All posts by Stephanie Santiful

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The Thing About Nathan

Nathan has a chipped front tooth, which I find kind of endearing. We’re at a Halloween party and he’s standing next to the punch bowl dressed in what looks to be a pair of army fatigues except the typical camouflage colors have been replaced with blends of red, yellow, blue, green, and purple. I don’t recall ever seeing anyone in the military wearing a rainbow uniform, so my guess it’s his way of showing his enthusiasm for ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ being repealed. Then again, Nathan has always been the you-don’t-have-to-ask-I’m-going-to-tell-you-anyway type of guy. This is the reason why I have a crush on him.

Well, that and I’ve seen him shirtless.

But the thing I like most about Nathan is that he’s really down to earth. He’s funny, smart, and caring, and really modest. He could have any guy he wants, but he doesn’t seem to want anyone and to be honest, well, it pisses me off.

If I were over six feet tall with abs that looked like they belonged on the cover of a Men’s Fitness magazine, I certainly wouldn’t be hanging out by the punch bowl discussing anime and comic books with some of the more nerdier attendees. But I’m not over six feet, I’m barely five foot eight. And I don’t have fantastic abs. Hell, I don’t have abs at all. Nathan has those typical washboard abs, ridges and ridges of perfection and my midsection ours looks like someone flipped a bathtub upside down. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, but my point is he’s hot and he’s not using it to his advantage. If he’s not going to use those strikingly good looks, I’d be happy to take them off his hands.

Maybe I’m just being bitter. I wish I had the courage to go over there and talk to him. I mean, if Lenny can sit there dressed as a Hello Kitty and carry on a conversation with him about Batman, why shouldn’t I be able to just go over and introduce myself?

Am I really that pathetic?

Nathan catches me staring at him and I quickly turn away, deciding that yes, yes, I am really that pathetic. After a few seconds, I steal another glance and notice that Nathan is making his way across the room…toward my direction.

What the hell was I thinking?! I don’t really want to talk to him, especially with the massive ketchup stain that is unintentionally decorating my Han Solo costume. Han Solo. God, I’m such a hypocrite! Okay, okay. Here he comes. Just be cool. Be cooooool.

“Hey,” Nathan says. His voice is perfect.

“Hey,” I say back, except my voice cracks. What the hell is this, puberty? At twenty, you’d think I’d master how to speak in a monotone by now. I’m such a freak!

“I like your costume.”

“Thanks. I like yours, too.” Yeah, way to keep the conversation going, genius. Say something witty and charming. “I like Star Wars.” Why?! Why do random, stupid, bits of useless trivia about me always seem to explode out my mouth whenever someone attractive is around me.

“I can see that,” Nathan says. “You’re Theodore, right?”

I nod my head. “Yeah, but most people call me Ted or Bundy. That’s my last name.”

“Ted Bundy?”

“Yeah, you know, like the serial killer.” There’s a moment where the two of us stare blankly at each other. It is a second after that moment that I realize that was probably a very stupid thing to say. “I’m not a serial killer,” I add. Yeah, sure, that doesn’t seem suspicious at all.

Nathan laughs and it makes me smile. “You’re a pretty funny guy.”

I almost tell him that I’m not doing it on purpose, but luckily I refrain from making myself look even more like an idiot.

“I saw you staring at me earlier,” Nathan says.

“I wasn’t staring at you.”

“No?”

“No. I was staring at Lenny. At his costume.” This is, of course, a blatant lie, but I don’t want to seem like a stalker.

“Oh.”

There’s a look of disappointment on Nathan’s face and it makes me want to confess that I really was staring at him, but I can’t bring myself to say it. Why isn’t their a self-help guide to not being a complete moron when it comes to being social with attractive men?

“Hey, guys!” Hello Kitty Lenny bounces over to us, not at all ashamed or embarrassed by his own behavior. I wish I had his confidence. I wish I had any confidence, really.

“Hey, Lenny,” I mutter and silently add, go away.

“Excuse me,” Nathan says. He begins to walk away and I panic. I don’t want him to leave. I want to talk more, to get to know him better. I want him to see that even if I’m kind of a dork, I’m still pretty cool, too. I just want him to give me a chance. Without much thinking, I grab his wrist, my silent of asking him not to go.

Again, there is another moment where the two of us stare at each other. My heart is racing. I don’t want him to reject me, but I mentally prepare myself for it. I should be use to rejection by now, and really, I am. But it always stings when it’s someone I’ve had a crush on for a while.

Nathan turns toward me and smiles. He settles himself against the wall right next to me and he and Lenny continue their previous conversation about superheros. Lenny is showing Nathan his imitation of a Superman stance. He looks completely ridiculous doing it while dressed as Hello Kitty. Nathan laughs at him.

Nathan has a laugh that I find unbelievably captivating. I have the feeling that maybe I’ll be lucky enough to discover several other charming things about him.

 

Image credit goes to strecht

 

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Watching

Something was watching me. I felt its eyes burning into my skin, watching as the pen in my hand scribbled rapidly over wrinkled notebook paper. That intense gaze moved from my hand to my arm, and traveled over my neck where it hesitated just briefly before continuing on. That same steady, chilling  gaze journeyed across my ear and finally came to rest at my temple.

It was thinking about me; wondering if I realize that it is out there; watching me. I continued to draw, moving my pen back and forth across the paper. There was a painful cramp in my hand, but I knew better than to pause.  I wanted to stare out at the moonlight as it poured in through my bedroom window, but that would have given the owner of those prying eyes an invitation to join me. If that were to happen, the results would be catastrophic.

When I concentrated hard enough, I saw it even without looking up from the paper.  The strokes of my pen against the paper had begun to form an outline of its body. I focused harder, added more detail. My hand sketched out an elongated head, rounded at the top with a long, crescent, shaped chin. Its eyes—one green, one red—reminded me of glinting Christmas tree lights. The head sat atop a lanky neck, its skin dry and scaly. Thin flaps rose and lowered in the same manner as a fish’s gills.

The creature’s torso resembled that of an average male’s. It was covered in that same scaly skin, its color comparable to an old penny. Its blotchy legs shifted back and forth and a single foot taps against the cold ground in three second intervals.

The cramp in my hand intensified and my fingers faltered. The creature rose onto its toes, which are not really toes at all. They looked too deadly for that. Swirls of burnt, ashy, skin, circled around oddly shaped legs to form an almost hypnotizing pattern. The creature watched me, its gills opening and closing at the same time as his mouth, showing off rows of disgustingly yellow teeth.

I took a deep breath to calm myself and began drawing again. A sketch of the horrid beast stared back at me. I hate that I have to look at it. I hate that it’s my duty to see these creatures when no one else can. I’m exhausted and haven’t slept in hours, but I have to finish my drawing. Eventually, this drawing will sit atop an ever growing pile of sketches and another creature will come along.

A terrible piercing pain shoots through my neck, but I grit my teeth and ignore it. The creature outside was stronger than the others had been. He beckoned me to come outside, just like the others had before him. But they hadn’t been strong enough to even attempt a gill manipulation. The pain in my neck had simmered to a dull throb. The creature and the others before him were seeking a prince, a ruler of their kingdom. But I refused their advances. I enjoy this new body of mine—human flesh is warm and pleasantly soft.

Scales never really did suit me.

 

 

 

Image credit goes to typofi.

 

Rainy Day by Michelle Kwajafa

The Art of Escape

Rain slammed against the pavement and collected into a puddle in front of Kevin Haller’s back porch. His lips clutched the filtered end of a Marlboro cigarette and he inhaled, filling his lungs with smoke and Nicotine. He slipped his index and middle fingers around the body of the cigarette and pulled it away from his mouth. When he exhaled, a cloud of smoke gusted from his lips and swirled in front of his face. Gray—the perfect word to describe his zombie-like state of life.

The hems of his pants were saturated with rain water, making the blue denim appear shades darker than the rest. Going indoors would serve no real purpose. There was no electricity inside, no heat, and no other person to share in his misery.

Lola had gone and she had taken every ounce of his happiness with her.

Kevin supposed it was his own fault. Without the drugs, the drinking, and the parties, he was half the man he used to be. Work seemed even longer, even harder when he was working to pay bills rather than to blow it all on Coke, Speed, or Meth. He was a shell of his former self; a hard, corroded, foul-smelling shell that apparently had not looked good hanging on Lola’s arm. She’d found someone else—someone younger and better looking— who didn’t need to rely on one of those little blue pills to bring his “A game” into the bedroom.

Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.

“Well, screw ya, Lola,” Kevin said aloud, his voice cold and gruff. “I hope you get Hepatitis.” Then again, Hepatitis was too good for her. “I hope your insides rot up and fall out, you stupid cu-”

The sudden ring of the cell phone lying next to him surprised him. It wouldn’t be long before the battery died with no way to charge it. Kevin picked up the abused piece of metal. His fingers glossed over the various scratches and scuffs it had acquired over the years. Several buttons were on the verge of falling off. It wasn’t fancy, or pretty. It was barely decent. But it was useful and served its purpose… most of the time.

It was him as a cell phone.

He pressed the phone against his ear, wincing slightly at how cold it was. “Yeah?” He hoped it was a bill collector. There were little things better than the much needed release of tension upon some poor college kid’s ear. Screw it. If anything the kid would learn to pay their own bills on time when he had some lonely, old, bastard screaming at him about how he just doesn’t have the money.

“Kev, you okay, buddy?” a concerned voice asked him from the other end of the phone.

“As happy as a virgin on prom night,” Kevin answered when he heard the familiar voice. It was Vincent Engler, the one person Kevin owed the most money too that wasn’t trying to collect on it or bash his skull in. Kevin had known Vincent since the two of them were fourteen and sneaking booze out of father’s bedroom drawer while he lay passed out and naked with barely legal women draped over him like living sheets.

“Glad to hear it,” Vincent replied. “A couple of guys and I are thinking about getting into something fun tonight. You in?”

“Not tonight, Vinny-boy. I have too much on my mind. I’ll catch the the next train.”

“Come on, Kev. It won’t be the same without you. Get out the house. Unwind, play some poker. Have a beer or two. I’m worried about you. You haven’t been the same since…” Since Lola left, Vincent silently finished.

“Later, Vince. Win a few hands for me, buddy.” Kevin ended the call and dropped the phone next to him. It plunged the short distance from his hand to the porch, smashing against the old wood and earning yet another scratch.

Kevin knew that Vincent was worried about him, and rightly so. It was no secret that he had the semi-automatic locked, loaded, and ready to go just in case life got too shitty for him. He was no stranger to taking the easy way out. He dropped out of school when he was sixteen. He gave up on the GED program when the coursework got too difficult. What harm would a bullet to the brain do him? Well, it would kill him, but what would be the harm in that? He’d be free from a life of never having anything, never being anything and never becoming anything. Born alone, die alone, as they say.

The cell phone rang again, a shrill echo of bells and melody in the calm of night. Kevin growled and snatched up the phone. “What?” he grumbled into the receiver, his fingers squeezing the cool metal in a viselike grip.

“Hmph, I thought you’d be dead by now,” a feminine and aloof voice stated when she heard the annoyance in Kevin’s tone.

“What the hell do you want, Lola? Done sucking the life out of that kid already? Damn you move fast.” Kevin smashed the cigarette onto the side railing of the porch. Ashes fluttered in the air like wings of a butterfly.

“Well, I’m certainly done sucking something that’s for sure,” was Lola’s taunting remark. “I can’t find the necklace my grandfather gave me. You haven’t seen it in that wasteland of a house of yours, have you?”

The necklace in question hung on the left bedpost of Kevin’s bed. It was a fourteen carat gold rope chain with a gaudy dragon charm whose eyes, tongue, and tail were rubies. Lola had always talked about how much she loved that charm. But she couldn’t have loved it that much if she had walked out without it. Finders keepers, losers can go straight to Hell.

“Haven’t seen it,” Kevin said

“You’re lying. I know it’s there and I’m not afraid to take you to court,” Lola threatened. “I’ll take you for everything you have, which is absolutely nothing. And how ironic, it’s also what you’re worth.”

“If you try, you’ll be even dumber than you look.”

“Is that what you go for, honey? The dumb ones?”

Kevin snorted and scooted further back onto the porch. The rain went from unforgiving to downright tortuous. It chose wind and fallen leaves as its allies and the three of them went around beating up the ugly, green, dumpster next to his back door, making the lid bang repetitively against the side of his house. “I went for you, didn’t I?”

“And where did that get you?” Lola asked.

A tired sigh escaped Kevin’s lips. He’d be lying to himself if he said he didn’t miss Lola or the sound of her voice. Even as a tweaker, Lola was beautiful. She dyed her hair to whatever color her mood reflected. She was blonde when Kevin had met her while working security backstage at a Rob Zombie concert. She was eighteen then and had no business being at a concert like that, but there she was; eyes like emeralds, hair the color of sand, and skin that looked like the  moon had been melted to create it. Kevin felt like he’d won the lottery the first night she slipped between the sheets of his bed, and the second, and the third.

“I ain’t seen your necklace, Lo. Sure you haven’t traded it to some dealer for a fix? You probably wouldn’t remember if you did though, would you?” He snickered while his eyes followed the path of a cockroach crawling its way onto the porch, undoubtedly trying to get away from the rain.

“You’re so pathetic,” Lola said, her voice a mixture between anger and despair. “Since you can’t have me, you want to hold onto the one thing I love more than anything in this world. You’re a loser, Kevin. You were then and you are now.”

Kevin plucked the cockroach from the porch and squint his eyes, watching its crackly, little, body go sailing through the air. At least he wasn’t the only one having a bad day.

“It was nice to hear your voice again,” Kevin admitted. “But I’m done with it just like I’m done with you. Try not to overdose. And if you do, try to do it while standing in front of a wood chipper.” He pressed a single button to end the call and finally stood up, ignoring the sounds of his knees popping. Half the time when he stood up or sat down, his joints sounded like someone opening an old door with rusty hinges.

He thought about everything that Lola had said and knew that she was right. He could have been the mature one. He should have been the mature one. He was the oldest, both mentally and physically. Why hold on to someone who doesn’t want you anymore? Why think about them? Dream about them? Why care? Kevin couldn’t figure out the answer to any of those questions. And if he couldn’t figure out a single answer, what was the point? It was time to do what he did best.

When the going gets tough, get the hell out of dodge.

His footsteps were quiet but sounded heavy with nothing else to drown them out. Cheap candles from the dollar store lit the path from the back door to his bedroom. The gun was where he’d left it, resting atop his nightstand next to his bed. Lola’s necklace hung several inches above it.

Kevin grabbed the necklace and let it dangle from the palm of his hand. With his free hand he picked up the gun. He sat down on the edge of his bed and closed his eyes. He wasn’t afraid of death and he wasn’t sure if he believed in Heaven or Hell. And as far as he was concerned, if they existed, well, God and Satan could fight over his soul if they wanted it.

The gun was just about as cold as the cell phone had been. The same cell phone that he’d left outside on the porch. Not that he gave a crap about it. He let his fingers dance along the steel, feeling each individual groove as he weighed his options. Option number one was the hardest. Stick it out and be a man. Go to work. Pay bills, pay loans, pay co-workers, pay friends. Waste away to nothing but a man who lived to work and worked to work. Option two was death. Short, simple, and easy. A pull of a trigger, the blaze of a bullet through his temple, blood as warm as a hot spring rolling down the side of his face, and finally peace.

Kevin put the gun to his head and closed his eyes. He waited for awhile, but wasn’t quite sure what he was waiting for. Perhaps he was waiting on a sign; a sign to end it all or a sign to keep going on with his so called life.

“Ya’ got five minutes,” he said to no one in particular. “If you don’t decide, I’ll decide for you.”

The minutes ticked passed and not a single thing happened in the dark quietness of his bedroom. Annoyed that the decision was left up to him, Kevin sat the gun back down on the nightstand and rose up from the bed. He stood there in his bedroom, staring at the single candle that gave off the only source of light and sighed quietly. Still holding onto the necklace, he walked over to his closet and found a gray duffel bag.

He moved over to his dresser drawer and shoved enough clothes inside it to last him for a week. He grabbed his leather wallet from off the top of the dresser and tossed that into the bag as well. Finally, he tossed the necklace and gun inside of it. He made sure to empty the gun of its bullets first, letting them fall onto the floor and roll beneath the bed.

His first stop would be the pawn shop at the corner of 6th Street and Hardy Avenue. He’d sell the gun and the necklace and use the money he got for them for a bus ticket. He didn’t have a place in mind. It didn’t need to be someplace extraordinary. It only had to be far enough for him to forget that he ever existed in this town—a new state, a new town, a new home, a new life.  It would still be running. He would still be taking the easy way out. But hell, it wasn’t like he’d asked to have so many problems and it wasn’t his fault that he’d ended up being so good at running away from them. Why mess up a good thing?

He had an hour to get to the pawn shop before they closed and a glance out the window told him that the rain had stopped. If the bus was on schedule it would be there in less than ten minutes. He had a dollar and fifty cent in change in his back pocket. It would cover the fare for a one way trip on the city bus. Kevin considered that as good a sign as any other.

Ants by Aneslin Subash

Ants

During the summer I don’t eat in my room on account of the ants. Every time I try a gigantic family of them somehow manages to find their way inside. Last night I had a soda. I didn’t finish it, so I sat it on the trunk at the foot of my bed. When I woke there were ants crawling all over the can and the wall next to it. I stared at them as they marched about and imagined them having a picnic or maybe a family reunion.

Climbing off of my bed, I made my way into the bathroom to wash up. Turning on the tap, I waited for the water to run warm. I soaked my washcloth, rung it out, and then scrubbed my face harder than necessary. Even as a child, I had always hoped that if I scrubbed hard enough, a new face would appear—a better face.

So far it’s been useless.

After brushing my teeth, I stepped back into my room holding my washcloth. The ants were still there, still enjoying their picnic of free ginger ale and whatever crumbs might have been lying on my floor.

I wonder if they’re happy.

They probably are. Most creatures are happy when they’re nourishing themselves. I moved closer to the wall, watching carefully as tiny specks of black descend along its surface. It’s amazing really. There are so many ants, but there’s order among them. They move in a perfect line. There’s no ant off to the side calling out orders while he sips a caramel macchiato and plans his vacation to Maui. They’re all working together.

Without much though, I press my damp washcloth against the wall and successfully smash a couple of ants at the end of the line. I drag my hand downward, slowly squashing the others, watching with interest as some of them veer off to the left or right in hopes of escape.

I wonder what they’re thinking.

There’s complete chaos among them. The order is gone. Their brothers and sisters are dying. They fear for their own lives. What’s happening? Why? They’re probably thinking this while the ants on the soda can are happily getting their fill. They have no idea of the destruction taking place mere inches away from them. Or maybe they do and simply don’t care. They’re happy and full and that’s all that matters.

Ants are a lot like humans.

I continue to swipe the cloth along the wall, capturing every ant in a web of damp cotton fabric. When not a single ant remains, I take the cloth and the can and bring them both into the bathroom. I set the can in the sink, doing my best not to disturb any of the ants. Afterward, I turn on the tap and rinse out the cloth. Most of the ants are dead. The ones that have managed to live will continue to do so if they can swim. I let the rush of faucet water rinse the insects—dead and living—down the drain. I do the same to the can. They slide along the porcelain bottom of the sink and down into the depths of darkness, racing towards a watery burial like the others.

I wonder what they’re thinking now.

I rinsed out the can and tossed it into the trash along with the washcloth. I don’t need it anyway. There’s a blood stain on it—the results of another day of rigorous scrubbing.

Barren House Julia Starr

Hoarder

Aunt Lily-Anne has a messy house. Heaps of clothes cover the floor, creating a nice warm spot for roaches and rats to hide. Boxes of various sizes are stacked high to the ceiling. Sometimes when she walks past them, they sway back and forth, threatening to topple over and fall onto a collection of broken patio chairs. When I was younger, I hated visiting Aunt Lily-Anne. The smell of sewage sludge in her bathroom mixed with the stench of rotting food made my nostrils burn. I felt sick from the moment I walked through her front door and didn’t feel better until I was home, safe inside my bedroom where I could see my floor, the walls, and the television.

But, that was years ago. I’m older now—almost sixteen—and much more aware of who Aunt Lily-Anne is—or rather what she is. Mom, Aunt Lily-Anne’s sister, told me that Aunt Lily-Anne is a hoarder. Mom said that hoarding is a disease and that Aunt Lily-Anne needs help to overcome it. For years, she has been trying to convince Aunt Lily-Anne to get counseling, but Aunt Lily-Anne refuses, so mom doesn’t visit her anymore. “She’ll come around,” Mom would say, “when she realizes that her family won’t come see her because of this mess, she’ll get help. I know it.”

Mom seems to have the answer to every problem.

Mom really thinks that staying away from Aunt Lily-Anne will force her to seek help, but I know better. Aunt Lily-Anne will never get counseling. She won’t ever decide that enough is enough and get rid of all the junk that fills her house. I call it “junk” because that’s what it is. A psychologist on a television show once said that the non-hoarder sees trash, but to the hoarder, it’s all valuable treasure. Hoarders have been through some type of loss and fear losing more—a woman doesn’t want to throw out the sneakers full of holes because those were the shoes she was wearing when her now-deceased husband proposed to her, or a man cannot even consider tossing out a baby blanket riddled in dirt and covered in mold because it once belonged to his only son who died while serving his country.

Uncle John, Aunt Lily-Anne’s husband, disappeared one day without so much a single goodbye. Most people assumed that Aunt Lily-Anne held onto all of the stuff inside her house because she sees it as tokens of memories from the life she shared with her husband before he left. Many people believe that Aunt Lily-Anne knows, deep down, that the things she hoards is nothing more than junk. She often acquires even the most soiled of items and throws them into the steaming compost her house has become. She buys fresh food only to leave it in the middle of the kitchen floor, which only serves to keep the rats and roaches coming back for more. People assume that her behavior is  a cry for help. The trouble with assumptions is that they’re not always correct.

Aunt Lily-Anne is a lot of things, but she is not a hoarder.

“Alexander, boy, quit your daydreaming and get your buns over here. Can’t you see we have work to do?” Aunt Lily-Anne barked impatiently.

I pulled my eyes away from the dead cat lying next to the bed in Aunt Lily’s spare bedroom. Aunt Lily-Anne stormed into the room and glared at me, hands on her hips. Her gray eyebrows, speckled with white, were knitted close together and resembled a caterpillar resting on her face.

“What do you want me to do, auntie?” I asked.

“What do you think I want to do, boy? Get ‘em off the bed so I can get rid of the sheets.”

I turned my attention away from Aunt Lily-Anne and over to the bed. Atop the worn-out mattress was a man just as dead as the cat. I wrapped my hands around his cold ankles and gingerly walked backward, trying to not trip over anything. The body made a sickening thud as it hit the garbage-laden floor.

“Good. Now go and get those bags. Hurry up now, boy.” Aunt Lily-Anne stepped over to the body and shooed me out of the room.

“Okay, auntie.” I answered.

Upon leaving, I heard Aunt Lily-Anne hum Pachelbel’s Cannon in D Major. She was once an amazing pianist. Her fingers would glide over the keys with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel.

Now, she kills people.

Aunt Lily-Anne has a house filled with stuff, but she is not a hoarder. She’s a serial killer. When you really think about it, being a hoarder is a good cover for a serial killer. No one ever wants to come over because the house is disgusting and the smell is putrid. You’re free to murder and destroy the evidence at your leisure. The chances of someone ever finding out are slim and the smell of death is hidden by the smell of rotting garbage. That was how Aunt Lily-Anne murdered Uncle John and the six other people she has murdered, including the man in the spare room.

If hoarding is a serious behavioral condition in which people hold onto those things that others would consider worthless, serial killing must be the complete opposite. After all, what could be more valuable than a person’s life? They say hoarding sometimes runs in families. I wonder if the same can be said for serial killers.

I wonder if Mom has the answer for that one, too.