Guest Story: Insubstantial

Happy Friday the 13th, everyone! In honor of today, please enjoy a story written by my wonderful friend and writing buddy, Kate Sheeran Swed.

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Image from Pixabay

 

Calliope cannot convince her blood to circulate.

It is the sensation of waking with one arm splayed on the pillow, the limb drained and temporarily useless—only it tingles throughout her body. She can’t convince her numb fingers to grasp the doorknob.

The window is open, and she sneaks onto the slope of the roof more easily than ever before. Though she can’t manage her usual grip on the gutter, her ankles don’t smart when she lands.

She is weightless. She almost giggles, thinking of how she will surprise her mother by walking in the front door. But a cold feeling against her spine stifles her laughter. It is like getting up to use the bathroom at night, when the darkness convinces her to waste no time in returning to her room, lest the monsters should realize there’s a morsel out of bed.

If she loses her grip on the earth she will fly away, a balloon without a tether.

Calliope gives her head a shake, willing the dizziness to pass. Soon she will go inside, where her mother will press a cool hand against her forehead and check for fever. For now, she scans the yard for something familiar. The trees tilt, and she blinks to set them right. The flowerbeds wobble from daffodil to snapdragon, a double exposure in her brain.

Through the chaos, she catches sight of her lunchbox, anchored in the grass. She tries to remember the last time she held the handle, but it’s hard to distinguish the difference between days and years.

It should not be here. It belongs on the kitchen counter, jaw unhinged, waiting to be sated with peanut butter sandwiches and notes from her mother: Don’t forget to hand in your lunch money! Always with a heart.

On the street, kids hurry by, backpacks quivering as they cast wide-eyed glances at the house. Calliope kneels before the lunchbox. She expects damp knees, but no sensation leaks through her jeans.

There are two boys beyond the fence now, poking noses and fingers between the bars and whispering, jabbing one another with elbows. Calliope cannot hear what they’re saying. She wants them to leave her alone.

The lunchbox is decorated with a unicorn. There are rainbows on the thermos. But the hinges are rusty, the unicorn’s horn all but faded away.

Calliope reaches for the clasp.

One of the boys squeezes between the bars of the fence, pauses, looks back to his friend. The friend urges him on with a bright red sleeve.

“What do you want?” asks Calliope. The boy looks past her and swallows, then darts toward the porch.

Calliope decides to pay him no mind. She touches the tip of her index finger to the clasp on the unicorn lunchbox.

Her finger disappears. When she pushes forward, alarmed, the rest of her hand follows.

She jerks it back.

The boy reaches the porch, touches the bottom step. For a moment, the house settles in Calliope’s vision, and she sees it as if for the first time.

The porch swing hangs drunkenly from one chain. The welcome mat is gone. The kitchen window is broken, mold-black curtains hanging dirty and frayed.

It’s disorienting, like stumbling into a carnival and searching for a familiar strain through the cacophony of clashing tunes.

The boy hurtles back down the walk while his companion giggles.

Calliope is heat. She pours it into her fingers, curls them around the handle, and hurls the lunchbox with all the substance she has left.

The boys scream when the box hits the fence. They run.

Calliope sinks once more to her knees and tries to piece it all together, her thoughts no more solid than the ground beneath her feet. She will grow too heavy for the surface and descend through layers of earth, forget her place in time and fall through the years, until everything exists at once. She will hear the reason for the cockroaches, and how they keep the melody of the world from tilting off key.

The day slinks on.

*

Calliope cannot convince her blood to circulate.


Kate Sheeran Swed loves hot chocolate, plastic dinosaurs, and airplane tickets. She has trekked along the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu, hiked on the Mýrdalsjökull glacier in Iceland, and climbed the ruins of Masada to watch the sunrise over the Dead Sea. Following an idyllic childhood in New Hampshire, she completed degrees in music at the University of Maine and Ithaca College, then moved to New York City. Her stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Electric Spec, and Fantasy Scroll Magazine. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Pacific University. You can find her at katesheeranswed.com or on Twitter @katesheeranswed.

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If it’s safe, say yes

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The view from Devil’s Den, Gettysburg

Ghosts. Spirits. Hauntings. Whether you’re a skeptic or believer, you probably have some strong opinions on the subject, but I’m not here to convince you of anything. I’m just going to relate a story.

When I was in college, my dorm suite was haunted. Other people might have explained it away, but my roommates and I believed that the creepy things that were happening weren’t caused by living humans. We believed so much we had my friend’s father, who is a Russian Orthodox bishop, come to the school and bless our suite. After that, the activity stopped and that just solidified my belief.

I spent this last weekend in Gettysburg, PA at a paranormal conference organized by a company called Strange Escapes. It was a weekend full of ghosts and theories, battlefields and talks, and wonderful camaraderie. It was soul-filling in a strange way and I got to see my writing friend, Christie, which just made the weekend even better.

The most eye-opening talk for me was given by John Tenney. I’ve been mulling over two things he said since Sunday.

The first was that he doesn’t like the word “paranormal” because these experiences are shared by so many people that they are more normal than not, but most people talk about them in whispers. This was mostly just an interesting tidbit that slightly realigned how I see things.

The second he said was that if someone asks you to do something crazy, and it’s safe, always say yes. And he proceeded to tell us amazing stories of things people have asked him to come see.

My life has been pretty routine lately. Work sleep work sleep ad nauseum. I haven’t been saying “yes” to many things lately. Maybe this one line spoken from the front of a crowded lecture room in amongst the weird ghostly happenings of the weekend, is the thing I needed to take away from this conference. I need to hang on to the sentiment and learn how to say “yes” more.

I’m back in the “real world” now and it’s a little jarring. There’s a definite lack of magic in the way I carry out the humdrum of my daily life and this conference really showed me how unacceptable that is.

I want to live a weird, wacky, amazing life. And acknowledging that is the first step, so I think I’m on the right path.

I’ll write more about the actual conference at some point, but this has been what I’ve been thinking about since I left yesterday.