All posts by Artemis Greenleaf

Artemis Greenleaf has devoured fairy tales, folk tales and ghost stories since before she could read. Artemis did, in fact, marry an alien and she lives in the suburban wilds of Houston, Texas with her husband, two children and assorted pets. She writes both fiction and non-fiction and her work has appeared in magazines and as novels. For more information, please visit artemisgreenleaf.com.

Memories of Water

Drip. Drip. Drip.

The water was only up to the edge of the middle slab of the driveway. Still far enough from the house. Too deep to drive through, though. If only the damned rain would stop. It’s been four days. Enough already.

Once, when it had slowed to a drizzle, Harvey tried going for a walk, just to get out of the house. It didn’t take long before the torrent returned, and coming home was like trying to move through a car wash.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

When had the roof started leaking? It was fine before. It wasn’t even that old. Maybe TV would take his mind off the water.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

He clicked through the channels. No. Nope. What? Three and a half times he cycled through before he settled on a comedy prank show – it didn’t really matter, he wanted the company more than entertainment. Harvey watched a shadow seep across the floor and pool just beyond the doorway. He looked up. She said nothing.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Harvey shook his head and looked back to the TV. When his glance returned to the doorway, she was gone. Should he have said something? Surely, she knew how much she’d hurt him when she’d left. Her picture, beaming in her wedding dress, smiled down at him from the opposite wall. She looked so much different now. Ravaging cancer had left her gaunt and scarred, and the once-vigorous Rita was a frail ghost of her former self.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

He stalked to the window and peered out. The water had come up maybe a few inches. Not much. The driveway was still more than half clear. He looked out the back. The runoff pool in the yard had stretched further and wider. It still wasn’t up to the deck, though. It should be fine. The rain had slowed down now, and there was food, water, and power in the house. Surely it would be over soon. It couldn’t rain forever. Could it?

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Harvey slumped into his chair. The transformer groaned and boomed. Lights flickered and went dark, TV pranksters silenced in mid-guffaw. He stared hopefully at the screen. During storms, it wasn’t uncommon for the power to go out, only to come back on a minute or two later when the backup circuit kicked in. The second hand staggered around the filthy face of the crooked plastic clock. The television remained dark.

He felt her come into the room behind him. Her hand on his shoulder was ice. The cold frosted his heart, and it cracked along old fault lines.

“I’m glad you came back.”

For a long time, she did not reply. Finally, in a voice so soft he wondered if he’d imagined it, she said, “I know.”

Harvey closed his eyes, yearning for what used to be. He ached to sweep her into his arms, but his body refused to move. A solitary tear crept down his unshaven face.

Her bloodless fingers caressed his cheek and the wood floor sighed as she left the room.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

He emptied the pot into the bathtub and set it back under the leak. Drops of water clattered against the empty aluminum container. The noise jangled his nerves. His jaw clenched. Harvey strode out into the living room and jerked the front door open. Rain tumbled from the sky in silver shards that shattered on the ground and flowed like quicksilver to join the roiling lake that was slowly but surely swallowing the driveway. As long as the levee holds…

Drip. Drip. Drip.

He needed to talk to her. Harvey knew that. But he was afraid. Afraid of her cold silence. Afraid of her sunken eyes and hollow cheeks. He shuddered. Things weren’t his fault. He was healthy, for his age. He had needs. The girls didn’t understand. Harvey’s eyes fell on the shadow-drenched hallway that led toward the master bedroom. Not yet. Breakfast dishes needed cleaning. Not that tidying up had ever been a priority for him – yesterday’s dishes also still needed washing. But it was a handy excuse for putting off the inevitable.

Harvey shuffled into the kitchen. Peeling linoleum, worn through to the concrete below in spots, hinted at the sunny yellow of better days. The gas water heater didn’t need electricity, and he put the stopper in the sink to soak the crusty dishes a few minutes before he began his half-hearted scrubbing.

Wiping a plate with the tattered dishrag reminded him of washing his girls in the sink when they were tiny babies – first Carla, then two years later, Celia. So small, so fragile. Both were married with daughters of their own, but they were still his girls. Too bad neither had spoken to him after their mother left. They blamed him.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Water splashing into the pot was louder here and it echoed in his head. He was only half-way through the washing up when he couldn’t take the noise of it any longer. Flinging the cloth into the murky dishwater, he padded down the hall to the bedroom he’d shared all those years with Rita. Wet carpet squished beneath his feet, splattering on the walls. Dark footprints trailed behind him down the corridor.

The room was submerged in twilight. Gloom twisted behind the doors and flowed from under the furniture. Harvey shivered, but whether the chill in the air was real or imagined, he couldn’t tell. The tap was running in the tub. Dread weighed on Harvey like sodden wool, and he struggled to breathe.

Still, he forced one foot in front of the other. One step. Two. Twelve steps from the bedpost to the master bath. Steam fogged the mirror above the vanity. Water splashed on the floor from the overflowing tub. His heart pounded in his ears as he rushed in to turn off the faucet. Where was she?

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Déjà vu grabbed Harvey’s insides so hard he wanted to puke. He plunged his arm into the near-scalding water, searching for Rita underneath the raft of bubbles. She wasn’t there. Gradually, he became aware of someone watching him. His breath caught in his chest when he whirled and saw her standing behind him. She looked different somehow, but also the same, wearing that same broken smile she seemed to reserve for him alone.

Rita raised her hands toward him, palms up, beckoning. Harvey slid his feet on the treacherously slick tile toward her, then took her icy hands. He closed his eyes as her gelid breath fell on his face when she leaned in and kissed him.

Euphoria exploded within Harvey and pooled in rainbow puddles of bliss. It was like the first time he’d ever kissed her. He opened his mouth wider, greedy for more. The ecstasy faded, and Harvey went from floating to falling.

He opened his lids, but instead of the familiar soft brown eyes he was expecting, what he saw was black. Soulless black where the iris should have been, merciless black where he expected white. Harvey whimpered and jerked away, feet skidding out from under him. He saw stars as his head smacked against the side of the tub, felt hot blood running down his scalp.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

The funeral director closed the side door behind the departing clergyman and stole a glance at his watch. The cremation chamber warm-up cycle was almost complete. Mourners stood up and began milling around. The two daughters stood near the main door. No one stood near the casket.

He watched as the pitiful handful of dearly beloved ebbed toward the door.

“I’m so sorry, Carla. It must be very hard losing your father so soon after your mom.” The man was somewhere in the grey area between middle-aged and elderly.

“Thank you, Uncle Ike.”

“Good riddance.” mumbled the young woman next to Carla.

The woman clinging to Ike’s arm dabbed at her eyes. “Celia! Is that really necessary? He was your father.”

“Our mother’s dead because of him, in case you’ve forgotten, Aunt Beulah.”

“It was an accident!”

“He was there while she drowned in the bathtub!”

Carla held up her hands. “Please!” She blinked back tears. “It doesn’t matter now, does it? Can we please just finish up the service?”

The funeral director’s watch vibrated. He slid in between Carla and her uncle. “It’s time.”

Carla nodded. Celia grinned.

The director pulled the fancy drape off the plain container that held Harvey’s body. Why is he wet? Somebody has really screwed up. What is that black spot on his collar? Surely it’s not mold. At least no one in the family noticed. There would be a staff meeting about his on Monday. Completely unacceptable.  

He closed the lid and pushed a button. The conveyor that held the flimsy coffin started to move, dragging Harvey closer to the eager flames of the crematorium. Water droplets fell from the corner of the box, disappearing into the dark carpet.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

The Seventh Circle

Mr. Hughes loved Halloween.

He once told me that it had been his wife’s favorite holiday, and he kept up the decorating to honor her after she’d died. An elaborate shrine to the dead, if you will. Instead of “Sweets for the sweet,” “Deads for the dead?” But I digress.

Every year, he created a different theme. Last year had been the best yet. A realistic cemetery erupted from his yard one morning. Bats hung from the trees, and giant spider webs stretched between tombstones. On Halloween night, he added a fog machine, and a hidden projector threw stalking specters against a nearly invisible mesh. Younger children were too scared to come close to the trick-or-treat bowl, but the older ones loved it – it was almost like a free haunted house.

He always made a costume that matched the decorations. One year, I helped him pass out candy, and he was surprisingly good at making me up like a zombie. I caught sight of myself in the mirror and it terrified me for a moment before I realized that it was me. The makeup was too realistic, too perfect. Made me think of the nightmares I used to have when I was in the hospital. I didn’t sleep that night. Or the next one. By the time I got to fifty-six hours, I was starting to hallucinate. I collapsed on the sofa and slept twelve hours straight. But at least I was too tired to dream. Another plus: my house was incredibly clean and my closets were more organized than they’d ever been.

The year after that, he did a werewolf scene. A disguised post supported a leaping canine monster, and I couldn’t tell you how creepy it was to go to my mailbox and be faced with a werewolf in mid-attack. Did I mention that it moved? It gave me the heebie-jeebies. Reminded me too much of the time my aunt’s big dog attacked me when I was little. Still have the scars on my jaw. I even go the long way around out of the neighborhood so I don’t have to drive past that monstrosity on the way to work. I couldn’t even look out the living room window in the evening – those glowing eyes haunted my nightmares.

Aside from his Halloween obsession, Mr. Hughes isn’t a bad neighbor. If you don’t mind obsessive grass mowing. At seven in the morning. But he always smiles and waves when he sees me. Although I suspect he might have been the one to complain to the HOA about my edging. That’s how the lawn service company does it. Not my fault, is it?

But this year, he’s got the most over-the-top tableau I’ve ever seen. And that’s saying something, given his decorations. It looks like a scene from Dante’s Inferno. Layers of ragged nylon fabric dance in the breeze of a fan, simulating flames. Damned souls writhe in the fires, and motion sensor-triggered sound effects wail in anguish. An enormous three-faced Lucifer head with pointed teeth and gaping maws was tethered between the two oak trees.

The night he put out the display, I woke up screaming. It had been months since that happened. I had to call my shrink at three AM. I think it’s probably been two years since the last time I had to do that.

Mr. Hughes. It was almost like he knew. Knew my most vulnerable spot, then gleefully sucker punched me. Was he trying to drive me insane? He couldn’t possibly know. But why? Why on earth would he choose this scene?

Surely, if he had been there, listening to my wife and kids screaming as the house blazed around them, he wouldn’t have done it. There was nothing I could have done as I lay on the ground, grass slick with my own blood, jagged bone ends sticking out of my thighs. I had tried to drag myself to the front door, but my legs were worse than useless. An explosion – later I found it was a gas line – shattered the windows and roared through the house like the Devil himself. I had been upstairs and got thrown through a picture window into the front yard. I lived. Not sure if it was a blessing or a curse. I had survived Hell, and for what? To be mocked by Halloween decorations? But this year, I could do something about it. I called up Mr. Hughes and offered to help with the final touches.

***

Sunday, Halloween morning, was cool and dull. Thin clouds lazed by, briefly exposing the wan sun. Clots of neighbors paused on the sidewalk, admiring Mr. Hughes’ pièce de résistance. A very realistic corpse had been added to one of the jaws of the three-faced Satan. The body’s head and neck vanished into dark mouth, and the arms were raised, hands against the teeth that were trying to chomp it down. The grass had been torn up, as if there had been an epic struggle. The character wore the kind of robe common to Christmas pageants – perhaps he was meant to be Judas? But I’m not really sure. Almost as soon as I’d arrived at Mr. Hughes’ house the prior evening, he’d offered me whiskey from an expensive, imported bottle. We each had a shot, then another. We went outside to look at the display, and he told me that this would probably be the last year of his Halloween extravaganzas. I agreed, fingering the length of clothesline I had in my pocket.

Watching from my darkened window, I could see that the neighbors’ concern increased to panic as Halloween evening stretched on, and Mr. Hughes had not appeared to pass out candy. I saw Mrs. Montoya, his other next door neighbor, standing on the sidewalk in front of his house, talking on her cell phone. I went to see what she was up to.

She ended the call before I got out there, and as I got closer, I could see that she was crying.

“What’s wrong, Mrs. Montoya?” I kept it formal – I didn’t know her all that well.

She sniffled before she turned to me. “Ernie seems to be missing – he hasn’t come out with candy, and he won’t pick up the phone. I’ve called the police. I’m afraid he may need to go to the hospital.”

Too late for that. “Really? Why?”

“He was diagnosed with an aggressive pancreatic cancer. He only has a few months to live.”

“I didn’t know. I’m very sorry to hear that.” You have no idea how sorry.

I sat on the curb and started to laugh. I was still laughing when the police arrived.

Punch

By Emil G. Skrubb

Today, I learned to never trust Halloween dances. They may seem innocent at first, but never, ever fall into their trap.

Allow me to explain.

It was Friday, October 30th, and everyone was hyped up for the big Halloween dance after school. I didn’t plan to attend, since none of my friends were going to be there, but everyone kept on trying to convince me that it would be fun.

“Why aren’t you coming to the dance? It’ll be fun!” they all said. I didn’t even know these people. It was almost like they were in some sort of Halloween-dance cult. Seriously, why can’t people mind their own business? It’s not like I had five bucks to spare, anyway. I needed that money to buy snacks from the vending machine! I could be doing things with my life instead of wasting my money at some boring dance. I had been to these kinds of things before, and they were rarely anything but flashing lights and LOTS of noise.

The straw that broke the camel’s back is when even the teachers started nagging me to go. “Who’s going to the Halloween dance tonight?” they would ask. Most everyone’s hands went up. They tried all sorts of things to convince us to show up, including offering extra credit and free candy if we came.

“Fine, I’ll go to your Halloween party,” I sighed, exhausted from everyone annoying me and trying to convince me. It became clear that they wouldn’t give up anytime soon. Besides, I really needed that extra credit.

After the last bell rang and we were let out of class, I grabbed my things from my locker and walked downstairs hesitantly. There was still a chance to get on the bus and leave! Then, I remembered the extra credit. I didn’t really have much of a choice at this point. I walked up to the admission table, paid my five dollars, and got a bright pink wristband.

“Have fun!” grinned the teacher in charge of admission. I was positive that I wouldn’t. I walked into the cafeteria, which was covered in cheesy Halloween decorations that were probably from the local dollar store. It was absolutely full of people, every one of them screaming and dancing. I made my way to the refreshments, possibly the only redeeming factor of this so-called party, and tried not to get trampled in the process. Unfortunately, all the good food had been eaten already, and all that was left were the less popular choices. I decided to pass. I mean, it’s not like any of it was healthy enough to justify eating it, anyway. Just then, they started blasting my least favorite song at full volume. I desperately tried to cover my ears, but I could still hear it clearly.

All of a sudden, loud, grating feedback played over the speakers. Nobody else seemed to notice; they were too caught up in the party. Then, it happened again. They should really get their sound system fixed!

I suddenly got this overwhelming feeling that something was horribly, horribly wrong. I couldn’t put my finger what it was, but I felt like I had to get out of there. I ran to the front door, but I was blocked by the principal.

“Leaving so soon? Don’t go yet! We’re just getting started!”

I screamed and ran to the other door. I tried to open it, but it was locked! Just then, the principal took the mic.

“It seems that someone wants to leave early. We can’t let THAT happen, can we?”

All eyes turned to me. Everyone had this disturbing, devilish grin. “Of course we can’t!”

They all surrounded me, still smiling like maniacs. “Don’t be afraid! It’ll only hurt a little!”

“W-what will?! What are you going to do to me?!” I cried.

“Oh, you’ll see!” they replied cheerfully, as if this was a completely normal thing that they all seemed to enjoy.

They took me backstage, right by the speakers, and pulled out knives. Lots and lots of knives. They had what appeared to be a punch bowl with them.

Well, now I know what caused the feedback. And it wasn’t the sound system, after all…

If you ever go to Halloween parties, remember not to drink the punch. But in the event that you do… Well, you’ll see!

AND, not OR

To the young black woman who stopped by my table last Saturday at the Rosenberg Kroger:

It broke my heart when you felt you needed to lower your voice and add a disclaimer of “I don’t mean to offend you” when you told me that you belonged to a Meet Up group called “Black Girls Rock.” I know that you don’t know me, but you felt it was safer to assume I would find that offensive and stepped back a little from owning it, and that made me sad. Yes, there are many beautiful, amazing black girls who absolutely rock. Step into that light and shine!

Now I’m not talking about hate or supremacist groups here who think they are better than anyone else and blame all of their and the world’s problems on some Other, someone Not Them. Those are an entirely different animal. Those haters excepted, there is not a thing in the world wrong with celebrating special qualities of a group – black girls, gifted children, marathon runners, homeless shelter volunteers, Area V Eventers, FFPS Soccer teams, and countless others – all have a group identity, a set of abilities, skills, or traits worth lauding. Recognizing one group is not equal to denigrating others.

Because we are not interchangeable cogs in the machinery of life. Everybody has their own custom blend of traits, strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, and they bring their own unique gifts to the world. Celebrate what makes you you! Taking joy in things you love and stepping into your personal power does not detract from others or take away from them. On the contrary, the more joyful and centered we are as individuals, the stronger our communities, and the better our society.

 

How I Made my Gorgon Headpiece

1. I started with armature mesh. It can be found in most craft stores with the polymer clay supplies. I molded the mesh onto my head, shaping it to cover my scalp.

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Mesh step

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2. I used fiberfill to add contour and shape to the mesh.

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3. I took plaster-impregnated gauze strips (also available in the poly clay aisle) and covered both the mesh and fiberfill, and let that dry for 48 hrs.

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4. After experimenting with various materials, I found some 3/8″ mesh tubing. I used 3 packs (60 yds), and I cut the tubing into 12″ – 18″ lengths.

5. I fed a black pipe cleaner (chenille stem) into each tube and bent and twisted into a serpentine shape.

 6. I used a bamboo skewer to poke a hole in the plaster, inserted about ½” of the stem into the headpiece, and hot-glued it down.

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7. I glued a ½” pompom in the open end of each tube.

 8. I glued 2 size 8 beads on each pompom for eyes.

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9. I painted the plaster black and applied three coats of varnish.

10. I glued felt to the inside to make it more comfortable, and keep plaster crumbs out of my hair.

 

Dragon Killer Trailer

Belinda Tate is at it again. As The Devil’s Advocate (the third installment of the Marti Keller Mysteries) opens, she is planning to launch the second book in her Dragonfire series (under her pen name, Coda Sterling) during the Space City Sizzlin’ Summer Literary Conference at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Dragon Killer picks up right where Dragon by Knight left off.  Tristan and Lisabeth are on the deliciously tropical Island of the Dragon Council, preparing to return to Galveston. When a meeting with Tristan’s adolescent son goes bad, things quickly spiral out of control, fueled by treachery and political infighting, and leaving Lisabeth wondering if she and Tristan will live long enough to make it to the alter.

And it’s a good thing Belinda likes mystery and suspense, because she herself finds a target painted squarely on her back during the convention. She’s counting on Marti to solve the mystery before Belinda’s number is up.

Brain’s Vacation

When my daughter was a toddler, she used to like to jump on the tile steps to the living room. I would tell her, “Don’t jump on the steps – if you fall, you’ll crack your head open and your brain will fall out.” She would say, “And then what would happen?” So I made up a story for her, and called it “Brain’s Vacation.”

I started playing around with the artwork for the story this past fall, and I decided I liked the plump little brain I came up with. So here it is – my first picture book. It’s currently available only as an ebook, but I’m looking at some book app software, and if I can get the artwork together for another couple of short stories I have, I will do a print anthology.

 

Sobek and Friends

The Space City Scribes are putting out an anthology in November called  “Space City Six”, and we each contributed a story. My piece, “Fever,” includes historical encounters with various mysterious creatures in Houston’s not so misty past. Because Houston was born on Buffalo Bayou, of course there  had to be alligators. And not just any old gators, but strange hominid gators, not unlike the lizard men sometimes reported in swampy areas.

But the alligator people, as a race, needed a name. So I did a little research. As it turns out, the Egyptians had a crocodile headed god named Sobek.  Excellent! I could spin it so that Sobek wasn’t a god so much as a species, which had spread around the globe and evolved similarly to crocodiles and alligators. I created my artwork and loaded it into the book trailer video.

Then I started listening to episode 12.09 of Mysterious Universe, where they interviewed Linda Godfrey about her latest book, American Monsters. She described an incident describing a creature that so closely represented my artwork that I was sure the Twilight Zone theme was playing in my house.