by Douglas Thornsjo
"You'll have to change it," Kadaver said. "You can't have a name
that belongs to someone else."
"But I like Morticia," Jen said.
Kadaver studied his fingernails. They were painted black, filed
almost to points. With the black circles around his eyes, the black
lipstick on his mouth, he looked a bit like Johnny Depp as Edward
Sissorhands. "I do too," he said. Both of them. I'd have married
her. Either one."
Jen knew this already; it was the reason she had suggested the name
in the first place. "Well then," she said. "What about Raven?"
Kadaver dipped his brush, turned his face to the floor. "It's a
lovely name. There must be several hundred Ravens in this part of
"I have a name for her," Sister Windemere said. "How about Ordinary
Alone in the pews, Pippa was sobbing. No one paid her the least
attention. The rest were all pretending to work. Dr. Puff was coming
up the aisle with a speaker the size of a VW, black and red wire
trailing behind. Kadaver had the floor about half finished, but
was deliberately painting himself into a corner. Sister Windemere
was helping with the draperies. Anyway, she was sticking them with
pins, pretty much at random; watching her, Jen had a bad feeling
that Sister Windemere would rather be sticking them into her.
She pushed the thought aside, and went back to finding a suitable
name.Melancholia? she thought. No, it doesn't suit me. Ominous Dread?
That matched her feelings, but perhaps the others would think it
too grand. Kadaver might like Sally, as that was the heroine's name
in The Nightmare Before Christmas, but he might veto it for
the same reason. With a sigh, she turned and looked out into the
empty rows of the little church. There was Pippa still, close on
the aisle, midway down, a black veil drawn over her face, hiding
all but the tip of a powdered white chin. She had the loveliest
clothes, crinolines under bell-shaped dresses that rustled when
she moved, all in mourning colors. She vanished a white hand under
her veil and sat with her shoulders trembling, her head bowed. It
doesn't even matter that she doesn't help, Jen thought. She adds
so much to the atmosphere.
Dr. Puff had a portable CD player already wired, and was playing
the newest from a band Kadaver had discovered called Vanquished
Sons of The Southern Aristocracy. With song titles like "Sunken
Road" and "Face Down in Chickamauga Creek," anyone might feel like
sobbing; now, listening to the words, Jen allowed herself a moment
Now she walks the Widow's Walk,
the song said.
Black against a sky of red
Dreaming of her son's embrace
In the arms of the recently dead.
"You guys," Jen said. "We're never going to finish at the rate we're
"Don't be silly," Kadaver said. "We're almost done now. Just have
to set up the bar."
"And the monitors," Sister Windemere said.
"How long do we have?" Dr. Puff said.
Kadaver got up on all fours, pressed his hands into wet paint. "It's
just four," he said, studying his blackened palms with some curiosity.
"We have eight whole hours. All the time in the world."
Side by side with Sister
Windemere in the bathroom mirror, Jen could see the differences
that made her feel like an interloper. "I look like that squeaky-clean
girl," she said, "in the douche commercials. Just wearing a black
dress. No wonder you hate me."
It was the right thing to say; Sister Windemere, who had been
scowling all this time, softened a bit and even offered the use
of her make-up case. "It's all right child," she said, quite weary
and world-wise for all of her seventeen years. "We can't all be
born with circles under our eyes."
With her quick, experienced hands Sister Windemere buried Jen's
face under a coating of white powder. Of course she chose black
lipstick; that was de rigeur. But they decided not to blacken
the space around her eyes, opting instead for a simple red line
along the lower lid that gave her a wild, vampire stare. "Makes
your eyes jump out," Sister Windemere said. "Very stylish."
Jen rolled her eyes at the glass. "Do you think Kadaver will like
"Maybe if you stopped breathing," Sister Windemere said. And Jen
thought: perhaps that can be my name. Necrophilia.
When they came out of
the women's room, Jen and Sister Windemere had to stop and take
a deep breath. The first thing that hit them was the wall of sound,
blare of sirens, hard bass licks and the voice of Ministry growling
at them about the New World Order. Jen took Sister Windemere's
hand. Together they crept along the narrow hall, towards a nervous
flickering out of the heavy darkness ahead. The Charcoal Church
opened around them, ready for the opening night crowd, a sonnet,
Jen thought, in shrouds and electric light. The bar with its castle
of bottles filled with burgundy and scotch had appeared at last
in place of the altar; behind this, on a raised dais, three television
screens were already firing scattershot bursts of gothic imagery:
video clips of the Pinhead and Christopher Lee intercut with riot
footage from the nightly news, cop lights, motorcycles, crypts
and the odd shot of George Bush chopping the air with his hands.
Below this, Dr. Puff's frizzy-haired, beefy silhouette labored
over a glowing control panel.
In the nave the pews had been pushed back against the walls. Pippa
was sitting under the shrouded window, watching with unseen eyes
as Kadaver painted a moon onto the dance floor. It had eyes, a
nose and a mouth, and was half in shadow, half blue, half yellow.
Kadaver raised his head and shouted, "Where's Quinch?"
"What do we want with him?" Sister Windemere shouted back.
"He's our doorman," Kadaver said.
Jen and Sister Windemere looked at each other and would have turned
pale if their make-up had permitted it. "He won't let anyone in,"
Sister Windemere shouted. "He'll butt them all with his head."
Kadaver frowned. "Suppose you're right," he said at last. "D'you
think he could manage the bar?"
Sister Windemere thought about it, then nodded. "I think so. He
snorts and huffs. But he hasn't learned to drink."
There was a final wail of guitars, and suddenly the Charcoal Church
fell silent. A good wind was setting the old church's boards a-creak,
but Jen couldn't hear it through the ringing in her ears. Dr.
Puff came lumbering out from behind the sound board, shaking himself
like a big hairy dog; with the sweat on his body and the goggles
over his eyes he looked as if he'd had a million volts shot through
him. "I'm ready," he said. "Heh heh heh. Let them come."
Quinch finally turned
up at a quarter to, dressed in his usual outfit of black leather
slacks and a tee shirt decorated with bloody safety pins. The
Charcoal Church was filled with quiet and shadow. Even Pippa was
silent. "Have y' seen the crowd outside?" Quinch said. "F--- me!
The others, all but Pippa, crowded into the vestibule and peeped
through the dirty glass. "He's right," Jen said. "I can't see
where they end."
"Too bad they don't have torches," Quinch said. "That would be
At the stroke of twelve Kadaver wrenched the doors open and stood
blocking the way. A cold breeze pushed into the church bearing
with it the smell of dust and marijuana; at her little table in
the vestibule, Jen put her head back, breathed the chilly air
all the way down into her lungs and smiled. There was some laughter
and a lot of jumping and yowling from the crowd. "All right,"
Kadaver said, "You can come in. And you and you. Don't even think
about it. Go away. Okay, you," and now in twos and threes the
local kids, some of whom Jen recognized, came spilling over the
threshold in Halloween dress, faces painted chalk white and black
blood, looking cold in the night air, vanishing their delicate
hands into purses or pockets to bring out crumpled bills for the
Dr. Puff stubbed out his Lucky and fired up the console once again.
The screens blipped once and faded in on a cartoon skeleton chasing
Mickey Mouse into a house filled with flesh-eating zombies, to
a rising malicious drumbeat that thudded through the speakers,
into the floorboards and the walls, down into the ground and out
into the stillness of the North End. At first the teenagers stood
in nervous groups, accumulating in the corners, signing at each
other, casting about to see who might be coming in after them
and if they were having a good time. They came away from the bar
with beer cans and paper cups in their hands, pressed guardedly
against their stomachs. Wanting to be exotic, they were merely
thrilled and a little bit frightened; but the Charcoal Church
would take the edge off that: it had already started.
"Hi, Jenny," one of the young voices said. Jen looked up, and
hated herself again for responding to a name that she no longer
cared for. The young man standing above her was wearing a Metallica
tee shirt and a besotted expression that made him look like a
fool. His hair was clean, but poufed-up in a calculatedly unkempt
look; he said nothing more, as if the greeting and his presence
were somehow enough to thrill her, as if they were secret lovers
and no other words were needed. Jen averted her eyes in disgust.
Of course he would have to show up, she thought, knowing I would
be here. She took the money from his hand, refusing his attention
until the push of waiting teens forced him away at last. Then
she said to his back: "My name is Nocturne."
Robby looked longingly back at her over his shoulder and was driven
on into the Church. "'Seventies geek," Jen said out loud, and
two of the girls waiting on line joined her in a harsh cruel laugh
that Robby was meant to hear. How did he get in? Jen thought.
Kadaver must have let him in on purpose. She thought that it must
have been Kadaver's way of teasing her, of reminding her that
she was not truly a Goth. Not yet.
By twelve-thirty The Charcoal Church had nearly filled. Soon there
was so much laughter and shouting that it merged with the music
to become a single sound. When Jen looked down into the money
box it was all she could do to keep from crying out. She had never
seen so many twenties all in one place. She wondered how Kadaver
would react. Was it acceptable for a Goth to have money?
Three vampires -- two girls and a she-male -- were first onto
the floor. They did the batusi together on the dark side of the
moon. They were joined by zombie-types dressed in rags, by girls
in black lace, their skins painted green, by young boys in black
denim. Pippa raised her veil. She watched the trickle of teenagers
turn into a flow. There were no tears on her cheeks now; her face
was a white blank marked by the dark wells of her eyes and a horizontal
line of gleaming black above her chin. The only thing that moved
on her was the reflected light of the video screens. She lowered
her head; the black corners of her mouth turned up. "Ah, " she
said to herself. "Reverie! Heaven!"
After a time, the cold
barrier of Nocturne that Jen had so carefully built up began to
crack and crumble. From her place in the vestibule she could see
none of the action, and with the crowd beginning to enjoy itself
Jen felt left out. The Charcoal Church had been Kadaver's idea,
a sort of nose-thumbing at the real Goth Clubs downtown that had
refused him admittance on account of his age, but from the start
Jen had been its, his, principal supporter; this had so obviously
won her Kadaver's approval that Sister Windemere, out of jealousy
or futility, had relented, and now Jen, who felt everything as
intensely as she possibly could, was being cheated out of enjoying
the club that she had championed. Where was Sister Windemere?
Somewhere inside, Jen supposed, enjoying herself.
It couldn't hurt, she thought, just to take a peek. Jen pushed
back her chair and crept to the archway separating the vestibule
from the nave. She stood hugging herself against the cold draft.
She had hoped, for Kadaver's sake, that it would be like a party
in Hell, full of lower level demons kicking up their heels, a
big Walpurgis Night bash. Wide-eyed and blinking against the harsh
light, she stared deeply into the Charcoal Church.
And she let out a sigh. Instead of the demons there were only
the same skinny, pimply teens that she saw every day round the
neighborhood, boys and girls bobbing and lumbering without grace,
arms raised, hands open, empty expressions on their faces like
store mannequins with eyes heavy from drink. The church was not
nearly so cavernous as she had thought, just a shabby room with
boarded windows. The crowd was not nearly so large. The decorations
that had seemed so fine just an hour before were nothing more
than cheap paper tablecloths covered with cartoon bats. The moon
that Kadaver had painted was already scuffed, and had been lopsided
to begin with. The monitors were ancient, black and white televisions
set out on folding chairs. The bar was a folding table that Kadaver
had stolen from a dumpster.
Behind it, Quinch was doing more dancing and shouting than selling
drinks. Despite what Sister Windemere had said, he was ripping
the tops off of beer cans and pouring the contents down his gullet.
The only other person who stood out of the crowd was Robby. Jen
found him at the farthest edge of the dance floor, looking lost
and forlorn with his back slumped against the pockmarked wall
of the Church. His hands were empty; when he saw Jen looking at
him he perked up and began to make dancing motions at her with
his shoulders. Jen turned away, scowling so hard that her mouth
and forehead hurt. "Ordinary boy," she said out loud, though no
one heard her. "Well, I won't be your ordinary girl. I hate you."
When she turned back into the vestibule, she saw at once that
the cash box was missing. She looked in her chair, she looked
under the table. She looked all around the dirty vestibule and
into the faces of the dancers roundabout; but the tears did not
come until she realized that she would have to tell Kadaver. She
had lost track of the count half an hour before; by then it might
well have been a couple hundred dollars, lost now; because she
had been so foolish, like a child in some nursery story, eaten
by wolves for straying from the path.
Jen hid her face in her hands. No one within the Charcoal Church
paid her the least attention. She was weeping so hard, and the
music was so loud, that she didn't hear the crisp rustling of
mourning clothes coming under the arch. A white hand touched her
shoulder. Jen started and shouted out loud.
"What has happened?" Pippa said from under the black mask of her
"It's gone," Jen said from between her fingers, and saying it
aloud made her wonder what she was making all the fuss about.
Not the money, really; they had never possessed it long enough
for its loss to matter. It was the other loss, the awful thought
that she had allowed her options to be stolen from her, that only
Robby remained available to her, Robby and the awful sameness
he represented. "Oh, you'll hate me now," she said. "I let all
of our money be stolen. You all of you will hate me now..."
"Kadaver," Pippa said.
They found him out in the cool night, propped senseless against
the steps, his arms and legs splayed out like The Scarecrow's
in the dirt and bricks. The make-up 'round his eyes made it seem
at first as if the thieves had blinded him. Pippa and Jen let
their shadows climb up the length of him; they stooped and raised
his head into Jen's lap. When she saw that they had knocked out
two of his teeth, Jen at last gathered herself, and shook away
her tears, her foolish thoughts, her fright.
"Cold water," she said. She began tearing her dress into black
bandages. "Cold water," she said again. "Hurry." But Pippa was
standing above her, gazing intently down the unlighted street.
From somewhere down there, beyond the abandoned buildings and
the elevated tracks, Jen heard a new sound growing along the night,
a low banshee wail that climbed and dropped away again, a sound
that everyone recognized, a sound that killed all noise and motion
in the Charcoal Church and set the painted boys and girls within
to listening. A strobing blue light climbed over the hill, burning
its way in through the window-cracks. The children all held their
breath, and all began to run.
They kicked boards out of the windows, they broke down doors and
poured into the overgrown yard behind the church. All but Jen,
and Pippa, and Kadaver. In the spotlights thrown from the blue
cars they waited, motionless, and Jen once again felt that confusion
of middle-class relief that help had finally come, and disgust
at herself, for feeling so relieved.
Three times they brought
her before the camera: twice a mannish uniformed woman took her
into the station's dingy bathroom and forced her to wash her face.
Jen felt as humiliated as if they had asked her to undress. They
wanted her name and Jen said "Nocturne." "Your real name," they
said. Jen drew herself inward. "We can find it out," the cop said.
And he made her stand pink-faced in the light, holding a numbered
slate bearing the name she so hated.
She sat with Pippa in the cold cell, and thought how scared Pippa
looked, and how young, and realized that she must look exactly
the same. Through the grating she could hear the police outside
discussing her case. "Fourteen years old," one of them said. "She
looks like my daughter."
Jen said, "Kadaver would like this. A crypt. If he were here."
Pippa said nothing. Jen said, "Kadaver," and then stopped trying.
After an hour in the cell she began to shiver from cold and fright.
After two hours, one of the officers came through, jangling keys
in his hand.
"Your boyfriend is going to be all right," he said, without feeling.
"That building was condemned. You're lucky: the owners aren't
going to press charges. Looks like you two can go home."
Jen sat up straight and took good deep breath, but the shaking
never stopped. She did not know anymore what she dreaded the most,
until the door opened again, and her father came through, followed
by a well-to-do couple dressed in long grey coats. They held out
their arms, and Pippa went running into their embrace.
Jen remained in the cell. It would have done her no good to shout
or to sulk. She watched the girl Pippa simpering in her parents
arms, and when her father offered his hand she hit it away, wishing
it were Pippa, thinking How could you? How dare you? Betrayer.
You've given up.
"It's all right," her father said, and Jen wanted to snap back,
no it isn't! Instead, she pulled herself to her feet. Her father
looked tired, and sad. She would not meet his eyes.
Three days later she
spotted Kadaver sitting alone on the wall outside the school gymnasium.
A fringe of spiky black hair rode low over his forehead, lacquered
arrows pointing down at the remains of a purple-and-yellow bruise
below his left eye. He smiled and showed her the black gap where
his teeth should have been.
"Awf, that wathom adventure," he said.
"But your teeth," Jen said.
"I'm getting new oneth. Perhapth I'll tharpen them into fangth."
Jen pressed herself as close to Kadaver as she could manage. He
let her rest her head between his shoulder and neck. Sitting there
with him on the low wall, she shared in the music from Kadaver's
headphones, sad, distant refrain:
Now she walks the Widow's Walk
Figure thin and powder white
Bearing only lonely dreams
Heart empty as the halls of night.
Throughout the seventh period the others appeared at gradual intervals:
Pippa looking a little wistful, as if she sensed some of what
Jen thought; and Sister Windemere, who by day was just plain Susan,
no different from a hundred others, except for the hardness of
her face; and Doctor Puff, wearing a band-aid across one eyebrow;
and Quinch, who said nothing. They settled on the wall around
Jen and Kadaver. Jen half expected a reprisal: in their low tones,
with their hesitant voices, they would guess at the things that
had gone wrong, and assign her the blame. But no one mentioned
the Charcoal Church. It was a black dream that they had passed
through together, a nightmare chain binding them all together
by the ankles.
At one thirty the bell rang and a steady flow of middle-class
youth banged their way out through glass doors, sauntering out
to the line of buses. Jen saw Robby among them, walking alone,
carrying his backpack loose by the straps. She started to turn
her face away. Then she realized that something had changed.
He was working over some problem in his head, and looking at him
Jen understood that the problem was how to keep his eyes averted.
He was looking for pebbles to kick, he was counting the bricks
with his eyes. He took no notice of her, though she sat in plain
sight; he could not have missed seeing her. He walked straight
past without ever turning his head, and Jen felt what the stories
meant when they told of hearts taking wing.
"Yes," she said out loud. "Nocturne at last."
Thornsjo is a writer, cartoonist and graphic designer living
in rural Maine in a big old house packed with folk art, Mickey Mouse
stuff, books and cats. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart
Prize and has appeared in The North American Review, Kinesis,
The Pikestaff Forum, Three Speed, The Nightshade
Press Nightstand Reader, 96 Inc and on National Public
Radio. His novel, Persephone's Torch, is available in an
electronic edition from Duck