Horror Stories 4 2/3

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Horror Stories 4 2/3

if such strength is available i was in no way prepared for that which would unfold as these rulers took fresh lie of their land discovered me and set forth to challenge my presence i had temporarily relocated from my home in hollywood to maura new mexico in an effort to escape a vampiric relationship where i become the selfish aggressor and to study the shamanism of the greasy eye cavities of the skull clan of hopi the extinct virkus i arrived on a nameless ranch the day after halloween the snows had already come intermittently but heavy and wet when they fell maura is not particularly known better than any other place for hopi shamanism it is however one of the more silent places of the continent where bloodshed cries out in its meek way still but the whirr and stir of humanity is all together absent this is the land of the mesos verde the great green tables once mountains and times not remembered an unparalleled climate for sustained academic research and potential for healing the heart and mind here today gone tomorrow i said to no one as i popped the lock on the heavy front door of my log house and entered the dark main room that smelled of cinnamon and pine i laughed at myself then said the phrase again as i rolled the r and adopted it as my motto i soon had the hearth roaring and inviting and a cast iron pot of curried lentils bubbling away on the wood-burning stove after a restful third night’s sleep i arose at dawn dressed in warm clothing and hiked five miles to the abandoned monastery where the bravest of the spanish monks had crucified themselves in the attempt to make the hopi and other local natives understand their message during the zapovant hundreds of indians were baptized into the faith because of this it was thought that the monks were being effective in the sharing of their religion until it was discovered some years later that the long-awaited hopi savior bahana comparable to the aztec was a crucified sun god who had required no human sacrifice and that the indians believed the monks to be the emissaries of their beloved lord nevertheless the catholic authorities continued with their missionary work heath and salvation not their actual goal but power through land and populist ownership the natives made good humble slaves in the name of the lord jesus christ it began with the chimney swifts i noticed them flocking in unusual numbers to the ranch at the same time blustery currents of air warmer than the november temperatures commenced i knew though that these new mexican chinooks were animated with something more than air currents after the winds began in earnest at night i would recline on my long settle near the fireplace done with my studies for the day and listened to them howling down the nearest mesa like feral creatures on the hunt too often i allowed myself to fall beneath their enchantment and became so unnerved that warm milk infused with valerian extract was all that would calm me i began finding the glassy-eyed bodies of the swifts untouched by hawks and unmolested by beetles and other scavengers their wings fully outstretched there were dead swifts by the river i also found them scattered around the barn garret behind my house near the generator inside the outhouse and yes in the chimney when suddenly the flu wasn’t working properly each bird died in the shape of a cross with a worm in its mouth the international icon of the sun god the eagle with the serpent and speak one crisp morning just after a new snow i fueled up on cowboy coffee and rock hopped across the greenish clear river to get a better look at an ancient juniper clawing the sky like a severed hand there is something about the way the pinyon juniper landscape smells after it has been moistened it comes to life all the fresh conifers and red earth activated by water zesty might best describe it like sea spray or sitting by a waterfall a secret of a high desert only unlocked by cold rain or wet snow when i stepped from the river into the fresh snowfall with no warning my legs turned to rubber and breathing became difficult as if the wind had been knocked out of me the brisk sunny day became overcast as if gargantuan fingers covered it and the mesa spirits who had previously come with their most forcible antics after dusk began to roar down from the heights with such velocity that i was forced to lean into them to stay upright as i fought for balance with my newborn

legs fallow earth surrounding the old juniper began to rupture and push upward shifting and swirling forming a male strom of stinging sand snow and natural debris from the loosened flying dirt emerged carrying talons and human digits and undersea feelers and waving antennae then breaking the surface of the land around and around the juniper as if swimming or drowning moved creatures dead and dying and things of bone howling like starving felines as they swarm the lacerated heads of those still wearing flesh oozed open and raw and as they moved into quickly increasing diameter they reached for my feet with their appendages one gruesome humanoid smelling of rotten meat and trailing a matted black mane behind him leered at me with the yellow lemur eyes as he passed i was struck by his evil gaze crumbled and went down i was then yanked into the hideous multitude by a corvusian deathling trailing my vascanian assailant fire and eyes tore into my right kidney and then my left soon filling my flanks with molten agony feeling as if i were being torn asunder by the monsters that were now punctured children now quivering hags in their death throes i arrived and screamed and kicked but my aggression only caused more of them to sidle toward me grab me and pull me into the cold disturbed earth my mouth filled with sand and gore i choked and purged the lemur-eyed thing mounted me then gyrating as we bathed in the whirling charnel the undulating ground then opened and i plummeted with those ministers of horror into a dank pitch blackness i awoke dazed as i held my throbbing head i saw that i lay alone in a room of indiscernible size as the place was illuminated by one candle set in an earthenware dish three paces away panicking i checked myself over to see how badly i’d been clawed and bitten my fingers pushed into a thick death-smelling seepage that i knew was not my own and i gagged relieved that my unwanted companions had deserted me i pulled to my feet stumbled took up the candle and began a slow exploration i had not crept far into the gloam of the building when i knew that i was indeed underground twisted tree roots pushing down from above decorated the walls like heathen serpentine icons water dripping from them formed intricate webbing designs as it trailed away to the floor was i an akiva of some sort though not as cleanly designed as those i had witnessed before soon enough i saw the place with something akin to the kiva the underground ceremonial room of the hopi for to my right i discovered a wooden table where upon three kachina dolls had been displayed obiharu sayoko and anada oscar oddly enough this display disturbed me as deeply as had my convulsions beneath the juniper for these are the evil spirits of the hopi i jumped backward at the voice inadvertently blowing out my candle my spine iced over i could see nothing not even my fingers which i brought up only centimeters from my eyes the akka the voice was addressing me in hopi as man i i don’t speak i ta’aka i don’t speak hopi maybe i should but i well you speak something you filthy dog i clamored sideways searching for where the root covered wall to my left had been it was not where i remembered i fell cracking my wrist on the solid clay floor the pain was excruciating i knew i had fractured my ulna ta’aka welcome to flesh house i froze not knowing how to answer the voice i padded the immediate area for my candle but it was gone i then felt something warm and wet and reached around me to see what i had fallen into i didn’t know until i lifted my fingers to my face the metallic scent of new menstrual blood i rolled away only to thump against something solid yet soft knowing intuitively what i had hit i screamed as i did so as if my voice were some kind of light switch a yellow glow interrupted the darkness and i saw my verbal assailant a baboon i screeched like a child on a playground survival instinct alive and electric i threw myself behind the body no could it be at first i saw it to be miriam the woman i had been with in hollywood her large violet eyes unmistakable she was bloodless and dying

and beckoning me with her full lips yet no sound came from them then i saw her to be a beautiful indian girl who had been tortured by having her hands cut off or had they been gnawed away i could not tell i vomited my breakfast over her shoulder and long raven hair wiped it away from her face told her i was sorry and collapsed hanging over her waist spent and laughing i laughed so hard i laughed and then i wept and then i laughed again a voice inside me said i was losing my mind but i didn’t care the scene was horribly hilarious deliciously demented then my thoughts turned downward should i strip the girl and gloat upon her obvious loveliness should i penetrate her with my abrupt throbbing erection and so give my soul fully to all that is debased in the world should i then eat her after our thanatophilia bite off her nipples chew at her poodendum filled with my salty gift i didn’t know i climbed upon her and pushed on her solar plexus she expectorated blood which i kissed away from her before i roared horrified a madman now a lunatic i lay there thrilled and revolted and terrified i felt my core temperature cooling my body shaking i was freezing to death i was dying in hell leave the girl to akka the baboon yelled as he blinked slightly gray eyes leave her or do your desires you foul thing this is flesh house your will is your command my will is my command what did he mean freak the girl flay the girl or flee the girl the beast said with a grunt as he ambled over took one of her stumps in his hands and pushed it between his lips and sucked this is flesh house your will is your command get up stop being so indulgent or you’ll die where you lay taka of a sudden i was saying again or so i thought i knew that i was warm again i stood the blind baboon turned and we walked together toward the source of the egg yellow light i awoke in my bed crying out for miriam wet with sweat though the night outside had grown frigid my god what a nightmare i remember moaning and all day long i was disturbed by the infernal visions remaining fresh in my memory as before valerian root tea was the only thing i found to sufficiently calm me for sleep again that night you’ve returned my fiend greeted the benighted monster this is good and let us continue our walk will we i screamed thrashed about my bed and clawed in my eyes trying to gouge them out you silly little ta’aka believing blindness to be a deterrent to the visions keep your eyesight you are already damned this is flesh house follow me i followed the beast who moved as if sighted and as we walked he somehow became the dead girl i was ashamed and held back she sought to gather me to her to help me along but her bleeding stumps could only grab me like kitchen tongs i pulled away from her mewing like a kitten which only further shamed me she held me tighter yanking me towards her she then kissed the corner of my mouth her pretty upturned nose brushing mine her big black eyes wet and shining you were mortified by your base thoughts towards me yes miriam i replied but i knew she wasn’t miriam have power over your mind you are its lord and king ready yourself now we enter the hall of pleasures we squeezed through a slimy passage allowing us only to turn sideways as we went the girl ahead of me i found that i had hold of the long braid she now wore like miriam had worn as i tugged she moaned as if in great pleasure though i fought it i again became aroused and imagined her doing things to me with her stubs you have an iniquitous soul she observed as we pushed through the tight corner you would sleep with your own mother and beg her to call you daddy i said nothing in reply but i flushed with shame and went rigid with horror and anger i shut my eyes against the fresh knowledge of my deviant letry when i opened them again we were in a room reminding me of a hospital ward but the beds were stone slabs carved with deep blood catches and serpentine drains like those found at peruvian wary sacrificial sites what is this place i heard myself ask the indian girl pushed a bleeding limb to my lips and held it there until i wretched as i

wiped my mouth on my shirt sleeve before us on the dozen tables there appeared apparitions of sacrifice victims i turned to the girl questioning the scene i wish i had not for behind her loomed a coven of translucent hollowed-eyed things what was all i could say she turned oh those are old sears they are the most potent humans on earth or at least they were their abode is flesh house and from here they move outward to usurp energy from those unaware their time of gleaning is dusk only the impeccable warrior can defeat them forgetting or not caring that my guide was hideous without her hands i pulled her close hot tears streamed down my face they will not harm you while i am here sick little man look she pointed a ragged wrist to the row of slabs i turned away from the old sears and as i washed the vague shapes of the sacrifice victims took on bone and then flesh and soon lay whole and shuttering in the cold of the evil room then from the plant roots crawling down the walls slithered black vipers that as they came to the floor morphed into endowed nude priest wielding curved knives of obsidian nodding to me as if i were somehow part of their ceremony each of them then climbed upon the slab and penetrated his prey with his engorged equine-like phallus i stood aghast unable to turn away from the debauchery as the orgy reached a heightened frenzy the moment each pair climaxed together the priest plunged his knife into the abdomen his partner twisted it and laid his mouth upon that of his lover i assume in order to catch all the escaping life essence the girl frowned at me hide your face you whore i did as i was told when i looked again we were in a new place this is the room of idiots she said you should feel welcome here to akka my face must have revealed my anger and her words i see she walked to a bench and with her mouth lifted from a decado9 tails made of black leather and pieces of jagged stone she then slid out of her purple buckskin dress spread her legs in a wide horse stance and pushed the long leather handle deep into her dewy genitals don’t you want to pleasure me come here big white man what studies our culture like a big hero don’t you want to make me scream big man don’t you want to eat me you said she wanted to eat me you sucked my blood didn’t you like my taste you disappoint me big boy i bet your tuber spurts good yellow milk am i right why don’t you come over here and show me push your big tuber up inside my hot oven hero man i bake it good for you i was on my knees hiding my face in pure humiliation every inch of me flaccid and trembling the first thing at her whip was like ice followed by flame i bellowed but could not move i wondered how she was holding the lash whose fiery tails came down again and again and again she had soon flayed my back to rags and i knew that if i did not escape her she would kill me the smell of my visceral fluids covered the room enough i heard a familiar voice say and peering up through my own blood i saw the baboon creature enter the room removing his red phrygian cap and tossing in the side with an air of carelessness he retrieved the whip from the girl who had somehow tied it to her left wrist she dressed again walked over to me and sliding her gory arms under mine lifted me to my feet i felt no more pain and i realized that i had not been hurt in the least my torture had been some kind of cruel illusion an arduous trek of a quarter mile or more through the blackness of it another narrow passageway but the terrible grunting baboon falling behind me led us to a gargantuan door opening into an ancient sports arena as we stepped out into the open night air the winds with which i was now so familiar growled around us and seemingly through us dios del viento the blind monster whispered i quaked god of the wind he has come for you taka do we uti said we you demeaning woman he does not like your spirit and he has come to kill you in la casa god of the wind i am not welcome in his house of air my voice was feeble shaking i received a cutting blow across my mouth from the simian devil for an answer damn you i screamed as blood and saliva

filled my mouth damn me damn me oh you are so full of pride i fear you were lost forever damn me he says he laughed the girl laughed with him and coughed and spat green flam at me and laughed again her eyes widening in a demonic glee her tongue rolling in her once pretty mouth christ my throat burned as if i had been trapped for hours in a place filled with pine smoke you think your christ can save you now taka yes he could save you if you knew him as you claim to but you have no lord save yourself though your mind spins with delicious religious head knowledge you are a lazy academic buffoon how much how much more of your insults do you think i will take i beg them finding strength to step away from the sadistic duo preparing to run where will you run little man the indian girl asked you cannot run from bahana your hizat sinnom adam and eve tried to run from him your simon peter tried to run from him many have tried to run from bahana none is ever successful none this is flesh house there is no running from flesh house bahana swept down into the arena with a ferocity causing his antics at the ranch to seem as if they had been light breezes the skies above us revealed themselves to be a deep indigo each time an onset of lightning flashed and crackled i looked and the baboon was gone i was left with the handless girl and for some reason this frightened me to the core of my being i fell where i stood and was blown over to my side my broken wrist pinned beneath me making my arm explode with electric agony the girl walked forward to pace turned and faced me blood dribbled from her lips i will always love you miriam’s last words to me the lord of the mesa then manifested himself in human form one might expect a hecatol to appear as a glowing warrior of tremendous strength feathered with colored plumes a bronze and handsome king of his ancient culture a destroyer of the anasazi vampire god we’d see dopey the blue hummingbird from the left oh if i could erase the image of epicottle of bahana from my mind forever i would gladly give anything i owe to do so but was it his image i saw even today i am not sure yet after all what color is the wind are not the heavens our mirror do we not remake god in our own image before me and the indian girl stooped the naked caucasian man with no hands his eyes had been scraped out and his back had been shredded as if with a whip his complexion was sallow almost dead in appearance as the winds continued their outrage he mouthed words i could not understand arthur’s story note lord of the mesa was originally inspired by the dead valley written by ralph adams cram and published in the collection horror times 10 1967 in 1990 15 years after i read the ra cram story i tried my hand at writing a short short carrying a similar dread and only succeeded in being threatened with a shotgun for my effort seventeen years later i remembered the little story and now wanting to see if i could execute a full-length extreme horror piece i put pen to paper and wrote for a few years i was concerned that i had crossed the boundary between morality and demonic filth today i think there may be some value to it the first rejection i ever received for the story and there have not been a few said that the reader was forced to stop something about nausea and convulsions the godhead grimoire by sean patrick hazlett the box for the national archives arrived with the blistering wind and driving snow of late december miranda nearly set the package aside until she remembered damien’s fanatical warnings not to open it the bastard still hadn’t signed the divorce papers so she took a peek anyway with scissors she carefully cut the packing tape so she could later cover her tracks tentatively dipping her hands into a sea of foam peanuts miranda lifted a rectangular object wrapped in parcel paper from the box she hesitated worried that if she went any further damon would know she’d broken the seal screw him she decided ripping open the packing paper with the wild abandon of a prisoner escaping a super max prison it was a book and by the look of it an antique its ragged leather covers

stretch taut over a sturdy bone frame conveying a sense of timelessness the tone’s jagged edges could easily pierce skin inscriptions reminiscent of egyptian hieroglyphs encircled a stylized eye etched on the cover’s upper left quadrant curious miranda opened the book the stench of rot overwhelmed her turning her head she gagged pepper her cold black german shepherd growled at the artifact but miranda refused to let its odor deter her the book’s blank pages felt smooth and durable like vellum a sequence suddenly materialized on the first page with a doctorate in mathematics miranda instantly recognized the pattern as a fibonacci sequence she found the experience unsettling not only was the book writing itself but it was populating its pages with arabic numerals a system invented over two millennia after egypt’s old kingdom there was also something fundamental in the book’s choice of the fibonacci sequence it was a pattern rife and nature characterizing phenomena as diverse as the branching of trees to the structure of a nautilus shell to the spiraling of galaxies as miranda read further the pages revealed more complex mathematical concepts ranging from fourier transforms to fractional derivatives to elliptic curves it was as if the text were establishing a baseline of her mathematical competence soon the tome had exhausted her encyclopedic knowledge of advanced mathematics unveiling concepts just beyond its current frontiers the book mesmerized her the ringing cell phone jolted miranda from her trance jamming her back into her own mundane reality she nearly threw her smartphone across the room on the third ring she answered what this is seth rosenblatt of rosenblatt wilson in aplonsky is miranda available this is miranda oh great he said his tone indicating anything but i have a few questions regarding this divorce settlement i don’t think damien should sign it as is struggling to control her temper miranda cut him off not now call robert menendez my lawyer he’ll handle this i’m sorry mrs adams but i need your personal approval on several items he was trying to take advantage of her and she knew it it’s dr lovko not mrs adams and like i said don’t talk to me talk to my lawyer but mrs ah dr lovko i must insist she hung up the phone when she glanced at the clock five hours had passed since she began reading the tone reaching for the book she opened it to where she’d left off anxious to uncover more of its secrets but all she saw was a blank page confounded she rifled through the book but found nothing she cursed rosenblatt and went to sleep that night miranda slept in fits and starts when sleep did come visions she could only describe as dream scapes of unreality flooded her consciousness disembodied tongues whispered to her from beyond urging her to press onward to read further but she had no idea how to unlock the tomes mysteries a phone call woke her from her restless slumber she opened her eyes realizing she’d never left her living room the book still rested on her lap the phone rang again the light shone brightly through the windows checking her watch she realized nearly 18 hours had passed hello she answered miranda it’s damien did you get the package yet she hesitated then looked down the tome wondering what to say she needed more time no she lied but i’ll call you as soon as i receive it okay but it’s really important let me know the instant is delivered and whatever you do don’t open it it’s very old and i don’t want it damaged a little late for that miranda thought understood by the way did you sign the papers yet an awkward pause i thought we were going to sit down with seth rosenblatt on friday didn’t you set that up why is that my responsibility you requested this meeting look why don’t you have him review the documents and send the edits to my lawyer then you sign it sound like a plan sure he said before hanging up damien was so self-centered and always fussing over trivial things frustrated miranda pounded her fist on the artifact a stab of pain shot through her hand blood dripped onto the tomb’s sharp bony ridges damn it she yelled she grabbed the book and stood up and slipped from her bloody fingers when it landed it opened to the pages where she’d left off a drop of blood smeared the page letters formed congealing into words and words resolved

into sentences miranda canceled her appointments and called in sick to study the ancient tome it was the end of the semester a meticulous planner she’d already scored her exams and assigned grades her nephew tommy was due to visit her in less than two weeks but she was confident she’d be finished with the book by then moving beyond mathematics the book began to reveal the greater mysteries of the cosmos miranda now contemplated what before had been unfathomable expanding her consciousness and consuming knowledge like a locust swarm rampaging over a limitless ethereal plane almost as soon as the book started sharing its secrets it stopped so miranda bled herself to coax the tone to eke out more yet each successive cut yielded fewer and fewer sentences until a single drop could barely entice the stingy artifact to trickle out a handful of words her bloodletting left her dizzy unsure of her surroundings and caught between reality and unreality she had an uncanny suspicion that others washed with hungry eyes disembodied presences lurked at the edge of her vision imploring her to let them in pepper growled in their direction and seemed increasingly uneasy in miranda’s presence she gazed longingly at pepper miranda needed more blood miranda hadn’t slept in four days her desperation deepening with each passing moment she sweated profusely and her nails had turned a bruised blue she feared that any more blood loss would put her into hypovolemic shock yet she also experienced an odd sense of empowerment her consciousness operating on a higher plane through the fraying curtain between realms discarded entities whispered to her wheedling her to draw the summoning circle someplace dark someplace deep someplace hidden from the light of the stars all would be revealed if only she’d let them in coding the cellar floor with her own sickly blood she followed their instructions to the letter cloaked in darkness she sat in the center of the summoning circle chanting in alien tongues the entities came ever closer hissing from the void shapeless forms swirled around her dulling her senses they tempted her with grandiose visions of the godhead murmuring of the ability to know the future and change the past to comprehend the non-linearity of time they showed her parallel timelines and alternate dimensions they shared a glimpse of the power to create worlds and the fearsome might to destroy them if only she did what they asked they’d shepherd her through the veil of existence toward the next stage in her enlightenment she’d become one of them one with them a god holding dominion over a ceaseless cosmos as quickly as the god forms appeared they vanished like fog in sunlight miranda woke hours later her vitality drained she stumbled upstairs and prepared for the next step in her evolution miranda worried that if she continued to feel the book with her blood she’d die before extracting its secrets while the entities had shown her another way it was a choice she could barely stomach yet from the edges of reality the voices whispered to her urging her along the one path to transcendence the ringing doorbell rows miranda from her stupor she struggled to rise from her bed i’m coming she croaked with as much strength as she could muster wheezing from the effort she staggered onto her feet the bones of her shaky real thin legs creaking draping her azure bathrobe over her now frail frame she lumbered downstairs she peered out the window to find damien standing outside in a brioni suit obsessively checking his patek fleet watch miranda girded herself for a fight as she opened the door finally he said in a tone more suited for a motorist who just cut him off on route 128 once damien saw her his outrage gave way to an expression of concern miranda cut straight to the point what do you want my god miranda what happened what do you mean i i don’t know where to begin he stammered everything all right damien had never been good about expressing himself he’d always been so passive so indirect and it drove her mad stop pretending to care tell me why you’re really here he stared at her for some time all right but you have to promise to tell me what’s going on with you to be honest you look really sick fine i’ll update you on my life such as it is apparently satisfied with her answer he continued when i called you a week ago you told me the package hadn’t arrived well i reached out to the national archives this morning and they assured me that fedex delivered here 10 days ago

did you somehow miss it that was damian’s passive-aggressive way of calling her a liar and the fact that he was right annoyed her to no end miranda struggled between coming clean and perpetuating the lie if she risked telling him the truth now she might lose the artifact she shrugged you got me it’s here i wanted to hold on to it until you sign the papers which by the way you still haven’t he nodded fair enough go get them i’ll sign them now it wasn’t the response miranda had expected or hoped for don’t you need seth rosenblatt to review them first she asked playing for time no i trust you let’s get this over with but what i really want to do is examine the artifact this wasn’t going to end well at all he couldn’t have the book there was simply no way she’d let him have it she was too close she only needed a few more days if only she could stole him a little longer okay she said why don’t you come in for coffee i’ll get the papers he smiled and the artifact the voices whispered to her buzzing like wasps inside her head yes of course he followed her into the living room and took a seat on the couch he scrunched up his face when’s the last time you cleaned let me start brewing the coffee she said ignoring his allusion to the odor that permeated her home i’ll also grab the papers as she turned toward the kitchen he put his hand on her arm his eyes focused on the scars on her hand from the bloodletting miranda i’m concerned about you your hands all torn up you’ve clearly dropped a ton of weight despite your always having been rather thin your hair’s falling out it looks like you’ve been through hell there’s something you want to tell me cancer he probably thought she had cancer why are you so concerned all of a sudden you certainly weren’t worried about my well-being when you fucked tina she pushed him away and trudged toward the kitchen she started brewing some coffee and then went to her study to retrieve the documents the voices from the ether were growing louder more insistent crowding out her thoughts she tried to shut them out by focusing on the tasks at hand to carry the divorce papers into the living room she dropped them and a pen in damien’s lap sign these and i’ll get the book he glowered how did you know it was a book you didn’t open it did you his tone straddled a razor thin line between panic and anger you got me she said don’t worry i didn’t damage it i was just curious why you were so obsessed with it okay he said visibly shaken by her revelation can i see it sure as soon as you sign those papers oh right he rifled through the documents and began signing them let me check on the coffee and then i’ll get the book do you know much about its history she said walking out of the room damien’s mood seemed to flip-flop from hysteria to excitement oh i spent years investigating an obscure letter general patton sent his wife beatrice during the second world war that mentioned an odd relic captured from german forces in north africa before that the grimoire’s history is hazy but based on the covers inscriptions it hearkens back to egypt’s old kingdom she grabbed a knife and crockpot and walked back into the room approaching damien from behind how can you be so sure isn’t it obvious from the eye of thoth on the cover he said tilting his head back toward her eye of thoth she said in a half-hearted attempt to deflect his attention he regarded the crockpot in knife with apparent confusion but continued in egyptian mythology the eye of thoth symbolized the moon and the god thoth was associated with magic riding and judgment of the dead she walked up to the couch and stood directly behind him she handed him the crockpot put this on your lap he seemed baffled what’s that for from behind she cupped his chin in her hand and slit his throat with her right blood fountained from his neck pulsing with the rhythm of his heartbeat he stumbled upward his eyes wide with shock he opened his mouth to speak but could only gurgle as he choked on his blood he struggled to maintain his balance a chorus of voices wailed in a discordant symphony but one voice the only one that mattered screamed in regret damien collapsed his arms reached out to miranda her heart raced tears streamed down her cheeks what had she done bloody divorce papers underscore the gravity of her sin yet otherworldly voices soothed her convincing her she no longer needed the documents

death had done its part the discarnate voices admonished her not to waste the man’s life force calmed by these phantoms miranda obeyed gripping damien’s hair and settling his gaping wound over the crockpot for the blood harvest she shook afterward terrified of what she’d done but her guilt succumbed to self-preservation slumped damien’s corpse onto a dolly and wheeled it into her garage dismembering the body with a circular saw when she’d finished she fed the remains to pepper that night she painted the grimoire’s pages and her dead husband’s blood the maggots came first squirming from beneath the cellar door and into miranda’s kitchen the rats followed rattling the walls as they scurried through them chewing and scratching then the crows descended on her home covering the oaks and maples in her yard with the kudzu-like shroud the night before she’d been frustrated when after so much blood and human sacrifice the book had chosen to show her a mundane equation she’d mastered as a college sophomore the logistic algorithm was a simple differential equation biologists used to predict population growth miranda hypothesized that the increase of these vermin populations was linked to it but there were so many variables that testing her hunch was impossible she couldn’t see the rats in the walls the maggots were too innumerable to tally and the crows never stayed in one place long enough to count but when the vagrants began arriving shuffling in the snow outside her doors her theory proved right the number of drifters ebbed and flowed with the logistic equation’s mathematical certitude plucked from the worst of cambridges and boston’s homeless populations the vagrants loitered menacingly outside surrounding her home as individuals they appeared mentally unstable together they acted as a single organism on the rare occasion miranda left her home they would spread like ripples from a stone splashing a fetid pond she saw the rabble’s arrival as the first tangible sign that godhead was within her grasp they worshiped her she was their god her house their church and the font of her power emanated from the cellar a place she hadn’t ventured to since the summoning miranda continued to race through the grimoire she was on the verge of reaching his conclusion but the closer she got to the end the more pages she had to read each page was thinner than the previous one the grimoire refused to end it was asymptotic agony yet still she read she read until her eyes were soaked in blood the next night of vagrant entered her home unbidden and descended into the cellar never to return the following evening another repeated this grim ritual fueling the arcane riding on the grimoire’s ever-thinning pages but with each new offering new writing appeared on fewer pages until by the sixth day the sacrifice produced only a few words tina phoned on the seventh day hello miranda i know this is awkward but have you seen damian he’s been missing for a week i’ve asked everyone else miranda hesitated her first impulse was to lie to the home wrecker to deny that damian had visited but the disc carnage shades counseled her to tell a more twisted truth yes he’s here she said clouding her deceit with a smoke of omission what why is he there i’ve been trying to reach him but he never answers tina whined not my problem miranda said with venom you’ll have to come here and see for yourself she hung up 30 minutes later tina’s late model audi screeched to a halt in front of miranda’s residence a woman with long sinuous auburn hair and golden hoop earrings stomped toward the front door in skinny jeans and a black halter top miranda washed her from the window waiting she could hear tina huffing with frustration as she pounded on the door when miranda opened it tina’s eyes widened what happened to you you can find your lover in the cellar as tina entered her look of surprise shifted to fear as she saw the gauntlet of ten filthy vagrants lining the hall before she could scream a shower of daggers descended on her the vagrants harvested tina’s blood in black plastic buckets she was still thrashing and wailing when they lowered her into the cellar miranda could feel the disgarned entities pushing through the increasingly diaphanous veil separating her world from theirs as they devoured tina’s essence in the festering

blackness tina’s blood fueled the next stage in miranda’s enlightenment in her mind’s eye she could project her consciousness everywhere and nowhere never and always it wouldn’t be long now they were coming in with them her anointment she could taste the power she was so close only a hair’s breath away she turned the page then another basking and forbidden lore soon it would be all hers very soon shadows enveloped miranda as she wallowed in oscillating dreamscapes in quantum superposition with miranda’s own reality the entities had become incarnate occupying the skins of miranda’s worshippers she could feel herself dissipating becoming both ethereal shadow and supreme consciousness she turned the page but no matter how many pages she turned she was always one page from the end the pages continued to fray and thin it was as if they were a physical manifestation of the weakening membrane separating her reality from the outer reaches of unreality she was desperate to reach the godhead she needed to reach the godhead the godhead was her only hope the solution presented itself with crystal clarity how had she not seen it from the very beginning the pages had always been the key their texture had always seemed so familiar so close and they bore the mark of great sacrifice if she were to progress further she needed to offer one of her own the ringing doorbell lurched miranda out of her days as she shifted from unreality to reality she experienced a twinge of horror her nephew tommy waited at the door part of her resisted the urge but it paled in comparison to what lay across the threshold of the grimoire’s final page she knew the path she understood what had to be done miranda’s worshipers dragged tommy into the house the ten-year-old screamed and flailed she waited in the kitchen three more worshipers clenched their knives in preparation for the final ritual the last stage of her metamorphosis they bound tommy to a chair opposite hers he cried and miranda they’re hurting me miranda sat with the serene knowledge that by opening her dimension she’d unlock the gate to godhood her followers sharpened their knives transcendence required both a sacrifice and a witness an acolyte strapped miranda to her chair and flayed her alive the pain was exquisite and the last she’d ever feel before she left her mortal coil tommy bald as miranda had instructed the acolyte infused miranda’s flesh into the grimoire the grimoire reached out to miranda as she sought infinity pushing beyond the envelope of reality she knew eternity time was non-linear all possibilities instantaneous she held them all in her mind’s eye simultaneously with perfect clarity she was the harbinger of all that was to come of all that was and all that is she reached forward from the future and backward into the past she unwound the dream she was transcendent the book slammed shut a foul wind reeking of decay swirled around miranda’s dying body she’d never suffered more intense pain now the entities were free they ended the farce tommy stopped crying and smiled eyes black as obsidian were the last things miranda ever saw author’s story note the godhead grimoire explores the perils of forbidden knowledge the dark side of mathematics and the corrupting allure of divinity in turn these elements reinforce each other as they chisel away and eventually obliterate miranda’s soul the story’s eponymous tome embodies all these themes by appealing to her love of mathematics it lures miranda into its mesmerizing web as miranda delves into its mysteries the book exacts a terrible price slowly degrading miranda’s mind body and spirit until she becomes an apparition of her former self from its cover adorned with the eye of thoth the egyptian deity of the moon and wisdom to its pages of human skin to its insatiable thirst for human blood and sacrifice the book demands to be explored and promises to unveil its dark secrets the volumes ever thinning pages and seemingly infinite length represent the asymptotic nature of seeking the path to divinity

the closer miranda gets to achieving transcendence the more her essence disintegrates into oblivion the more the membrane keeping the entities out of her plane of existence weakens a certain mathematical logic underlies nearly every aspect of the story it manifests itself in the asymptotic nature of the grimoire and the logistic growth of miranda’s worshippers as the son of a high school teacher i’ve always been fascinated by the beauty and elegance of mathematics in our natural world mathematical principles are both universal and sublime their presence often hides in plain sight with fibonacci sequences appearing in patterns as diverse as the arrangements of leaves on a stem to the spiraling of galaxies closely tied to mathematics is the story’s final theme the will to power and the inevitable corruption and destruction of those who seek it as miranda approaches omnipotence her reality frays she becomes the veritable moth seeking a flame a flame that renders her descenders two stories inspired this tale george r r martin’s sand kings in algernon blackwood’s smith an episode in a lodging house the former also explored the theme of divinity gone awry while the latter served as an inspiration for the entities that tempt and taint miranda this story is ultimately about obsession the relentless pursuit of an endeavor without regard to consequence nearly always leads to a grim end carnal bodies by r e hellinger all of young lord heath friends wanted to know how his brother had gotten locked in the family crypt he’s always been a deviant was his answer and surprisingly everyone agreed of course they knew him he he had been the one who stayed nearest home dogging his father’s steps learning the family business and sometimes tending the blackberry thickets when it wasn’t so hot hawthorne had always been away gallivanting back and across the earth doing god knew what their father had encouraged it perhaps because he’d never gotten along with his own brother he felt separation was a healthier ride of passage for growing boys but it was rumored hawthorne had been a headnest so why not a deviant the more heath told the story the more he believed it himself but maybe he wanted to but his own family thomas laughed turning with him into the east wing of the estate somehow that’s worse heath didn’t laugh lowering his voice as they drew nearer to a set of tall oak doors allen looked at him how long was he in there twisting a key into the lock heath pursed his lips as if recalling the stench of the tomb instead the memory of hawthorne’s face sick with fear as heath closed one of the innermost seller doors between them and locked it swam before him three days pushing the doors open heath let them inside the room was awash in mourning sunlight that seemed to touch the wooden shelves and sheer drapes with gold gilded titles and books that line the shelves winked out at them and one of the windows had been opened just slightly so that it a breeze light in the air turned so that the breeze was on the side of his face hawthorne set strapped to a wooden wheelchair looking like a doll that had been discarded heath’s friends stopped where they stood and it only occurred to heath then that his friends had never seen hawthorne before then your twins thomas blurted it wasn’t true hawthorne was exactly one year older they shared the same birthday and thus has children had thought to share everything their games their secrets suggesting that they were twins both drew insidious lines between their true natures and benevolently suggested that heath was just as entitled to the estate as hawthorne had been they did look remarkably similar though even if heath cut his brother’s hair there would be a division in that heath could only be described as handsome while his brother especially now that something had broken inside of him could only be described as beautiful come closer he can’t bite alan crossed himself before crossing the threshold circling the room slowly before he stopped at the other edge of a table that stood near to them he shook his head slowly you should have left them in their heath something doesn’t feel right undeterred thomas stepped right up to hawthorne nearly spitting on him fucking necrophile crouching down he peered up into hawthorne’s slack face his staring periwinkle eyes why did you save him what good is he heath laughed thinly from where he stood behind hawthorne’s chair twisting a strand of hawthorne’s hair

between his fingers christ thomas we just lost our father he’s my brother does everything need have a purpose for it to have a place in this world you forget what he might have been doing to your father in that crypt something flashed in heath’s eyes i don’t he’s the only living family i have now besides he frowned slightly using both hands to tilt hawthorne’s head up and back slightly he has sort of a purpose he pulled a black hood from the back of the chair and draped it off hawthorne’s head then without warning he fisted the fabric tightly in both hands pulling it back and around the back of hawthorne’s head so tightly they could see his mouth stretching open against the fabric straining for air and the outline of the eye sockets of his skull he made no sound but stirred weakly which made it all the more worse to watch eyes full of strange light heath looked down at where thomas was still crashed before his brother who do you want to talk to thomas shook his head at a loss what anyone that’s gone before heath choose my great aunt thomas looked from the twisting skull-like visage before him screaming silently behind its veil say her name so he can hear you marie marie anne with rose at once hawthorne grew still heath slowly released the fabric so that the screaming face disappeared but left the hood on his brother’s head it felt as though someone was walking around them behind them in the room pacing like a cautious observer thomas turned his face anxiously up to the hooded face and from behind the fabric a soft voice crept forth muted and wavering like a candle’s flame but undeniably that of an irish woman tommy is that you they sucked in the parlor as the dining room was far too big for the three of them thomas had agreed to stay on the condition at hawthorne remain behind the locked doors of the study he couldn’t stomach seeing the slack face from which his great aunt had spoken and he did believe as he explained helping himself to some cold chicken and blackberries without much relish no one outside of his family knew they had irish blood in them not even their priest it’s a grave power you have at your fingertips alan said slowly he lit a cigarette and had been musing leaned back in his chair away from the table with his ankle crossed over his knee he almost looked like a dandy thomas had said as much and got a smoke ring to the face for it fixing his eyes on heath allen arched an eyebrow you could make a lot of coin off of this heath laughed and have to deal with that spiritus lot no thanks thomas still looked grey from his encounter he seemed tired and shook his head more at his plate than bended anything else i wouldn’t sell that i don’t think men would know whether to drink or ask for their money back after that sort of parlor trick allen ashed his cigarette into his teacup sneering it’s a service i don’t suppose you’re going to ask for a refund thomas fixed his gaze on heath for a long moment than he signed if i could have the entire memory erased by asking i might standing he gathered his coat and hat and tapped at the brim of it lightly weighing his words i’ve got to get back to town i’ve got a dinner appointment with carmichael and a lot of gin he shared a ghost of a smile with all of them and winking went to the door where he paused anew it’s not that i regret it but i’m glad i didn’t call anyone closer to me with a significant look at heath and a casual valve his head he left and his footsteps echoed down the hall allen laughed and helped himself to thomas t he’s just mad we found out he’s a filthy irish this gift is wasted on wanting to speak to dead relatives anyway his eyes were on the door his mind was with his brother’s haunted temple of a body what do you mean putting out his cigarette allen moved his chair closer and dropped his voice spiritists focus on resolution uneasing the mind it’s so stuffy and tired not one of them sees all it could be that we could play and laugh anew with the dead how many men would pay to see their wives again touch their mistresses again bed cleopatra for christ’s sake heath turned his attention to him are you asking me to run a brothel out of my own estate where men can pay to bed my brother allen was unfazed you said yourself he

was headless just a body with an incredible gift besides what better justice for his deviants than to be a tool for the living to commune with the dead it’s far higher than what he was doing he wanted the dead for the rotting carnal bodies we want his body for spiritual renewal with our dearly departed heath stared leaning his chin into his palm alan smiled eyes heavy with the opium in his cigarette i’ll pay handsomely the sun had long since set behind the advent of a storm and now lightning crackled beyond the window’s glass for a moment heath found himself holding his breath there was nothing to fear here of course here together they were safe the bathroom was lit generously with candles and heath had undressed and placed his brother in the clawfoot tub by the windows he sat behind him on the edge of a chair sleeves rolled to his elbows hands lathered in soap and buried in hawthorne’s hair do you remember heath asked carting his fingers to his brother’s wet hair slowly leaning close to the shell of his ear when we found that thing in the cellars as children we’d gone down he recounted slowly almost lazily as he began to rinse the soap from hawthorne’s hair much further than we should have past the second set of doors and the third we had father’s keys so we didn’t care how many doors there were so long as they would open we lost count and the passages kept narrowing and going down and down father had told us how old this place was but not how deeply they dug the foundations i don’t even know if he knew and then we found it behind the old stained press and it was hungry you were scared it wanted you the most and you knew it it seemed blind yet it followed us pulling itself along writhing on its belly not so much screaming and sawing he stopped his fingers trailing limping in the water behind his brother’s back drawing a breath he laughed and it seemed to shake the chill off of him as he began to scoop palms of water up over hawthorne’s shoulders watching it run down his back and rivulets do you remember they would have organized a search party a father hadn’t already known where we’d gone it felt like hours running for our lives tripping picking one another back up we dropped the lantern at one point and just kept going i don’t know how we made it back but father was waiting at the top of the cellar stairs with a shovel like he had been waiting for this to happen you didn’t watch but he savaged it i saw the whole thing most of it he beheaded it and hit it over and over and over with that shovel until you could no longer tell what parts had been arms and what bits had been even remotely human whatever it was he scooped up the remaining slop and took it away did you ever ask him what he did with it i did once and do you know what he said to me that he’d burnt it and scattered the ashes far far away leaning ever closer lips brushing the back of hawthorne’s ear he smiled but we both know he didn’t i think he dumped its mangled leavings at old press did you look while you were down there day and night i hope you did i hope it watched you i knew it was down there somewhere the air at the top of the cellar steps was never empty after we found it you should have chosen me he snarled pulling back on hawthorne’s hair as if raining in a horse hawthorne’s mindless eyes gazed heavenward at the ceiling panting heath looked down at him shaking his head recalling the absolute fear that had lying hawthorne’s face when there should have been understanding and desire how drunk they’d been after their father’s funeral holding hands as they went down to the seller to face what they hadn’t been able to as children laughing how soft and willing hawthorne had looked when heath turned to him by the lantern light in that final room he’d even let heath press him back against the wall his pale eyes had locked on the heath’s lips smiling but when heath had suggested they could have whatever they wanted that father was gone and they could run the family estate together when he brushed hawthorne’s cheek with his thumb and kissed him in that room full of rot and shadows hawthorne closed himself off to heath frightened shaking his head he’d gently pushed heath away and that was when the estate passed from hawthorne to heath and their future together ended forever hawthorne’s beauty hurt to touch but not to ever actually have him heath’s one truest friend in confidant was agony the bathroom was silent and still saved for the flicker of the candles under the

mirror in its reflection hawthorne didn’t even bat an eye he stared resolutely past some point on the wall still gazing at their reflection heath laid his chin on hawthorne’s shoulder leaning his head against his throat he slid fingertips down the front of hawthorne’s chest watching as not even his muscles reacted to the featherlite contact for once in his life he had the money the name and the wits in hand while hawthorne didn’t sigh he allowed a smile to flicker across his face and slipped his fingers between hawthorne’s waiting legs enjoying his warmth his placidity we’re going to play a little game tomorrow with a friend he said stroking his brother’s cock amused that his deviant brother would never be aroused again by anything something new and if you disappoint me in any way i’ll give you over to it i’ll let it finish what it started after father died i’ll let it undo the rest of your body and soul like it’s been wanting to all these years his eyes narrowed as he studied where the similarities met and their differences separated them physically aside from their style and manner they were nearly twins other than that well the difference was all in their heads the morning brought bad news from the thickets some of heath’s man had come across something viscous and dark near the roots of a bush smeared in the dirt taking their knives they cut one sliver and then another out of the plant only to find the same dark mess inside they came into the house immediately to report it to heath as he took his coffee in the library and presented him with the evidence heath left to look at the material himself like sap it was thick but not sticky though it stained and stank a good deal none of the men had ever seen anything like dan wrapping a section of a branch in packaging paper and tying it with twine heath sent a man off to london with it and a letter for a friend of the families who had served as his father’s botanist certainly it was some sort of virus or fungus he would know by the time heath had set a solution for the misfortune in motion and washed the slime and its hard dark stain from his hands he came downstairs to find alan waiting for him in the parlor they passed the afternoon hunting and riding after supper heath sent the house staff to bed and lighting a candle led allen to hawthorne’s room he laid him out in a clean night shirt and brushed his hair out against the pillow in the still silent way his body waited heath had the impression of a giant awful doll that knew what was coming heath swallowed back a lump that had risen in his throat and handed alan the black hood he’d used to call up thomas’s great aunt i’ve given him opium to make him more docile just in case perfect alan said his eyes were carving a line down hawthorne’s body you know how to use it heath touched the hood allen frowned down as if it alone was distasteful part of the whole process can’t i just use my hands there was bile in heath’s throat now images of allen’s fingers squeezing what life remained in hawthorne out of his body flooded into his mind unchecked allen’s face was cruel in these images hawthorne’s eyes frightened the bed rocking hawthorne’s body lifting and crashing effortlessly against the mattress again and again you could but it would help not to see his face the spirit speaking through his face will be strange who are you calling forth anyway a whore i fucked last summer alan said stretching out a finger to stroke hawthorne’s exposed wrist slowly his mind elsewhere lost in summer died of consumption so i am truly running a brothel then he thought that’s too bad he wanted away from the candle light that highlighted the pearlescence of hawthorne’s skin wanted a door between himself and alan’s lust remember to state the woman’s name clearly he advised stopping at the door and turning oh and alan please don’t need anything more from me before morning allen laughed loudly but even as heath closed the door behind him he couldn’t escape the sight of alan climbing on top of his brother pulling the hood over his head swallowing bile his hands shook as he pulled the door shut his fingers trembled too badly to fit the skeleton key in the lock and turn it so he retreated to the study where he poured himself a large glass of brandy it wouldn’t have been the first time he’d seen hawthorne with a man

he could still recall the summer afternoon he stumbled across his brother with a man from their hunting party the party got separated and when he’s half of the party determined their horses had enough for the day heath went to look for them on his own he found them in a gland just beyond the thickets well hidden by trees and brush in this sun dappled clearing spread like an eager whore hawthorne laughed as the man called in his little fox and squeezed his hips with his hands larger and rougher than he’s instead of making his presence known heath stayed hidden watching as the man fucked hawthorne roughly to two of them hissing and growling like animals hawthorne pushed the man out of him before he came saying he didn’t want any of his seed on his riding clothes and the man came on a patch of wildflowers beside them grumbling then hawthorne came on the man’s thigh and they fell into a tangle of limbs as they wrestled and kissed half hard heath had crept away hawthorne’s raucous laughter rose behind him until he was halfway home shaming him tonight was similar and though heath contented himself with the fact that alan could only help himself to the mere shell of hawthorne it was a fragile comfort heath drank from his glass deeply eyes locked on the light dancing body of a candle’s flame at the opposite side of the study he imagined hawthorne naked standing at the end of his bed hands moving over his body presenting himself to heath in his mind hawthorne hummed half remembered fugue body twisting and arching dreamlike come here heath whispered to the empty room the candle stayed put but his imaginary hawthorne smiled and crawled up over him straddling his hips letting heath touch and explore him going so far as to suck the finger heath slid between his lips heath grunted as he imagined the softness of hawthorne’s skin and the gentle weight of his eyes on him his body opened to him without fear or hesitation closing his eyes heath took his cock in hand and quickly worked himself to a feverish pace his mind took him to the glen then to allen straddling hawthorne only minutes ago he imagined himself pushing hawthorne down the cellar stairs again and again imagined taking him in that deepest cellar by lantern light even as hawthorne tried to push him off it was his right their right their father wasn’t there to tell them it was wrong their friends weren’t there to call them abominable who else had been there for them who else could love wild twisted boys raised from thickets like them besides one another his imaginary hawthorne smiled fingers touching his cheek and heath turned his face to kiss those invisible fingers coming into his own hand in the study alone catching his breath he watched the candle dance and seemingly wink he thought he heard hawthorne’s breathy laugh in his ear but he was tired and the brandy was pulling him down down and so he slept his dreams were stormy and turbulent at one moment he’d been allen instead of himself betting hawthorne but hawthorne was weeping beneath the black hood and so he stopped rocking his hips and leaned down over him lifting the fabric then he was in the middle of the blackberry orchards and the brambles had gone all but wild making it difficult to traverse hawthorne was running somewhere ahead of him only in his night shirt bloody or berry stained from the waist down whatever had infected his thickets had made the ground thick and sinking and it crept up he’s riding boots as he ran a storm brewed overhead skies darkening he stopped realizing he’d lost hawthorne entirely he called for him but received no reply only the growing sensation that he was being watched from all sides turning he took a blackberry between his fingers and slid it open with a tip of his hunting knife a rolling black eye stared back at him the black red muck of the fields was up to his calves gasping he found himself back over hawthorne in the bed and hawthorne was screaming fingers gripping at his chest tears cursing down his cheeks hawthorne’s eyes rolled back and a black eye stared up at heath from the darkness at the back of hawthorne’s throat it’s blood it’s all built on blood heath woke up gasping he’d thrown his half-empty glass of brandy to the floor at some point and the deep red liquid had left a gash on the persian rug it must have been about two in the morning and the threads of his dreams still clung to him shaking himself he forced himself to listen to the black silence wrapped around the manor he thought he’d heard a scream and couldn’t be sure it hadn’t been his own somewhere on the other side of the study he got the distinct feeling that something was pacing watching invisible there was an almost palpable sadness and urgency

the candle at the far side of the study flickered and went out hawthorne the silence of the night was torn in two by a scream and then another high and wet like a pig’s squeal heath was on his feet in an instant and followed after the sound as it carried him back to hawthorne’s room the door was closed and something red and sharp rose up inside him if alan had done anything to his brother as his hand closed around the doorknob he was almost pulled into the room as alan came crashing out one hand gripping the front of his throat he grabbed at heath’s shoulder eyes wild he was still wearing his black riding breeches but the rest of him that was bare was slathered in blood it wasn’t her i used the hood i covered his head i said her name i did it right but it wasn’t her he was babbling he it bit me it he swung an accusing finger into the candlelit room and heath used the moment to gently move allen’s hand away from his throat and took a stunned step back a large bite had been taken out of allen’s throat in the tatters of skin still hung in ribbons where teeth had torn savagely at the flesh there was so much blood and artery must have been severed he was dimly aware that alan was turning back towards him that his clammy hand was closing over one of his that he was trying to say something else but heath was too busy watching alan’s adam’s apple bob without the privacy of skin covering it blood bubbling from his neck allen swooned and fell to the floor where he lay still a pool of blood spread slowly from him stepping over it heath took a deep breath and pushed into the room hawthorne’s body was sitting up on the bed his hooded head turned towards the door as if expecting heath his night shirt was stained with allen’s blood and by the candlelight heath could see something wet on the front of the hood and felt eyes on him whatever had bitten allen was still here behind the hood inside of his brother’s body and as he neared the bed he thought he could see where allen had gone wrong he had used the hood but he had also tied a length of velvet cord around and around the base of the hood to strangle hawthorne hawthorne then must be dead the heaviness of the thought settled so hard in the pit of his stomach that when the thing gerbert at him chattering the teeth that it had pushed through the fabric like cursed pearls to bite alan he swung the back of his hand against its face and brought his foot down on his ribs as it fell off the bed in a heap you want my brother rotten his body grabbing the top of the hood and the luscious hair gathered under it heath dragged a thing inside hawthorne’s body out of the room and threw this spreading pool of alan’s blood bringing the stain with them down the hallway the thing inside hawthorne raged thrashing and twisting in his grip but though it pushed its tongue against the thick fabric of the hood and clacked its horrible teeth at heath it didn’t so much scream sigh hotly kicking open the door to the cellar heath lifted it through it bodily down the stairs where it twisted and ride its way to the bottom it almost hurt to see hawthorne like that his limbs twisted and twitching on the stonework meeting at the bottom he rolled over with his foot onto its back taking a shovel from the wall he brought the spade in down where the coarse fabric of the hood ended and hawthorne’s silken skin began the body lay silent and still wiping sweat from his brow heath brought hawthorne’s wheelchair down to the basement tied the body to it and sat the head in its lap and then walked back to the furthest reaches of the basement who knew this basement better than them of course he went through one door with a skeleton key then another than another stopping only when the foundations around them were old and wet with the earthen stain eating his blackberries in a room with the old stained press and bottles that were so time nod the liquid inside of them looked like it congealed into thick black rot he left his brother and the monster that had wanted hawthorne more than he had he locked every door behind him of course allen’s death was easy to explain hawthorne’s health had come back and he had attacked their house guest leaving him for dead before he ran madly out into the moors heath sent his house staff out to look for him but no traces were ever found the fungus faded from the fields like a bad dream and time moved on and heath filled his life with new things a wife new hunting dogs a set of twin boys he named one after his brother of course but like all young boys they found their way into trouble often enough in the thickets in the house looking back heath should have known simply beheading it and locking it down in the deepest cellar wouldn’t be enough

when his sons came up the seller’s breathless and pale crying about something that signed and didn’t so much crawl as pull itself along sightless dragging a dark rope knotted bag along beside it heath wondered how the hell their father had had the stomach to kill his own brother twice he went and got his shovel this time he’d burn and scatter him far away separation was good for growing boys of course he’d do what their father had never had the heart to do let go of his brother completely author’s story note carnal bodies was originally published in two dead queers present guillotine the goal of the zine was to explore the various implications of being headless crossroads of opportunity by dong jai gam and ed kurtz though it took marianne the better part of a year to die she finally got around to it on a tuesday by wednesday morning henry was on usi 78 heading west at a steady clip of 75 miles per hour he drove a baby blue buick but the radio stuck on one station which sometimes wasn’t a station depending on where he ended up country in western in the morning static in the afternoon something a bit like reggae by sundown that was after henry passed the state line but he wasn’t entirely sure which state he’d left in which he’d entered he didn’t pay mind much he just drove some time after midnight henry’s eyelids grew heavy and his stomach growled in anger a brightly lit billboard advertised all night breakfast at a diner on the outskirts of effingham some miles down the road and he figured that was as good a place as any to stop for a cup of week coffee and runny eggs it wasn’t until the billboard was out of sight that he realized he missed what exit he needed to take there were a couple of signs that may have mentioned food or gas or lodging but he noticed them in the rear view mirror as accidental afterthoughts what lulled him out of his state of semi-slumber was the exit sign for i-57 northbound to chicago illinois then but chicago was a definite no far too many people too big a city this effingham he’d never heard of it a bump in the road to a jersey city boy and the logo emblazoned on the water tower the one on the east side of town when he crossed into it after the diner he’d missed and after he realized he was in illinois the crossroads of opportunity shades of old robert johnson selling his soul at the crossroads to the devil so he could play the guitar what in hell had marianne done it for then just to live a little longer in agony henry reckoned and then once she finally died to get back up and laugh in his face chicago would have been nice marianne rast from the backseat her voice heavy with a two-pack a day habit a couple of rounds of chemo damn near destroyed what remained for vocal cords i’ve never been to the midwest you’ve never been outside the tri-state area henry couldn’t bear to think of the thing back there mouldering under her blue wool blanket as marianne as far as he could tell the moment she went through the door this motherfucker snuck right in from the other side talk about an opportunity her death the crossroads he continued down i-70 which was now also i-57 78 had ended two three states back he didn’t know didn’t care much either the key was to keep driving the answer had to be out there his eyes were drawn to a light on the other side of the highway a smallish blob on horizon that grew larger and taller the closer he got holy shit he muttered it was a cross easily a couple hundred feet tall he figured most people saw it as a glowing white beacon of hope in the night to henry it was a monstrous eyesore he and marianne had never been more than casual churchgoers at best christmas and easter with the occasional wedding and funeral thrown in for good measure she had flirted with the idea of converting after the diagnosis but instead became enraptured by the homeopathic lifestyle with its essential oils and strange cocktails of ginger and tumeric and whatever snake oil was trending at the moment he wished that had been the end of the madness but it was merely the beginning in a brief moment of desperation henry wondered if it was worth getting off the highway and bringing her to the cross but what could be done it wasn’t like he could drop her off there and expect a miracle maybe there was a priest nearby who

could perform an exorcism or whatever entity it was that had taken over her body he snorted at the notion even if he was more than half serious about bringing them both back into a religious environment there didn’t seem to be an exit to get there he’d pass the last one at least a mile back and the road signs indicated that 57 and 70 were going to be splitting back into two separate highways in less than a few miles south to memphis or west to st louis neither appealed to him but west was the way he has started this trip and west he would continue he moved into the right lane to continue on 70 the street lamps on this stretch were unlit for some reason he reckoned the situation would not improve once they were outside the city same with billboards stop for a pack of questions for me will you love no you can’t hurt me anymore shut up that’s not nice she hissed henry shuddered and then as if mimicking him so did the buick not now you piece of shit not now marianne snickered henry shot a glance at the gas gauge the needle was just above the halfway point the car shuddered again and his mind bounced around random diagnoses though henry knew next to nothing about cars they were barely out of effingham back on a dark empty stretch to anywhere when the dash lights blinked off and then on again and finally died the buick trembled violently and the steering wheel wrenched itself free from henry’s grip spinning left and sending the car careening across two lanes his ears filled with the loudness of the rumble strip as they hurled it onto the low ribbon of yellow grass and dirt in the median henry’s heart pounded against his ribs and marianne caggled the whole way shit henry pounded the steering wheel the buick now faced eastbound dead in the grass dead as marianne should have been pity marianne said a semi-rocketed past shaking a car in its occupants once it was gone all was still again still and pitch black henry’s temples throbbed marianne was beginning to stink instinctively he jabbed at the button on the armrest to his left to lower the window it took him a second to piece together why it wasn’t doing anything he felt like crying his wet eye shot up to the rear-view mirror where he saw the shape of her rising up behind him a dark formless shape bubbling up from the seat and the blanket more terror than reality for he couldn’t really see much of anything at all it was the most she’d moved since he’d thrown her back there and this was disconcerting the idea was that the farther they got from the source of it all that ugly business that started this whole mess the more likely henry would be able to put an end to it the stone she died clutching that goddamn talisman a thousand miles away and two and a half feet underground but did it matter he wondered too late came the voice behind him the shape trembling as it spoke too late henry squeezed his eye shut and held his breath didn’t want to see to smell to think it hadn’t been much of a plan to begin with all he could think to do was drive and hope the rest came together along the way but it hadn’t when he opened his eyes again blinking away the sticky exhaustion and nascent tears that filmed them over the only thing he could see clearly was the clean white glow in the distance ahead of him the cross talisman for a talisman he thought and this one was bigger a lot bigger he opened the door and heaved himself out of the car the air was cool crisp it felt good on his face and in his lungs each deep inhalation brought on a coughing fit but he didn’t care it was better than the smell of decay in the car that had slowly grown stronger over the course of the evening inside the car marianne turned her head to look up at him from the back seat henry wasn’t sure but she seemed to be grinning at him fighting back the gorge rising in his gut he opened the back door and said come on we’re going for a walk you and me the outpouring of stink from the car overwhelmed him and he dry heaved a couple of times before reaching in he grabbed her arm and quickly let go disgusted at the feel of the fingers sinking into her cold flesh she had dropped dozens of pounds over the course of the last year and had taken on a frighteningly skeletal form loose skin hair loss sunken eyes in those last months she didn’t want anyone to see her and he did his best to dissuade even her closest friends from coming by to say goodbye like anyone else she’d have preferred to go quickly but this way it was a kind of living death before the actual end

but not like this marianne really was dead now had been for close to 48 hours she’d been quiet at least for the first four or five hours still and silent with her eyes closed while henry whipped beside her he’d fallen asleep eventually clutching her body to him as though afraid it would crumble to dust right then and there instead she screamed until he jolted awake and screamed back at her her screams turned laughter his back to blubbering one seemed to feed the other little had changed since her hand fell upon his cool and papery like onion skin henry pulled away from her and marianne’s hands emerged from the shadows of the buick’s back seat silvery white in the moonlight and curled their fingers around the frame of the open door she clamped down and pulled herself forward her tight grinning face rising quickly from the car at him henry staggered backward with a gasp and he washed as she unfurled herself spider-like to her full height on the side of the road before him she had been a tallish woman in life and remained so in death though so much thinner now her face somehow longer and limbs spotty rubbery her hair sparse before continued to thin and drop away leaving broad patches of bare scalp that was beginning to peel and flake christ jesus he muttered he noticed her arm the one he had grabbed moments earlier had five new blemishes that were quickly purpling he choked back a pain to gasp marianne counted her head to one side and widened her cloudy dead eyes at him he couldn’t fathom how she could see out of them but none of this was supposed to be possible henry she said her voice lilting into something approaching a song it made his stomach flip where are we going lover that fucking cross tell me it’s not the fucking cross henry shut up he said all this way and that’s all you’ve come up with her shoulders raised rolled and sagged again she rolled those foggy eyes too and worked her jaw while her tongue probed at her teeth whatever was in there was finally getting a shot at trying out the body or at least henry figured as much first step she took was like a newborn calf or deer the spindly legs trembling and unsure he noticed how long and jagged her toenails look now and he wondered if he shouldn’t have put some shoes on her before he left jersey even undertakers put shoes on the bodies they dump in the ground he shuddered knowing that the marianne he spent over a decade with would be horrified at the state of her post-mortem being she reached for him again and it was all he could do to not recoil her touch she stopped just short her fingers hovering over his forearm they waggled ever so slightly the fingernails grazing the hairs on his goose bump ridden flesh he backed away not hiding his disgust this time and you’re impulsed by me her outstretched arm fell back to her side as her grin faded he wasn’t sure how to answer good she said reading his face in lieu of a response good the grin returned henry’s lungs deflated and his shoulders sagged he thought again of the enormous cross and he silently admonished himself for having considered that for a solution none of this was in his wheelhouse though he shuddered to think whose wheelhouse it was in all he knew was that his wife’s rapid descent into the world of herbs and crystals and other assorted hokum had made him more than a little uncomfortable but since it wasn’t his sickness his death he resolved to keep his mouth shut and let her do whatever the hell she wanted to do the stone in retrospect seemed among the least ridiculous items she’d acquired from the sundry humbug dealer she’d found online five bucks plus another 350 for shipping when he first saw it he was reminded of the smooth flat stones he used to search for on the shore of lake hopatcong when he was a kid long lazy summer days spent skipping them over the surface of the water as he got better at it and the stones went farther and farther a comforting memory triggered by her comforting hook is pocus talisman how bad could that be of course that was before he believed in things that weren’t at all possible black rotted things that didn’t belong in his life or this place things that apparently one could procure for fewer than 10 american dollars and a healthy dose of desperation things one could not outrun the cross loomed in the distance bright and steady beckoning he turned his back to it that was a foxhole he had no desire to

jump into but to walk back that way also meant finding a place to stay for the night and maybe an all-night diner his stomach growled it had been hours since he had polished off the beef jerky he bought when he last got gas he couldn’t remember where that had been just that the sun was still out at that point his mind wandered and he thought of eggs sunny side up a mug of hot black coffee no sugar in the distance a pair of eggs rose over the horizon no not eggs they were headlights blinding him as they closed in beside him marianne fell to the ground whacking her head against the open door on the way down marianne he rushed to her as he bent over her he nearly hit his head against the same door he swore under his breath as he lifted her head and felt dampness he pulled one hand away it was dark but there was no mistaking what it was everything okay here he hadn’t realized the vehicle was already upon them and he hadn’t heard the driver get out but the headlights were blinding and with one wet hand still holding marianne’s head he shielded his eyes as a figure emerged from the glare oh shit the driver said he wore a mesh ball cap and a red hunting vest over a plaid shirt his face was indistinct but henry could make out the shaggy black beard that covered a good half of it behind the man a late model chevy pickup idled something shrill warbling from the radio inside the cab she fell henry said i got a cb the driver said already over help he moved to return to the truck henry bart no the driver stopped slowly turned back to henry who rose to his feet and fidgeted with the hem of his shirt i mean i think she’s exhausted maybe it’s been a long day a long drive is that is that blood on you henry shot a glance down at himself at his hands and shirt where indeed there was something dark wet sticky no he said his voice starting to crack no no look maybe just help me get her back into the car huh i don’t want to trouble anyone she’s just tired really we’re both just a god damn tired he wished to hell he could see the driver’s face read his expression and maybe his thoughts all he really wanted was for the nosy bastard to go away but he needed to feel sure he went away comfortable enough with the situation that he didn’t get anyone else involved though part of him considered the wisdom of making her it somebody else’s problem it wasn’t going to be easy explaining any of this especially when she was doing such a bang-up job playing dead for their guest no this was henry’s problem yeah okay sure he approached somewhat warily and when he reached marianne he knelt down beside her henry crouched too when he didn’t like what he saw in the man’s face now that he was close up the man touched her arm and squashed his eyebrows into a tight knit mister the driver said swallowing hard she doesn’t look quickly he retracted his hand and shot up eyes wide and wild jesus he said jesus christ that lady’s dead he edged around marianne and cleared the buick’s open back door and he began moving backward toward the idling truck no no no no henry pleaded listen she’s a little sick maybe not feeling all that great but we’re just so tired man come on now hey would you stop for a minute now stay back the man said stay right there not dead henry said shaking his head back and forth and advancing slowly toward the man you got it wrong she’s not dead i can prove it i can prove it to you as soon as he said it he decided it wasn’t true he couldn’t prove it because she was dead she died on their bed back in jersey and he knew it one only had to look at her to smell her to feel the rubbery give her cool skin to see that and she wasn’t budging not as long as she kept up this charade yet looking at her now still in white on the gravel and lifeless grass her eyes sunken into her skull and dry lips receding from her teeth all henry could see was the same thing the frightened stranger saw a corpse his dead wife he said oh my god henry grabbed handfuls of his own hair and fought back the scream rising inside of him dead his mind screamed back at him dead dead dead grief welled in his chest bleeding from his heart and spreading throughout the rest of him like the cancer that took marianne a grief he could not face a grief that preferred madness to being left alone in this life what have i done

he asked but there was no one to answer him marianne was dead and the stranger was already back in the cab of this truck holding the cb receiver to his face henry fell into a stumbling gate pinwheeling his arms as he rushed the chevy he was desperate to explain to make the man see what this really was that it was bad but not nearly as bad as it looked please please please no no no big problem here on the westbound side of 57 over you heard the driver say you don’t understand please no don’t henry’s mind babbled but the words got stuck in his throat it was just a mistake not a murder it was too much to take but he had a grip on himself now why couldn’t this goddamn son of a bitch just settle down and listen he reached the truck and grasped the door by the open window and just as the startled driver dropped the receiver and recoiled from henry in fear the passenger side door flew open and mary ann flew into the cab like a wraith marianne the driver squealed like a hog being slaughtered when her teeth sank into his neck her jagged gray fingernails into his face in one eye the man’s hands slapped blindly at her as he thrashed behind the wheel but the earthly remains of marianne didn’t loosen their grasp on him she shook and snarled whipped her head with her teeth still clamped down on him blood black as the night burbled out of him and sprayed the windshield another massive 18 meter rumbled past on the interstate and blew its deafening horn as it swerved to avoid taking the passenger side door off the truck but it didn’t slow down and by the time the semi had vanished into the pitch the driver was dead his red throat opened and right eye ruined his body blanketed with his own blood the cb crackled then fell silent for the first time henry noticed the insects singing somewhere in the grass and brushed behind him he closed his eyes held his breath and listened to them henry when again he opened his eyes he found marianne sitting calmly in the pickup’s passenger seat knees together and hands folded on her lap she slowly turned her head to face him and in the shadows the blood on her face looked like a dark beard had sprouted in spite of himself henry laughed at that now we have a truck mary ann said her voice was wet and syrupy the task of dragging the driver out of the pickup and over to the buick was considerably more difficult than henry anticipated it was the second body he’d ever moved but substantially heavier than marianne’s when at last he got the man into the back seat and covered him with a blanket he was awash with sweat and his breath was ragged the gas gauge on the dash was close to e when he finally climbed in behind the wheel and pulled the door shut henry heaved a sigh then cranked the gearshift into d he drove below the speed limit and headed for the next exit where there was a shell station that passed several miles back once he was gassed up he’d get back on the westbound side as they had been before spinning out when they passed the effingham cross again bright in the night sky marianne sniggered henry could smell the decay in her breath the coagulating blood on her blouse the ocean he thought pushing the unpleasant odors from his mind i’ll take her all the way to the ocean with this in mind he could almost smell the salt spray feel the sun on his neck we’ll go in together mary ann said the water both of us yes henry agreed slowing the truck at the sight of the shell sign ahead my beloved she rasped henry smiled knowing he was not mad after all author’s story note crossroads of opportunity is the first collaboration between ed kurtz and dong jai gam though hopefully not the last the process of co-writing it was fairly simple and orderly ed wrote the first paragraph not really knowing where it was heading and sent it to dongjae who wrote the next paragraph and put more meat on the bones in between we discussed avenues to explore while dengzhai carefully studied maps of the area the characters explore in the story she’s a stickler for authenticity the end product showcases the strengths and creative tics of both authors effectively forming something new and different for each of them dad’s famous preserves by saris nikita when i was 11 and my brother rourke was 16 dad moved us to the jungle to deliver the lord’s good word to the people who lived there he must have thought it would change us make us into men lift us above the everyday sins of the other boys littering the stoops of boston that’s what we call them everyday sins dad said that every day sins were small

things small things like not telling the irish girl who lives in the building across the way that maybe the cat’s been sitting in her window because the way her curtains fall lately they bunch up around the pull string and if a person were bending down in just the right way for example on his knees whispering prayers before bed he might see right through the gap to whomever might be standing there blow drying her hair in clean white panties everyday sins can sneak up on you son like bees one or two aren’t so bad but when you get a swarm of them together you’re in big trouble dad had black hair in a mouth that could smile all the way to the corners of his eyes he was not a religious fanatic or child abuser if that’s what you’re thinking dad never beat us with bibles or locked us in closets or forced us to grasp crucifixes heated over burners he was just an electrician turned preacher who in addition to being fond of analogies believed that god would want men and boys to wear healed shoes and pressed shirts while they were delivering the good news he’d been flipping a batch of dad’s famous hotcakes while he delivered the analogy about the bees dad cooked us hot meals all the time and everything he made was famous they’ll sting your swollen sun if you give them a chance you have to be on the lookout he put the plate of hot cakes on the table and we ate them together in the warm kitchen with syrup and butter and cold milk there were no bees in the jungle the native women were not like the irish girl or the lady with the tiny waist on the detergent box their breast fell to their navels like cups full of cold molasses sinking slowly down their chests they were the first breast i’d ever seen up close instead of using a toilet the villagers squatted over holes and their nails were thick and yellow they were all missing a toenail or a fingernail and sometimes more than one the girls poked pieces of wood and bone through holes in their noses and ears and sometimes lumps of scar tissue bloomed up around the holes like chunks of white lime built up around our drain at home they squatted next to coal beds while they cooked some nights the fire lights showed me their down their hair and dark parts beneath that hung like flaps some had brown and black tattoos on their faces some of their heads were as bald as eggs the men were strong and glossy and hard they hunted monkeys and butchered them with their hands then they cooked up the meat and the guts too they even broke open the bones and dug inside with their thumbs and then ate this stuff that came out sometimes they pulled out the guts before the monkey even stopped breathing the children turned over logs and found white grubs the size of pecans that they roasted on sticks before chewing them up they watched the moon and some nights they smeared things on themselves and danced in front of bonfires one night i saw a baby born inside our chapel was very very hot the walls and roof were made of heavy pine planks the planks were the first thing we brought in once the road was cleared said father clawson showing us how to fan out mosquito nets over our beds and wait them at the bottom he pointed to the four glass windows looking very proud from a pair of very charitable christians in long island real glass they let the light of christ shine right in he beamed i doubt there’s another set of glass windows for 300 miles in any direction the windows didn’t open the air in the chapel was as hot and heavy as the steam that used to hiss from dad’s iron beads of sap oozed from the pine lumber scenting this smother like christmas time everything was sticky the few villagers curious enough to attend services brought banana leaves to sit on so they wouldn’t get sap on their bottoms from sitting in the pews they fanned themselves with fronds and then stopped coming all together dad said sometimes the good word was like the sound of the ocean waves just keep crashing on in the background and finally a day comes when people see that the waters are cool and clear people wait in and try to swim some of those people will take to the water like fish and others might not get the hang of it right away some people might only dip in a toe he’d always drop his voice for the next part and some people need us more than anyone else because by the time they get to the water they’ve already been on fire for a long long time dad was from chicago first then minneapolis and then boston he signed a year contract for us and when the review board asked if they had any experience living in the tropical wild he said i’ve studied up to us he said if the swiss family robinson can do it so can we the lord will watch over us but not many days had passed before it became clear that neither thing was true we were dangerously ignorant about the jungle we packed useless things a swimsuit a

gold pocket watch a red plastic radio that never picked up a station and ran out of batteries after the first week dad brought three jars of brill cream because he was afraid he’d run out nonetheless he assured us everything would be okay we were on the lord’s mission and he was looking out for us those first months were a dark time our water filter was a heavy contraption that took both hands and all my weight to pump in the heat of the day i’d avoid pumping water until i was so thirsty my head throbbed and then make it worse by exerting myself in the heat for food we had a kind of dried porridge with vitamins ground up in it and you added water to make a sweet gritty sludge the best way to get it down was to drink it fast like cod liver oil suffering and button-up shirts and heeled shoes with socks we doled out litanies to the strange natives who looked at us skeptically clucking their tongues and shaking their heads the village children ran naked in the open air and waded into the brown running stream to splash their dark bodies with water i tried not to feel bitter thoughts toward them on sundays dad offered sacrament pressing wafers of host into rough brown hands and making the sign of the cross in the air on the night in which he was betrayed christ broke bread and said take and eat this is my body given for you do this in remembrance of me the villagers inspected the paperish disks taking weary nibbles as if tasting an unfamiliar fruit for the first time without knowing if the flesh would send them into fifths or cause chaos in their bowels nobody understood a word either side was saying at night rorke and i lay beneath the mosquito nets and felt things crawling on the scratching furrows in our legs with our grimy fingernails we’d been itchy and paranoid since the night worked and found a millipede as long as his forearm coiled inside his pillowcase sometimes we lay in bed and remembered things together like the ice box back in boston and the cool fountain in the square rory reminded me of dad’s famous potato and fried egg cash with ketchup and i reminded him of dad’s famous chocolate egg cream always with an extra sprinkle of ovaltine on top one very dark night i dreamed of the irish girl she was blow drying her hair she turned around and i saw that her breasts were deformed and made of scar tissue lumps stacked upon lumps like bunches of half-dried grapes beneath her white panties something bulged and squirmed the hard horny head of a giant millipede emerged from one layer of her panties and wound down the inside of her thigh circling once before disappearing behind her knee she held up her thumb and there was black stuff on it she sucked it off and smiled looking right at me still holding the blow dryer i’d wet the bed that night for the first time in years but rory didn’t notice the sheets were always damp anyway and we trained our noses not to smell things four months passed and dad was sick he would stand in the palmetto’s behind the chapel and make himself vomit before morning service so he wouldn’t have to stop the sermon when he felt it coming long flat worms like ribbons came up in the vomit yellow stains bloomed in the armpits of his white shirts and he had to go to the bathroom a lot he grew thin and grim still he didn’t want to leave he said that nothing was more transient than flesh and he felt proud that god believed he was strong enough to be tested rory and i wondered about this we also wondered whether or not god considered all meat to be flesh were the worms made of flesh were the grubs the millipede the monkey guts or the villagers what was the difference between flesh and just regular old meat we couldn’t decide the infection began with a black dot the size of a pea on top of dad’s foot it looked like the time i’d stepped on a sharpened pencil and a smooth pellet of lead had lodged itself in the web of my big toe at first it only itched dad thought it might be a mosquito bite turned blood blister maybe he could just coax out a few drops of blood and the thing would turn back into regular skin he squeezed it between his thumbnails but nothing came out when it was bigger the next day he tried to prick it with the corner of his folding razor the blade barely brushed the dot when dad sucked air over his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut gripping the sides of his foot with both hands as if curling up that way would make the pain stop the next day the dot was twice as big and it was no longer a dot it was a little brown crater with a black pit and the ring of skin around the crater was puffy and angry looking the day after that the foot was so swollen it bulged out of dad’s shoe like rising bread and a day after that the shoe didn’t fit at all for the first time in four months dad stayed in his bed beneath the mosquito

net instead of rising for morning prayer we tried to cool him by fanning him with fronds the way the villagers did we pumped the water filter for him and offered him mangoes and porridge he drank some water and ate a little of the mango but the porridge came right back up when he could no longer bear the heat in the chapel he crawled outside to lie on the ground in the shade of the giant palmettos his hair hung in greasy strings and his forehead was shiny with oil and sweat the whites of his eyes had begun to look yellowish he was embarrassed that he had to crawl two days later dad didn’t even think about crawling all day long he lay moaning under the palmettos with a mosquito net draped over him not caring about the ants that marched across his belly or the centipedes making paths through his hair he kept one hand pressed into his face either palm down covering his eyes or palm out with the back of it pressing into his mouth i think he did that so no more pain sounds would come out dad hadn’t taken off his sock he couldn’t the rapid swelling had cinched the seam of elastic tightly around his calf flesh bulged above and below the seam making dad’s lower leg look like a tied sausage despite our ill preparedness in other areas we’d managed to bring a pocketknife a piece works even had a tiny pair of scissors that folded out so you could pinch them open and closed with your thumb and forefinger but dad wouldn’t let us touch his sock i think he was afraid to see what was happening under there he didn’t want worry in me to see either but we knew it was worse than we could imagine because by then the smell was so bad dad’s infected leg gave off a smell like feta cheese and rotten hamburger meat you could smell it ten feet away we’d all done a fine job of training our noses to ignore our own smelly underarms and the bouquet of the latrine hole but no sane person could ever shut out the smell of dad’s infected leg my brother and i stole sips of air through our mouths and pretended we didn’t notice as we sat with dad distracting him with staged arguments about which of his sermons we remembered best he distracted us with forced chuckles that doubled him fetal with pain dad’s moans became high and shrill at the end consumed none of us ate or slept rory and i didn’t know what was expected of us and dad was too sick to say god was nowhere to be found after dad slipped into delirium he could no longer refuse works pleas to let him run and fetch father clausen rory left the chapel early in the morning disappearing into the spots of brush that had grown over the path since we walked at last he didn’t come back until nearly dawn father clawson will be here when the sun comes up he’ll bring some men with a card and mule to bring dad out i lifted the mosquito nets or where we could climb into bed next to me what about the doctor i whispered there isn’t one worry groaned softly as he settled into the bed he sounded very tired not a real one della have to be flown out the way we came in father clawson’s already radioed son tomas for a pilot rory was silent for a while i told father clausen about about the smell he asked me how long i told him almost a week another pause rory added quietly he asked me if we have ken in boston you know just in case in case dad rory broke off in a heave i could tell he wanted to cry at last he said in case the lord takes dad before we make it out of here he said that in an even weighted voice i’d never heard from roark before dad was right about one thing the jungle had made a man of my brother a presbyterian doctor in san tomas cut off dad’s pants with scissors that were bent flat halfway down so they could slide right between dad’s pants and his leg then the doctor used his bent scissors to cut dad’s sock into squares when he began to peel away the squares dad tore at his sheets and screamed to god for the strength to stand it until a nurse rushed in with more morphine father clawson stood by his head and rory and i held dad’s hands as each square was peeled away his leg didn’t look like a leg anymore the knee was a black bulge with hard raised bruises and the gaps between bruises were mounds of flesh so swollen that the skin over them was stretched white and split into hard bloodless cracks below the knee the bruises became a forest of brown craters each with a black pit like the first one we’d seen on top of dad’s foot the one he thought might be a mosquito bite square by square the infection only grew more grotesque ripe pustules on the calf broke audibly to drip green fluid that filled the room

with its cheesy sickening smell around the ankles thick white and yellow stuff pooled between chunks of diseased tissue the foot was nothing more than a spongy grayish mass like a wet biscuit dissolving in mop water a lot of the squares wouldn’t peel off they were melded to the leg with crumbles of yellow crust and trying to peel them just caused more flesh to tear away exposing dad’s long white leg bone the doctor called the squares of stuck sock grafted and said that it probably happened at the very beginning before dad’s body stopped trying to scab over and heal itself the doctor gave up trying to remove the remaining squares of sock even he looked aghast i’ve never seen anything like it he kept saying his accent sounded like the man with the hot dog cart back home i’ve never seen anything like it father clawson took us into a waiting room and swallowed an aspirin and told us that the grafted squares of sock didn’t matter anyway i’m not a doctor he said but if i’ve ever seen a clear cut case for amputation it was lying in front of me ten minutes ago father clawson sank into a chair and looked at my brother and me thin and filthy blotchy with heat rash and covered with the scabs of bug bites scratched bloody in the night i could tell by the way he softened that he pitied us sam tomas has some of the best doctors in this part of the world he said if your father’s life is meant to be saved these men will save it the priest closed his eyes and i knew he was seeing it again dad’s rotting leg i saw it too it was burned into the dark behind our eyelids he tightened his hold on the crucifix around his neck then he opened his eyes and looked at us sincerely his voice was as soft as a whisper your father should not be alive god is truly walking with this man god may have been walking with dad that day but dad himself would never walk again the doctors found rot running all the way up to his hip so that’s where they amputated the place where dad’s leg once met his pelvis was now just a concave socket the size of a baby’s head with prickly stitches like long black caterpillars holding the skin in place there was a tube in dad’s arm for morphine and fluids one in his chest to pump antibiotics in and another beneath the coverage to pump other things out a long time passed before dad was conscious enough to speak father clausen made arrangements for us to stay at a convent in san tomas where the nuns treated us like children they did not know the things we had seen when dad started to come around the doctor called father clausen and he drove us from the convent to the hospital in his big green buick i stood beside dad’s bed so excited i began to cry dad opened his eyes then closed them for so long i was afraid he drifted off again but at last he broke the seal of scum cementing his lips together and the first thing he said was where is it father clausen looked at us and we both shrugged our shoulders dad rory said gently with tears on his cheeks we’re here simon and i and father clawson you’re going to be all right rory’s throat caught and he glanced at the lopsided mound of blankets covering dad’s lower body i mean you’re gonna make it you’re not going to die dad didn’t say anything for a minute i squeezed his hand his head turned on his pillow and then he looked at me incredulously didn’t you hear me ask you a question son i said where the fuck is my goddamn leg back in the waiting room the doctor with the accent and the bent scissors spoke to father clausen in a rapid rolling language father clawson looked at the floor with his hands clasped behind his back nodding when the doctor was finished the father turned to us and said the doctors think that your father’s fever has damaged part of his brain i stammered stunned and confused but rory was angry his fists were tight balls at his side the problem with our dead was his leg father or didn’t you see it because i did and my little brother sure did and fever can’t change a person that way when i had the mumps i was as hot as a skillet for three days couldn’t bear a stitch of clothing or a spoon full of broth and i didn’t wake up a swearing blast femur father clawson nodded still looking at the floor but this time with his hands clasped in front of him he started to say something then stopped as if he’d changed his mind about what to say he started again carefully son every part of a man is controlled by a specific part of his brain when one part of the brain is damaged he might forget how to walk another part and he forgets

how to swallow or how to speak or how to read or write or do arithmetic these doctors say that sometimes not very often but sometimes a very special part of the brain gets hurt and the person forgets what kind of person he is they think that in your dad’s case the fever just burned that part of him away father clawson put his hand on rory’s shoulder may god be with you boys the church will do everything he can to help you and your father through this trial you must have faith rorget clenched his fist more tightly and shrugged out from under father clausen’s hand god had his chance father and that church brought us to this more to begin with i don’t think we’d like any help from either of you in fact i think my brother and i ought to be alone right now he took me by the arm and began to turn away father clausen’s voice called out this is the time for joining together in prayer not for casting blame work did not turn back there is one more thing called the priest something in his voice made rory stop your father says he won’t leave here without his leg the man in the hospital bed had dad’s face but nothing else about him was the same when the nurses came to change his bandages he waited until they were leaning over him before he tweaked their nipples through their smocks and asked if all the women from their country were sluts on wheels with titties of steel he held his fork with the wrong hand and laughed at things that weren’t funny he wanted to know where the fuck his goddamn cigarettes were wide filter paw malls as if he’d smoked them every day of his life even his breath smelled different i know because right before we landed in massachusetts he grabbed my collar and pulled me close those all have eaten saw bones said they’d never seen the fucking bug i got he told me his voice low he was so close i could feel hot breath in my nostrils said maybe it was our first time anyone got it anywhere in the whole world and i said isn’t that something hey why don’t you pack the whole thing up and ship it back to the good old us of a maybe have the fellas from the mayo take a look at it for research you know just so i can make sure i do my part he smiled a smile that made his face dark then i look at the saw bones of my eyes real big big wide crocodile eyes and i say i want to do my part to see this tragedy don’t befall another living soul not if i can do anything about it he laughed sweetish breath into my face and i recoiled he yanked me fiercely back to him it belongs to me after all it’s my goddamn leg you just can’t toss someone’s leg in the garbage like the used rubber so they said yeah maybe i had a point those brains at the mayo are thinking of new medicine all the time bills to stop your headache cure the clap even pills to make your dick hard those guys may have something doing so the saw bones trusted up in a big glass tube full of some of that formaldehyde stuff locked it in with these big steel caps a some loading it in the cargo hold looks like the biggest pickled pig’s foot you ever saw he laughed again there was a rattle and a lurch as the landing gear deployed we were back in boston but it didn’t feel like home nothing was the same i’ll be fucked if those needle dicks that the mayo will ever get their hands on it it’s mine dad pulled me so close his nose touched the skin of my forehead and his voice fell to a whisper that made my skin break into goose flesh do you hear me son it’s mine father clawson had arranged a one bedroom apartment for us on a sloppy street beside an italian restaurant it was close to saint elizabeth’s the hospital where dad could go if he needed to see a doctor and i mean the other sort of doctor too father clauson reminded us a psychiatrist if he gets any worse or if you boys are ever afraid he’ll hurt you just pick up the phone and call saint elizabeth right away i’ve written a number to the psychiatric crisis line right here next to the phone he also said the church would pay all of dad’s medical bills so not to worry about that and there was a murphy bed in the living room he told us so there would be room for all of us as long as my brother and i shared a bed he spoke a last hurried blessing and then he left the apartment smelled like garlic bread and had a nubby carpeting with gold and burgundy curly cues like carpet from a movie theater lobby there was something called a kitchenette which was a half-sized ice box a sink

and a hot plate on an island of dingy linoleum that curled up where it met the carpet father clawson said he chose this apartment because it had belonged to a man with polio the door that led from the alley had a wide ramp and a rail for dad’s wheelchair and above the bathtub and toilet were special bars where he could grab on if he needed to the countertops in the kitchen and bathroom only half as high as normal so he could reach everything dad sat in his wheelchair in the kitchenette smoking palm malls and yelling slurs at the two black porters who had toted our luggage from the airport we didn’t have much mostly just secondhand clothes and dishes from the nuns in santomas the pair of big men struggled up the wheelchair ramp with something heavy wrapped in black duvetyne they set it down in the corner and were wiping their brows when dad yelled you stupid spooks are you gonna put that right in front of the radiator he dropped his cigarette in the sink and wheeled angrily across the room be careful with that goddammit even know what that is he yanked off the duvetyne rory and i froze staring not believing it’s my goddamn leg that’s what it is there it was dad’s rotten leg bobbing inside a glass tube as high as my shoulders steel caps closed the tube at the top and bottom bolted tight with pieces that looked like chrome lug nuts a paper with a big orange symbol that said biohazard stuck to the glass with strips of wrinkly white tape and a few paragraphs of medical words filled the space between the symbol beyond that the gray mess of craters and boils floated like a fleshy jellyfish in the pale yellow preservative cost me half my nut sack and my gold pocket watch good thing you darkies are hot for bribes and shiny things or it’d be halfway to alabama by now on his way to be poked apart by some egghead with a microscope up his ass one of the black men took a step toward dad like he might hit him but the other man touched his elbow and shook his head and after that they both left and closed the door behind them the lights in our new apartment were dimmed by puddles of dead moths settled in their yellow fixtures the fluorescent over the kitchenette flickered constantly like it was sucking its electricity through a bent straw there was not enough light or space or air we all stood together in our new home not speaking me my brother my dad and his preserved amputated leg rory turned 17 that spring and fibbed himself a year older so he could join the navy i cried and begged him not to leave but he went anyway he hugged me and told me he’d be back before i knew it but he couldn’t look me in the eye and we both knew he was abandoning me he was leaving me alone with dad dad smoked cigarettes all day and watched game shows on tv the price is right was his favorite he said because when bob barker picked a pretty woman to guess the price you could see her tits bouncing as she ran down to the stage hell doesn’t even have to be a pretty one he said lighting a fresh cigarette off the old one we mostly a take out from white castle and carl’s jr but sometimes at the end of the month before dad’s disability check arrived i used the hot plate to warm up food for us mostly frozen things corn dogs pizzas burrite calendars chicken pot pies and flimsy tins made of foil we’d eat off paper plates sitting at a card table we’d found folded up under dad’s bed once i tried to make beef stroganoff but when it came time to eat it i couldn’t i couldn’t get past the thick gravy and the slippery noodles sliding over bits of meat after the stroganoff i had a hard time eating altogether the feeling of chewed food churning around in my mouth made me sick to my stomach i lost weight i took long baths and showers liking the feeling of scrubbed skin and the closed door between dad and me in the afternoon i sat outside on the wheelchair ramp and pretended to read catalogs from there i could see people walking past on the sidewalk but they couldn’t see me i saw the public school kids walking home from the bus stop and housewives on their way back from the baker and the butcher once i thought i saw the irish girl walking past with a loaf of french bread and a sack of tangerines but i couldn’t be sure it was her i couldn’t remember if i’d ever seen her face i slept long nights on the peeled mattress of the murphy bed dad’s leg lowered from its pedestal a wooden occasional table with one wobbly leg that dad had made rory and me dragging off the curb he said the table would hold fine as long as we propped a broken leg with a stack of flattened cigarette cartons and it did my dreams were bad and got worse as the summer wore on the worst dream of all came when the

night it happened the night after the fourth of july i remember it because it was right before the heat wave broke you remember the bad one that tripped the grid and blacked out the entire east side has it been over a month already christ you lose track the night was the hottest night i’d ever seen since the chapel in the jungle the apartment was stale and suffocating and the reek of garlic and cigarettes and formaldehyde was everywhere i felt miserable and feverish even after i’d stripped my underwear and cranked the knob on the window fan as far as it would go my stomach gnawed as i lay sleepless watching red digits on the clock radio in the kitchenette stack minutes into hours it was a little past three when i heard a crack like a gunshot a transformer shorting out the fan blades stopped whirring and all the street lamps went dark i’d never thought about how much light comes in through a person’s windows even with the curtains closed but suddenly the whole apartment was black as pitch the clock radio clicked into battery mode and its red glow gave shape to the card table the ice box the world’s biggest pickled pig’s foot i heard the door to dad’s room creak open telling me the transformer had woken him too and he would need a couple of cigarettes and a spoonful of carnation and maybe half an hour on the toilet listening to his own satisfied grunts to soothe him back to sleep a sound came from the hall like something catching or dragging on the carpet i tried to climb out of bed to help thinking he’d wedged his wheels against the baseboards again but as always happens in nightmares i found myself fixed flat on my back paralyzed and numb the dragging sound grew louder and closer i panicked fear swarmed through me and i screamed at my frozen muscles get up jesus get up but my arms and legs were too heavy or too weak or too tired my eyes raced to the only scrap of light the red glow of the clock and something was wrong the light was all wrong it wasn’t doing something it usually did wasn’t casting the right shadow on the linoleum it wasn’t casting the shadow of the leg the leg was gone the steel caps were still locked tightly in place but nothing floated in the yellow preservative except a layer of fallen off bits that form chunky sediment at the bottom of the tube the dragging came again this time right next to the murphy bed i squeezed my eyes shut pressing hot tears between my eyelashes and for the first time in a long time my lips moved silently in frantic prayer slowly i rolled my eyes to the side of my head and i saw it the ghastly rotten leg it was coming for me sliding through the dark using the rubbery remains of its toes to drag itself across the rough theater lobby carpet strings of flesh in the knob of jellied femur left a trail of preservative to show where it had been and i could smell it not the formaldehyde smell but the smell from beneath the palmettos the smell of maggots feasting on raw cheeseburgers a flesh rotting in the tropical sun i felt a tug at the sheets and the exposed knuckle of the leg’s big toe appeared above the mattress i felt myself losing it delirious with fear then came the second toe struggling over the hump gripping the sheet like a monkey to pull itself up onto the mattress the other toes followed as the legs slithered into bed with me i gagged on the stench and the fear and the feel of spongy flesh against my belly i couldn’t move i couldn’t breathe i was going to drown in fear i shut my eyes and felt my heart thump out one more massive helping of blood before everything went bright white and then i was awake i leapt out of bed and wheeled around sweeping my eyes to the tube in the corner it bobbed there innocently in the red glow as if to say see i’ve been right here the whole time the blood rushed from my head and i dropped my hands and knees weak my ribs stood out from my chest as i breathed in and out my heart skipped and started i think i might have grayed out for a while i was so tired so tired and so hungry and so weak i looked up at the leg hating it i wanted everything back the way it was i wanted to walk into her old kitchen and find dad standing on two feet in front of the stove flipping a batch of his famous hotcakes and practicing aloud his sermon for the day i wanted rory to come back and make me believe i wasn’t alone anymore i wanted to sink my teeth into a hamburger or a banana or a slice of roast beef without feeling my tongue begin to explore its imaginary craters and boils i just wanted to be rid of it

all of it the tube was easier to break than you’d think it really only took one good whack with the hot plate to shatter the entire thing dad heard the noise of course but he must have considered his own obvious limitations because he didn’t even try to pull me off he screamed curses at me from his wheelchair and when that didn’t work he dialed the number father clawson had written next to the telephone then you guys came and brought me here at first you strapped me to the bed but i got that privilege back for good behavior i’m not sure how long it took you guys to arrive after dad called i don’t really remember that part at all i expect it took longer than usual on account of the blackout all i remember is a terrible throbbing urgency to have dad back the real dad the dad who’d make us pancakes and hated the smell of ashtrays and who stood sweating before a tribe of villages intent only on the word of god the dad who’d said in a voice i can now recall only as an echo take and eat this is my body given for you do this in remembrance of me author story note so i was trying to join this writer’s group they were a very literary bunch and i desperately wanted their approval i’ve been writing horror fiction since i was a little girl but now i wanted it to write grown-up literary fiction so people would take me seriously or something i really don’t know what i was imagining those men’s sweaters with the suede patches over the elbows were probably involved anyway i’d emailed back and forth with the group before my tryout visit so i knew they were doing a scary story prompt for halloween what fun i thought to myself i wrote this story in a single night so as to impress them with my very adult literary fiction in this story i’ll explore religion and fear of the other and the malleable nature of budding sexuality but somewhere in the process i lost control and this story happened instead i was not invited to join the group but i’m in a best of the year anthology so where are your patchy elbows and universal themes now motherfuckers the bearded woman by alessandro mancetti midday serena the bearded woman of the supreme heats up a grenadine of orange crystals in the large slit static ignition pan a cult item for circus trailers her red bean soup kept in her fridge inside flexible water cans with a variable value tag experie le trois three years ago armand armand the lady is restless i’m here sweet meat the dwarf answers in a syrupy voice hopping and popping his miniature jaws stop doing that hideous noise you know i can’t stand it the woman groans she is the size of a career gladiator have you bought sweet potatoes she immediately adds scratching her right breast but honey you know this morning i had rehearsals for the donkey show how could i fuck fucking fuck i should have married mr skeleton not a flea like you he still fondles my ass you know that’s a real man sure sure twenty years ago maybe the proud dwarf defends himself since they installed the faberge electric pick in his prostate he can hardly walk all spread leg and he pisses more than a horse it’s those discharges you know that contraption doesn’t work well that’s what you get when you do surgery in a garage you’re only jealous always have been that’s a real man let me tell you when next time he follows i’m spreading my thighs for him knowing that maybe you’ll get hard again mr flea but sweetheart what are you saying the tiny man whines all this fuss over three kilos of sweet potatoes huh i’m serious no potatoes spread thighs understood let me think about his prostate i’m going to work that stud with gusto doesn’t let me finish cooking this shit and feed the kids that noble ancestry of donkey tamers you had me dump on the earth you’ll have to live with it and don’t you come watch armand’s cheeks turn red unlike the violet tomatoes in the bowl close to the woman dark and weirdly chromed like every vegetable on their table coming from the illegal magnetic induction greenhouses in district 4 though their circus wages aren’t half

bad they certainly cannot afford to new scotland products clean products the little man squeezes his diminutive fists pops his jaws again and assaults the calves of his granitic wife a bite then two more not even a piranha would be that quick and lethal son of a bitch she screams bucking while her precious red beard dips a few centimeters into the by now boiling soup jesus look what you’ve done if this gets burned i’m losing my job shitty flea let me catch you a satanic sneer on her face like a billy goat from whom they have just snatched a testicle she grabs a knife and chases her husband making the trailer rock two dogs out there guarding the empty air beneath the yellowish sky begin barking almost resurrecting stopper this time i’ll charge double the tiny man zigzags around the table like a rabbit with his ass on fire he must find his wife tamer before she grasps his neck or he will be in trouble he hid it under the cube of the kid’s entertainment system the she bison is strong but slow he kneels on the carpet reaches out and finds the holy grail of the sons of a lesser and drunken god the instrument turning any south paris five dwarf into a superman he stops shaking and stands brandishing with glittering eyes his electric cattle nine tails come here so weak meat he hisses like a cobra ready to strike red button no come on killing her would be too much the usual lesson will be enough blue button it is the kettle nine tails sucks energy in a single breath excitedly vibrating leds light up on the tips of the claw-shaped whips then its induction leads spheres animate themselves flagellation without going too far and then nice screw to make peace armada’s usual schedule whenever he forgets buying something for his neuroscenic corsair bride jesus christ sweet potatoes the bearded woman pulls up short staring at that hellish device as it flares up in the hand of the man of the house bastard she whispers already exhausted blood squirting backward in her veins filling up too soon her disproportionate head just at the side of the flail she feels her back and buttocks burn like hell you know how this is going to go down right sweet meat the little man swings his portable armageddon upward popping his jaws to infuriate his wife even more as she stays unmoving like a presidential guard that tips off her pink slippers on the imaginary red line of pain on the threshold she is going to pass it it is going to hurt outside the ghost dogs keep barking the smaller contaminated by strange purple stains on his back you really shouldn’t suck on bones buried in ux our sick dirt leaps forward and approaches the flexible water window of trailer seven he wants to enjoy the scene his paws laying on the laminal gap where sludge flows and his tail up straight the dwarf stops lingering he articulates his shoulder and bends in baseball pitcher pose ready to unleash the flail on the woman’s massive body as she foams rage bubbles from the corners of her mouth but something does not work an invisible motherfucker the same wraith would scare the dogs outside snatches a kettle nine tails off his hand sucking it upward armand raises his eyes on the low ceiling of his mobile home and sees the clawed rosary his only weapon coiled up among the blades of the fan it’s been got damn hot these last days and the fixing up of the environmental temperature generator has ended up somewhere with serena’s sweet potatoes the blame falls on the donkeys with their phosphorescent rains and their semi-organic saddles silvery fringes affixed to their back via hinges grafted to their spines may michelle be blessed for his invention of the neural screw better than prehistoric jenner in this smallpox vaccine an antimony sulfate around their big stupid bluish eyes beasts demanding daily care and training unarmed the dwarf grins to the bearded woman showing her this small piano wedged in his mouth made of yellow and black teeth while its hammers beat on his palate making him stammer his quick little eyes pointed on her knife he tries to say something useful can we skip directly to making peace this time

clenching her teeth his wife advances walking wide leg slowly rocking as though she wore jeans with a too narrow crotch maybe she’s possessed by john wayne’s holo ghost she grabs the donkey tamer by his hair lifts him up and takes him close to her big rage flaming face perfectly matching her polished violet lipstick and reddish beard it’s you who doesn’t know how this is going to go down big man she says to him in a hoarse voice then turning back to check the sizzling pan the soup is burning goodbye you’re worse than the plague see what you’ve done not only i’ll spread my thighs for mr skeleton but your nice white belly too while armond tries to struggle out of the she bison’s grasp jerking like a jack in the box with his feet in the air she sinks her knife and his still empty stomach spits in his face and drops him deflated on the floor the man twists on the ground his short fingered hand trying to plug the gash he is dying accompanied by a strange soundtrack the overheating fan engine bogged down in the wife tamer’s tails it rustles and buzzes like a hornet about to explode in a little glass trap the last sounds he will hear besides the blops of the bitch’s knife that keeps raging upon him everywhere with its ham blade the dwarf was hoping whenever the moment came for him to cross the blue gate to be accompanied by the bray of his donkey friends angra monet and cezanne those beasts have always respected him more than any bipedal of his life kids included tailed angels with brains cooked by radiation and contaminated horse feed how good they were as they marched during the show blop again and then squash his throat blue gate appears just like armand had pictured it but he could not even reach up to the doorknob to get on the other side will they have a circus in limbo and donkeys maybe everything burnt no lunch and that kid’s about to be back i’ll have to make do serena thinks rubbing her beard soiled with the unlucky guy’s guts she cleans her hands on the kitchen apron adorned with drawn plums and she watches her husband’s disarranged body there on the floor his eyes still hooked to that cursed fan and now i also have to clean all this mess who knew a fucking dwarf could have so much blood that’s leaders i could as well have slaughtered a hippo seconds pass the woman looks out of the trailer window and sees the two dogs trained to survival quickly scuttle toward the baiden landfill until they vanish behind the first towers which lean on their foundations rags junk and old spare parts down there a little on the left she seems to see a gray silver rainbow arching between the molecular burners the great nibblers of the past it looks like a scythe blade actually or a giant meat cleaver ready to drop down on what used to be what still moves breathes in that graveyard under its flying horizon shaken by the flapping wings of the cluckle gulls cowards so be it she mutters in her thoughts we need a special menu piglet roast of dwarf after all we have to celebrate i’m going to have a real man around now and a lot of bags of sweet potatoes but now let’s think about the kids mmm smells good what’s that mom mom monet slapped me be quiet and don’t touch anything wash your hands change your shirt and then sit down at the table you little piglet serena groans a brandishing wooden spoon toward the empty heads of the three kids angra cezanne and monet the abusive one that’s right armand named them like his dancing donkeys come on hurry up special menu today the woman has set everything properly even though it is not sunday the good dish set enameled cutlery mr skeleton’s wedding gift and armand as centerpiece arms and legs cut off and an apple between his teeth nicely roasted you can no longer recognize him after the treatment his wife has worked hard with the met zelda carver then she has seasoned the poor devil with pink rosemary mustard icing and an abundant dose of her signature spicy sauce purple like a priest’s morning it only lacks a pretty circle of chopped sweet potatoes all around then the picture would be perfect dwarf stew a la course the tiny man still seems to be looking upward toward the fan blades with his little blue eyes goggling and sucked out by the suction cups of the oven 750 degrees he lays on the silver

platter the one with serena’s mother’s initials on the edge lb one of the early stars of the supreme lady blackbeard too bad she croaked untimely trying to strangulate her husband with his own guts after ripping open his belly with her teeth she had caught him in bed with an egyptian contortionist a pearl necklace around his stout neck and a radioactive kiwi up his ass heart attack right in the thick of it a real badass bearded woman good i want more angra the youngest praise don’t choke on it eat slowly his mother commands cleaning the orange gravy off her beard thick like mortar fuck you have to buy more of this shit chubby saison jumps on his seat struck down by wet taste bud rapture before getting another slap on his neck by his rough brother the she bison groans hey is that a way to talk if your father was here you’d see and if you don’t quit fighting you two i’ll put you in the oven then she stops a moment to think about that her fork two centimeters away from her mouth and a piece of her husband’s ear down in her belly melting away like foie gras releasing an acid broth of deep mocking but god damn and who knew dwarves were so tasty you’d never believe that she thinks then beginning to eagerly watch with predator eyes her own offspring armand’s kids same breed same meat but they must be even tastier when they’re little who cares i did them and now i can gobble them up they’re my stuff serena crosses herself gets up waving her red orange beard over the tits which have worked so much and now have surrendered to gravity letting themselves be sucked in toward the floor like giant dried plums milk day and night she remembers suck suck and suck they never had enough dwarves as hungry as wolves how the fuck can they eat so much and stay so little i used to have breasts straight and taunt like a boat prowl and mr skeleton drooled over them time for a makeover thanks to poor armond savings she knows well where he took his stash hard as marble and a crackerjack dinner so kids let’s do a funny game dad is coming home soon let’s hide in the kitchen so we pop out when he enters to scare him okay come on piglets come with mom as cezanne grabs his mother’s hand to join in her game the bearded woman cannot resist and pinches the boy’s fat ass a nice protein pudding and she eagerly licks her lips come on sweetheart let’s hurry author story note i’ve had a lot of fun writing this story i imagined a grotesque circus in a dystopian dark future during a radioactive pandemic where mutated creatures freaks and human beings work together to survive in a world without a trace of hope or mercy i’ve always been fascinated by the figure of the bearded lady of the ancient circuses so i chose her as my main character who as you’ll get to know very soon is always upset and hungry her favorite victim her husband of course the devil’s dreamland poetry inspired by h h holmes by sarah tatlinger metamorphosis i am herman webster budget what’s real doesn’t sound real does it raised by my mother’s constant prayer hell bound on that first metallic tang of religion ingrained deep into my flesh by my father’s frequent use of a rod constant and unsparing but pity me not for this is how i learned love and violence swelter together into one inflamed desire i am dr henry howard holmes better now better the doctor is in far away from a young wife and son but i will take other wives and mistresses one who will bear another child spreading the devil in my dna onward because parasitical intents are not created for containment i discover my enlightened self in chicago buildings clad and snowy stucco lamplights casting angelic glows onto streets i can see why they call this the white city my footsteps fall like a sooty black rain dark as a plague promising practiced surgical hands to unfold the city’s ribs pluck out its heart squeeze meaty thumps of dying beets over everything in a rhythm of blood songs i am

h.h holmes do you know me yet standing at the precipice of life my demon inside me but i name him friend later he names my building the murder castle with its trap doors secret passages never fully finished in its construction but the walls are always listening as i remove sutures of skin from those in my employment i am your american serial killer wrapped up in 19th century shreds of screaming women trapped behind soundproof walls where ribbon-soaked memories dripped down into soil later within scrawled prison memoirs i will articulate contradictions confessed to murders of those still living as people falsify accounts of things untrue because you will never know what it is like to be born with the evil one inside you here in prison my face grows gaunt my eyes grim i am someone you will never truly know i am the worst kind of thing you could ever find as you crawl your way across a hotel floor fall down a sliding trap door into a room filled with acid bottles a stretching rack cleaned up skeletons forever locked in a purgatory grin i am your timeless devil you will never know me yet i am everywhere the bloodletting of a new century i want to tell you what i was supposed to be destined to bring forth glory new century new generation brimming with a shine of bright crimson rays across my horizon dying years of the 1800s caught between the old and new world should have birth beautiful energy and ideas invention art literature science instead my fading dusk birthed a monster i should have been remembered for gaslight and photographs moving pictures and recording sound of the sapling growth of telephones and automobiles instead i am complicit my forensics not quite capable of conviction my science could not determine whose bones lived and died inside holm’s basement a few more years and i could have unraveled the mystery but it’s like he knew he knew this was the last opportunity to be wild and bloody to capture enigma dissect its chained up body on a cold metal slab i want to tell you what i was supposed to be but instead i am going to show you the demon i created innocence like bird song they say if a feather falls in front of you when no birds are around it is a gift from your guardian angel what do they say when a young boy harvest crow skulls like secret treasure beneath his bed their trills are warnings to beware the dissector who lives beyond this door to not confuse guardian angels with pre-adolescent demons push the abandoned house loomed grizzly in its charm seductive in its nature but if nature is to reclaim what has been abandoned then perhaps seductive charm can never be anything other than grizzly but these are not the thoughts of the two boys sneaking up decaying stares inhaling the grime letting it settle deep in their lungs like a dusty kiss just children joking in the dirt playing cops and robbers but both are stealing away memories of this decayed magic of his haunted emptiness they will say the older boy tom died from a fall from something inevitably tragic because structures break in abandoned houses they collapse and you tumble down the stairs through the floor and you just simply fall simply shatter simply die as the younger boy watches those cold blue eyes unblinking his hands never once tremble inaugural dismemberment salamanders and frogs at first blinging amphibian eyes slow weary before he scoops them up strokes slender bodies slices through soft bellies rabbits straight cats hungry dogs too slow too trusting before his young hands wrap around in a strangle hold dissecting the living until they live no more learning how to disable life without completely killing it he does not know this yet but it won’t be much different later when he replaces animals with human bodies when he arranges a woman on his slab instead of a yowling cat in a family cellar how the women will fight and to scratch out his eyes he does not know yet how animals won’t haunt him won’t come back when he steals paws as keepsakes but the women whose clothes he will someday keep hanging like slim ghost from his closet will come back when he weaves his dreamland will come back blinking slow amphibian blackness in place of their own dead eyes the dissection doctor in all my years of taking on apprentices

never has one been as excitable as young herman mudgett deliciously eager never has one crave to spend so much time in the dissection room he understands deeply intimately the gluttonous need to slice to peel back skin and examine sinewy inner workings of human cadavers and all my years of sawing cutting scraping at the oozing husk of a dead body i’ve never seen a man smile as he severs the body as he plunges hands deep inside inhaling the embalming chemicals caressing the dead withered organs his eyes are light deliciously eager the tenant he is going to kill us all this man i let stay within the walls of my boarding house young medical student what do you keep beneath the bed where i must sweep constant reek of chemicals experiments he calls them all for school he claims poison goop foul odors leaking between the floorboards like jellied garbage young medical student what do you keep beneath the bed where i must sweep he has turned the room into a lab test tubes amber fluids sick eagerness to work on dissections the way he discusses such things at the dinner table flirts with my daughter despite his wedding band young medical student what do you keep beneath the bed where i must sweep i cannot take the vulgar stench any longer so i wait until he goes to his classes this day my broom in hand i move towards a dark object beneath his bed the source of such nauseous smells down on one knee i swoop the heaviness out it nearly rolls across the floor dead weight young medical student what do you keep beneath the bed where i must sweep tiny and cold a blue green bruised shade long jagged cuts across the chest and belly i don’t remember if i ever stopped screaming at my tennis dissection project i sweep it back wondering whose baby the young doctor had stored beneath his bed chasing the hunger everyone is starving here starving everywhere when i cannot stand the screams nor the way madness bleeds deep into my own brain from the screeches of those kept behind tomb cold walls within norristown asylum i pace outside and ask the philadelphia moon if she will satisfy my growing hunger tonight she does not tomorrow she will not everyone is talking here inside noor’s town inside my head i did not want this job of madman keeper and after a few days i leave hunger still rolls restless within my turning mind ticking out ideas along with the clacking of a train i can’t stop thinking about a brief visit i once took to a city of allure a city that once died down to charred ashen strips after the great conflagration a city that rebuilt itself up reaching for clouds and sun skyward into the evolving world gleamingly pure in the daytime wretched ascend during the night of balance i am hungering to slide myself between chicago the delicious taste of her and my thoughts opportunities abound a new beginning new name the train juts onward to springfield so do my options because at last i realize i am no longer running from asylums or mediocre jobs i am chasting after something greater in appetite aching beyond food beyond money when i sign the registry to prove myself a medical man the clicking in my brain holds tight as the train tracks i amputate herman webster mudget for my identity sacrifice slices of soul back to the ravenous moon that used to hang above the asylum in philadelphia i signed the registry my new life to unfold the book forever showing the name of dr h h holmes blood clot passenger 1886 late summer early morning a man steps off a train 35 years old five foot eight blue eyes striking against miasmic city filth striking against his well-dressed body hearses roll by ironclad wheels rattling urging city rats to scamper past blue bottle flies hovering over animal corpses littering over city streets like masses on an artery a man walks through the city as summer rots locomotive steam pooling upward conjoining with polluted clouds soot and smoke thickening a blockage

from the sun 1886 late summer early morning a man steps off a train the clot breaks free travels through chicago’s body this dark mustached swindler this charmer who pied the snakes swallowed them whole emits musical poison from his throat walks past death without blinking 35 years old five foot eight blue eyes hungering over the sight of maggots wondering how squirming larvae would look inside the body of the pretty woman he had sat next to on the train accomplice with every good madman comes a co-conspirator perhaps the madman creates something else take the monster within dr frankenstein the humanity within his creature take the insatiable thirst of dracula and his bug-eating renfield both consuming life forces because the answer is always blood blood as food as drink as a token from worshipper to master for holmes along comes a carpenter named ben pidesell kind of a drunk kind of loves his wife and five children easy to manipulate simple minded enough to keep around something akin to trust blossoms between the two schemers there will be an extent to how far this bends to how far the boundaries can twist contort slither between the men from this the downfall starts to steadily drip from this will come a reckoning the kiln a night after the stores close after stars attempt to blink between ashen clouds the strange doctor built something something hungry inside crooked architecture atrociously macabre what’s in his basement chicago swallows starlight the plague of a man stays down below the earth what’s in his basement he says good night tenants goodnight wife goodnight mistress and hello to the fire light where he sits like a pyro hungry piranha listening to colorless flames an invisible reaper instructing seducing slithering deep inside the doctor man he unbuttons his shirt holds his arms out wide embracing his monstrosity made from ruddy bricks and what is it there inside his basement heat emits from a cavernous mouth blistering enough to melt iron inside brick jaws is this man the devil or a minion trading flesh for secrets the kiln sings for him crude oil mouth mating with death delivering steam and atoms from the ashes inside its belly not even bones remain just a man’s coat hanging upstairs in the parlor just a woman’s dress in her trunk worn only by ghosts now bodies without skin without skeletons flaking bits of dust tarred human husks in the doctor’s basement and the devil’s kiln what else is he building in there holmes versus the ripper part one november 1888 cold metallic tang of blood billows up in the atmosphere hovering haunting crimson pollution in victorian streets slightly after the witching hour a woman cries murder violence is nothing new here neighbors turn away shut their ears slicing off sound as he slices off a woman’s breasts around 10 45 am a landlord goes to collect rent mary kelly’s is overdue she doesn’t open the door blood smears the broken window mary kelly is nothing more than a gumbo stewed organ soup scarlet flesh pile skinned down inhumanly carved up on the bed a massacre of mutilation there will come a debate after this was she truly the ripper’s last are the following white chapel murders his or someone else’s at this still-born chilled moment jack remains the most brutal servant of the devil at this stillborn chilled moment h.h holmes hears backward whispers slithering into his small ears you can do better you can do better holmes versus the ripper part two dr holmes folds down the morning paper putting away the gooey mess of jack the ripper had been sloppy sexually exalted by thrusting his hands inside of women tearing them inside out like a blood horny animal savage and visceral dr holmes straightens the ink on his desk brushes the lint from his trousers organizes his files in a slow neat order his workers are building adding new passages staircases chambers shoots doorways to his home his workplace his castle where he envisions beautiful dissections of beautiful women the ripper had been

sloppy but holmes will be precise careful with his slaughter his experiments clean and quiet the way love and butchery ought to be the articulator articulation not of words not of the tongue my mastery educates stripping the flesh from your loved one’s carcass how to arrange bones back into complete skeletons for schools and medicine it is just business my friend when the good doctor invites me into his building of many rooms i am not alarmed at first by the dead woman on the table because she is money on the table he has already begun some articulation of his own a fouled up attempt dissected slivers meat ribbons flayed out like remains of a tattered rabbit that had spent too much time gripped within a hound’s jagged mouth her ruined face is serrated split skin rolled and peeled back like sticking thumbs into an orange juicing it dry and shedding layers apart an unspooled gore this ripped up corpse these pieces of a woman paid for sold for even more it is just business my friend the devil’s dreamland how does the devil dream in soot tinted skyscraper tall clouds polluted with gothic maladies of the damned he conjures up the acerbic blueprints rotating counterclockwise within his labyrinthine mind constructing philosophies made of blood thread warped into a web where contorted passageways and secret chambers fester like a breeding ground of silk and torture from the outside the fortress’s dead space seems something akin to normal a turreted roof overlooks jackson park street level shops line the ground floor columns and designs mesh well with inglewood surroundings hiding the inner den of horror double-sided closets adjoin rooms bodies stashed between the doors asbestos-lined walls padded into soundproof spaces to muffle the throaty feral screams he plans to elicit from expiring mouths sliding wall panels leading down slip shot hallways where gas jets produce light that only reaches so far into the dark pocketed corners of his maze intending to lose you somewhere among uneven veering halls narrow and curved doors that only lock from the outside dead ends and stairs leading to nowhere trapdoors and a greased up chute ready to propel victims down into his ultimate paradise the basement cellar dimly lit and with heavy earthen air large zinc tank vats spread around meant to store corrosive materials acid and quick lime a table for dissection gleaming beside the surgeon’s cabinet stocked full of shining instruments near the torture rack sharpened and waiting to pierce through your skin in his underground theater of dissection nothing is wasted in the city of chicago nothing is wasted acid eats flesh off bones every skeleton waiting articulation for the sake of culture all easily sold hair taken for wigs clothes donated to asylum patience you were never anything but a delicious memory inside the devil’s dreamland this building so innocent at first breathing and imagining greatness where doors opened to welcome weary travelers such warmth was choked out strangled into an abattoir where he paces the halls whistling the same low tune over and over as he passes the doors of guests inviting them to see who lingers outside in the darkness inviting them to come play in the place of nightmares a house of horrors a chamber of dread a murder castle world’s colombian exposition chicago world’s fair 1893 we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the barbaric slaughtering christopher columbus brought onto a new world but you will find no anger towards his history here as the fairgrounds take form as visitors flock in droves to taste the excitement flickering in the air like pixie dust people keep dying workers falling from buildings accidents in the form of skull fractures and electrocution all this death contained within designing the great fair yet a madman paces inside his castle creating spaces where supposed accidents will swallow visitors whole a madman forges his dreams into piping hot realities where his world’s fair hotel promises spectacular service so very close to the fair itself opening day comes upon the city in jovial bursts of color mouth-watering scents of exotic pastries and delicacies from themed exhibits stationed around

the park