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Mom’s house didn't look like a murderer’s. Now they’d taken down the police tape it was mostly the same as I remembered: aluminum siding and wood facades, shutters that never closed, the heavy oak front door you had to bump with your hip to make sure it locked just right. Her old Buick Skylark was still in the driveway, tires flat and forest-green paint scabbed with rust. She’d ripped up the lilies and tulips along the front walk and traded manicured boxwood bushes for low-maintenance mountain laurel—her way of keeping up appearances, like the whole town didn’t know the house was packed to the brim with junk.

I blinked away a twinge of guilt, feeling like a bad son for not coming down to help with things after Dad died. Dawson was only a few hours south of Columbus. It wasn’t like I had much to do now, with the divorce finalized and Hawthorne Elementary out for summer. Maybe I could’ve cut back the bushes or put a new coat of paint on the porch.

Maybe I could’ve ended up in the basement with the others.

I didn’t pull into the driveway, just coasted to a stop in the rutted field across from the house and sat idling, staring at the place while I smoked my last cigarette down to the filter. Mom had always called it a dirty habit, said there were plenty of ways to die other than cancer sticks: like a woodpecker drilling through your skull, or drinking mine runoff, or getting a taste for your own organs—always thinking, my mom.

Sandy hadn’t liked me smoking either, one of the few things she and Mom saw eye-to-eye on. It was nice to be able to smoke in the car now my wife was out of the picture. I turned up the radio, The Cure moaning “Pictures of You” on WPKM. It was a testament to tastes back home that I had to turn to college radio to get anything approaching decent music.

It was weird to be back. I’d thought ten years, a mortgage, a teaching job, and a failed marriage would’ve put some distance between then and now, but looking at the place I could already feel the tightness in my chest, as if the air was somehow heavier down here. Might’ve been me, might’ve been Dawson. A lot of former coal towns had the same feel, a sort of tightfisted desperation that kept people hanging around absent jobs or prospects. I thought I’d made it out, but when I looked back on the last ten years, I wondered if it mattered.

Only trampled grass and the smears of tomatoes from the garden hinted at the bodies they’d pulled from the house. There were about a dozen people out front, a few local sightseers with a smattering of reporters. Mom’s eccentricities had always been a source of gossip. The News and Sentinel had been after me for days for an interview. I’d seen the tagline on a dozen sites already: “Local artist commits a string of grisly murders.”

I think it would’ve tickled Dad—not the murders part, but them calling Mom an artist. He’d always called her his ‘hothouse flower,’ like she was too delicate for the world. I’d always wondered if the world was too delicate for her, the way she told her stories.

A few people called my name as I got out of the car, waving like I was some sort of D-list celebrity. I kept my head down and did my best to ignore them.

The listing-agent, a second cousin on my Dad’s side, met me at the driveway, brandishing her phone at the small crowd. “I got Sheriff Doyle on speed dial.”

They paused, not backing away, but not approaching, either.

“Martin.” Her smile had the hollowness of reflex. She held out her arms for a stiff hug, leaning in to preserve the space between us.

I’d met her at the funeral but didn’t remember her name. Dad’s family had deep roots in the area and too many branches to count.

I must’ve looked lost because she gave an amused tilt of her head. “It’s Joanne, but you can call me Jo. I don’t expect you to remember—last time we met was your sixth birthday.” She glanced back at the house. “God, I remember your dad baked this big cake with bright green frosting because you loved Ghostbusters so much. You chased me around the yard, pretending it was slime. Then your mom told these stories, terrible ones—like how, back when she was my age, her brother Davey drowned in the Ohio and everyone thought it was an accident, but really it was Uncle Jake, because he’d been touching the boy and didn’t want no one to find out, except your mom could hear Davey at the bottom of the river, crying, and every time they tried to put up a cross for him the ground went soft and muddy. Then one spring, the river flooded and Uncle Jake got swept away and drowned, only when they finally dredged his body it was covered with all these little hand prints. We thought your mom was fibbing until she brought out the box with all the pictures . . .”

“I don’t think that was me.”

She blinked. “What?”

“The party. I broke my leg two days before my sixth birthday, spent a week over at Camden-Clark Hospital.” I smiled. The story sounded like Mom—why tell the truth when you could make up something worse?

“Could’ve been a different birthday, I suppose,” Jo said.

“Maybe, but Dad wouldn’t have made a cake like that. Ghostbusters scared the hell out of me—that library scene.” I gave an exaggerated shiver. “Besides, my Uncle Jake died of a heart attack a year or two before I was born.”

“Ah, I—” She shook her head. “—sure. My mistake.”

I looked at the house. Jo must’ve left the funeral early because the windows were already open, drapes like sickly ghosts in the hot summer breeze.

“Sorry for your loss.” Jo said. “Carol was . . .”

Then came the hesitation—a little twitch of the lips, a searching glance, a tightening of the shoulders. I’d seen it plenty at the funeral. Condolences planed smooth by fear of detail, conversations sliding around certain topics, questions made more obvious by omission.

What was Carol? What was I, for that matter?

They say it took five officers to bring her down. Even tazed and pepper-sprayed she managed to crack three of Sheriff Doyle’s ribs and put two deputies in the ER.

“It’s a crazy story—sixty-five-year-old against three grown men. Wouldn’t believe it myself, except I was there,” the Sheriff had told me when I stopped by the station to pick up the effects. “That place was a maze and the way she moved—we just couldn’t get a handle on her. Deputy Kennedy went over the upstairs balcony, and Dave Marshall almost snapped his leg in half tripping over all that stuff of hers.” Sheriff Doyle gave a little wince pressing a hand to his ribs for emphasis. “Damn bookshelf did for me. Your ma just tipped it over, chattering away like always, telling me how happy she was I’d come back. It hurt like hellfire but I did my best to bring her in alive until she went for your daddy’s rifle.”

Jo and I walked up the drive, gravel popping under our shoes.

“I tried to air the place out.” She gave a little sideways glance like the house might be creeping up on her. “Not that it smells or anything. Just, you know, things get stuffy in the summer.”

The house did smell—Pine-Sol and dollar-store air fresheners hardly covering the dry, musty reek of the place. The front door was slightly ajar but I twisted the knob anyway, swallowing at its cold weight in my palm. I remembered it at eye-level, the way I could jump and brace on it to peek out the little glass pane at the top of the door. It was my job to watch for the mailman. Mom always had a half-dozen boxes of who-knows-what heading who-knows-where. This was before Etsy or Amazon, so I have no idea how she sold the damn things or even if she sold them. Nothing ever came back, though.

The police had made a mess of the place. There were boot prints on the wood, canted piles of newspaper and cardboard where interlopers had kicked through the mess rather than follow the thin, meandering paths. Jo had shifted a lot of the boxes to get the windows open. It felt too bright, like a tomb opened to air for the first time in centuries.

After Dad died I’d gotten a wild hair up my ass. I’d walked around, pointing out piles of thirty-year-old newspapers, boxes of paints gone hard as cement in their little glass jars, loose Polaroids so ancient the subjects had faded to little more than vague outlines.

“All this stuff is weighing you down.” I was eighteen at the time, hopped up on Professor Sang’s Intro to Fiction and a secondhand copy of On the Road I’d skimmed on the bus back from Athens, convinced I was going to be the next Kerouac or Vonnegut.

“Look at the college boy.” She’d turned, a strange little half-smile on her face. “Telling his old, hillbilly mom about life.”

“This is real.” I’d picked up a photo album, plastic pages crackling as I rifled through photos of me grinning over a slice of watermelon or about to take a running leap into the municipal pool. I set it down to pick up the box of goat bones she claimed were from a pair of devils she’d lured to the crossroads and tricked into fighting to the death over her soul. “This is just a story you made up.”

“What about this?” She plucked On the Road from my pocket. “This real?”

“No, it’s not.”

“Give it a hundred years, then tell me what’s real.” She rifled the pages, then tossed the book on the table in front of me.

“I know you love this stuff,” I had a moment of genius, adding, “but you’ve gotta kill your darlings.”

Mom gave me a strange look, all slit-eyed and speculative. “That’s about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

I’d tried to push the issue, but she was already on about an evil snakeskin book that called a flock of witch-crows from the old hanging tree out near Mill Run, and how she’d burned it up, then locked the ashes tight in Dad’s old lunch pail.

Even Jack Kerouac didn’t have an answer for that one.

Jo and I went inside. Half of the foyer was filled with boxes of my old sports stuff—my mitt, a half-dozen deflated balls, bats, even the pads and helmet from my year of bench-warming for the Dawson Hollow Wildcats. I drifted over to pick up an old baseball, its leather grayed with grime, turning it to see a brown smear of old blood. I wondered if it was Mom’s blood, then remembered it was mine.

The memory came hot and bright as that day at Godbey Fields. We’d been playing pickup, waiting for our parents to come get us after practice. As usual I’d been relegated to right field to kick at clods of dirt and be ignored—at least until Sean Doyle hit that pop fly. I remembered the ping of the aluminum bat, looking up from the beetle I’d been poking to see all the kids staring at me. It didn’t seem right, but their eyes glittered, not white, but dark like little chips of coal, like animals’ eyes. There was a moment of surprised inhalation, then they’d started shouting, pointing. The sun made my eyes water, the ball invisible against the pale sky.

Still, I held up my glove.

The ball hit me square in the mouth, split my lip and knocked out four of my baby teeth. There was no pain, just a hot buzzing in my lips and the shouts of the kids as they crowded around. I remember Sean Doyle pressing two fingers to my neck, checking for a pulse like people did in the movies even though I was pretty clearly alive. His fingers came back crimson and he pressed them to his lips, sucking at the tips like they were covered in sugar glaze. It seemed impossible but the other boys leaned in, tongues long and gray, their teeth like popcorn kernels, and we were all laughing, and—

“We could hire someone to clean it out.” Jo’s voice snapped me from my memory. She spoke quietly like she was in church, like she was worried someone might overhear.

“No, I’ll do it.” I’m not sure where that came from. I hated clutter, had left everything with Sandy in the divorce, bringing nothing more than I could fit in the trunk of my car. I’d thought about renting an apartment, and then word had come about Mom.

Jo gave that little tilt of her head again. “Fair enough.”

I led her through the house, avoiding the chaos left by the police. My feet found the secret paths like it had been days rather than decades. There was, if not order, a feeling of uncomfortable balance about the clutter.

We drifted to the basement door, winding along the bits of clear carpet like leaves carried downstream. A riot of dark boot prints stained the curling linoleum above the stairs. They’d pulled ten bodies out of the basement. Dad had called it Mom’s ‘studio’, snorting like it was some kind of joke. Sometimes, when mornings were particularly bad, he’d take me down to the bakery and let me glaze the doughnuts. That was before Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ Doughnuts, before Dad realized there was more money and better hours at the Nickles plant in Parkersburg. After that, bad mornings had just been bad.

Once, I’d asked him about the basement. After sucking on his teeth for a bit, he’d sighed and said, “Some people accept life for what it is—good, and bad, but mostly small—other people think it owes them something, that it should be bigger, better. Your Mom’s one of those. Regular life just gets heavy for her, sometimes.”

I’d asked if that was why she told all those stories, why she spent so much time in her studio.

“Sure. Probably.” He shrugged. “Just don’t go down there, okay?”

So I hadn’t.

The basement door was still closed. I didn’t open it. I told myself I wasn’t afraid, but that wasn’t entirely true.

I’d seen the pictures.

Ten people in the basement—men, women, children, family. No apparent cause of death, their bodies hadn’t decomposed despite being in the ground for months in a few cases.

A knock on the window made Jo and I jump.

“Christ, they’re back.” She sounded almost relieved. She shuffled around the piles of dirty pots and pans to tap on the window, pressing her phone to one ear. “I’m calling the cops.”

A handful of blurry faces retreated into the shadow of the house.

“Honestly, Doyle should have someone here.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “As long as they don’t come in.”

“If you say so.” She regarded me for a long moment. “Well, if you’re set on cleaning the house I can have someone drop off a Dumpster and one of those mobile storage units for stuff you want to keep.”

“Just a Dumpster.” I looked around the house, the clutter already edging in around me.

“Got it.” She smiled, already backing toward the door. “Call me if you need anything.”

“Will do.”

And, like that, I was home again.

 


 

There were more people outside, a small crowd of wide eyes and craning necks, pressing closer every time I darkened a window or moved something large. Some called to me, others shouted my mother’s name or the names of the people she’d killed, but most just watched.

They had things in their hands—children’s toys, old radios, little lacquered jewelry boxes. I didn’t know why and I didn’t want to ask.

I went out to buy some smokes and beer, pulling onto the road a little too fast so that my car fish-tailed on the gravel. A couple of the people jumped back. I grinned at them, then felt a little bad about it.

The clerk at the Sunoco station was a short, gangly twenty-something with a patchy beard and oil-stained nails. For some reason, it bothered me that I didn’t recognize him.

“Been in Dawson long?” I asked as he rang me up.

“All my life.” He gave a tight smile.

“Where’d you go to high school?”

He looked at me like I was an idiot. “The Holler, same as everyone.”

“You know Coach Draper?”

“Yeah, why? He your dad or something?”

“No, I—” I flushed, the tightness creeping back in. “Sorry.”

“Okay.” He shrugged. “You want me to bag this?”

The radio was all static on the ride home. I was happy to see the crowd back away as I drove up. I shot them a smug nod as I ambled up to the old porch swing and cracked open a beer. The clerk had crammed the cigarettes underneath the six-pack so they’d gotten all crushed and soggy on the ride home. I knew it should’ve pissed me off, but I really wasn’t in the mood for a smoke, so I just sat around, drinking and watching and letting the heat of the day soak into my bones.

The Dumpster sat outside, empty. A day or two earlier I’d gone out with an armload of old newspapers, but the crowd was too much. I kept imagining them pawing through the bin like raccoons in the night, searching for bits they could keep or sell—a murderer’s knife, a killer’s slippers. It just didn’t sit right with me.

After my beer, I resolved to start clearing the house out. Instead, I found myself putting everything right—straightening stacks of peeling canvas, shoring up walls of art supplies, shifting boxes to cover the windows. I avoided the basement, the strength of childhood prohibition like a chain around my neck. Still, as I cleaned more paths opened to me, more ways to move, more places to go.

That was how I found my tent.

Popcorn. Two hundred and twenty-three tins of Cub Scout popcorn; that’s what I’d sold to win the dark blue one-person lightweight dome tent with double-thick mosquito netting and detachable rainfly. I could’ve had a bike or a Nintendo, but I wanted the tent—even though I’d screamed and cried until Mom came to get me after just one day of explorer camp. On the way home she’d told me a story about how the rest of my troop had fallen asleep in the woods and the weeds grew up between the joints of their bones so they couldn’t move. Later, she’d shown me their bodies, kept in a leaded glass case in our guest bedroom, little twists of children dried up to barely the size of a toddler, strips of mummified skin peeking through cocoons of leaves and dry grass.

And I’d recognized them.

Still, I’d wanted the tent. I ranged as far as my eight-year-old legs would take me, then bummed rides. When goodwill ran thin I’d have the school bus drop me off in different neighborhoods, going door-to-door with my order book until it got too dark and I had to call my parents from whatever payphone was nearby.

Dad had been furious but Mom only laughed, flapping her hands like he was a stray cat nosing around the kitchen garbage. “If you love something, set it free.”

She didn’t understand. I didn’t want to be free, I wanted a place. My room had long ago been lost to milk-crates full of old electronics, my bed covered by computer stacks and monitors wired into a rough human shape, but the tent was mine.

And here it was, just as I’d left it.

I turned on a few lamps, their light draping sunset shadows over my little campsite. It didn’t seem right, but the tent was just as big as I remembered. It loomed over me as I crouched, faded blue nylon stirred by the wind of my breath. The flap was unzipped, the inside hazy through a curtain of mosquito mesh. My face felt hot. I couldn’t seem to shake the feeling that something was waiting in the cool dark, legs gathered, eyes slit, lips drawn back from soot-blackened gums, maybe something from the basement.

It would’ve made for a good story.

Fortunately, the tent was empty, just like I remembered.

I crawled inside, zipping the flap up behind me. I sat in the middle and spread my arms like I used to, breathing long and deep as I turned, reveling in the open, empty space around me. It had been the same almost every night—Dad would watch Wheel, then Jeopardy, then the news. After a bit, the TV would go dark and he would creak upstairs. Mom went up later, coming up from the basement one step at a time, pausing to mutter about her knees—always her knees.

Except she hadn’t gone to bed.

Somehow, I could also remember her padding over to drag her fingernails along the sides of the tent, not to scare me but as a sort of whispery accompaniment. The memory came as if rising through murky water. She’d sing to me, voice soft as the flutter of moth wings. I had to press my ear to the tent, her mouth so close I could feel the heat of her breath through the nylon.

I tried to dredge up the words, but all that floated up was the refrain from that old Cure track I’d heard on the radio, over and over.

Except that couldn’t have been the song.

Nested shadows moved beyond the tent. It must’ve been a trick of the light, thin fabric moved by the breath of an old, drafty house, and yet there was a familiarity about the way the shadows converged, as if someone were leaning over the tent. I didn’t remember crawling over to press my ear to the nylon, but I was there, my throat dry, my mouth silently working as I tried to remember her silly rhyme.

How much of you is you, my darling?
How much of you is old?
How much of you is new, my darling?
How much of you is told
?

The last word came as a multiplicity, a harmony of connective tissue distilled to singular form. Shadows sharpened outside the tent, shrinking, drawing closer, not one, but many. What came was not my mother’s voice, but the rustle of dry grass, dry skin, dry tendons. They had no voices, not any more, these kids who went to sleep in the woods and had become part of Mom’s stories.

I fell back, the floor hard beneath me. Little points pressed up through the fabric of the tent like someone had scattered pebbles. No, not pebbles—they felt sharper, rooted. With a start I realized they were baby teeth, poking through like little popcorn kernels.

The tent was stifling. I fumbled with the zipper, panting into the stuffy gloom, mosquito netting draped across me like a spider web. The zipper went halfway up one side before catching on something. Rather than work at it I tore at the flap. Old seams stretched and popped, aluminum rods sprung from their moorings, and the tent fell. There was a moment of sweaty, breathless terror as a curtain of nylon fell across my face, but I batted it away and slipped free of the ruin of my tent, standing with hands clenched at my side, tongue wedged between my teeth and upper lip, the taste of blood in my mouth although I hadn’t bitten anything.

There was no one outside, no kids, no shadows.

Breathing hard, I watched as my tent billowed and went flat, then knelt to twitch the wreckage aside. There were no teeth below. The tent’s outline was picked out on the carpet in decades of dust, and there, in the center, was my photo album.

I squatted to pick it up, feeling like I was dipping my hand into a pond—cool, dark, and deep. The photos were just as I remembered them—picnics, pool, dad ruffling my hair, the time we’d driven up to Kings Island but I was too scared to ride any of the coasters. I peeled back the plastic cover and took out the picture of me waiting in line for The Beast, my face covered in latticework shadows from the coaster’s scaffolding.

This was the picture Mom had taken to show the other kids that I hadn’t chickened out. Davey Marshal had called me a liar in front of everyone, but Mom somehow overheard from the kitchen and came stomping out to tell him that I’d ridden the coaster not once, but a dozen times, and that on the last it had gotten stuck at the top of the hill and I’d had to climb down to help the engineer unjam the car on account of him being too big to fit through the rails.

I smiled at the memory of Davey apologizing. Sometimes I forgot Mom had good stories, too. It was a good picture, a good memory.

Except the shadows were all wrong.

Now I had the photo out of the album I could see where the parts had been carefully cut and pasted together, the wooden slats of the roller coaster painted in behind me, shadows inked across my grinning face. If I’d been standing in front of The Beast, the shade would’ve fallen on my back.

But I had been there. I had ridden The Beast a dozen times. I had saved the day.

I tore through the album, ripping out the photos and holding them up to the light. Now I could see the watermelon had been painted on, the water of the municipal pool made from bits of colored plastic, my dad all in sepia-tones like he’d been cut from some old newspaper. None of it was real.

I ran outside, regretting for perhaps the first time in my life that I wasn’t a smoker. An urgent cigarette, pressed to cold lips with trembling hands, would be just the thing to take the edge off.

There were still people out in the field, more than before. Their eyes glittered in the darkness like chips of coal, like animals’ eyes. I shouted at them, calling them ghouls and assholes and sonsofbitches. I kind of hoped one might come over, maybe start a fight. A night in jail would almost be welcome.

They stayed across the road, though.

Not wanting to go back inside, I slipped into Mom’s car and rolled down the squeaky windows, finally able to breathe. She’d always said the car ate insects, lured ‘em in like a bug lamp. If you peeled back the paint you’d find them, tiny bodies mired in a sea of rust. I leaned out to scrape a little of the scabbed enamel off the door—nothing.

Mom had driven me to and from college in this old thing, rattling up Route 33, my whole life packed into a couple suitcases. She’d played the radio, but soft so we could talk about books, trees, birds, girls, whatever. I don’t know if it was the drive, the car, or just being able to get out of Dawson, but those rides were the closest Mom ever came to normal. She would just listen, sneaking little glances at me like I might explode or something.

Once, just after graduation, I’d read her part of the manuscript I was working on, part of the manuscript I was still working on. She hadn’t liked it.

“It’s the characters,” Mom had said. “They’re all stiff, all weighted down. You gotta let them go, let them breathe a little.”

I explained to her they were based on real people, real people who’d done real things, had real interactions. How could she know anything about anything when she’d never been more than a couple hour’s drive from Dawson? The world wasn’t filled with devils, and ghosts, and child mummies, and it sure as hell wasn’t anything like her stories. It was cruel, but I was young and angry, and tired of being told by someone whose life was so small they had to invent a better one.

I’d expected a lecture, a story, but she’d just sort of hunched over the wheel, quiet for the first time I could remember.

That was the last time we’d ridden together. I’d been home after that, but we hadn’t seen much of each other. A few weeks later I headed for Columbus to work as an English sub until I could find regular teaching work. Then came friends, a marriage, a life away from Dawson, away from Mom—a chance for me to breathe.

The Buick’s keys were still in the ignition, and while the engine didn’t turn over when I twisted them, the radio came on—mostly late-night garble: Kenny Chesney’s twangy vocals mixed with glassy arpeggios from some classical station. It wasn’t half bad. Soothing, really. I reclined the seat, closed my eyes, and just let the sound lap over me.

It didn’t matter if I’d actually been to Kings Island. All that mattered, all that would survive was the memory, the story, but only if it was a good one.

I knew what it was like to feel trapped in Dawson, to feel small, to feel like you’d be forgotten. Piece by piece, story by story, my mom had created her life, my life, everyone’s lives. Even now, she’d managed a form of immortality.

All she’d ever wanted was to be told.

 


 

Metal clattered on metal, a half-dozen urgent raps on the house’s front door. I vaguely remembered stumbling back inside the house, half-asleep—or maybe stepping outside had been the dream. I sat up, rubbing my eyes. A cascade of old pictures rained onto the carpet—my Ghostbusters birthday, my scout group, my baseball team, the pool, and Kings Island mixed in with photos of when they fished Uncle Jake out of the Ohio, bloated and pale, his face masked in river mud, the flesh of his neck bruised by small clutching hands.

The knocking came again. I stumbled over to the door, bracing to hop up and look out the glass pane.

Jo was outside, perhaps a dozen people waiting behind her at the bottom of the porch steps. I recognized a few from the funeral but most were strangers. They were holding things, Mom’s things, I somehow knew.

“I don’t have a brother,” Jo said as I opened the door, her gaze distant, “but he’s in your basement.”

I slammed the door, nudging it with my hip to turn the lock, my back pressed tight against the wood. I could hear them outside, telling stories. Things shifted inside the house, boxes moving, opening. I recognized the chipped Ohio University mug where Mom kept Dad’s finger bones; the big well of indigo ink we’d used to write notes to the little girl between the walls; the baseball that had knocked out my teeth. I knew none of it was real, that Mom had made it all up, but that didn’t matter.

There was a hard knock at the door.

“It’s Sheriff Doyle, Martin. Open up.”

I didn’t have much of a choice. Too much of me was told.

“Martin.” Doyle stood there, hat in hand.

“Sean.” I nodded, then stepped aside to let him in.

“Sorry about your mom.” He gave a little wince. “I—”

“It’s okay.” I squeezed his arm, smiling. “Sometimes your darlings have to kill you.”

“You kept it.” Sheriff Doyle stepped past me, squatting to pick up the baseball. His lips were a crimson so deep it looked almost black in the early morning shadows. The stains on the ball were dark, too, and as he turned it in his hands I could see each brushstroke, each dab of paint applied by Mom’s steady hands, careful enough to hold a memory, careful enough to make one.

“Here.” Doyle dropped something into my hand. Baby teeth cast from enameled clay, bright and shiny as glazed doughnuts.

The others filed in behind him, dozens, hundreds. There was no hesitation, no searching glances, no unspoken questions.

They knew what Mom was, what I was.

We gathered at the basement door, hand-in-hand, the mood calm, almost reverent. I turned the knob, not afraid. Mom hadn’t killed anyone. If anything, she’d made them.

The door creaked open. A flight of rough wooden steps canted into the darkness. The kitchen light made a ragged blur of our shadows as we went down into Mom’s studio to begin our work, our stories, our lives.



By day, Evan Dicken studies old Japanese maps and crunches data for medical research at Ohio State University. By night, he does neither of these things. His fiction has most recently appeared in Unlikely StoryApex, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and he has stories forthcoming from publishers such as Analog and Gallery of Curiosities. Please feel free to visit him at evandicken.com.
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