Today my story “Our Dearly Departed” went live on Coffee House Writers. Thank you so much to my friend Seth for all of his help on the fact-checking and historical research for this story. He’s actually the inspiration for writing a western and has been a huge encouragement to me breaking out of writing in the American Gothic genres in more regions across the United States.
This story focuses on the subject of post-mortem photography and how it was used in the era of westward expansion and Manifest Destiny. For those that could afford photography sessions in the territories, a luxury service not afforded to most people unlike in eastern states, it was all about creating a facade of preserved standard of living to share with the family back home. This involved false windows, painted backdrops, and curating a scene that matched what people wanted their families to believe, even in death. Given the expense, the photographer was called out to a home for births, deaths, and marriages only if they didn’t have a studio set up yet. Most photographers traveled until the 1890s – 1900s when the railroads allowed town populations to grow enough to sustain studio spaces, as opposed to the photographer traveling to each individual business request. These areas would later become “the flyover states.”
I will write more on the subjects of western cabinet card era photography (post-mortem, momento mori, mourning, etc), as well as how it differed across various regions of the United States, and how it intersected with American Spiritualism and legal fraud in the future. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this short story inspired by my research so far with cultural and historic details assisted by a dear friend and someone I would consider extremely knowledgable on the West. Hopefully my skills at writing American Gothic style period pieces pertaining to this region of the United States improves.
Thank you for reading and I hope you have a great day! Remember to breathe 🙂
This experimental short has been rejected by a few different magazines at this point, so I’m going to go ahead and post it here.
“Why? Why do you let us go on doing such horrible atrocities to each other?! We commit genocide! We destroy the most precious of creations! The very God you serve gave us this planet and now you mean to tell me you sit and watch, and enjoy, with pleasure as we rip it apart?” The human thrashed against a darkness as it spoke.
The angelic creature paused, swirling a glass of white wine as it materialized out of the infinite. This thing projected fabrication; created for demonstrative purposes only. “I know this may be difficult for you to understand, but we are not your caretakers. Your view of “God” is all wrong. It’s from the bottom up. There are no guardian angels watching over you, for any purpose, and as far as you should be concerned, I serve no one.”
Alone in a void in the presence of an ethereal being, the human failed to notice whether or not this projection of himself included the rhythmic rising and falling of his chest.
“Your world is like one of a series of fish tanks, but this one I like best.” It walked along a sudden wall of aquariums illuminating the vibrant fish in the darkened room. “What makes humans special is that no matter how vile, how sinister, how awful, how petty any of you are, you are trying what you genuinely think is best because human lives are precious. Each moment is meaningful.”
The angel paused, its finger caressing the glass of one tank, watching the fluorescent yellow and Prussian blue fish trail their brief connection. It detached from the aquarium, returning its attention to the human and stepping away from the dissolving wall. “Immortal beings lack that.” Taking a seat at a cafe table, the creature invited the recoiling human to sit. “When humans destroy this world, we will create another. It is “old hat” as you say – a trick we have seen a million times before.”
The human gawked, but received rolled eyes from the unamused creature. “And we will see it a million times more.” In a long slow sip, its eyes flared across the table. The angel’s face relaxed, an eyebrow raised then the shoulders, before it replaced the wine glass on the table and rocked itself up from its chair, addressing the pantomiming human. “We’re waiting to be proven wrong though.”
“So what about Jesus, and Muhammad, and God… and… and the Saints?” The human reached an arm out to stop the angel as it began to saunter away.
The angel paused.
“What of heaven?” The human and angel’s eyes connected for the first time revealing piercing eyes of not one color, but a sea of ever morphing reflections of all colors known and unknown.
“What of them?” Those eyes relaxed as the human watched the most joyous and horrible of moments of his life laid out before him in blinding light and contrasting piercing darkness.
The human choked and knelt to the floor, reaching for his throat and crown as a once unencumbered mind drowned. “Believe whatever you wish. What matters is what you do with that belief.” As the angel turned around it added with a smirk, “And as for heaven, that is the mystery even I am not allowed to reveal.”
That Cheshire smile evaporated and the human’s memory grasped at the descending details of the encounter, but his attempts were for nothing. Instead he was left holding only empty palms facing upward.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this short story today! If you enjoyed this story, didn’t enjoy this story, think I should expand it, or have any additional thoughts I would love to hear them! As always, liking, commenting, or sharing is the best way to let me know which posts my readers enjoy the most.
Content Warning: this story alludes to spousal abuse and the assumed death/suicide of a distraught woman.
I’ve been working on a writing project idea for a murder mystery with lots of twists and turns. Just what everyone needs, right? I love murder mysteries that involve birds – I’ve been writing them since I was 8… though that one was terrible. It involved a frontier family being murdered and the daughter being brought back to life as a falcon who hunts down their murderer for revenge! He stole their family’s gold! Peck out your eyes because it’s a falcon with a gun! It got silly. I hope I’m better at writing murder mysteries now.
I fell in love with black swans while we were in New Zealand from December 2018 – January 2019. They behave differently than our North American sassy sociopaths that have a penchant for mauling small children along lakesides. Instead they are the more chill goth cousins that happen to be open about their homosexuality. That said, I would not put it past them to maul a child or two just for funsies on occasion.
How do black swans connect to this story? Well, that will be revealed in time. Let me know what you think of this brief preview in the comments.
The rain-soaked through Harriet’s trench coat as the mud swallowed her boots, belching with each step toward the fiery wreckage. Her umbrella braced against the torrential spring storm while the sergeant shouted over the pummeling drops. “Just spoke with the husband. Seems there’d been an argument and she’d taken off with the car a few hours ago. Someone in town says they saw her buying a bottle of vodka.” He paused and gazed at the flames spewing from the driver’s side window against the efforts of rescue workers. “A body is still inside, but it will be a few days before the official medical examiner’s report.”
Harriet’s heart sank. Another death on another stormy night. “How’s the husband?” She asked, shielding her eyes against a stinging attack of wind and infernal heat.
“Seems real broken up over it, but it sounds like a mate’s supporting him. Not much you can do here – you might as well go see him.” He ripped and folded a piece of paper, pressing it into her palm. “That’s the address.”
With a final glance at the war waging between emergency services as they continued to attack the blaze with billowing flame retardants, she slogged back to her car.
When Harriet arrived, the townhome glowed with two men visible through the front window. With her muddy boots in the back seat, she rummaged through her passenger seat finding only her gym bag for a pair of non-muddy sneakers to pull on over her damp wool socks. Taking a deep breath, she thanked God she was not tasked with delivering the bad news. Opening the car door, she scurried to the storm door, opening it and knocking as one of the silhouettes moved to greet her.
A familiar tall, slender man with grey temples answered. “Hello?”
“Sorry to disturb you so late, I’m Detective Dunn. Is John Morrisey available?” As she spoke, the recognition connected in her brain and her face reddened. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Rogers. No one informed me you were involved in this case.”
He opened the door with his face cast down, “The Morriseys are dear friends. Please come in, Detective.” Removing her wet sneakers in the foyer, she followed the man into the front room where a broken John Morrisey folded himself into the corner of the bay window. “John, there’s a detective here to see you.”
John lifted a head of dirty blond hair from his knees to reveal swollen grey-green eyes. “Is my wife really dead?”
Harriet swallowed. “I’m afraid the car appeared to have someone inside, yes.” Turning to look at the other man she motioned to a plush armchair and sat when he nodded. “It’s important that we ask questions as soon as possible to reduce lost information. Do you think you can help?”
John closed his eyes and nodded. “I can try.”
Harried pulled a notepad and pencil from her bag. “Mr. Rogers, were you also present?”
“Please, call me Dustin. I think it will help John feel easier.” Dustin sat next to John on the window seat, putting an arm around his shoulder. “I came over shortly after Libby and John fought.”
“What did you fight about?” Harriet jotted the date and time at the top of the page.
“I filed for divorce.” A tear escaped John’s eyes.
“And she did not agree?” Harriet pressed, a small point of graphite forming on the page where the pencil rested.
“Correct.” John nodded. “Our relationship had degraded since the birth of our daughter, Kedra.”
“How so?” Harriet scanned the two men as Dustin’s expression changed.
“There are police reports,” Dustin added. “Libby’s behavior had always been wild. But she started hurting both John and Kedra.” John nodded, his face red and breathing irregular.
“She’s just a baby! I had to protect her!” John sobbed. “When I told Libby we were moving out – that I was taking Kedra – she lost it. Fucking lost it. At first, she started hitting me until I said I was calling the police. Said I’d be sorry. Said I’d regret it.” John crumpled. “Then she drove off with our car and I called Dustin.” John wailed as an infant awoke somewhere in the house. “I never wanted her to die! She’s my wife! I loved her!”
Harriet watched John slide to the floor from the window seat, her hands gripping her notepad and pencil. “Do you know where she went after she left?”
John shook his head while Dustin’s shoulders slacked. “I called some of her friends, but no one had seen her.” Dustin stood up and walked from the room, returning moments later holding a crying child around a year old against his shoulder.
“About what time did she leave with the car?” Harriet frowned as John lifted his head and mumbled. “I’m so sorry, could you repeat that?”
“Five-thirty this evening.” John choked out through a sob.
Harriet wrote the time and stared at it. The accident report came in shortly after eleven leaving five and a half hours unaccounted for. She returned her gaze to John and softened her face, putting away her notebook and pencil. “John, I’m so sorry for you and your daughter’s loss.” Reaching into her wallet, she fished out two cards, passing one to each of the men. “If either of you thinks of anything or need anything, please do not hesitate to give me a call. I’m going to go ahead and get out of your hair for the night.”
Departing the house she called her partner from the car – he’d know what to do. “Hey – have you started the case file on the Morrisey death?”
“You know I have.” Her favorite partner’s melodic voice responded. “More details?”
“The wife left the house with the family car around five-thirty in the evening.” She read off her notes. “Be sure to pull up all domestics filed on Libby Morrisey. It sounds like she had a record from the past year. The husband filed for divorce. He told her this shortly before she left the house.”
“I’ll have it all pulled by the time you’re here, dog.” Her partner grinned through the phone. “Drive safe – bad weather out there.”
“I will.” Harriet fastened herself into the vehicle and looked back at the house where two silhouettes faded into the background of a backlit bay window with pulled curtains just before turning out the lights.
Thank you for taking the time to read this draft excerpt today! If you would like to follow this project or see updates, please like, comment, and/or share. This helps me know which stories and projects interest my readers the most.
Yesterday, I began sorting boxes my parents delivered over a year ago after Jacob and I moved into the house. One of these boxes was a mix of school papers, including some of my earliest poetry. These are the poems I’d forgotten about.
Based on the folder, they were written sometime between 2000 and 2005, so I was between ages 10 and 16. As I go through these some will be hilarious and worth keeping for that reason alone. Some are insights into the mind of an adolescent alive during that time period and the observations they chose to write down.
I’m started with a series of four untitled poems, four lines each. Now, enjoy some childish, painful forced rhyme.
Sometimes I’m jealous Of those who win All the things That might have been
We tend to love What time we waste The past is delicious; Time? An acquired taste.
Oh Glory Be! In times we say As all hope drifts far away It is the clouded sea she took And my heart – a little brook
Sometimes the world just passes by A shock so sudden we can’t cry With each candle on birthday cake Comes regret with decisions we make
Thank you for taking the time to read these today! Without you these posts don’t carry the same meaning. Have you ever found any of your old writing? What did you think of it? What do you think of these? I’d love to hear in the comments!
If you’d like to see more of my forgotten poetry, please like, comment, and/or share this post. It helps me know what content my readers are most interested in seeing, so I can better know what to share here.