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Posts Tagged ‘Joaquin Miller Park’

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.)

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Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Seven — Voice Memo II

In Fiction, Theatre, Writing on August 30, 2017 at 11:52 am

(This blog is a gateway drug: start here.)

Day Seven: Tuesday, 25 July 2017 – Voice Memo II

[Sound: fumbling thud and scrabble, a muffled curse; footsteps on gravel, panting, more fumbling]

I dropped my phone. I’m … trying to catch my breath. I’ve been running. I threw a pot out a side window of the shed; that thing, whatever it is, went lurching off in the direction of the impact and I bolted from the shed but it’s dark. In the movies, there’s always ambient light in the forest. There’s no fucking ambient anything. Except darkness. I’m completely turned around.

[Sound: in the distance, Ma-MA! Ma-MAAaaaaa … !]

Okay, there’s there’s maybe a sliver of a moon tonight. Marginally helpful. I see a building ahead, I’m heading for it. I don’t have enough battery to keep this going for long.

I was talking about the pyramid. I found it on a map of the park, it seemed like an easy walk. I drove my car to the lot closest to that spot, parked, and took the right fork; according to the map, I thought it would take me to the pyramid.

[Sound: footsteps on gravel, the night breeze.]

Wait … the thing has been quiet a while. I think it’s quiet when it travels. So fucking dark. I can’t risk the flashlight on my phone.

[Sound: Ma-MAAAAAaaaaa!, far away.]

I’m not sure it’s Dolly Lurker. But it fucking sounds like Dolly Lurker. At least … I mean, after I ran away. Not at first. At first it just giggled.

I saw its face.

All white.

Like the mask.

Wait, there’s a gate here, near this building. Chain link … locked. Fuck. Okay. Okay. Up the hill to my left, trees. Probably poison oak, too, so … down the hill. Next to this building, there’s a trail. Right against the side of the building. Okay. I need to rest, I’m sitting down with my back to this wall. Nothing can sneak up on me here.

[Sound: Edward panting, but in the distance, jingles]

Oh shit.

[Sound: jingles, louder.]

It’s the other one.

[Sound: high-pitched giggling]

Time to go.

Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Seven — Voice Memo

In Fiction, Theatre, Writing on August 29, 2017 at 11:52 am

(This post means nothing without context. Start here.)

Day Seven: Tuesday, 25 July 2017 – Voice Memo

There’s something outside.

It’s dark. I’m in a potting shed at a native plant nursery in Joaquin Miller Park. I have my phone on low so the light doesn’t bleed. It’s 11:45 pm, I have no idea where I am and –

[sound: gravel crunching, dragging footsteps]

It’s moving closer.

I don’t know how much time I have. I’ll try to get this out fast. Here’s what I know:

I should never have come up here. Or I should have brought someone with me.

This is important, I need to remember this: when I got to the theatre today, Joel was hosing the outside wall off next to the stage door stairs. I asked why, and he said graffiti. But it was different because it was easy to wash off, it wasn’t paint, and it was actual words. I asked what it said, because jokes, ha ha Edward you masturbatory jester. He showed me a picture he’d taken of the graffiti – graffito? – on his phone.

I have goosebumps again just thinking about it. Three words, in charcoal:

into the party

Joel said I looked like someone walked over my grave, I made a joke about cadavers and went inside. I didn’t – and still don’t – understand why those words chilled me. They’re innocuous. They mean nothing. But, combined with everything else –

Wait. I’m listening. Have I been whispering too loud? I can’t tell. There’s no sound from outside. I can’t tell if it went away or if it’s right outside the door.

[sound: rustling cloth]

I think it’s … moved off.

… I’m trying to figure out what the fuck happened …

[sound: rustling cloth]

Left leg really hurts, have to change position a lot. Sorry.

Okay, so there was a note at my station saying: “secret party after rehearsal tonight.” This is rad, there were some during Shrek last year. Clandestine weed romps in Joaquin Miller Park at night. Ghost stories, snacks, dress warmly. We’re careful about who gets invited – no buzz kills, all legal adults, no creepers.

When I left the theatre, there was a note on my windshield. It said, FIND THE PYRAMID. All caps.

[sound: thump]

Oh fuck. It’s out there.

[sound: thump, closer]

Jesus, I think it knows I’m in here.

[sound, muffled: aaaa-aaaaa …]

My phone, it’s …

[sound: thump, too close.]

… dying.

[sound: Ma-MA! Ma-MA! … Ahheeeuuurrrrrghghghhhhssssss …]

Oh. Fuck.

Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Four — Part I

In Fiction, Theatre, Writing on August 11, 2017 at 12:54 pm

(If you care about continuity, start here.)

Day Four: Friday, 21 July 2017 – Part I

Everything looks different in daylight.

A thought occurred to me today as I drove in to Woodminster: If Dolly Lurker could be all of those places outside the theatre, couldn’t Dolly Lurker also get inside the theatre? I decided I should check the perimeter for potential points of entry.

I arrived at 4:30, two and a half hours before rehearsal, and parked in the same spot, all bright hot sunshine burning away any lingering alarm. Looking at the slope in front of my car, I was surprised anyone could get up it easily, especially if they were waggling a baby doll as they walked. It’s near vertical in some spots.

I got down there and looked for footprints, signs that the earth had been disturbed as someone struggled up the slope. There was nothing I could see. Perhaps if I’d mastered the Tracking merit badge, but – alas – I chose Theatre over Scouting in 1989, and I’m pretty pleased with the results so far. (I had a choice at the time: spend my time in tents with boys my age, or spend my time in the dark with girls my age. Then get applause for what I was doing in the light. Cue dopamine flood, ignite validation and … commence addiction.)

I headed inside, enjoying the welcome buzz of varied activity that floats in the soundscape of any active theatre. I dropped my stuff in my dressing room and headed out to take pictures of anything of interest. The back gate – where I’d first seen Dolly lurk her doll at me – was fully locked, as secure as it was two days ago. The front gate, next to the box office, was open at that time, but staff and crew were in the area, and everyone is vigilant about intruders. I headed down the path through the redwoods to the lowest parking lot, then down the steps beyond.

Four terraced fountain pools grace the back of the theatre, with lovely stone steps leading up from a fountain plaza far below. Above the fountains is the back breezeway of the theatre, which is how most of us get from Stage Left to Stage Right, and vice-versa, unless we’ve got to get there quickly and the upstage crossover is our only option. Additional steps lead to the theatre itself, ending at solid steel double doors that look like they haven’t been opened in decades, one set on each side of the fountains.

Just for shits and giggles, I tried each set of doors. Locked, possibly rusted shut. So unless Dolly Lurker has magical door-opening abilities, Dolly Lurker isn’t getting in that way.

Another set of steps leads up away from the main steps, toward the left side of the theatre. I followed these and found myself outside the men’s dressing room, beneath the terrace from which I’d seen the mask among the branches on Day One. Another door in that wall – where does it go? The basement? I’m craving a look at the original blueprints. And behind me as I faced that door, about 25 feet away: the location of the first sighting.

I headed toward it, very aware of the shade of the trees around me: my first two (potential) sightings of Dolly Lurker were during daylight, in heavy shade. Within seconds I saw that I’d made an error: there was no thicket. There was a chain link fence blocking access to a small square patch of ground, and several tree branches and trunks right around and behind it. So what I’d taken for a thicket was an illusion created by the branches through which I’d made the sighting, the light at the time of day, and perhaps the chain link fence itself. Which now makes me doubt everything I’ve seen.

Along with that doubt, new questions are presented: 1) What is this chain link fence protecting? 2) Looking back at the building, how did Dolly Lurker get the baby doll to the window – a stick? A ladder? It’s too far for me, even on tip-toe, and I’m six feet tall.

I was pondering this when I heard voices nearby. I glanced around, but they were muffled. Following my ears, I came to that single steel door in that wall. The voices were coming from behind it. This is what I heard:

A) … it’s too risky. Why would you want him to know about that?

B) What it is, is too late. If you didn’t want anyone to know, you never should have left a trail of breadcrumbs.

A) You’re as much to blame as I am – it was your bread.

B) You never said what it was for –

“Edward!?”

I jumped, certain I’d been caught eavesdropping. But the call was echoing from the amphitheatre itself. Maybe someone was looking for me on the stage? The conversation behind the door had stopped, so before whoever was in there could open it and maybe look outside for me, I headed back down to the steps and around to the stage door on the other side of the building.

Something felt odd when I reached the stage door. The theatre felt deserted. There was no hammering, no music, no conversation. I paused in the doorway, saying, “Hello?”

No response came, and I stepped inside. I had the distinct feeling I was being watched. The office was empty. Knocking on the door to the ladies’ dressing room / costume shop, I peeked inside. Allison was not there. The clang of a dropped tool echoed from the region of the shop followed by what I could swear was Judy saying what sounded like, “It should never have happened in the first place!” I headed in that direction.

Distance and architecture can change things. Acoustics are mysterious. When I got to the shop, it, too, was empty. I walked onto the stage and looked out at the house. Empty. I headed back into the stage left loading bay between the shop and the stage, listening.

A groan. From the men’s dressing room. Low, but getting louder. Goosebumps flared up the back of my legs to my neck – until I recognized the sound. Old, groaning water pipes. The men’s restroom, in the men’s dressing room. I looked inside – I might have even used the facilities, briefly. By the time I was washing my hands, I’d accepted the notion that everyone was on break at once. I decided to head to Peet’s.

Grabbing my keys, I headed through the stage left loading bay. Before I could set foot on the stage, I heard it.

Echoing, distant, “Ma-MA … Ma-MA …”

She’s inside. She killed everyone.

Fight-or-flight. I couldn’t move.

Silence.

Where the hell did it come from?

Curiosity overcame fear.

I looked in the shop. Still empty. Standing outside it, I surveyed my surroundings. To my right, the door to the men’s dressing room, the door to the Production Office. Around a corner beyond that, technical and prop storage closets. The door to the breezeway over there, too. Ahead of me, the door of the stage left loading bay. To my left, a dark and cluttered storage closet, the door standing open. Behind me, the shop.

Of all of these, the only one I’ve never looked in is the storage closet to my left. It’s always been there, the door standing open, full of random, dusty stuff.

Turning on the flashlight on my phone, I headed in. A couple mannequins, a bunch of boxes with labels like, GARLANDS and BANNERS. I turned to my right.

A flight of dusty steps lead down to an open steel door, inky darkness beyond. And from that darkness, echoing,

“Ma-MA … Ma-MA …”

Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Three

In Theatre, Writing on August 10, 2017 at 11:52 am

(If you are confused, start here.)

Day Three: Thursday, 20 July 2017

When I returned to Woodminster from the Trevarno District of Livermore, Admiral Judy called me into her office. It’s just off the main office backstage, near the stage door. She said, “Here’s your paycheck, Ed. Don’t lose it on the slippery slope of curiosity.” She waved her hand in the general direction of stage left, the men’s dressing room … and the slope. Her eyes came to rest, I remember, on an old newspaper clipping pinned to the bulletin board behind me.

“Some people like to look for mysteries where there are none, Ed. When they do, they write conversations that never happened. Look: this conversation, right now, never happened. You’re making it up. And that’s exactly what I’ll tell anyone who asks. You’re a talented writer. Not an investigative reporter. Go. No. Further.” With each of those last three words, Judy thumped her index finger on the yellowed, faded article. Then she stared at me, silent, for a full ten seconds before leaving the office.

I took a picture; the article is transcribed below:

July 6, 1952
Montclair, CA

Local Girls Missing
by Ginger Trancas

A missing persons report has been filed for Louise Archer and Bess Tremaine, both Sophomores at Piedmont High. They were last seen on Castle Drive in Montclair on the evening of July 4, wearing shorts and sneakers and matching blue gingham tops. Anyone with information should call Officer Bill Whiting with the Piedmont Police Detectives [faded to a smudge here]

It is not known at this time whether sightings of a lone figure among the trees of Joaquin Miller Park are in any way related to the girls’ disappearance. Most residents in the neighborhood attribute these sightings to high school pranksters, but local florist Betsy Hillebrandt tells another story. “I saw it clear as day,” says Hillebrandt. “I was gathering eucalyptus for my arrangements. [faded into a smudge here, too] about fifteen yards away from me. Just watching. Gave me the chills.” When asked what it looked like, the flighty florist fumbles. “Well, it was tall,” she says. “Its face looked pale, but I couldn’t see clearly. It was almost dark. But it was holding some[faded, smudged]

“Nothing to be concerned about,” says Officer Whiting. “Mysterious figures in the trees could be shadows, could be hobos. There’s no definitive proof that the girls went anywhere near any ‘mysterious [faded, smudged] saw what Mrs. Hillebrandt describes, wouldn’t they just run away and holler at the top of their lungs?”

That’s one thing everybody who lives near the park can agree upon: for the first time in years, Joaquin Miller Park was silent on the 4th of July. “Not a single firecracker,” says Ed Proust, whose backyard is separated from the park by a low picket fence. First time I haven’t [smudged] hose ready for a fire in a decade. If those girls were screaming in there, we’d have heard them.”

“The girls could be at a friend’s house, and they both have cousins in Reno. There’s no knowing what they might get up to,” says Officer Whiting. “Speculation only fans the flames. We expect them home any time now.”

For the sake of the friends and families of Louise Archer and Bess Tremaine, we hope it’s sooner than later.

Setting aside the rampant editorializing and somewhat egregious alliteration, it was an informative article. A little too informative, in fact. I began to suspect I was being pranked. So convenient, this article — just sitting there, coincidentally tacked to the bulletin board in her office. I went in search of Judy, but every time I got close to her, she was called – or simply went – away.

Call me paranoid. I started watching everyone very closely. Did I see a hint of mischief behind Linnea’s smile? Was Joel intentionally not looking in my direction because he might laugh if we made eye contact? Was Johann laughing at me, or at something Bryan said? That seems unlikely – Bryan’s what we call, “destined for hammers.”

Retreating into my work, I doubled down on memorization. We ran what we’d staged, then continued staging the show to just after I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair – the only song in the R&H canon dedicated to cum.

I allowed my questions about the figure, the doll – and now, the disappearing girls – to be subsumed by the need to master my lines. By the end of the night, I’d concluded that it was all an ornate hazing ritual. This is my third year at Woodminster, perhaps this is how they test us at the end of a probationary period. Frankly, that’s what I would do if I had a theatre company. Which is why it’s probably better that I don’t.

With a lighter heart and a far less suspicious cloud hovering at the edges of my vision, I left rehearsal that night determined to get them all back. Something really clever, but simple. I chatted with Amanda for a bit before getting into my car, then sat listening to NPR and waiting for my phone to recharge enough to listen to Aaron Mahnke’s LORE podcast on the way home.

Charging my dead phone to 5% takes about five minutes. Someone back at the stage door was laughing. Occasional cars would pass my spot – the last on the right in the lower lot, if you’re looking at the lot from the stage door – as the remaining actors and staff went home. The laughter at the stage door continued intermittently – like someone was going, “Ha-Aa! Aaaaaahhhh,” every thirty seconds or so.

I saw the lights turn off, and Judy left about one minute afterward. My phone was at 4%.

There were still people laughing back at the stage door, so I decided I’d drive over there in a second to mock them for their late-night caterwauling. There was a pause on the radio, and in that silence, the laughter came again.

It sounded wrong. Like someone in pain.

I glanced back through the hatchback on my Prius, but the glass is tinted – it’s hard to see details that far away.

I rolled down both front windows to see my driver and passenger rear view mirrors better, putting the car in reverse, which starts it beeping. The radio was still on.

The laughter was much closer to my car now.

I turned the radio down, put the car in drive to stop the beeping, and turned to look back at the stage door, rolling down my back windows, too. I could see the stage door clearly now.

It was locked. There was nobody over there.

From the trees on the dark slope in front of my car came, “Ma-ma! Ma-MA! Ahhhahhhhhhhghhhhhssssss …”

I froze. I didn’t want to look.

“Ma-MA! Ma-MA! Ahhhahhaaahhhhhghlllllhhhhssssss …”

It was louder.

Closer.

I turned front.

It stood in the shadows, just down the slope from the front of my car, baby doll held out into the glow of the streetlights, tilting side to side.

My windows are down.

It took a step forward. More of its arm was exposed. Pale white flesh. I did not turn my headlights on. I didn’t want to see.

Throwing the car into reverse, I tried to speed backward. My emergency brake was still on. I slammed my foot into it – unlocking and re-locking the brake three times before it released.

Another step forward.

I zipped backward, braking to avoid slamming into the curb separating the lot from the slope. The figure turned toward me.

I tried to roll up the windows. They wouldn’t move. I looked at the control panel. I’d engaged the driver lock. In my car, it stops even me from rolling the windows up or down. Also, the cruise control has stopped working. Unrelated. Moving on:

I’d like to say I tossed a few witty bon mots before I got the windows up. Something like, “How’s this for a glass ceiling?” Or, “You know what they say, when the Lord closes a window …” Too wordy. Maybe, “Glass half full me once, shame on you!” Or maybe, “Listen, Precious, I don’t have the ring.

What I think I said was, “Holy fuck FUCK! Get the fuck, get the FUCK, GET THE FUCK –”

Giving up on the windows, I threw the car into drive and hit the gas, slamming into every pothole on the road out. I think Oakland Parks and Rec is aiming for a record. There are more holes in that road than in my plots. And that’s saying something.

I remembered to turn on my headlights as I was passing the Ranger Station at the top of the hill. I wondered if the rangers know anything about Dolly Lurker. Regardless, I didn’t get much sleep that night, my thoughts returning to the same image for hours:

I could be wrong. It was dark. I never turned on my headlights while it was in front of me.

I thought the figure was wearing blue gingham.