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The song Maisie was listening to was quiet, almost hymn like. She sat on a tall, grassy hill that overlooked the subdivision where she’d grown up, as the sun fell away in fading colors, lurid and angry reds to defeated crimson, to the ambient glow of twilight.

Maisie, with her earbuds in, as always trying to soothe herself, watched the daylight fade. Summer was still here, but there was more of it behind than ahead, and winter would be here soon enough. She saw children making their way home, and men and women coming home from their days at work, and excitable dogs doing circles around their owners legs, overjoyed. She somehow found a grace and beauty in the scenes very ordinariness.

Maisie was in a clear mind, which was becoming rare, again. The meds weren’t working like they had been, paranoia and anger were eating her alive, and the joy of what few things she still had for herself, music and her friends, was becoming dull and empty. Maybe adjusting the dosage would help, maybe not. Truth be told, she resented the meds, even if they had given her her life back after her dark and anguished teenage years. She resented have to take medicine to just be human.

Maisie had come to see her parents tonight, her dad picking her up from her apartment in East Maryville, to the rural subdivision where they lived. Dad had been excited to see her, but as always had fallen silent quickly, again going into whatever world he always seemed to live in. At social gatherings and parties he was a laugh a minute jokester, everyone’s best friend. Around his own family, he was distant, no need for the mask then.

Maisie and her mom and dad ate a nice meal. Maisie’s mom had made her favorite past casserole, and it was easier to talk with her mother. After the hell of her teenage years they’d grown close again, like when Maisie was growing up. But she knew there where things there was no point in talking about with her. She never wanted to deal with anything unpleasant, never wanted to hear that Maisie was struggling or had doubts. Anytime Maisie tried to tell her mother these things, Maisie was shouted down and all her fears were hand waved away, as if they could that easily be banished.

After dinner, Maisie had grabbed her phone and earbuds, and went to the big hill at the back of the subdivision. Maisie had watched the stars from their growing up, when this end of the county was less built up, and there was less light pollution to drown them out. She’d come here to brood, to cry, or to just be alone. A Walkman in the old days had brought the soothing voices and sounds to her troubled soul, but nothing else in all these years had really changed.

Maisie listened to that hymn like song. It was sung by a man. Maisie wasn’t often touched by music sung by men. They always seemed swaggering and aggressive, no matter the genre. They could be emotive and moving, but rarely touched her soul the way a woman’s voice could. But this one, the singer seemed without ego and pride, simply singing the sweet things he felt in his soul to her. A quiet hymn in the fading twilight. It wasn’t a religious song, but it was tender and devoted, and that was as close to being touched by God as anyone ever got in this world.

The subdivision, the simple scenes there, the beatific music, and the love she felt for her parents even as it seemed impossible to reach them, this was the peace that kept her hanging on as she felt herself slipping away, all the good things tarnished, all the stars crowded out with facile light.

It was the only thing she could still find, sometimes.

She’ll Never Make It Over The Mountain

Maisie sat crosslegged on her bed, reading a cherished passage from her favorite Joan of Arc biography. She’d always been entranced by the tale of St Joan. Joan had been her hero since girlhood. Sometimes, reading about her now, Maisie could remember the faith and peace of childhood.

Maisie closed the book. Joan had no doubt and didn’t hesitate. Once St Michael came to her, she was ready and did not look back. Or so, the story had always gone.

Maisie herself was bereft of faith and peace and any sense of hope. There was a church across the mountain in Asheville dedicated to St Joan. Maisie knew if she asked her lover to take her there, they would.

Yet, everyday, Maisie was confronted with the evil and abuse of not just the Catholics, but every part of the church. Everywhere you looked, you saw the falseness of God’s People.

She still loved St Joan, and all she had meant to Maisie, all the ways Joan had guided her. She still thought of Joan even though it recalled the tarnished memories of when Maisie and Hope had been best friends and in on accord. Before Maisie had aloof and cold blooded and arrogant Hope and her father Rev Bradley were.

Maisie looked over at her mermaid lamp, that filled the room with hard, crystalline light. Like a mermaid, half human and half animal, half land and half sea, half mortal and half immortal, she was caught between two worlds.

Maisie wanted faith, but saw so clearly how empty it was. She wanted saints, but could not forget all are corrupt. She wanted a place where all tears were wiped away, but knew there be no such place or time.

Maisie put away the book. She would not ask her lover to take her over the mountain. She could not have the hope of God or Saints. She did have the comfort of one who loved her.

Maisie reached for her phone to call her lover, their voice and their arms all the heaven she would ever find.

Angels/Millstone

Maisie was at her favorite restaurant again, on a Friday Night, getting her club sandwich. It was slow and quiet for a Friday Night, and she was glad for it. She’d been on edge all day at work, one of those days were she tried to keep smiling even though she felt as if her brain was on fire. But she was here now, and Lauren was here to greet her, and Kiernan had ran up to her and given her a big hug, and had talked her ear off with her latest enthusiasm, with all the joy and freedom a young child has.

Kiernan adored Maisie, always giving her hugs and talking to her and wanting her attention, to the point Lauren would shoo her away when Maisie’s food came. Maisie wouldn’t have minded eating her food while listening to Kiernan, as mystified as she was about why Kiernan was so attached to her, so loving, so quick to seek her out.

Maisie hoped she was a good example, always giving Kiernan her undivided attention when Kiernan came to her, trying to never let herself become impatient or short tempered no matter what she was feeling or what she’d been through before coming through the door. And she hoped to not impart any bad habits, or do anything to dim Kiernan’s light and innocence.

Maisie was perhaps not the bible believer she’d been raised to become, but she remembered Jesus’ words that it was better to be thrown into the ocean with a millstone around one’s neck than to cause a little one to stumble. She took a warning seriously, for she never wanted to cause a child to stumble or become corrupt, or doing anything to dim that pure love and kindness that so easily was lost, and so quickly was lost.

Maisie ate her meal, and felt her mind calming, and the grip of her demon loosen and drop away. She belonged her. She was family here. And she hoped she could be an angel for Kiernan, like the ones who’d be angels for her, when she was still innocent.

November Night

I stopped, in the cold November night, to look at an abandoned car. An old model, clunky and worn, and in a drab color. I barely caught sight of it there, off to the side of the road, by an old and boarded up farmhouse.

No lights, no one stranded and waving down someone for help, no smoke or flat tires. Just there against the old farmhouse, empty.

I looked with a flashlight through the dirty windows, I shone the thin stream of light in every direction into the vast empty valley beneath the craggy and black Maine mountains.

I saw nothing. I saw no one.

 

I turned off the flashlight. I didn’t know what to do. Maybe it was intentionally abandoned. Maybe someone came and got them. Maybe they were on the narrow state highway, walking back to town, or to an all night gas station that would still be open.

No one here. Nothing around. I heard not even the scraping sounds of night insects. I heard a little creek, babbling away in the dark. I heard nothing else.

I started to walk back to my car. I’d worked all night. Hard work. I was worn and tired. I didn’t see what else I could do. I had stopped. I wanted to help. But no one was here to help.

I saw nothing. I saw no one.

 

Then; a spark! Red and yellow, out in the wide open sky! Among the smattering of stars and the new moon, I saw something, unnatural. It hovered and flashed, and was not static as a star or moving in the straight line of a satellite.

It was moving away, higher into the sky, towards the endlessness of open space. I felt my heart turn cold, and my bowels churn with fear. I knew, somehow, that it was a young woman, with honeyed hair and dark eyes, that had been in the car.

I knew, somehow, she was up in that ship. They were taking her. She damned, and would never be brought home again.

Demons in the sky. Mocking me.

 

Then, in a blink, in a second, it was gone. It was going to whatever place, in the air or between the air, that they stole away, unseen. I felt as if the sky was an arrogant and malevolent eye staring down upon. I felt afraid, weak, and naked beneath it’s sight.

I ran back to my car, started it up, and headed in a rush back to my house, no thoughts but to get home, to get away from the sky, that eye, and what demons had seen me, as they snatched the young woman away.

I made it into my house, and went down into the basement, and stayed there until morning, fitfully pacing and unable to sleep or to calm the panic and fear. Sunrise only barely relieved it.

Demons in the sky. Mocking me.

 

And watching the news that morning, I saw a story on a missing young woman, the young woman I had somehow known was the one taken by those demons, those hungry spirits. A young woman with honeyed hair and dark eyes.

I saw the picture of the car left by that old and boarded up farmhouse. I saw that there was no trace of her. No clue as to where she had gone.

We are but sport. Insects to torture.

 

I tried to sleep. In some cold sweated fits, I did. Bad dreams came. The eye looking down upon me, through the roof and clouds and through the very flesh and bone of my body, into the electrical impulses of my thoughts.

They saw me. They saw it all. Nowhere to hide.

We are but sport. Insects to torture.

Eyes Deep And Dark

After the show, we could take pictures, by standing outside the tank.
The mermaid would swim to the glass, smile, and you’d stand in front
of that same glass, and smile, or give a thumbs up,or pull a silly face.

Harsh light and tropical fishes swimming about with nowhere to go to.
The mermaid, with rust colored hair starting to fade, fair skin looking chalky,
and a tail not as vibrant as it once had been, would smile for you, sweetly.

I watched from the shadows in the back while the others crowded forth.
I thought I was not a gawker, and mark, or an awful person, yet I was here.
I watch the mermaid play her part in this dance, in this cruel play, not crack.

Almost to the end, as others had gone, I walked to the tank, heart racing.
She noticed me, smiled, a little light coming to her face, though unsure.
She swam close to the glass, looked me in the eye, curious and anxious.

A breathe away from the glass, I looked into her eyes, eyes deep and dark,
that knew kingdoms older than man, and wonders lost when Earth was young.
Eyes that had sorrows deeper than the ocean she’d been stolen away from.

I put my hand on the glass, cold and sterile, chilled and hard, something between.
Her face was unsure, but still curious, still wanting to be seen, to be seen as whole.
She placed her own hand on the glass opposite of mine, and we watched each other.

I smiled, a pittance, a penny thrown to a beggar, knowing I loved this creature,
but that I was here where she was kept, and was part of the curse that trapped her.
But I wanted to see her, up close, in the light, and I wanted her to see me too.

She looked into my eyes too, saw into me, saw all that was there, broken, lost.
She didn’t smile, but she didn’t take her hand away, and there we were, watchers,
strangers in an imbalnce of desire. She was taken. I was there too look upon her.

Finally, I looked away, cast my eyes down, and turned from her and the bright tank.
Through the dakrened theatre I walked, shame in desire fufilled, a derire, in the end,
I could not sate or deny, but gave into, and came her to get what it was I wanted.

At the door, I looked back. She was still floating there, her hand still on the glass,
watching me with a distant, sad look, a look that shamed me, made my face flush
and my heart race. My eyes stung and I left her there, not looking back at all as I ran.

 

I Thought I Would Have A Good Time

Maisie had thought going out with a group from work would be fun. It had been a lot of fun joking and talking in the car ride up Alcoa Highway to the club in The Old City. Loose camaraderie was more her thing. The interplay of friends and a place to themselves, away from the world.

Maisie had also enjoyed getting dressed up to go out. It was something she rarely did, and it had been something of a treat, a chance to express another side of herself. One of the young woman, and undergrad in Economics named Tessa, had helped her with her and make-up and choosing her outfit. Maisie went with the same one she’d worn the first time she’d went out with her lover.

But now actually at the club, the music was too loud, and it was dark but cut through with strobes that made her eyes hurt. The drinks were expensive; even soda set her back $7. The others, a mix of undergrad men and women, where having quite the time, but Maisie was feeling like she was backed into a corner, the bass line of the music thumping like a fist into her chest, her mind scrambled and unsettled, and she felt the lizard fight or flight instinct rising in her, telling her she should run for the door.

One of the young men in her group, a sweet Art boy named Skylar, asked her to dance with them. She wasn’t sure about going out on the dance floor, already feeling backed into a corner, but she didn’t want to spoil the other’s fun either. So she danced with him and focused on the melody line of the music, and that helped soothe her.

After, on the empty highway back home, everyone was quiet and content. Maisie’s ears rang and her skin vibrated with electricity. Tessa was half asleep and tipsy, laying her head on Maisie’s shoulder. Her head rocked with the rhythm of the road. Her long hair brushing sweetly against Maisie’s cheek.

They dropped Maisie off at her parent’s house, and she watched them drive into the night, back to their dorms and their carefree times.

Maisie let herself back into her house, and walked down into her basement apartment, and lay on her bed.  She turned her alarm clock radio on, to a late night call in show that played love songs and the host offered advice. She felt she was glad she went, and was hoping these were new and permanent friends, but clubbing was not for her.

As a lament to unrequited love played, she drifted to sleep.

Still Morning

It’s 5:30 in the morning, and she rides her fixie in the park, not as cool as it should be in October, but still with diffuse and late coming soon, and the gossamer and damp fog.

Saturday morning, no hustle and bustle of the work-a-day world, it’s all hers, a queen of a still and unawakened kingdom, a queen of something being lost, to the world and to growing up.

She stops and stands with her bike by the little creek that runs through the park, clear and cold, but still with trash and cigarette butts discarded in it. The little creek that mesmerized her as a girl, that her mother told her to stay away from.

She didn’t bring her earbuds this morning, and she heard the wind rustling the leaves and the tall Cat Tails in the water, and heard the calls of the morning birds.

And she heard a mermaid sing. In the distance, in that thin and wet fog, she saw the shape of the siren in the first of the rising sun, combing her long, dark hair, and singing into the world.

She put herself back on her back, and slowly and silently pedaled her way to the mermaid, not even fifty feet ahead of her. The song clutched her heart, made it ache, made her long for something she could not name.

The song filled her ears, a high and sweet melody, sorrowful and beautiful.
The mermaid combed her hair and sang, and looked up at the sky, as all the stars were retreating.

She pedaled to the mermaid, but the mermaid finally saw her, and dived into the water, swimming to were the mouth of the creek met the lake, and was gone from site.

She stopped and stood again with her bike, seeing only ripples were the mermaid had swam away. In the back of her mind, a thought picked at her, that mermaids had never swam away when she was a child.

The morning was still again, and her heart ached, and she wiped away tears. The fog and the peace and what little cool there was was starting to lift and leave the waking world. The world awoke, even on a Saturday.

She looked into the water, where the mermaid had fled, until the ripples were still. Then she got back on her bike and rode back to her house, realizing everything would change and slip away.

Emily

Emma was ragged and worn, desperate to get to her hotel room and get a few, frantic hours of sleep before leaving on in the morning, when she felt a tug on her ponytail. She cried out, dropping the ice bucket she had been filling from the common machine in the nook by the soda machines. The bucket made a dull crack noise, and crushed cubes of ice scattered all over the dull and stained carpet. She heard a little girls laughter.

Emma spun around, wandering who was letting their mischievous brat out to run about at this dark and dire hour. But where ever she looked, down both directions of the hallway, and down the stairway just passed the ice and soda machines, their was no child, no one at all.

Emma, sighed, and stooped down to scoop up the spilled ice, when there was another tug on her ponytail. She again spun around, falling awkwardly falling to one knee, and thrusting cross chest with the plastic ice bucket. Again, their was the childish laughter, which she know realized was that of a little girl, though there no little girl, or anyone else around.

Emma fell back on her haunches, kicking away the scattered cubes at her feet. Exhaustion and stress of leaving home, of things having gone so wrong so quickly, of the desperate hope for her so far north in Rochester. She just felt wrung out, as if all her strength was squeezed out into nothing, and still, she had so far to go.

Emma, again, felt a tug on her ponytail. She sighed and turned around. And she saw a little girl, giggling into her cupped hands. But the girl was ethereal, thin and translucent like morning fog in the chill of October. The little girls clothes were easily thirty years out of fashion. But she was still playful and mischievous, like any other little girl.

Emma laughed with this spirit, laughed and held her middle as all the last weeks troubles fell out of her, her and the ghostly child playing at their game in the dead of night, in an old hotel in the dead of night.

Emma looked up, but the girl was gone, leaving only echoing giggles as the night grew still again. A child’s game, now over. Emma collected up the ice and went back to her room.

In The Infinite

Constance sat in the driver’s seat of her boyfriends ’71 Mustang. She’d pulled off on the shoulder of the interstate, under an overpass as cold grey rain fell, baptismal tears as the stars had given up all hope.

Her boyfriend was asleep in the back seat, curled up in his dad’s old military issue sleeping bag. As Constance smokes, she looks back at him in the rearview mirror, already pale and clammy, his hair crusted with dried sweat and still stuck to his head in chaotic swirls. The fever had burned out, like a star burning out into a white dwarf.

Art Bell was on the radio, talking to someone who’d been abducted by aliens, but whom Constance was running from was no alien. He was someone who’s kingdom was sewn into the very fabric of this plane of existence. In loss and time and corruption, he was everywhere.

The one she ran from was death, and their was no more running now.

 

Out in the drowning darkness she saw a shape. Man sized, but dark, like someone had cut through the shell of the world, revealing the encompassing abyss behind it. It got closer, distorted and wavering, shifting like the stars to just waking eyes. Then he was there, just beyond the edge of the bridge, in a black and worn hoodie and jeans, and black sneakers that were tattered from endless walking. His hands were shoved in the front pockets of his hoodie, and his head was cast down, hiding his pallid face.

Constance reached over and pushed down the lock on the passenger door, but it did no good. Death opened the door and sat down beside her.

 

The man on the radio who had been abducted by aliens talked now of nowhere being safe, nowhere their eyes weren’t upon us. And Constance knew more than aliens watched. Everything from between the air invaded us. Demons, Angels and Spirits. The Fey and monsters and incorpreal parasites. And over all of them was Lord Death.

Only desperation had made Constance run. Pure blind fear and panic had made her push her sick and almost incoherent boyfriend into his Mustang and head west. Americans always headed west in their desperate bids to escape. She’d casted spells to keep the Mustang going without gasoline. In the fogged window, stopped at a red light in Casper, she’d drawn a sigil of protection, to try and hide them from spiritual eyes.

But here in Colorado, in the abusive rain, in the dead of night, the spells and magic and hope were stopped, the running ended.

 

“Did you think you could run forever?” Death asked. He was resigned, not angry, he’d been through this so many times.

‘I didn’t think. I just ran.”

“I’ve taken so much from you, but it was never personal. It was just what He said had to be done, and I had to obey”

“Why did He decide I had to lose so much?”

“How the fuck should I know?”

The rain fell and fell, and now a woman from Connecticut said the governments of the world sold all their peoples out to The Greys because The Greys promised them the secrets of immortality.

Constance pulled a cigarette from her pack and handed it and the lighter to Death. Death lit the cigarette, inhaled deeply and greedily of it’s smoke.

“I have to take him now, Constance.” Death said.

Constance tightly gripped the wheel, looked out into that accursed rain. She stone faced and quiet, but hot, angry tears poured down her face.

“He was the only person I felt safe around. He was the only person I didn’t feel like a goddamn freak around. After all that had happened, he made me whole again. I don’t want to be alone again.”

Death took another drag off the cigarette, sighed. The woman from Connecticut said the powerful were as scared as all of us.

“Take comfort, Constance, that you ever found shelter in a true heart, that someone’s love ever put you back together again. Take comfort in all you shared. Most people don’t get even that.”

Constance wiped the tears from her eyes, tears blurring with rain with the grey. Death reached over and placed one of his cold hands tenderly on her shoulder.

“He’ll still come to you in your dreams.” He said.

Then Death was outside the car, cradling her boyfriend’s spirit in his outstretched arms. Her and Death lock eyes, and he gives her a ghost of a smile. Then he turns and walks away, carrying her love’s spirit out into the night.

The Mustang’s engine starts up again, but Constance still decides to head west, to the ocean, to the endless blue and eternal horizon that could swallow her up. In the infinite, nothing hurts.

Turn

Katy wakes up, blanket and sheets soaked in sweat. Yet, she is shivering, feeling no warmth at all in her body. A touch to her wet forehead, and she feels she is burning up, her bodies futile effort to fight off the infection. She closed her eyes tightly, till stars exploded in the dark. She was doomed. There was no way around it.

She got out of bed, got in the shower, shivering even in almost scoldingly hot water. She was starting to shake again, and her muscles felt stretched and stiff. She still had to go to work, despite what was coming. She head no choice. The rent was do, and the bank was breathing down her neck, and she couldn’t just lay down and die. She wanted to, to just put herself away. And she would never, in the time left, get out from under it. Maybe a week left. Maybe a week and a half. And then, her debt, her obligations would pass on to her brother. The cycle endless, even in death.

She dressed in her maintenance worker uniform for one of the tony stores out in Turkey Creek, her job to keep everything running smoothly for the rich and haughty people there to throw around their riches and expect to be treated like royalty. They’d stare down there noses at her, a lowly servant basically, even if she wasn’t infected.

The TV in her tiny living room played the local morning news, now starting at 4 A.M., when she was getting up. A blandly pretty blonde talked about an upcoming celebrity wedding. She drank her bitter, black coffee as the blonde prattled on about how amazing the couple were, trying to sell everyone on way this was so exciting. All while the country sank into ruin, and the quiet plague that everyone tried to keep out of their minds.

She rode the KAT bus all the way from Chapman Highway, just past the Kroger, to West Knoxville. She tried to listen to music on her phone and earbuds, something sad but soothing. But all the sounds in the world where coming into her head like a dull roar, a tall and angry wave that never crested, so she gave up.

She turned and looked out the window, seeing one of the unfortunate, one that had turned, like she would, one of the undead. Two police officers had young man, thin and wiry, down on the sidewalk, gun drawn to his head, as he snapped and tried to bit them, kicking and writhing. It was all the officers could do to keep him down and get him handcuffed. Extreme aggression was the last stage.

Getting off the bus, finally, in Turkey Creek, her hands trembled. She almost couldn’t light her cigarette. Then, once it was lit, she immediately was hit by a wave of nausea and she throw up onto the sidewalk.

Letting herself into the shop with her master key, she noticed the edges of her vision were haloed by darkness. All of it taken together, the sweats, the cold chills, the dull roar of all sound, the tunnel vision, meant it wouldn’t be long before she turned, before she too was just another raving monster that would be put down with two in the head. Another victim of the plague, the unfortunate undead, that would be cast aside and ignored by everyone who could.

She felt another wave of nausea hit her, and she rushed over to a garbage can, feeling as if she might vomit again, but it was just dry heaves.

“You alright?” Someone asked.

She stood back up and turned to see Richie, another one of the maintenance workers behind her. She tried to catch her breath and smile.

“Yeah. Breakfast must not have agreed with me.”

“You okay, though?”

“Yeah…just….a little out of sorts lately.” She said, trying to paper over all that was failing, all that was happening with a smile.

Richie didn’t look convinced, but didn’t push it.

“I’ve got a bottled water.” He said, slinging his backpack off and digging inside of it. “It might at least get that awful taste out of your mouth.”

“Thanks, Richie.”  She said, taking the offered water as he produced it from his backpack. She smiled at him, genuinely this time. Dear, sweet Richie. Always looking out for her. Always quick with a witty line. It was a knife in her heart that she didn’t have time to get to know him, become his friend.

Katy drank the water greedily, taking the whole bottle in one draught. She threw the bottle in the trash. Richie smiled at her, and she squeezed his shoulder.

“You’re a good kid.” She said.

Katy started on the daily checklist, all that needed to be done before opening for business. She started shaking again, and her teeth chattered with another cold chill. She hoped when she turned, she sunk her teeth into one of the rich assholes, and not her own kind.