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the wide welcoming arms of alice dee

A swell of voices, rising gradually, anticipation lurking, licking its lips, profoundly distasteful—climaxed in a brief, rapid exultation, then died down again, the anticipation cycling in the air like noxious fumes, mustard gas and roses.

From a few hundred meters away, crossing the dirty pavement, she heard the strangled cries of the house, eyeing her friends with curiosity.

“I can’t…wait,” she spluttered out.

The sound of her little heels went click, clack, against the smooth concrete, played with the ruffling of her dress, crisp in the wind, white and black and bowed little ruffles on a maid’s costume, ripped into a plunge at the neck. A bright red brassiere peaked out from beneath, yet it was all hidden, enmeshed in the protection of her black hoodie, its cloth arms wrapped around her.

A huddle of people came into vision before her; the entrance, presumably.

“So, how long do you need to set up for…?

Probably not more than an hour or so, he thought.

“Well we should try to stick together, at least, for a bit.”
The face on the wall was leering at her. He looked hungry—

A bright, red painted, grinning face, eyes twisted into complex geometrical shapes, leering at ten feet tall, stared down at her with the plainest of polite faces and that mouth, that mouth grinning so broadly she could feel his teeth opening up. She turned away.

The house was swollen with bodies, bodies enough for days, for cities, bodies for spare; hundreds of dancers in every room, the bodies swaying with gentle alarm to the music, sonorous, changing from room to room—in the daisy room where the music sounded like car alarm horns being set on fire, she waltzed through, glassy eyed.

the limp words being pushed out with her tongue into the condensed air fell away into nothingness

Each room was a different entirety in itself, a different world. One room came into vision: a giant boar’s head mounted on a wall, the rage plastered onto the creature’s dying face; hundreds of rodents mounted on placards, intricately built model ships at five feet high, hundreds of them swimming into view—

walking, walking


~little crabs scuttling across a broken sea: ~

Underneath her breath, before her starry eyes, a group of three crunched together, huddled into their instrument. Tall and pale with facial hair creeping alongside their faces, they played together, the notes resounding in harmony—sweet songs, earthly, broken, defiant happiness in the face of abject, abstract misery—a little accordion running alone. It caught her most sharply; she clutched for the notes in the air as they faded away, as she walked into the next room.

The year was 1860.

Or so it seemed to her…She sat at the bar, ruffled her dress, leaned back to smell the sweat of the room.

The walls, tall and proud, stood there, black and red vertical stripes running along playfully as the bar twisted in its ornate design, the granite edged with microscopic figures of wooden circus animals, lions and tigers and bears, figures that seemed to stare up at her quizzically as the thousands of bee bodies swarmed around the room, the hive, dancing, talking, laughing, swaying, pupils erased…

And as she sat there on the bar stool, at the old-fashioned parlor bar, a man and two women appeared from thin air, across her, their backs leaned flat against the wooden paneling. They were all laughing, grinning broadly, the man with his arms wrapped around, the women with sticky lip gloss smiles, and as they emerged the old man with his sunglasses and white tux, winked at her, turning his head to the right, ever so slightly.

She sat calmly until he walked out of the room, walked delicately under the line of butterflies suspended from the ceiling, past the giant wooden panel humans with the cut out faces, and stood examining the dark wooden paneling. Looking at the corner of the wall where the space was the most narrow, she saw the crevice grow deeper—a prominent dividing line—she followed it on the ground with her eyes some twenty feet, until, until,

a man untroubled smiled at her from below—from twenty feet below her through a panel of clear plastic in the floor, his expression muddied, waving.

She got up off the floor with some difficulty and waltzed, jacket enmeshed around her yet, to a large step-ladder in the sky.

A giant emerged from the ladder, giggling childishly. He repeated her broken hello back at her.

He was, she thought, at least six feet, no, seven tall, draped in a heavy grey cloak, wearing a white collared shirt with frills, the bows and lapels emblazoned onto a dapper navy blue jacket, a beige waistcoat peeking out from beneath, golden watch dangling from a heavy chain, the pinstriped pants, dandy leather shoes.

She stared at him with a mixture of awe and fear, not sure how to interpret him, the one first body she had distinguished from the swimming hoarde. She ascended the ladder, went up a story or two.

The house had shrunk.

The roof was now lowered by a foot or two, so that she could walk but not without some difficulty. She saw the lobsters scuttling along across the sea, bodies hunched over, meat puppets, dancing along the floor, making their way from room to room with astounding agility. She slipped away and looked up, up high, above her—

painted gold balconies with girls in heavy dresses and men with hats and smoke curdling out of their lips,

giggling and more gypsies and swill and drink, drunk,

vipers with piercings across their eyes, brows, bones, cheeks, sunk into their marrow, in their backs as little diamonds, pixies with short dresses and frills and tweeny grins, pink, purple, orange, hair: pink, purple, orange…

thousands of lights winking into her, gently touching her hair, curious little yellow and blue lights that wanted to play; she saw them fall over the dozens of balconies above her as she lay stooped in the tiny hallway, and so, she fluttered down the hallway, further and further, until she was on her knees, crawling…

The ceiling had, quietly, without a word, folded in half. The entrance to the room, which was one large flat floor, which was the entire world, was through one human-sized square, onto a platform that opened up into two rooms, both of them giant floors covered in beds, silken lining, pillows, bodies prostate and crumpled. She slithered onto the floor, laid on the giant bed, and stared into a face.

She tried her “hello” once more, this time, with success.

There was a sweet smell to the room—the mustard rose gas, she thought—a heavy perfume laden cloud of particles wafting away to attract curious bystanders at hand. It brushed up gently against everyone’s faces, its long, slender fingers reaching at their eyes, wiped their irises away with a tiny picking motion opened up the pupil, enlarged it, and went away again, picking and pinching…

She smiled at him and collapsed onto pillows nearby him and eyed his face with the most curiosity and playfulness she could muster. Her smile was so wide, it felt strained, a thing on its own. Yet her face had been untouched by the opium den: bore no traces of its hand—

the boy saw this thing and smiled at her, handed her clear sheets of plastic dripping in pixel powder, white powders bagged cleanly and neatly, drug store array, the convenience of a superstore in the palm of one tiny tanned hand

Her fingers greedily clutched for two of them—a thick yellow tinted powder, a clear, fine one, nearly sugar. She licked her fingers and gobbled them up when she noticed her smile had ran away, floated off into the distance; was usurped by a strange, sickly hidden grin with hiccupping cough. She thanked the boy for his courtesy and lay beside him, her eyes, her face claimed—all hail the meat puppet—

she was now a slave to it, the body

lapped up more, the apothecary running like a factory, in and out, in an out, inhale, exhale giggles, swollen lips filled with blood and infamy,

she ran down the hallway crawling along laughing and laughing fit to burst,

ran into a tiny perfect circle then returned to collapse onto the golden throw pillows of the boy with the shadowy smile

he was so gentle looking, so distinctly out of place, that she felt a small affinity towards him; and as she talked and talked to him she became aware of the creeping purple feelers at the corner of her eyes. Perplexed, she followed their cues as they guided her to a tiny hole in the wall, a study, two foot tall wooden door that opened into a maze of darkness and plastered lights.

she fell through it into total darkness with all of the lights swearing blindly at her, there were so many lights, they overwhelmed her, they screamed at her hoarsely and she didn’t like it,

turning the corner

she came to find a human heart on the wall.

It was as tall as the dandy—six or seven feet—and pulsated with the lights, lub glub lub. It was scrapped together from so many broken pieces, from gentle pink fabrics and azure blues for the bloodthirsty veins, lascivious velvet and deep maroon cradling one another in the mystery that was this anatomical marvel; she looked at it with a crooked eye and was astonished to realize the thing was very real, built correctly, the only ghastly thing in proportion to the sickly, demented house, yes yes this must be where it lives

and skipped straight away from the grotesque heart in which she saw her own beating rapidly—

as the walls continued to grow more narrow she climbed upwards

she climbed and climbed and

ran off what body parts she had

that had remained


for now

The house seemed to pulsate no more. There was nothing but a gauzy darkness, darkness like a spider’s web: not quite totally filled in, darkness with gaps in which she could see yellow, sickly faces grinning broadly at her from the corners of each room, beckoning forth. She twirled in place and felt a deep hunger—it must be fulfilled—she walked until she saw gentle blue eyes twinkling out of a corner and planted her lips onto them, kissing the eyelids, holding the sweaty palms, wrapping the bodies together, her lips crackling on fuzzles of body hair, auburn, pressing closer—

until the next corner—a flash of teeth. She swam up to them clumsily, lapping them up, felt the cold touch of denim against her teeth, kneeled, prostrated before it—the least yellow of the faces, the jade eyes which were so clever and which pulled her irresistibly. She looked to her jacket—it had vanished—her blouse, what was left of it, embittered shreds clinging feebly to her chest; she felt the surrender of his hands running across her pale and cool and exhaled a sigh of pure gentle relief—

the body pushed into another, sapphire eyes with lips filled with blood—she grinned as she bit them, felt her face pressing up against the wood, her knees blistered with splinters; felt herself laughing and groaning deeply, pressed against her, she felt a hurt—a pain splitting her—she was thankful for it, savored it, far, far too deeply

She stood up, suddenly, tall, erect and aware, staring at three figures standing before her. For some reason she felt herself quivering with uncontrollable excitement, anticipation fulfilled. Her eyes though of the daisy room, of the fairies and dandies and elixirs; her lips parted ever so slightly as she found herself kneeling.

The three hooded figures seized her, their voices honeyed with pure admiration, reverence, love so deep it scared her as they clasped their pincers around her feeble wrist;

a bright source of comfort, was near, she could tell—

as the red-hot poker was pressed to her skin, to the back of her hand,

you’ve been chosen—

she felt something trickle down her thigh,

the poker continued to gobble away at her flesh greedily as the figures enshrouded her body, like warm hugs, like the feeling of being indoors, in front of the heater, inside the heater, inside the bucket of flesh and bag of bones; her eyes lifted to see another, to see the scaling ray of the iron slide onto her flesh again and again, branding her; eyes swimming upwards, faint with praise, tears running across her face, she exhaled and exhaled again, whispering,

thank you, thank you

About Janelle Lassalle

Freelance lifestyle and travel writer based in Portland, OR

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