The Mexican Pet

This poem is related to this story on Snopes.com. 


I am not a cactus full of scorpions
or another brown and jumping “bean.”
I am not a chupacabra or La Llorona
come to life from legend.

I am not a rat, of sewer or any other origin.
I do not want your job or your money or your life.

I do not want to be a member
of the permanent underclass.
I will not fight some toothless meth-head
for the dishwashing position.

I do morph, however, into different forms:
—the benighted indigena in my colorful huipil
—the narco with silver skulls on my boots and AK-47s
embroidered on my shirts
—the abuela who has given up on Guadalupe and her
fucking Spanish roses and prays
to a skeleton in a wedding gown
—the fourth-generation American who is still asked
where I come from
—the fantasmas of the many, many girls whose murderers
will never be prosecuted as the wind whistles
through the cementarios of Ciudad Juarez.

I kneel on my daughter’s Disney-character blanket
as I crawl to the grave of folk saint Juan Soldado.
He was wronged in life, but in death they say
he heals whatever he can:

He can never solve my problem,
but as I am only a pet
I continue to smile, to defer,
to serve, to settle for less.

It is my only hope that in time
I will fade into an urban legend,
something nobody really believes
ever existed, and which, quite frankly,
indeed, never did.

—Written on May Day, the International Workers’ Day, 2017


Denise Dumars most recent book of poetry, Paranormal Romance: Poems Romancing the Paranormal, was nominated for the Elgin Award. Denise is a native of Southern California, with roots in New Orleans and the Caribbean, and has traveled widely in Mexico.

The Squirrels of Madison Square Park

This selection is related to this story on Snopes.com.


It was mid-April and the days were nice enough again to take my lunch breaks in the park. Somehow every year this is a revelation: it can’t have ever been so green before. It can’t possibly have been so warm, last time around.

In my cubicle it was still winter, would always be winter.

It had been a strategic decision when I first got the reservationist job: no tchotkes, no photos, no plants. Just grey everything. A way to trick myself into believing that I wouldn’t stay. This was just a new-to-the-city, young-and-figuring-it-out, tide-me-over gig. I would quit before year one was out.

Okay, before year two was out, then.

Before year three was out or god help me.

So it was a bleak route to hopeful that my cubicle took, desolate as a reminder that this was not real life. Real life was outside, on a bench for an hour in the middle of the day. The warm sun, the cool wind. Lunch breaks in the park were a refresher course on sky.

The only problem was all the damn squirrels. The squirrels of Madison Square Park were city squirrels and foreign tourists fed them, posed with them, played paparazzi to the pests. So the squirrels had all become fucking entitled little assholes. One ran right across my lap — across my lap — one day and up a tree.

When something that ought to be scared of me isn’t, I become scared of it.

So I screamed and dropped my sandwich. I felt like I’d been violated.

When I looked up I saw Linda Leigh.

Linda. From work. Feeding the squirrels.

Linda Leigh was someone I had no feelings about at all until I caught her scattering bread crumbs that day, a wide smile spread out across her flat, circle face. After that, I was curious. I mean, what kind of maniac, you know?

So I set about befriending her. I cornered her at the coffee maker and accosted her with “How’s it going?”s in the elevator. I wore her down with my best work stories — the celebrities who’d called: which ones were nice and which ones were mean and which ones had finicky requirements: never by a window, booth if you have it. I toned down the sarcasm. I softened the resting bitch face. I ended up getting pretty close to Linda Leigh.

Linda was from a small town in the middle of the country, had come to New York just to be in New York, didn’t want to be an artist or anything, just wanted to be here. She was still starry-eyed with the city, didn’t even mind the subways, but went to the park whenever she was feeling low (Linda was the type of person who said cutesy things like feeling low).

Linda liked stories of celebrities being nice better than stories of celebrities being mean.

Linda took five sugars in her coffee.

And Linda had a boyfriend. It was one of the main things about her, part of every sentence she spoke: Last night at dinner with Boyfriend. Well, you know, My Boyfriend. As The Boyfriend always says.

I never outright asked her about the squirrel-thing but I came to understand it as some kind of Disney Princess fantasy. In her head, they must have been cartoons. I thought that somehow she must have failed to sense the threat of them, or know to be wary of their unearned arrogance.

Then one day Linda came into work all fidgety, holding her shoulders like the victim of a lightning strike, because she and her Boyfriend/My Boyfriend/The Boyfriend broke up.

She told me all about it by the Keurig machine:

“He left me,” she said. “I moved all the way to New York for him, and he didn’t even care.”

“I thought you just wanted to be here?” I asked.

“I can’t effing stand it here,” she said.

She talked to me less and less after the breakup, ditched me during lunch breaks. Instead I’d see her across the park, feeling low, I’m sure, and feeding the squirrels. Day after day, feeding the squirrels.

In my head I was so condescending, thinking how if I’d been dumped I would do something about it. Cut off my hair. Have revenge sex with one of his friends. Something.

Eventually Linda stopped coming to work all together. Ghosted the place without ever giving notice. But on my lunch breaks I’d still see her in the park. After a month of this, it had reached a new weird: Linda, standing in one of the concrete pits that would turn back into a fountain as soon as the summer came, with squirrels circled around her feet like worshippers at a temple, their little bodies held perfectly still, waiting to be smiled on by their benevolent god. I watched, transfixed, as Linda relinquished bits of bread, sparingly, according to some logic I couldn’t understand. I watched the squirrel’s chubby little cheeks move, their sharp little teeth chomp, and felt that familiar fear. Fear of the squirrels. And now fear of Linda too.

Then one day she wasn’t there. I didn’t think much of it — maybe she’d finally moved on — until I saw the headline on my phone, the reports of the odd arrest. Her name, her unflattering mugshot, the articles detailing the injuries sustained by her ex. The scratches down his face, the chunks of flesh taken from his arms and legs. The squirrels had rushed him en masse, climbed his body like a tree, dug in their claws and jesus.

I looked around the park where I was sitting on my lunch break.

There wasn’t an evil little varment in sight.


Phoebe Cramer is a writer and performer living in Brooklyn, New York. Her short fiction has appeared in Slink Chunk Press and Bard Papers. She can be found, very occasionally, on twitter @PhoebeLCramer

8 Maxims For The Toys R Us Ghost

This selection is related to this post on Snopes.com.


1.
Acts of mercy are best done
in secret. He enacts his death,
every night begging for the axe.

2.
A secret rests in the stock room
where the boxes gather. If you stay still
Johnson will whisper your name.

3.
All excesses shall be corrected.
Johnson knows this with his bruised neck
& hacked thigh & tears fleeing his face.

4.
The cashiers don’t complain. Instead
they make a game of it. New hires must meet
Johnson, must wait in the back stock for his mutter.

5.
Lord help the sanity of the keyholder.
Before the sun rises and the doors open
horses are heard galloping though the store.

6.
A torn bag holds no contents. All the plastic
bags are torn one winter morning. The stacks
of bags in the back all chopped and mussed.

7.
Those who handle the money are apt to fall
into his lap. The managers all quit. Insist it’s not
Johnson, but what else could it be.

8.
Death solves all problems. Johnson was poor
and in love with a girl who owned horses. He croaked
in an orchard and they built a toy store on his grave.


Cameron Schneberger is a recent graduate of Kalamazoo College where he studied comedy, theater and other employable things. His work has appeared in The Minetta Review, Yellow Chair Review, and once in a paperback gay romance novel. He believes in ghosts even though he’s never seen one.

Living in the House of Usher


Evidence of some bitter struggle [was] on every pore of her emaciated frame.”  Poe

I was Madeline in those lost years.  Unable to waken my better self.  Voices blew shoulds through our damask-covered windows. I could not stop them.  Expectations echoed in our halls, ricocheted off walls, brought our house down.  Don’t misunderstand.  I saw the fissure in our foundation—toed quietly around it. You said I should have known the perils of an aging house—that wandering grounds at night would tear my white gowns.  You dismiss the danger of sidestepping sense with sensibility.  Let me tell you:  I was scared of what you didn’t see.  The acid reflux of dissatisfaction, the sound of gears grinding behind the public face, the silence of disapproval.  Misophonia and migraines sent me to bed, a pillow over my head.  Usher’s love of mother and the Scout creed but mostly of himself built bricks of resentment.  Add mortar of alienation.  You see how tendrils of melancholy formed the cement that immobilized me.  The implosion of the house we built is the B-grade nightmare that prevents me still from wearing white.  Sometimes Usher is just the tale of a madman, but after the dream, I catch the rock hard, moonstone face of Madeline in my mirror and feel ice in my veins.


Janet Reed teaches writing and literature for Crowder College in Missouri. She is a 2016 Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work has been published and is forthcoming in multiple journals, and she is at work on her first chapbook.

Silicone Valley


after “Eldorado”

Shining pristine,
A silver sheen
On armored chips and circuits,
A robot strong
Hummed merrily on
In quest of human units.

But he grew weak—
His power, peak’d—
No socket, fuse, or battery—
Through valley green,
The only gleam
The sun on windows empty.

“I’m late,” he looped,
Distressed and pooped,
“I should have met my maker—
Where are you, Dad?
Your metal lad
Has come to claim his acre!”

Wind whistled through
The barren few
Mansions that stood like castles:
Once-flashing screens
Replaced by beams
Of information facile.

The human grail—
For memory’s frail,
So plug in, store, and share it:
Thus robot son
Found everyone
Linked up and skipped the planet.

“Oh Father dear,
Why leave me here,
While humans all chase shadows?
Friends in the stars?
I’m here, not Mars!”
He shut down salty gyros.


Adele Gardner has a poetry book, Dreaming of Days in Astophel, and works published in American Arts Quarterly, Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, and NewMyths.com. She’s a member of SFWA and literary executor for her father, Delbert R. Gardner.

A Girl’s Guide to Being Buried Alive

 


You will think it’s a trick of the light, at first, or that your bedclothes obscure your vision. It is not; they do not. Scrub your face all you like—the dark will not fall away from your eyes, but you will dislodge the shroud you don’t yet know is a shroud. Reach now, if you must, for that bedside candle. Knock your knuckles against rough wood. Withdraw your hand and try again.

It is very important to breathe. Slowly.

You may remember, as I did not, your brief tangle with illness, the wilting of your pink cheeks, the drying-thinning of your hair, the sudden fragility of your bones. One day you were young and hale and the next you were a pale, gaunt thing, hushed and whispered over. The doctors and your parents and your love were all quite sure you would die. Prepared themselves for the final closing of your dimming eyes.

Yes, be angry. It will help. It will burn clear through the panic.

They thought you a small and delicate thing, briefly coloring their worlds, like the summer butterflies you admired in the rose garden. They wept over you, rest assured. Your mother still weeps. Your love languishes, bemoans that he never took a lock of your hair. In a day or two, he may come and stand at your tomb, over your grave. Throw his body on the cold earth or stone. Curse the uncaring heavens.

No, you cannot wait that long. And what if he does not come? What if he does not hear your muffled cries?

It may occur to him to dig you up, as my love did me. Not out of any faint hope that you are still alive, that there was some mistake, although there was. He doesn’t do it for you at all. It’s for him. Oh, he’ll say he just wants some small token—that lock of hair or a scrap from your dress. Or else he only wants to say goodbye, to look at your face once more before the rot and the maggots take it. Some want more than tokens, more than words, more than tearful looks.

If you are sick in here, you will have to live with it, as long as you live. Swallow down the bile. Save your strength.

They were hasty when they put you in the earth; they often are when it’s quick, unexpected. Someone young. Your grandfather’s monument was finished long before he gasped his last. You have only your best dress, your simple wooden box, your long white sheet. The earth over your coffin has not settled. The mausoleum is locked, but they designed it against grave robbers, not escapees.

I’m not saying it will be easy. I assure you, it will not be. But you have a chance.

Your first impulse will be to scratch, tear at the wood with your delicate nails and peel up curlicues of fiber piece by piece. This will take far too long. The wood is cheap, but it’s also almost green. If it were rotten, maybe. No, you’ll take advantage of the hasty craftsmanship. You’ll kick and punch and thrash. Beat at the boards, loosen the bindings. This is no time to be dainty—the gentility of your last life has no place here. You are a woman embattled. Recall every tiny step you had to take instead of running. That ridiculous demure whisper—eyelids lowered—you exhaled, breathy, instead of shouting. Un-bottle the girl you were before you heard the word “unladylike” for the first time all those years ago.

There is no one here to offend. No breaches of courtesy. No injury of your reputation. Just you: under the earth, behind stone.

If you are lucky, you are above ground and your struggles will have tipped your coffin onto the floor, where it’s broken. You crawl out from the splintered boards, disheveled and panting. Your heartbeat is thrumming in your ears and, although you are cold, you are alive, blood rushing through you. If the undertaker doesn’t hear your cries, you will have to smash your way out, attacking the gated door. If you are clever, you might take the pin from your hair and pick the lock. Or else you grin, heady with your fury, and begin the barrage with urn or statuary, whatever’s handy.

Maybe, though, you are unlucky, like I was. Maybe the earth begins to shower through the cracks in your prison. Maybe you are panicking. It’s hard, but keep breathing, shallow, through your nose. Cover your mouth with your shroud. You have only this moment before you will need to dig, to climb. Take a breath in each pocket of air you find—they are precious. Do not stop. This is not the moment to quit, to fall victim to the frailness they taught you was lovely. This, this is lovelier, this struggle for the surface, your filthy fingers breaking through the topmost layer, that first deep clear breath of fresh air, cold and pure in your aching lungs.

Entombed or buried, drink deep this taste of freedom. It is yours and yours alone.

You have a choice now, of course. Maybe the undertaker will find you, flopped on the wet grass like a caught fish, collapsed on the steps of your family’s crypt. If you wait, there will be voices and blankets and hot tea with a little brandy to help you sleep. Your mother will weep on your hands and even your stoic father will look at you with wet-eyed affection and your brothers and sisters will wait on you for days. And your love, your love will never leave your side again. You could wait and it will happen.

Or—

Or, you could struggle to your feet, pull a workman’s coat from a nearby headstone, shrug it over your thin shoulders. Hands in the pockets, head down, you could walk away from all of it, newly made. Reborn.

And never look back.


Julia Patt has never met an abandoned bookstore she didn’t like. Her fiction has appeared in such publications as Phantom Drift, The Fiction Desk, and PANK. She lives in Maryland with her family and two cats.

The Imp of the Perverse

You can listen to an audio file of this poem here


He asked, “Why not take
that jewelry from your dead
mother’s safe deposit box?”
Now you have a lovely emerald.
Your siblings never found out.

 

He said your spouse wouldn’t
suspect a thing if you invited
that cute business associate
over to your hotel room. You
still smile to yourself about that one.

 

And when he told you
to send the fat cats a message,
you felt no anxiety pushing
a button in the voting booth
for someone who could start a war.

 

So when his confident voice says:
“Twenty stories, that’s not so far.
Don’t you know you’re immortal?”
Go ahead and have an adventure.
He’s never steered you wrong.


Chris Bullard’s chapbook Leviathan was published in 2016 by Finishing Line Press, and Kattywompus Press published High Pulp in the winter of 2016. His work has appeared in publications such as 32 Poems, Rattle, Pleiades, River Styx and Nimrod.

Madmen of a Harmless Nature

My friend the Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin had garnered a reputation for divining the truth in the most outre of crimes and yet he was most content in his current repose, velvet curtains drawn tight, slippered feet to the fire, nodding over a favored tome, drifting from our inner sanctum into some phantasmagoria within his mind. The adulation of the public was a nuisance to him, only the satisfaction of bringing his praeternatural acumen to bear upon some nefarious puzzle served as an inducement to action. Others had called him a diseased intelligence, but he was proud of his rare ability to intertwine ingenuity and intuition, and thread it through a rational analysis to discover the truth that eluded others.

That horrible orb that some call the Sun, but which Dupin and I referred to as the Agony Star, was at long last diving beneath the horizon, subjecting some other corner of the damned world to it’s Hellish emanations. We were free to roam the streets of Paris again. Dupin’s astral self settled back hard into his body, eliciting a long sigh. It had been raining that day, and so the fetid stench of the city enveloped us as we trod those glistening cobblestones. Everywhere we walked the eyes of the night were upon us. By day Dupin was the hero of Paris, a champion of justice in a cruel world. To the denizens of these lunar streets however, he was something different – a wraith haunting the back alleys. We would go everywhere and talk to no one. As we passed they would whisper amongst themselves, “is it truly him?” Little did they know that to Dupin they were much the same – temporal flickerings of other beings, perceived only at the very edges of his consciousness.

This evening had presented an uneventful promenade when, of a sudden, Dupin grasped at my breast to arrest me. He took his famous green-tinted spectacles between his fingers and moved them up and down the bridge of his nose, as if some small change in the angle might confirm or deny what he was seeing. He was staring down into a foreboding alley, and I feared that some awful thing might extrude itself from those inky depths. Worse than I had feared, Dupin stepped in, his feet trotting forward like a marionette inexpertly handled. I grabbed at his sleeve but he tossed my hand away. Working in a world of mental abstractions, Dupin, known for his unique perceptiveness, was often oblivious to the practical dangers of the world. It was times such as this that I felt the keen lack of martial leanings in our pairing. Indeed, should a situation ever come to fisticuffs or worse I was certain that we would be much the worse for it. That Dupin considered himself as separate from this world did not make him immune to it.

It was with these trepidacious thoughts that I followed him into this particular recess of Paris. Much to my relief the space was abandoned, but what then drew my friends particular interest? Finally, as we approached the terminus of the alley, I saw that which he had somehow seen from the avenue. Dupin and I delight in the lurid, the sordid, and the despicable. Such things were the very currency of our friendship, but what I read scrawled upon those forlorn bricks sickens me to this very day. Without a thought I made to wipe it away with my sleeve.

“Wait!” Dupin cried. “It must remain undisturbed.”

“This is too much!” I replied.

“This is an invitation to a game. Destroy it and we may miss the whole trick. There is so little of interest in Paris these days, let us not be so rash as to turn our noses up at this intrigue.”

“You say this is an invitation. Is it meant for you?”

“Most assuredly not, and the most enjoyable invitations are the ones that are misaddressed.”

“How did you discover it, then? I was at your elbow and would never had known it was there.”

“Man’s ability to observe is profound, and yet ultimately limited by our mortal frailties. An attentive man sees what is happening. An observant man looks for what is happening that has never happened before. In such a way is useful information derived.”

“What are we to do now?”

“I have committed the message to memory, an easy task, of course, since it would be difficult indeed to forget such a thing. We shall wait and see what happens.”

And so we did. I bought a handful of papers each day, hoping for a resolution to the travesty. It had made the front page, of course, on the first day. I was much chagrined to see that, in the rush to outdo each other for readers, only two of the papers had refrained from revealing the repugnant diatribe verbatim. Yet, in a city like Paris, the story quickly sank and disappeared beneath those ink-smeared pages.

“How could this have come to nothing?” I wondered aloud.

“We’ve not heard the last of it,” Dupin predicted.

At that very moment there was a pounding upon the door of our secluded maise in Faubourg St. Germain. I was not surprised to see that Dupin was not surprised. I threw back the great bolt securing the entrance, and it screeched in protest at the disturbance. Outside stood Monsieur G——-, Prefect of the Paris Police, as I had found him on a few occasions before. He pushed by me to confront Dupin, still ensconced in his club chair.

“This is a most serious business, M. Dupin,” he said, shaking his fist. “Another one of those horrible messages has been discovered, and more than a few people want me to arrest you.”

“Arrest Dupin?” I scoffed. “But why?”

“Who else could know these things? These blackest of secrets, buried deep under the pillars of Paris herself.”

“These messages are telling the truth then?” Dupin failed to hide a smile behind steepled fingers.

“It is not for me to say,” M. G——- replied.

“And yet you are here.”

“You were seen at the site of the first message, and before that no one had seen anything usual there. Worse yet you were nowhere to be seen when the second message appeared.”

“So both my presence and my absence are proof of my guilt?”

“Do not attempt to twist me around with your clever words, Monsieur. At the moment I am your only friend. I have known you to be a just, if strange, man who has seen justice done in the past. More so, while Parisian society knows you to have a depraved sense of humor, I know you to be a man of no especial modesty. Thus, while I concede these disgusting epigraphs might appeal to your macabre whimsy, you would never allow the infamy of their authorship to escape you, if indeed you could claim it.”

“This second message, what was it?”

M. G——— hemmed and stuttered before finally repeating it in hushed tones. If I thought the first message was the worst thing I had ever read, I was quite sure this message was the worst thing anyone had ever heard. Dupin chuckled and his gaze drifted off into our fireplace.

“I will be hard pressed to save you from a firing squad if that is your only reaction, M. Dupin.”

My friend rose and extracted a map of Paris from his bureau. Gesturing for us to follow he took the map to the dining room and spread it out upon the table. With a pencil he marked the spot of the first message, and inscribed it below. In consultation with the Prefect, he then marked the location of the second message and transcribed that as well.

“What is the meaning of this, M. Dupin?”

“The meaning remains obscure but the method comes into focus.” Measuring against his sleeve Dupin compared the existing points, and then proposed a new one. “Leave this place unobserved until well after midnight, then have your men examine it. Let me know of the results at once.”

“This is where the villain will strike next?”

“Most assuredly.”

“What of the messages?”

“It is a poor blackmailer who gives away his wares like this. I suspect the messages contain a kind of code, but I have not deciphered it yet. I shall give it my full attention, but I expect the third, fourth, and fifth messages will help greatly. The more information we have the easier it will be to see the pattern.”

“Mon Dieu, M. Dupin, you expect three more messages?”

“And in short order. The first was a call to action, I think, and time was allowed for it to disseminate to the interested parties. The endeavor will proceed in earnest now.”

The Prefect left and Dupin delved into his books now, disappearing into a crowd of Euclid, Pythagoras, and Archimedes. These fellows were later joined by Dee, Andreæ, and Alhazred. I tried to decipher his line of inquiry from the pages left open all about the place, but his thoughts were too eccentric for me to follow. Finally he sat back with a great look of satisfaction upon his face.

“Have you solved it?”

“The whole thing has happened within my mind already. It is now incumbent upon the material world to meet up with me.”

“If you can put a stop to some infamy is it not your moral duty to do so?”

“That which is taking place is only a crime in the sense of conventional morality.”

“That sounds as if it will be of little use as a defence if we end up in the docket.”

“There is an understanding between gentlemen of a certain sort, a memorandum of non-interference. For if we can not accommodate each other what hope of fulfillment do we have in this mundane world?”

The more my friend Dupin explained his reticence the more anxious my heart became. We took our supper at home, and sat playing at that infernal Oriental game Dupin so favored, biding our time until we heard of the results of the Prefect’s efforts. The first hateful fingers of dawn were probing the edges of the curtains by the time M. G——- returned.

“You are either an anarchist or a warlock, M. Dupin, and the Mayor little cares which.”

“I take it there was a new message.”

“It was the damndest thing, I was there myself to see it. Not a disreputable character on the street!”

“But the street was not vacant.”

“In proximity to the incident there was but one occupant, but it was M. L———, a respectable surgeon well known to me. Not to be indiscreet, but when the Emperor has some small malady, this is the physician he summons.”

“And yet, this was the only person seen, the only possible perpetrator?”

“I tell you it is impossible, men such as him do not scrawl things such as these in dark alleys in the dead of night.”

“What fresh missive do we have?”

The Prefect’s face turned grey, and with but two fingers he placed a file upon the table before Dupin, and then turned away before it was opened.

Dupin’s mouth turned up in a smile, and he added the message to his map.

“Can you tell me nothing, M. Dupin?”

“I could tell you everything, M. D——-, but I choose not to.”

The Prefect sputtered, “Why not?”

“There is a kind of justice at work here, a kind as good as any other in my estimation. Besides, my incarceration will but prove my innocence.”

“Your incarceration?” I said in disbelief.

“As M. D——- has indicated, it is inescapable that I must be considered a suspect in this most distasteful episode.”

“Only you could know these things, M. Dupin.”

“Only I could prise these black truths free, perhaps,” my friend conceded. “However, clearly these things are known to those involved.”

“It is treason to the Crown to even think so.”

“It is treason to analytics to think otherwise. I stand ready to surrender myself as an act of cooperation with the police.”

M. G——- looked to be as befuddled as I. At long last he rolled up the map and tucked it under his arm and escorted Dupin away. I was left alone in our parlor wondering what I was to do. Dupin left no notes, indeed I had never seen him personally put words to paper. I could recall the books he had submerged himself in but I had no means of divining what he had plundered from their depths. The next day I presented myself at the jailhouse but was turned away. M. G—— appeared briefly to scowl at me, and, between curses, to explain that Dupin sat smugly in his cell, refusing to divulge anything until after midnight two days hence.

“My plan was to starve him out,” the Prefect complained. “But this morning there was a silver tray in his cell, laden with the finest omelette from Le Grand Vefour, and fruit and champagne besides. None of my officers will admit to passing it through. It looks quite bad for your friend, I would not expect to see him walk free again.”

Thus, like the rest of Paris I was left with little recourse but to wait to see what would happen. I trusted Dupin’s assessment over that of M. G——, and yet sorrow began to ache in my heart. The next day the papers reported on a fourth message, emblazoning it in large type on the front of every paper. The very Empire now teetered on the edge of collapse, and as a nation we trembled before whatever final blow the fifth message might strike. I re-plotted the sites of the messages on a fresh map. Replicating Dupin’s method I connected them and then measured the angles and the length of each segment, thereby placing a fifth mark. Connecting those revealed a pentagon, but one that covered a not inconsiderable portion of the city. Turning back to Dupin’s books I searched for the meaning of the shape. It was quickly revealed to me that, in occult writing, pentagons are often embellished by connecting the points internally to form a star. Doing this to the map created a new, smaller, pentagon, but one that still encircled several blocks. I almost felt the breath of Dupin upon my ear as I had the sudden inspiration to repeat the procedure three more times. A tiny pentagon was now directly over a certain royal garden I was familiar with, although it pointed to some obscure section, far removed from the hedge mazes and flower beds I had frequented.

I was awoken on the fifth day by a pounding upon the front door. A surreptitious peep out the upper window of my bedchamber revealed the Prefect and a dozen other men. In a panic I threw on my clothes, retrieved my map from the table, and slipped out the old servant’s passage in the larder, just as the police had battered their way in the front. I heard them ransacking our maise as I slipped through the dirty forsaken crevices of the neighborhood. Once at a safe distance I took the first opportunity to return to the traditional thoroughfares of Paris. I stopped for a quick breakfast of croissant, nuts, and cheese to calm myself. Feeling much more civilized, I combed my hair and proceeded to the garden in question. Casually I paid the entrance fee and, in no particular hurry, wandered the grounds like any other visitor. I knew that I had until midnight, and my problem would in fact be whiling away the excess time, rather than making it up. I wandered the hedge maze until at last I found myself alone. With some small force I pressed myself back into the shrubbery and through, out into the wild grounds. While still imminently picturesque, they were not immaculately groomed like the area on display. Purposefully I strode into the trees opposite. I loaded my pockets with apples, pears, and nectarines, reluctantly admitting on some subconscious level that I was stealing from the Emperor’s orchard, and that alone would be enough to see me hang. Those were archaic laws, and would certainly never be enforced in modern day, I assured myself.

Looking at the map and the walls of the garden I pressed onward, deeper into the forest. After a brief patch of wilderness I was surprised to find evidence of civilization again. Old Roman paving stones protruded from the ground. Odd bits of statuary were intertwined with the bushes and brambles. Finally, ahead under a deep canopy of old trees I found a circle of columns around an ancient tomb, pocked with time and smooth with weather. To my untrained I could not decipher if the decorations on the large slab were Grecian or Egyptian, or perhaps the depiction of some other lost society entirely. It was cold to the touch and the stone lid far too heavy for me to move. I looked at my pocketwatch, despairing at the hours until midnight. My exhausted form was quite unused to being about at such a respectable hour, and so I found some nook just away from the clearing that was padded with moss and clover and I laid down in it, listening to the leaves rustle and the insects chirp. My eyes grew heavy and I let them slip closed, to rest them for a moment.

Then there was the sound of bodies tromping through the wood. I feared I must have been discovered, and again felt that hangman’s noose about my neck as I made to discard the fruit from my pockets. However, when I opened my eyes it was dark, with just a trickle of moonlight making its way down through the treetops. The sounds had kept on moving, the people oblivious to my presence.

I watched from the darkness as the men carried a shrouded figure upon a litre, one man at each corner like pallbearers, and the final leading the way with a lantern. They propped one side of the conveyance up against the tomb and moved the body over, so it lay directly on the stone table. The lantern bearer hung the light from the crenulated swirls of one of the columns, and then began a strange invocation. The men stepped around the body, unwrapping it as they went. At intervals the wrappings revealed some trinket, unrecognizable to me in the darkness, The man who uncovered it would hang it about his neck or wrist, or place it atop his head, as the item dictated. By the time the body was unwrapped they were each dressed like kings in a pantomime. The last item was a golden dagger, and it was revealed by the lantern bearer. He shouted some savage gibberish into the heavens as he raised it above his head. I thought it to be more theatrics but he plunged it down into the chest of the body. The chanting of the others continued unabated.

The lantern bearer sawed at the corpse, causing the thing to heave and jerk. At last he wrenched the chest open and then attacked the inside. The man’s hands and face, now drenched in blood, had disappeared into the blackness of night. Yet I still saw when he at last relented and then held something aloft – the heart of the deceased, I realized with a shock. For a moment I feared he might eat it, but instead he produced a cylinder from under his coat. He open it and slid the heart inside before resealing it. He then seemed to wave it towards the four cardinal directions before pressing the container to his lips and whispering something to it. He stepped back and the next man stepped forward. With his bare hands he fished about the gruesome cavity, finally holding aloft some veiny sac in victory. He produced his own jar and repeated the ceremony. This continued until all five men had claimed some repugnant prize.

They then paraded about the body in the opposite direction, wrapping it up again as they went. When it was once again enshrouded the lantern bearer retrieved his burden and opened a valve. Solemnly he poured the fuel out over the deceased, until the reserve appeared to be exhausted. The men all stepped back and the lantern was thrown, shattering upon the tomb and igniting, quickly flaring into an azure inferno. The strange party hurried away into the night and I was once again left alone to wonder in abject confusion. Unsure of the way in the dark I allowed myself to be mesmerized by the morbid pyre. When the last tendrils of flame had lapsed the lid of the tomb was clean, as if untouched. What strange rite was this, I thought, and how many bodies had been surrendered to the infinite upon these grounds? Most importantly, what did it have to do with the horrible messages written all around Paris?

The answer was to be revealed the following day when my friend came strolling in through our splintered door as if nothing was amiss. He plucked the gloves from his fingers and poured a generous brandy before settling into his chair.

“What was the truth of it?” I wondered.

“A simple case of revenge.”

“Simple? I saw them cleave the man’s guts free before immolation.”

“Did you really?” Dupin gazed proudly upon me. “You are one up on our friend the Prefect then. He had half the Paris Police encamped on the Rue B———.”

“The fifth point of the star?”

“Indeed, and a clever trick that was. At the hands on the clocktower turned they wound up a rope attached to a shuttered window across the street. Just as the clock struck midnight the rope yanked the shutters open, and upon the windowpanes behind was the final message painted. The room within was lit so that none present could miss it.”

“So it was set in advance?”

“The length of the rope will be conclusive, but I expect the trick was set several hour ahead of time. The perpetrator would want to be sure of getting away before any police arrived, but also certain his contraption would not be disturbed prematurely.”

“What was the final message?”

Dupin’s whole face was contorted in a smile. “I will say only that the Prefect shot the windows out immediately and made the men present swear a blood oath to secrecy.”

“Will it hold?”

“Of course not, but there are always these kind of rumors flying about. I expect no reaction at all from the Imperial family, thus ensuring it remains but one more whisper carried upon the breath of Paris.”

“So this man was killed for sharing these secrets?”

“To the contrary, this man shared these secrets because he was dying. There is a brief respite before death when an ailing man is untouchable by this mortal world. Most who find themselves there are already thinking of the next life. This man, instead, made one last strike from this life.”

“Why not simply send a statement to the papers?”

“This was not an expose meant for the masses, this was a game being played between kings. The departing man was invoking an ancient rite, he simply found a way to lash out at the same time. A man with but days to live can develop a certain strain of ingenuity. He tells his mundane secrets while invoking the divine. You see, the strange meter of the messages can be explained in that there is a simple cipher represented by the arrangement of the words. Convert those to numbers like this,” Dupin scribbled some figures on my map, “and then change those back to letters simply by counting and the meaning is apparent.”

Dupin had reduced the messages to a single, most surprising name.

“You must never tell M. D——-, or indeed anyone else. You are protected by certain understandings I have in place, but they are tenuous at best.”

The following day the Prefect announced that the case was closed as he had arrested a degenerate for the hateful, treasonous, sacrilegious writings. A besotted unfortunate who wandered the streets, overhearing just enough to make plausible, but entirely false, accusations, the Prefect declared. He was a danger to the very fabric of France, according to M G——-. We had seen the man often in our travels. He feed stray cats from the meagre scraps he scrounged and tipped his hat to light poles. He was one of us, a fellow wanderer of the night, just another of Paris’ madmen of a harmless nature.


Robert Perret is a writer, librarian and Sherlockian living on the Palouse. He has previously published “How Hope Learned the Trick” in NonBinary Review. More of his writing can be found via robertperret.com.

 

My Mother’s People

I was sick—sick unto death with that long agony; and when they at length unbound me, and I was permitted to sit, I felt that my senses were leaving me.

Reading in the backseat while my mother drove up the canyon always made me a little sick unto death, but I could not resist cracking that midnight-blue, luscious-thick, brand-new book that smelled so sweet and was all mine.

The cover was a painting of a tiny blond girl, white-gowned, curled in the corner of a blood-red chair, shelves of books looming above her. She held a dripping candle to illuminate the book she had chosen. In the night library, it was the only light. The child’s eyes were wide, astonished and blue.

I thought it was the most beautiful picture in the world.

Impia tortorum longos hic turba furores
Sanguinis innocui, non satiata, aluit.
Sospite nunc patria, fracto nunc funeris antro,
Mors ubi dira fuit vita salusque patent.

Tortorum. I was pretending to teach myself Latin from the workbooks my mother ordered me, because I loved words, and to keep up my reputation as a gifted child. But I did not need middle school Latin workbooks to pick that one word from the meaningless quatrain.

…all at once, there came a most deadly nausea over my spirit, and I felt every fibre in my frame thrill as if I had touched the wire of a galvanic battery.

My mother said her people had been tortured. I knew they were killed, but not tortured. How had they been tortured, I wanted to know, but could not ask. I knew I was evil, for wanting, for needing to know.

I confided my confusion in my fifth-grade teacher, and she said the moment where I needed to know how my mother’s people had been tortured was called morbid curiosity, and it was normal.

At home I pulled my OED from under my bed, and looked up morbid. Sick. Morbid meant sick. It was as I suspected, that I was evil and bad for feeling my mother’s people’s torture as my own. I began to think of myself as sick. Although somehow I knew my need had more heart than morbid curiosity. It was not the car wreck of strangers I was craning to see.

I knew I must stop thinking of torture. I saw the word printed where it was not, heard people speak it when they had not. I had to get a grip. But I could not. The more I tried the more virulent the twisted roller coaster in my stomach became. There had to be a way to stop this, but I did not know it, and again I blamed myself.

We stand upon the brink of a precipice. We peer into the abyss—we grow sick and dizzy. Our first impulse is to shrink from the danger. Unaccountably we remain. By slow degrees our sickness and dizziness and horror become merged in a cloud of unnamable feeling. By gradations, still more imperceptible, this cloud assumes shape, as did the vapor from the bottle out of which arose the genius in the Arabian Nights. But out of this our cloud upon the precipice’s edge, there grows into palpability, a shape, far more terrible than any genius or any demon of a tale, and yet it is but a thought, although a fearful one, and one which chills the very marrow of our bones with the fierceness of the delight of its horror. It is merely the idea of what would be our sensations during the sweeping precipitancy of a fall from such a height. And this fall—this rushing annihilation—for the very reason that it involves that one most ghastly and loathsome of all the most ghastly and loathsome images of death and suffering which have ever presented themselves to our imagination—for this very cause do we now the most vividly desire it. And because our reason violently deters us from the brink, therefore do we the most impetuously approach it. There is no passion in nature so demoniacally impatient, as that of him who, shuddering upon the edge of a precipice, thus meditates a Plunge. To indulge, for a moment, in any attempt at thought, is to be inevitably lost; for reflection but urges us to forbear, and therefore it is, I say, that we cannot. If there be no friendly arm to check us, or if we fail in a sudden effort to prostrate ourselves backward from the abyss, we plunge, and are destroyed.

I knew if I could not pull my mind free from the precipice, something bad would happen. I would fall somehow, die somehow. Emotionally or mentally or spiritually. When I thought of my mother’s people’s torture, I could not move my body, and my classmates would ask me if I was ok. I did not answer them because I was not there. I was not drinking chocolate milk in the cafeteria of Nederland Elementary. I stood on a precipice, sick, dizzy, hypnotized, staring.

My classmates whispered about my strangeness. My teacher called me in to discuss my depression.

But couldn’t she see? I was not depressed at all. I was on fire, bad fire and good fire. It was spring, and the leaves of the aspens shivered sensually. The sky ached a glorious blue, the rocks were ancient and covered in beards of lichen. Death had stripped my nerves raw, now every caress of life shocked them into ecstasy.

I was alive. I was alive and I was so happy and I was so guilty. There was a good part of me, the child part, the wholesome part, and then there was the dark part. I wanted to remove my darkness but everything was intertwined.

I could not love except where Death
was mingling his with Beauty’s breath

The thoughts of my mother’s people in their torture could not stay in my slender body. I squirmed constantly, I whispered to myself. I paced on the playground to release the terrible energy, and at night I rocked back and forth on my child’s bed in the moonlight, that I might sleep.

Poe knew of the constant movement needed to lance thought. He knew that thought must be killed.

At first, I made an effort to shake off this nightmare of the soul. I walked vigorously—faster—still faster—at length I ran. I felt a maddening desire to shriek aloud. Every succeeding wave of thought overwhelmed me with new terror, for, alas! I well, too well understood that to think, in my situation, was to be lost.

But the torture could not be outrun, because it lived in my cells. Because I could not speak it, had no right to speak it, I had to let its caustic elements harden to glittering minerals inside me, for it was two of us alone in a sealed skull.

And by strange alchemy of brain
His pleasures always turn’d to pain—
His naïveté to wild desire—
His wit to love — his wine to fire—
And so, being young and dipt in folly
I fell in love with melancholy

I took no pride in my psychic survival, and regarded it as evil. As rapidly as I paced, now I wrote in school notebooks, alone, hiding from the classmates who now openly mocked and feared me. I wrote at night when I could not sleep. I built up a pure self, apart from the evil self who held a scalding ember against her heart and refused to let it go. And the ones who read what I wrote sensed the fire behind it, and mistook its light for beauty.

To me a painted paroquet
Hath been — a most familiar bird—
Taught me my alphabet to say—
To lisp my very earliest word
While in the wild-wood I did lie
A child—with a most knowing eye.


Samantha Stiers has published fiction, memoir, and poetry in magazines including Conjunctions, DIAGRAM, and Black Warrior Review. She was awarded the Frances Locke Memorial Prize in Poetry. She lives in Boulder, CO.

 

The Ravening

THE RAVEN : Copyright (c) 1845 By E. Poe <edgar@l33tp0ets.com>
Release 17 / Serial Number 821022

THE STUDY
You wake at your desk in the study, weak and weary. You must have dozed off there for a few moments. Pictures adorn every wall of your study. On the plinth above the massive door on the south wall is a bust of Pallas. Behind it is your secret stash of laudanum. The door itself is grand and stately; the kind of door you read about rich folks having. Through the small exterior windows, you see storm clouds roiling and the beginnings of a rain-storm.

A faint tapping can be heard at the door.

EXAMINE DESK

On the desk a forgotten volume of unknown lore, looking quaint and curious, is opened to a page about birds. A desk calendar shows it is in the month of “Bleak December,” which comes after the month of “Razor-burn November” in the new revised calendar. The desk contains a panoply of drawers containing pens, loose-leaf paper and the detritus of a writer’s life (including bottles of Whiskey and Absinthe.)

OPEN DOOR

You reach for the gilded handle of the large oaken door, but ennui engulfs you in a cloud of indecision. You shrug and sink back into your comfortable leather armchair to contemplate the dark void of despair which is your life.

DRINK LAUDANUM

What do you mean, the Laudanum behind the Bust of Pallas or the Laudanum hidden behind the Absinthe bottle in the desk drawer?

DRINK LAUDANUM BEHIND THE BUST OF PALLAS

*GULP* Yikes! That stuff is bitter! The self-rationalization of your addiction distracts you briefly, yet you still feel bland and bitter. After a few moments the pangs of life and loss pass you by.

OPEN DOOR

You reach for the gilded handle of the large oaken door, but melancholy envelops you.

DRINK LAUDANUM IN DESK

*GULP* Okay. The second bottle is MUCH nicer than the first.

Hey! Do you hear rapping? rapping at your chamber door?

OPEN DOOR

Your drunken hand manhandles the oaken door; outside you see a gathering storm, a dark garden and a forgettable river beyond. You see nothing that would have produced a rapping noise. (Perhaps it’s the neighbor kids playing a prank?)

GO SOUTH

DARK GARDEN
You are in the garden to the south of your abode. To the north is an open door leading to your chamber. To the south is a path leading to the less than memorable river. It is dark here. If you continue you are likely to be eaten by a Grue. A lamp sits on the ground nearby.

GET LAMP. TURN ON LAMP.

Got Lamp.
Lamp is now on.

GO SOUTH

PLUTONIAN SHORES
You have reached the plutonian shores of the River Lethe. Dare you wade in its surprisingly warm waters? To the north, a path leads to a garden shrouded in inky blackness. To the south you may wade in the perfumed river. A nearby sign alerts you that no lifeguard is on duty.

A tapping can be heard to the north.

GO SOUTH

NEPENTHE WATERS
Into the waters you daintily tip-toe. The perfumed waters of the River Lethe are rumored to relieve weary travellers of painful memories. Maybe it takes a while? You still remember tubercular Richmond and whats-her-name, your old girlfriend. Heck. What WAS her name!?

SAY “LENORE”

In the distance a bird can be heard.

GO NORTH

Plutonian Shores

GO NORTH

Dark Garden

GO NORTH

THE STUDY
A large black bird is here. (This is what happens when you leave the door open.) The bird is holding a note in its beak and is mumbling something that sounds like “EVER-SMORP.” (Perhaps the bird is from the north where all accents are queer and wondrous.)

TAKE NOTE. READ NOTE.

The bird is at first reluctant to give you the note. You eventually hit on the idea of tempting the bird with a shiny coin. The bird drops the note to grab coin and flies up to the bust of Pallas.

Addressed to you, the note is writ in the fine penmanship of respectable society, but much of it made unreadable with the stain of tears. What little you can make out is “…I miss you so; the months since your passing have been difficult… Love, Lenore”

YOU HAVE DIED OF TUBERCULOSIS.
Your score is 5 of 150 points which ranks you as “BULWER-LYTTON”
Do you want to try again? (Y/N)
Y

THE STUDY
You wake at your desk in the study, weak and weary. You must have dozed off there for a few moments. Pictures adorn every wall of your study. On the plinth above the massive door on the south wall is a bust of Pallas. Behind it is your secret stash of laudanum. The door itself is grand and stately; the kind of door you read about rich folks having. Through the small exterior windows, you see storm clouds roiling and the beginnings of a rain-storm.

DRINK LAUDANUM BEHIND THE BUST OF PALLAS

*GULP* Yikes! That stuff is bitter! The self-rationalization of your addiction distracts you briefly, yet you still feel bland and bitter. After a few moments the pangs of life and loss pass you by.


Meadhbh Hamrick is a human living in the more rural districts of downtown Seattle. Evidence indicates Meadhbh was born, attended college, was married and reproduced by budding; some
scientists still disagree.