shameless self-promotion

You can find my untitled internet quiz parody in Fuckit issue 3, Vote, Motherfucker, Vote!

Now, far be it from me to use that kind of vulgarity …

… wait, hang on, I think Scott may have collapsed …

Oh.  No.  He’s just on the floor laughing.  What’s that, honey?  Oh.  I’m being told I just said earlier this evening that “motherfucker” is one of my favorite words.  Apparently I texted this message, so he has receipts.  Um.  Well.  How embarrassing.

Okay, fine.  Look.  I am not calling you, dear reader, “motherfucker.”*  HOWEVER.

You should vote.

AND YOU SHOULD BUY AND READ THIS ‘ZINE!  It’s got me, Alexis Siemon, Emily Paige Ballou, Karen Sorenson, and David M. Briggs!

(You may get called a motherfucker in the ‘zine.  By me.  Depends on the quiz result.  I mean it fondly, though.  I just used it on my husband, so clearly I use the term as an endearment.)

*Unless you’re Oedipus, in which case, dude.  Come on.  You cannot blame me.


Okay, so if that didn’t offend you to the point of unfollowing my blog, hi!

I’m back to working at work twice a week, remotely the rest.  So far that’s going okay.  I  missed my work sibling trying to hang a sign on the new automatic doors we got during shutdown, so that’s a bummer, but otherwise it’s good.

I got an advance copy of Stories We Tell After Midnight 2, which will be out in October and contains “Primary Manifestations,” by moi.  It looks coooool … lots of stories in there I’m excited to read.

stress relief in the soft apocalypse

It’s been a stressful couple of weeks around these parts as Florida caseloads keep climbing.  There’s new software for work we’re trying to figure out, the dog keeps scratching at a spot on her face so she’s back in the cone, and we’ve been trying to figure out what to do for the kid’s schooling in the fall.

I found myself at loose ends the other day, not really wanting to play Animal Crossing or watch TV.  I’d just finished a book, so my brain was like no reading right now.  Had also just finished writing for the day, so none of that.

The husband suggested taking dumb photos of Sam Porter Bridges in Death Stranding.

I hadn’t messed around with the photo thing they added to the game, so I loaded it up.  I took a few shots, but then found myself accepting cargo to deliver.  I found a truck, drove down the very nice road we have all built out of Lake Knot City, delivered whatever the hell it was to … the Engineer?  I think?  Then I Fragile jumped to Heartman’s lab to borrow the spa, let Lou swim around a bit, and delivered some time-sensitive samples to the Evo-Devo biologist (oh my god was that a goddamned chore. I literally destroyed a truck. Had to go to the Paleontologist’s to get some floating carriers, come back, track down all the cargo, then drag the stuff the rest of the way.  I did make it in time, though.  Barely).

I avoided all the BTs.  No fighting.  Just me and my BB delivering the mail.

The thing about Death Stranding is that you’re post-apocalypse. It’s quiet.  If you ignore your email, you don’t get a lot of people’s opinions on what’s happened or what’s happening.  Once you complete the game, you don’t have the other characters interrupting you as you make your way from one place to another.  Likes and information about who delivered what are text-based and easy to ignore, but also nice little reminders that you’re not entirely alone in the world.  Your only responsibility is the baby, which only becomes an issue if you fall on your face too many times. It doesn;t hurt that the game is really pretty.

It was nice.  100% recommend for those times when you need to turn the noise down.

Woulou, part 2

Not raising money this time, just putting a story into the world.  Hope you enjoy.  Part One is here.


After that, I was ready to sell my car to clear out the jungle in the back corner of the yard. Of course, it wouldn’t be that easy because the plants themselves weren’t on our side of the fence; they were just invading our space.  If I really wanted to clear all that junk out, I’d have to talk to whoever owned the house behind us.

So the next day, after I got dinner for Morgan and me and helped him with his homework (thank god no math facts tonight, because I didn’t think I could cope with lack of sleep, talking to the neighbor about her haunted yard, and Morgan’s patented foot-dragging through the times tables), I left the kid reading his AR book under the watchful eye of our resident ghost and walked around the block to the blue house with brown trim.

The lady who opened the door was elderly, dressed in a pair of denim cutoffs and a camisole tank top over an industrial-strength beige bra.  The air that fled through the doorway smelled of lavender and the slightest hint of cigarette smoke, as though she’d stopped smoking years ago but never really scrubbed the place down after.  She had short-cropped white hair and a faded tattoo on her forearm, maybe a rose?  Her knuckles were swollen, her back was stooped, and her eyes had a look like she would poison me if I asked her to talk about Jesus.  I immediately revised my personal old-lady goals from being Carrie Fisher to being this lady when I hit 70.

“Hi,” I said, going a lot less chirpy than I’d planned.  “I’m Mallory.  I live behind you, with my son.  I was wondering if I could talk to you about the plants in the corner of your yard, by the shed.”

“What about ‘em?”  Man, she sounded like that old lady on the Shoebox cards looked.

“Well, they’re overgrowing the fence, and it looks like there’s poison oak in there–”

She shook her head.  “Look, hon, I’m on a fixed income–”

“I’m willing to pay,” I said quickly.

That got a look.  She managed to knowingly side-eye me while facing me straight on.  “There have been a lot of people in and out of that house back there, and none of them ever offered to pay to clear out my back corner.”

“It’s full of poison oak and some kind of demon mist,” I replied.

She blinked at me.  “You got a lawn guy will take care of demon mist?”

“One step at a time,” I said.  “We get rid of the poison oak and the other crap, see where the demon mist is coming from.  Maybe we call the EPA, maybe we call the church.”

She screwed her mouth up to one side as she leaned in the door frame.  “About ten, fifteen years ago, they rented that place out to a woman and three guys.  Young fellas, all very built–I’m not gonna judge, more power to you, sweetheart.  They played music all night, but it wasn’t terrible–you remember when Gregorian chants were a thing at the clubs?  Stuff like that.  Anyway, I saw two of the boys leave early one morning.  Didn’t think anything of it, but I didn’t see the other two again, and they bounced without paying their rent.  Right after they left, all that crap grew up in the corner.  Took it maybe a month to get just like it is, now.  A goddamned month for a punk tree to grow and just about die.”  She emphasized this last point with one twisty finger aimed at my face.  “So you want to pay to clear it out, be my guest.  I hope it cleanses your devil mist, hon.”

***

After I spoke to the old lady, I came home and did the rest of the evening routine: an episode of Leverage, teeth brushing, “Use the bathroom even though you claim you don’t need to, holy cow, kid, how far can a seven-year-old bladder stretch?” and a chapter of Castle Hangnail before smooching Morgan on the head and making sure he had Parker, who also got his smooch.

Then I got my pillow and a blanket to bed down on the couch.  I’d hear anything weird better out here than in my room.

It took forever to fall asleep, but I must have because the next thing I knew Morgan was screaming and the lights were flipping on and off like a disco.  I don’t remember the trip from the couch to Morgan’s room, just that I was there, hands on either side of his sweaty face, saying in the firmest Mom-voice I could manage, “Morgan.  Morgan, you’re dreaming.  Wake up, baby.”

He jerked awake, gasped, and bolted upright, throwing his arms around me.  “Mom!”

He shook in my arms, breaths shuddering in and out.  “It’s okay, I’ve got you.  It’s okay, baby.  Just a nightmare.”

“I don’t like that lady,” he said, finally.

“I bet she was a real bitch,” I said.  I pulled back from him a little and asked, “You want to tell me about it?”

Morgan frowned.  “There was the mean lady.  And it was foggy.  And …”  He thought for a minute, then said, “And that’s all I remember.  Just she was mean.  A … you know what.”

I smiled at him, brushed his hair back from his forehead.  “If you dream about her again, you can go ahead and call her a bitch, okay?”

“Okay.  Mom?”

“Yeah?”

He opened his mouth, then shut it again.  I asked, “You wanna sleep in my bed, kiddo?”

He drooped with relief.  “Yeah, can I?”

“Gather the guys.  I gotta straighten up the living room.”

Back went the pillow and blanket, joined by Parker, Mr. Magee, Old Mrs Bones (a hedgehog), Torque Jamiroquai, Sadie Cat, and Morgan, who curled into my side and fell asleep.  I, of course, did not sleep much at all–but where usually sharing a bed with Morgan was like sharing a bed with a small space heater, tonight my room was cold enough that it was comfortable.  Thanks, Woulou.

***

The soonest I could get a lawn guy to come out to give me an estimate was a week.

“What if I told you it was haunted?” I asked.  I was calling from work; my office-mate raised his eyebrows at me but said nothing.

“Baby girl, it could be a clutch of Satan’s own nose hair and I ain’t got a time slot sooner’n next week.”

Baby fucking girl–maybe the demon mist would like to eat the shriveled soul of  Joe from O’Reilly’s Discount Lawn Care?  But they were definitely the least expensive–I would not go so far as to call that amount cheap–so I went ahead and made the appointment, resigning myself to a week of Morgan sleeping in my room.

***

We got pizza for dinner that night, as I was too tired to deal with cooking. Maybe, I hoped, I might be tired enough to sleep even with seven-year-old feet in my ribcage.  Morgan seemed tired, too–he was fussy but didn’t put up much of a fight over running his times tables or his other homework.  I got him settled on the couch with his book for school and went to take a shower.  I ran the water a little hotter than I generally like in hopes of staying awake.

The master bath is the reason I fell in love with the house.  The landlord had just remodeled it: a huge walk-in shower with a damn bench seat, all new tile, gorgeous light fixtures.

I had just rinsed the shampoo out of my hair when those gorgeous light fixtures went insane.  Desperate frantic strobing as I jerked the water off and stumbled out the shower door into the simultaneously hot and cold air; I yanked shorts and a t-shirt on as letters appeared in the mirror’s steam:

M O R G A N

Fuck fuck fuck fuck–

I slipped on the all-new tile, landing hard on my hip.  I bit my tongue and wrenched my ankle, but I hauled myself up and limp-ran through the connecting door to my room into the living room.

The blanket on the couch had been shoved into a lump at one end.  Morgan’s book lay face-down on the floor.  The lights in his bedroom started to flash like I didn’t know where to go next.

Open window.  Screen on the ground outside.  In the blue twilight I saw a small gray lump on the ground.  And mist.  Seeping across the yard from the overgrown corner.

I’m not small enough, really, to climb through Morgan’s window, but blind panic tinged with rage creates miracles.  My wrenched ankle wobbled when I landed on it but held me up.  The mist coiled around my shins, touching and drawing back like it was testing my skin.

Where the fuck was Morgan–

A cold, cold breeze picked up behind me.  As it blew around my hips, the mist retreated, clearing a path.  Right toward the jungle.

On the ground at my feet lay Old Mrs. Bones, stuffing spilling out of her ripped seams.

I picked her up, shoved her into the pocket of my shorts, and ran to the overgrown mess in the corner of the yard.  A small hole–tunnel?–opened up the middle of the thicket, just big enough for a skinny seven-year-old boy to crawl into.

Out of the hole, muffled, Morgan’s voice:  “Mom?  I can’t find you!”

I dropped to my knees like a rock and crawled partway into the hole.  “Morgan, baby, I’m here–can you hear me?”

“Mom?”  The inside of the thicket was dark, clearly not meant for me to crawl into, but my blind panic had turned into laser focus on my kid, my boy, so I shoved my way through the holly thorns and poison oak.

“Morgan, tell me if you can hear me,” I called.

“I hear you, Mom!”

The fuck kind of Doctor Who bullshit was going on in here?  There was no way this mess was big enough that I shouldn’t be right on top of him.  Fucking magic ghost monster fuckery.  Probably magick spelled with a ‘k.’

“Morgan, baby, follow my voice, sweetheart.”  And who the fuck was that, because it was for sure not me.

“Mom?”  Morgan sounded uncertain.  Probably because I’d never called him sweetheart.

“That wasn’t me, Morgan.  Follow my voice.”  Even as I said it, I knew it wasn’t helpful.

Then I saw the light.  Far away, but light.  A figure silhouetted in front of it that could be me.  Or not.

“Mom!” Morgan shouted–I still couldn’t see him, but I knew.  Light is “good;” dark is “bad;” we instinctively head to where we can see.  I heard him moving.

“Morgan, no, not the light, Mommy’s not in there–I’m in the dark, boyo, can you come to me?”  He didn’t respond.  I could hear … my voice, but not my voice–and no words, just the sound, so if I couldn’t make out what it was saying but Morgan could, it meant he was closer to her than to me; I cracked open like an egg and started babbling:

“Morgan.  Morgan Harwood Banks–I named you after my grandfather; you didn’t get to meet him but you smile like him!  You like yogurt raisins, but not yogurt or plain raisins or raisins dumped in yogurt!  You haven’t finished Castle Hangnail, but Pins is your favorite character and you want Ursula Vernon to make a stuffed version.”  Brush rustled, coming closer maybe?  Not my voice–less like my voice–raised, angry, but I didn’t dare stop talking to listen better, even as I crossed all my fingers and toes.  “You have, like, a gazillion stuffed guys!  There’s Mike and Maggie, who are best friends even though he’s a dinosaur and she’s a rabbit.  Pancake Man is always in charge when you go to Dad’s–he’s a giant pancake with a face and legs and arms.  You have a cheetah you named Spot Clean because you got food on him right after Granny bought him for you and I said we could spot clean him.  Dad got you an iguana named Torque Jamiroquai and he’s part of an acid jazz band.  He’s been smooching on Sadie Cat!”

“Mom!”  I heard him.   Not shouting.  This was Morgan’s “trying not to freak out” voice, usually reserved for alerting me to wasps or spiders in his room.  “Mom.  Keep. Talking.”  Closer.  Still could not see jack.  “Please.”

Please almost broke me again.  But.  Fuck, and I cannot emphasize this enough, that shit.

“Your most special guy is Parker.  He’s a raccoon.  Everybody thinks you named him after Peter Parker, but he’s actually named after your favorite character on Leverage. I still don’t know how you found Leverage, kid, but Parker the raccoon is basically Leverage Parker in a raccoon suit, he gets into so much mischief, he hotwired a school bus once to go visit you at school–”

A small hand smacked blindly onto my knee.

I reached out, grabbed a pair of skinny, delicate shoulders, and heaved Morgan into my lap.

Mommy,” he sighed, hard and shuddering, wrapping his arms and legs around me.

“I got you, baby.  I got you.”

Something screamed.  Like an eagle, a banshee, a tornado.  I tightened my grip on Morgan.  “Baby koala it, okay?” I murmured to him.

“Okay.”

It was hard to move backward, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to move forward toward that sound.  I shoved, pushed, and crawled backward until my back hit brush like a wall behind me.  I could still barely see anything.  Morgan whimpered into my neck.  I tried to stand up, but the brush over me was as unyielding as what was behind me.  Like a jungle of concrete.

The tunnel contracted with a whispery creaking under the screaming; thorns, branches, leaves slid over my shoulders, my scalp.  I felt them along my thighs and wrists.  One branch brushed my neck and curved around my throat.

I sat, frozen.  What the fuck did I do, now?  I had to think of something; I’d been thinking of somethings all night, so any second now, I would think of another something …

The cold crashed over us like–I dunno, like a transformer blowing after dark, a bang and then you’re blinking in the darkness; just —cold–and a muffled cut-off shriek, and then me blinking ice off my lashes.  Me shifting my weight–our weight–and the broken glass chiming of flash-frozen vegetation crumbling around us.

“Woulou?” Morgan whispered as I stood up, shattering ice-branches.  I backed away from the pile of scrub, kicking at it  it as I went, Morgan hanging onto me and calling “Woulou?” as the air warmed.

***

I put Morgan down right inside his window.

“Mom?” he asked when I didn’t immediately climb inside.

“I need you to go get the big container of salt,” I told him.  “Bring it to the window.  Don’t come back into the yard, just yell to me.”

“Okay,” he said, and disappeared into the house.  I heard him calling for Woulou as he went.

I turned back to the yard.  Ice fell out of my hair when I ran my hand through it.

When Morgan returned with the salt, I took it to the corner.  I kicked and stomped  all the frozen plants to splinters.  I climbed the fence and crushed the punk tree and the Florida holly.

I dumped salt all over everything.

I found a hole just inside the fence.  I poured the remaining salt into it.  The next day I’d buy the salt pellets you use in a water softener, the big 10lb bags, and fill it in with them.

But first, after I’d done what I could, I went back to my baby, who watched me from the window.  I climbed inside and shut it tight.  I got Old Mrs. Bones out of my pocket and put her in the mending basket, tracked Parker down in my room, and the three of us piled onto the couch to watch Leverage until Morgan fell asleep.

It was too hot–Morgan was his usual heater self–and I didn’t sleep at all.  Both Parkers were decent company, but I wondered about Woulou.

***

I forgot the lawn guy.

He had a cancellation.  Showed up two days later–in a truck that had an “eat the rich” bumper sticker, which  almost made up for “baby girl”–and poked around with his shovel in the remains of the jungle.  The rest of the yard was completely untouched.  Even the fence remained unscathed.

“Haunted, huh?” he asked, eyebrows up into the brim of his trucker cap.

“Ayup.”  I tried not to scratch at the poison oak rash all over my arms and neck.  The swelling in my face had gone down a lot.  Morgan had been spared the worst of it, thankfully.

Joe from O’Reilly’s Discount Lawn Care didn’t even charge me for coming out.  Just raked up what was left of the plant life and told me he’d have it all burned.

“Woulou can’t be dead,” Morgan reasoned that night over dinner.  “He’s a ghost.  He already died once, so he can’t die again.”

“Maybe he moved on,” I said.  “That’s what ghosts are supposed to do.”

Morgan sighed.  “I miss him.”

“Me too, buddy.”

***

I kept Morgan home from school for a couple of days to recover and stayed home a couple more myself because of my face.  The house remained warm, cooled by nothing more than the AC.

Morgan wasn’t sure what he wanted to tell Paul.  He didn’t want to tell me everything, either–he said he noticed his window was open.  He went to shut it so “we wouldn’t have a giant electric bill and have to pawn all my guys” and saw Old Mrs. Bones outside.  When he climbed out, he heard a voice that sounded like mine calling his name, but it sounded weird.  “I thought you were hurt and that was why you sounded funny.”

He wouldn’t talk about what happened in the thicket.  Nothing past, “She never touched me.  She just … talked.”

He dreamed about it, though.  The first couple of nights after he stayed in my room, but even after he decided it was okay to sleep in his pwn bed again I was up at least once a night to soothe him out of nightmares.   I was trying not to push him too hard to talk, but I was still pushing a little.  It was hard to tell what he didn’t want to talk about versus what he might not have vocabulary for yet.  Hell, I wasn’t sure I had the vocabulary for it.

But it was Paul’s weekend, and we were in the car on the way to school, so decisions had to be made.  “Maybe just that I got stuck in the brush,” Morgan said.  “And you got me out.  And I was scared.  But not about her.  Or Woulou.”

I pulled to a stop at the red light just before the school entrance.  “You can tell Dad whatever you want to.  All of it, some of it, whatever.  Same as me and Gran and Grandad and Grammie and Papa.  You can talk to any of us as much as you need to, baby.”

He didn’t reply as the light changed.  Then, as we waited to pull up to the drop-off circle, he asked, “Mom?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks.  For coming to get me.  And knowing … everything.  You know?”

I couldn’t pull over or park–it was parent drop-off; there were kids everywhere.  So I reached over and grabbed his hand, squeezing hard.  “You don’t have to thank me for that.  You get lost, I come find you.  That’s the deal.  But … you are welcome, Morgan.  Thank you for trusting me and coming back to me.”  I pulled up to the curb.

He squeezed my hand back.  “Don’t worry, Mom, I’ll always come back.  Even when I go to college.  For Christmas and laundry and when you make mac and cheese, and sometimes just to visit.”

The little brat then got out of the car and left me there, teary-eyed, watching his backpack bounce up and down as he walked off to his classroom.

***

So I of course stopped at the grocery store after work to get sharp cheese and elbow noodles.  I’d make mac and cheese for Sunday night when Morgan got home.  I put the box and the cheese away as I pondered what I’d have for dinner tonight.  Scrambled eggs?  Microwave pizza?

Something flickered at the corner of my eye.

I turned.

The lights in Morgan’s room flashed once.  Twice.  Then the TV turned on.

“Woulou?”

The living room lights flicked on, then off.  And the entire house got cooler by about five degrees.

I grabbed my phone from the counter and pulled up Paul’s number.  “So, Spider-Man 3 tonight?” I shouted  into the living room, hitting “make call” on my screen.  The lights flickered again as I waited for Paul to pick up and put Morgan on the phone.


copyright 2020 by Laura E. Price.  Feel free to link to this story–signal boosting is welcome!–but please don’t reproduce it without permission. 

Woulou, part 1

Not raising money this time, just sending a story out into the world.  Hope you enjoy.


When my son, Morgan, was seven, we moved into a new house.  I couldn’t afford to buy a house, but there was a rental available in a pretty nice neighborhood for a ridiculously low price.

You know where this is going, right?

The lights flickered.  A lot.  I got concerned, but Morgan’s grandfather was a retired electrician.  So I called him, he came over, checked everything out and said that he couldn’t see anything wrong with the wiring, so no, we weren’t going to die in a fire .

“So what is it?” I asked.  Of course nothing happened the entire time Bill was there; that would be too easy.

“Dunno.  Sometimes old houses are strange.”  He patted my shoulder, loaded up his pickup, and left.

“Mom,” Morgan said, as we watched him drive away, in that seven-going-on-sixteen tone, “It’s Woulou.”

“What is Woulou?” I asked.

“The guy who lived in my closet.”

There were a lot of “guys” who lived in Morgan’s closet; the kid could literally bury himself in stuffed animals.  “Which one is Woulou?” I asked.  I knew the names of the Important Guys.  The Lesser Guys, not so much.

“He’s not a stuffed animal.  He’s a ghost.”

Oh, well.  “He’d have to be, to fit in your closet.”

“He doesn’t live there now, actually.  He moved into my bottom desk drawer.”

That seemed like a lateral move, at best, but who was I to understand the motives of ghosts?

***

I know what you’re thinking.  It’s his father!  Or his grandmother!

Yeah, Morgan’s dad isn’t dead.  Nor are his parents.  Or mine.

Paul and I aren’t married.  I got pregnant at the very end of a very fun thing with Paul.  I hesitate to even call it a relationship–what we’ve developed since then is definitely a relationship, but what led to Morgan was a series of hookups that I knew were going nowhere even as I started them.

I spent a day after I got the positive test back dazed and wondering what I was feeling; I got up the next day with a strong sense of mine.  My baby.

Paul, however.  Paul reacted exactly how I expected–he looked sick.  Which was fine, because I didn’t really want to raise a kid with him.  At least not traditionally.  Paul is great, don’t get me wrong, but we’d be terrible spouses.So we had a long conversation, came to some agreements, and that was that.

I was really freaked out when Paul’s parents called me, but they were very sweet.  Just asked about being active grandparents to the baby–would that be okay with me?  I cried.  Hormones, but also–very sweet.

This makes it seem easy.  It wasn’t.  But we all did our best, and it’s working.  Paul’s actually been getting his shit together the past few years.  He’s still more like a fun uncle than a dad, but he and Morgan spend time together.  He pays child support when he can, which is more often now that he’s got a decent job.  He’s also got a steady girlfriend.  His mom and dad have helped me out a lot, like with the flickering lights.  My parents find the whole thing bizarre, but they both agree that Paul and I would have just ended up divorced, and they adore Morgan.

Nobody is dead.  That is the actual point of this digression.  Well, somebody is dead, obviously, but I don’t know who.

***

The lights stopped flickering shortly after Bill came over to look at the wiring, and Morgan told me he’d asked Woulou to stop doing that.  “I told him it freaked you out,” he said.  “And I was a little worried that it would make our electric bill go up, and we’d have to sell all my guys to pay it.”

Yeah.  I have no one but myself to blame  for this child.  I sat down next to him on the couch, where he was wrestling with the Switch, and said, “Kiddo, we’re not going to sell your guys to pay the electric bill.”

“Are you sure? I read a story at school where people had to sell stuff to pay bills.  I don’t want to sell my guys.  They’d be scared.”

“We’re not rich, but we’re not going to need to pawn our belongings to pay the bills.  I’ve got a good job, and Grammie and Papa and Gran and Grandad would never let that happen, anyway.”

He looked at me suspiciously.  “You sure?  ‘Cause we moved from our nice apartment to a house with a ghost, so maybe you’re doing a Mom-lie.”

“I don’t lie to you, Morgan,” I snapped.  Which, of course, was a Mom-lie, but I would cope with that guilt after he was in bed.  “Also, a house from an apartment is a good sign.  Worry if we go back to an apartment.”

“The apartment wasn’t haunted,” he said.

“Because the apartment was so crappy, no self-respecting ghost would haunt it!”

“I liked the apartment!”

“The apartment didn’t have a yard!”

“I don’t like the yard!” he yelled.  “The yard is creepy!”

I took a deep breath and counted to twelve, because ten was never enough when I was arguing with the seven year old whose vocabulary was fifteen, but whose brain was still seven.  Maybe five, when he felt overwhelmed.  Plus, the yard was a little creepy.  Not all of it–mostly it was actually really nice.  It had two big trees, a hibiscus bush, and a wooden fence along the sides.  The back part of the yard was bordered with chain-link, which was the neighbor’s fencing.  They’d put a little shed partway down the fence on their side, next to which was the problem area: one giant tangle of Florida holly, scrub brush, possibly some kudzu, definitely some poison oak, and a half-dead punk tree with peeling paper bark.  The few feet between the shed and the corner of the fence was full of overgrown junk plants.

When we moved in, Morgan went straight to the bedroom in the back right of the house.  The master bedroom was the biggest room, but the back right room was the bigger of the other two, with old hardwood floors and built-in shelves.  I thought he’d claim it immediately, but with one look out the window at that mess in the corner outside, he claimed the smaller room as his.  The one with the haunted closet.

“Okay,” I finally said.  “Look.  We are not selling your stuffed animals.  We do not have to.”  I scooted over to put an arm around him.  He didn’t lean into me, just stared at the Switch, but he didn’t move away, either.  “I know that this has been a big change for you.  I know you liked the apartment.”

“I grew up there,” he said softly.  I grinned at the top of his head.

“Yeah, I know.  I was pregnant with you there.  I’m going to miss it a little, too.  But it was time for us to move on.  You’ll get used to this house.  And maybe when I get my tax return, I can hire someone to come clean all that crap out of the yard.”

He leaned into me, then.  “That would be nice,” he said.

“And thanks for asking Woulou to stop messing with the lights.  Tell him thanks when you see him next.”

“Oh, he’s been in the room since we started yelling,” Morgan said.  “So he heard you.  He says you’re welcome.  And you seem like a good mom.”

Oh, well.  That was comforting to know.

***

A couple of weeks later, Paul took Morgan for the weekend.  This had been a thing for about a year or so, now, so for Morgan it was old hat, even though it still felt new to me.  Paul picked Morgan up from school Friday and brought him back to me on Sunday night.  He had clothes at Paul’s apartment, special Dad’s House Guys (though he tucked his most special buddy, Parker, into his school bag to go with him, leaving Pancake Man “in charge” for the weekend), so he didn’t even need to pack a bag.

It always felt weird to come home without Morgan.  The apartment had always felt like it was waiting for him to run in behind me, this weird sense of anticipation that never really ended, just faded slowly away.  The house felt the same way, like it was waiting for the kid to break the silence.

I dropped my work bag, changed into sweats, and put some music on as I started dinner.  Spaghetti and red sauce, because Morgan hated tomatoes so this was my chance to indulge.

As the water began to boil, the kitchen lights flickered.  Quick enough that  paused, then went back to putting the pasta into the pot.

The lights flickered again.

Then the music flickered.

“Woulou?” I asked the air.  “Is that you?”

The lights again.  “Okay, dude, what’s up?” I asked, stirring the pasta.

I could see the doorway of Morgan’s room from the kitchen.  I realized when the lights in it started to strobe: we’d probably said Dad would pick Morgan up from school out loud, but had it occurred to Morgan to tell his ghost pal that he’d be gone all weekend?

“Morgan’s with his Dad until Sunday,” I said.  “He’s fine.  He’ll be back.”

One more flicker of the bedroom lights.  I had no idea what that might signify, but I said, “It’s Friday, now.  Two nights.”

There was nothing after that, so I figured I could go back to my dinner.  Later, I settled down on the couch and asked, “Woulou, can you watch a TV?  You want to watch a movie?  I’m thinking something with super-heroes, not sure if you know what those are, but feel free to come watch.”

I ended up watching the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man, freezing my ass off  from what I could only assume was the ghost that lived in my kid’s desk drawer hanging with me on the couch.  The AC wasn’t that good.

The TV turned itself off at the end of the movie, and I said, “You’re welcome.”

***

Saturday night, the TV flicked on and then off again, so Woulou and I watched the second Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movie.  I wrapped myself in a fleece blanket.

Sunday afternoon, Morgan came home.  He thundered inside the front door, dropped his backpack in the middle of the living room, hugged me, then disappeared into his room to see if everyone had survived his absence.  Paul followed soon after, bearing a Happy Meal box and a cloth grocery bag containing two guys who were apparently moving to our house.

“So who is Woulou?” Paul asked me as he got ready to leave.  “Morgan kept talking about him.  I asked him why he didn’t bring him over, and he said Woulou doesn’t leave the house–is he like a mint Beanie Baby or something?”

“No, Woulou’s a ghost who lives in his desk drawer.”

“Oh, okay.  That explains a lot.”  Paul paused in the front doorway, and instead of calling for Morgan like I expected, said, “So, Cara and I were thinking about maybe taking Morgan to Disney.”

Cara is an office manager for a dentist’s office.  She and Paul had been seeing each other for a few months.  We’d met her.  She was cool.  Didn’t bat an eye when Morgan started explaining the community infrastructure of his stuffed animals, just asked him if they had a good dentist.  Then she bought him a stuffed dodo who she said could check all their teeth.

“Disney, wow.”  We lived a few hours south of Orlando.  “That’s kind of a big trip …”

An ugly part of me was wanting to say fuck you, Disney is a Mom-and-Morgan trip, not a kind-of-Dad and his girlfriend trip.  That made it feel pretty awkward to actually consider things like Morgan’s severe hatred of costumed characters and how at 2pm he’d probably have a meltdown because the crowds were too much.  Like, rationally I knew this was a pretty big undertaking for Paul, probably for Cara.  Rational Mallory was thinking about how much money Disney costs, and how that was a hell of a trip for the first extended vacation with the kid and the girlfriend.

Not-Rational Mallory was thinking fuck you fuck you fuck you, my kid my kid my kid.

“Um.  Sure, of course,” I said.  I could totally cope with my baby going off to Magic Kingdom with his father and not-quite-stepmother.  “Can I … well, would you mind if I suggested something, though?”

“Of course not,” Paul said.  He seemed a little wary–well, no one knows my possessive vibe over Morgan as well as Paul, so.

“You guys might want to think about Legoland instead,” I said.  “I mean, Disney’s expensive and it gets so crowded.  Legoland is a little less crazy, it’s smaller, and Morgan’s tall enough to ride all the rides.  It might be a little less pressure on all of you?”

Paul looked surprised.  “Oh, I forgot about Legoland.  Cara was concerned about the crowds and stuff at Disney, too.  She doesn’t have a lot of experience with kids, you know.”

Yeah, Paul, because you’re so the experienced parent, I thought, but that was mean.  I just nodded.

Paul smiled at me, quick and relieved, then called, “Morgan!  I’m headed out!”

No answer.

“Morgan?” I called.  Still nothing.

The table lamp next to the couch flickered.  I don’t know if Paul noticed it, but we turned as one to walk briskly to his room.  Not run.  No panic.  He might be digging around in his closet or, hell, he might have fallen asleep.

But no.  His room was empty when we got there.  The window was wide open, though, and the screen was missing.  I crossed the room, looked out–and there he was, in the yard, brushing dirt and pine needles off Mr. Magee, his stuffed bunny.

“Morgan!” I called out the window.  He jumped.  “Did you knock the screen off?”

“Did you climb out the window?” Paul called from over my shoulder.

“Mr. Magee was out in the yard!” Morgan called back, holding the rabbit up.  Its head flopped to one side, making it look mournful.  “I had to save him!”

“But you shoved the screen off?” I asked.

“There’s this thing called a front door, kid!”

Morgan walked toward us.  “The screen was on the ground already when I opened the window, Mom.”

“The hell, did it fall off?  I swear to god, it’s not the ghost that’s keeping the fucking rent in the basement.”

“Mallory …” Paul does not approve of my language around Morgan, but he buys him Happy Meals for lunch, so I figure we’re even.  I helped Morgan back in through the window.  Paul pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed.

“No more climbing out the window, kid.  I don’t trust the sill to not give you gangrene.”

“Is that where your feet rot off?”

“Close enough.  Dad’s leaving, buddy.”

Morgan hugged Paul around the waist.  “‘Bye, Dad.  Mom, Mom, did you know Torque Jamiroquai  and Sadie Cat are dating now?”

Paul and I shared a look that went from amused to scandalized at just about the same time.  Torque Jamiroquai is an iguana that Paul helped Morgan name when Morgan’s favorite sounds to make were ‘kuh’ and ‘qw.’  Sadie the Cat is a bedraggled stuffed calico with only one eye.  “No way,” I said.  “They kept that pretty quiet–I had no idea!”

“Wow, Mom,” Paul deadpanned.  “Way to keep an eye on the guys for Morgan.”

I swatted him gently on the shoulder.  “Oh, hush, Pancake Man was in charge. I’m only allowed in there with supervision.”

“Because you move everyone so I can’t find them.”  He looked at Paul.  “Last time she sat Rover and Cornball together, and they fight.”

“Do they share an ex-?” Paul asked with a grin.

“No, Cornball ate the last chocolate bell and just put the empty box back into the pantry.  Rover holds grudges.”

“I will have to stay on Rover’s good side, then,” said Paul.  “Okay, buddy.  See you in a couple of weeks.  Be good for Mom.”

“I will.  Love you, Dad.”

“Love you, too.”

Morgan stayed in his room.  I walked Paul to the door, then watched him to his car, thinking about how weird it would be to add another grownup to our odd little family.  I hoped Cara was, actually, as cool as she seemed, because it looked like we were stuck with her.  It never occurred to me to wonder how Mr. Magee wound up outside.

“That’s because she thinks the main actor guy is hot,” I heard Morgan say as I closed the front door.  “I think he looks kind of weird, though.”

***

It was later that night that it happened.

After the traditional evening episode of Leverage, I got Morgan to bed–read him a chapter of Castle Hangnail, helped him figure out what to dream about, smooched Parker after I smooched Morgan, got water, changed out the too-heavy sheet for a lighter one–and sat on the couch to read for awhile before I headed to bed.  I could usually tell when he fell completely to sleep because the house seemed to still, like it was being quiet for him.

The air conditioning turned off.  The only sounds in the house were the hum of the fridge and the page-swipe tone for my iPad.  I love that part of Sunday nights, the space between the end of the weekend and the start of the next week.  I love being Mom again, knowing Morgan is sleeping and warm in the other room.  It’s a space I like sitting in.

Tick, tick, tap.

Something small hitting glass.

Tick, tap, tick.

Not rhythmic.  Not like rain.  Or like bugs on a window.  Too heavy for that, but too light for a bird pecking.

Tap.  Tap, tick.  Tick.

I got up and checked on Morgan.  Still asleep.  He sighed and rolled over as I watched, knocking Pancake Man  to the floor.  His room was warm.  The sound was fainter in here.

I followed it down the hallway to the guest room, which I suppose shouldn’t have surprised me.  I’d put a bed and dresser in here, but that was as far as I’d gotten.  I planned to eventually replace the curtains with actual blinds, once the landlord agreed to it, but for now they still hung over the windows.

I crossed the room and carefully pulled the curtain back.  I am not going to jump when a possum is at the window, I told myself.

It wasn’t a possum.

It wasn’t … anything, exactly.

Mist–a pearly mist almost glowing in the moonlight–swirled outside the window.  Tendrils of it bumped against the glass: tap.  Tick.  Tap, tap.  That … did not seem like something mist ought to be doing, making a sound like that.  The tendrils trailed up and across, like blind, searching fingers, and now I could hear a faint scritch, screech, tap tap.

I glanced out past the mist undulating directly in front of me and saw the rest flowing along the wall.  A lot of it seemed condensed by the other window.  The one in Morgan’s room.

I dropped the curtain and speed-walked back down the hall, trying to keep quiet so I wouldn’t wake him.  I crossed to his window, stepping over Pancake Man, four books, and the remains of some kind of pillow fort structure, to pull his curtain back.

All I could see was fog..  But here there was no noise, no tapping or ticking or scritching.  Maybe because it’s found what it’s looking for, I thought.  And then, right after that, What the fuck do I do?

It suddenly got very cold in Morgan’s room.

“Woulou?” I whispered.  I glanced down at Morgan, who hadn’t moved at all.

When I turned back to the window, I found frost growing up the glass in fractal patterns, spreading time-lapse photography-style.  The fog pulled back from the window; I got the impression that it was appalled.  It hovered there, swirling.  I took a step forward, leaned over Morgan’s bedside table, and put one finger on the window, glaring.  Stay away from my kid.

Maybe it heard the thought.  Maybe the frost covering everything but the tiny space under my finger made the point.  The mist receded.  When it seemed to have left Morgan’s window completely, I turned and went back down the hall to the guest room.  From that window I could see it seeping back through the brush in the corner of the yard.

The air in the guest room cooled around me.

I didn’t know what the hell had just happened, but at least I had a pissed-off ghost to get my back.

 

Part 2


copyright 2020 by Laura E. Price.  Feel free to link to this story–signal boosting is welcome!–but please don’t reproduce it without permission. 

well, i’m still quarantined blogging: hi!

Been a bit, yeah?

I’m living in a hotspot, y’all, and I am hiding in my house as much as I possibly can because yoiks. We got neighbors in front and behind us in their 20s having house parties, which I hate anyway because I am old and like the quiet and hate humans, but it’s even more annoying right now!

Anyway, I’ve got a story for you all that I’m going to post over the next two (maybe three, depends on how long it ends up) days.  It is a ghost story with a happy ending.  It’s a bit self-indulgent, in that it involves a lot of things I like: a mom and her smart, weird kid; an eccentric neighbor; ghosts; and a giant-ass shower.  It does not involve house parties, coronavirus, grief, or asshole exes.  Content warning for gratuitous use of stuffed animals and one brief mention of cannibalism.

So tune in tomorrow morning for the first installment of “Woulou,” by yours truly.  Happy end of June, gang!

 

 

 

 

quarantine blogging

I was working on a huge thing about self-quarantining, but I realized my feelings on people staying home and people going out and states reopening and blah blah blah all boil down to … you know what, don’t spit on other people, okay?  Literally or metaphorically.  Even without a pandemic.

(Okay, yes, some people deserve metaphoric spitting upon–Manson.  Nazis.  Larry Nasser.  But most people?  No.)


So what shall I blog about instead?

Well, I’m attempting a new daily routine that involves a back to basics bullet journal, a streamlined work notebook, and my reminders app.  So far so good; I’m getting stuff done.  I love the Artist’s Loft notebooks from Michaels, the Rhodia Reverse notebook, and the Rhodia reporter’s note pads.

I’m working steadily on a story.

I’m adding bridges and decor to my Animal Crossing island.  I’m going to add an incline so my neighbors can access the cliffs, but I’m placing it strategically so they can’t get to my house.  Because I am a hermit.

I read Network Effect, the Murderbot novel.  It, like the Good Omens TV show, does some interesting things with the idea of relationships.  I’m still thinking about it.  I, personally, don’t exactly ship Aziraphale and Crowley, but I don’t exactly not ship them, either.  They’re clearly in love, but I’m not sure that means the same thing for them as it does for humans?  Murderbot has two relationships where I’m like … this maps to a particular kind of relationship, but it’s not that.  Possibly because Murderbot isn’t exactly human?  I dunno, I haven’t quite worked out my thinking, here, but I like the idea of other sorts of complicated, intense, love-based relationships that aren’t exactly romantic/sexual partnerships or parental/mentor relationships (but aren’t exactly not that, either).  You’re definitely more than friends, but what the fuck do humans know, anyway?

 

 

quarantine blogging: in which i rant about animal crossing

Or maybe not rant, per se.

I am building a second floor on my palatial three-room estate up in the cliffs of our island, overlooking the water.  I have begun an experimental flower bed for cross-breeding; I have a little hill where I plant all the extras of everything and see what happens (what happens is a lot of damn flowers); I have another, larger plateau for all the exotic fruit trees I bring back from Mystery Tours.  I have a haunted statue and a scientific drawing with a mysterious key taped to its back.  I have a mad science lab with freaky moving wallpaper and skull flooring.  My kitchen has glow in the dark skull wallpaper and black wood flooring.  My living room is a lovely green with molded paneling.  My bed has a cute planets pattern bedspread.  I have a pet hamster whose cage fell out of a tree.

The issue is quickly becoming that I’m not the primary player on the island.  That would be my kid, who asked for the game originally and still likes it, but not as much as he likes playing Minecraft with his friends or Overwatch.

Okay, so for every Switch console, you can only have one island.  You can have (I think?) eight player characters on the island, but only one of them is the primary player.  That player gets to set up the little animal people moving in, gets to decide where buildings go, and eventually gets to terraform the island if they like.  Everyone else can jaunt about building their houses and taking Mystery Tours and such, which is actually pretty fun all by itself.

But.

I kind of want to get more animal people on the island.  We also got to see one of Z’s friends’ islands, and it was super cute, and got me thinking about expanding my dollhouse to the entire island, and …

I could completely re-start the game, but frankly … I’ve spent over 1 million bells on my house (game money–and not in-game purchases, either, this is from crafting walls out of oranges and catching fish to sell to the two small tanuki children who run the general store–I haven’t spent any real money past the $60 to buy the game).  I love it.  I don’t want to lose my lab or my haunted-ass kitchen wallpaper.  I have a crossbreeding program for roses going on, I can’t stop now!

So I entered into negotiations with the kid to occasionally play as him in order to lure invite animal people to my island for my weird genetic experiments to hang out and catch butterflies and gather firewood.  I discovered that we’re supposed to be trying to get K.K. Slider to come give a concert, but I kinda doubt I have the wherewithal (or artistic eye) to make that happen, ever.  More likely I’m going to keep buying haunted art to leave in the woods amongst the weeds that I actually kind of like and don’t want to pull.

 

quarantine blogging: drawing stuff

I started keeping a paper journal again in January after I took Fran Wilde’s Journaling for Creativity class over at the Rambo Academy (there are some really good workshops over there, and Cat Rambo has scholarships available).  I wanted to do something messy and scrapbook-ish (somewhere to put the stickers I accumulate and never want to use!  A place to tape ticket stubs!) and just … ramble, I guess.

This week I’ve been drawing in it.  I can draw a little bit, cartoony doodles kind of things.  Sometimes I think I’d like to learn to really draw, but mostly I’m okay with jellybean monsters and stick figure art.  I got out the colored pencils and drew flowers.  Some of them look nice; some look not so great.  I read (probably on Tumblr) that it’s important to have things you like doing that you don’t feel pressure to be good at, so I suppose drawing is that for me.

(I have got to go to bed early tonight; I slept badly early this week, then last night I fucked up my email and stayed up until midnight unfucking it, so I am tired, y’all.)

quarantine blogging: another poem

Another poem from the IG reading …

This one came about because our friend Ulrica messaged me about sending Scott a care package from Sweden, and she said, “The world as we know it is gone. Some of us understand that already, others need more time for it to sink in … So let’s just spread as much joy as we can.  And allow people to mourn what has been.”


Instructions for Quarantine
(Ulrica’s Poem)

We must sit with our grief
on the living room floor,
knees touching
(she is grief not pestilence)

She will be familiar,
delicate and raw;
this is not the first time you have met
(this is not the last)

We have done this before,
mourned a world lost,
the luxury of expectation
(the solidity of chairs)

I shall take her hands
and place in them
the bud of an orchid, a poem
(words will pour into the cupped hands of my grief)

Over and over
as the world dies again
as the world changes again, again
(as we mourn what has been, again and again and again)

 

copyright 2020 by Laura E. Price.  Feel free to link to this poem, but please don’t reproduce it without permission. 

 

 

quarantine blogging: a poem

This is one of the poems I read during my IG reading back in Year 5 of Quarantine.

I wrote this for a prompt: “Build the Wall/All Walls Fall.” 


 

What I Know About Walls

I know that there is something that does not love them.

Walls are made, of stone or wood or roles or rules.
Some have doors; some have windows;
some block the view of their other side.
Pictures can be hung from them; slogans can be painted on them;
there’s one that can be seen from space.
Another is long and cuts into a hill, a polished black thing
with names etched into its face, reflecting the people who pace alongside it, reading.

There are all kinds of walls.
There are kinds that  divide property.  Or cities.  Countries.
Another sort is there to remind us, of what we’ve lost.  Of what we’ve made.
People.  Wars.  Art and music.  Mistakes.
Some walls–closet walls, great walls, walls Mother helps you build–
are meant to keep you safe.  Keep them out.  Keep you in.

I know all walls must be tended.
With belief, with punishment,
with tools and more paint.
Guards.  Guns.
Cheap, badly-poured concrete.
Polishing cloths, survivor’s guilt, and tears.

Without tending, walls crumble.
The weather unseats them so they lean and gap.
Or maybe, eventually, someone wonders why they’re there
in the first place, kicks at them, gets a pick, starts to hack away.
And through the gap or the rubble,
or in its surface,
they see what’s on the wall’s other side.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall
something.
The land.  The wind.  The rain.  And you.  And me.

 

copyright 2020 by Laura E. Price.  Feel free to link to this poem, but please don’t reproduce it without permission.