Ryan Dilbert


Loss drove me here, spreading ash along the grooves of a pentagram, the smell of goat blood filling the basement like water. My brother Vincent would be 38 now, feet taller than he is in the faded photo I keep above the fireplace. He didn’t have many moments past that museum pose. His bible, a rosary wrapped around it, sits on his palm like he is about to serve it.

The pain resonates along my collar: grainy, uncomfortable, stubborn. The first black magic book I bought out of curiosity. Something in it spoke to me.

Father buried Vincent in the boots he drowned in. I see the face father would make if he caught me digging up the grave, dragging Vincent’s corpse out in the dark: the piercing eyes, the snarling animal lips. But Father doesn’t miss him like I do. His heart doesn’t feel snared, its loose flesh hanging from the teeth of a bear trap. He simply drinks until numb.

Will the residue of my Italian accent distort the incantations? I don’t know. Will my brother remember me after sleeping so long in the flittering darkness? Smoke floats from his corpse and my hands go cold. The words of shrinks and wives haven’t healed me at all. This is the only way.

I speak the archaic words and the room hums.

Teary-eyed, I’m whisked back to our childhood: to sweating through our shirts on Sunday drives with Father; to snow cones sticky around the lips long after they’re eaten; to wanting nothing more than to stay awake and laugh together.

A gush of red heat bursts from Vincent’s corpse, snuffing the candle flames encircling us. His bones jerk.


The water heater rumbles as if it were clearing its throat. Vincent, or least the shriveled imitation of him, sits up and looks at me, stoic as the moon. The smell of rotted potatoes burns. My plan, beyond this rudimentary reanimation, involves plastic surgery, dressing him in new clothes; it involves sitting together on the edge of the dock, our fishing poles out, hopeful.

But my brother is not as I remember. He lurches at me, quivering, mouthing something I don’t understand.

I speak to him in Italian, “You’re back, brother. Another chance.”

When he lifts his arms, I assume a long-needed embrace is coming and I’m crying. Instead he tugs at my belly fat, trying to tear me open like a honeycomb.


This is not Vincent. This is his primal shadow.

I run up the stairs, his nails ripping across my back, fear smearing all over me. I shut and lock the door, then barricade it with a small bookshelf. He bangs on the wood and I want to feed him, to hold him, but also want to extinguish the light I’ve ignited.

Overcome, I spread out on the cheetah print carpet, arms out like wings, waiting for the black tide to rise and sweep over me.


Click here for Ryan Dilbert's bio