LAURA BUCHANAN

Dark, unkept room

“This house is a festering lesion on my side,” Gwendolyn thought, sipping her milkweed and pigtail tea. Despite the crisp autumn air and vibrant red leaves, Gwendolyn gave no impression of someone who found joy in her surroundings. For the last three years, Gwendolyn had been living in a crumbling house at the end of an alley in a busy city borough. The roof, which should have been replaced 30 years ago, was sunken down like a hammock and the putrid pool of water dripped indoors like a weak flow of urine. Indoors, a large brown wet ring had formed in the middle of the living room ceiling, and a circle of mushrooms had sprouted – a symbol Gwendolyn was almost certain meant that unwelcome creatures were squatting in the attic. At random hours of the night, she would wake to the sound of tiny snorting, a tell-tale sound of pixie orgies. In the bedroom, a family of pigeons had found their way in through a crack in the window frame and built a nest on top of the dresser by pulling threads from Gwendolyn’s quilt, which was now too short to cover her feet. Over the last three months, the basement windows had sunk an inch and a quarter under soil and asphalt, revealing an intricate highway of ant trails that provided a detailed view into the mechanics of an insectile heist and the collection of organic groceries the growing ant colony was pilfering from the kitchen. The stovetop cauldron caught fire on a regular basis; the smell of burnt wood competed with the damp fragrance that permeated from the leaking ceiling. At the back of the house, a large oak tree’s roots had broken through the foundation of the building, and in its wake vein-like cracks crept up the walls in the bathroom. One particularly deep fissure allowed a draft in. On winter days, that was exceptionally unforgiving after a warm shower. All the original allure from the decrepit nature of the home was gone, and Gwendolyn was ready to burst.

Until recently Gwendolyn spent her days working as a pharmaceutical clinical trial tester. It wasn’t rewarding work but it did afford her a tremendous amount of attention and distraction. Instead of following the trials as directed, Gwendolyn would drink the concoctions from sinister tinctures and revel in the confusion of the hapless pharmaceutical specialists as they tried to track down what may have caused the boils to pop up on her left butt cheek. These frequent episodes led her to become a highly sought-after patient, regaled for her “sensitivities.” Tragically, the company she was working for shut down for illegal activity and when she tried to apply for a new position elsewhere, they explained to her that patients were only allowed to undergo three clinical trials a year, and, alarmingly, it would seem from her file that she had undergone 28 in the last year alone, making her ineligible for the next nine years to undergo any further studies.

Dark Wall of Photos

With her new unemployment status, Gwendolyn was left spending more time at home than she had ever done before and couldn’t quite bear all the free time she had to think about everything that needed to get done. The thing she enjoyed about her last job was that it always gave her something to think about next, like how she would puzzle the clinicians. It kept her from worrying about the bigger, more daunting things. Her dishevelled residence was in complete disrepair and in desperate need of attention. Gwendolyn decided to start small and began taking apart the intricate pigeon’s nest in her room when she found an abandoned to-do list titled “self-care” and immediately invested all her time into completing this facile list instead. First, she cooked that crimson fire-roasted river eel with Thai cilantro taco recipe she’d been hearing about, then read some of the witch classics, Pride Eats Prejudice, I’m Afraid of the Virgin’s Wolf, and Jane’s Hair, and after three long soaks in the cauldron with her chamomile and bore beetle brew the last of her self-inflicted boils vanished. Gwendolyn jammed the remains of the old bird’s nest into the drafty hole in the bathroom and hopped in the bath and flipped through an old Harm and Harden magazine. She stumbled upon an article that detailed the Art Of Organizing by the Yamamba Witches of Japan, a philosophy detailing that by organizing your place of practice, you will also clear your mind of clutter and be able to focus on what brings your soul vengeance and serenity. Gwendolyn wondered if perhaps all her house needed was a little cosmetic lift to return it to its natural order. It was worth a shot. The basement windows were now almost fully submerged in soil, leaving a mere three-inch crack of the visible exterior which was newly covered in snow. Gwendolyn started the Yamamba method by reorganizing her potions cabinet. After three days of thoroughly classifying, restocking, and trashing old and ominous vials, her potions cabinet was complete. It was impeccable and sorely highlighted the disturbing state of the rest of the house. For weeks Gwendolyn tweaked small things around her house, which would only uncover new patches of pulsing black and orange mold, rotted-through floorboards, or new roots penetrating through cracks in the wall. “Maybe if I just moved the giant venus fly trap to the dining room, it would fix that crowded feeling in here,” Gwendolyn thought, as she would sit for hours on her couch, under the now forest of mushrooms that grew above her, dwelling on ways to fix this mystifying and unsettling feeling. But after each minor adjustment, the temporary relief would pass and her home once again gave her this sinking feeling of dread.

Witch's Lair

Gwendolyn eventually abandoned all further efforts at organizing her home and opted to tackle these feelings with something much more fun. This new darkness and privacy in the basement provided the perfect space to perform seánces and other sinister rituals. Gwendolyn thought maybe things weren’t feeling right in her home on a spiritual level due to the supernatural activity lurking in her abode. So she began to perform seánces and cast spells to ward off any hidden demons or creatures that may be living unwelcome in her home. Gwendolyn crawled up to the attic and began casting spells and enchantments to remove the squatting pixies. In the heat of her chanting and dancing, the pixies broke off into sexual ecstasy and started rapidly into one of their orgies. Gwendolyn was surprised to witness the snoring she had been listening to for months was a deeply rhythmic and choreographed affair that radiated tender love. It was late spring, and after the ritual, the pixies moved out to feast on budding flowers and rejoice in the birth of new livestock. In their departure, Gwendolyn was hit with a sudden burst of loneliness, reminded that she remained only in the company of her disturbing crumbling home.

“I never got my toenails back from Dr. Edwards…that prick,” Gwendolyn thought to herself one night as she pulled the wings off a batch of murder wasps by candlelight. The house was now constantly lit by candles, as the sinking had now surpassed the basement and had engulfed the main floor. Gwendolyn hadn’t given her old job much thought over the last few months, she had been too busy trying to squash her unsettling feeling. Gwendolyn initially took the job to learn more about the science end of pharmaceuticals and why it was deterring many from the magical art of healing. She hadn’t given that much thought in a while, about why she had taken the job in the first place. In the pursuit of a meaningful cause, she got wrapped up in the joys and chaos of deceiving the clinicians. It dawned on her that what she thought was disrupting workflow was actually keeping it a well-oiled machine. All that time spent tricking people, and what did she have to show for it? A scar on her left kneecap from a mumps case gone wrong? A wave of sadness rose inside of her as she continued to pick the wings off the murder wasps while her home slowly sunk deeper into the earth.


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