Knot

I texted Kristy again, and waited, having little else to do. We weren’t supposed to text at work, but it was one in the morning and nobody was at the golf course except me, and I was in the Security Shack, by myself, with only a small lamp and the moon through the window to keep me company. If they complained I would tell them to find someone else willing to work twelve-hour graveyard shifts on a Saturday night in Miami. All of their money wouldn’t mean for shit then. They wouldn’t watch their own exclusive golf club, would they? Trust-fund geriatrics.
Through one window I could see the desolately empty parking lot, and behind it the bright light pollution of party-city creating a festive aureola arching over the top of the dark palm trees; and through another window I could see the gentle waves and dips of the golf course itself, dim in the blue wash of the moon. I could see little else, which was why I was so startled when Buck opened the door suddenly, seemingly coming out of Nowhere.
“Jesus-fucking-Christ, Buck!” I cussed, nearly falling out of my chair. “Where the hell have you been?”
“Had to go to the doctor,” he said, plopping down in his chair. The chair squeaked under his portly body. “I have this knot on my back. It’s the size of a tennis ball. Blue and purple with a white head of pus as big as…”
“I know, Buck, I know!” I growled. He had told me about it five times in the last two days.
“Do you want to see it?” he asked.
“No!” I said, just like the other five times he had asked. “Wait—you said your doctor’s appointment was this morning. Why are you late to work? Did they…?” I couldn’t say anything in regard to the nasty growth on his back. I was sick of hearing about it, and imagining it.
“They didn’t cut it yet,” Buck said. “Doc put me on antibiotics. They’ve gotten me down. Overslept. Sorry.”
“It’s no problem,” I lied. I turned to look at him and saw how sweaty his forehead was, and his neck, and his arms; the wirebrush hairs were smeared with sweat. “Buck, you don’t look so good. You should go home.”
“Nah,” he said, running his meaty fingers over his bald pate. The remaining hair on his scalp half-encircled his head, and gleamed with sweat in the dim lamplight. “Nothing a little walking on the green won’t fix. Clean Florida air.”
He tittered breathlessly, and reeled a little in his chair. I worried he might pass out any moment, smacking his thick skull on the desk and floor and getting a couple of concussions on the way down. I should have known there was something wrong with him as soon as he entered the Security Shack. Normally he would have flipped the switch, turning on the blinding fluorescent lights, which I kept off because, one, they hurt my graveyard shift eyes, and two, they caused every window in the outside world to turn into oddly accurate mirrors. As if reading my mind, Buck lurched up to his feet, with a grunt, and staggered to the light switch, turning the bleach-like lights on. One moment I was looking at the golf course and the next I saw only my reflection, and Buck’s reflection, his corpulent body stuffed into his white shirt, the back of which was distorted with a large protuberance in the center of his back.
“I’ll go on a round,”I said. I hadn’t been on one yet, and I also needed to walk off the image of that thing on Buck’s back, and how it stuck in my brain like a bad dream. A tumescent dream, I thought, and shook my head. “You stay here and rest a while.”
“I can go,” he said, tottering to and fro as if he might pass out any moment.
I stood up and slid his chair to him. He plopped down in it like a dying man.
“I’ll take the radio,” I said, clipping the walkie-talkie to my belt. “If you start feeling really bad, say something.”
As I went to the door, Buck turned toward me.
“Hey,” he said. “Do you want to see my knot?”
I walked out quickly, without another word.

I brought a flashlight with me, and a golf club. We weren’t supposed to have weapons, like guns, but I didn’t trust the areas around the ponds. Alligators were breeding everywhere in Florida then, and pythons, too, and I didn’t want to come across something while unarmed. Or someone. Druggies were bad around there, too.
I looked at my phone to see if Kristy had texted me back. She hadn’t, so I texted her again. It wasn’t like I didn’t know how desperate so many texts looked, queuing up on her phone, but I didn’t know what else to do. I fucked up. I told her she needed to grow up. I told her she was immature, and bratty. She said I was like an old man, even though I was in my twenties. I worked with old men, like Buck, all of the time, and I worked all of the time, so I couldn’t party like she wanted to. I was an old fuddy-duddy, I guess. Slept during the day. Bleary-eyed in the sunlight. Working nights, and being around old people, made me prematurely old. She hated it. Maybe she hated me.
The golf course was a nice one. I walked it a bit, and then took our Security golf cart around, the headlights like puncture wounds in the otherwise sleepy murk of the green. It took about an hour to make a full perimeter sweep, and I always took my time to enjoy the mild night air.
When I returned to the Security Shack, it was vacant. The bright lights were still on, but Buck was nowhere to be seen. He probably went to use the restroom, I told myself. I checked my phone again to see if Kristy had texted me back. She hadn’t. She was too busy drinking and dancing in a rave club somewhere. I turned the fluorescent lights off.
Buck returned, then. He did not bother to turn the lights on as he entered the Shack. Instead, he plopped down in his chair and wheezed as if he might die. I really hoped he didn’t. I would have hated the paperwork that would have entailed.
“You all right?” I asked him.
“Just winded a bit,” he said. “Needed something to eat. Blood-sugar dropped.”
Even in the dim light from the lamp I could see how awash with sweat he was. His white shirt was drenched as if he had went swimming in one of the ponds.. Something glistened around his lips. It almost looked like blood. Before I could ask him about it, he raised his fat arm and wiped it away. I told myself it was just jelly from one of those nasty doughnuts he was always eating. Buck was suicidal in his treatment of his diabetes.
“Guess it’s my turn to go on a round,” he said. He tried to stand, groaning as he leaned his upper body forward to drag his butt out of his chair. His body remained in the chair, though, and his mouth gawped with fatigue. Every sweat pore in his forehead was dripping like a leaky faucet.
“I’ll go on another round,” I said, standing again. I really didn’t want to, but I also didn’t want to witness an old man go into cardiac arrest. “It’s no big deal.”
I went to the door, and paused. I almost told him to take it easy, but he spoke first.
“Hey…” he said, his forehead a mass of sweaty wrinkles and his eyes lolling. “You wanna’ see my knot?”
I opened the door without a backward glance.

I was walking, the flashlight in one hand and my phone in the other. Using my thumb, I called Kristy since she had not replied to any of my texts. To my surprise, she answered.
What?” she said, tersely.
“I was just calling to check on you,” I said. Behind her peevish voice I could hear the din of a dance floor flooded with music and twenty-somethings enjoying life.
“Aren’t you nosy,” she said, not unkindly. “Just out with Beckie and Sarah.”
“Well, I won’t be home until tomorrow afternoon,” I said. “One of the guys called off so I have to work a twelve. Split his shift with Gary.”
“Uh huh,” she said, not really listening. “Have fun.”
She was ready to hang up— it was always easy for me to anticipate her— so I said her name, loudly.
“Kristy!” I said. She paused. “I…I love you.”
There was a long, impatient sigh on the other end. “That’s not really true, Brian,” she said. “And you know it.”
“I do know it,” I said, frantically searching for the right words. “I think we could work this out. I mean, it’s never too late…”
“We’re growing apart,” she said. “We should take a break. You know, for personal growth.”
She was just repeating whatever bullshit she had read online. Nothing she said was genuine, except when another background voice— male— asked her who she was talking to.
“Nobody,” she said.
I hung up and shoved my phone into my pocket, foregoing the impulse to throw it into a nearby pond. It was difficult. I stared out at the moon-shimmering water and really wanted to drown my phone—and Kristy— in its dark depths.
But it was as I was scowling at the pond that I noticed a head grinning up at me from the water. As soon as I recognized what it was, I leapt back, afraid the alligator would come shooting off the bank and grab hold of me, dragging me into the shoals. Instead, it just sat there, grinning into the halo of my flashlight. It had a blank stare and, after staring back at it for a few seconds, I realized that it was dead. Very dead. Its body appeared to have been gnawed by something even bigger than itself. Probably tried to mate with a female alligator that outsized him in every way. That was what happened when you attempted to mate beyond your depth: you were eaten alive. Kristy, I realized, was my own cannibal alligator. My galligator. I must have been very sad to be making such a bad joke.

I returned to the Security Shack. Buck seemed to be doing better now. He wasn’t sweating anymore. I sat down in my chair and unpacked my lunch. I was half-finished when I realized I didn’t have an appetite. I started to put everything back in my lunch containers.
“Not hungry?” Buck asked.
“Not in the mood for food,” I said.
“Girl troubles, huh?” he said.
I looked at him, frowning. Buck was shrewd, in his own way, and knew some things, having lived so long. All of the old men that worked with me were the same in that regard. But instead of inspiring reverence in me for all of their “wisdom”, it only made me irritable.
“There’s somebody out there for everybody,” he said. “It took me a long time to find a good woman, but I found her. God rest her soul. I wish she was still alive so she could be a part of my life again. We were inseparable, you know?”
Buck was a widower, and I really didn’t care about his sob-story. I didn’t care about anyone’s sob-story, at that moment, except my own. He misinterpreted my silence as a need for wisdom, but I didn’t want it. I didn’t want his advice, or anyone’s. I just wanted to brood in the dim lamplight.
“You know,” he said, “when I went to see the doctor for the first time about my knot, he said it would be an outpatient procedure. I told him that was great. I would get Judith to drive me home.” He chuckled lightly. “But then I remembered Judith had been dead since last Spring and she couldn’t drive me anywhere anymore.”
He had told me his sob-story about a hundred times by now. I really did not want to hear it anymore. It wasn’t that I was a heartless, callus prick; I just didn’t have the emotional energy for sympathy at that moment. I felt disconnected from everything and faraway; on a dance floor in a club in Miami, somewhere just over those dark palm trees.
“Are you lonely, Brian?” he asked.
“Everybody’s lonely,” I said.
“Well, that’s why we got to look out for each other.”
He put his meaty hand on my shoulder, and I leapt to my feet as if I had been struck by lightning.
“I don’t care about you or anybody!” I growled.
Buck looked up at me with a stern, piercing gaze. “Hey,” he said. “Do you want to see my knot?”
I walked out of the Security Shack, slamming the door, and went on another perimeter round.

Without Kristy, I felt as if I was coming undone. Unstrung. The disentanglement of our lives began slowly, and then accelerated with Kristy’s busy, picking fingers. We lived in the same apartment, but were more like roommates than lovers. Actually, I had seen so little of her lately that she was more a rumor than a roommate. As I walked across the shadowy green, I was as far from her as the man on the moon. Whatever threads of life ran between us had been severed by her meticulous, clinical scissors. We were like two spools of thread thrown together in a cabinet’s drawer, loosely touching at best, but not at all entwined.

I returned, reluctantly, to the Security Shack. Buck stood, without a word, and held up his hand. It took me a moment to understand that he wanted the radio. I handed it to him, and the flashlight. He then walked through the door. As he left I thought I saw something odd happening within his shirt. It looked like it was wiggling.
I sat down, sighing, then rubbing my hair angrily. I was stressed out. I was tired. I hated my job. I hated my life. Everything was squandered now, it seemed. All was spoiled. Maybe Kristy was right: maybe I was just an old man. Maybe I belonged here, working with all of these old people until my age finally caught up to my lifestyle. I had tried to compromise with Kristy. I had tried to go out with her to party scenes and clubs and the densely populated bars. But the music gave me headaches. The flashing lights hurt my eyes. Being shoulder-to-shoulder with people stressed me out and made me anxious. I always left early, whereas she stayed behind, eye-fucked by ten guys on the dance floor. It was obvious, even then, that everything between us had been frayed. Maybe nothing had been entwined in the first place. We were mismatched strings, slipping away from one another.
I sighed again, and looked at the computer monitor, its screen sectioned by various camera angles. Most of them displayed poorly-lit areas of the green. One showed the door of the club complex itself, where we were not allowed to patrol since the yuppies feared we would sully their expensive Persian rugs. What was strange to me, however, was that the door was open. At first, the alarm bells went off in my head and I reached for the phone to call the police. But then I saw Buck walking out of the door, carrying armfuls of food from their kitchen. They kept racks of ham and lamb and everything else that yuppies liked to eat in between golf games. Buck was eating at them as he left. I didn’t call the police because I didn’t want to get Buck in trouble. Instead, I waited until he returned to the shack, hoping he had a good explanation for taking all of that food that belonged to those yuppies.
It was an hour or so before he returned. He was wheezing again, and sweating all over.
“Buck, what is wrong with you?” I demanded. “Why were you in the club building?”
“Had to…eat…” he said. “Have…to…grow…connections…”
He toppled down into his chair, head lolling as if he was having a stroke. I reached for the phone and called 911.
“911 dispatch,” the woman answered. “What is your emergency?”
“It’s my coworker!” I said, feeling myself lost in a frenzy of fear and concern. “He’s having some kind of attack…!”
I realized, then, that Buck was standing over me. I looked up and saw that he was shirtless, the largess of his gut spilling over his belt, slick and hairy like a fat pig’s. His eyes rolled up behind their lids, the whites sallow and sickly. The dispatcher was asking me questions, but I couldn’t comprehend them.
“Do you…want…to see…my knot?” Buck asked.
“No,” I whimpered.
“IT WANTS TO SEE YOU!”
He turned his back toward me.
I screamed.

***

I needed to find Kristy. I wanted to see her. To reconnect with her. Buck agreed. We went to see her together, running awkwardly at first, still learning how to move together, but soon we reconciled ourselves with the change. We would never be alone again, and neither would Kristy, or anyone. All would be connected. No one alone. Knotted together for eternity.
Hey.
Do you want to see our knot?

Ebb And Flow

“I love you,” she said. She lay on her side, toward him, watching his profile in the dimness of her bedroom. He was laying on his back, face toward the ceiling. His eyes did not open when he spoke.
“That’s just the sex endorphins talking,” he said. “Orgasms always make you women emotionally attached. It’ll go away in the morning.” He rolled over on his side, away from her. “Ebb and flow.”
“No, it won’t,” she said, neither pleading nor playful. She said it as if recounting a scientific fact. “I love you.”
He sighed, impatiently, then rolled again onto his back, glancing at her sidelong. Her face was a black pall in the dark, like a widow’s veil; like most of the room. Only a few golden hairs glinted in the shadows, a fraying nimbus or halo around her head. In the corner of the bedroom an aquarium sat, large as a coffin, bubbles sputtering upwards, glass and water glowing with blue subaqueous light. Its subdued blue tinge touched the wall against which it abutted, leaving all else as plunging, deep-sea blackness.
There were no fish in the water; only strangely shaped castle props, long and lean and cylindrical like minarets. Bizarre hieroglyphs lined those long columns.
“I’m sure you’ve probably had several guys,” he said, “and you thought you were in love with them, too.”
“I did,” she said, her words neither angry or heartbroken in that bubbling, murmuring darkness. “And I was in love with them, too, as I am in love with you.”
“And what happened to the others, huh?” he said, gruffly.
She remained silent, veiled.
“Jesus,” he said, “don’t go psycho on me now. We had a good time. Both of us. But it’s a one-time thing. Okay? What did you think Tinder was for?”
He shook his head and fidgeted, settling himself into her waterbed the best he could. It was difficult to do; he had never slept in a waterbed before. It had made sex interesting and novel, though.
“My people mate for life,” she said.
“Your people?” he scoffed. “Great. What are you? Mormon? Jehovah’s Witness?”
She remained silent.
Growing irritable with this conversation, he threw aside the sheets and, slowly, cautiously, walked across the bedroom and out into the hall, feeling his way to a light switch. He turned it on and went to the bathroom. Relieving into the toilet, he held a quick debate with himself on whether to leave right now or wait until morning. He was tired, and broke, and didn’t feel like calling for an Uber. The hot ones, he told himself, were always the craziest ones. He just didn’t expect “religious” crazy. He grumbled, realizing that he might have to change his phone number to get away from this one.
He finished relieving himself, and debating himself, and squinted at his reflection in the mirror, merciless in the fluorescent lights. Black bags under his eyes. Disheveled hair. Too much wine. Too many girls, too. Too many weird girls, too, and this one, by far, was the weirdest. Deceptively quiet. Tone even and not prone to outbursts, but still unsettling in a more subtle way. She seemed normal at first, almost professionally aloof, as if she, like himself, had been on so many Tinder dates that it was routine. After dinner, however, and especially after sex, she was becoming quieter. What she said had an odd air about it, too, and he did not know what to make of it. The sex had been great, but his red flags were springing up like pop-up windows from a virus-heavy porn site. He was glad he had been mindful enough to put on a condom.
Returning to the bedroom, he saw the hall light spill halfway across the bedroom, splitting the bed in two with light and darkness. Her pale white legs were slick and glistening in the light, but her upper body was still curtained in shadow. He took a deep breath, felt himself become drowsy, and so flicked the hall light off, climbing unsteadily into the waterbed, and flopping down as if to die. He shifted uneasily onto his back, unable to settle comfortably in the swaying rise and fall of the bed.
“How can you sleep on this thing?” he complained.
“It reminds me of the ocean,” she said. “My home.”
“Listen,” he said suddenly, rolling over onto his side, away from her. “No more crazy talk. Okay? Let’s just go to sleep.”
“I love you,” she said again.
That’s it,” he growled.
He tried to sit up to leave, but she grasped him by the shoulders, leaning over him. Her pale breasts gleamed in the blue light, swaying with the waves of the waterbed and glowing like twin moons as they hung over him, and like twin moons pulling doubly at the tides those full orbs pulled at his blood, flooding his loins afresh with desire. He pulled her to him, then, and she straddled him, rocking atop him with her hips in seesawing deliberateness, like a beached creature awash in the surf of the linen sheets.
He glimpsed movement in the aquarium. Were those cuttlefish? Seahorses? They looked very odd in the dark, dim bioluminescent glow of the tank.
But he did not care. He did not care about what was in the tank, and he did not care when he suddenly realized that he had not put on a condom. All that mattered was the ensuing explosion of climax. She cried out, and he groaned and quivered with the greatest orgasm of his jaded twenty-something life.
She remained atop him, immovable with her suddenly stony weight and strength. When he tried to push her off, she clamped down harder upon him with her pincer-sharp legs.
“I love you,” she said. “We mate for life.”
He felt his seed oozing between the two of them, where pillar and shaft fit, pressed together like a hot, frothy broth of brine. He saw the creatures in the aquarium more clearly now: vaguely humanoid, not unlike finned, tentacled fetuses floating in an amniotic sea. In the peace of post-coital ebb there flowed confusion, disbelief, and, ultimately, terror. Up above him, opening her fanged mouth, the mother of those creatures spread her maw for Love.

 

Free Kindle Book Weekend

Presently, and for a couple of days, two of my ebooks are free on Amazon.  “Strange Hours” is a collection of short stories and novellas that I have written over the last five years.  They range from Fairy Tales to Dark Fantasy to Weird fiction and Horror (the latter being primarily Lovecraftian cosmic horror).

 

The second book freely available for the weekend is a novel written under my pseudonym SC Foster.  It is a Horror Romance based primarily upon Ojibwe mythology.  There are erotic elements, but they are not particularly gratuitous.  If you enjoy werewolves, wendigos, shapeshifters, primordial serpents, and Native American mythology, or you are simply looking for escapist literature in the vein of Angela Carter’s “Bloody Chamber” motifs, then give it a try.

Maelstrom

Cthulhu Crop

The skirl of whipping wind
against craggy rock,
the cymbal crash of wave
against barnacled dock,
the frenzied chorus of seagulls
frantic in their flight,
the rumbling of thunder
amidst an early twilight,
the blaring bugle horn
of a boat tossing about,
the commotion of the crew
as they scramble and shout,
a whirlpool winding round
with centripetal force,
more powerful than any seen
by Greeks or Hebrews or Norse,
the sleepy hamlet hammered
by rains and by gales,
the docked ships trembling
beneath their tearing sails,
the church bells pealing out
a hysterical cry
as if to say, “The End is come!
The End is nigh!”
For lo! The seastacks all along
the jagged coral bed
are but the ancient cairns for
something long ago mistaken dead:
a seaweed-bearded god
that stirs from down below,
its tentacled wrath waking
to destroy all that we know.

The Choice

20180208_203406-1

The Choice

The room was comfortable to the point of discomfort. There were children’s drawings all over the back wall, behind the mahogany desk, and a leather couch against the adjoining wall, and the air conditioning was not too cold for Karen, nor too hot; its neutrality perfectly matched the late Spring weather. There was a large poster of a kitten hanging from a branch, with the words “Hang On” beneath it. The kitten did not look inspirational. It looked desperate. On the opposite wall was a poster of a sunrise over the ocean where pillars of rock jutted up from the waves. The wallpaper within the office was light green with tendrils of flowers racing around one another in arabesques.
Karen did not like the room. It unnerved her, though she did not know why. The smiling face of the older woman behind the desk disturbed her even more. The woman’s voluminous blonde hair and endless smile reminded Karen of a televangelist. The woman wore no crucifix, but the gleam of her eyes ratified a religious conviction that equaled her words.
“We aren’t meant to understand life,” she said, “or God’s plan. Sometimes we just have to be humble and accept our lot with grace.”
“I want an abortion,” Karen said, frankly. “I was raped.”
Most people had the decency to blink their eyes in shock when Karen told them this, or to drop their eyes in deference; especially when they were trying to convince her not to have an abortion. It had been difficult enough to find an abortion clinic in Mississippi, everyone directing her on a wild goose chase, and it seemed like this clinic wasn’t an abortion clinic at all. It was a scam. But the scam was as enigmatic as the woman’s perpetual smile.
“Oh Karen, that is a horrible thing to live through,” the older woman said. “I am so sorry.”
“He was not human,” Karen said, her voice tremulous. No matter how many times she told people this, she could not steady her voice. “He was a monster.”
“I do not doubt it,” the older woman said. “But you cannot blame the child for the sins of the father. The child is an innocent. The father is to blame.”
“Don’t call it a ‘child’,” Karen said. “And don’t call that monster its ‘father’. They’re both monsters. I know it.”
The woman had no badge on her blouse; no name plaque on her door or her impressive desk. Was she an actual doctor? The nurse at the sign-in desk had said that she was, but was she a nurse? No one gave Karen any names, though they gladly took hers, and that bothered her, too. She felt like she had been ambushed, even though she had walked in through the door. She was too conflicted right now to challenge the woman on her credentials, even as the woman said everything that Karen thought an abortion doctor would not say. The woman’s manner, and the whole room, seemed to be arranged to put her at ease, and that made Karen all the more paranoid and uneasy.
“I have dealt with many young women in a similar situation, Karen,” the woman said. “Girls who were given what they thought they did not want. And do you know what all of them did? They kept their babies. It was hard for them…at first. I will not sugarcoat it for you. It is hard having a baby, especially in circumstances as…unfortunate as yours. But they all learned how precious their baby’s life was, and how birthing that baby also birthed a new world alongside that new life. The mothers experienced a rebirth themselves as well. Their selfish youth was transformed into the dazzling selflessness of maternity. Their babies made them stronger. Their babies made them happier. And they did not have to live the rest of their lives regretting that decision.”
“I will regret not having the abortion for the rest of my life,” Karen said, becoming angry and defensive. She felt like the woman was attacking her. She felt like the woman thought she should be grateful for the attack as well. It was like being assaulted all over again, her back on the wet, dirty pavement and a horrible presence pressing down upon her, imbuing her with its malevolent seed. “I don’t want this thing!”
The woman behind the desk kept smiling, but she also drew in a deep, irritated breath through her nose. Karen could hear it in the ensuing silence. She could also hear the ocean, or something like the ocean; the lapping of waves and the splashing of water. But the ocean was over a hundred miles away. Perhaps, she thought, it was just the throbbing of her own blood in her ears. Karen did not feel well.
When the woman spoke again, it was with a steady voice so tightly lipped and exact that it could have chiseled words into stone, or scars into a human heart.
“You can have an abortion well into the third trimester,” the woman said. “So you have plenty of time to make up your mind on this decision. And you should take all of the time you need. A single birth can change the world. This is not a decision to make in haste.”
“But it is my decision,” Karen said meekly, feeling as if she somehow lost an argument.
“It is, Karen,” the woman said, in a tone not unlike her mother’s. “Which is why we want you to make the best decision possible. It may seem like the end of the world for you, but it could be the beginning of a new life for you…and for everyone.”
The woman stood up from her chair and walked around her desk, her hand raised toward Karen. Karen rose, reluctantly, and followed the woman. The woman escorted Karen out of the office and down a soothingly lit hallway lined with more drawings scrawled by children. The two women stopped at a door that opened into a room where a tall nurse waited. An ultra sound machine was against the wall—intimidating with its prophetic powers—and a bed was spread beside it. The nurse directed Karen to lay down, speaking in soft-throated grunts. Whether the nurse was male or female, Karen could not discern. The nurse was barrel-bodied and wore scrubs that masked gender. The nurse was large. Its hair was capped and its mouth was masked.
With some effort, Karen laid down on the bed. This room, too, was covered with drawings done by children. There was a single poster on the wall next to the door. It displayed a mother cradling a baby against her chest, the baby’s forehead nestled into the mother’s neck and her chin. Both were smiling brightly. The room’s one and only window opened onto a playground. She did not recall seeing an elementary school next door; but she had been so focused on this building, as her only hope, that her tunnel vision had ignored everything else. Maybe it was a private elementary school— Catholic perhaps. There wasa statue of a shrouded figure looming near the merry-go-round. The face was obscured, and the hands were open-palmed in a gesture of welcome. There were no children there, but she could see ruts in the sandpit where children had been playing.
Karen saw all of this briefly, then stared resolutely at the ceiling.
“Lift your shirt, Karen,” the older woman said.
Karen’s pregnancy was strongly pronounced beneath her shirt and it took some effort to roll her shirt up and over the swell. Her belly reminded her of an apricot, swollen and round and colored darkly peach-and-red, but it felt like it was rotten within with ruin in its pulp. There were nights when she dreamed of terrible things and, when she awoke, she went downstairs, into her mother’s kitchen, and held a fillet knife, tempted to thrust it into her belly. Her mother told her that pregnancy did strange things to women’s minds, both during and after delivery. She reassured her that the hormones could make a madwoman out of the most austerely prim and proper lady. But Karen doubted her mother ever wanted to take a knife to her while she was in her womb. Then again, Karen was not conceived from rape, either. Neither of her parents ever mentioned that abominable aspect of Karen’s pregnancy.
Sometimes Karen wondered if her parents believed her story. Karen had always been a choir girl, though her saintly behavior was never enough for her father. Most of her friends had lost their virginity in their early teens, whereas Karen had waited and saved herself for her future husband. The ugly irony of her situation made it infinitely worse. And the fact that her parents did not believe her, after so many years of strict celibacy, made her want to scream obscenities at them until her throat bled. But she was still the choir daughter they had wanted, even if they no longer believed she was, and so she kept to that straight and narrow path of silence and obedience.
Except in this: she wanted an abortion. They told her they would disown her if she had the creature in her womb aborted, saying it was a sin against God, but she knew she could not take care of it. She knew it was a monster, just like its disseminator.
The police never caught her rapist. They said they were trying, but they didn’t have many leads. Karen could not help much either, giving scant details. She did not remember much, except inescapable horror. She could not remember anything about him except violation. She remembered walking home from her community college. She was exhausted from working morning shifts at McDonald’s and then going to night classes. She did not see the shadow lurch out of the corner until it was too late. It was as if her mind had gone far away when he grabbed her and dragged her into an alley in the middle of the night. When she thought of it at all, she could only remember something crawling all over her; a terrifying chaos of impressions that clambered over her mind and body and soul, ravaging her unto desolation, bereft of her own humanity.
The nurse rubbed the warm jelly over Karen’s stomach. For some reason, the slime made her panic, briefly, as if it reminded her of something she did not want to remember. But this passed. The nurse pressed the transducer against Karen’s belly, and the ultra sound screen bloomed with an image.
“There’s your baby, Karen!” the older woman said excitedly. She smiled widely, her teeth bright white and gleaming as fulgurously as her eyes. She leaned over, then, and spoke to Karen’s stomach while pointing at the ultra sound screen. “Say hello to mommy! Say, ‘I love you, mommy!’”
As disturbed as Karen felt about the woman’s words and behavior, she was more disturbed by the image on the ultra sound screen. It was not what she could see that disturbed her, but what she could not see. She saw the white and black pixels all churned together in the basic outline of her womb, but she could not see the baby.
Fetus, she told herself. Not baby.
She stared at it for some time, unable to make heads or tails of it. Literally, she could not discern in its anatomy what was the tail and what was the head. The fetus looked wrong. It did not register in human shape, but was an amorphous thing resistant to a prominent morphological totality.
“It is going to be a beautiful child!” the woman exclaimed, still grinning like a holy roller having seen the face of God.
“It doesn’t look like a fetus at all,” Karen said. She tried to sit up, but the sexless nurse kept the transducer pressed hard into her belly.
“I don’t want to look at it!” Karen said, feeling highly alarmed. “It…it’s not a child! It’s a monster! Just like…just like the monster that forced it inside me!”
Karen pushed the nurse’s hand away—and the painfully probing phallic transducer. She stood up from the bed as quickly, almost tottering over with the unwieldy weight of her womb, and then hurried out of the room, down the hallway. She stopped halfway down the hall, her eye alighting on something her brain had ignored before. The children’s drawings on the wall. She stared at them for several seconds, and realized she could not see any of the drawings. She knew they were all drawings drawn by children, but their details were formless in her head; erased upon sight. Recognition of what they were— their essential meaning—succeeded, but recognition of the particular features failed. It was all crawling chaos in her mind. She told herself that the stress was upsetting her faculties. She told herself she was having a mental breakdown. Sobbing, she fled out of the clinic and went home, wanting to lay down and sleep the day, and the world, away.

The woman returned to her office. A man waited there, wearing unremarkable clothes that moved at unnatural places, even as he stood perfectly still. His outline looked human, but there was something amiss in his features. His face was as a mask in its eyes and mouth and nose, and his bearing was unnaturally stiff, as if his limbs were not made to maintain an upright position.
“She is too far along for an abortion,” the woman said. “The child will be brought to full term, just like the others.”
The man said something with his tongue, but it was not intelligible English, or any other language. It sounded more like the splashing of ropey things dragging along a shoreline’s tides.
“Yes, Master,” she said. “Your children will be glorious to behold before the end. How sad that these ungrateful vessels should be granted the honor of bearing them for you.”
The creature’s voice rolled and splashed like the waves.
The woman’s smile finally ceased, and her whole body shuddered. She was glad she was beyond her prime; beyond her breeding years. She was glad she was infertile and would never have to make that choice herself. She was glad that she had the religious conviction to hate the women that came in here, week after week, otherwise she might have felt sorry for them. And how would that have pleased her lord, Nyarlathotep?

Another Lovecraftian Story

Priceless

My Jag growls as I shift it up-gear, the lights of the Big Apple splattering across the windshield like the biggest-assed fireflies you’ve ever seen. I down-shift and spin the wheel, hitting the right turn with a slide that quickens my paper-pusher heart just enough to give me my signature wheeling-and-dealing gleam in the eye. I want that gleam, and it’s got to be as bright as it can be. It’s my genie-gleam; the spark of genius that has made me one of the most powerful hedge-fund magicians in the world. People see that gleam and they say, “This bastard knows how to pull a golden rabbit out of the hat”, and then I do it for them, only I’m pulling it out of their back-pocket because they’re too stupid to know which end a hat goes on. No surprise, really. My clientele always have their heads up their asses.
I slam the brakes and pull into the back-street, behind a large warehouse, and park next to the one and only door in and out of that giant building. The Jag purrs obediently, patiently, in the gloomy shadows, and I kill it with a twist of the wrist. Pocketing my keys, I pull down the visor and flip the interior light so I can see myself in the mirror. The suave, handsome bastard staring at me has slicked-back black hair and movie-star looks, a tan from last week’s trip to the Caribbean Islands and a laser-smooth shave without one black pore betraying that caramel skin. I’d marry me if I wasn’t such a philanderer. With the light on, I got a halo, and I have to crack an ironic smile at that sight.
I adjust the collar on my business suit, straighten my tie, and then flip the visor up, turn off my halo, and get out. Mr. Between is already waiting outside the door, backlit by a single bulb overhead. He is a smallish man in a suit not unlike a mortician’s. He has a black mustachio and thinning hair on his burnt-umber pate.
“Hola, Senor,” Mr. Between says in his heavy Spanish accent. “Bueno noche.”
“A decent night,” I say, never giving more enthusiasm than what’s needed.
“Payment?” he says.
I hook a thumb behind me toward the Jag. “Por supuesto.”
“Excelente.”
He opens the door for me and I step inside the windowless warehouse. It looks bigger inside, its girder-ribs spaced expansively apart. The cinderblock walls are bleached by the harsh fluorescent lights, giving the lofty heights a starkly airy look. It is like an acid bath of light, eating away every shadow. There is an icy draft in the building, too, and I am glad I am wearing my best Armani suit. I’d hate to have goosebumps while I’m taking care of business. Nothing worse than some physical observation being misconstrued for weakness or fear. Even the semblance of fear is deadly in the concrete jungle. I got to growl on my prowl, just like my Jag outside. Fire every piston flaming hot while showcasing a smooth, cool exterior. Waxed and maxed, I like to say.
Mr. Between closes the door and then gestures for me to follow him.
“Aqui, por favor,” he says.
There isn’t anything in the whole wide-open interior of the warehouse except a cinder-block building with a flat roof. A building within a building; a box within a box. To one side is a regular door. On the other side there is a garage door. It is hard to believe that one of the most famous portrait artists in the world lives here. It seems so neat and desolate a place for a “creative type”. I remember dating a sculptor in college and how her place was a fucking explosion of gaudy abstract art, magazine cut-outs, Punk-girl clothes, and pretentious books that only jobless would-be philosophers would read. Or pretend to read. Then again, it isn’t like I should expect a famous painter like Xenia Agnes to live in a dump like this. This is probably just her studio. I bet her house is a fucking pig sty. I’d bet my magic money wand on it.
If you’ve never heard of Xenia Agnes, it’s because you don’t make enough money to have heard of her. Same goes for me. If you don’t know me it’s because you can’t afford the acquaintance. That’s life. You’re either a winner or a loser. The only other alternative is that you are the winningest winner among winnners, and that’s who I am. Alpha apex among the alphas.
Mr. Between opens the door and beckons me inside the cinder-block building. Inside I am surprised to find that the walls are hung with dark satin sheets and that there are spotlights hanging from the ceiling and standing on three legs in the corners. The building itself seems to be partitioned into two rooms; the one I am in and another one beyond the inner wall.
Mr. Between motions for me to sit on a stool in front of a large mirror lining the inner wall. The stool is made of wood. It doesn’t have any padding and hurts my backside .
“Isn’t there something I can sit on that doesn’t feel like I’m getting fucked in the ass by a pirate’s peg-leg?”
Mr. Between just shakes his head, then busily sets to rearranging the lighting in the room. I watch him in the mirror. Then I stop. For some reason looking at the mirror makes me feel uncomfortable. It’s the kind of feeling I get when I’m looking at a bitch in a bar and suddenly I get this paranoia in my head that she’s got a stowaway in her cockpit that I won’t know about until I start landing that plane. Only this is worse. Somehow more terrifying.
To distract myself, I try a little conversation with Mr. Between.
“So, Xenia likes her privacy, huh?” I ask.
“Si, senor,” he said.
“Is she going to be here soon?”
“Ella es aqui ahora,” he says, still adjusting the spotlights.
“She’s here now?” I say, surprised. “Where?”
He points to the mirror.
“Oh!” I say, taken aback. “It’s a two-way mirror. Clever. I need to get these for the bathrooms in our buildings. Awfully handy.”
I stand up and peer into the mirror. I don’t expect to see anything, but it is interesting to think that Xenia is just on the other side of that reflective glass. I’m glad I don’t have to see the bitch staring at me while she paints. That could be unnerving. I hate when people stare at me. You don’t stare at a tiger in the jungle, do you? No, because he’ll stare back, and then he’ll get an appetite on him and eat your ass for lunch. You’re invading his territory with your eyeballs.
Anyway, a two-way mirror is a hell of an idea for a beret-headed artist to have. I could really use these mirrors in the bathrooms back at work. It would be easier to know what everybody really thinks about me when they don’t think I’m around. Not that I would put these mirrors in the Women’s bathroom. That would be a waste. None of them are above a seven in my book— less chance of a lawsuit that way— and moreover I don’t give a shit what women think of me. If I did, I’d never get laid.
“Is Xenia from Spain, too?” I ask.
“No,” Mr. Between says. “Europa.”
“Spain is in Europe,” I say, frowning at Mr. Between. “What region of Europe?”
Mr. Between just shrugs. For a guy “in the know”, he doesn’t seem to know much.
“Her name sounds Greek,” I say. “I bet she’s Greek. Damn, Greek women are ugly. 99% of them, anyway. I vacationed in Greece a couple years ago and expected the women to be beautiful. You know, like Brazilian women. But they aren’t. The beach is wasted on them. Can-opener noses and eyebrows thicker than your mustache, man. Really bring down the market value of the properties over there.”
“No commentario,” Mr. Between says.
I laugh. He knows I’m right, but he’s too afraid to say so in front of his boss. I’m not afraid to say what’s what. I brought Mrs. Agnes her payment. Even if I were to tell her she’s the ugliest Medusa to ever crawl out of a snake-hole in Greece, she’d still paint me to get her hands on this payment. I know people. I know how business works. There’s nothing personal in it, unless, of course, you’ve got a winning personality. And I do, which is why things always work out for me in the end.
See, I never went to business school. That fact really burns my underlings in their panties. They all spent so much money and time going to some prestigious, ivy-choked college and yet I’m the guy they call BOSS. The truth is that business school is a waste of time. Either you got the instincts for business or you don’t, and a lot of these bleeding-heart desk-cowboys don’t. You can’t roll that diploma up and stuff it down your pants and say, “I got the bigger dick, so I’m the boss.” It doesn’t work that way. Either you’re born with a big dick or you’re not, and they weren’t. I was. I got the master magician’s wand and I swing it in everything I do. That’s why I’m magic, both in business and in bed. I started off at the bottom, of course (just about everybody does). The difference between me and the others is that I wacked all of the contenders out of the way and climbed that ladder with a hard-on that never went soft. I’m a hot-blooded, knob-throbbing DICK.
That’s another reason I don’t have anything to fear from the ladies beneath me. No CUNT ever became a DICK, not without missing what was functionally essential to the role. Balls, in other words. Real big BALLS.
“Almost finished?” I say, growing anxious. “I’ve got things to do, amigo. Checks to write, girls to fuck, alibis to plant…”
Mr. Between fidgets with a spotlight in the far corner. This irritates me because I do not see how that light really makes much of a difference. Might as well turn on a baby’s nightlight in the corner for all of the difference it makes.
Finally, Mr. Between stands up and walks over to me. He points at the mirror, has me sit back down, and adjusts my posture and shoulders as I stare at my own reflection. Mr. Between, I realize, is a very short man. I am nearly as tall as him as I sit on the stool. Then again, I am a tall guy. They say taller men tend to achieve higher positions in businesses and I conform to that norm. I wouldn’t accredit it as the only reason for my ascension, but it didn’t hurt. Physical imposition can add to mental imposition, and I have won many arguments simply by looking down at my peons from my full height.
“Is it true that Xania paints with only her fingers?” I ask Mr. Between conversationally. “I mean, don’t oil paints make you go crazy? Like that one painter… What’s his name? The one that cut his own ear off and sent it to his friend…”
Mr. Between answers me by pointing to the mirror again. That’s strange. I did not realize I had been looking away from it. I force myself to look at it again. For some reason it makes me think of smooth ocean water right before a shark erupts up from it, mouth gaping wide with serrated teeth.
“You know,” I say, “I don’t know much about paintings, but I don’t need to know much to own a bunch of them. Some people say paintings are priceless and that the true value is inestimable because it has ‘artistic value’. But that’s just hippy-dippy bullshit told by people more in love with the idea of art than the monetary value of it, simply because they’re too fucking poor to buy any art. If paintings were priceless they couldn’t be bought. If artists lived for their art then I couldn’t buy their time and talent with my money. Nothing is priceless on earth. Everything has a quantifying sum. Even artists. Even your boss in there. Senorita Agnes. I’m owning her for a few minutes tonight.”
I don’t know why I’m being so belligerent. I just feel a little unnerved, I guess. This whole appointment has been weird. If I had to be honest about it, I did it on a spur of the moment, and out of some misbegotten sense of pettiness, too. It started when that shit-sucking brown-noser Emerson brought in his portrait and hung it on the wall in his pissy-ass little office. Normally I wouldn’t have given two rat-turd sized fucks about what he hung on his walls, but he was all beaming pride like he had just made a 1000% profit on a dark-horse investment. And then Susie— that little four-eyed traitor— had to ask him about it and he had to go bragging to everybody within a five mile radius about having paid the one and only Xenia Agnes to paint his portrait. At first I thought he was blowing smoke up his own ass, especially since it was by a “world-famous painter” whom I had never heard of. Then he had to one-up the lie by saying she painted it with her fingers and it only took her a few minutes for a very “negotiable rate”. Those two lies I could have overlooked, but later in the day, while he was out talking to a potential investor— and probably fucking up the deal— I went into his office and looked at the gold-framed painting.
At first I thought it was just a blown-up photo of that ugly, rodent-faced Jew, but then I got to looking a little closer at it and saw the actual texture of the paint and the three-dimensionality of the smoothly caked-on strokes. There were strange swirls to the paint itself, when you looked more closely. I guess she paints with her fingers like a conductor leading an orchestra. Even the artist’s signature swirled in its illegible scrawl. I don’t know.
What I do know is that it wasn’t a photo and it wasn’t a print; it was the actual-factual canvas with all of the intricately layered paints forming a facsimile of life so nuanced that it tricked even the genius-gleam in my eye. It was so life-like, actually, that even I found myself envious of Emerson’s prized possession. That little rat-nosed fuck. But I got over it quickly and called Susie to my office, telling her to get me the number of the painter and to set up an appointment. Spared no expense so long as it was a bigger, better portrait than Emerson’s. And, of course, I warned her to be as discreet as possible. Naturally, within the next hour everybody in the building knew about it, including Emerson, and all he could do was squirm like an impotent worm under the realization that I was about to outdo him, just as I outdid him in everything else.
“So…” I say, “is she a leper or an albino?”
Again Mr. Between points at the mirror.
“Perdoname,” I say. “I don’t know why I keep looking away. I thought Xenia Agnes was supposed to be a fast painter. I’m surprised it’s not finished yet.”
I am being belligerent again. I guess I am just trying to put this grandstanding artista in her place. Truthfully, there is a part of me that resents this whole situation.
“Whatever you do, don’t make me look like that rat-faced bastard Emerson,” I say. “I mean, you did a great job accurately capturing him, but you made him look all pale and sweaty and scared halfway to death. I’m surprised he hung it up in the office. I wouldn’t have been… so…keen…”
Looking at my reflection, I realize that I am looking sweaty and pale, too. My Caribbean tan can’t outmatch the pallor. And my eyes are twitchy, my skin goosebumped. It’s not the cold drafts of the warehouse, either. I feel off my game. I feel like game. I feel hunted.
I have instincts, like I’ve said— instincts for this concrete-and-glass jungle— and right now my instincts are telling me that there is something lurking nearby that makes the alpha apex predator in me want to go find a nice bush to hide in and cower under and piddle itself stupid.
I look at Mr. Between. He is standing solemnly in the corner of the room, chin tilted down and eyes sunken into pitted shadows as dark as his mustachio. He is as still as death, his face grim and sweaty and as hunted and haunted as I feel. As I look at him, I feel something looking at me. It feels as if it is looking at me from every angle— looking at me and through me. It sees my thoughts and my memories, my feelings and my fears. I cannot move, the terror like what I felt when I was a snot-nosed brat still afraid of the Boogeyman as I laid under my sheets at night, too scared to breathe because it might attract the make-believe monster’s attention.
Abruptly, Mr. Between opens his eyes. The change of expression— from grim visage to come-all-ye-faithful relief— frightens me and relieves me at the same time. I laugh a little, nervously, though I don’t think any of it is funny.
“Painting finish,” he says in broken English.
“Good,” I whisper. After a few moments of willing my body to move, I stand up from the ass-flattening stool. “Good,” I say again, this time a little more loudly.
I move towards the door slowly, a little apprehensive about making any sudden movements. Mr. Between opens it for me and follows me out.
“Payment,” he says.
“Yessir,” I say, starting to get my old mojo back. “In the car, mi amigo.”
We step outside and I open the passenger-side door. It is dark beside the warehouse, but the light above the door spills out onto the face of the little girl. She has dark black hair, pale skin, and dirty, oversized clothes. Her crack-whore mother gave her to me for a couple of hundred bucks. Susie set up the exchange. Part of me feels bad for her, but the larger part really, really hates Emerson. I mean, if the girl is going to be sold anyway, why not let her be sold to some lesbian art chick for the night. Right?
I pull her out of the car and she tries to run away. I grab her by the hair and she starts to hyperventilate again, her nostrils flaring wide above the duct-tape that seals her mouth. Tears are still streaming out from under the blindfold I placed over her eyes. She’s been crying since I bought her for the evening off her mother.
“Es bueno?” I ask Mr. Between.
He only nods, then opens the door. I lead the girl into the warehouse. Once we’re near the garage door, I tell her to sit down. I then tell Mr. Between that I want my painting so I can be on my way.
Mr. Between shakes his head. “No, senor. Give her.”
“Look, I am not into this,” I say. “I know a few guys that are, and if Xenia is, that’s fine too. Glad to know women are equal-opportunity at being sickos. But I am not going to stay here and watch it. No thank you. Give me my fucking painting.”
Instead of answering me, Mr. Between takes a remote control out of his pocket and presses a button. The garage door creaks and groans and growls, slowly rising and shuddering all the way.
I expect to see some butched-up lesbian with her hands soaked in paint up to her elbows. You know, pushing two-hundred pounds, wider around than she is tall, and with hair that looks like it was gnawed short by a goat. What I see instead, as the bleaching light of the warehouse illuminates the dark interior, is a mass of writhing tentacles splattered with oil paints and arrayed with glowing globular eyes, all centered around a large, gaping maw encircled with teeth.
I hear a scream piercing the otherwise silent space of that warehouse, and it is only when I gasp for air that I realize that the scream came from me.
“Esta es Xenia,” Mr. Between says. He points to the girl. “Give her. Open eyes. Let see.”
Shock gives way to my usual businesslike approach and demeanor. I take his words to mean I am supposed to remove the blindfold. Kneeling down, I remove the girl’s blindfold. Her eyes are red and still blinded by the sudden fluorescence and the streaming tears. When they have focused, though, they see the mass of tentacles and teeth undulating in front of her, instinctively clenching shut while she tries to scream behind the tape on her mouth. Within seconds she convulses in terror, goes rigid, and then passes out, her body limp on the floor.
I lift her up and walk, cautiously, over to Xenia. Her mouth widens. I can see eternity in her endless gullet. All of the questions and answers that mankind has never asked and would never know await the faithful in her circle of teeth. I stare in awe for a moment, maybe two, but then my professional nature resumes control. I am not a goddamn philosopher. I am a businessman. This is just business. I think in terms of business. It’s the only way to think at times like these. It’s like when I take investments from guys in Africa and Russia. Those tyrant princes and oligarchs with their lousy humanitarian records. I don’t care about where they get their money or how they take care of business. Business is business. It’s not personal. Emotions don’t matter. Not even fear matters. The bottom line matters. Getting what you want matters.
Taking a deep breath, I drop the payment into the receptacle and then step back while it processes. When the investment has gone through, Mr. Between retrieves my portrait from the easel behind Xenia and hands it over to me. The transaction is complete. I like to think I have been very professional in this business deal.
“Let dry,” Mr. Between says.
“I will,” I say, holding my portrait carefully. Without any further formalities, I walk out of the warehouse and get into my Jag. I set the painting in the floorboard and carefully lean it back so the fresh paint does not touch anything. Then I drive straight to my office building, say Hello to Jim, the security guard, and ride the elevator up to my office.
I hang the portrait up with little fuss. All in all, it looks good on my wall. Remarkably photographic for a painting. Xenia even captured my genie-gleam, though it’s brighter than ever before. It is a pretty good investment, as far as art goes. I can’t wait until Emerson sees it. The look on his ratty face is going to be priceless.