By Sophia Warren
Granddaddy was the one who actually owned the motel in Hernando, Florida, but Mama and Jim (my father who insisted that we never call him anything other than Jim) had put him away somewhere on the property long ago in a gray shed with a hole in the floor for the toilet. He had lost his mind. Mama said it was why they’d put him away, but sometimes I wondered if he wasn’t crazy on account of being put in that shed where the stench of his shit made his eyes water and stream and the air all hazy like walking into a blinding, setting sun.
I walked into a lot of those sunsets as a child. Mostly buying beers and great big 12-packs of glazed donuts at the Hernando Discount Liquor Store where they’d sell beer to me when I was six because everybody knew Jim needed it. He’d shot himself in the foot accidentally when I was only just three and was constantly complaining that since the pill mills closed, he didn’t have enough medication. Combined with enough booze though, the pills he could get put him right again and he’d limp around, leaning up against the exterior walls of the motel, trying to chase what little tail there was around, mostly the two teenage runaways that lived in the room on the far end. I watched them two, the way they walked back and forth from the gas station, their butts twitching in their bitty floral shorts. They were skinny little things. One wore glasses. Thick glasses like you’d see in the eighties, before contacts were popular and girls ditched the damn things.
Sometimes I dreamt about that girl, the way her lower lip pushed out into an eternal pout, her doe eyes magnified so that she looked less like a gentle white tail and more like a pesky insect. She had dark brown hair and she wore her glasses low on the tip of her nose. In my dreams, I’d be kissing on her. Both of us on the ground in the unfinished motel room, the one I was putting a new floor in, so we were just there on the baseboards, kind of damp from the Florida evening and she’s got her arms all wrapped around my body, moaning a little bit, shivering a little bit, not from the cold but from the anticipation. And in my dream I feel like a man. I feel big and powerful and for a minute, I feel like I’m growing, like my body is actually growing and I can feel my skin all tight and my muscles all sore and then I realize that it’s not me that’s been growing; it’s her that’s been shrinking, shrinking down into nothing but a big old moth with big old eyes, its head in my mouth, its wings fluttering about my face, tickling my nose. I jump in horror, twisting around and trying to spit. Then I wake up with my dick stuck to the inside of my thigh.
I’ve had this dream three times now. The moth gets a little bit more of itself into my mouth each time. I imagine that one day I’ll just eat it. I wonder if it’ll crunch or squish. I ate a termite once and it tasted like mint.
Everything changed the summer that the girl from the high school killed herself. It wasn’t so much the suicide, but the way that it made the air thicker, life slower, people just a tiny bit sadder. The women at church frowned just a tad more than they already did. Some forgot to put their dentures in, so hysterical about the whole ordeal, so that when they opened their mouths to sing a hymn, their lips got all sucked in and they couldn’t get the words out right.
She changed a lot before she went and offed herself. Stuck a knife in her neck and waited to bleed out all over her mother’s new carpeting. Just laying there like a stuck pig. The town wasn’t supposed to know the details, of course, but small towns breed big mouths. Within an hour, Officer Jameson had told his wife who had told Gina, her hairdresser, who had told Carrie, her daughter, who told Jennifer, the cheer captain, who told her boyfriend, Tyler who told the whole football team and it cycled until it came to me. The fact of the matter was that I’d already known. I was there. Not for the whole thing, but after she’d passed out. I think she was still alive but she wasn’t moving none and her head was cradled in a beautiful puddle of blood almost like the circles you see around the heads of saints in old paintings. Like that, but made of blood, which is strangely saintly in its own way.
I needed to touch her cheek. I tried the back screen door. It was unlocked. No one in Hernando ever locked their doors. It was the kind of community where if you ran out of eggs you could walk into a neighbor’s house and take one out of the fridge. That’s the kind of place it was.
I made my way through the kitchen, running my hands across the granite counter. Her mother had always had good taste like out of the magazines or something. I thought about her flesh as I moved. I trembled at the thought of its warmth, how I would caress her chin in the palm of my hand, maybe even kiss her lips, coated in mauve. Mauve. I have always loved the word rolling off of my tongue, a tongue that maybe I’d slip into her mouth. I was sure her mouth would still be warm. When I entered the living room, her body was nowhere to be seen, the back of the couch hiding where she lay on the tile floor. Rounding the corner though, I could see the blood, darker than I had imagined it would be up close, running through the grouted cracks, spilling out onto white tile, only its lacquer visible against the black pieces, shimmering in sunlight filtered through the orange tree outside. Her flesh was paling but still rosy in the cheeks. Her hair was matted against her neck where the knife protruded, the tip of the handle resting on the floor, her body slightly curled, her legs tangled, her dress high on her thighs. I leant down and lifted the hem of her dress. Her underwear were a cherry red, cotton with lace trim. I ran my finger under the edge of lace; it made a satisfying snapping sound as I pulled my finger out. “You awake?” I asked. Not sure why I said awake. What I’d meant to say was, ‘You dead?’ She didn’t answer. Her eyes were wide and frightened. I leant down and closed them, slipped my finger into her parted lips, felt her tongue. It was still warm but she was dead, no breath passed across my fingers. I withdrew my finger from her mouth and put it in my own. She tasted sweet. I wondered what she really tasted like. I looked over my shoulders both ways, glancing into the kitchen to make sure no one was coming, but I knew. I knew her mother wasn’t due home for several hours from her job as a tour guide in Crystal Springs. I knew all. I reached my hand down, felt the lace edge of her underwear give again. First, I only felt hair. Next, wet warmth. She was still very hot against my hand. I’d never really touched a girl, but I had a good sense of where I was going. I’d thought about it enough times. I slipped just my index finger up into her and withdrew it into my mouth. It tasted and smelled like piss. She must’ve soiled herself laying there on the floor, bleeding. I shrugged, still kind of tasting her essence, that true essence like salt. I nudged her body with the toe of my sneaker, checking once more that she was really gone, really gone from this world, maybe somewhere else already, maybe watching me. I hoped she wasn’t offended. She didn’t move. I turned and left.
I had simply come to the house to watch her dance. Every afternoon when she got home from school, she danced in this floaty, dreamy sort of way, shuffling across the black and white checkered floor of her mother’s living room, spinning until she had to sit still out of dizziness. The first time I’d seen her, it’d been an honest mistake. You see, you could walk from the Hernando Discount Liquor Store to the motel in about ten minutes if you took the road but if you cut behind the store and through about one hundred feet of shrubs and then along the side of her house, the motel was just across the street and one block over. You could easily do it in five. And so, trying to save five minutes of my life - which is really quite odd considering I spend so many restless minutes wishing that life would speed up - I saw her dancing. At first, I thought there might be something wrong with her. The way she twitched around, arms shifting around her body in great, swinging circles just seemed unnatural. She shuffled from tile to tile like hop-scotch, but without the hopping. But then again, sometimes she appeared to be floating, not high up in the air, but her feet were just light enough that occasionally she levitated, maybe just a sixteenth of an inch, but she did it. I swear on it. But there was something oddly enchanting about the whole thing- the way she moved in non-fluid motion, like when the television signal goes out and the scene jumps. Like a flip book. Just like that. And even though it wasn’t the most elegant dance, I could’ve stood right there, hidden from view by a great old orange tree outside her window, and danced with her, pretended to hold her jolting body, directed it into a wonderful, vibrant waltz. In that one moment, I resigned to a lifetime of misery. Here was this beautiful girl, dancing and moving, but she looked so sad and if that kind of beauty could be so depressed and lackluster, then what kind of chance did an emaciated son of a drug-addled motel owner have?
When I woke up from the dream again (this time the moth had wiggled its body all the way into my mouth. I was so close to eating it), there were dogs crying. Not the low growl of my old and trusty Max, but the high pitched wails of babies, puppies. They all sound the same really. Helpless and confused. My mattress was wet again. I made a mental note to clean it up before Mama woke up because there was no doubt that she would tell Jim and he would mock me until the end of the earth like he did about many things: my hair, my pale complexion, my inability to spell the word ‘definitely’ - which I am pretty sure he cannot spell either. He would hold up the sheets and laugh as my cum ran down in a narrow, but very slow, stream, leaving a sort of yellowish trail in its wake. I would not forget to clean it up. I swore it, but first I needed to find the puppies. They sounded lost and there is nothing worse than being lost.
They were not in the adjoining three rooms we called our apartment - three shitty motel rooms with one functioning bathroom and two non-functioning microwaves. I did not check Jim and Mama’s room because I hated to see Mama in her dressing gown, all spread out and sprawling like a beached whale. She had been pretty once. Maybe when I was born. Maybe before. I cannot remember exactly, but it’s like the shadow of the memory is there. It’s like I remember something I could not possibly remember. Maybe I just remember the way she smiles when she talks about the ‘good ol’ days.’
But there they were, the puppies. Crying and crying and crying. I opened the door and the light met me, blinded me; I could make out the outline of a cage perched atop the large dumpster across from the motel office, the sun rising over the top of it. In it were six beautiful puppies. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. I recognized the breed immediately from a book I had checked out of the library for forty-six weeks in a row when I was eight. It was about dog breeds. Eventually the librarian told me I had to take out a different book and could not renew Dogs A-Z. Never did I check out another book in all my life. Perfect little puppies, yipping and yapping and trembling, their coats illuminated and shining, healthy. Little pink tongues escaping out of and retreating back into panting mouths. So dainty. I reached my fingers into the cage and they all greeted it quickly with moist noses and kind mouths. Warmth gathered over me, filling my skin like the heat of the hottest afternoon. I brought my face to the cage. I was smothered in kisses through the bars. They had stopped crying. I could hear the distant highway, their little claws scraping against the plastic panel on the bottom of the cage, which was filled with shit and piss. They slid around a lot.
It was getting brighter by the moment. Mama and Jim would be up soon. Up and up to something. Why were these puppies here? Who brought them? What did Jim and Mama have planned? What were they up to? They stole them! They’re going to kill them. Why, I didn’t know. The sunlight was too red. It was making me dizzy. The puppies were crying again, sensing something wrong. I had to save them. I had to get them away, out of Hernando as soon as possible. Their lives depended on it. My life depended on it. It all depended on it.
The keys to the truck. Where were the keys to the truck? Jim almost always kept them on him, not trusting me or Mama, especially not Mama who seemed to have the terrible misfortune of getting a flat tire every time she drove or running out of gas or getting too high and falling asleep somewhere odd. She was always getting herself into trouble.
I opened the door to their room. It creaked. I jumped. Mama snored, shuddered, and sighed. Jim rolled over and out of the sinking sag in the middle of the mattress. The keys jingled as he moved. They were somewhere on his body, somewhere below his beer gut and above his bruised knees. Pockets. Belt. I prayed they weren’t in the back pockets. I reached down over his body. He was sweating. I was sweating. My sweat dripped off the tip of my nose and landed just left of his right nipple. He grunted. Left pocket. No. Right pocket. Yes. And 20 dollars too. I shuffled out of the room. Closed the door behind me.
I left the cum all over the sheets.
The truck took three tries to get the engine to turn over. It rumbled and rumbled and gurgled and spat, but it took eventually. The puppies whimpered at the noise, whimpered at the way the passenger seat shuddered with each attempt. I lurched forward, a little uneasy. Driving is not my strong suit just yet. Only short trips to the liquor store in nearby Crystal Springs which stayed open later than Hernando Discount Liquor. And only occasionally when I hadn’t adequately stocked the fridge or Jim was in a particularly uncomfortable mood.
I drove past her house and said goodbye.
It was hot. There was no air-conditioning in the truck. The shit filled cage had begun to stink, truly stink as the shit melted into liquid, running along the bottom of the cage and occasionally splashing out on to the seat. Something had to be done.
I pulled into a Walmart. “Now you stay right here,” I told the dogs more for myself than for them. Had to remind myself of a plan because there was no plan. Tried to keep a semblance of normality. Order.
The store was already crowded for the day or from the night or for some reason that I did not know. Long lines at the registers, fluorescent lighting eerily hanging overhead. Overweight and overworked bodies sweating. Perhaps they were all there to escape the heat like how I often visited the grocery store to do, standing in front of the ice cream fridge with the door wide open, sometimes sneaking into the beer walk-in to just stand for as long as possible. Maybe it was like that.
The aisles seemed endless. A young man told me aisle six for pet accessories. There were no pet accessories in aisle six. An older black woman told me aisle eleven. Aisle eleven was tropical fish. I was getting closer. In aisle thirteen, I found things for canines - although the puppies I had could hardly warrant being called ‘canines.’ They seemed too small, too pristine for such a big and official title. In my mind, I called them pups.
Two cans of puppy chow. A large plastic laundry basket - high enough so that they couldn’t jump over the side. Three beach towels with Daffy Duck on them. He always was my favorite of the Loony Tunes.
They were still there when I came back, the six of them dancing around with their twitching a quivering bodies, heaving with the strain of massive pants, trying desperately to stay cool in the deep Pan Handle summer with air that clung to your body, raising each hair on your body. They yipped and yapped. I got into the car on the driver side, putting the laundry basket in the middle of the bench seat, layering the towels across the bottom, one by one; I moved the little things from their shit filled cage and into the basket. They lapped happily at the can of puppy chow. They squeaked in pleasure, pushing one another out of the way, stumbling over one another in their efforts to scramble for the next bite. I left their crate and its putrid stench right there, door wide open, in Section B of the Walmart parking lot.
The puppies seemed happier in their basket. I turned on the radio. Johnny Cash came on. I sang all the way until sundown.
We pulled into a motel somewhere outside of Pensacola. The room was tiny, the shower curtain’s bottom stained with blood. Someone had been killed in the room. I wanted to complain, but, upon checking in, I asked where I might find food. I was starving. Not a single stop the whole way except for one bathroom break near Tallahassee. The woman behind the counter had made me plate of whatever the family was eating, all spread out around the lobby, eyes glued to a television omitting rapid, indistinguishable Spanish. I’d never been much for languages. Tried to learn a few words here and there but couldn’t muster much more than adios and gracias, and even those came out jumped, vowels all wrong.
I brought the laundry basket into the bathroom, turned on the tap and filled about three inches of warm water. Each puppy, I held in my hands and rinsed them, rubbing shit out of their soft fur, more like feathers than fur, matted as if by oil. It was a painstaking process. I rubbed them in washcloths until they fluffed up, little balls of fuzz romping about the bathroom, very curious about what was going on behind the toilet. They cried periodically, whimpering and looking up at me with big sad eyes.
Once I had gotten them all onto the bed with me, still in their basket, I offered them a dixie cup of cool water and another can of puppy chow. The ate eagerly, still crying, pulling themselves up onto the top of the basket after eating, front paws peeking out over the white plastic rim. Joining in the fun one by one until the whole thing tipped and I found myself swarmed by six beautiful creatures who loved me, needed me, wanted me.
The dream had changed. It was thick, the air in my mind. I sweat in my sleep. I sweat in the dream. I could barely see, the moths circled around and around and fluttered to and from my face. One landed on my eyeball and I felt its tiny feet and I blinked and it jumped off and joined the hundreds, maybe thousands of gray and yellow moths. I think the runaway was in the corner, but as I said, it was hard to see. I could see her shadow. Her white tank top that stood out in the dark, like a ghost and her glasses shown from wherever the little bit of light was coming from. There must’ve been light bulb somewhere, but looking around; I couldn’t locate the source of the faint lavender light that danced around the room ever so slightly. The moths cleared away from my face for a moment and she was there on a chair with her legs spread and her hands at her sides, resting on the chair so that her shoulders were all raised up next to her ears. Her legs were switched, the left on the right and the right on a left so that they were almost like the moths, feet turned out, knees all strange and contorted and it looked uncomfortable. She was the runaway but sometimes, in that way that can only happen in dreams, she was that girl who had killed herself, sometimes her neck was bleeding. But it didn’t matter who she was. She looked sad just the same, her eyes all white and her skin all stretched and looking right at me. At me! And she opened her legs further and I could see everything down there and I walked towards her, tripping through the dark, but her face gleamed and I needed- I needed. I stood over her and she stared directly into my chest and I took her chin and lifted her face up to me and she cried and it was sticky when I touched it, clinging to my fingers and she started shrieking and shrieking and I looked down and something was going on down there, something was happening and the next thing I knew, a puppy’s head emerged from her and then its tail and then another and then two more and they were whimpering and whimpering and crying and she threw them to the ground, mouthing something that looked like, “I ain’t your fucking mama. You ain’t got no mama no more.” And they were crying and she was screaming and they jumped at my ankles crying and begging and I wanted her to feed them, but she just reached for my hand and put it between her legs and it was sticky. And the puppies cried and cried.
The puppies were crying when I woke up. One had fallen off the bed and the others were peering over the edge and whimpering, fearing for their lost and stranded brother. Or maybe it was sister. I didn’t look. I pulled the one that had fallen back up on to the bed and on to my sweaty chest and its little tongue licked somewhere near my nipple and its paw sunk into my belly button and I smiled at the little thing. They were shaking. They plodded around my legs.
Four days and the money was gone. They’d eaten one dollar and consumed the rest in tiny pink cans of puppy chow that smelled like shit, smelled like that shack in the woods where grandpa crouched over a tiny hole and screamed into the night where no one could hear him. The puppies pissed in the bed. They cried out for mama into the deep dark nights and pushed against my chest as I slept, nuzzling for warmth and searching for milk.
She was on the ground, knife wedged in her dainty neck. Dreams so simple, just her body across the motel room floor, the puppies licking at her wound with those tiny little tongues that lapped water up like tiny spoons. They stopped crying and just drank it all up and then danced, levitating around the room, little paws struggling to find the carpet, but giving up and just floating about and I just lay on the bed, eyes huge as these puppies moved in ways I didn’t know puppies could, shuffling, twitching like a glitch in a movie where the image lags and just becomes a million colorful lines for a moment. They were doing that like they weren’t even in this realm or world or whatever you call it and sometimes they laughed. Those puppies laughed and looked at me all seductive. And the more they drank, the more they danced and the more they danced, the more they seduced. And I woke up aching all over because I needed so much.
A puppy was on my chest and she was right there, on my chest, looking at me with great dark eyes and it didn’t speak, the puppy didn’t speak, but there it was, there she was. And I checked the others and they were there and she was there. And they danced in the daytime too, especially when I was in the shower, danced across the black and white tile, swerving around one another, jerking this way and that. And sometimes I tried to dance too, but I couldn’t levitate and I needed to levitate. I needed to fucking levitate because why could they? And I couldn’t? Why was I so pathetic? How? How could this have happened?
And they lapped up that blood every night until her face turned blue, until there was nothing left, the muscles drained, and the knife slipped out of her neck and on to the floor and it thudded right there, right there on the thin carpet and the puppies danced around it, cutting their little paws on it and I didn’t know what to do anymore because it wasn’t safe and she was slipping away and the puppies had grown plump and swollen with her life.
I filled the tub with six inches of cold water the first one squealed as I put it in and held it down and it fought against my hands and its siblings cried and bubbles came up to the surface and it struggled and struggled until it went limp and I lay it on the black and white checked tile and I looked at it and its siblings nudged it with their tiny noses and licked its shoulder, its soft wet fur.
I picked up the next one and it squealed and struggled and it bit my hand and blood ran into the water, but it was cold so it stopped bleeding real quick and the pup trembled, that little pup trembled under the weight of my thin hands that had grown thinner and paler from no food to eat and I laid it down next to its brother and I did it, just like that for each one until six pups laid across that tile and they looked like sleepy wet things. I picked one up and looked into its eyes and she was still there. She wasn’t gone. Still breathing in this little thing and I needed her. Frantically, I ran into the bedroom. She was going to slip away. I needed her now. I needed her now. I needed her in me. I started screaming. I started wailing, rummaging. Something sharp. Fast. Something now. I needed- Oh, I needed. I shook with the thought of all that I needed. I found a wire hanger already coated in blood and I wondered why, but didn’t wonder too much, and I ran into the bathroom and I stabbed that little pup, the one she was in, the one I needed right in its little neck and blood trickled out and I pushed my finger to it and put my finger into my own mouth and sucked and I felt myself lift from the ground and begin to tremble and shake and dance. I glitched and lurched and twisted and contorted and the puppies slept. And I had what I wanted.
But there was no joy left on this godforsaken earth.
This is our new Wicked Short Stories page with submissions from various Authors. Please look for bio-snippets about the Author at the bottom of the various pieces. Enjoy!