"Jesus, man. I told you not to call me that."
"Hey. Don't use my name in vain. Got a new batch for ya. Bundy, Dahmer, Gacy, Ramirez aaaaand some guy named Shipman. "
"New? They've been dead a while. Figured they ended up in Purg somehow."
"Sentencing took longer than expected. Got set back by some political conflicts and a few unrelated massacres. Finally sorted through the war lords so the Big Guy had this lot expedited. Here's a list of their sins."
"Oh. Wow. Yeah, okay. Send them to Holmes. Crazy bastard's gonna have a field day."
“Mommy! Mommy!” A small girl of about eight ran into her mother’s bedroom, limbs flailing wildly in the air.
The mother stirred slowly, groaning into her drool-soaked pillow.
“Yes! He said he’s going to do all sorts of bad things to us!”
“Is he in the closet?”
“No! He’s on my bed!”
The mother let out an exasperated sigh. “Fuckin’ asshole.”
“Mommy! Don’t say that!”
“Not now, honey.”
The mother shoved her feet into stained fuzzy slippers, adjusted her bonnet, and sleepily shuffled into her daughter’s room, the child following cautiously behind.
A shadowy figure slithered from the foot of the young girl’s bed and formed a pool of black beneath the mother’s feet. It rose from the pool into a vaguely human form, looming over her petite frame. The mother stared into the void she assumed to be a face and raised a single eyebrow with impatience. A gravelly voice erupted from the figure.
“YOU DARE CHALLENGE ME, MORTAL? I AM DARKER THAN THE BLACKEST NIGHT, FILLED WITH SUCH DEPRAVITY THE DARK LORD SHUDDERS AT THE THOUGHT, I FEAST UPON YOUR FEAR A-”
“Shut it. I thought we discussed this already.”
“I MAKE NO DEALS WITH HUMANS. FOR I AM AN ANCIENT AND POWERFUL EVIL OF WHICH YOUR PITIFUL MIND COULD NEVER CONCEIVE-”
“Ugh. Even the spirit men are douchebags.”
“YOU WILL PAY FOR YOUR INSOLENCE-”
“Go ahead and get it out, big guy.”
“I WILL CONSUME YOUR SOULS-”
“Honey, what time is it?”
“RELISH IN YOUR SCREAMS-”
“PLUCK THE BONES FROM YOUR WILTED FLESH-”
“Of course. Right on schedule. Did you finish your science project?”
“YOU WILL BEG FOR YOUR SAVIOR-”
“Yeah. I don’t think I can take it on the bus, though.”
“CHURN IN THE ETERNAL FIRE-”
“Do you want me to drop you off? Maybe get breakfast? I don’t have to be at the diner until nine.”
“RIPPED LIMB FROM LIMB BY CREATURES INCONCEIVABLE-”
“Ooh, yes! Can we go to McDougal’s?”
“BONES SPLINTERING IN THEIR CLAWS-”
“Whatever you want, baby girl.”
“AND YOU WILL CURSE YOUR FOOLISHNESS, WEEPING OVER THE DAY YOU CHOSE TO CHALLENGE ANSELOW, THE WRETCHED.”
“Are you done?”
“...YES. I SUPPOSE I AM.”
“Alright. Listen here. You gonna pay my mortgage?”
“WHAT IS A MORTGAG-”
“What about my lights?
“I PREFER TO MOVE IN THE SHADO-”
“Buying my food?”
“I FEAST UPON THE SOULS OF-”
“Yeah, okay, well I don’t. So if you’re gonna be in my house every night, messing with my kid and making me get out of bed, then you might as well contribute. You know how to work a washing machine?”
“I DON’T WEAR CLOTHES.”
“That’s a no. You got a job?”
“I WAS TOLD THE RAPTURE WAS COMING-”
“Also a no. Well, you aren’t feeding me, fucking me-
“THERE ARE RITUALS-”
-or paying my bills so you can go lurk in the closet of some rich asshole on the other side of town. Probably have more room anyway.”
“Shut up. I work two jobs. Sun-up to sundown. I’ve been in here every night for a month to deal with your ass. My kid is failing because of you. Enough is enough. I’m over it. You’re a good for nothing-”
“Bum ass demon-”
“If I wanted to deal with a deadbeat, I’d tell my ex to move back in.”
“I DON’T HAVE TO TAKE THIS-”
“Then go haunt somebody else’s damn house! I got enough problems. Can’t afford a priest and I’m not spending my food stamps on fuckin’ sage.”
“YOU WILL DIE ALONE-”
“Yeah, whatever. Don’t let the door hit ya where the Dark Lord split ya. Go on. Get. Before I have to Old Yeller your ass with the family Bible.”
The shadowy, faceless figure stood still for a moment, as if it were peering down at the irritated mother. Suddenly, the mass dropped to the floor, slid across the hardwood, and slipped out through the tight spaces of the daughter’s bedroom window. The air in the room lightened and the little girl rushed to catch her mother in a tight embrace. The mother ran her hand through her daughter’s hair and leaned down to kiss her on the top of the head.
The daughter released her embrace and looked up at her mother inquisitively.
“Mom. What’s a deadbeat?”
“A deadbeat. You called Dad that.”
“Oh. You know what, sweetie? It’s late. We’ll talk about that some other time. Go ahead and get back in bed. We’ve gotta get up extra early if you want to get McDougal’s.”
from velveteen lips
I melt and restructure
to chopping seas
The thought to flee
is fleeting now
as she turns, moves,
thinking to release me
Seeds flowing in the wind,
she pulls me in
We begin again
It is attention,
all the same
She plays cacophonies
upon my splintered
vertebrae, slender fingers
rummaging through nerve
and bone, plucking a
within the throes
of delicate submission
I lie sprawled
across tanned, taut
flesh, slick with desire
Stripped upon the altar,
I am nearly void
of offerings to give
The beggar dropped
dutifully to the salted earth
casting jewels and precious oils
upon my calloused feet
How could deny
his eager requests?
These are the standards
I set for creatures such as him
A maiden slinking
through the shifting breeze
What fool dares to chase
that which is so far
from his reach?
He looked into my eyes and began to speak. My pupils locked onto his, my usual attempt to intimidate-- or force empathy.
I wasn't paying attention. Not this time. Or the last time. Or the time before that. I didn't need to. His reasons were always the same. I could zone out, dreaming of a life free from conversations like this, and then come back at a moment's notice with a loosely relevant rebuttal.
His arm slipped around my waist. That was my cue. My shoulder dropped. I said my lines. Beer breath and stubble grazed across the tensing muscles of my neck. Tiny wails erupted from the other room and interrupted his attempts at recovery.
I seized the opportunity and leapt to my feet. He tugged at the crotch of his tightening jeans and indicated he'd wait for me to return. I hoped for the soiled diaper of an especially hungry child. The longer I took, the more likely it was that he'd be asleep when I returned.
I am a slave to my patterns-- and his.
I knew you were a Libra!
Most people don’t ask me that. They just kinda say “that’s cool” and move on.
Alright, so…I like, like a lot of different stuff. I’m a Gemini, so I’ve got my hands in a little bit of everything but uh, yeah…
Poetry is my first love. But it’s honestly not my strength. I’m working on a few novels that have a lot to do with like, mental health and breaking cycles, generational patterns, stuff like that. They’re kind based on my experiences but also not really. Oh, and I really dig horror and sci-fi so I’ve got some stuff for that, too. I have this whole 5-10-15 plan as to when and where I’m gonna put stuff out.
I’m not all that patient but I am kinda methodical so I think it balances itself out. I know fifteen years is a long time but I’ve been at this for like a decade already, so it’s whatever, honestly.
Oh, and I have a lot of creative non-fiction and some essays but I have no freaking clue what to do with any of that…maybe start a blog or something?
What do you mean, “what’s my vibe?”
I guess like…kinda reflective and flowery but also a little dark with this “who hurt you” tone. I try not to be too depressing. I’m secretly a huge optimist, but don’t tell anyone- moody and mysterious is kinda my brand-
Seriously? Right here at the table?
I thought this was a date, not an open mic…okay, lemme get my phone.
Okay, this is a piece I wrote for this website called Prose…now, it hasn’t gotten a lot of traction but this one writer I really admire liked and reposted it and honestly that’s good enough for me…
Sure. I’d love one. Whiskey ginger, no ice with a lime.
Yes. I know. It’s an old man drink.
Ooh, hurry back. Just found the post.
I wanted vines to grow over the spotted railing. My mom and aunt clipped the weeds and painted it instead.
That's what we do. What we've done for a hundred years.
We paint over the ugly flecks of brown and orange, eating away at what was once secure.
We paint over it, ignoring the shifting texture of shuddering metal.
We paint it white, a color unsullied but easily filled by filth.
We paint, again and again. Masking the slow destruction.
One day, it will fall, heavy with layers and withered by time. And I will whisper gratitudes as it crashes dully into the overgrowth.
My boots will stomp heavy, avoiding the pits left by the crabapple tree, crushing dandelions beneath my heels.
I will walk, down the hill, down the street, to the crossroads, to new homes on new streets. My eyes will linger lustfully over renovated houses and fresh, modern fixtures. Envy will turn to pride. Shame is transmuted between sighs of relief.
One day, I will look off into the distance, over the hill, past the church. The collapsed railing will be long out of sight but the wind will roll in softly, crooning tales of nature and her tenacity. Her songs will tussle my hair and set it down gently upon my neck, a story of lightning storms and hallowed ground.
An angel weeps quietly upon my shoulder.
I find her despair misguided.
The Sparkling Drop Hotel
“Jameson.” I called out into the empty room.
“Say it.” A fragmented voice responded flatly.
“I don’t want to.”
“Well, maybe I don’t want to make the walls bleed.”
“I don’t want you to make the walls bleed. The clean-up is a nightmare.”
“Then I won’t entertain the ghost hunters.”
“Don’t be so dramatic.”
“Dramatic? I’m sorry, did you get your skull cracked by a jealous John?”
“That was a hundred years ago. Wait. A hundred and seven. As of tomorrow.”
“Say it. Or I tell the governor’s mistress to keep her head on. “
“Fine. OH, GREAT LORD BRYANT OF THE TOWERS EAST. I SUMMON THEE. KNOCK THREE TIMES IF YOU ACCEPT MY HUMBLE REQUEST. Happy?”
“More enthusiasm next time. But it’ll do.” Three rapid fire knocks came from the top of my desk. A translucent figure rose from within the oak, its shimmery face staring at me with a smug look.
“Thank you. The tour starts in a few minutes. Is everyone ready?”
“The manic milkmaid is in the kitchen. The gunshot twins swapped spots with the butchered butler.”
“Is that gonna work?”
“Do you trust me?”
“Keep talking like that, and I’ll cross over to the other side. You’re lucky your uncle isn’t here. I’m surprised he didn’t stick around.”
I glanced at the tear-away calendar on the wall. Tomorrow would mark the one month anniversary of my uncle's passing. “I’m not. Uncle Jess wasn’t exactly the lingering type. And apparently not one to divulge certain kinds of information.”
“I found your uncle to be quite thorough.”
“Yeah, well. Would have been nice to know that I was inheriting a staff of specters.”
“'Staff of specters'? That’s good, Tom. You should put that in the advertisements.”
A rush of cold air swept through the managerial office of the Sparkling Drop Hotel. The glittering figure of a buxom young woman materialized in front of me.
“Master Tom! Master Jameson! We have a terribly worrisome situation in the basement!”
“What’s going on, Dahlia?”
“Some girls slipped away from the tour group. They’re toying with some sort of strange board-”
I felt Jameson’s cold eyes settle on me.
“-then one of the girls fell to the ground and began shaking violently-
I met the ethereal gaze of my specter-in-command. He grimaced– as well as a ghost can grimace, anyway.
“-speaking in some tongue I’ve never heard!”
"I see. Thank you, Dahlia."
“Everything is so dark and menacing!”
“They must have really summoned something terrible.”
“I was speaking of their attire, sir.”
“...right. I’ll call down and stop the tour. Say there’s a gas leak or something. Dahlia, warn the others.”
The comely spirit gave me a shimmery nod and slipped her translucent body back through the wall.
Jameson's lofty voice wafted through the thickening air. “Very good, Tom. I’ll gather the haunts.”
“Hey, Jameson. One thing. Before we go down.”
“Why does the milkmaid talk like that and you speak…normally?”
“Well, Tom. I’ve always been one to keep up with the trends. Now. Are you ready to descend?”
I opened the door to the lobby, diaphragm prepped to bellow falsehoods aimed to spare the living.
Twenty years ago, my small brown feet, encased in glitter-specked jelly sandals, stopped abruptly at the edge of the back porch. The dying lights in the heels flickered an erratic pattern, then ceased as I took note of an spotted belly exposed between the dandelions.
I'd come in from play, or maybe school, to find the tank empty. I walked through the house, also empty, and descended into the basement on the hunt for one of my elders. I walked outside, greeted by a black, fan-shaped fin pushing through the grass. A soft brown mouth was frozen into a blunted diamond, screaming silently into an atmosphere unforgiving . Despite the dryness of the day, the ground was soggy beneath my feet. Papa was in his workshop, which is where the fish tank has taken residence for the better part of a quarter century.
I had a dream the other night. I was a child again, and my waify frame leaned over the side of the loveseat, ribcage shifted upward by the armrest pushing gently into my abdomen. The room was dark, and I was alone. My nose was inches from the glass, and soft white light illuminated the curiosity in my tiny face. I carefully watched the movement in the tank, just as I had all those years before. But the beloved creature of my memory was replaced by a sea of koi flashing obsidian and tangerine within the quiet glow. They flooded the tank, fighting for space. They were not the same fish I knew from my childhood but still, I woke with a memory unlocked.
The fish didn't have a name. They called it Oscar, based on a misclassification of the species. I know now that the fish is known as a common pleco. Hypostomus plecostomus. An omnivore from South America that locks itself onto the side of the tank and sucks growth from the glass. They grow beyond expectation and are surprisingly sensitive to their environment. They're armored, but that serves little purpose for the domesticated fish. I've read that they're able to breathe air, though I doubt that extends to the wind sifting through the blades of an overgrown backyard in the Carolinas.
I asked my grandmother about the fate of the fish. As she tells it, the tank leaked often and many of the inhabitants attacked each other. They had the pleco for a long time, but my grandfather grew weary of the problematic upkeep. I had no memory of its problems. Only of an unyielding fascination with the beautiful black fish.
"It was an ugly thing", Grandma said. An ugly thing, sold deceptively -or ignorantly- for a utilitarian purpose. The pleco was never destined to be the star of any display. It was a custodian. A forgotten descendant of an exotic, resourceful lineage commanded to clear the muck that refined, celebrated fish wouldn't dare to touch. An ugly thing. Undeserving of a legacy of its own.
My grandmother didn't specify if the pleco was alive when they dumped the tank. I didn't press. I'd asked enough questions and the answers I received were unsurprising and made me weary. I chose instead to focus my attention on internet articles discussing tank conditions and growth sizes.
Soulless eyes stared into the sunlight. Sandal lights spun on heels and crossed back through the doorway. The fish became bones in the next coming days. Soon the bones were gone, too, carried off within the voracious maw of memory faded.