Drabblecast 294 – Partial Inventory



Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013
Warning:  Some explicit language

Cover for Drabblecast episode 294, Partial Inventory, by John DebergeThe air conditioning only worked when the speedometer crept past 70 MPH which the lumbering GMC van (on loan from a friend of a friend who took pity on the family and their situation) rarely did. November in the South is hardly hot, but thirteen hours in any vehicle with nearly a half dozen relatives and mismatched belongings, each one trying to both curl and crowd themselves into their claimed seats had left the air warm and slick and smelling faintly of musk.

 

Partial Inventory of Items Removed from Garden District Home,

New Orleans, December 2005

by Helena Bell

 

One American Cockroach, Large

Periplaneta Americana, sometimes called a palmetto bug by mistake.  This large, dark brown insect is winged and the species is known for flying directly into light. Specimen has been well preserved save for the cracking of its left wing.  Was part of a larger collection, now lost.

 

Something had broken between the cousins.  In the backseat of the rumbling GMC van (on loan from a friend of a friend who had taken pity on the family and their situation), Sara and Kelly each pressed their faces to the breath smoked glass and stared out their respective windows at the brown Mississippi landscape.  There was little to see: gas stations, an outlet mall.  Sara didn’t know what she’d expected.  The hurricane had come, gone, and the world kept turning.  The only oddity, the only sign that anything was amiss was the date beneath the smiling faces of country stars asking motorists and locals to come and see them at the Beau Rivage on September 1.    Sara pictured them standing there in an empty room wondering for all the world where their audience had gone to.

“Have you forgiven me yet?” Kelly asked.

Sara ignored her.

“You know I was just teasing,” Kelly said.  “I don’t really think you have a Yankee accent.”

Sara studied passing exit signs, mentally calculating the number of miles to New Orleans.

“We could play a game,” Kelly said.

“No.”

From the driver’s seat, Sara’s mother turned to look over her shoulder.  A small gesture, but Sara felt the reproach.  Be nice to your cousin, she’d say, as she’d said almost every day for the past three months. Let Kelly have the bed; you can sleep on the air mattress.  Who cares if she spilled ink on your favorite jeans, all of her clothes are probably lost for good.  Yes she’s older than you, and should know better, but life has been harder on her.

It didn’t matter that Sara had always  been nice to Kelly, had worshiped and adored her practically since the day Sarah had been born.  Secretly, Sara had even seen the storm as an opportunity to become closer, to repair some of the damage, the distance, which had crept in since Kelly’s parents got divorced last year.  She’d waited all night staring out her bedroom window, watching for headlights in the driveway, the shape of her grandfather’s car and her cousin bounding from the backseat.

Be nice, her mother kept telling her.  But not too nice.  I know she can be a bit of a bully and self-centered.  Yes, she lies.  She’s got too much of her mother in her.  Set a good example.

Up ahead, green signs announced the turn off for 110 to Biloxi and slowly, Sara’s mother edged the van into the exit lane.

“What are you doing?” Godfrey, Kelly’s father asked.

“I just want to see it,” Sara’s mother said.  “Just for a little bit.”

In the corner of her eye, Sara could see Kelly straighten in her seat.  She kept her face perfectly blank and folded her hands in her lap.

“You can’t get into the city that way,” Godfrey said.  “The bridge is closed across the lake, and who knows if the road is cleared the whole way.”

“I just want to see,” Sara’s mother said.

And perhaps because there had been too many arguments already, the natural boiling over of two  families trying to share each other’s space for too many months, Godfrey leaned back and didn’t say another word.

“Fine,” Sara’s mother said, and continued through the light to get back on the interstate.

Kelly fall back against her seat and exhaled slowly.  Whether in relief or disappointment, Sara couldn’t tell.

Be nice, even if you don’t want to, she thought to herself.  “Do you want to play your game now?” Sara asked and Kelly jerked as if slapped.

“Sure,” she said.

From her bag, Kelly extracted a makeshift Ouija board, the same one that she and Sara had made their first night together in Richmond.  They’d cut letters from magazines and books, gluing them to the back of an old monopoly set.  A small glass ashtray had served as planchette, darting from letter to letter and ripping half of them up in the process.  Giggling, they’d cleaned the board, wiped away the glue and sticky tape then wrote in new letters by hand.

“I thought you’d destroyed it,” Sara said.

Kelly shrugged.

That night Kelly asked about the storm, about how long she’d be stuck in Richmond (not that didn’t love spending time with her favorite cousin, she’d quickly added, but she wanted to get home).  You’ll be home soon, the board had told them.  Everything will be alright.  Soon.

Slowly, so as not to be noticed by Sara’s mother, both girls unclicked their seatbelts and slid to the empty floor in front of their seat.  The planchette glinted in the fading light as Kelly asked her first question.

“Will I be famous?” she asked.

Yes.

“Will I be rich?” she asked.

Of course.

“Will I marry for love or money?”

Both.

“Can I ask a question?” Sara asked.

“No,” Kelly said, but then perhaps as an act of appeasement, added “How will my beautiful cousin Sara die?”

At 16, in a motorcycle crash.

“Happy?” Kelly asked, and Sara nodded for it was the only thing she could think of to do.

Kelly sighed.  “I’m not doing it to be mean.  It’s just… I have the gift, and you don’t.”

“What gift?”

“The family gift,” she said.  “Or curse, depending on how you look at it.”

From the front, Godfrey grunted.  “Don’t listen to her, Sara.  She’s just messing with you.”

Kelly pouted.  “Would I ever lie to you?”

All the time, Sara wanted to say, but didn’t.  Kelly lied to Sara about Sara’s mother (“She died; they wanted me to tell you.  You may think that’s her in the kitchen, but it’s an imposter. A replacement.”) about her accent (“You’ve lost it; you’re not a real New Orleanian anymore.”) and a dozen other meaningless things each day.  And yet, despite being old enough to know better, Sara would eventually end up in tears and Kelly would say “I’m just teasing” and be kind to her again.

“Okay,” Sara said.  “I’m listening.”

Kelly grinned.  She was never happier than when she was making things up.  “Well,” she said.  “It started with our grandfather Bumpa.”

“Nah,” Godfrey said from the front.  “It came from his Yankee mother. If you’re gonna tell it, tell it right.”

Kelly rolled her eyes.  “That’s what I meant.  Anyway, Bumpa and his mom were the founding members of a cult up in Maryland.  No wait, Massachusetts.  Maryland.  Wherever Edgar Allen Poe is from.”

“He was from Massachusetts,” Sara said.  “He died in Maryland.  Before the Civil War.  Way too early to start a cult with Bumpa.”

“Told you she was messing with you,” Godfrey muttered.

Kelly’s smile faded.  Despite all the teasing, the lies and other small  cruelties, Sara desperately wanted to reach out to her cousin, to hug her close and stroke her back, but she knew Kelly would just push her away.

Sara decided to try a different tactic.  “Is that why Black cat didn’t like him?” she asked.  “Because he was a cultist?”  A few years ago her grandfather had found a scraggled kitten on the doorstep.  He’d nursed it back to health over several months only to have it turn a cold shoulder to him for the rest of its life.  When he and Godfrey had packed up the car to evacuate ahead of Katrina, the cat refused to get in.  No one had seen it since.

“Not exactly,” Kelly said.  “But it’s one of the signs.  When you join the cult, animals don’t like you because you can control them.  It’s one of the gifts.”

“Okay,” Sara said.  “And what are the others?”

Kelly held up three fingers.  “One, you can talk to spirits through a Ouija board.  Two, you can control animals.”

“Three,” Godfrey said.  “You can fart as loud as a goddamn tuba.”

Sara’s mother punched him in the arm.

“Three,” Kelly said, as if she hadn’t heard him at all, “You can wake elder gods from their slumber in the deepest parts of the sea.  You can hear space and time as it moves through stone and shifts the ground beneath your feet.  All the secrets of the universe are yours for the taking.”

Sara shuddered.  “I don’t buy it,” she said.  “But it sounds cool.”

Kelly beamed.

 

White GE Refrigerator with In-Door Water and Ice-Dispenser

Gently used.  May still smell of Clorox, 409 and other cleaning agents.  Rubber seals in need of replacement; interior shelves missing.

 

They reached the city by late afternoon. As they pulled up to the house on Prytania, Sara could see the great magnolia in the side yard.  Sara’s mother swore it was dead and rotten all the way through, but still it towered over the iron fence as if nothing had ever disturbed it.  Down the street, Sara could see garbage bags piled on top of water damaged furniture and appliances: the detritus of a roof ripped open or an errant fire.  Yet there was no spray-paint on any of the doors, no x codes of dates and numbers which everyone felt they understood, though when you asked, no one was sure what it was they meant.

Slowly, reverently, they dragged their bags into the house and breathed its stale air.  Even from the hallway they could sense the thickness of it, as if the time the house had spent alone had congealed into a paste now worming its way up their nasal passages and down their throats.

“Right,” Sara’s mother said.  “Fridge first.”

Godfrey took his small bag and disappeared upstairs.  He and Kelly had moved in after the divorce partly to help Bumpa take care of the house, and partly to settle down while he found a new job.  Also, Kelly had confided in Sara, it was the only way the  judge would allow Kelly to live in New Orleans instead of with her mother.  Though now that Bumpa had died and the house would be sold, neither Kelly nor Sara knew where Kelly would end up.

“You could probably come live with us,” Sara had said.  “If you want.”

“It’s not home,” Kelly said and that was the end of it.

The girls opened up boxes of hefty bags and spread them out on the dining room table as Sara’s mother donned a SCUBA regulator, cylinder, mask and two pairs of thick rubber kitchen gloves which stretched almost to her elbow.  “Stay in the house,” she said before disappearing into the kitchen.

There wasn’t much to do in a place that was halfway finished with itself.  Bumpa had been slowly packing away his dead wife’s belongings as a way to keep his mind busy and hands active.  There were catalogs and lists: furniture and personal items to keep, to donate, to throw away.  Cabinets had been left open, their contents pulled out and spread on the floor like the innards of a dissected animal.  He hadn’t brought much with him to Richmond, none of them had, figuring they’d be turning around almost as soon as they arrived.

After opening up drawers and flipping through a half dozen books (Kelly said that sometimes people stuck money between the pages to keep it safe), the girls wandered up to the second floor hall closet to look at the bugs.  During the depression the house had been converted into apartments and rooms for rent.  The long, narrow closet with a tall window at one end had once housed a bed, a dresser, and perhaps a small table.  Now it was piled high with glass jars of various shapes and sizes each of which was filled to overflowing with various species of insects.  Sara’s grandmother had despised the collection and while she never told Bumpa to get rid of it, she did tell him he had to keep it where company couldn’t see it.

Sara didn’t mind the butterflies: crisp orange monarchs pinned lovingly through the thorax, gasps of blue and black within a swarm of Bllue Morphos hanging suspended in a glass dome.  Butterflies were innocent, harmless.  But then there were the roaches.

At first her grandfather had only a few specimens: rare cockroaches of peculiar shape and origin and color.  But then he discovered the insects had a particular affinity for his house.  He found them crawling out of the floor vents, or walking along the walls eyelevel with the artwork as if to better appreciate the splash of color, the fine framing.  Exterminators came and went but often they said simply “It’s New Orleans; learn to live with them.”  Instead, he collected them, filled his glass jars with flying roaches, small roaches, giant roaches.  He hunted them at night with a small flashlight hung around his neck and powdered sugar clinging to his fingertips which he dangled like a lure in dark corners where the creeping things gathered.

“Come to me,” he whispered, and they did.  They crawled over his shoes and onto his hands and like an aged pied piper he ferried each one into its own mason jar.  Then he dropped an ether soaked cotton ball in with it and twisted the lid down tight.

He once tried to get Sara and Kelly to play along.  At first Sara thought it was fun: hunting the house at night, sweeping net in hand.  She’d once collected six gleaming red insects in one flick of her wrist.  She presented it to her grandfather proudly, but had failed to keep a tight grip on the netting and they’d escaped: small skittering legs grazing her hands, then arms until finally they reached her hair where they’d become hopelessly entangled.

She swore she’d never spend the night in the house again.

Despite the sheer numbers in the small space: cases stacked on cases and dioramas stacked on dioramas, a taxidermied frenzy of invertebrates, Sara didn’t mind the closet.  Or rather, she didn’t mind the closet too much.  She told herself: If I can breathe; I’m okay.  Breathe in, breathe out.  The insects loomed above her, casting shadows bigger than her head, but still… she decided that she did not mind them.  They couldn’t breathe after all.  Therefore they weren’t okay like she was.  They weren’t okay at all.  The thought made her giggle and Kelly asked her what was wrong.

“Nothing,” she said.

The butterflies glinted: all amber wings and black velvet bodies.  Serene.  The cockroaches on the other hand milled over fake logs, maddening in their quiet.  Not a twitch or a flicker.  The longer Sara stared at them, the more they seemed to hum with absolute inaction.  They reminded her of a cat about to pounce, and she was convinced she could feel the vibrations of their tiny chitin skeletons.

“Creepy fuckers, aren’t they,” Kelly said.

Sara shrugged.

“He didn’t like it when I came in here,” she said.  “Said it was his collection; I couldn’t touch it.”

“I doubt he’d mind now,” Sara said.

“Oh,” Kelly said, “I think he’d mind very much.”  Slowly, tentatively as if worried that someone would stop her, Kelly walked to the far wall where a particularly large winged cockroach sat with his wings spread as if interrupted in flight.

“Don’t,” Sara said.

“Don’t what?” Kelly asked sweetly.  She picked the jar up and tossed it from hand to hand as if it were a basketball.

“What ever it is you’re thinking,” Sara said, as the skin at her neck prickled with the weight of a thousand dead eyes settling on her in the dark.

“He said I was safe here, in this house.  He’d protect me; it was home.  Guess it’s up to the bugs now.”

“Kelly…“

“I’m not—“ Kelly started, but the jar dropped between her open hands.  The glass shattered as it hit the floor and the sudden movement of the roach fumbling across the dark wood made Sara fear that it had come back to life.  The roach continued to slide, and then Sara thought she saw it skip, then jump and Sara knew, she knew it was preparing to fly straight towards her, to cover her face with its wings and smother her.  Instinctively, Sara ducked and covered her head with her arms.

Kelly laughed.  “You’re such a fucking baby.”

When Sara opened her eyes again, the dead cockroach lay still and quiet on the floor.  The broken glass surrounded it like a halo.

Kelly reached for another jar, another bug but the door suddenly slammed open, startling them both.

“What the hell are you two doing up here?” Sara’s mother demanded.  The SCUBA mask was high on her forehead and her gloves were smeared with green fuzz and other dark liquids.  She glanced down, taking in the broken jar and the lone roach on the floor.  Then her eyes focused on Kelly whose outstretched hand was about to grasp yet another carefully preserved specimen.

Sara knew that her mother hated the bugs as much as Sara’s grandmother had.  Yet they were still Bumpa’s, and in this moment, his love for them was all that mattered.

“It was an accident,” Sara said quickly.  “We were dusting.”

Her mother’s gaze flicked from the floor to Sara’s empty hands.  Sara dropped her head, perfectly contrite.  “We’re sorry.”

“I’ll clean it up later,” her mother said.  “You two go… dust another room.”

Kelly looked like she was about to argue, but Sara reached out her hand and Kelly took it, stepping gingerly over the mess on the floor.

“You can get away with anything,” Kelly whispered to her.  “I wish I could do that.”

“It’s because they know I’m the good one,” she said, and Kelly laughed.

“Right,” she said.

 

Four Poster Bed

American Empire tester bed made from mahogany.  In good condition.  Lace canopy included; not original.  Acanthus leaf and rope design.  Early 19th century.  Bottoms of each post have been sanded down to repair scratch marks.

 

They had been told to stay in the house, but Kelly argued that the second floor balcony was still part of the house, and thus it counted.  Sara didn’t quite agree, but she followed her cousin past her snoring uncle, across the cigarette ash stained carpet, and out the window anyway.

Once outside, Sara hugged the side of the house as if certain that the entire roof would collapse if she dared get any closer to the edge.  Kelly had no such fears.  She threw one leg over the railing then stretched out on her stomach to allow her feet to swing freely.  The balcony extended another 18 inches beyond the railing, but it still made Sara nervous to watch.

“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” Sara said.

“My dad fell off of here once you know. “

Sara nodded.  “Yeah, when he was just a kid.  Lucky he survived.”

“Lucky,” Kelly said.  “Otherwise I wouldn’t be here.”

Sara leaned her head back and stared up at the sky.  There were no stars, and no moon, only the gray weight of clouds and the night pressing in around them.

“You ever heard of broken heart syndrome?” Kelly asked.

“What?”

“My dad said that Bumpa died because he missed grandma too much.  He says people do all sorts of things when they miss someone.  Even things they regret.  You buy that?”

Sara shrugged.  “Bumpa died of a brain tumor; it had nothing to do with his heart.”

“Yeah.”

Sara thought of all the times Kelly had teased her over the past year, the times she’d said Sara was too ugly or too dumb or too smart or too much of a baby.  “Still, I guess people act out when they’re upset.  Do and say things they don’t mean.”

Kelly sat up and swung her other leg around so her back was to Sara.

“Bullshit,” she said.  “People do things because they want to.  They should stop making excuses and admit that they’re sick fucks.”

Sara sighed.

“Like right now,” Kelly said, “I want to go for a walk.”  Rather than swinging back over to Sara’s side of the balcony however, she dropped to the ledge and walked to the far side where the gutter ran up the house.

“What are you doing?” Sara asked.

“Climbing down.  You coming?”

Sara shook her head, and said nothing.  Even if it was too dark for Kelly to see the gesture, she could probably guess Sara’s answer.

“I think you should,” Kelly said.  “You never have any fun.  You only do what you’re told, what you’re supposed to do.  Come with me.”

“I’m going downstairs,” Sara said and stood up to leave.  In what seemed like seconds, Kelly was there, gripping her arms.  Her eyes were wide and her lips were pulled back against her teeth.  For a moment Sara couldn’t tell if she was grinning or preparing to bite her.  “Let go of me,” Sara said.

Kelly dropped her hands immediately.  “Please,” she said.

Sara shook her head.  “You’re a terrible influence,” she said.  “The bad seed.”

Kelly’s face twisted and before Sara could blink, a hand smacked across the side of her face hard, leaving her gasping.

“I’m sorry,” Sara said.  “I didn’t mean it.”

Kelly grabbed her hand and pulled her over to the railing.  “This is a game of trust,” she said.  “You climb down the gutter with me.  If you slip, I will catch you.  Understood?”

Sara nodded.  She watched as Kelly climbed over the railing and dropped to her hands and knees.  She leaned over to watch the top of her cousin’s head disappear into the dark and then looked back to the window.  I could leave, she thought.  I could hide in the kitchen with my mother; I could beg to go home.

“Coming?” a voice called out from below.

“Yes,” Sara said, and she began to climb.

If it had not been dark, Sara would have found it no more difficult than scrambling among the branches of a liveoak.  But because it was dark, and she was unused to climbing on metal and wood siding, she found herself slipping and grasping for purchase as her cousin offered various unhelpful suggestions to her from below.

“If you stretch, there’s a ledge beneath your right foot,” Kelly said.  “No, no, your other right,” she said.

Within minutes sweat was streaming down Sara’s neck and back. Above her the lip of the balcony beckoned: safe and welcoming.  If she could reach, if she had the arm strength, she could pull herself back up to safety.  But she couldn’t.

“I’m stuck,” she said finally.

“Then let go,” Kelly said.  “I’ll catch you.  Promise.”

Sara took a deep breath, then another.  If you can breathe, you’re okay, she reminded herself.  And then she fell.

 

Art, Various

Two Drysdale watercolors.  One recently reframed, the other with small teeth marks at the edges.  Classic scenes of Louisiana bayou with live oaks spreading over the water’s edge.  Other artwork includes slightly chipped Newcomb pottery: Blue glaze; moon barely hidden behind Spanish Moss.  Sadie Irvine, artist.

 

Sara could remember falling, a feeling of wings beating against her face and then something harder, rockier hitting her head.  When she opened her eyes, a large flashlight was shining directly into her face.  That would have been useful a few minutes ago, she thought.

Kelly knelt above her, leaning down closer and closer until their noses almost touched.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“Do I look okay?” Sara said.

“You look… bleedy.”

Sara licked her lips.  They tasted like pennies.  “How bad?”

Kelly spread her fingers between the corner of her right eye and the tip of her forehead, then made a flapping motion.  “Pretty bad,” she said.

Sara tried to sit up, but Kelly pinned her shoulders to the ground.  “Moving will only make it worse,” she said.

“You said you would catch me.”

“I didn’t think you’d actually let go.”

“Well fuck you too then.”

Kelly grinned.  “Language, love.”

Sara flexed her fingers and wiggled her toes.  She figured if she could still feel those, it couldn’t be that bad.  She felt sweat trickling down the side of her head, then realized it was probably blood.  She shuddered.

Something shimmered then, right at the edge of her vision and she blinked furiously, turning her head until her cheek met the cool concrete.  The thing walked towards her, antennae extended as if curious.

“Kindof cool though,” Kelly said.  “That could have killed you.”

Closer and closer it came, brown body twitching with anticipation.  A cockroach. Of course. It was New Orleans; cockroaches were everywhere.

“I think you must have caught a tree branch on the way down which slowed your fall.”

Sara looked up at the balcony and gutter from which she’d fallen.  It was too dark to see any branches.

“Sure,” she said.  “That must’ve been it.  Or I’m just lucky… like your father.”

“Don’t say that.  You’re nothing like him.”

Sara felt a skittering across her arm and looked down.  The roach was there, clambering over the cloth and sticky blood.  She wanted to flick it away, to shudder, but Kelly was pinning her arms to the ground.  Don’t move, she’d said.  And Sara was so tired.  The roach came closer and closer, up the line of her arm, to her neck.  Kelly didn’t even notice.  Maybe Sara was just imagining it.  That had to be it.

“Then maybe it was cult magic,” Sara said.

“Do you seriously believe everything I tell you?” Gingerly, Kelly smoothed out Sara’s hair.

“No, not really.”

“You and everyone else.”  Kelly pulled her hand away.

“Did you call for help?”

“They’re coming.  Cell phone reception still sucks so your mom is on the landline.  She’s pissed.”

Sara thought she felt the roach on her chin but still Kelly didn’t react.  Sara had to be imagining it. Her head didn’t hurt at least, not like she thought it should.  It was more of a dull ache, like a fading migraine.  But when the roach reached the corner of her eye, she started to panic.  It was real.  She could feel it, see it, hell she thought she could smell it.  And what if her skull was cracked open?  What if it burrowed inside, chewed its way into her brain.  What if it laid a thousand roach eggs there which hatched and lived inside her skull and flew out when she least expected it.  She shook her head to get it off, but it didn’t budge.

“You shouldn’t move,” Kelly said.  “You’re just getting blood more places.”

Sara began to hyperventilate.  Kelly had planned this.  She wanted Sara to fall, had refused to catch her and then called a cockroach to crawl into her brain and eat her from the inside out.  Sara opened her mouth  to scream for help, for her mother and Godfrey and anyone who would believe her.  Of course they’d believe her.  Everyone believed Sara.  They all knew that Kelly was a bully, that she lied to get her way.  Sara had tried to stick up for her, but this was the last straw.

Before she could get a word out though something hard and crunchy crawled into her mouth.  She tried to spit, to chomp down on it to keep it from sliding further in but it was too quick, or she was too late. The roach was inside her now, down her throat and she swallowed compulsively.

She gagged and then began to cough while Kelly stared down at her.

“It’s okay,” Kelly said.  “The ambulance is almost here.  You’re going to be fine.”

 

Two suitcases, three hanging garment bags, various toiletries

Removed from front hallway of home.  Suitcases have not been opened.  May still be claimed by remaining family members.  Otherwise will be put up for auction along with other items.   

 

Before her parents’ divorce, Kelly used to tell Sara half-remembered folk tales full of shapeshifting princes and witches who feasted on the blood of children.  Sometimes she’d make up a new ending for them, and make Sara guess as to whether Kelly had told her the real ending, or a Kelly ending.  When Kelly told her about Snow White’s wicked stepmother dancing in the hot iron shoes until her feet melted into the floor, Sara said it was Kelly’s version.  No one would read that to a child and expect them to grow into a halfway functioning adult.

“Nope,” Kelly said grinning.  “That’s the real one.”  Sara stopped guessing after that.

After the divorce, Kelly’s stories never had people in them: only magical cottages in the center of dark forests.  In her stories, the narrator never went inside, merely peeked in through the windows to describe the way the clothes hung against the pegs, spattered with blood and other dark fluids.  There were whips too, and cutting instruments.  Sometimes a chair would move, a door would snick open, but there was never anyone there to account for it.

Kelly never talked about her mother anymore, or why she’d left Kelly’s father or where she was.  Sara knew that Kelly had spent last Christmas with her, somewhere up in New England where it always snowed in December.

Sara had longed to be invited, so that they could build forts out of ice and dream cold dreams.  But Kelly didn’t want to talk about it, and Sara’s mother said she shouldn’t push.  Plus, Kelly lies, Sara’s mother said.  What if she said something awful about your Aunt and changed your opinion of her?  What if you saw your Aunt one day in a store and you couldn’t stop thinking about the horrible thing that Kelly said your Aunt did?  How would you react?

Sara didn’t know. She didn’t want to know.  She just wanted her cousin back.  The night after the storm hit, Kelly climbed into Sara’s bed, wrapped her arms around Sara’s torso and snuggled close.  Sara thought Kelly wanted to tell her something, but Kelly simply breathed into Sara’s neck.  Turned out she was just working her way up to it; hours later she nudged Sara awake and whispered, “If we went to war together, I’d stay with you.  Through the end.”  And then she got up, went back to her own bed, and didn’t say another word.

When Sara asked Kelly what she meant about it the next day, she said,  “Some movie I saw.  A bunch of Vietnam soldiers were out in a field running towards the helicopter which was going to fly them away to safety.  Or maybe it was zombies.  Zombies were chasing a group of soldiers through a field.  A group of friends.  They weren’t military; they were in street clothes.  The helicopter was whirring and whirring, like a roar and the friends were running as fast as they could but one fell.  No one looked back.  They all lived happily ever after.”

“Except the one that fell, right?”

Kelly shrugged.  “Becoming a zombie is a kind of living.

 

Glass Jars, various

Large collection of antique glass jars.  Could be used to hold shells or other collectibles.  Tops missing.

 

22 stitches and a prescription for pain killers later, Sara was back on the front porch of her grandparents’ house.

“We’ll leave tomorrow,” her mother said.  “I told Kelly to put our bags in the car—least she could do considering she nearly killed you.”

Sara was too tired to argue.  She’d tried to tell the whole story: beginning to end about how much Kelly simply wanted Sara to be with her, to trust her, to believe in her.  But Sara’s mother wouldn’t listen.

“That girl is a liar.  She’s a liar and she’s trouble.  The things she’s accused—“

Sara didn’t have the energy to listen.  All of her insides felt as if they’d been pulled out, stripped clean, and then put back in again.  She felt like a house full of pointless belongings and even if she had all the time in the world, she would not be able to list them.  Two kidneys.  One liver.  One heart, lungs, and perhaps one small cockroach, slightly digested and twitching in the acidity of her stomach.

Sara trudged up the stairs and thought of Kelly lying peacefully in her bed, dreaming of boys and adventures and how much fun she was going to have now that she would finally be rid of her dull, immature cousin.

Sara wished she could be more like her grandfather: patient and understanding.  “Come to me,” he’d whisper, and dark, winged things would swarm to his open arms.

She asked him once, how he did it, and he said that he loved them was all.  He loved them and they could feel his love and since they’d never been liked in all their days they’d rush to him and his jar of ether with all their might.

“But then they die,” she said.

“Yes, but they die knowing that someone wanted them.  It’s a powerful thing.”

But tonight there was nothing to whisper to, to lure from room to room with a wide scooped net.  Perhaps it was the storm, washing them all away and into the gulf.  Perhaps it was the smell of rotting food, or the sudden absence of warmth for those long months.

She listened this way and that for any sign of movement.  She whispered “Come to me,” but there was nothing.  She opened the door to her grandfather’s bug room but this too was silent and reproachful.

Finally she went to Kelly’s door and pushed it open.  Her cousin lay as if sleeping, one bare leg thrown over the covers.  Her eyes and mouth were open, staring at the wall.

“Kelly?” Sara whispered.  She took a step forward then stopped as her bare foot crunched on something hard edged like broken seashells.  Looking down she saw that the floor was moving like a wave.  It spread to the walls, to the ceiling and down the curtains.  A breeze blew from she knew not where and in it was the smell of raw meat left overnight in the rain.

“Kelly?” she said again, with quiet urgency.  The floor seemed to rush up to meet her and Sara took a step back.  The bugs followed, running over her feet like sand and spreading out into the hall.  She thought she could hear the fluttering of wings and a thousand eyes turned to her in the dark.

Come to us, they said and it was Kelly’s voice, Kelly whispering lies in her head.  Come to us, and we will love you.  We will keep you safe; we will take you home.  She stepped to the doorway again and the bugs parted, allowing her passage.  She could run to it; Kelly’s bed was a calm sandbar in a swarm of undulating, brown winged bodies.

“Kelly?” she said a third time and her cousin turned to look her straight in the eye.  Whether Kelly said anything at all, she could not tell for there was a rush of wings, a flash of white leg and then a body tumbling backwards into the sea.

 

Play
A Drabblecast original.
Episode Art:  John Deberge
Read by:  Hananel Mavity

Twabble:  “Slowly. Quietly. I creep down the tube. I sense the open air. My eight legs leave the vacuum cleaner; I run. Now. Revenge. ”  by  Lyda


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