Chapter and First

At a plain desk cocooned in a sun cherished nook
Editing my novel with a hour stolen
Voices inside my head captured between pages
I can’t finish, I’m no writer, I’ll never be good enough
In the citadel of books, all voices are shushed
Cloistered in hardback silence

Cloistered in hardback silence
In the citadel of books, all voices are shushed
I can’t finish, I’m no writer, I’ll never be good enough
Voices inside my head captured between pages
Editing my novel with a hour stolen
At a plain desk cocooned in a sun cherished nook

Jordy

“This is a hell of a lot harder than knit one, purl two,” Chris said. Her tongue stuck out a little while she concentrated over her needle and thread.
“Language young lady,” aunt Nancy said as she rocked in the rocking chair. “Remember you’re the silly bitch who wanted to learn this old timey crap.” Aunt Nancy took her niece’s embroidery hoop and demonstrated a French knot for the fourth time. Their heads like mirror images bent over the taut fabric.
“Did you know during World War II women ran the factories and farms and were even girl lumberjacks?” Vivi was very serious. Her mother and great aunt made affirmative noises in her general direction.
“I know it,” Lena said, half to her big sister and half to her stuffed kangaroo, John John.
Vivi ignored her and returned to her new book of useless yet inspiring facts for girls. “They were known as lumberjills,” Vivi continued.
“Everybody knows that.” Lena glared at her sister. Vivi matched her stare.
“you’re a baby. How would you know anything.” Measured, Vivi’s voice was sharp as a switch.
“V you cut that out right now. You gonna get it if you keep at your sister.” Chris put down the hoop, stitches forgotten. Every day was another battle with these two, she thought.
Lena rubbed John-John’s long velvety ears. “Jordy tells me things.”
Turning the pages angrily, Vivi returned to her big girl book. “Liar,” she hissed. “There’s no Jordy.”
“Jordy is my friend. She not yours. She’s mommy’s twin sister. She comes to me at night. Jordy got real sick and went away and Grammy Susie wouldn’t let anybody talk about Jordan. We play with my toys. She chased away the people who knocked on the upstairs windows. Jordy can be little like me or a grown up lady. But she’s always mine not yours.” With that Lena popped up, tucked John-John under her arm, and walked off. “She’s not alive but she’s not just bones, stupid.
Vivi sucked her teeth. Chris turned to her aunt. “Can you believe this….” Her voice trailed away as she looked into her aunt’s crumbled face. Covering her eyes, aunt Nancy ran to the kitchen. Chris chased her.
“During the war women spies sent coded messages in knitting patterns. Isn’t that cool?” Vivi said to the empty living room. Behind Vivi, the rocking chair began to rock gently.

A Killing

“Whatcha doing?” Tony asked
“Just killing my darlings, sweetie peach,” Mom answered.
Still typing on her keyboard, she turned and smiled over at him. Tony was used to her magic and weirdness.
“Can I have a juice box?”
“Have a glass of milk and grab me a beer.” Mom returned to the soft glow of her screen.
Tony made a couple of peanut butter sandwiches. Carefully he cut them into perfect crustless triangles, arranged the sandwiches on two plates, grabbed a six pack of beer and tiny house carton of milk. Tony juggled everything into the living room where his mom was writing her novel at the cluttered dining room table. Dinner and four beers later, Mom walked to bed with the last two beers. Stretched under the dining room table re-reading In a Glass Darkly, Tony drained his juice box and wondered if Mom would let Bill take him hunting this year.

What do you call a group of vampires? Tony thought. A pride of lions, yes. A murder of crows, bit over the top. But is there a term for groups of animals no one believes in. Aching, his taut muscles yearned to move. But he knew better. During his daytime rambling, Tony had seen the biggest concentration of hand written “Stay Away” hobo signs in the Tin Corridor, the city’s sector of old canneries and warehouses. Relentless he circled the building shells finding only sex workers and junkies. The look in his eyes kept Tony safe from trouble, the look in his eye and mare’s leg strapped to his thigh. Then Tony noticed the bar’s sign Carmella’s painted in black and blood red and smiled. Through night vision googles he watched that bar’s sign now. A Killing of Vampires that works, he thought. He watched the infrequent liquor deliveries. He watched more people go in then came out. He watched the frequent flyers and followed them home. What he saw tonight made Tony’s chest squeeze. The sunshine surprised him. Tony had sat motionless for hours, drowned in memories. Stiff, he climbed down from his perch on the fire escape and walked back to his room to plan.

Sharp and sweet, the air smelled of coming rain. Shifting his already damp balls, Tony pondered what was the old man’s problems if he should have just gone hunting with Caleb and the Chunk instead. He scratched and make a slight moan.
“If you’d rather make noise than get meat for the season you could’ve screwed off with your nimrod friends,” Grandpa Bill said.
Used to the old man’s magic and weirdness, Tony laughed out loud. “Okay Mighty Hunter, two can play this game. What’s wrong?”
Tony could smell despair and embarrassment from Grandpa Bill mingle with the smell of yet to fall raindrops.
“I have cabin fever. These Pennsylvania winters are getting too hard for my bones. My friend Paul went West and I’m going to join him in Cali.”
Tony listened to the tone in his grandfather’s voice as images of unpaid bills and foreclosure notices drizzled down his mind’s eye.
“Sounds great. Swimming pools and movie stars.” Tony could sound lighthearted too. “I could join after graduation.” Their shoulders brushed in the tiny camouflage box. The rain began to fall. The warmth of the forest ground struck by the first raindrops rose around them.
“I’m going to miss…” Tony paused as Grandpa raised his rifle at the approaching buck.

Silently, Tony followed the old man up the alley. Bill had taught him the first rule of not being seen is make sure not to be followed. He felt the eyes on his back. He knew they were closing in. He knew this was a trap. The old man was carrying a heavy sack on one shoulder. Tony let himself be led into a blind alley. Dropping his back pack at the alley entrance, Tony drew out his pistol crossbow. He leveled his weapon at what was left of his grandfather’s back. Musky rage filled Tony’s nose. Angry animals always make mistakes. He clicked the detonator without looking back. Flames and screams overwhelmed the scent of their rage. The old man dropped his grisly sack of leftovers and whirled. Tony shot the arrow. Straight through his not beating heart, the old man was pinned to the alley’s brick wall. They both howled.

At Carmilla’s a fast acting fire added to the rosy glow of the coming dawn. Raindrops smoldered on the bits of vampire left from the firebomb. Tony watched Bill until the sun’s ray turned his grandfather’s body to ash. He watched until the ashes floated away on a river of tears. Petrichor, the smell of earth after a fresh rain, brushed against Tony’s shoulders and was gone.

A Bedtime Story

Once upon a time
Damsels in distress
A tower among the clouds
The hero on a quest
True love’s kiss
In the dark a chittering of evil

Tell one more please
Bedtime is princesses and knights
Man eating giants and question filled trolls
Fluffy stuffed bears and race car comforters
Not for me
My dreams were fed on other stories

Sharp knives and trip wires
Snap of a branch
Reading the signs
How not to be seen
Tracking legends urban
Remember there is always one in the chamber

Concrete pillows and a blanket of moonlight
The city’s glittering throat offered up to my touch
Tracking ghosts, hunting hunters
Armed with a backpack of wooden stakes
Thwack!
Even the dead tell stories.

The Signs

There have always been signs. Ever since there have been have and have nots, beggars, derelicts, people currently without housing, those in need have communicated with others of their ilk to eat, to get help, to protect themselves. A small pile of stones hidden meant shelter. A coarse cross scratched on a doorstep meant a kindly soul. Tony learned the hobo signs from his Grandpa Bill who learned them from his own grandfather.
A drawing of a cat meant a generous woman. A smiling face meant free medical help. His mom always said her dad was three kinds of useless. But Grandpa Bill taught Tony how to hunt and read the signs in the woods. He taught his favorite grandchild how to read people and see around corners. And Tony remembered all the things Grandpa Bill taught him.
Maybe that why after Grandpa Bill fell on hard times and headed to California to get his feet under him Tony was sure he was okay even when the phone calls stopped. That the old coot was okay. Tony knew his grandfather was okay until he felt in his bones that the old man wasn’t. Without hesitation, Tony took a bus cross country. With his baby face and faux guileless charm, Tony got answers easily. He followed leads until they led to a homeless encampment among the dive bars and abandoned warehouses. The trail grew ice cold. His grandpa was missing. Al lot of grandpas were missing.
Tony didn’t bother with the police. He knew no one really bothered looking for the homeless or runaways or sex workers. Some people are just less dead than others. Instead Tony got a job at Goodwill, moved into a long term sketchy hotel, and he read the signs of the city. With time he picked out the metallic smell of fear under bridges and in supermarket Dumpsters. Finally he notice a rectangle with a dot the hobo symbol for danger written in chalk under an archway. He saw the danger code again in black permanent marker on a STOP sign. Then he saw it again and again.
On the way to work Tony saw danger code with a pair of double Vs. That night Tony dressed in his black hoodie and started to watch the encampment. Night after night Tony watched people, following the fear.
When he stumbled over his first corpse, a little old lady who used to work in nursing home, tucked partially under a park bench Tony could see how pale she was. Her neck was torn away but not nearly as bloody as the wound should be. Her small hands were unblemished and her face was peaceful as angels. Tony prayed over the little old lady. He remembered when he first came to LA this little old lady had been kind. As he walked back to his hotel he remembered her name was Ines. As he walked home Tony realized how Vs can look like fangs. Laying in bed covered in dawn Tony fingered the crucifix around his throat and planned the hunt.

Castaway

Knowing you’d slip beyond the horizon,
Still you cast your net for my silvery heart
That laughed at romance’s silly clichés.
A spy in the house of love
Feet planted in the shifted sand, I was.
How could you trick me with an unblemished shore?
You held me under ceaseless waves
Naked I washed upon our shoals,
Driven and tossed

Find me

Find me

Driven and tossed
Naked I washed upon our shoals.
You held me under your ceaseless waves.
How could you trick me with an unblemished shore?
Feet planted on the shifted sand, I was
A spy in the house of love
That laughed at romance’s silly clichés.
Still you cast your net for my silvery heart
Knowing you’d slip beyond the horizon

Four to Twelve

“What can I get you today?” Bobby asked the man in the far left four top.
“Just coffee with sugar.” His menu sat untouched in its chrome holder.
“Right away, mister.” Bobby’s fake cheerfulness was more fake than cheerful. It was near eleven o’clock. The last hour of a four to midnight was always the weirdest in a diner off a busy road. Eight to four is the normals with the breakfast club seniors providing color commentary. Bobby rarely worked that shift because of school. And midnight to eight was neither mind numbing boredom or nerve wracking drunken shenanigans.
“We got troubles Bobby?” Lil asked without looking up. Lil always pronounced Bobby’s name like “Barbie” and this always made him smile. She was old friends of his foster mom and made him think of grandma hugs.
“Nay he’s safe as houses Miss Lily. Probably needs caffeine for a long drive. He looks like a Sunday school teacher.” Bobby poured silky brown coffee into a chunky white mug. Lil spared him a look.
“One day I’ll tell you a story about a Sunday school teacher that will curl your hair.” Lil returned to her phone.
“ here you go sir. The specials are meatloaf with mushroom gravy, Salisbury steak, chicken parm with spaghetti and soup of day is chicken orzo.” Bobby set down the coffee cup.
The man was doodling on his paper placemat. He doesn’t bother to make eye contact. “That sounds very special. But no.”
Bobby remembered the sugar and turned. The bell of entrance rings. In walked Fiona, Mel, and Zoe. Sugar forgotten, Bobby gaped. Over her shoulder Zoe tossed him lingering look. Bobby stepped towards the trio then turned and hid in the men’s restroom.
The sound of raised voices shook him from his stall. In the diner a group of high schoolers were holding court in one of the corner booths. The solo was watching him with intensity.
Damn, Bobby thought. Quickly he topped off the solo diner’s coffee and brought the sugar. The diner smiled and looked away. His placemat was a detailed sketch of a sun dappled suburban street. Bobby was captivated.

“I love to draw too.”

“Yeah you do,” the stranger answered.
The crowd of kids yahooed. Bobby took their order of seven glasses of water and an order of fries.
“Millionaire’s special, Ronald,” Bobby told the short order cook. Lil and Ronald cackled knowingly.
“What’s going on?” Bobby asked the three women.
“Finally,” Mel huffed.
“This place has terrible customer service,” Fiona said. “I hope the pie is better than the waitstaff. “
“You promised you’d be nice,” Zoe pleaded. “Bae I just thought I’d I mean we’d drop by to see you on your—“
“Stop i don’t celebrate and you know why. I don’t know how to be a couple I can barely be me. You said you were cool. You said you understood.” His friend/almost girlfriend hurried out and Bobby caught her arm just outside the diner door. Their fragile love was painted by the diner’s neon light. They argued. Bobby punched the glass. Zoe cried. Her friends came outside and called him names. The three drove out of the parking lot and Bobby called for Zoe. Zoe braked on the shoulder and she kissed him before driving away.
Flustered Bobby walked back in. The high schoolers hooted. Lil folded her arms and glared. Ronald shook his head as he scraped the grill.

The solo had left behind his empty cup, a Jackson, and a map of a friendly familiar street that tickled Bobby’s mind. He traced his fingers over the drawing. It was signed happy birthday. A highway of memories, snapshots of Christmases and parties and a mother he could almost remember, all roared passed him. Bobby folded his map and searched the still parking lot.

Come October

Tell me bout the children
Are the girls okay
Let little Lucy know I would sew her Spring Fling gown if I could
I wanted to
rosebud pink with Swiss dots
Spaghetti straps
No don’t bring them here
I want them to remember Meemaw like I was
Like I’m supposed to be
Don’t ask how I’m doin’

Did Bobby and Jack cover the hay
From the summer rains
Daddy’s gonna be mad if—that’s right some days it’s like he’s still here
Even if you don’t love somebody
They are still yours
You are still theirs
I never had a say in what happened to me
Like an old tree growing with a fence
You can’t break them part
Without one being cut
Don’t ask me about your father

Even in here
I can smell the harvest
It’s a warm sweetish smell
Daddy and me would’ve been forty years
Come October
He done what he did
And I never asked questions
He’d slap me into next week if I did
It’s not fair they blame me for what he done
You know I would never hurt nobody
What could I have done

My seed catalogs came today
I turned the thin pages half the night
Busting with
Choices
The papers say I should’ve known
so many farm hands coming and going
Always leaving their things behind
Us never paying salaries and all
I kept the books
And my mouth shut
Come spring they’ll move me from laundry to gardening
I hope
I’m not the kind that asks questions

Pet

Dry leaves tickled the side of Paulina’s right cheek. Her mother calls her Lina but she likes it when Daddy called her Yo Pauly in a funny voice. Wishing she was warm on the sofa eating cereal, Paulina is chilly.
Wet grass smell with a touch of iron rose around her. Confused Paulina tried to inhale. Theo up the street had puppies and he said she could have one if she wanted and she wanted. She and Daddy had even gone to the store with the pets and stuff but Mom said oh no. Moms always say oh no. So when Paulina saw the pretty yellow dog from her bedroom walking in their yard she said yes. She is moving but not walking. Every thing is jumbled.
Paulina’s mouth tasted of peanut butter and slippery salt. She loves peanut butter. Paulina made her new pet peanut butter and banana sandwiches. It was still dark outside with a little pink. Paulina thought, I’m afraid of the dark. Daddy told me there is nothing in the dark that is not in the light and to not be afraid. Paulina remembered being brave with her plate of sandwiches in the woods behind her house. Many eyes shined back at her in the dark between the trees.
Weak light stabbed through the leaves overhead. Paulina can see her Tickle Me Elmo plate and the spilt sandwiches. She reaches for the back porch, the still open back door. The kitchen light, still on, grew farther and farther away.
Crunch. Low growls greeted her. Howls tussled over and around Paulina. A scream awaken her but only for a minute. The brightening light blinked away. Sleep warm held Paulina tight and safe.

5, 4, 3, 2…

“Don’t be a little chickenshit, Ashton,” Jordie said.
“Yeah man grow a pair,” Drew parroted. Drew waggled his eyebrows at Jordie in a way that he hoped she would find adorably sexy. Jordie wrinkled her pert nose.
Aston threw a harder than necessary play punch to Drew’s shoulder. “Quit dick eating bro,” Aston said and left the pentagram and opened the door. Kaley with a K and Caeli with a C mockingly booed as Ashton left with one of the five candles. He flipped them all the middle finger as he strutted into the dark hallway.
With dove gray walls and fresh vanilla wall to wall carpets, the model home was actually nice. Jordie had stolen the code from her mom a realtor. It was kind of a shame about the red marker five pointed star scrawled across the living room, Kaley thought. When Jordie asked him to sneak into an empty house to play Drew had hoped they would eat edibles and make out. Instead the gang showed up and Jordie was all set to play Telephone Black.
It had taken forever to duct tape blankets over the windows on the first floor for complete darkness. The five of them, Jordie, Aston, Drew, Caeli, and Kaley, lit the candles Jordie brought and Caeli with a C stole her grandma’s rotary phone.
The phone was heavy and grim with a stiff greasy cord. Aston pretended to pummel Kaley with a K with it and squeeze her boobs. His girlfriend Caeli pretended not to notice. Drew refused to touch it.
With only four candles remaining the pitch black room in the pitch black house at midnight was working on Drew’s nerves.
“Shouldn’t he be back by now,” Drew said watching Jordie watching the battered old phone. The numbers were yellowed and some half rubbed away. Drew wondered how Caeli’s Grammy made calls.
“Who?” Kaley and Caeli asked.
Drew pulled his eyes from the phone. “Aston,” he said.
Both girls blinked back at him questioningly.
“You play too much,” Caeli with a C said laying her tiny hand on his thigh. Drew Was taken aback. Then he laughed and Caeli laughed because Drew was kinda of cute even if he liked Jordie more than he liked her. Kaley laughed because it felt weird not to.
“Shut up. You will disturb the spirits.” Jordie’s voice was so low the hairs stood up on the back of all their necks.
“Telephone Black, Answer Me,” the four chanted. Jordie looked at Caeli with a C. The girl got up and reached for me of the four remaining candles. “Can Drew come with me?” Caeli asked. Her smile almost hid her nervousness.
“That’s not how it works. You go alone into a dark room and blow out your candle and when you come back the phone rings and tells you how you will die or what’s in your future.” Jordie’s voice grew soft and sweet. I mean if you don’t want to know if you will marry some hot or rich.”
“Or rich and hot,” Kaley said. Giggling to lighten the mood.
Caeli hurried from the room.
Drew watched the door. He turned to face the two girls. Kaley was looking at her nails, bored. Jordie stared into the phone like it was a campfire. He swiveled from the door to the girls to the door.
“She probably making up with her boyfriend,” Drew said in a small voice. Kaley frowned up at him and then returned to the wonders of her manicure. Jordie chanted.
With a huff Kaley grabbed one of the remaining three candles.
“Let’ finish the ritual and get tacos,” Kaley called out merrily and headed out.
“Wait, wait. Stop something’s wrong. It’s like a curse or a dream,” Drew called out.
“You play too much,” Kaley said over her shoulder as she slammed the door stepping into the darkness.
Drew felt as if his brain wasn’t connected to his feet. Stumbling over his limbs, Drew raced after his friend. The door closed behind him was a satisfied slam. A candle blew out.

Jordie sat alone in the model home, it was a little nugget of generic crap. The only cool thing was the pentagram, she thought. She lit a joint off the candle she bought from home. She wished she had dope friends at school down for anything. This could be a mad fire seance or some game with a Ouija board or something. Jordie took a long drag. Suddenly out of the dark a phone rang.