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Story by Christopher Locke (Read author interview) March 21, 2016

Art by Alexander C. Kafka

EXHIBIT #1 The first night in our new house, I had a dream about a woman who lived under the floor. She smelled raw, and cried as she pulled her body between the wide pine planks. I wanted to help her but felt that would be rude somehow. She quieted when she took me outside the house, which miraculously looked exactly like the one we just moved into; our real cars were in the driveway, my real cat was silhouetted in the upstairs window, licking its paw. She brought me into the nearby woods and seated me atop a stump. I watched as she shuffled around a great, gnarled apple tree, humming, dragging her damaged feet. She stopped abruptly and turned toward me, opening her mouth wide. When I woke up, I felt unusual, almost heartsick. The morning was glorious, and our daughter Sophie asked my husband and me to join her outside after breakfast to explore our new neighborhood. We went into the woods, discovered an abandoned doll house with three little beds, each bed holding only the head of a doll, nothing more. We kept going, pushing at brambles and dead pine, until we happened upon an apple tree. Around the base of the tree was a muddy, worn path. I felt the blood leave my face and I could hear music not far off.

EXHIBIT #18 The woman who lives under the floor came back last night. She was standing in my bedroom doorway, resplendent in a bright wedding gown. But it also seemed like she’d been crying, and when I looked closer I could tell that she was rain-soaked, several brown oak leaves matted against her hem. I followed her downstairs and each time she stepped forward all the doors in the house slammed. When she lifted her foot, they opened. I was close enough behind to see her shoulder blades pushing softly up through the lace. She smelled like coal dust and cardamom. She brought me to the kitchen. Everything, again, was as clear as it is in the normal world: the little microwave clock glowed 3:03 A.M.; the dishtowel embroidered with a purple lilac hung on the oven door handle exactly as I placed it before going to bed. I asked her to go outside, away from this house. She turned around and stepped toward me. SLAM went the doors. I stepped back. She raised her naked foot, and the doors opened, like taking a breath. She stepped down. SLAM. She opened her mouth and I could hear night clicking around me like an insect. That’s when I woke up. My left foot was aching; deep cramp. I sat up slowly, grimacing, letting the comforter fall to the floor. Outside, the wind was rapacious; a pile of dead leaves geysered up from the yard, and a row of little plum trees bowed like the condemned before they’re led away.

EXHIBIT #22 Planting bulbs, Sophie and her dad work their way around the house until the south side. There, under about 5 inches of black soil, they discover the bodies of three antique dolls, the kind that can shatter if dropped. All three are missing their heads. The dolls are each dressed in what look like silk gowns, white, and appear to not have been buried long. We have no idea why these are here or who put them under ground. “There they are,” says Sophie. “There are what,” my husband wants to know. “My doll shoes. They went missing after we moved in.” Sure enough, each headless little body is wearing a pair of patent leather shoes from Sophie’s extensive collection. My husband looks at me funny and I can tell he’s afraid. That night, I get up out of bed and crouch on the floor. I put my hands on the wide pine boards. That’s when I can smell her; all that wetness. She lumbers toward me through the oiled dark, breathing hard, and all I can think is: I wonder how we’ll look when they find us.

About the Author

Christopher Locke is the Nonfiction Editor of Slice magazine in Brooklyn. His recent flash fiction has appeared in Forth and New Flash Fiction Review. Locke has five chapbooks of poetry and has received two Dorothy Sargent Poetry Awards, as well as grants in poetry from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, New Hampshire Council on the Arts, and Fundacion Valparaiso (Spain). His first full-length collection of poems, End of American Magic, was released by Salmon Poetry in 2010. Waiting for Grace & Other Poems (Turning Point Books) and the collection of essays Can I Say (Kattywompus Press) were both released in 2013. His essay/poetry collection about his travels through Latin America, Ordinary Gods (Salmon Poetry), and his first book for children, The Heart Flyer (tapStory), were both recently accepted for publication.

About the Artist

Alexander C. Kafka is a journalist, photographer, and composer in Bethesda, Maryland. He created the cover image for Lost Addresses: New and Selected Poems by Diann Blakely (Salmon Poetry, 2017). His work has also been published at All Things Fashion DC, BuzzFeed, Fast Company, Juked, Vice, The Washington Post, The Writing Disorder, and many other periodicals. He has been on the documentation team for the Washington Folk Festival at Glen Echo and is a contributing concert photographer for DMNDR. Kafka studied fine-art figure photography with Missy Loewe at the Washington School of Photography and portrait photography with Sora DeVore at Glen Echo Photoworks.

This story appeared in Issue Fifty-One of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty-One

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