And how I used to have nightmares that you would come alive, all thirty two feet, all nine thousand pounds on your back hooves, your glowing red eyes. And how I cried when someone wrote on your hooves in orange spray paint, even though no one could tell what the letters said. My mom cackled when her five year old daughter first referred to you as Blucifer. And I’ve grown to find your LED flood light eyes comforting, a tribute to your sculptor’s father. You’re supposed to be spirit of the wild west, but I see you as a good luck charm. Like the blue poker chip I keep on my backpack, a constant reminder of you. When I fly out of Denver, I go early to see you. When I fly out of Miami I look up pictures of you. I wonder if you know you’re made of fiberglass. I might buy a tiny version of you to keep on my desk, and call it Blucifer Junior, or maybe BluJu for short. Do you mind being called that? Do you get lonely? I could build a house next to you if you wanted. You’re only a year and sixteen days younger than I am. Denver thinks you’re worth 650 thousand dollars and a nightmare or two, but I think you’re all the childhood I’ve ever had.
Bella Rotker is a sophomore at the Interlochen Arts Academy. She was born in Venezuela and loves petting bunnies, pressing flowers, and staring wistfully at bodies of water. @bellarotker on twitter/ig
The date was going badly, and that was an understatement. Cadillac had snapped the leg of the snow crab and sent a piece of the delicate white flesh flying through the air. It landed in Joe’s glass of Dr. Pepper, but he was so busy talking about his ex-girlfriend that he didn’t even notice. And now, Cadillac sat there watching the crabmeat out of the corner of her eyes, willing him not to take a drink.
“So then, after I caught her cheating, she begged me to take her back. At first, I said ‘hell no’ but she had a really nice ass and I was lonely so I thought ‘what the hell?’…” Joe droned on. Cadillac stopped listening. She glanced down at the cell phone in her lap. She typed a quick text to her friends: self-absorbed, lack of proper social etiquette, smells faintly of marijuana. She glanced back up at him to see if he’d noticed she was no longer listening to him, but he was still animatedly telling the story of his past dating woes. She took a bite of her scampi and allowed her eyes to wander around the room.
“…but then she whispered into my ear ‘my vagina is screaming ‘feed me!’’ and that was it. Completely killed it. I mean, what guy wants to hear that? It sounds like she’s going to eat my dick or something…”
Cadillac dropped her fork. Was this guy for real?
“Excuse me?” she said.
Joe stopped and looked at her. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude or inappropriate. You must think I’m crazy.”
“This is our first date and you just told me about some girl who wants you to feed her vagina. Sounds a little crazy, don’t you think?”
“I’m so sorry. I’m just really nervous and you weren’t saying much. I tend to ramble.”
Cadillac relaxed a little. It’s been quite a while since she’d been on a date, and she wasn’t giving the guy much to work with. Maybe she was being a bit harsh.
“It’s okay. Let’s just talk about something else.” She said.
“Okay,” he said. “So, your name’s Cadillac.”
“Yes,” she smiled.
“So,” he leaned in across the table, “does that mean you’re a smooth ride?”
Cadillac couldn’t stop her mouth from dropping open. She blinked a few times and just stared at him, not knowing exactly what to say or do. Joe laughed and she felt his foot touch hers under the table. She jerked her leg away and stood up, muttering something about needing to go to the restroom. She grabbed her phone and her purse and walked out of the restaurant. She dialed her best friend’s number and as it was ringing, she vaguely considered the possibility that maybe she needed to just get a cat.
I’ll never forget showing up to my first family reunion on my stepdad’s side. I won’t forget the last one either. The first one was awkward ‘cause: 1) I didn’t know anybody there, since it wasn’t really my family yet, and 2) No one knew me either and so they are all looking at me funny trying to figure me out, and 3) I was the only one with red hair and freckles. I’m almost always the only one like that.
Swarms of aunts and uncles and great aunts and uncles and all the cousins…oh my god there were so many cousins. And every single one of them wanted to know: which family I belonged to, and how did I get there, and where did I live again—and in what town, and who was my Daddy, and oh was I just a friend of a cousin someone had brought along with them to this, and who ever knew of another Smith-Williams-Davidson family member to have red hair?
I was seven years old. And drowning.
Till my new grandma bowled through the crowds and scooped me up to sit on her hip like I was still a baby. Like I didn’t even weigh anything. She carried me to her car, put me in the backseat—buckled me up like I couldn’t do it myself—and then she wiped her eyes, clenched her jaw, and forced a smile through the rearview all the way to the store where she snatched me up and carried me to the back wall and stood there holding me with one arm while her other hand played with her lips.
She scanned the wall of shiny little boxes for what felt like an hour until she reached, grabbed a box, held it against my head, set it back, grabbed another, held it to my head again and said, “Mmm. That’s it.”
Back home, we didn’t go to the backyard to be with the rest of the family right away. Instead Grandma took me through the front door and had me wait on the couch while she took care of something in the bathroom.
Her hair was fire when she came out.
“I used the dye on it,” she told me, stepping into the living room, wiping her head with a towel, “What do you think?”
At the last family reunion Grandma died from natural causes and everybody stayed a few extra days for the funeral. And while all the aunts and uncles, and great aunts and uncles, and every god damn cousin in the world, while they all threw their roses onto her coffin and said their goodbyes, I dropped a plastic bag filled with red hair dyes and whispered, “Thank you.”
Garrett Mostowski’s work has appeared in The Galway Review, Across the Margin, Geez, Clerestory, and others. He’s a doctoral candidate in theology and creative writing. Twitter @RevGMostowski
That day, they set no alarms. They let their body do the wake-up call. Let the sun creak through the gaps in the curtains. Sting both irises like lasers. Breakfast. Pre-packaged croissants. Stale. A coffee, single shot, decaf, filled to the brim.
On the news; famines; wars; liars; murderers; charred forests. Meanwhile, a fly waded its legs through the brew’s surface, drowning, drawing its final breaths, ripples pushing hard against the cup’s innards, like a silent storm, rage without thunder, dying to be saved, steam on her chin, tears tickled, laughter cried.
Sam is writing his first crime novel as a student of the Faber Academy’s ‘Writing a Novel’ course. He can be found on Twitter as @samofme.
I can see you, sitting there. I stare in from the yard at the back of your head, through the living room window. The window that you once smashed to pieces with bare knuckles and angry shouts when dinner wasn’t on the table before you arrived home. Your large frame is sprawled across the old sofa, where I have scrubbed at dark red stains until my fingers ached. The large frame that towered above my own, your silhouette bent down towards me as if to scream the words directly into my mouth, my chest, my entire body.
You seem relaxed there, in the dim lights that stream in from the kitchen. Are you relaxed, my love?
When I took the first breathful of dirt into my lungs, it was your heavy hands that I pictured clasped around my skull, palms holding my mouth shut and nails clawing at my cheeks. Breathe, you whispered while laughing quietly, taunting me. You weren’t really there withme, though. Not then, after burying me in the backyard just the night before. You had no reason to be there inside the shallow grave you had dug for me, only for me. I wouldn’t be a problem, not anymore. A burden lifted off your chest, as if it had been me striking you night after night, me forcing all of my weight onto your chest and leaving you breathless, me carving deep marks into your arms and legs, shoved into sleeved shirts and long pants, even in the warm months.
You take a swig of your beer, and I watch as your adam’s apple bobs in the light of the television screen, a small drop escaping the corner of your mouth and travelling down your throat and out of sight. I look down at my hands, which have turned a ghoulish grey under the light of the moon. I clench my fists, carving small crescent-shaped marks into my palms.
When I open them, there is no blood, no darkness breaking the surface. Just the same lifeless grey. There’s no pain, just numbness. There’s nothing inside of me for you to take, not anymore.
I move closer to the window.
A branch snaps under my foot, and although it stabs into my heel, there’s no blood there, either. You hear something, though, something moving outside. Your head snaps up, attention no longer on the TV in front of you. You’ve been jumpy, ever since you placed the worn shovel into the back of your truck, your head whipping in each direction on the street, the lampost near our home flickering slightly above you. Don’t worry. No one saw you, no one knows that the shovel was used to beat my body deeper into the earth when I wouldn’t fit in the way you wanted. After a while, when my bones yielded to the blows and you were left only with silence and the sounds of your panting breaths, you were able to cover me, force the dirt into submission just as you were prone to do with many things.
I used to think that maybe that was all you knew, that you loved me in spite of those darker parts of you. Now, I wonder if it was simply the act of hurting, of causing pain to another person, that you were really in love with.
I’ve reached the window now, my palm pressed flat against the glass. I can’t feel the coolness of the surface, but I know it’s there. Much like how you know something is here with you now, something outside that wants in.
You’re standing now, the football match on the screen behind you still playing, and for once (FOR ONCE) you’re focused on something else completely. You’re searching around for the source of an unknown terror in your home that circles, the hairs on your arms standing straight up. You’re scared, close to pissing yourself in the middle of our living room. Scared of – you don’t even know what. Surely not of your wife and your prisoner, your lover and your enemy.
I bend down, and what used to be my kneecaps crack and shatter under a fragile layer of skin. I feel none of it, but the sound is rather unpleasing. My fingers clench around a handful of dirt, pieces embeddeding themselves under shredded nails.
When I make it to the front door, I don’t bother to knock. I push right in. You never did bother to lock it behind you, so sure that nothing would creep its way in right behind you, slipping through the gap and burrowing inside the chest, the heart of this house.
As I make my way down the hall, I trail a rotted hand along the wall, just underneath picture frames of smiling faces. I smile along with them, trying to stretch my grin to match theirs with my thumbs. I watch in the reflection of the frame as the skin gives underneath, my lips tearing into a permanent gleeful expression. I eye it for a moment before continuing forward, towards the living room.
I’m getting closer, my love. I practically smell you from here, my nose deformed and warped, but not completely broken.
I don’t find you in that same spot in the living room, you’ve moved into the kitchen. I see your same massive silhoutte turned meek as you cower on the far side of the room, back to the counter and two hands planted on both sides of the sink, right where you slammed my skull into the granite. I see now that it’s devoid of my blood, meaning you cleaned up in here. I imagine you now, on hands and knees, scrubbing at the tile where the dark liquid trailed down to from the counter. I imagine you wearing my long yellow gloves, my scrub brush tight in your grip, little beads of sweat forming on your forehead. I wonder how it felt to be down on your knees, for once being the one who cleans up the stains left from my bruised body.
As I approach, you don’t move. Christ, you wouldn’t dare, would you? Not now, with the quiver of your bottom lip, the grip you have on the sink, the shortness of your breath. When you were burying me, the panting was in relief. Now the breathing is ragged, small whimpers escaping every so often.
A trail of dirt follows me in from the yard, from where you laid my broken body in unrest.
I bring myself right up to you, I invade your space. I bring a hand up to your cheek, my thumb softly stroking your temple. You think to yourself how gentle I am, even in death, even in the fragmented state you left me in. You think of how this is why you chose me in the first place, how easy it was to get me to love you, even when you did everything you could to crush the gleam you saw in my eyes. You would’ve done anything to have it, and so you took it from me by force, when you should’ve known, should’ve been smart enough to realize.
I would’ve given it to you for free.
When my hand moves from your cheek to the soft spot at the back of your head, you don’t struggle. I’ve only ever loved you. When my grip around you tightens slightly, you sigh with relief, you’ve been forgiven. How could I be the one doing the hurting? It’s only when my other hand comes into view in front of your eyes, filled with dirt and rock, do your eyes widen slightly. My palm finally turns, cupping over your mouth, already opened in disbelief. I tip your head back, my grasp firm. I paint a picture this way, of the image of you I saw when I rose from the ground. This, my love, is what carried me up throughout the darkness, up and out of the earth all around me. It was you.
I lean forward, your soft grunts and muffled choking from behind my hand quieting for a moment. I touch my forehead to yours, wide and horrified eyes meeting calm and glassy ones. My mouth opens, the sounds passing through my crushed windpipe are broken and soft as I whisper to you.
“Breathe, my love,” I choke out, as tears trail down your reddening face, the low glow from the kitchen light above painting shadows across stunned features. There’s only a single thought that comes to each of us in turn, before the sound of a body hitting the cold tile.