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 (Parts Three and Four)

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

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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.

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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.

 

Not Dreams

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I don’t remember all of my dreams but I do remember a lot of them. Some of them are unformed, not really defined as events or people, but they’re just thoughts or ideas that were pulled out of the oven too soon. I’ve woken up feeling afraid, or sad, or elated, and the remnants of a dream be just out of memory’s reach, like a lover who gets out of the bed, and your hand misses hers by an inch. I dozed off and was jerked awake by something that was nearly a dream, somewhere in my mind, but it’s gone now, and asking me to describe it would be like asking me to tell you who was driving the car that just passed in front of the house, a third of a mile away. I can only tell you I think I heard a car go by, and nothing else.

Budlore was sick last night, into the early part of the morning, and I stayed up with him, cleaning puke up off the floor. I dozed a couple of times, and saw images, at least twice of charcoal drawings, of faces, contorted as if someone sketched out Pompeii’s last moments.  Where did this come from? I didn’t recognize the faces. They were just human forms yet not entirely finished, like the dreams that aren’t quite there yet.

 

Bud is usually energetic and exuberant. To see him down and out is disconcerting. This is the first time he’s been sick since he arrived and it’s disheartening. I can only sit with him and clean up the puke, and wait for this to pass.

 

I drift off to sleep and the dreams are fragmented and disconnected. It’s like trying to read the pages of a book as they are spewed out the end of a wood chipper. The scene and people change quickly, erratically, and there is no transition. The faces in the drawing are back, and I can tell gender, but that’s all. They seem to be colored in black, as if in shadow or night, and they all seem to be in some anguish.

 

I get up because Bud is hacking again, but he seems to be less sick. I sit on a blanket on the floor and hold Bud, and this might be the first time in his life someone had held him when he’s been sick. I lie down with him and he sleeps. I drift again, and the dreams do not come, but stay just out of reach, like someone speaking on the other side of a restaurant.

There’s a story here, where a person sees faces that have been drawn and that person doesn’t know why. Let’s start out with a female lead character, a very young woman, who isn’t an artist at all, and she’s trying to figure out what these visions she has means. They begin one night after she’s been drinking, and she wonders if she has a problem.

The woman’s name is Tory and she works for a lawyer. She has to serve an eviction notice one day and the man about to be dispossessed is an artist living in a terribly shabby and totally dark apartment; he’s blind. Sure enough, when she’s inside she see one of his drawings and it’s one of the faces she’s seen, she thinks, but she cannot be sure. The next day she tries to find him but he’s gone. The dreams become more vivid, the faces more clear, and Tory is convinced the man drew one of them, and perhaps more. She finds him by accident, near the river, about to jump. She looks at his drawings and realizes that they are the faces she’s seen.

She lets him stay at her place and he draws. The energy between them sharpens the dreams, and his drawings. At work, her employer is working on a missing person case, and setting up a substantial reward. The photo of the missing girl looks exactly like one of the faces in the dream, and one of the drawings.

 

They sit and wonder what the connection is between the two of them, and the people in the drawings. Is the girl alive or has she been murdered? Tory looks at the drawing and realizes the girl looks as if she is still alive, and she asks the artist, Archer, if he will try to draw the missing girl again.

 

Tory asks her employer about the girl, and he tells her that he was contacted by the girl’s mother, who believes her ex-husband has taken their daughter, but she doesn’t know where he is. Tory goes in search of the woman, but finds her dead. She returns to her home to find that Archer has drawn the woman’s face.

 

They both are at a loss as to how this is happening or why. They do not understand why he draws what she sees in her dreams. They make love on the floor, passionately, nearly accidentally, for they both fear the passion they’ve kept secret. Unleashed in this is a melding, where she can speak to him of her visions, and he understand now how to draw them. They sit on the floor, an invisible steam rising from their bodies from the heat, and they speak in whispers, seeking the girl, seeking her fate, looking for a connection, and finally there is a building, a home, where she might be held, and the woman had seen this house before. She asks Archer to draw a face, the face of a man, and she closes her eyes and allows her vision to take her, and she sees the girl chained to a bed, and she knows the man is near, he is coming down the steps, and he means to use her for his gain, for ransom, and his evil is plain and finally, Archer tells Tory to look up and he had drawn the face of her employer, and they realize what he is.

 

Take Care,

Mike

Who Killed Lacey Warren?

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It’s been dozens of years since I ever heard the name, and there was no reason for me to hear it. Even in a very small town and a very small county, there are people you’ve got so little in common with that spending twelve years in the public school system means you discover there not only is nothing in common but likely never will be. His name was Van, which was short for some family name, and to me, family names are just a lack of imagination. Family names once meant something with titles or things like that, but seriously, I think names ought to be legally binding for five years and then everyone ought to have the option of changing. His name, though might have sounded Dutch, he said it was from a family from the English moors. I had to look it up, to find out what a moor was.

 

The schism occurs somewhere around the seventh or eighth grade, maybe earlier, but there were those of us who destined to drink, and smoke pot, and do those things they had tried to indoctrinate us against, and there were those who were not going to do those things. I was the standard bearer of the drinkers, the smokers, and those who were going to try the things that terrified the others. Van was on the other side, soundly, and definitively. While I was going shots of tequila on top of the school on a Saturday night he was a youth counselor for a local church.  If I kept a bag with the words he and I exchanged in it I wouldn’t be able to make out a decent grocery list of the contents. After High School he joined the military, I cannot remember which branch, and I never thought I would see him again.

 

I started seeing a woman, named Kerri, who was a nurse, and she worked some in Hospice, and one day she asked me, tell me where did you go to High School again? What was the name of that little town? What year did you graduate? I was nearly fifty years old and those questions slowly faded away from conversation decades ago. “There’s a man in Hospice, dying of cancer, and he told me today that he went to your school, and graduated the same year.” Kerri looked at me with a very odd expression on her face, “He asked me to ask you if you remembered Lacey Warren.”

 

We went to see Van the next day and I wasn’t sure it was the same person. Over thirty years had passed and the disease that raged inside of him had changed his facial expression as surely as three decades had changed his body. He was always tall and thin, but now he was a Death Camp prisoner, inside his own body, and it was not long at all before his execution. The tubes had been removed. All attempts to keep life in shell were abandoned and only pain medications were being given.

“I retired here,” Van said without bothering with introduction, “and I spent my entire life trying to become the person you never thought about being.” He laughed and started coughing. “But now, after getting morphine and OxyContin, I wonder if you weren’t right. I understand the draw now. It’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it? You can be alive and not feel pain. I had no idea such a thing was possible.

When Lacey disappeared, I prayed that I would be the one who found her. I wanted to be the hero. I wanted to be the one who carried her to her parents. I thought it would be something that proved that God meant for me to good things, and that people would see it in me.” Van coughed hard, and then closed his eyes. Briefly, I thought he might have died.

“You were there,” Van opened his eyes and they were filled with hate, “and you were going to ruin it for me. How could someone like you be part of God’s Plan? I spent my night in prayer and reading the Bible and you stole all the baseball equipment the day before the playoffs. We forfeited that game. I know you did it. Everyone knew you did it. But it all reappeared the day after. I have to know, how did you do it?” He coughed again, and once again, I thought he was dead. His eyes opened again. “Tell me,” he rasped.

“I used a bench as a ladder, and I hid it on top of the ceiling tiles,” I told him. “It was hanging over their heads the entire time they were looking for it. They wouldn’t let me play, so I decided not to let them play.”

“That’s defined your mindset,” Van tried to sneer at me, “you were a vengeful and demonic young man.”

“What happened to Lacey?” I asked.

“I found her,” Van said. “There was an old shed, you remember the old shed don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“You and those potheads you led around like zombies where right there, and I found here, but I knew you and the others would claim you helped find her so I didn’t say anything. Your selfishness infected me. I didn’t want you to have anything to do with the rescue. I thought she was sleeping so I didn’t say anything.” Van coughed hard and tears came out of his eyes. “I went back. It was no more than an hour later, and Lacey was gone.”

“Van, it’s the morphine,” I told him, “Lacey was found miles away from that area, I remember that, she was found in Seminole County, it was an hour away. A six year old isn’t walking that far.”

“She was left in that shed, and it was there she was murdered,” Van said. “Our Pastor, Billy Womack did it. He moved the body. You remembered he killed himself? When we left the shed that day I told him we didn’t find her, and I saw something in his eyes, I didn’t know what it was, but he lingered around where we parked. I left and came back and he was gone. Lacey was, too. I went through the shed, and the woods, and I thought it was my fault she was dead. The next day I sought out the Pastor to tell him what had happened, and he thought I came to confront him. He confessed to me and then shot himself.” Van was shaking with tears and a sound came from his soul, the sound of a dying man whose pain could not be slacked anymore. “You’ve never feared Hell, have you?”

“No, it doesn’t exist.” I said.

“I have discovered the solace of drugs and atheism,” Van laughed, “in the final moment of my life. Tell Lacey’s parents to forgive me.” And he his eyes remained open, fixed, but his breathing had stopped.

 

 

 

“Are you going to tell her parents,” Kerri asked me as we drank. She told me she never drank after a death, but in this case she would make an exception.

“I’m not sure,” I replied.

“Why?”

“Van was telling the truth when he said that I was there, at that shed, and I remember him saying there wasn’t anything inside of it,” I told her, “and we tracked north, towards the river to look for her. But Womack didn’t stick around after we searched that area.” I told her.

“Are you certain?” Kerri asked.

“Yep,” I replied. “Womack was a closet pot head and I was his connection. He gave me a ride home that day, and we took the scenic route to burn a joint or three. Van was lying about Womack moving the body, and I think he was lying about everything else, too.”

“You think Van killed her?”

“I think Van killed her, and then hid the body in Seminole County.” I said. “And he went to Womack for spiritual guidance and whatever Womack told Van it was bad enough for Van to kill him.”

“Damn.” Kerri took a hit off the bottle and handed it to me.

“Yeah.”