where ghosts live

Lovely’s room, which was at the far end of the house, had the best light. The curtainless window stretched from floor to ceiling right in front of the bed, allowing sunshine to pour in uninhibited. Today, however, there was no sun. Snow fell instead, gentle but insistent, and the light that trickled through was dying. These days, a fire roared in the hearth to keep Lovely from getting chilled.

“Good morning,” Ethan said, setting down Lovely’s customary breakfast tray next to the bed. Lovely’s eyes were closed, and Ethan carefully brushed his limp bangs from his forehead. The bedridden boy’s skin was cool to the touch and almost translucent – pale blue veins could be seen running just beneath his fingertips while bleached-bone antlers protruded from his silver hair. Ethan loved those antlers. They grew outwards like the branches of a tree, and Ethan liked to imagine them wreathed in garlands of flowers. Maybe I can make some when spring comes, he thought.

Ethan couldn’t remember when he’d moved into the house. It was a grand old thing reminiscent of a castle, set deep into the hillside and surrounded by residual trees from the forest’s edge. It had stone walls and huge floor-to-ceiling windows in all the rooms, though most of these were permanently covered by curtains. (He had vainly tried, one bright summer afternoon ages ago, to remove those heavy drapes. They refused to budge. After extensive exploration of all the rooms, he found only one with bare windows. The first Lovely moved in a week later.) Ethan felt like he’d always lived in the house, the intricate layouts of both the dark hallways and winding garden paths ingrained in his memory since day one.

Lovely lived in the house as well, but he spent most of the day sleeping, so Ethan passed the time by taking long walks through the forest. The world was still here, save for the light crunch of leaves beneath Ethan’s shoes. It reminded him of a poem, something simple yet stirring. Something about the woods, dark and deep. He couldn’t recite exact lines, though. It felt like certain hours dropped from his day and created gaps in his memory while his ability to recall details dwindled, too. One moment he’d be at the house, in Lovely’s room; a minute later, he’d find himself in the middle of the woods, following a path he knew intimately for unknown reasons.

 

“Ethan.”

He looked down. A boy’s face, ghostly and wide-eyed and brown-haired, stared up at him from the snow. The tip of what looked like bone protruded a few inches in the ice above the boy’s head, close to Ethan’s foot. Ethan forced himself to stare back at him.

“Why aren’t you at the house, Elliot?” he asked, keeping his voice level. He stooped down to brush flecks of ice from Elliot’s cheeks, then spent the next few minutes digging out the rest of his body. Ethan was familiar with this routine. His fingers gripped the fabric of Elliot’s jacket, which was nearly frozen solid, and he cursed himself for not bringing gloves. He forgot them every time.

Elliot tried to wipe at his mouth with one shaking hand. “Ethan, I’ve come – to make – atonement,” he managed to say. “None of this is – I’m sorry. I abandoned you.”

This, too, Ethan had heard before. He had never understood what Elliot meant, but by now it didn’t matter. Elliot was merely delirious from the cold. He took the shivering boy’s hand and began leading him back towards the house. “You mean, I’ve come to get you out of the snow,” he replied, not looking back at Elliot’s face. Their fingers intertwined, and Ethan relished the way Elliot’s grip tightened. “It’s freezing! How did you end up here?” Elliot didn’t respond, but Ethan hadn’t expected an answer, anyway. He focused instead on what to do next.

The first time he found Elliot in the snow, he’d deliberately avoided taking him to Lovely’s room even though it was the warmest in the house and Elliot was half-frozen. At the time, he treated Lovely’s living space as something sacred. But when Ethan checked on Elliot that night, his hair had already turned silver. Lovely’s bed was vacant; all that was left was a pair of white antlers.

(Now Ethan had a full closet of antlers. They gleamed in the dark and looked beautiful in the spring, when he strung flowers over each branch.)

Since then, Ethan had learned the pattern. Elliot – or at least, ghosts who looked and acted and spoke almost exactly like Elliot – would find him. They’d argue with him and try to convince him he was dreaming.

“It’s my fault. I created you and this house and – all of this! I still don’t know why, but you got stuck here. I’m sorry, Ethan.” Each Elliot would cover his face with his hands. “Your body’s nearly gone. I wish I had stayed with you, back then.”

But why would Ethan believe them? The house was all solid wood and stone. He knew each step in the staircase and every ridge in the wall. One time, he’d stuck his hand close to the fire in the hearth – just to prove Elliot wrong – and nearly burned himself for it. The proof for reality was definitely there.

“But the seasons aren’t changing!” the latest Elliot insisted now. He stood by the couch. Ethan tugged at his hand, but the antlered boy didn’t sit. “Think about it. When was the last time it wasn’t winter? When was the last time there wasn’t snow?” His cheeks flushed red.

“I don’t keep track of those things,” Ethan said patiently. “I don’t particularly care for time.” And I’ve seen spring, too, he added silently, because Elliot was too confused right now to understand. Winter would end, as all seasons inevitably did, and spring would come. The sun would shine. Elliot would be Lovely, and petals would tumble into his hair when Ethan finished making his flower garlands. Maybe this time Elliot wouldn’t leave him. Ethan thought of the pair of detached antlers lying on a cold pillow upstairs, waiting for him to collect.

“I have a spare room,” he told Elliot. “There’s a fireplace, and I can grab some extra blankets. Why don’t you spend the night here?”

(more…)

je te veux

ALTERNATE TITLE: “thoughts of an art thief after stealing ib and her husband”

the first time was on a whim –
that crucial split second where one might choose
to listen to gréco instead of piaf, or take
a right turn and not the road stretched ahead,
only this choice involved a slim pocket knife
and barely detectable flicks of the wrist.

she could feel blood rush to her face,
heat tinging her ashen cheeks.
her hands trembled.
she looked down at her worn shoes,
her wrinkled dress that rustled with every step.
no one knows – no eyes have seen
what i have done.

the second time was out of desire.
she saw intimacy and her fingers itched;
her hands moved on their own, the blade
of her knife gleaming in the dim light
like her smile a few hours later
as she studied the stolen prize
on her bedroom floor.
she admired ib and her lumpy coral sweater.
how comfortable she must have been
lying in bed, pat’s arm looped over her waist,
his veins silvery pink against his skin.
how protected she must have felt, how loved,
under the constant gaze of her father
as he emptied his palette of earthy colors
onto the canvas.

she felt the eyes of everyone she passed.
hard as she tried, guilt remained palpable
in her fingers, her throat, her spine.
she glanced once at her hands and choked
back a scream at the rust-colored paint
dripping between her knuckles.
terrified, she didn’t look again.
she couldn’t stop thinking about the knife
burning in her pocket that day,
the uneven edges of the painting
where she’d removed it from its frame.
she had never felt so cold.

why had she thought she could have ib’s warmth
for her own just by taking it?
now her actions could not be undone,
and the painting sat patiently on her desk at home,
waiting to be found.

(more…)

minna

your constant honesty and kindness,
along with your ability to remain sweetly
composed in the face of chaos, is even more
amazing than a boy with wings plummeting
from the sky. i love all the little things you say
and write and do, just as i love the intricate
details of a favorite painting or the subtle way
trees turn gold in the morning.

at 8 AM lilac seeped into the sky,
and we chased each other downhill to the lake.
as we swam and rode foam-crested waves,
i wondered which shone brighter: the sun as it
glinted off the cool green water’s surface, or you
as you grinned and shouted with glee
over the roar of the wind.

hale

at dawn, you rise
to catch
a blood red moon –
the joker fell as king;
your blade sang
as it sliced the air
and made it bleed.
in your dreams,
something
bird bone hollow
settles in your chest.
a robed crow surrenders
a sword identical to yours,
but lonely stars burn out
before you can accept it.
you see nothing,
feel only
damp feathers.

one meeting

we are nothing and we are everything;
the paper houses in which we live
have been bleached of our words

there are fields of fallen leaves
set aflame by a tempest of longing,
but the wispy thread between us
only pulls us farther apart

and as we fade away,
our hearts are lined
with red spider lilies.

~

originally published in THE TEACUP TRAIL in july 2014.

 

for a lack of love

it’s always love that conquers the villain,
love that transforms the stoical robot.
are aromantics the antagonists, then,
of a story that’s so obsessed with ‘love’?
why is it affection that completes us?
why is romance the end goal?
whatever happened to rest of emotions
that define who we are as people?
i am sick of this tirade
against the lack of love.
go ahead and cling to the red thread
that you so firmly believe connects you
to your soul mate.
go ahead and express your passion
in endless pages of senseless poetry,
and weep of broken hearts
and crooked stitches,
but please don’t dehumanize me;
i am not any less of a person
just because i don’t want to be
in a romantic relationship.
let me embrace this lack of love
in peace.

dream (3)

she tasted salted toffee and melting chocolate on her tongue, but when she opened her eyes, she found herself crouched beside her beloved older brother. “the Organization wants us to secure the ubiquitous black suitcase,” he said, as though she hadn’t fallen asleep at all. (maybe she had, maybe she hadn’t, but at the moment it didn’t matter.) instead, she clicked her tongue. “where is it?” she asked, and he nodded towards the oddly shaped building in the center of the city. “right there. it’s close enough to the ocean for us to escape from the rooftop to the shore, then make our way back to the Organization’s HQ.”

“let’s do this. how many are there?”

“at the moment? eighteen.”

“nine each, then.”

“yep.”

she felt the utmost bliss as they scaled the skies, running lightly through the air as though they were out for a typical morning jog among the clouds. they managed to avoid the crows that followed them, detonating bombs made of legos whenever necessary. even when one of the enemy, disguised as a traffic cop, pursued them two hours later, she was buoyed by an insane tranquility. even as he chased them across the rooftops of three different wal-marts, and followed them into the ocean when they swung off that last building, she didn’t panic at all. neither did he, the older one. in fact, he casually turned to her as they landed smoothly into the waves. “perfect,” he declared, smiling radiantly, and her heart swelled at the brilliant light of his confidence. she understood what he meant when they reached the HQ, entered the building, and watched as three gigantic jellyfish tore apart the enemy and consumed him at the door.

“do we have all of them?”

“i have half. Did you drop any, by chance?”

he laughed. “nope.”

she felt such immense happiness that for a moment, she thought she would burst like one of their handmade lego bombs.

if only they could do this forever.