Birthday book event–FREE stories!

On October 18th, I’ll be doing a reading, discussion, and signing for my horror collection Nightmare Yearnings. Indigo Bridge Books (1624 S 17th St Ste 200, Lincoln, NE 68502) will be hosting this free event from 6 pm to 7 pm. Register here. You can also join remotely with this Zoom link.

I’ll be reading one or two queer horror stories from Nightmare Yearnings, and there will be the chance for discussion afterwards. You can read these stories for free below:

My Better Half

How you determined which was my “gay half” and which was my “straight half” is a mystery to me. I suspect the realization came during last night’s date at Texas Roadhouse. A handsome waiter approached our table, black T-shirt highlighting the bulge of his pecs, tight jeans highlighting a bulge of a different sort. I tried not to stare, but I must have grinned—or half of my face must have grinned. The gay half. You ate in silence, spreading cinnamon butter over the dinner rolls with enough force to flatten them into dense discs. I asked you what was wrong, but you said nothing. When I pressed the issue, all you offered was, “Long day at work. And the chicken here sucks.” Our waiter came with the check. You didn’t leave a tip.

“What was that?” I asked, brushing past the birthday saddle as we rushed into the parking lot. “If you’re mad at me, don’t take it out on the waiter. Seriously, what the fuck?”

We reached the car, and as you unlocked it, you smiled at me.

“Everything will be fine in the morning. Don’t worry about it,” you said.

I didn’t know what to make of the mood swing, so I stayed quiet for the ride home.

#

I awoke the next morning in two places—my straight half in bed with you, and my gay half locked in the closet. A little on the nose, don’t you think? It was disorienting, seeing two sights at once—a split screen of a spinning ceiling fan on one side and a pile of sweaty gym clothes on the other. Oh, and blood—the one consistent element holding both sides together. A crimson spray on the bedroom ceiling and a brown crust on the closet carpet. An absolute mess.

You rolled over in bed and smiled at my straight half. Even splattered with gore, your blonde curls were gorgeous, somehow immune to bedhead. You kissed my half-mouth, and when you pulled away, a thin web of blood went with you. You looked unbothered. Unbothered by any of this.

“How would you feel about a little . . . you know?” you said, massaging my torso with your soft, warm hands.

I shook my head, unable to speak. When your smile persisted, I shook more vigorously, stopping only when half of my brain almost dislodged itself. Your face darkened and you stroked your chin, whispering something indecipherable. A moment later, you grabbed my straight half and lugged me over to the closet where my gay half lay. Maybe you’d been wrong about which half was which. You switched out sides, locking the closet behind you.

Again, you put the moves on, your tongue tracing my neck, a sensation I normally loved but could no longer tolerate. I tried to twist away and, hell, I even thought about biting you—half a mouth could still do some damage. But I didn’t. That wasn’t my style. And frankly, I would have pissed myself if my bladder weren’t cut in two. Everything inside had already drained out.

You must have seen the look on my face because you stopped again, this time gritting your teeth. For a second I thought you might kill me, fed up with trying to guess which of my sides was which, your experiment a total failure. And of course it was, but my reasons for thinking so were certainly different than yours. I didn’t say that to your face, though. Who knew how you’d react?

Time was what you needed. Time to think, to hypothesize, to scheme.

“I’m late for work,” you said, hopping out of my lap and stomping away.

The hiss of hot water came from the bathroom. I eyed my phone, pondering who I could call before you got out of the shower, but you stepped back into the room almost immediately to grab a towel. You tracked my eyeline, grabbed my phone, shattered it against the floor. I couldn’t see where it landed, but I was sure it was in multiple places, just like me.

With no way to contact anyone, I waited until you left, practically catatonic. You’d probably be back for lunch—wouldn’t trust me on my own for a whole day—so I had to make the most of what little time I had.

Half of me shuffled to the edge of the bed while the other half scooted against the back of the closet wall. Together, we stood up, slowly and precariously, balancing on one foot each like fucked-up flamingos. We hopped to each other, standing on opposite sides of the locked door. The thing was easy enough to open—just a twist of the lock—but in our rush, our bedroom half tripped. Barely catching ourself on the doorframe, a lung popped out and swung like a pendulum from my gaping cross section. We got that half of ourself upright again and tucked the thing back in.

Door open now, my halves met, and we hugged. I hugged. My closet half reached down to grab the sewing box, then both my halves hopped over to the bed. There, I spent the next couple hours sewing myself together, glancing at the clock every other stitch. When the spool ran out, I unraveled thread from the pillowcases, using those to finish the job. The colors weren’t uniform—white becoming green—but that was fine. It was only a temporary solution. What a permanent one looked like, I had no way of knowing.

The moment of truth came when I stood up. There was a sound like fabric stretching as the slack between the stitches widened, my halves threatening to separate once more. But after a moment of me staying perfectly still, the seam didn’t stretch any farther. Sure, someone could slip a spaghetti noodle through my center, but for now, the fix was stable enough.

I checked the clock. 11:58. You’d be home soon. I ran out of the room and down the stairs, my steps only semi-coordinated, the stitches at risk of tearing away if I slipped. But I made it out the front door, past the driveway, into a pile of bushes just as your car whipped around the corner like a drag racer’s. I paused to breathe, my lungs inhaling at different times, losing some oxygen through the slit in my windpipe. You slammed the car door, hustled into the house. But it wasn’t long before you stormed back out, screaming my name. I stayed hidden and didn’t dare answer. 

When it was close to one, after nearly an hour of pacing and shouting, you drove off again. Back to work so your boss wouldn’t get mad. You’d deal with this when you got home. Or so you thought.

But I made sure you’d never find me. Where I went, I won’t tell you. Just know that it wasn’t with the handsome waiter from Texas Roadhouse. Though, if it were, I hope he’d never try to cut parts of me loose.

This is goodbye, not from one half of my being, but from a united whole—hurt, but healing.

When Mothman Came to Queer Lake

Ellie and I fled Crawford after our big secret came out—pun intended. The mom-and-pop grocery store owner Mr. Reynolds caught us kissing behind the Dumpster and fired us on the spot. We were off the clock and out of uniform, but the man couldn’t have homos scaring customers into shopping at Wal-Mart.

He was shocked when we filed a wrongful termination lawsuit, and he nearly fainted when we won in court. Our winnings were enough to score us a plot of land far away from Crawford, complete with a fishing pond and golden prairie as far as the eye could see. Thus, the town of Queer Lake was born. The fact that the state didn’t officially recognize it as a town only made Queer Lake queerer.

Ellie built us a house with slanted floors and enough cracks for mice to nestle in (as if I could do any better), but there was still the problem of food. It was a two-hour drive to the nearest grocery store—yep, that grocery store—which gave us all the push we needed to grow our own crops. Learning to farm was a joyful process, though. We would till rows in the soil and make corny jokes about what we were planting. When the exhaustion set in, we’d spend the evenings cuddling and watching X-Files on our shitty antenna TV. On the rare occasion that we got tired of spending every second together, it was easy to give each other space: Ellie fished the pond while I wandered the hills and tried to avoid prairie dog holes. But on those hikes, I often found myself glancing back at Ellie, admiring her arm muscles as she reeled in catfish, the rod bending under their weight. I could never stay away for long.

However, paradise came with the anxiety that it might crumble at any second. We’d seen energy company vans stopping on the road in front of our house. The workers surveyed the land, taking notes and measurements of who-knows-what. Ellie thought they might be planning the route of an oil pipeline—a black snake that would soon plunge its fangs into Queer Lake.

A more familiar threat also drove that road: trucks sporting Confederate flags and bumper stickers for homophobic senators. Whenever those drove by, Ellie and I went inside, not wanting the drivers to see us holding hands. You’d think we’d be safe doing that out in the middle of nowhere, but apparently not.

Then came Mothman, our strangest visitor by far. We’d first learned about him as children from a library book about cryptids. But it wasn’t until two decades later, as we returned from the fields, that we saw him for ourselves, perched atop our house. Ellie dropped her armful of corn, and I about pissed myself. Mothman was a tall, dark silhouette in the twilight. His eyes were large and red as stoplights, and his wings were long enough to graze the gutters on both sides of the roof. Spotted, he flew upward falcon-fast and disappeared into the clouds. We craned our necks for a good while, waiting for him to reappear, but by the time the clouds passed, the horizon had already swallowed the sun. As we made our way inside, I glimpsed a quick, black shape passing over the moon, but by then I was disinclined to trust my eyes.

We sat on the couch in the dark for a while before either of us could speak. Unsure what else to say, I broke the silence.

“Want to watch X-Files?”

“Pretty sure we just did,” Ellie replied.

I snorted, trying to hold back a laugh, but the dam burst. Both of us fell into a fit of giggles. Tearing up and gasping for breath, Ellie collapsed into my lap.

A thunk on the roof halted our laughter. We stared at each other through the darkness, and neither of us dared breathe.

A minute of silence, then Ellie whispered, “It’s him, right?”

“It’s got to be. Why the hell is he here?”

We’d both seen him, so we weren’t crazy. But just because our minds were fine didn’t mean everything else was. Where Mothman showed up, tragedy struck. In 1967, he tried to warn the people of Point Pleasant about the impending Silver Bridge collapse, but his omens were esoteric at best, transmitted through dreams that left more people scratching their heads than taking action. Forty-six people died in the Ohio River that December, and Mothman vanished.

#

Each morning, Ellie wrote a new tragic prediction on our refrigerator whiteboard: “Ellie will come out as straight,” “Wachiwi will develop a corn allergy,” or “the mice will eat us in our sleep.” Seeing these jokes made me smile, but I couldn’t always bring myself to laugh. Had the people of Point Pleasant done the same thing as us, dismissing Mothman’s omens only to pay the ultimate price? I mentioned this to Ellie one day as we were harvesting potatoes.

“What if it’s something serious?” I said. “A drought. A wildfire. Violent homophobes. Or Proud Boys coming to—you know. I mean, there’s nowhere to run out here. No way to protect—” 

“Let’s not psych ourselves out,” she said, wiping her muddy hands on her jeans. “Maybe Mothman was just passing through on his way to Crawford. Plenty of tragedy to warn people about in that shithole. And in any case, don’t you trust me to protect you?”

She flashed a flirty smile and flexed her muscular arms. The tension in my chest eased up, and I couldn’t help smiling back. I felt silly for worrying in the first place. It had been three weeks since the Mothman sighting, and he hadn’t appeared again. It was probably just a fluke.

But Mothman returned that evening. He stood beside the pond, his red eyes reflecting off the water. Ellie and I watched him from the relative safety of our home, daring only to peek through a crack in the curtains. Mothman was shivering. His whole body trembled, and his knees looked close to collapsing. When at last he fell, he landed facedown in the pond, his wings twitching in sharp, spastic motions. Ellie and I looked at each other, wide-eyed and frozen. She sprang into action first, running out the door. I hesitated to follow, suspecting a trap, but if Ellie was going to die, I’d die beside her.

We rushed toward the pond, and the closer we got the more I wanted to turn back. Mothman had the wingspan of a pterodactyl and the build of an NBA player; he could easily fuck us up if he wanted to. But that didn’t seem to register for Ellie as she barreled forward. She wouldn’t be able to pull Mothman out of the water on her own, so I kept following despite every hair on my body bristling.

When we reached Mothman, no bubbles came up from where his face rested in the pond. I worried we were too late, but we each grabbed a leg and pulled him out. His fuzzy form prickled me with static electricity, only the static didn’t discharge after one touch. The sensation was constant as we dragged him onto dry land and, with tremendous effort, tipped him onto his back. Seeing him up close, I could only discern his eyes. Shadows bunched up around his other features as if they weren’t for us mortals to see. It was the kind of darkness one might find at the bottom of a well—an amorphous black that banished all light. And while it sounds like I should’ve been frightened, my heartbeat slowed in his presence.

“His eyes,” Ellie said, her voice far away.

I kneeled down to get a better look. Mothman’s eyes still glowed with life, and something danced below their glassy surface. It was a swirling mist that vacillated between form and formlessness. I caught glimpses of fire devouring homes, tactical boots crushing necks, and people dying in the streets of some town—distant or near, I couldn’t be sure. The images flashed by so quickly that it was hard for me to keep up. But even if I didn’t consciously register each one, my unconscious mind still pieced together their meaning. Tears welled in my eyes. Acid rose in my throat. I turned away from Mothman and vomited into the grass.

After my gut emptied and I’d dry heaved several times, I turned back to Ellie. She was no longer looking at Mothman. Instead she stared off into space, her knees pulled to her chin. My gaze lowered to Mothman, and I realized he was still breathing—hyperventilating, really, the rise and fall of his chest quick and shallow. Not knowing what else to do, I placed a hand on him and moved it in soft, slow circles. The static sensation prickled me even more than before, but the longer I spent soothing him, the weaker the sensation became. Eventually it diminished to nothing more than gentle moth fuzz against my skin.

Mothman’s wing twitched away a horsefly—one of the last still alive before the frost. I stepped back. After a minute of strained movement, Mothman pushed himself onto his feet. He looked at Ellie, then at me. At least for now, his eyes didn’t swirl with a thousand omens. I held his gaze for what felt like hours, wondering if it held a message. With little warning, he took off into the night to carry on his work.

When the black sky consumed him, Ellie shuffled over and hugged me from behind. She sniffled, and her cheek felt wet against my neck.

“I think this place is his sanctuary too,” Ellie said, her voice hoarse.

A truck roared down the road. While I could only see the headlights, I pictured a driver with a MAGA hat inside. I pictured him getting out of the truck with a rifle in hand. I pictured hate pouring from his mouth and screams pouring from Ellie’s. I pictured two unmarked graves. An energy company laying down pipe. Our home demolished. Our pond shimmering with the wrong kind of rainbow, black and viscous.That night, I dreamed about Crawford and the world we left behind. Ellie woke me when I started screaming in my sleep. And as grateful as I was to wake up in Queer Lake, I could feel that other world encroaching on our paradise. It was not a matter of if it would reach us but when. I wondered where Mothman would rest after this place was swallowed up.

Published by ericraglin

I’m a speculative/horror fiction writer from Nebraska. I also teach high school English, host the podcast Cursed Morsels, and make music under the name Ecovengeance.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: