Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Of Phantoms and Lesbars

     I woke up in a haze, my brain as foggy as the apparition that I'd discovered in my kitchen the night before. Rain tumbles from the sky as I struggle to regain consciousness. I can hear it pummeling the streets of Collingwood, along with... Quacking? How odd. Fuzzy blobs replaced familiar objects in my room as I stood up, owing to the fact that I'd gotten about an hour of sleep. "Ow!"  A sudden pain shot through my foot as it slammed against the box-spring under my mattress. As I entered my bathroom, I stumbled more than usual due to the injury to my big toe. Upon inspection of my face, once my vision cleared, I noticed that the slash had not yet closed fully. I should go to the free clinic. My train of thought was interrupted by the sound of a twinkly song from my bedroom. I hobble-ran back to my bed and quickly flipped open my phone. "Hello?" The voice that answered was vivacious and I recognized it immediately. "Aria, hi! How are you holding up, kid?" I started grinning like an idiot at the sound of my aunt's voice, causing my cheek to erupt in pain. "I've been better, but I've definitely been worse." Her voice became only half a notch less exited when she replied. "Well, I just called to let you know that I'm finally back in town. I'm sorry I wasn't here to help you move in, but family required my presence." The way my aunt said family, I knew immediately who she meant. My aunt Tav only used that tone of voice when talking about her sister. My mother. Only one question escaped my mouth. "Did she mention me at all?" Silence for a moment, then, "No. Sorry, hon." My gaze dropped to the floor. "Oh." My aunt's voice picked up its usual vim and vigor right away. "Why don't you swing by? I'd love the company."  "Sure, but I need to take care of some things first." I raised a hand to my face, the wound stinging as I did so. We said our goodbyes and hung up.
     It was nearly 2 PM before I left Collingwood Heights. Days off of work ruined my internal schedule. I had patched my face as best I could, but it was still obvious that I hadn't had a good night. And I wasn't having a good day either. Rain still gushed from the sky. And, to explain the quacking from that, the streets were full of enormous ducks, some pursued down the almost-rivers which were usually roads by children. My eyes caught sight of something across the street. No... Gray and foggy, just like the thing from the night before, its appearance sent my heart pounding and head spinning. A twisting sensation appeared in my gut and I turned and bolted, not caring where I ended up.
     As it turned out, my feet lead me to the cemetery, which is not the place to go if you are hoping to avoid ghosts. I span around to go back when something on the crumbling stone wall caught my eye. Faded purple spray paint. I had caught wind of a tagger around town and even seen some of their work on buildings and such. We are never truly alone. My heart jolted into my throat and I leaped back. Over the wall, another gray figure appeared. This time I saw a face, hollow and gray, but still a being that had obviously once been human. Every instinct I had told me to run, scream, hide. Yet something held me there, gazing into empty eyes, empty eyes gazing into who knows what depths of me. Before I could act on any curiosities, however, the specter vanished and I scurried away.
     My aunt lived in one of the brownstones near the Green Giant. The door numbers had faded beyond recognition, but a directory stood at the entrance. Octavia Salem, #39. The one closest to the grocery store. My feet could not carry me fast enough. And Tav couldn't open the door quickly enough when I knocked. The first words out of her mouth were "Gods and monsters, Aria, what in the name of all things happened to your face?" I struggled to find an answer that wouldn't reveal the true nature of my escapade by the lake. "I was... um... walking by the lake and... um... I tripped and scratched my face on a broken bottle." My aunt had a sideways smile on her face when I finished that told me she knew exactly what I meant. "Let me make a wild guess," she said through laughter, "This has something to do with Alice?" I felt my face grow hot. Damn it. I should have known she'd figure me out: Tav knew full well I was a witch. I nodded, unease filling my chest. My aunt continued. "You were looking for clues?" "No," I said trying to remain calm. "You were casting a spell to try and find out what happened to the poor kid?" "No." She stared at me in puzzlement and I almost laughed at the thought that I'd stumped her. Suddenly, realization dawned across her face. "You were casting a spell to summon the spirit of the dead girl?" Crap. It was easy to forget that I wasn't the only member of my family involved in magic. "Yeah..." She stared at me hard. "And let me guess, it went horrendously wrong." I nodded. "Pretty much, how did you know?" "You reek of magic and ghosts, Aria," she said, "Tell me what happened." I recounted the entire incident so far, giggling at the ridiculousness of all that had happened. And as with every time I saw my aunt I left feeling better than when I'd arrived. 
      It was pitch dark as I approached Collingwood Heights, definitely past midnight. The continuous rain plastered my black fringe to my face, forcing it into an intimate relationship with my eyes and completely covering the slapdash bandaging job I'd done. Before I reached Collingwood Heights, I took note of a small building just next door. The flickering sign read "Hot Legs." Curiosity overrode exhaustion and I approached the door. The letters "21 and Over ONLY" were plastered on the door, but were so faded I could hardly tell. It didn't seem as though this rule were being enforced, so I decided to check the place out, curiosity destroying any common sense I might have used in the moment. I glanced around. Two older women, sat at a table, drinks in hand. At the bar, a woman shouted at a guy who looked to be about thirty, telling him to get out. I realized where I was. This was a lesbian bar. The former part of that was all good, but the "bar" part pushed me out of my depth. My heart pounded as I watched the woman leave her post and exit through a back door. I left more quickly than I'd entered. The single remaining couple followed suit. 
    I ran into the woman who had been working at the bar outside the apartment building. She acknowledged me with a brusque nod, raising a cigarette to her lips. I hurried inside, feeling the exhaustion of the day catching up to me. As I walked down the hallway of the 6th floor, I only just noticed the gray figure turning the corner ahead of me. 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Of Questions and Apparitions

     What were my options? I needed money, needed to satisfy my burning curiosity about the drowned girl, needed a human friend. I paced my living room again and again, thoughts churning my mind. Off days were nice, but the time alone with my thoughts could be very unsettling. I need to get out. I'd been holed up in Room 666 since I got home after work yesterday. 24 hours. I need someone. Freija rubbed against my leg. I reached down to scratch her behind the ears, her purrs making my entire being feel warm. I need to know what happened to that girl. I glanced at the flyers on my table. I had to find a reason to leave the apartment or I was going to go completely batshit. fundraiser for the drowned girl's funeral. Too sad. Dog festival. Too much of a crazy cat lady. I sighed, and decided to lurk around town until dark. I had nothing better to do. 
     Where could I go? The time on my phone read 2:04 PM. Several hours until dusk. I walked to the lake, though summoning the drowned girl in broad daylight seemed inadvisable, if it would even work. Nighttime seemed so much more appropriate for the morbid task. I shuffled along the overgrown path, the small, algae covered lake oddly peaceful. "Okay, what do I need for this?" I muttered. Footsteps. I began to recite what I would need for the difficult spell. I knew full well that finances were more important, but as was my habit, I decided to let even more broke future me deal with that. Crunch, crunch. I was so absorbed in my monologue that I didn't notice a large man come up beside me. I barely held in a scream. He told me in an all-too-excited manner that the dog park would probably be closed for the day. I froze, not knowing what to say. I nodded and walked away quickly, annoyance crossing my brow. Fuck. How am I still so damn awkward at 19? I resumed my list, adding now where I would get each item.
     Who was she? I crouched by the lake. It was nearly 9 in the evening. The sun was long gone. I had set up a candle behind some small bushes near the dead end of baker street, burning flowers and the like in the tiny flame, talking softly into the air. I wanted so badly for this one spell to work. My hopes seemed to be in vain as I finished the chant and nothing happened. And then I was flattened by a bright magical shockwave. 
     Why didn't it work? I sat up slowly, my heart pounding, my right cheek stinging. I put a hand up to the area and it came away covered in blood. I pulled out my phone and flipped it open, looking at the ground where I had fallen in its dim light. Something shiny and sharp stuck up out of the ground. It looked like a fragment of a beer bottle. I looked around, no ghosts in sight. I tasted blood now, and to make things worse, the stupid spell hadn't even worked. My head spun, but I dragged myself to my feet, gathered my things and walked home, sneaking in to my own apartment building through the parking area and the back stairs.
     How did I even do that to myself? I looked in the mirror in my bathroom, inspecting the wound. A slash right under my cheekbone, bleeding still. Even without the cut I would have looked pretty awful. I had sticks and leaves in my hair, dirt smudges everywhere, a few bruises forming. This would be interesting to explain. I began the long process of cleaning myself up enough to go to bed.
     What the hell was that?! I stood against the bathroom door in horror. Something had made a noise in the kitchen. No. No fucking way. My heart pounded like it was going to burst out. I tiptoed out of the bathroom, sharply aware of how much noise my flannel pajamas were making. Clink. I froze just outside the doorway, shaking violently. Finally, I mustered every bit of courage I had and peeked around the doorframe. I screamed, loudly and shrilly enough to probably wake the neighbors. There, in my kitchen, was a person. A very grey and translucent person. A person who evaporated into nothing before I could even comprehend their form.
     Where did I go wrong?

Friday, August 7, 2015

Of Pink Cats and Dead Girls

     The day started with a soft paw patting my face, my cat Cleopatra trying to wake me up, as usual. But not as usual, I was lying on the floor, trying sleepily to remember what I'd been doing the previous night. I cracked my eyes open to a shocking sight: instead of her normal glossy, black fur, my cat looked oddly bedraggled, her fur bright pink and sticking straight out in all directions. Great. Wonderful. Lovely. I peeled myself slowly off the floor and onto my feet, looking at the carnage in my living room. Not only was one of my cats pink, but the ceiling and walls had been splattered with a pink substance. My latest spell, as I should have predicted, had gone horribly wrong. 
     You see, I'm a witch. And I taught myself everything I know, which means I've tried to perform magic which had unexpected results, usually not harmful, but sometimes nearly disastrous. Like the time I tried to summon a spirit and accidentally summoned a fire sprite and almost burned down my old neighborhood. That incident got my screw-up, college-dropout, godless-heathen butt kicked out of my parent's house, which I had honestly been anticipating for a while. So I went to Collingwood. My aunt lives here, which is nice, considering what an heap of excrement this place is. I found a job at a bookstore called Devil's Gate, a quarter-mile from my apartment building. Working Devil's Gate, living in apartment number 666, a witch named Salem. What could possibly have gone wrong?
     The time was 8:30 AM, and I was already trying to clean up the magical mess. Now let me make one thing very clear: Magic is the hardest thing to clean up. Worse than eggs, worse than ink, worse than cat vomit. I know whereof I speak. Quite simply, you need magic of some sort to clean magic. I didn't trust my own spells before I'd had my coffee, so after going after my walls and Cleo with rags and cleaning fluid, I decided to leave it until after work. Cleo had decided to mope in the company of my other cats, Simba and Freija. I scratched the poor thing behind her ears before getting ready for work. 
     I was running late. Raina, my boss, didn't especially care if I was a few minutes late, but I did. I dashed up Stanley Rd. Suddenly, I stopped. Down Baker Street, by the lake into which the road mysteriously led, I saw yellow police tape. I decided to take a detour: Raina could wait. I could be more curious than my cats. As I approached the lake, I saw a police officer standing sternly, with a few curious neighbors around. "What happened?" I asked, my heart pounding and my mind flipping through worst case scenarios. The cop answered me. "Some person found a dead girl in the lake. They think she might be a relative of Stanley's." The way she said "Stanley" instantly gave away who she meant. She was talking about Stanley Collingwood, the founder of our city and the namesake of my apartment building. "Shit," I said, shocked, "Do they know how long she was in there?" The police officer, whose name badge read Jennifer Hartwood, lowered her sunglasses to glare at me. "No" she said. I knew I'd gone too far. "Oh," I said, sweating nervously, my introvert nerves telling me to run. I swallowed, turned, and sprinted all the way to work. 
     It was a quiet day at Devil's Gate, so I took some time to sneak into the back room. Nobody went in there but me, partly because all the books were old and about witchcraft and exorcisms and the like, but mostly it was just really creepy and rumored to be haunted. So on some days, like today, I was pretty much getting paid barely a living wage to read books on talking to the dead. It was a good deal. Suddenly, as I had just started formulating a list of what I would need to converse with the ghost of a drowned girl, Raina peeked her head around the door. "I thought I'd find you here," she said, her voice still husky from a bad stint of laryngitis she'd had the week before, "You know, if you like this stuff, I'd be glad to give it to you." She winked. Raina knew full well that I was a witch, and she also knew I'd refused her offers of these books many times. But this time, I decided to take her up on it. "Okay, Raina," I said "I'll take home some books." Raina beamed, probably just glad to be rid of some of the ancient tomes. "Pick the ones you want and put them in that box, okay?" She pointed to a cardboard box. "And hurry. It's almost rush time." I sighed. My peaceful reading day was over. Rush time meant about a score of nerds from the middle and high schools about half a mile after Stanley Road became Mormon Road came storming into our store. I thanked whoever I had to thank that Quitting Time was at 5:30. Two hours to go.
       That evening, I paced in my apartment. I had finally cleaned the pink warzone that had been my living room. A book on communing with spirits, which, course, had been one of Raina's, lay open on my tiny coffee table. But I had bigger problems than drowned girls. Bigger problems than pink magical explosions. I was running out of money. My rent had gone up to fund the renovations upstairs, and my book-keeping job wasn't going to cut it. Stanley's granddaughter, or whoever she was, could wait.