Nine Weeks of Strange, Week 8: “The Tie”

This week’s story is about a woman named Adrienne who has recurring nightmares about a demonic woman after the death of her friend Martin. The excerpt is a selection from her initial nightmare sequences. The other half of the story follows a woman named Stella, and her struggle to get to a town hundreds of miles away, to find a grave. What do Stella and Adrienne have in common?

Excerpt from, “The Tie”, from Women in Strange Places: Stories

(c) Celeste Ramos, 2009

Stella

Today I decided to cut off all my hair after what happened last night. I slept outside by the warm back vents of the Palace. I was near the dumpsters so there were rats running around most of the night. Usually I’ve been lucky. They don’t fuck with me much. But last night it was like I was candy.

I was so tired. I was walking since seven in the morning, I only got fifteen bucks from a few people all together. I got some food and it hit my stomach like bricks, but good bricks. It was drizzling a little bit and I didn’t find much cardboard in time before it started to soak me. I was lucky. Right around the time I got to the Palace the clouds had quieted down. They were like moving sludge yesterday, all twisted in themselves. Sometimes I worry I can control the weather.

A couple of the fur and claw fuckers got into a fight over a wet burger in a dumpster some feet away. I hate that sound when they fight, that screeching, sounding like captured birds, and their nails like little metal balls down stone stairs. That sound always keeps me up at night. It’s like a timer, I have to be ready to fling one off me before I feel those cold stinking paws on my forehead, and I know that nose is angling toward my ear.

Ugh! Makes me jump thinking about it. When they were done fighting two of them ran up to me in the dark. The vents were making a nice gentle noise, the noise planes do on a calm flight. The alley was empty. I would have known they were so close to my body if it wasn’t for that sound but it was also kind of putting me to sleep. I felt the sharp pinch of one of those beasts’ teeth on my lower lip. And then the fat wet pressure of another one standing on my calf. I shook them off.

More came, a few moments later but they were scared of me or something. Then they left. I fell asleep thinking about Martin. If he was there he would have gotten rid of those fucking rats in a split second.

I woke up feeling this thing, almost like a sharp needle or something being pushed into my scalp. Two of them were biting around my head and had tangled themselves up in my hair! Those tails were like cords flinging around when I grabbed them. I yanked them out of my hair as fast as I could but it was hard. They were wound up in there good, I wonder what the fuck they were looking for, what they thought I was.

I got some change this afternoon and I called to see how Martin was doing out of force of habit. Habit is a ridiculous thing. I sat against the phone booth and cried. He’s been dead three weeks. It’s the second of July. That means I’ve been walking for almost two weeks.

Seems every building and lamppost is dripping a big old flag. I remember when I was little my dad would put up a nice one outside the house. Then there was a small parade down the main drag of town. To my little girl eyes all those stars were like glitter. Silk and cloth flags so clean. Me up on dad’s shoulders, looking down at the top of mom’s head and her crown of red, white and blue stars. Those memories are so clear, bright white. They smell of sulfur and bubblegum.

I wonder what my parents would tell me about Martin. I think he would have liked them.

Man if he could see my hair now. I tried to get it even. He loved my hair. He had a thing about combing it for me when I got out of the shower.

Martin’s family, on the other hand, ha! They probably would have wanted him to be on heroin or something more than being with me. He was so much better before me. That’s what they’d say. They blamed me for his dropping out of med school.

They wouldn’t tell me where he’s buried. I called my sister, who lives in the town over from them, and she found out for me. She had to do some good private-eyeing.

But even she doesn’t think I should go see him. I wish people could understand how it feels like my senses are fading without him, how it feels like everything around me is spoiled because he can’t see it, deflating like fruit when it rots.

All the memories of Martin are pacing my spine. I lost the tiny place I scrounged around to get for us, with his money, the little he had to get to me before his own debt choked him up. He couldn’t pay anymore since he’s dead, obviously. There was no one else for me, just Martin. Just and only Martin. My sister, my last familiar limb on this fucking planet doesn’t want to help me. She won’t, she’s jealous, I know that.

Martin. I can’t sleep unless I can hear the sound of air. Those vents by the Palace last night were so nice. The last time I saw Martin he told me he was going to see me in a few days. I told him to go. He needed the break and I was feeling better then.

I found out he died because the cops called me first, before his family. I was the last number he called, before he got on the road and crashed.

Three hundred miles … His fucking parents won’t believe me when they see me. I’m walking the whole way, it’s the only way I can get there. I know where he is now, and I will bring him flowers and I will sit with him. I’ll lie there with him by his stone.

Adrienne

The shifting sun spread the hand-like shadows of trees across Adrienne’s bed. She didn’t want to move toward it because she felt like she was setting herself up to be hunted. There was little else, she knew, that was available for a place to rest. She had already tried the sofa, the floor, Celal’s apartment, her office, hotel rooms, her brother’s car, and all her other friends’ beds, floors and cars.

The woman always found her.

Adrienne walked out of the bedroom and into the living room, then into the kitchen, haunting her apartment, desperate for something to do that would keep her awake and interested. She managed to watch part of an action movie before she eventually passed out on the sofa.

In the empty room of a foreign house the woman found her, her body constructed only of veins, and her face had no features. Adrienne had dumbly pressed her male body into a corner and cried. The woman made her way across the bright white carpet to capture her. She left a disappearing path of crusted footprints behind her. And as the woman always did, with her arms outstretched, she gurgled, “come back!”

Adrienne often woke up before the woman could touch her. She was grateful for that much; that she only had to relive the gruesome sight of her, and not re-experience her grip.

She tried to stay awake but after twenty minutes fell asleep, this time on the floor underneath the window sill.

She dreamed of an expanse of white, rolling land. The grass and trees were white. There was a small lake off to her left, at the bottom of the incline of the land, where the water looked like milk. The sky was the pallid blue of winter but she sat warm in the light of the sun, in a male body. She looked at the width of her hands, the hair on her legs, the difference in the weight of that body that felt tight like she was wearing a rubber suit. This male body was the same every time. It was always confusing to her male self, why it never made sense that he was a man in the dream.

The woman came from around a bend, down at the bottom of the hill. Her skin was pitch black and this time her eyes were two ovals of glass, that reflected the light of the sun into Adrienne’s peripheral vision. When Adrienne looked she began to stand up, her heart racing. The woman moved up the hill at twice the speed of her stride. She was wearing some kind of black clothing but Adrienne thought it could easily have been her skin trailing behind her in the breeze.

She was chanting, “come back”, in that taunting gurgle, and Adrienne’s body couldn’t seem to move fast enough up the hill. When she looked over her shoulder the woman was right behind her, her face inches from her own, and she felt the hot, reeking breath on her cheeks and her eyelids.

The following day, Adrienne walked to Celal’s apartment a few blocks down her street. Everyone she passed looked well-rested and enjoyed the errands of the day. She watched couples holding hands as they walked into grocery stores, the mail man whistling to himself as he dug through his cart for the next building’s mail. People on their lunch breaks talked office gossip over forbidden mid-day martinis.

When Celal opened the door he looked at her with compassion.

“Still the same?” he asked.

She looked at him with heavy eyes.

“Come in. I just started some lunch. Have you eaten?”

Celal gave deeply comforting hugs that Adrienne had never experienced with anyone else. He was a tall man, with all the deep, romantic features of his Turkish ancestry, always clothed in shades of gray, red and black.

His eyes always saw right through her pleasantries when she was upset. They’d been friends since childhood; neighbors in a town full of transient military and technology families. Celal worked as a spiritual healer and therapist.

Adrienne decided to watch Celal enjoy his food instead of eating.

“Don’t be so quiet,” he said, after a few sips of wine.

Balled up on his loveseat, Adrienne rested her head on the upward curve of its back cushion.

“You’re dreaming again? You look exhausted. Why are you dreaming this way?”

“There has to be a reason?”

“Dreams especially have reasons. There is a very, very old theory, you know. Every person’s energy, living or long gone, is connected through knowing one another. It’s like, if someone were to be able to see us now, as forms of energy, there’d be a little red thread connecting the two of us. Because, we are friends.”

Adrienne’s eyes were drifting along the spines on his bookcase, his pride and joy.

“And what’s that got to do with dreams?” she asked.

“Well. It’s been three weeks hasn’t it? Since Martin’s passing.”

Adrienne scratched her head. “Martin’s dead. He didn’t pass anywhere. He’s underground. What’s that have to do with a demon-woman chasing me everywhere I go?”

“The dreams started after he died. Come, Adrienne. Don’t play stupid with the spirit world; he must be trying to tell you something.” As he finished his wine Celal rose and crossed the room to sit with her. “You remind me of my sister. You think so hard about what something must feel like you don’t even know you have it in your hands.”

Adrienne shifted her legs to give Celal room. When he was settled she placed her calves across his lap.

“I’m so – fucking – tired – yel-al. I can’t keep missing work.”

“When you came by Monday you just wanted to sleep, you barely slept, and you left. You haven’t even told me what’s going on. Just that you have nightmares. You have to remind me. About Martin – I only met him once at your birthday party. Tell me about him. There has to be something about this that’s disturbing you so badly.”

Adrienne had never had to describe a friendship to anyone, let alone her best friend. She struggled for a few moments to build Martin up in her thoughts, with all his movements and his voice, facing the realization that she now had to take him apart in her mind in order to describe him – maybe to finally make him fade away.

She instantly thought of punk rock when she thought of Martin.

“He was a punky guy. You remember. And he was dating that girl Stella. The one that was older than him and would sneak him into bars.”

Celal nodded with a faint memory of the couple.

“We were friends, you know, just bar friends. Me and Lydia and some of the other girls would give him shit because he was always the baby of the group. And they were nice at first but then the bullshit with the money started.”

“Oh, yes. That you had to keep giving them money.”

Adrienne nodded. There was a mild guilt that rose in her for complaining about a dead person. She knew he never meant her harm.

“Those two became like a monthly expense for me. Patch up the rent for them here. Help them with groceries there.”

“I kept telling you. Didn’t I tell you?” Celal said. “Just leave them be because they’re going to break your account.”

Adrienne shrugged. “I couldn’t. You remember how I was when we moved to that neighborhood in Ohio. And your family had to go back to Ankara for a while. Remember my letters? About the teenagers. I was what, thirteen then? They traumatized me! Those poor kids. Beating each other up. Drinking themselves into diseases and all this shit, things they could have avoided, and mom always said they didn’t want help. She tried to help one of them and he ended up robbing us. I don’t know. I just wanted to help. They all had the same miserable eyes.”

“Martin wasn’t a kid off the street – he was a man, with his woman. They’d made their choices. He was twenty when you met him wasn’t he?”

“Yeah. And I got pissed off at him because it wasn’t clear to me he was using the money the way he said he would. I found out he was drinking it or giving it to Stella for something because she was sick or some shit. But she looked like a junky to me, do you remember her? Real skinny.”

Celal noticed the sneer that came over Adrienne’s mouth at the thought of Stella. “You look like you have a lot more contempt for her than you realize.”

“She never made sense. Every time I’d come to see them in that tiny little hole of theirs she’d say how much she loved Martin, and that they were so close that if they ever spent time apart from one another she’d die. Meanwhile, Martin kept driving down to his parent’s place in Fulton! He’d get his dad to come get him. He was working for his folks’ business in Fulton and then he got his car. He’d already dropped out of med school because of her.”

“According to him,” Celal said. “Was he really working?”

Adrienne sighed.

“I’ll take that as a no.”

“I don’t know what he was doing. All I know is he was doing it and drinking. Because some friend of his yelled at me at a bar and told me that I was keeping the bottle in Martin’s hand with the money I was giving him. I didn’t know he was a drinker, that he was that bad at least. I confronted him about it.

“He told me he thought I was his friend. Guilt tripped me for an hour on the phone. I told him if he came back immediately I would help him get straightened out, but he had to leave that bottle, he had to stop wasting his life on Stella too … Then he said he was going to drive back up the next day to talk to me in person …” Adrienne looked away from Celal’s face.

“Oh. You hadn’t told me that part.” Celal set his hand on hers.

“He died in a wreck driving drunk.”

“Not your fault, Adrienne.”

“I know. I don’t blame myself for that. I just wish – I hate not having the right words for people. Do you know what I mean?”

Celal nodded. “Very much.”

“I just wanted to help. Some people are made of hooks. Other people made of latches I guess.”

“You did more than what a lot of people would do.”

Adrienne began to cry.

“When did the nightmares start? How long, after Martin’s passing?”

Adrienne shook her head. “Um … the same day, I think.”

“And this woman just follows you around?”

“She chases me! It’s like she’s trying to scare me to death. In all the dreams I’m a man.”

Celal rested his head back against the cushion and looked at Adrienne. “And you’re getting worse now, it seems.”

Taking her legs off of Celal, Adrienne sat up straight and looked down at her hands. They were cold and dry despite the season. All those cold showers to stay awake were taking their toll on her skin.

She walked around Celal’s apartment and gazed at the things she’d gazed at dozens of times before. Among his family pictures and scented pillar candles, Adrienne was always drawn to the image that hung on the wall, central to the collection of the odd things Celal had gathered during his thirty years of life.

It was an “accidental” photograph that Celal had taken somewhere in India, of smoke rising from a friend’s cigarette that looked like a question mark.

Nine Weeks of Strange, Week 6: “The Impatient Clock”

Ah, the weirdest story I’ve ever written, “The Impatient Clock”, as found in Women in Strange Places: Stories. Contrary to popular belief it’s not a reflection of what I wish on the Octomom. But it does raise some questions about parenthood, and the concept of woman being a channel and a medium. 

Video intro and excerpt below. Get ready for a controversial roller coaster ride of topics, and some magic tricks thrown in … for the kids.

Tomorrow: Magic and the Megafamily.

 

The Impatient Clock, (c) Celeste Ramos, 2009

from Women in Strange Places: Stories.

At break time Yona ran to the bathroom before the line formed. As she felt her body drain into the toilet, she thought about what she and Leo, her half-brother, could make for dinner.

            Nora was her usual ride to and from the factory. Yona had forgotten that come quitting time she would be stranded, and she didn’t want the manager, Mr. Pitin, to find out. She hated the way he looked at her from the window in his office. She didn’t want him to offer.

            She called Leo, waking him out of his early-evening nap, and begged to him for five minutes to come pick her up.

            The windshield wipers fended off the fat drops of rain. Yona sat with her purse on her lap and her ankles crossed. She smiled. Leo caught this from the corner of his eye.

            He cleared his throat and said, “No, Yona. The car will be wet for days. You know how this piece of shit is.”

            “I can’t help it – ”

            “Yeah, yeah. You love the way rain feels on your face.”

            “Right.”

            “Well do it when we get home. I’m not going to spend time and money drying out this car because you wanted to stick your head out the window in a downpour.”

            The grey-on-grey industrial neighborhood smeared off the car windows and mirrors. As they got to their neighborhood the streets were lined by red-brick apartment buildings with rusty black fire escapes.

            Yona gave a sigh as she walked in the door.

            “How was work?” Leo asked, locking the door behind them.

            “Eh.”

            Leo gave a faint smile. “I don’t know what to cook.”

He moved his wide, tall body into the kitchen, snapping at his suspenders in thought. A few of his oversized “magic quarters”, the ones he planned to pull from behind a child’s ear later, fell out from the folds of the elastic.

The second kitchen light was out again. The yellow light of an old bulb strained to cover the entire room.

Yona went down the hall. She passed dusty bookshelves and Leo’s collector’s items in boxes that were worthless beyond sentimental value. There was still a heap of old, empty metal cages in the living room, where unlucky animals had once lived.

            She came back into the kitchen, saying, “Leo, why are the cages still there?”

            “Because I haven’t moved them.” Leo set the quarters on the counter and dropped his suspenders off his shoulders. He began to chop tomatoes. “I’m going to make pasta and meat sauce. Good?”

            “Sure.”

            “Easy enough. I have a show tonight, got a new trick I wanna practice one more time before I go on.”

            Yona rolled her eyes.

            “I’m gonna lie down in a box, then come out through a door that’ll be on stage. Just a door with a frame, in three seconds. I hope that psycho assistant of mine shows up, it’ll be a tough one to do on my own.”

            Yona sat up on the kitchen counter. There was a hole in her black tights. “Leo, that’s a tired trick.”

            “Not the way I’m going to do it. What do you care, you’re out of the family business now.”

            Yona shrugged.

            “What’s wrong? You look angry or something.”

            Yona began to play around with one of the silver knives.

            Leo wiped his right hand on a towel and reached into his back pocket. He brought his hand up to Yona in a fist, moved his fingers a little bit, and seven beautiful paper flowers popped out. He laughed hard at Yona’s scowl and set the flowers beside her. He continued chopping.

“God you’re a bitch Yona.”

            “Pulling rabbits out of hats and flowers from the thin air of your back pocket doesn’t do anything for anyone.”

            “Oh stop. It’s not all we do. You had one hell of a disappearing act for a long time. And the melting lady was a hit. That one gave me nightmares. And all the rabbit tricks…”

            “Yes, the rabbit tricks. The one I accidentally killed in front of that poor little boy was just perfect.” Yona shook her head. “Never again. It’s a sham. It’s a lie.”

            “See, you say that as if what we do is supposed to be taken seriously! People know it’s not actually happening. But the fact that it looks like it does makes it fun. Pretending. Imagining. Imagining if we could bend the world to do as we wished … Contrary to Yona-ian belief, people do enjoy being lied to. They pay for it. I mean bankers and therapists for god’s sake! They make a living out of it! You had a great show. You just got spacey.”

            “So embarrassing.” Yona grazed the tip of her finger along the knife edge, remembering the days in her teenage years and early twenties when she was The Amazing Yona.

            Leo looked at her. “It’s either do magic, work at the factory, or buck up and leave town. I know you can’t imagine what else you could be doing with yourself.”

            “OW!” Lost in thought, Yona had sliced the tip of her forefinger with the knife. She dropped it into the sink and hopped off the counter.

            “See? Spacey,” Leo said. “You were bred to be a magician. Remember our crazy family tree?”

            Yona ran her finger under the cold tap. “Magicians on both sides of the family. Please, Leo. That’s not what I want. I know what I want.”

Leo sighed.

            “I want a baby.”

            “Well find a man who wants one too and you’ll be nine feet wide in no time.”

            “Don’t make fun!”

            “You’re too much of a realist to have kids. You can’t do magic tricks in front of them. Isn’t that a hint? You need your imagination back.”

            “Ugh!”

            “What the hell do you want a kid for?”

            Yona shrugged. She knew Leo wouldn’t understand. She decided to keep the secret about her miscarriage. That pregnancy was the one that had made her want to leave magic in the first place. “I dunno. I think my clock is ticking.”

            “You’re only twenty-eight.”

            “Doesn’t mean I don’t have a clock.”

            “You’re twenty-eight. Get your damn life in order.”

            “You’re forty-four. Get your life in order! I want one so bad I faint when I’m near a kid. I don’t think my body cares what’s going on around it. It’s got its own plans. It always does.”

            “Yona. For once in your life, take my advice. Don’t be another one of those baby machine bitches having kids like it’s their duty in this world. If you have one, you have it because you want it. You definitely don’t have one because your body says so! Do you know the things I’d be doing if I listened to what my body wanted all the time? The world would be on fire!” 

            “Oh what do you know about it. You don’t have a womb!”

            “I’m trying to stop you from making a mistake. I’m not helping you raise that kid.”

            “Come on. Every kid needs an uncle.”

            “I’m not your brother,” Leo said.

            “You’re my father’s son. Close enough!” Yona jumped off the counter and dug through her pockets for her cigarettes. “Be nice.”

            “No. I’m tired of being nice to you and your womb. Kids aren’t band-aids. Once you have one you’re gonna just want another because the first one’ll grow.”

            “You just don’t like children.”

            “I like them when they’re not mine. And when they’re appropriate to the mother’s sanity. You having a kid and still living with me will make that kid basically mine. And you’re insane. And I have a social life.”

            Yona rubbed the top of her head. “I should grow my hair long again.”

            “Then do it. Maybe it’ll help find you a husband instead of wanderin’ around with that short chop cut you have.”

            “I’m gonna smoke.”

            “Open the window. I don’t want my sauce smelling like cancer. And don’t take any from that purple pack.”

            “I can’t believe you’re still using trick cigarettes.”

            Yona passed the basket of laundry she had forgotten to put away again. She opened the living room window high. Leo called it the “scary window” because it was the only one that didn’t have a safety rail or part of a fire escape outside of it. Yona loved it. It gave a clean, unobstructed view of their boring part of town. It didn’t offer reality cut up through metal rails.

            She sat at the windowsill, with one leg tucked under her and the other swinging against the inside wall, her bare heel next to the light socket.

            The rain outside fell steady and yellow in the streetlight. She stuck her head out and looked upward, loving the feel of the cold drops landing on her cheeks and on her lips.

            A great, heavy mother pigeon, coming back from her last round of food hunting for the evening, nearly collided with another bird when both were surprised by Yona’s sudden appearance out the window.

The mother pigeon’s feet grazed Yona’s forehead. She was startled by the feeling of a claw and a glimpse of a dark wing in her eyes. She felt it brush over her nose. In that moment she leaned back hard to get her face away from the bird, forgetting about her position at the window, and fell out, back first, into the eight floors of night below.

            Yona woke in a massive grass field, wearing a long navy tunic. She was surrounded by dandelions in the breeze, birds, butterflies, grasshoppers, apple trees and squirrels. She got to her feet in a start and scanned around the idyllic scene.

            “Where the hell am I?” she mumbled to herself. “Leo?!” she called. “This isn’t funny, what is this?!”

            She turned in a circle, looking at the gorgeous expanse of nature around her. The air was hot and smelled of soil and flowers.

            “Hello!”

            Her confusion bled quickly into fear. The complete memory of where she had just been came back to her. She had fallen out of her window at night, yet around her it was bright and beautiful – it looked like the first day that had ever occurred on earth.

            Assuming she was dead, Yona lied down and wailed. She mourned everything she didn’t get the chance to do, and how much she would miss Leo and the rest of the family. She wondered what kind of children she would have had. She wondered why God had chosen to take her so early, and in such a way!

She imagined poor Leo in tails, top hat and boxers, talking to the police in the living room about how many damn times he told her not to sit at the window like that.

            But Yona was most certainly not dead. She failed to see a bit of thread poking out of her nail from the mini-accident that morning at work, and the maroon cut on her finger, from when she was playing around with the knife while she talked to Leo.

            At the top of the hill she looked around to see more ongoing expanse of green nature. A few miles away she saw a dense wood, and beyond it, a perfect series of snowy mountains.

            At the bottom of the hill on the other side was a wooden house that stretched far back into the tall grass surrounding it. It looked like a hallway with a roof and a beautiful front porch and front door. Every window was framed by stained glass and marble. Wind chimes and weather vanes glistened and sang.

            She wondered if this was really heaven.

            She approached the house slowly as she came down the steep hill, fearing she would trip her bare feet on rocks hidden in the grass. But her path was smooth and soft, all the way to the house. When her feet got to the eight steps of the front porch, she smelled the wood, hot and sweet in the sun. The handrails were adorned with woodcuts of smiling children.

            Once at the front door she didn’t know to knock or to just come in. She imagined her guardian angel and relatives and all the dead rabbits she accidentally killed, waiting inside to greet her.

            There was no doorbell. Her mouth fell open when she saw herself in the oval glass set in the door. Her skin glowed with health.

            Yona knocked on the door. She didn’t hear anything from inside. She knocked again. Silence. She walked over to the end of the porch, passing a wicker-backed rocking chair and a small table. She tried to look in through the window but could barely make out the insides of the house.

            She turned the corner of the porch and saw that the house went back a lot farther than she’d observed from the hill. It was almost as if the house had grown in the time it took her to come toward it. Along the sides of the house were large, circular glass windows. None of them offered a view into the home.

            Back at the front door she found that it was now open.

            Out of a sudden sense of apprehension, Yona turned around and looked behind her. Nothing else had changed. The hill was still the hill out front, the mountains and woods were still in the distance. Nature was still perfection around her.

            “Hello?” she called in to the house.

            She heard plates and utensils clanging.

            For being heaven, she thought, whoever was there wasn’t a very gracious host.

            Yona walked in slowly. Four red-velvet loveseats were angled around a wooden table with a pair of Tiffany lamps on top. Rich, burgundy rugs covered sections of the glossy floor.

            “Um … my name is Yona, I – I’m lost.”

            She looked around at the walls. They were empty save for a few miniscule paintings of the nature outside. A grandfather clock in the far corner announced the arrival of three o’clock.

            In the doorway to the kitchen she saw a beautiful, soft-yellow curtain that was parted and tied to dull hooks on either side of the frame. It was a yellow that reminded Yona of a nursery; the neutral color for a baby that didn’t speak to its gender, only the pleasure of its existence.

            She touched the silk-and-mesh fabric and smiled at the hints of glitter in it. She walked into the combination dining room and kitchen.

            She found a heavy woman there, seated at the far end of an oval table. The table was gigantic and old. It looked like a relic from a castle. In front of the woman was an oversized wooden bowl that overflowed with maroon and tan colored hunks. A wooden spoon poked out of it.

            Yona would have greeted her but she was utterly shocked, because this woman’s face was completely covered by her hair. It was blacker than black, thicker than thick; each strand was the width of at least fifteen strands of Yona’s hair. The woman had it combed down the front of her face and then formed into a braid near where the start of her chin would be. The massive braid snaked along the table, and fell off the side of it to the stone and tile floor.

            “M – Ma’am?” Yona said lowly. She was still staring at the length of the braid.

            The woman was silent. She grabbed the spoon. Her other hand went out in front of her, slowly, palm up, inviting her to sit at the other end of the table.

            Yona looked around and saw no one else near by, no pots or pans hot on the stove. She looked at the table again, and saw that a chipped porcelain bowl and a place setting had appeared at the seat across from the woman.

            “What’s going on here?” Yona said. “This is – this is insane, where am I?”

            The woman moved her hairy arm and fat hand toward her face, and lifted the start of the braid slightly, as she lowered her face to the bowl. The braid now completely obscured any clue of this woman even having a face, and her hand went down to her lap.

            “Lady? Are you listening? Hello? Are you deaf under there?”

            Yona took a few paces toward her but then took them back and fell into the seat the woman had offered her. She stared in horror at what the woman was eating.

             The maroon and tan hunks in the bowl were fetuses. One of them had flipped out of the bowl as the woman shoveled spoonful upon spoonful into her unseen mouth. The fetuses looked baked or mildly toasted; their skin was tight around their would-be bodies, their vestigial arms and oddly-shaped heads were crisp. Yona could hear a slight crunch after each spoonful went into the woman’s mouth.

            “Lady! What are you doing!!!” Yona screamed.

When she took the breath to scream she caught the scent of the contents of the bowl in front of her. It was a white soup that smelled distinctly of wet soil.

            Yona stuck her spoon in and lifted it, watching the goop drip and slide back down toward the bowl. She became repulsed, realizing that the stuff moved and looked like semen.

            The woman stopped eating. She sat up slowly and Yona could feel the woman watching her. The bowl was empty.

            The woman began to deflate and shrink, inch by inch. Her hair retreated into her scalp as if it was being reeled in. Yona sprang from the table and slammed herself against the wall, screaming. The woman bled a little as the hair on her arms pulled into her flesh. Her nails grew long, her grey rag of a dress became a glittering black sheath. Her hair shrank and pulled back until it was the same length and cut as Yona’s.

            The woman had Yona’s face. Her eyes had no iris or pupil.

            Yona ran out of the kitchen and down the endless hallway ahead of her.

            She looked behind her and saw her blank-eyed self chasing her with an axe in hand.

            Yona stupidly came to a stop in disbelief. The woman swung at her with the axe. Yona ducked and watched the axe get stuck in the wall. She turned and took off running again while the woman tried to yank it out.

            “You fed me!” the woman screamed behind her. “They are mine!”

            The woman fiercely chased after Yona, swinging the axe closer and closer to the back of her neck, each time getting it stuck into the wall with the ferocity of her swing, yet she’d be right back within steps of Yona as if she had never paused.

            To Yona’s terror, she saw that in a few yards the hall would come to an end. There was nowhere to go except out the window.

            The woman grabbed her by the back of her tunic and shoved her forward, so that Yona hit the end wall with a tremendous force. Yona sat up against the wall, dizzy and crying.

            “Who are you!” Yona shrieked. She pulled her knees up against her chest.

            The woman knelt in front of her and held the axe edge to her throat. Yona couldn’t look at her for more than a few seconds at a time. She couldn’t believe that her own face was looking back at her, with no eyes to speak of, with a voice that was like a collection of sighs and groans.

She ripped the side of Yona’s tunic and shoved her knees apart.

            “What do you want!”

            The woman brought her face to her left ear. “You fed me!”

            “Fed you? Fed you what?!”

            “The children. The promises, your thoughts. You will never bear those children. They are conceived in my home. I will never deliver them to you!”

            Yona looked at the woman’s arm and neck and the raised veins that moved beneath them. It was like her blood was swelling inside her. Through the windows she noticed a change in the light. The sky had become like charcoal, yet the grass and the flowers maintained the same bright colors as if the sun were still shining on them.

            In one forced, painful move, the woman pushed her hand deep inside Yona’s vagina and pulled out her uterus. She twisted and yanked to rip the remaining tissue, and then sat back onto the floor to eat it in front of Yona. The taste seemed to bring incredible relief to the woman, as she lifted her face and smiled a peaceful, genuine smile like a child eating so much candy.