Humboldt Preview No. 4

I’m at 83,000 words and 280 pages in my ‘second first draft’ of The Living City, the first in a trilogy of books about the magical, strange and hidden city of Humboldt! Things are going great and I think I’m about halfway through the book as it stands, maybe a little over halfway. 

The following excerpt is rough and not fully revised. It is taken from Chapter Fifteen, where Neil first takes Reginald’s advice and begins to listen to the city around him.

Thanks for reading! :)


Neil wandered aimlessly. The rain weighed against his face, massaging his temples and sculpting along the jut of his nose and his jaw. It wetted, then soaked, his hair, his jacket, his jeans. It carved streets and alleyways, interstates and less known paths so those that followed could tread familiar ground. Water beaded and broke and met again, or tumbled along aimlessly before moving on. That night, in the streets of Yellowside, Neil listened. And the rain spoke to him.

Incomprehensible syllables falling out of sync began to align, and when Neil slowed they formed half thoughts and phrases. Both familiar and unknown. Thank you was one he recognized early. It came often. Thank you. Two drops, usually hitting one after the other upon his shoulders. Thank you. In much the same way, two atop the head carried another two syllables as often as they spoke of something else. Undone. Undone. Undone undone. Neil knew the some of the other words unformed, the fragmented doh- and -eyes belonged to the phrase he knew to be painted in the alleyways on buildings that may or may not still be where they should. Retrace was another oft repeated, landing most often across the backs of his legs as he stepped.

Neil began to understand. He halted, arms outstretched, and welcomed the chant, the bits of a long-winded speech spoken out of time and all at once. A crowd roared and a single voice whispered. Thoughts recorded amongst the clouds were now delivered upon him. Thank you for your sacrifice. I have come Undone and I’m not sure why. Retrace your steps while you still have time. Neil shivered against the deluge. He wished he could talk back. He wished he could ask questions. Maybe he would learn. But his well-soaked smile would have to be enough for now.

Humboldt Preview No. 3

Dahlia Isabelle peered down from where she sat. Neil hadn’t noticed her enter, nor take a seat. Those smooth, ghosting movements which seemed to require her concentration were all but devoid of sound. Where Thomas Spat wore hard, honest expressions, Dahlia’s feints and sleights were of fluid or some phantom material. Her smile was serene, her eyes were guarded, emotions wafted through as though she was not there at all. By a fair margin, Dahlia was the tallest woman Neil had ever seen. It was not her height which concerned him though, but how very disproportioned the woman was. Dahlia’s limbs carried the disconcert of her hallways. Her slender waist and torso were no lengthier than Neil’s, which served to further emphasize the elongation of limbs. And yet, she was a truly beautiful woman. Her skin smooth and dark, soft and unblemished, encased extremities which floated along those liquid gestures cast from her chair, lending an air of supreme grace and benevolent authority to her words. Her black hair was shaved close to the scalp, and her eyebrows drawn on, thick black eyeliner tracing each lid before swooping to either side. Dahlia’s face remained cool for her age. Hints of liver spot shone through her make-up and the skin around her hands wrinkled from age which seemed unable to touch the rest of her body. When Dahlia did speak, her voice wavered and shook, confirming what her visage obscured. But her neck. Her head was poised - a grim acrobat - atop a neck so long and so thin that Neil worried more than a few times it would lose its balance and come tumbling down.

Humboldt Preview No. 2

An excerpt from the middle of chapter five, as Neil prepares to meet the Gift Mother for the first time aboard the Bella Luna.

Soar disappeared around the bend. Her shadow swayed to the tune of distant firelight before following. Neil left the ladder’s side, curving along with the walls. The glow of lights just beyond reach were received warmly, richly; retold by the glossy paneling. Pale warmth flickered, carrying hints of conversation with it, a range of exclamations, laughs, roars would push out with the light and succumb inside of the dark. The way forward smelled of stinging perfumes, and then water-soaked wood and then of nothing at all. Neil was sure he was close to rounding back on the ladder, but the building insisted to the contrary. The voices, lights, the walls agreed; it was him that was crazy. Soar stepped out from around the corner and everything breathed a sigh of relief all at once. She tilted her head questioningly. Impatiently. “Are you coming?” She stomped toward him with those wide, quick steps, gripping hold of his hand and forcing him through the loop, around the corner.  

A line of velvet-lined, high-backed chairs waited patiently along one wall. Those that sat atop them were not as patient. Four older men and two women sat in those chairs, right along the edge of their seats. Each flick of a wrist, every finger held up to the contrary was echoed by the jangling of gifts that adorned their limbs. These crooked-backed elders mounted atop straight-backed platforms were as display pieces, the gargoyles perched to guard their church with hollow promises of distaste and menace. Soar stalked on past each one, ignoring their screeching prattle. Neil attempted to claim back his hand as his own, but the young gruff maintained an impressively sturdy grip.

The front of the line was held by a man who stooped over his lap, long, leathery skin dripping from pointing bones. Instead of righting himself, he crooned his neck and formed a shepherd’s crook with the only finger not suffocated by dozens of rings. He wore a black bowler riddled with brass and silver pins, every inch covered, each design so intricately plotted and crafted that it should have stood on its own. The excessive nature of the pincushion should have weighed heavily atop that brittle head, yet the neck crooned and slithered as though it were weightless. White and black beaded necklaces alternately drooped down, with the widest pooling out onto the floor where Soar and Neil stood. Medals took on the duty of covering what available space was left, maintaining fine rows and columns that began at the collar and flowed down sleeves and legs, with additional pins crowding around those few remaining plots. The fleshy shepherd’s crook crooked and his pretties answered the call.

“Now, Soar, dearie, it is important that we maintain an-” the man nodded off as he spoke, his piles tumbling with him and stopping just as fast as he stamped a foot down. His voice was harsh and thin, wind seeping through cracks to flutter a single sheet of paper. “An order!” That accompanied the stomp. “We must maintain the line. These errant visitors will have their turn in- In time!”

Soar did not give the man as much as a glance. She knocked on the oval cabin door beside him. The chair he weighed down was flush with the edge of the door. Had he moved it the slightest bit more, it would not have the space to open. “I am here to see my friend Dinah. I’m not here for Mother.”

“That is all well and- and good! But you should schedule a time when the young mistress is beyond the Mother’s sanctum.” Soar continued ignoring the limp glares cast at her. She knocked again, as patient and slow as the first. The old man threw his back up against his seat to turn his vitriol onto Neil. Apparently that harsh tone had been reserved for little girls, as those winds now bellowed and the sheet of paper was torn to shreds. “And you! You have not sat the seats even a moment. Outsider or no, there is a reason for our method. We give special privilege to no man, certainly not one who thinks a week in Humboldt side steps custom.”

“Yeah!” A million tiny trinkets clattered together along with fists raised up. Neil had not realized the other, similarly encrusted sitters had been watching. Birds and venomless snakes, every one of them. The woman at the back, almost hidden around the bend, scooted her chair forward noisily to lock eyes with Neil.

“Surrender your spot at once! Sit the seat beside me or we will banish you from the floor!” Definitely one of the snakes. Those gnarled spires jangled upward once again, but shouts did not leave their lips. The door beside the first seat opened, and Soar stepped back quickly to avoid being struck. A knobby girl with frizzled orange hair and freckled complexion looked up at Soar, and then up again to Neil. She was small and straw like, her pointy hair just long enough to be done up in a ponytail. Ill-fitting goggles dominated her face and smushed her nose down flat, so she breathed through her mouth. The girl smiled politely and nodded at Neil before turning back to Soar.

“Yes?” She placed a rubber gloved arm on the outstretched door, again, much too large for her size.

“Hi, Dinah.”

“Hello, Soar. I’m very sorry, but I’m in the middle of cleaning-”

“That’s okay,” Soar rasped hurriedly. She glanced over at the elderly decoration for the first time. The ragged old man frothed at the mouth, stretching that neck to its breaking point in an attempt to peer around Dinah and through the doorway she blocked. “I can’t stay anyway. This is Neil.” Soar held a hand up. Dinah nodded to him again, the same practiced motion from before. “He would like to see your mother, if you have the chance. He is very nice and will only be two minutes-”

“Soar, I am cleaning, and she really is feeling unwell. I don’t think-”

“One minute.”

Dinah frowned beneath her goggles. She looked up to him again. “Sorry, sir, what was your name?”

Neil cleared his throat. The little girl made him want to speak as gently as possible, despite carrying herself well beyond her years. “Neil Mason.”

Dinah scratched her chin with her other, similarly yellow gloved hand. “Well, I am very sorry, but have you checked the main floor? I do not think she has spawned a thing belonging to that name.”

“Oh, no, no. It’s nothing like that. I-” Spawned? “I only want to speak with her.”

Dinah nodded slowly, this time to herself. “I will ask her. Please have a seat. If I haven’t come out in the next half hour you can knock again, as I’ll have forgotten.” Soar smiled at Neil triumphantly. Neil offered his thanks as the door swung shut.

Soar turned to him, ignoring the disgruntled cries of those in seats. “Well, there you go. You’re lucky I was here to-”

The door banged open again. Dinah reappeared with a tiny silver bucket. Anyone but her would have been able to carry it in just one hand. She hefted it to the floor, and it rattled in a way that had the sitters’ undivided attention. “Almost forgot,” Dinah said to no one in particular. “More unnamed bits.” She shoved the bucket forward and then held tight as its contents sprayed across the hall, innumerable small pretties collided against wall and person and floor, adding to the layer of crunch already present. And as those in seats bent at the waist to scoop with abandon, the small orange and white girl turned and shut the door again. She reminded Neil of someone, but he could not place it. That small silver bucket she carried was engraved in a flowing cursive script. Dinah E. Merigold.

Humboldt Preview

Where Lords’ houses were encroaching on the dead, and the dead on its residents, Modern’s very being was an encroachment onto the ground it had been built on. Businesses rose quickly, stacking atop restauarants and apartments, shattering the residential harmony of Yellowside to make way for towers of economy. Buildings grew off the backs of other buildings, morphing and merging together before shooting out into once-alley ways, vanquishing space that once existed there. Stoplights marked every street and the traffic was more stop than start. Horns bellowed out of sleek black cars at similarly dressed men and women in business suits, slick skirts, watches, rings, necklaces and other dangling expenses. The people here moved at the speed between a walk and a jog and carried binders and clipboards and suitcases and briefcases and cellphones and those that had two free hands used the opportunity to pump them aggressively. Taxis watched from every corner. Retail buildings and commercial spaces shouted from two story display windows, advertising a range of mannequins luxuriating across furniture and wearing fashionable cuts of cloth. The people on the streets responded, mimicking the same accessories as they sped by their plastic counterparts without so much as a glance.

A Short Update on my first novel: Humboldt


A lot of people have been asking me how my book is going, and I always mention that it’s going extremely slowly.

It’s funny, since finishing the first draft on New Year’s Eve I have felt as though I’ve barely touched it, which is true in a way. But in another way it has been consuming my thoughts moreso than when I was directly working on it each day. I spend most of my idle time throughout the day thinking on how to solve the problems of flat characters, lame plot devices and muddled story structure. I have been largely frustrated with how unsubtle a lot of the writing is, let alone how rough and jagged it reads.

But I am always thinking in the back of my mind, reworking sections, adding and subtracting characters, cutting subplots and cleaning up the order of events, and I am now preparing for my first rewrite, which includes the following:

The ‘bad guys’ have been entirely reworked and turned into actual people, or sympathetic characters at the very least. I still can’t believe I let my first draft have stereotypical villains in it. 

The characters of Rich and Cash from the Hole short story are completely cut. 

Soar from Sore Throat, and the Noctambulist from Shamblers have been combined into one character. 

The primary antagonist of the story had no place within the plot at all, and upon finding the right place for him he turned into a protagonist, which I find hilarious, but it works well so I’m excited. 

The first half of the story is going to be cut nearly in half to allow for more time to be spent with the interesting bits, as well as introducing the important side characters earlier on and giving them more time in the limelight overall.

The middle third of the book is going to be almost entirely removed and the subplot that accompanied it along with it.

I finally feel like I’m starting to understand what editing a novel takes. Editing is always something I’ve shied away from as you can probably tell by how I tend to ramble whenever I write anything. I get bored of it easily because the creation aspect is what interests me about writing. But that aside, things are going well and I’m starting to feel excited and optimistic about Humboldt again for the first time since just around this time last year when I began outlining the story. 

My plan is to still have a readable draft by the end of this year that I’m proud enough of to start showing around to friends/family to get feedback, but who knows for sure. Thanks, as always, to my friends and family who have been nothing but supportive of me during my bizarre creative endeavors. It means the world to me.

The Awful Offal of Sir Bellengier

While most offal is quite awful,

Turgid gut rot; foul air,

There is no offal quite as awful

as of Sir Bellengier’s.


Last of all who would contend

these wretched remnants which distend,

The man who met a wicked end,

And found himself ensared

by the innards of Sir Bellengier.

Of a motive? No one knew.

A murderer’s mind is oft askew,

Of tax man’s death? Sad, not a few.

Simply Bellengier’s just dues.

But that night revealed a truth,

Split wide open by vagrant sleuth,

Those who gorge spoil most uncouth,

When leaked out to the air,

Dark secrets, base affairs,

When moonlight looked inside Sir Bellengier.

First came many ghastly scents,

Unbridaled wealth, hate, apathy

The count’s belly then dispensed,

Far more repulsive sights to see.

Grey liver bloat with vice,

Gold-laid intestines divulged their price,

Misshapen heart hollow’d so precise

That putrid pile began to stare,

Blinked, sloshed, rose a monstrous heir,

Its host now gone beyond repair,

Revenge was claimed by Bellengier.

Lashed out impious insides,

Misfortunate, who crossed the line,

Drained one more man of his provides,

His black-slicked entrails enshrined.

Of that night was little said,

Though one who peered down from her bed,

Claimed to see three monsters’ ends,

But she was unaware,

‘neath that man’s flesh and hair,

The creature that was there,

Would proudly have declared,

He was, in fact, Sir Bellengier.

Summoning Sunday

When I was a child I would wait in my room for the sound of my father closing the front door and then rush down the stairs and into the garage, stopping briefly in the den to retrieve something from near his chair. I would turn the key halfway in the ignition and sit, staring, into the headlights of the car my father worked but never drove. The blinding light would drip across my vision, spinning my head, and hours would pass.

I do much the same thing now, with the various electronic windows I spend my day peering into. It doesn’t make it any harder to see, though I feel just as dizzy afterward.


The energy to wake, but not to stand. To wait for the numbing to wash over. By the time you notice, you are already fully soaked. The only way to dry yourself is to wake tomorrow and hope to leap from bed before it returns.


My father died just three weeks after our child was born. He held him once. We had just come home from the hospital the day before, and Lynne commented afterward that it had been the happiest she had ever seen him. I hadn’t noticed, and told her as much, but she insisted in a way that made me miss her. We had always shrugged off the various niceties and societal standards that went along with such events in the standard ‘life’. For my father to hold my child and show a great emotion, more so than the stone-faced American father was storied to, was the right thing. It filled your heart in the way it was meant to. And whether it was true or not was beside the point, because we have a script, so why not stick to it? Lynne was never like that before. Maybe she was now.

She had always wanted a child. The first time we discussed it was a mere few months after marriage, and the following week we had gotten a kitten. The next discussion came a year later, almost to the day, and the following week I brought home a puppy. The kitten had been full of life and excited at first, taking in the wonders of a new home and of a new world. The puppy was much the same. But the cat understood its confinement, retiring to a routine and napping to pass time. The dog recognized its role, pushing through each day with enthusiasm. I had always preferred cats to dogs.

Finally we had our child. Lynne and I traded off bathing duties each night, though one would always join the other. At first. About the time my moustache began to droop past my upper lip I stopped joining them in the bathroom when it was her turn. She never commented on it, though there was always a silence accompanying their return to the living room that was broken by our child and not by us.

Tonight was no different. Saturday and Sunday were long, end days that wrapped their arms around the week, pulling them tighter. It was six o’clock and the sun had set an hour ago. Lynne collected the baby. She drew a bath.

There was an old trick. A dark art I had learned early on in my youth when watching him. Tonight was the night to re-enact that sordid ritual. An evocation, an insistence, a plea to time itself. Move to my whim. I entered the kitchen, my footfalls hidden under the guise of a distant waterfall.

A three-fourths full handle of bourbon nestled itself beneath frozen vegetables in the freezer, a forgotten Christmas gift from my brother. I filled my glass and emptied it as fast. And again. Keeping in mind the observations of my youth. I call out to the long dead sun and newly born moon, to aging and mortality. I swig down my golden elixir.

Things begin to morph around me. Swirling shapes. It has begun. I stalk across the kitchen toward the crying thing in the woman’s arm. I laugh and warmth streaks out from my chest. She mutters something. “Really? You did this on purpose.” I try to hold that smile. It is not important. I lie down in my bed and close my eyes. Sunday comes.

First Draft of Humboldt is Done!

And a day early! 

It currently stands at 442 pages and 139,347 words. It has been a really interesting process for me to work through, and now that I’m done with a draft it is difficult for me to sum up how I feel about what I’ve written.

If you would have asked me a month ago how my book was coming, I’d have said it was utter garbage, that I was pretty sure I was going to ax the whole concept and get right to work on a new, ‘better’ book. I’ve heard similar complaints from other writers over and over again about how they feel when they’re in the middle of writing something, but once I was in the thick of it I succumbed to doing the same exact thing. A few times in November I even already considered the book ‘done’ because I was positive I’d never actually get around to finishing it. But after my second two week long break (during the end of Nov / beginning of Dec) a couple things happened. I calmed down, for one, and reread some of what I had written in the book thus far, deciding that while yes, it was far from in a place where I’d ever want to show it to anyone and it was going to have to undergo considerable plot and character changes to ever move beyond a first draft, some of the writing was genuinely not terrible and the rest was fixable, because of course it is. It’s hard to describe how difficult it is to force myself to like something I’d worked for so long and so hard on and still felt so far from my goal, but taking a short break seemed to do me a world of good morale-wise.

The second thing that happened was that my girlfriend, Emily, yelled at me one day on the way home from work when I brought up the possibility I had been considering about not finishing the draft and tossing it aside to work on something new next year. She has been incredibly supportive and understanding throughout the process, especially when putting up with my near constant complaints regarding the frustrations of writing this thing. I was honestly surprised by how strongly she felt about me finishing it and it humbled me in a way that made me realize that yes, it might be easier to give up just 100 pages from my goal and move onto other barely hatched ideas in my mind that seemed promising, but who’s to say I wouldn’t be in the exact same position five months from now with another book? 

And so with my new mindset being, ‘I don’t care how this turns out, but god dammit, I’m going to finish this’ coupled with a severe lack of work in the past two weeks, I finished the last 8 or so chapters and was able to put the first draft to rest.

Now, where do I go from here? Well, as I just finished writing the thing today, it’s time to stop thinking about this book entirely for a week or two, maybe more, but definitely not less. I have a whole bunch of screenplays that have been patiently waiting to be written that I’ll work on early next year to keep from getting more rusty than I already am. And then I’ll come back and read what I have and try to make sense of where I want to take it. I’m anticipating a near final draft of the book by the end of next year, though I really have no clue how long it will take, as I could be a lot closer or further from my goal of writing a not terrible book than I think I am.

Anyways, that’s it from me! I might post bits and pieces of reworked sections of the book next year once I get them to a place I’m happy with. If you’re interested in what the book is about, any of the short stories I wrote earlier this year (which you can all find with the hashtag Tales of Humboldt on this blog) play an important role in the plot and setting of the novel, though honestly the writing style is quite a bit different from how I chose to write the book itself. I think my favorite might be Catman’s Catbox or Dead, Baby, but I’m happy with all of them.

I just wanted to send out a huge thanks to everyone who took the time to read this, as well as to all of my friends and family who supported and encouraged me along the way to writing this. This is a sort of childhood dream of mine, writing a novel, and regardless of whether I ever do anything with it, I’m very proud that I managed to get the words out of my head and put them somewhere else.

Have a happy New Year!

Below is an unedited, certainly not final, snippet from the book, if you’re interested! 

And here’s a link to the song I listened almost every day while I was writing this, as it and the game it is from really inspired a lot of the feelings I attempted to capture in my writing. 

Theme of Laura


Humboldt hadn’t always been odd.

At least, not before it came to be known by that name. The once small mining community had, over time, grown into a marginally successful hub of regional activity. Eventually the residents decided the activity was a bit too much for a hub, and it grew again. First into a town, and, as fashion trended away from towns, it became a city.

One day, and no one really knew why, the name that had once belonged to that miniature mining community no longer fit. Someone woke up and decided they would call their city Humboldt, and all of Humboldt’s residents shared the thought that Humboldt was a good name indeed.

And since that day no one ever really came to Humboldt, and, much the same, no one ever really left. And Humboldt became quite odd. Though no one knew why.

It might have been the harsh division lines throughout the city. Residents of Uptown tended to keep to themselves, knowing exactly where Uptown ended and Further began, and never so much as dreamt of approaching the other side. If there was one thing Tash and Lyle Square hated more than the Downtown residents that would bleed over to visit the bars and the shops, it was each other. Yellowside had such distaste for the surrounding neighborhoods that they often joked about seceding. And eventually those amongst them that could not stand that attitude renamed themselves as belonging to Upper Yellowside, and the rest of the neighborhood responded in kind, proudly referring to their locale as Yellowside Proper. It was said that those from Lords were instantly recognizable by their dull manner of speak, and slow, lifeless gait. The people of Arnkngthand Park were old, and those from Modern were young. Those of Sentry, Dale, Caldwell, and Sellard were forgettable; Loomfield and Pinkton might as well not exist at all.

Or maybe Humboldt was odd for what brought them together: dreams of tomorrow and comparisons of furniture arrangements. The events of the past were unimportant and much less interesting than what may or may not be stretched out across the horizon. And when they did speak of yesterday, it was in hushed tones and genuine disfavor.

The city itself, like most cities, was structured not unlike an explosion set to glacial pace. Boundless skyscrapers erupting up from the center and increasingly smaller amalgamations of brick and mortar folding inwardly upon themselves thrust out toward its edges. Swirling stone structures frozen in time, the only surrounding movement of light and dust, dark emptiness down each alley. Ideals, emotive thinking, surging inspiration all transposed, made tangible through institutions and taverns, offices and homes. Coarse slabs suggesting the unknowable, ideas that should not be gone into their erection. The city of Humboldt smiled.

And so did its residents, though now less and less often. Something had been happening as of late. But no one could quite put a finger on it, or say it out loud. Things were shifting in ways they should not. People changing in ways they should not. The cats still purred, the mannequins still stood in their store windows, the buildings, mostly, remained where they ought, but were you to ask them if they felt different in any way, big or small, while they would not be able to place a finger on why, if they reached back in their mind and spoke the truth, though it might frighten them to do so, their answer would be firmly in assurance. They would remember back to that day in the middle of September where they were suddenly compelled without reason to look to the west. And though they could brush it off then as a freak occurrence, an odd, meaningless urge that left as quickly as it had come, that compulsion did not leave their minds. They returned to it that night when they had fallen asleep. It remained, festering, that next morning when they woke, and it would not leave. West. They did not know it, but someone from outside Humboldt had driven down the Interstate on their way into the city that day. Humboldt’s first new resident, excepting those by birth, in over sixty years. But to those immersed daily in the routine of the place, the bustle and the toil and the recreation, it was nothing to worry about. And were you to suggest otherwise, why, they couldn’t dream of a reason to fret. Things had always been normal here. How could they suddenly be any different? And maybe that was what made Humboldt so odd. 

One month into writing a book. Things have been going pretty well over all, though I can already see how monumental the editing and rewriting process is going to be. Also, it’s going to be way longer than I meant for it to be, which seems to be a running theme with what I write. The plan is still to have a completed rough draft by the end of the year, though if I really take all four months to write this at 3,000 words a day five days a week I think I might go insane. We’ll see!
Also, I just discovered that the entire book is really just the origin story of Neil Gaiman, so that’s pretty neat, I guess!

One month into writing a book. Things have been going pretty well over all, though I can already see how monumental the editing and rewriting process is going to be. Also, it’s going to be way longer than I meant for it to be, which seems to be a running theme with what I write. The plan is still to have a completed rough draft by the end of the year, though if I really take all four months to write this at 3,000 words a day five days a week I think I might go insane. We’ll see!

Also, I just discovered that the entire book is really just the origin story of Neil Gaiman, so that’s pretty neat, I guess!

Filmed the short film version of a short story I published last year: and after an agonizing 6 months of preproduction due to difficulties with locations and actor issues, moreso than any of the much larger film undertakings we’ve worked on before, we finally pulled through and completed the majority of the film (minus three pick up shots to be done in the future)! With a three person crew (all of us having a hand in production, myself as writer/director, Taylor Russ handling camera and lights, and Conor doing costume, set-dec, and hair/make-up) we moved at an insane pace and finished early both days without any regrets and feeling like we got exactly what we wanted. It is a great feeling shooting again after such a long break and so refreshing compared to sitting in a room and writing with no outside interaction which has been the rest of my creative work this year. So huge thanks to all of Jazz Records, the actors and their parents: Charles, (it was a pleasure to finally work with Charles Harris, and while I can’t wait to see him take on the role of Landon in King sometime in the future, his fantastic performance in this short helped to stave that anxiety off for a while longer) Elijah and Jen, and Cole and Traci, as well as a thanks to Conor’s mother for allowing us to invade her home for a couple days. Sylas was a success and I can’t wait to show it off to people. It has a very different flair to it compared to our last shorts by design and without any post production work is already looking to be from another era entirely. From here we’ll be working on establishing and improving our website, as well as shooting a music video for Perfect Families and preparing to venture into feature territory again next year! Stay tuned here on this tumblr, as well as over at for further updates and more content hopefully coming at a regular pace! Thanks for all of the support and we’ll see you soon! 

Sore Throat

Lake Toluca looked silent. Bella Luna would have thrust up from the shoreline, a shouting, boisterously red and white building in sharp contrast to the subtler sandy blues and greens, asserting itself before the low landscape had a chance, on any other day. But on this day, the eve of Humboldt’s swan song, the bed and breakfast was not present. It was simply someplace else.

For as much a stir as this caused the establishment’s neighbors, who found it hard not to notice the absence of the scenery spoiling structure that stared them down each morning blocking the sun’s eastern glow for just a moment longer in defiance of the dawn itself, the residents and customers of the Bella Luna were even more aghast at their sudden predicament. The manor was not gone from time and space entirely, but displaced. It currently floated, a continued insubordination of the natural world, in vast, seemingly endless waters of an undefined elsewhere. Those that happened to be in the Bella Luna during the occurrence called this body of water Lake Toluca, though the brine that sloshed the sides of the building and stung the eyes argued to the contrary. But the residents of the bed and breakfast agreed upon and imposed an entirely unspoken ignorance to where their actual location may be, which kept their heads a little bit clearer and made falling asleep at night a little bit smoother.

There were quite a few alarming topics that remained unspoken aboard the newly buoyant Bella Luna, much to Soar’s puzzlement. She would observe those patrons smiling as they ambled down the stairway for breakfast. Maybe they were a bit quieter than they had been before their building became a ship of sorts, but they smiled, nonetheless. They would joke and taunt over billiards or smoke at the bar or read in the lounge and no one so much at glanced outside. No one except for Soar.

Soar had trouble reaching the kitchen countertops. The place where the most desirable delicacies, croissants and Danish rolls and other sweetened pastries, were kept, which put her a few inches beneath where she ought to be, in her mind. The regrettably small Soar treated her life much like her beloved novels. She would spy (one of a few acts her shortened stature did not detract from) upon the maids and the cooks and the bellhop who quarreled and screamed and kissed with an invested interest that, when it came to her own life, she very much lacked. And so when she first had lost her voice and gotten past the initial frustrations that go along with a lessened agency, Soar’s daily routine hadn’t seemed all that different.

A fever had stricken something fierce. Soar was immediately confined to the bedroom she shared with Madame Heely, Bella Luna’s proprietor, head chef, and the woman who had first discovered Soar collapsed in the pantry. The Madame attended to Soar whenever she was not off on some errand, and over two blurry, unconscious days the young girl’s throat became so raw and bloodied that she was unable to speak at all. Excepting the pain, Soar did not mind her affliction much, as Madame Heely’s daily serving of homemade vanilla and pecan ice cream, made especially for Soar, had been more than a fair tradeoff. But the bell she had affixed around the girl’s wrist (which had to be resized twice as Madame had very much so underestimated exactly how small the child’s wrist could be) Soar could have done without. She had removed it once for a day. That evening when she returned was the only time the Madame had raised a hand to her, screaming that she would not be responsible for the loss of someone’s child in such trying times, and Soar promised with vigorous head shaking that she would never again remove the piercingly intrusive thing.

If Soar could trade that noisemaker and the bloodied coughing fits but keep the ice cream and the loving attention, she would be just fine without a voice. And, had she the choice, she might never want to speak again, anyway. Were she to talk of what she had seen the night before she grew ill, Soar feared she would be exiled off of what should not be, but was now, in fact, an island. That maybe that thing would return. That it would find her and consume whatever fragile sanity she had retained, and that she would simply wash away, like a small building amongst the infinite oceans.

That awful night, the one before she had gotten sick, Soar was doing what she had perfected in the nights before. The Bella Luna had been a treasure trove, and Soar its stowaway, before it went off to sea. She would scrounge in the kitchens and scour open rooms, pillaging pastries and cheeses and nuts, not the meats though. The meats were always slathered in a grease that churned her stomach. The urchin would eat her fill and carry any remaining spoils back to her spot beneath the patio overlooking the lake. Fall was fast approaching and she would need to find a warmer spot inside soon, though for the moment it did the trick.

But something had spoken within her that night as she laid to rest. Something had called out. Or rather, and she recalled this clearly, the echo boomed from within her mind, a thought that was meant for no one, but she had heard it, just the same. It had been overheard. And the sensation in her head pointed her not back to the kitchens, or the pantry, but instead down. Down, down, down into the depths of the dark that was the cellar. And she, entranced, followed. And then that feeling, voice, compass, pull said the boiler room. And she followed. And then it said to look down in that crack beyond the- that space that should not be there at all, but it was. And she followed. And she opened that not a door and entered that not a room and-

Boundless blanketing energy folding in on itself. Infinity coiling, an inward swirl of light and dust. The center of it all and, when she would blink, dark emptiness. A powerful surge of idea and thought and life that sprung up from nowhere and everywhere around her in a place that did not exist. The convulsive display offered knowledge she shouldn’t know. Things she didn’t want to know. For the first time in her short life, the young girl now knew exactly who she was. What she was. It was a fate she would not have wished on anyone.

And then it smiled.


And when Soar had awoken, she was in bed with fever, much like she found herself now, a week or so later, slowly returning to consciousness in the makeshift bed in Madame Heely’s cramped room. Her head felt fuzzy and warm. Her eyes were on fire. The moon shone through the window accompanied by the faint sound of waves crashing against wood. Her throat was usually the reason she awoke from her sickness slumber, and this time was no different. She felt as though she hadn’t had a drink in days. She had to unstick the back of her throat and could have sworn it audibly cracked as she did. An attempted to groan failed to produce any sound.

Without looking Soar reached over onto the nightstand beside the bed for her glass of water. Water was, thankfully, one of the few things that wasn’t becoming a scarce resource on the Bella Luna, and just as well, as it was all Soar seemed to be able to stomach. Soar smelled her sickness mixed up in the dry and lingering sour air. It disgusted her, but she usually didn’t have time to think on it long before the aches in her head and joints forced her to stop moving and fall back into sleep. And the cycle would repeat.

Soar gripped the glass and lifted. Weight told her the glass was empty. She turned over and searched the floor beside the bed for the large pot of water that Madame Heely would refill from time to time. It was gone. Soar sat up and glanced over. Madame Heely was gone as well. That was odd, but not unprecedented. Madame never stopped moving throughout the day in an earnest attempt to cheer and service all of her customers, and sometimes that carried her into the night, especially now. Lately she no longer talked about her duties and her errands and had begun talking about raising morale and creating distraction. And that she did. People would smile as she entered the room, knowing her positive energy would at the very least bring them momentary respite from the bleak unknown.

Soar held her hand up to her throat. Her stomach tensed as if she were about to scream. Air forced out, but it was no louder than a heavy breath. Soar threw her cup across the room. It clanged against the wall and rolled back, shifting across the floor with the slight sway of the sea. The bell on her wrist jingled. Soar gripped onto it, white knuckled, before relaxing again.

Soar slowly planted her feet on the floor and hoisted herself up. She crossed the room, stopping at the edge of the bed to retrieve her cup, and she entered the bathroom. Soar thrust her cup under the sink faucet and drank, not stopping until it was empty. She used the time it took to refill to catch her breath and then Soar downed the second glass of water just as fast. The sink might have tasted badly of rust and minerals, but the taste of blood prevented her from knowing. And then Soar sat on the floor of the bathroom, her hand against the toilet. She took deep, ragged breaths, satisfied at the few noises she could still make with her mouth, happy to be out of breath in trade for a wet throat and stomach.

Madame Heely still had not returned. Soar glanced toward her bed. It looked alluring, but, more and more, the sheets and the pillows, cotton and down, the way they rolled and tucked and folded, seemed exactly the same as the larger, watery prison that currently contained her. Maybe it was the momentary energy provided by the sink water, or it might just have been a strong sense of curiosity overpowering her body’s aches and pains, but for the first time since that awful night Soar refused to think any further about, the Bella Luna stowaway struck out into the dark.

Madame Heely’s quarters were at the very back of the third floor residents’ wing, sharing the space of a normal guest bedroom with a maintenance and broom closet. The other workers also resided here now that they were unable to leave. Otherwise, most of the third floor rooms remained empty. Madame Heely had always preferred to keep it that way except for those festivals and holidays where the place would fill up, and with the workers now permanent residents as well, the Bella Luna was about that.

Soar stepped into the hallway on quivering feet. Each plodding step sent shivers and aches throughout her body. She carefully held the bell’s clapper with her right hand to prevent it from colliding against the brass wall each time she moved. The orange, wispy carpeting of the hallway felt nice against her feet, at least, compared to the cold, hardwood of Madame’s room.

A sharp cry erupted from somewhere down the hall. A shrill yelp. Soar froze in place, waiting. And then it came again. A man’s voice.

"Damn it!"

Room three twelve stood ajar, a dull yellow glow spilling into the hallway. Whoever it was in there spoke very coarsely with an occasional high pitched growl. As Soar inched closer she could make out a woman’s voice as well. Very calm, consoling. Warm. Definitely not Madame. But it couldn’t hurt to take a peek.

The door to room three twelve opened inwardly and, luckily enough, toward the rest of the room, so Soar had no difficulty making out much of what was occurring on the bed from her place in the hall.  A man sat at the foot of the king sized bed, stripped to the waist. His left arm was stretched around his torso in an effort to hold something in place against his right shoulder. Toyle. One of Madame’s favorite workers. She would tell Soar that Toyle was a man who could drink, heavily, with her once they were closed up for the night, but always sobered when morning came and went right back to work. She said not many men his age would do that without bringing their vices along with them, and she respected him for it. Soar had not had much time to get to know Toyle, but when she had he was shouting at children running through the halls or peering into a corner, stroking his white moustaches. He was good at giving off signals that could easily be picked up from across the room that he did not want you approaching him.

A woman, one of the maids, and still on duty from the look of her dress, crossed in front of the crack in the door. Soar tensed up, but made no sound. And, not for the first time, she was glad at her inability to make so much as a peep. Soar had never seen the woman before, but she hadn’t gotten much of a chance to meet the people of the Bella Luna with her current ailment. The woman was tall. Very tall. Dark red curls that matched her lipstick escaped from either side a black bonnet. She looked down at Toyle with a cold expression that did not match her soothing voice.

"Only woman in m’life I ever felt skittish around. She ain’t right." Toyle’s thin moustaches twitched as he breathed in sharply. He rubbed his shoulder.

The woman held a dripping sponge to his back and tapped Toyle’s side, signaling him to let go. He did, dropping his left arm with a thud against his lap. He continued. “I knew the moment I saw ‘er, gal’s a menace. And no one’ll believe me.”

She removed the sponge, now a bright red color, and retrieved a bandage from the bed, wrapping him up. “You been drinkin’, hon. Just lie down and go to sleep. We can figure this out tomorrow. How the hell did you do this to yourself?”

"See? An’ you ain’t believin’ me either. That’s her whole trick! She plays the pretty little princess, but then there’s something else underneath that skin. It ain’t a heart or a soul, I’ll tell ya that. Sometimes I- I get the feelin’ she’s here to hunt me. Hunt me like a dog.”

"If you really think that way tomorrow morning, we’ll go sit down with her and have a talk."

"I’m tellin’ yah, Marie, that girl’ll eat me alive if I go back there. I won’t do it! I won’t! An’ you know as well as me I can’t prove it to no one. How’ll I explain this?”

Something flicked and fluttered behind Toyle’s left shoulder for a moment. Soar squinted, trying to get a better look at the thing that might not have been there at all, but in doing so she bumped up against the door, causing it to shift forward slightly. And she quickly got up to continue on down the hall, not bothering to check behind her whether they had noticed.

Soar reached the third floor lobby, where the different residential wings met up, and peered down each hall in turn. She was entirely alone. The moonlight streaming in through the large, glass double doors to the third floor balcony illuminated the grandfather clock, a piece Madame would proudly exclaim was Lloyd’s work to anyone who listened. The clock itself was normal enough, but it was entirely slanted, as if it were halfway melted, and people often tilted their heads to one side to read it. Soar did just that and the hands read four thirty-five. While the nightly forays into different corners of the Bella Luna had given her a rather thorough understanding of the building’s layout, Soar had no idea where to start when it came to finding Madame. She decided she would check the second floor lobby and wings, and then venture to the first floor offices. If she did not locate her, perhaps she would at least find something else as entertaining as her peek into Toyle’s bedroom had been.

And find she did. But not Madame Heely. As Soar descended the steps to the second floor lobby, she heard a deep thrusting sound, like steam being shot out of a pipe, except much lower in pitch. And then a similar sound followed, slightly higher in pitch. Soar thought of giant bellows. It came from the eastern wing of second floor patrons’ quarters. Room two oh three. As she got closer the sound grew. It was accompanied by something else. A low rumble that she could feel in her feet. And for a moment Soar recognized the noise for what it was, though she dismissed the notion soon after. She waited by room two oh three until the loud exhale began again and she slowly turned the door handle and cracked the door ever so slightly.

For a moment Soar could not understand why this room was so much smaller than the ones surrounding it. It seemed as though the wall cut off the room at about where the bed should be. And it was just as well the bed was missing, as there was no room for it to still allow space for anyone to move around. But then the wall moved. And then Soar realized that it was no wall at all.

Cascading mounds of flesh drooped down from the ceiling, folding outward from themselves with no discernible beginning or ending. The various flaps and piles of loose skin would shift and expand with the Gift Mother as she rolled and breathed in her sleep. Soar had only ever seen the woman once before, on the first night she had broken into the Bella Luna after dark. The enormous woman was being carted away from the kitchens by a crew of men and a small girl not much older than Soar. That was the only night that Soar had been unable to find so much as a scrap of food in those kitchens. But her surprise and disbelief at first seeing the gigantic woman was outdone by the enormous wall of flesh before her now. The Gift Mother had appeared to more than double in size since she had seen her. Not only that, but Soar had trouble identifying she was even a living being at all. The fat, loose flesh that hung and draped down around the room all but covered the rest of what should have been a body. Soar spotted her head in the bottom right corner of the room. A small structure seemed to have been built there solely to prevent the mounds of skin that expanded out from her body from suffocating her. The female wall jiggled with her deep snores.

"May I help you?"

A small young girl with dark hair and eyes peeked out at Soar from around the corner, startling her. Soar tried to say, “I’m sorry for bothering you”, but her lips moved before she remembered that she wasn’t able to.

The young girl narrowed her eyes at Soar for a moment before nodding. Those eyes looked old. Like Madame Heely’s or the tall red headed maid upstairs. Too old for a child.

"She’s not feeling well. She’s been very sick lately." The young girl turned to look back at Gift Mother. Soar noticed the large gold necklace adorned with a bright ruby in the young girl’s hands. "The doctors said that she might get sick from this eventually. That her body should not be doing the things it is doing and that they were worried what would happen. But it was so sudden. She had never been sick before."

The girl stopped talking and they watched the shifting barrier breathe. She turned back to Soar, noticing that her eyes were still on the necklace. Soar quickly looked back up. The girl smiled sadly, her eyes not losing that unnatural age, and she held the necklace up to Soar.

"Would you like it? She never addressed who this one was meant to belong to. That happens sometimes. It came out of a little boil on her back, but don’t worry, I washed it off." She continued holding it in front of Soar’s face. While Soar was deeply disgusted by what the girl had just said, she had heard of Gift Mother before and knew of the importance of the trinkets and relics she produced for Humboldt’s residents, and so she decided she should not pass up the opportunity. The ruby shone brightly in the dim light. Soar could recognize its dazzling brilliance even then. She accepted the gift, and the young girl helped fasten it around Soar’s neck. It wasn’t until too late that Soar realized what it truly was. The ruby was the back of the necklace to cover up the clasp. The front was a large, golden bell, the outward curve embellished in flecks of diamond and ruby. It was beautiful. But it was another bell. Soar did her best to hide her disappointment for the incredibly lavish gift.

The young girl smiled. “That looks very pretty on you. I feel as though, were she awake right now, she would have said it was meant for you.” And then the girl picked up a diamond encrusted silver bucket of water and a large, gold scrubbing brush and went to work. She hoisted up folds with all her might, shoving the brush as deep into those dark, fleshy crevices as she could, scrubbing away. Soar felt embarrassed for the girl and decided it was time to leave. She again tried to speak, a “thank you”, but of course it did not come. Instead, she gripped the small handle above the bell around her neck and gave it a little jingle. It let out a soft, dainty ping that sounded much less piercing and much more expensive than the one she had around her wrist. The little girl turned around again. Those eyes. She smiled in understanding and waved. Soar waved back before shutting the door.

And as she turned around, Soar spotted movement at the other end of the hall. She crouched instinctively. There had never been a feeling of danger in the bed and breakfast, but the last time she had snuck through these halls had been to steal. She had been up to no good long enough that hiding and running were habitual. And as the figure in shadow grew closer, Soar was glad she had crouched. The woman that made her way to the second floor lobby was Lady, the only person Soar had met since her coming to the Bella Luna that she did not trust. There was something about the way she looked at others. It was as if she was sizing them up. But for what reason, Soar did not know. She felt as though she had learned something about Lady recently, and the Gift Mother for that matter, from somewhere. But wondering too much about what it was that she had learned caused her mind to go to places she did not wish it to. Soar shook her head violently, physically demanding her brain think on a different subject.

The woman who called herself Lady had told everyone she was originally from Pinkton, a suburb south of Humboldt. She had gone to nursing school, and that was about all anyone knew of her. The more pressing question, the one that made Soar wish she still had her voice, was how exactly Lady had found the bed and breakfast to take up residence in the first place. She was the only one here that had arrived after the Bella Luna had suddenly found itself no longer on the coast of Lake Toluca. People seemed unconcerned with how or why she had come, and Lady herself seemed ignorant of where exactly the building was currently. She had offered to pay for each night of her stay, though everyone else onboard had been given free residency by Madame until they could sort out how to get back to shore. Lady kept to herself, and people seemed to have forgotten about her. The only time she ever left her room was on Fridays and Sundays to go down to the first floor lobby to phone her mom, which she had requested remain open for her during those times, and she paid Madame extra for it. The woman was a mystery, and Soar did not trust her in the slightest. The adults around her seemed oblivious.

And now Soar had even more reason to be wary of the woman. Lady moved quickly and quietly in the dark. She was tiptoeing. And not in the polite way people do at night out of respect to others. Soar knew this sort of movement well. She was sneaking. And what’s more, she held something close to her chest with both her arms. Something that must have been very precious to her. Quickly deciding this was enough to be suspicious, Soar followed at as great a distance as the hallways would allow.

Lady crossed the lobby and made her way down to the first floor. As soon as the woman was out of sight, Soar ran after, trying her best not to lose track while holding tight what was now two bells she wore. As Soar reached the steps, she moved more hesitantly. Carefully descending the stairs, avoiding known creaks. And then Lady was gone. The first floor lobby was empty. Both the northern and eastern hallways led to customer quarters, which were her more likely destinations, though the woman could have gone toward the offices as well, had she a reason. They were all empty as far as Soar could see.

A door clicked from somewhere down the north hallway. Soar moved quickly, gambling that it had been Lady’s door that had clicked and that she would not still be out in the hall somewhere, waiting for her. As she rounded the hallway the same door clicked open and shut again, and Lady left a room, walking further down the hall. Her hands were empty now and she moved upright with no attempt to stay hidden. Where she was going, Soar wasn’t sure, but as soon as she was out of sight, the young girl ran down the length to Lady’s door.

Luckily, it was unlocked. Soar figured she was short on time, and so she burst in, not thinking about what might lay beyond. Soar’s first step in the room was onto something brittle, and it snapped underfoot. Her feet slightly stuck to the slimy substance on the floor. Another step met the same result. It felt as though she were walking on potato chips. The thing Lady had been carrying, whatever it was, lie on the bed. A long, thin object wrapped in a white sheet, about the length and size of Soar’s arm. She took another step forward.

Crunch. Her feet were slicked in the halfway dried stuff. And as Soar stepped further in the odor wafted up to her as well. The place smelled stale. Sickly. And then footsteps signaled someone was at the door behind her. A woman gasped outside.

Soar froze. She had forgotten to close the door. She quickly scrambled into the bathroom on her right. The room was laid out much like Madame Heely’s room on the third floor, but larger. The cold tile of the bathroom was slicked and covered in the same stuff and made a loud crunch when Soar crouched down. She decided not to move anymore though she wasn’t entirely hidden around the wall of the bathroom out of fear of making more noise. Lady entered and closed the door behind her.

She took soft, apprehensive steps into the room. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Soar couldn’t see into the bedroom, but it sounded as though Lady had stopped right on the other side of the bathroom door. She inhaled deeply. Noisily. And then- crunch. Crunch. Crunch. She was walking away. She plopped down on the bed and Soar heard the rustling of sheets.

And it was then that Soar noticed the feeling of the thing underneath her hand on the tile of the bathroom floor. It was twitching. Soar looked down. The white tile was littered with dozens of small, black things. Most of them lie still. But some were twitching. From the other room another crunching sound began. Crunch. This one was different, though. The crisp sound of an apple splitting apart. What were those things on the ground? They were everywhere. They were on the sink and the toilet. From what Soar could make out from the other room they were strewn across the carpeting in there as well. Soar leaned down to get a better look at them. The beautiful, gold and ruby bell around her neck jingled.

Soar froze. The crunching noises from the other room stopped. She held her breath; her heart was pounding in her head. The feverish aches throughout her body intensified. Her skin was burning. Throbbing. The crunching noise resumed and Soar could breathe again. And then she saw what it was on the floor in front of her.

Each of those black spots were the wings, or the body, or sometimes a bit of both, of a moth or butterfly or other winged insect. It took every ounce of Soar’s resolve to prevent herself from reeling back in horror and jingling that damn bell again. The floor was slicked with brown, sticky muck. The smell was- Soar wanted to vomit. Luckily she hadn’t eaten in over a day. And that noise from the other room…

Crunch. Lady was insane. This confirmed it. She was more awful than Soar had ever imagined. The people of the Bella Luna were stranded at sea with a lunatic. There was no way of reporting her to the police. No way of escaping. Soar had to get out of there. She had to. Maybe Lady was facing away from the bathroom? Perhaps she was lying down, or watching out the window. Ever so slowly, Soar leaned forward in steady, minute movements, careful not to sound the alarms around her wrist and neck.

Soar’s heart leapt into her throat as she locked eyes with Lady. The woman had been staring at the exact point where Soar was before she had been there. And Lady was smiling. She sat on the edge of her bed, holding a dark black, dripping thing, the thing that had been wrapped in that sheet, up to her face. And without blinking or looking away, Lady took another bite of the thing in her hands. Crunch. She chewed slowly as she watched Soar, that twisted smile that curled the ends of her lips never faltering. And Soar ran.

She would have screamed. But she could not. Lady did not react as Soar threw open the door and rocketed into the hall, crashing against the wall opposite the room with a jingling thud. And she did not stop running until she was all the way down the southern hall of the first floor. She crawled underneath a table that sat against the wall and tears streamed down her cheeks. She did her best not to move, though her body convulsed in waves of sheer terror that roughly went in time with the rhythmic sway of the bed and breakfast.

And what scared Soar more than the floor of dead insects and that Lady had seen her was that somehow Soar had known what she was going to find in Lady’s room. How could she possibly have known that she would find Lady munching on that giant thing she had carried away in wrappings? But she did. It was almost as though the image had been in her mind, and leaning around that bathroom wall had allowed her to sync up what was happening with what she had expected. And her mind was going back to that place again. She shook herself out of it.

Madame Heely’s thick, deep voice arose from somewhere. “… any sense. I am not understanding. You are coming here and you are telling me these things and they’re meaning is nothing without the context.”

Soar’s head snapped to the right. She was beside the office Madame used for weekly meetings with her workers. She had found her. She was safe. She could write down what she had seen and get Lady kicked off of this ship or this building or whatever this was and maybe everything would start going back to normal.

Soar stood up and placed her hand on the door handle before stopping. Another voice responded. It was a woman’s as well. Scratchy and gravelly. The voice was grating, almost painful, to listen to. And in between each long pause she continued the gross, deep vibration of her voice. It never stopped. Almost as if she never needed to take a breath.

"You… will protect… her…and…the new arrival… more… arrivals…before the end…duty…to…"

Madame Heely was almost to the point of shouting. “I am not understanding! You are coming here and harassing me each night and I am wanting to go home. My home is not in the middle of the water!”

"She … too important… not as great a cost… many need her…"

"And what of this? What of this? These things that sprout out of my scalp! I am coming unhinged! Am I to die like this? I am hurting! More and more, I-"

Slowly, ever so slowly, Soar turned the knob of the door and pushed it open to spy yet again that night. She was unsure who this strange woman was and did not want to give away her position until she understood what it was they were talking about. Maybe they knew something about what has been going on lately. Maybe Madame knew more than she had ever let on.

The woman speaking to Madame Heely was another young girl. Soar recognized her, as she had visited often during the day before the Bella Luna had become separated from the shore. It was that Selby girl. But Soar had never seen her up close before. Her eyes were closed. Her head lolled off to one side. Her eyelids fluttered rapidly as she spoke and her mouth opened and closed as she made those awful vibration noises. Sometimes when it opened it would form words and those were the ones that came out.

And then Soar saw Madame Heely. She had always worn a hair wrapping when Soar had seen her. Even when she went to bed. They came in many different colors; red or orange or purple or black to match her outfit. Soar never knew where Madame had been from originally, and the wrapping added to her mystique in a way that seemed fitting. This was the first time Soar had seen her without that wrapping.

Atop her dark black curly hair was something that should not be there. Translucent black slimy things. Little sacks with dark blobs swirling around inside them. They pulsed and squirmed. They reminded her of little eggs. And Soar realized the smaller black dots in between the larger ones were the same, but smaller. Thousands of them atop Madame’s head. And then Soar recognized again that this was something she had known before. And she thought about how it was that she had.

Very slowly, as Soar processed the impossible sight in front of her, her eyes traveled up and back into her head. The little sick girl who had had one too many frights that night crumpled in a heap on the floor.


And Soar did not awake that next day. Or the day after. Or the day after that. And Madame Heely began to worry about if she would ever wake again. But that Selby girl had said as much. Said it would happen. And, again, as the girl predicted, Lady stepped forward to offer her nursing expertise to care for Soar. And though Madame Heely did not much trust the woman, she had known her to be the only one aboard who could care for any injured. And she did a good enough job as long and Madame and her crew continued paying her in the bottled insects that they had accrued over the year before this all had happened, as per the Selby girl’s advice.

And so the Bella Luna and her crew, with Madame at the helm, floated in the middle of a nameless sea in what may or may not be any place in particular, biding their time, as the Selby girl had instructed. They waited for the day that Soar would wake up again, and what would come next.

Another Anise

Humboldt hadn’t always been odd.

At least, not before it came to be known by that name. What once had been a small mining community built on the edge of Lake Toluca had, over time, grown into a marginally successful hub of regional activity. Eventually the residents decided the activity was a bit too much for a hub, and it grew again. First into a town, and, as fashion trended away from towns, it became a city.

Then, one day, and no one really knew why, the name that had once belonged to that tiny mining community no longer fit. The mayor woke up and decided they would call their city Humboldt, and all of Humboldt’s residents shared the thought that Humboldt was a good name indeed.

And since that day no one ever really came to Humboldt, and, much the same, no one ever really left. And Humboldt became quite odd.

So odd, in fact, that the plastic models that haunted Humboldt’s department stores and malls troubled Carl. His girlfriend had left him over two weeks ago, but the pain of remembrance was so fresh that it still seemed like only yesterday. Carl mostly stayed indoors now, working from home. He told himself it was to allow him to grieve in private, but he knew that was not the case.

Anise had always been so gorgeous. Her features ran so smoothly into each other, soft and subtle yet entirely striking once you did notice. The way she moved had been so unlike anyone else Carl had met. A slow elegance that barely registered; a ghostly grace, as if every lithe limb moved not via muscle attached to skeleton, but rather a slow, descending glide on the breeze. And descended she had on Carl. Everyone who saw them together said that Carl had been extremely lucky. Or at least, that was what they thought. And then she grew even more beautiful. Each day Carl would wake next to her, sleeping so softly and soundlessly, and wonder for a moment whether he was beside the same woman he had bedded the night before. The counterpane was the culling cocoon each night, removing those increasingly slight imperfections, ever propelling her to higher reaches of the beauty she flaunted each morning, stretching out her pale wingspan, as if for the first time. And she became even more noticed by those around them. The sneaking suspicion that their relationship no longer seemed to stretch infinitely into the future took hold in Carl’s mind.

Anise’s face and voice retained their softness, but everyone around her seemed to more loudly comment to Carl on exactly how beautiful she was. And more and more people paid attention to those claims, nodding in agreement or casting sideways glances to join basking in Anise’s angelic aura. She was recommended various avenues of employment offering desirable stipends, much more than her work at an ad agency. And so she had her go-see, and then she was on runways, and then she was the fit model, and now Carl was staring at one of the many mannequins in the Modern storefront window that was molded after her likeness.

The plastic Anise was frozen midstride, a striking and unbecoming pose of the woman he had known. She wore a tight black skirt and a thin white top. Those large, dark sunglasses hid her expression, and her lips were closed tight, a seal of determination, but Carl knew that, somewhere, wherever she was, Anise was smiling. Those legs, those arms, the way they stretched and curved, they were exactly hers and his fingers remembered them well. Her left hand was elevated and thrust behind her, mimicking a wave as she moved on past the implied somebody she left behind. Anyone else would see this woman and her pose and see a woman in control of her fashion and her life. She moved through the crowd without a pause, no time for those she left in her wake. She was headed somewhere important. Somewhere that was not here. To anyone else, that is what they saw. But Carl knew better. She was waving a dispassionate goodbye to the man that had fought her modeling career every step of the way because he was horrified that he might just lose her. And then he had; the prophet foretelling a self-fulfilled demise.

Anise had become the forefront of Modern’s advertising campaign for their new clothing line. Carl had taken it as nothing but bad news, like all confirmations of his lover’s beauty, whether confirmed by couples, companies or corporations made no difference to him. And it had been the last straw for her and she said as much. Though Carl could not imagine a worse feeling than that of losing the one he cared so deeply for, he found himself unable to celebrate her rampant success. And, sure enough, a month later she was gone. She did not say much when she had left. The model in the window was a surprisingly accurate portrayal.

And these poseable plastic imposters now littered Humboldt. Carl used to go for walks to clear his head when something weighed particularly heavy, but each attempt at that in the past weeks had ended with him retreating from another of her doppelgangers. He stuck to his small apartment now; an old building up in Fluid, northwest of downtown. It was cramped and in desperate need of a fresh coat of paint, but it was affordable and he had lived there long enough that it felt like home to him. Unfortunately that feeling seemed to have departed him along with Anise. Now his room and his couch, his kitchen and the breakfast table, they stunk of his former love. He couldn’t take a shower without finding yet another one of her hairs, a discovery that damned him to the deepest corners of despair for the rest of the day.

Carl briefly considered moving away from Humboldt for good, but the thought that he should not leave Humboldt immediately wormed its way into his mind and he decided that it was, of course, a bad idea.

He was trapped. Her presence was felt on every corner of the city. Traces of her lingered in each room of his home. Carl would go outside when being inside made him too sick with memory, and then again inside when outside did the same. Each day went like that and that was why he was currently on another corner, in front of another mall window, looking into that same pair of eyes he saw each time he closed his own.

"I miss you," Carl croaked. It was the first time he had spoken in days and his voice sounded hoarse, like two stones grating against one another. He briefly wondered whether his first words in days being directed toward a mannequin was cause for worry or not, but he decided it was symbolic of his Anise, and that was good enough to not be crazy. "I didn’t think you’d leave yet. It always seemed like something that would happen a few years down the line. But I guess that’s my fault."

Carl stopped himself from turning to check whether anyone was staring. He decided they probably were but making eye contact with them would not make him feel any better. He had no explanation for them. And saying “that’s my girlfriend in there” probably would not help.

"You were just too pretty for me, Anise. I didn’t know what to do with that. I couldn’t sleep at night knowing all the eyes that would be on you that next day. All of the men that would want to take you. I am too weak to handle that. And I’m sorry." It wasn’t closure, but Carl did feel something of a relief. He could suddenly breathe a little deeper, and his heart hurt slightly less. And he nodded to himself. He felt like smiling.

The Anise doll in the storefront window turned its head from its forward facing position to look directly at Carl. And its mouth opened. And though Carl shouldn’t have been able to hear a voice through that thick glass, these words rang loudly in his head, the fury of a thousand church bells sounding in unison. The plastic woman’s lips moved along with the words: “Don’t worry, Carl, baby. I’m here for you.”


Carl didn’t sleep that night. He tried. After what had happened he had gone straight home and into his bed in disagreement with the sun which still hung low in the sky. He stared at the ceiling, praying for sleep to overtake him. It was now long past midnight and still he stared. The same cold sweat ran down his neck and back. The same mixture of deep anxiety and crippling fear kept him shrunk back against his mattress. Carl wanted to cry or yell or scream but he could not. After what he had witnessed, he wasn’t sure whether he even had a voice any longer, and he was too scared to find out. If he could talk, what would come out? He was obviously insane. Carl knew that no one else would have seen what he had there in front of the Modern building. Sane people did not have two way conversations with mannequins.

A knock came at the door. It was oddly light and hollow sounding; as if it had come by accident. But it came again quickly, refuting Carl’s pitiful hope that he had not heard it at all. There was no one in this city that would visit him at this time of night. There was no reason for anyone to want to get inside of his home.


From time to time Anise went out with a few of her girlfriends for drinks. She would come stumbling home late at any and all hours of the night. But it couldn’t be her.

The knock came again.

Could it?

Carl got up slowly, trying not to make a sound. His breaths were ragged, despite his best efforts to control them. He left his bedroom and crossed the living room to the door. Knock, knock, and knock again.

Carl peered into the peephole. What he saw sent him crashing to the floor. His vision went dark for a moment and his consciousness wavered. Carl began coughing, choking on his own spit. Cold sweat slicked his spine. He whimpered on the ground. He felt like balling up, holding himself; weeping; never getting up again. But he couldn’t cry. He couldn’t even do that.

He now knew he was truly insane. And that made him sadder than Anise having left. He knew that what he had seen on the other side of that door simply was not there in actuality. Just a projection of his grief, his crazed mind playing a dark and sinister trick on him. But there it was, nonetheless. In a last ditch effort to recover his sanity, Carl forced himself up and grasped the handle to the front door of his apartment. He undid the lock and the bolt and took a deep breath. He was going to open this door and whatever had been on the other side would no longer be there. And then he would go to sleep and never think about Anise again because while he no longer had love, at least he would have his mind.

None of those things happened. Carl threw the door open. Eight mannequins filled the hallway in front of his apartment. All of them modeled after Anise’s body. And when they saw Carl they smiled. And, one by one, they entered. A ninth walked up the steps and into the hallway, joining the rest as they made their way inside.

Carl did not move from his spot at the door, staring, dumbfounded, off into space. He focused on reaching into the depths of his mind, fighting to get some sort of grasp on his sanity. It must be hidden away someplace. He just had to find it and pull it back into the rest of his brain to make these plastic women that stood in his living room go away. Carl shut the door and turned around.

They were still there. They were smiling. Their chests and their stomachs rose and fell. They were breathing. Though they had no nose or mouth openings to speak of, they sure made a good show of it. And they moved in such a way that Carl was unsure whether they had ever moved at all before. Each second of stillness in between the motion seemed to hang in the air, just another one of the natural poses befitting lifeless models of human likeness. When they smiled it seemed as though they had always been smiling; of course they were smiling, but then Carl would watch their collective mood shift as each would bite its lip or frown slightly in impatience, and then that emotion was the one that seemed frozen in time.

And that voice from before returned in Carl’s ears. Each set of supposed lips moved in harmony with the words that bellowed from somewhere inside his mind. “I came for you, Carl. I will never leave you again.”

And the plastic figurines grabbed at him. Their fingers and wrists and elbows and shoulders all bent as though they had working joints. They pulled at him and he resisted but as more and more began pulling he no longer could, and somewhere in his brain he did not want to. The mannequins lifted Carl and carried him into his bedroom. They laid him down and crouched around him. Their lifeless, moving faces all staring at him intently. Featureless heads poked up from the edges of his bed, shaking and swaying as they watched panic wash over him. They whispered and cooed and stroked his face and his arms and his legs.

Carl struggled. He tried to yell. Nothing worked. The things continued petting him and sweet talking him and slowly his muscles relaxed against his will. His eyes felt heavy. Their hands ran across his body. They squeezed and pulled and caressed with those stiff, hollow hands. Down his face, across his chest, over his arms, up his thighs…

Carl closed his eyes.


A month later the mannequin women of Carl’s apartment collectively birthed his baby boy. The young man looked as Carl had always imagined the children of he and Anise to look, though more much more pale and lifeless. The young boy resembled a child of ten, and could almost pass as one from far away. Up close his body and facial features shifted and warped in that same eerie and unnatural way his mothers’ bodies did.

Over that month before the birth, the rest of the Anise mannequins in Humboldt made their migration to Carl’s place in Fluid. They first only came in the shroud of night, but as more and more of the Anise mannequins were sighted by the general public, they went by day as well. And there were now well over a hundred. The cramped apartment could not contain them all, and they spilled out into the hall and onto the street. They would make Carl breakfast, fetch anything he wanted from the city, and they all took turns caring for their son.

Carl had been overjoyed to see that he had, in fact, retained his sanity. It was the city itself that had gone mad. He had lost his precious Anise and received a thousand in return, all there to care for his every whim. And he had a little boy. Though Reginald was an odd child, he was still Carl’s child. And he learned quickly, too. Carl taught little Reginald to speak with his mouth and not just through people’s minds, and how to behave in public, and that though he might look different, he was to be proud of that fact and that he was unique without forgetting that, deep down, he was just like everyone else, no matter what they would claim.

Eventually people came to watch the things move about in the streets in front of Carl’s place, and a large majority decided it was very disturbing. Modern quickly responded with a press release agreeing with that notion and sent over a crew to begin the ‘removal’ of the things that should not move.

Carl fought back. Though he claimed the moving mannequins were his girlfriend, Modern did not see it that way. Carl gathered as many as he could inside and boarded up his home. It was decided that they were, effectively, property of Modern and that Carl had stolen them. Not only that, but the other mannequins throughout the city had seen what the Anise models had done, and some were beginning to decide they wanted to get up and move around as well. Most of the city agreed that they felt uncomfortable about the once inanimate objects that were now up and moving about, attempting to claim themselves residents of the city.

Carl recognized his days with his plastic girlfriend were numbered, that the giant corporation of Modern was going to once again steal away his love, and so he hid his son in the crawlspace of his apartment, beyond the false wall. A place he had never known existed until the last few days of desperation seemed to have resulted in him discovering exactly what he needed. And then Carl organized the rest of the mannequins in the city to fight back against those that would destroy them. The Modern crew came again, and Carl fought with his mannequin army, but mannequins are hollow, light things and they do not stand up well to batons and bullets and hoses, and so they were defeated and taken away.

Carl fled during the chaos with a few of the remaining Anise models. Weeks later, Modern claimed to have never been able to find him. The police of the city were similarly unsuccessful in their search. Modern declared the mannequin issue dealt with. They gave a concise apology and the public accepted it and things returned to normal. Modern ran a new line of mannequins, and people were wary for a time, but these ones hadn’t yet moved and so they decided it was alright. Although it wouldn’t be incorrect to say that more than a few store owners had their mannequins chained to the floor, just in case.


Little Reginald lays in his crawlspace, spending most of his time staring at the wall. Luckily he does not need food to sustain himself. As the months pass, he grows in size, though he seems to stop growing soon after. He doesn’t understand much about the world outside, and he won’t learn much of anything in this cramped dark space, but he does know that it is not safe for him to come out yet.

After a few years he again hears thumping and moving around in the area beyond the crawlspace, but he does not leave to check what it is that is out there, as his father instructed him to stay put unless he knock three times on the wall.

Before Carl left he hugged Reginald and told him that if he never came back, only to come out when he had to or he knew it was safe. He promised that he would hide one of Reginald’s mothers out in Humboldt, somewhere where they “will never find her.” Carl looked Reginald in the eyes and said:

"When you’re ready to look for her, look for mother. Whatever you do, don’t forget that. Look for mother, and you will find her."

And then Carl kissed his half-human son on the forehead, wiping back tears. He stuffed him into the dark crawlspace and shut it up. He promised he would come back for him soon.

Carl never came back.

Dead, Baby

There is an abyss. You know it as well as I. The blueblack pall hangs just beyond sight. Forever carried with us. Forgotten in life, but yet internalized; a referential point that has us look toward the future with fear and cower when we again catch glimpses of it in our deepest slumber. We ache and squirm and fear the numb emptiness and yet it will come. An old enemy we once knew, deep within the womb. Inexistence. And just as we all entered into life out of that uniformly static nonbeing, we will again return to it. The smart among us curse and bless the knowledge of such an eventuality each day. And what for those that do not know?

Does the prebirth child stare into this void? Yes, the cradle swings above the abyss, but does that time in stasis, before entering out of mother into life proper provide a fleeting glimpse of what forever before was and what will forever more be again? And then, the finite infant, with its complete and utter understanding, gladly shrugs off this knowledge when greeted with the activity and color and feeling that life brings. A sensory overload meant to shock and astound; the sole purpose being to forget. And that first emotion. The realization of where it had been before causes each of us to weep uncontrollably. The last time we are able to fully comprehend that complete and utter lack. Perhaps we would hold onto this knowledge if we could. But when faced with the daunting task of an entire life ahead, you’d never think of it.

And there are other things we’d rather not think of. That unborn child that meets both ends of the void at once, never the chance to see what was meant to lie betwixt. But this child knew of something more. For the woman who had him carried just short of term was able to impart with him something of life beyond. And as she sat in her own inescapable prison, a well-designed, once comfortable seat on one side, and the other, the weight of a displaced steering column, she wept for him. She cried not for the loss of his memory, of the eventual numb despair, but rather for his loss of life. Nonetheless, she cried for him as he would not get to do. She would never know the thing that would grow in her name. Would grow up in her flesh and her blood. But in her fleeting consciousness, she unloaded all of the love she might have had for those years that would no longer be. She shifted and struggled to free her right arm and placed it softly against her bulging, throbbing belly. And she sang a tune she did not know, but knew to be the right one at that moment.

Don’t worry about being dead, baby.

Because I’m dead too, baby.

In that way, we’re together, baby.

I love you.”

And the unbirth thing within the dying woman heard that gorgeous, melodic and maternal voice for the first and last time. It understood in those words the beauty of life in a way many never would with their decades of living. And this boy knew both of life and the void at once, and for whatever reason, he did not go mad. Did he know too much? Or nothing at all?

Somewhere in Humboldt, something decided that no, it was not too much. And, because of that decision, the child that heard of its mother’s love slithered out of her upon the mortuary slab a few days later. Where it would go and what it would do, the newborn corpse did not know, but it continued its twisting path right out the door. And the mortician that had witnessed this never said a thing out of fear he would have to then confront his supposed insanity.

Little did he know the impact that child would have on the city of Humboldt.


Lonely Lonnie

Humboldt hadn’t always been odd.

At least, not before it came to be known by that name. What once had been a small mining community built on the edge of Lake Toluca had, over time, grown into a marginally successful hub of regional activity. Eventually the residents decided the activity was a bit too much for a hub, and it grew again. First into a town, and, as fashion trended away from towns, it became a city.

Then, one day, and no one really knew why, the name that had once belonged to that tiny mining community no longer fit. The mayor woke up and decided they would call their city Humboldt, and all of Humboldt’s residents shared the thought that Humboldt was a good name indeed.

And since that day no one ever really came to Humboldt, and, much the same, no one ever really left. And Humboldt became quite odd.

So odd, in fact, that Lonnie’s dream of one day up and leaving the city of Humboldt to escape the feeling of being encased in a concrete tomb had come true, though not at all in the way she had hoped. She was known by the neighbors as Lonely Lonnie, and by those neighbors’ children as Loony Lonnie, but she preferred just Lonnie, and would have told anyone who asked as much, but no one ever did. And now they never could. Lonnie had awoken one Sunday morning a week ago to a shocking discovery. Pulling back the curtains of her bedroom window to invite the morning sun into the second floor of her small one bedroom home revealed that the suburb of Pinkton had been reduced to a flat, ruinous wasteland, seemingly overnight. Buildings were leveled, reduced to piles of smoldering rubble. Once well-manicured lawns were now different shades of black death, and the roads themselves had been upheaved, creating giant gashes, dark, cavernous wounds that ran deep into the earth. The sight was enough to make Lonnie feel both loonier and lonelier than she ever had before.

And not only that, but the residents of Pinkton had entirely vanished. The streets were empty. The hopeless cries and screams of human suffering Lonnie had expected to accompany this diorama of despair simply were not there. And that scared Lonnie more than the apparent coming of the apocalypse. How long did the ruin go on for? Was it just this area, or had the entire world been consumed by a silent, fiery death? From her home, she could not make out so much as a trace of humanity left behind. There were still those things, but Lonnie had decided early on that week that they were entirely inhuman. She had never much left her home before Pinkton was wiped off the face of the Earth, and the things that came at night gave her an even better reason to never leave now..

Lonnie had always relied on the three distractions to keep herself busy throughout the day, cooped up in her home as she always seemed to be. And now that she was trapped there, those distractions had lost their ability to distract, and Lonnie spent most of her day peering out the always-drawn blinds, wondering what it was she would do when her stock of canned food in the basement ran out.

The first distraction from life, lunacy, and loneliness had always been the most important. Lonnie’s lovely daughter, Lady. Though she never visited anymore— Lonnie never got up the courage to ask why because she suspected that the sight of her old mother living in the small one bedroom home depressed Lady— her daughter always called twice a week. Once on the week’s end in the early hours of evening, and once on weekend’s end in the afternoon. Conversation was always pleasant and never idle, ranging from how their days had been, to their hopes and dreams, to insects. They did talk about bugs quite a lot, though Lonnie never knew why. The two cared deeply for each other. Neither had to feign or force excitement about hearing how the other had been since last they spoke. And that Sunday morning Lonnie had discovered the rest of Pinkton had all but up and left in the night, a little bit of her was still at ease because Lonnie had that weekend chat to look forward to, and boy did she have something to talk about. But the call never came. And then on Friday, it again did not come. And now it was the second Sunday since Pinkton’s happening, and Lonnie anxiously checked her answering machine every hour, hovering a hand over the phone when she was not. She grew more and more restless each time that robotic voice came through the slotted speaker announcing the absence of any new messages. She was certain the call had simply not gone through. Possibly because of the layer of soot that cast a permanent funerary veil over the landscape. But Lonnie could not shake the voice that liked to make its presence known in the back of her mind during times such as these. And this past week had allowed it to grow louder than ever before as it wormed around, as restless as she. It was a deep, rotten voice, and always had much the same thing to say. It told her it knew exactly why her daughter had stopped calling. Lonnie had, in fact, been forgotten along with the rest of her suburb. And, more and more often, Lonnie could not convince herself to the contrary.

Though her first distraction had failed her, Lonnie had been able to turn to her second favorite method of occupying her mind. The television had worked fine, as glowing and crystal clear an image as ever before. That may have been what saved her from losing her mind completely. But it did not last. The outside world seemed to soldier on without so much as a notice of Pinkton’s absence. Lonnie was certain an event such as this would be cause for national news, but even the local Humboldt stations seemed much more interested in the weather, fashion, and the current plant creature craze. The other voice in the back of her mind would speak to this point with glee. She had finally lost it. There was nothing wrong with Pinkton, and there was everything wrong with Lonnie. You’re gone, baby. Vacancy sign reads open, right across your forehead. Loony Lonnie. Loony Lonnie. Its voice was much higher in pitch from the other. But Lonnie had gotten good at dismissing this one. She saw what she saw, and she knew it was mad, but her senses told her it was real as well. She heard the screams of those things. She felt her mouth and lungs fill up with smoke and ash when she opened a window. Until someone convinced her otherwise, Lonnie held strong onto those other senses, taking solace in their awful assurances. The world might be crazy, but ancient loony Lonnie’s still going strong, she would think, and then she would concentrate on the television again before her mind had a chance to continue the argument with itself. As the days went on, the ash that snowed down on the wreckage of Pinkton seemed to make its way inside of her TV as well. Static overtook every channel. But she kept it on, day and night. The background noise was, for the most part, successful in drowning out her thoughts, and she took comfort in that.

The third distraction was the one that had been nagging at Lonnie since last Sunday. The post; messages delivered to Lonnie’s doorstep bringing news and bills (mostly bills) from the outside world. There was no mail on Sundays. Even Loony old Lonnie knew that. But for some reason that red flag that stood up on the outside of her mailbox that Sunday morning bothered her almost as much as the destruction that surrounded it. She hadn’t put that flag up herself, and she hadn’t planned to send any outgoing mail that day. Someone else had done it. Was someone trying to tell her something with that little red flag? Was there something in her mailbox that might fix all of this? A message from her daughter that she was coming to save her? Or at least contact from the outside world? It was almost enough to make her brave the new, tattered world outside to investigate. Almost. But the red flag stood up on her mailbox regardless. She liked to imagine it as the small, red cry for help, as pathetic an attempt at gaining someone’s attention as Lonnie’s refusal to go outside was.

Lonnie’s front lawn and the mailbox were untouched by the carnage the rest of the city suffered. Her lawn had always resembled more of a hay field than the green pastures on either side, but in comparison to the scorched earth that now surrounded her, Lonnie’s lawn glowed with the green of life and abundance. It was a bright green ray of hope, standing strong in the middle of the desolation; a representation of what Pinkton used to be.

And now Lonnie did not know what she was to do. She blinked slowly. Lonnie had not gotten much sleep in that past week, both because of the stress and because of the noise that assaulted her home each night from those things. The public access station had gone blank again, and though the sky was a constant shade of black, the sun that managed to make it through the smog told her afternoon had long since passed and it was rapidly approaching Sunday evening, well beyond the time she should have expected her daughter to call. But of course she wasn’t going to. How can she remember to call someone so entirely forgetful? The gravelly voice stated from somewhere within her.

Lonnie shook her head furiously, hoping to somehow punish the intangible thing that existed inside her, but instead only gave herself a slight headache. She stood up and made her way to the sitting room window overlooking her front lawn. Peering between the blinds, Lonnie observed what she knew would be there. The mailbox and its incessant red flag. There was something out there. And today she was going to find out what. Those things never came out when the sun, weak as it had been, shone through the darkness. She still had maybe an hour before night arrived, and all she had to do was take twenty steps outside her home and back again. If her daughter had indeed forgotten her, Lonnie had nothing left. Nothing except whatever it was that could or could not be inside that box. And until she knew, there was both something and nothing, and she refused to die a curious woman.

Lonnie dug through the various piles of stuff in her basement, eventually finding a pair of child’s first chemistry set goggles. She brushed off the several layers of dust and put them on, along with an old sun hat, windbreaker pants, and a thick, charcoal gray wool coat. If she was going outside, she was going to protect herself best she could.

And then, after a few attempts at controlling her breathing, Lonnie turned the knob on the front door of her one bedroom home and walked outside. The wind bellowed fiercely, throwing ash and soot in all directions. Lonnie held her breath and covered her mouth and nose with her hands. Her hat blew away during her sprint to the front of her lawn and she did not bother to retrieve it. And as Lonnie closed in on her destination, an awful stench began to overpower her other senses completely. She gasped involuntarily, coughing and sputtering from both the filth in the air and the smell of the thing she now noticed on the ground in front of her, sprawled out, as if guarding the mailbox.

A dismembered human arm stretched out across the grass. It did not bleed, and looked to have been long since parted from its owner, but it still twitched and writhed where it was. Lonnie stumbled back. The smell in the air was one of decay and rot, as if someone had left out the carcasses of a thousand pigs to spoil in the sun. All of that smell could not have come from this one arm, could it? And the thing that twitched around in front of her still seemed very much alive in its own right, and well preserved if not. The arm was pale and slightly hairy, a man’s arm. The forearm was muscular, and it cut off at the elbow. The bone seemed to be missing, but muscle and tendon and other bright and colorful gore was still present, wriggling around along with the rest of it.

And Lonnie struggled to her feet and fled to the comfort of her home. She slammed the door and sat herself firmly against it. Lonnie breathed heavily, still coughing up the black that had gotten inside her nose and mouth. She double locked the door and crawled back to the sitting room to look out the window. The hand was sticking up now, and it seemed to be waving at her. Lonnie shut the blinds again. This was ridiculous. She had finally lost it. Loony Lonnie. The kids had all been right. Told you, the high pitched voice cheered from somewhere inside.

And Lonnie checked the blinds again, but this time the arm was gone. Had it ever been there? Or had her mind just made up a reason to prevent her from reaching her destination? Was that red flag even up or was that another manifestation of her imagination? Maybe she had in fact invented the whole scenario as a way of clinging onto the fringes of sanity. Maybe she just liked to imagine someone had sent her mail because then she didn’t have to feel entirely hopeless.

Lonnie considered going out again, but it was already growing dark, and if that arm hadn’t been a clever trick her brain had pulled on her, it was probably still out there somewhere. And the last thing she wanted to do was let an animated human arm with unknowable motives into her home.

And then, along with the night, the things came, as they had done each night since the catastrophe. They resembled feral children. Shirtless little boys and girls that ran around on two or four legs, congregating at various light sources throughout the city. The flicker of a still-standing gas station sign that sat kitty-corner to Lonnie’s home was, unfortunately, a popular meeting point. And after that first night, Lonnie learned to never leave the lights on past sundown.

They would come, one or two at first, and then several more and several more, growing into the hundreds quickly, not unlike the gathering of a thousand insects on the only light bulb in a dark room. And then they began their nightly ritual. The first one to find the light source would start. The little thing would arch its back, raise its head toward the sky, and utter the most horrific sounds Lonnie had ever heard. Noises that went both above and below in pitch of what Lonnie thought the human voice to be capable of producing. Then the others would join in, seemingly in the order that they had arrived. The shrieks and bellows were guttural, piercing the night in violent outburst. As they each joined in the noise grew deafening. Lonnie jammed her fingers in her ears in an effort to prevent her ear drums from bursting, an act which only slightly muted the excruciating sound of a thousand howling children.

And tonight was no different. They gathered across the street from her home and began their screams. Those wretched cries into the night that without fail reduced Lonnie to tears. She lie in her bed, head stuffed between two pillows, and quivered uncontrollably. The sound rendered her incapable of anything except shivering. Gooseflesh ran across her skin and remained for hours after the shrieks died and went away. And they did stop. Suddenly. Much sooner than they did most other nights. And that scared Lonnie more than if they had continued on. Why had they stopped? What on earth could cause them to stop?

A thud from somewhere downstairs answered her question. Lonnie looked outside her bedroom window. She could not get the correct angle to make out what it was that was pounding on her back door, but she could see the children. They were making their way towards her home. How they could have heard it, Lonnie did not know, but they had.

The thud came again. Lonnie thought quickly. Whatever it was, it must be silenced. If she shuts it up maybe the things will lose interest. Maybe they’ll get back to their awful shouting and leave her home in peace. But she had to hurry.

Lonnie bolted out of bed and down the stairs. She ran through the kitchen to her back door as the noise came again. Something rather heavy was slamming itself against the door. Lonnie scrambled up to the counter and pulled open the blinds. She looked out onto her back porch carefully, being sure not to let whatever it was out back, or those inhuman children, see her. Lonnie squinted in the low light. She couldn’t see a thing. She let out a sigh of relief. Maybe it had gone? At least it wasn’t another one of the children out there, demanding to be let inside. But then it came again.

Thud. And Lonnie frantically searched from her spot at the window. She ran across the kitchen to the other door, hoping a different vantage point would reveal the intruder. And as the thud once again sounded, she saw it. A dismembered human hand, pounding at the door. She hadn’t imagined it before. It was alive. Well, alive might not be the right word, but it was moving, and it wanted inside her home.

Lonnie let out a terrified yelp and fell back from the window, crashing against the vinyl flooring, her head connecting with a loud smack. Lonnie struggled to maintain consciousness as the thudding continued. And then she could see the children, or the things?, she didn’t know which, staring at her through the windows. They seemed to want in as well, but they hesitated to approach the hand that had decided to make it presence known in the first place.

And it continued its assault on Lonnie’s door. And then Lonnie knew she had truly lost it. She watched as other limbs and pieces of flesh and muscle and bone and viscera made their way up the stairs that led from her basement. Upon seeing those bits and parts that once belonged to various people, something in the back of Lonnie’s mind stirred. She recognized them for some reason, though she wasn’t quite sure why and the surreal events at hand allowed her to dismiss the unnerving thought from her mind entirely. And those bits and pieces of corpse, arms, legs, hands, tongues, necks, fingers, bits of flesh and other unrecognizable parts, joined in on the attack against Lonnie’s back door.

The children watched. And eventually the fingers and hands and everything else got a grip on the handle of her back door and pulled it down under their weight. And then when the arm on the outside crashed against the door again, it was thrown open, and the hand slithered inside, shutting the door behind it. The children left. What happened next was even stranger still.

The hundreds of tiny remnants and pieces of those long since passed began to coalesce. Necks stacked on each other, arms slid into place between thighs, hair covered what it could and everything else joined in as well. The resulting mass was a horrifying assemblage of human remains. A fleshy tower slicked with blood and muscle and matted hair of different colors. The necks stacked on top of each other, forming the center from which protruded the legs and arms and everything else. Teeth ran up the back of the thing like a spine and muscle attached itself onto it. And the pieces began to move as one. And that arm sat at the top of the seven feet of parts, waving at Lonnie in recognition. At that point, Lonnie decided she had lost it entirely and proceeded to lose consciousness as well.


Lonnie awoke at her kitchen table. She was propped up against a chair, and a tea cup from her china cabinet was placed in front of her. Something moved around the kitchen. Lonnie began turning her head to see what exactly that thing was, but stopped as pain shot down her spine. She remembered faintly smacking it against the floor. Touching the bruise on the back of her head revealed a bandage had been wrapped around it.

And then Lonnie remembered. She looked up from her place across to the window over the sink, which was no longer drawn. The morning sun shone through. The children had fled. And then… and then…

Lonnie froze as she remembered what it was that was shuffling around behind her. It couldn’t be… Could it? And she fought through the pain, turning her body as well to reveal the towering corpse thing was still in fact in her home. And it was heating up a tea kettle.

The thing turned as Lonnie watched it, and the hand on top acknowledged her, waving. Good morning. The teapot whistled and the thing bent itself down to allow the hand on top to grip the handle. Legs and thighs and several tongues stretched out to secure the bottom of the teapot as the thing made its way back to Lonnie’s spot at the table. The bits holding the bottom of the kettle sizzled, and Lonnie could smell burning flesh, but neither the thing nor the individual parts seemed to mind it.

And the pieces of human remains served Lonnie piping hot tea. And it was delicious. Lonnie sipped it, minding the heat, as she watched the construct move from room to room. It seemed to be tidying up the place. At times she would spot it with a broom, and then later a mop. It moved furniture to clean underneath, and dusted off those places that were well beyond Lonnie’s reach. And then it refilled the tea cup and sat with the old woman at the table.

By this time Lonnie understood completely. She smiled at the thing. It waved back excitedly. And Lonnie began to talk. She spoke about her daughter, her hopes and dreams, and about how dreadful this past week had been. And the thing listened politely as the hours passed. And once Lonnie was finished it set out to continue its work around the house. (It even learned to operate a vacuum, albeit after more than a little struggling.) And, thankfully, the things seemed to fear the towering pile of flesh. It even chased them away at night when their nocturnal activities caused them to draw too near to Lonnie’s home.

The days went by like that. Her daughter never called, the TV never righted itself, and the children continued their insufferable shrieks. But Lonnie didn’t mind. She might still be loony, but Lonnie was lonely no longer. She had gained a friend.

And before long, she remembered the other thing that she had worried about before her friend had shown up. One morning, as the thing watched Lonnie eat a delicious and balanced breakfast it had made for her, the old woman leaned over to it and said, ” Could you be a dear and fetch me the mail?”

Nabokov is endlessly inspiring

His way with words is simply unreal. 

"The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for (at some forty-five hundred heartbeats an hour). I know, however, of a young chronophobiac who experienced something like panic when looking for the first time at homemade movies that had been taken a few weeks before his birth. He saw a world that was practically unchanged—the same house, the same people—and then realized that he did not exist there at all and that nobody mourned his absence. He caught a glimpse of his mother waving from an upstairs window, and that unfamiliar gesture disturbed him, as if it were some mysterious farewell. But what particularly frightened him was the sight of a brand-new baby carriage standing there on the porch, with the smug, encroaching air of a coffin; even that was empty, as if, in the reverse course of events, his very bones had disintegrated." -Speak, Memory

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