Undeceased Uncle: Part One

Freterers was known for its controversial potions. Ms. Vera Freterer had no qualms about selling virgin’s blood, baby’s teeth, and witch warts. While witch warts are used in common potions, usually to cure a cold, they are rarely sold as a separate commodity. Not only did Ms. Freterer’s store contain less-than-agreeable ingredients, she had also crafted potions unique to her store. One floor to ceiling shelf held all of her Freterer exclusives where you could find tasteless, clear droplets used to give someone bad breath or a rainbow potion that could change your sexuality. This latter potion wasn’t necessarily intended to make anyone straight, it was only meant to change your attractions to fall anywhere you wanted on the spectrum. In her newspaper ad, Ms. Freterer tried to argue that the potion was made to turn sexuality into a choice in order to empower people. Protesters nearly burnt down her store that year.

Regardless of the bad press, everyone always stopped in Freterers when in town. It was like watching a tornado; you should run, but you want to see what happens next. That’s how Aurora found herself in Freterers the week after she lost all of her hair. She’d been practicing fire spells in university with a friend when her hair caught. Her professors had burn cream for her skin, which immediately healed. But hair isn’t a vital organ and losing it isn’t like losing a hand. Most people just assume that it will grow back. Aurora’s hadn’t re-sprouted.

Ms. Freterer’s shop apprentice, Larry, was pouring a chunky grey potion into a jar when Aurora joined the crowd of eager customers. Larry had seen Aurora before a few months ago. He only remembered her because of her grey and gold eyes and her boobs. With her shiny head, he almost didn’t recognize her. “Hair potions are aisle three,” he offered.

Aurora turned on him. “Excuse me?”

He held up three fingers. “Aisle three.”

“I’m just looking around.” She had initially intended to buy a hair regrowth potion, but she wouldn’t be shamed into buying one. Besides, she looked just fine without hair, and being bald meant a faster shower and no need for shampoo.

Larry’s jaw hung open slightly. “You sure you don’t need help?”

“Yes.” Aurora weaved through the crowd and away to the shelf of Freterer-only products. Most of the people were congregated here. Kids stood in the front and adults read over their heads. Luckily Ms. Freterer knew this and put the kid-friendly potions towards the bottom. Every prank bottle was at kid-height; every potion labeled “desire” sat on the top shelves.

Aurora only wanted the new arrivals, which were displayed prominently on their own table in the back corner of the store. She inched her way to the front and saw the five most objectively awful potions Freterer’s had ever carried. They were part of a new special collection labeled: Philia de Corpse. Beneath the title the sign taped to the table read: Do you love your deceased family members? Do you wish you could adopt a nonliving human? Do you think it’s unfair that the dead are caged and hidden like prisoners? Well these potions can help you do something about it! We have Midnight Kisses for raising your deceased partner for an evening, New Necro Parent for raising a reborn dead child, Undeceased Uncle for raising dead family members long-term, Free from the Coffin for raising someone from death forever, and Say No to Eternal Rest to keep your undead from continuing to decay. 

Everyone around Aurora shifted away uncomfortably, but she picked up one of the bottles and read the back. “Dragon scales, newborn blood, and graveyard dirt? There has to be an ingredient or ten missing,” she muttered to herself. 

“Sharp eye.” 

Aurora looked up to find Ms. Freterer herself carrying a fresh box of potions up from the back. Upon first glance Ms. Freterer looked like the most average human person in existence. She had mousy brown hair that she twisted up to keep out of her brown, normal eyes. She wasn’t overweight, but she wasn’t thin. Two shallow laugh lines dug into her cheeks and a few squiggly lines spanned across her forehead. She would have seemed boring and middle aged to strangers, but the magical community knew that she was three hundred and six years old. Unfortunately, she hadn’t picked up potion making until her thirties so her body had already seen some wear when she found a potion that would keep her body from aging. 

Ms. Freterer lifted the box onto the table with the new collection and rubbed her wrists. “I never could hold heavy objects for long periods of time.” Her eyes flickered from Aurora to the box. 

“Do you always leave ingredients off the labels?” Aurora asked.

Ms. Freterer narrowed her eyes. “It’s common practice, otherwise anyone here could make my potions for themselves. The labels give you a general idea in case of allergies.” 

“I’m awful at making potions on my own. What’s actually in this one?” Aurora held out the dark, ovular bottle of Undeceased Uncle. 

Ms. Freterer snorted. “Looking to raise your family pet?” 

“My brother.” Aurora enjoyed the way Ms. Freterer’s face fell. 

Ms. Freterer took the bottle and placed it back on the display table. “Better not to mess with this.”

“It’s bad practice to discourage your customers from buying your new products.” Aurora snatched the bottle back. 

“I’m trying to do you a favor,” Ms. Freterer sounded genuine.  

“Why?”

Ms. Freterer hesitated and then picked up her box again. “Because a girl who shaves her head clearly doesn’t have guidance.”

Aurora wanted to make a scene. She wanted to reassure the entire store that a woman doesn’t need hair. Instead, she slipped the bottle into her bag and walked out. 

To Be Continued…

Last Seen

Image via freestocks.org from Pexels

The hardware store assistant led Amy and her new fiance Eric into the materials section of the Decor-A-Home store. “Now do you guys want a bed frame that’s made of wood…”

“Too expensive,” Eric muttered. Their price range was tight, but a turquoise Hermes saddle bag hung from Amy’s arm. Though it could’ve been a birthday gift, the store assistant took it as an invitation to up sell.

“Wood is more sturdy. It lasts generations, and if you get a classic style, then it will never be out of fashion.” The assistant looked to Amy. Amy had a long, pointed chin that didn’t match her squinted eyes or tomato-like nose. She hefted her bag higher on her shoulder and turned to Eric.

His clean-shaven face was round and baby-like. He had slicked back his hair with gel to appear older, but it wasn’t working. Amy placed her slender hand on his forearm. “Maybe we could splurge, just a little. For the children or grandchildren. We could pass the bed frame down for generations.”

“Like your bag?” he asked. 

Amy withdrew her hand and turned to the store assistant. “We’ll see your other material options please.”

“What about wicker? Beach themes are all the rage.” The assistant lead them further through towering stacks of planks and boards and screws. “The wicker can come in any color you want and is more flexible.”

This time Amy gauged Eric’s reaction more closely. What she saw is impossible to say because his face didn’t change.

The assistant pressed on. “We also have metal, a very popular choice right now.”

Eric glanced at the metal poles and checked his watch. He had an appointment soon, one that couldn’t be rescheduled. “Metal works. Now can we pick a style?”

“Actually, first we’ll go through the paint shop and pick a color.” The assistant led them into the next room. It was basically a bright gymnasium overwhelmed with people. Sunlight flooded the room from windows up high. On the two walls and the floor, the room gradually transitioned through every possible shade of one color to shades of the next one until the rainbow (plus black, white, and gray) was completed.

Eric grabbed his forehead as if the colors had given him a migraine. “Amy, you pick. I’ll go on to styles so we can get out of here faster.”

The assistant was supposed to stop him. She was supposed to stay with the guests at all times. But she’d had a rough day. So she’d say the guest was in the bathroom. Sometimes you can’t keep up with everyone.

“I’m going to the blues.” Amy called as she disappeared into the teeming crowd of store assistants and customers.

The assistant bobbed and weaved trying to keep up, but she’d lost sight of Amy. In a store as big as Decor-A-Home, it was easy to lose someone. The assistant took a breath and spun slowly, scanning every inch of the blue area. When she was satisfied that Amy’s pointy chin wasn’t there, the assistant moved on to the next color and the next, systematically. Protocol told her that she should use the intercom to find Amy, but the assistant couldn’t afford another negative mark. Maybe Amy had gone to the bathroom.

The restroom was filled with women but not Amy. The next best option was to find Eric. He would know where his wife had run off to. The assistant did one last sweep before moving onto style.

Eric was standing right where he said he would be. He’d found a beautiful scroll pattern frame. “Will you tell Amy that I want this one in dark brown? I’m sure she’s already picked out an absurd pastel color.”

“Actually, I don’t know where she went. She said she was going to the blue section, but I couldn’t keep up with her.” The assistant tried to keep her face blank and her tone casual. If she panicked, then so would Eric. 

“Amy likes to run off. I’ll check and meet you here.” 

Before the assistant could object, Eric was speed walking back to the paint section. The assistant found contentment in the fact that Eric was all business. Then five minutes passed with no sign of his return. Making sure to stay in sight of the scroll frames, the assistant edged towards the paint shop. 

After ten minutes, she went looking for Eric. Young couples, old ladies, and families with fussy kids all perused the paint section. They got in the way. The assistant pulled aside one of her coworkers and gave a short description of the customers she was looking for. No luck. 

She had to go to the intercom. Keeping her eyes peeled the entire way, the assistant went to the center of the store, lifted the radio for the intercom, and asked Eric and Amy to report to the store center. The assistant dreaded the conversation she’d be having with her boss later. At least she’d be able to get this couple helped and move on. But they didn’t come. After ten minutes, the assistant came over the intercom again urging the couple to meet with her. Maybe they were talking and hadn’t heard. Maybe the intercom system had sounded gravely the first time.

Ten more minutes passed and no one came. The assistant went to the registers. Five were open plus a self-check out section. She gave a detailed description to every attendant. No one had seen Eric or Amy. 

“Are you sure?” the assistant asked the man at self-check out. 

“Yeah. They could’ve decided this store’s too expensive or that they’d come back another time.” He said this doubtfully. Usually people would have the assistant escort them out rather than run away.

Eric didn’t seem like the running away type. 

“And you tried the intercom system?” the worker asked.

“Twice.” 

“Then that’s all you can do. If they come through, I’ll let you know. It’s not like they’re in danger.” 

“Yeah.” The assistant convinced herself that Eric and Amy were capable adults who had probably just left. Then the assistant helped five more customers before the end of the day, luckily avoided a talking to about losing guests, and forgot about the couple.

A week later the missing persons report came out.    

Island of the Lost

foggy, lost, island
Image via Gabriela Palai from Pexels

Lampless light bulbs floating in the sky illuminate the island of the lost. People rarely lose lamps. Of course, there are objects: eye glasses, sports balls, jewelry (a whole garden of glittering gems). But there are also ghosts. For example, whenever someone loses their pride, a piece of that person comes here. Don’t worry. You won’t miss that part of you. It’s just an image that flickers and glides around. A snapshot of how you looked and how you felt before.

When people lose their health, it comes here also. Health is a blue pulse of light that wedges itself between old t-shirts to waste away.

And yes, there are memories. Every memory that you forgot appears here. Packed tight in jars, they drift in the ocean, sometimes washing up on shore. No one is here to open them, not anymore.

The only things that don’t come here are souls. This is not the afterlife. When you lose a person, their body stays on Earth. If I knew what happened to the soul, it would ease both of our minds.

This island used to be home to the Rememberers. We were charged with remembering all that time forgot. We were immortal spirits who brought back the lost things ourselves. Then a few individuals, discontented with being forgotten by Earth, wrote a spell, a powerful spell. It made that which is lost arrive on the island automatically. It made us totally obsolete. Time had no need for us, and we forgot ourselves.

What happens to things forgotten on the island? They revert back to what they were before, star dust. Then that star dust is used again.

I do not want to be star dust, so I tell our story. I tell it to save myself, the history of my people, and the memories. There are so many good, happy memories around the island. People rarely forget the bad ones.

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Rock Bottom

Droplets of water clung to the window screen, suspended in a row like mini planets. The rumbling of thunder from the retreating storm was faint, more of an echo. Outside, yellow police tape marked off the edge of the trees. I couldn’t see her body from my bedroom, but less than a yard away were the tread marks from the gurney. The police found her too late. Hell, maybe the Amber Alert was too late.

Cause of death: Suicide. Not self-induced asphyxiation. Too personal. Don’t want to give other teenagers ideas. But I saw the police carry the rope to the car. It was yellow, the kind you’d use to hang a kid’s swing. It looked ordinary.

We’d graduated high school together only a month ago, survived teenage torment. I hadn’t lived it yet, but somehow real life seemed worse. No safety nets, only rock bottom. We were baby birds jumping out of the nest praying to God we wouldn’t fall. Not hard to imagine how someone would crack under the pressure. If we all die, why endure the struggle?

***

I asked my parents for black-out blinds. I stopped looking out the window, avoided all windows actually. Each day I passed the police tape. The investigation closed quickly. The tape had been abandoned, forgotten. Maybe they left it up as a deterrent, so kids wouldn’t go in the woods. Maybe no one wanted to remove it.

Like Sisters

Image via cherylholt from Pixabay

The dust settled on the pitcher’s mound as the boys cleared the field. The drone of “Good game, good game, good game,” drifted back behind the metal bleachers where two girls squatted over a tube of lipstick. Dirt stuck to the black, marbled exterior of the tube. The older girl popped the lid off, revealing an outrageously red stub. She raised it to the younger girl’s lips.

“What do you have?” The mother’s harsh voice cut through the chatter of boys reuniting with their families.

The older girl held the tube out to her mom. “We want to wear it.”

The mom capped the lipstick and tossed it into the trashcan on the end of the bleachers. “That’s yucky.”

“But why?”

“You could get a disease. You can’t share make-up.”

The girls didn’t have make-up yet, only soda and candy flavored chapstick. “Are they in trouble?” The older girl’s brother snickered.

“Mind your own business.” The younger girl pouted.

The brother’s eyebrows scrunched. “Butt out, Anna.”

“Hey! Be nice.” The mom snapped. “No, they’re not in trouble.”

The older girl stuck her tongue out when the mom wasn’t looking. The brother shoved her and Anna. “Don’t be a baby, Anna.”

Anna’s puppy brown eyes grew wide. “I’m not a baby. You’re only a year older than me.”

“So?”

The older girl pinched her brother’s boney arm. “Leave her alone.”

“You’re not mom.” The brother sneered.

She pinched harder. “No, I’m worse.”

The brother rolled his eyes, but he apologized and rejoined the other boys. Anna hugged the older girl, surprising her. “Thank you,” Anna said. The older girl patted Anna’s head; maybe they would be close friends. Like sisters.

To Survive

Ella Andrews burned it because she had to. She snuck out after most of the girls in her boarding home were asleep. The books felt smooth and thick in her ungloved hands. Though it was the dead of winter, she wanted to touch them as she let them go.

Several blocks down the street stood the grove. The smells of dew and mud mingled with the pages. Knowing the sticks would be too wet to light, Ella had brought her own logs. She only used magic to dry the ground, a circle for the fire. This had to be a human act. It was humans who were driving her to burn the grimoires.

It took time to start the flames. Her hands being numb from cold didn’t help. She wanted to quit, to lock her books away. But that wouldn’t be good enough. If they were hidden, they would eventually be found.

The pages crinkled, folding in on themselves and burning brown to black. Ella couldn’t look away. Spells from her ancestors became lost to memory. She was the only one who knew all of them, the last in her line. And in that moment, she knew they would die with her. It was too dangerous to teach magic to anyone unrelated. Plenty of witches had turned in exchange for amnesty. You couldn’t be too careful.

Ella watched until the fire burned itself out. Then she ground the ashes into the mud and planted flowers on top of them, a few irises. Using an invisibility spell, she made sure no one traced her movements. In bed that night, she could feel the weight of her ancestors’ sorrow pressing on her. But she ignored them. She had done the right thing.

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Nobody’s Home

bus, organized crime

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watching other people through their reflection in the glass of the bus is an art. You can’t stare for too long at one time; people can feel your eyes on them. I glance at the suit-wearing man in front of me, a commuter. The left arm of his blazer is faded slightly compared to the right one. Not surprising. He sits on the left side of the bus every day. I know that he’s a man of habit because his tie is out of fashion, too fat at the bottom.

His hair is balding in the back. Does he notice? Does his barber tell him?

I’ve picked him. He might have family; there’s no clear indication. The needle pricks the back of his neck just above his fat roll.

It doesn’t take long. Beads of sweat form on his hairline. When he starts to get up, I put my hand on his shoulder, hold him down. By the time they try to run, they’re too weak to fight.

We get off near the convention center. It’s busy with the right  kind of people, the people who mind their own and stop for no one. Cigarette smoke rolls out of the Tiger Pub. The man moves to go in, but I pull him around into the ally and press his face against the brick wall. “Who do you work for?”

“A design company.” The man doesn’t hesitate. He’s never had to pretend before, never been caught.

“Who do you really work for?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Now he’s getting angry. Fool’s move.

I bring out the knife, blade half serrated. The man’s face pales; his eyes spark with recognition. I’m not fucking around. I hold the knife in his line of sight. “Last chance.”

He whimpers something, starts crying. He’s a small fish. The real ones don’t cry. The real ones don’t talk.

“They’ll kill me.”

No shit. “Yeah, or I will. Your time is limited.”

“They’ll torture me.”

“Tell me what you know and I’ll be quick.”

“Really?”

Funny how death makes us sniveling children. “Cross my heart.”

He trips over the words, rushing to get them out. He works for who I thought. He knows nothing of importance. Wasted attempt, my third this week. There will be hell to pay.

“Do you have a family?” I ask.

He shakes his head.

“Good.” Less casualties. I end it quick. I keep my promises.

Disaster

subway, disaster

Nine lives hurtle towards their deaths on the subway completely unaware. They are annoyed that the train is so packed. A woman stands in her uncomfortable heels on her commute home from work. She curses the tourists and wishes the couple behind her would shut up. The couple talks about the zoo, the best zoo that they’ve ever been to, and about how they will take their children there once they have kids. The woman hides her disdain in her book; the couple isn’t even engaged.

Across the aisle, a young man watches this unfold. He turns his music off and listens, waiting for the woman to snap. Sitting beside the young man is a dad. He has to get off at the next stop to pick up his daughter. His husband will worry if he’s late. The dad pushes his glasses up his face and readjusts his grip on his brief case. He’s ridden the subway for months now, but he can’t get used to sitting this close to strangers. The smell of bodies packed in stale air makes him sick.

They are almost to the stop. They don’t make it. The newspapers report that the train derailed, but no one can explain why.

The most religious woman on that train, the one with the short, kinky curls, would have said that it was their time. She would’ve sworn that she felt it, something off. She would’ve said that she’s at peace.

I call bullshit. There were three kids on that train: one bringing donuts home for his mom’s birthday and two siblings heading to a baseball game. Why end their lives before they lived?

Maybe it’s the guilt. I was on that train, got off one stop before the problem. One stop. I chose to transfer early. That’s the difference between life and death, one choice. What if I had chosen wrong?

Anyway, the newspapers didn’t disclose the names. That section of track shut down for awhile. All of the trains stopped for 24 hours, more in fear of another problem than in remembrance. It became a thing across the country. These incidents always become things. Things to be dealt with, things to recover from. Problems and lawsuits and carelessness.

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Links and Gaps

time, hypnosis, magic

Some people crave attention, food, love, space, adventure. I crave autonomy. Everyday I wake at the same time. I go to work. I go to the same bar after work (during the week, rail drinks are $3). What’s the point?

Déjà vu is a daily occurrence. It feels like I’m a wind up toy. Someone else winds me up and I repeat the same actions until the cog stops.

I try to do things differently. I tried a new Thai place, but it tasted bland. On a Wednesday night, I went to a downtown club. Don’t tell me that it was a stupid idea to go in the middle of the week cause I already know that. I didn’t meet anyone new, despite my best efforts. I also tried an art class just for a new experience. None of these things stuck. It was too much effort to keep doing them, like I was fighting myself and my routine.

***

Today I’m going to a palm reader. I figured that I could use some magic. As I step into Madam Gaia’s parlor, my body heats up. My armpits sweat. I never sweat when I’m nervous.

Madam Gaia, crystal blue eyes piercing my soul, takes my hand. Her entire forehead furrows. “This is unusual. Please sit.”

Blue silk sheaths the windows of the parlor. In the center of the room stands a wooden table shaped like an hour glass. The armchair on the left is deep purple and Victorian. The one on the right is white wood with a wicker seat. I take the wood chair. Strangely, Madam Gaia’s eyes are the only thing that gives away her fortune teller profession. Her dark hair is straight. She doesn’t wear beads, only a simple blue dress that touches the floor.

I rest my hands palms up on the table, but Madam Gaia does not look down at the lines. She places her own hands on mine. “Have you visited any shaman or spiritual journey people before seeing me?”

I’m not sure what that includes, but I shake my head.

“No fortune tellers? No self-proclaimed witches?”

“No.”

“Have you met any?”

“Not to my knowledge. What’s going on?”

Madam Gaia smiles and my apprehension disappears. “Nothing. We’ll get it sorted out.” Still not looking at my hands, she holds up a finger. “Stare at the tip, please. Good. Now, do you see the grandfather clock behind me?”

How had I not noticed that before? It’s standing to the right of the door, flowers carved all across the top.

“Watch the pendulum.”

Is the metal gold or silver? With every swing, the light hits it differently.

“Sleep.”

***

Madam Gaia’s parlor has cooled significantly since I first walked in. I’m actually cold. Madam Gaia points to my life line and tells me how my life is going to turn around. I feel lighter, but something prickles at my mind. “What happened?”

“What do you mean?” Madam Gaia asks.

“There’s something…I don’t remember.”

“Do you think this room is too bare?”

“What?” The only furniture in the room is the table and two chairs. It does look silly.

“I’m thinking about purchasing an antique grandfather clock.”

I glance around the room. “It would pull everything together and look good beside the window.”

Madam Gaia smiles, and my agitation slips away. It probably wasn’t important.

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Alice in the Wrong Land

rusty key

Green and brown smudges zip by the train windows, but Alice can’t relax. She’s been running for months, avoiding contact with people. She actually can’t remember the last time she had a conversation that moved beyond ordering food or buying a ticket. Most people would’ve gone crazy by now, but once she stops talking it’s difficult to start again.

Alice leans her head against the window, her platinum blonde hair sticking to her sweaty forehead. She turns a rusty key over in her hands. She needs it to open a portal home. The world she’s trapped in is identical to her own, but the other Alice died two years ago. Two years ago, this Alice crashed her car on purpose and lived. The other Alice succeeded.

Mirrors are supposed to be portals to other worlds, so people say. Alice didn’t come through a mirror or step through a wardrobe; she visited a fortune teller.

***

“Pick a card. Any card.” The woman said. Bangles jangled on the woman’s wrists. Beads hung from her neck. The incense made Alice’s head throb.

Alice’s father had suggested the trip. He believed in aura, tarot, and spiritual healing. He thought that Alice needed to lighten up. Alice figured it couldn’t hurt.

She tried to pull a card from the deck, but it resisted. “Does this usually happen?”

The fortune teller’s eyes sparkled. “The cards know you don’t believe. They’re testing you.”

Alice doubted that. She wiggled a card free. Then two more.

The spread was simple: a card for the past, one for the present, and one for the future. Alice didn’t remember the exact cards, but she understood the gist. Her past was fraught with struggle. Her present was the calm before the storm, and the future held a great transformation. Then the fortune teller had let Alice out the back way through the garden, and after the gate closed, Alice realized that it was snowing in July. That was the start of it.

***

The train pulls into  a station and stops to let more passengers on. The sun is setting, flooding the compartments with golden light. Alice has twenty minutes until she’s back to the fortune teller’s. The woman refused to help without the key. Alice didn’t see what was so important about it. It was abandoned in the hollow of a tree.

As Alice slips the key into her pocket, a man notices and walks towards her. She gets up to avoid him, but another man is coming at her from the opposite direction. The first one crosses his arms over his wrinkled tie. “Can I see your key?”

She stares out the window. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Fine. We’ll take it from you,” the second man says.

She considers giving it to them. Instead, she sidesteps back into her compartment and drops the key out the window. She’s tired of running.

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