OCD and Drink and Drive
It’s pedal to the metal right now.
Fuck, next time I’d better
put my foot down, keep everything settled
because now my stomach lurches
as we take another curve too fast, too fast.
It’s just hard fighting OCD compulsion.
Where’s the line between safety and compassion?
You’ve had too many glasses, weaving down the road
and I’m clutching my door, braced against the load
of guilt and self reproach, for not knowing better.
So you want to stay clean?
I should’ve disinfected the passenger side.
So you can’t help ordering more wine?
I should’ve made sure you felt safe to ride
without driving, without jacking my anxiety
up just past heart hammering, thoughts yammering, hands scrambling.
Because I don’t know what’s worse:
looking up to see we’re hanging half out of our lane
or killing you slowly by degrees.
You’re not good to drive, my dear,
and I don’t know what’s worse:
starting a screaming fight out in the cold, or letting you.
It’s not the quiet slapping sounds
from the next room.
It’s not the soft groans.
I don’t mind the what,
but the how.
It’s the several empty wine bottles
that mean I am invisible.
It’s that I asked for it not to be here,
not only once prior
but twice during as well.
I mind that every time I make my presence known,
there is nothing.
no second thought,
I mind that there’s no respect.
And it may be the first time this has happened
but it’s the pattern that scares me,
the feeling of descent, of backtracking,
of unwinding the promise that rings my finger.
I don’t mind what is happening,
but I am ripped apart by how empty I feel
when you are so full of desire for something
that carries you down with the level in the bottle,
willfully down and away
You step onto the path to a two story house with a thatched roof. The house isn’t yours. In fact, you’re not sure why you turned down this lane to begin with.
Unwillingly, you take another step. The front door is unsettling, an orange too bright against the pale facade.
Another step, through a rusting metal awning with flaking white paint.
Another. The lawn is wild, sawtoothed. You feel blades of grass knifing up between paving stones through the soles of your shoes.
Another. Looking at that door is like nails on a chalkboard, yet the closer you come the harder it is to look away.
Another. From the lane this path seemed flat, but now it seems to slope, like gravity pulling you down.
Another. The upper windows watch like eyes peering through too-long bangs.
One last step, and the door swings on its hinges to welcome you in...
Youth (Presence, pt. ?)
When I was little, my grandmother was larger than life and full of color. It was a shock to see her in the cubby-like room in the Alzheimer’s ward, looking so small and drab. The only thing in the room that was still the same was the rose-shaped candy bowl on the bedside table, brimming with brightly wrapped chocolates.
“I know you,” she said brightly, and the Gram I remembered glittered in her expression. “You’re little Ariel, all grown up.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, sitting on the end of the bed. “I thought I’d drop by. It’s been a long time.”
“Has it?” She squinted at me, her frail hands fluttering up to her white hair to push it from her face. “How old are you, sweetie?”
Gram laughed a creaky laugh and shook her head, amazed. “Well, I bet you still have that sweet tooth.” She gestured to the candy bowl and winked. “You got that from me, you know. Help yourself.”
I grinned back and took three.
She kept asking questions, grilling me on trivia from family trips and current events from when I was little. I kept worrying that she’d ask what I’ve been up to, and I’d either have to tell her or lie about all the fucked up unhealthy choices I’ve made my entire adult life, but there was a definite time cutoff for her questions.
Time started looping for Gram while I was in high school. At first it wasn’t noticeable. Then, sometimes, she’d look at me and cluck and say how amazing it was to know that’s how I’d look when I grew up. She thought I was visiting from the future, and that the real me was still innocent. The tiny little old lady with flickers of youth still in her eyes had no clue how badly I’d wasted mine, and I was happy to keep it that way.
When I finished my chocolates and was toying with the idea of taking more, Gram reached the end of her questions. “I think I can remember all that,” she said. “Thank you for coming to tell me, sweetie. Oh— one more question. When will you grow out of the colic? I love you, but you are one fussy baby!”
I told her, and she flashed me the brilliant smile that was a part of all my happiest memories growing up. Leaning forward she tried to reach my knee but ended up patting the blanket instead. “You’re a good girl,” she told me firmly, as if she could make it true by sheer force of will.“You’re a good girl,”she repeated, “with a good heart. Don’t forget.”
“I’ll try, Gram,” I promised. I kissed her forehead and pulled the blanket up for her when she shivered. “I love you.”
I left through the door because I didn’t want to upset her. Gram’s eyesight wasn’t good enough to see that I walked straight through the solid door instead of opening it.
Xerox (Presence, pt. iii)
It wasn’t part of Hazel’s job description to make copies, but she volunteered because the noise of the graphic design department, with its high ceilings and open floor plan, was starting to give her a headache. The copy room was quiet and had a door with a lock. Once the xerox machine was whirring productively away she turned off the lights, locked herself in, and sat on the floor with her back against the door.
For the past few days, everything had felt slightly off. It wasn’t just the news that her ex was dead, that was… Well, it hadn’t come as a surprise, exactly, but that fact carried its own reflexive guilt. It was more than that, and more than impulsively kissing a friend who still relentlessly believed she was a good person. Things moved around the apartment when she wasn’t looking. Furniture moved back to the positions it had been in over a year ago. Dirty clothes on the floor ended up kicked into drifts and piles against the wall, and the whole place felt colder than usual.
She wished she could get in touch with Jo, but her friend wasn't at work today and didn't seem to have her cell phone on. Jo would tell her to stop imagining things and get a grip, and that would be reassuring. Without that reassurance… she was starting to think the apartment was haunted, and that was just crazy.
The xerox machine beeped that it was done. With a heavy sigh, Hazel stood, grabbed the originals and the copies out of their respective trays, and left the copy room. Her boss was on the phone when she popped into his office, so she gave a little wave of hello and left them on the desk before heading back to her cubicle.
Twenty minutes later, he emerged frowning from his office. “Hazel, can I talk to you for a minute?”
“Sure.” She trailed after him, and was surprised when he waited by the office door and closed it behind her. Sergej’s door was never closed. He was a big, booming-voiced man whose resting expression was a grin, but he wasn’t grinning now. As he walked around and sat behind his desk he fiddled with his new wedding band, turning it around his finger as though trying to get the right words wound up and ready to spring out.
“Hazel.” He sighed, and made a visible effort to stop fiddling. “Look. I know it’s been a rough year for you… and I heard about Ariel.” Seeing she was about to ask who had told him, he added, “Jo Anderson from HR, after she finished grilling me about exactly how many days you’d called out sick.”
Hazel closed her mouth and sat back in the chair. For one thing, she’d never actually called in anything. She hadn’t even thought about it, she just hadn’t shown up. Sergej was being a nice guy and covering for her. She also hadn’t realized that Jo, who disliked Sergej’s consistent good mood and boisterous sense of humor, would actually have come here to check on her. The two didn’t exactly hate each other, but they got on each others’ nerves whenever required to work in close contact, especially one on one.
“You and Jo,” she said weakly. “Sounds like a party.”
Sergej snorted a laugh, and for a moment his mask of seriousness broke. “Oh yeah, it was a real blast,” he said dryly. Then his expression clouded over again. “Look… You’ve been a little out of it for the past couple of days, which is understandable, but I think you should take some more time off. Get your head back on straight.”
“But it is,” Hazel protested. “I’m fine, really. I just haven’t been sleeping well, but—”
“I’m not asking,” Sergej interrupted, his voice kind but firm. “I’m worried about you.” He picked up the stack of copies she’d dropped on his desk a little while ago as if to illustrate his point. “If you’d given these to anyone besides me I don’t know if there’d be anything I could do. But you did, so I’m putting you down for administrative leave. I’m doing you a favor, Hazel.”
“What?” Bewildered, she reached out and took the papers, really looking at them for the first time.
They weren’t copies. At least, they weren’t copies of the originals she’d fed into the xerox machine. Instead, each page was a dark, grainy image of a face, so badly out of focus that the features were just gray smears on a black background. They were all the same except for the mouth, a black gash that formed a different shape in each picture as though the figure was trying to speak. Its eyes were so deeply sunken that they were just pools of shadows, or possibly holes straight through to more of the surrounding blackness.
Hazel looked up, feeling sickeningly hot and cold all over and all at once. Had this been what she’d picked up from the copy tray? “I… I don’t understand. I didn’t do this, Serj. The machine must have been… printing out an old job or something.”
He met her gaze with a look full of sympathy. “You’re right. It could be someone’s messed up idea of a practical joke. But are you saying you just brought those papers in here without noticing what was on them?”
“I…” Hazel’s mind raced to remember whether the copies had been right when she’d picked them up from the tray. But she’d had the lights off, and she couldn't even remember whether or not she’d really looked. Right on cue her headache reared up again and she put her hands to her temples to try and massage it away.
“Go home,” Sergej told her gently. “Get some sleep.”
Unable to think of anything to say, Hazel nodded dumbly. She tore her eyes away from the horrible images and put the papers face down on the desk.
“I'll call you a cab,” Sergej offered, reaching for his phone.
Hazel's mind was spinning. Was administrative leave an easing-in period that came before being fired? No, if that's what was happening he would tell her. Who had made those pictures? Or… should she be wondering what? The uneasy suspicion of being haunted returned and her head began to throb harder in time with her quickening pulse. The list of odd occurrences was becoming too much to ignore.
She had kissed Jo, and out of nowhere a water glass had shattered against the wall. Maybe a draft of air had knocked it over and sheer surprise had added some embellishments to the memory…
She kept finding the furniture in different places. Where they'd used to be, before...
She had gone to make copies, and they'd come out so wrong that she still felt uneasy for having looked at them, for even knowing they were still there face down against Sergej’s desk. Had they gone wrong in the machine or after, and which said more about her own mental state?
If. If it was a ghost. Her stomach dropped sickeningly and her heart lurched with mixed feelings at the thought, because...
If it was a ghost it had to be Ariel.
Before leaving the office Hazel grabbed the papers after all while Sergei was still occupied with calling a cab, hastily folding and shoving them into one pocket. In the cab she studied them more closely, pushing back on the instinctive revulsion they inspired. She inspected one after another in rapid succession, then gripped the stack of papers and flipped through them as quickly as she could. Viewed that way, she could make out what the words formed by that dark gash of a mouth.
I miss you baby. Come home.
It was what Ariel had always texted whenever she'd stayed late at the office to work on a project.
When the cab pulled to a stop, Hazel got out and ran. There were no elevators in her building and she took the stairs two at a time until the exertion caught up with her after a flight or two. She slowed reluctantly and kept climbing, panting, distantly embarrassed by how out of shape she was but more troubled by the extra time it gave her to think. When Ariel had first left, she'd spent months wrestling with a horrible range of emotions, from fury to guilt and heartbreak to resignation. Shouldn't all of that been finally put to rest now that the woman had died? Yet the crazy, desperate idea that a few strange occurrences were all connected, that Ariel had somehow made her way back, was already putting her heart through the wringer.
Hazel reached her door, almost falling against it as she fumbled the keys out of her pocket. It was made more difficult by the fact that her hands were shaking. But when she finally got the door open and rushed inside, all her nerves fell away. In fact, everything seemed to fall away.
Ariel didn't seem to mind that Hazel was standing there staring at her, dumbfounded. She just leaned forward and kissed her cheek, the way she'd always used to. “Hey baby.” She took her hand in a cool grip and smiled sweetly, and Hazel was lost. “How was work?”
Watch (Monster Hunters short ii)
The night was an uneasy one. Beatrix didn’t need Jasper awake and casting one of his divining spells to know that. Around them the trees murmured in creaks and rustles, and the moon was full. It didn’t take much imagination to expect the worst.
She stood up and prowled around the campsite to check the protective circle of silversalt, a carefully measured blend of silver flakes, powdered aconitum, fine sea salt, and ground cacao. Along the way she paused by the banked cookfire and inspected her companion’s discarded drinking tin. Yes, just as she’d thought. As soon as she’d announced that there wasn’t enough cacao left for another circle, Jasper had gotten into it and added it to his cup. Fine brown dregs had dried into a ring on the inside bottom of the tin, and she could smell it. Damn, had he found the time to make the almond milk for a hot chocolate without her noticing, or had he nicked it from the last town they’d passed through?
Without the supplies to make another circle it had to hold. The salt formed the anchor for the protection spell against nightghasts, but weres — wolves or otherwise — couldn’t be kept out by magic. This was the last truly safe camp they could make before happening on a town with a decent trade market.
Beatrix circled again and again, checking to make sure the circle was unbroken. She always felt restless at this point of the lunar cycle and it gave her something to do during her habitual insomnia.
On the seventh pass, she stopped at the side of the clearing where the surrounding trees and underbrush were thickest. She saw no movement, heard nothing besides the rustle of leaves and branches in the wind, but she felt as though she was being watched. There were no light sources in the camp and her eyes were well-adjusted to the dark, but the clearing was a moon-drenched dark, not the deep dark of the forest that encircled them. Instinct, though, told her something was there.
As Beatrix stared intently into the gloom and failed to remember seeing that many saplings in the forest before the sun had set, she reached into her pocket and pulled out the first object with a decent heft to it. Without looking away she tossed it in Jasper’s direction and heard the satisfying thunk of a pocketwatch hitting his big dumb hot chocolate drinking head.
She heard a quiet rush of muffled cursing, but they were well versed in this: if the lookout woke you up in the dark, you kept quiet because it meant company. As professional monster hunters, company in the middle of the night wasn’t good.
In the darkness beneath the canopy, the forest began to move.
Someone had once accused Stanley of having been born with Hall Monitor stamped on his soul. As insults went it wasn’t particularly biting. Worse had certainly been thrown at him, both before and after becoming a traffic cop, it was just… really memorable. He didn’t know why it had gotten so far under his skin, but he still thought about it every now and then.
He was thinking about it when he pulled over a wildly swerving car. The driver took a long time to notice the flashing red and blue lights, which in Stanley’s experience usually meant he would have to write a DUI.
When both vehicles were stopped along the edge of the thankfully not very busy road he got out, walked around, and peered in through the passenger side window at quite possibly the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. But Stanley was unmoved. He just steeled himself for some bad flirting to get out of a ticket.
“License and registration please, ma’am.”
She blinked dazedly at him for a moment, then seemed to process the request. “Ohh,” she said, though it was really more like a moan. Then she handed him her slim pocketbook purse.
Stanley took it with a sigh. “Ma’am, would you mind telling me how much you’ve had to drink?”
Her pretty brown eyes opened wide and he saw that her pupils were dilated. “But I haven’t,” she protested. “I had one glass of wine with dinner but that was hours ago!” Her sentences were punctuated with odd little hitches and breathiness, almost as though she was panting.
“Ma’am,” he said, feeling very much like Hall Monitor Stanley, “could you please step out of the vehicle?”
“Nooo,” she moaned, and it was a real moan. Her hands gripped the steering wheel tightly, although since the car was off all she accomplished was drawing his attention to the wedding band on her finger, and her back arched. The motion pulled her seat belt even tighter across her heaving breasts.
The woman gulped air, taking deep breaths to try and steady herself before she tried again. “I’m not drunk,” she told him huskily. “It’s just that… that… ohhhh…” She bit her lip and squirmed in her seat.
“Whatever you say, ma’am, but you are really not okay to drive right now,” Stanley said in his best reasonable voice. He was used to being flirted at inexpertly, but this was downright filthy.
“It’s the dildo my husband gave me before he left on his trip,” she blurted out hastily. “It’s magic, it’s a voodoo dick! He told me how to make it stop but I can’t concentrate long enough to remem… re…” Her head lolled back against the headrest in apparent bliss.
He stared at her incredulously. This was really beyond the pale, so far beyond that he hardly knew how to respond, and to his discomfort her hands were moving down to the hem of her dress. He needed to call in backup, or an ambulance to take the woman to a hospital, or something.
“Voodoo dick my ass,” he sputtered, backing away hastily and heading back to his cruiser. But before he could make it back to his car, the wind was knocked out of him. He stumbled and fell against the hood of his car, limp at first with shock and then…
“Oh god,” he moaned. Stanley unconsciously spread his legs a little while he continued to lay sprawled out across the warm hood, as his inner hall monitor learned that he had a lot less interest in being squeaky clean than he’d previously thought.
Uneasy (Presence, pt. ii)
When Jo was little she’d been afraid of the dark, but she’d grown out of it. At some point in high school she’d realized that most monsters looked like regular people and came out in daylight just as often as they lurked in the shadows.
So why, as a twenty-eight year old woman with her own life and apartment, were old habits coming back? She kept her eyes closed from the time her head hit the pillow until her alarm went off in the morning, as if not seeing anything meant nothing could see her. She tried to breathe as quietly as possible so as to not attract attention. If she absolutely had to get up in the middle of the night to pee she turned on every light on the way there, then raced to get them all off again and back under the covers before the toilet finished running. And she never, ever bent down to look under the bed.
Her cats seemed uneasy too. All three of them had started keeping close to her after dark. Even Artie, who hadn’t been so snugly since he’d grown out of being a kitten, was cozying up to her feet every night. Sometimes their eyes seemed to be following things that hers couldn’t see — except weren’t cats always like that? They were weird, moody little shits, but she was still relieved to have their constant company. Especially since she’d blown it with her only remaining friend by being a complete idiot.
Sometimes she daydreamed about that kiss, though. Hazel’s lips on hers, kissing her like she wanted her… But that was a laugh. Who would want someone who made a move on someone right after they found out their ex had just died? Not to mention that Ariel had been her friend too, sort of. In a ‘mutual toleration’ kind of way. In a ‘had sex half a dozen times just for the hell of it’ kind of way, before Hazel had come into the picture. It hadn’t meant anything, even though it was Jo’s first time admitting she wanted to be with women, and if she’d ever thought it meant anything she quickly reminded herself that Ariel never had.
Ariel had never been her type. She was too calculating and manipulative. Plus all the booze, cigarettes, and drugs. Jo didn’t mind the first one so much, but she’d been a competitive runner ever since junior high and had no interest in sacrificing her health on the altar of tobacco and painkillers.
She still didn’t get what Hazel had seen in her. Maybe it was just that Hazel was a better person, able to see through Ariel’s concrete-hard layers down to the lost little girl underneath. Jo had never been that nice. Which was why she didn’t deserve Hazel, and hadn’t deserved that kiss.
Jo was just washing up after the obligatory daily scooping of the litter when her cell phone rang, startling her with the sudden blaring chorus of Pharrell Williams’ Happy.
“(Because I’m happy!) Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof!”
The soap flew out from between her fingers and hit the bathroom mirror just right to send cracks spidering across the reflective surface.
“(Because I’m happy.) Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth.”
Cursing under her breath, she hastily wiped her hands on a towel and ran to catch the call. That was the ringtone she’d set for Hazel’s calls. Mental note, she told herself, find a less obnoxious ringtone later.
“(Because I’m happy) Clap along if you know what happiness is—”
There was just static on the line. Just static, until she heard a familiar voice in the white noise, and it wasn’t Hazel.
“Stay away from her,” it whispered, just barely over the crack and snap of the bad connection “Stay away from her stay away from her stay away from her stay away from her stay away from her you bitch.”
The little hairs on the back of Jo’s neck were standing up. Dinah, who’d been curled up on the table next to the phone, was on her feet now with ears back and tail twice its normal size.
It was Ariel.
“Twilight, and the ocean breaks on the pylons of the dock like that,” Valencia told me, pointing out the rough chop of the water. “That's the best time. I'll show you the rest later, you need to eat now.”
I nodded weakly, and even that hurt my pounding, swimming head. It felt awful and I was starting to think that I'd made a huge mistake. Not that I could take it back… I shouldn't have trusted her, this tall dark-haired Amazon with her musical accent that I still couldn't place.
She helped me down to a sitting position on the dock and smoothed my damp hair back from my hot forehead and temples. Her touch was so soft, so concerned, that I closed my eyes automatically and leaned into her hands. Then she kissed me briefly on the mouth, stood up, and stepped off the end of the dock into the water with barely a splash.
From the first night I'd seen her she had fascinated me to the point of distraction. It was on a Lesbian Wine Tasting tour. When I asked around discretely to find who she was, no one knew. She wasn't part of the group. The next night at another special after-dark tasting there she was again, and from somewhere inside myself I plucked up enough nerve to take the spot next to her and strike up a conversation. She told me her name was Valencia and that she was originally from Europe, though she was coy about exactly where or when she’d moved to America. As we leaned closer into each other, locked in our own private bubble of conversation, she'd touched the small of my back with the hand not attending to her wine glass. The contact sent delectable shivers along my spine that pooled in my belly. The next night we blew off tasting and had dinner together instead, and by the dessert course her hand was up my skirt and teasing up the inside of my thighs. In my hotel room I spread my legs wide and let her taste me, because she'd been dropping little hints about that all night. It was so exquisite, her fingers and tongue playing me with expert precision until my knees were so wobbly I don't think they would've held me up if I'd tried to stand. But that hadn’t been the kind of tasting she’d meant.
One more time she'd asked if she could taste me. She asked if I trusted her, and I said yes.
It was too late to do anything about that now.
The dark closed in around me as twilight faded into true night. Without quite deciding to lay down I found myself stretched out on the dock, the rough wood pressed against my cheek, Valencia’s kiss still tingling against my lips like a promise. How long had she been gone? I felt too weak to get back up on my own and had no choice but to wait. I felt like I was dying all over again.
Even at the start it had hurt, a piercing pain that started where my neck and shoulder met and lanced straight down to my heart. I think… I think if I hadn't been so relaxed I would have tensed, it would have hurt more. Within seconds I couldn't move at all. The pain slowly faded, everything faded. Her body moved over mine and I couldn't see. Her lips slid over mine and she urged me to taste. It felt like I was falling and I was so scared, I did what she told me to because she was the only lifeline I had to grab onto. She told me to drink; I did. After that I didn't remember much.
It felt like hours before Valencia returned, hauling something nearly twice her size up the dockside ladder. She threw it down and I thought I saw it flinch weakly, but there was this smell. This intoxicating, rich, warm smell drifting from it on the cool salt breeze. Before I even knew what the thing was I began crawling towards it.
Valencia, dripping wet, helped me get to it. The thing was radiating heat and I felt so cold. She guided my hands to hold onto it and my mouth to a dark, dripping spot . The best thing I've ever tasted flowed over my tongue, down my throat. Then I could feel it trying to struggle. Useless little tremors that only made me grip harder, digging in with my teeth for better purchase. The more I drank, the more the pounding in my head subsided, and the stronger I began to feel. I began to feel… alive.
By the time I let go it had stopped moving and I knew what it was. I wiped my hand over my wet lips and it came away bloody in the moonlight. I licked my lips and it tasted divine.
“Did I just eat a seal?” I asked shakily. It hadn't occurred to me that I would like the taste so much, and the dead-fish smell might have made me feel sick to my stomach if the blood hadn't made me feel so sated and whole.
“Sea lion,” Valencia replied. She sat beside me, turned to let her legs hang off the side of the dock. “See the external ear flaps? Seals don't have those.”
I took a deep, slow breath and dropped my head into my hands. “Why?”
“Look.” She pointed out across the water and I looked up to see fin tips cutting through the choppy waves. It should have been too dark but even so, to my eyes it was as though the scene was bathed in daylight. “Blood is in the water. We take the blood but not the body.” She reached back and dragged it to the edge with one hand, effortlessly tipping it down into the water. “The sea will take it back. It's neater this way. Besides, starting you on other blood is better. It'll help you keep your head around humans, help keep you able to make your own choices.”
“No.” I shook my head, looking down at my blood soaked hands that I could see too well in the dark. They didn't even cast shadows sitting there on my lap. “Why did you this to— hic!”
My hand flew to my mouth before I had a chance to register the absurdity of manners at this point.
Valencia patted my shoulder. “It's okay, you just ate too fast. Everybody does the first few times.”
Another hiccup burst out and I couldn't help it; I giggled. My fingers were buzzing and the sudden lack of heavy pounding in my temples made my head feel as light as a balloon. Once the giggling nervous giggling started, though, I couldn’t stop. It just kept coming in between hiccups, and sounded more and more hysterical with each passing second. The taste in my mouth was blood. I had sucked the blood out of something until it died.
Then her arms were around me, rocking me back and forth.
“Why did you do this to me? I was a vegetarian for god's sake,” I gasped, and buried my face in her hair as I cried. Her hair smelled of salt, damp, and remaining hints of tea tree shampoo.
“You reminded me of someone.” Valencia held me tighter. “I won't say I'm sorry, because I’m not. I want you with me. But I'll take care of you, I promise. Just trust me.”
I didn't know if I could. But she was the only lifeline I had left to hold onto.