Nothing New Tonight

There will be no new story tonight. Apologies for doing this to you two weekends in a row, but my work in Death and the Maiden at the Players’ Ring in Portsmouth, where I am playing the part of Gerardo through this Sunday, has been taking more out of me each night than I’d anticipated it would.

I will endeavor to get a new piece of “Bite” up tomorrow, Saturday. Thanks for your patience.

Bite, Part 2

Photo by Ryan McGuire

Photo by Ryan McGuire

It was then that Aunt Estella offered her neck to the cause.

She had always dreamed of glory, Estella. The youngest of seven daughters, she dreamed of a fate and a future unfettered. Bearing witness to the pomp and circumstance of six weddings, the deliveries of two dozen children, and the smearing away of contentment by the steady trickle of Scotch, she had no desire to marry. She had never even lain with a man, for fear of developing a taste for it.

When once, in a drunken moment, I asked her which ‘it’ she was referring to, all she offered in the way of a response was a blush, a blush as red as the precious flower she’d refused to have plucked.

And so, still seeking glory from life, even in the midst of life wiping its hands of her—its rough workman’s palms cutting wrinkles into her forehead, crow’s feet into the flesh at the corners of her eyes—she took my hands into her own and she squeezed. She begged me to bite her. She begged me.

And I, of course, said no.

To be continued…

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.

Bite, Part 1

Photo by Ryan McGuire

Photo by Ryan McGuire

The night I let the werewolves die, I ate dinner with my maiden aunt at a favorite spot of hers along the Thames. Aunt Estella had a fondness for rare meat, and I delighted in watching her steak bleed out onto the plate as she forked one dainty morsel after another into her ever-chewing maw. She called my predilection for watching others eat an unbecoming and nasty habit, but she appreciated my need to live vicariously through the mastication of others in a way that no other relation would or could. “The herd must be thinned,” she told me. “And you’re just the man for the job.”

I was then a werewolf myself, you see, in the last year of my curse. And, unlike all but the handsome toffer who had infected me and then dropped dead from her effort, I had the power to create more of us. Most just bit and bit and bit, killing all they did. But me, if I were to bite, I’d create another wolf. And another. Until the day I bit the one who was meant to replace me. And then…

Well, I didn’t want to die, so I decided not to bite. Instead, I read every night until the candle was burnt to its end, visited every wolf I could get to by train or by carriage, starved myself to the point of hallucination, and in so doing learned the firm and undeniable truth: if I could go the seven years of the curse without biting a soul, it would all be over. For me, for the werewolves. For everyone.

Of course, that meant not biting anyone. Or putting my mouth upon them in any way. Or sharing a drink. A meal. It meant avoiding the consumption of meat and the bloodlust that inevitably caused. It meant a whole lot of sacrifice with only one reward: I wouldn’t die at random from sinking my teeth into the wrong bit of flesh.

And I had done it. For seven years, I had done it all, everything that I was told to do. And there I was, seated across from Estella, who was saying again, “The herd must be thinned,” and then continuing, “but for the herd to die out entirely? That’s another matter.”

I must’ve looked aghast when I heard that, my brow furrowed, for she tsk-tsked me then.

“You are well with your rights, dear boy, to have kept your teeth to yourself. The wolves were general over the whole of the lowlands, and it’s a much cleaner state of affairs now, but to let a species disappear from this Earth entirely—that would be unbecoming of a gentleman of your status.”

“But what then,” I said, “do you suggest I do, Aunt Estella? Even if I were to bite tonight, what’s to say that the person I bite would be like me? That is, what is to say they would be able to create more of us?”

“Well,” she said, dabbing at her lips with the corner of her napkin, “wouldn’t you say that’s for the Almighty to sort out?”

The Almighty? I thought. Did she really think God wanted anything to do with the propagation of lycanthropy, surely the Devil’s business if ever a venture was?

To be continued…

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.

Haunted, Part 6

Photo by Stefan Kunze

Photo by Stefan Kunze

When the chaos begins, the corridors of punishment and justice filled to the brim with entropy and discord, it is only a ghost in a nightgown and a scarf that stands in between me and my freedom.

“It always did look better on you,” I tell her.

“Where will you go?” she says. “You belong here.”

“Nobody belongs here,” I say. “This is merely where we are kept. Like Doris in her marriage and you in your big top.”

“I was no slave to the circus,” she says, going pink. She wrinkles her forehead in concentration, going for red—gives me a big scowl, too—but pink is the best she can do.

“Of course not,” I say, mocking. “You’re no slave. Not to the circus. Not to me. Not to life.”

“Nothing is keeping me here!” she screams.

A nearby guard is broken from his reverie. The scream has stolen his focus from the kindly old woman serving him blueberry scones and he is staring now at us.

“Hey,” he says, rubbing at his eyes and sidestepping the spirit before him. “Hey!” he shouts, pointing at me. “Back to your cell!”

I turn toward my ghost again, my first ghost, and I see she is grinning.

“Nothing is keeping me,” she says. “But everyone here is keeping you.”

The guard whips his sap out of his back pocket as he draws closer. “Back to your cell,” he says again. “Back to your cell, or you’ll regret it.”

“You want to hit me?” I say, walking toward him. “Then hit me.”

“What are you doing?” says my ghost, a hint of concern in her voice as she drifts closer to me, hovering at my shoulder.

“Last chance,” says the guard.

“Go back to your cell,” says my ghost, panicked now. “Why do you have to be better than us? Huh? What is so wrong with being kept?”

I grab her by the scarf and whip her into the guard. He goes white as she flies into him. Then he drops dead and she screams again.

“Why did you do that?” she says. “Why did you make me do that?”

”Being kept,” I say, “is for bitches. And I ain’t no bitch.”

Then I walk out.

I live now where nothing can get me but the clouds, where nothing can touch me but the breeze and the sunset. The ghosts don’t come anymore, having heard how I’ll use them if the mood strikes me.

Except for Roxanne, of course, who sits on the lowest branch of the only tree I've left standing here on the edge of the world. She keeps her distance, braiding the hair on her severed head, waiting until I am done with life, hoping maybe it will soon be done with me.

The End

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.

Haunted, Part 5

Photo by André Spieker

Photo by André Spieker

The general idea is one ghost for every guard, and Roxanne’s been searching the afterlife for aunties and grammies and high school sweethearts ever since I was first locked up. We probably don’t need to distract every single employee of the prison. The chaos we’ll unleash by distracting just a few will probably be enough. But Roxanne has always been of the belief that you should go big, or go home. And so, here we are: going big so I can go home.

Clyde asks me if it’s true what he’s heard, that ghosts flock to me all the time. Sensing what he’s after, I hesitate, but apparently there’s enough evidence hidden in the lines and wrinkles of my aging face to give me away.

“What draws them to you?” he asks. “Are they really all in love?” I smile, say nothing.

“Your pretty face?” he says.

“You think I’m pretty?” I say, smiling broader, tilting my head and batting my eyes at him.

He waves a dismissive hand at me, shakes his own head, and gets back to his rounds.

Straight answers are hard to come by around here. Harder to get from me than most. But the truth of the matter is that I don’t really know why they flock to me, the ghosts. The closest I’ve ever come to an explanation is by imagining the puppy we all used to fawn over at the bus stop when I was in third grade. Dogs had always frightened me, but this one, a black lab, was so little and so cute that even I couldn’t resist petting him. He was pretty, the dog, and docile. A half-dozen little girls pawing at him and he just let us, every morning until the bus came. We fell in love with him because he let us.

Maybe, I’ve decided, it’s that way with me too.

To be concluded…

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.

Two Days Off

Yesterday, for the first time since launching Draft a Day on November 6, 2014, I failed to publish a new piece of fiction. I’ve been late before, sometimes pushing up against midnight in other time zones, but I’ve never totally missed a day. Yesterday, I did. I will miss today, too.

There are a number of reasons for this unannounced, unintended break in your regularly scheduled programming. I hope to get into them in more detail in this space in the coming weeks. I’ll keep it short for now and just let you know that I am fine, my family is fine, and that challenges I’m facing are absolutely surmountable.

I’ll be back to posting new pieces of the story “Haunted” on Monday, May 18, 2015. I thank you for your patience and your continued support of me and my writing.

Haunted, Part 4

Photo by Josh Felise

Photo by Josh Felise

The guard I see most often is an older fella, Clyde, a regular orator whose favorite yarns all have to do with his misadventures in vintage Ford pickup, a white jalopy with curves to spare. Just like his old lady, he likes to tell us. Doris. A fine woman, he tells us. We would’ve liked her.

I do like her. She’s my latest follower, you see, as curvaceous as Clyde is always saying. Except for the breasts of course, which are gone, cut away at the end in a vain attempt to save her life. I’ve promised her a pair of falsies as soon as she gets me out, the best pair we can find.

They made it in the cab of the Ford, Clyde tells us, never the flat bed. “More romantic that way,” he says. Doris agrees, says he was a real gentleman until it was time for him not to be. She remembers one time when they stopped off the side of the road on a trip back from the lake, not able to wait until they got home. The sun glinted off the chrome of the side-view mirrors, so intense it didn’t matter how tightly she closed her eyes. As they kissed, she and Clyde, the whole world went from black to orange, depending on which way he tilted her head. After a while, it got distracting, so she pulled him down on top of her. He thought she was being frisky and went with it, not noticing she wasn’t quite ready when the time came.

“Men,” she says to me when she tells me the story. “You understand, don’t you?”

I nod, of course.

She smiles at me then, sighs a heavy sigh. There’s a tear in the corner of her eye that she blinks away before it can fall. My grandmother used to be able to do that, but I’ve never mastered the art. Maybe it’s a generational thing, something the tough old broads thought we’d just get through osmosis, so they never bothered to teach us. I suddenly wish for a Great Depression of my own to toughen me up. Then I scrunch up my nose in disgust at the thought, as if I can smell the bullshit I’m shoveling in my own head.

“What?” she says to me.

“Nothing,” I say. And then, to change the subject, I ask the question that’s been on my mind lately: “Why don’t you just show yourself to him, D?”

She ducks her head, then sets her hands over her flattened chest. “Memory’s got more on offer than I do,” she says. “Besides,” she says, looking at me again, “if I show myself now, might not be as shocking when I show myself during the big escape. Right?”

To be continued…

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.

Haunted, Part 3

Photo by Brandon Morgan

In the years after the wreck, a veritable legion of haunts gathered round me: all of them women, all of them in love. And though I had no idea what drew them to me—aside from, perhaps, a passion for the enigmatic, a longing for the aloof—I could not bring myself to waste the opportunities laid at my feet.

One of the ghosts was a little girl, her love for me maternal, and she was the first of those I used. The target was a convenience store, its cameras aimed too high to catch her. The only clues she left for them were the puddles her ladybug rain boots left behind. They never saw her sopping wet hair, the drenched polka dots of her gray shirt, every color made more brilliant by the saturation. They never saw her crooked smile, the mix of mismatched teeth and gaps of gum line that she would carry with her for the rest of her afterlife. They never saw. Never anything but what they wanted to see. A homeless guy from down by the river, he was the one they charged, the one they finally gave a home. A joint, if you will. Three squares, a cot, and bars as far as they eye could see.

We went bigger faster than we should have, but they were all so enthusiastic. Banks, armored cars, that casino heist you probably saw on the news. You know the one. Do you remember how the newscasters spent a week debating how that palette of cash just floated out of the vault, how the vault was opened from the inside in the first place, and where it all went once it smashed through the plate glass windows and flew into the Connecticut sunset? Do you remember how they backpedaled when the graying anchor intimated it might be Indian spirits, how they backpedaled again when his co-host, the perky blonde, used the term Native Americans instead of Indigenous Persons in her apology? Fun times, right?

Until they caught me, of course.

To be continued…

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.

Haunted, Part 2

Photo by Brandon Morgan

The first ghost, as it turns out, was responsible for creating the second. Years later, as I rode from church to function hall with the woman who’d turned me to the dark side—my parents’ words, not anyone else’s—the first ghost, seeking great vengeance for her furious anger, materialized in front of the limo driver who was chauffeuring me and my white dressed beloved to our reception. As the car veered through two lanes of traffic on its way to a collision with the Jersey barrier, I squeezed Roxanne’s hand—her name was Roxanne, and I’d met her in an acting class where we had to yell sonnets at each other with motivations pulled from an old top hat. And then, as the limo’s front end crunched into the barrier, the car collapsing like an accordion toward us, I found myself staring at the white lace flowers that made up the back of Roxanne’s dress. Her pink skin blanched as we rose into the air, and it was like she and the dress were one thing all of a sudden, one beautiful cliché instead of two. I held her close, as hard as I could for as long as I could—in my memory, I even hear her say ‘Ouch’—but then gravity won out and her body was torn from me, torn from my arms at the same time a huge chunk of the windshield came flying back to tear her head from her shoulders.

When she visits these days, Roxanne carries her smiling head in a cradle made from her interlaced fingers, a pretty basket of translucent flesh embellished only by the wedding and engagement rings she stole from her corpse.

It never stops smiling, her head, as if frozen for the wedding photos we never did get to take. I try to smile back, to love this mangled fragment of the woman I once loved, but all I can manage is wry, twisted smirk. A grimace. That’s all.

To be continued…

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.

Haunted, Part 1

Photo from the National Media Museum

Photo from the National Media Museum

The first ghost that fell in love with me was a lion tamer, a woman who had wrangled the beasts for a touring circus in the thirties. She was slender, grooves worn into the flesh under her breasts and just below her navel, where the corsets had cut into her. She was naked as she stood before my bed, a scarf wrapped around her throat to hide the part of her neck the lioness had torn away, and she assured me that she could love me the way I deserved to be loved.

I was sitting on the bed my parents had bought for me when I outgrew the toddler bed that had once been my crib, and I was staring through the ghost at the window my boyfriend had just climbed out of. There was blood between my legs and on the flannel sheets my mother had bought me for Christmas instead of the flannel shirt I had asked for. I ached, was maybe a little bit sore that the boyfriend had left me sore (and unfulfilled), but I was in no way thinking that I deserved better. He was a nice boy, made me mix tapes at least once a week, and I thought he was quite the catch.

The ghost, however, begged to differ.

“I’ve been watching you,” she said, inching toward my bed, her feet hovering just above the knotted wood floor. “I’ve been watching you,” she said, “and him. And I know I can do better.”

“Why are you naked?” I asked her.

She looked down at her breasts, and I swear she would have blushed if she could.

“They tore my dress from me first,” she said, running her fingers along the fringe of her scarf. “All that was left was enough for this.”

“Could you wear something of mine?” I asked. “If I gave it to you?”

She looked up at me. “I don’t know,” she said. “Nobody’s ever offered before.”

I stood and made my way toward my dresser, wincing the first couple of steps. I found clean underwear and a worn t-shirt for myself, then tossed the ghost an old nightgown. I had been as thin as her once, but not since the eighth grade.

The ghost caught the nightgown and pulled it on over her head.

“It fits,” she said, smiling.

“Keep it,” I told her, not knowing that my generosity would cause her to keep me.

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.