Skin Girl

Drumbeat batters breeze bare-knuckled. Bloody, if it could. Tut-tut-tut transforms the atmosphere into something tormented. Tortured. Just a sliver shy of a scream.

I sway to the sound, skin soaking in its scathe. Absorbing the maim and claim. The tug and tear.

In the thick of the crowd, illuminated by a mix of fire and faint moonlight, a figure fights the drum’s beating. Twists sharp turns to thwart possession. To prevail. A losing game.

Once lured in, that’s it.

Other figures clap, pound flesh till the night seems alive with its own rhythmic pulse, thrumming steadily through the battered air. A grunted chant rumbles in time.

Somewhere, deep in the wood surround, a wolf howls. Tears at night’s skin. A territorial call if I’ve ever heard one. A victorious brag. I grip the skin I’m in. Tame growl into grumbling chant. Return sight to the light bathing those gathered in shades of dark red.

The dancer nearest flame, so deeply red they’re shadow on smoke, throws back their head–theirs and the bear skull that swallows it whole. An echoing, bellicose bellow–growl–silences both flesh and drum beat.

Another deep sound, the wolf.

A last, me.

For now.

Closely, I watch the dancer shed the bear skull. Slide claws as long as fingers from their hands. Keep the grizzled pelt wrapped ’round their wide shoulders, though. For warmth, maybe. The skin in place ’round their meaty waist.

Two figures donning wolf skulls and matching hides separate from the crowd as the lone bear dancer returns to it.

Beats begin their battering blows once more. Less heavy. More lean. Like wolf meat. Night’s pulse picks up in a low thrum, a lower hum. Faintest scream.

I track the bear dancer as they cut through the crowd, one toothy smile at a time. A short laugh or two. My rhythm mirrors theirs. Overtakes it. Sleek. Light. A slow skulk. Steady hunt.

We meet where the edge of the crowd kisses forest fathoms.

Bear Dancer slashes a charming smile across their face, distinctive jaw jutting upward with its self-assured slant as if to display the many scars crisscrossing sensitive skin like trophies. One rather deep cut is still raw. Fresh. I curl my fist.

It’s him.

A grin of my own begins to stretch flesh. Tempt tearing. Bear dancer’s widens in return. Devours his face.

“Hello,” he steps into my sway. “Like tonight?” I nod, grin sharp enough to put Bear Dancer to shame.

“You dance good.” Another growl tamed into something softer. “It’s striking,” I motion to the pelt on his back. “your form.”

“Yes.” He preens, fingering the fur. I swallow fury. “A lucky catch, bear. Usually, they keep to their caves.”

“Ah?” I drag him back to me. “Where’d you get the bear then?”

“Clearing by Slim River.” His voice is proud. “Mama and cub hunting. Hare, probably. I got Mama first in the side with my spear. When she charged, I got her in the head with my handy ax. She clawed, though.” He taps his scarred chin. “A fighter.”

Huntress.” I correct.

“Yes.” Bear Dancer nods, looking grave. “Very fierce. The others threw many spears till she went down. The cub though,” Bear Dancer’s grin returns. “was easy. Little fella. A club to the head.” Bear Dancer swings his arm past my face. “Dead.”

“Dead.” I repeat, dead, stepping back into forest, spiny nettles brushing bare skin. Swirl my hips. Bear dancer follows. “Poor boy.”

“There were two.” He leans close as if revealing a secret. “Cubs. Two of ’em. Always with Mama but not this time. Very odd.” He quirks his head. “Bears don’t usually keep more than one. Too hard to feed. Keep only the strong one…. Wonder where the runt is? The little fella cried out after he was hit. Almost like a scream. Maybe–”

She heard.” I finish with too much gnash. “The sister?” Bear dancer gives me a confused look and I reach for his hands–the ones that were wearing Mama bear’s claws–settling them on my waist.

“Yes.” Bear dancer tightens his hold on me. I lead us further behind branches. Beyond the fire light’s creeping reach. “You know the story?” Now, I quirk my head. Take another backward step. “About the sister cub. That she’s one of us. Child lost from the tribe long ago. Found by bears. Clothed in their skin.”

“I hadn’t heard.” Another step. So close.

“Not from ’round here?” Bear Dancer asks. “Was wondering…. You look familiar but can’t place face.”

Finally. Trees give way to open space. A clearing. Nearby, a watery babble replaces drum beats. Flesh beats. Moonlight overtakes flickering flame.

“It’s not my usual.” I brush Bear Dancer’s hands off me and he tilts his chin. That fresh cut. Shiny red beneath the moon. I flex my fingers. Feel nails sharpen. “Face.”

A swipe of my claw to the head and Bear Dancer is down. For brother.

I’m on him before he knows what hit him, my lithe body now heavier. My skin, fur. Much better. Weight settles on my shoulders–my skull no prop large enough to swallow a head whole. Bear Dancer’s. I stare into his wide eyes, grizzly reflection in their glisten. I can’t smile anymore so a snarl will have to do. Recognize me now?

“S-s-skin-n-w-w-wwalk-ker-r.” He accuses.

No, a growl like a laugh rumbles in my cavernous chest. I told you. Huntress. 

A claw finds purchase in the mark Mama carved so I’d know and tugs. Jaw gone before Bear Dancer can scream. Then, claws like little spears and teeth like ax blades find flesh. Tear. Bite bone, too, creating their own beat, own chant. Rhythm.

And, when the song is done, I toss my head back. ScreamTear the night in two. It’s no victory screech. No brag. Nothing celebatory. It’s a warning. An announcement.

I’m here.

I’m coming.

I’m hungry.

The battle is mine.

****

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*Side note: those last words are coincidentally my first thoughts in the morning…. Weird. ^.^

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Ghost Girl

All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.

~ Edgar Allen Poe

Mama went in her sleep.

How she wanted. How she dreamed.

Death is an illusion. An imagined end. Mama rasped toward her own foreseeable ending, breaths short and shallow. We don’t live here. We live inside. When you dream, my little ghost, look for me. I will be there.

So I did.

When Mama moved on from here, I searched–inside. Reached into the recesses. Haunted my hollow spaces, hoping for a familiar specter. A lingering trace, no trick of longing.

What I found, though, was smoke and mirrors, fogged glass stretching for as far as the eye can fathom. A maze of murky reflections and, wailing through it like a willowy wind-chime in a gale, Mama’s voice, beckoning.

I’m lost, little ghost. A hazy figure in the fog. I reach for it till fingertips kiss frigid glass. Help me find my way. Cold stings skin. Just a smudgePlease. It hurts.

Mama wasn’t a beggar. A bargainer, yes, but never desperate. If she ever appeared as such, it was an act. A performance. A scheme. Artifice. Those smoke and mirrors.

See, in the waking realm, Mama was a magician. I, her faithful assistant. Mama lowered the curtain and I disappeared. She held the saw and I split in two shards.

Defying death, Mama would tell the evening’s adoring audience, her top-hat tipped to stymie applause. is child’s play. A dream forgotten upon waking. A little ghost, her hand on my shoulder, proud. of who you were. If asked nicely, they’ll return. Show you how to remember. How to escape.

Please. Mama calls now, from deep within mirrored halls. Come.

So, like a faithful assistant, I do. I split in two.

I follow the sound of Mama’s imploring cries, her delighted giggles when I hit a dead-end. Hunt the hush of footfalls, discordant echoes off emptiness. Raindrops tap-tap-tapping the glass in out-of-tandem staccato. Pitter-patter-pat. Like a taunt.

Mean.

Hiding was an acquired skill of mine–from Mama. Crouching in crawlspaces, tucking limber limbs from suspicious, searching sight. Mama taught me all I knew. Every trick…

Or, so I thought.

Suddenly, a shimmer through the fog–the sparkly band ’round Mama’s trusty top-hat. I give chase. Pat, pat, pat–around sharp corners, down splintering corridors, a tinkling of… bells? in my ears. Maybe wind whistling through chimes….?

A silvery glint twists left. I clip my shoulder veering after it. Hear an explosion of clinks and of tinkling–feel a tingling run up my arm. Realization dawns. It’s glass. The sound is glass. Broken bits and pieces flinging through the air.

The mirrors are shattering.

I pick up my pace. Ignore the jagged fragments gnawing at my heels, biting into the tender flesh. This is not the end. Mama promised. There isn’t one. Not in my dreams.

At last, the top-hat is in reach. I thrust out a numb arm. Snag the hat by its brim. Tug it close for safe-keeping to my chest.

Immediately, silence falls.

Across the void to me. Then, the quiet stretches from where I stand, top-hat in hand, to the lone mirror before me. For once, the glass isn’t fogged, my reflection only a vague impression. No, now, when I look in the mirror, I find Mama.

She stares at me, a smile slashed from ear to ear. Her hand is outstretched and, after a measured moment, I move forward to meet her.

Fingertips caress glass, warmth seemingly radiating from within. Mama’s….my eyes glance from my recently captured prize back to my face. Put it on, they suggest. Then, little ghost, you’ll remember.

So, ever-faithful, I raise Mama’s glimmering top-hat to my head.

A perfect fit. I tip the brim.

As if in approval, Mama nods. My breath hitches. In my ears, a ringing–no, a pounding. InsideMama said. I will be there. I fall to my knees. Mama does the same.

Defying death is…. a little ghost of who you were. My hand brushes a shard, fingers its cracks, its poignancies. My reflection begins to tear. They’ll… show you how to escape.

“Little ghost… Little ghost… Little ghost…” Mama reclaims my fracturing focus, her grin splitting–sawing–her in two. It’s just the crack. “Are you there?”

“No,” Slowly, back and forth, I shake my head. The fog has cleared. The curtain lifted. Dream dissipated. I clench the shard in my grip till it cuts. “I’m here.

I shatter.

****

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Living Dead Girl IV

Part I, Part II, Part III,

I’ve become accustomed to being watched.

Hollow, sightless eyes boring into me from beyond. Gaping gazes trying to swallow me up, their seeking ravenous for every last scrap. For anything that could fill the empty spaces. Make them a little less like windows without torches.

It’s ever-night where they are. Nana said one evening while I was studying the intricacies of incantation intonation at the table, her knobby knuckles knocking a suspiciously rhythmic beat against the window’s wooden sill. Cloudy and shadowed… Dark. So very dark. She paused then, considering before revealing, Like the inside of a sealed jar.

Pandora‘s? I remember asking, looking up from the large, dense tome laid before me. Myths and folklore were the only non-educational reads Nana allowed in the house.

Yes. Nana offered me a rare smile, resuming her rhythm. And, we’re their only company. Understand what that means, Thana? I did, then. Still do, sometimes.

Gotta keep the lights on.

Feeling observed, the sensation of it–goose-flesh and a vague, all-over tingling–is familiar. Constant. My companion. If not entirely welcome as a guest, accepted as a ward with nowhere else to go.

There is a difference, though, between what must be suffered in silent acceptance and what can stand not to be. A degree of tingling, more piercing than passively probing. Too weighty for any starving set of sightless sockets.

Not gluttonous enough for a pair of sockets filled fathomless like mine, either. 

 “Are you here to collect my soul, Reaper?” I don’t turn from the tombstone I stand before, despite the approach I can hear behind me. Steps soft for the weight of their owner’s gaze. “Or, just to stare?” Like you have been.

“Neither.” A low voice, strong but subdued. Quiet footfalls cease just short of being intrusive. “My business can wait, though, till yours is complete.” I don’t have to look to know the Reaper’s bowed their head–to match my position. I do anyway. Just a peek.

A slight glance reveals their scythe–nothing vague about its shape this close–similarly crooked in posture. Reverence may be the tool’s first lesson.

I return to my vigil.

Since I began working for Ms. Redding, once a week finds me facing off with her late husband–his grave, at this hour–a bundle of roses in hand. Gotta keep the lights on. Got to try.

Another moment of silence disturbed only by the hushed sounds of breathing and I lay my meager offering down. Then–a controlled breath–I face the Reaper standing a respectful distance away, finally able to observe them as I have been observed these past few nights. (Getting a good look at a Reaper is usually a final act.)

They are tall–enough to be imposing if they desired–and clothed in black, a long cloak obscuring much of their person from view. What I can see is utilitarian–boots, pants with knees patched many-times-over tucked snug into them. The hilt of some secondary weapon juts outward from the hip. Can’t imagine why it’s needed. My focus wanders to the promise of the Reaper’s scythe. From point to heel, its blade must be longer than I am.

Lowering the hood of their cloak, the Reaper reveals themselves to be a young man with a head of hair less kept than his discipline would seem to allow. As if conscious of the fact, he runs his free hand through his shaggy mane, attempting unsuccessfully to smooth fly- aways. In the day’s fading light, his locks look almost like raven feathers–deep black but shiny, iridescent at the right angle. Like the feather braided in my hair.

He’s striking, yes, but he might easily have been any guy I crossed paths with on campus if it weren’t for the eyes–solid white. No pupils. No irises. Like freshly fallen snow without the glare. Barely a sheen of life to them.

A slow, measured blink and I wonder if he’s not entirely blind? Was the added sense of tingling just my imagination? The shiver, my paranoia…?

“I can see.” The Reaper responds to my unvoiced suspicions, startling me out of what I belatedly realize is a lengthy once-over. “More than you I believe, Necromancer.” It is purely a statement of fact, no underlying haughtiness to it. Still.

“Sure acute vision is handy.” Again, my sight cuts to the scythe. “For aim.”

Another slow, measured blink and then, “Are you finished with your business?” He tosses a blank yet decidedly pointed glance at the solitary white bloom peeking out from its covert hiding place in my coat. A lily. Nana’s favourite. None of this Reaper’s concern.

“Done enough.” I stuff one hand in a pocket, use the other to brush through my ponytail, find the dark feather in the silvery mix. “Onto what business you’ve with me, Reaper.”

“Hayden.” I lift a disbelieving brow. “I know who you are Thana, acting Necromancer of Deadwood territory since the former….moved on. It’s only fair you know who I am.”

“You don’t know me.” I clench the fist in my pocket. Remember Nana’s lily resting in the other and what happened to the similarly innocent hydrangeas earlier at the shoppe. To the dahlias Hel took a liking to. Breathe, Thana. “I’m no acting Necromancer.” I relax my fist, stifling the wince as blood flow returns. “That would require official recognition of my being one at all.”

“By the Circle.” The Reaper–Hayden, I correct–clarifies. “They came to see you today,” A hesitant pause, almost trepid.  “…much to your displeasure.”

“In the living world, following someone without their knowledge and/or permission is called stalking.” Again, I crook a brow. “Know that?”

“I thought I’d misjudged you.” He points to his feather hanging in my hair. “And, you were selling out the ghost.”

“I’d have to be on a side to do that.”

“And, the Circle doesn’t want you on theirs?”

“They’ve made Their preferences abundantly clear.” Gar’s not you echoes in my ears, like a throbbing pulse. I shake my head, look Hayden dead in his dead eyes. “As I’m sure you heard.” From whatever shadows you crept within.

“I heard them ask you to be on the look-out for rogue Reapers.”

“Yeah,” I tilt my head. “know any?”

That earns me a faint smirk, a corner sharpened so minutely to a point it’s almost missed before it smooths back into a mask of impassivity.

“Look,” I start after a length of comfortable silence. “I don’t want any trouble. So, if you want to go now, I’ll forget I ever saw you. If not… Well, again, I don’t want trouble.”

“We’ve dead unaccounted for.” Hayden takes a step forward, still not intrusive. Just toeing the line. “It’s why we’re out of sorts. We’re searching.

“You think you’ll find some hiding here?” I question, slightly taken aback–both by his directness and the possibility of an accusation. “That’d violate our agreements.” Between Reapers and Necromancers. No playing keepsies with the spirits. It disturbs the order. Tips the scales off kilter.

“You misunderstand.” Hayden shakes his head, feathery locks hanging in his face. “We’ve dead coming to us for whom no record or their reaping exists.” Uncomprehending, I blink at him. “If you haven’t been reaped, you haven’t died.”

Oh.

Too many. Not too few.

“So… you’ve got dead-but-not-dead on your hands?” I try to piece together what I’ve learned. “And, you’re not sure where they’re coming from? Or, more importantly, how they’re getting to you?”

Hayden nods, more shiny strands falling in his face.

“That sounds like trouble.” More than I want and certainly than I need. “And, not particularly my problem.” The so why are you telling me it like it is? goes without saying.

“It would help our search greatly is we could speak with one of these…. undead. But,” Hayden’s blank eyes find mine. “as you undoubtedly know, death doesn’t lend itself to discussion so much as it does to–”

Screaming.” I finish and Hayden bows his head. From somewhere above us, a crow caws. “You need someone who can summon the dead from your world to mine.” A Necromancer.

“Yes.”

“Lots of trouble.” I remove my hand from my coat so I can rub my now pounding temple. “That’s lots of trouble.”

“It’ll be worse than troublesome if this problem isn’t rectified soon. The veil between realms is already showing signs of stress.” Hayden raises his head, blank gaze imploring. “My kind are too proud and, admittedly, too wary to ask your Circle to interfere in these matters. But, you are not Circle, Thana.”

“And, you are not overly proud, Hayden?”

“My only pride is in my work.” Hayden’s fingers flex on the snath of his scythe. “It is my purpose. Something or someone playing it for a fool cannot be tolerated.”

“I’m not a Necromancer.” Not officially. “Or one’s apprentice.” Not anymore. “It’d be a punishable offense for me to perform a summoning. Harshly punishable. Today’s earlier guests would see to that. I could be stripped of this territory.” That’s belonged to Nana’s blood for longer than the Circle’s had any to its name. “Stripped of worse if I’m discovered.”

“Were the stakes not worth the risks, I would be not but a shadow on your horizon.” Hayden intones, as solemn as the scythe at his side. “The dead deserve better, Thana. Ends proper. You know that.”

I look away, undecided on whether or not blank eyes are preferable to hollow stares. Both want so much. 

One hand runs its fingers along a silky feather’s bristles. The other, along soft, white petals. So do I–want. Other sensations have become muted–to touch and sight.

It’s getting dark.

In the sky, the sun sags, fog appearing like manifested dream to drag it under. Soon, the screaming will start. Sockets will delineate themselves from night. From nightmare. Pair up to hunt. Scratch at the glass. Desperate.

Gotta keep the lights on.

They‘ll feel less alone, Thana. Nana told me, something that can’t be taught through any tome coloring her tone. Less abandoned if there’s a little light. You too.

“I know.” Hayden’s should-be soulless eyes meet mine, hopeful. Their sheen reminds me of the sparkle Nana’s starless set seemed to hold. “I’ll need some supplies. Time to prepare, too.”

“How long?” Is that a hint of impatience I detect?

“By all means, feel free to play that other card you’ve got up your cloak.” That seems to silence any further complaints. “No? Then, I‘ll need a day or two.” Mentally, I expand upon that grocery list I never got around to today. Unexpected company, what can you do? Thinking of…

“You wouldn’t happen to have a place where I can…work, would you?” I look at Hayden. “Somewhere secluded. Not too small. Preferably near hallowed ground.” In case.

“How big?” I can’t help but grin. That’s always the first question, Nana clucked her tongue. Though the answer should be obvious.

“Enough for a body.”

For his part, Hayden remains seemingly unfazed, contemplative, perhaps, but his features more neutral than mine must’ve been when the truth of the matter was made apparent to me. After a moment to think, I raise my eyebrows.

“I’ve a place in mind.” Hayden reveals, the white of his eyes taking on a crimson tint as dusk dies. “I take it blood and bone don’t bother you?”

Another grin I can’t devour.

“It’ll save me time,” My flesh begins to tingle, nearly hum as the last vestiges of my peace sink into dark surround me. A crow’s cry becomes the beginnings of a wail–for company. Mine. “not having to collect either myself.”

Shrieks settle in my ears. Empty sockets on my skin.

It’s going to be a long night.

Better light that torch.

****

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Can you guess who we’re going to meet next time?? I wonder…

If anyone has any interesting reads on necromancy or death deities or tarot, please feel free to share ^.^ I’m interested in incorporating as many as I can in this little series here…. Is that too much of a hint for who to expect next week….?? Guess we’ll find out!

Thanks as always for reading!

All my stories can be found under the Killing It tag ^.^

***Link to Tweet inspiring this piece***

(Yes, I drew the featured image and the other skull drawing in this post. The featured image is a piece I’m working on for a class. It’s done using charcoal. My fave~~)

 

 

Living Dead Girl III

Part I, Part II

Deadwood’s sole flower shoppe used to be Moses’ Roses–the liveliest place in town.

Then, Moses Redding passed away.

Peacefully in the night. I know because he came to our window, hollow-eyed and with a red, red bloom in hand. Nana put it in a vase on her nightstand, beside her citronella candle. It wilted by morning.

Cerese Redding, Moses’ wifewidow, came around next, a similar bloom–only slightly wilting–woven into her graying hair. She approached Nana and me in the grocery store, though. Not outside our window, gray as the strands streaking through her tresses. As the stones dotting out lawn. In a weary voice, she made a confession and a request.

“Everything I touch dies.” Ms. Redding explained. “And, I’ve been left a flower shoppe. You see my dilemma, yes?”

“Call that no-good son of yours back home.” Nana suggested. “He inherited his father’s green-thumb I do recall.”

“Aaron says he can’t come.” More like won’t. Horse’s ass. “It’s the middle of derby season.”

“Too bad.” Nana hummed, the sound not a bit sorry. Her eyes moved from Ms. Redding’s disgruntlement to the fading bloom tucked behind one ear to, lastly, the short list she held in her hand. She seemed to weigh what was written against the weight of our basket. We’re short some herbs, I think. Sage. Rosemary. Salt, too. Always.

Ms. Redding caught my eye.

“I was actually wondering if you were still looking for work, Thana.” Still…? I don’t remember looking in the first place. Before, I can say as much, Nana speaks up.

“That she is.” Nana ignores my betrayed look. Hands me the basket she’s apparently deemed less wanting than me. It’s heavy. “What did you have in mind?”

“Part-time.” Ms. Redding’s answer is immediate. “Just someone to tend the flowers. Keep the greenhouse clean–Green. Thana could stop by after class. Have Sundays off if she stopped in on Saturdays.”

“I’d like her home before dark.” Before the dead come out to play.

“Of course.” Ms. Redding agrees. “No one makes late-night flower runs.” Save your late- husband. I swallow a smirk.

“Then your worries can end.” Nana elbows me. “Right, Thana?” Her dark gaze dares me to defy her. Ms. Redding’s expectant, hopeful gaze to deny her.

“Right.” I sigh, letting the bulky basket in my grip finally drag me down.

“Oh, thank you so much, Thana!” Ms. Redding beams. “You won’t regret it, you’ll see! Oh, you’ll love the flowers….especially in the spring! Moses had the place lookin’ like a veritable paradise….”

“It’ll be good for you.” Nana nudges me as Ms. Redding disappears down an aisle. “To see the other side. How it lives. Might find you prefer it.” I won’t.

I did. I do.

In the flower shoppe–formally renamed Xanadu at my request–there is peace. Quiet unsettled only by the gentle but steady hum of the greenhouse’s generator. No screamsNo nails shrieking across glass. No Nana.

They stay away, the hollow-eyes, from the shoppe. Can’t or won’t go near the place. Near me when I’m inside, surrounded by the day’s vivid blooms. They’ll stare–as they ever–but they keep their distance. Like moths circling a zapper. A citronella candle. Not too close or they’ll fry.

When I arrive at Xanadu this morning, I find the shoppe already open, stained-glass door swung wide. I’m not that late, am I?

Hesitantly, I approach. Early hours are mine. Have been mine since I stopped attending classes last semester. No one ever keeps me company, not even Cerese. She used to, right after her husband….and then Nana…. But, not lately.

Besides, the shoppe doesn’t even officially open for another hour.

“Hello…?” I call, peeking around the shoppe door’s baby pink frame.

“Thana!” Cerese. The sound of her hobbling across the shoppe’s weathered mahogany floors summons me fully inside. The clubbed foot of a recently and reluctantly acquired cane stops me from proceeding further.

“You’re early, Cerese.” Why? I swat her cane out of my face. Cerese lowers it with a huff, revealing the answer to my unasked question in the process.

Two finely clothed figures–a man and a woman–stand by the register. The woman admires a dahlia that seems to be reaching for her, perhaps to offer itself as a compliment to her similarly hued ensemble. The man looks at nothing, clearly unimpressed with the decor.

“They were here at dawn.” Cerese huffs. “Banging on the door till I came downstairs and let ’em in. Relatives of yours?” She looks from the couple’s silvery locks to mine, from their dark, dark gazes to my own. “Didn’t think you had anyone else.”

“I don’t.” Cerese tilts her head–weighed down by its usual, half-wilting bloom–in confusion. “There was just Nana.” Always just Nana. I gesture to the couple. “I’ll take care of them. You can go back upstairs.”

Tsk. Tell your guests for future reference,” Cerese points sharply with her cane at a festive poster in one of the shoppe’s large, front windows. “we don’t open till 9.” With that, she hobbles up the scant steps half-hidden behind a recent–honestly, monstrous–delivery of hydrangea.

“Well,” The woman turns to me, releasing the dahlia from her attention. It flutters to the floorboards, dead. Sucked dry. “she was a delight.”

The man snorts, pale lips curling downwards with distaste.

“Frail thing’ll be another pair of empty-eyes outside your window in a year, Thana.” He says, then, crooks a toothy smirk. “If that.”

“What do you want?”

“Harsh.” An almost pout. Another dahlia picked for inspection. “How long has it been?”

“Not long enough, Hel.” I can’t help but snip.

“Very harsh, Thana.” Hel shakes her head, picks at a spiky petal. “And after all we’ve done for you?”

All you’ve done for me?” My voice seems to echo in the tiny room, bounce off innocuous blooms. Hope Cerese is back in bed by now. “Does that include you rejecting me from the Circle?”

Breathe, Thana. Think of the flowers.

“Not I.” Hel has the gall to look offended as she continues plucking spiky petals. “You know those things are decided by vote. Majority rules and all. It just didn’t rule in your favor last time ’round. Sucks, huh?”

I watch a falling petal disintegrate in mid-air–draw in a deep breath–before I respond.

“Leave.” A shakier exhale than I’d like. “Please, leave.”

But, we haven’t told you what we want yet.” Hel pauses in her plucking. “Well, we haven’t told you what the Circle wants yet.”

“I don’t care.” Just leave–me, Ms. Redding, the flowers–alone.

“That makes two of us.”

Three.” Gar growls from Hel’s side where he stands–scowling–sentry, kicking at reddish splinters with the steel toe of his boot, watching empty air devour petals with vague interest. They’re not enough. He’d tear my petals if he could get away with it. The possibility of a chance presenting itself is probably why he came. That, and his orders. 

The Circle denies you, not you It.

“Pardon,” Hel lets another fading petal meet its fate. “three.”

We stare at each other, all our fathomless eyes each their own black holes trying to suck the other into oblivion. Unfortunately outnumbered, I must relent first.

“Fine.” I bite. “What does the Circle want?” Not me.

“Not you.” Another toothy smirk slashes across Gar’s severe features and I fight not to flinch. He didn’t read your thoughts. Can’t. He’s just an expert on how to hurt. Like the rest of the Circle.

I clench my fist. Sidle closer to the monstrous hydrangeas. Their fragrance is suffocating. Breathe.

“Had any peculiar encounters with a Reaper, as of late?” Hel inquires, ignoring my discomfort. Selecting another poor dahlia for defrocking. “Maybe seen one skulking where it usually doesn’t?” A prickly pause. “Where it shouldn’t?” My graveyard.

I school my expression into one of intrigue before it can betray me or my thoughts again. A surreptitious glance confirms the inky feather in my hair out of sight, safely hidden behind one beastly bloom.

“Reports from the far reaches have been coming in,” Hel runs her nail along a spiky petal, searching for its base before slicing. “figured I’d visit the loneliest place I know to check their validity.”

“Sorry to disappoint.”

“We’re used to it.” Hel releases what’s left of the abused bloom in her grip. This one hits the floor with a faint thud. I can’t hide the flinch it summons. “The Circle asks you remain vigilant, nonetheless.”

“Can do.” For them when they can’t won’t for me. Of course.  Harder, I clench my fist. Feel neatly trimmed nail cut through skin.

Before the smell of blood can provoke another of Gar’s too-toothy smirks, I motion my uninvited guests towards Xanadu’s usually more-inviting door. They arrived so early, though, the welcome mat is still rolled up beside some ferns. Shame.

Hel inclines her head slightly my way, a silver strand of hair escaping from its place behind a pale ear. She makes to leave but stops in the midst of the action. Seems to ponder something then cut a glance from me to the bouquet she’s been pilfering pillaging from.

“On the house.” It was going in the trash anyway.

Hel grins. Gestures for Gar to grab her loot. He obeys with haste, clutching the sorry batch of flowers close as he follows on Hel’s heels. Good boy.

I receive a parting glare as he and Hel disappear out the door and into morning’s honey-thick fog. When I can no longer hear the patter of their steps, I finally unclench my fist, wincing only slightly as blood flow returns. Four half-moons weep rose-red.

Sighing, I walk around the register. Open the drawer where bandages are kept. It’s the only one that doesn’t screech when pulled from its home. Too many thorny stems, too little patience.

Skillfully, I wrap my palm in gauze. Concentrate on the task. Ignore the weight of the feather woven in my hair. Ignore the dying dahlia on the floor. More, the hydrangeas grey and wilting closer to the steps Ms. Redding enviously vanished up earlier. Their keens and knells, too close to the wails outside my window.

There are no monstrous flowers. Not here. I lied.

Only monstrous people.

A monstrous girl

and her victims.

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Till next time~~

***Really love the direction of this series.***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bone Girl .V

Flesh dreamed monstrous

beasts. Dreamed somber, faceless

vultures, abandoned

skeletons, splendid demons

of yesteryear, patient 

gargoyles.

Incredible beasts still

call, in the morning. But

only briefly, abandoning

scandalous actuality.

Tweet, tweet….

Ba-dump.

Mama bird was first a baby bird herself. A fledgling, picking at bones brought to the nest. Mama’s Mama bird was an excellent hunter. Proficient collector of Nature’s provisions. And, not a scrap ever went to waste.

Want not, baby bird. Mama’s Mama bird was ever-squawking. Nature always provides.

Mama’s Mama bird taught her everything she needed to know. How to search and skulk. To lure. Catch.

Then, how to use. How to prepare. Preserve. Get to the bone.

The wait, Mama bird tittered, thumbing a bony groove, makes it earned. You’ll understand soon. Good things come to those baby birds who wait. Savory things. 

Mama learned well how to wait. To be patient.

In dreams, she struck. Like the vultures she watched when Mama bird left the nest to stock up on reading materials.

Awake, she held her Mama bird’s bowl steady, the pound of the pestle harmonizing with another rhythmic beat in her young ears. She handed chips and fragments over for reading, performing her own in her head. Good thing Mama bird never touches me like she does the bone.

Blood older, she wove Mama bird’s ligaments for her, tight around the crone’s bony limb. Tighter still around her flabby neck.

Mama’s Mama bird was a good teacher. Good provider.

Too good, perhaps. Or….

Perhaps, Mama bird should’ve read her bone better.

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Mama provided.

***I know I wasn’t supposed to add text to this task. My bad. The poem I was able to piece together though reminded me of a pieced-together–er, well not anymore–character and I just had to write. Hope it doesn’t take away from anything. You can read the poem and the proceeding narrative as separate pieces if you prefer ^.^ Kudos to Stephanie as well!***

Bone Girl

When my blood was younger, I imagined I could soar. Like the condors that circled overhead. Sights set high, I’d roam through the marketplace. Fly barefoot down the city’s skeletal paths, unburdened and unbound, wind tangling knots in my hair–knots Mama would carefully unwind once night nose-dived. Then re-wind in the leather thong she kept wrapped snug ’round one bony wrist. Only, double.

Twice the blessings, baby bird. She explained when I squawked confusion. Nature never weaves mistakes. In hair or flesh. Nature provides only the truthA gift you’ll learn to embrace when you can.

Mama was a natural at spinning stories. Did it for a living. Ours. She was a fortune-teller. An augur. Soothsayer. Soothslayer, hissed some shadows as we passed. Mama only tightened her hold on my wiry wrist. Clenched her teeth in a sharp smile.

See, some divination dabblers read tea leaves. Or, palms.

Mama read bone.

Mostly bird. Sometimes not. Always ground with a pestle and mortar till only bite-size fragments remained.

Once, shadows echoing in my ears, I asked where it came from. The not bird. Unruffled, Mama set her pestle aside and leaned down. Beady eyes to mine. Smile close enough to cut. She cupped my face in her rickety grip, ran her knobby-knuckled fingers over the knife points of my cheek bones.

Nature provides, baby bird.

She released me and returned to her work. I brushed my fingertips over the edges Mama soothed. Seemed to size up. Thought about birds. About bird bones and their brittleness. Thought, as Mama added pressure to the pestle, about how the only difference between bird bones and not is the sound they make when crushed. Bird bones snap.

Mama crunched and crunched and crunched.

It was a courtesy, Mama explained later, to provide for our clients as Nature does. Drain the blood. Soak flesh from bone. Gather the pieces for assembling a new whole. She never quite told me where the courtesy was, though, in tying ligaments ’round the bony wrist clients couldn’t see. Where only could see, once I grew more into my own bones. Perhaps outgrew them as deeper and deeper aches seem to suggest these days.

Blood older, eyes changed, I saw our home full of many unexplained courtesies. Undocumented provisions. Truths that flew high above my head like the condors I used to run through the skeletal streets chasing. Foolish.

Vultures always lead to the same place.

My place is before a pestle and mortar. Bone in the bowl. Leather wrapped tight ’round one wrist with knotted blessings, ligaments tighter ’round the other with less-knotted truth. Mama never specified which side of her she was referring to….

At the table behind me, a client waiting. They shouldn’t be kept…waiting. Long. It’s rude. Discourteous.

“Just a moment.” I call over my shoulder, hand gripping the pestle.

“Take your time, child.” A withered voice. Brittle like bird bone and raspy like a requiem. “Hate for your Mama to curse my impatience from beyond.”

“Mama would never curse.” Tighten my grip. Add pressure. Stone meeting bone. “Only bless.” Crunch.

“May she rest in peace.” PiecesWith my free hand, I snatch a fly-away fragment. Smooth my fingertips along its jagged edges.

Nature provides, baby bird.

How right Mama was. Nature gave. Her me. Me her. And now, I lift the bowl of carefully ground bone before me, finger the fragile fragment still in my hand, I can return the favor.

****

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~Mama provides~

Speaking of….

Attribution

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***Check out the Killing It tag if you like more delightfully disturbing stories like this one ^.^***

Living Dead Girl II

Part I

Nights are always the worst. The loudest. Screams do not the sweetest of lullabies make. With time, though, I’ve found the most incessant sounds can become lulling. A buzzing hum, attracted to a torch burning low. Zzzz…. Zzzz…. The occasional sizzle of an Icarus acolyte.

Nana slept with a citronella candle on her night table, her ever-cracked window an invitation for all kinds of pests. Even in winter, the window remained a sliver shy of its sill. Wind wailed like a whistle through it. Nana whistled along as she lit her candle. As she lowered the match for me to blow out.

They don’t mean to keep us up, Nana said, tucking me in to bed. They’re just lost and scared. You’d cry too. You will. Trust me, ThanaIt’s better if you’ve got a light on when the tears come.

On a little hackneyed table in the back room, a citronella candle rests. Dust chokes the wick.

Silence c r e e p s as the sun rises…. well, at the very least, screaming settles into negligible staccato as the living world awakes.

Two beady, black eyes meet mine first thing. A blink. An inquisitive crook of its head, perhaps curious at meeting a pair of eyes darker than its own, and the bird takes off. Too small to be a crow. Perhaps a rook? Or, a magpie? Corvids have called these cemetery grounds home for almost as long as my ancestors have. Lately, the birds have been leaving gifts. Shiny, polished things. Buttons and charms. Detritus of life.

This morning, I find only an smooth, inky feather.

A big stretch dislodges the quilt I don’t recall tucking around my shoulders last night. It’s the silvery one with the threads like comet trails. Must’ve sparkled in the moonlight. I’m surprised the birds didn’t tear it apart.

I leave my feathery gift on the sill for now. The quilts need folding and the salt on the floor, sweeping. Me, feeding.

Mornings are quiet affairs, interrupted only by chirps here and there, accompanied always by a warm mug of herbal tea. Jasmine, today. The only sizzle that unsettles the air is the one that lets me know my omelette is ready to be flipped. Nana made the best omelettes, from eggs Ol’ Sid brought fresh from the farm twice a week.

Now Sid stares in my window twice a week, hollowed gaze like two, bulbous black eggs.

I eat around the burnt edges of my omelette. Mentally add a carton of eggs to the list. When breakfast is done, I clear the counter. Place my plate in the sink. Leave the pan I made my omelette in on the burner. I’ll have another for dinner. Sid keeps his distance when I do.

My fragrant tea comes with me back into the main room. Past a small white table with two matching chairs and a flower to boot. Past mattresses–junkyard and estate sale finds– for walls. A neat stack of quilts. A less neat stack of tomes. Then, another stack beside a tall bookshelf. An open window, glass pane half-cracked. All the way to the mirror by the door. A black shroud hides most of its surface from view. Beneath it, a low shelf, its crevices crowded with more books. Many with Greek titles. Some German, Italian. One in Chinese. All about the dead. Well… all about bringing them back.

I set my mug beside a cluster of half-melted candles and reach for the shroud. Tip-toes are taken to. The stool is by the bookshelf, tucked in between the two haphazard stacks on the floor. Late night reading. It’s why I lost track of the clock. Can’t see it, here, ticking beneath the mirror, from behind a crooked tower of crooked magic.

The silky shroud slips through my fingers. A hollowed gaze, oozing a deep red, meets mine. In the mirrored glass, I watch shadows, grey in this early hour, quickly solidify into form. Torso. Legs. Arms. Neck. Head. Smile. A dainty hand–holding a decidedly less dainty cleaver–raises in a wave.

“Good morning, Mary.” I say, as the rest of Mary’s ensemble appears–a hazy, gossamer shift splattered in shades of crimson and stockings to match.

“Is it?” Mary inquires, drifting nearer. A cloying, coppery scent overpowers the heady smell of jasmine. Tea, is also added to the list. Preferably something strong. Killer, even.

“As good as any.”

Now, Mary smiles a big smile, a slash of white across her grey face. Without eyes to meet, both corners of her grin seem to end in knife points. Incisions where dimples should sit.

I fiddle with my hair. Finally meet my own dark eyes in mirrored glass. Take stock of the darker blood vessels weighing them down.

“Sleep well, Thana?” Mary appears at my side, twirling her cleaver the way I twirl my hair. Both gleam silver.

“You should know.” I shake my head. Ignore my heavier and heavier gaze. Pull my hair back, slipping the black band ’round my wrist around it. A ponytail will do.

Mary laughs from her ruddy belly and I step back from the mirror. A hand without a cleaver but with red caked under its chewed-down fingernails reaches for me before I get far. I whirl on it. They shouldn’t touch. Nana’s voice in my ears. Mary knows better. Knows my rules. The rules, Nana corrects in my head.

Mary–”

“Your feather.” She cuts me off. Hesitantly, not taking my eyes from the ones Mary lacks, I run my fingers through my tail of hair. Towards the end, brush something thin and silky. My gift.

Not turning my back on Mary again, I walk to the window, still open. Sill empty. A faint breeze unsettles the curtains. Fog creeps across the lawn outside, nearly the same gloomy shade as the stones embedded halfway in green. Nearly the same grey as Mary. A deeper hue flutters across. Then another. Crows for sure. A raven, maybe.

Deep in the fog, on the cusp of where green almost completely vanishes, devoured, a dark form too big to be mistaken for a bird. Unmoving. A living shadow. Reaper. The long staff of a scythe juts outward, its bladed head only a vague impression from this distance. But I know it’s there. Have heard the sharp swish of it, echoing across night. Off stone.

Long ago, Necromancers and Reapers came to an understanding–a compromise. Mutual interests intact. Less mutual interests honoured to a point. It keeps us peaceful. The Underworld from chaos. Oft, we live close. Territories not shared but brushing each other. It’s good to have a Reaper on hand. In our line of work. ‘Case something won’t go south, as Nana would say. Did say.

This particular Reaper’s been a little too close for comfort, though. Almost pacing the boundary where our haunts kiss these past few nights. Now lingering as day wakes.

I think about the quilt wrapped ’round my shoulders this morning. My favourite. So shiny. Finger the feather in my hair again. So soft. Corvids have coarse coats. Like armor. They like shiny things. Like to tear off trophies for themselves.

“Thana?” I look at Mary in glass, dragging my hand from my hair, my mind from its thoughts. “The time.” She motions with her cleaver to the clock. I release a curse.

Quickly, I shut the window–deal with that later–and toe on my boots. Shrug on my jacket. Pat my pockets for my keys. Glance one last time at the mirror.

“I look good?”

“As good as you get.” Mary chimes. Then, so does the clock. Again, I curse.

“Stay out of trouble.” I call over my shoulder as I throw open the door.

“If you do the same.” A breathy, almost-whisper.

Before I can pull the door shut, a gust from within does it for me. Then, brass tumblers click into place. I lower my key.

I will. I’ll try.

No time to linger, I hurry away from what looks like your typical, negligible, cemetery grounds shed. Hurry away from the fog. Away from living shadows that have some reason to be leaving peace offerings for living dead girls.

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Decided to keep writing this. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living Dead Girl

Past Andromeda, the Milky Way. One arm of a downward spiral–there. Over an asteroid belt. A disparaged god of the Underworld. A sea god without a sea. Another god kicked on their rotund keester. Two hot heads and their harems. Another asteroid belt. Then brothers, HorrorTerror. A god of war. There. Past one lone sentry. Through a corroding atmosphere to blue. Vivid. To green. Alive. There.

Just past the lively green. Beyond less lively, uniform rows of grey, stone and marble etched in never-words –never who they were, never all they were. Never enough. A lone home, tall and still. Don’t want to disturb the neighbors. Sneak a peek through a crack in the curtains, see only dark.

Inside, mattresses are pressed to walls. Black curtains to glass–both window and mirror. Smoke still stains the air from hastily snuffed candles. Day collapsed into night faster than expected. Damn day-light savings saving who exactly? 

Within a ring of salt, a bundle of blankets–quilts, actually. Hand-made. Patchwork. Rough around the edges but holding true. The lump stirs. A pale foot, toenails lacquered an icy, chipping blue, emerges out from under a raggedy edge. Silver threads like comet trails weave themselves in between toes. Tangled, the foot cannot retreat back beneath the safety of its quilted fortress.

A groan. Resigned. Defeated. It echoes as loudly as it can in a room with padded walls. Silvery-blonde separates itself from silvery textile. Eyes deep as the dark space between stars appear next, eyebrows above them furrowed– in frustration, yes, but, also, with the distinct slant of fear. Speckled across the rest of the face is cosmic dust, freckles that fade outward from a nose crooked gently to the left.

With haste, a ghostly pale hands reaches for the unruly threads holding the foot hostage. Tears at empty air–another groan, wearier–before locating its target. This would be easier with a light. But the candles had to go. Light attracts them. Mosquitoes too.

Frantic fingers find frayed, ruthless wardens just when it no longer matters. Clueless moonlight filters into the otherwise darkened space through that overlooked crack in the curtains. With it, a breach in the salt circle is revealed. Obviously made by a struggling limb or two.

Blood younger, the quilted bundle may have jumped to re-seal the breach. Place every pesky grain back into place. Now, though, it knows better. Knows some boundaries, like those at the end of a beloved quilt, once torn, worn, cannot be repaired. No matter how many stars are wished upon.

Should’ve learned to sew. Like Nana told me to. Warned me it’d come in handy.

Warned me.

Now, at the window, a hollowed eye-socket peers in. Breeze–that should not have penetrated solid glass– ruffles the curtains. Blows them aside. The bundle shivers. Frost pricks at the corners of eyes now the darkest things in the room.

Outside, hollow gazes. They outnumber the stones. Swallow them whole.

Swallow me.

It’s an honour, I was told. Banshee wails, still faint hums, begin to rattle glass. Rattle bone. To see, is an honour. To be what I am is a gift. From the universe.

The bundle is shed. Salt kicked aside. A candle rolls into shadow, disappears from existence until a dull thud bounces off eardrums.

Towards the window, wails become unified. One entity. An ever-present scream. Muted in the waking hours. Blood-curdling now. A crack spiderwebs across glass. It will shatter. Soon. If I allow it.

What I was never told, my hands find the battered, vibrating window’s frame, was that there is more than one universe. A necromancer is weeping inside a universe. But, a universe also weeps inside a necromancer. Never stops. You can try to shut it out.

Or–an edge found, a hard shove, splinters fly–

you can let it in~

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Stars are not surrounded by darkness. They’re surrounded by emptiness.