Now You See It Clear by Mathew Gostelow

 Spiny thistles grow through cracked slabs. Lads in hoods push past you on the piss-and-concrete stairs. You hope your car is safe. Curtains twitch in your peripheries. You knock the door, fists tense for the fight to come, the gift pulsing in your palm. You exhale loudly, wait, watching waves of coloured movement through the textured safety glass.


“Dee mah sek ray ah.”

Ancient words are thorns in your throat.

“Dee mah sek ray ah.”

Louder this time. Your reflection stares back, pupils dilated wide to drink the candle's feeble glow. Offerings sit in the calabas bowl; a bottle of rum and a string-trussed rabbit corpse.

“Dee mah sek ray ah.”

Your tongue burns mustard-hot with incantation’s fire. You blink and black blood tears run down your cheeks.

It is working.


Your son looms around the door, stretched gaunt and haggard. A mockery of the fine young man who hugged you six short months ago, aglow with hopes for university. His pasty skin shines oily, bristled. Dead fish eyes are fixed beyond, past the peeling blotchy walls. Past you.


You watch the dark glass, your reflection shimmer-flickers to a vision of the one you call upon. Orange tongues of fire dance, lick upward. A vivid scarlet heart aflame, skewered on a switchblade knife. Beneath the blade, an infant sleeps peaceful, undisturbed. Bearing both aloft, your goddess answers the summoning. White eyes and teeth, golden earring hoops flash in firelight. She meets your gaze, nods her scarf-wrapped head. She will help. You will pay the price willingly. Tonight’s offering is just the start. 


Your son is wasted, skeleton and skin, hands shaking. Teeth mottled yellow-brown; breath vomit-sharp. Sooty grey smudges mark his nostrils.

You follow him inside. He moves underwater slow, doesn’t meet your eye. His words stumble and tumble and fade. He comes adrift, forgets you’re in the room, startles when you speak.


The mirror vision of your goddess dissolves in a shower of orange embers, a scent of rum and woodsmoke. You sense a shift inside and out. Gifts bestowed. A pure-white oval pebble clenched snug inside your palm, a hole worn through the middle. She has given you a seeing stone, that you may glimpse the hidden things. Your blood crackles with her fire. You walk taller, move with purpose, senses heightened blade-sharp.


“How are you doing? Are you taking care of yourself?”

You see the answers in the grey dust encrusting every surface; in the air that tastes like forgotten rooms and damp. You see the answers in his crumple-stinking clothes, lank hair, his raw, gnawed fingernails.

A reek of rancid milk and rotting food floods from the kitchen. In the corner of the living room, a pigeon on its back, wings splayed. Its innards have been ripped out through a hole stoved in the chest. You shudder, hoping it was a cat.

What happened here? What happened to your son? 

Once he was a stocky rugby lad, life of the party, a cheeky, handsome boy. Now he's a husk. A rough, broken shell—hollowed out, crushed flat and battered against deep rocks by the world’s indifferent tides. Something holds him under, watching life die in his eyes. Today, with the goddess’ help you will discover what it is.

Your son’s watery gaze ebbs once more as you raise the seeing stone to your eye and view him through the weathered hole. Now you see it clear.

Scaly claw toes grip his shoulder, scarlet eyes burn hate. An oily proboscis plunges deep into his ear, dripping poison. The creature is a grotesque mix of bird and beetle. Midnight black, larger than a cat. Moth wings twitch as it feeds, spreading clouds of grey dust, which your son breathes deep.

Your hands shake, fearing the damage you will cause your boy, pulling this long probing organ from his ear. But you know it must be done. Leaving it so deep inside would surely kill him. He's more than halfway dead already. The goddess made it clear what you must do.

Without warning, you grab the creature. The carapace is slippery-slick. Wings flex outward, fighting your grasp. Claw feet scrabble at your wrists, open deep red scratches. Blood drips to your elbows. Your hands lose purchase as you see your son’s eyes fight to focus. He gasps and you sense sick panic surging through him. 

“Please don’t. I can’t go back. I can’t live without it.”

You stop, frozen by his screeching urgent pleas. Now you understand. He sees killer as saviour. Your boy has come to need the underwater distance of his trance. The crashing waves of raw experience became too harsh. He muffles the din of the world, hiding beneath the surface of this thing. But you cannot let him live a life that’s not a life at all—just wastage, desperation, rot, and dust.

Fighting every instinct, you ignore your child's screams, his writhing resistance. Your grip gains purchase on the cold, hard abdomen of the creature. Its claws scrabble-kick and scrape once more, its wings still beat, but you hold firm, feeling the goddess’ fire burn in your palms. You wrestle the parasite away. Its dripping proboscis slowly withdraws from his ear, inch by bloodied inch, with every twist and tug, until finally it’s free.

You throw the beast hard against the wall. It crashes, falls to the floor, wings splayed like the fly-blown pigeon, broken from the fight. You kick its hard thorax, hear a deep crack. Slick black liquid pools around its twitching remains.

Your child also crumples to the floor, empty of strength, breath shallow, eyes twitching under thin lids. You drop to cradle his head, stroke his cheek, and mumble soothing words.

“My beautiful baby boy. I’ve got you now. I’ve got you.”

His skin is cold, clammy as raw fish. He opens his eyes and now, at last, the underwater stare is gone. Later you will make offerings to the goddess for her aid, her vision, and her power, but for now, you care for your child. You coil and curl around him, cochleate, praying for the strength to shield his fragile form from the swirling swell of life’s ferocious forces.


Mathew Gostelow is a dad, husband, and copywriter, living in Birmingham, UK. Some mornings he wakes early and writes strange tales. His stories have been published by Lost Futures, Myth & Lore, Soor Ploom Press, Cape Magazine, and others.


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