The Night I Died

We went to Home Depot to steal pipes. I felt guilty even in the dream, felt the heat flash through my body. Like sweating in a too-hot bath. We needed the pipes, PVC, and in specially measured lengths, for the shadow cast production of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. It was my second year directing. This tank will be my legacy, I told you, sketching out my plan

We planned to go after dark, wearing elaborate masks. Stock characters of the commedia dell’arte. I didn’t know my own name, and the smirk in your voice when you said it made me rethink who was in charge here. 

The lights were flickering. We stood in the parking lot. You smoked. I thought about the red glow pinpricking the dark, and if it was noticeable. Smoke drenched our clothes and glitter stained our skin, red-handed indeed. 

I was reading The Master and Margarita but nothing could have prepared me for what we saw when you cranked the doors open. They were somehow subterranean, like we were preparing to board a submarine. The banner was hand lettered, painted with glitter paint. The policeman’s ball, and here we were, trespassing. You said, Do whatever it takes to fit in, and waltzed through the crowd, flirting with a redhead who gazed after you, stunned. I could hear his thoughts. An angel walking among us. Two cases of mistaken identity later, I was dancing with an officer above my rank in the center of the ballroom. Tools lined the walls, glinting, sepulchral. It was then I knew the risk. His mask was more Shakespearean, tied about his head and neck with silk ribbons, and mine was buckled on. I felt trapped, lungs crushed within my bodice, my high heels tangled in orange and black streamers fallen to the floor. Panic rose off my skin like smoke. Where were you? My officer whipped me around, hard, and I felt my elbow crack. His hand closed around my wrist. The cigarettes! We’d been seen. I caught your eye as you appeared from a distant aisle, shook my head. The light shone amber and my officer dipped me. I never saw it, but I had somehow always known it was coming. 

The next day you played music while I drove us. We paid for the pipes, flirted with an attractive employee as he cut them down to size for us, helped us find all the right corners and joints. The spray paint clanked merrily in the backseat of the car, and I felt sick that night as we spread everything out after dark. We had a tarp to protect the grass, to prevent another crime scene. You jiggled the can and sprayed. I crossed my arms and closed my eyes. I saw my own body, headless on the floor at the officer’s feet, the shining saw (of course) that had done it. You met my eye, gleeful. What had we done? What had we lost? 

Anna Press is a writer and educator. Born and raised in Los Angeles, CA, she now lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband and three errant dachshunds. Her writing appears in Kissing Dynamite Poetry’s print anthology Lift Every Voice, The Hellebore, The Columbia Review, Necessary Fiction, and Glass Poetry. Talk to her on Twitter @annaepress.



That’s all we did: conjure this and conjure that. We ended up with a house full of spirits: our dead pets and our friend’s dead pets:  Lulu, Simone, Bosco, Sydney, Louie, Olivia, and Skipper. A whole spirit-kennel. Skipper’s parents called our parents,

“ Hey Martha, umm, Timmy said Robby and Sarah brought our Skipper’s spirit back from the dead.” 

“Really, Hellen, you think 12yr olds could do that?”

Then it happened, our Grandma Jean died. We thought since we could conjure pet spirits, why not her spirit?  So my witch-sister and I made the ‘Conjure-Her-Back-Circle’ our witch-cousin taught us. We added all the required ingredients: Grandma Jean’s brush, her apron, and her sewing box. And candles. We had to have candles. We found the On/Off button kind and all three of us were ready with our incantations collaged from what we had heard in songs and sermons for so many years. 

“Grandma Jean who isn’t sleeping, but resting in peace with perpetual light shining upon her, and angels bringing her home on their wings. We miss the candy you hid in our socks and the sticky notes you left on our mirrors. We miss you; wish you were here.”

We repeated that three times, then held up the candles and said, 

The Our Father and The Hail Mary, which we learned in catechism, then waited in the glow of our battery-lit candles for the reawakening—a word we heard our mother say. 

But, nothing happened.

So, the saying Grandma Jean always said to us when we got discouraged, we tacked on at the end of the Hail Mary,

“Pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death, and if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again, Amen,” 

 Still nothing. 

We performed that ritual and recited those incantations for months every Sunday after Mass, but still no Grandma Jean spirit.  

Eventually, we turned, like we were taught in catechism, to the intercession of the saints; but could never decide which saints we wanted to intercede for us, except for Saint Joseph, the husband of Mary. We figured if we got the whole family into it all, it would help.

So, there we were: three witches trying to conjure our dead grandmother’s spirit. Incantation after incantation, but still the same result: Grandma Jean’s spirit stayed dead. 

After a while, we thought: maybe Father, Son, Holy Spirit, Mary, and Joseph were just not—we started using the amazing witchy word our cousin taught us—potent enough to raise dead spirits.  Maybe we needed some others; and that’s when Lucifer came into play. During catechism, my witch-cousin asked Sister Anne if the devil had another name or was it just, “The Devil.” Her shocking reply, “Lucifer, the fallen angel.”

Lucifer. It sounded so much better to us.

 Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—3 in One as Sister Anne tried to explain—seemed, just, not the same, not real. 

And we were kids, old enough to know the word death, but not theologically sophisticated enough to understand why you do not throw Lucifer into our catholic laden incantations:

 “Our Father and Lucifer, hallowed be thy name,” and “Hail Mary and Lucifer full of grace.” 

We continued conjuring until we learned in catechism not about Halloween, but about All Hallows’ Eve which had to do with the Saints and their Souls on All Saints Day, the day after Halloween. We also dropped Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for Blessed Trinity—as Sister Anne taught us. It was easier to recite and it seemed like more potent, magical language.

So, on All Saints Day, with Lucifer, all the Saint’s Souls, and the Blessed Trinity, we decided to give conjuring Grandma Jean’s Spirit one more try, and if it didn’t happen, then maybe none of these Incantation People, as we started calling them, were potent enough to bring her spirit back. Maybe we should change our conjuring and try what we read about in our father’s Mother Earth News magazines: things like herbs and plants that could heal if mixed with the right ingredients; remedies, they called it—that could be made at home. At least those things we could find and touch. The Incantation People were just names and, up to this point, hadn’t remedied anything. 

So, we began, 

“In the name of Lucifer, the Holy Trinity, All Hallows’ Eve, and all the Saintly Souls 

we beseech thee and thy praise forever and thy kingdom come to,”we added the new word, “remedy back to life our grandma Jean’s spirit, and bring her to the place she called home to be with the people that loved her best, so we can see her again, and maybe ask her what being dead was like, and if she missed us, and why mother said ‘she left too soon’.” We wanted to say more, but got lost in the words, so we just added, “And all the new things we learned in Mother Earth News, we humbly ask your forgiveness and will make an Act of Contrition to bring Grandma Jean’s spirit back.”

And with our circle now in salt—we learned it was magical—and some pepper, we decided was an herb—all borrowed from the kitchen table—and all our grandmotherly objects and battery lit candles, and all the new and old incantations we learned, we waited: first, with eyes closed, then open, then with frowns on our faces, and finally with pursed lips at each other, for Grandma Jean’s spirit to be—another potent word we learned— reincarnated back to us. 

There we sat: afraid that if we spoke it would break the potency. Then, after a long, confused silence, we got up, turned the candles off, brushed up the pepper and salt, put it into our new Conjuring Box, and went back upstairs to page through more Mother Earth News magazines, looking for home remedies we could try, instead of the Incantation People, that would bring Grandma Jean’s spirit back to us.

David Calogero Centorbi is a writer living in Detroit, MI. Recently published work in The Daily Drunk, Dreams Walking, Versification, Brown Bag Online, Horror Sleaze Trash, Anti-Heroin Chic, and Crepe & Pen. He can be found here on Twitter: @DavidCaCentorbi.


Ghosts and Other Things I’ve Seen

I grew up in a haunted house. A bona fide, “that house people tell ghost stories about whenever they walk past,” haunted house: a 200-year-old brick home whose first occupants (and builders) are buried in a small plot in the cornfield across the street. They’re not still living there, but they’re still there.

My parents bought it when they were young: new parents who aspired to land for their son (me) to grow up and explore: a creek in which to fish and canoe, a grove of fruit trees, and acres of woods into which paths could be trammeled.And the old brick house was cheap: with a corn field as far as the eye could see across the road and pastures across the creek behind it. Both were suburban children, whose lives were spent growing up with WWII veterans in the kinds of homes most WWII veterans raised their families, so they saw the rundown property with rose-tinted flip-down sunglasses atop rose-tinted prescription lenses.

The house did not wait long to announce its reputation was well earned, though my parents – lacking any local friends – did not know it. My parents left me in my crib in what would become the dining room and, when they returned, saw that I was under the watchful eye of a young man in clothing of a different time. To my parents’ eternal credit, they took my guardian angel in stride and concluded that a house haunted by kind, protective spirits was even better than a regular old home and left us alone.

From time to time, the spirits would play tricks on us or our guests: waking us up in the middle of the night with blindingly bright lights or moving things from one place to another (a trick I did not appreciate until just now would have been a fantastic take upon the more traditional dog-ate-my-homework excuse; oh well).

Between the home and the cemetery, there was always the specter of death: snakes of all sizes and dangers, a mountain lion that tore the neighbor’s ostrich flock apart, and the sporadic minor criminal who used our woods to break open the ATM they’d removed from its designated plot.

But no harm befell us in that home. One night I woke up to the sounds of destruction and saw that a tornado had ripped all of the trees in our front yard from the safety of the ground and spread them across the yard and road, while the house stood unblemished. Perhaps that’s why haunted houses are always the oldest ones on the block: the spirits have found a way to defeat nature – to survive when science says they should be dead – and having beaten nature once, find her as impotent as a moderator and ignore her.

Too bad those kindly spirits are confined within walls that long ago lost their hold on me: guardian angels bound eternally to a house while nature, ever cunning, sent me searching for a home to die in.

Mike Luketich can be followed on Twitter: @mikeluketich.


The Voices

After my wife died, the nights were raucous. I heard voices, a clutter of throaty utterances so numerous, distinct words were garbled. I searched the house; nothing. Yet every twilight, the voices roused from quiescence.

I feared they were auditory hallucinations. I sought evaluation. The clinicians poked and probed—physically and mentally—and diagnosed grief. I was assured the voices would subside. So I waited. The voices persisted. I relocated to a new house in a new city in a new state. The voices followed but tempered their visits. They were no longer daily. Instead, they vanished for weeks, only to recur, repeatedly. However, they remained nocturnal and garbled.


It has been fourteen years. The voices visit occasionally. They have become friends. Still, I wonder, are they really a subliminal expression of grief, now prolonged? Or are they missives from a spiritual realm where voices of the deceased offer a thin conduit to their ghostly presence? I do not know—not yet. 

Paul Rousseau is published in sundry literary and medical journals. He is a lover of dogs, and currently marooned in Charleston, South Carolina.


At Waking

It’s the news, it must be the news, I thought. Why else would I dream something so horrific? 

Night after night, tales of violence recounted from breathless newscasters. On America’s city streets, in Kabul and Delhi, London and Paris, in Islamabad and Istanbul. 

The dream came to me during a nap on a clammy September day in 2009. Our TVs, our world, had upped the ante since 9/11, bringing reports of Biblical justice meted halfway around the world in undulating sandscapes where we sent our own to fight. Al-Qaeda would take a back seat, in time, to one more terrifying; an acronym that rolled off the tongue with a serpent-like hiss. ISIS.

Hanging crosses, beheadings, stonings. We hadn’t advanced, not really, over two millennia. We’d learned, years earlier, of journalist Daniel Pearl’s beheading. We would learn, years later, of another; one of our community’s sons. James Foley, journalist. His parents live fifteen minutes from me.

I woke that afternoon, terror clawing up my throat, my heartbeat slamming my ribcage. It was so vivid. Real. In my dream, I knelt. Counted down the endless minutes to my own beheading. Shadowed, hooded figures crossed in and out of my line of sight. I squeezed my eyes shut. No. Jesus, no. 

I’ve never felt more disoriented, at waking. Mute with terror, head pounding, heart racing. I clutched at my chest. My scheduled open-head surgery to try to reach the tumor bleeding in my brain was then just two weeks away.

Ann Kathryn Kelly lives and writes in New Hampshire’s Seacoast region. She’s an editor with Barren Magazine, works in the technology sector, and leads writing workshops for a nonprofit that offers therapeutic arts programming to people living with brain injury. Her essays have appeared in a number of literary journals.


Benadryl & the Enchanted Tiki Room

We have created an interesting rite of passage in my family; your first experience at Disneyland has to be the Enchanted Tiki Room. I don’t think it’s a bad tradition, just unique. It basically says it can only get better from here. Although, in my case that could not have been truer. My first experience in Disneyland was a visit to the Enchanted Tiki Room while under the influence of Benadryl. 

Thinking back on it, California didn’t make such a great first impression. Our car was infiltrated by ants at our hotel. The same hotel, I might add, in which a vicious bee hurried from underneath a step and then proceeded to sting me multiple times. The only way I stopped the attack was by grabbing said bee, closing my hand around it, throwing it as hard as I could, and running. 

I took the Benadryl and it didn’t take long for the drowsiness to set it. Disneyland felt more carnival, less amusement park, with the world wildly spinning around me. I don’t really remember entering the gates of the Magic Kingdom. 

But before I knew it, I was sitting in an ill-lit room with singing parrots lunging at me. It felt like some kind of strange Twilight Zone episode, but in color—the kaleidoscopic twirl of macaw feathers and the garbled sounds of squawks and song. A good part of me is grateful that I was under the influence of Benadryl throughout this. Maybe it made the show better. It definitely kept me guessing whether this was the Disneyland spectacular I had anticipated for months or just the side effect of my antihistamine. If I hadn’t had to question this fact, I very well may have just started crying right there in the middle of the Enchanted Tiki Room. 

Elizabeth Bates is a writer and teacher from Washington state where she lives with her husband, son, and two Siberian Huskies. She is a co-columnist of “Full Send” at The Daily Drunk. Bates has recent or forthcoming works with VersificationSeaborne Magazine, and elsewhere.