Tag Archives: Ghosts

Ghost Mints


Winter’s weight and dust galore
Eyes heavy in the pain of dawn
cheekbones ache
whiskey madness takes its toll
on an ever-building mint bridge to heaven, scars, delusions
I’d be cutting the lawn
if there were a lawn to cut
I’d be drinking soda drops and pops
if I wasn’t a ghost
such a ghost
walking through walls
wading in the stalls
I might be painting the fence
if there were a fence to paint,
the barricade is metal, so rusted
stained with the sweats
of dashing immigrants
this mind so invaded
where are you lumber lady now?
on the seven seas forgetting
fornicating the sailor boys
as I drown in cold crab legs
you flag hags
put your pink slippers away
and start another war
be careful
you kings of New Hampshire,
you Queens of Albuquerque
do be careful.

The Lobster Guy (Nine)

Truman Humboldt’s guts bathed in the euphoric afterglow of a fine midday meal at Red Lobster as the car gently hummed west along Interstate 80 in Nebraska back toward the rubbish town of Neptune and lonely home.

Truman looked over at the lobster ghost glowing like a soft red x-ray in the passenger seat. He hadn’t said much since they had left the restaurant. He seemed to be deep in lobster thought. Truman worried something might be wrong.

“Is there somewhere you’d like me to drop you off?” Truman asked to break the quiet, wondering if the lobster ghost was planning to stick around forever.

The apparition came out of his meditative state and turned to smile at him. “No. I will dissipate when the time is right.”

Truman wasn’t sure what to make of that and looked straight ahead at the line of asphalt stretching out long and flat toward the bare and bone-colored horizon. “I wanted to thank you for encouraging me to apply for a job at Red Lobster. I’m very hopeful about it. I feel good. I sense a bright future is ahead of me.”

“I feel good about it as well,” the lobster ghost replied. “I’m very proud of you for putting yourself out there, for having some confidence in yourself for a change. I truly believe you will be greatly rewarded in the end.”

Truman nodded his head in agreement. “You know, I have so many things going through my head right now, but I’ve been seriously thinking… And once I get my foot in the door at Red Lobster and really show them who I am and what I can do, I’m going to see about getting a transfer to Maine. Maine!”

“That’s a lofty goal, Truman. A lofty yet wonderful goal… But don’t you think you should get the job first?”

They both laughed out loud.

“Right,” Truman said, and he smiled bright as a rainbow as he gripped the steering wheel. “Would you like to listen to my Ocean Sounds CD again?”

“Yes. Let’s get lost in the sounds of water along our journey through this desolate place of dust and dirt. But first I feel there is one important thing we still need to discuss.”

“What’s that?” Truman wondered aloud.

“Maggie Barrymore.”

“What about her?”

“What should be done with her.”

“What do you mean… Done with her?”

“Oh, come on, Truman,” the lobster ghost started off, his tone more ominous than it’s ever been. “Are you seriously going to just let her stomp on your heart such as she did without the slightest retaliation? Where’s your sense of personal pride and self-esteem? Where’s your sense of revenge? You deserved better from her, and you didn’t get it. She threw a fistful of mud in your face. She humiliated you. That’s unforgiveable.”

Truman sighed. “I understand what you’re saying, and yes, I acknowledge the depth of emotional pain I have suffered at her hands and other body parts, but sometimes a man has to take the higher road. Sometimes a man has to just get over it and move on… And that’s what I plan on doing. Move on.”

“Well, of course it’s easy to say that now, Truman,” the lobster ghost tried to explain. “Your head is in the clouds. But what about further along the road when you come back down to Earth. What about when you are sitting all alone in your house in Maine and those painful memories of Maggie Barrymore come creeping in and claw at your guts. Hmm? Life won’t be too enjoyable then. You’ll regret not putting her in her proper place when you had the chance. You’ll be drowning in regret, and regret, my friend, is never a pleasant thing.”

“What do you expect me to do?” Truman asked with a snort and an awkward laugh. “Kill her?”

The lobster ghost’s long-winded silence was answer enough for Truman.

“What!? I can’t kill somebody,” he protested. “That’s taking it a bit too far… Way too far. And I simply won’t do it!”

“But you must!” the lobster ghost cried out, trying to steer his thinking in a different direction. “Think back, Truman. Think of the betrayal. Think of how she treated you. Think of that despicable Mr. Guldencock slobbering all over her. Think about how she liked it, Truman. Think about how she cast you off like a piece of trash at the zoo while she favored him. Why, her heart is colder than the North Atlantic in January. She doesn’t deserve to live. But you, my friend, you deserve a full life, a life unencumbered by the stinging pain of shattered love. You deserve all the success and happiness the world has to offer… But you’ll never have it as long as that stain in your life exists. Snuff it out, Truman. Make things right. Restore the balance. Blot her from this Earth.”

Truman suddenly slowed down and pulled to the side of the highway. He roughly pushed the car’s shifter to P and let the engine idle.

“What are you doing?” the lobster ghost demanded to know.

“I think this is where you should get out,” Truman said with an uncharacteristic degree of authority. “I’m not going to kill her. You’ll never get me to do it… And if you were truly my friend, you wouldn’t force such a thing upon me. I’m not a killer. I’m a lover of lobster. I’m a lover of life!”

“So, this it then, huh?” the lobster ghost said, shaking his head at Truman. “You’re just going to leave me on the side of the highway in Nebraska,” and he glanced out the window for a moment. “Without even a puddle of leftover rainwater to soak myself in. Hmm. Some friend you are, all right. Some friend indeed.”

“Don’t try to make me feel bad,” Truman snapped. “You don’t even really exist. You’re in my head. But now I want you out.”

“All right, Truman,” the lobster ghost said as he undid his seatbelt and moved a claw toward the door handle. “But let me just say this. I hope when the day comes, and it will come, that you are writhing in unbearable emotional pain over one Maggie Barrymore, so much so that you’ll just want to snuff it, I do truly hope that you’ll look back on this day and say: ‘Wow. I should have listened to him. He was right. I should have done her in.’ But, you surely have it all figured out, don’t you. You’re going to be a big Red Lobster hot shot and your life is going to be perfect… Just like in the commercials, huh?” The lobster ghost laughed out loud. “Commercials are nothing but lies, Truman. Lies.”

“Why are you going on and on like this?” Truman asked. “It’s over. It’s done with. You’re not going to rain on my lobster parade any longer. Now get out.”

The fluid roar of the intestate rose and seeped in when the lobster ghost opened the passenger-side door, and then it quickly became muffled again when he slammed the door shut from the other side. Truman put the car in gear and pulled back onto the interstate in a gunning, gravel-spitting peel out.


You can read all the previous parts of this story at cerealaftersex.com.

The Crowns of Pluto (2.)

Crowns of Pluto. The Paper People.

The Paper People

I never had sleeping dreams on Earth. When I told people that, they looked at me as if something must be wrong with me, that I must have some sort of brain malfunction. Yes, that’s true. There is something wrong with me. Maybe that’s why they put me on a spaceship and sent me to Pluto. Maybe the God of Time wanted me to find my dreams somewhere else.

“What an awful thing to not dream,” my tense and terse mother used to say to me before she died. “I didn’t give birth to you just so you would never dream.”

I don’t know why she would say such a thing, but she did. She was a “Dubuque Queen.” That is, she was a woman who was all about the local society scene in Dubuque, Iowa. That’s where I was born and grew up before I left home and became a Starman. I made a sign and have it in my quarters and it reads: DUBUQUE 3,600,000,000, and it has an arrow pointing in the general direction of Earth.

My mother was very much a woman geared toward gatherings and festivities and church activities and so on and so on. I remember watching from the lonely shadows of our home as her ladies’ groups would gather in our living room to gossip and chitter about whatever they were chittering about. Casseroles. Widows. The milkman. None of it ever seemed very important to me, but it was surely very important to my mother. Seemingly much more important than me. Those are the times I would hideaway in my room and sit by the window and look up at the stars, even during the day and when they were not out.

I think my mother’s growing resentment for my existence really exploded after my father left. I wish I had been able to go with him, but my mother wouldn’t have it, not because she wanted to love and protect me, but because she was worried about how it would make her look to the world. But none of that matters now because I am the only man on Pluto, but at least I am beginning to dream.

The dreams that come to me now are wildly vivid and stay with me for days. For the most part, the dreams are not unsettling. But there are visions that come to me during the night that at times are, and when I suddenly wake and sit right up in a startled panic, the same beings casting about in my dream are somehow still there.

I catch a quick glimpse of them as they slip through the walls and out into the vast complex that is Station Kronos Kuiper where I believe they wander like ghosts. They look like ghosts; like childhood ghosts created by bleached bedsheets. They are indeed white, but it is not a pure white. It is the white of a being that does not live in a perfect afterlife. It is a worn white, a torn white, an unraveled white, a used white, a wrinkled white. I suppose they still encounter struggles. I call them the Paper People. I call them that because it appears as if they are wrapped in paper from head to toe. There are two small slits where the eyes sit, and they are permanently squinting. They like to confer with dark skeletons.

Maybe I’m just losing my mind and they aren’t real at all. I would think that would be a very easy thing for a person to do in such isolation and so far from everyone and everything I have ever known. I’m not really sure how I handle it, I just do. I suppose I let my mind slip like tectonic plates. It’s a natural thing. It’s geological psychosis. I wonder at what point my insanity will crumble me to pieces.

I try not to dwell on it. I try to make it a priority to busy myself in one way or another. I take long walks through the now hollow corridors. I explore. I do maintenance checks. I eat. I go to the bathroom. I read. We have a vast library here on Pluto. It’s all digital in white and blue. It’s all electric magic. I can call up just about anything I want.

There are times that I feel as if I’m just filling in the gaps between birth and death. But then I thought about it deeply and realized that is what we are all doing. Now, we all fill these great gaps in various degrees, of course. Some have lives full of wonderful experiences, wealth, love, happiness, divinity. Others may rot in a prison for 50 years because of a very bad day. But even still, up here on the fringes of our solar system, life has become even larger, wider, grander.

Yet it makes me feel miniscule, a grain of salt caught up in the winds of the astral plane. Even so, I wish I still had someone to share it with. Perhaps I wouldn’t feel so small if I were bound to someone. It would be wonderful to be able to share all these wonders I witness, and it would be wonderful to crawl into someone when I feel broken. Why do I wish for so many things that I know will never be? At least in this particular life.

I wonder if I will become one of the Paper People in the end and rattle these icy halls for eternity. I must stop thinking about the end. I will go to the great garden we have here, and I will breathe for today, and I will relish in life.

Author’s note: This is the second piece of this play-around project. Read the first part HERE or visit cerealaftersex.com. I hope to craft more of this story over time as an experiment in writing some science fiction, or something like that. Thanks for reading and supporting independent content creators who just want to do what they love to do.

Refrigerated Dreams (Act 3)

They meandered along the less known paths on the edge of Grainer Falls, beyond the industry, beyond the neighborhoods scrunched up against the low hills. She trailed behind him and stared at his back.

“Where are we going?” Veronica Genesis wanted to know, somewhat excited, somewhat apprehensive.

“The old shoe factory,” Andy answered, his voice going up and trailing behind him like smoke from an Old West locomotive.

She pedaled her bike a bit harder to get side-by-side with him. “The old shoe factory?”

“Yeah. It’s cool. I like to hang out there. No one ever goes there. We’ll be alone.”

“I didn’t know there was an old shoe factory. I haven’t lived here my entire life like a lot of people have.”

“That’s because it’s real old. Now all our shoes are made somewhere else, by penniless kids in other countries. That really pissed off my grandfather… When he was alive. He was in the war and always wondered what the hell he had fought for.”

“He used to work in there?”

“Yep. Now it’s just a bunch of ghosts and the lingering scent of leather and rubber.” He turned to look at her. “Are you afraid of ghosts?”

“No,” she quickly answered. “I’m not afraid of no ghosts.” But inside her guts, she really was.

The old factory soon came into view in the distance, and it was a foreboding stack of rust-colored bricks and crumbling mortar stuck to rebar and snake-like pipes and a couple of industrial spires and tall rectangular windows made of glass you couldn’t see through, many of the individual panels now busted out, the broken pieces gathered in heaps at the bottom like jagged snow.

They went down a hill and to the perimeter of the old factory where there was a molested chain-link fence that bowed and bent all along its crooked setting. NO TRESSPASSING signs were haphazardly attached to it every 25 feet or so. The two dropped their bikes in the overgrown weeds there and she followed him to a place where the fencing was peeled back, like a can lid that hadn’t been completely undone by an opener and someone had to push it back with a thumb or the backside of a sturdy metal spoon to get to the contents inside.

Veronica hesitated as Andy ducked down to make his way through the opening. He looked back at her. “Are you coming?” he wondered.

She bit at her bottom lip and looked up at the old facility and the blue sky littered with white fluffy clouds that slowly churned like an acid trip above it. “You sure it’s, okay?”

“Of course, it is. I do it all the time,” Andy said. “I told you; no one ever comes out here anymore. It’s fine. Besides, we’re young and strong and can take on anything the world throws our way.”

He went through the hole, and she looked at him from the other side and smiled. He was smart, witty, and brave, and she suddenly didn’t care about anything but being beside him and so she quickly crawled through. He reached out a hand to help her up and she grasped it. His skin was warm, soft, yet strong. She blew some wisps of raw almond-colored hair out of her face after she stood. “Thanks,” she said, and she tried to catch his scent as he tried to catch hers. He didn’t release her hand.

“Come on,” he said, and he pulled her along as they walked toward the back end of the factory and the place where the old loading doors and docks sat dormant and quiet like long forgotten time portals and landing pads.

They climbed a set of old iron stairs, now rusting away, and the sounds of their footfalls floated up and scraped against the large loneliness of the towering building. He led her to the top and a metal door where another NO TRESSPASSING sign was attached. Someone had written “Fuck Off” in red spray paint below it. Andy tugged on the crooked old door until it opened with a scrape and a creak. Veronica followed him inside and they stopped, and she looked around at the factory’s guts — dark, gloomy, and ancient like a still photograph, remnants of life and work delicately, nearly invisibly, floating in the air like cemetery ash.

Andy cupped his hands around his mouth and cried out, “Hello!… Anyone here!?”

Veronica panicked as his voice echoed and bounced through the quiet yet menacing spaces all around them. She playfully slapped at him. “Don’t do that,” she teased. “It freaks me out. What if someone answers? I’d probably pee myself.”

She was suddenly embarrassed, but Andy just smiled because he thought she was being cute. He was still holding her hand and now he squeezed it and then without any warning he moved in and kissed her. She was somewhat shocked at the same time she melted. Veronica never wanted him to pull away, but when he did his taste lingered on her mouth and she wanted to hold it there forever, to brace it from any wind that might wipe it from her lips and send it off into oblivion.

“Was that, okay?” Andy asked her. “I’ve been wanting to do that… Like, forever.”

“You have?”

“Yes… But I know you’re with Rudy.”

Veronica shook her head. “It’s never been anything serious. I’ve decided to end it with him.”

“You have?” Andy hoped.

“I think so. He just doesn’t know it yet. Or maybe he does.”

“Oh,” Andy said softly, and she could tell he was the sensitive type when he looked away toward the loneliness in those industrial catacombs monstrously arranged all around them.

“But I’ll be sure to let him know… That boy has really been getting under my skin lately. Do you know what him and a few of his friends did?”

Andy swallowed and looked at her. “Are you talking about Adam Longo?”

“Yeah. How did you know?”

“I was there when they did it.”


Read the previous part of this story HERE.

Child of the Cabbage (End)

Gracelyn Polk was on her stomach on a small bed in a girlish bedroom of pink. Her legs were bent upward at the knees behind her, socked feet crossed, as she lazily flipped through a teen magazine. A Who record spun on a small turntable in its own red box that could close with a gold latch, and it had a handle so a person could carry it around and take it to parties if they wanted to. Baba O’Riley filled the room as Moses the cat was curled like a furry crescent roll on the bed beside her. There was a yellowed and curling Ralph Macchio poster on the wall, some cheerleading memorabilia on shelves, a makeup table with an attached mirror next to a childish white dresser. There was a closet, door propped open by shoes, and it held unfamiliar clothes within it. A rectangular window with white curtains looked out upon an endless sea of cabbage, a metal windmill stirring screams in the distance.  

Then there came a gentle knocking at the door and Gracelyn reached to lower the volume on the record player. “Come in.”

The door opened with a creak and Farm Guy looked at her uncomfortably and smiled. “I just wanted to see how you were getting along in here,” he said, his head slowly moving around, scanning memories with his crystal blue silicon eyes, filing them in the proper slots. “Room okay?”

“It’s wonderful,” she said. “Thank you for… Everything.”

Farm Guy put his hands on his hips. “Absolutely. I love having you… Say, I thought I might take a walk out into the cabbage before dinner.”

Gracelyn scrunched her face in distaste. “You aren’t going to pick any, are you?”

“I’m not much for cabbage either,” he said, moving toward the window and peering out, his tall body awkward in the small bedroom. “It’s gross. That’s why I find it so strange that a whole field of it shows up in my backyard.”

“Do you think it’s a good idea… To go out in it. Because I don’t think you should.”

“I was hoping you’d come with me,” Farm Guy encouraged, walking closer to the bed, and looking down at her. “Might make us both feel better. You know — when we don’t find anything out of the ordinary.”

“But what if we do?”

He waved a hand in the air to discount her worry. “Nah. All we’re going to find is a hell of a lot of gross cabbage. That’s it. Trust me.”

She moved herself so that she was now sitting on the edge of the bed. Moses the cat got up, arched his back like Halloween, then curled back down into a snoozing ball. “Do you know anyone named Astron Puffin?” the girl asked.

A look of intense pondering came over Farm Guy’s face as he considered the question. He snapped his fingers suddenly when something came to his mind. “Cabbage farmer from over in Hillsdale.”

“That sounds like him.”

Farm Guy shook his head. “Odd sort of bird he was.”

“How so?” Gracelyn wanted to know.

“He was one of those fellas always going on about spaceships and little green men from Mars… Hell. He was a little green himself come to think of it.”

“I hardly think the little green men are from Mars,” Gracelyn interrupted. “They’re smarter than that. Mars is a dead planet and unable to support life as we know it.”

“Are you sure about that?”

She cocked her head to think about it. “I think so. Astronomy was one of my favorite subjects in science class. And besides, no intelligent life would want to be neighbors with Earth.”

“You got that right… Maybe you should do a report on Mars.” He waited for a reaction from her, but none came. She just sat there, thinking, jabbing her teeth into her bottom lip. Waiting for something. “Well, anyways, wherever they’re from, he sure was weird about it.”

“Did you know him well?” the girl asked.

“No. Barely at all. A random acquaintance who drifted in and out of the community of cabbage. Which I was not part of. I just knew a few of the guys. What does he have to do with you?”

“He had been following me around, at school mostly, watching me. He even showed up at my old farmhouse where I was staying, too.”

“He did? What on Earth for?”

“I don’t really know, except that he was always going on about being friends with me and wanting to protect me, and how he didn’t want to be alone… Like you said, he was an odd sort of a bird. I found him to be a bit pushy, too, and just not right.”

Farm Guy looked at her, his face flushed with a serious tone of knowing something that she knew as well but was left unspoken. “Well, thank God you’re here with me now. That’s downright unsettling.”

“But that’s not all, Mr. Guy. Sometimes I think I hear him out in the cabbage. At night. Yelling. Scared. Lost. But calling for me.”

Farm Guy sighed deeply, returned to the window, and looked out for a few moments. He made sure it was locked before he turned back around. “Let’s go for that walk.”

Astron Puffin sat in the endless cabbage field, knees drawn up, legs locked into position by his thick arms, his head down, his mind now mumbling. A crow flew across the sky, its aching caw causing Astron to look up. The cold sun was somewhat blinding. He looked at the cabbage around him. He studied their green, veiny heads and leafy wings and their seemingly unbreakable bond to the earth. Astron shook his head and scoffed. They were his only audience, and so he began to talk to the cabbage.

“Do you ever have one of those days where you feel like you’re a car, and you’re completely out of control and you go off the road and you crash into someone’s house… And I mean right through the living room, and all of a sudden there’s all this broken glass flying everywhere and bricks and wood and pieces of wall and everything is chaos, and everything is a mess, and, in the process, you even end up killing some lonely old man who was just sitting there in the house all by himself watching Johnny Carson on television or maybe reading his Bible in the glow of a soft lamp… And then suddenly, a car comes crashing through the wall and it’s all done for him. It’s all blood and dust and shattered bones and the entire history of one poor soul is snuffed out like a lipstick-stained cigarette in a dirty orange glass ashtray in a smoky dive bar.”

“What does that have to do with anything?” came the voice, the same voice from the spaceship but now coming out of one of the heads of cabbage that had turned to face him like a real head. The strange eyes widened, and the green lips moved again. “I see you’re startled, but think nothing of it… We have more pressing matters. The man is coming.”

Astron scrambled backward in the dirt. “The man?”

“And the girl is with him.”


“It’s time to stop the clock.”

The head dissolved and a rusty pitchfork with blood-stained tines suddenly materialized in the mist of gravity and quickly dropped out of the air and landed in the dirt before him with a deathly rattling thump.

“Something from your barn,” the voice from the cabbage said. “Do you remember it? Do you remember what happened back on the farm? Do it again.”

Astron went to pick it up. It felt right in his hands. It felt familiar. He began to walk toward the big, yellow house again. And this time, he was getting closer to it with every step he took.

She held his large, rough hand as they meandered down a perfectly straight row of the cabbage field. Gracelyn turned to look back at the house. “How far are we going?” she wanted to know.

“We’ll know when we get there,” Farm Guy assured her. “But don’t worry about that. Look around. Enjoy this beautiful day as it comes to an end.”

“You said that so decisively. What’s going on?”

Farm Guy suddenly stopped. He went down to his knees before her and took the girl by her arms. He looked far into her muddied golden eyes, the technology of her pupils gently sparking, the bloodshot lines merely delicate wires. “You have no idea what you are, do you?”

“What do you mean?”

“Why you go on while all the others don’t. Why some wandering god on the other side of the moon left you all alone here… It’s because you’ve never been alive. And if you’ve never been alive, you can’t die.”

She reached out a finger and poked him in the face. “You don’t have real skin.”

“No. I don’t.”

“We’re the same.”

“Yes. We’re the same,” he answered.

And just as Farm Guy rose back up before her, Astron Puffin charged out from some invisible place and he was howling like a madman, the pitchfork straight out in front of him, the tines hungry for new flesh and blood and the bringing of death.

Farm Guy moved like lightning shot from the fingertip of a god in the inhuman way he was made, reached out, snatched the handle of the pitchfork, and swung it around. He cocked it back quickly, and then violently thrust it forward into Astron Puffin’s chest, two or three of the tines surely piercing his heart.

The world somehow slowed as Astron dripped to the ground like a slew of heavy mud. Farm Guy yanked the implement back out, threw it to the side. Astron fell forward, face-down. Gracelyn turned and ran away, deeper into the cabbage.  

He found her sitting all alone on a big abandoned wooden crate looking off into the distance. The day was dying on the crest of the darkening hills, a moon was eager to make its entrance alongside the black stars and ruby red planets.

“I had to do it,” he said from behind her. “He would have tried to hurt you, take you apart piece by piece… And I just couldn’t have allowed that, but I’m sorry you had to see it just the same.”

“You didn’t move like a man. It scared me.”

“I didn’t mean to scare you.” He went to sit beside her on the abandoned wooden crate. “It’s getting dark. We should probably head back to the house soon.”

She ignored what he had said. “Did you know that even after a star dies, its light can be seen for a million years?”

“Is that right?”

She looked at him in the fading light, twisted her mouth. “I think so… Do you think it will be the same for us?”

He chuckled, breathed in deeply. “I don’t know. But it would be nice to see each other if there ever was a time we were very far apart. Maybe you should do a report about it.”

“Maybe I will, but not tonight.”

They hopped off the crate and walked back toward the big, yellow house, now the color of a moonlit bruise, window frames aglow, the light brought forth by the servants of memories moving around inside.


Child of the Cabbage (Ep. 5)

A bastard chill struck a prophecy of a coming autumn as Astron Puffin sat on a fallen tree deep in the woods. He was looking down at his small but thick hands. He turned them slowly before him, and it was hard to imagine that those were the same hands used to crush their throats. But he had to do it, he rationalized, or their fate could have been much worse.

He remembered the day the strange men had come to his cabbage farm in their protective suits and told him they were there to shut everything down. They went into the house and destroyed all the pipes and cut all the wires. He remembered how they talked about the jail maximus and how it was burning and how all the lions were escaping from the zoo. There was so much chaos. Everything was falling apart. Then they just kept coming back and taking his wife and daughter behind closed doors — locked closed doors. He tried to shake the sounds of the thumping walls and their cries from his head.

Astron yelled out in the silence — hoping the bad vibes would shoot out of his soul like an exorcism. He looked up and the trees looked down. He saw the mustard-stained blue sky interwoven with the scraggly branches. And then the ship appeared again, to do its analyzing of a world it could no longer save. Astron watched the red-glowing disc hover slowly and silently above. There were quick, bright flashes — like old time flashcubes on those cameras that used film. He wondered if the visitors, these immortal observers, would suck him up again into the belly of their craft. He half-hoped they had never returned him to Earth as he bowed his head and waited to become weightless. But then, just as they had smoothly and silently appeared, they vanished. A crow berated him from a nearby branch, and then it too flew away. Perhaps every other living being in the universe had given up hope on man.

Astron suddenly remembered and reached into his pocket and pulled out Gracelyn’s drawing. It might give him a sense of purpose and peace, he thought, as he carefully unfolded it and then held it before his eyes. He would go to her again, he decided, even if she still rejected him as a friend, or a guardian. If the strange men in the protective suits ever came back, it would be better if she wasn’t alone — it would be better if he wasn’t alone as well.

Gracelyn was in a sleepy daze on the old living room couch when the knocking started. She had been halfway dreaming of meandering through the throngs of people on the streets of Paris during the French Revolution — or maybe it was merely a conscious memory. She darted straight up and listened as the knocking became more persistent, trying to figure out where exactly it was coming from. Her head turned toward the front door and she got up and stood before it. Dead and gone loneliness floated in the morning gray-gold cloud filtering into the foyer from brightening spaces throughout. She watched as the door rattled slightly with each pound of someone’s fist.

“Who is it!?” she said, a threatening tone in her voice.

The knocking stopped and there was a brief silence before he spoke.

“Astron Puffin. From the school.”

“I’m not going to class today. I don’t feel well…. So, you can’t force me to go. I’ll make up my work later.”

“I’m not here to make you go to school.”

“Then what do you want?”

“I can protect you,” Astron offered.

“Protect me from what?”

“You know what. The things of this new world.”

Gracelyn paused for a moment, thought about it. “I don’t need your protection. I’m very capable of taking care of myself.”

“You’re a young girl… Alone.”

“And I’ve done just fine for myself, haven’t I.”

“You’ve been lucky.”

“Luck has nothing to do with it,” Gracelyn snapped. “I’m smart. I’m resourceful. I’m strong. Probably stronger than you.”

“Do we have to talk through the door like this?” Astron looked about the grounds around him, thinking he felt something, someone in the air. “I’d rather be inside if it’s all the same to you.”

Gracelyn moved toward the door, stood on her tiptoes, and brushed aside the curtain that covered a small window. She looked out at him. Astron smiled. Then she unlocked the door and let him in.

Astron looked around the old farmhouse as she led him to the living room. He pulled off his knit cap with the long point that hung over to one side of his head, a puffy ball on the tip.

“You can sit there,” the girl said, pointing to the couch. “I don’t have much, but would you like an apple?”

Astron nodded. “I can’t believe you live in this big old house by yourself,” he said to her as she trailed off to the kitchen.

“Why can’t you believe it?” she asked as she returned to the room and presented him the apple. He took it, rubbed it against his shirt, and bit into it.

“All the space. All the memories,” he said as he chewed the apple, a bit of juice leaking from his mouth. “I couldn’t wrap my head around it.”

She sat down on the couch, but as far away from his as she could be. “I’m used to it. I’ve been doing it for a long time.”

“How long?” he wanted to know.

She pressed her lips tightly together and considered the question. “A lot longer than you could imagine.”

“Why don’t you like me?” Astron asked point blank.

She looked at him, puzzled by what he said. “It’s not a matter if I like you or not. It’s a matter of survival. I barely know you… And why are you being so forceful about this friendship thing, or whatever it is you’re searching for.”

“You let me in… So, you must trust me, at least a little bit.”

“Have you been here before?”

Astron looked at her but didn’t immediately answer.

“You have, haven’t you?”

“No,” Astron assured her. “I haven’t.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out her drawing. He unfolded it, laid it out on the table before them and tried to smooth it out with his hands.

“Why do you have my drawing?” Gracelyn asked. “Why did you take it?”

“I like it. It brings me some sort of peace… It helped me find you. Here.”

Gracelyn stood up, angry. “You had no right to take that! It was for my art class, and I was going to be graded on it. Now I’ll fail! I’ll fail because of you!” She snatched her drawing from the table. “And now look at it. You’ve made a mess of it! I’ll probably have to do another.”

“You’re all alone at that school, don’t you realize that?” Astron blurted out, raising his voice to her for the very first time. “There is no school anymore. There are no other students or teachers or anyone. It’s an empty building full of ghosts.”

Gracelyn looked at him, her eyes wide and on the verge of being wet. “I want you to leave.”

Astron sighed, clasped his thick hands against his thighs, and got up. “I’m sorry to have bothered you,” he breathed. He turned back to her before he got to the door. “If you need anything, you can come find me. Even if you don’t want to.”

“I won’t need you… For anything.”

“I’ll be at the school if you change your mind.”

Astron tugged on the front door and went out. She went to the open doorway and watched him walk away. He threw the apple off to his left side, like he was skipping a stone across an unmuddied lake, before a bright light appeared in the sky, and in half of a blink of an eye, he suddenly vanished.


Cologne of the Ghost

I sat in the broken window and looked out onto the burnt grass and the weeds; the sun was gone, the moon was gone, the stars were all gone; a blank, hollow shell of a world and this scratchy ticking in the background behind me and so I strolled across the creaking floorboards and met up with my ghost in the broken mirror hung crooked above an old dresser.

The needle on the record player beside me dug rhythmically into the last grooves of some wobbly, distorted album a century old; dusty glass bottles of old colognes were neatly placed on a cloth on top of the dresser, half empty and oily, I opened them up and smelled them – memories of daddy drown in the deep eye of the now bitter liquid.

A stirring wind rushed in through the broken windows, cutting itself on the jagged edges of glass and howling off through the paper walls in pain; something rattled the pots and pans in the kitchen down below and before I went to the stairs, I looked at myself in the mirror and suddenly I wasn’t there – the linoleum was curling and stained with dust and dead bugs who had come in for some type of shelter from the rain, the weeds outside had grown tall and unruly; an old dirty engine sat in the grass, beat to hell, old and used and rusting away… The breeze belted away and went howling off to the woods to hide and cry, to slither up the trunk of a tree and rocket off to space, to dissipate.

And I stood in the doorway, knowing I could never step outside again, destined to forever look out windows and watch the world lose itself in the waves of time… I cannot leave, I will never leave; I will forever wander this old, broken-down house, try to catch the wind before it so rudely rushes away. I’ll listen to the needle dig into the record for eons, I will smell daddy’s cologne until it completely evaporates, unlike me, I will never evaporate; I will forever be the blind reflection in the mirror, and I will wait painfully without food or sleep or company for heaven’s hand to finally sweep me away.