Monday, December 4, 2017

Story #4: Dakota Morning, Part 2

This story is told from three points of view and is being posted in three parts, beginning last month with "Matt's Story," continuing this month with "Jamie's Story," and ending in January with "Rob's Story." It was first published in the Winter 2010 edition of Black Oak Presents: A Journal of Mid-American Culture, which is now out of print. I am excited to reshare it these seven years later:

Jamie’s Story

The porch steps felt like ice under my bare feet as I raced out to the car. Luckily Rob was still letting it warm up. He hadn’t left yet, thank God. I realized it was a bad idea to make a dramatic scene like this, but it was too late now. This was urgent and things were probably about to get much worse. I couldn’t let Rob leave me alone with Matt getting crazy. He needed to see this.

“Rob,” I yelled and pounded on the window.

“Oh Christ, what?” he asked, jumping out of the car. He was bent slightly and his eyes were wide, like he sensed exactly what was happening and was preparing himself for anything.

“Matt is in there, ranting to your parents abou—”

He didn’t let me finish. He turned on one heel and cursed, threw his hat on the ground, and started back toward the house.

“Wait. What are you gonna’ do?” I asked, following him. “Oh, God,” I said to myself, hugging my arms. It was colder outside than it looked. I had no shoes and no jacket and was just standing there on the prickly grey grass, helpless.

“This is unbelievable,” Rob shouted out, stomping up the porch steps.

My uncle and brother came out the door and met him halfway. The three of them stared each other down for a few seconds. My uncle looked intensely angry. I did not like confrontation or fighting at all, and wished in my heart that none of this was really happening. I tried to look out into the field beyond the house to distract myself, but then everyone started yelling.

“What the hell is all this?” Uncle Mike asked us.

“Nothing is what it is,” Rob answered defiantly. He turned to Matt and stuck his finger out at him. “What the hell is your problem, Matt?”

My brother’s face slowly turned a deep purplish-red. The next few seconds went by like slow motion as my mind retraced the events of the previous night.

I really didn’t know that anyone could hear us. We always tried to be quiet and the last thing I ever wanted to do was rub anything in Matt’s face. Sometimes we heard all kinds of noises in that house at night. I assumed they were Matt usually, but Rob told me that sometimes it was just the house. Not this time.

Rob was warm and safe, and normal. I’d become a big fan of normal over the past year and didn’t want to sleep downstairs anymore. I didn’t really put any thought into it until the moment we heard Matt moaning on the other side of the door. After I almost had a heart attack, I realized we were caught and it was mortifying, sobering. Embarrassing.

Rob had reassured me that it was all going to be okay, not to worry about it. But he was rattled.

I came back to the moment to find Matt lunging at Rob, knocking him off the porch steps and onto the ground. They rolled around in the yard, throwing short, blunt punches and yelling muffled cries into each other’s necks, blowing clouds of breath into the air like a couple of fighting bucks. All the while my aunt and uncle shouted for them to stop.

I wanted to do something but I wouldn’t dare get in their way. Rob pinned Matt down after a while. Matt flailed and spat at Rob, clawing at his arms. Rob held him by the collar and was about to go in for the big punch when Uncle Mike finally intervened, prying him off of Matt. I felt so useless, but the look my uncle shot me as he pulled Rob to his feet told me I was doing just exactly the right thing by being still and quiet.

My uncle let him go and pulled Matt up by his shirt with one hand, blood pouring out of his nose, down his chin and along his neck. He took big, gaping breaths.

My uncle surveyed us all, even my aunt, and shook his head. “You all make me sick. Yesterday was a normal God damned day and now you’re all acting crazy! I don’t want to know if what Matt says is true, and if there is something up here that shouldn’t be up, I don’t ever want to find out about it. And I want it to stop!”

That was all he said. He let go of Matt with a quick shove, brushed himself off and adjusted his shirt, and went back inside. I looked over to my aunt. Normally she had a bland face and sort of stayed in the background, but today she stared so coldly into my eyes that it was obvious she had already known. How could we have not known that she knew? I put my hand to my head.

Rob wiped his bloody nose and lip, and rubbed his forehead. There was a long silence as everyone just kind of breathed and thought for a moment.

“Get in the car, Jamie,” Rob said quietly.

“What?” I asked softly, taken aback.

“Get in the car.”

“I need my shoes,” I said quietly.

“I’ll get your shoes,” he answered calmly and went inside, hanging onto the railing and swaying a little as he went up the steps.

Suddenly I felt so empty. It was that old stinging feeling I was always trying to get away from. I flopped into the car. The way Matt looked at me from just a few feet away was unlike any look he had ever given me. His pupils were large and he glared through me, almost like a doll or an animal with no whites in its eyes. I locked the door.

Rob came out with my shoes and my jacket. As he opened his door, the familiar scent of his coat came into the car before he did. I loved that smell. Dried blood covered his face with fresh still running over it.

“Do you need a tissue?” I asked. I opened the glove compartment and started fumbling through papers. There were no tissues. It was warm in the car and my thawing hands had trouble grasping anything.

“No, I’m fine,” he answered, touching his nose and looking at his red-stained hand. “Damn.”

He handed me my stuff. I put on my shoes and my jacket. “Thanks, are you okay?”

He looked past me to Matt. “Hell, I’m fine, Jamie, fine,” he said, still breathing heavily, looking very disturbed. He wiped his hand on his coat. I reached out to touch his face and he winced but let me touch him. “I’m okay,” he reassured me. “Come on, let’s get the hell out of here for a minute.”

“What about work?”

He barked out one loud laugh. “Jamie, honey, are you crazy? There’s not gonna’ be any work today. I mean look at me, God knows what’s broken here. I’m still shaking.”

“Do you think Matt is okay?” I asked him, which at that moment was probably the stupidest question in the world.

“Do I think Matt is okay? Ah, no I don’t think he’s okay. And I don’t think he will be okay, or that he was ever okay,” he answered gruffly, half sarcastic, and cleared his throat.

We sped off quickly, bumping along the driveway. I looked around, not knowing what to say.

The sky was a very deep blue. Some birds were out and flying around collecting things. The snow was melting in some areas, the ground thick and brown with mud puddles, while in others it stayed strong in frozen blankets over the rolling landscape. More snow was expected later in the week, the typical spring weather. It was strange and somehow beautiful.

"Dakota Morning," copyright 2017 Amelia Cotter (first published in Black Oak Presents: A Journal of Mid-American Culture, Winter 2010 Edition, 2010)

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Story #4: Dakota Morning, Part 1

This story is told from three points of view and will be posted in three parts, beginning this month with "Matt's Story," continuing in December with "Jamie's Story," and ending in January with "Rob's Story." It was first published in the Winter 2010 edition of Black Oak Presents: A Journal of Mid-American Culture, which is now out of print. I am excited to reshare it these seven years later:

Matt’s Story

Instead of living in his parent’s basement, my cousin Rob lived in their attic, like a bat, and he reminded me of a common household pest in every way. My room was directly below the attic with my bed positioned right under his. His bed was loud and squeaky, and my sister Jamie was always in it. I couldn’t sleep for the turning of my stomach with every whisper, creak, and muffled laugh that came from overhead, every night.

Every noise that hammered away at my head forced me to think about simpler times, like when Jamie and I first got here a year ago, last spring. It was a bitter cold day in March, and we were almost 2,000 miles from Connecticut, thrown suddenly into the dreary folds of Nowhere, North Dakota.

My uncle had picked us up at the airport, looked at us like he was sorry, given us both a hug, and then helped us carry our suitcases to the car. He wasn’t sorry about North Dakota—and he should have been—but about how our parents were dead, which is what had brought us here in the first place.

It had been over a decade since we had last seen Rob, and now we were all grown up and he was a man. He could not hide his selfish excitement as he came ambling out of their old farmhouse to greet us, and when his big eyes fell on Jamie like the flaming orange sunset, I just knew all of this was going to happen.

At first, Jamie didn’t really talk to anyone. She did a lot of thinking, sitting and staring. There were a lot of mysteries still surrounding the deaths of our parents—such as where the rest of their body parts were—which I think haunted her. It also made for some intensely awkward moments with Uncle Mike, who hadn’t talked to Dad in years and didn’t quite know what to say to us now either.

Soon enough, though, Rob had Jamie coming out of her shell. He took her swimming, took her walking in the woods, got her up early for hikes and breakfast. She was smiling again and even started laughing. Everyone just seemed to forget all about the terrible things that had happened. I, Matt—the wallpaper, a fixture—was the one left to take up the memories while they were busy having all the fun.

Every time Rob and Jamie sped away in his new Dodge, driveway dust clouded up in my face and filled my head with their filth. It wasn’t bad enough that they carried on like this under the noses of Uncle Mike and Aunt Misty—who had so humbly opened up their home to us—but then, on top of it, they had to know that I could hear every movement, every murmur as I lie awake at night, grinding my fists into my head to drown them out.

Sometimes I heard other noises in the house, too. Footsteps, whispers, knocking from above and below. Sometimes I didn’t know who was up at night doing what. Noises would seem to come from two places at once. It felt at times like there might even be a ghost in the house. Maybe Mom or Dad. But lately my mind was preoccupied only with Jamie and Rob.

So one night I got bold and decided to go up to the attic, just to know for sure if their affair was real, and if it was all in the name of torturing me. I didn’t make a single sound as I went up the stairs. I peeked into my sister’s room on the way down the hall, just to be sure. Empty. My aunt and uncle snored in their bedroom, tossing and turning in their ignorance.

When I climbed the narrow stairs and reached the thin landing, I was already close enough to put my ear to the door. I could hear them talking in low voices but I couldn’t understand what they were saying. I heard movement and then giggling and kissing noises. Wet kissing noises—the foulest sound of all.

These were two people who had clearly lost touch with reality. I listened for another minute and then accidentally let out an angry sigh. My sister heard it. They stopped whatever they were doing and I heard a quick sound like someone darting up in bed. “What was that?” she asked breathlessly.

I covered my own mouth and bounded down the stairs as quietly as possible. I closed my door behind me and listened. The noises upstairs stopped. Sometime later, maybe an hour or so, I finally heard my sister’s soft footfalls as she came down, crept past my door, and went back to her bedroom in shame.

The next morning, two very long faces paced around the kitchen. Rob’s eyes were red and shot from me to the floor to her, and then to my uncle. Jamie ate slowly and exchanged long worried looks with Rob, which would end as soon as my uncle turned in their direction. My aunt stood in the background like an ugly lamp, reading the local paper so quietly she might as well have not been there at all.

This nonchalance irked me. The tension was thick, as they say, and yet my relatives were oblivious. I needed to say something fast.

When my cousin got up, he put on his baseball cap and let his dishes clank in the sink. “Bye, everybody,” he said quietly, hesitating in the doorway, then disappearing down the hallway to get his things for work.

“Bye, Rob,” Jamie said quietly.

I waited quietly as well, for the door to close. And then, before I could control what I was saying, I stuck my fork out and I said, “Jamie, we need to talk. I know all about what’s going on.”

My uncle, surprised by my sudden loudness, choked on his orange juice and turned toward me. My sister was frozen, just staring at me.

“Matt, this is none of your business,” she said slowly, trying to say more to me with her wide eyes than with her words, but I wasn’t listening to any of it. “Please Matt, don’t.”

“What are you two talking about?” my uncle interjected. Even the great intellect Aunt Misty put her paper down.

I spoke. “Jamie, as your brother, I want only what is best for you. And this isn’t right. It’s sick. You’ve got to stop.”

“What’s got to stop?” my uncle asked, agitated but curious.

“Don’t, Matt.” She shook her head slowly, looking increasingly worried. The beginnings of tears gathered on her eyes. “Everything’s fine, okay? Just stop.” She flinched as I pounded my hand on the table. I said nothing, only glared. She added quickly, “Just leave it alone, Matt. Leave it.”

“Now hold on a sec,” my uncle said, starting to look angry.

“He’s your cousin,” I hissed, remaining deliberately vague, feeling the very power of my own suggestion.

“Whoa now, okay. What is this about?” my uncle asked, standing up.

I finally addressed him. “Uncle Mike, Jamie is spending an inappropriate amount of time with Rob, and you should know about it,” I answered calmly.

My sister got up quickly and left the room. I heard the front door open and then slam shut.

“Rob!” she yelled from the porch. “Robbie!”

I let her go. That was all I did, and it was the right thing.

"Dakota Morning," copyright 2017 Amelia Cotter (first published in Black Oak Presents: A Journal of Mid-American Culture, Winter 2010 Edition, 2010)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Story #3: #HorrorWeek

It's #HorrorWeek, and Goodreads is challenging authors to come up with their best two-sentence horror stories. This is my offering...based on a close, personal fear of mine:

Lying in bed alone, I hear a knock at my window and roll over to see a man peering through the glass at me. I live on the eighteenth floor.

Check out more two-sentence horror stories here! And if you’re interested in longer spooky reads for the Halloween season, my books are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble.com, Google Play, and through your local bookstore.

Copyright 2017 Amelia Cotter

Monday, September 25, 2017

Apparitions: Last Call for Submissions

So far, I've received more than 35 submissions from 14 people in two countries! Submissions have included the statements I originally asked for (see below), but I have also been receiving and am now welcoming haiku and haibun, along with other short form poetry and prose. I will continue to accept submissions through December 31, 2017. Thanks and Happy Hauntings!

From my post on March 1: "Exciting news! I am working on a new book, tentatively titled Apparitions. My artist statement for the book describes it as 'an array of haunting emotional landscapes, amidst Chicago's haunted landscapes, in this collection of poems, stories, and black and white photography.' For this project, my haiku and other short form poetry and prose will take center stage. My husband, Jonathan Montgomery Pollock, will provide photos of abandoned, historic, and haunted Chicagoland, bridging the project to my previous books about the supernatural and providing a long-needed Chicago tie-in with my writing.

"I am looking for people to contribute original statements of one to two sentences, to be featured in the book as quotes that will stand alone on a page or be accompanied by a photo or text. These statements should reflect honest, personal thoughts, ideas, or experiences about topics such as addiction, anxiety, mental illness, the nature of life and death, hope, spirituality, survival, and what makes life worth living.

"You may submit an unlimited number of statements and, if accepted, you may choose how you would like your name to be attributed in the book (including remaining anonymous). Please contact me at ameliamcotter@gmail.com if you are interested or would like more information. Thanks and Happy Hauntings!"

Friday, September 1, 2017

#GiveBackGetInvolved: Resources for Activism and Community Involvement

(UPDATED/Monday, September 11, 2017) I reached out to friends and followers for help in creating a list of resources for activism and community involvement. I received a variety of suggestions, including a few that are specific to Chicago or Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma relief. If there is an event, organization, or volunteer opportunity you would like to see featured in a future post, please contact me at ameliamcotter@gmail.com:

Armed Forces Veterans: organization providing aid and comfort to the men and women of the United States Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and their families

Build Chicago: organization engaging at-risk youth in schools and on the streets, helping them realize their educational and career potential and contribute to the stability, safety, and well being of Chicago communities

Charity Navigator: the nation's largest and most-utilized evaluator of charities

Conversation Chicago: monthly conversation series at Women & Children First Bookstore, pairing out-of-town authors with local writers, artists, and musicians

Countable: app that streamlines the process of contacting lawmakers and telling them how you would like them to vote on bills that are under consideration

"Helping Out After Hurricane Harvey: Where, What & How to Donate": article at Forbes.com

"How you can help people affected by Hurricane Irma": article at MiamiHerald.com

"Hurricane Irma: How to Help Storm Victims": article at NBCNews.com

Issue Voter: service that makes civic engagement accessible, efficient, and impactful through customizable email alerts on issues that matter to you

Project PSI: a team of remote viewers searching for missing persons and advocating for victims of human trafficking and child exploitation

Supportive Listening: website dedicated to practical tips, insights, and information on the skill and technique of supportive listening

"The Secret to Happiness is Helping Others": article at Time.com

United Way: international coalition of charitable organizations aiming to strengthen communities by working to improve health, education, and financial stability

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Guest Post: Thirty, by Onicia Muller

Note from Amelia: Welcome Onicia Muller, writer, comedian, fellow storyteller, and friend. The complexity of this evocative flash fiction piece unfolds with each subsequent read:

Is despair haunting?

She hoped for some petrol so she could make it to an interview. She left home with a busted ride that she hoped would take her to Progeny. Another day. Another gig. Her tank was dangerously near empty.

Thirty for thirty. Thirty miles in thirty minutes. If she got that job on the thirtieth floor, would she make it? Sadly, working for thirty days and barely earning enough to live for twenty...

Roadside. She used to hope for hope. Now she wished that she never had. This mad dash to Progeny. Her poverty was like starting this journey on a tank dangerously near empty, hoping for a petrol station. But like every opportunity, the stations were closed. She was so close to another station, fighting against logic and desire.

The motivational morphine pushers said the universe would conspire to help her. If only she'd hoped for no hope, then she wouldn't be a failure on the super highway.

Onicia Muller is a Caribbean writer and comedian. Her weekly humor column "Just Being Funny" is published in The Daily Herald's Weekenderwww.oniciamuller.com

"Thirty," copyright 2017 Onicia Muller

Monday, July 3, 2017

Poem #2: I Seek

A poem reminiscent of summers past. This is another simple self-reflection exercise that anyone can do, using the five senses for inspiration:

I taste the heat.
I smell sometimes flowers, sometimes trash.
I hear barking and a hose running.
Dogs play in kiddie pools, and I reach out to them as they run by, happily chasing each other.
I see brightly colored murals along the El tracks.
I walk home, where it's cool inside and I'm alone.

"I Seek," copyright 2017 Amelia Cotter