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WMSP, Part II, Episode XII: The Pyre

In Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Sci-Fi, Theatre on July 31, 2019 at 12:33 pm

(This dark and disturbing tale begins here; discerning readers prefer starting at the beginning. If you’re one of those who reads the end of the book first: here’s a spoiler: everybody dies. There. Now go read Twilight.)

Stupid-ass white boys going at night to a place where a man burned himself alive. What the hell are they gonna find there that they can’t find in daylight? Hey, stupid.”

Not now, GCM.”

Jeremy says, “What?”

Nothing, Jeremy. It’s … Ghost Child Mary. She’s tagging along.”

He says, “Oh. Oh! Wow. Tell her I say hi.”

I can hear the damn fool and I don’t say hi back.” Ghost Child Mary says.

She says hi.”

No I don’t!” Ghost Child Mary scowls with precision.

Jeremy is fan-girling a little, “Wow, I mean, I know I freaked out when I saw her last night, but I’m kind of amazed to be, to realize that—I’m, I’m talking to a ghost.”

Oh no you aren’t, dumb-ass. The ghost is talking to you and she says, shut the hell up.”

Ghost Child Mary, does your Mama know you’re talking like this?” I say.

My Mama and I have come to an agreement.”

Oh?”

She says I can say what I want, long as I help you. She says expressing my frustration is healthy, and it’s good for me, considering the way I died.”

Wow. Um. May I ask?”

How I died? You can ask, but I don’t remember. Not sure why, but Mama says it’s bad. So maybe best I don’t remember. But I have to help you.”

Why? I mean, I’m glad for your help, but I don’t understand.”

You remember that memory you had, of being in a field, at night, and someone was calling out … ?”

… thick tule fog wreathes the field with its eldritch creep …

I do remember—but it was brief. I stood up. Someone was calling for their … ”

Mama. That’s right. That was the first time your crazy-ass girlfriend tried to kill you. You don’t remember?”

No. I don’t.”

Well, she got you alone there, in that field, in a specific spot. And she was supposed to spill your blood to lock something down. But you woke up, and I don’t know how: you woke me up.”

Why?”

Because that’s where I died, stupid. I was killed. I think my eyes were taken to feed something.”

Why did I wake you up, though?”

I don’t know. Mama doesn’t know. She says that’s why I have to help you. Because she never knew where I was until you woke me.”

Wow.”

Jeremy clears his throat, “Okay, so, Edward? You’re having a conversation with a ghost and we’re walking toward a funeral pyre. At night. Does this seem wise?”

Ghost Child Mary manifests, transparent, in front of Jeremy, who yelps: “Which is exactly what I said. Ain’t nobody got time for you to catch up, bitch-ass white boy! Who do you think saved your ass at the Browning Monument? It sure the hell wasn’t old-ass white boy Edward. It was me! … With some help. But if I hadn’t been there …”

Jeremy is unable to move.

Ghost Child Mary looks at me, her empty eyes disdainful. “Is there a way to make him less stupid?”

I mean …”

He’s a boy, so it’s a lost cause.” She looks at Jeremy. “Would it help if you can see and hear me in a more solid looking form?”

Jeremy stammers.

I think that’s a yes,” says Ghost Child Mary. She takes a deep breath and holds it, clenching her fists.

There’s a light puffing noise, like a pilot light igniting, and she appears more solid than before. “This is temporary,” she says. “And no salt. If you salt me, I go away for a long time. Got that, stupid-ass white boys? No salt!”

No salt,” I say.

Jeremy whispers, “No salt.”

We’ve passed the Pyramid, and a trail leads off the road to the left.

This is it,” says Jeremy.

Wait!” says Ghost Child Mary. But it’s too late: we’ve stepped onto the path.

A man sleeps alone on a bare mattress in an apartment given over to self-destructive bachelorhood.

Reginald.

There’s an indistinct form in his room, near the bed. The voice comes from this form; we can hear it, but it’s not spoken aloud. And though we’re standing on the path, in our collective mind’s eye it plays like a movie.

Who’s there?”

Wake up, Reginald.

What do you want?”

I want you to be your best self.

Who are you?”

I’m your friend, remember? We’re oh so friendly, you and I. You’re my palsy-walsy.

Uh-uh, I’m done, let’s go,” says Ghost Child Mary. But we can’t move.

I just want to stay in bed. It’s … nearly 3 am,” says Reginald.

Yes, that’s true. And also, you want to wake up, Chum-O-Mine.

I lost my job. Leave me alone.”

I have a job for you. Chum-chum. Friendly-wendly.

Fuck off.”

Seconded. All in favor?” says Ghost Child Mary.

The figure near the bed pauses, turning somewhat in our direction, as if listening.

What’s going on? Can we stop this?” Jeremy says, sotto voce.

I think this already happened, there’s nothing we can do,” I say.

Sort of,” says Ghost Child Mary.

The figure moves in our direction, pausing again right in front of her. It moves its hands, like it’s trying to swat or summon her.

Ghost Child Mary puts her hands in front of us, protective, saying, “Shhhh.” My heart breaks a little. We hold still, barely breathing.

After a moment, the figure turns back to Reginald, leaning in and whispering, sing-song.

Are you sure you won’t help me, Chummy-Wummy?

I’m sure you can fuck off,” Reginald pulls a second pillow over his head.

But I know where you can sleep the coziest.

Fuck. Off.

The figure reaches down and tugs at the sheet near Reginald’s hand, lifting him to float, in only boxer shorts and a bedsheet, drawing him through the wall. We’re pulled with them, through walls and houses and yards.

Reginald, you’ve lost the day;
You need to sleep, to sleep to dream:
In dreaming, you can burn away
The waking pains that make you scream.

Sweet Reggie, come with me outside:
You’re sad and lost, but I’ve a path
To pop the pain since Sarah died
And abdicate your throne of wrath.

Wait, how did we get outside? It’s so dark.”

We are indeed outside, on a road next to a grassy embankment with a trail running into trees.

You need release from troubled woe,
Your heart is aching more and more;
Take up that canister and go
Through yonder gate to open door.

‘Sunset Gate’? What the hell is this? Where am I? There’s no door … ”

Reginald has walked through the gate, though it’s not a traditional gate at all, and as instructed he’s picked up an old-fashioned canister of gasoline that was sitting on the embankment. Now the figure follows him; we trail along in their wake. True, there’s no door, but it feels like we’ve entered another place. I know we’re in Joaquin Miller Park, but it feels significantly darker.

You’re on your way to bliss and peace,
To cease regret in lasting sleep:
The Keep of Dreams is sweet release,
Submerged in Lethe so dark and deep.

Reginald is trying to read the canister, but he can’t turn it in his hands. All he can do is walk forward. He tries to stop, but can only slow.

Are we in Tilden? Why am I carrying this? It smells like … gasoline? I don’t want to start a fire.”

We follow down deer trails, into a canyon, across a creek and up the other side

Keep walking, Palsy, down the trail;
The time is near when we will wrap
Your sheets like shrouds to seek the grail
In Shadow’s unrelenting trap.

Did you say trap? Is this a trap? Are you fucking with me?”

Who traps a friend, my lonely pal?
What gal or guy will mend a tear
By ripping only mucho mal
In Friendship’s sails on seas of Care?

Mucho mal … Do you speak Spanish? My wife was a Latina. Latinx. I guess? Sorry. Christ, I miss her. I’ve fucked everything up.”

We’ve arrived at a hill with a stand of tall, spindly pine trees. It feels familiar, but flipside-dark. And now that we’re here, we slip right back to where we stepped onto the trail from the road, before this odd vision began—only now it’s playing out in front of us in real time.

Let’s go,” I say.

Yes, please,” says Jeremy.

Don’t have to ask me twice,” says Ghost Child Mary.

We turn as one, walking back toward the road.

Except we’re walking the other way, toward the Pyre, watching as Reginald and the figure arrive at the other side.

Let’s walk forward,” Jeremy says.

We try, moving to the right of the Pyre, aiming to walk past them and down the other side of the rise … only to be floated back to where we were.

Look up, look up! And there behold:
You nevermore shall be alone;
I promise you will not get old,
On final bed of mortar’d stone.

That’s … a funeral pyre.”

He’s not wrong,” Ghost Child Mary and I murmur, simultaneous. Jeremy turns and looks at us. Mortified. Neither Reginald nor the figure react.

The Moon is Leonine in wax;
Though void-of-course, she soon corrects:
Her Virgin Full cuts like an axe
Each sacrifice that one … erects.

As he speaks, green will-o’-the-wisps float up out of the ground one by one, lighting the area with their eldritch glow. From the trees beyond the Pyre steps a familiar shape: female, old-fashioned clothes, hair in a bun. Reginald is staring at his junk.

I’m … hard. Why am I hard?

Don’t nobody want to see that, bad enough I gotta be around actors all the time,” Ghost Child Mary whispers.

Close your eyes,” Jeremy whispers.

Ghost Child Mary turns and stares her empty-sockets at him. After a moment, he realizes.

Yikes, sorry,” he says.

That’s what your mama said when you were born,” she says, then turns back to the bizarre pantomime we’re being forced to witness.

As the figure tells Reginald what to do, so he does: herky-jerky, a fleshly marionette.

Now mount those steps and settle in;
This lady’s here to wrap your shroud:
She needs your seed to chop again,
To make them scream so very loud.

The entire area is lit by the eerie green will-o’-the-wisps now, and we can see the woman clearly. It’s Axe Lady. She climbs the steps of the Pyre, standing over Reginald. Her eyes glow white, obscuring, from where we stand, the rest of her features. She makes a few gestures and he is wrapped tight in the sheet. Odd: his arms are still free.

Oh my God her face! I don’t want to be here, let me go!

Axe Lady is pulling her dress up over her hips, grinding in the air as she crouches over Reginald.

Jeremy and I put our hands in front of Ghost Child Mary’s eyes.

Thanks,” she says, “but I can see through hands. I can tell this makes you both uncomfortable. I’ll shift away.”

Ghost Child Mary snaps her hands open and with the sound of a gas burner going out, pfuhf, she’s indistinct; she plugs her nose, jumps in the air and plunges into the ground, out of sight.

Jeremy looks at me, gesturing what I interpret as, “Where is she?”

I shrug, the universal gesture for, “Fuck if I know, Trump is president.” A cry comes from the Pyre.

Reginald is trying to push Axe Lady away and she pins his arms down. She’s grunting and cooing as she mounts him. He’s struggling, begging, whimpering.

The lady’s strength will more than match
A man so close to cold embraces;
And now she latches on to snatch
Your seed with teeth from deathly faces.

No! No! No!

She rides and bites with mouth uncouth
Upon which sit so many lasses;
But speak now, Lady, as his youth-
Ful seed into your belly passes!

Reginald picks up the canister of gasoline, shaking; it’s clear he’s trying to resist, but he’s pouring it on himself.

What am I doing? I can’t control my … arms! Pfaughhh! The fumes! My eyes! Somebody please help me! Help me help me help me!

Axe Lady, grinning, grinding, says,

Your pain is such, you can’t deny:
It better were to quickly die.

We hear a tearing sound. We wince.

Aughhhhh!

From deep underground we hear Ghost Child Mary, “Nasty.”

Reginald is screaming, garbled, unintelligible, as the figure intones:

Your screams they fill her drooling crave
And thus increase her riding speed;
Ignite yourself, embrace your grave!
Relinquish all your greedling need!

Reginald’s hands are flopping about the edges of the pyre, scrabbling; he finds a box of matches, struggling to light them.

Axe Lady is giggling,

My other teeth, they raise your hackles
But wait until I cum in cackles!

The figure is growing more solid.

Your hands they shake to strike the match?
Ohio Blue-Tip eases cares:
But try and try again, my friend—
Ah! Thus one spark can answer prayers!

Reginald bursts into flames, screaming. The Axe Lady is unaffected by the fire, cackling,

No flame can bite, no spark ignite
Me: I’m a hag of Deepest Night!

In the light of the flames, the figure is a well-dressed gentleman. Reginald’s screams give him solidity.

Sweet Reggie, how your screams they smoke!
And now, at last, your life: it matters;
For we shall silence what was spoke
In slashing screams with messy splatters!

Gasping in pleasure, the Axe Lady manages,

I’ll ride you til the Reaper spills
The contents of your Manly Frills!

The well-dressed gentleman walks up the steps of the Pyre, speaking to Reginald like a proud father,

And thus your Dead Man’s Seed will grow
Like kudzu, creeping all about
To smother what they think they know;
Replacing thought with sinking doubt.

Axe Lady cries out, riding hard and fast, cackling high and mad on the vowels,

O! Here he comes, his scythe has swung!
(I’m glad that you were so well hung!)

She grunts a heinous orgasm, equal parts creaking door and Thurl Ravenscroft; the trees sag, like their life force has been drained. It feels like a ripple of sadness and loss has blasted out through everything in the park.

The well-dressed gentleman reaches into the fire to the point of unholy union between hag and burning cadaver. He withdraws his hand and tastes his fingers, then walks around the pyre, marking each corner as he says,

As here you’ve died, so here you’ll stay
No rest, no bliss, no peace for you;
Unless you do just as I say
To feast, to tear, to drink the goo

From in the brains of all I mark
To be removed and quite forgot;
You’ll wait them here in deepest dark
And pull them down to whisp’ring nought.

Axe Lady steps off the pyre, her legs too long, insectile; setae grows around her knees. Easily over nine feet tall now, she caresses her already-distended belly as she wobbles, unsteady, drunk with pleasure,

I’m fed, I’m fill’d, I’m sated quite;
We’ll scatter now, afore the light.

She’s twenty feet tall now; a fleshy tendril drops from between her legs. The well-dressed gentleman bites onto it, devouring upward like Pac-Man on spaghetti as Axe Lady stilts off down the rise into the dark forest beyond.

The last thing I see before they’re gone: the well-dressed gentleman turning to grin, his jaw distended where he hangs from the tendril.

He points at us.

And winks.

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WMSP, Part II, Episode XI: A Burned Man

In Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Sci-Fi, Theatre on July 17, 2019 at 2:18 pm

(Ongoing series; first episode here.)

Oakland: Coroner identifies badly burned man found dead in Joaquin Miller Park
By Katrina Cameron, Harry Harris | hharris@bayareanewsgroup.com and Bay Area News Group | Bay Area News Group

PUBLISHED: February 23, 2016 at 12:20 pm | UPDATED: August 11, 2016 at 11:51 pm

OAKLAND — The coroner identified Tuesday the man found badly burned Monday morning in Joaquin Miller Park.

Reginald Richardson, 33, of Oakland, apparently committed suicide in the park, according to police.

His body was found around 11:54 a.m. Monday in the Joaquin Miller Funeral Prye, off Sanborn Drive. A jogger saw smoke from the structure and investigated the cause.

Police did not know how long the man’s body had been there before the jogger found it.

The No. 1 cause for suicide is untreated depression, a condition that is treatable with immediate help. Anyone who may be suicidal can receive immediate help by logging onto suicide.org or by calling 1-800-784-2433. Crisis experts also are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week in Contra Costa County by calling 1-800-833-2900 or 925-938-0725.

Contact Katrina Cameron at 925-945-4782. Follow her at Twitter.com/KatCameron91.

This article is what Jeremy shows me, silent, backstage during rehearsal. I’m sitting in my dressing room, looking at a map of Joaquin Miller Park on my phone; it’s at the exact moment I find the Pyre on the map that Jeremy walks in, holding up his phone.

“What are you doing after rehearsal?” he says, when I’ve finished reading.

“Um …”

Dude, let’s go up there tonight! It’s fucking perfect! I wish I’d known about it sooner, I’d have been reading all your recent posts right there at the Pyre!

There’s a nibbling at the back of my mind, however. I feel uncomfortable, and I’m not sure why. I’m consumed with the conflicting desires to run out of the room and to hold the Holey Stone. I take a deep breath. I push my hand into my pocket.

Snap

The memory floods back, even as I’m looking right at Jeremy’s smiling face; we’re at the Browning Monument, it’s earlier this afternoon, right after the revelation of Obi-Wan-point-five’s last words:

Browning! Pyre! Cinderella! To bring my to outfit and now become necessary!

Jeremy nods. We stand, because it’s time to head to the theatre.

Wait, what about the papers?” Jeremy says.

We turn back: there’s the satchel, the papers loose and tickled by the breeze. They could blow away at any second.

We didn’t even finish looking at them,” Jeremy says.

He leans down to pick them up and we’re on the road halfway to the parking lot when I look at his hands and he doesn’t have them. Neither do I.

We left the papers,” I say.

No we didn’t,” he says.

I stop. I have to think. I feel like I’ve walked into a room and forgotten why. I put my hands in my pocket. There’s the stone.

Don’t talk, just go.

I turn around, my hand firmly in my pocket. I’m walking. Fast.

Jeremy says, “Hey pal, where you goin’?”

I don’t respond.

Jeremy starts after me; he’s chuckling. “Now wait a moment, palsy-walsy,” his voice is weird, sing-song.

I’m jogging now, and Jeremy is getting closer. “Hey chum! What kind of a chum turns his back on his pal, chum? I thought you were my … chummy-wummy.” There’s a tight, angry grin underneath his words. I feel that if I stop, he’ll get me. I take my hand from my pocket and start to run. A thought, different from the first, jarring and too cheery, erupts in my head:

Jeremy is no threat. Turn and be so friendly!

This feels wrong and bad, an unfamiliar voice. I falter, stumbling.

Jeremy says, “Watch your step, buddy. I’m right here. Right behind you. It’s broad daylight. There’s nothing to fear.”

This stone is heavy and I want to throw it away.

The same unfamiliar voice. Like hearing someone who doesn’t know me impersonate what they think my inner monologue sounds like. The voice of an interloper. I put my hand in my pocket, touching the stone, and—snap—I’m fifteen feet ahead, sprinting. This feels right. I speed up, slipping the stone onto my middle finger like a ring, gripping it in a fist. I’m at the base of the slope, my mind on the papers. I don’t hear Jeremy anywhere behind me.

He was never there.

This thought is solid as bedrock, familiar. Not the interloper. I round the Browning Monument—

Jeremy is crouched over the papers, frantic: he’s striking two stones together, trying to make sparks. His fingers are bloody, his face locked in a rictus grin. Every couple seconds, his face crumples into a mask of sadness and pain; he puts the stones down and pulls at his pants, like he’s trying to pull them off, in spite of his buckled belt. When he does this, he’s crying and whispering, “Please stop, please stop, just stop please I’ll do whatever you want, please stop it hurts … ”

Thing is, there’s no way he can make sparks with those rocks—they’re both sandstone.

Jeremy,” I say. He doesn’t respond. “Hey. Buddy. You okay?” I say, moving closer.

His head snaps up, eyes all wrong directions, his grin a caricature of enraged lust. He looks like a creepy satyr from an early 1920’s cartoon. He says, “Every good boy deserves flavor.”

Coiled to spring, he’s younger than me, more fit. He’ll win.

Stop thinking, take action.

I step forward and touch the stone to his forehead.

Jeremy collapses.

Gather the papers, put them in the satchel, hold onto the stone.

I do this very thing, noting that there are many more papers than I thought. There’s even a leatherbound journal. Several photographs.

Jeremy groans, his eyes fluttering.

Wear the satchel. Don’t talk about it. Head back to the parking lots.

Oh fuck,” Jeremy says, “did I fall into a corn thresher?”

Not so’s you’d notice,” I say, smiling but watchful.

Wow,” Jeremy says. He stands, slow. Like … a man in his mid-40’s who doesn’t get enough exercise. Like me, frankly. He looks around, puzzled. “What were we going to do?”

I think we were going to get coffee,” I say.

Right! Yes,” he says, “coffee sounds great.”

What happened to your hands?” I say.

You shouldn’t have said that.

Jeremy glances down, laughs, shakes his head. “I dropped my camera heading into the house last night, had to dive to catch it, skinned myself on the front walk.” His words are natural, they have the ring of truth. I’m aware that if I weren’t grasping the holey stone, I’d be questioning what I just saw him doing with the stones. Taking him any further on this quest might be unwise.

Trust him. He’s got your back. Find the Pyre—tonight!

I freeze. This isn’t just my inner monologue, they aren’t just thoughts in my head. An actual, new voice is coalescing. But it’s different from the interloper; it feels … safe. Solid. Not mine, but not bad. And here I am evaluating the qualities of the voices in my head. Great, now I’m nucking futz.

Did you get the pictures?” Jeremy says.

I freeze: does he mean the pictures in the satchel?

Of the bay? You wanted to take pictures,” he says, stretching. The fog of pain is lifting visibly from him.

Oh. Yeah. Got ’em,” I say. “Let’s … go.”

Coffee,” he says.

We walk back to the parking lot, Jeremy expounding upon the amazingness of the various asses in the ensemble. I drive us to Peet’s, and the wooden bench in front is still empty.

All of this surfaces like the turning of a page in my mind. The entire picture, clear before me. We got coffee, we came to the theatre. I kept the satchel on me, and it’s tucked beneath the counter in my corner of the room. I put other stuff on top of it, you can’t even tell it’s there. Rehearsal has been is its usual self: running lines offstage, hasty scribble of blocking on pages where possible.

I don’t want to answer Jeremy yet, so I say, “Hey, here’s something weird: Bryan won’t talk to me. He walked right past me when he arrived.” Part of this is stalling, part of it is a test: does Jeremy remember last night at all clearly?

Me, neither,” says Jeremy. “Do you think he’s too freaked out by all the super-duper-natural occurrences?”

We look into the ensemble dressing room; there’s Bryan, at his station next to Rod. We head out there. I say, “Did you get home okay, Bryan?”

He turns to Rod as though I haven’t spoken, asking something about eyeliner. Rod glances at Jeremy and I in the mirror, then back to Bryan, then at me. Then with a huge single take to Bryan he says, “Oh Bryan, did you say something? I was listening to Edward’s question. About how you got home last night.”

Bryan says nothing.

Jeremy and I head back into my dressing room. “It appears he has stepped away from the path of this story,” I say.

All the more reason to go to the Pyre the minute rehearsal’s over,” he says.

I want to bow out, politely decline, vague him off until it fades away. But a thought echoes into my head, the new voice from this afternoon:

Trust him. He’s got your back. Find the Pyre—tonight!

I take a breath. I choose to trust this voice.

Yeah,” I say. “Let’s do it. But let’s map out an escape plan in advance.”

Jeremy grins and we high-five. As he sits down to “map it out,” I’m ready to misdirect: I’ve already got my escape plan. And I’m not telling him what it is.

Just in case.

WMSP, Part II, Episode X: Minutes

In Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Sci-Fi, Theatre on June 26, 2019 at 12:06 pm

(Ongoing series; new readers, you’ll find the first entry here.)

Instead, there’s a hand-drawn map, rather well done: semi-calligraphic text, clean lines, this was made with a dip pen and ink. It’s incomplete, delineating what at first glance looks like the rough draft of the map in the opening pages of a Tolkien-derivative fantasy novel. A meandering road curves along next to a heavily-wooded area labeled Woods Primeval. Above the road, pointing up and to the right, the word Castle. Lines of blue delineate what I think are unnamed rivers.

At a point farther up the map, there’s a symbol labeled Moon Gate. From that point, a brown dotted line heads south. Amidst the trees to the east of that dotted line:

Cinderella?

Near the bottom of the page, another symbol—similar in style but in a different arrangement—marks Sunset Gate.

“Moon Gate … Sunset Gate … this feels significant,” I say.

“In by the Sunset, out by the Moon … ?” Jeremy says.

“Wow. Wait, how did the rest go?”

We sit mumbling it from memory, overlapping and re-starting several times. Finally, Jeremy says:

“’In by the Sunset, out by the Moon. Thus do we seek you, morning and noon. Looking for answers, under the trees, help us to find you, Bess and Louise.’ I think. That’s the shape, anyway.”

I’m momentarily delighted that anyone has read my blog so closely. I decide to save that for later.

Then it hits me and I say, “Holy shit.”

We both say, “This is a map of the park!

Jeremy jumps up; “Let’s go! That’s Castle Drive. I’ll drive. To Castle Drive. I’ll drive to the Castle!”

He’s very excited.

I find a map of the park on my phone, and this one is pretty accurate.

Jeremy is putting the pages neatly back together, I hand him the map, then stop. “Wait, look at this,” I say. The next page is typewritten. We both lean over it.

Sunset / Moon July 12, 1952

      1. Enter via Sunset Gate

        A. Ed & Alan, 1:22 pm

        1. No discernible signs or occurrences.

      1. Enter via Moon Gate

        A. Claire & Bill, 1:31 pm

        1. No discernible signs or occurrences.

      1. Met up at roughly halfway point, exchanged notes. Key observations:

        A. Ed: We need hound dogs to follow their scent. I know the Police say they brought in dogs. I never saw dogs. I never heard dogs. I have a friend with a bloodhound. I’ll look into it.

        B. Claire: Do we think Bess and Louise merely went for a hike? What do we know for sure they were doing here on the 4th of July? Does anyone know why they were here? Do they have journals or diaries?

        C. Bill: I think they both kept journals. I’ll ask Sadie. Let’s remember that Bess and Louise didn’t get along with Sadie—and she didn’t do a lot to discourage their feelings. I’m still uncertain about her motivations in offering to help. [Note that Alan agrees with this.]

        D. Alan: Next time we come into the park, let’s bring a picnic. Does anyone else feel that tingling? I feel like someone’s watching us. Am I just paranoid? Maybe we enter from different spots and meet at a central location, have our picnic and then exit via other trails—the idea here is that we cover more ground, under the cover of innocent picnic.

        E. Ed & Claire: Both had the same feeling.

        F. Bill: Agreed. It’s like something is turning its head to look at us, and we don’t want it to see where we are.

G. Claire: Let’s continue on our paths, I’ll pick you boys up at the Moon gate.

      1. Post-Hike Meeting, 5109 Proctor Avenue, called for 5:00 pm

        A. 4:59 pm Alan and Bill arrive together, cleaned up after their hike.

        1. Alan takes Ginger Ale.

        2. Bill takes Lemonade.

        a. Wally offers Manhattans, both boys are good boys and say no-thank-you-sir. Wally is a caution.

B. 5:05 pm Ed arrives.

              1. Bourbon. Neat.
              2. Followed by a Manhattan.
              3. Ed smiles a lot more after two drinks.
          1. 5:07 pm Claire and Betsy arrive at the door simultaneously, each from different errands.

            1. Betsy takes a Manhattan.

            2. Claire takes a Manhattan and a Ginger Ale.

            a. Wally asks Claire if she’s usually a Two-Fister Gal.

            b. Ed snorts his drink out his nose.

            c. Ten to fifteen minutes are lost to general hilarity.

            * Wally is sneaking the boys sips of Manhattans. He’s a wootzietail.

      1. 5:31 pm, Ginger Arrives all askeyXX askew

        A. Ginger: I got called into my Editor’s office for a meeting with a man I’ve never seen before. This is Saturday, this never happens. I’m being told he is overseeing my work on this project from now on. But I can’t remember his name. I wrote it down. I took notes. But I can’t see anything on the page. I think I’m losing my mind. [Note: Ginger is quite upset, there are tears. She’s clutching a paper in her hand. Claire takes it from her.]

        B. Claire: There’s a name here. Ringboat.

        C. Ed: No, that says Rhinegold.

        D. Alan: Rideout?

        E. Bill: Ragnarok. That can’t be right.

        F. Yours Truly [Lorraine]: Brightbest.

        G. Betsy: Billbagoat

        H. Ed, again: You’re right—I thought that was an R, it’s a B; it says Bringbat. What did I think it was before?

        I. Claire: Brinebest?

        J. Bill: None of us are saying the same word.

        K. Alan: Who cares, Billy? What matters is that the word is Brakbart!

        L. Bill: Don’t call me Billy.

        M. Alan: I’ll call you whatever the heck I want, Mister Young Republican.

        N. Ginger: This is exactly what happened at the paper. Everyone was arguing. My Editor left me alone in the room with that … lady. Whatever her name was. She—she—she … told me the best way to cuddle a puppy. You’ve got to do it just so.

        1. Everyone is staring at Ginger.

        O. Wally: Everybody close your eyes. Turn three times counter clockwise. Put down your drinks, leave that damn paper here and follow me. Don’t look back.

      1. Kitchen, 5:43 pm

        A. Wally: [pouring bitters into shot glasses. Even for the boys] Now you’ve got to listen to me very carefully. Ginger, wash your hands. Use the bar of lye soap under the sink. Lorraine, help her—get the apple cider vinegar. Hot water, Miss Trancas. One of the boys can take over at the typewriter, honey.

        B. Im not thw brst typest typist sorry, signed Bill. Loraine will takeover again niw. now. Now. Sorry agaon.

        C. Wally: Ginger’s hands are clean, did anyone else touch the paper? [Nobody did.] Good. We’re going to take our shots, but we need to say something together to break the link. We’re going to raise our glasses and say, Here’s when! Then we’re going to clink them and say, Here’s how! And then we’ll drink. Let’s try it without the shots first. We’ve only got one chance for this. Ready? Go.

        D. [We all do it. Bill throws his shot across the room and slaps Alan. Wally grabs Alan’s hand. He grabs Bill’s hand.]

        E. Wally: We do not strike our brothers. We do not strike our sisters. Now. Shake. Hands.

        F. [He forces their hands together. He shakes three dashes of bitters onto their hands. They shake hands, then hug like brothers. Oh my. It’s like a cloud has lifted from the boys.]

        G. Wally: Let’s toast. Afterwards, say nothing for one minute. And I mean don’t even whisper. [We all raise our shots. Here’s when! Clink. Here’s how! Drink.]

        H. Wally [He waits longer than a minute]: The man you’re talking about has a name. No, Ed. Don’t say it. Whatever you think his name is, you’re wrong. And we can’t talk about him any more today. Any of that will lead you all back to strife and rage. What you should know about him is that he has been around for a very long time.

        His purpose, near as we can tell, is to block people from knowing the truth. There are whole sections of our history that don’t appear anywhere—not even in the secret files of the Vatican—that this man is responsible for erasing. And it’s not really that he erases. What he does is, he obscures.

        Imagine our accurate history as a file cabinet. And next to it is another file cabinet called Religion. On the other side of the History cabinet is an identical one labeled Myth, Legend & Fairy Tale. What the Obscurer does is, he takes files from History and puts them into the other file cabinets. Once they’re there, that’s where they stay. And all of the traces of proof that they were actual history? Gone forever.

        Now, we know there’s history around historical figures who really existed. Jesus, for example. But there’s a lot of confusion. And some of that is natural, given the nature of faith and emotion. But there are many points that have been switched from cabinet to cabinet, deliberately, by the Obscurer. Over time, there is an increasing number of educated people who doubt Jesus even existed. In spite of corroborating historical evidence.

        But what about King Arthur? And what about the race of giants found entombed in North America by early European settlers? Myth has become synonymous with Falsehood. In spite of the fact that actual Myth represents universal truths.

        All of this is the work of the Obscurer. He uses doubt, he uses conflict and he uses pain. By inflicting these things on those he seeks to stop, he succeeds. And the first thing anyone will say to you, if you tell them that Merlin was not merely Arthur’s advisor and mentor and wizard—but also the chief architect of Camelot, the Master Mason who founded an order of Masons whose ideas eventually changed the world for the better?

        The first thing those people will say is that your history is wrong. If you have a twinge of reactionary doubt at my last sentence about Masons, that’s the work of the Obscurer.

        But if you were to miraculously find proof of these statements and try to share them with the world, people will decide that you are probably crazy. And if you go on saying these things, you’ll be labeled insane by society. If need be, you’ll be locked up out of sight.

        The admitting physician will have a name very much like the name you all struggled to recall earlier. But the paperwork will get misplaced. And the sane woman who spoke facts will be lost forever, probably driven mad by her circumstances.

        We know him of old.

        Say no more on this today.

        Honey, let’s all go for Chinese.

      2. Kitchen, 6:15 pm

        A. Ed Motions to Adjourn.

        B. Betsy Seconds the Motion.

        C. Vote: Unanimous

        D. Meeting Adjourned: 6:16 pm

Jeremy and I sit staring at the papers for a long time. We can tell, and it doesn’t need saying aloud, that going to walk those trails would be pointless right now. Nobody found anything.

In fact, the whole question of what happened just … doesn’t matter very much. And even that doesn’t need saying. I’m thinking about my revelation from Ginger Trancas’s rough draft: that Lorraine York is the name of my maternal grandmother. And now that we’ve read these minutes, all doubt is erased: Wally York is most assuredly my maternal grandfather, and 5109 Proctor Avenue was indeed their address. I want to say this, also, to Jeremy. But I didn’t say it earlier, and each time I think of it now, my mind slips away in another direction.

Jeremy says, “I’m struggling with the need to talk about … how to hold a cuddly little puppy and give it so many kisses.”

My hackles go up. We look at each other. He goes to speak, I silence him with a gesture. There’s a phrase nibbling at my brain, like a lighthouse beckoning us to safety. I can’t say it aloud. I feel that if I try, the phrase will disappear. It’s like we’re sliding down a sandy, gravely slope toward a deadly precipice. Trying to crawl up or speak slips us backwards. The phrase … it’s something someone said … I wrote it in my blog …

Opening my phone, I find the entry, enlarging the screen and holding it up for him to see Alan Campbell/Obi Wan-point-five’s last words:

Browning! Pyre! Cinderella! To bring my to outfit and now become necessary!