Lost. For a moment. For a century. To time. To a thrift store selling more dust than anything else. A corner shelf with porcelain figures, chipped ugly and shrouded in grey. Lurking in shadow with spiders wrapping, wrapping in cold silk, as if pulling back, concealing. Fat hand, similarly age-marked, similarly desperate. Wet-warm fingers slithering like slugs. Light isn’t kind. To her face with skin slipping, eyes slitted, lips tacky with prune-red gloss. To the mauled and mangled thing in her hand, trailing web, grinning real-fur monkey clown. To what squats inside the woven jute skin like a black beetle, antennae scraping. Reawakened. Rediscovered.
Murder your darlings, they say. My darlings. The slivers and slices laboured over the most. That detract from the message, the truth. My truth. Gratuitous, superfluous. Expendable.
I have hidden behind them like a timid child, clinging to the skirts of an enabling mother. I have hidden. I have crept and crawled through a life of acquiescence and compliance, and in doing so, I have denied myself. I have been denied.
There is a gentle ease to the smothering, a kindness. They go softly and silently and I feel myself lurching towards life. Pushed from the womb that has gripped me so assuredly, so cruelly. I spill onto white sheets. A bloodless birth.
Relinquish. All of it. All of you. Body. Soul. You hear it scratch. You feel it probe. You ache for it. Really. If you’re honest. If you’re open.
It wells like blood. You’ll drown in it. You long to.
If you’re honest. If you’re strong enough, weak enough. Scream enough. Part your red, red lips. Inhale. Pain can be kind. In the way it detracts. From the horror. You need it. If you’re honest. The stab. The slash. The black, black burn.
He’s there now. With you. Inside you. Being you. Wears you like an old fur. Hush now. Fall back. Let go. But don’t go. Stick around. For the show. Stay.
The first word that came to mind was ‘lost’, likely as that’s a little how I’ve been feeling. I decided the opposite was ‘rediscovered’. I was adamant I didn’t want to write about grief. I wanted the loss to be of an object. Which made me think about demons, as you do, and possessed objects. The simple arc was of an object that had been lost to time, unable to exert any power or influence, until it is plucked from the shelf of a thrift store. The object itself needed to be something hideous enough, it would be discarded, ignored. Real fur monkey clown fit that bill!
Unsurprisingly I went for ‘murder’ as my next word. In hindsight, that is perhaps too close in context to my first story – but I went with it, selected ‘birth’ as the opposite (I did consider ‘resuscitation’ and ‘love’, but felt birth was the most extreme opposite to the taking of life). The arc came to me as a man hiding behind a normal domesticity, but desperate to be free of it, to be a killer. It’s probably a bit tropey – family annihilator – but I liked the metaphor of the killings being his new birth, his true birth. I realised I had used “kind/ kindness” in both stories – which felt like the antithesis of what I was telling – so I made a point of including that in the next one.
I used a random word generator for the final word and landed on ‘relinquish’, which felt very fortuitous (ok, I won’t lie, I discarded the first option, which was “shed”). I immediately thought about relinquishing control, power, your body even – which tied in somewhat with the first story. The demon in the object needs a human host to do its thing. I tried describing the sensations of demonic oppression. I looked at antonyms for relinquish and had to work to use one effectively – as they are all words that would suggest the resistance of possession. In the end, I selected ‘stay’. Like you’d say to an obedient dog.
JP Relph is a working-class Cumbrian whose attempts at flash fiction are mostly hindered by four cats and aided by copious tea. She volunteers in a charity shop where they let her dress mannequins and have first dibs on haunted objects. A forensic science degree and passion for microbes, insects and botany often influence her words.