A certain threshold of insolence became breached each time Mary returned to the wooden stool in Mrs. Filburn’s diminutive kitchen, her slight, pre-teen body suspended many fathoms above the newspaper and dirt flooring. When this moment arose on one callously opaque, August evening, it teased and fluttered before pouring out onto Mary’s cheeks and the curled edges of her bronze, bowl-cut hair.
Evelyn sat atop the counter across from Mary as she always did, and ate using each of her hands as if the tiny wafers would push back and spurn those who failed to show appropriate enthusiasm and gratitude.
“You realize that you ruin the occasion every time you fall apart like that,” Evelyn managed, her mouth gagged by golden bread.
Mary hurried her breathing and scrubbed her cheeks with the backs of her wrists in vain efforts to appease her co-diner.
She climbed up on the counter and sat peering out of a tattered window for meddlesome onlookers, or god-forbid, a hysterical Mrs. Filburn stumbling around in her wooden clogs after unraveling the riddle posed by the unwanted, unseen scourges marauding through her cedar cabinets.
“I reckon you won’t agree,” Mary said into the window, “but it’s a terrible thing for fat-ankle Filburn that we’ve met and made friends and all. Maybe she could have a little less muck to sift through if…y’know…if we caught a mucus bug in our chests and could never come outside again to shoot slugs at her grimy little pond toads, and cut up our tummies crawlin’ through her windows and fucked-up screen doors and…”
Her voice trailed off gently as she coldly slapped her pale hands on the counter for Evelyn to toss her another biscuit.
“You know where Filburn goes out this time of night, Eve, don’t you?”
“And why the hell would I?” Evelyn answered, gathering her golden-brown locks on top of her now tear-dampened, tan face.
“She waddles herself over to that big, fat church sittin’ beside the bus stop that smells like onions and goat piss.”
Evelyn palmed a biscuit and bounced it off the window into Mary’s lap.
“I bet she gets down on her knees up there.” She said. “I’ll bet she begs and pleads too, y’know, for sumthin’ pretty to happen. I haven’t never been one to lose myself that way about anything or anyone, and I’d hate myself the moment I ever did.”
“It’s damn worrisome,” Mary said, raking at a prying fire ant skulking across the counter.
“How looking up so hard gets you off your balance. But I’m not too much like you, though. I do like to feel like there’s a God sometimes, and I can’t really keep from it, so it’s not like I’m super faithful or anything. It gets into your blood when you’re real young and it sticks in there. And when people like me and Mrs. Filburn have that shit come tumbling apart, or even if it frays a little at the edges, we go batshit. We snap. I know I for damn sure will.”
A bright light flashed through the window and into the dimly-lit room as Mary became gripped by a fit of mirth, her body crumpling with the coughs and wheezes shoving through the grin spread across her face. Within the frame of the window, a tall, willowy man dressed in all black stepped out of an old ‘66 Camaro flanked by a freckle-faced altar boy whom Mary recognized as Mrs. Filburn’s nephew, and ol’ Mrs. Filburn herself, swollen ankles and all.
“They’ve…they’ve come to see about the ghosts,” Mary said through her cackling.
Evelyn clawed and shoved her way around Mary and balanced herself on the counter using her threadlike arms, her lips and nose pressed against the window glass.
“You think she thinks she’s got a ghoul?” she asked.
“Well hell, her frogs are always split open,” Mary said, “and her biscuits are always eaten with nary a two-barrel or a greedy mouth in sight…you don’t go and get a holy man for just any old serial intruders.”
The girls sat with their arms wrapped around their knees while another pair of vehicles kicked up a cloud of dust, filing into the front lawn one behind another.
“I’d think for what it’s worth,” Evelyn said, “That if they’d met us, they’d think we’re pretty damn good ghosts. We don’t hurt nothin’, ‘cept for that one real mean woman that roughed you up for your stamps once…the ugly one with a cauliflower ear that bloodied up your cheek and pushed you down. Just full of nothin’ but meanness, that woman.”
“I know,” Mary moaned, “But that slug almost damn there kissed her on the lips, Eve. And that nasty cauliflower ear got popped all over my blouse while half the girl’s face took to peeling off as she turned tail, letting off tears like a spigot…goddamn blast was so loud I could hardly hear her screamin’ at us, wishin’ us eternal death, and malignant, labia tumors, and slimy, coffee-colored teeth…
For godsakes, stop excusing. We’re not no good.”
Evelyn stepped down from the counter, grabbing Mary by the hands as voices begun floating from the rear of the cabin. “Get your goddamned, old, mopey self up, now,” she demanded, “my ass stays tender much worse than yours and I ain’t gettin’ lashed today, or any other day, now that I think of it,” but Mary wouldn’t move. A few warm pecks on the knuckles flushed heaps of blood into Mary’s buttery cheeks, but still no progress.
In an angry huff, Evelyn yanked her dogged friend down off the counter, and with a blood-curdling whack, Mary’s body splattered clumsily onto the grubby floor.
Spurred by the ruckus, each door of the cabin opened its arms to clergy and laymen well-armed and ready to perform their civic duty. The unsettled eyes of Mrs. Filburn, the holy man and his brethren converged on the pile of pre-pubescent girls as Mary pulled her purple t-shirt over her brow, all the while wriggling her fingers and moaning with eerie menace at the party of hooligan hunters.
–Foreground art by Dia Takácsová
–Background art by Bostjan Tacol