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

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

(Ongoing weekly narrative; new readers start here.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I thought Brock left her,” says Lorraine.

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

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

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

Lorraine gives Claire’s arm a reassuring squeeze.

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

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

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

“She said it was … afterbirth.”

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

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

In another hand, blue ink from a fountain pen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Go up there,” he says.

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

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

Healthy trees?

“Mighty fuck,” I say.

“Yep,” Jeremy says, watching me.

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

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

There’s music on the wind.

“Chimes?” I say.

“I thought maybe a harp,” he says.

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

HUUUURRRRRMMMMMM

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

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

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

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

The hand with the stone.

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

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

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

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

But it’s not the bay I know.

It’s larger. Deeper. Bluer.

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

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

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

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

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

The instruments are unfamiliar … but the music itself …

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

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

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

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

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

“Jeremy, boost me up,” I say.

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

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

“I don’t want to question it,” I say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I saw the old white man leave.

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

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

Sorry, Mama.

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

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

Sorry, Mama.

Edward said, Why the golly is it snowing?

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

Sorry, Mama!

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

Edward said, What’s that way over there?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mama, I don’t want to say that.

But I’m not supposed to!

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

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

Okay, Mama.

Mama says I can skip this part of the conversation.

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

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

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

Walk forward!

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

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

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

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

Yes, Mama.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s popped before.

That’s how the mountain got its name.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was embarrassing.

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

Sorry Mama, but who cries like that?

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

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

Because Mama said to. Right, Mama?

Mama says yes.

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

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

That’s what happened.

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

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

I think she was crying. It made me sad.

I think she knows him.

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

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

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

I don’t have eyes.

But I see too much.

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 … )

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

In Fiction, Horror, Theatre on August 17, 2018 at 12:06 pm

(Effectively mitigate silly questions about this story. Start here!)

Guess who doesn’t care if you’re pooping?

Ghost Child Mary, that’s who.

I’m sitting in the restroom in the men’s dressing room at the theater. I’m taking my time, mulling the Obi-Wan-point-five charcoal graffiti revelation, when Ghost Child Mary walks through the wall. I jump, scream in the manliest fashion, then scoot back on the toilet seat, leaning forward, covering everything.

Ghost Child Mary says, Mama says you better get ready for spooky consequences!”

She stands there in her pool of low-lying fog. Looking at me with her dark, empty eye sockets. Like I’m supposed to reply. So I say,

Thank you. And please tell your mother I say thank you, as well.”

Ghost Child Mary busts out laughing at this, walking back through the wall by which she entered. I realize I’m holding my breath. I let it out, slow.

She pops her head back through the wall, saying,

Keep poopin’!”

I yelp, farting, and she’s laughing as she disappears through the wall again.

Ghost Child Mary, you have to give me privacy!” I say.

The door to the men’s room opens a crack; from outside, Judy says,

Who you talking to, Ed?”

I’m silent for a long moment. This situation is creepy to begin with, an explanation of what just happened will only make things worse. I can still hear Ghost Child Mary’s laughter echoing, fading away. I guess Judy doesn’t hear it.

In spite of all that, in the pressure of my long moment of silence I say, “ … Ghosts?”

Huh,” says Judy. “Maybe you should sit down when you’re offstage, Ed.”

The door closes and it’s a long time before I’m relaxed enough to finish sculpting the Trumps.

It’s later, as I’m wandering the premises running my lines that I realize: Judy may not yet know that I know they saved me from Dolly Lurker, and that she halted Laurabell-Beaujolais Grausamkeit’s weird sacrificial ritual. This makes me want to ask Judy questions.

Of course, now I can’t find her anywhere.

Other cast members start to arrive. I’m checking a text on my phone in the middle of the breezeway over the fountains when Kelly and Grace, who play nurses in the show, walk by. Both of them are gifted human beings, with kind souls and brilliant minds; they also happen to have very attractive asses. And I admit, my eyes have questions and want answers.

Ghost Child Mary pops her head out of the column next to me and shouted, “I see you checking out those booties!”

The nurses stop, turning to me.

Ghost Child Mary is gone.

Excuse me, Edward?” says Kelly, her eyed narrowed, a half-smile on her lips that says I am in trouble because I have no idea where this is going. They’re walking back toward me.

That was a ghost,” I say. Because, what the fuck else can I say?

A ghost that talks about our asses?” says Grace.

She was commenting because I was looking,” I say.

There is a long silence after I speak.

Grace laughs.

Kelly smacks her on the arm, they both laugh, walking away, Kelly saying, “Do some sit-ups or something so we get to ogle you right back.”

Ghost Child Mary giggles from inside the column. Kelly and Grace turn to me, concern in their eyes.

It was the ghost,” I say.

Spooky spooky spooky!” says Ghost Child Mary, still inside the column.

How the fuck did you do that, Edward?” Kelly says.

It’s Burton,” Grace says. “Burton, where are you hiding?” They’re looking behind some old flats.

From inside the old broken-down piano that lives—and molts—on the breezeway, Ghost Child Mary says, “My name’s not Burton!”

Kelly and Grace scream and run away, Kelly calling, “Not funny, Edward!”

Ghost Child Mary, you are not helping,” I say.

She says nothing.

Later still, during rehearsal, I step aside to make way for the nurses as they run on for a number; Kelly and Grace point at me, squinting, Kelly says, “Keep the ghosts away, Ed.”

I execute a Restoration bow, knocking an old box off a table, spilling its contents into the entrance to Judy’s office. Which is a certain method for summoning Judy. If only I’d thought of it when there was time to ask her questions.

Looks like you’re helping me clean this up, Ed!” she says, and I drop to one knee, scooping the papers into the box. “You’ve got some time, Ed. See if you can’t put those in order.” Judy waves at the box as she heads off to work more of her awesomeness.

I look into the box. It’s all files filled with papers, programs. They’re paperclipped in place. It’s not a huge mess, I can do this. Full disclosure: if the files had all spilled everywhere, with loose papers going crazy, this task would take me hours.

I sit on the closest couch and organize the files; the earliest year is 1967. It’s got a program from their very first production: South Pacific! I glance through it, then tuck it into the file and get them all in order. I’m pretty pleased with myself as I set the fully organized box on the floor before me.

Something is nagging me, though. I take the South Pacific program out again and look more closely. There, about three-quarters of the way through the program, is an ad:

               Hillebrandt Flowers
Every Bloom for the Discerning Theatregoer
               Local Rates for Time Capsule
Please call Betsy!

The phone number is surely long out of service, but what’s this about a time capsule?

Betsy Hillebrandt, though—I think that’s the lady from the articles about the missing girls. Why did I think her name was Hildebrand? I head back to my dressing room to check the spelling, digging the mucky-looking plastic bag out of my backpack. It’s folded at an awkward diagonal. Taking the article out, I see a flash of white in the Ziploc and look again.

A curl of white paper sticks to the inside of the bag. It looks like a price tag. It wasn’t there before. I pull on it, tearing the corner. It’s a larger piece than I thought. I reach in again, taking care as I peel and lift the paper away from the plastic. In doing so, I understand why the bag doesn’t smell like muck at all:

The bag was painted to look like this—inside and out—and the piece of paper was painted into the inside. Careful camouflage. On the unpainted side of the paper is a message:

in my thought
every word lied
he was first

There was a strange symbol beneath the writing: a horizontal line with an arrow leading up from it to touch a circle. It did not look familiar.

“Mama says I should leave you alone when you’re pooping,” Ghost Child Mary says from right behind me. I do a kind of Don Knotts electric chair scream/wiggle, jumping up to turn around. I’m facing the door to the dressing room.

I can’t see her. “Ghost Child Mary?” I say.

She says you need to figure that out, though,” her voice comes from behind me again; I whirl, all goosebumpy, and she’s inside the mirror. “Because the window shuts.”

Ghost Child Mary walks out of the reflected dressing room into the ensemble area, and the light changes out there; it’s cleaner, the light is not fluorescent; I hear an orchestra striking up Bloody Mary, and a bunch of sailors I don’t recognize go running past. Hairstyles different.

She walks out of sight, and the light in the reflected ensemble area fades to present-day.

Holy shit. I think Ghost Child Mary was here in 1967.

I think she might have been in South Pacific.

A bubble of weird surfaces in my mind:

Is the show the thing that brings Jingles and Dolly out to play?

Woodminster, South Pacific; Part II, Episode II: Thursday, July 27: Girls Still Missing

In Fiction, Horror, Theatre on August 15, 2018 at 12:06 pm

(This story begins here. Click it if you’re new.)

There’s a strangeness, an empty ache, when approaching a place where you expect to see people who feel important in your heart—only to find that they are not there.

Turning the corner on foot near Peet’s in Montclair, expecting to see the old wizards and Louellaughra—even mulling over possible greetings as I approached—only to be stopped short by their absence. Nobody was sitting on the wooden bench. It felt like a slap in the heart.

But why? I’ve met them as a group one time; Louellaughra does not seem to like me at all. I’ve had more direct interaction with Weedbeard than any of them, and I just spent a great deal of time with him. I could drive to his house right now. I’m not going to do that, the point is I know where to find him.

True, I saw Obi-Wan-point-five devoured by Dolly Lurker.

giant flapping trapdoor teeth breaking bones and tearing flesh …

But I knew as I drove over here that I wouldn’t see him.

The spear of revelation finds its mark. Standing there on the sidewalk as slightly granola yoga moms in the most exclusive free-trade bamboo spandex park their expensive vintage-style wooden bicycles and talk about how they knew all along that Jill Stein was not to be trusted, and a vintage three-wheeled red Bugatti parks right there as the world moves blithely by with no sense of the shadow whirling around in the Redwoods above them—it hits deep in my heart: I didn’t know how important the idea of this group had become, for me. With all the darkness seeping out of the cracks at the theater, I felt there was this unbreakable band of wizards to whom I would eventually go for advice, protection, perhaps even instruction.

I’ve missed my chance.

The ache in my heart felt like a wound. This was a surprise. I stood there for a long time. Breathing. A little girl walked by with her mother.

Mommy is that man crying?” she said.

Well, sweetie, he probably deserved it,” said the woman.

That shook me out of my self-indulgent stupor. As they disappeared into the froyo shop across the street, I headed into Peet’s, procured a beverage and sat down with my back to the wall and a clear view of the entrance. A woman two tables away raised her eyebrows at the mucky-looking plastic bag, but returned to her conversation. I was happy about that. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, not even to joke my way out of a socially awkward moment.

This is the article:

July 10, 1952
Montclair, CA

No Progress in Missing Girls Case
by Ginger Trancas

An official statement has been issued by the Piedmont Police Detectives regarding the disappearance of Piedmont High Sophomores Louise Archer and Bess Tremaine, who have not been seen since the evening of July 4, when they were noted by neighbors on Castle Drive. The girls were said to be wearing sneakers, shorts and matching blue gingham tops.

According to Officer Whiting, everything is being done to find the girls. “But,” says Whiting, “While we appreciate the public’s willingness to help, the Piedmont Police Detectives would prefer that the public refrain from further vigilante brigades patrolling Joaquin Miller Park at night.”

Asked whether his department was looking into the cousins both girls were said to have in Reno, Officer Whiting claimed no knowledge of any Reno connection. Reminded of his quote in an earlier article on this subject, he said it’s being looked into. Local florist Betsy Hillebrandt, the unconfirmed organizer of what the locals are calling Safety Patrols, laughed aloud at this, saying “I know the families, Officer. They have no cousins in Reno.”

Officer Whiting offered this in response: “Ladies and gentlemen, you need to stay out of that park. These reports we’re getting—strange voices, echoing cries and “lost baby noises,” are unverifiable, and probably best left unmade. Just because you think you hear something in the night, doesn’t mean that you heard what you think it was. If I hear a sound in my yard and I think it’s a Russian spy, does that mean it’s a Russian spy? No. It means I heard a sound. Probably a raccoon.”

Hillebrandt had this question: “What if I hear raccoons speaking Russian in my yard?”

Officer Whiting did not respond, instead reading the following statement aloud:

“There is absolutely nothing to be concerned about, and all Montclair residents living on El Caminito Street, Mountaingate Way, Castle Drive, Castle Park Way, Melville Drive, Skyline Boulevard or Joaquin Miller Road are being asked to stay in their homes at night and stop exploring the park after dark.”

From Hillebrandt, “If we shouldn’t explore the park after dark, I assume it’s acceptable for us to continue exploring during the day?”

Officer Whiting asked if any of the journalists present had any questions for him. All eyes were on Hillebrandt, who said, “Are the Piedmont Police Detectives posting guards to prevent our explorations, Officer? Won’t that take men from the massive task force you’ve assembled to find Louise and Bess?”

Officer Whiting announced that the press conference was over, stepping away from the podium. He was briefly halted by Hillebrandt’s final question, “Officer Whiting—are we really going to pretend this hasn’t happened before?”

Officer Whiting left before answering any further questions, and has not been available for comment.

Anyone with information on the disappearance of Louise Archer and Bess Tremaine is encouraged to contact the Piedmont Police Detectives, but according to one older gentleman who prefers to remain anonymous, “Those boys are useless. Betsy Hillebrandt is more organized on her worst day of the year. People with information should stop by her shop. That’s what we all do. And you know what? We’re not going to stop looking. We owe it to their families. We’ll find those girls.”

There was nothing else of note in the clipping. On the back were ads for ladies’ shoes at Capwell’s. I sat sipping my coffee in silence for a long time. Something was bothering me, a wisp of a memory from Obi-Wan-point-five’s final moments. Something he’d said, what was it … ? About barbecue or a bonfire

The same mother-daughter team who passed me outside sat down at a table nearby. Her tone earnest, conversational, the girl said, “I can’t wear my Cinderella dress to see Beauty and the Beast, Mommy. I need a Belle outfit.”

Jostled memory. I let my eyes unfocus, concentrating on my breath.

Words erupted into my mind:

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

That’s what Obi-Wan-point-five said as the hands were tearing his junk before Dolly Lurker popped him into her evil funhouse gullet.

I wrote them down. No idea what the first three words mean. But the last nine words felt familiar. I wrote them again, in three rows:

to bring my
to outfit and
now become necessary

These feel like the words from outside the Old Firehouse, the curb, the wall, the base of the pyramid.

Sudden certainty, solid as the pyramid itself: Obi-Wan-point-five was the author of the charcoal messages!

But why?

Woodminster, South Pacific; Part II, Episode I: Thursday, July 27

In Fiction, Horror, Theatre on August 14, 2018 at 12:33 pm

(This entry is part of a series. It begins here. Prove your parents wrong and do something right for once in your life! Start at the beginning.)

A photograph of a woman standing on the shore of a lake in the High Sierra. Across the lake, a smallish cluster of conifers; probably a good campsite in there. The slopes behind the trees are more rocky than not, with patches of snow lingering in the shade. The craggy mountain above has a small glacier clinging to it, symbiotic and dying. The stones will survive. Will they miss the glacier’s cold embrace?Will winter’s waning onslaught bring bittersweet memories, the brief weight of snow hearkening back to the days when a hobnailed Scotsman tramped through here with only tea and biscuits to sustain him as he climbed? The mountain itself is silent on this subject, jagged and sharp—like an ancient volcanic shark’s tooth. It is bathed in the early morning light of those mountains, at once hot and crisp and cool. Perfectly distinct. Yet its reflection in the lake below, while slightly wavy and therefore not a perfect mirror image, is more real. More solid. The colors are deeper.

The reflection looks like the truth.

The actual truth is so perfect it looks illusory. Like a painted backdrop.

Like scenery.

This is how my daily life feels, compared with that I have experienced in the last twenty-four hours.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around Ghost Child Mary’s words that I’m going to unravel all the secrets. She only agreed to leave Weedbeard’s house when he promised to keep a closer eye on me. I half expected her to wake me up today. I haven’t seen her since she walked into the Montclair fog early this morning. Odd as her very existence is, she—and everything surrounding this production at Woodminster—feels more real than my coffee table.

I feed Maxwell, I get ready for my day, I study my lines. But the puzzles I’ve stumbled across are  bubbles of intrigue that won’t stop popping in my mind. I put down my script, refill my coffee and write them down:

was my purpose
This first message was written in what looked like charcoal on the sidewalk outside the Old Firehouse.

Beware the fog. Beware the night. She is coming for you.
The second message, this was on a note beneath my check after brunch the same day I saw the first message.

get to leave
Third message, written on the curb right next to where I always park my car.

into the party
Fourth message, scrawled on the side of Woodminster itself, near the stage door. I only saw it because Joel Schlader took a picture with his phone before hosing the wall clean.

My hunch: the short messages are not part of the larger message. I could spend hours working on anagrams, but my last experience on that track tells me it’s a dead end. The three shorter phrases don’t work together. But they feel like they’re part of the same message.

I head out to meet a friend for coffee. The messages are in my mind the whole time. She notices that I’m distracted:

I’ve never seen you this silent for this long outside of a theater,” she says.

Am I more silent in a theater?” I say.

Backstage. In the quiet zones. You’re silent as stone.”

I put everything out of my head, regaling her with stories of this and that. We part agreeing to meet for coffee again next week. It feels like I’m saying yes in a dream: speaking aloud and about to wake myself.

After a visit to my father’s Chiropractic office, I head to Woodminster. I feel like a secret suitor sneaking into his beloved’s back yard in broad daylight, just to be near her house. So, really, I feel like a stalker. I have no reason to be here this early, but bubbling in my head is the nagging hot springs of … what?

Backstage. In the quiet zones. You’re silent as stone.

This phrase from my coffee friend replays in my head as I stand outside my car, staring at the theater. It occurs to me I have no desire to go in there right now. I head up the path toward the box office. This is the same path Ghost Child Mary appeared on … last night? Or in 1996? Has she always been floating around here? I feel nothing on the path, I’m wondering if there’s something wrong with me. The nothingness feels strange. Not numb, just … padded.

Backstage.

Reaching the box office, I turn right and wander up the path from the box office toward the road. Head toward the ranger station? Nope. I’m feeling … left. I meander down the paved road, veering right when it forks. This feels familiar.

In the quiet zones.

Up a rise in the road, then curving down to the left, the grass so dry it’s not even golden. Life has been sucked from it by summer heat. Everything dry, brittle, jagged deadfall. Pine needles, dust, oppressive heat. This place feels scarred and scabbed. There are tall trees far down the road and I’ve a mind to head that way—

You’re silent as stone.

Then a question dings in my head: where the hell is the pyramid?

I stop, turning to my left.

There it is! Right there, in broad daylight!

This is what I was looking for on Tuesday. There was a note on my car: FIND THE PYRAMID.

All padded weirdness fades away. I run to the pyramid. It’s made of stone, sitting on a concrete base. Rough-hewn. There’s a crack in the side facing the road. I look inside with the help of my phone. Nothing.

I walk around the pyramid. It’s, what, eight feet tall? I think about climbing it.

Then I see, written in charcoal on the west side of the concrete base:

order settlements in

And the ‘l’ of settlements is also an arrow, pointing up. I look at the pyramid.

On the west side, a deliberate hole about ¾ of the way up. I think of the escape chute for the Pharaoh’s soul or whatever.

It can’t be that easy.

Stepping onto the platform, I look into the hole. There’s dirt and some broken glass. But there, in the back … I find a twig and drag out a Ziploc bag. It’s covered with dried muck. Doesn’t smell bad, just looks gross.

Camouflage?

It has paper inside. Holding the bag away from my face, I pull it open. No hordes of locusts, no reek. I peek inside.

Yellowed and faded with time, it’s a clipping from a newspaper:

July 10, 1952
Montclair, CA
No Progress in Missing Girls Case

Life snaps back into focus. I’m craving coffee. I need to pee. Not in that order. But I’m going to get somewhere safe and public before I read this thing. I feel too exposed here on the lonely, dry, tinder-box hillside.

As I’m skedaddling back up the road toward the theater, I feel eyes on me. Turning, I see a figure behind me on a rise to my left. They step back under the dead pine trees, into shadow.