“My Love, In Pieces” Serves Up Edgar Allan Poe-Inspired Body Horror

Quoth the Raven cover

Initially, I didn’t plan to write a story to submit to Quoth the Raven, an anthology of contemporary tales and poems inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe. I’d seen the call for submissions from Camden Park Press floating around the interwebs, and it sounded like a cool project, but I hadn’t had that lightbulb inspiration moment.

And then, I read a story a friend of mine planned to submit, and as I read her incredible manuscript, I thought, Wow, this is a brilliant retelling…and now I want to be part of this project. (Spoiler alert – my friend’s story, “Marcela,” was accepted for the anthology, because like I said, it’s brilliant! Penny Paling, I owe you, girl!)

So, I did a quick Google search for stories by Edgar Allan Poe, promising myself that I would only invest in writing a new story if I got an idea that melted my face off. That jolt of inspiration came as soon as I read a synopsis and then the full text of “Berenice.”

Here’s a brief description of the story from Wikipedia:

“‘Berenice’ is a short horror story by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in the Southern Literary Messenger in 1835. The story follows a man named Egaeus who is preparing to marry his cousin Berenice. He has a tendency to fall into periods of intense focus during which he seems to separate himself from the outside world. Berenice begins to deteriorate from an unnamed disease until the only part of her remaining healthy is her teeth, which become the object of Egaeus’ obsession.”

Now, I didn’t post the full description of the story above, because it contains spoilers for the creepiest, crawliest parts of the narrative, the parts that didn’t jive with readers when Poe first published it. That’s right, folks complained that Poe had gone too far with this particular story. Because of mass public upset, Poe ultimately decided to self-censor the work to make it more palatable to polite society.

So, I’d found a story that had a conclusion so horrific it was censored? Yep, I decided that was the story I wanted to resurrect and give new life.

And it was the right choice, because “My Love, In Pieces,” which you can read in Quoth the Raven (out today!) is one of the scariest stories I’ve ever written.

Here’s a little taste:

“I wasn’t ready to see you like that, broken and bandaged and so very ashen. Your skin, once the color of fresh cream, was the color of dirty snow. Your face was swollen and bruised, a misshapen fruit, thanks to the airbags. Your leg was broken in two places, but it had been reset and shrouded in plaster. The doctor said one of your lungs collapsed and you had a concussion. Your injuries were many. Thus, the medically induced coma. They had you on painkillers and steroids and other medications that had so many syllables, I wondered if the doctor was making them up for my benefit.

The worst part was that wretched plastic tube down your throat, the contraption responsible for your breathing, since you could no longer manage that on your own. I couldn’t see you. I couldn’t see my wife, the shining constant of my life.

My chest grew hot as a branding iron, and I feared I’d spontaneously burst into flame. My flesh would drip from my bones, and then…then, I’d be unrecognizable to you, too. Maybe that would be better.

“She’ll wake up, right?” I managed.

The doctor gave me a kind smile. “In time, yes. We’ll take her off the barbiturates that keep her under as soon as possible, but she has a lot of healing to do. I can’t give you a definite timeframe. Of course, we’ll do everything we can to help in her recovery.”

It wasn’t the answer I wanted. My fists curled and hardened at my sides, ready to fly.

I told the doctor thank you and shook his hand, though my palm was cold and clammy. He left the room, and we were alone. I sunk into a chair, ran my hands through my hair, and listened to the metallic beep of your heart.

It’s cliché, but it all felt like a bad dream.

I thought of that morning, of the time before. You’d surprised me, climbing atop my hips in the gray light of dawn, bringing your finger to your lips while grinning mischievously. You’d bit my shoulder to keep from waking the girls. You smiled at me. You gnashed your teeth in the throes of our lovemaking. You were so warm and alive.

A fine pressure mounted in my chest, and I tucked my head between my knees to alleviate a sudden swoon. As I gulped in sour hospital air, an object on the floor near your bed caught my attention. It was blindingly white, slightly round with distinct grooves, no larger than a fingernail.”

Y’all, you’re so not ready for what happens next! Pick up your copy of Quoth the Raven HERE and see how this creeptastic story unfolds.

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2017 Accomplishments & 2018 Goals

new years

Yes, this is how I spent New Year’s Eve 2017, and it was awesome!

Though time is a uniquely human construct, there’s something beautiful about the idea of a new year. It’s like a crisp dollar bill, fresh and full of possibility. I use the turning over of one year to the next to celebrate achievements and either reinforce or set new goals. Here’s what went down in 2017 and what I’m hoping to accomplish in 2018.

2017 Recap

In 2017, I published five pieces: one harrowingly personal essay (Shapeless), my first erotica piece (Begin Again), a politically charged (but funny!) vampire romance novella (A Taste of Revolution), and two horror shorts (He Smelled Like Smoke and The Promise). With this motley smattering of writing, I’ve realized that I’m not comfortable boxing myself into a single genre or style. I’ve embraced the fact that I write what I want to when I’m inspired to create it. And I love that approach. It seems to be working for me.  

I read 45 books this year (hitting my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal – whoo hoo! – albeit just barely). My top 7 reads were (in no particular order:

Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong bite somebody else

Losing It by Cora Carmack

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

The Dinner by Herman Koch

Joyland by Stephen King

Bite Somebody Else by Sara Dobie Bauer

rocket raccoon

 

Graphic novels I loved reading this year include:

March: Book One by John Lewis and Nate Powell 

Paper Girls: Volume One by Brian K. Vaughan 

Rocket Raccoon #1 by Skottie Young 

 

 

 

I crafted over 100 comic book flowers for my upcoming wedding.

I survived my first hot yoga class (which got up to 106 degrees, thankyouverymuch).

My fiance and I made our wedding bands. Like, mixed-and-melted-down-the-metals-and-cranked-the-metals-through-a-rolling-mill-and-soldered-them-together-and-beat-them-into-circles-with-mallets made them.

I took the stage in an amazing production of The Vagina Monologues. wookie

I learned how to hand stamp metal.

I rediscovered my love for baking pies.

I bought my first onesie and dressed up like Chewbacca for Halloween.

I did a water nymph photoshoot with one of my oldest and dearest friends.

I climbed to the very top of an exceptionally tall indoor climbing wall (six stories!).

I snuggled with an alpaca (which is the perfect way to end a list of accomplishments, right?).

2018 Goals

Read 45 books. I’m keeping this one consistent. Not gonna lie, I read some really short books on December 29th, 30th, and 31st in order to hit my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal. This year, I want to cruise into December confident that I’ll hit my 45-book goal – and then some.

Write one story or piece a month. This one is going to be a challenge. I’ve fallen out of the habit of writing regularly (it’s like I’ve convinced myself I don’t have time because I’m planning a wedding or something!) I lost a little bit of my love for writing in 2017, and I don’t know whether to blame stress, poor planning, a lack of inspiration, a lack of self-motivation, or the monster that hides out under my bed. Whatever the case may be, I want to challenge myself to meet a deadline every month in 2018 to see if I can re-spark my desire to write consistently. Whether flash fiction, a sprawling novella, or a personal essay, I need to write something every month. And I’m going to be gentle with myself. The pieces don’t need to be ready to sell or the best thing I’ve ever written. They just need to be complete.

yogaContinue to cultivate a regular yoga practice. When Bryan and I were living in Phoenix, I was really good about going to yoga at least twice a week. There’s something about yoga that makes me feel incredibly strong and incredibly calm, which I’ve found to be a really powerful combination for me. It’s also a great way to give my lower back and other chronic injuries the TLC they need. I started working toward this goal in 2017, and I’m hoping to build upon it to keep the momentum going in 2018.

Revive my blog presences. My personal blog and the blog I share with my fiance (2geekslife.com) have been grossly neglected. Again, I’ve fallen out of the habit, and I’ve also self-sabotaged a bit. There were times in 2017 when I thought my regular musings were too mundane or too boring to publish. Time to kill that self-doubt and trust that I always have something valuable or funny or thoughtful to say. Time to trust my voice.

Okay, those are the big goals. I’m sure other goals will pop up throughout the year, and I’ll go after them with vigor and an eye for self-improvement and cultivating accomplishment and happiness.

For those of you who create resolutions or set goals each year, I hope you’re off to a great start. I believe in you! Go get ‘em!

 

Get Caught Up in Bad Moonlight in Lupine Lunes, A Werewolf Anthology

lupine-lunes

When Popcorn Press announced their annual Halloween anthology would be werewolf themed, I knew I needed to write something. Little did I know how fun it would be to write about a hunt masquerading as a mating ritual…

Bad Moonlight

By Tiffany Michelle Brown

As Raymond watched icy moonlight gleam off Vanessa’s bare shoulders, he wondered if he was making a mistake. Buying her drinks. Following her here. Getting caught up. And so damn soon. That was the worst part. The part that felt shameful. Raymond rubbed the back of his neck, stifling a guilty grimace as Vanessa flicked through her keyring.

He wouldn’t have done this a year ago, even though he’d been single and hot-blooded and popular with the ladies. Scratch that, he wouldn’t have done this ever. So why was he doing it now? Cool air nipped at Raymond’s shoulders through his cable-knit sweater just as realization nipped like an overzealous gnat at his consciousness.

He knew why he was doing this. Breaking it off with Tonia three weeks prior had left a crater inside his heart, and he was trying to fill it with anything that batted an eyelash and offered to fill him up. On one hand, his actions felt pathetic. On the other, they felt like survival.

Vanessa turned the key in the lock, peered over her shoulder, and gave Raymond a smile. Her coffee brown eyes crinkled in the corners and her teeth gleamed, white as stars. “Sorry.” She reached out and placed a hand on his bicep, her acrylic nails tickling his skin through the fabric of his sweater. “New place. I don’t remember which key is which yet.” She brushed a black curl off her forehead and gazed up at him. “You comin’ inside?”

The hopeful raise of her eyebrows did Raymond in. He couldn’t, in good conscience, abandon this woman now, despite the reluctance that tugged at his chest. His mama had raised him better. He wasn’t the kind of man who’d cold shoulder a woman on her doorstep.

He made a decision. He’d follow her into the house, make casual conversation, ensure she was okay for the night, and leave before things got complicated. He wouldn’t be swayed—even if she did smell of gardenias and honey. No. He had his moral code, and he’d be damned if a pretty face and the curve of a hip made him lose himself. Or his memories of Tonia.

Raymond offered a curt nod of acceptance. Vanessa’s lips stretched into a grin, and she pushed the door open. Her heels clicked on the hardwood floor as she sauntered inside, leaning into her hips as she moved. Raymond followed, stuffing his hands in his pockets, keeping his eyes glued to Vanessa’s curly hair, telling himself repeatedly not to let them drift south.

The room smelled of fresh paint. Boxes were stacked in the corners, and the only furniture in the room consisted of a blue suede couch and a lamp that stood vigil in the corner. Vanessa crossed the room and flicked on the bulb, basking the space in warm yellow light. She leaned against a freshly primed wall. The blue sequins adorning her dress glittered, and her eyes sparkled with new intensity. She curled her finger at Raymond. “Come here.”

Raymond closed the front door and secured the latch. He leaned back against the wood. “Maybe it’s best if I stay over here for right now.”

Disappointment skittered across Vanessa’s face, and her breath caught in her chest. She paused a moment and then exhaled, shaking her head. “You’re a gentleman all of a sudden, huh?” She smiled at him and bit her lip. “Pity.”

Raymond shrugged his shoulders, feigning nonchalance while his gut grew heavy with guilt. He shouldn’t be here, shouldn’t be leading her on. But bolting would be a dick move.

Conversation. It was time for conversation. “How long ago did you move in?”

Vanessa raised an eyebrow. “We’re playing twenty questions now?”

“We didn’t really get to know each other at the bar.” Which was true. He’d learned she was new in town, had a taste for vodka martinis with a twist, and could tear up a dance floor to 90s RnB—especially Boyz II Men—but not much else.

Vanessa threw up her hands. “Okay, okay…We’ll talk first…” She smoothed her dress and held up her fingers. “I’ve been here for two weeks.”

“You move out here for a job?”

“No.” Vanessa crossed her arms over her chest. “Family. I have a sister who lives here.” Vanessa’s features fell, and her eyes darted to the floor. “She isn’t doing well. She got in a nasty accident recently, a hit and run.”

Raymond frowned. “I’m sorry to hear that.” He considered moving closer, perhaps offering her a shoulder, but…proximity could be dangerous. Compromising. Intoxicating. He needed to keep his distance.

“I’m her big sister. I’m used to taking care of her.” Vanessa’s lips twitched into a sad smile. “Family is important to me.” She glanced out the bay window into the darkened front yard and then her eyes found Raymond’s. “You want a beer?”

“Sure.”

Vanessa stepped out of her heels, one at a time, keeping her eyes fixed on Raymond’s, knowing her movements were a performance of sorts. Then, she floated across the living room and slipped into the kitchen. Raymond heard the steady hum of an open refrigerator. “What about you, Ray? What brought you here?”

Raymond flinched. “No one calls me that.”

Glass bottles clinked and the refrigerator door squeaked closed. “What do you have against the name Ray? There are great men named Ray. Ray Charles. Ray Rice. Ray Bradbury. Ray J.”

“Don’t be comparing me to Ray J.” He heard Vanessa’s husky chuckle, then metal bottle caps popping and tumbling to the countertop in the dark. “I just like the name my mama gave me. The full name.”

Vanessa reappeared before him, stepping into the light. She took a swig of her beer, licked her lips, and extended a bottle to Raymond. “Are you a mama’s boy then?”

Raymond’s lips quirked as he took the beer. “Nah. I just agree with you. Family’s important.”

“Well, cheers to that.” Vanessa brought her bottle to Raymond’s and the glass clinked loudly in the near empty room. She sidled closer to him, her ample chest brushing against the top of his stomach and sending shivers through him. Raymond urged himself to be still.

Vanessa sighed and pressed her forehead to his chest in defeat. “Okay, okay,” she said, moving away from him. She fell into the couch cushions and tucked her long brown legs beneath her. “You never answered my question.”

Raymond frowned.

“What brought you here?”

“Born and raised.” Raymond took a sip. The beer was dark, heavy, with a hint of…something vaguely chalky. He couldn’t quite place the taste. He held up the bottle, inspecting the label. Malt. That had to be it.

“A local?”

“Yep. Have you been by the mechanic shop down on Waverly?”

Vanessa inclined her head. “I’ve driven past it.”

“My family owns it.”

“How very…quaint.”

Raymond chuckled. He was used to ribbing from outsiders. “It’s nice, all the family-run joints here. The community. Everyone’s got your back. You’ll see how it is, when you’ve been here for a bit.” He took a long draw from his bottle.

As he swallowed, Raymond felt the familiar sensation of alcohol spiking his blood. His chest warmed, his heart pounded, and he made a mental note to slow down. He’d thrown back at least three gin and tonics at The Dell, more than he’d had to drink in a good while.

But then a lick of pain shot through his skull, quick and fierce as an electrical current, rendering him woozy and off balance. What in the hell?

***

To read the rest, pick up your copy of Lupine Lunes from Popcorn Press!

Read “Something Black” in the Zen of the Dead Anthology by Popcorn Press

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Today, my short story “Something Black” is published in Zen of the Dead, a Halloween-themed anthology by Popcorn Press. And I have to say, this has been the most whirlwind publishing experience I’ve had to date.

The first week in October, I left my regular 9-to-5 at dusk and noticed a single crow sitting atop our building, emitting a lonely barrage of caws into the nearby canyon. On October 20, the solitary crow had turned into a murder of crows, sitting in a neat line in the exact same spot on the roof. It was exceedingly clear they’d conspired and exponentially increased their presence.

A question leaped through my mind. What if that murder continues to grow?

The question sent my head spinning and then inspired a follow-up question. Why would crows flock to a corporate building of all places?

Because something supernatural and sinister is afoot, of course!

During my commute home October 20, I dreamed up a story about mounting frustration, feeling invisible, and a murder (of crows). When I got home, I had an hour to write before my yoga class. I pounded at my keyboard and had a good three pages done before I had to bolt in time to namaste.

Over the next 24 hours, the story begged to be written, and I couldn’t seem to type fast enough. By the following night, I had 17 pages of atmospheric, Hitchcockian horror written, edited, and sent out to first readers.

On average, it takes me at least a couple weeks, if not a month, to write a story and polish it, so the experience was nothing short of exhilarating.

The next morning, the fabulous Sara Dobie Bauer sent me links to a couple calls for submissions – both with super tight deadlines. I would need to send something within the next few days. Did I have anything to send? Strangely enough, I did.

I gave “Something Black” a final read-through, formatted it for the publication, and emailed it to Lester Smith, founder of Popcorn Press, who was seeking horror fiction and poetry for Zen of the Dead. Not four hours later, I got a reply from Lester. “Something Black” had been accepted.

And I didn’t know what to do with myself! Had I really written a story, sent it out for consideration, and been accepted within a span of 72 hours?

To make this experience even more fantastic, Sara also has a story, “Auntie’s Favorite,” in Zen of the Dead. I’ve taken to calling Sara my cross-country writing soulmate, and this simultaneous publication simply affirms our weird, uncanny, wonderful bond. As always, it’s an honor to be published alongside her.

Today, the Zen of the Dead eBook is alive on Amazon and you can order a hard copy of the book via Popcorn Press’s website! I recommend you purchase your preferred form of book, curl up with a fall-inspired ale and a black cat under a bright, foreboding moon, and read some creepy Halloween-inspired fiction and poetry.

Read “Give It Back: A Horror Short” on Your Kindle or Nook

Book cover designed by the amazing Bryan Mok.

Book cover designed by the amazing Bryan Mok.

About a month ago, I was updating my publishing credits on this very blog when I decided to check the hyperlinks on the page and make sure they were functioning properly. In my experience, links like to break every once in a while. For absolutely no reason. At the most inopportune times. I wanted to be proactive.

I made my way down the list, verifying the links, but when I got to my story “Give It Back,” which was published in Blank Fiction Literary Magazine last year, I got one of those “this page doesn’t exist anymore” type notifications.

Hmm.

I did some research and found that archived articles and search results came up in a Google search—but nothing active. Sadly, Blank Fiction was defunct.

Which was upsetting for two reasons:

One, Blank Fiction boasted a really cool concept. They published quarterly, and each edition reflected different genre: Literary, Horror, Noir…I loved the variety. (Also, their Horror edition featured all female authors – what what!)

Two, since Blank Fiction was strictly an online publication, my story went poof. It no longer existed. It got sucked into the internet ether, never to be seen again. And “Give It Back” is one of my favorite stories I’ve ever written.

So, what’s a girl to do when a literary journal goes under, along with her creepy story about a girl who steals jewelry off corpses? Self-publish it the week of Halloween of course!

Today, “Give It Back: A Horror Short” has returned to the interwebs, and I couldn’t be happier. It boasts dead bodies, pathological liars, pints of beer, moments of human understanding, scenes that should be in horror films, and a ghost that I hope none of my readers ever meet in real life.

And that fabulous, Hitchcock-esque, vintage horror-styled book cover? Designed by the one and only Bryan Mok, who also created my cover for Spin: A Novelette. He gets me, and he gets my aesthetic. I couldn’t put this out in the world without giving him a huge shout out: THANK YOU, MY LOVE!

I hope “Give It Back: A Horror Short” is the creepy good time that ushers you into a truly marvelous Halloween weekend. Go scare yourselves silly, kids!

Download your eBook copy today from Amazon (Kindle).

NOOK owners, your link will be coming soon! I’ve run into technical difficulties this morning. I have an email in to NOOK Press to troubleshoot the issue and will update this blog post as soon as possible once the story is live on Barnes & Noble!

UPDATE (10/29): “Give It Back: A Horror Short” is now available via Barnes and Noble. Download it for your NOOK today!

Getting (V)amped!

Photo by flick user "virginsuicide photography."

Photo by flick user “virginsuicide photography.”

For me, vampires and October are synonymous. Of all the monsters out there, great and creepy, vile and horrible, vamps have always been my favorite. I mean, what’s not to love? Vampires―my favorite breed anyway―are sexy yet ruthless, timeless yet new, scary yet alluring, and can be mistaken for humans. Walking (or flying) contradictions are pretty dang creepy, because you don’t entirely know how to feel about them from one moment to the next. And I think vampires are the monsters that most resemble humans, which is terrifying on an entirely different psychological plane.

I’m happy to report that I’ve kicked off October the right way―with everything vampire.

For one, I just finished a novel called Bite Somebody: A Bloodsucker’s Diary by my good friend, Sara Dobie Bauer, who is brilliant and also just as obsessed with vampires as I am. For a taste of the book, read the query letter for Bite Somebody. Unfortunately, that’s all you can read for now, because Sara’s shopping it to agents for publication. But I will tell you that when it gets picked up and published (because I very much believe it SHOULD and WILL happen), get your copy. Because vampires in Florida and parodies of Twilight and performance anxiety and 80s movies and cute stoner boys and blood bags and love. Yeah, all of that and so much more. Sara created a fun, new vampire world―and it was a great introduction to October for me.

Vampire

Of course, I didn’t stop there. Last Thursday night, I took my boyfriend to see A Vampire Tale, Scorpius Dance Company’s dark and comical tour de force depicting a vampire clan motivated by tradition, bloodlust, and a human-vampire love triangle. Choreographer and vampire lover Lisa Starry conceptualized and staged this show long before the Twilight explosion―and she’s stayed true to her depictions of vampires despite all the pop culture fluff that’s saturated the market. Her vamps are intense and sexy and physical―and they fly thanks to lots of training in aerial arts. Swoon.

A Vampire Tale is an annual treat and many consider it the Nutcracker of the Halloween season. It’s a pretty sound comparison. It’s the same story every year—a beautiful and innocent girl is invited to “have dinner” with the queen of a vampire clan, but the invitation gets a little complicated when the vampire king falls for the human—but the same story always delights. It just keeps getting better.

I also went to see Dracula Untold last night, which I highly recommend if you like old school vampire lore a la Vlad the Impaler. I will admit, I hadn’t seen too much about this movie before going to see it. I didn’t need to. The movie posters were motivation enough―and the casting of Luke Evans? Uh yeah. Superb call, because he has that dark, brooding thing down that’s so essential for a man—or monster―fighting his demons.

Despite poor reviews, I really enjoyed it.

Warning: Light spoilers are about to happen. If you want to see Dracula Untold without my words in your head, stop reading NOW.

Okay, with that out of the way…

What I loved the most about this particular depiction of the Dracula/Vlad the Impaler mythos is that it portrays Dracula as human first and monster second. Vlad turning into Dracula is not an accident—it’s a choice. And the motivation for him to turn to the dark side warms your heart. He’s a complete character with emotions and drive―and you relate to him on an interesting level. But he’s a monster, so that’s weird, right? (Remember that contradictory stuff I was talking about earlier—yeah, empathizing and relating to a monster is part of that.)

To the end, I did a little talk for Ignite Phoenix a few years ago called “A New Breed of Human” about the transformation of the vampire in popular media from Nosferatu to Edward Cullen and my theory about why they’re becoming more and more human, more and more relatable—Dracula Untold being a perfect example. Watch the video for a full breakdown, but here’s the short of it.

Vamps have it all―sex appeal, immortality, power. And we keep pulling our monsters closer and closer to us; they resemble us more and more. Maybe that’s because, deep down, we all just want to be bitten.

 

Photo licensing – virginsuicide photography on flickr

Fire and Ice

Photo by flickr user "KatKauer."

Photo by flickr user “KatKauer.”

I will state the obvious. I like writing about creepy things. So October is a particularly creative time for me since everyone is in the mood for scary movies, candy corn, witches, and pumpkins.

About a week ago, I put an APB out on Facebook asking my friends for some fun ideas for scary short stories…and I got flooded with crazy, creepy, wonderful stuff.

The following is a product of that call for short story inspiration. Holly, this one’s for you.

Read at your own risk. Muahahahahaha!

(A quick disclaimer – I do not pretend to speak or understand Spanish, but I wanted to use it in this story. Here’s hoping Google translate didn’t leave any glaring errors!)

Fire and Ice

By: Tiffany Michelle Brown

“Trust me, guys go crazy over this stuff,” Victoria said and spritzed me with another coat of body spray. It was the kind my older sister Clarissa bought every time we went to the drugstore, the bottle with the silver label and a mermaid under a waterfall. I held my breath and let the mist settle into my clothing. A moment later, I smelled like gummy bears, floral ones.

“I just hope Eddie likes it,” I said.

“He will,” Victoria said.

She gave me a sharp nod, sprayed her wrists, and then rubbed them together. Her cell phone buzzed, but she didn’t look at the message. Instead, she slipped the phone into the pocket of her jeans and zipped up her hoodie. I buttoned up my pea coat and then followed Victoria to the door of her bedroom.

“Remember,” she whispered, “we have to be really, really quiet. If my dad wakes up, he’ll kill us.” She mimicked slitting her throat for emphasis.

I nodded.

Victoria and I crept through the kitchen. The digital clock on the microwave read 11:38 and I thought about how upset my mother would be if she knew I was up.

Magdalena, sleep is important,” she would say. “How will the angels look over you if you are not in bed?” Then she would cross herself, expectant I would do the same.

In the living room, Victoria dropped to her knees and crawled through the doggie door, careful to reach back and catch the plastic flap so it wouldn’t fall and make noise. I marveled at how her slim body twisted to navigate the small space. She’d clearly done this many times before.

When it was my turn, my hands grew clammy and I wiped them on my jeans.

I shouldn’t be doing this. I shouldn’t be sneaking out.

Victoria frowned at me through the glass and then rolled her eyes. I sighed and got down on my hands and knees. I shimmied through the small opening and tried to catch the flap the way Victoria had, but my fingers slipped and the plastic banged. Loud.

Victoria and I froze, eyes locked on each other. I counted to ten. Nothing happened.

Victoria gave me a nod, stood, and walked around the side of the house, her blond hair an ice sculpture in the moonlight. I followed, my Keds making soft crunching sounds on the gravel. The stucco on the walls of Victoria’s house looked like bright, cream cheese frosting and the cool night air crept beneath my jacket. I crossed my arms over my chest and glanced down at the newly-formed bumps there. The “new” bra under my shirt was a hand-me-down from my sister, because my family never threw anything away. They’d saved it for four years, knowing I’d need it someday. It was itchy.

“You’re growing melones, Maggie,” Clarissa had said, her laugh filling the kitchen as we prepared tamales.

Later that day, in my room, I stood in front of the mirror wearing nothing but the bra and a pair of underwear. I looked at myself from every angle and then gave up. I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was.

It was more apparent to Victoria.

“You’re wearing a bra! Finally!” she exclaimed. “Show me. Right now.”

When I lifted my shirt, Victoria looked disappointed for a moment and then smiled.

“Welcome to the club,” she’d said.

Victoria raised the latch on the wooden gate and then swung the door open. She ushered me through and then closed the door behind us.

“We’re free!” Victoria squealed. She took a few steps down the cement driveway and started dancing, humming a pop song.  

I smiled and looked down the street. Black streamers hung from tree branches and Jack-o-laterns glowed on front porches. Looking at their craggy, misshapen mouths, my stomach felt like a shriveled raison.

Victoria’s dance ended and she stood with her hands on her hips, staring at me.

“You look like you’re going to poop,” she said.

“I’m nervous,” I confessed.

Victoria shook her head, grabbed my arm, and pulled me down the driveway and onto Price Lane.

“Jason’s house is five blocks away,” Victoria said. “They said they’ll have sleeping bags and some beers.”

“We’re going inside?”

“No, we hang out on the driveway,” Victoria said. “They might have some smokes, too.”

“How?”

“Jason’s older brother smokes. His mom, too.”

I frowned.

“You’re such a prude, Maggie.”

 ********

My coat and the light sweater underneath were riding up and Eddie’s hands on my waist felt like ice, but I didn’t care. He was touching me and that’s what mattered. A song by some band I’d never heard of played on Jason’s iPhone and all four of us swayed on the Somerset’s driveway—Victoria’s idea, of course. She really liked school dances.

I looked at my feet, too nervous to look at Eddie, but when he cleared his throat, I didn’t have a choice. I looked up and he smiled. He jerked his head to side and I looked to my left. Jason and Victoria had stopped dancing. Instead, they were making out, a mess of sweaters and elbows. My cheeks burned and my gaze returned to my Keds.

“Hey, do you want to grab a beer?” Eddied asked. He squeezed my waist when he said it.

I nodded, grateful he hadn’t asked me to make out.

Eddie let go of my waist, but the coldness remained, proof that his hands had been there. I waited a few seconds and then rubbed the cold spots on my hips. Eddie stooped, picked up a couple of beers, and gestured toward the side of the house. I took a few steps and then felt his fist holding a beer on my shoulder, guiding me. A smile tugged at the corners of my mouth.  

We walked into the shadows and I had to squint hard to see Eddie’s silhouette in front of me. I heard him twist the tops off the beers and then he held one out to me. In the dark, he missed my hand and hit my chest with the cold bottle. I stepped to the side, startled, and he moved back immediately.

“Maggie, I’m sorry,” he said. “I promise I didn’t do that on purpose.”

My stomach was on fire.

“It’s okay,” I said. “I know you didn’t.”

I reached out and took one of the beers. I held it for a moment and debated whether to take a drink. Eddie’s outline shifted from one foot to the other.

“So, uh, do you like Halloween?” he asked, gesturing to the night around us.

“Not really,” I admitted. “It kind of creeps me out.”

Eddie took a sip of his beer.

“My parents are really weird about Halloween,” he said. “They’re super religious, so they don’t like any talk about ghosts or demons or the devil.” He let out a low laugh. “Maybe that’s why I like it so much.”      

“Mine, too. I mean, my parents. We’re Catholic,” I explained. “And they’re weird like that all year. Well, mostly it’s my mom. She’s always telling me to ‘Watch out for the devil’s footprint.’ I don’t really know what that means.”

“Maybe it means…” Eddie’s outline scratched his head. “Maybe it means…evil is everywhere.”

I could feel him smiling. I shivered.

Eddie’s shadow leaned forward.

“Or maybe it’s your mom’s way of saying you should watch out for boys who want to kiss you.”

“Huh?”

Eddie took a step closer to me and I clutched my beer bottle to my chest, afraid I’d drop it.

My first kiss was like stepping a little too close to a campfire, a singe of heat that made me dizzy. And then it was over and I could feel my own breath on my lips as Eddie stepped back into the darkness.

 ********

“Did he kiss you?” Victoria asked. “Because Jason said he thought Eddie wanted to.”

I smiled as we walked, remembering the taste of fire and ice. Victoria ducked down to see my face.

“Oh, he totally did, didn’t he?” Victoria asked. “I knew it!”

“Ssh.”

“Oh, who cares! You’ve been kissed. Boobs and a first kiss in the same month!”

Victoria jogged ahead on the sidewalk, turned, and stood in front of me, not allowing me to pass.

“How was it?” she asked, hands on her hips, expression curious and excited.

 I shook my head no.

“Does that mean it was bad…or that you aren’t going to tell me anything?”

I shrugged.

“Maggie, you have to tell me.” She poked me. “I promise I won’t tell—“ she started.

Victoria looked over my shoulder and her eyes widened.

“Hey, check out this psycho,” she whispered and turned me around by my shoulders.

On the next block, a man sat cross-legged and hunched over on the front lawn of a house, a lit candle in one hand and something I couldn’t make out clutched in the other. In the quiet, I could hear him mumbling. Once in a while, a syllable echoed through the empty streets. He began to rock forward and backward, steady as a ship.

“He’s completely Looney Tunes,” Victoria whispered. She sounded like someone pressed against the glass of the monkey exhibit at the zoo.

“Come on,” I said. “Let’s just go home.”

“No way,” Victoria said.

She started down the sidewalk.

“Victoria, what are you doing?”

She didn’t look back.

I closed my eyes and shook my head, willed Victoria back to me. Of course, she didn’t come back and I had to follow her.

Victoria had stopped on the curb at the end of the block. Now only a few yards of asphalt and another curb separated us from the man on the lawn. He wore black jeans and a black hoodie, but his feet were bare. In his right hand, he held a candle, its glass casing printed with a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe. In his left hand he held a rosary with red beads.

“He’s speaking in Spanish, Maggie. What’s he saying?” Victoria asked.

I closed my eyes and listened hard.

“It’s…it’s The Lord’s Prayer,” I said. “But he’s saying it wrong.”

 “Nuestro padre que estas en el infierno…”

 “Our father who art in hell…” I whispered, staring at the man.

 “…temia sea tu nombre…”

 “…feared be thy name…”

“…venga to reino…”

“…thy kingdom come…”

“…tu ira se conveirten…”

“…thy wrath be done…”

“…en la Tierra como en el infierno…”

“…on Earth as it is…in hell…”

Victoria’s hand found mine and squeezed hard. I could feel her shaking and wished I could do the same. I felt like lead.  

“Maybe we should go,” she said.

The man stopped talking. We watched as his spine straightened and he sat up, his eyes closed, his hands gripping the candle and the rosary with such force they started to shake. His mouth opened and then opened some more, his jaw detaching from the rest of his face and sinking lower and lower. That’s when the winds began. It started with Victoria’s hair. A few blond wisps brushed forward on her face and then reached out in front of her like eager fingers. Soon, I felt my jacket billow and I leaned back to keep from rushing forward, my own dark hair reaching toward the man across the street, blocking my vision.

“Maggie!” Victoria yelled and her fingernails dug into my hand.

The hurricane was warm and humid, and I feared we’d both be sucked up it in and swallowed by the man across the street. Just as I was about to let go of Victoria’s hand, the winds died. I gasped for breath and Victoria started to cry. The man across the street sat stone still for a moment and then the rosary fell from his hand. We should have run then, but we didn’t. I stared at him, paralyzed, while Victoria whimpered next to me.

The man’s eyes opened, except they weren’t really eyes. Where two eyes should have been were lumps that looked like muddled cherries. The thing started to climb to its feet, holding the candle out to us. Its limbs cracked like kindling thrown into fire.  

I found my legs, turned, and started to run, pulling Victoria behind me. She rattled along like a can tied to the back of a bike with string. She almost fell a few times, but I didn’t care. My legs pumped and my stomach cramped, but I refused to stop.

After sprinting a block, I glanced over my shoulder, sure I’d see that thing ready to take a bite out of me with its detached jaw. But all I saw were black streamers hanging from tree branches and carved pumpkins that no longer glowed in the night, their candles snuffed out.

I took a deep gulp of air and coughed. Victoria sat on the pavement and her small, square shoulders heaved.

When she could manage, she asked, “What the hell was that?”

I thought for a moment and took a deep breath.

“Evil is everywhere,” I said and then crossed myself.

 ********

 “You girls are awfully quiet today,” Victoria’s dad said.

 I took a careful bite of Captain Crunch and glanced at Victoria.

 “We were up late,” she said.

Victoria’s dad closed his Sunday morning paper and looked like he had a follow-up question, but the doorbell saved us. He set down the newspaper and rose from the table. I heard his footsteps retreat down the hall and then the front door squeaked open. Wisps of unintelligible conversation floated into the breakfast nook and then Victoria’s dad yelled, “Ladies, there’s an Eddie here to see you.” Eddie’s name sounded like a question mark.

Victoria’s face lit up and her mouth dropped open in surprise. Blood flowed through my arms and made them feel electric.

“Come on,” Victoria said. She stood, grabbed onto my elbow, and took me with her to the front door.

Victoria’s dad stood to the side of the door, a suspicious look on his face. Eddie stood just inside, his hands behind his back.

“Maggie,” Eddie said. At the sound of his voice, I blushed.

Victoria’s dad looked at me, then at Eddie, and his expression relaxed.

“Stay in here,” he said.

He nodded at us and left the room.

Victoria pushed me a step forward and said, “Maggie, I’m going to, uh, finish my breakfast.” She waved at Eddie, gave me a big, obvious grin, and left us in the foyer. I smiled at Eddie and then down at my bare feet.

“So, uh—“ Eddied started and then scratched his head. I wanted to kiss him again.

“I had fun last night,” I said.

“Me too.”

A moment of silence washed over us.

“I, uh, have something for you,” Eddie said.

“What?”

“I brought you something.”

“You did? Why?”

Eddie shook his head, smiling, and took a step forward. His hands came out from behind his back and my surprised smile was washed clean from my face. My blood ran cold. Eddie held out a Virgin of Guadalupe candle to me. The wick was black and the wax was marred.

I stood stunned, unable to move, unable to breathe. Could it be?  

Eddie’s face reflected embarrassment.

“Oh shit,” he muttered. “I know, it’s not the best present because it’s been used, but…it’s really about the idea behind it….It was my brother’s idea.”

I looked up at Eddied and frowned.

“I told him about you this morning,” Eddie said.

I looked down, embarassed that he’d told his brother about our kiss.

“Well, not about that,” Eddie said quickly. “More about how our parents are both crazy and religious and stuff.” He ran his free hand through his hair. “So, you know, this is for you…to ward off evil…”

I reached out slowly and took the candle. It felt like ice.

“Wow, I must sound really stupid right now. This was so much cooler in my head,” Eddie said. His face fell.

“No, no,” I said. “I’m, I’m just surprised. Thank you. Really.” I mustered a tight smile for him.

“Okay,” Eddie said. “So, see you at school?”

“Yeah,” I said. “See you at school.”

“And maybe Jason’s driveway sometime?”

Heat rose on my cheeks and I nodded.

“Good,” Eddie said.

He closed the gap between us and kissed me.

“See ya,” he said.

I pressed my face to the security door and watched Eddie start toward a silver Mustang parked at the curb. An older guy, Eddie’s brother I assumed, lounged in the driver’s seat, one arm hanging out the open window.  

Eddie glanced back. I awkwardly held up the candle in response and immediately felt stupid. He smiled and jogged the rest of the way down the driveway. 

My stomach tightened as my gaze drifted back to the driver of the Mustang. I locked eyes with Eddie’s brother and as if in response, he leaned out the window toward me so his face and shoulders were in the sun. My breath caught in my chest and I gripped the candle so hard I thought the glass might shatter.

Muddled cherries stared back at me, oozing and wet and terrifying in broad daylight.

I closed my eyes and crossed myself. When I looked again, Eddie’s brother was waving to me from the car, a sweet smile on his face, no muddled cherries. I didn’t wave back. Eddie climbed into the passenger seat, the engine caught, and a rap song sounded through the quiet neighborhood.

As I watched the Mustang drive away, the cramping in my stomach continued and adrenaline made me lightheaded. The glass of the candle grew warm and then much too hot to touch. I looked down. The candle was lit with a flame as red as rose petals. I dropped the candle and the glass shattered, little fragments of the Virgin of Guadalupe scattering across the foyer. Much too quickly, the molded wax melted and spread out across the floor like hot syrup. A few moments later, I could make out a phrase. I shook my head, a tear sliding down my cheek.

En todas partes.

Everywhere.   

Photo licensing – KatKauer