Aristocratic Leather | by James Guthrie

     Walk around the house one last time, when the mourners have gone, and gather some trinkets to make a tasteful shadow box. Include some hair, some matchbox cars, a stick or two of their favorite chewing gum. When you’ve put it all together, take it outside and kick it off a bridge.

     Summon the deceased using tea leaves and several hundred mgs of the antipsychotic Quetiapine (ATC code: N05AH04). Take up a pen and ask the spirit to guide your hand. Sell the sketches at occult conventions. Published them in outsider art zines.

     “You’re asking how much for this?”

     “Not me. The spirit.”

     “The spirit is asking four fifty?”

     “Four fifty, yes.”

     “The spirit is.”


     “For this.”


     “For ‘Pen Sketch of Droopy Peckers’?” [Emphasis added.]

     Hoard your money and put a down payment on one of the picturesque 1000 Islands. Buy yourself a nice blonde wig and a few singing lessons and lure tour boats into the rocks with your throaty serenades. When the survivors ask why you haven’t radioed for help or why your phones don’t work, get real defensive and bust some crockery. If they keep on like that, threaten to lock them in the honey tank.

     “Pot, you mean?”

     “Tank, I said. Keep digging.”

     “The hell is a honey tank?”

     “Did I say you could talk?”

     At night, rumours of the tank will spread amongst them. It’s under the shithouse, they’ll whisper. Do what he says, they’ll whisper.

     When your villa is complete, sit on your terrace and look out at the water. Ruminate on glitter bombs, pointillism, epilepsy. Wonder to yourself where that shadow box floated to, all those decades ago. Is that a piece of it there, maybe, that weathered bit of flotsam, that reeking bit of garbage, bobbing in the eddy?



     “Oh. Sorry.”

     “I was just . . . changing.”

     “Oh. You were changing.”

     “I . . . Yes. Sorry.”

     “I just . . . Sorry. I heard something, so I . . . poked my head in.”


     “Something . . . rhythmic.”

     “Yeah, I . . .”

     “Like a smacking.”

     “Could I have some privacy, please?”

     “Like something wet was getting smacked.”



     You and your brother are standing in the shadow of the wretched, stinking old mortuary. Next to you is a large, hovering orb.

     “Yessir,” says the orb. “I been alive damn near a millennium, and there ain’t nothing better than a big old hamboigah.”

     Your brother kicks a small piece of wood across the cracked and drying mud.

     “Screw this orb,” he hisses.

     “Danny, shh.”

     “It can’t hear us. It can’t hear shit.”

     “You don’t know that.”

     “It just keeps going on about nonsense. Hamburgers and junk.”

     “It’s hungry. We’re all hungry.”

     “Bit of mustard. A nice pickle.”

     Three miles to the south, a nervous, bearded man opens a heavy, iron door. He tiptoes down a narrow, darkened hallway, and pokes his head into a small, candlelit room. In the far corner, cowered behind a metal slab, is a large, sentient hamburger.

     “P– . . . Please,” it manages to articulate, with some difficulty. “Please, eat me.”

     Four months later, P— D——, an urbex enthusiast and neophyte survivalist, appears on Good Morning State Media to discuss his viral Y–tube upload, “Abandoned B—-sville Slaughterhouse Found Footage 11/17/25 (Explicit).” The anchor thanks him for coming. The cameras push in.

     “Thank . . . having . . .” he manages to say. Then his cheeks puff up, and he vomits on the desk.

     “Oh,” the anchor says. “Oh . . .”

     P.D. looks down at what he’s done. He nods. It’s a four-beat thing that happens next. The anchor gestures off camera. P.D. plugs his nose, covers his mouth, and blows. His eyes roll back. He slumps from his chair.

     The technicians, having been ordered to cut away to something–anything–cut away to the already cued-up footage from P.D.’s viral upload: video of a nervous, bearded man punching to death and eating a large, wriggling hamburger.

     “P– . . . Please,” the hamburger says, as it is eaten. “Please, keep eating me.”

     The headline the next morning:

     “Vomiting Man Induces Stroke on Live News”


     Swing the gate open. From off camera comes a great orchestral swell. Thunder, your darling collie, rushes into your arms. You are a precious little blonde girl, a hearty young thing with pigtails and a nice new dress. You’ve been raised on radium water and Lydia E Pinkham’s Blood Medicine. You are rosy and strong and your collie missed you so very much. Hug him and brush his coat and tie little pink bows to his collar. Smile for the portraitist. Stay very still.

     When the painting is finished, sneak the turpentine up to your room and take a big swig. The lower half of your face will start to numb and sag. Take another sip. Don’t worry if you dribble some, just sort of dump it into your mouth. Your collie, Thunder, will lap up whatever spills.

     When your lips have sufficiently loosened, peel off a strip and smear it around a palette. Finger-paint a vibrant portrait of Thunder: lots of Day-Glo and spatters and eyes that follow you. Hang it to dry in your bedroom window. The smarter birds will steal shiny things to leave as an offering.

     Finish the paint thinner and toss the metal can in the Blue Bin. From off camera comes a muffled thump, as of something large and hairy hitting the floor. Gather up what’s left of your head and toss it over your shoulder. Thunder will be splayed out next to the clock in the hallway, a smoldering pink hole in his tumtum. Lift up one of the belly flaps and roll inside. His innards are made of velveteen. Snuggle up and sleep until you’re twenty-three.

     When you awake, the two of you will have fused. Try to separate yourself: the whole mess will duplicate. Try again, both of you. You will split into four, and then eight, and so on, until the house explodes.

     A drone overhead will record the whole thing. Good Morning State Media will play the exclusive video, it being relevant to the extensive traffic delays.

     The headline:

     “Flood of Blonde Dogs Engulf Downtown East Side”



     “Again, Danny?”

     “I’m changing, alright? Get out.”


     “Get out.”

     “We need to move soon. The orb thinks there’s food nearby.”

     “Lemme guess.”



     “I know. Just get dressed.”

     “There’s a back way outta here, you know.”

     “Put your pants on.”

     “We could double back to the river.” (Zip.) “We’d be halfway to wherever before the orb figures out we’re gone.”


     “I’m serious.”

     “Danny, shh.”


     “The orb is, like, right behind you.”


     Give your wife a kiss and leave the door open a crack so you can listen from the hallway. Bring a chair from the kitchen and set it next to the coat rack. Admire your visitor’s footwear: tan, brand name, comfy looking things. When you hear your wife finish, move the chair back to the kitchen. When you hear your guest finish, start tidying up. Put the wine glasses in the dishwasher. Fold their clothes. When you hear them snoring, make up the couch and set your alarm.

     For breakfast cook them scrambled eggs. Not your mother’s scrambled eggs but the real fancy poached kind you read about on a clickbaity food blog. Waste about eight eggs trying to get them just so. When they’re nice and fluffy, pat them down with a paper towel and plate them with some dainty sprigs of rosemary or something. Set out a French press or two of organic coffee and squeeze eighteen oranges for two and a half glasses of juice.

     Kiss your wife good morning. Shake your guest’s hand. Invite the two of them to sit down. Have a lovely breakfast, just the three of you.

     The following weekend host a tasteful dinner party for your wife’s work friends. Be super attentive to details like cutlery arrangement and hors d’oeuvre selection. Be real deferential to your guests for the first two thirds of the evening, until about dessert, then start insinuating someone at the table is stealing silverware and get borderline aggressive with one person over something inconsequential like the pronunciation of a word or a slip in grammar. At the end of the evening, when you say your goodbyes, shakes hands with everyone, but either shake their hands too hard, like you’ve something to prove, or just grab the tips of their fingers, like they’re dainty, delicate little things.

     In the morning go to a T– H—–’s to grab a quick breakfast. Make sure you get the meanest, foulest old cashier. Speak at a normal volume so she has to lean in and shout what after every syllable. Unintentionally provoke her rudeness along every point of the transaction so what might have been a pleasant day will be completely rattled and basically ruined by the ensuing fuming you’ll do over the whole business. Spend the majority of your morning imagining walking back in there and hurling every manner of bestial comparison at the old so and so.

     Project this anger onto someone at work. When What’s-His-Name from the Some-Such-Department knocks gently on your cubicle and asks you for last quarter’s crop losses or stats on starvations per capita, jump out of your chair and get in his personal space.

     “Go get them yourself.”

     Your coworker, squirming: “But you’re the . . . You’re the statistician.”

     Take five steps back, lower your head, and take a run at him.

     When the police arrive, try to play off the whole thing as a joke.

     “Oh, we’re always wrasslin, he and I.”

     “Wrasslin. Rough-housing.”

     “Rough–? Oh.”



     When their guard is down, make a madly unsuccessful grab at one of their guns. Get shot twice through the stomach.

     Stipulate in your will that your coffin be kept on ice until what’s left of you can be dumped on a body farm. Your wife can leave flowers out by the front gate.

     “It’s what he would’ve wanted,” she’ll say, her head on his shoulder.


     The orb rises up and begins to vibrate. The iron door creaks open.

     “In there?” Danny asks.


     “He wants us to go in there?”

     “He can sense food, apparently.”

     “Down that hallway? It’s pitch black.”

     The orb begins to glow, illuminating the hallway.

     “I’m still not going.”

     “Danny, come on.”

     “He’s going to kill us down there. You know that.”

     “Why don’t you trust him?”

     “Look at him.”

     The orb rises up and begins to vibrate.

     You can smell something the moment you enter the building. Your brother holds your hand as you inch down the narrow, dim corridor. At the end of the hall, you can see candlelight. You hold your breath and step into the room.

     The floor is littered with beard hair. The walls are smeared with condiments.

     “The hell happened in here?”

     At your feet is a cell phone attached to a selfie stick. Your brother reaches for it.

     “Don’t touch it.”

     “We could lick the mustard off, maybe.”

     “Danny, don’t. Leave it.”

     From the doorway comes a gentle squeaking. You turn around. The orb has dimmed and started to jiggle.

     “What’s it doing?” your brother asks.

     “I think it’s weeping,” you tell him.


     They’ll elect you mayor, when things get really bad. Attend the executions wearing a hat that says, “Chum Dumper.” Leave a large wicker basket below the apparatus to catch the heads of the more popular dissidents. Set up a little display stand of dissident death masks for passing tour busses. Serve Bellinis in kapalas to trembling rubberneckers.

     In your third term, make a point of looking directly at the solar eclipse. Don’t just glance at it. Stare so long your handlers have to pull you beneath cover. Stare so long your loved ones have to physically cover your face and head with something opaque like a beach towel or a bomber jacket. Ridicule the optometrists that come to assess your retinal damage. Walk into soda machines and fall off footbridges. Grope at walls, handrails, handlers, etc.

     “Sir, that’s. . . That’s my rump.”

     “I’m aware it’s your rump.”

     Have your goons break into a laboratory to locate some specimen jars containing brain slices. Get your chef to fry up a slice like a ham steak. Adjust the garnish depending on the pathology. An imprisoned witch doctor will restore your vision using a potion derived from the inedible, chewy bits. Send him to the gibbet regardless, but bejewel his kapala with maybe a nice ruby or two.

     From the University of Default, demand your honorary PhD (in Teratology, preferably). After the ceremony, have your thugs wreck up the joint. If possible, get them to steal the prototype of the God Helmet from the neuroscience department. This device uses magnets placed over the temporal lobes to either summon strange demons or induce hallucinations. Pair that shit with VR glasses and some motorized sex gizmos and you got yourself a steamy night in.


     “Oh. Sorry.”

     “Ever hear of knocking? Jesus.”

     “I would have knocked, Sir, but I’m only a hallucination.”

     “You’re a hallucination? Really? You’re quite convincing.”

     “Thank you.”

     “Are those bloomers you’re wearing?”

     For a midnight snack, make yourself a blonde dog meat sandwich. During the night, as things digest, you will start to duplicate.



     During the Summer Uprisings, you’ll contract roundworm and get a stabbed with a turkey fork by a traitorous goon. The last living taxidermist will make you up as some fantastical beast with a fish head and bird wings. Any unused skin will be gifted to an anthropodermic bibliopegist. Your leather will live for decades on a burr walnut bookcase between a two-bodied fetal pig and a Tibetan thighbone trumpet.



     During a game of Truth or Dare, you will be dared to sit on your left hand for two and a half minutes. You will mishear them, and sit on your left hand for two and a half weeks. It will turn purple and fall off, fertilizing the soil beneath your feet. If you stay still enough, you will double in height and live for two centuries.

     Keep a hanky over your face, for the smell, if need be.


     Between r and v, like pressed flowers or dried leaves:

     Fields of crop-gobbling blonde dogs.

     A large, weeping orb.

     A shadow box, bobbing in bog water.




James Guthrie’s work has appeared in Hart House Review, (Parenthetical), and The Molotov Cocktail, among others. He lives in Toronto with a librarian and three chinchillas.