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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lost in the Swamp

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How long had I been lost? The swamp of the Okefenokee was endless but human life is not. I went in to photo the variety of life in the Cypress Cathedral and snuck my kayak down to the landing to keep from paying the landing fee. This was acerbated by my departure from the known trail, my forgetfulness towards my compass, and finally, I had lied to my girlfriend and told her I had to work. I had told work I was spending the weekend with Anne. A rotted tree fell silently and clipped the bow off my boat and shattered my knee. After three days it was clear no one had thought to look here for me. The watercraft was wrecked, my cell phone was tucked away somewhere in the ruin, and I could barely move my leg without a scream rising from my throat.
“You are dying,” the creature said, and I knew he was right.

“Hey you wanna go get a grits bowl,” said a co-worker.
“No,” I replied, “I’m good.”
I parked nearly a quarter mile away from everyone else. I have less than half an hour for a break and an idea for a new short story has wandered in. But this proves my theory that nothing attracts humans stronger than another human trying to catch some solitude.
“You don’t want no grits bowl?” And he asks this in a tone of voice that suggests I’ve refused to admit desire for Helen Mirren in her prime, and she always has been so.
“I don’t like grits,” I say and instantly regret it. The conversation will now continue to the incredible heights of deliciousness of a food with no taste of its own. The proponent will be forced into confessing that grits needs, at a
Minimum, salt, pepper, a lot of butter, and a full breakfast mixed in with it to make it palatable. In the meanwhile, my break is dissolving like a ice cream scoop of butter on a tasteless gloop of ground corn with the nutritional value of seasoned cardboard.
Oddly, the Grits Cheerleader then begins a soliloquy on why he never eats breakfast at McDonald’s.
Splendid! Why not pick a subject at random with some superficial effect on your life, set it ablaze with an anecdote, and shall we warm our souls on the dying moments it consumes?

 

The story looks up at me like an ailing pet. I’ve kept this thing alive with merely one hand, one finger, tapping away at the phone keyboard, in Notes, because that is how strong the desire is to write, yet the moments that remain to me before I go to work wither and die, like the last moments of a dog’s life before the sharpness of the needle slips in and away goes a mortal soul, and nothing remains but to remember and to mourn.

 

 

“You think Carrie Underwood’s face is going to be messed up, you know, really bad?” he asks solemnly, and somewhere out there, in the infinite Universe, filled with infinite Universes, through billions and billions of years of time. Carrie Underwood’s face, whoever Carrie Underwood might actually be, might have some impact on my life.

“You think she got beat up and is just trying to cover for him?” He asks, and he looks around, as if there might be someone who might turn him in for this thought, or might care. I get out of my truck and start walking towards his, which is some distance away.

“Mostly,” I tell him, “women will defend their abusers if there’s a pattern of abuse in the past, and who knows, he may be beating the hell out of her in a drunken rage right now for all we know, but in the end, she has the resources to break the pattern of abuse but she must choose to do so.” And with this I tell him I forgot my phone and double back to get it has he heads out.

 

I sit down and watch his figure recede into the night, and look at the clock. It’s over. Thirty minutes have been devoured and now I am frustrated and hungry. There is no way to recover the time lost and the story must wait until the light of day. I wonder if the time between start and restart will hurt the essence of the tale, and I wonder if there’s some way to regain a few moments to try to put it back together sooner?

 

The truck pulls ever so slightly to the left, and I know this truck well, its quirks and its patterns of drift. I can use details like these in another story of a man in a truck, nothing is wasted when it comes to writing, like the bones of the lion’s prey being bleached out on the plains of the Serengeti. Perhaps it will be covered in some flash flood, to be found millions of years later, and in some way, live again. The story needs someone, Anne, the girlfriend, and suddenly I realize that nothing is wasted in writing, and that all stories need something in them that is buried, like the bone of a kill millions of years old, and I have an idea on top of an idea.

 

The work has begun again, and as I pull up my co-worker has information for me, factual and empirical, and he’s surprised when I get out of the truck with a bag. “Grits bowl, extra butter and hot sausage,” I tell him. “So, you think microsurgery will be enough to save Carrie Underwood’s face or will she be messed up, you know, real bad?”

 

I had forgotten the basic needs of a writer, and that is to be human, to experience humanity, and to live the lives of people who are not fictional. This is nothing new, and I’ve forgotten this lesson before, and I will always forget it again, for that is my nature, to be alone and to write. But I must return my people to learn again, this lesson, and others as well, for without that humanity, without the breath of other people, writing is simply the echo of one man’s thoughts, and that is never a good thing.

 

“You don’t know who Carrie Underwood is,” he is stunned, but eating grits, “she’s got like a billion number one hits, she’s married to that guy, what’s his name, that was married to that girl…”

 

Take Care,

Mike

 

To Dream

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There has to be some function that dreams perform, I think. Maybe, and this is something to think about, the various parts and regions of the brain, which make up the human mind, get bored when we’re asleep, and they create fiction to be entertained. It’s four in the morning and about an hour or so ago I had a really vivid dream where a cop shot this guy in the face for playing his music too loud while we were all stuck in traffic. It was as real as if it really happened. When I woke up the first thing that startled me was it was night. The dreamscape had been daylight.

 

Right there, is one clue as to what was happening, somewhere. The process involved decided to change night into day. Then there was the location, Saint Augustine Road in Valdosta, near the mall, approaching Gornto Road, and across from Lowe’s. That’s all from my memory. The process went into my memory and decided to use that location as the backdrop of the dream.

 

 

Does location tell us anything about intent? I’m not fond of the mall, and that particularly intersection can be a bitch, especially the right lane where vehicles try to pull into traffic, and it’s made worse by those people who allow people in. Yes, I know. I know that it’s a nice thing to do, but it’s nice for the person who does it, and it’s nice for the person who is let in, but for the twenty people behind that person who has to sit through another traffic light change it isn’t nice at all. It would be mitigated if there wasn’t this odd delay between the person allowing someone in and that person actually pulling into traffic. The exchange takes too long and there is nothing to be done for it. It’s best just to let that one person sit through the natural progression of traffic and be done with it. I realize I am a minority when it comes to this thinking.

 

 

Next, the dream is populated with an antagonist. He’s a young guy, maybe just old enough to drive, and he’s driving an older model car that’s had a lot of work done to it; shiny wheels, lots of chrome, tinted windows, all that stuff that kills the older cars’ character. I’m not a car person. I’ve never loved a car or a truck any more than I loved a stove or a pair of socks. It would be really interesting to get a real image of the car and find out if it’s a model that exists or if my mind cobbled one together. How much of a dream is imagery and how much is merely emotions hung on ideas? What’s the difference in a dream? I’m not actually “seeing” anything. I’m experiencing emotions based on fiction my mind had derived from memory.

 

 

Or it is memory? Who is this young man? Who is this cop? I can’t see the young man clearly, only is face in his side mirror, just barely, but I see the police man quite clearly. Are they people I know who I feel a certain way towards? Do I, subconsciously, think a cop would fire seven shots into the face of a young man for having wretched taste in music? Is it in me, somewhere in my heart or mind, that I think people who play this song that loud ought to be shot? None of these thoughts occur to be during the nightmare, but after I am awake I wonder what this says about me, and if there is more here, or simply less.

 

 

One day, I wonder if I will meet a young man and think to myself, “Damn, that’s him!” or if I will meet someone who looks like the cop, but I doubt it. I’ve never met anyone in the real world who has inhabited a dream, unless they were already someone I knew. I’ve met some fairly memorable people in my dreams, mostly women, and no, not mostly sexual encounters. The closest any two people have ever come to matching, from dreamscape to real life, was the young girl I met in a dream where she was explaining her dragonfly tattoo to me, while she was in a bikini, and a young woman at a Wendy’s who put some pot in an order for a friend and accidently gave it to me at the drive through window. She realized her mistake instantly and came out of the drive through window and into my truck window to retrieve the goods. We had a very brief, but very interesting conversation while she was all but sitting in my lap, and she reminded me very strongly of the girl in the dream. Were she ten years older and I ten years younger at the time I might have driven off with her and the pot.

 

 

After the young man was shot I could smell the gunpowder from the cartridges in the air. Rarely, have I met someone who can tell me what they smelled in a dream, and I wonder if blind people dream of scents that sight people do not? Do deaf people have more acutely visual dreams that those who can hear? Did you accept the idea of being able to hear music in a dream yet slightly balk at the concept of the smell of gunsmoke?

 

I can see this nightmare being part of a short story. Someone witnesses a murder and it turns out to be a mafia hit or a revenge killing. The video shot by the person who witnessed the shooting realizes there are subtle clues in the video, reflections in the rearview mirror, reflections in the windshield, that might give his identity away. But the video is viral now, and how long before someone discovers who he is?

 

 

The things my mind does when I am out of the driver’s seat disturb me, betimes. Yet I have to remind myself that I am asleep when this occurs, and that I have no control over what happens on the screen when I don’t pick the movies.

 

But seriously, that song is going to drive someone to homicide one day.

 

Take Care,

Mike

 

 

 

Late Night Drama of the Dogs

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Having totally deprived me of sleep, Budlore is at rest.  

After one beer I was trailing smoke and spiraling down. This is a sad state of affairs but working night shift will do that to a body. Eventually, I awoke to discover that it was still early, and I needed to get a few things done before tomorrow, and things went smoothly. No one was crying and no one was putting beans in their nose. I did some writing, no, not this writing, and then after midnight, I decided go to bed. After all, everything seemed very normal. Why would I expect for there to be anything different or surreal?

 

I turn the lights off and reality slips quietly out of the room.  She sobs softly, leaves a note  on the table about not being able to take this sort of abuse, and runs.

 

 

Budlore Amadeus, who clearly has never lived in the woods before, hears something in the dark. His plan of action is to bark loudly and charge towards the back door, where I assume he will stop, come to his senses, and return to sleep. I could not be more wrong. The entire pack lifts itself out of slumber to join Bud, and it sounds like they’re trying to tear the back door down.

 

 

There is a couple of issues here. One, I’ve been drinking, albeit a while ago, and only one beer, but I have an aversion to picking up a shotgun when I’ve been drinking. My senses tells me that this is Bud gone wild, and the others have joined him in this misadventure, but there is a chance, a small chance, that Bud might be onto something. I reach over for the shotgun and ease into the living room where there is total darkness and chaos to match it. I get to the backdoor and open it, and the pack pours out into the night, loudly, and I listen. Bud is the loudest dog, Wrex has a distinctive voice, Lilith Anne is pounding away at the night, and…where is the Person of the Striped Persuasion? I listen and wonder; has Tyger charged out deep into the woods on her own?

 

I go back to the bedroom and can still hear the bedlam outside. I sit down on the bed to put jeans on and almost sit on Tyger Linn, who has sat this whole thing out. She has not moved. Tyger has decided all this excitement is made entirely of the nope and she isn’t having anything to do with going outside in the wet and making barking at nothing. If Tyger Linn heard nothing and is doing nothing, perhaps it is time that I reeled the pack back in. I get everyone inside but Bud is still keyed. I hold onto his collar and make him lie down. Bud slips into sleep and I’m drifting off.

 

Suddenly, and without warning, Bud is off and running again, barking like hell, with Wrex and Lilith in tow, again. In the darkness I reach over to discover that Tyger Linn is of the nope. She has not heard anything that would convince her that wet feet and a raised pulse is worth anything that she hears going on.

 

I get Wrex in, and Budlore follows, still agitated and barking. Lilith is wound up at the fence barking at the night. She refuses to come in for a very long time and finally I go out and yell at her, and Bud barks at this, too.

 

Bud is totally shocked when he gets put in the crate. The door is locked behind him, and he’s sleeping in there, or not sleeping in there, I shall not care, but we’re done with this barking thing. I get the squirt bottle out and Bud lies down and remains silent. Wrex doesn’t understand why Bud is crated, but he does understand the squirt bottle.

 

Silence descends upon Hickory Head.

 

 

Wrex gets up, once and charges towards the door, but not barking. The backdoor is closed and Wrex is stymied. I remind Wrex the crate sleeps two, perhaps not comfortably, but two dogs will fit into it, yes, Wrex.

 

Silence descends upon Hickory Head.

 

 

By this time, about an hour or so has passed. I’m tired, sleepy, and peevish at the dogs for being stupid. I open the bedroom window and I don’t hear the multitude of frogs that were going last night. Did the dogs silence the frogs? Or was whatever the dogs barking at the reason the frogs are not singing? But whatever is out there, it is not human, and therefore not nearly the threat Bud might think it is. He does not know how to judge threats or how to temper his reaction. From inside the crate Bud whines softly but he does not bark for fear of water.

 

 

When Bert was alive this never happened. Bert knew what to bark at, when to sound the alarm, when to sleep through it, and we never had this sort of late night drama for no good reason at all. Sam and Lucas had good judgment as well, and even the Cousins didn’t do stupid things late at night. But Bert was the best when it came to being a guard dog. He hammered the hell out of humans with his voice and he had a big booming bark. He would bark at deer or other dogs, but when Bert laid it down it was always important.

 

I miss Bert in times like these. I miss having a Great Dog. I miss his stability and the way he was part of management and knew it. I miss the security that he provided and I miss his leadership with younger dogs. There really was never a reason to fear people with Bert asleep on the end of the bed, and there was never a time he got fooled by some odd sound in the darkness.

 

 

The sun comes up and the dogs want to be fed. I need to sleep but I’ll put it off for a while, again. I’m supposed to write today, and this won’t be all of it, but I also have to go into town.

 

Take Care,

Mike