33

“He’s a hot dog water salesman,” Luna said in a conspiracial whisper.
“Look again mariposa that’s his cover. He travels the country collecting data on nuclear secrets,” Cyrus whispered back. They stole looks at the sleeping man resting near the front. Cyrus’ young handsome face was dead serious. Luna hid her smile behind her hands.
“No you’re wrong. He’s a double agent working for…” Luna’s eyes skittered around the bus’s advertising for something outrageous. “Nabisco.”
Cyrus looked at his love with mock horror. Then the couple burst into laughter. The father with the toddler son in the seat ahead of them turned to glare. Two rows behind an elderly lady gave a light laugh.
Cyrus worked days driving for Amazon and Luna pulled overnights stocking shelves at Walmart. Saving every penny, they pulled as many extra shifts as possible. But today, this rare day, was special. Their shifts aligned. They had a whole day and night together. First they were tempted to sleep in, cradled in the warmth of each other’s arms in a corona of pillows and sheets. Instead they were drawn to the sea.
Burying a sliver of her face into her lover’s arm, Luna snorted. “I hope I don’t look too big in my swimsuit.”
Cyrus rested his hand on her curved belly. He pulled her into himself. “ No worries my little dumpling I brought a Beware of Whale sign so no one—“
Luna caught Cyrus by the hair. She grabbed happy handfuls of him. They covered one another for a moment before remembering the world. The 33 bus slowed, stopped, and began again. Tomorrow Cyrus would be sticky hot carrying endless packages. Tomorrow Luna in the blue cool of the storeroom would empty boxes. Turning a gentle curve, number 33 to Sky Blue Beach picked up speed. The pair looked ahead towards their day together.
“Don’t look but the older lady by the exit.”
Luna whispered, “You mean the ex-drill sergeant turned rodeo clown. Yes?”

Do Right

“Uncle Mikey, explain it to me again. Explain it to me like I was five,” Bridget said. She got up from the rocking chair and began pacing around her old bedroom.
Michael scrubbed his face and sat on the pink and purple polka dotted bedspread. “Listen, honey, you made an investment in a special kind of insurance and it’s not quite working out like it should.”
Bridget pounded the wall, ripping her R.E.M. poster. “You promised my settlement would be safe as houses, safe as mother’s milk. But insurance is a safe investment, right?”
“Usually, but these policies are viaticals. That’s when a really really sick person, like terminal about to die sick, sells his life insurance policy for a lump sum of cash to a viatical investment company. And that brokerage firm sells that policy to an unrelated third party like you. When The sick guy dies you collect, see. That’s how it is supposed to work.”
“Wait I’m making money off dead people,” Bridget said. She grabbed Amelia Renee, her beloved Cabbage Patch doll, and muffled her scream in its squishy yarn covered head. “What have I done. What did you do! Is this even legal, Uncle Mikey?”
“Of course sweetheart. It’s all perfectly legit, see. These are AIDS patients and they get money to help their last days. It’s a good thing really. But it is not quite as regulated as I thought. Doctors are supposed to determine prognosis and everything.”
“Where’s my money? Where’s all my money?” Bridget was squeezing Amelia Renee’s narrow neck.
“Well that’s the funny thing. Not funny but okay have you heard of protease inhibitors? Me neither ! But these miracle AIDS drugs are saving lives, extending lifetimes, honey,” Michael said. He looked everywhere but at his niece.
Bridget’s door opened. “The turkey’s on the table. We have to say Grace before Danny and Denny started fighting again,” Christina said. Reading the tension, she looked between her brother and her daughter. “What’s the conspiracy? Do I have to get my bat and crack heads.”
Nervously Michael chuckled. “No worries here Big Sis. Everything’s copacetic.”
“Yeah no worries Mom. I was just talking to Uncle Mikey about a special Christmas gift I wanted to get for a certain person. Unc always knows the best deals. He’s just promised to do right by me?” Bridget playfully tossed her dolly to her uncle. She headed towards her bedroom door. “Right, Uncle Mikey?”
Michael noticed the doll’s head was almost torn off its floppy body.
Arms folded and eyes steeled, Christina and Bridget both waited for his response.
“Of course honey. I will do right by you.”

Ding

Ding.
Kimmy ran from the elevator and down the hotel’s hallways. Her mind raced for answers. Just a few hours ago Kimmy and Angela eating eight dollar mini bar Twizzlers and bored af. Angela found something cool on YouTube.
Subdued abstract paintings zipped past as Kimmy stumble ran to room 931. Why did I do this stupid creepy pasta Bloody Mary shit? Kimmy thought. Maybe Angela is waiting with Dad in their room. Her heart pounded as she pounded the door.
“Daddy it’s me. I’m sorry you have to believe me. This isn’t like the last time. Angela and I did that elevator game. I know you said no. Dad!”
The door cracked opened.
“I’ve called security again,” the middle aged man said.
“Daddy please I’m scared. You got to help me. I can’t find Angela. We followed the directions to enter another realm. It worked. We saw the black grey sky and the burning cross. I got video. But when we traveled back to our realm on this floor, it was just me. Alone on the elevator.” She peppered the door with knocks as she talked.
Now other hotel doors cracked opened. Faces, confused or angry dotted the hallway. A pair of security officers rounded the corner. In a spurt of fear, Kimmy pushed open Room 931. Her not dad shoved her back hard. Somewhere a woman screamed. Kimmy slammed against corridor walls and slid down the wallpaper. Her phone smashed and skittered across the hall.
“Mom? Is that Mom?”
“Stop! Why are you doing this? we have no children.”
Helping her to her feet, a guard held Kimmy’s elbow.
Between the two massive uniformed men, Kimmy was frog marched towards the elevator. The elevator’s doors were closing. Between the slabs of metal, Kimmy caught a glimpse of her sister’s back. The girl wrenched free and dove through the closing doors. Kimmy was alone in the elevator car. Wildly Kimmy spun trying to make sense of it all. Pressing the nine button, Kimmy tried to call her sister but no bars. With a slight shake the machine came to life. Why did I do this stupid creepy pasta Bloody Mary shit? Kimmy thought. Maybe Angela is waiting with Dad in their room.
Ding.

Never Let Go

I wish I never let go
Under the flicker of fluorescents
Half-drunk coffee, stillborn dreams tucked into my desktop blotter

On another desk
Bright ink-filled journals
Circular stories traipse into the ether
Just out of reach

Always a hands breadth away
Or a lifetime behind
What would I be
If I never let go

Happily Ever After

There has to be a word for it, Leo thought.
Draped in linen damask, the sumptuous table was laden with heady red roses and platters of food. Guests, the wealthiest and most influential noble folk of Evermore, gathered round Leo’s table. Talk and laughter filled the air. Leo tried to catch the eye of Arabelle, his beloved , at the table’s opposite end. His wife was chatting with Lord Someone or Other and Leo only spied her creamy shoulder between the leaves of an overblown floral arrangement.
Leo wondered if he should make a toast or chat up Lady What’s Her Face who was seated to his left. But the fine lady was shrieking giddily to the Archduchess of Whatever. Leo downed his red wine, dark and a little bitter.
Leo pondered the dregs in the bottom of his crystal goblet. He remembered when he only drank his fine claret alone with his books and thoughts his only companions. His manse was his home and his cage. Long rides along the heath, collecting first editions, Leo enjoyed his life before love. But over the years his solitude weighed on his shoulders. He wanted the things, those feelings, that he had read about.
Arabelle had been a gift. Leo picked out his love’s voice above the din. Leo smiled to himself. A servant refilled Leo’s glass. He drank deeply. Arabella brought warmth to his cool heart and her light made his old family mansion come alive. She was everything Leo wasn’t.
Lady What’s Her Face was talking to him while deftly caressing his thigh. Leo shifted away and pretended to be interested in the guest to his right. Dropping his gruff countenance, Leo turned up his charm. The servants began to clear the table. Through the remains of a monumental asparagus salad, Leo peeped his wife still laughing, always laughing. She was the bell of the land and brought so many, many different things to his world. Of course their life together was wonderful. It was only the dessert course.
The candles glowed brightly. Next would be the cheese, then cigars and ports with the gentleman, and then back with the ladies, and someone would play that damned concertina. Vanilla wafted into the dining room. Everyone applauded the massive baked Alaska.
There has to be a word for it, Leo thought, this kind of happiness.

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Bloody Mary

Crack. Tiny twigs crunched under Connor’s sneakers. Miller HiLite burned in his throat. Connor’s eyes adjusted to the forest darkness. This was all Zeke’s idea. Every town has its legends. Jannertown had Bloody Mary, a witch who was hanged and burnt and buried in these woods. To hang with Zeke and his crew I had to prove I was bad ass. I had to find Bloody Mary’s grave and drive a penknife through it. It’s bullshit, but Mimi, she’s my friend who is a girl but not my girlfriend, says I’m smart and I can tough it out and show the boys I’m cool. She had held his hand on the car ride out to the woods. Janner Woods were an abstract of blacks and grays. The coolness of the penknife stung in Connor’s hand. He had a bad feeling.
High school had been hard being the new kid when all the cliches have been set and everyone knew everyone. Mimi with her soft brown eyes was his first friend. Now her friends were allowing him to hang around. He marched on. Connor didn’t like this forest but he knew it. He ignored the inky shadows and forced on Mary’s grave. At least it was what the kids thought was Mary’s grave. It was simply an old bare patch of ground where a tree once stood and now nothing will grow. Out of the corners of his eyes Conor could see the shadows disjointed from their moorings.
With a huff, Connor plunged the knife into the ground. The tall shadow men surrounded him in a circle of fear.
“Child, it is good to have you back.” One of the shadows condensed into Lilith, the queen sire. Her dead pale form stood before Connor extending a hand.
“I’m not staying. I like it in the world. I have friends. Well a friend But one friend is enough. You don’t understand. I want to stay among the living.”
“No it is you who does not understand.”
And that was when Connor heard the cracks, slealthy furtive cracking of twigs underfoot. Zeke and the guys were sneaking up on him. Connor could make out their heat, smell their excitement as they crept towards him. Evan broke into the clearing first dressed in a Scream hood from a costume store. Soon Zeke, Johnny, and the other John stepped out of the darkness. The high schoolers were all cloaked. Their eyes over brimmed with fear when they saw Connor’s family waiting in the clearing. Laughing, Mimi ran out into the clearing. Connor and Mimi locked eyes. It had all been what the humans called a prank. Mimi’s gentle touches were a con. Connor’s glamour fell away as she screamed. Tall and bone slender, Connor stood among his brothers and sisters. The queen sire shrieked the feeding call. Connor’s friends turned and ran. The branches shook as the family took to the air to hunt their prey.

Freelance WitchFinder General

“It’s weird, talking about this stuff to a stranger.” Frida fidgeted in the oxblood leather chair. Playing with her necklace, she looked out of the big picture window at the marshmallow world. Her eyes flickered around the warm wood interior and down at her mug of tea.
“I guess I’ll start at the beginning. The first sign was my glasses. I kept losing them. I’d thought they were in my purse and they were on my bedside table or in my console. Then it got weird. They were in the fridge or beneath the dining room table, then in the mailbox. Once I found my glasses inside an unopened box of cereal.”
Frida shivered at the memory. Ice crystals flashed as the wind outside the window picked up. She focused on her mug.
“Next was my car keys, my wallet, my phone, nothing was where it should be. Roge said I just needed more sleep. I got more sleep. Ten hours a day, naps, sleeping pills, it was not enough. Nothing worked.
“I was scared of myself. Was I doing this? How was this possible? One morning I had a thing–I’m an event planner or at least I was, my boyfriend Roger helps me out now—anyway I had this thing I could not be late. I locked all my necessaries in a box. It was empty. I lost it. I howled and my keys and wallet and everything flew at my face,” Frida said, absently rubbing the red scar by her hairline. Snow began to fall in powdery clumps as the wind churned.
“My furniture, I would wake up to my furniture in different places. Just a little at first so I would stub my my toe or trip over the ottoman. It got worse and worse. I can’t sleep alone. Things move in my office out of the corner of my eye. The kitchen chairs stacked on the table while my back was turned—Am I crazy? Tell me. Margie said you could help. I’ve come all this way to your house in the middle of nowhere. Tell me, Mr. Snickers, am I crazy!” Frida leapt from the chair. The entire house vibrated plummeted by wintry gusts.
“Keep your shirt on, sister. No need to tear the house down. It’s a rental. How would I know if you’re crazy? All chicks are kinda nuts,” Paul said. Leaning back in an easy chair, Paul glanced up from his phone. Paullie was in head to toe Addias including his handpainted kicks. Frida thought he looked like a jock who peaked in high school but couldn’t admit. With a smug smile, Paulie gave her a knowing look. She spun away and hugged her sides.
Her mug wrenched from her fingers and flew at Paulie’s head. Deftly he caught it and set the mug down on the coffee table.
“I’m no touchy feely medium. I’m a freelance witchfinder general. I find things, cursed things. You could be crazy maybe but you’re haunted most def. Some thing, some item, new to you possesses a hungry energy,” Paul said.
Clutching at her necklace, Frida paced the study. “This is insane. I haven’t bought any antiques.”
Paulie looked at her chest. Her mug shook on the coffee table. Paulie chuckled. “What about the ice, hot stuff?”
“This, my necklace is a gift from Roger. It belonged to his grandmother. He gave it to me for my birthday.” Frida clutched at the golden oval locket with droplets of garnets.
“Gird your loin, sugar hips, because your boytoy’s nana was Lady Elphaba, a 18th century witch known for bathing in the blood of virgins to regain her youth,” Paulie said holding out his phone with a photo of an old painting. Frida leaned over and saw her necklace on a maleficent beauty. With a pencil, Paulie slipped the chain off Frida’s neck. He dropped it into a bowl of potato chips. The necklace began to writhe and sizzle. When it popped into a blue flame, Paulie doused it with the cold tea. Frida sank back into her chair. Bitter smoke surrounded them.
“So that it, Mr. Snickers. It’s over.” Tears threatened at the corners of her eyes.
Hail battered the house’s siding. Three heavy knocks thundered at the front door. Paulie hauled her up to her toes.
“The wards will hold for a while but we still need to hustle on the cleansing ritual. Something has gone to a lot of trouble to isolate you and make you think you have a poltergeist. I got a hex circle on the kitchen floor, grab the bowl, Frida baby, and call me Candy everybody does.”

My Boy

How can I explain it. I’ve been alone so long. Sitting on the shelf so long, I watched my girlfriends go. I kept a smile on my face but inside at night in the dark I was hollow. I knew I was different not the typical pretty face but I wanted to be loved. I needed to be someone’s special guy.

I didn’t even notice the old woman. There were always gaggles of old hens clucking up and down the boardwalk in groups of three and four smelling of ointment and dusty peppermints. Our shop was high end and most of the rabble didn’t appreciate quality. My ears perked up when I heard “special gift for a special boy.”
The fine lady picked over the toy cars and the stuffed creatures. When our eyes locked I threw out my charms and she was hooked.
Soon I was wrapped tight in veils of tissue papers. I vibrated with excited the entire journey.
Where would I go? Mansion, penthouse, anywhere would be fine. It was all about the boy. I wondered about the boy, my boy. In my cream premium ten box festooned with a royal blue satin ribbon, I dreamt of the adventures we would have.
From darkness to love, I saw him. I saw him. Bright blue eyes, curls of dark brown, and freckles danced over the bridge of his nose, my boy looks just like me. Love spun out of me. Thunk I hit the floor hard.
Confusion slammed into me. I heard, “not another one” or something. Then the box lid shut me down.
I lost time I think for a while. I woke up on a shelf surrounded by dolls, all boy dolls. Police dolls and firefighters, soldiers and space men, and cowboys so many cowboys they were all arranged around. All untouched each doll waited to be claimed. I was in my boy’s bedroom.

Tucked under a white coverlet asleep, my boy was such a baby doll. He didn’t understand what we were to each other. I watched.
In the morning my boy’s bedroom was littered with doll heads. From beneath my boy’s bed I listened to his parents shouting and the spankings. I listened to his bitter tears soak into his pillow. My poor boy cried himself hollow. Once his tears pooled into sleep, I climbed back to the empty shelves to watch over him. Whether he wanted me or not, I was his. One day he would hold me and tell me his secrets one day.

Days are a blink
the weeks Tilt A Whirl faster and faster
and with a thundering of hooves the months dash by

Frentic years click away
each accelerant decade races uicker than the one before
my life burns in a comet’s tail

Time thickens when
faced with a handful of sandy loam
laced between thick glossy leaves

pulling warm taffy breaths
stillness stretches into an endless night sky
a universe on my window sill

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Mischief Night

“C’mon Corey it’ll be fun. What’s the harm?” Alice pouted her plump red lips. Fidgeting, Corey shuffled. Alice pulled at his arm. Polly laughed.
“Stop being a wuss, man,” Justin said and shoved Corey’s shoulder. The foursome walked out of the din of the carnival and stepped into the quiet glow of the fortune teller’s tent.
Incense, smoky and spicy, greeted them. Tall curtains cut the tent into smaller rooms and dark silky hallways. Corey clutched Alice’s warm fingers as they went in deeper and deeper. There were murky apothecary jars and hanging shrunken heads. The group rounded a darken corner. The curtains opened up to a gift shop. Justin pretended to be a zombie. Polly laughed. Alice picked through the sets of tarot cards as Corey sighed.
“Alice, Madame Calliope is ready for you.” A Goth teenaged boy who was playing Candy Crush on his phone directed them to another opening. Single file they walked in to a smaller curtained room. Behind a dark velvet enrobed table sat slight woman with lilac locs in a Mario Brothers tee shirt. Justin snorted. Polly laughed as the group settled around one side of the table. With a Mona Lisa smile, Madame Calliope scrutinized each person around the table.
“Buckle up babies let spin the future.”
The room drifted into a dark purple light. Suddenly, the candles around the room flickered alive. The fortune teller closed her eyes and her face grew slack.
“Alice, lay your hands palm up.” The medium studied Alice’s hands in complete silence. Slowly she traced each line. Madame Calliope inhaled sharply and pulled back.
“Why did you kill her?” The medium shouted. Alice whipped her hand away. Polly laughed.
“Shut the hell up, Pol. What is this shit?” Justin jumped up. The candles began to wan and splutter.
“I smell the gasoline. It was dark, so dark. You were there and you and you. The smoke—can you smell it—is choking me. All of you. I can hear laughing. When was it? When was it, Alice?” Madame Calliope’s voice pitched higher and higher. The heavy curtain of incense was cut with the sweet sting of gasoline.
“I didn’t, I didn’t it was Mischief Night. We were joking.” Alice sank to her knees and began wailing.
“You stupid cow, who did you tell,” Justin shouted and began shaking Alice like a rag doll. Corey pushed Justin away.
“Get off her, man. This is your fault. It was your idea to prank the Hasans. You bought the gasoline.” The men began shuffling and fighting. Polly tried to pull them apart.
“It was my fault. We soaped the windows and papered the trees. But I chained the doors. I didn’t think the fire in the leaf pile would spread. How could I know?” Alice screamed to the fortune teller’s empty chair.

Toeing off her boots Madame Calliope plopped into a chair. Outside her caravan the police where gathering up the quartet of friends into squad car.
“How was the recording, Spider?”
“Clear as a bell. But the way those marks fell on each other the D.A. will be smothered in confessions. I texted Mr. H that things went smoothly.”
Chatting about the next town, the two grifters shared a beer and the fortune teller tried not to think about the smell of gasoline on crisp leaves.

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