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Posts Tagged ‘Betsy Hillebrandt’

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

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

(Ongoing weekly narrative; new readers start here.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I thought Brock left her,” says Lorraine.

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

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

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

Lorraine gives Claire’s arm a reassuring squeeze.

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

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

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

“She said it was … afterbirth.”

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

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

In another hand, blue ink from a fountain pen:

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

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

But there’s one thing that leaps out of these pages and grabs me by the oh-no-not-that: Lorraine York is my maternal grandmother. How the hell is she involved in this craziness? Nowhere in our family stories is there anything like this about Grandma Lorraine.

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

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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 to shout, “I see you checking out those booties!”

The nurses stop, turning to me.

Ghost Child Mary is gone.

Excuse me, Edward?” says Kelly, her eyes narrowed, a half-smile on her lips that tells me I’m 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?