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A tall black figure
floated upon the stair landing.
Glimpsed it in the mirror
before it drifted down
the steps in an ebony fog.

I grew up
in a haunted house.

My parents were downstairs,
at the time, watching television.
I imagined the black, curdling fog
climbing into their nostrils,
clogging their lungs,
clutching their hearts
until aortal valves snapped
and their mouths hung open;
glassy eyes fixed
upon a white stucco ceiling with its
million spider-cracks.

I stood frozen
before the mirror;
a living statue,
heart palpitating.
My spine a lightning rod
for shudders to shake my sternum
reminding me
I was all bones beneath
this soft, vulnerable flesh.
For the first in my life,
I felt bones inside me,
and knew—
fleshless, ivory,
worm-crawled bones
were the future.

Suddenly,
I knew
I would die one day
all of us: barren architecture
of creatures long past
sloughed of flesh
and my parents
would die one day
strange fossils for future
archaeologists
and I was scared.

I grew up
in a haunted house.

Take a drive, sometime, through
the rolling emerald fields of Wisconsin.
It is home to many abandoned barns,
houses and family graveyards.
Yet my century-old
two-story farmhouse
was never abandoned—
it was, and always will be,
my home.

Its siding once glistened like
crystalline snow in bright sunshine.
Now, weathered tombstone grey;
its edgings black
as the figure at the top of the stairs.

I grew up
in a haunted house.

My family and I
lived and dined
and enjoyed sunny picnics
and celebrated Christmas
with the bones inside us
silently howling,
aching the future.

I still hear those howls,
sometimes,
I still feel those aches,
sometimes,
when the clock chimes midnight
and the voices, phantasmal,
dreamy in their mists,
return.

“When I grow up, Mama,”
I said one morning,
backpack slung over
my shoulders, just before
zipping out the door
for the bus stop,
“I wanna be a ghost so
I can live past my bones.”
She told me I was
only a child.
There was no sense worrying
about ghosts and bones and
dead things.

Then, one day,
that child died—
just as he knew
he always would.
First, he became the bones
of wistful memory, then
drifted away, his atoms
dispersed into a black fog.

I was left to smother the dusty rooms
until absorbed by
yellowed floral wallpaper.
I am a scent, vague,
indistinguishable, perhaps no more than
stale, cigarette smoke
or a faint tinkling melody,
warped with time,
boneless and drifting,
stirring the hearts
of those very few with open ears.

Yet the child lives on
within the house
of my skull;
a black, roiling fog
floating somewhere
behind the sockets.
That child lives on
in faded polaroids
stacked in a keepsake box.
The tendrils of his memory
clutch my heart,
leaving me breathless
and glass-eyed, staring
into the spaces between spaces.

Long after midnight,
swaddled in dreams,
I become the child again,
afraid of his own bones.

I wander this old house,
trembling and happy,
knowing I am home.

The place is dark and groaning.
Cobwebs clutter every corner,
swaying in the breath of the dead.

The Thing at the top of the stairs
floats like a bloated corpse
upon black, broiling waters.

Hangs like a spider on a thread,
descending into a sleeping mouth.

Drips like acid from a pipe,
eroding the hollow cranium.

And I remember
I am made of bones.
and I remember

I grew up
In a haunted house.

Sometimes,
I live there
Still.

Look in the mirror.
Look close.
You can see me
floating behind you
at the top of the stairs—
black, smoking tendrils
outstretched.
Hungry.
Waiting.
Wanting.

And I wonder,
can you feel
your bones
now,
too?

 

 

 

For Ray Bradbury



Tylor James lives in Sweet Hollow, Wisconsin. He’s a writer of the macabre and a member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA). In addition to penning the highly acclaimed short story collection Matters Most Macabre, he has strange tales published in Cosmic Horror Monthly (forthcoming June issue), The Literary Hatchet, The Other Stories Podcast, Hypnos Magazine, Penumbric Speculative Fiction Magazine, and several anthology books. His upcoming book Beneath the Jack O’ Lantern Sky will be published this fall 2022 by Weird House Press. He is 27 years old. Website: tylorjames.com
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