Monday, February 19, 2018

021918c


daffodils
hot February sun
butters Bama's bread

021918b


The Lich


"But if the warlock be of exceeding grate powerr, his dead corse may rise agayn, an such an abomination is called a liche."
--Abdul Alhazred, translated by G. W. Cooper


Shawn Hutton sprinkled the old witch's powder over the corpse while speaking the last words of the spell. If he had correctly interpreted the old woman's notes, the body of the most powerful wizard Alabama had ever known would become his willing slave. If not ? well, he shuddered to think what De Wayne Miller's lich would do to him if it was not under his control!

Lightning flashed outside the grimy windows of Shawn's toolshed-workshop, immediately followed by a deafening peal of thunder. Involuntarily, Shawn turned towards the window.

"That had to be close," he muttered, wiping the sweat from his forehead with his sleeve.

Then came the rain, hissing through the azaleas and drumming on the roof nearly as loudly as the thunderclap of a moment before. Shawn's ears registered no sound inside the room, so loud was the rain, until a heavy hand fell onto his left shoulder. He screamed and tried to twist away, but it was no use. Another hand caught his hair and bent his head so far backwards that all he could see was Miller's half-rotted face, upside down and a bare inch from his own. Shawn screamed again, for the last time.

Miller dropped the corpse and strode stiff-legged towards the door. The fool had completed the reanimation spell, just as Miller'd intended, but had bungled the job. Miller hardly had any feeling in his extremities, and his muscles were not responding as they should. This would not do. He had to get to his own laboratory and finish the task. He tried to grasp the doorknob, but his hands were like wood: they kept slipping off. Finally, frustrated, he slammed the door with his shoulder, ripping the hasp right out of the jamb. He strode out into the rain without a backward glance.

Jasmine mumbled to herself continuously as she rummaged through the wizard's paraphernalia. Every so often she would exclaim delightedly over some discovery, shoving her finds into a shapeless denim sack. Every now and again, too, she would pause, to stare intently at a glass globe that lay in the center of a large oak table. What she saw seemed to reassure her, and each time after a few moments' pause she went back to her work.

The witch worked quickly. She moved from the desk to a shelf of books, reading titles, occasionally taking a book off the shelf and flipping through its pages. Two or three volumes she put into her sack.

Suddenly, a bolt of lightning struck very near the old house: thunder boomed loud enough to rattle the glassware on the shelves over the pot-bellied stove. At almost the same moment, the dim glass globe blazed forth with a hideous pale green light. The witch snatched up her sack and trotted nimbly toward the door. However, even as she reached for the handle, the door was wrenched open from outside.

"You!" she gasped, starting back. "But the powder?!"

Yes, Miller thought, I suspected the powder. So it wasn't made right. Still, here I am, you back-stabber. We had a deal. Alas, his undead lips could not form words so quickly. All he said was "Powder! Backstabber!"

The witch knew what he meant. "I intended you to remain in hell," she said. "I admit it. You should not be here. But we can still keep our agreement." Her eyes darted from side to side while her hand slipped into her pocket.

"Deal broken!" the lich barked. "You die!" Yes, you crooked old woman, he
thought, I paid you well to restore life to my clay, and you betrayed me. That young fool had just the wit to do your bidding. I suppose he paid you too, and was told I would be his slave. We were partners, but now you must pay for your deceit.

He lurched towards the witch, arms held stiffly before him, growling hoarsely. She took a small bottle out of her pocket, pulled the cork with her teeth, and flung the contents at the lich. His chest and right arm immediately began to pop and sputter like hot oil splashed with water.

The witch cursed under her breath: she'd been aiming for his face. The lich ignored the flames, lurching forward and embracing the witch. She twisted
out of his grasp, he overbalanced and toppled to the floor, but he caught
her ankle with one hand. The snap of ankle bones filled the room. The witch bit her lip and reached into her sack, rummaging for something. The lich dragged her to the floor just as she pulled another small jar out of her sack. It slipped out of her hand, shattered, and a dark thin liquid soaked into the planks. Sparks from the burning lich fell onto the patch of liquid and it exploded with flame. The two figures writhed apart, engulfed in flames, the witch letting out one short shriek. The lich staggered back to his feet. Flame billowed from his entire body. The witch rolled on the floor, trying to put out her burning clothes.

The lich silently cursed his former partner. You fool! I would have lived forever. I would have treated you fairly -I needed an assistant. We could have ruled this county. He turned toward the door, but the fire was too intense. He lurched back to the center of the room, beating at the flames that ate into his head. Fire had now spread throughout the small building. The witch dragged her sack with one hand, shielding her face with the other. She rattled the back door but it was locked. She kicked at it. Something in the witch's sack exploded, hurling her into the door, which did not yield. She fell to the floor. The lich growled in rage and
stumbled toward her just as the roof fell in. He was buried by burning beams. The
flames leaped up to meet the falling rain, and a column of steam rose into the night.

Morning sun flooded the glade. Mist rose up to meet it, but nothing living emerged from the rubble of the Mage's house. After a while, a mockingbird perched on the debris and began to sing.

021918


look in the dregs
of your empty cup
I am there

Sunday, February 18, 2018

021818b


The girl downstairs


I hear them, down there, knocking on the floor. Mom says pay them no mind, its not my business, and they only want attention. They'll hold you if they can, she says, suck you in if they can. It's why we paint the floor.

I picked a bit of paint loose under my bed. Another kid slept down there, under me. She had a bear, he stayed on her bed. She drew pictures, just like me, made puzzles, threw balls (her mom yelled, just like mine), stole her mom's makeup, sat on her bed to draw her face, checked it in a mirror. An oval one in a pink plastic frame.

That's when she saw me.

She stared at me long enough to be sure she was seeing my eye, my cheek, my nose, but I didn't know it. I was looking at her. Then she twisted her head around really fast. I jerked back, but she'd seen me. I put a bit of fabric with a book on it over the spot where I had peeled back the paint, but she had seen me.

Every time I moved the book, and moved the scrap, she was waiting. Staring fixedly at the clear spot in her ceiling where I lived. She didn't tell her parents. I was her secret like she was mine. I didn't tell my parents. I couldn't admit that I'd been caught because I peeled back the paint and looked through the hole. I don't know what they would have done. I didn't want to know. They might've sent me Outside. Nothing was Outside. Not since it happened. Whatever it was. It happened in the old times, when my parents were young, and I wasn't anything. And since then, Outside was noplace.

I kept busy with my things. I made both of my puzzles. I invented board games and played them. My stuffed cat was my opponent, but he never won. I practiced juggling, read my books, told myself stories, but it didn't matter what I did. She was always there.

I didn't have to look. But I did have to. I don't know how to explain it. Maybe it was because she had already caught my eye, that first time. But all I could do was think of her. I imagined what she was doing. Eating breakfast. Going to school. Putting together puzzles in her room with one eye on the corner of her ceiling. Puffing that little bit of hair out of her face. Choosing between the red sneakers and the green ones.

I asked my teacher about it.

“What do you mean, 'How do they catch you?'” Mrs. Johnson asked me. “They bewitch you by looking in your eyes. You can't ever see them, but if you do, don't look them in the eyes.”

“I know,” I said, “but how do they do that? If I look Charlie in the eyes, he doesn't get bewitched.” Everybody laughed. Charlie was scarcely ever even awake: how could he be bewitched?! She tried to explain, but she used a lot of words I don't know. It boiled down to the idea that they had some kind of magic power, which they used for evil. If they looked you in the eye they could make you do what they wanted, and they never wanted anything good.

That night, I crawled under my bed. It was so dark I couldn't see anything. Very quietly, I moved the book. I was reaching for the scrap of fabric, all that was left of my favorite plaid shirt that I wore when I was little, when I heard my mother at the door.

“Pat? Are you awake? It's way past your bedtime.” I heard my doorknob turn. I shoved the book under my bed and dove under the covers so fast! I got settled just as she opened the door. I knew I couldn't make her believe I was asleep. “Something woke me up. I was trying to get back to sleep.”

She kissed my forehead. “Alright dear. Close your eyes, breathe deeply and slowly. Think quiet thoughts. You'll be asleep in no time.” She closed the door behind her as she left the room.

Right. I was as awake as I had ever been in my life. I lay there rigidly, unmoving, for hours. It seemed like hours. I was sweating, my muscles started cramping. I had to move. I slid out from under the blanket and stuck my head under the bed. There was a faint glow from the spot where I had removed the paint. The book and scrap of fabric must have slid farther under the bed. I crawled over to the hole. I saw a face and a light, pressed almost right up against the underside of the floor. She was singing. I couldn't hear her, but I knew she was singing. The last thing I remember: her eyes and her moving lips, singing.


Now I'm in her room. I know it's her room, because of the color of the walls, even though everything has been removed. She isn't here. There is no one in the house. No one in this house under the floor. There is no corner of the ceiling where the paint isn't there. The ceiling is all white and solid. Bang as hard as I want, yell as loud as I can. Nothing. The house is stripped of furniture, of all other belongings too. There's nothing but a table knife lying on the floor where the dishwasher used to be. I pick up the knife and go into my room. I climb up on the built-in shelves and scrape at the ceiling, but it is as hard and unyielding as diamond. This communication between worlds can only be done from above. Okay then. I will go down. I will start in the middle, scraping away at the painted floor. Praying that somebody is living underneath. It is either that or go outside, and I'm not ready for that. I don't know if I will ever be ready for that.

021818


brain shopping
in the bargain bin
torn shrinkwrap

Saturday, February 17, 2018

021718b



Shards


So a woman with red hair comes up beside me. "Excuse me," she says and reaches up to the wall with a fragment of iridescent blue ceramic.

"Sea or sky?" I ask.

She shakes her head. "Flower," and pushes it in next to a large green area with a little white from cheap grocery store dishes.

"Looks nice."

She smiles quickly and turns away. I still have three pieces in my hand, but I don't think they really fit here. I move along the wall, stepping around everyone who is contributing to the Mosaic. Here's a good place for the red brown earthenware I've got left. Broken glass here on the sidewalk, but nothing I can see a use for in the Mosaic. The wizard will be back soon and we have to finish as much as we can. The more we have done the easier it will be to manifest it.

After I stick my last three shards in the wall I step back across the street to take in the gestalt. A River runs through it, there are trees, a couple of large birds, blue sky, and lots of flowers. The city just doesn't compare, and it's broken anyway. With most of the people wiped out during the Five Years, and the infrastructure destroyed by the plastic eating bacteria, even the few of us who are left just can't hack it. But in a new clean world, we can start over.

"He's here!" It runs through the crowd like the breeze before a storm. I see him! He is riding some kind of three-wheeled bicycle that is so high we can see him clearly even though he's on the other part of the highway.

"You have done well!" He shouts. "Now is the time to bring it all to fruition. He pauses and seems to bow his head then, he's chanting. Can hear what he's saying, maybe it's not in English. I feel a little dizzy from the heat and I lean against the barricade separating the street from the interstate. Tunnel vision. That's a sign of low blood pressure or low iron or something. When I can focus again the wall looks different. It's like a doorway, and people are streaming into it. I follow, but the mural, I mean the door, is shrinking rapidly. I dive for the hole and slam headfirst into the wall. Shrieking pain, I curl in a fetal position until the agony recedes. It they left without me. The mural is entirely gone and the wall is cracked and stained concrete. The wizard is still there on the other part of the highway. "I'm so sorry," he says. "You can start again. I will be back in a couple of months."


021718


rattle in my chest
extraterrestrial bugs
are tough fellers