Claire Fitzpatrick

The December Featured Writer is Claire Fitzpatrick

Feel free to email Claire at: wetooarestardust@hotmail.com


by Claire Fitzpatrick

Alison sat up in bed, staring at the tangled sheets at her feet. She looked at the bedside table lamp and realized she had left it on. And there was the opened food storage bag, now empty, but still smeared with the crimson remnants.

The odor was difficult to describe. She was a teenager that cut her wrists and legs, and collected the blood in a plastic sandwich bag. She would smear the blood on the pages of a book—her special book.

When she opened the book, a surge of wet tarnished copper entered her nostrils, sometimes so intense she’d cough up half her lungs. After a while, the scent of old, dried blood hung around her like perfume, clinging to her clothes, her hair, settling under her nails.

Alison pulled herself from the bed and slid the book back in its place amongst the others, camouflaged within a sea of dark covers, of scantily-clad women with pale, outstretched necks. The book fit neatly, as though it had always had a place there, and ever would. She sat at her desk and took out her diary. Inside were secrets Alison could barely admit to herself, yet she left it in plain sight, as though inviting her mother to read it. Taylor laughed at her diary, said a woman ought not to have one at her age. Alison wondered if he believed a woman her age ought not to have secrets.

She dressed and left the room, walking down the narrow hallway, slipping outside the kitchen door to the outside veranda. She crossed her arms, watching the foamy sea. Tumultuous and tumbling, it rolled about like an acrobat, sending the scent of salt and brine up over the dunes, and over the back fence. Alison was born in the house, was used to the distinctive ocean aromas...knew the smell wouldn’t leave her bones. Alison needed to inhale the sea, to taste it, to feel it caress her skin, wrap itself around her body; to overwhelm and replace the other scent.

She missed her mother. Weeks had passed since she had gone. Her mother had been an agitated woman, repetitive, anxious, forever furious at herself for all the little things she couldn’t change. As a child, Alison had worried about her. She lied about her to her teachers, so they’d stop asking questions. She had wanted her to buy her bikes, clothes, jewelery like other mothers did. She wanted her to make pancakes on Sunday mornings. And while her father did all those things, he was not her mother; did not smell like her, and never would.

Alison wrinkled her nose as the scent of her forgotten coffee mingled with the salt. She retreated into the little house, passing the amalgam of bookshelves, statues, mountains of paper, as she made her way into the small dingy kitchen. She held out her hand to pick up the coffee mug but paused, recalling the hum of the microwave as it reheated warm milk when she was a child. She was struck by the déjà vu of her ten-year-old self pulling the same steaming mug of milk from the microwave, handing it to her mother. Alison couldn’t quite remember what it was like when her mother had been alive. She only knew she had been another person, once.

Alison left the kitchen and walked back out to the veranda and sat down on the old cane chair, leaning back as far as it would allow. She closed her eyes. In her mind, she could hear the waves as though they pooled around her, could feel the cool water lap at her feet. She remembered reading books about handsome sailors, brave, bold, full of adventure. She had often stood on the veranda, looking for signs of sails, but none had ever come. No sailor had whisked her away on an adventure in the blue beyond. Her mother had told her to stop waiting for people to find her, seek adventure herself, but it had seemed fruitless. Why search for adventure when you wouldn’t live long enough to enjoy it?

Her heart thudded furiously against her chest. She retreated within herself, within her mind—back, back, back to the day when to wake each morning was not a sentence, but a blessing. Back when her father would wake her with a song. Wake up, wake up, Alison. Get your rod. We’re going fishing.

She sighed. The veranda was cold now; the day had drifted into dusk. Where had the hours gone? The crisp air gently caressed her bare shoulders, and she gazed at the fiery colors of the setting sun, the twilight swallowing the sea. Purple, red, yellow, and grey grazed the sky, swirling like marble. Her hands clenched into fists, nails drawing blood. Her chest heaved as she croaked and gasped, making her way back inside, bumping into the tallboy dresser her uncle left in the hallway last year.

Slowly, she entered the kitchen.

“I didn’t do this,” she said to the empty air.

Several of her mother’s most treasured Queen Elizabeth plates lay smashed upon the ground; silverware had spilled out of the cutlery drawers, with pots and pans littered among the mess. Old unopened letters lay scattered on the floor. Mrs. Annie Lansbury, 3 Orama Crescent, Orient Point. Someone had ransacked the kitchen.

There are no such things as ghosts. So who did this? Alison shook her head. The room was small, cold, and drafty. It did not have the luxury of the newer, open-planned contemporary kitchens.

“Is anyone here?” she asked, her voice thin. “Hello?”

She really didn’t want an answer.

She wanted to lie down and rest or leave this forsaken place altogether. She remembered the period after her mother had died when everything was pure bliss, and she had experienced the most intense and vivid dreams of her life. Her mind and body had become one, and although her voice had begun to slur, nothing and nobody had been able to cure her depression in any other way. It was the most intense yellow and orange euphoria she had ever experienced. Instead of watching the sunset, Alison had become the sunset, scales and all.

A door slammed in the distance. Her head snapped to the front of the house, bracing herself for a fight. Perhaps her father had finally come home?

Her father had a sort of elegance usually reserved to women. He often reminded her of a cat, a cassowary, or even a swan. He had poise, grace, and seemed to glide effortlessly instead of walk at an ordinary pace, almost like a dolphin.

Alison first realized he was unhappy when she was sixteen. She thought of him as solemn, as he rarely smiled, even when she would bring him pictures home from primary school. As she grew older, she sensed a darkness in him she did not understand. After many efforts to console him, to get to the bottom of what was troubling him without outright asking him, she decided he was not like other people. Luckily, unlike her mother, he was not a monster. 

Alison crossed her arms and left the kitchen, staggering down the narrow hallway. She reached the narrow staircase and ascended two at a time, letting out a breath as she reached the landing.

She paused. Beside her sat the tallboy, littered with family photographs. She’d knocked over one of the frames when she was ten and had blamed it on the neighbor’s cat, constructing an elaborate reason why the cat was in the house in the first place.

Sometimes, as a child, she thought the house might swallow her up and devour her whole.

Now the photograph was covered in a thick layer of dust. Alison doubted anyone had handled it in a decade. Her mother’s eyes stared at her accusingly; her mouth turned up at one corner with a wry smile. “The whole world fears one another,” her mother had once said, “But you only fear yourself.”

When she was thirteen, at the awkward in-between stage, Alison dated a boy who had said her mother was weird. “She’s always singing to herself, the same old sailor’s tune. Does she even have any friends?”

She had always known that her mother was strange. In fact, she wasn’t even sure she was a real person at all. She would sit in her room and read as her mother would wash the same dishes over and over again, singing, and wondered if perhaps the woman was an abstraction, an otherworldly creature, a distorted imitation of her real mother. She rubbed her cheek as she stared at the photograph. Who was this woman masquerading as my mother, Annie Lansbury? Where had she come from?

Alison made her way down the hall, passing the rooms on the right, running her hand over the wall. She paused and pressed her hand to her temple.

She looked inside the room in which her mother had slept. No one had entered the room in a long time, and it was always closed to the world; yet now, somehow the door was open.

Alison stared at her mother’s discarded belongings. She walked over to the mahogany wardrobe and pulled an old dress from a hanger. She held it to her nose and inhaled deeply.

She sat down on her mother’s bed. Her room had lain empty for years and dust was everywhere. Damp, blue-grey floral wallpaper wrapped itself around the room as if it were holding it prisoner. The lone window, sitting peculiarly high on the wall, allowed a slight gleam of moonlight from outside. Thick, colorless spider webs flowed across the room, perched in the corners of the ceiling, gently lining the bookcase. A small, porcelain plate balanced precariously on the edge of the bedside table; a forgotten, moldy sandwich sitting on top. On the floor lay a rough, tatty mat, and a bundled-up sheet reeking of dampness and dirt.

Alison looked over to the walls, wincing at the faded stick figure drawings of her family, her caricature donned with elaborate, enormous wings. Was that how my mother had seen me? Alison wondered. A caricature of a person?

She sighed and thought about the past week, and the money she owed PJ. “Should I kill myself?” she imaged the first stick figure asking. “Maybe after Taylor tells PJ about her one-night stand,” the other figure answered. “Would they even miss me? Would the world miss me?” the first stick figure asked.

Alison left the room and tiptoed back down the hallway to the bottom floor. As she walked, she realized how dank and dejected the house had become. The house was dead silent except for the intermittent creaks and moans.

Black and brown mold dotted the ceiling in clusters, evident of rain seeping through the roof. The two thin windows were covered in grime and dirt, apparently unopened for years. Alison wondered if anyone would ever attempt to clean them. She arrived at the foot of the staircase and stood quietly, peering down below. She imaged stick figures from her wall crawling out of the wallpaper and yanking her into the shadows.

She reached the bottom of the stairs. She leaned against the banister, sweating.

She sank to the bottom step and closed her eyes as her skin broke out a cold sweat, enveloping her in a frenzied state of panic.

At first, it had been easy. This isn’t bad, she’d thought. I want to use. Maybe I'll sneak out. No, I've done that many times; this time I will do it! My thighs are cramping, my stomach is cramping, and I am tired. If only I weren’t tired, I could get comfortable. One week turns into two. I am cold. I am drenched in sweat. My teeth hurt. My ankles hurt. Two weeks turn into three.

The back door slammed. Alison leaped up from the staircase and ran out to the veranda. There was nothing but endless ocean and a deep chasm of impenetrable darkness.

“Hello?” she asked. “Is anyone there?”

She sighed again. Perhaps it was the age of the house? Old houses were cold, the strange scratching noises probably mice, the sound of running water likely a busted pipe in the walls, the clinking and knocking possibly the heating system. She hadn’t been in the house for several years—it was bound to have changed since then.

She looked towards the window. The ocean was still there, buried under everything else Alison remembered and forgot. There was no ugliness to the sea itself, but she couldn’t understand why it hurt so much to look at it.

The beach was the same. The two flags piercing the sand, the lifeguards wandering from one end to the other...there was not much to look at in Ocean Grove. People in the streets didn’t seem bothered by the low-hanging power lines, the endless stretches of road that led nowhere, the desolate bareness of the bush, the hideous shop fronts. They went about their day, milling around the pathetic markets with pathetic people selling their pathetic junk.

Yet everything was different now.

She did not belong in this place anymore. Her memories of scabby knees, of broken arms, of rusted scooters, of tire swings, of cubby houses, of rules, of her childhood freedom, was far away, removed from this unfamiliar place, as though they never existed at all.

Another door slammed inside the house. Alison slowly turned around, but still there was no one.

“Hello?” she asked more loudly this time. “Hello? I know someone’s there.”

Homeless people, or perhaps inquisitive kids? The house had been empty for years, despite the fact she owned it. Her mother had left it to her in her will. Yet people could have roamed its rooms, claimed it as their own. It was not like there had been anyone here to stop them.

There are no such thing as ghosts, right?

She walked over to the old shell that had served as an umbrella stand. Slowly, she withdrew a larger one and held it close to her chest, wondering if it was strong enough to defend herself against someone who might attack her.

Alison made her way over to the stairs, pausing at the bottom. She knew if she went back upstairs, there would be no return. Her body was withered, years of abuse almost obliterating it.

Back then, she had tried to deny the sweats, the shakes, the abdominal cramps, her nausea almost choking her windpipe, her muscles aching so much she felt she had run a marathon. The pain of her addiction had been so severe it had knocked her off her feet. It had taken a year of Methadone treatments to get her back on her feet.

And while a part of her knew she was swapping one addiction to the other, she also knew she had to keep trying, lest she waste away just like her mother had.

Taking a deep breath, she made her way up the thin stairs, placing both feet on the steps as she ascended. She stared at her feet, their heaviness almost making her lose her balance. Finally, Alison reached the top and let out her breath, feeling her lungs empty with such force she doubled over. She pushed past the pain and continued, eventually reaching her mother’s room. The door was still ajar, inviting her inside.

She poked her head inside and screamed.

The two bodies were purplish-grey; their lips tinged a pale blue. The limbs of one woman’s body laid spread-eagled in the middle of the room, some of its loose, grey-blue mottled skin still intact, its ribcages and pelvic bones visible between slowly putrefying flesh. The other body swung from the ceiling rafters, its legs hitting the ajar wardrobe door.

The overturned chair lay on the dirty carpet. Alison stared at the needle still in the arm of the woman lying on the floor. She clutched at her neck, almost feeling the needle for the first time since returning to the house.

Alison looked at the bodies, then raised her hand to her neck again, fingers pausing before they reach her skin. She repeated the action three times before allowing her eyes to linger on the body on the floor.

Alison hadn’t realized how thin she had become, how chipped and yellowed her teeth were, how ravaged her skin was. The woman’s hair had been torn out in clumps, broken nails entwined within the knots. She looked at the body hanging from the rafters. She had been dead longer than the woman on the ground. Alison placed her hands on her body, opening her mouth to let out a scream, but nothing came out. She tried to inhale the air from her lungs, but there was nothing there. A hand came down on her shoulder, and she jumped, turning to face its owner.

 “Mum?” she asked.

The woman nodded.

“I don’t understand.”

Her mother pointed down at the two bodies, then pointed at Alison and herself. “Who was this woman masquerading as me, Annie Lansbury? Where had she come from?” she asked.

Alison frowned. “I don’t know, mum. I’ve never known who you are.”

Her mother shrugged. “Perhaps I have always been no one.”

“I don’t…none of this makes any sense!” Alison exclaimed. “What is this?”

“No one understands.”

 “Where is Dad?”

“I don’t know. He never returned.”

Alison looked down at her body once more. It seemed to be her and yet not her at the same time. “I miss you,” she said. “I miss the way things used to be.”

Her mother placed her hand on Alison’s shoulder. While Alison couldn’t feel it, she knew it was there. “I do, too.”

“Why is this happening? Why did this happen to us?”

“Sometimes people don’t fit into the world. They try and try, but they just don’t fit.”

Alison nodded. “I gave up.”

 “We both gave up.”

“What do we do now?”

Her mother stepped over Alison’s body and paused in front of her own. She picked up the chair and climbed onto it, then clambered up onto the windowsill. She looked at Alison and smiled, then stepped into her body. Alison clenched her fists and gasped, looking down at her own body. She wanted to pull the needle from her neck but knew it was too late. She dropped to her knees and lay on top of her body, positioning herself, so she melted into it, and she and her body became one again.

Claire Fitzpatrick is an award-winning author of speculative fiction and non-fiction. She won the 2017 Rocky Wood Award for Non-Fiction and Criticism. Called “Australia’s Queen Of Body Horror” and “Australia’s Body Horror Specialist,” she enjoys writing about anatomy and the darker side of humanity. Her debut collection Metamorphosis was hailed as “simply heroic” and is out now from IFWG Publishing.

Visit Claire at www.clairefitzpatrick.net/