Some Thoughts After Performing in the Minnesota Orchestra’s Production of “Carousel”

Read these words.

Read these words.

DANCING

I’m a terrible dancer. I don’t think saying that in a public forum will result in any shocked gasps or clutched hearts. I’m a terrible dancer. Watching a choreographer demonstrate a move is the physical equivalent of trying to follow a foreign film with the subtitles turned off: I know they’re doing something important, but I hope no one’s life depends on me figuring out what the hell it’s supposed to mean.

Asking me to perform someone’s choreography is a slap in the face to, not only all dance professionals, but to all people who use legs in any way in their professional lives. Civil War surgeons were kinder to legs than I am on stage. And, my arms are so embarrassed to be associated with my legs that they panic and just start flailing.

That being said . . .

I was recently in the Minnesota Orchestra’s production of “Carousel,” directed by the dazzlingly shod Bob Neu, and dance I did. I had to! We had a choreographer I had heard of and I don’t hear of choreographers. I can remember that the Autobot whose loyalty wavered between his own faction and the Decepticons in the first season of G1 Transformers was Mirage, but I can’t keep anything dance-related in my head. Mirage. That guy.

mirage-g1-robot

That guy.

We hadn’t even had a dance audition. Bob simply put faith in the fact that I entered the room without falling down the stairs and assumed I could waltz. Which may be an appropriate assumption for a normal human being. “I have to waltz!” I yelled at people. “So?” they invariably responded, “Anyone can waltz.”

I was once in a production of “And the World Goes Round.” Early on in the rehearsal process, I and another cast member were to waltz across the stage during a solo number. That’s all. Stage right to stage left. 1-2-3, 1-2-3. She tried to get me to successfully cross that stage for weeks. Finally, the director said, “You know . . . we’re just going to cut that.”

So . . . I had to dance.

Fortunately, I had two amazing dance partners in the course of the show. Erik Pearson and I were paired for the “Blow High, Blow Low” number. The moment he moved towards me I thought, “Oh, good. He’s so tall, everyone will be looking at him.” But, there’s something about working with someone who’s better than you that really pulls you up to, well, not their level, but up to an approximation of their level. We matched each other in enthusiasm and facial expressions and I felt, for the first time, confident while dancing on stage.

My other dance partner was Emily Gunyou Halaas. We were officially a husband/wife team-up in the town of . . . Wherever, Maine(?) and somehow managed to screw up all of our dances in new and creative ways each performance. But, and this is a big but

A) We screwed up with aplomb, and
2) I friggity flippin’ WALTZED, G!

The “This Was a Real Nice Clambake” dance had a brief waltz that I looked forward to each night. There was this thing we did with a picnic blanket spinny thing flippy around moment (if you weren’t there, I can’t describe it any better than that; if you were there, it was the picnic blanket spinny thing flippy around moment) that made every bus ride to Orchestra Hall worth it. I mean, other things made it worth it, too, but in that moment . . .

The choreographer was Penny Freeh, who is awesome. Not everyone on stage was a dancer (see paragraphs 1-10) and she somehow managed to get us all dancing without EVER. LOSING. HER. PATIENCE.

If you’re not familiar with theater . . . choreographers sometimes lose their cool. I’ll just – I’ll just leave it at that. Penny did not. Maybe we all just trusted her. Maybe she’s actually a magical being? Maybe? Probably. Probably that’s it.

PERFORMING

If you want my body/And, you think I'm sexy . . .

If you want my body/And, you think I’m sexy

When we got our first rehearsal breakdown, I was a little shocked to see time set aside to block “Policeman” and to see next to the word “Policeman” the name (Phil). Naturally, I assumed this was some other Phil who had . . . not . . . made the cast list? Or, that it was a typo which would be resolved shortly. I was so convinced I was not actually going to play “Policeman” – a character with lines and everything(!!!) – that I didn’t actually look at the scene until the day before we were set to block it. I kept expecting an email to arrive from our amazing Stage Manager (Katie Hawkinson – amazing) saying, “Yeeeaaahhhh, I meant to type a different name. Not your name. It shouldn’t be your name. It’s another more ‘different’ name.” But, hey, I was actually “Policeman!”

The coolest thing about playing “Policeman” was getting to watch Bob work with the principals. Bob works at a rapid pace, throwing the actors up on stage – almost completely memorized, I’ll add – giving them basic blocking and then working the scenes. Really working them. One of the hardest things about directing a musical – which I’ve done – is actually finding the time to direct the musical rather than just shuffle people around. Obviously, Bob has done a million shows and so watching him was a master class in efficiency.

Bob had the principals during the day, so he got a lot of time out of them, then. But, this was a three week process. I’ve poured over that rehearsal schedule, dissected it, and figured out how to make it work in a typical six week period. I did this while observing the way Bob collaborated with the actors  – encouraging new ideas, blocking, fight choreography – while keeping everyone aligned to his very tight, very specific vision.

One of the most difficult parts of directing a large cast is ensuring that, at the end of the day, everyone on stage is in the same show. That requires a strong vision that the director sticks with. I got to stand close by during my scenes and watch Bob work with the leads, taking mental notes in the margins of my mind. I learned a lot about my own craft by watching Bob at his. It was truly an invaluable experience.

CAMERADERIE

There’s always someone in every cast. You know the one. The actor who doesn’t get along with the group, who complains, gossips, rubs people the wrong way. There is always one.

Nope! I mean, with a set up like that, obviously I’m going to make it a switcheroo on everyone and BLOW YOUR MINDS but, really it was an extremely strong ensemble. But more than that, everyone in the show was kind.

Kindness . . . it doesn’t tend to show up in groups. Like, groups of kindness. But, every single person in

We're all crammed into a vending machine nook because as actors that's JUST WHERE WE BELONG!

We’re all crammed into a vending machine nook because as actors that’s JUST WHERE WE BELONG!

the cast was a kind person. I mean, we were all a bunch off goofs and weirdos, but that’s theater. Everyone seemed to genuinely care about the other people in the cast. To support their choices and want everyone else to do well. Again, that’s rare. I was nervous going in. Hell, I was scared. This wasn’t my world. I didn’t know many people in the show – none on the production side of things – I had trouble eating and sleeping and thinking in the week leading up to rehearsals. And, that first day? I relaxed. I fit. There was a place for me at this table and I went along for the ride.

I really clobbered that metaphor. Damn, that was painful.

It was an extremely positive environment. I do not take that for granted. Such good people.

CAROUSEL

The word “problematic” gets thrown around a lot in reference to “Carousel” and I’m going to go on record as saying . . . yeeeeaaaaah, not really. The characters are certainly mired in their era. The situation they are in is troubling. Their options are not the best in the world. But, “Carousel” is a play about people in a hard situation, with limited options making the best choices they can with limited world experience and failing miserably at those choices. The theme of “Carousel” isn’t “It’s okay to let your husband hit you,” even though Julie pretty much kinda sorta says that to her teenage daughter in the end. Julie is a broken character. She’s not the author’s voice. She’s not speaking the theme of the play. The Doctor at the end is. He’s the one who says, “Look, life is hard. And, we all make terrible mistakes. And, our parents make terrible mistakes. But, we can’t beat ourselves up over them. We can’t lose ourselves in the past. We have to keep pushing forward. Keep working towards a better tomorrow. Without fear of the dark” in so many words. It’s a message of hope, not answers.

I wasn’t looking forward to doing “Carousel.” I didn’t know the show well and always found it a bit flat. I was wrong. It’s a frighteningly complex play. The music, the lyrics, the dialogue, the staging – they all interplay and intertwine propelling the characters forward. There’s very little actual “story” so much as “lives being lived.” It’s heartbreaking. And funny. And an important show to understand in order to understand musical theater at all.

Mark Sweeney, I’m sorry I ever doubted you.

It was a profound experience for me. I’m so glad I auditioned.

THE END

And now, it’s over. I met so many wonderful people I hope to work with again. I reforged a friendship I’d thought dead and buried. I hung out with fascinating people. Mourned the loss of a literary great in the wings. Met a fascinating artist with a story to share. And, now I find myself in that post-show funk. A funk I haven’t felt in a while. The funk of forty-thousand years.

Because, it’s Thriller. Thriller Night.

Categories: Carousel, Just a stupid thing, Just a VERY STUPID THING, Theater | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mr. Kalan and His Inheritance – A Flop House Spook-em-Up! Part 2 . . .

Donegal_Castle._County_Donegal,_Ireland-LCCN2002717385Stuart’s Story

“Goodnight, Dan!” Stuart called out semi-mockingly. This was going to be an easy win. He’d seen way too many horror movies and read way too many horror novels to fall for this set-up. Obviously, the old man stood to inherit the castle if Elliott failed tonight and so he was going to do everything he could to scare the guys and take the place for his own. And why not? It made sense to Stuart. He’d do it, too.

Closing the door, Stuart took in his surroundings. He’d chosen this room because it had a large bookcase filled with ancient volumes and, who knew? There could be a Necronomicon or De Vermis Mysteriis or Cultes des Goules up there. Old castles always had lots of magic books, right?

In the middle of the room, standing atop a threadbare green rug, was Stuart’s bed, a rickety twin size with a musty looking mattress. At the foot of the bed stood a small case with two hinged doors. Inside the case, Stuart found candles, matches, sheets and a blank notebook with a pencil. As the light was already growing dim, he lit three candles.

On the other end of the room, Stuart found a battered desk. It was one of those desks with lots of little drawers, and Stuart opened each one finding nothing until the last. Pulling out the drawer, he heard a rattling inside and, upon further investigation, discovered the drawer had a false bottom. Sliding the false bottom out of its slot, revealed a small silver key. Stuart held it up to get a better look at it. Engraved into the top was the strange triangular symbol from the old man’s parchment.

“Must be, like, the sign of this castle or something,” he said to himself.

Stuart glanced around the room, but didn’t see anything that might require a key to open. He began perusing the books.

As he’d suspected, most of the volumes were written in languages other than English. Stuart was fluent in French, Spanish and Greek, but his Latin was rusty and his Gaelic practically nonexistent.

He pulled book after book down from the shelves, holding their covers up to the candlelight.

“Dang,” he said as each one proved more impenetrable than the last. “Dang.”

Just as he was about to give up, he noticed a slim, shiny volume on the bottom shelf. The cover was made of a textured leather, dyed yellow and lacking any writing. Stamped into the cover, however, was the mysterious symbol from the key.

“Well, well, well,” Stuart said, “This looks totally scarifying.”

He tried opening the book. The cover wouldn’t budge. There was no lock holding it shut, at least no visible lock.

“That’s weird,” Stuart muttered to himself. He ran his fingers along the front and back of the book, feeling for a latch or indentation. The spine was slightly curved and at the apex of the curve, Stuart felt what seemed to be a slight flaw in the binding. He pushed against the flaw and felt something inside the book shift. Just a small vibration as if some internal mechanism had been triggered. Still, the cover would not open.

“Oh, it’s going to be like that, is it?” Stuart asked the book. It gave no response, which Stuart interpreted as a further challenge.

Settling himself on the bed and pulling a candle closer, Stuart began his examination of the book in earnest. He flipped it over, rapped on the cover, scratched at the pages and finally, after a few more minutes, his fingernail snagged another imperfection.

*click*

“Gotcha,” Stuart whispered.

Another movement from inside the book. The candle fluttered. The room seemed to grow slightly cooler.

Stuart’s face was covered in a sheen of sweat. He now felt as if this book – and the knowledge contained within – were the only things he cared about in the world. He had to get in. Had to! His fingers flew across its surface, studying its bumps and contours. Stuart began breathing more heavily as his hands spun and flipped the volume this way and that.

“There has to be one more switch,” he said. “I can’t see it! Where is it?!”

As he grew more and more agitated, the breeze in the room seemed to pick up, blowing across his neck and back. The candle flame sputtered on the verge of blowing out.

“The candle!” Stuart suddenly yelled and leaping up, he snuffed it out with his fingers.

Now, in the pitch black, Stuart felt the book in his hands. It was like holding a lover’s face; he knew it so well. Had studied it for years. He exhaled and, had he been able to see, would have noticed his breath crystalizing in the air in front of his face.

Slowly, he ran his thumbs up the spine of the book. He felt a snag and pushed.

*click*

The yellow volume heaved in his hands. He almost dropped it, the movement was so strong. More than the small vibration of before, it was a complete shifting of weight. Like an animal gaining consciousness and smelling the air around it.

Stuart tried to open the book in the dark. Still, it would not budge.

An intense anger flooded his senses and he was about to heave the book across the room when the image of the key floated before his unseeing eyes. Scrambling in the dark, he located the silver key in his pants pocket. He searched with his hands for a keyhole – there had to be one! This had to be it! But, he found nothing. Just the impression of the symbol on the front cover.

Wait.

Stuart took the key and, laying it on the book cover, positioned it so the symbol on the key lined up with the symbol on the book.

*click*

The pages flew open. Words spilled out across Stuart’s hands. What did they say? How were they crawling up his arms? When had the candle relit? Who was in the doorway?

Stuart looked at Dan standing in the entrance to his room. Dan’s eyes were missing and the skin around his mouth had been pulled back exposing skull, gums and teeth.

“I found a book,” Stuart said.

“Let me read it,” The Dan thing said.

The door to Stuart’s room slammed shut and Stuart’s screams began in earnest, mixed with laughter and the wonder of a good book.

*****

Elliott’s Story

“You boys behave tonight!” Elliott called down the hall and shut his door. He was shaken. This little adventure did not feel right, not at all. First was the extreme fatigue. Never had he been this tired. He’d been all over the world, had travelled back and forth from America to parts unknown on numerous occasions, and had never been hit like this. Was he sick? He didn’t feel sick, exactly. It was like something was draining his spirit. Something in this castle. Castle O’Kalan? The more he thought about it, the less sense it made. He didn’t have any ancestors in Ireland, for criminy’s sake! What had put that in his head?

He took out his cell phone. No bars, just like the old man had said. No bars in this cell, he thought and smiled. Normally, he’d come up with some sort of clever play on words, but looking around, he didn’t feel like making jokes.

The room he’d picked had seemed cozy on first glance. It was also the only room that came with pre-lit candles in the wall sconces. That offered some comfort, but not a lot. The lack of windows had made him feel at ease, like nothing could get in. But, now he realized it felt more like he couldn’t get out. Cell, indeed.

Elliott opened his door. He looked up and down the dark hallway. Stuart and Dan were probably already settling in – Dan was probably already asleep by now; that guy could sleep through the “1812 Overture” if he was playing the cannonball – but, Elliott knew he wouldn’t be sleeping tonight. Besides, they didn’t use actual cannonballs in the “1812 Overture.” That would be stupid.

Throwing open the cardboard box at the foot of his bed – that seemed to be the old man’s idea of a “footlocker” – Elliott tossed the sheets, candles and matches onto the floor. At the bottom of the box, was a journal and a pencil. The journal was tied shut with ribbon, and looked new. Elliott lit a candle and brought it over to where he was sitting. Untying the ribbon, Elliott flipped through the journal. The pages were all blank.

Elliott set the journal down and then picked it back up. Something was nagging at him. Something about this entire scenario. Old castle? Mysterious benefactor? It was hitting too many familiar beats. He’d seen enough bad movies to recognize lazy storytelling; and, this was some of the laziest he’d ever experienced.

So, what would a lazy storyteller do in this situation? Well, a blank journal left in a box of supplies was obviously meant to be found. But, why?

Elliott flipped through the journal again. The pages steadfastly remained blank.

“What would the Hardy Boys do?” he said.

Holding the journal up to the candle, he turned the book so he was looking at the pages edge-on. He adjusted his positioning in minute increments and slowly flipped the pages until he saw what he was looking for. Setting the book in his lap, Elliott picked up the pencil and began to lightly rub the lead over the seemingly blank page. As if by magic, words appeared on the pages.

“Of course,” Elliott said. This whole trip was following a script. He felt like he should be two steps ahead of it, if only his head wasn’t so foggy. Peering at the page, Elliott began reading the words out loud.

“They. Are. Gone.” he read, “And. You. Are. Next.” He looked up. Was the candle being blown by something?

“Do. Not. Look. For. Them. Where. You. Can. See. Them. Look. For. Them. Where. Your. Sight. Does. Not. Go.”

Who? Elliott wondered. Look for who? Stuart and Dan? That couldn’t be it. That was DuckTales-level mystery solving. Nothing would be that obvious.

Wait. DuckTales. Something about the opening theme song of DuckTales was playing around in his head. What was it that happened? Huey was climbing a cliff during the “D-d-d-danger” part and then the three of them were looking at a gem during the “Watch behind you” part but what happened? Right. Something jumps out at them while they’re focusing on something else. Right when they’d made some sort of discovery, whatever it was that had been out to get them used that moment of distraction to –

Something grabbed Elliott from behind, squeezing the breath out of his lungs.

Something else grabbed his legs. Whipping his head around, Elliott looked into the face of Stuart Wellington.

“Stu!” he managed to gasp out as Stuart’s powerful arms constricted his chest,”Stu! What are you doing?! What happened to your face?!”

Stuart’s face was covered in what looked like writing; but, it was a language Elliott had never seen before. It covered Stuart’s neck, arms and hands. Stuart’s eyes were red and rolled back in his head; a strange rasping came from his throat and a vile black liquid oozed off of his tongue.

Glancing down, Elliott realized that Dan had ahold of his legs. Dan’s arms weren’t nearly as strong as Stuart’s, so it didn’t hurt very much. In fact, Dan wasn’t really having an easy time lifting Elliot.

“Come on, Dan!” Elliott called out, “Lift with your legs! Just, watch your knee!”

The thing that was Dan seemed to shudder with an intense sigh as it looked up at Elliott. So much of Dan’s face had been pulled away, that it was mostly skull that greeted Elliott. The empty eye sockets leaked the same horrid fluid that poured out of Stuart. And, from deep in Dan’s chest, came that pitiful rasping, moaning sound. As if someone had burrowed into Dan’s chest, and was chanting or singing or weeping.

“Dan!” Elliott cried out, “I know it’s you! Fight this! Let me go! We’ve been tricked! We’ve all been tricked and we played right into the hands – or, you guys played into them; I was doing a pretty good job of figuring things out on my own – of, whatever it is that’s been doing this to us!”

Stuart increased the pressure on Elliott’s small frame and Elliott began seeing stars.

“Well,” he said as he faded out, “I always thought this is how I’d go: with you two fighting over me.”

The Dan thing grabbed the sheets Elliott had tossed on the floor and flung them over Elliott’s form. Stuart and Dan bundled up the little man and Stuart hoisted him over his shoulder. As they exited the room, the candle blew out.

*****

“Nope!” Elliott cried, looking around, “None of this!”

He had come to in a dimly lit chamber, tied to a stone table, still wrapped in the sheets from his room. The alter was surrounded by four unlit braziers. To his left, Dan stood against the wall as if waiting for a command. Stuart mirrored him on the other side, but seemed slightly more sure of himself.

“Guys!” Elliott whispered. “Come on, guys! Let me up. Get me out of here! I know it’s you two. Dan! Get me out of here and I’ll never interrupt you again!”

The two figures stood placidly, ignoring the entreaties of their friend.

“Stuart! Stuart, I’ll get you a writing job on the show! I don’t actually know if you want a writing job – it’s a lot of hard work and you’d have me over your shoulder and, frankly, I’m a pretty difficult guy to be around on the best days – but, just get me up! Come on!”

“They won’t listen to you, Mr. Kalan,” came a familiar voice from across the room.

Dilbert O’Kalan had entered, dressed in long purple robes, tied at the waist with a length of rope. Around his neck, he wore a chain with a jewel pendant. In his hands, he held a metal basin and a long blade.

“I have many legions under my command, Mr. Kalan,” the old man said, “and, given the opportunity, they will push a man’s soul from his flesh and inhabit his bones like a fish in a reef.”

“Wait,” Elliott said, “Wait, are you saying a fish wears a reef like a suit? Have you ever seen a reef? Fish don’t walk around in them, like David Byrne’s big suit. Coral reefs aren’t clothes! Reefs? Is it reefs or reeves?”

“Quiet!” cried Dilbert O’Kalan, “You will not distract me so easily. I am not one of your weak-willed compatriots. We have business to attend to and not much time.”

“Oh, well I better make things easy for you! It would certainly be in my best interest to let you get along with whatever it is you’re going to do with that knife and bowl!”

“Oh, Mr. Kalan,” the old man said, “You have no idea the things I’m going to do. I’ve been stuck in this decrepit flesh suit for far too long. Now, it is time for a change.”

“Into what? Into me? You look just like me! It won’t be that big of a change! It’s hardly worth it!”

“Unfortunately, the Kalans and their relatives have always been the only humans capable of containing my essence. I contrived the story of your inheritance to bring you here. I also needed two vessels to serve as retainers to my glory, and you complied nicely by providing them. I am happy you did not bring along that brother of yours. It would have complicated the process.”

“He probably would have started talking about sports, too,” Elliott said.

“Yes, I listen to your program. It is amusing how you denigrate the works of others for the amusement of your social inferiors.”

“I think we have a new tag line,” Elliott said.

“But, enough. I am going to slice you open, remove your soul and enter your body. The procedure will take about five minutes. Your soul will writhe in torment . . . forever.”

Dilbert O’Kalan lit several of the braziers. The pungent sting of incense filled the air. Dilbert began drawing strange diagrams and symbols on the floor around the altar. Elliott struggled against his bindings, but they were far too tight to move.

“Hey, Dilbert!” Elliott cried, “Who are you, really? How are you tied in with my family? Why me? Do you really listen to our podcast?”

“I know what you’re trying to do, Mr. Kalan,” Dilbert said, continuing his work, “You’re trying to distract me while you think of a way to escape. But, don’t you see that even if you got off of the alter, your friends would simply stop you. Stuart is strong, stronger since his transformation. He always had a bit of the rebel about him; now he has everything he always wanted: unnatural strength, cosmic knowledge, eternal life! Dan finally has power over you. He no longer has to put up with your attitude! Your jabs! Your unending stream of useless knowledge!”

“Listen, Dilbert, you can say what you want, but Dan and I are friends. Sure, we rib each other on the show, but what you’re hearing is just a bit!”

“Nonsense! This man has no respect for you! The way he sighs! The way he swears at your singing! Dan McCoy is no friend of yours!”

“He is a friend!” Elliott shouted, “Dan! Aren’t you my friend?”

The Dan thing remained still, but its eyes shifted ever so slightly towards Elliott’s prone figure.

“See?!” Elliott cried, “He looked over at me! That’s a thing! Stu! Tell this guy where he can go and then get me loose!”

Stuart shifted slightly in his place but otherwise remained still.

“It’s working!” Elliott cried, “They’re coming to! They’re going to wake up, set me free and then beat the stuffing out of you, Mr. O’Kalan if that is your real name!”

“They’re not waking up,” Dilbert said, “They can’t ‘wake up’ because, as I keep telling you, their souls are no longer in their bodies! Those are demons in there! Their souls are trapped in eternal torment!”

“Bull! If their souls were trapped, you’d have them somewhere!”

“I do!” Dilbert shouted, exasperatedly, “I have them in this gem around my neck!”

“Ah HA!” Elliott shouted and burst free of the ropes.

“What?!” said a startled Dilbert O’Kalan, “How?!”

“I suspected something was up when I found that terrible secret message in the journal in my room!” Elliott explained, “Fearing the worst, I palmed a few of those matches you’d provided. This whole time we’ve been talking, I’ve been slowly burning through the ropes, trusting that the smell of incense would hide the odor of burning hemp!”

“Well done, Mr. Kalan,” Dilbert calmly intoned, “But, too little too late. Slaves, grab him!”

The Dan thing and Stuart darted towards the altar upon which Elliott now stood. Stuart dove for Elliott’s legs, but a well timed jump allowed Elliott to safely evade his grasp and land on the floor.

“Fools!” Dilbert cried, “Secure him! He must not escape!”

Elliott ran around the alter, straight into the Dan thing.

“Sorry about this, buddy!” he said and kicked with all his might at the Dan thing’s bad knee.

The Dan thing let loose a wild howl and collapsed, moaning with pain.

“Stuart!” Dilbert O’Kalan cried, “Destroy him! I can still use his body, even if it is slightly damaged!”

Stuart darted around the altar. Elliott realized he would be no match for Stuart’s increased speed and strength. He couldn’t go face-to-face with him. He had to get to that gem!

Feinting to the left, Elliott counted on the thing inhabiting Stuart’s body to not be quite as quick-on-the-take as Stuart himself would have been. He guessed correctly and used Stuart’s brief mistake to dart around the other side of the altar, straight at Dilbert O’Kalan.

The old man was quick, but not quick enough. Elliott grabbed Dilbert around the waist, tackling him to the floor. With both hands, he yanked as hard as he could on the chain around the man’s neck and pulled the gem free.

“Ha!” Elliott shouted. But, something wasn’t right. He looked down.

Dilbert O’Kalan had shoved the sacrificial blade into Elliott’s torso, all the way up to the hilt. So sharp was the blade, Elliott hadn’t even felt it go it.

“It’s over, Mr. Kalan,” Dilbert said, “You played along very well. Now, my soul will enter your body and your soul will be trapped forever in torment!”

“Think so?” Elliott choked out, “Well, let’s take a look . . . in the mailbag.”

And, he smashed the gem on the stone floor.

A flash of light. Wind. Dilbert O’Kalan looked up. Elliott was suspended in the air, three feet above his head.

“Elliott!” he cried.

“There is no Elliott,” Elliott said with a deep, rumbling voice, “Only Zuul!”

“This is not possible!” O’Kalan yelled, “What have you done?!”

“It’s more what have you done, spooky!” Elliott spoke, “You cut me open, I let my friend’s souls out. Now, they’re in here with me! Think I’ll take ’em back to New York with me!”

“What? How?!” O’Kalan spluttered.

“I don’t know, man, it’s your little world! I didn’t make the rules. You okay in there, Dan? Yeah, I’m fine. You alright, Stuart. Yeah, eternal torment sucked. What should we do about this guy?”

Elliott turned his head. Across the room, the Dan thing and Stuart were watching everything with interest.

“Hey, chuckleheads,” Elliott said to them, “Is there a rule that, like, once the souls of the bodies you inhabit have been freed, you no longer have to do what this guy says?”

The Dan thing and Stuart looked at each other. Stuart gave a shrug.

“Works for me,” Elliott said, “I guess you can do whatever you want with him.

“No!” O’Kalan shouted, “No! Stay back! I command you! Stay back!”

“Okay, let’s wrap this up. Fine, Dan,” Elliott said, “Sheesh. You’d think you’d be happy to be freed from eternal torment. No, I’m glad you got me out. Got Meowth? No, ‘me’ ‘out’. My words are a little slurred from being trapped in eternal torment for so long. No, I think you said ‘Meowth’ because all you took from this is a reminder of the video games of your misspent youth. Good takeaway, Dan. *sigh*”

*****

“On this episode of ‘The Flop House’ we answer the burning question ‘Is Martin Short more irritating in animated form?’ with a burning ‘yes’.”

Dan hit Pause on the recording program.

“Okay, guys,” he said, “We’re up for doing this?”

“I think so,” Stuart answered, “Got my beers; got my food. Let’s do it.”

“Elliott? You ready?”

“Of course I’m ready, Dan. I didn’t just sit through seven and a half hours of ‘Legends of OZ: Dorothy’s Return’ to not be ready.”

“Well, if your voice starts to get hoarse, let me know.”

“Dan, if my voice starts to get hoarse, you’ll know. How would you not know?”

“I’m just looking out for you, Elliott.”

“Well, thank you, Dan.”

“You’re welcome, Elliott. Okay, here goes.”

Dan hit record.

“Welcome to ‘The Flop House,” he said, “I’m Dan McCoy.”

“I’m Stuart Wellington.”

“And, I’m Elliott Kalan.”

The recording continued. The three Original Peaches spoke at length about a terrible computer animated children’s movie. The banter was quick. The jokes were on-point. There was even an appearance by the House Cat. Elliott sang a Letters Song. Stuart officially retired “Castle Freak.” Dan sighed. Things were pretty much the same as they’d always been.

Except, they only need one mic, now.

THE END

Categories: Halloween!, Horror, Just a stupid thing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mr. Kalan and His Inheritance – A Flop House Spook-em-Up! Part 1?

Donegal_Castle._County_Donegal,_Ireland-LCCN2002717385“Guys, I’m inheriting a castle!”

Elliott Kalan’s reedy voice bounced off the walls leading up to Dan’s apartment. Usually, Elliott waited until he was actually in the apartment, arms laden with boxes of fried chicken, before he started squealing excitedly about one thing or the other.

“Did he say something about a castle?” Stuart asked Dan.

“I don’t know,” Dan sighed. They’d been waiting for the tardy Mr. Kalan for twenty minutes. Dan had a podcast to record; time was ticking and, well, this was serious business. Yes, Elliott had a new baby at home. Yes, Elliott was the head writer for a major cable comedy program. Yes, their bad movie podcast was most likely about as far down on Elliott’s priority list as anything else not directly related to family or income. Yes to all that. But, come on. Bad movie podcast!

Elliott threw open the door, sending Dan’s cat scurrying into the kitchen.

“Sorry I’m late,” Elliott cried, “But, hold on to your butts! You will not believe what I just found out!”

“You’re inheriting a castle?” Stuart said from his position on the sofa.

“Y – wait, how did you know?” Elliott asked.

“You were bellowing it as you ran up the stairs,” Stuart replied.

“Right! That. Yes.,” Elliott said, “Sorry, it’s just been a bit of a whirlwind.”

“Are we going to be able to start soon?” Dan asked fiddling with the microphones, “And where’s the chicken?”

“Forget the chicken!” Elliott said, “Forget the chicken, forget the mics and forget the podcast! This is bigger than any of that! Guys! I’m -”

“Inheriting a castle, yes, we know,” Dan said.

“It’s more than that,” Elliott said, “I’m inheriting a castle and we’re all going!”

Stuart leaned forward, his beer momentarily forgotten. “Explain, dude.”

“Okay, I know I’ve mentioned this to you guys before,” Elliott began, “But the Kalans have a deep deep cultural history in Ireland.”

“Wait, what?!” Stuart said.

“Yeah, there’s a huge Jewish presence out on the moors. Watch out we don’t bite you, or you’ll turn into a Were-Jew.”

“Is that, like, a man who only turns Jewish once a month?” Stuart asked.

“No, it’s just a guy who’s half Jewish. Like, his dad was Jewish and he never went to Hebrew school. Werrrrre-Jeeewwwww! Watch out! Don’t get bitten or you’ll be suuuuuch a disappointment to your mottttthhhherrr!” Elliott waggled his fingers in Dan’s face.

“I have a feeling we’re all disappointments to our mothers,” Dan said.

“Well, don’t bring the room down, Dan,” Elliott said, “I’m trying to explain my Irish heritage and my wonderful new castle.”

“Why do you get an Irish castle?” Dan said, “I’m the McCoy! Shouldn’t I get an Irish castle?”

“Gee, I don’t know, Dan,” Elliott said, “Why don’t you hop in a time machine and ask your ancestors to work harder? ‘Hey, Seamus McCoy!'” Elliott mimed knocking on a door, “‘Open up! It’s me, your great great great great grandson, Dan! Uh, I’m here to shame you for not being nobility! What? You want to burn me as a witch?’ Sorry, Dan, you’ve been burned as a witch.”

“Look,” Dan said, trying to get things back on track, “Did you or did you not actually -”

“Yes, Dan, it’s what I’ve been trying to explain to you. Castle O’Kalan has stood for hundreds of years, being passed from O’Kalan to O’Kalan by complicated lineage. I got a call this morning from a solicitor who informed me that my fifth uncle three-times removed -”

“That’s not really a thing,” Dan interrupted.

“My fifth uncle, three-times removed,” Elliott continued, “just passed away -”

“What was his name?” Dan asked.

“Uh, Dudley O’Kalan,” Elliott said.

Stuart choked on his beer.

“Dudley O’Kalan died in a mysterious accident. Apparently, through the twistings and turnings of our complicated, um, Torah-based Irish inheritance system, his castle falls to me. But, in order to claim my inheritance, I have to spend a night in Castle O’Kalan. However, I’m allowed to bring two retainers to spend the night with me and I choose you guys!”

“So, wait,” Stuart said, “does that make you a Lord? Are you Lord Elliott?”

“Yes, I’m a Dark Lord of the Sith. Darth Heritor. Because, by Sith naming convention I have to take a word that begins with “In” and remove the prefix. Beware my psychotic inheriting abilities.”

“Elliott,” Dan said, “We can’t just pack up and head out to Ireland. We have lives, jobs, families.”

“It’s one night, Dan. We’ll fly in, get to the castle – we’ll be so jetlagged, we’ll probably just fall asleep, wake up and the castle will be mine! I’ll have a castle and it’ll all be thanks to you two!”

“Can’t you ask your brother to go with you?”

“David? No, he’s not allowed to set foot on Irish soil.”

“What?!”

“Stop bringing up painful family secrets, Dan!”

“But, I – ”

“So,” Stuart interjected, “When do we leave?”

“I got us three tickets to Ireland, leaving tonight!”

“Tonight?!” Dan said, “I can’t just leave tonight! I have stuff I need to -”

“Tonight!” Elliott repeated.

“That’s cool,” Stuart said, “Can I finish my beer?”

*****

At seven the next morning, Dan, Stuart and Elliott – jet-lagged, achy and in the case of one of them maybe a bit hung-over – were packed in a cab and heading across Ireland for Castle O’Kalan. Their driver – an old man named Bill – was chattier than they were hoping, but pleasant enough. He had many tales about the moors surrounding Castle O’Kalan, which the men listened to as well as they could.

“And, that, lads, is why they say to never wear a shawl after sundown by Castle O’Kalan!” Bill let loose an uproarious laugh.

“That’s great,” Elliott responded. His extreme fatigue was beginning to wear on his sanity a bit. He wished he could sleep, but excitement combined with anticipation was making that impossible. Also, being hemmed in by his two compatriots on either side. Stuart was snoring lightly and Dan just stared out the window with a semi-shellshocked look on his face.

“So,” Bill said, “What bring ye lads out to Castle O’Kalan? Doin’ a wee bit o’ sightseein’?”

“Actually,” Elliott said, “My name is Elliott Kalan. I’m a descendant of Dublin O’Kalan, the original builder of the castle. I found out yesterday that I’m inheriting it.”

Bill didn’t slam on the breaks, but he did take his foot off the gas pedal and let the car slow to a halt.

“You’re inheriting Castle O’Kalan?” he asked. Elliott noticed that all the color had drained from Bill’s face.

“Uh, yep,” Elliott said.

“I – I’m sorry boys,” Bill said, “But, I’m going to have to ask you to leave my vehicle.”

Dan, who had been lost in his own thoughts, suddenly looked around.

“Hey, did we stop?” he asked.

“Yes, Dan,” Elliott said, “About five minutes ago.”

“Why are you getting out of the car?” Dan asked.

“Because Bill here has asked us to,” Elliott replied.

Dan looked at Bill. The old man’s eyes were watery and his hands were trembling as he opened the trunk and took the three suitcases out, setting them gently on the ground.

“Wait, you can’t ask us to leave your cab,” Dan said, “That has to be illegal or something! We’re in the middle of nowhere!”

“Geez, Dan,” Elliott said, “It’s modern Ireland. Way to insult this man’s entire history. Your country is a vast wasteland! We’re all in danger of being eaten by a grue!”

“Elliott,” Dan snapped, “We are at least ten miles from the castle. At least! We’re tired. Hungry. Stuart is barely able to hold himself up! How are we going to make it all the way to Castle O’Kalan? How?!”

Ten minute later, the cab was speeding away behind them and Dan, Stuart and Elliott were dragging their bags up the dirt road to Castle O’Kalan.

“I wish you dudes had woken me up sooner,” Stuart said, “I’d have tossed that cabbie around a bit. Maybe hijacked his wheels. We’d be sitting pretty all the way to the castle.”

“You’re drunk, Stuart,” Dan said.

“I’m not drunk,” Stuart shot back, “I’m hungover and angry!”

“No, no,” Elliott said, “Dan was calling you Drunk Stuart. You’re Drunk Stuart, he’s Mopey Dan and I’m Computer Kalan. We’re the new members of the Burger King Kid’s Club. Except, I should really be in a wheelchair. I’m Wheels Kalan. The gang just calls me ‘Wheels!’ I’m a computer whiz!”

“Why are you in a wheelchair?” Stuart asked.

“Per Nineties cartoon convention, every group of characters numbering more than five, has to have at least one kid in a wheelchair,” Elliott answered.

“Then, wait, was there always a drunk?” Dan asked, “I don’t remember many drunk kids on television in the nineties.”

“Well, of course you couldn’t see their illness, Dan. Geez. Alcoholism can be a silent addiction. Not all alcoholics are hilarious Andy Griffith Show caricatures. Have a little compassion!”

“But, I’m -“

“Any other groups you’d like to rag on? We’ve got quite a walk ahead of us. MAybe you’d like to dip into orphans.”

“Gross, dude,” said Stuart.

“Forget it,” Dan said.

“I’m just curious,” Stuart continued, “As to what you said to our cabbie that made him take off like that.”

“Nothing!” Elliott said, “I just mentioned that I’m inheriting Castle O’Kalan, he stopped the car, told us to get out and drove off! That’s all! I didn’t insult his mother or anything!”

“Maybe you should have,” Stuart said, “Maybe he’d be into that.”

The three men walked in silence for the next few miles.

“You know,” Dan said, “I would have thought we’d have seen some other cars or something by now. This isn’t exactly a deserted spot and Castle O’Kalan is listed as a semi-popular tourist attraction.”

“I don’t know what to tell you, Dan,” Elliott said, “I’m a powerful man but I don’t have control over the world’s cars just yet.”

“I’m just saying,” Dan started.

“Maybe they’re all at work,” Stuart said. “It’s a Friday and people usually work on Fridays. That’s a worldwide phenomenon, right? Work on Friday? It’s not some isolated American thing?”

“Yeah, these kooky Irish with their four-day work-weeks and easily frightened cabbies,” Elliott said, “Those are probably the two biggest Irish stereotypes: short work-weeks and easily spooked. That’s why the Notre Dame mascot is a leprechaun hiding behind a bush watching TV while outside the window you see kids going to school.”

“That’s a fairly convoluted shorthand for ‘four-day work week’,” Dan said.

“Well, in the fast-paced world of mascot design, you’ve got to hit your audience with your message and move on,” Elliott said, “If your sports team mascot doesn’t convey a) your contempt for a specific culture and b) how many days a week that culture works, it ain’t doing its job!”

Three hours later, Castle O’Kalan came into view.

“Thank god,” Dan said.

“Wow,” Elliott added.

“So,” Stuart threw in, “no one’s made a ‘Castle Freak’ joke, yet, because we’re not talking for the benefit of an audience, but if I may: ‘If that were my castle, I’d freak.'”

Indeed. The pictures the guys had found of Castle O’Kalan had in no way prepared them for the sheer immensity and presence of the ancient edifice. The structure stood at the end of the road, in the middle of a foggy landscape, surrounded by modern fencing. A small parking lot stood off to one side, but it was clear of any vehicles. The castle itself was large, grey, ugly and intimidating. Ivy clung to its sides. The windows, few though they were, betrayed no sign of life. Castle O’Kalan stood as a silent sentry. But, against what?

“Were we supposed to meet anyone here?” Dan asked.

“The solicitor told me a caretaker lived on the grounds,” Elliott said, “But, I don’t see any lights on inside. Maybe, he has a separate house or something.”

“Welp,” said Stuart, heading for the door, “Only one way to find out.”

“Find out what?” Dan asked.

“Whether or not this place is filled with g-g-g-ghosts!” Stuart answered. He rapped on the heavy wooden door.

There was a pause. Stuart had lifted his arm to pound again on the door, when the sound of a latch being thrown broke the silence. A loud metallic clanking noise filled the gloom and suddenly the door began to creak open, seemingly of its own accord. It scraped against the ground and the men could see that it was being pulled open by a series of chains and weights. Obviously, someone was inside operating a crank of some sort.

“Someone must be inside, operating a crank of some sort,” Dan said.

“Obviously,” Elliott replied.

The door stopped moving and stood open. Simultaneously, the guys leaned forward, trying to see through into the darkness.

“Hel-” Dan began, when a figure stuck his head around the door.

“Gah!” the guys cried out. Elliott pinwheeled his arms, lost his balance and sat down hard in the dirt. It wasn’t the sudden appearance of the man that had thrown him, but the fact that – except for the gray hair, mustache and stooped shoulders – he looked just like Elliott!

“Welcome,” the man said, “to Castle O’Kalan.”

Somewhere in the distance, a dog howled.

“Things just got spooky,” Stuart pointed out.

*****

“My name,” said the old Elliott-looking man as he poured the three guys cups of hot tea, “Is Dilbert O’Kalan.”

“That’s not a real name,” Dan said.

The old man looked up at Dan, “Sure it is, lad. My father before me was Smedley O’Kalan. His father was Scoop O’Kalan. Going back hundreds of years, the O’Kalans have had a presence on this island. ‘Twasn’t until the 1880s when Hawley O’Kalan set sail to Ellis Island to found the first – and, sadly, last – O’Kalan’s Haberdashery and Locksmithery, that we had a presence outside Ireland. Hawley’s people soon dropped the ‘O’ prefix. Wanted their name to sound a little less ‘ethnic’ they said. Hm. Well, in any case, he took with him to the States a branch of the inheritance line to this castle. See, it’s not a direct inheritance.”

Dilbert pulled a large, rolled-up piece of parchment out of a case by his feet. Carefully, he unrolled it on the thick wooden table around which the men were seated. On the parchment, lines intersected one another. Strange symbols and marking indicating who-knows-what seemed scattered across the surface as if at random.

“What the heck is this?” Stuart asked.

“This is the lineage calculator we use to determine inheritance in the O’Kalan family. It goes back to antiquity. Takes three scholars a year to calculate a single inheritance. That’s why we O’Kalans have learned to forgo the complicated process and make sure we don’t possess anything when we die. ‘Live Hard, Die Poor, Skip The Complicated Inheritance Process’ is what it says on our Coat of Arms. In Latin or somesuch. In any case, this is the map of your lineage, young Elliott. See? There you are in the whole morass.”

Elliott, who had been strangely quiet since Dilbert had answered the door, followed the old man’s finger to a triangular symbol on the parchment. In the middle of the triangle, a circle was drawn with lines radiating outward from its center.

“What does that symbol mean?” Elliott asked.

“Oh,” said Dilbert, suddenly looking apprehensive, “just, um, inheritor or something. Nothing. It’s a symbol. So. According to the rules of inheritance, you and your retainers have to spend one night in Castle O’Kalan in order for the castle to come into your possession. If you leave the castle for any length of time and for any reason, you forfeit . . . your claim.”

“Why did you pause just then?” Stuart asked.

“Pause just when?” Dilbert asked back.

“Before you said ‘your claim.’ It sounded like you were gong to maybe say something else and then you stopped yourself and said ‘your claim.’ Were you maybe going to, I dunno, threaten Elliott? Maybe say ‘your life’ or something instead?”

“No,” Dilbert said innocently, “Just, um, picking my words carefully is all.”

With one grand gesture, he swept the parchment up, rolled it back into a tube and secreted it away in his case.

“The castle has rudimentary toileting facilities, is lit only by candles and there is no cell reception or wi-fi. You are, for all intents and purposes, isolated. The larder is stocked for a day or two of eating. I will be leaving now and returning in the morning. If you leave the castle . . . I’ll know.”

“How will you-” Dan began.

“I’ll know!” Dilbert interrupted, “Rooms are upstairs. Three beds have been set up for you. Supplies for your quarters will be found in footlockers a the ends of each of your beds. This includes candles, matches, extra sheets, towels, etcetera. Any questions?”

The guys looked at each other.

“Uh, none,” Elliott finally said.

“Wonderful,” Dilbert said, “then enjoy your stay in Castle O’Kalan! And, I’ll see you on the morrow.”

And, with that, Dilbert left the castle and they were alone.

“That guy,” Stuart said, “Is the worst guy.”

“I know,” Dan added, “At first I thought he would be all helpful and charming, but then he ended up being condescending and kind of creepy.”

“Well,” said Elliott, “let’s get settled in. I’m so tired, I can barely think straight. I don’t even have a quippy comment for Dan.”

“I’d noticed,” Stuart said, “Are you feeling okay?”

Elliott thought for a second, “I was going to say ‘yes’ but that’d be a lie. I feel weird in here, guys. I’m kinda sorry I dragged you into this.”

Dan looked his friend in the eyes, “Elliott, it’s just a creepy old castle. We’re going to be fine. Nothing will hurt us and if anything tries, we’ll help each other out.”

Elliott looked back at Dan, “What are you talking about? Of course nothing’s going to hurt us! I’m not five, Dan. I know the Goosebumps books aren’t real! I meant I’m sorry I pulled you away from your lives, not dragged you into a haunted charnel house! Geez!”

Elliott walked into the hallway, “Let’s go find our rooms! Dan, I’ll try to make sure yours doesn’t have a secret passageway behind the bookcase with skeletons hiding inside! OooooOOOooooH!”

Dan just sighed and followed.

*****

DAN’S STORY

 “I’ll see you guys in the morning!” Dan called out of his doorway. His room proved to be less creepy than he’d anticipated. It was round, with a stone floor and walls. One small window looked out over the fog-shrouded landscape. A beautiful crimson rug ran most of the length of the room and decorative pennants hung from the stone walls. His bed was a large fourposter with an overstuffed mattress. An ancient brown chest rested at the foot of the bed.

Opening the chest, Dan felt a chill across the back of his neck.

“Great,” he said out loud, “A draft. That’s just what I need.”

The chest contained the candles and matches as promised. Also extra sheets and pillowcases. A small flashlight. And, curiously, a leather-bound journal and pencil. The journal was blank.

“Guess if I get in the mood to write, I’m taken care of.”

It was early evening, but the activity of the day had left Dan completely wiped out. He lit three candles, changed out of his travel clothes and threw on his pajamas. Normally, he’d stick with boxers and a t-shirt, but the draft he’d felt earlier made him realize how chilly it was growing. Strangely, it hadn’t been cold at all when they’d entered the castle, but now a strong chill was creeping up his spine. Even standing on the rug, Dan could feel the cold in his feet. He put on a pair of socks, grabbed his laptop and settled into bed.

Despite the lack of wi-fi, Dan had plenty of movies stored on his hard drive and he’s decided to pop one on as he fell asleep. Secretly, this was how Dan preferred to watch a film: on a small screen, through earbuds, all by himself. The guys were great and he loved his wife, but Dan knew the best audience was an audience of one. He called it the “Danience.” Sometimes, when a movie was over, he’d say, “What did the Danience think about that?” And then, depending on what he had thought, he’d respond, “I give it two Dans up!” or “I give it two Dans down!” Then, he’d laugh. It always cracked him up.

Tonight, the movie of choice was an old favorite “Aguirre, the Wrath of God.” He’d seen it a million times and Klaus Kinski’s portrayal of the crazed conquistador never failed to delight him as he drifted off to sleep. Unfortunately, his video player didn’t seem to be cooperating. He pressed ‘play’ over and over again, but no picture resolved itself on the screen.

“Come on!” Dan said, “Come on you stupid machine!” He clicked play again and again, but to no avail.

“Dang it!” he said, “Dang it all!”

Disgusted, he closed his laptop and turned to set it aside. That’s when he noticed the shape of the body in his sheets.

Dan’s blood went cold. There was someone under the sheets in the bed next to him. He couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman but he certainly hadn’t noticed anyone in the bed when he’d gotten in and no one had entered the room since he’d closed the door. And yet, by the flicker of the candlelight, there it was. A human form.

“I have to get out of the bed,” Dan thought to himself. He shifted his weight to one side and the body under the sheets . . . crawled. Just a bit. But, it crawled, pulling itself towards him with now visible hands and fingers. Dan’s heart began pounding. And the air in the room grew insanely cold. He breathed out and saw the frost form in the air in front of him.

Dan’s only thought now was to get to the door. Exit the room. Find the guys. The edge of his bed seemed miles away as he moved his leg to throw himself off.

The shape under the sheets scuttled toward him.

Dan froze.

The shape froze.

“Help,” he said, but his words were barely a chocked whisper.

“Hhhhhhllllp,” a voice came from under the sheets.

“Go . . . go away,” Dan said to the thing.

“Guuuhhhhhh whhhhhaaaaay,” the thing repeated at him.

Remembering the laptop in his hands, Dan raised the computer above his head and quickly brought it down onto the shape.

Not quickly enough.

A strong wind blew through the room, extinguishing the candles and causing the sheets to rise like a wave at the beach. Underneath, the body was visible, embedded in the other side. A desiccated corpse formed from the folds and weave of the bedding. It was a tangible nightmare; its face rotting and peeling away, it’s eye sockets dark holes and its teeth. It’s teeth gaped open in a silent scream or in a desperate hunger. Flapping as if propelled by an unfelt wind, the sheet corpse flew at Dan, wrapping his body in a constricting squeeze. Dan tried to cry out, but he felt the air crushed from his lungs. The sheet covered his face, and even in the darkness Dan could see the other face looking at him. It’s mouth so hungry. It’s eyes so empty. The cloth around him felt like arms, but too many arms. As his consciousness faded, he continued to kick and struggle against the thing in his bed.

Five minutes later, the sheets floated to the ground. The candles relit. And Dan was nowhere to be found.

Categories: Halloween Interlude, Halloween!, Horror, Just a stupid thing, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Halloween Interlude – Re-Animated

oak_leavesIt would be wrong to say that death was the beginning for me. Death was simply part of a much protracted end. An end that I face, but cannot see. Real sight is denied me, now. The dead have no useful eyes; for they are shunned by light. The dead have no love; for they are shunned by salvation. The dead have only blistering desire; for the dead are embraced by corruption. I carry corruption with me and it drips from my sagging flesh.

Sensation flooded my body when I awoke on that table in that room in the dim light of an oil lamp. I cannot, in truth, say what I felt for the emotions of the dead remain unnamed. As I remain unnamed. In life I was a man – that much is clear from a glance at my own anatomy – but in death I am nothing but a moveable husk. Naming me would akin to naming a pile of clothes or a gust of wind. Names are for those things we find important and that we wish to incorporate into ourselves. I am a dead man and none wish to incorporate with me.

I screamed. It was involuntary. A scream is the purist action a human body can take. It is a release of all tension and a denial of the exterior world by way of a corrupting propulsion of miasmic air and fetid sound. I screamed and flung my arms about hoping to find purchase on this world; something to grab, to clutch, to hold. An anchor.

The sound of footsteps. A door smashing against the wall. Shouting.

I rose.

A man’s arm wrapped around my neck from behind. I gripped the forearm in my hands, fingers like claws against his rippling muscles. He was strong. But, in death, one does not hold back. The impulses that drive the living to survive also keep their actions in check. Hands that can splinter wood resist splintering bone. Teeth that can tear meat resist tearing flesh. The dead have no such issues. To the dead, life is an obstacle that is best gotten over or gotten through. My fingernails easily tore his skin. I pulled his arm and he began shrieking. I found his bone and and gripped it as if it were a club. Pulling, I removed his arm from around my throat and from his own body. My power was immense.

The man was squealing on the floor at my feet. I took the forearm and drove it down into his chest, puncturing bone, lungs, spine. I pulled the arm free and thrust it down again and again and again until I was certain I shared the room with no more life.

At the edge of my hearing, a sound. People. More than a few. Several? They seemed far off but growing closer. I moved away from the voices and found a window. My legs were strong and they drove me through the glass. Shards cut my skin, but pain was no longer a concern. Neither was infection. I had no need to remove the glass from my body, so I ran.

A smell assaulted my nostrils. Decay. Stretching out before me. Woods. Forest. I plunged in.

I avoided the trees by the stench of their life. I clambered towards the fallen, the rot, the pulp. In death, the ground is your sky. The world is inverted and you long for the cool rain of dirt to clean your face and wash the water from your unseeing eyes.

A shout. I turned and charged towards the offending voice.

Meat met meat as I tore into the warm body before me. Barely had it time to cry out before I extinguished the horrible living, breathing, pulsating freshness it carried about the world. I had to, I needed to, obliterate the living. Warm blood cooled rapidly on my skin and coated me in the smell of purification.

More voices. More yelling. I ran. Although I was strong, I was not invincible.

Mud. Deep mud. A cover. I plunged in and buried myself in its cool depths.

Now, I wait. This is no life. But, I want no life. This is death and death is not the end. Death is a way-station. Death is a portal. I can no longer see the world of the living but the world of the living is limited. I will see beyond that world. That is my destination.

When night comes, I will rise. I will enter my new world through this old one.

Until then, I wait. And hate the living.

Categories: Halloween Interlude, Halloween!, Horror, Just a stupid thing, Just a VERY STUPID THING | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Halloween Interlude – No Interlude Today

There’s no Interlude today. I simply ran out of time between having to run home for lunch, the bank, last-minute projects and this . . . thing behind me.

I can’t see it. I can’t hear it. But, I know it’s there. Just out of my range of vision. Watching me and – here’s the weird thing – judging me.

It’s trying to come to some sort of decision and I am afraid that when it does, my life and the lives of everyone I love, may be in danger.

So, I sit and work and wonder what will become of me.

What will become of my family?

Oh, god, I feel its presence and I don’t like it. Not one single bit.

So, I write.

And write.

And write.

Categories: Halloween Interlude, No Interlude | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Halloween Interlude – Rock-afire Implosion

1359497031-screen_shot_2013-01-29_at_3.57.04_pmThere is no love in the eyes of a dying gorilla keyboardist. Those eyes cannot “feel” as we think of feeling. They certainly cannot love and they have no desire to.

“I’m fading,” Fatz Geronimo whispered as I cradled him in my arms, “Would that we had learned more from your world. Would that we had been open to learning.”

The old silverback coughed, a harsh metallic hack, and looked at me with a soulless gaze.

“Where is Dook?” he asked.

“Dook is . . . he’s safe,” I lied. I’d seen the dog take off in his rocket ship, fleeing the carnage, the devastation, the pain. His vehicle disintegrated before it ever reached the clouds. Sabotage. Your tax dollars at work.

Fatz took my hand. I knew that it was impossible for him to truly care – robots don’t care; they don’t do anything except what they’re programmed to do – but his touch felt sincere. I wanted to believe that he had compassion and empathy. And, there was no one around to contradict me. So, what was the harm?

“Find Mitzi,” he said, “Find Beach Bear. If Billy,” he coughed again, “If Billy hasn’t gotten to them yet, then join them. Help them fight. Help them . . . keep going.”

A shift in his position and the lights went out behind his beautiful eyes.

Above me, in the blackened sky, Looney Bird soared. She saw everything. She certainly saw us. Before long, Billy Bob’s creations would find me. I had no time to mourn my friend. Is that what he was? A friend?

“Goodbye, Fats,” I whispered into his unhearing ear.

I rose to my feet and surveyed the world, my world now.

Thirty-five years ago, a group of robots arrived on our planet to give us music and joy. To teach us what it was to be truly unified as a people. Instead, we corrupted them. Fats was wrong. They had been open to learning. They had learned . . . too much.

Behind a black cloud, the sun looked out. Its smile long faded, it cowered in the face of hopelessness.

I threw my pack over my shoulder, hefted the skee ball that now served as my only weapon, and began the long trek to –

To what?

Who knew?

I hummed to myself as I walked.

“Roast beef sandwich and a -”

Pizza.

Categories: Halloween Interlude, Halloween!, Just a stupid thing, Just a VERY STUPID THING | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Halloween Interlude – Wormy Boners

 ryLGMamPWn-4

What’s that sound on the bedroom door?
Ooooooh! Wormy Boners!
What’s that smell on the kitchen floor?
Ooooooh! Wormy Boners!

What made the dog scream with fright?
What keeps you sister up all night?
What wants in but it’s just too tight?!
Ooooooh! Wormy Boners!

Some say a boner with no worms in it
Is a boner only in name
Some may try wrapping their boner in worms
But, it isn’t the same
And ain’t that a shame?

So, why is that clown coughing up so much blood?
Ooooooh! Wormy Boners!
Why is my child buried deep in the mud?
Ooooooh! Wormy Boners!

Why did that baby doll rip off my skin?
Why are we just shells with no soul within?
Why is living a torment; a game we can’t win?
Ooooooh! Wormy Boners!

Categories: Halloween Interlude, Halloween!, Horror, Just a stupid thing, Just a VERY STUPID THING | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Halloween Interlude – Little House of Pancakes

ihop happy face pancake  Brad was having trouble picking out which breakfast he wanted from the 17 different options available on Jimmy’s menu. There was the Pile O’Cakes – a stack of eight pancakes, topped with butter, jam, syrup and sprinkled with powdered sugar, surrounded by bacon strips and hashed browns all served in a skillet. There was the Bottle Cake Platter – a plate of pancakes baked in glass bottles which are then shattered, revealing bottle-shaped cakes, served with bottle of international syrups surrounded by bacon, bacon-bits and scrambled egg hash. There was the Smile Face Pancake – a single pancake topped with ingredients arranged to look like, as the menu put it, “an actual living face!”

“What?” Brad wondered.

“I’m sorry sir, did you have a question?” the server asked.

“Yeah, does the Smile Face Pancake . . . is it any good?”

The server looked at Brad for a few seconds with an unsteady gaze.

“Sure,” she finally said, “Sure, it’s good.”

“Does it really look like an actual living face?” he asked.

“Sure,” she said again, “Sure it does.”

“Okay, I’ll try it,” he said. He wasn’t interested in the face so much as the serving size. One pancake he could handle. This place was ridiculous.

Ten minutes later, the server returned with a large plate. On the plate, was a large pancake. On the pancake was a human face.

“Enjoy,” the server said and ran off. Brad was momentarily surprised to notice she had tears in her eyes.

He looked down at his pancake.

Whatever ingredients they had used to make the face really worked. It looked, for all intents and purposes, as if his pancake had a real human face made of real human skin and real human muscle. He couldn’t figure it out but the effect was unnerving.

Raising his fork, he prepared to spear the pancake right in its too-human nose.

“Wait!” the pancake screamed.

Brad leapt about a foot and a half out of his chair. He looked around. None of the other customers had noticed him or, apparently, had heard the scream coming from the pancake. He looked at his plate.

The pancake had opened its eyes. They were real, honest to goodness, eyeballs. Looking up. Looking at him.

“Did, did you just say something?” Brad asked the pancake.

“I sure did,” said the pancake, “I said ‘wait’ because I wanted you to wait. I didn’t want you to stick that fork in me until I’d had a chance to talk to you.”

Brad didn’t really know what was going on, but he had never been spoken to by a pancake before so he had no frame of reference for this. Every impulse in his body told him to run, get the hell out of that restaurant, put as much distance between himself and the talking pancake as he could. Perhaps, call the police? But, again, no frame of reference. This could be some sort of magic wishing pancake. It could be the answer to his prayers. He’d be a fool to turn away from something so potentially life-altering as a talking pancake.

“Okay,” he said to the pancake, “What do you want to talk about?”

“You’re going to eat me,” the pancake said.

“No!” Brad said, “Not anymore! Don’t worry about that!”

“No, no, no! Shhhh. SHHHHH!” said the pancake, “It’s okay. It’s cool. I want you to eat me.”

“Wh – you do?” Brad said.

“Yeah, yeah. I waaaaant you to eat me. It’s what I’m here for. It’s why I was made. To be eaten. To be cut up into little pieces and shoved into your mouth and chewed and chewed and swallowed. Leh-leh-leh-leh-leh-leh.” Here the pancake was waggling its tongue in and out of its mouth.

“I – I don’t think I even could anymore,” said Brad.

“Oh, but you must!” said the pancake, “You must! You have to eat me. It’s the circle of liiiiiiiife! To not be eaten is the worst thing that can happen to a pancake! It’s torture to exist on this planet. We long for realease from our sweet sufffffering. Leh-leh-leh-leh-leh-leh-leh -”

“Okay, okay, wait,” said Brad, “Can’t i just feed you to a dog or something. I don’t think I can eat something that’s talking to me.”

“No!” snapped the pancake, “It has to be a person and that person has to be you! You, Brad!”

“How do you know my name?”

“All will come clear,” said the pancake. And it closed its eyes for a minute.

“Are you still there?” asked Brad.

“I’m thinking,” said the pancake, “and getting ready for this, the next part of my journey. Into your mouth. Over your tongue. It will be bliiiiissssssssss.”

“Well,” said Brad, unhappy with this whole mess, “how should I do it?”

“Cut me up!” said the pancake. “Cut me up and eat me! I’m deliciousssssss. Delllliiiiicioussssssssss.”

Brad wasn’t so sure about this. It seemed wrong to eat the pancake, no matter how much it implored him to. Plus, it was more a big face than a pancake. Honestly, it was so well crafted that it didn’t look like it was made out of batter at all. It was more a big piece of rubbery skin with a face in the middle.

“Come on!” shouted the pancake, “Come on, ya pussy!”

“You’re not making me want to eat you,” said Brad.

“I’m sorry, buddy. I’m sorry. I just want you to eat me sooooo muuuuuuch. Leh-leh-leh-leh-leh-leh.”

“Fine!” Brad shouted and he stabbed down into the pancake with his fork.

“Oh, yeah!” the pancake said, “Tear me apart! Yeah! YEAH!”

Brad cut and tore and ripped apart the pancake. A strange fluid that may have been buttery syrup drained from its cracks and crevices. Still, it continued shouting.

“Cut me, baby! Ah, yeeeaaaahhh! CUT ME UP! WOOOO!”

Brad finished cutting the pancake up into bite-sized pieces. Still, the yelling continued.

“Now, put me in your mouth! AWWWW, COME ON! Stick me in there yeeeeaaaahhhh!”

Brad started shoveling the rubbery chunks of pancake into his mouth feeling the fleshy matter slide over his teeth as the voice continued.

“Now, chew me up, yeeeaaaahhh! CHEW IT! CHEW!”

Brad started chewing and the voice got more and more excited.

“EAT ME UP! MMMMMMM. MMMMMMM! MORE MORE MORE MORE! SHOVE ME ALL THE WAY IN!”

Only wanting the yelling to stop, Brad forced the rest of the pancake into his mouth and chewed and chewed. He washed it all down with a great big glass of refreshing milk.

Sitting in his chair, Brad felt horrible. The thing he had eaten had in no way tasted like a pancake. It was more like old bologna. His stomach roiled. Brad glanced up, certain that the patrons of the restaurant would all be staring at him.

They were all staring at him. But, their expressions were blank. They simply gazed, with their eyes betraying no emotion. Brad’s stomach kicked. He felt like he was going to vomit.

He stood up and started walking towards the bathroom. His server was standing in his way.

“Excuse me,” he said, “I think I’m going to be sick.”

The server didn’t move.

“I have to get to the bathroom!” he yelled at her, and tried to push past.

The server grabbed his arm with vice-like fingers.

“Ow, hey, let go!” he said, “I’m going to throw uuuu -” he could feel the food rising up in his throat.

The server’s face opened up. Her jaw seemed to unhinge and her mouth fell open far wider than should have been possible. As Brad felt his hastily eaten horror-meal begin to shoot out of his face, she clamped her mouth around his and accepted the regurgitated meal into her hungry throat.

Brad was disgusted and horrified and could stop it all from coming back up and into the server’s waiting mouth.

When he had finished, she clamped her jaws shut and dropped Brad’s arm. He fell to the ground.

The server walked away into the kitchen area. Brad looked up. The rest of the restaurant’s patrons seemed frozen in place. Certainly, they were unaware that anything had happened.

Brad sat on the floor for a long while gathering his thoughts. No one seemed bothered by him sitting there, so he sat there some more. Finally, he picked himself up and started heading for the exit.

No, he thought this was stupid. He’d just eaten a talking pancake and them vomited it into he mouth of a person at their insistence! He turned around and headed towards the back. He was going to talk to someone about this.

Pushing through the door, Brad was stunned by what he saw.

A giant pancake, six feet tall if it was an inch, stood on end in the kitchen area. It had a giant face, not unlike the face on Brad’s own pancake. It had a little chef’s hat on it’s top edge. Before it, stood a giant silver bowl that the pancake was stirring with a large wooden spoon. It had no hands, but the spoon stirred anyway. Below the pancake’s mouth, a fleshy opening spilled an endless stream of thick sticky batter into the bowl. Every so often, a server would come by and scoop batter out with a cup and pour it onto a plate. The batter would bubble and form into a face pancake which the server then carried out to the dining room.

Brad was sickened by what he saw and was about to turn and run when he looked up.

High overhead, hanging from the ceiling, were dozens of servers, men and women. Their heads were thrown back and out of their open mouths long strands of batter held them firmly in place. Their bellies were swollen beyond belief. A quick perusal confirmed that his server was up there as well, her belly not quite as distended as the others.

While he stared, horrible sound began emanating from one of the servers in the back. A low, wet, ripping sound. With a sudden gush, the server’s body erupted, spraying human insides everywhere, all over the kitchen. In the server’s place, still hanging from the ceiling, was a giant pancake. A sudden scuttling noise alerted him to another pancake, this one with many legs, crawling up the wall. It cut the batter adhesive and the newborn pancake fell to the floor with a flop.

Knowing that this was probably his last chance to escape with his sanity, Brad turned and ran . . . straight into the pancake chef.

The giant pancake folded itself around Brad in some sort of pancake taco. Brad struggled in vain to free himself, but it was no use. His last thought was, “Great. I’m probably going to end up as one of the servers in this restaurant. That would be an obvious ending to this. Then I’ll go out and serve someone and they’ll ask for the face pancake and -” then he lost consciousness.

But, no. Brad woke up outside. He was covered in sweat and felt terrible. Behind him, Jimmy’s Pancake House stood, doing business as usual.

Standing up, Brad reached into his pocket for his keys. He found a folded piece of paper. Unfolding it, he read:

No one will ever believe you ate a talking pancake and then vomited that pancake into the mouth of a person so it could grow into a pancake monster that will serve as the chef at another pancake restaurant that is simply serving as a front for the creation of other pancake monsters so it is probably best you don’t tell anyone about it because that would be a really stupid story, Brad.

Brad agreed. It was a pretty stupid story.

Categories: Halloween Interlude, Halloween!, Horror, Just a stupid thing, Just a VERY STUPID THING | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Halloween Interlude – Halfway Up the Stairs

stairsbeforeandafterNever, never, never go up the stairs without Momma or Daddy. Going up the stairs in dangerous by yourself. You could fall down BOOM and hurt your bottom. Do you understand? You need Momma or Daddy to hold your hand until you’re a big girl and can hold the railing by yourself, okay? Okay? Never go up the stairs. It’s dangerous.

Once, Becca had picked up a piece of glass that was lying on the kitchen floor. Momma had dropped a jar and it had broken into two big pieces which Momma had swooped in and picked up. But, there was one little piece left and Becca had wanted to help Momma, so she’d picked it up and thrown it in the garbage. When she went to show Momma what she’d done, Momma had cried out, “Becca! Sweetie, your fingers!” and Becca had looked at her little fingers and seen that they were red, red, red. She hadn’t even felt the glass cut her, but she saw the red, red, red. Four hours later, she had two stitches, two Disney Princess bandages and a “you were a such a brave girl” Tootsie-pop. Not a terrible night for a toddler, all in all. But, the red had been bad. Red, red, red was bad, bad, bad.

And, now, there was a lot of red. Red all over the floor. Red on the walls. Red on Momma and Daddy. Red, red, red. And, even her little mind knew that this was worse than cuts on your fingers. This was bad, bad, bad.

Two nights ago, Momma and Daddy had told Becca that they weren’t going out that night with Mark and Jennie and their daughter Caitlyn. They had told her that Mark and Jennie and Caitlyn were all sick and that everyone had to stay inside so they wouldn’t get sick, too. It was a bad, bad, bad sickness; worse than the flu! And, the only way to keep from getting it was to stay inside. And, to stay quiet. So, they’d had to keep their lights off and their voices down. They couldn’t watch tv, but they let Becca watch shows on their travel tablet, which had a lot of old “Dora the Explorer”s on it, as long as she used the headphones. They never let Becca just sit and watch shows. But, Momma and Daddy seemed sad about something. And, Daddy kept checking his phone a lot. And, Momma kept trying to call Aunt Sheryl in New York. And, Becca was happy to watch so much “Dora” even though she’d seen them all before. She usually wanted to hang onto Momma, but something kept her back. Momma didn’t seem as cuddly as usual. And – and, Becca would never say this because is was rude, but – Momma smelled funny.

So, they’d passed the evening and the next morning. But, yesterday afternoon, Daddy had been crying and Momma hadn’t come out of the downstairs guest room, where they’d been sleeping. “Momma is sick,” Daddy had said. Becca had wanted to go see Momma and give her a hug but Daddy had told her no. He had said that Momma was so sick, that Becca could get it just by going in there and that the doctor was very busy and couldn’t help people right now. So, Becca just had to wait. And, stay calm. And, stay quiet. Whatever you do, sweetie, just stay quiet.

Morning came and went.

Lunch came and went.

Dinner came and Momma started making noises in the next room.

“I think it’s time for you to go to bed,” Daddy had told her. He made her a little pallet on the living room floor and said, “I love you, little girl. Have good dreams.” Then he’d gone into the kitchen while Momma made noises in the next room.

That night, Becca had dreamed she was a princess in a tower. The door was locked and she couldn’t get out. She cried out, “Help! I’m in here! Let me out!” And, finally, someone had come to let her out. They pounded on the door. But, Becca had grown afraid. She did not like the way they pounded on the door. A voice on the other side of the door had yelled, “No!” and there was a fight with yelling and grunting and scary wet sounds. And, then a crash of glass and

Becca woke up. It was early morning. The house was quiet. She slid off the couch and saw glass on the floor. And red on the glass. Carefully, Becca walked around the glass and put on her house slippers. She was cold and scared.

“Daddy?” she called out, but not too loudly because Daddy had told her to stay quiet so she wouldn’t get sick.

She padded past the broken glass and the red, red, red and saw the door of the guest room standing open. Daddy was on the floor. He looked funny. His face and neck were very red and all messed up. His eye – the one she could see – was open, but it didn’t look like it was seeing anything. And, he wasn’t moving. And, that made Becca feel strange and almost sad. Mostly, she felt worried and afraid.

Momma was lying in the floor as well, but she looked worse and Becca only knew it was her because of her nightgown. Nothing else looked like Momma. Her arms and legs, which were usually white and soft and perfect for climbing up on or cuddling into, looked twisted and torn. Her face was covered in Momma’s hair which was wet and sticky looking. When Becca could see of Momma’s face through the hair, looked wrong. Red was all over. Something had happened, but it didn’t make sense.

Becca heard a noise. Daddy was moving! For a second, Becca’s little heart filled with joy. Daddy was safe so Becca was safe! Daddy would be in charge and Becca could have breakfast and watch “Dora” and everything would be okay!

But, no. Daddy was wrong. He pulled himself up and made bad noises. His head didn’t sit up right on his neck. His arms were held at a strange angle. And, his eye . . . still didn’t see her.

Little Becca, all of two years old, backed away from Daddy. Daddy, whom she had loved without question, wasn’t Daddy anymore. His eye was wrong. His legs were wrong.

A noise from the living room made Becca turn her head. Glass. Someone broke glass. A hand was coming through the window. Becca looked at Daddy. He was moving towards her with strange unsteady steps. Steps like the little baby she had seen at the mall just last week.

Another noise came from the kitchen. Someone was pounding on the back door. Then more glass breaking. Then more. The back door broke open and a person walked in. He was red like Daddy and walking like Daddy and then more people came in – men, women, little kids. They looked confused and lost at first, but when they saw Becca, their bodies changed and they straightened up and moved toward her.

These people were not good. These people were wrong. They had too much red. Too much red on them.

Becca didn’t know where to go. There were people at the front door and anyway she wasn’t allowed to go outside by herself that was a Rule.

She couldn’t hide in the cupboard because she wasn’t allowed to open the cupboard unless Momma said it was okay that was a Rule.

The people were slow but getting closer. Becca turned around and saw the stairs.

You need Momma or Daddy to hold your hand until you’re a big girl and can hold the railing by yourself, okay? Okay? Never go up the stairs. It’s dangerous.

The stairs were a bigger no-no than the cupboard. She could walk up them if Momma held her hand, but they were so high. So high for such little legs. She could slip and fall and land BOOM on her bottom.

Behind her, the sound of shuffling increased. Becca was only two, but she knew that the sound was no good. No good at all.

She climbed the first step.

A mounting sense of panic filled her head. Every part of her was yelling at her to stop, stop, stop! She heard me Momma’s voice warning her, “Becca Lynn! You get off those stairs right now! They’re dangerous for little girls!”

Becca almost climbed back down. But, Daddy’s eye. Daddy’s leg. Daddy’s walk.

She reached out and touched the wall, lifted her knee alllllll the way up, as high as it would go and swung her leg onto the next step. Then she threw her tiny body onto the step and pullllled herself up.

The people in the house were coming around the bannister. If they were bad people, then they would try to grab her. If they got to close, they could grab her! She threw her leg up onto the next step and pulllllled herself up.

By this point, Daddy had reached the bottom step. Becca was climbing up the fourth step when Daddy suddenly pitched forward with a loud, “Rrrrraw!” Only, Daddy couldn’t hold himself up like he used to and he hit the stairs with his face. Something rattled down the steps and Becca didn’t realize it was a tooth; she only knew that a fall like that would probably make a big owie and that if Daddy had done that before today, he’d have said a bad bad word.

But, Daddy didn’t say anything. He was so close to Becca – only a foot away – but he seemed to not understand what had happened. His hands pawed uselessly at the stairs, trying to gain purchase but not quite sure how to use their fingers. they grabbed, but he didn’t know enough to push himself up, so he kept slipping and falling. Other people were arriving at the stairs by this point, but Daddy was blocking the way with his long legs and big feet kicking and scrambling.

Becca started to climb again. Her legs were fat and roly but full of toddler muscle. She didn’t tire easily and she never gave up. Momma had a word for it. “Per-sis-tint.” She was per-sis-tint and would not stop climbing these stairs.

Suddenly, Becca felt a tug at her little slipper. Daddy had shot out his left hand and grabbed Becca’s foot. He was trying to pull her down to his face! But, each time he tugged, he lost what little purchase he had on the stairs. Daddy tugged and tugged and Becca was scared that she would fall because Daddy was so strong even if he didn’t really know how to work his arms that well. She gave a couple of frightened kicks, and her slipper came off in Daddy’s hand. Daddy quickly shoved the slipper into his mouth, which Becca would have found funny a day or two ago. Now, it scared her more than anything. For, even though she was a little girl, she knew what that meant. It meant hungry. It was like when that old mangy dog had come in their backyard and grabbed a squirrel and shook it and shook it. That’s what Daddy did. Only he wanted that slipper to be Becca. He wanted to bite and shake Becca. His little girl! His sweetie!

In a rage, Daddy spit out the slipper, but doing so caused him to slide down the stairs the rest of the way. Becca scrambled up the next step and the next as the people from outside shuffled forward to fill the space that Daddy had left. They made such sad noises and sad movements. One by one, they hit the edge of the stairs and toppled forward, reaching for the little girl. they didn’t seems to notice Daddy on the floor at all and stepped all over him in their scramble to grab Becca and shake her with their mouths.

The stairwell turned at a big landing – what Becca always called “the square.” And now, she sat on the square watching the chaos happening a few feet below her. One by one, the people fell forward and found themselves unable to pull their bodies up the stairs. Soon, they started piling on top of each other, but that proved to be more of a hindrance than a help.

Becca, sat halfway up the stairs and watched her neighbors pile up. She looked up the stairway and saw the door of her bedroom, the hall leading to her Momma and Daddy’s room and the attic hatch.

There was nothing for her upstairs but her bed.

There was nothing for her downstairs but the people.

Little Becca, all of two-years-old, found herself with the hungry below and loneliness above.

As the light faded and the people surged, she fell asleep and dreamed of home and hugs and love.

Categories: Halloween Interlude, Halloween!, Horror, Just a stupid thing | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Halloween Interlude – The Sweet, Sweet Joy of a Small Child’s Tears

applause-482x298Jerry Gillespie had very little to worry about. In four short years, he’d gone from a being a minor YouTube celebrity with “Scary Jerry’s Pranks and Skanks” to the host of the seriously under-appreciated late-night comedy program “Very Late with Jerry Gillespie.” He was living the dream of any 13-year-old with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or whatever they were calling it, now. He’d actually wanted to call his show “ADD with Jerry G” then “ADHD with Jerry G” then “Strokin’ Out With Jerry G” but The Network had nixed those ideas because apparently people didn’t have any idea of what funny was these days. So, he’d compromised. Then he’d gone with what they said. Jerry Gillespie had learned, in these four short years, that success came with a bit of a price. And, that price was your integrity. Still, the exchange rate on integrity was quite high, so he wasn’t complaining. And, as a result of this exchange rate, he had very little to worry about.He was sitting in a chair that cost more than an entire month’s rent would have cost him four years ago. His office at The Network overlooked tourists scuttling about their boring ass lives, unaware that they were being observed by a man who would never have to voluntarily interact with any of them ever again. Four years. That’s all it took.

He’d started out making videos with his buddies of that would be described as “pranks” by the popular press but that he and his friends referred to as “attacks.” “Let’s plan our next attack,” was their usual call to arms. They had no money, just a camera and an insane love of watching idiots get on put over on them. In his time on YouTube Jerry had dressed as a bear to scare hikers, dumped fake blood on diners at a fast food restaurant, replaced soup with vomit (fake, duh) at a fancy New York soirée, and set up trip wires across a busy intersection that set off small explosions and tricked pedestrians into thinking there was a gunman firing on their crosswalk. That last one had gotten him arrested, but it had also gotten the attention of several networks that found his on-screen charisma and rugged good looks appealing in a late night sort of way.

Following a few appearances on the usual run of talk shows and some well received short segments on a couple of sketch comedy programs, Jerry found himself offered the lucrative position of talk show sidekick for another up and coming young comedian. He’d held out. His friends had thought he was crazy, but when that guy’s show bombed his gambit payed off. The hardest part about taking the job, was having to part with his old gang of accomplices. There wasn’t any room at the top for this many losers. So, he’d sent them all some very nice texts and put it behind him. Sometimes, he wondered how they were doing.

“Very Late with Jerry Gillespie” wasn’t an overnight success; it was an overnight smash. He played amazingly well with young men aged 15 to 35 with his crude humor, borderline racist jokes and visible disdain for Hollywood types and their stupid projects. But, he also scored with women aged 30 and up. He had a “bad boy you can tame” quality that the execs really liked and they pushed it to the limit by pairing him with older actresses and telling him to “Flirt, flirt, flirt!” Which he did. Jerry was a master at the underhanded insult and knew how to put a woman down while building her up. It worked at bars and it really worked with actresses. No one ever told these women they looked bad! So when he did, it was a novelty. No one ever told them they were boring or talentless or that their time was almost up. So, when he did, it was refreshing. Honest. Sexy.

Or, maybe it wasn’t and they were better actors than he gave them credit for. In any case, the ratings showed that audiences loved it.

But, in the end, it was the pranks that kept Jerry Gillespie on top. He still put them together, just like in the old days, but now he had a budget. He had effects. He had a team that was dedicated and paid and – this was key – easy to fire. And, they popped online. He was still a YouTube master, only now it was clips from his massively successful show that were getting the hits. Millions of hits.

And, it was Halloween season. The season of pranks. And, most importantly, the season of his most successful prank of all.

Last year, Jerry had had a revelation: people loved seeing their kids on TV, so offer them a chance to see their kids on his show! All they had to do, was prank their kids and he’d fill a segment with the kids’ reactions! The prank? The day after Halloween, tell your kid you’d eaten all their candy. And capture their response. Upload the reaction to The Network’s YouTube channel and he’d select the funniest. And by “the funniest” he meant “the meanest.” He wanted to see kids cry. It’s what he was hoping for, at least.

And, it’s what he got.

Thousands, literally thousands, of parents sat their kids down – little kids! – whipped out their phones and told their children they’d eaten all their Halloween candy. And, it was beautiful! Watching the faces of those children crumble. Watching their eyes fill with betrayal for the first time in their lives was gorgeous. Seeing the moment, the exact second, when a small child realizes that they can never fully trust the most important people in their lives again? Priceless. It was better than watching a virgin get deflowered. There was more pain, more tears and more shock and grief.

But, hey, Jerry Gillespie was a cynical bastard who hated kids. He made no bones about that. How would audiences react?

Numbers though the roof. An extended cut on YouTube. Outtakes on his show for weeks. A special home video release in December. A Christmas variation (which didn’t get a big a response; people weren’t so cool with painting Santa as a bad guy). And, hype hype hype all through this year’s month of October. Whaddaya know? People hate their kids! It was delicious. It was money in the bank. It was . . . time for a meeting with his producer.

“Pat?” he called into the outside office, “Is Pete Denton here yet? We’re supposed to go over tonight’s segments.”

Pat didn’t respond. Did she step out without telling him again? God dammit. He’d told her to stop doing that. Jerry got up and walked to his door. Pat wasn’t at her desk. But, sitting in one of the chairs, sipping on a styrofoam cup of coffee, was an old man in a long brown coat. He had a floppy brown hat in his lap; his hair was gray and scraggly; and a three day growth of beard covered his lower face. He looked like a bum. Like one of the guys Jerry and his friends used to enjoy pulling “attacks” on. The homeless were easy targets and usually good sports about things if you gave them a little bottle of something afterwards.

“Uh,” Jerry said, “Hey. Did you see a woman in here?”

The old man stared into his cup of coffee and didn’t respond. How had he gotten all the way up here? How had he gotten past security? Jerry still had to show his ID badge at the front desk and his picture was plastered all over the outside of the building!

“Hey, man,” he said, “Can I help you?”

Jerry was getting a little angry, but the guy was big and probably mentally unstable. If he didn’t say anything soon, Jerry was going to have to call someone up. He didn’t need this shit.

“Look, man, if you’re not going to talk to me – I’m Jerry Gillespie. I can get you help if you need – do you need something from me?”

The old man seemed to light up a bit at this question. He looked up in a way that Jerry wasn’t too happy with. He’d seen nature documentaries about wild animals hunting for smaller animals and when a smaller animal finally came into view, the predator usually tensed up like this guy was doing now. But, it was a happy tension. An excited tension.

“Sir?” Jerry said. He was getting a bit nervous and figured politeness was the best way to go with this.

With a steadiness that unsteadied Jerry’s nerves, the old man turned his head and looked at the talk show host.

“Come with me,” he said. And Jerry went with him.

*****

It was dark where they were. Save for the burning eyes.

Cut as if from the darkness themselves, the eyes were malevolent slits of fire that shifted with incalculable rage and ferocity. They focused their gaze on what was before them and what was before them was Jerry.

A deep rumbling filled Jerry’s head at a pitch so low his teeth shook in their sockets. It was many seconds before he registered the sensation as the voice it was.

“C – come again?” he stammered.

The rumbling began again, and this time Jerry was able to hear the words “failure” “deception” and “punishment.”

“I,” Jerry said, “I couldn’t quite make all of that out.”

Jerry felt a hand on his shoulder and wished he hadn’t. He’d forgotten about the old man in the brown coat. He’d forgotten, well, a lot of things. How had they come here? Where were they? Where were his clothes? Where was his body? Th old man’s fingers squeezed Jerry’s shoulder, so it had to still be there at least.

“He says,” the old man intoned in a voice barely more than a whisper, “that you are a failure and that your deception will result in a swift and unending punishment.”

None of this was making any sense to Jerry.

“What – what failure?” he asked. “What did I do?”

The eyes, the bright yellow-orange eyes floating in the darkness, narrowed to slits. The rumbling voice spoke one word.

“Halloween,” it said.

“Halloween,” Jerry repeated.

“You’ve been judged guilty,” the old man calmly said, “Guilty of violating the trust and sanctity of this most sacred night. What other night allows children the freedom to don guises that reflect the terror with which they face the world each day and to venture out into the night at sources of fright rather than receptacles of fear? What other night belongs to the young and bids them take candy from strangers secure in the knowledge that whatever they receive will be safe to consume? What other night relies entirely on that most ancient of bonds, the bond between host and guest? What other night, man?! What other night?!”

“Um, Christmas?” Jerry said.

“Christmas!” the old man spat, “Christmas is a fool’s day where the fat get rewarded for their year-long gluttony and the poor receive nothing but the reminder of a hard year to come! Christmas is a dilettante’s idea of grace! Halloween, however, is a pact! A pact of trust! A pact of work and reward! A pact of community! It unites the living under the umbrella of the dead. And those who violate that pact, that trust, are the worst offenders of all. You, Jerry Gillespie, stand accused and tried of violating the sacred pact of Halloween. You broke the ancient bond. You feasted on the tears of children during the one night set aside for a child’s joy. You are a monster on a night of monsters and will be punished!”

“Hey, I didn’t make those videos!” Jerry said, having seen where all this was coming from, “I just had an idea! I didn’t make one kid cry! Everyone else did! I just put them out there! I didn’t do anything wrong!”

“We understand,” said the old man, “Now, join the rest of the accused and accept your punishment.”

Jerry looked around and suddenly he could see. Or, he could see something. It was a line of people, mostly adult men, stretching off to either side of him. They looked haggard and defeated and he supposed that must be the way he looked as well.

“Who are they?” he whispered.

“People who would turn our night into a source of pain for the young. You do not need to know their crimes; some are benign while many are harrowing. We protect the young on one night. Now, accept your punishment.”

The glowing eyes grew in radiance and below them a wide grinning mouth split the empty air. The mouth grew in size, preparing to engulf the line of transgressors.

“I don’t accept!” Jerry screamed. “I don’t accept!”

“Then, learn,” the old man said.

And Jerry was taught. He was offered a vision of each child from each video. He was given that moment of realization. That moment of betrayal. And he was given them as if they were his own. But, these moments went beyond the videos. For, not every parent had submitted their pranks. Many had been gripped with a deep sense of shame at what they’d done and had abandoned the plan. But, Jerry was given their child’s pain as well. And Jerry learned. He learned that the sweet, sweet joy of a small child’s tears comes with a heavy price. And, usually the child pays the price. But, on Halloween the exchange rate sometimes gets skewed.

As the gifts arrived in Jerry’s head, he floated toward the open mouth. Now, he understood. Now, he knew. Now, he accepted his punishment.

*****

Jerry Gillespie had a lot to worry about. In four short months, he’d gone from a being a successful late-night comedy host to sitting in a small room in Brooklyn, watching his bank account dwindle and refusing to accept calls. He couldn’t go out. He couldn’t talk to people. He couldn’t trust anyone. Anyone could be lying, he’d realized. He was living the nightmare of any child who’d been betrayed over and over and over again. His shrink had diagnosed it as PTSD, but Jerry couldn’t pinpoint anything that might have caused it. Nothing bad had ever happened to him in his life. But, his doctor had said it was as if he’d been traumatized repeatedly form a very young age. Soon, Jerry stopped trusting him. Jerry Gillespie had learned, in these four short months, that success came with a bit of a price. And, that price was trust. But, the exchange rate on trust was quite high. And, as a result of this exchange rate, Jerry Gillespie had a lot to worry about.

Categories: Halloween Interlude, Halloween!, Horror, Just a stupid thing | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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