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

Monday, June 5, 2017

Ghost Story #3: Rose Marie

While I was writing Maryland Ghosts: Paranormal Encounters in the Free State, my Uncle Bernie sent me more than 30 stories from throughout his life in the form of hand-written letters. After Maryland Ghosts was first published in 2012, and featured most of his Maryland stories, we turned his remaining letters into an unpublished collection to share with family and friends called The Haunted Letters: True Tales from a Ghost-Storied Life. Here is another one of my favorite stories from that collection:

Altoona, Pennsylvania (Blair County), 2003

Debra and I had just returned from a trip to Chatham, Virginia to share time with our Chatham family. It was the next morning, and Debra and I were having hot coffee in our living room.

Debra sat across from me on a sofa, and I across from her on another sofa, reliving our most recent Chatham visit.

The white form of a lady suddenly entered our living room from the front foyer of the home, approximately three feet off of the floor. Her form hovered, not in between us, but just to my right and Debra's left. The lady was dressed all in white and seemed to radiate/pulsate white light.

I did not look directly at her but kept her in the periphery of my vision. Debra continued to look straight at me and I asked her if she was observing what I was seeing. Her response was, "No. What do you see?"

I responded, as this lady in white stood there, "I am seeing the ghost of my cousin, Rose Marie Meadows!"

She was killed in 1955 in a tragic auto accident when I was eight years old. I told Debra that I believed Rose Marie had come home with us from our trip to Chatham. Her form hovered there for about another 20 seconds, then abruptly turned, heading back toward the foyer, and vanished from sight.

We had actually been to the Chatham family cemetery during our visit, which holds the grave site of seven of my Meadows relatives, Rose Marie's grave being the oldest. When she was killed in 1955, I wasn't allowed to go the funeral. She was 17, and like I said, I was eight. The summer before her death, she had visited and stayed with us on Valleywood Drive in Wheaton, Maryland, for a week. She was kind, caring, and thoughtful, and much appreciated by our family.

Her brother Bill had been driving the car. He was taking her and her date to the prom. She and her boyfriend were both killed in the accident. Her brother, to this day, says he doesn't remember anything that happened. Shortly after her funeral, Bill enlisted in the Air Force and went away for four years. In my opinion, a good thing.

Rose Marie would have been 73 today had she lived. Her death tore a hole in our family's heart that still hasn't healed. I hope she rests in peace.
–B.W.M.

"Rose Marie," copyright 2017 Bernard W. Masino and Amelia Cotter (first appeared in The Haunted Letters: True Tales from a Ghost-Storied Life, 2013)