Men with Knives

Here's my contribution to our little horrorfest. I haven't written fiction in over 20 years, and it probably shows, so all critiques are welcome. Enjoy.

Men with Knives

“No. No.”

Anna’s great-grandmother lay completely still, her face compressed into a pained scowl, eyes closed, voice varying between a near-sob, a whisper, and defiance. “No no no no. No,” she kept saying. Anna didn’t know what to do. She was relieving her mother, who was clinically exhausted from weeks of bedside vigils. It was 11:12 PM, really too late for a 16-year-old, but Anna was the only child of an only child, and her father hadn’t been around since she was six, so she and her mother had little choice. They had left her great-grandmother alone many times during her roughly two-month hospital stay, but over the last several weeks she had become much frailer and far more delusional. Plus, they had begun to sense that the nurses were simply done with them, ready to see this one off and let someone else’s relative while away their remaining hours with a bedpan and Jell-O. Thus they more or less stayed with Momma (they both called her this) around the clock, alternating day and night shifts every few days. Only her mother’s job as an Accounts Specialist at the hospital allowed such an arrangement – 24-hour visitation was only permitted for parents with newborns, but the hospital administrator liked Anna’s mother and knew that her grandmother was dying, so he made the exception. Anna often wished he hadn’t.

Anna found she could usually sleep okay despite Momma’s fitful moaning, even in a hard, reclinable hospital chair, but not tonight. She was fidgety, like something indistinct was bothering her. And Momma was definitely bothering her. Her moaning was often wordless and elusive, but tonight it seemed more intense and focused, as if she were moaning about something specific.

“Shhhh, Momma,” Anna whispered. “It’s just a bad dream. It’s OK. Just go back to sleep.”

Momma groaned and said, “No. No.” Then in that urgent whisper again, almost like she was scolding someone without wanting others to hear, she said, “No. No sir. No.”

“Momma, shhhh. No one’s here but me. It’s just me and you.”

Momma groaned, and her features seemed to relax a bit. Then she opened her eyes. She was lying flat on her back, face to the ceiling, and after a beat she looked over at Anna, her brow furrowed in concern. As she looked at Anna, her eyes narrowed in panicky recognition, and then she looked jerkily around the room without lifting her head, her brittle, unwashed hair making a whishk noise against the stiff hospital pillow case.

“You shouldn’t be here,” Momma said slowly. “Not safe…not safe here…Anna.”

This surprised Anna – at her most lucid, Momma often confused Anna with Eleanor, a friend from Momma’s childhood. Mostly she just didn’t seem to recognize Anna at all.

“Don’t say that, Momma,” Anna replied. “It’s very safe here. It’s a hospital.”

Momma searched the room for several more seconds and then looked at Anna with encroaching terror. “There are men,” she said intently. “Here. There are men here.”

Anna snuffled a laugh. “At the hospital? Yes, Momma. Your doctor’s a man. You remember? Doctor Garr-“

“There are men here,” Momma interrupted. “There are men here. They have knives.” She was looking at Anna in real terror now. “They have knives.” Slowly, with emphasis, she continued, “They are in the chairs. They have knives. It’s not safe…here.”

Anna knew that Momma hadn’t been in an operating room in nearly a year and hadn’t had any procedure more serious than a bedsore treatment in months. “What men are you talking about? Doctor Garrison? One of the nurses?”

Momma kept looking at her, wide-eyed and scared, and for a few seconds Anna just looked back. Then Momma searched the room again, only her small head moving, and returned her eyes to Anna as she whispered, “There are men here. They have knives.”

Anna sighed, letting a bit of exasperation slip out. She thought for a moment, staring at the tan corduroy window curtain, and began looking for the remote control with the nurse’s call button. “I’m just gonna ask Miss Frankie if you need some medicine or something. Where’s the remote?” Momma only stared at her. “Shoot,” Anna said, gingerly lifting Momma’s blankets as she looked for the remote. Not seeing it (she didn’t search long – Momma’s bony body bothered her), she looked at the wall behind Momma’s bed to trace the cord and saw it just beyond Momma’s left shoulder, running down toward the floor. She pulled herself out of the chair and started to walk around the foot of Momma’s bed.

“Don’t go,” Momma whispered. “Don’t go…Anna.”

“I’m not, Momma. I’m just looking for something,” she said as she got around the bed. The remote was on the floor; Anna took two steps and knelt to pick it up. As she did so, a chill blossomed in her spine, and every fine hair on the back of her body crept upwards. It was a familiar sensation – one she sometimes felt at night after a scary movie, especially if she was alone in the house – but much, much stronger. The feeling intensified fast, as though the chill were enveloping her entire body and the hairs were literally trying to crawl up her back. Her ears began to ring and the ringing kept rising louder and louder until it approached a scream. Anna had frozen, still on one knee, eyes glued on the remote. What the fuck? she thought and almost said, and as the sensation became unbearable, she stood up quickly without  grabbing the remote and whirled around to her right, scraping her wrist and thigh on the nightstand, involuntarily folding her arms and grabbing her biceps, rubbing them as she looked around the room, breathing rapidly through her mouth, her pulse impossibly fast.

Anna looked toward the wall-mounted TV and darkened entryway, not focusing on anything other than the chill and the ringing, which were less intense but not gone. She was light-headed from standing up so quickly, made worse by the continuing sensation. She was scared she might faint and closed her eyes, breathing deeply to try and regain control of herself. After perhaps twenty seconds, the sensation began to ebb, and after ten more, she felt centered enough to pick up the remote. She held onto the bedrail and bent over at the waist to grasp it, not wanting to risk kneeling again. When she righted herself, she pressed the red “CALL” button and waited for a response. None came. She tried it again but got nothing.

“Is this thing broke, Momma?” Her voice was unsteady. She looked down. Momma had drifted off to sleep again, the papery skin of her brow still furrowed.

Anna exhaled through her nose, mouth set, put the remote on the nightstand, and started walking toward the door. “I’ll be right back, Momma.” As she approached the door, she paused to look back over her shoulder. Momma’s withered frame formed a small ridge in the middle of the bed, just below her tiny head and cinched, sleeping face. Everything in its right place. Weird, weird, thought Anna.

She closed the door quietly behind her and walked down to the nurse’s station. The nurse named Renata sat staring intently at a computer screen, chin in her left hand, index finger over her mouth.

“Hey. Where’s Miss Frankie?” Anna said. She was still unnerved from the last few moments and did not like Renata anyway, so she sounded annoyed, but Renata barely acknowledged her at all, let alone notice her temperament.

“Went home,” Renata said from behind her finger, eyes never leaving the screen.

Anna waited for an offer of help. Receiving none, she replied, “Well, Momma’s acting weird, kinda talking out of her head. Is it time for her to have some medicine or something?”

Renata said something indecipherable behind her finger. “What?” Anna said.

“Weird how?” Renata said, only slightly more clearly.

“Like I said, she was talking out of her head, talking about it’s not safe here, men have knives, and et cetera.”

Was talking?” Renata replied, large eyes looking at Anna now, eyebrows raised, left hand still in place as though her head would pitch forward helplessly without it.

“Well, she was asleep when I left the room just now,” Anna said, knowing what was coming.

Renata shrugged and smiled patronizingly. “Probably OK, then. Folks in her condition have episodes like that. She’s not due for meds til 6. Can’t give her extra unless she gets violent.”

Anna put her hands in her hoodie’s pockets and sighed, angry but helpless. After a beat, she turned to her right and went back to Momma’s room, then stopped and turned around again. “Momma’s remote’s broken,” Anna said brusquely. Renata was back in position, studying her screen. After several barren seconds (during which time Anna thought You’re such a bitch), Renata said, “We’ll tell the engineer” without looking away. Anna turned and kept walking, knowing she was raised to say “Thanks” no matter what but not giving a damn.


At first Anna thought she was in the wrong room. She hadn’t bothered to get up and turn off the overhead lights earlier when she was trying to go to sleep, but this room was dark. Moonlight and the glow from the parking lot lights seeped in as a light-blue border around the heavy curtains. Anna saw the figure of a person seated in one of the chairs near the window and started to whisper an apology for entering the wrong room. Then she looked at the bed, and there was enough bluish light for her to recognize Momma’s form on the bed and enough hallway light to see her own satchel slumped against the chair where she had just been sitting. Anna frowned.

“Hello?” Anna said. “Who-“

Before she could get out another word, the figure in the chair raised its face, a lumpy, misshapen face so white it faintly glowed around eyes like small black dots. Anna’s own eyes bulged at the sight, and the sensation from a few minutes before returned with terrible ferocity. Her pulse spiked so suddenly she was sure her heart had burst, her skin crawled in every direction at once, and the ringing in her ears sounded like the hiss of a cat amplified a hundredfold. Anna was sure the noise was coming from the face, even though it had no discernible mouth. Then she saw a glint of metal low on the shadowed figure’s blackness, and she screamed.

With no idea she was doing it, she whipped around and ran, slipping and falling on the shiny hospital tile but regaining her feet quickly on pure panic alone. She sprinted and slammed palms-first into the nurse’s stand. Renata, who had been standing and leaning over the counter looking toward Momma’s room, jerked backward at the sound of Anna’s voice.


In a nanosecond, Renata snatched up the phone and slapped four numbers, breathed through her nose rapidly while waiting, and then said firmly, “Kenneth, emergency, room 303, hurry.” Then she hung up and dashed around the nurse-station counter toward Anna. “What is it?”

“I don’t know! I don’t know!” Anna sobbed. Her hands involuntarily came up to her mouth and she sprayed them with spittle as she watched Renata run into Momma’s room. She knew she should follow but simply could not make her legs move. I’m paralyzed, she thought idiotically and nearly cackled. Then she realized she should have heard something by now, but she forced herself to hold her breath and found there was no sound of any kind apart from the residual ringing in her ears. The hospital itself was silent.

Several very long moments elapsed during which Anna tried in vain to will herself to do something, anything. Finally, she managed to say “Renata? What is it?” Silence. “Renata? What’s in there?” Silence. Didn’t she call the security guard? Anna thought. Where is he?

Without actually knowing she was going to do it, Anna started walking carefully toward Momma’s room. She was terrified to the point of catatonia but now suddenly couldn’t stop herself from moving forward or even understand how she was moving at all. And yet, a wily part of her consciousness tried to poke through, tried to say You were seeing things, there’s nothing in there, the lights are on, Renata’s looking Momma and the room over, she just didn’t hear you call out. She tried to hold onto this idea and literally whimpered with the effort, so buffeted and frenetic was her mental state, as she kept padding toward the room. When she got close, she didn’t stop and peek in but just kept moving forward until she was facing in through the open door and could see inside.

The room was full of figures like the one she had seen moments ago. A host of bulbous white faces rose up before her, pairs of dark eyes staring cold as space, countless glints of metal winking against the black mass. The exploding heart, the spasming nervous system, the hiss-scream in her ears all returned, and for a long moment the combined sensations were so overwhelming Anna felt like her entire being was wrenching itself apart.

And then she was in the room, swallowed by the blackness, the spasm and the screaming somehow louder, her entire body rigid but trembling, not moving of its own will but being pulled and tossed, her eyes and mouth stretched to ludicrous sizes in purest shock. Her field of vision saw nothing but blackness and those nearly glowing faces, devoid of features, spread all over what she thought had been Momma’s hospital room. Anna’s mind was scraped bare by her fear; no thoughts flickered across, no coherent messages fired, only the involuntary reception of her surroundings, as if the blackness and the faces were crowding out everything else. Yet even this idea – Where is my mind? – eventually shuddered forth, and she slowly began to cogitate again. Even as the screaming hiss continued, even as she felt adrenaline blasting through and urging her flight, she formed centering thoughts: Where’s Momma? Where’s the nurse? What the hell IS this? And then the memory of glinting metal appeared, summoning Momma’s words from before: There are men here. They have knives.

For the first time since she came into the room (how long? she frantically wondered), Anna focused her eyes, looking for metal, knives, but also evidence of the hospital room: the bed, the chairs (the men! she thought, panic rising, there are men in the chairs, Momma had said), the curtains, the faint blue light. Nothing to indicate the hospital room. But beneath the white faces, she could indeed see glints of metal, thin white horizontal flashes whose ominous flickering made her notice her pulse, which felt like a mallet pounding the inside of her breastbone over and over. I can’t do this, she thought suddenly, and she began to cry, an awful, plaintive wail that shocked her in part because she’d forgotten about the concept of sound at all save for the screaming. As she did so, the metallic flickering came closer, in near her abdomen. “No, no, no, stop it!” she sobbed, “Go away! FUCK YOU!,” though this last came out as “fug you.” “FUCK YOU! LEAVE US ALONE! GODDAMMIT FUCK YOU GO AWAY!,” and then Anna just screamed wordlessly, long and loud and high, until the blackness consumed her fully, and she lost consciousness.


Anna’s eyes slipped open. She had been semi-dreaming for what seemed like days, floating in a featureless gray mist, feeling cold but otherwise placid. Awake now, she simply stared at the ceiling, and her first thought was There are men in the chairs they have knives. She gasped and sat up in a panic, looking around desperately, wincing at the pain in her body. She was alone in a hospital room. The door was closed. There were chairs and a wall-mounted TV and heavy curtains around which faint blue light shone, but nothing seemed amiss. She still wore her hoodie, jeans, and sneakers, and her dull brown hair, though mussed and badly in need of shampoo, was still in a ponytail. Her mouth tasted doughy and stale, and she ached all over, especially in her abdomen (from screaming, she thought blankly). Everything was silent.

After several minutes of sitting still and blinking, letting her mind gather itself, Anna cleared her throat and said “Hey.” Her throat was shredded and hurt badly, but she kept going. “Hey. Anybody there? Renata?” Silence. “Anybody?” It occurred to her to look for the nurse’s call button. She instinctively looked over her left shoulder and down, and there it was on the floor, cord running out of the wall. The sight of it summoned a wash of memories, most unnervingly her attempt to pick up the remote in Momma’s room and what happened when she tried. Momma, Anna thought. She knew she had to find Momma and find out what was going on, but she wasn’t ready yet. She eased back down into a reclined position on the bed, and for a poignant instant she realized that the only thing she wanted to do was put her head on the pillow, curl up, and go back to sleep, no matter what had happened or was still to come. Instead, she rolled on her left shoulder and reached down with her right arm to get the remote, the right half of her body off the bed, her senses anticipating something terrible. Nothing came. She plucked the remote off the floor and rotated back into a sitting position, her legs rising off the bed slightly to account for the weight shift, much to her abdomen’s displeasure.

Anna pushed the red button, not remembering if it was supposed to have a corresponding light of some sort. It didn’t, and she heard nothing, though she felt sure she’d have heard some sort of buzz or ding given the hospital’s preternatural silence. She pushed it again – nothing. Anna opened her hand and let the remote slip onto the bed. It landed near the bed’s edge and fell, clacking heavily to the floor.

Anna sighed through her nostrils, looked around the room, and swung her legs off the bed to her left. She put weight on her feet tentatively, knowing her legs would be rubbery. She stood there for a few seconds, rubbing her palms on her thighs as if to massage her legs back to full strength. There was a leaden feeling inside her chest that she knew was fear, but she started walking anyway. When she got near the end of the bed, she stopped involuntarily. Not aware she was going to do it, she stepped to her left toward the window and reached up to part the heavy curtains but found she had no desire to look outside. She merely stood there for several minutes, rubbing the curtain’s rough ridges, thinking of little besides how the fabric felt under her fingers. In the back of her mind, she knew she should be thinking of Momma, of escape, of just what in the fuck those black shapes and white faces were, but it was as if her mind was in full retreat, literally running away from anything but these curtains.

Anna stood there stroking the fabric for nearly fifteen full minutes, her mind an almost total blank and thus the fifteen minutes elapsing in what felt like a blink or two of her eyes. Then, suddenly, she let her hand fall toward her right leg, lightly slapping the curtains as they fell. And then just as suddenly she grabbed the curtain with her left hand and pulled it roughly to the left. The curtain rings did not slide well, so the top of the curtain stayed mostly in place while the curtain’s right edge cut a diagonal line across the now-exposed window.

She appeared to be on the third floor, and the window looked out upon the intersection of Grassley Avenue, which ran right-to-left across her field of vision, and Sullivan Street, which formed a “T” with Grassley just outside her window, meaning her view looked down Sullivan Street as it progressed into the distance. Streetlights, parked cars, stillness, a light border of condensation around the window.  Everything in its right place, she thought.

And then she saw it: a broad black figure standing at the corner of the two streets, down and to the right in her field of view. Its back was turned to her, and she stood there frozen as every hair on her body tried to move. Close the curtain close the curtain! her inner voice said, but she felt encased in stone, physically incapable of movement. The figure began to turn, and as its white face came into view, that awful hissing scream returned to Anna’s ears. The face was looking straight up at her. Its black form rippled with what might have been the movement of an arm, and Anna saw the thick blade of a knife reflecting the street lamps’ glow.

Anna suddenly threw the curtain closed to her right and staggered backwards. “Shit! Shit!” she said, high-pitched and near hysteria. She covered her face with her hands and breathed deeply through her mouth, and in the silence that followed she heard the door click open behind her.  She whirled around to her right in time to see the door slam open as a dark shape sailed into the room. Anna screamed involuntarily and jerked away from the shape with panicky speed, fleeing into the corner of the room and pushing unthinkingly against the converged walls as if she meant to plow through them. The shape landed where she’d been standing with a squishy, sickening thud, and she saw numerous dark blobs seemingly hang in the air in front of her before they hit her face, hoodie, hands, and jeans. Some of what hit her face landed on the left corner of her mouth and splashed in. It was blood. She spit instinctively and pushed open the curtain to her right in one spastic maneuver.

With the outside lamplight filtering in she could see that the shape was a body and that it was shiny with moisture. It appeared to be a black man in dark clothing, though how much of this darkness was the clothing and how much was apparent moisture she couldn’t tell. He lay completely still and did not seem to be breathing. His eyes and mouth were wide open.

Anna was crouched in the corner of the room and simply stared at him, stunned into silence and nearly devoid of thought. She stared at his face unblinkingly for several minutes before her eyes crept around to the rest of his body. His head was near her and his legs were straight out toward the door, feet pointing at 10 and 2. His left arm was bent at the elbow, and his left hand sat thumb down on the left side of his chest. It was a strange position. His right arm lay splayed to his right, palm looking up at the ceiling, fingers slightly curled and partially under the hospital bed. Then Anna saw that part of the darkness of his figure was on the floor around him, and she realized at once that it was blood and that this was also why his clothing shone with wetness. She instinctively looked at the wall to her left and saw dark drops and gobs of blood there, so much that she was shocked she hadn’t seen it already. “Oh God,” she murmured. She looked back at the figure and understood in a flash that he was the security guard Renata had called......when? How long had it been since she’d been in Momma’s room (Momma) and seen something in the room (there are men they have knives) and run out to tell Renata? She couldn’t begin to imagine, could not even mentally approach the concept. Where is my mind? she thought desperately.

With a start, Anna remembered the figure outside the window, and, never taking her eyes off the guard, she pushed up with her hands to try and stand. Her hands and sneakers pushed against wetness and she slipped several times, but eventually she managed to get her knees underneath herself and rise, muscles aching everywhere. She turned to her right and touched the curtain and was struck with déjà vu, briefly reliving and reseeing the meditative period from before, but this time she didn’t hesitate. She pushed the curtain open to her left and steeled herself as she approached the window.

There was no broad, black figure on the corner like before, but even in the split second of relief this afforded, her peripheral vision caught two figures to her left, and she turned her head in that direction. These weren’t black masses or men with knives. They were smaller, and reclined. One lay on its right side, half on the sidewalk and half in the street, and the other lay face down fully in the street, just right of center. Both had large dark splotches on their bodies and larger dark spots around their bodies, all of it, Anna knew, blood. The one on the left was slight and barefoot and in a drab hospital gown, the one on the right larger in mauve-pink scrubs and pale shoes. It was Momma and Renata.

Anna let out a wheezing groan and spun to her left to run, but she forgot about the guard, and she stepped on his right arm, which rolled meatily beneath her left foot and spun it up into the air, sending her palms- and chest-first onto the guard’s shins and feet. She shrieked and rolled off of him to her right. The front of her body was soaked; the guard was sopping wet with blood. She kept scrabbling to get away and had just begun to sense that she was about to slam into a chair when instead she squelched into the sensation again. It was as strong as an electrical field: her skin felt like it was burning, her heart threatened to physically pound itself into her throat, and her ears filled with that screeching static hiss. "Fuck," Anna croaked in shock and pain, and then in a flash she knew it. The darkness was just inches from her. She looked up into a bulbous, faintly glowing white face and realized that she had fallen into one of the figures, a figure in a chair. There are men in the chairs, she thought wildly. And as she stared dumbstruck at the face, she saw the glinting metal of a knife raise up from her right, but instead of moving aggressively or poising for a stab, the knife kept moving toward the face with the knife tip pointed toward where a mouth would be. And the knife did not stop moving. It plunged into the white face and began moving in a circle, blobs of thick, dark blood oozing around the knife blade and out of the newly forming mouth, shockingly deep red against the ghastly face. Anna was transfixed to the point of transcendence, aware of nothing except for that white shape and its coming red rictus, now spread across the lower third of the face, a phantasmagorically large black hole, jagged with tattered bits of white flesh and great gobs of blood. Then the knife moved away and the face began to descend upon her, the gashed and profane lips seeming to move on their own, slithering as if in anticipation. Anna screamed hysterically and managed to get her right knee under herself, pushing up to strike at the face and mouth. But it was no use. Her arms slammed into the mouth up to her elbows, and even as she screamed louder and tried to pull away Anna’s whole body was devoured, crushed wetly into much too small a space despite the mouth's relative enormousness, her entire consciousness winking out, consumed by darkness.


    Okay, got another Halloween present for you.  I'm not sure I like this one as much as the other one  (so go read that one instead if ya haven't already- I need the attention!) but it's a lot shorter, which, depending on how much you hate my writing, might be a good special feature.  I dunno. :)  As always,  feedback is encouraged, here or on Twitter.  If it disturbed and upset you, GOOD!  If you thought it was funny, I'll take that, too.  And if you thought it sucked, lemme know why and maybe that'll help me next time I write something.

The title is odd.  I'm sometimes bad with titles.  Originally all I could think of for this was "Burials," but that's so generic.  Then I decided on "A Fitful Sleep," which might be better than what I settled on... but, I decided to go for the weird just to make you start reading just to figure out what the fuck that title was about.  If you think that title's stupid, you may be right and should go with "A Fitful Sleep" instead.

That's all the stories I've got for this year, but keep an eye on the blog because I think Kicker Of Elves may be working on something for ya, and that should be good!

Anyway... enjoy... if that's really the correct term for experiencing the nasty gack I'm about to put in your head... :)



    shik-chuff.  shik-chuff.

    It took Matt a minute to figure out that the noise that woke up him at two a.m. wasn't part of nature.

     shik-chuff.  shik-chuff.  

    Another two minutes went by before he realized that it was the sound of a shovel.  

    shik-chuff.  shik-chuff. 

    Someone was digging in his lawn in the dead of night, and it sounded like it was happening right under the bedroom window.

    He was awake then, and afraid, and trying to find and pull on clothes in the dark so whoever was out there wouldn't be alerted by lights in the window.    He wondered if he should wake Jennifer or not; he might need her to call 911 if whatever-this-was-going-to-be turned ugly, but if it somehow turned out to be nothing then he'd undoubtedly scare the bejesus out of her.  She often got spooked just by strange cars driving through the neighborhood, so digging on the lawn at 2 a.m. would surely mess her up good.   He grabbed his cell phone, deciding he'd call the cops himself if he needed them.

    He wasn't a gun owner.  He'd meant to buy one, flirted with it for years, but hadn't committed.  Too bad now.  The best weapon his sleepmuggled brain could come up with and that he could find in the dark was a hammer.  Not much against a guy who'd definitely have at least a shovel.   He'd just have to try to avoid violence if possible; always his first plan.

    He fished a flashlight out of a drawer and slipped out the front door.  He thought about locking it behind him in case the shoveler killed him and went in after Jen, but if that happened the lunatic could take the keys off him anyway.  He'd just have to not get killed, which was also part of his first plan.

    Great, we're thinking in terms of being murdered now.

    The shik-chuff was much louder out here, coming from right around the corner, and he paused, listening to it a second.  Definitely a shovel; he could hear the metal scraping on roots or gravel, and the digger's grunts and hard breathing.  Did he really want to confront this guy?  The mental state of anyone digging in someone else's yard at this hour -- or any hour, without permission -- had to be far off the rails and into the weeds.  He wondered if he should just go ahead and call 911 now.  But there was always the rare chance that there was some sane explanation, and he could end up embarrassed.  He'd better check it out first.  Face it up, be a man, sometimes the hardest job in the world.

    With a chill of fear, he peeked around the corner.

    There he was, a short, sturdy man, bald on top with a wild white fringe around the sides like some mad professor.  He was working the shovel hard, throwing his body against it as he piled dirt into the hole he'd been digging.  There was enough light from the moon and the utility pole up the hill to make out who it was fairly quickly; old Mr. Thorson from the next block.  Crazy Mr. Thorson, who didn't like neighbors.  Matt had once said hello to him after an ice storm; Thorson had been out looking at one of his pines that had come down under the weight of the ice and Matt had said, "Ouch, looks like you're going to lose that one," and Thorson had bared long yellow teeth at him and said, "Don't you worry about it, shitbrick."  Ended that conversation and all others in the future.

    Other neighbors he'd told about the incident had reported similar interactions.  Ernie Thorson was pathologically unfriendly at the very least, and probably full-blown crazy.  Nobody really knew what he did, because he made sure everyone minded their own business.  He was supposed to be retired from a job in an air conditioner factory or something, but he was so antisocial Matt couldn't imagine him holding down any job, anywhere. 

    Matt stepped out and switched on the flashlight and beamed it at Thorson.  "What's going on here?" he said.

    Thorson looked over his shoulder and grunted, "None ya GOT-damn business, pissteat."

    Matt barked a laugh at the absurdity that a burial in his yard was none of his business.  Fear was getting replaced by anger and bewilderment.  "Like hell it's not!  The fuck you burying in my yard?"

    Thorson ignored him and kept working the shovel.  He was almost finished covering up whatever he'd put down there, in a sizeable hole.  It was maybe a yard square, possibly enough for a body if it was compressed.  He slapped the flat of the shovel on top of the dirt to pack it, then crouched to arrange the sod back over it.

    Being dismissed like this just made Matt angrier.  "You going to answer my question?"

    Thorson looked at him and his upper lip pulled back in that ratty sneer-smile and he said, "So far don't look much like I am, does it?"   He snorted.

    Matt wondered if he could hit him, if it would ruin his life if he tried.  Would he lose his job for being involved in a brawl with a crazy old man?  Probably, and probably be left with no useable references, either.  It was something to consider, but he really did want to deck this arrogant sonofabitch.  "Well, you'd better!  Digging up my yard, burying... what did you bury?  Dig it back up!"

    "Not about to, and don't you be poking around down there, either.  I fixed your grass back.  A good rain or two and you'd never know anything was down there, so you forget about it, leave it be."

    "Like hell!"  Matt laughed.  "You're fuckin' crazy!  For all I know you killed a kid or something and tried to plant it in my yard."

    "It's buried now so you leave it be and nobody'll  know anything about it."

    Mike couldn't believe anyone would try to make this argument to him.  "You are... ah, fucking apeshit bugnuts, man!  Jesus Christ!  Okay.  Okay, I'm calling the cops and they can come dig it up."  Matt took out his cell phone.

    Thorson jabbed the shovel at Matt's face.  The edge of the blade was right under his nose, so close he could smell the clayey earth and the blood-like tang of rust.   "You ain't calling no-goddamn-body or I'll be digging another hole," Thorson snarled, spraying spit.  "You ain't gonna call 'em now and you ain't gonna call 'em later, neither.  I hear from the cops, you'll hear from me.  They won't haul me in for what I buried, and I will be back, and I'll for-sure-no-foolin' kill you.  I'll do it ugly, too.  Maybe I'll get the chair for it but I'm old, I don't much care, and it won't make no difference to you.  You leave that hole be.  Or maybe I won't kill you, just leave you blind and crippled and tongueless with no hands.  How'd that be?  I don't give a damn what I do to you, you got me, boy?  Don't give the merest shit!"

    Matt's blood had retreated somewhere deep inside him and he felt faint.  Thorson meant every word of it; looking at the crazed gleam in his eyes Matt had no doubt he'd carry his threats through.   Real violence was just seconds from happening, and Matt had never experienced anything like it.  He'd played some football, had a few playground scuffles, but this was something different, so severe it made him shake.  He felt almost certain of dying in the next minute.  "Ye... yeah, man, okay," Matt stammered, almost forgetting how to speak in the whiteout of terror.

    "You keep your mouth shut or I'll carve it so big it'll be no use to you, you fuckwallower," Thorson rasped, panting.  He, too, was shaking, apparently from the effort of reining back his urge to murder.  Matt's fear was feeding Thorson's rage, emboldening him.  "You leave the cops out of this, you leave everyone out of this, you leave yourself out of this, or you gone wish to grandmammy Jesus you had!"   Thorson took a knife out of his pocket and snapped it open.  It's blade had the wickedest shape Matt had ever seen, like a talon, and he backed away as Thorson gouged little shapes in the air with it.  "Ain't none of your business what I put down there.  Far as you're concerned this was just a bad dream you had.  Go get back in your bed and it'll be over.  I hear from the cops and you'll have nothing but nightmares ahead of you."   Thorson looked so crazy that Matt wasn't about to argue with him.  The hammer he was holding didn't feel even remotely adequate to deal with this, and he didn't want that knife punching into him, slicing.  He backed away, hands up, and kept backing away.  Thorson watched him, shovel and knife in his hands, not following.

    Nightmare.  This was just a nightmare.  That'd be easy to believe.

    Matt went back inside, locked the house, and vomited in the kitchen sink.  After washing up he crept back into bed and lay awake until dawn.

    A week passed and he didn't tell anyone what had happened, not even Jennifer.  He was ashamed of how afraid he'd felt of Thorson.  He'd never been a fraidycat but Thorson was crazy, truly crazy, and god knew what he'd do.  And it seemed safer to just do like he said, leave it be.   He hadn't felt like he could call the police anymore after the first couple of days, anyway.  He was implicated by his failure to report the incident quickly.

    And maybe it was nothing, anyway.  Thorson was so loopy he could have just been burying some old dirty magazines or a dead dog or something.  It didn't have to be anything illegal.

    But of course it probably was.  Would he be that frantic to keep something innocent a secret?  Would he risk getting caught burying something innocent on someone else's property? 

    Maybe.  The man was insane.  Irrational.

    It was probably something awful.  A dismembered body.  Maybe a child, or two.  Who knew what that psycho was doing at his house?   He was so secretive, so eager to keep people away, something bad must be going on there.

    Matt was too afraid to call the police, but he didn't think he could stand not knowing what was buried in his yard anymore.  It was preying on his mind, driving out all other thought until life was just a secret background for The Problem.  He would have to do something about it.

    More days passed as he kept an eye on Thorson's house until he found a night when his car was gone.  Matt waited until after midnight and snuck out with a shovel.  He had the patch of ground memorized and, shaking with fear, dug away at the top sod and set it aside.  Second thoughts were hitting him hard;  he didn't know if he could handle what he'd find down there.  But then, if it was nothing, he could leave it be and get the whole incident out of his mind.

    So, he dug.  Shik-chuff.  Shik-chuff.  It sounded a little like the needle digging at the end of a record, some finality. He couldn't see what his shovel was biting in the deep shadow that filled the hole, and he stopped every few shovelfuls to shine the flashlight down.  The soil was still loose, and the digging went quickly.

    Two feet down the shovel hit some soft resistance and something whined.

    Matt backed away from the hole, trembling.  The sound had been like a kitten's mewl, but thicker, phlegmy.  Something alive down there?  Impossible!  Even if Thorson buried a cat or something alive, that had been over two weeks ago.  It would have died by now.  Maybe it was a rubber doll that squeaked if it was squeezed.  But it hadn't sounded like that.

    He didn't want to see whatever it was.

    But there was no way he could just cover it back up.  He'd wonder forever.  He'd only dig it back up eventually, and now was the time, with Thorson not home.

    He shined the flashlight down the hole and saw a bit of muddy burlap.

    Carefully, he scraped the dirt away and revealed part of a sack, which he grabbed and dragged out of the hole.  It wasn't easy; the ground had taken a grip on it.

    Something inside was moving a little, and Matt quickly dropped it on the grass and backed away.

    Christ, what's in there?  Rats?

    Fighting back the fear, he reached for the neck of the bag and picked at the twine Thorson had used to tie it shut.  It was hard to pick apart the mud-slicked knot but he managed to wrestle it loose and, with intense fear, so bad it squeezed him like a vice, he opened the bag and shone the flashlight in.

    Whatever it was, it was badly decayed and unrecognizable.  It looked like maybe the upper half of a very deformed man, or a dwarf that had melted together in a lump.  The thing had a head of sorts, although without features, no eyes, just a hole that opened and shut with a dreamy slowness, something diseased having a fitful sleep.   There was a limb, or part of one, ending in a stub of skin-folds.  There was hair, mostly fallen loose in the bag but also sprouting from the thing.  Its flesh was slimy wet and horribly pale, rotting and sloughing, almost luminous in the flashlight beam.  It stank, though not as overwhemingly as he'd expect from its appearance.  Spoiled meat, confined sickness, rotting vegetable matter, sewer mud, snotty breathing, all combined.

    And yet, it moved.  Lazily, like a dreamer writhing while enduring a nightmare.  It couldn't possibly be alive, and yet, it stirred.  After two weeks in the ground.  After putrefaction.

    The thing had no definite shape.  He felt certain it was not and never had been human, unless it was some incredibly deformed mistake, some teratoma.  It was too big to be a baby, weighed around thirty, forty pounds.  Matt made himself hold the light on the head-like bulb and lean in.  Veins, but no place that eyes, nose, or ears could ever have been.  The mouth -- or orifice, more correctly -- was in the wrong place and toothless, a flexing fatty-yellow wound amidst the scabby luminous moonlight-skin.  Hair sprouted here and there, along with mold.  The smell was gassy, and like a dead rat squished in a mildewed book, and it clung to the back of his throat.  Here and there knobs or spines of bone protruded.  The inside of the bag was lined with slimy, fatty seepage.  Living foulness, opening itself like a baby bird wanting a worm, or a kiss. 

    And it seemed to be forcing itself into his mind with one horrible, insistent urge, like grease oozing through clenched fingers, foul and compelling, more impulse than thought, absurd but strong:

    “Eat me.”

    Matt turned aside and vomited, then stumbled away and looked somewhere else so he couldn’t get the thing’s message.  There was no telling what the thing was, it was indescribable, and he couldn’t imagine where Thorson had found it.  Was it some child of his, some deformed animal that he’d raised, some experiment?  Were there more such things in his house?  Something worse?  What had he buried in his own yard?  Had he been so afraid of getting impulses from the thing that he couldn’t have it on his own property? 

    He only knew one thing for certain; he wasn’t going to let it remain in his yard.  He’d never sleep again, knowing this thing was writhing in the ground below his bedroom window.  Wanting him to... to...

    He coughed and heaved.   There was plenty of night left, he could still get rid of this damn thing somewhere.  He was afraid to return it to Thorson, and dumping it somewhere on the side of the road wasn’t a good idea, because it might be found and then Thorson would know he’d dug it up.  It might even manage to crawl back, somehow get into his house.   

    Matt went and got a black plastic garbage bag and dropped the burlap sack into it and knotted it tightly.   He picked it up, along with his shovel, and he walked to the next block, where a meek little man named Leon Fleer lived.  Picking out a spot, Matt began to dig.  Shik-chuff, shik-chuff, he dug quickly and he dug deep, but apparently he didn’t dig as quietly as he thought, because as he was finishing up, out came Leon Fleer, bald, eyeglassed, wiry nervous-eater’s frame swimming in a bathrobe and striped pajamas.

    “Hey... hey, what goes on here?”  Leon peeped.  He sounded scared out of his wits.  Good.

    “None of your fucking business,” Matt snarled, panting.  “Go back to bed.”
    Leon blinked rapidly, his chin trembling.  His eyes were as blue and shocked as a baby doll’s, and Matt felt simultaneously sorry for him and aggressive, wanting to punch him.  Matt wondered if he’d looked like that when he’d confronted Thorson.  Probably.   “But... you’re burying something in my yard!” he said.

    “So what?”

    “So... what is it?  You can’t just...”

    “It’s something you’re better off not wondering about.”

    Leon blinked again, and looked even more harmless in his pajamas.  He hadn’t even brought a weapon.  Violence was an alien concept to this little man.  “But you can’t just... it’s my yard, you can’t...”

    Matt - amazed at himself - jabbed at Leon with the shovel and glared.  Leon stumbled back and adjusted his glasses, a nervous tic.  “I can, if you mind your own business.  And if you don’t, if I hear anything more about this, if I hear from the cops, then I’ll come back here, no matter what else I do, and I’ll chop you the fuck up with this shovel.  You got me?”

    “I... I...I...”  Leon wrestled with his glasses like they were a bat biting his face.

    Absurdly, the opening of Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" went off in Matt's head and he had to fight an urge to laugh.   If he started, he'd probably keep doing it until they hauled him off.

    Instead, he snapped, “Don’t worry about what’s buried in that hole.  You’ll only be sorry if you if know.  It’s nothing illegal, but you don’t want any part of it.  You just leave it be, or you can start concentrating on what’ll be buried in the next one if you don’t keep your mouth shut.  Because it’ll be you!”

    Leon flinched and shifted from foot to foot.  He looked like he wanted to bolt but worried what might happen if he tried it.

    “Do you understand me?”  Matt spat.

    “Yes, yes, okay.”   Leon’s voice broke.  He held the glasses like they might serve as a shield against a shovel-blow about to cleave his face.  His hands were shaking

    “Don’t forget,” Matt said, pointing at him.

    Then he carried his shovel home in the starlight, though for a moment he considered leaving it there.

                    THE END


Long Tall Sally

 Okay, Halloween's almost here.  As is traditional, I wrote you a short story (remember Damp Basements of Heaven and Up The Stairs Where The Windows Are Painted Black?  If so, you're the person who read them, I guess!).  This year I even wrote you two!  I'll post the other (mercifully shorter) one in a couple days.  I b'lieve Kicker Of Elves has one in the works, too.  And Igor wrote ya'll a song, which you should go hear if you didn't already.

Oh, and while I'm plugging things... go watch AminaMarx's review of The Walking Dead on YouTube.  It's hilarious and brilliant.  Go watch it now, it'll only take you five minutes, and the story'll wait.  If you want to hang around and watch her other vids, the story'll still wait.  I watch a good bit of YouTube and this is much better than most of the stuff on there, and deserves a big audience.  Watch it, and tell your friends.

Okay, on to the story. This one's kinda long.  Maybe a little slow (I can be wordy and there's no editor to yank my leash), but I was trying to use a Victorian kind of structure for it and build up an obsessive mood so I can (hopefully) slam the morbid into it.  I don't know if I achieve it, but when I write horror, it's always with bad intent.  I hope I'll entertain you, but mostly I want to fuck up your sleep, get in your head and do some psychological damage for a while, put a little fear o' the dark in ya.  Otherwise, what's the point, right?   Sometimes I'll just throw a lot of hyperviolent splat around, but sometimes I try something darker.  This one's pretty dark.  A few people I've described the plot to screamed "Don't tell me stuff like that!" which I always take as a good sign.  :) Anyway, I hope it pays off and creeps you out baaaad, or at least doesn't waste your time.   Otherwise, I fucked up! Feedback's welcome and helpful, so feel free to comment here or on Twitter.  If you didn't like it, don't worry, I won't hate ya or nothin'... it'll just make me work harder next time, so give me reasons.  :) 



    Ralph had already been noticing some strange things happening in his apartment before he met the drunk with the three eyebrows, but after their talk those things were enough to make him afraid to go home.

    His new job teaching college Spanish was going okay so far, but the new social life was not even okay.  Any hopes of making friends at work wilted early on; the department was composed almost entirely of socially-crippled introverts who were painful even at lunch conversation.  There were two exceptions, but the funny guy named Javier was married with kids and therefore not available for much hanging out, and a really fun girl named Lori was getting married in a month and so, same deal.  Ralph wanted company; being alone in a strange town had him feeling trapped.  So far luck hadn't dumped anybody in his lap at the grocery store or someplace, so, out of desperation, he was giving the bar scene a try, even though he wasn't much of  a drinker.  And that scene was turning out to be so oversaturated by people too young to want to hang out with him that it was just making him feel creepy.  He was starting to clutch at straws, and that's how he ended up talking to Larry, of the three eyebrows.

    Ralph guessed that Larry had split the caterpillar-like left eyebrow in some drunken stumble, because even though he looked like rough trade, he was so friendly that Ralph couldn't imagine him getting in many fights.  His clothes hung on him like the sails of a becalmed ship, and he had a wallet chained to pants that might fall off sooner than the wallet would fall out.  He was a missed haircut away from having a mullet and one of his front teeth had a chip out of it, probably from some other drunken mishap.   Ever since he'd found out what Ralph did, he'd been popping out a "say something else in Spanish" every few minutes.  It was meant to be friendly, but his impaired judgment was pushing it toward obnoxiousness, and that did make Ralph consider evening up his eyebrows and teeth, but not in any serious actually-gonna-do-it way.

    Ralph had been getting bored with the rambling conversation, though, and was trying to engineer a way to peel this guy off of him.  He'd been starting his "Well, I better be heading back to the house" lines when things finally took an interesting turn.

    "So, wherebouts is tu casa, Ralph?  Is that how you say it, tu casa?"
    "Pretty much, yeah.  I got an apartment in a big old house over on Railside Street."

    "Railside?  That's the old part of town, amigo.  Real old, the oldest, like.  Kinda getting run down now.  Shame, too.  Used to be real pretty, but they shut the railroad down and the neighborhood kinda went with it."   Larry made a farty noise that represented urban decline as well as any.

    "Yeah, it's kind of a gloomy area.  Kind of a gloomy house, too.  I'm not in love with it, but I'm getting paid kinda shit, y'know.  It was in the budget."

    Larry nodded, holding his cocktail glass in front of him like a crystal ball he was augurying.  Almost empty; not much future there, but Ralph guessed its main purpose was to chase away the past.  "My grandma used to live over on Railside, so I know it pretty well.  Spent lotsa after-schools terrorizing that neighborhood when I was a sprout.  Wherebouts you makin' tu casa?"

    "It's a big, dark brown two-story with white trim.  Almost black, really.  I'm thinking it was a house but at some point they divided it into four apartments.  It's at seven..."

    "...forty-eight," Larry finished with him.  "I know that house.  Seven-forty-eight, that's the one, yeah?"

    "Yeah, that's the one.  You know your Railside."

    "Well, hell, you don't have to be no kinda genius to know about 748 Railside if you were raised around here.  Holy shit, amigo, you're living in Long Tall Sally's house!  No wonder your rent's cheap!"  He laughed, and it was nervous, sending chills through Ralph's guts.

    "Who's Long Tall Sally?"

    "Ol' Sally Longneck.  Sally the goose.  Holy shit, man, I never knew anybody who actually lived in that place.  You seen anything crazy yet?  Oh shit, dude, tell me you aren't in apartment three."  Larry grabbed his arm, setting off another chill.

    "Yeah, I am.  What's wrong with apartment three?  And who's this Sally?"

    "Sally was an old crazy whore, and apartment three's where they found her.  Holy shit, man, I don't even know if I oughtta tell you about this, you having to go back there later and all."  He rolled the glass between his hands.  Ice clinked like Ralph's nerves.

    "Found her?  What do you mean, found her?"

    Larry shook his head, finished the dregs in the cocktail glass, crunched some ice, and said, "Let's go on out of here, amigo.  I need some fresh air if I'm gonna remember up this story.  I'm drunk enough, anyway, and they're about to shut down."

    "Well, yeah," Ralph said, and they stood up.  Larry had to hang onto the table for a second before he straightened up.

    "Zombies, man.  Nobody drinks 'em anymore.  I had to teach the guy here to make 'em.  But they sure knock the corners off everything.  Whoo.  I'm old for this shit.  Okay, here we go.  Just like walkin' across a record while it's playing.  Whee!  Look mom, I'm surfin'!"

    Ralph followed him through the bar's dim multicolored schemes, which seemed patterned on rooms out of "Masque of the Red Death."  One side room was all red and looked uncomfortably ambulance-lit, like drinking and dancing at the scene of an accident.  One girl was gyrating and tossing her hair around even though Ralph couldn't make out any music amidst the blur of conversational noise.  Her arms flopped around, as if boneless.  Tentacular, he thought, wishing he could write the word down because he was pretty sure he'd just made it up, and he liked the sound of it.  It cut through the dread a little; he was feeling chilled  by this "Long Tall Sally" business, this "where they found her" ominousness that implied a dead body -- probably under weird circumstances --  in his apartment.

    Ralph didn't look into the red room long, trying to keep up with Larry as he wove through the college kids until they found the front door.  Larry headed over to a ratty old motorcycle that looked like a project-in-progress, heavy on the bondo, and sat on it.  Ralph took a seat at a picnic table next to it as Larry shook a pack of Camels and lipped one out.  "I lied a little, y'know.  Didn't really need fresh air, I needed cig-air.  Want one?  Never too old to be a nicotine-ager."

    "No thanks."

    "No mas, gracias," Larry mumbled, lighting up.  "How you say cancer in Espanol?  El too-mar de los lung-os, ai yi yi chihuahua.  I am an asshole for smoking these things."   The air was crisp and starting to turn cool, and the stars were remarkably clear, sparkling like glass scattered across asphalt.  Leaves would be withering soon.  Larry pulled a lungful, blew it out, then said, "Holy shit goddamn, Long Tall Sally's house.  Grandma was so scared of that place she used to write the mayor to get it pulled down.  She kept the curtains drawn and safety-pinned together on her window that had a view of it down the street.  She was a little girl when they found her.  Sally Longneck, that is."

    "Longneck.  Was that her last name?  Sounds Native American."

    "Naw, nothin' like that.  Her name was... something, I dunno, seems like it was something Polish, like, one of those o-chek or -ski or -vitz or something sounds like a sausage.  Some good ol' all-American foreign name."  He snorted out smoke.  "Naw, she was Longneck 'cuz of how they found her, after.  In apartment three.  Tu casa, holy by-god shit.  Never thought I'd meet anybody from there.  That place was such legend when I was a kid.  Scared the be-Christ out of us."

    Ralph was getting impatient and a little scared.  He'd heard knocking and bumping sounds at night in his apartment, creaks and groans that had kept him awake but which he'd passed off as natural parts of living in an old building, or, at worst, rats.  Once he'd thought he heard the tea kettle whistle in the kitchen just before dawn, but he'd dismissed that as air in the pipes.  Now it was sounding like he was living in some notorious haunted spot, and even though he didn't believe in such things, he still had an imagination and the information he was hearing was giving it a good bending-over.

    "Okay, see, back when the railroad was an active thing -- Grandma's daddy, he worked for them, at the station house, that's gone now, tore down back in the nineties out of some speculation deal nothing ever came of -- back then, your part of town was busy.  And Sally O-chek-ski-vitz-whosis was working the tourist trade as a woman of ill repute."  Larry made finger-quotes in the air and wagged his remarkable eyebrows in tandem.  "Way they tell it she coulda just as well gone the carnival route as an India rubber woman or something 'cuz her bones were like cartilage, she was real flexible, so she could turn some tricky tricks, I guess.  Tie herself in a knot and kiss her own ass, somethin’.  You‘d drop a ten to see that, no?”   Larry laughed and Ralph made a token effort at joining him, just to keep him in a talking mood.  Larry finished the cigarette and scaled it across the parking lot, almost hitting some kids talking by an SUV.  They were laughing for real, part of  a better night.

    “Anyway, she made a nice trade fucking for dollars, I guess, but then something happened, don’t know what.  Some guy she was gonna marry run out on her or her brother got killed or something, depends on who you hear it from.  Maybe she just got tired of wrapping her legs behind her head for strangers, who the fuck knows?  She was supposed to be pretty crazy anyhow.  Anyway, something got to her and she hung herself up there - in your apartment, holy shit.  Strung herself up on some braided clothesline, and they didn’t find her for about a week.

    “And by the time they did find her... with all those rubber bones or what-not... well.  Her neck had stretched out to over a foot long.   You ever read Alice In Wonderland?   Grandma had an old copy of that, the classic one, with the drawings in it?  There was one in there of Alice all stretched out between eat-me drink-me bullshits and Grandma showed me that picture and said Sally was almost like that and I had fucking nightmares over that for years, dog.  They said she was like seven feet tall when they took her out of there, had to fold her up into a coffin and she’s off in that graveyard ‘cross the tracks from you.  One good thing about your neighborhood, as bad as it’s turned out, can’t nobody say it’s the wrong side of the tracks, ‘cuz all that’s on the other side of those tracks is  that graveyard.  Woodside’s the name of the cemetery but we all called it Weedside ‘cuz it’s all grown up, and because that’s where all the heads used to hang out and smoke.”   He tapped pinched fingers to his lips, unnecessarily. 

    “So, you said something about seeing anything crazy, if I’d seen anything crazy yet,” Ralph said.  “Crazy like what?   What do people supposedly see in my apartment?”

    “Aw, you know, that’s probably just old ghost-story horseshit.  I wouldn’t pay it much mind, man.  I shouldn’t’ve even told you all this.  Power of suggestion’ll have you seeing some shit, especially at two in the by-Jesus a.m., and if you’re half as drunk as me.  And shame on you if you are because I’m goddamn irresponsible about my drinking.”

    “That how you got the scar, there?” Ralph asked, rubbing his own eyebrow.

    Larry reached up and touched it as if not realizing anything was there, then said, “That.  Yeah.  Know how every time something happens, some girl gets smacked around by her douchemaster boyfriend or something, they ran into a door?  Well, hello, I ran into a door, for real.  Woke up hung over, house all dark, the phone rings, I run to answer it, and crack, right into the edge of my bedroom door like a fucking spastic.  Bled like crazy.  Got to the phone and it’s some other drunk with a wrong number.  Ha!”   He rubbed at the eyebrow.  “Scab just come off a week or something ago.”

    “Jesus,” Ralph said.  “So, about my apartment...”

    “Yeah, I don’t know, man, just weird shit.  Noises and all.  Worst I heard was a single mom moved in with her daughter and didn’t know fuck-all about Sally Longneck’s story or anything, but she never slept well in there, and her daughter starts drawing pictures of a ‘giraffe girl.’  Eventually some blabbermouth like me told her what went on in there and she hightailed it out of the place that same day.   That story'll set the spiders crawling up your ass, man.  Another dude in one of the lower apartments, when he was the only guy renting in the place at the time, all three other units empty, he said one night this really tall woman was wobbling down the staircase from the second story.  He ‘sent for his things.’   I’d’ve had some laundry to do, man, it’d been me.  Just picturing it scares the gee-dee outta me.”

    “Shit, dude.  They didn’t tell me any of this when I signed my lease,” Ralph said, cold swirling inside him.

    “Well, they’re not gonna do that, are they?” Larry said, pulling another cigarette.  The kids in the SUV were backing out, dyeing him with more ambulance light from the taillights.  “Hey, welcome, move right in, and please ignore the funhouse-mirror bitch you might see wandering the hallways.”  He laughed and lit up.

    “Might have to have a little talk with my landlady.”

    “Hey, hey, man, don’t worry about it.  Really, I didn’t tell you all this stuff to mess up your deal.  I just babble, too much rum.  It’s all probably a load of crap, you know?  I don’t even know that there was a real guy who saw something on the stairs, or a real mom with a kid drawing giraffe-girls.  Just stuff I heard, it ain’t gospel.  Like I said, you’re the only guy I ever met who actually lived in that place, and you haven’t seen anything weird, right?”
    “Well, no, I haven’t seen anything.  I heard a few creaks and bumps and knocks.”

    “Old house, right?”   Larry waved the cigarette dismissively, scattering ash.  “Noisy neighbors.”

    “Well, that’s what I’d been thinking up ‘til now,” Ralph laughed.

    “Oh, hey, don’t let my bullshit bother you, man.  It’s just stuff I heard as a kid and I’m probably not remembering it right, anyway, and somebody probably made half of it up to begin with.  Probably nothing wrong with your place.  Hey, I’d like to see it sometime, just since I heard about it all my life.  In the daylight, though.  I’m too full of my own bullshit -- and Bacardi’s bullshit” - he pushed his chin at the bar - “to handle it at night.”   He laughed.  “So, what you hear in there, anyway, exactly?”

    “Nothing too weird, really.  I was worried it was rats or mice.  Maybe it is, I’ve still got traps written on my shopping list.  But, you know, just creaking, a few loud knocks.  Loud enough that I’ve gotten out of bed to check the front door a couple of times.  Once I thought I heard the tea kettle whistling in the kitchen and thought I left it on, but I checked and it was cold.”

    Larry frowned at nothing, chewing on his cigarette.  “House settling, probably, huh?”

    “Yeah.  Air in the pipes.”
    “Air in the pipes,” Larry nodded.  “Well, hey, man, it’s been good but I better be getting home, mi casa, while I can still do it.  Nice meeting you.  Ralph, am I right?”

    “Right.  And Larry.”

    “No, I’m Larry,” Larry laughed, then held out his hand, all veins and bones.  “I’m around here most nights so you wanna habla, hablo some more, look me up, alright?”

    Ralph shook his hand and said, “Absolutely, I’ll do that.”

    Larry nodded and stomped at his ratty motorcycle, which had probably been in good shape around the last time Larry was.  Ralph asked, “You sure you’re okay to drive that thing?”

    “Oh, yeah, do it all the time, and it’s only about a half mile, some shit.”  He stomped again and the bike blatted shockingly loud for two a.m.  Larry gunned it, monitored it a second to make sure it wasn’t going to die off, then grinned and gave Ralph a thumbs up.  Ralph returned it and Larry saluted and slowly, carefully, wheeled out of the parking lot and was soon a red taillight in the distance.

    And now Ralph didn’t want to go home.  But the bar was shutting down already.  You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here, wasn’t that how it went?  And at this hour nothing else was open but a grocery store and the Wal-Mart, and he was feeling too tired to wander around either.

    He went and sat in his car for a few minutes, thinking about Larry’s “bullshit” story, and trying to remember that Little Richard song.  That was about a whore, wasn’t it?  Uncle John, hiding from Aunt Mary in the alley with his ‘built for speed’ woman?  No relation, he was sure, but it made the song seem a bit morbid.  Morbid, that was the word for the whole thing.   A neck stretched over a foot long?   He’d known people with rubbery cartilage, but Jesus, what an image.  And even if it was just a local urban legend, the fact that it centered on his apartment, that was disturbing.

    Could Larry have just been having some fun with him?   Maybe he’d known that house for some other reason.  But picking apartment three out of a hat?  And those stories.  He’d been too sloshed with rum to just make that stuff up on the spot.  And the noises in the night, the disturbed sleep, before he’d even gotten here?  No, Larry didn’t seem like a liar, and he’d been too drunk to be creative.

    He didn’t want to go home but it was silly not to, so he started the car and pulled out of the parking lot.  He was afraid to turn on the radio because if that song happened to be playing he wouldn’t be able to go home at all, but he tried it anyway just to conquer a little piece of the fear.  Scanning the dial, the closest he got was “Love Me Do” on an oldies station, so, supernatural forces were evidently not aligning against him.

    Still, he drove around a while, delaying it.  This wasn’t a lively town, though, and it was 2 a.m., so the lack of life and movement didn’t do much to dispel the mood.  Blinking red lights in the intersections, empty streets, black windows.   A fat possum crept through a back yard full of swingsets and toys, eyes glowing like ghostfire.  The lonesomeness of it was bad, but anyone he would see at this hour might be worse. “Might as well go home to Long Tall Sally before she shows up on the radio,” he said to the night, and drove home.

    The house looked black.  He’d left a light on in his apartment, not much of one, just the light over the stove, and he wished he’d left more now because that was so dim.  He’d have to walk into a dark living room, a living room where a little girl may have drawn giraffe-lady pictures.  And before he got there he’d have to go up the stairs where the guy had seen something bad enough to send him packing.

    The kitchen window burned orange up there, and he stared at it, waiting to see if the curtain moved, if someone peeked out, if a freakishly elongated shape would pass across it...

    Nothing did, but he felt it might, if only he waited a minute more.

    “Idiot,” he told himself and shut off the car and climbed out.  He went inside.  The lobby was dim but a light was kept on all the time, so tenants wouldn’t hurt themselves climbing dark stairs.  Looking at those stairs he could imagine something backlit, gently swaying, coming down.   But there was nothing.  They just led up, to apartment three, former home of Long Tall Sally and now him.

    He climbed them, unlocked the door with the three on it, stepped in, and locked it behind him before flipping on the lights.  The place felt chilly and was still and silent; it sounded like waiting.  But he quickly checked all the rooms and no one was there, and any presence was just in his own mind.  The stillness was unnerving, though, so he cut the television on for company, the volume low so he wouldn’t disturb his roommate.

    Neighbors, he corrected himself bitterly.  Despite Larry’s campfire tales, I have no roommate here.

    He walked through the apartment again.  The kitchen, he decided, was where she’d done it.  The ceiling was high there, and there were beams  you could snake a rope around, maybe.  A braided clothesline, Larry had said, though how he’d known that was a mystery.  Probably an add-on detail to the basic fact as it turned from incident to urban legend.  Maybe a lonely woman had hung herself here in the 30’s or 40’s and, being a boring little town where not much ever happened, it remained an event worthy of decades of talk, a hand-me-down story that grew until it became interesting bullshit.  Her neck hadn’t been a foot long (ridiculous!), her name probably wasn’t even Sally, it probably hadn’t been apartment three, and there were no ghosts or giraffe-lady drawings and maybe the whole thing had never happened, anyway.

    But if it had, the kitchen would be the place, with those beams.  He went back in and stared at them, looking for rope marks, but of course they’d been painted since, probably many times, and anything like that would be buried under layers of paint.

    Had she swung back and forth in here, for days?  Seven feet tall when they found her, over a foot of it neck?  Probably touching the floor by the end, not hanging, just standing there, dead.  If it was as cold then as it was now, decay would be slow to set in.  And if it had been later in the year, say, November, she’d have been fresh as a daisy, a long-stemmed daisy.

    “Idiot,” he hissed, turning out the light in the kitchen, trusting that nothing would fill the dark.

    Something in the hallway behind him made a noise.  An old-house creak.  He’d have to stop granting it any more than that.  Everything creaked here.  Just crossing the room was like a Karloff movie.  There was no one here but him, and that’s why he’d been driven out to talk to a guy like Larry in the first place, that loneliness.  Now some silly story was doing magic tricks with the facts.  There was no Long Tall Sally here.  If there was a Long Tall Sally anywhere then she was crammed and grinning in the rotten velvet of her wet, crumbling coffin, buried across the tracks.  He looked out the window, saw streetlights in the distance, through trees.  Graveyard out there somewhere.  Sally, out there, maybe that streetlight shining on her headstone.  Long time dead.

    Thinking like that did him no good.  The point was, she wasn’t here, and fearing her was stupid.  If she’d ever hung grotesquely dead and alone here, it’d been decades ago.  Maybe almost a century if  Larry’s grandma had been a little girl when it happened.  There’d be no trace of the act now.  It didn’t matter.  It was just an apartment.  The rent was low because it was on the shabby side, and not too close to campus, and on a side of town where the glamour’d rubbed off.

    He sat down and watched television, but nothing was very interesting and the late-night lineup was a strange video-dumping-ground that didn’t help his mood any.  He resisted turning it off because it meant silence and feeling more alone -- or not-alone, he supposed.  Finally he got  weary enough and angry enough with himself that he decided to go to bed.   First he turned the heat up; the thermostat said it was 73 degrees but he suspected it was broken because he felt a chill in the air.  A cold snap was starting out there and it was affecting the house as it would an old man, settling in its bones and making it complain.

    He didn’t want the place too dark but he didn’t like the light coming in from the window, either.  That was coming from across the tracks and Larry had said nothing was over there but the cemetery.  Woodside, Weedside.  Who over there needed light, anyway?   Were utility poles set up for the convenience of the kids smoking pot?  Be some brave-ass kids, getting stoned at 3 a.m. in a graveyard, with Long Tall Sally down there, all uncomfortable in a coffin that didn’t fit.

    He curled up in bed and wanted to sleep, but he sensed bad dreams waiting to pounce on him and he was afraid to meet them.

    Sleep was a long time coming, and was uneasy when it did, but there were no dreams that he could remember, just a feeling upon awakening that he'd been through some and they weren't good.   More troubling, though, was a sense that he was coming down with something.  The seasonal change, and maybe Larry's secondhand smoke (Ralph was mildly allergic), had left him with a runny nose and a slightly sore throat, as well as a feverish weariness.  Groaning, he got up and decided he'd better go out and get some supplies before the illness really settled in.  It was only Saturday morning, and if he was lucky it would run enough of its course to let him show up for work Monday.

    As he got dressed the apartment seemed less sinister.  It caught the morning light well and didn't look as much like something Long Tall Sally would prowl, so he decided Larry's story was silly.  There was nothing here but aged atmosphere and a lot of suggestion.  He went out and drove to the grocer's and drugstore, picking up some Gatorade in case his illness took some pukey/diarrheic turn, and some Sudafed that was harder to buy than a firearm.

    A neighbor was out front walking his dachshund when he got home.  Ralph had met the man before but couldn’t remember his name, although he knew the dog’s name was Charlie.  Charlie Brown.  Charlie’s Dad was an older guy from across the street, bald but for some lead-colored fringe around the sides, and a face made up of expressive creases and prominent teeth.  Ralph remembered his first impression of the man had been an underpadded boxing glove gripping some dentures, and he wished he remembered the guy’s name instead of his snarky little quip.  Charlie’s Dad was already wearing a coat, and Ralph guessed everybody else had gotten the memo that winter was coming before he had, because he wasn’t even sure where his coat was, probably in one of the boxes he hadn’t unpacked yet.  “Hey there, Ralph!” Charlie’s Dad called.  “Been out shopping, I see.”  Ralph caught a whiff of pipe tobacco as he shook his hand.

    “Yeah, I had a few things I needed to pick up.”  Ralph adjusted his bags so he could crouch and pet Charlie, who snakedanced his head happily under Ralph’s palm..

    Charlie’s Dad gestured at the drugstore bag.  “Something for your mom?  She sick?”

    “Huh?  No, my mom’s in Georgia.”

    “Oh.  I thought that lady I see in your window sometimes was your mother.”

    Ralph felt that chill swirl through him again.  “No, there hasn’t been any lady in my apartment.”

    Charlie’s Dad’s wrinkles pulled together in  great frown.  “That’s your window there, second story, on the right?  With the flowerpot on the sill?”

    “Yeah, that’s the one,” Ralph said, noting the yellow flowerpot a previous renter had left was still up there, complete with its sprout of dead something-or-other.  Seemed to be the day for dead things previous renters had left behind.   “But I haven’t had any women up there, or anybody else.   Only woman who’s been in there since I moved in was my landlady when she showed me the place.”

    Charlie’s Dad’s brows went up, building a leather ladder above them.  “Well, you may want to take an inventory of your valuables, because someone’s been in there a couple of times when you weren’t home.  Maybe your landlady?   Is she really slim, dark hair, kind of...”   He gestured around his head to indicate teased hair.

    “Strange,” Ralph frowned.  “No, my landlady’s a short, sturdy-looking woman, really short greyish blonde hair.”  The color of a dirty pillowcase, he'd thought, and realized he couldn't remember her name, either.

    “Well, I don’t want to create the impression we’ve been peeping-tomming your place or anything, but I’ve noticed this woman up there a couple of times.  My wife Martha’s seen her, too.  We never got a good look at her, but if you’ve had any break-ins we’ll be glad to talk to the police for you.   She looked tall, thin, moved like she might be crippled.”

    “I haven’t noticed anything missing, but I may have to see about changing the locks,” Ralph said, wiping at a sniffle.  Changing locks won’t help me, he thought.  Maybe an exorcist.  Or a complete change of address as soon as I can afford it.    He coughed into his fist and looked up at his window.  Tall, thin, crippled.

    “Peculiar,” Charlie’s Dad said.  “I’m kind of relieved that woman’s nobody you know, to tell the truth.  What I could see of her, she was an awful-looking thing.  Like a street-woman, bag-lady, somebody stealing to buy drugs.  She stared out at me one day all wild-eyed."  He stretched his eyes at Ralph.  "I hope she’s not some crazy former tenant who still has a key.”

    I hope she is, Ralph thought, and hid a laugh in a cough.  “It’s strange.”

    “Spooky!  I’d report it to the landlord and get your locks changed.”
    “I’m definitely going to look into that,” Ralph said, wiping his nose. 

    “I would.  Say, you’re the one coming down with a cold, aren’t you?”  Charlie’s Dad gestured at the drugstore bag again.  “Thoughtless of me, keeping you out here when it’s getting nippy and you’ve got no jacket.  Get inside, you can’t be too careful when the seasons change.”

    Ralph bid his goodbyes and headed inside, promising again to get the locks changed and send the cops by if he decided to call them.

    He listened at the door to number three for a minute before he put the key in the lock and opened it up.  Silence.  More silence when he went inside.  A motorcycle went past on the street and that was all.    He didn’t feel any particular presence but knowing what the neighbor had seen had him unstrung.  What went on here while he was away?   He liked the crazy-former-tenant idea a lot better than the alternative, which he still found absurd.  He had the creeps now, all right, but ghosts, for real? 

    He was definitely coming down with something, though.  Coming down, hell, he already had it, and it was hitting him harder by the minute, so he poured some Gatorade over ice and washed down some vitamin C and a Sudafed, then settled in front of the television.  Cartoons weren’t what they used to be, though, none of the teams playing interested him, and the only good movie on was almost over.  He didn’t feel much like watching anything, anyway; his mind was too troubled.  Every swallow felt like a scrape and fever was settling in.  Physically he felt like ass, and mentally he felt hunted by some unseen thing, so he shut off the television, pulled down the shades in his bedroom, and burrowed under the blankets to retreat into sleep.

    It was a bad sleep, though, full of vivid little nightmares about someone in the next room, and one in which he was outside and saw a pale face with dead black eyes peering down from his window.  When he ran up to get in, his apartment door was chained from the inside and whoever was in there was making an angry gobbling noise.

    Finally he woke up because the kettle was whistling again. 

    He lay there a while, listening intensely, waiting for it to stop.  Air in the pipes, could be.  He knew he hadn’t turned the stove on, unless he did it sleepwalking.   After a few seconds it trailed off, and he lay there feeling chilled by it.  The sheets were sweat-soaked and it was dusk outside.  He’d been here all day, in and out of his jerky, Sudafed sleep.   The medicine seemed to have helped his sinuses but he still felt rotten and couldn’t afford to take any more because he needed rest, and the crank in those pills jolted him awake every ten minutes.  And maybe they made him hear things.

    Then the kettle whistled again, and he held his breath.  Maybe he had been sleepwalking after all, it was possible in this state, so he got up and stumbled to the kitchen but the whistle trailed off again before he got there.   The kettle was cold.   He dumped its water into the sink and put it on the countertop to settle that.

    The apartment was dim and chilled and felt eerie again, some presence pressing at him, something waiting, always in the next room, wherever you weren’t looking.  He dreaded night coming again.  Everything was much worse here at night. 

    Maybe he could sleep through it.  He took a shot of Nyquil and went back to bed and lay there, listening and watching the light fade, feeling too sick to worry about ghosts.   If this got much worse, he might be haunting the place himself.

    When he woke again it was fully dark, and the kettle was whistling again.  He looked at the clock; nearly ten P.M.  No way  was that the kettle.  Air in the pipes?  Could be.  Somebody running water in another apartment?  Probably.  He listened and it trailed off.  After a minute of silence it started again.  Louder.

    “Fuck,” he snarled, getting up.  The room tilted on him, almost dumping him back into bed.   Nyquil-drunk, cocktailed with what was left of the Sudafed.  And feverish.   Probably how Larry had felt last night, but without as much sick.  He cut on the bedroom light and weaved into the living room.

    The kettle kept whistling (but it’s NOT the kettle) and he stood, holding onto the couch and listening, trying to analyze it.  It was coming from the kitchen, for sure.  He could see nothing in there, just the dimmest shape of the window facing the street.  The whistling trailed off into a wheeze and then heavy silence.

    He stepped toward the kitchen and held onto the door frame, waiting and listening.  He was afraid to flick the light switch because there might be something in that darkness that he did not want to see, wouldn’t be able to stand, maybe only an arm’s length away and grinning down at him, distorted.  He shook his head and held his breath.  Surely the whistling wouldn’t start again now that he was right here in the doorway to catch it in the act.

    But it did.

    High and loud and horrible and he knew what it was immediately and he yelped in revulsion at the recognition and stumbled back.

    It was her goddamn BREATHING!  Air being drawn in through a throat stretched thin and flutish.   Air in the pipes, oh yes, it was air in the pipes, ha ha!

    A shape with something wrong with it passed in front of the window.  Hair, a mess like a splatter of ink.

    The light in the bedroom behind him went out, and the whole apartment was completely dark.

    Something knocked against the wall, then again, stumbling closer.

    A long wheeeeeeze and a fly buzzing.

    Ralph yelled in panic, "GET AWAY!  GET OUT OF HERE!"  But it didn't leave.  Someone was in the room with him, and it wasn't heeding him.  He yelled again, and O God it wouldn't go away it wouldn't go away.  He felt it approaching through the darkness and he thought he'd be part of Larry's next drunken story.  “And then they found Ralph dead in tu casa with his neck pulled long as your thigh, holy by-Jesus shit.”

    Ralph yelled again and staggered back toward the bedroom, found the doorway, found the light switch and turned it on and whirled. 

    Nothing.   Empty, dimly-lit room.  Black kitchen doorway.

    He stood there, panting, waiting.  Nothing happened.

    “Fuck this,” he said, pulling on his pants.  Sick or not, he wasn’t staying here.  He’d go back to the bar, look for Larry, see if maybe he could stay at his place.  He didn’t really know anybody else in town, but staying here didn't seem like an option with this thing stalking him.  And anybody but Larry would think he was crazy.

    He pulled on a shirt, turned on every light in the place, and left.

    The rest was a blur because he was running too high a fever to be out, and when he got to the bar and couldn't find Larry he sat down and started drinking.  In honor of Larry (and maybe Sally) he even ordered a zombie, and he wasn't used to those.    He wasn't used to anything, really, and he knew this was a bad idea but tried to tell himself that there was something about drinking lots of fluids being good for a cold and that made him laugh.  Feed a cold, starve a fever.  What happened when you got a cold shitfaced?  Let's find out!  Jägerbomb a cold, push a fever down the stairs!  Ha!

    At some point he wandered into the red room and there was she the dancing girl, the young lady tentacular, and he yelled "Unmask! Unmask!" at her and tried to dance with her and somehow she found this amusing or charming, maybe she'd been drinking those zombies, too, he didn't know but she danced with him even though he was no more a dancer than he was a drinker and shouldn't have even been on his feet anyway, fever bleary out of control, nerves shot.  The whole room was feverish, that red light (was it pulsing? maybe, like being in a big heart), and maybe he'd end up in an ambulance before morning but he couldn't be alone tonight, not in that apartment where he really wasn't alone at all now was he?  Ha!  Alone with that whistling bitch!

    The aloneness, he realized, was the whole problem.   Sally was or had been (still was, death only made her taller) a whore, and a whore is a specialist in loneliness, a cure for it was what they sold, and they were predators for it, it was blood in the water to them, and hadn't Ralph been thrashing his aloneness like a wounded fish, resorting to bars, talking to goofs like Larry?  Long Tall Sally's pimp, that's what Larry was!  He'd made him aware of her so she could get busy.  Sally was drawn to him even though her mortal remains were on the other side of the tracks (under that streetlight, he felt certain) now even though he did not dare to go and see, because maybe when he found that headstone with Sally O-Chek-Ski-Vitz-Ha-Ha maybe his name would be on it, too.  And he would be down there!  Lonely no more!  Ralph the customer!  She was just trying to meet him and do her thing, fill his need.

    And he suddenly knew how to fix it, even through the booze-floating-on-medication and nauseating fever and terror he figured out what he had to do.  This cute little dancing girl, with her long straight brown hair with hipster pink streaked through it and those razored bangs playing peekaboo with some racooon-mascara-framed  eyes (green? he thought green), if he could bring her home that'd chase Sally back to her muddy rotting velvet.  You be the lonesome one, Sally, lonesome loathsome and sleeping alone on the wrong side of the grass on the wrong side of the tracks, because look what I got!  Pretty!  Young!  Alive!  Spec-tac-u-lar ten-tac-u-lar!  The hunted would become the hunter!

    Ralph didn’t know what he said.  He knew he bought some drinks and that probably did it more than anything else but he also channeled his desperation into enthusiasm which probably flattered the girl.  An older guy captivated with her.  The attention she’d been dancing for.  And who else was here anyway?  Everyone else in the bar looked like freaks, ghosts, grey and drifting through the bad multicolored light like malfunctioning funhouse props.  Some didn’t even have faces, he noted.  Some were just blurs, here, then there.  Suggestions of people in darkened corners, lurkers in the margins. Ms. Trendybangs was the only real person there even with her tentacles, which looked a lot more like arms now that they were holding a glass and pouring it into her laughing mouth again and again, drunker and easier and it was working.

    And he didn’t even remember how he got her home.  He didn’t remember leaving, but you can’t go home and you can’t stay here.  When he should have been leaving he woke up and was wrapped in sweaty sheets in the terrible dark.  Back in the apartment, his apartment, he recognized the numbers on his digital clock which were after 3 a.m., after closing time.  He lay still.  The dark gathered itself around him and loomed ready to pounce.

    Had that been a dream?  The whole bar visit?  The girl?  How about the whistling thing that came after him from the kitchen before that?  Dream, too?  All a night of bad dreaming?  He felt disoriented.  Drunk, maybe, maybe just drunk off dreams and just really crazy sick.   God, if that had only been a dream, then he’d still be alone here, his loneliness dangling like bait for Long Tall Sally the Whore.  He felt panic, like a stroke, and sat up gasping in the whirling dark room.

    But, no, it hadn’t been a dream.  He’d gotten home with the girl after all, because his sitting up had awakened her and she stirred in the bed beside him, stiff with sleep, making little noises.  Maybe some of the sweat on the sheets was hers, from lovemaking he didn’t remember.  It was so dark he couldn’t see anything, but he could feel her, there in the bed with him, his salvation.  He rolled over to her and held her like a drowning man and she wound herself around him and he escaped into her kisses in the darkness.
    Even though her lips were chilled and damp

    And even though they were much higher, much higher than they were supposed to be. 

                                                                  THE END

copyright 2011 by me