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WMSP, Part II, Episode VIII: A Bouquet of Hope

In Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Sci-Fi, Theatre, Writing on June 5, 2019 at 12:06 pm

(Ongoing weekly narrative; new readers start here.)

For: July 12, 1952 edition
A Bouquet of Hope, DRAFT 3
by Ginger Trancas
Montclair, CA

Each morning as Betsy Hillebrandt opens her shop, there are at least three people waiting outside: the most frequent are Ed Proust, Claire Mistral and Lorraine York. Today, Ed holds a newspaper. Claire carries a bag of artist supplies. Lorraine has a black leather satchel that resembles a doctor’s bag. Betsy makes coffee inside and they chat as she fills orders.

I’ve been coming here since July 6th, just to talk to Betsy. When Ed started showing up, he said it was because he had questions about flowers. Then Claire started coming. Then Lorraine. Each had an excuse, but as I began to arrive earlier every day, I would walk in on impassioned conversations that went silent or shifted to banal topics like weather or President Truman.

As time has passed and the Piedmont Police Detectives have done less and less to find Bess and Louise, Betsy and her trio have opened up to me. “We’re the Castle Drive Irregulars,” she says. “Lorraine doesn’t live on Castle Drive, but she’s committed to finding the girls.”

“We’re tired of the silence,” Lorraine says. “We’ve started gathering information on our own.”

“I organize the searches of the park,” says Ed, a former Marine Sergeant and Oakland Police Officer. “We’re slow, careful, methodical.”

When asked what the Piedmont Police Detectives think of their organization, Claire, who teaches illustration at the California College of Arts and Crafts, scoffs. “You saw how they were at the press conference. I talked to [Name Withheld by Request] and he said, ‘Little lady, you and your knitting circle can look anywhere you want. We’ll even come watch the fire department get your kitties out of trees. But why don’t you just stay home and cook dinner like a woman is supposed to do?’ I tell you, I near slapped his face.”

“We’re not suggesting anyone go around slapping our Police Detectives in the face,” Betsy assures me. “We just want to find the girls. Ed organizes the searches, as he said, Claire is compiling artistic renderings and mapping the quadrants searched. Lorraine is our … how would you put it, Lorraine?”

“I’m the Social Engineer,” says Mrs. York, a merry twinkle in her eye. “We know that there are many in our communities—both in Piedmont and Montclair—who would frown on our organization’s activities. I’m making inroads, talking to wives and daughters, bending the ear of this or that City Councilman, helping to pave the way and smooth out any bumpy roads.”

“She’s selling herself short,” Ed says. “You gotta see her in action. The reason that namby-pamby Officer [Name Withheld by Request] was so willing to stand aside is because Lorraine plays bridge with the wives of the Police Detectives. And the wives of the Police Detectives are very angry that the girls haven’t been found. So if you detect some anger at the ladies in his words, you can bet it’s because he’s threatened by the anger of the ladies.”

“Speaking of Social Engineering,” Lorraine says, “I believe we may be about to take on more assistance.”

The bell on the door to Betsy’s shop rings brightly and a young man steps in. Clean cut, high-school age, horn-rim glasses over grey eyes. “This is Alan Campbell,” Lorraine says, “he is a classmate of Bess and Louise. He is the president of the Piedmont High Chess Club, and has advanced calculus and codebreaking among his skill sets.”

Young Mr. Campbell blushes to the roots of his hair, but when Ed Proust offers him a hand he shakes it with firm, direct eye contact.

“I’m keeping a thorough journal of every move we make,” Alan tells me. “Not just for legal purposes, but because someone needs to know the full story, when the time comes.”

Asked when that time will be, Alan polishes his glasses, thinking, before saying, “Not any time soon. Realistically, I don’t believe we’ll be permitted to tell this story. There’s something larger at work here.”

Lorraine, Claire and Ed smile a bit at this, it’s clear they think some of Alan’s ideas are farfetched.

Betsy, on the other hand, looks at him with an even, respectful gaze. I have the feeling he’s surprised her.

The bell rings again and it’s another young man, William Gardner, president of the Piedmont High Young Republicans and an upstanding citizen on all fronts. “Billy’s an Eagle Scout three times over,” says Lorraine.

Asked what that means, William holds back, blushing deeper than Alan—who speaks up for his friend: “He was a rising star in his Scout Troop, but he got asked to take a back seat to the Mayor’s son, then the next year it was the Police Chief who wanted his kid to get Eagle. There’s no rule against more than one Scout getting to Eagle at the same time, but the Mayor and Police Chief wanted their kids to be the only ones. And they pressured Scoutmaster Ted to get Bill to coach their kids through it. So, Bill’s done the work three times. And because he’s a go-getter, he didn’t repeat the same stuff. His Eagle is the strongest in the troop.”

“And rightly so,” says Lorraine. “Alan, I understand we have a third young addition to our group? Who is the mystery lady?”

“She should be along any time, now,” says Alan, looking shy again.

The boys won’t tell us who she is, and there seems to be some disagreement between the two about whether or not they should have invited her. Betsy commandeers the room:

“We’ll catch her up to speed when she arrives,” she says. “For now, reports: Claire, I understand you have some sketches based on eyewitness accounts?”

“Oh. Yes!” Claire seems surprised to be first report. “I’ve talked to nearly everyone reporting something strange. Mrs. Gladly made me tea and spent over an hour describing the … apparatus … of the park flasher. She made me draw it. Looking over my shoulder the whole time.”

“There is no park flasher,” says Ed. “She’s describing her husband. Betcha.”

“I thought Brock left her,” says Lorraine.

Ed says, “She wants revenge: get him described as the flasher, get him arrested.”

“Regardless,” Betsy says, “Let’s see your other sketches, Claire.”

Claire opens her large sketchbook, flipping past studies of hands and such that look like DaVinci, then pauses. “You need to understand, I’m drawing exactly what I was told. And for each person who described something similar, I drew a new version, with their specific details—rather than alter what I’d already drawn.” She seems to be waiting for something.

Lorraine gives Claire’s arm a reassuring squeeze.

Claire turns the page, and Betsy cries out in horror.

It stands fifteen feet tall; there’s a blank human figure next to it for reference. Its face looks like Raggedy Ann or Andy, after botched reconstructive surgery. A tattered shroud covers its form. Hands with large, thick black fingernails. Claw-like. Legs that taper down and curl into the ground, like the arms of an octopus. There are even suction cups. At the bottom, a name and date: Jones, sighted c. June 3, 1950. Sketched July 7, 1952.

“What’s that in its hand?” Lorraine says.

“She said it was … afterbirth.”

This is the bottom of the page, the rest of the piece is missing. There is a handwritten note, in red ink:

ABSOLUTELY NO WAY I WILL PRINT THIS. CANNOT BE THIRD DRAFT. REWRITE, LIGHTEN, NO DISPARAGEMENT OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT OR LAW ENFORCEMENT. YOUR JOB IS IN DANGER.

In another hand, blue ink from a fountain pen:

Confirmed. Too much. This information will not ever get out.
– R

Who the hell is “R”? And what kind of power does he have over Ginger Trancas or her paper?

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WMSP, Part II, Episode VIII; Friday, July 28

In Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Sci-Fi, Theatre, Writing on May 29, 2019 at 12:06 pm

(This, as you can see from the title, is one episode of a story that begins elsewhere. If you’re up to date, dig in. If you’re new to the narrative, I suggest you click here.)

Jeremy texts me at 9 am today: Meet me early at WM? ASAP.

I get ready, arrange for Maxwell’s dog walker to make two visits today, and head out.

I park at the upper lot, close to the trailhead. Jeremy is already here, waiting.

“You have to see this,” is all he’ll say.

We set out at a brisk pace, damn near jogging. Within minutes we’re at the Browning Monument. Everything is less creepy than last night. Tufts of grass growing around the base of the sign, the trail beyond showing signs of someone having slipped in the mud.

I look at Jeremy’s pants. Muddy. “Diddums faww down innums mud-mud?”

He looks at me; direct, even, bloodshot eyes telling me that after our whiskey and coffee last night, he may not have slept at all.

“Your gaze seems important, Jeremy, but I’m not picking up on your message,” I say.

“Go up there,” he says.

I head up the trail, stepping on green grass and protruding rocks to avoid slipping.

And here’s the clearing, all green grass, the tower, the healthy trees …

Healthy trees?

“Mighty fuck,” I say.

“Yep,” Jeremy says, watching me.

Does he think I had something to do with this? How could I?

All the trash is gone. Thick green grass blankets what had been dry, cracked earth; the pine trees are thriving—no longer spindly, diseased and forlorn. It looks like there are redwood saplings popping up as well. I move deeper into the clearing. The air smells fresher.

There’s music on the wind.

“Chimes?” I say.

“I thought maybe a harp,” he says.

I feel something in my pocket; reaching in, I pull out a stone with a hole—and immediately feel a pebble in my shoe. Bending down to fish it out, leaning one hand against the monument

HUUUURRRRRMMMMMM

I open my eyes to find Jeremy leaning over me, concerned. I’m on my back in the grass and I can’t hear him. The sound from the tower fills my head like a blast from a great horn or pipe organ. It’s like a more monotone Koyaanisqatsi.

Trying to respond to him, I can’t move. My whole body hurts. He’s sweating, glancing back down the trail toward the road. He jumps up and looks in that direction, then moves back toward me; spotting something on the ground, he bends down and picks up my holey stone. He shows it to me, then looks through it.

First at the trees, a blinking shake of the head and a second look. A glance at me, words I can’t hear. Then he turns, looking toward the Bay.

Jeremy falls back like he’s been smacked in the forehead with a log. Dropping the stone, scrabbling about frantic, he finds it and comes to me, putting a hand behind me to sit me up. It’s excruciating. Like shards of broken ouch in all my muscles. I’m trying to yell at him to stop. Then he puts his other hand on my chest to steady and turn me.

The hand with the stone.

All pain drops away. I can breathe, which I hadn’t realized was a struggle. Every joint in my body is melting into the ground. This is the best body high I’ve ever felt.

I can hear. The bellowing note of the tower is silenced, and the chimes or harp clearer, now. Jeremy is speaking; it takes a moment for me to focus on his words through the yum-yum goodtimes feeling.

“You have to see this, man. Can you stand? Holy shit, this is fucking crazy, Edward. Holy shit. Holy fucking shit.”

I take a deep breath, putting my hand over the stone at my solar plexus; Jeremy lets go and steps back as I begin to stand—and then, boing, I’m on my feet with a leap that feels … empowered. Energized. I laugh out loud and look through the stone toward the bay.

But it’s not the bay I know.

It’s larger. Deeper. Bluer.

I’m on the ridge of a mountain. Not mountainous hillsides. A mountain. Among mountains. To my left, the Browning Monument is gone. In its place is a massive tower, ancient stones encrusted with lichen, moss growing on those stones closer to the ground.

Below us, to the left: a … city? Citadel? A redwood forest with trees thousands of feet high, not merely surrounding, but growing within and throughout a shining city. White stone gleaming in the sunlight, pennants and banners flying from the tops of towers, snapping in the wind.

We hand the stone back and forth, each exclaiming at new sights.

The Tower blasts a note again, and this time it does indeed sound like a great horn. Only audible with the stone to the eye.

From the shining city among the redwoods comes an answering cascade of horns, music unlike any I’ve ever heard. The closest I can imagine would be the French Horn, but these are … lighter, more quicksilver. It brings to mind the song of unicorns, making a French Horn sound like the bellow of pregnant oxen. It’s hard to pass the stone to Jeremy. I’m jealous of that music.

The instruments are unfamiliar … but the music itself …

There’s something in the melody. It’s got a hook that echoes through my mind. I pass the stone to Jeremy; “Listen to that music,” I say, “and tell me if it’s familiar to you.”

He does. Head cocked, attentive. After a time he says, “Nope. Never heard it before.”

When he passes the stone back to me (without any hesitation—how is he not covetous of the stone?) there’s something tickling at my mind; I look through the stone at the Tower again.

About nine feet up, a glowing throb. Light. The idea of attention. I lower the rock, steping closer to the Browning Monument. Putting the rock to my eye, I look again.

The glowing is at the height of the top of the Browning Monument.

“Jeremy, boost me up,” I say.

He does. And there, atop the monument, is an oilcloth sack: weathered, dirty, traces of moss and mildew. I pull it down. Dead leaves and insects fall from it as Jeremy lowers me.

“How the fuck do you find this shit?” he says.

“I don’t want to question it,” I say.

Inside the sack is a leather satchel, very old. There are places where the leather is cracking. The buckle is supple enough to open, however, and inside the satchel is an old waterproof envelope containing many pages of different papers—some typed, some hand-written.

At the top of the stack: typewritten, loose pages yellowed with time; this is not a newspaper clipping. We sit in the shade of the Browning Monument; each page I read, I hand to Jeremy. He keeps the pages neat, a skill I lack. I’m wishing for coffee; this first page is a doozy:

WMSP, Part II, Episode VII; Thursday, July 27: Ghost Child Mary

In Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Sci-Fi, Theatre, Writing on May 22, 2019 at 12:06 pm

(Perhaps you’ve clicked on this from the newness of oh my yes, but you don’t know where to begin? Click here, friend. Below is only what the French call, le spoiler.)

Mama says it’s time for me to tell the truth.

I don’t like that, but I also don’t like spinach and Mama says eating spinach is part of growing up. And I’m too dead to grow up. I wish I’d eaten more spinach, then maybe I’d know more what it feels like to be a grown-up.

Okay, Mama. I’m telling truth now, and the truth is I didn’t know who that old white man was. But I see him sometimes, around the theater. If I’m up to mischief, he’s there. But there’s more truth, other truth I need to tell. Like what happened when that storm came up and the night cracked open.

The top of the tower was too windy, so I dropped inside of it.

I saw when the fancy clothes man and the Chop-Chop Lady got smacked away, which was funny but also scary because that will make them mad. And I know what happens when he gets mad.

I saw the old white man leave.

I saw those two fools follow the footprints in the snow.

I called out from inside the tower, but on the other side of that crack in the air they didn’t look like they heard me. I followed them through the crack. Damn fool white boys think they’re safe.

Sorry, Mama.

Mama says I just need to say what happened, and this is what happened. Without swearing. Even though those boys swear more than they breathe.

That fool with the beard who thinks he’s funny said—

Sorry, Mama.

Edward said, Why the golly is it snowing?

He didn’t really say golly. He said something much, much worse. Something I’m never supposed to say, even though I have to follow this damn fool around listening to his swears—

Sorry, Mama!

Other White Boy said, We must dreaming or imagining this.

Edward said, What’s that way over there?

He pointed, and the moon broke through the clouds like in a movie, and it lit up a castle. A honest-to-goodness castle. Like in a fairy tale. And it was way, way too far away to be in this park.

I was inside of a tree, so I felt down through the roots and looked down the hillside.

This was not the same hillside. This was a mountainside.

Edward saw it right then, and said so (by swearing lots of swears that you can probably guess) followed by, That canyon is thousands of feet deeper than it was before we walked into the snow.

Other White Boy said, We should go back. We might get stuck here.

Edward said, But what if there are Redheaded Elf Girls who want to …

Mama, I don’t want to say that.

But I’m not supposed to!

Well okay then, he said he wanted to marry and raise a family with each and every Redheaded Elf Girl he could find. Do you understand that I am not saying that’s what he said? I think you probably understand.

Other White Boy said, What if they have Elf Civil … iss …

Okay, Mama.

Mama says I can skip this part of the conversation.

These white boys started to get cold because they walked into a blizzard, surprise surprise some white boys didn’t expect a blizzard to freeze them, and they turned around to go back.

Here’s what they saw happening to them: they walked for a long time in the snow. It got colder and colder. No matter how many steps they took, the crack in the air just got farther away.

What I saw happening to them was that they were walking backwards. I thought it was because they’re white-boy stupid, but then that girl who keeps running around the park steps out from inside a tall hollow tree and jabs at the ground with her staff next to Edward and says,

Walk forward!

The white boys walked forward. Because a woman told them to. But they couldn’t see her which is maybe why they listened right away. Boys don’t like to listen if they know it’s advice from a girl. And also, they couldn’t see the roots out of the ground wrapped around their ankles.

Telling the truth: I didn’t see the roots, either. And those roots were what were pulling the boys backwards. Only now the roots looked like skeleton hands, grasping clack-clack-clack when they got forced to let go. The girl with the staff broke the roots and the boys ran toward the crack in the air and it didn’t get farther away.

I started to go too, but there were hands holding my feet now.

I didn’t say any swears, though. Not even when those hands grabbed up my legs and all I could think about was the night I lost my eyes and never saw Mama again.

Yes, Mama.

Okay, I said some swears. But I was so scared. Because things can’t touch me most of the time. And now they were grabbing my arms and they were actual skeleton hands.

There was whispering I couldn’t hear, more like I felt it on my skin. I could feel what they wanted, to pull me down into the ground with them and make me be like them. Even though I’m a Ghost Child, they wanted to put their fingers in my eyes and make me so cold, not cold like the fog that follows me everywhere but cold like rock and stone deep underground where old hatred pools and flows, where the horns, hoofs and claws of an ancient, evil god wait for men to dig them up and use them.

I saw where the shards of that broken god were lodged in the earth, all over the earth. Under deserts, under the ocean, under forests. Skeleton hands know the way.

I saw that in most places, they’re just shards. Bad for the world, but no power.

Except on the northeast side of a mountain near here. That’s the one place where there’s a whole entire horn from his evil head. The whole mountain is growing around it, like an infected pimple. And if that horn is unearthed, these skeleton hands can come get you in your bed at night, and the pimple wants to pop.

It’s popped before.

That’s how the mountain got its name.

But the old white man, and he looks like a wizard cowboy in those clothes and I want to say yipee-ki-yabracadabra but I don’t because that would be disrespectful.

I know, Mama, that’s why I didn’t say it.

Okay, Mama. I’m sorry I was disrespectful to him. He did save me. You’re right.

Well the way he saves me is: he walks up next to my tree and takes me by the hand and walks me through the snow and pushes me through the crack in the night; and I hear whispers turn to screams behind me from the owners of the skeleton roots.

I’m through the crack before the boys, and before they get through Adventure Girl breaks a rock in half with her staff and puts one half in Edward’s pocket. She dropped the other half on the snowy side of the crack.

Old white man looks at her and says, I’ve opened the door for you. Is that wise? Anything could slip in or out.

She says to him, I have to break the pattern.

The boys walk through the crack and it seals right up. Warm night air flows through me. I didn’t realize how much that place was making me cold even from just being there.

Edward falls to the ground, sits on his butt and cries like a little girl.

It was embarrassing.

Other White Boy says, Why are you crying, grown-ass man?

Sorry Mama, but who cries like that?

Anyway Edward said, I just always wanted to find a portal to a magical land. And now I’ve been through one. And I don’t think I’ll ever get back.

And I popped out of the tower and said, Just you wait! Mama says look in your pocket!

Because Mama said to. Right, Mama?

Mama says yes.

And Other White Boy freaks out, because nobody told him about the little black girl with no eyes, but Edward he looks in his pocket. The rock has a hole in it. When he looks through the hole, he can see the other rock in the snow, half of this rock. There’s a seam in the air from that rock.

Edward swore a lot of happy swears and wanted to open the seam, but Other White Boy dragged him away with words like, coffee, whiskey and reality.

That’s what happened.

I told it as best I remember. Did I do okay, Mama?

Oh yeah: the Adventure Girl was standing there watching Edward.

I think she was crying. It made me sad.

I think she knows him.

Okay, Mama. I’ll keep watching after him.

Mama says that’s all for now. I’m waving bye-bye, you just can’t see it.

Because you can’t see me. I’m Ghost Child Mary.

I don’t have eyes.

But I see too much.