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Graveyard Shift – Part 2

The ancient looking hand opens, slowly, and drops a bag of Peanut M&M’s onto the counter.

“Oh,” Mickey says, “Okay. That’ll be $2.25”

There’s a loud thump behind her as, presumably, Sid faints and hits the linoleum. Just as slowly, the front-most hooded figure pulls a five-dollar bill from somewhere on their person and retrieves the M&Ms. The hissing sound gets louder, and as they float back out the door Mickey takes it to mean, “Keep the change.”

Mickey turns to check on Sid, who has since come to. He rises slowly his feet, staring intently at her for a long moment before he gathers up the courage to actually speak.

“H-how long have you worked here, again?” Sid asks.

“About 15 years,” Mickey tells him.

“Right. Great. Please please please tell me that was the weirdest shit you’ve ever seen in here.”

“Oh, not even close,” Mickey leans back against the counter, “Welcome to the graveyard shift, kid.”

 

Line of Gemini – Part 12

Exhausted the next day, Sunny chugged a cup of coffee and hit the road. When she’d opened her eyes that morning, she’d managed to convince herself for a few minutes that she was in Nashville with her normal family. However, that didn’t last long when she saw that she was entirely alone. She called her parents and said that everything was fine. Both of her parents were on their way to work so they didn’t talk long. Somewhat relieved, but still feeling like garbage, she stared out at the road ahead of her. “Great, here’s hoping I don’t get attacked,” she muttered to herself.

Even though she turned on her music, she couldn’t get Tod and Eli out of her head. She was angry at them, angry at Tod for keeping it a secret for so long, angry at them for arguing. But more than that, she missed them and she wanted to help them. She remembered Eli had said something about granting wishes. Maybe she could wish for something and they’d hear her. She cleared her throat, even though she wasn’t even going to say her wish out loud, and thought hard.

*** Continue reading Line of Gemini – Part 12

Line of Gemini – Part 11

The cold night air took away Tod’s breath as the woman hauled him through the sky, toward the stars. “Hey, wait,” he tried to say, but the words wouldn’t form in his throat, and even if they had, he knew they wouldn’t have made a difference. They climbed higher and higher until Tod saw a gleam of gold below them – their planet. He could see the mountains from here.

“You know we can’t get through the barrier,” he said. “Not without Eli.” The only way he and Eli could go back in the first place was if they combined their energy and called for the other Gemini to help them. Tod going through alone – it would disturb the balance and their universe would fight against it. Without Eli, Tod was little more than a human.

The woman scoffed. “Well, guess you finally got lucky, Tadraz. I found a loophole.”

Tadraz. My real name. He grimaced. Her fingers latched onto his.

“Wait, what?” He tried to pull away. “What are you doing?”

He could feel her power coursing through his body. “No. No!” He tried to struggle, but she was much too strong. In a moment, she had merged with him and Tod was gone, seeing the world through her eyes, battling with her thoughts. It wasn’t long before her power overcame his and he blacked out.

***

Her name was Isolde and she was going to bring peace to the world. Well, that was the plan anyway. She pulled her hood down, watching Tod as he lay there on the floor. She crouched by his side, pushing his sweaty hair away from his forehead. “Poor baby,” she said.

“Isolde!” a voice echoed in her ear and she heard the familiar clomp of hooves. Smiling, Isolde leaped to her feet to see her father coming her way.

“Daddy,” she said, rushing over to him. “Look.” She pointed at Tod’s body.

Her father laughed. “I’m proud of you.” He kissed her forehead, then stooped lower to look at Tod, his muscles creaking with age. “What is he wearing? You can’t expect to march to the palace with him looking like that.”

She eyed Tod’s strange outfit. “Dad, you know the humans have weird superstitions. Obviously, those plastic things don’t work against us.” She pointed at Tod’s necklace.  

Her father was a Taurus, since the line of Cassiopeia was all female. Horns sprouted from his head and tattoos burned into his skin flickered in the light.

“Certainly not.” He chuckled, running a hand over his beard. “So, did someone else get Eli?”

“I don’t know yet, but I’m sure they will.”

“Well, I’m proud of you. You’re going to be queen.”

“Finally. We worked so hard.” She felt the warm light getting steadily warmer inside her and the smile on her face grew brighter. She’d tell her father later. He’d be so happy.

***  

“Tod’s gone?” Sunny yelled. She couldn’t believe it. She shook her head. “You were supposed to be watching out for each other.” Her voice trembled.

“I know – I know. It just happened so fast. I’ll find him, don’t worry,” Eli said. Better than anyone, he knew that was what he had to do.

“I’ll come,” Sunny said.

“No,” Eli said. “No, you go back home. You can’t come. You’re a human and you’ll die on our planet.”

“But you can’t even get home without Tod,” she protested.

“I’ll find a way,” Eli said, pushing past her.

Sunny ran after him. “But wait, you can’t just leave me – ”

He didn’t answer, slamming the door. Sunny wanted to run after him, but she knew he was right. There was nothing she could do – she was a human. She’d never hated being a human so much before. It always seemed like it was a gift – make a mistake, well, you’re only human. But now it was what was preventing her from helping her friends.

She checked the time. It was three o’clock in the morning. How worse could this trip get? She’d have to go home, tell her parents what happened. She just imagined how that would go.

“So the boys we adopted, they’re actually aliens from another planet. On the way to Nashville, we got attacked by this woman, who’s also from that planet, but they killed her, so it’s all good, right? But then another came to our hotel and kidnapped Tod. Of course I can’t do anything, so Eli left to go after him. And I didn’t even get to see the solar eclipse. That’s what I’m really bummed about.” Sunny burst into tears. She knew her parents wouldn’t believe her. Her dad would probably say something like, “Cocaine is a hell of a drug,” and her mom would think she was crazy.

Hey, even she thought she was crazy. She remembered that she hadn’t called her parents to tell them that they’d gotten here all right but she figured it was too late now. She lay back on her bed and rubbed her eyes, inhaling shakily. It would be fine. She’d go home, she’d make up a story, say that they found another family – it didn’t matter.

She’d just forget about them.

But she knew that wasn’t going to happen.

Immortal

Through cold eyes I gaze upon perfection,

And yet a sigh would deign to cloud my view.

How could such stagnant silver bear a god’s reflection

And yet still hold its burnished glow anew?

 

How could it capture once the me that was,

To throw before me now that which I’ve seen?

How could it bend most adamant of laws

And toss His plan to ravens while I preen?

 

The question’s pull grows dull once more,

The face of Heaven’s beauty drawn and droll.

For in this silver portrait of my core

I see a canvas more of paint than soul.

Graveyard Shift – Part 1

It’s around 4 AM when the group of cloaked figures wanders into the little backwoods gas station. There are around half a dozen of them, shrouded entirely by heaps of dark fabric, moving in near-perfect unison, and huddled so tightly that Mickey can’t quite get an exact headcount. She clears her throat as they pass by the counter, hoping to get her new co-worker-in-training’s attention. Sid looks up from the stool he has stationed just across from her, in the one corner of the store with decent phone signal, and Mickey nods in the general direction of the group—who, she now notices, are haloed by what looks like a dark haze of shifting fog (or maybe one of them is vaping. It’s honestly difficult to tell.) They seem to float along the ground rather than walk (that one’s a bit harder to justify.)

“What the fuck,” Sid mouths silently. As the figures turn down the snack cake aisle, he shuffles over to her side behind the counter.

“Who—what—the hell is that?” Sid whispers. Well, tries to whisper. He’s only been working there less than a week, but Mickey can tell the kid is jumpy even on a regular night, and now his voice is loud enough to alert the dead.

“Out-of-towners?” Mickey guesses.

Before they can discuss it further, the cloaked figures round the corner again and slowly creep towards the register. Sid ducks behind her, as if she will somehow be able to protect him from whatever horrors lurk underneath those cloaks.

Mickey looks closely at the figure that stands closest to her but can’t see anything like a face in the darkly draped hood. He (Or she? They?) extends a single hand, mottled grey skin stretched tight across a very visible bone structure. The figure, or maybe the whole group of them, makes a low hissing sound like the air is being let out of a tire.

Line of Gemini – Part 9

They rolled into the hotel around 10 o’clock and after they checked into their room, Sunny flopped down on one of the beds. “Man, I’m exhausted. I hope this silly eclipse is worth it.”

Tod sat down on the bed opposite and pulled off his shoes. Eli stayed standing. Do you really like Sunny…in that way? Eli’s thoughts were harsh and cold.

Hey, none of your business. And so what if I do?

We need to go back. I’m serious about this. You don’t know what it’s like up there. You can’t just run away from who you are.

Watch me.

Sunny tilted her head. “I’m sensing some tension in this room,” she proclaimed. “What’s going on? Talk it out.”

Eli just shrugged his shoulders, turning away from Tod and moving aside the curtain to stare out at the Nashville skyline.

“Don’t you need each other to use your powers?” Sunny tried. “What if more people try to attack us?” She got to her feet. Her voice was higher than she meant for it be, but she didn’t care. These boys were driving her crazy.

“It’s fine, Sunny,” Eli said, his tone turning cold. “Just stay out of this, okay? It doesn’t concern you.”

At his words, Sunny shrunk against the nightstand, rubbing her thumb against her knuckle. “Okay. Geez.”

“Eli – ” Tod said.

“Just shut up,” Sunny said, not even knowing why she said it. She knew Tod had just been trying to stand up for her. For some reason, she felt close to tears and she angrily turned away, staring at a picture of a purple river cutting through silhouetted trees, a sliver of a moon pasted in the upper right-hand corner. She stared at the stars sprinkled around the moon and then looked back at Eli and Tod.

Tod looked up at her, and Sunny saw the helplessness in his eyes, but she didn’t stay focused on him long before turning straight to Eli.

She looks right through me, Tod thought. Like I’m invisible.

“Of course she does,” Eli said aloud.

Sunny didn’t bother to ask, even though her stomach ached with not knowing. “Well, I’m going to bed,” she said. “Do you sleep?”

Eli nodded. “Some – “

Tod said, “We’ll just stay up and make sure that no one else is coming after us. Go to sleep.”

Sunny saw the softness in his gaze, the tender look that she must have missed a thousand times. She nodded thankfully. “Okay. Um, I’ll see you tomorrow.” After she went to the bathroom to get dressed she slipped under the covers. She’d never been afraid of the boys before, but now everything was different. She felt like she was in a room with two complete strangers. And looking up at the blank ceiling, she didn’t feel like sleeping.

Blasphemy; Part 2

Her husband decides to quit his job as an accountant to work at the group’s new soup kitchen full time. It’ll be fine, she tells herself. Her salary is enough to pay the bills, and he seems so much happier now. Who is she to take away his newfound sense of purpose?

Then, she starts finding the bank statements. Part of her is glad they never agreed to get joint accounts. All his savings start bleeding into the coffers of this group that calls itself “The New Era.” She knows what it is, but she can’t bring herself to say it.

Her husband says he still doesn’t believe in the religious stuff, but he starts to look at her like she’s a heretic. She calls around to see if there’s anything she can do, but everyone gives her the same response: “He’s a grown man; he can make his own decisions.” His mother tells her that she should be proud of all the good work he’s doing, dedicating his life to take care of the poor and elderly.

Before long some of the members of the group start talking about moving out to a compound in Arizona that The Father wants to build. Her husband says that he isn’t sure what that has to do with charity, but that he understands why everyone wants a place of their own. “People can be so judgmental nowadays,” he says.

Then one day, it happens: “Maybe there’s really something true about all the God stuff,” he says.

“I think you’re in a cult,” she tells him, and she can feel it crack the rift between them wide open. By the end of the month, they start signing the divorce papers.

She starts smoking again the day his mother calls, months later, begging her to stop him from moving out to the Arizona desert with a bunch of crazies. She tries to call him, but he’s blocked her number. She’s never considered herself a religious sort of person, but she prays for him. She prays for all of them.

Brine

He should have drowned that night;

He knows this

Deep-down as the water goes.

His mother thinks the sea

Must have taken pity

On his poor sinner soul,

But he is unconvinced,

Says there’s no benevolence

In the dark and the deep-down.

The water still speaks to him–

Its voice hushed and delicate

As it beckons him home.

Some mornings he feels the tide still rising

In the back of his throat.

Feral – Part 2

When I get him home and haul his massive grey-and-dusty-brown striped body out of the carrier, I see death sparkling in his eyes. The bit of his tail that didn’t have to be amputated flicks manically. He sinks his teeth into my wrist and as I drop him I think to myself: Yeah, that’s fair. I, too, had been pretty pissed off when I was forced to go to a hospital against my will, and I could only be held for 72 hours. Technically, I could have left Hades there forever.

He swipes his claws against my lower calf, blood blooming up slowly in their wake, and now I’m a little irritated. Because I hadn’t left him there forever. I had picked him up and given him a ride home. That was more than anyone had ever done for me.

The irritation fades quickly as he scratches the front door to be let out. My landlord, an avid bird-watcher, hates when I let Hades roam the neighborhood. “That thing is a killing machine,” he told me once. I let him out anyway, figuring he’s been cooped up for long enough. Fuck birds, what have they ever done for me?

For half the night, I try to get him to come back inside. He’s nowhere to be found. I start to wonder if this has been the final straw, if the promise of a steady source of food and shelter is no longer enough for him to stick around.

Thankfully, there’s a dead mole on my doorstep the next morning. I’m not sure how I got to a point in my life where a motionless and slowly rotting rodent on my front porch would be considered a positive, but here we are. The mole isn’t torn to shreds like Hades’ prey usually is, so I nudge it a few times with a rolled-up newspaper to make sure it’s not just stunned. Hades hangs back, pacing like he’s waiting for my reaction. I figure it’s either meant to be a gift or a threat— ‘Take me to get stuck like a pincushion again, and you’re next,’ he might be saying. I lean down to pet him behind the ears, and he allows the touch without hesitation or bodily harm.

“A bloodless kill. That takes skill, man. Good job,” I tell him. He makes a low, rough noise that sounds almost like a growl. It takes me a moment to realize that he’s purring.

Last Call

You and I melt into one another

Like the ice in my highball glass

Just past 2 AM, when everything is hazy

And perfect, too heavy and too bright,

But still faultless, somehow:

Holding on to your fingertips in a crowded bar,

Giggling like we’ve just met,

Stage-whispering over the bad club remix

in our own secret language.

Dahlia’s Secret; Part 2

“Ryan? Little Dowler, is that you? My, my, boy, have you grown!”

 

Ryan’s frown shifted into a brief grimace before he planted a courteous smile on his face and stood up to meet the newcomer.

August Elwood was a portly man, middle-aged, with a magnificent dark blond walrus mustache that nearly covered his mouth and curled upward elegantly at the tips. His head, most likely balding to begin with, was shaved and shiny, and his blue eyes twinkled as he looked Ryan up and down. Mr. Elwood had been a close friend of Ryan’s father, but the pair had had something of a falling out over half a decade before. While Ryan had not known Mr. Elwood well enough to care at the time, he could only guess that it had been some sort of business dispute. As he grew older, Ryan learned that Mr. Elwood and his father had been partners in banking—indeed, Dowler & Elwood remained to that day one of the preeminent banks of the area… despite the withdrawal of one of its founders.

“Good morning, Mr. Elwood,” Ryan said with a nod, gesturing instinctively towards the seat across from him at the table before he could stop himself.

The large man nodded in thanks before pulling up the chair. He was dressed in a fashionable black morning coat, the buttons of his shirt straining as he took his seat. In comparison to Ryan’s tweed jacket and tan pants, Mr. Elwood cut the image of an elite on business—what a banker would need at Clydesport, however, was beyond Ryan’s guess. A waiter boy rushed forward, but Mr. Elwood was quick to wave him away with a gruff “coffee.”

“So,” Mr. Elwood started, retrieving a handkerchief from a pocket and wiping his bald head, “what has it been? Three years? Four?”

Ryan smiled politely but offered no reply. Luckily Mr. Elwood was not looking for one, as he simply nodded sagely at the young man’s silence and continued: “Too long. How’s your father doing, by the by?”

“Well.”

In truth, Ryan had no idea how his father was doing—not for nearly two years now. After undertaking his current job, Ryan thought it far better to remove himself from any sort of home environment. What Mr. Elwood’s words did do, however, was make him wonder; wonder about his father, his mother, and Mary. It was hard to keep the smile plastered on his face as the old banker took his coffee with a muffled “thank you” from the serving boy.

“Good, good.” Mr. Elwood drew from another pocket a silver hip-flask, which he proceeded to upend over the porcelain cup. “Of course, I’ve seen Edward out and about. Good man, your father. Respectable.”

Ryan’s eyes narrowed behind his stained spectacles. “What brings you out to Clydesport so early, Mr. Elwood?”

Ryan’s question seemed to catch the older man by surprise, and he nearly coughed as he lowered his drink. Before he could answer, however, Ryan continued. “Surely an expansion out here would be a waste? No need for banks while fishermen are happy to sleep on stuffed cots.”

Mr. Elwood chuckled, but his face visibly tightened. “Oh, nothing special… a deal that I would like to be present for.”

Though his words were offhanded, it was easy to guess that Elwood was hiding something. Ryan pondered this for several moments, but did not want to push the subject—he was too, after all—and so took the older man’s words with a nod and turned his gaze out over the cresting waves.

There was an awkward silence between the two, which ended when Mr. Elwood seemed to spot several suited men that he knew further down the pier. The banker’s farewell was hurried, but its sincerity puzzled Ryan as the older gentleman rose from his chair and bustled away with a nod.

The Wreck

Like cloud astride the midnight sky

Their cold reflection in the deep

A lightless world, the silenced cry

Of ghosts of ocean’s muffled sleep

 

Swallowed by the silver crest

Of waves upon the moonlight cast

They failed the ocean’s bitter test

These sunken echoes of the past

 

Now rusted, crushed, made home anew

The victims of Poseidon’s wrath

Have found themselves a different crew

That lurk within the aftermath

Blasphemy; Part 1

Her husband tells her that he’s found god and that he’s working at that old folks home next to the bank. Not the real god, he says. That’s all metaphorical bullshit he uses to make a point, he says. C’mon Laura, don’t give me that look, he says.

Her love looks at her with a fire in his eyes that she hasn’t seen since they met back in college. He talks about all the charity work his new guru does, all the good he’s trying to spread around in this awful world. She mistakes the feeling bubbling up in the pit of her stomach for pride.

He starts going to meetings at an old church on Dogwood Street that’d been renovated into a house. He starts bringing home pamphlets and thin, vanity-published books with titles like “The Prophetic Soul” and “A New Era of God’s Light” that all read like cookie cutter philosophy steeped in gibberish and presented as gospel. Her husband tells her that all the religion stuff doesn’t matter, it’s the charity work he’s interested in. He defiantly doesn’t think this guy is really capital-g God. She figures he’s a smart man, too smart to get involved with something he can’t handle.

She goes to a meeting with him, once. A few dozen people sit around a bony man with wild brown hair who calls himself The Father. He tells them about the design of the universe and smiles at her like he’s got every answer to every question she’s ever had. For a moment, she believes that he might. When reality seeps back in, she feels like she’s been dunked in ice water. When they get back home she locks herself in the upstairs bathroom and smokes the half-pack of Marlboros that she’s been keeping hidden under the sink—one-by-one. She puffs the smoke out the little bathroom window, the way she used to back in High School; if she focuses on the burning in her lungs then everything feels like it’ll be okay.

Feral; Part 1

The veterinarian has thick, wire-rimmed glasses and he fidgets with the bandages on his hands when he takes me back to the examination room. While I sign the paperwork for my cat’s yearly shots and check-up, he clears his throat to get my attention.

“Uh, Ma’am. Miss Hughes, uh, I think—” I stare at him and tap the pen in my hand against the metal exam table. He clears his throat again. “I think your cat might be a bit…Feral.”

“And?” I ask.

“That means he might never be as tame as the average cat, especially if he was caught as an adult…” I know what it means, prick, I think. He says it slow, enunciates like he’s talking to a six-year-old whose puppy started foaming at the mouth.

“Is there anything else wrong with him?” I ask.

“Ah, no. Otherwise, he seems to be in perfect health,” he says, picking at the edge of one of his bandages. I feel a sharp stab of pride.

I leave the office quickly, with my hissing cat carrier and the pamphlet on cat behavior that the vet ever-so-kindly staples to my receipt. Once we’re in the safety of my car I say, “He acts like I don’t know what kind of animal lives in my own home.” The cat carrier strapped into the passenger seat yowls in agreement. “That’s right, Hades. Total asshole.”

I adopted Hades two weeks after I stuffed all of my shit into suitcases and moved out of my parent’s house. (“Adopted” here means “ran across four lanes of traffic to pick him up off the side of a highway.”) I named him for the fact that, when I found him, he looked like he had dragged himself out of the deepest part of the Underworld. I have never had a roommate who liked him. I have never dated someone who liked him. I have never met another human being who liked him.

Dahlia’s Secret; Part 1

The air was heavy, full of the sound of crashing waves breaking over the harbor. Mist was borne aloft on the breeze, bringing with it the smell of salt and shore. Every now and then a man’s shout, the horn of a disembarking ship, or the cry of gulls would shake Ryan Dowler from his reverie as he sat there, seated at a coffee table near the pier’s wrought iron fence, awaiting the vessel that would carry him far away.

It had been the gulls this time, their call breaking the monotonous sound of the ocean and causing Ryan to start. The young man straightened, looking down the dock for what seemed like the hundredth time in half-hearted search for his transport. When only the crashing waves greeted him, he sank a hand into the pocket of his tweed coat and drew from within a golden timepiece, which he flicked open. Minuscule hands made their slow dance across the polished backdrop—half-past noon. Ryan shut it and gave another look down the dock, a puff of derision escaping from nostrils.

Of course, Ryan expected such a wait and had prepared his patience accordingly. Captain Jasper had earned a bit of a reputation around of the docks of Clydesport as an excellent navigator, but somewhat unreliable in terms of punctuality. It was common for the old skipper’s ship, the Meredith, to take port hours after its intended arrival time, usually to the detriment of whatever contract Jasper had offhandedly signed days before. Ryan, after learning of this, had taken the necessary steps to avoid such a situation, and had arranged for their meeting some four hours early in order to try and assuage any lateness of the eccentric seaman.

Nevertheless, Ryan had made sure that he had been there for the initial meet-time at eight-thirty that morning on the off chance that Captain Jasper may keep his word. It had been peaceful then, the sun dampened by thick gray clouds and the sounds of the ocean surrounding the pier. He had sat at the same table he was now, nursing a small cup of coffee as he looked out over the waves through darkened spectacles. The Meredith had remained absent, which annoyed Ryan somewhat, but he recovered quickly and chose instead to simply enjoy the morning.

When a familiar voice boomed from behind him, however, Ryan could hardly help but frown.

“Ryan? Little Dowler, is that you? My, my, boy, have you grown!”

Feeling of Malaise – Part 2

Ohhhh. We’re halfway there. Oh, oh. This is their prayer…

The monkey stares back at her from his pastel yellow void. His smile is never ending. His teeth are too white, she realizes. The colors she is seeing, they feel too bright. Too pigmented.

Take my hand, and we’ll make it. Baby, I swear.

The monkey is smiling, almost wider this time.

Yesterday, Hazel’s eyes had been blue. Yes, Lindsay knew they had to be blue. Hazel’s fiancé had picked out that necklace she was wearing to match her eye color.

Now, under the lights, they looked green.

How long had they been doing this? Opening seemingly endless boxes of yogurt, organizing them. She’d opened this box before. The exact same fucking flavors, in the exact same fucking place. She knew. She knew that she’d done this before, goddamn it. Continue reading Feeling of Malaise – Part 2