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Jess Gatsby

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Short stories

When a house was a home.

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.”

The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson

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Photo by Erik Witsoe on Unsplash

The idea of being alive is so fragile. The way a body ages, how it decays- the walls of a house are compared to the bones of a body that can die. My walls, though old and decaying and moldy, are not bones. They give me structure, but is there more?

A house, created in reality but alive in a fantastical realm, deviating so far from what is normal and sane. I stand, not alone in some mystical place, but in plain sight of the city, visible and real. The freeways and trees and apartment complexes shade me from the harshness of an urban sun, and the buses and taxis and cars and people walking on the street pass by in exuberance, proving to me that I am both here, planted firmly on the earth beneath, and not here, far removed from the minds of the people who are supposed to be my owners and neighbors and friends. I am real, but no one knows me. Like a dream or a nightmare, I am in the back of the minds of the people who surround me, though none live here.

A beating heart is fragile, fragile life- needed to survive. I do not have a heart, so how do I live? I need a heart and a soul to go on, but whenever someone enters my door, dark and green from the vines that climb up from the siding, they don’t stay long. They can feel my hold, and they are terrified that they may be devoured by the wallpaper, or that they will fall into the floorboards, dead with their heart still beating for the rest of the world to hear and then sufficiently ignore. I am more than this monstrous presence in the lives of the people that walked my halls in the past. If they have left me, I am still with them in their past and in their memories. Memories of damask walls and sturdy wooden floors. Temperance from the past, my form is modest and elegant and all-consuming in my windows and doors that let people and light and energy in, but rarely let those things leave.

I was sturdier when families inhabited me, their life bringing me life. Life sustaining life: a cycle of energy flowing in both directions. I provide shelter and comfort and home, and they give me life and soul and heart. But when a house is not a home, these things fade. These people die and I go on. If they were still here, secret ghosts, walking the halls and moaning at the windows in the dark nights that are damp and consume the sense of hopefulness in humanity, I would know. But there are no ghosts here. I am the only ghost, a glimpse of the past peeking out through my overgrown garden and black wrought iron fence. The windows are my eyes to the world that fall upon humanity in the streets, “lads” and “ladies” are now just people, which is all the same to me. The homeless and addicts and workers on the street are all the same. They lie on the pavement just out of reach, none daring to enter my gate, none daring to enter my door. A few years ago some youth came to me with flashlights and backpacks and cigarettes, and the night scared them away in less than an hour past their arrival. I tried not to enjoy the energy since it was chaotic and confusing and too young for me really, but it was all the life I had for some time and it was good.

Then she came.

One thundering and stormy night, upon the witching hour, she stumbling through my fence, dripping from the rain. I could barely feel her life, it was faded and sad and she tasted strange running her damp hand along my walls. Trying to describe the anatomy of a house is difficult. My structure does not line up right with any anatomy of a person or animal or living thing, if the definition of anatomy is “the branch of science concerned with the bodily structure of humans, animals, and other living organisms, especially as revealed by dissection and the separation of parts.” I am a living thing- I feel and feed and form thoughts. This girl, walking my hall was heading toward what most describe as my heart. She was breathing heavy as she entered the kitchen, dripping and dragging along.

Having someone home felt good, even if she seemed weak.

In the kitchen, she righted a chair that had been turned over for a good quarter of a century and sat. This girl must have been through something awful before coming to me. She was huffing and puffing something crazy, her hands to her chest and her face stained and wet with mud. The water from the rain almost hid the tears sliding down rough cheeks. Her clothes were soaked and ripped and scratches were visible through the tears. She sobbed along with the thunder that was rattling the window panes.

Not being alone, even though my new companion was in such a state, felt good.

I was starting to feel better, her life giving me life, renewing the cycle. A house is not a home without a person to inhabit it. Enough energy and I might dare to turn on a light for the poor girl, whose sobs echoed against the tiles of the kitchen floor. She sat for a while this way, and being a house and not a home there was nothing much I could do to comfort her. The night dragged as the storm rattled on, and over time the girl’s sobs slowed and the ticking of the clock in the hall started.

Her energy renewed me.

The ticking grew louder and louder and the girl took notice. She stopped her tears and stood, jerking her head around to look at me. She knew she wasn’t alone, but she would never know how. A little longer and I was able to start a fire in the oven hearth, even though the wood there was damp with years of neglect. The crackling of the fire behind her caused the girl to jump. She scoured the room with her eyes.

“I know you are here.” She said to the crackling fire and the ticking clock.

“I can feel you here.” She moved toward the heat in the stove, the dampened clothes clinging to her skin. She didn’t say anything while she warmed at the fire. Eventually, she dragged the chair to the hearth and sat cross-legged with her hands just out of reach of the flames. She sighed in the warmth and the energy she gave me was growing. I wished to do more, maybe this would keep her here.

“I have heard stories about you.” She whispered to the fire. “I know you are here.”  

I wondered what she could mean, though the longer she stayed the stronger I became. My walls were strengthening and the vines on the door receding. She was healing as well, her body warming and her clothes drying.

“Are you doing this?”

Was she talking to me?

“I am talking to you, house.” She looked around again, “Or ghost, or whatever you are.”

I couldn’t answer, but if I could I don’t know what I would have said. Humans could feel my pull, but they never spoke to me before. The flickering from the fire was licking light across the girls face, drying the mud. She wiped away at her cheeks with the back of a sleeve.

“I didn’t know if you could talk, I guess you can’t.”

I couldn’t.

“Well, maybe you could listen.”

I could.

The girl told me her story. She told me of her walls and how they were broken and beaten until they couldn’t stand anymore. She told me how her floor was penetrated and how her door was covered in vines. She told me how the world around her, the freeways and trees and apartment complexes shaded her from experiencing the warmth of an urban sun, and how the buses and taxis and cars and people walking on the street pass her by in a hurry, proving to her that she was both there, fragile and hopeless in the world, and not there, far from the minds of the people who were supposed to protect her.

She told me how her heart kept beating even when she wanted it to stop. She told me how her body wasn’t right for the world, too much here, too little there and that no one would leave her alone about it, no one would let her be, and how she had never a house before and never a home. She told me she didn’t feel real, and that she just wanted to be away from every single person who wanted so much from her.

“So I came to you, house.” She said, her tears had come again, but they were slower now. “I came here because someone once told me there was a ghost here that ate the souls and sucked the life of the people who came. Is that true house? Can you eat my soul? Can you suck out my life?”

I wanted to tell her it didn’t, that was not how it worked at all, but I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t say a thing. The ticking in the clock was becoming louder and the flames from the hearth grew.

“Is this how it works house?”

No! I wanted her to know that was not how it worked. I wanted to tell her to stay in my heart and here she could have a home and we could live and the cycle could go on: Life sustaining life.  How could I show her? Humans had never asked so much of me. She stood and backed from the fire. All I could do was wait as she explored my halls. She made her way to the dining room, embarrassingly enough, where a window had been blown in, scattering the floor with glass and leaves and grass. She shuffled through the debris, opening the china cabinet that was inhabited by a squirrel family a few winters ago. There was still a nest and fur and shit in the drawers. I could feel my walls stiffen as she cringed at the sight. She moved to the parlor and the study, which were better preserved. She sorted through papers and books left lying about, touching a curtain and a cushion here and there. She stopped at the stairs leading to the bedrooms above.

“Should I go up, house?” She asked.

I wanted to tell her no, she would not like what she found up there.

The stairs groaned under her weight, creaked and squeaked with each step; a protest from her moving forward to the worst of me yet. She didn’t yield to the objections, she went on. Reaching the top of the stairs she went for the nursery, pushing the door with a clenched fist like it was repulsive. The door, slightly off its hinges, fought her but gave way in her efforts to enter the room.

“Oh,” She took in the view of the forlorn horror where a baby once slept. The walls were blackened with soot, the windows broken, the sills scorched. The bassinet was turned over, the half singed, infant-sized mattress barely visible under the crib. The girl went to the babe’s bed and lifted it upright, setting the mattress back in place. As she turned to leave the room, her foot crunched over a rattle. She bent and touched it with the tip of her fingers.

“I see now,” She said to the air in the room, picking up the rattle and placing in the crib like she was tucking it in goodnight.

She left the nursery, turning to the bedroom. The door had been broken long ago, it was leaning against the wall in the hall. She stopped just outside the room. I wanted to tell her not to go any further. But she went.

Her fingers swept lightly over the dressers and wardrobe and mirror. She spun around once and the dust from the ages lifted around her. She went to the blackened wall, the twin to the nursery. The pictures of the family that lived here once looked at the girl looking back at them.

“I see now,” She said again touching the picture of the three: the father, the mother, the baby. Life sustaining life: the cycle was broken. No shelter, no comfort, no home, and in return no life, no soul, no heart. The girl broke from the photo of the family, and she laid on the bed that was covered in the years after the fire. Almost nothing had changed. She lay there on her back staring at the cracked and discolored ceiling.

“You are just like me, house.” She said. “We are both broken and beaten and penetrated. We both have been taken advantage of. We have both lost people. I came to you broken, but you are broken too. We are both wrong for the world, our bodies are too much here and too little there and we are broken.” She sighed and rolled over, looking again at my family in the pictures on the wall. “I had a man, and I thought he loved me. I had a friend and I thought she loved me too, and I was wrong both times, and every time after that. And none of that mattered. There was never a place for me in this world, house, and I thought I could come here and you could take me and then it would be over, but you don’t take. You didn’t take. You gave, just like me, house. We are the same.”

We are the same.

“The idea of being alive is so fragile. The way a body ages, how the bones take the weight of the world like the way the walls of a house take the weight of the life inside. We both decay: your walls, my bones. They gave us structure, but what more?”

So much more. I could tell her if she could listen.

“Can I stay here house, away from the world?”

Yes, but you are not away from the world. We are both here and not here.

The heart of the house, beating on in a time when the family has gone, is not the kitchen. The walls are not bones. The house is just a house, a structure decaying in time. The heart of the house now beats on with the memories of those that once lived here when the house was a home.

 

-Jess Gatsby

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A halt to reality

In all honesty, I used to think I was a very intelligent person. I grew up being told just that. Days were just tests to see if I could pass again and again, and I did. More on the scale of paper exams than social ones. But is any of that real? We see a shift in focus nowadays.

 

The light is always pink and purple over the lake in the mornings, barely visible through the blinds that I put up a little for the cat. It is hard to lift out of bed on the days that I have to work, sleep making my eyes hard to open, pounding in the front of my head making it hard to focus. The air has not been as damp recently as it is in the summer but still clings to me most mornings.

 

This morning is different. I feel lighter, though my head is still uneasy.

 

Yes, I know it’s the air.

 

It was filling with water now, as I got up, the lamp and the book were drifting away from the nightstand. My sheets were damp and swirling just above the bed as I dressed. I wasn’t trudging through the water as I walked around, readying myself for the day ahead. The water was all around, tinted a blue and green, but I moved quite freely. If it kept this up though, filling the world like a watering can, maybe getting to work was going to be difficult.

 

I pulled my coat on, the weather was cold today. Leaving the apartment, key in the lock, I looked over at the lake again. Just above the surface, a fog hung, blurring the lines of the boats that floated there. Kayaks from my neighbors. I never saw anyone use them, but they sat there blurred with the morning. I had half a mind to wave at them.

 

Driving to work was quicker than usual, maybe the other car’s drivers were still in bed afraid of being caught in the cold. The sky was pink and purple and blue, and full of light in a melancholy way. The twilight of the morning was playing the blues in the clouds and the road- well the ramp onto the road- drove up, high up, through these theaters in the sky like it wanted me to take the show with me. I stuck a hand out of the window and tossed a rose at the performers because the smoothness of the music was making me cry.

 

Wiping a tear from my cheek I pulled into my parking spot. I started parking closer to the front of campus because it was hard for me to get out of bed in the morning and this made me less late. I threw my bag over my shoulder and grabbed my coffee that tastes like sweet cream and heaven and walked the cement sidewalk up to the front of the library. The steps I took up the stairs clicked with the heels of my shoes and every step of the three floors I climbed spoke back to me.

 

Yes, I know it is too early for this. The coffee helped.

 

At my desk the words from the stories in the books on the cart were already loud, speaking and shouting in all different accents and using different vocabularies. Telling them to be quiet wasn’t an option, they didn’t have any ears. They just had words. I put in my headphones and tuned into silence or static or music, it’s a little fuzzy, to be honest. I worked with the books, calming them down a little and they were quieter and quieter until they were ready to be taken downstairs.

 

This trip was something else, to go down in the monsters instead of the stairs. I am not usually afraid of elevators, but these elevators are not usual ones. They were loud and shaky and if you didn’t pet them just right they would bite you. Not with their mouth, but with their words.

 

“You aren’t as smart as you think you are.” They say sometimes. I try not to listen, the books talk enough to me anyway. “Men don’t like you. You are ugly.”

 

Yes, I know, but I like it that way.

 

The books don’t normally defend me, but it’s fine. By the time they would have had a word in, I am already dropping the cart off and I set out for my morning walk. I stroll past the circulation desk hoping to go unnoticed, but the skeleton’s for the medical students notice me and climb and clamber over the desk to join me. They love being taken outside on colder mornings, it lets them air out their bones. The skeleton with the head on likes to talk a lot. The one without a head plays music sometimes, but not today. Today, he wanted to hold my hand.

 

“You look lovely today.” The skeleton with a head said.

I didn’t reply. It was best to not encourage him.

“How was your weekend?” He asked.

 

He always caught the eye of a few students on campus whenever we went out together. This morning was no exception. Students and staff walking by would turn their heads to look at my companions, some snickered and laughed at my expense, but it wasn’t worth it to tell them that everyone has skeletons in their closets, some are just more real than others. The pastors and hippies and monks at the booths that littered the walkway on crowded mornings sometimes spoke out to me, telling me different things about my bony, skin-less friends.

 

“If you come to me you will be saved,” they all say in different ways, but when this happens the skeleton without a head would start playing music and it took my mind off things. There was no one speaking to me today, which I preferred. Everything else is so loud. The skeleton with a head pointed out the clouds and the sky and the sun, and how colorful everything looked on a chilly day, not faded by the heat which is normally so oppressive. He went on and on about the way the colors of the trees and the buildings and the people painted such amazing mosaics, fitting the colors perfectly but imperfectly into a pattern that made sense and didn’t make sense. I did agree with him, but I let him explain and I just listened. The skeleton without a head was still holding my hand and squeezed it a little but there was no way to tell if this was a good thing. The skeleton with a head was still talking, talking, talking, and the skeleton without a head squeezed my hand harder and pulled me. I stopped walking and I could hear trumpets and jazz music playing from somewhere in the distance, maybe the trees this time.

 

I turned around to see where the sound was coming from and there was nothing. No color, no buildings, no people. Well, there were buildings, but not like before. They were grey and broken and cracked and the sidewalk was full of holes and covered with vines and leaves and this black soot that spread up into the air forming miasma. I covered my mouth with my sleeve and tried to breathe in, but it got caught in transit and I could only stare at the mess of the world behind me. The grass was overgrown and unkempt and in places, I thought I saw boots or jacket sleeves sticking out from the chaotic underbrush.  

 

The jazz kept on playing like it was an old nightclub or hipster cafe, and I looked to the skeletons to see if they were just as in awe as I was. It was hard to tell since the skeleton with a head had no expression and the skeleton without a head didn’t have a face. They were both quiet though. The air around us was filling with debris and darkening ever so slightly. I felt a tug at my sleeve on the arm that the skeleton without a head was not holding onto. I looked down and saw a lightning bug. Strange, we don’t have those here in the south. And definitely not in the winter. The bug had a pen and was writing something on my hand. I waited patiently since that is the polite thing to do. When he was done, I looked at what he wrote.

 

Almost.”

 

Yes I know, I was just thinking that.

 

I turned and the world shifted back into focus again, with the blue sky and all, and the jazz had stopped or had turned into laughter. The skeleton with a head told me it was time to head back to the office, so we did. The skeletons climbed back over the counter to re-hang themselves on the stands and wait to be checked out and I climbed back up the three flights of stairs to the office.

 

Climbing the stairs the heels of my shoes were quiet and the world seemed to still.

 

Sitting at my desk again, a new cart of books was whispering away, waiting to be opened and heard. They were more tempered than those before. I tried to remember the last time it was this quiet. The pipes in the walls for the water in the bathroom started to sing for a minute or two, but the books were speaking so softly it didn’t even bother me.

 

-JG

Never Meant to Know

Hey guys, I know it has been a little while.

sorry. 

I wanted to post something I have been working on. I hope you like it.

 

Never meant to know.

The sun was barely peeking up from over the horizon. The orange and purples of the world shone over the mountains and trees and there was a large lake that reflected the scene and the sky back at us. The wind took my breath away as we hovered over the area, like a bird ready to take to her nest. I had never seen anything like this before. The world seemed so peaceful here, as if nothing bad had ever happened. As if life were simple and easy and there were no horrors to fear. The mountains and trees look inviting over the lake, who was beautiful and ominous in a natural, wild way. I wanted to touch the top of the water, walk through the trees, devour the mountain. This place was like a drug, and I wanted it, to take it all in.

All this and Eddie was disinterested, as seemed Cole and Everett. Nico’s mouth was open slightly- something that did not escape the others. I hope I didn’t look as stupid as he did, though the sight was captivating to me as well. I wanted to tell him to close his mouth, but I knew I didn’t have to. We couldn’t hear much over the blades of the chopper, even with the headsets on. I made out Everett mentioning something about appearances, he was always the one to put us in check.

The men looked strange here, in this natural place.

They looked too stoic in the suits and ties.

I am still confused about why, but I knew this trip was important. Reader, these events during training rarely made sense to me. I didn’t understand how seeing this made me a gentleman, but it was a welcome break from all the poking, prodding, and pruning that was going on back at the Society.

There I felt like an animal. Here I felt like a free one.  

“What is this all about?” Nico had mentioned before we boarded the helicopter that morning, at an hour that no one should be getting out of bed.

“Inner peace,” Cole smirked.

“Experience,” Everett shot back.

Eddie had laughed- “Enjoy the ease of this. It isn’t often we get a break.”

Waking up early didn’t feel like a break at the time.

Now I understood.

 

-JG

10/17/18

Trapped in her mind…

Delicately, delicately…

 

She ran her hand across the windowsill. It had been so long since she had seen another person, and then … The eyes of that person.

They haunted her.

She looked out to the street below. A single road that led to the house. It was pretty preserved. No one had been out there in years. She wondered if the girl was scared when she saw her face. She didn’t seem scared, but left all the same.

When would be the next time that someone else would see her? Would she make it that long?

 

 

BOOM!

The attic rattled with the weight of a strong force. She knew that the house wouldn’t last much longer with these attacks. They were coming more frequently, but she didn’t know what to do about them. Where would she go when the house caved in? All her memories were there, how would she ever leave?

Maybe she would be destroyed along with it.

That might not be too bad.

 

Although lately she had been craving some form of communication, something she hadn’t felt in ages. She thought maybe the girl would speak to her. She still saw the eyes.

 

BOOM!

She wanted to speak to her, tell her all that had happened. She wanted to share with someone else, to be a part of the world again.

 

BOOM!

BOOM!

She needed someone to talk to her, she needed someone to hear her.

BOOM!

BOOM!

BOOM!

She wanted to be free.

BOOM!

BOOM!

BOOM!

BOOM!

And she was.

 

Jess Gatbsy

June 28, 2018

Monday Morning.

I  was sitting on my bed, waiting for the message that would signal what my tasks were for the day. My wife lay behind me, still sleeping. She was snoring softly, something she is embarrassed by, but I find it cute.

The sun had not risen yet, but the morning was already warm and sticky. People think living here is a vacation, but most days it is like you are walking through soup. Hot and wet.

I was still waiting when I heard her stir behind me. I felt arms wrap around my waist, and her cheek pressed against my back.

“Has he told you where you are going today?” She asked in a groggy voice.

“Not yet, I am still waiting.”

“Oh, he is such a dick.” She said, kissing the middle of my back. Such a way with words.

My phone buzzed in my hands. It was him.

“Finally.” She said. “Where are you off to today?”

I read the message.

“Fuck.” I started. “I’m not sure.”

The messages were always so vague.

 

Jess Gatsby

My ebook

Somewhere Out There

Hello my lovely followers. I wrote a book.

Sort of…

This is a collection of some of my short stories and poems. If you do purchase the book, thank you in advance. The profits will be helping me pay for my masters program, so if you do like my writing and want to support me this is the way to do it!

 

THANK YOU!

Jess Gatsby

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