DP FICTION #74B: “For Lack of a Bed” by John Wiswell

Noémi tried to focus on the mermaids and ignore the floor. She lay in the middle of her living room, upon a nest of laundry bags and blankets, hoping for just a couple hours of sleep before she had to open the shop tomorrow. The new pain pills did as little as the old ones, and so she pulled the covers over herself at sundown and tried to use the internet as medication.

Chronic pain and Mermaid Tumblr. It was a normal night in her world. Videos and GIFs of those fish-tailed people swimming, their fins swirling through water currents, sometimes lulled Noémi into distraction. She needed those distractions tonight.

Her phone buzzed with a text from Tariq. He was working late.

TARIQ

u want a bed, but would u sleep on a sofa?

NOEMI

I’d sell a kidney for a sofa.

TARIQ

what if some1 died on it? but u keep ur kidneys

Okay, it was a weird offer. But was this that much weirder than the selkies down the hall who kept offering her herbal remedies? You knew you were pathetic when selkies pitied you.

You also knew you were pathetic when your roommate offered you dead people’s furniture. But her mother had worked with estate auctions, so Noémi had grown up with plenty of grim hand-me-downs. A bed was out of her price range. She knew what her mother would’ve said.

NOEMI

Is it clean?

TARIQ

clean as a disney movie

She sat up and her entire spinal column rioted. She felt vertebrae kicking over trash cans and lighting cars ablaze in her lower back.

NOEMI

Dying on a sofa would be the highlight of my year.

“Good!” Tariq yelled from the hall outside their apartment. She didn’t register it was him until their door swung open and he shimmied in butt-first, dragging a bulky sofa behind him. “Because I am not carrying this back to Apartment 3A.”

It was sand-colored with brown freckles, a fashion risk even for a freebie. At least it wasn’t splattered in gore.

She meant to run a hand over its arm rest, but immediately found herself sitting on it. Sinking into the cushions felt like a hug from a friendly giant. The honking and crying and thrumming of the city outside their apartment seemed to calm down.

Forget sleeping on the floor; she never wanted to touch the floor again.

“Hey,” she said, “try sitting on this.”

Tariq asked, “Did you take your meds tonight?”

She asked, “Someone died on this?”

She couldn’t hear his answer over the sensation of touch not hurting for the first time in hours. The leather was so warm, so welcoming, just like skin.

*

Tariq shook Noémi’s foot, and she pulled her blanket over her face. She mumbled, “I don’t need dinner. I’m turning into a human ramen.”

He said, “It’s eleven.”

Sunlight blurred her vision and she rubbed the grime from her eyes. “Eleven? Then how is it light out?”

“They invented this thing called ‘A.M.’ You slept through your alarm.”

“No…” She didn’t know what she was denying. She stretched out on the sofa. For the first time in weeks, her back didn’t feel like it was on fire. The pain had calmed to a dull throb—an annoying pain rather than an intense one. If she’d overslept, her body obviously needed it. She almost felt more tired than yesterday.

Tariq pried the fleece from her hands. “I made you a couple waffles. Please, please eat them.”

Her appetite was a magician; it had one hell of a disappearing act. Pain made it easy for Noémi to skip meals. Still, with bleary eyes, she read the concern in her friend’s face. It was the same concern she’d felt on so many nights when she helped him through his anxiety attacks. 

She smiled up at him and said, “You know something? I slept.”

He offered her a hand up. “That’s pretty awesome. We should party tonight.”

*

There was no party that night. The food truck broke down and Tariq texted that he was stuck helping his uncle fix it. 

Noémi felt for him and was relieved at the same time; she could barely move her fingers by the end of her shift at the pet store. Gryphon chicks were adorable, but insisted on being hand-fed, and the basilisks had broken out of their blackout cage and were looking at customers again.

The pain ground her brains into powder. What people didn’t understand about chronic pain was that it wasn’t about your legs going weak – it was about getting mentally exhausted managing the assaults. All day, she fantasized about sitting down.

Once home, she barely opened her string cheese before plopping onto her freckled sofa. Lying on it was like her entire body was biting into a marshmallow. This she had an appetite for. The cushions slid apart, enveloping her in the leather, like it wanted to swallow her.

In her dreams, it did.

*

Her phone vibrated on her chest. It was work. It was also noon, and she didn’t know what day.

She answered, and picked her string cheese off the carpet. She must have sleep-punted it.

She said, “Hey Lili. Sorry. I must have—”

Lili cut her off, “I think the mogwai are picking the locks on all the cages after hours.”

Lili was a succubus and normally had everything together. If she was as nervous as she sounded, then this was dire.

Noémi forced herself to stand free of the sofa’s wonderful grip and walked to the center of the room to wake up. Her spine popped and she shuddered. She asked, “Did they eat after midnight?”

“Not this time, but I found one molesting the breakroom pantry.”

Noémi was sitting on the edge of the sofa. She didn’t remember sitting down. “I found the nicest furniture. You’ve got to come over and try it.”

“You know that when I say ‘the monsters are picking their locks,’ I mean ‘get your butt over here immediately,’ right?”

Noémi said, “Got it.” 

She hung up, and had the funny desire to kiss the sofa goodbye. And why not? Nobody was watching.

She leaned in and smooched a cushion. It smelled like a perfume that Noémi had only ever encountered in dreams.

Then it was 6:24 PM. Her phone had eight messages.

*

She thought the knocking was Tariq having lost his key, but it was Lili at the door. All six feet and two inches of her. Lili’s normally lustrous golden hair frizzled out like copper wire. She had gory paw prints on her skirt which hopefully weren’t her own blood.

Noémi said, “Oh my gosh, Lili, never in a million years…”

Then Lili was inside her apartment, stooping to go nose to nose with her. She thought the succubus was going to bite her head off. “Where were you?”

“I’ve almost never missed work like that, and it won’t happen again, I promise.”

“I thought your new meds killed you or something. Your landlord said you wouldn’t answer the door.”

Noémi bit the inside of her cheek. “I may have slept through her knocking.”

Lili gripped onto Noémi’s shoulders. “So you’re okay?”

“I’m awesome. You know I wanted a bed, but we found a sofa and it’s the best thing in the world. My body must still be catching up on sleep.”

Noémi backed into the apartment. The sofa was tucked into the far wall of their combo kitchen/living room. She fought the urge to curl up on it right now.

Lili looked like she’d bitten into an extremely ripe lime. “When did you invite her?”

“Her? Are you gendering my furniture?”

Lili pointed a sangria red fingernail at the sofa. “That’s not furniture. That’s a succubus.”

Noémi tilted her head. Giving it a few seconds didn’t make it make any more sense. “I know you’re the expert, but I’m pretty sure succubi don’t have armrests.”

“Come on. You know my mom is a used bookstore, right?”

“I thought she owned a used bookstore.”

“The sex economy sucks. With all the hook-up apps and free porn out there, a succubus starves. My mom turned into a bookstore so people would take bits of her home and hold them in bed. It’s why I work at the pet store and cuddle the hell hound puppies before we open.”

Noémi asked, “Is that why they never bite you?”

“What do you think? Everybody else gets puppy bites, except me. I get fuzzy, affectionate joy-energy. Gets me through the day, like a cruelty-free smoothie.” Lili blew a frizzy strand of gold from her face. “But this sofa has devolved really far into this form. I know succubi that went out like her—she’s just a pit of hunger shaped to look enticing. No mind. Just murder. Where’d you even find her?”

“It was a freebie. I mean, maybe somebody died while sleeping on it, but that doesn’t mean anything.”

“And you’re sleeping all the time now? Always on it? She’s totally eating you.”

“My sofa is not a murderer.”

Tariq walked in through the front door, and they both looked up at him. He said, “Hey ladies. Breaking it in?”

That’s when Noémi realized both she and Lili were sitting on the sofa.

They shrieked, and ran from the apartment, dragging Tariq with them.

*

Noémi and Tariq slept in the stairwell that night, each careful to jab each other in the ribs if they started inching back towards the apartment. Lili tore across the city in search of anyone who doubled as a furniture mover and an exorcist.

*

Noémi didn’t sleep a minute for the rest of the week. The pain that had dwindled during her affair with the sofa now returned with the cruelty of a direct-to-video sequel. For most of the day, she could barely think. Through the nights, crashing in the back room of the monster pet store, she could barely sleep. Everything was a fog of social auto-pilot.

She had to bribe Lili to come back, promising to scrub the hell hound cages. The puppies had eaten a mogwai and their bowel movements had turned into some horrible form of post-modern art.

Lili arrived at the apartment wearing a bright yellow hazmat suit. Tariq donned six pairs of plastic gloves before deigning to touch the succubus-turned-sofa. He and Lili had to do the lifting.

Noémi could scarcely stand up straight, let alone carry furniture. Instead she stuffed the remaining sofa cushions into a trash bag. She hesitated over the last one, on which she’d laid her head for the easiest nights of her year. She held it, thinking about how people got lost.

*

When Noémi came into the alley, Lili was dousing the sofa with equal parts holy water and kerosene.

Tariq reached for the garbage bag, but Noémi clutched it to her chest. Noémi asked, “Do you really think the sofa is that bad?”

“Yes,” Tariq said. “Pure evil. She haunted our apartment without paying rent.”

“She was probably lonely. She couldn’t find a companion she could keep. But now she’s found a new identity, and someone who appreciated her…”

“She was eating you.”

“Could we ask her to, you know, stop eating me?”

Lili emptied the last liquids over the sofa and said, “There’s no consciousness left in her. She’s just hungry furniture now. And you’re just loose change about to get stuck between her cushions.”

“I didn’t feel like loose change. I felt different. Everybody gives you magnetic bracelets, and pot brownies, and tells you to sleep with your legs over your head. It all did jack for me. But the sofa was helping.”

Muttering something in Latin, Lili tossed a lighter and torched the sofa. The backrest went up first, in a brilliant blue flame with silver smoke that climbed the alley’s brick walls. They needed to make this fast or their landlord would catch them in the act.

Tariq said, “I’m not going to tell you how to feel.” He stretched out his hand, offering to take the bag. “You want me to do the honors? Technically I was the one who brought her home and started all this.”

“Nah,” Noémi said, avoiding eye contact and tossing the bag of cushions onto the pyre. It went up in even more lustrous smoke, so thin it could’ve been vapor. It smelled like tears. “Let’s get out of here.”

Tariq said, “Look, take my bed until we find you something, okay?”

Noémi put a fist over her mouth. “Are you sure?”

“The surest. I’ve got a lead on some money.”

She hugged her friend for a fierce moment in time.

Then they ran before someone called the cops.

*

Noémi knew she’d woken at 5:32 because that’s when the text came in. It’d taken her forever to wind down, but she’d guess she’d slept four and a half hours. That was a record since the bonfire, and this was her first night trying out the secret weapon.

The incoming text read:

TARIQ

got a pair!!!!

Limited edition sneakers. You downloaded an app that pinged you at a random time and if your GPS reported you were in a certain radius of a certain boutique, you got a crack at one pair of obscenely expensive shoes. Tariq had basically haunted that neighborhood for days waiting for his phone to vibrate. With the magic of economics, he could flip the shoes to a trust fund kid and turn them into a new bed.

Or he could turn it into rent.

Or, as Noémi expected, he could sink all of those dollars into his uncle’s food truck. It was family and livelihood. And you couldn’t carry a treasure chest to the surface when you were fighting to tread water.

She texted him back:

NOEMI

You woke me up. Jerk.

He’d get a good laugh, never believing she’d really slept this late. She wouldn’t have believed it either, if she only had his bed.

She scooted to the far edge of the mattress, leaving her pillow behind, letting her feet scuff across the carpet. Impact sent sharp tingles up her calves, sparks of pain where yesterday there had been an inferno. When she stretched, the sparks sprang up at her spine, and then down her arms.

These were aches. They were not agonies. They were things she could live with, if it didn’t mean getting swallowed up by a spell from the other side of the bed.

One minute passed. She timed it on her phone.

Two minutes.

Three minutes.

The oblong lump lay in its pillowcase on the other side of the bed. Sofa cushions weren’t supposed to be pillows, although this one was changing Noémi’s mind. Neither Lili nor Tariq had noticed that the bonfire had been one cushion short.

Noémi asked, “And you’re not trying to kill me?”

She leaned in and hugged the cushion to her chest, in the way she liked to be held. It squished so perfectly that she wondered if there was a metric scale for comfort. She was able to put it down easily; no succubus mind control was at work. If this thing was self-aware, it wasn’t manipulating her anymore.

“A lower dosage of you is helping,” she said. “This way we can stay together. You won’t hurt me. You’ll eat me, but on my terms.”

The succubus-turned-sofa-turned-pillow said nothing in return. It was as good as inanimate. Lili was probably right that it was mindless, save its hunger. But it had a home now, and someone who consented to having her pain eaten. Noémi hoped her pain was delicious.

Idly, she petted the pillow’s seams, wondering when Tariq would figure it all out. They needed to talk before his bedroom turned host to a witch trial.

Two more texts came in: one of Tariq kissing a shoebox, and a second asking about her.

TARIQ

u get any z’s?

NOEMI

Only because I had company.

TARIQ

lol you better buy me new sheets

A moment later, he texted again.

TARIQ

some1 i shld meet?

She hesitated with her thumbs on the screen, creating an accidental string of N’s.

Lying to him now would be a mistake. God, she’d be dead without her friends.

NOEMI

Yeah. I’ll introduce you tonight.

He texted another picture of himself holding the shoebox up like it was the Infinity Gauntlet.She snorted so hard her eyes crossed, then reclined against the succubus pillow. So this was what relief felt like. 


Author’s Note: I’ve lived with chronic pain for more than two thirds of my life, but until a couple years ago, I never wrote fiction about it. After a series of sleepless and listless nights, I fantasized about the Devil’s bargains I would strike to be comfortable for just a little while. But there are more interesting things out there to bargain with than the Devil, now aren’t there? Like, perhaps, a hungry hungry sofa. But it couldn’t be a story about isolation and disabled pain. It had to have the social elements. Here I tried to capture a little about the human support systems that keep people like me going, and that reflect that we matter. A painful world isn’t necessarily coldhearted. If it gets better, it does so because we look after each other.

John (@Wiswell) is a disabled writer who lives where New York keeps all of its trees. This is his third story at Diabolical Plots, following “Tank!” and “Open House on Haunted Hill.” His work has also appeared in Uncanny Magazine, Nature Futures, and Nightmare Magazine. He has made it through multiple decades of chronic pain, and wants you to know you aren’t alone.


John Wiswell’s previous stories here are “Tank!” in June 2018 and “Open House on Haunted Hill” in June 2020. If you enjoyed the story you might also want to visit our Support Page, or read the other story offerings.

DP FICTION #69B: “Mama’s Hand of Glory” by Douglas Ford

Something took a bite out of Mama’s hand.

Well, worse than that. Tried to eat it, and judging by the puddle of vomit on the floor, couldn’t keep it down.

“Oh, Mama,” I said, not even thinking about how she couldn’t hear me, “I’m so sorry.”

Mama’s hand normally stayed inside the dining room cabinet, the kind that most families used for nice china. With it just me now, I used ours for other stuff, like interesting bones and rocks I came across. Naturally, Mama’s hand was the centerpiece. I picked it off the floor—fortunately, far enough from the vomit that it didn’t need cleaning—and placed it back on its display rack. I judged that it looked ok, despite one finger, the one that would’ve held a ring if Mama had ever gotten married, hanging off kind of funny. The pinky, along with most of the dried flesh under it, was gone completely. It didn’t look how Mama intended. But the tattooed planchette on the back didn’t suffer much damage, so I suspected it would still work.

Not that I looked forward to trying it out.

Mama would have a lot to say about something trying to eat her hand.

And it would prove her point about I still needed her, even with her dead and all. What if the thing came back and decided to try something a little fresher?

She had Rufus tattoo the planchette once she went into hospice and knew she wouldn’t come back home. Rufus agreed to bring his tattoo equipment in and do the work right there, though he had some concerns.

“Seems like it won’t have much time to heal,” he’d said. “Not if you’re—and pardon me for saying this out loud, Mudge—not if you’re preparing to depart this world.”

“You mean ‘die,’ and yes, of course that’s happening on schedule, but I plan on sticking around for at least two weeks more.” Then she looked at me from where she lay in the bed. “And once I’m gone, Leann, you carry on the skin care. You can follow directions, can’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

While Rufus tattooed the planchette on the back of her hand, Mama barely showed any reaction, and me having six or eight tattoos of my own (all done by Rufus), I knew she had to be feeling some pain. She even refused the numbing gel that Rufus offered, explaining that a little hurt at the end of her life would help her go out on good terms. “Besides, take the pain out, and that might dilute some of its power. Don’t you think so, Rufus, you being the expert?”

“I don’t know, Mudge.” Rufus spoke without looking up. He didn’t like interruptions while he worked. “Maybe I’m not precisely sure what this is for.”

“You know what a Ouija board is for, don’t you?” Rufus affirmed that he did. “We got us one made by the Hasbro company. Leann here will use it in conjunction with my hand once I’m gone.” I’ll credit Rufus this much: he barely showed any reaction when Mama explained how she instructed me to cut off her hand once she was good and dead and how she left me with a detailed instruction sheet for keeping the hand preserved for as long as possible. That way, any time I needed advice or guidance or just wanted to talk, I could use the tattooed hand as a real planchette and create a direct link to Mama in the Afterlife. “Being my hand,” she said, “will ensure she reaches me and not some destructive demon. You see my logic, Rufus?”

He nodded and continued to ink the hand. “One thing I don’t quite get,” he said, “is the little window in the planchette. I’m drawing a little eye right now, but how on a Ouija board is Leann supposed to see the letters?”

“She’s gonna have to open that up with a knife. Later on.”

Rufus’ hand paused briefly. He looked over his shoulder at me, his mouth hard to detect beneath his big beard, and then he turned to Mama. “Am I to understand that I’m creating something to be defaced?”

“I’ll pay you all the same,” said Mama.

“I told you I will not accept the money of a dying woman.”

“Then just keep drawing, Rufus. It’s my hand. Soon it’ll be Leann’s. What I do with it is my business.”

“Just a sad thing to do with a man’s art,” said Rufus, but he finished the tattoo. The whole cutting off of the hand and making the hole, that came later, and I have a whole different story to tell about that.

Something trying to eat the hand though, I couldn’t just let that go. Bad enough to see Mama’s hand sitting in the cabinet all mangled. So, I went to the game shelf, where I expected to find the Ouija board underneath the boxes that held Monopoly and Pay Day, the only games that Mama liked to play, but instead of its usual place, it lay sideways on top the other two, the lid off kilter. I lifted the box and studied it, looking for signs of what might have moved it and replaced it in such a cock-eyed fashion. We had the special edition Ouija board, the one Hasbro made to tie in to that scary TV show, the one with the two brothers, and we bought it because Mama thought the boys were cute. “Leann, if only you could find you a man who looks like them,” she liked to say.

“Uh-huh,” I’d say, but only so I wouldn’t sound disagreeable. That would mean starting a fight. I imagined boys who looked pretty would get squeamish around a girl who could chop off her dead mama’s hand and bore a perfectly round hole through it. The kind of men I liked I kept to myself, and I didn’t keep them around long.

Once I had the pretty-boy Ouija board opened up on the table in front of me, I propped Mama’s hand on top of it and called for Mama.

No answer at first, and I thought, uh oh, it doesn’t work anymore.

I tried again. “Hello, Mama, you there?”

Finally, the hand began to shake, almost like a vibration that reached a fever pitch. I breathed easier as it began moving around the board, spelling out a reply.

I-M-H-E-R-E

“Mama, I’m so sorry. Something tried to eat your hand, and I’m thinking you might know what did it. Is it a rat?”

The hand made a little circle, as if it didn’t know which way to go at first. Then it slid decisively over to the word “No.” It sat there, still vibrating, like it was shivering, like it was scared. A normal planchette needed a living person to place their fingers on it, but Mama’s needed no such thing. It did all the work by itself.

“Was it an animal?” I said. “Of any kind?”

The hand slid to the edge of the board, approached “Yes,” but swiftly swung back to “No.” It continued to vibrate on top of the word.

“Well then, was it a person?”

The vibration grew stronger, and I swear it managed to elevate itself off the board as it swung hard over to “Yes.” I bit my lip. I never saw Mama’s hand do that before.

“Who then?”

The hand moved slower as it spelled out the name, the one name I didn’t want to see, not the name of some pretty boy on the TV who hunted ghosts, but the name of the one person I cared anything for, the name of a tattoo artist with a big belly and a face covered mostly by beard. A man Mama would never approve of for me, at least not as a boyfriend, on account of the fact that he already had one ex-wife and nearly fifteen years more of life than I had.

But it made sense because no one else knew about Mama’s hand, and Rufus knew where I kept the emergency key in the flower bed, and on the few occasions that I let him sleep over he’d asked me to take the hand out of the cabinet so he could see how it worked.

“Nope, not going to do it,” I said to him more than once. I’d only taken the hand out on two occasions, and both of them when I couldn’t find something. Both times I could tell Mama wanted to keep talking, but once she spelled out the hiding place of my Bowie knife or the handcuffs that used to belong to my grandpa when he served as sheriff, I put her back.

I felt bad about those times now. Mama probably got lonely. But I didn’t need to hear any lectures about how Rufus wasn’t right for me or how I’d get a man if only I would fix up the house in a more acceptable way. Besides, Rufus spoke of the hand in a way that might offend Mama. It reminded him of a Hand of Glory, he said.

“A Hand of Glory,” I said. “That sounds like something Mama would approve of.”

He shook his head. “That’s what they call the hand chopped off a thief. After he’s been hanged, of course.”

“For whatever purpose would they do that, Rufus?”

“It’s helpful in opening locked doors, I hear.”

“I wish I could get one of them,” I said. “It would look good in the cabinet.”

“You kinda got one already.”

“Mama’s Hand of Glory.” I considered that. “She’s not a thief, though. Not unless stealing a person’s life makes you a thief.”

“You still got your life, Leann.”

“And I mean to keep what’s left,” I said.

Now I felt bad about saying that. Maybe for that reason, I couldn’t bring myself to put Mama’s hand back in the cabinet. Instead, I threw it into my shoulder bag as I grabbed my keys. I had to get to the tattoo shop.

The whole way I wondered what could’ve happened, and I thought back to the time we bought the Ouija board with the pretty boys on it, when Mama gave me the warning. “Leann, whatever you do, never, ever use a Ouija board by yourself. That’s how you invite a demon in.”

“I don’t believe in demons,” I said. “The same’s I don’t believe in God.”

“Well, just take my word on it: both are true.”

Of course, I asked her how I could use her tattooed hand as a planchette by myself and not bring in one of her demons. She scoffed at that. “Because it’ll be my hand, that’s why. You won’t be by yourself. Not really.”

Rather than accuse her of making up rules as they suited her, I let that one go. But as I drove, I wondered if maybe Mama had it at least partially right—that someone other than her daughter using the planchette alone could invite something unpleasant into the world.

I got my confirmation at the tattoo shop.

Inside, I found Huey, the high school drop out that Rufus took on as an apprentice, huddled in a corner, holding his bleeding wrist.

“Oh, Jesus, Leann, he just went crazy and bit me. Said he couldn’t help it. But if I call the police, I just know I won’t have a job anymore.”

I looked at the wound. It looked bad, but not as bad as the bite mark on Mama’s hand, and if it caused some long-term damage, that would save some future customer from a bad tattoo. But fortunately for Huey, it looked like Rufus could still practice some restraint. Maybe I could save him.

“Where is he?” I said.

“In the john.” He pointed toward the back of the shop, where a chair sat propped under the bathroom door handle.

“You put that there?” I said.

He nodded. “He ran in there after biting me. I saw that trick in a movie. Thought it would keep him trapped while I waited.”

“Waited for what?” I said.

He seemed at a loss for a second. “Well, for you, I guess. You think I still got a job?”

I had no answer to that. I needed to see about Rufus, so I left Huey to whimper over his wound and went closer to the door. If I didn’t know better, I would swear that I could feel Mama’s hand vibrate in my handbag. I used my own hand to tap on the door.

The voice that answered sounded guttural, not at all like Rufus’ soft voice. It sounded like two people trying to talk at once out of the same mouth-hole, and one of the people didn’t know how human speech worked.

I thought again of Mama’s warning not to use the Ouija board by yourself.

After some false starts to our conversation, I could finally make out a sentence from the other side of the door. “Leann, I can’t control this…this hunger. All I wanna do is eat.” When he said “eat,” something impacted the door from the other side, probably Rufus’ shoulder, and the legs of the chair seemed to give a little. I didn’t know what to say. I just knew I would not hand myself over to Rufus to devour. Or whatever had possessed Rufus.

“Why’d you do that to Mama’s hand?” I said.

Again, he struck the door. The chair still held, but it would not for much longer.

“I wanted to talk to her,” Rufus managed to say. “I wanted to ask her if she’d give me her blessing.”

“Oh, Rufus, don’t say it.”

“I was gonna ask you to marry me. She said yes, by the way. Now I just wanna eat you.”

“That wasn’t Mama, Rufus,” I said, though I had to wonder if I had Mama’s estimation of Rufus all wrong. I put my head against the door and instantly regretted it when Rufus hit it again. The chair wouldn’t sustain another blow like that one.

“I don’t want to. But I got to eat you. You need to open this door now.”

“How about we make a deal, Rufus?” Then I proposed that Rufus stop trying to bash the door down. In exchange, I would open the door, but only if he swore he’d back all the way up from the door and sit on the toilet and wait.

No reply. Still, I reached into my handbag where I felt Mama’s hand. I was right earlier. It was vibrating. I held it as it continued to shake, trying to escape the fate I had already assigned to it. “I’m gonna open the door.” I started a count-down, beginning with three, and once I got down to one, I pulled the chair aside, threw open the door, and tossed Mama’s hand inside the bathroom. The door stayed open long enough for me to see Rufus sitting on the toilet, like a good man who follows a bargain no matter what the demons inside him might say. His eyes widened when he saw me, his beard, his beautiful beard, crusted with Huey’s blood.

As he scrambled for his meal, I slammed the door shut and replaced the chair.

Later, I learned that Rufus ate the whole thing, bones and all.

It didn’t make him better though. I hoped it would, but it didn’t. Maybe Mama would’ve known that before I did, but without Mama’s word, you’ve got to take your own chances.

Rufus lives in the Vissaria County Psychiatric Hospital now. Whatever entered his body that day took him over completely, eventually.

They don’t allow visitors. No one expects Rufus’ condition to improve.

And that makes me sad. But whatever gave him the idea that he needed Mama’s blessing or that he needed anyone’s permission other than my own? As if I belonged to anyone other than myself?

The cabinet looked empty without Mama’s hand, and my days got quieter without Rufus coming around. For the cabinet, I found the bones of a two-headed snake in the woods behind the house. I grew fond of it and stopped thinking much of Mama’s hand. Or of Mama herself.

I decided to name the snake skeleton after Rufus. Unlike his namesake, he—I mean, they—would never bite me.

But if they ever tried to talk to me—or for me—they would need to go.


© 2020 by Douglas Ford

Douglas Ford lives and works on the west coast of Florida, just off an exit made famous by a Jack Ketchum short story. His weird and dark fiction has appeared in Dark Moon Digest, Infernal Ink, Weird City, along with several other small press publications. Recent work has appeared in The Best Hardcore Horror, Volumes Three and Four, and a novella, The Reattachment, will appear later this year courtesy of Madness Heart Press. In the harsh light of day, he sprinkles a little darkness into the lives of his students at the State College of Florida, and he lives with a Hovawart (that’s a kind of dog) who fiercely protects him from the unseen creatures living in the wooded area next to his house.  His five cats merely tolerate him, but his wife is decidedly fond of him, as he is of her.  


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GAME REVIEW: Undertale

written by David Steffen

Undertale is an RPG game developed by indie developer Toby Fox published by 2015. Its based on a familiar format to many gamers–the RPG, walking around the map and contending with random monster attacks and boss fights as you go fulfill your quest.

You can fight the monsters, like you’d expect. But the entire game is built so that you never have to kill anything, in fact the game is much more interesting if you don’t, because each kind of monster you face off against requires a different strategy to not kill. Your goal in each battle is to get the “spare” button to work, but often you need to prep the enemy some way. You have a menu of commands to try to each one and you never know which one will make the difference–such as “flatter” or “insult” or a variety of other things. The catch is that if you don’t kill any monsters, you don’t get any experience and level up, so you don’t get any more capable of defending yourself.

Besides the menu dynamic, the monsters are still attacking you, and it has an interesting way of dealing with it–your soul is represented by a heart in a square you can move around to dodge enemy attacks. Unlike the games it’s based on where an attack is just a damage number that pops up, if you figure out the patterns you might be able to avoid all damage entirely.

The game has a great sense of humor as well, and interesting storyline about how the dynamics of the monster world to human world works. It’s a fun game worth playing, and well worth it!

Visuals
Cute, I particularly like some of the closer images of the enemies during battle seasons. Especially the warrior dogs.

Audio
Cute.

Challenge
Decently challenging in a different way than most RPGs. Each kind of enemy requires a new kind of strategy–there are multiple options to try and you never know which of them. It turns out it’s more trouble to spare most of the enemies than to just fight them.

Story
No particular story (not that that’s unusual for an arcade game from this era).

Session Time
Not too badly spaced, I think most of them were within 15 minutes or so of gametime (plus the Switch can sleep at will).

Playability
Easy, pretty standard RPG.

Replayability
You could at least take a couple passes at it trying to play pacifist or trying to play violent.

Originality
Takes a very familiar RPG format and does something very interesting and new with it–monsters are always presented in these kinds of games as being inherently evil, it’s nice to see something different.

Playtime
A few hours of playtime, but doens’t overstay it’s welcome.

Overall
This is a very neat and original take on a genre of games I know and love, the RPG. The entire premise being based around doing your best not to kill monsters that are determined to kill you while still achieving your objectives. It’s fun and original and adds some compassion for those who usually aren’t considered to be worth it.

DP FICTION #57A: “Consider the Monsters” by Beth Cato

Jakayla crouched in front of her dark closet. She hadn’t turned on the light because that was an awfully rude thing to do when trying to talk to the monster hidden inside.

“You gotta listen to me,” she whispered. “The news is saying really bad things, like rocks are gonna fall out of the sky and a lot of people are gonna die. You can’t stay in my closet. You gotta go to the basement. There’s dark spaces down there for you to hide in. I won’t tell no one you gone there.”

“Jakayla!” She turned to find Grandma leaning into the bedroom. “I got to run to your auntie’s house. The phone network’s down.”

“The phones don’t work?” Jakayla gasped. “Why? I didn’t think anything had fallen yet?”

“Nothing has, yet. Everyone’s trying to talk to everyone on the phone, and the system can’t handle that. Listen, girl.” Grandma waddled forward to cup Jakayla’s face. “We’re going to be just fine, you hear me? Don’t you worry. Just stay here. We’ll have everyone here together in the basement tonight.”

Jakayla nodded, wide-eyed.

“I love you. You be safe.” Grandma took a few deep breaths and planted a quick kiss on her forehead. A moment later, she was gone. The walls shuddered as the front door closed.

Jakayla whirled to face the closet again. “She don’t want me to worry, but I’m not worrying. Grandma wants to save all our family, and I’m trying to save you, too. Just ’cause you’re a monster don’t mean you don’t count.” She paused, head tilted with hope of an answer from her closet. “I can’t wait ’til night for you to talk. Just go to the basement, okay? If you get scared, bring Fluffinator the Stuffed Unicorn from the box right there. She always helps me feel braver.”

Jakayla hurried through the apartment. Grandma’d left on the TV. Jakayla would have gotten yelled at if she did that. A big red “BREAKING NEWS” banner filled the bottom of the screen. One woman talked in front of a big computer-made graphic of Earth with a lot of lines going all over and a whole bunch of colors, words everywhere like “projected impact zone” and “tsunami risk” along with countdown timers.

She knew all about tsunamis because her cousin had this one video game where a tsunami happened. Those scenes had scared her a lot until Grandma told her she shouldn’t worry because they couldn’t even see the water from their apartment.

“Plus, we’ll be in the basement,” Jakayla said to the TV. “Grandma said that’s the safest place to be. It don’t even leak like it used to.”

She rushed onward. Out the sliding door, their tiny backyard held a big pile of black garbage bags. Grandma’d said she’d throw out all Uncle Jerry’s belongings unless he paid what he owed in rent. This was as far as she’d thrown everything. Now weeds grew on some of the bags.

Jakayla nudged a sack with her foot. Further back in the pile, something rattled.  “Hey, monster. I know you won’t come out or talk in daylight. You’re worse than the closet creature like that. But you can hear the television from here, right? You know what’s coming?”

She waited for a reply, because it was a polite thing to do. Somewhere nearby, sirens wailed and dogs howled like bad back-up singers.

“Here’s the thing,” she continued. “I know you got a good home in these bags, but you should come to the basement. I’ll be there with a bunch of people and the closet monster, too. There’s room for you.”

An odd clicking sound caused Jakayla to glance indoors. The living room was dark, the room quiet. “Oh. The power went out. No more TV.” Her voice suddenly sounded high-pitched. Scared. But she had to be brave so the monsters stayed calm. She took a few deep breaths, like Grandma did before she left.

“I need to go,” she told the pile of bags. “I want you to be okay. You live in Uncle Jerry’s trashed stuff, so you’re kinda like family.” A pop-pop-pop sound like fireworks carried from way off in the distance.

How soon until the rocks fell near here? She pictured the map from the news. The news lady had said something about her city being in a red zone. Red was Jakayla’s favorite color, but a red zone didn’t sound so good. That meant she needed to be fast, “lickity-split, zoom-zoom!” like the bird in her favorite cartoon. She had to go to the old church down the block to warn the gargoyles, then dash to the park on Howard Street to tell the shadow in the sewer pipe, then get home, all before Grandma got back.

She ran through the house. First of all, she had to visit the closet again. She hoped the monster there wouldn’t mind if she borrowed Fluffinator the Stuffed Unicorn. She needed her favorite unicorn with her as she warned her other friends about the awful things to come.

The basement would be crowded tonight, with lots of family and monsters, but that was okay. Grandma said they’d all be together. They’d make it through. In the end, that’s what mattered.

 


© 2019 by Beth Cato

 

Author’s Note: I wrote this story as part of a Weekend Warrior flash writing contest on Codex. I don’t recall the exact prompts that inspired this story, but I really wanted to show a child’s compassion in the thick of a terrible crisis.

 

Nebula-nominated Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger duology and the Blood of Earth Trilogy from Harper Voyager. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cats. Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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MOVIE REVIEW: Hotel Transylvania

written by David Steffen

Hotel Transylvania is a 2012 computer-animated children’s comedy by Columbia Pictures.  The legendary vampire Dracula (Adam Sandler), after the death of his wife at the hands of humans, raises his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) as a single parent. Frightened of violent and unpredictable humanity, he has made a life for them by founding a five-star hotel in Transylvania just for monsters, and telling Mavis constant horror stories about the human world so she won’t to go.  But it’s her 118th birthday now, which means she can make her own decisions and for some reason she still wants to go out into the world.  To make matters worse, a human named Jonathan (Andy Samberg) somehow finds his way to the hotel and is not scared away by the monsters, and Jonathan and Mavis hit it off.

It’s a fun idea, and since there’s been three movies to date and a cartoon TV show, clearly the kids especially like it. There are some funny bits, particular from Jonathan as he is an oddball human to have made it so far into Transylvania without being scared off.  The ensemble cast (Steve Buscemi, Molly Shannon, CeeLo Green, David Spade, Fran Drescher, among others)

Adam Sandler isn’t super Adam Sandler-ish in this one, so if you tend to hate Adam Sandler movies as much as I do (some notable exceptions exist), I didn’t get that vibe about it.  But the main plot of the movie is based around a fragile scaffolding of transparent lies that Dracula has been building for a century–it was pretty clear it was going to crumble at the slightest touch and then most of the basis for Dracula’s relationship with his daughter would be revealed to be completely fabricated and so the relationship between the two most important characters in the movie would be almost entirely built of lies while her father tries to intimidate and force Jonathan out of the hotel so that she can’t get to know him.  Especially since Mavis is an adult even by vampire reckoning at this point, this level of interference in her life was more annoying than endearing, and I thought she was remarkably chill about her dad being revealed to have been running a long-term con on his own daughter instead of trusting her.

 

Hugo Review: My Favorite Thing is Monsters (Graphic Story)

written by David Steffen

I’m afraid I’ve gotten behind on my reading and so I’ve only read one complete entry and one partial entry in the Graphic Story category for the Hugo Awards.  I haven’t even finished a single one of the graphic stories this year all the way through, but I’ve gotten about halfway through My Favorite Thing is Monsters, written and illustrated by Emil Ferris (Fantagraphics)

Written as the illustrated journal of 10-year old Karen Reyes in 1960s Chicago, My Favorite Thing is Monsters is a beautifully illustrated mystery story with horror flair as Karen imagines herself as a werewolf and sees everything around her as a sort of a horror flick as she investigate the death of her mysterious upstairs neighbor Anka.

The drawings are in a gorgeous line-shading style which I’m sure has a more specific artsy name, but reminded me of the drawings in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, but with a story with a much darker tone.  While Karen’s perspective on monsters lends her own fun flair to parts of the story, the story itself is very dark, and despite the young protagonist, is what I’d give to a child or even a teen.  I haven’t finished reading it yet, but I love the illustrations and Karen makes a great protagonist–I’ve just been reading it as a PDF, but I might buy it in print because it would look so much better in that layout, drawn as it is to look like it was drawn in a lined notebook where pages pair together sometimes for bigger pictures.

I can’t comment yet on whether the end follows through with the rest of it, but I’ve read enough that I feel comfortable recommending it.