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I lose my job at the law firm, either because of budget cuts, or the time I dropped the front desk candy jar, or the fact that everyone from the manager to the punch card has forgotten my name.

I can choose A to: Get a better job. Get a better name. Get a better grip on ornamental candy jars.

Or choose B to: Lock myself in my childhood bedroom and either wait for a jet engine to fall from the sky and crush me, or for the next-door neighbor’s window to light up like it used to.

Or choose C to: Follow four people I used to know into a Haunted House.

There are three doors at the end of a bright hallway, one on the left, one on the right, one in the center. By now they’ve spotted me, raised eyebrows, asked questions. “It’s a haunted house,” I say to Davey from next door. “I’m just curious.”

Lightning flashes outside, purple and gold.

We stand in the doorway, Davey, Wyatt, and I. Wyatt holds a flashlight even though all the lights are on. Davey’s got a baseball bat. Sean and Grace stay down the hall, attached at the hip, Sean in a sweater vest, Grace on roller skates. They whisper, “Why is Molly Neilson here?” and “Who is she, again?” I flicker like a candle.

But they look around at each other and shrug. Wyatt shoves Davey through the door in the middle and we follow.

I am eighteen and the four of them hang out in an empty pool behind Davey’s house, laughing and drinking among the rotting leaves. They yell and smash old lawn chairs, chase each other around with the pieces held high. With the exception of Davey from next door, everything I know about them has been absorbed in classrooms and hallways: Sean and Grace are pretty, Davey and Wyatt are cool.

I am neither of these things. I’m a blank, primed wall, ready for paint. Color me trouble. Color me whatever you’d like.

I can only see into the pool from the roof of my house, so I hover up here like a poltergeist. If they see me, if they ask what I’m doing, I’ll play it cool too, play it pretty. But they don’t see, they don’t ask.

The entrance hall gleams blue in the moonlight. The hall presses at the edges of the haunted house—too large to fit. A bat escapes through the door when we come in and Grace shrieks. The bat shrieks back. Grace slides around on the roller skates.

We spread out around the room, Grace ducking her head, looking for more bats.

Someone has drawn a hopscotch board on the marble floor and Davey hops it. Sean stands in the center in a power pose and tells us how swell everything is, the bats, the hopscotch, the haunted house. Wyatt shines the flashlight around and sucks on a Tootsie Pop. Occasionally, he takes it out and uses it to point at things and make up facts about the architecture.

“The marble staircase is Post-Punk Revival.”

“Well, isn’t that swell.”

I take a few steps up the stairs and watch them all. Grace skates in a figure eight. Wyatt bites to the center of the Tootsie Pop. Sean lies on the floor like he’s sunbathing. Davey does the hopscotch backwards. The room hums a little. It is squeaky and out of tune.

A bat king looks down at us from the ceiling, a hundred red eyes glowing, a hundred wings flapping, convulsing its combined body. A single bat disentangles from the mass and falls, gets crushed under Davey’s hopping feet. Its blood is darker than it should be. Davey’s footprints are black.

The marble bannister is cold and porous under my hand.

A story:

A boy and a girl stand at the edge of a pond. The girl is me. The boy is Davey. The pond is not really a pond. It’s an oil-slick hole in the ground where people dump old car parts.

Davey has a tiny frog he caught two weeks ago. It’s teal and it has been living under his bed. He holds it in a plastic butter dish with holes in the top. I’ve lived here forever but Davey from next door is the only kid that talks to me, the proximity of our houses a contract of friendship.

Davey’s parents are making him put the frog back in Nature and he’s crying a little bit, but he turns his face away so I have to pretend not to see.

“Just do it,” I say, because boys like tough girls. This is what I believe.

Davey sniffles, bends down, and shakes the dish until the frog is dislodged and lands in the muck. It hops once, black eyes vacant, gullet quivering.

We turn to leave but something pokes its head out of the water—another frog. At first they could be twins, both tiny, teal green, but as it gets closer it goes transparent, all its puffy little organs on display like the anatomical figurines at school.

It blinks and its eyes are like TV static. I feel it buzzing in my head, bubbling up my throat.

“Maybe he’ll make a friend,” I say, but my voice is tight and my toes curl in my shoes. The frog unhinges its jaw, mouth stretching as it moves through the water, twice the size of its own body.

It’s over in an instant; a wet, cartoon gulp and Davey’s frog is gone.

I go to a pond with a boy from next door and see one frog eat another.

I can choose A to: Scream until my head comes unwrapped like a piece of candy.

Or choose B to: Read all the drafts of Davey’s poem that I find in the trash cans by his house. The only thing I like about them is the title, because it makes me shiver: Appetite.

Or choose C to: Turn my head, click through channels, stay distracted so I can’t see eyes blinking stupidly at me while a gelatin stomach bulges with desperate kicks.

The second room is sprouting instruments. A pipe organ grows out of the center of the floor, the pipes snaking along the ceiling, keys and picks and drumsticks hanging off like leaves. It smells like old spit and trumpet grease, like it has swallowed the high school band room.

There’s a wooden man sitting at the white grand piano. He is growing moss. He waves.

“Ew,” says Grace.

“He’s only being polite,” says Davey. He waves back.

I navigate piles of violins, mounds of sheet music. Davey swings the baseball bat and flutes go flying, bouncing on the floor like wind chimes. Wyatt gets a paper cut on a sheet of music—sticks the bloody finger in his mouth with the Tootsie Pop and sucks.

Some of the instruments are inside one another, with other instruments inside those like nesting dolls. Maybe it’s never-ending, down to the atomic. Maybe it circles back around and swallows the world, shrinks over and over. Maybe the house is an ouroboros.

“We should split up and search for clues,” says Sean.

“Like, clues for what, man?” says Wyatt.

I find Davey’s eyes on me, and for a moment I can’t remember if I’m here or not, if I’m really just watching the four of them through some unseen window, through the brass mouth of an instrument. Davey’s mouth is a tight, crooked line. The chimes of the flutes are still echoing, vibrating the baseball bat he has gripped in both hands. He looks up at the ceiling, back hunched and brittle like he thinks the whole thing might come down on top of us.

Sean leans over a xylophone. Grace sticks her head into a tuba. Wyatt watches himself in a mirror. Except there is no mirror—there are two Wyatts, facing each other.

“Huh,” they say at the same time. Everyone stops to watch their approach. They hold their bodies the same way, part their hair on the same side.

They shake hands.

“Dude,” Davey says, pointing with the baseball bat, “there are two of you.”

“I know,” the Wyatts say at once.

I am ten and sharing a cabin with Grace and eight other girls at fifth-grade camp. On the first night we all sit in our bunks telling stories. Grace tells a ghost story about a girl who can’t speak. She tells everyone that if they all stop looking at me at the same time, I will disappear.

My face itches, throat goes rocky. I spend the night in a burn, wondering if this is it, my last flash of heat before she wills me out of existence.

We find another Grace in the hallway leading to the damp, yellow kitchen. We find another Sean in the refrigerator. Another Davey is lurking in the pantry. All four Davey eyes find me, gumdrop blue, before they turn to each other.

“I’m Davey,” says Davey, and Wyatt says, “Dude, I think he knows.”

The kitchen is charming and retro, with a black and white tiled floor and chickens on the wallpaper.

I can’t tell Davey apart from Davey. They swap places and their identities swap as well. I feel off balance, like I’m in the center of a tug-of-war.

Sean tries to engage in polite conversation with Sean, but Sean isn’t having it, keeps humming and looking away like we’re at a cocktail party. Wyatt sizes up Wyatt, then offers him a Tootsie Pop. The Graces act like they’re looking in a mirror, movements syncing up as they pose, wheels skidding on the floor.

It’s cold, the kind that feels artificial, unsustainable. There is frost on the wallpaper, gathered on the little black eyes of the chickens. There’s a chill down my neck, and for a moment I’m certain: there is a mouth hovering above me, unhinged, covering the top of my head like I’m wearing it as a hat.

A hand is on my shoulder and it belongs to Davey. “It’s all happening again, Molly,” he says. “It’s the pond all over again. If we don’t stop them, they’re gonna eat us.”

I don’t listen to Davey’s words because his voice is so nice in my ear, so I’m a little surprised when he grabs a knife from the counter and springs at Davey.

I am fifteen and watching Davey fight a guy in the Kroger parking lot. Wyatt jumps and shouts from the back of a pickup truck. I did not mean to be in the Kroger parking lot, but it’s a chilly Friday night, bloody with fall leaves, and my stomach leads me here and tells me I’m in love. With what, I’m not sure. Certainly not with Wyatt, with his crooked teeth and insubstantial mustache. But maybe with the way it feels to be around them, like there’s sugar in my veins.

Wyatt points at the guy’s face and Davey’s fists follow. If Davey turns, if he spots me, I’ll shrug and smile.

Davey from next door, my one-time friend, has just murdered a clone of himself.

I can choose A to: Scream until my head smashes on the ground like a jar of candy.

Or choose B to: Push up my glasses and say, “Jinkies.”

Or choose C to: Look at Davey’s body and say, “Is he okay?”

“Is he okay?” I say. I don’t want to look at him there on the floor, but the image is already in my head—his face split apart, one eye wide and blue with terror, the other sliced into red mulch.

Wyatt leans down and watches blood fan beneath the body, red shining on linoleum. The other Wyatt pokes it with his toe. “No. I think he’s dead.”

“Hey,” Grace says, and points at me. “She doesn’t have one.”

“Have one what?” Davey says, face speckled with blood.

Sean chimes in. “Molly doesn’t have a copy.”

This is true. Jinkies.

I’m twenty-five and moving home after the law firm. I haven’t had a glimpse of the boy next door since last Christmas Eve, home only briefly from his new life elsewhere. My parents’ house is a broken record, sliding over the same line.

I can choose A to: Knock over a candle on the living room carpet and watch the flames spread. Hope that they tickle.

Or choose B to: Get really into antiques. Collect ceramic figurines and old candy dishes.

Or choose C to: Dig out the binoculars. Scratch an old itch.

I am sixteen and Sean’s face is perfect, sticky sweet. Girls follow him in the hallways, girls write things about him in the bathroom stalls. But it is Davey who I dream about, Davey’s name that I repeat in my head so many times that it dissolves like rock candy in soda. I watch him so often that his details are scrubbed away and for a while he’s a headless porcelain boy with a locker five down from mine.

We stand around Davey’s body like it might get up. It does not.

“What should we do with it?” Wyatt says, mouth full of Tootsie Pop.

“Probably bury it,” Grace says, but already the floor is opening around the body and after a second it’s gone.

“Well, isn’t that swell,” Sean says. Wyatt’s face splits wide in realization.

“There are two of each of us,” he says to himself, but the other Wyatt is not listening.

Wyatt looks at Davey, who is not following, but is patient, willing to wait for an explanation, willing to wait for instructions.

“Davey,” Wyatt says, eyes brighter than his flashlight. “Kill Grace.”

Sean and Grace look around and laugh, too loud, but I see the look on Davey’s face and forget how to breathe. He tips his head sideways and considers, tapping the the flat of the knife on his nose.

“Which one?” he says, waiting for Wyatt to point him in the right direction, but Wyatt just grins and shrugs.

The Graces try to run but don’t get very far because they’re on roller skates. Davey grabs the one nearest him and cuts her clean down the middle. I try to scream but nothing happens. The skates roll off in different directions with the two halves of Grace. One smacks into the chrome diner table; the other hits the kitchen rug and comes to a halt, still upright.

The other Grace shrieks for a moment, then skates back over to examine her insides.

The Seans look at one another, then at Grace, doing the math.

I am twenty-five and made of glass. I must be. This is why girls can’t see me, why boys look through me.

I can choose A to: Dye my hair. Tattoo my lips. Swallow neon. Beg to be seen.

Or choose B to: Hide in my childhood bedroom, hoard other glass things.

Or choose C to: Get out the binoculars. Watch others in love.

I am seventeen and crossing the school parking lot at sunset. The temperature is below zero, but I can’t understand negative numbers so I can’t wrap my head around the cold. I’m just rigid, frozen with impossible math.

I get in my car and watch the back of Sean’s SUV, three rows and two spaces ahead of mine. The setting sun illuminates his windows and I can see two figures, connected, writhing through the gold.

The sleeves of my jacket are bunched up around my mouth. There is a hand on the back of my neck that does not belong to anyone in the room. It is small, dry, comfortable. Familiar.

The two Seans are on the floor, scratching at each other, trying to get hands around throats. Davey glances at his watch, then throws the knife into the mix and Sean ends up kneeling on Sean’s chest, knife buried in his neck, his perfect face going dead white.

Grace skates over to Sean and helps him up. They hold hands and blood oozes from between their fingers. Sean starts hiccuping.

“Well, I think we’re gonna take off,” Grace says, and pulls Sean out of the kitchen, the door swinging behind them. The left half of Grace’s body collapses on the floor, blood squirting everywhere. The floor swallows it up, along with bloodless Sean. The right half of Grace is sprawled on the table and too high up for the floor to reach. It chirps at her foot for a moment, then gives up.

Wyatt, Wyatt, Davey, and I all look at each other. Something breathes, sweet, on the back of my neck.

I am twelve and Davey doesn’t hang out with me all summer. I know he has my phone number, and I know he’s not busy, because I watch him swing in his backyard, watch him dig a hole and bury himself up to the neck, watch him burn ants and grass with a magnifying glass.

Sometimes our parents drink together and pretend to play bridge. On these evenings I see him outside, wandering alone and howling at the moon. The big oak tree outside my bedroom window throws faceless shapes onto the ceiling. Ghosts, werewolves, cartoon monsters.

The walls of the haunted house bedroom are sea-foam green and bowed out like we’re in a bubble. There are empty doorways on either side of the bed but somehow I know that they’ll lead right back into the bedroom.

Davey picks at a patch of dried blood on his face. The room starts humming, tunelessly, and Wyatt joins in, and then we’re all trying to hum along, half-hearted, shuffling our feet like we’re kids in church.

When the song trails off the Wyatts smile at each other and Davey looks from one to the other. Everyone knows that one of them has to die. I know, Wyatt knows, the room knows. You know too, you know that two bodies can’t fit into one life.

I am nineteen and Davey and Wyatt are home for Christmas, smoking in Davey’s bedroom. I know they are smoking because I’ve given up the binoculars, I’ve left the rooftop, I’m right outside the window. They laugh and pick apart twizzlers, watch cartoons and share a joint. If they get high enough maybe they’ll invite me in, maybe my presence will be desirable. I stand up in the window, ready for them to see me, ready to tell them I just stopped by because I need a cup of sugar. Because they hardly know me but I miss them.

They don’t look up. They don’t see me outside because I’m not visible. I’m made of glass. They wouldn’t see me if I smashed through the window and fell into the room with them. They wouldn’t see me if I took their hands in mine.

They’re shy about the impending murder, blushing like they’re getting undressed with each other for the first time. Wyatt and Wyatt face off, standing at the end of the bed, while Davey glances between them, not willing to make the first move. I lean against the wall, which looks curved but does not feel curved. The floor creaks beside me, though I haven’t touched it. I feel eyes, though no one looks at me.

The house hums, getting impatient.

Wyatt shouts and launches himself at Wyatt. Davey sits on the bed and watches them scrap on the floor. He’s still covered in blood, but he doesn’t seem bothered. An invisible hand digs into my back and pushes me forward. There’s nothing behind me but thick air and a feeling like I’m chanting my own name in the bathroom mirror, like I’m dragging open a curtain. The hand stays on my back.

I step over the Wyatts and sit on the bed beside Davey. He looks over at me, mildly, and I peel a glob of half-dried blood off his neck and look through it like a spyglass, turning the room red. At the same time, I’m back by by the wall, arm outstretched, watching two kids sit on a bed. Davey and Molly.

The Wyatts have reached a stalemate. They have each other by the throat. They’re both choking, both turning blue. Davey jumps up, shaking his hands like they’re wet, like he doesn’t know what to do. He kicks one in the back, but it doesn’t help.

A bedside table appears, and on that bedside table, a glass lamp. I pick up the lamp and aim carefully for the Wyatt that Davey kicked, the Wyatt that Davey has chosen to die.

The lamp breaks, the pieces sinking into Wyatt’s head. Wyatt takes big gulps of air as Wyatt twitches and goes still. Before the floor swallows the body, Wyatt sits up and unwraps a Tootsie Pop. He dips it in the blood and sticks it in his mouth.

I’ve just killed someone.

I can choose A to: Smash my way out of the nearest window, hoping the glass does the job before the fall.

Or choose B to: Paint my lips red with the blood and hope someone kisses them.

Or choose C to: Shake the hands of the boys that thank me, accept Davey’s half-hug, lead the way out of the haunted house.

Outside, the three of us catch up with Grace and Sean, holding hands on the sidewalk out front. Wyatt and Davey head for the car and I hang back, following roller skate tracks and Tootsie Pop wrappers. I watch Davey laugh and wipe blood on the legs of his jeans. As I walk down the steps of the haunted house, a small, familiar hand slips into mine.

Remy Reed Pincumbe is an MFA candidate at the University of Arkansas, and is the Managing Editor of the Arkansas International. They have forthcoming work in Passages North, and can be found online @reedpincumbe.
Current Issue
26 Feb 2024

I can’t say any of this to the man next to me because he is wearing a tie
Language blasts through the malicious intentions and blows them to ash. Language rises triumphant over fangs and claws. Language, in other words, is presented as something more than a medium for communication. Language, regardless of how it is purposed, must be recognized as a weapon.
verb 4 [C] to constantly be at war, spill your blood and drink. to faint and revive yourself. to brag of your scars.
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