Category Archives: Prose

DTP 9: Beneath an Endless Duet

“Once more into the fray.”

They spoke in unison, their voices harmonizing as they moved simultaneously. Two blades, one dark and one pale, moved like two parallel shards of utter nothingness and pure starlight respectively, rising, falling, and twisting on twilit air.

The feminine one looked to their masculine counterpart. “Jinx,” the dark one said.

The pale one rolled eyes heavenward. “I was just about to say that,” the masculine one grumbled with a small smile.

The rattle and growl of the gray legion that circled them enveloped the feminine one’s answering quip, drowning word and thought as the opposition spoke with one voice as well. The issued command vibrated the fabric of reality and sent body-aching tremors through the pair: “JOIN. JOIN. JOIN.”

“No,” Pale said simply.

“Better to be at war than to feel nothing,” Dark added.

“ALONE. ALONE. ALONE.” The rally cry of the legion. The observation of their host.

Dark looked to their partner and the masculine one nodded gravely.

“We are not alone,” they said.

“DIE. DIE. DIE,” the gray ones said and, bearing tooth and claw, they swarmed together like the aperture of a camera, swallowing the two in a photograph to last the ages. Dark and Pale were back-to-back, sweat trickling down their faces, their hair whipped by currents controlled by their most hated adversary: the loss of individuality.

Teeth gnashed. Battle cries clashed. Shards flashed.

Love does not really exist, the gray ones taught.

Love does not really exist to you lot, the mirror preached.

To the end, Love, in either respect, would not be respected by either party in the end.

Forged in war, the partners would not last past the settling of the smoke. Their love would not survive past the final drop of blood. Dark and Pale sought ultimate refuge away from the routine and lack of complexity found in the Masse of the Gray, but they had already found that sanctuary in each other. Perhaps they simply refused to acknowledge it, secretly knowing that the admittance of their folly would destroy the fragile dream they had imagined together.

The truth was, peace would never be had between them unless they were at war, and there would be no more war after the legion was destroyed. Their last adversaries would fall to their defiance of the twilit natural order, and the two of them would turn on each other, knowing no other way to exist; no other way to live; and no other way to love…

That is the true pity of it all.

Downtown Platinum (c)2017 Karin Mayville 
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Hug Everything (and Make it Awkward)

I cut my teeth on Choose-your-own Adventure stories.
I always cheated.
My books filled with sticky notes and warnings.
“Turn back,” in an eleven-year-old scrawl,
“or you’ll go over a waterfall!”
I loved those dire consequences, but
I couldn’t bear an unhappy ending.
Those other tragic endings were meant for
kids that were resigned to failure–
children that give up on trying again.
My then-best friend only called me dishonest.
Maybe she wasn’t wrong.

I can’t accept hopelessness.
I’ve drug myself through fire storms
and come out bloodied and transformed
and have still managed to smile.
I have to. No one else will.

I am not my favorite person.
I want to rip apart the world.
I want to dissect beautiful, sad people.
I want to run my hand over the sky
and kiss all its intimate parts;
run my tongue against tree bark
and put my face into the fur of a dog.
I want to blow kisses at strangers
and help old ladies with their groceries.
I want to tell that kid sitting on the bench
that his mom will be right back.
I want to smile at bus drivers.

I need to run in a cold rain;
sleep naked under the stars.
I need to lay in the arms of some one
I don’t know very well… but should.
I need to tell my family that I love them every day.
I need to scream during lightning storms–
eat food that’s bad for me–
dream of things that will never exist.

I shiver in the dark.
I drink too much.
I don’t write enough.
I don’t post-it note everything anymore.
I don’t want to regret what I did for him.
I’m scared I’ll fall out of love with the world one day.
Everyone else seems to have fallen out…
So why haven’t I?

I love all these dire consequences.
Let some one in and they can destroy you.
Push too much and you can destroy someone else.
You can do your best and it can all amount to nothing.

You could fall in love.
You could find your purpose.
You could realize your dreams.
You could forgive someone who doesn’t deserve it.

I can’t bear the thought of an unhappy ending.
Those tragic endings are meant for
people that are content to be miserable…
But I have not given up
trying over and over again.
Neither should you.

Baked Salmon: A Recipe for Inebriation and New Curtains

The curtains look like some Dali painting; waves of blue pulled over a sleepy sunrise. Turning my head this way and that, they appear like the roiling tides–frothing with foam (or off-white synthetic lace.)

I don’t want to leave my bed.

I make up a story about a warrior leaving home. I have left home. I am that warrior. The curtains rock my ship. A mast above me splinters into a thousand pieces and comes crashing down like timber. The swollen wood chunks would have blinded me had I not already been ducking my head for the rain and the brine.

The smell of blackpowder fills the air. There is another explosion, and the light blinds me for a brief moment. I gasp and suck in water. Coughing, I only just recover. Then, I look up to see a dreadful sight on the horizon: a black flag. And below it, a sinister-looking vessel.

Pirates!

My blankets are jerked away with a ferocious quickness that nearly stops my heart as cold at the sudden exposure. “Morning…” The greeting squeezes up and out from somewhere beneath the resentment.

He dashes my blanket to the ground with the finesse of a bull fighter. He crosses his arms, just the same. “Pirates again?”

“We need new curtains,” I tell him. My mind still hasn’t returned from the sea. I can still faintly smell the cannon fire and taste the brine. I am that warrior. I have left home.

“You need a different comparison,” he says thoughtfully, riffling through my dresser for smalls. He smells like hard soap and pine. He reminds me of the mountains that I miss. He’s never been to the north. He grew up on the flatlands and in the swamps. “How about… They look like curtains.” He chuckles.

I roll my eyes at him. He passes clothing to me and I unwillingly get dressed. “Waves are appropriate. They’re blue.”

“If they were red, would it be lava?” he wonders, pulling shoes on.

“Mm,” I say. “Lava… Hawaii, then. Better than pirates. More rum, less cannon fire. What time is it?”

“We’re not going to get rum,” he says with a laugh, cutting me to the quick.

“New curtains then. Brown?”

“Shit. Waves of shit on the windows,” he replies.

“What about a pattern then?” I suggest.

“Pasleys? Pastel pasleys?” He picks up my blanket and smooths it back over the queen.

I retreat to the bathroom, calling over my shoulder, “Like salmon? Salmon pasleys?” I make a gagging noise.

“Ugh, I’m hungry,” he says. “Salmon sounds good…”

I grimace. “For curtains?” I say through toothpaste.

“For food! Rum and brown sugar marinade over the top, crystallizing. Oh God…” He shudders and I laugh.

“So…” I begin, putting my hair up. “Rum?”

The product of a union between a dismissive snort and a gasp of revelation shoots out from behind his teeth. He lifts a hand to say no, but then he barks a laugh. “It’s noon, by the way,” he says. “We’re only getting some to cook with though.”

I step out of the bathroom, slipping into sandles. “In that case, I’ll grab the fixings for long islands too.” I kiss him on the cheek on the way out of the room.

“No, you won’t,” he says to me with his eyes on the heavens, silently begging.

“Until we get new curtains, it doesn’t seem we have a choice,” I say suggestively.

When I look back at him, he’s squinting at me. “Spiced rum. Burgundy curtains.”

“Yum,” I declare. “More of an excuse!” I grab his hand and we start for the front door.

Outside, fitting his key into the deadbolt, he pauses for a moment, a notion striking him slow. “Rum curtains make an ocean of rum… Good God. Super pirates!”

“Severely drunk pirates,” I say with wide eyes. “Drunk fish!”

“Rum tributaries! Rum rivers!” He starts shaking his head, laughing politely. Then, as he pulls his key from the door, his eyes narrow in discovery. He looks to me with growing excitement. “Pre-rum-ified salmon!”

“Just add brown sugar; bake at 350 for 26 minutes!” I bark between fits of laughter, grabbing my his arm as we carelessly waltz to the car.

I am that warrior that has left home. I don’t plan to return.

Peachy-keen

Life is just peachy, isn’t it?
Not absolutely.
Sometimes it is hard.
Sometimes it is cruel.
Often it is unbearable.
The world spins behind your eyes.
Words get trapped in your dreams.
Your family, estranged.
The drink, enticing.
The cloak of dark, comforting.
But the world is not without its hopes.
The darkness exists to remind us:
Life is peachy
but even peaches have their pits.

Penny

My grandmother’s garden was a piece of Utopia. When I was little, that sixteenth of an acre was my own little kingdom of magic and mystery. Grandma would pull the lady lip flowers from their vine and, with the assistance of toothpicks, create little flower people to populate my world.

There was a giant, petrified mushroom in that backyard. At three feet in diameter and about two feet in height, the fungus was mottled brown and had a hole at the base of it where a ground squirrel lived. My grandma told me it was a fairy in its own way. I smile, thinking about it now.

The summer of my fifth year, I made my first best friend in that garden. Her name was Penny Carstova and she lived in the house next door. The backyards of both houses were linked by a gate set in the dividing fence. I remember very vividly that the brief glimpses I managed to get at Penny’s own secret garden hinted at her wealthy upbringing.

Regardless, we instantly bonded in the magic of my grandmother’s garden. Penny was almost as imaginative as I was, but she was much smarter and wiser. Between the two of us, my grandmother’s invisible fairy kingdom came to life. As suddenly as we have become the best of friends, Penny became a royal fairy advisor and I had transformed into a fairy knight and royal guard.

Years passed by and the both of us went our separate ways in school. But that didn’t keep us apart for terribly long. Even through middle school, I knew that if I ever needed a smile or an ear to talk off, I could just knock on the red, wooden gate and Penny would inevitably be there.

We grew up together for all intents and purposes. She wasn’t my only friend, but she was certainly one of the best. I wouldn’t have minded indulging in a magical lifelong friendship with her. She was that genuine of a person… But I suppose words like lifelong and magical have shady definitions at times–often as shady as the “fairy” hole beneath that giant, rotted mushroom at the heart of that mystic garden–and things like Time and Fate have no substance.

When my parents split, I moved far away and lost contact with Penny for a couple years or so. Upon visiting my grandmother the following summer, I made it my mission to knock on the fence and meet with Penny like we used to. She had once been a constant presence in my life, and I needed a taste of that old stability again. I’d tell her all about the things I’d been through, and all the things I’d seen, because I knew she would understand. She always had some kind of advice.

But when I knocked, no one answered. I gave another tap on the gate, but still no one came to reply. Worried and curious, I used a stick to pop the gate’s latch through a space between the wood planks. The door swung inward. With a chest-rattling bang, the gate hit the backside of the fence and exposed the tangled, dying overgrowth that blanketed the backyard that was situated next to my grandmother’s well-managed garden.

At first, I was confused. The yard looked like it hadn’t seen water in years. The house to the East was in bad shape. It had all the obvious signs of having been abandoned for years–maybe even a decade.

Disappointed and morose, I returned to my grandmother’s house. I popped the question that had been itching at me all day later that evening at dinner. “Hey Granma… Did Penny move?” I asked her after most of the meal had been consumed.

Over her wine, she gave me a funny look. “Who?”

“Penny, Granma–Penny Carstova. You know, the one I used to play with whenever I was over here…”

My grandmother shrugged, saying she didn’t know any Penny. “Oh, but doesn’t that bring back memories,” she said with a tipsy smile. “You used to think you were a fairy queen’s royal knight or something–made me laugh so hard when you’d run around out in the yard, shouting orders at your knights and whatnot.” I didn’t say anything to that, but I rolled my eyes and figured that she probably just couldn’t remember.

That same night, unnerved that I couldn’t get a definite answer from my grandmother, I asked my mother about the same on the car ride home. “Ma, you remember my old friend, Penny, don’t you?”

“You talked about her all the time–how could I forget?” she replied with a small smile.

“Well I don’t think she lives next to Granma anymore, but when I asked about it, Granma said she didn’t know…” I relayed to her.

My mother narrowed her eyes in thought and pulled out her phone. She dialed my grandmother as I came to find out. Holding the phone to one shoulder, she said, “Ma. Hey… Yeah, we’re almost home. Listen, do you remember that Penny girl who Bleu used to play with?” There was a moment’s pause and then my mother said, “No need to get all defensive, Ma, it was just a question. If you don’t remember, that’s just fine… Just a second.” She glanced at me and asked, “What was her last name again?”

“Carstova, Ma.”

My mother didn’t say anything for a long time. She just stared at me and blinked a few times. Then she slowly spoke into the chattering phone, “Dunno why I didn’t… Ma, didn’t Penny Carstova and you used to play cards?” I gave her a weird look as she continued to stare at me as much as she could while driving and holding the phone to her shoulder. “Yeah,” my mother said, “That’s what I was afraid you’d say… Thanks, Ma. Yeah, I’ll call you later.” Then she hung up.

My mother slowed down and pulled us onto the shoulder where she parked. It took her a moment to collect her thoughts before she said to me, “Penny Carstova doesn’t live in the house next to your granma’s anymore.” There was a pit in my stomach that had been there since I had discovered the current state of Penny’s backyard. At my mother’s coaxing, it had risen up into my throat and had begun to expand. “In fact…” my mother continued. Her eyes were fixed to mine and her expression was empty of emotion. “… Penny hasn’t lived there for almost thirteen years now.”

“What?” I blurted. “That’s not possible though–I’ve been playing with her since I was little, Ma, you know that! I mean, I heard her mom call her and we talked about school and we protected the mushroom together and had a sleep-overs in the gazebos and…”

My mother was shaking her head at me. “I know…” she said, measured and even. Then she took a deep breath and she said, “Penny Carstova was an old widow that Granma used to visit all the time… but she died a long time ago, Sweety. Nobody’s lived in that house since.” The pit in my throat exploded and the shards embedded themselves in my neck and chest.

There isn’t one word for what I felt then. There are almost too many emotions to account for. (Confusion and loss. Fear and fascination. Denial… but also a quiet acceptance.) Penny Carstova had been a girl my age with a big imagination and an even bigger heart. She always went home before sundown and I’m sure she ate all her vegetables. Her favorite color was yellow and her most prized possession was a black, leather headband her father had given her for Christmas one year. She went to a private school and had a crush on a boy named Steven Jordans. She had the prettiest dark brown hair that curled around her big, doe eyes.

She had been one of my best longtime friends. She died before I was born.

Lanna the Addict

My best friend Den always used to tell me that no man in his right mind would be able to resist the charms of Lanna Billings. He was mostly right about that. If I hadn’t been tripping, I might have been unable to stop her from taking me away for a night.

Lanna was a dream, she was. Big doe eyes set in a brunette skull atop a curvacious body that begged to be serviced. She asked for it with those endowments of hers. And her eyes asked for more. She swallowed you whole with those big eyes of hers. She pulled at your heart… and most of the time, she managed to rip it from your chest.

But I had been tripping when my time came. I saw her through an inebriated filter and the goddess looked nothing like her priests so reverently preached. Her lips were too full and inviting–too cumbersome. Her hips were too wide, her ass was too small, and her nose was too close to her brow. She was so devilishly flawed, I almost laughed in her face.

And there I was about to refuse her. And I did refuse her. And Den would later call me crazy and an idiot, but he didn’t know. He didn’t know what she’d done after I refused her. That’s the trick, ya see.

Because the goddess was used to the sacrifices made in her name–the flesh given to her without thought–that she was absolutely insulted by my assertion that she wasn’t good enough for even me. You can imagine a proud woman like that wouldn’t care much for a man like me, or my drunken opinion, but that’s where you’d be wrong. The stranger’s opinion meant the most to her. The ton‘s appreciation had to be absolute with her, otherwise, what had been the point of all that work she’d put in for the sake of her reputation?

She switched character like you wouldn’t have believed. She put on another face–coy and seducing disappeared to be replaced by assertive and domineering. But I thought she was rude, so I rejected her again. And she didn’t like that, so she cried about it and begged my forgiveness. I saw through that too and waved her off. I left the bar by that point. Lanna followed after me, pissed off to Hell and raging at my stupidity.

“There are plenty more targets back in that place, if ya wanna give up,” I told her in a low, slurred tone. In all honesty, I would have been relieved if she gave up. Then, by golly, I’d have one helluva story to tell the boys.

“And risk not seeing the one decent man in this place go home all alone?” she replied with a manipulative deftness that almost made me believe she had every good intention of doing right by me. But again, I refused her, and again, she pursued me.

We went on like that for almost an hour, her trying again and again to get through to me. I lit a cigarette and finished it to pass the time. Finally, what really bothered me about the whole thing finally came out as I began to sober up. “Why me?” I asked her, interrupting whatever sale she was trying to make at the time. I lit another cigarette.

It cut her off pretty effectively. I guess she hadn’t really been focusing on me–only the acquisition of another body; another name she could cross off her wishlist. Her flustered expression tightened into frustration and she stabbed a finger into my chest, rocking me slightly. The ash off the tip of my cherry landed on her finger and she pulled away without noticing. “Because you’re different,” she said.

“Because I’m difficult, you mean,” I replied unthinkingly. “Because I’m a challenge.”

She actually mulled that one over. “Maybe… Yeah.”

I took a long drag off my second fag and leaned against my car. “I’ve said it before. You’d have more luck with one o’ the fellas back in the bar, Lanna.”

“I don’t know your name,” she said with an accusatory tone.

I threw up my arms. “What the hell are you doing out here, sister?! You don’t even know my damn name and you’re trying to convince me to sleep with you! That’s really reassuring, you know that?” I laughed a little and said quietly, “Everybody knows your name, Miss Billings.”

She shrugged and joined me in my reclining. She crossed her arms and let out a slow breath. “You coulda said you weren’t lookin’ for any,” she said slowly.

“I did… multiple times, Babe.”

She sighed again and tucked a loose strand of dark behind an ear. “You wanna just talk then?”

“No taste for it anymore?” I wondered out loud.

Lanna shook her head. “To be honest, I’ve kinda gotten sick of it.”

“Why not stop then?”

“Kinda like alcohol. You have bad times every now and then and you tell yourself, ‘No more! From now on, I’ll do less and I’ll try to get right.'” She smirked at the thought. “But alcoholics say that all the time, and if they can’t get help from somebody, then they look for help in familiar places, like in the bottom of a bottle… and they never find it.

“It’s a vicious addiction. Sex, I mean.”

I took a drag. “I can imagine,”  I said with a raised eyebrow in thought. “So… what’re ya gonna do?”

“I dunno. Thinking about running away. Maybe going somewhere where nobody knows me.”

“That’s pretty drastic, don’tcha think? I mean, what’s the real wrong that you’ve done here? What are you trying to get outta life that you can’t get here?” I spit. “What I mean is, Lanna. If this really is a vicious addiction you can’t get help with… then how do you suppose changing what’s around you is going to change what’s inside you?

I felt Lanna’s hypnotizing eyes on me and I was drawn to her gaze. Our eyes locked for a moment and moisture began to build under her brown irises. She didn’t say anything for a long time; just stared at me in not an uncomfortable way. At long last she took one of my hands and pressed it to her cheek for just a moment. Her face and her hand were both warm even in the summer night’s cool air; skin as smooth as the creamy silk they compared it to. Then she let me go and turned as if she were leaving for good. Maybe she was, in hindsight.

I flicked my dying cig onto the dirt and twisted my boot toe into it. “My name’s Bleuregard Jason,” I called after her. She stopped in her tracks and turned her head a little to regard me. “Friends call me Blue Jay.”

She smiled then and the light from the bar reflected white light off the tears on her cheeks–the tears that she’d tried to hide from me by turning her back. “See you around, Blue Jay. I hope I see you around, anyway.”

And me seeing her then was probably the last anyone ever saw of Lanna Billings again. My best friend Den always used to tell me that no man in his right mind would be able to resist the charms of Lanna, the goddess. He was mostly right about that. If I hadn’t been tripping, I might have been unable to stop her from taking me away for that night. But I had been.