by Dorlana Vann
Since Jackson couldn’t channel his frustration onto the blank page, he used his fist to pound it into the desk. “Ahhh,” he cried, swooshing his fountain pen and several loose pieces of writing-paper to the floor.
His caged birds squawked with excitement from the sudden movement.
Jackson stood up, his breaths labored and lonely. “I’m sorry ladies. I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
He draped a stack of dark sheets over his arm. “Are you ready for your beauty sleep, my Echo?” He covered her and moved on to Valley, giving her several sweet kisses. Continuing his ritual, he covered all twenty birds, leaving Isis as his last goodnight. The two-foot Scarlet Macaw blinked her yellow eyes at him.
“Sleep well, Love.”
He ran his fingers through his slick hair, noticing how dark and stale the room had become. He opened the window, lit a lantern, and picked up the paper and his pen. He thought about writing another letter but knew they were only stall tactics. “I’m a novel writer,” he tried to reassure himself. “Now write something novel!”
But he didn’t know what else to do. He had moved to one of the most crime-ridden areas of London to conduct his research. When observations had stopped inspiring his writing, he had taken his study to the next level. The firsthand accounts had given him dozens of pages: a feel for the weapon in his hands; the reaction on the faces of the women when they knew they were going to die; and the color and temperature of the blood. After each attack, he had sped home and written feverishly. But soon the words stopped, died on the page.
“Why am I still blank?” he said in a sob. “Why?”
Isis began to squawk.
“Shush,” he said off-handedly. “I’m having a difficult enough time as it is.”
“Let me out.”
Jackson turned his head slowly toward the covered cage. He listened. Sure, Isis could talk: “Pretty lady.” “I love you.” But never “Let me out.”
She said it again.
Jackson scooted his chair back and stood abruptly. “Was that you, Isis? Did you learn something new?”
“Open the cage, Jackson. Let me out.”
Jackson shook his head. Obviously, because he was exhausted and tense, he was hearing things. That was all it was. Still, he walked to the cage.
Swiftly, he uncovered Isis.
She sat on her perch, head down, asleep.
“Isis?” he whispered. “Was that you?”
Jackson’s heart thumped when he heard rustling coming from the other cages; the sheet coverings were moving.
Remembering that he had just opened the window, he laughed nervously and walked back over to it. He stared out into the still evening, deciding to take a stroll to clear his head.
When he turned around, all the cages were uncovered, and the doors were open.
Jackson gasped and backed up against the window—arms stretched out and palms wide—trying to keep the walls from closing in on him.
It was like morning: birds were inside and outside their cages bouncing, stretching out their wings, walking, and singing. Isis’ eyes were open now, but she still sat on her perch.
Jackson peeled himself away from the window and cautiously moved toward her.
“Come closer, Jackson.”
He felt terrifyingly wonderful. Sweat gathered on his brow and above his lips. “Isis? Do you understand me?”
He tried to steady his sudden continuous blinking; he shut his eyes hard and then reopened them. “Why now? Why not before? I have told you my most intimate secrets and feelings and you never spoke an intelligent word.”
“The time was not right. I am here when you need me most. Let me be your inspiration.”
“Oh, Isis! How I do so need someone to talk to. I have many troubles. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with me now.” He put his arm in her cage, enduring the sharp claws he usually protectively wrapped his arm against. He stroked her red feathers. “My beautiful, Isis, what words do you have for me? Do you know what I must do to finish my story?”
“You have watched, but you have never felt. In order to achieve realism and depth, you will need to experience the pain for yourself.”
“Yes, yes! I see. I see what you mean. But how? How can I achieve this insight?”
“I will be near whilst you sink the edge of your knife into your skin. Not too deep my dear, just enough to feel a twinge.”
“Marvel upon marvel, you are my muse!” He set Isis on the back of his chair and ran to his bedside table and pulled out his knife. Its long thick blade was still stained from his latest research project. “Where? Where shall I feel it?” He sat on the edge of the bed.
Isis moved her head to and fro with tiny jerks. “The same as you wrote. The same as you gave.”
The coldness of the blade against his neck caused his heart to quicken with excitement. “Just this fills my head with ideas, with words.” He sucked in his breath and pressed a little harder, the sting bringing quiet tears to his eyes. “How absolutely stimulating.”
He heard them before he saw them, but only by a second. All his beauties came at him, Isis in the mix, their feathers, and beaks, and claws causing his hand to yank deeply inward and then slide to the side. Falling backward, Jackson still imagined how his ghastly and perfect pain would translate onto paper.
As the feathers settled and the squawks calmed to a low murmur, Jackson’s last breath was accompanied by his last vision: five female ghostly figures swayed above him. And then he heard the words, “Jack the Ripper, our story ends in revenge,” as his eyes closed.
Muse is one the short stories from my collection: Supernatural Fairy Tales. It was inspired by Prince Ariel from, “The Fairy Tales of Madame D’Aulnoy” France: 1697
I have observed some really upset writers after they’ve received written or verbal suggestions about their stories. And I think most writers at least wince (I know I do) when they receive tons of edits on one copy. But you can actually learn to see these as gifts, huge favors, and even unexpected muses instead of personal attacks on you and/or your writing. I’ve used a few famous quotes to help demonstrate my views on how to develop a thicker skin by looking at every critique in a positive way.
“The first draft of anything is shit.” ― Ernest Hemingway
I would like to add to this – The second draft is readable. The third draft is better but not perfect. So negative feedback is positive. You want your novel/chapter to come back from your critique partner completely marked up. However, the first reaction to getting your pages back that look like someone rewrote your story will probably be one of these:
“I should have caught this.”
“I’m a horrible writer.”
“This is bull.”
“They don’t know what they’re talking about.”
These responses are normal, and you’ll probably never be able to completely shut them off. Give yourself that second to pout, but then you have to get over it – you’ve been given a gift that you could never give yourself – another person’s perspective.
“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” ― Neil Gaiman
After you’ve read over the critique and are finished cussing, think about any notes as a whole. Mull them over. Do you agree with them?
Yes – Awesome. Do the necessary tweaks.
No – Whatever you do, never completely dismiss a suggestion. If something takes the reader out of the story – makes them stop reading to write a note – then something is wrong.
“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” ― William Faulkner
You still don’t agree? You might be too close to your story (your baby) to be objective. Ask someone else. If they agree with the critiquer, you really have to consider deleting/changing it. This might take some time. But just keep an open mind, think about it, talk it out, and struggle with it a little bit. You might be surprised with the outcome.
If others agree with you, the critique could still be useful. Turn it into your muse, an idea for a new direction, or fill in a gap somewhere else. On one occasion, I didn’t agree with what a writer friend said about my character’s career choice. I asked several other people, and they agreed with me. But then after weeks of trying to figure out why she thought this way, I decided that my friend’s opinion would work great as the character’s father’s opinion on the same subject. This set a lot of other changes in motion too, which gave my story more depth.
Learn from Your Mistakes: If you don’t know why a critiquer/editor changed something, even something as small as a comma, ask them why they changed it, or, better yet, look it up. And guess what? Sometimes even the grammar pros make mistakes. It is really important that you take control of your story by getting involved in every aspect of your craft. Every correction is a chance to learn. And things are constantly changing, so you might have missed something.
Always Say Thank You: Thank your critiquer as soon as you receive your critique – no matter how crazy you think they are. You asked for the critique, and they used their time (The more marked up the copy the more time they took.) to do you a favor. And if they are a writer, you can always get them back when it’s your turn to critique. Mwah ha ha!
Love, Laughter, and fairy tales,
The Trouble with Snowmen
By Dorlana Vann
“I had him pegged as a snowman the moment I met him,” Regina said. “It was only a matter of time before he melted.”
“What are you talking about?” Haley Monroe appreciated Regina, the owner of the four-apartment multiplex they lived in, for jumping out of bed at 5 a.m., but now she wondered if she should’ve called Maximilian instead. “You’re not making any sense whatsoever. I’m talking about Travis. You know, my boyfriend.” Her throat threatened to close up as she forced out a high-pitched, “I mean, my ex-boyfriend. Here, look.” Haley gave Regina her phone with the text from Travis that said ‘I want to break up.’
“I know who you’re talking about.” Regina glanced at the phone before she sat down on the loveseat next to Haley. “I’m sorry, but Travis is a snowman, and snowmen never, ever last forever.”
Haley’s eyes burned as she wiped her tears on the shirt she had clutched against her chest. “Really, a snowman? A man made out of snow? I’ve never even seen a real snowman.”
Regina nodded and gave Haley a sad smile. “You have now. You see, snowmen drift into your life like they were sent from above, and you can’t believe that y’all have so much in common. The relationship is great, rolls right along and builds. Everything seems perfect . . . until a little heat is introduced, and then they melt. They melt, disappear, leaving only their hat, their scarf, or in this case, their shirt. That is Travis’s shirt you’re sobbing into, right?”
“Maybe, but that doesn’t mean anything. He’s forgetful, like me. That’s why we’re so perfect together.” Haley felt the heaviness in her chest as she forced out her reasoning, “We both love the same type of foods, love to do the same things . . . What?”
Regina shook her head and tsked a couple more times before saying, “The snowman’s snow job. They’ll tell you anything to keep you hopping into their beds. Travis most likely pretended to like everything you like in order to please you.”
“How is that a bad thing? I think it’s kind of sweet that he does things that I like just to make me happy.”
“Okay, fine. What about talk of commitment? Did you want to take the relationship to the next level? That would be the heat, because if he’s a snowman, there would’ve been something that caused him to melt.”
Haley thought of herself as a mature, independent, and smart twenty-five-year-old. True, she hadn’t really lived on her own for very long. After college, she had to move back home with her parents for a while. But now she lived in downtown Houston and worked two jobs. She was a legal assistant at the law offices of Skinner and Skinner during the day and a bartender at night. And she thought she’d had a sufficient amount of relationships to know when a man only wanted to play.
But crap! A moment of clarity banged around in her weary head as she thought about the night before. She’d told Travis she loved him. She could have sworn he looked straight at her, but then he started snoring. And who could blame him after their passionate night together? Well, that’s what she’d thought up until a second ago. Had that really set him off? Had that been stupid of her to say? “Nope.” Haley sat up straight, determined to be strong, even though her squeaky voice gave her away. “Can’t think of anything.”
“Right.” Regina sighed in defeat. “Well, I’m sure it’ll come to you.” She patted Haley’s knee. “Next time you hook up with a guy, maybe you should try to stay away from his type.”
The door swung open, and Maximilian walked in. He was fully dressed, eye-lined, and hair-sprayed. He lived down the hall from Haley in Apartment Three and, since living there, he had become one of Haley’s closest friends.
Maximilian took one look at the situation and said, “Aww, your snowman melted.”
Regina stood up. “He texted her. The bastard.” She handed the phone to Maximilian.
“You too?” Haley whined and wanted to curl up in a ball, her pretend strength not even fooling her anymore. “Why didn’t y’all at least warn me if this is what y’all thought?” A little sob and string of snot escaped. She considered wiping her nose on Travis’s shirt but just couldn’t do it, so she used the back of her hand instead.
“Would you’ve listened to us?” Regina said as she headed in the direction of the kitchen.
Maximilian said, “I wouldn’t have listened to us either if I had that tall, blond, muscled cowboy.”
Regina came back with a paper towel and handed it to Haley.
As Haley cleaned up, she thought about the question. Besides being gorgeous, Travis was easy-going and they never fought about anything big. So none of this made sense. She didn’t know if she bought their snowman theory. “Maybe I misunderstood the text. I should call him, and—”
“No!” Regina and Maximilian shouted in unison.
“Let him seep into the ground where he belongs,” Maximilian said.
Regina said, “Since reinforcements are here, I guess I’m going to go pee, brush my teeth, and get my coffee.”
“Wait, Regina,” Maximilian said. “I was actually looking for you. Can I have a séance in Apartment Four tonight?”
Regina crossed her arms. “There are no such things as ghosts, Maximilian.”
Mr. Chase had died before Haley had moved in. She’d heard the story, though, of how they’d found the eccentric old man’s body amongst his hordes of canned goods that he’d stored for the end of the world. Maximilian speculated that his food had fought for freedom and buried him alive. All Haley knew for sure was that Regina couldn’t keep the apartment rented.
Maximilian put his hand on his hip. “Peter Jackson ran out screaming.”
“So did that biker dude,” Haley added and then blew her nose, grateful that the subject had changed.
Regina looked from Haley to Maximilian before saying, “Fine, it’s all yours.”
“Will you be there?”
“That old fart still owes me two month’s rent. You bet I’ll be there.”
After Regina left, Maximilian sat in the seat next to Haley. He handed her the phone back. “Tell Uncle Maximilian all about it.”
“Not much to tell. Seems like you and Regina knew Travis better than I did.”
“We just have more experience in reading people and not letting them manipulate us. The sad truth is, snowmen don’t fall from the sky preassembled. You had to help build him.”
“What? Me? What did I do?”
“You probably let him get by with little things because you didn’t want to lose him. Each time he got by with not calling when he said he would or blowing you off to go hang with his buddies, he grew. But honey, I’m not saying it’s all your fault. He took advantage of you because, let’s face it, you’re still a little green.”
Now that Haley thought about it, the reason they never fought was because he’d look at her with his baby blues, smile, and then take off his shirt and say, “I’m sorry, babe, let me make it up to you.” And she thought about what pretty babies they would have. Had he never planned on having a future with her? Haley looked down in disgust at Travis’s shirt. “Maybe y’all are right.” She went to throw the crumbled-up shirt to the floor when Maximilian grabbed it.
“Of course we’re right!” He stood up holding the maroon shirt with white shoulder yokes against his chest. “I could make cowboy clothes.” Maximilian slipped the shirt on over his white V-neck T. “What do you think? Is it me? ”
All it did was make Haley think about her and Travis’s night together and how sexy he had looked in that shirt. “What am I supposed to do? Regina told me not to date his type. Am I not supposed to go for guys I’m attracted to? Am I supposed to stay away from hot guys?”
“Of course not. You have to teach yourself to know the difference between a real man and one made of white fluff.” Maximilian arched a thin eyebrow. “You know, there may be a way to speed up the process of IDing the snowmen, but it might seem a bit extreme.”
“Okay,” she mumbled. “I’m curious. What is it?”
“Simple. It’s like the old saying goes, It takes one to know one. You have to become the snowman.”
“Simple? I’m still not positive what a snowman even is.”
Maximilian plopped back down on the couch.
Haley got a strong whiff of Travis’ musky, citrusy scent. She fought back the tears by squinching up her face and holding her breath.
“Oh, peaches, it’ll get better. Looking at you, I think this is a good idea. You just have to make sure you protect yourself by finding someone you’re not attracted to. Cozy up to someone who is totally not your type. Don’t even spit at anyone who you think is hot. Got it?”
She shrugged and puttered out her breath.
“As soon as they indicate that they’re in love, or almost in love, or at least in lust with you, you dump them. Don’t forget to leave something behind. It’s the icing on the cake, the cherry on the ice cream sundae, the cigarette after sex. It’s an ego trip. See, snowmen hope their victims do what you did with this garment.” He sniffed at the shoulder of his new shirt. “You know, I bet he dabbed extra deodorant or cologne on this before he left. I must say, he’s one of the best snowmen I’ve ever met. I’m a little in awe.”
Haley put her hands over her face and let out a muffled, “I don’t think I can do that. It seems really mean. It feels really mean.”
“Sacrifices must be made in order for you to get your education. You have to experience it from the other side. You’ll get over Travis, and whoever you snowman will get over you. And everyone will be the better for it.”
“I don’t know.” Haley dropped her hands to her lap and shook her head.
“Why don’t you come tonight? To the séance. I promise there will be a couple of single, straight men.”
“No offense, Maximilian, but I don’t think anyone going to your séance will be anyone I’m interested in.”
Maximilian sighed with vigor. “You are a slow pupil, aren’t you? That’s who you need, sunshine! Someone you will never ever fall in love with. If you don’t do this now while you hate men, you probably never will. Use your anger and pain. Grrr. Put your cowgirl boots on and do some ass kicking.”
“I’ll have to think about it. Right now, all I feel like doing is nothing. Maybe I’ll go back to bed. Wait, do you have any of that double chocolate espresso ice cream left? Better yet, tequila. Yes, tequila. Oh wait, it’s breakfast time. What was I thinking? I mean a tequila sunrise.”
“Don’t you have to go to work?”
“The last thing I want to do is face Brenda Fishlips this morning.”
“Come on. Get up and get dressed. Moping around won’t do you any good.”
“Fine. I’ll go to work, but I’ll have to let you know about the séance later.”
“Well, you know I’m not one to pressure, but this time I must insist. It’s for your own good.” He gave her a quick peck on the cheek and then stood up. “Midnight, of course. Be there or be snowman bait forever.” And he was out the door.
Haley thought back to the night she’d met Travis. Did he do as Regina had said he’d done? Had he drifted into her life? What did that even mean? True, she hadn’t known him before.
He had caught her attention that first week she’d tended bar at Kicker’s nightclub. He was built and bulged but moved gracefully with this girl and the next on the dance floor.
When he made it up to the bar to buy a round for his group, they locked eyes. He smiled and slowly tipped his cowboy hat. Haley tried not to look at him while she helped other customers, but every time she sneaked a glance, she caught his stare. When she got to him, her heart pounded, and she couldn’t keep the smile from giving her excitement away.
The first words out of his mouth had been “What time do you get off work?”
She expected to get hit on by customers, kind of part of the job, and she usually brushed them off, but this guy actually made her cheeks heat up. She told him the truth. She had to close and then get up early to go to work the next day.
He leaned on the counter and said, “That’s okay, babe, I can wait all night for you. In the morning, I’ll make you a hot breakfast in bed before you head out to work.”
She remembered the thoughts she had at that moment. What a shame. The hottest cowboy I’ve ever met is a walking cliché of a playboy.
But then he said, “I’m sorry.” He removed his hat, his blond hair bringing out the sparkle in his blue eyes. “I didn’t mean to come on so strong. I panicked. I usually don’t get so nervous, but I’ve never met anyone like you before . . . you’re breathtaking.”
She’d given him her number, and they went out a couple of nights later. On the third date, they slept together, which she thought had shown tremendous restraint.
As she thought this all through, she guessed she had had some type of gut feeling about him being what Regina and Maximilian called a snowman. She totally ignored it because she had been blinded by his dynamic looks and charm combo.
Haley closed her eyes and moaned. If she were to be honest with herself right now, Travis wasn’t the first snowman she’d ever dated. How many times had she felt this sickening feeling that she would miss them to death, but they wouldn’t even glance back? She didn’t like it one bit. Maybe it would be possible to learn how to trust and pay attention to her instincts more. Maybe Maximilian was right. Perhaps it would “Take one to know one.”
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Jaclyn’s Ghost by Dorlana Vann
Ghosts, Mystery, & Fashion
Can this diva solve her own murder, or will she be stuck in limbo forever?
Another One Bites the Dust
Jaclyn Jade felt a prickling sensation as if a trillion tiny needles penetrated her entire body just beneath the surface of her skin. Gradually, the tingling faded, but the overwhelming contentment made it difficult for her to shake the suspicion that something was terribly different. As her eyes began to focus in the dark room, she searched her surroundings for answers. Okay, so she was in her bedroom, and since even the earliest part of the morning brought an orange glow through her sheer curtains, obviously, she’d woken up in the middle of night. Besides the eerie serenity, the other oddity was that she stood in the middle of her bed.
Her scan stopped abruptly when she spotted an unfamiliar six-foot silhouette in the shape of a man. It moved, causing an involuntary shriek to burst out of her mouth. As she attempted to run, she stumbled over a huge lump in her bed and fell, face first, onto the floor. She regained her footing in a flash and then dashed out the door.
She stopped in the hallway, right outside the bedroom door, placing her hand on her chest and tried to regain her composure. Feeling the fabric of her clothes, she looked down. Crap, she’d slept in her Keten Maye original cream-colored gown. “He’s going to kill me,” she whispered.
She listened now, doubting what she had seen because no one had followed her out. She reached inside her room until she found the switch and turned on the light.
“I didn’t mean to scare you,” a man said who suddenly stood right across from her.
She sucked in a deep breath and responded appropriately with another piercing scream and ran back into her room.
“I know you’re confused,” he said from behind her. “If you will give me a moment, I can explain everything.”
“If you don’t get the hell out of my house this instant,” she cried and turned around, “you’ll be explaining everything to the police.”
The intruder stood in the doorway, his face covered by the shadow of his hat.
She needed her phone, but it was on the table by the bed. As soon as her focus drifted toward the bed, the heap that had caused her to trip earlier grabbed her attention. Was someone under there?
“What’s the last thing you remember? Give yourself a moment. It’ll come back to you.”
She smoothed her dress. “The party,” she blurted. “That’s it; all that champagne.” She nodded her head in satisfied realization. “I just partied a little more than I should have. Keten must have brought me home and stayed over. He does that all the time. I must have been sleepwalking and caught you in the middle of, who knows what. “Keten! Wake up! Keten.”
“Pretty shoes.” The man nodded toward the bed.
“I say, your boyfriend sure has pretty shoes.”
Jaclyn located a foot, wearing a pink, pointy-toed sling-back, which stuck out from under the blankets. Not Keten. When she recognized the shoe, she pulled her dress up a little bit to see her feet. She wore the same pair. Did a friend, who had the same exact shoes, spend the night? She would have noticed that before. She would have remembered shoe duplicity.
Jaclyn put her attention back on the stranger. He wore a black jacket over a double-breasted vest and dress pants. Clearly, the suit had been bought off the rack, but still, it was a bit much for a burglar. Nothing made sense. She wondered why he hadn’t left when he had the chance. If he wanted to hurt her, why hadn’t he even tried? The way he leaned against the door frame, his arms crossed, made it seemed as if he was amused by her chaos.
“Did someone hire you to pull a prank on me? Is that it? Are you an actor? Just tell me what’s going on, who you are, and who’s in that bed, and maybe I’ll tell the cops to go easy on you.”
“If that’s truly what you want.” He held up his hands and took a couple of steps inside the room.
“Now you’re starting to piss me off. Just tell me what’s going on!”
He sighed. “Poor bunny, that’s you in the bed. Well, the former you. You see, now you’re you, and that’s just a body.” The man walked until he stood a handshake away.
Jaclyn tried to ignore the hazy luster around him—too much to think about at that moment—but she couldn’t disregard his attractive face, his square jaw, and his deep black eyes, which at that moment seemed insanely sincere.
“Oh… my… goodness.”
“I know. It’s really crazy.”
“No. You’re psychotic.” Without giving herself another chance to chicken out, Jaclyn marched over to her bed and tossed back the bedspread.
Her mouth fell open as she took a step back. It had to be a trick. It was just someone who resembled her and had gone to lot of trouble to play a joke. The girl had the same long dark hair, the same skin tone, the same nose, the same one-of-a-kind party dress …
Jaclyn decided to wake the imposter and tell her to take her boyfriend and get the hell out of her apartment. But when she reached down to shake the woman, her hand went smooth through the shoulder like it was made of smoke. Jaclyn jerked her hand back and took an apprehensive breath. Was this really happening?
“It’s screwy seeing yourself like that,” the man said.
She stood there, examining her body in the bed as the same peace she’d felt earlier embraced her. “Why am I not freaking out? Shouldn’t I be upset, screaming, and freaking out?”
“When you die, the psychological need for your physical body ends. You instinctively know that you don’t need that body anymore.”
“I look really pitiful,” she said. “What happened? I’m not sick or anything.”
She eyed her phone, close enough now that she could grab it and call someone if she wanted, and laughed to herself. Who? What could she say? She noticed a container of pills and a bottle of champagne beside the phone on the nightstand. She tried to pick up the pills. Yet again, her hand had no substance and went through the bottle. “Ahh, this is driving me crazy. Can you pick those up?”
The man stared at her blankly, and then a small, concerned expression seemed to grow across his face. “What?”
“Something’s wrong with me. Would you mind?” She moved out of the man’s way so he could get to the table. He inched his hand really close to the bottle and then snatched it back again.
“Oh, just forget it,” she said.
“No, it’s no problem. I want to help.” He picked up the bottle and studied it, turning it one way and then the other.
“Well? Does it say what they are?”
“There’s no marking of any kind. The torpedo must have left them. I would have tried to stop him, but by the time I arrived—”
“Hit man, assassin, hired gun, torpedo.”
“Hit man? That’s ridiculous. I’ve accepted every ludicrous thing you’ve said so far, but now you’re actually trying to tell me, what? That I was murdered?”
“You must have your share of enemies.” The man nodded as he stared down at the body in the bed.
Jaclyn couldn’t believe his gall. “Wait, who are you, and why are you in my house?”
“The name is Logan Smith.”
“And why are you here?”
“I live here.” Logan crossed his arms as he leaned back against the wall. An arrogant smile appeared on his lips as well as in his eyes. “Just your friendly resident ghost.”
“As in boo?”
She ran her hands through her hair and exhaled in defeat. “Well, that would explain your glow.”
He shrugged his shoulders.
“Does that mean I’m a ghost, too?” Jaclyn stared at her hands. “I look the same.”
“But you’re not.”
She thought about it for a second. “Okay fine, I’m a ghost.” This warranted sitting down, but when she went to sit on the edge of the bed, she fell through to the floor. She stayed there with her head poking up through the mattress. She crossed her legs under the poof of her dress and sighed as she considered her demise. “You’re wrong,” she finally said. “I don’t have any enemies. At least not ones who would want to kill me.”
Logan sat on the bed. “Then, it’s a mystery.”
Jaclyn glared at him. “How did you do that? How is it that you can sit on the bed?”
“There are things you’ll have to—”
“And where the hell is my light and tunnel and stairway to Heaven?”
“It’s complicated,” Logan said. “Well, not really. Some people go straight to Heaven and others, for some reason or another, are rejected.”
She stood up and faced him. “Rejected? You’re telling me I didn’t make it into Heaven. What then? You can’t seriously be saying I’m going to—”
“Hello,” a man’s voice spoke from behind her.
Jaclyn shook her head and turned around. What now? She had her hands on her hips, ready for combat, but was ambushed by the new man’s appearance. His beauty rivaled Logan’s masculinity. What was this? An audition for a Calvin Klein ad? She opened her mouth to protest his intrusion, but her voice turned out to be just as flabbergasted as she was.
“Give her a break,” Logan said. “She just bit the dust.” He stepped beside Jaclyn and then gestured to the new arrival. “May I introduce Charles Charles.”
“Charles Charles?” Jaclyn said, coming out of her trance.
“I’m taking her now,” the man said.
“Taking me? Taking me where?” Panic caught in her throat. She had just found out about this rejection thing and needed more time to process what had happened.
“Exactly where you should be, Butterfly … Hell.”
I watched as a guy in a dark suit dug up Beatrice Beaumont Virgil, April 5, 1965 – August 19, 1998. Funeral flowers still fresh, dirt still moist, Until we meet again her epitaph.
I stood in the shadows and dared to watch a moment longer before deciding I would just make note of his car license on my way out. If I had to say, I would guess his height as six feet and give him a generous build of medium. And I would only use this information if there were questions. Otherwise, I’d rather my secret after-hours visits stayed my secret.
As I turned to leave, the moody clouds drifted, allowing the full moon to tattle. I limped away as fast as I could, but my bad knee had started acting up again. I could only hope I was far enough to seem a ghost. Just as I began to breathe, I heard the man shout, “Hey you… stop!”
A gun fired; the bullet ricocheted off the tombstone next to me. I stopped.
“Now, get over here,” he said. “Slowly.”
As I approached the grave-site, I could see that he had dug about halfway down into the grave. He held a shovel in his right hand and a gun in his left. “You’re not going to run, are you?” he asked. His appearance seemed rather ordinary— until our eyes met. I’m not easily spooked, but his keen stare alarmed the hair on the back of my neck.
“No,” I said.
He tucked the gun into his pants and then threw me the shovel. “Start digging.”
I dropped the shovel down into the thigh-deep hole and grunted as I followed it inside.
“What are you doing out here this time of night?” he asked as he sat down and wiped his brow.
“I’m the groundskeeper.”
“That’s strange. I did my homework; there are no employees at night.”
“I’m not supposed to be here either.” The shovel sank into the dirt easily enough, but my muscles complained when I started shoveling it out of the hole.
“Hmm,” he said. “So, what are you doing here?”
“It’s peaceful at night.”
“So you work here … and come here to hang out? Kind of an eerie guy. But I suppose the right kind if one has to exhume a body.”
I kept digging, and the man kept watching until the shovel caused a clunking noise.
“All right,” he said. He sat with his legs dangling over the side of the hole. “Now start digging on the sides so we can open my treasure chest.”
When I had finished my task, the man jumped in beside me. It took quite a few hard pushes before we finally had the lid all the way open.
I generally have to be content with a mental image of my residents. I couldn’t help but comb my hair with my fingers to tidy up a bit before I met her.
Her long blonde hair flowed gracefully over her petite shoulders. Rosy cheeks and ruby lips highlighted powdered fair skin. “Beautiful.”
POW! I felt the deafening discharge from my fingers to my toes. Beatrice received a bullet hole in the middle of her forehead. I had stopped breathing.
“Hmm,” the graverobber said. “Grab her arms.”
It took him aiming his weapon at me before I comprehended the instructions.
“Grab her arms. I’ll get her feet.”
Heavier than she looked, the first attempts at getting her out of the grave were grotesque. I wanted to lay her back in her bed, fold her arms back across her body, smooth her hair.
Finally, we had her in a somewhat normal position lying in the grass next to her assumed final resting place.
My dilated eyes absorbed a sudden explosion of light. When I regained my vision, I realized the man was snapping pictures.
I couldn’t withhold my curiosity a moment longer. It had fused together with fear and sympathy for Beatrice and formed a knot in the pit of my stomach. “I do realize that this is none of my business, and I really shouldn’t be asking you anything, but—”
“I don’t off chicks,” he said. His chest heaved in and out, just like mine.
“That’s why I’m doing this. That was your question, right?”
He pulled a flask out of his jacket, put it to his mouth, and took a drink. Surprisingly, he handed it to me. As the unexpected bland taste of the pure water quenched my dry tongue, he spoke, “Some asshole hired me to kill a woman. This is just what I do when I’m put in that situation.”
I swallowed hard. The liquid felt like a tank going down my throat. The man standing beside me murdered people for money. And he’d said I was the creepy one. “So you’re going to pretend that Beatrice is the woman you were supposed to kill?”
“Beatrice,” he said and stared down at her. “They don’t want them at their doorstep. All I need is proof. I did a lot of obituary searching to find her. Same facial features, hair color, age.”
“What about the real girl?”
“She’s on a plane as we move our lips.”
We stood there for a moment: the atmosphere thick with the smell of death and the moonlight animating tree shadows across Beatrice’s face.
“Why did someone want her dead?” I asked.
“Don’t know. Didn’t ask. Let’s get her back down.”
The chore of replacing her didn’t take as long as excavating her, but I hated our method. We just dropped her in.
We climbed in after and put her back in the casket. Except for the bullet hole and the dirt in her hair, she looked like she did before we disturbed her. I said my goodbyes and shut the lid.
When I looked up at the assassin, his jaw was tense and his eyes and gun were focused on me. He said, “You know, I have to kill you now.”
I stopped to inhale the earthy air, to scratch my nose, and to think about my new home with Beatrice Virgil’s address. Until we meet again, my epitaph. “Yeah,” I said. “I know.”
John knew the old saying: Revenge is a dish best served cold. But he had to disagree. Because this time, his revenge would be cooked and served sizzling hot.
Being the cook for the Beaumont family had definitely been hell, and it seemed as if he had already worked for them an eternity. When he saw his murderer, standing there on the auction block, another saying seemed right on: What goes around comes around.
New arrivals went straight to the auction house. Both demon and H.S.L. (Human Soul Laborers) bought souls for a variety of reasons—the juicier the more they cost. John’s assassin was already up to a stellar price.
The red demon auctioneer had the whole house animated with energy. He was saying, “This soul here has no moral backbone. He killed over fifty men. He’s a thief, a cheater, and a murderer. Do I hear seventy-five?”
When John held up his auction paddle, his assassin looked him in the eyes. John remembered the last time their eyes met. The next thing he knew, he was in hell, standing exactly where this guy stood now. John had committed minor sins in comparison to murder, so buying him to eat would have been like buying a sickly, skinny cow. Not worth eating.
John had been purchased as an H.S.L. by one of the more prestigious demon families. Some souls were bought for pulling wagons, for building roads, for housewives, for… dinner. He understood how lucky he had been that he knew how to cook. His duties included buying groceries at the auction house.
He didn’t win the bid on his murderer just for pleasure; he would also make a fine meal. The Beaumonts planned to have a dinner party for twenty guests. John purchased two other plump souls as well.
When John arrived back at his kitchen, he put the three men into his tall, refrigerated cage. They needed to be fresh. Much longer out in the heat, and they would have been tough. He himself had developed skin close to the texture of leather. He hadn’t lived in Hell long enough to figure it all out, but he reckoned all the demons started out looking the way the human souls did, but in time they adapted to the atmosphere, causing their crimson, rutted skin.
Once John shut the cage, the hit man said, “Funny meeting you here.”
“So, you do remember me.”
“I never forget a face.”
“Of someone you killed or just in general?” John reached in a drawer and pulled out his knife sharpener. He wanted to give this guy the full treatment. At that moment, if he had ever wondered before, he recognized one of the major reasons for his descent. He kept deep hatred in his heart. Hmmm. He began to grind the knife across the sharpener.
His murderer said, “What are you doing here?”
“I’m about to make dinner.”
“I mean, in the hole. I never characterized you for a sinner.”
“We all have our sins. It’s the people who realize it too late that end up down here.”
At this, the hit man nodded his head. “So, what are you making?”
The two other men in the cage looked downright terrified.
John looked down at his knife. No matter what kind of show he put on for his murderer, this wouldn’t be any easier than any other meal.
He inhaled and then nodded his head over to the man standing to the right of the murderer. “Leg of Sam,” he said. He glanced at the next guy, “Barbecued ribs.” He looked directly into the hit man’s eyes. “And roasted pig.”
“You don’t have to be so nasty. Just making conversation.”
“Perhaps we should save the small talk for the guests.” Meals had always just stood in the cage awaiting their fate. Once in a while one would sing or one would cry, but never did he actually have to talk to one before he prepared it.
“For what it’s worth,” his murderer said. “I apologize. I was just doing my job.”
John thought about this for a moment. He wondered if he would have repented if given more time. If he had not been killed at that moment, would it have caused a different finale? He doubted it. Just doing my job. “All right,” he finally said. “I’ll accept your apology. I have an apology of my own.”
“I suppose you do,” the man said.
John said, “You know, I have to cook you now.”
“Yeah,” the hit man said, “I know.”
Hell’s Kitchen was originally published in the anthology, Split 2008.
by Dorlana Vann
Cinders on your face and hands, so you said.
Instead of supper you were sent to bed.
No one to play with—No huge castle walls.
Dined on the cold floor like one of the dogs.
Every day, I must hear your sad stories.
Really Mother, they are getting boring.
“Eleanor,” you start, “you are so very blessed.
Living the sweet life of a spoiled princess.”
Let me live it and make my own mistakes.
And you’ll see mirth is not an evil trait.
Dear Mom is from my short story collection: Supernatural Fairy Tales. It was inspired by Cinderella, or The Little Glass Slipper by Charles Perrault containing Stories or Tales from Times Past, with Morals, with the added title in the frontispiece, Tales of Mother Goose. France: 1697
There’s No Cure for Dead
by Dorlana Vann
She opened and closed her mouth a couple of times, loosening her jaw, before she spoke. “You can’t be serious. Marriage is no longer something we can consider.”
He stood far away, at the other end of the long, formal dining room table. He was handsome now: tall and regal. He used to look so hideous he’d hid from the world. But his compassion and heart were so big that she had fallen madly in love. So she wasn’t surprised by his proposal even if it was a bit insane.
“I love you,” he said. “I want you to be my wife.”
“I know you love me. I love you, too. But we have to face facts. You must accept this. You shouldn’t even be feeding me. Look at me. What kind of bride would I be?”
“A beautiful one. When I was beastly, you saw something inside me and loved me for me.
I love you for you. I know who you are on the inside.”
The rancid taste in her mouth distracted her for a second. Was it from the meal she’d just devoured or her own tongue? What had he said? Was he actually trying to compare her current situation to his past? “But I’m not like you. You were cursed by a witch. I’m–”
“Doesn’t matter!” He slammed his fist down on the table, making the china and silver jolt. “I’ll use every last cent I have to find a cure.”
“You’re not listening to me.” She tried to stand, but the chains around her waist stopped her. It took a second to remember why she was confined to a chair. Oh yeah, that’s right; dinner had taken a little too long last night. When hunger hit, nothing else fit in her head. If it hadn’t been for the butler with the Taser, they wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. “Sweetheart,” she said sweetly, trying to calm him, “There’s no cure for dead.”
“Maybe one of my tears, or a potion of some sort … or maybe a kiss.”
“Right.” She rolled her eyes. They stuck like that for a second until she shook her head to get them straight again. “You’re going to kiss me? Do I even have lips, anymore?” Just as she pushed out her tongue to feel for lips, a twinge in her head stopped her. What was she doing?
“There’s got to be something. But first, we will get married.” He walked beside the table toward her, stopping halfway, a hint of fear in his eyes.
The sudden spasm in her head caused her to let out a moan. The hunger didn’t feel the way it had when she’d been alive. This appetite was in her brain. It rumbled, it stirred, it wanted, it hurt. But she’d just eaten an entire plate of … Who? Where was the butler?
He was saying, “I mean, we can’t really have a honeymoon right now. We’ll postpone it until later. When you’re better. But please let me prove my love and devotion to you.”
She tried to remember her meal tonight, but then a series of intense, sharp pains ricocheted inside her head. With both hands, she pulled at what was left of her hair.
When she brought her hands down to look at them, brown hair clung to her fingers. Wait? Whose hair was this? She glanced around the room: extravagant, expensive, a stone fireplace, a cathedral ceiling. What was this house? Who lived here anyway? Who was this walking closer to her? Her brain pulsed and rumbled. He was so close – she sniffed the air – and luscious. Her mouth watered, and all she wanted was one little taste, one little nibble.
“Right after the ceremony, I will hire the best researchers on the planet …”
She tried to get up, but for some reason she couldn’t move. She tried again, and again, and again. The hunger pains moved down to behind her eyes, causing her to squint to see the delicious meal that was igniting her senses.
“So? What do you say? Will you marry me?”
The food was right there in front of her now. Maybe if she stretched out her arms as far as she could, she’d be able to reach it. All she needed was a one bite to make this unbearable torture end.
“Oh Belle, I don’t know. But you did just eat, so I guess one hug, to seal the deal with my fiancée would be okay.”
There’s no Cure for Dead was inspired by Beauty and the Beast (French: La Belle et la Bete) by Jeanne Marie Le Prince de Beaumont. France: 1756. It is one of the short stories from my collection, Supernatural Fairy Tales: paranormal short stories inspired by fairy tales