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August Prather Is Not Dead Yet

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Katherine Garnet is a writer who has never cared much about much, making it awfully difficult to create new content.



Despite the fact she has the “edge” of being trans (according to her cis male editor) she is not looking to capitalize on her own personal story. Garnet tries to sneak a peek at her rival, August Prather’s, latest fantasy manuscript about a quest for the elixir of life. While reading, Garnet gets accidently dragged into a bizarre cross-country road trip that may or may not have a purpose and begins to see parallels in the story of the manuscript and the reality of their journey.



Along the way, they encounter a parade of equally troubled individuals, including ghost-hunting priests,a robot magician, a discarded piece of furniture, a runaway teenager, and a Japanese rock star. As Garnet confronts her past, she begins to understand why someone might want to live forever. 

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Published 07 August 2018
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EAN13 9788828358763
Language English

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AUGUST PRATHER IS NOT DEAD YET
DANIELLE K. ROUXCopyright © 2018 by Danielle K. Roux
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including
information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use
of brief quotations in a book review.
Edited by Mithlia Karnik & David Rochelero
Art by Shayne Leighton
The Parliament House
www.parliamenthouse.com
Created with VellumC O N T E N T S
December 2nd
Copy
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
December 28th
Mortality
Alive
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
December 30th
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
January 2nd
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
January 3rd
Fortune
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
January 5th
January 7th
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
January 10th
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
January 12th
January 13th
January 14th
Eternity
January 20th
The Parliament House
Afterword
About the AuthorDECEMBER 2ND
I don’t remember thinking I was crazy.
It just wasn’t something that occurred to me.
I think I missed something important.
Some time, at some point, people began to click on certain switches and click off
others in their brains. It’s supposed to start with childhood. You pick likes and dislikes. My
favorite color is blue. My favorite food is macaroni and cheese. That usually leads to
picking favorite writers, favorite television shows, music, hobbies, jobs, careers, friends,
spouses . . . and that’s your life.
That’s who you are, so that’s your life. These choices.
Some of it you’re born with. Hair color, eye color, skin color. Body type. Family history.
That’s what you get. No choice.
Sometimes, your family, they make those choices for you and you get pushed along
with them. You’re a boy, of course you like trucks and sports and dirt. You’re a girl, of
course you like ballet and unicorns and baby dolls.
Then you get older and there’s a small amount of self-expression. I am this kind of
person, I wear these kind of clothes, I like this kind of activity. I’m a jock or a slut or a
cheerleader or a nerd or queer or a loser or a stoner or a hipster or goth.
And as an adult you choose a career and hobbies and a house and a family and you
become an architect or a fighter pilot or a supermodel or a dishwasher or a clown. And
you live in a yurt or a palace or a split-level ranch. You have X number of kids. You spend
time doing Y on the weekends and wish there was always time for Z.
I don’t like the choices. They trap me. I don’t know if I don’t like anything or if I like
everything just the same. Either way, it’s a trap.
I don’t seem to see the point in a lot of things. I just do them. There isn’t a point in not
doing them, because you should do something.
I live without purpose. Without reason. But I don’t really want my reason for living to be
that my favorite color is blue.
People.
People are a reason for living.
But I don’t really have any people to live for.
I have parents. They haven’t ever done anything atrocious. They just don’t like me. I
used to care about them. I don’t hate them. But it’s hard to care about people who don’t
care about you. Over time, the relationship becomes just that phone call once a week,
where you talk about the weather and who from the old neighborhood died.
I don’t have real friends. I have people I go places with. We just talk about movies and
sports and other pointless things that make people infinitely happy. We never talk aboutanything that matters. Anything real.
I once had someone who wanted to marry me. She liked the color green and
cheesecake. But she never really liked me. She liked the idea of being married to me. But
she didn’t like me. She didn’t really know me. And I didn’t really know her, either.
I could have chosen to marry her. With her, I would have had purpose. But that’s a
heavy burden for someone else to carry, being someone someone else’s purpose. I don’t
think I’m worth all that. I knew once I said no that she would find another person.
So, I said no. She got married last week.
I don’t usually regret my decisions. But I feel empty. I always feel empty.
My therapist told me that I should try to picture what I feel an ideal world would be and
then try and achieve that for myself. That is bound to give me purpose. I tried it.
In an ideal world, I would have nothing. Just a comfortable, calm nothingness. Like
dreamless sleep. Like a sensory deprivation tank.
Then I wouldn’t have to worry about what I liked or didn’t like; or what clothes I wore,
what shape my body was, what gender, what job I did, how much money I made, or
whether I wanted kids.
And I would just be.C O P Y
“Who is this?”
“It’s me.”
“God, Kate, what time is it?”
“I’ve got it.”
“Got what?”
“The next best-seller . . . you ready for it?” Katherine Garnet sat at her desk, swerving
back and forth in her chair and chewing on her pen cap.
“Sure.”
“John Ruskin,” she said.
“Who?”
“He was this famous architecture critic . . . writer . . . poet person.”
“Yeah, okay, go on.”
“I’ll use Ruskin,” Garnet continued.
“For what?”
“For the book.”
“What’s it about?”
“It’s a murder mystery, of course,” she told him.
“So . . . is Ruskin the killer or the victim?”
“I’m not sure yet. That’s why I called you.”
“Well, tell me about him. What did he do?” he implored.
“He was a critic. He didn’t like some of the other Victorian thinkers. He hated
Viollet-leDuc. The architect.”
“Okay, would he have killed him?”
“No . . . he just didn’t like the work that was being done by le-Duc,” she tried to explain.
“What work?”
“Cathedrals. He worked on restoring cathedrals. Like Notre Dame.”
“Notre Dame is good. It’s historical enough without teaching people anything. You
have Ruskin involved in a murder in Notre Dame and you’ve got your book. What did
Ruskin not like about Notre Dame?” he wondered.
“It was restored to what le-Duc thought it had looked like at the very beginning of its
completion. But the thing is, cathedral construction takes hundreds of years. And le-Duc
was making up a lot of the early medieval architecture. It was inauthentic. Ruskin thought
that by restoring a building, you destroyed the authentic meaning of its architecture. That
design is meant to be temporal, and we should be allowing buildings to be reworked and
repurposed but never restored, because restoration is inauthentic by its very definition.
Change is a constant, and there is no return to anything before this moment. Isn’t thatbeautiful?”
“Too deep, too boring. Was Ruskin involved in any love affairs?”
“He never slept with his wife. He wrote love letters to a young girl . . .”
“He was a pedophile?”
“We don’t really know,” she sighed.
“Do you want him to be a pedophile?”
“You mean for the story or, like, for kicks?”
“For the story. Jesus, Kate.”
“Probably not.”
“Could be motivation.”
“For what?”
“The murder.”
“So . . . Ruskin kills someone who finds out he’s a pedophile in Notre Dame?”
“Yeah, sounds good.”
“I don’t know.”
“It’s fine,” his voice on the other line assured her.
“What have you heard lately about that new writer?”
“August Prather? She hasn’t put the book out yet. She’s still writing it. But if it’s
anything like her others then it’s got to be good.”
“The last review said her third novel was . . . what was the phrase?”
“Earth-shattering,” the phone said.
“Yeah. Only I’m still here. I read the thing, it obviously didn’t shatter me.”
“It was good.”
“I’m not saying it wasn’t.” Garnet put a cigarette in her mouth and lit it. “I’m just saying.
The Earth—it didn’t really shatter.”
“You’re biased.”
“Hey, who do you work for anyway, Tim?” Garnet took a drag on her cigarette and
blew smoke out into the world outside. “I can’t write like that anymore. People don’t want
you to write like that anymore.”
“You wrote that one story. If you wanted to make money, you should have made the
deal. Then the scandal would have died down and she could have sold the rights. You
could have gotten a cut.”
“I didn’t want some corny cinematic spectacle. That story meant something,” she
licked red lipstick off her teeth and sucked on the cigarette again.
“What did it mean, Kate?”
“I don’t know anymore,” she uncrossed her legs and smoothed down her skirt.
“People don’t want meaning, Kate.”
“They want August Prather.”
“You’re really hung up on her, aren’t you?”
“She’s only twenty-six. And I . . . I won’t be twenty-eight anymore. In a month, I’ll be
twenty-nine. And that’s almost thirty. She looks like she’s the spirit of youth with that pink
hair and the tattoos . . . ”
“And she’s, you know, Creole or something.”
“Is she?”
“She’s from New Orleans or some southern place. And she has that caramel-mocha
skin tone going for her.”“She’s a person, not an espresso drink. What the fuck, Tim.”
“Well, whatever she is it makes her . . . you know . . . edgy.”
“Does it?”
“Doesn’t it?”
“Tim . . .”
“Well you’re like . . . you’ve got the whole . . . you know . . . the thing that you used to
be a dude. You should use that! Sell some books about that. Stop hiding it.”
“Not hiding, Tim,” Garnet crushed her cigarette out. “Way to win that GLAAD award.
I’m trans and it says so in my goddamn ‘about the author’ portion. That’s not hiding.”
“Yeah, but like . . . you pass. Like, I would never think you weren’t a real woman.”
“Tim . . . just shut the fuck up about it. Gender is a social construct. There are no real
women. There are no real men. We’re all just bored little animals trapped in our fragile,
furry bodies playing dress-up until we fucking drop dead.”
“Wow. That’s so dark. But . . . could really work in a . . .”
“I am not writing a memoir, Tim.”
“Okay, no memoirs. Got it. But shit, those things can sell.”
“No one wants to slog through the swamp of despair that is Kate Garnet. Trust me,
psych wards are not glamorous. They smell like old sweatpants and industrial dishwashing
detergent. Plus, I already wrote about some of that, remember. And she took it away. It’s
not mine anymore.”
“You just need a better imagination.”
“I n e e d to read August Prather’s new stuff. Do you think there’s any way she’d send it
to me?”
“You could ask her. But her drafts are all done on a typewriter. She keeps paper
copies lying around, until they’re ready. You might have to wait a while.”
“Maybe . . .” Garnet tapped her fingernails on the window glass, hitting over a lit-up cell
tower in the distance. “Maybe I could find her house.”
“You want to find her? Why?”
“I can get the manuscript.”
“You want to break into her house to steal her draft?”
“Yes.”
“Please do not do that. That is a crime.”
“Obviously.”
“Think about the consequences of your actions, Kate.”
“I always do.”
“And get some sleep, Kate.”
“Yeah, sure. Sleep.”
Garnet found August Prather’s address through tax records like a Grade A stalker.
Presuming there would be pieces of the manuscript there, Garnet planned on getting into
the apartment building, and sneaking in through the fire escape. But she didn’t even make
it out of her car once she reached the parking lot. She didn’t really need to.
The moment she pulled in, she spied her target—that pink hair sure stuck out—coming
out of her car. August was holding a manuscript in her hand. She looked at it, shrugged,
looked at her car, and then tossed it into the back seat. She shut the door and ducked into
the building.She hadn’t bothered locking it.
She didn’t lock her car.
Not knowing how long August would be, Garnet dashed across the parking lot. She
looked around her once, twice, and then dove straight into the back seat of the car. She
shut the door behind her, snatched up the papers, and started to read. She should have
just grabbed the manuscript and ran. But instead, she lay in the back seat.
The more she read, the more she wanted to read, and the more she lost track of time.1
THIS IS A VERY OLD STORY.
Once upon a time in a land neither East nor West, there lived two families.
One family lived upon a hill, and in winter, they always had the brightest lights glowing
from their windows, onto the snow. The glow was softened only by heavy shutters barred
against the wind. But in spring, when the snow melted, and the hill turned from white to
green, the house stayed close. It did not flower into an unabashed display of color; it
stayed gray and stately.
The second family lived at the bottom of the hill. In winter, there was no glow from their
windows—only a deep coat of musk from the smoke rising out of their crooked chimney.
But in spring, when their fields turned brown again, the family flayed the gray skin of their
home to reveal painted patterns on wooden beams, interlaced with figures of the most
vibrant red, blue, and gold.The family at the bottom of the hill had two sons and the family at the top of the hill had
a daughter.
The two sons were named Dmitri and Ivan.
Ivan was sixteen when the incident occurred. He was not old nor was he young. He
was not much of anything really. And the question is, and will remain: did he ever want to
be? He was handsome in a bright, unaffected way. His eyes were a slick gray and held
deep reflections giving him an uncanny advantage at lying. It also helped that he began his
life by being honest. If he had started out lying, they would have found him out by the time
he was old enough to cause trouble. Instead he went into it slowly, when no one was
looking, and by the time they had figured it out, it was too late.
Dmitri was twenty-one when the incident occurred. He had been away at the
monastery on the other side of the hills, set away in darkness. He was training to serve
his God. There was only one problem about Dmitri’s arrangement. He did not believe in
God. Everyone in the village always thought of Dmitri as a fine young man, mutedly
goodlooking and sincerely well-intending. Of course, this is because they never really knew
anything about Dmitri at all. He was more of a ghost than a person, and he was aware that
he liked being that way, so he was persistent about remaining so.
There was only one person in town who was more of a ghost than Dmitri and that was
the daughter of the family on the hill. Her name was Maria.
Maria was nineteen at the time of the incident. Only a few people had seen her, and so
she was said to be the most beautiful girl in the mountains. Those who had seen her
reported similar descriptions: she had light hair that wafted off her shoulders, honey-blue
eyes and fair skin. Some people thought she was an angel and some people thought she
was a demon, since she never left that house on the hill. Her mother was dead. Her father
would only come into town on market day, once or twice a month.
Her father was once asked by a woman pushing a cart of flowers in the market, “Is
young Maria afflicted with a sickness?”
“Yes, she has a weak constitution,” the father replied.
“She is much like her mother then, do you say?”
“Yes. Much like her mother.”
“Katya was a strong girl. A strong and beautiful girl, never sick. What weakness have
you brought on her child? The very same that caused her to commit such sin upon . . .”
“I loved Katya,” he threw his arm out with such force that the woman thought he was
going to hit her. Instead there was only a finger, flung at her, in great accusation. “And she
is dead. Do not call her death a sin. She was weak . . . that was all. Weak and lowly.”
In case you were curious, Katya, Maria’s mother, jumped out of a window the day after
Maria was born. No one really knew why. She got all tangled up in the cane so when she
landed—twisted and broken—she looked as though she were tied up in lead restraints.
Bits of glass stuck out of her face and reflected the lights of the village below. She might
have looked happy.
But that is another story.
This story begins with a dead cat.
Ivan and his two friends weren’t certain who had killed it, but they found it in the
churchyard one crisp fall morning and it looked like it had been beaten to death.
“What a pity,” Ivan shrugged. “I bet it was someone’s pet too.”
“It looks just like Katrina Alexandrovna’s cat,” said one friend, poking at it with a fallenbranch. “Who did this? Did we do this?”
“Shit . . . if one of us killed Katrina Alexandrovna’s cat, then we’re fucked. We are, right
Ivan?” The other friend looked back and forth as though expecting someone to be
watching them.
“I didn’t kill it.” The first friend put down the stick. “She loved that damn cat. And her dad
would kick us out of town if we even as much as spat at her cat.”
“Ivan, maybe we should check and see if it is her cat or not . . . and if it is, we can get
a replacement before she even realizes it’s dead!”
“How are we going to get a new cat, you idiot?”
“I don’t know . . .”
“And how are we going to get rid of the dumb dead cat you went and beat up on?”
“I don’t . . . hey, I didn’t kill it!”
“How do I know, you were so damn drunk last night . . . and you always get violent
when you’re drunk . . .”
“Well, so do you!”
Suddenly, Ivan turned back around to face them, and they went cold silent.
“What should we do, Ivan?”
“I think we need a prostitute.”
“What?” the first friend blinked.
Ivan laughed.
“I’m tired of all these childish games. We need to have some real fun.” Ivan crossed
his arms over his chest.
“Where are we going to get a prostitute?” one of the two boys asked in awe.
“There’s a place on the west side of town. I’m sure we can get a girl there,” the other
boy answered.
“What’ll we do with her?” the first boy asked.
“You know what we’ll do with her . . .”
“No . . . wait . . .” Ivan stopped. “Wait, that’s too easy, getting a trash girl to play with.
We need a girl that’s a challenge.”
“Katrina Alexandrovna?”
“You idiot, we just killed her cat!”
“From what people say about her, she is more than willing to go out at night with young
men. We need a challenge. We need a girl who acts like she’s better than the rest of us,
like she’s more than just a way to have a good time . . .” Ivan sat on a headstone, thinking.
“Maria! What about Maria?”
“The girl on the hill?” Ivan stared at the two boys, his eyes dull and hard. “She’s not
real. She’s just a myth. That’s what my brother told me.”
“She’s real. I saw her once. I really did!”
“When?” Ivan brushed the dark hair out of his eyes. “When you were intoxicated?”
“No! I saw her plain as day. She’s got that long golden hair and it enveloped her like a
halo . . . like a full-body halo in a painting I saw of an angel in a church once . . .”
“A mandorla. That’s what it’s called,” the other boy joined in. “I read a book once.”
“Yeah, and she had these eyes that were clear like water from the mountains and she
was wearing a white dress . . .”
“And I’m sure she had wings and could fly.”
“She’s real!”“Maybe she was a hallucination after all . . .”
“No, she wasn’t!”
Ivan was quiet a moment. He was not thinking, he was just waiting.
“Let’s go see if she’s real.” Ivan stood up and smirked back at the boys who instantly
shut up. “Let’s go take the bitch off her pedestal. If she’s up there living on that hill and
looking down on us, then we should bring her down here and show her that she’s no better
than the rest of us worms festering in the wounds of the earth.”
“What do you mean?”
“Let’s go see what happens.”
C A T H E D R A L
“If you don’t mind, do you think you could get out of my car?”
Garnet thought it was a dream. She hadn’t had a dream in a long time.
“Um . . .” the placid female voice continued. “Are you even alive?”
Garnet didn’t know how to answer that. She felt something pinch her arm.
“I wonder how a dead woman got into my Prius.”
Garnet opened her eyes. She saw pink hair. She knew she was doomed.
Somehow Garnet wriggled out from the backseat floor. Her back hurt, so she focused
on popping it and on smoothing down her skirt as she sat on the seat. She started fixing
her hair, avoiding the stare of the girl kneeling on the seat beside her.
“I know who you are!” She pointed like a child pointing out a new toy.
“Mmm?” Garnet said, while holding a hair tie in her teeth.
“You’re Katherine Garnet.”
Kate let her hair fall. She gradually lifted her gaze from her lap to the person beside
her. August had apparently lost all interest in her at this point. She was busy trying to
scrape a strange orange substance off the driver’s side headrest.
“Yes, I’m Kate Garnet.”
No response.
“Think it’s cheese?”
“What?” Kate reeled.
She pointed at the orange stuff.
“But how would cheese get up here . . . I don’t even eat cheese . . .” August kept
scraping.
“Um . . . so it’s very nice to meet you.”
“Oh! Nice to meet you, I’m August Prather.” She held out the hand she’d been using to
scrape up the orange stuff and smiled. Kate shook her hand. “I thought I’d get you out of
the car so you wouldn’t suffocate. That would be awkward. I have to go.”
August indicated the scene outside the window.
They were in the desert. They must have been driving for a long time. The sky
stretched over the land and engulfed any idea of scale. They could be miles away from the
nearest town. Or they could be days.
“Where are you going?”
“The church.”
Garnet hadn’t noticed it before. An enormous Gothic revival church in the middle of the
desert, complete with bell towers, flying buttresses, and stained-glass windows.“I have to go to confession.” August sounded serious. “Want to come?”
Like she had a choice.
They went into the church, heading straight down the center aisle beneath a rolling
vaulted nave, making a sudden turn at a white pillar smack into the confessional. August
shut them inside. It was almost totally dark. Kate sat on a bench and August moved in
beside her, closest to the screen.
The silhouette of a man could barely be made out from the other side. His features
were indistinguishable from shadow. He could have been old or young, large or small. He
could have had some hideous scar. He could have been dead, as far as she knew.
“Bless me father for I have sinned. It’s been at least five years, Lyosha,” August
smiled through the screen.
“Has it really been five years?” The voice had an accent. Something making his
translucent voice grow in lines to full byzantine patterns of sound for Kate’s lips to trace.
“So as far as sins go . . . well, I accidentally kidnapped someone,” August stretched out
on the bench. She was wearing slinky black pants, traffic-cone-colored Converse
sneakers and a blue shirt with a cupcake on it.
“You what?”
“Accidentally kidnapped someone,” August said, chewing on her lip. “She was in the
back seat of my car, I didn’t know, and I brought her all the way out here.”
“What was she doing in the back seat of your car?”
“I don’t know, I haven’t asked her yet.” She turned to Garnet. “What were you doing in
the back seat of my car?”
Garnet was stunned.
“I . . . uh . . . well . . . I . . .”
“Who is she?”
“Kate Garnet. That writer I told you about a while ago.”
“Oh . . . yeah, I kind of liked that one book she had . . . Hey, August, wait. You
kidnapped Kate Garnet?” The voice was unaffected, deadpan.
“Accidentally.”
“How does she feel about it?”
“I don’t know . . . let me ask her.” August turned to Garnet again. “How do you feel
about being kidnapped?”
“I guess . . . I guess it depends on where we’re going?” Kate tossed out there,
unprepared.
“Oh. Well, we’re going on a trip. And Lyosha and Mitya are coming also.” August turned
back to the screen. “Is it okay if we go on a trip Lyosha?”
“I don’t know . . . I should ask Mitya . . . I can’t just . . .” he stammered.
“Well, what else do you have to do?”
“Um . . . well . . . nothing really . . . But, August, what’s this about? Is it about her?”
“No, it’s about . . .” August opened the door and stepped outside. She smiled at Kate
and closed the door. Garnet sat as the silhouette of the man disappeared and the sound
of murmuring rose and fell like cicadas.
Eventually the door opened again.
“Kate!” August stood there, grinning. “Want to come meet Lyosha?”
“Okay,” Kate stepped out of the confessional.
A young man leaned against the wall. He wore a long black coat, thin fabric that spreadout behind him. The rest of his clothing was also black, save the stiff collar that broke at
his throat, one square of white. His hair was a honey color and was tied back, but not very
well because some had carelessly fallen into his face, highlighting dark blue eyes. He had
a slightness about him that had been cut, and then bandaged over by roughly torn paper. It
was the way he stood. As though he did not need to be there.
“Kate,” August said as though breaking a cast spell. “This is Father Lyosha.”
“You’re a priest?” Garnet scoffed.
“Yes,” he played back. “What did you think I would be?”
Garnet laughed. August stood between the two of them, glancing back and forth.
“You don’t look like a priest. You’re . . . pretty.”
Lyosha glared. Then he turned his head and smiled, secretly. Garnet frowned.
“I figured it out!” August exclaimed. Her voice echoed through the building.
Both Lyosha and Garnet looked to her. She held up a half-melted orange crayon.
“Of course, there is still the matter of how it climbed out of my pocket and got on that
headrest . . .”
“What?” both Kate and Lyosha asked.
August stared at the crayon.
“Well, I guess you can’t get all the answers at once.” She shrugged and put the crayon
back in her pocket. “Let’s go get Mitya or we’ll be late.”
Lyosha shrugged and led the way. They went into his side of the confessional and for
a moment, stood all together. Lyosha hit something on the wall and the floor started to
lower itself. Kate looked up and saw that the ceiling of the confessional had stars painted
on it and that the lower they got, the farther away the stars seemed to become. A door
opened in front of them and the chamber filled with light, glowing upward, some catching
onto the stars. And she just kept looking up . . .
“Come on, Kate.” Someone grabbed her wrist and dragged her into the light.
Garnet found they were in a carpeted living room. Someone had his back turned and
was playing a video game on the couch.
August had her wrist. She held onto it, forgetting to let go as she addressed the person
on the couch.
“Mitya!” She waved with both of their hands. “We’re going to go on a trip. Okay?”
Mitya didn’t turn their way. Lyosha went over to the couch and plopped down beside
him. He leaned over pulled the ear phones out of the man’s ears.
“Having trouble beating the level?” he asked as though no one else was in the room.
Mitya must have responded.
“Did you go to the East tower?”
“Hey, Mitya!” August tried again, dragging Garnet with her in front of the couch.
The man on the couch had dark hair and wore black-framed glasses. His eyes were
dark and kind.
“Hello, August,” Mitya smiled quietly. He had the same accent as Lyosha. He hit a
button on the controller.
“August wants us to go somewhere.” Lyosha looked to him, taking the controller out of
his hands, hitting the button again, and then starting to play the game. “I’ll tell you about it
later.”
“When do you want to leave?” Mitya stood. He was wearing a suit, all black, except for
the white square at the collar.He was broader than Lyosha, probably older. Kate could see the well-toned muscles of
his chest beneath his shirt.
“Who are you?”
“This is Kate Garnet,” August introduced her. “I accidentally kidnapped her.”
“I’ll tell you about it later,” Lyosha said from the couch, his fingers clicking away on the
controller, his eyes never leaving the screen in front of him.
“Are you coming with us?” Mitya addressed Kate.
“I guess I am,” she tried. “I mean . . . I don’t . . . I didn’t pack or anything . . .”
“Well, Lyosha has a lot of clothes. You look about his size,” Mitya spoke in a soft,
flowing voice.
“I’m not giving her any of my shit,” Lyosha declared from the couch.
“She’s just borrowing it,” Mitya turned to him. “Lyosha, don’t be rude.”
“Fuck!” Lyosha threw down the video game controller. “You made me get killed! There,
game over, I lost. Now we have to start over.”
“It’s just a game, Lyosha.” That softness in Mitya’s voice tensed, becoming deeper and
more permanent. Lyosha’s eyes went wide, the pupils sinking into pinpricks.
“Okay. Okay, I’ll let her borrow some clothes, Father Mitya,” Lyosha spat the name,
turning off the video game and putting the controller on top of the player. “Okay, come on,
Kate.”
August let go of Garnet’s wrist. Garnet followed him into a bedroom.
“It’s clean,” she said, sitting on the king-size bed. “Really clean.”
“So was the rest of the place. What did you expect?”
“You just don’t seem like a neat person.”
“Well, you don’t seem like someone I can trust.” Lyosha opened a drawer and started
throwing things onto the floor.
“Neither do you. What kind of Russian priest works in a Gothic cathedral in the middle
of nowhere?” Garnet laughed. “I feel like I fell down a rabbit hole here, to be honest.”
“How can you tell that I’m Russian?”
“The stacking dolls and vodka that are sitting on your bedside table gave it away,”
Garnet jeered, watching clothes fly in the air and land on the carpet.
Lyosha turned and glared.
“Your name is Lyosha.” She held up her hands. “I’m not stupid, I’ve read Tolstoy and
Dostoevsky. It’s a Russian name. So is Mitya.”
The boy turned back to the dresser.
“I read one of your books,” he stated. “It was good. I remember liking it.”
“Which one?”
“The one about the two kids in the hospital . . .”
Kate stiffened.
“I . . . I didn’t write that.”
Lyosha dropped the jeans in his hand and stared at her.
“But . . . I . . .”
“No,” she said. “I didn’t write that.”
“Oh.” Lyosha sunk lower. “Sorry. I guess . . . well what did you write?”
“Just a bunch of murder mysteries.” She stood up from the bed and went over to peer
inside the second drawer that Lyosha had opened. She picked up a dark-green jacket and
gasped. “Oh my God, this is Prada.”“And?” Lyosha picked out a pair of black slacks and tossed them on the bed.
“Those are Armani . . .” She pointed.
“Yeah, and they’re mine, bitch. I’ve got another pair in here that are white if you want
them. White isn’t favorable for my skin tone.”
“That’s a little expensive for a priest.” She picked up a V-neck T-shirt, checked the size
and folded it over her arm.
“I inherited a lot of money from my parents. And then invested it.” He handed her a pair
of Chanel boots. “Those should be your size. They’re too big on me.”
She scowled but looked. He was right. She set the boots down.
“It’ll be weird to wear these clothes.” She shook her head, accepting another T-shirt
and a pair of black slacks.
“As opposed to what? Being naked all the time?”
“Wearing like . . . women’s clothes.”
“Well.” Lyosha looked at her a moment. “Your new low-femme look will be just as good
as the high-femme look. You have nice legs. You’ll look hot no matter what.”
Garnet blinked.
“Did I just get hit on by a priest?”
“Sure.” Lyosha’s tone was flat. “Knowing August, she probably never told you how long
this trip will last. We’ll probably be gone at least a week. Pack accordingly.”
“A week? Okay.”
After they both shoved everything in their piles into suitcases they returned to the living
room. August was playing Pacman on the couch and Mitya was on the phone.
“Yes, that’s what you said the last five times.” Mitya leaned against the kitchen counter
tapping a pen restlessly on a notepad. “Yes, it’s right here on your list from last month . . .
No, faucets turning on and off by themselves is not a new phenomenon . . . Neither is the
laughter coming from under the stairs . . . Children’s toys moving by themselves? Well,
that started happening two months ago.”
“Who is it?” Lyosha ran over to where Mitya was standing.
“Susan,” Mitya mouthed.
“Again?”
“Yes, we’ll do the regulars . . . No, they shouldn’t be coming back, but when you build
on top of a cemetery, there is not much you can do . . . See you in a few minutes . . .
Good-bye.” Mitya ended the call, rubbing his temples. “Susan . . . Every first of the month
. . .”
“Are you kidding? She wants us to check them out again?”
“Apparently Susan thinks that there’s a new development.” Mitya flipped through the
pad of paper in front of him.
“What’s happening?”
“The same claims as last time.” Mitya shook his head. “Would you go take care of it?”
“By myself? No fucking way. I’m not going to deal with Susan by myself.” Lyosha folded
his arms and sat down beside August on the couch. “You do it.”
“Well, I have to pack.” Mitya came up and stood behind the couch. “Besides, she likes
you better than me.”
Lyosha laughed bitterly.
“She likes me? The last time we went over there, she called me a communist.”
“What did you say to that?” Mitya asked.“I told her that Jesus was my comrade.”
Mitya laughed.
“That woman is nuts, did you see her wall of crosses?” Lyosha continued.
“Makes you wonder if the ghosts are just after her because she tries too hard.”
“Ghosts?” Garnet dropped her suitcase.
“Oh, you’re still here.” Lyosha bit.
“Ghosts, yes, ghosts.” Mitya turned, a crease forming between his eyes.
“What the fuck did you think we were talking about? Do we look like exterminators to
you?” Lyosha kept it up.
“So . . . you’re . . .” Garnet faltered.
“Exorcists,” they both said at once.
“Oh,” Garnet said shortly.
“Why don’t you go and take her with you?” Mitya turned back to Lyosha.
“Take her with me? What am I supposed to say she is?”
“Your sister?”
“We look nothing alike,” Lyosha scoffed.
“Why don’t you ask Kate if she wants to go?” August suggested, turning to grin at
Garnet.
“Kate, do you want to go?” Lyosha tried testily.
“Okay.”
They stared at her a moment as the silence rolled by.
“Well, go get the briefcase, Lyosha.” Mitya shrugged.
Lyosha shook his head, but left the room. Garnet followed him back into the elevator.
They went back up with the press of a button. Only, they didn’t stop at the confessional
floor, they kept going up into the stars that Garnet had noticed earlier. When they reached
close enough to touch them, the elevator stopped.
Lyosha sighed and unfastened a seamless hatch. Out of it fell a ladder, which he
proceeded to climb and vanished into the ceiling. He returned in a moment with a smart
black briefcase in one hand.
“You know anything about exorcising?” He folded the ladder back up into the hatch.
“Sure.” Kate scratched her head as the elevator went back down.
“Well, most of the time, we get false alarms. A lot of people think their houses are
haunted and they aren’t. People have creaking stairs and doors that won’t stay closed. So
usually it’s boring. You just put on a show, do a little check up to see if they have any
credible activity and then, when they don’t, you leave.” Lyosha led her through the church
and out the door she had entered. They went around the side of the building.
“Okay.”
G H O S T S
“You don’t believe in stuff like this, do you?” he said as they drove down the empty road in
his mint green Fiat.
Garnet wasn’t sure how to respond.
“I guess I don’t know,” she decided.
“Well, I wish that I could show you a more convincing house but unfortunately the
Levinsons have absolutely zero credible activity. We’ve been going to their house monthlyand haven’t found a fucking thing.” Suddenly on the horizon there appeared a vast
whiteness. The shape of it got larger and larger until Garnet could see individual houses
standing in rows on top of rows. They all looked the same.
“They built this place recently. And they built it on top of a cemetery, so that’s provided
a lot of fun for us, especially since we came out here to have some peace and quiet.”
Lyosha drove through the gate. Mirage Canyon the sign read. Lyosha scoffed.
“It’s not a canyon. And it’s not a fucking mirage, I would hope Hell is better than this
fucking little suburban deathtrap.” Lyosha drove down a windy street around perfectly
manicured lawns and smooth cement driveways. “I mean, if I was lost in the desert and
this was the hallucination playing in front of me, I think I’d prefer the grim reality of vultures
peeling the flesh off my bones. Anyway, we’re here.”
The house that they parked in front of was indistinguishable from any other. It had a
white vinyl back and a brick front. And it was two-story. Some classical elements
attempted a door surround but otherwise the front was flat with clean white windows
looking out, without the ability to look in. Except the sign, the tell-tale sign. It had an
American flag on it that said God Bless America.
Lyosha walked up to the front and rang the doorbell.
“Listen,” he said to Garnet beside him. “Just play along with whatever I decide you’re
supposed to be . . . and if she asks you, I’m not a communist . . . and if I start to say ‘fuck,’
you can step on my foot, okay?”
The door opened and a spindly blonde woman answered the door. She was roughly
seven feet tall and her hooked nose and beadle eyes squeezed their way out of her
swollen face.
“Well, hell-o, Father Losha,” a twang with a high octave pierced their ear drums.
“Hi Susan.” Lyosha stepped over the threshold only to be grabbed in a bear hug. The
woman looked as though she was going to annihilate him, pro-wrestler style.
“Well how have you been? You know, not a day goes by that I don’t think about you up
at that funny little church all alone and with no ladies around to cook and to clean for you,
when here, you have gone and bought yourself a little nun.” Susan let Lyosha go and
focused her powers on Garnet who was stunned as though struck by one of those
poisontipped needles shot out of hollowed reeds in the Amazon.
“Now to who do I owe the pleasure?”
Garnet kept standing there. She could not step over the threshold into that house.
Lyosha’s smile was crooked. He nudged Garnet with an elbow. The woman did not
respond.
“This is Sister Katherine,” Lyosha introduced her. “She doesn’t speak English, sorry.”
Then Lyosha recited something in Russian. Garnet waited until he’d finished and then
she nodded when he stopped.
“Oh, she’s just come over from that third world country y’all are from? She must feel so
privileged to see decent houses and eat decent meals.” Here she turned to Garnet.
“Welcome to our little piece of God’s green goodness.”
“It is not a f-” Lyosha started but Garnet stepped on his foot. “Fine place. A good
place. She’s from a bad place. Things are very bad. Where she is from. That place.”
“Oh well, thank you. It is so good that y’all are here now in the greatest country on
earth, especially since.” She took Lyosha to the side. “She was probably a prostitute. I
watched a show about it on the news. It’s true, almost all the women have to work at nightjust to buy bread and potatoes . . . and wear them headscarves.”
“Okay.” Lyosha wrenched his arm out of her false nailed fingers. “I’ve got to . . .”
“Ask her about it.” She eyed him sternly. “I’ll bet she’ll tell you. I’ll bet she’s had at least
one forced abortion. The prostitution rings are all run by the mafia and . . .”
“Mom!” a female voice reeked from the kitchen. “Mom, you’re embarrassing me. We
have company.”
A girl tramped in from the kitchen. She was maybe fourteen, but she looked like an old
raccoon woman. Her eyes were blue and black with makeup. Her skin glowed with layers
of highlighter. She spoke with a whining cough. Her hair grew blonde out of the seeded soil
of dark roots.
“Momma, get JJ Alexson a margarita,” the creature barked.
“Faith.” The beadles crawled out of their nests and glittered, then retreated. “Honey,
what are you doing home so soon? Now say hello to Father Lyosha and Sister Katherine.”
“Hello,” Faith let the word slobber like honey. “Momma, what are they doing here?”
“Well, Princess Faith, they are going to get rid of our little problem.” Her smile was
going as wide as it could.
“Momma, we don’t have a problem. Momma, all the kids at school will think I live in a
crazy people’s house if they know . . . Momma, I brought JJ Alexson home early from
practice because he said his momma don’t let him drink. I told him you let us drink all we
want so we came over here.” She stamped her foot at her mother and flung hair over her
shoulder, then stamped her foot again. Garnet expected a charge to come next. There
wasn’t one. There was surrender.
“Oh, baby, thank you for coming here to get drinks instead of going off to some sleazy
bar in the city. And JJ Alexson is the nicest boy, you make sure he knows that he can
come here any time he likes,” she whispered in her daughter’s ear. “And you make sure
not to drink too much. You know where all the good beer is at.”
“But Momma.” Faith made a pout. The earth shifted. “I want margaritas. I dunno how to
make margaritas.”
“Okay, Princess Faith, I’ll help you in a minute. We just have to . . .”
“Momma! I told you I don’t want them to do that thing while JJ is here!”
“Well, they’ll only be a little while, and they’ll mostly be upstairs.”
“Aw . . . okay, fine.”
Faith left the room.
“I’ll just do a quick sweep through here.” Lyosha set the briefcase on the floor and
opened it. Inside were three bibles, four amperes, and a rosary. Lyosha took his phone
out and went over to a closet, where he placed it into the stereo system of the house. The
Mormon Tabernacle choir sang an eminent Ave Maria. Lyosha took an ampere and went
across the room, putting solution on his finger and rubbing it in the sign of the cross on the
corners of the room. He went around to other rooms downstairs.
“Do you know if Lyosha is a communist?” the woman asked now that she and Garnet
were alone in the foyer.
“No,” Garnet answered, dumbly feigning an accent.
“What about you? You want us to give lazy, welfare-sucking tramps a chance to waste
more of my money?” she asked. Garnet noticed she was wearing heels and pearls with
acid-wash jeans. “People are so wasteful. I try so hard to help the poor, Sister, really I do.
But they are just so wasteful.”There were photographs on the wall of little dogs in ballerina costumes and drunken
teenagers on yachts and more family pictures. Each time the parents, a beefy bald guy
and the lovely Miss Susan, looked more and more pretentious. Each time with more and
more children in the pictures. The one over the fireplace had eight children in various
stages of production, all smiling little paper smiles. There were also two ugly dogs and a
deer skull in the photograph. The frame was gilded and covered in jade and rhinestones.
“So wasteful, we can’t trust them. They all do drugs and things and they all just waste
our money that was so hard-earned.” Garnet saw that the oldest picture on the wall had
the happy couple being married. The bald guy looked about forty and young Susan looked
sixteen. “I know it’s God’s will and all, but I pray for them so hard that those poor women
will find decent men to marry them up and turn them into good Christian women like me.
Their children can have a stable home and a big happy family. That’s the way God
intended things to be—a big strong man bringing bread to his little wife and their big brood
of sweet children.”
Garnet stood there.
“Oh, what a silly little woman I am, forgetting you can’t speak a lick of English. Well,
learn it soon. You’re in our country, now,” she chided grabbing Garnet’s wrist. “Let me
show you my cross collection . . .”
“I need Sister Katherine to assist me upstairs,” Lyosha broke in. He had to have a
short game of tug-of-war with Garnet’s body before she got away with him, up the stairs
and into a guest bedroom.
Garnet let out a breath.
“Fuck,” was the first word out of her mouth. “Thank you for getting me out of that.”
She sat down on the bed shaking her head.
“Yeah, Susan is . . . well, what did you think of her?” Lyosha grinned, opening his
suitcase back up.
“Holy shit.”
“Pretty much,” he laughed and handed her a Bible. “Let’s get some real work done.”
“Um . . .” Garnet fingered the cover. “Now isn’t the time but . . . I don’t really think this
will work.”
“What do you mean? I guess I’ve had too many experiences to know how to convince
someone else, but . . . let me think . . . Did you ever even once consider that it could be
true? I mean scientists haven’t been able to really prove away . . .”
“I guess . . . when I was little. But I learned a lot about it and . . . I mean I really tried
with the whole thing and the more I learned the more I saw it as useless.”
“Okay, that’s weird. Usually the more evidence people see, the more convinced they
get . . .” Lyosha shrugged. “But, they are kind of useless. They don’t really do anything.”
“Wait . . . what are you talking about?” Garnet looked up from the bible in her lap.
“Ghosts. What did you think?”
“Oh . . . I . . . I thought you were talking about God.”
“Seriously?” Lyosha grinned. “Fuck no. God? Wow. Really? No way.”
“Yeah.” Garnet looked away setting the bible down. “I thought you were trying to
convince me that there was a God.”
“What a waste of time. To be honest with you, I don’t care. I don’t care if you think
there’s a God. I don’t care if there is a God.” Lyosha opened a second bible and took out
a small video recording device. In the third bible, there was a thermal imaging camera.“But ghosts are very real.”
Garnet opened her bible and found an EMF reader.
“I know what this is. I used to ghost hunt with this club for a little while.” She looked at
it, turning it on. “What’s the base reading for the house?”
“With all the electronics? Five. Wait until I turn the lights off, okay?”
They started scanning the room, Garnet wasn’t picking up any electric forces that were
abnormal and the thermal didn’t see any heat patterns.
“That’s new. We didn’t have one of those when I was with the club . . .”
“Did you ever see anything?”
“Yeah, there were a couple of weird images. I heard a voice in my ear once,” Garnet
sighed. “But it wasn’t really what I was looking for.”
“What was it you were looking for?”
“Just answers, I guess. I used to look for answers.”
“Did you find anything?”
“No. I just sort of stopped looking. It didn’t really matter. Things just seemed to happen
at random and living day to day, living to get by, became a distraction. No more looking for
anything.” Garnet was sitting on the bed again.
“Were you afraid of what you might find?”
“What do you mean?”
“You know, people like the woman downstairs. She has no idea what things mean. She
would worship Fluffy the Éclair if that’s what everyone around her did. She doesn’t want to
know real things. She hides from them, defends against them. But because of that, she’ll
live a long life; unfulfilled, yet happy.” Lyosha sat beside Garnet. “You’re afraid of
becoming her, but you don’t want to be like August. I know because that’s how I am. I’m
terrified that once I find something valuable, everlastingly valuable, I won’t get to keep it.
That’s why . . .”
Lyosha cut off, clamping a hand over his mouth.
“What’s wrong?” Garnet asked.
“I don’t know you, so I was nervous about bringing you here. I was afraid that you’d
actually like Susan.”
“If you hadn’t made me Russian, I wouldn’t have known what to say to her. I don’t know
what to say to people like that.”
“Let’s get the fuck out of here.”
A W A Y
They all piled into August’s Prius with luggage in the trunk and set off down the road. At
first it was quiet—Mitya sat in the front and Lyosha and Garnet sat in the back. No one
said anything for a while. They just drove and that was all right. Everyone seemed to be
enjoying the thoughts in their head.
Then August turned to Garnet.
“That manuscript you were reading is still back there, right? In case you get bored.”
She turned back to the road. They were passing by another suburban deathtrap.
“Thanks,” Garnet choked. “You knew the whole time that’s why I snuck into your car,
didn’t you?”
Lyosha looked to Garnet, Mitya looked to August. But August didn’t turn.“Yes,” she said.
Then she turned on the stereo and ridiculous melodic dubstep music vibrated through
the waves of sterile desert heat. They were off.