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By Megan M. Davies-Ostrom

From CHM #32 February 2023

My family hated my brother’s girlfriend, Mia. Mom called her a cheap, godless heathen. Dad called her aggressive and uppity. Uncle Phil joked that Darrell ‘always did go for crazy’. Mia was none of those things. Or maybe she was all of them and just didn’t care. She was strong. She was present, confident, and unapologetic. She refused to be ashamed of taking up space in the world. TBH, Mia intimidated the living crap out of me, but I loved her and wished I had half her balls. A girl needed that kind of give-no-fucks to make it out alive, especially with a family like mine.

That said, Uncle Phil wasn’t totally wrong about Darrell. He liked a thrill, and his last girlfriend was absolutely, totally, beyond-a-doubt bonkers. Julie Trim: beautiful, hot-headed, and crazy as a bag of coked-up weasels. They’d been high school sweet-hearts with twin passions for over-the-top drama and collecting weird junk. Forget tragicrafting; my brother and Julie had specialised in rage-tiquing. They’d brawled their way through every garage sale, antique store, and curio-shop east of Toronto. The make-up sex must have been mind-blowing, that’s all I can say.

When they finally broke up for good, Julie went ballistic. Egged our house, put a brick through his windshield, ran him off the road. She sent him a dead rat by Purolator. It’s shitty, but I was glad when she died in wreck a few months later. She scared me.

Whatever my family thought, Mia was the best thing that ever happened to us.

#

The earrings were glittering cascades of multi-colour raindrops. They caught the light from the neon signs across the way and painted it across Mia’s pale cheek like battle paint. She held them up to one ear and then the other, stretching her long neck to inspect her reflection in the vendor’s mirror.

“They’re pretty,” I offered. They were, but then again, everything was pretty on Mia. She had that Rumpelstiltskin gift of turning dross to gold. Just look at my brother. He’d been going nowhere at light speed before they met. Now he had a good job and was taking night courses at Algonquin College. If he kept it up, he’d be the first one in the family with a diploma.

“Yeah, they don’t suck, eh?” Mia tossed the earrings back onto the vendor’s table. “Where’d your dumbass brother get to, Dee? He’s got my cash.” There was more affection in that one offhand insult than a lifetime of my mom’s insincere pet names.

“I could get them.” I wanted to get them, because they made her happy. Mia’s smiles took the scary out of the world. Anyway, it was the least I could do given they were letting me stay rent-free. No job, no boyfriend, no prospects; I’d been drifting since graduation. Fumbling my way to nowhere, just like pre-Mia Darrell. I still had no job, and the last thing I needed was another dead-end boyfriend, but the spare room in Mia and Darrell’s Ottawa apartment was hands-down better than my parents’ basement in Cobden.

“Thanks, but no. Never borrow money, never owe anyone anything. Life rules, kiddo. Come on.” She grabbed my arm and pulled me back into the swirling Byward Market crowd. It was Halloween-busy; a crush of tourists, couples out for late-night dinner and drinks, and costumed college kids, ready to hit the clubs. She cut a path, and I followed in her wake like a baby duck, overwhelmed by the lights and sounds and smells. Hot, sweet grease and sugar from the Beaver Tail stand, that artificial fruity red tang from the slushy place down the street. Chocolate and fries and perfume and fall leaves. Sweat and vomit and booze too. 

Mia pulled me down George Street and right onto Dalhousie. “He’s probably already at Metro, picking out the steaks. Would it kill him to wait just once?” She sighed dramatically as we hooked a left onto Rideau. The crowds were thinner here, but not by much. Transports belched past on their way to the highway, drowning out the tinny music spilling from open-doored stores and overhead speakers. Whoever’d made the decision to route truck traffic from Quebec through the downtown core was a few cigs short of a pack, but it was all part of the Ottawa feel, to me. Nothing like Toronto or Montreal, but more than cosmopolitan enough for a small-town kid.

“Do you see me going on ahead when he wants to look at that trash he calls antiques? No. I stand there like nice girl and smile and nod while he wastes his cash on collectible crap. Just look at that thing he dragged home yesterday. I mean, seriously. What are we supposed to do with a whole-ass deer skeleton wearing a Santa hat?” She laughed loud enough to turn heads.

“Halloween decoration my ass. But hey, his cash, his crap. And who am I to talk; I would’ve bought those earrings in a hot sec, even though I got twenty pairs just like ‘em. I’m a sucker for sparkle.” She shook her head. “Never try to change someone, kiddo. That’s another rule. You gotta love them for who they are, warts and all. If you can’t do that, it’s time to do everyone a favour and bail.”

She shot me one of those fierce, patented Mia smiles I’d come to love, and I smiled back. I wasn’t sure what either Darrell or I’d done to deserve her, but I wouldn’t trade her for the world.

The blocky brick exterior and bright red sign of the Metro loomed ahead. Mia tightened her grip on my arm and dragged me past the pan-handlers and smokers crowding the entrance way and into the grubby foyer.

“There he i—” She stopped abruptly, and I jostled into her. I blinked away the sudden brightness of the fluorescents and tried to see what had stopped her cold.

Oh.

Darrell, my brother, in front of the gum ball machines. Kissing another woman.

Mia exploded. “Bitch, what the fuck? Get your face off my boyfriend!”

Darrell saw us and his eyes widened. I knew my brother, and that wasn’t guilt. It was fear. The strange woman had him in a bear-hug, arms pinned tight to his sides. I could see his muscles straining. He reached a trembling a hand toward us.

“Oh fuck,” Mia whispered. “Not this, not now. God-damned Halloween…I should’ve fucking figured.” She strode toward the struggling pair, leaving me to scramble after.

“Now what? What’s going on?”

Mia didn’t answer. She grabbed the woman’s dark, glossy hair and wrenched her head back. “Bitch, I said let him go!”

“No!” It was a hiss, and I jumped back with a yelp. What the holy hell? Was that who I thought it was? I shook my head. No way. Couldn’t be.

 Couldn’t be hissed again. “You go. He’s mine!”

“In your wildest, bitch,” Mia snarled, and drove a fist into the woman’s stomach.

The woman exploded. Not like angry. She literally exploded. A choking cloud of dust filled the lobby, and I threw my arms over my head as bones clattered to the scuffed linoleum around us.

Silence. Dust settled. Everyone was staring. At me, at Mia and Darrell, at the pile of bones that now littered the floor. Bones and…a Santa hat?

Something that looked like a rib trembled and slid across the floor with a slow, gritty scrape.

“Shit shit shit, here we go again! Come on!” Mia grabbed me with one hand and Darrell with the other and dragged us back onto the street. We plowed through the loiterers to a chorus of shouts and indignation and pelted down the sidewalk, heading east toward King Edward.

“What is it?” I cried. “Who was that? I thought I saw—”

“Shut up! Move! We gotta go!” Mia picked up speed. Her grip was iron, and she towed me along. Darrell kept pace on her other side, blank-faced with fear. I knew that look from when we were kids, back when we used to run hell-for-leather for the fields every time Dad came home drunk and itching for a fight.

“What’s going on?” I gasped.

“She’s after us, that’s what.” Mia threw a glance over her shoulder. “Run!”

I followed her gaze and wished I hadn’t.

It was a deer. Or at least, the skeleton of one. All skull and bone and nothing else but a bright red Santa hat perched jauntily on its antlers. It was galloping down the sidewalk behind us, scattering the crowd, closing the distance with every stride.

We reached King Edward and didn’t pause. Mia threw herself across the road, dragging Darrell and I with her. Into traffic, weaving between cars, dodging bellowing trucks. A pick-up whipped past so close I felt its tailwind, and a little red hatchback came to a honking, stuttering stop two inches from Mia’s knee-high Docs. We kept going. The driver swore, shook a fist, and then screamed as who-know-how-many pounds of skeletal deer crashed across his hood. We dodged another transport and darted around a cyclist to make the other side.

Uphill now, toward Cobourg Street. Mia and Darrell’s Lowertown apartment was in a complex across from MacDonald Gardens Park. If we could make it to the apartment, we’d be safe.

Horns blared and tires screeched behind us. A thud I felt as much as heard, and the rattle of bone on metal. Someone hit it! I slowed to look, but Mia yanked me onward.

“Come on, Dee! That’ll barely slow it down.”

The breath burned in my lungs as we dashed up Rideau and left onto Cobourg. Past run-down townhomes and converted Victorians, their red-brick facades muddy in the dull light of the streetlamps. Screams, shrill in the warm night air, followed behind us, along with the sharp clatter of bony hooves on pavement. Mia was right. It was still coming.

We darted up the walk to their building, Darrell fumbling the keys out of his pocket. Into the lobby we ran, Mia chanting, “Come on, come on,” as he scrabbled with the lock. Then we were through, with the heavy glass door shut behind us.

I staggered to a stop and let my breath go in rush. I was dizzy, panting.

“Okay, what—” It was Darrell who grabbed me this time. He bundled me down the hall and into the waiting elevator.

“Forty feet to the door.” Mia counted on ringed fingers, her black-lacquered nails flashing in the florescent light. “Another what, couple seconds to get the door open? We can do it.” She grabbed my shoulders and gave me a little shake. “As soon as we’re out, Dee, you run, you get me? Right for the door. Darrell’ll be right behind you; he’ll open it up. I need you to grab the baseball bat and throw it to me. Can you do that?”

I nodded.

“You sure? ‘Cause we’re only gonna get one shot at this. I need you to be sure.”

“I’m sure. I can do it.” I was aimless and jobless and a lot of other things. Stunned and confused and scared out of my mind. But I wasn’t useless. Not for Mia. Not when she needed me.

She turned to Darrell. “You good, babe? You got this?”

He nodded, and I saw my own fear and determination echoed on his face. Mia’s faith made us better people than our parents’ curses ever had.

“Alrighty then. Let’s do this, motherfuckers!”

When the elevator doors opened, I ran. No hesitation, no looking back. Darrell thundered at my heels. We reached the apartment door and skidded to a stop. The rumble continued. A hollow, echoing clamor from back the way we’d come. From the stairwell at the far end of the hall.

Darrell shoved his key into the lock, turned, and threw open the door just as the heavy fire door at the end of the hall burst open. Past Darrell, past Mia, I saw it. The deer with its horrible jaunty hat. It lowered its head, aimed cruel, many-pronged antlers toward us, and charged.

I lunged into the dark apartment and cast around for the bat. There it was, right by the door. I grabbed it and scrambled back into the hall.

“Mia!” She caught my throw one-handed.

She whirled, adjusted her grip, and grand-fucking-slammed. Right into that grinning, empty skull. She hit it so hard its antlers went through the drywall. And then she kept hitting, pounding it into the dirty carpet till there was nothing left but bone dust and a hat. When she was done, Darrell scooped up the hat and shoved it down the trash chute.

#

Twenty minutes later, Mia dumped the last of the dust into a plastic grocery bag and sent it down the trash chute after the hat with an imperious one-finger salute. Darrell was out getting take-out. And Mia’s rain-drop earrings. She’d said it was the least she deserved after all that.

 I leaned my broom against the wall and rubbed my back. “So now will you tell me what that was? ‘Cause for a moment, I thought…I thought I saw something I couldn’t have.”

Mia snorted. “Sure you want to know?”

I nodded. I’d just been chased down Rideau Street by a dead deer wearing a Santa hat. Of course I wanted to know.

She shrugged. “You do you, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Once it’s out, you can’t put this one back in the package. It’ll fuck your head, that’s for sure.”

“I want to know.”

“Fair enough then. You’re right. You did see her. Your brother’s ex. Julie fucking Trim.”

I gaped. “But…how…?”

“Fucked if I know.  I don’t have a clue how that supernatural, ghosty shit works. It’s all horror movies to me. My aunt’s into all that; séances and crystals and whatever. After the first time, I got her to put a whammy on my old baseball bat. Always trust a Slugger. Works every time.”

“First time…every time? This has happened before?”

“Yep. Five and counting. Idiot keeps bringing her home. Last time it was an action figure. One of those collectibles they used to like. Time before that it was a god-damned used car. Bitch tried to go all Christine on my ass. She’s your classic O.A.G.F.”

“OAGF?”

“Overly attached girlfriend. Even dead, bitch can’t take no for an answer.”

End.

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Megan M. Davies-Ostrom is a Canadian author with a penchant for literary horror and dark speculative fiction. Her short stories have appeared in a variety of venues including Fantasy Magazine, Cosmic Horror Monthly, and anthologies such as Dark Waters and Bodies Full of Burning. Megan lives in Ontario with her husband, daughter, and two (strange) cats. When not writing or carryingout the duties of her civil-servant alter-ego, she enjoys hiking, reading, and playing board games.

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