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Posts Tagged ‘puzzles’

WMSP Part II, Episode III; Thursday, July 27: Ghost Child Mary

In Fiction, Horror, Theatre on August 17, 2018 at 12:06 pm

(Effectively mitigate silly questions about this story. Start here!)

Guess who doesn’t care if you’re pooping?

Ghost Child Mary, that’s who.

I’m sitting in the restroom in the men’s dressing room at the theater. I’m taking my time, mulling the Obi-Wan-point-five charcoal graffiti revelation, when Ghost Child Mary walks through the wall. I jump, scream in the manliest fashion, then scoot back on the toilet seat, leaning forward, covering everything.

Ghost Child Mary says, Mama says you better get ready for spooky consequences!”

She stands there in her pool of low-lying fog. Looking at me with her dark, empty eye sockets. Like I’m supposed to reply. So I say,

Thank you. And please tell your mother I say thank you, as well.”

Ghost Child Mary busts out laughing at this, walking back through the wall by which she entered. I realize I’m holding my breath. I let it out, slow.

She pops her head back through the wall, saying,

Keep poopin’!”

I yelp, farting, and she’s laughing as she disappears through the wall again.

Ghost Child Mary, you have to give me privacy!” I say.

The door to the men’s room opens a crack; from outside, Judy says,

Who you talking to, Ed?”

I’m silent for a long moment. This situation is creepy to begin with, an explanation of what just happened will only make things worse. I can still hear Ghost Child Mary’s laughter echoing, fading away. I guess Judy doesn’t hear it.

In spite of all that, in the pressure of my long moment of silence I say, “ … Ghosts?”

Huh,” says Judy. “Maybe you should sit down when you’re offstage, Ed.”

The door closes and it’s a long time before I’m relaxed enough to finish sculpting the Trumps.

It’s later, as I’m wandering the premises running my lines that I realize: Judy may not yet know that I know they saved me from Dolly Lurker, and that she halted Laurabell-Beaujolais Grausamkeit’s weird sacrificial ritual. This makes me want to ask Judy questions.

Of course, now I can’t find her anywhere.

Other cast members start to arrive. I’m checking a text on my phone in the middle of the breezeway over the fountains when Kelly and Grace, who play nurses in the show, walk by. Both of them are gifted human beings, with kind souls and brilliant minds; they also happen to have very attractive asses. And I admit, my eyes have questions and want answers.

Ghost Child Mary pops her head out of the column next to me and shouted, “I see you checking out those booties!”

The nurses stop, turning to me.

Ghost Child Mary is gone.

Excuse me, Edward?” says Kelly, her eyed narrowed, a half-smile on her lips that says I am in trouble because I have no idea where this is going. They’re walking back toward me.

That was a ghost,” I say. Because, what the fuck else can I say?

A ghost that talks about our asses?” says Grace.

She was commenting because I was looking,” I say.

There is a long silence after I speak.

Grace laughs.

Kelly smacks her on the arm, they both laugh, walking away, Kelly saying, “Do some sit-ups or something so we get to ogle you right back.”

Ghost Child Mary giggles from inside the column. Kelly and Grace turn to me, concern in their eyes.

It was the ghost,” I say.

Spooky spooky spooky!” says Ghost Child Mary, still inside the column.

How the fuck did you do that, Edward?” Kelly says.

It’s Burton,” Grace says. “Burton, where are you hiding?” They’re looking behind some old flats.

From inside the old broken-down piano that lives—and molts—on the breezeway, Ghost Child Mary says, “My name’s not Burton!”

Kelly and Grace scream and run away, Kelly calling, “Not funny, Edward!”

Ghost Child Mary, you are not helping,” I say.

She says nothing.

Later still, during rehearsal, I step aside to make way for the nurses as they run on for a number; Kelly and Grace point at me, squinting, Kelly says, “Keep the ghosts away, Ed.”

I execute a Restoration bow, knocking an old box off a table, spilling its contents into the entrance to Judy’s office. Which is a certain method for summoning Judy. If only I’d thought of it when there was time to ask her questions.

Looks like you’re helping me clean this up, Ed!” she says, and I drop to one knee, scooping the papers into the box. “You’ve got some time, Ed. See if you can’t put those in order.” Judy waves at the box as she heads off to work more of her awesomeness.

I look into the box. It’s all files filled with papers, programs. They’re paperclipped in place. It’s not a huge mess, I can do this. Full disclosure: if the files had all spilled everywhere, with loose papers going crazy, this task would take me hours.

I sit on the closest couch and organize the files; the earliest year is 1967. It’s got a program from their very first production: South Pacific! I glance through it, then tuck it into the file and get them all in order. I’m pretty pleased with myself as I set the fully organized box on the floor before me.

Something is nagging me, though. I take the South Pacific program out again and look more closely. There, about three-quarters of the way through the program, is an ad:

               Hillebrandt Flowers
Every Bloom for the Discerning Theatregoer
               Local Rates for Time Capsule
Please call Betsy!

The phone number is surely long out of service, but what’s this about a time capsule?

Betsy Hillebrandt, though—I think that’s the lady from the articles about the missing girls. Why did I think her name was Hildebrand? I head back to my dressing room to check the spelling, digging the mucky-looking plastic bag out of my backpack. It’s folded at an awkward diagonal. Taking the article out, I see a flash of white in the Ziploc and look again.

A curl of white paper sticks to the inside of the bag. It looks like a price tag. It wasn’t there before. I pull on it, tearing the corner. It’s a larger piece than I thought. I reach in again, taking care as I peel and lift the paper away from the plastic. In doing so, I understand why the bag doesn’t smell like muck at all:

The bag was painted to look like this—inside and out—and the piece of paper was painted into the inside. Careful camouflage. On the unpainted side of the paper is a message:

in my thought
every word lied
he was first

There was a strange symbol beneath the writing: a horizontal line with an arrow leading up from it to touch a circle. It did not look familiar.

“Mama says I should leave you alone when you’re pooping,” Ghost Child Mary says from right behind me. I do a kind of Don Knotts electric chair scream/wiggle, jumping up to turn around. I’m facing the door to the dressing room.

I can’t see her. “Ghost Child Mary?” I say.

She says you need to figure that out, though,” her voice comes from behind me again; I whirl, all goosebumpy, and she’s inside the mirror. “Because the window shuts.”

Ghost Child Mary walks out of the reflected dressing room into the ensemble area, and the light changes out there; it’s cleaner, the light is not fluorescent; I hear an orchestra striking up Bloody Mary, and a bunch of sailors I don’t recognize go running past. Hairstyles different.

She walks out of sight, and the light in the reflected ensemble area fades to present-day.

Holy shit. I think Ghost Child Mary was here in 1967.

I think she might have been in South Pacific.

A bubble of weird surfaces in my mind:

Is the show the thing that brings Jingles and Dolly out to play?

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Woodminster, South Pacific; Part II, Episode II: Thursday, July 27: Girls Still Missing

In Fiction, Horror, Theatre on August 15, 2018 at 12:06 pm

(This story begins here. Click it if you’re new.)

There’s a strangeness, an empty ache, when approaching a place where you expect to see people who feel important in your heart—only to find that they are not there.

Turning the corner on foot near Peet’s in Montclair, expecting to see the old wizards and Louellaughra—even mulling over possible greetings as I approached—only to be stopped short by their absence. Nobody was sitting on the wooden bench. It felt like a slap in the heart.

But why? I’ve met them as a group one time; Louellaughra does not seem to like me at all. I’ve had more direct interaction with Weedbeard than any of them, and I just spent a great deal of time with him. I could drive to his house right now. I’m not going to do that, the point is I know where to find him.

True, I saw Obi-Wan-point-five devoured by Dolly Lurker.

giant flapping trapdoor teeth breaking bones and tearing flesh …

But I knew as I drove over here that I wouldn’t see him.

The spear of revelation finds its mark. Standing there on the sidewalk as slightly granola yoga moms in the most exclusive free-trade bamboo spandex park their expensive vintage-style wooden bicycles and talk about how they knew all along that Jill Stein was not to be trusted, and a vintage three-wheeled red Bugatti parks right there as the world moves blithely by with no sense of the shadow whirling around in the Redwoods above them—it hits deep in my heart: I didn’t know how important the idea of this group had become, for me. With all the darkness seeping out of the cracks at the theater, I felt there was this unbreakable band of wizards to whom I would eventually go for advice, protection, perhaps even instruction.

I’ve missed my chance.

The ache in my heart felt like a wound. This was a surprise. I stood there for a long time. Breathing. A little girl walked by with her mother.

Mommy is that man crying?” she said.

Well, sweetie, he probably deserved it,” said the woman.

That shook me out of my self-indulgent stupor. As they disappeared into the froyo shop across the street, I headed into Peet’s, procured a beverage and sat down with my back to the wall and a clear view of the entrance. A woman two tables away raised her eyebrows at the mucky-looking plastic bag, but returned to her conversation. I was happy about that. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, not even to joke my way out of a socially awkward moment.

This is the article:

July 10, 1952
Montclair, CA

No Progress in Missing Girls Case
by Ginger Trancas

An official statement has been issued by the Piedmont Police Detectives regarding the disappearance of Piedmont High Sophomores Louise Archer and Bess Tremaine, who have not been seen since the evening of July 4, when they were noted by neighbors on Castle Drive. The girls were said to be wearing sneakers, shorts and matching blue gingham tops.

According to Officer Whiting, everything is being done to find the girls. “But,” says Whiting, “While we appreciate the public’s willingness to help, the Piedmont Police Detectives would prefer that the public refrain from further vigilante brigades patrolling Joaquin Miller Park at night.”

Asked whether his department was looking into the cousins both girls were said to have in Reno, Officer Whiting claimed no knowledge of any Reno connection. Reminded of his quote in an earlier article on this subject, he said it’s being looked into. Local florist Betsy Hillebrandt, the unconfirmed organizer of what the locals are calling Safety Patrols, laughed aloud at this, saying “I know the families, Officer. They have no cousins in Reno.”

Officer Whiting offered this in response: “Ladies and gentlemen, you need to stay out of that park. These reports we’re getting—strange voices, echoing cries and “lost baby noises,” are unverifiable, and probably best left unmade. Just because you think you hear something in the night, doesn’t mean that you heard what you think it was. If I hear a sound in my yard and I think it’s a Russian spy, does that mean it’s a Russian spy? No. It means I heard a sound. Probably a raccoon.”

Hillebrandt had this question: “What if I hear raccoons speaking Russian in my yard?”

Officer Whiting did not respond, instead reading the following statement aloud:

“There is absolutely nothing to be concerned about, and all Montclair residents living on El Caminito Street, Mountaingate Way, Castle Drive, Castle Park Way, Melville Drive, Skyline Boulevard or Joaquin Miller Road are being asked to stay in their homes at night and stop exploring the park after dark.”

From Hillebrandt, “If we shouldn’t explore the park after dark, I assume it’s acceptable for us to continue exploring during the day?”

Officer Whiting asked if any of the journalists present had any questions for him. All eyes were on Hillebrandt, who said, “Are the Piedmont Police Detectives posting guards to prevent our explorations, Officer? Won’t that take men from the massive task force you’ve assembled to find Louise and Bess?”

Officer Whiting announced that the press conference was over, stepping away from the podium. He was briefly halted by Hillebrandt’s final question, “Officer Whiting—are we really going to pretend this hasn’t happened before?”

Officer Whiting left before answering any further questions, and has not been available for comment.

Anyone with information on the disappearance of Louise Archer and Bess Tremaine is encouraged to contact the Piedmont Police Detectives, but according to one older gentleman who prefers to remain anonymous, “Those boys are useless. Betsy Hillebrandt is more organized on her worst day of the year. People with information should stop by her shop. That’s what we all do. And you know what? We’re not going to stop looking. We owe it to their families. We’ll find those girls.”

There was nothing else of note in the clipping. On the back were ads for ladies’ shoes at Capwell’s. I sat sipping my coffee in silence for a long time. Something was bothering me, a wisp of a memory from Obi-Wan-point-five’s final moments. Something he’d said, what was it … ? About barbecue or a bonfire

The same mother-daughter team who passed me outside sat down at a table nearby. Her tone earnest, conversational, the girl said, “I can’t wear my Cinderella dress to see Beauty and the Beast, Mommy. I need a Belle outfit.”

Jostled memory. I let my eyes unfocus, concentrating on my breath.

Words erupted into my mind:

Browning! Pyre! Cinderella! To bring my to outfit and now become necessary!”

That’s what Obi-Wan-point-five said as the hands were tearing his junk before Dolly Lurker popped him into her evil funhouse gullet.

I wrote them down. No idea what the first three words mean. But the last nine words felt familiar. I wrote them again, in three rows:

to bring my
to outfit and
now become necessary

These feel like the words from outside the Old Firehouse, the curb, the wall, the base of the pyramid.

Sudden certainty, solid as the pyramid itself: Obi-Wan-point-five was the author of the charcoal messages!

But why?

Woodminster, South Pacific; Part II, Episode I: Thursday, July 27

In Fiction, Horror, Theatre on August 14, 2018 at 12:33 pm

(This entry is part of a series. It begins here. Prove your parents wrong and do something right for once in your life! Start at the beginning.)

A photograph of a woman standing on the shore of a lake in the High Sierra. Across the lake, a smallish cluster of conifers; probably a good campsite in there. The slopes behind the trees are more rocky than not, with patches of snow lingering in the shade. The craggy mountain above has a small glacier clinging to it, symbiotic and dying. The stones will survive. Will they miss the glacier’s cold embrace?Will winter’s waning onslaught bring bittersweet memories, the brief weight of snow hearkening back to the days when a hobnailed Scotsman tramped through here with only tea and biscuits to sustain him as he climbed? The mountain itself is silent on this subject, jagged and sharp—like an ancient volcanic shark’s tooth. It is bathed in the early morning light of those mountains, at once hot and crisp and cool. Perfectly distinct. Yet its reflection in the lake below, while slightly wavy and therefore not a perfect mirror image, is more real. More solid. The colors are deeper.

The reflection looks like the truth.

The actual truth is so perfect it looks illusory. Like a painted backdrop.

Like scenery.

This is how my daily life feels, compared with that I have experienced in the last twenty-four hours.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around Ghost Child Mary’s words that I’m going to unravel all the secrets. She only agreed to leave Weedbeard’s house when he promised to keep a closer eye on me. I half expected her to wake me up today. I haven’t seen her since she walked into the Montclair fog early this morning. Odd as her very existence is, she—and everything surrounding this production at Woodminster—feels more real than my coffee table.

I feed Maxwell, I get ready for my day, I study my lines. But the puzzles I’ve stumbled across are  bubbles of intrigue that won’t stop popping in my mind. I put down my script, refill my coffee and write them down:

was my purpose
This first message was written in what looked like charcoal on the sidewalk outside the Old Firehouse.

Beware the fog. Beware the night. She is coming for you.
The second message, this was on a note beneath my check after brunch the same day I saw the first message.

get to leave
Third message, written on the curb right next to where I always park my car.

into the party
Fourth message, scrawled on the side of Woodminster itself, near the stage door. I only saw it because Joel Schlader took a picture with his phone before hosing the wall clean.

My hunch: the short messages are not part of the larger message. I could spend hours working on anagrams, but my last experience on that track tells me it’s a dead end. The three shorter phrases don’t work together. But they feel like they’re part of the same message.

I head out to meet a friend for coffee. The messages are in my mind the whole time. She notices that I’m distracted:

I’ve never seen you this silent for this long outside of a theater,” she says.

Am I more silent in a theater?” I say.

Backstage. In the quiet zones. You’re silent as stone.”

I put everything out of my head, regaling her with stories of this and that. We part agreeing to meet for coffee again next week. It feels like I’m saying yes in a dream: speaking aloud and about to wake myself.

After a visit to my father’s Chiropractic office, I head to Woodminster. I feel like a secret suitor sneaking into his beloved’s back yard in broad daylight, just to be near her house. So, really, I feel like a stalker. I have no reason to be here this early, but bubbling in my head is the nagging hot springs of … what?

Backstage. In the quiet zones. You’re silent as stone.

This phrase from my coffee friend replays in my head as I stand outside my car, staring at the theater. It occurs to me I have no desire to go in there right now. I head up the path toward the box office. This is the same path Ghost Child Mary appeared on … last night? Or in 1996? Has she always been floating around here? I feel nothing on the path, I’m wondering if there’s something wrong with me. The nothingness feels strange. Not numb, just … padded.

Backstage.

Reaching the box office, I turn right and wander up the path from the box office toward the road. Head toward the ranger station? Nope. I’m feeling … left. I meander down the paved road, veering right when it forks. This feels familiar.

In the quiet zones.

Up a rise in the road, then curving down to the left, the grass so dry it’s not even golden. Life has been sucked from it by summer heat. Everything dry, brittle, jagged deadfall. Pine needles, dust, oppressive heat. This place feels scarred and scabbed. There are tall trees far down the road and I’ve a mind to head that way—

You’re silent as stone.

Then a question dings in my head: where the hell is the pyramid?

I stop, turning to my left.

There it is! Right there, in broad daylight!

This is what I was looking for on Tuesday. There was a note on my car: FIND THE PYRAMID.

All padded weirdness fades away. I run to the pyramid. It’s made of stone, sitting on a concrete base. Rough-hewn. There’s a crack in the side facing the road. I look inside with the help of my phone. Nothing.

I walk around the pyramid. It’s, what, eight feet tall? I think about climbing it.

Then I see, written in charcoal on the west side of the concrete base:

order settlements in

And the ‘l’ of settlements is also an arrow, pointing up. I look at the pyramid.

On the west side, a deliberate hole about ¾ of the way up. I think of the escape chute for the Pharaoh’s soul or whatever.

It can’t be that easy.

Stepping onto the platform, I look into the hole. There’s dirt and some broken glass. But there, in the back … I find a twig and drag out a Ziploc bag. It’s covered with dried muck. Doesn’t smell bad, just looks gross.

Camouflage?

It has paper inside. Holding the bag away from my face, I pull it open. No hordes of locusts, no reek. I peek inside.

Yellowed and faded with time, it’s a clipping from a newspaper:

July 10, 1952
Montclair, CA
No Progress in Missing Girls Case

Life snaps back into focus. I’m craving coffee. I need to pee. Not in that order. But I’m going to get somewhere safe and public before I read this thing. I feel too exposed here on the lonely, dry, tinder-box hillside.

As I’m skedaddling back up the road toward the theater, I feel eyes on me. Turning, I see a figure behind me on a rise to my left. They step back under the dead pine trees, into shadow.