Category Archives: Désirée Matlock

Cake-Roof by Désirée Matlock

Laura Williams

He walked in right as the cake fell from the roof; I’ve never been more embarrassed in my life.

The man – no, the asshat – who had jilted me at the altar, whom I hadn’t seen in six years, finally showed up. Did he show up while my sister was peeling me off the bathroom floor, having cried myself into stay-puft marshmallow man status? No.  Did he show up while I tried to reach him to find out where he’d run off to? No. Did he show up when our lease expired and I had nowhere to move to? No. Did he show up when scary people came to find him? No. Not once.

No, the asshat showed up at my wedding. At my fucking wedding.

On top of that, he showed up when everything was falling apart. Had he shown up while the vows were being exchanged? As my beautiful dress flowed serenely around me and a choir sang “Ave Maria” softly, the morning light shining in through the cathedral windows? Had he shown up while the most amazing man in the world stared straight into my eyes and vowed to love me forever? No.

No, he hadn’t.

He showed up while my sister’s toddler was hiding under my skirts from the panther in the middle of the dance floor, while the caterer and the cake were sliding off the gazebo roof, while guests were running screaming.

Somewhere in the back of my head, I knew I should be scared of the damn panther, but that animal’s wrath had nothing on the bride whose wedding was ruined.

My new husband was under the stage, ostensibly guarding our double set of parents, but factually leaving me completely exposed. Sure, I loved my parents. And his were pretty great, too, but dammit, this wasn’t boding well for future chivalry, that he’d left me out here, facing down a rampaging beast.

The panther slid out from under a table, trailing a silk tablecloth, slinking closer. More cake slid from the roof, making a sad plopping noise. There goes ten grand. Dammit! This panther was ruining my wedding. My rage was overtaking my common sense. I wanted to slap this wild animal. I unthinkingly started walking into the middle of the room.

The asshat walked powerfully into the middle of the yard, commanding the animal’s attention. I’d always felt he had a rugged, dangerous animal sense, and the panther certainly agreed. Asshat and the panther slinking in circles around one another had all the guests, and myself, dammit, utterly rapt. No one’s eyes moved from the pair sizing one another up. Asshat stopped, standing directly between me and the panther. Oh God, I was not going to be thankful for the help. No fucking way. My husband whispered to me from under the stage, probably to join him, just exactly as the asshat started growling lightly. Oh my god, that might be the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen. Shut up, I told myself. That’s the adrenaline talking.

The toddler niece wiggled and clung to my left leg. I stood stock still, mortified at the first impression asshat was getting of my husband as he squealed lightly from under the stage, but to be fair, so did everyone else, as asshat lunged lightly toward the panther.

The panther yowled as if bit and ran suddenly back into the fields beyond the park.

As the dozens of guests broke out into cheers, asshat sat down on an abandoned white deck chair and, ignoring a champagne glass beside him, pulled a flask from his breast pocket. I walked up to him.

“Hello lovey,” he said, looking every bit the international man of mystery, and as sexy as ever.

“Fuck you,” I said and turned on my heel. I stormed over to the stage and got down on my knees to help my husband crawl back out of his hidey-hole.

Fuck sexy, I told myself. I wanted someone who didn’t disappear for six years. Right?

My husband, with his gorgeous good looks, was more than enough man for me. So what if he wasn’t as commando as asshat. Right?

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Look Twice by Désirée Matlock

For Nicole Dragonbeck, the caster of many spells.

Look twice, save a life; look thrice, bring back to life.

Her words hung in the air between us as I considered whether this branch of magic was one I was ready for. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I danced, too, trying to figure out the dance as I went. Carlie continued dancing through the high wheat stalks, the waving wheat around us a starkly cheerful dichotomy against the corpse that dented the landscape between us. She cheerfully smiled at me and continued whirling. What was wrong with her? Why was she so cheerful? I know she loved every chance to use magic, but this was no joke, here. Kyle was dead. Dammit, focus. Kyle needs me.

This was going to look like some kind of demented miniature crop circle to anyone who came out this way. Focus! I tried to narrow my thoughts to just the spell’s words as instructed, but my shocked mind kept bringing me other thoughts, seditious as it was.

You can’t bring someone back to life. Look twice.

What if he’s a zombie instead of actual Kyle? Would Zombie Kyle like me? Save a life.

If he comes back as zombie Kyle, I’m going to call him Zyle. Look thrice.

Not funny. Focus. Bring back to life.

Please, please bring back to life. I whirled, nothing but the rolling hills of wheat in every direction. Please God, bring back to life.

Foolish of us to have stopped here. We’d all gotten sick of being on the highway, and had pulled over, sneaking onto the fields near a creek to have a picnic of sorts when the wasp got him. I had searched for his Epipen in the pockets of his pants, where he always kept it, and couldn’t find it. Then Kyle had crumpled and I could feel him panicking as the blackness folded over him. Carlie had leapt up right then, and while I was realizing that Kyle was dead, actually dead, she was already mobilizing. She ran to the car and back while I was pounding on his chest, and had waved the grimoire in front of my face. I tried to see what she was showing me through the tears.

And that’s why, despite how rational I tried to be in life, we were dancing in circles around the corpse of the man I loved, despite that I still didn’t know if I trusted Carlie.

Focus. Look twice, save a life. Focus. Look thrice, bring back to life. Better. Look twice, save a life; look thrice, bring back to life.

I felt the words sink in, deeper meaning in them. Look twice, save a life; look thrice, bring back to life. Boom. It was time. I looked down at his corpse, once, twice, thrice, and saw that Carlie was looking in perfect unison with me, we were totally in sync. The red raw wasp sting receded, and Kyle’s chest began to flutter. I crashed to the ground beside him. Something was wrong with me. I felt so weak. As Kyle’s eyes fluttered open and he sat up, my vision faded to grey and I felt my heart slowing, weakness in every limb. Carlie’s smile faded. The consequence of Carlie’s spell of threes became clear to both of us.

I couldn’t move, could barely raise my chest for air. I came to terms with what was happening. Anything for my Kyle. I thanked the gods of the rolling wheat. What a beautiful place to die, I thought, as my eyes closed.

Kyle spoke, and I couldn’t quite understand the words. He sounded strong and better. Good. I felt his arms wrap around me and felt him shake me lightly, as if it were someone else’s body. I felt so detached, noting what was happening but unable to respond. The sound of fluttering pages, as Carlie probably looked for a spell. There wouldn’t be one. Fair’s fair. I heard him call my name from somewhere beyond myself. Why are you worried, lover? I gave you my life…

I came back to myself only long enough to “I love you, Zyle,” before the blackness folded around me.

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Hitchhiker by Désirée Matlock

For Diana Rosenfield

 When he looked up, he saw only branches; he knew better than to look down.

He’d woken up a few seconds ago, confused. Where was he? In Jessie’s car, which was upside down. Upside down is never good. What had happened? He tried to remember, but nothing came. Strange. Well, he could certainly fill in the blanks well enough. They’d started on the trip from Pacific Palisades up toward the bay area, and Jessie’d been goofing around on social media.

 

It had taken everything he had to get Jessie to stop going live. Like anyone cared about their commute. “No one wants to see you drive back to school on Facebook LIVE!” he’d yelled at her, while Jessie held a phone out the window, swooping and turning and looking for a good angle.

 

“Hey, seriously, KNOCK IT OFF!” he had yelled for all to see, before Jesse had turned the phone’s tiny black eye back, saying, “Live, from California… it’s Saturday Night DRIVE!!!!”

 

“Seriously, Jessie, focus on driving!” the wheel jerked, and he snapped the phone away from her. “Do I need to drive so you can do that?”

 

“Chill out, psycho,” she whispered loudly at him, eyes buggy. He shook his head in disbelief, and muttered a small prayer for them both. He turned away, shoving the phone under his seat.

 

Not much else happened for an hour or two. The commute droned on, winding roads, gorgeous shimmering seas, smatterings of beach towns, shitty ancient bridges, and he was lulled into semi-consciousness.  But then they’d pulled over, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and Jessie had picked up a hitchhiker. Seriously, this girl had a dead wish!

 

Jessie had made it worse picking up a hitchhiker. Seriously. She had seen him on the side of the road, looking lost, and the car had come to a crunchy stop in the side of the road gravel. She’d peeled down his window, leaning over him, arm churning the universal sign for “get over here.” The hitchhiker had climbed in the backseat behind him as if the stranger had been depending on the kindness of others for cars forever. Who knows. Maybe they don’t have the same stigma on hitchhiking where ever he’s from.

 

Jesse had turned toward the back seat somewhat, finding it hard to turn far enough to see, but the guy looked short, skinny, harmless. Serial killers don’t wear jeans and a tee, do they? He smiled and his teeth popped white. That’s when he noticed that the stranger was dark-ish skinned, maybe Middle Eastern? Or South American? Or mixed? Whatever. Who cares. A hitchhiker is a bad idea. But, the guy smiled a lot and as Jessie got back on the road, he tried asking questions, but the guy apparently didn’t speak any English.

 

Eventually he thought maybe he’d fallen asleep. And now look. Upside down. Trees outside, also upside down, from his perspective. Near darkness, it must be around dusk. He looked down at the little bit of sky he could see and realized that was ocean, not sky. Great.

 

Dusk, and he was going to die hanging over a cliff along the grapevine.  He was never getting in a car with her again. He tried to turn around enough to look at the backseat, where he knew Jessie’s hitchhiker was sitting, but couldn’t. No noise arose from behind him, and he was barely able to turn enough to see that Jessie was a barely recognizable mess. Piercing pain flooded his head when he tried to turn farther, so he stopped. He groped in his pocket for his phone, pulling it in front of his eyes, which were blurring alarmingly. Damn.

 

He tried to dial 911, but realized the screen was too shattered. The phone dropped out of his hands and fell upward, somehow it felt oddly majestic and beautiful, watching it collide with a branch and then plop into the seafoam above his head. His field of vision darkened. Was that the sky?

 

His thoughts grew blurry, and he remembered something else about a phone. That’s right, Jessie’s phone. He jerked himself more awake, forcing himself to think, another small prayer forming on his lips.

 

He forced his body to bend over – upwards? Downwards? – some, to check under his seat. But then he saw it. Jessie’s phone was lodged firmly in the dashboard, right in front of the unconscious girl beside him. Oh my God, had she done this by going live again, at dusk and on the fucking grape vine? He did NOT want to be in this year’s Darwin Awards. Fuck.

 

The air felt increasingly like thick molasses as he breathed, and his vision blurred further. Moving any part of himself was incredibly difficult.  Damn. He realized he was probably going to die, and then a surge of energy coursed through him. He remembered Lana, the girl he’d done Habitat for Humanity with last year. She was ridiculously beautiful and utterly disinterested in herself. She hadn’t even gotten a smart phone yet, for the love of all things holy, he wanted to see her again. Wanted to hand her tools and chat with her in her broken English and his broken Spanish. He suddenly wanted it more than anything in the world. He tried to free himself from his seatbelt, and the pain intensified, then faded.

 

His field of vision started spiraling inward, his peripheral vision now totally black, and the world going entirely fuzzy as his head fell upward, toward the reaching fingers of branches and the yawning sea beyond the broken window. Please God, I don’t want to die, he’d thought. Not before I get to kiss Lana.

 

A bright, incandescent, peachy pink light similar to sunset suddenly filled the car, and he felt two arms grasp him under his shoulders. Impossible, since he was firmly stuck upside down in a car’s bucket seat. But it still happened. The light grew brighter, gold followed by brilliant white like the dentist’s light. Too strong, he shut his eyes, and felt his body go weightless, and he drifted beyond the car. Must have been through the front window, but he didn’t feel it touch him. He knew because he felt a fresh cool breeze. Am I falling into the water? He idly thought, then he’d passed out.

 

When he woke, he was lying with sharp gravel pressing into his cheek, face down with arm draped over something soft. What? He lifted his head, and found he could. His neck had stopped hurting. He cracked an eye open, but bright blue and red flashing lights made it hard to see. Oh, Jessie was beside him, crumpled and still out cold, but no longer in the car. He could have sworn he’d seen her chest caved in and an arm broken, but he couldn’t even find anything wrong, except that she was still out.

 

How had they gotten out of the car? His ears were still ringing, and as that faded, he realized he could hear sirens. They’d been found. That must have been who pulled them from the car.

 

Two paramedics arrived, one started checking Jessie, and another turned toward him.

 

The paramedic leaned over him, patting and looking for issues, trying to talk to him. He woke up better and better every second. It was a minute before he realized he had forgotten someone. He turned and sat up suddenly.

 

“Where is our hitchhiker? Still in the car?”

 

“What do you mean?” the paramedic looked alarmed.

 

“There’s a guy still trapped in the car! He’s brownish, short, skinny, jeans and a grey tee shirt.”

 

“You mean that guy?” the paramedic asked, pointing toward where three police cars blocked the road while the paramedics worked. A guy was leaning on the hood of one of the police cars, chatting and laughing with one of the cops. It sure looked like their hitchhiker.

 

“No, I mean yes. He looks the same, but there was a guy in the car with us!”

 

“Are you sure, sir? I mean, that’s the guy who spotted you guys, while he was just walking along. Are you sure there was another person in the car?”

 

He nodded, and that started a long, drawn out process of checking the car, with search and rescue running lines down the cliff to where their car was.

 

He explained what had happened a few times, though, and the paramedic had left, muttering with the fire and rescue guys, and then everyone had looked at him sympathetically. An EMT had checked him for a head wound.

 

Jessie was lying quietly on a gurney in the next ambulance. He didn’t even know whether she would make it. No one did at this point. She hadn’t woken up.

 

They ran two guys down the cliffside on ropes to check the car, but it turned out no one was in the car. There was no sign of a seat belt fastened in the back seat, and that meant their hitchhiker was probably thrown, too, but not onto the road, into the sea.

 

They started arranging for a chopper to spotlight the sea below, but weren’t hopeful… As time rolled onward into the wee hours, he drifted slowly into a lulled state. The ambulance had already left with Jessie, and his was getting ready to leave.

 

A few minutes later, he was sitting up in the back of an ambulance, getting ready to be transported to the hospital, for an overnight concussion watch, since they hadn’t found anything wrong with him, but he had been acting strangely, seeing things, and had obviously been thrown from a car moments before it fell over the cliff. They suspected mild head trauma, but he was doing fine.

 

The guy chatting with the cops walked over, in a street-wide gait. “Hey man, tough break.” The stranger reached over to give a fistbump, then rethought it, seeing that he was wrapped in a blanket. “Dude, you lived through that? You can live through anything.”

 

The guy sure looked like their hitchhiker. Except this guy spoke English, and didn’t smile… So confused, he closed his eyes.

 

“Yeah, I guess you need some R and R. You know what I recommend? Chill, head down south for a while, find your head, you know, man?”

 

“Yeah, I guess so.”

 

“Hopefully, I don’t have to see you around again man, but anyway. Hey, have a nice life. Do good shit and all that, man.” A smokey laugh, a surfer type laugh. He opened his eyes just in time to see the same bright white smile from before. The same guy, he was certain now. Had to be. What were the chances? Maybe he really had been conked on the head.

 

The stranger waved, shuffled on the spot, and then started walking off down the gravel on the side of the road, headed south, the opposite way they’d been driving, and he swore to God, just a second there, it was like he glowed a little around the head. What was that called? Golden light? Halo. That’s right, a fucking halo. He knew how ridiculous his thoughts were.

 

He closed his eyes and tried to be patient with himself. It was just the head wound talking. He was seeing halos. He cracked his eyes open again to peer over toward one of the EMTs. No halo there.

 

He tried to look back at the stranger again to see if he still saw it, but he just saw a jeaned pantleg and a sneaker as the dude rounded a curve out of sight.

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Filcher’s Heist by Désirée Matlock

For Phil Jones

 The snow was crisp and firm underfoot as I strode steadily through the looming darkness, pierced only by the yellow eyes of a dozen wolves pacing me easily in the trees to the right.

I light-footed my way as quickly as I could in my winter moccasins through the treacherous terrain alongside the creek, following the water as we all made our way silently toward the stronghold of our enemy. I knew my friends would have no issues keeping stride with me. Their patience knew no bounds. We had all waited enough.

 

I saw a candle’s light flickering ahead, and signaled with an owl’s hoot that we were now extremely close, and to use caution. I slowed further, and came in toward the road, keeping to the shadows. I thanked my lucky stars that the darkened fortress was upwind of me tonight.

 

The thirteen of us continued to creep quietly, a small whimper escaped the muzzle of the youngest, who was still nursing the wounds of yesterday’s defeat. He didn’t heal as quickly as the others.

 

My eyes lit upon the window with the candle, and I crept toward it. The fortress was protected against the wolves, and they stopped approaching from a safe distance. This was now entirely up to me. There was little the pack could do if I was hurt within those walls.

 

First things first. Could I approach? Was the fortress protected from humans? I’d found, in my long career, that magical creatures tended to discount humans as capable enough to worry about. I shuffled my feet carefully in the snow, trying not to make a sound as I tested the perimeter of the spells protecting the keep.

 

Bingo. Leave it to blood suckers to not bother to keep me out. I ran as quickly as I could to the wall, scaled it, and scrabbled in the window faster than a squirrel, if I do say so myself.

 

They had said she was in this room, but there were no people here. Just a crown, a pillow, and a broom. Well, who knows. I grabbed all three items and leapt out the window, falling thirty feet or so, but also catapulting myself beyond the perimeter while still in the air. I landed with all three items, hoping none broke as I rolled off the force of the landing.

 

I rose, showed the wolves the items, and the leader huffed excitedly. He started running, but not back toward camp. Well, if I wanted to get paid, I needed to go with them, or I might not ever find the same pack again. I assumed that the job was not quite finished, so I followed. Once they got a safe distance from the fortress, they started running without fear of being overheard, and I really had to push myself to keep up. My shoes were water-tight and freshly oiled, so my feet were still not wet, but this was truly a difficult run. Night turned into early morning, and early morning turned into day. At dawn, we heard the deep booming thrum of the guard being called into action at the fortress. Let them hunt. They would never find us now. We had traveled much too far too fast.

 

I almost lost sight of the wolves as we rounded a bend along the creek, and then almost ran by. They all stood, encircling a cabin built along the creek, in a seated position. The house seemed very old, but that was impossible. It was right where seasonal flooding would wash it away.  Somehow this creek must not swell in the spring, although, by the ravine walls around us, it was obvious it had in the past.

 

Looking at the cabin made my eyes ache, oddly, and I could feel the tell tale signs of magic, the kind aimed at me.

 

I signaled the young wolf, who had finished healing, and he approached. I shook my head at him, and placed the items on the ground. I held my palm out, the obvious sign of needing payment. The young wolf huffed, and all the wolves stirred, padding from foot to foot.  They whined at me, and snuffled in the direction of the cabin.

 

“Ho there!” I yelled toward the cabin. “Friends approach.”

 

A young woman with luminous skin and blond hair peered out the window. “Friend? I see wolves and a thief.”

 

“Aye, you do, but this thief is your servant today, and these wolves are your friends, I assure you.”

 

“You assure me? Hmph. Anything happens, it’s your neck. Deal?” I nodded.

 

A bubble of shimmer popped from around the cabin, and she came stepping out the door.

 

In perfect bare feet, she stood on the rounded polished stones of the creek beside her home, arms akimbo, fantastically beautiful eyes flashing at me, “What gives?”

 

Then her eyes spotted the items in my arms, and she crooned to herself. Both hands came rushing out. She knocked the broom off to the side and started peering through the jewels on the crown. “Ho ho, real. Real!” she crowed. She picked up the pillow and squinted at it.

 

“What’s this?” she looked at me suspiciously.

 

“I think it’s the job,” I answered simply, shrugging, “Or the other items.”

 

She squinted again at the broom. She was beautiful even when making faces. She grimaced, and my heart pounded. Foolish human heart, had I. I shut the thoughts down, before her obvious witchcraft made me her slave.

 

She looked right at me as I thought that, almost as though she heard me. Looking into my eyes, she waved her hand at the pillow and it turned into a young wolf pup, squirming in her hands. “Oh! Ew!” She threw it toward the pack, and its mother leapt out, grabbing it up gently in her jaws.  She grabbed up the crown, and turned on her heel, heading back into her cabin. The bubble flashed back into place around the cabin, and my head cleared the rest of the way. Ugh, magic was such a pain. Almost got me falling in love with her. Not this particular Jack-o-the night.

 

All the wolves transformed into their human selves, long black hair dancing in the breeze, nostrils flaring, yellow eyes still cautious.

 

“Thank you. You’ve done us a kindness. Your payment will be lying upon the bed we found you in when you return.”

 

I sighed. Damn. Another payment in trust. What the heck. You couldn’t trust the magical folk.

 

“And if it’s not there?” I asked, lightly. You did not want to piss off the wolf pack.

 

“It will be.”

 

“But if it’s not?” I repeated. The pack leader looked at me, and answered with a straight face.

 

“If your money was not placed on your bed, you may come kill me. Hurry home, though. I believe that whore of yours may be losing patience with wanting to know what’s in the bag you left on your bed…” He huffed in what was probably a chuckle.

 

“Thanks!” I turned in a circle and pinched a touch of the magical salts that “that whore” had retrieved for me on our last outing, and was suddenly back home, in my comfortably musty-smelling room above the pub. I flopped onto my bed, and heard the jingle of a fat sack of coin as my head hit the pillow. A real down pillow, no less.

 

I checked the sack. The wolves had been true to their word. “Janine! Get in here! You’re not going to believe it, but I found us another witch!”

 

“Oh! You’re home.” Janine rounded the newel post at the entry and swung herself into my arms.

 

“Did you hear me?” I said, catching her up and holding her to me, laughing.

 

“Yes, she purred, as she nuzzled into my neck, bright eyes peering up from my collar. “Ooh, goodie, you brought me a new heist!”

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Be Careful What You Ask For … by Désirée Matlock

For Mark Reale

 “And then the alien’s claws reached around the door.”

The fire crackled as Joe’s voice hitched excitedly. Leanne chuckled; we were all enjoying the game.

I should never have joined in. It all started last week when Jimmy won an RV and a camping trip in a drawing.  He’d invited us all along. I’d agreed, but that had been before the week I’d just had. The worst week of my life. We had agreed we were going to follow all the camping tropes, hit all the high notes of camping. As city people, we’d all gotten excited at the idea of the great outdoors and some drunken carousing. Of course, now… I definitely was no longer in the mood.

A few minutes ago, the six of us had been gathered around the campfire gossiping when Penny had started it by saying, “It was a dark and stormy night, and the wind was creaking through the trees in the moonlight.” My gut had dropped, worried she was going to tell a ghost story. No. Let it be witches or monsters… I prayed silently to myself.

Then Joseph had added the next line, “The dark of night was suddenly broken as a spacecraft crash landed deep in the woods. The only thing nearby was a cabin with six friends who were camping.”

I had relaxed; aliens were a safe subject.  Joe raised his eyebrows at each of us and pointed in a circle to really drive home his point that he was talking about us. It was ridiculous enough that I’d even grinned. I really should have walked away, but I was interested in hearing the story, and it seemed safe enough.

Marla sitting just to Joseph’s right had bounced up and down in excitement as she realized it was her turn, “Um, okay! Hmmm… They had no idea the danger they were now in, but they heard the noise and went to investigate.”

Marla then gestures to pass the torch to me, and I’d added, “The UFO appeared to have been cracked in half from the impact, but the driver’s seat appeared empty as the six friends approached.” This was getting fun, and we were still on the subject of aliens, so I was letting my guard down. Foolish.

After the week I’d had, I should have had no interest in hearing any scary stories. After all, I’d been living one. But, we had agreed that we were going to follow all the typical camping tropes, and really get the most out of our free camping trip. And of course, the campfire tales were one of said tropes.

In retrospect, I should have warned my friends. Or stayed away, or told them what the gypsy had told me.

It was finally Leanne’s turn, and she added, “They all wandered back to the cabin, disappointed that they had not found any alien visitor… And…. now they were planning to call the authorities about the UFO. However, when they returned, they found that a tree had knocked out the phone and electric. It was as dark as night inside the cabin, and their flashlights did little to brighten the gloom.”

“Nice one, Leanne,” Jimmy complimented her. The two of those were probably finally going to sleep together if left to their own on this trip. If I knew Marla, she’d be watching to divert one or the other of them. We had all agreed years ago it was a stupid idea to let them sleep together, and she’d been their unwitting chaperone ever since. So far so good, we figured.

Leanne batted her eyes at him, and then downed her third beer in one long gulp. Uh oh.

Penny watched in amazement, and then realized it was back to her now. “That’s when…” and gestured to Joseph.

“Aw that doesn’t count!” Marla stood for a second. “Needs to be longer than that!”

“Too bad!” Penny laughed and leaned back. No arguing with her. It was Joseph’s turn.

“Okay, let me see.” I got worried that Joe was going to change the topic.

“And then the alien’s claws reached around the door.”

I watched Marla as the story circle reached her. Suddenly I realized, as I watched an ethereal spooky look cross her face, that she was about to change the subject matter entirely.

“No!” I whispered, terrified my friends would learn my new secret.

But Marla’s words were coming out anyway… “And that’s when the ghost appeared.”

And it did. Oh boy did it.

I crumpled to the ground, passing out against my will. I watched, horrified and disembodied, floating above the events as my own form rose from the ground, white and semi-transparent, completely transformed into the appearance and presence of Lady Arabella Forester, the angry woman who had been living within me for the last six days. I hadn’t meant to become her host, but damned if I could completely get rid of her.

—–

As she tromped around the fire, scattering embers and screeching nonsense at my friends, I desperately tried to figure out what to do! What could I do, as a disembodied self, I wasn’t that skilled at helping. I tried getting back into my head, but Arabella is quite fiesty. She really doesn’t like to share; my body being male doesn’t seem to stop her.

It took all five of my friends to get me back into the RV and lock Arabella away. She banged around the RV quite a bit, bruising and slamming my body around, quite distressing to say the least. My friends were trying to work out what to do, and what had even happened.

“What the heck is wrong with Paul?” Marla said.

“Hell if I know,” Jimmy added. “Maybe he’s possessed?”

Joe added, “He’s lost his fucking mind is what’s wrong with him. Your story freaked him out.”

“My story?” Penny said, in disbelief. “We all did that. It’s just a ghost story, for god’s sake!”

I floated disembodied above them trying to tell them to speak the spell. I should have spoken earlier. I should have told them the gypsy’s spell. Dammit! Too late now.

I finally pushed my way into Leanne’s body. She twitched hard. Leanne fought me tooth and nail, trying to force her way back up to the surface, but I managed to get all the words out. “Fleeby Taboora Pamnacht!” I said, even though it sounded ridiculous, because I knew it would work. It sounded strange in Leanne’s drunk voice. But hey. The only way to do it.

Joe started freaking out that now it was happening to Leanne, but the banging in the RV stopped, and I turned to the others, in Leanne’s tiny little body. I whispered that it was safe to open the doors, but no one was allowed to mention ghosts again around me. They all nodded, stunned into silence.

Leanne’s body passed out and I went black. A few hours later, when I woke up, I was in my own body.

Jimmy and Marla smiled at me, while Joe handed me a piece of chocolate. “S’more?”

Everyone looked shaken up, but thankfully no one mentioned anything.  I sat up and asked for graham crackers, the fire warm and comforting to watch. I really was glad we were all getting together.

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Rabbit Poop by Désirée Matlock

For Nermina Krneta

 It smelled like rabbit poop.

It was bedtime, and I was tucking Tasha into bed at her Grandma’s house before heading out on my date night with her father. Her little arms popped out from under the blanket, and she pinned them to her sides, tightening the blanket around herself..

“What did, sweetie?”

“The hole in the wall.” She pointed, and I looked. The wallpaper still looked the same, tiny wildflowers scattered across the surface of the wall, one of many girlish touches this room still had from when I was young, and I had lived here.

“There’s no hole, sweetie.”

“No, the rabbit hole. I got up close to it. It smelled like rabbit poop and dirt and sunshine.”

My blood ran cold. Her words triggered something I hadn’t thought about in decades. I remembered a dream I had up until I was about twelve, a recurring dream, with Mr. Whiskers the Rabbit. He’d visit my room by burrowing into the wall right exactly there. It was too great a coincidence. Were dreams genetic? Could you inherit a dream?

“Well, I hope he comes back tonight. I liked talking to the rabbit man.”

I felt ridiculous, but I remembered one thing about those dreams. One thing came up now, flooding back to me. Mr. Whiskers, the mischievous rabbit, had tried every night before he left to get me to come through the burrow with him. And I had always refused. I had had a baby brother to watch over. And I couldn’t leave him alone. But that was decades ago, and Tasha had no little brother to keep her here.

“Sure, honey, talk to your dream friend. But, do one thing for me.”

“What is it, momma?”

“Just… “ I felt silly. I was pandering. There was no Mr. Whiskers inside the wall. But I needed to say it anyway. If I didn’t, and she went missing, I’d feel terrible if I hadn’t said this first. “Just, no matter what Mr. Whiskers says to you, you stay right here in your room, okay? On this side of the wall. Okay?”

“Okay, momma.” She gave me one last peck on the hand, and then rolled over on her side. I hummed her favorite lullaby while I rubbed her back. That was our thing. She was soon fast asleep. I stayed in the room a little longer than maybe I ought to have. Jack was a touch impatient, but holding her and rubbing her back had calmed me down, gotten the chill out of my blood.

We said our goodbyes to my mother, who promised to check in on Tasha at least once an hour and told me not to worry. My mother held me, pushed my hair away from my face, and said, “Moms have a hard time with the first sleepover. Tasha will be fine.”

As we pulled away from the curb for our date, Jack looked at me, “What’s wrong honey?”

“Tasha said something that scared me a little, about her dreams.”

“If you’re worried she’ll have bad dreams, that’s why your mom will be there, right?”

“Yeah, I guess so. I’m just worried. I’ll shake it off.”

“Tasha is a big girl now, and brave. She’ll be fine.” Brave. Brave enough to walk into a wall maybe, where I hadn’t been brave enough. I’d been scared, under the need to care for my brother. I sighed deeply.

My mother’s beautiful Victorian painted lady grew smaller and smaller in the rear view, and I wondered whether I was making the biggest mistake of my life, leaving Tasha in the bedroom I grew up in.

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The Bench by Désirée Matlock

For Briana Y., thanks for the inspiration!

I had been sitting on the bench for so long my butt was numb… That’s the first problem.

The second problem was that I was here at all. Purgatory was totally not what I’d expected. I had been told by my hippie parents that the universe was a continuum, and when I died, I’d be reborn as a turtle or a butterfly or something awful if that’s what I deserved, but I wouldn’t because I was perfect according to them.

They pampered and loved on me, their only daughter, born in the summer of love, gave me everything I wanted, and when I was older and I hit the real world, it hit me hard. So, I hid from life with drugs, all the way through. And then I OD’ed just before my 45th birthday. Which is how I ended up here beside all these other losers waiting on benches alongside the road to the Gates of Heaven, apparently.

What a non-religious love child is doing in the purgatory outside of the Pearly Gates, sitting on an ivory bench, I don’t know. But here I sit, watching angels walk past on the other side of a wrought iron fence that tingles with what I would classify as magic. I suppose these folks would call it God’s grace. Strange, alien concepts suddenly confront me. Each of the angels is ignoring me, impossibly beautiful, with seemingly saccharine smiles on their faces. I’m not sure if I feel like that’s for me. Maybe I am mis-filed. I’m so not supposed to be here.

My butt being numb is really starting to bother me, so I start to stand, wiggling my toes, and a voice peals louder than brass horns, “Please stay seated until you are called. Thank you for your patience. Your approximate wait time is twelve standard heaven hours.” The voice changes as it reads off the time, and I realize that I’m listening to an automated voice.

Well, crap.  I sit back down.

“What’s the punishment for standing up then?”

No answer.

I lay down on the bench, and no voice peals out to tell me to sit back up, so I curl my arms behind my head, and close my eyes. Now all of me can at least be as asleep as my butt.

Another person on a nearby bench starts to say that I am not allowed to do that. “Bite me.”

I must have fallen asleep because the loud angel voice is waking me up; like the loudest alarm clock I’ve ever had, it sounds like it is going off in my head. “Hey! Moon Carlisle, it’s your turn! Our Sainted and Glorious Peter will see you now.  Please report to the gates ahead and on your left.”

It continues on repeat until I stand up and start walking.

Ahead of me, a robed, winged, impossibly beautiful young man who looks like a Versace model stands. I tuck my hands under my armpits. Pretty boys always make me nervous.

“Hey.”

His mouth opens and his voice is like smooth wine and a good smoke. “Please name the reasons you feel you belong in heaven.”

“I don’t.”

“Okay… Why not?” I have his attention.

“Because I don’t believe in God or Heaven.”

His arms spread, his wings spread, and he gestures upwards with his chin momentarily. “Even faced with this?”

“Yes. Of course. I’m being delusional. I’d like to go back now please. I want to be reborn as a puppy.”

“A puppy? Why?”

“They never get faced with drugs. I had a little guy, and he never had to battle with himself whether to take heroin or attend his cousin’s wedding.”

“Sounds like a good idea then.” He nods. My hope spires up.

“I can’t arrange that, but I can do something else that would give you a chance to have a brand new life.”

“Okay. Deal. Do it.”

“You don’t mind where I send you?”

“Sure. But I’m not interested in ever being one of the people in your iron cage here.”

His slight smile shows my words struck a chord.

“Deal.” He touches my shoulder, and I suddenly feel I am falling and falling, the sky spirals into darkness, and I open tired eyes in a dark room.

“Where am I?” My voice is cracked and dry; my lips feel split.

A nurse walks up to me. “Sweetie, you OD’ed. You’ve been out for a few days.”

I laugh, cry a little, and choke on my dry throat.  “Well, now I know how long twelve heaven hours are.”

“What, sweetie?” the nurse asks.

“Nothing.”

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