Friday, February 2, 2018

Haiku #5: her empty chair

A brief meditation for the dead of winter:

her empty chair…
still telling
old ghost stories

"her empty chair," copyright 2018 Amelia Cotter (most recently published in Beyond the Grave: Contemporary Afterlife Haiku, 2015)

Monday, January 1, 2018

Story #4: Dakota Morning, Part 3

Happy New Year! This story is told from three points of view and has been posted in three parts, beginning in November with "Matt's Story," continuing last month with "Jamie's Story," and ending this month 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:

Rob’s Story

What a morning. The air came crisp and cold into my lungs and the sky was blue and endless. On another day it might have been fun to call out of work and do something, but instead I was bleeding to death in my car and speeding off to nowhere with Jamie going into shock next to me.

I wanted to drive her out to a little deserted lot I knew of, where we could just talk in private for ten minutes. Ten minutes of sanity was all we needed to talk things out.

To think that all Dad had to say was that he didn’t want to hear about it again—no wonder we did such crazy stuff all the time and got away with it. What a joke. My parents were clueless, clueless about every damn thing.

The pain pounded in my head from Matt slamming me to the ground. He was no small guy but I couldn’t believe he knocked me clear off the porch.

I needed to get Jamie out of there. It was not her fault that all of this was happening, and she had plenty of other crap on her mind. None of this should have been her problem at all. Life is short and sucks enough as it is.

When we were all kids, Jamie and Matt and their parents used to visit us during the summer. A big part of me was glad when those two came to live with us. It was like we were kids again. Those were the good memories I had from growing up here and I knew we could get them back, even though we were all torn up about what happened to their parents. I sure as hell don’t know what happened to Matt, though.

Anyway, number one on the day’s list: get me and Jamie out of there. I needed to tell her about what Matt had done. There were a couple of reasons why I wasn’t happy with him, and his creepy night-spying was just the cherry on top of a pie that had been baking for a very long time.

When we got out to the lot about 20 minutes from home, I turned off the car and got out. I went around to the trunk and looked inside. I kept on almost believing that the present Matt had left me wouldn’t be there anymore, but of course it always was. I scared myself now just thinking that I had ridden around with it for a good few days, trying to pretend like nothing was wrong.

There was a big old rifle in the trunk. It was mine but I had not put it there. My dad and I went hunting sometimes, but I didn't just keep some big gun rattling around in the back of my car. Matt had somehow gotten a hold of it, but that wasn’t all.

I decided to leave it for a second and walked over to Jamie’s side of the car. She stared up at me with her big eyes. I stood back and pulled the door open. “Hey,” I said, giving her shoulders a rub and kissing her cheek. “Look, I got somethin’ you need to look at.”

“What?” she asked. “Why are we here? Robbie, it’s freezing, just show me in the car.”

“No, you need to come look at it,” I said. I started to pull her to her feet but she grabbed my arm.

She tucked in her bottom lip and didn’t say anything for a long time.

Suddenly she burst out crying and shaking, clutching at my arm. “I’m scared. I’m scared. I can’t deal with this anymore. We can’t just do nothing. We have to do something. I want to go, I want to go away.”

I knelt down in front of her, freed my arm, and started rubbing her arms. “It’s okay, it’s okay. What we should do is leave here as soon as possible.”

She started crying even harder and I put my arms around her, pulling her close to me. After a few seconds she kind of pulled herself together. “What’s in the trunk?” she asked.

“Just come take a look at it.” I got her to her feet and she held my hand with both of hers. She was still shaking.

We walked around the car and she looked into the trunk with this mixture of curiosity and fear, like it was some open coffin. Now, usually I had a very messy trunk, filled with crap, but when Matt broke into it, he cleaned all of it out, even the dirt and sticks, everything. It was literally spotless—not even a speck was left ground into the fabric. It was as clean as the day I bought the car. When I found it, the gun was also polished clean and sitting in there with a note tied to it.

Of everything Matt had done, this bothered me the most. It had taken him so much time, yet I had no idea how he got a hold of my car keys or the keys to the gun case, or where the hell I was when all this took place.

Jamie ran her hand over the fabric and inspected it, and I could see her shudder. She took the little note and opened it, leaning in to read it.

“Monster.” She looked puzzled and then turned to me. “What the hell?”

I shrugged. “It had one bullet in it. First thing I did was unload it.”

She stared at me for a second and blinked. “Why didn’t you tell me about this? How long ago did he do this?”

I shook my head and shrugged again. “Couple a days ago. I mean, to be honest, this really didn’t surprise me. I didn’t think it meant much. I really don’t know, I mean…I guess today settles it.”

“I can’t believe you didn’t say anything. So…what does he want you to do?” She talked quietly and looked around over her shoulders.

“Let’s not find out.”

She looked straight into my eyes. “Let’s just leave, altogether, and get out of here. You and me, today. Now.” The look on her face was dead serious.

I knew she meant it. I had been waiting for those words for the longest time. I was all ready. “Okay. Let’s do it. We should go back first, though, so we can get our stuff. Check on my parents. You think everything’s okay?”

“I don’t know.” She reached out and hugged me. I hugged her back and kissed her on the neck. The way I bent my head made my face hurt like hell. I knew that when I got back in the warm car I would feel just how badly I was busted up, now that the adrenaline was wearing off. Everything was going to hurt. She held onto me for a long time.

We got back in the car. It was still warm in there and I could start to feel the aches. We didn't say much, but Jamie kept looking at me and trying to smile. I smiled back. I just needed some time to think, a little about how scared I was and a lot about how relieved I was.

We were going to go somewhere, do something, be free. I didn't want to start talking about it just yet. I could give it until we got back on the road again and to a hotel, maybe. But something real was happening.

As we drove, I looked around. It was still early. The road sprawled out in front of us, with snow and fields lining it forever. I can’t say enough that the sky was blue, but it was also that cloudless blue I was used to seeing in fall, not spring. I could even smell burning leaves somewhere in the distance and I had this sensation like winter was coming and not going.

We pulled onto the long driveway and I could see our property stretching across the horizon. There was our house, a barn and the trees to the west, and then a long field of brown and white that crawled out toward the east till there were hills where the sunflowers grew.

As we bounced along the gravel road, my head throbbed with every jolt and bang of the wheels over the rocks. Jamie put her hand on my leg and rubbed it a little. We both looked at the house. It wasn’t our house anymore. I looked at everyone standing on the porch, waiting there and watching us.

There was something wrong about how they looked. Matt was standing there, still in his t-shirt, all covered in his own blood. His hair was a mess and he was pale like he was freezing his crazy ass off, just standing there on the porch like a total nut.

I looked at Jamie. “Do you think he knows we talked about him?” I asked.

She glanced at me. “Of course he does.” I nodded and looked back at them again. Matt was alone.

“Where did Uncle Mike and Aunt Misty go?” she asked quietly.

“They were right there,” I said. We stared ahead, bumping along while Matt glared back at us. There wasn’t that much blood on him before. That wasn’t all his blood.

“Robbie, we could turn around now,” Jamie said quickly, leaning back into her seat.

“I know. But we need money, though, and clothes. We gotta’ get our stuff.”

“Do we?”

We pulled to a stop. Matt was just standing there, straight ahead of us, sort of leaning to one side with his dark eyes squinting toward us in the sunlight.

I had a terrible feeling.

“Don’t leave me alone,” Jamie said quickly, grabbing my hand.

“I won’t,” I said, and wondered if we were really going to get out of this car, and what the hell was going to happen if we did.

"Dakota Morning," copyright 2018 Amelia Cotter (first published in Black Oak Presents: A Journal of Mid-American Culture, Winter 2010 Edition, 2010)

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