Halloween Horrors: When We Are Inhuman
The following short horror story, When We Are Inhuman, is Part 1 of the 2 Part novel Ship Of Theseus, which is coming from Shiny Red Nothing this December. It was originally published (on the now defunct webzine) I See Sound in 2006.
I remember it like a dream. In the winter of 2006, my college sweetheart, Sally, died from a heroin overdose. At the time, I was house sitting for Dorothy, my best friend Bruce’s girlfriend, while she was away on business. It was a long walk from Dorothy's apartment to Bruce's. I walked it once and couldn't bring myself to exert the effort again. Her apartment was on the third floor, so there was no way Bruce could get his wheelchair up there to visit me.
You should know that I was not alone in Dorothy's apartment.
Soon after Sally’s death, my brother, Frank, showed up with my old friend, Terry, to check on me. It was good to have them there. Two nights into their stay, Terry had passed out in the hall by the bathroom. My brother and I shared a pint of gin on Dorothy's black leather couch, surrounded by her collection of Bruce’s self portraits. Stroking Dorothy's purring cat in his lap, Frank said, "I never really liked VD." VD had been my pet name for Sally. She loved the films of Vin Diesel. She did not, however, appreciate my nickname for her.
I laughed. Our mother had not liked Sally either. I had brought her over to meet Mom one Sunday afternoon. Sally said hello, face red, hand extended. Mom's stare was a stabbing dagger. Her words were cordial, but her tone was an assault. She said, "Hello." Stab. Stab. "Sally." Her antagonism set the tone for an awkward visit. VD made an excuse for us to leave as soon as the opportunity presented itself.
When I called Mom to tell her about Sally's death, she said, "There was something about her, Wayne. There was something wrong with her, and I knew it as soon as she walked in my door."
Mom was a good judge of character. When I was twelve, my third cousin, Annie, married a man whom my mother was leery of from the get go. Without any knowledge about him, Mom told us, "Don't go around him. Don't talk to him. Don't trust him." Later, Dad found out that the man had once been incarcerated for raping and robbing a seventy year old woman.
Mom’s psychic abilities extended beyond her sense for character. She and Dad would entertain guests by having her call out cards before Dad flipped them from the top of the deck. She was also infamous for making us pull over for ambulances that weren't there.
My siblings and I have all laid claim, at one time or another, to possessing similar abilities, albeit in a lesser form. Our claims have all involved dreaming of events that later transpired. For instance, I remember being little and dreaming of the death of a soap opera character while napping. When I woke, I watched that episode with Mom and Grandma, insisting that I had already seen it. At twelve, I remember dreaming of cheating at a board game while playing with my cousin Annie’s family, and two days later, finding myself living the dream.
You should know that I never have prophetic dreams of any use. They're always inconsequential and usually end violently. The scariest example I can recall happened when I was seven and dreamt of getting up in the middle of the night to use the restroom. Frank stood by the open door to our parents' room, the bathroom door perpendicular to it closed. He said, "Mom's in there, and I'm next." A golden light emanated from our parents' room, and a ghost floated toward us, through the open doorway, all flowing sheet of gold with cut-out eye holes, brandishing a knife. It said, "I am the ghost of the Golden Knife Stabber!” I woke up, sweating, shaking. I had to pee. I found Frank standing at the end of the hall, the door to our parents' room open, the bathroom door shut. He said, "Mom's in there, and I'm next."
During the week of their stay with me at Dorothy’s apartment, Frank and I made Terry watch the Nevada Smith and Cosmic Conflict film trilogies. We watched American Gorgeous. Frank had bought me a live Meat Curtain DVD called What The Third Eye Sees, and we watched it again and again. Everlasting Sunlight of the Stainless Brain twice. Texas Teeth twice. We listened to Blue Eyes, Bliss, and The Scarabs. Frank introduced me to “Tales of the Skyrat,” a superhero video game he had brought with his game console.
Terry was a trooper, never complaining about the indie films and rock music we knew he was hating. Mostly, he sat in silence, smoking or chewing tobacco, wearing his Carolina blue pants, his hat on sideways, sometimes a shirt. This was a typical visit with Terry. After our game of "remember-the-time" had expired, we had nothing to talk about. In his backpack, along with his one other change of clothes, Terry had psychedelic mushrooms.
On the fourth night of their visit, I was surprised by a knock at the door at two AM. It was Dorothy's neighbor from the first floor, who I recognized from the computer lab at the university where I used to work part-time. She was one of the kids who spent hours in the lab every afternoon playing an online role playing game about vampires. She used to complain about me listening to that Larissa Linn comeback album that Johnny Black produced back in 2004. She said, “Wayne, it’s so fucking loud up here, we can hear you downstairs, through the second floor. You're lucky they moved out. Mary Catherine is getting pissed, though."
I couldn't remember her name. I searched my brain for it. I had always thought she was cute, though she had put on weight. I was drunk. She said, "Jasmine. You remember me, right? From the lab?"
Jasmine. Of course. Jasmine must have weighed three hundred pounds. Still, she had one of those faces, caramel skin, big brown eyes, lips. I said, "Do you want to come in?"
"No," she said. "Keep it down, okay?"
"When's Dorothy coming back?"
"In a month.”
"Who is it?" asked Frank from the sofa, under the four foot by four foot extreme close up painting of Bruce's bearded, long-haired head, like some European Jesus in black wraparound sunglasses.
"Jasmine, from downstairs," she called to him. To me, she said, "Does she know you have company?" She peeked around the dimly lit apartment from the doorway. Her hair was coarse and black at her shoulders. I wondered what it felt like. “You’ve been busy as bees. You should clean this place up.” There were four days worth of mail and a stack of pizza boxes on the table, the garbage overflowing in the kitchen, dishes, blankets, dirty clothes, bottles, the cat box full. Her skin was milk chocolate. Her breasts threatened to burst out of her shirt.
I said, "Do you want a beer?"
She said, "Goodnight, Larissa Linn," and waddled down the hall to the steps.
Frank has the superpower to master any video game. I do not. I quickly become frustrated at the jumps I can't make and foes I can't best. Frank, on the other hand, spent hours in front of the TV when we were growing up, cursing and throwing shit, vowing revenge, staying up all night exacting said revenge. It was a surprise to me that he wanted to leave me his game console.
"I just don't want you to get bored. You get to thinking too much. Your mind is like a labyrinth, complete with a minotaur," he said.
"My mind is like a toilet.”
We were sitting on the floor around a Ouija board in the guest bedroom, watched over by Bruce's grayscale paintings of bug-eyed zombies and surreal animal portraits set amid other-worldly flora. Frank insisted that the room was haunted by something sinister because the cat refused to enter. I was refusing to play Tales of the Skyrat anymore because I couldn't beat the Berserker level.
"I hate that cat," I said. "Here, kitty kitty kitty."
"I'm telling you, man, she won't come in here," insisted Frank. "That cat has been in my lap or at my feet. Unless I'm in here." I hadn't even seen the cat until Frank and Terry had arrived. "Check this out, man. Here, kitty. Here, kitty kitty."
The cat appeared in the doorway. It sat in the hall and meowed at Frank. "Come here," he said.
"Here, kitty," said Terry.
"Here, kitty," I said. The cat stared at us for a moment, yawned, and wandered away.
Terry said, "I'm afraid of Ouija boards." In his lap was a bible. In his hand was his fifth whiskey and cola.
"Ah, come on," I said. "You’re being flakes. This is important to me."
"I just think it's a bad idea to try and contact Sally," said Frank. "You never meet who you want to meet on these things."
"Come on.” I placed my right hand on the plastic cursor. Frank sighed and followed suit. "You have to believe or it won't work," I told him.
"I believe," he sighed.
"Is there anyone there?" I asked the dead air.
The cursor moved to the "Yes.”
Terry said, "Which one of you did that?"
In the bathroom, the faucet turned on all by itself. My heart quickened. I said, "What’s your name?"
The cursor moved over "S." The cursor moved over "A." I removed my hand.
Terry said, "What?"
”It's lying. I'm done.” I turned off the faucet in the bathroom and went back to the dining room to finish off the pizza. Frank followed me out and laid on the couch.
He said, "Want to try that Berserker level again?"
I said, "Fuck off."
When they left, I was overwhelmed. I watched them drive away from the sidewalk in front of the building, considering my options. I thought about walking to Bruce's and telling him that I couldn't watch Dorothy's place anymore. I could check up on the cat periodically. Or maybe I could call Frank before he got too far away and tell him that I wanted to go with him. I could let Jasmine check on the cat.
Back on the third floor, I smoked pot and drank, staring blankly at the painting of the hippie stringing his guitar next to the TV, my mind swirling, narrowing, darkening.
My first love was comic books. From the beginning, there was Strongman, sole survivor of planet Xenon, whose emblem I let my drunken skinhead cousin, Joey, tattoo to my left arm when I was seventeen, utilizing a sewing needle wrapped in thread and dipped in an old jar of India ink. It was the second time I had been scarred by my love for Strongman, the first occurring when I was three and tried to jump over the coffee table from the couch, clad in my Strongman pajamas. I smacked my chin against one of the coffee table corners. The scar is still there, complete with tiny pock marks where the stitches had been.
Strongman always put others first, forever sacrificing himself for the greater good of Megalopolis and humanity. Between Strongman, Sunday School, and my responsibilities at home, looking after my siblings, I developed my own moral code and used it to further alienate myself from my peers. Dad oftentimes said that I had no sense of adventure, but that wasn't true. I just preferred mythological adventure to the real thing.
As a teenager, I related more to Skyrat. I liked the fallibility of that character and could see something of myself in his nerdy secret identity, Scott Turner. Like Strongman, Skyrat also sacrificed his personal life for the greater good, but it was easier to relate with Scott Turner, who also looked after his kid brother. Unlike Strongman, Skyrat regularly got his ass kicked, his costume fucked up, and in one famous issue, failed to save his two-dimensional love, Samantha, from death at the hands of Berserker.
You should know that I couldn't fucking defeat Berserker either.
In the old school comics, Berserker was a musclebound thug, Orson Mayfield, a paranoid schizophrenic bank robber who wore a silly purple mask and lobbed purple grenades. The game, Tales of the Skyrat, however, portrays him vastly different. Berserker resembles a massive inhuman monster in this incarnation, complete with scales and a demonic face. The goal at his stage in the game is to chase down the villain as he rampages within the walls of Green City and to dodge the grenades he lobs at you. This was nigh impossible for me. I became confused anytime I made a wrong turn or got hit by an explosion. "Video games are all repetition," Frank had told me. "You just have to figure out the patterns and learn from them."
I was busying myself with the chase for the eighth time or so one day, when Jasmine showed up at the door. She said, "What's up Larissa Linn? Dorothy just called. She wanted me to come over and check on you. Why aren't you answering the phone?"
"I'm not comfortable answering someone else's phone.” I had turned the ringer off. My own cell phone had been cancelled for nonpayment.
"Yeah, but if you don't answer the phone, people will think you've died up here," she said, moving around me to stand in the center of the living room. "I thought someone was going to clean this place up? It stinks in here."
I shrugged. "I've been writing.” I was lying. I hadn't written a thing. "Everything will be fine when Dorothy gets back home."
She started opening windows and picking up bottles. "Get me a trash can," she ordered. "You can't let this shit pile up for two and a half weeks." I did as I was told. I picked up my dirty clothes and took them to the hamper in the bathroom, under the nude portrait of Dorothy as a Goddess, Bruce's masterpiece. She was leaning in a doorway, right forearm across her belly, looking away with a sublime smile. There were two other smaller portraits of her in her bathroom as well, the only paintings hanging in her apartment that actually belonged to her. The others in her collection came and went as Bruce rotated them in and out of galleries.
Jasmine came in behind me and took the overfilled bag from the bathroom's trash can. From my angle, I couldn't see her reflection in the bathroom mirror. She was in jeans and a bright yellow tank top over a black bra, cleavage.
She said, "Come on, tell me the truth: Do you jerk off to that painting?"
"No, of course not," I said, hoping my face wasn't red.
She laughed. "Why's your face red, Larrisa Linn?"
Later, at the Ouija board in the guest room, she asked me, "How often have you had to turn off the faucet in the bathroom?"
“Twice a day, sometimes more.”
"Aren't you afraid?"
I said, "Sometimes. I don't know. I get afraid when I'm coming up the steps. For some reason, I get this terrible sense of dread every time I climb the stairs, like something's behind me. This shit has always followed me, though. I'm kind of used to it." I told her about my childhood apartment where our dog wouldn't go into the laundry room. I told her about the ghostly storyteller who visited me when I was a kid and about dead relatives visiting live ones. I told her the story my parents told me, about the time the Ouija board fell from Dad's teenaged hands and stuck in the ground like Arthur's sword after it suggested that he murder his family.
"I don't believe in Ouija boards," she said.
"You don't believe in Ouija boards?" This was disparaging news. "It won't work if you don't believe.”
She touched the fingers of her right hand to the cursor and warned me, "I don't think it's going to work."
I placed my own fingers next to hers and said, "Is anyone there?" No response. I asked again. Nothing. Jasmine pushed the cursor over the "No" response and said, "You got anything to eat?"
She offered to buy us a pizza, and we waited for it on the couch, under the extreme close-up self portrait of Bruce. I taught her to play Tales of the Skyrat, and it absorbed us for the next forty five minutes, swinging through Green City with glee as Skyrat, eating pedestrians to fulfill our never ending hunger and tossing cars at helicopters as Rat’s playable nemesis, Chupacabra.
We had just begun an attempt to best the times on the various Time Trials found throughout the game when the pizza arrived. Plating up, she asked me, "You play a lot of video games?"
"No," I answered. "Not usually. I just like Skyrat, you know? I used to love comic books when I was a kid.” I didn't bother telling her that the first time I saw the Skyrat movie in theaters, while the opening credits were rolling, I was fighting back tears, hoping that Frank wouldn't notice.
"I was more into role playing games.”
"I like the mythology of comics,” I told her. "Plus, I think it would be cool to have a superpower."
She asked me, "What would yours be?"
"I'd be able to alter probabilities. That way, I could do anything if the dice rolled in my favor."
"Would you actually use dice to determine whether or not you could do something?" The dungeon master inside her was excited by that prospect.
"I hadn't considered that, but probably not. What would yours be?"
Without hesitation, she said, "Most vampires can transform into wolves or wild dogs or a bat or something, but I'd like to be able to transform into other people. Flying would also be cool." On her neck, above her aorta, was a little tattoo of a vampire bite.
I asked her, "Do you still play that vampire game?”
She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and said, "Dorothy is the queen of our Hive."
"That's right, our Hive. Downstairs. We can only come out at night, but because Dorothy is our Queen, she can roam freely in the daylight. She protects us from those who would do us harm while we sleep."
I laughed. "She says she’s my Muse. She said I’m supposed to use my time here for writing.”
”Do you know her boyfriend, Bruce? He says she's his Succubus."
"Oh, yeah, I know Bruce. He's my best friend; that's how I know Dorothy. I didn't even think she was real until I met her, which was an accident."
It occurred to me that I was in a position to learn something about them until Jasmine said, "When you figure those two out, you let me know. Would you say they compliment each other? He scares me kind of... I think he's crazy. I guess that's why she loves him so much; she's just as crazy, in her own way.”
"She's amazing," I blurted out. Jasmine smiled but didn't reply. We ate pizza until it was gone, and then I said, "Do you really think Bruce is crazy?"
"Absolutely fucking insane," she answered.
Superficially, I can hit it off with anyone. Small talk is fine. I'll tell you that I'm a writer, tell you what I'm listening to, tell you what movie I just saw, hands moving, voice steadily pitching upwards. Then, there is silence. In my mind, I search in vain for something to talk about, something funny to say. God forbid that I disagree with someone or they are ignorant about something that I hold dear.
You should know that if you can't talk Cosmic Conflict movies, Skyrat comics, or Meat Curtain albums, I won't talk to you.
Jasmine sat with me on the couch playing Tales of the Skyrat, the two of us trading the controller back and forth, taking turns racing the titular character across Green City, from giant green bubble to giant green bubble, the checkpoints in the game's Time Trials. My thumbs were sore. Our bellies were full of Jasmine's vodka. Our knees were touching. Jasmine made an effort to engage conversation, telling me something about her roommates, the legendary Mary Catherine, the Hive. Upon wrong turns, I shouted obscenities.
There was a Time Trial giving me shit. From the top of a building, the goal was to simply move in a long, straight line across Green City to the final destination bubble atop a small water tower near the Five Points Bridge. I could zip from rooftop to rooftop with relative ease and finesse, hitting the bubbles along the way, but at the water tower, I would over swing or under swing the bubble and end up at the feet of the tower, scrambling to get back on top.
"Fuck!" I said, accidentally swinging under the bridge. My right and left hand operated the controller, oblivious of each other. "Mother fucker!" I said, Skyrat swinging just high and left of his target.
Jasmine said, "Jesus, Wayne, learn from your mistakes. You keep doing the same things over and over again."
I dropped the controller on the floor in front of me. "You want to try a Combat Tour?" Fighting the gangs in the Combat Tours was my other favorite option in the game, in lieu of chasing Berserker and advancing the story.
Jasmine answered, "Not really. It's kind of late, and I'm drunk. I'm going downstairs."
I said, "Okay," and walked her to the door. She swayed a little. I asked, "Can I kiss you?"
She was expressionless, tired eyed. She said, "I'm not quite feeling that right now," said "Goodnight, Larissa Linn," and stumbled away to what I hoped was a coffin downstairs. I watched, yellow over blue, thick black hair to where her neck ends, drunken swagger like a penguin. I wanted to masturbate.
On Dorothy's bed, I fantasized about Jasmine, but my mind wandered to the Goddess portrait in the bathroom; Dorothy with her bellybutton pierced, her pubic hair trimmed. I pulled the covers aside and crossed the hall. I left the door open and sat on the floor, on the rug, door ajar, a dim yellow light casting itself from outside, just enough.
You should know I was coming when the bathroom faucet came on.
Back in Dorothy's bed, I fell asleep to the thought of impregnating timespace, then dreamt I was in The Formidable Friends, Superb Comics' kids cartoon supergroup that I watched after school every day when I was five. My dream pitted Strongman, Dark Specter, Queen Concord, and Oceanian against a never ending barrage of monsters in what appeared to be a warehouse. We were losing. Their costumes were torn and dirty, but brightly colored despite the darkness, which casted no shadows on any of them. I did not have the ability to alter probabilities. Somewhere, Strongman was being pummeled. I think Dark Spector was dead. Oceanian and Queen Concord were certainly dead. A monster was behind me and hell-bent, but I don't think I ever saw him. I ran up stairs of ancient, crumbling stone, wrapping up a never-ending brick tunnel. My father ran with me, calling me useless, telling me to visit my sick grandmother, encouraging me to go back to school. He yelled at me and said things I remember. The monster closed in on us.
I shot awake, sweating. I could see the soft yellow light from outside across the polished wood of the hall. I was alone but not alone, feeling the dread of the stairs. I turned on all the lights in the house before trying sleep again.
I could hear the faucet, but I could not move. I could feel the sweat, but I could not pull the blankets. Scream, my brain said, but my lips were still. I was not alone in the room. Fucking scream, my brain said, screaming. Twitch your fingers, you useless piece of shit.
Twitch your fingers, you worthless...
What if I stop breathing?
I could hear the faucet.
I was not alone.
What if it was the hag.
I did not move. Eventually, I must have relented, because blissfully ignorant sleep pulled me back under.
There were two weeks left before Dorothy returned. I had barely left the couch in days; the front rooms of the house the only ones I trusted. The cat was afraid of the guest room; I was afraid of Dorothy's room. I had read that other people suffering from sleep paralysis will sometimes claim that there is a hag that sits on their chest, suffocating them when they wake in their minds and find themselves immobile. I had never experienced this, and decided it would be best if I never did. Someone had been in Dorothy's room last night. Maybe it was Sally. Maybe it was a hag. Maybe it was the ghost of a former tenant.
Downstairs, on the first floor, was a Hive of vampires.
The last time Jasmine visited, she brought a bottle of tequila and some hamburger casserole. On the couch, in front of my eighth viewing of Undead Texas, she said, "I met a real vampire once. I was thirteen and staying the night with my aunt, sleeping on the couch, and the next thing I know, I'm standing in the front doorway, with the door open, about to unlatch the screen door and let this man in."
"Was he wearing a black cape?" I asked, disbelieving.
"No, I couldn't see him, he was like a silhouette. But don't you understand the significance here? He could have broken in, just pulled that screen door and ripped the hook out, but he didn't. He was waiting to be invited in, you see?"
"It's just like Dracula, lulling Lucy out of bed to let him in.”
She was impressed. "Exactly! Only I woke up and saw him and slammed the door in his face. I was so shaken up by it that I couldn't even talk to my aunt about it for a day. I slept with her whenever I visited again."
"Do you really believe in vampires, Jasmine?"
"Of course," she said, "There have been vampire legends in every culture since the dawn of time. The Egyptians had them. In some places in Europe, they would exhume the bodies of alcoholics so that they could put a stake through their heart, considering the likes of them to be obvious candidates for vampiric activity." She poured us another drink. "Don't even get me started on the Romanians. Those were some crazy, superstitious fuckers.” She took a sip, then asked, “What do you believe in? Do you believe in God, Wayne?"
"I was a Sunday School teacher when I was in High School," I admitted. “One day, I'm riding home with my Preacher and his wife from this swanky restaurant. They had taken me out for this amazing, expensive lunch buffet, right? Dude kept asking the waiter very specifically for fresh squeezed orange juice, and refused juice when the fresh squeezed ran dry. They knew each other.
“Anyway, so we leave the restaurant, and he and his wife are driving me home, and he tells me that he knows our waiter was gay, and that I should know that he was going to Hell because of it. And then he told me my gay aunt would go to Hell and so would my gay uncle."
Jasmine asked, "Are you kidding me?"
"No way. And these were people I loved and respected. So, I couldn't believe that God would be so..."
“Contemptible of his own creation…”
"Right!" I told her about the time the Preacher's Wife broke down in tears in front of the church, thick streams of mascara flooding onto the lace at her neck. She told the congregation about angels lifting the roof off the church and showing her God’s light. Her husband wrapped his arms around her to offer comfort, knocking her big blue hat onto the floor. He gave her a tissue. She blew her nose and told us that God had spoken to her.
"He told her, 'Pass the collection plate, honey,'" laughed Jasmine in her best deep, southern accent. "I hate those people. Still, I believe in a mother Goddess. Earth is so finely tuned for us. How else do you explain it?"
"It's all an accident."
"Fuck that. We’re here because Earth is finely tuned, not the other way around. We’re a cosmic fluke, probably not the only one but still an anomaly.”
"You believe your dead girlfriend may be haunting you. You believe in something."
"I believe in the power of the human mind. It's corny, but I do. It's a powerful thing. I believe that it can persist after death… I don’t know. Maybe we can create our own heaven or hell. Or we all probably just hang out on Earth or whatever when we're dead; at least until the sun starts to die or a meteor takes it all away from us."
"Takes it in one continuum, not all of them. Maybe the human mind can transcend those kinds of barriers, and when we die we can all go someplace else, in some other time or place, not necessarily Heaven or Hell.”
"You sound like Bruce,” I said. I told her about my sleep problems and the hag. I told her that I had had the thought, when I felt the presence of the old hag, that it could be vampiric.
"See, it's true. Vampires are real, Wayne. I've seen one. He lulled me from my sleep so I would invite him in and offer him my neck, but my will was too strong."
"Was there a dice roll involved in determining your willpower?" She laughed at me, and I warmed all over. My hand went to her knee, and I felt hers. Our lips came together, but she didn't accept my tongue. My mouth moved over the tattoo on her neck. The entire world was fuzzy. She moaned a little. I said, "Take me downstairs with you."
She smiled, amused. "I can't sleep… I can't just have…”
"Have sex with me?"
Things are fuzzier after that. Memories are like the dull yellow light on the painting in the bathroom at night. I have a vague recollection of touring Bruce’s art with her. Stumbling. Another attempt at her in the hall. And then I am awake, and it’s afternoon. I was on the bathroom floor. I had wet myself. The toilet was full and my stomach was empty. The tequila bottle appeared to have died in the sink. The faucet was running.
That was the day that Terry came back.
He had taken a bus and said, "I can stay with you until Dorothy gets back, and then we can get an apartment." I did not want to live with him, but he had some money and pot.
I said, "Sounds good, man."
He told me to check Dorothy's answering machine. He told me to call my mom right away.
Into the phone, my mom said, "Why won't you talk to anyone? Dorothy has been calling everyday. Bruce has called too. Wayne, I'm really worried about you being all alone in that house. You should come home."
I said, "I'm not coming home, Mom. I don't want to talk to anyone," and added, "but I'm okay; Terry is here."
"He's with you?"
"Why is that so surprising?"
"Did Terry tell you why he came back? Did he tell you why he didn't go back to work?" Terry was a roofer. Sometimes.
"No, I didn't ask. He said he was thinking of moving here." He was on the couch, shirtless, red bandana tied at his forehead. I watched him spit tobacco into the beer can he had carried with him. In the kitchen, I said, "I don't think Terry and I have too much in common anymore, Mom."
"You always say that, Wayne, every time you hang out with him. I have to tell you something. Hold on. Dad wants you." I heard their voices and the phone trading hands.
Dad said, "Hey, buddy, you doing alright?
"I'm fine, Dad."
"How's Dorothy's apartment?" In between the refrigerator and the cabinet was an ink drawing of Dorothy and Bruce having a meal at a table under an umbrella. The sun cast deep black shadows on the left side of everything.
"It's a nice place," I said.
"Sucks that Bruce can't visit you. I talked to him on the phone the other day. I can't believe that crazy fucker got a Lexus."
"You haven't talked to him at all? He's made a shit load of money with Dorothy selling his paintings."
"That's awesome." In the living room, the theme from Tales of the Skyrat came on. I said, "Dad I have to go."
"I love you, Wayne," he said. "Come home if you need to."
"I love you too. I'm fine here, though. I'll talk to you later." With that, it was off to marijuana and Skyrat.
I could hear a woman calling, "What's your major?" Another says "My portfolio is smelly." There is bass guitar and the mashing of buttons. I try to speak but can't. Terry spits. The Flaming Fellow challenges Skyrat to a race, a rematch. My fingers and toes don't belong to me. My tongue is lame. If I could talk, I would scream. If I could scream, my throat would bleed.
I felt a hand on my arm and came awake instantly. Terry said, "You always did sleep funny. You still have to change your sheets every morning?"
"Only when I've been drinking.” I rolled over and went back to sleep.
I awoke in the wee hours of the morning. My head hurt. There was confusion. I was not alone. A voice said, "Dude, wake up," and I realized Terry was in the living room with me.
"What... what's going on?" I asked.
"This place is fucked up, man! It's fucking haunted. There's someone in Dorothy's room."
"Did you see her?" I asked, sitting up.
"No, man, but the paintings are moved around, and I could hear it, it fucking woke me up." I turned the lights on. In place of the four foot by four foot self portrait over the couch, there was the watercolor of the zombies from the guest room. One of the abstracts from the hall replaced the hippie that was on the wall to the left of the TV. Terry said, “I ain't going back in that room."
I got up to look around. Every painting in the apartment had been moved to another room and replaced. In Dorothy's room were her portraits, the one's from the bathroom, the ink drawing of her and Bruce eating together. Bruce's masterpiece hung over the bed. I said, "Let's get the Ouija Board."
Terry was not into that idea. He sat in the easy chair, clutching the Bible, praying, eyes closed, pleading, "Lord, please protect us from the evil spirits in this house. Help them to find peace so that we can... we can..."
"Sleep," I finished for him. "Amen. Let's get the Ouija Board. We'll ask if we're in any danger. Here, wait." From the kitchen, I grabbed Terry's half empty bottle of bourbon. I poured two shots and brought them back into the living room. I said, "Courage," and we drank together. I poured again and assured him, "Dorothy has lived here for a while, man. She doesn't seem scared at all."
Terry relented, and we sat with the Ouija Board on the guest room floor. On the walls, in place of the animals were landscapes and flowers. Terry's right hand quivered on the cursor, his left a death grip on salvation. My palms were moist. I asked the air, "Sally?"
The Ouija Board said, "Yes."
Terry said, "No fucking way."
I asked, "Why did you move the paintings?"
The cursor slowly glided from letter to letter, spelling "Terry."
"What about me?" The whiskey was working.
The cursor spelled, "Get out." Terry became hysterical. He jumped up from our spot on the floor at the foot of the bed, tripping on the carpet and falling backwards, knocking a lamp into the window. A large chunk of fractured glass hit the floor and exploded, spreading shards under the bed, across the Persian rug we had been sitting cross-legged on. He ignored the mess and bolted for the living room, his shoes.
"It's four in the morning, Terry, where are you going?" I asked him.
"It said get out, so I'm getting out. Fucking come with me, Wayne. Dorothy won't mind. She'll understand." He stood at the door, Tarheels jacket in hand.
My first thought was to do it, to leave with Terry and go back to Indiana, maybe my parents' house. "I can't do it, Terry; I promised her I’d stay. Besides, I'm more afraid of the vampires downstairs than I am of Sally's ghost." The words dropped my heart into my stomach like the glass, spreading electric tingles like shards. Sally's ghost.
"I don't care, man, I'm leaving." He sat on the couch next to me. His eyes were wet. "Please come with me."
"I can't, man. I have to talk to her."
"You don't know that it's Sally. It's probably lying. It's probably evil."
I could hear the bathroom faucet. I said, "It's not evil. Terry, you're such a pussy. Where are you going to go?"
Now the tears were coming. He buried his face in his hands and cried, "I don't know." He looked at me and said, "I'm in trouble." He told me that the police were after him. He told me that he was a suspect in an armed robbery.
"Did you fucking rob someone, Terry?" His sobs made most of his answer unintelligible, but it was clear that he was denying guilt and was terrified of going back to prison.
He wiped his eyes, regained his composure. He went to the door and said, "Just come with me. We'll take a bus to California and get jobs. I have a couple hundred dollars."
I asked him, "Terry, are you more afraid of this apartment or jail?"
"Come with me," he pleaded.
"I'm not coming with you.”
Without his backpack, a goodbye, or an offer to clean up the glass, he left, and I was alone again.
You should know that I was not alone in Dorothy's apartment.
“My thoughts are bees/ on the blue lotus of my divine mother’s feet”
-- Daniel Dooley
The problem with sitting is the stillness. The floor comes at me in waves and thoughts. In the darkness is something I'm curious about, but I'm not that curious. The problem with standing is the pacing. The tracing. The racing. That's my mind, you understand, moving not in a linear path but exploring it. The curtain over the broken glass holds a demon, but you already knew this about me. You should have been more honest with me. The folds form his eyes. The folds form that evil smile and they form each and every one of those teeth, like razors, like an outlet. I asked him his name, but he's not talking. Yet. But Bruce is. He's talking from every god damn one of those paintings. Rotting flesh. A train loaded with coal. And the tracks are fucked up too.
When my Great Grandmother died, Grandma was married and living in Texas, where Grandpa was stationed before the war. She was too heartbroken to go home for the funeral. Instead, she avoided the whole mess and stayed in Texas with Grandpa.
The distractions were thinning, and there was a week left before Dorothy came home. I wanted so badly to make it, to do what I said I would do and stick it out, watch over her place while she was away. Feed the cat. It seemed like such a simple prospect before hand, but I was afraid now. I felt something old and terrible.
Tales of the Skyrat had lost its hold on me. I was no longer content to simply explore the buildings surrounding the Triumph Tower, waiting for my psychic powers to alert me of a citizen in danger, someone to save. I had earned a Blue Ribbon on all of the Time Trials. The Combat Tours were now cake walks.
Berserker tossed exploding grenades at me, laying waste, losing me in Midtown again.
My notebooks were empty. I wasn't even drunk.
One message from Bruce says, "Dude, I'm going to ace every fucking one of my finals. Carry me up to those stairs, and we'll celebrate with some scotch before I sled back down all three flights on a cardboard box. Call me."
For some unexplained reason, it seemed like a good idea to cut myself. I found a razor, took off my shirt and had a seat. I slashed the soft underside of my forearm, an inch above the angle. You should know that this was for entertainment, not for murder. I did it again, just above the last one. The bleeding was profuse. I could see muscle mass. It was everything I could have hoped for. I did it again and again, alternating forearms.
There was a knock at the door. My mother said, "Wayne, you have company, dear."
My heart dropped. I uttered an, "Okay, Mom," panicking. My blood flowed. I was white.
I wanted to see Jasmine again. I imagined scenarios in which I would knock on her door at night to meet Mary Catherine and the rest of the Hive. My seduction would be smooth as a count’s. I edited the scenario in my mind.
I hadn't been in Dorothy's room in days.
Mostly, I tried to sleep the time away on the couch, dreaming my fucked up dreams, because I could not operate the Ouija Board on my own. The last time I had tried was the afternoon after Terry left, sitting on Dorothy's bed with both hands on the cursor, repeating, "Sally, are you there? Sally, are you there?" If she was, I couldn't tell.
You should know that someone was there.
The faucet in the bathroom came on at random times, but the best ones were the well timed ones. Turn off the TV, faucet comes on. Walk out of the bathroom, faucet comes on. Walk out of the bedroom, faucet comes on. It was more annoying than anything else, but there was one incident that terrified me. It was some awful hour of the morning when I was awoken by Dorothy's stereo. The speakers said, "What are you doing?"
I didn't speak because my heart wanted out. Finally, I said, "Who said that?"
The speakers replied with a chuckle, "You know who this is," and the stereo shut off.
I didn't leave because I felt so guilty about all of the mess. I hadn't even cleaned up the glass from the window Terry had broken or the remnants of the busted lamp. I considered cleaning it up whenever I walked by, but this urge was curbed by hanging a blanket like a curtain over the window so I couldn't see its state. As the days went by, the folds in the makeshift curtain began to transmogrify. Its eyes were long and slanted, its teeth were gnarly, and its tongue could surely reach out for me. Sometime later, I closed the door on the curtain demon altogether.
"Oh, all you demons and spirits/ I offer this food to you/ Eat/ Eat/ Share it with me”
-- Daniel Dooley
I'm in my Grandmother's kitchen, eating apple slices with sugar and cinnamon. I'm a little kid. The table top was eye level. On the television was a commercial with someone playing guitar and singing a song that I liked. Grandma kept saying, "You like this song?" and laughing at me. It was my favorite song, but it must have been a jingle.
Anyways, my aunts and cousins were asking me questions like, "What does he look like?" and "What's his name?" and I was bored with it. I had to talk about it every day. I wished my mom would stop telling people about my nightly visits from the storytelling ghost.
A message from my mom says, "Wayne, are you there? Hey, I need to talk to you; give me a call. Okay? Call your sister, okay? And your brothers. Wayne, are you there? Wayne, are you there?"
I'm stupid for liking her, but there's bite marks on her neck, the coffee, the meat. She can't like me because I am a sick boy. Sick boy, with the floor coming in waves and abandon. The winged insects are swarming the floor, but I swear it’s okay. They seem to be avoiding my feet. Are those my feet? Why, yes they are. Those aren't insects, stupid, they’re shards of glass. I wonder what's happening with those. Besides, she's with someone. I saw them at his car from the window last night, getting out, the three of us swaying from our own devices as he walked her to the door. But the glass, useless, and that thing in the dark is making me laugh. If I knew what it was, I would call it to me. I'm sure the curtain demon saw them too. That's why he's been smiling at me like that.
One night, Grandma’s mother came to her in a dream to reveal her final resting place to her daughter. She took her hand and led her to the headstone in the cemetery grass.
One of Dorothy's later messages says, "Wayne, this is ridiculous. Answer the god damned phone, alright? Jasmine says she can smell my place from the first floor. I'd be terrified you're dead and call the cops, but she says she knows you're there because she can hear you yelling at video games. Why don’t you answer the door when she knocks? Wayne, you have to call me, honey. Please. Oh, and if Mary moves the paintings, don't worry about it, she does that all the time. She’s one of the more mischievous ghosts there."
One of my favorite things to do when I'm Skyrat is to locate a person hanging from a building and save them. People end up hanging from ledges for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, they nearly fall from their window washing platform. Other times, they fall out of a window. Others are not so easily explained, but apparently Skyrat is oft-times needed to rescue clumsy people who enjoy the view from the roof.
Going about the day to day Rat stuff is fun as hell too. See, if you just spend some time roof jumping in the neighborhood of the Federal Building, you'll find trouble popping up all of the time. Mostly, when you chase after the trouble, you just have to duke it out with some thugs, trash you recognize from Combat Tours, yelling things like, "Tonight I make my name!" or "Only cowards wear masks!" They're always way easier than the Combat Tours, so these aren't too much fun.
What's fun is rescuing someone from a high up ledge, and then taking them on a crazy roof hopping spree across the peaks of the city’s skyline while they scream in fear, diving from the Empirical Building and watching the traffic getting bigger.
The way our house was situated, was you walked in through the living room, and the kitchen would be off to your right. A hallway ran down from your left, and that's where our rooms were. My mother always tucked me in so that I faced away from my bedroom door. If I had faced my door, I would have been able to see through it to the couch in the living room. One morning, she found me tucked in perfectly, facing the couch.
You should know that I told her it was because an old man came, tucked me in on the other side of the bed, sat on the couch, and told me a war story.
Desperately trying to stop or hide the bleeding, I wrapped my bleeding arms up in the best thing I could find. White dress shirts. For some reason, all of my clothes were white, my dresser full of white shirts, pants, everything. I looked out of the window to see who was visiting me, and the parking lot was fucking full. People were still coming, and I knew them all. Every god damned person I knew was there.
I am sitting in a field, next to two aqua-green porta potties on an awkward slope. There are trees in the distance all around. I am afraid. “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight,” I remember thinking.
From inside one of the porta potties, Bruce says, "Wayne, there's no fucking toilet paper in here, can you believe this?" He was laughing, though.
The best idea, I thought, was to push it over. I walked around behind it, and said, "Bruce?"
He said, "Get in that other porta potty and get me some paper, man."
So I pushed it over, onto the door.
I sat down and admired the mess. After I had breath, I said, "Bruce, I'm sorry," but there was no answer. I'm not sure if it was because his neck was broke or because he had drowned.
I thought about Sally a lot. I wanted to see Jasmine again. Mostly, I thought about moving in with my parents. Being homeless. Trying not to step in the cat shit, as the cat avoided its own litter box like it avoided the guest room.
All of my CDs, books, and movies were in the guest room, but I didn't care about anything but the old Daniel Dooley EP I had found while packing, some solo project he had released after Meat Curtain broke up. I listened to it over and over again every night, lying awake, considering Terry's mushrooms.
I wanted something new, but Dorothy had brought all of her CDs with her in books. Her bookshelves were lined with social science books and romance novels. She had movies like "14 Going On Forty," “Fireworks Day," and an assortment of Matthew Ferry vehicles.
I knew that I should have been taking her advice, spending my alone time writing, but the things I wanted to write down were too terrible to share.
“They were the worst kind/ when I was a kid / (wrong side of the map)/ traded with traitors/ made war with our neighbors/ (wrong side of the map)/ they were the drunk ones/ they saved all their shells / for weekday vacations/ so we could raise hell”
-- Daniel Dooley
One of Bruce's later messages says, "Wayne, so what's the deal, man? I'm hearing strange shit from Dorothy and she's a little freaked out about you. Wayne. Don't make me come over there."
Grandma woke up from the dream of her mother and wasted no time going back home to find her grave. And there it was, right where she said it was going to be.
The sitting was weird, but I could deal with that, of course, but I could see past that barn, and I didn't like what I saw, my new memories there, but they were old. The bed was expanding and retracting, alive, breathing. It tickled me, I guess. I have a stupid, high pitched laugh, and it's no wonder Jasmine hates me, thinks I'm so strange.
"Sally, are you there?"
I can't tell if it's moving or fucking with me. I tell it, Stop fucking with me. Did i say that out loud? How did the shards get in here? Did you follow me? The bed breathes so slow, it must be sleeping, with my ear on its ear; I can almost hear its heart. I sing it a little jingle and tell it all about tiger milk, old times.
"Who lives here? What's your name?"
He's not such a bad guy once you get to know him.
"The world is an empty sky/ The lotus does not adhere to water/ Our minds/ Surpassing that in purity/ We bow in veneration to thee/ Most Exalted One"
-- Daniel Dooley
If someone gets out of control on the roads of Green City, you chase them down and bash in the hood of their car until it breaks down. It's pretty hilarious when they get out and cry or yell at you, but what are they going to do?
Sometimes you find a broken down ambulance, some poor victim inside who needs to get to the hospital. They carry the burden of a timer. Still, this is pretty easy, and gets you life once you've dropped them off with a nurse at the hospital.
And then I'm off to climb the Empirical Building again. Skyrat complains about needing to turn in his homework at school, about how he has to go to his job at the bike courier’s office, but I ignore his bitching. Going to Green City High School meant Berserker.
Another story like the one about Grandma, is the one about my Uncle Wayne, my mom’s brother. The morning he died, Mom said she woke up early because she felt like something was wrong. She was sitting at the kitchen table, having her first cup of coffee, when he came through the door, greeting our dog and petting him. Uncle Wayne told Mom that he had died last night. He had been sick for a long time and was sorry for not having told her. He loved her and had to go now.
Twenty minutes after he’d gone, when the phone rang, Mom already knew that Wayne’s liver had ruptured in the middle of the night while he slept next to Uncle Jerry.
One of my Dad's messages says, "Wayne, did you know they are making a new Nevada Smith movie? Did you watch the Chuck Tulip interview with Lennon Fjord that I told you about? Wayne? It was pretty good, and he said they finally have the script for the next movie. It's like, the third draft or something. Anyways, I knew you liked all of that Joseph Campbell Heroe’s Journey stuff, and I thought you would have watched the Lennon Fjord one the other night. Or was that Bill Moyers?” His drunken tongue and teeth were an obstacle course. "You remember when 'The Final Crusade' came out? I made your mother promise me she wouldn't tell you we were going to see it, but she did, at the goddamn restaurant." In the background, Mom yelled at him for saying "God Damn." He cursed her and continued, "No, she told you before the restaurant; you told me you knew at the restaurant. You remember seeing that movie? We must have gone and seen it four more times after that, remember? Wayne? I love you. Call me. Call your mom."
Mom told everyone about my nightly visits from the ghostly storyteller, how I repeated stories about Normandy Beach and the time he accidentally sat on a landmine. Mom’s sister was terrified for me. When Aunt Junie had lived in Ohio, she lived in a house where a young man’s ghost would sometimes be found hanging out in the kitchen. They dealt with it until one day, upon returning from the bathroom, she found him feeding the baby in his high chair.
It was obvious that I wasn't making this shit up. How else would I know about the SS and Panzers? I was only three.
Mom finally stayed up one night to see for herself. Dad had fallen asleep. She heard me speak and move around. She heard a man’s voice, deep and low. At her door, she could smell the pipe smoke. From the hall, she saw him sitting on the couch, just as I said he would be. Then he wasn't. I cried and was angry with her for scaring him off.
He visited me almost every night for as long as we lived in that apartment, maybe a year.
"Just let me be/ is all I can utter/ when what I posses/ isn’t enough to get me from my nest / a yellowjacket buzzed her room / she admonishes me/ why be something other/ and not as human as me/ as so many bumbles/ as so many wasps/ as so many honeys/ who sting at great cost/ like the wings of that yellow jacket/ who needs not a map/ if we are not human/ we're just as those bees"
-- Daniel Dooley
Sleep. Sleep. Don't laugh, useless. Sleep. It should be over soon, buddy. It's pretty much the same either way, so I leave them open, to watch it crawl. It's funny because my hands look the same on either side. Sleep, stupid. The black spots are everywhere. I hate you.
Everyone I had ever known was in my home, visiting with my mother. There were my brothers with my Preacher from when I was teaching Sunday School. My morbidly obese aunt. My cousin Chad and his Mom and Sister. VD. Annie. Her mom. Chan Marshall. My loud uncle. My skinhead cousin. Bruce. Dorothy. Jason. Dale. Jasmine. Terry. Fucking everyone I've ever known, man.
The blood wasn't stopping, but the worst part was the shame. I was so ashamed, man, I can't even tell you.
This is where it gets funny. Are you ready for this? I mingled and hugged everyone with those red soaked white shirts tied to my forearms, leaking life onto the floor and Grandma's Sunday Best. And no one noticed. Not a god damned one of them noticed.
At Wayne's funeral, Grandma sat with his dead hand in her lap. She said, "Didn't they do a wonderful job?" I wanted to say no. She said, "Can I tell you something? You can't tell your mother or anyone else, Wayne, they already think I'm crazy. The morning he died, I woke up, and I knew, Wayne. I simply knew that something was wrong. I hurt so bad I could barely make it to sit at my spot at the kitchen table. Usually I make coffee, but my back hurt so badly that morning I could barely walk, I tell you. I hurt so bad...
“And here walks in Wayne, petting the dog, telling me goodbye, that he had died, saying that he was sorry he hadn't told me how sick he was.”
One of Bruce's last messages says, "She's in lots of books, Wayne, I saw it at the library, lots of pictures, but that's not what bothers me. What bothers me is that she is coming to you in your dreams. She's bringing it with her, Wayne, and you have to use what you see. Do you hear me? Call me back."
I'm not sure what time it was, but it must have been late afternoon. I was on Dorothy's bed and could feel the Ouija board under my back, the cursor under my leg. I tried to move. I wasn't alone in the room. Scream, useless, but I didn't. I tried to breathe, tried my fingers. What if I stopped breathing? She was standing to the right of the bed, that's all I knew. Sally. The hag. A vampire. The curtain demon. Berserker. I fought against the inevitable, the climb on my chest, the suffocation.
The touch on my forearm was warm. I came awake with a scream, flipped left and flopped off of Dorothy’s bed and onto the floor. She giggled and put her hand to her mouth. Her hair flopped into her eyes and she brushed it away. She must have been eleven or twelve. She said, "I'm Sally, what's your name?" and started to come around the bed. I lost sight of her for a moment, and she was gone.
Some switch in my brain was flipped. My tour of duty as an embattled house sitter was coming to a close. Dorothy would be home in two days. I dumped the cat box into the garbage bag and went on a fecal treasure hunt. I set to quiet work, picking up the bottles, sweeping up the ashes, dumping the juice bottles full of piss next to the couch in the toilet. The plan was to deep clean from room to room, finish by the end of the day, and write down my old family ghost stories and nightmares. I had to write something before Dorothy came home.
Finishing the living room found me hungry, so I doctored up some tomato soup with garlic powder and parmesan cheese and watched TV. When the soup had been devoured, I decided to play Tales of the Skyrat. I roof hopped across the rooftops to Green City High School to set the story mode into motion, pitting me once again against Berserker.
I avoided his attacks and chased him until he relented for battle. The pattern was easy. I knew when to attack.
I saved my game and picked up my dishes. When I turned the kitchen faucet off, I could hear the bathroom faucet come on. I turned it off and considered the portrait of the dreadlocked man in the bathroom, tuning his guitar on the porch swing, where Bruce's masterpiece had hung before Mary moved it.
I thought that I should put the paintings back.
I stared at Dorothy’s nude portrait above her bed. Next to her bed, on the nightstand next to the phone with the ringer off. The answering machine light blinked incessantly. The display blinked the red word, "FULL."
Most of the calls were Mom, Dad, and Dorothy. Mostly Dorothy. She filled me in on the goings ons of long lectures and high dollar sales of paintings. She said, "Wayne, what if I can quit my job and live off of selling Bruce's paintings? There’s a real hunger for outsider art." I skipped through most of the messages.
One of my mom's messages from the middle of the pile said, "Wayne, I wanted to tell you something before you hung up, but your Dad just hung up without giving me the phone. Listen, Wayne, the police called. They're looking for Terry." There was a message from Sergeant Grayson too, telling me that if I had any information about Terry's whereabouts, it would be in my best interest to call him. Mom said, "He's wanted for breaking into a family's home while they were sleeping and robbing them, Wayne. He told his mom he's innocent, but... that boy... And, Wayne, I also wanted to tell you that it's not your Sally’s ghost there, it's a little girl."
Bruce's messages began as reports on school and life. He claimed that he was almost rich from selling paintings. Then they were worried, and then they became angry and random, crazy even, telling me hair-brained conspiracy theories, telling me about a skull-faced time traveler named Gabriella, theorizing about the nature of my dreams. He questioned Dorothy's loyalty to him.
His last message said, "It's time, Wayne. You can’t stop it. But you’ll help"
I couldn't imagine Terry in an armed robbery in the home of a sleeping family, but it didn’t matter. He was going to jail if he was caught. I kind of hoped I would never hear from him again.
When he and Frank were visiting, Terry would not let us take the mushrooms he had brought with him in his backpack. “Taking mushrooms is all about being in a safe environment if you want to have a good trip,” he said, "Not in this place, Wayne," clutching the bible to his bare chest.
I said, "Whatever's going on here, I don't think it can hurt us. Dorothy said it wouldn't."
"Yeah, but who trusts a Succubus? I don’t want to flip that switch here, no thanks," said Frank. He had had a bad trip himself recently, involving a lengthy conversation with a dancing house about suicide. Myself, I had enjoyed my last experience with psychedelic drugs and found it healing and creatively inspiring. I liked the way the experience ebbed and flowed and seemed to fracture reality like glass.
We were living in that haunted apartment on 10th street, the one where that drill up on that shelf had come on by itself, the rocking chair rocked on it's own in the kitchen, and the lamp in my parent's room would come on randomly, even when it wasn't plugged in. My Aunt was over with her two little kids. We were at the kitchen table. Her boy, Chad, was four. He was standing on the brink of the dark void that was the living room, oblivious to us.
He spoke to someone in there.
Aunt Rose said, "Who are you talking to, Chad?" but he didn't answer.
After a moment, he screamed and ran to his mother, sobbing violently, terrified. We were all terrified, even after Mom and Aunt Rose walked around and turned all the lights on for us. There was no one else in the house. The deadbolts were locked in place. It was just us. We were alone but not alone.
Chad never talked about it. He couldn’t.
"Well before sunrise/ you broke free of your dream/ to look down on my nest/ where I slept on the floor/ an unwelcome guest / you're as that yellowjacket/ you're as that black wasp/ you’re a honey making hive/ trade the stingers for eyes/ for the love of a queen/ who’s never known love/ if we can’t be human/ no wonder we’re buzzed"
-- Daniel Dooley
I had one day left. The living room remained the only clean room of the house, despite my dishes and socks. It was four thirty when I started, just before the knock at the door. I hoped it was Jasmine, but instead, in the hall, lying on the unfinished hardwood floor, was Bruce, soaked in sweat, gasping, trying to catch his breath. He had shaved his head and face completely. He was in camouflage shorts, the sweat making his Meat Curtain tour t-shirt cling to his ribs. He looked himself over, then looked back to me with a knowing smile, saying, "Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds." His sunglasses hid his eyes. There were cuts and dried blood on his head. The bottle of scotch was but a third of what it once was. “Break down a box, Wayne. Let me show you how sledding is done.”
“Oh, to live and breathe/ With death our dream/ Oh, to live and breathe/ With death our dream”
-- Daniel Dooley
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