Tyger Linn and Prison

IMG_0561

Tyger Linn is not an overly needy dog so I was surprised when she got up on the bed and tucked herself quite neatly against my body with her head under by chin. This is Tyger’s way of letting me know she wants to be held, like a puppy, and even though I want to nap, and it’s going to be hard to get to sleep with Tyger nestled against me like this. There’s some reason inside of this little girl that caused her to come to me wanting comfort. So the nap can wait, and Tyger gets petted on her ears as she dozes in and out of sleep, pushing me with her nose when I stop.

 

In an alternative universe, Tyger Linn is an only dog with an older person as an owner and I think she would be happier that way. But then again, there is no way of telling what is reality except that one we’re sensing right now, clouded by prejudices and desires, perceived poorly by soft machines that are tragically flawed. One beer more and I might not have cared about the person of a striped persuasion, or perhaps, one less and I would have been more reasonable and not tried to rescue the violent little street dog.

 

 

Very few of the dogs I have rescued have been abuse cases, and Tyger arrived in good health, physically, but clearly she was accustomed to fighting for food, space, attention, and for her life. Every disagreement was a fight and every fight was to the end. The reality Tyger Linn lived in there was very little love or affection and no comfort. Sleeping on the bed was something that Tyger delighted in the first time I allowed her. She had to learn not to sleep in the middle, so there would be room for others, and for me, and her was taught not to growl at me, or the other dogs once she was on the bed. But there is something to be said for a bed. It beats the hell out of sleeping on the ground, in the open, or in a cage.

 

While in reasonably good health, Tyger did arrive with a great deal of food aggression. She ate very quickly, scarfing down mouthfuls of food as quickly as she could, growling at me if I got near, and then she was off to do battle for the food of other dogs. Tyger learned very quickly that no one is allowed to steal here, and no one will ever starve under my roof. It took some doing, but in the end, Tyger learned to sit and wait for her bowl to be filled, and she learned to stay away from other dogs while they eat. Comfort and food go a very long way in getting a dog to settle into a pack. Love helps a lot, too.

 

When we see this, and if you rescue dogs you do see it, we assume it’s a natural thing. We assume that if we do the right things the right way, no matter how damaged the dog might be, we can pull it back from the edge, and wind up with a mild mannered lap dog. It’s true, it’s possible, and while Tyger is not exactly perfect right now, the little girl has come a very long way. The clashes are less frequent and far less violent now. Tyger isn’t interested in prolonged conflict with anyone for any reason now. She has her bowl and she has her place. And when need arises, Tyger gets to get up on the bed and curl up beside me, and be comforted.

 

 

It’s odd. As many people who might applaud this rescue of a street dog destined for the needle, there seems to be a blindness when we speak of rescuing human beings. If you can agree that love and comfort will heal the violent street dog and guide her into being a trusted member of a pack, why is it we jam human beings into cages and expect them to be released in a better form? We cringe at the idea of high kill shelters churning out dead pets as quickly as they can be brought in and put down, yet we have become so accustomed to prisons being the only answer to crime and criminals, that we do not wonder any more that they do more harm than good. If prisons work then why do we keep having so many criminals?

 

 

 

It’s difficult to rehab a dog, especially one who is violent. It’s got to be even harder to rehab a human being. Yet with all the millions we spend, are we actually making things worse? I can point to Tyger Linn and tell you that she is a success story, that people can pet her and hug her, and she’s okay with other dogs, but can you take someone out of prison and feel comfortable letting your kids live next to that person? The perception is there, even if it isn’t true. We do not trust our system of punishment to produce favorable results. We use a system to damage human beings and then we blame them for that damage.

 

 

No, I have no answers. I cannot tell you that allowing criminals to sleep on beds and be petted will solve the world’s problems and we’ll all sleep with our doors unlocked. If there was an easy answer here then the world would beat a path to my door and we would all live happily ever after. There is no cure here.

 

 

What this is, in the end, is a question. Why can we do no better? Why is it that we have the wherewithal to seek the retraining of dogs in need yet there are over one million of our citizens in prison right now without any hope of doing more than sitting and waiting for their time to be up?

 

Tyger Linn stirs in her sleep, sighs, and then returns to slumber. This is a damaged being, mistreated by humans, and mistrustful still, at times of their intentions. But it has been worth all that I have done, and it will be worth all I will do.

 

Take Care,

 

Cup And Plates

IMG_1894

 

When I had served my sentence in the Unites States Army, I rented an apartment in Valdosta, Georgia and began my life anew. I had decided that I was going to do two things in life that I had always wanted to do; I would learn to cook the food I liked, and I would learn to eat spicy food. The former is a very reasonable talent to be desirous of, and the latter merely a function of both curiosity and bravado. As the military is not conducive to keeping household goods, as soon as I ran out of paper plates I ventured forth to find “real” plates.

 

There were other items that were on my list; a measuring cup, a set of flatware, and some glass drinking glasses, as the red solo cups become brittle after a few washes. I ventured forth on foot to a local K-Mart, some two miles away or more, because gas was more expensive than the wear and tear on my feet.

 

You are never really fully aware, or fully appreciative of how good food is until you have to cook it yourself, and it’s a product of your own investment in time and skill. I could afford salt and pepper, but that was bout all in my spice rack, and I didn’t own one of those, but like most people who start out poor, there’s a lot to be said for being forced into doing well with what you have. Baking was out of the question, but I did learn that simple meals can be prepared to be better than the sum of their parts.

 

Believe it or not, I was shocked to discover rice takes forty minutes to boil. Rice is one of those dishes that there is just so many ways to flavor it that it might be considered a spice of sorts. I was surprised that it took chicken as long as it did to cook, too. I baked a whole chicken once and followed a recipe that required nearly one and a half hours of cooking, and some stuff inside of the chicken. It came out perfect.

 

But the journey to get plates became a surreal thing because once at the store, I realized that a man cannot simply walk into a store and buy plates. Each set of plates came with tea cups, tea cup saucers, and bowls. None of this stuff survived the many moves between here and then, but two of the original four plates did. But it took a while to pick out a pattern. I finally went with the cheapest and was done with it. I also bought a plastic measuring cup. This was in January of 1985. I still have that plastic measuring cup.

 

 

In 1985, grocery bags and shopping bags were still paper, and I began the journey back. One thing the Army teaches you is to walk. You walk everywhere in the Army, so two miles or four miles, or even ten miles meant nothing to me, even while carrying a bag that had plates in it. It was a very cold day, and I shifted the bag from one hand to the other to keep at least one hand warm. Left, left, left, right, left, the steady four miles an hour walk had me and the plates home in less than half an hour.

 

There are things that define how you intend to live. If you are going to cook then you are going to need pots, pans, kitchen utensils past a spoon and fork and a large knife to cut with. I greedily accumulated these things, one or two at a time, and I learn that you do not have to have a certain instrument, such s a bread knife, but if you bake bread then having a bread knife is a wonderful thing. You don’t have to have a collider or a strainer, using a plate, one of the new plates, to block the spaghetti from escaping the pot while the water is drained is perfectly fine, if not a little dangerous, but it will do.

 

It took me a while to understand how to boil pasta perfectly. It took me a while to understand how much salt to add to the water, and how much butter to put on the noodles, and how much time to allow them to boil. I ate my mistakes, because food could not be wasted. I still yearn for crunchy spaghetti sometimes.

 

 

I bought a jalapeno pepper and it nearly killed me as I tried to eat it. But I did begin to understand how to cook with hot peppers, and I did understand that past bragging about being able to eat hot food, there was some very serious flavor to be had in the heat. Learning to cook, and learning to cook spicy food went hand in hand, and I began to understand why people bothered to seek heat. It would be years before I started looking for, and being able to fine, really hot peppers, but the desire to look within them, and past the heat, never left me.

 

 

The plate I washed this morning after breakfast is older than a lot of people I know. I stopped, looked at it, saw the fissure that had begun, and realized that over the last thirty-three years, many meals have passed over that piece of porcelain.  Friends, roommates, girlfriends, a wife, and many dogs have likely had a meal on that plate. Its days are numbered, and eventually it will crack and fail, and the pieces will find up in the trashcan, and this post is likely to be the last reminder it existed at all.

 

 

Yet there was a time when that plate was one of a dozen things I owned that belonged in the kitchen. I had a set of flatware, four glasses, and a wooden spoon. (Bert chewed the wooden spoon into pieces.) I couldn’t cook, but I wanted to. I didn’t know how to do the things I wanted to do, but I learned. That’s how life goes, in the kitchen, or anywhere else.

 

Take Care,

Mike

 

 

 

The Death of Clara Strickland (The End?)

IMG_5398

Clara and Amy watched as Matt looked at the photo through a microscope.  He couldn’t remember where it came from, and both women wondered how in the hell you wind up with something like that and not know you got it. But they exchanged looks and that was all.

“I can’t see anything other than the outline of his face,” Matt said, but I can tell he sees me. I don’t think he knows what’s going on.

“Who does?” sighed Clara, and she realized that Sammy might be trapped forever.

 

They made trips back and forth to the library and tried to find something, anything, even a hint, for some remedy but there was nothing. There wasn’t a scrap of truth to anything they read, and nothing about their everyday lives as ghosts. Finally, towards the end of November, Clara announced, “I’m going to haunt the Thanksgiving Dinner. Anyone wanting to come along can help, but I’m going to fuck with these people.” No one else offered to join her and Clara didn’t blame them. The fear of cameras now was a very real thing.

 

 

As Clara was getting ready to go, she wanted to make sure she looked the part of a murdered wife, Amy walked through the wall and into the room.

“You know how we feel about you doing this,” Amy told her, “you’re going to endanger us all.”

“So?” Clara said, “So what? What you going to do? Hide here until one by one you disappear with no clue as to why? I say we all hit the damn road. We spy, we steal, we get a van and only move around at night, and we go dancing all the damn time. We can visit different places and try to find other ghosts.”

“And get fired by the sun?” Matt asked. He had drifted up from the floor.

“We don’t know that’s a thing.” Clara said, “And yes, I do realize Sammy didn’t believe the camera thing.

“We’re here to help you with the haunting.” Matt said. “Do you have a plan?”

“Yes.”

 

Most of her family had never met many of her party friends, Clara knew that, and so passing Matt and Amy off as close friends that her family didn’t know would be easy. Bridgett, the blonde with the tattoo, didn’t know anyone, so she would be happy to have someone to talk to that was close to her age. The problem was getting them past George. Of course, George was looking to cement Clara’s family accepting his story about her will and life insurance, so he wouldn’t be looking for a fight. If Matt and Amy were old friends from the High School church club, George might think that’s why he never met them. But Matt was the one who suggested they get both George and Bridgett so stoned they couldn’t make it through the meal anyway.

 

 

“This is George’s ‘Medicine Cabinet’”, Clara told Amy as they manifested in the closet of the bedroom of her house. George was pounding away at Bridgett, so they knew they wouldn’t be noticed, even if those two were just a few feet away. “I think these blue pills are LSD,” Clara told Amy.

“They are,” Amy replied, “I’ve tried it before, but I didn’t inhale.”

“Smartass!”

 

Amy and Matt arrived right after Clara’s parents. Bridgett was hopelessly inept when it came to matters in the kitchen, and Barbara, Clara’s mother, waded in to rescue her. Tim, Clara’s father, took the proffered drink and suggested the men retreat to watch football. Having Amy assure everyone she had baked many a turkey helped dispel any misgivings about letting her and Matt in. Clara had to admit Amy looked good in church clothes and Matt cut a handsome figure as well. They looked as if they were alive, and no one questioned why they had come in through the backdoor of the garage. George hated to have the blinds open so they were safe from sunlight  from that source as well.

Clara manifested just long enough to drop the LSD into George’s beer, two hits of the stuff,  and the other doses in Bridgett’s wine. She could be in and out of view in less than a second, and she wished she had more time to get better at being a ghost. The acid would really start kicking in about the time Thanksgiving Dinner was served. Clara was surprised at how well Amy and Matt blended into the religious talk neither of them have ever exhibited before. Clara never believed in a god, or disbelieved in a god, she had never really thought about it that deeply. Did religious people automatically assume she didn’t want to hear it? She didn’t, religious stuff bored her to tears, but if there was some old white guy in a bathrobe and an epic beard, what part did he play in her being a ghost? Clara grinned at the amount of alcohol Bridgett and George was knocking down. She knew they had hit some weed to calm them down, but the acid would be cranking very soon.

“The candles,” Bridgett breathed, “have you ever noticed how the fire seems to be floating above the candle, like a star?” And Clara knew it was on.

Both Amy and Matt were good, really good, at manifesting in and out of reality. More than once Amy would totally disappear while only Bridgett could see her, and Bridgett was beginning to lose control. Matt walked right through George in the kitchen and George just about lost it. He dropped his beer and the glass broke everywhere. He couldn’t very well say anything about what he saw, and Clara laughed at how red his face was getting. Tim was expressing doubts as to if George ought to have another beer but Bridgett was pouring a hefty glass of wine.

 

“Tell them about the insurance policies,” Clara whispered behind George while he was in the bathroom and he peed all over himself. George let out a yelp as he whizzed an arc across the floor. But Clara was gone.

“You’re stealing from them, George,” Clara said from right behind him in the hallway and she let George see her, for just an instant, before she disappeared.

George shrieked. He fairly ran back into the dining room where everyone was staring at him.

“She’s, uh, your, uh, I uh,” George fought against the drug coursing through his veins and knew he was losing it, “I saw a spider.”

But Bridgett laughed hard and everyone turned to look at her. Both Amy and Matt were appearing and disappearing when no one else was looking and Bridgett thought it was hysterical. She finally sat on the floor with her wine and giggled.

“Is your friend okay?” Tim said and everyone heard the term “friend” being used in a way that suggested it was too soon for George to have a girlfriend.

“Why don’t you cut the turkey, George?” Matt suggested, right on cue, and Amy grinned. George took the two pronged fork and gentled entered the turkey’s flesh, as if he were expecting it to explode. That went well, it was a start, and George pointed the knife at the turkey’s breast and pressed down with the tip of the knife.

Clara’s face came out of the turkey as she flowed, seemingly, from the cut, and pointed at George as he fell back screaming at the top of his lungs, “You murdered me, George, you killed me,” Clara stepped up on the table, “and now you’re hiding my will from my family, and trying to steal the life insurance money from them. I will have my vengeance!” Clara yelled the last sentence and George’s bowels released as he ran from the house howling.

 

“So now what?” Amy asked when they finally stopped laughing. George had ran down the street in full panic, with Bridgett on the floor in a puddle of tears. Tim had called the cops while Amy and Matt had said their goodbyes and left before the police got there. They had giggled as George was brought back to the house shouting about ghost and how he had not killed his wife. The ghosts were all hiding in the attic, but Clara had never felt more alive.

“It’s time to go, Amy,” Clara said simply.

 

 

 

 

“Can you hear me, Sammy?” Clara asked.

“Barely, but yeah.” Sammy replied.

“Ready?” Clara took her clothes off and sat in the lounge chair near the edge of the pool.

“Yeah, but barely,” Sammy replied. “Beats the photo life.”

“You know, I know technically speaking, you’re older than I am, but you’re the first person I ever met that made me want to have a kid. I wish I had a son like you.” Clara said and she realized the truth of her own words, and she bit her lip trying not to cry but couldn’t help it. “You’re a good kid,” she added.

“That was unexpected,” Sammy said, “but hey, thanks, that’s the nicest thing anyone ever said to me, living or dead.”

“I wish I had known you when I was alive,” Clara said. She looked at the night sky and it was fading to light.

“So what happened with George?” Sammy asked.

“The plan worked,” Clara said, “he was so freaked out over being accused of murder he confessed to the insurance theft by hiding my will. Bridgett threw him under the bus trying to keep from getting a murder rap. The cops used them both against each other trying to find out if I had been murdered, but they’re convinced I wasn’t now. I wouldn’t want George to do time for killing me. But he’s going to have to share the money with my family. And explain his drug stash. I’m nearly sorry about that.”

“No you aren’t.” Sammy laughed.

 

Clara watched the sky lighten and heard Amy call out, “You don’t have to do this, Clara.” And she nodded. “Sammy deserves better than to be stuck like this, and I’m, well, I want to see if there is anything else. Death has made me much better as a person than I was alive. I owe Sammy this.”

“We’re going to hit the road tomorrow, like you said, get a van and get serious window tint, and travel. We’ll look for other ghosts, and we’ll try to find out what happens, when, when someone does what you’re doing.” Amy was sobbing.

“Come back and haunt us if you can, Clara.” Matt said simply. “Tell Sammy I love him.”

“Did you hear that?” Clara asked.

“Yes,” replied Sammy. “Tell them both.”

“Sammy and I love you both, he wanted you to know, I want you to know.” And Clara stopped speaking. There was nothing left to be said.

The sun brightened the sky and the stars blinked out, one by one. The first ray of sunlight streaked the sky and Clara watched as her left leg began to dissolve and float away like dust. “I’m fading away!” she called but no one spoke. “Sammy?”

“Yeah, I can feel it, too,” Sammy said, “it doesn’t hurt.”

Her legs dissolved into stardust and blew away and Clara felt her last tear streak down her cheek as the sun slipped above the horizon, “Sammy?” she asked but no one was there. Clara felt her last tear fall but she was gone before it hit the ground.

 

End

The Death of Clara Strickland (Parts Three and Four)

IMG_5301

Clara watched George as he chopped a line of coke on a small mirror on the nightstand. She was sitting next to him, but George couldn’t see her or hear her. Sammy sat on the bed, cross-legged, and Ted was sitting next to him. Amy and Matt were standing against the wall making fun of the way George looked. Clara had these same thoughts; George was putting on weight, even at twenty-five, and his hair was thinning. His moustache did resemble a mouse that had crawled under his nose and died. But they had some good time, back when she was alive. He was a damn good dancer, or had been, but… Clara remembered a contest they had won, had it been three years ago already? They had been the very best dancers on the floor and the whole club knew it.

 

“How long you two married, Clare?” Sammy asked.

“Clara,” she corrected him, and instantly regretted her tone, “right out of High School, five years ago. Just short of it. He had a head full of hair, was lean and mean and he was hot.” Clara didn’t mean it sarcastically but everyone laughed.

George picked up the phone off the nightstand and dialed a number, “Yeah, come on over,” he said, “cops got it all cleaned up. No, there isn’t a smell. I’ll change the sheets before you get here.”

Bastard. Clara was seething. This was how much he missed her.

“Let it go, girl,” Amy said. “You do not want to haunt your old life this damn soon.”

“We are still watching aren’t we?” asked Matt. “If it’s the blonde with the tattoo on her ass, I’m watching.”

“You people,” Clara sighed. “Is there anyone here whose hobbies don’t include watching me have sex?”

“Well,” Ted said as he raised his hand, “not since you died.”

 

The woman was the blonde, with the tattoo, and Clara had never realized how awkward sex looked when it wasn’t one of those cheap porn tapes or in the movies. Clothes never came off seamlessly, and George was hopelessly inept when it came to bras. The woman looked around the room, as if she could sense she was being watched, and Clara was sure the woman was faking pleasure just for the cocaine. “You should know,” Clara told herself she walked through the wall and out of the room.

Being dead was a little difficult. During the day, the living had to plan for food, water, bathroom breaks, shopping, and sleep. Time simply passed without interruption for the dead, which sped it up and slowed it down, at the same time. It was dark outside and Clara was tempted to take a walk, but felt a little strange being alone. She went back into the bedroom and found the other four ghosts listening to the after-sex conversation. Amy motioned for her to come closer, and grinned.

“…I knew as soon as they cops called me,” George was saying, “that sneaky bitch had found my stash. She was good for that sort of thing, but it’s her own damn fault. She’s lucky she didn’t kill that moron she was screwing, too.”

“So, Georgie,” the blonde nearly purred, and Clara made puking noises, “did you have any insurance on her?”

“That greedy little bitch!” Amy screamed with laughter.

“You go girl, get that gold!” Sammy laughed, too.

“Yeah, more than she realized,” George said. “Her family knows about one of the policies and I’ll split that with them, but there’s another half a million they don’t know about. She left everything to them, can you believe she had a will? I’ll have to get it out of the box at the bank, but they don’t have to know about that either. I’m going to invite them all over for Thanksgiving and we’re going to have a memorial. Why don’t you come? We can tell them that you and Clara worked together or something like that.”

“And have sex in the bathroom while they’re all watching TV?” the blonde giggled.

“Definitely.”

 

“You’re mad about how George is reacting to your death?” Ted asked. They were in the tub at Matt’s house. Clara wasn’t sure how she felt about sex in her old bed anymore, even though she wasn’t going to move out, if that was what it was called.

“Yeah, I am, but it’s not just that,” Clara replied in almost a whisper. “I feel sorry for him now. I feel bad about the way we lived our lives. I feel a sense of loss now, that I didn’t live when I could have. The first thing I thought when I met Sammy was it would have been great to have a kid like that. George and I partied like there was no end to any of it. He’s going to keep going, and I don’t blame him, really, but it’s still sad.”

“Once you’re free of your body you are also free of the chemicals that you put into it. Your mind becomes more clear. Your heart is unburdened with the anxiety of day to day living. Oddly, when you become a ghost you become more human,” Ted told her. “That’s why sex is so much better. There aren’t any distractions of clothes or morals or anything. You like someone and you’re attracted and you can just go for it.”

They sat in the tub for a while, and Clara wondered why life would be like had she known was death was going to be like. She sat up to ask Ted if he thought he might have lived his life any differently but Ted was gone.

 

“Gone?” Amy asked.

“What do you mean gone?” Matt said as he walked through a wall to join them.

“It really happened?” Sammy stood up and cussed aloud. “Dammit, he was only thirty something, wasn’t he?”

“Yeah, one minute we were in the tub talking and then he was just gone.” Clara felt like crying but didn’t know if she could.

“Were you screwing?” Amy asked.

“Yeah, did he come and go?” Matt said and Amy cut her eyes at him.

“No, we had finished, and he was more exciting than you’d think, but we were sitting there talking and he was just…gone.” Clara let herself drift down to the next floor and hoped no one would join her. But what if she just kept going? Was that the answer? Did all ghosts simply drift too high or sink too low to escape the finality of death? But what happened next? Clara found she wondered about that almost constantly.

 

End three

 

“So where’s the nearest, uh, place with books, what are they called again?” Clara asked.

“Library?” Sammy offered. “You seriously couldn’t remember what a library was called?”

“I went to a private school,” Clara said, and again, she regretted her tone of voice with Sammy, “my parents paid for me to be there and the school wasn’t about to toss me as long as Daddy was donating money to them. I drank, did coke and the quarterback.”

“So what was George?” Sammy asked.

“His parents had money, too.” Clara said. “I’m betting he forged my signature on those insurance policies. His daddy owns a couple of insurance companies.”

“George had money and you two wound up in this neighborhood?” Sammy laughed. “No offense, but this isn’t exactly Beverly Hills, here.”

“Sammy’s right,” Matt said, “it would seem if the two of you had any sort of money this wouldn’t be where you moved into.”

“You dead people don’t read the same newspapers as the living,” Clara said but she laughed to ease it in, “or you would know this neighborhood is a gold mine. You’re just a few blocks from Womack, which is quickly becoming very pricey. George was going to start buying houses here and then tearing them down, and building more expensive places. You’ll notice we tore down that shack behind our place to build the pool.”

“Yeah, my mama used to live there until she couldn’t afford it anymore, and she had to move,” Sammy said.

“Oh God, I am so sorry, Sammy,” Clara was horrified.

“Just kidding,” Sammy laughed with the others, “that place was a dump. I have no idea who lived there.”

“So what do you want with the library?” Amy asked. “You want to research ghosts, don’t you?” and Amy squealed with delight.

“So where is it?” Clara asked and no one knew.

The yellow pages had several listed and Clara was amazed. They all looked like really nice places even if they did have books in them. The closest was over a mile away and Sammy suggested they walk, and slip in after midnight. There would be less of a chance with a camera or a living person.

“Why don’t we just drive?” suggested Clara and everyone just looked at her.

“What?” she asked. “You can use a sex toy but not a stick shift?”

 

Not only had no one driven since their death, no one had ever really left the neighborhood, except Amy, who had to walk, hide in trucks, and even hitchhike back.

“But you did ride in a truck? You did travel inside a vehicle? This isn’t rocket science I’m trying to explain to you is it?” Clara couldn’t believe it. No one had left the neighborhood in years.

“I think it’s in our nature to stay close to where we died,” Amy said.

“You died in Lubbock Texas!” Clara said loudly. “You were in a car wreck a thousand miles from here.”

“I think it’s in our nature to stay close to where we lived.” Matt said. “Most people do that in life.”

“Screw that,” Clara said, “I’m going to the library. Who’s with me?”

 

“Not one book in that damn place that gave us a damn thing,” Sammy was the first to speak when they returned. “It’s like nothing anybody ever wrote ever addressed who we ghosts are or what we do other than scare the living and wear sheets. It’s like we’re the damn Klan.”

“On the upside we know better than to drive again,” Amy said and looked sharply at Clara when she did.

“I wasn’t going that damn fast,” Clara said, “and that late at night who gets a damn ticket for speeding?”

“You!” said the others in unison.

“Okay, Okay, but it’s not like he was going to take me in,” Clara knew that was a lie, and hoped no one  would call her on it.

“We should have known they would run her license if we got pulled over,” Matt said, “but I had no idea they knew she was dead this soon.”

“Well, we’re all lucky I’m quick on my feet!” Clara tried to sound like it was all over and everyone would move on to another subject.

“We’re lucky you’re quick on your knees, girl,” Sammy said, “but I have to admit you did get us out there.”

“Why is there no information on being a ghost?” Matt asked. “I mean, everything we went through for the last six hours was fiction or close to it. No one has ever written anything about us that’s true. Sammy’s right. It’s like we don’t exist.”

“What if no one who is a ghost ever lives long enough to pass any real information on?” Amy said quietly. “What if none of us ever really get enough time to find out anything? You’ve all read the newspapers every day; where is everyone? Why isn’t there more of us? I know half a dozen people from around here who has died, and the most we’ve ever had with us was five, and now four. I went from Texas to SoCal and met two. What if it doesn’t happen often enough for anyone to give a fuck?”

“All we have can cover a page and a half and not one word of any of what we know to be true is in any book that we’ve read.” Matt said.

“How’s this true?” Sammy leaped up. “How is it that we are the only four ghosts and we’re all from this neighborhood. I’m not looking to be hired by NASA anytime soon, but doesn’t that just seem pretty damn remote? All four ghosts in the western US can be found in Shady Acres subdivision off Presidio? Bullshit!”

“I got an idea,” Sammy continued, “go get your Polaroid, Clara, and let’s see if this shit about cameras is true. I’m betting it’s as fake as everything else. If we can’t find out what’s true then let’s weed out what isn’t.”

 

Clara aimed the camera at Sammy, Amy, and Matt, and asked them to smile, she started to push the button and stopped, “What if it is true? Maybe we should just try it on someone first, maybe?”

Sammy stepped away from the group, “You may fire when ready!”

“Aye aye!” said Clare and she pressed the button. The flash exploded in bright white light and Sammy disappeared.

“He’s messing with us,” Amy said and the camera whined as the picture was expelled.

“Sammy!” Matt yelled, “this isn’t funny.” Matt looked around. “Did you hear something?”

“Look!” Clara held the photo out and they could all see a vague image of someone that might have been Sammy, but at the same time they heard a tiny voice screaming.

“Oh no,” Matt said, “that part was true! Tear that photo! Release him!”

Clara tore a tiny piece off of one edge and the screaming got louder. They heard Sammy yell, “Stop! Stop! Don’t tear the photo! IT HURTS!”

 

End of part four

The Death of Clara Strickland (Part Two)

shutterstock_215100169-750x500There was a tub in the guest bathroom upstairs and Clara wondered if she would just flow down the drain when the plug was pulled. Manifesting took a little more concentration than simply being alive did, and anytime something, or someone, distracted you, things happened. At first, she started floating in the air, then she started sinking through the tub. Hot water still felt good and being with someone who had kept notes on what she liked and where was really nice.

“Where are the rest of the ghosts, Amy?” Clara asked as she settled into a half way state that allowed her to have most of her body immersed in the hot water.

“Hiding out until the sun and the cameras disappear,” I think I hear someone coming up the stairs, follow me up into the attic please.” And with that Amy drifted up and through the ceiling. Clara followed, a little clumsily but still easily. They watched as a cop explored the bathroom, looking for anything out of place, and they could tell he wondered why the tub was full and why the water was still hot. But after a few hours the cops took Clara’s body away, and they all milled around for a while and they left too. Clara noticed time seemed to pass by more quickly. But there was less to care about now. There were no bills, no crimes, no sins, no time, and…

“So tell me, Amy,” Clara stretched her legs out and they passed through Amy’s body, “what’s the downside to being dead?”

“You’re going to freak out when I tell you this, Clara,” Amy replied, “but you are dying on borrowed time.”

“Say again?”

“I mentioned that when you and I first met, and it’s true, hold on, hear that?” Amy stood up and cocked her head. “That’s Matt. He’s been dead longer than anyone else around, maybe thirty years or so.” Amy shouted, “Hey Matt! Upstairs bathroom! Clara Strickland just died! Come on, we’re having a tub party!”  Amy sat down with a splash. “Your hearing is better now, have you noticed that?”

Clara was trying to hear whatever it was that Amy heard when a nude man glided through the wall and sat down in the tub beside her, with only half of his body showing.

“Hi!” the man said, “I’m Matt, and you are Clara, I am a very big fan of yours,” He leered at Amy, “you have told her, I assume?”

“Yes,” Amy laughed, “and she’s cool with it, but you had to think she’d be the kind of ghost everyone likes.”

“You are so awesome, I’m really glad you’re dead, and a ghost!” Matt seemed nervous but happy.

“Uh, thanks, I think?” Clara laughed. “So you’re the oldest ghost alive, uh, dead?”

Matt looked like he might have been thirty at the most, but Clara couldn’t tell. Both Matt and Amy looked very happy. But why not? Being alive was a burden. Being dead…maybe not so much. Still…

“So ghosts can die?” Clara asked.

“Beats me,” Matt replied slipping his arm around her. Clara let his arm pass through her. No sense is being too easy but Matt laughed hard. “She catches on quick! But seriously, the last ghost that was here for very long at all was a woman named Prudence. She claimed to be over one hundred, and she’s the one who told me ghosts simply disappear after a while. No one knows why.”

“And the sunlight thing?” Clara asked.

“Uh, a ghost in Lubbock told me about that.” Amy said. “Freaked me out.”

“And the camera thing?” Clara stood up and grinned at Matt who was staring.

“That came from Sammy,” Matt said, “he’s around somewhere, and there’s Ted, who doesn’t like to leave his house. He watches television a lot. But he died in front of the TV so…”

“How do you know any of this is true?” asked Clara and the other two ghosts just looked at her.

“I guess we don’t,” Amy finally said.

They met at Ted’s house, and for three days, with breaks just to relieve the tension, they all wrote down everything they had ever heard about being a ghost and then panned everything they didn’t know to be a fact. At the end of three days they had a page and a half of notes.

“That’s it?” Clara asked. “That’s not even a five minute conversation!”

“Mostly,” Ted said, “all we really know about being dead is the day to day stuff. It’s not like we could know anything about any other ghosts.” Clara didn’t like Ted but was careful not to show it. Ted was depressingly dead. He watched television a lot and complained about the people living in his old house. But the people were rarely home, and their only hint that Ted lived there too was the television being on at odd hours. But they were smuggling cocaine into SoCal so they were used to odd things happening.

“You know,” Sammy said, “I wouldn’t mind trying out that camera thing. You know, let one of you take my photo. If it turns out to be true, we just tear up the photo and I’m free. If it isn’t then we can stop being camera shy.” Clara did like Sammy. He died young and hadn’t aged. She never wanted kids but if she ever had one she hoped this would be what she wound up with.

“Hey, Clara,” Ted asked, “why are the lights on over at your house?”

“Holy shit!” Clara swore, “George is back. Anyone want to go over and spy on him with me?”

 

The Halloween Ghost Story. The Death of Clara Strickland (Part One)

shutterstock_215100169-750x500

Good evening, and welcome to the Annual Firesmith Halloween Ghost Story. It’s not always about ghosts, but this year, it is, actually. We will do one part every night until Halloween Night, and it will end there. This year, the story is rated R for content, but not necessarily violence or murders, as per usual. Enjoy. I bring you the Death of Clara Strickland.

==========================================================

George had gotten clever in his attempts to catch her at cheating, Clara had to admit that, and because he was trying to catch her, Clara knew George already suspected. How long he had known, or thought he knew, before he started acting on those thoughts, made Clara think about what she was doing and how she was going to keep doing it, because she certainly wasn’t going to stop. Brad was a much better dancer than George, much better looking, a thousand times better in bed. And George had not given much thought to the new man being more of a man than he. George thought that moving his weight set into the garage meant there wasn’t enough room for another car.  And George knew the nosey neighbors would rat Clara out if there was a strange car parked in the driveway overnight. Clara smiled. Brad had that weight set moved in just a few minutes while George had taken an hour or so. But Brad had incentives that George had lost. Clara smiled. Brad was getting breakfast in bed and… Clara reached for a frying pan and it slipped out of her grasp. No, it was stuck in place, she couldn’t pull it out of its place in the drawer. No, wait. Clara reached for the pan, put her fingers around the handle and they slipped right through the steel handle. Clara looked at her hand. She flexed her fingers and tried again.

“Uh, hate to tell you this girl, but you’re dead,” said a woman standing in the corner of the kitchen.

“What?” Clara was stunned. “What do you mean I’m dead? Who the hell are you? How did you get in my house? Get out or I’ll call…”

“The cops?” The woman laughed. “Excuse me Mr. Po-lease Man but there’s a ghost in my house and I’m a ghost, too.”

“You’re a ghost?” Clara tried to pick up a knife and couldn’t. She couldn’t turn the water on in the sink or pick up a glass. Nothing was working.

“I’m Amy Waterman,” Amy said, “your neighbor, Jackie Watts, I was her lover. I got killed in a car wreck about twenty years ago. Took forty forevers to make it all the way back to SoCal from Texas. But I learned a lot about ghosts on the way. First rule: Direct sunlight will dissolve you. Any hit from the sun and you are gone.”

“I thought that was vampires.” Clara said.

“Yeah, life is funny that way,” Amy said, “but death is funnier. No sunlight.”

“So,” Clara paused, “what happens if I get in the sun? I’m already dead. What happens next?”

“Get used to the idea of a vast wealth of ignorance from your fellow ghosts.” Amy said with a sigh. “The most common answer you’ll get from me is ‘I have no damn idea and no one else does either.’”

“I can’t pick things up but I can stand on the floor,” Clara said, “that doesn’t make sense.”

“You can’t pick things because you haven’t learned to manifest.” Clara said. “Watch!” She reached over and picked up the knife. “You can scare the hell out of the living if you want to, but I’d advise against it. Once they learn there’s a ghost in a house they start telling everybody who will listen. If you ever get caught on camera you’re through. Cameras can trap you inside of them and you’ll be stuck on paper until the sun gets you. Movie cameras are different. I have no damn idea why.”

“Can you teach me how to pick things up and stuff?” Clara asked.

“Yeah, but you have to have sex with me,” Amy said with a leer. “It’s hard as hell to get a date when you’re dead, and sex is one of the few things we can do that’s a hell of a lot better when you’re no longer alive. It’s more spiritual, but damn, the orgasms…”

“I, uh, I’ve never really done it with a woman before.” Clara wondered why she wasn’t blushing. “I mean, yeah, once or twice, okay, more than that, actually, but…”

“You’ve done incredible feats of sex with a half dozen different guys since I’ve been here,” Amy laughed, “and you’ve done two guys at the same time, at least twice. Oh, it’s time you asked.”

“Asked?” Clara stopped and thought. “How did I die?”

“Cocaine overdose,” Amy told her. “That stuff that George thought he hid so well that you found was pure coke, and it was laced with some very strong stuff. I heard George talking to his girlfriend about it. He was going to get her stoned as hell this weekend while you were off banging Brad at the river.”

“Why are you here?” Amy asked.

“One, I like to check on Jackie. I still love her, but I wouldn’t just show up and freak her out. So I hang around. The way I figure it, we ghosts are living on borrowed time, so to speak. Ghosts just disappear after a while, perfectly safe inside, and suddenly they’re gone. I’ve never met anyone older than a century or so.”

“There’s other ghosts?” Clara asked. “Did all of you just sit around my bedroom watching me have sex?”

“You’re the best show, by a long shot,” Amy laughed, “and there’s only four of us now, five counting you. We’re the only two chicks, by the way. Anytime George booked a flight we’d hope you bring something home rather than dining out, if you know what I mean.” And Amy winked at her. “I can’t wait. This is like going on a date with someone you’ve always wanted but never got a chance to speak to.”

Clara had to admit Amy was cute as hell. It had been a while she had been with a woman. And Amy knew a lot of things that were useful. Why the hell not? After all, Clara had to admit, being dead felt a lot freer than she thought it would. Did ghosts get to do cocaine? Clara licked her lips and Amy smiled back at her.

“Well,” Clara ventured, “not that it ever stopped me before, but I guess I’m no longer married, death til we part and all.”

There was a scream from the bedroom as Brad discovered Clara was dead.

“I hope he didn’t roll over on top of you and…” Amy began.

There was more screaming and suddenly Brad ran out of the bedroom, trying to get his clothes on and looking like, well, looking scared.

 

“Oh my god, he did,” Amy said.

“Yep.” Clara replied. “I used to love that about him. He knew how to wake a woman up.”

“But not how to wake the dead!”  Amy laughed.

“You are not funny,” Clara said but she had to smile.

“Follow me, please,” Amy said as she started to leave.

“Wait!” Clara said, “Where are you going?”

“Cops to a death scene, cameras, open windows, open doors, sunlight, flashes going off, I rather not stick around. So very few places to stay safe.” Amy said.

“Okay, take me with you,” Clara replied, “just go slow, I just died.”

“I can do that,” Amy laughed. “We’ve got some time.”

 

End one.

 

Ghost Story

IMG_5301

 

The idea of ghosts who die natural deaths after being ghosts is one that is new to me. I’m writing a story about a woman who dies of a drug overdose and she becomes a ghost. Once in the world of the dead, she finds herself one of only five ghosts around. Collectively, they try to make some sort of guide for new ghosts but none of them really know anything. They wind up with a very depressing page and a half worth of useful information to anyone who has just died. It’s 1978, Disco and cocaine is all the rage, and Clara Strickland has died at the age of twenty-three. The oldest ghost in her group, a man named Matt Truman, tells her that he’s been dead for thirty-two years and has never felt better. But one day Matt is gone, and none of the other four know what’s happened to him or why.

 

The remaining ghosts question their collectively knowledge. What do they really know about being dead and how did they find out about it? Amy, who died in a car wreck twenty years ago is now the oldest ghost. She confesses that everything she knows was told to her by a ghost, but she has no idea if it is really true. For instance, Amy has always believed that direct sunlight would kill her, and other ghosts, and she’s always hidden from it, and told others to hide from it, but she’s never actually seen direct sunlight and a ghost interact. Amy has always been told that cameras capture a ghost’s spirit, and trap in in the photograph until the photo is destroyed or exposed to direct sunlight, but none of the other ghosts have ever heard of his, except from Amy, and none of them know if anything they have heard is true or not.

 

Sammy, the youngest person who died, at age sixteen, and the next oldest ghost at eleven years, has an idea. Ghost can, once they get the hang of it, physically manifest. They’ll get a camera, one of them will take a photo of another, and then they’ll see if the ghost is trapped or not. They’ll use an instant camera, one that spits out the photo, and tear it up to release the trapped ghost if it goes awry. This seems to be a really great idea, and Sammy volunteers to be the subject of the photograph. Amy takes his photo and sure enough, Sammy is trapped. They can see his photo, vaguely and out of focus, and they can hear him, barely, but as Amy tears a piece of the photo to release Sammy, he screams. They discover that Sammy’s spirit cannot be released by tearing the photo, but it can be destroyed if the photo is damaged. Sammy is trapped!

 

Down to three ghosts, the remaining trio realize there has to be some source of knowledge but now they’re, uh, spooked, by what’s happened. Where did Matt go? How to help Sammy? They’re feel frightened and confused by what’s happened and they wonder if being a ghost is a temporary thing, like being alive, but what comes next?

 

In the meanwhile, Clara discovers her husband, who according to the death do us part clause in the vows, she is no longer married to, doesn’t miss her at all. That’s not unexpected; Clara died while doing cocaine with her boyfriend. But Clara discovers that George took out a lot of insurance on her, and now she wonders if the cocaine that killed her wasn’t hidden in a place she might find it. Of course, as much as Clara haunts George, there’s no real evidence he actively sought to kill her, but still. She’s pissed off. And now she thinks that she might be dead on borrowed time as well.

 

Amy and Ted are against it, but Clara wants to do something to screw up George’s life. He has a new girlfriend but he’s keeping her hid until all the legal wrangling over Clara’s death is over. Clara figures out George is lying to her family about how much insurance money is out there, and he’s hidden her will. She and the other ghosts plot to reveal everything at Thanksgiving, and also reveal that George’s new girlfriend, who he is passing off as one of Clara’s friends, is pregnant. None of it is true, of course, but Clara realizes that the sight of her ghost will be enough to convince everyone to examine Georgie’s claims more closely. Unexpectedly, George is arrested for Clara’s murder after her family demands an investigation.

 

After Thanksgiving, Amy and Clara discover that Ted is gone. He’s left to go find the truth about ghosts, if he can, but he’s done with haunting. Sammy, still trapped in the photo, demands that he be left out in the sunlight. Maybe it will free him, maybe it will kill him, but he has to have some sort of relief. Clara sits down in her old home, watching her husband, out on bail, weep for the girlfriend who has just broken up with him, and she realizes that she not a better person for being dead. Worse, she realizes that she likely won’t get a chance to change who she is or who she was. Clara dislikes the idea of waiting to die, in some mysterious and untimely fashion, and she asks Sammy if he’s serious about leaving.

 

The story end with Clara out beside the pool, with Sammy’s photo propped up beside her. She’s watching the sun come up, and Amy is watching from the attic. This will be the first real proof of whether or not sunlight kills ghosts and if it might also kill a trapped ghost. Sammy is ready, he tells Clara, because he never wanted to be a ghost, and never really liked it. Clara asks him if he believes they’ll both wind up somewhere else and Sammy is hoping for someplace with better weather.

 

Clara watched the first streak of light in the sky and then sees the first sign if orange looking over the horizon. Amy watches from the attic as Clara disappears and Sammy goes silent.

 

End

Homeless.

Screen Shot 2018-09-30 at 4.06.19 AM

 

Gayle Hardman was a homeless person when she died. She didn’t die in her car, which I was happy to hear, but she did die in a hotel without no one around who knew her, or cared. I’m glad she died, at least, warm and safe, because those were two things Gayle didn’t have a lot of towards the end. Gayle made cheap jewelry, but it was nice stuff, neatly made and beautiful. I’m angry there isn’t some sort of help for people like Gayle. I’m still mad about it, and Gayle has been dead for a couple of years now. I miss her.

 

Greg was someone I knew in the mid 80’s, and I still remember the day he told me he wanted to deal cocaine for a living. We were both working at Shoney’s as dishwashers, and it’s hard to explain to someone that dealing cocaine isn’t something you just start doing as a means of employment. Greg started a very, very slow descent into chronic unemployment. He would buy cocaine, sell some of it, but use the rest of it. The amount sold versus the amount used began to swing hard in the direction of use, and eventually, his roommates began to get tired of him. The drugs were one thing, everyone was young back then, drugs were common and accepted, but the lack of rent money wasn’t. Greg started stealing food from his two roommates and they put up with it for a while, but then they started missing other things as well. They began to torment him, the way young men will torment one another, and one day they hid the toilet paper from him and Greg had to go to a Hardee’s to wipe. I think that was a turning point of sorts. Greg had reached a zone of poverty, self inflicted poverty, that excluded the very basics of living. He had pushed people to the point they no longer cared about him.

 

When they kicked him out, Greg rode around with everything he owned in his car for a while. His bed sat in their front yard, near the street, and I think he actually slept in it until it rained one night and ruined it. Greg lived with his girlfriend, Susan, until she broke up with him, and then he lived in her mother’s garage until he held a yard sale one day, and sold a lot of her stuff while she was at work. Greg was homeless. Worse, he was unemployed, and Greg began a life of truly petty thievery.

 

I let him crash on my couch a few times, let him take a shower at my place, but things started disappearing. Greg once stole some sticky notes from me. I had a pad of sticky notes on my coffee table and he stuck them in his pocket before he left. Sticky notes. What was he going to do, pawn them? Yeah, I got these primo sticky notes here, can you give me a dime for them? But Greg was like that. If he could steal it he would steal it. It finally got to the point I wouldn’t let him in my apartment and he finally stopped coming around.

 

He showed up at Exit 16 a few times, I saw Susan at the YMCA and she and her husband tried to help him, and honestly, Susan was a saint and so was her husband. I remembered him from the 80’s too, and he hated me, and he hated Greg a thousand times worse. Yet he was willing to try, but Greg had disappeared again, likely arrested, and it was a while before I saw him again.

 

Greg was going to college when I first met him. He was dating Susan, who was a very decent human being, and very pretty, too. In the space of just a couple of years, he was living out of his car, and then, suddenly, he was on foot, wandering and stealing, and homeless. He did stupid things, got arrested often, and one cop broke his jaw. Greg mumbled after that, because he never got his jaw set right, and the last time I saw him he was selling gasoline at a gas station. Greg was upfront with me about how he conned people out of money. He would go to a gas station with a two gallon can and ask people for fifty cents worth of gas, a dollar’s worth, just to get his car going, his family was stranded, he told that worked really well, and then when he got a full can he would try to sell the gas for a dollar. He got the hell beat out of him, he told me, because he sold someone two gallons of a mixture of gas and water. He learned not to go back to the same places too often after that. Greg told me he passed out under an overpass one night and was attacked by fireants. He stripped off his clothes to get the ants off of him, and stood there naked by the interstate, picking ants off his skin. Did he see that coming? Did he realize at some point in time this sort of thing would happen? Did he not realize that there would be terrible things, awful things, inhuman things and worse, that would happen to him?

 

“Skeet me some gas in that can, boy,” the man says to me, as he puts a two gallon jug down beside me, and then he turns and yells at the people across the bay from me, and I can tell by the way they’re looking at him, and looking at me, that they have no idea who this guy is. It’s not Greg, but a younger version of him. He’s trying to simply barge his way into people giving him gas, and I can tell by the smell he’s been on the road for too long. Honest hardworking sweat isn’t offensive but someone who simply hasn’t bathed and has been walking the roads smells like it. It’s a chemical smell, devoid of humanity in a way, as if he’s replaced his blood with cheap beer and junk food. He’s pretending to talk to the other people, who are not responding, and they’ve given him enough gas to fill half the jug, so he’s doing well. I have no idea what his angle on this might be, and I simply do not care.

I start to put the hose up and he steps in like he’s going to take it away from me. “Hey, Boy,” he begins but I’m not interested. I squeeze the handle and gas gushes out, and all over him. “Get the fuck away from me.” I tell him, and I’m serious. He starts cussing like hell, but backs away from me, and he realizes that he’s a spark away from being a human Roman Candle. I’m mad as hell. I’m mad as hell that Gayle tried as hard as she did and died alone and afraid. I’m mad that Greg threw away his life on cocaine and petty theft. I’m mad as hell that this guy is running some sort of scam, and expects people to allow him to feed off on them. People like this are the reason people like me won’t help the homeless more than we do, and I am mad at myself for stereotyping homeless people because of people like him.

 

I pull away and he’s yelling and cussing but at least he doesn’t smell like the road anymore. It looks like it might rain, and he can stand out in it and get the gasoline off of him. I have this thought as I look at him in the rearview mirror. I smell like gas now, too, but I can let the windows down and it will pass. I will go home and shower. I have an insect bite on my leg that is oozing right now and I can feel it itching, but I have something for that, too.

 

I wonder who that guy is, and how he got where he is, and why, at the end of the day, I only made things worse for him.

 

Take Care,

Mike

My Friend Dahmer: A Movie Review

hqdefault

I watched the movie, “My Friend, Dahmer” yesterday, and there was no way for me to know what to expect. I knew it was based on a book written by someone who knew Jeffery Dahmer in High School, and I expected that. I didn’t realize I was going to be walked through a serial killer’s life as he went through the four years of the hell that High School can be for some students. Dahmer graduated a year before I did. He and I were nearly the same age, and he graduated a year before I did, I in Georgia and Dahmer in Ohio.

 

Dahmer was a troubled young man who began drinking early in life, after his parents’ divorce. His drinking caused a deterioration in his school work and his already limited ability to socialize. The circle of friends he did have, including the man who wrote, “My Friend Dahmer” considered him to be a sort of living side show, their personal circus freak, and having no other socialization skills, this is the direction Dahmer took. The film shows a very slow descent into hell from a place slightly less worse than hell.

 

That was High School.

 

I hated every day of High School. I hated every moment of every hour of every day of all four years of High School.  I would rather have to pee on an electric fence once a day for ten years than relive one year I spent in High School. The movie shows the niggling torments of upperclassmen, the indifferent girls who have their daddys’ money and a sports boyfriend, and the petty tyrants that some of the teachers became. It was like a walk through of my time there. It made me squirm with recognition.

Truant, tardy, absent, and excuse from your parents, lunch money, locker combinations, missed buses, and more that the film didn’t mention were implicit in the life of High School students. “Why were you tardy?” “Do you realize you were tardy?” “Do you have an excuse from your parents for your tardiness?”

 

How did any one of us stay sober when having to deal with those kinds of questions?

 

I started drinking before High School. I was smoking pot in the eighth grade. A girl named Candy was my designated Taxi if I passed out in class. She would drive me home and leave me in my car, semiconscious, and someone would pick her up. I lost about half my senior year that way, I think. I really don’t remember. There’s a scene in the movie where Dahmer is drinking out of a half pint bottle at the corner of a building, and that was me.

I’ve had people tell me the best four years of their lives were in High School. I’m more than a little skeptical about these claims, and I wonder if they wasted the rest of their lives doing something they hated. I was on the outside looking in, but I never saw anything in there that looked like it was life.

 

In the movie, one of Dahmer’s friends pretends to be part of the school newspaper, and goes to visit a former Homecoming Queen who, after graduation, still lives in her hometown. He asks her, “What is it like knowing your best years are behind you now?” And she slams the door in his face. But isn’t that what people are saying when they tell me the best four years of their lives were in High School? Isn’t that really what High School is all about anyway? It’s a social club where people can go and be social and know other people who are social. It’s where the same kids that played well on the playground play on the football field or the basketball courts, and the cute girls are cheerleaders and then suddenly, four years later, the doors open and they’re dumped on the street with the rest of us, who at worst, are acclimated already to a world where no one from a small town has any true meaning past their parent’s doorsteps.

 

So they have kids. And it starts all over again.

 

One scene in the movie shows a teacher with his head down on his desk, obviously out of it, drunk, stoned, but still demanding the students behave, and likely he taught their parents, and he might teach their kids. The teachers play their parts in all of this, and they never reach escape velocity either.

 

 

Dahmer kept drinking after High School, and started killing people. He was already killing animals. That was something I never did, and never will do, is harm animals. Dogs were my only real friends when I was in High School, and I think part of my love for rescue is the debt I owe them for keeping me as sane as I was. I knew I could be loved, if only by dogs and not by people. That was enough to keep me alive those years ago, and now I help keep them alive.

 

Are there those of us, Lost Souls, who cannot reach into the community of human beings, so we retreat, into books and into drink, pot and poetry, and we simply find other loves? Do we accept our fates and seek out those we see reflected in our own lives, strays, abandoned, cast away love, and those who never had a chance? Isn’t that what normal people do, when they have kids, is recreate a world they once loved, because the one they live in now no longer accepts them as special and brilliant?

 

I wonder if this, and this alone, the compassion for other living creatures, is what Dahmer was truly missing in his life, and if High School merely whetted his appetite for revenge against a universe that deprived him of a basic emotion of compassion? Deprived of humanity in the sense of an emotion, and bereft of humanity as a group of people, maybe Dahmer simply decided to create a world that devalued human life, and human bodies, and all things normal people hold sacred.

 

Me? I think I’ll stick to writing and saving dogs. Whatever happened to him in High School didn’t make Dahmer what he was, and it didn’t stop me from becoming who I am, either.

 

Take Care,

Mike

The Bunker

 

Bunker_RESIZED

The war was long since over, and everyone knew it. We sat in the bunker listening to the Captain’s speeches about holding on and holding out and how every day we stood and fought was another day the enemy was weakened but we didn’t believe it anymore. There was nothing to believe anymore. Once we got replacement soldiers, food, water, a medical officer, and letters from home. Now, we got the speeches from the Captain, and nothing else. We had lost the island and we knew it.  The bunker was all that we had left and all that remained of the army that once held the island. A dozen soldiers, seven of them too sick, too wounded, too far gone, too starved, too exhausted, or too weak to stand up lay in a row at the back of the bunker. There was no more water unless it rained, and five of those men would die in the next two days unless they were killed by the shelling.

 

A rifle shot ricocheted off the walls and we counted the number of times it bounced around the inside of the bunker. Twice only, this time, which meant the sniper was further away. He was toying with us, keeping us awake and afraid, but it no longer worked. What was there to fear, unless it was the fact that we were able to recite the Captain’s speeches word for word with him, like a prayer to a god we knew no longer existed.

 

We had to get permission to go outside now, and the Captain usually went with anyone who had to relieve themselves. But there was no water, and no food, so the body had little to release. The oldest man in the bunker was twenty-three yet we all moved as if we were ancient. Finally, in the middle of a speech about grinding the enemy down so the homeland could produce some new weapon that would win the war, I simply stood up, and walked out of the doors that swung back into the bunker, and I went outside alone.

 

A bullet cracked into the face of the stone cliff a few feet away and I knew then I was already dead. I didn’t flinch. I didn’t move. I was vaguely disappointed that he had missed, and I was slightly amused that he was likely surprised at the sight of his mortal enemy; a man who had lost twenty-five pounds since the first time he had stepped onto the island. It took a while and most of my energy but I finally was able to get on top of the bunker, and feel the sun on my body for the first time in weeks.

 

The sun. It was hot, enormous, and bright unlike I could remember. I slipped off my excuse for a shirt and stood there waiting for my eyes to adjust, waiting for the bullet, and finally, after what seemed to be hours, I could see again. There were ships, many ships, in the harbor, just barely within my sight, and closer to where the bunker overlooked a primitive road that once was the main connection between one part of the island and another, there were two or three ships ploughing through the blue ocean water. Our position had been fought for and men had died, then suddenly they didn’t need the road anymore. It was too narrow and twisted too many times for their trucks. Now they simply landed in one place or another, while we rotted away in places men had died trying to keep.

 

The next bullet whined by my ear and I stood taller, trying to give him a better target. The next shot came closer, but the wind was blowing harder here than where he was shooting from, I could tell, and I wondered if there was some way of letting him know. In unison, smoke billowed from the three ships and I knew what it meant. They were shelling the bunker now, and they meant to end us.

 

The first salvo hit before I was inside, and I felt emotion, fear, for the first time in longer than I could remember. We got the iron doors closed as the second salvo hit, and it occurred to me that both sets of shells had missed. They were firing too high. The next and the next and the next set of rounds hit, and I realized they were trying to miss the bunker. They were shelling the rock cliff behind us. They were expending more artillery than I had seen on our side in months just to toy with us. They were trying to bury us alive not kill us. They were trying to make us die even more slowly than we could on our own. We deserved their hatred, we had earned it, and we shared it. We had done worse things to them, and they now did what they could to us.

 

Dust and noise filled the bunker as a landslide took us. They shelled the bunker next, now trying to make sure we were dead, and I lay on the floor, made of cold concrete and old vows, and waited for the shell that would hit a port, and fill the bunker with hot, sharp, and merciful metal. My mind stopped. All thought and feeling stopped. All sound and sight, stopped, and I thought to myself that it was very strange that I could know that I had died, but if I knew that I had died, I could not be dead, could I? Did death work like that? I had seen so much death, I had killed men, I had seen men killed, I had done things to make men die, and I had seen things done to men I knew so they would die. But to each man, death is like his own breath; it’s personal and no one can feel it for him. I hid my face from the overwhelming dust and the world turned black.

 

There was a bird. It was a tiny bird, grey and black, and it had a twig in its beak. It flitting away and was gone. The air was a haze of dust, and I coughed hard. I heard someone else cough, and I knew at least some of us had survived. The Captain was sitting near the body of a man, and there was a knife sticking out of the man’s chest. The Captain was ending it all, for everyone, and I knew he would come for me. I found a rifle, checked to see if there was still a bullet left, and I shot the Captain in the head as he sat and watched me. He sat there, his face dirty and bloody, and he knew what I was doing but didn’t move. There was a small opening that showed daylight were the landslide had busted the doors in. There was nothing left to do but to try to not die in the bunker.

 

I clawed and kicked my way through the rubble and once slid all the way back down into the darkness, the death, and the tomb of many men. I wanted to die facing the sky, looking up into the sun, and so like a turtle stuck on his back, a tried and tried and tried. I took flight. I soared into the sky and I realized that two men, two men in uniform, the enemy, had taken me by either arm and lifted me up. I struggled enough to lift my head and looked into the face of a boy, not old enough to shave, with his helmet skewed to one side, and his eyes looked at me, not in terror or hate, but compassion.

 

They dragged me down the rubble where there were more soldiers, and some of them, I knew, were no longer boys, who even if they did not shave, they had seen things that we had done, and what would happen to me would be a lesson to be learned for those who did not know. So many of them, so very many, and I wondered how they all got here so quickly, and one of them sat on the ground nearby, looked up at me with boredom and contempt, and went back reading a book he was holding.

 

A book. I once worked in a library, for I never wanted to be a soldier. I wanted to live and die among books, shelves and rows of books, hundreds of them in the small library in the small town where I lived, but I wanted to work in a real library, with hundreds of thousands of books. I told them, tried to tell them, that I didn’t want to be a soldier, that I wanted a library, not a bunker, but I knew they couldn’t understand. They sat me down and one offered me a can with a liquid in it. Water! Until you have waited an entire day for a half a cup of water out of a rancid bucket you will never know how water really tastes when it is clean. They fed me small cooked cakes that were thin and crispy, but as I sat there I looked around and saw the detritus of war, the helmets on the ground, the torn uniforms that lay bunched and blooded, the spent shells, the broken gear, and the smell of death everywhere, and I knew this kindness might end suddenly, and with a bullet, if I was very lucky.

 

A woman came into the library, and she smiled at me, and told me she thought I was lucky to work in a library, and how special it must feel to be alone among all those books. I was too shy to ask her name, and she was too shy to offer it. They came the next day and took me away, and in two months I was in the bunker. Now, I was here, and drinking water, and eating the enemy’s strange food, and a man walked up to the group and barked orders at them. This was it. This was their Captain, their man who would give speeches to them, and one of them one kill me, and I would never know her name and I would never die in a library, but here, in the filth of war, and far away from home.

 

But four men came, two could have done it, for four was too many, but they loaded me onto a stretcher, and another soldier came up and he spoke to me in a terrible accent, and I could hardly understand him, “War over. War finished. Peace now. You understand? You understand?” And I did, but I did not. How could it end? How could there be a world without it? How could I have lived? How could I sit in a room filled with books and not still be stuck in the bunker, waiting to die?

“What book is he reading?” I asked, but I slipped into darkness before I ever knew.

 

End.