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WMSP, Part II, Episode XI: A Burned Man

In Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Sci-Fi, Theatre on July 17, 2019 at 2:18 pm

(Ongoing series; first episode here.)

Oakland: Coroner identifies badly burned man found dead in Joaquin Miller Park
By Katrina Cameron, Harry Harris | hharris@bayareanewsgroup.com and Bay Area News Group | Bay Area News Group

PUBLISHED: February 23, 2016 at 12:20 pm | UPDATED: August 11, 2016 at 11:51 pm

OAKLAND — The coroner identified Tuesday the man found badly burned Monday morning in Joaquin Miller Park.

Reginald Richardson, 33, of Oakland, apparently committed suicide in the park, according to police.

His body was found around 11:54 a.m. Monday in the Joaquin Miller Funeral Prye, off Sanborn Drive. A jogger saw smoke from the structure and investigated the cause.

Police did not know how long the man’s body had been there before the jogger found it.

The No. 1 cause for suicide is untreated depression, a condition that is treatable with immediate help. Anyone who may be suicidal can receive immediate help by logging onto suicide.org or by calling 1-800-784-2433. Crisis experts also are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week in Contra Costa County by calling 1-800-833-2900 or 925-938-0725.

Contact Katrina Cameron at 925-945-4782. Follow her at Twitter.com/KatCameron91.

This article is what Jeremy shows me, silent, backstage during rehearsal. I’m sitting in my dressing room, looking at a map of Joaquin Miller Park on my phone; it’s at the exact moment I find the Pyre on the map that Jeremy walks in, holding up his phone.

“What are you doing after rehearsal?” he says, when I’ve finished reading.

“Um …”

Dude, let’s go up there tonight! It’s fucking perfect! I wish I’d known about it sooner, I’d have been reading all your recent posts right there at the Pyre!

There’s a nibbling at the back of my mind, however. I feel uncomfortable, and I’m not sure why. I’m consumed with the conflicting desires to run out of the room and to hold the Holey Stone. I take a deep breath. I push my hand into my pocket.

Snap

The memory floods back, even as I’m looking right at Jeremy’s smiling face; we’re at the Browning Monument, it’s earlier this afternoon, right after the revelation of Obi-Wan-point-five’s last words:

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

Jeremy nods. We stand, because it’s time to head to the theatre.

Wait, what about the papers?” Jeremy says.

We turn back: there’s the satchel, the papers loose and tickled by the breeze. They could blow away at any second.

We didn’t even finish looking at them,” Jeremy says.

He leans down to pick them up and we’re on the road halfway to the parking lot when I look at his hands and he doesn’t have them. Neither do I.

We left the papers,” I say.

No we didn’t,” he says.

I stop. I have to think. I feel like I’ve walked into a room and forgotten why. I put my hands in my pocket. There’s the stone.

Don’t talk, just go.

I turn around, my hand firmly in my pocket. I’m walking. Fast.

Jeremy says, “Hey pal, where you goin’?”

I don’t respond.

Jeremy starts after me; he’s chuckling. “Now wait a moment, palsy-walsy,” his voice is weird, sing-song.

I’m jogging now, and Jeremy is getting closer. “Hey chum! What kind of a chum turns his back on his pal, chum? I thought you were my … chummy-wummy.” There’s a tight, angry grin underneath his words. I feel that if I stop, he’ll get me. I take my hand from my pocket and start to run. A thought, different from the first, jarring and too cheery, erupts in my head:

Jeremy is no threat. Turn and be so friendly!

This feels wrong and bad, like an unfamiliar voice. I falter, stumbling.

Jeremy says, “Watch your step, buddy. I’m right here. Right behind you. It’s broad daylight. There’s nothing to fear.”

This stone is heavy and I want to throw it away.

The same unfamiliar voice. Like hearing someone who doesn’t know me impersonate what they think my inner monologue sounds like. The voice of an interloper. I put my hand in my pocket, touching the stone, and—snap—I’m fifteen feet ahead, sprinting. This feels right. I speed up, slipping the stone onto my middle finger like a ring, gripping it in a fist. I’m at the base of the slope, my mind on the papers. I don’t hear Jeremy anywhere behind me.

He was never there.

This thought is solid as bedrock, familiar. Not the interloper. I round the Browning Monument—

Jeremy is crouched over the papers, frantic: he’s striking two stones together, trying to make sparks. His fingers are bloody, his face locked in a rictus grin. Every couple seconds, his face crumples into a mask of sadness and pain; he puts the stones down and pulls at his pants, like he’s trying to pull them off, in spite of his buckled belt. When he does this, he’s crying and whispering, “Please stop, please stop, just stop please I’ll do whatever you want, please stop it hurts … ”

Thing is, there’s no way he can make sparks with those rocks—they’re both sandstone.

Jeremy,” I say. He doesn’t respond. “Hey. Buddy. You okay?” I say, moving closer.

His head snaps up, eyes all wrong directions, his grin a caricature of enraged lust. He looks like a creepy satyr from an early 1920’s cartoon. He says, “Every good boy deserves flavor.”

Coiled to spring, he’s younger than me, more fit. He’ll win.

Stop thinking, take action.

I step forward and touch the stone to his forehead.

Jeremy collapses.

Gather the papers, put them in the satchel, hold onto the stone.

I do this very thing, noting that there are many more papers than I thought. There’s even a leatherbound journal. Several photographs.

Jeremy groans, his eyes fluttering.

Wear the satchel. Don’t talk about it. Head back to the parking lots.

Oh fuck,” Jeremy says, “did I fall into a corn thresher?”

Not so’s you’d notice,” I say, smiling but watchful.

Wow,” Jeremy says. He stands, slow. Like … a man in his mid-40’s who doesn’t get enough exercise. Like me, frankly. He looks around, puzzled. “What were we going to do?”

I think we were going to get coffee,” I say.

Right! Yes,” he says, “coffee sounds great.”

What happened to your hands?” I say.

You shouldn’t have said that.

Jeremy glances down, laughs, shakes his head. “I dropped my camera heading into the house last night, had to dive to catch it, skinned myself on the front walk.” His words are natural, they have the ring of truth. I’m aware that if I weren’t grasping the holey stone, I’d be questioning what I just saw him doing with the stones. Taking him any further on this quest might be unwise.

Trust him. He’s got your back. Find the Pyre—tonight!

I freeze. This isn’t just my inner monologue, they aren’t just thoughts in my head. An actual, new voice is coalescing. But it’s different from the interloper; it feels … safe. Solid. Not mine, but not bad. And here I am evaluating the qualities of the voices in my head. Great, now I’m nucking futz.

Did you get the pictures?” Jeremy says.

I freeze: does he mean the pictures in the satchel?

Of the bay? You wanted to take pictures,” he says, stretching. The fog of pain is lifting visibly from him.

Oh. Yeah. Got ’em,” I say. “Let’s … go.”

Coffee,” he says.

We walk back to the parking lot, Jeremy expounding upon the amazingness of the various asses in the ensemble. I drive us to Peet’s, and the wooden bench in front is still empty.

All of this surfaces like the turning of a page in my mind. The entire picture, clear before me. We got coffee, we came to the theatre. I kept the satchel on me, and it’s tucked beneath the counter in my corner of the room. I put other stuff on top of it, you can’t even tell it’s there. Rehearsal has been is its usual self: running lines offstage, hasty scribble of blocking on pages where possible.

I don’t want to answer Jeremy yet, so I say, “Hey, here’s something weird: Bryan won’t talk to me. He walked right past me when he arrived.” Part of this is stalling, part of it is a test: does Jeremy remember last night at all clearly?

Me, neither,” says Jeremy. “Do you think he’s too freaked out by all the super-duper-natural occurrences?”

We look into the ensemble dressing room; there’s Bryan, at his station next to Rod. We head out there. I say, “Did you get home okay, Bryan?”

He turns to Rod as though I haven’t spoken, asking something about eyeliner. Rod glances at Jeremy and I in the mirror, then back to Bryan, then at me. Then with a huge single take to Bryan he says, “Oh Bryan, did you say something? I was listening to Edward’s question. About how you got home last night.”

Bryan says nothing.

Jeremy and I head back into my dressing room. “It appears he has stepped away from the path of this story,” I say.

All the more reason to go to the Pyre the minute rehearsal’s over,” he says.

I want to bow out, politely decline, vague him off until it fades away. But a thought echoes into my head, the new voice from this afternoon:

Trust him. He’s got your back. Find the Pyre—tonight!

I take a breath. I choose to trust this voice.

Yeah,” I say. “Let’s do it. But let’s map out an escape plan in advance.”

Jeremy grins and we high-five. As he sits down to “map it out,” I’m ready to misdirect: I’ve already got my escape plan. And I’m not telling him what it is.

Just in case.

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WMSP, Part II, Episode X: Minutes

In Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Sci-Fi, Theatre on June 26, 2019 at 12:06 pm

(Ongoing series; new readers, you’ll find the first entry here.)

Instead, there’s a hand-drawn map, rather well done: semi-calligraphic text, clean lines, this was made with a dip pen and ink. It’s incomplete, delineating what at first glance looks like the rough draft of the map in the opening pages of a Tolkien-derivative fantasy novel. A meandering road curves along next to a heavily-wooded area labeled Woods Primeval. Above the road, pointing up and to the right, the word Castle. Lines of blue delineate what I think are unnamed rivers.

At a point farther up the map, there’s a symbol labeled Moon Gate. From that point, a brown dotted line heads south. Amidst the trees to the east of that dotted line:

Cinderella?

Near the bottom of the page, another symbol—similar in style but in a different arrangement—marks Sunset Gate.

“Moon Gate … Sunset Gate … this feels significant,” I say.

“In by the Sunset, out by the Moon … ?” Jeremy says.

“Wow. Wait, how did the rest go?”

We sit mumbling it from memory, overlapping and re-starting several times. Finally, Jeremy says:

“’In by the Sunset, out by the Moon. Thus do we seek you, morning and noon. Looking for answers, under the trees, help us to find you, Bess and Louise.’ I think. That’s the shape, anyway.”

I’m momentarily delighted that anyone has read my blog so closely. I decide to save that for later.

Then it hits me and I say, “Holy shit.”

We both say, “This is a map of the park!

Jeremy jumps up; “Let’s go! That’s Castle Drive. I’ll drive. To Castle Drive. I’ll drive to the Castle!”

He’s very excited.

I find a map of the park on my phone, and this one is pretty accurate.

Jeremy is putting the pages neatly back together, I hand him the map, then stop. “Wait, look at this,” I say. The next page is typewritten. We both lean over it.

Sunset / Moon July 12, 1952

      1. Enter via Sunset Gate

        A. Ed & Alan, 1:22 pm

        1. No discernible signs or occurrences.

      1. Enter via Moon Gate

        A. Claire & Bill, 1:31 pm

        1. No discernible signs or occurrences.

      1. Met up at roughly halfway point, exchanged notes. Key observations:

        A. Ed: We need hound dogs to follow their scent. I know the Police say they brought in dogs. I never saw dogs. I never heard dogs. I have a friend with a bloodhound. I’ll look into it.

        B. Claire: Do we think Bess and Louise merely went for a hike? What do we know for sure they were doing here on the 4th of July? Does anyone know why they were here? Do they have journals or diaries?

        C. Bill: I think they both kept journals. I’ll ask Sadie. Let’s remember that Bess and Louise didn’t get along with Sadie—and she didn’t do a lot to discourage their feelings. I’m still uncertain about her motivations in offering to help. [Note that Alan agrees with this.]

        D. Alan: Next time we come into the park, let’s bring a picnic. Does anyone else feel that tingling? I feel like someone’s watching us. Am I just paranoid? Maybe we enter from different spots and meet at a central location, have our picnic and then exit via other trails—the idea here is that we cover more ground, under the cover of innocent picnic.

        E. Ed & Claire: Both had the same feeling.

        F. Bill: Agreed. It’s like something is turning its head to look at us, and we don’t want it to see where we are.

G. Claire: Let’s continue on our paths, I’ll pick you boys up at the Moon gate.

      1. Post-Hike Meeting, 5109 Proctor Avenue, called for 5:00 pm

        A. 4:59 pm Alan and Bill arrive together, cleaned up after their hike.

        1. Alan takes Ginger Ale.

        2. Bill takes Lemonade.

        a. Wally offers Manhattans, both boys are good boys and say no-thank-you-sir. Wally is a caution.

B. 5:05 pm Ed arrives.

              1. Bourbon. Neat.
              2. Followed by a Manhattan.
              3. Ed smiles a lot more after two drinks.
          1. 5:07 pm Claire and Betsy arrive at the door simultaneously, each from different errands.

            1. Betsy takes a Manhattan.

            2. Claire takes a Manhattan and a Ginger Ale.

            a. Wally asks Claire if she’s usually a Two-Fister Gal.

            b. Ed snorts his drink out his nose.

            c. Ten to fifteen minutes are lost to general hilarity.

            * Wally is sneaking the boys sips of Manhattans. He’s a wootzietail.

      1. 5:31 pm, Ginger Arrives all askeyXX askew

        A. Ginger: I got called into my Editor’s office for a meeting with a man I’ve never seen before. This is Saturday, this never happens. I’m being told he is overseeing my work on this project from now on. But I can’t remember his name. I wrote it down. I took notes. But I can’t see anything on the page. I think I’m losing my mind. [Note: Ginger is quite upset, there are tears. She’s clutching a paper in her hand. Claire takes it from her.]

        B. Claire: There’s a name here. Ringboat.

        C. Ed: No, that says Rhinegold.

        D. Alan: Rideout?

        E. Bill: Ragnarok. That can’t be right.

        F. Yours Truly [Lorraine]: Brightbest.

        G. Betsy: Billbagoat

        H. Ed, again: You’re right—I thought that was an R, it’s a B; it says Bringbat. What did I think it was before?

        I. Claire: Brinebest?

        J. Bill: None of us are saying the same word.

        K. Alan: Who cares, Billy? What matters is that the word is Brakbart!

        L. Bill: Don’t call me Billy.

        M. Alan: I’ll call you whatever the heck I want, Mister Young Republican.

        N. Ginger: This is exactly what happened at the paper. Everyone was arguing. My Editor left me alone in the room with that … lady. Whatever her name was. She—she—she … told me the best way to cuddle a puppy. You’ve got to do it just so.

        1. Everyone is staring at Ginger.

        O. Wally: Everybody close your eyes. Turn three times counter clockwise. Put down your drinks, leave that damn paper here and follow me. Don’t look back.

      1. Kitchen, 5:43 pm

        A. Wally: [pouring bitters into shot glasses. Even for the boys] Now you’ve got to listen to me very carefully. Ginger, wash your hands. Use the bar of lye soap under the sink. Lorraine, help her—get the apple cider vinegar. Hot water, Miss Trancas. One of the boys can take over at the typewriter, honey.

        B. Im not thw brst typest typist sorry, signed Bill. Loraine will takeover again niw. now. Now. Sorry agaon.

        C. Wally: Ginger’s hands are clean, did anyone else touch the paper? [Nobody did.] Good. We’re going to take our shots, but we need to say something together to break the link. We’re going to raise our glasses and say, Here’s when! Then we’re going to clink them and say, Here’s how! And then we’ll drink. Let’s try it without the shots first. We’ve only got one chance for this. Ready? Go.

        D. [We all do it. Bill throws his shot across the room and slaps Alan. Wally grabs Alan’s hand. He grabs Bill’s hand.]

        E. Wally: We do not strike our brothers. We do not strike our sisters. Now. Shake. Hands.

        F. [He forces their hands together. He shakes three dashes of bitters onto their hands. They shake hands, then hug like brothers. Oh my. It’s like a cloud has lifted from the boys.]

        G. Wally: Let’s toast. Afterwards, say nothing for one minute. And I mean don’t even whisper. [We all raise our shots. Here’s when! Clink. Here’s how! Drink.]

        H. Wally [He waits longer than a minute]: The man you’re talking about has a name. No, Ed. Don’t say it. Whatever you think his name is, you’re wrong. And we can’t talk about him any more today. Any of that will lead you all back to strife and rage. What you should know about him is that he has been around for a very long time.

        His purpose, near as we can tell, is to block people from knowing the truth. There are whole sections of our history that don’t appear anywhere—not even in the secret files of the Vatican—that this man is responsible for erasing. And it’s not really that he erases. What he does is, he obscures.

        Imagine our accurate history as a file cabinet. And next to it is another file cabinet called Religion. On the other side of the History cabinet is an identical one labeled Myth, Legend & Fairy Tale. What the Obscurer does is, he takes files from History and puts them into the other file cabinets. Once they’re there, that’s where they stay. And all of the traces of proof that they were actual history? Gone forever.

        Now, we know there’s history around historical figures who really existed. Jesus, for example. But there’s a lot of confusion. And some of that is natural, given the nature of faith and emotion. But there are many points that have been switched from cabinet to cabinet, deliberately, by the Obscurer. Over time, there is an increasing number of educated people who doubt Jesus even existed. In spite of corroborating historical evidence.

        But what about King Arthur? And what about the race of giants found entombed in North America by early European settlers? Myth has become synonymous with Falsehood. In spite of the fact that actual Myth represents universal truths.

        All of this is the work of the Obscurer. He uses doubt, he uses conflict and he uses pain. By inflicting these things on those he seeks to stop, he succeeds. And the first thing anyone will say to you, if you tell them that Merlin was not merely Arthur’s advisor and mentor and wizard—but also the chief architect of Camelot, the Master Mason who founded an order of Masons whose ideas eventually changed the world for the better?

        The first thing those people will say is that your history is wrong. If you have a twinge of reactionary doubt at my last sentence about Masons, that’s the work of the Obscurer.

        But if you were to miraculously find proof of these statements and try to share them with the world, people will decide that you are probably crazy. And if you go on saying these things, you’ll be labeled insane by society. If need be, you’ll be locked up out of sight.

        The admitting physician will have a name very much like the name you all struggled to recall earlier. But the paperwork will get misplaced. And the sane woman who spoke facts will be lost forever, probably driven mad by her circumstances.

        We know him of old.

        Say no more on this today.

        Honey, let’s all go for Chinese.

      2. Kitchen, 6:15 pm

        A. Ed Motions to Adjourn.

        B. Betsy Seconds the Motion.

        C. Vote: Unanimous

        D. Meeting Adjourned: 6:16 pm

Jeremy and I sit staring at the papers for a long time. We can tell, and it doesn’t need saying aloud, that going to walk those trails would be pointless right now. Nobody found anything.

In fact, the whole question of what happened just … doesn’t matter very much. And even that doesn’t need saying. I’m thinking about my revelation from Ginger Trancas’s rough draft: that Lorraine York is the name of my maternal grandmother. And now that we’ve read these minutes, all doubt is erased: Wally York is most assuredly my maternal grandfather, and 5109 Proctor Avenue was indeed their address. I want to say this, also, to Jeremy. But I didn’t say it earlier, and each time I think of it now, my mind slips away in another direction.

Jeremy says, “I’m struggling with the need to talk about … how to hold a cuddly little puppy and give it so many kisses.”

My hackles go up. We look at each other. He goes to speak, I silence him with a gesture. There’s a phrase nibbling at my brain, like a lighthouse beckoning us to safety. I can’t say it aloud. I feel that if I try, the phrase will disappear. It’s like we’re sliding down a sandy, gravely slope toward a deadly precipice. Trying to crawl up or speak slips us backwards. The phrase … it’s something someone said … I wrote it in my blog …

Opening my phone, I find the entry, enlarging the screen and holding it up for him to see Alan Campbell/Obi Wan-point-five’s last words:

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

WMSP, Part II, Episode IX: Journal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We both screamed.

What awe yoh doowing in my tweehouse?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking for your secret lover?”

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

He’s gone,” I said.

Who? Your actual secret lover?”

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

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

She was certain of this.

I am doubting my sanity now.

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

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

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

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

Everything was exactly the same. Except for one thing:

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

And the smell.

Rotting meat.

The journal entry ends there, no similar pages follow.

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

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

(Ongoing weekly narrative; new readers start here.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I thought Brock left her,” says Lorraine.

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

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

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

Lorraine gives Claire’s arm a reassuring squeeze.

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

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

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

“She said it was … afterbirth.”

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

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

In another hand, blue ink from a fountain pen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Go up there,” he says.

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

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

Healthy trees?

“Mighty fuck,” I say.

“Yep,” Jeremy says, watching me.

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

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

There’s music on the wind.

“Chimes?” I say.

“I thought maybe a harp,” he says.

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

HUUUURRRRRMMMMMM

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

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

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

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

The hand with the stone.

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

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

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

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

But it’s not the bay I know.

It’s larger. Deeper. Bluer.

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

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

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

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

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

The instruments are unfamiliar … but the music itself …

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

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

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

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

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

“Jeremy, boost me up,” I say.

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

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

“I don’t want to question it,” I say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I saw the old white man leave.

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

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

Sorry, Mama.

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

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

Sorry, Mama.

Edward said, Why the golly is it snowing?

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

Sorry, Mama!

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

Edward said, What’s that way over there?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mama, I don’t want to say that.

But I’m not supposed to!

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

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

Okay, Mama.

Mama says I can skip this part of the conversation.

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

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

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

Walk forward!

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

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

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

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

Yes, Mama.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s popped before.

That’s how the mountain got its name.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was embarrassing.

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

Sorry Mama, but who cries like that?

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

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

Because Mama said to. Right, Mama?

Mama says yes.

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

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

That’s what happened.

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

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

I think she was crying. It made me sad.

I think she knows him.

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

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

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

I don’t have eyes.

But I see too much.

WMSP, Part II: a third entertainment

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

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

ACT I, Sc. 3

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

Interlocutor enters.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader ducks, axe misses.

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

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

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

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

Reader picks up axe, whirling to face the newcomers.

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

ACTOR
What the fuck?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Writer steps toward Axe Lady.)

ACTOR
Wait. Something isn’t right.

(Writer stops, looking at Actor.

Actor points at Axe Lady.)

There’s no blood.

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

AXE LADY
I am the biter of penises!

SINGER
Kellyanne Conway?

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

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

WRITER
Something tells me we should go /now.

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

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

ACTOR
Right now I get it.

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

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

The men stare, shocked.

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

SINGER
Time to go.

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

Writer is looking from Singer to Axe Lady, frantic.

Actor is searching his pockets, also frantic.

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

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

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

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

(Ghost Child Mary appears atop the tower.

Interlocutor staggers back, shocked; possibly even damaged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please, Mama?

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

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

All variously cry out, over which we hear:)

But I wanna help!

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

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

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

To grow to be giant, to sail as at sea

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

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

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

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

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

The wind ceases.

Ghost Child Mary has disappeared.

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

Actor sits up.)

ACTOR
Everyone okay?

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

(Singer sits up.)

SINGER
Yeah, no, I’m done.

(Singer stands, leaves; as he exits:)

Bye Felicia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WRITER
I thought your first Woodminster show was in 2015.

ACTOR
Long story. I thought you … read it …

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

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

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

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

Snowfall increases.

An owl hoots.

End of Scene 3.)

WMSP Part II, Episode 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.