Split Girl

See.” Auntie would hiss, breath-half mist-half piss–spit splattering across my face like soggy freckles. “Don’t you see?”

Spittle soaking deep into bone, I’d bob my neck up down. A metronome kicked on its side. But that was never enough.

My compliance meant nothing till it suffered. Till I suffered.

Till I looked.

“Can’t you see?” A banshee-screech that bounced off mirrored glass like my small skull in Auntie’s gargantuan grip. Bang. Bang. 

“I see.” My raspy exhale fogged the glass.

“See what?” Bang.

“I see a sister slayer.” Yours. “Mommy murderer. Blood traitor.” The worst kind of betrayer. The kind that bathed in their victim’s blood and cried out in wailing victory.

“What else?” Auntie pressed–my head harder into my fisheye-like reflection.

“I see,” I swallowed. Chewed the tip of my tongue. Bang. “a pretty dress.”

“And,” Auntie dragged the consanent across her crooked incisors.  “what do you say?”

“Thank you,” Bile slid down my throat. Spit settled on my face. “Auntie.”

I was released with a huff that coated me in another spray of slimy, grimey, salted spit. Tasted like Mommy‘s tears. Probably. I wouldn’t know. Won’t. I sagged into myself.

“Good boy.” I’m not.

Satisfied, Auntie would slink off and I would scramble back from smudgey glass. Smooth my hands down silk. With fingertips, find frills, find something like-comfort-but-not-quite in the edges.

I’m not.

What? Auntie’s spit simmered on my skin. My fists clenched frills flat.

Boy. Bang. Good. Bang.

I’m not.

****

Auntie comes to see that for herself. Eventually. She has no choice but to.

Not when my shoulders brush the height of hers. Not when my eyes meet hers on an upward climb. An ascent.

The few photos kept reveal Mommy had a good head above Auntie. My good head, now. The only good thing about me, according to Auntie.

Still, Auntie takes me to the mirror. Stands me before myself and demands–See.

See what you’ve done to your mother, boy. To me.  

Auntie reaches for my lengthy curls–for leverage–but the bang is already echoing in my ears. The spit already boiling fresh on my flesh–each drip of dribble like a teardrop at the corner of two lids kissing. I flutter.

Auntie is against the glass in a spin that twirls my skirt.

“What, bo–”

See.” It isn’t a hiss. Nor, an order. It’s the slightest, crunchy-squish of a hard-shut eye opening. Blossoming. Ricocheting ad infinitum off mine and Auntie’s super-imposed reflection.

“Wha–” Bang.

See.” Frills brush Auntie’s skin like eye lashes, gentle but coated black so they curl. “Can’t you see?”

Another bang and she does. She looks and–

“I see.” Of course, Auntie spits it–in our shared face. My glassy-eyed part of the reflection doesn’t relent. though. Not now.

What?” Bang. Red joins spit. “Auntie, what?”

“I see,” She huffs when struggling only intensifies red. “a sister slayer.” Mommy’s. I bob my head. Auntie’s lip curls sharp. “A Momma’s bo–” Bang. The mirror cracks.

Auntie gasps, splattering crimson in our splintered reflection. It’s splitting down the middle. Like a large eyelid.

“See what?” Like glass, my voice cracks. Auntie can’t stifle her snicker. Bang. Bang. Bang. She stops. “You see Mommy’s what?”

“–aughter.” Auntie spits between a newly chipped tooth and mouthful of shards. I crook a brow and she tries again, “Daugh…ter.”

“What else?” I roll her limp head till she’s staring straight at the split separating as it joins. “What else do you see?”

“Blood…” Her gurgle hides her reflection’s eye beneath a red coating. Again, a try. A cry. “blood…tr…blood-y….dr….ess….”

She slumps into herself like one lid folding down and I rise from her like the other lid sliding up.

“Thank you, Auntie.”

My fingers find wet frills, edges soaked in and dyed a colour they’ve always been afraid of. Blamed for. A colour I’ve not worn since my first and only–till now–victory.

What would Mommy say?

See?

I wipe the glass before my eyes till I peek through red. Split open and smiling. Fingertips brush the toothy slash.

Good girl. I nod.

I am.

****

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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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Dream Girl

“Let’s go to our happy place.” Mommy would say when Daddy’s voice began to hit a certain octave–somewhere between a beastly bellow and a rumbling growl. It bounced off bone. Broke bone–when a slur accompanied it. Sometimes when it didn’t.

Mommy told the nurses I was clumsy–a topsy, turvy tot falling head over teapot. Lost in my own little dream land. The nurses never looked as convinced as Mommy did.

Hospitals were frequent but transient haunts, us hollow-eyed phantasms in advance mourning for the identities we’d hastily shed once clear of the emergency room’s sliding glass–don’t catch your doppelgänger’s eyes–doors. Make-believe Mommy and dream-clumsy daughter, a match made to burn.

Mommy ignited first. Led by example.
Shot herself up with liquid fire then drew my bath like a matchstick drawn across its box. Asked me to jump into the flames. Pretend I was a molten mermaid. Hold my breath till it was true. I’ll help you, my dreamy girl. Help you dream.

I don’t recall who helped me out of the tub. Breathed for my little lungs until they realized they were not gills and magma burned going down. Woke me. Some neighbor, maybe.

Not Daddy.

No, he was out cold in his la-z-boy parked in front of the TV set, lost to whatever place existed behind his icy blues. Dream land or darkness. Happy places aren’t given, dreamy girl. They’re created.

“Whaddya wan’?” Daddy grunted when an ee-em-tee in midnight-blue finally nudged the bulky shoulder he was using as a drool rag. Then, when he was informed told Mommy injected enough heroin into her veins to burst into flames went sleepy-bye like she wanted and asked if he knew about her prescriptions–for dis-ah-sea-ation?–in the medicine cabinet why, he muttered, “Crazy bitch” and rolled over.

I was taken away for a while.

Poked and prodded at hospitals. Questioned in white-on-white offices by white-on-white docs. Tossed like a hot-potato from one home to the next till finally returning to Daddy.

“Ya look like yer ol’ lady.” He says when we see each other again. Takes a swig from the bottle in his hand. “Crazy as her too, I hear. Freakin’ out the fosters at e’ery turn.” Another swig. A head shake. “Ya go goddamn gaga in that bathroom like her and you’re gone, capiche?” I nod when it’s clear he’s waiting for it. “Good. Just had it remodeled.”

Only the tub was replaced, I discover.

Swapped for one with less dingy porcelain. Less attempted-murder-successful…

It’s a blank slate. A white page reflected in the mirror above the sink. Don’t stare at your doppelgänger. It’s what got me booted from the last foster home.

(There’s only you, the docs said.

Mommy never liked docs. Dreamless, unhappy types, she said.)

Once Daddy leaves for his nightly bar crawl, my evenings are spent lying in the tub, legs stretched till toes find the lip of the drain, arms crossed over my chest as if I were in a casket instead. Sometimes, I add water–up to my neck how Mommy preferred.

Usually not.

Just me and my dreams–Mommy brushing my hair back, her fingers twitching in staccato against my scalp…. Daddy dragging me by the hair, throwing me into the tub and locking the door…. Slurred shouts and muffled screams…. Me staring at my reflection, a captive companion…. Mommy lowering me into the water that last time, Let’s go… to a happy place….

It’s all fragments. Phantasmagoria. Lucid dreaming.

I will doze, though. Fully. Especially when there’s water. Warm and inviting, it lulls me. Sounds safe and familiar, its lapping at my skin whispered secrets. Nonsense babble reminiscent of Mommy’s bath-side chatter.

Tonight, I wade into an accidental slumber.

The tub was empty when I got in. Now, as I am jolted awake, water is chin-high and beginning to overflow, trickle down porcelain to uneven tile in trails that slowly creep towards the doorway Daddy looms in.

A door screeching on its hinges, slamming to a halt against drywall. That’s what woke me. Not dreamed screams.

Daddy stumbles forward, his steadying hand thrusting the door backwards again. Bang. The weight of the water soaking my clothes, my skin, finally hits. No going goddamned gaga in the bathroom.

A stream licks the toe of Daddy’s boot, darkening the leather. I shiver. The water is cold.

This is gaga.

“Whad di’ I tell ya, girl?” Daddy slurs, drifting closer. Bracing himself with his other hand on the edge of the sink. “Whad I goddamn warn ya?”

Daddy,” I scramble to my feet, fighting drag, knees knocking each other. So cold. “A pipe must’ve burst–”

“Not in ma new goddamn bath!” Daddy pounds his fist down on the sink, its echoing thud consuming this tiny space. “You’re as crazy as her!”

“No, Daddy!” One leg makes it out of the tub. A bare foot finds tile. So, so cold. “I was jus-t-t-t…” My teeth chatter. I’m too, too cold to think of a good excuse. “lying down. Like I said, a pipe has to have burs-t-t-t-”

Crazy!” Daddy careens towards me. A fist finds purchase in my hair–tugs. Hard.

 Out of the tub, I’m lifted the rest of the way then thrown. My hip clips the sink, my head, the mirrored glass above. Something cracks. Belatedly, I wonder what ever happened to the medicine cabinet? Then, the pain catches up to me and I can’t think of anything but.

It’s more of a burning, scalding sensation that begins at the crown of my head and works its way down, my face–the left side–my neck, my shoulder, hip–goddamn–all the way to my toes. Did I say I was a little chilly earlier? What I meant was so numb, so wholly freezing that I feel like I’m on fire. Roasting alive. Magma in my veins.

Let’s go, dreamy girl.

Something warm and thicker than water trickles into my eye–the left one, gazing dead into my double’s eyes. They’re red and slashed across the middle. Crazy. They look crazy. Below, a grin is also slashed.

To our happy place.

My double lifts a shaky hand. Traces a crack with its trembling finger as if searching for an opening. Success!–I guess. Her smile sharpens, shattering what glass remains with its pointiness. With her fist.

There’s only you.

There is. Only me. I push myself off the sink, ignore the sting in doing so. The crack and pop. Only my happy place. The one Daddy’s perched on the edge of, leaning temptingly over, trying to plug a dam that can’t be. Not now.

Water sheets across tile, pooling in dips and missing spots. Icy hot. I barely feel it. The step or two I take toward Daddy. Hardly registers. I feel nothing.

She drowned, you know. A nurse said to an ordely when they thought they were out of white-on-white earshot. The girl’s mother. Enough dope in her system to kill her but that’s not what did. Woman drowned. And, the girl… she was found in a bathtub. Unconscious but unharmed. Some water in her too but other than that…. Suspicious, ain’t it?

No.

Mommy wanted to go to a happy place so she did. Needed a little help getting there, maybe, but it’s what she wanted. What she deserved. Rest, finally.

Another step. I feel nothing but awake.

Mommy wanted to sleep. To dream. I never did. There were only nightmares when I shut my eyes. Screams swallowed by slurred shouts, breaking sounds till silence. Peaceful pain but pain nonetheless. Searing, red-hot pain.

There were no dreams. None. No happy places–till I made one.

Last step.

I close the distance between where I stand and where Daddy leans. He’s got one meaty hand jiggling the tub’s faucet back and forth, the other reaching down for the drain, water up to his shoulder.

“One thing, goddamn it.” He grumbles. “Asked ya not to do one goddamn thing. An’, how difficul’ was it?” A hard yank of the faucet’s knob. A slurred curse. “Back to the fosters’ with ya! Hell, the crazy house!” He shakes his head. “Whad di’ I e’er do to deserve this….?”

I widen my stance, place a steady foot on either side of Daddy’s bent legs. Flex my fists. Brush glass shards off the one.

Another none-too-gentle yank rips the shiny knob off its shinier faucet head. It hits porcelain with a sharp, poignant clank. Daddy begins to turn my way.

“Hope you’re happy–” I will be.

The rest of Daddy’s speech becomes garbled, half-sputtering half-ineffable disbelief. He’s not used to receiving this kind of help. Giving it but not getting it. But, I want to do for him like Mommy tried to do for me. Like I did for her. Daddy’s given so much, he deserves this.

A shiver runs down my spine. Blood scorches beneath my simmering skin.

Thrashing is easily calmed with a few swift meetings of bone and porcelain. There goes the finish. Nothing was ever said ’bout anyone else going gaga in the tub.

Mommy didn’t struggle. Breathed like the mermaid she wanted me to be.

“Don’t ya want to be happy, Daddy?” I push down until porcelain keeps me from going further. Thrashing lulls into twitching. “Don’t ya think ya deserve to be?”

Slowly, twitching ceases, fades into stillness entirely. My hold doesn’t loosen till the bubbles stop rising, though. Guess he did think so. No matter, he stopped fighting it.

I rise and back away from Daddy. When my hip finds the pointy edge of the sink again, I realize how sore I am and, also, that the water has stopped flowing. There’s only painful silence. Reddened eyes glance at Daddy in the happy place. Peaceful pain.

My blood cools.

I face what’s left of the mirror and stare at my reflection. For the first time, I don’t see my double. I see what Daddy saw–Mommy.

“Happy?” I ask.

She nods, flashing me a smile.

I return it.

“Me too.”

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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~

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