I’m primarily a non-fiction writer, but I’m guilty of putting a strong literary veil over the facts — dress them up, make them more palatable, spark interest. In everything I write about farming and nature, I want to inspire others to seek out the beauty I see and bring it into their own lives.
I’ve written some fiction, too, which was published in a now-defunct online magazine. I’ve decided to post those here because I don’t see myself ever trying to publish them anywhere else.
To Build A Man
This is how you build a man
(You cannot build a woman,
as they are tricky and build themselves.)
You must first glut yourself on motherlove.
Know that motherlove is deep and dangerous,
and if you think it too risky, wine will do.
(If you have a good source of motherlove, sell it.
Then you’ll have no need to build a man.)
Drink until you swell and belch, then eat
olives and oranges and day-old lamb,
pomegranate seeds. (Save a few.)
Fennel and parsley will clear your head.
When you cannot take another bite,
take two and three and stop.
These are certain objects novices use:
beeswax, dog bones, rose petals and moonblood.
These are not reliable.
(Those men are delicate and overwrought
and will melt if left in the car.)
Beg a barber for a bag of hair.
Buy an old leather coat.
Break the wineglass, sticky with juice,
over the plate and pomegranates.
Bury them in a pinewood box.
With three nights and a dream,
you will have yourself a man.
Give him a strong name, tell it to him often.
In the beginning, they’re quick to forget,
and wander, and roam, and swoon.
A constructed man is a flimsy thing.
If you ever need to tear him down,
simply call him by another name.
(The pinebox will have your coat,
your plate, and your bag of hair.)
Words for my Mothers
Mine is a family of Amazons
taking knives to their cheekbones
to swallow their menfolk whole.
I grew up among their thunder-thighs
Gripping tight their lightning hands,
In black forests of their hair on end
tow-headed, I was never lost.
Now there’s no closet space for spears
in pink-walled condominiums,
and they each wear one round falsie
to potluck-and-pinochle night.
I remember the sloping hips that sheltered me
from lions and panthers and invading Greeks,
but they worry more these days about
the menfolk’s sodium and
the niece’s nose ring.
We’re fresh prey for cable psychology
on Nemo’s couches in the lounge.
They call us codependent women,
but I remember our kamikaze hearts
Small Town Hero
Satan skulks on top of an old barn in rural Pennsylvania. The ribs of the tin roof are digging into his ass and the tone of the weather has completely fouled his mood. It’s the sort of day that could go for snow or rain but will probably linger as indecisive half-light instead, as sullen and apathetic as the devil himself. It’s fitting, which is exactly why it’s pissing on his last nerve. He is thinking that the people here need him, that he could be this small town’s hero, if it weren’t for the damn teenagers.
Satan is grateful he is not the Flatwoods Monster or the Mothman, not the incarnation of himself stuck trampling a forty-foot circle of North Carolina. He’s not the Bell Witch in her damp cave, not the Wendigo, the Chupacabra, the cattle-mutilators in barren desert. He thinks of himself as better off than all of them, and it’s probably true. Southern Pennsylvania is nothing special this time of year, but he doesn’t have to listen to the screeching grind of the Great Lakes or compete with Bible-thumping demons sprung from iron-laced Southern soil. There are much worse places to be summoned.
But no one makes the Mothman crash a slumber party, or spread cruel rumors about Janice’s dad’s affairs. He’s willing to bet the Bell Witch has never had to buy beer for the football team or sneak a webcam into the locker room. It’s humiliating beyond words. He could do anything – reignite the Cold War, cure cancer or go all Godzilla on New York City (even Pittsburgh would satisfy him, at this point) – if only they’d ask. But they just want him to steal iPods and pot, and there’s little he can do without being magically compelled. Pace, tame woodland creatures, stare hopelessly into the portal to Hell opened three months ago in this old abandoned barn.
It’s getting late and his four summoners will be out of school soon. The metal under his butt really is freezing now, so Satan wearily climbs from his perch, down into the dilapidated mess. The portal can’t be seen and its incredible heat can’t be felt until he’s standing a foot in front of it, a glowing tear in the fabric of space and time. Every once in a while a demon or damned soul wanders over to the rip, but they can’t see him and can’t enter without a summons, so their brief visits always leave Satan feeling eerie and lonely.
He sits down heavily, his back to the portal’s heat, and for the hundredth time runs his hands over his horns, his hooves, his tail, his incredibly muscled upper body.
They tromp into the barn, overstuffed backpacks and bottles of soda in tow. JD is complaining loudly about a teacher, and Satan slumps lower and closer to the portal. It’s like leaning against superheated glass, but it doesn’t hide him.
“God, he smells like a goat.” JD sneers at the Dark Lord, scuffs some dirt at him from a few feet away.
“Maybe cause he looks like one, dumbass.” Allison waves a hand in front of her face, “But at least he’s useful. I love my new Coach!” She brandishes the purse, swaggers across the dirt floor like it’s a catwalk.
JD works hard to look bored as he watches her.
“It makes your ass look huge.”
Allison shrieks in anger. Satan gives a sigh from the bottom of his dark and fetid soul. He hopes they won’t make him do their trigonometry homework again. He can never remember cosine.
He shifts his attention to Sarah and Brad, whispering in the corner, pointedly glancing at their demon from time to time. If there are brains to be had among The Four, they are it. Sarah and Brad use him to post naked photos of their principal on the internet, make him plant meth in the lockers of peers they dislike. Under their supervision, he has called in three separate bomb threats to the middle school. Every awful thing he’s done to Charlotte sprang from their minds. In several thousand years of the battle between Good and Evil, Satan has never met the match of these teenagers.
JD and Allison drop their hate-flirting as Sarah and Brad make their way over to the Hell-gate. Identical smiles grace their lips, all cats and cream and mouse corpses. Satan feels a sense of mounting apprehension.
“We’re going to Charlotte’s house tonight.” Sarah announces, and Allison and JD break into grins.
“Do you remember the look on her face the day after we left that dead deer in her bed?” JD asks, excited. “It was awesome.” Many of his ideas involve dead animals. Killing the fawn was hard on Satan. Watching Charlotte bury the limp, headless body was worse.
“No way, like the time she waited three hours at the movie theater for Mike Dent? Fucking priceless. Or when she asked him about it in English. He looked so grossed out that she even talked to him.” Allison favors crushing the spirits of unworthy scum. In another time or place, Satan might be impressed.
“Whatever, shut up.” Sarah waves around her iPhone until she has their attention. “Her parents are leaving for the weekend, and so it’ll just be Charlotte and her crazy grandma in that shitty farmhouse. I want everyone back here at 11 tonight so we can get the spellbook.” She shows her teeth. It’s a brilliant grimace.
“I have some spells I want to try.”
The first few hours of the summoning are always a fog, leave him reeling from interworldly jet lag. He remembers the desperate, terrified way The Four looked up at him. Not a scrap of fear for the Dark Lord in their midst but shaking with terror for a wrecked car just beyond the barn, of a bleeding body, of the potential for their lives to be ruined. There’s the smell of beer and the sound of Sarah shouting about cops and scholarships. He remembers a girl’s voice falling over the ancient Latin that summoned and bound him in this world, tied him to the beck and call of these children. He remembers Charlotte, and her hand held out to bring him across the portal.
He tries to speak, to ask what they want from him. His voice was meant to overwhelm the thundering inferno of the pit, not tickle the delicate ear bones of mortal children. They hear his question as a screeching of metal and wailing of banshees and pitch forward on their knees, hands held to their heads.
“Jesus Christ, shut up!” yells Brad. The devil obeys.
They make their demands, stuttering and blustering by turns. He cleans up their mess, the body and the beer and the broken car. He can’t remember if he hid the car, healed the body or disposed of it. He remembers, though, their faces. Allison can’t look at him in whole; Sarah never takes her eyes away. Brad swings a length of metal pipe from one hand. Charlotte stays at his side, alert but calm. She touches his arm to direct him, looks into his eyes when she makes her commands.
When the work is done they remake the circle on the floor of the barn, replace the salt swept away by his entrance. They close him in, the candles still burning at the cardinal directions, a teenager beside each one.
“What do we do with him now?”
Charlotte is hunched over a book–ROSEHIP MOONGLORY’S ESOTERIC GRIMOIRE OF HIDDEN KNOWLEDGE, declares the spine–but she startles upright at Allison’s question.
“We have to send him back,” she says. “He did what we wanted.”
“Wait, Charlotte.” Sarah leaves her candle, steps to Charlotte’s side. “We can’t give this up. Just think of what else he could do for us. For you.”
Brad moves to flank Charlotte. His voice is as gentle and poisonous as Sarah’s. “Think about it. You don’t have to be the weird kid anymore. I’ll hook you up with Mike Dent, we’ll all go out together.”
Charlotte shakes her head. “No. He’s the devil, not a dog or something. I did what you wanted. You promised to stop–”
Sarah slaps the book from Charlotte’s hands and it lands in the dark beyond the circle. “Stop?” She taunts. “Or what? You’ll run and tell everyone we summoned the devil together? Everyone already knows you’re crazy.”
The shock and hurt in Charlotte’s face gives the devil pause. She moves to pick up her book, shying out of Sarah and Brad’s range.
“Please, I helped you,” she begs. “You can’t do this.”
“I can do whatever I want,” Sarah says, and crosses her arms. “Get out of here before I make him get rid of you.”
Charlotte looks at Allison, who is still tearful, and Brad with his length of pipe. She looks at the Dark Lord, but he doesn’t know what to do.
Charlotte runs out of the barn.
Satan understands greed and rage and desperation, any number of reasons humans do terrible things. He still does not understand the petty needs that drive The Four to torment a mousey girl who spends evenings reading alone. He mulls his memories over as he watches Charlotte and her grandmother drink hot chocolate in the kitchen, laughing over their warm mugs. The dull day is dropping a sure and heavy snow on his shoulders, settling a deeper hush over the surrounding woods and fields. The devil becomes aware of his world condensing itself into a silent winter night, a snug kitchen. He longs for the moment to last.
But Charlotte happens to glance over her grandmother’s shoulder and the scene is ruined. She pales upon recognizing the Prince of Darkness. Satan’s stomach clenches in sympathy. He spent three weeks in November haunting her windows. Salt and iron shavings on the sills were a wise choice, he thought, but her parents disagreed: a few nights in the psychiatric ward of the local hospital taught Charlotte how to be alone with her fear.
The grandmother turns around in her seat, but Satan does not move. He has not revealed himself to her. He is a somber statue in the window, unmoved by pity or cold–until she winks, and smiles, and he starts in shock. The grandmother looks satisfied, says something he can’t hear to Charlotte. The girl nods, but keeps her eyes locked on the table, tracing figures in spilled cocoa.
Sarah breaks through his confusion, hissing at him from around the corner of the house. “Are they in there?”
Satan manages a nod, and the four emerge, dressed from head to toe in dark clothes and all carrying spray-painted air rifles.
“Remember to keep your masks on and your mouths shut, okay? Break whatever you want, but as soon as we’ve got the book, run like hell.” Brad’s ski mask renders him a faceless, steaming demon in the night. He puts the rifle to his shoulder.
Sarah jabs a finger at Satan. “Keep that whiny bitch and grandma in the kitchen. Don’t let them get out, no matter what you have to do to them.”
He nods. He has no choice.
In military crouches, the four and their devil approach the door. They make him kick it down. They hiss at him to roar, to stomp, to shake the foundation of the house with his considerable might. He must, he does.
Charlotte and her grandmother are still in the kitchen when he appears at the door. Satan expects them to make a run for it, but they push back their chairs slowly, rise to stare at him.
From behind the Dark Lord come the sounds of breaking glass and furniture being broken. Charlotte takes a step toward him, but he gives a firm shake of his head, crosses his arms across his (impressive) chest. He does not want to hurt her anymore.
She stops, but her fists are balled at her side. She is trembling. She yells at him. “Why are you doing this?”
He can only shake his head.
“Answer me! Why are you doing this to me?”
The Prince of Darkness begins to pantomime that he can’t speak, that Sarah commanded him not to, when his voice betrays him.
“I WAS COMMANDED.”
His surprise is mirrored in Charlotte’s face.
“Who commanded you?” She asks, slowly easing back towards the table.
“SARAH. BRAD. ALLISON. JD. THEY SUMMONED ME AND THEY COMMAND ME.”
A strange expression spreads across Charlotte’s face. She looks to her grandmother, who has returned to her cocoa, a rock of serenity among the madness. The old woman nods to her granddaughter.
Charlotte meets the devil’s eyes again. “I summoned you.” She says, hesitant and then bolder. “It was my book of spells. I read the words! They just held the quarter candles. They needed my help.”
He is still for a moment, searching her face. The jagged edges of his memory are smoothing and sliding into place. JD’s chest, destroyed by the steering column. Charlotte’s voice, asking if he can fix the car, too. Allison crying on Charlotte, begging for secrecy. Sarah’s eyes shining with greed.
“WHAT DO YOU COMMAND?” Satan asks finally. Even he can hear the hope in his voice.
The voice comes from the living room, and Satan turns to meet it. The four stand behind him, Sarah in the lead, Brad clutching a large glossy paperback book. JD and Allison are aiming their air rifles at Charlotte and her grandmother.
“She’s full of shit.” Sarah says, and gestures with the gun. “She stole our spell-book, and now we’re taking it back, with interest.” Charlotte makes a noise of protest, a small trapped animal.
There is a long, tense pause while everyone weighs their options. JD and Allison shift restlessly. Something rustles in the kitchen. Cold drafts lick the floor as the snow hushes against the house.
“WHAT DO YOU COMMAND?” The Prince of Lies rumbles, talon-tipped fingers twitching at his sides. He wonders who will answer first.
“Do what you want,” he hears, so quietly it might have come from inside his own head. “Whatever you want.”
Satan skulks on top of an old barn in rural Pennsylvania, but only for the view. The sun is darting between the clouds, but when it comes out the whole valley shines with the green glow of just-sprouting leaves. The sight leaves him a little intoxicated, makes him dream about fruity tropical drinks and nuclear war.
He is grateful for the chance to be out, now that the cops have closed their case and the furor’s dying down. Most of the town thinks the missing teens ran away to New York City or Philadelphia, and privately they’re grateful. Even the preachers have noticed how quiet things have been since they disappeared, fewer meth busts, fewer violent crimes. The Lord’s kindness, they think, to only give them what they can bear.
Satan makes his way into the dark of the barn, mulling over good and evil. He doesn’t see Charlotte until she steps away from the hell-gate, wiping her eyes. He worries she finds his punishment of The Four too harsh, but she has never objected. Still, he finds her here at least once a week, gazing through the glass. Looking for them.
“Hey,” she says, and smiles. It’s genuine, so he relaxes. Pats smooth the fur on his thighs.
“HELLO.” The Dark Lord shifts a little uneasily. He has been wondering about asking her on a date. A gesture to show his gratitude. Instead: “ARE YOU ALRIGHT?”
“Oh, yeah. Yeah.” Charlotte glances at the gate, then back at him. “I guess it just sucks, you know? It was all so stupid, and now… It’ll never be okay.”
“NO. IT WILL NEVER BE OKAY.”
They share an awkward silence, he kicking the dirt with a cloven hoof, she staring at her hands. Finally, she clears her throat.
“Um, so I heard Mike Dent scored some roofies from his brother, and he and Sam are going to try and use them at the party this weekend. Want to check it out? Do some good?”
Satan feels a smile stretching across his face. “YES.” He says. “LET’S DO THAT.”