Costume Courage

Alexis enters the living room and my tea stops halfway to my lips. “What exactly is your costume?”

She’s wearing an artfully shredded polka-dot jumpsuit and a long, scarlet wig. Her face is plastered with red and white clown makeup and the whole ensemble is smeared with fake blood.

She spreads her arms. “I’m sexy Pennywise!”

“Sexy…okay.” I take several swallows of tea. “There is a lot to unpack here. Give me a minute.”

“Hey, at least I have a costume.”

“I told you, I’m sick. I’m not going to the party.”

“You don’t look sick.”

“Well then, I must be okay.”


“It’s fine!” I rearrange my blanket over my lap. “This way someone can stay and give out candy.”

Alexis pouts – or at least that’s the expression I assume she’s making under the clown makeup. She’s right: I’m not really sick, but it’s the only excuse Alexis and our roommates will accept for skipping a party. I was sick, though, which is part of the reason I don’t have a costume. The other part is that I just didn’t plan one. Nothing sounded right, and everything in the stores was just too: too sexy, too gory, too predictable, too gauche.

“Well, if you feel better, you can still borrow my cat ears.” Alexis says. Our other roommates meet her by the front door. Mel is in witch’s robes, complete with impressive Victorian boots; Kate is in 90s grunge gear.

“I’ll be fine.” I toast them with my glass. “Take pics for me?”

Alexis gives me a bloody thumbs-up and they whisk out the door. I settle in on the couch. Even the cat costume didn’t feel right, though I never could articulate why: it would give me an excuse to wear my favorite little black dress, the one that’s just a little too short, and flats with cat faces on them, shoes that my workplace doesn’t tolerate.

Still, a night in with tea and a classic Halloween flick just sounded easier.

The first trick-or-treaters arrive not too long after. It’s a horde of boys in assorted ninja, military, and vampire costumes. They grab candy from the bucket and hurtle away without saying thank-you. I roll my eyes and prepare for it to be that kind of Halloween.

I curl back up in my blanket. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen Hocus Pocus. I know it by heart, but that just means I don’t mind being interrupted.

It also means I’m a tiny bit bored.

The doorbell rings again. I answer it and find a trio of middle-school girls: a Jedi, a Ghostbuster, and a Tinkerbell.

Fourth grade. Mom is fitting white shoulder pads over my red turtleneck. My brother watches in horror. “You can’t be the Red Ranger!” he says. “He’s a boy!”

“Trick or treat!” They hold out pillowcases. The Ghostbuster wields a handmade proton pack; the Tinkerbell has glittery green eyeshadow that would impress RuPaul. They’re all beaming.

Seventh grade. My friend Derek helped me build my proton pack. Our jumpsuits look so believable, I’m ready to go downtown and fight Gozer. Mom is confused. “A Ghostbuster? Don’t you want to wear something more…flattering? I thought you wanted to be a Spice Girl!”

“Wow, you all look great!” I drop candy into their pillowcases. “Did you make your costumes yourselves?”

“I did,” the Ghostbuster says shyly.

“I did my own makeup!” Tinkerbell blinks rapidly at me, shedding green glitter.

Eighth grade. My friends are going as the Spice Girls. I’ve finally convinced my parents to let me go as Ginger Spice, but Mom frowns through our group pictures. “All that makeup is going to give people the wrong idea.”

“You look great! Have fun!”

“Thank you!” they chorus. Tinkerbell twirls as they make their exit, giggling.

When I return to the couch, a text is waiting for me: a photo of Alexis and the others making silly faces in the back of their Lyft. Therapy-provoking costume aside, she’s obviously having a great time.

I don’t even have to look at the TV to know what part of the movie I’ve reached. I mouth along as Thackery explains the witches to the kids. “How bad could it be?” Max says.

Alexis sends a second text: a cat emoji with heart eyes.

“Okay, fine,” I tell my phone, and turn off the TV. My cat costume – especially those shoes – is actually pretty cute. I might even send my mom a photo.


Grieving, Going

I close the albums. The variations of your smiling face, posing frozen, become painful afterimages. Blinded, I shelve the books by feel.

You recur unpredictably. Sometimes I wish you were a ghost. A haunt can be exorcised; memories can’t.

Done By Halves

How has your heart not split in half?
Lip service ceased being enough long
ago, but here’s one more given yet another pass.

Questions yawn between us like a pass,
the room made chill, divided into your half
and mine. The desolate gap is too long.

This is it, right? It won’t be long,
it can’t, until we can walk tall again, pass
through, no longer bent, as if against the wind, in half—

We’re long past giving that a pass, so stand tall: this half of sky is still ours.

(a tritina with words pulled from the fiction challenge prompt)

Alex Wigan

Mama Said

Julie hadn’t minded working late until autumn began. As long as she’d arrived home in the daylight, there was nothing to worry about in the walk from her car to the front door. Now that the sun was setting earlier, though, she arrived well after dark, and Mama always said to hustle inside on autumn nights after dark.

She’d never really believed it, just like she’d never really believed in the monster under the bed, but there were still nights when she had to get up during the witching hour and you can be sure she pulled her feet up into bed real quick, and pulled the covers over her head, too. Just in case.

Julie drove slowly down the driveway, ignoring what may or may not have been eyes gleaming from the fields. At the end of the drive, she gathered her bag and jacket, turned off the car, got her house key ready, and marched at a near jog to her front door. Something rustled in the grass, but she didn’t look. Mama always said not to look.

She closed and locked the door swiftly behind her. Inside, all was normal – in fact, better than normal: Todd had gotten the kids to bed and was washing dishes. A game show was on, and all the curtains were drawn.

“Hi, sweetie,” she called, hanging her jacket in the hallway.

“Hey,” he called back. “You just missed it – this guy only had one letter left and he blew it.”

She kissed him on the cheek. “What was the answer?”

“Eh, I forgot already.”

Julie did a double take at the contents of the sink. “Did they eat any of their vegetables?”

“Aiden did. Andrew threw a fit, though.”

One set of blinds in the living room had been left open. Julie tugged them closed, trying to avoid looking beyond the warm reflection of her living room into the dark Georgia night.

“The cat is in, right?”

“Oh, shoot – sorry, I was trying to get Andrew to bed –”

“Todd, it’s after dark!”

“I know, sweetie, I’m so sorry – I’ll go out and help you look –”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” She went to the pantry and pulled out Magnolia’s bag of treats. “She’ll come running for these – ain’t no need for anyone to go outside.”

Though she could practically hear Mama’s ghost yelling at her not to do it, Julie unlocked the back door and opened it just wide enough to stick her arm through and rattle the bag. She tried to ignore Todd standing just behind her – he was probably trying to be comforting, but having her escape route blocked just made her more nervous.

The fields whispered in the night breeze; the dark forest beyond was only a jagged line below which there were no stars. Aiden had seen the ghost of a soldier walking there last spring; Todd had chalked it up to too much TV, but Julie believed him. She believed, like her mama before her, that every Southerner had seen a ghost at least once, it was just a question of how willing they were to admit it.

“Here, Magnolia…” Her halfhearted cry could barely be heard beyond the porch. Luckily, Magnolia heard the rattle of her favorite treats: she leapt onto the porch railing, practically giving Julie a heart attack, and trotted inside, meowing.

Julie stepped back, already breathing a sigh of relief that the door would soon be closed and the night shut out, when she saw eyes in the grass.

She froze, locked between curiosity and dread, staring out at the glowing eyes.

“What is it?” Todd whispered. He was much taller than her; he could easily see what had caught her attention. “Coyote?”

“Sure.” Julie backed away slowly, edging Todd back with her. The eyes had drawn closer. Julie closed the door and threw the deadbolt.

“It was just a coyote, right?” Todd’s eyes kept shifting to the blinds, as if he wanted to look outside but knew better.

“Ain’t it always just a coyote?” Julie rubbed the back of her neck; her heart was still racing. “I’m going to call the Parks, make sure their cats aren’t out.”

“Yeah.” Todd still looked distracted. She wondered if he would try to go scare it off with the shotgun, or if his mama had told him, like Julie’s had told her, that these things were always better off left alone. “Maybe I should call the Wrights. Just in case.”

“Yeah – just in case.”


They almost saw me during the reception. We were dancing. I smiled wrong; I couldn’t remember the right smile, so I displayed a fake, scrounged from clouded memories of expressions. I’m empty where emotions were, so I impersonate. Sometimes I even wish they would notice.

The Carson Girls

Bee found Beth sitting on the front steps, looking up at the night sky even though there were no stars. She was smoking; she must have stolen a cigarette from Wholenuther. Hortense, their host, looked as though only the purest of water and food had been allowed in her body during the sixteen hundred years she’d been on Earth, so there was no way the cigarette came from her. Wholenother, on the other hand, wouldn’t have missed one smelly cigarette if it disappeared from his jacket.

“You smoke?” Bee asked, sitting down gingerly on the step.

Beth tapped the ashes into Hortense’s rosemary and shot her a glare. Bee shivered. She still wasn’t used to seeing her eyes in another girl’s face. “Since I was your age. Maybe even younger.”


Why?” Beth repeated. “Our parents have been running around the world our whole lives, hunting down magical whatsits and getting into fights with ancient magical beings, and you need to ask why I smoke?” She took a long drag. “Oh, yeah: because you actually saw them occasionally.”

“They never told me about you.” Yet another question to add to Bee’s growing list of things her – their – missing parents never told her. “If I knew, I would have wanted to meet you.”

“They never even told me they had you. I guess I would’ve been, what, four?” She flicked more ashes into the garden. “Let’s see: from age four to six, I was in seven different foster homes; then I ran away and was in an orphanage for a while. Maybe they just couldn’t find me. We’ll go with that.”

Bee knew exactly where she was at that age: with Grandma Susan, before she died, then the Allens. Then her parents had gotten an apartment in Boston when Bee was seven. They’d lived there together, all three of them, for almost a whole year. Then her parents got a lead for another expedition, and it was back to the Allens. Bee had cried for a week.

But she didn’t tell Beth any of this – she suspected it wouldn’t help. “I’d be mad, too,” she said. “It’s not fair.”

Beth grunted and stubbed the cigarette out on the flagstone step. Slowly the icy breeze began to clear the air around them.

“How did you know they were missing?” Bee asked eventually. “Mom stopped writing to me, so that’s how I knew, but if you weren’t in contact – ”

“I overheard some Remnants bragging that the Carsons had finally been ‘brought in.'” Beth pulled her coat tighter around her shoulders. “I questioned them, but they didn’t know much, so I started checking out the Markets. That’s when I ran into you.”

Bee decided not to ask what Beth meant by “questioned.”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but…why did you come looking for them?”

“You mean, since they clearly don’t give a damn about me?”

“They do, too,” Bee said stubbornly. “You’re their daughter.” They had to care, didn’t they? They must have had their reasons for separating their children, for keeping each other secret. But Beth was starting to annoy her – she was twenty, an adult, and here was Bee trying to comfort her when it ought to be the other way around. Even Wholenuther had been more sympathetic, and Bee’d had to pay him to help her.

“Guess we’ll find out when I find them.” Beth stood and stretched. “Hortense is probably gonna be mad that I got ash all over her garden, huh.”


“Ah well. I’ll be out of her hair soon.”

Bee jumped up. “You’re making it sound like you’re going to keep looking alone.”

“Yeah. Duh. No offense, but you’re new to this, and Hortense may be Remnant but she’s just a gardener.”

“But Wholenuther-”

“Wholenuther might be good at tracking his kind, but he’s only going to stick around as long as he’s contracted. I’ve been on my own for a while; I can handle this.”

She started to go back up the steps.

“What about me?” Bee cried. Beth froze, her hand on the doorknob. “We could find them together. We could start to be a family.”

Beth looked back, her expression obscured by the shadows of the porch. “I don’t know what that is.”

She pulled open the door, bathing them both in cozy golden lamplight. Sighing, Bee sank back to the steps.

Beth hesitated again, framed in the doorway. “But I guess I’d like to find out.”