PIECES OF STRANGE

by Stephen Spotswood

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about

A collection of darkly twisted tales of sex, longing, and the lengths we'll go not to feel so alone.

– Listen as a woman describes a bloody pact that shows what having an appetite in the bedroom really means.
– Meet the man who transforms his body into something inhuman to please a lover.
– Hear the story of a woman who donates her body to bring ecstasy to the dead.
– Discover what it’s like to make love to the city itself—and whether the pleasure is worth the pain.

credits

released June 9, 2015

Stephen Spotswood: Writer & Producer
Melissa Hmelnicky: Assistant Producer

Monologues voiced by:

Melissa Hmelnicky: "My Sweet Ann"
Allyson Harkey: "Cutting/Swallow"
Gwen Grastorf: "Imaginary Friend"
Stephen Spotswood: "Tentacles"
Natalie Cutcher: "ILUVNYC
Jon Hudson Odom: "Fireflies"
Alina Collins-Maldonado: "Communion"

Special thanks to: Forum Theatre for providing rehearsal space; Melissa for juggling three roles when she only signed on for one; Alina for lending her beautiful face to the cover art; Mariah MacCarthy and The Brick Theater for giving me the excuse to create this; and all of my actors for being good, game, and very giving.

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about

Stephen Spotswood Washington, D.C.

an award-winning playwright, journalist, and theatre artist. Previous works include Walking The City of Silence and Stone, In The Forest She Grew Fangs, The Sisters of Ellery Hollow, We Tiresias, and A Creation Story for Naomi. You can find him roaming Twitter and Instagram at @playwrightsteve. ... more

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Track Name: My Sweet Ann
I used to feel awful about it. So guilty. I knew it wasn't my fault. You can't control how you react physically. It's an autonomic nervous system thing or something.. And I totally donate to the HRC and Greenpeace and I'm not a bad person. I just...
I should start at the beginning.
I didn't orgasm until I was thirty-two. I thought I had. That's so embarrassing to say out loud. I thought I had. I'd felt things. I felt good during sex. I thought...I don't know what I thought. I guess I thought that was it. At least for me. Maybe I thought everyone else was just...exaggerating.
I had boyfriends who were very attentive and sweet. And they tried. They really, really, really tried. It was...exhausting. Eventually I started exaggerating, too.
In college, I bought a vibrator. But all it made me feel was numb.
Then a few years ago, I was with...Oh, I shouldn't use his real name. He doesn't...He doesn't want to be associated with me anymore. Um...Peter. I'm going to call him Peter. We'd been dating for a year. Eleven months? We'd had the marriage conversation. We thought we'd probably get engaged soon. I was going to move in with him. I spent every other night at his place. Anyway, Peter had this habit. Okay, not even a habit, just a...
We'd be on the couch watching a movie or something. And we'd start...fooling around. And he'd leave the television on. Even if the remote was right there, he'd leave it on. And we'd be...Well, like...in the middle of things. And Law and Order: SVU would come on or something. Suddenly they'd be talking about pedophiles and semen samples. It was not the most romantic thing. Anyway, one night we were watching something. Some movie. And we start making out. Things progress. Television stays on. Peter is...um...inside me. I'm feeling good. Not...you know...great. Just good. A new show comes on. Some kind of political thing. I'm not paying attention. But then there's this voice. This woman's voice.
As soon as she started talking--the first full sentence out of her mouth--I came so hard. So hard. I think I actually blacked out for half a second. When I regained conciousness, Peter's looking down at me and he's all like, "Are you okay? What's wrong?"
I thought I was having a seizure. I couldn't stop shaking. I looked at the T.V., looked for the face that went with that voice. And that's when I saw her. Ann Coulter. I remember thinking, "No, no. That can't be right."
Then she said something else. And I came again. This time it was long, rolling. Like an avalanche. It started with this little rumble and ended with...
When the tremors subsided, I was like --Ohhh. That's what it's supposed to feel like. Peter had no idea what was going on. When I could talk again, I was like, "It must have been the way I had my legs. Or the angle. And you were just really good. It was all you."
But I knew. I knew it wasn't him. It was her. Ann Fucking Coulter.
I tried to forget about it. I tried to convince myself it was a fluke. The next few weeks, I had sex with Peter every chance I could. I wanted to recreate what had happened. But it wasn't the same. Eventually, I had to give in.
It was an evening when Peter and I weren't together. Me in bed with my laptop and my vibrator. I went online and clicked on the first video of her I found. It was a debate about who should be able to say...to use the N word. The things coming out of her mouth. They were awful. I mean really, incredibly offensive. I was offended. I swear to God. But it didn't matter. Just her voice mattered. It was like every word she said was plucking a string inside me--this silver cord that led from the back of my head all the way down. Eventually I just tossed the vibrator away. She was all I needed. I didn't understand it. I'm not gay. Women do nothing for me. It's just her. And just her voice. I've tried masturbating to pictures. Or video clips on mute. So I didn't have to listen the words she was saying. No good. I couldn't tell Peter. I also couldn't go back to feeling just...good.
I'd arrange it so Ann Coulter was on TV when we were having sex on the couch.
Which is really hard.
There's only so many times I can "accidently" hit the remote and turn on a DVRed episode of Meet The Press.
He wanted me to enjoy myself, too. Peter knew I'd had one really incredible orgasm and now I was back to just feeling "good" and he didn't understand why. He was all, why don't you put your legs here; why don't we try yoga; why don't we put on this porn while we fuck. And I'm, like, I don't need a porn. I need Ann Coulter. I need her voice. I need her talking about welfare mothers crippling our economy; I need her saying that climate change is a sham; I need her saying that there's no such thing as rape culture.
Of course I didn't say that. What I did say is that I was having problems concentrating. That traffic noise from outside was distracting me. He was, like, we can turn on music. I told him I didn't want to bother the neighbors. So I bought one of those little tiny mp3 players. Whenever we started to get physical, I clipped it to my hair like a little beret and I put in headphones and listened to music. Or that's what I told Peter. There was only one mp3. The audiobook of Demonic: How The Liberal Mob Is Endangering America. Thirteen hours of Ann Coulter whispering in my ear. It was...ecstasy. Over time, I learned control. How to slow things down, let her voice wash over like hot, frothy water. How to speed things up. Come so hard and so fast it hurt. I'd try to make Peter feel...involved in the experience. I'd whisper "Yes, yes. Slower, Slower." Because I did want it to last forever. But it really didn't matter what Peter did. Eventually I started closing my eyes. I imagined his touch was hers.
When I do that, when I picture her, she doesn't look like herself. She's not a man or a woman, but something that transcends both. Like an angel. Sometimes she has massive wings the color of blood. Her skin is dark and luminous. Like there's a fire burning inside her chest, lighting up everything around me. I know it's not real. I know it's just...I know it's Peter I'm with. But during those moments right before the climax. When I can't think, can't breathe, when I can only feel. It's not him. It's her. It's Ann Coulter, my dark angel, thrusting into me, fucking me with her voice until I come, screaming, over and over again.

Peter found out. I left the mp3 player on the bed and he lisened to it. I think..I think I wanted him to find out. I thought he'd...I don't know what I thought. That he'd understand? Or at least accept it. He was all, "How can you listen to this? She's a monster. She's the worst person ever. What's wrong with you?" I tried to explain it's not her, it's not even her words, it's her voice. It's just her voice. It does something. He asked me to stop. I was like, this is what works for me. If you want me to enjoy myself, this is what I need. He said that was sick. He said he couldn't even get hard if he knew I was listening to Ann Coulter.
So I left him.
I wasn't going to stop. I'm sorry. I really am sorry. But I spent the first two decades of my sexual life feeling "good." I wasn't giving up the one thing that makes me feel...bliss. My friends found out.
There were a few weeks when everyone kept coming up to me and being like, "Did you know Ann Coulter said liberals should be round up into pens so they'll be easier to execute when they turn traitor?" "Did you know she said ethnic profiling is the only way we can be safe?" I tried to explain, but...
My friends don't talk to me anymore.
I went to a therapist. She kept asking if I'd been abused as a child. I said, no. I hadn't. Ann Coulter just turns me on.

I've stopped caring what people think. Really. It's weird. I used to be so uptight about sex. I think it was because I was ashamed I'd never enjoyed it. But here I am telling you all of this. In a way, Ann Coulter has sexually liberated me. She's cracked open something inside me and let everything spill out.
I have all of her audiobooks now. Every hateful one.
When I get on the train after work, I'll put in my headphones. Her voice will slip into my ear.

Liberal ideas are less scientifically provable than the Bible.

Christianity will soon be prohibited by law in America.

Colleges are teaching the homosexual lifestyle instead of mathematics.

Sometimes I take it too far and I'll come silent and shivering in the middle of a crowded F Train. The first time it happened, I was so embarassed. I was like, did anyone see?
But nobody noticed. Everyone else had earphones in, too. Listening to....music? Podcasts? Books?
Probably.
But I started thinking...It can't just be me.
How many others are out there quietly, secretly listening to voices that reach inside them and touch them so deep? Caress and pluck and penetrate them in ways they never imagined possible.
Maybe you don't have it for Ann Coulter, but...come on.
Who is it? Bill Bryson? Ira Glass? Maybe it's Thomas Edison, and you only have a handful of century-old wax records to get off to.
I guess I'm lucky that way. Ann will be around for a long time. I'll have years and years--hundreds of hours of her words. Her bigoted, racist, hateful words. I will cherish every one of them. I will shudder as each sentence slips inside me, penetrates me, leaves me a wet, shuddering, boneless heap.
I will refuse--as best I can--to feel guilty. Because in my head, in my bed, she is not a monster. She's a luminous, dark angel whose words send me into blissful oblivion. And she's all mine.
Track Name: Cutting/Swallow
I met her in a bar. Tattoos from wrist to shoulder-joint; piercings in surprising places; lips the exact shade of my first period. Just my type.

I offered my place. She insisted on hers. Tiny little apartment. Spare as a monk's cell. Except the bedroom.. Whips, chains, harness and pullies. Eyehooks in the ceiling that she promised were structurally sound.
I'll make you a deal, she said. I will do anything to you. Anything. Just ask. In exchange, you have to do anything to me that I ask. Anything.
We shook on it. Very formal. Then we began. As promised, I got to go first. I had her do everything to me. Every possible thing that can bring pleasure to a human body. Every thing that can start with pain and bleed slowly into bliss. Vice versa. Think of the thing that you have always--always--wanted your lover to do, but were afraid to ask. Because you were ashamed. Because you thought they'd judge you. Because you were afraid they'd think you were one sick, sick fuck. That is what I had her to do me. Over and over and over.
When we were finished--hours, days, weeks later--I was raw, hollow, drained dry.
You're turn, I said.
She said, Tie my wrists.
I did.
Now hang me from the ceiling.
I did.
Go to that drawer over there and take out the knife.
...I did.
Cut a piece off, she said. Cut a piece of me off. And eat it. I hesitated. She reminded me of our handshake deal. She'd kept up her end of the bargain.
It was a small piece. The size of a quarter. Right above her ass. There was less blood than I expected. I want to see you, she said. I want to see you eat it. I swallowed it like a raw oyster. Slurped it down whole and wet. It slithered down my throat but not before I tasted it. It tasted exactly like cherry licorice. The sour whips they don't make anymore.
I used to chew on them during summers at the lake while I watched the older girls go swimming.
Again, she said. I cut off another piece. This one tasted just like Mary Alice Whitford--my 11th grade English teacher. Another piece. My favorite strawberry lube. Another piece. The metallic flush of adrenaline when you fuck in public. I kept cutting. Kept eating. Swallowing it all down. Piece after piece.
Each one different.
My first cigarette.
Strands of hair caught in my teeth.
Wood-aged bourbon served in a juice glass because that's all we had.
My first boyfriend's cock.
My last girlfriend's sweat.
She watched me. Every time.
She got off on it. Got off on me getting off. The cutting got harder. I had to saw through muscle. The first time I nicked bone, she asked me to stop. I didn't. I kept going. The flavor became strange. Like things I had never tasted
but someday will.
My last glass of wine.
The lips of the child I'll give birth to.
She begged me to stop. I just cut deeper.
Into things that were never supposed to see the light of day.
The dirt that was under my grandfather's nails when he came in my grandmother. The blood in my friend's teeth when her rapist punched her in the jaw.
The last piece...the last piece was the salty-sweet taste of Amanda Shelley's tongue. She was my first crush. Summer camp. Lean and sunkissed and everything I would never be.
I never told her, never touched her, certainly never tasted her. But I imagined it. I imagined tasting every inch of her.

She drowned in the lake.

We watched from shore as she went under. Once. Twice. Gone.
If..If I had just told her. Taken that moment to say, Don't go swimming. Come over here with me. Under these trees. Where no one can see. If I'd done that...

I've spent my entire life wanting to know what she tasted like. Now I do. Perfect. She tasted perfect.

I still have the knife in my hand. She's still in the bedroom, still hanging. I just needed to...Step out for a second.

She's stopped begging me to quit. Stopped saying anything. She's just watching me now. Waiting to see if I'll keep going.

I'm afraid of what comes next. There's more. Layers I haven't gotten to yet. But I'm going to do it. I'm going to keep cutting. Keep eating. Swallowing her down piece by piece. Tasting everything she is. Everything I am. Everything. Everything...Until...
Track Name: Imaginary Friend
Julie was everything I wasn't. I made her that way. She was smart and sporty. Pretty and popular. But not so popular she was snobby. She still liked me best. She always...She...
I'm sorry. This is...
This is very hard.

My parents moved when I was four. Right before I started school. I didn't have many friends. Even then I wasn't good at talking to people. Then we moved, I was back at zero. Then school started and I stayed at zero. There was no one to hang out with on the playground. No one to invite over for slumber parties.
So I made Julie.
She was always there when I got home. To talk to. Play games with. She had long brown hair--chestnut, not mousey like mine. An elfin face. I didn't know that word then, but it's what she was. Not quite human. Or a little more than human. Better than human.
My parents thought I was a little old for an imaginary friend, but they both worked and with Julie around I stopped asking them for a baby sister, so...

For years, Julie was everything to me. I told her all my secrets. When my parents divorced, I cried on her shoulder and she told me it would be okay.
In middle school, I started to make friends. Sort of. I didn't get better at it, it's just that there were more of us--more awkward kids who didn't fit in. We glommed together into sort-of friendships. I went out with them, invited them over. But I never told them secrets. Not like I told Julie.

I don't know when it happened exactly. Maybe when I was out at the movies. Or at a football game, marching across the field with my clarinet. One day when I got home, Julie was gone.
I never noticed.
I never even remembered she existed. I grew up. High school was...okay. I learned I liked English and was a pretty good writer. I lost my virginity to Billy Preston after junior prom. I decided I was going to move to New York City and start my life for real.
So I did.
And I didn't.
I tried to get into advertising. Marketing. Nothing. I started temping. Moving from office to office, I didn't make friends. My evenings were spent alone in the tiniest of apartments.
I joined a dating site. A few dates. Some of them led places. Second dates. Bedrooms. One or two were good lovers. None were good friends. Before I knew it, years had passed. One day--one cold, dark December day--when the train took forever and the slush overflowed into my boots, I came home. I was dreading it. Another night alone. I walked into my apartment, and there she was, sitting cross-legged on my bed. Like she'd never left.
She stood to greet me.
She'd grown up, too. Her hair was still long, thick, chestnut. Her face still had those delicate, sharp edges. She was just a little taller than me. Graceful where I was clumsy. Long, strong legs, toned arms. Next to her I was gray and flabby. I didn't care. She took my hand and we sat on the bed and talked. I spilled two decades of secrets into her open ears. When I was finished, she began to undress. Then to undress me.
She knew exactly what to do. I didn't feel awkward or fumbling. When I didn't know where to put my hands or my legs or my mouth, she guided me. She showed me what to do, how fast and how hard and how long.
When it was over, I cried. It was just...I didn't know it could be like that. I never imagined. After that, she was there whenever I came home. Waiting. Eventually, we went out. Walking on the street. Talking. We went to the movies together. Restaurants. I ordered food that she never ate. Nobody thought it was that strange. This is New York.
When we went home, I took her to bed. Or she took me. The days were brighter. Shorter. I felt less gray, less flabby.
People at work started smiling at me. Saying hello. Asking my name. One marketing firm I was temping at asked if I would stay on. Coworkers asked me out after work. I went to bars and talked and laughed. I made brunch plans. Julie and I spent less and less time together. This guy at work. Brian. He asked me out on a date. I went. We had a really good time. When we went back to my place, the apartment was empty. I didn't think anything of it. Of course it's empty. I live alone.
I'd forgotten.
Again.
Brian spent the night. He spent a lot of nights. He made me happy. He asked me to marry him and I said yes. Our coworkers threw us a party. They were so excited for us. We talked about kids. My Mom came to New York to meet him. I bought a dress. The wedding is next week. Was next week.

I was walking out of the florist's. I'd just given them the deposit on the flowers for the wedding. And I saw her. Across the street, walking toward Union Square. Chestnut hair down to the small of her back. Long, strong legs and that walk I would recognize anywhere. I ran after her. I screamed her name.
Julie! JULIE!
But she was gone. Or...or it was never her. But I remembered. The way we laughed. The way we touched. The way she listened so deeply.
How could I have forgotten her again?
How could I do that? What kind of friend does that?

Maybe that's how it's meant to be. Maybe somewhere down the line I'll need her again and she'll be there. Maybe we'll be two little old ladies sitting on a stoop together.

The thing is...I can't wait. I don't want to wait two decades. Or four.
I don't want to wait.
I went home and told Brian the wedding was off. He asked what he'd done and I said nothing. I was just in love with somebody else. I quit my job. Quit my friends. Went back to temping. Stopped going out. These days, I just go back to my apartment. Each time I open the door, I hold my breath and listen.
Track Name: Tentacles
It was our fourth year together. Four years. That's...flowers, I think. Or fruit?
We had been happy. I thought. But she was acting strangely. Distracted. In bed, things were...She seemed distant. I thought she was having an affair. I went on her computer looking for...I don't know. But what I found. Pictures. Videos. Anime. Women being violated by things. Creatures with tentacles. Some were very graphic. I confronted her. She confessed. It was her fantasy. Had always been her fantasy. Since she was a little girl. Her parents took her to an aquarium where they let her put her hands in a tank and touch an octopus. It wrapped its tentacles around her hand, her wrist. Reached up her arm. She never forgot it. That delicious, alien feeling, she called it. Slick, wet, pressure. As she grew up, she hid it. Her desire. Her need. It became that thing in her life that she knew was missing. Would always be missing.
She promised to stop. Stop watching the videos. Looking at the pictures. When she made that promise, I saw something dim in her eyes. I told her, no. No, don't stop...I want you to be happy. I want to give you your heart's desire.
I went online. I found a doctor overseas. There were months of drugs. They made me very sick. Then the surgeries. Dozens of them. Our life savings. She never asked me to. Many times she said I did not have to do it. But I did. I loved her. I wanted to make her happy.
Our first night together after my...augmentation. She was waiting for me in bed. I disrobed. She gasped. Just that sound--that single gasp of joy, of anticipation--made everything worth it.
Then I went to her and ...Slick. Wet. Pressure. Every night. For weeks. Months. We fulfilled almost all of her fantasies. The ones we couldn't achieve, we approximated. I grew to love the slickness of my new skin against hers, my tendrils slipping inside of her, my new cock wrapping around her hand, her wrist. We were happy. For a while.

She went home to visit her family. She had not been in some time. When she returned, things were different. She was distant again. Her parents had spoken to her. They'd heard stories. Seen pictures of what I had become.. They were...ashamed. Confused. Disgusted. She carried a little of that shame and disgust back with her. It festered inside. Eventually she told me she no longer desired what she once desired. I told her I cannot change back. I do not want to change back. This is who I am now. She said, I know. And then she left. I was alone. For a very long time.
There was no one else like me. No one wanted what I had become.
I travelled to the ocean. I was going to walk into the water. I would either drown or find something beneath the waves that resembled me. Desired me.
I was walking across the sand when a voice called to me. Where are you going? I turned and saw her. Lying supine on the beach. She was stunning. Every limb had been planed and polished and sharpened to a razor's edge.
She gleamed viciously in the sun. She had made herself this way for a lover, she said. A lover who wanted to be cut, sliced, slit open. The lover had grown tired as lovers do. And now no one could touch her without bleeding. She was waiting for the sun to burn and bake her until she didn't care anymore.
I reached down and helped her up off the hot stones.
I took her home. We shared stories. Of lovers and fantasies and surgeries.
She is not my fantasy. I am not hers. But we are together. Because when we make love, she does not cut me. I wrap myself around her. My new flesh gives against her touch. I cushion her razor edges so that she can touch the world again. And she slides inside me and becomes the hot, hard center I never knew I was missing.
Track Name: ILUVNYC
New York City came up to me in the bar and asked if it could buy me a drink and I thought, Why not? It's New York City. One drink couldn't hurt. We hit it off. New York was charming without being pushy. With just the right hint of danger. Not I'm going to wear you as a skin-suit kind of danger. More like, I know a guy who knows a guy who can have your creep exboyfriend's legs broken kind of danger.
What can I say? I liked it.
New York City came home with me that night. We made love. Okay, let's be honest. We didn't "make love." We had the kind of sloppy, three-cocktail sex where we spent half the time remembering where everything went. But it was good for what it was. New York promised to call. I said, awesome. But don't worry. Because...

When I moved here I promised myself I wouldn't become one of those girls who dates New York City. Flirt with it; take it home for the occasional drunken screw. Don't date. Never date.
Then a week later the phone rang. It was New York. Hey, so Neutral Milk Hotel is playing this gig at a loft for like thirty people. Wanna go?
And I'm like, uh yeah.
Everything was perfect. The band was perfect. The loft was perfect. The people there were the New Yorkers you read about in the Style section. The weather was...Well, what are you going to do about the weather.
We went back to my place. And this time...[insert sound that suggests the sex was better than just okay]. No joke, we broke the headboard.
After that we saw each other, two, three times a week. My friends thought I was setting myself up for a fall. Especially my friends who were born here. They love the city but they'd never, ever date it. It'd be weird. Like fingering your cousin weird. You know too much about each other. You can see through the fascade.
And I thought--Okay.
Have fun, but don't get invested. It's just a good time. That's all.
Don't give New York your heart.
You'd think that wouldn't be so hard. Because not every night is perfect. Sure, some nights, it's just the two of us walking the streets and every surface glistens. Like the City is showing off just for me.
But some nights we show up at a party and it seems like New York is paying attention to everyone except me. I get so fed up I leave alone. And I think, Never again. Then New York will show up at my door in the morning with bagels from that place in Staten Island I can never remember the name of.
It's the same with the sex. Some nights we lock ourselves in my bedroom and it's a contest to see who can make the other come more or faster or harder.
I end up on my phone looking for a take-out place that will deliver Gatorade at four in the morning.
Other times, it lasts three minutes and I spend half an hour in the bathroom trying to get come out of my hair.

But the thing is, with New York...Even when it's shitty, I kinda like it. If I didn't like things to be a little too dirty or too rough or too gross or too rushed or too fucking exhausting, I wouldn't be dating New York in the first place.

Because, yeah, it's hot summer trash smell and crushing rent and catcalls from the stoops.
But it's also dollar slice pizza on every block, warm air out of subway grates in winter, my heels scraping a secret code into the concrete.
It's the dry-bone behemoths in the Natural History Museum and the unfamiliar songs in another language that waft down out of the windows in Chinatown.
It's the way the subway rumbles beneath the Anjelika Movie Theatre and finding just the right view from Fort Tryon Park.
It's Dorothy Parker and Allen Ginsburg and Langston Hughes. It's Patti Smith and Lou Reed and my downstairs neighbor who moved into her apartment in 1943,
who fell out of the gates of a gulag right into New York City's arms,
who says she's been in love with this city all her life and she could tell you stories
and if you ask her nice she'll sing you nursery rhymes from the old country.

We're still dating.
Much to my surprise and my friends' chagrin. They say I spend more time with New York than I do with them. Maybe that's true. Maybe they're just jealous. Jealous that they aren't brave enough.
Brave enough to give the city their heart. Their soft, fragile, warm wet beating heart.
And let it do whatever it wants with it.
But I have.
Stupidly, dangerously, truly.
And I know the city will break it.
I know.
But in the meantime...my city is there for me.
And I'm there for it.
Track Name: Fireflies
It started when I was about ten. Eleven. Whenever boys start doing that kind of thing. I'd wake up and there would be all these bugs in my bed.
Tiny black and amber bugs. Dozens of them. All dead.
I didn't know what was going on.
I showed my parents.
They hired an exterminator. Thought maybe they were some kind of termite. Exterminator sprayed the house, but didn't find anything.
It kept happening.
My parents started thinking maybe I was putting them there on purpose to get attention.
I stopped telling them. I just made sure to scoop the bugs up every morning.

When I was thirteen I was in my room, on the computer, and I was....touching myself. And for the first time, I came.
Except instead of semen, it was bugs.
A stream of tiny, flying black and amber bugs shot out of my dick.
I screamed. Fell out of my chair. It was like something out of a horror movie. I was scrambling, ready to run out my room and then....
They started to glow.
The bugs. Flying around my room and glowing.
Not blinking like fireflies. Just this soft, steady yellow glow. They floated around the ceiling of my room for maybe a minute. Then they started to die.
One by one they fell. Their light going out.
I thought--Oh my God, that was terrible. I can't ever do that again.
But I was a thirteen year old boy, so fifteen minutes later, same thing. Bugs--flying, glowing, dying.
I didn't tell anyone. I was young, but I wasn't stupid. Besides, it didn't hurt. It felt good. Like it was supposed to. Nothing else seemed wrong, so I figured--why should I bother telling anyone? My parents would just worry.
So I cleaned up the dead bugs and kept my mouth shut.

Things got harder when I got older. I had girlfriends. We'd start getting serious, they'd wonder why I never let it go farther.
I wanted to. I really wanted to. I tested out some condoms by myself. It was ...not pretty. I wasn't going to subject a girl to that. I was horny, I wasn't a monster. So I always made sure I stopped before I came.
Sometimes I'd fake it. Pretend I came, pull out, go home and jerk off. Watch the bugs create constellations across my ceiling.

Got all the way through high school doing that.
Then two months into my first semester at college, I get drunk. First time I'd ever really gotten drunk. My girlfriend at the time, she went down on me. I forgot all about control.
I came in her mouth. She was coughing and choking. Screaming. I tried to explain, but...

We broke up.
I figured that was it. Celibacy forever.

Word started getting out. About what I could do.
That's when things got really weird.
I had girls showing up at my dorm room. Guys, too. They wanted to see it. I told them to get lost.
Then one girl, she said she'd give me twenty dollars. Not to touch. Just to watch.
So I said what the fuck and took her money and did it. I remember--she reached up and grabbed one of them and held it in her hand. Let it glow. Die.
She seemed so happy.
Then so sad.
All the people I'd turned away started showing up with money. Ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred dollars. Just to watch.
The university found out. They didn't know what to do with me, so they kicked me out. Violation of school policy. Running a business out of a dorm room. No big deal. I was never much into school. I got my own place, put up an ad on Craig's List. Which worked okay.
Most of the people were pretty normal. Some were weird. A few scared me.
This one guy wouldn't let me leave his apartment. He kept trying to get me to do it again and again. Every time the bugs died, he'd get so angry. When he wasn't looking, I went out through the window.
Most people were cool. They didn't even want to touch me. Just watch the bugs.

By then I didn't really need the ad. People who were into this kind of shit knew about me. I started getting invited to do parties. Really exclusive gigs.
They'd have me in the middle of the room doing my thing. People would sit in a circle and have cocktails and watch. Sometimes people would ignore me altogether. They were too busy talking.
Did a sex party once. That was weird. People fucking on inflattable mattresses.
The bugs always flew over to them. They seemed to be attracted to sweat and spit and, like, fluids? Which got a little gross, you know?

I got to hate the parties. I felt like a freak with all the people staring. I'd always come home exhausted and sore But it paid really well, so I didn't quit.

Then about a year ago, I was doing this one gig. I think it was a Tony Awards after-party. Everybody was gossiping and starfucking. Except for this one guy. He wasn't talking or mingling. He just sat in a corner, sipped his drink, and watched me all night long.
At the end of the night he came up.
What kind of bugs are those? he asked.
I said I didn't know. Fireflies, I guess.
He said, no. No, they're not. They're not the right size and their abdomen isn't the right shape.
He said he was an entomologist at the Museum of Natural History. He asked if I'd meet him sometime. Talk about my...special talent. He said he'd love to examine me in a more sterile environment. I was like, okay, Worst come on ever. But he gave me his number and I kept it. Don't know why. He just...seemed nice. In a dorky kind of way. I called him.
We met for drinks. Dinner. He came back to my place. We talked for hours. Or he talked and I listened.
About his job.
How he got into insects.
How people only dislike insects because they're so different from us.

People don't like things that are different. Not really.

Eventually we went to bed. I asked if he wanted to watch. He said, "No. I want to touch you. I want to make it happen"
He said a scientist needs to be hands-on in his experiments. It was the first time I'd been touched like that in...ever. The fireflies--or whatever they really are, he still hasn't identified a genus--streamed out. Instead of flying up to the ceiling, they flitted around at eye level. Then came down and landed on us. Crawling all over our bodies, glowing softly.
Listen, he said. Do you hear? They're humming.
I didn't know what he was talking about. Then I heard it. Real faint. All of them together. In unison. A gentle hum. I'd never listened to them before.

They died. Like they always do. I told him not to be sad. Why would I be sad? he asked. Then he curled up next to me and fell asleep in my arms.

We're still together.
I still do parties. I still do private sessions. He doesn't mind at all.
Last night he took a mason jar and, as I came, he caught them. All of them.
He poked holes in the lid, and every few minutes he breathes into the holes.
Hot wet breath.
They're still alive. On the windowsill of our apartment. Still flying. Still glowing in their glass jar.
I don't know what it means. Neither does my entomologist. He says we'll need more data.
So our experiments continue.
Track Name: Communion
Sarah comes up to me after our shift and says, I'm going to the graveyard tonight. You want to come?
She's told me about what happens there. What she and her friends do.

Tonight? I ask. It's July. I figured you wouldn't go back until Halloween.

No, she says. Too cold then.

She tells me it's almost always in the middle of summer. The dead of summer--when the heat and the humidity make the air almost solid. With every breath, you feel like there's a storm coming.

So, you want to go or not?

I didn't know. It sounded exciting when she first told me about it. But I'd just lost my mother that February. She was buried there at that cemetery.

Just stay away from her grave, Sarah says. Look--you'll love it. If you don't, you can pretend it was just a dream. Lot of people do that. It isn't hard.

So I go. It's better than sitting in my apartment, every window open, begging for the slightest breeze, wishing I wasn't lying in my bed alone.
About twenty people show up. Pretty equally split between boys and girls, which doesn't always happen, Sarah says. Someone has a skeleton key and all of us file through the gate.

What do I do now? I ask.

Go find a spot you like, Sarah says. A place you feel comfortable. A place that speaks to you.

I ask if I should take my clothes off.

She says, Only if the spirit moves you. Then she giggles and scurries away.

My friend's kind of a dork.

I walk. I stray from the path. I bruise my shins against the gravestones. It's dark here. The only light comes from the city looming up around us. The dirty, worn marble glows just the slightest bit.
I find a grave--a flat rectangle of stone the size of a twin bed. The name's been worn away by probing fingers. An angel stands sentinel above it--hands folded in prayer, one wing broken off.
I lay down on the stone. Close my eyes. I wait.
I can feel when it starts. It's like a mist seeping out of the ground all around me. A cool mist. Like the kind that clings to Rockaway at dawn.

It moves up and over me like fingers. Tendrils. It slips over my eyelids, under my clothes, into my pores.

Suddenly there's pipe smoke at the back of my throat. A dog's wiry fur in my fingers. Bacon fat tearing between my teeth. The smell of newspaper ink and coffee. A voice nearby is telling me her plans for the day.

It fades away and someone else settles in.
Fresh stubbled cheeks against my thighs. Fingers curled around soft hair. Tongue licking, probing. Hot breath.
Cold glass pressed against the side of my face and beneath my closed eyelids I see the outlines of buildings--skyscrapers viewed from above. A sillouette of a city that doesn't exist anymore. A sudden orgasm tears all that away. Someone else takes its place.

Toes clawing into hot sand, acid burning through my calves. Lungs on fire. Salt on my tongue. Rotten seaweed-smell of the ocean. That perfect skin-temperature breeze against my bare chest.
I want to jump up and run circles around the graveyard. But I don't. I don't want to break the spell.

This is what they miss, Sarah explained to me. It's not friends or family or the big things. It's the simple things.

You can't have your favorite breakfast. You can't go for a run. You can't have a quick fuck in an elevator.
Not when you're dead.
Except once or twice a year when the air is so hot and thick even the dead don't want to be cooped up inside. They seep out. Pull away from their graves just a little. If someone's waiting. And willing.
We can feel those things for them.

My beach runner glides away. Someone else takes his place. Bare feet pushing on rungs. Pig-tailed head spinning with the height. Hot metal on my legs and my stomach rising into my throat as I slide, down, down, falling--then hands under my armpits, lifting me up and spinning me, spinning and spinning and I'm laughing, laughing, laughing.
The little girl--the long, long dead little girl--spins away and someone else takes her place. Then another and another. All through the hot night. Favorite kisses and favorite mornings. Favorite meals from long-lost recipes.

The purr of a cat on my lap.
Fresh sheets and warm sunlight.
Fingernails scratching lightly across my back.
A long, hot drag on a cigarette.
A scalding shower at the end of the day.

When my senses are my own again, it's almost dawn. The sky is still dark, but I can feel it--that first ray of light straining to rip through the horizon. I stand up, joints cracking. Every inch of my skin is a raw nerve. Beautiful and exposed. There's a breeze coming from the East. I close my eyes and let it brush against my cheeks. I think about my mother. How she'll never feel this again. How she'll never feel anything again.
I find the path. But instead of walking toward the gate, I go deeper. I pass Sarah, lying on the ground--naked, shivering, smiling. I keep walking. I find my mother's grave. Grass new, headstone with letters fresh-cut and sharp.
I wonder what she misses. The smell of frying sopapilla. My father's beard against her chin. I'm a little scared to find out. But I close my eyes. And wait. And hope it's not too late.