The Poop Dragon

You can thank ShawShaw on Patreon for this one…

 

The Poop Dragon lived in a waste treatment facility in Northern New Jersey, and she lived there all alone. She was very old compared to this particular waste treatment facility, and the entire concept of waste treatment and facilities for that matter, but she did not know it for time has no meaning to a Poop Dragon. Even so, she was no longer the earthy brown color of well-digested fiber but the sepia of old black and white photographs and catabolites soon to return to earthbound nutrients. But her eyes? Her eyes were still a shimmering and clear wet-white, like factory fresh toilet paper seen through a heat haze. And she still moved with the fluidity of cerulean water circling its way down a drain.

Seasons passed like days to the Poop Dragon, and most of what it had seen it had long since forgotten, but it was a verdant spring when a loud yellow-haired girl came to the waste treatment facility. She was in a group of thirty or so human children, led by one frazzled adult human with a clipboard. Such groups came through the waste treatment facility periodically, but the Poop Dragon could no more be expected to notice a single group or individual anymore than it could be expected to notice a particular grain of sand in a vast desert. Though most humans passed right by the Poop Dragon unaware, except perhaps when they pinched their noses, this child was pointing directly at the Poop Dragon, mouth agape.

Perhaps the Dragon should have known, or at least expected something like this would happen, for the people of this land were the loudest to have ever walked the Earth and growing ever louder with every passing season.

“Teacher!” said the girl, wearing an incarnadine tutu and a helmet of tinfoil, jumping up and down, “there’s a dragon right there!”

“That’s very nice, Shawn,” said the teacher, quietly counting children, seeming unable to quite believe none of them had died or gone missing on their tour of the waste treatment facility.

“It’s right there and it’s made of poo!” the girl cried. “I mean, it’s the size of a semi-truck and it’s all made of sh-”

“Shawn! You know there’s no such thing as dragons! Nobody has ever seen one and nobody has ever found evidence of one. Now please get back in line, you’re making it difficult to count. And don’t think I didn’t notice what you were about to say -we’ll discuss your language later!”

The yellow-haired girl folded her arms and screwed up her face and put her chin high into the air.

“There is too!” she said, stomping.

The teacher was forced to grab the little girl by the arm and walk her away, and the Poop Dragon watched all of his befuddled, slowly chewing on a peanut and a bit of corn in her great mouth. It had been a thousand years and several nations since a human had last been able to see her, and that made this instance remarkable even in her oceanic memory.

Something else about the experience troubled the Poop Dragon, though it could not say what.

It was winter again by the time the Poop Dragon gave voice to a terrible thought that had haunted her, unrealized through these last several months, “Am I the last one, then? Am I the last of the Poop Dragons?”

For more months it said no more.

It is the natural life-cycle of a Poop Dragon to arise spontaneously out of the waste of other creatures, travel to the worlds dirtiest and least dignified places, witness no great heroics but only the mundane and mediocre, and oversee the decomposition of digested matter back into the earth. Yet nothing lives which cannot be lonely, and so one summer eve the Poop Dragon spread its wide wings with sanitary-tissue membranes as fine as the finest gossamer and took flight.

She was made all of filth, but even filth can be majestic.

 

*****

 

The Poop Dragon traveled first to India, to visit the Priests of the Other End who had long been in service to her kind. Here, humans still Stalked the Sewer and Worshiped the Waste and took Coin from the Crap. Here, she would find someone who would have news of her kind. Near a clogged sewer in Mumbai, the Poop Dragon landed before a Priest neck deep in human excrement trying to unclog a pipe with his bare hands.

There were many other people in the street, but the man was as invisible to them as the Poop Dragon was, and this the Poop Dragon knew was also as it had always been. This particular kind of Invisibility was a gift of the Other End. To be seen and not seen, and when seen not to be spoken of.

The sound of his struggles had drawn the Poop Dragon’s attention, like a rat struggling to swim out of a cistern, and she heard in his thrashings great wisdom and courage. Long years of experience showed in every twitch and flick of the Priest’s submerged wrists, and though the beard of the Priest seemed brown the Dragon knew it was truly white with age. The Poop Dragon knew that of all the Priests in this land, that this human was most likely to have news of her kind.

It took a moment for the Priest to see that she was there, and when he did the man cackled with laughter so wild that the Dragon feared he had gone insane.

“Dragon!” said the little Priest, “such a blessing! Is this my time then, now while I am baptized in the essence of the Other End? Will a sudden flow now drown me and send me where all men must one day go?”

The Poop Dragon shook its head an hour later, struggling to focus in on the human conception of time and make sense of the words.

“Not tonight, Priest. Not for many nights. I come to ask news of my kind. It has been many thousands of seasons since I last heard news of my brothers and sisters. Tell me priest, have you ever seen another Poop Dragon?”

The priest explicitly did not bite his lower lip, for he was too practiced and wise for that, but without moving his face he gave an expression that said he would have in other circumstances. It was an expression of deep and trance-like thought.

“None, Dragon. Truly, in all of my memory I have only heard stories of Dragons and those all re-told and re-told from back to the beginning of sewers. No Priest save I, in this moment, has seen a Poop Dragon. My life on it,” the Priest said.

After three days, the Dragon nodded, and the Priest now near death, for he had not moved, nodded in return.

“I grant you Clearing of the Pipes, Priest. May the God of the Other End smile upon you when your time comes.”

The priests wrists twitched again and this time his hands came up out of the filth with a giant cylindrical rat. The Dragon bowed a token of respect to the rat, a bloated King of Clogs, who must surely have killed the priest without the Dragon’s Blessing. A great flushing sound, so loud that it strained the limits of the priest’s invisibility, filled the square and the filth lowered from around the priest’s neck to below his ankles and then disappeared beyond sight.

Rain came, great torrents of pure water, and washed the Priest clean. The Poop Dragon took flight again, roaring an unanswered greeting to a land empty of her kind.

 

*****

 

The Poop Dragon came to China some years later, for it had now spoken to Priests of every land and the only new stories they had heard were stories of her, to a place where there were those who Raised Up to the Mouth Again. The Poop Dragon’s kind had only ever had little to do with such humans but she was desperate for news. No Priest of the Other End in any nation had seen its kind in thousands of years. For the Dragon this was as alarming as if it had not heard from a close relative and neighbor in a month. The Poop Dragon was becoming alarmed that all her brothers and sisters had simply moved on and met the God of the Other End and left her behind without so much as a word goodbye.

Those Who Raised Up to the Mouth Again were mixing her essence with dirt and spreading it out over a field to become food and begin the Great Cycle anew. It was one of the most ancient rituals of the Universe and these humans practiced the ritual with greater efficiency than their forebears could have ever imagined. Everywhere the eye could follow, her essence was harnessed and spread to bring new life and Raise Up to the Mouth Again. They were shrewd creatures, these humans, to stand at an Edge and maintain a Great Cycle in this way, and wiser than should be possible for their brief lifespans. But such was always the way of those who served the Cycles and kept the Edges.

At first, the Poop Dragon thought she was invisible to these creatures, as she had been to the lowly acolytes at the waste treatment facility and all but her most devout Priests, but then realized they had all seen her and were politely waiting for her to make her business known. The Ones who Raised Up to the Mouth Again knew a Dragon did not know time the way a human did, but they also knew they were too busy to wait in attendance all day.

“I have coming seeking news of my brothers and sisters,” said the Poop Dragon.

The leader of Those Who Raised Up to the Mouth Again nodded impatiently, as though she had been expecting this. Their leader was an old woman, permanently stooped over from almost a century of planting, and leaning heavily on a wooden cane.

“What I tell you was told to me by my grandmother, who heard it from her grandmother, and from her grandmother, back for two-hundred generations. We have waited for you to come so that we may tell you this news. It brings me no joy to tell you this, but it is as it must be. All the Poop Dragons passed out to the Other End,” she said.

The Poop Dragons wings fell and it slumped forward, and it huffed so deep and so hard that a smell both toxic and dangerous filled the whole of the land. Humans coughed and fled, save the old woman, but the plants flourished and grew green and hardy in the course of a single season. The old woman lay on the ground before the Dragon all the while, eating nothing and drinking only what the rain could offer her.

“What is to come of me?” the Poop Dragon wondered aloud.

The Old Woman, half-buried under a tangled growth of vines, whispered just at the edge of the Dragon’s hearing.

“Lie here next to me, Dragon. All my brothers and sisters are also gone. I have lain here months and yet to me it only feels only like a single day. For my kind, I am as ancient as you. This place is the Edge where Death becomes Life again. What better place to be than this, to see what lays at the Other End? Even one such as you must take that journey alone, yet here we can leave for for the journey side by side. If it is your wish, I only ask that you hurry, or else I must leave with you.”

The Dragon thought on this, but only for a minute, and it nuzzled up next to the old woman, who was too old even to smell it and closed its great wet-white eyes. When it felt the woman go, the Poop Dragon took its first step along the great journey with her. And it followed all the way to the Other End.

 

*****

 

There was a hill in the center of the field where Grandmother Liu had lain down to her final rest, and although the city officials had made a fuss over burying her in the middle of the field, and the men who operated the heavy farming equipment fussed that the hill was a nuisance to the job of harvesting, none of the field workers would move it or touch it or allow someone else to do it for them.

“It is not our place to move the hill. The wind will take it, grain by grain. If not the wind, then the rain. If not the rain, then the future. When there is no memory of Grandmother Liu or the Dragon, then it will be no sin to level the hill. Then and only then,” the people of the field said this like a catechism.

If the hill had the shape of a dragon and was inconvenient to harvest with farming equipment, it also grew the richest food and it was what the farmers fed to their own families whenever they had the choice, and it gave the children somewhere to play hide-and-seek. They called it Dragon-Hill and it was whispered if you could find its secret center, you’d know the secret of true magic.

As years passed, and the story of the hill spread, it made more than one child frown for it was a story unlike other stories.

“That’s ridiculous,” they said, “that there should even be anything so stupid as a Poop Dragon. Not even a real dragon, really, and no brave warriors or magic or anything.”

“Every mountain that scrapes the sky has its roots deep in the Earth. Every brave warrior soon finds the end of their path and it is not cowardice which brings them there, only time. True wisdom, comes in knowing that there is no magic greater than moving in and out of this world. It is all part of the Great Cycle, and it is not for us to question the designs of the Universe,” their elders said.

There was another part of the story, which they did not relate, for when it is known it is better that it is known as a personal discovery and held silently. For to speak it aloud undoes the magic. For if everything moves in a Great Cycle, and if it is natural that a Poop Dragon should spontaneously arise out of the waste of other creatures, preside over mediocrity, and return to the Earth, it follows that for every Poop Dragon that dies a True Dragon must be born to heroic destiny. For there cannot be one without the other.

Update on the Family of Fang and Claw and my Patreon

Howdy folks, I think it’s probably time to give everyone an update on how I’m doing with the Family of Fang and Claw.

I’m very close to being done and -while there’s still a lot of work to do- I should be done in time for October. I know I’ve said that the last two Octobers, but it wasn’t really true unless I resorted to doing flash fiction for the remaining stories. It would have been sloppy and unsatisfying. I wouldn’t have been happy with that, and neither would you. What I’m going to give you instead is 13 intersecting stories that will read much more like a novel.

There’s about 70k words “completely completed,” and probably something like 15k written in partials for the remaining stories. The last story will probably sit somewhere around 30k words on its own, as it completes the character arc of Seth, and I’m thinking the entire collection will sit somewhere between 100k and 120k. If it were a paperback novel, that would sit it somewhere between 350-400 pages.

It’s big, it’s real, and it will knock you flat on your ass.

I’m hoping to have first drafts of everything done by the end of July -the big thing holding me back has been my available time, and I’ve worked that out for the rest of this year at least- and second drafts done by August and everything finalized by September. Then I’m going to push this out to every single reviewer of horror fiction I can possibly find and plan for a release date on October 13th.

The collection will be available on Amazon eBook for $6.66 and my Patreon -more on that below- starting at $3/mos.

Here’s a look at the Table of Contents although some titles may change.

1 Reunion Re-Draft
2 The Pancake Family Completed
3 The Chooser Completed
4 Totem First Draft
5 Gehenna Completed
6 Glass Tongue Partial Draft
7 The Chance Completed
8 The God of Halfway Completed
9 Fat-Thulu Completed
10 Doors of the Dark Completed
11 The Order of Edges Completed
12 Widdershins Partial Draft
13 The Choice Partial Draft

Some of those “Completeds” will still need a minor bit of tweaking depending on a few things I may or may not do with the other stories, but those tweaks would be very minor and wouldn’t provide much delay. The Chooser, The Chance, and The Choice are all stories of “Seth” and will serve as the backbone against which all the other stories are set. Fat-Thulu is a new name for The Feeder of Her, because it’s obviously a much funner name and more fitting of that particular story. I’m not very good with titles, so as I said before, you will probably see a lot of that change in the final collection.

Of the remaining stories, I’m planning to make The Doors of the Dark and Widdershins publicly available, although only the former of those would be in a format that would work for r/nosleep. I’ll probably write some one-off fiction on r/nosleep though that’s set in the same world. I also have some one-off stuff I’ve been thinking on but haven’t had time to write, as I’ve been trying to figure out how to top the Pancake Family for a while and I think I have a concept I can rework that might just do the trick. There are stories in the collection that will top the Pancake Family, but they’re not first person and wouldn’t work in that format.

If you thought the first part of the God of Halfway was bad, wait till you read the ending.

After The Family of Fang and Claw is completed I’ll still write horror on a one-off basis, but I’ll primarily focus on the Age of Fusion and finishing up a novel I’ve been working on set in the Tide World. I may even return to the cosmos (hint hint, wink wink, oh I can’t wait for that reveal) but it won’t be in as dedicated a fashion. Unless this really hits home instead of selling the tens of copies I expect it to and demands a sequel.

PATREON

I do everything through Amazon because it’s easy, but I know that doesn’t work for everyone. For that reason, I’ve started a Patreon. Also, because of money -but mostly because I know that Amazon doesn’t work for everyone. The starting price is pretty cheap $3/mos, and you get access to everything I’ve written at that amount including Family Stories from the old blog. Any time I write anything “exclusive” you get access to that too.

At higher amounts you get more stuff -including at one level the ability to view my Google Drive, which I made super expensive because I don’t actually want anyone to do it- but $3/mos felt like a pretty fair price. At certain levels of income I can make certain promises about what I’m able to deliver. While I’m not really expecting to turn a profit for this, I thought it might be neat to funnel the money back into the site. For example, if I make $250/mos which is at the very highest limit of what I could foresee myself making, I would just funnel all of that money into commissioning art for my stories. $500/mos and I would do audio adaptations, etc.

If you want to read two Family of Fang and Claw stories before the collection is released, they’re currently up on my Patreon right now. Namely, The Halfway God and The Order of Edges. Hope you enjoy if you look and that this doesn’t appear to be a naked money grab.

 

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Okay fine, I won’t go to Mars, Amanda

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I will give up carbs and never stop talking about it and be really inconvenient at restaurants and weddings. I will pretend this is due to a Gluten allergy I don’t really have.

 

Sneak Peek: The God of Halfway

“We’re here, mom.”

 

Lori’s left eye fluttered open. Her right eye shuddered, strained to overcome the rheum gluing her eyelashes together, and fell still.

 

Half the world in light. Half the world in darkness.

 

“Mom, can you hear me?”

 

Lori reached out with her good hand and clawed at the dark. Tried to strike the monsters that lived there. She’d never managed to hit one. But she knew they were there, always hiding, dancing and giggling beyond sight. She could almost hear them laughing at her, the little shits.

 

Lori slouched back in the car seat, exhausted by the effort. Trying to catch her breath, she gasped through what felt like a mouthful of dessicated, flavorless jam. She failed. There was never enough breath.

 

Some part of her brain was still struggling with the disconnect in her eyes, still waiting for input from a dead orb. It took a while before the world resolved from a blur into her daughter’s face.

 

Her daughter?

 

When had her daughter shown up?

 

No. The problem was deeper than that. More essential.

 

When the fuck had she had a daughter?

 

“We’re there now, Mom.”

 

Now? There? Here?

 

Mom?!?

 

Lori squeezed her left eye shut, as if by doing so she could wring clarity out of the patchwork of living and dead tissue that her brain had become since the stroke. It didn’t help much, but then again it never did. It only gave her some small sense of control. Enough to leave her pissed off, anyway. Being pissed off and crippled always felt a lot better than being confused and crippled.

 

She opened her eye again. A bit of clarity returned. She must’ve fallen asleep at the home. And they had moved her and now she had woken up somewhere strange. That explained how she got here. Christ, she needed to stop nodding off like that. It was like being teleported against her will.

 

She pushed on her chin with her shaking left hand to change her angle of view. The terrifying curtain of black that hid the right half of the world moved aside, now hiding God only knew what fresh horrors.

 

They’d arrived at some kind of condominium complex. The buildings spread out like rectangular mountains. Or they might as well have been, for they were as impossible to climb or navigate. Why was she at a condominium complex?

 

“We’re going to take you out of the car now, Mom. Okay?”

 

“Oo.”

 

No.

 

Lori reached out with her left hand to grasp her seat belt, hoping it might make moving her more difficult, but her feeble grip broke when that fag her daughter married reached in and wrapped his arms around around her waist. The memories were starting to come back now.

 

Oh yes!

 

Charles (don’t-call-me-Charlie followed by a stupid mock-serious grin that was supposed to be funny but only ever came across as strained, pathetic and awkward) was a computer programmer. A great, big fat slob with a too-tight shirt that showed off his tits. No kind of man at all, no matter how much money he made. Unable to control her neck, Lori’s face fell forward into his cleavage as he lifted her. His breasts stunk like cheap cologne and bubble gum.

 

Lori wiggled against his gut to no avail.

 

“Ush oo oooaahh.”

 

“I love you too, Mom. But we’ve really got to get you out of there now, okay?”

 

Lori shook her head, furious. Had everyone gone deaf? Not love you. Fuck you. Fuck you both.

 

Sarah (that was her daughter’s name!) patted Lori’s head like she was some kind of retard. Ruffled her hair like she would a dog’s. Lori’s blood pounded hard enough she could feel it swirling around her skull. Could feel the same pressure she’d felt in the seconds before this tragedy had struck her.

 

She snarled at Sarah. Or tried to.

 

God she hated that fucking kid. She should have had the abortion… or no, wait… was that the other one? Did she even have another kid? She couldn’t recall. In either case, it would be better to be ignored in a state home than to be dragged around while having to listen to this whiny cunt and her faggot husband. And now they were… what were they doing again?

 

It was hard to focus through the heat of rage, but Lori was sure whatever they were doing was rotten. It had to be selfish. Mean-spirited. And….

 

That’s right! They were foisting her off onto her other daughter. She remembered now. She did have another daughter. That was the daughter she’d almost aborted. The worst daughter. They were giving her to the worst daughter!

 

It wasn’t fair.

 

“Charles and I will be real gentle, Mom. We promise.”

 

“Eeen isss!”

 

Eat piss.

 

She hung in Charles’ arms like a puppet with half of its strings cut, until he dragged her over to a bench and set her down on a thick white sheet like a bundle of dirty laundry. She should have rolled right out of the fucking thing and made them drag her out of the gutter. She couldn’t, of course. Not with the right side of her body paralyzed and the left half barely functional.

 

They wouldn’t have dared do this before the stroke. Not with her temper. They would have been too afraid. Lori balled her left hand into a fist so hard it shook. Oh, they wouldn’t have dared lay a finger on her if she was still young and in full control of herself!

 

“It’ll all be over soon, Mom. Then you’ll get to spend every day with Gina. I bet you’ll really like that, huh?”

 

Gina? Her other daughter? A flash of insight.

 

Fuck Gina!

 

“Oo! Oo!”

 

No! No!

 

They carried her toward the stinking condos, each holding one end of the sheet. They nearly dropped her on the stairs half a dozen times so that she swung from side to side like a ship at sea. It made her want to vomit, but she couldn’t risk it, not after she’d almost choked on her own sickness at the hospital. That a was a memory somehow stronger and more fundamental than her whole childhood. How she’d lain there forcing stinking air through her nostrils until the nurse had come hours later and cleaned out her mouth with a wet cloth. She fought back the nausea with all of what little control she still had over her body, willing the vomit not to come.

 

When they finally entered the apartment at the top landing, Charles and Sarah unceremoniously dropped her into yet another in a never-ending series of stale hospital beds. The plastic sheets crinkled against the left half of her body. It felt like laying down on an open candy wrapper. Itchy and sticky at the same time.

 

“Ow oo uuu ing isss ooo ee! I uuur uuuiiinnn uer!”

 

How could you do this to me! I’m your fucking mother!

 

She reached out with her hand again, this time shaping it like a claw, hoping she might be able to snag an earring or something awful like that, but Sarah took her hand before she could grab anything interesting and squeezed it. Three times. I love you. Oh Christ, what a silly cunt she’d given birth to. What an oblivious, sanctimonious cunt!

 

“We brought this bed in special for you, Mom. Do you like it?”

 

“Oo!”

 

No.

 

“Yes, it is good, isn’t it, Mom? It’s got all kinds of motors in it to move you around just how you like! And we got you this tv to watch. And Gina is going to be home soon, and she’s going to take care of you. You two will get to be together again! Won’t you like that?”

 

Gina. The worst daughter. The worst goddamn daughter. The one who’d stolen… something. Whatever it was, it had been goddamn important.

 

Sarah kept babbling.

 

Lori scowled.

 

“O oo och!”

 

Hope you choke!

 

“That’s okay mom, we’ll miss you too. But I promise we’ll come back to visit. We’re going to leave you with the nurse now. Her name is Rosa, remember? Rosa. Just ask her if you need anything. She’s real nice, I promise. I bet you two will get to be real good friends. Charles and I have to leave so we can get back in time to pick up the kids from school.”

 

Lori turned her head when they had gone. When the fury faded and she was able to shift her body in just the right way that her head would have to flop over to the other side. The nurse was a spick. They’d left her all alone with a spick. Probably wouldn’t do anything but watch those awful goddamn soap operas all day.

 

The nurse turned to Lori, smiling. Her teeth went up and up and up and still Lori couldn’t see her gums. The woman set down her phone and turned on the television to some terrible Spanish soap opera. Everyone talking all crazy fast so that Lori could barely fall back to sleep.

 

It figured.

 

*****

 

She was seventeen again. And, oh, how she danced! How she flitted, and turned, every part of her body inscribing circles and curves. She spun, a series of complex orbits as the solar system of her body screamed sex in a red dress.

 

Some masochistic part of her broken brain said she must be dreaming because she was always seventeen in her dreams. Seventeen, energetic, and beautiful. She could have been a movie star if she’d been born someplace other than the gutter. Her beauty had brought her far from there, though. She was dancing in the country club with all the snobby kids from the other side of the tracks. Grinding up against their eager little pricks through the fronts of their khaki slacks, drunk on booze she’d got from the bar after lying about her age. She hadn’t paid for the drink, of course. She never paid for anything in her dreams. Especially not her mistakes.

 

She flashed a grin at the pathetic men flowering the walls, all the men who wanted her but were too afraid to come up and do something. Not at all like the rough-fingered boys from her side of the tracks, who took what she gave whenever she would give it. No, these were the boys too scared of mommy and daddy to do anything. But oh, how they changed when she got them alone.

 

They always changed.

 

And the things they changed into always gave her whatever she wanted.

 

Lori had her eyes on an older fellow with no ring on his finger and a gold watch on his wrist. Big-nosed and balding but a good frame. He looked like a Kike. Lori flashed a smile at him. He looked from side to side to see if she was smiling at someone else. Then, a small secret smile over the top of his drink as his eyes sucked in the sight of her.

 

She shuddered with the thrill of it.

 

The way she’d get him alone. The way he’d give her what she wanted. Maybe she’d even get pregnant by this one, like she’d been planning. Maybe this one would be her meal ticket.

 

Kikes always had money.

 

*****

 

 

The monsters! So close now! She struck out at them, her arm taking an eternity to rise to her defense. (Was it dark or had her other eye gone dead as well? Please let it only be dark! Please, oh God!) What a time to be slow, when the monsters were almost upon her. When she could feel their putrid corpse-breath tickling her nostrils. What a time to be forever blind!

 

A hand caught hers, the flesh cool and firm even through the mangled network of Lori’s senses. She screamed, a broken exhalation without even the dignity of certitude.

 

“Ooooooo?”

 

A question of a scream. An interrogative of terror.

 

“Calm down, mom. The nurse isn’t here anymore, and I’m not going to take your shit like she does,” said the monster from the dark.

 

It couldn’t be. Surely not. She had never given birth to a monster. Had she?

 

“Oooooo?” she asked the dark.

 

“Jesus Christ, Lori, cut the bullshit.”

 

Lori wrung her eye again. Squeezed it tight. Clarity danced just beyond reach. Gina. She was at Gina’s house. She’d been dropped off by… Sarah, whoever that was.

 

“So, Sarah told me you’re crippled now. A bit retarded too. Is it true?”

 

There was a faint bit of moonglow from the other sides of the shades, gray-light, but after a few moments of adjustment it was enough to see by.

 

A young, pale face that looked disconcertingly like the vision of herself she’d been dreaming of only moments ago bent close and peered at her. A finger poked her right below the eye. Poked her!

 

Jab.

 

Jab jab jab.

 

Lori tried to turn her face aside, shying away from the finger. She saw the hand rise and fall three more times but felt nothing.

 

“Fuck me, it’s true!” Gina laughed, “You couldn’t stop me even if you wanted to, could you?”

 

A dozen quick jabs followed on the left side of her body.

 

“Ooop! Oooop iii!” Stop! Stop it!

 

“Do you have any idea how long I’ve been waiting for this? I used to dream of this when I was a kid! I used to have wet dreams about this!”

 

“Eeeellll! Ursss!”

 

Help! Nurse!

 

The jabs subsided into a cackling so nakedly wicked it hurt Lori’s ear to register the sound.

 

“Hey, you really can’t feel anything over here can you? I mean, I’m really digging into you. Haha, you’re half a corpse already!”

 

Gina scratched at her from the dark side, the right side, from the unknown half-world of her dead eye, and the only way that Lori could tell was because of the way it rocked her left half of her body.

 

“Eee ooo.”

 

“Be good? Really mom? That’s rich from you. I guess this is kind of juvenile, though. Ugh, fine. I’ll stop. So, how have you been?”

 

Lori lay on her pressed plastic sheets, sticky and sweating and panting so hard she could not make the effort to speak. Old woman sweat. It smelled like unwashed potatoes and soap.

 

“When’s the last time we saw each other? Eight, ten years ago? I would have been… hold on, I’m thinking here,” Gina put a bemused finger to her chin, “I was sixteen and pregnant. You gave me four-hundred dollars and a bus-ticket and told me you didn’t feel like cleaning up the mess I’d made by… how did you put it? How could I forget? The mess I’d made by stealing your boyfriend?”

 

Gina laughed and slapped her leg, silhouetted in front of the moonlit shades of the window at the end of the bed. There wasn’t anything funny about it. The forced donkey bray of laughter died and then Gina was standing over the end of the bed.

 

“Don’t feel bad. It’s a family trait, I think. Sarah hadn’t spoken to me in three years. Last thing before that was a birthday card. She said she just sort of… forgot. I don’t blame her. I don’t like to see her either. She’s very wrapped up in her delusions of what a normal life is supposed to be, but I think her husband is a friend of Dorothy if you catch my meaning. One of her kids is addicted to heroin too, but you didn’t hear that from me. Who am I to judge, though? I don’t like thinking about the bad stuff either. So, how are ya, mom?”

 

Gina pinched Lori’s left toe three times.

 

“Uuuuuh leeeeep,” Lori murmured.

 

“Why would you want to go to sleep? We have so much catching up to do! Don’t you want to know how I’ve been?” Gina squeezed Lori’s toe three times more.

 

“I already know how you’ve been. I’ve snooped in my little ways over the years. I used to drive by your house, you know. In the middle of the night, to count the cars and see who was there. I must admit it made me happy when you broke up with that rapist fuck, even though it took you eight months. I think I kept driving by until I graduated community college. One time, after he was gone, I almost knocked on the door. I stood there on your porch for ten minutes while you slept. I just couldn’t find the will to press the doorbell. I was afraid you’d say you hated me. I was more afraid you’d say sorry. It felt like all I had during that time was my hate for you. What do you think you would have done, if I rang?”

 

Three squeezes again. Too hard this time. It hurt. Lori’s toenail felt like it might break from the pressure. Gina’s face went blank and she ran away, suddenly, and there was a terrifying commotion all through the back of the house and finally, an eternity later, Gina stood back at the end of the bed in a nurses uniform. It was impossible for Lori to say how much time had passed.

 

“Did you know I became a nurse? Aced all their tests. Fourth in my class. I won all kinds of awards and scholarships. You have no idea how useful you were in all of those personal essays. You know those college liberals, mom, just like you said. They always love a sob story.

 

“Sarah’s a college liberal now too, mom. Bet you hate that. She ate that fucking sob story like it was applesauce. Sarah heard my daughter died. His daughter. Your granddaughter. She killed herself. Last spring. You know, I always tried to smile in front of that kid. Always tried to pretend I wasn’t anything like you, even to myself, while she was alive. Went to all kinds of seminars and things trying to fight the part of you that lived in me. But your shadow fell over her anyway, and my little flower withered away.”

 

Something gleamed in Gina’s hand. A pair of toenail clippers gleaming in one hand. They opened and shut like the mouth of a dinosaur.

 

No, not toenail clippers. Pruning shears. Little plastic pruning shears. The kind for trimming rosebushes and snapping small branches.

 

“I kept track of you. Your five divorces. Your domestic violence arrests. The ones where you did it and the ones where it was done to you. I think of you every time I take a shower and see the cigarette burns. I told Sarah all the things I was supposed to tell her to make her put you in my care. It was easy. How I was so lonely. How I wished things hadn’t ended between us like they had. How this was our chance to make it right.

 

“Every time I lied, all I could think about was my daughter. I think… I think I could forgive you for it all… and this could all be a nightmare and I’ll wake up tomorrow and I won’t have actually been serious about any of this -if you can do just one thing. If you just don’t fail me one more time. If you show the smallest possible bit of love, I’ll forgive you.

 

“What was my daughter’s name, mom? Say her name and I’ll love you more than I hate you. Cry for her with me and we’ll wash away the past with our tears. Can you do that? Just say her name?”

 

Lees? On hurr me,” Lori wept.

 

Please? Don’t hurt me.

 

In the gray light, Gina’s face became grayer. Gray as stone. Gray as thunder clouds. Corpse-gray. Lori watched her daughter sit there for what must have been an hour. Watched her until she was no longer certain she was sane or if this wasn’t a dream, and until Gina herself might have just been a trick of the light.

 

“Sarah said you needed your toenails clipped,” Gina whispered, clumsily cutting the toenails of Lori’s good foot. “I guess I’m the real good daughter because I’m the one who will do the disgusting jobs that Sarah doesn’t want to do up in her palace. I’ll do the jobs that Sarah doesn’t even want to know about.”

 

The toenail clippings flew off at random angles. The shears made rough and jagged cuts and Lori could feel her toenails becoming sharp. Like talons. One of the toenail clippings landed on Lori’s chin and it seemed to bite her like the perpetual kiss of a spider.

 

“Remember when you caught him?” Gina whispered, lovingly. “And he ran out of the house? I remember there was a moment there where you were horrified and couldn’t say anything. I remember I thought you loved me and that you would hold me and tell me it was going to be okay. That it wasn’t my fault a forty-year old man would do something like that to a sixteen year old girl. That I’d only smiled at him and that didn’t justify what he’d done. Then that moment was gone and you couldn’t stop yelling at me and hitting me with my hairbrush. Remember that? Remember when you called me a whore? And told me you’d known I was trying to steal him away? That I was a whore? And a slut?

 

With one ear, Lori heard five quick snips on the toes of the foot she could not feel. A sound like five thick carrots being broken in half. She felt half of her heart drop into half of her stomach.

 

“Huh, you really can’t feel a thing on this side, can you? Not a thing.

 

Half of Lori’s face felt cold and clammy. Half a nose smelled copper and iron. One hand gripped a sheet in a feeble kitten grip.

 

“Why am I just like you, mom? That’s what I hate you for the most, you know. Why did I have to be your daughter?”

 

Gina, sobbing, held one hand over Lori’s chest and opened it. Five little things… five toes fell onto Lori’s chest. Little wrinkled old lady toes, silver and blue and red. Five of them.

 

“Oh mom, we’re going to have so much fun together.”

 

“OooooooOooooo,” screamed Lori, like a tea kettle.

 

Like this story? … actually, that doesn’t work here. Anyway, the rest of it will be upcoming with the “Family of Fang and Claw Collection.” I’m putting it here for the purposes of building anticipation and being kind of a dick. It’s also available right now on my Patreon starting from the low cost of $3/mos for the purposes of being evil.