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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?

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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.

Woodminster: South Pacific, Part II; a brief entertainment

In Fiction, Horror, Theatre on August 13, 2018 at 12:06 pm

Act I, Sc. 1

The Reader is alone in her room at night. She is reading the story. Her room is lit by a single bedside lamp, enough to light what she’s reading, but not enough to dispel the shadows in the rest of the room. There are curtains on her dark windows. The curtains are not quite closed. Behind the curtains, in the darkness of the night outside her windows, there is a hint of movement. She does not see what is moving outside her windows in the darkness.

She speaks as she is reading, without looking up.

Reader: I have been reading this story for a long time. It has been hard to find. There are portions hidden in different locations.
I am the girl who had to fight goblins.
I am the girl who ran from werewolves.
I am the girl who deceived the hags and bested their rotting minions.
I have at last gathered all chapters of the story in one place at one time.

Reader continues reading through all that follows. If she speaks, it is again in this manner: as she is reading, without looking up.

In the gap between curtains, an eye appears. This is the eye of the Looky-Loo. It is bright in the night time. It is not in the Reader’s line of sight. We see it. She does not. (If she saw it, this would be a scene of the screaming. Oh, yes. The screaming scenes are the best scenes. But this is not that scene. The eye is peeking in the window.)
It speaks.
To us.

Looky-Loo: She has been reading this story for a long time. And for longer than that, I have been waiting to bite her. Oh my yes, to bite and to yum yum yum taste her. Did I know it was she? No. I did not. I knew I was waiting for whomever found it.
When she found the first part of the story, I was wakey-wakey-eggs-‘n-bakey.
When she found the second part of the story, I was sneaky-sneaky, take a peeky.
Third part found, make no sound.
Fourth part read, dead man’s tread.
Fifth part taken, shades awaken.
Sixth part nicked, I was tricked.
Seventh part: break your heart.
Eighth part written, nightmare bitten.
Final part: where to start?
That’s the part I must find first. Unwind the mind, get fit to burst. Secret sigils, lasting vigils, Sybils murmur in their sleep the mournful dirge of Peeky-Peep. It’s not the same for her or you, ’cause you’ve been peeped by Looky-Loo.

Looky-Loo is right next to you in your seat. This is your last night in the theatre. You will finally know the answer to that question Lucy Pimm asked at your 10th birthday party.

Lucy Pimm enters. She’s 10 years old, dressed for the classic mid-century birthday fete.

Lucy Pimm: Hello it’s me, Lucy Pimm. On your tenth birthday, at your party, I asked a question.

Looky-Loo: Oh hello, Lucy. Welcome, welcome. Tell us your question.

Lucy Pimm: What does it feel like to get your eye ball bitten out of your skull?

Looky-Loo regards you in your theatre seat. Big, friendly smile.

Looky-Loo: Soon you, avid viewer, will know the answer to this question. But not before Miss Lucy Pimm will scream so prim, my proper chopper will hack and lop ‘er.

During the following, Looky-Loo produces a sack from which he pulls a variety of lethally rusty cutting tools, as improbable as they are terrifying. Among the tools are childish costume pieces suitable for transforming a Lucy into a Looky.

Reader: Thus alarming, bells are ringing: someone in the pain is singing. No umbrella, raining frogs, witches shrink from cats and dogs! Now my heart beats dark and grim, for I remember Lucy Pimm!

Lucy Pimm: Looky-Loo, I’m ‘fraid of you.

Looky-Loo: As you should be, wouldn’t good be, getting caught and sliced for nought.

Lucy Pimm: Do not slice me, chop or dice me!

Looky-Loo: One escape the chance you have: speak to Reader, lift the gavel, break the wall and thus unravel separation of her story from her fate (which will be gory).

Reader: This imaginated story gives me chills and blains of fear. It is fiction, yes, but frictive lines have drawn me ever near. Lucy Pimm and Looky-Loo have filled this unexpected drama with the face of most unpleasant and unwelcome childhood trauma.

Lucy Pimm: If I wake her you will take her!

Looky-Loo: Take her, shake her, rake and bake her.

Lucy Pimm: This is bad. I am sad.

Looky-Loo: Trick her, treat her, beat and eat her.

Lucy Pimm (to audience): Why are boys so mean to girls?

Looky-Loo is terrified by this question.

Looky-Loo: Shut your gob or goblins come, cease your words or taste their turds!

Lucy Pimm: Now I must, in fear and doubt, wake the reader from without.

Lucy Pimm approaches Reader, standing next to her bed and facing us. As she speaks, Looky-Loo gives her various pieces of the childish costume to make her into a Looky. As Lucy Pimm dons the pieces, she transforms physically – and her physical actions match her words. Looky-Loo continues to hand her the pieces until she is fully accoutered, terrified that Lucy Pimm might inadvertently break the spell (what spell, you ask? Ho-ho-ho, say I), but also erotically delighted at her physical transformation.

Reader: This story is a paging turner, a shiv’ring midnight candle burner.

Lucy Pimm: Because your bed is low-to-floor, I snap my neck – make room for more.
I dislocate my shoulders left and right to fit in spaces tight.
Upon my knees I snap my hips to hush the fears upon your lips.
And though I know it prob’ly rankles, I shatter, now, my girlish ankles.
My crunches echo in your head, but now I fit beneath her bed!

Lucy Pimm, now completely dislocated and fully attired as Lucy-Looky-Loo, pulls herself by the fingers of one hand beneath the bed. She is smiling directly at you. Looky-Loo crouches nearby, in terrified arousal.

Looky-Loo: If Lucy-Looky-Loo, née Pimm, can wake the reader with her grim and broken self, I’m poised to take my fiendish pleasure – at my dark and dev’lish liesure. But if, I fear, she warns the Reader, I lose my chance to roughly breed’er. How then to lurk and scare and bite more secret readers in the night? For it’s my bite that spreads my seed, and it’s your fear that fuels my need. The news that turns you sickly green is: I will bite you with my penis.

Lucy-Looky-Loo’s head appears among pillows or from above or within headboard.

Lucy-Looky-Loo: He will bite you with his penis.

Reader: What?

Looky-Loo: What?

Lucy-Looky-Loo: Nothing.

Reader & Looky-Loo: Okay.

Reader and Looky-Loo look directly at each other. They scream, retreating, each bumping against a wall or other barrier.

Looky-Loo: You were not supposed to see me!

Reader: You were not supposed to be me!

Looky-Loo: I’m not you, I’m Looky-Loo!

Reader: It’s true, you’re you; it’s true, I’m me – but in my darkest heart of hearts, where I admit I like my farts, I see in you a part of me.

Looky-Loo: Dear Reader, that you recognize in you this size of appetite to lurk and pounce in dark of night, be it to scare in innocence – or rend and tear in recompense for passing slights and feelings hurted, I am surprised that you have blurted out that we’re more same than not.

Reader: Despite what I’ve been told and taught, in smoking splurge or drunken bender, I’ll go against the common plot and state that evil has no gender. A penis from Mars or a vulva from Venus does not make you more or less inclined to meanness. It’s equal parts nurture and nature that shape us, and also that shape those who maim us or rape us. I thrill at the kinky, the dark and taboo – I rub it when watching the Dragon Tattoo. If thoughts are as actions, then lock us all up: I’ve fantasized evil and flooded my cup. And though all my crimes remain in my head, who knows what I’d do with unlimited powers? What dread have we done with our secretest hours when certain they’d never be lit be the sun? Light makes the shadow. The knowledge of light is what’s driving us mad, perceptions of binaries sinking our Ark, conflicted with humankind craving the dark.

Looky-Loo: I disagree. You go to far. I will not get into your car. I’m bad, you’re good – that’s how I like it. My path is dark; alone I’ll hike it.

Reader: You may not hide from me henceforth; I know you, now: and North or South, each time your mouth encloses some forbidden fruit, I’m there in mind to follow suit.

Looky-Loo: NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!

Looky-Loo leaps from the stage into the seats, jaws open wide, toothed tongue biting at your eye, O Penetrable Audience of One.

The last thing you see with both eyes before Looky-Loo bites your eye ball out of your head is Lucy-Looky-Loo whispering to Reader and handing her a note.

Looky-Loo sees you seeing and turns toward the stage.

Reader gets up, running to her bedroom door. Will she make it in time?

Reader: No human heart can see what’s dark unless it knows that darkling spark.

Looky-Loo leaps at the stage, gets tangled in seats, falling.

Lucy-Looky-Loo: Go! If you can get out before he gets you, you can escape to wherever thought lets you!

Reader is fumbling with locked door.

From outside the window:

A jingle.

A giggle.

Reader stops, turns toward window.

Looky-Loo leaps, landing on the stage, claws extended.

The lights go out.

End of Scene 1.
A note: You, dear Audience, have entwined your fate with that of the Reader. Looky-Loo has eaten one of your eyes, the best and favoritest of the two. If you have more than two eyes, Looky-Loo still ate the best one. This play does not exist. This scene does not exist. Nothing in this scene is real or has ever happened. These words are not here, this title-less play cannot be named. If you try to search for it, you will find only dust and spider legs.
Stop looking.
Stop looking.
If you want to have sleeping, stop looking.
For he will come leaping to lurk when you’re sleeping, to Look and to lure you each time you are sure you are safe, yet alone. He bites to the bone.
Enjoy of your day. Go sit in the sun.

 


Forget of this play or he’ll have the most fun.

 

 

 


Remember these words but forgetting the text,
Or he will come Look you

and

you

will

be

 

 

 

 

 

next

Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Eight — Dark Carousel IX

In Fiction, Horror, Theatre, Writing on December 21, 2017 at 12:06 pm

(“Oh my. I’d love to read this. I’ll just dive in to the most recent episode,” said the Well-Meaning Reader.
That’s not the best approach,” said Edward. “Instead, start here. That’s the beginning of the story.”
But – I don’t understand! You want me to read it, don’t you?”
Yes.”
Then why does it matter where I start?”
Because there’s a beginning. And stories are better if begun where they begin. Like right here.”
Oh! I understand now.”
Do you?”
Yes: begin at the beginning of this episode.”
Oh my,” said Edward. And thus began the Day Drinking.)

Day Eight: Wednesday, 26 July / Friday, 21 July, 2017 – Dark Carousel IX

No time for regrets,” Weedbeard says. “We’ve got to document his memories before they fade.”

And, already, my memories are dimming.

All business, Judy says, “No time. The Stillness will cease, soon. Edward, stand up.”

Of course,” says Weedbeard. “Better to re-set, then check in with our young adventurer in a few days. How’re you doing, Edward?”

Letting Weedbeard and Judy to help me up, I feel a pleasant euphoria wash over me. I say, “Better than morphine.”

Ah yes,” Judy says, leading me to the warded basement door, where she pauses as Weedbeard blows a handful of powder through the doorway. It crackles as it moves past the wards, then poofs huge into the space beyond. For a moment, we are wreathed in an intense wave of Cinnamon. The shadows in the doorway lighten.

Judy and Weedbeard relax visibly. He steps through before us, and I see from his movements that he’s had military training; I catch a brief glimpse of jungles and helicopters, just a flash, and I say, “This euphoria … does it carry perceptive spelunking?”

They both turn and look at me.

You’re going to have to watch him very closely, Bill,” Judy says.

Weedbeard gestures for me to step through the doorway and, guided by Judy, I join him. As this is happening, he says, “I plan to. I’ve got eyes in the back of his head.” He touches the back of my head with his right index and middle fingers. I feel a warmth, a security flow over me. “Try to avoid darkness, young man,” he says. “It’s easier for me to see you in the light.”

They place me just as I was when they arrived, both stepping back through the doorway.

Time for me to skedaddle,” says Weedbeard.

You going to give him something to jog his memory?” Judy says. “You’ll need a hook to be able to pull any of this back up from the depths.”

Weedbeard says, “Oop. Yep. Whew. Tired. Okay: eyes front, soldier.” I smile, laugh, look front. He holds a card in front of my eyes. I see the words on the card, I comprehend them, but he says, “You feel high as fuck right now. This card is an anchor in your memory. It will draw you to find us, to find me. Think of coffee when pondering its origins. Not on the front burner, but simmering in the back. Do you understand, Edward?”

Yes,” I say. “Card, coffee, back burner. I’ll find you, Mister Wizard.” I am high as fuck right now.

Weedbeard chuckles, tucks the card into my back pocket. “In about fifteen seconds, you’ll wake up. You will have no conscious memory of anything that’s happened since you stepped into this doorway. Do you agree?”

I hope this lasts through rehearsal.

I agree,” I say. God, it would be nice to be high during rehearsal.

Weedbeard is silent a moment, then says, “I go now. In by the sunset …”

Out by the moon,” Judy says.

But I just can’t allow myself that breach of professionality.

Also … this door has always been here, standing open. Those stairs are creepy. I wonder what’s down there. Holy shit … I just heard the Ma-maaa –

“There you are!”

I jump. Judy is right outside the door.

When the hell did she get there?

“What are you doing in here?” Judy steps in next to me, looking down at the basement door.

“Did you hear that?” I say

“Hear what?” she says.

“That sound, like a broken baby doll crying,” I say.

“A broken babydoll? Reminiscing about our ex girlfriends, are we, Edward?”

“Ha! No, I mean a doll, like a doll that looks like a baby. The kind that go, ma-ma, and cry and stuff.”

Judy is silent a moment before saying, “You heard that from down there?”

“Yep.”

“That’s not good, Ed. I think you should stay away from this door. You might be tempted to go down there. That’s dangerous.”

“Why?”

“Asbestos. We never go down there anymore. That door down there’s supposed to be closed,” she says. Her voice echos back from the darkness below. “Baby dolls in the dark. That’s creepy. Whew. Anyway Ed, Allison has something for you to try on. Let’s get away from painful death,” she tugs at my right shoulder, pulling me out into the light.

The theatre is alive with sounds and conversation.

Where was everybody two minutes ago?

shwrrrryoink! –

I’m yanked backwards, not into the closet but up and through and falling to land with a jerk, sitting upright on a hard wooden chair.

I open my eyes.

I’m at Weedbeard’s table. He’s across from me, and on the table in front of him are a cloth with a mirror atop it, and on the mirror, spread out everywhere, are powders, herbs and minerals. It looks like a very messy, haphazard art project. Weedbeard is panting. He looks half dead.

Do. Not. Ever. Do that. Again,” he says.

Something huge pounds on the house three times. We jump.

Ghost Child Mary walks out of the wall and points at Weedbeard.

Mama says you better get him under control or he’s going to unravel all the secrets!”

Head in his hands, Weedbeard says, “Oh fuck.”

Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Eight — Dark Carousel VIII

In Fiction, Horror, Theatre, Writing on December 8, 2017 at 11:07 am

(New? Start here. I’ll have more fun answering questions if you’ve gone to the trouble of reading all that has come before. )

Day Eight: Wednesday, 26 July / Saturday, August 3, 1996 – Dark Carousel VIII

Ah, but something strange happens when we go through the door to the women’s dressing room. A quelling, calming, dampening settles over the pretty hag for whom I once had le boner debonair. I can see it in her face: she wants to inflict, to spiritually maim, but she cannot. She glances from side to side, casting about for some culprit, some target upon whom to unleash her carcinogenic petulance.

Dissipation is the best word to describe what happens to her energy. Even my tether is weakened, and, following a hunch, I step outside the women’s dressing room to inspect the door frame.

Sure enough: at every corner of the door, a coin affixed so long ago that multiple layers of paint have smoothed it to the point of near-invisibility. Yet I can see, from each coin, a line of white light connecting one to the other and all converging on the central point on the door. I look at the door itself and there, beneath decades of paint, a similar coin. All the lines of white light connect to it, but also to the invisible spot where it would be if the door were closed.

I lean in toward the coin on the door, and I smell Cloves, Cinnamon, Rosemary, Orris Root – someone is dressing this quincunx regularly. This is a powerful, protective enchantment: it filters negativity. I want to inspect it further, ascertain the nature of the coin: silver “Mercury” dime? Buffalo Nickel? Wreathed Lincoln? Something whisks me into the room, though.

To my eternal delight, there are some naked titties here and there. I won’t go into detail. It was a different time. And that’s not what pulled me in; Laurabell-Beaujolais Grausamkeit is at her station, in front of the makeup mirror, just staring into her reflection. For a moment, I think it’s she who pulled me in. But then I hear, from outside the window:

“Mama! Mama!” I glance up and there’s the little girl, her eyes still missing, looking in the window. “He’s looking at all the naked ladies! He better not stay too long, Mama! He’s got something snakey following his every tiptoe.”

I want to ask this eyeless ghost child some questions, but time shifts: costumes have changed and I hear the cues for the Act I Finale: Wells Fargo Wagon. I’ve missed an entire act, but that doesn’t matter.

I follow Laurabell-Beaujolais Grausamkeit out of the women’s dressing room and darkness blossoms around her like sharp and addictive peacock plumage. She’s heading to the upstage crossover. In the shadows there, she kicks a box.

I hear a horse whinny stage left. Not a happy whinny, either.

Laurabell-Beaujolais Grausamkeit kicks the box again and the horse offstage left screams. I hear men’s voices raised in alarm as I follow her further stage left and she sees the horse being led out of the scene shop. It sees her, too, and tries to retreat. Eyes wild, rearing up. Laurabell-Beaujolais Grausamkeit smiles and waves at it, then crosses right to make her entrance from that side of the stage.

Some of the people smile at her. Most avoid eye contact, inspecting walls. One older lady makes the sign to ward off the Evil Eye, and Laurabell-Beaujolais Grausamkeit turns immediately in another direction.

“Mama! He doesn’t understand love at all!” I follow the voice and, standing at the top of the stage right stairs that lead to the roof of the theatre is that ghost child in her church couture. Her scowl is more disturbing for the lack of eyes.

fwap!

I’m back in my seat, Wells Fargo Wagon is reaching its surprisingly operatic climax and the flats upstage center open, the horse pulling the Wells Fargo Wagon onto the stage.

Except the horse freaks out: rearing, hoofs flailing, it cracks the skull of the youngest Shinn girl.

Kicking, it shatters the face of the curvy ensemble lady who only wanted some cake.

Biting, it takes a chunk from the face of Widow Paroo. The audience, screaming, flocks for the exits. Children’s bones are shattered under the feet of their own families. Fire springs up in the set. Actors are trapped.

Laurabell-Beaujolais Grausamkeit holds her hand close to some flame, like a sleepy Girl Scout toasting a marshmallow.

“Mama! He’s got all twisted!” I glance to my right and there’s the eyeless ghost child.

“What’s your name?” I say.

“Mary,” she says. “And Mama says you’re a damn fool if you think you can stop this. The book must be fed!

Her voice echoes over the amphitheatre, and every mother in the place falls sobbing to her knees.

fwap!

I’m backstage again, with Laurabell-Beaujolais Grausamkeit. She goes to kick that box –

And the box is moved. By an old man in a black coat, with a full white beard and crazy white hair. He says, “But when I am I to get back home, I’m sure I cannot tell, sir: I haven’t half the chance to get back there, that I have to go to hell, sir.”

Laurabell-Beaujolais Grausamkeit falls back to land on her ass, then scrambles away – back the way she came, to her proper stage right entrance. I glance back toward the old man.

He’s gone.

Who the hell was that?

Ghost Child Mary is no longer at the top of the stairs.

The music reaches its climactic –

fwap!

I’m in my seat and the horse enters.

I rears, the audience gasps.

The horse is controlled. Nobody is injured.

I train my binoculars on Laurabell-Beaujolais Grausamkeit.

Her golden eyes are staring directly at me. Bright and sharp, like coins polished on demonic labia.

Mama says you better listen to Weedbeard,” a voice whispers from my left.

I smile.

Thank you, Mary,” I say.

I lower the binoculars and I’m falling forward, the floor crashing through the ceiling – only, backward – with a morphine nausea. Except it’s fading.

I’m lying on my back. Judy and Weedbeard are standing over me.

Holy shit,” I say.

We should never have hired you,” says Judy.

Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Eight — Dark Carousel VII

In Fiction, Horror, Theatre, Writing on December 7, 2017 at 11:16 am

(Start here if this is your first time reading this series. This story is told in order, and believe it or not, the narrative works better that way. )

Day Eight: Wednesday, 26 July / Saturday, August 3, 1996 – Dark Carousel VII

Dandelion umbrels swirl down around me again and I float to my left, my feet setting gently down on the asphalt near the stage door.

Elsa, Scott and Billy “Squirt” Seltzer are all there, Billy still looking at me all moon-eyed. Scott is disdainful, Elsa is pretending to be exasperated with me – but she watches closely. I can feel her concern.

We’re waiting for Ken Ross. I’m watching the stage door. A couple, a man and a woman, stand nearby, talking. The man has his back to me. It takes a moment before I realize he’s talking to me:

“Edward. Do you hear me? Edward. Clear your throat if you hear me.”

It’s Weedbeard! I clear my throat.

Good. We lost you for a moment, there. Which means someone or something is bending this memory. Which shouldn’t be possible. Edward. There’s a chance she might approach you. Do. Not. Let. Her. Touch. You. Cough if you understand.”

I cough.

Elsa says, “You allergic to waiting?” She looks at Scott, “Me, too.”

Mama! Mama?!” I whirl at the sound, and stumbling down the redwood path from the box office to the stage door is a little black girl, nicely dressed, maybe seven years old. She’s got a teddy bear clutched to her. She’s mostly in shadow, fog enveloping her every step. Turning to look back the way she came, she stops. The back of her head illuminated, her hair in neat pigtails.

I think, She’s dressed for church. In 1960.

She turns, her face in a shaft of foggy light. Her eyes are empty holes.

“Mama says you better not stay here, Mister,” she says.

I want to look behind me. Is this a prank? Before I can turn, a hand grasps my shoulder. I look to my left. Weedbeard of 1996 still has his back to me, but from the back of his head – from within mostly dark but thinning hair – his current face pushes through. He’s bellowing words that sound like, “Ringeable! Dingeable! Scringeable!” He’s staring at my hands.

I look at his arms; they’re bent all wrong, reaching for me. I take both of his hands and —

fwap!

I’m back in my seat, binoculars glued to my face, but rather than a field in the moonlight, I’m pulled through the binoculars and –

— fwap!

I’m right next to Laurabell-Beaujolais Grausamkeit, on the stage, as she’s exiting during Iowa Stubborn. I follow her like we’re tethered. As she walks offstage, she pulls a ribbon knotting some aspect of Zaneeta’s younger sister’s costume in place. The little girl playing the youngest Shinn trips and falls, gouging her knee and bleeding badly, surrounded by concerned adults.

I see Laurabell-Beaujolais Grausamkeit’s face as she proceeds offstage: calm, smiling, secure.

I also see Judy seeing the whole thing; Judy turning to look at someone else, someone off in the shadows …

Louella! She of the Aughra-like features and less-charming personality. Her expression is passive; she might have been watching a freight train pass, her thoughts elsewhere. But Judy tilts her head and Louella gives the barest of bare shrugs: left shoulder only.

Judy shakes her head, moving in to speak to Louella.

I want to stay and hear what they say, but I’m tethered to the fiend I used to date, and she’s on the breezeway. I zip after her, and apparently she’s had some meaty garlic dishes of late, because she’s let fly some farts of truly epic stench. A couple of handsome young men are whispering intimately near one of the columns. Laurabell-Beaujolais Grausamkeit stops to stare at them.

“What?” one of them says. I recognize Tommy Djilas.

“I would never judge you,” she says, all sincerity. “I would never.”

Something in her words sends ice up my spine. The boys separate. Laurabell-Beaujolais Grausamkeit continues toward the women’s dressing room. I hear the boys coughing and gagging behind us from her assreek.

There’s a curvy ensemble member standing near a cake on the desk outside Harriet’s office. She’s lifting a bite to her mouth. Laurabell-Beaujolais Grausamkeit smiles huge and, laughing, says, “I love how free you are! Nobody needs consequences anyway! Does your husband call these days?”

The woman’s face crumples. She sets down the cake and Laurabell-Beaujolais Grausamkeit walks into the women’s dressing room – where I expect to see her wreak havoc among the ladies, spreading seeds of negativity that will grow into bitter fruit from the thorniest vines.

I’m plagued with sudden dismay: How did I never see this aspect of her when we were dating? Why did I have no memory of her golden eyes before tonight? Close on the heels of this thought comes a deeper, more alarming concern: What else have I done that I’ve forgotten?

Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Eight — Dark Carousel VI

In Fiction, Horror, Theatre, Writing on December 6, 2017 at 11:43 am

(Reader! Are you new? Welcome! Guess what? Start here. It will be a lot more satisfying.)
Day Eight: Wednesday, 26 July / Friday, July 12, 2001 – Dark Carousel VI

The row in front of us turns to shush and scowl at me.

“Pervert,” Elsa murmurs.

No, I’m talking about her eyes. Just her eyes. They were golden. As in, shining and golden,” I whisper. “I can’t believe you didn’t see it.”

“No doubt you want to go talk to her afterwards,” Scott murmurs, scratching the back of his neck with languid fingers.

“I’m pretty sure I don’t,” I say. And it’s the solid gold truth.

Dandelion umbrels swirl down around me and then clear away, we’ve moved forward in time and Billy Seltzer has moved to sit to my left, in a section of seats vacated by grandparents upset at my language. Billy Seltzer is trying to hold my hand. Her palms and fleshy and wet. It’s odd. I’m not comfortable with it. She won’t stop trying to hold my hand. How do I ask her to stop without causing an international incident?

It’s the scene after “76 Trombones” — Zaneeta enters with her friends. I raise the binoculars, glad of the escape from Billy “Squirt” Seltzer’s clammy palm shenanigans. I zoom in on Zaneeta again. Harold Hill is telling Tommy Djilas to escort her to the library. She smiles. Right at me.

Her eyes turn golden.

I can’t look anywhere else. They are huge and bright and I’m very sleepy now. I’m ready to go to sleep forever. Her eyes are filling the binoculars with light. I hear a voice … is it singing? … or screaming … and her eyes are inside of me. I can feel it, they’ve passed through my own eyeballs and are in my brain. Which is where they were supposed to be, I realize. This is where they belonged all along.

I open my eyes. I’m lying on my back in grass, outside, at night. The only light comes from a gibbous moon. It’s cold. I sit up. I’m in a large field. There’s a structure of some kind nearby, and thick tule fog wreathes the field with its eldritch creep.

Taking off my glasses to mop the fog from them with my shirt, I realize I’ve been here before. Right? It feels familiar.

There’s a sound behind me, like a group of people running in unison over the field. I turn around, standing up. Tule fog eddies around me, settling as I stand surveying the field and the surrounding trees.

There’s nothing there.

From behind me, echoing in the darkness, I hear, “Mama! Mama!

For an instant, I’m frozen in fear. Until I realize it’s the sound of an actual child calling for her mother. Unthinking, I run in that direction.

“Edward!” Elsa slaps me on the back of the head, cold water shocking me to awareness. I feel the binoculars slam into my chest, their plastic strap pulling hard at my neck.

The show is over. The seats are almost entirely empty. Scott is still shaking the last of a water bottle over my head, saying, “The Lord commands you: awake!”

“Fuck, did I fall asleep?” I say.

“No, asshole, you sat there like a pervy peeping tom, binocularizing the hotties in the show all night,” Elsa says.

“Actually, he didn’t move,” Scott says. “So … points for commitment.” He’s languid at his neck again.

“I don’t remember anything,” I say.

“Sure you don’t,” Elsa says.

I look at Billy Seltzer. She looks scared and upset. Oh fuck, she’s mad I didn’t hold her hand, I think, until I follow her gaze.

There are about ten other places in the amphitheatre where people are sitting up, binoculars stuck to their faces, surrounded by their family or some ushers. Each one is stock still, unresponsive.

Elsa looks where I’m looking. So does Scott.

“Um … creepy. Is this one of your long-form pranks, Edward?” Elsa is trying to sound nonchalant.

“Let’s go see Ken,” I say.

It’s an unseasonably warm night. But as I stand, I’m shivering like I’ve got a fever.

Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Eight — Dark Carousel V

In Fiction, Horror, Theatre, Writing on December 5, 2017 at 12:06 pm

(You are like orange juice and toothpaste if you start with this episode; instead, start here.)
Day Eight: Wednesday, 26 July / Saturday, August 3, 1996 – Dark Carousel V

No falling, no cheering this time: I set down simple and safe … on a hard wooden bench.

I hear a large chorus singing,“We can be cold as a falling thermometer in December if you ask about our weather in July … ”

The umbrels clear. I’m at Woodminster. I’m in the audience again, it’s 1996, and the show I know all too well: The Music Man. There’s something heavy around my neck; I look down, delighted to discover that I brought my Dad’s gigantic binoculars. (I called them Cleavage Scopes. It was a different time.) Grinning, I look around. I’m with Scott and Elsa, we’re here to see Ken Ross as Mayor Shinn – and I scan the wider crowd for a younger Weedbeard or anyone from my recent adventures.

I see nobody I recognize beyond my companions, and – wait, there’s Billy Seltzer, on the other side of Elsa, to the right of Scott and myself. Of course, she came with us! That’s the summer we met Billy Seltzer, when she still went by Squirt – a nickname of dubious origin. Scott couldn’t stand her. I look to the stage, avoiding eye contact. It’s the middle of “Iowa Stubborn,” and here comes Mayor Shinn (Elsa cheers, “Woo-hoo! Ken Ross!”) … Eulalie Mackechnie Shinn … and Zaneeta. I’ve done the show; I don’t remember Zaneeta entering there.

“She’s cute,” Elsa whispers.

“Who?” I say.

Billy Seltzer whispers – way too loud — “That’s Laurabell-Beaujolais Grausamkeit. She’s a spoiled little twat. Nobody likes her.”

“Which one?” I ask.

“Zaneeta,” Billy Seltzer whispers. Again: way too loud. Everyone around us has heard everything she said. Head in his hands, Scott whispers so only Elsa and I can hear, “Why did we invite her?”

Elsa laughs and Billy Seltzer leans in, saying, “What’s so funny?”

“What kind of a name is Zaneeta, anyway? Sounds Hindu,” Elsa says.

“A Bollywood Music Man would be amazing,” I say. Something about this scene is nagging at me.

Scott says, “Sure it would, Edward. Just like Ragtime would make a good musical.”

“It’s got an inherent musical…ibility … You know, I don’t think she enters in this number,” I murmur. Something glints on her face.

Her eyes?

“Did you guys see that?” I say, raising my binoculars to focus on the stage and zoom in, specifically, on Zaneeta.

She’s exiting with her family. She turns, grinning at the audience as she goes, she’s looking right at me – and her eyes. They’re golden.

I say, “Holy fuck! Did you see her eyes?”

Why was she looking right at me? I don’t even know this girl.

Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Eight — Dark Carousel IV

In Fiction, Horror, Theatre, Writing on December 4, 2017 at 11:43 am

(Welcome! New reader? Avoid spoilers; start here.)
Day Eight: Wednesday, 26 July / Friday, July 12, 2001 – Dark Carousel IV

It’s Judy! She’s come to save me!

Then Laurabell-Beaujolais Grausamkeit bursts into tears and I realize, in horrid clarity, how this looks. There was a thing! I want to say. A giant, jiggling, fleshy scorpion’s tail! Yeah, no, that’s not going to help me.

“Who the hell is that you have with you?” Judy says. “Is he hurting you?”

I want to run, but I realize that would be the worst thing to do. I turn to speak.

“Whoa! What bit you in the face, mister?!” Judy steps up close. “Thirty years as a nurse and I’ve only seen an allergic reaction like that once or twice! Looks like you kids might have rolled in something nasty up here. There’s rats, you know. Better come with me.”

Which is how, I now realize, Harriet knew who I was when I came to that audition. Judy separated us, got the story from Laurabell-Beaujolais Grausamkeit – calling her only Laurabell the entire time. I overheard her correct Judy again and again, and I realize now that Judy was intentionally mocking her.

All this as I sit in Judy’s office, blinking into eye cups filled with saline. Someone keeps filling them and handing them to me. I hear a voice I now recognize as Harriet’s saying, “Who gets rat poop in their eyes?!” Before a door opens and she gasps. I’m focused on rinsing my eyes over this trash can, and I’m deeply embarrassed and ashamed to look at anybody. “Do we need to take him to the hospital?” Harriet says, closing the door.

Judy says, “I don’t think so, let’s give it a few minutes …” and they move off.

“You’ve probably noticed that you can’t move in this memory,” a voice says, and I about hit the ceiling. I turn my head and there, barely visible through my swollen eyes, is a Weedbeard in his late fifties – his hair and beard are more salt and pepper than silvery white.

I try to speak; I can barely croak.

Weedbeard laughs and hands me a refilled eye cup. “Can’t speak out of turn, either. That’s because this memory is so distant for you, and because it’s fixed. You’ve been marked. While all of this is rinsing out of your eyes, and while your lungs and mouth will recover, it’s the cut on your low back that festers. And, long after it’s scarred and faded, you find yourself injuring that leg, that foot, that hip – in theatres. Or in times of turmoil. And now you’re drawn back here, because it craves you all the more for having been denied its chance to devour you the first time.”

I want to ask so many questions!

“I have to make this quick, our time is short. No doubt you have some questions; and here’s the thing, Edward: you can ask them. But you have to get back to the now first,” Weedbeard says, and now he’s spraying saline solution into a small plastic cup.

I try to nod a question of what are you doing at the cup in his hands, but it’s impossible. And I’m dimly aware of another conversation, the one that happened at the time: he was asking me about myself, which lead to questions about how I knew Laurabell-Beaujolais Grausamkeit, where I was going to school, my goals in life. I was pontificating on Sondheim, of course. Like an ass.

In this memory overlay, Weedbeard is adding what looks like more salt to the saline solution, from a pouch in his pocket; and from another pouch, herbs. He’s saying, “In order to do that, you have to fall farther back, to the first time you saw her. The first time you saw the truth of her eyes. Because you’re one of the only people outside of our group who even knows how to look beyond her mask.”

I smell Chamomile, Rosemary, Cinnamon – with something darker, earthier. Weedbeard stirs them together with a wooden coffee stirrer, leaning in to say, “And, if I may speak frankly, you have unique insight because you’ve been physically inside of her. But that moment, when you first noticed her eyes, that’s the dandelion umbrel of connection from which this insidious weed has sprouted in your heart, soul and mind.”

Weedbeard dumps the salty herb brine over my head and says, “Iter cito per iter Deorum!”

I gasp, shaking my head, completely clear of all allergic reaction. I can move! I turn to ask him a question, and Weedbeard throws a handful of Dandelion umbrels into the air.

I say, “Teach me to do this stuff!” Before I can finish the sentence, they tornado around me and I’m flying in their giggling embrace. And though I feel warm and safe right now, I have the distinct feeling of impending doom.