Lori R. Lopez is an offbeat hat-wearing speculative author, illustrator, poet, and songwriter residing in Southern California. Her prose and verse have been published in a number of anthologies and magazines including California Screamin’ (the Foreword Poem), Dead Harvest, The Horror Zine, Weirdbook, The Sirens Call, Spectral Realms, Space & Time, Impspired, Illumen, Altered Realities, Bewildering Stories, Aphelion and several H.W.A. Poetry Showcases. Book titles include The Dark Mister Snark, Leery Lane, An Ill Wind Blows, The Fairy Fly, and Darkverse: The Shadow Hours (nominated for an Elgin Award). Four of her poems have been nominated for Rhysling Awards. Lori co-owns Fairy Fly Entertainment with two talented sons. They’ve formed a Folk Band called The Fairyflies to release original music.
Down every lane, past every mailbox, there is a story . . . The old truck putters along a paved road, dull and uninteresting as a bag of dirt. Almost as dark. Nobody will later describe it when lights flash and uniforms ask, rapping on doors of those fortuitously spared by random selection. The driver is equally obscure . . . Hair so short he seems bald from a distance; white if anyone gets up close. (He’s been at this awhile.) Features rugged, creased and weathered. A dour mug. Eyes behind a pair of shades beady, his gaze sharp and stabbing, a drab grayish-brown. It matters because he might knock one day, and you could be home. Or someone you know. He’ll get in. This time, like always, he offers a believable tale. The lady holds her screendoor wide. He enters and takes stock. Soon he has the family rounded up, those who are present. He expected to find small kids from clues in the yard. There are further indications, though he glimpsed few signs until he headed down the drive, where a cute box listed their names. Most often he relies on instinct and is never, ever, wrong. His pattern involves binding them to kitchen chairs in the living-room, after the youngest brings him a storybook. Settled on the sofa, he reads to a captive audience — the way he once longed for with all his heart. Memories flood of staring at a book in a store’s window, then wandering inside during Storytime. Bawling, screaming as he was dragged out . . . Begging his mother, his grandmother over and over to buy the book, any book, and read it to him. Nobody bothered. Instead they punished him, repeatedly, for wanting things. Didn’t he care they were poor? By Kindergarten, when the teacher read to the class, it was too late. His heart colder than a glacier. His yearning, that piercingly poignant childhood desire that for two whole years had been all he could think about from age three to five, festering. Infecting him. Curdling a little boy into a dreadful manbeast who eventually grew up. But never forgot. And he punished them back. All of them. For not reading him a story. For being read to, having what he craved, what he desperately lacked. People now read about him. Newspaper Headlines call this ghoul The Storybook Killer, each victim with a crumpled page stuffed in their mouth. Yet none have read his story to see how well the nickname describes him. Now he makes his own stories up. And writes them down — in a Scrapbook carried on the seat of a Pickup. Dates and photos, names and ages recorded. He’s out there, roaming town to town, city to city. Visiting rural homes; cruising urban and suburban streets; tapping on apartment doors. Spinning yarns. Pretending to be lost, sick, in need. Looking for an old friend, delivering or selling or giving . . . Preying on sympathy. Another thing he never had. A person’s nature is the sum of the positive and negative combined. Was that your doorbell? I’ll tell you more tales when you get back.
The Oddman Out
Finster Bruce wasn’t the most ordinary sort, his head too round, his body too oafish — rather soft and dumpy. A bit of a pudge, if there were such a thing. I suppose there is now. But don’t think I’m being offensive . . . I am simply telling it like it is. How else will you understand his story? Sooo, if you will pardon me, I’ll be getting on with it. Back to the poem. Life for Finster wasn’t easy. Kids liked to call him names, even when he was no longer a child himself. Kids he didn’t even know. He couldn’t fathom where they came from; why the interest. Each day as he walked along the street, there was a new name. Dumfus, Squiddy, Dorkshire, Hoot-Owl, Crabface, Porridge, Puffer. Until one day a name finally stuck: Oddman. Everywhere he went they called him Oddman. After awhile he had to repeat “I’m Finster Bruce, I’m Finster Bruce.” Or he might forget. Eventually, tragically, he did indeed! The fellow began to think of himself as Oddman. Looking in the mirror he would mumble, “Hello Oddman, how are you?” Getting lost on his usual route he’d utter: “Silly Oddman.” But accepting what they called him didn’t make those kids, or any kids, accept him any better. To them he was still a nit, a reject, a weirdo, a loser, a big zero. The Oddman out. And yet, just once he wished the brats would simply ignore rather than spurn him. It wasn’t that he was exiled or disregarded. The little rats went out of their way to insult him. Poor Oddman. I mean Finster. Unlike him I didn’t forget. The guy will never fit in. Some people are too outlandish, too bizarre. And then there are Finsters. Kind of odd. Fairly bland. Too dull to be interesting. I can’t imagine who would write a poem about him. (Yawn.) Perhaps I should write a poem. (Tap, tap, tap.) What about? Let’s see . . . Nope, not a clue. Maybe later. What’s on the Telly? Weather. Gardening. The Archaeology Channel. Ping-Pong. Politics. More Politics. Way too much Politics. Oh, a Tiddly-Winks Tournament! Yes, I’ll watch that.
The Truth About Baggage
There are nights so dark they seem lost inside a chasm, where no light has ever gleamed — and even the Dead cannot find their way home, stalled or drifting untethered, gliding aimless. Nights so heavy, so thick and deep, nothing good can be dreamed — only our worst fears and thoughts, the unimaginable embraced; contemplated with trembling and dread. It was such an abyss at the edge of Winter, as the chill sank its way into my bones. Dusk arrived early, the sky obscured by birds. Ravens. Possibly Crows. What did they want? Gazing upward I puzzled. Birds could be mysterious. Messengers. Harbingers . . . Day collapsed into Night. Sunbeams wavered. An ailing bulb, faint as the embers of a fire. All but extinguished. Glimmers of radiance strewn like tears o’er the ground — a field of liquid diamonds blanketed neath an atmosphere of sullen shade, under a moonless hail of moths. Once each glint was buried, hints of fallen stars extinguished, I crouched then cleared a path to follow, unable to bear the sensation and sound should I cross a grim carpet . . . Crawling, stepping, navigating these glum contours, desolate tides; approaching a distant horizon that may not exist, as avian angels peered down to wail at what we couldn’t see. Then I understood. Some disaster had unfolded; the termination of the world as I knew it . . . My vision opened and I beheld scattered souls, wingless flocks of spirits wandering the Surface. Lost in haze, bewildered. Same as me. Unmoored, gravitating woodenly, no destination, simply in motion, drawn to roam while others remained in place, rooted, equally bereft of purpose. Like them I had no answers. Was I alive or dead? What event transfigured us from having homes, connections, a sense of worth? A sense of dignity. Why were we reduced to husks of humanity, lurching in fog or smoke? “Why?” A mere whisper amid a whooshing of air, the raining of insects, not only the moths. Frantic birds still circled above and keened . . . mournful. Had we done it at last? Destroyed the Earth? We never knew when it might happen. The slow incendiary demise of the planet from our neglect — our disdain! Or the swift mad push of buttons that should never be linked to Doomsday Bombs! They called it Progress. I bitterly named it Purgatory. Unless it could be the other Timebomb. What lay beyond our tiny intimate circle of existence, out in the megaspheres of Space, the Cosmic Vast. What was it, a Meteor? Black Hole? In our ignorance we felt invulnerable, yet every breath, every particle of air stirred by the slightest flutter of a blink disturbed or hastened the end for not being mindful of our impact. Aware of our insignificance. Depending upon the scope — the range of the metrics — our unique associations and distinctions. The random causes and effects surrounding and comprising all matter. We were Gods and we were Ants. Now we are gone, inhabiting a ghost plane. A netherworld. I suppose we are all united in death. Floating like dust particles, shorn of flesh and blood. Yet anchored to what was. Chained to past deeds. Guilty glaring labels. Clunky detritus like Space Junk, Forever Chemtrails. A universal truth: You can’t unclaim your baggage.