Harden Your Hearts, You Pharoahs

You’ve been holding down the third slot in a three-band club and things haven’t been going great. You’ve got the look down pat — all lace cuffs and mirrored shades and a tight, catlike smile that never pulls your lips away from your teeth — and the crowd likes you… well, they like you okay, most of the time, but that’s the problem, it’s only most of the time. When you’re on, you’re untouchable, and when you’re not, it’s nothing but a sea of baffled, bored faces. Pretentious, they say, which in the quiet space of your windowless basement room you’ll admit is fair; unlistenable.

The band feels it, too. The three perverts you found to play backing and drums don’t say anything, but the new blood on keyboard and guitar aren’t shy about coming for your throat. They’ve been after you to play one of the songs they wrote, or at least listen to them, but you’ve been doing this for a couple hundred years, you’re not about to take advice from a pair of jumped up new romantics who are barely old enough to remember Grover Cleveland’s first term.

There’s an aspiring singer that comes sniffing around for a job that catches the eye of the number one band; you take her out to the shores of a nameless lake and leave her on the bank, bare skin slightly steaming in the predawn.

In the Summer We Remember Winter

They wrapped you in chains you could have shrugged off like cobwebs and cracked the ice to sink you in the pond next to the old kennels. You watched their shadows pass away as you settled to the bottom, blood heavy in your belly like the stone they tied to your ankles, lungs flat and empty until the water wormed its way in, surrounded by the scattered bones of the dogs no one needed.

You could have, easily enough, fought your way free, at any point from when they kicked open the door of your basement, but what would be the point? One spot was as good as another.

The sun rises and they gather to stare at you through the ice, and you play dead, or close enough; eyes opened and unfocused, chest still, stirred by the current. They count themselves successful, save one child, hypnotized with dread, who lingers. You close your right eye slowly: a knowing wink. They gasp and run off and you hear the sound of distant laughter. You were legend enough to kill, but not legend enough to believe in.

Still, you remember the child’s face; they will be worth looking up when the pond and memories have thawed. Faith should be justified.

Eat the Rich

You are not an animal.

Which is to say, it is not the substance of what you eat that matters; you do not convert food to energy, matter, life. You are a spirit in the shape of a person, a pit in the mouth of the world; as you are a sign, a symbol, so too is your food. It is, in a sense, arbitrary. You do not suffer from iron deficiencies.

Nevertheless, you find yourself thinking in animalistic terms. Hunting, preying, stalking, digesting. Snakelike, you stuff yourself powerfully once, then slumber for weeks, months, years, rising only to feed again, to coil slightly against a warmer rock. You tell yourself you are dispassionate, as a snake is dispassionate, meaning perhaps no more than that your face is not built for the convenience of men.

It is easy enough to blend in, there on the upper floors. You know how they speak, dress, act, move. The casual possessiveness you assume is a shadowy reflection of their own, the right to touch and not be touched, to offend and be unoffended, to yell and pound the table and be nevertheless coldly logical. There is nothing you cannot do.

You would think they would be wary, but not so. Apex predators, they are unused to looking for any threat except their own folly. Knock gently on the penthouse door, and be invited in, vipers imagining themselves dragons, ready to warm themselves on your regard.

Then sleep the sleep of the just, for years, decades, or centuries, until need or desire calls you back. No windows are locked above the fifteenth floor.

Running Water, Scattered Salt

There are secrets you cannot keep.

In winter, you crawl your way out into a frozen field and hack at the ground with your hands until your nails break off. You press bleeding lips to the shallow earth and whisper what is not unspeakable.

Stumbling home, you veer off course and fall through the ice into still water. Cold as it is, you are colder, and winter is long; you could kick your way to the surface, but to what end? For what purpose? You burrow deep into the mud and wait instead for the first moon of spring.

Months later, wrapped in weeds, you haul yourself up upon the bank. They have nibbled away your nose, your ears, your fingers, your toes; they would have taken your eyes, too, but there are some things you hold on to. The world is warmer, but you are not. You strike out for town, and on the way pass an acre of grass whispering the name you tried to bury.

Felis Domesticus

You hadn’t been much to look at in life, and undeath hasn’t done much to change that. Respectable-looking, that was your lane. You’d had a cat when you were alive, but you’d gradually picked up more in the decades since. It was nice, being surrounded by life; you kept the same crepuscular schedule.

You don’t see people very often, so the cats are good company.  When you get hungry, you pick up some guy at a bar and bring him home and, well. Do what you need to. Once in a very long while you’ll get a visit from the cops, if the bartender could bother to remember your face. You were the last person, that sort of thing.

Yes, you always say. You’ve been lonely, and you’d thought that maybe this time— but you haven’t heard from him since. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, you say. None of them ever come back again.

Half a dozen pairs of eyes shine in the dark.

It’s hard, I know, the cops say. You just have to keep trying. You’ll find someone.

Thank you, you say. I hope so. I hope you find him soon. I hope he’s okay.