by K.M. Carmien

From CHM #42 December 2023

        

The I-80 reels away under me. Eighty in a seventy-five zone and I push it faster, knuckles white on the wheel, trying not to hear the rattle my car makes, heading for the big bruisey-gray wall of thunderheads that hang where the dotted yellow line reaches for the horizon. Ten minutes to the county line. Eight if I hit the gas a little more. And from there, just twenty to the family home, and my sister’s body, and the thing inside.

Chris—older by two and a half minutes, or two and three-quarters if you asked her—said once that there’s a lot of comfort in a god who doesn’t give a shit, and I agreed with her. Sure hope that still works for her, but how dare she, how fucking dare she leave me, the bad sister, the one who ran off, to handle everything down here. Leave me with that claw-fingered hipster on the goddamned G train, whispering look at me, Billie, nails digging into my arm and a tinnitus whine rising in my ears until I slammed my heel into his instep and jumped off at a random stop. Stumbled into Hoyt Street, shaking from adrenaline and the power I’d raised, to find three missed calls and a voicemail from her. I’m sorry, I’m trying—if I can’t, look after the twins, they’ll need you. And half an hour later, a second call, You need to get down here now. Chris is dead.

So here I am. Because to come home and do what must be done was written in my blood and bones a long time ago; because I promised Chris. My thighs stick to the pleather of the seat, my hands are slick on the wheel; AC’s out and it must be ninety out there, August leaching into September. Storm’ll cool it down, I hope. What a fucking thing to think. My sister’s murdered and storm’ll cool it down, I hope. My phone sits in the cupholder and I keep sneaking glances at it, like if I don’t keep an eye on the thing it’ll leap up and bite me. Eighty-five miles an hour, ninety.

I see the blue-and-red lights too late. Not til they’re nearly on my tail, and I wonder if it’s worth it to warp the road, but hell, I can take a ticket. And maybe I want a breather before I get home and everything falls on my head for good. Maybe I’m weak that way; I’m woman enough to say it.

I pull over and roll down the window. The office, big square white dude stamped from a mold, moseys up to my car. “Ma’am,” he says, “Do you know how fast you were going?”

I start to say, “I’m sorry, Officer, it’s just, I’m going to my sister’s funeral,” start summoning up a brave little lip-wobble like someone trying not to cry—and my stomach twists, and that tinnitus whine rises in my ears, and the officer says, “I know, what a shame about Christabel,” and starts to pull down his sunglasses to look me in the eye.

Before I can think the words come—the poison-whisky burn, the slick liquid fractal glottals blistering my tongue and lips as they pour from me. And I pray, because you don’t forget that either, eight-pointed star, o king unknowing, o endless emperor, your handmaid calls upon your burning throne; in your dreaming may you forgive what I your daughter take from you, o endpoint of entropy, o chaos pure.

The cop staggers back as reality wrenches and crumples around us, sucked dry of sense and cause, a nonsense of no-color and glitching wind. I hit the gas. My car screeches, but, good old girl, leaps ahead, chewing up asphalt. Behind me screams, and a howl: “We’re not done, Wilhelmina!”

Oh, I know.

I rocket over the county line with blood and pus in my mouth, the wind in my hair.

* * *

Me and Chris, we always knew who’d do what. She was the good twin, the one who’d take on the mantle and turn into our mother. I was the bad twin, cigarettes and pot, older boys, running off to college in the big city and never calling home. (Wrong about the boys part, but not the older.) We didn’t have to talk about it. But that last summer before I went away, she said:

You’ll come back if something bad happens, won’t you?

Sunset; us sprawled on the roof, me half-heartedly smoking a joint, her painting her toenails. Electric blue. I remember that blue, her cornsilk bangs swinging into her eyes as she bent over, better than I remember her face sometimes. (I don’t have it anymore. Nobody tells you that about twins, that you can stop looking like each other.)

Isn’t something bad always happening?

Ha ha. You know what I mean.

Yeah, Chris, of course. Blood, water, blah blah.

You know, the original saying—

That’s an urban legend, nobody knows what the original saying is,

Ugh, you’re going to be such a hit at Barnard, you total pedant. She put down the nail polish and held out her pinky. Shake on it.

* * *

Bonnie waits for me at the end of the driveway. The house rises up behind them, a rickety grande dame with a bougainvillea cape, black walnuts scattered stinking across gravel and grass. In the dying light Bonnie’s frizzy red braids and the white paint and everything glow gold and soft-edged. They’re shirtless and in cutoffs, and as I pull up they worry a piece of skin right off their lower lip so hard blood beads. The scars across their chest spiral further than when I last saw them, dipping into their waistband, curling around their left pec—the thing inside creeps by inches, eating their life up a year at a time. Mortgaged to the hilt, just like the rest of us. Mom slowed it but didn’t stop it; Chris has been doing the same, and now it’ll be my turn. If I don’t fuck up.

“What the fuck,” I say, slamming the door.

“Good to see you too, Bills.”

“You couldn’t have been more specific?”

“The phone lines aren’t secure—Jesus wept, what did you get into?” They grab my jaw, fingers callous-rough and warm, and oh, it’s been too long since I’ve seen Bonnie, but not long enough for my body to forget those hands.

There are the Callahans, that’s the high priest and however many cousins make it to double digits. And there were, once, the Crays, and now just Bonnie. Lots of history there, and some of that history is teenagers orbiting around each other and turning into twenty-somethings screwing in the back of a truck after another funeral. Only thing Chris ever really yelled at me about. You shouldn’t lead them on, Billie, they still think you might move back. It’s not fair. Cigarette between her fingers—just like Mom, that pose. Smoke fractals around her head.

Oh, Christ. Dread emperor and all his fucking choir, that sucker-punch of a memory. Part of me expected her to come right down the porch steps and tell me I’d certainly taken my sweet time. Thought she’d be waiting, like always. Callahans die young, but not this young; I thought we had time. I lived like we did, like there’d always be room to fix it all up and say everything I’d meant to say.

Good joke, Billie. You should know better.

Now there’s just me, all alone. One half of the circle, spokes all crumbling. The girl who put her hands around my neck in the water of our mother’s womb has gone and left me all alone, and if I didn’t feel it in my bones in the city, I do now, here at home wrapped in the smell of bougainvillea blossoms and cut grass and Bonnie. Real things don’t happen there, where the dreams of humans are so strong you can choke on them. Real things happen here, and I am here.

Bonnie sees it on my face before I can pull away. “I’m sorry.”

I’d feel a lot better if they’d give me a proper fight. But I’m a goddamned grownup, and I know better. They were the one who had to be here for whatever the hell went down; it’s not fair. I put a hand over my eyes for a second. “Ran into some trouble on the road,” I say, and give them the short version.

“Sounds familiar,” Bonnie says.

“Since when do they get this close?”

“Since now, I guess. C’mon inside. Everyone’s waiting.”

* * *

Here’s me and Chris’s favorite bedtime story, the way it all started:

Once upon a time, back between the two big wars, a coal mine blew. And the Callahan down in that mine, in the killing dark with his lungs full of soot and poison, borne on the tide of all his friends’ dying, reached out past the walls of the world—past time and space and sense, to the throne of that  sleeping endless thing called Azathoth only because smaller beings crave names, called king only because even its sleep there is nothing that could master it. The truest thing in all the worlds, the eight-pointed star in the center of its endless symphony of pipers, the ever-burning mad sovereign, the god who knows all and so knows nothing.

And first that Callahan begged, I want to live, I’ll give you anything. And when begging brought no answer, for the god-king possesses not understanding nor mercy nor speech, he took. He tore off some sliver of that power with his teeth, swallowed down, cradled it in his belly like a child, and he walked out of the earth whole.

When he died his daughter cut it from his stomach and put it on her tongue, and she saw that it was good, amen.

* * *

Everyone means a handful of cousins, the twins, and Chris’s dog, arrayed around the scarred wooden table in the middle of the kitchen—the table that instantly makes me feel twelve again, swapping Chris my history homework for her math while Mom chopped vegetables. The dog lifts its graying head at the sound of my footsteps, and when I of course am not Chris, lets out a dejected huff and closes its one eye. Thalia, the oldest of us at a princely thirty-six; Sebastian, her little brother, though not so little after all those summers hauling haybales; Rhiannon, who used to be the baby; the twins, Sidony and Luce. Lucasta, properly, which I always wanted to tease Chris about, saddling those kids with the same kind of names Mom dumped on us; but she was so proud of them, those tiny wrinkly babies in her arms, and I just couldn’t do it. Anyway, nicknames stick just fine, look at us.

Look at them, just six, but fuck, it’s like somebody stuck an old photo of us in the kitchen. Not from their faces; they’ve got their dad’s curly black hair, the big nose, nothing like Chris or me until you get a good look at the eyes. (Angel was a good man, before the same thing that happens to all of the Callahans happened to him by proxy. Chris loved him a lot. Everybody did.) It’s the way they sit, knees knocking together, shoulders hunched, looking up through their bangs at the aunt they’ve met maybe three times. The looks they slide at each other.

A better aunt would go hug the orphan waifs. A better sister would’ve been here sooner. A better future matriarch would think of something kind to say, something that would break the silence easily. All I say is,

“She’s in the chapel?”

“Yes,” says Thalia, mercifully omitting the obviously. We never put our dead anywhere else. She puts the kettle on and starts grabbing things out of the spice cabinet, dumping them into the mortar and pestle. A pungent smell rises. “Sit down, let me get you something for that mouth.”

I sit down. “What else’ve you put up?” Meaning, protections.

Rhiannon holds up her drop spindle. She can’t do sound, so she does thread. Ideas more than real things, suggestions in the warp and weft, enough, I hope, to buy us time.

“They won’t hold that long,” Sebastian says.

“Wow, make everybody feel better about this, why don’t you,” Bonnie says, leaning on the back of my chair.

“How exactly are we supposed to feel better when Chris is—”

“Guys,” I say. Their mouths click shut. And even though I used my shut-up-and-be-productive voice, here, with them, that is something only Chris should’ve been able to do. I dig my nails into my palms until the lump in my throat goes away. “Walk me through what happened.”

“We aren’t sure exactly.” Thalia has her back to me while she sets the herbs to steep, but that doesn’t hide the tremor in her voice. “She said something about having met someone she shouldn’t have, and then when she went to the post office—some kids from town found her. By the road.”

“What time?”

“Maybe four? Four-thirty?”

“Took their sweet time getting here,” mutters Sebastian. He uncorks a hip flash and takes a long pull, and then pointedly sets himself to scrubbing the dishes Thalia dirtied.

I think back. “About the same time I made a new friend on the subway, then.”

Thalia makes one of her unreadable noises, which could mean oh fuck and could mean I thought so. “Girls, tell her what you told me.”

“Mommy had a bad dream,” says one of the kids. Sidony, I think. I should be sure; they’re my nieces. The other one, probably Luce, gives her a look. She picks at the scab on her knee.

“Hey, quit that, you’ll make it bleed again,” says Bonnie.

Sidony quits it. “She said we had to watch out for mirrors.” Her mouth purses up, an expression so exactly like Chris’s I could scream. Probably-Luce leans against her shoulder and ducks her head so her hair swings in her eyes, and that, somehow, is one of my old gestures. The one I used when I was about to cry.

Rhiannon puts her hands on their shoulders—thanks, Rhiannon—and kisses the top of probably-Luce’s head. This is the part where if I had, I don’t know, a single ounce of my shit together I’d say something comforting, but Thalia plonks my tea down and I drink it instead, hot enough to scorch, the harsh taste of the herbs wiping everything else out of my mouth.

“Mirrors?” I say.

“She said not to look.”

* * *

The only person I ever told about my family’s whole deal—my first real girlfriend, the first person besides Bonnie I thought I could be in love with; the first person I killed, because when I learned I couldn’t live in the box she was trying to build for me, she decided she didn’t want me to live anywhere else either—about the rites, the bargain, the truth of things, Azathoth, all that, asked me: but babe, what do you get out of it? Why do you keep doing this if you all die young?

Pick your poison: the perks. The power. The sheer fucking rush of it, of knowing what everything looks like with the skin peeled off, of having one firecracker of a backstage pass to everything that ever was, or will be, or might be. Entropy at your beck and call; snap your fingers and reality bends; open an atom to watch the colors bloom.  (When your girlfriend puts her hands around your throat, tear her cells open, one by one, until she drowns on the floor of the apartment you just moved into, on the rug you picked out together. Drip your blood into her mouth and wipe her very name from the face of the world.)

Because to leave that knowing behind, to give it all up—to lock ourselves into this cardboard rattletrap people call reality when we’ve touched the truth—just for a few more years going around the sun? Can you imagine? Tell me someone who would really choose that. Find me just one.

Because there are other things in this world like us. Hungrier, sharper than us. Things that have our scent, and won’t be so kind as to turn around and go home just because we say we’re done with all this now, actually.

Once you’re in, you’re in. 

* * *

“Did she say anything else?”

“No,” says Probably-Luce, not looking up.

“Are you going to eat her?” Sidony asks.

“Part of her. The same part one of you’ll eat someday, if this works.” They probably already know which is which, even if they don’t realize it yet.

“If?” says Thalia. Rhiannon shoots her a look that says, more or less, way to be encouraging.

I put down my mug and press the heels of my hands to my eyes. “It’s always if. You know that.” Especially when it’s off schedule, and the wrong sister.

Back in the ‘50s, the rite failed; my grandmother’s brother, so the stories go, faltered at the last second with his hand on the knife, couldn’t cut his mama open. She bloomed, a thousandspores of pure uncut possibility. That was the real reason for the mudslide that swept away half the town and killed two hundred people, among them three-fourths of the Cray family, and Gran barely got it back under control when she took the sliver into herself. So, that’s what we’re looking at, second-worst-case scenario.

Bonnie rests a hand on my shoulder. I don’t think about how warm their fingers are, I don’t lean back into the touch, I don’t think about it. I don’t. I finish my tea.

At the edge of my awareness, something goes: crack.

Ice floods me, East River in February ice, grinding right down into my bones. The mug slips from my fingers, slopping the rest of the tea onto the table. Rhiannon sits bolt upright, a hand at her throat; in the sink a dish smashes. Around us the light goes a yellowish, harsh color, the kind you get right before a bad thunderstorm, and the pressure drops so fast my ears pop. One of the twins, I can’t see which, whimpers. Azathoth, your handmaid begs: don’t let anything happen to them, Jesus Christ.

Sebastian says, “Fuck.”

Thalia says, “We’re out of time.”

I stand up. “Get the kids into the basement.” The basement’s not any safer than the rest of the house. But it’s got two exits and it’s furthest away from the chapel; if they need to run, that’s the best place to run from.

“What’s going on?” probably-Luce demands, and Sebastian says, “Not now, Sidony,” as he swings her up in his arms and Rhiannon grabs the other one—so I was wrong after all, good job, Billie—and Thalia swipes a carving knife from the block.

The door bangs shut behind them. I grab the second biggest knife—should be the special one, no time for that now—and realize Bonnie’s still here. They open their mouth to say something, and stop.

“Take the van,” I tell them. “If it looks like I’m losing—”

“Don’t.”

So many other things I want to say to them, to make up for all those years I wasn’t here, to make up for the fact I only came back now—so many things the words are all falling over each other, and all of them are the wrong words anyway, and my skin crawls from the weight of the mirror-thing puncturing through our defenses. Each one gives, bubbles popping, and I want to reach for Bonnie but my hands don’t feel like mine, I want to open my mouth but my tongue is loam and roots, shuddering at the weight of unwanted footsteps. Their eyes are so huge and dark and lost, and I’ll fall in if I’m not careful, and then where will we be?

“Don’t lose,” Bonnie says, a little more softly, but they take the keys anyway.

I step onto the porch just as the clouds open up.

* * *

The clouds reach for each other with fingers of lighting as I make my way down the steps and across the yard. My palm’s sweating on the knife hilt already. Colors flicker on and off, like horror-movie cliché fluorescents—smeary green and purple-pink to black and white and back again, searing bright and flat. Rain beads and runs on my skin, in my hair, too thick, too cold; a chip of hail bounces off my shoulder and hits the grass steaming.

And something looms behind me. The back of my neck prickles as my mind throws up images. My what big teeth you have fangs, claws long as my arm, and the eyes, I know what the eyes are already. My neck starts to turn without my input. Look at me, Billie. Just one look.

One look and it gets me; one look and it’s real. I grit my teeth and fix my eyes on the glimpse of the chapel through the green-grayscale-green again of the trees, the fluttering shadows, every muscle down my back and in my shoulders screaming, and speed up. Not running, you never run first—it gives the other guy something to chase, Gran told us—but I go as fast as I can, mud sucking at my shoes, hair plastered to my forehead, weaving through golfball chunks of hail, and the thing that’s almost but not quite actually at my heels laughs. Round one.

I burst into the trees. In the bower of big maples and dogwoods and an undying sprawl of kudzu sits the chapel. The being-followed feeling snaps clean off. Full sunlight filters down through the leaves and turns the clapboard gold; it dies at my second step into it, fading to gray-yellow stormlight. Everywhere but the eight-pointed star carved on the door, lagging a few seconds behind the rest of reality. I touch it for luck. I open the door.

There she is.

She lies on her back on a catafalque—Mom always made us call us that and Chris used to not be able to pronounce it and got so mad—her hands folded over her chest, her pale hair splayed out around her head. She wears the blue dress she met Angel in, her favorite. In the flickery blue-white of the ghostlights that ring the ceiling, she looks at once like the eighteen-year-old I left behind for the city, and the twenty-five-year-old, and older than I’ve ever seen her. Half a stranger. More freckles, more wrinkles. Not a mark on her.

“Hi, Chris.”

Oh, god, I’m sorry. Sorry I went so far away, sorry I never came home. Sorry you got me, and not someone who wouldn’t fuck this up.

I want her to sit up. I want her to open her eyes and say, what were you waiting for?

If I reached I could have it, almost. I could make what’s left move. But the part of her that matters is far away and singing, gone from me forever in the form I knew her. There’s only meat, and the thing I need nestled inside it.

Thunder rumbles. Enough with the self-pity; what am I, a Lifetime movie? I undo the buttons of my sister’s dress, and I set the point of the knife over her stomach and cut. The skin parts so easily (of course it does, the thing inside eats through dead matter so much faster than life) and blood rushes over my hand. I reach inside the cave of her torso, and the world spins apart.

Think a forest fire, a shipwreck. Think the moment on something tall, when you imagine, what if I jumped?, except you do, you do jump. Think a glass breaking and the shatter goes on forever. Think  the earth turning itself inside out, think the ocean swallowing a glacier, think molten aluminum in an anthill but all the ants are running towards it—think none of that.

 I raise my hand to my mouth and I’m bleeding color, bleeding ultraviolet; I swallow the razored thing and I’m on the slab and I’m standing in the chapel and I am the chapel and the dirt and the force that spins the dirt and the furnace of the star. I could pinch my thumb and forefinger together and all of this would go fft, it’s so small, and the universe would never notice, the dreaming emperor on his throne would never twitch, the music not so much as pause.

The music. Purer than sound, truer than truth, skirling razor-notes; I know I can’t tell which one is Chris, but I look for her, and my eye falls on him. It. Azathoth.

I fall. But it’s not falling, there is no falling here, the here that is everywhere—

(if everything is happening

nothing is happening)

There’s something I’m supposed to do, something important, but I is gone again, never was, everything tumbling, shredding, uncountable shards of possibility screaming between the notes that play around the throne, the endless storm at the lynchpin of all possible things, the unopening eyes vaster than worlds, each lash long enough to crush galaxies beneath it, His mouth in that forever smile—

Somewhere else things shaped like people stalk across the green, and a tiny redhaired blot unzips their skin; a ribsy-sharp, laughing thing rises up, and that means—what does it mean?

(don’t lose

a pinkie hooked around mine, shake on it, storm-scent on the air, a glittering skyscraper-fanged horizon, red hair tangled in my hands, thick smoke on my tongue)

It surges around me, the perfect knowing, the storm of the throne. The white-hot birth of all things when all places were the same place, the star-pure forge at the heart of the world—the far-flung darkness, the sliding-apart, the winding-down, perfect chaos reasserting itself, unchecked growth blooming into decay—I only need to reach, and I can have it all. I know it all. I can stay here forever, in the center of my open eye, in the arms of the dreaming king. 

But I promised, didn’t I? I promised. And something is coming, something is coming now.

I hurtle back into myself just as the blow hits. Six feet to the right of me, a fist against the face of the world, striking with a bonebreaking crunch. The east wall of the chapel’s gone. The rest of it’s turned to glass. A smoking, bleeding hole splits the earth, runnels of gore and ash. Blood drips down my chin and my throat’s aflame and the entire world presses in on me—cage of ribs and skin, collar of vocal cords, gravity a huge hand pushing me to my knees by the split-open husk of Chris. It’s too heavy, it’ll drag me apart, the flesh and the power both; I can’t even hold the idea of me in my mind.

I look up. And in the mirror of what was the chapel wall, I see—

Somebody in over her head. The prodigal daughter who can’t even make good, not even now, when everything’s on the line. A pale shadow of my sister, a fuckup, a husk leaking power I was always too weak to hold, nothing. What a fucking joke, that I’m still standing when we all know how this ends. Aren’t we all laughing? Isn’t it funny, how I can’t even lie down and die properly?

It would be easier, wouldn’t it? Let all this go, follow Chris. Just…stop. I was never meant to be the one to hold this power; that was her, and now she’s gone. I gave the others enough time to get away.   It would be alright.

And behind the mirror, with the part of me that needs no eyes, I know the glass-eyed footsoldiers surround the thing Bonnie set free. The thing, dancing on the puppet-strings of Bonnie’s tendons, fed full by Bonnie’s blood, brings a guillotine-claw down through one’s head, and a dozen others throw themselves at it. And one, just one, but that is enough, arrows for Bonnie, who lies speculumed open on the grass.

I heave breath into my lungs, these fleshy foreign things in the hot wet carnal press of what is only halfway my body anymore.

Do you think you’re telling me anything I don’t know already? Do you think you’re showing me something new? You think you stop me this easy?

The mirror shatters.

The chapel crumples outward around me. Steaming, bloody-mouthed and bloody-handed, I step out, and I know. I know again. Bounded inside this fragile skull, yes, I do. Wilhelmina Callahan, hand and gesture of Azathoth, his least and smallest incarnation. High priestess.

The power surges around me, in me, the chaos-waves. I could erase this all, and set it back the way I want—only say the word.

I have time to think, what if I can’t come back? And then I shove that thought down, because walking the paths between and calling up new ones is what I’m for. Chaos in one hand. Order in the other. Here and now in the first flush of my strength, with Chris’s blood still in my mouth and the stars just right, this time, I can be half a god. If I want. So was the bargain made, blood of my blood, flesh of my flesh, so was fire stolen from the nameless mad god and put into my belly for me to bear.

And lo, my decree comes down from on high, from the tumbling screaming cells of me, as it were a noise of thunder: fuck off.

The great cracked hall of mirrors, its fleshly servitors, Bonnie’s flesh-thing, all turn as one to look at me.

“Billie, my girl,” says the cop, bending over Bonnie. “We can make a deal, can’t we?”

Oh, it’s a little late for that, don’t you think?

I laugh. I snap my fingers.

My tongue’s a wafer of fire, my teeth throb lava-hot; my insides shift and churn and claw at each other, rib against lung, liver against gut, blood against bone. Atoms to atoms, dust to dust. Wanting to starving. I wipe aside the pattern of the mirror, scatter it, and it screams, they scream, but it’s just an echo. A dream. A blank canvas to work with, and from it I draw a world where the mirror simply—isn’t. So easy. I’m flying, and it is so, so easy. Just this once. The flesh-thing whimpers, and I reach for that too, and imprison it again inside the person-skin. I could fly forever.

But I’ve walked the way back once already. Not so hard now to fall.

The world spins, centered on my feet, until I take a step. Then it settles. (No, it doesn’t. If I looked—don’t look—I’d feel it again. The Earth hurtling in its orbit, the radiation-songs of the particles sleeting down, everything.) Gravity tilts around me, and my knees give out. Your daughter begs forbearance, o king, I think in a haze, In eternity will I serve you, in death and after—fuck me, my fucking head. I push myself to my hands and knees and crawl across the churned-up dirt, the flattened grass and the puddles of reddened mud, the ripped-out roots, to Bonnie.

They lie on their side, blood on their face, blood on their chest. Red stars in their eyes. But nothing they won’t heal from, I see with relief so strong it makes me dizzy again. They rasp half a word, the beginning of my name, and I take their head in my gore-cracked heads and settle it on my lap. My hands and thighs hum where I touch them; I’m still on the good edge of the power high, but only my fingernails. I stroke their sweat-dark hair back from their forehead.

“We won,” I tell them, “We did it. We won.”

They smile, or I think they smile. It’s so hard to see their face. The marching atoms of them, the endless scaffolding inside every cell of their curls, inside the sweat on their forehead, in each flake of skin; the twist and curl of their waiting death, the rage-lust song of the thing inside their scar—like a haze over them. The patterns inside my own hand, fractals on fractals, held together by the thinnest of threads. Snow-flake fragile, these lattices of order in the wilds of reality. So easy to snap. So easy to let go just a little, and watch it all fly apart. 

But I won’t.

End.

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K.M. Carmien (she/her) is a librarian who lives on the East Coast. She loves a good cup of coffee, Octobers, and her two cats. She has been previously published in Shimmer Magazine.

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