After the Snake

I’m the one who told Jake to leave. I laid hands on him first, have always been the one to lay hands on him, and I know it’s wrong, but I can’t figure out how to get through his beer-haze, how to get him off the couch to do anything, especially to find a job or to make things official between us. I punch or kick or scratch at him when he tries to stare through me at the TV, and usually he brushes my hands away and twists the top off another beer. It doesn’t matter what kind of beer it is, he can always twist the top off. One of his self-proclaimed “special talents.” But this time, he grabs both my wrists in one hand and slaps me hard across the face, so I feel my brain rattle a little and my neck pull. He blames Afghanistan, I know he does. He never outright said it, but after he slapped me, he stood up and put his face next to mine and said, “Casey, you couldn’t possibly understand what I’ve been through. Let me drink my fucking beer.”

“You could’ve hurt me,” I said, shaking my head from side to side to see if it hurts. “If you ever lay hands on me again, Jake Mackmilan, it’s over. Maybe you should even leave right now.” He downed his beer and stood in front of the TV for a moment. It was the only light in the room and it made his skin look almost silver. Then he grabbed his keys off the counter. I heard his Kawasaki rip to life, the one I bought for him. After a minute I went and stood at the front door, playing with the switch for the porch light that doesn’t turn on. When Jake didn’t come out of the woods that surround our house and back up the dirt drive to beg for forgiveness, I collapsed into his chair in front of the TV and watched the nature documentary he’d been so intent on, nature’s natural killers.

When I wake up it’s after midnight, the documentary has switched over to a ghost hunter show, and Jake still isn’t home. I pull out my phone and call him, but the seat of the chair starts buzzing, and I pull his phone out from where it’s wedged between the cushions. I set it on the counter then move to our bedroom and leave the bedside lamp on, so he knows I’m waiting for him. Our room is undecorated. When I moved in, I didn’t want any reminders of the rooms I’d left behind, so I threw out my posters and the sharpie drawings I did of myself, black and warped, the ink bleeding across the page. Jake doesn’t have any decorations, either. Maybe that’s why we fit so well together, because neither of us wants anything to do with our past lives.

Our bed has no headboard, just a cheap metal frame I bought with my second paycheck. I sit propped up against the wall. I don’t let myself consider the possibility that Jake might not come back. He needs me as much as I need him. Maybe more. I tell myself, “I’ll wait up for him,” but I fall asleep anyway, and wake suddenly to Jake standing over me. It takes a second to register that it’s him, his slumped, muscled shoulders and his bristly short hair and his brown eyes, because there are bits of flesh missing all over his long, lean arms, the wounds wet and filled with pus, but not bleeding. I try to say, “Jake!” and reach out to him, but my arms are frozen at my sides. I will myself to sit up, try to say, “Are you hurt?” but I am paralyzed. A familiar panic starts to clutch at my chest, my heart thumping hard. Jake sits down next to me. He leans in toward me, and the flesh on his face disappears. His face is a mask of bone. I see it for only a second before it swoops down out of my sightline, and I feel his lips soft on my forehead. When he pulls away his face is whole again, he’s all whole, except a scrape on his forearm.

I think, “It’s just a dream,” willing myself to control my breathing and my racing heart. I just need to wake up, so I can tell him, if he’s really here, “Hey baby, I’m glad you’re home.” But he backs away from me, favoring one leg over the other like he always has. His brown eyes stay locked on mine until he’s out of my line of vision. For a second I can’t turn my head, then suddenly I can move again, and I look at our bedroom door. It’s empty. My cheeks are wet, but I don’t remember crying. I resist the urge to curl into a ball like I used to do after this would happen when I was little, to huddle beneath my sheets. Instead, I run to the door, calling after him, “Jake! Jake!” I run down the close, short hallway, where the hall light is still on, my feet pounding on the old wood floors. I take the sharp right into the kitchen, scan the semi-darkness of the dining room and the living room, but he’s not there. I grab our heavy silver flashlight and shine it out the front door, into the black expansiveness of our dirt drive and the woods beyond, but his bike is still gone. I shut and bolt the door quickly, then make my way back through the house, systematically flipping the rest of the lights on as I go. I keep half-expecting Jake to jump out at me. It’s just the sort of thing he’d do, to lighten things up after our fight, or maybe to punish me, but he doesn’t. I shine the flashlight into the bathroom, the only room I haven’t checked, then flip on the light in there, too. I jump at my reflection in the mirror over the sink and close the bathroom door behind me. In our room, I lie back down, set the flashlight on the nightstand, and try not to go to sleep.

When I was ten, in the long, loud nights before my parents’ divorce, I fell asleep late one night and woke to a monster breathing above me. He had the body of a man, but with smooth, eerily fluid skin, almost like quicksilver, and no orifices. Where his head should have been was the skull of an antelope, empty eye sockets full of distorted, oozing dark. My arms were pinned to my sides as he first stood above me, then retreated. He scaled the walls of my bedroom and scrambled across the ceiling. He hung above me, his hands and feet sticking to the ceiling, his head rotated 180 degrees to stare down at me. The darkness seeped out of the skull, and as it settled around me like a thick fog, a pair of bloodshot blue eyes blinked within their mask of bone. I tried to open my mouth, and as if I were in a dream, I could not scream, I could not even whimper. I tried to turn on my side and run, but my limbs were completely useless. I was glued to my bed, watching the monster watch me. After a while, it crawled back down the wall, stood over me again, and finally left my room. It was then that I found myself able to sit up and cry. I ran to my parents’ room, where my mother was crying too.

“Go back to bed,” she told me. She was sitting on the edge of hers, wearing one of my father’s T-shirts, her heavy eyeliner smudged and blurred.

“I can’t,” I said, but my father came out of the bathroom and said, “Go to bed,” and I did. I lay down with the lights on, pulled my polka-dotted comforter up to my chin, and kept my eyes shut tight. I focused on the muffled sounds of the bedframe slamming against the wall in the room next door and tried not to fall asleep, afraid the antelope man would return. Once or twice that night I thought I felt a shifting of weight on the bed next to me, thought I heard a slight creaking of bedsprings, as if someone were getting up, or sitting down, or even lying beside me, but I told myself it was my mother, and I didn’t open my eyes.

In those months I would see the antelope man again and again when I was jarred awake by shouting in the next room, and it never got easier to lie there motionless, at his mercy, wondering if that night something would change. Perhaps tonight he’ll come down from the ceiling, I’d think, and steal me away. Or maybe I’ll feel his hands close around my throat, like my mother’s did, once, when my father had been missing for two days, and I wouldn’t stop asking why. I took to trying to fall asleep with the blankets pulled over my head, but inevitably they would slip away. I could not stay still as I tried to sleep through the fights in the next room. No, I could only stay rigid when the monster was standing over me, breathing, waiting.

After the divorce was finalized, I moved in with my grandmother up in North Carolina while my mom “got settled.” Other than the months after I met Jake, that was the best time of my life. Every night before I fell asleep, my grandmother sat with me. I lay on my stomach and she slipped her hand beneath my pajama top to draw pictures on my back with her cool acrylic nails. The antelope man never came to that place. It wasn’t until my grandmother had a stroke and died when I was fourteen that it started again. I nodded off at her wake, which my mother held back in Florida. The lid of the coffin creaked open and my grandmother sat up and stared at me, half of her face slack and drooping. She pulled herself over the edge and hunchbacked her way toward me, the undertaker’s makeup clownish and distorted, the lipstick smudged far past the edges of her mouth, her nails bright red and twice as long as she ever kept them in life. I tried to shout, “She’s not dead!” but again my voice wouldn’t work. I tried to shuffle my chair back, but it was as if someone had screwed it to the ground. One of my aunts let out a wail, and I woke and clutched the sides of the metal folding chair the church had provided us with, and made certain the lid of her coffin was still closed.

When the sun comes through the window in the morning, Jake still hasn’t returned, and I’m exhausted from staying up all night. I call off work at the Publix in town. I can’t go, anyway, without Jake to give me a ride. We sold my car when I moved in and bought the motorcycle we’d seen for sale in someone’s yard. Well, I bought the motorcycle. Jake didn’t like to deal with people more than he had to. Afghanistan, I figure.

I pull on a tank top and a pair of Jake’s basketball shorts, and lace up my hiking boots. I start off down the dirt road toward the highway, following the shallow rut left by Jake’s tires all the way to the main road, which is lined with pastures and quiet at this time of day. I stand for a minute and watch a few trucks whip past. When sweat starts to prickle on my neck, I turn and follow the creek. The low-hanging branches that line the water are dripping with Spanish moss.

When I reach our spot I want to see Jake sitting there, head in hands and eyes red, working up the courage to come back home and apologize to me. He’d say, “I promise things will be different now. Like when we first met. Remember? I’ll be good to you.” But the grass is unbent, almost militarily erect, like no one has been here for a long time. I know I haven’t.

Jake and I met here one day when I was skipping school. I’d been napping in the sun when I opened my eyes and Jake was standing over me. “Don’t move,” he said, “There’s a snake curled up next to ya.” I lay there frozen, staring up at him, trying to keep my breathing shallow so as not to disturb the snake. Jake crouched on his haunches, his brow furrowed. At first I tried not to stare at him, but when I saw that he was keeping his gaze fixed just behind me, I took him in, his broad shoulders, his pale arms in his tank top, the dark tan of his hands and face and neck. After what felt like ten minutes he rose slowly and said, “Maybe I should try to scare it away.”

“No,” I whispered, but he grabbed a stick, leaned over me, and made a shoveling motion. I heard the soft sound of the snake’s body hitting the ground a few feet away, and Jake grabbed my hand and said, “Run.”

He led me through the woods until we came on a clearing where a little brown house sat in the middle. “You want a drink of something?” he said. “Lemonade? Beer?”

“Is this your house?” I said as we walked toward it.

“No,” he said, “I’m taking you to a stranger’s house and we’re going to steal lemonade and beer from their fridge.”

It took me a moment too long to catch the sarcasm, and Jake burst out laughing before I could even smile.

“I’m Casey,” I said, half-inclining my head towards him. “What kind of snake was it?”

“Coral snake,” he said, “Black and yellah and red. Striped.”

I shivered. Jake put his hand on my arm and said, “Don’t be scared. You’re safe.”

He opened the door to his house. The handle hung loose. “Some kids tried to break in,” he said when I asked about it. “I’ll fix it soon.” He led me to the fridge, an old, squat one, beige with a wood-plated handle and veins of dirt on the surface.

“What’s your name, by the way?” I asked.

He leaned into the fridge and didn’t answer me until he’d turned to face me, holding two bottles of beer in his hands. “Jake Mackmilan.”

It’s nearly noon, more than twelve hours since Jake left, when I get back to our house. Exhausted, I crawl into bed and try to clear my mind for sleep. The paralysis hasn’t happened since I moved in with Jake over a year ago, and now I’m back in bed I can’t stop thinking about it, that closing-in feeling of not being able to move, of being completely out of control. But I know there’s something more, something bothering me that I can’t put my finger on. I keep trying to breathe through it, in and out, but those first seconds of his appearance last night keep replaying in my head. I give up on stopping the memory and let it run through like a movie. When I get to the feel of his lips on my forehead, my throat tightens, and it’s a few seconds until I realize why. Not once in my years of monsters has one of them ever touched me, but I can remember that feeling clearly, his lips soft and warm, just like they were the first time we had sex. I cried on the mattress on the floor in our little brown house, and Jake held me and pressed his lips to my forehead. That exact same kiss. He said, “You don’t have to tell me why you’re crying, but I promise it’s okay.”

Never has one of them touched me.

I wake to my phone vibrating in the bed beside me. The sun is still coming through the window, and I’m exhausted, but I scramble to answer the phone. I don’t recognize the phone number, and my stomach drops before I remember Jake forgot his phone, anyway. I slide the button and say, “Jake?” hoping he’s found a payphone and is calling to say he’ll be home soon.

“This Casey Compton?” The man on the other end has a North Florida drawl, a lot like Jake’s, but it’s not him.

“Yes,” I say, sitting up in bed.

“This is Officer Daniel Knox, I’m with the police department. Do you have a Kawasaki motorbike in your name under the plate number XJM95?”

“Yessir,” I say, thinking Jake might’ve been pulled over for driving drunk. He never thought he would be, since he only rode at night, through the woods on the back roads that led to our house. If the moon was bright enough, he rode with his lights off. It made him feel alive, he said. “But I don’t actually drive it. My husband can’t deal with people, so I bought the bike for him,” I say. Then, feeling the need to explain further, I add, “He was wounded in Afghanistan. PTSD.”

“Can I come by this afternoon? The address I have for you correct? 1 Hickory Lane?”

“Yessir.” I hang up the phone with a heavy weight in my stomach and get out of bed. I examine myself in the mirror and decide I can’t get away with not taking a shower—my hair is in nests from sitting hunched against the wall for so long, and the sweat from my fear the night before made it greasy.

I wash my hair and soap my pits, using the rose-scented soap Jake loves. My mother used to say, when I lived with her, “A good-smelling girl gets out of trouble.” She was always heavily perfumed when she went out at night.

I wait for the officer on our porch, the part of the house that excited me the most when Jake led me to it after we first met. He’d inherited it from his parents, he said. The porch slopes a little, toward the middle, and I would’ve painted the railing white instead of brown, but it wraps around the whole, tiny house, and the posts are carved in swirling patterns. I’d planned to get a rocking chair, once Jake got a job. I stand, waiting for the officer. He pulls up in a patrol car, dust flying even though he’s moving fairly slowly. When he gets out of the car he looks different than I imagined him, not much older than I am, at least six-foot, blond and clean-shaven with a bold jaw.

He says by way of greeting, “You don’t get scared living out here all alone?”

For a second I want to say, “Yes,” not just because of last night, but because that silly girlish part of me, the part that leapt up when I met Jake, wants him to protect me. Instead, I say, “I live out here with my husband.”

He says, “You want to go inside? I’m afraid I have some bad news.”

For a second I think, “God, he’s killed himself, hasn’t he,” imagining the bike with Jake under it, spun out on a dirt road. Then I remember the lips on my forehead and wonder if Jake was really here last night, or if it was like my grandmother. Maybe he came to say goodbye.

“Ma’am?” Officer Knox is looking at me with a furrowed brow. “I understand if you’re in shock. . . let me help you inside.”

“No,” I say, realizing I never answered him and trying to sound put together. “The porch is the best place for bad news. It’s bright.” I sit down on the steps and pat the porch beside me. He sits down a few feet from me, but his knees wing out so ours are almost touching.

Officer Knox takes a paper out of his breast pocket, then shakes his head and puts it away. “Can I smoke?” he asks me, and when I nod, he pulls a single cigarette and a classic silver Zippo from the same pocket. “We found your Ninja Kawasaki abandoned along Boonsdown Parkway.”

“He was out on a main road?” I ask, surprised.

“Thing is,” says Knox, not acknowledging my question, “the bike was beat up pretty bad, like there’d been a crash.”

“Where’s Jake, then? Is he in the hospital?”

Officer Knox runs his hand over his hair and takes a second drag from his cigarette, then stubs it out on the railing and slips it back into his pocket. I get the sense that maybe he’s new to delivering bad news. “He wasn’t there,” he says. “We don’t know where he is. No one called to report a motorcycle accident last night or this morning. We’re checking the hospital for John Does, in case whoever hit him brought him in.”

“Could he have walked away?” I ask. “Left the bike?”

Officer Knox runs his hand through his hair again. “Probably not, or not far,” he says. “There was a lot of blood.”

I sit quietly, staring down the drive. After a while, Officer Knox says, “You sure you don’t want to go inside? Maybe have a drink to pick yourself up?”

I say, almost compulsively, “I’m not old enough yet,” even though I drink all the time.

Officer Knox says, “Well, let me just make sure I’ve got Jake’s name right, then, so we can keep looking for him.”

I spell it.

“Mackmilan? That’s an odd spelling.”

“Yes.”

“That why you didn’t take his name?” I see him glance down at my wedding finger. I tuck my left hand under my right.

“No,” I say. “To be honest, we aren’t officially married. Never got it together enough to sign the courthouse papers.”

“I see. You have any pictures we could use?”

“On my phone,” I say, “But no prints.” I pull it out and start flipping through it. The pictures of Jake are few and far between. He never liked to take pictures, but there are some of us together, selfie-style. The most recent is a little blurry because it was taken at night and the light is too yellow. I’m in a tank top and Jake has his shirt off. I can’t remember why we took it now, but I’m smiling widely with my eyes too open, and Jake has his little close-lipped half-smile, like always. I hold it out to the officer and say, “Will this work?”

He frowns at it and says, “If it’s the best you’ve got . . . you can send it to this email.” He hands me his card. “Give that number a call if you need anything. If the secretary picks up just ask for Daniel. I’ll let you know if we find anything.”

I stand to watch him drive off. Once he’s gone, I sit back down on the porch steps, bending and straightening his card between my fingers.

I can’t eat for the rest of the day, and I keep thinking to myself, “I should’ve made him come to town with me and make it official. We should’ve been married.” Later I watch the sun dip below the tree line with my arms wrapped around the porch railing, letting it dig in between my ribs and my breasts, hugging it, already missing it, sure I won’t inherit. Our house will go to some distant and unknown relative, and they’ll fill it with things that don’t belong, rob Jake and me from the blank walls. I call the number on Officer Knox’s card when it gets dark. He answers on the first ring and tells me there haven’t been any John Does in at the local hospitals, but they’re checking hospitals farther out, and they’ve also got the dogs out sniffing the woods where they found his bike.

I pace the house for a while, with all the lights on. Around midnight I start to feel tired. I make sure the chain across the front door is bolted and the lock on the knob turned. I lie down in bed, flat on my back, debating whether to pull a pillow over my eyes. When I was younger, I tried sleeping with a mask on so I wouldn’t see things, until I started waking up paralyzed and thinking I’d gone blind. I pull the covers up over my head, which are looser and less suffocating, and try to go to sleep, but the empty space in the bed beside me fills me with a sharp, constant pain, like a rasp of breath whistling over a freshly chipped tooth, and keeps me from closing my eyes.

It was easy to move in with Jake, once things got started. After that first time, the sex got easier—until I locked my eyes on Jake’s one day when he was creaking over me and realized I was no longer filled with fear. He saw it, and he pinned my arms over my head and didn’t stop when I started to flinch away. Instead, he let go of my arms and grasped my hips and kept going long past my screams flew out the open window and into the woods beyond. After, he kissed my neck and smiled and went to get me a beer.

My mother wasn’t too happy when Jake and I showed up to collect the last of my things, just a month after I graduated high school. Then, she was never happy. She glared at Jake and said, “What about college?”

“I can still go to college and live with Jake,” I said. “Are you going to pay for it?”

That shut her up.

The first thing I realize when I hear the door of our closet creaking open is that all the lights are out in the house, even though I’d left them on before bed. I try to lift my head, but it’s heavy on the pillow. In the moonlight from the window I see Jake’s rounded shoulders, and I try to say, “Thank God you’re alive,” but I can’t work my jaw, and I can’t be sure if he’s alive.

I try to lift my arm to reach out to him, try to get my vocal cords to rumble, to say, “Jake,” just that one syllable, but I can’t. He stands there for a long time, and panic mounts in me. If I could reach out to him I could be sure he was real, that he isn’t a hallucination, like my grandmother rising from the coffin. But I can’t move, can’t close or open my eyes, until Jake finally turns and leaves the room, just as he did the night before. I run to the light switch and flick it on, but nothing happens. I grab the flashlight from beside my bed and run down the hall again, sweeping its beam over the floor, trying light after light, but none of the switches work. When I get to the door it’s shut, but the handle is unlocked, and the chain latch is broken, the wood splintered around it. I point the beam into the darkness outside and see nothing, then feel a prickle on my neck and whip around. There’s nothing behind me. I run to my room and dive into bed, ripping my phone off its charger and pulling it under the covers with me. I call the last number in my phone and let it ring until it goes to voicemail, “Officer Daniel Knox, please leave a—.” I try him again and again, feeling panic rising, sobs now racking my body, desperate to do something, knowing that a hallucination couldn’t break my lock. I dial Officer Knox ten times before I take a breath and type in my mother’s number. As soon as I hit the call button I regret it, and jab my thumb repeatedly at the red circle in the middle of my phone, praying the call hangs up before it shows as missed, before she thinks I need her. I call Officer Knox again and leave a message. “This is Casey Compton,” I say, trying and, I know, failing, not to sound like I’m crying. “Please call me back.”

I suppose things had been bad for a while. It wasn’t just that Jake wouldn’t get a job. It was the jealousy, too, but it wasn’t my fault. It was all beer and TV. We’d rarely have those late-night conversations I loved, where we’d lie in our bed, and he’d lean on his arm and listen, about how hard it was when my parents were getting divorced, about how scary the waking nightmares were, about my ideas on good and evil and anything else I’d been thinking of, about the periods of my childhood I just couldn’t remember, especially summer vacations, how that lack of memory terrified me. He’d hold my hand if I was talking about something sad, or if I was just talking, he’d trace his fingers or his lips along my bare stomach and breasts. But it all stopped, and after a while, it was either sex or beer between us. Once, outside the grocery store, waiting for my ride, he overheard me talking to Will, one of the cashiers I went to high school with.

“If there is a God,” I said, “I don’t think he’s good. Otherwise, there’d never be war, would there?”

Jake came out from behind one of the brick columns at the store, holding a bunch of daisies and looking livid. “I parked and got you some flowers. Let’s go.”

We walked to his bike. Jake thrust the flowers at me and started up the bike, not giving me time to put on my helmet before he started driving. On the dirt road to our house, I watched the speedometer climb to eighty and grasped tightly to Jake’s waist. We stopped in front of our house in a cloud of dust. Jake left the bike running and said, “So what’s that guy want from you?”

I got off the bike. “Jake, we were just talking.”

“Yea, same way you talk to me. What do you want from him then?” He spat the words at me.

I felt myself starting to shake, holding the flowers in both hands before me like a bride. “I don’t want anything, Jake, I don’t. I just want from you. I miss you. We never talk anymore. Not like we used to.”

Jake stared at me for a minute, then grabbed my hips and pressed his lips against mine, kissing me fiercely, pushing me back towards the bike. I felt a searing pain against my calf and screamed, forcing Jake’s tongue out of my mouth, but he held me tightly a second before letting me writhe away. There was already a welt rising where the exhaust pipe had burned me.

“You did that on purpose!” I screamed at him, tears filling my eyes.

“Casey, how could I ever?” he said, already reaching out to wipe my face. “I love you.”

When Officer Knox calls me the next morning he says he’s got some news, and that he’s bringing another officer with him. Now that it’s light I go to the breakers and find them switched off. I turn them back on, then walk through the house turning off lights to save energy. I wait to tell the officers about the break-in until they pull into the drive, but when the new officer gets out of the car I don’t say anything at all. Officer Knox smiles at me, but he looks stooped in this other officer’s presence, who is much shorter and older than he is, and who doesn’t take off his sunglasses.

“Ma’am, is this Jake Mackmilan in this picture?” The officer doesn’t introduce himself. Instead, he pulls a small photograph of Jake out of a manila folder. Jake looks younger, his head more neatly shaved than it is now, edged nicely in the front, and he’s in uniform, his mouth straight and proud.

I say, “Yes, that’s him.”

“Did Jake ever mention his time in Afghanistan to you?”

“Some,” I say, “but he didn’t like to talk about it.” I glance at Officer Knox, who’s staring over my head.

“In that case, we’ve got to turn this case over to the boys at the D.O.D.”

“The what?”

“Department of Defense. Jake went missing a few years ago. Presumed dead, but if he’s alive and never reported back, he’s a deserter, and that’s for the D.O.D. to handle.”

Officer Knox steals a glance at me and presses his lips together.

My voice shakes as I say, “So you’re not going to try and find Jake?”

“Sorry, ma’am,” says the new officer, not sounding at all sorry, “but that’s protocol. The DOD will start working on it, and if they find him, they’ll probably arrest him. And you’re sure you haven’t seen him since he left? He didn’t come back here?” He takes off his sunglasses and stares at me through small eyes, as if he expects me to suddenly confess to harboring a fugitive.

“No,” I say, feeling small, and angry at the officer for making me feel this way.

“Well let us know if you hear from him,” says the officer, and he starts walking back to the car. I take a breath and call at his back, “Thanks for being so concerned about Jake. It really means a lot to me that you’re making sure he’s okay.” The other officer lifts a hand as if waving, but doesn’t turn around or acknowledge me in any other way. Officer Knox presses his lips together, then starts to turn away, too. I don’t know what makes me do it, except maybe that he feels like my last hope, but I reach out and touch his arm.

“Can I talk to you?” I say in a low voice, and head towards the porch. He looks over the shoulder at his partner then follows me.

“Listen, I’m real sorry about all this,” he says. “I wish I could help. And to be honest, if I’d been bombed or something, over in Afghanistan, and I could run away and never look back, I would. I don’t blame Jake for that.”

I swallow and open my front door. “Someone broke into my house last night.”

Officer Knox’s brow furrows. He leans in to look at the door, then looks back at me. “Did they take anything?” he says. I shake my head. His eyes look sad, and he reaches out to touch my arm. “Did they do anything? To you?”

“No,” I say. “They just—they stood over me. I have this problem, sometimes, where I can’t move when I wake up. Otherwise, I would have chased them.”

“Did you recognize them?”

I stare for a second at Officer Knox, wondering if I can trust him, then say, “I think it was Jake, but I’m not sure. It was dark.”

“Is there anywhere else you can stay tonight?”

I shake my head, thinking what my mother would say if I showed up on her doorstep, if she’d even let me in.

Officer Knox stares at me, his mouth tight. “Listen, once I get back to the station I’ll call you, then I’ll try to come over tonight, okay? I can at least change your lock, and fix the chain. Did you feel threatened, when he was here? Did he ever threaten you?”

I shake my head no, just a slight shift of my chin from side to side.

He says again, “I’ll call you,” then trots down the porch steps and jogs to the police car.

I walk down to the creek again, but the spot still looks untouched. Every time the other officer’s voice comes into my head, saying, “deserter,” I push it down, thinking, “Knox is right. I’d do that, too,” and, “I’ll talk to Jake about it when he gets home. It can wait till he gets home.”

When I remember my father, if I do at all, I think of him on our summer vacation between first and second grade. We drove out to Texas in my father’s truck, my mother with her long tan legs up on the dash, my father drumming on the steering wheel, and me squeezed between them in the hump seat, my lap belt loose. My mother’s bare thigh pressed sticky against mine in the heat, and when she slept my father’s hand rested on my knee.

My mother slept a lot on that trip: in the truck, in the motel beds and out by their pools, because “it was her vacation dammit” and she needed that sleep. My father took me to eat barbecue and tour the town where he grew up. I remember the cut watermelon stand by the side of the road, flies feasting on the dripping red juice, and a hill where we watched the prong bucks graze at dusk. My father sat next to me, massaging the back of my neck and kissing my left shoulder. He looked at me sideways, his eyes that same blue as the just-set sun, and said, “Casey, you’re growing up so fast.”

When Officer Knox comes back that night he’s still in uniform, and he brings a new chain and doorknob, gold-colored instead of the silver I used to have. He takes out his silver Zippo and his hands are steady this time as he lights what he calls “a happy hour cigarette” out on the porch. “I used to live out in the woods like this, too,” he says, drawing deeply on the cigarette. “It was the best. My brothers and I running through the trees all day and splashing in the creek. At least, that’s how I remember it, but I know I went to school sometimes, too. Still, it feels like my whole childhood was spent outside.”

“I grew up in a suburb,” I say.

Inside, Officer Knox sets to work on my broken lock. He hands me the old chain and gestures for the new one. When I hand it to him his warm fingers against my palm send a shiver up my spine. “Cold hands, warm heart,” he says. I smile and watch as he screws the new lock into place.

“I was thinking,” he says, “If you’d like, I can stay the night here and keep watch. I live alone, so there’s not anyone to miss me at home.”

“Um,” I say, and drop the screws I’m holding for him. He bends quickly to pick them up, but stays bent over, staring at my leg. “What happened here?” he says, reaching out and brushing the long, purple scar from the exhaust pipe.

“Burnt myself,” I say, trying to sound casual, feeling my throat tighten, “On the bike.”

Officer Knox stands and stares at me, his eyes locked on mine. “You sure Jake wasn’t mistreating you? You sure?” I start to shake, and Officer Knox grabs my shoulders then pulls me into him. I stay still in his arms, my own arms by my sides, thinking that I should push away, but I can’t get myself to take that first step. For some reason every time I try I worry that I’ll offend him.

“You’re safe,” he says near my ear in a low voice, his hands rubbing my upper back. “I’ll stay the night, if you want. Not as an officer, as a friend. We can make sure he doesn’t hurt you anymore.” Officer Knox pulls me in closer, and I think I feel his gun brushing my hip. He leans back a bit, and I’m still shaking, but he cups my chin in his hand and says, “Is this what you want?” I can’t move or speak, or maybe it’s just that I don’t know what to say, but he lowers his mouth to mine and presses his tongue against my lips. I open them, my heart beating quickly, and his tongue snakes into my mouth, deep enough that for a second I worry I’ll suffocate. He kisses me for a few minutes, presses me against the wall, then pulls away and lifts me. He carries me toward the bedroom. I wonder vaguely if he knows where he’s going, and I look over his shoulder, where the new door handle lies forgotten on the floor.

After, Officer Knox lies on Jake’s side of the bed. He says, “I’ll go get a towel.” He comes back with our good hand towel and tries to hand it to me, but when I don’t move, he wipes it between my legs and kisses me on the mouth.

“You must be tired,” he says. “I’ll finish the door and then come sit with you and keep watch. You sleep.” He turns out the lights.

When I wake up Officer Knox is sitting at the end of my bed, still naked. He turns to smile at me, then stands up. “I knew you were a dirty rotten cheater,” he says. I try to lift my head and say, “What?” but I can’t move. He says, “You seemed so sweet, when I chose you all those years ago, so scared, like you needed me.” He turns away from me, hunches over and moves like he’s laughing, big belly laughs, but no sound comes from him. He reaches in the air above him, as if he’s grabbing for something, then turns. Jake is standing where Officer Knox was. With the moonlight behind him I can’t see his face very well, but I know his shape, I know it. I focus on my fingers, try to twitch one of them, to wake up out of this bad dream. Jake says, “I knew it, Casey.” I think, “Wake up, wake up,” but Jake comes close to me again, leaning into my face. His breath is putrid, like roadkill. He says, “I never thought, when I came here, that I’d like it. But it was so easy to become someone people trust. Especially you, after all that stuff with your father and mother. Women like you, who get hurt the most, you become so vulnerable and sweet. No one like that where I come from. But I didn’t think you’d hurt me like this. Casey.” He backs away again and bends over, doing the same laughing motion, without sound, then moves his arms and grasps in the darkness above him. When he looks back at me his skin is smooth and glistening, and he’s wearing the antelope skull. I feel my breath catch in my throat as Jake walks to me. He traces a burning hot finger over my stomach. I flinch away from his touch, and Jake jerks his hand away. I ball my hands into fists at my sides. I blink a few times, then start to sit up, expecting Jake to dissolve, or perhaps to take off the antelope skull and say, “Ha, got ya,” but he puts a searing hot hand on my shoulder and pushes me back into the pillows. With the other hand he pinches my nipple. I think I hear someone calling my name, or maybe a pounding at the door, but it’s as if I’m underwater, barely able to hear, unable to breathe.

When I wake up the next morning, I think for a moment that I’m in my childhood bed at my parents’ house with the polka-dotted comforter. I roll to my side. When I see the hand towel on the floor the night before comes rushing back to me. There’s a single damp sheet wrapped around my body, and I fight my way out of it, knocking an unopened bottle of Gatorade to the ground. There’s another on the bedside table, along with the first aid kit I keep in the bathroom, the thermometer and a bottle of calamine lotion sitting on top. There’s dried pink calamine on my stomach and covering my shoulder and breast. I lick my thumb and rub it gently away to reveal burn marks on my skin, where I remember Jake touching me. I look around my room for a weapon and settle on the silver flashlight, then creep out into the hall, ready to run or fight. I check the bathroom, then scan the living room and kitchen, my eyes falling on a box on the table. It’s filled with chocolate doughnuts, and scrawled across the top is a note in sharpie.

Casey,
I hope you’re feeling better. Be sure to drink your Gatorade. I’ll check on you after work. I didn’t want to leave the house unlocked, so I left a key for you and took the other with me. I’ll give it to you tonight.
Get some rest.
—Daniel

Three Poems

You should know this city
thirsts for copper-
tinged sediment & meat
fresh from the workers
of the dying farms & fields.
Sick without a steady flux
of salt-leaking star-beaten
bodies, this city turns
in on itself & chews
on my sisters—their faces,
an edible bouquet
of bloody balloons;
my brothers—their ghosts,
hanging spinach in the city’s teeth;
swinging from construction cranes
flags of the dead or dying.

Last month, while driving back
from the funeral in Dallas, traffic
hit just outside of town. I pulled
into a cemetery—to smoke
& think about what waited for me
just down the road under a bypass.
A mall of tents, an officer, and a mausoleum—
all the half-eaten & unclean—
everything under the city’s kitchen sink.

Tired of trying to be touched
in places that no longer exist,

we amuse ourselves in the dark
by hyphenating our names

with invisible bodies, smoking
menthols & laughing

about the large dicks
of our dead husbands.

We share tips about screwing
our tears down to the floorboards,

stowing away our carnalities
deep in the groins of arbitrary men

—sometimes women—erasing any evidence
we ever resisted the sanctuary of sleep.

Gyrating slow, we dip
our shoulders into the swelling Atlantic—

reach back for whatever can be recovered
from the flood. She finds a conch shell.

I find the cowrie. We both stand—counting
the sand we’ve gathered in our bowls.

We bought our rings in the market
down by Café Du Monde,

sterling silver—so the orb
wouldn’t break—

and the old black poet at the table next to ours
murmured that you were lucky to have

such a beautiful brown woman
by your side. You didn’t

correct him. He told us to get married.
You said nothing. We laughed.

What would your family think
when they saw us—with our bands?

We laughed, drank coffee,
and said nothing for hours.

You knocking your ring against
the fragile rim of the mug

in a rhythm I couldn’t quite catch,
as we ate sugar-coated buns and waited

for the sun to lean over us
into the streets

and fall.

Personal Mythology

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Breaking Ground: A Debut Author Feature with Alex Landragin

F (r)iction is thrilled to introduce our readers to Alex Landragin, the author of the the much-anticipated novel, Crossings. Due out in late July from St. Martin’s Press, Alex’s debut...
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My Pleasure

I was in line with Dylan and Tanner at Chick-Fil-A when Dylan started on again about how every employee is mandated to say it after a customer orders: “My pleasure.”...
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Colossal

After my husband discovered my lover and she fled town, the town declared me damned, fish food for Kraken. I was not asked to defend myself, not that I needed to. The men did not offer a final meal, but I’d had a decadent last dinner regardless—a rich lamb chop stew, cooked by my lover just before we’d been caught. She had wiped the corners of my mouth with her napkin before kissing me. It was that memory I chewed on when they forced me onto a ship.

They told my husband he did not have to make the journey to the squid that the men all feared and worshiped, but he said he needed to see me die for himself. It was his cleansing. His retribution. He was, like all the other wronged men before him, willing to risk it all to see my pain.

He stood beside me, anxious, staring not at my face but at the heavy, damp ropes bound around my wrists, my thighs, my ankles. “You’d better run quickly, my dear,” I whispered, and laughed. “You know what happens to the ones who stay too long.” He unwrapped the ropes and tied them again, tighter this time, licking my blood from his fingers.

We sailed for an eternity, to the edges of nowhere, to the deepest of the ocean, to the middle of the end. When the ship finally drifted to a stop, bobbing like a child’s toy in a swimming pool, all I could smell was salt and rot. An eerie quiet. The men waited, poised with their guns, their eyes darting nervously.

And waited.

And then we heard it. A tremor, like the most devastating of earthquakes. An apocalyptic wail so overwhelming it washed the color from the men’s faces.

“She’s here,” I murmured, and my husband, the coward, backed away from me.

“Let’s go. Quickly!” another shouted, his lips trembling. For he knew what could happen if they lingered too long—if the husbands insisted on seeing it all. The greedy ones who thought their wives could satisfy the Kraken enough to spare the ship.

The men untied me, dragged me to the gunwale. They heaved me over the edge, trembling. “Kraken! Our gift.”

Down, down, down. I hit the icy water so fast it felt like my back had split open, that I had turned inside out. At first, the water was emerald green, the color of my lover’s eyes, but as I sunk further, the sea darkened, swallowing the sun. I drifted down, like hot wax, swelling and bulbing, nudging up against unseen things, a soft yielding here, a nip there.

The squid bellowed again. What had sounded chilling above, though, worked its way through me like a lullaby here in the depths. I saw nothing but her—a pulsating gray glow as colossal as a mountain, bulging and twisting in an impossible silence.

I did not try to get away. I found I did not want to. I opened my chest, slung my arms back, parted my legs. The squid contracted. Her tentacles, long, twitching, suddenly tensed like rubber bands. One whirled around me, wrapping. Hundreds of tiny sucking membranes fed on my cuts and burns. She rolled me toward her horrific, trembling mouth.

Then. Darkness.

When I woke, I was dead. When I woke, I was inside Kraken—no, I was Kraken. I could see through her large eyes, sense her loneliness and anger, feel her—our—drifting tentacles clench and unclench. I was Kraken and all those who came before me. I could see that child’s toy above us, its defiant dance on the surface. Could feel my husband’s self-righteous gaze. He believed he’d won—that he’d forever separated the two women who’d lain in a field of heather under a full moon.

I twitched.

Feast, I said and didn’t say. Destroy, I whispered and did not whisper. I trembled as we descended and I remembered all the things that would never be again—the way my lover’s backside warmed in a patch of sunlight through her bedroom window, the soft indented curve of her chin, the gentle lilt of her laugh.

It was then we stopped, suspended. We writhed—all the whores and bitches and mothers and harlots and lovers and teachers and scientists and witches and gypsies and sluts that had come before. Our pasts came back—the soft midnight whispers, the dangerous scent of sulfur on the sleeve of a laboratory coat, the children that were and never were.

Rise, we pleaded to Kraken, but she was already bellowing, already pushing up, up, up. The light green waters didn’t suit her, but her massive belly undulated with the rage of a thousand women.

We were the size of a city. We were the size of a small country. We were the size of all the nightmares of all the men in all their sweat-stained beds. A collective force of sadness and terror and beauty. Up we came, our tentacles slicing through the water, dwarfing the ship in shadow. The men screamed their man screams as we swept one of our feelers out and across, a terrific arc, snapping the mast like a toothpick. They couldn’t hear us, couldn’t hear the sweet song we sang as their cabins filled with seaweed and salt, as their bones began to break and their skin began to bleed, as the sharks began to circle. Oh boys, we sang and sang.

From Above, From Below: A Feature with the Veterans Writing Project

The Veterans Writing Project is a 501(c)3 organization that provides no-cost writing seminars and workshops for veterans, service members, and their adult family members. The Veterans Writing Project also publishes these writers’ fiction, nonfiction, and poetry both online and in print in a journal called O-Dark-Thirty.

She creaks and groans with every foot we submerge
Layers of paint and rust show her age
Like wrinkles webbing from a grandmother’s cheekbones
We descend purposefully,
Praying our presence goes unnoticed
The keeper of the deep waits for us
He knows we’ve cheated him time and again
He calls for us
Men hold their breath
They look anywhere but at each other
Terrified the fear in their eyes will betray them
A whisper echoes through the steel hull
Trapped here since it was first announced thirty-five years ago
Dive dive
It chants
Dive dive

The Bard War Writing Today: Notes from the Plays

It is the mission.
It is ambition
that creeps across the
stage in dreadful marches
to delightful measures
contrived by those whose
plots have laid inductions
dangerous. Return
and turn around to
endure this going
hence for we shall meet
again—us banded
merry few. There are
deployments yet to
come with battles fought
and wars not won.
Don’t ever unpack.
We’re always going back.

June 5th, 1967; Operation Focus

A morning full of April’s mayhem
on summer’s résumé. Two growling
fists flew south from northern Israel
to make a brave deposit—hyper-real
negation—on perfume from a dream
of spring; “blame is placed in place
of balm or bombs” is what the wise
said. Two forward-thinking Vautour planes
reached Port Said, soared upward
with the past ahead of them.
A dreadful breeze blew through
the Suez Canal; white shadows, each
with a lance of nonchalance: risk
production’s unfelt violence. Electronic,
gamy gametes baffled radars; fables
on anti-aircraft screens were
imageless. From the abode of all that’s
doable but doubt—the only thing
to doubt is doubt itself, it’s said
of battle—Dakotas and Stratocruisers
monitored nearby, gave the okey-dokey
signal. Israeli bombers—no slowpokes—
woke up airfields; opened Egypt’s
irides of char to wink at its maker
and beholder. With ochre antipathy
predating Antioch, 286 enemy aircraft
were destroyed. The Mirage IV (French
hardware) was installed on the entire
Israeli fleet like a corsage; but the barrage
of skill and busy courage buys overkill,
nobody buys them. The pilots slept
on bunk beds to meet destiny’s opposite:
beyond hills like monks’ heads, sober
rivers, and rabid borders; patterns less
paternalistic; faith’s strong fragility.

It is late autumn and Ramadan.
Feral dogs and kids without shoes
scavenge the highway looking for food.
The convoy is halted due to a possible threat ahead.
There is a call in over the radio and there might be IEDs.
Gun Truck 1 reports animal carcasses lining the road.
Not one, two, but tree.

Navy, Air Force, Coasties, and Marines:
letters and numbers are not what’s learned in school.
Instead of the ABCs
it’s Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie—
“Niner” instead of nine because
of a couple wars with Germany.
Roger is not a name but affirmation:

Received and understood.
Incoming is not the mail.
YOYO is “you’re on your own.”
Quarters is where you live and would rather be.
Contact is violent and not a mere touch.
The convoy is halted because Tracking is to follow
what may be tracking you.

The convoy is halted because they took a right
instead of a left since right is a direction.
And it should have been “Roger”
but he was in the turret
when they started receiving bullets
from a high, flat rooftop where
clothes and fruit were hung to dry.

Contact left. Contact right.
“Adios, motherfuckers.”
the net heard him reply.
That should have been “Alpha Mike Foxtrot”
censured the inquisition
who came to question the survivors.
It is an ambush but
now from the friendlies’ side.

The convoy commander halted the story and breathed,
“Charlie Foxtrot,” and an analyst asks for the meaning of
what I keep repeating: Clusterfuck. Clusterfuck. Clusterfuck.

This is where
you ask me where I’m from.

And this is where
I tell you that my family and I
are in the Air Force.

Focused as a death-ray lens
on the playground ants below, you suddenly blaze
that my pants are on fire.

I do not understand why.
I know some hard things, just as the sky is blue:
My family is in the Air Force.

I have already moved four times
that I can remember. Each address
has been a new bicycle, and learning to pedal

through conversations like this one.
Kids can’t be in the Air Force, you laugh.

I burn, my face hot. My eyes sting.

But I get it now:
I am not from around here
and you are not

one of us.

Waif OD

(A WAITING FOR GODOT Erasure) Composed by erasure of the text of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (Grove Press, 1954/1982), “a tragicomedy in two acts” featuring a cast of five...
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Strange Pathways: A Pioneering Writer Feature with Benjamin Percy

During his celebrated career, Benjamin Percy has blurred the line between literary and genre, becoming a champion for beautifully written, speculative work.

He is the author of five novels (most recently The Ninth Metal, which will release in 2021 with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), three story collections, and a book of essays. He writes Wolverine and X-Force for Marvel, and his past work in comics includes Detective Comics, Green Arrow, Nightwing, Teen Titans, and James Bond. His fiction and nonfiction have been published in Esquire, GQ, Time, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Paris Review. His honors include the Whiting Award, the Plimpton Prize, two Pushcart Prizes, an NEA fellowship, the iHeart Radio Award for Best Scripted Podcast, and inclusion in Best American Short Stories and Best American Comics.

In our interview, Percy talks about comics, failed manuscripts, generating material, and monsters, new and old. Be sure to stick around after the interview for the first look at his newest short story, “The Night Road.”

An Interview with Benjamin Percy

By Dani Hedlund

Almost everything you write is saturated in this feeling of the strange—from a boy made out of ice, to wrestling dummies come to life, to post-apocalyptic Lewis and Clark with magic. Where do you find inspiration for the strangeness and the speculative elements of your work?

That’s the way I’m hardwired; to see reality through a cracked mirror. I’m rolling down the freeway and I might glance at a water tower and imagine its long metal legs uprooting and the thing becoming kind of a metal spider chasing me along the roadside. I might wake up in the middle of the night and be certain I heard a thump in the attic. My wheels begin to spin as I imagine some sort of demon scratching a pentagram into the woodwork above me. Or I might be at the grocery store and look at a pile of oranges and one of them looks a bit like an eye looking back at me as I reach for it. I think that’s because I grew up on a steady diet of Stephen King, superheroes, Shirley Jackson, Octavia Butler, and Ursula K. Le Guin. I think it’s because I grew up in isolated areas where I wanted to be long ago and far away. I oftentimes shoved reality aside and escaped into the ether. All of those things came together to make the speculative my doorway of choice when it comes to putting prose on the page.

You’re not only known for writing through a speculative lens, but also for using it to tackle real-world issues. Do you approach a project knowing what kind of real-world issue you want to tackle? Does it come together organically? When do those elements coincide?

I always look for the about-ness of the piece and I mean capital “A” About-ness. Not just what is happening in the story, but what it means. What is the subtext of the situation? I need some sort of focusing agent, which might be a post-apocalyptic narrative or a story about werewolves living among us. I’m trying to figure out what’s beneath the surface. If you look at literary fiction, you see the same undercurrents. Let’s say the story is about Gatsby and his desire for Daisy, but there’s subtext beneath that. He doesn’t actually want Daisy, what he wants is to be accepted by the old money families of the east coast and he’ll never accomplish that. So here I am, writing a story about werewolves living amongst us and the fear of infection. That story, “Red Moon,” is actually about xenophobia, and has a lot more in common with the X-Men than it does Twilight. Usually, what I’m thinking about is—when I’m dreaming up my big projects especially—what do we fear right now? What makes us uncomfortable? If you look back to Frankenstein, it was born out of the industrial revolution, born out of the fear of science and technology. If you look at Invasion of the Body Snatchers, it’s about the red scare, McCarthyism, an invisible enemy living just down the block. If you look at Godzilla, post-atomic anxieties. If you look at the Living Dead movies, George Romero reinvents the metaphor in every era in which those films were produced. If you look at what’s happening right now, in this country, things are very culturally, politically divisive. Jordan Peele is someone who has done a brilliant job tapping into that in his horror features Get Out and Us. There’s a similar generative process to my own work where I’m oftentimes trying to take my knife to the nerve of the moment. The monster reveals itself.

You have dabbled in so many mediums: short fiction, novel-length, fiction comics, a craft book, and screenplays. How do you balance all these different mediums? When you have a new idea, how do you figure out the best medium?

If it’s a novel, I’m thinking about it for years before I actually start to hammer the keyboard. When I first started off, I wrote four failed novels and as a result of that, I am scared to death of something turning to dust in my hands. I think most writers will tell you the same, that they’ve got projects in a drawer somewhere and you have to write those failed manuscripts to get to the good stuff. Now, I will create maps, story charts, brainstorm clusters and I have this closet tacked full of ideas, blueprints, conversations overheard in bars and articles torn from newspapers. I use this dark room as my nightmare factory. I have screenplays and novel concepts up on the wall that I’ve been thinking about for five years for some of them. I don’t know everything when I begin one of these projects but I know quite a lot. I like to refer to my outlines as a kind of constellation and I know the brightest stars. I want to improvise my way between those stars to some degree. If you look at a constellation in the sky, you can kind of imagine the gossamer threads that unite them and that’s how I approach high concept novels or screenplays.

With comics, when it comes to working for Marvel and DC, you are not allowed to stumble your way through the dark and figure things out as you go along because a lot of people are relying on you. What I have to do is propose a bible first and that says what I’m going to do with this character, and some of the stories I’m going to explore, and what’s the legacy of this hero, and how can we bring them forward into the future in an original way. For every single story arc, after the pitch is accepted, I have to do basically the same thing. I have to pitch and say that these six issues are going to be about this, and these next three issues will be about that. That goes through the Marvel wringer and I get feedback, but even then on an issue-by-issue basis I have to write out a beat sheet before it’s accepted and move it into script. It sort of changes project to project as to how much forethought is put into it, how flexible or inflexible the venue might be. If I’m writing short stories, I’m essentially writing them for myself; it’s more of a case of just a glimmer. I have an image that I’m chasing or I have a voice that I’m chasing. If I’m writing screenplays or comic concepts, I’m definitely keeping the strict regulations of that venue in mind. If I’m writing novels, I have to consider the fact that this will take years to compose and all of these things are influencing the way I hammer together a project.

You have written in so many genres. How do you see all these different genres iIf for some reason a god came down and said, “Ben you can only write one form of story,” and you had to choose, which would it be?

I would certainly not write screenplays, because the amount of maddening oversight that comes from Hollywood would drive me insane. I think comics suit my sensibility best in that they’re a sprint and I’m kind of an idea factory. I’m putting all of my sweat and muscle into these issues but I can rattle them all out faster than I can a novel, which takes so much care and time. Writing novels, as enjoyable as that is, is a lonely pursuit. Writing comics means you’re part of a team. You and the artist are strenuously trying to tell the best story possible. How can we arrange this action set piece to be truly operatic and how can we build a new villain that readers will go crazy for? It’s infectious, that sort of collective enthusiasm. I think I’ve found my favorite home in comics.

You mentioned you had four failed manuscripts that have broken your heart slowly. Can you tell us about the one that broke your heart the most?

Probably the last, because it felt like there was a lot more at stake at that moment. I’d just had a kid and my job was uncertain. I was a visiting professor at the time, my tenure was running out and I was on the job market. Everything was at stake selling this novel. I remember I had come home from teaching, and it had been a long week and I was talking to my agent about how she had sent it off all over town. Everybody said that I had promise and they wanted to read more of my work, but this manuscript just wasn’t doing it for them. I ended up lying on a couch and drinking a lot of whiskey in the dark, listening to blues. I got up the next day and I got back to work. Rejection wears away your heart, and no matter what artistic discipline you pursue, writer, painter, or a musician, you’re going to hear no over and over again. Maybe you send off a story and get thirty-nine rejections, but the fortieth is a yes. How many people have the resolve to wait for that fortieth slip to arrive in the mail? Most people give up after three, after seven, after eleven. How many people have the resolve to write that fifth novel after all those hundreds of pages, thousands of hours went up in flames?

Aside from extraordinary stubbornness, what do you think you learned as a writer from those failed manuscripts?

If you write a short story and it fails to launch, usually you can put a finger on what you did wrong. With a novel, there are a hundred and fifty things wrong with it, usually, and it’s a lot harder to bully your way toward the next draft or the next project and know what to do. When I was in grad school, I felt like I was struggling with structure. So I took an author that I felt had airtight stories, like Flannery O’Connor, and I would read and re-read one of her stories. Read it seven times, the eighth time I would have a legal tablet out and scratch out the beats of it like; paragraph one, character A introduced via dialogue as jealous and spiteful; paragraph two, theme introduced via description of a decrepit neighborhood that is filtered through the mother’s point of view. I’d go through beat-by-beat like that and then I would take that skeleton and I would write another story based upon it that bore no resemblance to the original.

One of the things that helped facilitate this process was that I had to teach a novel-writing course. Nothing puts the fraud police on your back more than teaching a course on novels when you haven’t published one yourself. I thought, I’m going to be standing up in front of thirty students in the fall and trying to teach them how to write a novel and I haven’t published one myself. I got all these books and they all had different approaches. I taught that course with all different models. As I was forcing the students to think about the different structures, I was thinking about the structure of my own work. I don’t think it’s any coincidence I sold my first novel, The Wilding, that same semester.

When do you decide that a manuscript or big idea should be let go? Or you think, “Okay, my agent doesn’t love this, can I just gut it?” Where is that decision?

Sometimes we submitted something to every publisher, they said no, and then I was like, “Alright,” and moved on to the next thing. But I kept that scene with the owl, for instance. I’ve never had trouble moving on from a project because I know there’s more timber coming down the trail. Just about everybody I know has four or five dead manuscripts in the drawer and it’s a part of the game. It’s a part putting in those ten thousand hours that help you approach a kind of mystery. Another essential lesson that I’ve learned is the pivot. I wrote a screenplay with a Die Hard premise that takes place in an airport under quarantine, and it was rejected all over Hollywood. In the meantime, I submit it to DC comics and it is rejected. Finally, Mark Doyle, whom I’ve developed a relationship with, takes on the Bat-family and says, “Okay Percy, you’re never going to leave me alone, so I have an opening for a two-issue detective comic. What do you have?” What I had was a screenplay that I believed in. So I essentially took Bruce Willis out of the scenario and put Bruce Wayne in and that became my comics debut. The Batman story that launched my whole comics career was only published after many years of rejection. And now I’m writing Wolverine. It circles back to what I was saying before about stubbornness and resolve. When hearing no, or even when giving up on one thing, you’re not giving up overall.

You have been a trailblazer in showing that speculative and genre fiction can be written as beautifully as literary fiction and have the same deeply human themes. What was it like to take part in this time where people didn’t think that was possible?

I can take some credit but not full credit of course, because Margaret Atwood’s been doing this for years. I walked into my first creative writing workshop ready to write stories about vampires, robots with lasers for eyes, and barbarians with wooly underpants, and was immediately told that would not happen. Genre was forbidden and for the next four, five years, I read and wrote literary fiction almost exclusively. I fell in love with so many writers I had never heard of before. Then I read an essay by Michael Chabon in the introduction to this book called Thrilling Tales where he said that he was a bored reader and a bored writer. He talked about these imaginary boundaries between literary and genre fiction and how this anthology would be filled with the kinds of stories you would have loved growing up. The collection is hit or miss, but you can tell that all the writers are having a lot of fun.

When I read that I asked myself, what if I had been invited to write a story for this anthology? It just changed my thinking completely because I realized the track I was on was not what brought me to creative writing to begin with. So the stories I became most interested in thereafter were the ones that occupied a kind of ghostland, that were neither fish nor fowl; both literary and genre. I wanted to tell stories that had pretty sentences and subterranean themes and glowing metaphors, yes. But also exploding helicopters. Time has changed, the tide is shifted. You have Marlon James publishing books like Black Leopard, Red Wolf. You have the Karen Russells and Manuel Gonzaleses of the world writing shorts stories that defy categorization. It’s a good time to be splashing around in the pool.

What follows this interview is an original short story that you’ve written called “The Night Road.” Can you tell us a little bit about where the idea came from and, to echo your own phrase back to you, what is the capital “A” about-ness for this story?

I’ve been reading a lot of Shirley Jackson lately and with The Haunting of Hill House she takes on a popular horror trope of the terrible place. I think she does something very interesting in that she filters the terrible place through an unreliable point of view. You never know when you’re reading The Haunting of Hill House whether the terrible things that are transpiring are the result of Eleanor or the place itself. I’ve been interested in playing around with that and in this story, I made a monster out of the road that everybody knows, which seems to haunt every community. You see it in a blur when you pass by. It’s the place where there are crosses that are hammered into ditches draped in a moldering bouquet of flowers. Or that road where people always seem to be breaking down, getting flat tires, where a friend or a family member spins out or hits a deer.

The idea is to make this story at once grounded in a certain terrible place and then recognize that place is everyplace. To create a kind of mosaic pattern with this, a fractured sparkitecture that will hopefully affect your psyche and make you feel scattered and uncertain yourself, directionally. Because, as the people traverse this road, they get lost, and I wanted to create a kind of torn up map for the reader, for them to arrive at a state like a compass-spinning confusion. So that they’re lost in a dark wood or they’re lost in a fallow cornfield. The eyes of owls and the eyes of deer are glowing in the ditches. Mist is rising from a bog, snow is hissing along the road, these different sorts of haunting effects are all swirling together in a dark fantasia that hopefully makes you feel infected and paranoid.

There is a road, a country road, in Minnesota—or maybe it’s in Idaho or Florida or Ohio—that the locals never drive at night. Because they know what can happen there.

It is called County HL. Or Black River Road. Or is it Highway Zero? No one can remember for sure. The details get slippery when people talk about it. Maybe because fear sears the mind like burnt rubber on blacktop. Or maybe because memory, like the night road, follows no map. The way is easily lost.

One time, on a dare, a teenage boy named Jimmy Rictor drove his two friends along the night road. They had been drinking watery beer at the gravel pit and their hearts fizzed with stupid courage and the bass pounding from the car speakers. The Pontiac groaned up to speed as the road snaked through cornfields and ponds and woods. Leaves rattled in their wake. A dead raccoon grinned from the ditch. Then, when the road cut across a bog with mist threading from it, Jimmy snapped off the radio and lifted his foot from the gas and rolled to a stop. His friends asked him what he was doing, and he said he heard some kids died here. Their car slipped off the road and into the bog, where their throats and lungs choked with mud. He tapped at the window with his finger and they noticed then the three small paint-flecked crosses hammered into the gravel shoulder with some flower bouquets moldering beneath them. “Rumor has it,” Jimmy said, “if you flash your brights three times, you’ll see their ghosts.” Would the mist take bodily form? Would their bodies hang in the air before the car with water dripping from them? Would the bog bubble and splash as their corpses clambered out of the murk? Would they appear suddenly in the backseat with beetles scuttling out of their mouths, their gray skin sloughing off their bones? Jimmy wasn’t sure, but he said, “How about let’s find out?” He raised his hand to the signal lever and clicked his high beams once. His friends laughed the first time, but the laughter was cracked and high pitched. The second time the headlights flashed, there was a long beat of silence, before one of them said, “Okay. Let’s just go. Can we just go?” It was then that the brights blazed for the third and final time, and the kids who died here were them.

There are instances of people driving along the night road and speaking in a language they do not comprehend. They hiss and howl and jabber and grunt and grind their teeth until they splinter. And over time they come to realize that they are reading. The glyphs and ciphers—shaped like claws and mouths and genitals—scratched into trees and onto the rocks that border the road. This is the voice of the elemental, the oldest tongue.

Sometimes, in the winter, snow whitens and polishes the night road, blown by the wind, swirling in hypnotic patterns. If you look close, you’re sure to see hands beckoning and faces smiling, and if you listen close, you’ll hear voices whispering in the sudden static of the radio. Don’t look, and don’t listen. Because if you do, your foot will ease off the gas and feather the brake. You will strangle the gearshift and shift into park and step out of your car and the hands will rise from below and coldly grip your ankles and the asphalt will go soft and mucky and lip at you as you are pulled down, down, down. The next morning your car will be discovered with the door open and the fuel tank empty and the battery dead, and people will say that you must have wandered off for help and died of hypothermia and maybe your body will be discovered in the spring? But they are wrong. You will not be found—you will be forgotten. Until it is your face they see in the snow, your hands beckoning.

Even by day, there is a gloom to Black River Road. A dimming. A thickening of shadows. People assume a cloud filters the sunlight. Or a hardwood forest throws shade. But it is always this way, no matter if the sky is clear or if the road roams through the open air of a cornfield. The air might be eclipsed, as if in a permanent gloaming, but there is some brightness to be found. In the eyes of owls glowing a lamp-lit yellow as they swoop across the road. Or in the broken glass that sparkles like starlight at noon. The ditches are fiery with splashes of sumac in the fall and the pavement is smeared with rough candy-red stripes of blood year-round.

Jimmy Rictor’s father went looking for him. By day he would drive County HL, scanning the ditches, pulling over now and then to study the blacktop. Over time he came to realize that the way changed, that the path was always different. Sometimes the road ran straight and sometimes it wound and sometimes it rippled up and down hills and spanned a black-watered river, but never in the same place or pattern. Sometimes, at the bend in the road, there would be a dead oak tree with ravens leafing its branches and sometimes there would be an unwired telephone pole with a cat nailed to it. So he tried to map it. He kept a legal tablet balanced on his knees and he sketched out the route while driving five miles per hour and tracking the odometer. The first time he drove the road, it made the shape of a snake, and the second time he drove the road, it made the shape of a pentangle. He always made sure he was off the road before the sunset, but on this occasion the road never ended, turning and folding back on itself, knotting around him, claiming him as it did his son.

One rainy night Susan Haight was driving her family home and decided to take a shortcut. Her husband said it was a bad idea, and she said, “What’s the worst that can happen?” as she turned on to the night road. The trees seemed to lean closer and her headlights to dim. It wasn’t long before a figure appeared in the anemic wash of her headlights. He had his thumb out. He wore a poncho that hooded his face and he stood hunched, turtled beneath the bulk of his backpack. “Oh, poor man,” Susan said. “He’s soaked to the bone.” Her husband said he wouldn’t stop, she shouldn’t stop, but Susan reminded him of the time they hiked across California in their twenties and how appreciative they were for rides, food, the kindness of strangers. “But what about the kids?” her husband said, and Susan said, “They’ll be fine. They’re asleep in the wayback. We’ll drive him to the nearest gas station and drop him off.” Her husband said he thought it was a bad idea, just like this detour, and she said, “You think everything is a bad idea.” She parked along the shoulder and the rear door smacked open and the hitchhiker tossed in his backpack and climbed inside. He did not say thank you. He did not answer Susan’s question of “Pretty ugly out there, right?” and “Where you headed?” He did not even pull back the hood of his poncho, so only his gray beard was visible, spilling down his chest like a thick damp clump of moss. Susan pulled onto the road again and fiddled with the climate control because the windows had suddenly fogged over. There was a smell she couldn’t quite place. She was reminded of the time she discovered a spoiled sack of potatoes in the basement. Or the time when she returned home from vacation to find their parakeet dead at the bottom of its cage with maggots squirming through its yellow feathers. The windshield remained fogged, so she fiddled with the vents and controls, and when she looked up again she found that she was alone in the station wagon. Her husband was gone. Her children were gone. The hitchhiker was gone. But the backpack was still there. She called out their names. She reached behind her and grabbed at the heavy backpack and her hand came away tacky with blood. Or maybe it was already bloody before.

Her eyes settled on the windshield and across the words scrawled through the fog of it: “YOU DID THIS.”

Have you ever heard the story of the cemetery off Highway Zero? It’s just past the covered bridge. Or just before it. Or nowhere near it at all. It overlooks a bluff, or it is at the bottom of a bluff. The ground is rocky here, and the graves so shallow that the grass is bellied where it hides bodies. There is a gravestone there—veined with lichen—on which your name has not yet been carved.

In the spring, when the snowdrifts melt, carcasses emerge. Deer missing their legs. Possums showing teeth that look like the spikes of hoarfrost. A crow sleeved with ice so that it looks like a shard of obsidian. This is why you should never eat the wild asparagus that grows thickly in the ditches. The vegetable might give off a delicious, earthy funk as you steam it. But even if you soak it with a generous pat of butter, even if you jewel it with salt and dirty it with pepper, it will taste curious, wrong, off. You won’t be able to describe the flavor except as wrong because you don’t know what necrotic flesh tastes like.

Some believe that County HL is haunted because a member of the construction crew, the paver, came home from work and discovered his wife in bed with another man. He killed them both and boiled them in hot tar and steamrolled their bodies into the road. When you drive there at night, the specks of white glinting in the blacktop are teeth, and it is as if the road has opened its mouth to swallow you.

The deer watch from the ditches, their eyes glowing and their antlers branching into the dark like ossified veins. When a car approaches, they leap all at once into the road, throwing themselves in its way. Their horns screech and gash the metal. Their bodies come apart and muck the wheel wells and tangle up the undercarriage. The grill punches their legs and sends their bodies soaring into the windshield that spiders lines upon impact. And then, even after the car screeches to a rocking stop, there are more of them, hoofing and bounding from the woods, knotting around your ruined vehicle, waiting for you to kick open the door and make a run for it or cook to death within the smoking cab.

The road existed long before asphalt, before gravel, before automobiles, before wagons, before people. Wolves would hunt along it. Spiders and centipedes would cluster along it. Crows would fly above in a dark churning stream. Some people talk of ley lines, channels of energy that lace the earth. Cathedrals and temples and stone monoliths are arranged upon them. Some are dark and some are light. Planes and cars and boats and hikers disappear near them. You cannot destroy the road, because what you understand to be the road itself—with its tar and paint and scarred guardrails—is nothing but clothing. But Susan Haight did not know this. She wanted to punish the road for taking her family. She splashed cans of gasoline across it and lit a match and orange and blue flames rose with the sound of torn fabric. She pleasured in the way the tar bubbled and deformed. Then she hoisted a pickaxe and swung it with her whole body and its tooth bit the blacktop once, twice, three times, four. She swung until her shoulders and wrists felt torn, until the handle of the pickaxe splintered and snapped, until she fell to her knees, and then laid her body down across the yellow line, waiting for someone to come along and end her and the pain she felt. Because she could not kill the road any more than she could kill a mountain or a river. The way would remain. The stain of it.

You made a wrong turn somewhere. Your phone offers no signal. You’re not sure how you ended up here and you’re not sure how you’ll ever find your way back. It wasn’t there a moment ago, but a long black car has appeared behind you. Or maybe it is a snowplow with a rusted blade. Its headlights are off, though this moonless night is darker than a cave. Your eyes jog between the rearview mirror and the road before you. A bulky shadow is visible behind the wheel. A horn sounds for what must be a minute, a ragged blare, like an alarm signaling the end of time. When you speed up, it speeds up. When you slow down, it rides your bumper, nudging it with a screeching lurch. You almost miss a sharp curve. You almost hit a deer as it bounds out of the woods. You can feel the hum of the engine in your hands as you white-knuckle the wheel. The yellow-striped blacktop unscrolls beneath you. The night road is yours to navigate. Where will you go next? What story will you become?

A Life in Silence

Silence used to make me uncomfortable. It sometimes still does, like dark closets left open at night, even if for a brief moment.In the subway, I listen to Electric Wizard...
Flaming fiddles, it looks like there’s a roadblock here! If you’d like to finish reading this piece, please buy a subscription—you’ll get access to the entire online archive of F(r)iction.

Consumed

“All babies cry,” says her nurse.

“My Rosie never screamed like that,” says her sister.

“You aren’t feeding him enough,” says her mother.

She feeds him until her milk runs dry and her breasts bleed. At night, his screams slide down the banister and slither along the floor, wrapping around her, tighter and tighter, until she can’t breathe.

Feeeed meeee

“Supplement with formula,” says her nurse.

“I always had enough milk for Rosie,” says her sister.

“It’s not too soon for solids,” says her mother.

She mashes bananas and purees apples. She spoons in gallons of yogurt and still he screams. She bakes cakes; he eats them whole. She whips up shepherd’s pie, tacos, curry. But when the food is gone, the screams come back.

Feeeed meeee

“Try controlled crying,” says her nurse.

“Rosie only eats organic,” says her sister.

“He’s got a great set of lungs,” says her mother.

Tonight, the screams are louder than her guilt, louder than her loneliness. She feeds him the contents of the fridge, the stroller, a box of diapers, her M.B.A., the size 4 dress her husband bought as “incentive” to lose the baby weight.

Feeeed meeee

She covers her ears with chapped hands. Her fingers recoil at the lank hair and she pulls it hard until she’s screaming, too. She has nothing left to give.

Unless . . .

She grabs the vacuum cleaner. At first, he gags, and she worries he’ll choke. But then he slurps the hose down like spaghetti.

He looks at her.

She looks at him.

Feeeed meeee

She snatches him from the highchair and lays him on the floor. He shakes his tiny fists at her, squeezing his eyes shut.

She stands over him, looking down. His mouth is wide open, the raging red maw growing bigger, wider, deeper. The screams pour out like toxic gas, rising to choke her. She claws at her face, gnaws on her fingers. Her eyes dart frantically around the room.

There is nothing else to give, no one who can help. There is no other choice.
She raises her arms above her head and dives straight down his throat: pale arms, white oversized T-shirt, black leggings, and with a final kick, her bare feet.

A moment later, the baby burps loudly, sticks his thumb in his mouth, and drifts slowly off to sleep.

Claire Camille Psychic and Tarot Readings

Jennie R.

10 months ago

Claire is an angel! I’m very spiritual and I’ve been to A LOT of psychics over the years, so I know the real deal when I see it! I was going through a really hard time when I found Claire’s page. My cat had just died and she was my baby and my best friend. She got me through so many bad times! She was all I had when I was in a really abusive relationship for two years. I was so devastated by the loss of her light in my life that I couldn’t get out of bed for weeks! My boss didn’t understand AT ALL so I lost my job, and then I just felt so alone. I needed guidance and Claire totally helped me! She told me my cat was still with me and was acting as my spirit guide and I swear I could hear Pawdry Hepfurn purring as Claire spoke! She also saw success and wealth ahead and walked me through each of the cards, explaining their meaning and how it applied to my current situation and my future. Everything she said happened EXACTLY the way she said it would! I have a new job that pays way more than my old one and a new cat and I even got engaged, which she predicted! My life is SO much better because of Claire! I wish I still lived in California so I could get a reading from her again! Seriously, if you’re in a dark place GO SEE HER!

Sara A.

8 months ago

I’ve been a solitary practitioner of witchcraft since I was a child, so I have my own tarot sets and I’m well-versed in the practice of tarot in general. But sometimes it’s nice to have someone do a reading for you, especially when you’re feeling a bit unaligned, which I was.

When I arrived, I asked Claire if she had the Hanson-Roberts deck and was pleased to find she did. She actually had a great selection of decks, but I requested this one specifically because it is my favorite. I think it’s a very underrated deck. The lighthearted imagery has always been deeply calming for me and, as I said, I was feeling unaligned. I told Claire this when she asked why I chose the deck. I explained that I was feeling out of sorts and needed to focus on positive and affirming aspects of my life. That was the main reason I hadn’t done a reading for myself, I said. She seemed to understand and at first the reading was going really well. She had a strong understanding of the cards and she was reading them in more optimistic ways than I might have done myself in that moment, which was exactly what I wanted.

But then she pulled the Death card and everything fell apart. I don’t know what happened. She seemed like a completely competent reader up until that point. I guess she was just trying to con me because she instantly started wailing and clutching her chest and doing all the cliché things you see psychics in movies do when they pull the Death card. Anyone with any experience in tarot at all knows the Death card doesn’t literally mean death. But she was squeezing my hands and shouting at me that an evil presence was following me.

I left without paying her, so I didn’t lose any money to her con, but she definitely didn’t leave me with the feeling of positivity I’d been hoping for. I feel more uneasy than I did before I went to her. It was an extremely bad experience and I would not recommend Claire to anyone hoping to get a decent tarot reading.

Erin P.

7 months ago

TOTAL SCAM!!! Tarot, psychic divination, palmistry, etc. is supposed to be about HELPING people! A good reader puts you on your path to healing. Anytime someone tells you there’s a “dark spiritual presence” around you, it’s a MAJOR red flag. I think she could tell I wasn’t buying it because she didn’t pressure me to give her a bunch of money to “cleanse me of the dark presence” (I’ve had scam readers try that one before). Honestly though, I would have preferred if she asked me for money because at least I know how to deal with that. Instead she just grabbed my hands super tight (ow!) and told me I needed to protect myself, and that I should “leave town, wear amber, and never, ever be home alone.” WTF??? SO unprofessional and creepy! I hate to admit it but she was so intense, she got into my head. I keep thinking I can hear someone in my house and I keep thinking I’m seeing things out of the corners of my eyes. I know it was probably just a scheme to get money out of me, or I dunno maybe she’s just a sick weirdo who enjoys scaring people or whatever, but I’ve been MAJORLY creeped out since I went to see her. It was NOT a good experience. Don’t waste your money on this lady, she’s a psychO not a psychIC.

Amanda Q. 5 months ago
Can I please talk to you about your experience? The same thing happened to my friend before she died and I’m trying to get some answers. Please email me at mandybubbles84@hotmail.com.

Paul G.

7 months ago

Went here on a whim a couple nights ago before going out for drinks. I’m not really into this sort of thing. The friend I was with is a total believer though so I figured why not. Claire was a cool lady. She took a lot of time to explain the cards to me and stuff. She said love was knocking on my door and that night I went home with an awesome girl so we’ll see if it’s love lol. My friend said it was the best reading he’s ever had so that’s pretty high praise in my book.

Eric K.

7 months ago

Claire is the only person I go to for truth and clarity when my third eye is clouded by all of the energy pollution in the world. She is a true empath; so intuitive, focused, kind, and compassionate. Whenever I am at a cosmic crossroads, I seek her out and she guides me onto the path of hope and transcendence. She has this diaphanous yellow aura that shines brighter than her candles and fills my heart with a warm sense of well-being. Her readings are such insightful journeys. She knows what emotional space I am in the moment I walk through the door and gets right to work on cleansing me. A true wise woman and spiritual guide. Thank Diana for leading me to Claire! Blessed be!

Megan K.

6 months ago

I thought it was just one of those “a dark spirit is after you, pay me $900 and I’ll get rid of it” tricks because she said something was coming for me, that something evil was loose in our town and it was watching me. It sounded so ridiculous when she was saying it, but then I started… sort of seeing things? I know that makes me sound crazy and honestly it makes me feel crazy just talking about it, but I know I’m seeing… something. Whenever I’m walking home alone, it follows me, but I don’t know what “it” is, if it’s really a dark spirit or if someone’s stalking me… I feel like I’m going insane. Last night, I was brushing my teeth and I saw something move in the corner of my eye and I screamed so loud my neighbor came to check on me. She helped me search the whole apartment, but nothing was there. I was so freaked out that when she left, I realized I was still clutching my toothbrush. It took me forever to fall asleep because my heart was banging in my chest so loud and I was too afraid to turn the lights off, I was so jumpy. Every little sound was freaking me out, so I put on a TV show to try and distract myself and it kind of worked because I fell asleep around 3am, but then around 4am I was woken up by very loud screaming, so loud it was echoing. At first, I thought I was just having a nightmare but it kept going after I was fully awake. It was this really shrill, terrified screaming, like someone was being murdered in my living room, but the crazy thing was… it was my mom’s voice that was screaming. She was screaming and screaming my name and I ran into the living room to help her… but there was nothing there. The screaming stopped very suddenly and my heart was on fire and I was trembling so bad and I started crying. And then I felt something cold grab onto my ankle and I started screaming just like my mom’s voice had been and my neighbor came back and ended up staying with me all night. I have a nasty bruise on my ankle this morning and I can’t stop crying. Nothing like this ever happened to me before I went to see this lady, so I don’t know if she caused it or if she just warned me and it would’ve happened anyway, but I don’t think knowing is helping me. Just stay away from this woman, you’re better off… I think.

Amanda Q. 5 months ago
Would you be willing to tell me more about what Claire said to you? My friend had similar experiences just before she died. I’m trying to get answers. Please email me at mandybubbles84@hotmail.com

Amanda Q. 4 months ago
If you could even just respond here in a comment to tell me you’re still alive? Please?

Richard B.

5 months ago

It disgusts me to see some of these negative reviews on here. People don’t know what they’re talking about. I’ve been to Claire several times and I’ve always had great experiences. She’s never done or said anything weird to me. I think the people leaving bad reviews are probably just competitors who are threatened by Claire and trying to ruin her reputation. I’d be willing to bet that none of the negative reviews are from actual customers of Claire. It’s so annoying that they don’t verify customers on here. Anyone can say anything they want, even if it’s not true. Well don’t sweat the haters, Claire! Your real customers are loyal and know you’re the best. Honestly, Claire’s readings are always 100% accurate. She has a ton of experience and she knows what she’s doing. Go see her if you want a real reading.

Jennie R. 3 months ago
I agree! I can’t believe anyone would be so mean to Claire! She gave me an amazing reading! It really helped me get out of the dark place I was in!

Jason D.

6 months ago

Claire Camille completely changed my outlook. I had a good 9 to 5 job, a nice house, a wife, a dog, life should have been perfect right? Wrong. I just felt like something was off so I decided to get some professional help. I went to Claire and she started my reading and she pulled The Tower card right out the gates and I just knew, you know? I mean, I had no idea what the card meant, but at the same time I knew what it meant. She told me the card meant big change, and then she pulled The Fool, which is all about beginnings. She said my journey was about to start, and so I went home and I asked my wife for a divorce and I just got in my car and drove! It was completely crazy. But here I am, drinking margaritas on the beach in Mexico, working as a valet and I’m finally F-R-E-E my friends! Claire set me on a whole new path to a whole new life. So what if my parents wrote me out of their will? So what if my wife burned all of my clothes on the front lawn? So what if none of my friends are speaking to me? Life is GOOD amigos! Go see Claire, she’ll change your life!!! (I deducted one star because the parking is a nightmare, so it’s not super convenient if you’re in a hurry and also I’m pretty sure the incense she uses made me sick, I had a sore throat for like a week.)

Jaime C.

5 months ago

After reading some of the other reviews on here I’m trembling with fear. I went to Claire Camille and had the same experience as other reviewers. She told me there was a dark force stalking me and that it had already killed other girls. I’ve had hexes put on me before so I wasn’t too worried, I figured I could handle it. I know how to break a hex. But now there’s this thing. This awful thing I keep seeing but not seeing. The way it moves just isn’t right. I know a lot about witchcraft and voodoo and Santeria, lots of different kinds of magicks, but I’ve never seen a hex like this before. I’ve done everything I can think of to break it but it’s not working. I still see the thing. Nothing else has happened so far, but after reading the other reviews I’m afraid this woman put a really powerful hex on me. I’m afraid to close my eyes. I’m afraid to be alone. Claire Camille is into something seriously dark.

Amanda Q. 4 months ago
Please will you talk to me about your reading with Claire Camille? My friend who went to her had the same experiences as you and she died shortly after. Maybe I can help you. Email me at mandybubbles84@hotmail.com

Jaime C. 4 months ago
Did your friend really die? I’m shaking! How can you help me if you couldn’t help your friend? How do I know you’re not working with her to put this hex on me?

Amanda Q. 4 months ago
I promise you I’m not working with her and I’m not trying to hex you. My friend really did die after going to Claire Camille and I need answers about what happened to her. I need to know what led to her death. Please can we just talk?

Amanda Q. 4 months ago
I swear to you I’m not working with Claire Camille please please just talk to me.

Amanda Q. 4 months ago
Are you ok? Just let me know that you’re ok.

Amanda Q. 3 months ago
Please respond.

Russell A.

5 months ago

I went here with my friend Amy and we had a real bad experience. It was kinda ok when she was doing my reading because she said pretty good stuff and most of it kinda came true, but she said some real real crazy stuff to Amy. Like she said all these hella creepy things about how some monster thing was after Amy and she totally weirded us out. It made me hella mad because Amy was super scared after that and it totally messed up our night. She’s been super scared for like 3 days now so I’ve been sleeping on her couch every night. It was really messed up. Don’t go to this chick she’s so crazy.

Amanda Q. 4 months ago
Hi. Is your friend ok? I’m asking because my friend also had a bad experience with Claire Camille. I’m trying to figure out what happened to her. Would you be willing to email me and tell me more about what happened with your friend’s reading? My email is mandybubbles84@hotmail.com.

Russell A. 4 months ago
No she’s not ok. She died a couple days ago.

Amanda Q. 4 months ago
I’m so sorry. I know how awful it is, my friend died too. I know it feels like the whole world should stop turning and just stand still in agony. But that’s why I really need to talk to you. Something is going on, I know it is. I can feel it in the pit of my heart. I need to know what happened to my friend. Please email me.

Russell A. 3 months ago
Leave me alone.

Amanda Q. 3 months ago
Please. I’m begging you. Just talk with me and then I’ll leave you alone. I keep going over everything Sara told me about her experience, trying to think of something that would explain what happened. I go over and over it in my head but it feels like I’m just stuck in a loop. I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t get her voice out of my head. Please help me.

Amanda Q. 3 months ago
Please. I’m desperate. Please just email me.

Amanda Q.

4 months ago

I’m writing this review for Sara. I didn’t—don’t?—believe in this sort of thing. Psychics and all that, I mean. But Sara did. She was obsessed with it. When we were kids she used to make me go with her to the graveyard behind her house to have séances with her dad’s old Ouija board. The first time she asked me to go, I figured it was just a reaction to her sister’s death. I thought Sara wanted to talk to her. Say goodbye or something. But she never wanted to talk to her sister. Every time we went out to that graveyard—always on a full moon, our arms clutching white taper candles to our chests and little sachets of cinnamon in our pockets—she wanted to find people who had died young and talk to them. I think she was fascinated with death. With the meaninglessness of it. Nothing ever happened during those séances. We’d sit quietly in our little circle of golden candlelight. Sara usually closed her eyes, but I was watchful, turning my head from side to side, staring out across the grey headstones, which cast strange shadows in the silver light of the moon. I’d fiddle with my sachet, rubbing it between my fingers to spark the warm scent of cinnamon. Sara said the sachets would protect us and increase our psychic abilities. Eventually we’d get cold and our jeans got wet from the dampness that collected in the grass as the night wore on and the candles burned down. But Sara never gave up. She’d drag me back out on the next full moon and we’d do it all over again. I went even though I hated it. The séances freaked me out. My heart would turn over every time a twig snapped or leaves rustled in the trees at the south end of the cemetery. It never scared Sara. She sat with her legs crossed and her fingers on the Ouija board, and stayed still and serene as a garden sculpture. She had no fear of shadows or sounds, the darkness or death. Nothing could shake her.

Except Claire Camille.

I knew something was wrong right away when Sara called me. Her voice was like a violin string about to snap. She told me she went to a psychic, which shouldn’t have worried me. It was nothing new for her. But she said this time was different. She said the psychic told her something was stalking her. Something, not someone. She was talking so fast. Her fear made me afraid. She said she believed the psychic, Claire. She said she knew it was true the night after her reading, when she was walking home from work and saw something across the street keeping pace with her, out of the corner of her eye. When she turned to look, to see what it was, there was nothing there. But as she moved onward, she could see it again, in her periphery. She couldn’t tell what it was, only that it moved with an unnatural gait. She said it was the way the thing moved that made her start to feel afraid. All she could tell me was that it was unnatural. And disturbing.

When she got home, she made herself a protective herb bath. She lit white candles and placed them in a circle around the tub. A few minutes after she got in, just as she was starting to feel calm again, she started to hear noises outside of the bathroom. She said it sounded like soft scratching on the door. And then she couldn’t breathe. She felt like she was drowning. She could feel water on her lips and nose even though her head was not submerged. She couldn’t suck in air and her chest felt tight, like she was being squeezed by a giant snake, she said. And then—as if she had manifested it—she could feel cold scales moving and flexing against her skin. She tried to fight against it, tried to get herself out of the water, to lift her body out of the tub, but she was slipping and thrashing. She said she couldn’t get a grip on anything. She felt dizzy and the room was swinging violently around her. Her chest got tighter and tighter and her nose and mouth felt completely enveloped. Just when she felt like she was going to pass out, she was released and fell limp back into the tub and was able to suck in wet, warm gulps of air.That was what she told me the first time she called me. She started calling sobbing and terrified every night. Even though I was far away, I felt cold and shaken, like I’d been stricken with a sudden flu, whenever the phone rang. I’d never heard Sara cry before, never witnessed her panicked. She could barely get words out, she was choking so hard on snot and tears. After the third night, after her home had been filled with the smell of decomposing flesh—like the way the mouse had smelled in her parents’ basement when they’d forgotten to check the trap for a week—and the ragged screams of her sister’s voice begging for the pain to stop had left her cowering in her closet, I knew I needed to go help Sara. The next day, I called in sick from work, packed up my car, and drove the 10 hours to her house.

She rented a really cute little place on the outskirts of town. It had an amazing garden when she moved in, but she’d made it even more beautiful. I can’t even begin to name all of the herbs and flowers and bushes and trees and vines that curled around the faded white stone cottage with its sage green shutters and iron patio furniture. In the past, whenever I visited, we ate breakfast in that garden, laughing over old memories, sipping coffee and tea, watching butterflies and bees flit around the vibrant, overgrown plants.

Everything was dying when I arrived. All of that flora was wilted and turning brown, withering to ash, despite the fact that it was May. I didn’t notice this right away. First I noticed the cop cars and the fire truck and the ambulance. All of the lights flashing danger into the black night.
The coroner told us Sara died of fright. They found her in her closet, eyes and mouth wide open in an expression her neighbor said over and over he’d never forget. It was her neighbor who found her. He’d heard her screaming and come over. He thought she was being attacked so he went in without knocking. As soon as he stepped in, the screaming stopped. He found her moments later.

They asked me if she had any family history of mental illness or psychotic breaks. She didn’t. Claire Camille said something to Sara that made her so afraid that she died. Don’t go to Claire Camille. Whatever she is doing, however it’s happening, she started the fear that killed my best friend. She is responsible and I am going to find out whatever she said or did that caused this. Until then, I just hope this review will keep people away. Claire Camille is a monster.

Tara G. 4 months ago
This happened to me too. I’m really scared. I’m seeing things the same way your friend did and I went to see Claire Camille too. Do you know any more about what happened to her? I don’t know what to do. I’m really scared.

Amanda Q. 4 months ago
Email me! I’m trying to get the police to look into Claire Camille. My email is mandybubbles84@hotmail.com.

Amanda Q. 4 months ago
Please email me. I really need to talk to you about this.

Amanda Q. 4 months ago
Please. I need your help.

Amanda Q. 3 months ago
Hello?

Amanda Q. 3 months ago
Can you please just let me know you’re ok?

Amanda Q. 3 months ago
Are you still alive? Please respond.

Amanda Q.

3 months ago

Update: I’m posting on here one more time. I’ve been staying at Sara’s for the last two months while trying to figure this out. I wasn’t sure at first, but I’ve started to see something moving in my peripheral vision. Every night, I hear Sara’s voice shrieking from the closet where they found her body. I think Claire Camille recorded Sara’s dying moments and hid speakers somewhere in this house. I don’t know how else she could be doing this. I begged the police to come and hear it for themselves, but of course nothing happened while they were here. Even if it had, I doubt they would have done anything. They don’t believe me.

Whatever is happening, I don’t think I have much time left. If anyone has any information, please contact me. If another person comes forward, they might listen. My email is mandybubbles84@hotmail.com. Please

Russell A. 2 months ago
I just emailed you. Amy’s mom finally told me how she died and it was super weird. I showed her your review and all the others. We need to talk.

Russell A. 2 months ago
Did you get my email? I gotta talk to you. There’s some stuff you should know.

Russell A. 2 months ago
Hello?