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Juliet Escoria is the author of a short story collection called Black Cloud, which was originally published in 2014 by Civil Coping Mechanisms. In 2015, Emily Books published the ebook, Maro Verlag published a German translation, and Los Libros de la Mujer Rota published a Spanish translation. Escoria is currently working on a novel, and is represented by Lauren Smythe at Inkwell Management. She was born in Australia, raised in San Diego, and currently lives in West Virginia. She earned an MFA from Brooklyn College, and a BA from the University of California in Riverside.

Witch Hunt by Juliet Escoria

The much-anticipated full-length poetry collection by the critically acclaimed author of Black Cloud, Witch Hunt delves into the terror and beauty that occurs when love, madness, and addiction collide.

 

REVIEWS

  • "Escoria's debut short story collection is a brazen admission of the pains of reality in a time when pretending to be happy – to make light of your sadness – is easier than ever. The tone is a combination of Denis Johnson and Joan Didion, and although the stories are focused on drugs (and a wide variety of), Escoria never uses them gratuitously. Rather, each story is a dose of potent insight on the motivations and experiences of users both active and struggling-to-be former."

    – Lauren Oyler, Dazed
  • "Unrelenting, violent, often scary: Juliet Escoria's debut collection of stories will likely have you begging and crying for salvation a few pages in. She's just that good."

    – Jason Diamond, Flavorwire
  • "Simply riveting and raw."

    – Lindsay Hunter, FSG blog
 

BOOK PREVIEW

Excerpt

Anxiety Attacks

JANUARY 3, 1999: PORTLAND, OR

I pocketed a box of Coricidin at the drugstore the night before I was set to go back. In the morning I swallow half the box with a glass of orange juice and finish packing my suitcase. Soon it is time to go. My scalp is tingling a little bit but mostly I don't feel anything yet. My mom cries some when she drops me off, but it doesn't really bother me that I have to go, and I wonder briefly if this makes me a bad person.

The plane is about to board and now I feel a little dizzy but that's about it. Maybe you're supposed to take the whole box, I think. I swallow the rest of the pills with warm water from the drinking fountain and get on the plane.

When it comes time to transfer flights in Portland, I stand up and it is like astronaut boots on my feet. I walk through the tunnel from the plane into the airport in what at least feels like a straight line. A cigarette seems like the kind of thing that will make me alright but it's not like I'm exactly thinking clearly. I am rushing past the security check point and maybe I hit someone with my backpack because there's this guy and he's glaring at me. He says something or maybe he yells it but I can't quite make out his words. I get outside and light a cigarette. I smoke so fast the end turns long and skinny like a pencil. I focus everything I have onto that red tip and for the five minutes it lasts I feel OK.

I make it back through security and to my gate without too much trouble. The plane is delayed. I am sitting there listening to my headphones, telling myself everything is fine, I will get on the plane soon, but suddenly my head is so thick I can't breathe. Maybe I am ODing. When my fingers go numb I make myself get up and go into the bathroom. I splash water on my face. I don't dry it off. I lock myself in the handicapped stall, sitting on the toilet, head between my knees, trying to catch my breath. When everything has mostly stopped, I notice that the ends of my hair are wet from something, wet from something that is on the floor of the bathroom. It might be piss.

When I leave the bathroom, my pulse is still jumpy but I'm mostly OK. The plane has all boarded. I make it on just in time. When Wade, the afternoon counselor, picks me up in the white van he doesn't seem to notice anything, and my drug test comes back clean, but I feel dizzy and doomed for two more days.

JULY 23, 2001: SAN DIEGO, CA

I took acid a week ago and I probably shouldn't have. Ever since, and things have been sliding around. Shadows vibrate and phones ring and there's no shadows or phones actually there.

I am smoking cigarettes at the tables at the strip mall where we all hang out. Some people are playing cards. I am not playing cards. I am sitting there, doing nothing, just smoking. People are saying things, joking, talking with each other. I have nothing to say. I try to come up with something but everything in my brain is just noise.

My breaths get short and I know I have to get out of there, tripping over the heavy metal chair as I stand up. I walk quickly until I am out of sight, and then I run. I go behind the movie theater, where there is a stucco wall fencing in the theater's emergency exits. I lay down on the cement. It is cold. I take deep breaths and look at the sky. The sky is warm. I have a Sharpie in my pocketbook and I pull it out. I am lying on the cement. I write on it: CEMENT. My head is next to the stairs. I write on them: STAIRS. My legs are next to a wall. I write on it: WALL. I know where I am in relation to other things. I feel them solid under the tip of the pen.

For the next few weeks, when I feel like things are crowding in, I take out my Sharpie and label what's around me. Soon everything at the strip mall has my handwriting on it.

PLANTER

SIDEWALK

CURB

CHAIR

TABLE

ASHTRAY

BATHROOM

The other kids look at me funny when I do this. They already think I am weird and this is just a reinforcing act, but I don't seem to have much of a choice. Maybe they think I'm the charming kind of weird. If that doesn't work—well, at least I have a pretty face.

MARCH 9, 2006: ENCINITAS, CA

He told me he would stop giving me pills when my eyes started watering when I woke up. He said this was a sure sign of addiction. My eyes have been watering for a month at least but he hasn't noticed, or if he has he hasn't said anything yet.

He lives in the garage at his mother's house. It is a separate building and soundproofed, so even though it's at his mother's house there is more privacy than at my apartment, so most nights we sleep here. It is always dark when we wake up because there are no windows, and I look at this as something positive.

We have to go into his mother's house to get coffee. Because of this, I have to wait for him to get up. Last night I couldn't sleep and I'm especially tired. He takes a long time to get fully awake. He, like me, always does it slow. He's the kind of person who you shouldn't talk to in the mornings until he's good and ready. I forget this today, and soon we are arguing.

"Look at your eyes!" he screams at me. "Watering like a fucking junky."

I don't think about the fact that if I am a junky, then he is really a junky. I don't think anything logical like that. Instead, something in me snaps, and I am throwing things, CD cases and the wine bottles from the night before, and the wine bottles from the night before that, and they are all exploding against the wall, pop pop pop. He grabs my shoulder to get me to stop. He doesn't mean to be rough, but his fingers are rough anyway because of how I am moving. His fingers feel the way they used to with the boyfriend who was two boyfriends before him, the one I had to get a restraining order against, and the strength behind the fingertips splinters something and suddenly I am on my back nearly choking, and everything is evil, and I am dying, and I can't feel my legs or my arms.

"Breathe," he says, and strokes my hair. I want to swat him away but I can't. He puts a Xanax between my fingertips and I take it to my mouth and chew it up and soon everything slows down enough for me to see straight again.

APRIL 24, 2012: BROOKLYN, NY

I don't really know how it happens but we are fighting in our bedroom and the mirror from the wall ended up on our bed somehow? And then it broke and shards and pieces got all over the sheets, and we were wrestling in it, wrestling for the bracelet she had given him but also for control and neither one of us could find any. It ends with him on top of me because he is bigger and stronger. We are breathing hard, our hearts pounding, and the slivers of glass dig into our skin. His face is in front of mine, his big hands on my shoulders, and I hate it that he has won. So I spit in his face.

Later, I see that me spitting is the demarcating line between what was before and the end of our relationship. But at the time it didn't seem like that big of a deal.

He gets off me, and is going out the door, and I am chasing him, but his lead is too much and I am not wearing shoes, and I have no idea where he went. Probably to one of the bars a few blocks away, but my hair is a mess and I can still feel glass in me and I am too ashamed to be in public and searching for him like a jilted woman. So I go back home.

Except besides not having shoes, I also don't have keys or a cell phone and I can't get back into the apartment. I sit on the stoop and although it's a warm night it is still April and it is cold and my feet are cold and I realize that my life with him is going to end now, that one of us will have to move out, that it will probably be me, that he won't be in my life anymore, that I am alone, that I am ugly, that we just yelled and broke things and wrestled in shattered glass on our bed, that I spat in his face, and my feet are cold, and it is cold, and I am locked out, and the world is spinning, and I am worried I am dying and the edges of things grow dizzy and black.

But then a raccoon is crawling up the fence. There is no wilderness anywhere near us, and I've never seen wildlife around here before, and seeing this raccoon here feels like something meaningful. It is perched at the top, looking at me, deciding if I am a threat, weighing its choices. We regard each other for a while. Then it hops my side of the fence and walks slowly down the street, in the direction of where the person who is now my ex-boyfriend has gone, and I can breathe, and things are terrible and ugly and I am still ashamed but I also know things will be OK without him.

OCTOBER 26, 2014: SOMEWHERE IN OHIO

The night before we did a reading in Indianapolis, and now we are driving back home. I haven't been around people that much lately and we stayed up late and I woke up feeling headachey and dehydrated and anxious, the way I did back when I still drank and was hungover. When we stop at a gas station, I buy a pack of cigarettes to complete the feeling, even though I have supposedly quit.

There is so much roadkill this time of year. Some places on the pavement, it is hard to tell if it is paint that has been spilled or blood.

Somewhere in Indiana and we see this deer walking in some grass on the side of the interstate. Its hindquarters look like they have exploded but it is still upright. Neither of us can tell whether it has been shot or run over.

A few weeks ago, I found a picture of a deer with its stomach slit in a magazine and I cut it out and put it above my desk. Now I feel guilty, guilty for conjuring this animal on the side of the road, this thing that is still alive but suffering, this thing that will almost certainly die soon. Its pain and its blood are because of me.

We get into an argument over CDs. It isn't quite as stupid as it sounds; it has something to do with ex-boyfriends. I end up throwing the CDs and they spill all over the car. He yells at me. I pull the hood of my sweatshirt down as far as it goes, and it covers my eyes and I feel protected from the bright light of the sun and also his anger.

But not really. Soon I am crying. Soon I am crying and I can't 138 stop. I try to think about why I am crying but there is nothing. There is nothing wrong except for everything. I am crying so hard I can't catch my breath. I feel like something has gotten me, grabbed hold of me, is making me crazy, a demon or alien clasping onto my brain. And then I am certain my mom has died, certain something terrible has happened to her, and I am crying because my mom is dead.

Eventually we pass from Ohio back into West Virginia. He pulls over at a gas station. The parking lot looks into a McDonalds. All the lights are on, even though it isn't dark yet, and everything seems to be made out of either plastic or glass. The horizon keeps tilting in the neon light. He tells me everything is OK, and I try to believe him. I stop crying. I check the mirror and there are mascara tears on my face, and I clean myself up.

Eventually I am well enough to go inside. I use the restroom and he buys me a Gatorade. I feel embarrassed because there are a lot of people at the gas station and my eyes are all red.