ALEXA AND THE INSTAGRAM POST

In October, the life of Alexa Manzoukas was made more difficult by another student in her class at Vincent Arborio high school. The other student, Vanessa Pafnadopolis, took a photograph of herself, lips pursed; behind her in the photograph, a bichon frise pooped onto the sidewalk. Vanessa posted the photograph to Instagram, and tagged the fresh feces with Alexa’s Instagram handle.

Alexa was devastated.

The Instagram post was just one insult among many. Vanessa had previously led a group of girls in hammering at Alexa’s Twitter and Snapchat accounts, sending her awful messages and making inappropriate posts that caused distress among Alexa and her family circle. Vanessa had also told Deni Hawthorne, who made Alexa blush and smile, that Alexa had been intimate with carnival workers at the state fair the previous summer. These rumors fostered widespread alienation. The Instagram photo was just the drop that made the bucket overflow.

When Alexa did not unlock her bedroom door and go to school the next morning, no one noticed except for her great-grandmother, Sophronia. After everyone had left the house, Sophronia knocked on Alexa’s door. “Things at school are not so good, eh?” she asked.

“What do you mean?” said Alexa.

Grandmother Sophronia made a little clicking sound with her mouth. “Oh, honey,” she said, “I hear things. I know these assholes are so mean to you. It is not right.”

Alexa sighed. “At least it’s only two more years till I graduate, right?”

Sophronia sat down on Alexa’s bed and took her hand. “There is a thing that can be done for this,” she said.

“What do you mean, Geemaw?”

Sophronia sat in silence for a moment, and then spoke. “When I was a girl, your age, there was a boy. Ivan was his name.”

“Great-grandpa Ivan?”

“Yes. You never knew him, but oh, he was so handsome when he was young. And there was a girl, Penelope. She hated me more than anything. She did not even like Ivan, but she pursued him to snatch him away. She stole him from me.”

“Okay,” said Alexa.

“And I was like you. I stay in the house, I do not go to school. I cry. So my grandmother came to me– your great-great-great-grandmother, Ianthe, who was a witch. And she sit with me, like I sit here with you. And she told me how to fix Penelope.”

“Fix her?”

“Yes. She taught me how to perform a spell. It worked for me. Maybe it works for you, maybe not. Couldn’t hurt, might make you feel better.”

“I guess… why not, right?”

“Okay. I will help you. Times are different now, so we have to do it different, maybe. The things we had then, we do not have now. The old gods are weak in this country. But we will make do.”

Sophronia and Alexa spent the day working. They gathered: an clay garden tile from Home Depot; Alexa’s father’s bronze-capped ballpoint pen; an onion; a rusty piece of iron; a few other small things. Then Alexa followed her grandmother’s directions.

At the end of the afternoon, Alexa examined the tile. On it, she had etched a frantic wild-eyed horse, mid-gallop, with a bell around its neck and VANESSA across its back. A word balloon coming from its mouth contained a simple scream, four capital letter As and an exclamation point: AAAA!

“Yes, this is good,” said Sophronia. “Now under it, write something like this: ‘Give her the heaving of the sea, total wakefulness, and give her punishments. O worldshaker, fortunate one, I call upon you, because I am she, Alexa. See me, in this ritual, O great one; Attend this magical operation which I am performing, because it is your great and honored personage that I am saying and writing.'”

“I don’t think I have that much room, Geemaw,” said Alexa.

“Okay,” said Sophronia, “What do I know? New century, new country. It’s your spell.”

Alexa thought about it for a few minutes, and then carved, below the horse and in all capital letters, SUFFER SLEEPLESS GUILT.

“That’s pretty good,” said Sophronia.

Finally, Alexa took a picture of the tile and posted it to Instagram. She tagged the horse with Vanessa’s handle.

Ten minutes later, Vanessa commented on the photo. After three emoji of a laughing woman, she wrote “freak. No wonder no 1 likes u.” Then three more laughing-woman emoji.

Despite the comment, Alexa felt better. She joined her family for dinner, and slept well for the first time all week. She woke up late the next morning– a Saturday morning– and actually had an appetite. She ate eggs, and bacon, and constructed a Lego castle with her younger brother, and spent a few hours alternating between video games and homework. She didn’t notice until early evening that there was a new comment on her Instagram post, left by Vanessa twelve hours prior: “fuck you [cow emoji].”

Alexa “liked” the comment. Then she and her family went to see a movie. The movie was pretty funny.

The next morning after church, Alexa’s mother made ebleskiver and her father made scrambled eggs with gyro meat inside. Everyone sat around the large table and ate, smiling and eating and talking, until there was a knock at the door. Alexa’s mother had started a new batch of ebleskiver, and was working at the oven. “Can you get that, honey?” she asked.

“Sure, mom,” said Alexa.

When she opened the door, two middle-aged people stood on their mat, a man and a woman. The man looked at Alexa and sighed. “You must be Alexa,” he said. “My name is Milo Pafnadopolis, and this is my wife Kristy. May we come in and speak to you?”

“Eek,” said Alexa. “Uh, okay, yeah, come on in.”

Alexa led Vanessa’s parents into the kitchen, where her mother had just finished the ebleskiver. Alexa’s siblings stared. “Uh, hello,” said Alexa’s mother. “I’m Kelly. What can I do for you?”

“Well, uh,” said the man, “Our daughters are in the same class. Ours is– her name is Vanessa, if you know her, Vanessa Pafnadopolis.”

“Oh,” said Alexa’s mother, pursing her lips and folding her arms across her chest. “I’m familiar with her, yes. I’ve seen her on Instagram.”

“Yes, well, that’s one of the things we… I mean, we’re here because…” the man trailed off.

“Our daughter confessed a lot of things to us this morning,” said Vanessa’s mom. “And she requested that we come over here and apologize. To you, Alexa. She’s… we didn’t know that she’d been treating you poorly, that she’d been bullying you.”

A small flame of pride and satisfaction bloomed in Alexa’s chest. “I appreciate that,” she said.

“Why didn’t she come herself?” asked Alexa’s mother.

Vanessa’s mom looked at her dad. “She’s not feeling well. She’s at the hospital right now, under observation. It’s been kind of a rough time for all of us since her brother got sick. She can’t sleep and she won’t eat. We didn’t want to come and bother you with this, but it’s all she talks about, and she made us promise. She wants you to know that she’s sorry.”

The bloom of pride and satisfaction died in Alexa’s chest. “Oh, no,” said Alexa. “Oh, jeez. Uh, tell her… tell her I hope she gets well soon, and I’ll be doing everything I can to help.”

After some handshaking and declined offers to share breakfast, the Pafnadopolis parents left. Alexa ran upstairs and brought the tile out from the top closet shelf. She hammered it into pieces, shattering all of the etched words and pictures, and then threw the pieces into the sewer drain in front of the house.

Vanessa came back to school on Thursday. There were dark rings under her eyes, and she was unusually skinny and quiet, but she quickly reintegrated and soon things were back to normal. She never bullied Alexa again, and her cadre steered clear as well.

Alexa still didn’t really fit in, and didn’t make any friends. She floated on the surface of the school’s social life, quietly outcast, until she left to go to college.

Art provided by the late, great, wonderful Bill Latham.

THE MAN WHO COULDN’T STOP TALKING

When his alarm rang on a Tuesday morning, Andrew Vandergriff groggily turned it off, rolled over, and stretched his arms toward the ceiling. When he opened his eyes, he was startled to see a small mouth on the back of his left hand, mid-yawn. The mouth hadn’t been there when he went to sleep, and yet here it was: about an inch and a half wide, with full, fleshy lips and perfect small teeth.

“Good morning,” said the mouth, and smiled.

“Good morning,” said Andrew, but the mouth didn’t respond again.

“Hello?” Still nothing. “Did I imagine that?” asked Andrew. The mouth maybe smirked, but remained silent. Andrew probed the lips and teeth with his finger, and then called his primary care physician. “It’s… well, it’s a small… wound on my hand,” he said, and made an appointment for the following Monday.

Andrew had a toaster waffle for breakfast, covered the mouth with a gauze bandage, and went to work. On the way, he stopped at Starbucks. When the barista handed him his latte, the mouth on his hand chewed off the gauze and spit it out. “You should smile!” it hollered at the barista. “You’d look really pretty if you smiled!”

a hand reaching for a coffee. the hand has a grotesque mouth with puckered lips on it.

Andrew clapped his right hand over the mouth, sloshing coffee on the counter. “Oh god I’m so sorry,” he said. The barista stared after him with disgust as he ran out.

At the office, he tamped a paper towel gag into the tiny mouth and wrapped his hand in duct tape. It took him a half hour to calm down, but he was relaxed when he went into the morning meeting. A consulting expert was visiting the company to demonstrate and explain their new filing system. While she was explaining the benefits of the switch, a new tiny mouth sprouted in the crook of Andrew’s right elbow. “Well, actually,” it bellowed, “our old system was better at–”

“Aaaa!” said Andrew, and clapped his left hand over the new mouth.

“Please don’t interrupt me,” said the visiting expert.

The tiny mouth bit Andrew’s fingers, and he yelped and pulled his hand away. “Calm down!” yelled the tiny mouth.

“Oh my gosh I’m sorry!” said Andrew, and ran out of the conference room. Back at his desk, he tamped another paper towel gag into the new mouth and wrapped duct tape around his elbow. Once that was done, he closed his door and decided to try to stay in his office for the rest of the day.

As he sat at his desk and ate his lunch salad, his boss knocked on his door. “No eating at your desk,” he said. “You know that. Take it to the employee lounge.” Andrew sighed and gathered his food.

In the lounge, Andrew sat alone at a table and tried to eat as quickly as possible. At the next table, two women were having a conversation. One of them had just had a bad date, and was describing it to her coworker. As Andrew crunched down on a crouton, a new mouth sprouted on his neck. “Not all men!” it said. “Not all men!”

“Oh, shit!” screamed Andrew, and crammed a forkful of lettuce into the tiny mouth while bolting out of the room.

Back at his desk, Andrew applied another paper towel gag and wrapped duct tape around his neck. He called his doctor, demanded an emergency appointment, and left work early.

On the way to the train stop, Andrew found himself in the middle of a crowded protest outside City Hall. All around him, people waved signs, chanted slogans, and marched through the streets. As he walked through the crowd, one of the protesters smiled at him and handed him some reading material. As he took it, another mouth sprouted on his belly, beneath his buttondown shirt. “You know,” it shouted, “I’m of Irish descent, and I don’t know if you know this, but–”

Andrew punched himself in the gut and tried to walk faster through the crowd, which was starting to turn and stare at him. He started to run.

A new mouth sprouted on his forehead. “If I could just play devil’s advocate here for a second…”

Another one, on his knee: “Please, consider both sides.”

Andrew ran as fast as he could, screaming at his new mouths. “Shut up, shut up, shut up!”

The illustration for this fable was provided by the delightful and talented Mike Edrington.

ANDREA AND THE CHICKENS

There once was a woman named Andrea whose family kept four chickens in a small coop in their backyard. Andrea’s wife Stephanie had convinced the family that keeping chickens was a good idea, and it had been good, by and large. The eggs were delicious, and the children loved watching the birds peck and scratch.

The family took turns feeding and watering the chickens, spreading diatomaceous earth to keep the smell down, and replacing the straw. Andrea hated taking her turn with the chickens: their beady eyes, so vacant and yet so expectant; their sharp claws, ever scratching at the dirt; the pungent tang of their droppings. She always tried to trade chores with the other members of the family. Most of the time she was able to avoid chicken duty, but not always, and so it was that one morning her alarm clock went off before the sun came up and she had to rise for chicken-tending.

Andrea sighed and went out into the dewy dark backyard to feed and water the chickens and gather eggs. She put the eggs (only two this morning) into her little basket and squatted down to fill the chickens’ water. As she was bent down, Doris– a beautiful black-and-white Barred Plymouth Rock hen– hopped up onto the shoulder of her purple robe.

“Bok buk bugok,” said Doris.

“Agh shit,” said Andrea, and quickly stood up. Doris came up with her, and shifted her head to look Andrea right in the eye.

“Bok,” said the chicken.

“Uh, hello, Doris,” said Andrea. She regarded the chicken on her shoulder, and Doris regarded her right back.

Slowly, Andrea reached into her robe pocket and pulled out her phone. She opened the camera and lifted it up, taking a few selfies in quick succession, while thinking about potential captions for the internet. Tough-guy face for the first one, maybe with the caption “Who you callin’ chicken?” For the second, Doris looked kind of sad, so Andrea grinned big; “The Egg-ony and the Egg-stasy.” For the third, Andrea licked her lips and stared wide-eyed at Doris. Caption: “My Dinner With Andrea.” She could look at the selfies again inside, and post the best one. As she slipped the phone back into her robe pocket, Doris darted forward and buried her entire head in Andrea’s ear.

Andrea screamed and fell backwards into the straw. Doris scrabbled for purchase and maintained a grip on the robe, but let out a startled “BUK BOK BUGOK!” The clucking echoed, unbearably loud, inside Andrea’s head. Immediately, a horrible burning and itching started; Doris pecked around inside Andrea’s cranium, and little neck feathers brushed maddeningly against Andrea’s inner ear. Doris, in all the thrashing, yanked down the collar of the robe and buried a set of talons into Andrea’s bare shoulder. Andrea screamed again and reached up and around, wrapping her hands around the bird’s neck and midsection, lifting it away.

The head stayed put, and Doris’ body stopped short. “BUK BUGOK,” Doris hollered into Andrea’s head, and shat all over the robe. Andrea closed her eyes and tried not to panic. If she freaked out and yanked too hard, she could kill the chicken, and then she’d have a dead hen wedged headfirst in her ear. Worst of all, if she pulled hard enough, the chicken head might actually detach, tick-like, and remain buried, dripping its own thick blood down Andrea’s neck.

The other three birds watched calmly from the yard.

Andrea reached up with the arm closest to Doris and held the bird’s body down tight against her shoulder, preventing further clawing and scrabbling. With the other hand, she reached up and followed the chicken’s neck as far as she could, until she hit her own ear. The entire skull was inside her head. The clucking continued unabated. Andrea carefully folded her fingers over the top of the chicken’s neck and pressed the meat of her thumb against her temple, applying gentle but steady pressure out and away.

After thirty seconds of itching and crowing, there was a loud popping sound, almost exactly like squeezed bubblewrap, and Doris’ head came loose. Andrea threw the chicken onto the ground, where it looked at her with an expression as close to surprise as a chicken’s face can muster. Doris’ head was caked with viscous yellow earwax.

Immediately, Andrea decided that she could tell no one. She wiped Doris’ head off with a paper towel as best she could and went about her business. She brought in the eggs. She put the robe, bloody and spattered with Doris droppings, into the washer. She showered, spending a lot of extra time with a Q-Tip, and pulled out three large feathers and five small ones. She deleted all of the chicken-selfies. She vomited and got dressed; got the children up, fed, and clothed; dropped them off at school, and went to work.

While listening to a PowerPoint presentation that morning, Andrea heard a single muted cluck. She yelped and shoved her chair back from the table, scuffling backwards and drawing glances. After coming to her senses, she played it off as an insect crawling up her ankle. She tried to resume learning about the benefits of a particular bookkeeping software, but her mind was elsewhere.

The clucks kept coming, each one slightly different; there were long pauses between them at first, but the intervals grew shorter and shorter until they rang through her head every few seconds. Andrea left work at noon. The closer she got to her home, the louder they became, until she found herself in the backyard staring at Doris.

“What did you do to me, Doris?”

The chicken looked at her, then pecked at the ground.

“How do I stop this, Doris?” asked Andrea.

“Bugok,” said Doris, and the sound echoed like a fart in a cathedral, resonating and filling Andrea’s entire awareness. She fell to her knees.

Something needed to be done. As soon as she could stand, Andrea got a hatchet out of the shed. She carried Doris, seemingly-unconcerned, over to a stump, and braced her with one hand. With the other, she quickly brought down the blade. Doris’ head flopped onto the grass, and her thin little legs kicked and flailed in the air. The clucking in Andrea’s head stopped immediately.

“Oh, thank goodness,” said Andrea. She couldn’t bring herself to pluck Doris– just the thought of eating her caused an awful bout of heartburn– so she gently placed the corpse in the garbage on the curb, and went inside for a bubble bath and two bottles of wine. She was pretty well recovered by the time Stephanie and the kids came home. No one had yet noticed Doris’ absence.

Andrea couldn’t even look at the beef in the fridge, and so she and Stephanie made vegetarian dinner: quinoa and lentils in spicy red sauce, with broccoli on the side. The family watched an animated movie, by the end of which Andrea felt almost normal (despite finding a feather in her hair). The kids went to bed. Shortly thereafter, Andrea and Stephanie did too.

Andrea half-woke in a sweat at two-thirty in the morning. The bottoms of her feet itched and burned red-hot, as though she’d walked through poison ivy barefoot. Under the covers, she reached down and scratched, her long nails digging at her soles, trying to find some relief but not wanting to enter full wakefulness. God, it felt good. She scratched and scratched, the relief intensely satisfying, until her fingers slid under the calloused flesh of her soles and touched the dozens of scaly chicken feet beneath.

Illustrations by the lovely and talented Bill Latham. Special thanks to Grace C. R. and DW Fitzgerald, and their bizarre dreams.

LAQUINDA AND THE VERTEKTIE

There once was a woman named Laquinda.

Laquinda lived in a small cabin, deep in the woods, with her three dogs. She meditated, and read, and enjoyed walks in the dappled sunlight shining through the forest canopy. She worked as an accountant at Brickenden National Bank, performing financial services for people and businesses; she was very good at her job, and found satisfaction in it every day.

In this way, she lived and worked and was happy.

At the end of every workday, Laquinda left the bank and began the long walk home through the woods. The woods were deep and deserted, and home to all manner of beasties: demons, ghosts, vértékties, vampires, and other creatures besides. Laquinda always made sure to go home while the sun still shone down and drove the dark things into the shadows.

One springtime, tax season enveloped Brickenden National like a dark cloud, and Laquinda found that she could not keep up with all the work that needed to be done. On the day of the deadline, the bank manager requested that Laquinda stay and work until all the tax documents had been filed. Laquinda worked hard, doing calculation upon calculation, but still found that the moon was full and heavy above the trees when she was finished. Laquinda quickly said a prayer and jogged down the path.

Laquinda was in the forest no further than ten yards before she found her path blocked by a vértéktie.

A vértéktie, if you have never seen one (and I hope for your sake that you have not), is a small creature the size and shape of a cat, with the head of a possum and the tail of an otter, and two sharp horns spiraling from its forehead. Vértéktie stand on their hind legs, and they are dressed all over in soft shaggy fur; their large velvety bat ears swivel to and fro so they can hear their prey from a great distance. Their tongues are half the length of their bodies, and they have two small hands, like the hands of a child.

Vértéktie smile constantly, showing all of their tiny sharp teeth.

“Clear my path, beastie, or I shall make you move,” said Laquinda, pretending to be brave even though she was very scared.

“Oh, I think not,” said the vértéktie, slowly padding toward Laquinda and licking its thin pink lips. “You look plump and nourishing. I think I shall take my fill of you.”

Laquinda let out a bellowing shriek and ran at the vértéktie, which startled and froze; she raised her foot as she ran, and attempted to boot the creature into the trees, but the vértéktie was too fast for her. It clung fast to her leg with its small hands and scampered up her body. Then it perched on her back, where she could not reach it, and began whispering an eerie incantation.

Laquinda knew that it was too late, but the damage could be managed; she broke off the branch of a nearby rowan tree and began to flail away behind her, whipping the vértéktie, so that it could not continue its disgusting spell.

Vértéktie, you see, do not feed the way monsters normally do. Most fearsome critters want to eat the flesh or drink the blood of their victims. A vértéktie, forgoing this physical sustenance, grabs hold of a person and slowly consumes their ability to experience joy. Once they have encountered a vértéktie in the light of the silvery moon, even a person who smiles easily and has found inner peace can find themselves staring into the carpet as if into a wishing well, unable to find even the smallest measure of happiness.

Laquinda ran as fast as her feet would take her, flogging the vértéktie with the rowan branch. She could hear the whisper of dark words, and could feel herself begin to despair. She began to shout over the vértéktie, singing prayers, calling out Our Fathers and Hail Marys at the top of her voice. She took her silver necklace and pressed it into the monster’s leg, making the fur singe and burn; she did every thing she could think of to make the critter pause or start over or halt.

Before too long, she saw her house through the trees, and called her dogs.

The dogs came running up the path and circled Laquinda and the vértéktie, barking and growling. It is well-known that vértéktie are terrified of dogs, and the beast clambered its way up to the very top of Laquinda’s head, where it turned round and round, spitting and squealing. Spying her chance, Laquinda grabbed its bony thorax and wrestled it to the ground, where she wrapped the necklace around its neck like a choker, and clutched the devil close to her.

She ran the rest of the way to the cabin, shooing the dogs inside before her as she went. Once they were all inside, she slammed and locked the door behind her and threw the vértéktie to the floor.

Now that the physical connection had been broken and the panic had begun to subside, Laquinda could tell that the vértéktie had badly diminished her capacity for merriment. Before the encounter, she could laugh at any joke, no matter how badly constructed or poorly told. Now she found that when she tried to smile, the corners of her mouth twitched halfheartedly and lay still. She knew that unless something was done, she would be unable to enjoy her walks, or her books, or her dogs, or her work, and she would soon begin to wither away.

“Vile beast,” she hissed at the vértéktie. “Undo this damage! Restore me, or I shall kill you, and throw you in the fire, and let my dogs chew your bones!”

“Anything, please,” said the vértéktie, “just let me go.”

Laquinda grabbed the devil by the scruff of its neck, and attached bells to the silver necklace it wore, so that other people would know if it came near. She squeezed the vértéktie hard between her hands, and felt satisfaction rise within her.

Once this was done, and she was made her old self again, she opened the door to allow the demon to escape. Instead of running into the darkness, however, it looked at her plaintively.

“Please,” it said, “with this bell around my neck, I shall never be able to feed. Soon, I will die of starvation.”

Now that her gaiety had returned to her, Laquinda felt some small sympathy for this pathetic monster. “I shall place a saucer of milk on the front step every night,” she said.

The vértéktie cocked its head and squinted at her. “On the first cold night I will freeze to death without the stolen joy of others to keep me warm.”

Laquinda sighed. “All right,” she said. “On very cold nights you may visit me indoors, and keep warm by the fire.”

The vértéktie nodded once and was gone.

This is how Laquinda came to have a pet vértéktie. If you visit her in the woods on a snowy night, you may see it curled up by the fire, caressing its necklace of bells and smiling sweetly at you with all its tiny sharp teeth. Look at it, but do not touch; for deep down, the vértéktie is always hungry, and will not hesitate.

A VERTEKTIE

Artwork by the fabulously talented and wonderful Jes Seamans.

DEATH AND THE KERBEROXEN

qiviut-merchant

Gray clouds swirl in the sky above the land of the dead, but never part. Sunlight never touches the bones strewn across the countryside. Warmth never melts the soft snow that falls to blanket the gentle hills and valleys, copses and dales of Death’s freehold. Bitter wind creeps through walls and flesh just the same, sowing ice and salt as it goes. Despite the lack of sunlight, blighted stalks of arctic willow grow from shallow tundra soil, up through ribs and mandibles, up through eye sockets and collarbones, straining above the snow cover by force of will alone. After all, Death’s herd must eat.

The kerberoxen move in small groups, shaggy, gray-brown, and asymmetrical. They mar the bleached landscape: hot tears on blotter paper. Their hooves punch down through snow and bone, raking and scraping to reveal willow, or crowberries, or lichen that has managed to take hold on a half-buried cranial plane. When a kerberox finds food, its central head lowers to eat, while the head on each side either rises to keep watch for competition if the patch is small, or begins calling out to neighbors in a low baritone if the food source is large enough for other members of the herd to eat.

Some of the kerberoxen are molting. Every Sunday, Death walks across the estate, inspecting the animals, checking to see which are ready for combing. Because there are no changes to the weather, there is no molting season. Each animal molts regularly, but not en masse. Death combs all the qiviut– the fine, downy woolen underhair– by hand, and works it with thin quick phalanges, keeping only the softest and finest fibers.

Each kerberox only molts once a year, but Death is nothing if not patient.

Death lives in an old wooden house in the center of the estate. The house is very warm. It’s connected to Death’s hothouse mulberry grove, where Death raises silkworms. Death knows the precise moment when each silkworm is ready to hatch, and is prepared. One eyedropper of warm water, squeezed onto the cocoon; nimble slender fingerbones, spinning the silk thread off in one single long strand; spindles, to collect the silk. The cocoon turns quickly in Death’s deft hands, until the last of the thread winds off, and the new moths– heritage Bombyx mandarina– fly off in little circles, dizzy but unharmed, until Death releases them.

Death is a vegetarian.

The house creaks and groans and squeaks in the constant wind, which Death finds to be a comfort. Sometimes late at night, lying in an old wooden bed, Death relaxes and allows the clouds to dissipate. Moonlight performs a slow dappled waltz across the walls and ceilings of Death’s home, diffused by empty trees and reflected by snow, and the sound of a steam train engine calls across the grange, though there is no outbound traffic. Death’s angora rabbits shiver in their sleep on the quilted bedspread, and Death knows peace.

Death combines the kerberox qiviut in a particular ratio with the rabbit angora and fine silk to make thread. Death alone spins this thread, and then, in the evenings, Death knits. A single kerberox combing can be used to knit enough thread to make seven square feet of cabled cloth, but Death is nothing if not persistent.

Sometimes at night Death lies covered by the quilt in the moonlight, surrounded by small warm sleeping rabbits. Death remembers what it was like to have been alive. Remembers the fear of abandoning one’s body, the dreaded impending revelation of the mystery. If Death had eyebrows, they would raise in sympathy; if Death had lips, they would curl up in a small smile: recognition of shared experience; remembrance of crossing universal thresholds.

For Death knows: we are all ghosts temporarily thrust into living bodies. There is evidence in every coffin, every x-ray, every sugar skull, every Halloween night. When we go, everything that we are– every intention, every desire, every love, every hate– is woven into Death’s great darkness. Death gathers it all. Death remembers. And Death will knit until all of the knitting is done.

Death is knitting a shroud large enough to encompass the earth.

Art courtesy of the excellent Randy Ortiz.