“She’s a straight up, dyed in the wool, city witch.”
“Oh, come on. You’re kidding me, right?”
“Okay, then how do you reckon she’s a witch?”
“Are you blind? She routinely walks a mutated hellhound after midnight, Ubers dragons to get her witchy ass around town, that penthouse suite of hers is made entirely of gingerbread, and all the children in her apartment complex have mysteriously gone missing since she moved in.”
“Sounds more like wild speculation and coincidence than actual proof. You wouldn’t happen to be jealous, would you?”
“Jealous of what? Her unhealthy appetite for our future generation?”
“That perhaps people find her a little more interesting than you?”
“Just because she bathes in the blood of innocents and bakes her bread with human bones, does not make her more interesting than me! Wait, please tell me you’re not thinking about hooking up with her.”
“Would it really be all that bad?”
“Um, did you miss the bit about the missing kids?”
“Well, were they good kids, or, you know…like…the other kind?”
“That shouldn’t matter! Children are sacrosanct!”
“More like sacrificed, if your suspicions are correct.”
“I give up. Do what you want. On your head be it.”
It had been a long and uneventful life, and when the daily drudgery of existence reached a level that threatened to drown her, Amber spent all the bitcoin she had amassed to book a ticket well in advance in order to give her family, friends, and employer ample notice of her departure.
Impatiently, she waited at a forest rail station, which was hidden from all transit maps and only locatable via the dark web, for the train that traveled the timeless roads from the birth of imagination to the apex of dreams.
She knew in her heart of hearts that she would not ever return to this reality in her lifetime.
I watched him discreetly to see how he adjusted and was surprised at just how easily he accepted change. Don’t get me wrong, things were awkward at first.
Normally a surefooted man, he began stumbling into things and tripping constantly. Somehow, the growth of the additional eye must have thrown off his depth perception. This only lasted a few days, though. In no time at all, he returned to his usual graceful self, more so in fact. In recent times, I couldn’t recall him having a single episode of clumsiness.
His innate ability to adapt was a huge advantage and the more comfortable he became with his condition, perhaps the more likely he would finally feel comfortable to confide in me. I knew this wouldn’t happen any time soon because he was preoccupied with the advantages and shortcomings of his newly altered state.
Besides the obviously improved eyesight, his reading skill and speed increased one hundredfold. Magazines that he initially glanced through, the ones instantly bundled for the recycled trash day, he started tearing through, reading them cover to cover no matter what they were–Omni, Scientific American, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan.
Once he conquered magazines, he moved on to books. At first, my little trashy paperbacks and dime novels, but then he moved onto more serious fiction. One time he even polished off Moby Dick and War and Peace in the same night. Many was the night that I tossed and turned to the sound of him in the den flipping through the pages of some book or other at a breakneck pace.
As fate would have it, just when I was beginning to adjust to his third eye, I discovered that his nose had changed. Nothing drastic, just a slight flaring of the nostrils. With this minute alteration came a sensitive sense of smell. Now I thought he’d have no choice but to talk with me about it, but he didn’t, he just became reclusive. It was obvious to me that this was just the beginning—of what? I had no idea. Concerned at this point, I began dropping hints. Asking how he was feeling. If he had an allergy or a head cold. When was the last time he had his eyes checked, surely reading for long periods under that dim reading lamp couldn’t be easy on the eyes.
He began to become irritated with my prying, so I stopped, convincing myself if he could live with the changes then so could I and maybe that would have been true if it stopped at his nose.
His ears were next. First the right and then a week later, the left. Sprouting upward to a point. The result was enhanced hearing. Accompanied by migraine headaches from sounds that even our dog couldn’t pick up.
Then his mouth. Bleeding gums that resulted from a second row of teeth that pushed their way to the surface over his original set. Tongue followed a short time later. Elongating. Forking.
After that, I couldn’t tell you what was next. I never saw him again. Not that he moved or I left him. He just kept himself forever on the other side of a locked door. Part of me was thankful. I was spared the sight of the monster he was becoming. And he was spared the look of revulsion that I could no longer hide. That didn’t curb my curiosity, however. I still peeked through keyholes and drilled tiny holes in the wall. Why? He was changing into a wholly new person and I had to see what the end result was. After all, he was the man I married.
On the few occasions when he caught me spying, he flew into a rage, demanding to know what my problem was. My problem? Like I was the one who looked like an inhabitant from the Island of Dr. Moreau.
And that’s all I know. Whatever loyalty I felt towards him, whatever love I had for him, was gone. Gone the moment I got a clear look at what he’d become and witnessed his potential for violence. I was probably an idiot for remaining as long as I did, but then, love blinds sometimes. All that was gone now. The very next morning I packed a change of clothes in a rucksack, emptied the bank account, gassed up the car and left. Without a backward glance.
And I avoided mirrors, afraid that I had contracted whatever disease afflicted my husband, for it was a known fact that the thing that affected a loved one, affected everyone surrounding it, and I was terrified of looking into the face of my very own transformation.
I awoke to a stranger standing at the foot of my bed but far more unsettling was the fact that he was dead. I was certain of this because I could see the chest of drawers behind him through his ephemeral body.
“Do not be alarmed,” the man said in a soft tone that registered just above a whisper but was perfectly clear in the surrounding silence of the bedroom which had never known this level of quiet before. “I realize my sudden appearance in your home has come as a surprise to you due to the fact that you and I have never met and that I am a ghost.”
Of the million questions buzzing in my hypnagogic brain, the one that bubbled to the surface was, “What do you want from us?” and my voice cracked in a manner that made me sound considerably less brave than planned.
I tried to will my wife awake, hoping that she might collect the children and get them safely out of the house while I somehow distracted this spirit. I even slid my hand beneath the duvet, slowly as not to draw attention, in order to nudge or pinch her awake to no avail.
“Please know that I have no intention of haunting you or bringing any harm to you or your loved ones,” the ghost said.
“Then why are you here?” I replied loud enough to wake my wife but not the children because I couldn’t risk them coming into the bedroom to see what all the commotion was about.
The transparent man smiled, “You may speak as loudly as you please. I have spread a calming essence over your wife and children so that they might rest soundly as you and I converse.”
While I must confess I knew nothing of ghostly lore or a sleep-inducing essence, I sensed the apparition was speaking truthfully. I asked, “What could we possibly have to say to one another?”
“As I explain my situation, I ask that you refrain from pitying me and my circumstances for life is not a gift we keep but one we borrow and must one day return. Death is inevitable as you will one day learn.”
“Pity you? I don’t even know you!”
“Of course, where are my manners? The things one forgets once the embers of life have been snuffed. My name is Hamid Tahan and I am–pardon me, I was an Emirati merchant in Dubai.
“In the latter part of my short existence I had been diagnosed with prostate and esophageal cancer. Sadly, it was discovered in its very late stage due to my laxity in caring for my health. My illness defied all forms of medicine and treatments and according to my physicians I had only a few months to live.
” I am ashamed to admit that I had not lived a particularly good life. I never really cared for anyone, not even myself. All that mattered was my business. Though I was very rich, I was never generous and I tended to be hostile to those around me.
“But when it was far too late, I regretted it all. I discovered that there was more to life than the mere acquisition of money and I knew in my soul that if the universe in its infinite wisdom bestowed upon me a second chance I would live my life in a different, far better manner.
“As my mortal time drew to a close, I willed most of my properties and assets to my immediate and extended family members, as well as a few loyal friends and schools in the United Arab Emirates. I gave alms to charity organizations across the globe, as I wanted this to be one of the last good deeds I did on earth.
“And I almost accomplished the task in its entirety but my health had deteriorated more rapidly than was originally estimated and I lost my battle with cancer before I could close out my final account. This is my reason for contacting you.”
“I don’t understand,” I said.
“I have studied you from the great beyond. I see that you are a good man, a kind and generous man even though you are struggling to keep your lovely wife and beautiful children comfortable in the face of the impending bankruptcy of your company. I can help you with this.”
“Help me? How?”
“I could reveal the location of my final, secret account to you, provide you with the codes and information to transfer the funds into your account. Trust me when I say it is more than enough money to pay off all your debt, provide for your children’s futures and allow your family to live comfortably for many years to come. The only thing I ask in exchange for this life-changing abundance…”
“Ah, the catch,” I sighed. “There is always a catch.”
“…is your life,” Hamid Tahan continued.
“I have come to an arrangement with The Powers That Be that I can be reborn if I performed a random act of kindness on a complete and utter stranger and of all the several billion candidates on the planet, I chose you.
“The only drawback for you is that this gift requires a sacrifice. Now you must ask yourself if you love your family enough to die for them? I have seen what lies in store for you and your family and I could not in all conscience live with myself, pardon my turn of phrase, if I did not try to help prevent it.
“You might be thinking to yourself that this is some sort of hoax or scam but if you reflect on it a minute you will feel the certainty of my offer because it has been classified as a Universal Truth. These truths cannot be forged. They are constructed of unconditional honesty.”
I most certainly believed it to be some form of treachery but true to his word, I felt an overwhelming assurance that his claim was sincere. I opened and closed my mouth trying to form words but none were forthcoming.
“You need not give your answer at this moment,” he said. “But I would advise you to decide before the week has concluded. The money will be of little use to your family beyond that point.”
“Wait! What’s going to happen to my family? If you know, you have to tell me!” I wanted to leap from the bed and take hold of the ghost and shake the answers from him, which was an irrational thought but it didn’t matter because I was unable to move from my spot.
“I apologize that I am forbidden to reveal any more to you. Please think deeply on my offer and despite your decision, know that you and your family are in my prayers. May the universe be with you, sir,” the phantasmal being who was once Hamid Tahan said as he evaporated into the dark shadows of the room.
And as I watched the gentle rise and fall of my sleeping wife’s chest I was left to ponder, if I valued my own life over the financial security of my family.”
Kymmie Blanchette, now Kymberly Marshall had a life plan instilled in her by her parents which she followed to a T. She was a good kid, did well in school, had a core group of parent-approved friends, and enjoyed spending time with her parents even as a teenager. She grew to be an outstanding adult, a high functioning, informed citizen who contributed positively to society and her parents’ careful planning led her down the predictable path of a solid career and a faithful marriage. She was a devoted mother to two children who also grew up to be successful in their respective fields.
But as her body became tender to the touch and the constant pain once relegated to the background stepped to the forefront and her body cooled and the pattern of her breathing began changing frequently and spontaneously—a delirium clouded her mind and she slipped down the corridor of her youth, back to her only bout of rebelliousness, back to the randomness of being 16.
A few days after her birthday, Kymmie made a friend all on her own, secret from her parents and other friends, secret from everyone. Insomnia—birth name Ines—was everything Kymmie never had the courage or confidence to be. She was what her grandfather would have called a spitfire, who always spoke her mind to teachers, her parents, everyone. She constantly went toe to toe with the abusive jocks and snarky queen bees without ever flinching or backing down and couldn’t care less about people’s opinions of her.
Why they became such close friends was anybody’s guess but they first met when Kymmie caught Insomnia secretly watching hentai in AV Club. Somni—her nickname of choice—cool as a cucumber said, “You got me dead to rights. Ball’s in your court so what’s it gonna be? Narc me out or become otaku?” Kymmie had no idea what otaku meant and she really wasn’t into animated tentacle pornography but this raven-haired edgy girl had given her something no one else had up to this point: a choice.
Kymmie became Somni’s sidekick, her partner in crime and together they tried all the challenges—the cinnamon challenge, the choking challenge, the salt and ice cube challenge, the fire challenge—they even hotwired a very large Oldsmobile in a Walmart parking lot and took it for a joyride with nary a driver’s license between the pair of them. And down by the abandoned factory they took turns surfing on the hood, roof and bumper of the car while the other drove. Kymmie did more driving than surfing but Somni gave her props for making an attempt.
One day they even raided Somni’s parents’ medicine cabinet for unused prescription pills, created a drug cocktail and washed it down with cooking wine and cough medicine in the basement.
When they were properly buzzed, they began to talk, about themselves, about their feelings, about how lonely life can be sometimes, how hard it was to bridge gaps between the people you liked most in the world. People who weren’t blood related but were closer than family. And Somni, usually tight-lipped when it came to expressing emotions, opened up a little and shared her secret wish to be a vampire so she could exchange blood with another being and become one with that person.
Was it the drugs or the cooking wine that made Kymmie brush the hair away from her neck as she told Insomnia, “Ball’s in your court so what’s it gonna be? Whine about your loneliness or become one with me?”
“You’ve got no clue what you’re doing,” Somni said.
“Neither do you, which is why you had to get high in order to tell me how you feel about me.”
“Who said this is about you?”
“It’s not about me? Then why are we in your basement, Ines?”
“Don’t call me that!” Insomnia snapped.
“Why not, it’s your name, isn’t it?”
“It’s my mother’s name!”
“No it’s not, your mom’s name is Brenda.”
“That’s my stepmother, bitch! My mother left to be with some asshat and his family because we weren’t enough! Because I wasn’t enough!”
“I-I’m sorry, I had no idea,” Kymmie said. “But you not being enough…that’s just crazy thinking. I don’t know her but if she abandoned you like that then your mom is the real asshat here.”
“No, and you can’t make me.”
“What are you going to do…hit me…beat me up? Go ahead, if that’s what it takes to get it out of your system. I’m not afraid of you.”
“Really? Why are you shaking, then?”
“Because you terrify me, not because I think you’ll beat me up because I don’t think you will, at least I hope you won’t. You’ve terrified me from the moment I first saw you.”
“Hey, I’m straight.”
“So am I, I think, but does that mean I can’t be in love with you? I mean, something’s there and I know you feel it, too,” Kymmie said. “Even if this doesn’t end well, we have to air it out before one or the both of us hurts ourselves by keeping it in.”
“What part of I’m straight don’t you get?”
“This isn’t about sexual preference. Somni, so stop freaking out about labels, I mean you of all people, you should know better than that.”
“I just don’t want you getting any wrong impressions. You’re cool to hang out with and all but, you know, as a friend.”
“Oh my god, why are you so guarded right now? A minute ago you were spilling your guts to me…”
“Yeah, well, a minute ago I wasn’t under a lesbian microscope.”
“I’m not calling you a lesbian, we’re not doing labels, okay? I just want you to admit you feel a certain way so that I don’t feel like an absolute loser for feeling the same way.”
“What way do you feel?” Somni asked.
“Really? Are we doing the whole ‘No, you go first’ thing?”
“You started this.”
“No, you got all vampiry and wanted to suck my blood so you could feel closer to me!”
“I’m the psycho? How about the person who doesn’t like to be touched always being so affectionate with me? You let me lay my head in your lap and stroke my hair when I need a nap. You sit on my lap and whisper secrets in my ear.”
“That was one time.”
“Okay, but you still did it!”
“Why don’t you just woman up and tell me how you feel, you drunk lesbian.”
“I’m not a…okay, so maybe I’m a little drunk, can you get drunk off of cooking wine? or high off the pills, what did we take again? anyway, I don’t know what I am because i i haven’t been with anybody yet but I’m not attracted to girls. It’s just you. Whenever you’re around, I just want you to notice me.”
“Of course, I notice you, doofus, we hang out all the time.”
“I think you’re my soulmate.”
“Okay. That wasn’t awkward.”
“Can you be soulmates with a same sex person? Does being a soulmate mean you have to be a sexmate, too?”
“Okay, we need to sober you up because it’s time for you to leave and I can’t send you home like this and risk you narcing on me.”
“I’d never narc you out.”
“Not intentionally, maybe.”
“And why aren’t you as fucked up as me?”
“Not my first time at the rodeo,” Insomnia draped an arm across her shoulder and helped Kymmie to her feet. “Coffee time. Let’s go.”
“No,” Kymmie resisted.
“I’m not going anywhere until you kiss me.”
“You heard me. On the mouth. Right now. Let’s go. Take the leap. I dare you. What are you, chicken? Bwak! Bwark! I double dog dare you!” Kymmie continued to squawk like a drunken chicken.
“Keep this up and I’ll street you and let you find your own way home.”
The taunts came to a halt and for a moment Kymmie seemed to sober up, “Please. Somni, please. I have to know. It hurts so much. Show me you care. Make me feel wanted.”
What went on in Insomnia’s mind, Kymmie would never know but her friend relented and the two girls kissed. It lasted only a few seconds before Kymmie broke the wet kiss and wiped her mouth, saying, “Uh-uh. No, no.”
“That’s what I’m been trying to tell you, asshat!”
“I’m not an asshat, your mom’s an asshat!” and what could have been an uncomfortable and awkward moment was broken by the two girls bursting into a fit of uncontrollable, uproarious laughter that was only interrupted by Kymmie throwing up the entire contents of her stomach.
“You are such a fucking mess,” Insomnia said as she pulled Kymmie’s hair back and led her to a small rusted metal trash pail. “But I love you.” The words were said in a soft voice that was hard to make out over the din of her own retching but Kymmie heard them clear as day.
They remained friends after that, never discussing the basement conversation again and continued doing stupid random teenage things that should have led to one or both of their deaths several times over but sometimes God watched over idiotic teenagers so they managed to pull through unscathed. Then, near the end of the year, Insomnia’s parents were forced to move because of the scarcity of job opportunities and the girls tried keeping in touch but long distance relationships required an attention that adult life seldomly permitted.
Kymberly chuckled at the memory which appeared more as a rasping cough to those sitting bedside and as the end approached, she whispered “Goodbye” and her family thought it was meant for them but she was actually saying farewell to her old friend.
I was never what anyone would have called creative by any stretch of the imagination but my parents, my loving mother and father taught me how to appreciate creativity when I encountered it especially when we gazed up at the night sky.
They schooled me on using my imagination, on connecting the dots to form pictures and manipulating those images in my mind to construct the most beautiful art imaginable. I was alive with a raw energy that I could not brush onto canvas or mold in clay. Nor was I able to express in song, speech or written word the joy I felt standing with those whom I loved most dearly beneath a canopy of loveliness brought to life by divine hands.
But that was then.
Now I serenaded the twilight every night, luring stars close enough to be plucked from the sky, one by one, and I saved their beauty in my clutch bag for the day my mother and father, who grew bored with me and succumbed to wanderlust, decided to finally return home.
“Why do you continue doing this thing, Enny?” my neighbor, the Spinster Wainwright, once asked in a tone that was more condemnation than curiosity.
“Because my mother once told me that stars used to inspire wishes,” I replied. “And I will continue to do this thing until my wish has been granted.”
To this, the old woman had no response. She simply stood at my side, watching the night sky grow darker as one by one the stars were plucked from the heavens and placed into my purse, causing galaxies to shudder.
Eventually, our star, our sun would join the others and this lonely existence would be eaten by the dark motes that share my name.
They darken our doorstep, these weak men of authority do, issuing proclamations and threats in hopes of frightening us into submission. How poorly they know myself or my wife.
Were they more observant, able to peer beneath the surface of our supposed marital hatred, if one of these men, made strong only because of their sheer number, were truly bold enough to gaze into my betrothed’s eyes or even mine, they would perchance see into our souls and spot a chemistry that is more than mere butterflies churning in our bellies for our butterflies are bloodthirsty ravens forcing us into an entanglement, a battle for conquest, a contest of champions in which there can only be one victor but when the coupling is concluded, both emerge victorious.
But no, instead they bring their rules and laws, trying to persuade us into accepting that our way of thinking is not right, telling us our mating ritual will eventually end in disaster and in order to safeguard both my wife and myself, we must not only separate from one another but be sent into exile and walk the earth until we see the errors of our ways and are prepared to repent for our sins.
They think our ways foolish and perhaps I am the fool for thinking we could live among these strangers and benefit from sharing our respective cultures, acknowledging our common traits and if not embracing them at least accepting the rituals which divide us.
I state that no one will ever dictate how we live our lives for we are happy and even if their armed horde by some miracle manages to separate me from my wife, they will never succeed in tearing us apart because our hearts are knotted in the unbreakable bond of life union.
I explain that our marriage is built upon a foundation of fighting, for warrior blood courses through our veins and sometimes fighting is right. Necessary. Each dawn, as sunshine glints off our slashing blades in springtime, there exists between us a strange, violent harmony that we call love. But they are not one with understanding in this matter.
So, as they draw their weapons in an attempt to separate us, my wife smiles at me and we brace for battle, accepting their challenge.
The last meal? Declined. Told that I might dine on whatever foodstuffs my heart desired, I found myself wanting nothing that would possibly remind me of the pleasures of this existence. Starvation would be the repast I took to my grave.
Prepared to meet my maker? Not by a long chalk. Religion was a thing that never quite managed to find purchase upon the coral reef of my soul. Mine was a spirit never moved by any diety, higher or lower, so the only salvation available for me once I came face to face with my final fate was to let oblivion enfold me within her inky embrace.
My jailors were informed that I would seek no holy counsel from a curate, as I hoped to spend my last hours in solitude but that request was ignored and a visitor was announced—a woman whose face was unfamiliar to me was escorted into my cell.
She said nothing, this woman, as she sat on the far corner on my bedding, cradling a cup hewn from wood in her delicate hands. Smiling, she offered the cup to me and made a motion suggesting that I drink.
For the life of me—a peculiar turn of phrase considering my position—I could not explain why I accepted the cup or why at her urging I touched its brim to my lips but in my grasp this simple cup was not unlike the holy grail.
It was filled with a liquid that after one sip I somehow knew to be her tears. Tears shed from happiness and from grief, yet when those collected salt drops greeted my lips the flavor was replete with the surprising splendor of the sweet serenity of a loving quiet purpose.
I drank and drank until there was no more and was momentarily reluctant to release the cup. When she left, still proffering that unnaturally kind smile, I realized what she had done. That simple and bizarre act of sharing her fluid with me sparked an ember of faith within me that I had no inkling existed and in that moment I knew sorrow and regret for what I had done and for the life that could have been and for the reward that existed beyond this life whose gates would never be opened for one such as I.
It was a dark and stormy night, the type of night I had grown all too familiar with of late—when all my estranged family and distant friends slept but I couldn’t because all the regrets of my life raged in my mind with an unbearable intensity along with the enduring question—
Why am I alone?
Religion had given me assurances that I was never truly alone and family swore up and down that someone would always be there for me, yet despite all this, one dreary day I slipped on a patch of sadness and plunged into a depression so deep, so far out of human reach that not one single person, a collective of people, or even an all-powerful, all-knowing deity was able to catch my fall.
There was a saying along the lines of “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” which was true I suppose but it wasn’t always in a positive way. I adapted to my loneliness and was now quite capable of being alone in a crowded room. I could not find camaraderie or companionship with the people around me, and as a writer, not even with the people in my mind, the ones that I had breathed life into.
Even my own reflection couldn’t be bothered to be in my company. Instead, it turned its back on me, facing the mirror-image room behind itself and whispered, “You have been lonely your entire life and now you will be all alone until the day you eventually die.”
And with this simple truth, slick sheets of tears poured from the storm clouds of azure eyes, streaking black and violet lightning across the alabaster plain of the loneliest face on the planet.
They gather at my wake, my family and friends do, and I am surprised to find they are not alone. For in the crowd of mournful faces I spy the many acquaintances I have made along the way, long lost playmates from my childhood, as well as the beautiful women who I recognize immediately as the pretty girls I loved in my youth, each with children not much younger than we were when we courted.
Each of the assembled grievers tell a story, most of which I remember fondly and some I have forgotten with age, stories that make me laugh at how foolish I had been when I was at my most serious and some touching enough to make the eye water at the perceived kindnesses I bestowed upon others without even being aware.
And when the time for remembrances both affectionate and painful has past, my loved ones—and yes, even the acquaintances are loved now—raise a parting glass to wish me safe passage on my unearthly travels to where I do not know and as I feel myself being gently pulled away from this realm, I swim against the current of my final destiny and pass through each body gathered in this place to leave a personalized vivid memory in an effort to ensure I am not forgotten.