Brightness

I was in a bar, and the weird thing about the bar was how bright the sun was outside. It was like one of those washout photos where the exposure is so high there’s barely any images left, just outlines and shadows that barely exist. “This is a dream,” I said out loud and the bartender, a really cute young woman who was bored to tears looked up from her phone, as if the idea of conversation was repugnant to her. I finished the Scotch in the glass in front of me and thought, hell if this is a dream, at least I’m drinking the good stuff.

“I was kidnapped, once,” a man sits down beside me at the bar as starts talking, and why would you throw the word “once” in there, as if I might get confused over which time you were kidnapped. He’s shedding light, brilliant pieces of brightness fall off his clothing, like water might drip off someone caught in the rain. I look back towards the window and it’s brighter than it was before.

“There’s a trail in the forest of a national park close to where I live,” the man continues after waiting for me to ask, and I didn’t, “and this guy walks up to me and demands my wallet, and I handed it over. Then he handcuffs me and I knew he was going to kill me, I mean, why else would he take me? But you’d be surprised how much a gun effects your ability to resist. He leads me off the trail about fifteen minutes worth of walking and know it will be a while before anyone misses me, or looks for me.

“I’ll be back in three days, okay?” the man tells me as he handcuffs by hands, with this small tree at my back. With a hatchet and five minutes I could have cut it down, but there I am, sitting in the woods, handcuffed, with this tree there I can’t do a damn thing with.”

The waitress looks over at my empty glass and arches a brow so I nod. The man pays for my drink, gets a beer, and keeps talking.

“The first few hours were pretty bad,” he says, “because I kept thinking that guy would come back and shoot me. Then, after a while, I noticed that I couldn’t hear anything but birds and stuff, and I began to worry about bears, or maybe coyotes. I could stand up, move around the tree, and see that if I could have gotten up the truck about three feet, I might have been able to catch that first sizable with a foot, and pulled the tree over. That gave me something to do, but it wore me out and made me thirsty. I decided to wait a bit, and waiting was something I was going to do a lot of.”

A couple comes into the bar laughing and hanging onto one another, and shedding bits and pieces of light. The pain in the face of the waitress is obvious. She has better things to do than to wait tables in this sort of weather. But she sticks a smile on her face and goes over to the table where the young couple laughs while shaking the light off their clothes.

“Sundown was like watching the Titanic sink from a lifeboat.” The man says while watching the couple order. “I knew if I had a chance to die it would come in the darkness. It was kind of hot that day, and I hoped the coolness of the night would make the mosquitoes go away, but they still drifted in, in pairs and one at a time, just enough to mess with me. It wasn’t bad, not horrible, but still not good at all. The darkness killed my sense of time and not being able to see made me hallucinate things coming at me in the dark. Finally, I fell asleep, for a little while, but that made it worse; I had no idea what time it was at all.”

“Dawn came slow, like watching paint dry, and I listened carefully for the sound of voices. I knew better than to just start screaming my ass off, and thirst was already working on me. I peed on myself because I knew I would have to sooner or later, but it was in the middle of the afternoon before a bowel movement forced itself out. That’s when I started feeling screwed. There was no more water going into my system or food, and after one day, I was already feeling weaker and less sane. I tried to keep still and conserve my strength. There were times I stood up and looked around, but there were trees, and more trees, and I even tried to cut the trees down behind me with the chains of the handcuffs but it was more work than I could manage. Sundown came again with my wrists hurting like hell, my shoulders killing me, and thirst.”

“Glass of water, here,” he said to the waitress who had stopped playing on her phone and was eying the couple. I looked back over at them and they were leaning in, whispering, touching one another on the hands.  The waitress and I grinned.

“Sundown felt like a death sentence,” the man said. “I knew I had a better chance of dying if even a small animal attacked me. I was getting weaker and knew it. Breakfast the day before seemed a long time away, and I wished I had drank more water before the hike than I did. My pack was still were that guy made me drop it, and I hoped someone would find it, but I knew no one would that night. By now, there should be a couple of people missing me, but no one knew where I was. I saw things that night. Bears and cats and a river of dogs flowed out of the total darkness to attack me. Maybe I screamed. Maybe I was just in and out and didn’t know what reality was anymore. I woke up after sunrise and had to fight to stand up. My shoulders were on fire and I felt my hands had swollen. The day was long, terribly long, infinitely long, and I got too weak to stand. I felt bugs crawling on me and couldn’t go anything about it. I hear voices, music, songs, but none of it sounded real. I was dying, and I knew it.”

“You need another?” the waitress asked and I nodded. The man got another beer and paid for it again. I lifted my glass as if in toast and he smiled.

“The third night I saw things,” the man continued, “it was like a Disney movie on acid. I knew this was what dying was like, and the pain didn’t seem as bad. But there were lights, people looking for me, helicopters, and as soon as I yelled it all went away and left me in the darkness. People found me, cut me loose, took me to a hospital, then I would come to and be chained to the tree. It was heartbreaking how real the visions were, and how horrible it was to be back in reality. I knew this was my mind’s way of trying to escape, but it was also a sign I was dying.”

 

I had to go, and almost said so, but it was so incredibly bright outside. The couple was looking out of the window and all I could see was their silhouettes.

“Sunrise came and I could barely see it,” the man said. “I was so incredibly thirsty. I remember looking up at the sky and praying a cloud would drop rain on me, or strike me with lightning, whatever. I just wanted it to end. Then there he was. The guy with the gun. He brought my pack with him, uncuffed me, and propped me up. He gave me a gallon of water and told me my cell phone was in my car. I drank water, puked, drank more water, and ate some energy bars. I couldn’t walk, but I managed to get to my car after about an hour, and called 911. I kept waiting to wake up and discover it was a dream. When the ambulance got there I knew I was going to wake up chained to that damn tree.”

 

I woke up. The man was there, and he uncuffed my hands. “Your cell phone is in your car.” He told me. “Here’s some water. I survived it and now you have, too.”

 

Take Care,

Mike611qUr6copL._SX425_

Church

Unknown

Back in the mid-1990’s, a friend of mine emailed me an incredibly ridiculous and obviously fabricated story about an “atheist college professor” and a student. I can’t remember the story, and I refuse to look it up, but gist of it was the college professor was challenging the faith of the student, a miracle occurred and everyone fell to their knees and prayed.

The story listed no names, no dates, no facts at all, and was vague in all regards to anything at all that might have defined more clearly when and where and who. But it was my first encounter with the the “atheist college professor” stories. There’s quite a few now.

Yesterday, I took Mama to church, and I went in hoping that for some sort of social contact for Mom. About ten minutes deep into the sermon, the preacher said, “how are we going to send children to face the ‘atheist college professors’?” and I nearly walked out.

My hostility towards religion in general, and towards Christianity in particular, is certainly a function of my personal disdain for the systemic methods of the used car salesman techniques employed by those who practice Christianity. But used cars are sold each day. It’s an effective practice, and because religion is a very profitable business, it is to be expected to find such. That my grandmother’s religion, my mother’s mother, has been turned into a commercial enterprise for men and women who have repackaged it and sold it, as a commodity, and turned churches into spiritual Wal-Marts, is more than enough for me to treat the religion itself, and the people who pretend to practice it with utter contempt.
But this goes much deeper than that. We live in a time where people openly believe the world is flat! A thousand years or so has passed since that issue was settled, yet even as we speak there’s a professional basketball player who goes in front of a national audience on social media and espouses the deepest sort of nonsense and people believe him.
Growing in popularity, is the concept that ignorance is a virtue, and belief, in and of itself, when taken to heart without substantiation or the slightest hint of evidence to bolster it, is a virtue. Worse, infinitely worse, there’s a disdain for anything educational. It’s as if the process of education itself, at any level, for any reason, is somehow heretical, or blasphemous.
This is dangerous to the extreme when dealing with people who, because they read something on the internet, believe vaccines cause a variety of maladies, including autism on children, even though there is a wealth of evidence to the contrary. Now, in the year 2019, measles, a disease all but eradicated through the use of vaccines, is spreading again. The “my beliefs are sacred even to the detriment of society” movement is gaining strength, even as it sickens and kills.
In 2006, a woman accused members of a sports team of rape. It was an easy thing to believe, that a group of young, privileged, white men, drank themselves into attacking a woman. But the DNA evidence said otherwise. The woman’s story unraveled further when one of the young men she positively identified was shown to be absent from the scene of the crime entirely. Yet when interviewing other students at Duke, this response was recorded, “That DNA stuff is just crazy, who believes it?”

We are training our citizens to choose their reality based on belief, and belief alone. What feels good, what sounds right, and what we have always thought was true, is, simply because we think it is so. Those who teach, instruct, and offer systems of thinking that counter or contradict are messengers of evil and are to be distrusted. Volume, yelling, screaming, drowning out an opponent with obscenities or untruths, intentional or not, is considered a proper method of debate. Any source, regardless of its content or origin, is considered doctrine, as long as it agrees with a beloved assertion.

Were there a simple fix, some national realization of peril even, there might be hope. But the money to be made off of the ignorant drives the desire to make sure it continues. If a man has no idea how a car operates, then by looks and how it makes him feel alone are selling points. He’ll shell out hard earned money for transportation regardless of its quality. Likewise, if you can convince a populace that education, critical thinking, facts, evidence, and peer reviewed research, all of it, is equal to belief, then you can sell them any other idea, at a premium.

We aren’t going to send our children to face “atheist college professors”. Increasingly, higher education is for those who can afford it. The rich can buy their way in, and you have to think, buy their way through, universities. This is a cycle which circles; only those who can afford college can go. Those who can go make more money than those who cannot. We’re left with less educated citizens, and worse, citizens who distrust education. I shouldn’t have to tell you what it means to have an electorate whose means of selection has nothing at all to do with how educated they are.

There isn’t a way out of this. We can’t simply wake up one day and start valuing education and critical thinking and hope people are going to flock to it because it’s a good idea. Ignorance has become a sellable condition. People will pay to become less knowledgeable. They will give money to other people who tell them education is wrong and thinking is dangerous. Our society is being sown with ideas that are unprovable, and even if they are disproved, evidence can simply be labeled as “fake news” and ignored. Go with what feels good. Believe what makes you happy. Read only from sources that agree with you. Listen to only what you’ve learn before, like your favorite music, because you like it.

What I heard in church yesterday was passive aggressive hate speech wrapped in fear mongering, by a used car salesman who told a willing audience his beliefs were what they needed to buy. The number of people willing to pay for this sort of thing will teach him to repeat it.

Take Care,
Mike

High School

Mostly, the thing I really hated about High School was that it didn’t really prepare anyone for anything. The twelve years of public school in general was little more than day care and cliques. The kids had a really good idea whose parents could afford new clothes and whose couldn’t, as well as those who could afford cars, trucks, and toys. There wasn’t any sort of culmination of learning at the end, some ceremony that sought to spotlight or highlight what we achieved as a group. Yes, there was a graduation ceremony but what was that but a signaling of the end of nothing? Few, a very few, of the now young men and women might go on to four years of stress and boredom in a college, but at the end of their lives they would have the same size plot in a local cemetery as the town drunk they had spent their high school days with, fifty years ago, if they’re lucky. 

It’s been forty years for me now. Over fifty years since that first day of the first grade where I had a vague sense of impending doom. It’s hard to reconcile the idea that twelve years of my life was spent in what amounts to prison and the ideal that there’s a way to herd very young humans, en masse, into square rooms where bored and frustrated older humans can conjure a future through rote memorization and physical punishment. There’s really no way to ever undo the damage that time in the public school system did, but alcohol seems to help sometimes. After all, that is where most of us learned to drink.  

One of the really odd things that came out of that system, other than poor coping skills and substance abuse issues, was the use of a word, “tardy”, which otherwise might have allowed that term to slip wholly and quietly, and thankfully, into oblivion. It began in the first grade, because one of the few things they knew how to teach was punctuality. It was important, vital, life-threateningly so, for students, such as they were,  not do anything with their time, limited as it really is, to do anything but get from one class to another. Being late was a terrible thing. A student would need to get his or her parents to write a short letter, “a note from your parents” excusing the tardy. Tardy. The word seems alien, archaic, and even foreign now. Tardy has given entire American generations the vague sense or false urgency they should be somewhere at a very certain time, and there should be some display of anger when this doesn’t happen. Quite possibly, this essay in the first time I’ve seen that word used in forty years. After everything they did to me, the fact that I was tardy sometimes meant nothing at all. Most of what they did meant less. 

I hope to never return to the scene of the crimes. Thanks to Google Earth, I can sit here and look at the building I spent four years in forty years ago, and wonder if it’s the same building. I truly cannot remember. It’s in the same place, but there’s nothing there that signals to me this is the same structure. It might be. It might not be. But other than being referenced here, it doesn’t really matter, does it? It was where I was from the middle to the tardy seventies, and unlike some of the people who were there with me, I never went back for any reason. There was no reason. There could be none. High School was just a different building in a different place than the other two schools. The bricks were different in they were simply laid somewhere else than other bricks, and the very same thing might have been said about the people who worked there and those forced to attend. 

There was a period of time in our lives where the question, “When did you graduate?” was de rigueur when meeting someone new. But then it became less and less relevant, or maybe we all just realized it never was. There was the first job, and then another after that event, and then another, and suddenly someone was calling and talking about a ten year reunion and then there was another job, and another, and failed marriage or three, and then there was talk about thirty-five years having slipped away and finally forty. It’s hard to imagine getting all forty classes of former inmates together at the same time, and even stranger to consider that every fourth class wouldn’t have served time with anyone from five classes up or down the scale. The system that put us all in the same place, at the same time, gave us unlimited access to the same people for twelve years of our lives, but at the same time, limited us in who we would know afterwards. Not that it matters, one way or another, mind you, I just thought it strange. 

I used to walk to school, mostly, and I’d short cut through the cemetery to school, and smoke pot there. The cemetery was closed at that time of day and there was no one else, alive, but me. I knew people buried there, and my grandmother is buried there right now. There’s very likely people I went to high school with, buried under a granite slab, having never reached escape velocity in life, they won’t achieve freedom in death. The odds, remarkably, were exactly the same living or dead, but they never realized it, or cared. 

Many a morning, early, I would stand at the fence in the back of the cemetery and wonder why. I wondered if it would really ever end, and I knew from reading the tombstones that it end, everything ended, always, for everyone, everywhere, and no one ever got out alive. The seething and the simple, the angry and the dull, the hopeful and the lost, all were packed into the same building, and one day, most would wind up on the other side of that fence. The trip would be short, unremarkable, and mostly forgotten, by those lining up to get in next. 

There’s a sense of reverence, a feeling of quiet respect for the dead, a feeling I lost a long time ago, many years since I last took a short cut through the graveyard, and made my way to another form of  the same idea of putting all the dying in the same building. Some people still have it, some demand it of others, and as a culture we still want there to be some dignity or meaning after the body ceases to function. And some still have some sort of feelings of happy nostalgia when they think of their High School years, too. 

This is all I have left for that time, those years, and it’s all there will ever be. I’ll never go back, never want to, and I’ll never be buried in the cemetery on the other side of that fence. Fifty years will have passed, in a decade, and by that time, me, and a few survivors will bat around invitations like a cat knocking around a beer cap on the floor. For as much the same reasons, and with the same sense of purpose, I imagine. 

Take Care,

Mike

The Lonely Grave of The Stri-ped One.

Many years ago, so many years ago now I have friends who do not remember the year for they are too young, and I cannot recall it because I am too old, there was a young man I knew who killed himself. He was an anxious man, full of restlessness and sadness, yet he was loved. He died alone, by hanging, and no one will ever truly know what his mind was doing right before he died. 

Tyger Linn was on Death Row, on the 5thof December, of 2014. A brindle pit stray, she clashed with another dog at the shelter and that was supposed to be enough for policy to have her put down. The call went out, and it does so often, still, and a saw a photo of a scared little girl dog, who had run out of time and run out of chances. 

I was once a very young man, and restless, and I was filled with anxiety. In High School, I mostly ate alone, and I drank alone, and I drank a lot. There was a brindle girl pit who would come to visit the school, and I would feed her my lunch, and she loved me. I can’t tell you her real name but I called her “Tiger” and I can’t remember the last time I saw Tiger. I can only tell you so many years ago, that love is still remembered. That’s why I took a chance on the dog I would name, “Tyger Linn”. 

On her second day with me, Tyger Linn clashed with my aging Greyhound/Lab, Sam. I pulled Tyger away and she turned and bit me on the hand and she meant it, too. The wound was deep and it was bloody. At that point, Tyger was still a foster dog. If I told the organization who owned her what had happened they would have had her euthanized on entry of the shelter. Tyger hadn’t had her rabies shots yet, so for about two weeks, I waited to start foaming at the mouth. Meanwhile, I had to tell the people I trusted, on the inside of the organization, what had happened. The choices were to adopt Tyger Linn, or to let her die. In January of 2015, Tyger Linn became my dog, legally.

This story never looked as if it might have a happy ending for Tyger Linn. She never made friends with the other dogs. She clashed with Lilith Anne, the Queen, and she fought with Tanya, the Destroyer. She and Lilith Anne got out and stayed gone for four days, and I thought I had lost them both. Lilith looked no worse for wear but Tyger was badly scratched up. 

Tyger clashed hard with Arco the Barko, last year. Arco was a lean white pit who was dumped twice in one day. Tyger went after Arco on his last day here and he hurt her badly. Tyger was a lot better at starting fights than winning them. 

Nothing she ever did, ever, stopped me from loving Tyger Linn. She was sweet and loved me back, fiercely, and she slept beside my head, to the right of me, every night. Tyger was a one person dog, and she was a one person heart. I thought we were making real progress, because she had settled down after the clash with Arco. 

Back a month or so ago, Tyger got stuck under the shed at five in the morning. She went after an armadillo and could hear her gnawing on its shell. I crawled under the shed to get her, and all I could see was her tail and the tips of her back feet. I had to crawl under without a flashlight and use both hands to drag Tyger Linn out. She was stuck, and I was worried about dislocating one of her legs. She made a really strange squealing noise as I pulled and when she let go of the armadillo she also peed on me. I was truly worried she might come out fighting, but she was too exhausted. I started calling her, “The Brindle Badger”

Two weeks ago, yesterday, I came home and Tyger was missing. I thought she might be under the shed so I went to get a good flashlight out of my truck. Her body was beside the driveway. She was just a few feet from where I parked but I didn’t see her when I drove up. Tyger had gotten out and gone after something; a coyote, a big cat, a wild pig, or maybe even the gimpy stray pit I’ve seen around lately. Tyger Linn had lost her last fight. 

I can’t say I was surprised. I was, and I am, heartbroken. Of all the dogs, Tyger was the hardest to deal with, the most difficult to train, and the one who loved me with everything she owned. Heart and soul, Tyger was mine, and I belonged to Tyger Linn. 

Where Lucas and Bert are buried, the hallowed ground where the great souls rest, is underwater right now. Tyger Linn was buried under an old tree that had fallen over, and she liked to climb it. I made a cairn out of branches to keep the other dogs from digging the grave up. Today I sat on the tree and promised my heart to another dog, yet unknown, maybe not born and perhaps born today. I’ll never stop trying to save the doomed, the broken, the abandoned, the death row dogs, and maybe, one day, I won’t fail as badly as I failed Tyger Linn. 

Take Care,

Mike

The Tyger 

BY WILLIAM BLAKE

Tyger Tyger, burning bright, 

In the forests of the night; 

What immortal hand or eye, 

Could frame thy fearful symmetry? 

In what distant deeps or skies. 

Burnt the fire of thine eyes? 

On what wings dare he aspire? 

What the hand, dare seize the fire? 

And what shoulder, & what art, 

Could twist the sinews of thy heart? 

And when thy heart began to beat, 

What dread hand? & what dread feet? 

What the hammer? what the chain, 

In what furnace was thy brain? 

What the anvil? what dread grasp, 

Dare its deadly terrors clasp! 

When the stars threw down their spears 

And water’d heaven with their tears: 

Did he smile his work to see? 

Did he who made the Lamb make thee? 

Tyger Tyger burning bright, 

In the forests of the night: 

What immortal hand or eye, 

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

We Shouldn’t Be Here

When I was a little kid, five or six years old, maybe, in the first grade, there was a drainage pipe that ran beside the school. One day it rained like hell, and the water was firing through that pipe like a herd of cows through a chute.  We threw sticks in the water in front of the pipe then raced to the other side to watch them reappear again. I wanted to go in. I thought if I did, it would disrupt the illusion. You see, decades before the movie “The Matrix” I had this deep seeded suspicion that life was some sort of staged production, an experiment of some kind, and that we kids were the subjects of it. I thought about stepping out in front of a bus, and if I did, the curtain would come down, and the falsified life would be revealed. 

I kept having this feeling. It never did really leave me. All the things they told us in school seemed like they were making rules up as they went. I mean, if someone wrote a big red “T” on a piece of paper, did that really make you “Tardy”? Did two or three minutes make that that big a difference in if you were going to live or die, unless you were stuck in a drainage pipe full of water? 

They kept warning us about these people called “The Russians” and we had drills where we would hid under our desks if the Russians nuked America. Thank dog for those desks. Why not just give all Americans those nuke proof desks?  And when it gets right down to it, what are you doing to do with a school full of kids hiding under desks if everything else is radioactive ash? 

We had the feeling that none of this was real. There were no Russians, and no nukes, at least there was no one out there about to fry Early County Georgia. I mean, why bother? 

It seemed a lot of trouble for nothing at all. Here we were, in a very small town in South Georgia, with no mountains or oceans, no dinosaurs or flying cars, or anything exciting at all, yet the teachers acted like everything an adult said was the one true word of the one true god and we were supposed to spend our childhoods sitting still, being quiet, and being in total awe of people would die within miles of where they were born. Seriously, who could believe this was the reality of the Universe? 

When I turned sixteen I had a plan, and I didn’t tell anyone about it. I was going to pick a random town on the map, drive there, and find out if it was real. Surely, whoever, or whatever, was running the illusion, this would wreck it. And it seemed safer than stepping out in front of a bus. So, one day, I filled the tank up on my father’s car and drove to a little town in South Alabama, named Slocomb. It was there, just like on the map. I stopped at a tiny restaurant for lunch, and that was freaky. The waitress seemed a little bothered I was there, and I thought for a moment I might have actually done it, I had gone to a place the actors knew I had found them out! I think, in retrospect that she was just nosey as hell; she asked me where I was from, why was I there, and who I knew, and who I was related to, but that was still back in the days anyone under thirty was suspect, and I looked a lot younger than sixteen. After lunch, when I finally escaped the wait staff, I drove through the backroads of Slocomb. It looked exactly like my hometown. There were people mowing grass, washing their cars, walking down the roads, and cars parked at stores, just like the same reality back in Blakely. 

In an odd sense, I finally figured out how I felt this way, and how, in the end of all things, I found out I was right. 

Schools were not places of learning. I never learned anything in my years inside the public school system I couldn’t have taught myself in a lot shorter time. What they did, their whole existence was to keep young humans from living the way nature intended. The school system produced worker bees, drones, and fearful and subdued kids who would grow up as fearful and subdued adults. 

Our DNA tells us that we should live in the wild, hunt, fish, eat wild berries and roots,  sing, and create. Our culture tells us that we must work, buy, consume, and obey arbitrary rules meant to keep us from living. 

The Russians never nuked us. Being late for class never hurt anyone. My handwriting never got any better and it never matter, not one fucking bit. All the stress and punishment heaped upon us in school never produced anything but human beings beaten into submission and willing to trade their entire lives for a bigger television and more channels on it. 

It was an illusion. It was a fraud. I was right all along, but it never occurred to me that it was so because people were preforming the lie their entire lives, and most never stopped to think about it. 

I’m a writer now. That’s something they told me I couldn’t do back in the Days of Illusion and Lies. I realize they might have thought they were doing the right thing for the right reason, but they had an obligation to question it, and they never did. They never will. If you feel your DNA calling to you, and you think there is another life, then live it. Quit listening to other people telling you how things are supposed to be. Get in your car and go to someplace else and tell the waitress you’re seeing past the illusion, and would like to order some berries. 

You might not get them, but you sure as hell are going to mess up her mind. 

Take Care,

Mike

Peas Your Kids

 

It took more coffee than normal this morning to get me moving, because of a nightmare, even though I knew I would regret a late launch. This is Christmas Season. That means people are going to be more people-ish than normal and that’s always bad, very bad only. I finally get truly upright and have some momentum around ten or so. That’s late, very late, to go to the grocery store on Sunday.

Ideally, I get there around seven in the morning, and there’s not another soul there but me and the people stocking shelves. There’s no waiting or possible conflicts with people being peopleic. I can go in, get my stuff, and get the hell out of there before people arrive. But today I am late, and there are people already there.

There’s a man and a woman, and I assume their two kids. I have no idea if they are married, to each other, or if the children are siblings. Here’s the thing, and there’s really no getting around it; I watch these two people for no longer than thirty seconds and the evaluation is these two should not have been allowed to breed with one another, or with anyone else. Children, with this genetic mix, and raised by these two humans, will produce really bad people.

The female child is taller than the male child, and the male child is losing the fight for possession of the shopping cart. He’s screaming, like a goose being violated by a grizzly bear, “NO! NOOOOOO! NOOOOO! NOOOO!” while the parents are both staring at their phones. The cart is turned sideways as to block the aisle, and neither adult seems to care they’re creating an obstruction, or their male child can be heard three area codes over.

The little girl, actually, might be the most connected person in the group. By preventing the shorter kid from taking possession of the cart, she’s likely saving us all the peril of him pushing the cart at full speed, unsupervised, and pinball-like through the store. This will end poorly. Either the little girl will prevail, and the screaming will not end, or the Shrieker will win control of a metal cart that he can use as a weapon.

You know, stores ought to charge admission. If you’re alone you get in free, but for every person who is accompanying you, there’s a five dollar charge, and ten bucks for every child. That would end it.

I’m forced to flee, and go around these people. They can be waited out, surely, they will have to leave that part of the store, and no matter where I am, uncluding the parking lot, I’ll be able to tell exactly where they are. “NOOOOOOOO! NOOOOOO! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

 One day, I’ll be on a jury and there’s going to be a mom there who says, “I was in a grocery store and my child wouldn’t stop screaming so I put it in the freezer section and covered it with frozen peas until the screaming stopped.” And we’ll find her not guilty. Then we’ll go out and drink tequila in a place where kids can’t go. Under the influence, we’ll plan to put a system in place, where people are subjected to the screams of small children, and if they don’t become homicidal then we’ll give them hysterectomies or vasectomies, or in extreme cases, both. Never again will there be screaming children in a store. People will erect statues in our honor and towns will be renamed for us, and forever, we will be known as those who saved humanity.
But seriously, do you realize to get a driver’s license you have to take a written test, a driving test, you have to have insurance, and you can’t screw around or they’ll take that shit away from you. Yet any moron who can get an erection and talk a woman into having sex just once can legally become a father without the first goddam clue as to how to tie his shoes. Literally, the only requirement to become a parent in this country is to be able to fuck.

Does that seem right to you?

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