Literary as hell.

Category: Fiction (Page 1 of 14)

Halloween contest finalist: “The Man with the Hat” by Matthue Roth

As soon as Edie’s Uncle Sly came to visit, she wanted to kick him right back out. It was how he entered the house like he owned it, left his oversized tweed suitcase sitting directly in front of the stairs. He wore a jacket beneath his jacket—tweed, but not matching—and a tie and dark sunglasses and a collared shirt like the men at the bank. She watched his skinny form swimming in the collared shirt and thought of her father’s muscles ballooning out of his Sunday tee. Clearly, this invader was the loser.

“You must be Edie,” he said, sizing her up. “Tell my sister I’ve arrived.”

Most decrepit of all was his hat. That lopsided tweedy thing that only appeared distinguished in his mind. To its original owner, maybe, long before Edie’s uncle acquired it in whatever way he did (found it on the street? took it from the coatrack of a moldy office lobby?).

She turned to go but didn’t say anything. She thought he should at least thank her for allowing him inside.

The mother, having heard the commotion, was already on her way out.

“Edie, look! It’s your uncle Sylvester. Sly, let me take your coat.” She came behind him and helped him slip it off. “Honestly, Edie. It’s like you’ve never entertained a guest before.”

Over Uncle Sly’s shoulder, so he couldn’t see, the mother sent Edie a malicious glare. As he slid out of his sport coat, his back to her mother, Uncle Sly sent her a smile that was even more malicious.

Edie thought of turtles yanking their heads inside shells to avoid other creatures. Then she thought of snakes hiding in holes to catch their prey.

Uncle Sly looked like he could be either one. He was lanky, but his nose was sharp, his eyes lurking beneath his hat, waiting to attack.

A clatter from the stairs surprised them all. Chip, her brother; a twin, but smaller—she the stallion; he the runt—liked to clatter down the stairs, to pitch himself down till he’s caught by God in the arms of gravity. Usually you could hear his feet crash into the floor. Usually there was not Uncle Sly’s suitcase to break his fall.

It pitched forward like a vandalized gravestone. Chip’s arms billowed in a drowning flail. Uncle Sly hurled himself across the room, arms stretched long and skinnier than Edie had thought humanly possible. They caught the suitcase. It wavered and wobbled, but did not fall.

“H-hi, Uncle Sly,” Chip gasped.

“You be careful,” said Uncle Sly. He pointed at the boy. His face was pink. “You watch out.”

His eyes never left Edie.

“You must be famished,” said Edie’s mother. “Come, let me fix you something.”

 

Uncle Sly was Edie’s mother’s brother. She didn’t know much about her mother’s family, only that there wasn’t a lot of it. The first time he visited, Edie was too young to remember many of the details. The next time, Edie only remembered trying not to see, or be seen by, him.

Uncle Sly didn’t take off his hat during lunch or dinner. Both meals he was seated next to Edie. His skinny tie seemed to span all the width of his body. He barely chewed. He ate and ate, shoveled food inside him, stopping only to demand to be passed more.

At least at dinner there was Edie’s father.

Again, the demands. Again, the shoveling of food. The long skinny arms that stretched clear across the table. He turned to Edie with fresh orders: Lemons. Tuna. Cold rice. Chili sauce. A steak.

“Hey there, Slyster,” the father said, reaching around his shoulders with one arm and making a stop sign with the other hand. “Go easy on the hunting. We don’t got the budget for this, and you don’t got the room for it.”

Uncle Sly’s head rotated toward the father, and his gaze was steel.

For a moment, the father looked confused. Then he looked angry. Then scared. His hand stayed around Uncle Sly’s shoulder, and his muscles throbbed.

Uncle Sly’s eyes never left the father.

“Don’t talk to me like that. And don’t touch me,” he said crossly. “Edie, I would like some cocktail onions.”

He reached back and wrapped his fingers around the father’s wrist, just where a bracelet would be. He pried the father’s arm off and away from him. He held it in the air, away from him and away from Edie’s father, a trophy, an independent thing. The father’s face twisted in pain. Uncle Sly gave a grotesque, toothy smile. Edie hurried to the kitchen and at once spied the jar of yellowy brine, tiny white spheres bobbing inside like eyeballs.

At the table, her father was rubbing his wrist feverishly. Uncle Sly reached for the jar and ran his tongue along his teeth. “Cocktail onions,” he whispered reverently. Her brother Chip, who loved those onions, watched for Uncle Sly to finish so he could claim the jar. Edie knew it was useless. She could feel it from Uncle Sly. He wouldn’t be finished with the jar until it was finished.

Edie’s mother cleared the first volley of plates. “Edie,” said her mother. “Edie,” said Uncle Sly in the exact same tone. “Aren’t you going to help?”

Edie looked at her mother, who was balancing an empty serving tray and did not notice. Edie started to collect the plates. Uncle Sly, having popped the last onion in his mouth, tilted the jar to his lips and drank deep.

 

Edie’s mother worked tirelessly. Edie had never considered it before. Her father worked at the power plant; her mother worked at home. There were rooms to clean, meals to cook, the baby. It was like a job, only you never got paid.

Edie had never seriously considered the future. Maybe she would get married, if she found the right boy and the circumstances were right, maybe she wouldn’t. Maybe she would find a job, maybe she wouldn’t. And Chip, too, though it was hard to imagine, with his too-formal and unmatching clothes and his bumbling way, would maybe one day meet a girl he liked. Uncle Sly had no wife, from the little her mother said of him. She never really spoke of him when he wasn’t here, except to say he was coming. She never spoke of him when he was here, except to say, “We must be respectful and treat Uncle Sly exactly as he asks. Besides us, he has no one to career for him, and it’s our duty to make him feel accepted.”

It was unclear to Edie exactly why Uncle Sly was visiting. It wasn’t for their benefit. In the mornings he left early, announcing he would be gone all day. “I’ll need lunch,” he said, pricking a brown bag off the kitchen counter—Chip’s—and slipping on his jacket and sunglasses. He had come down the stairs wearing his hat.

“Hey!” Edie said. “You can’t take that!”

Uncle Sly came close. He bent down to look at her as though his body were folding in half, hinged at the hips, until his face was level with hers and the brim of his hat almost touched her forehead and she could see two of herself in his glasses. Both of her were tinted like oil rainbows.

“I think your mother needs some help upstairs,” he said.

And he left.

“Edie!” cried her mother.

She really did need help. It was laundry day, and the Laundromat was closing early. They stripped the beds and collected clothes. She came back down to find Chip had already left for school, and if she didn’t just then, she’d be more than regular late and in the realm of actual trouble.

But when she got to school, sneaking in through the delivery garage to avoid the advisory-first period rift, she found Chip hiding there, eating an unheated breakfast sandwich, sucking fatty bits off his fingers.

“It’s Uncle Sly,” he complained. “I can’t get anything to eat at home. He takes it all.”

“At least you don’t have to prepare it for him,” she grumbled. “He’s, like, grooming me to be a Happy Housewife.”

But after school, when she mentioned as much to her mother, all she received was a scoff. “It’s time you started taking care of your family. Not to mention yourself,” she said, facedown, scrubbing at a particularly violent stain in the shower. “I won’t be here to do it forever, you know.”

Normally, Edie would have let this sit. She was used to peering in the door of her mother’s sadness, then quickly passing by.

Today, however, something ignited within her.

“Why not?” she said. “It’s exactly what you do for Uncle Sly.”

Her mother cast down the cloth—it was one of Edie’s father’s old t-shirts—and wrung her hands together.

“One day you’ll understand what it means to have a brother,” she said. “We are all of us born into the darkness alone. It’s a godsend when anyone takes your hand walking through that darkness, no matter what’s on the end of it.”

 

Over the next days, Uncle Sly filled the house with a dark presence that never seemed to depart, even when he did.

Most of the day he was out, although where exactly he went he would never say. Edie asked her mother and she said it was for work. Then Edie asked what work he did, and she said she didn’t know.

One thing Edie did know: since he came, it was a full-time job taking care of Uncle Sly. His food, his laundry, washing out the smell that pervaded whenever he entered a room, straightening all the out-of-place things he pointed out with the critical eye of a real-estate agent, or a home ec teacher, or a police detective. His constant demands on Edie’s mother, and Edie’s mother’s constant demands on Edie. On Wednesday Edie’s mother looked up from the breakfast dishes and said, “I don’t think you can go to school today.”

“I can’t?” The news should be joyous, but her mother’s tone of voice summoned worry.

“There’s so much to do here,” she sighed. “I need your help.”

“Mom,” said Edie.

“It’s just for today,” she said, as though it were an apology.

Chip watched from the doorway to the living room, perched at the last stairs. He watched the kitchen like a wolf in spring. But Edie’s eyes warned him, and instead of going in he left quickly for school.

 

Edie hadn’t gone to school in days. She wore the same clothes that she had almost since he’d come, since she now feared adding to the pile of her tasks. The house was to be kept clean—it was clean, each linen tucked in place and the stacks of dishes meticulously reassembled—but every time somebody breathed, her unclear father, one of the men, she raced to correct it. And poor Chip. He was the reason the kitchen was clean, scavenging from crusts and crumbs to form some semblance of a meal, too small and too slow, the last to any plate served. Why did their mother not notice, or, having noticed, help him? Edie was reduced to a cog, one small wheel in the machine. She was unable to reverse it or stop it or do much anything except keep on turning. The house had never been so immaculate, but she was a mess. When her best friend Toby had tried to come over after school one day, Edie had refused to come to the door. It was as much resistance as she could muster, refusing to acknowledge the truth of her new status.

The house rose and fell on Uncle Sly’s mood. He came home furious and the mother rushed to listen and assist, waving to Edie to set dinner on the stove. He came home tired and satisfied, or tired and proud, and they hastened to reward him. Edie’s father avoided him as one does a neighborhood dog who may be rabid or just hungry. The father had given up asking when Uncle Sly’s visit would end. The food vanished as quickly as it was replenished. And yet Uncle Sly only grew thinner, swimming in the button-down shirts Edie starched, like a kid dressing up as a Halloween ghost.

 

One night the tranquility shattered. It was dinnertime, they had made a stew—Edie’s idea, that way no one could take anyone else’s portion—and Uncle Sly, instead of passing, cradled the bowl in one arm and lifted the ladle to his lips and began to slurp. “Sly,” came the mother, lifting herself from her seat, “here, let me serve you some,” and Chip staring at the dribble off the spoon’s edge back into the bowl knowing he would never taste a drop of it, and Edie leapt up, ready to grab the bowl herself, to wrench it straight from those skinny skeleton hands.

Edie had misjudged the distance, however, and the mother had just transferred the bowl from Uncle Sly’s hands to her own. Her mother, surprised, released the stew at once, and instead of wrapping her hands around the bowl, Edie found herself losing her grasp as it flew across the kitchen table, upturned and tumblesauced, depositing the entirety of its contents in a neat volcanolike pile on the linoleum floor.

She couldn’t remember what was said or who said it, only Uncle Sly taking offense, leaping up from his place at the table, aiming one quivering skeletal finger at her. “You ruined my dinner,” he snapped at Edie, although she was pretty sure it was mostly her mother’s fault. “I didn’t even get to taste it.”

He stopped only to snatch a new plastic bag of carrots from Chip, who had just extracted them from the fridge, so close to claiming it. The force of the grab threw Chip to the ground. Uncle Sly shoved one in his mouth, snapped it in half, and stormed to his room.

Edie’s body shook like it was trying to contain an earthquake. In front of the fridge, Chip began to cry.

“What should I do, Edie?” the mother said. “We only want the best for him. He only wants the best.”

“Mom,” said Edie. “You need to say something.”

“But what can I say?”

Edie was silent, and she knew her mother would not.

The house fell silent, too. Night settled, the father came home, the mother wordlessly greeted him. Everyone went off to their evening rituals. The parents went to bed at once, sad and shrunken. She heard their light go off, heard the death of silence from their bedroom. Edie would have wrestled with her homework, but she hadn’t been to school in so long she couldn’t remember what she was studying. Only the heavy labored breathing from the upstairs room told her that Uncle Sly was still there, still ruling over them with the threat of his being awake.

She stood outside his door for a while, gripped by the strength of his presence. Her mother walked by, armed with a square stack of laundry in each arm. She saw Edie and bit her lip. She shook her head.

Edie shook her head back. The mother passed on.

Chip walked mindlessly past her to the bathroom. She heard the flush, the faucet, the shuffle off.

“Don’t forget to brush your teeth,” she called without thinking.

“What for?” he said.

She was alone in the hall. She lay a hand on his door. It felt like he did, sticky and warm. With her other hand, she twisted the knob and slid it open.

She took a step inside and retched. The air was like inhaling bugs. Thick and smelling of waste. A trash can gone too long without rinsing, a meal of meat and soggy eggs left out on a hot day. Just being here was wrong. Just this room was wrong, whatever he’d done to it.

Still the rhythmic inhale of his mouth and chest. The darkness ate up her movements. he slept in complete black. She reached out in front of her and could see nothing. When her foot left the ground, there was a resistance of something sticky, as if the floor was trying to hold her there.

She took one step, then another. She sensed the location of the bed rather than seeing or touching it. Maybe from cleaning the room so often, she had memorized it. But no. She knew everything in this place, she could feel the existence of the bed, the desk. The spot where he’d left his oversized floppy alligator shoes. The chair in the middle of the floor with the stack of free books he’d picked off the sidewalk, their pages brittle and stained.

The bed. Where he slept, loud and still. His body lay atop the covers, flat, face up, eyes closed, mouth open. He snored like thunder. He snored like an animal snarl. his puff of lips sucked the whole room in, its rancid air, its stuffiness and stickiness. Then he released it in a defeated sigh.

He was still wearing his hat.

Once perhaps it was a mark of status, when Uncle Sly was just starting out in whatever business he did, back when his future was promising and undefined, a future of business and trips and hotel rooms, not to his hometown, not to his sister.

Is this how I’ll be?

She loved Chip. her love for him went deeper than her life. She wished better things for him, when he graduated this school and this town, when his genius could finally stop hiding and shine. She was devoted to him, in a way she knew would never leave her as long as she lived.

She reached down. In a moment she had grabbed Uncle Sly’s hat. Just quick, no thought. She was so mad that she crushed its dome in her fingers.

It squashed easily, no resistance from his head. It was like it wasn’t even under there.

His chest rose and fell. His heavy gasping breathing continued.

Careful, now, she reached down again. Her eyes had warmed to the dark. She could see Uncle Sly’s head, now a circular cut-out, stopping where his head had started. It was like a hole. Still quiet, she reached in.

What her hands touched was wet and murky. Not solid, not slime. Fingers came together around a circular stump that she recognized as one of the carrots from dinner, the stump at the top—barely intact, half digested. She shuddered and cast it to the floor.

He gave a cry.

She reached in again. Her fist closed around more stuff. Pasta, mashed potatoes, hunks of meat. She grabbed as much as her hands could hold and, handful after handful, she tossed it to the floor.

She touched no brain, no bones, no muscles or organs. Or maybe she did, but they felt like nothing, just more of the junk that was inside him. One fist and then another, she pulled it out—some of it stringy, some clumpy, some almost solid, though they popped when she squeezed too hard, some almost melted, all of it wet.

He gurgled, throat dry or maybe full. He was awake. His hand clawed at her wrist, trying to make her stop.

“Whaaargh…”

His fingers clenched, they tried to tighten, but crumpled when they touched her. They slipped away like an empty plastic bag.

By the time she was done, the floor was thick with goo. The carpet oozed every step she took. She turned on the bedside lamp. Not a lot of light, but enough to see.

He was nothing now. His body was as rumpled as his clothes. She knew she’d have to clean it up. For this, though, she didn’t mind.

She considered going to bed early—tomorrow she’d wake up, make herself and Chip an extra big breakfast before heading off to school, and of course she’d need extra time at the mirror. But she didn’t need sleep. It felt like she’d been sleeping for weeks.

She stole downstairs, snuck the family phone into a closet, and called Toby. Toby had her own phone; Edie could call her at any time, day or night. She had so much to catch up on. She could talk and talk. She could talk forever.

 


Matthue Roth wrote the novel Rules of My Best Friend’s Body, the picture book My First Kafka, and a very short song for John Legend. He lives in Brooklyn with his four daughters, and keeps a secret diary at matthue.com.

“Across The Street,” a short story by Katharine Grubb

I watched the house from the time the sour old owners, the ones with the massive credit card debt, had moved out. For a couple of weeks, through the dappled shadows of the maple tree growing between the sidewalk and the street, I monitored the side-stair colonial as realtors and their client toured it, wondering if the inspector caught the foundation trouble in that one corner. 

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“Vignette” by Claire Fitzpatrick

The paths wove through the vignettes like veins, around the koi pond, the stone retaining walls, the avenue of white pebbled and sandstone pavers, and down to the creek, where an arched bridge linked to a small island with a treehouse encircled by hundreds of daisies. Rebecca and Stephen had no ambitious landscaping plans when she’d inherited the estate. But after close inspection, they’d discovered the bones of the existing garden, uncovered its harsh lines and soft curves, and, after three long years, had opened their botanical paradise to the public. 

Rebecca believed gardens created themselves. Where trees had grown over time and brought more shade, the plants struggling to prosper beneath were moved. Where seeds were dropped, self-sown, and thrived, they were left. Advertisement brochures referred to their garden as ‘a living work of art’. To her, the garden was a structure to sustain life and was in some ways more important than her own. And while she and Stephen won awards for their landscape designs, and were featured on gardening shows and in magazines, there was one vignette of their garden that visitors were forbidden to enter. 

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“Friendly Flames,” a short story by Hugh Cartwright

Gran spreads out her knickers on the baking tray.  

I hardly dare peek: my mother says it’s a crime to stare at undies, especially those of old people. 

But Gran doesn’t care. 

Next, she reaches for the string that loops across the kitchen and tugs my undies off it. Laying them carefully beside her own, she slides the tray into the oven. 

Gran is weird – but a good sort of weird. She bakes bread in a flowerpot, and grows mustard and cress on wet facecloth. At Christmas, she sends me home-made fudge in a used can of chick peas, with a dollar coin taped to the bottom. The label is amended with black pen to Chuck Pea, her pet name for me. I’ve kept all the cans she has ever sent. 

There’s a pop as the gas ignites; Gran beams. “Friendly flames on a freezing morning; what could be better?” As I watch the flames, she stretches across and ruffles my hair. I duck away, though secretly I love the touch of those soft, wrinkled hands.  Continue reading

2021 Halloween contest winner: “My Haunting” by Jamie Orsini

This is what I know to be true about the New Vernon House in Chepachet, Rhode Island. 

In 1835, the Vernon family home burnt to the ground, claiming the lives of Constance Vernon, 38, and Matthew Vernon, 7. Thomas Vernon, 45, and his surviving sons, George, 16, and John, 13, buried their loved ones on the property before rebuilding what is now known as the New Vernon House. Upon his father’s death in 1849, George Vernon sold the property, reportedly saying “it was a fine home . . . but haunted to me.” These facts are not in dispute: the tragedy was covered at length in the New-England Telegraph, and digitized articles are now accessible through the Library of Congress. George never again publicly commented on the home, leaving locals and historians to wonder what he meant by the word “haunted.” Did he experience something supernatural there? Or was the house just a painful reminder of the loss of his beloved mother and brother?

Over the years, the New Vernon House has been the subject of speculation and gossip, as well as the scene of several reported ghost sightings and paranormal occurrences. Some say the house smells faintly of smoke, even today. Others swear they’ve seen a woman in black walking the property at night, clutching her chest and calling for help. Separating fact from fiction, rumor from reality has proven difficult. But I’m trying, and here’s why: there’s something else I know to be true about the New Vernon House. It’s the last place my daughter was reportedly seen alive.


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“eBay Violin” by Yongsoo Park

Because even his mid-life crisis takes only frugal turns and it would never occur to him to pay extra for shipping, the violin arrives just when he forgets about it. The mailman doesn’t even bother to bring it to the door but leaves it instead with a perfunctory wave just inside the periphery of his front yard.

He has to dig it out from among the ferns and brings it inside while his children and a boy from next door are playing under the canopy of a giant pine tree, which some of his neighbors have been passive-aggressively nudging him to do something about lest it keel over and cause god-knows-what damage. But such are concerns of grown-ups with too much time on their hands. The children are engrossed in their game and don’t even ask him about his strange-shaped parcel.

The last time he touched a violin was when TVs still came with adjustable antennas and telephones had rotary dials. He doesn’t remember what that violin, with which he took lessons with a self-proclaimed maestro named Mr. Kreutzer for five years, cost, but his eBay violin cost just 38 dollars, including shipping. It’s a frightening sum considering that it traveled to his home all the way from the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.

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“Chasing the Light” by Will Maguire

Years agoit was many lives agoI worked nights in Manhattan. Some people call that grave shifting or paying dues. Others call it chasing the light.

To stay awake I used to buy coffee at Smilers, the deli on 7th Ave in the Village. Usually around 3 am.

Every night on a crate in front of Smilers sat an old black man. White hair, blind. I think he was mildly autistic. He rocked back and forth endlessly. Like Ray Charles caught in the groove. Next to the crate was a boom box, and a simple handwritten sign: Please.   Continue reading

2020 Halloween Contest Winner: “Rot” by Sadie Kraus

The teeth were too big for Maggie. The wax gums slipped along her molars and stabbed her flesh until she couldn’t bear it and took them out. 

“Why’d you go and do that?” Brother Daniel asked. “No one’ll know what you’re s’posed to be.” 

“They hurt.” she said, dropping the little rubber fangs into her pillow case candy sack. Her mouth relaxed. She was glad to get the things out. Other than the pain, the foamy spit that stuck inside the rubber fangs moved in and out with each breath and made her feel like the rabid dog that had been on tv last night. But altogether, Dan was right. Without the fangs, her basilisk costume fell into a well of scaly obscurity. Even with the teeth in, she’d had to explain to both Missus Dodson and dim little Craig Elner from next door that she was absolutely not a dragon to go along with her brother’s knight getup. 

“I guess it doesn’t matter anyhow. We ought to head back soon.” Daniel fidgeted with his wrist watch. It had been a present for his birthday earlier that month and he had not stopped setting alarms and timing mundane activities – eating cereal, practicing times tables, using the bathroom. Maggie hated it, for it was a traitor and blared out the exact second their nightly hour of television was over. Mother sometimes forgot her rule about the tv and, on those occasions, Maggie could catch another episode of Dateline. 

Dan’s watch, on the other hand, never forgot the hour tv rule.  Continue reading

2020 Halloween Finalist: “The Law of Indifference” by Daniel Olivieri

Hardly anyone paid much attention to me until my execution. Or, that isn’t entirely true. I had an incredible amount of attention paid to me when I was a baby. But that attention wasn’t any fun at all. I don’t remember it, but I can be pretty sure. It can’t have been much fun to be the damning piece of evidence in my parent’s trial.

 

A little after I was born, people started wondering how I’d come to be. My parents couldn’t claim that they’d adopted me because they didn’t have any paperwork to prove it. They also couldn’t claim to have given birth to me—they were both men. And so how had they come into possession of such an adorable little baby girl? Had they summoned her out of thin air with a cauldron and some magic stones?

 

Yes. Yes they had. That’s exactly what they’d done.

 

For proof, the accusing lawyer showed the court my belly button, or rather my lack of one. I had no belly button, she argued, because I’d never needed an umbilical cord. Or so I’m told. I didn’t have much patience for legal proceedings when I was eight months old. From what I understand I spent most of the trial trying to fit my foot into my mouth. In any case, the jury found the belly button argument convincing enough that my parents were convicted of witchcraft and sentenced to death.

 

It’s not easy growing up knowing that you were the piece of evidence that got your parents executed. Especially when your foster parents remind you of this just about every morning. “Strayala,” they would say, “You should scrub the floor harder. You have much to atone for. Don’t you know that you were the reason your parents were executed?” Even before I was old enough to know what “executed” meant, I didn’t like to hear that. When I finally did find out what the word meant, I liked it even less.

 

That said, I hear that my parents held themselves a marvelous execution. They were known for throwing the most fun parties. Their execution was no exception. They began planning it on the very day they were convicted. They hired an up-and-coming executionist, had a jazz band play, a few minor celebrities even attended. It was a huge success. The ticket sales from the execution were enough to cover my college tuition.

 

When it came time to plan my own execution, I tried to make them proud. Nasha and Oliver helped me plan it. They’re less than half my age, Nasha and Oliver, but we still spend all our weekends together. Sometimes the weekdays too. We do witch things together: binding up spells and practicing cantrips and cackling very loud. Though, the cackling has very little to do with us being witches and very much to do with Oliver being hilarious. He can play the trumpet and the accordion at the same time. He bugs his eyes out when he does it and he gets this crazy expression—but I guess you’d have to see it to understand.

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“The Pelican,” a short story by Tom Gartner

Ever since I was small, I’ve always imagined myself somewhere else when I go to sleep.  Someplace outdoors, usually, someplace wild, a rainforest or a mountainside or an island off a rocky coast.  I’ll be traveling, escaping something maybe, and I’ll have found or made some kind of shelter.  Rain or snow or wind will be battering it, but I’ll be warm and protected.  

Of course, I knew when I ran away from home that it wouldn’t be like that, and it wasn’t.  I slept in a tent pitched under a leaning redwood stump in a canyon north of Mendocino, less than twenty-five miles from home.  It was summer, so there was no snow or rain, but every morning and most afternoons there was cold fog that couldn’t be kept out.  My feet felt like blocks of wood.  Banana slugs clung to the outside of the tent.  Spiders found their way into my sleeping bag.  I was living on apple juice, peanut butter, and raisin bread.

I spent too much time thinking.  About my mother’s suicide, about who should or shouldn’t have done or said what, about how it played out in parallel universes.  We’d all seen it coming, my father and my brother and I.  She’d been depressed, delusional, obsessive for years.  But (as I saw it that summer, anyhow) I was the only one who felt guilty about it, who thought there was something more we could have done.  My father seemed fatalistic about it, my brother downright nonchalant.  That was what had driven me out of the house, that one last feeble protest I felt I had to make. Continue reading

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