When A Stranger Calls // David Kuhnlein


Puffy from goodnight kisses, lit silver by dreams of the screen, your lips pucker in anticipation of my pillow. It’s my turn to talk and you’re hooked. Sex, the most exquisite poison, a toxin to twist both ends of the film. You know the rules. We’ve had enough of your surname. No lie could impregnate you (in the guise of killing ninety minutes together) to eclipse my eye. Still, I jump backward in ten-second intervals to before your tubal ligation. Cutting off my lids in appreciation isn’t inconsonant with reducing your innumerable voyeurs by going blind. Don’t turn up the lights. I want you strangled behind blackout curtains. Admitting this to someone whose body’s a work of art would strip me of the upper hand, and the pillow beneath it, as your eyes go pop.

Hair as curly as telephone cords, stinking like burnt plastic, your mind whirs into overdrive from mere pleasantries. Nothing but dial tone behind the eyes. I also hope to gush through life like a forgotten popsicle. The dead are most desirable woven as the wrinkles on your face. I pray an ambulance will find you recreating our kiss behind a dumpster. No one can see me because I was never born.

Like a good little final girl, you drag your balloon-like dungeon above. Call it heaven, superego, whatever sentiment I experience as your pistol-shaped persuasion. Between your grip and me, the equal and opposite reverberation of silence grants each ring its squeal. From this exterior shot, it’s hard to imagine your palpitations. How many cross fades till we’re codified inside our skull? Imagine the internment of overgrown eyelashes, blinking prison bars.

Your anticipation of my phone calls, the black hole you deliberately open by answering, marries my need to pathologize blood flow. How many finger joints will vanish? Will the wound be cavernous enough to pack?

Nightgown torn to thin strips, I twist the tourniquet around your disembodied arm instead. Voice like uncooked spaghetti, I breathe through the handheld: Nobody can hear me. I assume the bruise across your temple, the remainder of our ten-digit exchange, is indicative of a craving too sinister to solo. The only babysitter we’ll ever know is a scream so loud it casts a shadow. The shadow itself is difficult to confront, much more so than a stranger, and it’s always a stranger, on the phone.

We all escaped an asylum to be in this asylum. Electroshock might reestablish a pleasant head buzz—but probably not. The need to deaden those who are dumb enough to fuck (remember, this is a horror flick) thicken into offspring. Robert Walser, Kafka’s predecessor, admitted himself to a sanatorium. “I am not here to write,” Walser said, “but to be mad.” Stories we’re told as children, like the babysitter and the man upstairs, are enough to check us in. All great myths are dark. Walser wrote, “The blood that soils your body becomes stars, the stars dance around the whole stage area, burning and wild, but then you catch them all in your open mouth, and make them disappear, one by one.” Like Walser’s children, the stories he never wrote, I was never born.

Destroy this helmet, please, this padded room I’m forced to wear, it sends the wrong message—heads are indeed disposable. When sicknesses get named, they usurp and simultaneously give you a taste for their power. The coroner couldn’t figure the murder weapon because I tore you apart with my hands. Of his work, Walser wrote, “[my writing] might be described as a variously sliced-up or torn-apart book of myself.” Two body bags, folded in half, perform the illusion that you’re not one with my collection. You’re so cold, even in the sun your eyes frost like a beer glass. If your crime doesn’t dress the sidewalk cracks with what lies within, it lies. Call me what and when you want. I know I’m a suicide note with a pretty face. But you’re just the babysitter’s kid.


David Kuhnlein is the author of Decay Never Came (forthcoming on Maximus Books) and Six Six Six (horror film reviews)His fiction is featured or forthcoming in NOON, Safety Propaganda, Tragickal, and others. He edits the literary review column Torment, venerating pain and illness, at The Quarterless Review. He lives in Michigan and is online @princessbl00d.

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