Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Ripped from the Pages of Cocktails & Cancer (Formerly Anosognosia)

Here's another brief excerpt from my upcoming book, Cocktails & Cancer (Formerly Anosognosia). This is the part where my testicular cancer is medically acknowledged for the first time. It was a weird day...




-4-

Imagine me in a hospital bed. The room is bright with morning sun. My roommate lies snoring behind a curtain. When he’s awake he doesn’t speak English. The TV is on. Some program director with personal problems is taking out his hostilities by running a nine-hour marathon of Mayberry RFD. I had regained my mind only to lose it again to the Tube.
     Delirium eventually shrinks like a puddle in the sun, leaving only a parched plot of mantic crust, the cracks of which can be read like runes. The dry bed of my recent delirium exposed new evidence in my personal fossil record (we all have one) and I saw the thought of worms again, twice (although I was still uncertain as to their significance) and the puzzling girl with the Louise Brooks haircut. The teabags took on greater importance. And I had chicken McNuggets on my mind all the time. What it all meant was still up for debate but I meticulously catalogued it all. Each small detail carried an equation. I was certain.
     So. I’d been diagnosed with testicular cancer (also chronic alcoholism but that wasn’t a big surprise). The doctor[1] that brought me the bulletin was young, flabby and pale. He looked like a Christian ventriloquist. He asked me to call him Eddie. Sure, Doc. He was nervous and probably thought he was bringing me devastating news and I played it that way but I couldn’t help thinking that cancer was the lucky break I’d been waiting for. I experienced no existential crisis, no fear, anger or sadness. I was, well, sort of elated, actually. Comforted (relieved) that the sad little movie of my life might have a surprise happy ending. My circumstances had finally caught up to my self-pity. That night I slept like a baby on Valium. Finally, I thought, the release and liberation of death without leaving behind the ugly confusion of guilt and anger that suicide ignites. I saw myself comfortably wasting away in front of the TV, huffing medical marijuana, drinking wine, and watching George Weiss movies. And when death finally gathered me up, I’d leave behind only reflective, diminishing grief.
     Whereas, if I were to blow my brain apart with a shotgun, leaving a fleshy mess and some vague, superficial “Goodbye cruel world” note...
     Well, that’s just not nice.
     A nurse came silently into the room with hushed white shoes. She checked my IV and then turned to me and said, “How you doing, Henry?” Her nurse-shirt had colorful bunnies all over it.
     “Okay, thanks.”
     “Do you need anything? You want me to help you wash up?”
     “No thanks. Maybe later.”
     “It might make you feel better. And it’s no big deal. This is my job. You don’t have to be embarrassed. I do this every day.”
     “Oh, no. It’s not that. I just. I’m watching this.” I pointed to Mayberry RFD.
     The ultrasound I’d endured the day before had cured me of any modesty.
     After cooling my DT heels in the bustling hospital hall, I was moved and kept kenneled in an examination room for what felt like an hour and thirty-seven minutes with nothing to look at or do except sit and think. Four white walls enclosed a small sterile area utilitarily decorated in a Spartan medical motif. Mysterious little gizmos and empty fluorescent space. There was a chair. A padded table covered in deli paper. The white no-smell of cotton. A room designed to be dull. Even the calendar (the sole civilian thing on the wall) offered nothing more than a month’s worth of vacant dates.
     The doctor, Edwin, came into the room behind a quick, perfunctory knock.
     “Hello, Henry. How you holding up, my man?”
     My man? “Okay,” I said.
     “Great. We’re trying to get you set up with a room. It’s been crazy today, more than usual. In the meantime, let me take a look at you. Can you lie back for me?”
     I did. He pressed my abdomen with a gloved hand. “Does this hurt?”
     “No.” Should I tell him?
     He pressed left. “How about here?”
     “No.” When I was a kid my mom got me Kojak bedsheets...
     “What about now?”
     “No.” I have to say something.
     “Okay, we’re gonna take you back outside for awhile. Hopefully a bed will become available soon. We’ll get you some more Valium too. You seem a little agitated.” He pulled off his glove with a snap.
     “Wait. There’s something else,” I said.
     “Oh?” he said. He dropped his gloves into a black canister, raising the lid with a foot pedal. Then he turned toward me, waiting with raised eyebrows.
     “Um,” I said. “One of my testicles is hard. Swollen. And I come without ejaculating. It feels the same but nothing comes out.” America’s sweetheart is a dead manatee on a dead-end street in a dead town.
     “Okay. Let me take a look,” he said, putting on fresh gloves.
     I pulled aside the hospital gown. “The left one.”
     For the first time in my life someone else’s hand was feeling my gonads.
     “Hmmmm...”
     I stared up at the gray ceiling of dead galaxies and thought about reincarnation. Instead of tumors and biopsies, I thought about a nervous, irritably-bowelled Virgin Mary yelling at Joseph. That putz. I remembered the episode of Ironside when the hippie housewife smokes a joint laced with something and in her narcotized confusion puts her baby in the oven and the Thanksgiving turkey in the crib. Or was that from a Dragnet?
     Doctor Eddie asked me questions about my balls, still probing, looking. I thought about something else.
     Finally, he stepped back and peeled off his gloves again.
     “Okay, Henry. I’m going to send you down for a CAT scan and an ultrasound. We need to get this looked at as soon as possible.”
     “What do you suspect?’ I asked, fastening my metaphorical seatbelt.
     “Nothing to be afraid of,” he lied.


[1] Dr. Edwin Blankenship


Arlene Martel in The Twilight Zone
  
More Fiction Here!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Bite

Lest ye forget, this novel is still ripe. 236 pages and the word "vampire" never appears. Madcap morbidity and minimum-wage surrealism. You have never seen the likes of RAZOR WIRE KISS! And that's really my X-ray on the back cover. Nuff said!


 This is a link

Monday, September 9, 2019

HOW CLARA WON THE WORLD



Clara hadn’t seen her monstrous reflection in almost three years. She hated her face. Couldn’t bear to look upon it or allow others to glimpse it. Her little visage made people sick. Grown women cried quietly.

     Twenty years ago her mother, gripped by contractions and racing to the hospital, lost control of her Buick Regal and smashed into a jagged pile of granite boulders. It was a miracle they’d both survived. Luckily, a police cruiser spotted the wreckage and called for an ambulance before blood loss brought the curtain down. At the hospital, her mother, Estelle, while being treated for deep lacerations and several broken bones gave birth to her daughter through a screaming cyclone of trauma and pain. They almost died, but didn’t.

     However, they were not undamaged. Estelle still walked with a limp and had shocking scars all over her body. She refused to talk about the accident. Sometimes she denied it ever happened.

     Clara was born with a fractured skull that didn’t heal right, causing her to mature into a hideous and grotesque gargoyle. So, eventually she hid from the world. From everyone. From THEM.  

     And now her ugliness was spreading to her soul. She had bad thoughts. Like poison ivy, its tendrils slipping around her and whispering the black thoughts. Thoughts of spectacular suicides. Of going on an armed rampage. Murdering her mother with an ax. The black thoughts were what experts called “intrusive.” They intruded all right. Sometimes her bruised brain projected horror movies full of violence, deformity and gore.  She didn’t know how or why such dark fantasies occurred to her. She didn’t even like horror movies for chrissakes.

     Clara had not left her bedroom in three years.  She spent a lot of time under her bed communing with the dust bunnies. She wrote down her dark, lacerating thoughts in spiral notebooks that she stacked in front of her window. Clara never looked outside for fear of glimpsing her reflection in the glass.

     She voided her bowels and bladder into an antique chamber pot that her mother dutifully emptied for her every morning. Her mother also brought her three square meals per day. She left the tray of food outside Clara’s locked door and then went downstairs to wait while Clara crawled out to claim the tray like a skittish alley cat.

    

Estelle hadn’t seen Clara’s face in three years. They talked through the locked door. Her daughter was a difficult, unstable creature she kept hidden and safe from the world. But Estelle also felt genuine relief that Clara had decided to make herself scarce. She told people Clara was away at college in New Jersey (Princeton). Not that anyone asked. The arrangement was mutually advantageous. Estelle maliciously gloated over her secret, sensitive daughter and Clara remained hidden to practice her Art. They had an understanding. They relied on each other to live. They were bound by NEED. The relationship was exhausting at times but Estelle did her best. Clara had a temper that could ignite and burst at the slightest provocation.  Luckily Estelle had no choice but to keep her distance...

    Meanwhile, Estelle started thinking seriously about guns again.



Clara lay under her bed, trying to leave her body and float downstairs. If she concentrated hard enough, she could do it. She’d done it before. She closed her eyes and pictured a pinpoint of light in the middle of her mind. Like a diamond casting colors out of refracted sunlight. She remained motionless, humming a long, single note and she felt the weight of her body relax and grow light and she opened her eyes and there she was, floating above the living room like an invisible balloon. She wondered if this was what death was like. She felt like a ghost. She looked at her hands. They were emanating a warm yellow haze.

     Her mother was sitting on the old threadbare couch, eating Pringles and watching television. Clara hadn’t watched TV in three years. It was probably a whole new world now. Clara let herself drift out of the living room, passing through the north wall of the house and then she was outside.

     “Don’t go too far,” said a friendly, familiar voice. “You don’t want to get stranded out here...”

     It was the voice of Sir Scurvy, a wise errant knight who helped her sometimes. He was fussy and kind of a nag and purely a figment of Clara’s wet imagination but she loved him just the same.He was like another father-figure she didn't need.

     The merciless sun was beating down on the yard, turning everything dry and fiery. She almost expected the bushes to explode into flames. Clara drifted like a dream into the trees, rising and gaining altitude. Then suddenly, Whoa, hold on. She had climbed to a height that made her dizzy and nervous and a spike of doubt suddenly stung her and she was jerked roughly down and back, through the wall and into the ceiling and then she crashed back into her stiff, leaden body and opened her eyes. She was back in her room, under the bed She felt sick. She felt something warm on her upper lip and realized her nose was bleeding. It happened sometimes. Astral projection was hard on the old coconut. She felt a punishing migraine coming on and she began yanking hairs out of her scalp to try to circumvent the mounting pain. Each quick pluck brought her relief. It brought her welcome respite from the strain her madness put on her body. It reminded her that she was human (for now).

     Sir Scurvy whispered something important in her ear and Clara began to focus on her hideous face and the soggy brain behind it. She pictured herself. She looked at herself with a brave, unflinching eye. Or maybe it was mere masochism. Clara could only look at herself from the inside.

     She felt sure that her dour, brooding mood was triggered by her proximity to the vile, disgusting old lady fermenting in her own rancid biological fluids directly below her. Just floating over the foul beast had gassed-up her soul with pus and blood and memories of murder. She really did not feel well at all but there was no place to go. She longed for a medieval physician to bleed her humors. She wanted to spill her evil, greasy shit all over the kitchen floor and then invite her friends over to slide around the floor as if it were ice. She needed more fun in her life. She vomited into the chamber pot. It tasted like swamp.  



Estelle trudged into the kitchen for another beer. It was two o’clock in the afternoon, too early for scotch but a couple of brews wouldn’t hurt her any. She returned to the couch just as Clara returned to her body and Estelle heard a loud, crashing thump above her. What on earth was that brat doing now? Something strange and dangerous no doubt. Clara lived in her own world. She’d been diagnosed with dysmorphic disorder soon after she graduated high school, three years ago.  Convinced she was a hideous mutant, Clara retreated from life; ending friendships, giving up on college, exiling herself to her room like a shell-shocked soldier in a fortified bunker. Sometimes Estelle thought it was a real shame; such a smart, young, attractive girl. She had sabotaged her future, her whole life, in the half-assed pursuit of magical power. Magical power that they both believed lay contained like a slow-burning nucleus within Clara’s battered brain. Estelle had wanted to take her daughter to a doctor, but Clara would have none of it. She’d launch into a violent temper-tantrum at the very mention of the idea. Clara couldn’t be forced to do anything. She was over eighteen. So that was that. Estelle didn’y have the means or the willpower to commit the girl.

     Estelle wondered how far Clara’s mental disorders (abilities) would run. She just kept getting worse and worse and more powerful and enigmatic. Sometimes she felt frightened and overwhelmed. It was like living with an erratic wizard. Clara was becoming more difficult to control. Estelle felt plagued, tortured; she never knew when she might discover a weasel drowning in the toilet or a rain of dead garter snakes on the roof of the house. Strange faces whispering in unknown tongues. Filthy Pilgrims straggled into town wearing their hard-won misery like medieval armor. All they wanted was to see her, maybe she would touch them. And then they disappeared, continuing the journey that would not end until white mushroom grew from the dirty creases in their faces.   

      Shit, Clara’s madness pummeled Estelle whenever she entered the house. It was never the same place twice. It had become Clara’s house, polluted with her power and paranormal happenings. She was evil and crazy and the house was eating up her negative energy like protein.

     She’d turned their beloved dog, Samson inside-out for barking one night. When Estelle got up and saw the quivering, leaking mass of dog guts she’d screamed her whole soul out.  

      The dog coughed up a thick clot of foul-smelling black slime. It hit the wall with a slap, then began to slide toward the floor.    
     Clara’s solitude and ascetic lifestyle had opened the door to a magical realm where space time and reality played by new rules. HER rules. Clara was shamanic. She existed in a delusion. An ever-changing illusion...



Clara lay on her stomach under her queen-sized bed, threading hairs plucked from her scalp into a spider-shaped talisman. She would imbue it with energy and use it as a tool. A secret confidant. A wise spy sent to guard the gold. A fortune, a weapon.  A rat whose only job was reconnaissance. 

     CLARA THOUGHT

    A carpenter ant crawled toward her and she communicated with it using chittering insect telepathy. The ant brought strange news from the nest. Clara gathered her thoughts together and projected them to the ant with sharp, almost painful focus. Her thoughts were white-hot needles transmitting vital information to the little black ant.  

     Sir Scurvy said, “Remember, you can’t always trust those ants.”

     “Oh be quiet. I can trust this one. Look at him. He’s such a cute little fella.”

    Sir Scurvy went, “Humph,” and stormed off.

     The ant’s tiny antennae twitched, then it crawled away, heading back to the nest to relay Clara’s message to the Queen. Clara went back to work, weaving her dark hair into the soft black spider that would scuttle through her dreams like paramecium in a pond. She hummed while she worked; smooth yet staccato tones. The sound was soft and soothing. Warm. Healing. She felt a nervous excitement as she realized her growing power. Her stomach tightened. Her brain bubbled.

     Anything was possible.

    

Three years ago Clara had been diagnosed with acromegaly, a disease that deformed her face and hands. Her features grew heavy and swollen. Twisted. She was ugly but her black, tumorous brain could do things. It let her do things. Things that would bring loss and injury to the assholes in her life. The fucking people in her life would pay with their lives.

     Sir Scurvy reminded her that she only had one person in her life. Her mother.

     No matter. Her incubation period had not concluded yet anyway. She still had things to do. To prepare. But it was hard. Hard work. She was monstrous to look upon and so she had to hide. She had to hide her face, her plans. Solitude, empty places, they all possessed power and if you moved into the right place at the key time the universe would reward you with mystical shit. Clara knew all the choice places. They charged her like a battery when she was there (wherever there was).

     But soon there would be an unveiling even more shocking and scandalous than her graduation stunt. She would reveal herself again and astonishment would deform the world. Or at least the town. She would demonstrate her power and women would faint; grown men would leak in their pants.

     Just thinking about it made her smile (inwardly).



Estelle poured her first scotch of the day and turned on Three’s Company. After she got a buzz on, she would fix Clara’s dinner. She just needed to stabilize herself first. Work up the courage to tackle the chore. Whiskey was a motivator. Whiskey conquered fear. Whiskey was a motivator.

     Clara ate the same thing every evening: fried mushrooms with truffles, beets, and a small steak cooked so rare Clara could slurp up the blood. Clara insisted on this meal. It was important to her. Any variation, no matter how slight and she would scream and threaten to burn the house down. Clara could accomplish the arson with ease. She could conjure fire, filling her hands with balls of flame. Estelle had seen it. Ever since the accident, fire was her friend. Her weapon of choice. When Clara was three (3) she was playing with matches she’d found behind the stairs and accidentally set her hair on fire.  Luckily, Estelle smelled the burning locks and quickly smothered the flames under a Shriner’s blanket. Clara received third-degree burns on her face, turning it into a ghastly, scar-ravaged fright-mask. She’d worn a black veil at school all the way through graduation. Many of the other students were afraid of her as she glided through the halls or sat like a black mannequin at the back of the class. She moved like a faceless phantom. She wore only black. Nobody stared at her directly. They were afraid. She could do things. They had heard things. She was like a malevolent character in a Medieval folk tale. She was never bullied. No one would dare. When she accepted her diploma, she removed the veil, finally revealing her hideous appearance to the entire school. It was the greatest moment of her life. Gasps of shock and a few choking screams. Nobody clapped.  Some cried. She was saying goodbye to the pathetic crowd with a dreadful self-reveal. If Clara had been able to smile, she would have.  Smiles were just too damn hard for her. Smiling revealed her naked skull.

     After the ceremony Clara walked home and locked herself in her room forever.

     Now she lay under her bed, exploring the vast, detailed terrain on a puff of dust. It seemed as big as a planet to her. Clara wanted to live there and was working on a plan. Sir Scurvy was doubtful about the logistics but said nothing. Clara studied the miniature lakes and rivers, the tiny pine trees and snow-topped mountains and deep ravines. She observed cities, small communities with buildings, bridges and roads and then suddenly there was a KNOCK KNOCK at the door, then a quiet moment and then POUND POUND POUND.



Estelle had plated Clara’s dinner of portabella mushrooms, beets and steak and carried it upstairs. She also carried a glass of warm milk. Clara insisted on warm (not hot, not room temperature) milk. The steak was raw in the middle and a moat of blood expanded around the meat. Clara loved blood. She had finally stopped cutting herself, much to her mother’s relief. She got all her blood from beef now.

     Estelle placed the plate outside Clara’s door and then knocked: two sharp raps with her knuckles. A rest. Then three more knocks with the ball of her fist. It was a secret code Clara insisted upon.

     Estelle heard shuffling inside, then footsteps.

     “Yeah?” Clara said.

     “Dinner’s ready.”

     “Okay. Thanks. Go away now.”

     “Are you okay?”

     “Go away now.”

     “But honey, we haven’t talked in a while, I just want to know how you—“

    “GO AWAY! GO AWAY! GO AWAY! GO AWAAAAAAAAAY!” And Clara began to beat her fists against the door. “GO AWAY!”

     “Okay, I’m going. I’m sorry honey...”

     “Go away.”

     Estelle retreated down the stairs, moving toward her scotch and beer and TV. Her heart raced. Her hands were trembling. She hated upsetting her daughter. It was dangerous. For both of them.

     After several minutes she heard Clara’s door creak open; heard Clara crawl like an iguana to capture her food.  

     Then the door shut with a muffled thump that transmitted a brief electric jolt to Estelle’s spine. Clara worked and lived in a forest of electric puzzles. Everything was fraught with significance. Everything was a test.  Everything was random.

    

Estelle poured a shot of scotch down her throat and turned on Laverne and Shirley.  She wouldn’t have to deal with Clara until morning when she’d clear the plate, empty her disgusting chamber pot and bring her a breakfast of peanuts, snails and yams.  Once, while Estelle was dealing with Clara’s messy chamber pot she discovered small bones and tufts of red hair in the stool. Clara’s hair was black. The red hair was short, coarse and thick, like animal fur. Like Clara had killed and eaten a fox. The idea seemed impossible, ludicrous. But Estelle was sure she had not yet witnessed the full extent of Clara’s magic.  She was still growing, nourished by madness.

     Gathering power.                                         

     Estelle began to feel honest dread.



As soon as she’d finished sewing the spider, Clara heard back from the ants. Sir Scurvy floated over to the bed to eavesdrop. The same black carpenter ant crawled over to Clara. Its movements were erratic and it performed several loop-de-loops on its way to her face. Girl and ant exchanged mute pleasantries and then began to converse with the black chattering gnaw of formicidae telepathy.  The news from the nest was not good: “Aphidshoneydewdyingtreerotten”, the ant told her. They planned to relocate the colony from the rotting oak tree to the house. The Queen had decreed it.

     Clara merely shrugged. “Do whatcha gotta do,” she said but she warned him that she was planning to burn the house to the ground at some point. It would happen.

     The ant vibrated its antennae and clacked its mandible, and departed, walking straight this time—no looping. She had scared the ant straight. Gave him something to chew on...

      Sir Scurvy laughed. “I guess you showed those ants. I believe they meant to cause you consternation by moving into the house. You foiled them most admirably.”

     “I wasn’t trying to foil them. I just told the truth.”

    “Of course my dear. How’s the spider coming?”

     Clara held it up. “It’s done!”

     “By jove so it is.”

     “Now I just need to go to sleep and dream.”

      “Ah yes. Luckily that’s never been a problem for you. You can slip into...”

     Clara was already asleep. She’d placed the spider under her chin. Sir Scurvy floated away to give her privacy.

     Clara’s dreams bled into wet, warm reality. Even now, without having achieved REM-sleep, knots of a plastic-like substance lay scattered around her slumbering form. Like small, smooth piles of modeling clay, they resembled novelty dog turds. She had dreamed them into existence.

     Clara shifted, turned over, punched her pillow and opened her eyes. A tall man with a twisted face was moving toward her.

     He never stood a chance.



Estelle drank another shot of scotch and chased it with a long swallow of Bud. After a long belch she heard footsteps above her. They were the heavy footsteps of a large man wearing boots. The footsteps crossed the room several times. It was frightening. Estelle poured another shot.

     The footsteps stopped at the edge of Clara’s bed.   Estelle held her breath. Listening.  The thing to do, of course, was CALL 9-11!!! There’s an intruder in the house! Yet Estelle did nothing. She sat down at the kitchen table, grabbed a deck of cards and dealt herself a game of solitaire.

     Upstairs could be heard screams and a violent scuffling on the floor. And then the screams ceased and there was a loud, heavy THUMP on the floor.

     It was done. Finally.

     Estelle scooped up the cards, shuffled them, and then laid out a new game.

     There was silence above her.

     She placed a queen of diamonds over a king of spades.

     Then the heavy booted footsteps crossed the room. Clara’s door creaked open. Estelle leaned back, reached into the silverware drawer and removed her Beretta M9. She held it under the table and waited.

     A tall man with a disfigured face entered the kitchen. His name was Lucien. Estelle met him in a bar and hired him on the spot. “Done,” Lucien told her.

     “Thanks,” said Estelle. “I appreciate it. She give you any trouble with her magic?”

     “Money,” he said.

     The gun was still hidden under the table, aimed straight at his legs. Estelle squeezed the trigger. Thunder erupted. Lucien’s breath came out with a loud, panicked gasp and he tried to brace himself against the refrigerator but he couldn’t stand on his shattered knee and he collapsed to the floor, grunting from the pain. Blood began to spread over the gold linoleum.

     Estelle stood up, walked over to the man...

     And shot him in the face.  

     Next, she moved quietly up the stairs. She had to find out if the deed was done. She wanted to look upon her daughter one last time. She was finally free.

    When she reached the landing she heard this:

     “Hello, mother.”

     Clara was standing in her doorway. Her eyes.

     “Clara. You’re okay.”

     “Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?”

     Estelle said, “I thought...” and that was all.

     “You thought your hit man killed me?”

     Estelle tried to laugh but it surfaced as a strange, bubbling panic-sound.

     Clara held up a bullet, turning it over like a precious gem. “Your boy missed.” She dropped the bullet to the floor. “Too bad.”

     “Please,” Estelle said. “Don’t.”

     “Don’t worry. I still have plans for you.”



For a (short) while Estelle’s boyfriend Lance lived with them. Lance drank a lot. He got blackout drunk. Lance collected gross pornography and large belt buckles. He was a Pisces (feces). He settled arguments with his fist. 

     And he was monumentally creeped-out by Clara. Seeing Estelle clean Clara’s chamber pot made him angry. It made him gag. Clara didn’t bathe and the rank smell of her travelled out of her room and into the rest of the house. He considered putting a move on Clara but god the stink. It held him at bay. And then one night he got blind drunk and his anger and animosity seized control of him. It was night and he quietly slipped upstairs and into Clara’s room. The stink of the room made his eyes water.

     So, Clara didn’t want to bathe? Okay. Fine. He would take matters into his own powerful hands. Clara slept on top of her bed then. In those days. He listened to her breathe for a while.

     Then he poured hydrochloric acid over her face.

     Clara screamed, loud and long. Her skin started sloughing off her skull immediately. In a split-second Lance had made her a monster.

     Clara dealt with him. Lance’s whereabouts remain unknown.



Estelle lay on the floor of Clara’s bedroom, hogtied with sturdy ropes. A couple of Clara's asshole fathers had been experts in the art of knots and they trained little Clara well. Estelle would never escape the ropes, hell Houdini hisself couldn’t wriggle free of them knots. Clara looked down at her mother with her ugly face and laughed.  Sir Scurvy looked on nervously. He knew what was coming.

     “Clara, please,” Estelle said. “Don’t!”

     Clara merely snapped her fingers.

     And then the ants engulfed her.