Treehouse

online magazine for short, good writing

Tag: writing

Moonlight Serenade

by Treehouse Editors

Phil Gallos

“Zombies and vampires. That’s all I ever get at these full-moon gigs,” the werewolf complained in a nasal growl.

Mary Alice peered at him through Coke-bottle glasses. “You sound like a cracked didgeridoo.”

“It’s this damn head cold. Next stop, sinus infection. Probably picked it up from one of the zombies. There’re vectors for everything. Might as well be in a room full toddlers.”

They watched the elegant and tattered crowd on the ballroom floor, gliding and lurching, moonlight streaming through windows long ago shattered by the bored and the disaffected. It sparkled on the disco balls and illuminated puffs of dust driven from frost-heaved parquetry by the impact of feet that would never die.

The werewolf frowned.

“They only call me because no one else will DJ for them. And I get so tired of blood and decay. It’s depressing.”

“Try to look at the bright side, Loup. How unhappy their existence might be if they didn’t have these dances to look forward to. And you make it possible for them to escape. You give them a few hours of…of….” Mary Alice tried to think of a word more appropriate than joy but couldn’t.

“You give them a few hours of joy. And, besides, it isn’t all vampires and zombies. I’m here.”

She flashed him a wide smile.

Loup grunted. He looked at her. “And that’s another thing. You’re a sixteen-year-old girl with bad eyes and great teeth. What are you doing here?”

Mary Alice thought of all the moons that had passed since her first moon bleeding. She thought about the silver light on the frozen lake and the hills beyond the lake, the woods alive with wild voices calling. She had never doubted they were calling her. She put her hand on Loup’s flank, felt the soft coat and the hard muscle beneath…felt saliva rising around her tongue and a tingling in the roots of her teeth.

“Because this is where I belong,” she said.

Loup pointed to the figures lumbering and drifting upon the floor. “With them?”

Mary Alice shook her head, her hair platinum, shag cut. “No, Loup. Not with them.”

She slipped a pale arm around his dark waist. He stiffened slightly; then relaxed, adjusting to this new level of intimacy. But when she urged him toward the dancers with the gentlest of pressure, he resisted.

“I have to stay here. I have to spin these discs.”

“The discs will spin without you until there’s nothing left to spin; and, when the last tune ends, the vampires and the zombies will think the dance is over, and they’ll leave. But we will still hear the music. We will always hear the music.”

Loup considered this for a moment, then said, “But I have a contract. It will cost me if I violate it.”

“It will cost you more if you don’t. Come. Come away from this and dance.”

He stepped uncertainly from his console and microphone, and she guided him to the dancefloor, his confidence growing as they moved in among the ageless and the undead. A faint breeze filled the hall, animating the somnolent chandeliers. The discs played all there was to play. The console fell silent. One by one, the vampires floated away through broken windows, the zombies staggered out through chain-locked doors, until just the werewolf and the girl were left dancing to a song audible only to them.

Down the snow-quiet street, a young couple wanders arm in arm. They stop at twin sets of animal tracks that begin at a dual door secured by a heavy chain threaded through the handles and padlocked. From there, the tracks cross the street, descend an embankment, and continue onto the frozen lake, converging with distance into a single line and, finally, disappearing.

“Are those from dogs?” the girl asks.

“Wolves, I bet,” the boy replies. “They say there’s a white one, now. Somebody saw it running along the river with its mate.”

“But how did they get through this door?”

“You don’t want to know. Everybody says this place is haunted. It’s been shut for thirty years. Don’t you think it’s scary?”

“No. I think it’s beautiful. This is the old dancehall, isn’t it?”

“It sure is.”

“My grandfather told me about this place. He says nothing is haunted – just occupied by what we don’t understand. He met my grandmother here. She looked like me – very fair. Her hair never had to turn white. It was white from birth. Grandfather told me they had full-moon dances every month. When it was time to call it a night, the band would play ‘Moonlight Serenade,’ and the doors would open, and the people would dance that last slow dance until they were out on the street and halfway home.”

The girl and the boy follow the wolf tracks to the edge of the ice, where the girl sees something in the snow and stoops to pick it up.

“Oh, look at these trippy glasses!”

She puts them on, gazes up at the moon. The thick lenses magnify the light so it seems to envelop her. She doesn’t know what possesses her to howl, then. She simply feels the urge…feels the voice of an unnamable past rise within her.

From deep in the woods upon the hills beyond the lake comes a single answer – long, quavering, thrilling, triumphant.


Phil Gallos has been a newspaper reporter and columnist, a researcher/writer in the historic preservation field, and has spent 31 years working in academic libraries (which is more interesting than it sounds). Most recently, his writing has been published in Carbon Culture Review, The Writing Disorder, STORGY Magazine, and Brushfire!, among others, and is forthcoming in Streetlight Magazine and Wisconsin Review. He lives and writes in Saranac Lake, NY.

The Way of Neighbors 2

by Treehouse Editors

Linda Conroy

See our baby; two weeks old today, the man calls out to me. I don’t know him,
not really, yet. Late last year he moved into the Craftsman house beside the park, where the field is fenced off. If I’d met him further down the road, I would not have recognized him, but here in his yard, with his Eurovan, his golden lab, and now his daughter, he’s in place.

I think I met your wife, I say. I talked with her some weeks ago when I walked past. Her hair’s red, isn’t it? Yes, it is, he says, and sometimes different shades. So she was pregnant then, not just my guess. He grins.

The babe is swaddled loosely in a cloth. Her neck and back and feet are bare. Her head rests on his shoulder, facing me. Her arm drapes over his, her tiny hand so loose. She’s sound asleep, not knowing the effect she has. Her birth brings people close enough to stop, for her father to call out to those he didn’t know and we respond, no longer only nodding as we pass.


Linda Conroy is a retired social worker who likes to describe her observations on the complexity of behaviors that make us all human. Her work has recently been published or is forthcoming in The Penwood Review, Plainsongs, Psaltery and Lyre, and other local anthologies. Her book, Ordinary Signs, will be published this spring.

KIT

by Treehouse Editors

D. Marquel

              She always did
              like
              seeing him
hang

on

her

ellipses –

              on a leash
long enough
to leave
              the illusion of freedom.

              When he whistled
her way,
              she faded away,
melting,

and
bleeding
              indiscernibly
              into color.

              She had an appetite,
              apparently,
              for the semi-sweet,
              and after all,

              grains of salt
              and sugar ​do
              feel the same
at 3 am.

              Word is,
              she still gets a rush
              at imaginary glances –

              at the chance to drag him
              all the way to the edge,
expectant,
unsheathed
              stalactites
              salivating,
smeared
              in burnt cork,

              and would,
              too,
              if not for the tugging
              at her own choke chain
              designed to keep her
in tow.


D. Marquel was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. His work has been featured in Chaleur Magazine (July 2018), San Diego Writers, Ink: A Year in Ink Anthology (Vol. 11), City Works Journal (Vols. 23 and 25), and by So Say We All’s VAMP reading series. You can find his work-in-progress at www.instagram.com/d.marquel. He currently resides in San Diego, CA.

 

The Cactus Moment

by Treehouse Editors

       Mary Haidri

Today Nina is a tender herbaceous annual plant    She permits cuts to callus over    woody &
green    Out of doors she is nearly translucent    Layers of tissue keeping her inside herself

anything can cut into it    anything can drop out    The fully mature seeds of Nina are black or
dark brown    There are nights when Nina is all mouth    crawl in    the open jar of her throat

working the trap    I don’t mind that you didn’t send a card    you can’t even look me straight in
the flower stalks    Nina develops best under long days in sunny conditions    She sits in a chair

by the window & drinks the light    fingers unfurling   Twenty-two weeks into propagation Nina
discovered she was rootbound & rotting    small briny daughter    overwatered into drowning

This is the cactus moment    the pulse & ache    a fist closed around nothing    Her parents drove
her to the hospital    they packed cotton between my legs to keep the roots from falling out

Standing in the red dirt of the garden    Nina droops her head    overripe & seedbound    She
has thickened fleshy parts adapted to store milk    not all mothers are soft    I am spines & thorns

for you little one    Blood turns rusty    Milk dries up    The evidence washes away in the shower
this husk is skin-thin & cursed    here    you can push your fingers right through the membrane


Mary Haidri is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of the play Every Path (La Jolla Playhouse & Moxie Theatre). Her work has appeared in Winter Tangerine, Portland Review, Nightingale, Bird’s Thumb, and Fairy Tale Review. She was the recipient of the 2017 Fairy Tale Review Poetry Award and is now a poetry reader for the journal. Visit her at nettleworks.com.

Celestial Divorce

by Treehouse Editors

Mary Haidri

give me a bed to die in    your honor    hear my appeal
my hands will become pale starfish    fingers signing slowly

against sheets    I know I know I    stutter    the human tongue flickers
we are guttering candles    your honor   I request protection of the court

his rage will drown me in a rock quarry    the loss of a god wounds
only soft places    like the skin of a wrist   the gap of a pulled tooth

the place between my mother’s arms    where she rocked me    singing
injure us and bind up our wounds   Holy One    thou art the blue bee

thou art the sting and the honeyed mouth too    your honor
he took every child we made    I was brought to the mountains

where everything drowns   they were all born face down in lake water
pond weeds wrapped around their throats    o holy court

what is a mouth for?    they say my ancestress was too lovely
to escape north to Pakistan    not without brutal attention

with each extracted tooth    the family shaped her face into a safety
for them all    mouth is a hole is a wound is a mouth   o holy court

little by little I will scrape myself away   until god no longer sees me
I curse these whispers    this is what a mouth is for


Mary Haidri is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of the play Every Path (La Jolla Playhouse & Moxie Theatre). Her work has appeared in Winter Tangerine, Portland Review, Nightingale, Bird’s Thumb, and Fairy Tale Review. She was the recipient of the 2017 Fairy Tale Review Poetry Award and is now a poetry reader for the journal. Visit her at nettleworks.com.

Brief Encounter: I’ll Tremble If You Like

by Treehouse Editors

Timothy Stewart Johnson

Mitchell stands before the fireplace spinning the cylinder in his father’s revolver. Mark and I sit before him on the sofa trying to telepathically communicate a plan to save ourselves, but fear blocks our brainwaves and we sit quietly, waiting to die.

“I’ve decided not to become a composer. I’ve decided to be a murderer, and I have someone picked out.” He keeps us pinned with the gun.

“Tim, you’re not trembling. I bet you’d tremble if I shot Mark.” I will tremble if you like, I say, lying. He cocks the hammer and points the gun at Mark’s face. We see the little gray bullets in their cylinders.

Click.

He blows imaginary smoke off the barrel. “The old empty chamber routine,” he says, smiling broadly. Still I don’t tremble.

We hear the crunch of tires in the driveway. Mitchell puts the gun in his pocket and he and Mark walk out the front door. They smile and say, “Hi, Mom and Dad.” Everyone calls my folks Mom and Dad, and they have no idea they are being patronized. I help unload the station wagon. Later, Mark comes back alone. “He was just fucking with us,” he says.

As the bus passes the school the next morning, I see Mitchell standing by a side door, hand inside his coat, waiting anxiously to kill Terry Payne, for she has decided not to be his girlfriend. I run from the bus to the parking lot to tell someone, but no one cares. Joints are being passed around, and I end up getting stoned.

An hour later, I come out of gym class and see a parade of police cars rolling down the street in slow motion. From the back of the last one, Mitchell flashes me the peace sign.

I am called to the office and asked what I knew and when I knew it. No one ever asks me why I didn’t tell anyone. I think they know. It’s because they are grownups and they are not to be trusted. We handle our business, they handle theirs.

The hives and the diarrhea keep me out of school for two weeks. Mark discovers heroin, and Mitchell is placed in an institution to be cured. Still I do not tremble, for it is not my way.


Timothy Stewart Johnson survived the 1960s with little more than some minor cuts and bruises and now works as a writer and designer in corporate marketing.

Brief Encounter: I Could Never Do a Cartwheel

by Treehouse Editors

Katie Miller

I imagine it feels like this: a single step off a ledge, a free fall so fast you forget to hold your breath.

*

I’m not saying that doing a cartwheel is the same thing as making a bad decision, but I am saying that I’ve never been able to do either, and I just think that maybe the two deficiencies are not unrelated.

As a kid, I’d watch my friends’ bodies slice through the air, all ease and stretched-out limbs. You just sort of—well, you just sort of kick your feet over your head, they’d tell me, brushing the dirt off their palms as they landed back on their feet as though seconds before they hadn’t been upside down, head inches from the ground. You just kick, let your body follow. Let go.

My body swollen with a pent-up energy that I’m only now beginning to recognize as a lifetime’s worth of accumulated indecision, I’d start the lunge. I’d fold myself sideways, tentatively palm the warm grass, repeat to myself: just kick just kick don’t think everyone can do a cartwheel you can do a cartwheel just let go. Before I could even plant my second hand on the ground, though, the inevitable self-conscious hesitation—potent, physical, this hesitation would seep through my body, settle into my stomach and weigh down my arms and legs like lead until I crumpled to the lawn, motionless.

*

Maybe it’s no surprise, then, that I’ve never made a real bad decision—one of those willed, eyes-squeezed-shut-to-the-inevitable-fallout risks that you might talk about only years later, in a dimly-lit dive bar, maybe, head bowed over a beer as you tell a stranger about this one time, when. Because if I could never trust myself enough to let go for a cartwheel—the simple one-two kick, a rotation guaranteed to deliver me back to solid ground—there is certainly no chance that I could risk a fall with no bottom, a somersault through the air sure to deliver me, battered, to some different reality. A reality in which I’m left aching, sore for the assurance of solid ground.

*

But still, I close my eyes sometimes and imagine I can hear wind whistling through my ears. I imagine that for just a moment, I don’t think about the bruises that will line my shins when I hit the ground: I’m here, suspended, weightless.


Katie Miller lives and works in Tucson, Arizona.