ewhightower

Posts Tagged ‘Joaquin Miller Park’

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: 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.)

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.