On hold for a bit while I start a new play.
This isn’t fiction. A man I consider a queer elder lost his husband a few years ago. These guys were kind of my “gay dads,” older gay men who were part of my coming out, men who were kind and encouraging and were safe harbors while I navigated my identity.
The one who died own the house they lived in. His family, after his death, took the house from the surviving partner.
The monsters aren’t always in the shadows.
My heart is in the coffin, there. Buried with her. I can hear it beating.
There’s nothing left in my chest. A hollow space. She emptied it when she emptied the apartment, robbed it of her things, she packed them in boxes and in the rush to finish, packed up my bloody heart. Stole it from me.
So she should be buried with it. Still beating. Because it always will. Beat for her.
Blue’s first friend was a young girl named Kya.
They first met at Blue’s fifth birthday party, which was held in a small park a few blocks from Blue’s home. Her parents had rented a bouncy house, and since the bouncy house was larger than the small square of grass that passed as their backyard, Blue’s father had called town hall, made all the proper requests, and fill out all the required forms necessary to move the party — and the bouncy house — to the park for a September afternoon.
Kya was the last of the children to arrive at the party. Being last was enough to make Kya stand out, but the young girl distinguished herself in a number of other ways. She arrived with no parents, at least none that Blue could see, which was alarmingly against the rules set forth by the party invitations sent out by her mother and magnetically enviable for its audacity and nerve. She also arrived, to Blue’s annoyance, without a gift, which seemed awfully presumptuous and a good bit rude.
Most unusual, of all the unusual things about Kya, was that Blue had never seen or met the girl before.
She’s probably new in school, Blue thought to herself. My mother probably met her mother, felt sorry for her and invited her.
“Thank you for coming. This party’s for me.” Blue extended her hand to the girl.
“I know,” the girl said. She didn’t accept the handshake offer.
“I hope you don’t think I’m rude, but did you bring a present? I don’t ask because it’d be for me and all. I ask, because there’s a table for them, and if you didn’t know where to put it — if you brought one — I’d be sad if it got lost.”
“I couldn’t bring a present,” the girl said. ” I hope that doesn’t make you angry.”
Blue was again annoyed. Not only did the girl not bring a present, but she said she couldn’t, which meant her family might be poor, and if they were poor, then Blue felt bad for judging the girl rude for something she couldn’t help.
“I’m not angry.” Blue shared a smile as wide a she could manage. “I’m glad my mother invited you anyway.”
“Your mother didn’t invite me.” The girl’s eyes got sad. “Unless your mother can see ghosts, too? Can she see them? The way you can?”
“But I want to go. I insist.” She slammed her fists down on the heavy wooden table, but it didn’t make the booming, authoritative sound she hoped it would make.
“You can’t go into the caves, no matter how much you bang about,” the old explorer said. “It ain’t no place fit for a child. The monsters that live down there are like devils. They’re quick and they’re cunning. And they’ll rip a man in half so fast he’d never know he’s dead until he was looking down at himself torn in two.”
“I ain’t afraid of no monsters,” she said, puffing herself up a bit. “I ain’t afraid of nothing.”
“Then you’re as foolish a child as they come,” the old explorer said. “Only the weak pretend they don’t got things they’re afraid of.”
She suddenly felt her age again, felt the sharp difference between the adult world and the small world she’d experienced as a girl of ten.
“I ain’t afraid to face them, is all I mean.” She was softer now, humbler. “I’m afraid of lots, Mr. Gray. Just they’re different things than before.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, before I was afraid of the headmaster’s dog or running into Mrs. Clackert in the halls when I shouldn’t be there,” she said. “But then the storm happened, and The White Lady showed up, and I got snatched up by you all, and we fought the Ghouls and solved all them puzzles. We done so much, now I’m only afraid of things that feel bigger. Like not being able to go home. Like maybe finding out Sylvia is dead. Like the world not getting back to right again.”
“You’re not alone there, Blue,” the old explorer said. He considered her closely with his one good eye. “The caves is still no place for a girl.”
But ain’t just a girl,” she said. “I’m Blue.”
Talking to ghosts feels like remembering. You don’t use your voice any: it’s all in your head. And even though it’s happening now, it doesn’t feel like it’s happening now. It feels like it’s something from a long time ago, something you can pick up the edges of, but not the whole thing. Not all the details.
They say things to you, and it’s like trying to remember a conversation you had yesterday. And you say things back — with your mind, of course — but it feels more like then instead of now. It’s weird. Even when it’s happening, it feels like something I did when I was a baby. Which is dumb, because I’m only eleven, and I wasn’t a baby all that long ago.
Little black dots.
It looked like a splattering of tiny ink spots on the ceiling above them. There was a cluster of dots, maybe ten or twelve, slightly to their left, then a trail of dots, another seven or so, inching across the ceiling to their right.
Like ants, they thought. A line of little ants marching away from the anthill.
They looked back to the bathroom mirror. No little black dots. One big one. A bruise. Over their right eye. And a cut on their lip. A scrape on their right cheek where they’d hit the pavement.
Assholes, they thought. Better to just watch me fall than touch me. They liked to think they were used to the way people stared, they way people made that inch or two of extra space when they moved through the crowd, as though their gender was somehow contagious, as though someone could catch a refusal to fit a norm.
Non-binary and clumsy, they thought to themselves. Fucking great. Fucking nice. What a combination.
When their eyes focused away from their own bruised face in the mirror and focused on the wall behind them, they saw more little black dots. I don’t think they were there when I came in. Scattered on the wall like a star pattern in the sky. Where the dots there when I came in? Random. A reverse night.
It didn’t matter. This place was always a bit of a dump. Probably mold or something. Water in the walls. They could come back in a few weeks and find the whole place boarded up, the source of a dozen health violations, that “place we used to go after the bars close.”
Not that I’ll be going out much for a while. They gingerly touched the bruise getting darker over their eye.
On the wall, something was changing. The reverse sky was finding a kind of order. Little dots that were random were sliding left and right, up and down. And the reverse sky was now a shape more recognizable, little dots forming a figure, an outline of black against the cream-white of the walls.
Their figure. Their outline. Little dots tracing their border, a reverse shadow on the wall.
We would carry the bodies together.
Joe would take them at the head, because he knew I didn’t like to see their eyes. He was kind that way. I didn’t like the feeling of them looking at me as we slid them into the fire, judging me, as though I was some kind of monster. Joe didn’t mind their eyes. Joe took very good care of me.
“We won’t be doing this forever,” Joe would say as we sat by the door, waiting for the next body. “Whatever’s going on out there is gonna dry up eventually. Or they’ll kill it off. One way or the other. Then we won’t have to be here anymore.”
I’d believe him, because I trusted him. Because in the hours between bodies, things would be quiet and still enough for me to forget what was going on out there. Because Joe would say it like even he believed it.
I believed him, because I loved him.
So when the body we had to carry was still breathing and talking, and it told us to run, I did what Joe told me to do.
You can’t add to a person once they’re dead. When they’re dead, they’re finished. All the things they’re ever gonna do and all the things they’re ever gonna be are written in stone. They don’t get a stitch more of anything. They’re whole.
So when a person dies without knowing they’re gonna die, they die unfinished. They had plans, I’m sure, for all the spaces in who they were. But because they ended up dead, there’s no filling those spaces. They spend forever being finished with a lot of things undone. And if you never learned a thing in life, you sure as hell not gonna learn it dead.
So you’re stuck. Being unfinished.
And you’re already dead, so it’s a real shitty place to be.
I don’t always deal with the unfinished dead. I try to sniff them out when people are telling me their stories. Unfinished ghosts have some tried and true tells. Moving things so you’ll think they’re lost. Footsteps upstairs when everyone is downstairs. That sort of thing. So I can generally avoid the unfinished dead.
But every so often, one of them lands on my plate. Maybe there’s a kindness in their voice or a sweetness in the way they smile or a nagging desire to get deep into some bullshit. But I’ll take an unfinished dead from time to time. To keep my hand in it.
That’s why Jeanine’s at my kitchen table. And that’s why the kitchen table is floating two feet off the ground.
He pulled the curtain shut when he heard the women’s voices.
“Malcolm!” Gravia sounded drunk. “Malcolm, there’s a body -“
“Lower your voice, you cow.” Lenka’s voice was wobbly, too, but she was at least still clear enough to think.
Malcolm stepped out of the wagon and saw them. Still in their performance clothes, they leaned into each other, unsteady. Their faces were smeared with blood, blood that dribbled down in rivulets and streaked their fronts in red.
“Malcolm, there’s a body.” Gravia’s exaggersted whisper was practically as loud as her stage voice. She burst into giggles. Lenka elbowed her in the stomach.
“You can’t eat men that have come to the show drunk,” Malcolm kept his voice even. “If they’re drunk, you get drunk -“
“We know.” Lenka kept her eyes low, a touch of shame in her voice.
“But we aren’t sorry.” Gravia spit the words at Malcolm. “If you don’t feed us —“
“I feed you when I can ensure we don’t create a problem for us to solve.”
“You feed us when you want us to worship you. To owe you.” Gravia was now face to face with Malcolm. “We aren’t your dogs. We decide when we are fed.”
In a second, Malcolm’s thick hand was locked around Gravia’s throat. The ingratitude of children, he thought. And the messes they were prone to make. If they’d gone into town and killed some drunk. If they’d left him where it would be easy to find him. If they’d been seen, crowing and laughing covered in a stranger’s blood, there’s be questions. And police. And inquiries. And trouble.
And trouble is unwelcome when you feed on human flesh.
“Let her go.” Lenka didn’t beg. Her voice sounded bored.
“She’s also barely 220 years old. Don’t waste your energy. She’s not mortal until she’s at least 500.”
Lenka was right. No squeeze would be enough. And if he had to spend his energy, there was apparently a body to take care of.