King Vultures

November 2, 2019

It starts as a fragment of sky
that detaches itself from the stratosphere,
something in my eye as I look up.
I call it the Land of the Dead,
its messenger gliding toward me,
star-ermine cape scalloped with black wings,
to land at the foot of the kapok tree
between buttresses
that remind me of the house we lived in once —
you said a gale had ripped off its roof.

Furniture inside for the afterlife —
and you laid out on the table,
a skeleton curled like a foetus
that the king vultures pierce,
their beaks inside your bowel,
their heads painted with prisms,
their white eyes haloed with red.
Kings of light
who once wore the constellations as headdresses,
death eaters
now bringing up lumps of your flesh,
putrid at first, then sweet.
Maggots shrink back into eggs, flies buzz to their pupas.

If I sniff I can smell the stink that’s followed me ever since you died.
Who knows what the mind can do
but here your corpse
is becoming fragrant,
your face pointed east where the sun rises
as our family arrives,
their tears flowing up, back into their eyes,
their tissues folded into pockets.
They hug each other then carry you
into the hut, remove the herbs
packed in your heart, your intestines.
A brush paints backwards, removing the annatto dye
that’s protected me against your ghost,
dressing me in red jaguar clothes.

Now the surgeons arrive, scrub their hands, peel on stained
white gloves and green masks
and unpick the stitches across your abdomen,
a scalpel erases its cut,
iodine is wiped off your skin.
You wake as you are counting backwards. When you get to one,
the anaesthetist’s needle pops out of the cannula on your hand
and as the gurney is wheeled down corridors
the sedative wears off.
Now you’re back in the ward, anti-psychotics
sucked out of your blood into the saline drip.
Poisons rush up syringes; pills appear on your tongue
and fly back into nurses’ hands.
Your teeth plant themselves in your gums
and you menstruate.
Wrinkles smooth themselves out
as your hair grows auburn.

Here comes the hard part, the Land of the Dead
floating just above my head
because all along as you’ve been healing
I’ve been getting smaller until
I’m a newborn, resting against
the buttress of your thigh, a liana
linking me to you from my navel.
The kapok tree drops a shower of red blooms around me
as I cry out and take a sharp breath.
I’m lifted up, lowered into the ledge of your womb
where I settle in a foetal position facing east.
The king vultures have followed me in
and someone is zipping up my roof with a scalpel.
I squeeze my eyelids shut and my eyes sink into their sockets
then vanish.
My lips close and fuse.
My ears no longer hear your heart.
Silence.

I’ve gone back as far as I can. You must do the work now
my pregnant mother, you who once told me
what your psychiatrist said—that
you should never have had children.
You were crying at the time and I consoled you
in the hall of my bedsit, cradling the black phone.
The vultures stayed with me all my life. I wake some nights
and their starry heads are above me, as they were
when I lay inside you, my organs shining in the dark
like caskets of jewels to be plundered.

Pascale Petit

I was born in the middle of last century.

I don’t like that sentence, but it’s based on a true story.

I’ve been a writer for close to twenty years – but a reader for more than fifty. That’s another solid truth, as is: Reading is more important than writing.

But to be frank: it boils down to the same thing. What I’m actually up to when I’m writing a story is that I’m reading it. This borders on a truism; it’s my reader’s eyes that tell me whether it’s good or awkward, whether it’s taking a right bend or a wrong one, whether the characters smell of life or not – not my writer’s eyes, because they are turned inward toward that dark, infinitesimal abyss that is my mind.

Håkan Nesser
Portrait of the Artist as an Old Dog

Vampire

November 2, 2019

A writer who attempts in the nineteenth century to rehabilitate the ancient legends of the were-wolf and the vampire has set himself a formidable task. Most of the delightful old superstitions of the past have an unhappy way of appearing limp and sickly in the glare of a later day, and in such a story as Dracula, by Bram Stoker, the reader must reluctantly acknowledge that the region of horrors has shifted its ground. Man is no longer in dread of the monstrous and the unnatural, and although Mr. Stoker has tackled his gruesome subject with enthusiasm, the effect is more often grotesque than terrible.

The Transylvanian site of Castle Dracula is skilfully chosen, and the picturesque region is well described. Count Dracula himself has been in his day a medieval noble, who, by reason of his ‘Vampire’ quilters, is unable to die properly, but from century to century resuscitates his life of the ‘Un-Dead,’ as the author terms it, by nightly droughts of blood from the throats of living victims, with the appalling consequence that those once so bitten must become vampire in their turn.

The plot is too complicated for reproduction, but it says no little for the authors powers that in spite of its absurdities the reader can follow the story with interest to the end. It is, however, an artistic mistake to fill the whole volume with horrors. A touch of the mysterious, the terrible, or the supernatural is infinitely more effective and credible.”

Review of Dracula by Bram Stoker – The Manchester Guardian, June 15, 1897

Haunted

November 2, 2019

My childhood home in rural Tennessee was built in the late 1800s and was, to put it mildly, rundown when my family moved in. It was the kind of place a real estate agent might describe as having “good bones.” And in its state of neglect, critters had moved in. There were mice in the cupboards, squirrels in the attic, and even once a rat snake draped casually across a doorframe. Many of the bumps in the night that frightened me were animal rather than spirit in nature. To be fair, I don’t remember the place looking like a house of horrors. I was too young, and by the time I really started forming memories, my parents had turned the place into a lovely albeit unique place to grow up. But odd, unexplainable phenomena never went away.

I remember voices one afternoon, high-pitched and staccato, coming from our downstairs hallway. Not words, more like giggles and shrieks. They suggested children playing some sort of game, hide-and-seek maybe or simply tag. I was in my bedroom, around nine or ten years old, and at first, I froze. I called out to them, but when I received no response, I crept toward the bannister and peered over. Empty. Completely empty. A few decades have passed, yet I can still remember the chill I felt as I realized that I was alone. Intrepid – or foolhardy – I went exploring, but no matter how many closets I opened or curtains I peeked behind, I couldn’t find the source of the noises, now fled. This mystery didn’t derail my day, though I did spend the rest of it pausing from time to time, straining to hear the laughter again. It didn’t derail my day because strange occurrences happened regularly, and I’d learned to live with ghosts.

Erica Wright
The Perks of Living in a Haunted House

(Erica Wright’s latest novel is Famous in Cedarville. Her poetry collections are All the Bayou Stories End with Drowned, and Instructions for Killing the Jackal. She is the poetry editor at Guernica Magazine.)