Furnace

The following is the title story from Livia Llewellyn’s 2016 collection, Furnace (Word Horde). “Furnace” originally appeared in The Grimscribe’s Puppets (ed. Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.), where it received a Shirley Jackson Award nomination, and it was reprinted in The Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Vol 1 (eds. Laird Barron and Michael Kelly). It has not previously appeared online.

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Art by Michael Garlington. Design by Scott R. Jones.

Everyone knew our town was dying, long before we truly saw it. There’s a certain way a piece of fruit begins to wrinkle and soften, caves in on itself around the edges of a fast-appearing bruise, throwing off the sickly-sweet scent of decay and death that always attracts some creeping hungry thing. Some part of the town, an unused building sinking into its foundations, a forgotten alleyway erupting into a slow maelstrom of weeds and cracked stone, was succumbing, had festered, had succumbed: and now threw off the warning spores of its demise. Everywhere in the town we went about the ins and outs of our daily lives and business, telling ourselves everything was normal, everything was fine. And every now and then a spore drifted into our lungs, riding in on a faint thread of that rotting fruiting scent, and though we did not pause in our daily routines, we stumbled a bit, we slowed. It was the last days of summer, I had just turned thirteen, and the leaves were beginning to turn, people were gathering the final crops of their fine little backyard gardens, culling the lingering remains of the season’s foods and flowers, smoothing over the soil. My grandfather had placed a large red-rusted oil barrel off the side of the garage, and every evening he threw the gathering detritus of summer into the can, and set it on fire. Great plumes of black smoke rose into the warm air, feather-fine flakes of ash and hot red sparks. I stood on the gravel path, watching the bright red licks of fire crackle and leap from the barrel’s jagged edges as my grandfather poked the burning sticks and leaves further down. An evening wind carried the dark smoke up into the canopy of branches overhead, tall evergreens swaying and whispering as they swept and sifted the ash further into the sky. We watched in silence. The air smelled gritty and smoky and dark, in that way the air only ever smells at the end of a dying summer, the smell of the sinking sun and dark approaching fall. The trees shifted, the branches changed direction, and the sickly-sweet scent caught in our throats, driving the smoke away.

—What is that? I asked.

—I don’t know, my grandfather replied. He rubbed ash from his eyes, and stared out into a distance place neither of us could see. —Something’s wrong.

***

Summer officially ended, school began, and the town continued. It was easy for all of us to say that everything was fine. The dissonance in the air was the usual changing of the seasons, we told ourselves. Near the downtown area, on a small lonely street along the outskirts of the factories and warehouses that ringed the downtown district, that strange and troubling area where suburbia fizzled out to its bitter end and the so-called city proper began, a number of small businesses closed with no warning to their loyal long-time customers or to those who worked for them. I knew of this only because my mother drove down that particular street one early afternoon, having taken me out of school for a dentist appointment. My mother had frequented most of these stores in her childhood, and she loved driving down the street as an adult, pointing out to me all the various places she had been taken by my grandfather. A small confectioner’s store that supplied those queer square mint-tinged wafers that were both creamy and crunchy, the pastel sweets popular at weddings and wakes. A stationer’s store, where my mother’s family had bought boxes and boxes of thick cream paper and envelopes with the family crest, a horned griffin rampant over a field of night-blooming cereus, and where my grandfather bought business cards and memo pads with his name printed neatly in the middle, just above his title of supervisor for the town’s electric and water company. A dilapidated movie theater that showed films in languages no one had ever heard of, from countries no one could ever seem to recall having seen on our schools’ and library’s aging maps and globes. A haberdashery where my father once had his soft brown wool felt fedoras and thick lambskin winter gloves blocked and stitched to his exact measurements and specifications. It had been taken over just that spring by the son of the former owner, an earnest and intense young man with perfect pale skin and unruly black hair, and unfortunately large black eyes. All three of those stores and more sat dark and fallow all along the block, faded red CLOSED and OUT OF BUSINESS signs swinging against padlocked doors, display windows choked with cobwebs and dust, the now familiar odor of sickly sweetness lingering in the air.

—Why do I keep smelling that, I said, pinching my nose shut. —What is it?

—It smells like camphor, my mother said.

—What’s that?

—Like the mothballs in our closets, she said. —You know, what I use to keep your father’s and grandmother’s things from molding and rotting away. To preserve things.

—Preserve? Like jam?

—In a way. To protect things. So they’ll never grow old, and always stay the same.

That afternoon as my mother steered the car along the narrow meridian dividing the street in two, the pale young man stood outside the haberdashery’s doors, his long arms wrapped around a bolt of fabric as if he were carrying the body of a dead child. I started in shock to realize it was not a bolt of fabric, but a length of thick grey wool wrapped around the stiff body of a large bird with two beaks twisted into a hideous spiral and a spider-like cluster of lidless coal-colored eyes. My mother stopped the car, and we stepped onto the dry worn street sitting under a cool and cloudless sky crowned by telephone wires. No one else was here this time of the afternoon in this part of the town, a part of the town in the middle of everything yet nowhere in particular, where the buildings rose no more than two stories before flattening out in resignation and despair, where you could walk down the sidewalks for hours, see no strip mall or market or house that didn’t look like the one behind it and before, hear only the soft crinkle of your shoes against cracked cement and the occasional miserable distant bark of a dog. In hindsight, we should have been more vigilant, more aware that these were the places of a town where septicemia and putrification creep in first, those lonely and familiar sections we slipped into and through every day without concern or care—not the seedy crumbling but flashy edges where decay was expected, and, from a certain element of our small society, even accepted and encouraged. These quiet streets of lonely backwater districts, these were the places we never gave a single thought about, because we thought they would be here forever, unchanging in the antiseptic amber of our fixed memories. These quiet streets of lonely backwater districts were always the first to go.

—Don’t come any closer, said the pale young man to my mother as she stepped onto the sidewalk.

—What happened to all the stores? my mother asked. —When did everything close?

—Don’t go near the windows, said the pale young man. —It’s terrible, don’t look. He stepped forward as if to block her, his already too large eyes widening further, the rims and lids as purple-red as the leaves on the trees, as if he had been weeping for hours, for centuries. My mother, a woman who, like her father, my grandfather, did not pay much heed to the general spoken and unspoken rules of a town, brushed past him, and I followed in her wake, already at thirteen very much a similar stubborn member of my family. My mother stepped up to one of the display windows, and I to the other, cupping my hands around my eyes to block out the sun as I pressed my face against the glass. —Don’t look, the young man repeated, but he did nothing to stop us, only stood on the sidewalk cradling his many-eyed black-feathered bird wrapped in fabric, shivering in the afternoon sun. Inside the store, everything appeared covered in the light dust typical of such a place, but nothing appeared out of the ordinary. I had last been in the store five years ago, to help my mother pick out a fine linen handkerchief for my father for the holidays, before he had disappeared in the deep network of tunnels and passages owned by the town’s electric and water company. I kept staring through the glass. Bowlers and fedoras slumping over the resigned foreheads of cracked mannequin heads, weary trays of uneven chevron-covered ties, unpolished cufflinks depressed into velvet folds of faded burgundy. My breath fogged the glass, and I wiped it away with a pass of my hands. Everything was quiet, peaceful, still.

—I don’t see anything different, my mother said. —Everything looks the same as I remember. This is the way it should be.

—I know, the young man said. —It all looks the same on the outside. It always has. You have to look underneath.

—How can one look underneath? I asked.

—You just do. You just know.

I’m not certain how long we stood on the quiet sidewalk of the lonely street in that empty part of town, staring through fingerprint-smeared windows into darkness. I now only remember how after a time had passed and as the afternoon sun hitched further down toward the town’s jagged horizon, everything in the store seemed to recede, sink into an interminable black fuzz not unlike mold spreading across fruit. Soft sweet mold and mannequin heads, and no life at all in the displays and counters and fixtures and heavy folds of fabric, only the amber-tinged cool approaching dark. My eyes adjusted to the fading light, and everything in the haberdashery blurred and shifted into a single indistinct mass: for one wild terrible second I felt like I was staring into the only place left in the world, that there was only my face pressed to the glass front of a dead forgotten store endlessly out of the reach of my immovable limbs, and everything and everyone behind me, including myself, was forever gone.

—Nothing’s changed except the sign, my mother said. —This is unacceptable. The stores must be reopened, so we can shop here, as we’ve always done. That’s how it’s supposed to be.

The young man replied, —Yes. And it will never end.

My mother looked at him, but did not reply.

I stepped back from the glass, and as I did, I caught a glimpse of the pale young man’s face, reflected beneath the faded gold letters of the haberdashery that bore his father’s name. I saw underneath him. I saw his wide unmoving mouth, his tiny painted teeth, his lidless lashless eyes, his cool matte porcelain skin. It was then I remembered I had crushed on him briefly, that last spring. I’d told my mother how handsome he looked, how comforting and familiar, and she’d laughed me into embarrassed silence, and so I’d driven it from my mind. The young man turned from us, and as he walked down the sidewalk back into suburbia, trailing oily iridescent feathers at his feet and the numbing sweet smell of camphor through the air, I caught a glimpse of his neck below his black, black hair, and the straight bloodless seam like a strange new road, slicing through every part of the town I’d ever known.

***

My mother drove us home in silence, and we never spoke of the incident to each other again. I believe I was afraid to ask my mother what she meant when she said she saw nothing underneath, whether she meant she saw nothing out of the ordinary, or if she meant that she had perceived that same black nothingness the pale young man claimed he saw welling beneath the surface of the haberdashery, the nothingness that had spread throughout that entire row of stores. I was afraid to ask my mother what she meant when she saw nothing underneath, nothing changed, and said that was the way it should always be. I believe I knew then what I was afraid of, or rather there was a confirmation within me of what I had always known that I was afraid of; and my mother knew that I knew, and together in silence we drove home.

We drove down the street several weeks later. All of the stores displayed their usual faded yet cheerful red and white OPEN signs, but my mother didn’t slow the car, nor did she spin her usual tales of how her family had frequented the various shops over the years and what items she bought that were still somewhere in our house, carefully packed in cedar boxes lined with tissue paper and small white mothballs. I slid down in the car seat until my eyes were level with the plastic button lock on the door, and stared out the window at the haberdashery. Sitting on the sidewalk beside the dusty glass door, still holding the stiff deformed bird bundled in wool felt, I saw the pale young man that for one brief second in my past I had crushed on like the soles of my feet against soft gray gravel, standing, staring out into the street, the look on his face not unlike that of my grandfather when he stood over the can of burning leaves and ash. I had never told my mother what I thought I’d seen that strange afternoon in the face of the pale young man, or at the back of his neck. I didn’t need to. My mother smiled, and stared ahead, and drove on.

Fall deepened and thickened and the air above and over our heads grew cold, but the gold and red leaves and the earth itself were still hot to the touch, as though the trees were drawing up and throwing off some unseen underground fire. I woke up early in the morning, having slept every night with the light at my desk never off and the small television always tuned to movies so old even my grandfather had never heard of them. I dressed for school to the snowy images of sleek, long-dead women and men, drifting through a world constructed solely of pixilated shades of black and grey. My grandfather seemed never to sleep, spending evenings after work in the kitchen, spreading maps and charts of the town’s systems and infrastructures over the table, scribbling indecipherable equations and geometric shapes in blue ball-point pen across the outlines of our streets and neighborhoods he’d traced onto wide sheets of translucent onionskin, the low light of the kitchen lamp falling over his thick white hair and worried face. I would tip-toe into the kitchen to make breakfast, expecting him to be fast asleep, slumped over the table, a pencil drifting out of his large hand. He was always awake, sitting straight in the chair, on his face the same indeterminable and unfathomable look as when we stood at the barrel while summer died all around us, watching the ash disappear into the thick grotto of whispering evergreens.

—What are you looking at? I asked, as I pulled up my chair and sat beside him. —What is happening? What do you see? I asked those questions every morning of him, never sure what I was really asking. Was I asking what he saw in the maps, or what he saw in the false autumn air? Every morning his answers were very different, and very much the same. Picking up a piece of onionskin paper covered in small diagrams and paragraphs thick with words, he would place it over the part of the town map to which it corresponded and point to a specific cluster of words or diagrams now floating over a specific building or street, I would ask the question, and he would speak.

—The B&I Circus Discount Emporium, along South Tacoma Way, where Mom used to buy my winter clothes?

—The woman found her children on the carousel, the one in the middle of the store. You remember it. Employees dressed as clowns, and a dying ape in a cage. She left the girl with the son, an older boy, while looking for a pair of boots that had a left and a right foot, and a pair of pants that had two legs instead of three. Popcorn crackling and calliope music filled the air of the low-ceilinged acre-wide room. Cash registers and conversations. No one could have heard the screams. Maybe there were none. They all left their children there. She returned, all the parents returned, to a circular wood platform wobbling unevenly. Circus animals taffy-warped, the bodies of their children spiraling in ropes of blood and bone around wooden saddles, wooden poles, wooden stars. Store mannequins, plastic boys and girls with bright-eyed smiles, inserted like obscene arrows into delicate flesh. Calliope music, warped and stretched, washing through the air with their howls. Across the store, across a forest of metal clothing racks and rotting sales signs under a flickering fluorescent sky, the woman saw a store clown, bloated and swaying around a cement pillar like a dying parade float, slowly tearing the ape apart like cotton candy and cramming the pieces into its peppermint-striped mouth.

—The Safeway Supermarket, in the Highland Hills district, where you used to take me shopping when I stayed overnight with you and Granny?

—A young boy on a shopping trip with the mother of his best friend, who was playing in the refrigerated food aisles. Opening the doors, letting the frost collect on the warming surface, then drawing pictures and writing his name on the glass, like you used to do. His friend and mother were gone only for a few moments, looking for ice cream in another aisle. When they returned to the aisle, the young boy had vanished. Everyone was gone. No traces—no half-filled shopping carts, no purses or wallets on the linoleum floor, no cash registers open in half-completed transactions. The woman saw the boy’s words behind glass, the last letter elongated as if the hand writing it had slid down and away. She opened the door. Behind the milk bottle shelves and the thick strips of plastic curtaining, the movements of something quiet and colossal. A thick stench of sweet decay blossomed out into the aisle, hitting the woman so hard that she turned as if slapped, vomiting on herself as she ran from the store, ran from displays molding and blackening on the shelves, ran from open bins of vegetables exploding in clouds of insects and spores, ran from meat that slithered and whispered as it burst from its packaging, dissolving and reforming into something greater than the sum of its blood and gristle and bone, something that might have vaguely resembled a monstrous, profane, and profoundly damaged reconstruction of the missing young boy.

—Point Defiance Park, at the northernmost end of Old Town, where Mom and Dad took me to see the old fort, and the animals at the zoo? Mom got sick there one time. She said it was the hot dogs. We never went back.

—You were too young to understand. They took you along the road that winds through the old-growth forest, called Five Mile Drive, up to the abandoned logging camp. They took you to the small unpaved street of wood plank houses and shops, to the remnants of the railroad tracks where a single steam engine car sat for a century, its giant blackened pistons and wheels locked tight with rust and rain, the engine car your mother rested in while your father took you to the fort. Day and night, now, park rangers hear the thunder and roar of the engine, blasting and crushing and consuming its way through the woods, leaving behind two deep oily grooves of blistered burning earth that no normal plant or tree will grow in again. Other things are found in the self-made tracks, things the rangers have taken their axes to, then buried deeper in the ground. The desiccated remains of animals, lions and orcas, polar bears turned inside out, their bones splintered and shot through with iron splinters. Bubbling jellicular mounds of placenta, slick and hot with blood, the aborted machine-like creatures within them tearing feebly at the thick membrane with inverted limbs and jaws. The entire park has been shut down, but eventually, everything once alive within it will be eaten and rebirthed as something else. After that, who knows where it will go. There’s nothing to keep it from leaving.

—Narrows View, in the University Place School District.

Our district. My fingers traced wild ink spirals over to my old elementary school, just a block away from our house. My mother used to walk me up to the corner every day, then watch as I made my way halfway down the block then across the two-lane road, walking carefully within the thick white lines of the crosswalk. I used to imagine that if I stepped out of the lines and onto the worn black surface of the road, I would sink into a river of soft blacktop and tar, be pulled under even as my classmates continued across the wide parking lot and onto the breezeway that connected each of the ten low buildings that made up the school. They would run and dash through bright orange painted metal doors, disappear down linoleum-lined hallways into warm and humid classrooms, shedding coats and fluttering into chairs like autumn leaves. Bells would ring out, harsh and long clanging that echoed over the rooftops and trees, and the heavy yellow buses would belch smoke and squeal out of the parking lot and down the road; and then silence. And I, slowly sinking in the road, my school just yards away, my hands outstretched as if I could grasp it. I couldn’t. I never could. And my mother, standing at the crooked red stop sign at the top of our little street, hands at her side, the edges of her brown coat flapping in the cold morning air, watching expressionless as I screamed, then pleaded, then struggled, then gave up and stopped moving at all, just watched her watching me, watching the whole world around us grow dark and still, until we were both trapped in an endless moment in time, never to grow old, never to live, never to die. My hands, forever outstretched for her help. Her eyes, forever burrowing out hollows in mine.

I lifted my fingers from the map. The tips were so blue with ink, it looked like they were rotting away.

—They found a girl in the road, my grandfather began. His large hand covered mine, and placed it back down on the map. He looked so tired, so old. —The skeleton of a large girl, a colossal girl, a giantess. Rising up from the blacktop. Bones like deformed corkscrews, each bone fused from the skeletons of many smaller girls.

—Not different girls, I said, slipping my hand away. —The same girl, trapped in the same part of the road a hundred thousand times. Layers of the same girl, trapped over and over again from kindergarten to sixth grade. Seven years, ending only last spring.

—Yes. My grandfather rose from the table, and started to fold up the maps and diagrams before my mother came downstairs. He didn’t have to ask me how I knew.

***

My grandfather abandoned his maps not long after that. It wasn’t that he lost interest. So many incidents occurred, it became useless to record them all. All put together, the entire town became an incident, and the map drowned beneath the network of inky words and roads, until all that remained of white paper was the tiny dot we called home. I don’t think either one of us could bear to fill in that small, lonely white circle. We knew it would happen. My grandfather placed everything in the trash can barrel at the side of the yard one day, and we watched it curl into grey ash and float away in the sweet hot air. And after a while, no one remembered what day it was, or what week, or whether the season was fall or winter or spring. It was all the same season, the same day. I woke up to the same ghostly, lifeless images on the television as the day before, dressed for a school day I wouldn’t recall going to by evening’s end, when I sat at my desk, looking through books and papers for homework I never found.

And then one afternoon, although which afternoon of which month of what year it was, I would never know, my grandfather didn’t come home. He left early in the morning for his job at the electric and water company as he always had, his soft grey fedora over his white hair, a thermos of milky coffee tucked into his briefcase. He kissed me on the forehead and told me to be safe, then drove off in the large car he had bought years ago when he became supervisor. I got ready for school, but I can’t say if I went or not. The day passed, like all the days, in a soft haze of warmth and numbing sweetness that festered into early evening; and then the sun was pushing long bands of shadow and sun through the windows, over the dinner table. My grandfather would never abandon me. He wasn’t coming home, I realized, because he couldn’t; and the shock and sorrow of it sent something cold and hard trickling through my veins, and for the first time in what seemed like forever, I felt I was awakening from a terrible, suffocating dream.

—Are we going to wait for Puda? I asked my mother.

My mother set the casserole dish on the table, and stared at me. In her face, traces of what I might become, in another time, in another town. Her eyes, bright and furnace dark. Unbearable and all-consuming; and in her pupils I saw the small reflection of myself sink into the road a million times. I knew her answer then, before she said it.

—No.

She poured me a glass of lukewarm milk, and sat down. We ate in silence. The shadows lengthened until there was no more sun, and in my mind, I saw my gentle grandfather filling in that one remaining dot of white on his map with ink as blue as his eyes. And then he, too, was gone.

The next morning was not the same as all the other mornings. In the sleepy-sweet air, I dressed for classes I knew I had never attended, and never would, for friends and teachers I had never met or seen. Silvery thin men and women danced and fought in the snow of a television set that had long ago lost its cord. Images that did not exist. Everything in the world around me, a perverted misremembering, a suffocating lie. I put my schoolbooks under my bed, then changed my mind and stuffed them into the backpack. I had wanted to go, I had wanted to learn. I wanted to grow up. I had wanted the pale young man with the red-rimmed, pool-black eyes.

In the kitchen, my mother folded the top of my paper bag lunch as I drank my lukewarm milk. She licked the palm of her hand and ran it across my hair as I stared at the empty surface of the table, where my grandfather’s hands had drawn rivers of blue ink over the map of my life. Her breath was whisper-cloying, as though I had walked into a web. In the distance, a train sounded out, mournful and low and long. I stared up at the ceiling, watching small spores detach like faint candle sparks and float down through the thick amber air, wink out as they hit my face, my skin, the ground. Everyone had known that the town had been dying, long before I truly saw it. The ground trembled and buzzed beneath my feet. I thought of my grandfather and the pale young man, and my face grew porcelain-tight.

—I have to go to school, I whispered. Each word took a century to slip from my mouth, as slow as the dying spores.

—No, you don’t. My mother clasped my hand in hers, hard, and I felt our bones shift and crackle, our skin cake and fuse together like velvet and mold.

—Let me go, I said.

—No, she said. —I don’t have to.

—Yes, I said. —You do.

A century later or more, I pulled my hand from hers. Her fingers stretched like taffy, wriggled and dropped away. Centuries later, my other hand thrust my grandfather’s pen at the pulsing hollow of her throat. Droplets hung in the air, ruby and indigo comets catching the light as they orbited our wounds. Outside, the sun fell and rose as many times as the stars in the sky, and in that epoch my mother curled back her cracking lips wider, wider until there was only teeth and the volcanic black of her open mouth. With each step back from her and away, she bloated and burst, exponential in rot, pushing away the flimsy walls of our home, her veined translucent flesh pulsing with all the unborn variants of my life pushing outward to be free. In the molasses air, I turned, a millennium spent directing my terror and trembling legs away and up to the end of our street. If I cried, time looped back and ate the tears before they fell from my eyes. Only the pounding of my heart, a beat for every revolution of the galaxy, only the echo of a footfall with every dying star, only my mother always behind me, exploding, grasping, expanding, only everywhere the low dark roar of thunder and never rain.

—They found a girl in the road, my grandfather had begun, in another universe. —Bones like deformed corkscrews, each bone fused from the skeletons of many smaller girls.

Down the street, past the crosswalk and the thick white lines, and after that each step was quicker, and the centuries burned away. I never looked back. I passed myself, stuck in the blacktop a hundred thousand times, the giantess made of a hundred thousand girls, each one falling apart and clattering to the ground. And I ran to the edges of my northern town and past it and slipped beyond into the world, as all the cold bright skeletons of who I could have been swarmed behind me, plunging into the quivering moist mountains of putrescent flesh that had birthed us all, sinking her into the road where she lost me, all of them dying within her desire like little miscarried dreams.

I never stopped running.

Neither did she.

***

I’ve lived in this southernmost town for many lifetimes now, having lived in many other towns, each further south than the last. But all of the towns of this world have succumbed, as I knew they would, and there are no more towns beyond this one. There is nothing beyond this one, except the vast southern ocean, fields of ice, cold skies, colder stars. Here, winter is a diamond-hard fist, and summer an impossible dream. Or so it used to be, when I first made my way here, centuries or eons ago. I feel her now, again, in the air, in my bones. The days have begun to blend into each other as they did in all the other towns, the minutes and months and years, and a numbing sweet languor warms and slows us down until we no longer know or care. Everyone has known that the town is dying, long before we could see it. But only I know the reason why. My mother is coming for her little girl, once again burning the world away until there is only us and the memories of us together, until there is only her memories of how it used to be, how it should have been. And there are no more towns left to hide in, no more versions or dreams of me left to fight.

So I sit at the window of my apartment in that southernmost town, watching leaves turn red and gold that had only for the first time yesterday been green, watching the sun wax fat and throw off the late summer sparks I knew so well when I lived in the northern town, feeling the air grow camphor-bloated warm and sickly sweet. I sit at my window, turning the pages of schoolbooks I’ll never learn from, watching the buildings do what I have never done. They age, morph, change. They bloat, fuzz over, and release soft spores from fat cankers sagging off their rotting faces, they malform and reform, they become more familiar with each calcifying day. The southernmost town is disappearing, and the northern town is rising, again. A steam engine howls in the distance as it gobbles up the miles, and so much more. The townspeople’s movements weaken, slow, stop. They fade and drift away like vapor. The face of the pale young man appears in the windows, sliding from the flickering edges of my sight into full view as the weeks pass: and then the day will come when he will stand in the street below, as he has stood in all the other dusty streets of all the other towns, his large black eyes fixed on me as the twin-beaked raven in his grasp grotesquely struggles to call out my name, all the names of the monsters of my mother’s memories. Behind and around him, behind and around me, the fully formed streets of my childhood soon will stand, birthed out of the ruins of the southernmost town like a still-born giantess, a puppet of calcified dreams and bone, pulled into unwanted existence by the strings of someone else’s desire. This, this is my mother’s endless suffocating desire, slowing time down around us, winding it back, back, until it becomes the amber-boned river in which I am always and only her little girl, eternal and alone.

I place the blue pen at the small pale circle of my throat.

I can stop time, too.

Livia Llewellyn is a writer of horror, dark fantasy and erotica, whose fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. Her first collection, Engines of Desire: Tales of Love & Other Horrors, published in 2011 by Lethe Press, received two Shirley Jackson Award nominations for Best Collection and Best Novelette. Her story “Furnace” received a 2013 SJA nomination for Best Short Fiction.