by Michael Hodges






From Issue 14 (Oct 2011)

I eat words. I don’t know why. I hang in the corners of this old and meticulous house by unseen hooks or latches. The words come to me from the mouths of the family and their visitors. The words of the adults come out grey, brown and black; the words of the young rise to me in reds, greens and blues. I swallow them all, and each time I do, something inside me grows. I know not what it is, only that I receive energy from this action.

I exist high up in the corners, and sometimes in the dark wall spaces, which I do not care for. I have no legs or arms, nor any visible torso, but I know I exist.

What I am I do not know.

People cannot see me, whatever there may be of me. I watch them eating dinner, talking in the television room or in the bedrooms. Sometimes they cry and I try to turn away as a great sadness overcomes me.

On random days, the doorbell rings and the acute tone triggers a release of emotion from me like a fresh galaxy setting itself upon a foreign night sky. I do not hear the doorbell as others do, but rather become entranced by it for minutes, focusing with whatever is left of me on the fading timbre as if in a seizure. Only when it marches into the ether do I regain my ability to see and hear the words of the family.

The rooms are decorated with bright, note-attached flowers. One of the rooms is kept shut, but a single light is left on. People sometimes open the door and stare in with long, tired faces, then turn in anguish. I feel cold when this happens, and the sensation triggers a movement to another room. I cannot control this. I cannot control anything.

The new moon brings darkness, inducing a reduction in my activity. I dream, or at least, experience what I think are dreams. Maybe this is all I dream. I wish I knew; I wish there was a semblance of certainty in any of this. Instead, I feel as if I’m in a floating house with no sense of time. These people before me taunt me in their unawareness of my existence, and I long for company even though I am inches from this family and their visitors. It is these dreamlike periods during the new moon that cause me to question everything as I lie frozen between the walls of the house, watching the occasional mouse or squirrel scurry past. Sometimes they pause and give notice to my obscure form, holding their twitching snouts in the air, wrinkling the skin around their mouths and tweaking their reaching, feeling whiskers. These rodent visits are a highlight. Unfortunately there are lowlights too, like the rare, horrible, formless energies that I can sense with every fiber of my consciousness. They move through the dark wall spaces and into the yard. Most of these entities pay me no mind, moving on like agitated bull moose through windblown aspen to parts of the world where I do not exist and, I gather, few things exist.

As the visible moon grows each evening, inch by inch revealing a piece of ghostly pie and flooding the rooms with persistent, organic light, my activity increases and once again I find myself stuck in the ceiling corners, never knowing which room I will appear in, and eating the words — always eating the words. I find the words of the young to be powerful, and when they play games on the television and shout, I feel energy grow inside me. I watch with increasing intensity and with what I suspect is an open, blue-lipped mouth not unlike that of a perch preparing to nibble at a worm. It is these younger ones I’m most connected to. One is a boy, the other a girl. The older woman I am also close to – her eyes bring comfort, while the eyes of the younger forms challenge me and fill me with excitement.

I wish I could say the same of the older man. Although I do feel connected to him, this connection is twisted and perverted, like an anchor line left in rough seas for far too long. This brings confusion, shame and pain, and I do not like the electric look in the man’s eyes. I can sense he is hiding something. Looking into those eyes and the narrow, defined face causes me to hear vague, hollow winds and feel icy daggers of exploded frozen planets jab at what is left of my consciousness.

The evenings are when I swallow the most words, for the family sit around the table and eat their meal and discusses the day. I watch from the corner—which one I do not know, for I’m always in different corners and cannot control this. I prefer not to see the man’s eyes, and relish the evenings when I’m in a corner from which I can only see the back of his balding head. Their words rise to me in tangled patterns like vines and rampant vegetation, and when they near my perch-like mouth they become independent and enter in order. When the talking is fast, my mouth remains open to allow for the train of them. The words from the children run colorful in bright, big letters. I need to open my mouth wider for these. The words from the older woman come in brown and grey, smaller than the children’s but still providing energy. The words from the older man come in black and are shrunken. I try to avoid these as much as possible but sometimes cannot, as they slip into and are hidden among the large, bright words of the children. Upon swallowing the poisonous words of the older man, I feel my energy deflate; I have learned to avoid them as best I can within my limited abilities.

How long I’ve been here I cannot say. I’m now in the dining room with the family spread out before me. Unfortunately, I can see the man’s eyes tonight and I try to look away, but my restricted movement keeps me focused at an angle from the corner I am set in. The man sits at the head of the table, brandishing shiny silverware as the older woman brings him a plate of tender meat, the blood of it leaking out when she presses down upon it with the cutlery. How I know these things I can only guess, but I do know them, as if from a distant memory. I remember plates, meat, milk, freshly blown balloons that stole my breath and the bright, wild eyes of people I was close to. I remember lush, green plants and forests of wonder, rivers meandering through grassy meadows and the darting, anxious flight of songbirds ahead of storm fronts which chilled the air and sent the people scurrying into wooden structures, peering out with curious and frightened eyes. These things I know. And as the family eats before me, the words come from the younger ones with a force I have never seen before. I open my mouth and swallow each word. I can feel my energy increasing, and whatever I am is bursting with vitality.

As usual, a certain word triggers silence from the family, bowed heads, and the momentary cessation of feeding.

Except for the man. He continues to eat, paying no mind to the glum silence. He speaks and his black, shriveled words float up to me. I am barely able to turn away from the poisonous offering as it glides past me and goes through the thin wall, into the dark recesses where I pause during the new moon.

When the silence passes, the young ones speak with smiles and laughter and the colorful words flow to me in a train, and as I swallow these offerings I feel something inside me click and grow. Streaming brightness enters my consciousness and pushes on me. Memories follow this light and filter in as on a thousand lanes of highway; each lane filled with a story or remembrance.  I am overwhelmed, and I continue to swallow the words of the young and the occasional words of the older woman. They keep speaking and the words keep coming… I am full of light and energy, beyond description. I can hear strange, choral singing far off, and this singing grows louder and closer with each new word. My God, the energy…what is happening to me? More words in reds, blues and greens! The children smile and laugh and jostle in their seats, cutlery held high in the air, reflecting the moonlight. They are beautiful. In the endless highways of memories I see them holding hands with a little girl.

There are puppies and flowers.

There are blue lakes with tall pines and the effortless flight of eagles.

There is laughter. I see the older woman holding the girl and feeding her fresh blueberries, which tumbled out of a wooden bucket.

What am I?

I see the little girl under an enchanting tree set indoors and strung with dreamy, multicolored lights and dangling candy canes. The older woman is smiling and the younger ones are buried behind crumpled and torn paper.

The energy is relentless, electrifying my consciousness and giving me shocking, unfamiliar sensations. The memories are incessant, and I now wish to turn them off, for I can no longer absorb them. Please stop… please make it stop! I’m terrified as I look down upon the family. A rushing, uncontrollable force grabs and shakes me, and for the first time in this indescribable existence I hear myself make a noise.  I feel a great, vaporous gush of air from somewhere below, and from my perch-like mouth a scream bellows out and pierces every tangible object in the home, including the people who look around in shock at the commotion.

The boy drops the silverware and gets up to run.

The woman holds her hands to her chest and forehead, gasping.

The girl’s eyes turn red and moist.

The man looks to the ceiling, petrified.

For just this once, I, the watcher in the corner said a word instead of eating it. Like a rush of vomit, I cannot control it: “Father murdered me! He did it, he did it, he did it, he did it!”

Copyright © 2011 by Michael Hodges

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Michael Hodges

Michael Hodges lives in Chicagoland with his saintly girlfriend and three insane cats. He’s represented by agent Laura Wood of FinePrint Literary in NYC for his novel INVASIVE. His short story “Shiners” was published in Dead Bait 2 alongside stories by Ramsey Campbell, Steve Alten, and Guy N Smith. Four more of his stories are scheduled for publication in 2011. They are:
“The Believers” – America the Horrific, October 2011
“Revenge on Apex Mountain” – Fearology 2, Winter 2011
“The Red Aspen” – Ghostlight Magazine, September 2011
“Window of Jacob” – Big Book of New short Horror October 2011
He’s hard at work on the sixth draft of a new novel. He’s also contemplating his next camping trip to the Northern Rockies, as usual. You can find out more at his site,
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