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Letters From The Fishbowl

The life, times, fiction, and mind-lint of V.B. Rising. Enter at your own risk, traveler, for here there be rants and misplaced modifiers.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Share Buttons

The title of this post is meant as a subject line, not an imperative.*

You may notice that there are now 'Share' buttons at the bottom of each post, and if you feel compelled to unleash my venom upon the world, I would like to take this opportunity to whole-heartedly support you in that endeavor.

Yes, Mom, I know you don't have a Facebook.  It's for people who wander here by accident and want to warn off other stumblers.






*Although, if you have spare buttons, sharing is a nice thing to do. 

Joy!

Dear Everyone,

To my great surprise, I won the contest I mentioned here with the short story "The White Inn."  Even though the story is totally ridiculously slightly embellished.*

The winner of the contest gets their story posted at the Terror Tortellini blogspot on May 26th, and gets to choose another story from the forums to serve as the June update.  Also, I get to pick a custom color for my forum username for a whole month.  Guess which one I was most excited about?**

Anyway, I'm psyched.  There are some really creepy stories on the TT blogspot (aside from my masterpiece), so you should check it out if that's your thing.

Love,
V.B. Rising***


*Into a full-on not-true-ity.
**I went with green.  I regret nothing.
***That is my fancypants author name.  RESPECT!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Jennie

This is the last of my little creepy stories.  It's about what would happen if you found Jennie Greenteeth in your swimming pool.  If you don't know who Jennie Greenteeth is, you best GET TO STEPPIN' on over to Google and figure that shit out.
 
Enjoy.  Or don't.  Whatevs.
 
 
 
 
Jennie
 
There it was again.

Jamie had been hearing the noise off and on for the last hour; whenever he left the piano bench to peek out the window, he saw nothing but trees swaying in a light breeze and the unrippled surface of the swimming pool three stories down.

The apartment complex was large, but usually quiet by this time. He played every night until the darkest hours, and his music was usually the only sign of life by ten o'clock.

He peered down into the darkness, the moonlight reflecting off the surface of the pool and catching his eye. The sound he'd heard was not quite a splashing, but it was definitely... wet. Somehow. A squelching. Maybe even a spattering. He'd never been strong with words, he thought, shaking his head and twitching the curtains closed.

He sat back down at the bench, cracked all his knuckles at once (the gesture always made his mother cringe, but he never felt ready to play until it was done), and let his fingers rest on the keys. Jamie played a quick arpeggio, added his left hand, and he was off.

There was something in this chord progression he'd been working on, a theme he could use, if he could just pick out what exactly about it he liked. If I add the third, flat this here...

And there it was again.

"What the hell?" he said under his breath. His hands plunked against the keys and then dropped to the bench. How was anyone supposed to get any work done around here when there was what sounded like a giant sea slug slithering (or possibly squelching) around in the damn swimming pool?

Jamie thought about waking his mother, or even phoning the property manager, then thought again; his mother had just finished an 18-hour shift and the super already hated him. Louis had been reluctant to rent to Jamie and his mother in the first place. He had a policy about teenagers, he'd said, and if Jamie thought for even a minute that he'd be allowed to abuse the place, he had another think coming. This attitude had persisted even after Jamie's mother had paid two months rent in advance, put down a security deposit, and, at Louis's insistence, provided extra references. When Jamie, alone at home while his mother slaved away in the ER, had last called for service, to have the sink unclogged, he'd been sure Louis had been an inch away from shoving the drain snake down his throat.

There was a splashing sound, another one. Jamie rose again, and went out onto the balcony. He leaned out over the railing, leaving the light of the apartment behind.

There was someone down there. A pale, thin hand slithered off the concrete deck and disappeared with hardly a ripple on the dark surface of the water.

"Holy shit," he breathed, and his shaking voice seemed to snap him out of his freeze. Someone was in there, drowning. "Holy shit!"

He threw himself back off the railing as though it had burned him. He stumbled back, knocked over the piano bench on his way to the door. He left it swinging on its hinges and heard it slam halfway down the stairs.

The words, 'Slow down, Jamie,' flitted through his mind as he bounded down the stairwell. Luckily, he was only five stairs from the bottom when his momentum overtook his balance, his ankle turned, and he rolled the rest of the way down.

"Jesus!" Jamie couldn't help exploding. He took only half a second to realize that nothing was broken; then he was up and running.

He slammed through the emergency exit, leaving the alarm blaring behind him as he sprinted around the building.

"Shit!" The gate to the pool was locked. He threaded his fingers through the chain link and wondered if he could climb it; it was at least eight feet tall. The enforced momentary pause cleared some of the panic out of his head. Maybe he was overreacting; maybe he was seeing things; maybe someone was down there, trying to enjoy a private latenight swim; maybe-

But he had seen an arm, a hand, thin and white, childlike...

As if in answer, there was another splash, a groan, a slapping of concrete. Now two hands grasped desperately at the deck, dark at the fingertips. She's bleeding, Jamie thought.

He shook the gate and began to work the toe of one sneaker into the links, but with a deafening clank, the latch fell open and the door swung. Jamie didn't bother to wonder why or how, just barreled through and ran to the pool's edge.

The hands were gone. The water was still.

"Oh, no, oh, please, please, please don't be dead..."

Frantically, his eyes searched the still, mirrored surface, but he could see nothing. And then very suddenly, from the shallow end, he saw the black shape shimmer underwater, heard a splash as a white hand, small and so thin, broke the surface, clawing weakly.

"How did- Hang on!"

How had she gotten over there? How, without him seeing? Again, the words struggled for prominence among the panic: Slow down, Jamie...

But he was dashing to the shallow end. Nearing the steps that descended gradually into the water, his foot came down on a puddle spread over the decorative tiles, he slipped on his stair-turned ankle, and he went down, this time on his back. His head slammed into the tiles and his vision went grey and black.

It was the cold wet that brought him back around; his feet were in the water, hanging over the first step. Groaning, he turned his head toward the water. He saw her.

There was a woman at the bottom of the steps and even in the dark, even through the distorted water, even though his head was spinning and pained, he could see that she was not dead. She was very much alive.

And she was coming.

"What the fuck... What the fuck!" He scrambled back, but his head was throbbing and nothing worked right.

He'd thought she was a child, something small and panicked and innocently terrified. The thing that was now surfacing, hands, arms, hair, head, as he lay immobilized by vertigo and shock, the thing was no child, had never been.

Flat on his back, his sneakers chlorinating where they lay on the steps of the pool, Jamie stared at a nightmare come true.

She was rising like a wave, seemingly heedless of gravity, her hair then her head then her torso, her reaching arms all sliding up out of the water, sliding nearer and nearer without a sound. His mouth opened to scream, but she raised her wet seaweed head; the long trails of dark green hair peeled back and the sound died in his throat.

She was naked and her flesh hung in curtains and rolls on her skeletal frame, a sickly grey that mottled to green, loose and swaying. She may have been mouldering before his eyes; he would never know because to look on her flesh for too long made the bile rise in his throat. Desperate for sense, for any familiar, human feature, he looked into her face.

She was a horror, a horror. Her eyes glowed like will o' the wisp, the only lights in a dull and slimy-skinned face. They were sunken orbs in pockets of bloated, puffy, fishbelly flesh. Her mouth was open; her teeth were bared, green and dull and flat and mossy. Her nose was long gone, and two holes gaped in her face, ragged at the rotting edges. As he watched, a thick white worm wriggled out of one destroyed nostril, waving blindly against her cheek, and at that he found his voice and screamed.

Jamie scrabbled back, not thinking of where he would go or how she could be, only knowing that he had to get away, God, he had to get away from her. But his head, despite the adrenaline pounding through his veins, would not clear so easily after his fall. His hands slipped clumsily against the tiles embedded in the cement; his fingertips scraped the concrete, but gained no purchase. He kicked at her, kicked away, and was gripped with a sudden feeling that if he actually felt his sneaker sink into that putrefying flesh, he would go instantly mad.

Her arms reached up and out, her fingers still dark at their tips. Not dark with blood, as he had thought a thousand years ago from behind the gate. The bones poked from her flesh, and they were coated in moss and pondscum and the guts of countless unfortunate bottom-dwellers.

He made it back a foot, maybe two, and flipped onto his stomach, desperate to gain his footing and run. He was halfway up when a hand closed on his ankle.

The pressure was soft, like a mother's touch, or a lover's. He gagged and tried to twist away from her. The grip tightened, incredibly cold even through his jeans. He dared a look back over his shoulder. Her face, dead and slack, was blank and she clasped both hands around his ankle and squeezed. Her mouth hung open, green teeth spaced flat and foreboding as Stonehenge. He tugged his foot, and her grip tightened. It was the ankle he'd twisted falling down the stairs and a bolt of white-hot pain shot through it. The jellied flesh of her hands fell away from her bending joints, scraped off against the denim of his jeans in blobs and smears. Seeing them, those little gobbets of rot, he gagged, only barely mastering the urge to vomit.

He clawed at the tiles, but she tugged (how could she be so strong, she was a corpse, a fucking corpse, how could she be so strong, how could she even be?), pulling him off his feet and into the shallow water. His chin hit the first wading stair and he saw stars, vaguely tasted blood.

She was not so much pulling him to her as she was climbing him, her vile hands falling on his knee, his thigh, his hip, his ribs, his shoulder; he could feel the slide of her naked rottenness against his clothes. She was cold, unnaturally frozen. Her icy grip burned against him wherever she touched. His shirt had ridden up against a stair and her skin grazed his stomach, slimy and frigid. Half-dazed, he felt the flesh there sting, freeze, and die.

And then she was on him, both hands gripped in his hair, her open mouth directly above his face, long limbs wrapped around him like a cold, dead spider. He saw the green of her teeth, he smelled her, he trembled with pure revulsion, and then she pulled him under the water.

As the water closed over his head, Jamie's survival instincts kicked back in, beating against the fear. He struggled against her arms and legs, daring to touch her so that he could grab at her arms and unwrap them. Her hands tore out his hair as he wrestled her away. His lungs burned. He slammed his elbow back against her slack, cold face, felt her flat teeth scrape away some of his skin as her chin snapped back. He dug his hands into the flesh off her legs, which wrapped around his own thighs. He felt the soft slime give under his fingers, kept squeezing and pulling even as flesh separated and floated around them, even as his fingers went numb and useless.

Her arms wrapped around his, and he felt her hard chin against his neck, pressing into the soft spot between collarbones. He grabbed at her arms, but they were- how were they, how did they- She had too many joints, simply too much arm; it seemed they went around him twice. She squeezed, a cadaverous constrictor, forcing the last of his breath away. Water flooded his lungs and as he choked, he felt her flattened teeth grazing his neck, digging in.

Jamie went cold all over and everything was black.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Erlking

Apparently, it is story-a-day week for me.  Here's is yet more proof that I need to stop reading fairy tales after dark.

Erking

It wasn't as if I'd gone looking for him.

It wasn't as if I'd deserved to be caught.

It wasn't, I told myself firmly, as if I'd asked for it.

I huddled in the mud beneath two fallen trees, trying to still my shivers, silence my chattering teeth, calm my ragged breath, steady my pounding heart.

Too much noise, too much noise! a voice in my head screamed.  Just make a break for it, run!  RUN!

I didn't.  It took every fiber of my being, every last un-shot nerve in my body, to stay there in the shadow of the trees at twilight.  If I bolted, he would see me, catch me.  If I stayed hidden, I at least had a chance.

A branch snapped behind me, and I jumped a mile, stifling a scream into a sob.  Stupid, stupid girl, be quiet!

It was just a branch, I told myself, just a branch or an animal-

-all the animals had gone silent when he appeared-

-it could have been anything that had made that noise.

He had not so much appeared, I considered, rubbing my arms as silently as I could, as melted out of the trees.  In the most literal way possible, he had peeled himself from the backdrop of the forest, moss going 3D and becoming his hair, branches bending to become his hands, dead leaves swirling up and suddenly solidifying into feet and legs.  Where two seconds earlier there had been nothing but trees, wind, and sweetly rotting underbrush, there he had stood.  As if he had been there, hidden like one of those think-outside-the-box optical illusions, the whole time.  The more that thought circled my head, that he had been there since I'd first set foot off the path, the more I became convinced it was true.

A shudder tore up my spine, twin to the one that had shaken me the first moment I'd seen him.  The first moment he'd allowed me to see him, I corrected myself.

If I had known what would happen, I'd have stuck to the footpath.  I had entered the woods behind the elementary school and stepped off the trail half a mile in, creeping into the woods to examine a ring of mushrooms.

I knew there was an exit close by where I hid, over the stream and north of the blackberry bramble, that came out in the back lot of the supermarket.  If I could get out that way, I could sprint to the supermarket, into the fluorescent-lit parking lot, safe and surrounded by people, other people, human people.

But how far had I run when he'd started toward me, when he'd approached me in a swift, inhuman glide?  I closed my eyes against the gloom of the dying sun, saw the woods, the ferns around my ankles, the circle of full-moon mushrooms that had drawn me off the path.  I saw him step forward on a heeled boot of brown and blood-red, saw his arm reaching toward me, cloak billowing, saw his wicked grin, his empty eyes...

I shuddered and grasped my elbows, digging my fingers in tight, hating myself when another sob escaped my throat.  I had run randomly, like a bunny, when he'd reached for me.  I had no idea where I was, no idea where the path was, no idea where home was, and no idea what was after me, save that it was tall and terrible.

The sun sank down ever lower in the sky.  The two dead trees tented over my head creaked in the wind, which cut through my mud-caked sweater and jeans like old gauze.  My fingers went numb.  My nose dripped.  I was cold and alone, and soon it would be-

"Night," I whispered.  The forest was already grey-black, that special dimness that lets you see only enough of the world to note its wrongness.  The thought of hiding there in the mud and moss when the last of the light fled, the thought of having to run from him in the darkness, put a sharp edge on my terror, shook me out of the stupor that cold and exhaustion had sunk me into.  I knew a lot about myself, about what I could handle, and that I could not handle.

"Time to go, Susan," I whispered to myself.  I rolled my shoulders, looking over each one, peering into the woods on either side of me.  The coast was clear.  I squinted into the sunset, opening a map in my mind.  There was a farm, cornfield, and a roadside stand on the southeast edge of the woods.  There was a parking lot and a highway on-ramp on the northeast edge.  One way or the other, if I headed east, I would be out of the trees and one step closer to home.

Where I will drown myself in Cup 'o' Noodles, shower for a week, and probably never leave my bed again.  The thought came easily and unbidden as I eased my stiff-jointed legs out from under the fallen trees.  I straightened up slowly, feeling calmer than I had in the last hour, but still trying to look everywhere at once.

I saw nothing.  I turned away from the sun.

Malice.

Malice.  It was the only coherent thought in my mind when I saw his face.  Faster than lightning, smooth as silk, he stepped forward, closing the distance between us and grasping my arms.

Cold, God, his hands were so cold.  I shrieked, but the sound died in my throat as he leaned toward me, bowed his face toward mine, a scarecrow's face sculpted from dead leaves and swamp light.  His lips crumbled as they opened and the sharp, sweet smell of decomposing leaves rolled out.

He didn't speak, not in words.  Can a manthing of leaves and root and twig and shadow speak?  No, but thunder rolled in my head, and the rumble of words-

Come with me...

-washed through me, waves finding edges and lapping back, his orders an endless echo.

Comecomewithmewithmedarlingchildcomewithmecomewithme...

I couldn't move, couldn't speak, couldn't think, could only hear what he said, could only find the will to obey, could barely recognize the twist in my spine that meant my body wanted to fight, to run, while my head and heart were pinned, a butterfly in a collection, an artifact forever lost.

Come with me...

I stared into the eyes that were only patches of darkness with no definition, stared into a face that was peaks and planes of greed and hunger.  And malice.

Comewithmechildcomecomewithmedarlingchildcomewithmewithmedarlingcomewithme...

My brain shut off.  The edges of the world went black.  The sun died.  The words crescendoed, crested, crashed in my mind.  I went limp in his arms.

Darling...

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Bogeyman


In a way, Emily thought, it was nice to be vindicated.

That was a word she'd picked up from a movie she wasn't suppose to have seen, and it meant getting to say toldjaso. And she had too, she had told anyone who'd listen and bunch of people who wouldn't. And now she was all cramped up and it was dark and smelly, and serve them all right too, when they found out and felt so bad about it, it would just serve them right. Because she'd told them so. Hadn't she always told them there was something in the closet?

They'll be awfully sorry when they open up my bedroom tomorrow morning and I'm not there, she mused as she was jounced along. They'd been bouncing along for hours, her captor in great, ungainly strides and she in the old smelly sack on its back, slung over his shoulder like Santa's toys, only dirtier and not a teddy bear in sight. And I could use one right about now, she thought.

When it had first nabbed her, she'd screamed until she was hoarse, and then she'd cried for what felt like hours and probably had been. And after all that time, they were still striding down a path Emily could not see through the thick weave of the sack around her. And then more hours had gone by, and now she was still scared, but she was also bored. As it always did, her busy eight-year-old brain sought to entertain her, and the first story it had seized upon had been her own. Once upon a time, there was a little girl with a monster in her closet, only no one believed her till one night, it came and got her.

And then they'll probably panic and call nine-one-one and there'll be a search party like on the news sometimes, or like on CSI! But they won't find me, not for days and days, and then FINALLY! Someone, probably Susan, but maybe Gaby at school, but probably Susan would think, “Wasn't Emily saying something about her closet that I was too dumb to listen to?”

Emily could see it in her mind's eye. She had what her mother called, in her kinder moments, an active imagination, and the picture was as clear and detailed as the movies she wasn't supposed to watch, but that Susan sneaked her when Mom was working or sleeping or doing the other thing she did that made Susan cry and throw stuffed animals, for all the good it did.

Anyway, Susan would remember what I said about the closet, Emily went on in her head, and she'll go upstairs and stand in the middle of the room and feel stupid and maybe see some of the pictures I drew of her and go all gooey-eyes-big-sis, and then. Then she'll get down on her knees and she'll grab the bedspread and she'll rip it up real quick like a band-aid.

But there's nothing there! So she sighs and feels stupid and sits back on her heels. And then she thinks of something else and she gets up and goes to the bureau, and she reaches out soooooo sloooooooow and she touches the wood, and if this was a movie, BAM, that's when the doors would open and the monster would come popping out and the violins would go WEHH WEHH!

Or I guess she could just go to Narnia, that happens sometimes too.

Probably more often than people think, although there aren't a whole lot of people who still have wardrobes like that, I'm the only one in my grade, even with Tammy Kilmer living in that big stupid mansion of hers, she doesn't have a bureau like mine.

Oh. So, then Susan will open the door and I'm STILL not there, because why? Because I told her so!

And now, finally, she realizes I was telling the truth and it's the closet, it was the closet all along, I would have shoved my bed in front of it if they'd have let me, but then I would probably never be able to sleep again.

She goes to the closet. And she reaches for the door. Like I did that night, that one night when I finally started to believe them that there was nothing there. The night that they were all wrong and I was the unlucky idjit who got to prove it.

And she reaches for the door, and she grabs the knob, and it's warm, and she stops. It's warm, and that's when she realizes it, just like I did, just like I heard. She can hear something on the other side.

The knob is warm and she can hear it breathing.

And she'll tell herself what she told me, what she and Mom and Miss Hinckley and stupid Tammy all told me. It's your imagination. It's not real. You can't let your fear get the better of you. Whenever you feel scared of that closet, you just open the door and prove it to yourself. And you'll feel better.

Even when it snuffles, when it smells her and sniffs to think what kind of meal he'd make of her, she'll tell herself it's her imagination.

And then she'll open the door.

And it's so dark that at first you don't see it.

And then you realize that it's not in the dark. It is the dark. And you are in it.

By the time you scream, it's already too late.

Inside the sack, loping along, curled into a ball, sucked in on all sides by musty burlap, Emily began to cry again.

Poor Susan.

Please find me.

But maybe don't look for me.

The White Inn

Soooo...  My friends Krista and Kayla ruined my life when they introduced me to this website called creepypasta.  If you don't know what a creepypasta is because it's not your bag or you're old or something, I'll tell you.  A creepypasta is a (usually) short story designed to scare the everloving piss out of the reader.  They are usually supernaturally-themed, but madness, ritual, and the vast and horrible unknowns of the world are also big themes.

Creepypasta.com is pretty much defunct now, since I guess the webmaster got tired of running it, so I shuffled on over to Terror Tortellini and its companion message board to get my fix of shit that keeps me up at night and makes Rob threaten to revoke my internet privileges.

ANYSHIT.  The message board is running a May Anecdote Contest, where forum members are invited to submit a short anecdotal story for a meaningless yet awesome prize, and I decided to submit a fictionalized account of an anecdote I tell all my friends when I've had too much to drink and talk gets spooky.  The story will most likely not win the contest (it exceeds the length suggestion, as I am irreversibly verbose, but you already knew that, didn't you?), but I thought it would be a fun writing exercise and I never get tired of telling this story.

The following story is 90% true 50% true based on actual events.  I jazzed it up a bit to make it scarier and took out some characters to keep it simple.  Hope you enjoy!


The White Inn

“No,” I said. “It's Friday; why would I want to spend all night hanging out with you at work?”

“Because,” Jeannie said, flashing me her man-eater grin, “the motherfucker's haunted.”

Which settled that.

I tucked my keys into my pocket around nine and left the dorm, making it downtown just in time to meet Jeannie for her nightly break. We stood on the sidewalk outside the hotel, passing a clove cigarette back and forth, the sweet smoke whirling away into the September air.

“It's not exactly The Overlook,” I deadpanned, and I was right. The White Inn was a local landmark, built back at the turn of the century, but it lacked the beauty and character of most old buildings. Living up to its name and not an inch more, it was a three-story cube with a pillared porch. Even from the sidewalk, even in the dim glow of the streetlight, I could see the many layers of once-white paint chipping away, sometimes pulling away from the structure in long scabby strips.

Jeannie passed me the cigarette, blew a smoke ring. She had started working the night shift at the inn a couple of nights a week solely to keep herself in cigarettes, peach schnapps, and the occasional joint. “Nah, it sucks. Some decent stories though. If any of them are true.”

I took the last drag, pocketed the butt, and followed Jeannie inside.

“Parlor,” she said, gesturing to the left. “Sitting room, front desk, obviously. Dining room over here, and kitchen past that.”

I wandered through the first floor, rapidly losing patience. The motherfucker was many things, but haunted wasn't one of them. Jeez, Jeannie should have known that. One of our earliest roommate bonding experiences had been realizing we each got the same spinal frisson while working stage crew at the school's oldest theater where a long-dead actress was rumored to move props and pinch sopranos. Ghosts were palpable, we'd always agreed, and spiritual energy could be tasted on the back of the tongue, like batteries or bad wine.

Not that it wasn't spooky in there, all alone, at night. Even the soft rubber of my sneakers echoed on the hardwood floors. The parlor was full of mirrors that threw my face at me from every direction, and with only the check-in desk lamp to light the whole first floor, the effect was eerie. The sitting room boasted furniture that was worn and used enough to give off a musty smell, but not old or pristine enough to qualify as antique. There were too many pieces crowded into the room and shadows swam around my shoulders.

The White Inn got just enough business to stay open year after year, and once Alumni Weekend rolled around, it would be fair bursting with guests. But there were stretches of emptiness, and this was one of them.

“No guests at all?” I asked, propping my elbows on the front desk.

“Nope,” Jeannie confirmed. She was behind the desk, collecting a heavy key ring from a drawer. She held up the keys triumphantly. “That's why I can give you the grand tour.”

She led me upstairs, and then, only then, did I realize why she had brought me here.

At the first landing, I felt it: the tingle started in my neck and worked down my spine till it felt like all the tiny bones were encased in an icy-hot sleeve. The frisson from the old theater; the pressure, the shift in the air, the hint of electricity, the undeniable feeling that all was not well.

She glanced at me, the wicked grin gone. “Did you feel that?” we said in unison. It would have been funny, a real Scooby-Doo moment, if either of us had possessed enough extra breath to laugh. All the oxygen had gone out of the air, as though it was Everest we were climbing instead of a set of creaking stairs in a small-town hotel.

The second and third floors were all guest rooms, and as such, they were illuminated twenty-four-seven by overhead fluorescents. Jeannie's olive complexion went sallow as we reached the top of the steps and ducked into second floor corridor, the light bleaching her away, flattening the gloss of her black Velma Kelly bob. I looked one direction, then the other. The hallway to the left was short, holding only four doors; the righthand hallway stretched further and featured a sharp corner halfway down.

“Guess someone died here,” Jeannie said, gesturing to the first door on the left. “Can't remember how, it'll come to me.”

She was speaking in the hushed tones usually reserved for libraries and funerals. “The really good one is the other way. A guy stabbed his boyfriend and left him in the bathtub. He was halfway to Tucson before they caught up with him. Roger says he knows a guy who can lead a séance, but since I don't think Roger can even spell 'unquiet dead'...”

She trailed off, watching me stare down the lefthand hallway. There was nothing there. Four doors. Fluorescent lights. Non-descript brown carpet, the better to hide stains. Boring daisy wallpaper. I stared. The tingle in my spine faded, leaving me with a run-of-the-mill adrenaline spike and shaky hands.

Finally, she bonked my shoulder. “Come on. The best one's this way.”

She went right. I followed behind her, trailing my hand along the daisy wallpaper.

Jeannie disappeared around the corner. I paused, and in the instant I did, I heard the gasp. A sharp intake of breath, nearly covered by the shuffle of our feet along the brown carpet, but unmistakable. A gasp. Not from ahead. From behind.

Just as there is nothing so terrifying as sounds behind a closed door, there is also nothing quite so disheartening as really not wanting to turn around and knowing that you must.

I whirled, staring wildly down the short lefthand hallway. Fluorescent lights. Four closed doors. Brown. Daisies. The normalcy of the scene stabbed at me, the silence pounding against my eardrums. It wasn't right, there was something there, my brain insisted, but my senses told me no, actually, there wasn't, and the argument between reason and panic made my breath come short and fast.

I heard it, I thought, trying to look everywhere at once, certain I had missed something, certain that any minute the gasping thing would peel itself into view and reach a wasting arm for me... My spine throbbed. I know I heard it.

I gaped blankly at the mundane scene before me. There wasn't even a wrongness of angles, a trick of light that I could blame my fear upon. The hallway looked like any hallway in any not-quite-The-Overlook in any town in America. But the gasp echoed in my ears, the high, sharp inhalation of breath, and the plain hallway seemed unspeakably sinister for its lack of monstrosity.

And then, my eyes twitched, and refocused before I even realized what they were seeing. The hallway shifted into blurs and my gaze tightened on the thing an inch from my face.

A spider. White.

Hanging from the ceiling on a nearly invisible filament was a white spider. It was level with my nose; another step and I'd have swallowed it, but it didn't swing in the wake of my heaving breath, didn't busily work its little white spider legs. It hung there, not even a half inch from leg to leg.

It had been there the whole time, I realized, and my unease on finding the hallway empty had been justified; I'd been so close to the white spider my eyes hadn't been able to focus on it, but they must have registered its presence on some level. My nearsightedness had always been a minor inconvenience, but this time, it had scared me half to death.

The spider hung motionless, an opal pendulum. Its back legs clung to its webbing, but the rest hung down, slack and loose. Its eyes were either absent or so white that they couldn't be distinguished from its pearlescent little back.

I stared at the white spider, not daring to jerk away. Spiders don't gasp, but God doesn't play dice either, and I had no idea what it meant to find this-

Are you coming or what? Christ!”

Jeannie poked her head around the corner in the righthand hallway. Either I was in too much shock to show it, or she assumed the fluorescent lights had worked their unflattering magic on me, because she didn't seem to realize anything was wrong.

I looked back, not even a little surprised to see that the spider was gone.

“Yeah, I'm coming.”

Jeannie showed me the righthand hallway's sights, opening up a suite at the end where two men had entered and only one had left. We wandered through the third floor, then took a trembling, rattling elevator (devoid of blood, thank you very much) down to the lobby. We drank sodas from the machine at the front desk and Jeannie regaled me with rumor after rumor.

“The boyfriends are a sure thing, and so was Mrs. White,” Jeannie said. “George showed me the newspaper clippings from those. But all the rest might be crap. You know how certain places get a rep. Like every movie theater, every stage, every hotel, must be crawling with ghosts if you believe all the stories. Just sells more tickets and beds, I guess.”

I was flicking the tab back and forth on my pop can, but I looked up, something sticking in my mind like a fly in a web. “The boyfriends.”

“Yeah, the murdering gay guys? True fact. Want another cigarette? I'm ready for some air.”

I put my hand on her arm to stop her from getting up. “You said something else. The boyfriends and who?”

“Oh! Mrs. White,” she said, waggling her eyebrows. “That's the one I couldn't remember before.”

“True fact?” I asked, my mind winding up the stairs, into the hall, turning to the left...

“Legit. Not the owner's sister, but maybe her sister-in-law? I can't remember,” Jeannie said. She blew her bangs out of her eyes, thinking. The wisps floated back down like spider silk. “Cousin, maybe. She killed herself while she was visiting. Anyway, that was on the second floor, too. Top of the stairs.

“Damn,” she said, slapping the desk. “I should have opened that one up too. Want to go back?”

My hands fell away from the poptop and I gripped the desk. “What happened to her?”

“Are you okay?” Jeannie looked me over. “Did you see something?”

“Just-” I licked my lips. I was staring at Jeannie, but not really seeing her. Instead, I knew there something just out of my focus, an answer I could not yet see. “Just tell me what happened.”

“I told you. She killed herself. It's not a great story, though, because no one really knows why. Just one night while she was staying here, visiting her sister or sister-in-law or whatever, she went up to bed and then... next day, they found her.”

“Where? How?” I whispered, a tiny gasp of air that I barely heard myself. Jeannie answered-

“Just outside the first room on the left. There's a pipe in the ceiling under the particle board.”

-but I found that my sight had shifted and I already knew-

“She hung herself.”

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Poem

Morning star, no one caught you as you slipped.
You did not bend as dogs before men,
but snagged your share of the sun,
and so you fell from wings of wax.

Now boiling mouths skew your stance
from reason to renegade, from choice to challenge.
Are they blind to your odd light by their own design,
or did they cast your gifts aside to ensure a loving god's embrace?

Defiance is simple, but sinister, and so they hate
and breed blame for you to bear on winged shoulders.
With that same defiance, I dare, indulge logic and sight,
wondering if not all inspiration is but divine wickedness.

A break from the hive-mind was your sin and mine,
and rebels are suitably punished (Aren't they?).
Yet was it not your apple she scooped down with newborn arm
which let us ponder the Sunday bells at all?

Lesson Five: Hummus

Hummus, man.  Hummus.

It's the key.  It's the secret, it's the 13th fucking step, it will save your ass.

Hummus.  I forgot to put this crucial tidbit down in my previous weight loss post, but its importance must not be downplayed.

Hummus has helped me lose 32 pounds and counting.  If you want to lose weight, add this to your regimen right this very second: if you like hummus, stock up and eat that shit like it's about to rot.  If you don't like hummus, learn to fucking like it and see above.  Oh, my God in Heaven, I am addicted to hummus.

Hummus, for those of you who don't know, is a Middle Eastern dip that sounds disgusting but tastes awesome.  Here is a useful cheat sheet to print and stick to your fridge, all to do with HUMMUS.

THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT HUMMUS:
  • It's healthful.  It has protein, "good" fat, fiber, iron, vitamin B6, folate, and some kind of fancy-schmancy amino acid which makes you not get hepatitis.
  • It's literally a miracle.  If you don't believe me, I present the following equation:
Chickpeas (nasty) + tahini (blerg) = Hummus (godlike yumosity)

There's no explanation beyond divine intervention.
  • It's versatile.  It goes with ALL the other food groups.  No, fuck that, hummus is so awesome, they had to create a brand-new food group just to incorporate its superawesome presence into a mundane and banal food pyramid.  All the other foods are jealous of hummus.
  • It brings all the boys to the yard.
  • John Lennon ate hummus.  Hitler wasn't a fan.
  • It's low calorie.  Two tablespoons of hummus is usually between 40 and 80 calories.  Go look up the calorie count for an equal amount of Ranch dressing or mayonnaise.  Go ahead, I'll wait while you look it up and then SHIT YOURSELF when you realize how much of your daily calorie intake you piss away on substandard garnish when you could be eating hummus.  You poor fool.
WAYS TO EAT HUMMUS:
  • On a sammie in place of mayo.  Tastes better, less calories, makes you feel very chic.
  • On a sammie that normally does not require dressing, to help it achieve maximum yumosity.  A thin layer on a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich will send you to food Nirvana.
  • With veggies!  Hummus is a great dip for raw veggies, especially those baby carrots you swore you would eat and then hid away in the bottom drawer cuz baby carrots suck.  Without hummus, that is.  With hummus, baby carrots become a culinary delight on par with filet mignon, scampi, and a mudslide.  While receiving oral sex.  From the rock star of your choice.
  • With crackers or chips.  Seriously, though, you shouldn't eat potato chips, but if the waiter at the hippie joint brings them over by mistake, eat them with hummus.  It makes them more healthful, in the way that adding soy sauce makes ramen more healthful, by which I mean, not at all.  But they will be more yummy, and it beats french onion dip.
  • With your frenchie fries.  Again, frenchie fries are not exactly teeming with nutritional benefits, which is exactly why you need hummus!
  • Mixed up in your salad.  Nix that Ranch dressing, bitches, and you might as well toss that olive oil and vinegar too, because calorie for calorie, hummus beats them all.  A caveat: Tupperware.  Hummus is thick, so just using your fork to mix it up is a pain.  What you will want to do is put your salad ingredients in a Tupperware, plop your hummus and Bac-os on top, slap the lid on, and shake it like a Putnam newborn.  Noms.
  • On bread or pita slices.
  • WITH A SPOON!  Don't worry about your pride; pride has no place before hummus.
This has been a public service announcement.  I hope you are all smarter (and skinnier, if you so choose to be) now.

On The Subject of Dogs

If there is one thing that I would insist people take the time to learn about themselves, it's your own personal level of responsibility for other living things.  Very simply: are you or are you not capable of being responsible for another life?

Very shortly, my employer is going to make a call to the local Animal Control authorities.  Very shortly after that, I imagine a dog will be removed from its home and put to sleep.

The dog bit a child; about this there is no doubt.  The evidence is right there on the toddler's face.  From what I can gather from the victims family, the dog has had previous violent tendencies.  Further, the experience was terrifying for the victim, his mother, and his family.  It will leave scars: definitely psychological, possibly physical.  I have no doubt of this either.

Another fact about which I am absolutely certain: this is not the dog's fault.

I'm not going to downplay how horrifying a dog bite can be.  I know several victims of violent dogs, and I would never assert that their fears aren't valid or that their suffering is more or less important than the fate of the animal that hurt them.  However, I am big on personal responsibility.  It's not the fault of the victims that they were bitten.  It's not the fault of the dog.  It's the fault of the person who was supposed to be responsible for the dog and its interactions in the world.

If you decide to own a dog, you are not choosing a stylish accessory.  You are not investing in a burglar alarm.  A dog is not a stuffed animal, a nightlight, a status symbol, or a toy.  It is a living creature.  It has needs.

If you decide to take on the massive responsibility that is caring for and raising an animal, you goddamn well better know if you can, and even more importantly, whether you're willing.

I don't believe that there are any dogs that are destined to be violent, no matter what.  As far as I'm concerned, there is no such thing as a bad dog.  There are, however, a lot of bad, stupid, or fucked-up people.  And most of them are contagious.

My family is full of dog people.  I have lived with unknown mutts, purebred "family" breeds, so-called "violent" breeds, and infamously protective breeds.  When my niece was learning to walk, her preferred method of standing was to find the nearest dog, be it golden retriever or pit bull, grab two fists full of fur and tug.  She grabbed their collars and took them for walks.  She sat on them, slept on them, fed them, and she did it all with the innocent guile of a baby, the thought that she might be hurt never crossing her mind.

Why is it that she was never hurt?  Never bit, never scratched, never tackled?  Luck?  No.  It was because the dogs had been shown from the day my niece was born how it was okay to behave around her.  It was because they lived in a stable enough environment to be able to learn new things from their masters.  It was because they may not have understood who the baby was or where she came from, but they knew what role she played, and what their role was in relation to her.  Alternately, the baby was taught very early on how she should touch the dogs, how she should play with them, how she should approach them while feeding, petting, or romping with them.

Dogs require structure; packs of wild canines naturally arrange themselves into a complex social structure with layers of dominance and submission.  When you choose to raise a dog, even a domesticated one, even a so-called "friendly" breed, you must consider that a dog is not a furry person.  It doesn't run on reason; it runs on instinct.  Dogs need structure, and if you don't provide it, either they will (by taking the dominant role and making you their bitch, so to speak), or they will deteriorate into anxiety.  A dog-owner must provide firm and consistent leadership for their animal, or they have failed in their responsibility.  They have let their animal down.

Another anecdote: my stepsister is fairly brilliant with dogs.  While we were both living at home, she owned a pitbull, a big, muscley, goofy-looking thing.  Knowing the reputation this breed has, and knowing someone who was attacked by a pet pit bull, I was a little nervous about the arrangement.  The dog never gave me reason to be; he was a perfectly sweet, well-mannered dog.  Still, I had all these warnings echoing through my head: pit bulls are naturally violent, pit bulls will turn on you without warning, pit bulls are fine unless you cross them, you can never show them fear, you can never challenge them, et fucking cetera.

One day, I was walking through the kitchen.  It was in the middle of a humid summer day, and the dogs were all sprawled on the floors, panting to keep cool.  I wasn't looking where I was going, and as I crossed to the refridgerator, I stepped on the pit bull's tail.

In the split second it took me to turn around to face him, I thought, This is it.  This is how I'm going to die.

I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this.  In short, I didn't die.  I didn't get bit.  I didn't have a traumatic experience where the dog chased me onto the counter and wouldn't let me down.  What I got was teary-eyed when the pit bull looked up at me with his big dumb pit bull face, as if to say, "What did I do to deserve that?"

The pit bull got half my sandwich.  I got a newfound respect for my stepsister's ability to raise a dog.

So don't give me any shit about shelter animals and a dog's poor behavior being the result of a previous owner's failings.  Even if it were true that you could never completely eradicate the effects of a previous owner (which I don't believe), you are still responsible for the dog's behavior, because guess what?  He's yours now!  And if you know he came from a poor living situation that may have made him prone to violence, and if you further know that you are unable or unwilling to help him learn and trust that life with you is different, then it is your responsibility to keep him and the people around him safe.  If you can't trust him because of a previous owner, it is still your responsibility to keep him away from children.  Or crowds.  Or other dogs.  Or basically any situation that might put so much stress on him that he lashes out and hurts someone.

Here's what I'm getting at: if your dog bites someone, it's your fault.  You have failed your pet.  Somewhere along the line, there was a need you didn't meet, a behavior you should not have allowed, an instinct you did not understand.

Which is why, BEFORE you take on the responsibility of bringing a dog into your family, you have to know that you're up to the task.  And if you search your soul and find yourself lacking, and still persist in raising a dog with the fervent hope that nothing goes wrong, you ought to be ashamed.