My Short: “We, The Dead” at Danse Macabre 59: Noctturno, An Online Literary Magazine

This was an honest surprise, as I’d forgotten I’d submitted a short story to this online magazine specializing in speculative fiction, fantasy, horror, the odd and strange, to receive an email that my work had been published in Adam Henry Carrière’s latest issue.

This was a situation I’d never encountered before, a point A to point Z type deal, no correspondence in between or the opportunity to do that last check of editing, clarity….Well, I hope you get the idea, and hope you enjoy the story.

“We, The Dead” like my stories, The Angel of Berlin and The House of Doom, Dreams and Desire, is entirely based on a vivid dream I experienced. This one was about a girl seeking to find her place in “the between” shared with others who had also met their deaths.

The Danse Macabre: Cinquantanovi website is beautifully interactive with a complimentary, classical soundtrack, and art that is both intriguing and occasionally horrifying. Illustrations by Mehrdad Zaeri.

Notturno, our latest issue avec un nouveau visage und heimat, is presently up and out … and YOU are part of the danse!
 
There are many nights’ reading delight this issue, truly a coloratura triumph. We unveil fabulous fictions from Canada’s Peter Baltensberger, New Zealand’s Benjamin Blake, DM stalwarts Ed Coonce & J.C. Frampton, our first Native-American (Chiricahua Apache / Cherokee) contributor Red Haircrow, Louisiana author Jason Phillip Reeser, and author / screenwriter James Robison (‘The Illustrator’, New Orleans Mon Amour).

We also feature a starry night’s sky worth of poets from Australia and New Zealand ~ Michelle Gaddes, Joe Massingham, Vaughan Rapatahana, and DM’s lady in Paekakariki, Mercedes Webb-Pullman ~ as well as Sarah E. Alderman, Luke N. Molar, Paul Rogov, and returning champion Lyn Lifshin.
 
And no DM would be complete without voices from beyond the grave; to wit, four new translations of Maîtres français Arthur Rimbaud & Paul Veraline from Dustin Junkert and Australia’s John Christian Stevens.”
 
Please view their website, and enjoy the many other works of poetry and fiction from authors around the world, but I’ve added my edited version here.

We, The Dead

By

Red Haircrow

They’re dead, and I watched them die.

Well, not their actual deaths nor did I see their bodies afterward, but I saw how it happened and impossibly knew other things about them such as what they were thinking or feeling.

I saw the burgundy SUV speeding on the highway, dangerously changing lanes without signals. Saw when its right rear bumper clipped the front end of another car, causing it to swerve away. The SUV screeched sideways and I thought it would roll, but somehow instead it seemed to go backwards, careening into the path of an eighteen-wheeler. I waited for the crash but it didn’t come. Helpless on my own path to where I can find peace, continuing to move away, I saw the SUV driver standing on the side of the highway.

In blue jeans and an untucked faded shirt, sleeves rolled up to the elbow, he was only in his late twenties perhaps but his messy brown, shoulder length hair was thinning at the front. His mirror sunglasses were just about to slide off the tip of his nose. Looking back to where the crash must have taken place, his mouth was open, he looked desperately confused, terrified.

The next was a woman. She was driving, too, just to get away from the husband who had spent hours insulting and yelling at her, storming around their million dollar home, dragging her along and pointing out all the spots she’d missed when cleaning. She’d endured over a decade of accused inadequacy, of apparent stupidity, of failure, whether it regarded her appearance or housekeeping.

Except for the thin, white knuckled hands gripping the steering wheel, she was shaking uncontrollably but she stopped in sudden shock, eyes leaving the road. Looking through the passenger side window, she saw a great stack of clouds in the form of a beautiful woman, facing third quarter front, like a Renaissance painting in its hues and fineness.

She had to make a photo. No one would believe her otherwise. She needed to exit the highway, to turn around and go back so she could snap a shot, but she was going too fast. She looked over again to make sure she hadn’t imagined it. It was still there, but now it was fading to gray, and the face was of a leering old woman with jagged teeth, broken and rotting.

She gasped at the change, as her car drifted towards a metal divider, couldn’t take her eyes from the sky as it flew off the ramp. And then she was on the side of the highway too, but she didn’t stop in confusion like the other. She immediately began to climb over the side in a hurry to get down. The entire world was left behind as she sought the horizon and her vision in the clouds.

I was on that highway. I wasn’t walking but moving just the same, floating. Though I didn’t, couldn’t look down, I felt the presence of my feet, my hands at my sides, my body. Side barriers the color of sandstone were endless lines before me on this raised stretch of pavement. Above me, the rich blue sky was clear and suggested spring or the coolness of late summer. I could look neither right nor left at anything that passed. I could only go forward, yet with a sideways displacement of air, the scene changed. I found myself in a room.

It was long and rather narrow, shadowy; its dark green papered walls meeting a high ceiling. Afternoon light slanted through the window at one end, beside which sat a man who looked up me in surprise. A guitar was on his lap, his hand had stopped in mid-strum. I’d interrupted. He blinked at me speechless, as the thrum of music faded. He was not old, but with his hair sticking out wildly around his head and the long beard, it was what I first thought.

Within the beard his mouth made a dark ‘O’ at the center of its hairs. He shut it with a snap, looking away abruptly, bleary eyes rolling with perplexion, leering first at a nearly empty bottle on the stand beside him, then a tray with three rolled paper tubes. Another, barely long enough to put to someone’s lips, was sending out its last wisp of smoke after it had fallen to the floor from his mouth.

“Hey, you’ve gotta see this,” the man then called out to someone through an open doorway. A stocky younger man appeared in t-shirt and black jeans, shoeless, his tangled blonde hair a halo around his head backlit by the light from the window.

The bearded man pointed towards me. The blonde guy peered skeptically then gave a grunt of a laugh. “Dude, you been smoking too much.”

“Nah, nah man,” the guitarist insisted. “There’s a girl standing down there in the corner looking at me. She’s looking at you too, now.”

“Whoa, don’t include me, man. That’s too deep,” the blonde said, still laughing, backing out of the room. “Come on, the rest of the gang is here.”

The guitarist rose unsteadily, laying his instrument to the side, still talking about me as he followed the other man out. I passed through the wall into a spacious but flawed room with broken plaster near some of the baseboards, along the top edge the flowering scrollwork was magnificent. Cracks stretched across the ceiling radiating from a beautiful chandelier sprouting from its the center.

“There she is again!” the bearded man said, pointing.

A young woman and an older man lounged, one on a dilapidated sofa, the other on a high stool at a high table.

Blondie said, voice slightly slurred, “Dude is way fucked up high, ya’ll. Says he sees a girl. A ghost, I guess.”

The guitarist started to get angry, fists clenched at his side. Standing in the center of the room, he yelled at the primary doubter then rounded to shout at the girl, who’d begun to giggle.

I sense I am closer to the place I need to be, but this still isn’t it. But I have no will of my own, no direction. I don’t even know how I died, but now I know I am also dead. I had come to this place, drawn to some secret need within the guitarist, but his emotions are now pushing me away. As I feel myself drift back into the first room, what I am, like the music before, begins to fade.

“No, you must not,” a voice entreated me, a warmth brushed my arm. “There’s someone waiting for you.”

I know that voice, and as the touch on my arm becomes more solid, a vortex of burnished colours surrounded me. I closed my eyes and opened them in a new place. A young man is beside me: curly dark hair, a gentle smile and knowledge in his eyes of who I am which he shared with me. We are standing in a forest on a path, with an opening through the trees in front of us. Within the leafy circle of it’s opening, a golden meadow stretched beyond.

“She’s waiting,” he said, reaching to grasp my hand. And I smiled up at him. I can see us both now: two young people in pale clothing. My hair is as black as his but long and waving to my waist. We have the same large dark eyes. We are siblings.

He lifted his other hand, and another scene unfolded like a flower’s petals. A disheveled gray-haired woman stood in a kitchen wringing a towel in her hands. There’s an apron over her a lace-collared dark dress. Her face is twisted with heart-breaking grief and a kind of madness that frightened me; her floor directed eyes were dull with pain and loss. When they lifted to us, a frown of astonishment creased in new patterns her already wrinkled face. Her head slowly tilted to one side, as if she were trying to make sense of our presence.

“When the beast attacked, he tried to save you,” our mother looked to my brother with both sadness and pride. As she said the words, I saw again the forest path where we had been, but not his body or my own, only deep crimson splashes of blood across the burgeoning brambles nearby, the trampled grass. They darkened to black in the dust.

“You were picking berries, only picking berries. I needed them for a pie—,” she said huskily, “and the beast took both my children. Both my children!” She gave a single sob then, voice breaking on the last word. But caught herself from folding over, forced herself to straighten and look back up at us.

“But Mama, we’ll be with you forever now,” my brother said, drifting closer. “Unchanging, and always with you.”

I tested my voice for the first time. “Yes, Mama. We’ll never leave you. Our place is here with you.”

A shattered smile touched her lip, stretched the cheeks wet with tears, she nodded and nodded to herself. “I knew you’d come back. Even if your bodies were taken.”

Our youngest aunt walked into the kitchen, carrying a covered dish that she sat on a table loaded with other foods.

“Who are you talking to? Two more families have arrived, so we’ll have to put the leaves back in the tables to have enough room. I’ve sent Cousin for more chairs.”

“I’m talking to my darlings, my children. Can’t you see? Just there.” Our mother pointed at us before turning back to the stove, removing a lid with a potholder. She stirred the contents with new vigour.

Our aunt stopped short, sliding a glance towards the corner indicated, then fearfully back to our mother. “I don’t see anything,” she said in hushed tones.

“They’re there,” our mother said confidently, beginning to hum a tune.

We had again found our place in the world: just for her.

The End

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