Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Everything Is Coming Up Sara

Sara Jameson was the sort of girl who farted flowers. You couldn’t imagine her going to the bathroom, or even dropping her drawers. It was as if she was destined to be a virgin, and yet even that notion was too heavy for her goody-goody persona. She would never stoop as low as to have sex – like the rest of us animals – like the sinners that we are.

Perfection embodied from the opinions of her pastor, her parents, and her multitude of brothers and sisters – most of them, Jack-Mormon’s – the kind of brothers and sisters that weren’t shy to attend field parties, or reach second base in the seventh grade.

They were lost, Sara's parents said, all the better to have more children – they thought. But then again, there was Sara – there was always Sara – who should have received a trophy for most chaste, most clean, most god-touched from all of us Neanderthals.

Sara was chosen – not by the teachers, or students, or the community she helped with steadfast dedication – but by the Lord himself. The all knowing, the all powerful, the real Santa Claus before his beard turned white, his apostles, the reindeer; Judas Iscariot with a glowing red nose, to lead the way through some demonic storm until being brought into the center of a volcano, where they all burned and burned. Santa Claus would have no more toys – not for the children, and not for the sinners that Jesus had promised to save.

“If he forgives you, then I will forgive you, Burt” Sara had said, holding onto the cross around her neck, “He wants you to wear this,” she would say over and over, holding out her ring to me.

CTR the small silver ring advertised – CTR, because there is only a choice in a sinner’s world.

Choose The Right.

Choose.

“TCB,” I’d say in my best Elvis drawl. “Takin’ Care of Bidness,” as I flicked the ring out of her hand – laughing as she scurried after it – the girl so eaten up by religion and salvation, that she would miss the sun shining down on her face.

“TCB, bitch!” I would say loud enough for her to hear.

I remember how she wept; I remember it all too well.

And then again, I don’t.

I don’t remember anything about Sara; about what I had said or had done to her. I don’t remember her because Sara has been dead for over twenty years.

She was well past worm food by then, she was, “dust to dust.” Sure, she was – I even saw her in her coffin. And did I remember if it affected me? Nope. Can’t say it did.

I didn’t have the skills to feel sensitive at the age of seventeen, but then again, who does?
I was a heathen, a demon, and a sinner of the greatest magnitude. Was I glad she was dead? I can’t recall feeling glad, but somewhere lurking underneath the fifty pounds gained, the hair lost, the crows feet planted firmly along my eyes – I think I felt relieved.

Relieved because somewhere deep inside, if I meditate hard enough, it makes me wonder if I didn’t love her.

Nah, nevermind, I never loved that prissy bitch.

Like many people I have spoken to over the years, they remember high school in bits and pieces. It could be considered a highlight reel of some sorts, not uncommon from watching two minutes of Peyton Manning on ESPN.

I see the prom, or bits of it. I remember working my high school job in construction. I remember the smell of unrolling that pink insulation or the acrid smell of Marlboro smoke blown down to me by those drunken hammer-hands.

I can see one or two of my girlfriends my senior year, and can firmly plot out of my first true sexual experience from end to end.

But I cannot remember Sara. Or I didn’t anyhow – not until I showed up at my twentieth reunion, as if it were a costume party where all of us classmates made a guess at what we would look like in the future.

A lot of us failed – we looked nothing like we thought we would. We should have known that all we had to do is look at our parents at that age – it was the easiest guess to make.

Here I was, my belly sticking out, my hair nearly gone – close shaved, as if I preferred it that way. I chose to keep the goatee, and it didn’t compensate for the healthy head I used to have or how I yearned to once again spike my hair with mousse.

Opting to wear a tie, and then two minutes before checking in, stuffed it into my back pocket, knowing I looked like my gym teacher. Mr? Mr? Mr Raduex? Was that his name? Goddamn, what was his name?

See, memory has never been my game – maybe it’s on account that I played football, maybe it’s on the account that I was never smart in the first place.  

It is difficult to realize, late in life, that you aren’t very bright and if there was any glimmer of intelligence within you – those days are long gone. But the consolation prize that most stupid people possess is…well, you just forget about it and move on.

The memory game of Sara has come late and I’m remembering far too much, and it’s all because of that goddamn wall.

What our twentieth reunion named “The Memory Wall.”

And sitting right in the middle, was a picture as prim and proper as the last time I saw her - a photograph of our fallen classmates. One to leukemia, two students to an overdose, and then there was Sara.

My first thought was – damn, she was cute. The second being, now who is that? And the third thought was, I think I knew her.

And then as the music swelled, and the cocktails doubled, as these old strangers slowly melted into a semblance of their previous youthful incarnations, my eyes kept returning to that wall.
To the picture, to a jagged reminder of her and her wearing some kind of ring.

“What was that goddamn ring she used to wear?” I asked one of the guys I used to pal around with – Denny, who was now doing well as a Podiatrist.

“Something with initials, right? TCB?” He said, and I laughed. “Nope, TCB was my thing,” I responded, having to lean and yell because STP’s “Vaseline” was rocking something heavy on the speakers.

I saw it, though – I saw it clearly in my mind – as crystal as what I had for breakfast that morning (a banana and Nutri-Grain bar), “CTR. Choose the Right.”

I wanted to talk about it further, but something hushed me shut.

I think that’s the first time she made contact with me.

Sara, that is. And I know what you’re thinking. How does a seventeen-year-old corpse, three years older dead now than she was alive, hush a living breathing man?

I don’t know – and that’s what bothers me. I’m hearing a lot of things these days. A lot of things that aren’t here or there – and I think I might be going crazy.

Like with my work back then. At the end of our shift, the boys would come up to say, “Let’s go get a pint,” and without hesitation, I’d respond, “Fuck yeah! That’s how it’s done.” That was the thing I used to say, like...TCB. “That’s how it’s done.”

But after the reunion, just like clockwork – they’re crowding into my cubicle saying the same old, you know how it goes – and what comes out of me is not, “Fuck yeah! That’s how it’s done.”

No – what comes out of my mouth is, “Sorry, I’ve got bible study!”

You should have seen the look on their face - all of them flabbergasted. And then one by one, they begin to laugh, laugh and laugh.

And I’m thinking, “Holy hell, what just came out of my pie hole this time?” And I should be laughing with them.

But what came out was anger. “I’m going to bible study, goddamnit, and there’s nothing you can say about it.”

And they were rolling – I just used the Lord’s name in vain while at the same touting Bible School.

What the fuck do I need at bible school? Jesus H. Christ, I’m a goddamn atheist. I’ve always been.

“Choose the Right” something in me hushed.

And I shut my mouth – and left the office – and somehow drove straight to a church for Bible School.

There I was, sitting there, like I just showed up at an alcoholic anonymous meeting, and instead of being a drunk – I was now dry on Jesus.

I’m singing at the top of my lungs, I’m holding my hands up in the air, and the Pastor shakes my hand and says, “So glad to have you here, brother.”

And instead of screaming, “I’m not your brother!” I respond calmly, “Choose the Right.”

And he gives me thumbs up – thumbs up! And I’m driving home – listening to one of the gospel tapes one of the older members sold to me for six dollars and seventy-two cents.

I think I stayed in my car for over an hour once I got home. I couldn’t turn off the tape. I had to let it finish.

The next morning I made an appointment to see the doctor.

But not before I made sure to sweep the sidewalk in front of the house, and help one of my elderly neighbors water her plants.

I can’t tell you – but I hadn’t been that scared in all of my years.

I had no control over my body – it was as if some eternal boy scout had taken over. I was helpless to do nothing but goodwill towards my fellow man.

Oh, holy hell. What had become of me?


And then I heard it again, but this time it wasn’t a hush, it was a giggle, just the sweetest bit of nectar that’s dripped off the most annoying tree.

A giggle from Hello Kitty socks, and corduroy jeans, a smart clean t-shirt with a silver ring dangling off her pinky.

“Choose the Right,” Sara whispers to me.

I almost missed my appointment with the doctor – I had wasted fifteen minutes looking for a scrunchie in my glove compartment.

A scrunchie? For a bald man?

Once inside the doctor’s office, it was as if some vice had been taken off my balls and my mouth.

When he asked me how I was – you should have seen his eyes grow wide as I spewed my thoughts.

“I don’t know who I am, Doc? I’m a man’s man, a logical man, a man with a deep belief in science and the universe, and none of that Adam and Eve crap. I believe in being soulful, but not in the soul. I believe in Jesus, not as the son of man, but as the son of somebody. There wasn’t a virgin birth and there weren’t any miracles. History is the lies of the victor...”

I was rambling, and the doctor nodded and wrote little snippets down.

“But I feel like I’ve been taken over, Doc. Outside, I’m going to bible study, and I’m singing hymns. I ask people how they’re doing, and I really care about how they feel. I don’t care about anybody but myself – just ask my ex-wife. I pay her seventeen hundred dollars a month for that privilege. But...But...”

And the doctor nodded and smiled and wrote down his private doctor-thoughts, and touched his nose, and patted his ear.

“You’re having a midlife crisis.” He said. “Don’t buy a car. Don’t get married. Don’t do anything that costs more than five-hundred dollars.”

That was that.  There I was, sitting in my underwear and holding two scripts for Ambien and Wellbutrin and the most embarrassed red face anyone could have ever seen.  

It wasn’t fifteen seconds after I was dressed and heading out the door, that I was making a beeline to the hospital chapel, to say a prayer for the children without parents.

I lit a candle for them too.

I wanted to puke – but all that came out was another hymn I had learned the night before at Bible Study.

Man, I was so fucked.

And there it was again, that giggle.

The memories started to fall like puzzle pieces falling into their paint by numbers positions. The picture was getting clearer and what I had connected were those ice blue eyes of a young girl who was sure she could make the world a better place.

Sara.

She used to walk with the greatest ease, as if she were floating – her back straight, her head held high – as if she were balancing those books they make you practice with in a finishing school.

People would part around her, as if she were holding Moses’ blessed staff. She was oil to our water, or vice versa. But they moved and she would glide, until she came straight to me.
The rock, in the middle – it would take a thousand years for the water to wear me down – and she knew it.

But she headed towards me anyway.

She would smile at me, and “Good morning.”

“Want to fuck?” I would ask, as my friends would cover their face in laughter, how their eyes would screw into the back of their heads as I shocked them again and again.

“No thanks, but I would like to pray with you,” Sara would say, as if I hadn’t just been vulgar to her, as if I had asked her if she wanted to share my lunch.

“I’ll let you prey on my cock,” I’d respond without batting an eye – looking down at her smallish chest, imagining my hands around those curved round apples.

I felt her fingers grip my shoulders hard.

“You don’t have to do this,” she would say, “Choose the right.”

The memory pieces that fall into place, they don’t show me coming back at her with a witty response. Instead, I remember it left me feeling cold; like a sinner, or a demon.

The more the memories would fall into place, the more I became afflicted by this...midlife crisis? This disease? This possession?

I talked to the Pastor about it.  I asked him matter of fact: “Is it possible to be possessed by a demon that is good? By a demon who wants you to live a godly life? Who wants you to be all swell, and golly-gosh, and gee-willikers?”

He looked at me for a moment, amused, “It’s not a demon. It’s the holy spirit,” he said.
That’s what I was afraid of – because deep down inside, I wonder if heaven is what it’s supposed to be.

I’ve often been afraid that heaven is its own hell. Some garden party that goes on for an eternity, forever and forever, would you pass me some punch, and aren’t these lemon bars just the most delic...”

“The holy spirit is calling you,” he said, as he patted my arms, and I heard that giggle in my head.

She laughed all the way home.

I thought about killing myself, but instead, I read books to a group of blind people, and then I made sure to bring some hot meals to a soup kitchen.

I did exercises and drank hot tea. I shook hands with strangers, and I offered sober rides to the inebriated at bars.

I drove some of my co-workers home.

None of them spoke during the drive.

After another fifteen-hour day of goodwill, work, charity, prayer and worship, I thought I was about to lose my mind.

I yearned for the razor blade in my medicine cabinet, I thought about it as fleeting and as quickly as a prisoner thinks about his escape over the wall while the guard looks farther down the yard.

I had no control, I had no choice.

“Choose the Right,” she said again.

And by now, I had started to speak to her.

“How can I choose when I’m not given a choice?”

And she would laugh and laugh.

“Choose the Right” my hand would write – right side up, upside down, forwards, backwards – as if I were a medium in a séance circle.

“Choose the Right.”

Thus I continued: I cleaned the side of the road every Wednesday and Thursday. I not only played guitar at youth worship, but also entertained the infirmed at a rest home. I drove a school bus down to Tijuana where a youth group built houses. I witnessed to a group of strangers at a bonfire and talked about how Jesus has entered my heart. I held my hands up and said, “Praise him,” more than I could count.

I began to win awards, first from the church, and then from the community. People were pushing me to run for city council. I had been promoted at work. I was dating a wonderful woman named, Samantha, who ran an animal rescue.

And I was trapped. Trapped.

I could not choose to do anything but the right – and I dreamt of being bad. I yearned for it. I fantasized about robbing a bank, or setting fire to a hotel lobby. I wanted to pour coffee on my pancakes and syrup in a cup. I wanted to throw mashed potatoes on the wall and make them resemble Elvis.

I wanted to trip a five year old and point at him and laugh.

But every time I thought these things – my finger would get slammed in a door, my head would bump against the wall. My clumsiness was endearing, and yet a reminder – a reminder that I was no longer boss.

The shiner on my eye – that’s because I wished to fornicate with the hostess at the Olive Garden.

The cut on my leg – that’s because I yearned to slap that crying baby in the movie theater.
The red welt across my neck – that’s because I had thought it would be better if that comatose woman on the news were smothered out of her misery.

And she would laugh – laugh and laugh.

“Choose the Right,” she said.

And before long, I stopped fighting. I stopped fighting – and if you were reading my life from the outside, and not from the hell on my inside – you’d think I was Mr. Smith Going to Washington.

Elected twice to the city council, elected straight through to a State Senator's seat. 

They’re talking the Governor next, then the Senate. And who knows, maybe the goddamn President?

And I smile and laugh, and pick up your son and daughter and kiss them on the cheek. But all the while, I’m thinking about twisting off their head and blowing a raspberry at the press.
I’m thinking about mowing down dozens and dozens with the biggest automatic gun known to man.

I’m thinking about setting bombs off at football games and taking someone’s ice cream and knocking it out of their hands.

Big bad, little bad, bad and very bad.  

And I’m unable to do anything – but smile and hug, kiss and support my fellow man.
Now I’m approaching sixty years, a full twenty plus since I last saw her on the wall, a plus forty since I taunted her in the yard.

And that final memory coming through, of her riding in that car, stretching out in the back after a long week at church camp. And her trusting in the Lord to protect her as the driver gets drowsy in the front – just so sleepy along those winding, hypnotic roads, until blammo! They connect in a sloppy French kiss with a pickup truck, as Sara is thrown through the front windshield, where the glass peels the hair off her scalp and sends her splayed along the mountain road.

Where she no longer glides – she slides, in deep pockets of red that pool out of her.

So perfect, so chaste, so effervescently clean. Your angel, my demon – doomed to....
“Choose the Right.”

Would it be too late to say that I figured out her weakness? Would I be too dumb to realize that I knew there was only one place for me to make a decision?

I did – as I saw her slide on that gravel in the vision she showed me – as I saw the road peel back her shirt with its sheer momentum.

How she howled for me not to look at her bare back, torn from the glass and road rash.
And how I knew our naked skin repulsed her – and like the doctor I had seen so long ago – how I could freely speak when I sat in my undies.

How freedom came to me when I had nothing on.

How my birthday suit finally granted me the peace of mind I deserved.

And so I say to you officers, if you knew the private hell I was in – you’ll understand why I was conducting my business naked...in that hotel room with that woman.

That’s why I paid her.

It was an exorcism.

And it was my choice.

All mine.




Thursday, September 25, 2014

On the Being of October Ghosts: Thoughts Before the Fall


Here we go again. 

For the fourth year in a row, I will be posting (along with a talented group of writers) new stories all throughout the month of October. 

Started as a whim inspired by Jane Lynch, who was hosting the Emmy's in 2011 - she chastised the television viewing audience for sitting at home and playing "Angry Birds" or posting cat pictures to Facebook. In a rare moment of observation (from the host of the Emmy's no less) she was tired that people had become consumed in their smart phones and seemed oblivious to the world around them.


She asked them to "put the phones and tablets away" and to create something new and bold. It didn't matter what it was, the secret phrase here was to create.

And there I was, in bed, playing "Angry Birds." 


What she said hit me hard - I could be playing "Angry Birds" all night, every night and at the end have nothing to show for it. 



Or...

I could do something daring - something bold - something that most people would consider insane. 


On that September night in 2011, I made a vow to write an original story, every day, throughout the month of October. 


I made it official when I posted it on Facebook, and received the dopamine kick of numerous likes, and comments that said, "Go for it." 


Hell, it wasn't them who had to write these tales - I was going to take this journey all on my own. 


That month was the hardest, and most enjoyable writing experience of my life. Did I know what I would I write about that day? I hadn't a clue. As soon as I posted a new story, I would have to ask, what's next? 


I had a number of short stories that had been abandoned throughout my twenties and early thirties. Stories that always fell into the genre that I cherish the most - whether you call it horror, or supernatural, I have to admit that it's simply fantasy. 


Like those writers from the 1950's, who knocked out story after story to appear in comics and Men's Magazines - who lived off the twenty-five dollar paycheck. Giants like Bradbury, Beaumont, Sterling, and Matheson. 



It was the stories of Matheson that proved to me that it could be done. All I needed was an idea and a little push. 

That 'little push' was knowing all of you read would this blog - while finding the idea came in any number of ways: Whether it was Pam Russomano telling me about sneaking into an abandoned house with her brother when they were kids, or someone mentioning a strange fur coat. 


I thought back to ghost stories that our family friend, Roger Hohnstein had told me as a kid, or my own family ghost story that had always been knocking about. 

The ideas continued to come - and though some stories were more successful than others - at the end, I did indeed have 31 tales and over a hundred thousand words to show for it. 


The following year, I kept ideas and notes to follow up in 2012. My wife was very pregnant at the time with our daughter - and it wouldn't be until late November until she arrived. I told myself, I could do it again - maybe this would be the last time it could happen. Fatherhood, it turns out, can be far scarier than any of my stories - or at least it felt like it before Mimi arrived. 


But I had the month of October again to experience this challenge and I did it again. 


The rules of the exercise changed of course. In that first year, in order to get out story after story, day after day, I felt that the tales were often rushed and weren't allowed to breathe on their own.


I decided that I would post something new each day - but that I could tell the stories in parts. I could help the reader by not inundating them with a 27 page story (sometimes a story can take this long, or longer). Also, I found that with these rushed stories, the last ten pages would almost all become rushed, unorganized and ultimately lose valuable steam. 

So with that in mind - I changed the rule of having a new story, and instead posted something new (even if parts of the same story) every day. 



And then came 2013 - unlucky 13 - and frankly, I failed. 

Life hit me full on in the face - and though those close to me know what I was up against - I was in a situation where I had to abandon all hope who entered there. 


And the stories stopped at the number of six - and they didn't return. 
 

And for a year, I have lived with the guilt and the shame of not completing the task. The task of writing new stories, contributing new content and finding happiness in the actual quest of the writing, rather than the result when the stories were finished. 


So it begins again. 


I love the fall. I love everything about how the days grow shorter, as the air, mercifully, grows cooler. How television programs and films turn darker - how the macabre is en vogue. And I know that I am right where I need to be. I am right where I should. 


Writing - not because you read what I write (and I thank you for being here), but that I write because I love it. And it's the best way for me to say thank you to the beginning of an end of another year. 


2014 - October Ghosts is on...


We have killer contributors in: Shoshana Hebshi-Holt, Matthew Duggan and David Caprita. All three contributed amazing work in 2012 and 2013, and they won't disappoint this year. 


As far as any new rules this year - I'm going to stop being militant. 


I write because I enjoy it - I write because I want to share it. The second you make it work, all fun seems to dissipate.  

So the goal is to post something new every day. And though some days it may be new story after new story, other times, that story will have to lengthen and explore the landscape - just like the shadows that stretch longer throughout this fantastic month.  


And the discoveries that will be made - the situations that will unfold - the untold murders, and mayhem, blood and teeth, fangs and horns that will protrude through these electronic pages. 


I, for one, cannot wait to see it all unfold. 


And I thank you for joining me - without you, there wouldn't be that push. 


Welcome back to October Ghosts...may it be a bloody good year. 







Tuesday, August 26, 2014

October Ghosts 2014!

Summer is fading. Running through sprinklers, riding a slip and slide, tossing firecrackers down an abandoned well. 

Kissing your soul mate goodbye as they head to college and you are left behind - a senior now, finally in the big time, but no one to share it with and feeling like you might die. 

Summer keeps the heat, but its growing cold in your heart, just like the leaves that are starting to change. Fall is upon us all - how could it end so fast? For a time all you could think about was those blessed three months of freedom - staying up late, watching gameshows the following morning - finding something to do. Gone, all gone. 

And now you're thirty-eight, you've been working that nine-to-five for over 15 years - paying a mortgage, taxes, deciding whether to end the lease on your car - should you buy it or go for another option? Decisions that seem as ordinary and dull as the ones your parents had made - but now you are your parents. You work for retirement - for an eternal summer until you die. 

You will die - like those leaves on the vine - you will cease to exist like a puff of smoke. You will either be incinerated or buried deep underground. You will be no more. And yet, here you are - you are now in your fifties, your children are nearly grown. You stopped caring about the paunch on your belly and your body adds new wrinkles on a daily basis. 

You wonder to yourself - was it worth it? Was all of it worth it? You think back to when you were throwing firecrackers down that abandoned well, how you saw something. Something that seemed to grin back at you - something that you were pretty sure had moved. 

You're in your seventies now - your spouse has died, but you are still here. Much like those days when that person (what was their name, you try to remember, what was my first loves name?) left for college. You have once again been left behind. 

And you go back to that well - and it's still there. The well is hidden by tall grass and weeds and is covered by a rotting wooden plank. You say to hell with the caterpillars and spiders and whatever it is that lives underneath that plank, and you push it off. 

The well is still deep, it is dark, and it smells of long ago fireworks that were sent in a blaze to the fathoms below. 

You call out, "Hello." And there is a flutter of something deep inside. Your heart races, but it hasn't beaten hard in years and you welcome it. Your youth is down that well - if you could capture it again, you will have won - you have made it worth it. 

You hang your feet over the edge - and it is climbing now, the clicking of bone on stone. Your ankles are freezing, and it is crawling up your legs, your torso, and into your arms. 

Your teeth are chattering as you feel its tender grip on your foot. 

You look down, and you have no more air to scream - the air has left you. Your eyes bulge as you stare back at its misshapen mouth and red glowing eyes. 

And you fall - into the deep and dark, into the places that not even a firecracker would remain alight. And yet, you are alive - but if only for a moment - before you shatter into an infinity of planets and galaxies and whatever it is that rolls around the cosmos. 

And you begin again - because October is upon us - because the Fall is calling. Death be not proud, but always be near. 

That time has come again - lifting the veil for another year.