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Archive for June, 2019|Monthly archive page

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!

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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 out 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 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. How the hell is she involved in this craziness? Nowhere in our family stories is there anything like this about Grandma Lorraine.

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