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 ^.^

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(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~~)

 

 

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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***You can find more of my delightfully disturbing stories under the Killing It tag ^.^***

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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.

fullsizerender-1.

Till next time~~

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hanging Art

Happenstance is an odd quality of life. Perhaps, its spice. Who finds who, and where. When. What you find and in what circumstances. Which strings of text align before your eyes. In books. In letters. On posters. On screens, now. Sometimes, the coherence is lacking. Other times, it’s surprisingly clear. Succinct. Poignant. Story.

Interacting with bots online has proven quite imaginative. Nonsensical, at times, too. But, ultimately it’s been revealing to see how literary, creative, and, even, inspiring these random text generators can be. More, it’s been fascinating to see happenstance in action. See which posts align with each other on my own, personal feed. I believe a kind of observable or discernible taste develops. You can scroll through someone’s feed and, through the bots one follows, piece together an idea of what they like–what amuses them, intrigues them, inspires them. It’s like walking through the art gallery in another’s mind.

Would you care to take a stroll through mine?

Uncertain journeys call for gods. Their guidance. Their protection. Their witness. Belief in them, of course, optional. Unnecessary in most cases. “Not believing in the devil will not save you from him,” and all that. Still, a god I found for this journey. Better safe than sorry.

mygod

With a simple greeting, a god was procured. @all_the_gods wastes little time. Knows the value of timely work. Perhaps you should procure a god of your own? If you’re going to continue following me along my travels down the rabbot hole. Shy? There are plenty of preconceived gods for the masses to choose from. I selected a patron saint of my own to accompany me as well:

patronsaintgod

My choices were sound, qualms over the rejection of screaming notwithstanding. A spell for humming without purpose seemed to leave more purpose for text. For algorithms to seek. To make up the difference.

I found poetry. Found stories. Received invitations into dreamy, other-side (of the Looking Glass) worlds. ~***Found stars, too. New constellations. For navigation.***~

Dada nonsense (free-associative) poetry is its own delight but I like glimpses through another pair of eyes a little more. Poet-bots abound. Offering a little of both, for all tastes. @poem_exe writes beautifully. (And regularly.) Short sentiments to chew on. Savor.

More thoughtful words to contemplate.

skeletonofalonelyheart

In slivers, I find myself. Between beats, a pulse. Partial res o nan ce.

Whole d  i  s  s  o   n    a   n     c       e.

There seems little science to what engages an individual. Broad ideas exist, I’m sure. But, we are in the details. (With the devil–that’s why we need our gods.)

Though this bot required less interaction than the former, I still found it interesting. Entertaining. Whatever its algorithm, it’s effective. At least 9400 other people agree. Throughout the past few days, I retweeted many poems. Wrote some. Wandered with them in my thoughts.

ghostspunishivefoundmyself

More captivating than pure poetry were the inadvertent/impromptu stories that began to decorate my feed. Every story had a surprise ending. In this one (above), the desires of ancestors were renounced in the name of self-realization, moon bearing witness to the vow. At least, that’s my story. What’s yours?

Maybe it’s just me, creating purpose where there is none. A story needs a reader to exist. Interpret. But, I like being a reader. Like the simple joy of these unexpected narratives. In school, everything is linear.Weighted ’round the neck by the collar of tradition. Word choice is highly selective. Content codified and shelved, on neat little shelves in neat little rows. I’m not knocking books–I love them as much as the next English major–but, sometimes, they can be lacking in excitement. Not necessarily the individual narratives (there are some stand-out sucky ones though, I’m sure you’ve got a list) but the system in which they exist. It tires itself out.

cannibalpeople

This is interesting story. Unexpected. Rich with possibility. Rich with the inexplicable. I ponder. Stroll through one corridor of my frontal cortex and come back ’round, to mull some more. There is so much room to walk around these words, observe them from every angle and then some imanginative ones. Make an exercise out of make-believe.

What is literary is relative, these days. Much less quantifiable. It’s exciting. Exhilerating.  Kind of scary. Kind of freeing.

Fully magickal.

suffocating

Really breathtaking.

It’s something special to watch storytelling become as expansive as it always had the possibility to be. To watch new technology help the art realize the dimensions of its potential.

I hope you enjoyed your visit to the gallery of my mind palace. The pieces exhibited are constantly being reorganized, changed, so, do be sure to drop in again. Feel free to drop an invitation to visit your own gallery, too. I’m always looking to add to my collection.

***My Recommendations***

@MythologyBot

@spacetravelbot

@str_voyage

@dreamhaver

@ninja_things

@everypunk

punktweet

(tweets gems like this)

@dungeon_bot

Tweet me your recs.

Safe travels.