Wednesday, November 11, 2020




Clara hadn’t looked at her 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 at the sight of her. On the street people hid their eyes, as if the shock of Clara’s complexion might scorch their retinas. Or worse, what if her appalling condition was contagious?

     So she stopped going out.

    Almost twenty years ago her mother, Estelle, gripped by contractions and racing to the hospital, lost control of her Buick Regal and smashed into a jagged pile of granite boulders at the old stone quarry off Harris Ave. 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 final curtain down. At the hospital, 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. She found the subject uncomfortable to the point of physical distress. To speak of the tragedy was to court vomit.

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

     And now her ugliness was finally infecting her soul. She had bad ideas. They were like poison ivy vines slipping oily tendrils around her body, whispering 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 personal horror movies full of violence, deformity and dance. And Clara was the star.  She didn’t know how or why such dark fantasies occurred to her. She didn’t even like horror movies.

     Clara had not left her bedroom in three years.  She spent most of her time under her (queen size) bed communing with divine dust bunnies. Clara loved dust and it blanketed her room. Pledge was forbidden. In some areas the dust was so thick she could play in it like snow. There were magnificent drifts and dunes everywhere.

     She wrote down her dark, lacerating thoughts in spiral notebooks that she stacked in front of her window. There was an expert term for that too—graphomania. She wrote in a tiny, tiny hand that you’d need a magnifying glass to read.  She closed the book she was working on and brought it to the 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 padded back downstairs to wait while Clara crawled out to claim the tray like a skittish alley cat.


Estelle hadn’t seen her daughter’s face in three years. They talked through the locked door. Her daughter was difficult, unstable. Estelle needed to keep her hidden from the depravity of the outside world. They would take advantage of her—a fate worse than death. Estelle had felt genuine relief when Clara decided to hide. It was at her insistence that she became a recluse, a shut-in. Her mother was willing to oblige. It was in keeping with her plans. Estelle told people Clara was away at college in New Jersey (Princeton). Not that anyone asked. The arrangement was mutually advantageous. Estelle maliciously lorded over her secret, sensitive daughter and Clara remained hidden to practice her Art in ascetic solitude. They had an understanding. They relied on each other to live. They were bound by NEED and BLOOD. But the relationship was exhausting. Clara had a temper that could ignite and burst at the slightest provocation.  Estelle had no choice but to keep her distance. She knew Clara was a danger to both of them. There may be no limit to her burgeoning ascendancy.

    Estelle started thinking about guns and Lucien and about what was about to happen. She had pushed things into motion. There was no turning back. A drama was about to unfold. She felt a cold current moving through her veins. Her stomach was tight with anticipation.


Clara lay under her bed, trying to exit 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 prism casting colors from refracted sunlight. She remained motionless, humming a long, single note and she felt the weight of her body relax and release her. There was a soft tearing feeling and she let herself slip slowly downward, sinking as if in warm water and when she opened her eyes there she was, hovering above the living room, light as a helium balloon. She had passed easily through the floor. She wondered if this was what death was like. Just floating around waiting for God to issue a transfer. She felt like a ghost. She looked at her hands. They were emanating a warm yellow haze and she wondered what that meant. Clara didn’t learn her magic from ancient grimoires or even pop guides to witchcraft. She was self-taught; her magic intuitive. A lot of her powers went over her head.

     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 a figment of Clara’s fecund imagination but she loved him like a TV sitcom dad.

     The merciless sun was beating down on the yard, turning everything dry and fiery. She almost expected the bushes to explode into flames like in the Old Testament.

     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 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. A welcome respite from the strain her (madness?) power had inflicted upon her mind and body. It reminded her that she was human and not dead (for now). She tugged out another lock of hair. The expert term for this disorder was trichotillomania (trik-o-till-o-MAY-nee-ah).

     Sir Scurvy whispered something important in her ear and Clara began to focus on her hideous face and the bruised 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, where it was dark and cold and everything moved like mucous.  


Estelle trudged into the kitchen for another beer. It was two o’clock in the afternoon, too soon for scotch but a couple of—a loud, sudden thud above her derailed her train of thought. What on earth was that devil doing now? Something strange and dangerous no doubt. Felt like the whole ceiling was going to crash down. Clara was edging toward violence. It was almost inevitable that she’d eventually attack Estelle. It was only a matter of time.  Clara had a lot of scary, deadly stuff in her arsenal.

     Clara had been diagnosed with a dysmorphic disorder in 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 an underground bunker. Estelle thought it was a real shame; such a smart, young, attractive girl. She had sabotaged her future, her whole life, for the obsessive pursuit of occult power. Magical power that they both believed lay contained like a slow-burning fuse within Clara’s battered brain. Estelle had wanted to take her to a doctor—psychiatric or otherwise—but Clara would have none of it. She’d launch into a violent temper-tantrum at the very mention of the idea. She would release harmful invisible things into the air, making her mother run. Clara couldn’t be forced to do anything. So that was that. Estelle didn’t have the means or the willpower to commit her. Not that she could. It would take a small army to drag Clara to a mental hospital. And there would be casualties.

     Estelle wondered how far Clara’s mental disorders (abilities) would reach. Would she be able to cast things from great distances, making it impossible to flee?  She just kept getting worse and worse and more powerful and enigmatic. Estelle felt frightened and overwhelmed. It was like living with an erratic sorcerer. Spells and curses permeated the atmosphere of their home like simmering potpourri.  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 straggling 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 would disappear, continuing a journey that would not end until tiny white mushrooms sprouted from the dirty creases in their old weatherbeaten faces.   

      Clara’s magical madness attacked Estelle whenever she entered the house. It was never the same place twice. It had become Clara’s house, polluted with her black essence. Estelle hated to use the words evil and crazy with regard to her daughter but there were no other apt adjectives. And Estelle was sure the house was sucking up her negative energy like electric protein. Storing it like nuclear waste. For what? Estelle looked at the clock and thought about Lucien again. She’d warned him about Clara’s powerful proclivities but he scoffed at her caution. He told her he didn’t believe in sorcery. 

     Clara had 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 clot of foul-smelling black slime. It hit the wall with a slap, and then slid gently to the floor. Clara collected and stored the ichor in a glass jar, placing it under her bed with the rest of her chemistry lab. Clara was an aspiring alchemist.   

     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 perfectly safe delusion. An ever-changing illusion. And if nothing were real you could get away with all kinds of nefarious and pleasurable activities.

     Estelle looked at the clock again. Lucien was soon.


Clara lay on her stomach under her giant, cavernous 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 to guard the gold. A fortune, a weapon.  A rat whose only job was reconnaissance. 


     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 receptive little bugger.  

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

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

      Sir Scurvy went, “Humph,” and floated 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 bowels tingled like something big was coming.

     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 knew she was ugly. But behind her lumpy, landscape face her black-and-blue brain could do wondrous things. It let her do wondrous things. Things that would bring loss and injury to the annoying people in her life.

     Sir Scurvy reminded her that since loverboy Lance had been dispatched, she only had one other person in her life. Her mother. An enemy of one.

     No matter. Clara’s incubation period had not yet concluded. She still had things 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. It all took a grim toll. Solitude, empty places, they all possessed power and if she moved into the right place at the key moment the universe would reward her with mystical shit. Clara knew all the sacred places in her room. They charged her like a battery when she grew weak. Her room was central to the new universe. It was wired directly to the heart of the matter.

     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). She didn’t allow herself to smile with her mouth; revealing her black, jumbled teeth. No way.


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 good motivator if you limited yourself to a responsible, regulated dose. It was like medicine. Whiskey conquered fear. Whiskey gave her ambition. Whiskey energized even as it eased her brain away from all the petty, nettlesome concerns that plagued her life. Whiskey even tempered the occult presence in the house. Made it more palatable. Less frightening. She could resist Clara’s mystical shenanigans when she was drunk. She could just poof them away and disregard her daughter completely.

     But, of course when the whiskey ran out she was plunged back into a life of fear and she'd run from the house for more provisions.

     Clara ate the same thing every evening: raw mushrooms with truffles, beets, and a small steak cooked so rare Clara could slurp the blood off the plate. Clara insisted on this meal. It was important to her in a ritualistic sense. Any variation, no matter how slight and she would scream and threaten to burn the house down. Clara could accomplish such arson with ease. She could conjure fire, filling her hands with balls of flame. Estelle had seen it. Fire was her friend. Her weapon of choice. There were black singe marks all over Clara’s old crib. When Clara was three (3) she was playing with her fingers and they ignited like blue-tipped matches. She’d screamed and the flames jumped to her head, setting her hair on fire.  Luckily, Estelle smelled the burning hair and quickly smothered the flames under an adorable 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 to school all the way through to graduation. Many of the other students were nervous about her as she moved 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. Her appearance was vampiric, unsettling. Her school didn’t even have a goth contingent. Clara was THE weirdo. She was it. 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 climbed the stage to accept her diploma, she removed her veil, finally revealing her scarred 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 on her own terms, as herself. And, as an added benefit she got to shock the shit out of the pathetic parents with her perfectly dreadful self-reveal. If Clara had been able to smile, she would have.  Smiles were just too damn hard for her. Smiling revealed her broken teeth and naked skull.

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

     Now, as she lay under her bed, she savored the memory. Her debut in polite society. They were probably still talking about her. She pushed her musings aside to concentrate on her important scientific endeavors.

     At the moment she was exploring the vast, detailed terrain on a puff of dust. It was the size of a cotton ball but 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. He was loyal. 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. Her wretched mother was banging for attention.


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 slab. Clara loved blood. She had finally stopped cutting herself, much to her mother’s relief. She got all her blood from cows 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. She was convinced that enemy agents were everywhere. They hid like cockroaches with tiny microphones. They could burrow into her thoughts with advanced and immoral equipment. She was sure they had a thick dossier on her. She was a danger to the government. Hell, she was a threat to the whole planet.

     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 weeks, 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. There was no telling what kind of malignant entity she might release into the air.

     Lucien, soon.

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

     Then the door shut with a muffled thump that transmitted a brief electric jolt to Estelle’s spine. Clara would be silent for the rest of the night. Estelle could relax in the brief calm before the storm.  

     Clara worked and lived in a forest of strange invisible puzzles. Everything was fraught with significance. Everything was a test.  Everything just seemed random, she said. There were precise schematics for everything if you knew where to find them. There were blueprints for hope and dignity and lust. Every fraction of a second was a vast Rube Goldberg contraption.

     A lot of what Clara believed was incomprehensible to Estelle. She’d tried to follow Clara’s scientific lectures but pretty soon she’d be lost in her own color-coordinated daydreams.

     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.

     But wait a minute, she suddenly realized. None of that was true anymore. She had to remind herself that the usual itinerary was null and void. Clara would be dealt with well before breakfast.

     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 and long. The red hair was short, coarse and thick, like animal fur. Had Clara killed and eaten a fox? The idea was, of course, impossible, ludicrous. But Estelle was sure she had not yet witnessed the full horror of Clara’s magic.  She was still growing, nourished by madness, informed by infernal texts. Progressing toward something seismic.

     Gathering power to hurt the world.        

     Estelle began to feel honest dread. She thought about Lance and his suspicious disappearance...


For a (short) while, Estelle’s boyfriend Lance lived with them. Lance drank a lot of vodka. He got blackout drunk. Lance collected gross, violent pornography (which he forced her to watch) and large brass belt buckles. He was a Pisces. He settled arguments with his fists. 

     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 body travelled like raw sewage out of her room and into the rest of the house. He considered putting a move on Clara (he thought she was kind of cute in an offbeat way) but god the stink. It held him at bay like a force field. And then one night he got blind drunk and his anger and animosity seized control. It was night and he quietly slipped upstairs and quickly picked the lock, gaining access to 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 hands. Clara slept on top of her bed back then. In those days. He listened to her breathe for a while. She looked so innocent. This little demon. This stinking hellspawn with her black, omniscient eyes. He stood by her bed, watching her sleep. Then he revved his anger and splashed hydrochloric acid in her face.

     Clara screamed, loud and long. Her skin started sloughing off her skull immediately. In a split-second Lance had turned her from a monster on the inside to a monster on the outside. Now her face matched her evil soul. While Clara screamed and thrashed, Lance staggered back downstairs for more vodka. Estelle was locked in a deep whiskey sleep and Lance shook her awake. “Yo, Estelle you need to tend to your daughter.”

     “W-wha?” Then Estelle heard her daughter’s agonizing shrieks.  As she bolted up the stairs she heard Lance shout from below, “And don’t you go inviting the police over here or you’ll regret it! I got more of that shit!”

     Estelle gathered Clara and drove her to the hospital but the doctors couldn’t save her face. Out of pure fear, neither Clara nor her mother pressed charges against Lance. They claimed it was accidental.

     Clara would deal with the bastard after her rehabilitation. They performed several surgeries; skin grafts, transplants, trying to cobble together a less monstrous appearance. They did their best and then they sent her home. 

     Lance’s whereabouts remain unknown.


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. Its tiny compound eyes rotated dizzily. 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 what you 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. So, plan accordingly.

     The ant vibrated its antennae, clicked its mandible, and departed, walking straight this time—no looping. She had scared the ant straight. Gave him something to chew over. The Queen would not be pleased.

      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 deep REM sleep, soft 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. Their contours and colors came straight from her agitated brain. They were like psychic fingerprints. Knots of her subconscious. Fleeting dreams made manifest. Solid.

     Clara shifted, turned over, punched her pillow and opened her eyes. She lifted the flounce and looked out.

     A tall man with a twisted face was moving toward her.


Estelle drank another shot of scotch and chased it with a full-throated swallow of Bud. After a long satisfying belch she heard footsteps above her. They were the heavy footsteps of a large man wearing boots.

     It was actually happening! Right now! The footsteps crossed the room several times. They plodded, moving at a relaxed pace. It was frightening. Estelle poured another shot and then wondered how he’d gotten into the house.

     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 at the kitchen table, grabbed a deck of cards and dealt out 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 gunshot followed by a heavy THUMP on the floor.

     It was done. Finally. Estelle had rescued the world.

     She 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. Just in case. She’d invited a ruthless killer into her home. Certain precautions were indicated and justified.

     A tall man with a disfigured face entered the kitchen. His name was Lucien and that was all. Estelle had met him in Hap’s Bar and after much flirting and heavy drinking, he let it slip that he was an ex-green beret and a contract killer. Lucien told her, “I’ve done dozens of hits. All over the country. Satisfaction guaranteed. I may cost a little more but it’s worth it. I go the extra mile for my clients. I’ve even done hits for the government.”

     She hired him on the spot.

     Now, in Estelle’s kitchen he said simply, “Done,”

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

     “Money first,” he said. “Discussion later.”

     Estelle got up, went to the freezer, and removed a heavy cardboard box filled with stacks of hundred dollar bills. All the money her mother had left her.

     “Here you go. Worth every penny. Don’t spend it all in one place.”

     Lucien grunted and received the box of blood-money. Then he moved toward the door.

     “Hey, where do you think you’re going? The job’s not finished until you clean up all the clues.”

     Lucien looked at her. His eyes were like black pinholes leading into cold space.  He grunted again, as if the mere act of speaking was as grisly and taxing as the meatier aspects of the job and said, “I’m coming back. I told you not to be here for the execution. I suggested you plan an airtight alibi, But noooo you had to be here. Couldn’t stay away from the action.”

     Estelle bristled. “So where are you going then?”

     ”I need to pick up some tools and cleaning supplies.”

  “Why the hell didn’t you get that stuff already? What kind of a half-assed hitman are you anyway?”

     “I didn’t know exactly what I’d need before. Now I do.”

     “I don’t like this. It’s too messy. I wanted things to be neat and smooth. Remember when I said that? Neat and smooth.”      

     “I hate to break it to you lady, but this is as neat and smooth as these situations get. Murder is messy. It just is. We can and will make corrections for that. Now just sit tight and wait for me to get back.  And put away that stupid gun.”

     And then he was out the door and gone. She would never see him again.

     The house was silent. Different.      

     She considered coffee. No, one thing she didn’t need was an accelerated heart rate. She thought of her terrible daughter, dead upstairs. She wondered what was up there. What did the crime scene look like? Lucien had done the deed with such ruthless precision and speed. A single shot. She began to pace. She wished she smoked. The suspense slashed at her. She continued to pace and then she couldn’t stand it any longer.

      She grabbed her gun and  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. To make sure she was dead. To prove that she was finally free. She would stand over Clara’s lifeless body and gloat. I won. You can’t scare me or hurt me anymore...

    When she reached the landing she heard this:

     “Hello? Mother?”

     Clara was standing in her doorway. Her eyes.

     “Clara. You’re okay,” she said, hoping her shock didn’t inform the timbre of her voice. Remain calm.

     “Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?”

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

     “You thought your hired hit man killed me?”


     Clara held up a bullet, turning it over like a precious gem. “You and your boy underestimated me. Bullets? Did you really think bullets would cause my demise?” She dropped the bullet to the floor. “You might as well shoot jellybeans at me,” she said and laughed.

     “But how?” Estelle said.” It’s impossible...”

    “Nah, it aint hard. You just remove the bullet’s velocity. You slow the bullets down so you can catch them with your bare hands. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book. It goes back to vaudeville and wild west shows. But I have another new trick for you.”

       “Please,” Estelle moaned.

     “You hired a hit man to kill your only daughter.”

      “No! It was a misunderstanding! I have nothing to do with it. I don’t even know that guy. And and...”

     Clara raised her hand, “Don’t even try that little miss innocent routine on me. I’m not an idiot. You conspired with that Lucien guy to murder me. And you failed.”

     “What are you going to do to me?” Estelle asked, close to tears.

     “Don’t worry. I have plans for you. I want you to meet some friends of mine.”


Estelle lay on the floor of Clara’s bedroom, naked and hogtied with sturdy cables that Clara had conjured from her sleeping mind. They were as strong as steel and soft as fabric. Estelle would never escape, no matter how much she wriggled. Hell, not even Houdini himself could wriggle free of Clara’s 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. “I’m sorry! Please don’t hurt me!”

     Clara looked at Estelle and snapped her fingers.

     Estelle screamed as the ants attacked her.