So my producer for the podcast got caught up with some prior engagements, so we’re going to have to wait until February to get to listen to the last three installments of the podcast (Final Punch, and All Night Diner parts 1&2), so I’m going to trudge ahead and post All Night Diner in two parts because it was the longest of the stories in the book and it might bring about some suspense for those of you who follow it.
This story is my version of a “who done it.” Initially I wanted to play with the narrative a bit and keep it one flowing story where Robert’s ring would roll around the diner and that was how you got introduced to the characters. I got about twenty pages into it before I realized that it was a failed and flawed attempt and I’d have to go at it from another angle.
This story has a bunch of characters and is very exposition heavy because it’s almost a novel length idea condensed into 55 pages. I had hoped to finish out the book by having each section be a different genre, you have a horror story, a love story, a suspense story and a gothic moral tale a la Donna Tartt. I’m not sure it if succeeds, but I loved writing it and I love the twist.
Next Friday will be the conclusion, then I will offer up some more Bowling Alley poems before I post a brand new, never been seen before story “a place you cant come back from.” Enjoy!
All Night Diner
The diner lay in a desolate wilderness ten miles from the town ofCheyenne,Wyoming. It was a way station for weary travelers as they made their way through the depressing flats of theGreat Plains. Its original name was “Capote’s” with a carved wooden sign hanging above the door. Its owner was Jacques Capote who built the place as a façade for a drug and arms trading post. He dealt with gangs, delinquents and bribed the police; all the while developing a taste for cooking and turning Capote’s into a place coveted by the passing trucking and biking crowd…a crowd who could pick up, not only a decent bite to eat, but some uppers for the road. It wasn’t until Jacques’ beautiful wife and newborn son were killed in an altercation with police in the diner that he decided to change his career and in an effort for safety, the bar’s name.
The story goes that the funeral for his family was delayed because a raven landed on the casket of his son. He spent hours staring at the raven, screaming at anyone who tried to move the bird. He raved that it was the spirit of his dead son. Later that night after the bird flew away and the woman and the boy were buried. The raven returned to Jacques. It sat on his window sill, and if you believe some that tell the tale, spoke to Jacques. It gave him instructions.
The next day the wooden carved sign, which travelers strained to find, came down. The day after that, a new neon sign which read “Raven’s Diner” went up. The day after the newly instituted diner opened, ownership of the bar went to Jorge Calaveras; a man who frequented the diner. On the fourth day Jacques put a shotgun in his mouth and displayed his brains on the window of his newly christened “Raven’s Diner.”
Some said the place was cursed. Some said it was haunted. Some said it had the best corn beef hash in theGreat Plains. No matter which story you believe, it was in this place where seven people met and spent the night in a diner which had a view of the edge of the world.
Robert and Tanya
“Fuck you! I’m not going to jail! I didn’t do anything wrong!” The greasy biker said from the other side of the diner. Robert looked over at the man out of the corner of his eye, just to make sure he wasn’t going to ruin the night then turned and looked back at Tanya.
Robert drank his coffee in abstinent silence; fingering the ring he brought to the tryst. He looked across the stained Formica into Tanya’s brown eyes. There were slight crows-feet at the corners of her eyes which used to catch excess makeup and make caked lines; spindles out away from the corner of her eyes. Makeup she used to hide the bruises her dead boyfriend gave her.
Robert had saved her from all that. She no longer wore makeup, in fact whenever she passed a counter with a young woman attempting to sell, she would shy away and hide in Robert’s arms. That night was their anniversary. It was a year free from makeup and abuse.
That was the reason Robert brought her back to Raven’s. He wanted her to stand in the diner she used to frequent with her abusive boyfriend and face her fears. Once she did he was going to have the waitress serve her favorite dish, then present the giant diamond which weighed down his pocket. She amazed him with her vitality and stubbornness. He wondered sometimes why she stayed with a man who abused her for so long. Robert intimated that if he were to raise a hand to her she would tear his head off, but then again, he thought, maybe being beaten for a solid year is what it took for some people to finally stand up for themselves.
He remembered the first time he saw those eyes.
A year earlier he was on a poorly run PR tour for his new book “The Ingredients of Life” which featured a poor writer traveling from city to city and trying to find his purpose. The protagonist had sex with prostitutes, did drugs in Portland flophouses, tipped cows while tripping on acid in the Wyoming plains, had a drinking contest with a senator from Texas and eventually died of a gunshot wound in a cemetery in El Paso.
Cheyennewas as far as his publicity company was willing to pay for and Robert wasn’t sure if that was a reflection of their budget or their opinion of his writing.
He was passing the quaint little “Raven’s” when his Dodge Dart’s radiator boiled over. Six months later he would tell Tanya that their meeting had been serendipitous. If his writing were any better, they never would have met.
Her make-up application was thicker that day than it normally was. Her boyfriend, whom she called by his nickname, “Chopper,” had beaten her especially bad the night before. He would usually focus his efforts on her stomach because it brought fewer questions from people; not that he really worried about such things, he just found it easier to avoid questions altogether.
Robert had looked at her, took note of the obvious swamp colored distortion of her skin tone and sighed in absent empathy. She saw him looking and gave him a slight and self-conscious smile, then raised one of her hands and covered as much of her face as she could.
Robert wrote a novel called “Life; Intransigent” three years earlier where the main character was a battered woman. He felt it would be untruthful or perhaps somewhat un-realistic if he wrote about the experience the woman had in the moment, so he focused the battering as a memory, something as fleeting as a dream, used only as back-story so as to give a greater understanding of the woman’s decisions to avoid male contact. She was a villain because of it. A cold calculating bank-robber who couldn’t understand affection because it was something she never had, or if she did, couldn’t remember. The book was a perfect statement of Robert’s ignorance of the broad range of human emotion.
So when he saw her eating dinner with the large man in the leather vest; when he saw her look at him and smile at him, he smiled back then focused on his meatloaf.
Throughout his meal he noticed her stealing glimpses at him. Every so often he would look at her directly and she would smile and very coyly look to the ground.
Robert’s assumption was that she recognized him from one of his book’s dust jackets, but that was only partially true. She did recognize him, she’d read all of his books, and where she thought his writing was a little sub-par, she also thought he understood what it meant to be in peril. Every story he wrote had characters in extra-ordinary circumstances. In “The Particles of Faith” a priest is excommunicated from his church for alcoholism and travels the country as a preacher, stealing and healing along the way. In “Dodger” a young man is imprisoned for killing a man when he’s eighteen and spends his time in jail plotting escape. The list went on.
So she locked eyes on him and tried to convey her situation, covering her bruises only that once and giving him a view of what she represented through her body language.
Robert, whose longest relationship was only a year, was ignorant of her efficacious flirtations. He felt mildly uncomfortable, as if he were starring in a third rate Dukes of Hazzard knock-off, and the large biker would turn around and beat him for staring at his girl. Her gazes were just so resolute.
When he finished his meatloaf he got up and gave her a shy grin as he made his way to the bathroom. He didn’t know it at the time, but this small furtive glance was his downfall. She had been desperately trying to gain his attentions because her perception was that all writers had money and she thought the best way to escape the choking grasp of Chopper was to run away with a man who could solve problems through money. Money could fix anything. He didn’t seem to be responding to her though and as his meatloaf began to disappear from his plate her hope began to drop like the first dead leaf of autumn. Slow but steady.
Then, on his way to the bathroom, he smiled at her and she saw her shot. She excused herself from Chopper’s side (he didn’t even register her leaving, he was busy wolfing down his own portion of meatloaf) and demurely made her way to the bathroom doors where she waited for him to come back out.
Robert peed languorously, searching his mind for ways to avoid contact with her. Robert was a pacifist at heart and the thought of confrontation scared him. His big plan was to exit the bathroom, throw money down on his table and nod his head at her, so when she met him at the entrance to the bathroom door he let out a little squeak under his breath.
She stood before him with her arm on the door jam, her legs spread, her lips full and her eyes held a worldly and knowing gaze. She handed him a piece of paper, then leaned forward and grabbed the back of his neck and pulled his lips to hers. Her lips were glossy and she tasted of coffee.
The kiss lasted only for a moment and when it was over. She slid her hand from the back of his head to his cheek. She looked, not away, but down as she did this. She wanted to show him she understood what she was doing was wrong. She wanted to show him she felt shame for her actions, but the hand on his cheek was meant to display that no matter how wrong it was she wanted it.
There were no words in their first interaction (unless you count Robert’s squeak). It ended there, she walking back and sitting next to Chopper and him fulfilling his earlier plan. He walked over to his table, threw down money then walked out of the diner. The one change in his plan came at the door (next to the neon sign) when he turned back to catch one last glimpse of her. She was looking back at him, her make-up caked face wrinkling with expectancy.
When Robert got back to the hotel he opened the note. There were four words and ten numbers. Tanya Pearson 803-567-8956.
My God! He thought this is like a story I would write!
He called her back the next day.
Initially Tanya used him. Their first meeting she found out he had no money, but that he seemed to be willing to do anything for her. He was like an angel sent from heaven. He was everything she wanted in a man. He was considerate, he listened and most importantly he didn’t beat her.
They met secretly for months, always talking briefly about their separate lives and then spiritedly copulating when the conversation ran down.
Robert was in love from the first moment. He loved her small town mentality and her ineffable compulsion to be needed. Her life didn’t seem to have purpose and she was slowly slipping down into depression. Chopper only seemed to need her as a focus for his outpouring of lust and aggression. Robert though, accepted her and empathized with her. He hated Chopper and often talked about giving him a piece of his mind (Of course this was always taken lightly by Tanya because Robert was so soft spoken and Chopper was three times his size), but when the evenings devolved into intercourse he quickly forgot his anger.
Three months after their first meeting Tanya came to a realization. She was pregnant. She decided to wait to tell both Chopper and Robert until she knew when conception was. The only way she was going to keep it was if it were Robert’s, if she couldn’t definitively identify the father she was going to abort it. There wasn’t any reason to chance having Chopper’s baby.
A few months later she began to show and immediately Chopper was proud. When he found out he grabbed Tanya in a headlock and gave her noogies laughing and whooping. He said it was a miracle; the doctors told him that (after a fight he got into when he was twenty and got kicked in the testicles…repeatedly) he would probably never be able to conceive a baby, his testicles were just too damaged.
Robert was elated when she told him he was going to be a father. He held her tight and kissed her deeply, then that night after they made love she left him to return to Chopper and he began to formulate a plan to get his new love away from her tyrannical husband.
When Tanya got home she was dismayed to find Chopper even more tossed than usual. He had gone to his local hangout “Stephanie’s” (it was a bar owned by the head of the Vagabonds, his biker gang) and gotten free drinks in congratulations all night long. Chopper tried to fuck Tanya that night, but because of the alcohol, was unable to attain an erection. She tried to buffer his ego by sucking him, but he remained skin taffy.
Chopper, who had never dealt with embarrassment well, beat Tanya unconscious. He had tried to keep his blows to her face and torso, avoiding her stomach so as to save his unborn son (he had no idea that not only was it not his, it wasn’t even a boy); unfortunately in his stupor he eventually forgot she was pregnant and laid a few very well placed kicks and managed to kill the unborn baby.
When Tanya woke she was lying in a pool of blood and immediately knew what happened. She called Robert and told him about the beating, weeping and sobbing into the receiver. They agreed about a meeting spot to discuss what they would do. She wouldn’t have cared if it were Chopper’s baby, but because it was Robert’s it opened her eyes to the reality of her situation. She was not living a real life, but some kind of bizarre, warped Wonderland. She came to the realization that she was the only one who could change her circumstances. She was the one who would have to act. She just didn’t realize Robert would be so willing to help.
“Let’s kill the son-of-a-bitch.” He said it so coldly, with a determined look in his eyes. Tanya thought she saw his nostrils flare.
They came up with the plan together. They would call a rival gang, the Sons of Chaos, and tell them Chopper was selling on their property out in the forest byLakeMeneloua. Meanwhile Robert called Chopper, explaining that he was a friend of one of Tanya’s high school friends and set up a date to acquire some crank.
It was the perfect plan and it worked just how they thought it would. Tanya stayed home so she would have plausible deniability and Robert went out to meet Chopper. Robert got to the meeting spot (out in the woods next to an old run down boathouse) early and was surprised when Chopper got there ten minutes before the scheduled time. Chopper didn’t say a word during the transaction; he just looked at Robert, stared deep into his eyes. They exchanged money for goods and Chopper took a few steps backward, wearily eyeing Robert. Chopper made it a hundred feet when he stopped in his tracks. Robert, knowing the rival gang must have started their move, began to slowly walk in Chopper’s direction.
The kill shot came quick. They didn’t give him a chance to speak; they didn’t even give him a chance to run. He took two .22 caliber bullets to the head and dropped to the forest floor. As Robert walked past, giving the body a wide berth, he raised a hand to the man holding the gun. The man nodded back.
Four months later Tanya and Robert sat, again, in Raven’s diner. Tanya had gone to Chopper’s funeral, then disappeared leaving a note behind that said she was too heart-broken to stick around. She and Robert had been living out of hotels and hostels ever since. She never dreamed her life would be lived in hotels, but she relished every minute of it. The freedom and liberation which came from the road was like nothing she had ever experienced. She felt like she had been released from prison.
Robert pulled the ring from his pocket and brought it to his lap. He smiled at Tanya who smiled back; it was a look of complicit joy and it made Robert’s heart sing.
Robert was so wrapped up in mentally practicing his proposal that he didn’t notice the short, fat, balding man walk into the diner behind him. It wasn’t until Tanya’s eyes widened as a short fat man raised his arm and pointed a Glock at the back of Robert’s head, that Robert realized something was wrong.
Robert turned slightly saw the man’s face and said one word before the bullet destroyed his brain and he collapsed into a pile of useless organics in his seat.
“You!” His publicist would hardly be happy to hear this was his last word.
Abraham Gelding Winslock watched in horror as the short ugly fat man barged in the front door and pulled the trigger. The sight of Robert’s head exploding out across the table and covering Tanya was too much for him. Abe turned to the window with his hand daintily covering his mouth, holding in the high pitched screech he felt building within him. It was not the first time he saw someone’s brain exit their body.
Abe was descendant from old money. His father was a banker who graduated from Harvard in the top of his class. His father before him did the same. The Winslock money came from the early 1800’s when the first Abraham founded New England Trust, which rivaled Bank of Italy in prestige. The original Abe’s son, Tristan, sold the trust to the Bank of Italy (which shortly afterward changed its name to Bank ofAmerica) and became a millionaire. That money had been invested and saved and it slowly grew to immense proportions.
Abe’s father was the first to branch out into work outside of investing and became a philanthropist of the first order. He spent his time building soup kitchens and hostels for the unfortunate. His plan was for Abe to follow suit, after he finished Harvard of course and continue the prestige of the Winslock name. For the entirety of his life Abe believed in these goals and strove for them. He was the top of his class in his Academy and had near perfect test scores. He was accepted into Harvard and the first two years he excelled.
Abe was a quiet boy; unassuming and polite. He seemed to live to please people and to serve. His desire to please began at a very early age when he realized he was gay. His father took him to a brothel (a high end, very expensive bordello known only to rich men and ignored by their wives) and let him pick out anyone he chose. Abe couldn’t choose, so his father did for him. When the prostitute took him to her room she instantly recognized the problem.
“Does he know honey? Is he trying to make sure you’re straight or is he trying to make you fuck it out of yourself?” She was crude and beautiful, but the only love Abe felt for her was for her elaborate dressings.
He vowed from that moment that he wouldn’t let his father know and that he’d do anything he could to please him and that meant hiding his homosexuality. Abe saw his sexual preference as a problem, an issue he was unable to resolve, so he decided to ignore it and as a result he grew up shy and anti-social, but extremely intelligent. The quality time he would have spent with friends he languished in the comforting embraces of Proust, Dickinson, Dickens and the Bronte sisters.
He didn’t branch out of his bubble until the second year at Harvard. He met another boy who seemed interested in him, the way that Abe deemed only appropriate between man and woman.
Charles Van Pugh was a beautiful boy. Six foot tall and the perfect Aryan. His hair was delicately cropped and framed his deep blue eyes and creamy skin.
Charles was the captain of the basketball team and loved by everyone at school. The women coveted him and the men envied him. He spent his nights doing anything he wanted and his days sleeping. His father was a man of fairly new money. When Vincent Van Pugh was ten his father started his own insurance company and grew his moderate salary to unforeseen levels. Vincent took over the family business when he turned thirty and his plans for Charles were the same.
Charles, knowing his fate, accepted that he had a direct path and decided very young that he would need to live his life as fully as possible, because once he turned that fateful age, his life as he knew it would be over. So Vincent took care of everything for him. He spent his time at the office and had his lawyers take care of every issue his firebrand of a son had and decided that Charles was just too much of a handful. So Vincent slowly backed out of Charles’ life. The only interjections were to hand Charles favors, like acceptance to Harvard despite his straight D’s, and his trust fund which totaled eight point eight million dollars (which he would receive when he turned twenty-five).
Charles in his all knowing twenty-year old wisdom, decided that sex was the gateway to everything he wanted and since he was lucky enough to be princely bred, things generally worked out for him. He fucked girls for rides. He fucked guys for favors. He fucked his teachers for grades and the school administrators to erase his records. It was during this promiscuous streak that Charles met Abe.
To Charles it was just a fuck for homework, but to Abe it was the first real person who seemed to take notice of him. Charles was Abe’s first and because of this he fell for him hard. Abe felt he loved Charles and forgave everything he did. He knew Charles slept with everyone he could, but Abe just liked being in his company so he put up with it all. Abe was just waiting for the chance that Charles would see how much he loved him and possibly return the emotion.
Charles’ bad behavior and Abe’s love for him is how they came to be in the diner on that night.
One month before Robert was killed in the diner, Abe met Charles at a party. Charles told Abe the only way he would continue to fuck him was if he was high so Abe met him there with a baggie of weed and a six pack of beer. Abe spent the better part of the day trying to score an eighth and when he did he grossly overpaid. It was just something he had never done before and the dealer, recognizing his innocence raped his wallet.
That night Abe’s plan seemed to be holding up well. Charles smoked most of the bag during the night, sharing with other people and intermittently drinking his beers until he decided there was nothing else of interest (in actuality the girl he was after had left with another guy) so he wanted to go home. Abe offered to drive since he hadn’t done anything but admire Charles’ perfect jaw line, but Charles would have nothing of it. He grabbed the keys from Abe’s hand and jumped in his Aston Martin. Abe barely had time to get in before the car zipped away.
It took Charles ten miles to realize he didn’t have his headlights on and the whole time Abe sat clutching the sides of his seat. Once he realized he snapped them on then looked over at Abe and smiled. Abe was terrified and Charles relished in it.
“Relax, baby. It’s all copasetic. I know what’ll calm you down.” His eyes wavered and he didn’t look at the road, while he unzipped his pants.
“Charles, please.” Abe was scared and his lisp came through stronger than it normally did.
“You know you want to.” Charles didn’t even look Abe in the eyes, he just grabbed the back of Abe’s head and pulled it to his crotch.
Abe didn’t say anything, it actually scared him a little the strength that Charles put behind it; slamming his face down into Charles’ flaccid penis. Later he would chastise himself for not putting up a fight, but at that time (actually every time Charles was horny) Abe felt needed and wanted by someone he was attracted to and he couldn’t stop. The more time, though, that he spent blowing Charles the more flaccid his penis seemed to become.
It confused Abe because Charles kept speaking as he liked it “Yeah Bitch! You suck that cock!” There were even a few groans thrown in there, so Abe just kept at it. Abe didn’t realize, though, that in Charles’ state he still wasn’t watching the road and less than a minute into the act the car jolted in conjunction with a loud bang, as if someone had punched the hood of the car.
Abe whipped his head up and Charles slammed his foot on the brakes.
“holy shit.” Charles’ voice was very soft and very calm.
“Whatthefuckwasthat?” Abe said staring at Charles, too scared to look out the window.
Charles didn’t say anything he just gripped the steering wheel and looked through the windshield.
Abe vomited when he dared a look through the windshield. There was red goo all over the windshield, almost like pumpkin innards died red with little bits of gray sludge and white fragments intermittently dispersed throughout.
“That little girl, man. She just popped!” Charles looked out forward through the windshield and Abe vomited again when he heard the windshield wipers start.
Charles only waited until the windshield was clear, then he took the car out of park and began to drive away. Abe never said anything. He was terrified and his stomach was threatening to continue its regurgitation so he kept his face between his legs.
Charles took him to his dormitory and dropped him at the entrance. He didn’t wait for Abe to say anything, he drove away while the door was still open. Abe got one last glance of Charles’ flaccid penis as the stained Aston Martin drove away.
That night he didn’t sleep. He waited for the police to come to his door and arrest him. He waited for Charles’ to come and kill him, for fear that Abe would squeal. He waited, but he didn’t do anything. He didn’t call the police, he didn’t call his parents. He didn’t know what to do and he saw that girl’s brains sprayed about the windshield every time he closed his eyes.
He stayed in his dorm room for a week, waiting. His roommate stopped coming home, his clothes stank, he didn’t shower, he was a wreck. He felt dirty inside his mind. He felt constantly sick and restless, exhausted and sleepless, bored and terrified. He didn’t know what to do.
Then after a week he ventured out to take a shower late at night. There was no one in the hallway and no one in the shower and it was quieter than he’d ever experienced. He crept down the hallway, making sure to be quiet and jumped under the warm water. He felt relief wash over him. He went over the events of the night and decided he shouldn’t get into trouble. After all he never even saw the girl. It could have been a deer. Charles was so trashed that night it could have been anything. He gave himself countless excuses for what it was and took all responsibility off his shoulders. When he got back to his dorm room he fell fast asleep.
He went on with his normal life after that.
He didn’t give that little girl another thought for a week.
But then one night the fog started to roll in over Havard yard. He could see the fog moving in closer, thickening and congealing the air. He peered out into the morass and saw a lone figure standing next to a tree, leaning on the tree to hold its weight.
The fog and his tortured mind blurred the reality of the situation and when the figure began to walk through the milky cloud Abe thought for sure it was the girl. His rational mind left him and fear of being tormented by the girl’s ghost seeped into his conscious mind. He imagined her half shattered body shuffling toward him, scraping a useless leg behind as she slowly made her way to his window.
Abe shut his eyes and sank down underneath the window. He could almost feel the fog beating against the dorm.
He was about to stand again to take another peek, when he heard harsh breathing coming from the other side of the window.
He flatted himself against the ground and looked vertically up to the window. He could see hands cupped over eyes…blue eyes. Charles’ eyes.
Abe lept up and threw open the window startling Charles. Abe reached out through the window and slapped Charles, then brought his face close and gave him a soft kiss on the lips. Abe’s emotions were running wild and he didn’t know what to think or how to act when he finally looked Charles in the eyes.
Through the whole ordeal Charles never said a word and it wasn’t until Abe was finished scolding himself that he realized Charles was as white as a sheet.
The story came out in a slow metered cadence. Charles was at basketball practice when a man in a suit showed up and gave a letter to his coach. After practice the coach handed the note to Charles and gave him a sympathetic pat on the back. Charles ignored it and went to the locker room. Once there, amidst his fellow teammates he opened the envelope which had a Polaroid in it. It was a very clear picture, taken at night with the flash to maximize the carnage. It was the girl, her head half gone the chest caved in and one leg a twisted branch with bone gleaming in the flash from. On the back of the picture a sentence was written out.
“Raven’s Diner at 7PM Tuesday.”
It was that night Abe was thinking about as Robert’s brains splayed across Tanya. The thick fog rolling in from the darkness. They had taken a step out of reality, a ride given by the fog. Now they were stuck in the diner with a man who already killed some one else…and they were told to come here. Someone knew what they did and set them up.
Oh, God, thought Abe. What if it’s the man with the gun?
The man who’d followed her here looked at her first when the gun went off. She saw that much right away. The two, slightly homoerotic college studs never even gave her a second glance. The smaller effeminate one (Mary thought of him as the receiver) jumped up in his seat and screamed like an arachnophobia prone prepubescent girl while the larger muscular one (this one was the giver) just sneered in disgust.
The business man was the first to react. He leapt from his seat and tackled the tubby gunman, spilling them both onto the floor. She could see them both struggling for the gun, but the businessman seemed much better in such physical disputes. The woman who was with the dead guy was screaming and the pitch hurt Mary’s ears. That bitch had to calm down.
Mary slid back to back of the seat in her corner of the diner and thought back on her night. One of the most fucked up nights I’ve ever had. She had to get out of this diner before someone else died and more importantly before the police got here. A crime scene was no place for a twice convicted prostitute.
She looked out into the dark black night and noticed the deep green sign for interstate 82 down at the end of the driveway to the diner. She looked longingly at the road and thanked God that she had been as lucky in her life as she had been; all she needed now was an extension of that luck and she could get out of here tonight.
Of course her luck hadn’t always been there; when she was a little girl she had been decidedly unlucky.
She grew up without a father and her mother always told her he had died when she was very young. He had been a firefighter and had died in a burning blaze when Mary was still in her womb. He was a policeman who saved a group of nuns from a bank robbery while Mary was being born. He was a priest who died while exercising a demon from a young girl. The story changed weekly.
Mary’s mother faked at being religious. She often told Mary she was named after the mother of God, because she was meant for great things. She was meant for much better things than living at the trailer park with her mother.
Mary and her mother were very poor and to supplement the meager money Mary’s mother, Petunia, made at the Laundromat she dated and tried to find men who would be willing to support her. It was something she very bad at.
Mary was shown early that physical and verbal abuse was something that just happened in relationships. To her it was a normal course of life. Petunia’s first boyfriend used to come home from his construction job and slap her if the dinner wasn’t on the table. He used to put tape on Mary’s mouth if she cried. Then one day he hit Petunia too hard and she fell, cutting her face on a plate she was drying. Mary’s mother told her she needed to be beautiful always because the man who had been so kind as to provide them with food had left because she got a scar from the plate and he didn’t like to look at it.
Mary also learned, very young, that a woman has her place and she learned it over again in a new brand new way when she turned eleven. Her mother’s boyfriend at the time was a slightly overweight, greasy, stay at home father figure. He’d gotten a million dollars off a frivolous lawsuit and used the money to be a disgusting slob and waste his time on a couch. Mary had just gotten into third grade and her mother was taking less and less interest in her, being too overwhelmed by the pressure of life and having a child, so she began to drink. Heavily. Most nights her mother drank with her slob of a boyfriend (who slept all day; that is when he wasn’t watching TV) and they tried, loudly, to fuck. Most nights he was too drunk to get it up, but one night after her mother had passed out in a drunken stupor, this drunken slob of a boyfriend entered Mary’s room and told her what good daughters did for their fathers. Told her what men look for in a woman…and he never had trouble maintaining an erection with her.
Things continued on like this for years until the slob left them. With the money gone and work the only apparent option Mary’s mother made a hard decision. She sent letters out and tried to find Mary’s actual father. While doing this, she sent Mary out to the street to get money. Petunia knew what Mary did with the slob and thought of Mary as a real woman now. She had a brief thought that maybe she named her daughter after that other biblical Mary and then started to drink and forgot the whole thing.
That was how Mary spent her early life, going from one John to another. Making pittances and spending them on pleather outfits.
Petunia died when Mary was seventeen. She literally drank herself to death. It took Mary three days to realize that Petunia was dead and when she finally understood, she closed her mother’s eyes, slapped her face and left the trailer, never to return.
The night she ended up at the diner started off the same as any of her other nights. She was at home getting dressed when she got a call from a new Johnny. She often kept her regulars on speed dial just in case she needed some extra money; also it better prepared her for their special requests.
The call she got was cryptic and intriguing. It asked her to meet at an address and if the John was pleased, payment would be copious. Mary didn’t know what that meant, but it sounded promising.
She arrived at a nice looking townhouse and honked twice in quick succession as instructed. Two minutes later a man in a pressed double pleated suit exited the house and made great care to lock all three deadbolts on the door, then secured the standard knob lock. Mary took no notice, because she was busy practicing her pouting look in the rear view mirror.
When the man got in the passenger side seat he didn’t say anything, but laid his hands meekly in his lap and lowered his head slightly looking down at his carefully manicured hands. Mary looked over at him and smiled at his innocence.
“Where to baby?”
He looked up at her and purposefully blinked twice.
“Go directly to interstate 82 and exit on Meneloua pass and park by the boathouse. Do not speed.”
He blinked one more time then looked back down at his hands.
“Honey, the only speeding I’m gonna cause is when your blood rushes to your dick.” She licked her lips in a lubricious and vaguely vulgar way and put the car into gear.
He didn’t say a thing the entire drive down to the lake, just kept his hands in his lap and kept his eyes trained on his hands.
When she put the car into park she turned the volume up slightly on the radio and turned to him.
“What can I do for you baby?” Her ignorance was due to her luck. She had been doing this for years now and she never had an issue with anyone. She never had a pimp, but then again she never really needed one. No one ever gave her any trouble and when they did they never came back to her again.
He didn’t raise his head. “I want you to take off your top. I want you to rip it off.” He spoke fast and out of breath as if he were turned on already.
Mary smiled and slowly lifted her shirt. “Is this what you like baby?”
“I said rip it off!” Spittle flew from his lips and he raised his eyes from his hands, they burned with fire and drool was falling from his lips. She felt her luck drain. She leaned back against the window and let her satin blouse fall back into place. “Why do they always make me do it?”
Mary didn’t know if he’s talking to himself or her, but she didn’t want to stick around to find out. She reached behind her and tried for the handle of the door.
“You don’t leave!” This time she knew he was talking to her and she felt his strangely large hand cup the crown of her head. “Why do they always try to leave when I’m teaching them a lesson?” He whispered in her ear just before he smashed her face against the window.
For the first time in her life she realized that the abuse she had previously thought normal in a relationship was far darker and more menacing. She wondered if her mother feared, as she did now, that the man abusing might be trying to kill her. Her heart sang for her poor dead mother as she slipped from consciousness.
When Mary came to she was lying on the side of the road. She had her purse with her and her attire seemed in order, nothing ripped or cut. She looked about trying to get her bearings and noticed she was no longer atLakeMeneloua, she was sitting on the side of interstate 82. Groggily, she stood and started to walk down the highway unaware in the darkness of where exactly she was along the interstate.
She walked for nearly two miles before a car passed and she was grateful when it did. While traveling she had a distinct feeling of being watched and at one point, she thought she could hear a crack of a twig from out in the woods, but she ignored it and walked all the faster.
The old Ford Taurus stopped just a few yards ahead of her and she ran to the car, not in elation for getting a ride, but in fear of the man who had hurt her, who was probably following her in the woods.
She whipped open the door and plopped into the passenger side and shut the door. “Thanks Mister.”
“Holy shit! What happened?” The man had long hair, and looked a little greasy, but she felt safer with him than without him.
She looked quickly into the rear view mirror and was not surprised when she saw her face was covered in bruises, but what disturbed her even more was the bandage on her forehead. She reached up and lightly touched it, wincing at the lacing pain.
“Please drive, I’ll tell you on the way.” She glanced into the woods to see if she could see the man and then breathed a sigh of relief as the car started moving.
They pulled into the parking lot at Raven’s fifty miles later after the man who introduced himself as Tommy told her she looked as if she needed some food (and knew he did) in her.
They were there for a short time, not quite long enough to get food, when the businessman walked in. Mary’s new Johnny immediately started to seem nervous.
“That fucking guy has been staring at us since we walked in here. Is he a cop?”
Mary turned around and looked the businessman in the eye.
“He looks like a horny old fogey. That’s what he looks like.” He didn’t though. In fact, Mary found him very attractive and when she looked at him, he stared straight back into her eyes and smiled slightly. She felt her heart flutter and a strange need to have the businessman hold her.
“He better not be a cop. Are you setting me up? You can’t get anything on me. I’m just an innocent bystander!” His voice started to break and Mary realized for the first time she had never propositioned him. All men were the same. Even if they did something nice for you they wanted something out of it. Maybe he thought he could get it for free if he took her out to dinner.
“This isn’t “Pretty Woman” pal, you’re still gonna have to pay.” She turned back to find him half standing.
“Fuck you! I’m not going to jail! I didn’t do anything wrong!” He was loud, but not terribly. She hoped the people on the other side of the restaurant count hear him. She felt strangely ashamed that the businessman could.
She didn’t make a move to stop him and he charged out the front door, sneering at the businessman as he went by. The businessman never took his eyes off her. He ignored Tommy completely.
Mary looked at him and had a distinct feeling of déjà vu. Something about him seemed familiar. It could have been one of the cops who arrested her when she was seventeen, high as a kite selling herself at a biker bar. It could have, but she didn’t think so.
She had nearly placed where she knew him from when the fat slovenly man burst into the bar with the gun and shot the poor bastard at the other side of the diner.
The eighth story from Sean McBride’s published short story collection, A View of the Edge of the World. This episode is read by Hector Berube Foote and produced by Ed Robinson.
I think fondly upon this one. The three bums, Scary Larry, Red, and Milton are all real; they all hung out on the corner and everyone in the SET (This is what my apartment was known as at the time) frequently talked to them. The whole story takes place in a fictional land (The setting for a compilation with Ben Lilly, which still has yet to spread its wings), however the landscape is all the Sunset district in San Francisco. The lake in the story is a lake in Golden Gate Park which I wrote the story at with my laptop. The office in the story was an abandoned office on top of the then JT’s restaurant. So to say the least this story has a great nostalgia for me. The premise of the story was to play with form and mess with the reader when they’re reading. There are many points where nearly the entire page is word for word a previous page and the imagery gets more and more disjointed as the story progresses. The point was to expand upon and give homage to “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a very short and disturbing story. The kind I like best.
“I had a dream about this room.” I looked about the room, but despite the intimate knowledge I have of it and its inhabitant, I felt odd here. There was something off about the room. Cold ambivalence, amplified by the empty stare of the psychiatrist. I thought mentioning the dream might elicit more of a response from the doctor, but par for the course, all I got was an indifferent nod.
“You,” I said waggling a finger at him “were not in the room,” I looked up at the psychiatrist expectantly, but the doctor was lost in his notebook. I felt a flash of anger, imagining a notebook full of doodles of women with big breasts on far off islands. “It was all empty,” I decided that if the doctor was indeed doing this, at least he was a pair of ears. He was something to talk at, if not necessarily to. Relief abounds through disclosure, even if no one’s listening. “Only the couch where I’m sitting and the picture on the wall.” I raised my hand and pointed at a painting of “The Scream” on the wall. I often mused at the thought of it. How indicative of a psychiatry office to have a painting so disjointed from reality, with a person lost in dark colors, screaming, holding their head in torment of a future horror. It’s something so ingrained in popular culture that you don’t even have to be a connoisseur to recognize it. I think, however, the juxtaposition of fantasy and reality caught so conclusively in the painting, was lost to most. Maybe even the doctor.
“Does that make sense? That painting in my dream? Why would I be here, in this room instead of in my own? Or in the park? And why would there be only this couch and that painting? Is my subconscious trying to tell me something? Am I unhappy with my life and is the screamer is supposed to indicate that I need change? Is that how I feel subconsciously?” I leaned back on the couch as I talked almost forgetting the doctor was sitting across from me; in fact I didn’t even think about stopping, I was on a roll, monologuing my problems out, but when I paused to start a new direction, something about women, about loneliness, the doctor cleared his throat.
I snap my head up to query the doctor. Not a word spoken, but enough was said. Time was up and the doctor would hear no more.
“You know, you could be a little more cordial when I come here. I spend a lot of money on you and all you can do is point at a watch or clear your throat.” I again look expectantly at the doctor, who says nothing, just crosses his legs and smiles, pedantically. “Fair enough. Same time next week I hope? If I’m not boring you too much?”
I chuckle as I walk out of the office. I knew the doctor wouldn’t respond, but it was the kind of therapy I was looking for. I’m not sure if I could handle someone trying to analyze me, silence seems to work best for me and somehow the doctor knows this.
I’d been going there for over a year; long enough to wonder if the doctor could even form a coherent phrase. I felt tired and worn down, like someone is taking a nail file to my soul. I would wake up in the morning and go through the motions, gather the paycheck and pay off another month’s rent. Dire times for the uncertain.
My entire life I’ve dreamt of other places. A day dreamer by trade, retail by necessity. What could be greater, I think, than for a disaster to happen in the world, something catastrophic. A cacophony of whining birds, screaming metal, and moaning people. This would be a place where I wouldn’t have to worry about progress reports and being seven minutes late for work, ducking the boss. This would be a place where I could be a hero. I could lead.
I looked around the intersection when I got to the bottom of the staircase. It’s amazing that a psychiatry practice would be atop a Hawaiian barbeque, however I swear by the results. Since coming here I’ve felt less pressure, less stress and my mind feels more at ease.
Busy intersection. A slight waft of ocean air, the salty breeze with a modicum of fish thrown in for good measure. It always amazes me that living in a city like this there would be such a minimal amount of smog, the ocean air transporting the chemicals across the bay. That breeze did wonders.
I lived three blocks away from my shrink’s office; another reason why it’s so easy to come here. Proximity makes the world go ‘round, but often I feel a longing for farther off. It appeals to my dreamy nature. Dreamers are always travelers, just not necessarily doers.
Ambling down the few blocks was always an adventure. There were four homeless men that live on my block. Two of them, however preferred to be called bums; the differentiation is miniscule to most people, but they laid hints periodically that they had an apartment. I laughed out loud the first time I was told this. I’d been giving the two of them, a tall angular black man named Red and a smaller emaciated vet named Milton, money for years now and when I found out they not only had jobs, but they actually had an apartment together, I was shocked. Almost. It takes a lot to be shocked in this city. They’re an original odd couple. I often ponder what social gatherings would be like at their apartment. Everyone panhandling the next person to walk in the door. If you’re fashionably late you’re broke.
The third bum is a much more annoying individual. Scary Larry as he’s known to the locals. An old short white pederast who blames the world for his psychosis. I often mused when I saw Larry walking down the road in a beat up old suit, as if he was attending a spellbinding rendition of “Cabaret” at the trash can on the left.
Then there’s a fourth, much more sinister character that wanders around aimlessly wearing a beanie down over his eyes, and baggy clothes encapsulating the waif of his body. He’s known to walk around the streets and follow women. There was even a rumor that he had attacked a woman in her own kitchen. Spooky, but it was all part of the area’s charm. Serious, yet playful; sophisticated, yet naïve.
This is my world. This is what I call home. This neighborhood, with its fascinating inhabitants, however, I have a place much more sacred to me than any place I could call home. A place almost as significant as the doctor for the sanity he lends me. A park. They call it “The Skinny” for short, but its real name is Tamskinelli. A quiet park that people frequent, they just pass through. A park where one can be alone with his thoughts. A wonderful place to gain perspective.
Dusk descended upon my neighborhood, placing a red musk on the small mom and pop businesses. Relief washes over me while I take a deep breath, stuff my hands into my pockets and saunter down the three blocks. A comfortable feeling, I know my surroundings, the buildings, the people. I stroll like I have no cares, pushing everything to the back of my head. I had finished work and I didn’t have another shift for 54 hours. I had no other obligations for the evening. Just me alone with my thoughts.
When I got to my corner I saw Red and Milton hanging out in front of my doorstep. A small smile crept across my face; these two were always a riot.
“Fuckin’ lady!” Miltonspits out. “Bitch don’t know what’s good for her. All I did was go up there and ask her for change!” He took a step back and sat down in a rusted old wheelchair with bumper stickers on it. I always wondered why Miltonwent to the trouble of putting those things on there. They don’t seem to make any rational kind of sense. There’s “Baby on board” plastered nearby “Honk if you’re horny” (This one always tickled me. Miltoncornered me on more than one occasion and proceeded to tell me how much he loved pussy) and the ever popular “I EAT SHIT” in big bold letters by the right wheel.
“Whoa, man, cool. Be cool, man. She’s just a lady!” Red was eloquent in this way. His lower jaw jutted out at you when he talked as if he was constantly tying to catch an afternoon drizzle.
“Fucking bitch. I wheeled up to her and was like ‘hey got any change, babe?’ and she turned on me like an eagle and was like…” he raised the pitch of his voice and, strangely enough, does indeed sound like a scorned woman. “’you lazy, lazy man, I saw you walking around, there is nothing wrong with your leg!’” I descended to them and raised my eyebrows inviting conversation. Miltonhad eyes that burrowed inside you. He looked through you rather than at you. Everything was intense withMilton; even if you’re only talking. He had a way of looking at you, as if he were imploring you to like him, which in turn made it hard not to. But there were these times, when the anger had boiled over in his system and he looked like a ravaged tiger ready to spring. As small as he was he didn’t seem like a problem, but if you saw his eyes, a blue and red fusion of hate and anguish, you’d feel his pain, and it’s impossible for you to turn away.
“What you say to her, man?” Red had a way of speaking as if he were both very drunk and stoned at the same time. His cadence was slow and rhythmic and his physiognomy was that of a retarded twelve year old boy. He was, however, as sharp as a knife.
“I says to her, I says, ‘Fuck you lady!’ then I showed her.” Miltongrabbed his pant leg and slowly lifted it as if both Red and I had never before seen the grotesque. His shin actually looked as if someone made a bowl out of it. Three inches deep. It’s a wonder he can stand at all. “And she screamed and went running off, the bitch. I tell ya, people are fucking stupid, the bitch, no idea what the fuck she’s saying, the bitch.” Then Red chimes in with his phlegmatic wisdom.
“Here, man, have a cigarette.” His jaw jut out, bottom teeth showing, but the most caring eyes a person could ever see.
I smile down at Milton and Red. The world is right today. I feel at ease. No more tension built in my shoulders.
I tapped Red on the shoulder and moved past without saying anything.
“Hey, man, you got any cigarettes?” It was Red.
I turn around and look directly at the cigarettes exposed forMilton’s consumption. Red follows the gaze and smiles.
“You know,” Red says with a chuckle. “One for the road.”
“One for the road, right.” I said and popped a cigarette out for Red, pause, then give him two. “One for the road.”
“Hey, alright, man! Take it easy!” Red takes what I like to call Red’s Jazz pose. Right hand outstretched and right foot extended and upturned.
“Night guys.” I say as I enter my building.
Nights were always the worst. Nothing to do but think about what you’ve done during the day. Who you’ve loved and who you’ve hated. It could be a wonderful time if you’re happy, but it isn’t a wonderful time for me. Downtime creates residual restlessness.
I fancied myself an insomniac, though clinically probably no more than a poor sleeper. I didn’t go nights without sleeping, it just took a long time for sleep to take over. It didn’t matter the bed, or the pillow; it didn’t matter what comforter, sleep was always just a hard time coming.
I thought of many things while trying to sleep. I thought of girls and friends, I fantasized of being a hero and saving some baby from a burning building. I dreamt about being a famous writer and traveling the globe, writing my world famous books. I did this while staring at a spider that made my ceiling his roost. I ignored the dust that carpeted my room and webs that encrusted my walls. No point on dwelling on the present when you can be wishing for a future.
I sighed and scanned through the books lined up against my walls. What to read today. I searched through my endless library and decided, that night I didn’t have much attention span. I settled on a short story collection; “Cthulu and other Oddities.” I always had a fancy for the fantastic. Otherworldly thinks appeal to my dreamer nature. I laid down taking note that for the night, thank God; there would be no setting of an alarm clock. I had that freedom. The book cracks open and my eyes scan across the title of the first story, “The Yellow Wallpaper.” I read it though I didn’t really understand it. I think I fell asleep, but I may be just that disjointed.
Dreams are enigmatic. Short jolty scenes where aberrant images clash. I saw the park, or rather the area of the park I frequent. There’s a lush almost swamp like pond with a clearing complete with a fallen tree trunk carved into a bench; a perfect place to write, nothing but all the time in the world to create.
In the dream, though, this scene wasn’t the serene venue that I wished it to be. The water was like pitch, motionless and menacing. There was a slight breeze in the air, usually indicative of an ocean zephyr. I glance up at the sky expecting the usual opaque navy, and instead it’s scarlet.
I want to keep looking, intrigued by the oddity, wanting to know more, but instead my head whips down to see someone crawling out of the brackish water. It’s a tall man who seems to be impervious to water. It rolls off him as if he were a duck. He’s wearing a red beanie and a black trench coat. I immediately recognize him and thank god I’m not a woman in my kitchen. Strange I seem to understand what’s happening so intrinsically, I wonder how it could be a dream.
He crawled, jerking, up the incline towards me and raised his head. The beanie was pulled down over his face, but I saw his mouth. Teeth big enough to split both lips. I slap my hands to my face and scream. The world fades and lines streak like running paint. I feel wallpaper underneath my fingernails.
I sit up in my bed and the book falls to the floor with a thump. I resolve to stop eating spicy food before bed.
In the morning I decided I must face my fears and my dream. I must go to my spot and contemplate.
The day was windy and gray. My breath burned in my lungs as I pumped my legs on the bike pedals to reach my destination. A cold burn. I feel despondent about my lack of exercise. This shouldn’t be nearly as hard as it seems to be.
Every time I saw the park I’d be amazed. It seemed to have a glow about it. A separation from the downtrodden cobbled neighborhood. It had a resplendent warmth, a golden aura. Just being able to see the park made me more at ease.
I laid my bike down in the grass and trod to my destination, weary of the conjured creatures of my mind. Obviously I was being paranoid, right? Dreams are just dreams, but reality had a terrifying thinness to it; as if the cold I embrace the lucidity of my surroundings. No if this were a dream I wouldn’t be cognizant of the burn in my lungs, which consequently has not receded.
The pond has a light green tint to it, and the bark bench has a soft worn feel to it. I stare down at the spot where the creature ascended in my dream. A frog, nothing more.
I see strange things sometimes. Solid objects wave, like air rippling across water. I mention this now because it’s what the dirt is doing. Previously I have told people of this oddity, thinking it wasn’t abnormal. All people must get this from time to time. Apparently this is not the case. I have been accused of being a burn out. Too much acid they said, but this isn’t the truth. I’ve never done drugs. My perception is too vapid to even try it for fear of it deepening.
I pull my gaze from the quivering dirt and cast my eyes to the houses in the distance. Business as usual. Pause, a car passes. Pause, a car passes. Pause, a car passes. People doing their daily thing, furiously and frivolously going from point to point.
The only divergence I see is through my peripheral vision. A man standing in the shadows of an oak at the precipice of the park. His hand is resting on the trunk and he seems to be looking at me. I try and take a better look at him, but when I peer closer he’s gone. A shadow person.
This is another thing that happens to me periodically. They pop out of the corners of my vision, as if I’m lonely and my subconscious is creating a partner for me to commune with. They’re hardly ever there and when they are it startles them much more than they startle me. I have scared many an elderly lady. Still wonder about drugs?
Goddamn its time to see the doctor again.
I pounce up the stairs and reach his door. Closed and locked. Damn. I stand there for a minute and wonder what good it will do to knock. Chances are he isn’t here, after all I don’t actually have an appointment, however I have come before unannounced. It’ll have to be another day.
Red and Milton are standing in front of my door again. Déjà vu. Routines are done to facilitate memory. It is far easier to remember what you did yesterday if you do it everyday. This is my curse. I try as hard as I can to avoid the mainstream. I work because I have to, but small talk doesn’t ease the mind it collapses it. Right?
Miltonseems better today; he has a big grin on his face, his cheeks wrinkling up around his eyes. I don’t think I could bear talking to them again today. I feel dizzy, probably from riding my bike up a hill, going all the way to the park, but I still don’t feel good.
I jump down from the bike and walk it over past the two vagrants to my house. They notice me, but seem too involved in some kind of conversation, as I pass I turn and wave. This was a mistake.
I run right into someone. Square into his chest, and though he has a small frame he doesn’t move. I turn my head with an apology on my lips and I see Larry. The crazy asshole. And now he has something to yell at me for. Shit.
“You see ‘em too! I seen ‘em on the corner! They sneaky. They hard. They haunt! They always there aint they? Just round the corner! Waitin fer ye! They’ll get ye.” His eyes are on fire. Normally gray now sunsets. Waving bright colors flow like water. His mind is gone.
I was expecting him to scream bloody murder to me. I was expecting to feel a barrage of fists, but no I get the Larry with an eager face, wanton, imploring. It scares me.
“Goddamn it, you need to sleep more.” The same thing I tell myself. “They’re only your imagination, bad food and sleep deprivation.” The same thing I tell myself.
“Naïve, boy! They comin for ye.” I don’t see humanity in his eyes anymore. I’m not sure if I ever had; all I see now is a wall. I see bricks that he has lain throughout the years adding to this persona. The façade became real. Larry as he was, whatever he was, is no more. He is behind that wall. This is what remains. I imagine this is what happens to people when they go crazy; they put themselves behind a wall to protect themselves.
“Good for them.” I hear the disdain in my voice. I hear the anger. It’s not real anger at him though. It’s his mannerisms. They terrify me. They have a swagger of a man who seems to have something so heavy on his conscious that it drags him to hunch. Big waving arms for emphasis on his statements. They terrify me. They remind me of me.
I slip past Larry and ignore his imploring shells that were once eyes and glance back at Red and Milton. They are both looking at me, not at the combination of Larry and I, our little quibble that we always have, but at me. Red lifts his head a little and whispers something to me. I think I understand the concern in his face and the darkness of his eyes. His broken lips wording “be careful.”
Too much. I’ve had too much. I have to go inside. I’m getting loopy, dizzy. I need to sleep. I slam through the doorway and take the steps two at a time, my bike forgotten in the hallway. Forget the bike. Two at a time. I gotta get to sleep. I feel even worse. Everything is spinning, two at a time. Can I take three? It’s getting dark. Two at a time. The front door seems so far away. Two at a time. Two at a time. Two at a time. Door, Room. Bed. Sleep. Déjà vu.
I’ve woken to find that I haven’t slept at all. I feel like I’ve run a marathon. Exausted, lying in bed watching the shadows of a nearby tree snake across my ceiling. I need air; I’m being suffocated, a thick ephemeral haze covering the room. I’ve woken in a cloud.
I feel dizzy and out of sorts. Everything around me almost seems like it may be a dream, as if I’m sleeping now, but I can feel the pins and needles in my right calf. That slow and warm crawl back and forth. Sporadic patterns laced in the leg. I need a walk; fresh air will clear my head. It’s too muggy in this apartment. Its suffocates you to sleep it doesn’t lull you.
I sit and collect my thoughts with my head in my hands. I can’t do it. I feel crazy, shaken, buzzed, except I have a cognizance of my actions. I stand and sway making my way towards the door, rubbing my forehead. I feel slimy, greasy, coated in a sheen of Crisco. The more I wipe the dirtier I seem to get. I can’t believe I’m walking outside like this.
Outside I near the park. The air helps, I feel a bit sharper. However I can never go back inside, I couldn’t stand the claustrophobia. Tight lungs desperately stretching to try and get air. A burning sensation.
There are Shades here. Shadow people; peering from behind trees, out lines, shapes. If I was alone on the road I’d be scared, with people here I know that they’ll stay there. At the edges. Irrational thoughts for sure. Who wouldn’t? What would you think if you saw people at the edge of your vision? So what if you knew they weren’t real. What if one time, one was?
There is so much clean air in the woods. I think maybe I could take a nap out here. I must be tired. That’s why the Shadow people are coming out. That’s why they’re creeping so close. I thought I had slept. Did I sleep? Did I dream the whole thing? I thought I slept. Maybe it was a day dream. How sad, daydreaming about dreaming.
Clean air. I can breathe out here; full of oxygen, moving the toxins out.
I need to go to the doctor.
They pump oxygen into casinos to keep people awake. Keep their senses clear, so they could gamble longer. I can’t sleep out here.
A shadow person just ran across the field ahead. Am I dreaming? Wait where did everyone go?
There’s another one.
I thought people were around? Oh, I’m dizzy. Another one.
Am I dreaming? Or are they real? Another one.
It’s getting dark. No my eyes closed. Another one. Maybe the fresh air is working.
I wake into a dream. I’m still in the park. No shadow people around now. Is it a dream? I just lay down. Feels like a dream. Feels warm. The park at night is not warm. I must be sleeping! The walk worked.
“Ya must run now. It won’t take ‘em long. They’s found ya tonight. Ye best be careful.” Behind me.
I turn into Larry. With him standing in front of me. He smiles at me; winking. Oh, it’s getting dark again. Or…
No my eyes were closed. I’m still in the park. I feel agoraphobic. I have to get inside.
I need to see the doctor.
In the street I see a man. He looks angry.
“Psychotic punk! Did you think you could get away with it?”
Is he talking to me? He isn’t looking at me.
“Pull that wallet out! I know you have a knife! Where’s the gun?!”
He grabs my hands; pulls them to his chest. What the hell?
“You fucked my wife! Drug addict! Pilferer!”
Why won’t he let go of me?
“Let go of me!”
He looks crazy!
“You’re holding on to me!”
I’ve very confused.
“Leave me ALONE!”
He screams like a woman.
I let go and he runs away. I shake my hands and…it’s getting dark. Again.
I wake on the street. I’m clothed and walking. I’m not wearing the same thing I was before. Different clothes, different day I guess. I see Red and Milton in front of my house.
Miltonseems better today; he has a big grin on his face, his cheeks wrinkling up around his eyes. I don’t think I could bear talking to them again today. I feel dizzy, probably from riding my bike up a hill, going all the way to the park, but I still don’t feel good.
Wait, did I ride my bike today?
I see the guy from my dream in the distance. He’s wearing different clothes too. Different clothes different day. It’s a gray hoodie with a black beanie this time. He’s following a girl too. I make a step towards them and I see Red out of the corner of my eye. He’s trying to tell me something. I squint my eyes. His lips create the words “be careful.” I frown and look back to the guy from my dreams.
He’s close to her now. He’s walking fast and she looks worried. I try to move toward them, but I’m dizzy. I see her reach into her pockets, I presume keys. Get the keys. His hands pull out of his pockets. Get the keys. His nails are long, ugly. Dirty. Get the keys. How can she pause? Get the keys! It’s getting so dark. GET THE KEYS! He’s a demon! Grab. The. Keys!
Too slow. He took her. Jumped over her shoulders. Nails digging into her shoulders. Those teeth. Big enough to split both lips. They bite. Tearing and ripping. She screams. She never got the keys. Its so dark. I see people walking towards me through the darkness. Shadow people I know. I can see them clearly. A hand on my shoulder. I turn and see Red standing there. He looks sad, but I’m so dizzy. A hand on shoulder. I turn and see Red standing there. He looks sad, but I’m so dizzy. A hand on shoulder. I turn and see Red standing there. He looks sad, but I’m so dizzy. Hand on shoulder. “Be careful.” Déjà vu.
I find myself in the doctor’s office. It’s cold. I think one of the windows is broken. What day is it?
“What day is it?” He looks at me and shakes his head. I think of the park. The skinny they call it. The skinny. There is a glow there. It’s a glow of gold. It feels good there. Feels thin. “Why am I here today? Did you agree to meet me?”
The doctor shrugs his shoulders and shakes his head. He’s skinny. He’s thin. He seems familiar. Déjà vu.
“Why the scream? Am I screaming?” The painting. Paint. Scream.
His hands go to his face. Screaming. Thin. He’s paint. He’s running. The paint, leaking. The room is bare. No scream, no doctor. Why am I here? I need the park. It’s getting so dark. All the time. Must be winter. When do I work? Friday. I like Friday. It’s skinny. Oh, yeah the park.
It’s cold here. I can only see through a pinhole. Shadow people blur the vision. They’re so close. Do I have keys? I NEED TO GRAB MY KEYS! Déjà vu.
I rip the doctor off the wall. The painting. The Scream off the wall. It’s too much. How could you put that in a doctors office? I feel something under my fingernails. Yellow wallpaper. Déjà vu.
The pond. I look to my pond. It’s so cold. I look in my pond. I see myself crawling out of it. Déjà vu. I wear a red beanie and my teeth split my lips. I crawl into it. The pond is skinny. I reach the bottom fast.
The bottom is the doctors office. I see the scream on the wall. The doctor is too. Screaming. It’s so dark. Déjà vu.
Larry entered the room with a wide eyed expectancy. He was being followed by a shadow person. He felt the shadow person pulling at his brain, stretching his sanity like taffy. The room was cold and dark, soap covering the windows.
The room was bare, nothing covering the walls, not even wall paper, only a dingy brown mold. The hardwood floors were pulled up at points leaving small protrusions that were perfect for stubbing a toe.
A stiff breeze flew into the room and Larry shivered when he saw the man lying over in the corner. He was curled up into a ball with a red pool surrounding him. The window was smashed in, glass sprayed everywhere. The man had a piece of glass grasped firmly in his right hand. Larry took note that his fingernails were either bent back or torn off, he had been digging in the walls.
Larry shook his head and turned back to the door. He saw the gouges next to the door on the wall. Deep and with blood spattered periodically within.
Larry respected the man, he had seen the shadow people, he had run from the shadow people and now he had stood up to them. He had fought.
People around the neighborhood called him Scary Larry, people thought he was crazy. They were afraid of him, but there was something that the people around the neighborhood didn’t know about, something they would be much more scared about.
The shadow people. They came from the park. They took this man. They had been coming for him for years. He just knew how to run. He moved past the gouges in the walls and out the door to the old office. It amazed him that no one ever saw the man going up the stairs. Maybe they did. Maybe they didn’t care. Maybe they thought he was crazy. Just another bum.
Larry reached the bottom of the staircase and saw light traffic at the intersection. Two shadow people, one on his right periphery and one on the left. Time to run.
The third story from Sean McBride’s published short story collection, A View of the Edge of the World. This episode is produced by Ed Robinson and read by Justin Waggle.
I was listening to the Toadies “Possum Kingdom” one day and I was trying to write, but nothing was coming. Then my cat came in the room and started meowing at me… incessantly. Before I knew it I was on YouTube trying to distract him with annoying cat videos, (He eventually left the room, disturbed that he could hear other cats in the room with me, I laughed then felt bad.) when I had an idea. I wanted to write a ghost story and I wanted it to be original, and I had YouTube in front of me; ghost in the machine…literally. The song made the story blossom (I even incorporated it in the story) and once I got going I couldn’t stop until it was done. The cover of the book is supposed to be the boathouse and the lake from the story, just for a little bit of insight. I’d also like to hear what people think of the ending, because I had a specific idea in mind, but it doesn’t seem to come across. Let me know…
Dan flips through the videos while the computer projects it’s blue-white light through the dark room. He’s been at it for hours, but then again that’s the beauty of the job. He can do it any time, anywhere, and best of all he can work at home.
Dan has been a moderator for youtube.com for about a year. His entire job entails surfing videos, then when he finds one of unsatisfactory content(That’s the word his boss uses, unsatisfactory, with a pedantic little lisp)he deletes it and blocks the user from posting again. Some might think this a boring job, a pointless job, but Dan loves it.
He decides tonight he’ll concentrate on porn, mostly because he’s feeling horny himself, but also because he hasn’t surfed the “sexuality videos” for at least three days. He spent those on animal abuse and violence.
He types “Asian Sex” into the search bar and cracks his knuckles by weaving his finger together and dramatically swooping them out towards the computer. He holds back a little smile then lets his right hand rest on the mouse, slowly scrolling down through his options.
There’re a surprising amount of trick videos, like “two lesbians having SeX!” and “Penetration! Asian SLut!” Dan hates these tricky ones. He always clicks on them ready to cancel the account, but when the video comes up, six times out of eight it’s some douche bag who has too much time on his hands with a note saying “pervert!” and pictures of little animals and babies. To Dan these are a waste of time. Why would someone go through all that effort just to berate another?
This time, thought, it’s different. He logs on and the first video that comes up says “Sexy asian girl dancing.” Most times Dan passes by something like this because invariably it’ll only be a girl dancing on a webcam feed, nothing you couldn’t see out on the street, but there are occasions when he finds an older man forcing a pre-teen to do a strip tease. He forwards those on to the police and bans the user from the site. But, this time it’s different.
He clicks on the link and she comes on. It is as he expects, probably a self taping on a webcam of a co-ed doing a booty dance. He has a brief second of sorrow for the girl, trying to imagine what happens to girls like this in an Asian culture. Don’t women get disowned for this kind of thing, he thinks. He shakes his head in ignorance and clicks the play button.
It starts with her face covering the screen, giving him a distinct and startling view of her expressionless face. An intermittent guitar riff blares over his speakers. She slowly backs up and briefly gives Dan a view of a few hastily scrawled words written in a red liquid on the blue wall behind her. “dead now.” He thinks they say, and he immediately feels cold. What if it’s in blood, he thinks, but before he can tell she deftly dances in front of it. The music continues:
“Make up your mind/Decide to walk with me/Around the lake tonight…”
She’s wearing a little tight white tee shirt and underneath she’s wearing a pink bra. Her bottoms are a white pair of short shorts giving full view of her great legs. She begins to slowly wave her hips back and forth, out of tempo with the music, while looking directly at the camera. Her eyes are intense and he finds he can’t tear his from hers. Those deep hazel spotlights.
“…I’ll not be a gentleman/behind the boathouse/I’ll show you my dark secret…”
Suddenly, she snaps her head to the side, breaking eye contact and slowly weaves her body, as smooth as a snake, until her back is facing the camera. Dan’s eyes are drawn to her ass, where written on her little white short shorts in red block lettering is the word “Lifeguard.” As if to emphasize this, she brings both arms up, sensuously dancing and weaving them in the air then brings them down and points both her index fingers at the word, framing it. Actually points at it. When she turns back again her face looks intent and her hazel eyes burn into the camera.
“…Don’t be afraid/I don’t mean to scare you/so help me Jesus…”
She crosses her arms and grabs the bottom of her shirt beginning to pull it up, then turns again. Dan can see little bits of the scrawling behind her as she sways her body and is sure he’s right. They say “Dead now” in red dripping letters.
My god, is that blood? He thinks.
“…I can promise you/you’ll stay as beautiful…”
Her back’s to him again and she takes the shirt off cascading her long brown hair across her deltoids, then turns again and looks deep into the camera. She looks almost nervous.
On her stomach there’s an arrow pointing at her left breast. It’s a decal that almost looks like wood. When he follows the arrow he sees something that further disturbs him. The pink bra is actually a white bra, stained red. The left side is darker than the right.
“…With dark hair/and soft skin/Forever…”
Unnerved he looks back down to the time bar, hoping the video nearing completion, but it isn’t moving. The ball tracker is still on the left and the counter says 0.00. He looks back at the screen and she’s staring at him, barely moving with an imploring stare.
She turns again; reaching up for her bra with both hands and begins to unlock it. “…Forever…” Then the screen goes black. Dan sits back and takes a deep breath, realizing how close he was to the screen. “Holy shit.” He says. He flags the video but doesn’t erase it.
There are dreams where you can tell it’s a dream; where reality is thin and you can feel it. Dan’s having one of those now of his little Asian girl.
She’s doing the same dance, but this time he’s in the room with her. It’s the same room as in the video with few exceptions. The substance which comprises “Dead now” is gone from the wall behind her and he’s sitting in a chair where the camera must have been.
She backs from him and takes position a few feet away, her movements have a jerky halting progress as if she’s a projection. She does her little shimmy the same as before, but there are little details Dan notices which he didn’t notice watching the Mpeg. When she points at “Lifeguard” written on her shorts, she flexes a bit. Not much but enough for Dan to see veins straining in her wrists. She spends longer than he remembers; jerking her fingers and flexing even more, accentuating the word. It’s like she’s saying pay attention.
Then she turns and takes off her shirt while mouthing words to him over the cotton as it crests her mouth.
“Find me.” Of course it could have been a multitude of other phrases, but he’s sure she sneers. A tiny raise of her upper lip and she spits out the letter F with a breathy fuh.
Desire for her invades his mind, overtaking his soul. He wants to stand and put his arms around her. To kiss her. But in that special reality dreams create, he’s stuck to his chair no matter how much effort he puts into it.
He looks up at her and sees her nodding at him, ever so slightly, but never taking her eyes from his. She moves forward and puts her arms out beckoning him to embrace her and blood starts to pour from of her left C cup. Pouring over the seam where fabric meets flesh and staining the white bra a deeper shade of burgundy. Then she mouths it again. “Find me.”
Dan wakes the next morning both disturbed and inquisitive. He knows it was only a creepy dream, but he can’t shake how real it felt; as if he could watch the video and all the changes from the dream would be there. Regardless what he finds, he just has to watch that video. Just one more time.
Dan gets up from his sweat soaked bed and lights a cigarette on the way to the computer. “Well, lets just see here.” He croaks through a lung full of smoke.
He turns his computer on producing a bright blue light that shines into the room, illuminating the smoke and its seductive wave as it sways to the ceiling. It makes him think of her.
He shakes his head and goes back to the computer, clicking the link to bring her up. He has a brief reminiscence of her hair and the way it draped over her shoulders. He thinks in the dream it may have touched his chest when she began to dance, but then again it was only a dream. A phantom of sensation.
The phone rings in an alarmed repetitive bleating and he looks back at it in distain, angry at its audacity, that it may intrude on his viewing, but then he hears the soft hitching electric guitar coming from the computer and he whips his head around to see the show begin. He knows it’s probably his boss on the phone trying to document his progress through the “Unsatisfactory” videos. He knows he could be in trouble if he doesn’t answer, but he just has to see the video. Just one more time.
Everything from the dream is there. She pumps her hands twice at lifeguard. She does say “find me” just before the shirt covers her face. She does bleed a bit at the end and those arms do rise.
“She’s telling me something.” Dan says through the smoke as the phone blares in the background. “She’s in trouble.”
He gets up long enough to grab a pad and a pen, and then he sits down and scrawls an inventory of every detail he thinks could be important.
- Find me
- Dead now
- Arrow to bloody bra
Dan puts his hand to his left breast as a reflex to the image of her bloody breast and recognition lights his face. It was something he did everyday as a child in elementary school. He put his right hand over his heart. Pledging.
He clicks the play button and the dead lifeguard comes back on the screen, swaying and shaking. He peers into the video and tries to find more clues, but finding none, he peruses his list. She’s a lifeguard, so she must be by a body of water. A lake? A pool? A beach? But then lifeguards are usually only out during peak hours. Too many people. Then the song lyrics strike him. “…decide to walk with me/around the lake tonight…” She was telling him something!
While he’s contemplating, Pocket his tabby cat, saunters into the room. He’s made it a rule for the cat to stay out of the room whenever he’s working, because for some unknown reason known only to troublemaking cats she loves to bat the power cord until it’s pulled from the wall. It wasn’t a big deal, but when he’s lost in his videos it infuriates him.
Dan clicks the play button again desperately searching for any hint that might tell him something. When she moves back and “dead now” becomes visible he finds what he’s looking for.
He’s not sure why he didn’t notice it before, but those two cryptic words are actually written on something; not directly on the wall. They’re written on a map. A map which has a lake on it. A map of his town.
He pauses the video, grasps his flat screen monitor with both hands and leans in straining his eyes in an attempt to decipher where she could possibly be when he feels the familiar brush of fur against his leg. His eyes widen and he reaches under the table grabbing for Pocket. But he’s too late. The cat bats the cord and a small little popping sound comes from the computer as it goes blank. Pocket coos as she runs from the room.
Dan quickly plugs the computer back in and depresses the power button. The computer’s fan issues a high whine and the monitor flickers with a blue flash then a faded black glow. He thinks for a moment he can see her body shake on the screen, a shadow in the dark, but then his wallpaper pops up. He quickly opens the video files on his desktop, searching for his china girl…but she’s not there.
Dan clicks around in anger, “What the fuck!” he screams at the monitor waving his left hand in disgust, “Come on you stupid piece of shit!” He slams his fist on the desk in anger and sits back. “where the hell?” He takes a deep breath and relaxes. So what? So what if when Pocket knocked out the cord the video got erased? Maybe he didn’t even save it on his desktop in the first place. There’s still that beautiful network which served billions. She would still be on the internet!
He navigates to youtube and types in his password which redirects him into his moderator screen. It should be in the recently viewed column. Even the memory of it would be there, a name at least. But when he searches he finds nothing. The username of the person who downloaded it isn’t even there. The last video it says he’s watched is of a cat getting hit by a car.
Scared, Dan stands. He gazes into the screen perplexed and more than just a little bit worried. Was he delusional? Could none of this have happened? That dance though. Sexual and sensual, torrid and disturbing. He couldn’t forget her hazel eyes. The way her breath felt…
“wait…” He snaps out of his reverie. Did I imagine her breath? It was a video. He knows none of it was real, and yet he can feel the memory of her breath on his face, smell the sweet staleness as she leaned down and began her dance with her breasts sagging ever so slightly and her hair brushing his chest.
He stops thinking and blinks twice. Hard.
“You need to get to sleep, that’s all.” He says and is scared by his own voice. He realizes just how quiet it’s been in the room and he feels constant eyes in every corner. He looks about quickly securing all shadows and promptly turns on the lights. He flips the TV on, thankful for the resounding echo it creates in the small room and lets its soft waves lull him into complacency. Then he dreams.
Here she is again, swaying in front of him, although this time she looks wet. Her white shirt is clinging even tighter to her youthful stomach and he can easily see the blood stained bra beneath. She moves in stop action jerks and mouths over and over again. “Find me. Find me. Find me.”
She looks deep into his eyes and he’s lost in her sea of hazel. Mystified. Compelled. He sits up and shudders as the absolute coldness of the room embraces him. Then he remembers something. Something from his childhood. Its reflected in her eyes. He finds himself putting his hand over his heart as he did so many times as a child, recalling the Pledge of Allegiance and that other time he used to put his hand over his heart, when his uncle took him fishing out on Lake Meneloua. He remembers promising he would never tell…cross his heart…as they would pass a big red arrow pointing at an angle up to the heart of the lake. His uncle saying This place is dangerous. Never come alone and always let someone know you’re here. No one really comes around here anymore. He remembers the boathouse where they stored their supplies. He remembers the sign on the door to that shed. It said “Danger, heavy pollution” in hazel letters. He knows where she is. He has to find her.
The red arrow is still as shiny and glossy as he remembers it being. Almost as if the paint were still wet. The arrow zips by as his Tercel glides down the road and Dan fidgets in anticipation as the lake gets ever closer.
He thinks back to his time on the lake with his uncle. The depth and murkiness of the water like a primordial soup, thick and teeming with small unfamiliar creatures. He remembers feeling both distinctly disgusted and slightly exhilarated when his Uncle caught a big fish and rocked the boat, nearly sending little Danny into the lake. To sink in there is to never be found again.
He drives past the boathouse where they kept their fishing equipment and he smiles despite his anxiousness. If old Uncle Walt weren’t dead he’d probably love to be here with me, he thinks.
There’s a beach on the lake about a quarter mile more down the road. It’s a deserted beach now, but twenty years ago it was bustling with activity. Children played in the soft surf as their parents lounged and tanned by the afternoon sun while a lone lifeguard would watch over the lake waters from their sole tower. The lake has since been deemed too polluted to be a place of recreation, so gradually over the years people stopped going. This is where he’s headed. To find the lifeguard.
He’s able to get most of the way to the beach before the road becomes too overgrown and he has to ditch the Tercel. He’s taken aback at the beauty of the place. There are rays of sunlight beaming through the tree tops and casting an almost holy glow about the overgrown road lending the shade an almost picturesque totality. He can feel the onslaught of a sneeze coming as the pollen from the unmolested flowering buds slowly falls on him. He lets it go with remarkable furiousness making his head feel like it’s going to explode.
He covers his nose and mouth with his hand trying to block pollen from entering his system when he comes to the clearing of the beach. The white sand goes on for a hundred yards and is cradled by the tree line, making it feel like a secluded oasis. The lone lifeguard tower stands halfway through the white dunes and is painted red just like the arrow on the road.
Another sneeze rocks Dan and he groans as he stands on the precipice of the beach. Terrified to move forward, he hopes he’ll find the girl, but he also feels deep instilled dread of what he might find. He feels his knees shaking and tells himself it’s from sneezing, but he knows it’s his fear. He can smell it. Dank and bitter.
He takes a shaky step forward and his shoe sinks into the warm white sand. He imagines for a moment he’s on a deserted island, trying to dissolve his fear, but then he looks out onto the lake and sees the familiar bowling pin shaped buoy floating in the water. He used to try and cast his reel at the buoy, practicing his fly fishing while his uncle looked on smirking.
The memory brings him back to reality and he closes his eyes as he takes deep breath; then sneezes again, bellowing echoes around the small enclosure.
Shaking his head he moves forward and takes out his phone. If there is even a chance of seeing a dead body he wants to be on the phone with the police immediately. He’s not sure how he’s going to explain it, but it’s better than being out here alone with a corpse.
He’s half the way down the beach when he sees her. She’s lying face down in the wet sand half in the water and half out. He can see her hair splayed about her head in a halo and flashes back to her dance. That beautiful hair brushing up against his chest. He immediately knows it’s her. He dials 911 on his phone and takes a few steps forward trying, against his better judgment, to get a better look at her.
He gives the dispatcher the location and explains that he found a body on a walk. He gives his name and phone number and hangs up, despite the dispatchers protests and looks back to the body.
She’s wearing corduroy pants and a jean jacket. Dan almost snickers despite himself, imagining her walking around in some early nineties move like “Singles,” but is brought back home when he gets a whiff of her smell.
She must’ve been out here for days; the smell attacks his nose, like a forgotten steak on a counter. He can hear a soft buzzing sound and knows it’s flies convening for their feast. Her legs are lost in the soft surf and he can only imagine what two days in contaminated water would do to a decomposing body. Bloated and white, slowly sloughing off to the bone.
Dan reaches down and taps the back of her head; a playful tap, as if he’s tagging her IT. He’s not sure why he does it, he knows she’s dead and yet he has a morbid curiosity to feel what it would be like to touch her. It’s almost as if he’s testing himself for what he has to do next.
He’s found her, but he doesn’t feel she’s done with him quite yet. He’s not sure what it is, but he gets the nagging suspicion he’s being watched. As if her ghost followed him here, out through the computer screen and into this world. He whirls around in an effort to see her, to figure out where she’s hiding, but there’s nothing; just him and the shining white sand with the lone red aerie of safety.
He turns back to her and grabs one shoulder without really thinking about it, turning her to her back. He’s surprised at how stiff she is, rigor mortis freezing her body into shape.
The first thing he sees is her eyes. He’s surprised to see that they’re brown and only shells, merely reflectors in the afternoon sun. They show no resplendence of their own. Then he sees her chest. There is a thin hole with something shiny protruding through the red stained blouse she wears. When he leans in closer he finds it’s a butter knife. Damn near buried to the hilt. Right through her heart.
Dan covers his mouth in disgust and feels another sneeze coming on. He can feel bile rising in his throat and he turns away from her lifeless eyes.
The sneeze builds in his nose and he fights it, fearing that if he does sneeze, vomit will come with it. So he stands there for a moment pinching the arch of his nose until the sneeze subsides and he slowly turns back to the girl.
Her body undulates with the soft surf and he stands transfixed until he hears something from the woods behind him. A powerful sneeze and a rattle of leaves.
Dan whips around peering out into the woods and there, by the clearing is a small Asian man pointing a gun at him.
“Whoa, man whoa!” Dan wants to say something evocative and powerful, but the sight of the gun takes the breath from his lungs.
“What you do here!” The man says with an almost rodent like squeal. “You not supposed to be here!”
“I’m sorry! I know, I’m sorry! Please!” Terror grips Dan and he looks down at the dead girl next to him. At that moment he’s sure he’s not going to get out of here alive.
“No sorry! No please! That what she said! Fucking cheating slut!” He points to the corpse on the ground for the briefest of moments with the gun and Dan’s heart flutters with hope.
“I’ll just go. I didn’t mean anything…” He tries to make his voice soothing, but when he hears it, it’s slow and hitching like he’s going to start crying.
“No. Go!” The man actually takes a deep breath in between the two words and screams “GO!” like a child throwing a temper tantrum.
The gun trains back on Dan.
“Ok, ok, I’m sorry.” Dan takes a step back and feels the cool polluted waters ofLakeMenelouasurrounding his feet. For the first time the shit like smell of the lake hits his nostrils as it mixes with the rot of the lifeguard’s corpse, gagging him.
The man moves a few steps toward him and Dan notices he’s filthy. He has leaves in his hair, his clothes are covered with a fine layer of pollen and his shins are inundated with wet sand and mud. His outfit matches hers. “You lay down with her! You fuck her?”
The question catches Dan off guard.
“No!” is all he can say, as he moves knee deep into the poison waters ofLakeMeneloua. He feels the water rush around him and he swallows bile as the water bubbles with pollution.
“You fuck her I know you do!” The man takes a few steps forward bobbing the gun at Dan. Dan inches backward farther into the water. He thinks back to a time in his childhood when he used to swim here and remembers a shelf in the sand just a few feet away from the shore. Maybe five. After that shelf the sand drops. If he could get to that point maybe he could swim away…
“Don’t you move you…” The man stops in mid sentence and sneers, shaking his head rapidly, then sneezes fiercely snapping his head and rocking his body. Great, sneeze your brains out you crazy bastard! Dan thinks, then inches himself further backward into the water. He feels something slide along his leg in the shallow surf and retches, projecting vomit into the water. While he’s doubled over he looks at the girl, stares into her brown eyes and swears he can see concern in her death mask.
The man recovers and moves forward a few steps cocking the gun, apparently done with cordialities.
“Wait, when I saw the body I called the police! You should leave!” Dan yells when he hears hammer click back.
The man pauses for a moment, looks confused, then sneezes again. Dan takes a few inches back into the water praying the ledge isn’t too far away. The man raises the gun to him again, contorts his face and screams “You lie!” Then sneezes one more time.
Dan takes the opportunity and jumps backward, using every bit of agility he has and lands on his back in the water. He can feel the ledge with his hand, but he didn’t quite make it.
“You fuck!” The man yells and shoots the gun three times in rapid succession. The first shot buries in the water to the left of Dan, the second in front of him and the third to the right.
Without thinking Dan throws himself back again and slides over the ridge sinking into the putrid lake. He hears more gun fire, he thinks three more shots, and swims away from the edge. His skin burns as he strokes through the murky water and he imagines the smell permeating his skin.
Finally Dan can go no further and preferring to be shot rather than swallow the lake water he surfaces and is disappointed to realize he’s only gone twenty feet. The man is at the edge of the lake, actually standing over the girl, and he raises the gun to Dan’s face. Dan takes a deep breath of the rancid air and goes below again, hearing the report of the gun fire three more times. That was nine wasn’t it? Dan thinks and desperately swims toward shore hoping the man would have to reload before he could fire again.
Dan gets to the shelf in the water and springs up, pushing with all his might from the bottom of the lake and re-surfacing directly in front of the man. Everything smells so bad that Dan imagines little cartoon wisps of stink floating off of him.
The man jumps back and sneezes in surprise as Dan jumps on him. The man screams, though Dan imagines it’s more from the stink than from anything else, as Dan grapples him.
It’s a short match, Dan wrenching the gun away from the man and sitting on his chest, giving him one great punch to the nose, relishing the snap he feels beneath his knuckles. He’s about to do it again when he hears someone shout at them.
They both look up and see two policemen with their weapons drawn and trained on the two of them. Dan sits back and gradually stands with his arms raised. Ever so slowly he steps away from the man on the ground.
“You, on the ground! Stand with your arms raised!” The alpha cop says, while the other slowly circles around to the right.
The man on the ground sneezes again, and then looks at the girl lying next to him. Suddenly the air seems to get thicker and everything slows down. The man on the ground lunges for the gun, and Dan can hear the alpha cop yelling something, but he’s so amazed at this little man’s audacity that he doesn’t understand. Dan falls to the ground as the little man pops up and points the gun. Dan can hears three distinct resounding explosions in the little oasis, then hears a thud as the man hits the ground next to him. Dan looks at him, into his brown eyes, and watches as the light fades.
Dan thinks back to what his uncle said as he stares into the dead man’s eyes. This is a dangerous place. Never come alone and always let someone know you’re here. “Thanks for looking after me Uncle Walt.” Dan says under his breath.
The cops walk over to Dan, still training their guns at him. “Who are you and why’re you here?”
Dan turns over and looks up at the policeman, puts his hands above his head and says “My names Dan. I just thought I’d go out for some fishing.”
My name is Private James Riggio ofSan Francisco,California. Number 823579. I was commissioned in the United States Marines at the age of nineteen and have dutifully served out two years of service. I spent six months in the brig for drunken disorderly conduct; it was a reduced sentence from attempted murder. I am using this journal not only as a commemorative of what and who I was, but as a hope that whom ever finds this journal will know I was the last to survive.
The Dark came on September 23 2012. I was aboard the Transport Ship Titan, on my way to Fallujah as a refill for the casualties we were acquiring inIraq. Front line duty.
War is hell. It was said before and I echo that sentiment now. I was taken out of my normal life, we all were, and thrust into a mechanical existence. We ate when told, we slept when told, even pissed and shat when told. They said they were training you, getting you ready for what you were going to see. They said if you didn’t listen you would die. They were wrong.
The two hundred men and women aboard that transport were terrified. We knew the war had run beyond our control and we also knew we were replaceable; we were there to replace those who had been killed for god’s sake. Our lives were so different from the carefree drama of high school, we were young and stupid, but we’d become young and deadly and scared shitless for what lay before us.
On the fourth night aboard our frigate, at seven P.M. the sun disappeared. I was down in the deck with Johnny C (John Carvecchio if you could pronounce the last name, only a handful of us could) playing cards, losing as usual. When the Dark hit it was rumored that Captain Luddy went to his cabin, took out his Good Book and began to pray, leaving command to Lieutenant Vasquez. Vazquez promptly ordered the boat stopped so we wouldn’t crash into anything. People argued later that his decision was bad, considering we were in the middle of the ocean without anything on the radar, but really, where would we have gone?
Johnny and I carried on for at least a half an hour before then intercom buzzed that we were all to get dressed and report to the deck.
We were in the room with twenty others all equally feeling lazy. Life on a ship can do that to you, even when it’s only a couple of days. You’re there on a ship with over a hundred men, all equally nervous and bored. There is little room so the thought of exercising goes right out the port hole. You sit and wait for your shift to start, talking about the same things to the same people, either lying in bed or sitting in a chair. You get so tired you can’t think.
When we got up deck Lt. Vasquez was yelling and it was pitch black. He had a torch, of all things, a torch! PFC’s Roberts and Kanon had flashlights and every light on deck was lit up like Christmas, but the dark still pushed in on us.
“Listen up troops!” Lt. Vasquez yelled. “Get in formation and shut up!” He waited a few seconds for us to comply and once we did, his voice dropped significantly. “Something big has happened. Now we can sit here and whine about our plight, or we can do something about it! I got hold of the mainland and they said that the same thing happened there, the sun has gone away. There is no intel on the matter so we don’t know if it was something the Terrorists did, or if it was something cosmic.”
He stopped for a moment and I looked into his eyes through the flickering light of his torch and I saw fear. I gained respect for the man in that instant, because his Captain had gone and he stood there in an impossible situation and took charge. That took balls.
“This catastrophe has nothing to do with our main objective however, we are on this boat to back up our fellow troops inIraqand that’s what we’re gonna do! Now do I hear any objections?”
“Yes!” It was flat top Sam and he looked like he just shit his pants.
“What did you say private?” Lt. Vasquez got in his face. “You think I don’t know how to make a decision? You think you can do better?”
“No sir! I think we are in end times, sir! I think we should wait here for the judgment of God!” Flat top Sam reached up and took hold of the St. Christopher medal that hung around his neck.
“Well I’ll be damned, private, you might have a spine after all, but I wasn’t askin’. Do you see any horsemen around? Are you the second coming? I don’t fucking think so! Sergeant, take this bastard down to the brig!”
Lt. Vasquez turned his back to the rest of us and looked out over the water, when he spoke he didn’t turn.
“Gentlemen and Ladies, these are not end times, this is not Armageddon, and if you believe otherwise I suggest you keep you mouth shut or you’ll end up with the Private flat head in the Brig!
“Ya’ll have nothing to fear. God would never hurt the Core and you all know that, so get the fuck over yourselves!”
He turned and I couldn’t tell if the fire was burning in his eyes or if it was reflected from the torches.
“Your Captain is indisposed so I’m calling the shots. Let it be known that these are my decisions and mine alone. We will be continuing on our course with the use of our instruments on board. Electricity still works so go about your duty like you would before. Nothing has changed. We still need to help our brothers and sisters inIraq. Dismissed!”
He stood and watched us filter back under the deck, the fire in his eyes still blaring. He was the best leader I ever had. It was too bad he didn’t last longer.
Those of us who were on duty went back to it and those of us who weren’t went back underneath. Johnny and I took up our game again and life seemed to go on as normal, but there was something sinister in the cabin with us; something palpable. I could feel anger radiating in the room and when I looked into Johnny’s eyes I could see that he could as well.
“What the fuck man!” It was Denise Ramirez who started the mutinous rebellion. “How the fuck could he lock up Flat Top like that? Where the hell’s the captain?”
Ramirez looked around the room pausing slightly on each one of us, gauging our response. She got to me and saw fear and guilt in my eyes; I think I might even have looked down breaking the eye contact. It took a few more minutes before anyone spoke.
“So what are you gonna do about it?” Donny Johnson said from the corner with a Gung Ho look on his face, a perfect imitation of James Dean.
“I say we confront the Lieutenant. I mean, what happened to Captain Luddy? How do we know there hasn’t already been a mutiny led by Lt. Vasquez?”
I wanted to remind her the sun just disappeared, that there might be more pressing issues ahead of us than worrying about upsetting the command line, but I kept my mouth shut. I like to think that if we could’ve stayed united what happened wouldn’t have, but in reality we were scared animals in a metal cage. At some point we were gonna end up at each other’s throats.
Donny Johnson shook his head and broke the silence.
“I don’t think you have to worry about that, you would’ve heard something if the captain has been ousted. Things like that just don’t happen quietly. We need to let the Lieutenant do what he’s doing and fall in line.”
The room was dead quiet when Johnson finished. It seemed Ramirez was just probing out, trying to find someone who would join her cause, but once she met up with resistance she backed off.
The work was done, everyone in our cabin felt it, that terrible action once voiced almost seemed like a possibility now that the sun had gone away. The Sun had gone away! This wasn’t just some terrorist act. The Lt. could say anything he wanted, but we knew the truth, you can’t take away a constant and say it was all a lie. This was not a normal event. This would change the way the world existed; hell, it was happening already just aboard this small frigate.
We spent a few more hours in silence below deck, reading, playing cards or just laying in our bunks, but eventually the time came and we went on duty. It was a sigh of relief for most of us, because the cabin had became stuffy and seemed infinitesimally small packed with all those personalities.
I loved being on duty, you got to look out over that great blue expanse, gently moving, swaying in a chaotic blend of beauty and terror. There was nothing better in the world. But now there was nothing. I could feel the movement of the ocean and through what light we had I could see the water rippling, but it was like seeing through ink. It was such complete utter darkness it almost made me sick. It wasn’t night, there was no moon, I could see no sky; if it put my hand in front of my face I couldn’t see it unless I put a flashlight too it.
I suppressed my nausea and stood guard. I could still feel the wind blowing against me and I could feel the slight mist of the spraying water so I acted like I was blind. I felt for everything and it ended up being more valuable than trying to see it, though slower.
Eventually my shift ended and went back below deck and joined the other bunch, hoping that they’d be more at ease now that they had some time to cool down, but the opposite seemed to be true. There was tension in the air, almost like static and instantly I wanted to be back out on the deck. I could feel fear and impatience creeping up my throat like bile, but I swallowed it down crawled into my bunk and listened to the silence in the room. We slept with the light on that night.
We all slept longer than we were supposed to; all except Ramirez who didn’t sleep at all. I could only imagine the schemes she thought up that sleepless night.
When I woke the previous day felt like a dream and there beneath the soft glow of the florescent light I felt calm. I was sure everything that happened was a dream, that I would go up on deck and everything would be back to normal; the sun shining brightly as we passedSicily. The Captain would be back and we would get to Fallujah, hell maybe the war was already over. One could hope at least.
We all dressed in silence, one person rising from their bed after another, until we were all up and dressed and sitting around the room. It could’ve been a normal day, one like any other, but you could see in everyone’s eyes that they weren’t prepared to go up deck and check for the sun. Such an odd thing to worry about, wondering if the sun would be up.
Without saying a word I slowly got up and walked for the door. I knew the truth, but I had to suspend disbelief, I simply had no other hope. So I left my fellow crewmates and made my way up the stairs hoping to catch a glimmer of that shining beauty, that golden orb of wealth, but when I reached the hatch I was greeted with the cold black air.
A terrible truth hit me when I opened that door. The world had gone black. Gone black and cold. It seemed to be even colder now than before, though I guess that makes sense. If you take away the source of all that energy, you were left with merely nothing.
How cold was it going to get?
I shut the door, tried to shut my mind and went back down to join the others.
“Still dark?” Johnny said.
I didn’t have the courage to open my mouth, I was afraid of what might come out of it if I did, so I merely nodded. I walked back over to my spot across from Johnny and began to shuffle the cards. I got through two shuffles and was about to deal when the lights went out.
“What the fuck!” It was distinctly Ramirez. It seemed that it might not be the rabble-rouser in her that wanted to act against Lt. Vasquez; she just couldn’t keep her mouth shut.
I sat still in the horrible darkness and felt the engines of the ship come to a halt. We all sat in silence, except for heavy breathing, and waited for the lights to come back on. Perhaps it was just a short? I mean no one knew, it could be anything. We sat for what could only have been about ten seconds, when I heard a small, “oh, fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck.” In rapid progression. I could hear the terror in his voice, he was a second away from panicking and I could do nothing about it. I couldn’t recognize his voice and I couldn’t tell where the crying was coming from, so I just sat there praying he would hold it together.
“Thank fucking Christ!” A small flame erupted in the middle of the room and I saw the panicked face of Ramirez hunched over a Zippo lighter. Her statement seemed perfect, it succinctly displayed sentiment we all felt. The electricity went out, but could there still be fire? Could there still be light?
Despite her discovery, terror still hung in the air. It was still possible the lights had just blown, that someone would get them working again and soon, but just one glance outside gave truth to the gravity of the situation. We would never have light again.
“ohfuckohfuckohfuckohfuck” That panicked voice continued on throughout the discovery, pausing only slightly when the Zippo flame burst into existence. The timber of the voice rose and sped making it readily apparent whomever it was, was gonna blow a gasket.
It all happened within a matter of about a minute, between the lights going out, the panicked voice and Ramirez striking up her Zippo. Just one short minute when we acquired our first casualty.
The panicked soldier sped from the room, screaming as he did so, his breath coming in long gasping strides. I could feel wind blow by me as he charged. The port door crashed open and footsteps clacked down on each stair, I heard the hatch to the deck open and more panicked screaming, then very faint, a crash of water.
“Man overboard!” I heard someone yell.
There was clamoring of a few bodies trying to get up the stairs and screaming from above deck. I heard three more distinct splashdowns and more ambient splashing. No one ever got back on board.
In the bustle Ramirez’s Zippo went out, leaving us once again in the dark. I sat not moving, staring off into the blackness, hoping, praying, that I was dreaming.
It took about five minutes for Lieutenant Vazquez to mobilize everyone on to the deck for a head count. The initial group that panicked all seemed to take their own lives, trying to swim for land rather than stay in our metal casket.
On deck the Lt. was able to create makeshift torches, which he lined in strategic places around the deck to keep it steadily lit.
“Listen up! I don’t want any more panicking. We are obviously in quite a situation, but we have to take this as we would anything else. I want everyone to take any spare undershirts they may have, strip their bedding and sleep on springs. You are to make at least five torches a piece. Is that understood?” He paced, but when no one spoke he continued. “You are not to light a torch if you are in a room with another lit torch. You are not to light a torch if you are within 100 feet of another torch. If you come within these parameters the person who enters must put out their torch. With expediency people! We don’t know how long we’re going to be out here so I need your complete cooperation if I’m going to get us out of this. Is that understood?”
I stood in silence relishing the soft light of the torches. I took away the memory of the colors, the dark gray of the metal, the tans and whites of the clothes. I still remember them, however faded and convoluted the image may be, I still remember those colors, but what I remember better was the bright red splash of blood on the front of Lieutenant Vasquez’s uniform.
“Blasphemer!” Captain Dick Luddy burst out from his cabin storming at the Lieutenant.
“Captain please, go back to your cabin, we have everything under control.” Lt. Vasquez only raised an arm at the Captain, never even looking at him.
“No, you don’t. This is the will of GOD!” I remember the Captain’s eyes. Their feral stare, never blinking, filled with madness. I remember the crack of the gunshot and seeing Lt. Vasquez fall backward blood pouring from a hole in his chest.
Panic ensued. I think a couple of people rushed the Captain, while some ran below deck, while yet more jumped over the side. I hid. I scuttled away into the dark and hid. Don’t think of it as cowardice, think of it as survival.
The Captain shot and killed two others before he was brought down by three brave soldiers. Everything electronic had gone along with the sun, but guns didn’t run on electricity, they were mechanical. Our comforts were taken away from us, but not our weapons. Give a blathering idiot a gun and he becomes a deadly blathering idiot.
There was screaming and crying, I remember hoping that Johnny wasn’t in the fray. Soldier’s were killing each other to get on life boats, throwing each other off the side of our frigate.
I was unbelievable how quickly they all turned on one another. They killed and stole from one another for no reason, it was like being in a riot, with the false pretense of the Dark the reason they lashed out at one another.
Twenty minutes later I was sure all the life boats had been deployed, having heard them crash into the water. I tried to keep to the dark, scuttling around like a demon staying away from my shipmates, knowing that confrontation would only end badly, but when there were that many people on a boat there is only so many places to hide. The battle continued to rage, but I had secluded myself from it, I couldn’t even see the ambient glow of the light from all the torches on the deck. I was surrounded by the all encompassing dark.
I stay there trying to become one with the metal of the ship when I heard flint striking steel. A small light burst into existence bathing me in its soft glow, revealing the crazed face of Ramirez. Somehow she had separated herself from the rest and happened to come right to me.
“Ramirez, sit down here, save your light! Let this craziness pass and when it’s calmed down lets join back up with the others.” I don’t know if she could see my face, I assumed so and I hoped I could display my terror and empathy.
She never responded, but her face contorted beyond measure, her mouth dropped open and she let out a blood curdling scream, dropping the light and grabbing for her gun. I didn’t know what else to do. I charged her. I knocked her overboard, listening for her splashdown.
In the war on terror that was my one casualty, my one kill and it was friendly fire.
The fight gradually died down leaving me alone in the darkness. I haven’t been able to find anyone else since then. I hope Johnny got off and got to land. I hope someone comes and gets me. I hope the sun will come back.
Everyday I search the boat for others. I have to believe that other’s stayed. That others are alive. That I’m not alone in the Dark. The search is slow without light, but in my fight with Ramirez she dropped her Zippo and after two days of searching, I found it. This is how I write now, by the light of a Zippo.
If there truly is anyone left alive on this boat, we are among the dead and forgotten. The world has moved on and there is nothing else but us, floating here in our unforgiving metal belly of the whale.
The Zippo is running out of light now. This is the end whether I like it or not. It has been so long since the sun left that I have no idea how much time has passed, but when I feel my face there is a beard there. The mess hall was scavenged and I have finished what is left of the food, so I look to the sea. I look to escape from this metal belly. If there are people on this boat, the world has become too large and I cannot find them. I long for human interaction and I have nothing left on this boat. I have to believe there is another way. There may be sun back inAmericaand I just need to get back there. The only way is through the sea.
If someone finds this, know that I survived. Private James Riggio, who got in a bar fight when drunk and beat the shit out of my commanding officer after he told me I would die because in Iraq because I was weak. I survived. I made it. And if I made it this far I’ll find a way. I’ll find light.