“Come on, Meeko!” Eric leaned against a gate at the end of the block. Meeko barely paid Eric any mind: meow. Meeko was off, on the porch of some stranger. “Meeko!” Eric called through the half-completed mummy wrap on his face. Eric went up the block and to the porch. Meeko was clawing at a candy bowl, fighting with a mini-Twix bar. When Meeko saw Eric, she nudged against his leg. “For me?” he picked up the twix and a couple more candy pieces before putting the whole treat or treat ensemble back together. “You're silly, man,” he stroked her head. “Let’s go back home.” Eric unwrapped the small chocolate and ate it in one bite. On any other day, the chocolate needed to be savored, but on this day he couldn't risk getting melted, smeared chocolate on his costume. Meeko followed behind him in her own way, sometimes going around blocks, in small alleys, over and under porches, atop gutters, or wherever else she could fit herself. She liked to surprise him by beating him to the next block. Meeko was the only cat Eric ever walked, and he learned quickly that all he had to do was mind his business and everything would be OK. He was rushing her on this day, though -- he needed time to prepare for the parties.
When he reached the back door of his home, Meeko was right behind him and zipped inside.
“Hey, Mummy!” someone called from behind him. It was Stokely. “Answer your phone!”
She came down the lot, lugging a bigger than usual purse, huffing. Eric looked at her: “Wow.”
“I’m just...your hair. It’s dope, babe.” Her hair was a fiery afro, layered orange and black. Eric went to play in it. “No! The fuck? I’m not even in my costume yet.”
“My bad” Eric tried to play it off.
She kissed him, not bothering to move the mummy wrap, and then handed him her bag. Stokely went inside and Eric followed, locking up behind him.
“You kinda have a paper mouth,” Stokely said picking pieces off her tongue. “We gotta work on that.”
He laughed: “I was just tryna be in character” Eric put her bag down and went upstairs, “I’ll be back.”
Eric went to the living room and started back tying the mummy wrap around him. He felt a little silly, spinning so much around himself. Meeko rubbed against his leg. It wasn’t long after that Stokely came upstairs in full costume: a punk school girl. “Rochelle, from The Craft,” she smiled.
“Damn, you look good.” And they jumped on each other, sweet and hungry. They landed on a big beige love seat. “You can touch my hair now,” Stokely giggled. Eric went for it, fingers tangled in tangled hairs. A beautiful, juvenile mess of blacks, oranges, blacks and brown. They grabbed as much skin as possible. They let their hands travel. Eric forgot he could even breathe, his heart raced so fast when he was with Stokely. She bit his neck, and Eric howled, ripping one of the mummy bandages on his arm. “Fuck,” he laughed.
Stokely climbed off of him: “Your Mom made spaghetti, right? I hope it’s Spaghetti!” She was practically at the kitchen already. Eric followed, and to Stokely’s delight there was a big pot of spaghetti waiting on the stove. “I love your Mom’s spaghetti. You don’t even know.” She stuffed a plate and then her mouth. The kitchen was quiet -- always a sign of good eating. Eric went into the fridge for a bin of leftover baked chicken and rice, and popped it in the microwave. Then he made his own plate of spaghetti and sat at the small stool table with Stokely. “Stokes,” he said twisting a first fork-load of spaghetti, “I...I love you.” Stokely nearly dropped every noodle right out of her jaw. She blushed. Then something caught her eye, something just outside the window. A small figure, a shadow, appearing and then gone again. It taunted her for what seemed like forever. “Stokes…? I didn't mean to - I’m sorry if -”.
“You don't see that?” The figure appeared again.
“Look at the window, Eric.” As Eric leaned closer, the microwave went off in a loud beep, and then: a panging tap a the window. Stokely yelped. Eric pushed the small curtain out of the way, still cautious. When he got a good look, he backed away and carefully ordered Stokely: “Stokely, you gotta...go.” Stokely was already on her feet. “You gotta go...TO THE MICROWAVE AND GET THE CHICKEN OUT!”
He howled and then busted out laughing. Stokely, one hundred percent unamused, went back to the table and pulled her food close. “You real joe for that.”
“You only saying that cause I got you. Don't be mad. Ain't nothing to be scared of though, it’s just my friend outside. I’ll be right back.”
Eric went down to the basement, back through the laundry hallway, and opened the back door. Tatiana stood just beyond the door, shoulders ever-hunched, in a hoodie twice her size. She smiled up at Eric. There was a small caution about her. Her hair was wild, and more tattered. Her skin was dark as Eric’s and looked even darker hidden next to her piercing eyes and the darkness of her black hoodie. She was shaking, as if shivered.
“Hey T, chin up. I got diner.” Eric formally stepped aside, and ushered her in.
Tatiana liked Eric’s basement. It was one of few comforts her new life offered her. She sniffed the air for that familiar smell: baked chicken. It came in one big wiff for her, as she cast other smells aside: of spaghetti, grown-up perfume, another girl, and Meeko. She waited at the bottom of the stairs for Eric. He took her hand and they climbed together. “Hey Stokes, I want you to meet somebody,” Eric stepped into the kitchen and Tatiana stood in the doorway. “This is Tatiana, she’s a friend. Tatiana, this is Stokely, my girlfriend.” Tatiana bowed her head in salute. Stokely forced a smile and murmured, “Oh. OK. Nice to meet you.” She shot Eric a look, what the hell? Eric went over to the microwave and got the wings with rice. He sat it on the counter, “All yours.” Tatiana crossed the threshold, and chose to sit in the middle of the kitchen floor. Eric offered her a fork, but she declined. The taste of onion, black peppers, salt, and the warmth of the food, filled her with joy. She devoured every bit. Stokely cautiously forked at her spaghetti, while Eric stole glances of both the girls. He was proud of himself, having the two of them in the room at once.
“So, Tatiana, what school do you -”
Eric shook his head, “She doesn’t speak...And she’s not in school.”
“Ok...But she can write, right?”
“Yeah, but we’re like in the middle of a kitchen...and besides, she’s eating.” Stokely went to the sink and washed her dish, stepping over Tatiana without so much as an “excuse me”. Tatiana sat, unbothered, sucking her chicken bones dry. When Stokely dried and put her dish in rack, she said: “I’m going to pack up my stuff. We should leave soon.”
“Uh, yeah,” Eric went to the sink to wash his dish, catching Stokely’s mood. “Hey, Tati, you mind washing these and putting everything away till I come back?”
Tatiana got up, one bone still in her mouth and nodded. Eric hurried after Stokely.
Meow . Meeko stood in the doorway, careful not to cross into Tatiana’s territory. Tatiana crouched, sitting down between her legs, and stared at Meeko -- both of them unflinched.
In the basement, Eric tried and failed to articulate exactly why he had been helping this girl called Tatiana, and Stokely failed to understand. “So, this homeless girl is coming to the party with us?”
“Yeah, Stokes. And she’s my friend.” Stokely rolled her eyes. “You don’t even know where she lives, or if she has any parents! How is she your friend?”
“I know it’s a little weird, but it’s not like you have to talk to her. She does her own thing. I’m just trying to be nice. I saw her one day, almost a year ago, she was hurt real bad - we helped her out, Mom and I. She came back a few months ago, all of a sudden, not able to speak. Mom doesnt know she still comes around, but it’s only right, you know? I’m tryna be a friend. You get that right, babe?” Eric pulled her close. Stokely rolled her eyes, of course she got it. Didn't make it any less questionable , she thought.
“But you don’t know her, Eric. Like at all.”
“I know...but...her and i, we’re connected. She’s special, Stokes - for real - and she’s good people.”
“Special how?” Eric drew her closer, and she leaned in. “I wish i could tell you, but you just have to trust me.”
“Alright. I trust you. But you better not get me into no mess.”
The bus ride up to North Philly was easy, and Tatiana fit in with the commuters easier than Stokely or Eric did - no one seemed to be dressed up!
Right before they got off, Stokely’s phone rang: “Hello? Hey Mike. Yeah, we’re on the bus now. We’re on the bus, I swear to god! Ok. I’ll call you then, promise. Bye.”
The whole time Stokely was on the phone, she couldn't help but to stare across at Tatiana. She was pretty, Stokely noticed. Small faced. And hidden; whole body curled up to fit into the one seat. Tatiana looked back at Stokely, and, embarrassed, Stokely turned away. If this girl was playing a game, she won. Tatiana looked at Eric and smiled, gesturing with a faint nod of her head, something outside the windows. Eric turned to see: more ghosts and ghouls, probably headed to the same party. Stokely saw now what she had been so taken off guard by at the house: Eric and Tatiana had a language that did not depend on words. It was all in the feeling, in the care of a gesture. Eric had said they were connected. It made her a little jealous. Something about the strength of their relationship, despite it being a burden and a secret, Eric and this strange girl. Eric took Stokely’s hand and when she looked back at Tatiana, she was still staring. Tatiana let a small smile well up in Stokely’s direction, before she turned around to tap the window. Stokely sunk into Eric’s shoulder, hoping she’d be able to dance that uneasy feeling away later. From her new posture, she saw the Full Moon, grimacing at them. They were all someone different tonight: black kids who were shapeshifters, howling at the Moon, made to dance in concrete fields. Stokely’s mother always said Halloween was the devil’s holiday.
Tatiana felt the bass from all the way down the block -- it pulsed through the concrete. She smelled the sweat of teenagers when they were four doors away. She stayed close to the ground, peddling on a lone penny board she found. No one seemed to notice the new edition. Eric and Stokely were a ways ahead of her, and when she rolled up to the porch, Eric had already made introductions. They were easily escorted inside. It helped that he had two girls with him, she guessed -- though Tatiana was not so sure she was even a girl anymore. She felt herself being called. She knew she might disappear again tonight, but this time for good: a final retreat.
Eric quickly lost Tatiana in the crowd, but Stokely was right behind him, arm in arm, when he found the punch bowl. “Y’all know what this is, right?” some upperclassman asked, guarding the bowl. “Duh, we know what it is.”
Stokely said, taking a cup and passing one to Eric. “We got it,” Eric said. The upperclassman backed off, “Ard. Just sayin.” Eric and Stokely filled their cups and drank at the same time. Eric and Stokely parted from the table and found a corner to hang in. “We can both agree that was disgusting right?”
“Ummm, yes.” Stokely nodded. “Michael says we gotta get four locos - those jawns will -” And in mid-speech she heard all she needed to hear, booming from the stereo in the house: Just gimme the light.
“Wait. Is that? Oh my god, this is my song!”
“It's Halloween, why are they playing Sean Paul?” Eric said.
“You know niggas love Sean Paul. Now, let’s go!” Stokely led him to the basement, where the music was coming from. Down the stairs, they were met with a sea of their classmates, each of them gyrating, hip thrusting, two stepping, and otherwise posted for a wallie. Soon they’d all stomp to Thriller, Halloween’s natural chorus. It was funny, because the upperclassmen were much more wild than the ninth and tenth graders -- at least at the party. And in the case of Ryan-Casey Johnson, the famed junior, he literally danced up the walls. The whole party made a circle around him as he spun and spun and whipped his legs under his torso, over, and back again. Stokely and Eric cheered him on, sweat dripping from their heads, sweat jumping between them and everybody in the house. When Ryan-Casey was done, someone threw a bunch of candy overhead. Eric got knocked on the head with a Cry Baby, and he and Stokely lost their shit, laughing. They felt loose and goofy from the drink, anyway. He and Stokely were almost seeing sideways. All the dancing and the pushing and the noise. Eric took hold of Stokely’s waste, fought for a space on the back wall and she gave him a wallie. Their bodies housed against each other were some of the greater joys of ninth grade. They grinded for a good minute before the music slowed. It seemed like the perfect time -- everyone had a chance to catch their breath. Suddenly, a burst erupted from the ceiling. Water sprayed and dripped everywhere. Everyone scrambled to get out of the basement and out of the house. Eric and Stokely tripped over partygoers, trying to get out the house. At the front door, Eric saw the pennyboard Tatiana had been on:“Where’s Tatiana?”
Eric and Stokely fished through the crowd, calling her name. They found the doorman who originally let them in - he hadn’t seen Tatiana. The basement was emptying up, and they went back down.
“Tatiana?” they both called descending the stairs. The lights were still on, but the music was off. Whoever ran the set was smart to cover their shit and get out. Water was filling up on the ground, and the floor was a weak one - muddy. Some kids were still wading through, hurrying to get back upstairs. “Hey, have you seen a short girl, black hoodie?” Stokely shook one of the teens. “Oh, that girl, yeah last I saw her she was back there. Crazy chick bro,” a tall boy pointed to the furthest room, smelling of loud. Eric and Stokely stepped through cold water that was quickly growing warm and swampy from the muddy floor. The back room was filled with even more water. Tatiana was crouched down, reaching in it, digging at something. “Hey,” Eric called. Tatiana whirled around, her eyes watering. Tatiana swallowed hard, and nudged her head for Eric to come over. Stokely stood in the doorway, “What’s wrong with her?”
“I don’t know...” Eric approached Tatiana, sloshing through the water.
Eric thought to Tatiana, It’s me. What’s going on? No response. As he got closer, he could see something poking from out just beneath the water’s edge. He crouched next to her, and she was digging up the wet mud. I have to - I have to - I have to, he heard Tatiana think. Eric put his arm down into the water, feeling something hard and sharp - it was weighed down, and much bigger than they could see. He and Tatiana locked eyes. They kept digging. And then the mud gave way. Stokely felt the ground under her shift. Tatiana and Eric stood up, feeling the same. The object rose up toward them. And rose and rose and rose. Many long, tall, boxes came to the surface. “Oh my god,” Stokely said. They floated there before all three of them: sarcophaguses. “What the fuck,” Eric slowly backed away.
Stokely ran, “Eric, fuck outta here, let’s go!” Tatiana looked back at Eric.
I have to stay , Tatiana thought to Eric.
When he received her thought, he shook his head: “What the fuck, yo.” Eric took off.
It was just Tatiana. Alone. With what had come from the ground.
Tatiana pulled on the lid of the nearest coffin, the one most adorned. It looked ancient. Inside was a small body - paled brown and wet still, only the slightest touch of decomposition. Its eyes wide and cold and ancient with deadness. Its face thin on one side and bloated and insect-rotted on the other. Everything about it was familiar to Tatiana, however: its face about the size of her’s size, its hair as black and thick as her’s, too. Tatiana sniffed the air, closing her eyes. In the black of her mind she saw the corpses face -- and she the saw that she had that exact same face. She knew that they had to be one; that they had to be one again . Tatiana took another deep breath. She would not allow herself to be afraid - even in the midst of the long dead and forgotten. She heard a creaking sound, like two small joints working themselves out, and when she opened her eyes the corpse was staring at her. Its mouth moved slowly - it creaked again.
“Eat me,” the corpse said in the hush voice of a young girl.
Tatiana was frozen, and heard the creak of her own jaw at work. “Ok,” she whispered aloud. Then, her eyes became blood orange. Red and black fur, like that of a jackal, ripped from the spine of her hoodie; and black claws made themselves known to her fingers. She pulled on the corpse and went to work. The sound of Tatiana’s back breaking was soaked in the water; the meat she made into a meal did not drip and drop; and so there was only the sound of bones coming back into a body. In her new shape, she shrieked through the night.
Eric and Stokely stayed away from each other for weeks after. Stokely was rightfully freaked out, and Eric did not know what to do -- about Stokely nor Tatiana. In over his head, he vowed silence about all of this.
A month later, they finally began speaking again. Eric wanted to apologize, and asked his mom to cook spaghetti for Stokely. At kitchen table they spoke, talking of less of love and more of fear. Everything was confusing, all that had happened - and all that they still did not know. After the party, they spoke to cops about the coffins and the flooding, but they did not mention Tatiana. Eric was under punishment and on a stricter schedule. Stokely was more tightly monitored via her phone, and driven everywhere she could be by her mother. When Eric and Stokely got back together, it was hard to say, really, what they felt about Tatiana before and how that related to what they felt about her after that room, that water, and all those coffins in that North Philly basement. But it didn't matter for long. Because as they twirled forks over noodles, swallowed and tried to spit out words, there it was again. At the window. A tap.
Note from the author:
this short is a smaller story within my original TV series I'm developing, called "Walking Shadows". There may be more of Tatiana to see... hopefully onscreen :)
https://open.spotify.com/user/1246393307/playlist/3f3hr2tUJtI8ThGvl0bmQd And here's an original and corresponding playlist for this short story: Thank you for reading.