, an angel dying. Beaten wings down, last inhalation of his cigarette failing to find any sort of heaven. Yellow-gold hued monsters are towered and crumbling. I stood before the silent field of–

Silent below our alien city. Deep below our alien city. Reminiscent of Edward Kelley and John Dee’s experiments with language, a runed miasma is forming in the dead field.  We are now running under the black wings of night. New tongue-sounds on the tight whitewashed canvas between glorious Maria’s legs. Touch a bit of black curling lined horror, or kiss the dying lightning. Was it always like this, a desire for the darker corridors? Reminiscent of a broken chalice. Derelicts run these city streets, some watch closely, the most keen of them know what is to come what is to come what is to come still.

Heralds of the great satellite, empress moon. Mistress of eternal disastrous night. Oh how she will embrace us, naked, sacred, teeth fully sunk in. Rouse our dead fields, our gold flecked skin. Until something gives messy birth to some kind of hope, she will caress my dying mind. Nocturne breaths. I give myself freely to the unattended piano in her heart. Given in to her fungal blooms, her star-smeared lips. The void shall take me gladly when it is my time.

In Itsetuho’s Shadow

The sky was mud, and the heavy clouds were just darker ruts in that mud, threatening to pour their filth upon Itsetuho and his horse. He found himself slowly riding towards a lonely seaside town, not sure from whence he came. Didn’t matter anyway – this town would satisfy his needs. Itsetuho sneered. As if in response, the wind blew a rotting breath, foul as fermenting sewage, and his horse reared up in a wide-eyed fear and fury. Itsetuho jumped down, and smacked the horse’s flank with the flat of his xiphos. The horse reared again, and galloped quickly off, away from the town.

At that point a huge crash of thunder sounded, and the sky decided to unburden itself of its load all at once. Itsetuho shrugged wetly, and continued onward.

He walked the small main street through town unbothered, untroubled; all of the village residents had sheltered themselves from the storm. All but one that is, who was crouched upon a chimney top, watching Itsetuho darkly from behind the veil of rain.

Itsetuho found the inn easily despite the lack of visibility, and shoved the doors open. Within, the cliché of the usual cheery banter of drunken sailors and their attentive scantily-clad women was nowhere to be found. There was simply – a quiet beyond the storm’s raging at the roof. The barkeep stood stone-still at his post, both hands pressing on the bar, head raised to the noise, watching. From all the occupied tables and booths, attention was given only to the storm, and not a single eye shifted to Itsetuho. All but one that is, who was perched upon the stairs leading to the rooms for rent, watching Itsetuho darkly from behind the railings.

Itsetuho removed his soaked cloak, and threw it to the floor. No one flinched. He stomped over to the bar, leaving a trail of black footprints. No one cared. Itsetuho smashed a fist onto the thick wood as loudly as he could. “A room!” The barkeep slowly turned his head down to Itsetuho, handed him a small silver key, then looked back up at the ceiling as though nothing had happened, nothing had ever happened. Itsetuho sneered, and then trampled his way up the stairs to his room, no one watching darkly in his way.

Slamming the door behind him, Itsetuho pulled a simple wooden chair into the center of the room. He drew his sword, and sat. He waited for night to come. It wouldn’t be too long, the storm would bring it quicker, blacker, deadlier.

The storm slowly spent itself, and sputtered, spattered its way out. The rut of clouds died slow, and birthed a full harvest moon, the orange of dead leaves crawling with worms. The glow cast a knowing glare into Itsetuho’s room, and Itsetuho smiled wide, so wide the corners of his mouth cracked and bled. It was time.

He raised his short sword, and plunged it deeply into his stomach.

Itsetuho quietly reveled at the scream he heard from the next room as he removed the sword neatly from his stomach. No effort, no pain, no blood. A muffled commotion grew in the hallway. Desperate cries for help, and bashing at the neighboring door commenced. Itsetuho cracked his neck leisurely to the left, to the right, and swung his sword mightily towards his knee.

More screaming, and massive confusion from the hallway. Blood pooled underneath his door. Itsetuho nearly laughed aloud as he stabbed at his throat, and twisted. He cut at his face. He sliced at his wrists.

Screaming, and screaming, and screaming. Itsetuho was ecstatic. He continued on, xiphos raging as the storm raged, until the screaming turned to gurgles, and pained whispers of distress. He continued until there was silence. Itsetuho stood, hung his sword on his door, and went to bed, falling asleep easily, restfully. All others in the inn, and in the village lay dreamlessly, dead. All save one, that is, watching Itsetuho darkly, standing at the side of his bed.

Color

“We love your work. But we are looking for some color–”

“I will not. I will not change what I do for anyone. I work in black and white only, and I am damn good at it too.”

“Okay, it was nice to meet you, thank you for coming, goodbye.”


3:00am

He woke up shaking, hot. That nightmare again. Absurdity.

C was a professional photographer, well-known, and well-off for it. His camera was a part of him, always. C walked with a slight hunch due to the weight of his gear, and no one really seemed to notice.

C only ever worked in black and white. It was a truth of the world. He knew all of the subtle nuances of the process. There were forms and motion and hidden depths that only appeared there, and C brought out every single one of them. He could bring tears to the eyes of the beholder with very little effort.

Yes, he was damn good at it.

C looked at the clock behind the camera on his bedside table and sighed. He threw the sheets off, and sat up. He wiped his forehead, stood up, and then he heard the scratching again.


“…thank you for coming, goodbye.”

Ever since C bought his new apartment, there was scratching in the wall behind his headboard. Every night.

At first, he threw a huge fit with building maintenance, the owners, everyone involved. Excuses were made, reasons given, massive checks traded back and forth, but the scratching never stopped. Investigations by maintenance, construction, plumbing, animal control, private investigators, and various scientists were made. Walls, insulation, support beams, all were checked, adjusted, and/or replaced. Cameras were installed within the walls, and monitored 24/7, at incredible and meaningless cost.

All was to no avail. The source of the scratching was never determined. The building manager suggested he change apartments, offering a free upgrade, but C was stubborn. This was the apartment he chose, this would be the apartment in which he stayed. The building manager shrugged, and forced him to sign an official form stating he would not sue, nor bother the manager with any further issues relating to the apartment.

C read it over, gave up on the entire thing, scrawled his signature violently onto the form, and bought a very expensive set of headphones to block all sound such that he could sleep.

It was all a goddamned waste.


“We love your work…”

Every month since his wife’s death nearly ten years ago, C bought a bouquet of flowers to place upon her grave. His wife wasn’t actually buried there – her body was never found – but it didn’t matter. Even when he was on trips out of the country to take photographs, very expensive photographs, he would fly back home to put flowers on her grave. C knew nothing of flowers, so he left the decision in the florist’s hands.

C always went to the same flower shop, no exception. He’d been dealing with the same florist for some years now.

Maddie was very good, it seemed to C, with flowers. More importantly perhaps was that Maddie was very photogenic. He really didn’t care about the flowers. It was about the ritual. C made it a priority to get to know Maddie a bit more. She had fine lines behind her eyes that made him curious, as they completely disappeared when she smiled.

They got engaged three months ago.


“I will not change what I do…”

7:00pm

He smashed the back of Maddie’s head in with the same hammer that he had killed his wife with.


2:00am

The wall just over C’s aching head cracked audibly. A long crooked black line slowly opened, raining drywall dust down upon the bed. C could not move, he could only look up at the wall.

From the crack in the wall poured chrysanthemums and lilies, every type of rose, sunflowers, daisies. Tulips. Mums. Amaryllis, baby’s breath, iris, hyacinths. A thick river of flowers. Barrels of flowers. Massive bouquets of flowers. They flowed down upon C, who still could not move. Tigerlilies. He tried, he tried to grab the sheets, he tried to claw his way off the bed. Roses, roses, roses. Nothing.

As the flowers slowly suffocated him, his camera’s flash went off again, and again, and again.


7:00am

On the tenth anniversary of his wife’s death, all of C’s photographs burst into glorious color.

No one noticed.

“…we are looking for some color…”