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The Bloom & the Blight

A Collection



By C.M. Blackwood



PART I

short fiction/sketches

red lipstick

the vampire elf queen

the second mrs. dalloway

sally

do you wanna jump? or do you wanna grab some ice cream? whatevs.

me and mission command

a vampire love story

old tanya gillock



PART II

poems

1: an ode to dicken’s dream

2: the palm-reader’s elegy (excerpted from bloodthorne)

3: chemicals

4: kristen’s poem for ava (excerpted from girl on pause)

5: bad fairy

6: smoke on the water

7: “untitled a”

8: sky clock

9: “untitled b”

10: i miss you, daddy

11: “untitled c”

12: king of angels

13: “untitled d”

14: complex ticking

15: the land between

16: “untitled e”

17: rapid eye movement

18: bleeding through

19: like alice

20: shadow realm

21: redemption

22: protector

23: for repetition in darkness

24: train tracks

25: the hollow

26: forbidden

27: the queen stole the bandages

28: “untitled f”

29: underage and whiskey-fied

30: water spots

31: sleep before eternity

32: invincible

33: reality

34: little johnny

35: “untitled g”

36: none-too-subtle sequence

37: run 2 remain

38: untitled #1

39: untitled #2

40: untitled #3

41: but it’s better if you do

42: only for you

43: armageddon (a story in verse)







PART I

short fiction/sketches



red lipstick



IT WAS A BRISK AFTERNOON IN LATE AUTUMN. I walked towards the Plexiglas cubicle that shielded those who waited for the bus from the rain, tugging my hood around my head and wishing I owned an umbrella. Fuck being poor. Fuck it all to hell.

I saw the middle-aged woman just sitting there, smoothing on lipstick in a handheld mirror. Her hair was short and curly, her pale face was firm and pert. Her red lipstick looked perfect under her dark eyes.

“May I sit next to you, ma’am?” I inquired, gesturing to the bench.

“It’s a free country,” she replied. A sly smile before she added, “Or so they say.”

I sat down next to her. She was an incredibly striking woman. She was tall, you could tell she was, even while she was sitting. Her clothes were impeccable and her makeup was perfect. I loved her red lipstick most of all. It looked very kissable.

But then, without warning, she drew a small silver flask from the pocket of her grey twill pants. She twisted off the top, then took a long swig.

“You can’t imagine how many times I have to refill this over the course of the day,” she said, smacking her lips and looking up at the grey, pouring sky.

“How many?” I inquired wonderingly.

“Six or seven,” she replied nonchalantly. “Maybe more.”

“What do you do during the day?” I asked.

“I’m a bookkeeper,” she answered. “For a charity. But let me tell you, young lady – charity is a very loose expression. It’s more of a business than anything else.”


I looked at her with narrowed eyes. “You can’t mean that,” I said quietly.

“Ah,” she said, looking back at me with her deep, dark eyes. “Poor young girl. Do you still believe in innocence?”

I thought about it for a long moment, but finally realized that I didn’t know. So I didn’t answer.

A bus was coming – and it seemed like it was her bus.


“Wait,” I yelped as she rose to leave.

She looked back patiently.

“What are you doing later on?” I asked politely.

She gazed at me with an equal measure of politeness. “I’m too old and jaded for you, my dear,” she replied.

The bus pulled up alongside her and swung open its doors. She went up the steps with shapely legs shod in sensible black flats. I watched her as she went, marking her movements as she took a seat four rows back.

Much to my surprise, though, she looked back down at me. She blew me a kiss, then mouthed the words “Maybe later.”

At least – I think that’s what she said.












the vampire elf queen



Her name is Queen Ivory, and I love her because she is different from the one I knew before.

She is the elf queen of the Emerald Palace. She has long golden locks, bright blue eyes, and skin white as milk.

She tells me she loves me. “Human women,” she says, “they are so fickle. One moment they express interest, the next moment they have flitted away – pssh – after some colorful butterfly.”


“Ah, yes,” I say groggily, having become drunk on her darkenberry wine.

“They cannot sate you the way I can,” she goes on to say, locking my eyes with her ice-blue gaze.

“Perhaps not,” I whisper, the world swimming before my eyes. “But still – I loved her.”

“Did you?” she inquires. “You humans cannot even comprehend the meaning of love. ‘I love you, I love you,’ you are always blathering the words – but what the fuck do you think they mean?”

I shake my head, spilling my wine over the front of my shirt. Tears are pouring down my face.

“I suppose I don’t know,” I murmur lifelessly.

She comes forward to take my glass, then dashes it down against the stones. Broken glass skitters everywhere.

“Do you trust me?” she asks.

“Yes,” I whisper, looking dumbly into her ice-blue eyes.

She kisses me, sucking with her lungs, drawing the entirety of my soul from my body. Then she lowers her mouth to my neck, more vampire than elf, and drains the blood from my veins.

“You silly humans,” she whispers, patting my cheek with her warm hand. “You do not know what love is.”

My last sight is of her bright white dress, slithering away from me as I fall down to the cold, bloody stones.



the second mrs. dalloway



This is a story about Marjorie Dalloway, a 46-year-old woman from Surrey, who abhors spotted dick, and who has a minor fit every time her name is spelled M-A-R-G-E-R-I-E. She believes it is an ugly way to spell her name, and claims that it makes her feel unbecoming.


She has lost several friends over this peculiarity.

Mrs. Dalloway was born in the year 1970 – a very tumultuous year, she considers. There were two Prime Ministers, that annum, not to mention the fact that the half-crown ceased to be legal tender. She has since researched the subject on the Internet (a platform with which she is not entirely familiar, but is attempting to manipulate), and has discovered that many horrendous things took place during the year of her birth. But, she considers herself a lady – and though she will often tell guests at her dinner parties that, indeed, horrendous things did occur, she judges that it is unbecoming to go into further detail about it. The subject is hers, she says – and hers alone – to ponder wretchedly in the darkness of her bedroom.


On account of her name, and on account of the fact that she is a writer, Mrs. Dalloway often suffers from the presumption that she is an admirer of Virginia Woolf. She cannot see why the two seemingly unrelated details should inspire this widespread belief – but they have, just the same, and she is left inconsolable. If she must explain, just one more time, that she is no fan of Ms. Woolf (she always pronounces Virginia’s name like that, with a sarcastic emphasis which should be enough, by itself, to demonstrate how little she cares for her), then she feels that she may actually lose her mind, and be driven to some desperate action.


Perhaps she will leap from some high precipice. Or perhaps she will stab herself. Yes, that would be the better way – for, if she were to skewer herself, probably she would not die, and then she would be left with the chance of seeing how her persecutors regretted having tormented her.

“Do you see?” she would ask them. “Do you see what’s become of me? I told you what would happen, if I heard her name once more! But no – just one too many hot toddies, and your lips were loose as the hookers in the East End. Now I have impaled myself, just like dear Juliet – and I’m sure my fate shall be the same. But no – no! I beg you, don’t resort to self-pity. The blame is not yours alone.”

And that, for all intents and purposes, is Ms. Marjorie Dalloway.





sally



Dolls turn malignant late at night. They stare at you with those glassy eyes. I won’t say they are plotting, but I can’t say they aren’t.” — Stephen King


I find myself enamored with this quote. Probably it is because of Sally, who sits beside my bed, with a porcelain face and real human hair. I have told everyone that she attempts to strangle me, each night in my sleep — but for some reason or other, they refuse to believe me. Perhaps it is her angelic countenance. Not angelic to me, though. To me, she is the devil.

I lie awake for hours, staring at Sally. But she will not move while I watch her. Finally, when my eyes grow too heavy to remain open any longer, and I drift into an uneasy sleep . . . SHE STRIKES! I have the scars to prove it, but the nurses claim they are self-inflicted.

I have thought of setting Sally on fire. Or throwing her out the window. But the nurses won’t give me matches, no matter how politely I ask; and there are bars on my window.

There are bars on all the windows here. On the bright side, though, tomorrow is Pancake Thursday.

Well, I’m getting sleepy now; and I know that I will soon drift off. Perhaps Sally will kill me tonight. Or perhaps the devil will come for her, and drag her back to hell.

Either way — I probably won’t get any pancakes tomorrow.

MEMOIRS FROM GREYSTONE ASYLUM, 2016.







do you wanna jump? or do you wanna grab some ice cream? whatevs.

Me: Good question. But you know, I’m really not sure. I think I’m gonna jump . . . that is, unless they’ve got Butter Brickle. Do you think they’ve got Butter Brickle?

You: How the hell should I know?

Me: Well, I dunno, I just thought that since you asked . . .

You: For Pete’s sake, if you’re gonna be so annoying about it, just freakin’ jump.

Me: Well, I dunno about it now. I really want some Butter Brickle . . .

You: Holy mackerel. You are as annoying as sardines on a peanut butter and jelly. I’m outta here.

Me: Are you still getting ice cream?

You: Yeah, I guess.

Me: Okay, then. Let’s take my car.

You: Sure. I’m low on gas, anyway.

Me: (with a thoughtful expression) Hold on a minute — I’ve just gotta take the rag outta the muffler.









me and mission command



Me: Houston, we have a problem.

Houston: What is it?

Me: I’m not sure. I’m just feeling very existential and nostalgic today.

Houston: Listen, K-26. You know that this is a mission command center, right? We’re not here for existential breakdowns.

Me: What about the nostalgia? You didn’t refer to the nostalgia.

Houston: We don’t handle that, either, K-26.

Me: You know — that might be part of our problem right there. I have a name, you know. I didn’t come out of the womb, with people slapping my bottom and calling me K-26.


*A shuffling sound of paperwork as mission command looks at my file.*


Houston: Well, it says here that your name is Brünhilda. *A pause.* Do you want me to call you Brünhilda?


Me: *Grimace.* Hell, no. I hate that name.


Houston: Then why did you ask me to call you by it?

Me: I didn’t ask you to. I just told you that I had a name.


Houston: Well, of course you have a — *long groan* — isn’t there anyone else on board that you could be talking to about your existential breakdown?

Me: Sure. But I didn’t want to bother them.

Houston: So you called to bother us?


Me: Well, I guess I never thought of it that way. But hey, so long as I’ve got you guys on the line — I can never remember what this red button on the control panel does. It doesn’t say anything.

Houston: Don’t press that!

Me: Why not?

Houston: Can I trust you with the truth, K-26?

Me: Sure.

Houston: With a single push of that button, every single person on earth will be transformed into a total asshole.

Me: Why’d they make a button that does that?

Houston: In case we’re ever invaded by aliens. The government figured that complete assholes would make better soldiers.

Me: I guess that makes sense. *Pause.* Can I ask you one more question?


Houston: What is it now?


Me: Do you know if anyone’s ever pressed this button before?

Houston: How the hell should I know?

Me: Well, I was only wondering, because — well, you’re kind of an asshole.

*Long silence. I think Houston’s hung up on me.*



a vampire love story



The neon lights were flashing like iridescent stars, blasting suddenly in a surreal climax of electric heat, and then sizzling away into darkness. You could almost hear them.

In the back of the nightclub, there was a set of private rooms, where men (and women) paid for special dances. Sometimes more than just dances.

Let’s enter into one of these rooms, which was shaped like a large, open square. The carpet was black, and the walls were red. The color of blood.

There were wide mirrors bolted into each of the walls. The ceiling was nothing but a wide looking-glass.

Only God knows what sorts of things all those mirrors had reflected.

A young woman was seated in a deep leather chair, her thin, pale hands perched on the ends of the armrests. She lounged back in the chair, seemingly at ease, her wavy black hair falling around her white face like ravens’ feathers. Her black eyes burned like hot coals as she watched the girl who danced in front of her.



There was a metal pole in the middle of the room. The girl swiveled all around it, shaking her scantily-clad limbs this way and that. Her ginger-colored hair was soaked with sweat and was sticking to the back of her freckled neck. Every now and then, she looked up at the young woman in the chair with a pair of bright green eyes, smiling mischievously.



Then she went back to dancing.

The dark-haired woman’s eyes were riveted on the swerving dancer. She watched her for a long time, then licked her lips. Not in the usual way, though.

She looked hungry for more than a few kisses and pets. As she watched the young dancer, her black eyes seemed to be widening, the dark irises expanding until there were no whites left. She licked her lips again and groaned.



“You’re no fun tonight, Mina,” the ginger-haired dancer said sulkily. “Why don’t you come and dance with me?”

“I don’t want to dance,” the dark-haired woman said sharply.

Immediately, though, she seemed to regret the way she’d barked at the young dancer.

She tried to smile, though she still looked anxious.

“I’m sorry, Flora,” she said contritely. “Won’t you come and sit with me?”

“You know I won’t sit with you,” Flora said with a pout, “until you dance with me.”

“Not tonight, Flora,” Mina said, firmly but kindly. “I’m not feeling well.”

Flora looked concerned. She frowned at Mina and started walking towards her, forgetting all about her sultry strutting. She just went over to the chair and perched herself on Mina’s knee, leaning down to lay her head on the other woman’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t have been pestering you. I didn’t know you were feeling sick.”

She looked into Mina’s face and asked, “Are you okay?”

“I haven’t been feeling well lately,” Mina told her. “I don’t know what it is. Some kind of bug, I guess.”

“It’s the time of year for all sorts of bugs,” Flora conceded. But then she shivered and pressed herself closer to Mina. “I hate winter in New York,” she muttered.

“Me, too,” Mina told her.

There was a long moment of silence. Neither of the women spoke, and the music swelled out in the club like roaring ocean waves. There were no speakers in the back. There was just the faraway thumping of the main subwoofers.



Rob Zombie’s “Living Dead Girl” was playing. Mina twirled Flora’s ginger hair round her fingers and smirked wryly.

“Thinking of something funny?” Flora asked with a laugh, peeking up into Mina’s face.

“Not really,” Mina replied. She put her arms around Flora’s slight shoulders and pulled her close. She buried her nose in her hair, breathing in the sweet, salty scent of her sweat.



“I don’t let anyone else do that, you know,” Flora told her.

“What?” Mina murmured, still nuzzling at Flora’s scalp.

“Hold me like that,” Flora said quietly. “I don’t let anyone else do it.”

Mina looked into her pretty face and smiled. “Do you want me to stop?” she asked.

Flora shook her head, trembling a little. “No,” she whispered.

Mina chucked her lightly under the chin, tipping her face upwards. She was just about to kiss her, when suddenly she felt a pain in her chest, and she heaved forward to press a hand to her heart.



“Are you all right?” Flora asked quickly, sitting up on Mina’s knee.



“I’m fine,” Mina lied. “I just –”



Then her belly growled – more like a long, mournful howl, really. Sort of like a caged wolf. Mina’s eyes crossed slightly and she put a hand to her abdomen.



“Should I – should I get a doctor or something?” Flora asked, looking as if she didn’t know what to do.



Mina glanced up at her, and her eyes looked strangely – well, dark, Flora thought. A lot darker than usual.



“Get out of here,” Mina growled.



“What?” the young dancer asked in confusion.



“Leave the room, Flora!” Mina barked. She tried to stand up, but there was a sharp stabbing pain in her middle that made her fall out of the chair and down to her knees. Flora ran to her.



“No!” Mina protested. “Get out, Flora.”



“Here,” Flora said kindly, holding out her hand. She was completely oblivious to what was happening, and she failed to detect the danger.



Not that Mina really knew what was happening, either. This whole thing was fairly new to her. She’d get terrible cramps in her stomach, and then she’d break out in a cold sweat.



“Here, Mina,” Flora said, still trying to offer the other woman her arm. “Let me –”



But Mina looked up at her, then – and the expression on her face made Flora cry out in alarm. It was no longer the face she knew so well. It looked like the face of some animal, the black eyes flashing with feral rage, the nostrils quivering like those of a lion on the hunt.



Mina was crouched down on one knee with one hand poised against the floor, as if she were getting ready to spring.



At – at ME? – Flora thought fearfully.



“What’s the matter with you, Mina?” she cried. “What are you doing?”



But she shouldn’t have even bothered. Mina couldn’t hear her anymore. She couldn’t hear anything but a strange thudding in her ears – and all she knew was that she was hungry.



She leapt at Flora, and Flora let out a piercing scream. The music was so loud, no one heard her. Everyone just went on with their own business and left her to die.



By the time Mina was done, there was nothing left but a pile of blood-slick bones.



old tanya gillock



It was very late in the evening. Old Tanya Gillock was sitting in her rocking chair by the parlor window, looking out into the treacherous darkness, watching the way the thick, sticking snow whirled in dizzying circles through the yard.

Tanya was seventy years old. Her hair was blanched white from ordinary suffering, but her skin was hardly wrinkled. Her limbs were still fairly supple, and her eyes were still admirably bright. She wore her hair in a tight bun behind her head, because it gave her a feeling of control over the wild storm without. Her hair was even pulling a bit, but she refused to let it down. She could have twisted it into a braid; she could have put it up in a clip.

She could have even worn it loose around her shoulders, no doubt the most comfortable option at this time of night. But then, that would have made her feel too vulnerable. There’s a strange hot feeling that comes all round your face, when you wear your hair down at any time except bedtime.

No – she preferred the bun. She preferred the slight pain it gave her, reminding her that something else existed, apart from the wild storm that was raging outside the window.

Some people might have called old Tanya Gillock beautiful. She was the only Tanya in Westborough County. There were many Marys, and many Alices, but she was an outlaw. She had Tanya Tucker’s name. She was a sparrow in a hurricane.

Only a short while earlier, freezing rain had clattered down from the sky, pelting the tin roof of the old farmhouse, hammering the tired body of the ancient Volkswagen out in the drive.

What an awful noise it had made! It was what Milton’s Pandemonium must have sounded like. Old Tanya imagined Satan presiding at the Infernal Council, and she shivered as with an invisible wind.

She heard Chopin’s “Funeral March” floating on the same wind. It was being played with crystal clarity. She knew that her ears weren’t really hearing it – but the sound wasn’t lost to her mind.

When she was a child, people had said that she was over-imaginative. She saw princesses where there were none. She feared sorcerers where there weren’t any.

And then she went back to pitching hay with Daddy.

She thought on the past for a few moments: of Mama’s warm gravy on the Christmas goose; of Daddy’s tender hands tucking her into bed at night, even when he was so tired after a day of farming. He’d left the farm to Tanya, because all his other children were dead. Only two more: one dead from an accident with a thresher, and one gone to Jesus from too much drink. He drank and he drank, always thinking that it would bring him peace.

But it brought him to Jesus, in the end – and that was the same thing as peace.

Tanya kept her eyes glued to the window. It was a bad night for traveling, but Betty had insisted on going out to fetch the order from Murray’s. If she hadn’t, she and Tanya wouldn’t have been able to start on their work the next morning.

Tanya had the farm, but shortly after she inherited it, the soil turned barren, and there was no life left to wring from it. She’d cried on Betty’s shoulder, countless times, wondering whether they would both die.

“I’m no farmer,” she cried, as Betty held her in her arms. “I’ve let my father down. Do you think God is punishing me for being weak? Do you think He hates me, Betty?”

“Of course He doesn’t,” Betty answered firmly. “God loves everyone the same. If this has happened, it’s only because it was His will. It’s only because He has other things in store for you.”

Now, Tanya sat at the window, the nerves in her back pinched with anxiety, her arthritic hands aching after another day of toil. The life of a tailor wasn’t an easy one. Mama didn’t sew those blue jeans in ten minutes.

She wished Betty would come back. She was starting to worry.

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. The old woman’s head snapped up, and she looked towards the doorway of the parlor.

Who could be calling at this time of night?

She struggled up from her chair, putting a hand to the crick in her back and shuffling towards the doorway. She went out into the narrow entryway and turned to the right, where the wide front door stood. There were two frosty panes of glass at the top of it.

She thought she could decipher the outlines of a man’s face. A young-looking man. A handsome man.

She shuffled towards the door and paused just in front of it, leaning her head forward. “Who is it?” she called.

“You don’t know me,” a man’s voice answered politely. “But I’d like to speak with you.”

The old woman was confused.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t open the door to strangers.”

“But I’m not a stranger,” the voice returned. “You know my name. Or at least – I’m sure you know some of my names.”

A horrible chill passed all up and down the old woman’s body.

“Who are you?” she demanded.

“You may call me Damien,” the voice replied. “Many people associate me with that name. It’s strange, though – because the only evil people with that name are fictional. Do you remember Father Damien of the lepers? He gave his life for those damned people. And have you heard of the saints, Damian and Cosmas? They were brothers and physicians. They accepted no payment for their services, and some people saw them as heroes. But the Roman emperor Diocletian ordered them to recant their Christian faith. They refused; and they were crucified, stoned, shot through with arrows, and finally beheaded.”

The man blew a breath through his lips and whistled impressively. “Whew!” he said. “What do you think of that? It’s strange that they should call me Damien. Or, at least – strange that they should give that name to my accomplice.”

Old Tanya held her breath. She thought she was hallucinating.

She had been known, these past few years, to take far too much whiskey after supper. No doubt that was the cause of all this.

She wished Betty were here. Betty would set it right.

“Miss Gillock?” the man’s voice inquired. “Are you still there?”

Tanya wanted to slip away from the door and hobble up the stairs to her bed. Surely the man would go away. Surely he wouldn’t force his way in.

Would he?

“Miss Gillock?” he repeated.

“I’m here,” she whispered.

She knew that he wouldn’t go away. If she went upstairs, he would come to her window and go on talking.

“Ah, yes,” he said, almost compassionately. “You are debating the wisdom of speaking with me. I can understand your skepticism, but I feel I should let you know – there are very few people who have managed to slip away from me when I did not wish it.”

Tanya swallowed thickly. “What do you want?” she demanded in a quavering voice.

“Ah!” the man replied. “It seems you’re not as bold as I thought you were. It often happens that way. To put it simply, Miss Gillock – what I want is your God-given soul.”

Tanya swallowed again, and asked, “Why would you admit it?”

“Because people are stupid,” the man replied. “And besides – you haven’t let me finish. You haven’t let me tell you what you’ll get in return.”

“I don’t care,” Tanya breathed.

There would have been no conceivable way for any ordinary human being to perceive these quiet words through the thick wood of the front door. But this man heard them well enough.

“You say that now,” he wheedled slowly. “But you haven’t let me explain all the best parts.”

“I don’t want to hear,” Tanya said.

“Well,” the man said, “the fact is that I have no pressing engagements at the moment. It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? But anyway – let’s get started.”

Tanya held her breath. She had no idea what was going to happen. Probably nothing – but what if something did happen?

“Go into the parlor,” the man said. “See what I’ve brought you.”

Tanya didn’t want to go. She wished she could have made some sort of wish – rubbed some sort of magic lamp – and made the man go away.

But she supposed that wasn’t the way of things.

So she took a deep breath and passed back down the entryway corridor. She turned left into the parlor and looked around in the lamplight.

It didn’t take her long to notice the sparkling piano in the corner of the room. She sucked in her breath and walked towards it slowly.

She hadn’t seen a piano since she was twelve years old. She had spent her entire childhood with that old black piano – and then her father had sold it. Sold it because he drank too much that harvest and hadn’t been able to haul in all the corn. Most of it had rotted in the fields.

This piano was made all of gold, shining brilliantly in the lamplight, like something Shahryar might have given Scheherazade. Before he got tired of her stories, anyway.

Tanya walked up to the golden bench on trembling legs, and sat down slowly, raising the lid of the piano with careful fingers. She struck a few notes – and the sounds were like drops of whiskey to a man who’d been lost in the desert.

She began to play Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” The result was a majestic one. She used to play for Mama, before Daddy sold the piano. Mama said that she could be great someday.

“I ain’t never seen nothin’ like it,” she murmured to her young daughter, blowing her nose in her spotted handkerchief. “You’re a star, baby. You’re a star!”

But then the piano was gone, and life was nothing but pitching hay.

“Pitch it faster, girl, if you want to eat tonight!”

That’s what Daddy had said. So Tanya had pitched fast as she could, till her small shoulders ached and there was no feeling left in her skinny arms.

It went on that way till she was grown. Then Jimmy got caught in the thresher and Tommy drank himself to death.

Then Daddy died. He got ill, all of a sudden, and couldn’t get out of bed. His breathing was raspy and his voice was hoarse. He couldn’t eat and his sleep was fitful.

He cried out Jimmy’s name before he died. Maybe he blamed himself. Maybe he was just a good daddy.

Not long afterwards, Mama disappeared. No one was ever quite sure where she went. Old Timothy Buckland had always been fond of her, ever since high school – and it was obvious he would have taken Mama in after Daddy died.

People went looking for Timothy, after Mama disappeared. But no one could find him, either.

The sweet notes spread through the long parlor as Tanya’s fingers pressed down on the keys. Soon, the whole house was filled with the sound.

It was a marvelous thing.

But then, she stopped playing and stood up from the bench, looking down at the golden piano as if it were an evil thing.

“You’ve stopped playing, Miss Gillock,” the man observed from outside the door. “Why have you stopped playing?”

Tanya didn’t answer. She stood in the middle of the parlor, still as a statue, wondering all the time if this was just a terrible nightmare.

“Oh, well,” the man said. “Go into the kitchen. Maybe you’ll find something there that you like better.”

Of course, Tanya didn’t want to go into the kitchen. But the man’s voice was like that of a snake-charmer. She didn’t know what to do.

“Go into the kitchen,” the man’s voice commanded.

So Tanya went. She moved in spite of herself, almost involuntarily.

Soon, she was standing in the big old kitchen, all dark except for a little moonlight coming through the frosty window pane.

She reached to flip the light switch. Dim, dirty-looking yellow light flooded the room. Everything looked dusty and decayed.

Except for a tall, shining white refrigerator on the left-hand beside the wooden counter.

The old brown refrigerator had stopped working in May. Ever since, Tanya and Betty had been ordering bottles of milk from the creamery, delivered in the morning by an old-fashioned dairyman. They kept them in lunch sacks with ice packs from the old freezer in the barn.

Tanya stared at the white fridge in disbelief. She walked towards it, tottering slightly on her tired legs.

She opened the door of the fridge, and saw more food than she’d ever seen at one time. Except in a grocery store.

There was fresh white milk, gallons and gallons of it. There were dozens of eggs. There were six different kinds of cheese.

In the freezer, there were steaks, chops and roasts – enough to last till spring. Maybe longer.

Tanya stared into the bright fridge for a long moment. But suddenly, she was filled with a feeling of horror, and she slammed the door shut.

“No!” she cried. “I don’t want it!”

“Are you sure?” the man’s voice asked.

“Yes.”

“All right, then. Go upstairs.”

“I don’t want to,” Tanya murmured.

“Go!” the voice commanded.

So Tanya went. She climbed the stairs slowly, and the voice waited patiently. Its owner didn’t follow her, but there was a strange feeling of oppression that came with her up the stairs. She got to the landing and stepped out into the moonlit darkness, creeping forward towards the bedroom. The light was on in there, though she knew very well that she hadn’t turned it on.

She went into the room and saw a wide down bed there in the center of the floor. It was the biggest bed Tanya had ever seen, with an ornate marble headboard and a thick satin comforter.

For many years, Tanya and Betty had slept on a lumpy old mattress with springs poking out of it. Every morning, they woke with more aches and pains than old-time Jews putting up Pharaoh’s pyramids. But they kissed each other when they opened their eyes, then got up to start their work. Many people hated them for their relationship, but the poorer people appreciated them, unable as they were to afford new frocks and dungarees. So they blessed the old lovers, who mended their old clothes for a pittance.

But this, this was a bed befitting a Roman emperor. Old Tanya doubted that even someone as ill-tempered as Nero would have scoffed at it.

She was so tired, she wanted more than anything to lie down on the bed. She took a shaking step towards it, and came very close to it. But then, she leapt back as if she’d been burned, and she cried out in alarm.

“No!” she hollered, tearing at her hair. “I don’t want it.”

“Are you sure?” the man’s voice repeated. It no longer seemed to come from downstairs. It was all around her now. It was almost as if it were inside her head.

“Yes,” she said firmly.

“You’re a steady one, Miss Gillock, I’ll grant you that.”

He paused for a moment, but then added, “I have one more thing to show you.”

“I don’t want it!” Tanya cried. “I don’t want your pianos, or your food, or your beds. You can keep ‘em!”

“No,” the man said, with a tinge of sadness in his voice. “This is rather different from all that.”

In spite of herself, Tanya was curious. She saw a strange shimmering light off to the side of the room, where there was a large empty space. The light grew brighter, and then turned into a picture, almost like a movie screen.

Old Tanya could see her dear Betty, lying on the lumpy old bed, coughing horribly. Tanya sat beside her, cooling her forehead with a damp cloth. But then Betty sat up weakly and began coughing more violently. Dark red blood splashed from her mouth and stained the dingy white blanket.

The picture shifted, and Tanya saw a plain pine box, being carried slowly into Westborough Cemetery. Tanya walked on one side, Betty’s son on the other. He cast a hateful glance towards Tanya and walked on.

“Oh, no,” Tanya moaned, sinking down to her weak old knees. She didn’t know how she’d ever get up again, but she couldn’t help it. “Oh, Betty.”

“She has cancer,” the voice said, in that same said voice. “She has only six months to live, they told you.”

“Yes,” Tanya breathed.

“I can take it away,” the man promised. “She’ll be well for the rest of her days. And I can assure you, they will be long ones.”

The image of the pine box lingered in the air. They were lowering it into the ground, now.

The old woman’s breath came shallowly. She could hardly see through the tears in her eyes. She almost longed to say yes.

But then she tore at her hair again, and with a strength she couldn’t explain, she hurled herself to her feet. She sliced an angry arm through the image of the coffin and began to scream.

“No!” she cried. “I tell you no! Good Lord save me, and deliver me from this devil!”

All in an instant, the image of the coffin disappeared, along with the oppressive feeling that had followed Tanya upstairs. The magnificent bed was gone, and the lumpy one was back. The voice spoke no more. Tanya knew in her heart that it had gone away.

With her legs shaking worse than ever, she hobbled downstairs and resumed her place by the window to wait for Betty. She didn’t have to look outside the door. She knew the man was gone.

A few weeks ago, she and Betty had gotten the news from the hospital. Betty had been feeling poorly for a while now. It was lung cancer, they said. Only six months left.

Still, somehow, Betty’s eyesight was better than Tanya’s, and she insisted on doing the night driving. The order from old Murray had come in late, and he’d called just after supper to let them know. Betty wanted to fetch it before the storm got too bad.

Old Murray had a soft spot for the old women. He sold them their materials for a song, and he refused to say anything when people came into his shop speaking ill of them. But he hadn’t driven a car in more than fifteen years, on account of his wooden leg, and he couldn’t make deliveries anymore. So Betty went to get the stuff from his shop.

Now Tanya waited for her impatiently. Her small foot tapped sharply against the floor, and her thin fingers gripped the arms of her chair.

Finally, the old Volkswagen pulled into the drive. Tanya hauled herself to her feet and hobbled to the front door. She opened it for Betty, smiling at the sight of her, home and safe.

She stood in the dim porch light, her head covered with a thick bonnet, her shapely old face reddened from the chill air. Her deep blue eyes shone warmly at the sight of Tanya, but she put on a show of huffing out a great big sigh.

“Come on now, Tan,” she said. “I told you to go to bed!”

“You know I don’t go to bed,” Tanya said lightly, “unless you’re lying next to me. So just come on in the kitchen and have a glass of milk.”

She took the parcels from Betty and kissed her cold cheek. Betty looked into her eyes for a moment, then laid a hand against the side of her face. She shut the door behind her and leaned forward to kiss Tanya’s lips tenderly.

“How was your night?” she asked.

Tanya couldn’t help shivering. But she planned never to tell Betty what had happened.

It was her own trial, and she’d borne it in her own way.









PART II:

poems



1: an ode to dickens’s dream

Your visions dance about you

The blood of hours gone

And yet we all can clearly see

The dreams you dreamt upon.

 

Your visions mix with ours

Till it’s hard to tell what’s real

All we know is that we see it

All we know is what we feel.



In every mind, ten thousand dreams

Flow up, and down, and in between

We’re halfway mad, and halfway dead

Yet still, we are serene.



2: the palm-reader’s elegy (excerpted from bloodthorne)


“The day is gone, and dark has come

The beasts are running wild.

But the air is sweet, and I shall rest my feet

On earth exceeding mild.

 

The sun is gone, and night is here

To mark the path of death.

But life is long, and I shall sing this song

With the last of my living breath.”




3: chemicals



There is a black space

Here in the corner of my heart

It grows steadily

Staining the red with shadows

There is a blank space

Here in the corner of my brain

It spreads slowly

Turning thoughts into nothing

This blackness and this blankness

Combine into something lethal

Like ammonia and bleach

Burning me with liquid hydrazine

Afternoons bring me clarity

I can see the sun once more

But then the dark descends

And it’s time to mix the chemicals again.




4: kristen’s poem for ava (excerpted from girl on pause)

I love her with a love pure and true

So I imagine her love is pristine

White and shining as a shell from the sea

Steady as a tall oak on the island’s lee.



I love her with a love honest and fair

So I imagine her love is sincere

Just and righteous as a beautiful virgin

Open and plain as a man without sin.



I love her with a love unreturned

A love unrequited and spurned

I love her with a love uncontained

Though her heart is as cold as the grave.”



5: bad fairy



There’s a fairy in my garden patch

Her manners are most foul

She throws rockses through my window

And plucks featherses from my owl.

 

My owl’s name is Beatrice

And she’s quite a precious thing

She likes to sit ‘neath my window

And all the day she likes to sing.

 

But that fairy tortures my owl

And there’s never a moment’s peace

She takes the feathers she plucked yesterday

And pastes them back with grease.

 

I’m growing tired of that fairy

And I fear I may do her some harm

If she doesn’t stop throwing rockses

I just might chop off her arm.




6: smoke on the water


Chilling in between the sun and the shadows

Relatively free of weight

A light synth beat in my head

Broken angel wings strewn across the bed

Shining with dew and fairy dust.

Open curtains at the windows

Letting in late summer light

Autumn on the horizon with its scent of death

Carried on ghostly fingers like a lover’s breath

Trembling with the fragility of time.




7: “untitled a”


Shadows twisting

Branches creaking

It's night and the road is long

It's cold and all friends have gone

Listening to the distant howling of wolves

As the bitter rain begins to fall.




8: sky clock

Elastic wishes

Adjustable thoughts hanging on

Purple stars dipped in moonshine.

Unthinkable words

Inaudible whispers dripping from

Her red lips soaked in sugar and dew.

Clarity

Parody

Possible insincerity

Drift through her rose-petal mouth.

The clock outside my window

Is painted in crimson across the black sky

And it’s ticking ominously.




9: “untitled b”

Life is a strange thing.

When you want it most

It's snatched away

In the blink

Of an eye.

But when

You've grown weary of it

It lingers forever.




10: i miss you, daddy

One year ago today, I found out you were gone.

I knew something was wrong, but you were so far away.

You didn't answer your phone.

When I picked up the phone that night, I already knew.

Uncle Charlie told me what I already knew.

Our path was complicated, Daddy,

Filled with twists and turns.

But I'll always remember being a little girl,

Goin' 4-wheelin' with you,

Eatin' cheeseburgers with you.

We had so much fun.

As I grew older, we grew apart,

But I never loved you any less.

Those last couple years were a blessing,

Because they brought us back together.

Even if it was only on the phone.

I miss you, Daddy, and I can still hear your voice

Singing country songs.

I sing country songs because you sang them.

I love you, Daddy, and I always will.

Throw a beer back for me up in Heaven,

Won't you, Daddy?

Say hello to Uncle David

And Grandpa Walter

And Dale Earnhardt.

I love you, Daddy,

And part of your heart's still here with me.





11: “untitled c”

The church was empty

Except for a little old woman

Who sat in the front pew.

Her back was hunched over

With age

And she kept

Her trembling hands

Folded under her chin

While her lips moved

Quickly

In prayer.

Her white bonnet

Was tattered

And stained.

Her shawl

Was worn thin.

 

I took a seat

At the back of the church

Watching her

Out of the corner

Of my eye.

She sat

For a long time,

Never stirring

Never ceasing

Her whispering.

I hadn't been able

To hear it before

But now I could hear

Her low voice

Moving all round the church

Like a soft wind.

I wondered what she was saying.



12: king of angels



Looking out a darkened window

Not a shred of light remains

Not an outline can be traced

Yet still, my heart is fain

 

To think that it might see

A fair shape looming nigh

Not part of land, nor part of earth

But reaching towards the sky.

 

Floating gently in the velvet vault

Like footprints on the mountaintop

Towering up, and jutting across

Like a staircase made of honey pots.

 

I have seen the steps before me

And I know just where they lead —

Like pale smoke from the chimney

They climb to my mighty King.




13: “untitled d”


I am a prisoner in this house, which seems full of mad people. More I know not; and nothing do I understand.” — From “The Sire de Malétroit’s Door” by Robert Louis Stevenson.

 

Is that man looking at me?

Why is he smiling?

Perhaps he wants to cut off my head.

 

Can you see him, too?

Maybe he isn’t real.

Maybe I should cut off my own head.

 

MEMOIRS FROM GREYSTONE ASYLUM, REAL OR IMAGINED.




14: complex ticking


The state of one’s heart,” Gala countered,

“Is not so simple as that.”

And take heed – this is true.

There are moments of weakness

(Much more common, I find)

And there are moments of strength

(Hard to locate, but not nonexistent).

Depression can make you want to

Alter your physical appearance

While happiness can make you feel beautiful.

But the exterior is just a mold

Ever-changing, hardly more than putty

In a petulant child’s fist.

Why prize it so highly?

You may be pleased with your countenance

But while your heart is in shards

It does you little good.

Better to let the putty melt a bit

Better to let the child deform it a little

If a healthy heart is the end result.




15: the land between



A morning sun shines over you

Striking every sandy dune

And lighting up a sky of blue.

See shadows on the ground below

While summer air is turning cold.

The sun convenes to a full white moon

And night is falling

All too soon.

Stop your heart

And start your mind.

The door to Limbo’s opened wide.






16: “untitled e”

There’s a place over the tracks

Where our hands our clasped

Where the wind blows heavy

And the hour is late.

 

There’s a train down the line

And it won’t take much time

Before it reaches the place

Where we stand alone.

 

Stay with me till it comes

And don’t try to run

When the lights draw near

And the hour is done.



17: rapid eye movement



Peace in dreams

Sleep at ease

Under skies of velvet deep.

Breathe on one

Lose sight on two

Fall against the tide of sleep.

Overhead lights burn down

Your eyes twitch under heavy lids

Red shines through

But fades to black

And sifts down like a kiss.





18: bleeding through



On a bed of crimson, invisibility in darkness
This is Rose, found sickly –
Love like your life.
Flies and worms destroy the secret –
In your bed, Rose –
You howl? – it storms . . .
This crimson, this darkness –
You, Rose – invisible in the dark of night
Secrets in sickness –
Love like your life.





19: like alice



I close my eyes and float away

Over miles to the riverbank,

That long-lost day

When Alice sat in boredom deep.

It took but a little to bring her to leap

Up to her feet in astonishment true,

Watching the rabbit as it fled on cue.

I follow with Alice;

Now her eyes are mine.

Together we fall

With nary a cry

To the bed of the tunnel where dreams shift to life –

Hollow compartments,

Small cubbyholes rife

With wonders and thrills for a young girl to ponder

Connected by hallways through which we can wander

Till we find that dark queen and her army of cards.

We’ll run on forever –

From home we have fall’n.





20: shadow realm



The thickish smoke of drifting dreams

Spreads apart at self-made seams

Stitched with memories

Stitched with hope

Stitched with wisdom

Forever float.

Every stitch a different place

A different time

A different face

Nightmares locked inside a box

Crammed tight with wishes

Overflowing with thoughts.

Black dreams tear the seams

The open eye inside your soul

Sinks into a hellish hole

So sleep away the darkness

And wake again to light.





21: redemption



I watch them dancing

Through the fire

Built up high as a funeral pyre.

Red flames lick the black night sky

My vision is blurry

As I lie

Immobilized on the cold, hard ground

Watching them fly –

Will they come back down?

The fire moves nearer

My killer

My friend

There’s no way to go back again.

Flames take the pieces

Yet I’ll be whole

The soul flying free

The ashes cold.





22: protector



Shine down, Moon, all through the night

To make the eerie darkness bright

And turn the evil blackness white.

Shine down, Moon, and keep us safe

In shadowed corners where demons wait.

Save us, Moon, from smoky hands

That reach and twist from the Goblin Man.

Is that his name?

What is he called?

If you tried, Moon –

Could you save us all?

The world is large, I know that now.

Are you hiding, Moon, in the mist of clouds?

If you cannot slip down worldly rungs

Then sail around and wake the Sun.





23: for repetition in darkness



Take great caution when you sleep.

Night’s the time for souls to reap

All they do while Sun is up.

Dreams and Death –

Two bitter cups.



24: train tracks



We introduce the murder scene –
A horrid sight, at best.
The blood flows down

Dirt mixes in
And stains your shoes, no less.
Back up, now –

We need room to work.
And I urge you

Hold your tongue.
No screaming, now –

I need time to think.
There’s too much to be done.
Eyes closed tight –

Don’t look too quick
A dizzy spell flows over.
I feel your heart.

It beats, too hard –
You’ve forgotten what it’s for.





25: the hollow



Front to back, each side worn thin
Round and round, spin out again.
Back and forth and side to side
Close the gap –

It’s far too wide.

Bodies burn and energy spends
We die when isolation ends.
50/50

Waste it all
You’re left alone to cry and call.

No more pain and no more tears?
Liars –

Intensity magnifies here.
Darker than before, five time the fear
“Life in Death” – the world premiere.





26: forbidden



Another time, another dream,

Perhaps then I could come to thee.

A hand to hold was taken back

But by now we’ve grown a knack

To care for ourselves, wherever we are,

And see each other in a faraway star.

Then again, the space apart

Has strengthened our souls and hardened out hearts

So that we can fight whatever may come,

And leave not a memory’s string undone.

We will reach the point of no return

Where we will receive the life we’ve earned

And be together until we die;

I speak the truth, I would not lie.

But until then, my sweetest sin,

I cannot forget the life we lived.





27: the queen stole the bandages

My heart is ticking.

There’s a clock on the dashboard

Right next to the odometer

Telling me how much time I have left.

It’s ticking down pretty low

But there’s no one round to wind me.

Yeah, I’m like a wind-up clock

Waiting for Cinderella to turn my gears.

She hasn’t come yet.

She might not come at all.

Do you have an extra beer?







28: “untitled f”

I feel the hairs at the back of my neck
Fine as silk and rigid as death.
I rub the skin till warmth returns –
Goodbye to the harbinger of dangers unheard.

I feel the tugging at the edge of my mind
It’s a subtle composition.
Brain tissues writhing

Enraged

Intertwined –
Each fiber standing on end.

Blood runs in deviance

Thickened, lukewarm
Vein-flow obstructed where spindles have formed
Expanding

Pricking their casing of flesh
Stiff and unyielding as my senses all mesh.

Biological infantry at the ready
Toy soldiers awaiting the drum
To signal the start of a battle unseen –

All screaming, “the darkness has come.”





29: underage and whiskey-fied



Another night out on the town

Friendly faces

Despondent frowns.

No trust in the circle

Each fixes a watchful gaze

Doubtful intentions reach through the haze

Confused expressions

Eyes dart away

Ashamed of thoughts we can’t quite say.



How quiet we are tonight!

The noise we don’t make is overwhelming.

Enervated by the lack of peace

Weakened by the celebratory sound

Should we fly from this place

To another where we can’t be found?



Desolation painting black crowns

The Kings and Queens of emptiness

Forlorn and objectionable

But the night is winding down.

Futility in silence

Shrink back from static guitars

Running over town through smoke-filled bars.







30: water spots



I catch sight of myself in the mirror

And see
My own requisition for sanity.
There’s the reflection that I abhor
I search my features for something more.
My anxiety deepens

The darkness, too –
The only thing left that continues to fuel
The fire inside

I lie in wait.
Night is falling –

My blood turns to ice.
I can’t see through the blackness

So I just close my eyes.
But the demons linger
So I scream, count to ten
Five places rubbed raw where the skin should have been.

I am not afraid

But I think that I should be.

There’s something wet on the ceiling

And it falls on my eyes

It burns just a little

And leaves stains as it dries.





31: sleep before eternity



Do you heed what you cannot explain?

Too odd and inexplicable

Some things leave no room for address.

The mysterious hand on your shoulder

The smoke that results

From the ice of the wind before the warmth of your breath.

The limbs of the trees

And the leaves

They do blow

When no trace of breeze can be found.

No matter my effort

However I try

Some things I can’t describe.





32: invincible



Cloaked in shadows

Through and through
My heart-life flowing past.
Cold seeps in and washes out –
I’m clean and empty

But the feeling won’t last.
Peering out the window

My eyes fixed firm
On twinkling bodies in an ocean of black.
The Great Eye hangs low

A study he keeps
Of the scarring inside

And the weight on my back.
This black-and-bright region

Unmarked on my map
Brings me comfort, in any respect
When I’m lost on land

Or on water

My Sky

Will anchor me steady

My soul is held

And it can’t be lost.





33: reality



Watch the dust settle on the road –

And what do you really see?

A ghost floating into a blackened sky

Or a strong breeze blowing over?

Look at the water –

And what do you see?

Can you see the fish

Swimming round the weeds?

They’ll grab your ankles and pull you down . . .

Feel for the last time

Arms holding you tight

Before iron hands come to clench her heart.

Watch as her eyes fade away . . .

Now listen closely

Don’t even look –

Your heart would be pained to see

Like the ghost that stirs the dust

Your soul soars towards the sun.





34: little johnny



In the far corner of a black room

A little boy sat.

“Twas night, and quiet as a tomb.

He shivered through his hat.

There was no light to lead him on

So he stayed where he was fixed

Since night fell down

And shadows danced

He had not made a twitch.

He twiddled his thumbs

And pulled on his hat

And then looked all around.

The brim of dark was teeming

And there was no one to be found.





35: “untitled g”



Sands of time

Web of dreams

Words inscribed

My eyes to see.

Power enough to change my fate

If I’ll only take action

My heart is cold

As a glacier

Embittered –

So young, yet so old.

My hands are my tools

There’s fire in my eyes

But the mould is set

Heaven is falling

And the ocean’s been blessed

But the throne fell down on my head –

And the mould is still set.





36: none-too-subtle sequence



No matter how long it is absent

The Emptiness always returns

I try to erase it, I try to subdue it

But it bubbles and bakes till it burns.

Or maybe it’s the Anger that burns

Oh-so-hot

Making a pyre of my very soul

The Emptiness cleans good intentions away

Ripping a perfect, un-sizable hole.

It’s clear that the hole can’t stay empty for long

So the Anger, it comes to replace

The Nothing within

My River, bone-dry

The Loneliness, it’s willing to chase.

The cycle exhausts me

It takes all I have

Like a fire that burns to consume

A little rest will heal the wounds

But on the morrow the fire resumes.





37: run 2 remain



Trapped in this place

So full of fear and lies

I hasten the cutting of ties that bind

Me to you, and you to me –

An illusion of rarity

This thing that we see.

Uncircle the knots and unlock all the doors

Let me in where I wasn’t allowed

Break the glass and open the sores

To reveal all the hate that I shroud.

Never mind about hearts

Not a thought about tears –

An illusion of frequency

This thing that we hear.





*The following three untitled poems were written during a particularly long psych hold when I was nineteen. During that time, I also finished penning my first novel. The novel is not available anymore, given that it was a very imperfect creation, but this period marked the birth of my writing career.


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