Friday, November 29, 2019

November News

Hello, friends! I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and your tryptophan hangover is not too terrible.

This month, my new poetry chapbook, HIGH WATER LINES, was released by Prolific Press!

From the publisher: High Water Lines is a swan song for the American dream, where the notion persists that anyone can still pull themselves up by the bootstraps to escape poverty. This is a collection of poems for the working poor, especially those that dwell in the places deemed “flyover country.” These poems are for anyone who has ever had to pick up and move to chase a job or escape eviction, for anyone who has ever had to punch a time clock or bust their hump for a measly tip, for anyone seeking a better life in another country, for anyone who is one emergency away from homelessness.

Copies are available on the Prolific website. If you read it, as always, reviews and feedback are much appreciated!

I am also thrilled to share that my poem, "Comfort Animals," was the first-place winner of the Seamus Burns Creative Writing Competition (Northern Ireland). I am touched, honored, elated, humbled, to name a few. Thank you so much to Judge Colin Dardis for choosing my poem as the winning piece, and congratulations to my fellow poets! It will be published in the upcoming issue of The Honest Ulsterman. In the meantime, you can check out a video of me reading the poem on the Verbal Arts Centre’s Facebook page here.

I would like to say thank you to KC Reach Out and Read for inviting me to read at their Librarian’s Happy Hour event. I wrote some original poems for the occasion, “The Page” and “Suburban Library,” which have been posted on KC Reach Out and Read’s blog here.

I received a new five-star review on my horror novella, Our Miss Engel. Amazon reader Red Butler calls it "A real dark old-school creep." So pleased you enjoyed, reader!

And finally, I am pleased to share that I almost have a complete first draft of Going Forth by Day, the last book of The Order of the Four Sons series. My goal was to have a rough draft completed by the end of the year. I don’t know if I’m going to quite make it, but I’ll be so close, I won’t feel bad. Look for a sneak peek next month.

Thank you so much for reading! Happy Holidays to everyone!

Thursday, October 31, 2019

October News

Happy Halloween and Feliz dia de los Muertos, my friends! I am happy to share my October news with you. First, my new chapbook, High Water Lines, will be released by Prolific Press on November 15! Check out the cover art!

My poem, “Comfort Animals,” has been shortlisted for the Seamus Burns Creative Writing Competition out of Derry-Londonderry (Northern Ireland)! Congratulations to my fellow poets, and big thanks to Judge Colin Dardis. Winners have not yet been announced, so please keep your fingers crossed!

I received a lovely email from the editor at The Wild Word. They had wanted to nominate my poem, “Return,” for a Best of the Net, which would be my third nomination this year. Unfortunately, the poem was published outside the eligibility window. So the editor plans to nominate it for other awards. She said, “Not only was it a favourite of mine but was also a poem that I received most comments on recently," which is wonderful to hear.

On the publication front, the latest issue of Barren Magazine is out, themed "Bifurcate." Thank you to editor Madeleine Corley for including my poem, “Hoop Dreams.”

This month saw the inaugural issue of Doubleback Review. It's a pretty cool concept-- they give space to pieces that are previously published in magazines that are no longer available. I love the idea of breathing new life into old work. Big thanks to editors Krista Cox and Anna Black for including my poems, “The Minotaur’s Daughter” and “West Side Girl.”

The latest issue of CultureCult out of India is now live! Many thanks to editor Jay Chakravarti for including my poems, "Past Life as a Man" and "Chthonic."

Finally, if you’re in the Kansas City area, I will be the featured poet next Monday evening at the KC Reach Out and Read event, hosted by Our Daily Nada! This is an RSVP event, so if you’d be interested in attending, please let me know, and I’ll shoot you an e-vite.

In honor of the season, I shared my horror story, "The Seven Wives of Richard Copeland." Be sure to check it and my other free spooky tales here

Thank you, as always, for reading! I am filled with gratitude for the outpouring of support for my work. Wishing you all a safe and fun holiday!

Friday, October 4, 2019

Short Story: The Seven Wives of Richard Copeland

This story, inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's Pickman's Model, originally appeared in the January 2018 edition of Schlock! (UK), then later in their quarterly anthologyHappy Halloween and Feliz Dia de los Muertos!

Untitled by Zdzislaw Beksinski

Whenever you tell people you majored in art history, you get responses like, “What do you do with that?” Like there aren’t people with law degrees working at Starbucks. And sure, after I graduated, I waffled a bit. I half-heartedly applied for a few MFA programs, though I’ve never felt particularly called to academia. I did some internships at museums. I was never a gallerista, but I was a gallerista’s assistant, scheduling private viewings and ordering office supplies. I knew how to hustle, though-- y’know, play the numbers. Show up to enough openings in the right little black dress and something’s bound to happen.
That’s not to say I don’t care about the art—I do. From a very young age, I knew I wanted to spend my life in palaces of marble and diffuse lighting, to visit crumbling cities where the Michaelangelos and the Dalis of the world once walked. I’m the daughter of two artists, you see, and when you’re born into La Vie Boheme, baby, there’s no gettin’ out.
My mother named me Eva after her great friend Eva Hesse, who died the year before I was born. Like my namesake, my mother was primarily a sculptor. The circumstances under which she and my father met varied depending on Dad’s mood, but he stuck to the same story about her bailing when I was eighteen months old. There was no news of her through the network of artists and mutual acquaintances. Apparently, she’d gotten heavily into Buddhism. Dad’s theory is that she immigrated to some Asian country and is presumably applying her postminimalist sensibilities to a Zen garden somewhere. I think my father was more upset about her abandoning art than he was about her abandoning us.
Dad was a painter and sometime drug dealer—mostly weed and the occasional mushrooms, though he worked menial jobs in warehouses or restaurants. We had a place near the art school. Frequently, he let the students pay for their taquitos in trade. The walls of our tiny house were constantly crammed with paintings, drawings, collages, dioramas, you name it. The shelves were cluttered with sculptures and figurines. We lived and breathed it. If we could’ve eaten it, we would’ve been as fat as a pair of Botero figures. (Desperate for grocery money, I started holding porch sales when I was seven.) The house was always filled with artists, with the hippie funk of pot, cloves, coffee, books, turpentine and oils. We spent our weekends at art fairs and festivals, our summers tooling around in a rust-bucket old Buick, doing the whole circuit thing with fold-up display easels and a little cash box. The few girlfriends my father had lived similar rambling existences, selling their bead-and-wire jewelry or hand-thrown earth-tone pottery.
All this hammered home the first lesson: Art is Holy. It is the highest pursuit. Corollary to that, I learned that we do whatever we have to in pursuit of art. And corollary to that, I knew I wanted more than just a tiny rented bungalow, more in my cupboards than packets of Top Ramen.
Of course, I dabbled. For every Christmas and birthday, I was given art supplies. I sketched and played with watercolors and even tried my hand at carving. I wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t good, either. Or at least, not good enough.
I knew art’s power. One of the few pieces of my mother’s that Dad kept was a surprisingly traditional oil painting, with the surprisingly traditional subject of Salome holding St. John the Baptist’s head on a platter. Mom had painted it as an undergrad at NYU. It was a really beautiful piece, but it hung in the hallway right outside my bedroom. As a little girl trying to go to sleep, I couldn’t bear to look at that bloody, severed head, (not knowing the story, I thought the woman in the painting had eaten, or was planning to eat, the man’s body), so Dad took it down. But I understood, even back then, that this was what art was meant to do: to invoke a dramatic response in the viewer. I never mastered that skill; I was never able to invoke that power. And I knew I never would.  
So at eighteen, I set out, armed with a scholarship to Wash U, intent upon the holy pursuit, willing to do whatever I needed to do to be a good little acolyte.  
During my junior year, Dad died of a sudden heart attack. He went just as he would’ve wanted to go—at his easel. After a few days of being unable to reach him, his friends broke into the house and found him on the floor in a spill of paint. I came home and saw to the arrangements, because there was no one else.

That was a quarter of a century ago. It’s a different world now. Artists can sell their own work directly online, or join retail platforms where they can hawk on-demand prints and merchandise. Many cities have regular art events. Fan art has gone mainstream. Very few need a go-between anymore.
But there’s still a need for people like me. There are still collectors who want the real deal. There are still people willing to commission work from artists they believe in, or deeply admire, or simply wish to invest in because they expect the art to appreciate in value.
I learned at my father’s knee about technique, about the earmarks of the artist’s work. I have an eye for authenticity. I have an eye for talent. I won’t deal in dreck. The Thomas Kincaides and Margaret Keanes of the world can fuck off. On art, I am uncompromising.
On morality, I am imminently flexible.
When I was twenty-six, I got my first break. I brokered a five-figure deal between an artist and a buyer. Chump change to some, I know, but I used my fee to get a slightly less used car. Within a year, I was making trips to New York to make purchases. After that, it seemed the world opened up: London, Paris, Mexico City, Sao Paolo, Kunming. I’ve made and maintained many connections over the years, some perfectly reputable and above-board; others, less so.  
Five years into my career, I had an apartment in oh-so trendy Soho. Seven years into my career, I hooked up with a guy named Ignacio Baldonado, or Iggy, as he prefers to be called. It might even be the name his parents gave him, but I doubt it. He was only thirty-seven, but had the urbane appeal of a much older man. His clothing was subtle, always immaculately tailored. Ditto his watches, his sunglasses, even his fedoras-- an item that has a high potentiality for douchiness, but somehow, he made it work. Not that it mattered how moneyed up he’d become. I knew a hustler when I saw one. Of course I would; we were alike, he and I.
Iggy’s appearance and accent are very nondescript—he’s got olive skin and dark hair (or at least, it was dark when we met—it’s gone fully gray since then). Which is to say, he blends in virtually anywhere in the world. In the US, it’s assumed he’s Latino. Outside the US, he’s mistaken for Italian, French, Jewish, Roma, Spanish, Middle Eastern. That sort of unobtrusiveness is invaluable in his line of work. Iggy is fluent in five languages and conversational in about half a dozen more. More importantly, he has ways of tracking down rare or ‘lost’ pieces that collectors will pay top dollar for. He’s an absolute bloodhound when it comes to digging up all there is to be dug on our clients, and I feel so lucky to have him, I wouldn’t dream of questioning his methods. After a few collaborations and a very brief affair, we formally became business partners.
We are not members of any professional associations. We do not hand out business cards. Our client roster was built entirely by word of mouth. We are discreet and creative. 
Mainly, we acquire art for people who wish to remain anonymous. They pay in cash or wire transfers from offshore accounts. Drug lords with Patagonian villas, elderly Mafiosos in Agrigento, Kyodai up-and-comers with spacious Tokyo penthouses to deck out.
And then, we buy for rich Americans and Europeans who don’t care to go through more conventional channels—bargain hunters, in other words, who are even less particular than I am about how we round up their coveted Pollacks and Picassos, their Warhols and Basquiats.
Now, I am forty-six, though Iggy tells me I still look thirty. Iggy is fifty and starting to curb his globe-trotting ways, taking longer and longer respites in the south of France, letting his underlings do more and more of the heavy lifting.
So when I was contacted by the office of a Mr. Richard Copeland, a man I’d never heard of, with a request for an in-person meeting, I naturally asked Iggy to work his usual magic. A few days later, he brought me one of the skimpiest profiles he’d ever compiled. Mr. Copeland, age seventy-six, wife (Bethany), two kids (Isaac and Leah). Kept his permanent residence in Blue Springs, Missouri, not half an hour from the house where I grew up. Inherited meat-packing money, invested and diversified. The usual things: real estate, defense, medical technology, resorts, a fashion line, a few cruise ships. Besides the house in Blue Springs, he had homes in Aspen and Palm Beach.
Iggy, who was usually quick to tease me (gently) about being a girl from flyover cow-town nowheresville, whose Midwest drawl still creeps now and then into her speech, had no jokes to crack. Instead, he put his hand on mine and said in his own inscrutable accent, “Eva, let me come with you.”
I laughed. “Thanks, but I think I can handle some Warren Buffett type.” And that’s exactly what I pictured too, cowboy boots and an ancient Chevy pickup, as American as Jesse James and probably just as big a thief.
“He lives in a cave,” Iggy said.
“A cave?”
He nodded and pulled up the location on Google Earth. “See?”
I’d been picturing a McMansion in the suburbs, or possibly a quiet ranch in the hills, with horses and a chicken coop. Instead, the map showed the address to be outside the Blue Springs city limits, at least ten miles away from anything. The street view showed an empty stretch of two-lane highway, a perfectly normal looking mailbox, and a driveway that disappeared into a bluff.
I shrugged. “Missouri’s full of caves. I’ve heard of people building homes in them before. There’s even a whole underground business park.”
It was true. I also remembered a time when old missile silos had enjoyed a brief popularity out in western Kansas. People bought them and converted them into luxury homes. I didn’t see how a cave was so different from that, or from those earth berms that had been so popular in the seventies.
Iggy laughed uneasily. “It just seems weird to me, living underground.”
“It’s tornado alley. When a twister hits, it’s the safest place to be.”

I still had plenty of friends back in KC, so I planned to stay a few days. I booked a room on the Plaza, met up with folks for meals and drinks, and made my usual pilgrimages to the Nelson-Atkins and the Kemper. I went by the old house, too. It had since passed through the hands of several landlords and property management companies, and was even more rundown than when Dad and I had lived there. I’d kept a lot of my dad’s art and distributed the rest among friends. Some of it, I had on display in my home, the rest in storage. My mother’s painting hung on the wall in my office.
When the time came for me to meet up with Mr. Copeland, I drove my rental car east out of the city. It was a lovely spring afternoon, and I was awash in the golden glow of nostalgia.
So there was no reason, absolutely no reason at all, for me to feel a chill as I turned where the GPS directed me, exiting I-70 and following a series of winding back roads until I saw the lone mailbox.
I turned into the driveway, which stretched back through a copse of trees to the bluff. There were windows carved out of the limestone, and a rolling metal door. There was a security device in the overhang, where I pulled up and rang the buzzer. A voice asked me to identify myself. After I held my ID up to the camera, the voice said, “Please pull forward.”
Inside was a garage with a pristine sealed concrete floor and a row of vehicles: SUVs, both new and vintage sports cars, and yes, a truck. A Dodge, though, not a Chevy.
I got out of the car and a woman in her thirties greeted me. I assumed she was Copeland’s assistant. “Hello,” she extended her hand to shake. “I’m Sarah, we spoke on the phone.”
Her hand was warm and smooth as I clasped it. “Nice to meet you.”
She smiled, a bleached-white smile straight out of a Colgate ad. “We thought you might enjoy a quick tour before Richard joins us.”
“That’d be lovely, thank you.”
She led me through a metal door, up a staircase and into an entryway. It was like stepping into the lobby of a fancy hotel. The floor and walls were the natural, polished limestone, glittering with ore deposits. The ceiling soared twenty feet overhead, bare and white but for an immense Calder mobile. But even that paled in comparison with the centerpiece of the room: a natural waterfall spilling from a fissure in one of the walls, lush with vegetation, almost obscene in its twilit Arcadian greenness. Discreet, museum-quality overheads, combined with the windows I’d seen from outside, let in the most perfect light. There were paintings on the walls, Chagall, Modigliani, Franz Marc, mixed in with Japanese woodcuts and Flemish tapestries. Elegant little tables were platforms for Moores and Duchamps, as well as ancient statuary. There was Anubis, sleek and black, and a wonderful, freestanding marble Cerberus that stood at about hip height, curly-furred, and so purely Hellenistic. I could well imagine what all this cost, even at black market prices, and my curator’s heart went into palpitations, wondering how all these pieces would fare long-term with the moisture from the waterfall.
The house was over 10,000 square feet, my guide told me. She showed me the living areas, some of the guest bedrooms and baths. There was a hydroponics area where they grew vegetables, as well as indoor gardens nourished by skylights, with more fountains and pools. And everywhere, more impressive and eclectic pieces of art. Of course, most of the rooms didn’t have windows or any sort of natural light, but the place was so gorgeously appointed, you’d never notice.
At last, Mr. Copeland joined us. I was a bit surprised to see him kiss Sarah. It was more than friendly, his lips lingering very close to the corner of her mouth. My eyes skipped down to their hands—both were wearing wedding rings. Iggy’s file had said the wife’s name was Bethany, hadn’t it? It was inconceivable to me that Iggy could be wrong about something so basic.
Copeland himself didn’t look a day over fifty, tall, with silver hair and a silver beard, his face appealingly rugged and weather beaten (all that skiing in Aspen, swimming in Palm Beach). His clothes were understated and casual and no doubt his shoes alone cost as much as my first car. He greeted me warmly. “Ms. Peters, I’m so glad you’re here. We were hoping you could join us for an early dinner.”
By that point, I was so thoroughly bewitched by this temple of his, by this sanctuary of holy items, of course I said yes.
“Did you enjoy the tour?” he inquired as he led me to the dining room, his arm slung casually around Sarah’s waist.
“Oh, yes,” I said happily, and extolled, at some length, the virtues of his collection.
He laughed. “Oh, I can’t take credit for much of it. Sarah here does the lion’s share of acquiring and arranging. My tastes are actually quite different.” Taking Sarah’s hand in his, he kissed it. She laughed prettily and blushed.
I was careful not to react. “Oh?”
But that line of conversation was interrupted as we arrived in a spacious dining room—and it was a good thing that it was spacious. There was something of a small crowd gathered: four other women and two children.
All the women were so much like Sarah that, for a moment, I wondered if I was disrupting some sort of family visit. But that was silly—if that were the case, they wouldn’t have invited me, right? But now, Sarah went to stand with the others. They were so alike, it was eerie, almost disorienting. All five women were slim, blond, tanned, in their thirties. But more than that, all five wore variations of the same business suit; all five had the exact same haircut, earlobe-length, straight and glossy, with a deep right part. All five wore identical gold wedding bands.
Feeling somewhat dazed, I glanced at the children in their midst. Two little girls, one about seven, the other maybe nine: miniature versions of their-- mothers? Caretakers? Though their hair was long, secured with headbands. They wore pretty little spring dresses and ballet flats, peering up at me solemnly.
Copeland took his place at the head of the table. “Ms. Peters, this is my family. Of course, you’ve met Sarah. And this is Rachel, Hannah, Abby, and Ruth.” In turn, each of the women nodded, smiling, to me. “And this is Chloe and Dinah.” The little girls nodded as well. The younger one waved.
All Biblical names, I noted. There’s a large Mormon population in Kansas City, and I wondered if they were some quiet offshoot that kept to their polygamist roots. I donned my professional face, the one I wear with drug dealers and ultra-right conservatives. You don’t succeed at my job by showing disapproval, judgment or fear. Besides, I’d grown up around Rennies and Wiccans, for whom nontraditional cohabitation arrangements are just part of the scenery. It was curious, though, that the house didn’t exactly scream Jesus-lover to me. I’d seen no crosses mounted anywhere, no religious paintings on the walls. The only Christian artifact I’d seen, in fact, had been a 13th century ivory reliquary.
Whatever their deal was, it was none of my damn business, especially since everyone at the table seemed to be there of their own free will. In fact, the women did all the chatting while Copeland looked affectionately on.
We passed a pleasant hour swapping travel reminisces while a silent domestic in black slacks and a white button-down served the meal. There was a green salad, followed by bourbon-pecan chicken, whipped potatoes and fresh sourdough rolls. Wine was offered for the adults (definitely not Mormon), and iced tea for the girls. For dessert, there was coffee and an assortment of fruit crepes to choose from.
It wasn’t until the meal wound down and the plates were cleared away that Copeland stood up. “Well, let’s get to business, shall we?”
“You bet.” I rose, too. I thanked the women for being such good hostesses, and followed Copeland where he beckoned—down a long hallway, past the kitchen, to what felt like a back door (it’s extraordinary how underground one loses all sense of direction).
“I want to show you what I think of as my gallery,” he said as he opened it. “My collection.”
The door revealed a metal staircase leading down. Automatic lights came on, revealing the steps before us. There was a muted rushing sound nearby. Must be the river that feeds the waterfall, I thought. The walls and ceiling that I could see were untouched here—just the rough underbelly of the bluff.
I’d only been in a cave once before. When I was a kid, one of our summer sojourns had taken us through Camdenton, and my father took me on a tour of Bridal Cave. The scent here reminded me of it, that strong, damp, mineral odor; dispelled from the main house, no doubt, by a state-of-the-art air purification system. With each successive flight, it grew noticeably cooler. By the time we’d gone down about sixty steps, my arms had broken out into gooseflesh. At the bottom, the limestone floor was swept clean, its surface uneven beneath the soles of our shoes. A few steps out into the darkness, and we tripped another motion sensor. Lights blazed on, illuminating a crude stone archway, beyond which lay Mr. Copeland’s gallery.
The room was sort of a natural rotunda. Six large paintings were suspended from the ceiling on display cables. Copeland hung back, watching me as I paced slowly up and down, taking them in. The settings, to my eye, all appeared to be darkly romantic dreamscapes: a churchyard, a dark forest, a seaside cliff, a brick tunnel, a very old paneled room, a crumbling masonry vault. They were the sort of landscapes that would have excited the most demonic hallucinations in the imaginations of men like Blake and Coleridge, rendered in amazing photorealistic detail.
But the figures—God, the figures of these pieces, both human and inhuman. The artist had a real gift for facial expressions. They’d managed to convey both hellacious suffering and diabolical glee. The longer I looked at the images, the more unsettled I became. I’d dealt plenty of morbid art. I had a client in Wyoming who’d commissioned several works of Zdzislaw Beksinski before Beksinski’s death. The client had engaged me to procure one of the artist’s sketchbooks, as well as a painting that had survived that little bonfire back in ’77. Until now, I thought Beksinksi had painted the most nightmarish works I’d ever seen or ever would see. I’d viewed my share of Bosches, Dores, Munchs, Goyas. I’d grown up on ’80s horror flicks, H.R. Giger’s rubbery aliens, Freddy Krueger, The Thing. Even Ghostbusters’ demon dogs, in theory, should have been more disturbing than this—moving pictures versus these frozen compilations of pigment.
And yet, I knew art’s power. Here it was before me, using its mighty influence to drag to the fore all my most hidden and primal fears, to bend them into new and terrible shapes.
The painting of the churchyard was by far the worst. I found myself returning to it, unable to look away. It depicted a squatting circle of ghoulish, dog-like creatures. There was a blond child among them, a changeling. He sat cross-legged among the tombstones, learning to eat as the creatures ate, clutching a partially-gnawed limb to his face, his cheeks streaked with grave-dirt and gore and blood.
Copeland joined me, peering up at it. “This one’s called The Lesson.”
“Who’s the artist?”
“Richard Upton Pickman.”
I shook my head. “Never heard of him.”
“I didn’t expect you would. As you can see, he was technically very brilliant. For a time, he was a major up-and-comer on the New England art scene, back in the ’20s. But when he started painting these, they shunned him. He’s since fallen into obscurity.”
“How did you hear of him?”
“My grandfather was originally from Boston. He passed away when I was twenty and left me this painting, along with the rest of my inheritance. I managed to acquire the rest over the years.”
“I’m sensing this is where I come in.”
Copeland smiled. “I’m looking for Pickman’s masterpiece, Ghoul Feeding.”
He described what he knew of it while I took some snapshots of his collection with my cell phone. Copeland brought a stepladder from under the staircase so I could climb up and examine more closely the artist’s brush style, his tiny signature on the back. The frames were all originals, Copeland said. Apparently, Pickman had mounted them all himself, so I made a note of that as well.
Copeland put a hand to the small of my back to help me down from the ladder—a courtly gesture. “You’re the ninth art dealer I’ve contacted to try and track it down. There’ll be no contract or anything, you understand.”
“I wouldn’t ask for one. That’s not how we do business.”
He nodded. “That’s what I’d heard. Find it, get it here, and I’ll pay whatever you think is fair. I am determined to complete the set.”
He extended his hand to shake, and I looked up into his face. Despite his expression, intent, serious, he was so normal, so wholesome-looking. I was about to ask him what it was he liked about these paintings, when I thought I heard something. A scratching in the walls, little claws skittering over stone.  
Looking over Copeland’s shoulder, I spotted a hole at the base of the gallery wall. I hadn’t noticed it before because, of course, my attention had been drawn elsewhere. The hole was about twenty inches tall, an almost perfect Alice in Wonderland doorway. Kansas City is a town marked by waters. I’d seen river rats the size of terriers and wasn’t eager to meet one from the other side of the looking glass.
“Did you hear that?” I asked.
Copeland cocked his head, listening. “I don’t hear anything.”
“I’d hate to think you had rats down here. What if they managed to get at the paintings, or the cables? I’ve heard they can chew through just about anything.”
“Oh, no,” Copeland laughed. “They’d trigger the lights, and I think that keeps them away.”
“If you don’t mind my asking, why do you keep your gallery down here, anyway?”
“Ambience,” he said jauntily and nodded for me to follow him back upstairs.

As soon as I got back to my hotel room, I called Iggy. He bore the news that he’d really screwed the pooch on this one good-naturedly enough. I’d meant it mostly as a joke, but I could tell it really bothered him.
“Don’t worry,” he assured me. “We’ll find the painting. I think a few million dollars in finder’s fees will be consolation enough.”
“For you and me both, Iggs,” I agreed.

A few months went by. I had uneasy dreams. At the time, I just chalked it up to the general weirdness of the situation—Copeland as a latter-day upscale Charlie Manson, ruler of his domain, surrounded by doting female sycophants.
But that wasn’t what filled my dreams. In the whole bizarre equation, Copeland, it seemed, upset me the least. And why not? Those paintings were the creepiest things I’d ever seen, and they’d been born from a human imagination. What wasn’t there to be disturbed about?
The thing was, the situation didn’t just haunt my dreams, but my days too. I found myself suddenly uncomfortable in dark, enclosed areas. I could scarcely even open a closet anymore without having my phone flashlight on, ready to shine it into the dark corners. I even took my mother’s painting down from where it had hung on my wall for the past fourteen years, and replaced it with a cheerful watercolor.
It’ll be all right when we get the job done, I told myself. We’ll find the painting, we’ll get it to Copeland, we’ll get paid, and that will be the end of it.

Iggy’s crew eventually tracked the painting down to a private residence in Austin.
“How long?” I asked when he told me.
“Another month, give or take.”

At the four-and-a-half-week mark, a very disheveled looking Iggy showed up on my doorstep. “Eva, there’s been some complications.”
He shook his head. “I’d rather not get into specifics, but one of my guys is gone.”
“Gone?” I breathed.
Going over to a chair, Iggy sat heavily down. “I still don’t have all the details, but we have the piece. It’s just not safe to move at this precise moment. But the other guy, he’s anxious to unload it. Call the client. Set a time for next week.”
“Aren’t you going to let me authenticate it first?”
“No need. It’s the real deal, just as the client described.”
“How can you be sure?”
“I saw it,” Iggy said with uncharacteristic shortness. “Just trust me on this. But when you deliver it, I’m going with you.”
“What’s going on?” I asked, alarmed.
He shook his head again. “It’s… I don’t know. It’s difficult to describe. The guy who has it now—well, you know none of my guys scare easily. But he says the painting scares him. He wants it gone.”
My stomach twisted as I stared at him. I’d never seen Iggy less than completely self-assured, he of the dapper Armanis and the eight-thousand-dollar Rolexes, never less than precise in his articulations. I did not recognize the stuttering mess before me.
“What happened to the other guy?” I asked.
For a moment, he put his head in his hands, ran his fingers through his hair. When he looked up at me, I noticed for the first time his eyes were bloodshot, and I knew without being told-- he hadn’t been sleeping either.
“Iggy?” I pressed. “The guy you lost—”
“He tried to burn it,” he said hollowly. “He tried to burn it, but he ended up burning himself instead.”

A few days later, the man who’d been holding the painting delivered it to my garage. Iggy and I had rented a U-Haul so we could drive it to KC, and the man wheeled it right into the back of the truck using an industrial moving dolly. Sweat stood out on his brow, and not from exertion.
The painting itself had been crated. It was large, eleven by six feet. Iggy’s guy didn’t wait around for me to open it, and all but ran back to his own vehicle as soon as the wheels on the casters had stopped turning. He got in his car and peeled out of there.

Even if we stopped as little as possible, it was basically a two-day drive. We didn’t sleep, and even waking felt like a dream. It was like transporting something incredibly toxic. It seemed to emit a low hum. You almost didn’t notice it at first, but it built over time, seeping through the vents in the cab of the truck, making our heads throb and our teeth ache. But we were in charge of the thing now. To just dump it by the side of the road would be to set it loose.  

It was night when we got to the Blue Springs exit. Our headlight beams illuminated the mailbox. We followed the driveway through the trees, and found the garage door standing open, waiting for us. 
We parked the U-Haul and got out. The air was dank and chilly. The cave smell, which had been absent from this area before, now pervaded the place. Iggy opened the trailer door and extended the ramp. Together, we wheeled the crate and its contents down onto the floor.
Though neither of us said it, I think we were pretty much ready to just leave it there on the doorstep and book. Copeland could wire us the money. Or not. It didn’t matter anymore.
But before we could close the trailer door, Sarah appeared, dressed as impeccably as she’d been before, despite the lateness of the hour. She clasped her hands together eagerly, blue eyes avid. “Ms. Peters,” she greeted. “Richard’s already down in the gallery, waiting for you. Would you like to bring the painting this way?”
Iggy and I exchanged a look. “Is that really necessary?” I asked.
“I know he’ll want to thank you in person. He’s so pleased you found it!” Reverently, she touched the crate. “We’re all just… so pleased.”
“How are we going to get it down there?”
“Oh, there’s a service elevator. Here, I’ll show you.”
Deep down, a part of me didn’t need persuading. I wanted to see the seven paintings together, the artist’s vision complete. Sometimes, art takes us to places where have no wish to go, but are inescapable. The subject insists upon the artist, and he must obey. Likewise, the viewer.
The elevator was in the back of the garage. Sarah selected Sub-Basement 4, and down we went. It opened into a semi-dark room. When we stepped out, I could see we were in the antechamber of Copeland’s gallery—the bit of light there was came from the lights on the stairs.
Copeland was there, waiting, along with his other four wives. His daughters, presumably, were upstairs in bed.
Now, he raised his fists, letting out what could only be described as a bellow, a sound of pure triumph. “Ahhhhh, let’s see it!”
We came forward with the crate. Iggy produced a crowbar to pry open the top. Copeland stepped forward to lift the painting from its Styrofoam packing. I could see where Iggy’s guy had tried to burn the thing—he’d succeeded in singeing the frame. But otherwise, the canvas itself was untouched.  
If Copeland noticed, he said nothing. He did not speak at all, just gazed at it for a time, tears gathering in his eyes. His wives crowded around, looking at it, and at him, adoringly, making little breathy noises of appreciation.
Pickman’s masterpiece was just as Copeland had described—a single, doglike creature, like those depicted in the rest of the ghoul pieces, only bigger. I realized, with a kind of sick jolt, that this was not art—this was, in fact, the opposite of art, some sort of blasphemy that I couldn’t even begin to describe to myself. I thought of my father, dead amidst the temperas. I thought of my mother somewhere, with a shaved head and a saffron robe, drawing patterns in the sand. What had they spent their lives trying to get at, trying to summon forth?
Iggy helped him take the thing over to the gallery, where the stepladder was already waiting. New cables had been installed in the ceiling, ready for mounting. The women followed. It was hard to pick out individual movements—they seemed to move as one.
The men got the painting hung among its brethren. As soon as it had settled into place, there was that scratching sound again. Much bigger claws than what I’d heard before, accompanied by growling.
For a moment, I stood, paralyzed with fear. Then I turned, intending to bolt for the stairs, but I found my way blocked by three of Copeland’s wives. The speed with which they’d shot past me was simply not human.
Behind me, Copeland said, “But you have to stay.”
“Yes,” Ruth added, flashing teeth as pearly-white as Sarah’s. “Now the gate will be open always.”
They pointed, and I turned to see the hole at the base of the wall. The scratching and growling grew louder, closer.
At last, in the opening, blond hair appeared, a face, then shoulders. It was a woman. She emerged, naked and streaked with dirt, her mouth smeared with blood.
“Dinah,” I whispered.
Close behind her, came the second. Chloe. Both her and her sister now fully mature. They looked around with gleaming red eyes and smiled, their teeth jagged and sharp as stalagmites.
“The boys never come back,” Copeland said. “Just the girls.”
Copeland’s wives advanced on us—there was no need to hurry. There was no way we could fight or outrun them, though Iggy had the crowbar still in hand. I was sure he had a gun on him somewhere, but I didn’t think it would do us any good.
Copeland shot me what was almost an apologetic smile. “They always come back hungry.” As he spoke, I realized he was standing by the light switch, and now, he flipped it off.

Enjoy this short story? Please take a moment and let me know in the comments. Also, be sure to check out other short writings here.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

September News

Hello, friends, and happy fall! After two years in Florida, I am thrilled to be back in a place with seasons-- especially autumn. I missed it most of all.

September has been a wonderful month. The news I am most excited to share is, I was selected to read with five other poets for the Woman Made Gallery's Reading Series in Chicago! Of course, I've read at many venues in the Kansas City area (my hometown), and in the Destin area, where I lived in Florida. This is the first time I actually traveled to do a reading. I was heckin' nervous, but I think the reading went well. I made some new friends, and I even sold some books!

There were readers from Texas and from the west coast, so I was not the only non-Chicago native in the lineup. I was also not the only person who was new to reading outside their city of residence, so that helped a lot!

The event was recorded, so I hope to have a link to a video to share soon. The gallery will also be displaying poems that the poets read, so if you're in the Chicago area, you can stop in and see my work in the gallery. I also highly recommend checking out the art-- as the name of the gallery implies, they display work by women and women-identifying artists. I had a chance to stroll through it before the reading and was blown away by the quality and variety of pieces.

I would like to extend my deepest thanks to gallery Nina Corwin, gallery curator, and the rest of the lovely staff and volunteers at the Woman Made Gallery. I am so grateful for the opportunity and the hospitality!

On the publication front, I am also pleased to share that I had some work accepted for the inaugural edition of Doubleback Review. I received this nice acceptance from their poetry editor, Anna Black:

Dear Lauren,

I'm excited to offer space to both "West Side Girl" and "Minotaur's Daughter" in our first issue of the Doubleback Review. I'm especially pleased to accept these poems. They do incredible work and the language is at once lively and at times surprising, as well as spot-on. I so loved reading your work and would welcome seeing it again at any time.

Thank you, Anna! I can't wait to see the issue when it goes live. Doubleback Review has a cool mission-- to publish work that previously appeared in now-defunct literary magazines. I absolutely love the idea of giving old work new life!

And finally, I would love to share that Allison Blevins, editor-in-chief at Harbor Review, has written a lovely review on my latest collection, Requiem for a Robot Dog, which she calls, "an epic of the everyday."

Read the full review here.

Requiem for a Robot Dog was published by Cajun Mutt Press. Paperback copies are available on Amazon.

Next month is October, my absolute favorite time of year. I plan on posting a horror story for your enjoyment. Thank you, as always, for reading! 

Friday, August 30, 2019

August News

Hello, friends! It’s hard to believe summer’s already coming to an end! I hope your summer was as restful or adventurous as you needed it to be and you’re ready for autumn. After two years in Florida where they don’t have autumn, I can’t wait for bright leaves, sweaters, and hot cocoa.

Here is my writerly news for August:

The first and biggest is that I have been nominated by TWO magazines for the Best of the Net! “The Water Station” was nominated by Editor Allison Blevins at The Harbor Review,

and “Without” was nominated by Editor Katie Manning and the rest of the team at Whale Road Review.

It’s an incredible honor just to be nominated. My deepest thanks to these editors for believing in my work, and congratulations to my fellow nominees!

On a bittersweet note, the anniversary edition of Voice of Eve magazine came out this month—unfortunately, it will be the last edition. My poem “Hirsute Woman,” was nominated by readers and selected by a panel of judges to be included in their farewell. My heartfelt thanks to the editors for being so wonderfully supportive of women writers. Read it at Issuu here.

On the usual publication front, I am pleased to be a part of the inaugural issue of Black Coffee Review, which includes my poem, "Nameless." Many thanks to editor Dave Taylor for launching this beautiful new literary site.

Strange Fruit: Poems on the Death Penalty is now available on Amazon as a paperback. An ebook is forthcoming. This new anthology includes my poems, "The Heart Goes Last" and "In Event of Moon Disaster." This is a subject I care deeply about. I encourage anyone interested in justice to give it a read. Thank you to editor Sarah Zale for compiling this timely collection.

My poem, “Empire of the Fireflies,” appeared on Silver Pinion. My thanks to editor D.C. Wojciech for sharing my work.

“Chasing Grace” appeared in the latest issue of Panoply. Thank you to editors Andrea, Jeff and Ryn.

Some new reviews have come in on my poetry books. A new 5-star review on Requiem for a Robot Dog on Amazon called it “intelligent and thought-provoking.”

A 5-star review on West Side Girl & Other Poems on Goodreads said, “The whole book is a studio of canvases showing all the sides of life.”

Thank you to these kind readers for taking the time to leave feedback.

And finally, I am thrilled to share that I will be reading my poetry in Chicago next month! I have been invited to the Woman Made Gallery's Consumerism and the Stuff of Consumption event on September 22 at 2 p.m. If you’re in the Chicago area, I hope you stop by!

Thank you for reading! Hope you have a great Labor Day weekend!