Friday, October 29, 2010


The Mother stood and looked out her kitchen window. Her hands mechanically washed dishes and scraped away bits of dried gravy and beef: the remnants of last night’s meal. Her hands were protected from the scalding soapy water, from the dirt, and from the waste caking the inexpensive china by the thick skin of her pink rubber gloves. She looked out the window towards the clouds and watched them march overhead, marking the passage of time, and so much seemed wasted. She didn’t think about her hands. They moved on their own with an ingrained knowledge borne from endless repetition. Instead of thinking, she dreamed.

“Momma, I made a friend.”

Startled, The Mother turned around to face The Daughter. “Oh, really? That’s nice, sweetie. What’s your friend’s name?”

“I don’t know. I guess I’ll call her Piggy. That’s kind of what she looks like. She’s got a curly tail and everything. She’s pink!”

The Mother rolled her eyes. She thought it might be a real friend this time but knew this would be too much to ask for. “So, she’s not real then?”

The little girl laughed. “She’s real. Why don’t you come outside and see her?”

“I’m busy washing dishes, honey. You go on out and play, okay?”

The little girl looked down at the floor. “Really, Momma, why don’t you come out and see her. I don’t know if I trust her all the way. She’s kind of weird. She walks on her hands and knees. She’s got a pig nose. She’s got a bunch of ninnies all up and down her tummy like a doggy. She lives in the gutter.

“I’ve told you about that gutter! You don’t play there! You’ll get bit by a spider or a snake or something.”

The little girl looked outside. “She’s calling me. Should I play with her? Would you like to meet her?”

The Mother turned her back to the child and rolled her eyes. She looked up to the clouds, remembered her daydreams and smiled to herself. Her daughter was just like her. She turned back around to face the child. She knelt down to her level and planted a kiss on her forehead. “You can go on out and play with your new friend. Just make sure you stay away from that gutter, okay?”

The child looked outside. She turned to look back at The Mother. “Okay, Momma, I got to go. It sounds like Piggy’s in trouble. Can I have a knife?”

The Mother smiled at her daughter. “No, honey, you can’t have a knife.” She left the sink and walked over to the cutlery drawer. “But you can have this.” The Mother handed The Daughter a wooden spoon. “Here’s a nice sword for you, okay?”

The Daughter looked at the spoon. “This isn’t a sword; it’s just a spoon.”

“It’s whatever you want it to be, right? Remember what we talked about?”

“Imagination, huh?” The Daughter shook her head and walked outside.

The Mother resumed washing dishes with her hands while her mind wandered to strange vistas. She lost herself.


“Sweetie! Honey! Where are you?”

The Mother turned around in frantic circles. She looked behind shrubs. She looked in the storage shed. She held her hands over her eyes to block the sun as she stared across her lawn. A chorus of grasshoppers infiltrated her mind, and the beginnings of a migraine formed just behind her temples.


She decided she should check inside. Maybe she did not hear The Daughter enter the house? Maybe she was just in her room playing? She scanned the yard one more time with her eyes. Then she saw it.

There was a strange darkness in a corner of the gutter. Where a concrete drainage pipe had once been, there was only a massive opening. Bits of asphalt from the road crumbled down into the newly shaped hole. It looked to be about ten feet across. The Mother ran to the hole and looked down. She could see nothing but blackness.

The Mother fell to her knees and cried out at the empty sky. Clouds rolled by overhead, but she did not notice them.


The Husband grew concerned. Every day when he came home from work The Mother would be standing on the edge looking down into the darkness of the sinkhole. Once the rescuers stopped searching, The Husband hired a contractor to fill the hole, but The Mother would have nothing to do with that. She wanted it to remain open. She still believed The Daughter would emerge unscathed.

Best estimates provided that the depth of the sinkhole was over fifty feet deep, at minimum. They learned their land was built on top of an old iron mine. The ground had shifted and revealed a network of long-abandoned mine shafts.

“It’s dangerous. We need to fill it up.” He said to her one day while she stood looking down over the edge. He stood behind her and held her shoulders.

She shook her head. Tears dripped from her face and fell into the darkness.


“Do you hear that?”

The Mother looked at The Husband. It was dark in their bedroom. The lights were off inside the house. The Husband rubbed sleep from his eyes, sat up, and leaned over to turn on the bedside lamp.

His wife’s eyes were large and bright. She turned her head quickly, her hair whipped around her face. “Do you hear it?” She grabbed The Husband by the collar of his faded TOOL t-shirt.

“Hear what?”


The Husband frowned. He held up a hand to silence The Mother. He listened. There was the tick-tock of the antique clock in the living room just outside their bedroom. There was the whir of the air-conditioner. He focused his ears for anything that might sound out of the ordinary and jumped as the ice machine clinked out a fresh batch of cubes in the kitchen.

He shook his head. “I don’t hear anything. Can I go back to sleep now?”

The Mother nodded her head.


Time passed. The Mother's sleep grew restless. She often awoke to the squeal of pigs. They sounded both far away and nearby at the same time. She'd lay awake with her glassy eyes trained on the popcorn ceiling. Sometimes she connected the dots on that ceiling and imagined the profile of The Daughter's face. The Daughter was never smiling. The little girl's mouth was always open wide in terror as she released a silent scream.


The Husband snored. The Mother did not mind. This helped her stay awake. She wanted to stay awake.

Once she knew The Husband was good and asleep, she slipped out of bed. She wrapped a robe around her shoulders and slunk her feet into a pair of flip flops she used as slippers. She walked slowly and carefully, not wanting to make any noise, trying her best to avoid the spots in the wood floor that creaked if stepped upon. She did not want to make a noise. She wanted to be alone.

The sound had been for her. The Mother was the only person The Daughter had told about Piggy. Piggy was waiting. Piggy would have answers.

She slipped out the door and into the humid night. A thin layer of fog clung to the overgrown lawn. She rushed towards the sinkhole.

She looked down over the edge.

A pig’s squeal rose up from the darkness to greet her. Tears fell down The Mother’s cheeks.

“I should have listened, baby. I should’ve come out and met Piggy for you like you asked. Why didn’t I listen?”

Clouds moved overhead. A shaft of moonlight revealed something on the edge of the sinkhole. The mother squatted down to see what it was.

She saw the splintered remains of a broken wooden spoon covered in dark stains.

The Mother reached for the spoon and held it in her hands. She imagined The Daughter’s final struggle.

A pig squealed and The Mother looked up. A large pig stood upright directly in front of her. The pig's eyes were endlessly dark. The beast’s chest and stomach were lined with swollen teats which seeped a dark liquid.

The Mother growled and ran at the beast. She stabbed and stabbed and pushed against the weight of the monster.

Earth shifted during their struggle.

The Mother slipped. She fell. The sinkhole ate her.


The Husband hired a new contractor. This time they filled the gaping hole in the yard without protest. It hurt The Husband too much to see the sinkhole. It was a constant reminder of good things lost.

One night he heard pigs squealing somewhere beneath him, somewhere deep down below. The sound made him shiver. He rolled over and went back to sleep by focusing his attention on the mundane reality surrounding him: the whir of the air conditioner, the song of crickets, the tick-tock of an antique clock, the fresh ice cubes crashing into their container. He knew these sounds. He understood them. He never was much of a dreamer. He thought the squeals were just his imagination – they had to be – but still the sound disturbed him. He eventually fell back to sleep that night, but the sounds continued.

Other oddities made themselves known. The sinkhole in the yard refused to be filled. Every few weeks another truckload of fresh dirt was needed to fill in the hungry hole.

One night his bedroom grew unnaturally quiet. He woke up alone in a pool of his own sweat. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom of his unlit room he could make out a shadow: the outline of a large hulking beast. In the cool blue glow of moonlight, he saw the impossible: a large sow with seeping teats. It stared at him with black, uncaring eyes. The Husband closed his own eyes. When he reopened them, the beast was gone. He heard the echo of a squeal.

The next morning, once fresh sunlight cast a measure of sanity onto the room around him, he washed a brown liquid out of his carpet where he told himself he had dreamed the figure of a beast stood the night before. He scrubbed and scrubbed and applied more stain remover. He spat into the rug and cursed the impossible stains that refused to be impossible and refused to let him forget.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Problem With Folks These Days

I guess this is the type a story I expect you might not believe. In fact, I expect you might wonder if I actually believe it myself.

Well. I do.

It’s the kind of story that starts on a deserted road. That’s always where this type thing begins, ain’t it? And as you might expect, I was all alone. Just me and the trees and the sky and the asphalt beneath my Firestones.

I was down on Route 40 down past the city limits. I know this to be true because I remember all them potholes. I’ve gone back a time or two and those potholes don’t start up till you get past the city. I guess the state or the county or whoever don’t care much about the state of that road once it gets past where all them voters live. It ain’t used much, I know, but still, it just seems a waste to let a perfectly good road go outta shape thatta way. It’s just a dang shame. I never been much for letting things go to waste.

That’s the problem with folks these days. Everything’s disposable. Heck, just look at the divorce rate. Even spouses are disposable these days. Ain’t nothing sacred or meaningful anymore. It’s all just recyclable.

But,you know what? It really ain’t. Nothing’s recyclable. Once it becomes waste it’s waste and will always be waste and there ain’t nothing you nor no one else can do about it.

But people these days don’t think thatta way. Nothing’s worth preserving to this generation except maybe some danged old swampland or forest full a nothing but rodents and reptiles. I just don’t get folks these days. Animals and plants and stuff like that matter while people don’t? Seems a self-defeating philosophy the way I figure.

Anyway, everything made by us people is disposable. Or at least that’s the way most people think. But I don’t. I don’t think that at all. Just look at my truck. Now, I reckon to you it don’t look all that good. I’ll admit it was once much shinier than it is today. It don’t look much like it did off the lot thirty years ago. But, all the same, it’s a good truck. That commie Obama and his Washington cronies said they’d give me a tax credit for it if I traded it in a while back. My boy told me I should get one of them hybrids, can you believe that? But that’s just a waste. It’s been a dang good truck. It still is. It gets me where I need to be anyway. That’s all I ask for.

Besides, it’s packed full of memories. I know you don’t get that – the past don’t matter much to folks these days – but I can remember taking my wife and our oldest son home from the hospital in that truck. My boy had just been a little blue bundle at the time. He had the tiniest fingers. It’s hard to believe that anybody could ever be so small, but I guess we’re all tiny at one point or another the way I figure.

Some of us live our whole lives thatta way. Small, I mean. Some never want to grow. They live like children and die like children…

What’s that? You want me to get to the point? Dang it, I’m getting there! Just wait. Some things are worth waiting for. Now, I don’t know if the point, as you put it, is worth getting to or not. I reckon I got no way of knowing what you’ll feel or how. That just ain’t the way it goes, but all the same, sometimes it’s hard to know what to leave off and what to put into a story, you know what I mean?

No. I guess you wouldn’t. Your whole generation’s forgotten how to talk, I reckon. It’s all text this and email that. Sometimes there needs to be a little back and forth. You just can’t get that the same way on that there smart phone in your hand as you get it on a porch. I don’t know if it’s better or not. I don’t really care, but I know one thing: I’ve never had that carpal tunnel my boy got a year back. The Good Lord made us to talk with our mouths and not with our hands the way I figure.

Well, as I told you, I was out there in my truck. I was just taking a drive and hoping to catch a few catfish from a small pond down in the wildlife management area. There’s good fishing there at night, you know. I just toss out a few lines with some Oscar Myer’s and reel ‘em in till morning. The cats out there just love them hotdogs. But then again, catfish will eat just about anything, and I do mean anything.

That’s when I saw it. It came out of the water. Dangedest thing I ever did see. Like an octopus with the face and body of a man. Maybe I should say it looked like a man with a beard made out of squid. Hard to describe, he was. I studied him long and hard and think he had to be the most peculiar sight I ever did see.

Well, he came over and talked to me. I didn’t see his mouth move none, but I felt what he thought. He told me some of the craziest garbage I ever did hear. All about crumbling galaxies and hidden cities and people he called The Old Ones – they sounded kind a like politicians the way I figure – and he went on and on and on. He talked about worlds beyond worlds. I knew just by looking at him that he was crazy as a loon. Talking about other gods and such. That’s blasphemy the way I figure.

I told him I don’t believe in no God except the one I sing about on a Sunday.

The world kind of shimmered then and I saw things I reckon no man ought to see. I saw the sky itself as what it was. What it really was, I mean. He explained it in my head as the space between elements, whatever that’s supposed to mean. I tell you what it looked like. It looked like nothing at all. That’s the best way to describe it.

I told him that if that there was what he was selling I’d have none of it, and then I started telling him all that I thought was wrong with the world.

Eventually, he just left. He just up and walked into that nothing space and kind of drifted apart. He held his hands over his ears as he walked away.

That’s what’s wrong with folks these days, the way I figure. They just don’t want to listen. Let me tell you, there was this one boy who…

Hey! Where ya going? You ain’t even finished your tea!

Young people today just let everything go to waste, I tell you...

Friday, October 15, 2010

That Cold, Dark Womb of Stars

Davis stared up at the sky. Lying on his back, his shadowed form resembled a pincushion in the gloom of twilight. The fading light from the disappearing day reflected off glassy eyes. He reached up a bloody hand – he wondered how much of that blood was his own and how much had once belonged to others?—and grasped the protruding shaft of an arrow. He grimaced as he pulled it free.

He pulled out arrow after arrow. The notched heads tugged and ripped at flesh and fiber. He ignored the pain. He held his breath as he yanked out each arrow, gasping with pain with each gush of fresh blood. He knew no sorrow. Each revealed seeping wound brought him one step closer to something resembling freedom.

His open wounds bloomed upwards into roses of red. They unfurled above him and rained down blood-soaked tears. Their scent reminded him of love, of something not quite but almost forgotten: another time, another place, a much more comfortable bed, soft skin like rose petals.

He gasped and felt his heart shudder. It shook like a frightened bird unable to extend her wings because the cage was much too small. Those unfurled wings ached and grew stiff from lack of use until the bird found itself paralyzed. He sucked in a draught of air and tasted the roses blooming above him in the sky. Unlike the wings of the bird in his chest, the roses growing from his seeping red wounds could unfurl. There was no cage up in the sky above him. It was wide open.

The night grew dark and stars emerged. He watched the stars dance across the horizon and tried to remember the names of forgotten constellations and saw revelations: glimpses and hints of the now lost stories the images in the sky above him represented once upon a time for another race of man. He smiled and listened to the stars sing a song that only the dying get to hear – a small consolation to offset the fear.

The sky tugged him upwards, and he felt free. The sky was open. There were no cages, but there was a chill. Stars shined, increased in size, and then receded.

Davis blinked, found himself back in his body, and tears rolled down his cheek. His breathing resumed. A sudden awareness of pain shook him to his core, and he cried out. He prayed he might soon return to that cold, dark womb of stars. The shell of his body seemed much too constricting. His roses withered and joined the dust of the desert surrounding him. The wings of his heart cracked as they were bent back and broken. A medic called out his name.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Jelly watched the shadow orbs bounce around the room. They transformed her perceptions, changing the soft lighting and filtering it into a pale glimmer. She helped her mother paint the room a soft pink last summer. The pink resembled maroon in the half-light.

It looks like blood, she thought to herself.

The orbs continued their clumsy dance. Her bedroom resembled a life-sized lava lamp. She knew she should be afraid, but she wasn't.

It had grown familiar long ago.

She turned up the Lady Gaga playing on her IPod, laid back, and smiled.


"Momma got run over by a reindeer," Jelly would reply to any idiot dumb enough to ask about her mother. In reality, she had succumbed to cancer. For Jelly, however, the why didn't matter so much. All that really mattered was the finality of it.

At times she had felt sorry for Momma, seeing her pain as her cells degraded and her body wasted away. At other times she did not care so much that Momma had hurt. At least Momma had been there. In pain or not, Momma survived and was willing to hold Jelly's hand while she described her pre-pubescent soap opera tragedies. Momma would nod and smile and stroke her hand.

Aunt Grace had said it had been for the best, but Aunt Grace was a poop-for-brains, as Daddy would say. Except Daddy usually said that other word.


It was the night after the funeral that the shadow orbs had first appeared. Jelly was terrified. She screamed into the night for her mother, having forgotten that Momma had passed on.

Her father came in place of her mother. Wiping the sleep from his eyes, he asked what was wrong.

Jelly told him, but as the words came out, even at her young age, she felt ridiculous. The orbs bobbled through her room, soaking up the light of her Princess Barbie night light. It was clear her father couldn't see the dark bubbles.

Jelly had called Daddy in a few nights after that before she accepted he never would see them. The orbs – whatever they were – were hers and hers alone. A vision she could share with no one.

Over the years, she discovered they seemed to like music, or at least when she listened to music. Even while wearing the ear buds from her pink IPod, when no living soul other than her could hear the songs streaming through the wires, the bubbles seemed to be in tune. They pulsated, varying between differing shades of grey and black, soaking up the light in different frequencies.


The therapist asked her about the bubbles. Jelly felt anger towards her father for betraying this secret. She would never talk about the orbs to her therapist, she decided. He creeped her out, and the only emotions she dared to share with the bespectacled weirdo were imagined. Her reality was her secret. Besides, her fantasies and daydreams were realistic enough. The therapist never questioned her honesty.

Whenever the bubbles came up during their sessions, Jelly shifted the discussion. She would talk about the confusion caused by her budding sexuality. She fabricated stories of pillow fights with girlfriends that went too far. Her therapist didn't seem to mind. In fact, he always forgot all about the bubbles. He would blush and dab the sweat away from his forehead.


Night after night she looked up to the ceiling, listening to music, awaiting their arrival.

They bounced and danced for her. They soaked up the light. They vibrated and hummed. Sometimes she imagined words and symbols. Jelly felt the bubbles communicate, but meaning eluded her.

Accustomed to their presence, she grew bold. Listening to a mix tape of gothic dance music her friend Shanna had given her – mostly a collection of remixed Cure and Evanescence songs – the orbs grew around her.

Eyes wide and with a feeling she could not describe, almost a hunger, she reached out her hand.

The orb enveloped her flesh and caressed it. The orbs closed in around her. Invisible fingers stroked through hair. Nonexistent legs wrapped around her. She sucked in a deep draught of air as her lungs tightened. Something held her tight in a bear hug. She held her breath as an orb descended over her head. Inside looking out, everything wavered. Her hair billowed around her head as if she were underwater.

The grip around her, holding her down, relented. The urge to breathe took hold, and she relaxed. She sucked in a breath of…

Suddenly, the bubbles were gone. She was on her hands and knees, coughing, gasping for air. She knew what a fish out of water must feel like.

She purged out a thick puddle of black goo. It bounced and jiggled on the floor like Jell-O spilled from a mold. She shivered. Her body convulsed. She rolled around and felt the texture of the carpet pressing against her bare skin.

"Jelly? You okay in there honey?" she heard her father call from the other side of the door. His voice was muffled by the wood and the distance between them.

She tried to reply that she was fine, but couldn't gasp in enough air to say anything.

She attempted to breathe in but the air felt too thick to enter her lungs. She thrashed and crawled on the floor. Using a dresser, she managed to pull herself upright.

Looking back at her in the mirror was someone she did not recognize.

"Jelly, babe, I'm coming in!"

Thud after thud sounded out as the door shook in its frame.

Jelly was only dimly aware of the rattling door. She was transfixed by her reflection. After the initial shock, she was able to see herself in that stranger's face. Her face had aged fifteen years since she last saw it.

Her hair hung sticky and wet around her. The face was covered with wrinkles. Deep frown lines marred her lower face. She was bruised and battered. A tourniquet was tied around her arm, and a half-plunged syringe stuck out of a vein. She looked into her eyes. They were lined by wrinkles. The pupils looking back at her were black holes on a bloodshot canvas. She was naked and withered. Loose skin hung from her skinny frame in places. Smallish breasts drooped over an exposed ribcage.

The door crashed open and a man she did not recognize entered. He was tall and lanky. Blond dreadlocks hung around a yellowed and acne-covered face. The man's build was nearly as withered as hers.

"Jelly? Baby? You okay?"

Jelly felt the man rush up and embrace her as she fell.

She saw the orbs again and smiled. Her eyes rolled back into her head and she felt her heartbeat shudder. Death embraced her with the stranger.

*Originally appeared in Sand: A Journal of Strange Tales, Issue #2, Fall/Winter 2008.