Tag Archives: Mystery

Some Way Out of Here

By Parrish

Mother says grace isn’t given; you fight for it. Charley smiles in the mirror as she drives. Ah, Mother, grace takes many forms.  Jimi, for instance, or Kristin. Definitely Blue. She’s otherworldly. You’d admit that. Then there’s Kat. What about Charley? Hmm. Definitely not Charlotte. That bitch is dead and won’t survive the second coming.  Sorry, Mom. Grace is a heaven of my own. 

Along I-75, the sun sinks into the sea redder than blood. Creation bleeding at the edges, and Jimi occupies her car speakers like a godly messenger from a lost world. He’s singing the way through. At 90 mph, she looks for that new sky and new earth that will come when the sea gives up its dead, and the copulators and murderers gather outside the new golden city to be damned. She’ll be among them if Mother doesn’t drag her through the gates to the golden city herself. Better turn up Jimi. Grace infected his guitar, and maybe it’s contagious. 

Graduation was tomorrow; unless it’s today, everything is always happening again. If she were eighteen, she’d wear a tattoo. Mother says no. She thinks any day now is Judgment Day when the dead will bury the dead before grace everlasting. Don’t defile your flesh, she says. As for girls, be one, don’t kiss one. She says together we’ll fight the beast until it’s cast into the fiery lake. But what if I’m the beast? May as well wear that black lipstick Mother hates. She sighs again. 

She quit her job today. She was going to try for the kingdom if she can. She wasn’t going to spend eternity cleaning comes. Fuck that asshole and his low rent peep show he calls a bookstore. And fuck his twenty bucks an hour and putting his hands on me, like Mother said he would. It’s happening now, Mother says. From Sarasota to Pensacola, people rehearsing the Rapture. Houses being built for the banks to fail, the insides stripped for materials, bathtubs stinking from shit.  Shells corroding in the sun occupied by the warlords of the Apocalypse mixing medicine to sell to zombie children. The coastline beckons in skywriting like ancient prophecy. 



Jimi, what’s a girl to do? Soldier or whore? The fucking future. It’s been overtaking her every second since before she was born. Blue stopped time, but she’s not Blue. Mother thinks she’s my watch and I’m her minutes. 

In the mirror, Mother supervises her driving. Her reflection turns up everywhere. Her purse was not to mention random windows; puddles generally worked, and sometimes free-floating in space in her room. No mirror in the world—she has checked them all—can distinguish her eyes from her eyes forever watching her, forever talking to her, inescapable, behind everything, forever eating her through her own eyes. 

Jimi, there must be some way out of here, right? You found the exit ramp. 

Jimi never answers; he just plays on repeat since he took over her playlist. Blue was the one who put him there that day in the bathroom. 

And you were a soldier too, like my brother. Luke traded dealing drugs for the army. Didn’t listen to Mother. Why go to Afghanistan, she says, when Jesus needs warriors. No sign up needed for the Final Battle. The future’s here, Charlotte, and it’s murder.  

But Mama, I don’t want to be a soldier; I don’t want to die. Her hands gripping the wheel are clenched fists.

You’re already a soldier, Mother says, in the army of the Lord.  

   Jimi, you hear that? Mother Dearest! She’d eat everybody living and dead to save me.  Who’s eating Luke? 

Hush, sweet Charlotte. Luke’s ok.  He’ll live while others will die, and there’s always a lesson in that. Never forget we live in the Truth. Yes, it’s a burden to live among these billions of bodies waiting to be burned. And more being born each second! They multiply through vice so that Satan may lead them to the slaughter. Such a conflagration! I can smell it from here to Miami!

No point adjusting the mirror. Mother installed it inside her head before she could speak, and Charley can’t escape its reflection. Charlotte did. That’s because Charley killed Charlotte, so Mother wouldn’t. It was surprisingly simple. She let Kristin kiss her on the beach, surf licking their ears. Somehow, Mother knew. Mother’s the lover that’s hard to quit.

Before you were born, she says, I knew you. In the womb, I encircled you. Upon birth, the circle widened. Its circumference encompasses all of time and creation, arcing from the sizzling pits of hell to the misty azure of heaven.  She’s been grounded half of the calendar weekends since she turned fourteen. In Mother, she’s safe—from drugs, from other girls’ mouths, from marking her body with the tattooed ink Zombie-Goats wear in Satan’s army of the dead.

“Mother’s eyes bore into Charley’s skull; they share them, they share everything, one way or another.”

She’s been to six classmates’ funerals— three by hanging, two by overdose, one by car. The future really is murder. Ask Blue. She graduated herself. Charley met her one day hanging in the school bathroom. Blue Angel. Her face looked almost pretty in the mirror hanging from the ceiling. Charley rubbed her bare feet, and they discussed what was to come. She knew their friendship was fate.  Sometimes she sees the future in the present. It’s a gift from Mother. Blue knew Charley too—she spoke without saying hello. The afterlife is no different from this one. When the rent-a-cop came to cut her down, Charley clasped Blue’s knees and cried to keep her close. She wasn’t bothering anybody. They took her body but not her face in the mirror. Sometimes she can almost kiss it.  

Since Blue found her bedroom mirror, things are better. Her friend Kat comes too. Blue must have shown her the way. Blue’s great. She says the craziest things, except they’re not crazy. Like, time can’t cease, and grace won’t come until male and female become a single being and male won’t be male and female won’t be female, so kiss whoever the fuck you want. It’s hard not to laugh when Blue talks like that, but she doesn’t want Mother to see. And Jimi in her ears with his forever song. Blue was broadcasting it when they met. She heard it from the stall calling her. She removed the buds from Blue’s ears so Jimi might bloom in hers.  It’s almost as if Jimi brought them together, though Charley prefers to credit Blue’s generosity. Blue came to bring her Jimi’s good news, and that has made all the difference. The earphones, too, Mother is always tossing hers.  

Hush, sweet Charlotte, Charley says, so Mother won’t. Keep your body clean. Patience now, or you’ll die forever. The day ending all days is near. Until then, live among these dead as best you can. Grace awaits. 

Charley’s face pales like death. It’s her. But I killed her with that kiss.  No, she lives in Mother’s eyes, looking straight at Charley, dating proper boys and keeping her body pure of graven images.

I’m Charley now, she says, barely moving her lips so Mother won’t see, like a ventriloquist she saw once. She was concentrating on Jimi in her ears, praying, save me, let Charlotte have Mother’s afterlife, and letting me have grace like that time with Kristin on the beach, away from her voice. A voice that was falling over her like lava on Pompeii those words were bubbling and gurgling, saying, graduation’s soon, sure, but time is short. The form of this world is passing away. Better stay home with Mother. It’s more dangerous than Afghanistan out there. The drones are within— schools breeding zombies. Masks won’t save them. I’m a nurse, I know, I see the wires attached to their heads streaming filth. Dead to the world, dead to everything, dead dead dead. And the junk they read! Game of Thrones gobbledygook. Harry Potter prattle. Goat books for goat people. The living dream of being dead, and well they should. Men were marrying men; women were marrying women. Fire fodder. But not you, baby girl, never you, not if you stay close to Mother.

She’d turn up Jimi, but Blue already has. He gets louder when Mother gets closer. Her arm tingles so wildly she believes may be her tat’s coming now.  In dreams, she’s seen it, written in red letters she can’t remember. She wishes she could borrow the stars pressed on Blue’s eyelids. Charley had seen them in the morgue when she pretended to be her sister. Kristin wanted stars like that, but she spent all her money on heroin.  Look, Mother. Aren’t they pretty? Blue says if the spirit comes into being because of the body, it’s a marvel of marvels. That’s me when I get my tattoo. You’ll see.   

And if you’re worried about my life after graduation, Kat has ideas.  She’s not a whore, Mother; it’s called sex work. Not like the bookstore. Kat copyrighted her fine little ass! She used to work in a bike shop, but the men were such assholes. It’s a little-acknowledged fact, Kat says, Charley says, men go into heat worse than women. Existence for them is a mechanism cruder than a bike. A gear that runs all the other gears is always running them. It’s like what you told that new mom at church, how baby girls are better than baby boys because changing their diapers, boys get tiny erections shoot pee in your face. 

Never ends, Kat says. 

Master, the penis, master the man, Mother says.

Better off with girls, Kat says. Like you and Kristin.

I was her nurse, Charley says. She’s messed up.  

Girls are tricky, Mother says. You must watch them until they’re grown. And even then. 

Mothers, Kat says. I wouldn’t unblock mine from my phone for a thousand bucks—the price of an ass fuck.

Charley giggles. She loves it when Kat talks like that, even if she has to move her lips to make it happen. Mother isn’t giggling, though.  

Charley, I told you, Charley says, it’s not your job to clean Kristin’s bones in this life.

I know, we’re splitting up. 

Kat looks confused, so Charley puts the side of her hand next to her mouth and whispers words only she can hear. 

Mother says Kristin is a lesbian. My body is a temple, and L is Satan’s middle initial, and if Kristin pillages my temple, Jehovah will mark my forehead with Satan’s name. But that asshole’s not touching me. No way. If Mother doesn’t like it, she can suck my bones in the afterlife. 

Charley laughs since Charlotte never says such things. In the mirror, Charley’s lips move like Kat’s.

Speaking of money, that job you had . . . second hand come is not terrible. At least you didn’t have to watch them jerk off and clean your face. I’m almost sorry you didn’t get real hands-on experience. Sex work isn’t terrible if you work hard and have goals. Show up. Maintain your appearance. And carry a gun. If a client asks for your number, call that day’s number and tell whoever answers what happened, so you never see him again. That’s the benefit of working for a corporation. Beats the army. The clients are disgusting, but it’s not about you, Kat says, Charley says, while Mother frowns over her shoulder. The worst part is they talk when they finish. I’d rather put their dick in my mouth again than listen to their bullshit.  

Mother’s eyes bore into Charley’s skull; they share them, they share everything, one way or another, like roommates in the same cell. She closes her eyes and hears not Jimi but Mother calling from downstairs. 

Knock knock. Charley? You there? 

Sorry, she says, Mother wanted something. 

I quit talking to mine after I put my dad in jail. 

Charley’s mouth opens so wide she sees Blue peeking from behind her tonsils.  

“Mother stares, waiting for an answer. The L on Kat’s head pulsates like a neon sign.”

He molested me.  Aren’t words stupid?  Dad RAPED me. I couldn’t count the times. When I was sixteen, I quit trying.  I called 911. The funny thing is he had just given me that cell phone, the eternal asshole. The cops and the emergency techs found me bloody—it was my period—with evidence of his miserable need. I felt like I was the criminal turning him in. Crazy, right?  I don’t know how I did it. Jesus, maybe, but I don’t believe in Jesus, so I don’t see why he would care about me. 

Actually, Jesus—the words don’t come. The ferocity of Kat’s expression prevents Charley from mentioning that Mother says Armageddon is here and Jesus could be on her side.

He did my older sister too.

It brought you together, I guess. 

Sure it did. Big Sis was my first pimp! She was blackmailing him with me. Mom knew. Mom taught her the business. Mom had been extorting him for doing Sis. They begged me to withdraw the charges—said they’d cut me in. They said if Dad went to jail, we’d have no income. Sis said she’d have to hook. Fuck me! 

Charley gasped—not at Kat’s words, which she had repeated many times before, but at Mother’s absence. Usually, she drives Kat away now. 

Mom won, though. I caved. The prosecutor read my statements to me in court, and I said they were lies.  I lied about telling the truth.  I testified against myself! How sick is that? Thanks, Mom. Thanks, Dad. Kisses, Sis, you stupid cow-cunt!” 

Charley reaches to stroke Kat’s face, but the mirror’s words push back her hand. 

You’d never do that, would you?


Lie against yourself?

And there’s Mother, a little off cue, standing behind Kat like a deep focus shot from Citizen Kane. She moves toward Kat! That’s never happened before! She nears, arms open, whether to hug Kat or break through the glass; Charley doesn’t want to know. She closes her eyes and dreams of graduation; it’s tomorrow unless it was yesterday. She’s back in the second row, wearing her blue gown, tasselled cap on head, waiting with hands crossed to be called. Above loom shadowy figures in black robes reading names. Behind her, everyone else. The theatre so vastly exceeds the limits of human endurance, but for Jimi’s singing her war song like a lullaby. Her head bobs; she’s falling asleep again. Charley! The voice jerks her awake inside of her dream. Come forward and receive your reward.  On the dais, she turns to face the others who have vanished like names erased. Among the countless empty seats, one rises. Mother, her sword tapping “All Along the Watchtower” on the metal chairs . . . 

Yo, Charley! You there? 

The bleary mirror blinks into focus. Mother, is that you?

I’m telling you, in court, everybody wanted to believe my lies.  Who wants to think Dad the hot shit lawyer is a serial rapist growing his own victims?  The judge ruled against my testimony. He must know lawyers are paid, liars. Dad went to the state prison, and I bolted the Mom-prison. Charley jumps back and sees Mother hiding behind Kat, a nearly perfect silhouette. 

Charley looks as deep into those eyes as she dares. When I die, she thinks, you’ll bring me back, and everything will happen again. 

In the Resurrection, everyone must come forward to receive their share of grace, Mother says over Kat’s shoulder. Fighting will be required. 

Oh, the fight’s on, Charley says through her ventriloquist’s lips. Kat would be an excellent ally, especially if Blue doesn’t make it.

I moved out, Kat says, to a friend’s house. Her dad was nice. He treated me like a family member. I tried to do him once, just because he was so nice he’d never ask; his wife was a total bitch. He turned me away, which is weird. Maybe he knew I’m a lesbian. 

In the mirror, Kat’s face freezes, arrested by Charley’s frightened face, which makes little sense since Kat can’t see what Charley sees, which is Mother’s L on Kat’s forehead, the one that caused Charlotte to use the word, Charley. In her panic, she wants to kiss Kat right now, to make that look disappear, but there’s Mother’s face, looking so much like her own, Adam’s apple bobbing because some words are as hard to swallow as they are to say. 

You’re a lesbian?

Haven’t we been through this? 

I forget.

I’m like you— or are you bi? 

Mother stares, waiting for an answer. The L on Kat’s head pulsates like a neon sign. 

Mother says I am. 

What do you say? 

It’s just that we talk a lot, every day practically: about the future, and other things. When I don’t, she talks to me from my mirror.

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A laugh that sounds like a sob, and she wishes Jimi would play louder, but it’s that silent moment before it repeats, and she doesn’t see her lips move when she speaks. She’s afraid Mother is going to answer her. 

Finding your mother in the mirror every day talking to you! I can’t think of anything more frightening. I’d have to break my mirrors and live like a vampire. 

She wants me to see a therapist.

Kat’s eyes narrow, and her face becomes comically prim.  You’re not skipping school to fuck your dad, are you? I wouldn’t want to call the attendance officer, young lady. 

Charley’s face cracks—into a smile. It’s so spontaneous, beautiful, she doesn’t recognize it or her own teeth, which she imagines belong to Kat. She’s licking them. Mother’s image seems to dissolve in the glass.

School’s ok. It’s just that Mother thinks I shouldn’t date girls. She says L is Satan’s middle initial, and Jehovah will tattoo it on my forehead for all eternity, or until Jesus tosses me in the flames on Judgement Day.

Girl, I don’t see it. 

Charley leans close to touch noses. She doesn’t see it either.  

Well, I’m not one. The voice sounds strange in her own ears—it sounds so much like Charlotte, who sounds so much like Mother. 

What about you and Kristin? 

That’s different.

I saw you making out at the mall. Looked pretty hot.  

She’s generally too stoned to get hot.

But you fuck?

I’m not—what Mother says.  

So what’s the problem? 

She didn’t know. 

Dump Kristin. She’s not good enough for you. 

Behind Kat, Mother nods her head. 

Any other girls you want to try?


Do her.

I tried—but she found grace. She left me behind. 

Found Grace? Seriously? Do you believe in that shit? Well, you’re looking at grace, baby. No joke. Clients choose names for you. One called me Grace. The way he shouted that word when he came to my face, I almost believed I was it.  The last time I saw him, though, was terrible. His daughter had just died. He couldn’t get it up. He cried so much he couldn’t function. Pushing around his limp dick, I could almost imagine what it was like to have a parent who truly loved you, who’d mourn your absence. I would’ve let him talk, but I had another client soon. So I whispered, Grace is here, Daddy, come unto me. His dick became lifelike enough to screw, though he kept crying and mumbling her name. As he got harder inside me, I had a terrible realization. Grace was his daughter’s name! I couldn’t help it; I puked in his face. Then he hit me and came. After he left, I called the number. Fucking grace.

Charley grimaces like a punch to the gut. Grace isn’t a name or even a name for a name, she wants to say, you’re grace, she wants to say but can’t because she can’t breathe with Charlotte now looking at her so triumphant and . . . and Jimi getting louder playing new notes in new combinations because Blue’s speaking through the guitar, saying never lie to yourself, Charley, don’t do what you hate, all things are disclosed before heaven, and she exhales because Kat’s there, not Charlotte.  

You date dudes?

Some. I liked meth and ate bath salts and tried to eat his skin and another girl’s skin, but he was always nice to me. I was sorry he died. 

“Oh, to exchange that face for the one she had before Mother encircled her.”

Men are dicey. Better to stay away.

How do you stand it? 

Stand what?

Sleeping with them. 

Learning I didn’t have to fuck them was the hard part. It’s a job. I’m getting my GED, saving for college. Then law school so I can sue assholes like Dad. They’re everywhere, like cash machines. 

Talk of the future brings to mind graduation, which she almost remembers remembering, though, for the life of her, she can’t fathom Mother’s sword. 

Watch out for therapists; the court assigned me mine. I call him The-Rapist. At first, he was my dream friend—the one that listens to whatever you say and understands you no matter how fucked up you are.  And he was so typical—like my friend’s dad, I thought, except a fucking professional normal person. I started lingering after the sessions thinking some might rub off on me. It began with him making tea. And then he started telling me his problems. Who knew normal people have problems? It made me feel; I don’t know, smart or something. I didn’t get that he was telling me that he wasn’t who I thought he was. I thought maybe he was in love with me. 

It happens, right? Charley asked hopefully. 

You’re sweet, but who was I to him? I was pretty, and I was hurt, and I was fuckable. My parents fucked me! Therefore, I could be fucked by anybody.  That’s what my life said— the facts on my résumé and The-Rapist knew that. When I realized he was using his impressive framed diplomas to get himself next to what made him hot, I dumped the asshole. Sex work is my therapy. I’m the one getting paid. The firm has me in training for their B & D division. Apparently, I’m a natural. I have that something extra.

In the mirror, Charley blinked her through her crying eyes like an actress receiving the Academy Award. 

Thanks, everyone! Parental units? You watching? I owe everything to you! Hey Sis! Fuck yourself for once! Special shout-out to my therapist! Bruuuuuuce! Kisses, baby! Oh, you want a speech? I don’t have anything prepared, but . . . ok, here’s what every real-life actress knows. Once everything has already happened to you, anything goes! You can fake anything just to get through. I got there early. Just lucky, I guess.

The words, which Charley remembers perfectly, she was crying the first time Kat said them, leak from her lungs, her heart, her brain like she’s been punctured by someone else’s memories. Charlotte’s a bitch to play. Leaning across her childhood dresser, she wants to touch her hand, kiss her mouth, make her feel better somehow. She leans closer, lips ready to kiss. Kat turns aside as Charley talks out of the side of her mouth. 

I already have a girlfriend, girlfriend.  

The eyes in the mirror are vacant, from another world, one where Mother isn’t. Blue’s face replaces Kat’s like radio signals converging, and she doesn’t notice the earbuds fallen around her neck like a noose. 

What if you walked out of this reflection and gave no forwarding address? 

Mother will find you, a distant voice taunts. 

Who said that? Charlotte, are you there?  

If you know what’s in front of your face, Blue says, everything hidden from you will be disclosed.  

Charley slaps her cheek twice, hard, to unshape its mouth and to unmake its eyes. Oh, to exchange that face for the one she had before Mother encircled her.

Through the mirror, Blue returns the pods to her ears. Listen, girl, listen this time, please. Blessed is she who came into being before coming into being. Her words soar like Jimi’s guitar. 

Charley’s eyes flash, burning holes through the glass and penetrate the world behind the world. For a moment, just long enough, she can’t see anyone, not even herself, since the mirror is perfectly blank, but for the strange gravitational force pulling her forward into the black tunnels her eyes have made. 

“In her armour of light, she kneels, not in supplication, but to issue a command.”

In her armour of light, she kneels, not in supplication, but to issue a command.  

A rolling roar, a buzzing in her brain. School counsellors’ words, Luke’s letters from Afghanistan, dead bodies in the bathrooms were reading newspapers aloud. It’s not strange to have gone through the mirror, not at all. 

She expects light overwhelming but sees only her, broken glass embedded in that face like diamonds, eyes streaming red globs of blood like bleary mascara, motioning her forward with her sword. She looks for a place to run and recognizes the auditorium from her dream. Graduation night! This place is ginormous. Look at all these . . . at all these . . . people? A multitude whose number she couldn’t count, from every nation and tribe and tongue.  Most look like they’re dead. She wonders if everything exists just for her.

Throughout the theatre, Jimi’s guitar reverberates. Still, only she hears it, his wah-wah whispering, this way, Charley, you can make it, but Mother is greeting her with the promised sacred kiss and putting that sword in her hand, except now it’s a pocket mirror, saying, nice work, honey, but look at yourself, on this day of all days, can’t you just fix your face? Her eyes are sockets black and bruised above strips of hanging flesh. N,o doubt about it, she looks beat-up, emptied out, but wearing that black lipstick Mother hates. It looks cute. Her lips pucker as the lights go out like they had never been a light from within allows her to see her robe is white, not blue, and smeared with blood. Mother’s robe is white like hers but sparkling as if freshly washed. You can change later, she whispers. 

As she grows accustomed to the darkness, she discerns classmates naked but for the scars on their battered bodies. Her bloody eyes fix upon the robed figures on the stage. One sits upon a throne above the others. Around him are four animals teeming with eyes in front and back. A lion, a calf, an eagle, and a dog with a human face that Charley recognizes as Blue by the way it winks at her. He’s giving slips of paper to those whose names are called. Jesus, it’s going to take forever and a day to get through this thing. Her name rings out, but she hears only Jimi, while Blue seems to be barking and wagging her tail.  

Mother pushes her forward, whispering, it’s ok, baby, the dead are not alive, and the living will not die. Charley can’t hear, and anyway, she’s watching her arm where a feather quill writes upon it from inkpots filled with blood. A glowing graven image was raising up like goosebumps. She can’t believe it.  Mother said it would happen over her dead body. The letters emerging from her skin seem to be moving the quill until the pot disappears into the air. The quill, free-floating, drips blood on her bare feet and then goes where the pen went. The letters light up her eyes. G R A C E runs one direction and C H A R L E Y the other.  They intersect at the A.  It looks like a sideways cross.

In the second row among the chosen, Mother has returned with her diploma, cooing; you’ve earned it, baby.  I will choose you as one from a thousand and as two from ten thousand, and you will stand as a single one. Before she can ask its meaning, the paper starts to burn. Fire shoots through her fingers and into every strand of her hair as the throne rises heavenward. Fight your ass off, the ascending one yells, but Jimi drowns him out. The doggy Blue dissipates into the smoke. Only then does the terrible smell infuse her, the auditorium turning into the ashes from the burning flesh of women and men and the world darkening at the edges as its light disappears through the gap where the throne ascended.

On the beach, two remain. One holds two swords, the other none above neither sun nor moon. Still, the view seems familiar despite I-75 being gone. That’s ok. She won’t be needing her car anymore. In the sand, she notices shards of stars fallen like unripe fruit from a tree. The sea had been a bottomless pit, and the wind sounds like a buzzing of locusts. Her ear pods are gone. Mother’s voice pierces through the noise. 

You ready? They’re about to rise up. We’ll have to fight them again. 

Where’s Jimi? 

Here’s your sword.

Keep it. 

Don’t make me fight you. I’ll cut your arm off to save you. 

Through her arm’s muscle, the tattoo flexes like a taunt. Mother can’t help herself. The sword severs the arm at the A, and the A shatters the sword. Charley doesn’t blink. She has never seen Mother cry before. 

It’s ok, Mom. You have another one.  

In her armour of light, she kneels, not in supplication, but to issue a command.  

Mother, Charlotte cleft your body to enter this world. She now cleft me so that Charley can return. She bows her head. 

Jesus, in the name of Blue, she says, grace shall reign over me.  

As the sword comes down, the music swells in place of the disappeared sea. By her two ears and her one arm, Jimi carries her to that world where she meets the face she wore before the world was made, and they were one. 

Parrish is a Pushcart Prize-nominated writer and critic living somewhere in California and teaching. His debut chapbook, I Close My Eyes, and I Almost Remember, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press.

Little Ghosts

By Aimee Brooks

I was laying on my cold and crinkly blowup mattress when the phone rang. I moved carefully to avoid spilling the noodles that I made in the microwave earlier, rolling over to my other side where the consistent hum pulsed through my bed’s empty membrane. 

His name flashed across the glowing screen. No. I couldn’t do it. I did not have the energy to deal with this right now. I would say time, but I had all the time in the world. 

Every weekend Hazel went back to the city to see her kids, leaving me alone in our childhood house that we were remodeling together. She told me not to do any work while she was gone. 

“We all need to rest sometimes,” she would remind me before she left— the same kind of compassion I knew she would not extend to herself. 

I would raise my overgrown eyebrows at her. As childish as it was, I still hated it when she told me what to do. I was almost a 30-year-old woman for crying out loud. And besides, I knew the real reason she didn’t want me to work. Her overbearing was almost enough to stop me. 

“I thought of us as little girls playing dolls in front of the wooden kitchen cabinets…”

So while she was gone, I tore down walls, laid floors, and painted the bedrooms, the sorts of things that you don’t need two sets of hands for. It was better to hear the roaring thunder of crashing walls than to hear the phantom clock ticking in my mind. 

Nostalgia is a strange thing. More than a pang in your chest, it disintegrates your bones and puts an ache in your teeth. I tried to not let myself sink in. I don’t know what it would look like to give in to that cruel lover. 

It was strange to be back in that beautiful house. She was ever changing these days but held shape to my memories of the place. Looking back was a kind of mirage. It was hard to tell what things had been there in my youth and what had been changed by the three owners since. 

But there she stood, tall and shapely, a grand affair back in the day. A huge porch, two stories, enough space for work and play. I thought of us as little girls playing dolls in front of the wooden kitchen cabinets, jumping off the step into the sunken living room floor, now a sign of its time, running barefoot, shag carpet worming its way between our toes. 

We never thought we would get a chance to set foot in her again—us living about 5 hours away and Mom and Dad in Florida. It was fitting that it came at this point in our life. So much had changed and we had given up almost everything to pursue a dream that had only begun a few years back. 

“I had begun to believe that she might be the real Misty in the next of her nine lives.”

At the beginning of it all, Hazel had spent the last few days before her divorce wallowing in self-pity in a pile of soggy blankets in my shoebox apartment. She had sent her three small children to stay with our parents for a few weeks, hoping they would go to the beach and forget all about mommy and daddy’s separation. Despite the mutual end, it was so much more brutal than either of us could have imagined. Second thoughts and words, crueler than lashes pushed back and forth between them. 

She would disappear on me. The strong sister. The one who had it all sniveling back to her now ex-husband begging for him to take her back. I would plead for her to stay every time she left to see him one last time, to make love or hate or whatever it was. 

“You wanted this,” I would say to her. 

“And I still do.” 

But the bond, the animal magnetism, the evolutionary desire to love and be loved was too much for her human nature to bear. Without fail, until the last of the papers were processed, she still believed that her love was stronger. 

In the house, there was a kitten that looked exactly like the one that we had as kids— a cinnamon tabby with golden stripes, round green eyes. Hazel made her live on the porch while she was there, claiming that she didn’t like cats inside and that our old cat never set foot inside a day in her life. I would plead that she was all alone in the cold, but Hazel would never concede. 

The kitten lived on the front porch where we fed her table scraps, but when she was gone I would let the little kitten in. She would explore the house, nimble on her tiny feet, hunting blinds strings and slinking past whatever construction equipment we had hauled in that week. 

“Misty?” I would whisper to her sometimes hoping that she would recognize me. I had begun to believe that she might be the real Misty in the next of her nine lives. She would look at me with those huge orbs of eyes and blink knowingly in response. I took it as a sign and called her by her name. 

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When I would try to tell Hazel, she would deem me ridiculous. She had gotten more rigid since the split. A coping mechanism, I would tell myself, hoping that I believed it. It was different too, to work with her. She had been somewhat like that when we were kids, but now, spending almost all day every day with her, she found herself too good to believe in fairytales, too strict for fun, too driven to spend a second on herself. Like my Misty, she was another ghost from my past reincarnated into a completely different being. 

The house had many mirrors on the walls. The ones that I couldn’t justify shattering in the overhaul, I ran past quickly hoping to never catch a glimpse of myself. I tended to avoid reflective surfaces those days. I didn’t need any more reminders that I was a phantom myself. 

My hair was still growing back, the bags under my eyes becoming less dark, nevertheless, not returning to their original state. My ribcage still looked a little too skeletal when I wasn’t wearing my self-imposed uniform of men’s work overalls. I wasn’t the woman I used to be. 

But I was different than before in other ways as well. The muscles in my arms and back became more defined from the hard labor, my skin a bit more bronzed, a greater sense of purpose in my head. 

I was fine. I was doing fine. I don’t know why I did the things I did. Sabotages and mutinies on my own ship, abandoning love and letting it sink. Why couldn’t I just answer the phone? 

But I couldn’t, so I ran. 

“Do you want me here?”

It didn’t start that way. After Hazel’s split, I left behind my few things and we flipped her house to put on the market. It hadn’t needed much to update it, so we were able to turn a pretty good profit. Then we laid all the tile in her second home that she bought all on her own and built on the bedroom for her little boy. We learned a lot in that time. We were young and knew nothing of building up and tearing down in the physical sense. 

After those first two, we met a crossroad. It was an easy choice with lots of immediate consequences. Hazel had to say goodbye to a class full of kindergarteners halfway through the school year. Looking back I think teaching was a strange choice for her to begin with. She must have had those children military ready by winter break. 

I had less of a shift. I kept working, but took far fewer freelance jobs and was finally forced to leave my couch and create some sort of a routine. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for the stay at home life either. I had never been able to create any sort of structure. I didn’t even own a desk. It had been nice though when I was sick. I could work from my hospital room with no need to explain anything to anyone, not fear of anyone seeing me in my weakness. Now I could work with Hazel all day and avoid the rest of my problems at night by working some more. A golden setup. I was tired, but I felt good, the kind of exhaustion that comes from your body going to battle with herself. 

Back in the city, the weekends were on the same schedule, but at the house, just me and Misty, we were left to sit with our thoughts and talk to our house. “Do you want me here?” I would ask sometimes. I wondered if she remembered me from when I was little. I wondered if she liked me tearing her apart, gutting her out, and giving her new polished insides. 

I walked around barefoot like when I was small, my toes turning blue from the cold wooden floor. We would probably take that out soon too and replace it with some more modern vinyl. I could feel each scratch through the souls of my feet and wondered if they had all been here before. Surely we couldn’t have been that destructive. Surely we couldn’t have made scars that deep. 

“I never asked for this.”

Our childhood was everything good and holy and pure in this world — running through sprinklers in the backyard, believing in the tooth fairy, bedtime stories every night, an eternal summer. Now that we were there for such a short period, it felt like we were wronging the place, not doing justice to her glory days. 

I sometimes thought about the families that lived there after us. Did they have children? Did they spit cherry pits off the front porch and make blanket forts? Did they ride the bus home from school and proudly wear their first pair of bright yellow rain boots even when it was dry outside, and name the earthworms that crawled out of the garden? Did they fall in love? Did they break someone’s heart? 

I couldn’t do it, couldn’t answer. I couldn’t let someone in. How could I do it when all I would give in return was heartache and loss? The house didn’t ask for me, but there I was. He asked, and I was forced to protect him from this ticking time bomb. 

When she went up on the market, 5 long hours from modern civilization, I knew I had to take this opportunity to leave. What better excuse than the distance. Who knew how long this project would take. 

I knew he watered my plants in the window box of my apartment. Sometimes he would send me a picture of them, the vines that my little yellow flowers grew on in the spring. I never asked for this. I figured they would die in the first freeze anyway, yet they lived on. 

And so did I. Through the cold months, the hard labor, my ghost curled around my feet. Through the ache in my jaw that I woke up in the morning, the time with my sister in our childhood home, and the stillness and longing on the weekends in my loneliness. I tore down walls, and I rebuilt them so that one day, I might pick up the phone and make a call. 

Aimee Brooks is a writer, artist, and lover of snacks living in the Wild West (aka Texas). She currently works for a college mentorship program but has hopes of going back to school sometime soon to pursue an MFA in creative writing. When she is not working, writing, or creating art, she spends her time playing with her cat (even though he is kind of evil)
listening to podcasts, and fighting the patriarchy.

Lip Blam

By Leah Sackett

Lips are gross if you watch them in motion wet, dry, rough, soft, flaky, luscious, spittle, and bad breath. Harlow had asked for her tube of lip balm from Orderly Roberts. 

“Can I have my lip blam?” Harlow asked. “You see, my lips are so chapped,” she said with a pout. 

“Okay, give me a minute. I have to give out meds,” Orderly Roberts said. 

“Here you go,” he said and handed over the little tube of Orange Crush chapstick. Roberts didn’t think her lips looked chapped. He figured it was just something to do when stuck on the ward and watched as she applied it to her pale lips. He fantasized about what those lips would look like with a bold, red color like his sister wore. Roberts was just an orderly, but he felt some of the patients were misplaced and mismanaged. In his mind, Harlow was one of them. If it weren’t for the morning and evening rounds of meds, Roberts would not indicate Harlow’s condition. She was Bi Polar and went off her meds from time to time, and every time she landed in the hospital. But she straightened out pretty much by the time she reached the main population ward where Roberts worked. He was jerked out of his reverie by an outburst from Oliver. This guy had been in much longer than insurance customarily allowed. He had nowhere else to go. No family, no place to stay, the social workers had promised him he would be released three days ago, and this quiet guy who shuffled the floors like an old man, which belied his 23 years, was frustrated. The Nurses’ station housed Cafe and De-Cafe urns of coffee along with Styrofoam cups and little packets of sugar. The objects were now being hurled at the nurses. Roberts embraced Oliver in a stifling hug and worked him to the floor. Another Orderly joined the struggle armed with a syringe of Midazolam. Together Roberts and Orderly Harrison muscled Oliver back to his room, where he could sleep his anger off. When Roberts regained the floor, the other inmates were whispering and wide-eyed. Harlow approached him and released the chapstick in Robert’s hand. 

“Here’s the lip blam,” she said. 

“You know it’s balm, right?” 

“What?” she said shrinking from Roberts. 

“It’s lip balm, not blam,” Roberts said gently. 

“Oh, right. I get confused,” Harlow said. 

Roberts felt wrong for correcting her. He didn’t want to scare Harlow off. He only had her for three more days, and then she was getting out. 

“Orderly Harrison fastened the restraints.”

He couldn’t ask for her phone number. It was an impossible relationship. Roberts palmed the lip balm back in her hand. 

“Keep it. Just be discrete,” he said. He gave himself the same advice. 

Roberts wasn’t working when Harlow was released. He resigned himself to the inevitable. His purpose was to help those short term cases get back on the right path. It started as rewarding, but some of these people just seemed to be arrested on the fringe of society, not a danger to it. Of course, he was no doctor. He was the muscle. 

Time inside an asylum sucks the staff and the patients into a warped fabric of reality, and the days run a cycle of drama and drool. Roberts began to wonder who was really incarcerated in this place, him or the patients? Charlotte slinked up the hall and cornered him up against the wall, mumbling, ” Do you identify as a hero? Do you identify as a hero? Do you identify…” Charlotte’s repetition of this question was maddening, and it got inside Roberts’s head like an earworm. He would ask himself the question on break and off shift. Was he a hero or a medical thug? His time in the asylum was tortured and terminal. Who was really trapped in this place? 

A new patient, James, was obsessed with his missing shoes, and tension was high in his demeanor. He shouted out threats to the unknown persons that had his shoes. 

“Where’re my kicks?” James pleaded.

“You can’t have your shoes here. You got the gripper socks,” Roberts said. 

“Man, I don’t want no gripper socks. I want my kicks. Then I’ll kick your ass,” James shouted. 

“I need you to keep it down and stop the threats,” Roberts said. 

“You telling me what to do? I don’t think so, Bitch,” James said and pushed Roberts back. 

Roberts got him in a prone floor hold. Orderly Harrison fastened the restraints. Hopped up on adrenaline, the Orderlies lifted the man and strapped him to the table in the solitary room. The rest of the inmates made a reticent scatter to their rooms. 

It was the end of the summer, Roberts had a much needed three day weekend. He and his buddies, Marc and Lucas, were meeting up at Milo’s for some beers and bocce ball. And to be honest, they were hoping to hook-up with some babes. Marc fetched the first round of beers, while Lucas and Roberts wrestled up the bocce balls and chalk to mark the score. Marc returned with a trio of girls, and introductions were made. 

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“So, what do you do?” the strawberry blonde Twiggy asked Roberts. “Oh, stay away from him. He’ll lock you up,” Marc said.

“What are you some kind of cop?” 

“Naw, he’s an orderly over at the mental hospital. Spends all day with the loonies,” Marc said. 

After the last pitch of the bocce ball, the ladies begged-off and went in pursuit of less creepy conversation. 

The guys were still quarreling over who was responsible for scaring the ladies off when they entered a greasy spoon, the Midnight Owl. 

Roberts did not like owls. He got a plush owl on his 8th birthday. Since then, every birthday and Christmas, he was gifted another owl. Things had really gotten out of hand when his grandma got him a set of owl salt and pepper shakers when he was 14. This diner’s name had kept him away, but tonight the dining victory went to Marc and Lucas. Roberts kept his head down in the menu, avoiding the Owl clocks, toys, and taxidermy on the walls. The waitress smelling of bacon was rattling off specials. She started to recite the Midnight Owl special when Roberts looked up into her face. No introduction was needed. It was a greasy Harlow with her hair up and thick eyeliner. It was Harlow right in front of him. But she didn’t let on that she knew him. Roberts assumed, correctly, that Harlow didn’t want to be identified. But this understood anonymity did not stop her from zoning in on Roberts and flirting aggressively. 

Roberts excused himself for the bathroom. In the narrow back hall, Harlow stood in his way, “It’s so nice to see you,” she said.

Roberts was unsettled. What were the odds of them meeting like this? He ate up her attention, and his fantasies about her came crowding back in his head and cluttered his judgment. 

“Let’s go somewhere more private,” she said. 

“Ah, yes,” he said with bated breath. 

After a greasy meal of eggs, onions, and hash, the guys made their good-byes. Roberts settled into his black 1967 Chevy Impala and waited. Roberts was racking his brain for a private place. There was a Red Roof Inn four miles down the road, but they never made it there. Harlow unbuckled her seatbelt and leaned dangerously close to Roberts’s face, for starters. 

“Hey, hey, you need to put your seatbelt back on,” Roberts said. 

But she was busy fishing for something in her purse. It was a tube of Orange Crush chapstick. 

“Here’s some lip blam for you,” she said, smearing it across his open mouth and chin. 

“A second squad car arrived…”

A clump stuck on his bottom teeth. Roberts wiped and at it with the cuff of his sleeve, while Harlow redoubled her attack and swung her right leg over Roberts. Saddling him, Harlow began to grind. 

“Harlow, I can’t see. Get off,” he said.

“I thought you liked me?” she said. “You’re no fun.” 

Harlow was pouting and leaning against her door with angst that scared Roberts. Just then, he saw the lights in his rearview mirror, and it was backed by the siren. Roberts pulled over on the shoulder of the road. This was a busy road during the day, but at night the businesses were all shut down, and the four-lane road was a vast playground for drunk drivers on the way home. 

“What’s going on here?” Officer Manners asked. 

His flashlight illuminated the half-dressed Harlow slumped along the window. 

“Do you want to have a good time, Officer,” Harlow said, climbing back over Roberts. Roberts was glad to have the policeman’s assistance. Harlow was out of control. 

“Step out of the car,” Officer Manners said to Roberts. 

“Me? What about her?” 

With that, Harlow stepped from the car and planted a handstand on the side of the road. Her waitress uniform fell around her waist. She was naked waist down. Roberts looked to see her panties draped from his rearview mirror. He had no idea when that happened.

Officer Manners made Roberts take a breathalyzer test, which he failed, and found himself cuffed in the backseat of the squad car. A second squad car arrived to take the loud and hard to handle Harlow to the psych ward. She’d been wearing her medical ID bracelet. 

Roberts’ car had been impounded, and he was unable to release it until Tuesday. He drove straight from the impound yard to work. He told his supervisor that he would need time off for his court date. Roberts thought this was the height of his embarrassment, but he was wrong. 

“Hey, there lip blam man,” Harlow said in a scratchy voice. 

She moved in close, not too close, just close enough so only he could hear her when she dropped her voice. 

“How much trouble did you get into?” 

“Plenty. But you need to stay away from me.” Roberts said. 

“Awww. Don’t you like me when I’m manic? Admit it, I’m much more fun.” 

“No, I don’t. We can’t act like that in here.” 

“You mean you can’t act like that in here. I can do whatever I want. I rather thought I got that point across this weekend,” Harlow said. “It’s not about you.”

Roberts stared into those big brown eyes. But he stopped seeing what he wanted to see. He saw a woman that needed help, stability. And what had he done but take her for a joy ride? He felt like a misogynistic ass. Harlow slipped off like a discarded garment and curled up in a green faux leather chair. Roberts watched her sitting there, talking to herself. A patient approached Roberts from the left. It was Charlotte. She was to be transferred to a long term facility that day. Charlotte stopped to rub the top of Harlow’s tussled hair. 

“Do you identify as a hero?” she asked Roberts. “Do you?”

Leah Sackett is an adjunct lecturer in the English department and the Communication & Media department at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. This is where she earned her B.A. and M.F.A. Her short stories explore journeys toward autonomy and the boundaries placed on the individual by society, family, and self. Learn about her published fiction at LeahHolbrookSackett.website.

Lake 22

By Cecilia Kennedy

Part 1 

Among the rocky outcroppings and narrow trails, I find my footing. Smaller rocks slide out from underneath the larger ones; I wobble on my left foot but come down stronger on my right to counterbalance. Each step along the Lake 22 mountain pass takes me upwards and out—along a ledge, but I’m not afraid. It’s the highest point I can imagine at this time. 

In the clearing, the lake is a dark turquoise and the surface calls to me to break it, but I won’t. At the bottom of many lakes are the broken bits and pieces of dismembered bodies—mostly of the young—who dove in headfirst. The most I’ll do is kick off my shoes and slide my feet into the water. 

At the edge of the lake, I sit and tentatively lower my toes, then my arches, and then my ankles into the icy water, which feels smooth and clear. I can see straight to the bottom, and it holds jagged edges of rocks, the limbs of trees, and small plants. Occasionally, I think I see the body of a tiny fish flash before my eyes, but it’s rare, I believe, to see much else. At least, I’ve never noticed much else before. 

My eyes trace the edges of the rocks over and over again. The same lines and shapes, under the cool turquoise water, become familiar, but something else seems to be tangled up in the lines. Something that moves. At first, I think it’s just some kind of leafy plant, trapped between the rocks, but it’s iridescent— as if it had scales—and is more fish-like than plant-like. It moves quickly, darting in between the rocks, trying to catch my attention. The form is unfamiliar and not quite as graceful as I’ve come to expect aquatic life to be. 

“In a trance, I bring the rock down hard…”

Carefully, I lower myself into the water, still wearing my jeans shorts and a sports bra. I expect to feel the sharpness of rocks on the soles of my feet, but they’re far below me. I reach out my hand, under the surface of the water to see if I can feel the plant/fish creature I expect to be there—and something smooth glides underneath the palm of my hand. Out of the corner of my eye, I think I catch a gleam, a sparkle, or a glimmer of something I’ve never seen before and that now, I want to see more than ever. I swim out towards the middle of the lake—following the path I think it’s taking—chasing ripples and bubbles that sometimes surface—swimming for what seems like hours until I reach the shore on the other side. 

It takes some effort to pull myself onto the bank and look out at the water. Every ripple and glimmer on the lake turns my head. Then, about five feet in front of me, the surface bubbles in a most unusual way, as the top of something rises. I recognize the shape of a head that seems more human than fish- or plant-like in form. The head is smooth and dark green like moss. It glistens, slick with algae. Its eyes are open and gaping wide, as a sorrowful expression spreads upon its face—and it wails as if it were a human child— shrieking so desperately, I feel as if my heart will break if I don’t help. The teeth inside the mouth are brown and rotten, and the crying is so desperate that I’m consumed with pity that’s instantly crushed by repulsion. Brown, greenish warts, studded about its face at intervals, twist and pull themselves into grotesque shapes as the crying and shrieking continue. I tell myself it only wants solace, comfort, but I just want to make the noise go away and I’m sorry that I ever followed it here—or gave it any hope. As it climbs from the depths of the lake, it stretches its sorrowful arms outward as if it were asking me to hold it—to make it stop crying, but menacing, reptilian claws are attached to those hands, and I wonder if this is its purpose: to pull me in and devour me. Fully emerged from the water, it’s only the size of a toddler, and I start to remember stories. Horrid stories of newborns locked in rooms without any love or human contact. They develop into wretched, hopeless monsters. This creature, submerged and forgotten—undiscovered and unloved—is someone else’s monster. Not mine. It’s not mine. 

Now, it steps out onto the bank, with sharp claws for feet, which match the hands. I inch backward, closer to the tree line behind me, and stumble upon a rock. I tower over this creature, but it has an advantage if it intends to seek its revenge—to act out on the unfair circumstances it has been given. 

My heart can’t take any more. Picking up the rock, I slam it down hard over the top of the creature’s head. Its face shows confusion, betrayal—and it begins to choke and struggle and shriek some more. In a trance, I bring the rock down hard in a steady rhythm until I hear the cracking of bones, piercing of flesh, and the screaming stops. I tell myself it’s a mercy killing. The underside of the rock is thick with blood; the skull is broken—and then I bury it, face-up, in the sand. I tell myself I’ve done the right thing, but even now, I think I hear someone calling my name when no one else is around and the wind starts to blow. 

Part 2 

This summer is particularly difficult for the headstrong, yet the sensitive woman I believe my daughter to be. Perhaps I clung too tightly or expected too much. Reams of computer paper—freshly printed with essay prompts and short answer blanks piled up on my office desk—and I was willing to help her with each one. Day-by-day, the deadlines would pass, and I’d worry about her future and remind her of how smart and talented she is and how she shouldn’t waste her gifts. Then, I let her know how disappointed I was to realize that she would be the only one in the family to have not gone to college. 

“Mom, I don’t know what I want to be or do. How can I apply to college if I don’t know?” she asked. 

“You just pick something, Nora—anything. Then, you can change your mind, but only once—” 

“I want to explore the world.” 

“There are plenty of study-abroad programs, and I have college applications for you in other countries—like Ireland or England or British Columbia—all of them wonderful places.” 

“All of them are safe places. I want to live, Mom—really live—out there, in the world.” 

“I don’t understand.” 

“I want to take a break and travel. I’ve never seen . . . I’ve never seen Syria, for instance, Mom. Syria is in such need of humanitarian aid. I could help! I would go to Lebanon and teach the Syrian refugee children games and art —and I’ve been learning Arabic.” 

“Look, I don’t mind if you travel—even to more risky places, but I’d like for you to go with a group or something—someone who knows the area well. I have lots of contacts and I could set you up—for a week or two or something. Any longer than that and you’d need a real degree anyway—to be more useful.” 

“Mom—I’ll be fine—and I’m going. I’ve decided.” 

In a tear-filled rage, I told her how disappointed I was in her and that she couldn’t possibly be my daughter. In a tear-filled rage of her own, she left. So, I let her go. What choice did I have? 

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In her absence, I clung to fantasies of joining clubs and activities like synchronized swimming and dragon boat racing—and I’d show up once or twice, feeling the back of my throat well up with the salt of tears, and I’d realize I had nothing in common with the absolute joy others seemed to have—just stretching from their fingertips. I’d grow tired, listless, and bored. Somewhere in the world, I had a daughter, but I let her go. 

The first letter came three months later. She told me she had made it to Lebanon and was teaching sports and games as a kind of recess director. She alluded to some stories regarding the disappearance of volunteers—but no one from her group. She was being careful and learning a lot. Three months after that, she told me that although she was learning a lot, there was more she could do, and now, she realized she needed a college degree and perhaps a graduate degree. She expected to be home by the end of the year and was working on applications on her own. I told her I loved her and that I was proud of her—and that maybe she knew better than I did what she needed all along. 

Three months later, no more letters were sent, so I wrote one of my own. Nothing came in return. I contacted the school in Lebanon, and they told me she hadn’t shown up for work. Not for several weeks. Now, the U.S. Embassy is doing, “all it can,” and suggests that she’s been taken—and here’s where they stop—where they let me imagine the rest: a daughter of mine, locked away alive—or maybe not—and I wonder how much longer I can wait until I know the end. 

The scrabbles of rock, bleached in the sun, are the same as they’ve always been on the Lake 22 trail, but I haven’t been here in quite some time. The rocks have always felt unsteady beneath my feet, but now I’m more aware of the spread of my hips—the shifting of weight—the height at which I take this trail. How, in my youth, could I have felt so steady up here alone? Today, taking this path again—after more than 20 years—I feel a hollow disconnect between my limbs and my heart. On the back of a breeze, I think I hear, “Mom!” in Nora’s voice and I turn around, but no one is there. The voice is real and clear and so incredibly, distinctively Nora’s, but when I turn, I’m only left with sadness and a view of thick pines looming tall and large ahead of me. 

“I dig ruthlessly as if trying to fill the space between my limbs and heart with some kind of useful work.”

When I reach the lake, I hear her voice again, so I jump into the water to drown out the sound—to let out a long, steady scream, blowing out as a stream of bubbles below the depths. And I swim—swimming from the sadness. On the other side of the lake, I touch land, but I imagine it’s the edge of the summer of the in-between years when I was alone and didn’t have a daughter or responsibilities. . . And then I remember. I remember something I’d tried not to think about all of this time. When I climb out of the lake, I walk towards the tree line. There’s nothing here to indicate the place where I’d once buried the hideous creature that called out to me, but I have a pretty good idea of where it might be.

Bending down, I begin to dig into the sand with my hands—scraping and pulling at the earth—digging deeper. I know what I’m looking for and what I’ve put out of my mind for so many years. The wide, hopeful eyes and desperate shrieks of a child/monster—not mine but somehow my responsibility—are no longer easy to forget. In Nora’s absence, I can’t forget. Memories are cruel that way. So are silence, the empty room, the piles of letters, and a hair ribbon of hers I found in a drawer.

I dig ruthlessly as if trying to fill the space between my limbs and heart with some kind of useful work—as if I had to prove my memory is correct: This did happen. I got rid of something and brought my daughter into this world and she lives, somewhere between life and death. I can taste the salt on my face as I tear into the ground, toiling under the hot sun until I hit something soft, but scaly.

More gently, I brush away the remaining bits of sand and find a greenish-brown mound that resembles the belly of a human being in form and shape. When I touch it lightly with my finger, it moves—pulsing and breathing—after all of these years. It’s still alive—and Nora’s voice, coming in on the wind is crying, screaming for her mother—and my heart sinks. At the edge of the lake, I find a sharp rock, which I run back over to the pulsing, breathing mound. I slice through the creature’s belly to make the pain stop—to quiet the voice. And when I think the breathing has stopped and the wind has died down, I scoop the body I’ve never forgotten into my arms, and I rock it to sleep. 

Cecilia Kennedy taught Spanish and English for many years in Ohio before moving to the Greater Seattle area to write horror stories. Her first book is a collection of 13 dark tales: The Places We Haunt (on Amazon), and she has words in Headway Quarterly, The Daily Drunk, Coffin Bell, Open Minds Quarterly, Gathering Storm, and The Writing Disorder. She also keeps a humorous blog of her attempts at cooking and home repair: Fixin’ Leaks and Leeks.