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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, 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.

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?

But there’s one thing that leaps out of these pages and grabs me by the oh-no-not-that: Lorraine York is my maternal grandmother.

I’ve got goosebumps whose roots are a deep and resonant, What the fuck?

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.

WMSP, Part II: a third entertainment

In Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Sci-Fi, Theatre on May 15, 2019 at 12:06 pm

(This is an ongoing series. If you enjoy confusion, read the rest of this post. If you want a firm foundation under your cottage of delights, start here.)

ACT I, Sc. 3

(We are on a small, wooded rise. Dead, dry grass and pine needles surround a small, dry dirt clearing, at the center of which stands a round, hand-built stone tower of about nine feet in height. It’s late on a summer night. There are pine trees bordering this clearing—shorter downstage, taller in the back, but they have the bedraggled, drought-stricken appearance of bedraggled, drought-stricken pine trees. None are more than twenty-five feet high. There is some trash visible: a Starbucks cup, an empty Fritos bag, a used condom and the like.

Interlocutor enters.)

INTERLOCUTOR
We are in a very different part of the forest now, ladies and gentlemen. On a certain level, it could be said to be a different forest altogether, though from a purely geographical, topographical standpoint, it is not too far from our last encounter with our intrepid be-khaki’d adventuress.
I think, however, that you will find her efforts less-than-successful in this, the final scene of the evening’s entertainment.
Brace yourselves: this will be bloody.
And should any of you find the idea of a young lady flayed alive upsetting to your sensibilities, remember this: she is a sinner like the rest of us, and therefore deserves everything coming to her. Better thee than me, as the sentiment goes. Ah, here she comes now!

(Reader enters, dressed as she was in Sc. 2, but dustier, dirtier, her hair askew. She holds her hat to her head, a large bump on her forehead, glancing behind her as she runs up the slope to this tower.

Interlocutor stands back and watches during the following, perhaps crossing his arms, perhaps bouncing in place, willing her to fail and unable to contain his delight.

Reader circles the tower, searching it for something. She consults a journal she carries on her person, eyes on the book as she leans her staff against a tree and removes her backpack to lean next to her staff. She speaks during all of the above action.

As Reader speaks, a figure appears—unseen by Reader—from the trees beyond the tower: the Hooded Thing from the last scene, lurching and hungry; it hears her, pauses, sniffs the air, rubs at its groin and steps out of the robe, shifting shape to a human female form in early 20th Century dress; though her garb is everyday wear, she is somewhat formal in her bearing. Her hair is in a bun. Head bowed, she is a shadow, a silhouette moving with dark purpose. She stands on the opposite side of the tower. She opens her left hand; a large axe slides into it, as though it came from within her sleeve, which it did not. The head of the axe hits the dirt with a soft thud, the base of the handle resting in her hand. She raises the axe, ready to chop. Her head remains bowed. This is Axe Lady.

All of the above takes place during the time it takes for Reader to enter, set down her burdens and speak her monologue below.)

READER
As Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came, so do I circle now this monument to that shadowed tale. I see no markings, I sense no shift in power, no tingling foreboding. I must check my notes.
This night is strangely warm, the lights of the city brighter and more abundant than from any other vista on this mountainside.
I find no traces. On the other side of the tower, perhaps I missed—

(As Reader crosses toward the other side of the tower, Axe Lady screams, swinging the axe at Reader’s head; Axe Lady’s head remains bowed.

Reader ducks, axe misses.

There are cries from offstage, male voices and the sound of three men approaching.

Axe Lady falls to the ground, head facing upstage, clutching her side and wriggling in what looks like pain.)

AXE LADY
Help, help. /She’s trying to kill me. Come closer. Please help me.

(/Three men enter; they are not of this time, not of this story: an actor in his mid-40’s, a writer-filmmaker in his mid-twenties, a singer in his mid-twenties.

Reader picks up axe, whirling to face the newcomers.

Interlocutor is not amused, but knows how this will end. He waits.)

ACTOR
What the fuck?!

READER
Who the heck are you fellows?
And why do you cuss so much?

AXE LADY
Don’t let her kill me, please. /Please help me. She followed me in the night with an axe. She stole my husband. She’s nothing but a slut!

SINGER
/The one with the axe is the girl who fell.
I don’t know who the talkative lady is. Who are you, lady?

READER
Why are you following me? And how? My steps are untraceable, my path forever winding!

WRITER
She didn’t have an axe a minute ago.

AXE LADY
Please come closer, I’m bleeding. I’m bleeding because this girl chopped me. She chopped me because my husband was so hard for me when he got home!

(Writer steps toward Axe Lady.)

ACTOR
Wait. Something isn’t right.

(Writer stops, looking at Actor.

Actor points at Axe Lady.)

There’s no blood.

(Axe Lady’s head snaps around backward. Face fully revealed for the first time, her eyes glow white.)

AXE LADY
I am the biter of penises!

SINGER
Kellyanne Conway?

(Axe Lady drags herself across the ground toward the men, arms and legs at wrong angles, blue chunks dripping from her mouth.

The men back away, she tries to corner them in the clearing during the following.)

WRITER
Something tells me we should go /now.

AXE LADY
/Mine is the mouth that turns your dreams to dread, the tongue that snakes into your boyholes while you dream your secret lusts!

SINGER
(to Actor)
See, this is why I prefer men.

ACTOR
Right now I get it.

READER
Do you not know how much danger you’re in?! Why are men so stupid?

(Reader leaps toward Axe Lady, swinging axe with a wild battle cry; she’s clearly had some experience with this. The axe will take off Axe Lady’s head.

The men stare, shocked.

Just as the axe is about to make contact, Axe Lady catches the blade in her hand: it is silent, literally all sound disappears for a moment as the contact is made. Reader is helpless, dangling in the air, unable to let go of the axe.)

SINGER
Time to go.

(Singer turns and runs back the way they came—but hits an invisible barrier, is thrown back, landing hard, the breath knocked out of him. He lays there, horrible hurking noises coming out of him as he struggles to breathe.

Writer is looking from Singer to Axe Lady, frantic.

Actor is searching his pockets, also frantic.

Axe Lady opens her other hand, flicking her index finger into a long, tapering needle-sharp point.)

AXE LADY
The darkness must be fed. Interfering sluts get what they deserve.

(Axe Lady slowly runs the needlefinger up Reader’s leg, toward her groin.)

ACTOR
Fuck! No salt! Ghost Child Mary, can you help us out?

(Ghost Child Mary appears atop the tower.

Interlocutor staggers back, shocked; possibly even damaged.

As Interlocutor is shocked, so is Axe Lady; their movements mirror one another, but Axe Lady does not lose her grip on Reader, pulling her close, staring her bright white eyes into Reader’s eyes until Reader goes limp.)

GHOST CHILD MARY
Mama says you got yourself all tangled up, Mister!

INTERLOCUTOR
Abandon the slut! Take the child! Her sightless eyes see too much!

(All see Interlocutor now. Actor, Writer ad-lib realistic reactions. Singer is incapacitated.

Ghost Child Mary, initially focused on Actor, sees Interlocutor, Reader and the Axe Lady.)

AXE LADY
I hunger to peel her skin from her flesh!
I hunger to peel her flesh from her /bones!

GHOST CHILD MARY
/This scene is supposed to end badly.
I know that girl in khaki; she thinks I don’t see her, but she’s always running, hunting, searching.
Oh, but that man hides the truth of events. That lady is made of bad things. Not a person at all.
Mama, can I help?

(A wind blows; pine needles rain down like snow.)

Please, Mama?

(Wind blows stronger. Dust and pine needles whirl up, blinding everyone—including Interlocutor and Axe Lady, who drops Reader.

A little to the side and back of the tower, the dust and pine needles whirl more tightly into a violent dust devil.

All variously cry out, over which we hear:)

But I wanna help!

(From the center of the dust devil steps an old man in a black coat, with a full white beard and crazy white hair.)

OLD MAN
Room! Room to turn round in, to breathe and be free!

(As he speaks, he gestures: the air above the tower fractures. Wind intensifies.)

To grow to be giant, to sail as at sea

(Another gesture, a fallen tree branch sweeps Interlocutor and Axe Lady off into the night. Wind is howling like a tornado now. Still, the Old Man’s voice carries easily.)

With the speed of the wind on a steed with his mane

(The fracture in the air forks down into the earth on either side of the tower.)

To the wind, without pathway or route or a rein!

(Lightning strikes the tower; what was a fracture now shatters: but what, if anything, did it affect?

The wind ceases.

Ghost Child Mary has disappeared.

The Old Man stands there, smiling, surveying his handiwork.

Actor sits up.)

ACTOR
Everyone okay?

WRITER
(from his position on the ground)
How the fuck do you get anything done if this is what your nights are like after rehearsal?

(Singer sits up.)

SINGER
Yeah, no, I’m done.

(Singer stands, leaves; as he exits:)

Bye Felicia.

(Singer is gone; Old Man watches him go, bemused.

During the following, Actor and Writer sit up, dusting themselves off, wary eyes on the Old Man.)

OLD MAN
I once sat alone in the moonlight,
In the moonlight soft and fair,
And a thousand thoughts stole o’er me,
While penciling, sitting there;
And the cricket was chirping, a chirping
And sang as I sat alone,
How green grows the grass around you?
What path beyond tower of stone?

(Old Man vanishes in a swirling of thistledown. Actor and Writer react, standing, looking around for him.)

WRITER
How many times can I say what the fuck in one night?

(Snow is falling. Actor and Writer notice it through the next three lines.)

ACTOR
I’ve seen that guy before. Backstage at Woodminster in … 1994, I think.

WRITER
I thought your first Woodminster show was in 2015.

ACTOR
Long story. I thought you … read it …

(A cold wind blows from the trees upstage; Actor and Writer turn to see:

The moon coming out from behind clouds upstage, revealing the same landscape, but covered completely by snow; it looks like Norway at Christmas.

Actor clicks on his flashlight, illuminating a set of tracks leading off upstage, into the snowbound forest.

They stand staring at the footprints. Actor turns off his flashlight.

Snowfall increases.

An owl hoots.

End of Scene 3.)

WMSP, Part II, Episode V; Thursday, July 27

In Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Writing on May 8, 2019 at 12:06 pm

(Ongoing series; it begins here. If you’re all caught up, read on!)

Are you guys going to murder me?”

This from Bryan as we’re walking down Sanborn Drive, the paved road that goes through Joaquin Miller Park. It traces a curvy loop from farther down Joaquin Miller Road, up past the pyramid—where it splits into a higher road and a lower road like a river around an island, converging again behind(ish) Woodminster, whence it leads out past the ranger station to Joaquin Miller Road again. The entrance by the ranger station is now the main entrance to the park, and the only automotive access to Woodminster itself. It’s gated at the lower entrance. At the upper end, automobile traffic is blocked on the right fork where the road splits, the left fork leading down to Woodminster. This blocked right fork is the road I walked down both times in search of the pyramid.

It’s after 10:30 at night, we’ve all parked our cars out on Joaquin Miller Road, as the rangers will eventually lock the front gate. The night is warm, easily 75 degrees. It was very hot today.

Yes, Bryan, we’re going to murder you,” Jeremy says.

I, for one, plan to murder you in the face,” I say.

You make everything sound sexual, Mr. Edward,” Bryan says.

Do I? How’s this: porkpie hats and a barrel of rum.”

See? You make everything filthy.”

Dead puppies.”

Kinky bastard.”

Okay, now you’re just projecting.”

Guys,” Jeremy says. His tone is quiet, urgent. We stop, and I’m aware, in the stillness, that there’s been a goosebumpy susurration in the brittle grass on either side of the road, building as we’ve walked.

We’re on the high road, right-hand side of the island split, exactly the same route I’ve taken each time I’ve walked this road. There in front of us, dimly visible in the night, is a trail leading off to the right, up a hill. Next to it is a wooden sign. I can’t make out what it says from this distance. We stand still like this for quite a while.

Bryan says, “Why am I spooked?”

I … thought I saw someone. Up that trail,” says Jeremy.

We’ve all got flashlights,” says Bryan. “Let’s use them?”

Nobody turns on their flashlight.

What does that sign say?” I say.

That’s the Browning Monument,” Jeremy says.

Bryan and I both go, “Ohhh … ”

I click my flashlight on. Brown-painted wood, two signboards supported by wooden posts at the sides, yellow lettering, nothing fancy:

THE BROWNING MONUMENT
BUILT 1904

On the lower board it says:

ERECTED BY POET JOAQUIN MILLER TO HONOR
HIS FELLOW POET AND FRIENDS ROBERT AND
ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING

Still, nobody moves.

The grass is whispering, but there’s no breeze here. I’m thinking we should have come during the day.

Someone shoves past us from behind, knocking Bryan to the ground, then tripping over a staff to go sprawling in the dirt and dry grass at the base of the sign.

I train the beam of my flashlight on this person as I move to help them up, saying, “Are you okay?”

It’s a young woman in khaki, an old-school backpack and bedroll on her back. She’s wearing a Smokey the Bear hat, and she’s terrified at my approach. Brandishing the staff, she scrambles to her feet, running away from us.

Her hat falls off.

She runs through the sign marking the Browning Monument, as though it isn’t there.

She notices her missing hat, turns around, runs back through the sign, picks up her hat and, clapping it to her head, runs smack into the sign, falling back onto her ass with a surprised cry of—I kid you not—“Aw, gee!”

The fuck?” Jeremy says.

Her eyes go wide as she gasps, turning to us, looking scandalized as she again scrambles to her feet. Her hair is all askew now, though from the curls I imagine it escapes regularly.

She looks around, doing a massive comic double-take at those lights of Oakland and the rest of the Bay Area visible from this spot. She lingers a moment, then shakes her head and dashes around the Browning Monument sign, up the slope and into the darkness.

This is a very complex prank,” says Bryan.

If she’s a ghost, she’s confused,” I say.

Confused and hot,” says Jeremy.

Only straight boys would want to fuck a ghost,” says Bryan.

Happy Halloween,” says Jeremy.

From the darkness up the slope, a terrified scream.

WMSP, Part II, Episode IV; Thursday, July 27

In Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Sci-Fi, Uncategorized, Writing on May 1, 2019 at 12:06 pm

(Newbies go here; familiar readers, dive in below.)

Offstage left. In my place for my next entrance, poring over the strange three sentences, I’m so engrossed in unscrambling the words that I don’t notice anyone around me until a voice startles me over my right shoulder.

In my thought every word lied he was first?” says Bryan Munar. “Who was second, Mr. Edward?”

I turn to look at him and Bryan puts a finger over one ear, humming off-key and then singing, “Younger than spring-time, am I … ” He deliberately loses the key, which was wrong to begin with, spiraling off into wrong notes.

You sing so beautifully,” I say.

Bryan curtsies, flips invisible hair and puts a finger over his ear again, singing, “There is nothing like a da-aaaaa-aaaaame … ” Again losing the key, he sings louder.

From onstage, Joel calls, “Can we have it quiet offstage please?”

Everybody goes quiet.

Bryan mock slaps my shoulder and offstage-murmurs, “Geez, Edward, learn to sing.”

I could never sing as well as you, Bryan,” I say, matching his volume.

From my left another voice murmurs, “That’s a word scramble.”

I turn, discovering Jeremy Brandt, the production photographer, writer, local film student. He’s 20-something with curly, close-cropped hair and spectacles. Energetic. Upbeat. He looks like the fellow who should be solving this puzzle.

Bryan says, “Duh, of course it’s a word scramble.” He takes the paper from my hands, saying, “These words are familiar, like a famous quote or something.”

Let me see that,” Jeremy says. He stands next to Bryan, they’re both holding the paper, mulling it over, murmuring the words like a secret incantation.

They move closer to a dim, blue backstage light, holding the paper close to the bulb. Stagehands come through under the direction of Judy, and we all step aside as a large set piece is moved into the stage left entrance, ready to be rolled on. Bryan is left holding the paper against the light.

Do you practice fire safety as well as you sing?” I say.

Bryan looks at the paper and whisks it away. The light bulb has left a strange mark on the bottom of the paper, under the words.

We step up onto the concrete steps leading to the top of the theater, near another backstage light.

Oh my gosh, Edward,” Bryan says, then sings, “Inviii-iiiisible iii-hiii-hiii-hiiiiink.”

I’m the last one to see it: a square with nine numbered boxes, like an enclosed tic-tac-toe.

Invisible ink indeed,” I say. “Lemon juice? Milk?”

Jeremy sniffs the paper. “Now it just smells like old paint. But one thing’s for certain: that’s a magic square,” he says.

The paper looks like this:

in my thought
every word lied
he was first
____
|7|1|3|
|8|9|6|
|5|4|2|

Is this like Sudoku? So boring,” says Bryan. “I haaaaa-aaaaate iih-hii-hiiiiiit.”

Look at the words,” Jeremy says.

There are nine words,” I say.

OMG,” Bryan says.

Then we all say, slowly, finding the words that match the numerical order,

My … first … thought … was … he … lied … in … every word.”

Is this a note from your ex girlfriend, Mr. Edward?” says Bryan.

This is Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, by Robert Browning,” says Jeremy.

Eew, creeper porn?” says Bryan.

No, fucko, it’s a poem,” I say. “And I’m embarrassed to confess, I’ve never read it.”

I have, and this is the first line. That’s why it felt so familiar. Like, In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree,” says Jeremy. “Where did you get this, Edward?”

I found it. In a pyramid.”

They’re quiet.

I realize how fucking odd that sounds. I’m about to change my story, make a joke about pyramid schemes. But they’re looking at me in a way that gives me pause.

Is this … part of your blog thing?” Bryan says. “Too creepy. I couldn’t read past the third episode.”

Dude. Kill me off. Like, seriously. Put me in it and kill me off,” Jeremy says.

Wait, you guys are reading my stuff?” I’m pleasantly surprised.

A bunch of people are scared to walk to their cars at night because of your creepy-ass stories, Mr. Edwaa-aaaa-ha-ha-haaaaard,” Bryan says. He emphasizes the “hard.”

Edward! Where the hell are you?” Judy shouts from the bottom of the stairs, looking upstage toward the roll door.

I’ve missed an entrance. I scramble down the steps and jaunt onto the stage like I’m right on time.

All I can think about is the quote.

When I exit at the end of my scene, Bryan and Jeremy are standing offstage left with an old paperback between them. I peek at the title: The Collected Works of Robert Browning, Volume [faded, obscured number].

It’s from Jim’s library, over there,” says Jeremy before I ask.

Who names their kid Cuthbert?” says Bryan, focused on the words.

I go to the shelves near Joel’s office, formerly his father Jim Schlader’s office, searching for a duplicate copy. Nothing else by Browning. I return to where Bryan and Jeremy are reading, feeling like a third wheel.

Jeremy says, “This is awkward, it feels like you’re a third wheel.” He looks up from the book. “How do you come up with all this creepy stuff, Edward? And—wait, if this paper is related to your blog, how is it here? I mean, do you craft props to support your fiction, or … ”

I’m flummoxed. How to answer? They’re both looking at me now, as various actors and crew members swarm back and forth on their various paths. We’re a still pool amid furious rapids. In spite of our stillness, I’m aware of a whirlpool of doubt forming.

Is it possible I’ve imagined all of this? Clearly, it hasn’t been deliberate. But has anyone else here seen Weedbeard? Even the interactions between Obi-Wan-point-five, Weedbeard and Judy were a recovered memory. That may not have ever happened. Because the thing is, people literally do not “imagine” events and believe them. It’s a common term, “I must have imagined it,” but what it really means is, “I must have mis-perceived / mis-remembered / misunderstood what I was seeing.” When people see things that are not there, those people are delusional. And when delusional people believe the unreal things they see … Yikes, am I more than just depressed?

Mental illness—as far as I know—only manifests in my family in the form of depression. But is it possible that I’m the one who inherited a more generous dollop of genetic mental issues? There are multiple things I remember from my childhood that nobody else in the family has any memory of; in addition, I have what sometimes feels like a perception of an alternate universe, wherein some events coincide with events in our timeline, and I can feel when those events happen.

I can feel when those events happen sounds like something a delusional schizophrenic might say. Would say.

Holy shit.

I even have an entire timeline in my head of a massive earthquake that hit the Bay Area in 2012. It’s something I started to write down at the time. It didn’t happen in this world, but aspects of those alternate reality events had echoes in our own, most notably the predictions of Harold Camping, Jr., and the direct correlation between the days he predicted the end of our world and the days upon which the quakes occurred in that alternate timeline.

This is the kind of thing I push to a mental back burner most of the time. It only really bubbles to the surface when I’m about to fall asleep, when I let my mental guard down.

All of the above runs through my head in the span of an interminable three seconds. I realize now that I can’t tell them anything about this. I need help. I need to tell my therapist everything on Tuesday.

Jeremy says, “Oh fuck. Is it real, Edward?”

Bryan looks from Jeremy to me, then back. “Wait, no? Please? Tell me it’s not real Mr. Edward.”

I’m frozen in place, entirely uncertain. I feel myself blushing.

The Browning Monument!” Jeremy says. “That’s it!”

Quiet offstage!” from Judy in the stage left wings.

Browning Monument feels familiar,” I say.

It’s a tower, Edward. It’s right here in the park,” Jeremy says, very excited. “’My first thought was he lied in every word,’ is the first line of Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came. This means you have to go to the tower!” Judy peeks around the corner from the wings, scowling. The three of us move away from the roll doors, toward the men’s dressing room. Jeremy says, quiet but nearly bouncing out of his shoes, “And holy fuck-a-mighty, it’s real!

Wait. This is all bullshit, right?” says Bryan. “You guys planned this? To freak me out?”

I’m looking at them. Thinking about how I never would have found this answer so quickly without them.

Have I found my detective companions?

WMSP, Part II: a further entertainment

In Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Sci-Fi, Uncategorized, Writing on April 24, 2019 at 1:12 pm

Act I, Sc. 2

(The Reader is alone in the forested darkness of the outdoors night time.
She is searching near an ancient monument. This monument looks at once familiar and out of place.
Nearby, a spot that looks as though it should be occupied. It remains, for the moment, empty.

A gentleman, the Interlocutor, enters. It is possible he wears a three-piece suit. You will not remember, therefore it is also possible he wears a four-piece suit.
The Interlocutor steps into the empty space. Theatre Majors, you’re welcome.)

INTERLOCUTOR
(Always speaking directly to the audience, unless otherwise noted.)
Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen.
I am not here.
It is at this point in the narrative that I am obliged to offer the following warning: the events you purport to be witnessing are not, in fact, occurring. Further, should you endeavour to describe what you’re about to not see to anyone, anywhere, at any time or place, you are obliged to begin with the following caveat:
“The first thing you need to know is that nothing I’m about to say actually happened.”
Remember that phrase, please.
Now, to our heroine—not of the opioid variety, though potentially just as addictive. We’ll call her the Reader, or simply Reader, where appropriate. She is an attractive young woman of whatever ethnicity you please. As you can see, she is appropriately attired in outdoorsy khaki and a campaign hat, the sleeves of her button-down rolled up because she’s ready to get to work.
Her neckerchief is from Camp Clever Redwoods in Trevarno, California; the slide has an emblem that is hard to see in this darkness—in full light, it is clearly two crossed diagonal upward-pointing arrows with strange symbols in the resulting four quadrants.
Trevarno does not exist. Do not go looking for it.
This is a young woman of parts.
On her back is a bedroll pack; a sensible and possibly weaponized walking staff leans against a nearby tree.
On her belt are an assortment of pouches, each containing necessities of the life-and-death variety.
It is unfortunate that, despite her being so well-equipped, she will—eventually—be devoured.
A waning gibbous moon shines down from above, illuminating the monument as best it can in its lessened state.

READER
(Speaks directly to audience.)
The first thing you need to know is that nothing I’m about to say actually happened.

(Interlocutor turns to us; single external take recommended.)

INTERLOCUTOR
Oh my. It appears I may have tampered with the text.
You will perhaps later understand that I have done so with your best interests at heart, ladies and gentlemen.

READER
(To herself, as she examines the monument.)
Long have I searched in vain for that which is hidden. Dark and desolate, the reaches I’ve trekked. Uncertain the path and treacherous the pass, my journey has been fueled by rumor and whispers, stymied by obscurances and sudden lackings. It is now, under this waning gibbous Scorpio moon, that I have come to this place in the dark of night to delve secretly for the first part of a lost book, a hidden book, a book that does not exist—yet sits at the center of a web of shadow.

(In the darkness beyond the fitful moonlight, we hear a sound.)

INTERLOCUTOR
Pause for a moment, ladies and gentlemen, as you can see our Reader has done; for, indeed, there was a sound in the darkness beneath the surrounding trees. Was it a night bird?
Observe her poise, listening over one shoulder.
Do you suppose she will maintain that poise when her belly is ripped open by the splintry teeth of whatever waits for her in the darkness?
Watch now as she shakes off her dread and attempts to reassure herself and, by extension, all of you.

READER
(As she speaks, Reader draws on the monument with chalk: four symbols at upper left, lower right, upper right and lower left.)
It is the custom of whatever forces seek to prevent the book’s discovery to sound dark warnings and foreboding cries in the night. These grunting warblers and howls of rending occur all along my path, which tells me two things:
The first is that they do not want me on this path.
The second is that they know—of my deepest heart—that which fills me with terror. For each time I believe I am close to that which I seek, they step in to suggest the approach of some—puppy nestled in the comforting crook of my grandmother’s arms.

(Reader stops, shakes head, disorientated.)
I did not mean to say that. Something is amiss.

INTERLOCUTOR
Observe: even as she turns to look around, I step forward to down center stage, gesturing with my left hand to lower the light on Miss Reader, thus obscuring the full nature of the symbols and whatever else she does in the darkness. None of this matters because / it is not real—

(/A gigantic, tattered and shadowy horror—the Bat-winged Hog—erupts, screaming, from the trees beyond the monument.
Interlocutor disappears, quiet; we are distracted by the horror of the Bat-winged Hog, its leathery wings beating as it claws its way through the branches.
Reader steps forward, executing a graceful yet complex reverence (in the balletic sense) as she drops her pack and arms herself with her staff.)

READER
Bat-Winged Hog! Thine is not the head I wish to impale upon a pike this night! Long my path and dark my days, but never under the shadow of thy impressively foul leatherflaps!

(Bat-Winged Hog shits a wad of leech-tar at Reader.
She steps easily from harm; the tar splatters on a tree, burning and wriggling as the tree screams; all beetles and bugs on or around the tree flee the leeches. Fungi lean toward the tree and begin a visible mycelium migration toward the tree.
Reader sees this and begins, while speaking the following, a desperate search of the surrounding forest floor.)

READER
Dark this night and dim this moon—if we are to battle, let us battle under a full moon in a sign less toxic to thy most undead and yet porcine self! Terrestrial scorpion’s sting may hold no danger for your farmstead cousins, O Harbinger of the Rotting Trough, but Luna in Scorpio may prove fatal for one who lives only by night!

(Bat-Winged Hog shits another wad of leech-tar in the crook of a tree, then begins chewing one of its front feet off.)

READER
Bat-Winged Hog! I see thy plan: self-chewed foot planted in leech-tar shite grows Hogling Toothface! Even as you struggle with this foul endeavor, I scour the forest for your doom!

(True to her word, Reader drops to her knees and, lighting a small oil lantern from within her pack, begins searching at the bases of trees. She continues this throughout the following, until otherwise noted.

Meanwhile, Bat-Winged Hog nods, delighted and giddy at its clever plan; the foot is fully chewed; gouting poisoned blood, this creature of night plants its severed foot in the leech- tar.
Immediately the leech-tar quivers and spurts, like a lanced pilonidal cyst.
Hogling Toothface begins to emerge, face-first: its visage entirely of teeth, with one or two eyes misplaced and a rapacious digit, of profound interphalangeal artiuclarity, which protrudes from its forehead and spastically beckons: come-hither.

Interlocutor appears.

During the following, Hogling Toothface is thoroughly birthed with many splats and a final, massive plorp. He screams and bawls and makes his way down the tree toward Reader like a baby bird seeking its nest.)

INTERLOCUTOR
A word or two about Hogling Toothface.
As you can see, he is ugly and small.
His eyes, such as they are, do not easily stay within his skull. Ah, there we go: one of them has gotten snagged on a twig and—plorp—how unpleasant. Ah, but see? It does not merely dangle: it
watches.
The face which lost that eye, while made entirely of teeth, might be mistaken as merely horrific—but not necessarily dangerous.
This is incorrect. Should you encounter him on your night hikes at Audubon Canyon Ranch, my friends, be not mistaken: the bashing of his head against your hip or pelvis will not merely
break but will immediately pulverize bone. The teeth of his face churn against one another, turning in and biting, ripping from their sockets to pierce further with their twisted roots.
This causes him excruciating pain. Which can only be relieved by the use of that peculiar cranial protuberance you see jutting from his forehead. This is known as his Toothface Poker … his Naughty Dentist … or his Fingerling Potato.
All of which are comparatively innocuous euphemisms for what is, as clearly described in the stage directions of this text and reinforced by the words I speak, a rapacious digit. Meaning that is its sole purpose: the indiscriminate penetration of the penetrable.
This is a digit of profound interphalangeal artiuclarity. Meaning it has bones and it can move all sorts of ways.
As you can see, it spastically beckons: come-hither. Why? Because, seeing that gesture, you are more likely to run. And by all means, do. Run! Run away, fast as you can.
Yes, for you see: the fact is, no matter how fast you run, Hogling Toothface is faster. Because Hogling Toothface wants you more than you can possibly imagine. Male, female, gender neutral, gender switched, no matter!—whatever flavor you represent, you have holes. And running, you present
at least one of them.
So if you’re out and about on the trails of an evening and you feel eyes on you, or you hear the thumping patter of little cloven-hoofed babyfeet, know that you will soon be the very special friend of Hogling Toothface.
See now how close he is? See now how he reaches for her? Watch now and see her story end in screaming, in anguish, internal ripping audible in the cold forest of the night, her body discovered by park rangers in two weeks, assumed to have been fed upon by carrion eaters.

(Hogling Toothface is indeed just above Reader, reaching for her hair, his digit dripping leeches from the tip. He is grabbing her hair—

Reader leaps to her feet, her actions fitting her words as follows.

Bat-Winged Hog reacts, enraged, to all that follows; its wings get tangled and torn, stuck in the branches of the trees.)

READER
False Parasol! Thus do I raise this mushroom above me, its toxicity shading me from the dark sun of your evil origins, Bat-Winged Hog!
Only a fool runs from Hogling Toothface! See now how I grasp him by this foul protuberance! See how he is disabled by his pleasure at the contact, but, O! See now his doom!, for indeed this mushroom can be stuffed into the dribbling hole of his unnatural pene
traitor, spelled with an ‘I’ because I see that his very existence is a betrayal of all things good and right in this world!
With this broken twig I shove and stab the false parasol into his fallacy of a phallus!, tamping it deep past his un-mushroomed tip like the poisonous charge of a fiendish cannon, I seat the round in the breach and prepare to fire! Cannoneers to your posts!

(Reader wedges screaming, struggling, near-orgasmic Hogling Toothface in the crook of a tree, facing Bat-Winged Hog, readying a box of strike-anywhere matches.)

INTERLOCUTOR
She cannot possibly succeed.

READER
Friction-primer set! Sergeant, fire!

(Reader strikes the match, igniting Hogling Toothface’s anus.

Hogling Toothface screams in ecstasy and pain, his digit clogged with poisonous mushroom, the screech building until with a plorping FWOOM, the False Parasol and much of Hogling Toothface’s strange digit shoot like a cannonball at Bat-Winged Hog.)

READER
To Hell with you and your foul progeny, Infection of the Nightmare Barnyard!

(Reader’s aim is true: Bat-Winged Hog is blasted from its place in the trees, ripping from its wings and disintegrating into smoke and dust. In its place is a harmless, beautiful moth.
At the same time and in the same manner, Hogling Toothface disintegrates. In its place is nothing.
The leech-tar in the tree has been covered over by healing fungi; the trees will thrive.

Interlocutor is staring, incensed, at Reader, who crouches, wary, catching her breath. After a moment, Interlocutor remembers the audience. He turns to us and smiles.)

INTERLOCUTOR
It appears that our entertainment will last an entire evening, ladies and gentlemen. Allow me now to summon a truly diverting amusement—

(Music fills the glade.
Interlocutor is halted in his speech by its beauty.
The moth moves through the trees, appearing now i
n a shaft of oddly bright moonlight (considering that this is a gibbous moon).
If a moth can appear dazed, it does. [Note to directors: consider puppetry; training moths is perilous at the best of times.]
Reader executes a deeply graceful reverence in the moonlight.
The moth dances in the air to Reader’s speakings.)

READER
Hyalophora Euryalus, I salute you. In your eternal spiral quest to reach the moon, you have been waylaid this night by forces most unpleasant. It was never my intent that you would be used in such shadowy crabblings.
Go now and flutter thy glorious wings, for someday thy offspring shall feast upon Ceanothus! Pseudotsuga Menziesii! Ribes! Salix
!

(The moth bows and flutters up toward the Scorpio moon.
Its music continues through the rest of the scene.
Reader kneels to the moth and the moon, then moves her pack and staff to the base of the monument, making notes in a leatherbound journal during the following. It is clear she expected a different outcome.)

INTERLOCUTOR
Ladies and Gentlemen, thus do we conclude this portion of the evening’s entertainment. Little does our Reader know she has spoken the words which open a gateway to the moon. And, on levels yet to be discovered, her words may have echoed toward other gateways. Would that this were enough to save her. Alas. The next scene will, I suspect, prove most diverting—even to those among you whose tastes are more, shall we say, European? Splendid. Now / to change the scene—

(/One of the symbols on the monument glows blue, a deeper music thrumming from the monument itself, harmonizing with the music of the moon moth.
Reader is startled, stepping back, journal in hand, to observe.
Interlocutor stares in shock.)

READER
Cold my nights and shadowed my path, but now I know which new path to take! Thank you, little Moon Moth! I am inspired by your in-spiral-ation!

(Reader dons her pack and takes up her staff, heading off upstage left, exploring once again this dark forest.
Watching her go, the Interlocutor gestures. From under the ground comes a crooked figure in a tattered black hooded robe. It is under the thrall of the Interlocutor.)

INTERLOCUTOR
I bring you, now, from deepest dark
To run and fetch a prize;
You’ll scour and scathe this wooded park
Until you behold with your eyes
The slender girl with shapely thighs
Whose trek you’ll halt until she dies
And, left to rot in leaves and bark,
Her knowledge with her lies.

HOODED THING
I will halt her, choc’late malt her.

INTERLOCUTOR
Halt her first in little ways,
Frustrate every breath;
Then take her toes and split her nose,
Pull the petals from her rose,
Bite her ’til her mind quite goes
Then halt her quite to death.

HOODED THING
I’ll halt her in the darkest ways, I’ll pleasure me, she’ll scream for days.

INTERLOCUTOR
Go now!

(The Hooded Thing bounds off, grunting and growling, after Reader.
Interlocutor turns to us.)

INERLOCUTOR
(Continued.)
Let us change the scene.

(Interlocutor exits; as he does so, the scene changes to … )