Beware

Fog drifted in from the depths of the mountains. It flowed into valleys and dry riverbeds, congealing the night’s blackness into a pool of sacrificial blood. The townspeople of Bruxin drew their curtains tight shut and whispered to each other about spirits and demons. The cool October fog whispered back: Beware.

Tucked into a grove of oak trees at the far edge of town lay a small cottage. Puffs of smoke tripped up the chimney to join the Halloween gloom. Through a small crack in the worn curtains, flickering light spilled onto gnarled tree trunks and watching eyes.

Ava Jenkins struck a long match. The flame sputtered to life before settling in to consume itself. She lit the circle of white candles one by one before blowing out the match. The halo of sea salt around the votives shimmered in the soft light. She sat cross-legged at the center of the circle. The clock on the mantle ticked softly.

“This is so stupid,” she said, loudly, as if to make sure any lurking phantoms heard. She stared at the Ouija board she’d dug out of the closet. Its letters were faded, smoky black. Hello, Yes, No, Goodbye. The last word filled Ava’s mind, echoed there, taunted her, reminded her that Mary hadn’t even said it.

The planchette stood innocently in the middle of the board, waiting for her touch to give it life. The glass center watched her chip off black nail polish. The shimmering raven flecks found the board like ash from a far-off fire. Light from the circle of candles bled through the glass and cast muted rainbows over the board. Rain tapped the window steadily.

It had been exactly a year since her best friend died. Ava had drifted through today, a ghost in her own right, unable to think or speak or breathe past her grief. The hole in her chest where Mary used to be felt especially cavernous, yawning wider and wider until Ava thought it might swallow her whole. As the last bell of the school day rang, she made a decision: it was time. She needed answers.

“I can’t believe you left without saying anything,” Ava whispered to the planchette. It regarded her wordlessly. A tear slipped from the end of her nose to join the bits of nail polish. She balled her fists tightly, relishing the bite of nails into palms.

The house shifted as old houses are wont to do. Thunder rolled across the sky two towns over and up Ava’s back, a warning.

Ava unclenched her fists. Crescent moons lay on her palms, two rows of four headstones. Trembling fingers found the smooth wood of the planchette. Careful not to move, not to pretend the board worked when it didn’t, Ava spoke.

“Mary?”

Silence answered. The white candles burned around her without wavering. Voice shaking, she tried again.

“Mary? Mary, are you… are you here?”

The planchette jerked to one side. Ava’s eyes widened and she snatched away her fingers as though bitten.

“Nope, nope. Too creepy. What was I thinking?” Ava stood. Her long, dark hair brushed the board. A little hysterical laugh bubbled up from deep inside.

The planchette skittered across the Ouija. It bounced to a halt.

Three letters shrieked up at her through the glass eye. Yes.

“No way,” Ava breathed. “I just knocked it with my hair. That’s all. She’s not here. No one’s here.” But even as the words fell from her lips, she couldn’t bring herself to leave the protective circle.

The planchette twitched left, then right. Back on Yes.

For a moment, there was only the sound of creaking trees and Ava’s heartbeat. Her gaze slid up, up, up from the planchette to the mirror on the wall. An unfamiliar pale face stared back at her, head tilted curiously, framed by curtains of greasy black hair. Blood dripped from charcoal eyes, soaking into the girl’s stained nightgown.

“You dare to summon Mary?” the apparition asked, sharpened teeth glinting in the candlelight.

“W-wait. How…? You’re not —” Horror dawned on Ava’s face. “Oh no.”

The creature’s grin stretched as it watched panic play across its victim’s face. “Oh yes.”

Mary grasped the mirror’s frame, cracked fingernails digging into the gilded metal. She pulled herself forward and stepped out of the mirror. Gore spattered the wood floor with each halting step. Her joints crepitated sickeningly, but still she advanced on another unwitting victim.

Ava stumbled backward. Candles toppled over behind her. Their flames stared longingly at the wood below them, but they stayed their hunger, for now. Salt whispered beneath her feet. Don’t break the circle it said. Too late.

Mary let forth a shrill scream to the heavens. As if on command, the candles’ flames began lapping at everything they could touch.

At her back, Ava could feel the heat of the newborn wildfire. Her eyes darted to the door just as an icy gust swept Mary toward her. The scent of death and decay followed close behind. Frozen fingers found her neck and dug in, lifting her to the ceiling. Ava scrabbled against the demon to no avail, legs flailing uselessly.

“Please,” Ava choked. “I’m sorry. I was just trying to talk to my friend.”

Bloody Mary bore down harder. Her mouth split with the force of her grin. Crimson blood dripped from her lips.

“You will. I took her, too.”

smthng

I am searching for something that doesn’t exist

a secret that lives somewhere between
dusk and “I miss you”

hidden in that small voice in the back of your head
that whispers “you’re missing something” or
“what have you forgotten?”

an unexplored part of the pacific or the atlantic
or something in between I never could fathom –
maybe it says “you’re getting colder”

a memory (or was it a dream?) about that time
you gave me some small part of you
but I can’t find it now
and I’m looking in all the places you told me to put it

I am searching for something that doesn’t exist
because I swear there has to be something else

some innuendo dripping in ink still wet
spelling out all the ways I failed you
or maybe

after every wretched moment

there really is nothing at all

How and When Do You Suspend Disbelief?

Hello writers and readers!

I recently started reading “The Institute” by Stephen King. Here’s a synopsis from Amazon for those unfamiliar:

In the middle of the night, in a house on a quiet street in suburban Minneapolis, intruders silently murder Luke Ellis’s parents and load him into a black SUV. The operation takes less than two minutes. Luke will wake up at The Institute, in a room that looks just like his own, except there’s no window. And outside his door are other doors, behind which are other kids with special talents—telekinesis and telepathy—who got to this place the same way Luke did: Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon. They are all in Front Half. Others, Luke learns, graduated to Back Half, “like the roach motel,” Kalisha says. “You check in, but you don’t check out.”

In this most sinister of institutions, the director, Mrs. Sigsby, and her staff are ruthlessly dedicated to extracting from these children the force of their extranormal gifts. There are no scruples here. If you go along, you get tokens for the vending machines. If you don’t, punishment is brutal. As each new victim disappears to Back Half, Luke becomes more and more desperate to get out and get help. But no one has ever escaped from the Institute.

As psychically terrifying as Firestarter, and with the spectacular kid power of ItThe Institute is Stephen King’s gut-wrenchingly dramatic story of good vs. evil in a world where the good guys don’t always win.

Sounds good, right?! As soon as it was available in my local family-owned bookstore, I hopped on down to grab it… and got the last copy! I’m a huge Stephen King fan, so I couldn’t wait for this one. Plus, it’s spooky season… what better than a thriller?

I finally sat down to dig into this juicy 560 page beast and… I’m on page 5 and faced with a problem. Maybe a small thing, maybe not. Here it is: The main character cashes a plane voucher and pays an Uber driver upon arrival to the destination.

Anyone else see the problem here?

Plane vouchers are not changeable for cash, and Uber drivers are paid exclusively and automatically via the app.

Okay, yeah, these are little things. But why do they bother me so much? I’m able to suspend disbelief for fantasy stories with dragons flying every which way, but this voucher/Uber combo is killing me.

What if this were a fantasy story? Or a romance? Would I be faced with this same issue, or would I be able to suspend disbelief for the sake of the story? I think it comes down to the placement of the items. Say, for instance, a heroine in a romance cashes her plane voucher and pays her Uber driver directly in her climactic rush to her lover. These things would probably be blips on my radar because I’d be so invested in the story. Unfortunately, on page 5 of any book, I’m still trying to get invested. So, these seemingly little things stand out more than they might have otherwise.

So, writers and readers, what do you think? How and when can YOU suspend disbelief? Do certain authors or genres get a pass? Sound off below!

For You, For Keeps

The writer sits in her designated writing spot. Well, her new designated writing spot. She’s had three in the last year, but a change of scenery is supposed to be a good thing for the mind.

The backspace key is worn, rickety on its plastic arms, waiting to fall off at just the wrong time. The letter M is faded, rubbed away by hundreds of failed presses. The period stands stark and strong. Waiting.

Her dog sighs in the corner. She looks up just as thunder rolls across the dusk sky. Clouds shiver in its wake. The writer pinches the bridge of her nose.

A silver chain trails across her mind’s eye. A long silver pendant, embossed with their saying. You’re my person. A gift, wrapped in a silver box, carefully chosen, but eventually forgotten.

You’re my person. Declarative, possessive. But ultimately useless.

The writer sets her fingers to the keyboard for the final time that day.

M,
The silence you gave me is all I hear now. 

The writer pounds the backspace key. It holds on, its grip tenuous. She begins again.

M,
How could you?

Backspace, backspace, backspace.

M,
You were my person, but was I yours?

Backspace.

M,
I miss you. 

 

body snatched

I am so full and so empty

I fill my pockets with stones
and watch the scale tick tick tick to the right

I paint my face to avoid looking myself in the eye

I am a skeleton inside folds of skin
that I coat lovingly with cocoa butter
willing my own softness to seep back in

I look at old photographs and don’t recognize that girl
cheekbones lifted high in a colgate smile
eyes crinkled at the corners, shut against brilliant sun
skin summer smooth

I wonder when I slipped into her body
and where my own body has gone off to

ephemeral

they say today is the start of something new
each hour filled with the promise of change
and the possibility of becoming something different
someone different

yet I am stuck
my skin belongs to someone else
on loan from a company that no longer exists
but still charges a monthly rental fee

it is a new year, a new page, a new book entirely
but I’ve not quite finished the final pages of the last one

I keep reading the same paragraph over and over
trying to make sense of words that are in no particular order
that don’t lead me to the conclusion
but rather into a maze dripping in letters
from a language I can’t understand

I know you could translate for me
but my body isn’t ready for that journey

there is so much more to see
in this ephemeral life

i’ll tell you all about it when I see you again