At midnight, he invited me back for curry, and I am a sucker for shy excuses. He never turned on the lights. We never had curry. I heard the scratching then but ignored it. I was drunk and wanted his pants off.

     I screamed, waking at dawn. A clear plastic tunnel ran over my head, around the room, and through the walls. Looking down at me was a penis with sawed-off teeth.

     “Naked mole rats,” he said into the pillow. He’d brought home that many women.

“He snickered disagreeably. ‘Me, no,’ he said, ‘me, I don’t hang around here after dark.’ Grinning, satisfied with himself, he stood away from the car … perhaps he will keep popping out at me all along the drive, she thought, a sneering Cheshire Cat, yelling each time that I should be happy to find anyone willing to hang around this place, until dark, anyway.”
                                                                                    Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House


     There will always be a Dudley the caretaker dispensing unwanted advice, undermining your resolve to go on that year-long safari, or ignore those travel advisories from the State Department, or explore that haunted house—give up your job, your apartment, and just take off without telling any friends. Maybe you consider your friends much too cautious, or have no friends you care about. You’re drawn to the dark. You crave the unknown, the thrill of finally leaving the ordinary behind.

     You’ve been invited to Hill House by some paranormal researcher you don’t know, your monstrous mother’s finally dead, you’re free to go. You’re haunted too. You’ve been having dreams where you run up and down stairways, out of breath, corridors twist and turn and you’re completely lost, no way to retrace your steps. You quicken your pace and your heart begins to pound. Whispers from the empty elevator shaft are getting louder. Is it your mother, come back from the dead? You peer down into the darkness, swaying on your feet.

     When you accepted the invitation to spend a week with strangers, you were thinking a real haunted house might dispel those dreams and memories. Or maybe you weren’t really thinking, just obeying your instinct to escape now that the door to your cage was open.

Lazlo the Bear was kicked to death one night by three men half his age, but he didn’t let that define him. Instead he swallowed the unfortunate incident whole and washed it down with cider and thick fingers the next morning.

It was unfair, of course: he owed no one. None of that shit, he would tell them, everywhere.  But nothing is fair, his grandmother whispered, and he knew she spoke the truth. For she was sly and strong like him, and hung neatly around his neck.

He didn’t go to the funeral, but he watched. Little robin Lazlo in the bushes: what a joke. Only the strangers came – skulls bared, eyeing him carefully where he hid. The priest spoke tight English sadnesses and knew nothing of him, but his kind heart beat so loudly that it was enough for Lazlo. He left his last tall tale on a hook by the chapel door and slipped out.

So, Lazlo is dead. Those faces at the centre would be so surprised now by his liberties, his open plans, his hollow bones. He should slide through the secure doors and peck at their papers, just so, just to show them. Sign here, sigh there, Lazlo the Swift. (more…)

     Jacob covered his smooth skin with the goatskins as his mother Rebecca told him to do. They were still bloody and sticky from the goats’ slaughter just moments before. His mother had cooked their meat and gave it to Jacob to give to his father Isaac, old and blind and on his deathbed, to eat, so that Jacob could steal the blessing Isaac had promised his twin brother Esau, older than him by only a few seconds and somehow favored for it, while Esau was out hunting for the meat Isaac had asked him for. It was a crafty plan and a stupid one, Jacob thought, one that relied on Isaac’s blindness and his dulled mind–who on earth would confuse the coarse pelt of a goat on top of Jacob’s scrawny arms for Esau’s soft, abundant hair over his hardened muscles?–but the plan worked. Isaac gave Jacob the blessing meant for Esau, a blessing of prosperity and power ending with May those who curse you be cursed and may those who bless you be blessed.

     When Esau returned with a cut on his forehead, a bruise on his thigh, and a gazelle over on his shoulders, he saw Jacob walking out of their father’s tent wearing Esau’s clothes over goatskin and looking quite pleased. Esau dropped the gazelle, marched up to his brother, grabbed him by the shoulder, and demanded, “What have you done?” Jacob froze and stammered. His brother was much bigger and stronger than him and his nose was still crooked from when, years before, Esau punched him in the face after Esau had recovered from starvation and realized Jacob had tricked him to trade his birthright for a pot of red beans. What would Esau do now that he had been cheated yet again by Jacob?

     But Jacob did not have to wonder long. This is what Esau did: He pushed Jacob back into their father’s tent with a hard shove that made Jacob stumble and fall to the floor on all fours. “Father!” Esau said in his low, gentle voice. “It is me, your son Esau. I’ve just returned from my hunt for you only to find my brother wearing my clothes and covered in goat fur. Did you give your blessing to him already?”

     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.”


Published as part of a collection by Howling Press and presented with some commentary by the editor, Herbert S. Trundlewhip


‘Rules are rules, and that is that.’

     That’s the last thing Teddy said before he left us. We ー that is to say, Rupert, Tammy and I ーwere still practically children without the faintest idea of how to keep house, but the idea of spending a week in Margate, unfettered by parents and with a large Georgian house to ourselves, was enough to send a hasty ‘yes stop please stop’ over the telegram. We rattled down on the train the following day, leather cases in hand.

     Teddy, like all grown-ups, was fond of house rules, and he spared no time reciting them as he led us through that beautiful, dark hollow of an old brick abode. The satin curtains of the frontispiece window were to be drawn every night at seven; lantern oil was to be conserved wherever possible; the garden was to be watered once every two days with a little green watering can kept by the porch; and the greenhouse was strictly off-limits.

Porcelain blue and white dishes clatter on the soft-sheeted table. The curtains cloaking the house from the dry paradise of crops and grass outside sway as the wind picks up its pace. It starts as a small stir, kicking up dust centimeters high.

The mother busies herself with a dish to prepare, one that she’s spent days on giving thought. Her knobby fingers splay out on the top of a bowl, and she counts as she spoons bits of items into it. The tornado gathers a fair radius, bumping against the house’s porch and testing the weight of the beams supporting the patchwork. (more…)