Spine Call

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Rrrrrriiiiiiiinnnngggg. Rrrrrriiiiiinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnggggg.

‘Hello.’

‘Roland, hi, it’s me.’ Breathing. Breathing.

‘What’s wrong? You sound out of breath.’

What’s wrong? I’ll tell ya what’s wrong, Roland. It’s my spine.’

‘Well, that doesn’t sound good, friend. The spine is important. The spine is everything.’

‘Don’t ya think I know that? Aaaahhh!’

‘What just happened? Are you okay?’

‘Aaaaahhhh! Egads!’

‘What’s happening over there?!’

‘My spine! It’s my spine, Roland!’

‘What’s wrong with it? Do you need help?’

Breathing. Breathing. ‘… No… No, it’s stopped, now…’

‘What’s stopped? What’s happening?’

‘My spine, Roland, it’s doing something to me.’

‘What do you mean it’s doing something to you?’

‘It’s moving. It won’t stop moving.’

‘I don’t follow you, friend.’

‘You don’t need to, Roland. Just listen to me.’

‘I’m listening, I’m listening.’

‘My spine is moving. Moving, violently. It hurts.’

‘Perhaps, you should lie down, my friend.’

‘I can lie down, I can stand up. Sit, walk, run, crawl – Hell! – nothing matters, nothing changes. My spine keeps moving, Roland.’ Breathing. Breathing.

‘Alright, just relax. You sound like you haven’t slept in days.’

‘They’re all leaving me, Roland. Every last one.’

‘I’m lost, again, friend. What’s leaving you?’

‘My bones, Roland! My bones are vanishing. As if they were never there.’

‘Oh, come, now. What’s this your spouting? Come to your senses.’

‘My feet are shapeless. My legs are useless and like rubber.’

‘You need rest, my friend. You need a full night’s sleep.’

‘My bones from the bottom up are disappearing.’

‘…’

‘Do you hear me, Roland? Since I called you, my hips have dissolved and vanished.’

‘You need to stop this. You need to listen to me.’

‘It’s my spine that’s next, I tell ya. It’s moving and fighting. It’s going.’

‘I’m gonna drive over there if you don’t stop, soon. I’ll put you in that bed myself. I’ll see to it. That’s a promise.’

‘Aaaaahhh!’

‘This is madness! What are you doing there?!’

Breathing. Breathing. ‘Once my spine is gone I won’t be able to use my arms and hands. I’ll still have those bones, but it’ll be the same as not.’

‘You hear that jingling, friend? Those’re my car keys. You’re worrying me.’

‘Don’t come here, Roland. You shouldn’t see me like this. All flesh and no structure. It’s pitiful.’

‘I’m sitting here, keys in hand, wondering how long you’ve really been awake.’

‘Yea, I’ve been awake awhile. Won’t deny that. But, that won’t make my bones come back. Roland, you just stay where – Aaaaahhh!’ THUNK. Silence. THUD. Distant breathing… breathing… breathing…

‘Hello?! Hello?! What’s happened?!’

Distant. ‘Oh, Roland. Oh, god.’

‘Talk to me. What’s going on? Have you fallen?’

‘And, it’s gone, Roland. My spine’s gone.’ Still distant.

‘No, my friend. You fell. You’re imagining things.’

‘My spine, it just went, just like that. I dropped the phone. And then, I fell, too.’

‘… My friend…’

‘Can only move my mouth and eyes, Roland. Oh, god. Oh, my teeth ache.’

‘…’

‘Roland, you’re the only person I thought to call. You’re my friend. Paint what I’ve told you tonight. Paint these images on your white canvases.’

‘My friend… I… you… you need to stop this… this isn’t actually happening…’

‘Promise me you’ll paint what’s happened here tonight. Paint these horrors. Oh, it’s horrible. Aaahhh!’

‘…’

‘My teeth – AH! – Roland. Like a mouthful of cavities. All packed with sugar… promise me you’ll paint.’

‘… I… my friend…’

‘My whole head, it feels like it’s splitting. Roland –‘ Silence. Breathing. Gurgling.

‘Hello? Are you still with me? Hello?’

Gurgling. Breathing. Silence. All distant.

‘… My friend. Hello?’

Breathing. Breathing. Gurgling. Guttural.

‘…’

Inhuman. Silence. Distant. Distant. Intake. Exhale. Silence. Silence.

‘…’

Silence.

‘…’

Silence.

Click.

Spine Call

You Smell of Smoke

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It’s snowing out. A few weeks before Christmas Day. You’re shopping for presents. A scarf, red like something burning to embers, a gift for someone you love. You feel the fabric on your fingers, slide it along your palm. You need to wash your hands. It’s not cashmere, but it’s soft. You know about softness. And firmness. You know a firm hand, as the saying goes. Momma had a firm hand. Which doesn’t matter anymore because momma’s been dead as shit for who knows how long. Can’t kiss momma anymore. ‘Do you need help?’ asks a friendly voice. You start and turn. A girl in a red work-shirt. She works here. She sees the scarf in your hand. ‘I have that same scarf,’ she says. ‘Really warm.’ You nod, gripping the scarf in clenched fists. She’s a young girl. You think you’re looking at her for too long, not in her eyes, other places. You wonder if she jogs. How fast she runs if she runs. ‘Gift for my mom,’ you tell the girl. Maybe this is what is happening. Maybe this is where you are. Maybe not.

Another possibility: You’re sitting in your car, your truck, whatever it is you drive, in a parking lot overlooking an airport. Planes come from the horizon. There you are, smelling of secrets, smelling of flames, watching the moving lights in the night sky. Your t-shirt has been cleaner. Should be white, but it’s not. It’s yellowing. Red on it. Brown, probably dirt. Smells, too. Smells like you. Like your secrets and smoke. Scratches on your arms. ‘I got a new cat,’ you don’t say out loud. You’ll need to start saying it. Here comes another plane. Red lights on the wings flash. Lights on the runway are steady and yellow and orange. You realize your windows are up, so you roll them down. The whole car or truck must smell like you. Maybe not. Maybe so. Maybe this isn’t where you are. So, where are you?

Another possibility. Another place you are: With your lips, you kiss the heads of your children, they sleep, tucked sweetly, they don’t dream of such horrible things. You know of horrible things. You smell of different things. You smell like red would smell. You have decorated the house this year. Christmas lights line your home, inside and out. Lots of red lights, like ones on top of buildings, the ones that warn planes if they’re too low, too close. You know how you smell. Deep, like woody smoke. You hear your wife’s footsteps downstairs. She’s filling the kids’ Christmas stockings. You join her in the parlor, helping fill the stockings with candy. A Hershey bar in each. The Christmas tree glows around your wife. It halos her. She puts her arms around your neck, you kiss your wife. This is normal. You like that. You like the idea of being normal. She rests her head on your shoulder. ‘Do you smell burning?’ she asks. Maybe this is where you are. Maybe. It’s possible. Maybe not.

Because there is another possibility. There are possibilities. Sit tight. In your car or truck: You barely have money to fill the gas tank. You do odd jobs in odd cities, odd towns, strange, little hamlets. Places that smell like pink trees in summer and woodstoves in winter. You wander the aisles of a convenience store, not much you can afford to indulge in in here. You just need a gallon of water to live. You finger the candy bars at the register. You love sugar. You love how chocolate smells. You can smell your shirt and your pants and shoes. You smell like secrets. The store clerk smells burning. ‘Smells like a brush fire,’ she chirps. You glance up from the candy bars. You make a noise of distracted concurrence. Your fingers decide on a Hershey bar. Your fingernails are dirty. You notice their filth and you’ll wash your hands when you get a chance. Place the gallon of water and Hershey bar on the counter. The Hershey bar is the right choice. ‘It’s normal,’ you tell the clerk. Her breasts breathe under a red knit-sweater. You don’t know what your brain means by breathe. The word heave comes to mind. Her breasts heave. You look at her face. She’s older than the jogger. Lines linger beneath her eyes that tell of years wasted on men poorer than you. The clerk is too old for love. It’ll never happen. How depressing. This is it for her. Night shift at a shit store. She is looking at you, waiting. ‘What?’ you ask, and there’s that aggression. It’s always been like fire. You smell like black would smell. You smell like tunnels of bones. It is a lightless smell. There is a wind there and it smells like the bone dust it carries. You smell mostly of smoke. There is dried grass imbedded in the soles of your shoes. You have scratches on your arms that are red lines thick as nails. When the time is right, you’ll tell the clerk that you bought a new cat and the new cat has an impressive temper. ‘What’s normal?’ asks the middle-aged, loveless – ultimately useless – clerk. You tracked dirt into the store. The store smells like dirt. You pull coins from your pocket, counting out the exact amount owed for the water and candy bar. Your fingers push the coins toward the clerk. You realize she has red hair. ‘Like your sweater,’ you say, smiling. The lipstick she wears is red. You notice that. ‘Your lips, too,’ you say, not smiling, because you’re watching her lips and you’re imagining them on your body. She’s older than the jogger, but your momma used to say, ‘Beggars can’t be choosers,’ and then she’d whack you on the head and later make you kiss her thighs. Momma was a real sick fuck. Momma wore a lot of red like this clerk, same red lipstick. You’re thinking that you’d kiss the clerk’s thighs, she wouldn’t have to force you. You’d kiss them raw and red. You don’t want to think about your momma anymore, on account of her being a ‘real sick fuck,’ as you say. That, and her being dead as shit for who cares how long. Your dirty fingernails, the clerk probably saw them. She saw scratches on your arms. When the time comes, you’ll say, ‘I have a new cat.’ She smells the red on you. She smells the smoke. You pull your hands off of the counter and grab your water and candy, holding them by your sides. ‘Sorry bout the dirt,’ you apologize for the mess you tracked in. The clerk says, ‘Eh, not a problem. I got nothin to do round here most nights.’ She steps from behind the counter with a broom. She sweeps the dirt. Her pants clutch at her thighs. You exit, looking back into the store every few feet on the way to your car or truck. The clerk’s body bends when she sweeps. Her pants tighten, her sweater does the same. She is older than the jogger and she smelled like Christmas peppermint, a little like cigarettes. The jogger smelled like sweat and life. You smell like red flames, you smell like smoke. In the car or truck, you unwrap the Hershey bar and in your fingers you feel the softness of the chocolate. Your mouth fills with candy and your breath smells like chocolate. Earlier, you kissed the jogger. Since then, your mouth has smelled like her sweat and her adrenaline. You welcome the chocolate. Normal. A Hershey bar is normal. That’s what you had said to the clerk. You wanted to tell her that a Hershey bar is normal and that is what made you choose it over the other candy bars. You want to be like a Hershey bar. You want to smell like what normal would smell like and you want your breathe to smell like chocolate. All of your clothes smell like smoke, though. The jogger scratched your arms. The jogger smells like smoke and black and red and wind and pink, summer trees. It’s a possibility. Maybe and maybe not.

You’re in this tunnel of bones. That’s one place you and I both know you are. It always smells of bone here. The wind is heavy and direct and you sit on the floor when your legs are tired. And the scattering of fragmented skulls is sharp under you. You can’t run from this place. There is no exit and you never entered. No matter where you are, at least we know you’re always here, as well.

You Smell of Smoke

Miss Apple Votes to Burn

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I was wrapped in linens, the ones my father had traded jars of moss for in a desert town years before, and I was thankful to be covered so, such with the wind beating down harder on our ward than predicted by Gent Cloudy Sighs. Some were known to call him Old Cloudy Eyes, as could be taken as truth, what with his poor weather calculations. I passed Cloudy Sighs’s home on my way through the winds, and there he sat on the step outside of his front door, the moss on the roof of his home the mossiest and most glorious of all the ward.

He raised his hand in greeting. The three fingers upon the hand still caused me to recall the story of the absence of the other digits. It was said he had yelled from the top of Floodley Hill, a proclamation that he would eat his thumb and pinky if it did not hail in the morrow. Apparently, the hail never fell.

‘Ah, Miss Apple,’ came his withered voice. ‘On your way to vote, no doubt?’

I nodded, looking his way, but did not stop walking, the wind slicing through my linens. I was making good time. ‘Indeed, Gent Cloudy Sighs!’ I shouted through the gust. ‘Slow-going to the meetinghouse, today!’

Old Cloudy Eyes cackled, the laugh being thrown with the wind. ‘Just a little breezy! Sure to die down, soon!’

Rain dripped from the clouds, eventually falling in thin sheets, soaking through my boots. And the air was as ice, like a cold felt in dead January.

Lanterns glowed in the meetinghouse windows, they beckoned to me as I crested over a small hill, and my feet rushed down, slipping through dirt that was now a dreaded mud.

I crashed through the door, certainly with help from the wind pushing me forward. Rain poured onto the oak floor. Someone ran up behind me, a child, I believe, slamming the door closed.

Silas Blois, a boy of barely sixteen, stepped from behind a table. ‘You’ve just made it, Miss Apple.’ He held a sheet of parchment in one hand and a quill in the other. Inked collected on the bottom of the quill, engorging, then dripped onto the floor. Silas Blois did not notice, perhaps did not care. ‘Voting closes within the hour,’ he said, smiling.

The young man directed me to a booth, in which, he told me, I was to think carefully and vote with my heart and not my mind. I understood. This was not my first time deciding the fates of people.

I took the parchment and the quill into the booth, snapping closed the curtain.

Two names rested on the ballot. One woman, one man.

I did what Silas Blois told me, and I stood there, thinking carefully. Thinking I did not know what to do. Thinking I did not think much of either candidate. Thinking this, specifically: eh.

So, I shrugged and circled a name, not quite paying attention to which name, which was probably all the better for my conscience.

I returned the ballot to young Silas Blois with a brief nod, and went on my way, back into the November frost, its biting, horrible, northerly winds. I was, again, thankful to my father for these heavy linens, and the jarred mosses with which he traveled to exotic lands.

 

We of the ward gathered at the top of Floodley Hill on the following evening, as the sun set before the clocks rang five. Two people, a woman and a man, kneeled on the ground before a monolithic stake. Their hands bound, their necks entwined in a rope that was gripped within the thick, scaly hands of man. His face remained hidden under a black deathmask. He often tugged on the rope, pleasing his need to hear the man and woman groan.

Silas Blois approached and towered over our gathered group. He glanced down at the two on their knees. He seemed disappointed.

‘Very close, very, very close,’ he announced. ‘Only three votes separated these two wretched beasts.’ Silas Blois presented them with a grand and dramatic gesture of his hand.

We murmured amongst ourselves.

An older man, Gent Blois-Senior, came up, placing a hand on his son’s shoulder. ‘We Gents have decided…’ He paused, as if ruminating, I can only assume for effect. ‘Yes, we have decided that bothyes, both! – shall burn at this stake.’ Gent Blois-Senior fell back into the crowd, with his son in tow. And, before us all, the base of the colossal stake roared into life – the birth of a starving flame. Both would burn.

There was a collective shrug from us of the ward. I rather like to think that we are an apathetic bunch, not caring so much one way or a worse way. Just give us a way.

I laughed, and clapped my hands in the faces of the two upon the frozen ground. Others were doing it, so I thought I should.

 

As they burned, the stars showed themselves, in an inky blackness we would never travel to. Their bodies fell into nothingness, they lit the sky with their fuel. Blood cooked and vanished before it could pour. Ashes rose in a coming wind.

Old Cloudy Eyes found me in the crowd. ‘A snow in the morrow,’ he rasped, his eyes twinkled, ‘black as pitch, and heavy as the soul.’

He cackled as he does, wide-mouthed and toothless, and I watched while an ash fell upon his dried tongue. He swallowed and smirked, for if he knew, he did not care.

Miss Apple Votes to Burn

Dirt

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Mrs. Tooms was in her garden, tending to her winter flowers, when inside the house, the phone rang. She creaked and cracked as she stood, her bones older than she remembered. She stumbled into her home, trailing dirt through her kitchen and foyer, and yanked the phone from its cradle.

‘Hello, hello,’ she chirped, breathing heavily from her rushing.

‘Mrs. Tooms?’ asked a raspy monotone.

‘Yes, who’s this?’

‘You may not remember me. It’s been over fifteen years. My name is Benjamin Sidley. I’m head caretaker down at Pine Banks Cemetery.’

‘I don’t,’ answered Mrs. Tooms. ‘Remember you, that is.’

‘Well, that’s of no matter.’

‘Why are you calling?’ Mrs. Tooms was eager to return to her flowers.

‘Unfortunately, my reason for calling is to deliver some bad news.’

Mrs. Tooms waited.

‘It is with a heavy heart that I tell you that your husband’s grave has been desecrated…’

Mrs. Tooms’s brow furrowed. ‘In what way?’

Benjamin Sidley didn’t speak for a moment. ‘How do I say this? Your husband… was… which is to say… um… his body… was…’

‘His body what?’ spat Mrs. Tooms into the phone. ‘What are you saying, you blithering idiot?’

The caretaker sighed. He spoke timidly. ‘His body was stolen.’

Mrs. Tooms lost her breath. ‘How?’ the old woman demanded.

‘Well, Mrs. Tooms, that we do not know as of yet.’ He hurried on before she could raise her voice, again. ‘But, we’re hastily working on catching whoever did this. The police have been notified.’

‘This is an outrage!’ she screamed. ‘How could this happen?’

‘We are working on finding out why and how this happened, Mrs. Tooms. I assure you, this will be solved, promptly, and your husband’s body will be returned to its grave.’ Benjamin Sidley shook in his suit, his nerves getting the better of him.

Mrs. Tooms clenched her free hand. ‘Please have the police call me, so I may speak with them about this further.’ She slammed the receiver down.

 

In his ear, the caretaker heard the hum of a dial tone.

He turned from the phone, looking back at the security camera monitor. The screens were paused.

‘Rewind it. Play it again,’ he commanded the security officer.

The scene on the monitor reversed, and the young man in the security uniform pressed play.

It was night-vision footage of the cemetery gates, from the evening prior, after the graveyard had closed. There had been no footage of anyone sneaking in, no one trespassing.

Benjamin Sidley stood watching the screen. He sweat under his suit. The security officer shifted in his seat.

In the grainy footage, a figure appeared, walking across the screen, slowly, clumsily, slouched. It wore ragged garments, some pieces hung in tatters. It pushed through the gates, and disappeared onto the road beyond.

‘Do we call the police, yet?’ asked the security officer.

‘And tell them what?’ The caretaker looked down at the young man, his face blank.

The kid rewound the footage and played it, once more. He shivered. ‘I don’t know, sir.’

 

Back in her garden, Mrs. Tooms snipped at leaves and sang to her flowers, distracting herself.

She picked up her head. She had heard the front door open.

The old woman stood – the same aches still there – walking to the back door. She stepped into the kitchen, walking again to the foyer.

The front door was closed. Mrs. Tooms shook her head. Hearing things

She leaned on the stairs’ banister, and bent down to rub her sore knee. She saw dirt on the steps, leading upstairs. Funny, she thought, I don’t remember tracking dirt there.

Her bedroom door creaked.

Margaret,’ a voice moaned from above. ‘I’m filthy in these clothes. Draw a bath, dear.’

Dirt

Where Mama and the Hallowe’en Leaves Don’t Be

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After sunset, and a dead boy sat in a wicker chair on the porch of his mama’s home. Seeing the browning leaves holding on to the branches that couldn’t shake them. A black dog, a Labrador, sat at the steps leading down to the sidewalk.

Kids – now, here they were – as ghosts or devils, police or doctors, fantastical and not so, kids tonight, why they had control of the neighborhood, yes! This night, once again, they danced up to doorbells, knocked on doors, filled bags with candies, candies, chocolate! Another year, ‘nother Fall, Night of the Dead, Night of the Moon, Allhallowtide, All Hallow’s Eve! and the truly deceased, decayed, and departed returned, returned, o’ how they came back…

There was a clip-clop sound coming down the road, and from around the corner appeared a girl, short curls bouncing on her head, with each skipping stride. A beagle ran along behind her. They both wore white, both donned halos, both glowed in the Hallowe’en lights. The halos presented themselves crookedly on each head, tinsel twinkling down. Benny, the beagle, yipped with excitement, and his halo fell and rested more haphazardly.

The girl turned onto the walkway of the dead boy’s home, soon bounding up the steps. She greeted the Labrador with a full kiss upon his snout, and the dog lapped at her cheeks. The girl stood on the porch, the newly cooled wind turning her sweat cold. She smelled mint and heard rakes being pulled from sheds. Benny and the Lab sniffed each other, friendly enough.

‘Hi, sweetie,’ the girl said, approaching the dead boy.

Everyone had called him Sweetie. As long as he could remember. It was something his mama had come up with.

The dead boy nodded to her, ‘Hiya, Lulu.’

She came to sit beside the dead boy. ‘Your mama still ain’t doin’ tricks or treats?’

He shook his head, and Lulu thought she saw a tear form, then vanish. ‘Nah…’

Lulu placed her hand close to the dead boy’s. She could feel the icy wind of his flesh without touching it. She turned to him, but he stayed, staring straight ahead, just watching the trick or treaters trick and treat.
Lulu went to brush the tussled hair from his forehead, and he bent away, looking down at the porch boards and his feet. ‘Your mama’s still sad ‘bout you, sweetie,’ she told him.

‘Nah,’ the dead boy sighed. ‘She don’t see me.’

‘No one sees you!’ Lulu hollered, elbowing him in the arm. She laughed.

The dead boy rubbed his sore arm. ‘You see me.’

‘Yeah, and I’m special!’ She straightened the toppling halo on her hair.

The dead boy smiled.

And I got you smilin’ ’cause I’m special!’ Lulu laughed on and then some.

Up the steps came two boys, one as Charlie Chaplin, the other dressed in the rags of a train hopper. Charlie Chaplin rang the doorbell.
Lulu and the dead boy watched them in silence. The black Lab and Benny sat in equal silence.
No one answered the door, and the train hopper shrugged. The boys turned to leave and spotted Lulu, sitting alone on the wicker chair.

‘Lulu,’ mumbled Charlie Chaplin under his costume mustache, surprised to see his classmate. ‘Now, what you doin’ here all alone?’

The train hopper looked back to the unanswered door. ‘House ain’t givin’ no candy.’ His attention turned to Lulu. ‘How long ago you ring the bell? You just been waitin’?’

Lulu found her hand wrapped within the dead boy’s. ‘Ain’t waitin’ for nothin’. I’m just sittin’. Quiet here. Nice breeze.’

‘You gonna miss all the candy!’ whimpered Charlie Chaplin, like he cared for her, which he did, because she was beautiful to him. ‘Don’t just sit here, Lu, come with us! We know which houses got the best treats!’

The train hopper agreed, nodding eagerly, with his tattered cap’s brim bouncing on his head. For he liked Lulu, as well, thinking she was beautiful and confusing.

‘Well, where ya goin’ next?’ asked Lulu, clutching the dead boy’s fingers harder, closer, colder.

The dead boy thought of Lulu leaving, and felt ghost tears building behind his dead eyes.

‘Probably next road over, circlin’ the block,’ Charlie Chaplin replied.

Lulu smiled at him, and Charlie Chaplin fluttered inside. ‘How ’bout I meet you over there, then?’ she promised. ‘I just wanna sit a little longer. I’m likin’ this quiet, and the air. You feel that air? Smells smoky and, I don’t know, like – like dead leaves, I s’pose…’

Charlie Chaplin and the train hopper watched her, listening and not listening, her pretty voice weaving words that meant nothing.

‘I’ll find you guys,’ Lulu added, as a way to suggest, Scram, you two. She ran her thumb along the dead boy’s palm, saying, I’m here, sweetie, still right here.

The two boys scurried down the steps, calling, ‘We won’t go far without ya, Lulu!’ and waving back.

They were soon out of sight, down the winding road, and the snow-mint wind remained. Not harsh, the wind, just the right amount of chill, and so soft to blanket the dead boy and Lulu. The dogs lay close together, the warm tangle of their furs matting together, conducting heat and trust.

‘You can go, Lulu,’ the dead boy said, knowing she would.

Her thin hand combed through his hair, and he didn’t flinch this time. It was like rough straw, his hair, such a dryness to it that Lulu felt she could break it with even the slightest force. And, like the rest of him, it held a dead-of-winter midnight-cold.

‘Were you always so blue, sweetie?’ she cooed.

‘I don’t think so. I remember bein’ happy.’

Lulu giggled. ‘Your color, dummy. Not your – your – not your – …disposition.’ Her lovely, young mind found the new word from last week’s reading class.

The dead boy smiled for the second time. ‘I’m just always cold.’ And he shivered. ‘That’s the worst part.’

From inside the lightless house, there groaned a creak. The dead boy’s mother walking down the stairs.

And the smile left his lips. ‘Nah, the cold’s fine, actually… That’s the worst part,’ he hooked his thumb over his shoulder toward the bay window. ‘Mama don’t see me.’ The dead boy held his face low, once more.

Lulu pulled his head to her shoulder. ‘She can feel you, sweetie.’

He quietly wept his ghost tears, which never fell, and never could. Lulu wouldn’t release his frozen hand, even as her fingers lost feeling, the numbness assuring her that he was still there.

She rested her head on his, and her halo tipped farther. It fell off completely, rolling down the dead boy, and landing on the porch floor. Lulu let it stay there. Just for a little longer. It could stay there.

Benny snored in the black Lab’s furry arms. Lulu followed the sounds of his sleep.

And her head toppled. She jumped, righted herself in the wicker chair.

Her fingers were numb, but the winter hand she had held was gone from her grip.

Lulu sat alone. Alone in the seat. On the porch. Alone with the two slumbering dogs.

The front door opened, and out peeked a woman. Not young, certainly not old, just a woman, a woman with her hair pinned back, her silk night dress alive under the stars.

‘Come on in,’ she beckoned to the Labrador.

The black dog stirred, stood up, and Benny raced from his legs to Lulu’s.

The woman looked at the girl. ‘Why you on my porch?’ she demanded. ‘I don’t do candy.’

Lulu stood and collected Benny in her arms. ‘I’m sorry, ma’am. I was just sittin’. Nice and quiet here. I’m going now.’

Lulu hurried past the woman, and let Benny go, to chase her down the steps and on to the Hallowe’en streets.

The woman looked after the girl and beagle as they dashed up the road to tricks, treats, and shadows, always to shadows. Around a corner and they disappeared.

The woman blinked. Her eyes damp, she blinked, again, and wiped at them with a silk sleeve.

On the porch boards, in front of the wicker chair, a halo glinted in the moonlight, catching the woman’s eye. She stepped carefully outside, the coming-winter wind sneaking its way under her night dress, her skin tightening.

The halo shone, the tinsel around it full of the Hallowe’en night. The woman bent over. She reached out. The cold touch of a boy found her fingers.

Where Mama and the Hallowe’en Leaves Don’t Be

Halloween is Upon Us, so Get to Reading…

Hello, whoever is out there,

My Halloween tale “The Last Ghoulies of the Season” has been chosen as a finalist over at the Furious Gazelle for their Halloween contest.

Take a stroll over to the Furious Gazelle at  http://thefuriousgazelle.com or just head on over to the story directly at http://thefuriousgazelle.com/2016/10/28/sean-patrick-whiteley/

And remember, this Halloween, please just take one or two pieces of candy when we leave the bowl outside…

Halloween is Upon Us, so Get to Reading…

Closer to the Window

A preface:

The tale before you is a rewrite of a story I wrote in my 5th grade English class. The idea of two old men and a window was directly inspired by a story from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz, titled “Bed by the Window.” However, other than the basic plot devices of the old men and the function of a window, the two stories are wildly different. I lived for Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark when I was a boy, and here now, is my dedication, my homage, to the trilogy, and more specifically, the unsettling, nightmarish art of Mr. Stephen Gammell (of which I am co-opting here, so sue me)…

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Like bats in a cave, the nurse’s heels echoed off of the walls.

Two old men were in the room of a hospice. John, the old man in the corner, was new, having been there only two hours. The other old man, positioned in front of the window, had been there for a little over a month.

The sun cut through the linoleum floor, a rectangle of light which grew more oblong by the minute. John had not yet spoken to the old man at the window; he had been sleeping since John arrived.

John would have believed the old man at the window to be a corpse if not for his snores. They came at odd intervals, with no timing to them – an anti-metronome, an awkward flutter, the beat of leather wings.

The clock on the wall read 5:30. The rising stars and setting sun would remain unseen to John. The corner he rested in was at such an angle to the window that it was impossible to see more than the bark of the elm just beyond.

John reached down for the call button attached to his bed, and pressed it.

Nurse Lucy walked in, greeting her new patient.

‘What’s his deal?’ John asked her, gesturing toward the old, sleeping man.

She looked to the man by the window. ‘Mr. Renfield? Not much of a deal,’ she said. ‘Sleeps all day, doesn’t really say anything ever.’

John fell back into his pillow. ‘Great company.’

Nurse Lucy nodded. ‘Better silent company, than someone who never shuts up, I figure.’

There came a wild scream from down the hallway, a wail about pills and something other. Something unintelligible, the cry of a ghost trapped. Nurse Lucy turned, slightly, toward the noise. ‘You could have him as your roommate,’ she smirked, ‘if it’s talk you crave.’

They laughed together.

‘I suppose I’m all right, then,’ John conceded.

Nurse Lucy smiled, young and subdued. ‘Anything else, Mr. Harker?’

‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘Why does the guy who never wakes get the window seat?’

She giggled and shrugged. ‘That’s actually a good question. I’ll talk to someone about switching your places.’

John nodded.

That nurse’s smile. ‘Anything else, Mr. Harker?’

‘Yeah,’ he decided, ‘when you call me Mr. Harker, it reminds me that I’m in this place.’

She understood. ‘How about just John, then?’

He thought. ‘Mr. John... Yeah, I like that. I like the Mr. part, we’ll leave that.’

Nurse Lucy turned out of the room. ‘Just call if you need anything, Mr. John. I’ll be here all night.’ And she was gone, but for her heels, clicking, seducing, down the hall.

And he lay there. Legs – sigh – useless. His feet wiggling, but the idea of using them, standing upon them – sigh – that was not for now… for now, there was only…

So much silence, John couldn’t stand it. Mr. Renfield had stopped snoring, now sleeping as if hiding from death. And outside of the window, even there was silent. Where are the birds? The dogs barking? Where are the playing children? Where are the leaf-piles being jumped into? Why so quiet? Ahhh! I can’t take it.

Away the sun went, swallowed downward. And will it ever rise again? John wondered. He was feeling absolutely wretched in this place. He felt old. Older than he was. He felt miserable.

Shadows grew wider, denser, darkening to their darkest.

It was past 10 o’ clock. And the room was colored in the shades of night. Blues, violets, all sliced with the blades of the waning moon.  So John closed his eyes for sleep.

He didn’t know how long he had been asleep, but a noise! and when looking at the floor, the silver of the moon cut a different path along the tiles. John had heard something, a voice? The din of animals? Whatever it was, the silence had finally been broken. For that small fact, he was thankful. Where one sound was, hopefully more would follow.

But, John was tired, and now he was awake because of the unknown noise.

Quiet, again.

‘It’s not close…’

John started under his blankets, and sat up, instantly. He threw his unclear eyes around the room, Who had spoken? The voice was slow and slurred, hardly there, but in this room of silence, it was a boom in the dark.

‘Who’s there?’ John hissed.

He saw the hand of Mr. Renfield rise, only slightly, and John wondered if he was hallucinating.

The old man’s head turned, and he held John within his eyes. ‘It’s not close…not yet…’

He pointed his arthritic finger to the window.

John trembled, despite himself, unsure if this was fear or mere bewilderment from being woken, suddenly.

‘Not close, yet…not yet…’ Mr. Renfield’s finger pointed at the window, lingering.

‘What’s not close?’ John asked, while thinking he truly didn’t wish to know.

The old man didn’t answer. He just watched the window.

‘Renfield,’ John huffed, keeping his voice just above a whisper. ‘What do you see?’

‘Hmm,’ breathed the old man, ‘hmm…time…we’ll give it time…’

John reached down and pressed his call button. He jammed it with his thumb, again and again. Nurse Lucy! his mind shrieked. Come on! Nurse Lucy!

Pressing, pressing, the button slick with fresh sweat. John pressed the call button. Nothing, no sound from the hallway.

‘Where is that nurse?’ he asked aloud, and settled his body back down onto his bed.

John watched the ceiling.

He heard Renfield’s bed squeak, and the old man said, ‘Oh…closer, now…it’s closer…’

John looked to Renfield and the window. Sweat drenched him, up and down his entire body, dampness. He felt terribly uncomfortable.

Steady, Renfield kept his gaze upon the window. ‘Getting closer…we’ll give it time…more time…’

‘Enough!’ John shouted. ‘You’re crazy! Damned crazy! What is this? What’s closer?’ He beat his fist on the bed.

Renfield turned and stared at John. Soon, he smiled, lips curled. ‘It’s a…vampire…getting closer…so, I have to keep watching…’ Renfield’s eyes looked back to the window. ‘I am…the sentry, you see…’

Crazy, John knew. Incredibly crazy. This guy shouldn’t be here. He should be in an asylum.

John buried the back of his head in the pillow and shut his eyes. I’m over this.

‘Closer, now…’ Renfield whispered. ‘Have to be quiet…getting closer…’

‘Mm-hmm,’ John muttered.

There was silence, once more.

The moon arced and time followed. Night remained. The moon’s light left. The room was black, black, black, deep, endless, as a cave, as leather wings, as the eyes of the bat, their very centers. The only sparse light trickled in from the window, which cast Renfield in a dim, gray square.

‘I am in the window…’ Renfield spoke. ‘I am a window…’

‘Oh, boy,’ John mumbled behind closed eyes. Going full-crazy, now.

‘Open the window…’ Renfield barely whispered. ‘Closer, now…open the window…closer…’

‘Yeah?’ John asked, dryly, ‘how close is he?’

There was a mad slapping of feet across the floor, and John’s eyes jerked open.

Renfield’s face, inches from John’s, gazed down, wildly, at him. Blood cascaded over Renfield’s neck.

John pulled his face back, deeper into the pillow. ‘…Renfield…?’

The streams of blood dripped onto John’s chest. His hand searched for the call button along the edge of the bed. He glanced down and saw her. Nurse Lucy, face down on the floor, her pool of blood filling in the white borders of the tiles. A shadow knelt over the body.

John looked up. His eyes met Renfield’s.

Renfield smiled. ‘Close as can be.’

Closer to the Window