KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 5: Spring 2016
Micro-Fiction: 416 words

The Changeling

by Ann Stewart McBee

In the mural on the wall of the ward, Jill watches calm as Jack tumbles smiley, chasing his broken crown like the Promised Land. My mind-eye bolts his golden hair with blood. Makes love bites of purple on Jill’s pansy-white neck. Pastor Pete would say that’s the devil in me.

In the mirror, I saw a ghost jump over my image like a hurdle, with the head-down, purpose-heavy gallop of a race horse. Then it crept along the walls of my room, so fast it left a girdle of flames behind it. I woke up with the potato-colored morning seeping in, hollering and thirsty but still sure that the ghost was a dream and I am a liar. There is no such thing as ghosts.

But I saw it rifling through Laird’s cubby, handling his homespun drawers and god-knows-what-else, digging for some muddy treasure, silvery black and scratchy, like a video of raccoon eating garbage, a flickering flounder in the incandescent lights of the hall that make the dust bunnies shine in the black-headed night. I couldn’t shake the numbskull awake. His snoring like a donkey braying.

Laird looks like a cave troll: lipless and pale, his shaven head flat in front like a waxing moon. I liked it, so I shaved my own. Momma cried, and good. Let the thorns stab her chest, leaving little ruby freckles where they bite.

Since the spirit healed my wounds, I play with myself nightly. To Laird’s numb face I say Call me the right hand man. Pastor Pete calls it Onanism. Other times I write in the notebook Heck gave me. Dr. Heck, a nice man with a flappy neck like a turtle, stands between me and the ghost.

One night, I went to write about the Tourette’s girl in the ward who always holds a paper cup half full of water and sips it loudly. Her acorn-colored hair and wet lips. I imagine myself a bug swimming in that cup. Jumping onto her bottom lip and slipping into her mouth. It’s an unfair place for girls because of boys like me. Oh lord what fools these mortals be!

But here in the notebook were pages I didn’t remember writing: a ruler-smacked, symmetrical version of my scribble, my hs and ls like fierce little soldiers. My hairs stood up like quills. Like the first time it appeared, when it bent back Pastor Pete’s fingers, the crunch like pretzel rods, its eyes like a raccoon on fire.

Ann Stewart McBee
Issue 5, Spring 2016

holds a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she taught literature and creative writing and served as Editor-in-Chief for UWM’s literary journal cream city review. Her work has been published in Citron Review, Blue Earth Review, Ellipsis, At Length, Palaver, and So to Speak. She now teaches writing at Des Moines Area Community College in Iowa and lives outside Des Moines with her husband and a smelly little terrier. Her novel Veiled Men is looking for a home.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Trigger, 526-word flash fiction in The Boiler Journal (12 June 2013)

Et Tu Brutal, 988-word flash fiction in The Citron Review (15 March 2015)

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