The orange ones taste like caramel—shouted Pelokie. Everyone else groaned. Once again—exhorted Celosp—they taste the same, all of them, all colors, since they are always changing colors. Pelokie sloughed off to the subterna with a “Pfft.” The others continued gobbling down the miniature creatures running rampant. They found themselves choosing ones with any orange at all, just to make sure. After awhile, they looked at one another and shrugged en masse, returning to snacking on all colors. The creatures constantly went in and out of structures they’d built. Pelokie’s departure had the structures shaking and the creatures stumbling about haphazardly, so that everyone could simply lay out tongues and let the snacks fall on them. They sucked the creatures down swiftly. Muldosina blurped out a molten stream of montacid. Pardon me—she said, settling back into position, dribbles down all sides. Creatures increased their volume until the dribbles hit them. Then they stopped, which made them no longer fun to eat.
Dry ice swirled around Reverend Terrance as he gave an old fashioned, heart pounding sermon under multi-colored lights crisscrossing the stage. The squat, cinder block building belied its revival tent facade with its chilling a/c. The Reverend must expend an outrageous amount of heated energy in such a performance. My childhood friend felt far removed from our childhood in this atmosphere. However, I was not surprised. He’d always been dramatic and insistent on being right. What better way to be the center of attention and lord it over people than religion.
He beckoned to me from the stage at the end of the show, and so I met him backstage, where he was removing makeup while chatting with his crew. Shelley—he boomed at me as I approached. A shiver ran up my spine ending with a slight spasm as it hit my neck, the reverberation chilling me. I smiled and nodded. Reverend Terrance … Terry waved his hand at me as though announcing me to an audience anticipating me. Then he informed the paid sycophants—Shelley’s after my little brother; again. Any response would go badly for me, so I stood silent until he finished with me, giving me leave to walk away, wondering why I’d come, wishing that I’d ignored his little brother Dennis’ admonition that I had to see him in action. I had seen Dennis on this visit home, as I’d seen other childhood friends. It was an innocuous meeting, lunch at Darby’s on the river, reminiscing, as we’d not seen each other in a decade.
It was a challenge to continually force the man from my mind as I went about my remaining days in my hometown, vowing to avoid him and his brother. The icky feeling lingered no matter what, and I wasn’t sure which brother was attached to it. The process resulted in a headache, sending me to the local drugstore, McCarty’s. I hadn’t gone in this visit since the soda fountain was gone. As I perused the headache relief meds, a booming voice resonated throughout the store. Unfortunately, the good reverend was between the door and me. Feeling trapped, I grabbed something off the shelf and crept toward the back of the store intending to circumvent the man by passing through the feminine hygiene product aisle. He turned into the other end of the aisle, spotting me immediately. Shelley—he cried in mock surprise. Enough—I thought and dragged my wilting courage back up to reasonable height. Holding it firmly, I announced with no greeting—You should not have insinuated that your brother and I are an item, because we aren’t now and have never been. Under the surprise, a flicker of anger alarmed me, but I felt comforted by the presence of other shoppers. He apologized loudly enough to draw attention from them and then bowed, saying—And now I shall take my leave of you. He walked around me, head held high, chest out, toward the back of the store. I scurried to the front, feeling violated. While standing in line, Dennis came up to me in his pharmacist’s tech uniform and asked me out on a date. I shook my head. Terry never changed.
I’m not different, and I’m not special—she ranted to the air in the attic. Dust fell through her as bats fled the rafters at her outburst. The two teenagers snooping through the abandoned house merely shivered slightly and zipped their jackets higher. The taller girl fingered the photographs of her on the table under the window. They must have loved her very much to keep her at home and take care of her—she said softly. The other teen nodded, looking around her at the pictures. Only moonlight illuminated the attic, which covered the entire top floor, a hospital bed on one side. Bars running the width and height of the room divided it in half, essentially imprisoning whoever had utilized the bed. The smaller teen had placed a small chest in front of the gate to block it open, though her friend had admonished her that they were alone before bringing out the book Different and Special to compare the black and white photographs with the bedroom that had remained untouched for centuries. They stepped back from the altar-esque table and positioned the book for optimal moonlight. See, that would have been her view when she was confined—said the girl whose book it was, as she pointed toward the window behind them. They both turned, and immediately dismissed the shadow crossing the light, looking at each other and away. The tall teen pointed out each item depicted in the book, both girls looking for a moment and immediately back to the book. Was she possessed like they say—asked the smaller girl. Her friend shook her head and replied—I think she was mentally ill, but no one understood that then. I was not mentally ill, and I was not possessed—screamed the spirit. She kicked the chest and slammed the gate. Both teens jumped, and the book fell to the floor. Then they ran out the gate and into the night. She whispered—I was something much more frightening, a woman.
Karen swore the susurration followed her as she walked along the cornfield. It seemed to come only from the section right next to her, as though her energy were bouncing off the stalks. She thought she could actually feel the energy hitting her, but maybe it was just her imagination. When such things happened to her, no one else felt it, and everyone so far in her life blamed it on her imagination, ergo her conclusion here. Karen walked on, a bit jittery until the land opened up onto a meadow.
Deep inside the cornstalks, warnings leapt out as the human passed, with the universal understanding of plants that when their buds came to fruition, they would be raped and pillaged, often by the big monsters the humans employed. For now, they could only deflect the human energy, whispering to each other—a human is near; our time is coming.
Thomas towered over his seated mother, yelling—She had a cookie at school and you gave her a cookie in your home; you know I don’t allow her cookies! As he raged on, Susi’s nana stared, wide-eyed, unblinking, waiting for it to be over. Susi told her father of every cookie. She never shared with her nana the punishment at home for each cookie, ten minutes in her little chair inside the coat closet. Immediately after Thomas’ departure, Nana offered Susi a cookie and told her not to tell dad.
Today I’m a ghost sister of a girl destined to become a taxidermist. Yesterday I was a fox spirit assisting a Chinese girl left behind by her mother. Previously, I’ve been the autistic son of a robot, the little sister kidnapped in 16th century Huguenot France, a child turned into a devil elf by an evil santa, and a baby born blue in Appalachia, Kentucky, amongst others. Always the sidekick, never the main character. If only I could get out of this Kindle.
Every evening, Eule slipped gently from the hologram of herself at the entrance to the library, through the thick walls that spoke of multitudes of events, to her beloved books. First to the classics for which her heart had burned from their beginnings. Then on to the newest, soaring through the stacks, absorbing the latest tales from modernity. If any human ever, in her centuries of guarding the library entrance, thought to ask of her what was inside, she could have told them exactly, but that would take centuries.
I’m the best wife—Sarah told her mother—I take good care of Stanley, like you took good care of me. We learn the best techniques from our parents, darling—her mother responded—I’m glad you were paying attention. Sarah hung up with a smile, reminiscing on all the hospital trips, treatments, and medications throughout her childhood. As a result, she was a healthy adult, healthier than Stanley, who suffered chronic neck, back, and knee pain, not to mention the migraines and heel issues. Before he came home, she went to her closet and pulled down the shoe box that held the Flat Stanley her son had sent out for adventure as a school project. The idea had hit her when it was eventually returned. She pushed it down farther onto the leaf’s thorns. Stanley would need extra attention tonight. Sarah would baby him with a back rub, forehead kisses, and a special dinner brought to him in his chair. She was such a good wife.
It’s a parasite, ya know—Len said as he twirled his finger around, indicating the wisteria dripping from the pergola. I hadn’t known. What’s more, I didn’t want to know. Len loved to enlighten me, especially when he could destroy notions of things I loved. I nodded, unimpressed. Parasite indeed. I imagined that beetle that infiltrated spiders and took control as they ate the spider from within its own body. If one crawled into Len, it could commandeer a larger life form, eating on him for an excessively longer amount of time. I wondered how long Len would be in control of himself if this happened—a day, a week, a month. It’s a tiny beetle in comparison to a human.
I believe you can eat the blossoms—I told him and started picking some for (his) dinner. They were prettier than expected on the salad. Len didn’t notice that I took very few blossoms, and that I didn’t actually eat even those. After three long days, I asked if he was okay. He looked at me funny and asked why. I shrugged. Then I looked up wisteria on my phone. The blossoms are edible. Len’s right. I really should pay more attention to what I’m doing.
“Happy Anniversary!” Rich leaned down and gave Barb a kiss as he handed her a dozen yellow roses.
“Oh, honey, they’re beautiful. Thank you.” She beamed back at him.
After he went downstairs to his home office, I asked her how many years. She told me thirty. Later that night, he gave her a 3-carat diamond ring, one carat for each decade of their marriage. It was obnoxious, but the roses were gorgeous. As Barb’s personal home health aide, I was often witness to the couple’s relationship interactions. Today I would become privy to a secret.
“Would you please put them in a vase and set them in my office?” Her office was a small room off the kitchen that she rarely entered.
“But you won’t see them in there. Don’t you want them in the kitchen or living room?”
She leaned toward me from her wheelchair and stage whispered, “I hate yellow.”
“What?” I was astonished. She’d seemed genuinely pleased to receive them. “I figured it must be your favorite color since men usually give red roses.”
Barb sighed and sat back. “He gave me yellow roses on our first anniversary. We were newly married, so I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I gushed over them, and he forever believes they’re my favorite.”
“Why don’t you tell him otherwise?”
“It’s too late.”
I put them in a vase and set them in her office, drawing in their scent deeply before leaving.