ewhightower

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, like 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.

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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!

WMSP, Part II, Episode IX: Journal

In Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Sci-Fi, Theatre on June 19, 2019 at 12:24 pm

(Ongoing weekly narrative; new readers, the story begins here.)

The next paper is from a journal, the top of it scorched but intact. It looks familiar. Writing on both sides of the page in rushed but neat penmanship, it begins:

moved the gate at the back of the front yard. We heard it creak. That gate only opens when you lift the latch, Dad fixed it special. We thought it was Mom, so we put our our cigarettes and turned off my flashlight, peeking over the edge of the window in Georgie’s fort.

There was someone standing in the shadows just beyond the gate, under the arbor. We couldn’t see anything clearly. I was holding my breath. I thought it had to be Mom or Dad, but there was something wrong with the shape. Its legs were wide. Like the legs on that Turkey costume from our 4th Grade Thanksgiving play.

It just stood there. I felt like it could see us, but I wasn’t sure—and I couldn’t move. I wanted to duck down and hide, but what if it saw us because I moved?

Bess whispered, “Why am I so scared?” She was already hiding near the floor, curled up.

The thing under the arbor stepped forward, like it heard her. A shaft of moonlight lit its face. All white. I ducked down below the window. Then I wondered if we’d pulled the rope ladder up. I turned but it was still down! I reached for it and, turning, my foot hit one of Georgie’s wooden swords. It fell over. So loud.

Jingle, jingle, jingle, louder with every step. It was coming toward the tree!

Bess grabbed me and pulled me back toward the wall. We heard the rope ladder creaking. I reached to my right and grabbed that wooden sword—something better than nothing.

The rope ladder creaked again, the bolts holding it to the wall above the trap door straining a little–and then again it creaked, a head appearing at the trap, turning as a hand reached to the next rung up and it pulled its face off.

We both screamed.

What awe yoh doowing in my tweehouse?”

It was Georgie. Wearing a Howdy Doodie mask. Looking peeved.

Bess started laughing right away. There’s something about Georgie, whenever he gets mad Bess laughs like a loon. Part of it is his kid voice, what Mom calls Little Boy-ese: “Whot awe yoo dowing in my tweehouse?” And when he’s mad, he over-enunciates because he really wants to make sure we understand him. I expected him to throw a fit and start crying when she laughed, but he didn’t respond, just frowning at us. That was really weird.

He said, “You giwohs bettoh come down the laddoh wight now, oh ewse.”

Bess laughed even harder. But Georgie was being strange. I got chills.

Now as everyone knows, any of his blackest moods can be broken up with the Little Bo Peep bit. Georgie tries to say, “It’s in the book!” But he laughs so hard that he can’t talk. The harder he tries, the harder he laughs. It’s the cutest thing.

So I said, “Georgie, Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep and she doesn’t know where to find them.”

Georgie turned and looked at me. His face was blank, not even frowning. His eyes got huge, and he opened his mouth too wide for his little skull, his jaw jutting forward into a grin, head tilting forward so he was glaring at me from under his eyebrows. He didn’t even look like himself any more. He went, “Hyulk-hyulk-hyulk-hyulk-hyulk! Girls in a midnight treehouse, come and help me poop and peehouse!” Only now his accent was gone.

Bess laughed even harder. Then she started to pee. She said, “Oh my gosh, what the heck—oh Louise, I—I can’t believe this …”

The treehouse reeked of pee. Georgie reached his right arm arm up inside the trap and he wasn’t wearing his bathrobe at all. His arm was in poofy, striped material and his mask had slipped back over his face. His left arm was out of sight, but looked like it was shaking.

Georgie, stop it!” I said. But he was laughing the hyulk-hyulk way (I’ve never heard him laugh that way before) and I thought it looked like he was reaching for her pee, but why would he do that? I should have paid closer attention.

True, I was distracted: Bess was panicking, laughing but scared. She couldn’t stop peeing. I laughed for a second, until she grabbed my arm, “Louise, Lou, something’s wrong—” Her pee sounded like it was being sprayed from a hose. I mean that literally. Then the smell changed from pee to coppery blood.

She was sweating and white as a sheet. She whispered, “Oh no … ” blood gushing out of her, soaking her pajama pants and pooling on the floorboards. She was having trouble, crouched there with her arm braced against the wall. It looked like she was going to fall over.

Georgie was grunting in a way that boys his age shouldn’t grunt, his hand was in the pee, his white gloves (white gloves?!) rubbing blood and pee counter-clockwise. He smeared it under the nose of his Howdy Doody mask and inhaled so weird (I don’t know how to describe it. A reverse sigh?), tilting his head side to side and smacking his lips under the mask.

I said, “Georgie, that’s disgusting!” And I pulled his mask off. Everything happened in seconds.

It wasn’t Georgie at all. Bald head, bone-white grinning face, black marks over the eyes and red circles on the cheeks. A grown man. Why did we think he was Georgie?

He said, “Girls who speak of Holly Granger, piss and bleed when they’re in danger. Hyulk-hyulk-hyulk!”

Head tilted back, a thick brown tongue flicked out of his mouth. It was spiky and corkscrew-shaped, dipping into the pee and blood, flapping like a fish. He smeared the blood and pee under his actual nose, then sucked the soaked fingers of his glove—and that’s when I realized his left arm was shaking because, honestly, this guy was pulling himself. Like what we caught Walter Bennington doing behind the tennis courts last year. Only Walter, in comparison, is cute and charming. Just bad timing. This creepy man, though, his eyes were rolled back in his head. Eyelids fluttering, tilting his head side to side, it was like a pantomime or caricature of a fancy man enjoying, I don’t know, an éclair?

Like I said, it took seconds. After he laughed, and I realized what his arm was doing, Bess fainted. She fell to her left, knocking over the pitchfork, hitting her head hard on a box of Georgie’s wooden blocks.

The pitchfork fell fork-first, straight into the scary man’s face, ripping his eyelids and cheeks. The middle tine pierced his tongue (?!) straight through, just below his chin.

He screamed and fell. Bess was unconscious and had somehow rolled onto the handle. The man was hanging by his tongue, screeching, struggling, reaching up to grasp his tongue and pull at it. Still using only his right hand. I grabbed the wooden sword again and beat against his writhing, impaled tongue, scream-whispering, “Go away. Go. AWAY. GO! AWAY!”

His tongue was trying to spike me. I had to jump out of the way. I saw through the trap that his left hand was indeed buried in his poofy, striped pants, jerking frantically. The harder I beat his tongue, the faster he jerked.

I can’t get this out of my head: his eyes popped open, fixed on mine. He grunt-groaned really loud, his back arching. There was a noise like a gallon of chunky old milk being poured messily onto a lawn from a height of about 15 feet. Lots of splats. The smell of rotting meat.

He grasped the edge of the trap as he reached up with his left hand, coated in viscous glistening thick dark pudding-like liquid. It was dripping all over the rope ladder. He ripped his tongue from his mouth.

I fell back against the wall, trying not to puke.

He pulled his face up through the trap, turning to grin at me. Blood welling up, pouring down the sides of his face, splattering on the edges of the trap—and, no doubt, the rope ladder below him. He batted his torn eyelids at me like a coy little old lady, saying, “I’ll be back for fun and games. I have learned your lady names. You have made me feel so nice, I will have to bite you twice—!”

That’s when his tongue ripped and he fell, landing with the sound of crunching bones. Followed by silence. I wanted to pull the rope ladder up and slam the trap door shut. But I couldn’t move for the longest time. I was cold. So cold. I may have passed out. I remember coming to myself, feeling like I snapped back into focus.

I sprang to the ladder and trap, careful to avoid any of his splattered blood or fluids.

Except there was no splatter. The rope ladder, trap door, everything was completely clean. I shined my flashlight everywhere. There was nothing.

Looking for your secret lover?”

I jumped out of my skin. It was Bess, sitting up and smiling at me. She looked fine. Like she’d had a nice nap. The pitchfork was standing up against the wall where she’d first put it.

He’s gone,” I said.

Who? Your actual secret lover?”

No,” I said. “That scary fellow. The one who tried to get in.”

Are you trying to frighten me, Lou? That was Georgie. He told us to get out, we said we’d buy him ice cream cones and he went back to bed.”

She was certain of this.

I am doubting my sanity now.

We went inside, she took the other twin bed in my room, falling asleep right away. I lay awake for a couple more hours. When I did sleep, my dreams were full of stained white-gloved hands reaching around wooden corners.

This morning is bright with clear blue skies. Dad’s making waffles. We’re about to go down for breakfast, then we’re getting ready for the backstage introduction or whatever it is at Woodminster. Mother says we have to go to that because Mr. Bell expects us. We decided not to tell her about our audition plans. Bess thinks I should definitely do my Ezio Pinza impersonation. We’re singing along with Eddie Fisher and Rosemary Clooney, searching Mom’s sheet music for songs we actually know.

I asked Georgie if he came outside last night, right in front of Bess. He looked at me like I’m crazy. Bess didn’t even hear him. I wonder if I am crazy, but Bess keeps rubbing her head, and I keep offering to check her for a bump or something. She refuses to admit she’s rubbing her head.

AND we went outside this morning when I told her again what happened last night. Each time I tell her, she forgets more and more of what I said. I took her outside to try to jog her memory, even though all the blood and stuff disappeared last night.

Everything was exactly the same. Except for one thing:

Under the rope ladder. A couple feet from the base of the tree. A large dark burn mark on the grass, like something thick got dumped out, splattering everywhere.

And the smell.

Rotting meat.

The journal entry ends there, no similar pages follow.