2 Sentence Horror Story

Have some microfiction!

One of the symptoms of sleep paralysis is the sensation of a creature sitting on your chest. Please tell me what it means when I wake up in the morning and it’s still there.

Essay, Writing Tips

How to Bake a Poem

Photo: :: An awesome #cake for my awesome husband. A layered devil's food cake with chocolate buttercream and some chocolate sprinkles for the numbers. So decadent.

Standing over the breakfast nook in my kitchen, I considered blowing my nose but didn’t. I was afraid that if I did I would probably scream. Because what would have come out on the tissue would have probably been brown.

At that point, I had used the following ingredients: boiling water, sour cream, all-purpose flour, cake flour, eggs, egg yolks, cocoa (Dutch-processed and a small mountain of it — hence that fear of ol’ poo nose), oil, salt, dark brown sugar and probably a few other small ingredients I am leaving out now, the night after, as I sit clean in my room and away from the kitchen table. The slab.

Yesterday morning, before I took to the operating room, I drove through the city to a class I am taking at a community center. Every Saturday for six weeks, I meet with a group of women – all ages, all backgrounds, all types and shapes and sizes, all interesting – and we write. Poetry, mostly, intermingled with some brief essay prose. And we share.

I come back to writing poetry relatively frequently because it is nothing like writing prose. That sounds very simple, but when you write fiction more than anything else, poetry is like this refreshing palate-cleanser. Gourmet sorbet.

After class, back at the laboratory, as I started the process of combining three bowls of different ingredients in varied elemental states, I recalled how once upon a time I never thought much when someone asked me to bake a cake. I’d make sure I had eggs and oil, then I’d go to a store for a mix and some frosting. It didn’t even have to be a grocery store. You can get cake mix from the right gas station, if you know where to look. Everything went into a bundt pan – because that’s all I had – and then it got put in the oven, took a slathering of cream cheese/chocolate/sprinkle-laden sugar sauce and voila. Happy birthday.

As soon as I was halfway through the cake – the from-scratch, from-the-tiniest-little-nothing forward – I wished I was back at class. That I could have been “stuck” there, writing all day. My mind drifted to years and years before. I started writing poetry right before I began high school. It was my first publishing credit, and I found myself going, “Good poetry is, like, super easy. Why doesn’t everyone do this?” And I wrote some real stinkers.  If they weren’t horribly depressing, they were overloaded with wretched sentimentality (not the interesting emotional bits of living, but the cloyingly sweet stuff that coats the inside of your mouth and refuses to wash away).

It hit me today, after the cake was done, after I had frosted it (which is another production in and of itself) and tasted it (it was wonderful and decadent and moist and delicious), that writing poetry and baking cake are actually very similar. You can just do it and end up with something edible…or you can take the time to learn about the things that go into it and end up with something really remarkable in the end. And then even when it’s exhausting and you’re not sure what exactly you’re doing, and at some point during it you are pretty certain you’ve screwed up royally, it all comes together.

Or it doesn’t, and that’s okay, too.

Fiction, Writing


The porcelain figurine is somersaulting through the air. It’s a little boy wearing glockenspiel. The mallets in his chubby hands are positioned at right angles, about to come down to peeng-pong against the bars. His eyes are wide, his smile jovial, when his head is smashed in by the wall.

“I always hated these fucking Hummels,” my sister Harry says, picking up a little Heidi-looking shepherd girl.

“I always hated you!” I say. I wheeze. I’ve been smoking all day. Just because I wanted to know what it felt like. My lungs feel like they’ve been wrung out, like they’re soggy, nasty dish sponges.

That makes her laugh, short and loud. Her arm winds up and she lets go. The antique rolls off her fingers, though, and arcs to the floor instead of the wall, bouncing a few times on the carpet. I look out the window. “It’s getting shitty out there.”

For a few seconds, we are both quiet as we stare outside. The wind is getting harder, making the leaves go white as they flip over. They think it’s just a storm coming. They are sadly mistaken.

The sky is softly glowing with purple light. It makes me think of those skeezy lounges you see in ’70s and ’80s movies, where there’s frosted glass and violet backlighting and white leisure suits.

I break the silence. “What band will you miss not having seen live?”

Harriet walks into the kitchen and pulls out a stack of plates with one hand. They immediately tip and shatter on the floor, loud. She yells over the impact, “Dave Matthews Band. You?”

“Uh, lame.” I take a sip from a cloyingly sweet wine cooler. I would have been 21 in seven months if all this weren’t happening. “Radiohead.”

She disappears into the other room, then reappears. “Fuck. I was going to turn on OK Computer, but I forgot there isn’t any power.”

I laugh, tipsy. “Seriously? You forgot?”

The news reported what was happening two days ago. I was at school, and Harry was living with her loser boyfriend. We both came home, to the carcass of the house that belonged to our parents. And we cried. A lot and for a long time. Until the power went out, then we screamed.

Our parents had gone off to backpack in Europe. No contact.

Harry’s boyfriend had just never come back to their apartment. When we finally calmed down and realized that the world wasn’t ending, like, at that exact moment, she called him and left this long, horrible voicemail, full of all the terrible things she thought about him and probably a few she hadn’t thought until the moment he left her alone, when the rogue star was going to destroy the Earth.

“I couldn’t be there, all alone. How depressing would that have been?”

She sits down on the floor next to me. Her long legs stretch out to what looks like a foot past mine. She’s a loose ragdoll, all of her destructive energy spent. Outside, something cracks and falls over. I wonder if there are other people, in their houses, doing what we’re doing.

“It’s like we’re all in the Titanic,” I say. “All the lifeboats are gone. Now we’re just…afloat.”

The house sways for a moment, and we grab each other’s hands, so tight I make a little squeal between my teeth. But then it stops, so we let go.

Harry says something, a little too quietly and mumbly for me to hear. I elbow her. “Do what now?”

“Did you mean what you said?” she asks again, louder. She presses the heels of her hands against her forehead and pushes her red hair back. Her skin is speckled with freckles. I used to think they looked awful when we were younger but now I am jealous. Because I am pale, and my red hair is so dark it’s pretty much just a flavor of brown. “That you’ve always hated me.”

I don’t entirely remember saying that, but I do give it some thought. “No. I mean, you were a brat when we were growing up. You made things a lot harder for me than they could have been. But I think that’s what sisters do. At least sisters that have relationships with one another anyway.”

She nods. “I guess. I could have been nicer.”

“You could have been a LOT nicer.”

“Okay, okay, shut up.”

In one of the back rooms, a window breaks, and I can just make out a faint roar beyond the expanse of our neighborhood, our town, our county. I try to pop my ears, thinking it’s the pressure changing, but it’s getting harder to breathe.

Harry gets up and pulls me to my feet. “Come on. I’m tired. Let’s go to bed.”

We both stumble down the hall – the walls are shaking, and in their foundation, I’m sure they’re buckling and breaking – and go into what used to be our shared room. We close the door, and somehow it feels like it makes everything that’s happening a little more dull. Like we’re away from it, in here.

I start getting into the bed as Harry closes the blinds. There’s still that glow, that strange lavender star, but the room looks bright in a way that to our eyes seems natural. Like when you wake up the morning after it snows, and the sun is bouncing off the sugar coating of winter.

“Hey, man,” she says, as I’m about to get comfortable. “Take your shoes off.”

I roll my eyes, let my head loll back and groan. “Seriously?”

“Seriously. It’s nasty, you turd.”

I kick off my converse and get under the covers before my toes get cold. Harry gets in behind me. My eyes are wide open, staring at the ceiling. I feel like I’m in middle school again. The room is practically untouched, and there are pictures of bands from the nineties and a movie poster for Beauty and the Beast. I grab one of a dozen teddy bears that are against the wall and curl into a ball.

“Thanks for staying and hanging out,” I hear Harry say into my hair. She has the tail of my shirt in one hand, and she pulls it when something loud crashes outside.

The bed is warm, and I squeeze my eyes shut. “Thanks for showing me where Mom and Dad kept their old wine coolers.”

“No problem.” She has yanked the blanket over our heads. I feel weightless in the dark.

“Goodnight!” she yells over the din of destruction.