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The Monster in the Closet by dDamian Foreman

It was as good a time as any to start smoking.  The acne ridden kid had never smoked in his life and had, until that point, never wanted to.  Next to losing his virginity and not dying at any moment looming over his head, a cigarette was the best sounding thing in the whole damn world.

From the dead girl’s jeans, he pulled out her cigarettes and lighter.  He stuck one of the cancer sticks into his mouth and lit it.  Naturally, his body rejected the smoke and he coughed it up in great whooping spasms (the sound no doubt catching its attention), but that didn’t stop him from trying again.  On his second attempt, he was awarded the same result, but on the third he was able to suck down a mouth full of smoke.

God, how it tasted terrible.  Tasted like…hell, there wasn’t even a comparison to how it tasted.  The kid couldn’t say it tasted like shit because he never had tasted shit before.  He was sure that he had compared many, many things to shit over the course of his life, but never once had he been able to truly say that because he didn’t know for sure what it tasted like.  He wasn’t about to say it again, because he didn’t want another lie on his plate when he got to the gates of Heaven–if, indeed, that was where he was going when he died.

Awww, crap.  Who was he kidding?  He wouldn’t get into Heaven if he blew the guy standing at the gates.  He pretty much broke every commandment other than “Thou shalt not kill” and “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”  Or maybe he was even more screwed than that; did masturbation count as adultery?  He didn’t know. 

Yeah, he was going to Hell, and he was going to burn with a stake stuck up his ass.  So, if he was doomed to eternity in the lake of fire, he might as well take advantage of the time he had left.  If that thing was going to kill him, then sure he could…

No, no, no.  He pushed that thought away before it could even surface any more than it had.  He didn’t want to hurt his chances any more than they already were. 

And it was just nasty.  Wrong.

He could hear it.  It was still out there, it was smelling him out.  Tracing the blood from the girl probably.  The girl, who he dragged in with him while she was still alive, might just be getting him killed now.  Thanks.

He took another drag from the cigarette (he thought he was getting pretty good at it now) when a queer thought came to him.  What if it smelled the smoke?  What if it smelled the smoke and thought the place was starting to catch ablaze and it ran away?  If that thing was anything like any other sane animal, it would fear the fire and run, right?  Then he would be alone with a pack of cigarettes, a lighter, a dead girl and his thoughts.  Just him and the dead-

It turned something over.  It sounded like maybe one of the school desks hitting the ground, but it was far enough away for the kid to still feel safe-ish.  Probably was still on the far side of the room.  Probably was tracking him like a fat boy that smells cake.  And why not?  The door between him and it wasn’t a thick one, and there was a blood stream to the girl.  What was preventing it from getting to him?  It could no doubt bust through that door as easy as a lighter melts through a sheet of plastic wrap.

He didn’t have long left in this world; he could feel that deep down in his bones.  It shook him, put a nervous gloom over his closet sanctuary.  It was getting closer to him.  He could almost feel its teeth chomping down on his neck, ripping it out and letting him bleed as it ate the rest of him.  He’d seen what the thing did, and it wasn’t pretty.  It didn’t give you the courtesy of snapping your neck before it ate, taking your life painlessly before it snacked.  No, no, it liked to hear you scream and gurgle out blood from your gaping holes that it puts in you.  It likes it when you beg for it to stop.

He changed his mind.  He wasn’t going to hell.  He was already there.  That little closet he stuffed himself into was the only hell there could be.  Maybe–maybe–if his dick was bitten off first.  That could make it worse.

The kid’s hands were shaking as he pulled that cigarette up to his lips and puffed away.  It was almost gone, about a fourth of the tobacco was left in the roll of paper.  He swore to himself then that if that cigarette was finished before he died, he would (by sweet Jesus) light up another one and suck himself to death.  Yeah, so maybe you’re not supposed to kill yourself, but to hell with that.  God could make one exception, couldn’t He?  Under these circumstances?

Well, not that it mattered in the long run, but…

Something else fell down, but it sounded more like a dry THUMP than the banging of a table.  This new sound might have been a book falling and planting itself on the ground.  He guessed that it pushed it off of the counter or the teacher’s desk; maybe it was balanced just wrong somewhere and fell, but that was a silly dream that, deep down in his heart, he knew wasn’t the truth.  It was just looking for him in every possible place.

Tears filled his eyes.  He let them fall.  It’s not like anyone was there to see him cry, to call him pussy or queer fagget as the bigger guys liked to call him.  There was no one to make him feel bad about who he was.  He let those tears flow, but he kept a tight mouth about it.  He didn’t want to attract its attention.

He briefly recalled a play he saw once.  There was something about squealing pigs and quiet men in it.  The pigs were squealing because they didn’t know they were dying, but the men knew to shut up about it because they didn’t want to face death.

Maybe there was some truth to that statement.

Or maybe it was total shit. 

Who knows?

The facts were that he was crying quietly, death waited outside the door for the right time to knock, his cigarette was almost gone, and he was alone with a beautiful dead girl, who kept on getting prettier by the damn sec-

No!  He was not going to think that way.  She’s dead, God damn it.

Using the palm of his hand without the cigarette, he wiped away the tears that he let loose, then sucked up the last of the smoke.  He lifted his left leg up to his chest and used the bottom of his shoe to put out the smoldering cherry.  In the dark it was hard to find the pack and lighter again, but he managed.  Without realizing it, he had put them between the legs of the dead girl when he got his first cigarette, and when he got his second, he did the same.  She was still warm, and he liked having his hand there.  It felt good, felt natural.  Oh, he could have her.  All he had to do was ask and…

He let his thoughts linger in his head as his hand on her thigh.  It didn’t matter at all.  Nothing mattered when you’re on your ass, waiting for death to take you into its modest embrace.

The only time the kid with acne took his hand away from his girlfriend was to light the new cigarette.  It returned to her thigh quickly thereafter.

He could hear it out there; it was right in front of the door now.  The pads on its paws made a soft sound on the linoleum tiles, its claws making low clicks.  It was right outside, it found him.  The thing was ready to pounce, ready eat.  It didn’t want to play anymore more games, no, it was done fucking around.  It was hungry.  Time to die, kid.  Your goose is cooked.

He put the cigarette into his mouth and held it with his lips.  He took up his girlfriend’s hand in his own, then put his other over her fingers and squeezed.  It made him feel like she was still alive, like she was still there with him.

Quickly, he took his smoke out of his mouth and kissed his lover on the lips for a long moment, then went back to his death pose.  The kid closed his eyes and waited.

He heard it break through the door and heard himself scream for it to quit, heard himself fighting back and trying to save himself and crying for his mother.  He fought and yelled and-

-and it wasn’t him.  He opened his eyes again and listened to someone else getting eaten alive in another closet nearby.  Probably the one right next to him in the same damn classroom.

The screaming died out, and he listened to it eat more.  He sat there for a long, limitless period of time, waiting to see what would happen next.  Eventually, the sounds of ripping flesh and snapping bones quit died out.  He heard it strut by his closet again, and then he couldn’t hear it at all.  Had it gone?  Was it never there?

Did it matter?

The acne ridden teenage kid laughed (quietly, of course–it might still be there).  He was alive, and so was his soul mate–he could still feel her warmth and (if he concentrated hard) her pulse beating in unison with his, almost as if he was powering her with his own…but that was a silly thought.

He put out the cigarette.  He kissed her.  They were happy together, but somehow he didn’t feel happy enough, didn’t feel complete.  But she knew how to make him happy.  She knew very well, and the kid accepted her and then they went to sleep together in their happy place, the smell of her drying blood masked by burnt tobacco and new found love.

 

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Yankee Rose by Alanna Roethle

 The screen door banged in the hot desert wind.

Slap, slap. As despondent as the rest of the world, the world of this hot tin house, the quiet moaning wind that sifted dust into the cracks of her face, into the bed sheets, under the window in dust fingers to the gold-flecked white Formica kitchen counter. The sighs and slices of the old ten-piece- well, nine-piece now

– knife set marked the counter. The missing knife still lay under the bed where she’d laid it, so quietly, remembering with a pause in her mind where it lay- how coldly and patiently it waited. She could see it now, closing her eyes, its cheap serration glinting among the dust and atop the shag green carpet, a deeper green where it hid below the bed from the scorching rays of the Mojave sun. The sun bore through the windows and the blinds to strain the color from everything, until it all matched the bone and dirt colors of the desiccated landscape.

Anton was out now. He’d torn off in the bleached old yellow Corsica , clouds of the fated dust following him, ghosts of thought waving at him as they hovered in his trail, watching to see if he would skid into the creosote, spread his brain matter among the spines of the cholla cactus.

Rose blankly stared at the rounded dirty-white walls of the trailer, picking like an addict at a frayed spot in the short jean cut-offs that bit into thick pale thighs. She tried to stay out of the sun. Mom said even Navajo get the

skin cancer. Old Dezba had a large dark mole like a face that grew out of the side of her chin, with white hairs feeling the air like tentacles. Rose supposed that was skin cancer. Skin cancer might not be a terrible way to go. She could imagine it crawling from her face to her throat, inside and stealthy so you couldn’t see it from the outside, from the round smoothness of her skin and face. It would start as a tiny brown spot, but it would go deep and by the time that little line of rot reached her heart it would be time to die. No one would know what was happening to her, no one would know until it was too late. She knew she would probably feel the pain, feel the deep angry ache as it burrowed to her heart, the cancer. She would hold her face still as stone, still as the masks

shima sani

had hung on the adobe walls of her house on the res, when she was still alive.

Rose was good at that. She was good at holding her thoughts deep behind her face, so that the twitch of errant nerves and cold blackness of her eyes were the only things that moved. Most people couldn’t read anything when her stone face was on. Except for Anton. Sometimes he could tell, from across the room even, and if she was thinking about him a small cruel smile would tighten the bottom of his face, never reaching his odd brown eyes. She would feel a chill then, inside her, as if he was touching her heart with ice. It was stronger than that- his eyes could hold you, choke you, deep and oppressive as black thunderclouds that could build in minutes over the purple mountains. It was the feeling of dying, when you looked at him. Those last fluttering beats of the heart, the sigh of air as it left lungs for the last time. She shuddered deep within

her still self at the thought of him, behind the soft fuzz of the weed she’d been smoking since she awoke. He never left her alone anymore, never. Here she was wasting precious time being stoned, when she could be…what? She deserved it. She deserved him.

Tick, tick, tick

. That fucking clock. The supreme quiet had descended, the quiet of the afternoon when the sun was baking the land. The whitewashed sky fell in heat waves to the sun stroked earth. Rose let the weed spread her out over the house, let other tiny sounds enter her head and calm her. The sigh of the trailer as it settled, heated, and expanded. The slap of the screen door in the stiff gusts of air. The clock.

That fucking piece of shit clock!!

The noise bothered her, snapped her out of the reverie. Paranoia tinged her high. He’d be back soon, he had to be. He wasn’t working today. The fear of him was growing day by day. She was mad at herself, so mad that she’d thought he was ever her friend. That she could have been so naïve, such a stupid little girl. She hadn’t known any better. There had been no one to tell her. She tried to believe that.

Rose, Rose. You gotta get out of here.

She couldn’t move herself, couldn’t think anymore. She was hiding under this new face, hiding bound and gagged in a dark place where nothing made sense.

Shima sani had told me. She knew.

The words knocked against the fragile onion layers of her consciousness. She pictured her grandmother dying, her small shaky hands clasping and opening, clasping and opening as she gripped the last few seconds she had to live. Rose hadn’t been there, off partying, who knows where. Getting fucked up again so she didn’t have to think about anything. The old woman’s last words had been for her, for Rose. She said them in Navajo, quiet and raspy, in her daughter’s ear. Because it was in Navajo, Rose knew she meant it.

“Tell her, tell my Rose. Tell her no

Nakai

! Not ever.” It was a strange last thing to say, a strange use of the only air left that your lungs will ever hold. “Tell her to promise me.”

When Rose had gotten home the night her grandma had left the world, she’d stumbled as she entered and knocked the keys crashing from their hooks to the floor. The light came on in the living room, and she watched bleary-eyed as her mother came out of the dark from where she had been sitting, hands folded around her sanity. Small, cold hands, like her heart. “Your grandmother is dead. She died tonight.”

Rose felt a twinge under the vodka. It was a black twinge, like the lowering of clouds before a storm. Like the darkness of a mineshaft. She headed back to her room, wavering and feeling the wall. Her mother went back to sit on the couch. Over coffee the next morning, her mother told her what

shima sani

had said. She hadn’t made any breakfast, and Rose was happy because the bile rose vodka-flavored to rub seductively against the back of her throat.

“No Mexicans?” Rose said softly. “That was it?”

“And to promise her, Rose. She said it because of Brenda, and because she said some spirit told her.” Her mother watched her out of the corners of almond-shaped eyes, solemn but still condescending, always condescending.

Brenda was dead too. She had died a few years earlier, at the uncertain age of 20. Her boyfriend had strangled her and hung her from a closet rod. Right now the boyfriend still lived in Arizona somewhere, safe and happy with his new wife and the baby he had started right before he let Brenda’s children see how blue Mommy could turn. The social workers found out how she died when the 2-and- 4-year-olds acted it out with Barbie dolls. That didn’t turn out to be enough evidence, and they never found her body anyway. That boyfriend had been Mexican, and now Rose’s family thought the whole race was just bad juju. Rose hadn’t thought much about it, besides that it sucked and was sad.

Now she knew. She knew

shima sani

had seen Anton, and seen what he would do to her granddaughter.

*

He had hunched over her last night, his little dick half-flaccid as he tried to put it in while she lay there, an unfeeling lump. Inside her rage grew; a hatred for him and his pathetic attempts at sex. He could only screw little girls, girls he found online like he’d done her. She was 19, she was lonely, and she wanted to get out of the house. Anton talked to her for months before he’d suggested they meet, and always she laughed him off.

“Whatever, perv,” she said, full of confidence that he couldn’t touch her. Finally out of boredom one day, and because he said he’d take her to see Ice Age and buy a bottle, she’d met him at Circle K. He never looked at her the entire time, eyes shifting away when she faced him, strange shuffling movements and nervous tics. He was ugly, she thought. His head was strange-shaped, and his eyes were too light for his skin. After that he’d started buying booze when she wanted, bringing over coke when she wanted to be high, and always never touching her. One night when he dropped her off after another movie, she ran back out to the car in only panties and her t-shirt to grab her purse that she’d drunkenly left on the holey pleather seat. That’s how much she trusted that he’d never touch her.

Rose felt the rage begin to break loose inside of her, where it danced in faster and faster circles like molecules in boiling water. She moved suddenly, shoving Anton backward, his penis flopping ludicrously. He looked up, shock flashing in his pale weak eyes. Anger quickly replaced shock, replaced by something else, that suffocating thing.

“Get off of me you piece of shit! You aren’t even a man! You can’t even get it up!” Rose shrieked at him, turning away from his eyes, wiping her hands across her stomach where his sweat polluted her skin. Her naked body stared at her in the cracked half mirror hanging from the back of the bedroom door. It was all pale, corpulent, except for the redness where he had kneeled and sweat on her. All of her was dead, except where he leeched on her. She turned to look at him again, to scream something. He hunched at the end of the bed, his stringy body shaking, mumbling to himself, growling. He had his penknife in his hand, drawing it slowly across his arm where the myriad scars already there looked like the lines on the moon, the aftermath of a cataclysmic meeting of masses with no control over trajectory. The dark blood followed his knife, a trail of thought. Rose had turned and hurried to the bathroom to lock herself in there. She spent hours painting her nails, listening to Anton’s death metal rage tonelessly as she layered red polish over itself until her toes glittered like rubies. She hummed to herself, comforted by the thrum in the back of her throat, trying to dispel the darkness that blackened every corner of her thoughts like burning paper, the way the black would creep in from each side in little tongues and the crumbling ash follow.

Rose had started drawing the same blood lines with that serrated knife over the inside of her arms and thighs, where nobody could see. She had never seen anyone do it until Anton. Now she knew his crazed spirit, the crazy in him was rubbing off on her.

Fa la la, fa la la, she sang under her breath. Fa la la la la, la la la la. Anton said her humming drove him crazy, that she needed to keep her mouth shut. You’re already crazy, ma’ii,

she thought.

*

She heard the car, far down the dusty road, spinning past tall watching saguaros and the dry, sad palo verdes. Her heartbeat quickened in the dullness of her body. It was the only sign that she was afraid. She lay back against the cool tub, feeling the trickle of sweat down her spine as it ran away from her. She looked numbly down at her arm, then at the knife in her other hand. She didn’t remember pulling it from the carpet under the bed. She didn’t remember drawing its biting teeth across her arm, or maybe she remembered but it blurred together with the other times- his and hers. Spots of bright red blood dotted the white of the tub, of her thighs. It matched her nails, and she smiled a little to see it. The Corsica stopped in front of the door and jerked a few times before silence descended again. She heard the door slam, and his quiet shuffling steps come up the two rickety wooden steps to the door, the steps she always tripped on when she was drunk. She closed her hand tightly around the knife, and shrunk against the tub.

You crazy bastard. Don’t come in here, don’t talk to me.

She heard him come down the hall, heard him muttering to the spirits in his head, to the demons that possessed every waking moment. He just got worse and worse,

after she moved in, telling her that loving her made him that way. With him, emptiness was the only thing she knew. A great, cavernous emptiness like a carved pumpkin, its seeds and guts spread in the dirt and its new face one with only one expression. Then it starts to rot. The inside of her mind was full of holes, rotten parts that had fallen in on themselves, that smelled like vomit. He had taken away her friends, deleted her phone, ostracized her family. Rose crept from the bathroom, avoiding the creaks in the floor. His back was to her, as he typed away, looking for other little girls to take advantage of. He told her he was doing black magic on them, the same black magic he’d done for some of the Oklahoma tribes. The same magic that had caused his girlfriend before her to kill herself while on the phone with him. He told her these things, and she believed him.

Her mind snapped, the elastic of a rubber band eaten by the sun- a crack! Red flashed as she leapt with the little knife gleaming in her hand, raising it high and slim and deadly. In her strained mind’s eye she saw herself, poised like a warrior, strength and purpose in her arm- and his face. The stark fear as the steel entered his body, the jerk- and then nothing.

*

Everything was white, and she couldn’t get away. The sweat beaded on her forehead, down between her breasts, and panicked struggle only made her bonds tighter, the heat greater, stifling. Her eyes opened, and the padded walls around her shocked her with their anger, their forbidding presence.

NO!!

she

screamed, flailing her arms, bucking against the bonds, panting.

No, I’m not crazy!! Somebody help me!

Even through her fear she realized she needed to calm down. Hyperventilating, she stopped thrashing, craning her neck up to look out the tiny square window. His small cruel smile was there, framed in the reinforced glass, his watered coffee eyes gleaming in at her. His black magic worked. He was right.