ewhightower

Posts Tagged ‘Ghost Child Mary’

WMSP, Part II, Episode XII: The Pyre

In Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Sci-Fi, Theatre on July 31, 2019 at 12:33 pm

(This dark and disturbing tale begins here; discerning readers prefer starting at the beginning. If you’re one of those who reads the end of the book first: here’s a spoiler: everybody dies. There. Now go read Twilight.)

Stupid-ass white boys going at night to a place where a man burned himself alive. What the hell are they gonna find there that they can’t find in daylight? Hey, stupid.”

Not now, GCM.”

Jeremy says, “What?”

Nothing, Jeremy. It’s … Ghost Child Mary. She’s tagging along.”

He says, “Oh. Oh! Wow. Tell her I say hi.”

I can hear the damn fool and I don’t say hi back.” Ghost Child Mary says.

She says hi.”

No I don’t!” Ghost Child Mary scowls with precision.

Jeremy is fan-girling a little, “Wow, I mean, I know I freaked out when I saw her last night, but I’m kind of amazed to be, to realize that—I’m, I’m talking to a ghost.”

Oh no you aren’t, dumb-ass. The ghost is talking to you and she says, shut the hell up.”

Ghost Child Mary, does your Mama know you’re talking like this?” I say.

My Mama and I have come to an agreement.”

Oh?”

She says I can say what I want, long as I help you. She says expressing my frustration is healthy, and it’s good for me, considering the way I died.”

Wow. Um. May I ask?”

How I died? You can ask, but I don’t remember. Not sure why, but Mama says it’s bad. So maybe best I don’t remember. But I have to help you.”

Why? I mean, I’m glad for your help, but I don’t understand.”

You remember that memory you had, of being in a field, at night, and someone was calling out … ?”

… thick tule fog wreathes the field with its eldritch creep …

I do remember—but it was brief. I stood up. Someone was calling for their … ”

Mama. That’s right. That was the first time your crazy-ass girlfriend tried to kill you. You don’t remember?”

No. I don’t.”

Well, she got you alone there, in that field, in a specific spot. And she was supposed to spill your blood to lock something down. But you woke up, and I don’t know how: you woke me up.”

Why?”

Because that’s where I died, stupid. I was killed. I think my eyes were taken to feed something.”

Why did I wake you up, though?”

I don’t know. Mama doesn’t know. She says that’s why I have to help you. Because she never knew where I was until you woke me.”

Wow.”

Jeremy clears his throat, “Okay, so, Edward? You’re having a conversation with a ghost and we’re walking toward a funeral pyre. At night. Does this seem wise?”

Ghost Child Mary manifests, transparent, in front of Jeremy, who yelps: “Which is exactly what I said. Ain’t nobody got time for you to catch up, bitch-ass white boy! Who do you think saved your ass at the Browning Monument? It sure the hell wasn’t old-ass white boy Edward. It was me! … With some help. But if I hadn’t been there …”

Jeremy is unable to move.

Ghost Child Mary looks at me, her empty eyes disdainful. “Is there a way to make him less stupid?”

I mean …”

He’s a boy, so it’s a lost cause.” She looks at Jeremy. “Would it help if you can see and hear me in a more solid looking form?”

Jeremy stammers.

I think that’s a yes,” says Ghost Child Mary. She takes a deep breath and holds it, clenching her fists.

There’s a light puffing noise, like a pilot light igniting, and she appears more solid than before. “This is temporary,” she says. “And no salt. If you salt me, I go away for a long time. Got that, stupid-ass white boys? No salt!”

No salt,” I say.

Jeremy whispers, “No salt.”

We’ve passed the Pyramid, and a trail leads off the road to the left.

This is it,” says Jeremy.

Wait!” says Ghost Child Mary. But it’s too late: we’ve stepped onto the path.

A man sleeps alone on a bare mattress in an apartment given over to self-destructive bachelorhood.

Reginald.

There’s an indistinct form in his room, near the bed. The voice comes from this form; we can hear it, but it’s not spoken aloud. And though we’re standing on the path, in our collective mind’s eye it plays like a movie.

Who’s there?”

Wake up, Reginald.

What do you want?”

I want you to be your best self.

Who are you?”

I’m your friend, remember? We’re oh so friendly, you and I. You’re my palsy-walsy.

Uh-uh, I’m done, let’s go,” says Ghost Child Mary. But we can’t move.

I just want to stay in bed. It’s … nearly 3 am,” says Reginald.

Yes, that’s true. And also, you want to wake up, Chum-O-Mine.

I lost my job. Leave me alone.”

I have a job for you. Chum-chum. Friendly-wendly.

Fuck off.”

Seconded. All in favor?” says Ghost Child Mary.

The figure near the bed pauses, turning somewhat in our direction, as if listening.

What’s going on? Can we stop this?” Jeremy says, sotto voce.

I think this already happened, there’s nothing we can do,” I say.

Sort of,” says Ghost Child Mary.

The figure moves in our direction, pausing again right in front of her. It moves its hands, like it’s trying to swat or summon her.

Ghost Child Mary puts her hands in front of us, protective, saying, “Shhhh.” My heart breaks a little. We hold still, barely breathing.

After a moment, the figure turns back to Reginald, leaning in and whispering, sing-song.

Are you sure you won’t help me, Chummy-Wummy?

I’m sure you can fuck off,” Reginald pulls a second pillow over his head.

But I know where you can sleep the coziest.

Fuck. Off.

The figure reaches down and tugs at the sheet near Reginald’s hand, lifting him to float, in only boxer shorts and a bedsheet, drawing him through the wall. We’re pulled with them, through walls and houses and yards.

Reginald, you’ve lost the day;
You need to sleep, to sleep to dream:
In dreaming, you can burn away
The waking pains that make you scream.

Sweet Reggie, come with me outside:
You’re sad and lost, but I’ve a path
To pop the pain since Sarah died
And abdicate your throne of wrath.

Wait, how did we get outside? It’s so dark.”

We are indeed outside, on a road next to a grassy embankment with a trail running into trees.

You need release from troubled woe,
Your heart is aching more and more;
Take up that canister and go
Through yonder gate to open door.

‘Sunset Gate’? What the hell is this? Where am I? There’s no door … ”

Reginald has walked through the gate, though it’s not a traditional gate at all, and as instructed he’s picked up an old-fashioned canister of gasoline that was sitting on the embankment. Now the figure follows him; we trail along in their wake. True, there’s no door, but it feels like we’ve entered another place. I know we’re in Joaquin Miller Park, but it feels significantly darker.

You’re on your way to bliss and peace,
To cease regret in lasting sleep:
The Keep of Dreams is sweet release,
Submerged in Lethe so dark and deep.

Reginald is trying to read the canister, but he can’t turn it in his hands. All he can do is walk forward. He tries to stop, but can only slow.

Are we in Tilden? Why am I carrying this? It smells like … gasoline? I don’t want to start a fire.”

We follow down deer trails, into a canyon, across a creek and up the other side

Keep walking, Palsy, down the trail;
The time is near when we will wrap
Your sheets like shrouds to seek the grail
In Shadow’s unrelenting trap.

Did you say trap? Is this a trap? Are you fucking with me?”

Who traps a friend, my lonely pal?
What gal or guy will mend a tear
By ripping only mucho mal
In Friendship’s sails on seas of Care?

Mucho mal … Do you speak Spanish? My wife was a Latina. Latinx. I guess? Sorry. Christ, I miss her. I’ve fucked everything up.”

We’ve arrived at a hill with a stand of tall, spindly pine trees. It feels familiar, but flipside-dark. And now that we’re here, we slip right back to where we stepped onto the trail from the road, before this odd vision began—only now it’s playing out in front of us in real time.

Let’s go,” I say.

Yes, please,” says Jeremy.

Don’t have to ask me twice,” says Ghost Child Mary.

We turn as one, walking back toward the road.

Except we’re walking the other way, toward the Pyre, watching as Reginald and the figure arrive at the other side.

Let’s walk forward,” Jeremy says.

We try, moving to the right of the Pyre, aiming to walk past them and down the other side of the rise … only to be floated back to where we were.

Look up, look up! And there behold:
You nevermore shall be alone;
I promise you will not get old,
On final bed of mortar’d stone.

That’s … a funeral pyre.”

He’s not wrong,” Ghost Child Mary and I murmur, simultaneous. Jeremy turns and looks at us. Mortified. Neither Reginald nor the figure react.

The Moon is Leonine in wax;
Though void-of-course, she soon corrects:
Her Virgin Full cuts like an axe
Each sacrifice that one … erects.

As he speaks, green will-o’-the-wisps float up out of the ground one by one, lighting the area with their eldritch glow. From the trees beyond the Pyre steps a familiar shape: female, old-fashioned clothes, hair in a bun. Reginald is staring at his junk.

I’m … hard. Why am I hard?

Don’t nobody want to see that, bad enough I gotta be around actors all the time,” Ghost Child Mary whispers.

Close your eyes,” Jeremy whispers.

Ghost Child Mary turns and stares her empty-sockets at him. After a moment, he realizes.

Yikes, sorry,” he says.

That’s what your mama said when you were born,” she says, then turns back to the bizarre pantomime we’re being forced to witness.

As the figure tells Reginald what to do, so he does: herky-jerky, a fleshly marionette.

Now mount those steps and settle in;
This lady’s here to wrap your shroud:
She needs your seed to chop again,
To make them scream so very loud.

The entire area is lit by the eerie green will-o’-the-wisps now, and we can see the woman clearly. It’s Axe Lady. She climbs the steps of the Pyre, standing over Reginald. Her eyes glow white, obscuring, from where we stand, the rest of her features. She makes a few gestures and he is wrapped tight in the sheet. Odd: his arms are still free.

Oh my God her face! I don’t want to be here, let me go!

Axe Lady is pulling her dress up over her hips, grinding in the air as she crouches over Reginald.

Jeremy and I put our hands in front of Ghost Child Mary’s eyes.

Thanks,” she says, “but I can see through hands. I can tell this makes you both uncomfortable. I’ll shift away.”

Ghost Child Mary snaps her hands open and with the sound of a gas burner going out, pfuhf, she’s indistinct; she plugs her nose, jumps in the air and plunges into the ground, out of sight.

Jeremy looks at me, gesturing what I interpret as, “Where is she?”

I shrug, the universal gesture for, “Fuck if I know, Trump is president.” A cry comes from the Pyre.

Reginald is trying to push Axe Lady away and she pins his arms down. She’s grunting and cooing as she mounts him. He’s struggling, begging, whimpering.

The lady’s strength will more than match
A man so close to cold embraces;
And now she latches on to snatch
Your seed with teeth from deathly faces.

No! No! No!

She rides and bites with mouth uncouth
Upon which sit so many lasses;
But speak now, Lady, as his youth-
Ful seed into your belly passes!

Reginald picks up the canister of gasoline, shaking; it’s clear he’s trying to resist, but he’s pouring it on himself.

What am I doing? I can’t control my … arms! Pfaughhh! The fumes! My eyes! Somebody please help me! Help me help me help me!

Axe Lady, grinning, grinding, says,

Your pain is such, you can’t deny:
It better were to quickly die.

We hear a tearing sound. We wince.

Aughhhhh!

From deep underground we hear Ghost Child Mary, “Nasty.”

Reginald is screaming, garbled, unintelligible, as the figure intones:

Your screams they fill her drooling crave
And thus increase her riding speed;
Ignite yourself, embrace your grave!
Relinquish all your greedling need!

Reginald’s hands are flopping about the edges of the pyre, scrabbling; he finds a box of matches, struggling to light them.

Axe Lady is giggling,

My other teeth, they raise your hackles
But wait until I cum in cackles!

The figure is growing more solid.

Your hands they shake to strike the match?
Ohio Blue-Tip eases cares:
But try and try again, my friend—
Ah! Thus one spark can answer prayers!

Reginald bursts into flames, screaming. The Axe Lady is unaffected by the fire, cackling,

No flame can bite, no spark ignite
Me: I’m a hag of Deepest Night!

In the light of the flames, the figure is a well-dressed gentleman. Reginald’s screams give him solidity.

Sweet Reggie, how your screams they smoke!
And now, at last, your life: it matters;
For we shall silence what was spoke
In slashing screams with messy splatters!

Gasping in pleasure, the Axe Lady manages,

I’ll ride you til the Reaper spills
The contents of your Manly Frills!

The well-dressed gentleman walks up the steps of the Pyre, speaking to Reginald like a proud father,

And thus your Dead Man’s Seed will grow
Like kudzu, creeping all about
To smother what they think they know;
Replacing thought with sinking doubt.

Axe Lady cries out, riding hard and fast, cackling high and mad on the vowels,

O! Here he comes, his scythe has swung!
(I’m glad that you were so well hung!)

She grunts a heinous orgasm, equal parts creaking door and Thurl Ravenscroft; the trees sag, like their life force has been drained. It feels like a ripple of sadness and loss has blasted out through everything in the park.

The well-dressed gentleman reaches into the fire to the point of unholy union between hag and burning cadaver. He withdraws his hand and tastes his fingers, then walks around the pyre, marking each corner as he says,

As here you’ve died, so here you’ll stay
No rest, no bliss, no peace for you;
Unless you do just as I say
To feast, to tear, to drink the goo

From in the brains of all I mark
To be removed and quite forgot;
You’ll wait them here in deepest dark
And pull them down to whisp’ring nought.

Axe Lady steps off the pyre, her legs too long, insectile; setae grows around her knees. Easily over nine feet tall now, she caresses her already-distended belly as she wobbles, unsteady, drunk with pleasure,

I’m fed, I’m fill’d, I’m sated quite;
We’ll scatter now, afore the light.

She’s twenty feet tall now; a fleshy tendril drops from between her legs. The well-dressed gentleman bites onto it, devouring upward like Pac-Man on spaghetti as Axe Lady stilts off down the rise into the dark forest beyond.

The last thing I see before they’re gone: the well-dressed gentleman turning to grin, his jaw distended where he hangs from the tendril.

He points at us.

And winks.

Advertisements

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 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 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, 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.