Friday, January 29, 2010

#fridayflash: Alma


“Hey, Mom, who’s this,” Holly yelled, waving an oval picture frame at me from across the attic.

Could it be, I thought squinting through the flurries of dust motes Holly’s waving had created. Alma, my God, I hadn’t let myself think about Alma in years. I could feel a pulse throbbing above my right eye as I snatched the picture from my daughter for a better look. The sweet little girl in the picture had large blue eyes and masses of curly blonde hair tied back with an aqua ribbon.

 “It’s Alma,” I whispered, more to myself than to Holly. “My sister Alma.”
 (Born with a caul over her face!)

“I have an Aunt Alma,” Holly asked, wrinkling her pug nose.

“No, Honey, Alma died long ago.”
 “How come I never knew about her?” twelve-year old Holly questioned, hands on slim hips.
 “Alma was . . . different. Our family never talked about her much. Come on, now let’s get Grandma’s attic cleaned out. The couple that bought this house would like to move in next week.”
 “Why is her nose bleeding?” Holly was still studying the picture.

“Her nose isn’t bleeding, Honey.” I started folding up old clothes and sorting them into boxes.

 “Holly, would you start over there in Grandpa’s corner? All those tools and jars of nails are going to the church. Can you pack them up in these boxes for me?’ I handed her two cardboard boxes.

 “Mom, her nose IS bleeding.”

 “No,” I said stubbornly. My hands trembled.

 “Mo-om, look. It’s blood. Why take a picture of someone with a bloody nose?”

 I didn’t want to look.

 “Mom, what’s wrong? Why are you wiping your hands like that?” Holly’s voice took on a high, fearful whine. Without thinking, I was scrubbing my hands across the old clothes.

 I struggled to pull myself together for her sake.

 “Nothing’s wrong, Honey. I’m fine, really. Just brushing off the cobwebs.”

 (Blood on my hands—under my nails. Alma’s nose bleeding?)

 A gust of wind whirled through the dust motes and hit the attic door, slamming it shut with a crash.

“I’m scared,” Holly whined. “Can we go home now?”
 (Excellent idea. Let’s get the hell out of here.)
 I hastily wiped my hands one last time on one of Dad’s old thin strap tee-shirts. “I think we’ve done enough for today,” I tried to keep my voice from shaking. “What say we go for ice cream and finish this tomorrow?”
 Holly was already yanking at the door. Her wide blue eyes—
 (Like Alma’s)
 turned back to me, straining and stricken with fear. “The door won’t open,” she said in a panicky whisper. "We’re locked in!”
 “Don’t be silly. It’s probably just stuck.”
 But the door wouldn’t open.
 Frustrated, I kicked it and lashed out at it with my fists, pounding and yelling. I could feel panic rising inside me like flood waters. Holly, eyes wide and sparkling with tears, had backed into a corner. With both hands over her mouth she watched me bash at the attic door. I knew that my irrational behavior was frightening her. I must have looked like a candidate for a padded cell.
 Finally exhausted, I put my back to the door and took deep breaths, trying to steady my nerves.
 Holly was sobbing now.
 Across the room, a ray of sunlight hit the glass of Alma’s old picture and sparkled there like a tiny light bulb.
 (I should never have come back here.)
 “I should never have come back here.”
 “Mom,” Holly whispered through her fingers. “What’s the matter? Dad knows we’re here. He’ll come and get us.”
 I sighed and plunked down on a box next to my daughter. “Of course he will, Honey. Of course he will.”
 I felt the need to explain my actions to my daughter, although I wasn’t sure she was old enough to know about Alma.
 “I was always afraid of Alma,” I began with a hoarse whisper.
 (Alma could always hear . . .)
 Briefly, I explained my fears. How Alma, born with a caul over her face, could do things: like move things and make herself or us bleed. Alma could roll her big blue eyes back until only the whites showed and make things happen.
 What I didn’t tell her was about the day when Alma was twelve and I was thirteen. About the day when I put my hands around my little sister’s throat and squeezed until blood oozed from her nose and ears. Squeezed the nasty life out of my own sister right here, in this attic.

Tied her heavy, lifeless body to the huge beams above and scrawled her suicide note.

When I had finished the story, I looked up—expecting that Holly would have questions.
 I wasn’t prepared for the smirk on her face. Blood trickled from her little pug nose.
 “Honey, did you cut your . . .”
 A hideous chuckle gurgled from my daughter’s smiling lips. I watched as her eyes rolled back until only the whites showed.
 Horrified, I heard the tinkling of the nails inside their dusty glass jars. Like a hideous torrent of black rain those nails flew toward me.
 Blinded by the flying steel, I heard only part of Alma’s words before the tip of Dad’s screwdriver stopped my heart.

“Now, we’re even, sis . . .”

1876 Portrait Spoiled Child Young Girl Ball Old Print

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Clubhouse, Part 4

Scary Weather, Scaredy CatLink to part 3
Clubhouse, Part 4

Within a week, the clubhouse shaped up nicely. By the time I was scheduled to leave for Camp Carlisle, two weeks later, we had to padlock the doors when we left at night to keep out the demented dunces who would have gladly moved in after we had done all the work.

Camp Carlisle, doesn’t that sound just bitchin?

One of my folks’ not-so-bright ideas. A sissy girl’s camp, and I’d been groaning about it since they first broached the subject after school let out.

They said I was a tomboy—Lord how I hated that term.

"You should be playing with dolls, not dead bats and marbles,” Mom brought up. “You’re a girl, Denise. Time you started acting like a young lady. Be sure you pack that new dress that I bought you for camp. You’ll need at least one nice dress.”

Bullshit, I thought. Hey, it was 1962, I didn’t dare say it aloud!

Four weeks, man: a real jail sentence!

Camp turned out to be not so bad. Seemed lots of parents sent their tomboys there so I was in good company. Learned some raunchy, dirty jokes, how to smoke and blow smoke rings, even a couple new terms of endearment like dipshit and dickwad.

Couldn’t wait to try them out on the guys, I thought as I headed for the clubhouse.

From the road, the clubhouse looked pretty much the same as it had when I left. By the time I got right up to it, however, I was as mad as a hornet in a jar of frogs. Seems a slight addition had been added in my absence. A big old painted sign, complete with skull and crossbones clearly announced:



KEEP OUT had been hastily scrawled with blue paint on one side of the sign, and THIS MEANS YOU! on the other side.

Ranger Raymer, my ass, I seethed, pulling out my key to the padlock. Apparently, since I was out of sight I was also out of mind for those two simpletons because my key still worked just fine.

Inside, the clubhouse looked about the same except for a few scratched up girly posters and a new deck of cards with naked ladies on them. The smell though. The smell was something else. Bad enough to make my eyes water, it smelled like King Kong had been cutting farts in there for a few days.

“Jeeze,” I choked fanning the door for a little relief.

Then I saw the most foul-looking pile of turds I’d ever seen anywhere outside a toilet. Smack in the middle of the dirt floor, that pile stunk so much you could almost see the stink radiating out from it on brown waves of pollution.

Gagging, I backed out of the clubhouse just as Wayne and Tommy came sneaking around the back corner. Tommy carried a burlap sack tied up at the top. He dropped the sack like a hot potato when he saw me standing there. I thought the bag was moving, but didn’t pay much attention at the time.

“Uh, hi Deeze, what’s cookin?” Tommy said, his face a picture of mock innocence.

“What’s up with the sign, dipshit?” I asked pointing to the new addition.

Wayne smiled, but Tommy—facing me—didn’t see it. Ranger Raymer’s face was turning that neat shade of red and he looked about like a bull getting ready to charge.

“Can’t you read? It’s my clubhouse; I found it—so I guess I can put up any old sign I want. Right Wayne?”

‘R-right,” Wayne said, his smile gone now that Tommy and I were both looking at him. “Get out of here you little retard. Can’t you read? No s-smelly girls allowed.”

“You idiots,” I screamed. “Mary was a girl and this was her clubhouse first.”

“Yeah she was a girl all right,” Tommy said smugly. “A stupid UGLY girl, just like you.”

“Well you can both go screw my dead grandmother.” I said pocketing the key. “You can keep your smelly old sewer of a clubhouse because I wouldn’t be caught dead hanging out in there with two dickfaces like you!”

While they were standing there with their mouths open, I stalked off toward the cemetery and ducked behind a headstone. My plan was to wait for them to leave, let myself in with the key and then tear the place apart. Rip down their stupid posters and trash the whole clubhouse.

Crouched snugly behind the cool marble, I watched Tommy pick up the sack, mumble something to his sidekick, and they went inside. The door slammed shut behind them.

Tears stung my eyelids, but I’d be damned if either of those two dipshits would see me cry.  Girls were skipping rope at the playground. I couldn’t see them from this side of the church, but I could hear their silly little skipping songs.

“Not last night,”

skippety, skip,

“but the night before . . .”

What happened next would play in reruns across my nightmares for the rest of my life.

I may have dozed off for a few seconds—my face leaning comfortably against the cool marble with the rhythmic skipping jingles playing softly among the soft summer noises. Maybe I was even dreaming about Mary Kempbell with the big ears and no nose to hold up her heavy glasses.

But I don’t think so.

Wayne told me what happened inside the clubhouse, many days later.

In the hospital.

It seems that while I was away at camp, my sister Molly had given Tommy the old heave-ho. Told him she wouldn’t be caught dead going anywhere with a snot like him. The worse of it was, Wayne said. She did it right there in the cemetery and she did it after church when the grounds were full of people who heard it all. Tommy was mortified. Got laughed at all the way home and most of the next day.

That’s when he got the bright idea about the sign. Tommy only put the stupid sign up to get back at me for being Molly’s sister. Wayne said so.

Trouble was, once he and Wayne put up the sign, that old calico cat started digging into the clubhouse every night. Every day, Tommy and Wayne would come across a mighty, smelly heap of turds from that old cat. They’d clean up the mess only to find an even bigger and smellier pile the next day. Cat peed on their playing cards, scratched up their posters and generally made their lives miserable.

Tommy couldn’t take it.

Wayne said that it was Tommy who got the bright idea about killing the cat. Initiation, he had called it.

The cat was in the burlap sack.

Tommy was so mad at this point, that he planned to have Wayne hold the bag while he shoveled the cat poop in with its owner. After that was done, Tommy’s plan was to drop the sack into the Rainbow River—poop, cat, and a heavy rock for good measure.

Fortunately for the cat, but bad news for Tommy: he never got the chance to finish that plan.

From my place outside the clubhouse, the whole commotion seemed to last for at least a half hour, when in truth, it was all over in a few minutes.

The first notion that told me something was happening was the cold. One minute I was warm and snug behind the gravestone, and the next minute a blast of wicked cold wind kicked up and the sun got swallowed by a cloud blacker than a Halloween cat.

The comforting jingles from the rope skippers developed an eerie buzz, like drowning cicadas, just before the pounding started.

The pounding thumps were so loud, at first I thought it was thunder blasting down from above. But the booms were too hollow, too closely tuned to the buzzing chants from across the way. Rhythmic and threatening, the racket rose—sending little clouds of dust from under the leftmost clubhouse door with each subsequent thump.

Blinking and rubbing my eyes raw, I saw a dark shadow staining that clubhouse door. The huge shadow of a bent and twisted form raised its arm in a dark blur of motion: THUMP . . . THUMP . . . THUMP.

The big “No Girls Allowed” sign fell off the clubhouse and landed flat in the dirt raising another brown cloud of dust.

I heard Tommy shout, “Go home, Deezel, you ain’t coming in,” in a hazy, buzzing, faraway drone. That’s when I first realized that he thought it was me banging on that door.

Before I could open my frozen jaws to shout back a warning, the screaming started.

Rendered immobile by the sight of the looming shadow wavering at the clubhouse door, I could feel my heart flutter; struggling to pump strengthening blood into my fear-laden limbs.

Terrified screams issued from the clubhouse making my ears buzz and my hair stiffen.

I still couldn’t move.

The booming-pounding noises faded away, drowned out by the force of the screams. Puffs of dust still issued from the seams of the clubhouse in intermittent surges.

The shadow loomed and wavered before the door. It pulsated in the sporadic dust clouds, like an evil genie recently uncorked from its antique jail.

Background noises of chanting rope skippers suddenly ceased as the screams from within the clubhouse escalated to an ear-piercing staccato of pain and fear.

Engulfed in mindless terror, I suddenly felt the sun spreading warmth across my shoulders; saw its returning rays sparkle against the shiny metal padlock still attached to the right door of the clubhouse. The shadow faded as the unlocked door of the clubhouse belched open.

A blood-streaked old calico cat careened out the door. It disappeared into the woods almost before my eyes registered its movement.

Wayne staggered out into the sun. I perceived bloody hands surrounding the huge black cavern of his open, screaming mouth. He slumped to his knees right there in the cemetery like a grief-stricken mourner.

Reverend Willy had to carry Tommy out of the clubhouse.

Stinking of cat shit and soaked in blood, the two boys were loaded into the ambulance with the help of trembling, white-faced Reverend Willy.

For once in my life, being a girl came in handy. I blended neatly into the little knot of whispering rope skippers and faded quietly away when Reverend Willy, his new summer shirt stained with blood, suggested that we all go home and pray for Tommy and Wayne.

There was no “No Girls Allowed” sign on his hospital room door when I got to visit Wayne about a week later. That’s when he told me what happened after the knocking started on the clubhouse door. The scratches on his face were beginning to heal, but the tracks of stitches on his neck and arms still looked angry and puffy. A blotch of bloody red leered from one of Wayne’s eyeballs like a second pupil. It’s where the cat’s razor-sharp claws had landed when it escaped from the bag and attempted to tear out his and Tommy’s tonsils.

Wayne said that Tommy couldn’t talk to me for a while. His badly torn throat had required surgery to repair his larynx and close the gaping wounds.

Both boys were in the hospital until school started again. Since the cat was never found, it was assumed to have died rabid in the woods somewhere. Jeese, twenty-three shots in the stomach for each of them. I’m really glad now that I went to camp instead!

I never told Wayne and Tommy that it wasn’t me pounding on the door. Heck, Tommy wouldn’t have believed me and I didn’t have the heart to scare Wayne with the truth.

I also never told them that it wasn’t me who chopped the “NO GIRLS ALLOWED” sign into splinters and left the scraps of painted wood scattered with broken mirror fragments in the trash heap behind the clubhouse.

They’d hang me out to dry if they knew I was feeding her cat now.

Mary and I are friends.

Mary needs me to stick up for her against the cruel taunts of her peers?
She knows that I’d have saved her beloved cat from the dreadful ordeal it suffered, had I known of those terrible boys’ plans.

The padlocks are gone from the clubhouse doors, but nobody ever goes there anymore.

Nobody except me and Mary.

And the cats.

There’s still some rope skippers and their annoying jingles to contend with.


Anna Banana: 101 Jump Rope Rhymes

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Clubhouse, Part 3

Why Do Cats Always Land on Their Feet?: 101 of the Most Perplexing Questions Answered About Feline Unfathomables, Medical Mysteries and Befuddling BehaviorsLink to part 2

Clubhouse, Part 3

I think all of us had seen those pink scars on Pat Jamros’ face at one time or another. Looked like she’d lost a wrestling match with a grizzly bear.

Finished with the story, the old man groaned, stretched, took his garden shears and left.

Wayne looked about ready to bolt on out of there, I noticed. He was contemplating that old cat as she calmly washed her paws on the edge of the woods. I think if that old cat had headed our way, Wayne’d shot off like a spitball through a straw.

Tommy said, “I’ll bet he made the whole thing up just to scare us out of here.”

“Let’s find out,” I said heading toward that cat and feeling pretty brave.

“Wow,” Tommy gushed a few minutes later. “It’s her clubhouse.”

The small wooden building crouched a few yards back into the woods.  Roughly constructed from round corner posts and slabs of unfinished wood, the shed was long and narrow.

“It feels really solid,” Wayne said pushing against a weed-choked corner post.

There were two doors, each about five feet tall in the front panels of the building: one door on either end, somewhat like a baseball dugout. Inside, along with a multitude of insects and cobwebs, a solid wooden bench ran along the entire back wall.

“This was an old dugout once,” Tommy said excitedly. “See here where this part was open and someone boarded it up. I’ll bet there was a baseball diamond out there in the olden days.”

“Maybe Reverend Willy will let us fix it up for a clubhouse?” Tommy went on excitedly.

Wayne looked green.

I knew Wayne’s mother was a neat freak and insisted that he and his sister spend as much time as possible out of her house during the summer so that she wouldn’t have to keep cleaning up after them. His mother was so much into cleaning that half the time Wayne came outside in the morning smelling like SPIC ‘N SPAN, and on the rest of the days he smelled like LEMON PLEDGE.

Although he wasn’t big on the cleaning up part, I’d have thought Wayne would jump at the chance of an alternate place to hang out for the summer. More than once we’d had to remove our shoes and scrub our hands down to the bone before allowed to enter the Marcos house, even just to wait for Wayne at the door. Nobody would be foolish enough to want to hang out there: even on rainy days! But a clubhouse? Why wouldn’t that be just the ticket?

Tommy went to summon Reverend Willy while Wayne and I cautiously circled the clubhouse, pulling down weeds as we went.

It’s probably just as well that I was the one who found Mary’s gravestone; I tripped over it in my haste to follow Wayne to the back of the hut. A small polished chunk of pink granite with the simple words, Our Beloved Mary, engraved in curlicue letters jutted out of the weeds a few yards to the left of the leftmost clubhouse door. For a moment, I simply stood there and stared at the marker. Wayne had moved behind the clubhouse and out of my sight.

Scary flute music played a tune in my brain as Mr. Lipinski’s verbal picture of Mary came into mind. A few feet away, a scrawny calico cat exited the bushes and locked eyes with me. Knobs of goose flesh rose on my arms and I nearly jumped into the next county when Wayne tapped me on the shoulder to show me a cracked mirror that he’d found behind the clubhouse in a little trash heap.

For a brief moment—standing there over Mary’s grave and looking at the cracked mirror in Wayne’s hands—a flood of uncontrollable anger washed over me. Tears stung my eyelids as I thought about the unbelievable amount of anguish Mary must have suffered at the cruel mercy of her peers.

“Well, I’ll be,” Reverend Willy boomed. “You boys found this all by yourselves?”

The Reverend ducked his bald head through one door and rapped his knuckles against the solid wood.

“This here little shed must be a hundred years old,” he said examining the smooth round beams. Made outa cedar planks, it’ll prob’ly last another hundred years.”

I tried not to laugh as Reverend Willy minced around the back of the building through the tall weeds in his good shoes.

“Well, she looks safe enough,” he said picking burdock puffs from his summer shirt. “No gust of wind is gonna blow her over, and that is a fact. You boys wanna fix er up? Clear up the weeds and give her a good coat of paint?”

We all nodded our heads earnestly.

The Reverend seemed to notice me for the first time. He smiled broadly and patted my pigtailed head. “You too Denise? Pretty hard work for a little girl like you.”

I could see Tommy smirking behind the Pastor’s back and reminded myself to punch him later.

“Ole Deezel’s pretty tough, but we’ll let her do the easy work, Reverend Willy.” Tommy said brightly. “Me and Wayne, we’ll do all the hard stuff.”

“Well all right then,” the Reverend boomed. “The Lord always said there’s nothing wrong with a little hard work. Good for a man’s soul. If you boys need any paint or tools, check with Mr. Lipinski. And mind you return them when you’re done. Remember: The way of The Lord is reward for the upright.”

We watched Reverend Willy prance back across the cemetery.

“I think that means—yes,” Wayne said nervously. Me and Tommy cracked up laughing.

Continued in my next post

Rest in Peace: A History of American Cemeteries (People's History)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Clubhouse, Part 2

Cat Vs. Cat: Keeping Peace When You Have More Than One Cat

Clubhouse, Part 2

“Look, looky there,” Lipinski whispered pointing at the edge of the overgrown forest. “That there’s one of Mary’s old cats, if I don’t miss my guess. Yep, old she-money-cat, prob’ly got herself another nest o’ kittens back there somewheres.”

Sure enough, a scraggly-looking calico sat dejectedly at the edge of the woods.

One of us had to ask it, so it might as well have been me. “Who’s Mary?”

The old man shook his head.

“Why Mary was the saddest child the Lord seen fit to put on his good, green earth,” he said.

“Reverend Randolf Kempell’s daughter. Reverend Randy, he was the preacher here—oh—a couple, five, six years ago, maybe.”

“Before Reverend Willy?” Tommy finally piped in.

“Long before Reverend Willy. Seen a couple two, three, preachers come and go since Reverend Randy. Never in all my born days did I ever see a preacher-man with the most stinkingest run of bad luck as Reverend Randy had. Man musta been born under a dark cloud or somethin.”

“What happened to him?” Tommy was getting into the story now, as were we all.

“Went somewheres else after Mary died. Died young, she did. No more’n twelve er thirteen. Buried her right down there close to the woods where she used to play. Man wouldn’t even let me help with the digging. Said he had to do it hisself.

“That Evelyn, Randy’s wife, they say she was a real looker before the disease took hold. But I seen her wid my own eyes the day Reverend Randy drove her and hisself off in that old rattletrap Ford of his. Disease had took right good hold of her by then, yes-sir-EE, right good hold!”

“Cancer?” Tommy prompted, looking smug.

“Naw, tweren’t cancer. Cancer’d been a sight kinder to Evelyn than this disease was. They called it Hansen’s Disease and said it was a might rare. If you ask me, woman had leprosy, clear and simple.”

“Leprosy?” Wayne said, barely breathing. We’d all heard about the Lepers in our Sunday School Classes, and although I don’t think any of us actually knew anything about the disease, later we all agreed that it was bad news.

“Mary caught the disease from her mother, didn’t she?” Tommy had that smug-know-it-all look on his face again, like he thought he was smarter than your average kid.

“Now hold on there,” the old man said looking hastily around. “Never said nothing of the sort. Don’t go stickin words into this old man’s mouth!”

Tommy shut his yap real quick.

“Reverend Randy, he made it known from the start that Evelyn’s disease weren’t catchy. Cripes, the whole town’d blown a gasket if they’d a thought it was catchy. Since Randy lived with her and never come down with it hisself, we just naturally took his word on it — him being a preacher and all.

“You see the disease already had a right good hold over Evelyn by the time anyone knew Mary was expected. All the doctors said the baby wouldn’t live any how. But that Mary, she was a little scrapper from the start. You see, the poor little thing didn’t know she had no business being born. She just came right ahead into this world just like she was meant to be here. Such a sad little thing. Born right around the same time as my little Bobby."

“Mind you, she weren’t ugly enough to send the nurses screaming for cover. But, sure enough, Evelyn’s disease had worked its way into little Mary. Nine whole months worth of damage. I’ll never forget that first sight of her.”

I wanted to know, but then I didn’t. Finally I had to ask the question that nobody else seemed to want to ask. “What was wrong with her?”

Old Man Lipinski shook his head sadly. Just when I thought he wasn’t going to tell us, he cleared his throat, hawked another wad into that poor excuse for a handkerchief and went on. “Seems everything was wrong with poor Mary. Bad heart, bad lungs, crooked spine—those were things wrong on the insides of her. On the outside, she was wrong too. Looked like the good Lord never quite got around to putting the finishing touches on the poor little thing. No eyebrows, ears as big and wrinkled as an old man’s, and born wid a full set o’ teeth and a steam-shovel of a big mouth to carry them around in. The worse thing to look at about her
was that she had no nose. Just two little bullet holes sitting there smack in the middle of her poor face. Like as not, with no nose to hold stuff back, runners of snot usually had a way of working down from them holes. Throw in a pair of heavy glasses for her bad eyes—and that was Mary.”

None of us could breathe.

Nobody said another word. We just kept looking at each other. Old Mr. Lipinski sure had painted me a grim picture of Mary Kempell.

“Good natured she was until the teasing got to her.” Lipinski went on. He was looking right into Wayne’s horrified face as he continued the morbid tale.

“I guess a body can only take so much teasing. Reverend Randy had to take her out of school after she clawed the tar outa one of them little Jamros girls from Town Crest. It seemed the little girl had made up a teasing kind of jingle about her that Mary didn’t much care for. Took more than twenty stitches to close the little Jamros girl’s face up after Mary and her cats was done with her.”

We stopped asking questions.

Continued in my next post

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World

Monday, January 25, 2010

Clubhouse, part 1

Clubhouse, part 1
by Louise Dragon

Not last night, but the night before.
There came a mighty knocking at the clubhouse door.
The preacher’s daughter
Wants to come in.
Mary, Mary,
What a sin!
Open the door and
                                             Let . . . her . . .
                                     IN! ! !

                                                                             . . . A child’s tune for skipping rope


It was Tommy and Wayne and me who first found the clubhouse buried beneath a ton of pucker brush and killer vines behind the old Farnums Cemetery out on Notch Hill Road. Later, Tommy and Wayne would swear on a crossed heart that it was just them two who found it, but I was there!

I was there and I saw it all.

It was the summer of 1962, and back then big tough twelve-year-old boys simply didn’t hang out with ten-year-old girls without a good reason — no matter that I was almost as big and probably a scrap tougher than either one of those two shitheaps.

Reverend William Furman Senior had just started preaching out at the Notch Hill Church and old Reverend Willy made up a small playground behind the church so that neighborhood kids would have a place to play that summer.

It was just an old swing set and basketball hoop, but hey—in Farnums—there just weren’t too many neat places to hang out. Some folks like Tommy’s mother, thought it wasn’t too swell to have the playground so close to that old cemetery. I can still hear Sylvia Raymer (Tommy’s mother) whining about it to Reverend Willy, after church one Sunday. “I think it’s positively morbid the way you allow those youngsters free reign around here, Reverend Furman. Honestly, you of all people could show a little more respect for the dead!”

“Now Sylvie, the kids need a place to play in this town. Having them here just brings them closer to the Lord in my book,” Reverend Willy said, still pumping various hands although Sylvia had a big knot started in his line. I wanted to laugh because I could see Tommy struggling behind her. His skinny face with its jug-handle ears was about the color of the red stripe on those new Keds he was forever bragging about. I could see him trying to move her along, but with Mrs. Raymer standing stoutly, a lot like Curly Howard in a dress, and Tommy measuring about the size of Dennis The Menace, I knew Sylvia wasn’t going anywhere until she was darn good and ready! To myself, I whispered a prayer of thanks that my folks were fairly normal and not the whining type.

Anyway, kids started hanging around the new playground when school let out that summer. I’ll always remember the day we found that clubhouse.

Oh, Lord, will I ever be able to forget it?

I was shooting marbles with Tommy Raymer and Wayne Marcos that day; either they thought I was easy prey or Wayne was right about Tommy having a crush on my older sister, Molly.

Ann Delany, Jennifer Livsey, and Stephanie Nichols were skipping rope over by the swings and annoying us with their stupid little skipping songs and chants.

“Hey, why don’t you go home and do that?” Wayne yelled to the rope skippers.

“It’s a free country, last I knew,” Stephanie hollered back.

“Not last night,”

skippety, skip,

“but the night before . . .”

The rope skipping songs got louder after that, so we decided to move over to the cemetery on the other side of the church to finish our game in peace. Wayne was a little nervous about playing in the cemetery until Tommy mentioned something about the ghosts not bothering with no pansy-assed goody-goody like Waynie-pooh anyhow. Next time I looked, Wayne had followed us on over.

I was up by five of Tommy’s cat’s eyes and one or two of his whiteys and would have probably cleaned up if old man Lipinsky, the church caretaker, hadn’t stopped by to gab. Armand Lipinsky also doubled as the town drunk; he had a couple of older teen-aged sons who were always in some kind of trouble. Old man Lipinski was so bent up, he reminded me of Quassimoto, he smelled like our bathroom medicine cabinet — a toss up between Listerine and Vicks-Vapo-Rub.
 Walking by with a rusty pair of lawn clippers, he paused and hoisted his baggy seated rump onto a wide gravestone to watch our game.

“Sure is nice to see kids playing around here again,” the geezer said hawking a wad of phlegm into a wrinkled blue bandanna. He stopped to examine the spit — as though he expected to find diamond dust in there — before stuffing the rag into a torn back pocket.

Wayne, still a mite jumpy, looked up at the old bird. “There was a playground here before?”

“Naw, Reverend Willy, he thought that one up. But back a couple — five -- six years, maybe, Mary used to play out here wid her cats. Had herself a little playhouse out yonder behind that scrub brush. Poor little thing’d play out here all by her lonesome, day in and day out. Nothin but cats to keep her comp’ny.”

Lipinski had our attention now, and he knew it. Slow as mole-asses he toiled out that old bandanna and honked his red-veined nose into it. After peeking inside for more treasures, the old man stuffed the rag home again and gazed maddeningly out across the gravestones.

Continued in my next post

Stephen King's Cat's Eye

Friday, January 22, 2010

#fridayflash: A Precious Stone

A Precious Stone
Louise Dragon

“It’s past midnight, Cindy. Can’t this wait until morning?” Dull granite dust shadowed Cynthia’s gray, haggard features. “Go to bed, Mother. You’re interfering.”

“But . . .”

“Go to bed, Mother.”

“How can I sleep with you down here? Every rap of that hammer grates on my nerves.”

“I have to finish. I have to finish it for me.”

“What then? What do you think will happen, Cindy? How much power does that chisel have?”

“This is something I have to do.” Cynthia explained. “It doesn’t concern you.”

“You are my concern,” her mother said. “You’re sick. Knowing you’re down here in this damp basement . . . seeing you obsessed with this project — I care about you . . . not this . . . this outrageous thing you’re creating.”

“This thing, Mother? This thing will be my last and greatest triumph, my epitaph.”

Cynthia’s mother sighed, shivered, and hugged her arms closer to her body. She watched a trickle of ground water seep down in the corner of the stone foundation. “You haven’t eaten today. Can I bring you some hot soup?”

Cynthia’s thin face never left her work. Bony fingers clutching hammer and chisel continued to move spasmodically across drab gray granite. “No, I’m not hungry.”

“A sweater then, let me get you a sweater, it’s too cold and damp for you down here in your condition.”

Cynthia ignored her.

“Cindy,” her mother said, reaching for a thin moving arm. “My God, you’re freezing. You’re as cold as . . .”

“As what, Mother?” Cynthia asked jerking her arm from her mother’s grasp and finally turning to face her.

Cynthia’s mother stepped back. Her daughter’s face, gray and hollow-eyed, appeared carved from the very same granite that she used for her work.

“I only . . .”

“You only want to keep me alive? Well you’re too late, Mother. I died. I died an hour ago.”

“But . . . but . . .”

“Why am I still moving? Still working? Determination, Mother.

Something you taught me long ago. I made gravestones for a living. For other people. I couldn’t bear to let go until I finished. Look at it. The detail. The beauty.

“Let me go, Mother. It’s time to let me go now.”

EPITAPHS: 243 Gravestone inscriptions

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dragon Chronicles X.

X. Hapro, the dark queen is now at rest
Forty-one steps to find her nest
Riches follow the queen’s storm
Eighty-seven tracks meet with new reform



Monday, January 18, 2010

Letter from Denise P.

Letter from Denise P.

Dear Weezel,
I’m really scared and not sure what to do. I’ve been helping an old woman – Mrs. Candle – who lives at the end of our street. I think she’s more than 85 and she’s very bent and walks really slow.

Anyhow, Mrs. Candle gave me five dollars every week for coming over once a day and feeding Jessie (her dog), washing a few dishes, and sweeping the kitchen floor.

Last week, about three days before my thirteenth birthday, Mrs. Candle asked me to go upstairs and make up a bed in her guest bedroom because she expected a visit from her son, Harold.

Mrs. Candle’s house is really huge and looks almost exactly like the gingerbread house in the Hansel and Gretel book. I’d never been upstairs before or even in the front part of her house because Mrs. Candle spent all of her time in the four rooms at the back of the house, near the kitchen.

I found clean sheets at the top of the stairs in a closet where Mrs. Candle said they’d be. She sat on the stairs with a worried look on her face . . . It’s the same look I’ve seen on my grandmother’s face when I get too close to her glass bird collection. Mrs. Candle rasped instructions at me from her perch on the stairs. “Don’t forget to fold back the coverlet, dear.” Mrs. Candle calls everyone dear.

I got the bed made up in record time, and then took a moment to snoop around a little -- what a big mistake.

Mrs. Candle chattered away at the foot of the stairs and I answered her from time to time so she wouldn’t know I was snooping. I remember she was in the middle of a sentence when I opened the little door.

“It’ll be so nice to see Harold. He hasn’t been here to visit since . . .” Her words broke off and I heard nothing but silence from the stairs while my mind dealt with what it was seeing in that tiny room.

First I thought it was seaweed or cobwebs, and then I saw that it was hair -- gobs of dusty hair hanks in different colors. Hanging cloth pouches with strange symbols etched on them, and jars of worms, or slugs, maybe. The smell was cloying, like rotting meat.

“I think it’s time for you to come downstairs, dear.” The words, louder and clearer than her usual rasp, made me jump guiltily and I quietly closed the tiny door and backed away from it.

Mrs. Candle watched me walk down the stairs. Her usually pleasant old crumpled features twisted into a weird scary frown and she gripped my wrist in one of her wrinkled talons. “Are you a Nosey Parker?” She queried, her voice unusually steady. I couldn’t take my eyes off her mean expression. This was not the Mrs. Candle I was used to. “Should I tell you what happens to Nosey Parkers?”

I pictured the room full of hair, yanked my arm from her grasp and ran all the way home.

It’s been a week since that day and I was beginning to think it was all my imagination, but Harold Candle stopped by today to tell my parents what a nice job I did helping his mother out. He gave me a ten-dollar bill and asked me to continue helping his mother. The bill, faded and limp, had that same cloying rotten meat smell from that upstairs little room. I didn’t even want to touch it, but my parents were watching. What’s even worse is, now my parents expect me to go back there and earn those ten dollars.

What should I do?

Dear Nosey Parker Denise,
I suppose Mrs. Candle could have been a wig maker, but the smell that you mention from that room bothers me. I also think that Mrs. Candle’s attitude change that you described was a tad alarming. My advise is to put on some rubber gloves and tuck that ten dollar bill in an envelop, seal it and mail it back to Harold with a polite note resigning from that position. I’d also try to avoid that end of the street for the next few years. Good luck and don’t forget what curiosity does to Nosey Parkers. You didn’t take home any souvenirs from that little room I hope!

Crooked Letter

Friday, January 15, 2010

#fridayflash: Help Yourself

Help Yourself

“Tami, I’m here to help you,” Brooke said bustling into the interrogation room of Midwood PD.

A cinnamon-haired beauty sat perfectly still, hands clasped loosely before her on the scarred mahogany table. Large amber eyes stared straight ahead, trance-like, at the two-way mirror before her. She didn’t favor Brooke with even a glance.

Brooke flipped a Brooke Philips, Rusk County Assistant District Attorney business card onto the table next to the woman’s clasped hands and hesitated, waiting for a reaction.

No response -- Brooke started pacing back and forth before the mirror.

“Chief Cooper says he has a string of deaths reaching back over the past year,” Brooke began, watching the girl. “The Chief claims that you’re involved with these deaths right up to your dark roots.” Brooke slammed a heavy manila folder on the table by the girl’s elbow – she didn’t flinch.

“Dark as an ink-well,” Tami murmured tonelessly, gazing straight ahead.

“Excuse me?” Brooke leaned down and looked deep into the staring amber eyes. “Did you say something?” Still no response. “I can’t help you if you won’t help yourself . . .” Brooke trailed off rubbing her left temple. Tami’s silent catatonic stare was giving her a headache. The assistant DA shrugged her shoulders, leaned over the table and riffled open the folder. “Let’s start with Barbara White, your um, ah, first case manager who somehow died of a heart attack at age 39. What can you tell me about Barbara?”

“White as a bone.” The softy-spoken words came from Tami, but Brooke did not even see her mouth move.

“What do you mean by that?” Brooke asked glancing quickly at the young girl. “I don’t understand what you’re trying to tell me.”

Eyes gazed unseeingly ahead; still no acknowledgement from Tami.

Brooke sighed and glanced at the mirror. Was that an evil glint in those amber doll’s eyes?

“Okay, if you don’t want to talk about Barbara, lets move on to her live-in lover – Richard Burgi. I understand that Richard was a crack-head who died of an overdose? Wha . . .”

“Cracking an eggshell.” An eerie whisper came from nowhere and everywhere.

Brooke rubbed at her temple again and shook her head pretending not to hear.

“Or maybe you can shed light on the death of Claude Perry, Richard’s supplier who lived on, um, Stone Street?”

“And skipping a stone.” Another breathless whisper floated about the room.

Brooke could stand it no more. She yanked Tami’s chair back and inserted her face inches before the hollow gaze. “What are you saying? What are you talking about? Stop whispering and come out with it. We all know that you’re involved. What happened to your Grandmother? We know that you visited her at her cabin out by Cherub Flats. Isn’t that where the police found you? Hidden in the dark? Where is your Grandmother, Tami? Nobody has seen her for seven days.”

Tami gasped a little. Her bloodless lips moved slightly in her doll’s face. “Hide in the darkness out of sight,” she said quietly, lips barely moving. “Stay hidden until the seventh night.” One large glistening tear rolled down her alabaster face.

“Is that what your Grandmother told you?” Brooke asked. “Did she tell you to hide from the police? Talk to me damn it. I can’t help you if you won’t talk to me.” Brooke’s head pounded. She rubbed her left temple and looked down at the motionless girl in the city-issued shapeless orange jump suit. “Let’s take a break.”

"What the hell have you given me here, Coop?” whispered Brooke flailing her arms and squinting into the Chief’s startled face once she was on the other side of the two-way mirror.

“I t-tried to tell you,” Coop rasped. “Didn’t I t-tell you she was a creepy one? You shoulda seen that cabin we found her in. Looked like something from Farnums Hills. Pots o’ broken t-teeth and dead grasshoppers. I almost blew chunks.”

“Did you tape this entire session?” Brooke asked noticing the camera for the first time.

“Standard procedure for a homicide.” Coop said. “Did you get anything out of her?”

“Nothing that made any sense.” Brooke squinted at the girl on the other side of the mirror. “She acts drugged . . . or stoned. Wait – what’s she doing now?”

Brooke and Coop watched in fascination as the pretty young girl picked up Brooke’s business card and looked at it. Her lips moved slightly as though she were praying or chanting. The eerie words floated through the speakers and draped over them like an itchy cloak.

“Seal the relic in a box.”

A small alabaster hand clutched a tiny black box. Deftly Tami folded the rectangular business card and placed it in the box. Her pretty face frowning with concentration, Tami’s lips began to move again as she wound and tied and wound and tied a hank of string several times around the box in various angles.

“Tie it tight with seven knots.” The hovering singsong words broke through Brooke’s reverie and she marched back into the interrogation room, her head throbbing.

“Tami,” she said, gently touching the girl’s arm. “It’s time to talk about what happened. Wouldn’t your Grandmother want you to help yourself out of this mess? Wouldn’t she want you talk to me now?”

“Reveal it when the time is right.” Tami whispered pushing the tied up black box across the table to Brooke, whose pounding headache interfered with her good sense and she accepted the offered box.

“Her life will fade this very night.” Tami looked intently into Brooke’s eyes for the first time.

“Grandma,” she whispered smiling. “Is that you?”

Personalized Business Cards

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dragon Chronicles IX.

IX. A fallen one riddles the king
Who falls from grace with just one sting
Hollow messages set the pace
The trail runs cold without a trace


Nostradamus 2012


Dragon Chronicles VIII

Note about my prediction quatrains. For my devoted readers who visit every Wednesday just to read my latest Prediction Quatrain (fashioned in the spirit of Nostradamus) and couldn’t find one posted last week, please check the right hand column of my blog for a section called “Dragon Chronicles.” On those occasions when I’m posting daily chronological fiction, like I did last week for my story “Caretaker,” I will post the latest quatrain here under “Dragon Chronicles.” This section will hold the last five weekly predictions until such time as I can include them into my regular postings so that future readers may navigate them. Thank you so much for your queries and interest! Now let’s step into the future . . .

VIII. Dimensions fold across the way
Opening doors from Janis through May
Visitors weave around the fuse
Cracking a code that’s not a ruse

The Complete Prophecies of Nostradamus