In 1979, the US government relocated more than eight hundred families from Love Canal, New York, after decades of toxic contamination. Not all of the residents left: some remained in their homes on the outskirts of the disaster area. Others … Continue reading
Laurel Doniger awoke alone in her windowless bedroom. Except for one night spent in the arms of Jake Helman, she had lived in seclusion for three years. She met with clients, of course, and Jackie Krebbs, the building’s engineer, saw to her needs as far as food deliveries went, but otherwise she experienced no human contact. Worse, she had not set foot outside the storefront property, which served as her home and business, during all that time. But at least she was alive.
In the kitchen, she turned on the radio and the television. She had no difficulty processing the separate streams of information. The weatherman on The Today Show predicted clear skies and a beautiful day in New York City, while on the local radio news station a commercial for therapeutic cloning ended.
Julian Weizak, an obituary writer in New York, celebrates his birthday alone in a bar on New Year’s Eve. At the stroke of midnight, scores of homicides break out on the East Coast. In all, twenty thousand murders are committed … Continue reading
Alan walked to the edge of the lake and peered down at the water. It could have been tar or smoked glass it was so black. His reflection mirrored up at him, looking ghastly and skeletal. His skin was white as stone, his eyes huge and dark and seemingly recessed into deep pockets. He could easily make out the apostrophe-shaped cut above his right eyebrow and the bruise on his cheek. He dropped to one knee and reached out, sticking two fingers into the water— (ice-cold!) —only to pull them quickly out, hissing between clenched teeth. A bundle of muscles at the small of his back tightened from the cold. He flexed his fingers, working the feeling back into them, amazed at how numb they’d become from no longer than a split second beneath the water. It was July and the water was ice-cold . . . His reflection stared up at him. Rippling. Things moved in the trees. Large things. Alan stood and stared at them: black silhouettes framed against the night sky. Only the ones on the branches that passed in front of the moon were clearly outlined. Birds, he thought, though the realization afforded him little relief and did not do the birds justice. Buzzards. There were scores of them, whole families, multitudes. Carrion birds, stooped over like hunchbacks in bell towers. And although he knew it was crazy, he had the disquieting feeling that they were all watching him. Carnivorous birds. It was insane, sure . . . but if they all decided to simultaneously swoop down off their perches and attack . . . Continue reading
The car slid off the road and into someone’s yard. And that someone came shambling out of his house. I squinted, making out the swarms of fl ies following him through the front door. Th e man was naked from the waist up, as if maybe he’d been lying in his recliner, having a beer, watching his favorite football team snort cocaine and run interference when some fool came driving up onto his lawn. Now he was coming toward the car. His face was rotten fl esh, his head badly ripped apart, and you could see into the gorge, his bloody brain. A substance similar to jelly curdled out his ears, and a putrid cream, more like a creeping yeast, dribbled from his nipples to mat in his chest hair. I screamed like an eight-year-old girl watching Th e Exorcist all by herself in a big empty house at midnight. I expected this rotten dead dude to reach into the car and tear me apart like a rag doll. But instead, he said, “Howdy, mister. You’ve reached your destination.” His voice was damply husky. “You’re in the Land of the Dead.” He grinned, and there were maggots squirming in the gaps between his rot-black teeth. I screamed again as I stepped on the gas. I still had no traction, because I was in the dirt. Mud sprayed all over the place, hitting the windshield, the house, and the swarms of fl ies retreated a bit. Were they afraid they’d get dirty? And that man with the exposed brain was still coming toward me. He was getting closer and closer and closer, stumbling like the zombies in those Romero movies. You know the kind—they’re so plodding, you can’t fucking believe the other living-meat cast members can’t outrun them. And yet I wasn’t exactly getting away swiftly, was I? Yeah, it’s always easier from the armchair nightmare’s perspective. Th en the car jerked forward. It started moving. I wobbled onto the road, did a donut on the blood-drenched surface of the street, and turned the car in the opposite direction. “Come back. You belong here,” the man said, spitting worms. Read more. . .
When night had grown long, and the fires of the village had died, Topiltzin, alone, climbed the high cliffs at the sea’s edge. With warm salt air in his lungs, he knelt and searched the stars before dawn swallowed them. At least the skies had not changed. He had never been certain how far they had traveled through this ocean before reaching the island; but he knew at least that these were the same stars he had studied from the Hill of Shouting when he was young. Through all the years of his exile, Topiltzin had watched this sky. He had carefully tracked the path of the Blue Stars against the horizon. He had marked the days. He was old—fifty and two years, the same age his father would have been when Topiltzin left for his last rubberball game in the Southland so many years ago in Tollán. Topiltzin’s skin was aged; his beard, long and white-gold; the tangled locks of his hair along the sides were silvered, but his eyes were still a steady, sharp, blue ice as they searched the face of the sea. Topiltzin heard a rustle, and turning, he discovered Paper Flower had followed him. She was there, suddenly beside him. That was her way, jaguar eyes, silent, a soft wind you did not notice until you felt it lightly brush your skin. When Topiltzin had died his first death, when the Lord of the Shadow Walkers had slain him, Paper Flower’s had been the first face he had seen from death’s abyss. He was certain death had already tasted his flesh, accepted it, and Topiltzin had nearly slipped away forever—there seemed no reason to remain—but when he looked back one last time, he saw her. She had been dabbing at his blood with a wet cloth, and when she realized he was watching, she gasped, startled. Glancing at her now, Topiltzin remembered that moment so clearly—her face that first time, how it cut against the acid blue of the sky behind her—her sharp features, her raven hair, the small lips, her eyes, quick, tender. In that moment, it had been as though Paper Flower reached across the quiet of death, touched Topiltzin’s heart, gently, softly . . . and brought him back. One score years and four had passed, yet she looked this night more beautiful than ever; her jet hair was now silvered in streaks that played in the moonlight. They had grown old here, upon this isle of the sea. They had born children beneath the white sun. They had laughed, they had wept. Life had played itself out in measured breath, and now Paper Flower was a part of him, their flesh one flesh. There was now a little of Topiltzin in the eyes of Paper Flower, and she in his, a warmth, a knowing touch, a tenderness almost like a wound. Topiltzin turned back to the horizon. It was there, the talisman, the Morning Star. It ran herald of the sun, and Topiltzin knew she had traced its path as carefully as he had. He knew how she had feared this particular dawn for many years. They simply had never spoken of it. Yet it had come in the night like a thief, and now it was as though the future were kneeling there with them, as though part of what they were had already become memory. “The Son of the Morning passes through the house of the Raven,” Topiltzin said. “This is the year One Reed.” She quickly brushed aside silent tears, as though irritated with them. “Is there no way I can touch your heart?” she whispered. Topiltzin kept his gaze upon the horizon—partly because he did not want to see her tears, he did not want to break. He had broken inside over the past few days many times and now he was determined to be strong and so he kept his gaze on the sea, the face of it, like blue leather, rippled with the rose of dawn. “You own my heart,” he said, quietly. “And yet you are going to leave.” “I have no choice in that, Paper Flower.” “You have choices. Choice is what you gave us that day on the beach when the Lord of the Shadow Walkers came for our souls. It was your gift to us, but also, it was our gift to you. We gave you life, we offered you choice, and now comes the moment you must choose. Choose between us and your ghosts, Topiltzin.” He sighed, finally turned to her. Paper Flower’s eyes searched his, angry. He touched her cheek, but she pulled back. He could sense her anger, but all he felt in response was sadness, far, a sadness that just watched. “Somewhere,” he said, softly, “love is marked—all we have shared—as love could ever be.”
Venice lay beneath the velvet pall of a moonless night. Though the city’s mood throughout both day and evening was carnival-like, no sound of revel disturbed the midnight hour. What boats remained on the canals glided silently through the dark water. Even the lap of tiny wavelets against the wooden hulls and stone steps seemed muted. Within the Villa Santonini, only the plaintive cries of the doge’s daughter could be heard. Valeria cried out in her sleep, but did not wake. She lay soaked with sweat, her thin, silken shift sodden. Her tongue flicked in and out of parched lips, and her hands kneaded her breasts. Her back arched, lifting her body from the bed, and she tossed her head from side to side. He was back again, in her dreams. Th ere, at the foot of her bed. He wore a ruffled white shirt, its ties undone so she could see a tantalizing bit of his well-defined chest. Thick, wavy, sun-streaked brown hair kissed the tops of broad, muscular shoulders. Knee-high black boots of the softest leather embraced his calves. Skin tight leggings caressed his heavily muscled thighs. Her eyes moved to the V of his groin. He followed her gaze. His hand moved lazily downward; he touched himself. Continue reading
AGNES HAHN IS A DONUT. INA SCONE WORLD. The entry under her photograph in the high school yearbook was funny when the ink from her classmates’ signatures was still fresh. But as the pages yellowed, the lines lost their humor. Agnes relaxed and her shoulders slumped with an exhalation. Even when Gert and Ella were still at home, something had always seemed to be missing, like there was a hole in her life. Not the kind of hole a mate or a best friend could fill, but one that was more visceral, more emotional. Yet something seemed tangible in the void. Something around its edges provided random reminders of her vacuity. It had always been subtle, like there was someone she should consult every time she had to make a decision —an inner voice that would provide an objective opinion. Continue reading
My name is Agnes Hahn. I’m a serial killer, emasculator of men. And I’m not. I’ve seen the pictures, heard the descriptions. If the voice isn’t real, like they’ve told me, then how can the actions be real? We have cable television here at Imola, but they don’t let us watch what we want. Figure that. At home, I liked to watch those real doctor shows—actual surgery. The only thing that bothered me was the initial incision. The first slice of the sharp scalpel through fresh skin gave me a sick feeling in my stomach. It made my fingers curl into fists and my toes grip the soles of my shoes. I always had to look away. That’s why I don’t understand how I could have cut all of those men. Dr. Leahy says they were hurt by my hands, but, she says, my hands weren’t controlled by my mind. How can that be? I know my hands, and my hands couldn’t cut through skin. Once the skin was opened in the TV shows, I was fascinated by the surgeries. The human body is a remarkable machine. The most incredible thing is the way the body heals itself after such an invasion. It can be opened and a piece removed, and if properly stitched, it will heal like nothing happened. Too bad the same can’t be done to the mind. It’s easy to find the junction between the small and large intestine, locate the appendix, and cut it out. But one can’t remove a few brain cells and expect a bad memory to go away forever. Not without removing a lot of other memories. For me, it’s impossible to forget small parts of the past without forgetting all of the past. Same thing for remembering. Now, Dr. Leahy wants me to remember things I don’t like to remember. About Lilin. About our father. What he did to her. She wants to know about specific things that happened, but more than that comes back. She wants a bucket of water, but wave after wave crashes on the beach to fill that tiny bucket. She says it will help me. Helping shouldn’t hurt. Hurt her back. Read more. . . Continue reading
Boyston, Tri-Counties, 1982
Gabe leaned forward in the confessional and eased the door open a crack. Light from the church flowed into the dark chamber in a narrow slash. He squinted the altar into view. In two years of early morning visits to the All Saints Catholic Church, Father Costello had never been late.
That wasn’t the only thing wrong with today. The air carried an abnormal chill for this far into the spring. Gabe had overheard his father talk about it—this growing season had more than its fair share of unexpected thunderstorms and strong, dust-laden winds. And then there were the fogs. They rarely extended more than a mile from the swamp up north, and hardly ever as far as Boyston. But this year, they were enveloping the town two or three times a week. Today’s was a doozy.