PseudoPod 837: Offerings


Offerings

By Joe Koch


Blaine’s head hurts at the sight of Amelia shuffling up the block. Hot from raking leaves, Blaine stretches as she admires her new house in her new neighborhood. The cold pinch of October air and brisk setting sun anticipate kids pouring in tomorrow at dusk. This is prime candy territory, nothing like the streets where Blaine grew up. Children don’t trick or treat in Blaine’s old neighborhood, not with the fires and gunshots. Down there, they call it Devil’s Night. Blaine’s worked her way up and out, from dishwasher to sous chef to culinary manager. She’s hosting her nieces and nephews at the new house tomorrow, and she expects to show them the flawless picture of safety and charm she’s paying for. Being a member of this community doesn’t come cheap. Looking down the block, it’s a perfect Norman Rockwell until Amelia enters the frame.

Amelia is the neighborhood chimera. Big moist eyes, throbbing temple bones and a perpetual brood in tow mark her as an anomaly. Maybe she runs some sort of daycare. Low cost, out of her home. The couple across from Blaine points her out as Amelia Something—do you think she even has a license? They raise their eyebrows in knowing distaste. Fiftyish and dressed for golf no matter the day of the week, they interrogate Blaine. By the time they spot Amelia, Blaine’s relieved to shift the critique to the other woman’s childcare credentials. She feels wrong about it later when Amelia shambles by. Nervous and harried, Amelia wanders the upscale streets like a restless spirit locked in a magic circle of misbehaving mongrel children.

Blaine watches Amelia push the cumbersome double stroller with its side- by-side compartments for twins. It’s an old design, less streamlined than the front-to-back models used by jogging moms. Amelia’s posture recalls street people pushing shopping carts full of god knows what in Blaine’s old neighborhood. When Blaine was a child, she shunned the faceless figures covered in rags. She’d cross the street when she saw one coming. Moving away isn’t only about leaving behind the fear and filth. It’s about finding a place where it’s safe to be a better person, the kind of person Blaine wants to be.

Blaine hushes the hint of a headache and waves to Amelia, “Hi!”

Amelia’s profile passes unaware. Her eyes face front. Sundry children scamper behind. Tomorrow morning is curbside pick-up. The children grab loose garbage from waste bins and pull recycling out of neatly bundled stacks. They drag and kick their finds down the sidewalk, inventing games as they go. After exhausting the entertainment value of an empty bottle of bleach or a discarded pizza box, they fling it onto the nearest lawn.

Amelia plods onward as cans and cartons and odd bits of trash spread through the street in her wake. She’s like a tanker spewing oil.

“Hello there,” Blaine calls out.

The rotten brood swarms around Amelia like flies. Although there are only three, they create the chaos of a full-blown horde. The children stop and look at Blaine, then glance at each other and continue their moving massacre.

Blaine heads down the sidewalk after them. The three children, all girls, peek back at her with feral eyes. Amelia nears the end of the block. Before she disappears around the corner, Blaine jogs to catch up and shouts, “Hello there!”

Amelia startles and turns. Her eyes are wide and glassy, her hands clutch the stroller, and her sunken face suggests nights of wakeful trance in lieu of sleep. Amelia bares her teeth and says, “Hi. How are you?”

Moments ago half the neighborhood toiled outside under autumn’s vaulted light. Now it’s getting dark. The birds don’t chirp. Houses are barren and hushed behind festive haunted facades. Blaine does her best to return what must be Amelia’s smile and says, “Good. How are you today?”

Amelia’s brow furrows. Her watery blue eyes darken. She says, “Fine,” without conviction or irony. The horde has spread, triangulating the two women in their sites. One girl tears apart layers of cardboard from a warped packing sheet by peeling off thin strips and waving them in the air to be taken up by the breeze. The other girls fan the air with smaller sheets of cardboard, too far away to have any effect that isn’t imaginary. To Blaine’s surprise, a long cardboard curl bounces on the wind, rises aloft, and then snags in the high, bare branches of a deciduous shrub.

Blaine nods at the tangle and says, “Someone’s going to need a ladder to get that down.”

Amelia looks baffled.

Blaine speaks up in case Amelia is hard of hearing. “They’ve been scattering things all over the street behind your back. I don’t mean to be rude.” Blaine maintains a deferential smile as Amelia stares at her wildly. Blaine gestures at the nearest shred of cardboard and then points to one of the girls. “I’m sure you want to talk to them about littering.”

“Oh!” Amelia says. Her eyes bug out and zig zag around the perimeter of the triangle. Her voice is harsh. She punches out her words: “Don’t do that! You’re bad! Clean it up!”

The girls don’t react.

Blaine stutters. “Oh no, I didn’t mean—I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean you should—”

On an impulse to evoke warmth, Blaine leans down to look in the stroller. Amelia blocks her. She swerves the stroller away and starts firing out questions: “Do you have a job?”

“Yes,” Blaine says. “Of course.”

“Where do you work?”

“A hotel.”

“Which one?”

“The Kentwood Astoria.”

“What do you do?”

Blaine has the urge to lie to and cross the street, feeling confronted with a shopping cart person. Instead, Blaine acts like an adult and tells part of the truth. “I work in the kitchen.”

Amelia’s eyes have the dark, desperate plea of a cornered animal. Her fingers twist on the stroller handle as though they can’t break free. Blaine wonders if the stroller is empty. There’s no movement or cooing under the blankets, no crying or kicks, and come to think of it, she’s never noticed Amelia tending to any passengers in the double compartments.

Amelia smiles again, but she looks more like she’s in pain. She says, “I wish I had a job like that.”

“It’s great. I love to cook. Always have.” Blaine doesn’t tell Amelia she’s the culinary manager of both restaurants in the hotel. She doesn’t offer Amelia a job. “Planning, making everything just right. You know what I mean.” Amelia stares. The girls amble in closer. Blaine chatters. “You’d think after fifty, sixty hours a week I wouldn’t want to do the same thing at home, but I love it. In fact, you know, I really have to go. My nieces and nephews are coming over to trick or treat tomorrow.” The girls saunter up behind Amelia like cowboys challenging Blaine to a draw. Blaine clears her throat to cover up an inappropriate laugh at the absurd image. In the silent intensity of their stares, Blaine says, “Why don’t you drop by?”

Amelia says, “Oh. Okay.”

The girls remain inscrutable.

“I’m sorry,” Blaine says. “I have to go. I didn’t mean to be rude earlier. I can’t imagine. It must be hard for you, with so many.”

Amelia’s eyes seek the horizon like a shipwreck victim. She looks over Blaine’s shoulder and speaks to the vanishing point in the distance. She says, “They’re not mine.”


Blaine can’t lie to herself. She’s relieved when Amelia doesn’t show up.

The house has been silent for at least an hour when the doorbell rings. The house is too quiet with the party over and the kids all gone, or maybe for Blaine, it’s just quiet enough. Blaine’s not sure she’ll ever be ready to have children, not after what she saw in Amelia’s eyes last night. She’s been savoring the adult version of the witch’s brew punch and contemplating her goals when the doorbell interrupts. It’s ten-thirty.

Through a sliver in the curtains, Blaine spies Amelia clutching the stroller handle. She’s at the end of tire walkway near the street, almost out of range of tire porch light. In the dark, the stroller looks more like a shopping cart mounded with hoardings of homeless life than it does in the daytime. Amelia’s eyes jump from Blaine’s front steps to flutter moth-like at the motion in the window. Her mouth stretches into a desperate leer. Blaine sighs. A headache threatens. Placing her cocktail on the mantel, Blaine grabs a handful of good chocolate. The kiddie stuff’ is all gone. She wonders why tire hell Amelia has the children out so late.

The three girls present pillowcases faded and tattered from too many wash cycles. Frayed edges sag in tiny, expectant hands. The children wear the same clothes they had on yesterday when they plundered the garbage. Their only costumes are their masks. Blaine forces herself to say, “Well, aren’t you cute,” as she drops chocolate into each threadbare sack.

The masks look realistic, like expensive theater props. Blaine appreciates tire quality, but not the content. The first girl wears an Inuit-style bird head with spiraling hypnotic eyes and blood oozing from its beak. As the blood accumulates, it drips on the girl’s clothes. The head is plumed with what appear to be authentic feathers that rustle when she receives her candy. The second girl has the red face of a devil with hairy ears, gnarled fangs and a long forked tongue that lolls out of the side of her mouth. In place of a nose, the devil face sports a fully formed miniature devil with arms, legs and tail that dances and gestures. The tiny devil double mutters and drives at the air with a pitchfork. The third girl is a faceless, pink, flabby thing with several soft, rounded horns that protrude from the top of her head. The horns are more like knobby tentacles or snakes that stretch and enlarge at the ends. They bob and pulsate with engorged veins along the shaft like a vulgar pseudo- medical device. When Blaine gives her candy, the horns throb and lilt.

Amelia grins.

Blaine does her best to keep smiling at the masks. She’s given away all the chocolate and the girls don’t move to go. Neither does Amelia. Blaine turns her palms outward and then clasps them together. “Well,” she says, “Trick or treat.”

Amelia yells, “Say it!”

“Wik yur ree,” the girls mumble under their masks. Then the smallest girl, the one with the flabby tentacles on her head says, “I gotta go potty.”

Amelia doesn’t respond. Her teeth are clenched like a fiend and her watery blue eyes are frozen into hard, round marbles. The little girl bends her knees and bounces, pressing her hands between her legs. Her flabby horns wobble. “I gotta go now!”

“Okay, hon. Come on.” Blaine grabs the little girl’s hand and takes her to the guest bathroom. The protrusions nudge Blaine’s forearm. Blaine isn’t sure if she’s more disgusted by the physical sensation of the soft horns or by the behavior of the girl’s mother. Or whatever Amelia is supposed to be. Blaine kneels, eye-level with the eyeless face. She asks, “Do you need any help?” The little girl giggles and slams the bathroom door.

Blaine wonders how the child can see anything from inside the mask. She hopes she can take it off on her own. After several minutes of quiet, Blaine says, “How are you doing?” There’s no answer. Blaine tries the door handle. It’s locked. Blaine taps a few times. “Is everything okay?” The toilet flushes and the girl bursts through into Blaine’s arms. Blaine catches her and asks, “Did you forget to wash your hands?” The girl shakes her head, jiggling the mask’s rubbery horns. She squirms out of Blaine’s grasp and runs away.

Cold air and scraps of leaf litter from the street tumble into Blaine’s living room through the open front door. The girls sprawl on Blaine’s Persian rug sorting mountains of candy. Their tattered pillowcases drape the room. A statue of Kuan Yin sticks her sutra out from under a worn floral pattern. Soil and rocks spill from a houseplant trampled by a herd of threadbare unicorns. Pink polka dots clash with tasteful earth tone upholstery. Blaine rushes past the disaster to fetch Amelia from outside.

The walkway is empty. The street is deserted. Blaine looks up and down the block and jogs to the corner, passing plastic gravestones and cardboard skeletons. She runs to the opposite corner, searching by the orange glow of jack-o-lanterns with wicked smiles that share an inside joke. Heading back up the other side, black cat decals mock Blaine’s panic with cartoon anxiety in their eyes. Swaying effigies of an old green-faced witch nod wisely, warning Blaine to be mindful of the historical fate of unconventional women. The same black-cloaked dolls with pointed caps hang from every porch except for Blaine’s, as though marking her lack of affinity with some unspoken tradition. Amelia is nowhere in sight.

“Damn her,” Blaine whispers.

Returning to the brood, Blaine crouches on the living room carpet. All three girls wear their masks. They sort candy in silence. Starting with the largest piece, regardless of flavor, color or type, they arrange stacks to achieve an even distribution of mass. Little hands weigh and move the candy each time the job appears done. Blaine guesses it must be a game with rules only the girls understand.

The dissimilarity of the girls with other children leaves Blaine unsure how to act. Earlier, when her brother’s youngest spilled red pop on her pants, Blaine improvised a new costume bottom with a pair of patterned leggings. The girl stopped crying, the others quit teasing, and all of the children got curious about the hidden treasures in Aunt Blaine’s closet. Blaine raided her wardrobe for accessories and ended up hosting a side party in her bedroom and dressing up with the kids. Her siblings looked at her askance, but it was more fun than listening to her brother-in-law pontificate about current events.

Blaine breaks the silence. “That’s quite a haul. Looks like you guys hit the jackpot tonight.”

The girls continue their candy game with the gravity of old men playing poker. They don’t eat any candy. They don’t battle or bargain for favorites. They measure and sort.

“Which one do you like best?” Blaine asks.

None of the girls says a word.

Blaine takes a small cellophane bag of candy corn out of the middle pile and tears it open with her teeth. “You don’t mind if I have this one, right?”

She’s got the girls’ attention. They stop playing and turn toward Blaine while she chews the sugary tidbits. The candy is so sweet it’s almost painful to eat. Blaine says, “Did Miss Amelia tell you where she was going?”

Facing Blaine, the girls don’t answer or resume their game. They sit still except for the unnatural movement of the masks.

“Can you tell me where Miss Amelia went, or make a guess for me? Did she say anything before she left?”

The bird mask rolls its spiraling eyes in exasperation. The devil nose smirks. The flaccid horns quiver.

“Has she done this before? Where does she go?”

The autonomous devil nose can’t contain itself any longer. It blurts, “She can go to Hell!”

Blaine keeps chewing as the nose does a little dance and the face around it glows a deeper shade of red. Blaine’s amazed by the craftsmanship. She can’t see any wires or strings. She says, “You look like you’d know the way there.”

All three girls burst out laughing.

Blaine isn’t sure if laughter is progress, but it’s better than weird silence. She addresses the autonomous devil nose. “Excuse me, sir. We haven’t been properly introduced. My name is Blaine. What’s your name?”

The miniature devil raises its pitchfork. The girls chant in happy unison like a squad of cheerleaders: “We are Legion!”

“I see,” Blaine says. “So you’re little demons tonight.”

The masks nod with enthusiasm.

Blaine rises and gathers the discarded pillowcases from around the room. “Being supernatural and all, I know you’re not tired, but it’s getting pretty late.” She picks up candy and drops it into the bags. “I’m sure all of you know that if demons don’t get back to Hell before midnight they turn back into regular boring girls.”

The masks confer quickly. Blood-beak points her hypnotic spiraling eyes at Blaine. “That’s not true! You’re lying.”

Blaine shrugs off the accusing stare. The eyes make her dizzy if she looks for too long. “Find out for yourself then.” She shovels candy off the floor with both hands and fills up the sacks. The girls try to stop her and pull the candy back out. Blaine is bigger and faster and competitive by nature. She pins a full pillowcase closed with her knee and uses her elbows to block the girls’ assault. Hands slap and bump and grab. Wrappers tear and candy colors smudge under fingernails. Blaine’s breathless as she presents each girl with a full pillowcase in triumph. “Okay. Come on, let’s get up and go.”

Blood-beak says, “Go where?”

“Home,” Blaine says. “Lead the way.”

Devil-nose is the biggest girl. She cocks her head to one side and says, “We are home, dummy.”

Blood-beak concurs, “You’ll get used to it.”

“Nope,” Blaine says. “You’re evicted. Up and out.”

Devil-nose lifts her pillowcase as high in tire air as her arms can reach and turns it upside down. Candy bounces across the carpet, rolls under the chairs and coffee table, and lodges between the end tables and couch. Detached wrappers drift and scatter into every corner. The other girls follow her lead and do the same. Then they count to three and toss their empty pillowcases into the air and clap. The sacks parachute over the room like jovial ghosts at play.

“Fine,” Blaine says, taking the smallest girl’s arm, the shy one with the wobbly horns on her faceless head. “You can go without your candy.”

Horn-head’s body goes slack. Her arm is dead weight in Blaine’s grip. She wails, “No, Mommy, no. I don’t like this game.” Blaine tries to hold her so she’ll stand up, but the child collapses in tears and rolls as if she’s in agony, crushing warm candy into tire rug.

Devil-nose rushes to comfort little Horn-head, clutching her tight and rolling along with her. “Look what you did. You made her cry!”

Blood-beak flings her feathers at Blaine before she joins. “You’re supposed to be nice!”

Something slick splatters Blaine’s face. The girls wrestle in a confusion of animal parts and totem heads. The smallest one cries: “Mommy, mommy, don’t make me leave you!” The others scream the same words in repeated torment and mocking laughter. The miniature devil on the biggest girl’s nose brays and squeals. Blaine feels dizzy and insane, like she’s watching a pen of cannibal pigs mangle each other on her living room floor.

The cacophony of laughter and piercing wails from the girls stabs Blaine’s temples. She says, “Stop it” uselessly. The roiling mass expands and engulfs her like a migraine. Her head pounds until she realizes that the pounding is outside her skull, on her front door, where a fist demands an answer. Blaine lunges and almost falls into a blinding light. It’s the police.

Two officers stand on the threshold. One shines a flashlight inside and says, “Excuse me, ma’am. Is everything alright here?”

“Oh no, no it’s not,” Blaine says. “Please, come in.”

The officers exchange a look and step inside. Behind them, the deserted street has come to life, not with roaming ghosts but with peering neighbors, open storm doors and illuminated porch lights. The black witch effigy dolls are lit from behind, casting shadows. They sway on their brooms, titillating lurid whispers up and down tire block.

The girls cling to Blaine’s legs like baby marsupials cowering from a threat. Blaine gestures at the creatures with open palms. “Their mother left them here. Or babysitter. This is so terrible, the poor things. Please, can you get them home?”

“What’s the address, ma’am?”

“I don’t know.”

“Have you called their mother?”

“I don’t have a number. Her name’s Amelia.”

“Amelia what?”

“I don’t know. Everyone knows her. Ask one of those people.” Blaine points over the crush of the girls at the peeping faces outside. The officer with the flashlight lowers it, and then turns and shuts the front door. The last thing Blaine sees outside is the neighbor couple in matching bathrobes pulling their witch doll down from the rafters.

The second officer buddies up next to Blaine and the girls while Flashlight scans the scene. The girls press into Blaine. Devil teeth snag holes in Blaine’s sweatpants. Blood drips from the beak and dampens her thighs. Flabby horns writhe on her like hungry worms.

Blaine pushes back at the girls. Her fingers sink into the horns like chewed bubblegum. The bloody beak nips at her wrist. Jesus,” she says, “Get them off me.”

Flashlight. says, “Calm down, ma’am.”

Buddy admonishes, “You shouldn’t talk that way in front of the children.”

Blaine knows she’s got blood from the bird-beak spattered across her forehead and her ponytail has fallen halfway out. Smeared candy sticks to the carpet, Kuan Yin lies prone among used pillowcases and shredded wrappers, and watery dirt from the house plant spreads a black stain on the hardwood floor. Blaine tries to act more reasonable than she appears. “Please,” she says, “Can you take them? Their mother must be worried sick.”

From the mantle, there’s a loud chink as the ice melts in Blaine’s cocktail glass.

Flashlight. says, “Have you been drinking?”

“I made punch,” Blaine says. “For my family.”

“Is that a yes, ma’am?”

Blaine says, “It’s not like that. It was mostly children.”

“Where’s your husband?”

“I’m single.”

“Three kids and not married,” Flashlight says to Buddy.

Blaine starts to protest and Buddy comes to her defense. “Things are different now than when we were coming up. You can’t judge girls these days, what with women’s lib and them having to work and all. Be glad it’s not the drugs.”

Flashlight. shakes his head at Blaine. “I guess I’m just old-fashioned.”

Blaine struggles against the girls. “Look, you don’t get it. Listen—ouch, stop it!”

Flashlight. kneels next to Blaine and speaks to Blood-beak. “Hi, sweetheart. You look really scary tonight. Did your mommy help you with your costume?”

Blood-beak says proudly, “No. I made it all by myself.”

“How about that?” says Flashlight. “What’s all over your mouth?”

“Candy.”

“Is that what you call it? It looks pretty messy. Did you eat too much candy tonight?”

“No, sir.”

“What about mommy? Did mommy have too much fun and get messy?”

Blood-beak says, “She invited us, sir.”

Blaine says, “What does this have to do with—get them off me!”

Flashlight. says, “Do you think you can be good for mommy tonight?”

“For Christ’s sake,” Blaine says. “I’m not—”

Flashlight. cuts her off sternly. “How much have you had to drink tonight, ma am?

“Two glasses of punch. Who cares?”

Buddy explains: “See, honey, if you blow point-oh-eight it’s a mandatory report. We have an obligation.”

“Report what? This is my house.”

“We have to call protective services. It’s mandatory.”

“Are you crazy?”

Flashlight stands and puts his hand near his holster. “Just relax, ma’am. There’s no need for talk like that. Answer the question. Are you the sole caretaker of these children? Is there anyone else here?”

“No, but-”

“Seems like she lives alone, then,” Flashlight says to Buddy.

Buddy shrugs. “Yeah. Too bad she didn’t drink much. It’s gonna be rough.”

Flashlight. checks the scene once more and moves toward the door. He declares: “The only substance I see being abused here is sugar.”

Buddy says, “You got that right.”

“Wait,” Blaine says. “What about them?”

“Mommy, you’re so funny.” The girls laugh and hug Blaine’s legs like a Chinese finger trap. The more she struggles, the tighter they grip.

Buddy tells Blaine, “I’d try to relax more if I were you.”

The girls join their small hands and close the ring tighter around Blaine. They spin Blaine against her will as they circle and begin to sing a nursery rhyme. Blaine cries out, “Wait. Report me. Take them away. Please.”

Buddy’s eyes follow the counter-clockwise motion of the girls spinning Blaine around and around. He frowns at Flashlight. “I hope she can handle them better than the last one. What do we tell the Connors about Riley?”

Blaine shouts: “Hey. Arrest me. Get me out of here.”

Flashlight says, “I don’t think we need to make a big deal out of a few extra treats on Halloween. Everyone knows the risks.”

“True,” Buddy says. He turns to Blaine once more. “We’ll let it slide this one time. We know it’s hard being a single mom, especially when you have so many.”

Blaine’s voice succumbs to the sing-song chant of the girls as Buddy and Flashlight lock the door behind them. Blaine mouths the muted words: They’re not mine.

The chant pulsates around her. The song is a nursery rhyme Blaine doesn’t recognize in a language she can’t understand. Her head throbs in cadence with the repetitive melody as she spins. The girls distort and expand, forming a membranous skin. Blaine punches at the elastic mass enclosing her. It absorbs her effort and warps back into place. She tries to aim for their faces and fails. It’s impossible for Blaine to single out the individual masks in the spinning swarm of devil laugh, razor beak and warm flesh. Blaine can see everything clearly, but her mind can’t process what she sees. The girls have sloughed off their street clothes. Their bodies are the same as their faces. Their faces are not masks.


At tire edge of an empty ballpark, a baby stroller waits outside in tire dark. It’s a cumbersome double stroller, tire type with side-by-side seating compartments for twins. An autumn frost coats the bulky shape, highlighting it under the glow of the Hunter’s moon against a backdrop of pines.

If a curious passerby stops, they breathe easy to notice no sound or motion from the abandoned stroller. Coming near, they worry about what they’ll find tucked underneath the blanket. The worn coverlet appears to be decorated with alphabet blocks, but upon closer inspection, the symbols look more like ancient runes. Thinking twice about using their bare hands, the curious observer searches the ground for a fallen branch. They lift the weather- stained blanket, revealing a vacuum of darkness inside the stroller compartments blacker than tire surrounding night. A flash of deeper, greater darkness from within startles them. They drop the branch, and it’s sucked away. There’s a crackling sound, as if something unseen is trying to eat the branch.

Another crackling sound resonates across the park. At the crest of a hill, tire neighborhood is gathered around a bonfire. It’s the end of October again, tire transitional time between fall and winter. Until the New Year begins on the morning after Halloween, the fate of the community hangs in tire balance. The veil is thin, and everything can change tonight. With equal reverence and revelry, tire neighborhood residents wait for the cutty black sow to show her face and give herself up as an offering.

Blaine doesn’t hear tire bonfire or the crackling of tire branch from tire double stroller compartments. She hears the hungry crying of its passenger. Blaine experiences the crying as a direct bond, as her own insatiable need.

The rest of the world is barely audible. As Blaine practices leaving the stroller unattended for longer and more agonizing stretches of time, the sound of crying never stops. When Blaine grasps the handle once again, she’s flooded with a sickening relief. Then she’s compelled to push. The giggling girls encircle her, swarming and weaving in a chaotic orbit. One full year of Blaine’s life has passed this way.

Near the bonfire, Blaine’s neighbors watch with orange faces, lit by flame. The couple in golf clothes gropes one another with weird delight. Flashlight and Buddy stand at attention, solemn in their fire safety gear. Other familiar faces leer, faces Blaine can’t associate with names, joggers and gardeners and pedigreed dog walkers. All grow hideous with grotesque laughter, spitting and popping like logs in the fire, grinning like jack-o-lanterns sharing an inside joke.

Blaine’s exhausted from a year of service, a year of keeping the girls well- fed with scraps and travelers from the hotel, a year of constant need and no rest. Blaine sees an easy answer in the beckoning flames.

Lucky for her, the girls are good at keeping secrets. Blaine’s primed them as much as she can. They’re excited she wants to play dress up and they’ve been rehearsing every day. Tonight is their big chance. The girls leap as the stroller hits the bonfire. Blood-beak jabs her maw deep between Blaine’s thoracic vertebrae and into her spinal column. After a rupture of pain, powerful wings emerge from Blaine’s back. Blaine feels stronger and lighter. She begs her hands to release the stroller. Gravity helps them comply. As Blaine rises, Devil-nose plunges down her throat. Blaine feels like she’s choking until a long, fiery tongue snakes its way over her esophagus and out of her mouth. She sprays fire on the crowd below. The last girl, faceless and soft-horned, clings whining around Blaine’s waist. She’s the youngest of the three and needs a little push. Blaine coaxes her gently and reminds her of the plan. They merge, and a glorious Leviathan unfolds beneath Blaine’s wings.

The stroller rolls down the hill, unmothered and ablaze. The crowd chases it in frenzy. Blaine lays them to waste. No one remains to save the stroller from burning. No one is left to hold the maw of the portal open and allow the unseen occupant to gape into a world where it doesn’t belong. The passenger is banished. The crying abates. The October sky glows amber and red, and the mythical beast Blaine has become circles the neighborhood and pumps its majestic wings. It rises higher and higher in an ascending orbit above the trees and wraps itself in wisps of cloud. It folds its wings and settles into the sky. Drifting moon’s silhouette in a chimera-shaped nest, the beast an unspoiled sleep.

About the Author

Joe Koch

Joe Koch

Joe Koch writes literary horror and surrealist trash. Joe is a Shirley Jackson Award finalist and the author of The Wingspan of Severed HandsThe Couvade, and Convulsive. They’ve had over eighty short stories published in places like Vastarien, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror, and The Queer Book of Saints

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About the Narrator

Christiana Ellis

Christiana Ellis is an award-winning writer and podcaster, currently living in Massachusetts. Her podcast novel, Nina Kimberly the Merciless was both an inaugural nominee for the 2006 Parsec Award for Best Speculative Fiction: Long Form, as well as a finalist for a 2006 Podcast Peer Award. Nina Kimberly the Merciless is available in print from Dragon Moon Press. Christiana is also the writer, producer and star of Space Casey, a 10-part audiodrama miniseries which won the Gold Mark Time Award for Best Science Fiction Audio Production by the American Society for Science Fiction Audio and the 2008 Parsec Award for Best Science Fiction Audio Drama. In between major projects, Christiana is also the creator and talent of many other podcast productions including Talking About SurvivorHey, Want to Watch a Movie? and Christiana’s Shallow Thoughts. Her most recent novel: Phyllis Esposito: Interdimensional Private Eye is now available as both print and ebook. All her work can be found at christianaellis.com.

 

 

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