february 28 - march 04

the deepwater bride & other stories - tamsyn muir

the house that made the sixteen loops of time

Magic built up like a breath waiting to be exhaled. On a bad day, she could touch a coffee mug and have it erupt in delicate little spikes of ceramic, a fretwork of stalactites extending outward as she pulled her hand back.

  • There was a terrible loneliness in her as she touched his neck, folded down a piece of his collar. It wasn't 14 Arden Lane that was lonely, she suddenly thought, it was her; she was an armoured creature, self-sufficient, but for the terrible fact of needing her best friend all the time excepting when she wanted to finish a book. Her fingers curled at his neck and she was aware of everything, aware of the outside night-time and how her clothes felt on her skin, of how his face was a mask and how he wouldn't look at her. Her fingers brushed his cheek and his jaw and the side of his mouth, sifted through his hair. Rosamund Tilly was an empty glass.
  • Feeling tired made one feel sadder and when one was sad one felt tireder, and she got down on her knees and scrubbed out the remnants of old carrots as she half-daydreamed about being kissed.
    + more the magician's apprentice

    He damned with faint praise. Cherry had come a long way: He was a God-King, but she was his lieutenant, his right hand and left, his Holy Ghost.

  • The hunger was an old sickness. Eating the goat ruined her for everything else. Sometimes she and John went down to the sea where he shore fished, gutting his catch in record time, and they sat there gorging themselves on fresh raw perch squirted with hot sauce — but it was never really the same.
  • That made her a little bit crazy, and with hunger it made her frantic. Matches, spider plants, and ice cubes lost all appeal, June lost its sunshine. She threw herself down on her bed and cradled her head like her thoughts would pop off the top of her skull. Fuelled by his retreat and his distance, the specter of that idea haunted her like Casper the Friendly Ghost on meth.
  • chew

    He wrapped up the gum in his handkerchief. Anton took only half a piece for himself, chewing it and chewing it on the road home until it lost all of its flavour and was tack in his mouth. He weighed up his options: it was a well-known fact that swallowing it would coat his lungs and almost certainly kill him, but it seemed like such a waste not to.

  • the deepwater bride

    In the time of our crawling Night Lord's ascendancy, foretold by exodus of starlight into his sucking astral wounds, I turned sixteen and received Barbie's Dream Car. Aunt Mar had bought it for a quarter and crammed fun-sized Snickers bars in the trunk. Frankly, I was touched she'd remembered.

  • She was to be the sacrifice as all signs said. Every spider in that house was spelling the presence and I got the feeling readily that it was one of the lesser diseased Ones, the taste in the milk, the dust. One of the Monster Lord's fever wizards had made his choice in her, no mistake. The girl was so sweet looking and so cheerful. They say the girls in these instances are always cheerful about it like lambs to the slaughter. The pestilences and their behemoth Duke may do as they will. I gave her til May.
  • Did anything matter, apart from the salt and the night outside, the bulging eyes down at Jamison Pond?
  • Huh. I had never been asked to hang out before. Certainly not by girls who looked as though they used leave-in conditioner. I had been using Johnson & Johnson's No More Tears since childhood as it kept its promises. I was distrustful; I had never been popular. At school my greatest leap had been from weirdo to perceived goth. Girls abhorred oddity, but quantifiable gothness they could accept. Some had even warmly talked to me of Nightwish albums. I dyed my hair black to complete the effect and was nevermore bullied.
  • Driver's licenses and kissing boys could wait indefinitely, for preference. My heart sang all the way home, for you see: I'd discovered the bride.
  • In the blood on my palms I saw the future. I read the position of the dead moon that no longer orbited Earth. I saw the blessing of the tyrant who hid in a far-off swirl of stars. I thought I could forecast to midsummer, and when I closed my eyes I saw people drown. Everyone else in the park had fled.
  • That night I thought again about what I'd have to write: the many-limbed horror who lies beneath the waves stole a local girl to wife, and she wore the world's skankiest short-shorts and laughed at my jokes. I slept, but there were nightmares.
  • I felt numb and untouched, and worse — when chill winds wrapped around my neck and let me breathe clear air, smelling like the beach and things that grow on the beach — I was happy. I nipped this in its emotional bud.
  • Color leached from the Walmart, from the concrete, from the green in the trees and the red of the stop sign. Raindrops sat in her pale hair like pearls.
  • I felt like we were on the brink of something as great as it was awful, something I'd snuck around all summer like a thief.
  • the woman in the hill

    And yet I know I must go back. I will go back. I have held on this long, but it has been unbearable suffering. I have concluded that the door is a disease, and that the act of passing through its foetid dark is enough to invalid one. Perhaps I had nothing to fear from what Elizabeth had become. I am not sure. Maybe you are not meant to go back until the place is ready for you and your own alcove is empty. I am ready now: last night I took all the drugs Dr. Miller had left and I still woke at the end of my garden, digging at a slope there with my bare and bleeding hands. I will not sleep again.

    Dorothy, I took that place with me. It is inside me now.

    february 13-14 2024

    small game - blair braverman

    One time Mara went to retrieve a client and found her in a garden made of stones. It must have been ten feet across, a labyrinth of pebbles, a spiral with waves extending out like the rays of a sun. The woman sat cross-legged in the middle, smiling, though she had no shelter or water or food. But she seemed content in a way Mara had rarely seen. When Mara gave her a bracelet, she kissed it before tying it around her wrist, and then she closed her eyes.

    Later Mara brought other instructors to see the stones. Normally they took camps apart after clients left, unweaving branches and burying the remains of fires, but none of them wanted to break the maze. So they left it untouched, and stopped bringing people to that spot. Mara often wondered if the stones were still there.

    For a while she told other clients about the labyrinth, hoping they’d try something similar. Mostly they were dismissive. “I’m here to survive, not play with rocks,” a guy told her, like she was the one who didn’t get it. Like surviving the night was some big achievement, when it was far easier than making something beautiful. The secret to survival, Mara thought, was that it was hard to die. Even if you gave in, gave up, just sat there and waited for it. You could be waiting a long time.

    + more Each morning, the pups were bigger than the day before. They grew fat, impossibly fat, bulging and rolling, and the fat in them flattened where they lay, like their bodies were a barely contained liquid. They were everything puppies should be. But what struck Mara about them, more than their tiny paws or their half-moon ears, the sweet stink of their breath, was their desire. She could lift a puppy, and put it down, and wherever she put it, it would immediately lump across the ground in the direction of its mother’s nipples. They could not be distracted. All of existence, the point of existence, was milk.

    It seemed embarrassing to want something so much, desperate and unselfconscious. Sometimes Mara felt she should look away.

  • When Mara was a kid, before she left the suburbs, her mom took her to a puppet show at a public library. The actors set up a whole stage in the children’s room, and the kids sat cross-legged to watch. The puppets danced and talked, and behind them, making them move, were actors dressed in black. They weren’t even hiding. They just stood there with their arms out, and when the puppets got animated they moved their arms faster. Mara knew that she was supposed to ignore them, to pretend the puppets were real and the people weren’t. But she couldn’t do it. She kept staring at the actors. There was a woman with long white hair who widened her eyes each time her puppet spoke, but her mouth didn’t move at all. The whole thing struck Mara as horrible. She couldn’t remember the storyline they were acting out. Even at the time it seemed beside the point.

    Eventually she started crying, loud enough that others in the audience turned to look. One of the puppets broke from script to say, “Little girl, what’s wrong?” which only made Mara cry harder. Her mom rushed her out, apologizing, and they went for ice cream instead.

    Mara hadn’t thought of that show in years, maybe a decade, and she wasn’t sure why the memory came to her then. She thought maybe it was how the cameras had made her feel. Like she was the puppet master, and Mara on-screen the puppet, rushing around for her little tasks, and everyone had agreed to pretend that that was the real story. Even if the audience could see the real Mara somehow—the woman who needed money, who was lost, who cheated on her boyfriend and couldn’t even bring herself to care, because she cared so little for anything she’d left behind—they’d wish they hadn’t. They’d pretend her away. Because they came for a performance, a story, with all the comfort a story entailed, the promise of beginning and middle and end. They came for entertainment. They came to watch her dance.

    That was how Mara felt about McCandless, now that she thought about it. Except it seemed sadder, because he was dead. Everyone talked about the story, the performance, and not the man making the figure move. And that seemed like a second death somehow. Like every time they ignored the figure in black, he died a little more. And his creation, this dancing doll, this subject of campfire debate, this inspiration to Boy Scouts in Indiana, spun faster and faster.

    She wondered if, like Kyle, McCandless had wanted to die. Or if, like Kyle, he had wanted to live.

    There was some part of Kyle, Mara thought, that wanted to make a puppet desperately. That was why he came here, wasn’t it? To make a performance of who he wanted to be, triumphant and fearless and wise. To come to agreement with the audience about who he really was, a character for them to root for and for him to become.

  • When Ashley spoke next, her voice was so small, so cracked, that it seemed to come from someone tiny, someone who could fit in the palm of one hand. A ghost. A puppy who only wanted milk.
  • When she got hungry, she stopped and ate a can of beef soup on a low bluff overlooking the river. It seemed like the kind of place where teenagers might gather, daring one another to jump into the rapids below. Drinking and kissing as they cheered for their friends. The observation surprised her. There was no way she would have thought about teenagers the last time they passed here. She wasn’t quite human then. It worried her almost, being human now, and the worry grew as she walked upstream. As if humans didn’t belong here, and that was why they had to leave.

    january 08 2024

    in the dream house - carmen maria machado


    • Sometimes stories are destroyed, and sometimes they are never uttered in the first place (4)
    • I toss the stone of my story into a vast crevice; measure the emptiness by its small sound. (5)
    • The diagnosis never changes. We will always be hungry, will always want. Our bodies and minds will always crave something, even if we don't recognize it. (13)
    • You were suspicious of their feelings because you had no reason to love yourself — not your body, not your mind. You rejected so much gentleness. What were you looking for? (17)
    • There is a Quichua riddle: El que me nombra, me rompe. Whatever names me, breaks me. The solution, of course, is "silence." But the truth is, anyone who knows your name can break you in two.
    • But we all know that was just the beginning, a test. She failed (and lived to tell the tale, as I have), but even if she'd passed, even if she'd listened, there would have been some other request, a little larger, a little stranger, and if she'd kept going — kept allowing herself to be trained, like a corset fanatic pinching her waist smaller and smaller — there's have been a scene where Bluebeard danced around with the rotting corpses of his past wives clapsed in his arms, and the newest wife would have sat there mutely, suppressing growing horror, (59)
    + more
    • You wonder if, at any point in history, some creature scuttled over what would, eons later, be the living room, and cocked its head to the side to listen to the faintest of sounds: yelling, weeping. Ghosts of a future that hadn't happened yet. (69)
    • And so she has to struggle against an unchangeable landscape that has been hammered into existence by nothing less than time itself; a house that is too big to dismantle by hand; a situation too complex and overwhelming to master on her own. The setting does its work. (72)
    • The Dream House was never just the Dream House. It was, in turn, a convent of promise (herb garden, wine, writing across the table from each other), a den of debauchery (fucking with the windows open, waking up with mouth on mouth, the low, insistent murmur of fantasy), a haunted house (none of this can really be happening), a prison (need to get out need to get out), and, finally, a dungeon of memory. In dreams it sits behind a green door, for reasons you have never understood. The door was not green. (72)

    Dream House as American Gothic

    A narrative needs two things to be a gothic romance. The first, ‘woman plus habitation’. “Horror,” film theorist Mary Ann Doane writes, “which should by rights be external to domesticity, infiltrates the home.” The house is not essential for domestic abuse, but hell, it helps: a private space where private dramas are enacted behind, as the cliché goes, closed doors; but also windows sealed against the sound, drawn curtains, silent phones. A house is never apolitical. It is conceived, constructed, occupied, and policed by people with power, needs, and fears. Windex is political. So is the incense you burn to hide the smell of sex, or a fight.

    The second necessary element: ‘marrying a stranger’. Strangers, feminist film theorist Diane Waldman points out, because during the 1940s – the heyday of gothic romance films like Rebecca and Dragonwyck and Suspicion – men were returning from war, no longer familiar to the people they’d left behind. “The rash of hasty pre-war marriages (and the subsequent all-time high divorce rate of 1946), the increase in early marriages in the 40s,” Waldman writes, “and the process of wartime separation and reunion [gave the] motif of the Gothics a specific historical resonance.” “The Gothic heroine,” film scholar Tania Modleski says, “tries to convince herself that her suspicions are unfounded, that, since she loves him, he must be trustworthy and that she will have failed as a woman if she does not implicitly believe in him.”

    There is, of course, a major problem with the gothic: it is by nature heteronormative. A notable exception is Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, with its powerful queer undertones between the innocent protagonist and the sinister, titular vampire. (“You will think me cruel, very selfish, but love is always selfish,” Carmilla tells Laura. “How jealous I am you cannot know. You must come with me, loving me, to death; or else hate me and still come with me, and hating me through death and after.”)

    We were not married; she was not a dark and brooding man. It was hardly a crumbling ancestral manor; just a single-family home, built at the beginning of the Great Depression. No moors, just a golf course. But it was ‘woman plus habitation’, and she was a stranger. That is probably the truest and most gothic part; not because of war or because we’d only met with chaperones before marriage; rather because I didn’t know her, not really, until I did. She was a stranger because something essential was shielded, released in tiny bursts until it became a flood – a flood of what I realized I did not know. Afterward, I would mourn her as if she’d died, because something had: someone we had created together.

  • Dream House as Idiom

    I always thought the expression “safe as houses” meant that houses were safe places. It’s a beautiful idea; like running home with a late-summer thunderstorm huffing down your neck. There’s the house, waiting for you; a barrier from nature, from scrutiny, from other people. Standing on the other side of the glass, watching the sky playfully pummel the earth like a sibling.

    But house idioms and their variants, in fact, often signify the opposite of safety and security. If something is a house of cards it is precarious, easily disrupted. If the writing is on the wall we can see the end of something long before it arrives. If we do not throw stones in glass houses, it is because the house is constructed of hypocrisy, readily shattered. All expressions of weakness, of the inevitability of failure.

    “Safe as houses” is something closer to “the house always wins.” Instead of a shared structure providing shelter, it means that the person in charge is secure; everyone else should be afraid.

    • I was horrified at the monstrosity of my mistake—the pure, unbridled thoughtlessness of it. I’d come all the way to this island to write a book about suffering, and you did something terrible to a resident of the island who’d done no harm. (92)
    • Even so I am unaccountably haunted by the specter of the lunatic lesbian. (126)

    Dream House as Haunted Mansion

    What does it mean for something to be haunted, exactly? You know the formula instinctually: a place is steeped in tragedy. Death, at the very least, but so many terrible things can precede death, and it stands to reason that some of them might accomplish something similar. You spend so much time trembling between the walls of the Dream House, obsessively attuned to the position of her body relative to yours, not sleeping properly, listening for the sound of her footsteps, the way disdain creeps into her voice, staring dead-eyed in disbelief at things you never thought you’d see in your lifetime.

    What else does it mean? It means that metaphors abound; that space exists in four dimensions; that if you return somewhere often enough it becomes infused with your energy; that the past never leaves us; that there’s always atmosphere to consider;31 that you can wound air as cleanly as you can wound flesh.

    In this way, the Dream House was a haunted house. You were the sudden, inadvertent occupant of a place where bad things had happened. And then it occurs to you one day, standing in the living room, that you are this house’s ghost:32 you are the one wandering from room to room with no purpose, gaping at the moving boxes that are never unpacked, never certain what you’re supposed to do. After all, you don’t need to die to leave a mark of psychic pain. If anyone is living in the Dream House now, he or she might be seeing the echo of you.


    31. Bennett Sims has a wonderful horror story called “House-Sitting.” You have never forgotten this paragraph: “You are not being superstitious, you do not think. It simply stands to reason. For it would be like sleeping in a house where a family has been slaughtered: whether or not you believe in ghosts, there is the atmosphere to consider.” It spoke to you, as an agnostic who still can feel when the air in an enclosed space is not quite right.

    32. Thompson, Motif-Index of Folk-Literature, Types E402.1.1.1, Ghost calls; E402.1.1.2, Ghost moans; E402.1.1.3, Ghost cries and screams; E402.1.1.4, Ghost sings; E402.1.1.5, Ghost snores; E402.1.1.6, Ghost sobs.

    • Putting language to something for which you have no language is no easy feat. (134)
    • I had a crush on her. That’s it. It wasn’t complicated. But I didn’t realize I had a crush on her. Because it was the early 2000s and I was just a baby in the suburbs without a reliable internet connection. I didn’t know any queers. I did not understand myself. I didn’t know what it meant to want to kiss another woman.

      Years later, I’d figured that part out. But then, I didn’t know what it meant to be afraid of another woman.

      Do you see now? Do you understand? (139)

    • I felt things deeply, and often the profound unfairness of the world triggered a furious, poetic response from me, but while that was cute when I was a toddler, neither thing—feeling, responding to feeling—aged well. Ferocity did not become me. Later, retelling stories about this dynamic to my wife, my therapist, the occasional friend, filled me with incandescent rage. “Why do we teach girls that their perspectives are inherently untrustworthy?” (143)
    • Folks will know you for your wounds, your missing skin. (149)
    • The luminous innocence of the light curdles in your stomach. You don't remember ever going from awake to afraid so quickly. (162)
    • [Dream House as Choose Your Own Adventure]
      You shouldn’t be on this page. There’s no way to get here from the choices given to you. Did you think that by flipping through this chapter linearly you’d find some kind of relief? Don’t you get it? All of this shit already happened, and you can’t make it not happen, no matter what you do.

      Do you want a picture of a fawn? Will that help? Okay. Here’s a fawn. She is small and dappled and loose-legged. She hears a sound, freezes, and then bolts. She knows what to do. She knows there’s somewhere safer she can be.

      Go to page 171.

    • And no one pays attention to the blonde woman, who stands and walks toward the corpse of the dinner guest. She grips the blade with both hands and pulls it out like King Arthur deflowering the stone. (182)
    • At the end of the world, the park was beautiful, hot. The grass was a little long. The trees were punctuated with birds. (186)
    • Reader, do you remember that ridiculous movie Volcano, the one with Tommy Lee Jones? Do you remember how they stopped eruption in the middle of downtown Los Angeles? They diverted it with cement roadblocks and pointed fire hoses at it, and rerouted the lava to the ocean, and everything was fine? Sweet reader, that is not how lava works. Anyone can tell you that. Here is the truth: I keep waiting for my anger to go dormant, but it won’t. I keep waiting for someone to reroute my anger into the ocean, but no one can. My heart is closer to Dante’s Peak of Dante’s Peak. My anger dissolves grandmas in acid lakes and razes quaint Pacific Northwest towns with ash and asphyxiates jet engines with its grit. Lava keeps leaking down my slopes. You should have listened to the scientist. You should have evacuated earlier. (188)

    Dream House as Sodom

    Like Lot’s wife, you looked back, and like Lot’s wife, you were turned into a pillar of salt,44 but unlike Lot’s wife, God gave you a second chance and turned you human again, but then you looked back again and became salt and then God took pity and gave you a third, and over and again you lurched through your many reprieves and mistakes; one moment motionless and the next gangly, your soft limbs wheeling and your body staggering into the dirt, and then stiff as a tree trunk again with an aura of dust, then windmilling down the road as fire rains down behind you; and there has never been a woman as cartoonish as you—animal to mineral and back again.

    • and so you resolved yourself to live in that wobbly space where your humanity and rights were openly debated on cable news, and the defense of them was not a requirement for the presidency. You were already a woman, so you knew. Occupying that space was your goddamned specialty. (206)
    • You wonder if you will ever be able to let someone touch you; if you will ever be able to reconnect your brain and body or if they will forever sit on opposite sides of this new and terrible ravine. (207)
    • Seven years on and I still dream abut it, even though I am four houses/three lovers/two states/one wife past the Dream House; (221)
    • So many cells in my body have died and regenerated since the days of the Dream House. My blood and taste buds and skin have long since re-created themselves. My fat still remembers, but just barely—within a few years, it will have turned itself over completely. My bones too.

      But my nervous system remembers. The lenses of my eyes. My cerebral cortex, with its memory and language and consciousness. They will last forever, or at least as long as I do. They can still climb onto the witness stand. My memory has something to say about the way trauma has altered my body’s DNA, like an ancient virus. (225)

    • What is the value of proof? What does it mean for something to be true? If a tree falls in the woods and pins a wood thrush to the earth, and she shrieks and shrieks but no one hears her, did she make a sound? Did she suffer? Who’s to say? (226)
    • In trying to get people to see your humanity, you reveal just that: your humanity. Your fundamentally problematic nature. (228)
    • People love an idea, even if they don't know what to do with it. Even if they only know how to do exactly the wrong thing. (228)
    • In the mansion on the property, the furniture was gathered to the center of the room and draped in sheets. I saw a painting of the dead children, dressed in black. I thought I heard my name in a half whisper, but when I turned around there was no one. “Sound moves weirdly in here,” one of the residents explained. (229)
    • I kept my eyes open: for deer, for ghosts. (229)
    • It was terrible because I wanted to believe that my love was unique and my pain was unique, as all of us do. (232)

    Dream House as Anechoic Chamber

    During a visit to Iowa City, you go to an anechoic chamber deep in the earth. A friend comes with you, and as you are both led down the stairs it occurs to you that this is not unlike the opening of “The Cask of Amontillado.” Your guide ushers you inside and swings the heavy door shut behind you, and the two of you lie on your backs on a metal dock that hangs in the air.

    Here, and only here, everything makes a sound. The thrum and rush of your blood, your liquid swallows. Even your tongue running along the upper ridge of your mouth, which sounds like a piece of furniture being dragged over a bed of gravel. Here, your body is exactly as grotesque as you know it to be. Here, you are not dead, but everything around you might as well be.

    There are no hallucinations, exactly, except for a strange buzzing on the edge of your hearing, like, your friend observes, cicadas at the height of summer. The buzzing isn’t there, of course; your minds are simply imbuing the silence. You could go mad if you stay here too long, you think. Your mind would fill in the gaps and the blanks and God knows what it would fill them with.

    What happens when there are no echoes, here in this underground crypt?

    You clap and clap but nothing answers back.

    • That’s how sister cities should work: I could walk around both at the same time, separated by some thin, mystical scrim, and if I went to the right place at the right time I could peek into the other one. I could twitch a curtain next to a certain chicken and be staring at the Dream House, at the people who live there now. (236) I reached down and picked up a chunk of dried earth and the soil underneath was damp: the memory of the lake. (241)
    • the distant, golden pulse of fire over the mountain, glowing like a second sunrise (241)
    • But my foot creaked on the floorboards, and they bounded liquidly away through the grass. Half a mile away, they were still running. (242)
    • A few days later, the full moon rose—blood-red because of the smoke—and I went for a hike on the lake. As the moon climbed higher and higher, it escaped the smoke and became a bright coin against the sky. Every detail of the cracked soil was surreally crisp; the crevices dark and deep. I wished everything had this much clarity. I wished I had always lived in this body, and you could have lived here with me, and I could have told you it’s all right, it’s going to be all right.

      When I turned around, my dark silver moon-shadow walked in front of me as I made my way back to the shore.

      My tale goes only to here; it ends, and the wind carries it to you. (242)