Category Archives: Shorts

Kadilia Caine’s Dating Profile

Welcome to Strange Love (aka Monster Mingle) a place where urban legends find romance, where full moons lead to fuller hearts, and all the thirsty singles have fangs. This is how it works: illustrator Bryan Politte creates the characters and I (Drew Chial horror author) give them a backstory.

Meet Kadilia Caine. She’s been out of the dating pool for a while, but she’s ready to get her feet wet again. She has the power to glamour crowds into falling in love with her, but she’s never known true love herself. If you’re searching for someone to watch over you at night then look no further than Kadilia. All you have to do to win her affection is invite her in.

ABOUT ME

If you grew up Romani in the 19thcentury then Transylvania was the place to be, especially if you liked hawking pottery on a bed of splinters in the dead of winter. And if you didn’t? Well I don’t know about you, but I hopped a caravan to London and joined a burlesque troop.

Now Victorian burlesque is not the Vegas showcase you’re probably imagining. Our performances were less about splashing around in giant cocktails and more about telling tales. Less fan dancing. More pantomime. Less high kicks. More hijinks.

We performed Shakespeare (with a few subtle alterations). Our female characters were actually played by women (as were most of the men). And sure, our heroes were scantily clad caricatures, and yes, we did cram Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter full of innuendos: O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? I need a happy dagger in my sheath.

I never got to utter that one. I had a habit of laughing through my lines. Audiences got a rise out of it, but it made playwrights go bat shit. Nevertheless, my time on stage put a smile on my face and potatoes on my plate, until the theater went family friendly and spat me onto the street. Many of my costars fell back on the world’s oldest profession, but I had loftier ambitions.

I took up modeling, posing for those animated carousels viewers spun by hand. Gentlemen would line up to watch me lift my skirt or tip my corset. They called them zoetropes and they called me a zoetrope trollop, sometimes a stroboscope strumpet, or a praxinoscope pretty, if I was lucky.

I was just happy to be in pictures, whether I was a flipbook floosy or stereoscopic stripper I didn’t care. I was an entertainer. I had a good thing going, until a fan caught up with me in Whitechapel and ruined everything.

LIFE CHANGING EVENT

I was walking home when I noticed something strange. The echo of my heels was falling out of sync. It turned out someone was trying to match my footfalls. It wasn’t long before I saw their shadow creeping up the cobblestones.

I hastened my pace, hoping to find a constable or some local ruffians. Instead I found a gaggle of gigglemugs spilling out of a pub. I weaved my way into the women and walked with them until I was certain my pursuer had buggered off. When I came upon a familiar shortcut, I left the gals to their gossip.

My pursuer was waiting for me there in that long back alley. His top hat cast a shadow down his brow, his mustache framed his muzzle in twin spirals, and his teeth were pressed so hard into his lip it looked like he had an underbite. He reached into his cape with a long leather glove.

I remember him offering me grapes and that the last words out of my mouth were, “Thanks, but I already ate.”

Then he ran a blade along my neck like he was bowing a violin and everything went dark.

When I came to a woman was kneeling over me. I took her for a sister of mercy until I saw the gash in her wrist. Maybe it was the lamplight or maybe it was my delirium, but I swore her blood was moving on its own, shifting and twisting against the wind like a living thing.

Smoke billowed from her wound, over her gloves, and through her fingers. Her skin was as pail as porcelain and her ballgown was a deep crimson red. I couldn’t see her face behind the veil, but somehow, I knew she had kind sympathetic eyes.

Eventually her blood spilled over my wound and ran down my collar. I felt a tickling sensation in the back of my throat, like a knot of snakes squirming down my gullet. I choked, writhed, and spat.

The woman shushed me, raised her veil, and revealed a pair of eyes with a catlike glow. “Don’t breathe. Just swallow.”

I did as instruct. It felt like I was drinking oxygen, like my lungs were thirsty, and my anatomy was upside down.

When the woman pulled her wrist back, I caught it and suckled on the gash. She patted my back, a mother nursing her child back to health, and in a way that’s what she was doing.

It was a while before I had the strength to sit upright. When I did, I saw rainbow trails around the moon. The lanterns seemed like bonfires, and the bricks and stones glowed with firelight.

The women ran a finger along my scar. “We’ll have to do something about that.”

She unclasped the choker from her neck and put it around mine. She leaned into my ear and whispered, “Stay out of the sun baby bat. If he gives you silver, send it back. Only eat for show, but keep garlic off your plate. Only drink from those who wish to drink from you, feel for the hastening of their heartbeat, and never quench your thirst completely.”

In my blood drunk stupor, I ran my fingers through her hair. My sire smirked. “Parting is such sweet sorrow.”

Then she fell into her own shadow, leaving me to fend for myself.

A few World Wars later I was finally getting the hang of being a vampire. I traveled the French countryside, touring the vineyards and the bunkers, wetting my lips on the blood of fascists.

In London I abided by my sire’s code. If I felt a donor’s pulse quicken I eased off my fangs and sent them on their way. I never left a gentleman hemorrhaging, but those Nazis, well, I drank them down to the vasopressin. The ones I caught rounding up Romani, I drained them down to the sodium. By the time I got to Stalingrad my code had become: if they had German fatigues on, they were fair game.

By the end of the war I’d developed a reputation. The Axis powers called me die rote Witweor the Red Widow. The Allies called me Glinda the Good Witch. Good or bad a reputation meant I had to keep moving. I crammed all of my worldly possessions into a shipping container and left the mainland.

I traveled on a Norwegian cargo tanker chasing the polar night from one hemisphere to the other. When I got lonely I glamoured the sailors into believing I was a crew member. I read their fortunes between poker games and they told me tales of trolls, fossegrimen, and Krakens.

I sipped from two crew members a night, not thinking to clean my fangs between feedings. At the time I knew nothing of bloodborne pathogens. When the captain got sick. The crew followed. I cut to half rations, then a fourth, then an eighth. The crew survived the trip, but they were all blood brothers when I was done with them.

When the time came to settle on dry land, I chose Seattle. The Emerald City had everything I needed: ports, a near yearlong overcast, and great food. People here eat so much salmon that you can taste it in their hemoglobin. I went from starving at sea to overfeeding on land.

MY HOBBIES AND INTERESTS

Not all vampires learn to glamour. Those who don’t rarely last a year. Either they develop anemia or the hunger drives them into a feeding frenzy and they get struck down by the Hellsings.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a gift and I do not squander it. Call it hypnosis. Call it seduction. Call it neuro linguistic programming. I call it fun.

It used to be if I wanted to glamour someone they had to be in the same room. I’d beckon a dapper young suitor to the candelabra and challenge him to a staring contest. He’d get lost in my eyes, in the optical illusion of my irises: the slithering blood vessels, the swirling speckles, the strawberry seed patterns. I’d stare daggers into the keyholes of his soul, lift the pin of his neocortex, then his behavioral center, and finally his audio cortex. Then with a quick twist of the tongue we’d click.

Pioneering vampires tried glamouring on broadcast television, not to lure victims, so much as to sell things. The fact that you don’t drive an Edsel is a testament to the limits of those old tube screens. Still they tried throughout the evolution of the medium, but they couldn’t make it happen. So, I thought I’d try my hand.

I was studying neuroscience just for kicks. I convinced my class to do a study on chromesthesia. Chromesthesia is a phenomenon where certain sounds trigger certain colors in certain listeners. My theory was that I could evoke specific images in my subjects, like hypnotic swirls for instance.

I spent months with each subject, reading guided meditation scripts at a soft even pitch, singing Romani folksongs with fast bright tones, and whispering the contents of classmates’ journals.

I explored my subject’s cognitive pathways for days, but each one reacted differently. Each subject had their own color palettes. There was no universal pitch.

I was about to give up when I noticed the effect the sessions were having on my classmates, each of whom were neurotypical. I found them outside the booth rubbing their foreheads on the acoustic panels like they were cats. This happened whenever I’d spent a session whispering. My classmates described an electrostatic sensation, a tingling that ran up their scalps, along their necks, and down their spines.

At the time I thought I’d invented Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (or ASMR), but it turned out Bob Ross had beaten me to it decades in advance. Of course he had, that soft-spoken shaman.

I decided to broaden the experiment. I chose a medium outside of the FCC’s jurisdiction where a live audience was guaranteed to be watching. I started webcamming.

Being a camgirl reminded me of my days as a zoetrope trollop. I was back in tiny top hats, leotards, and corsets, but I wasn’t showing much skin, I was whispering fantasies into a microphone. In this scenario I was a starving vampiress in desperate need of a donor, and I would do anything, I mean anything, for a few drops. Don’t make me beg.

I lured subjects into private chats, met them under bridges, and brought their fantasies to their logical conclusions.

Satisfied with my findings I decided to harness the power of the net to find the Chateau Rothschild of the vampire palette: the blood of virgins, but where would I get it?

That’s when I discovered Incels. Incels were a community of virgins who came together to vent about being involuntarily celibate. It was like finding a cellar lined with preserves that would never expire.

I used my earnings camming to buy targeted advertisements aimed at Incels. Before long I was as drunk as a tick on top shelf hemoglobin.

So satisfied was I that I left my suitors with a little parting gift. I glamoured them, leaned in close, and whispered. “If anyone asks, you totally got fucked tonight.”

MY INTIMATE DETAILS

I have never been in love. Now I’m no virgin (I’m as far from that as Pluto is the sun), but I’ve never been in romantic love. I’ve drafted sex contracts with a haematophiliacs, embraced archduke elders in citadel spires, and forged blood bonds with strangers, but I’ve never entered into the kind of union described by Jane Austen. I have never felt truly known or accepted by another conscious creature, human or otherwise.

The problem with dating vampires is, well, everything.

We’re polyamorous pansexuals and yet our jealousy is legendary. We’re fickle fashionistas who wear lovers like accessories AND we’re ageist against anyone with less than a century under their belts.

“Oh, you charmed child of Tesla, that stack of tree leavings is what’s known as an encyclopedia.”

First dates with vampires always devolve into the same old ghoulish gibberish. We lie about all the bloodshed we’ve witnessed. We wave macabre merit badges and walk away knowing nothing intimate.

Meanwhile the problem with dating mortals is the hours they keep. We’ll be like ships passing in the night unless my partner is an air traffic controller. When a morning person switches to my routine, they get jetlag on the ground, they contract seasonal depression in the summer time, and they start jonesing for the sun.

Oh, and humans have to eat. Their whole culture is built around it: lunch meetings, dinner dates, brunch. Too bad I don’t own a microwave, utensils, or even a bowl. Worse still my culinary skills start and stop at boiling a potato.

PHYSICAL FEATURES

My modeling career ended in that alley back in Whitechapel. Not only had my reflection disappeared, but my image stopped showing up on filmstock. It turns out film contains silver. Silver burns vampires and yet we don’t burn onto it.

It wasn’t until digital cameras hit the market that I could see my face.

I’d forgotten how bushy my eyebrows were, or how my ears peeked through my hair. Not to mention my bulb nose. Then there were the details I didn’t remember. My caramel skin had gone gray, my curly locks had straightened, and my fangs had changed the shape of my lips.

For the longest time my fashion sense was utilitarian: black halter tops and skinny jeans, like Joan Jett on a lazy Sunday. That changed when my webcam turned my TV into a full-length mirror. I started wearing more flair than just a choker.

Kadilia Caine by Bryan Politte

MY PERFECT MATCH

In addition to never having fallen in love there are two other things I haven’t done. I’ve never had a familiar and I’ve never sired a vampire. I’ll be the first to admit I have issues with the way I was turned: the encounter with Jack the Ripper, the to be abandoned by my master. I chose a life of lukewarm loneliness, because I don’t want to put anyone else through that.

I’ve never had a familiar for the same reason I’ve never had a butler. We Romani are self-sufficient. We’re not used to being waited on. Too many vampires treat their familiars like unpaid interns, dangling the carrot of immortality over their heads.

“I’ll give you eternal life. Provided you pick up my dry cleaning in the meantime.”

Familiars are rarely groomed for the masquerade because they’re rarely turned. They’re glorified gofers, biking with coolers on their backs, hoping their master won’t throw blood bags back at them.

“I asked for type-o negative. This is minestrone.”

“Sorry master I must’ve mixed it up at the deli, which means… Mrs. Clifton got the… uh-oh.”

I don’t need a familiar, a twi-curious role player, or a bondage club fang banger. I need an entrepreneur. A self-made manifestation, like a necromancer, soothsayer, or paranormal podcaster. Someone with an active nightlife. Someone who already conducts their business in the third shift. Someone with the confidence to flirt with death and the kindly manner to open doors for her.

MY IDEAL DATE

My ideal date would be a trek across the Carpathian mountainside, a tour through the seven castles of Transylvania, capped off with a nice scenic sunset, but I’ll take what I can get.

We could shape shift into a pair giant bats and freak out visitors at the Space Needle, go hunting in the subterranean tunnels under Portland, or maybe just have a nice picnic… in the charred skeleton of a deconsecrated church.

It doesn’t matter. I am easy to please so long as you hold my interest, and if you don’t, well, there’s always room for a midnight snack.

Continue reading Kadilia Caine’s Dating Profile

Slush Pile: A Scary Story about Unread Stories

Back when I was a bright-eyed English major, wearing but a plus one prescription, I scored an internship at a literary agency. While my peers were happy to earn their credits carting mail and fetching coffee I wanted to get my hands dirty. I convinced Keith, the head of the acquisitions, to let me take a peek at the unsolicited manuscripts. I was a budding writer and I wanted to get a sense of what the competition was doing.

Keith was a far cry from the tweed cardigan, leather patch wearing, literary figure you might imagine. He dressed like a janitor in V-necks and grease stained overalls.

There was dirt in his five o’clock shadow and his brow was always dripping with sweat. He seemed more comfortable with his satchel full of tools than he did behind a novel.

Keith led me into a darkroom filled with bulk storage racks, rolling ladders, and boxes. The kind of place you’d expect to find religious relics and alien artifacts. He tapped a cabinet. It creaked under the weight of its manila envelopes. They were stacked so high they pressed into the ceiling tiles. Dust clouds twinkled through the dim light of the exit sign.

Keith waved his arms over this wee warehouse. “This is our slush pile.”

“This is a fire hazard.”

“That it is, but it’s been a while since we’ve had need of a first reader. Seeing as most of our agents are already up to their eyeballs in clients.”

“I could do it.”

Keith stroked his stubble. “That would be outside the scope of your internship. You’re here to learn. You’re not supposed to do the work any actual employees.”

“But you just said you didn’t have a first reader. Who would I be replacing?”

Keith tongued his cheek. “Well, it’s hard to argue with logic like that.”

Keith gave me a key to the janitor’s closet and I pulled up a chair beneath the eyewash station and got to reading.

I’d made myself a job. Now all I had to do was convince the agency to pay me for it. I wrote copious notes, summarized the stories and gave them letter grades. As an English major I had to read between 12-30 classics a semester. Now I was putting away a clunker a day. The highest grade I ever gave was a B- and that was when I was being generous. Still I was panning for gold, hoping to make a discovery that would elevate me within the agency. Sadly all I discovered was the reason those manuscripts were gathering dust.

I read all the tepid tragedies, lukewarm victories, and shallow life lessons homemakers had to offer. I read every account of heaven from children who’d suffered near death experiences. I sample every flavor of thinly veiled autobiography: divorce diaries from armchair psychologists struggling to diagnose their exes, recovery journals with relapsewritten between the lines, and all manner of reptilian illuminati conspiracy theories.

This was before any schmuck with a premise could self-publish from the toilet. Before vanity presses started offering half assed editing services. Before Amazon made the entire industry bend the knee. Back then the only path to literary success was through gatekeepers like me. It was a lot of responsibility.

I imagined authors reading over my shoulder with their fingers tented in silent prayers. I could feel them breathing down my neck. It was an eerie. I found myself turning from the aluminum ladders, chrome containers,  and other reflective surfaces for fear I might spot a phantom silhouette.

I thought about sending words of encouragement to some of the authors, notes for future edits that might elevate their manuscripts, but the post dates were ancient and there were always more envelopes piling up.

I’d marvel at how many manuscripts I’d made it through until I returned to the room to find the ceiling tiles cracking and the cabinets leaning. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of these writers had died waiting to be discovered.

The semester was almost over and I had yet to strike gold. Still I convinced myself I was getting an education. The carrot I was chasing wasn’t rotten, it was rich with nutrients. All of this bad fiction was teaching me how to be a better writer. I learned which trends had been driven into the ground: the brooding vampires whose redemption only came with the help of a virginal infatuation, the artisan serial killers whose crimes recreated renaissance paintings, the blank teenagers who turned out to be sci-fi saviors. These tropes were refining my tastes, challenging me to dig deeper. My own writing was going to be oh so well informed.

Serial liars save the best lies for themselves.

After the Internship

I was the only one to stay on. The cream that had risen to the topor so I told myself. No one had asked me to keep reading, but I was hoping someone would see the coverages I’d written and offer me a position. One day Keith came into the janitors closet. He needed supplies from the cart I was using as a desk.

“Don’t you think you’ve read enough. I mean the semester is over.”

I lowered my readers and rubbed my eyes. By then I was wearing a plus two prescription. I told him I wasn’t there for the credit I was there for the sense of purpose. “My summaries are going to save the agency a whole lot of time.”

Keith wrapped his big calloused fingers around my shoulder. “Son. No one is going to read those summaries.”

“Then why take unsolicited manuscripts in the first place?”

Keith sighed. He tilted his head back to search for the words. “They’re lucrative.”

“How are they lucrative when they’re just sitting there?”

Keith swished his words around before just spitting them out. “Every one of those writes paid us a hundred dollar reading fee.”

My eyes widened trying to estimate what the agency’s slush pile was worth.  “There must be hundreds of thousands of dollars in there.”

“More. Way more.”

My heart weighed heavy on me as I waddled into the elevator and out the agency’s door.

I had seen writing contests in the back of literary magazines that asked for $25 reading fees. I’d pegged them for scams. Here I’d unknowingly volunteered to help perpetuate one. The agency was a reading mill. It didn’t matter if their clients ever got published. Their product was false hope. I felt like a traitor to the medium.

Nine Years Later

While my classmates went on to get careers as baristas I found myself working out of a penthouse overlooking Manhattan. While they measured milk temperature I altered between an exercise bike and a rower. While they modeled flour coated aprons I had a wardrobe full of Armani jackets, Versace slacks, and Santimon loafers. While they struggled to sell their art I had a gallery of art deco sculptures. Every room of my home had its own golden Olympian, each one looking like it came straight off the cover of an Ayn Rand novel.

So how did I go from laboring in a closet to my own private penthouse? Remember that guilt I felt as I trounced out of the agency’s parking lot. Well, I got over it and set up my own literary agency.

I put out an open call for submissions at fifty dollars a read, spent the profits to poach a handful of high profile clients, and used their status to up my reading rates to one hundred and fifty a manuscript. And by “reading rate” I mean my storage fee. I didn’t even bother to invest in shelving. I kept my slush pile stacked on pallets. The post office shipped them up via the freight elevator. I’d pilfer through the envelopes for checks and send the rest down in the blue bin, because recycling is important.

I’d feel bad about pulping all those manuscripts, but my ad clearly stated: SEND A COPY, NEVER THE ORIGINAL TEXT. Nevertheless the boxes accumulated. Just counting checks was a lot of work.

Now I was a great agent to my high profile clients. I shook all the right hands, greased all the right wheels. I got them the coveted seat on The Late Show, got their titles on the best seller’s list, got the bidding war going over the film rights. I did well by all three of them. So well they could’ve dropped me and I could’ve coasted on the royalties.

It’s just that my side hustle was so much more fruitful. Every hour I spent stacking checks into a pouch at the edge of the pallet earned me $18,000. And it’s not like I never peeped at any of those pages before I put them in the blue bin. I  read author bios when a woman sent a cute photo. I peeked at their titles, skimmed through their loglines. I might’ve even taken a gander the occasional query letter, but whenever I did my suspicions were always confirmed. Writers sent to me because no one else would humor them. If anything I kept them going by not responding.

I met one of those writers at a publishing event. She slapped my back so hard my cocktail shot out the rim of the glass. She held the portrait from her dustjacket to her face and mirrored the contemplative expression.

“Bet you wished you’d signed me when you had the chance?”

“You stole the words right out of my mouth.” I had no idea she’d even queried me. I pointed to her hardcover.“This was so good, but I was neck deep in so much great material I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Let me make it up to you. What are you drinking? The next round’s on me.”

There was an open bar. It was the least I could do. We drank martinis and I convinced her boyfriend to send me something he was working on. I even waved my reading fee, right before I tossed it into the blue bin.

You might be asking how I slept at night. The answer: on a king-sized hydrodynamic waterbed with custom tailored lumbar support. In other words: like a heavily sedated baby.

Then One Morning…

I awoke to find the blue bin tipped over in the kitchen. The sink was drowning in manuscripts, the countertops were spilling over and all the tiles were covered in paper.

The first thing my stupid brain thought to do was check the windows. You know how updrafts have a tendency lift bins from one room to another and then dump out their contents? Yeah, well, me neither. I cycled through more stupid theories as I heaved everything back into the bin.

Had I slept through an earthquake? Skyscrapers have a way of stretching the effects. The recycling bin was on wheels. The aftershocks could’ve rolled it from room to room before ultimately tipping over.

Had I sleepwalked to the freight bay, dreamt I was pushing a stroller, and changed my infant on the kitchenette?

Had vandals sidestepped security, cracked the code for the elevator, just to throw around some papers?

None of my theories held much weight, especially since nothing else was out of place, or so I thought.

That Afternoon…

My workout regimen was built around violence. If there were home invaders I wanted to be ready to go full Batman on them. I circled the punching bag throwing high intensity jabs, crosses, and kicks. All the while it felt like someone was watching me. Smiling eyes snickered at my form, at my halfhearted anger, at my lean little body.

I didn’t bother to stretch my ligaments before I started hurling haymakers. I imagined a pair of vandals prying the freight doors open with a jack, crawling into my studio, and tip toing along with the bin. I threw uppercuts with reckless disregard for my joints. I felt those smiling eyes giggling and I just started wailing, throwing elbows and knees. I hit my funny bone and kept right on cycling through my limbs. My knuckles throbbed beneath the gloves, my kneecaps were raspberry red, but I kept leaping at the bag until I slipped, slid under it, and coasted on the sweat.

My heart was still racing by the time I got back on feet so I limped over to the treadmill for a cooldown. I hit QUICKSTART, but I couldn’t get it moving. I dug my heels in, but the belt wouldn’t budge. I felt those smiling eyes upon my reddening face and pushed harder, grunting as my sneakers slid down the Polyvinyl. I gripped the handrails so tight my palms began to blister. There was a scraping, like that of a grinding wheel, followed by a burning smell. The screen read: INCLINE—

When I finally checked the motor I found someone had stuffed manuscript pages down there.

If I was married my wife would’ve told me to call the police, but it would’ve been like telling someone with road rage to ask for directions. It wasn’t happening. Someone was making a statement and I had to disassemble my penthouse to see the extent of it.

I found pages crumpled in the light fixtures casting shadows on the walls. Pages in the tank of the toilet clogging the flush valve. Pages in the oven threaded through the racks. I found pages in places I’d sworn I’d already checked. Dangling from the ceiling fan. In my pillowcase. Lining my pockets.

I spent the rest of the afternoon going through every box left on the pallet separating the checks from the chaff. Then I took the blue bin down to the incinerator. I imagined those praying eyes watch me fling those pages into the fire they weren’t smiling anymore.

Upon returning to my penthouse I hung a camcorder from the ceiling and focused it on the elevator doors. Then I mounted a sign on the wall that read: SMILE… YOU’RE ON CANDID CAMERA.

I threw a phantom punches at the dark, until I broke a sweat and felt it in my hips. I remember shuffling into bed. I don’t remember falling asleep.

The Next Morning…

I woke up coughing. There were ashes in the air. No heat. No fire. Just ashes wafting through the room. They trailed into the hallway like a cartoon aroma. I followed them to the remains of my recycling bin.

There was an axle, a set of wheels, and a flat blue base. The rest of the 50 gallon container had been shattered and meticulously rearranged into wire sculpture. The subject wasn’t obvious from head on, I could make out a warped T shape, but when I sidestepped the sculpture’s true form took shape.  It was a depiction of man in pillory, his head and hands locked between a pair of stocks.

I followed the sculpture’s sightline to the floor where I found a manuscript. A light breeze caught the corner of the title page daring me to turn it over. Someone had anthropomorphized the bin to punish it for its role in my crimes. This was next level vandalism. The kind of piece a found object sculptor would’ve spent months planning for. As it turned out I hadn’t seen anything yet.

My home gym had been and reimagined as a sculpture garden.

The punching bag had been gutted and Bowflex rods jut through the remains. It was a hanging cage for figure cobbled together from weights and leather. He was holding a manuscript in his snap hook fingers.

The exercise bike beside him had been smelted into a set of iron stocks. The seat had been positioned in place of a head. The fan had been bent into a pair of lungs, and the pedals had been sheared into hands. This figure also had a manuscript to read, as did the one fashioned from the Stairmaster, as did the one made from NordicTrack cords.

I wandered from room to room with my mouth hanging open. Every refrigerator coil, every table leg, every fan blade had been warped into the same loathsome form. Even my art deco Olympians had been forced to gaze upon manuscripts of their own.

My legs wobbled under the weight of the situation. My lungs couldn’t take it all in. The room started spinning. I found myself sitting amongst the sculpted shadows, cursing the day I quit smoking.

I crawled toward the freight bay to find the elevator doors had merged. They’d one solid piece with no visible crease. The camcorder was still hanging from the ceiling, but the sign no longer read: SMILE… YOU’RE ON CANDID CAMERAit read: QUIET PLEASE… THIS IS A READING SPACE.

“To hell with that noise.”

That’s when I felt those smiling eyes upon me again. The hairs on the back of my neck raised as they tracked along my spine and settled on the back of my skull. I took a deep breath, plucked up my courage, and turned around. “Fuck you and fuck your library!”

There was no flesh on the face staring back at me, just exposed muscles glistening like grape jelly. There were no lips to keep the drool from seeping down its chin, but it was clear this face was happy to see me. Its Zygomaticus minor and major pulled the corners of the mouth like bungee cords stretching a tarp.  The Orbicularis oculi, the fiber around the sockets, was crinkled, confirming my suspicions. Its eyes were indeed smiling.

Back at the agency I wondered how many of the authors in our slush pile were dead already. Here in the freight bay I counted nine purple people. They slunk along the concrete, altering between their knees and their elbows. They rolled over one another, dancers performing a choreographed floor routine, and they kept their smiling eyes on me the entire time.

I met the gaze of ghost looming over me.

“Thank you for submitting your manuscript, but unfortunately, at this time, it isn’t quiet what we’re looking for. Best of luck to you.”

The ghost raised a long narrow finger to my lips. “Shhh…”

And Of Course…

I woke up in a pair of restraints with a manuscript laid before me. I read the title page and a set of purple fingers pinched the corner and flipped it over. My day went on like that. When my stomach growled a purple arm lifted a dry bowl of cereal to my muzzle and I kept right on reading. When my bladder was full a hand unzipped my pants and positioned my stream into a pitcher, and when I had to go number two… Well, you get the idea.

The sun rose and fell. I didn’t fall asleep so much as I passed out. When I came to those phantom fingers were right there, tapping the page, knowing right where I left off.

I prayed there were only nine manuscripts, one for each purple person I’d seen on the landing, but after ninth one the pages kept right on coming. The ghosts were making me earn every check I’d ever cashed.

The average person reads four books a year. Books that have been vetted. Books that engage their imaginations and impart them with wisdom. Good books are dear friends. They stick with you, give you a perspective, and a sense of belonging.

Bad books are like toxic friends. They dominated the conversation, leave no room for interpretation, and tell you how to feel. Their appeals to emotion fail to resonate. They trigger your judgement rather than your imagination. They makes you feel disconnected.

Bad books were all that were on the menu as my restraints were slowly realigning my spine.

There were more infidelity fantasies by people who wouldn’t know eroticism if it bit them on the genitals. More self-help books by people who were nowhere near getting their shit together. More endless sword and sorcery journeys to nowhere in particular. More meandering melodrama. More edge lord gore. More goddamn Christ metaphors.

My life was nothing but purple digits, walls of text, and schlock. Until…it wasn’t. Until I’d happened upon an oasis in that endless desert of bullshit. A story that moved me. A story that broke my heart. A story that made the purple fingers rescind while I considered what I had just experienced. A story that I left smeared with tears.

As the years stretched on I prayed to read another like it and every so often I did. Eventually those purple fingers turned their last page and there was nothing left to read.

You Probably Saw This Coming

When Ebenezer Scrooge woke up from his nightmare he flung the window open and asked the first kid he saw what day it was. Easy for Ebenezer. He didn’t live on the 88thfloor. I rolled out of the waterbed and crawled toward the elevator. My exercise equipment was right where I’d left it, as were my art deco Olympians, and all of my furnishings. The only difference was the manuscripts were back on the pallets.

Manilla envelopes were stacked floor to ceiling. I examined one to find my own handwriting. It turned out that I was the sender. I opened it and sure enough I found a check. I was giving the author their money back. I was giving it all back. I wish I could tell you my time in that pocket dimension had softened this blow to my checkbook, but I was going to feel it.

The only consolation was the small stack of white envelopes on the other side of the room. I opened one and found an acceptance letter. I was taking on a new batch of clients. These were the authors whose manuscripts had kept my sanity from slipping. The oases. The ghosts were letting me hold onto them.

I leaned against the freight elevator doors and considered these developments. That’s when I saw the camcorder and thought to move the manila envelopes to see what had become of my sign.

It read: NOW EXITING QUIET ZONE. PLEASE WATCH YOUR STEP.

I took the sign’s advice as I got onto the elevator and hit the button for the lobby.

Continue reading Slush Pile: A Scary Story about Unread Stories

The Story of My Birth

On this day several decades ago my parents attended a ceremony in the woods between the graveyard and their newfound home. They knew the moon was waxing despite the overcast and they wore but wolfskins despite the chill of autumn. They were drawn off the trail by an chorus of windchimes and a network of twine. They came upon a clearing marked by stacks of stones. There they found the local homeowners association pacing in a circle muttering in tongues. Each member wore an identical wolf skin and each one held an old oil lantern high above them.

At the center of the circle was a long stone slab jutting from the earth like a comet. It was lined with objects of power: ruin covered relics, gemstones, and pendants. My parents took their places at the base and the head of the slab. There they were blindfolded and told to listen for the object that called to them. My father says he heard a flute. My mother says she heard a bell.

My father reached for something cold and cylindrical. When he lifted his blindfold he saw a jar full of grass stems. When he raised it a dozen green lights flickered awake. One of the homeowners had captured and cultivated fireflies over the long humid summer.

My mother reached for an object and recoiled. She felt her fingertip and found it wet with blood. It turned out the object that was calling to her was a long curved dagger.

The homeowners association instructed my parents to use these objects to procure a sacrifice before the new day’s sun came creeping over the horizon. My father twisted the lid off of the jar and set the fireflies free. Together he and my mother followed the lights into the thicket.

One deer carcass later and the night was won. I’ll spare you the gory details. Suffice to say the stone slab was red before dawn. The blood trickled and pooled onto the earth below where two tiny hands emerged from the dirt and viscera. My manger was a circle of rock salt at the foot of the slab. I wasn’t born so much as I was summoned and I didn’t cry so much as exhaled smoke rings.

Oh, and the hit single on my birthday was Endless Loveby Dianna Ross and Lionel Richie.

Continue reading The Story of My Birth

Monster Mingle: Meet Daisy Diode

Welcome to Monster Mingle, a place where urban legends find romance, where full moons lead to fuller hearts, and all the thirsty singles have fangs. This is how it works: illustrator Bryan Politte creates the characters and I (Drew Chial horror author) give them a backstory.

Meet Daisy Diode. She’s a self-made woman on a mission to find the perfect connection. She’s searching for love in the clouds, or the cloud to be more precise. She’s got the tools to brute force her way into your heart, just look out for malware while she’s in there.

Daisy Diode by Bryan Politte

About Me

I never met Phoebe Gage, but based on her social media profiles she seemed like a bright young woman with a promising future.

At fifteen she volunteered at the East River Animal Shelter, driving up adoptions by posting dating profiles for the dogs. Gatsby likes long walks through Central Park, snuggling at sunset, and jazz age literature.

At sixteen she ran for class president with the slogan: The arts and sciences deserve their own pep rally. The theme of her graduation speech was a future she’d never know, challenges she’d never face, and structures that would ultimately destroy her.

I followed Phoebe’s digital footprints from the quiet halls of Butler Library to the hyper-ways beneath the city. From Gallery openings in the Village to subterranean speakeasies. I went to the boardwalk where Phoebe snapped her first selfie with her then boyfriend Lucas. I stood in the exact same spot, watched the sunset over the same ocean, and felt no connection.

Phoebe loved marine life. She aspired to write the environmental exposé that would save the cephalopods, but as a journalism major, she was assigned stories about campus life. She didn’t mind. She relished in interviewing the colorful characters in the beekeeping department. She was a social butterfly after all.

Me, I like to be left to my own devices. My DIY approach to therapy has been buggy. I’m struggling with a kind of survivor’s guilt that professionals have yet to label. I call it my Phoebe Gage-sized hole.

Genetically Phoebe and I are the same person, but Phoebe died of a traumatic brain injury on December 31th 2129. All of her father’s engineers and all of her father’s neurosurgeons couldn’t put young Phoebe back together again. On New Year’s Day 2130 Daisy Diode was born.

I don’t believe there’s such a thing as a soul. If there were only part of mine exits in my actual head. The rest resides in the craniofacial processor that bridges my neuropathways and holds my skull together.

Phoebe seemed like a good person, an optimist who thought she could change the system from within. I wish I was more like her, but that part of my frontal lobe is gone, and she is but a phantom.

Daisy Diode by Bryan Politte

Life Changing Event

I have scrolled through Phoebe’s timeline, sifted through her final posts, and scrutinized her every last geotag. I took a series of ad-sponsored taxis across the city. I started on campus in Greenwich and ended on the dock in Brooklyn Heights where she was discovered. I tried to jog my memory, but the deafening jingles and animations on the windows kept stealing my attention.

It wasn’t until I’d made my third pilgrimage to docks that I thought to check another location.

An autonomous ambulance was dispatched to the harbor at the sound of the explosion. If the ambulance had triggered its STRAIGHT SHOTprotocol every vehicle on the road would’ve pulled over. Phoebe would’ve been in neurosurgery within thirty seconds. Not three minutes.

The extent of Phoebe’s hematoma proves the ambulance took a detour. During that time someone accessed her phone.

Now Joseph Gage had his personal neurosurgeons and prosthetists flown in. It took them four hours to install their implants. I didn’t come online for another six, during that time someone wiped Phoebe’s cloud accounts.

When I logged on as Phoebe, I scanned her reference files and attempted to run a recovery script. My neural interface should’ve been up to the task, but I kept seeing the same message: You don’t have permission to access this script.

It turned out I didn’t have administrator access to my own implant.

That’s when I started noticing visual artifacts at the edge of my vision. I saw a strange pixilation whenever I so much as thought about running that script again. Someone was watching, logging every notion that crossed my mind.

I couldn’t live with someone reading my thoughts over my shoulder. I had to break free, but how do you outwit someone who can see what you’re thinking in real time? You order something that will damper their ability to do so and hope it gets there before they do.

The delivery drone landed on the roof of my apartment just as the S.W.A.T. team surrounded the building.

I tore the package open and wrapped the Faraday Fabric around my head like a turban. There was a tingling in my ankle, my arm went dead, and I collapsed. The words LOST CONNECTION…blinked across my vision. A battering ram gonged against the roof access door. Somehow, I found the strength to fix my gaze on the option that read WORK OFFLINE.

When my prosthesis rebooted, I leapt off the roof, dug into the brownstone bricks, and slid all the way down to the sidewalk. I ducked into a maintenance hole, ran through sewers until I came to an old subway line. I followed it through the darkness to an old station filled with train car shanties and storage crate homes. I hid amongst the hacktivists, fiber foragers, and flat-backers.

This is where I set out to replace my prosthetics.

Daisy Diode by Bryan Politte

My Hobbies and Interests

In an age when everyone is trying to prolong their lifespan augmentations are more traceable than hand guns. Every chrome cranium has a subdermal serial number. Every bio-battery is branded, and every wire is watermarked.

Now the problem with black market body mods is where do you go for maintenance when the seller gets pinched? If I wanted to swap my parts I’d have to go back to the source, but how would I get into Gage Industries unnoticed?

I dampened my vital signs, strapped myself to the undercarriage of an automated garbage truck, and became an Olympic-Caliber dumpster diver. I scrapped DNA from kitchen utensils, copied fingerprints from coffee cups, and synthesized vocal vibrations from used rations.

I covered my implants in latex, lined a wig with faraday fabric, and waltzed right through the front door. I delivered linguine to the lobby, minestrone to the mail room, and tortellini to the testing facility.

I installed retina spoofers in the elevators, face scanners in the bathroom mirrors, and breath print readers in the flowers.

When I was satisfied, I’d collected enough biometric material I 3D printed Joseph Gage’s likeness: a forehead appliance with a receding hairline, a pair of jowls, and a butt chin. Then I overlaid his irises onto contacts, swallowed a voice synthesizer, and rehearsed his favorite phrases in the mirror.

“You don’t need two hands to eat. It’s crunch time.”

“You know everyone at your level is replaceable.”

“Your predecessor did that twice as fast.”

I picked up Joseph’s dry-cleaning and padded his suit until it fit. I ran his movements through an algorithm until I could emulate his gait. The man had a walk like he’d just dismounted an elephant. It took a moment to master it without smiling.

It took more finesse to get the chloroform into his protein shake than it did to trespass into his office. I just ambled in, with his pleated pants riding my ribs, and blew through all his biometric safeguards. Then I took his personal elevator to his private server and cloned everything I could get my hands on.

I was going to go down to storage and take the implants I needed over a longer period of time, but then it occurred to me to just go for the design specs all at once.

The off-brand assembly line equipment proved easier to acquire. I used it to manufacture clean gear for myself and everyone else in my subterranean sector. Little did I know how badly we’d need it.

Daisy Diode by Bryan Politte

My Intimate Details

Being ambidextrous is easy with my implants in. Not so much when I’m making alterations. I had to train myself to do them left-handed. I pulled it off with all the grace of a stroke victim, but little by little I managed to swap systems.

When I was done, I copied Joseph Gage’s corporate secrets into my memory banks. I’m not sure if it was my subconscious, or an indexing subroutine, but something about that data weighed heavy on me.

That night I dreamt I was meeting someone at the shipping docks. The ocean waves echoed off the crates. The automated employees didn’t seem to notice me. Their lenses were fixed on the horizon, waiting for a ship to come in. There was a woman pacing beneath a street lamp, rubbing her shoulders, checking her phone. She ducked into a trench coat, like a child playing at spy games. I didn’t need four quadrants of facial recognition to recognize Phoebe Gage when I saw her.

I neared.

She said, “The arc of the moral universe is long.”

“But it bends toward justice.” I finished the passphrase.

Time slowed as Phoebe’s eyes lit with embers. Her hair blew back, her cheeks filled with air, and her skin glowed orange. Then she was off her feet, flying across the peer in a shower of debris.

When I booted up that morning it felt like I’d been decrypted. Phoebe Gage, with her love of karaoke and breakfast pastries, was still a mystery to me, but I knew what had happened to her.

There was something about the whistleblower Phoebe had gone to meet. They weren’t human. Someone had overlaid the shell of a real doll onto a bipedal skeleton with enhanced modular movements. It would’ve looked human from across the street, but up close it’d have looked plasticine and disturbing.

My dream was an encrypted recording from the doll’s memory banks. Someone had planted it on Joseph Gage’s private server. I believe the whistleblower hid it for forensic investigators to find later. Its placement would lead them to a treasure trove of information on something called Project Razor Blade.

The pieces were falling into place.

Phoebe had been interning at a publication known for uncovering corporate wrongdoing. The whistleblower must’ve reached out to her through an untraceable channel: carrier pigeon, singing telegram, or something ancient like the postal system. The whistleblower must’ve assumed Phoebe’s relationship with her father would’ve have protected her from retaliation. Phoebe must’ve assumed the same thing.

While Phoebe’s source had gone to great lengths to ensure they weren’t followed Phoebe had not.

A drone, flying beyond the visual line of sight, had followed Phoebe to the docks. When her informant stepped out of the shadows the drone dropped its payload. Joseph Gage hadn’t meant to harm his daughter, but he miscalculated the blast radius and gave her a total makeover.

Daisy Diode by Bryan Politte

Physical Features

My body isn’t a temple so much it’s a restoration. Phoebe took a lot of shrapnel on her way across the peer. I have a patchwork of gnarly scars. I buried most of my trauma tattoos beneath circuit boards and sea monsters. Put a daisy where a cheek stain had been, and turned the circle around my orbital into a pentagram.

I wear a 250-gigapixel ocular prosthesis modeled after the unreleased Oden’s Eye prototype. I like it because it lets me see the peaks and valleys across the lunar surface, and spot any virtual vultures that might be hovering overhead.

When I’m not infiltrating corporate headquarters, I leave the flesh toned gloves and latex appliances at home. Down here amongst the deck jockeys and body bankers I let my manufactured freak flag fly.

But not all of these augmentations are upgrades. I wake with bloody fingers from having scratched my gunmetal shoulder. I feel this tingling in my missing limbs. I get phantom pains in my pegleg when I try to dance, and I can’t swim without sinking.

That said, I’m not some hobbyist biohacker filling my flesh with wetware. I need my neural-bridge to live, and I’m not the only one. Cancer deaths have been declining for decades, but rates are on the rise. Artificial cerebellums, livers, and lungs are a big business.

It would be a shame if someone did for augments what the shaving industry did for razors (i.e. built them to break so they could sell more). If one corporation had the augment market cornered, they could implement a planned obsolescence that would cripple millions.

Daisy Diode by Bryan Politte

My Perfect Match

You can name the time. You can name the place, just somewhere private where it won’t be raining warheads.

I know you have no reason to trust me. I’m not even the same woman you reached out to in the first place. Still, we need each other.

You need me to infiltrate my father’s data center and I need your code to drive the final nail into his coffin.

We have mere months before Project Razor Blade goes into effect. Millions of augments will break down. Pancreatic implants will pause and diabetics everywhere will go into seizures. Congenital heart disease patients will go into arrest, and paraplegics will fall to floor.

Powerful lobbies and sweeping deregulations protect Gage Industries from malpractice claims. You and I are the only ones standing between my father and an augmentation apocalypse.

So please, Whistleblower, put your lips together and do your thing.

Daisy Diode by Bryan PolitteMy Ideal Date

You can name the time. You can name the place, just somewhere private where it won’t be raining warheads.

I know you have no reason to trust me. I’m not even the same woman you reached out to in the first place. Still, we need each other.

You need me to infiltrate my father’s data center and I need your code to drive the final nail into his coffin.

We have mere months before Project Razor Blade goes into effect. Millions of augments will break down. Pancreatic implants will pause and diabetics everywhere will go into seizures. Congenital heart disease patients will go into arrest, and paraplegics will fall to floor.

Powerful lobbies and sweeping deregulation protect Gage Industries from malpractice claims. You and I are the only ones standing between my father and an augmentation apocalypse.

So please, Whistleblower, put your lips together and give me a sign.

Continue reading Monster Mingle: Meet Daisy Diode

Restless Leg: A Tale of Madness (Video Reading)

The Serial Archer

Born when Mars crashed into Venus, he’s left a path of destruction across the Earth. He’s an agent of conquest concealed beneath a baby face.

He’s antisocial, known to fly solo, too far removed from his victims to regard their suffering. He targets isolated individuals, striking from above because he knows even sitting ducks can be flighty. He cheats, doses his arrowheads with neurotoxins so that his quarry always make bad decisions.

You’ll never catch him. His attack pattern is random. He chooses his victims with a blindfold on.

He compartmentalizes, careful to hide his secret life from his wife. The one time he tasted his own medicine his Psyche went to hell and back again.

Some say they knew his work at first sight, but no one ever sees him coming. He will change you fundamentally. You will think of your life in terms of who you were before he stung you and who he allowed you to be.

Surviving Valentine’s Day

Another Valentine’s Day is upon us, which means it’s time to lower the storm shudders, draw up the staircase, and make sure the panic room is stocked with non-perishables. You know better than to get caught in the foyer when St. Valentine gets here.

Resist the temptation to try to spot him lumbering beneath the street lamps. Don’t go peeking through the keyhole looking for tattered robes. Don’t press your ear to the door to listen for howling on the wind, the clicking of his inverted kneecaps, or bones dragging along the picket fence. He’s out there, raising his own severed head to scan the buildings for life signs, a mangled manifestation just as Emperor Claudius had left him.

Do not attempt to pilot a drone from your roof in an attempt to capture a glimpse of the specter. Do not affix a GoPro to your mailbox or an infrared system to your lawn gnome. Just let the man serve out his punishment in peace, sacrifice your goat, and leave it out on the boulevard like you do every year.

You don’t want to end up like my friend Zeke.

The Cautionary Tale of Ezekiel Lawson

Ezekiel, or Zeke as we called him, was a trophy hunter. The man kept the town’s taxidermist in business until he took to doing it himself. He didn’t have a piece of furniture that hadn’t once been something living. His rumpus room had more fur than wallpaper, with so many antlers they practically an earthquake hazard.

Zeke was day trader, which afforded him the luxury of going on safari. He knew everything about hunting dangerous game. He told stories at the bar, gave us unsolicited lectures on concealment, wind flows, and paw prints. He claimed he took out an entire pack of wolves without reloading his rifle.

“And I did it on a level playing field. No deer stand, no bait, none of that bullshit.”

We never challenged him. After all he had the heads to prove it and he relished in the opportunity to count all six of them out. Still when Zeke said he was going after Valentine’s dire wolves we were all skeptical.

“Valentine is bound by the code of Lupercalia festival to walk those wolves. His punishment for trying to convert one of lord Februus’s followers. Those wolves are trained to sniff out evil spirits, which stands to reason they’re spirits themselves. Are you sure a bullet would do the trick?”

“They leave tracks don’t they?”

“Big as catcher’s mitts.”

“They shit on your lawn don’t they?

“Every damn time.”

“Then beneath them long mangy hides they’re still squishy on the  inside.”

“What about Februus?”

“Please. The underworld is teaming with enchanted beings. You think he’s really going to miss one?”

We conceded that notion into our beers. Every one of us had an encounter with one of Februus’s creature at one time or another.

Still, I wish I’d reminded Zeke where those wolf droppings usually came from.

Zeke raised his mug. “Come on boys. My rumpus room needs a new rug.”

We clinked glasses.

On the morning of February 15thI awoke to my wife’s screams. Melissa had gone out front with the old pooper-scooper, hoping to get a start on those dire wolf droppings, when she spotted a blood trail in the snow. She found poor Zeke’s head in the birdbath, mouth wide open, one eye milky white, the other torn out of the socket with a few out stretched ribbons of muscle trying to cling for it. Half of Zeke’s face was rust colored with dried blood. The other half had been gnawed down to the bone.

That wasn’t what I found most disturbing. Zeke had seen something that night that had turned his raven hair white.

A Word of Caution This Valentine’s Day

You probably already know this, but some of you dumbass thrill seekers need a reminder. February is Februus’s month and Februus is the God of purification. In ancient Etruscan the word februare literally means “a purging.” I know you millennials like to play fast and loose with the old ways, but this is not a date night, not a time for young lovers to go skipping around downtown. Lest you want be ground down to dire wolf droppings.

Lupercalia or “Valentine’s Day,” is a time for Februus to drive dark spirits back to underworld where they belong. It’s not our place to spectate. Our role is to cower in quiet solitude of our fortified vaults, thankful that we’ve been spared for another year.

Now y’all stay safe and have a happy Valentine’s Day.

Continue reading Surviving Valentine’s Day

Meet Nólatha, a Monster Mingle Video Reading

Illustrator Bryan Politte gave life to a monster. I dared to write a dating profile for it. This video reveals Bryan’s process over a reading of that fabled Monster Mingle profile by yours truly.
Read the original profile here.

Continue reading Meet Nólatha, a Monster Mingle Video Reading

Monster Mingle: The Devil’s Dating Profile Video Reading

In my book HE HAS MANY NAMES I imagined Satan as PR agent named Matilda MacDonald. I wrote her a MONSTER MINGLE dating profile and illustrator Bryan Politte painted her portrait.

This video reveals Bryan’s process over a reading of Matilda’s fall from grace and ascension from the pit.

Follow Matilda’s adventures in my book HE HAS MANY NAMES.

Read the prequel short story DRAGON’S BREATH.

Check out the original MONSTER MINGLE profile.

Continue reading Monster Mingle: The Devil’s Dating Profile Video Reading

Monster Mingle: The Devil’s Dating Profile

(Audio: Listen to this article.)

Matilda MacDonald by Bryan Politte

Welcome to Monster Mingle, a place where urban legends find romance, where full moons lead to fuller hearts, and all the thirsty singles have fangs. This is how it usually works: illustrator Bryan Politte comes up with the creatures and I (Drew Chial horror author) give them a backstory. This time Bryan got the character Matilda MacDonald from my book HE HAS MANY NAMES.

Watch out for Matilda. She’s an unreliable narrator. She’ll use scripture to get inside your head. She’ll try to temp you. Don’t let your guard down, because she is not the devil you know.

Matilda MacDonald by Bryan Politte

About Me

I was starry-eyed when I arrived in the silver city, thinking I could make it on my charm and my wit. I floated my résumé all over, inquired about every position, but no one knew where I fit in. I wandered the chrome crosswalks and sterling skyways for days. I was on my way out the pearly gates when a messenger came for me.

“Hail, thou art highly favored.”

He told me I’d landed an interview with the biggest player in town.

The Entrepreneur’s reputation preceded him. He was an industrialist, a philanthropist, and a visionary with the business acumen to keep the silver city running.

The Entrepreneur wasted no time showing me to my office. He needed a spokesperson ASAP. He had seven days to roll out his most ambitious project yet. He gave me a wardrobe for the week, adorned every outfit in precious stones, and dubbed me, “The seal of perfection. A startlet who will shine through morning.”

With the plans for the universe stretched across our arms we became a power couple. We invested in atoms, watched the interest build into molecules, and later elements. We shipped dark matter, hydrogen, and helium throughout the cosmos and laid the foundations for the constellations. We built a real estate empire from time and space itself.

I assumed the Entrepreneur meant it for the residents of the silver city, a reward for their investment, but he had other plans. It turns out there was a pet project he’d been laboring on, with his petri dishes and his eyedroppers. He called it “Life.” While each Angel was handcrafted and meticulously detailed, life was capable of sustaining growth with minimal oversight. It was with thishe meant to populate his planets.

When creating humanity, the Entrepreneur used resources I didn’t know we had: genitals, free will, and death.

I didn’t get it.

Why would an omniscient being give people the power to choose if he already knew the outcome? Either he was leaving them to struggle for his own amusement or he wasn’t that omniscient to begin with.

My pride got the better of me. I told the Entrepreneur the project would lead to chaos and a third of the board agreed. Furious, the Entrepreneur cast the lot of us out.

Matilda MacDonald by Bryan PolitteLife Changing Event

I plummeted into the mouth of a cavernous pit. The walls scrapped the jewels from my outfit. Gemstones flew in all directions. My breastplate burst, my braces buckled, and my gauntlets were ground down to grain. I crashed through sheets of ice and landed upon a bed of stalagmites.

When I came to, I found my skin had taken on a bluish hue, my hair was slick with frost, and my eyebrows were lined with icicles. I thought it was strange that I could see my breath so far from the light, but then I noticed the length of silver around my right index finger. The last piece of my armor was shining in the dark.

I teetered to my feet and the ring glowed brighter. I limped toward the wall and a stinging sensation surged down my arm. The ring was trying to warn me about something in the limestone. I waved it around until I came upon a series of ridges unlike any rock formation I’d known. When I touched the ridges, they told me they were the fossilized remains of something called a trilobite. The creature claimed to have dominated the seas for hundreds of millions of years. I called the trilobite a liar. I told it that I’d helped found the universe only a week ago.

The trilobite said, “If that’s so then where did I come from?”

I ventured further into the dark to see what else was hiding there. The pit was littered with bones: great leviathan skeletons, ribs arching like the roofs, skulls yawning open as if to drink the ocean. They looked upon me with hollow pleading eyes and every time I tapped them with my silver, they told me what they were. These were the titans of industry that came before: The Uranides, the Vanir, and the Great Old ones. Azathoth, dethroned from the seat of chaos. Hastur, shut out of Carcosa where the stars shine black.

Each one had a similar story. The Entrepreneur had been rolling out beta universes, with each new version he took on a partner, and when the rollout was complete the partner ended up here. I was the latest in a long line of suckers.

You’d think that misery would love the company, but I was all the more heart broken.

The Entrepreneur had taken almost everything, but I still had that shard of silver on my finger. I used it to cut bricks from the bones and mortar from their marrow. I built a home from those who came before, and in my den, I listened to their whispers. They taught me the secrets of their runes, cosmic currencies, and investment strategies. I used that knowledge to cross over into the Entrepreneur’s latest venture.

Matilda MacDonald by Bryan Politte

My Hobbies and Interests

I had no part in getting Adam and Eve evicted from the Garden of Eden. That was a snake that got jilted when Adam wouldn’t choose it to be his mate.

Most of my appearances in the Old Testament were mistranslations. This is what happens when you name someone after the Hebrew word for “adversary” and then you need to use the same word to describe others. People get confused.

Although I’ll admit the book of Job was all me.

I’d been wandering the earth trying get a startup going, but my hands were bound by tedious regulations.

A plague spread throughout the land and I snuck back into the Silver City amongst a wave of refugees. With some fancy footwork I made it all the way back to the Entrepreneur’s office. He was scrolling through the feed from his ticker tape machine, fat and rosy on humanity’s adoration and belief. He didn’t seem too surprised to see me.

“Where did you come from?”

It took all of my self-control not to drive my silver ring through my palm. “I’ve been roaming the earth. Going back and forth on it.”

He nodded, unphased I’d scurried my way out of the pit.

“Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

I had considered Job.

“Does Job love you for nothing? Check out his palatial estate, his bountiful lands, and livestock empire. Not to mention the ten children that will ensure his legacy carries on for generations. You gave him a good return on his investment. Take it back up and he’d curse you where you stand.”

The Entrepreneur stroked his beard. “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man do not lay a finger.”

I gave Sabean raiders a hot tip on where Job kept his oxen. Then I rained commits on his sheep and dropped a roof on his children.

Job, the poor sucker, did exactly what I wanted him to. He fell to his knees and said, “The lord has given and the lord has taken away. May the name of the lord be praised.”

I returned to the Silver City to find the Entrepreneur wiping a tear of joy from his cheek. He was tickled pink.

I reached into the pile of ticker tape that had accumulated on the floor, pretending to care about things I already knew.

“Job still has his health. Take that and the praise train will roll right off its tracks.”

The Entrepreneur smirked, lifted a few more sanctions and I covered Job in lesions.

Job’s neighbors had heard about his misfortune. They paid him a visit to reaffirm his faith, but he had come around to my way of thinking.

How could such bad things happen to a good person? If the Entrepreneur was all-powerful then he couldn’t be all good, especially if he was trying to prove something to someone. That would just make him an all-powerful asshole.

Job cursed the day he was born, gave into despair, and begged the Entrepreneur for death. His neighbors tried to rationalize the Entrepreneur’s mysterious ways, but they were arguing from ignorance, and Job knew it.

“Let the Almighty answer me!”

The Entrepreneur had been following the conversation from his desk and decided to make an entrance. He split the sky open to grant his investors an audience and what did he have to say to them?

“Where were you when I laid the earths foundations? Tell me, who fixed its measurements? Surely you know who stretched a measuring line across it?”

Of course, knew. And it wasn’t a measuring line. It was tape. Had the planet held such little regard to him that he thought it was flat?

The Entrepreneur bullied Job into submission and doubled the man’s losses as compensation, which just proved my point. His investors were only as loyal as their assets.

My Intimate Details

I’ve convinced many Jobs to pull out of the Entrepreneur’s enterprise, but it took finesse to get them to invest in mine. The Entrepreneur’s PR department has turned my brand toxic, blaming me for the Inquisition, the Witch Trails, Christ, even the Catholic Abuse Scandal.

When missionaries came to Greece, they saw idols of the Greek God Pan with his horns, hooves, and hard-on and they felt threatened. They could’ve told stories of a faun who lured children into caves so he could eat them (you know, use their imaginations) instead they merely passed his fashion sense onto me. They swapped my blush with a beard, my long legs with matted wool, and my firm butt with a sad droopy tail. Then they handed me Hade’s pitchfork for good measure. “Here, hold this.”

Despite all the evidence that Pan was another entity, from another mythology, his likeness was attributed to me. Fine. While the faithful looked over their shoulders for a goatee and red complexion I was free to walk among them.

The more insidious my methods got the more grandiose my depictions became. When John the Revelator was exiled to the island of Patmos, he tried his hand at writing. He had a strong premise with the Apocalypse, but he did what most first timers do and let the concept devolve into lists: seven seals, seven trumpets, seven spiritual beings, with seven bowls.

Had John been a better storyteller he might have imagined Armageddon, not as battle of swords, but of wits, where competing philosophies debated for the fate of humanity. Alas, John was more interested in who would win in a fight: The Archangel Michael or a seven-headed dragon.

After John, Dante and Milton wrote some fine fan fiction. I liked how Dante populated the Inferno with his personal enemies and how Milton made me a freedom fighter that could give a good speech, but I was never up to my tits in any ice nor would I claim Death and Sin among my brain children.

I never did half of what I got credit for. I never stole tools from the Silver Foundry to make a pact with a blacksmith. I never dared a soldier to wear a bearskin for seven years, and I never took a small-town farmer to trial for his soul. I have never lorded over any flies. Horseshoes don’t scare me, and black cats do not answer to me. They’re cats. They answer to nobody.

I wish I were as powerful as people believe. I wish I’d shined as bright as Venus in the morning. I wish I’d had a penthouse in Babylon. I wish my corporate headquarters had floors based on sins, but I have to budget my expenditures same as anyone.

These false etymologies have followed me for centuries. I used to agonize over every erroneous association. Now I’ve learned the value of good branding. Products live and die by consumers’ belief in them. I’ve learned to lean into humanity’s misconceptions, because the more they fear me the more they believe.

When the clergy made up stories to fill seats, I used their sermons as brainstorming sessions. I jotted notes over old hymns, tore out the pages, and slid them into my corset.

This wasn’t merely opposition research I was insider trading.

Matilda MacDonald by Bryan Politte

Physical Features

I’ve held many titles over the years. These days I go by Matilda MacDonald: Agent to the Stars.

Matilda is derived from the High German “maht” and “hild” meaning “strong in battle.” MacDonald is a modified version of Dòmhnall, which means “World ruler.” My name states my intentions while conjuring images of telekinetic little girls and fast food chains.

In the 80s, I made myself over as one of Patrick Nagel’s art deco women. I wanted to embody the iconography of that era of greed. I already had the snow-white skin, raven black hair, full lips, and stone cut cheekbones. All I needed was the pixie haircut, eyeshadow, and wardrobe full of pantsuits.

I’ve kept the same form for a generation and low and behold greed is still in fashion.

Matilda MacDonald by Bryan Politte

My Perfect Match

While my investments are in the markets of man, my heart belongs to the arts to the music-makers and the dreamers of dreams. Kings rule nations, but creators rule minds. All of my lovers possess a wealth of imagination, that je ne sais quoi that captures my attention.

Over the centuries I’ve played patron to many a prodigy. I massaged Nicolo Paganini’s joints so he could play violin, taught Giuseppe Tartini my favorite sonata, gave Christoph Haizmann visions worth painting, and tuned Robert Johnson’s guitar so he could always find the right strings.

I see the same spark in you.

You’ve tried so hard to make it as an artist. You have the tenacity and the drive. Too bad the free content movement devalued your medium, your ability never caught up with your tastes, and your style was never in fashion.

If you stay on the path the Entrepreneur has set, you’ll always be on the outside looking in. Your day job will never help you sleep at night. Your inspiration will be reduced to a nagging voice in the back of your mind. You will grow cynical watching fame go to vapid, beautiful, superficial people. You’ll die knowing your intimate thoughts will never connect with a broader audience, search engines will bury your legacy, and your work will go undiscovered.

But not if I have anything to say about it.

I heard the prayers you whispered to bathroom stalls, showerheads, and pillows. I heard the long-winded confessions that shot out of you like steam. I heard you scratching at death’s door. I know what’s it like to have lofty ambitions, to think your ascent was a forgone conclusion only to wind up scraping yourself off the ground.

I’ve chosen you because you’re not destined for great things, but you should be.

Matilda MacDonald by Bryan Politte

My Ideal Date

In the Richmond District of San Francisco, there’s a yellow duplex on California St. between 24thand 23rdAve. The address should read: 6118, 6120, and 6122, but someone has pried off all of the 6s from the units.

On special nights, under the light of a blood red moon, the edifice shifts. A person with the spark of inspiration will see the black Victorian home that once stood there.

If you’re ready to live the life you deserve walk up the stoop and open the front door.

Don’t let Togar scare you. He may be a lion, but he’s as friendly as they come. Take hold of his mane and follow him through the black velvet curtains down into the basement.

Don’t worry that the ritual chamber hasn’t been used in years. Cross the cobwebs between the candelabra and the pipe organ, past the bed of nails, toward the altar. Consider the wall of ceremonial daggers. The blades are made from ivory, flint, silver, and gold. I trust you’ll know which hilt to pull. When you do a door will open revealing a secret corridor. The corridor is made of seven artist spaces.

The first is filled with bookshelves lined with leather bound first editions.

The second: painted canvases stretched end to end.

The third: drafting tables jutting out from channels.

The fourth: a cube of soundproof acoustic panels.

The fifth: the many monitors of an editing bay.

The sixth: cryptic code on digital displays.

The seventh chamber, at the heart of this tomb, is the devil’s den: my master bedroom. I’ll be waiting on the futon beneath the sheer red canopy. Why don’t you join me when you’re ready to live deliciously?

There are many ways to enter into a binding bargain, but I find that this one is the most fun.

Matilda MacDonald by Bryan Politte

Continue reading Monster Mingle: The Devil’s Dating Profile