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from inscriptions for headstones
by Matthew Vollmer

I.
here lies a man who felt compelled to visit time and time again the house where he'd spent the majority of his childhood; a house that his parents had built above the intersection of two creeks in a shadowy cove in the westernmost tip of North Carolina; a house made of wood and stone with a sixteen-windowed room on one side that let in the sun and overlooked a rhododendron thicket; a house that smelled often of oranges and baking bread and the deceased's mother's perfume; a house whose three unfolding bathroom mirrors could open a corridor into infinity; a house whose vents the deceased inspected for lost toys, staring down the oblivion -- dark holes as metallic -- smelling wind stung his eyes; a house that figured in one of the deceased's recurring dreams, in which he rose from a manger (less delusions of grandeur than an obsession with nativity scenes) and watched as a 16mm movie of his home was projected onto a screen, a magical window through which he then vaulted himself, landing upon the mossy, mole-rutted front yard, which he climbed, then up the concrete stairs and through the house with its dark wood banister and upside-down yellow wallpaper and through the kitchen, and onto the back porch, where he found his mother dancing in a wedding dress; a house which, after his parents had procured a larger and wilder swathe of land in a more remote location, they'd sold to an older woman and her husband (a scientist who had at one time worked for NASA), though it turned out that this man was unkind and perhaps abusive and the woman herself believed the house to be haunted, a claim that the deceased found beguiling, as he could recall zero instances of anything even remotely related to phantasmagoric activity, though the deceased and his sister had, as kids, engineered their own makeshift haunted houses, hanging tarps from the ceilings to create passageways, lighting candles, smearing their faces with a mixture of bananas and red food coloring, tying semitransparent dental floss to old coolers and pulling the strings when visitors walked by, thus revealing the decapitated bodies of dolls, or throwing a wig out of the dark space beneath the stairs, which was supposedly a cave where a crazy woman scalped people, and of course none of this was nearly as scary as the deceased liked to think, and their house was not really haunted, at least that's what they thought, because the current owner was insisting that there must be a spirit or two in the house, because both she and her husband had witnessed cupboards and doors opening and closing by themselves, had heard something walking upon the floor above them when they knew no one was there, a series of events that had lead the woman to decide to contact whatever it was that had been making these noises, and so, one night, when she was alone in the house, she'd turned out the lights and lit candles and incense and laid herself down on the couch (the one in the living room, beside the indoor relaxation fountain that trickled eternally) and said, "Okay, whatever or whoever you are, make yourself known," and then, the door to the attic -- which, once upon a time, had been a place that the deceased, as a boy, had almost never entered by himself and whose pink insulation and old mothballed clothes and big hefty trunks had pretty much creeped him out -- began throwing itself open and then slamming itself shut, an activity that had caused the woman to yell "Please! Stop!" and the door stopped and she felt exhilarated and also quite frightened but now knew for sure there was a spirit living there and somehow -- the deceased would not be able to remember what, exactly, the woman did, though she had shown him a photograph of her aura, had pointed out a green spot on the halo at about five o'clock that she claimed signified paranormal activity -- it was ascertained that this particular spirit was a Native American girl who had been buried on the same site as the house and that she had never been given an adequate funeral, so the woman performed some sort of ritual and things returned -- more or less -- to normal, though her husband moved to San Diego and now the woman lived in the house all by herself and once a year the deceased would go back and take a tour of the place where he'd lived and think how small this house was and how different it looked now that the wallpaper had been torn off and how sweet the basement was now that the woman had turned it into a meditation room, and how lonely the house seemed now without all the stuff that the deceased remembered had once been there, and which he would superimpose onto the rooms with his mind, wondering each time he came why he subjected himself to what -- in the end -- was always a depressing sort of exercise, and couldn't he be said to be a kind of ghost himself, an entity who haunted a house that was no longer his but always would be a place that no longer recognized him, a home that had died, and that came to life only in dreams






inscriptions for headstones
by Matthew Vollmer
160 pages
$12.00 paperback ISBN 9781937402372
$9.99 ebook ISBN 9781937402389
On sale at Outpost19 Shop

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Cover photo and design by Brandon Buckner.























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