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.
“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.” “
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
“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.
1000 Blue Moon Way was spectacular. A towering sliver of mirrored glass piercing the sky. Paddy Crabtree skirted the line of tourists waiting to board the elevator to The Stratosphere, the tallest observation deck in the world. The young reporter moved to security. The lobby was what Paddy like to call precious minimalism, a fortune spent to look like nothing at all. Hands up, arms out, he went through the security scanner. A concierge, dark bobbed hair, impeccable tailored suit, generous red mouth, waited for Paddy to collect his belongings. “Right this way, Mr. Crabtree.” Paddy followed his guide’s sleek sure step across grey veined marble tile floor. He couldn’t shake the feeling that she was a panther leading him deeper into a jungle. Paddy also wished Bedelia hadn’t got roasted apricots on his tie. The elevator doors opened. Emilia that was the concierge’s name led Paddy from high speed express elevator to high speed express elevator. All the while she purred over the features of the world’s tallest skyscraper and charms of the world’s richest man. Paddy was here to interview this colossus. But Paddy wasn’t here the typical meteoric rise from hard scrabble coal town boy to astronaut to tech stock wizard puff piece. Paddy was here for Harkness Pauls. Emilia led him to a secretary’s office bigger than his and Siobhan’s apartment. After a polite knock by the secretary, Paddy was finally inside face to face with the great man. Harkness was a big man. Over fifty with the well maintained body of a man half his age. In a tight white tee and joggers, Harkness walked quickly and shook Paddy’s hand. Paddy’s whole body rattled. Paddy and the great man sat down in a matching pair of oversized leather chairs. With sports memorabilia framed on the walls and a collection of vintage playstation games, Harkness’ office had a boyish dorm room vibe. At Paddy’s elbow was a platter of sugar biscuits and sipping chocolate, his childhood favorites. Paddy turned on his phone to record and scroll for his notes. “Leave it Padriq. I hate to be bored, cut to the chase.” Harkness was learning back with his head resting on his laced fingers. “You know you were my hero,” Paddy said and nibbled a cookie. It was exactly like his mother’s even down to the burnt edges on one side. “I was a lot of people’s hero.” Harkness reached for a baseball and twirled it on one finger. “No I was the real deal. I followed your mission to Kepler 452b like a religion. When you splashed landed off the coast of Enniscore I was there in the cheering crowd.” “Skinny round headed kid with a blue and black striped jumper,” Harkness said tossing the ball back and forth. Paddy choked on his cookie. Harkness’s eyes twinkled. “Bring it home Padriq.” Paddy chilled. “I studied the specs of your shuttle. I visited it at the Dublin Air and Science Museum. It was heavier when it left Kepler than when it arrive even accounting for the speciums. You–” He fumbled for his phone. This whole interview was a fever dream. “God I can take this it is like wading through treacle. You think I found something out there. You think I found some alien tech that allows me to see in future and I used it to build an empire. But that doesn’t really make sense. If I could see the future I would’ve seen this meeting and known the great investigative journalist uncovered my deep dark secret. Use your noggin Crabtree. The future’s constantly being written.” Crabtree ate another cookie. Harkness tossed his baseball higher and began whistling a jaunty sea shanty. There was a polite knock. “Take care, Paddy, be seeing ya.” Like a skinwalker, Paddy was guided back down the elevators by the ever sleek Emilia. As the doors closed, Paddy pictured the cookie platter and his mum’s wonky stove. Paddy remembered the crowds on the shore of Enniscore waiting to cheer when the spaceman fell from the sky and was fished from their sea. He even remembered trading with a daft old fisherman his tin of snickerdoodles for a Harkness tee shirt. Back on the sidewalk Pappy stared up at 1000 Blue Moon Way and then whistled a familiar tune back to his car.
I wasn’t sorry when Evi left home. I mean I was ,but I wasn’t going to let her know it. I don’t remember Mama; she went away with baby Ferenc after the spring rains. But Evi left school to care for Papa and me. She was a little mother. Papa was angry at first. He was angry at the whole world for takng his baby boy. He used to shout and throw things. When his blood was up, Papa would take the strap to us. I am his favorite. I made him laugh with my funny songs and dances, but Evi only made Papa angry. Evi would make that face, all sad and teary, and it would upset Papa so much. I told her to be nice and to not make a fuss. But she wouldn’t make happy and Papa couldn’t help himself. When the troubles came, Papa started planning Evi’s marriage. I remember when Papa told Evi her husband was Bela Bussink, the old clockmaker. We were at the dining table with good mutton stew and appelkuchen for dessert. Cinnamon, warm and sweet, was heavy in the air and I pleaded with Evi with my eyes to be nice. I saw her eyes grow wide and I held my breath. All she said was, “Thank you, Papa.” Her voice was a pebble in a shoe. Then she smiled. I was so happy the night wouldn’t be spoiled. I was cross the next day when I realized I would have to take over the cooking, washing, and mending. I would have to be the little mother while Evi got to live with old Bela. He was no prize sure. At school, we threw rotten apples at his door and called him Old Mandrake because he was so gnarled. But old man Bela had a bigger house than ours and all of his children were grown and gone except for his youngest son, Erik. But Erik was a few years older than Evi and would be married off soon enough. Stupid Evi, I thought, she gets everything first. I didn’t see much of Evi after her wedding. I had to wear hard shoes that day and a silly dress Evi made for me. When I did see her it was the same old Evi, more pale maybe and that same awful teary face. I had to cook and clean for Papa and had worries of my own. One day Evi came back home to help with the canning. She was different. I can’t explain it she was just different. Eating her pickled beets a few nights later, I thought about my big sister. I knew she had a secret, a secret from me. Papa would be cross if Evi was keeping secrets. Next day, quick as a flash I slipped from school and followed Evi. I was an undercover agent like in the comics. I laid in the shadows of the bush watching her house. Finally Evi came out with a large willow basket. I could tell she was only pretending to shop. Soon Evi meandered to Zsusana’s back door, the midwife’s back door. Everyone even Papa feared the midwife. Maybe it was her loud voice. Or the bold way she had about her. The menfolk would whisper about Zsusana and grow silent when she was around. Church or no, midwives can bring babies into the world or stop them. I knew Evi was going to have a baby. I pressed my head to that door. The two talked of angels makers. The two talked of freedom. Through the thick wood I could not make out many words. Some I couldn’t understand. But I knew evil when I heard it. I followed her back to Bela’s house. I lost her in Little Wolf woods then she came up behind me. Something stone hard flickered across her face and then she was my sister again. “Evi, I heard everything. Don’t do the bad thing. Don’t kill,” I implored my sister. “Oh ZuZu, such big ears you have,” Evi said. She kissed my forehead to quiet my racing heart. Wrapping her arm round my shoulder, Evi pulled me close. “You have things all mixed up. Come home with me. I am making gruel for my husband. He’s under the weather. Let us talk over hot chocolate like when Mama was alive.” I don’t remember Mama. Sweet, velvety chocolate, the thought of the steamy mug filled my head as we walked through the forest.
The car door slams. A headache sizzles at my temples. One hand drums angrily on the steering wheels. One child is whining while the other’s long thin legs pound the passenger seat’s back. I’m forgetting something, something important. Loading the trunk I unpack my brain. Traveling with children is like decamping a circus, I think running back to the house one last time. Our tattered caravan backs out of the driveway and the children begin hitting each other in the backseat. Already exasperated, we exchange looks. We exchange a look. He navigates our narrow street. I fish for my phone and trying to remember what I’m missing. I don’t think about surviving strokes or where my kids are. I don’t know about variants or probation or planning a funeral. Driving through orange flame oak leaves we head for the highway on the way to grandma’s house. I’m hoping my ginger cranberry sauce doesn’t leak. He puts his hand on my thigh and tells me that story again. I still giggle. We pick up speed. The boys start singing Ring of Fire. Loudly. Soon we are all singing Maybe Baby. Loudly. The apple pie cools on our kitchen counter and I remember.
The Blue Route was an endless river slithering before them. There were only a few cars on the road. Mostly only big rigs like theirs sailed up and down the highway. Trevor fidgeted. Trevor missed his bed, his iPad, and his girlfriend Bree in that order. This was his first ride along with Mercury Transit. He was riding shotgun with one of the old heads, Tony. Convo, all of the Smoky and the Bandits, Maximum Overdrive, all floated in his head. Trevor thought the open road would be adventure and manly stories. Trevor looked at stone faced Tony and fidgeted. Slyly Trevor reached for the snacks Bree had packed him. “You open those stank ass boiled eggs in this cab and I’ll bust you wide open.” Tony’s deep voice was a throat punch. Tony said no eating smelly food in the truck. Tony said only grown folks’ music. Tony said no humming. For an old battle axe, Tony was terrifying. Trevor looked out the windows and started to hum Megan The Stallion’s Anxiety. Tony cleared her throat and Trevor started. “I ‘member when I did my first ride along. It was a night like tonight. Light traffic, good weather, the kind of night that lulls you right to sleep. Little Big Martin was driving and I saw it,” Tony said. Trevor waited. Tony coughed and shifted in her seat. She began again. “It was a woman, young and pale as porcelain. She had on a long shift, like an old fashioned night dress. Long red hair washed over her face, she was standing in the middle of the highway in our lane. She seemed kind of bedraggled you know.” Trevor nodded even though he didn’t know at all. “I thought there had been an accident of something. Sometimes people stumble out of a wreck confused, like. That when I realized Little Big Martin was flooring it. His eyes were big with fear and like I don’t know determination. I grabbed for the wheel and he slammed his forearm against my chest strong as a crowbar pinned me to the seat. Faster and faster our rig flew right into this woman in white. I heard the solid crunch of her body hitting the grill. I saw her fly into the air. Suddenly I went wild like I woke from a dream. I cold cocked Little right in his freaking jaw. He braked aways up. I opened the door to check on the woman. That when I saw her—it— sit up real quick and smile. Little yanked me back in by the nape and took off. In the side mirror I could see it running after us. I could feel three heavy thumps against the side of our box. Little Big Martin drove like a god. Then he turned to me and said, ‘never, ever, stop for Lorraine.’” Tony coughed a little and turned back to her stone face. Quiet, Trevor turned to stare out of the passenger window at the endless river of road.