Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mobile - original short fiction

Mobile
by Alli Kirkham

Michael stood at the bottom of the telephone pole and looked up. Perhaps it was not so very high as he had supposed. The angel sitting on top of it certainly didn't seem to mind, anyway.

"Sir?" Michael called up to it. He wasn't sure if it was a boy angel or a girl angel or a neither angel but "sir" was the only honorarium he really knew. He was just a very little boy. "Why are you up there, sir?"

"Don't shout, child," the angel said, very quietly; its voice carried down to Michael easily. "I can hear your heartbeat from here - your shouting only hurts my ears."

"I'm sorry," Michael whispered, glancing around to make sure that they were still unobserved. It was getting to be close to time for the schoolbus to arrive. "But why are you up there?"

"It seemed like the place that I was supposed to be." This was answer enough for the little boy. He nodded cheerily and waved his hand and scampered away to the orange vehicle rounding the corner.

Hours later the creaking bus squealed to a halt and Michael's energetic form bounded out if it and down the street. He bounced into his house and up to his room, and was just piling up a mound of comic books in front of him when he noticed that the angel was now perched on top of the neighbor's house. Michael cocked his head to the side, studying the bright gold and white and gray creature only a few feet away and looking into his window. Michael pushed the pane out of the way and waved.

"Why are you over there now? Was it too windy on the pole?"

The angel nodded. "It was quite windy, and it smells better here too."

Michael sniffed cautiously at the air outside. "It smells the same to me."

The angel shrugged. "Well, then let us just say that is smells more right here than it did there. Read your books; I must think."

So Michael closed his window and pored over his comics until his parents called him to dinner. When he came back upstairs the angel was gone.

Ten years later, on a trip to the museum with his school, Michael saw the angel reproduced in stone. While the rest of his class wandered on and looked at paintings and laughed with one another, Michael spoke to the stone angel.

"Was it too windy on the roof too? Or did the smell change that night?"

Just as the young man was about to turn away, feeling foolish for his fancies, the angel spoke in its quiet voice. "It was no longer the place where I needed to be. That is all."

Michael frowned. "What changed?"

The angel answered: "You did." It spoke no more to Michael that day, or ever again.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

This machine just called me an asshole!

In 1985, for reasons that are beyond modern comprehension, Dino De Laurentiis decided to give Stephen King ten million dollars to direct a demolition derby with his boner. The footage of this demolition derby was hacked together and sold to the public as Maximum Overdrive in 1986. The public was willing to buy slightly more than seven million dollars worth of that shit before it said "no thank you" and nominated the film for two Razzies (worst director and worst actor).

It's no secret that I adore Stephen King, and I'm actually a pretty big fan of Dino De Laurentiis films (considering that he produced Dune, Army of Darkness, and three other Stephen King films (Cat's Eye, Silver Bullet, and The Dead Zone)  this shouldn't be a surprise). In spite of the fact that I have a history of appreciation of the writer, director, and producer of Maximum Overdrive I am surprised by how much I liked the movie.

It's just the little things, you know? A man glaring at a malfunctioning pinball machine and responding to it with a resounding "Yo' Momma!" is a startling moment of comic genius. And you have to appreciate a film that is so gleeful about slaughter, especially when it comes to killing kids in hilariously goofy ways - Spielberg certainly wouldn't have included a scene of a steamroller flattening a little-leaguer in any of his films, but maybe that's to his detriment because watching that sort of stupid gore is delightfully refreshing.

The movie is utter shit, of course, but it's the kind of prancing, giggling utter shit that I can really get behind.

And, in spite of the film's shittiness and Emilio Estevez's nomination for worst actor, there is one genuinely excellent moment in his performance. When Estevez's character, Billy, has spent a day in the sun fueling his truck overlords and thinks he's done because the station has run out of diesel, a fuel truck shows up and orders him toward the tank so he can keep serving his mechanical masters. Fed the fuck up, he gets into a chest-bumping argument with the tanker born of exhausted frustration and pure, straight-up crazy. His defiance in the face of a Mack grill, his refusal to be cowed before multiple tons of truck and gas, is actually pretty fucking great. Sitting there, watching this ridiculous film, I was touched and moved by Billy's frustration and desperate need to express some agency in his topsey-turvey world. And when you can make me feel something other than blood-fueled glee in the middle of a film as ridiculous as Maximum Overdrive, you're probably doing something right.

Cheers,
     - Alli

By the seashore - original short fiction

By the Seashore
by Alli Kirkham

She wandered in the morning fog, stooping now and then to turn some sand over with her hands. Once in a while she would pick up a stone or a shell and place it in the pocket of her apron, and with the same frequency she would examine the contents of that pocket and discard a different bauble. When the sun started to burn its way through the shroud of mist she turned her footsteps back to her little cottage and started cooking breakfast.

It was quiet and cold here most of the time. There was sunshine for part of the morning for several days of the year but it was usually covered over by clouds by noon. She went out every day in the fog and traded treasures for treasures, always hoping to discover or rediscover the right piece of the puzzle.

She spent the day inside; she baked bread and tidied the house and swept out the ever-encroaching sand. She went into a great whitewashed room with a blue-painted floor and arranged shells and stones in circles and spirals and sometimes into towering structures augmented with glass and steel. She lived alone.

The weekend came, as it always did, and she gathered her creations into a great basket that she carried over her arm with some effort. In her other hand she carried a great plum pie.

The fair was happening, as it always did, in the brief hours of sunshine. She spread a blanket on the sand and laid out her wares, putting the pie in front.

A girl holding a bowl of curds and whey trudged by. A towering boot full of childish noise could be seen not too far down the beach. A young boy with an impish smile darted up to the edge of her blanket and breached the gleaming crust with his thumb, pulling it out with a plum on the end and scampered away, shouting "what a good boy am I!" as he went.

She spread her skirts out and sat herself down and for that brief sunny period, as she had for the longest reach of her memory, she sold seashells by the seashore to all who asked after them.

The boat, not the star-symbols


Whenever I'm feeling down I use Science Fiction to try to break me out of it. Zodiac is not exactly SF, just as Neal Stephensen isn't really a genre writer, but it does the job in a pinch.

I'm a pretty big Stephenson fan - I've read almost everything he's written (and what I haven't read is on my Amazon Wishlist if anyone is curious) and I uniformly adore it. Most of the Stephenson fans that I know don't really like Zodiac but it makes sense to me in the context of when it was written in it's author's career; when you aren't really a name no one is going to publish your thousand-page love-letter to cryptography, but if you write up an eco-thriller with a side of genetically modified bacteria then you're one step closer to getting your crazier ideas put on bookshelves everywhere. And aside from all of that, it's fun as hell. It follows what has become the classic arc of a Stephensen novel and has all of the wonderful elements that he interjects so beautifully into his fiction - hilariously apt descriptions, asshole protagonists who are aware of the fact that they're assholes, interesting female characters, and a whole lot of shit that is more technical than many readers are comfortable with (in this one it's just a little chemistry - no diagrams or scary math).

Reading Zodiac is like slipping into a big, warm, cozy robe for me. It's familiar, it's relaxed, and I'm probably having a pretty good time. The pacing is a little manic, and it's the fastest-reading Stephensen book that I've encountered, but that's perfect - it's an easy couple of hours that gets your head into a really interesting place with out making you think too hard about depressing shit (though, yes, dissolving dolphins and the state of the Boston Harbor are depressing as all fuck).

I think that everyone should read Stephenson, but even though Zodiac is one of his earliest works I don't think it's the best place to start. Pick up Snow Crash, move on to Diamond Age, and then read Cryptonomicon. If you can get through that you're set and you'll have the foundation to work on the rest of his books and know what you're looking at and who you're dealing with. Yes, he tends to use "types" in his novels, but goddamn if they aren't fun people to hang out with. I like techy-but-socially-awkward guy and tough-as-nails-sarcastic-savvy-girl. They're my buddies, and they're why I keep coming back to everything that Stephenson puts out - he keeps putting them into interesting situations that I want to see them get out of.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Stephenson, Neal. Zodiac. Grove Books. New York: New York. 1981.

Humor and humanity

 
I am not as familiar with Vonnegut as I should be. Before I finished reading Jailbird the only work of his that I'd ever completed was "Harrison Bergeron," which I don't think I've re-read since 2008. My copy of Jailbird has been sitting on a shelf for years, waiting to be read, and I'm happy to have finally gotten to it.

Jailbird is full of wry humor, absurdity, and humanity. The narrator's resignation to his designation as a Harvard Man is pretty much the overarching theme of the novel and it's an attitude that I can get behind. Walter has been made into who he is by orders given by others; the thought those orders would transmute themselves into talismans guiding his life and is disappointed that they never did. It's only once he starts going against orders and purposefully doing the opposite of what he's expected to that he's able to make any good come into the world, and even that good is questionable.

I can't quite decide what is the most obvious target of the book's criticism. Old Boy's Clubs, Unions, Capitalists, the Economy, and the illusion of agency all have Vonnegut's biting humor aimed at them and none of them come out looking great. But at least some concepts are approached with sympathy - the plight of the worker in the modern world is constantly examined and the workers are always empathized with.

The book has been making me think ever since I finished it, which I suppose books are supposed to do, and mostly what I've come away with is a reaffirmed contempt of bureaucracy and a driving need to participate more in my own life. At the very least, if that need to participate isn't possible, easy, or fun, I can sure as hell laugh at the world a little better now.

Kilgore lives,
     - Alli

Vonnegut, Kurt. Jailbird. Dell Books. New York: New York. 1981. OP 1979.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Porcelain - original short fiction

Porcelain
by Alli Kirkham

Everyone knows that if you kill yourself it's not murder; it's suicide. That raises the question (for me, anyway, and I know I'm probably alone on this): if it's your own house is it still arson? What if your burn site is really safe? What if you don't want insurance money, just to wreck something? What if there was a very good, possibly universe-saving reason to burn this fucker to the ground and close the door forever? Or maybe it's only arson if you're crazy instead of right.

It started with bugs which, I know, is not the best way for something not-crazy to start but that's how it happened so what are you gonna do about it? There were bugs. At first it was just big beetles with colorful wings, and they weren't frightening so much as they were wonderful. Sure, you might not want bugs in your bedroom but if you're going to have them they might as well be jewel-bright and make music with their wings. The beetles were eaten by some kind of beetle-eating-termite that chittered and clattered and kept me up at night (they didn't eat the beams or my bed, just the beetles, but they looked a whole lot like termites). Those in turn got eaten by a plague of spiders. I slept in the yard for a week, not wanting to see what was awful enough to destroy the spiders and when I moved back in (covered in bites from totally normal mosquitoes) the bugs were gone and I was okay for a while.

Don't get me wrong; once in a while there were clanking sounds in the middle of the night, blood ran up the walls in the bathroom every three days, and the ground floor of the house held steady at freezing for three months, but none of that was a patch on a sudden invasion of spiders because seriously, fuck spiders. All of this was real, by the way. I still have one of the beetles in a jar (hot pink and the size of my fist), I sent some of the bathroom blood to a lab (it came back B positive with early-stage syphilis), and I had a webcam trained on a thermometer in my living room the entire time. I know that all of that stuff can be faked pretty easily but proving that any of it was real will be really hard (except the bug, but I want to wait 'till he's dead before I ship him off to get sliced into bits by some asshole at MIT or something).

I don't do drugs or anything either, if that's what you're thinking. That shit killed my dad and it killed my brother and I've been sworn off anything stronger than apple cider for more than a decade.

So there were weird things going on. It happens. I tried not to let it get to me, not to get in the way of my day-to-day life. Nobody in management cares that you have to schedule your showers around a menstruating plumbing system. You still have to buy groceries, even if you have to put them in the fridge to keep them from freezing solid on the counter. Life goes on.

But then there was the doll.

Some people have a thing about dolls anyway - Charlie MacCarthy dolls and porcelain dolls are profoundly creepy even if they're just sitting quietly on a shelf. Cabbage Patch Dolls are lumpy, gross little near-human shapes. Dolls just have always had a way of slipping right into the uncanny valley, even before the valley was defined. This doll was different. She was creepy, all right - a porcelain doll with fixed curls and a frilly dress and slightly off-kilter eyes. The fangs were unusual, though.

Through all of human history there have been haunted doll stories. I know my situation isn't unique, I know you've already heard it before, I know you're expecting something to jump out of a dark corner or to just shift slightly in the periphery of my vision or climb up into my bed at night, but you have to understand that all of that had already happened. I was used to seeing nightmares in the edges of the vision and picking bugs off of myself in the morning; that had become standard by that point in my life but the doll was different. For all her fangs and horror the problem was that I loved her.

She showed up next to my butter dish at first. I came downstairs to find her on the kitchen table, wearing a pretty satin dress the exact same shade of blue as her eyes with painted freckles that matched her russet curls. I shrugged it off and turned on the stove and heated a pan. Shit shows up, you know? Then I turned back to get the butter and saw off a chunk to cook my eggs and saw that a jagged bite had been torn out of the frozen cube, a bite made with needle-fine, closely-spaced little teeth. A bite about twice as wide as her painted smile, but one that I was sure was hers nonetheless. Her little head was bent forward. Her little hands were clean. I backed out of the kitchen and decided to give up on cooking breakfast - I could grab something on the way to work.

When I came home she was gone; I checked the house very carefully to make sure, not wanting to find one of those needle bites taken out of my face or my throat in the middle of the night. There was no sign of her.

I pissed in the yard the next morning. It was the bathroom's day to bleed so I made use of a tree in the yard. I found a skinned, decapitated rodent by the stoop on my way back in. Breakfast was bacon sandwiches and milk. The doll was sitting on the passenger seat of my truck, neatly buckled in and wearing a bleeding squirrel-tail stole.

"Did you eat its head?" I asked, not expecting a response. That I didn't run screaming for miles and miles when she answered probably speaks poorly of my sanity. She turned her little face toward me, grinned widely and horribly with her terrible little teeth, and nodded. I closed the door and left her in the cab. I called in sick to work. I cried and tried not to remember the fur caught in that grin and I failed.

I had collected a lot of books about magic and witches and fairies and nightmares since all that shit had started to seem real. A few of those books had chapters on cursed objects, some had mentions of haunted or living dolls. None really seemed to touch on my dolly exactly. She could bite through frozen butter. She could bite through squirrel gristle. She had teeth that looked like hatred.

I had a bunch of mason jars in the basement. She probably couldn't bite through glass. Hopefully. I spent a few minutes hot-gluing iron nails to the inside of the lid of my biggest jar just in case. Iron's supposed to help against magic, right? I made sure to grab the salt off of my icy counter on my way back out the truck, unscrewing the lid to the shaker and holding the jar under my arm.

She was still buckled in, still grinning, and still tracking my movements with her head. Her curls rustled as I unbuckled the seat belt and pulled it away from her and her hands fell into a cruciform position. I poured a half-circle of salt around her on the seat and got to hear her voice for the first time - it was like the whistle of a teakettle, grating and harsh. She started to rock back and forth as I lowered the jar over her, but her body was soft and stuffed and didn't have any real joints so she couldn't move all that quickly. She shrieked in that bubbling whistle and I worried for a second that the glass would break but the sound cut off when I slid the nail-covered lid under the lip of the jar. Just like that, quiet. Her sharp little mouth had opened in horror and she was trying to kick away from the nails. I flipped the jar right side up so that she wasn't touching the metal and she stopped struggling. She looked almost like she was panting, actually. But she couldn't have been - she was only porcelain and silk and stuffing. She didn't have lungs to pant.

I carried her back into the house, refusing to look down at the jar, refusing to see that little stuffed chest rising and falling. The tink-tink-tink of porcelain on glass went down with me into the basement, faster than my footfalls. Not something rocking. Something tapping. Something that I didn't let myself look down and watch.

The bathroom stopped bleeding at midnight so after a long day of getting solidly drunk I went upstairs and took a shower. It was hot and comfortable. I relaxed under the water and tried not to think about exactly how bizarre my life had become.

That night I dreamed of silk and a gasping mouth calling out my name.

I was happy to piss in a bowl instead of in the dirt the next morning. Every time the bathroom bled the walls and floors were miraculously clean the minute the clock struck twelve, so at least I didn't have a part-time gig cleaning up a syphilis vector.

I threw on a cozy scarf and cooked breakfast, taking the time to pack a lunch as well. I'd been eating too much fast food since my life went haywire. Before I left for the day I tromped downstairs to check that my jar had held up and the dolly wasn't wandering lose with her shark smile.

The jar was still on the shelf where I'd left it, a clear space far back from the edge so that she couldn't tip it over onto the floor. As a precaution I'd drawn a circle of salt around it as well. Dolly was still in there, hissing at me silently through the glass. I tipped a mock-salute to her that stalled halfway through.

She looked different.

Still the same blue eyes and dress, still the same reddish curls and freckles, still the same mouth full of nightmares. But something was off. Since I couldn't pin it down I shrugged and completed my salute. Went back upstairs, hopped in my truck, and drove off for a long, fulfilling day of screwing lids on at the mayonnaise factory. I was halfway to work before my head finally put together what had been different about my little guest. Her stuffing had receded. When I put her in the jar yesterday her hands, shoes, and head had been porcelain - everything else was just a lumpy stuffed body. Today she'd been porcelain up to her elbows - the sleeve of her dress had pulled up enough to see that she now had wrists, at least. Maybe she had ankles today too.

I forced myself not to turn around and check. Clocked in to work, tied on my hairnet, and spent the day twisting lids and reciting nursery rhymes to myself so I couldn't think about her in her jar at home. She hadn't knocked herself off the shelf, she probably couldn't, that was all there was to it. I had gotten her before she could get me, and I should leave her alone in the basement to moulder forever.

On the ride home I realized that I'd forgotten my lunch and left it sitting out all day. When I walked into the kitchen my sandwich had been spun up into a cocoon and was spitting maggots the size of my thumb. I picked it up in a trash bag and threw it into one of the ice-edged puddles in my back yard. I checked the kitchen again just to make sure that the maggot-moths hadn't infested my fridge and I hadn't left any other edibles out for them to find. The last time I'd left the butter uncovered overnight I'd woken up to find a feeding frenzy - those little squirming shits stank, and they bit, and I didn't want to spend another three days worrying about what happens to someone who gets bit by a monster maggot. I went out for dinner, then to Denny's until it was late enough that I could collapse into sleep the moment I hit the bed. When I slept hard I never dreamed. At least I didn't used to.

I didn't dream that night, or the next, or the next, but when I finally dream again, it was a shock. I dreamed of blue silk and rustling curls all around me, and beyond that there was only green glass and distorted darkness. I tried to run away but there was something wrong with my legs. I tried to claw myself standing but my fingers were frozen and I couldn't catch hold of anything. Finally I forced my numb legs to stand but I knocked my head on the roof and it burned me. I fell back down and put my hands to my face with a soft little clinking noise. I had dreamed that I was the doll, locked in a jar in the dark, but before my sleeping mind understood that I was swept into another dream, one in which a high, sweet voice sang me my sins as a cold, hard hand ran over my chest. I awoke with a screaming orgasm from the first wet dream I'd had in more than ten years.

I got up, shaking, and threw my pajamas into the hamper. My towel was wrapped securely around my waist and I was halfway to the bathroom when I remembered that it was bleeding today. Defeated, I stormed back into my bedroom and got into my sticky bed. Then I heard a slight tink-tink-tink that may have just been branches against my window. I got dressed and went down to the basement.

There was no denying it, now. She had changed. Her wide, child-like face had grown narrower and had shapely shadows tilted across her cheekbones. The blue silk dress had lost its ruffles and was shorter, sleeker. More adult. I could see her knees now, and her shoulders; she was losing more stuffing as more of her turned smooth, cold, and perfect. When I realized I'd just thought of how perfect she was, she bared that vicious smile at me and I backed away from her, up the stairs, and went right out the door. It was Saturday; I didn't have to work and I sure as hell didn't have to be here. I went to Denny's to drink coffee until the movie theater opened, then went to the movies and watched the same three insipid shows until it was dark again. Back at the house at ten o'clock at night I stuffed my sheets into the washer, keeping my back turned to hide her shelf, and remade the bed. I showered in my once-again-perfectly-normal shower and took an antihistamine to help me sleep. I didn't dream.

It carried on like that for a while. Once a week or so I'd dream of her then I'd go down to see how much she had changed and try to keep myself from fixating on how much more lovely she was becoming. I went to work, strange things happened around the house, periodically I'd go get coffee and avoid my home. Each time I walked down to the basement I knew that I was fighting with myself and eventually I knew that I was fighting to keep myself from reaching into the circle of salt and lifting the lid off of her jar. She wanted out and she let me know it by letting me believe that she wanted me with all of her perfect, cold little heart.

It was almost spring. Shoots were rising cautiously out of the ground and there were longer and longer stretches of days when the cold of my ground floor seemed like a welcome relief from the heat instead of a frigid wasteland. I could smell green honeysuckle blooms blowing their pre-flower scent into my window at night. I dreamed more frequently. I dreamed more deeply. I dreamed of her. Finally I woke up one night, the whistling of her sighs still high in my ears, only to realize that I was in the basement; I was reaching a hand out to her and the grin spread across her face was obscene in its savagery. It took so much effort to keep that hand moving after I saw her smile but I did. I picked up her jar and walked up the stairs and into the back yard. I took a shovel and walked with her to the dampest patch that I could find, trying not to hear her little hands tink-tink-tinking on the walls of her prison the whole time. I think the hole must have ended up being at least six feet deep, deep enough at any rate that I had to work hard to recover myself from it. I put her at the bottom and saw her hissing and howling at me as I shoveled dirt over her, stopping every foot to tamp it down as much as I could, hoping she wouldn't be strong enough to dig her way out if she ever did manage to get through the glass. Filthy, I went back into the kitchen and grabbed a canister of salt - one of a pack of six restaurant-sized containers that I had purchased after I first trapped her. I went out to her little grave and salted the earth above it, knowing that if someone came by and saw this that they would think I was crazy, think I was burying a person, would dig her up and let her out and she would kill me and I'd never be able to explain. But no one came by.

Things got almost normal, for a while. The bathroom took a day off of bleeding, and then another, until it only happened sporadically and then for only a couple of hours at a time. The kitchen warmed up, I slept better, no more bugs came. And then one night I heard a tink-tink-tink sound that might have only been branches against my window.

I walked through the house, through the cold kitchen, and down into the basement. The circle of salt was still there and her jar hadn't returned. My Dolly wasn't there. Instead there was a darling little ballerina doll lying alone in the center of my concrete floor, missing one slipper. I didn't take my eyes off her as I gathered my supplies - a jar from the workbench, some iron nails from the same dropped into the jar, salt swept off of Dolly's spot on the shelf to cover the nails, and finally a lid to that jar. I approached this new doll and upended the contents of the jar onto her. She immediately began writhing and shouting - where my Dolly had sounded like a teakettle, this doll sounded like grinding gears. I scooped her into the jar and closed the lid, the noise cut off but she continued to squirm away from the nails and salt, tink-tinking as her porcelain elbows and knees knocked into the glass. Her smile wasn't as awful as Dolly's had been, but she had long, raking claws to make up for it.

When Dolly had first appeared, I hadn't questioned it. Why would I? Weird shit had been happening for a long time before Dolly - you don't question rain when it shows up because it's just part of the weather. But rain isn't generally homicidal. I started to explore the basement. Large parts of it were just general basementey types of things - an old coal bin, a work bench, canned fruit. I started moving things away from the walls, checking behind tools and stacks of peaches. Nothing. But nothing didn't feel right. I eyeballed the coal bin and decided that it would be more crazy not to check it than it would be to dig through all that coal, so I started to dig. Halfway down I found the top of the door on the far side of the bin. I dug until I found the bottom of the door, a fairy door - no more than a foot high. I pushed it open and warm yellow light poured out into my basement. There was a single pink ballet slipper just within the range of my vision in that little yellow hallway. And all that I could hear coming from beyond that was the soft tink-tink-tink of porcelain on a hard surface.

It took less time than you might expect to pack everything I cared to keep into the back of my truck. It took more time than I had expected to dig up the first doll, probably because I had to be so careful not to break her jar open with my shovel. I didn't bother cleaning that jar, though. I didn't want to get anything more than a glimpse of what she was now - momentary flashes of her eyes and her teeth have been enough to haunt me ever since that day, so I'm glad that I didn't see more. I put her jar next to the ballerina's jar in a rectangle of salt and made sure to put more salt in front of the little door before I went to the local big-box store. I got iron sheeting. I got pounds and pounds of salt. I got twenty gallons of gasoline and maybe ten gallons of olive oil.

Dolly and her Ballerina friend were frenzied and rocking in their jars when I got back. I think they knew what I was planning. They got put on the other side of the fairy door, as far in as my arm could reach, and the space between them and the door got filled with salt as high as I could pour it. I riveted the iron sheet to the wall and pounded in all the nails that I could find for good measure. The coal I'd moved when digging for the door got pushed back over the iron shield. Then I started making use of my accelerants.

I live far enough away from town that no one called in the fire. I waited, on standby, with a garden hose in hand until the whole structure had collapsed into the basement and until the basement stopped throwing up flames. I hosed down anything in the yard for fifty yards around that might have been slightly dry, but it had been a wet winter and I didn't think anything would catch. I did not turn the hose on the smoldering mess that had been my house because I wanted to make sure that slag and ash were all that remained before I drove away.

It took another two days for smoke to stop rising but I was satisfied that the coal bin had been completely destroyed, and no passage remained from my basement into a porcelain world full of little smiles and yellow light.

I drove away. I hadn't had much of a social life in almost a year, and no significant bills since I'd paid off the house, so I had a few thousand dollars socked away. I wasn't going to seek insurance money, maybe just wait a few years and put the lot up for sale. Maybe to someone who wanted to build a landfill. The beetle was still buzzing in his jar when I crossed the state line - I caught him some flies to eat. I kept driving and as I did I kept thinking of haunted dolls. Every culture has a story about them. Every generation has their own unique version. Talking Tina. Chucky. You know what I mean. I thought of little porcelain hands and little yellow hallways and asked myself if there was anywhere I could drive to, no matter how far I went, that I could be sure wouldn't have a fairy-door full of russet curls? I didn't have an answer to that question that made me comfortable. I just kept driving.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Saturday - original short fiction

Saturday
by Alli Kirkham

Marco was wearing some white taffeta monstrosity. He had dyed his hair bright red to match the stilettos winking out from under the full skirt. He looked cool and confident and light on his feet. He looked like a sundae, the bitch.

I was standing about halfway through the interminable line to the ladies room. Girls in front of me chatted and jabbered, girls behind me giggled and talked. I felt uncomfortably alone but that wasn't improved by Marco squealing my name and loudly announcing how grateful he was that I'd saved him a place.

"This is a girl's restroom, Marco. Are you a girl?" He flipped imaginary hair over his shoulder and batted his eyes at me.

"I am not a girl, but neither do I see any evidence that this is a girl's bathroom." He kissed my cheek and left a long smear of lipstick up my cheekbone ant into my hair. I rolled my eyes.

"Do you see the girls in line around you? I'd say that's pretty good evidence."

"No, what I see is a little blue sign with a little white stick figure. You know what that stick figure is wearing? A skirt. You know what I'm wearing? A skirt. As is everyone else in this line except for you. So maybe you're in the wrong line."

It was true. There was no sign saying "Women" or "Ladies," and, I realized feeling more self-conscious by the second, I was the only person in line wearing pants. I didn't like skirts, even at the club. They felt too exposed. "You may have a point, dearie," I said, patting him on the shoulder and wandering away. "I'll go find the bathroom for people with pants on."

I did. It was blessedly empty and relatively clean. There was no door on the one stall but I shrugged, sat, and pissed anyway. A guy standing by the sink took a bump of something off his thumbnail then ran water and snorted a few droplets up his nose. He glared at me when I came to wash my hands after flushing but I wasn't about to let myself feel judged by a dude using god-knows-what in the bathroom of a shitty Hollywood club.

I went back out to the bar and considered dancing. I decided I wasn't drunk enough to dance and didn't feel like getting there so I just leaned and bobbed my head and watched the lightshow and the people around me.

My cell phone buzzed in my hip pocket.

Marco had a problem and needed my help immediately in the girl's bathroom.

I texted him that it was the skirted bathroom, not the girl's, and that I didn't have a skirt so I wasn't allowed in. He replied that I was a horrible cunt and please come help right now I'm stuck.

Why not?

The line had gotten longer and the conversation near the front had gotten angrier. I edged up to the door and asked some drunk girls what was going on. They stopped laughing and grumbling long enough to let me know that someone was stuck. I told them I was here to help and shouldered past them.

This bathroom didn't have stall doors either. Marco was in the one closest to the entrance, next door to a toilet overflowing with shit and tampons. He had cried out his makeup.

"What the fuck?"

"Help me!" he wailed. The bottom four inches of his skirt were soaked in shit and urine all around. The toilet appeared to have eaten about a third of the back half of his dress. The suction had pulled the bodice far enough askew that I could see the padded, hot-pink bra he had worn to fill out the top. All in all it was easily the third most absurd thing I'd ever seen happen to him.

"What do you want me to do about it?" I had no idea how to handle this situation. This was not the sort of occurrence that I generally came prepared for, though clearly that was going to have to change if I was going to keep being friends with Marco.

"Are you telling me that this is the one time you don't have a knife on you?"

"I got the same pat-down coming in that you did, asshole. Why would I try hard to smuggle a knife in? I didn't think I'd have any emergency whittling to do tonight."

"Katie! You are always armed! I am strapped to a toilet and those dippy broads are laughing at me and I need your help!" I thought about wandering out and getting a bouncer, but realized that would probably get us both kicked out. Maybe for good. And this was like a second home to Marco.

I sighed and put my hand down my shirt and hauled out my yarn cutter. It's a round razor blade set in a pendant, used by yarnbombers (like me) and grandmothers everywhere.

"I'm going to ruin your hemline, darling," I said to him. He sniffled and hugged me when I reached behind him and started slicing him loose.

The shorter skirt with its hanging threads actually looked even cuter on him, the bitch. I made him go wash his hands while I hauled the mangled skirt up out of the u-bend. There was no trashcan in the room so I dropped the shit-smeared material on top of the clogged and overflowing toilet. There was no soap in the dispenser but a girl in line gave me a bottle of hand sanitizer that I wiped down with up to my elbows. She said I could keep it, and was just glad that the line to piss had started moving again.

Marco was already flirting at the bar when I joined him, reeking of isopropyl alcohol and fake violets. He no longer looked like a sundae. He looked like a beat-up baby doll but I could see where his smeared mascara and shredded dress were appealing to the proto-goth element of the club. All he needed was some stripy kneesocks to complete the look. As soon as I sat down he draped himself around me and turned back to his new catch. "This is my hero - she just rescued me from a man-eating toilet. Buy her a drink!" And the catch did, and listened to the story and laughed in all the right places at Marco's antics and my eye-rolls. I thanked him for the drink and didn't say much. I just turned around to watch the crowd and listened to the music and saw the flaring and fading of the lights overhead as they froze dancers, separated individuals from the moving bodies for a few fractions of a second, like lightning flashing in the distance.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Holidays - original short fiction

Holidays
by Alli Kirkham

Outside everything was pink. I'm not sure how they pulled it off, but from some blimp or building or streetlamp or all of them a sickening pink light was bouncing off the pavement and making my eyes water. It smelled like chocolate too. I'm pretty sure that was some sort of Disneyland trickery - pumping main street full of popcorn smell so you sell more popcorn. I think that one was achieved by putting individually wrapped chocolates into the pink streetlights, but I could be wrong.

Inside everything was pink and smelled like chocolate too, by the way. I'm not saying I had it any better than the jerks on the street, waiting in line for expensive dinners or stupid movies. But at least I had air conditioning and access to a practically unlimited supply of energy drinks.

Valentine's day is a guys-are-assholes, failure-only holiday. Girls get a pass on this because it seems like we all hate the patriarchy until it's responsible for buying us presents. So a drugstore at 6pm on Valentine's day is a female-free zone; most of the female workers have asked for the night off, women aren't coming in to buy things like deodorant or milk because they're at home getting ready for their evening, and women don't seem to be responsible for getting cards or chocolates for their partners (either that or they already took care of it six weeks ago so don't have to rush in out of the rain to buy something pink to carry out into the pink night) so there are no girls panicking in line amidst the panicking guys who are clutching at cards and conversation hearts like shields for their genitalia.

The guys in line are like spooked horses, all rolling eyes and flaring nostrils as they approach me and hold out their paltry goods.

Whatever, I just ring 'em up, man. But I do have an okay time watching the panic crest as it gets later - our Valentine section is a litter of footprint-embossed envelopes and cards that make fart noises. The only candy left in the aisles are leftover Christmas lollipops and Necco Wafers. Flowers are only a memory preserved in petals ground into the industrial carpet. We still had some stuffed animals left, but they were all in the claw machine by the front door. One dude, three back in line, is holding a card with fake body hair on the outside and a packet of gum - he's eyeballing the claw pretty hard.

I like working holidays. I like seeing the worst of people. People cope with expectations and how they want to meet those expectations poorly. The lack of coping skills always pops up on holidays, and is at its best in a drugstore. I once watched two septuagenarians wrestle in an aisle, pulling out hairpins and knocking thick glasses askew, as they fought over who would take the pink-and-brown bunny home for their granddaughter's first Easter. Last year a man came in on Christmas eve and ransacked the pet section, throwing squeaky toys and dog jackets into a cart alongside gaudy giftbags; he told me he had forgotten about his nephews until just that very hour and this was the only thing he knew to do. I told him, "they'll think you got them a puppy," and he responded: "Fuck it, they gotta learn the world is shit someday right?" Every Thanksgiving I face a line of people, all of them begging me for a turkey - two years ago a nice little lady told me she would give me five hundred dollars if I went home and got my personal turkey and gave it to her. I told her I was a vegan and she started to cry and that is what I was thankful for that year.

I don't think I do it for the power. I think I do it for the isolation. Everyone else has a house full of people they have to go home and playact for. These guys in line in front of me, they don't want to go out to some fancy dinner, they don't give a shit about the cards they're holding - they just know that if they don't pretend to want all that bullshit they'll be denied the thing that they really do want. I don't even know if the girls actually want or care about the candy and the flowers and the day or if it's just about the power to deny. It seems cyclical and ugly to me. I like to look at it to remind myself that I don't want to pretend like that. I don't want to offer someone my savings for a turkey. I don't want to think that my relationship hinges on the right combination of chocolate and pink.

The third guy back in line has just realized that there's a fluffy heart pillow in the claw machine. It's pink. It's edged with lace. It says I love you and it has a secret compartment with Godiva chocolate inside. He looks at the card in his hand, curls his lip as he takes in the pube-like fuzz of juvenile joke image. He drops the card on the floor.

I wasn't expecting the running tackle of the machine, I'll tell you that much. He got his shoulder into it good and low, though, and took the damned thing over. The fluorescent tube inside popped when the box hit the ground, the glue down one corner pulled apart. The guy got his hands into that open seam and managed to almost sever a finger pulling the clear plastic panel away from the mirrored back. He leaned over the wretched cube, its side now its floor and that covered in goggle-eyed toys, snagged the fluffy heart, and scampered, cackling and bleeding, into the pink night.

About four seconds later the stampede happened. The space in front of my register was filled with fluttering fuchsia leaves as cards fell to the ground. Men were struggling and hitting each other, each trying to be the next to reach into that jagged gap and come up with a prize that would please his partner, each running away through wooshing automatic doors as he succeeded. I didn't try to stop it, just laughed. I called the cops and my manager and soon enough there was a blue pulse added to the pink glow coming in from the streets. The cops walked in and took pictures and shook their heads - I hadn't tried to apprehend anyone or stop anyone from making off with their stupid little toys, and I hadn't tried to clean up the blood. They took notes, my manager called the blood-cleaning guy; I zipped up my sweater at midnight and went home.

I'm not a vegan, I'm not perfect, I don't plan, and I'm just like everyone else. As I walked through our yard I clipped twigs from trees and pulled leaves from weeds and collected long pieces of grass, weaving together a green bouquet. I put it on her nightstand and kissed her temple as I climbed into bed with her. It had wilted and dried by the time we woke up but she loved it anyway. And at least I didn't have to get stitches over it.

Surprisingly hilarious horror


I read Cracked.com all the time. I think it's funny and full of factoids and written by interesting people. Cracked is the reason that I asked for this book on my Amazon wishlist (and thanks and major props to Fito user AliBear for sending it to me) and the reason that I was willing to give it a chance. I'm not usually open to too many new books, I don't have the patience to buy something only to discover that it's utter shit thirty pages in. Websites like Cracked offer me a pretty decent protection - I'm familiar (to an extent) with the authors on the site before I make an investment in their books. Several of the Cracked columnists have published books recently and I know that I'll probably be happy reading some of them. That didn't keep me from being utterly floored by how much I enjoyed David Wong's John Dies at the End. In fact I'm having a little bit of trouble being patient enough to get through work so that I can watch the movie adapted from the book when I get home. And I've had to fight to stop myself from running out and buying the sequel immediately (I'm trying to work through my "unread" pile before buying more books). This book was AMAZINGLY good.

The novel was a bit more dense than I was expecting, considering that it was written by someone who makes dick jokes for a living. That doesn't mean that there were no dick jokes in the book (there were SO many dick jokes, all of them hilarious) just that the dick jokes took place in an interestingly gradated moral universe that pauses frequently to seriously consider identity, justice, free will, and whether you really need a flamethrower if you're going to fight otherworldly evil (the answer to that is yes. Obviously yes).

I'm a sucker for horror - I was raised on a steady diet of Stephen King books and John Carpenter movies so it's just always kind of been in the background for me. But I'm a REAL sucker for horror with a sense of humor - things like Evil Dead and American Werewolf in London, where you're scared shitless but still giggling like a maniac. When I was reading John Dies at the End I kept laughing out loud and reading the funniest passages aloud to my husband. There was one point when I read for three pages straight because the funny just kept happening. Then I finished the book and tried to go to sleep and couldn't because that shit was fucking scary and it was still tumbling around in my head.

I'm so excited about this book. I'm excited to have read it, I'm excited that there's a sequel, I'm excited that there's a movie, and I'm excited that I'm going to get to experience these things again and again because some nutjob on the internet went out and made something awesome and shared it with all of us. This is SO RAD and I hope you have the chance to be excited by a book like this at some point in the near future. Or you could go read John Dies at the End and be excited about it with me. Either way.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Wong, David. John Dies at the End. Permuted Press. 2012. OP 2007.

I am the Kwisatz Haderach


I am the biggest Dune fan that you will ever meet. If you ever do meet me, please don't make the mistake of talking to me about Dune because I'll be completely incapable of pretending to be a normal person. Of course that's probably already off the table because as I'm typing this I'm wearing my custom-made Litany Against Fear hoodie, and that Paul Mua'Dib tattoo isn't coming off any time soon.

What I'm trying to tell you here is that I really love Dune and that Frank Herbert's writing is important to me. Which is why I decided to read three of the Dune novels out of order to cheer me up when I was dealing with some pretty nasty depression last week.

Not to get too insanely geeky crazy, I really only consider three of Herbert's Dune series to really be true Dune books (God Emperor is tragic BLASPHEMY; Heretics and Chapterhouse just don't really feel properly like Dune books. Basically Paul is my defining factor for the series and once you've left Paul and Arrakis as the Fremen knew it out of the novel it can't really be said to take place in the same story arc). And now that it's obvious that I can't discuss this without being completely geeky and insane about it, I might as well dive in head on.

Dune Messiah:
I had forgotten how short this book is compared to others in the series, on top of which it hurries along at a mad, giddy pace. It's sad to see the Feydakin so abandoned by their Mhadi, sad to see Paul tormenting himself over the sacrifices he could choose not to make but does to try to save his species, sad to see Idaho revived and to see the weakened arm of the Atredies he supports. If Shakespeare had written Dune Messiah he would have called it The Tragedy of Mua'Dib. Dune Messiah makes you mourn for the innocence of a clean Arrakis, which is why I always FINISH my re-readings of the series by reading Dune again, even if I read it at the start.
Children of Dune:
Leto and Ghani are annoying little fucks. Almost all of Ghani's time on the page is spent reminding people of how insanely far back her memories stretch and how hard she has to try to avoid Abomination. We figured that out in the first three chapters, you can drop it now, kthanxbai. Leto almost never actually says anything - he will occasionally explain something in terms plain enough to insult the reader, but for the most part his thoughts and dialogue are gibberish. I don't quite hate them, but I'm much more interested in all the intrigues around them (which, I think, is the point) - Jessica and Alia's relationship is fascinating, and seeing the sacrifices that Idaho is willing to make for the Atredies is always heartwrenching. Most especially, though, I like to keep my eye on Stilgar in this novel - the most fulfilling thing about the book as a whole is the Naib's responses to the twins; they are his kinsmen, his charges, his rulers, and ultimately his downfall and the downfall of his people.

Dune:
There will never be a time that I don't completely love this book. I read it first when I was fifteen, Paul's age at the beginning of the story. I saw the David Lynch film for the first time before I was even old enough to remember seeing it. My first tattoo was of Paul walking the sand, waiting to call a Maker and take up the mantle of the Lisan al Gaib. Oh man, you guys, it is hard to explain to you how freaking much I love this novel. There are flaws in it and in the series as a whole, mostly continuity errors; the Fremen color of mourning switches from one book to the next, there is something truly screwed up going on with the timeline, nothing in the appendices really fits into the skewed timeline, how the fuck recently was the spice discovered because holy shit that is an important problem in the universe. I know that there are issues. But, man oh man, do I love these characters. They are all caught in a giant whirling machine that they don't really understand but their reactions while they're forced into their paths are all so amazing to watch. I have no idea how to explain to you how much I love these characters because it feels like they're a part of me and my love for them is like my love for my kneecaps - unthinking and expressed by almost unfailing trust illustrated by every single move that I make. This is why I can walk past a TV and see it raining on Caladan and everyone I know will know where to find me for the next four hours because I can't pull myself away from the screen - it feels like a part of myself. This is why I own somewhere between four and ten copies of Dune (one stolen from a hotel in Oregon which didn't deserve it) - because if I ever have trouble finding one of the copies I go buy another one so that I can keep it in a place separate from the others so that I'm that much closer to finding it the next time that I need to read it.

 Anyway, it was the discontinuity that stood out to me the most on this read-through. The spice is discussed as though it is a new discovery, and as though it has been mined in the same way with similar yields since its discovery but the Harkonnens have not only set up an enormous stockpile, they also used spice to pay for their treachery against the Atredies - something doesn't add up. In Children of Dune Leto forsees the death of the Makers because of a too-wet Arrakis, but Pardot Kynes didn't forsee the same problem in spite of being an Ecologist - something doesn't add up. Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, Gurney Hallek, Thufir Hawat, and the Harkonnens never make the connection between Paul Atredies and Mua'Dib in spite of the fact that all of them are well aware of how Paul was trained by the Bene Geserit AND military tacticians before his unseen death; in fact Margot Fenring is the only one aside from Jessica who expresses even the slightest doubt that Paul is dead, based on the same training Mohiam had - something doesn't add up. Jessica was supposed to breed with Leto to preserve and manipulate a bloodline, but the duke's buyers "selected" her and she was scared of leaving with them - Bene Geserit training has something wrong with it; it doesn't add up.

But who cares if it's not perfect? Dune introduced the world to a new universe that has fascinated millions (if not billions) of people since it was first published. There's a lot going on in the novel, it was written by a somewhat chaotic man and published schizophrenically by magazines at first and in hardcover by a car manual manufacturer, so I can't really bring myself to give too much of a shit about a few errors. Those minor errors don't detract at all from the fascinating universe, the complex characters, the rich fictional history, or from my enjoyment of the novel.

Seriously guys. So much. I love it so much. Oh man, I kinda want to read it again now.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Herbert, Frank. Children of Dune. Penguin Putnam Inc. New York: New York. 1987. OP 1976.
Herbert, Frank. Dune. Penguin Putnam Inc. New York: New York. 1999. OP 1965.
Herbert, Frank. Dune Messiah. Penguin Putnam Inc. New York: New York. 2008. OP 1969.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Lady in the Wood - original short fiction

The Lady in the Wood
by Alli Kirkham

A lady tall and strong walked into a shaded wood. Birds sang, though it was dim beneath the trees, and a wet wind blew her hair over her face. She had not walked long when she came to an old woman standing beside a cart that had overturned in a ditch. The old woman was weeping with her head in her hands, lamenting her situation.

"I shall help you, mother," the tall lady said, and cut a branch to use as a lever and quickly had the cart righted and horse reined again. The old woman clapped and hugged the younger about her waist.

"Child you have done me great service, let me repay you by reading your fortune, telling you all the things you will do and can do as well as those things that you won't and can't." The young woman kissed the elder's brow and shook her head. "Dear mother, I have gone to seek my fortune and it is mine alone to read, so I thank you for your offer and take your thanks as all the payment that I need." And with that the tall lady was on her way.

As the evening drew on she made camp and slept beneath the stars. When she woke she bathed in the river when a deep voice called to her.

"Beautiful girl, I am overwhelmed by the fair vision of your glass-gray eyes and long golden hair," the lady turned boldly and made no move to cover herself. She was faced by a man on a horse leading a long train of courtiers and horses. The man was broad and had a fine handsome face and all his clothing spoke of wealth and ease. "Long have I searched for a woman worthy to be my wife, but all have fallen short of my demands. Come with me and take my hand and you shall have riches never dreamed of and joy and comfort for all of your days."

The lady nodded and walked from the water, clothing herself as she went, until she came to her pack and her bow. "Your offer is kind, sir, but I am on my way to seek my fortune, not to share in yours. Take comfort in your riches and joy, I shall find my own." The man made a sour face and his courtiers grumbled but he saw the sure and easy way the lady handled her bow and spread a greasy grin on his face before offering a sarcastic bow and bidding her good day.

The lady wandered on, traveling a high road, and soon came to a cave filled with women who looked much like her. They were tall and strong, they carried blades and bows. "Sister," called one of the women in the cave, "come to join us! We have a place for girls like you; we talk like you and think like you and fight like you do! Come into our home and join us." The lady shook hands with all of the other ladies, and listened to their stories around a fire but soon she stood. "Sisters, I am glad that you are happy, I am glad that you have found your home. I wish that I could stay with you but I have left my life to seek my fortune; this place is happy and you are strong, it is your place and your strength, and I am looking for a place and strength of my own."

So the lady wandered on once more. She wandered for many years and did eventually make her fortune, all cobbled together from the bits and pieces of life that she brushed against in her search and held firmly in her breast as a soft and glowing light. She had many friends and many adventures, and when she died she was happy for the life she had made was her own.

Subjective - original short fiction

Subjective
by Alli Kirkham

I came up with the game when I was trying to buy a bra and shaping garments to wear under my wedding dress. I called it "I'm a ninja and you can't see me" or "Please don't touch my boobs," but of course I only called it that in my head. Out loud I called it "I'm just browsing" and if someone touched my boobs they automatically lost and I had to go to another store, so really it was a lose-lose proposition. The nice lingerie shops and fancy department stores were all disqualified by someone's hands clutching a measuring tape trying to figure out my size. The stuff that I got off the rack didn't fit perfectly, sure, but I also didn't have to treat salespeople like hurdles in order to pay for it.


The first place was a fancy store on a fancy side-street of a fashionable downtown area. They wrapped a tape around my chest, decided I was a 34B and handed me a bra. I tried it on and called out past the curtain - "It doesn't fit!"

"Oh, just sit there for a few minutes. Your boobs will mold to it." So I sat there. I listened to the conversation behind the counter; someone was having a baby, someone else was getting a divorce, someone else was graduating high school. My boobs molded to the bra, then overflowed it. It was like I had the Blob attached to my chest.

"I'm getting quad-boob here," I said past the curtain. No response. I took the bra off and tried to rub out the pressure marks on my ribs. "I don't think it's right for me," I said, and walked out into bright sunlight.

The next store was in a crappy area and looked crappy itself, though the window display of an absurdly large bra full of balloons amused me. These ladies thought I was a 34C.

"Put your arms through the straps, hook the bra behind your back, then bend and scoop into the cups," the sales associate said. I nodded, closed the curtain, and spent four minutes trying to close the bra behind me. "Everything okay?"

"Uh, no. I can't get it closed."

"Oh, it's too tight?"

"Um. I don't think so? I just never learned to close a bra behind my back. I usually fasten it in the front then twist it." Cue a cacophony of laughter from the other side of the curtain. Fuck it. I front-fasten, twist, then bend and scoop. "I think it fits?" Shhhhick! The curtain opens.

"Oh no, you're pouring out of that - let me go get you a D-cup." So a D-cup is fetched. Then a double-d. I decide I'm over it, as I'm leaving they admonish me to remember that I need a DD minimum. And they tell me to practice hooking my bra closed behind me, "Twisting it is for training bras." Great, I can't even get dressed like a grownup.

After a week's recovery time I try the mall. Victoria's Secret has been around forever, right? They'll get this squared away. I walk in and am focused on by a glaring woman who I recognize from my girl-scout troop. She is shrill and brimming with false cheer. She measures me as a 38AA, lets me know that they don't sell that size and are out of stock on bra extenders. She seems to be cheerful in a more honest way when I leave.

Downstairs there's a Fredrick's of Hollywood. Why not? No one attempts to measure me at first but I quickly realize that everything on display is for impossibly tiny people with terrifyingly large breasts. I approach the counter and inquire about different sizes. The sales associate swoops around to me, startles me with a hug, pulls back and grabs my chest. She tips me a wink "Sure, just let me get something for you to try on." I'm out of the store before she reappears because, seriously, I'm not sure I can handle this.

Nordstrom's has a blade-faced woman with a measuring tape - she says my ribcage is a 40 and they'll have to alter something. Macy's has an associate who eyeballs my tits before pulling thirty things off of racks and ushering me into the dressing room, talking to me through the fiberboard door the whole time I'm trying to wrestle in and out of everything from taupe nursing bras to a no-shit training bra. JC Penny's has a disinterested teenager who measures me and sets me on my way - but she thought that I was a 32 or smaller, so the first bra I try on almost cuts off circulation. I leave the mall in defeat, seriously questioning whether you really need underwear for a wedding, or if I can get away with wearing a fleece instead of a gown.

I wear sports bras and avoid human contact for a week. This does a great deal for restoring my sanity. I go to WalMart, am staunchly ignored by the staff, and purchase a plain white 36C bra, a white elastic girdle, and a pair of white bicycling shorts at the self-checkout lane. I try them on when I get home and I look like the Michelin Man, but when I put the dress on over it the lines smooth out. Good enough.

I guess it doesn't need to be said that I'm not great with people. I know I'm touchy. I know. I'd probably be less touchy if people would stop fucking touching me. But who knows? It might make me worse.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Patience - original short fiction

Patience
by Alli Kirkham

It's dangerous to go outside these days, what with the spiders in the sky and all.

You've been asleep so long. I've been sitting here, waiting for you to wake up for so many months. But I can tell you at least some of what happened. For all I know you may have been one of the first; maybe that's why you woke up when so many others won't.

You know those freak stories you used to laugh at on the news? Rainstorms full of falling fish or frogs - that's kind of how it happened. You went out into the rain, you didn't take your umbrella because you loved the storms. But that day tiny spiders fell with the water and one fell inside your coat and bit you. You fell down in the driveway. I was so worried. I rushed out to you and pulled you back into the house. I called an ambulance and they said there would be no ambulances today - everything was too crazy, it was the end of the world. The operator told me to take off your clothes and put you in a warm shower, to check you carefully for bites and bugs. And she told me to stay inside, to keep everyone inside, no matter what.

The bite was enormous - your poor neck, you still have a scar. There was a spider in your hair - no bigger than the end of your little finger - it was as clear as glass and scuttling. I crushed it with my thumb and it burned me, but it didn't have time to bite.

Oh, god, I'm so glad you're awake.

I washed you and kept an eye out for spiders. I washed the bite on your neck and cried at how angry it looked. Baby, I was so scared. I dried you off and put you in bed.

The news was full of crazy stories. I tried to call the doctor, tried to call another ambulance and all I got were busy signals. I tried to call your mom but cellphones didn't work for weeks.

On the news they said that people were collapsing all over town, hell all over the country, wherever it was raining. They said to stay indoors and bring pets indoors and close up all the windows. They said to kill every spider you saw. That night the news shows were giving instructions on how to make blowtorches out of hairspray, and how to put out small fires. A lot of people got killed by fires, actually, but the only upside to the rain has been that they don't spread.

I raised the bed, with you in it, off the ground as high as I could. I sealed the windows with caulk. I kept a fire going all the time to keep the chimney clear. They kept saying it would stop when the rain stopped, but no one knew for sure and it just kept raining.

The next spider I saw was clear and blue - you know that jar you keep pasta in? It was just like that. Pretty. It came in on Jake's fur when I let him out onto the patio - I didn't realize they had gotten blown in past the glass. It didn't bite Jakey, and I killed it. Jake goes on pads in the kitchen now and I throw them out when he's done, so I'm sorry if it's a little stinky down there. I know you like me to keep it tidy, and Honey, I've been trying. And poor Jake - he misses the outside, but he likes to come in here with you.

By two weeks in there were reports on what to do with people who got bit. Almost everyone went into a coma, though some people died outright. The weird ones were people who seemed okay, maybe a little feverish and headachey, but would start having seizures and die a couple of days later. People didn't know what to do with their dead. Some people just left them in their beds to rot, some wrapped them up and blankets and put them by the street, like garbage men would come for them or something. There have been some pretty bad infections because of all of it. Really bad. Eventually the news started giving instructions on how to build a pyre.

They figured out suits pretty quick - internet stayed up, some people managed to keep making it in to work, and the word spread on how to make them. The National Guard was deployed to Wal-Mart - I thought you'd get a kick out of that. Anyway, they put together these suit packages; duct tape and thick vinyl sheeting and box cutters and circles cut out of screen doors and handed them out to anyone who pulled into the parking lot, along with a cheap booklet on fire safety and a sack of freeze-dried food. It's pretty safe to go outside now if you're suited up, but we don't have a proper decontamination unit here yet. I set up a big bucket and a hose and a couple of shower curtains right inside the front door, but you have to be really careful to shake anything off of you and kill it even after you've sprayed off. I've been making it in to work okay most days so I think in a couple of weeks I can get a good decon set up on the front porch for us.

There's a doctor that comes around. He's an old guy, and he made it out the first week you were down. I think I could kiss him. He just told me "I'm old, who cares if I die? I may as well help while I can," when he came over the first time. He had one of the first suits that I saw - this great homebrew of a rainsuit with dishwashing gloves and galoshes duct-taped to it; he wore a beekeeper's hat tucked into the collar. I had him take a look at you, and I'm sorry, I would have asked first if I could have. But I made sure you were in your good PJs and your hair was brushed nicely. He told me that your breathing and pulse-ox were normal, told me how I should feed you, and gave me some pretty strict warnings about bedsores. He gave me a special mattress pad and a bedpan to go in it. Sorry, Babe. I've gotten to know you better than either of us expected I guess. Mostly he told me that you would probably be okay. He's been by about once a month since, and always says that you're a model patient. Before he left that first time he put some gunk on your bite and gave me a jar of the stuff to keep putting on each day until I ran out. I don't know if it was an antibiotic or marshmallow fluff or whatever, but I was glad to have it and it made the swelling go down. I called him when you started to move around last night. He should be here tomorrow, and maybe he can tell you more about some stuff than I can, but probably he'll mainly tell you to eat.

Mostly I've been here. It took me about a month before I had enough of a setup to get into the office a couple times a week, but they've let me start running a lot of support from here. Mrs. McKinnister comes by when I'm out and keeps an eye on you. She's been reading to you a lot. Says she's glad that someone will listen to her. The neighbors have all been great. We have a phone tree, we all call and check on each other every night. The rain comes and goes - sometimes there's a week between storms but it's not enough time to kill all the spiders so we still suit up. They're getting bigger, too. And I've seen them in all sorts of colors now - green and black and purple and white, but always clear like glass. Nobody knows where they're coming from, nobody even knows if they're really alive because if they're clear we should be able to see some organs, you know? So there are no real answers yet. They don't seem to like the cold too much, so some people are holding out hope that winter will knock them out, at least up here, but I dunno.

I'm just...

Baby, it's just so good to see you again.

I love you, you know?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Seasick - original fiction

Seasick
by Alli Kirkham

We were all dead, but at least we knew it.
The ship had been mired in fog as thick as despair lo these ninety long years.
What do you do with a sailor drunk on heartsickness?
You sail on, searching for a pole star in the blank sky above.

The ropes always creaked, the hull always moaned, the canvas always shuddered, and we were always hungry for the sight of sunlight.

Curses are funny things - they always have a way of going away but it's hard to meet the conditions.

She had been a pretty girl.

We hung over the railings and called into the fog. We sailed and sailed and never slept; we tried, sometimes, but the nightmares made the waking worth it.

There's been a superstition against women on ships as long as ships have been built by men. I don't know if that says more about the women or the men.

We wailed our regret. We searched and sounded and tried to find where we had left her but the sea always looks the same when you can't see the shore.

The other funny thing about curses is that the cursed usually deserves it. I think we did, in the end.

Sometimes we found other ships but they could never see us. We watched for them and hated them, using the rare sight of human faces to gauge the passing of the years and the changing styles. We saw more dresses and parasols and lace as time kept pacing.

Strange things happened around her. Two men died in a fight over her. Fish leaped from the sea to see her face and landed gasping on the deck.

One man put out his own eyes after spitting on the hem of her dress.

We didn't know where we left her, we only knew we had to find her again.

I used to believe in mermaids and sirens and the spray of the sea. I used to believe in the sun.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

In the arena - original short fiction

In the Arena
by Alli Kirkham

The crowd rustled. The stadium stunk. It was almost time for the final bracket.

There is a long tradition of people and animals playing horrifying games together or in close proximity. Horses in chariot races. Lions in Rome. Bear-baiting. Bullfighting. There is a tradition.

This was, perhaps, a bit different.

The sport hadn't been very popular at first, but was decidedly more sporting than an English hunt or an Indonesian cock-fight. Humans never walked away in shame from a cock-fight. The trainers never risked anything in a dog-fight other than the cost of the dog (and maybe some small piece of human dignity, but who's counting?)

Skunk-Chasing was another thing altogether.

The rules were few and simple: Chase the skunk from a wide area into a narrow kennel. If you get sprayed, you lose. No hurting the skunk. Pretty much everything else was left up to the competitors.

There were a few brave, stupid players, probably similar to the rednecks who had made up the game, who favored a tossing approach; you tried to sneak up on the waddling fuzzball and toss it into the kennel either before it started spraying or in a direction where the spray wouldn't hit you. The obvious downside was that you had to get close enough to a skunk to pick it up, and even though they could be kittenish and sweet animals they still had teeth and claws in addition to their terrible glands.

Kids who played tended to be tempters - toss the skunk a tasty treat and guide it, like ET following a candy trail, into the kennel. Sometimes this worked but it depended on the temperament of the animal; many skunks were suspicious little critters and would happily eat two or three snacks before dousing you in stink.

Some people were stompers - you make yourself big and wave your hands over your head and stomp close to the skunk until it runs away. Even a skunk knows that doing gymnastics when something big is running at you isn't a great plan. But a scurrying skunk is hard to heard, and if a stomper has to make more than one adjustment to the course of the running critter he's pretty much bound to get sprayed.

I was different. And I was hated for it - I made the game dull. I was a befriender.

I was the last human player in the bracket. I'd gotten six skunks kenneled today at the quietest, least exciting matches of the tournament. When I walked into the corral there was no booing, just some shifting and a general frustrated sigh. But the watchers always cheer more for the skunk anyway. They let him out of his little crate and he wandered to the edge of the corral, unhappy in the daylight and trying to find some shade. Blinking and pouting. Poor little fella was scared.

I walked a couple of steps closer to him and lay down on my back, stretching out my limbs. Muttering started in the crowd, but died down to a hush real fast. That was another rule - if a watcher tried to scare the skunk or made too much noise, they traded places with the chaser. Most watchers wanted to not stink more than they wanted to heckle. The skunk seemed pleased that it was suddenly occupying a much quieter place. It stepped a bit closer to me and sniffed and outstretched hand (one which I had dipped in peanut butter before entering the ring). It snuffled and backed away. He was a suspicious one.

In response I took my hand back and rolled over on my side. Suspicious skunks tend to be curious too; he waddled around in front of me and sniffed after the peanut butter. I sat up.

Mr. Skunk was feeling feisty - I stretched my hand out to him and he started doing a handstand. The crowd held its breath and I held still. He let his back feet down and started licking my fingers. I had won.

It only took a few more minutes before I had the skunk in my lap, petting his back and chattering gently to him. He handled it okay when I stood up and followed me along the edge of the pen after I put him down in the kennel. I gave him a plum from my pocket and he started munching it contentedly.

After I walked out of the ring, the crowd broke into half-hearted applause. I shook a couple of hands and collected my check, champion again.

It's an okay game, even if it's not much of a challenge. It's an okay way to make a living at least. The secret, I've found, aside from playing nice and being patient, is to stink anyway. You don't take it as hard if you lose and the little critters seem to feel bad for you. At least that's what I've found.

The Roar of the Chains and the Cracking of Timbers


I am more than a little obsessed with Sting, a fixation that goes back to seeing him as Feyd in David Lynch's Dune. But in spite of the fact that I love The Police I am always a little leery of Sting's solo efforts; some of his solo songs are amazing (Fields of Gold springs to mind) but most of them are forgettable at best and irritating at worst.

In spite of that caution I asked for his most recent album, The Last Ship, for Christmas and my lovely little sister gave it to me. I held off on listening to it until now, and I'm very sorry that I did.

The Last Ship is a concept album that deals with the shipyards and poverty in the small town where Sting grew up; it's being turned into a stage musical that I'm now quite looking forward to seeing.

The album is just great. It exceeded all of my expectations. It is well rounded and sweet and funny and heartbreakingly sad sometimes. Of the two discs in the set the first is probably the strongest and has three of my favorite songs on the album, The Last Ship, What Have We Got?, and The Ballad of the Great Eastern.


The music is interesting throughout the record, playing with jazz, rockabilly, and Celtic traditional sensibilities from song to song. What Have We Got? is probably the best, cheeriest drinking song that I've ever heard about terrible poverty; A Practical Arrangement is cool jazz and full of mourning. The Ballad of the Great Eastern is a ghost story told in a song, and is completely delightful.

This is an album that I'm happy to own, with songs that get stuck in my head and make me think of gray waters and dirty streets. If you're looking for anything that feels like Outlandos D'amour or Regetta De Blanc you won't find it here, but neither will you find the synth-y overproduction that infected so much of Sting's work in the nineties. If you're a fan of Sting, or if you like songs about the sea, or if you're just looking for some really fantastic songwriting The Last Ship is well worth a listen.

Wondering about Wonderland


 I've probably seen the Disney Alice in Wonderland about a hundred times starting when I was too young to be aware of it (but I remember that when I was a small child I'd listen to my heartbeat in my ears at night when it was very quiet and be afraid that it was the sound of the cards marching to catch me and cut off my head). In spite of having Alice in my life for all of my life, I'd never read the books before now. When I was out shopping for Christmas presents a couple of months ago I found a pretty little edition of the books for a good price so I decided that it was about time to expand my understanding of wonderland.

What a mistake that was - it's all stuff and nonsense. You can't understand it, you can only go along for the ride.

It is, however, a very pleasant little ride. I think I liked Adventures in Wonderland better than Through the Looking Glass, but both were charming. Carroll's interpretations of storybook characters are frequently adorable and only sometimes tedious. The poetry is usually very funny. What isn't funny is either dull or downright terrifying (that Jabberwock illustration is haunting).

I sort of wish I felt more about these books now that I've read them. They are very silly, and I tend to like silly things, but this reading left me just a bit cold. Part of this is almost certainly the exposure to the Disney version, which cherry-picks the best parts of the story and leaves out anything that doesn't fit into a story. I guess I was expecting more story and less silly, and I'm a little sad that the silliness is most of the substance of the work.

There are some fantastic puns, though, and I can almost always get behind a good pun.

Read happy, and look out for Jabberwocks,
Cheers,
     - Alli

Carroll, Lewis. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Barnes and Noble. New York, New York. 2012.
Carroll, Lewis. Through the Looking-Glass. Barnes and Noble. New York, New York. 2012.

Inquire Within - original short fiction

Inquire Within
by Alli Kirkham

The ad was tantalizing. I'd spent, like, seriously three hours paging through all kinds of horrifying nine-to-fives on Monster and Jobs.com before I decided that my kind of work was best appreciated by Craigslist. It's a pretty horrifying decision to come to, that you're going to be valued most by people trading weird crap and trying to scam a blowjob, but sometimes you have to be realistic.

There was no title for the job, pay D.O.E. which is only expected when you're dealing with the dregs of the internet, one photo of a kinda trendy office building in South Pas, and a couple of typos. But there was so much potential! They wanted a twentysomething (me) with loads of social media experience (also me) who was willing to be the go-to no-guy in a world full of yes-men (so totally me); they were looking for makers and creative thinkers adept at browsing Pinterest and with a knack for getting retweeted - liberal arts BA was a plus. I was so all over this. Dress code was casual, benefits included (but were not limited to) telecommuting and plenty of cellphone breaks. Sounded like a dream.

My email response was snappy, my resume highly graphic, and my custom-crafted cover letter included as much hip detachment and insider knowledge as Radiohead and a Google search could impart to me. I got a response only an hour later and called in to schedule an interview for the next day, super stoked that they were so eager to hire.

I stayed up probably later than I should have, prepping my adorably nonconformist version of a business suit and making sure that I'd picked out a headband that was just the right combination of feminine, ironic, and professional. It took me an hour to do my nails but I made sure that they would complement my purse, shoes, eyes, and hair while clashing beautifully with my belt. This was going to be the best interview ever.

Getting there too early seemed like it would come off as desperate so I went to the closest Starbucks and ended up standing in line just long enough to make me slightly late. I gave myself a slight brain-freeze trying to suck down my frappachino before I went in the door and only realized that it might give me some kind of gross milk-breath as I was stepping into the lobby. Oh well. In the elevator I dug in my hobo bag until I unearthed an ancient Altoid. It would have to be enough.

I got to the right office only five minutes late; the waiting room was full of guys wearing corduroy jackets and bow-ties with dark-wash jeans and girls wearing not-quite business suits. I glared balefully at one girl whose shoes were almost the same shade as mine and whose belt was exactly the same - ugh, I'm never buying from Amazon again.

The glaring didn't go on too long, though - I didn't even get a chance to sit down because the receptionist ushered me through taupe hallways with ultra-cool framed prints right away before depositing me at the door to a corner office. I was duly called in and sat down in front of my potential new manager. He had a fantastic haircut and wonderfully vintage glasses. He was really cute, actually.

"Hi, hi, yeah, great to meet you," he said, lounging back in his chair. "So, tell me about your hobbies. What's your favorite website?" That kind of threw me a bit.

"Uh, don't you want to know about my work history?"

He shook his head. "We get all that junk on your resume; what I want to know is who you are, how you're going to mesh with the culture here. What you Instagram and what shows you go to." I could feel my jaw dropping. This was my time to shine.

I think it was about half an hour later when I noticed that time was still passing and I was still talking even though I had kind of run out of things to say. Manager man, whose name I had forgotten at this point, was still nodding and had a great big grin on his face so I must have been doing okay.

"Ohmygod," he said at last, and walked around the desk, "you are, like, totally what we're looking for. You wanna come down to HR with me?" Of course I did. He took my elbow just like an old-fashioned gentleman but, like, in a really cool way and we walked to a different elevator. I started asking him about pay and benefits and cellphone breaks on the way down and he just told me that HR would fill me in on all of it. The elevator doors slid open, I turned toward a new hallway with glittering, delighted eyes, and he shoved me over a ledge.

I hit the ground hard, about six feet down from where the floor of the elevator had been, and broke a heel. Dammit, these shoes were expensive. I got my feet underway and prepared to shout up at the asshole when I realized that the elevator was moving rapidly up through completely empty space. There must have been ten floors of just blankness before the elevator cables disappeared into shadows. That was a little unusual.

I made sure that nothing other than my shoe was broken then looked around. I was in a huge empty room. It was dark and dirty. Not much else to say. There was a pretty bright light and a wide, clean swath of floor off to my left, so that seemed like a good direction to go.

The room was big enough that I ended up kicking off my broken shoes and digging my emergency flip-flops out of my bag. I walked a little better after that, but it made me sad to dirty up my nice pedicure. Eventually I made it over to the light. There was a window like a ticket booth with "HR" written in the dust above it. Other than that there seemed to be no features in the wall. Behind the glass there was a girl with raccoon-like eyeliner and about six facial piercings. She was asleep so I knocked on the window. She slitted her eyes at me and grumbled.

"Um, like, what the fuck is going on?" I asked.

"Fuck if I know. Are you a new hire?"

"I guess, but I don't know if I wanna be. This place kind of blows."

She nodded in understanding. "Oh yeah, totally. So what do you do?" I stared blankly at her. "Are you into crafty shit or just web stuff?"

"Um, both. I do custom papercraft and things that you just would not believe with modge-podge and glitter, but I have a pretty serious Twitter following and like a thousand likes on just one pin." She smirked a little bit in a way that I really didn't like.

"Yeah, you're in the right place for sure. Or, I guess, not quite the right place. Can you take like, half a step to the right?" I shuffled my feet slightly to where she had asked me to. "Sweet. Have fun!"

It's a little embarrassing but I screamed for at least ten seconds after the trap door dropped. Then I realized that I was on a side and I got really confused. Maybe two minutes later I fell into a bright square of light and onto a big pile of extra fuzzy cushions. I dug myself out of the pile of pillows and discovered that I'd been shot into what basically amounted to a kindergarten classroom. Everything was done up in bright colors and there were craft supplies everywhere. There was a bank of windows through which I could see puppies and ponies and rainbows cavorting around a waterfall. In the center of the room was a giant kidney-shaped table with miniature chairs full of people around my age who were all tapping away at their iPhones. I found an empty chair and sat down, opening my purse on my lap to look for tissues; I felt the need for a pretty serious cry coming on.

"Uh, hey," I said to the table, startling a couple of people who hadn't noticed me coming in, "can someone please tell me what the fuck is going on?"

A girl who was clearly too old for her pigtails looked around the table and seemed to realize that she was the only one willing to take the initiative to answer. "Um, none of us are actually totally sure. But I guess welcome to Etsy?"

"What?"

"That's the best we can figure. We make stuff and when we're done we put it in the chute," she jerked her thumb over her shoulder where I saw what looked like a dumbwaiter, "and when we come back to the room each morning there's new fabrics and buttons and different colors of glitter. So we just make more stuff."

"How do we go home?" I was beginning to see that nothing made sense and get well and truly freaked out by everything.

Pigtails shrugged. "I don't think we do. I've been here for a couple of weeks and I haven't found a way out yet."

"Ohmygod," I gasped, "have we been kidnapped?"

"Yeah," said one of the few guys at the table. He had a scrap of leather and some cool, hand-made etching tools on the table in front of him. "I'm pretty sure kidnapping covers it. But it doesn't suck as much as you'd think."

"How can it not suck?" I was horrified. Then the bell over the dumbwaiter rang; a girl in a cute, off-the-shoulder striped shirt walked over to it and retrieved a tray. It was full of Starbucks drinks which she passed around until there was only one left. She looked at the side then over at me.

"Tall half-caff soy white mocha with two pumps of raspberry?" I felt my jaw dropping for the tenth time in the last hour and held my hand out; it was my signature hot drink. Within a few minutes I felt considerably better; the cell signal was great and I tweeted that I'd been kidnapped by Etsy, I had friended everyone at the table on Facebook, followed the leather worker's Tumblr, and seen the dorms (including the free supply of nail-polish) and community kitchen that was stocked with twenty pounds of bacon and at least a hundred cupcakes. I spent an hour pin-striping a navy blue pair of TOMS with silver glitter, then Instagrammed a really awesome pic of them - I boxed them up and put them in the chute without even realizing it. The unicorns on the other side of the window spouted Adios Motherfuckers and Old Fashioneds from their horns whenever anyone held a glass out to them. My dorm-mates told me that there was an Arcade Fire show scheduled for Friday, and that Deerhoof had been in last week.

Once I looked up at the hole I'd fallen through. It was small and must have been at least twenty feet over my head. I thought about stacking up some furniture and asking my new BFFs for help, but right then someone handed me another mocha and I remembered that I'd been eyeballing some of the origami paper earlier and wanted to see what I could do with it; it seemed like the perfect time to work on improving my paper elephants. I spent the rest of my cellphone break pinning paper projects that I'd probably never try, then wandered over to see how many colors of paper I had to choose from.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Horns - original short fiction

Horns
by Alli Kirkham

Once, when I was a little girl, I got lost in the western woods. The air was cool and damp, the trees towered so far above my head that looking at them made me dizzy. When I was found I was only a shell-shocked, newly orphaned child with a secret that I kept even from myself.

***

They were very safe people but some things want to happen. We had been careful on the river, all of us wore helmets and life jackets. None of the guides had said anything about white water or dangerous boulders. They probably didn't know about the unusual snowmelt patterns and didn't expect a cloudburst. Or they thought my parents were better boaters, or that I was older, or any of a million of the variables that could have been changed and let my parents live. Whatever.

Problems started, the raft flipped, my mother broke her neck and my father froze to death fifty miles from where I was found. I floated over rainbows, as little girls should, and landed safely on a bed of clover that hugged me close. I don't remember anything that day.

The forest was deep and it muffled the sounds around me. I had lost my helmet. When I brushed my hair away from my face as I stumbled my hands came away bloody. There was always water; I was never thirsty but I had no food to eat nor warmth nor love.

I cried the first night through. Imagine discovering that some owls shriek when you are huddled in moss, in dark too thick to breathe, and thinking that you might be the prey that that voice wants to startle into stillness. Owls and crying. That is how I spent the night.

***

The second day there was no sun, only glowing mists that flattened my perspective into a hungry cartoon.

The second night I found the herbs by smell. I remembered the feel of lavender in my hands from my mother's garden and used it to trace my way to wild mint and an enormous rosemary bush that grew up over my head into a shape like horns.

The herbs were bitter and cold and strong. The owls howled but I couldn't bring myself to be scared anymore - I was too happy to hear something other than the slow condensation of mist into drops that slapped on broad leaves behind me. I ignored their calls and crammed rosemary into my mouth, trying furiously to chew and have something inside my belly. I worked my jaws frantically, but no matter how I tried nothing I did would turn the handful of sticks in my mouth into food. I pushed even more rosemary between my teeth, forcing myself to bite down and try to chew, panicking and not realizing it. Three of my front teeth broke off, leaving behind bleeding pink sockets. A sprig jabbed the newly opened gum, hitting the adult tooth that would take two years and a bridge to descend, and the spiraling pain teased my gorge. If I puked with this much stuff shoved in my mouth I would choke and die. I breathed in deeply through my nose. I smelled wet copper and herbs. I started picking wads of rosemary out of my cheeks and dropping them on the ground in front of me. So much blood, and I could only find two of my teeth. There were no toothfairies here anyway. No warm parents to put quarters under a pillow that was hundreds of miles away.

This time there was no sobbing. I simply wept, periodically wiping my face and shaking the tears off of my fingers. I hadn't seen my parents in a full day. I had no idea where I was. I was hungry and cold. No one knew where I was. My head hurt. I didn't know how to get home.

The rosemary bush opened. Warm light fell onto my lap and a not-man walked out to me. "Are you cold?" he asked and I nodded. "Are you lost?" I nodded again, glad to have someone to share my terrible situation with. "What do you want most in the world?" "I want to go home," I whispered.

I remember that his hands were hot, so hot that their warmth relieved the chill of my skin only to leave burning welts in their wake. He said that I had called him with a potion. He said that he had to give me a potion in return. I remember that I didn't want it, that it tasted bad and hurt my sore mouth, but he insisted. He said it was how I would pay for my ticket.

***

I woke up next to a stinking pile of mashed rosemary and still-tacky blood. I couldn't find any of my teeth in the pile or my pockets. In the gray daylight I found a lot of mint and managed to consume several fistfuls of the soft shoots. I licked water off of a fern. I walked past a thicket and tripped over thick, muddy ATV tracks. It only took two hours of sitting along the path until someone came by. Then there was a frantic, numb ride followed by helicopters and flashbulbs and a house empty of my parents and full of strangers.

***

Ten years later there were shrieking owls in the wind. I knelt over a toilet. I caught the scent of rosemary on the water. I didn't vomit: this was not the specter of memory-killing alcohol coming back on me. This was the remnant of the not-man taking his own ride. I didn't vomit: I screamed as a writhing black ball worked itself out of my stomach and into the toilet bowl. I screamed as it climbed out of the bowl and its hot hand reached out and touched my lips.

I woke up on the bathroom floor the next day. I lactated for three months before my doctor told me that I was barren; it then stopped suddenly and never came back.

***

It has been another ten years today. I feel mist on my skin and mint on my tongue. My mouth is made of scars and I don't know where tomorrow is.