What have we here?
Lola quietly crept through the large, old mansion she had called home for the past four months, with her cloth doll, Puck in her arms. The heavy wood floors and thick rugs muffled her footfalls. Small for a seven year old, just a wisp of a girl, really. One might mistaken her for a little ghost.
Because she was well behaved, the owners of the home allowed her free reign, so long as she didn’t go into the three rooms marked with large, black runes on the doors. She never wanted to go in those rooms, anyway. One had a wooden door that always felt hot to the touch, and from which emanated a faint noise, almost like breathing. Another, frosted glass, seemed cold even on the hottest days. Things moved behind the glass, indiscernible to the eye. The last door seemed perfectly ordinary, and that was why Lola was afraid of it the most.
On the ground floor, a party quietly petered out. The grown-ups had started the revelry that early afternoon, eating and drinking and dancing to live violin music. Well-dressed men and women gave Lola treats and pinched her cheeks, telling her what a good little girl she was. She hated all of it.
Away from the noise and the people, Lola looked into rooms on the ground floor. One, a favorite of hers, contained the large library where most of the men who wore the red stone pendants spent the majority of their days. Poring over ancient tomes and texts, translating long dead languages. They thought Lola only read English, so they didn’t mind when she looked in their books. There were so many interesting things to read in the library. No one sat in the room now. The desks stood empty, waiting for some scholar to come along. Lola crept into the room and went to the large, blackened book sitting at the head of the table. She lovingly caressed the strange smelling cover and leafed through the old, dusty pages. The illustrations inside depicted people standing in a circle, animals flayed and split open, and ancient, dark demons or gods.
A bookmark sat about halfway into the book. The lettering on the page there was in some old language that had not seen the light of day for many years. A cursed tongue, it turned out, for if one were to speak the words incorrectly, pronounce something wrong, they would soon find themselves coughing up blood.
Lola leaned over and took a deep whiff of the book. The smell made her think of Christmas morning, and dead rot down by the river, and that tingling feeling she would get up the back of her neck on dark nights.
After spending some time sifting through books, Lola decided to visit the woman down the hall.
The woman, as always, huddled in the corner of the room. The thick, rough rope around her neck trailed behind her.
“Mrs. Stone? Would you like to play with me and Puck?”
She turned to the child. Her milky white eyes found Lola, and her grimace of a mouth turned up into the facsimile of a smile.
“Little child, yes. Come sit with me awhile. Did you go to the party?”
Lola sat next to the woman. A scent like sweetness and dirt drifted from Mrs. Stone’s pale, gaunt skin.
“I did for a little while. I didn’t like it. Everyone was looking at me and saying nice things. They all lie.”
Mrs. Stone nodded. “Oh yes, they do lie. All the time. But the party was for you, dear. You should enjoy it. While you are able.”
“I don’t think Mr. Stone would like you saying that to me.”
The woman’s milky white eyes narrowed, angrily. “That devil. He thinks he holds control over me. He won’t allow me to rest. He will not dictate what I say.”
Lola snuggled against Mrs. Stone. The child didn’t mind the woman’s cold skin, nor her strange smell. The elder tenderly pet the younger’s hair, almost like a mother would.
For a half hour or so, the two played with Puck, making him talk and acting out adventures. When Mrs. Stone seemed to become weary, Lola kissed her on her cold cheek and quietly left.
Next, Lola made her way to the kitchens. The household allowed her anything she wanted, day or night. The kitchen always held a chef who cooked up any dish imaginable. Tonight, the chef was Mr. McDonald. An Irish man, with curly brown hair and a different symbol tattooed on each knuckle of his fingers. Also in the kitchen stood the man with one eye, Mavrilla. The socket where the eye should have been looked black, although if one paid enough attention one would see a tiny bit of movement. Totlich, Mavrilla’s pet scorpion, curled up in the socket. Sometimes the tail dangled out, like a bit of black dripping down the man’s skin.
“Well, Lola? Ya come ta get ya a midnight snack?” Mr. McDonald asked, with a wink and a smile.
“Can I have some warm, cinnamon milk, please?”
“Ah, so polite, itn’t it, little miss. Comin’ right up, any ting for you then, love.”
Mavrilla reached behind Lola’s ear and pulled out a cluster of white Asphodels. “For you, little sweet.”
Totlich reached his claws out of Mavrilla’s eye socket, on either side. His tail extended up to the eyebrow, making a strange kind of triangle.
“May I pet Totlich?”
Mavrilla put his hand to his face and the scorpion crawled onto his palm. Holding the creature out to Lola, she gently stroked his smooth back. Totlich seemed to enjoy the sensation, leaning towards the child’s hand, although, who could really say what a scorpion enjoyed?
Mr. McDonald put a mug of milk on the counter for Lola. He’d made himself a cup too, his mixed with blood instead of cinnamon.
“Mr. McDonald, will you tell me the story about when you first came to America again?”
He smiled and she could see his fangs. “Ey, love. Me ma sent me ta the markets, this was in Dundalk, a little town. We didn’ ‘ave too much then, barely scrapin’ by. I taught ta save ‘er a bit a money. So I stole some bread. Got caught, too. They sentenced me ta go ta the colonies. Wasn’t America just then yet. So on da way ova I made friends wit Mr. Matarab. Ain’t never met someone from da Middle East before that. An’ when I come down with the typhus, he gave me the gift.”
“Did you see any whales on the ride over?”
“Oh, ey, love. Loads of ‘em. Big bastards they are. Beautiful.”
“There’s not as many whales now, right?”
“No, we’ve hunted ‘em too much.”
Mavrilla gently patted Lola on the head as she sipped her milk.
“Why do you work for Mr. Stone?”
It was a general question, directed as much to the drink as to either of the men. Mr. McDonald seemed surprised by the inquiry. Mavrilla did not, but then, little surprised a man like him.
“I ‘ave to love. Bound to ‘em, I am. I tink he likes us who don’t sleep. You know, I do lots o jobs for ‘em. All us bound blood drinkers do. One day, maybe, I’ll get these sigils off me, but for now, I toil.” He pulled down his shirt. More symbols, like the ones on his knuckles, adorned his skin. A large burn in the shape of a heart (a real heart, not the cartoon type) was seared into the middle of his chest.
Mavrilla spoke up. “Boss’ll be pissed if he sees you showing that to the kid, McDonald.”
“What’s it matter? She’s not gonna tell anyone after tonight.”
He grunted unhappily. “I am indebted to Mr. Stone. He assisted me with something, quite a while ago. Now I have a contract to him I must fulfill. I hold no loyalty to him.”
“What happens if you don’t fulfill the contract?” Lola asked.
“Oh. Me and Puck are going to go to my room now.”
Mr. McDonald looked sad for a moment. “All right, love. Don’t forget you have to be down in the basement at ‘alf past eleven.”
She nodded as she climbed down from the seat, waved as she left the warm kitchen for the chilly hallway. She made her way to the large bedroom on the second floor that she had been sleeping in since arriving at the mansion. Passing the offices along the way, she quietly peered into rooms with cracked doors, or leaned against door jambs to overhear any secrets she could. Men and women in suits or imposing black robes talked in hushed tones and hurried voices. If they caught any sight of Lola, they waved her away, telling her to go wait in her room.
Frustrated at her inability to glean any new knowledge, Lola did go to her bedroom. Covered in pink and frills and filled with dolls, she couldn’t stand the sight of the place. Puck, with his grays and dark blues and greens, stood out like a beacon in the room. She’d purposely asked for him from Madame Ringo, the witch who lived in the attic. The old woman, obliging her request of No Girly Stuff, even made the doll a little sword that hung at his side on a shoelace.
Lola laid down on the thick carpet with Puck.
“Puck, wanna know a secret? I am to die tonight. I’m not really suppose to know, but everyone here is terrible at keeping secrets. Not like me. I have so many secrets. And I’ll only tell them to you.”
She kissed the doll and hugged him close. Lying on her back, staring up at the ceiling plastered with fake, plastic, glow-in-the-dark stars, she slowly drifted into a fitful sleep. After dozing for a time, she couldn’t tell how long, someone gently roused her from slumber.
“Little Lola, wake up. It’s nearly time for the end of the party. Everyone wants to see you in your pretty new dress.”
Madame Ringo stood over Lola, in a solid, black, velvet dress and thick, ropey metal necklaces. The jewelry clanged and chattered as the old woman moved.
“Oh, I fell asleep. I’m sorry.”
She wasn’t really sorry, but the sweet little girl facade was hard to shake.
“It’s no trouble, dear, just wanted to get you. Everyone is expecting you. Here, put your new dress on, you will look so cute.”
She held up the white dress, edged in lace. It looked more like a shroud than something a living person would wear, but then, that was probably the point.
The little girl slipped off her old clothes and put on the new. Delicate fabric fluttered against her skin, offering no protection against the chilly house. Lola didn’t really care either way, she wouldn’t mind the cold soon.
The trio (Puck came too, of course) made their way down long, twisting, steep, stone steps to the huge basement. Everyone in the house, it seemed, was waiting there. Lola suddenly was gripped by shyness. She hid in Madame Ringo’s long dress, burying her face in the soft fabric.
Mr. Stone stood at the front of the large, intricate drawing on the stone floor. Candles sat in a ring around the room, burning with strange, blue flames. Several chickens, goats, and a bull clucked and bayed from one side of the room. Lola knew exactly how they felt.
The old witch took Lola by the hand and led her to the center of the drawing on the floor. The woman told the child to stay there. Looking around, Lola could see Mrs. Stone was the only person not in attendance. Suddenly, a sadness gripped Lola, a wish that she had gone to say goodbye to one of the kindest persons she’d known in her short life.
“Little Lola. There you are. We were beginning to worry. It is time for the end of the party. Your party. Everyone is so happy you are here, little dear. Aren’t you happy?”
She understood that they all really believed that she didn’t know. They really thought her just a sweet, little child with no inkling of what was to come.
She nodded mutely.
“Not going to say anything to all the guests? They came here just for you.”
It seemed cruel now, what he said. Taunting her, almost. Wasn’t it enough that they planned to kill her? Why draw it out like this?
“Well, lets get started, shall we?”
Several someones, bound blood drinkers and other servants, began taking chickens from cages, leading the goats and the bull over to an altar on one side of the drawing.
Mr. Stone began chanting in a language Lola was not supposed to understand. She did, though. Secretly.
At the correct time, knives were drawn and slashed across the animals throats. The bull put up the most fight, even as his bright, hot blood fled his body. The panicked braying and mooing seemed to take forever to end. Lola wanted to clap her hands over her ears, but she refrained. Perhaps if she pretended she were brave, she would eventually become brave.
The men with the red stone pendants joined hands now, around the edge of the drawing on the floor which had begun to glow white hot. They chanted in unison, over and over, in a language Lola was not supposed to know.
“Curnaubog, Curnaubog, we call you down with these gifts. We call you to us to grant our request. Curnaubog, Curnaubog, we call you down with these gifts. We call you to us to grant our request. Honor us, O Curnaubog the great and terrible.”
Over, and over, and over, again. It seemed to go on, and on, until the words messed together and seemed to lose all meaning. Just when Lola thought she could take no more of the noise, it stopped. A great flash crackled around the room. Several people screamed, unable to contain themselves. Mr. Stone stepped forward eagerly.
The beast, the demon, the god, stood before them, filling the room with a burning smell so often accompanied to portals. Towering, its head almost touched the ceiling of the great hall. Leathery wings sprouted from its back and twinkling eyes observed all.
“You who have summoned me. You who have offered many gifts up in my name. You who have performed your role well. What is it you would ask?”
Mr. Stone smiled, quite pleased with himself.
“My great and terrifying Curnaubog. I would bid you these wishes. My coven here and I
would like to become the most powerful on the Earth. We would like the ability to extend our own lives and our loved ones and to vanquish our enemies from this mortal plane.”
“Why do you let this offering speak for you?”
Mr. Stone faltered in his speak. “Um. Ah, I’m sorry? Offering?”
“You lead it to the slaughter none the wise. I admire that.”
“I think there has been some misunderstanding. I called you. I uh..I am the one who…We are making a deal. The offerings I’ve brought you.” Normally in complete control, Mr. Stone felt confusion, fear, and anger in quick succession.
“Do you know me?”
“You...you are a wish granting demon…” Mr. Stone sputtered.
Lola spoke up quietly. “I know you. You are the thing in the corner of my eye. You are the reason sailors ships disappear in the vast ocean. You are the reason children wander off well-trod paths, never to be seen again. You are why parents wake up weeping. You are the scream at the end. I read that you can bring an ending of sorts. The end of people? Is that right?”
“Yes Summoner. I am to bring the end of the reign of Humans, when so asked. As I have seen the end of many other species.”
“What happens to the animals and the plants?”
“Of this realm? Perhaps the dog, so bonded to you, will suffer. The others, they will continue on, unobstructed and largely unaffected. ”
Mr. Stone, who’d been quite tongue tied suddenly found his voice. “No, no, I called you down! I have brought you this child and these animals as an offering! I drew the scripture on the floor and chanted the words, me and my coven! I am entitled to a request! Not some child!”
The monstrous beast seemed for the first time to really acknowledge Mr. Stone. It looked at him, and almost appeared to be smiling. It was not a smile that would instill any good feeling in a person.
“The center of the inscription is where the Summoner stands. The Summoner is standing there now. I will fulfill what her wish is.”
The other people in the room had begun at this point to murmur to each other, looking around nervously . First one person, then several, tried to exit the basement, but found the solid doors tightly locked. A panic slowly crept along the crowd, starting at the walls and working its way in.
“I changed a word in your book, Mr. Stone. Just one word. I hope you don’t mind. It changed the meaning of the whole ceremony. Such a hard language to understand. Well, not for me. My grandmother taught it to me, like her grandmother before her.”
“Your grandmother is dead! You have no family!”
“Dead, yes. But she never left. She follows me, constantly. Recently, she has been staying in Puck’s body. Helping me. Mr. Curnaubog, I think humans are no longer needed here on Earth. I’d like you to bring about the end of us.”
“You would be at an end as well, Summoner.”
“I don’t really care. I’m not afraid to die.”
The great creature seemed to laugh now, a terrifying and horrible noise that drove several in attendance mad on the spot. Their anguished screaming drove others to claw at the locked doors desperately. Lola seemed to be the only human in attendance not panicked.
“But. But, this can not be! I summoned you! I provided all the materials! The offerings! This is my home!” Mr. Stone shouted. The beast ignored him and spoke to Lola.
“I would take you with me, Summoner. You would make a good apprentice yet.”
This was not what Lola had expected, but it did please her. She smiled. The monster gently took her in one great hand. As the sound of his huge wings taking flight filled the chamber, Mr. Stone began to scream commands to his coven.
“A protective ring! Help me, we must get a protective ring down now!”
Several other members of the coven attempted to assist, grabbing chalk and shakily laying down the outline. But it was too little, much much too late.
From outside, sounds of screaming and cries of pain could be heard. Cars crashing, glass and metal and bone crunching. The burning smell of a portal opening grew stronger and stronger, as holes to another dimension opened all over the city, then the world. The members of the coven in the large, old mansion scarcely had time to say a single spell before the demons found their way in and the screaming started.
Happy Little Town
Mr. Nails opened his eyes at 7:03 am on the dot. 7:03 seemed the perfect time to wake up, or so he told himself. He looked over to where his wife would normally be sleeping. She wasn’t there. Instead a hand lay on the pillow, with bright yellow nails and a ring that looked like a bird's head on the thumb. His wife never wore nail polish like that, so it definitely wasn’t her hand. Good, good. She would need both hands to do tasks, anyway.
He sat up, stretched, and looked around his bedroom. Someone had come in the night and burned all his shoes. They sat in a smoking pile in the corner. Good, good. That was very good.
Dressing in a suit and a tie, Mr. Nails found a pair of rain boots under the bed that the shoe burner had apparently missed. Those would work just as well. And they were liquid-proof. That would be very useful, indeed.
No one was in the kitchen, but breakfast had been left for him. Mrs. Nails probably had something to do early. They always took turns making breakfast for one another. Yesterday Mr. Nails made 47 raw eggs, a pile of dirt, and a head of cabbage covered in lighter fluid. This morning a smoothie sat waiting on the counter.
Taking a sip, Mr. Nails tasted banana, clumps of hair, and something metallic. Not Mrs. Nails’s usual smoothie, but it would do.
Mr. Nails whistled to himself as he left for work that day. Outside Mrs. O’Hair watered her garden. Slowly, methodically, she cut off the head of a dove and squeezed out the fresh blood over the petunias. A few stray drops landed on her light blue dress in a nice way. Her baby lay on the ground, red faced and wailing loudly. Like any dutiful mother, Mrs. O’Hair ignored the child. Good, good. That was very good.
Mr. Nails waved and got in his car. A body lay behind the back tires. He didn’t think he had time to move it so he simply drove over the prone figure. The crunch reminded Mr. Nails of something, but he could not think of what. As he drove up the street, he saw Miss Somebody, who lived next door, talking to a neighbor and writing in a notebook. She looked concerned. That wasn’t good. No, not good at all. Mr. Nails smiled a wide, wide smile at her, to show her how she should be. She did not smile back. He tried smiling even wider, so wide it felt like his skin would split open. Still, she did not have even a bare hint of a grin.
Momentarily, his mind drifted to a BAD thought. SOMETHING IS WRONG! His mind yelled. But as quickly as the thought was there, it slipped away in a milky, colorful, pleasant haze.
As Mr. Nails drove out of the neighborhood, he saw Mr. Tailor waiting at the bus stop. He pulled over to speak to his friend.
“Why, hello Mr. Tailor! We still on for bowling later today?”
“Hello Mr. Nails. Yes, yes. Everything is good, very good. Got my bowling ball right here, I’ll see you tonight for that game.” He held up his bowling ball bag. A red liquid was seeping through the fabric and puddling on the ground.
“Good, good. I’ll see you then!” Mr. Nails waved as he drove away.
The drive through the city was pleasant. Helicopters droned overhead, occasionally crashing into a tree or the ground in a spectacular ball of fire. The local elementary school seemed busy. Children clawed at the asphalt of the basketball court, rubbing their fingers to bloody stumps on the hard ground. The teachers walked around, screaming at nothing and clawing at their eyes. The roof of the school seemed to be melting like an ice cream cone in the sun, thick rivers of liquid streaming off the building and dripping over the playground.
Miss Racer sat at the entrance to the office, next to the security gate.
“Good morning Miss Racer! Just coming in to work.”
She looked up at him. Her eyes were teeth. She reached out a hand for his security badge and her fingers were teeth. When she opened her mouth to speak, he could see she had many more rows of teeth than a person typically did. Good, good. That was very good.
“Good morning Mr. Nails. This is no longer enough to get in. I need blood. Or tears.”
“Oh gosh, I don’t remember hearing about that. I don’t think I’ve got much of either of those.”
When Miss. Racer shook her head, her eye teeth rattled. “I can just take a bit. Hold out your arm.”
He did as he was told. She was security, after all. She would know what was what. She pinched him with her fingernail teeth. A drop of blood welled up on his arm. It looked much more jelly-like than normal.
“Thank you, Mr. Nails. You may go in. Oh, and Miss Somebody, you know, my neighbor from next door? She was looking for you.”
He nodded as he drove in. Miss Somebody didn’t work at the office. Why would she be looking for him here? Oh well, it was probably good. Yes, very good.
Inside the office Mr. Nails found that Mrs. Earl, the receptionist, had turned into the physical embodiment of nostalgic melancholy. She hovered as a greenish cloud over the desk.
“Mrs. Earl, did you do something to your hair?”
She sighed. “Nothing will ever be as it was. Not now, not ever. It was different then, and then had to change.”
Mr. Nails nodded at her and smiled. “Yes, that is true. We can not freeze time. Unless we kill it and put it in a box.”
“You should put things you kill into a bowl, so you may admire it on your counter. Like bananas.”
“Any mail for me?”
The cloud of Mrs. Earl pushed a box towards him. “Just the one.”
Taking the box to his desk, Mr. Nails ripped open the cardboard and found it to be full of dead possums. He dumped the animals out on his desk and began stamping them with a [SOLD] stamp. After finishing that, he decided to grab a cup of coffee.
Mr. Appleman stood in the break room pouring scalding hot coffee over his face and screaming.
“Good morning Mr. Appleman. The coffee any good today?”
“AAAAHHHHH!!!!!!” Mr. Appleman screamed, flailing wildly.
“Great, thanks.” Mr. Nails held out a cup and let his co-worker pour the hot joe into it.
“AAAHHHHH!!! DID MISS SOMEBODY FIND YOU? AAAHHHHH!!!!”
“No, not yet. I heard she was looking for me.”
“AAAHHHH!!! YES, SHE LIVES NEXT DOOR TO ME, YOU KNOW. WE TALKED EARLIER TODAY. AAAAHHHHH!!!!”
Mr. Nails nodded. Good, good. Yes, that was very good.
Walking back to his desk, Mr. Nails took a second to look out the window. The trees lining the courtyard slowly, ever so slowly, crept towards the office. Eyes opened and closed slowly, so slowly, all over the bark. Red and yellow and purple eyes. Several employees stood near the back door, smoking combs. The melted plastic filled the air around them with a sour-looking cloud. Gravity seemed to have stopped working quite right in the parking lot. A number of cars began floating off the ground, drifting away through the blood- red clouds. Someone trapped in a car screamed and screamed and pounded on the glass of the door. Good, good. That was very good.
Mr. Nails went back to his desk. After a sufficient time spent pulling out his nails and shredding papers marked “IMPORTANT! PLEASE READ! WE ARE TRYING TO SAVE YOU! DO NOT DESTROY!” he left and headed to the local grocery store. Sitting outside, pulling out her blond hair in fistfuls and attempting to feed the clumps to her doll, was li’l Lilly. She looked up at Mr. Nails with bloody eyes. Gore ran down her cheeks and she smiled.
“Hello Mr. Nails. My dolly is hungry, can I have some hair for her?” Her voice sounded distorted, like it came through an old radio.
Mr. Nails grabbed a bunch of his hair and ripped it out. It hurt. Good, good. Yes, very good. Handing over the hair, he said, “Here ya go, kiddo. Have fun.”
“Thank-thank-tha-n-n-n- Wrrrrrrrr.click.click.click.” li’l Lilly said as she jerked and shook. Smoke began to pour out of her ears and mouth and nose, black and acrid-smelling.
Inside of the grocery store, people milled around, jamming vegetables into mouths and eyes and ears. Bag boys cut off customers’ fingers and hands and arms and bagged them up. At the baker’s counter stood a freshly baked cake with a cooked baby on top. It smelled crispy, almost like bacon.
Mr. Nails walked to the shelf of cereals. Miss Ice stood staring at the boxes of frosted crushed glass and anthrax covered wiring.
“Hello Miss Ice! Looking for something healthy for the kids?”
“Oh. No. We ate the kids yesterday.” As she said it, a look of confusion and concern swept her sweet face.
“Now that I say that, I can’t quite remember why we did that. Children aren’t for eating.”
“Of course children are for eating! Good, good. It’s very good to eat children!” Mr. Nails said it because he knew it was right to say, but he too felt confusion and concern. The feeling welled up in him for a time until it felt like his heart would burst. But something, a milky, colorful, pleasant haze, drifted over his mind again.
Mr. Nails bought himself a sandwich, with spoons and turkey and turpentine dressing. As he sat on the ground of the parking lot eating, the metal of the spoons cutting into his gums and tongue, he started to feel the strange concern again. It started slowly. As he gnawed the sandwich, the feeling gnawed at him. This seemed … wrong. Where had his wife been this morning? Why was Mrs. O’Hair watering the garden with blood? Shouldn’t it be water? People don’t have teeth for eyes or consist solely of haze that is the physical embodiment of nostalgic melancholy. Children do not smoke and make clicking noises and sound like old radios when they speak. And that was not a bowling ball in Mr. Tailor’s bag. Looking up from the sandwich he no longer wanted to eat, he saw Mr. Tame and Miss Yesterday, talking by the bus stop. Well, no not talking. Yelling. Screaming. The bus, a twenty foot tarantula with wings, pulled up to the stop. Miss Yesterday pulled a large machete out of her purse, cut off Mr. Tame’s head, and threw the head into the tarantula’s open mouth-door. Mr. Tame’s body walked out into the road before being hit by a speeding car. Miss Yesterday looked at Mr. Nails before taking her machete and neatly cutting herself in two, right across her belly. The two halves of Miss Yesterday crawled away from each other.
Mr. Nails stood up and began walking to his car. He needed to get home. He needed to do something, but he didn’t know what. Something besides just the going home. Or maybe, the going home was the important thing.
The entire drive home he alternated between the concerned feeling and the milky, colorful, pleasant haze. Alternated between SOMETHING IS WRONG and EVERYTHING IS GOOD, GOOD, VERY GOOD.
The whole city seemed off. Police riding atop tall, spindly- legged giraffes threw blenders and vacuum cleaners at a group of pregnant women, who had climbed to the top of the library and set it afire. The women didn’t seem to mind the flames creeping ever closer to them. At the local park, parents dug holes in the purple and yellow grass and planted waling babies upside down. A dog had apparently turned inside out, its ribs glistened in the sun and the animal dragged its intestines behind it like a leash. As the dog ran, a flock of flying books chased it, pecking at the bits of organs with their paper beaks.
His neighborhood looked the way he remembered it, but also not the way he remembered it. Several of the houses had been replaced with house- sized ships in house- sized bottles, or mounds of jelly beans and severed toes. Hair grew on a few lawns, long and grey and greasy. A front porch swing suspended itself in the air, not attached to anything. It swung faster and faster, the person on it wailing and clutching the seat and trying not to be thrown off.
Pulling up to his own house, Mr. Nails did not see his wife’s car. A bicycle made of bones lay on the sidewalk, and a metal and glass bear slept on the lawn.
Miss Somebody, who lived next door, stood on the front porch, clipboard in hand. She looked concerned. Mr. Nails smiled at her, extra wide, to show her everything was good. She frowned.
Mr. Nails began to cry.
“Miss Somebody. Have you seen my wife?” He said between sobs.
Miss Somebody shook her head. “Why did you start crying?”
He shook his head. “Everything is wrong. No. Everything is fine. No. Everything is good, good. Very good. No. Everything is wrong.”
He didn’t know which of those answers was right. He couldn’t remember anymore.
“Mr. Nails. Do you remember what your wife looks like?”
He shook his head again. This hadn’t occurred to him. People should know what their spouses look like, right?
“It’s okay. It’s going to be okay. Listen, this is very, very important. I have something for you.”
She held something up in her hand. It took a second for the object to form itself into something recognizable.
“What is it?”
Mr. Nails stared at her. “It’s an apple of course.”
“Ah, yes. Okay, the apple is for you. What do you do with apples?”
“You. You...replace someone's heart with them?”
Mr. Nails could tell from Miss Somebody’s face this was not the right answer. He put his hands to his face hopelessly. The conflicting feelings were swirling around in his brain, a tormenting dance.
“No. That’s not right. You eat apples. Yes. Eat them.”
For the first time that day, Miss Somebody smiled. “Yes. This apple is for you. Please eat it.”
Mr. Nails took the apple. It was perfect-looking, a lovely shade of green, round like the sun, and without any blemishes or bruises. It felt far heavier than what he would think an apple should feel like. The first bite was wonderful, refreshing and cool and sweet. The second bite burned his mouth and throat. The third bite felt like it would start a raging fire in his belly. He wanted to stop eating, but he kept chewing and swallowing. He ate everything, stem and seeds and all. The pulpy mass in his mouth felt sticky and hot, then cold and slimy. He imagined worms and slugs slithering down his throat and up his nose. Into his brain.
When he had eaten the whole apple, he showed his empty hands to Miss Somebody. He opened his mouth wide so she could see he’d swallowed everything.
She smiled again. “You did very good. Everything is going to be okay. This next part will be a bit strange, but I promise I’ll be with you the whole time.”
“Where is my wife?”
“You don’t have one. You never did.”
The ground dropped away. The neighborhood receded from Mr. Nails view, and the two of them drifted up into the clouds. The sky took on a green, shimmering quality. Everything smelled of plastic and rubbing alcohol. Mr. Nails felt like his whole body was on fire. Like ants were crawling under his skin and chewing him to pieces. He began screaming. The sound echoed around the empty space they flew through. Miss Somebody reached out her hands to him, but could not quite touch him.
“It’s okay. It’s going to be okay. It’s going to be---”
She was gone. He was gone. He was dead. Or he never existed. Or he existed, and something had extinguished him, like a little candle. He consisted of just a mind, a consciousness, floating in nothing. Screaming without making a noise, flailing without having a body. Feeling every sensation at once, and none at all.
He existed as nothing and everything for an eternity. Or maybe for only a second. In actuality, he was in the strange limbo for seventy three minutes. Mr. Nails, or really Durnwood Maze, opened his eyes groggily. Nurses in clean, crisp, white jumpsuits hurried about the room, bending over people in hospital beds. Wires snaked from the prone people's heads. Durnwood gingerly reached a hand to his own head and found wires sticking into his head.
Miss Somebody sat next to his bed, looking a mixture of concerned and happy.
“I’m not Mr. Nails,” Durnwood said with a parched sounding voice. Miss Somebody held up a cup with a straw for him to take a tentative sip of water. It felt like he hadn’t used his voice in weeks.
“No, you are Durnwood Maze. You are sixteen years old. You go to Euporie High School where you are in the eleventh grade. Do you remember what happened?”
He turned his head from side to side, trying to look at the other people lying on beds. He recognized the one to his right. Holly Byrne. They had history class together. On his left, Khin Ito. Also in Durnwood’s history class. Neither of them moved. No one in any of the other beds moved.
“We were. We…” His mind felt fuzzy. Like someone had wrapped it in cotton.
“You were on a field trip. Remember?”
“We went to. To.. To the New Nile Historical Museum. We saw the mummies and the antique shuttles and went to the…”
He stopped. He could vaguely remember everyone happily picking characters off a screen. Not a video game. No. Something else.
“You were doing a simulation of 1951. Remember? Just after World War 2 ended.”
He nodded. It hurt his head to nod.
“It was a daily life simulation. Someone uploaded a virus into the simulation, while your class was attached. Durnwood, you’ve been stuck for three weeks. But you are out now. It’s going to be okay.”
He looked at the other people, lying unmoving on the beds. Why was no one else moving?
“How many other people have woken up?”
She looked down for a second. “I think you should get some sleep. You’ve had a very trying ordeal. I’ll get a nurse to move you to a private room now and your parents will be here soon.”
“How many of my friends are awake? Is Miss Patel awake? She did the simulation, too.”
Miss Somebody (or whatever her name really was) stood up. “I’ll just get a nurse. Hold on one second.”
Durnwood sat up. The cord in the port at the back of his head pulled tight. He reached around and unhooked it. As he swung his legs over the side of the bed, Miss Somebody grabbed his arms and tried to force him to stay seated.
“You need to rest. Please lie down. It’s going to be okay. But I need you to lie down.”
It was not going to be okay. It was never going to be okay. But Durnwood didn’t quite know that yet. He still clung to the hope that everything would turn out okay. He clutched to this hope as a nurse advanced on him with a syringe. He desperately tried to hold onto that useless, pointless hope as she injected him and he slipped into a black, dreamless sleep.
The four friends stumble, laughing, around the edge of a wheat field. The tall, wispy grass bends towards the group in the chilly night breeze, as if beckoning them closer. In the distance, mostly obscured by trees, is a tower reaching up towards the pitch black sky; the remnants of a castle, its name long forgotten to the slippery memory of time.
The blonde in the borrowed jacket and coke bottle glasses stops to look up. A gash of milky light spreads across the dark. “Have you ever seen the sky like that before?” she says, spreading her hands towards the heavens, trying to encompass everything there is.
The tall girl with the dreadlocks and freckled face smiles, a little gap in her front teeth peeking out. “The Milky Way. There’s no light pollution all the way out here.”
The handsome, strapping young man with vitiligo takes a long drink from their shared wine bottle. The liquid tastes of sourness and secrets. “We shouldn’t stop. This is someone’s farm.”
The girl who was once a boy smiles a crooked smile at the strapping boy. “It’s not like back home. I camped on people’s farms last summer. No one minded, so long as you don’t mess with anything.”
The boy feels himself blush a bit. He has a crush on the girl with the crooked smile. He feels a longing to tousle her dyed-red locks with his fingers and send a shiver down her spine with his breath on her neck. But he does not possess the bravery to act on it. Perhaps the wine might help him find that bravery.
The four make their way up the hill to the broken piece of the ancient castle. Hard, damp, moss-covered stone stands silently, overlooking the fields and forests below. The green seems to stretch endlessly, a sea of leaves and grass before the friends. The blonde feels for a moment as if she herself will blend into the endlessness, melt into nothing but foliage, like a strange kind of vertigo. The feeling passes.
Around the back of the tower is a small, dark opening in the side of a little mound. Stones ring it, giving the hole a purposeful look and letting the group know whatever it contains must be man-made. Animals do not build doorways.
The gap-tooth girl bends down, peers inside. “Where do you think it goes?”
The blonde joins her friend. “Maybe it’s one of those burial chambers. There are a bunch in this area.”
“I see a light at the end.”
The group looks at each other, silent for a few long seconds. Wordlessly, they decide to explore.
The girl with the crooked smile crawls in first. She’s always been bravest, since the group played together on the playground.
The blonde follows quickly. She’s fond of mysteries and old stories. The unknown beckons her like an old lover.
The gap-tooth girl with the dreadlocks looks behind them before heading in, taking in the dark, beautiful sky, noticing how the stars seem dimmer than they had only a few minutes before.
The boy follows last, timid where he wishes he was fearless.
They crawl, on hands and knees, for a time. The tunnel seems almost made for them, being a perfectly comfortable height for them to crawl without having to hunch over. The boy finds it the most difficult but only because he clutches the wine bottle in one hand.
After a while, they emerge into a clearing in the center of a ring of large and ancient trees. Someone is clearly using the area, as rugs cover a large portion of the ground and pillows lie in a heap. A rickety table is filled with bottles containing indeterminate liquids and bowls of fruits.
The group, curious, looks around the small camp. A lamp, filled with a strong-smelling oil, still burns a little flame.
Noise starts from the trees. The noise is happy, singing and laughing and a twinkling of bells.
Four people enter the clearing. The first wears bits of leather, sewn into shabby pants. His chest is bare even in the chilly night and his shoes look like hoofs.
The second sprouts antlers from her head, a mass of curly brown hair framing her pale face. The blonde tells herself the antlers must be attached to a headband.
The third grins a crooked smile, not unlike the girl who use to be a boy, although this new girl’s mouth is full of sharpened teeth. Like animal teeth. Her eyes are green and bright.
The fourth is looking at the friends with strange eyes, the pupils unlike anything a human contains.
The two groups stop moving. They are staring at each other and waiting for someone to move first, a collective breath held.
The bare-chested boy smiles. His teeth also look like animal teeth.
“Hi. You coming to our party?”
The girl who use to be a boy speaks up first. “What's the party for?”
All the newcomers smile now. The blonde in the coke bottle glasses sees they all have animal teeth.
The girl with the antlers says “It’s the first day of fall. We always have a party.”
The girl with the dreadlocks asks “Is that why you guys have costumes on?”
Those with animal teeth simply shrug their shoulders.
“Come have some wine with us. It’ll warm you up.” This comes from the one with the strange eyes. The voice sounds soft, like a cat’s purr.
The two groups join together, uneasy at first. The strapping boy offers some of his wine to the bare-chested boy. The strapping boy feels a little bit of jealousy at the other boy’s tan skin. He is self conscious of his own patched flesh, like something a careless painter has splashed. He doesn’t know the girl who use to be a boy has never once thought his skin odd. All she thinks about is how warm his hands feel. About how she very much wants to feel if the rest of him is as warm.
The group lounges on pillows, passing different bottles around. Some are sweeter than any honey. Some smell faintly of cinnamon and childhood. One is nothing but smoke, tinted with a sharp tang. As the blonde girl with the coke bottle glasses pours the dark, bitter smoke into her mouth she hears the voice of her grandmother singing and sees her long-dead dog running through the trees. Across from her, the crooked-smile girl she does not know peers at her from behind one green eye and one brown eye. Wait, no. It is a trick of the light. Two brown eyes.
The bare chested boy pulls up the girl with the gap-tooth smile. Music is playing, but from where no one can say. Tinny and fleeting, something half forgotten from a dream. It drifts and washes over the group, clouding their minds. The bare chested boy and the gap-tooth girl dance slowly, in twirling circles. The girl is getting dizzy, needs to sit down. The girl with the antlers is laughing as she helps her to a pillow. The girl with the antlers smiles with a gap-tooth grin identical to that of the girl in her arms. Freckles dance across her pale skin, which is suddenly looking darker. She leaves the dizzy girl on the ground and dances with the bare-chested boy. As he spins her around her brown curls seem to grow longer and tangled. When they stop, instead of ringlets, she now has long dreadlocks.
The girl who was once a boy sees these strange things and is scared. “We should go. We have a train to catch in the morning.”
The one with inhuman eyes shakes their head. “Stay. It isn’t late, yet. We have time, yet.”
The bare-chested boy gently runs a finger down the cheek of the strapping boy’s face. “You are so beautiful.”
The girl who was once a boy feels a bit of anger at the touch. She wants to be the one to caress him gently. The bare-chested boy starts pulling off the strapping boy’s shirt. “I want to see if your skin is the same all over.” The boy is stumbling from the wine, tries to fight back but doesn’t have the coordination. The girl with the antlers is helping. Her dreadlocks are tangled in her antlers, like vines in a tree. The girl with the crooked smile leans down and kisses the girl who used to be a boy softly on the mouth. As they pull apart, everyone can see they have the same shade of dyed red hair. The girl who used to be a boy feels something strange under her hair. Running her hands under her locks, she finds soft animal ears. She stumbles up and is caught by the one with the inhuman eyes.
“Too much wine, yet. Stay and clear your head.” As they talk, their hair shimmers in the moonlight, long and blonde.
The blonde in the coke bottle glasses quite suddenly can’t see. The world is a blur, shapes wavering in her vision. The one with the inhuman eyes gently takes off the blonde’s glasses.
“You don’t need these anymore.” They put the glasses on. The glasses help to hide the unnatural pupils.
Suddenly the blonde is sweating in the night chill. She must get out of the borrowed jacket immediately or she will burn up. Her skin itches and crawls. Feathers cover her arms, downy and soft. She wants to scream but it comes out as a warbling screech instead. The one with the crooked smile, now looking very much like the girl who used to be a boy, picks up the borrowed jacket and helps the one with the inhuman eyes into it.
The bare-chested boy is no longer bare-chested, he has put on the strapping boy’s shirt. The strapping boy crouches on the ground on all fours. The white patches on his skin sprout fur, followed by the dark patches. He is still beautiful but no longer human. A wolf, with a patched coat, thick and luxurious. The girl who use to be a boy feels something in her mouth, a tooth falling out. Underneath is another, this one sharp and deadly. She starts to scream but it comes out as a howl.
The girl with the dreadlocks tries to run, but finds her legs aren’t working as they once did. She writhes on the ground, something, many somethings, forcing their way out of her skin. Feathers, black and sleek. She looks to her friends for help. Instead of those she has known since childhood she sees two wolves, one with black and white fur and one with red fur, and a great, black raven. Now, quite suddenly, there are two great, black ravens and the girl with the dreadlocks is gone.
The four with animal teeth, laughing, pick up the discarded clothes and put them on. Unfamiliar fabrics on skin that has only known leather and leaves. Shoes on feet that have only ever been bare. It will take some getting used to, but then, the four have all the time in the worlds.
The two wolves sniff each other, familiarity mingling with fear and confusion. The ginger wolf nuzzles the other and he reciprocates. The two huge ravens give sad cacaws to the night sky. But soon they catch a hint of blood on the wind, some wounded animal. They take to the sky, leading the wolves to the find so that the four might share their meal. The memory of their former lives mingles with the forest, softening.
Far and away, through a tunnel next to an unnamed tower, four altogether different friends stumble, laughing, next to a wheat field. Their animal teeth flash in the night.
By Shelli Frew
I recently interviewed Gwynn Tavares, the amazing artist who drew the cover of Time Sailors. Hope you enjoy getting to know her more!
Thank you for doing this interview with me! You drew the beautiful cover for my new book Time Sailors and I thought I would let the readers get to know the person behind the art.
1. How long have you been drawing?
Forever. Actually, I just came across some little kid letters from when I was in elementary school, there must have been a writing assignment where you had to write a short letter to all the other kids in your class. Everyone of them said I was an amazing artist... they also said I was really good at P.E. So, I'm not sure how trustworthy those letters are.
2. Did you go to college for drawing?
I did, though it was a pretty hard internal debate. I started out just doing apprenticeships with some really great artists because it was hard to find a school that taught traditional art. I wanted the school I went to, to be hard. Impossibly hard and over demanding in a technical way. I finally found it and I am grateful I went there but their 5% graduation rate was apparently based on the overly expensive tuition and not their overly challenging classes.
3. You have several published comic books under your belt. What is your favorite genre to draw?
That is a rough question. Man, I love whatever genre I am drawing when I am drawing it. I love horror though it really messes me up emotionally drawing drawing suicide scenes and war and other things that really focus on the human condition. When I draw characters even if their moment in the comic book is just a brief panel I like to really figure out who they were. No one is really just a nobody so when I draw a character I want them to have a history, to be real, that's what makes horror so emotionally taxing to draw. I also draw science fiction and fantasy. I guess if I were to really shut up and pick one I would have to say comedy. I think it is peoples reactions that really guides that decision. Unfortunately, my comedy is the rarest at this moment, I kind of just post those to Facebook.
4. Any new work coming up the readers should check out?
Yes! I have something of my own that I am working on, its top secret right now 'cus it is still in the baby stages and I don’t want to jeopardize it, but, if you go onto my Patreon you can find it along with a bunch of my non-work related art and sneak peaks to the next issue of Amelia Sky. Amelia Sky, a horror sci/fi, will be getting drawn this fall along with another issue of Boston Metaphysical Society, a Steampunk detective mystery. They both drop at the same time so I will be drawing my brains out.
(Note from Shelli. Find Amelia Sky here!)
5. What are your top 5 science fiction graphic novels?
This is where I become a bad comic book artist. I dont get around to much comic reading especially of late. Maglev and Origin House both drawn by Adam Cahoon is the some of the greatest stuff I have come across, his artwork is insane think Calvin and Hobbs' Spaceman Spiff panels. Cahoon is perfection when it comes to colors and storytelling and he is just getting started.
6. Perfect sandwich?
Its all about the bread, you can put anything between two slices of amazing bread and it will be awesome. But right now its some sort of funky cheese with fig jam and arugula.
7. How do you get over writers block?
This is the true work of being an artist. Busting out stuff people can enjoy is one thing but conquering procrastination and blocks are where the real fight is. Basically, what I do is whenever I think about working I sit down for two minutes right then and there and start working. I drop everything and sit down in front of the computer and put in time. Also, fear of disappointing my writers and readers really helps.
8. What does your ideal work station look like?
Now that I am all digital everything has to be ergonomic. Putting in 10-14 hour days can be brutal on your body in just a few weeks.
9. What do you use to draw? Pencil and ink? Or a tablet?
I have a big beautiful tablet. Its the best thing I have ever gotten. The important things about comic books is drawing fast and drawing well. This thing is the hero of my story as an artist, there is no time spent washing brushes or going to art stores to plunk down tons of cash. Its just here, always ready to work as hard as I do.
10. Where can the readers find more information about you online?
Patreon at Gwynn Tavares. Also, Artstation will have some finished work on it that isn't “top secret” and available for all to see for free and, of course, Instagram.
My first book, Time Sailors, is now up for pre-order! Books will ship in October! Get signed up at my author mailing list to stay abreast of possible giveaways and author meet and greet events!
Pre-order your copy here:
I thought a little about me blog was in order and have collected some questions from some of you, intrepid readers. Enjoy!
1. How long have you been writing?
About 4 years, not including all the writing I did while in school. I wrote Time Sailors originally as a short story and some housemates encouraged me to expand on it.
2. What's your favorite subject matter or genre?
Science fiction is my main focus. It feels friendly and comfortable to me and I enjoy speculating on how the future of technology will unfold. I also enjoy writing stories with some scary or horror elements. Writing about non-blood related families and how we as humans form those bonds with each other is also an interest of mine.
3. Do you ever use your own personal experiences as an inspiration?
A bit. Time Sailors in part got inspired by the year and a half I lived at a backpackers hostel. It's a very surreal experience, with a constantly rotating group of people moving in and out. Different languages and backgrounds provide a weird mesh of lived experiences but somehow everyone still tends to end up as friends in that environment.
4. What inspired you to write Time Sailors?
The first Halloween I was at the hostel I dressed up as a generic time traveler. The character of Virginia has the look of that costume. I thought a time traveler with an abundance of wrist watches was a very funny visual that I hadn't seen before, so I decided to write a story about character with the look. The book grew organically from there.
5. What made you want to start writing?
It was a whim honestly. I was bored and wrote a chapter. I enjoyed the process and continued. Writing feels like a good creative outlet for me. I don't need much to do it, just my laptop or a pen and paper and my brain. Maybe a cup of tea as well.
6. Why would you choose to put yourself through this torture and are you a masochist? Maybe I'm crazy but I actually enjoy writing. I do hate correcting my spelling, I'm an atrocious speller and sometimes the spelling feature on my computer can't figure out what I'm trying to write. But on some level I think all artistic people are a tiny bit masochistic at least.
7. Describe your perfect sandwich.
Sourdough bread, cheddar and feta cheese, avocado, leafy greens, dill pickles, mustard, teriyaki tofu.
8. How did you keep going when you didn't feel like it?
Timers. I like to set timers when I'm not in the mood to write, it helps me focus. And having a good playlist to listen to while writing.
9. Did you combat impostor syndrome & if yes, how?
Still combating it! Actually I feel it a lot in life in general. I'm a performer as well and constantly second guessing myself. I think it's a pretty normal, healthy feeling for one to have. One of the best ways I have of ignoring that annoying voice telling me I'm not good enough or don't deserve it is to remind myself that getting jobs isn't pity praise. If you've been hired for a show or had a book signed, it means the person in charge likes what you create.
10. Do you think writers see the world differently? How does that apply to you?
Probably. But then everyone sees the world differently than everyone else. Maybe writers have a particular type of observational sense? I do often look at people, the way they dress or talk, and think about what kind of story they would fit into. I've always got my eye out for interesting names. And I love hearing people talk about their different lived experiences, which I think in turn helps me to write from different perspectives.
That's all for now readers!
I am so pleased to announce Calamity in the Crow's Nest, a Murder Mystery show! It will be for one day only, April 7th. I am writing and producing the show as well as performing in it. Grand prize for whoever solves the mystery! Show includes prizes, costume contest, carnival games, and circus performance. Get your Early Bird tickets now before they are all gone!
I am so pleased to announce that I will be performing in Wonderland the Immersive Experience, an immersive show being produced by Epic Immersive in conjunction with the Rathskeller Club.
Come join me down the rabbit hole, for a show you will never forget. Limited run of only 8 days, so get your tickets now! (There is a lot of dark tunnels and crawling so this show is not recommended for those who are claustrophobic or have limited mobility).