This month we have 2 featured poems and 1 fictional piece! Jump to the poems here!
(For those viewing on hand held devices, please turn your device horizontal to avoid word overlap. Enjoy our writers to the fullest!)
Draw Down by Lou Hudson
I. Of all things, what I remember most clearly as I hunker over my childhood writing desk is that scene on the train. Not the well, not Dad, not even my wife. A snapshot, just an instant, of a happy family walking together down a rural road. I’d only had time to glance, going as fast as I was in my faded polyester seat. Even so, I can remember clearly the pang in my chest when I saw that couple smiling. My pen pauses over my half-written letter, and the trembling of my hand sets a lingering dollop of ink splattering down over my words, masking them with a black splotch. Between reaching tendrils of old ink, I can barely read my own words, Dear Charlotte. I lean back in my undersized chair and put my face in my hands. Already I know the ink is seeping into my pores, making me little more than a fleshy bit of paper myself. Were it possible, I would wrap myself in an envelope and mail me back to my wife in the ruined letter’s place. Somewhere else, beneath the age-bent floorboards of my old room, beneath the swept tiles of the kitchen and the carpet with faded Kool-Aid stains, beneath the unliving, silent house, a dripping. The water, rotten, blends together the present and the ghastly, restless past. With each drip that gruesome mixture becomes further muddled in my tumultuous thoughts. To block out the dripping and--I swear--the creaking of the stairs, I resume my bent-back posture over the desk. The old draft thrown to the side, I pull out a fresh piece of lined notebook paper and resume writing. ‘Dear Charlotte, It’s too bad it had to be like this. That we’re separated, I mean. And that I’ll probably never see you again. It’s funny, I never thought I’d end up just like my parents--like Dad-- but here I am. Here we are. On the bright side, we didn’t have to get the divorce. We’re not going to get the chance. I want to keep at least one of my promises to you. I want you to know what happened to me after I left. Annie’ I write many letters. II. ‘Dear Charlotte, When I got here, I didn’t make it to the door before one of the old neighbors stopped me. She said, “Sorry about your parents.” That wouldn’t be weird, but Dad ran off ten years ago. Why did she bring that up? She didn’t know I was home to hide. From you, from work, maybe, and (as usual) from myself. Annie’ The suspicion that I’d never been cut out for marriage was just dawning on me when Mom up and vanished. Presumed dead, as of a week ago. The opportunity to flee from my adult home, to seek reprieve in the resting place of my childhood, was enough for me. Introspection--and marriage counseling--took a backseat to my return trip to the secluded countryside where I grew up. The train ride away from my life was the easy part. It’s as I’m approaching the house, walking past the fresh-faced FOR SALE sign and up the long drive, that I begin to feel apprehensive. I wish I could say I’m thinking of my wife waiting for me back home, abandoned, but I’m not. I’m thinking about Mom, and how she would hate to see her house looking like this. Vines crawl over the sides like maggots on a corpse, tendrils reaching for windows, cracks, openings--any way to get in. The house, still possessing a regal skeleton somewhere beneath this mask of new grime, defies its expensive stature and seems overcome with the temptation to cave under its own weight. I can relate to the house. I don’t notice the woman approaching me until she reaches my side. She has wild hair, and she’s the tallest person I’ve ever seen. As her face pulls back in a smile, I notice she’s missing her right canine. In her hand is a basket of brown eggs. We go back and forth a little. We exchange tepid hellos with one another, and I shuffle backward a few inches. She says, “You’re too young to lose them both.” “Uh, haha, I guess so,” I say. “But it’s fine. Mom was happy.” I don’t mention Dad. “Oh,” the old neighbor says. “Oh.” She’s looking at the house, specifically at where the front door’s window has cracked right down the middle. “Well, at least there’s that. It’s just such a shame, what happened. And in such a nice house.” We stand and stare at the house like that, together, for a minute. I feel like some secret has been transferred from her to me, but I don’t know what it is. I open my mouth to bid the woman farewell, but she keeps talking. “I’m Evelyn, in case you were wondering. I live right over there.” She points, but all I can see in that direction is a wall of trees and, beyond that, more trees. “I knew your parents. If you ever need anything, just hop on by.” “Okay,” I say. “I might. Thanks.” Evelyn does something weird with her face: her mouth settles somewhere between a grimace and a grin, and her eyes are too bright. She nods. Her hair quivers like it’s afraid to be seen. “I’ll leave you to it, then. Nice to meet you!” She leaves, shuffling on down the dirt driveway. I watch her for a few moments and wonder how she got the drop on me like she had, then settle on a hasty retreat of my own for fear of further conversation. A solid stack of mail leans against the front door, enough to gather up with both hands; it’s clear Mom hadn’t been too outgoing in her final weeks of life. No one had come or gone through this door in a while. Though I could easily jiggle the front handle right off, I rummage through my coat pockets. The wind picks up, billowing my hair into my face. When I clear it, I swear the house has changed; back to some semblance of what it was, maybe, or perhaps into something else. The key I produce fits into the lock with a solid sound. I can only stand there for a moment, surprised. It even turns, and the door unlocks. Remembering how Mom had looked at me as I left, the rain splattering over the window and blocking out everything but her disappointed frown, I’d assumed she’d changed all the locks. III. ‘Dear Charlotte, After years away, the house was the same--even down to Mom’s broom and dustpan by the door. The only difference now is the quiet: I can hear things that I shouldn’t. It’s like Mom and Dad are watching me. Impossible, I know. Where they are, they can’t see much of anything anymore. Annie’ I tour the house. Relics of my dad litter high shelves and windowsills, the miniatures he painstakingly carved of everything he saw staring down at me as I enter the living room. Highest of all his creations, front and center, is a miniature of the well. Its hand-carved stone spins in circles to create a spiraling structure that rises from the dusty wood of Dad’s tallest shelf, displayed precariously on a handmade stand. Looking at it is enough to summon images of the lifesize version, which rests below the house; I saw it just the once, swelling from the split concrete floor like an inflamed wound. I was just little then, and the well was large enough that I couldn’t see over the lip of it. I imagined, then, that someone could drop a whole person down that well and have room to spare. I was not--am not--allowed to go near the well. Standing over this model is a small copy of my father, who peers into its depths with an odd expression on his face. The well comes up to his hips, and he grips the edge of it like he’s afraid he’ll suddenly trip. I stare hard enough to see the whites of his eyes before I can’t stand to look at it anymore. I move on. Traces of Mom are harder to come by, but I see her in the cleanliness of what she could reach. The miniatures eluded her, but the lower shelves and surfaces are free from dust, even now. Thinking of her dark moods near the end, I walk up the stairs. Mom’s workspace, the old sewing room, sits near the landing behind a tidy, locked door. On it is a sign kindly asking passersby to not disturb. This door, I find, my key cannot unlock. Unsurprised, I leave it alone. The only disorder in the place is the single cup, bowl, and spoon in the kitchen sink that Mom had been washing before she died. No one had cleaned that up. For some reason, I always thought that people--whoever it is that handles these things--would clean up that sort of evidence of life when they come to find the body. Vanish her, like my vanished father. Of course, from what I’ve been told, they still haven’t managed to find the body. Vanished, then, nonetheless. I find only one change in the old house, and it is this: downstairs, in the dining room, the basement door is unlocked and unlatched. It hangs open just an inch. Last time I saw this was the night Dad left. I can still remember their fighting, and the way my heart hammered where I lay in my bed. I didn’t try to stop them that night. Maybe if I had, things would’ve turned out differently. I listened to it all-- “What the hell is this?!” Mom had screamed. “Put that down! It isn’t finished!” “Put it down? I’m throwing it out! I told you to stop making these things!” “Don’t you dare!” A heavy thud, then a disgraced shout. “That was for Annie!” --even as it took them down the stairs. To the basement. Beyond that, I couldn’t hear. The next day, Dad was gone. Mom became cagey in the absence of her husband, and I found myself adrift in the absence of their constant fights. We didn’t talk much after Dad left. Then I left, too. I stay far away from that open basement door. I clean up Mom’s mess like she would’ve wanted me to, and I go upstairs to my old bedroom. Again, I’m hiding. IV. ‘Dear Charlotte, When I was a kid, I used to have this weird dream. It’s stupid. In it, I died, and then the fear would wake me up. Or the dying, I was never sure. I never told anyone but Dad about it. I always woke up on the floor after those dreams. Weird, right? I’ve been waking up on the floor a lot. Annie’ I manage to drag myself back to my feet with some difficulty, my muscles aching. I raise my fingers gingerly to my throat and wince despite my lungs full of air. Even now, I feel as though my feet are sinking. As a reflex borne from many nights startled awake, I glance over at the doorway. The door is open, revealing the empty hallway beyond. It’s patterned by gentle dapples of early morning light. I feel like a stranger who’s found herself somehow in the wrong place. I’m tense as I step into my slippers and totter down the stairs, my head still somewhere else. Again, I feel lower than I actually am. I think of my dream while I still can: I’m lying awake in my bed, and I swear I am awake, but the room begins to float around me. Books, dolls, pillows, my desk and papers and everything--they all lift from their rightful places, rising defiantly, trailing toward the ceiling as if on many twinkling strings. They never make it high enough. Their journey unfinished, they only get so far before stopping. Like every night, I realize that they aren’t floating, but rather that I am sinking. I can’t breathe. As things lift off, out of reach, I look to my bedroom door for help. Again, a constant. Every time, a figure is already there, and has always been there, watching me. What I can picture best are his eyes, which seem to bulge from his head like a fish’s eyes. They watch me, eager, yet sad. They are wet, just like the rest of him. It’s at this point that I drown. When I awake, I’m on the floor. My back hurts, and I pour myself a glass of water from Mom’s old filtered jug. I stare into the middle distance, my eyes still fixed on the eyes of the bloated man who watches me drown every night. V. ‘Dear Charlotte, As I spent time in the house, I felt more and more like there was something else in here with me. Maybe the bones of a homestead never truly settle out of their old owners. It holds onto them, somehow, and ties them in place. Allows them to remain and to watch. Does that make any sense? Annie’ Being alone in the house is an odd feeling. I turn corners fully expecting Mom to be there, arms crossed, her eyes searching for something in me that I can’t provide. Instead, all I get is air and a vague, familiar feeling of disappointment. Wanting reprieve from my own thoughts, I seek out Dad’s old workspace. The padlock, heavy enough to mean business, stretches on its hinges, unlatched. The hanging door, an implication, bothers me. The basement is still open. Did I expect the door to be somehow closed? Maybe. It seemed right somehow that the house should shift itself in the night, right things and return to some sense of normalcy. But the door was open. I can still feel the difference in the air on my skin; the heat is sapped from me the moment I cross the threshold. The musty air sits heavy on my tongue. The railing, unfinished wood, is caked in grime borne from the moisture that aids in that weighty atmosphere. A pregnant pause hangs over everything, and I’m again reminded of my dream, of the world floating over my head. I ruin it all with the rustling of my clothes, the shuffling of my shoes on wood, as I descend. In the basement, the miniatures multiply and, the further down the stairs I am, the more specific the scenes become. Me, hunched over my old writing desk, my youthful pigtails curling above my slumping head. Beside me, my parents, whose mouths are filled with carefully carved, individual teeth that they bare at each other. He was an honest man, and his love for preserving the truth is evident in these two sculptures most of all. Along with the rustling of my movements, I hear some other, fainter, movement. Beside my miniature parents is a small, wooden, bent figure whose head seems to be falling off his shoulders. He is bloated, his joints held at odd angles. Though his head is down, his eyes are up. They are bulging; he stares at miniature me. His potbelly is familiar, but the looseness of his sagging skin is not. It’s no wonder--I’ve never seen him in such detail before. Outside of my dreams, I can only picture his eyes in my doorway. I told Dad about him just the one time. His knack for details keeps me frozen on that final step for too long. Still, I can hear something. At the bottom of the stairs sits the well. This one is full sized. It had been built by my great-grandfather before the old house burned down. The land was covered in them at one point, though I assume that most others got taken out as the property was split apart and bought up. This one sits in the belly of my family’s new house, indigestible. The well, once boarded up, now sits open with its maw gaping at the ceiling. Inside, I hear that rustling. Rats, I tell myself. Just rats. Mom had always been paranoid about things in the well: she seemed to think that it was a tunnel and not just a hole in the ground. After Dad disappeared, she’d been the one to board it shut. Of course, a well is not a tunnel. Nonetheless, I turn and flee. VI. ‘Dear Charlotte, Eventually, I figured out why I felt so watched. I’m beginning to realize that what I’ve always taken as paranoia might actually be the truth. Annie’ I pace more than ever, walking room to room with my arms crossed tightly over my chest, my eyes scanning. As I walk, the floors largely remain silent, as if holding their thoughts for some other, more worthy party. Still, sometimes, and at odds with the rhythm of my steps, the floor groans as if in warning. Again, I feel watched. It’s all over me, that feeling, and though I scratch at my skin I can’t make it leave. It’s during my restless pacing and all this itching that I bump into one of Dad’s old high shelves. I manage to catch the miniature well, whose stand topples, just before it hits the floor. Miniature Dad falls face first to the ground, and alongside him, a dirty key. They both land at my feet like they’d planned all along to be there. And of course, I recognize this key. Upstairs, I stand before the door to Mom’s sewing room. The sign repeats its gentle request, and I reassure it (and myself) that I’m not there to disturb anything. The space is devoid of miniatures; however, both the mild mannered sign and I am displeased to realize that the room is far from undisturbed. Clothes line the floor like ill placed carpeting while food wrappers and egg shells pile in corners as small mountains whose peaks dream of reaching the ceiling. A smell permeates the air, forming a wall between myself and what was once a special place. A sleeping bag rests at the center of it all. I shut the door, apologize to Mom’s sign, and leave. VII. ‘Dear Charlotte, I couldn’t take it anymore. I suspected that something terrible happened in the basement that night, when I was a kid, and I needed to go look. I went down there--I went down into the well. Annie’ I descend the stairs again. The air is as heavy as before, and the miniatures watch my progression with befuddlement on their fake faces, as if they can’t believe I’ve come back. I go straight to the well. As an adult, I can still clearly picture a grown person being dropped into it with room to spare; it’s circumference is such that, should the urge take hold of me, I could tip myself over the edge of it and fall in. Using a flashlight from Dad’s toolbox, I shine a light into its depths. Light reaches so far, then it stops in its tracks. The shadows in the well snuff it out, and I can see nothing. Desperate as I am, I make my decision quickly. I lower a rope into the well and climb down. The spiralling, layering stone, gray at the top, turns a muddy green the farther down I go. All the while alarms go off in my head, and I can remember Dad’s warnings. I also remember Mom, who swore the well was a tunnel. It takes time, but I reach the bottom. The inside is damp, and there is a shallow pool of water, but it’s clear to me that the well hasn’t served its purpose in many years. My feet kick up musty water from the stone floor. I turn the flashlight on, and I have two thoughts. First, Mom was right. Second, I know for certain now what happened to Dad. I watch where my feet go after this second revelation, worried as I am that I may plant my sneakers into the soaking bones of my vanished father. I picture him as a potbellied bloated man with bulging eyes, and I’m forced to blink hard against that image. Beyond what remains of him is further darkness that even still my flashlight can’t reach; it stretches on into infinity, a tunnel, and I can’t see where it ends. Dad and I share a moment together at the bottom of the well. The dark is suffocating. The tunnel stretches before me, an implication, and I stare into it for as long as I can stand to. Soon, I clamber back up the rope. I remain in the basement for exactly as long as it takes to charge up the stairs and slam the door shut behind me. I take a break to vomit into the kitchen sink, where Mom’s bowl used to be, and then I retreat to my bedroom. I can’t sleep. Since leaving the well, I can hear that dripping--I can still taste the acrid water in the back of my throat. The darkness presses in on me even from where I sit. I turn to my writing desk, and I begin writing to the only person I can think of. ‘I write to you now as I listen to that restless dripping. I don’t know what’s real, but I know what I need to do, and I need you to know, too. I’m going back down there. I need to see where it goes. I’m sorry. This has all been my fault. Everything. Soon, I think, I will be vanished as well. Annie’
Lou Hudson is a Minnesota-based writer living in St. Louis Park with their partner and a small collection of terrible cats. They enjoy writing weird fiction that takes a sideways look at concepts of family, memory, and mental health. They received their AFA in Creative Writing from Anoka-Ramsey Community College, and their work has appeared in the Runestone journal.
Noir Pneuma by Leslie Owen
I am it, and it is me, together we weave the threads of reality. My shadow and me together we were broken by assault, peril, homelessness, cruelty, narcissistic abuse and karmic debts. Together in a cascade of light and dark, we merge reflecting the universe in a chaotic dance or darkness and lightness. Black and white. Day and night. Duality is in all things. Behind, above, below, and within. I am my shadow, and it is me. Ink on dead trees. Ink on paper. Ink on stone. Ink on my soul. Poetry is like home. Light and dark merge displaying the unbridled reality of the shadow world within my soul. On paper, may it stop lurking and come into the light, devoid of rejection, fear, or shame. As I integrate both of my realities, my reality become one with the universe, and oneness lights my soul; and my soul shall light up the world—via ink markings on dead trees.
Leslie Rochelle Owen is a proud artist, UWS student, photographer, and writer, that possesses a dedicated penchant for preserving the beauty of nature via photography and written expression. Leslie proudly calls Madison, Wisconsin home, where she writes book reviews, non-fiction articles, short stories, and poetry that inspire others to reconnect with mother earth and father sky.
The following poem contains graphic imagery that may be harmful or traumatizing for some readers.
Iraq Border, Turkey 2005 by Zane Zimbelman
I once saw a mother wring her child’s neck in a sodden alley rank with urine and cover him with new s paper he was five it looked like his mouth still open, afraid, stiff when he was un covered he never had dreams he wasn’t even old enough to rationalize that other world
Zane Zimbelman lives in South Range, WI. He teaches at the University of Wisconsin.