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Posts Tagged ‘Pyre’

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.

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WMSP, Part II, Episode XI: A Burned Man

In Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Sci-Fi, Theatre on July 17, 2019 at 2:18 pm

(Ongoing series; first episode here.)

Oakland: Coroner identifies badly burned man found dead in Joaquin Miller Park
By Katrina Cameron, Harry Harris | hharris@bayareanewsgroup.com and Bay Area News Group | Bay Area News Group

PUBLISHED: February 23, 2016 at 12:20 pm | UPDATED: August 11, 2016 at 11:51 pm

OAKLAND — The coroner identified Tuesday the man found badly burned Monday morning in Joaquin Miller Park.

Reginald Richardson, 33, of Oakland, apparently committed suicide in the park, according to police.

His body was found around 11:54 a.m. Monday in the Joaquin Miller Funeral Prye, off Sanborn Drive. A jogger saw smoke from the structure and investigated the cause.

Police did not know how long the man’s body had been there before the jogger found it.

The No. 1 cause for suicide is untreated depression, a condition that is treatable with immediate help. Anyone who may be suicidal can receive immediate help by logging onto suicide.org or by calling 1-800-784-2433. Crisis experts also are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week in Contra Costa County by calling 1-800-833-2900 or 925-938-0725.

Contact Katrina Cameron at 925-945-4782. Follow her at Twitter.com/KatCameron91.

This article is what Jeremy shows me, silent, backstage during rehearsal. I’m sitting in my dressing room, looking at a map of Joaquin Miller Park on my phone; it’s at the exact moment I find the Pyre on the map that Jeremy walks in, holding up his phone.

“What are you doing after rehearsal?” he says, when I’ve finished reading.

“Um …”

Dude, let’s go up there tonight! It’s fucking perfect! I wish I’d known about it sooner, I’d have been reading all your recent posts right there at the Pyre!

There’s a nibbling at the back of my mind, however. I feel uncomfortable, and I’m not sure why. I’m consumed with the conflicting desires to run out of the room and to hold the Holey Stone. I take a deep breath. I push my hand into my pocket.

Snap

The memory floods back, even as I’m looking right at Jeremy’s smiling face; we’re at the Browning Monument, it’s earlier this afternoon, right after the revelation of Obi-Wan-point-five’s last words:

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

Jeremy nods. We stand, because it’s time to head to the theatre.

Wait, what about the papers?” Jeremy says.

We turn back: there’s the satchel, the papers loose and tickled by the breeze. They could blow away at any second.

We didn’t even finish looking at them,” Jeremy says.

He leans down to pick them up and we’re on the road halfway to the parking lot when I look at his hands and he doesn’t have them. Neither do I.

We left the papers,” I say.

No we didn’t,” he says.

I stop. I have to think. I feel like I’ve walked into a room and forgotten why. I put my hands in my pocket. There’s the stone.

Don’t talk, just go.

I turn around, my hand firmly in my pocket. I’m walking. Fast.

Jeremy says, “Hey pal, where you goin’?”

I don’t respond.

Jeremy starts after me; he’s chuckling. “Now wait a moment, palsy-walsy,” his voice is weird, sing-song.

I’m jogging now, and Jeremy is getting closer. “Hey chum! What kind of a chum turns his back on his pal, chum? I thought you were my … chummy-wummy.” There’s a tight, angry grin underneath his words. I feel that if I stop, he’ll get me. I take my hand from my pocket and start to run. A thought, different from the first, jarring and too cheery, erupts in my head:

Jeremy is no threat. Turn and be so friendly!

This feels wrong and bad, an unfamiliar voice. I falter, stumbling.

Jeremy says, “Watch your step, buddy. I’m right here. Right behind you. It’s broad daylight. There’s nothing to fear.”

This stone is heavy and I want to throw it away.

The same unfamiliar voice. Like hearing someone who doesn’t know me impersonate what they think my inner monologue sounds like. The voice of an interloper. I put my hand in my pocket, touching the stone, and—snap—I’m fifteen feet ahead, sprinting. This feels right. I speed up, slipping the stone onto my middle finger like a ring, gripping it in a fist. I’m at the base of the slope, my mind on the papers. I don’t hear Jeremy anywhere behind me.

He was never there.

This thought is solid as bedrock, familiar. Not the interloper. I round the Browning Monument—

Jeremy is crouched over the papers, frantic: he’s striking two stones together, trying to make sparks. His fingers are bloody, his face locked in a rictus grin. Every couple seconds, his face crumples into a mask of sadness and pain; he puts the stones down and pulls at his pants, like he’s trying to pull them off, in spite of his buckled belt. When he does this, he’s crying and whispering, “Please stop, please stop, just stop please I’ll do whatever you want, please stop it hurts … ”

Thing is, there’s no way he can make sparks with those rocks—they’re both sandstone.

Jeremy,” I say. He doesn’t respond. “Hey. Buddy. You okay?” I say, moving closer.

His head snaps up, eyes all wrong directions, his grin a caricature of enraged lust. He looks like a creepy satyr from an early 1920’s cartoon. He says, “Every good boy deserves flavor.”

Coiled to spring, he’s younger than me, more fit. He’ll win.

Stop thinking, take action.

I step forward and touch the stone to his forehead.

Jeremy collapses.

Gather the papers, put them in the satchel, hold onto the stone.

I do this very thing, noting that there are many more papers than I thought. There’s even a leatherbound journal. Several photographs.

Jeremy groans, his eyes fluttering.

Wear the satchel. Don’t talk about it. Head back to the parking lots.

Oh fuck,” Jeremy says, “did I fall into a corn thresher?”

Not so’s you’d notice,” I say, smiling but watchful.

Wow,” Jeremy says. He stands, slow. Like … a man in his mid-40’s who doesn’t get enough exercise. Like me, frankly. He looks around, puzzled. “What were we going to do?”

I think we were going to get coffee,” I say.

Right! Yes,” he says, “coffee sounds great.”

What happened to your hands?” I say.

You shouldn’t have said that.

Jeremy glances down, laughs, shakes his head. “I dropped my camera heading into the house last night, had to dive to catch it, skinned myself on the front walk.” His words are natural, they have the ring of truth. I’m aware that if I weren’t grasping the holey stone, I’d be questioning what I just saw him doing with the stones. Taking him any further on this quest might be unwise.

Trust him. He’s got your back. Find the Pyre—tonight!

I freeze. This isn’t just my inner monologue, they aren’t just thoughts in my head. An actual, new voice is coalescing. But it’s different from the interloper; it feels … safe. Solid. Not mine, but not bad. And here I am evaluating the qualities of the voices in my head. Great, now I’m nucking futz.

Did you get the pictures?” Jeremy says.

I freeze: does he mean the pictures in the satchel?

Of the bay? You wanted to take pictures,” he says, stretching. The fog of pain is lifting visibly from him.

Oh. Yeah. Got ’em,” I say. “Let’s … go.”

Coffee,” he says.

We walk back to the parking lot, Jeremy expounding upon the amazingness of the various asses in the ensemble. I drive us to Peet’s, and the wooden bench in front is still empty.

All of this surfaces like the turning of a page in my mind. The entire picture, clear before me. We got coffee, we came to the theatre. I kept the satchel on me, and it’s tucked beneath the counter in my corner of the room. I put other stuff on top of it, you can’t even tell it’s there. Rehearsal has been is its usual self: running lines offstage, hasty scribble of blocking on pages where possible.

I don’t want to answer Jeremy yet, so I say, “Hey, here’s something weird: Bryan won’t talk to me. He walked right past me when he arrived.” Part of this is stalling, part of it is a test: does Jeremy remember last night at all clearly?

Me, neither,” says Jeremy. “Do you think he’s too freaked out by all the super-duper-natural occurrences?”

We look into the ensemble dressing room; there’s Bryan, at his station next to Rod. We head out there. I say, “Did you get home okay, Bryan?”

He turns to Rod as though I haven’t spoken, asking something about eyeliner. Rod glances at Jeremy and I in the mirror, then back to Bryan, then at me. Then with a huge single take to Bryan he says, “Oh Bryan, did you say something? I was listening to Edward’s question. About how you got home last night.”

Bryan says nothing.

Jeremy and I head back into my dressing room. “It appears he has stepped away from the path of this story,” I say.

All the more reason to go to the Pyre the minute rehearsal’s over,” he says.

I want to bow out, politely decline, vague him off until it fades away. But a thought echoes into my head, the new voice from this afternoon:

Trust him. He’s got your back. Find the Pyre—tonight!

I take a breath. I choose to trust this voice.

Yeah,” I say. “Let’s do it. But let’s map out an escape plan in advance.”

Jeremy grins and we high-five. As he sits down to “map it out,” I’m ready to misdirect: I’ve already got my escape plan. And I’m not telling him what it is.

Just in case.

Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Six — Shepherd Canyon, Part II

In Fiction, Theatre, Writing on August 21, 2017 at 11:52 am

(Do you have nipples, but no idea what’s going on in this story? Start here.)

Day Six, Shepherd Canyon: Sunday, 23 July 2017 — Part II

Returning to Fire Station No. 24 twenty-three years later, it hasn’t changed at all. It looks like a life-sized model of a child’s vintage-style firehouse, from the future. Hasbro, circa 2086.

I wasn’t quite sure how to get into the parking lot, so I drove up Shepherd Canyon a ways, safe and sane behind the wheel. Unlike my jaunt down this road all those years ago.

When I turned around to head back toward the fire station, I took a look at that now notorious embankment.

I remember the sense, back in 1994, that if I braked it would result in destruction. I saw back then that the embankment got steeper ahead; it would launch the car up, either to the left across the road or into the trees above, then back down onto its roof. Time was running out.

I don’t know where I got the presence of mind; I was only 21 at the time — but I took my foot from the accelerator and — locking my arms — firmly eased the car to the left, down onto the road. The firetruck charged past us on our left, sudden and deafening. I braked, gently, for the curve ahead. Everything was fine.

It was as I drove past that very spot today that I remembered saying to Scott, “Hey, have you ever seen the old storybook firehouse?”

I was braking to turn into the parking lot of Fire Station No. 24 when it struck me:

If storms do blow we build a pyre
Inside our vintage firehouse

I was so shocked at the revelation that I sat there like an idiot, my left-turn signal blinking, until some asstongue in a Lexus honked at me. I turned off my blinker and headed for one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen in my life:

The Old Montclair Firehouse.

Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Five

In Fiction, Theatre, Writing on August 17, 2017 at 5:04 pm

(Spoiler alert! If you prefer a fresh approach, start here.)

Day Five: Saturday, 22 July 2017

I was late to rehearsal.

Which is rare. It has no bearing on what follows, but I feel I should touch upon it in the interest of forthright documentarian whatsiwhosies: fact is, I was a total fuck-up in my early theatre days, always late and unprepared. Then, in college, one of my professors said, “You will notice that actors who are consistently late have no grasp of reality.” (Those of you who attended The Boston Conservatory will recognize the words and tone of Steve McConnell, the man who deserves the most – and wants the least – credit for the actor I am today.) I looked around the room at the people who were always late, realizing that I did not want to be counted among that group. I began to change this habit, and have learned – owing to my tendency to procrastinate – that the only way to be certain I’m on time is to always be at least one hour early. (Ladies, for the record, I’m never early in … shall we say … intimate situations. If you take my meaning. Ahem. Le wink. Flip and flutter of the fan. Bat-bat-bat of my manly eyelashes. Also, sex.)

We finished blocking Act I, then ran it. I was off book here and there. We were released at 5 pm.

It was nice to be off early, so I decided to scope out the Historical Society. Get the lay of the land in the light of day, before I go to the mysterious meeting dictated by the card I found in my pocket last night:

Montclair Historical Society.
Monday, 3 pm.
Come alone.

So I went out to my car – always parked in the same spot because of internet access; my phone gets no service in the theatre unless I’m on the roof or in the middle of the breezeway over the fountains. So I did a search for the location of the Montclair Historical Society. I sat there searching for maybe forty-five minutes, frustration increasing by the second. Because unless I want to drive to Montclair, New Jersey, I’m out of luck: there is no Montclair Historical Society in the Montclair District of Oakland, CA.

I headed down to Peet’s to ask an old, wealthy hippie. That is to say, a local.

I found a group of them sitting on the bench outside Peet’s: beards and long hair, four guys and a woman in their seventies looking like denim-clad variations on Obi-Wan Kenobi or Aughra.

“Excuse me, gentlemen and lady. I’m wondering if any of you know where I can find the Montclair Historical Society,” I said.

The one who looked more like Gandalf said, “Montclair, New Jersey.”

The rest of them chuckled. Aughra grunted.

Pulling the card from my wallet, I said, “This note was left for me. Any thoughts?”

The one who looked more like Obi-Wan said, “Good Lord – ”

“That’s probably a Parker 51 Special,” said the Gandalfy fellow, with a large silencing glance at Obi-Wan-point-five.

“I would have said Montblanc Meisterstück 136, 1938,” said the guy who looked like Treebeard’s more stoned brother. Weedbeard.

“You always think it’s a Montblanc Meisterstück 136, 1938, Bill,” said Dumbledore.

“You’re obsessed,” said Obi-Wan-point-five.

“So what if I am?” said Bill Weedbeard. “I’ve been searching for the Montblanc Meisterstück 136, 1938 for 40 years.”

“I think there’s one on E-Bay,” said Gandalf.

“It doesn’t have any value if I pay full price,” said Bill Weedbeard.

“I have to agree,” I said. “The delight of a find in a thrift store far outweighs anything I could purchase for full price.”

“Damn right!” said Bill Weedbeard. “I’m buying your coffee, young gallant. How do you take it?”

“Small, black, no room, thank you kindly,” I said.

To think I’ve walked by these guys for three summers and never stopped to talk before now.

Aughra had not yet spoken. She’d been sipping her coffee, frowning into the middle distance. Mayhaps brooding on revenges or ruminating on ingredients for potions. Vengeful potions. Vengeful, brooding potions.

“It’s an anagram,” she said, then heaved herself off the bench and stumped away down the street.

The old wizards stared after her.

“More words than she’s said in three weeks,” Obi-Wan-point-five said to the group.

Then, to me, Gandalf said, “I’d take it to heart if I were you.”

Bill Weedbeard returned with a large black coffee, no room, handing it to me with a crisp military salute, which I returned out of rehearsal habit.

Why is he saluting me? I’m not military, we’re not in uniform, does he know about the show? Social status alone would dictate that I salute him. Also, Billis is just a Seabee. So even if he does know, it doesn’t make sense.

All of the above went through my head in an instant. Obi-Wan-point-five was saying, “Well, it’s about that time.”

They all shook hands, then they shook my hand. Bill Weedbeard was the last.

“Enjoy that coffee,” he said, smiling. His eyes said, Enjoy it here, in Montclair.

They departed in separate directions. I went into Peet’s and sat with my notebook, making notes on what has happened so far, trying to pull anagrams out of Montclair Historical Society.

The first ones I did were just for Montclair; these were the most interesting:
Clam Nitro – interesting because of exploding clams.
Carol Mint – interesting because my Mom grew up very close to Montclair, and her name is Carol.
Talc Minor – interesting because Highway 13 is the Hayward Fault, and the fault is in Serpentine, a rock that when subjected to heat and friction becomes talc, which is also asbestos, which is why we don’t go into the basement at Woodminster. And when it finally moves, it will not be minor.
Actor Limn – that which highlights the actor.
Normal Tic – is there any such thing?
Cram In Lot – funny because after the 1991 fire, people who rebuilt tried to fit as much house as they could into the tiniest of lots.
Lam Tic Nor – just sounds fun to shout in a Scottish dialect. This applies to every anagram of Montclair, truth be told.
Ram Colt In – because it carries a sexual connotation I find inappropriately amusing.
Can It Lo Mr – because this seems like the best response to the last one.

Could any of these be the first part of a clue?

The anagrams for Historical Society are weirder; here are a few of the less nutty:
Chocolatey Iris Tis
Calico Shittier Soy
Socialistic Rye Tho
Achier Colitis Toys

I’m not sure I want to solve the mystery these might illuminate.

I started putting the weirdest ones together, they make for some disturbing images:
Talc Minor Theocratic Oily Sis – a polygamist initiation ritual?
Lam Tic Nor Ascetic History Oil – effete Scottish scholars avoiding Lyme Disease.
Can It Lo Mr Thoracic Yeti Soils – your Chiropractor doesn’t like Abominable Snowman poop.
Ram Colt In Achiest Clitoris Yo – seek medical attention immediately.
Normal Tic Socialise Itchy Rot – you should have sought medical attention when you had the achiest clitoris.
Cram In Lot Erotica Cosily Shit – there’s a hidden German porn enclave in Montclair.

I gave up on the anagrams and finished my coffee. Something tapped the inside of the lid of my disposable cup. I opened it. A tiny ziploc bag fell out. The kind one sees crack dealers offering on gritty crime dramas. Grimacing at the notion of icky, I picked it up.

There was a piece of paper inside. I unfolded it. Printed in neat, near-architectural letters was the following:

We do not seek the jaunting grouse
We do not taunt the dragon’s ire
Instead we joust the dragon’s heart
Before we light a jaunty fire
While there it roasts we raise a glass
Before the rains our flames can douse
If storms do blow we build a pyre
Inside our vintage

It ended there, nothing was written on the back. I looked in the cup again. Nothing beyond the final drips of Major Dickason. (You’re welcome.)

Inside their vintage … what? Wine barrels? Cars? Fountain pens?

I stared at it for a while, then headed for my car, and home. Food and comfort can unlock the brain.

In the middle of the night I sat bolt upright and wrote something on the notepad I keep on my bedside table, then fell back asleep. I completely forgot about it until I glanced at my notebook while making the bed Sunday morning. There, scrawled diagonally across the page was one word:

Firehouse.