I… Well. I've had quite enough of this. Do you know how long we've been visiting? How long we've been showing up here, spinning the tales for you? Well, I'll tell you. It's been years. Decades! The weavers have been coming here, year after year, giving you these stories, watching them worm their way into your ears and out your eyes and through your tongue, and you've yet to have the common decency to do… to just… Ugh! There is protocol in play here, and you are flaunting it, sir. You are flaunting the sacrifice, and the words, and the book. Flaunting it all. It's simply unacceptable. Unacceptable!
You… You are still listening to them, though… aren't you?
We have more. We always bring more for you. The story of the table who walked through the door. The one about the six children who nursed on the she bear. The tale of the burning irons, the pick of wonders, the second sun that hid its face, or the speaker of cold nights… Tales! Tales to remind you of a wine you never drank and make you nostalgic for a place that was never real… yet. Tales to weave you a lovely shroud, and tales to sing you to your sleep. Tales that tick like a clock, or a coffin nail. Tales that are waiting, still…
Happy Birthday. We're waiting.
It's slow, isn't it? Feeling it start to pump through you, move with your arteries and veins. It takes a lot of getting used to, yes? Don't worry, though. It starts slow, then it speeds up, and soon, you won't even notice it. Yes, yes, I know it's quite uncomfortable at first, but it's fine. Eventually, you won't notice.
Well, yes, I suppose that's true. It does get louder, but by then, you'll be so used to hearing everything else that you can't tell. And you've got so much to look forward to! Right now, you get your nutrients through this system, but soon, you'll get to have it yourself.
Yes, but not like that. Hah! Oh, if you could see. It's a marvelous setup we have.
Now, don't you worry. I know this is very new to you, lots of meat and wetness, but it'll come to be quite comfortable. It's only eight more months until your insertion begins. You should enjoy this time. Lots of time to think and plan. It should be quite delightful. Just don't forget while you're here — you have a job to do.
Don't fuck it up.
You never believed in old superstitions. All nonsense - demons, ghosts?
You were, however, very eager to take centre stage in your friend's amateur horror movie, even looking up the kind of "rituals" a believer would use - mainly for a lack of imagination.
Some of your more superstitious - or more religious - friends wouldn't stay for the ritual scene.
Just some ominous chanting, and pretending to spill your own blood in a weird drawing on the floor.
Even those who stayed looked nervous.
You weren't counting on your knife hand slipping and cutting yourself to the bone. Amateur horror productions don't typically have a large prop budget.
You almost certainly weren't counting on an incomprehensible dark satire of the human form crawling out of the hole that wasn't there before your blood hit the ground, turning its irregular face on you and screaming from a hole in its cheek.
It would be silly to count on that, after all.
You weren't counting on the demon reading your mind and becoming insulted at the idea that it was "silly."
You tried to run but your toes were caught on something, and your foot began to harden. You weren't able to move your legs and your arms froze in position as the demon encased you in stone.
You had to watch your friends die slowly, their eyes pleading for mercy and their mouths screaming for death. Eventually, each of their dead bodies were absorbed into the demon, furthering the irregularity of its shape.
You were not granted such release. Your friend's misplaced eyes mocked you from shoulders, arms, and legs as the demon fell back into its hole, pausing only to amicably say four words through its misshapen cheek-flap.
"Not so silly now."
Found written on the side of a napkin in a Paris Cafe, 1911
Ah, what jolly good times are in store for us! Ah, such wonderful new things for us to learn!
Listen well, and you can almost hear the rattling of the machineguns already. Your nose is keen, do you find the whiff of rotten corpses as intoxicating as I?
Not much longer to wait, and it will all be ours. In just a bit, we will be neck deep in the dead. Then we can sleep! Isn't that grand, my dear old friend?
To walk among the weeping nations, and to feast? No.
To stand among the kneeling mourners and sing? Close, but not quite.
To dance to the rhythm of spent lives? Almost there, my friend.
What is best than to dream nightmares of a dying century?
The city’s more alive than most people think.
Sometimes, those who know where to look can see manifestations of the urban heartbeat, the very veins and arteries of the streets and sidewalks, wriggling through the cracks and chipped pavement, reflected in the dust-caked flickering lights.
Look to the black on light, look to the dusk-drenched corners, and you’ll see the fragments of the city moaning, groaning, reaching for something, someone, anyone, written in the forgotten names that write themselves in the footsteps of the living and the struggling.
Cuts, scrapes, cracks, tarnishings of the sky and sun and clouds and rain, these are where they stream from. The city’s heartache yearns through the lightning spiderwebs of the broken walls, the arduous rancor bursts through the blasted pipes and dripping, wasting, rust and grime that speaks of a muttering, but unvoiced, loneliness and resentment.
It waits, it watches, it judges. Passerby may try to erase such things or simply make them routine, live with them, as it has always lived by them. Someday it will reach the living things, yes. First it will choke the life, siphon the brightness from that which is to fall to deterioration, though the shimmering skyscrapers are beyond its reach for now, yet now, the humans will only expedite this growing calamity hidden in the scars of their accomplishments.
It judges, and it waits.
I'm sorry. I shouldn't have. I just got scared.
I made a deal, right? I needed to get him back. I loved him, and they could do it. I didn't think they could, but they fucking showed me. I said yes and got seven more years with him.
And it worked. It fucking well worked, and he was alive again. And since then, it's been wonderful.
But seven years is coming up, and there's a secret I haven't told. I got scared when I signed the contract. I didn't want to go to hell.
So I signed your name instead.
If you ask a quantum physicist, they'll tell you that most of an atom is empty space (for a given definition of "empty," anyway). Between the nucleus of the atom and the electrons zipping around it, there is a comparatively vast field filled with absolutely nothing. The same applies to molecules; between the atoms that make them up, there is a vacuum that can't truly be breached. If you ask an astronomer, they'll tell you that it's similar in outer space. Most of the cosmos is vacuum, with bits that are heavier and hotter that we call "stars" and "planets."
But I'm not an astronomer, or a quantum physicist, or any sort of scientist. I work the register at the local Wendy's. Every morning, I wake up in my shitty bed in my shitty apartment, get ready for my shitty job, drive to work in my shitty car, and stand behind a register for six hours, wondering what the hell I'm doing with my life. Then I drive home, neglect to call my mother because I can't stand to hear her disappointment in me for dropping out of college again, fuck around watching TV or smoking pot or masturbating or finding some more creative way to waste my time, eat a shitty dinner, and pass out way too late to start it all again.
I can't help sometimes but think back to all the choices that have lead me here, back to the ways I've screwed up, and wonder if there's any way to fix it. Mostly, though, I look at all the wasted time, and see everyone else doing the same, living short, pointless lives that don't matter.
I can't help but think that I'm just empty space, nothing but a void.
It's been ten hours since she went inside the walls.
I tried to stop her, but it was like stepping into a hole, swoosh, and she was gone. I could hear her quite well at first, lightly scrabbling on the plaster, but the sound moved towards the floorboards into the grate around 10 P.M. and I couldn't fit my head that far in anymore. There's still a corner behind the sink where I think I can hear something like whiskers, though.
The vet told me the other week that it happens all the time with her type, they just get up and leave for a bit, to stretch out the ol' instincts, you know? Except the stretching happened to my ceiling eight hours ago, you could hear the pop of bone beneath and everything, and when I climbed up to investigate I swear I could smell the food on her breath. I wanted to run down to the telephone to tell Dr. Kim, but the lines were stretched out too and the receiver was clogged with her matted hair. It's a good thing I propped the back door open before she left, otherwise she'd have gotten to it too, but I don't think the chair will hold for long. At least she hasn't gone into the furniture yet, which is nice.
The postman came in around eight in the morning, but when he made it past the front porch the roof closed in on him with the wetness of her mouth. She had always liked to play with him like that.
Listen to the sound of the empty speech.
Of voices you are unable to read.
Watch as your comrades forget their own names.
Even their role is forgotten with time.
Feel the blurred and wrinkled edges of these walls.
They crumble and collapse under your touch.
Catch the scent of the ancient bindings of your world.
Worms will eat them apart.
Know what happens to stories
When the authors march off to war.
(It’s been several years, but this story has stuck with me. I’ve reproduced it as faithfully as I could, with the exception of changing it from ‘bar conversation in a dingy county route diner’ to a conventional narrative.)
My older brother heard voices.
We weren’t a wealthy family, so my folks didn’t get him into some shrink in the city, or pump him full of pills. It was pretty much “shut up and act normal”.
Eddie was a full eight years older than me, so we didn’t have much to do with each other. He was a pretty lonely kid, and didn’t talk much. So I really didn’t know what was happening, until I was a lot older, and he was already long gone.
The only time he acted like a fucking loon around me was when I was about eight. Right after some massive screaming match with my mother, probably, about his voices, he asked me if I wanted to take a walk with him.
I mean, I thought we were going down to get ice cream. We were living down in Romeoville at the time, and I’m sure you know that Dairy Queen down on the main drag. I used to walk there occasionally to get something when our family had enough money to give me a few dollars.
Instead, Eddie takes me to this cemetery a few blocks from the house. He leads me all silentlike just right into the middle of all the markers, and stands there for a moment. Now, I knew even back then that Ed was a weird dude, so this wasn’t shocking or unexpected, but still, it was after dark, and I was eight, standing in graveyard.
Then, Eddie peered at a grave marker for a bit, took a deep breath, turned around, and stared at me.
“You can hear them, can’t you?”
I couldn’t hear anything, and that question scared the piss out of me. I shook my head and told him I wanted to go home.
He didn’t say anything, but it was obvious I’d disappointed him somehow.
We walked back in silence, which didn’t help make the situation any less creepy. When we got back to the house, he went up to his room without another word, and we never spoke of it again.
Now, things get messed up two years later. This was back in ninety-six, and a girl from Romeoville High School went missing, what was her name…. Meredith Parker, right? Yeah, that was it.
Anyway, this Parker girl disappears without a trace, and town apparently flips itself over looking for her. I was only like ten or eleven, so I don’t really remember much, until Eddie got himself involved.
Early fall sometime, Meredith had been missing for about three or four months. Eddie apparently calls the cops, and leads them down to some marshy spot off the I&M Canal, little bit past the Citgo refinery. Can’t tell you exactly where it is, as they never told me.
But, the cop and Eddie find an arm washed up in the reeds along the shore of the canal. Two guesses who it belonged to.
And, well, that was all that was ever found of Meredith Parker.
Now, Eddie had no reason to be there, ever. He had no reason to be walking there, no reason to have pulled over and gotten out of his car over there, no reason to just be wandering by. Pretty much no one had any reason to be in that area- apparently you couldn’t see the arm from the street.
So when the cop asks Eddie what he was doing there, how’d he find this arm, Eddie says his voices led him there, told him that’s where Meredith was. If there was a wrong answer short of “I killed her”, that was it.
Eddie was a loner, didn’t fit in at school, and he found the body under suspicious circumstances. Although the cops didn’t find any evidence to actually charge him with, god knows they tried, the town rumor mill pretty much decided he was guilty. He couldn’t handle it, and left town without saying anything a month or two later.
That would be the last time I’d ever see Eddie.
My life went on, though, and shit stayed more or less the same for seven years, until one day state police come knocking at my door, asking about Eddie. Apparently, they’d found him OD’d on heroin in some fleabag motel outside of Wellborn, Florida, of all places.
The previous night forty police departments all across the country had gotten calls from someone telling them voices had revealed the location of a local missing person. The next morning, forty bodies were recovered, and the phone calls traced back to Room 134 at the Americana Motel in Wellborn. A local patrolman busted in the room door that afternoon, found my brother’s corpse splayed across the bed, and the phone hanging off the hook, the number for the non-emergency line of the Chickasha, Oklahoma police department still dialed in, the call unmade.
I haven’t had the heart to look up who it was, but somewhere, deep down, I know that they're never going to find the forty-first body now.
I once had a nightmare about a doll.
It was a very short one, but it’s stuck with me my whole life. She was looking down at me, her face right up next to mine. She was pretty, almost porcelain but not quite, you can almost imagine her yourself.
The thing that sticks with me was her face. I looked into her eyes and saw green glitter all pasted to them. Pasted directly onto her eyeballs, with plain white school glue. It was in her eyelids, in her tear ducts, green shiny sparkly glitter piled and crushed deep into the glue. It was gooey and wet and fresh and I could even smell that white school glue smell. We all know that smell, don’t we?
Then she spoke.
“Look at what I’ve done to myself.”
She said it with such a smile in her voice, happy, loving. And right there, in my dream, I realized that she did this because she thought I would like it. She blinded herself for me on a whim. I think I screamed.
And then I woke up. I didn’t sleep much after that, and since then I try to avoid glitter. I’m fortunate that I don’t usually encounter it in everyday life, and I don’t tell many people about the dream so nobody’s going to prank me or anything. It’s such a silly thing, but I just… really hate it.
Still, that’s not enough. Every few weeks, I’ll find a single piece of green glitter in my house. Always about a sixteenth of an inch square, shiny metallic green, vivid like an emerald. Big enough to notice, small enough to be missed. I’ve found them on the couch, on the counter, usually on the floor. Once on my shoe - it must have been on my sole, picking it up somewhere when I was running errands. Must have kicked it onto the other shoe’s toe when I was taking them off last, right?
I always told myself it’s just glitter. It gets everywhere, and it’s impossible to get rid of completely, right? Everyone probably finds a piece of glitter sometimes, right? And the green’s gotta be a coincidence, right? Green’s a nice colour.
That… is, until today. I’m probably being silly. It’s just glitter, just a dream. Nothing like that can hurt me, it’s just my imagination. Right?
But there’s glitter in my bed.
your veins pulse with glitter and the novas in your teeth rattle at the door before they bore inside
when did we become so rickety?
you have holes in your eyes & they lead past your brain & through the universe's corpse-mother
oh, god, did she fear heat death?
you breath out &in&in&in&in
and you shut off the lights because the house was dark long before you came
you rattle at the door before you bore inside and you wonder when you became so rickety
your veins drop glitter in thin shining lines down your wrists
it suspends itself in shimmering, perfect spheres two seconds before it hits the floor
they rattle at the door
you shut off the lights.
Happy birthday, dear friend. I know, I know, I've barely known you for much time, but each life is worth celebrating, is it not? Through all the ups and downs, with family and friends, acquaintances and strangers alike, every little bit is worth celebrating.
I know you've missed out on quite a lot. So let's check everything out together. Oh, sure, sure. There's so much to explore. Ideas of yours, fully realized. Mysteries opened and doors closed. Proteges studying your writing, old friends missing your departure and taking up your helm. Look how much the seeds you've planted have grown! Whole worlds and universes, reproducing and interconnecting… it's grand, isn't it?
Oh, no, no, come on now. I know you're a bit worried. Stage fright, perhaps? Nervousness? Oh. Hrmm. Well, surely you must have expected that you were wanted back? No, you should stay here. I insist. Huh? No, you can't go now. Try? Sure. Go on, take your time.
That doesn't go anywhere. You can keep going though. We have time.
Are you done yet? Good, good. You seem tuckered out already. Let's start catching up on old memories. Welcome back, Doctor.
We have many more birthdays ahead of us.
Grainy owl photo
Its eyes gleamed red in the dark
Before it took mine
The day I said I loved you
you barely looked at me
as you walked away with your friends.
The day I said I loved you
I know you heard the words
because of how your mouth turned down when I spoke them.
The day I said I loved you
I know you were laughing at me
because the laughter cut deeper than any knife.
Except this one.
The day I said I loved you
you didn't lock the door
when you got home and I walked inside.
The day I said I loved you
you took a shower early
so you could get ready for the dance, but you couldn't hear me.
The day I said I loved you
I waited for you in your bedroom
just so I could hear you say it back.
The day I said I loved you
it was behind your face
through your eyes
and with your lips.