Monday, April 24, 2017

Night Suntan

There is a place back behind the old Lochiel Hotel where some disused railroad tracks have been rusting away for over a century in an overgrowth of wild trees and scrub.

If you stand there for an hour or so in the middle of the night, even the darkest night, in the morning you will find you have a suntan.

Or rather, you will find in the morning that you have what looks like a suntan. It may be a slight reddishness, but it will be noticeable.

It doesn’t matter what clothes you wear. It doesn’t matter whether or not the moon is shining, whether it is summer or winter.

You just have to stand back there, behind the Lochiel Hotel, in the right place. The place where it happened.

You see, that is where two trains collided in the middle of the night, over a century ago. One train was filled with sleeping passengers. And the other was filled with freight. When they collided, one train poured its steam into the other one, the sleeper train, and roasted alive the people in there. The victims of the train wreck looked like hot dogs which had been boiled.

If you bring an old radio back there and listen through the static on the A.M. side, you can sometimes hear voices from the accident. There is one man’s frantic voice which keeps crying out, “Tell Alice! Tell Alice!”

Five of the victims from the wreck were never identified and are buried in a cemetery nearby. It is believed that the “Alice” voice people hear on A.M. radio is the voice of one of the men buried there, a young man who never made it home, still trying to find a way to explain to his wife or girlfriend what happened to him over a century ago.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

I Had an Evil Doll Once

I had an evil doll once. It strangled my best friend’s dog. It was with Katie when she disappeared on the hiking trail. They haven’t found her bones yet, but soon the heavy snows will melt away from the woods. It’s almost spring. She should come up fresh as wintergreen.

My parents started to get suspicious after Katie. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when the doll killed them. I was surprised anyway. He made the fire look like an accident. He woke me where I had just enough time to escape, but where I could do nothing to save my parents. Or my little brother. I opened my bedroom door and the house was just a total conflagration. I had no choice but to escape out my window.

The doll’s, I mean the killer’s, name is Vlad. This horrible homunculus was given to me by my creepy Russian grandfather, just before he choked to death on a bunch of sardines. Go figure. Of course, the doll was there when he died. We found it sitting on his chest. I can still hear my mom screaming when she found them that way.

The doll looks like a little well-dressed banker. He looks like a little guilty man pretending to be innocent. I was so happy when he disappeared. I didn’t care if the police had him or even if he had gone and thrown himself into the river or even burnt himself up. Good riddance! I was so happy. Past tense.

Because just Tuesday I saw him again. I saw him in the park. I don’t think he noticed that I spied him. He was hiding in some shrubs. But I saw what he was doing.

I know exactly what he was doing, what he is planning. He’s watching my new family. Anybody that likes me, he’ll come for them. Sooner or later.

My one uncle is really starting to get on my nerves. He keeps calling me and bugging me with questions about my parents’ deaths.

I think he’s gone senile. Because whenever I mention Vlad or my Russian grandfather, he gets upset. He keeps insisting there never was any doll in our house and that I don’t even have a Russian grandfather.

I wish someone would help that poor guy get his head checked.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Atonement Room

My colleague from overseas was explaining the origin of the atonement room and its place in posthumous spirituality.

In his country of origin, people would construct a miniature house or sometimes a single room next to the grave of a man or woman who had died in a torturous way. This could be the grave of a murder victim or it could be the grave of a tortured soul who had been a murderer in life.

The idea was that the soul which crossed over through such a terrible absence of grace might be blinded, stunted, trapped down there in its grave, trying to work out the sum of its terrible end on earth, asking itself over and over why its life had been so horrible that it existed on even now as this echo of discontent. We are talking about those souls in a kind of purgatory or bardo hell.

The houses would be charming little creations, miniatures for sure, so small that not even a four year old could enter one. There might be cheerful, tiny curtains set in a little kitchen window through which one could spy a cup of tea waiting on a lovely table with a brilliant centerpiece of red and green and purple. This might be tea laid for the soul of a savage man who killed seven teenage prostitutes. But the idea was that here his soul would reflect, in this sweet house of eternal domesticity. The idea was that he might be liberated, his soul somehow repaired and fit once more to face God. What kind people these peasants must have been who could practice such generous, spiritual rites.

My colleague friend went on to explain that sometimes you would even see several little houses in a row next to the grave, each consecutively larger, for the soul to adjust its residency here on earth in careful increments, like the stages of pupa, chrysalis and imago in the insect.

These I thought of as serial nunneries, insect dollhouses, boxes preparing the post-mortal soul to slowly take on its true dimensions of sky.

Our experiment was set to coincide with his country’s traditional Atonement Day, when many citizens set aside a special room in their home for the welcoming of a troubled spirit who could seek atonement over the course of one night, star-rise to star-fall.

My colleague led our version of this experiment and set up a separate room at our university with some dummy controls. You darken a room, he explained, and you gather the members of the seance. You target the individual you wish to help spiritually advance on this night where we were to be (lore maintains) assisted by angels.

Our group had selected the soul of Mary Ulweather, the “Hatchet Widow of Elmo,” as our star sinner for the night. Elmo was a small town near our university that boasted several centuries of paranormally-tinged history. Mary went through four husbands in her lifetime. Three went missing, as did the fourth, but since he was recovered with a hatchet in the back of his head, she was sentenced as a four-time murderer and hung on the outskirts of the only town she had ever known.

She had been known to manifest for centuries, virtually non-stop since her death, in various parts of the town. Her spirit had been blamed for more than one suicide, more than one murder.

Mary hadn’t been penitent at the time of her hanging, but we all hoped that four centuries of unrest had perhaps brought her soul closer in tune with the idea that confession and redemption could set her soul free.

We sat down and began the seance and it did not take long at all for Mary to manifest vocally and even visually. Several members of the parties received nasty cuts on their legs and forearms. But these were like paper cuts, only discovered after the seance. It hadn't felt like much of anything at the time, just some cloth brushing us. We figured it was the confusion of emergence for Mary. It must be a strange feeling to be pulled between worlds like that.

Following our colleague's instructions, we did not interrogate Mary. As soon as she manifested, we fled the room and sealed it shut. It was a windowless room. We left the candle burning. We knew we could not film the goings-on are we would all be at spiritual risk. But we could listen at the door as the long night passed.

We were all very pleased to hear Mary crying in the room at various times throughout the night. She would suddenly weep and wail. The walls would shake as presumably she pounded them. It was as though she were beseeching heaven for something. Surely it must be grace.

We waited until we heard the call of a crow (actually brought to the university expressly for this experiment!) and then we knew it was safe to open the door. We rushed in, hoping to find testimony. It was said that tortured saved spirits often left notes of gratitude in the atonement room to angels, their Maker, even the souls who had helped them achieve atonement. Would we get a Thank You note from Mary?

What we saw on the table in the center of the dark room, the site of our last night’s seance, was the paper we had left. There were bloody fingerprints all over the pages and words in an almost indecipherable red scrawl.

“Can anyone read what she’s written?”

“I know the witch’s handwriting,” said Julie, with a dark expression.









So we counted our experiment half a success. We had managed to acquire a subject for the trail run of the atonement room.

We had failed, however, in finding a soul desiring atonement.

But we figured there was always next year.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Her Boyfriend Went MIssing

Her boyfriend had gone missing. Lovable, nerdy Adam. She had gotten a dog right afterwards. She’d take him with her everywhere. Even in the car. Really, can you blame a girl for wanting to feel safe? But here’s the weird thing. You’d only see her walking the dog or taking him out to the car with her at night. I guess night is the scariest time. But we all wondered: wasn’t she afraid to be out at night like that after her boyfriend had just vanished?

Many people thought it had been a drug hit or the work of the mafia. You know how people always talk that crap. It’s natural to want to blame the victim. He must have been doing something wrong. It gives one a smug feeling of safety to say that and try to believe it.

You must have seen the MISSING posters put up all over this apartment complex and half of the city by Adam’s parents, siblings, friends and coworkers. It was like the dude had just walked off the planet. At twenty-eight. And most of his friends kept saying they were sure he was dead. Because he wasn’t the type to just thoughtlessly vanish like that. Grace didn’t seem to care, wouldn’t participate in the searches for him. She told the police and the media he had just up and left her. She wished him all the best. But she didn’t really care anymore where he was. It was no longer her business. That’s all she’d say to people when they asked. She seemed to believe he was fine.and just living a new life somewhere else. A few gullible people bought this explanation. Most didn’t.

Everyone said they had had a really weird relationship. What people whispered on the grapevine was that she was a crazy domme. They said that was extremely dominant to the point where Adam’s friends believed he had been swallowed up by her. They were sure it was an unhealthy relationship. They even felt he might be in danger. But Adam always told those friends to let him live his life. He said he could handle it. We’d see him with black eyes. His left arm was in a cast for a while. The BDSM lifestyle is one thing. This was another thing altogether. But Adam always told his friends he was getting what he wanted from Grace. He didn’t mind, he said, if people thought he was a freak for enjoying the abuse she inflicted on him.

Yeah, she was a beauty. Grace was. No denying that. Amy Winehouse goddesss hair. Those ridiculously long legs of hers were usually in the sexiest boots. I’d see her smoking a cigarette at night while she walked that dog in one of her short little skirts. I live in that complex too. The one where Adam used to live with her. Some people say she killed him. Or that one of her lovers did. That they’ll find his body in the bay, if they ever find him at all. She always did look like trouble to me. I won’t deny that.

But last night I learned that she’s much worse than that. And he’s not dead at al.. Killing him would have been much kinder.

I was getting back to my apartment from a night jog. She was walking her dog, that big muscular beast we all thought she had bought for protection. I had always wondered what breed it was. I glanced their way to see, since Grace and the animal reached the streetlight at the corner nearest our apartment building at the same time as me. She hadn’t seen me coming up the shadowy side street. She gasped and pulled on the dog’s chain to hurry him away from me. It was one of those long, retractable leashes. I realized then what had happened to her boyfriend. I knew what had happened to Adam.


Talk about the ultimate sub. I wondered how many surgeries it had taken to make him look like that. And what sort of doctor could bring himself to do something like that to a human being? How did they get the fur to grow all over his body like that? He even had a tail. God only knows where that tail flesh came from. Or how those paws had been constructed from what had been Adam’s hands and knees. Now I knew why Grace only took the dog out at night. All I know is that when she whistled, he went running after her, tongue hanging out.

Tongue hanging out.

I really hate to admit this. But he looked like a very happy dog.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Creatures on the Roof

When our mother died in that terrible spring, the one with the record level flooding, my sister Rosalie and I inherited our crazy aunt Esther from her.

Mother had warned us that the responsibility for Aunt Esther’s care would devolve upon my sister and me. She let us know that her older sister certainly had her “peculiarities.” She had wanted us to be familiarized with Aunt Esther’s crotchets before we began helping the octogenarian in the ways mother had outlined for us before she lost her bravely-fought battle with cancer.

Of course, we knew Aunt Esther. We had known her all our lives. It’s just that we rarely saw her, except at the occasional family gathering. So we didn’t really know her all that well, notwithstanding the blood relation. Truth be told, Esther had always been a bit of a recluse.

She lived in the house she had inherited from our maternal grandparents. All her life. Since she had had no children, she had no heirs, mother explained, so we would inherit the house upon Esther’s death. We didn’t have to do much by way of actual personal care. Mother had arranged for two neighborhood girls, Meg and Aurora, to act as personal care assistants (and also perform light housekeeping functions) in morning and evening shifts. We simply had to make sure the house bills and the girls were getting paid. We had to make sure the little bit of yard work (lawn mowing in summer, shoveling in winter) got done. This we could either do ourselves or delegate. And we had to be there for Aunt Esther when she called, which initially was not often.

Mother had made us promise not to send Esther to a nursing home unless it became “absolutely necessary.” She had told us that many people had insisted our aunt was suffering from dementia. But mother insisted that Esther always did just fine with a little bit of help. It couldn’t be real dementia, she promised. It was just the fogginess of age. We had nodded our acquiescence to this wish, just before mother died. So it was a sacred vow. We felt duty-bound to honor it. Rosalie and I would come to regret this. By the next summer, we become convinced that our mother could not possibly have had a real conception of how poor Esther’s mental faculties had become.

Both my sister and I began receiving barrages of phone calls from our frantic aunt, at all hours of the night. She would rant about “the creatures on the roof.” She insisted there were some unidentifiable little beasties scrambling over her roof at night. It had been going on for quite some time, years in fact, but she hadn’t trusted us enough to tell us. At first.

As soon as caregiver Megan went home, it would begin. The creatures would seek her roof then. And then she would make those terrified phone calls to us. Rosalie told her that it must be squirrels. Or some larger species of bird. Turkey vultures were known to perch on roofs in our area.

“They have huge claws to match their ridiculous wingspans,” Rosalie explained to her.

“No, no, no!” Esther would shout at us through her old landline (she didn’t even know what a cell phone was). “These are different things altogether! I’ve seen them more than once. In darkness, yes, but I saw their forms. They were little creatures, like little men, like children…but not quite that. Their faces are unformed. They can draw their faces with their fingers. I saw one of them do that once. Just drew itself a human face while I stared at it through a window. It gave itself a child’s face. A little girl’s face.”

We had gone through the mythological catalog together, Rosalie and I, to get a little humor out of the situation. Gremlins? Trolls? Elves? Evil sprites? What magical beings could crazy Aunt Esther be entertaining on her roof? Should we show her an encyclopedia of magical beings and ask her to select the critters that most resembled her nocturnal visitors? (We would never actually be so cruel.)

But Aunt Esther’s phone calls really began to get under my skin. I hate to confess that I went and talked to someone on my own. Without even consulting Rosalie. I sat down with a social worker and we had a serious discussion. It was decided that an evaluation should be done on our aunt. Her mental faculties should be checked and we could decide where to go from there.

Rosalie was angry at me for going behind her back on this, but I also sensed a bit of a relief. We knew something had to give. We were getting phone calls all night long from Aunt Esther. Almost every night. She had begged both of us to leave our homes and families and come over in the middle of the night. She wanted us to bring guns. To shoot the creatures off the roof! Imagine. Save that story up for the competency hearing, I thought.

“You don’t understand,” her frail voice would explain through the wires. “They come and steal your memory. When you sleep! Once I woke up and there were wires going into my head! Into my brain! Do you understand? They steal your memories. That’s why I am the way I am now. That’s why I forget things. If you would just kill them, I’d get better. They did the same thing to Norma across the street. She saw them on her roof too. And then she just lost her mind altogether. She’s in a home now. I told father when I was a child I heard them on the roof and he admitted to me he knew they existed.”

“Wait? Are you saying Grandpa Lutz saw these creatures, Esther?”

“Yes, they came for his sister back in those days. Don’t you remember? She lost her memory before she was forty. Don’t you remember what happened to your great aunt Melissa? They steal your memories to help them pass. They pretend they’re children. People even adopt them. I’m not the only one in this family who knows the secrets. I was taught as a child. They follow our family for some strange reason. For heaven’s sake, I’ve thought of burning the house down. I told Father he built the house too close to those woods. When Reuben was alive, he would keep a gun trained on the woods at night. He even killed a few of them. But they’d pick up their dead and run with them. You have no idea how fast they are. You don’t know these family stories. You see how close the woods are to the house. They come out of there at night. They live in the trees. They travel from the trees right onto the roof. They just sail right over…”

I had to hang up. It was making me nauseous to hear what an insane hell the poor woman lived in. Medication could help her. It could calm her down, even if it couldn’t restore her grip on reality. It was time to move on a new plan. Rosalie agreed. We had honored our promise to our mother. It was now “absolutely necessary” that Esther live in a structured, safe environment.

It was a little difficult legally, and emotionally difficult as well, but we did get Aunt Esther into a very nice nursing home. She had tried to fight us a little, at first, but ultimately she capitulated. She said she wanted to get away from the creatures. “Maybe I will get my mind back now,” she said, pitifully, as they took her away.

Rosalie and I were going through my Aunt’s things, preparing the house for an autumn sale, when we came upon something surprising. We hadn’t expected our Luddite aunt to own a digital camera, but there was a small one resting on the writing desk in her bedroom. Rosalie turned it on and showed me the photos our aunt had taken of the flowers in her garden. We both got a little teary-eyed at that. She had always loved her garden. It was still beautiful. I looked at this year’s sunflowers from her bedroom window. It could be a Monet postcard, that garden.

Rosalie made a strange sound then. A sort of raspy, choking sound that made me swivel around, fast.

“My God, please tell me what this is?” she whispered throatily.

When I looked at the sequence of photos which Rosalie had just thumbed through, I wondered briefly if we had been pranked for the strangest reality t.v. show ever. But I knew it really wasn’t so.

The photos which had caused Rosalie to choke were of Aunt Esther’s roof, clearly taken from the backyard of the house at night. The flash didn’t illuminate all that well, but one could see pale forms, pale bodies turning away, fleeing across the roof. These were bidpedal….things. The worst photo was the one where you could see the blurry outline of one of those things silhouetted against the window, inside the house.

Aunt Esther later made a miraculous recovery. She did not have dementia. She had suffered some memory loss, but her cognitive function overall was very good. We managed to get her upgraded to a very nice retirement community with the sale of her house. We found her demeanor changed with time, much better, although she still wanted to talk of her experience with the creatures. She told us that a few days before she had been forcibly removed from her home she had finally killed one of them (with a bronze bookend!) and had managed to hide it quickly under her bed before the others saw it and had a chance to collect its body on their retreat. She had buried it in her garden. She paid a neighbor boy five dollars to dig a hole. She told him it was for a dead pet. He never saw what she buried. She said it had “no face at all.”

We asked her why she didn’t tell us that. Why didn’t she call us over to show us the proof that she had been telling the truth all the time. Esther said she had become resigned to leaving the family home, that she was exhausted, and she hoped the things would just leave her in peace, not follow her.

“Anyway,” she explained, “the corpse began to shrivel up immediately after death. By morning the thing had flattened out like an old balloon and looked more like a miniature scarecrow made of rags than any real creature. It looked nothing like it did when it was alive. Most people who would have looked at what I pulled out from under my bed the next morning would think it was just a pile of dirty old rags sewed together by a crazy old woman. So I just buried it.”

Rosalie and I still dare each other (three years later) to go over there and dig it up. Maybe science should have it. Wouldn’t DNA testing tell us much? If the thing even has DNA in it, that is. But the house has a new owner now. Should we have made full horrid “disclosure” before finalizing the sale?. Anyway, it would be awfully hard to explain to that family what we were doing in their backyard with a shovel.

Rosalie and I often wonder if she was right about how they move among us later, after they have absorbed enough faux human memories to pass as human children. And we often wonder what “lucky parents” are adopting these children who grew up in the cold, night trees?

Most of all, we wonder if Esther was right about these things having formed an attachment to our family. We wonder whether we will ever wake in the night to hear the sounds of those things coming for our memories. And neither one of us lives next to the woods. Nor will we ever. I promise you that.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Goinz (Rhymes with "Coins")

I remember the day our young neighbor Rob came running through our backdoor as if he was being chased by the Devil himself. He was trampling snow everywhere, his cheeks bright red and his face a study in terror.

“Oh. Mr. and Mrs. Geddes, I’m sorry to barge right into your home like this, but my parents aren’t home right now, and I think maybe you should call the police!”

We asked the boy what he had seen as we locked the door behind him.

“Oh, it was so weird! We were all done sledding on Bancroft Hill, and just as we were walking home along the edge of the woods by the cemetery, we heard the weirdest sound ever in there. In the woods. It wasn’t like any animal we had ever heard before, any of us, and it wasn’t a man. At least, I don’t think it was a man.”

My wife shuddered.

“What did it sound like, boy?” she asked.

“Oh, terrible. Like a wolf and a lion and a man all at once. But not quite that. I can’t explain it. But that wasn’t the worst part. You see, we looked into the woods and there was a snowman in there. None of us had made it. Nobody knew who had built it. It was just there. And then when that sound came, some sort of creature came out of the snowman! It was all just some sort of camouflage. What sort of person could stand the cold, being in there like that, or who could even breathe inside a snowman?”

I didn’t want to have to explain to Rob about The Goinz. But I knew I must. For his safety. I made the boy swear that he would not tell anyone I was the one who had told him. Because I knew the sort of fightback he (and I) would get. But I figured he deserved an explanation. And a warning.
I told Rob that The Goinz live in the woods. And that they hunt in packs in the winter. That’s when they store up their meats for the rest of the year. It’s believed they lead a subterranean existence, but no one is really sure. We only have a few citations down the centuries in the folklore of this community.

I told Rob that The Goinz (rhymes with “coins”) select one of their number to pack the others up in snow to make them look like snowmen. They set these up all around the forest. Usually, they’ll use stones for noses. They’ll never have carrots, because they’re The Goinz. That’s one way to tell a Goinz snowman.

When a child (or sometimes even a solitary adult) gets close enough to one of the snowmen, they spring out and take their prey and run with it through the forest to the opening of their den. They’re unbelievably powerful and wicked fast.

“Then what was that noise I heard?” Rob asked, wide-eyed.

“That was the call to let the others know that that they had found food. They had their prize, their victim. They were all convening for the preparation ceremony. It’s a good thing you didn’t get too close to that snowman you saw.”

Rob stayed with us until his parents arrived home and came to pick him up. The boy didn’t talk much after I explained to him what had happened. Probably he was processing his close call. The three of us told Rob’s parents that the boy had been spooked by what we all thought might have been a stray dog. Just a little white lie that kept things tidy for all of us.

Rob shared his new knowledge selectively with friends and thereafter the kids knew to stay away from snowmen in the forest that seemed to spring up on their own. In fact, the next year one of Rob’s friends shot several arrows from his bow into one of the snowmen, one of the creatures he had identified in the woods after the first heavy snow that next year. He saw it go loping off. It left a blood trail in the snow but the blood was blue.

According to the news media, no one knows what happened to the boy who went missing that day. Half the town remained convinced he was a runaway. He had had a bit of a history. The rest figured it was a horror story that might go forever unexplained. It will always sadden me to say that I know that darker-minded half of town got the story right.

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Free Couch Killer

Bhakti was telling Nate that she was cutting out of work a half hour early because she wanted to have a friend help her pick up a “free couch” she had spotted curbside on the drive to work that morning.

“Don’t do it!” Nate exclaimed, so loudly that other workers in the lunchroom looked their direction.

“Don’t you know about ‘The Free Couch Killer?’” Nate put down his pudding spoon in excess of emotion.

“What the hell?” Bhakti was sure she was about to hear a really bad joke. “No. Tell me, sweetheart.”

“There was this guy, this skinny creep who modified couches so he could hide inside them. And then he would put them out by the curb or sometimes advertise them on craigslist, places like that. And people would pick up the couches and take them home, and when they were sleeping, he would slip out of the couch and murder them. He killed at least three women that they know of.

Bhakti was still smiling at the way Nate had turned his face into a mask of terror when he had dramatically italicized the phrase “that they know of.”

“Well, is the couch creep still at large?”

“No. He was served justice. But he was never arrested.”

“Enlighten me, please.”

“Well, he was lying there in one of his couch traps one summer night, and a truck pulled up and this tarantula was loaded onto the bed of the truck inside that couch. He figured he was sitting pretty for another victim. Turns out it was a bunch of totally high kids out joyriding who had picked up the couch for a different reason.”


“They had this stupid thing that they would do where they would drive around at night picking up large items to throw off Entwhistle bridge. They loved watching them fall hundreds of feet into the river, especially in winter time when they’d use things like old washing machines to break the river ice. Assholes. But they served a higher purpose that night when they threw the couch with the creep in it off the bridge. The monster must have figured out what was happening at the last moment, because they heard the couch scream as it fell. That was a first for them. None of the other appliances or furnishings they had thrown off the bridge had screamed.”

“And they found his body?”

“Yeah, he washed up downstream a few days later. They had gotten DNA samples off the couches where the murders had occurred. He would leave the couches torn open and overturned. The cops weren’t getting it at first, thought the nut just had something against couches as well as people, so he left a note at the third crime scene actually explaining his m.o. You know how some of those twisted creatures like to brag. And yet people still drive around picking up these free couches.”

“I think he was one of a kind. I doubt there are any more couch creeps out there.”

“You never know. But hey, I have a solution for you. If you are still going to pick that couch up today.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. Stand real close to the couch, where any couch creep could hear you talking, and say, ‘This is just the perfect couch for the bonfire. I can’t wait to burn this old thing!’

“If the couch screams or starts acting like a Mexican jumping bean, don’t take it.”

The Lovely, Post-Well Samara

Apparently, this is a rare doll now.

It is bendable and poseable.

Three and a half feet tall and weights seven or eight pounds.

The hook is for suspension of the lovely and well-meaning child.

Diapers for onlookers not included. (Well, she scares me shitless.)

I'd keep her in the closet and bring her out when my cats were misbehaving.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Somebody's Birthday

Rob was getting shin splints after less than forty minutes on the road. He had only resumed his daily running a few weeks back. It had been many years since his cross-country days in high school, more years than he cared to admit. So he babied himself a little. He reverted to walking instead of jogging. He was nursing the shin splints. He planned to get some ice on them as soon as he got home.

It was a sunny July afternoon, so he was enjoying his stroll down a pleasant little street in a neighborhood he knew only vaguely, though it was less than a mile from the apartment he shared with his fiancee. Rosebushes were in bloom before picture windows. Sprinklers spattered abstract art on sidewalks. Little dogs yapped at the happy stranger from behind fences as he passed. 

Rob reached a part of the street where the houses became sparser, with more distance between each dwelling. There were even a few vacant lots overgrown with summer weeds and wildflowers. Rob lamented the wasted real estate. As he was approaching a strange old house that wouldn't be out of place in one of Edward Hopper's Gothic paintings, he noticed a cardboard box sitting out in the street, just past its driveway. The house had to be abandoned. The grass had grown knee-high and yes, sure enough, there was a white piece of paper with large black lettering tacked to the front door.

Rob figured the box was just a leftover from the move out. Kids had probably kicked it into the street.

But as he drew alongside the box, he saw there was a big red bow on a side of the box which had been hidden from him. And there were strange symbols drawn in magic marker all over the box. Goth kid? Rob was sure he had seen those symbols, or some very much like them, in books and movies. On the box's top, on the cardboard flaps  which were only loosely closed, someone had written (in what seemed to Rob a feminine hand) "Happy Birthday, Sister!"

Curiosity got the better of him. After a quick look up and down the street, Rob reached down and pulled back the flaps to see if there truly was a birthday present inside there. He suspected the writing was just a red herring on an old, repurposed box.

As soon as he turned the flaps back, a warm cluster of flies flew into Rob's face. Some even entered his nostrils. Disgusted, he snorted them out. The scent  coming from the box was strangely pleasant for something so horrible. For at the bottom of the cardboard box lay a heart. It was not even desiccated. It looked moist, juicy.  Rob had watched enough medical documentaries and e.r. themed shows to know it had all the appearances of a human heart. He felt his stomach pitching. The worst part was that he didn't have his phone on him. He knew he needed to dial 911 as soon as possible. Should he stop at the nearest house, knock on a stranger's door? No. This was too weird to inflict on a stranger. He would be home in a half hour or less. Probably less. Because Rob was running again, splints be damned. 

Rob could not imagine any possible explanation for what he had just seen. After only a few blocks of running, after his shin splints had kicked back in, he returned to meditative walking and began telling himself that he must have erred. It had to have been an animal's heart. Some other animal's heart. Not a human's. It was some sort of sick prank. What does a pig's heart look like? Does it look anything like a human's? He thought it might. Where was his phone, his Google, when he needed a vital question like this answered? Maybe he had just run too long. Maybe he was dehydrated. Dehydration can make you hallucinate.

Rob was now taking a shortcut road that ran somewhat rural. There were fields on one side that were sometimes planted, but sometimes left fallow. This year they were fallow. Sporadic, modest split levels with much space between their yards lined the other side of the road. Rob saw something out of the corner of his right eye. He turned and looked directly into the field and saw the shadow of a human figure on a haystack about forty feet from where he was standing. The shadow started moving towards him. Rob waited until the distance between them had closed a little further and then he ran. He must be dehydrated, he thought again. Or he had eaten something bad. Something foul. Maybe it was much hotter than he realized. Maybe he had heatstroke. 

Still running, Rob swiveled around and began to jog backwards. He was looking for the shadow. But it was gone. It never appeared in the street.

The road took a big dip down towards an area where there were patches of forest on either side of it. Rob often saw deer crossing there, when he was out running, or in his headlights when he was driving through there. The deer would often cross the road in full daylight, unabashed, unafraid. They had grown less timid through interactions with humans. Rob had often seen them noshing on birdseed fallen from backyard feeders. 

But it wasn't a deer that came out of the forest and started walking towards him on  the other side of the road. This time it was a beautiful young woman with long black hair. She was wearing a white dress, a sort of lace sheath that nearly touched the asphalt of the street as she walked. She carried in her dainty right hand a white parasol that shielded her from the sun. She smiled at Rob and he nearly forgot about the horror he had just experienced. It was like seeing a woman walk out of a Monet painting and into the world.

"Good afternoon," the beautiful stranger chimed from the other side of the street as she passed him, going the opposite direction.

"Good afternoon." Rob felt how dry his tongue had become.

And that was the extent of their exchange.

Rob stole glances at the beautiful stranger over his shoulder several times as he ascended one side of that dip in the road while she ascended the other. Then she was gone around the street corner at the top, lost to view. Rob wondered what sort of get-up that had been. Was she attending a wedding? A lady's high tea? It was not everyday apparel. And why had she stepped out of the woods, anyway? What had she been doing in there dressed like that? Hadn't she heard about Lyme disease? The deer ticks were everywhere. It was a crazy day all around.

Rob was only a few blocks from home when he saw a shadow on a white wall. It was drawn plain as day. There was no figure there to cast the shadow. It was the white wall of a small garage which had gone out of business. He realized the shadow was that of a woman with a shapely figure holding a parasol. He watched as the shadow "walked" across the wall of the garage and vanished into the unsupporting air. 

After that, Rob wondered if he should seriously entertain the possibility that someone might have slipped him L.S.D. earlier in the day. What else could so tidily explain away all this madness?

By the time Rob reached his front door, he felt like a basket case and seriously wondered if he was one. He trotted up a short flight of steps and opened the front door of his apartment and nearly jumped out of his skin. His fiancee Lisa was unexpectedly standing there in the doorway. It gave him a jolt.

"You look like you've seen a ghost," she laughed.

"You have no idea. I need to make a call."

The police went immediately to the address Rob had given them. Some fifteen minutes after that, an officer had called Rob to ask him a few more questions and get some particulars he could add to his report. They had located the empty house. They explained to him that there had been no box in the street before the house. In fact, they had searched all around the house. Nothing.  He could hear the skepticism in the officer's voice. 

"Sir, I don't want you to take this the wrong way. But are you alright?"

Rob had thanked the officer for doing his job and then hung up before the officer had a chance to ask even more condescending or insulting questions.

Lisa had seemed strangely nonchalant about the whole story. He wondered whether she believed him. Though they would be husband and wife in a matter of months, she was still largely a mystery to him. He knew so little about her, really. He liked women like that. He liked the idea that he knew so little of her past or even the sorts of things she did when she was out of his sight. 

"Listen, I have to go out, hon. There's a roast for you in the slow cooker."

"Where are you going?"

"One of the girls has a birthday today. We're celebrating. It's girls' night out. I may be out a bit late. I know I'm just terrible. Forgive me?"

"How come I never meet your friends. You're like a guy with that. You know all my friends. Are you ashamed of me or something?"

"You're ridiculous. Maybe I'm worried you'll marry one of them instead of me. Don't worry. I have a special date planned for you to meet everybody. Kiss me, I'm already late. I'm so sorry you had that crazy experience. We can talk more about it when I get home, if you'd like. It sounds freaking traumatic!"

Because Lisa was so beautiful and strange, he kissed her and let her have her way. 

Minutes later, she was out the front door and warming up her car in the driveway. It seemed that whenever an argument might be possibly brewing, Lisa would uncannily head it off at the pass by leaving.

The roast smelled good. He went to give it a stir and have a little taste.

And that's when his life changed.

He had gathered up all the personal possessions he could fit into his SUV and was several states away by the time Lisa was to have been home that evening. 

In fact, he never spoke to her again. He prayed he never would. He never even called the police. Why not? Well, it wasn't because he thought they wouldn't believe him. Oh no, he was sure they would have believed him. This time. But he knew that somehow he would have ended up dead. There might have been prison in there somewhere before death. But he just knew death was what waited for him. If he told on her. And he knew, somehow, that everything which had happened to him that day on his run had been connected to her. To Lisa. He just couldn't say how.

He knew all this mere seconds after he had lifted the crock-pot lid. 

He knew after he had given that cabbagey liquid in there a good couple of stirs with the big plastic spoon, and had seen something he was sure Lisa had never intended him to see.

There are so many different types of roast you can buy in the meat department at the grocery store. So many.  But none of them you find there will ever be quite like the roast Lisa had so thoughtfully left simmering for Rob that day. 

None of them you find there will have a Guns N' Roses tattoo.

Our Lives Cast in Photonegative Look Creepy

Antique Halloween Glass Plate Negatives Rare Find assorted lot 8
Several of these glass negatives give me the creeps. It might be ordinary goings-on, and you have to remember that darkness is actually light in these, but still. 

In one, a figure (real? sculptural?) appears to be lodged way up on a building in a very dangerous way. The one with the graffiti on the wall feels weirdly anachronistic, modern. And what is the child standing before in the front yard? Is that a makeshift stage or is she hiding? It's another weird touch. Maybe if you print these, they will all be perfectly normal scenes. But in photonegative they suggest all sorts of dark tales.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


Jim was hunting with his two older brothers on what the locals called Jawdrop Mountain. Though he was only sixteen, he had convinced his brothers to let him go it alone, at least for a few hours at a stretch. The guys had gotten a late start that day, so it was around one o’clock when the three brothers set out hunting in different directions. This was to have been a separation of two hours before a final rendezvous at a marker tree on the path which the three young men had used to ascend the mountain. And then the brothers would head back down, deer or no deer.

It was a severely overcast day in midwinter. Several inches of snow lay on the ground from recent storms. No significant snowfall had been predicted for that day. But the weatherman had been wrong and a surprise storm brewed up on the mountain. It began as a squall, near white-out conditions. Jim panicked and stumbled around until he realized he could walk right off a precipice. This thought scared him so badly he froze in place under a sheltering stand of trees until the squall degenerated into a normal snowfall.

Then the boy realized he was lost. He had sprinted and walked much further than he had realized in his panic.

He looked at his cell phone, but without hope. He knew there would be no reception. Ridiculous even to look. He cursed himself for having wandered so far in his initial panic. He had lost all his “mental markers” in the landscape. He was calling out to his brothers, to anyone really, at the top of his voice. But no one replied. And the terrain already looked totally unfamiliar. All the trees looked the same in any direction. The snow continued to fall.

Just as it was getting dark, the boy saw a form in the woods which gave him hope. There was a cabin in its own little clearing deep in these woods of the tallest trees. He raced to it, realizing it was his salvation.

As soon as he arrived at the front door and knocked, he knew it was empty. It just felt that way. He looked in the windows, which were actually very dusty, and knew then that the cabin had probably been empty for a long time. He did a cursory inspection walking around the small structure, and saw it was intact. This was a secure place to hole up until help arrived. Though he had his rifle, he did not want to be out in the night. He realized it was hypothermia he should fear, but a primal part of him feared the other things too.

He couldn’t believe his luck in finding an unlocked window in the rear of the cabin and squeezed his svelte body through. He actually ended up falling to the floor and that was the scariest moment, when he felt most vulnerable. Lying there on the floor in the dark cabin. He froze and waited for whatever horror lay hidden in the cabin to fall upon him. He breathed a sigh of relief, right there on the floor, when he realized it was silent throughout the rooms. He could actually hear the sound of the snow falling outside through the still open window. But he wouldn’t close his exit behind him. Not before he really saw the whole cabin and knew he was safe.

“Hello?” he called out. “If you can hear me, I’m not an intruder. I’m a hunter. I’ve gotten separated from my brothers and I’m lost. Don’t be afraid.”

No fearing soul answered him or came forward to greet him.

Jim ran to the front door and undid the locks. He threw open the door and this let in a little more light. It was the wan light of snowfall which was cast into the living room of the cabin. Jim discovered that there were two other bedrooms and a small bathroom. These bedrooms were the scariest rooms to enter, since they were the darkest rooms, windowless. His eyes adjusted, but he could not be sure that he was seeing everything in those rooms. He saw enough to realize no one could be in those rooms. Not unless they were hiding under one of the beds. This was just a little too much of a risk to check right now. He could smell the dust in the cabin. Jim took it on faith that he was the only occupant of the cabin. It had surely been empty a few years, at least.

He ran out the front door and couldn’t believe his luck in finding a woodpile under an old, wind-torn blue tarp. He loaded up the fireplace and had never been so happy to be a smoker in his life. His Bic served him nicely. He prayed the chimney wasn’t blocked or sooted up beyond use. But the fire roared up and he slammed the front door shut and locked it again.

He felt terribly guilty when he thought that his brothers might be risking their own lives looking for him. He worried about them. But he figured they would descend the mountain and return with a search party. They sure would be pissed though. What more could he do but sit and wait until the morning. At dawn, he would try to find his way back to the path and maybe even be able to meet any searchers on their way up the mountain.

He decided to keep the window by which he had entered cracked open just a little bit, in case he could hear his brothers’ voices. He wondered if he should listen for search helicopters flying overhead. Or was that unrealistic? If only he could tell everybody he was alright, sitting now in front of a toasty fire as the sun died off the mountain.

Jim made a bed on the floor in front of the crackling fire. He had taken the pillows and blankets off the rather ramshackle couch that occupied the center of the room. In no time, the exhausted boy had fallen deeply asleep, grateful for the fire and the roof over his head.

When he was suddenly awakened, he had no idea at first where he was, what time of day or night it was, or what the sound that had awakened him had actually been. He thought it had been a knocking. A hard, insistent, series of fast knocks. Had he been dreaming?

Then he remembered his circumstances and he called out his brothers’s names, each one in turn. Had they miraculously found him? He sprang up and ran to the front door. But something in him told him not to open it. Not just yet.

“Hello? Who’s there?” he asked hopefully.

No answer. Only the sound of the wind. The storm had grown emboldened after night fell. He could hear its shrieking on the other side of the door.

“Okay, no one then,” Jim laughed to himself. “Of course, it’s no one. I was dreaming.”

Jim turned to return to his bed. This was just as more knocks sounded on the door: three times more. But this time, they were loud beyond belief. They sounded like the worst type of threat. It couldn’t have been a fist that had done that. It had to be some sort of board or log or….

Jim looked at the open window at the rear of the dwelling. It was still cracked open a few inches. The boy ran to it and slammed it shut. He was grateful there was a swivel lock on the sash. He shot it clockwise tight. He let the thick curtains close on the window, hiding it. But he knew that was only a thin pane of glass separating him from whoever or whatever was out there in the night. And there were two other windows in the cabin.

Panicked, he searched for a weapon. He was so grateful to realize the fireplace’s poker was there. He approached the front door again, weapon in hand, and listened.

His mind began to play tricks on him. What if that was one of his brothers, half-frozen to death, on the other side of that door, unable to speak, trying to let Jim know that he was a human icicle. It seemed improbable. But it was not impossible. He had to know.

Jim counted to three, but silently, in his mind. And then he threw open the door.

No one.

Only the snow innocently falling.

But looking down, Jim saw there was a line of tracks in the snow leading to the front door! Bipedal tracks. The snow had gotten rather deep and the wind was blowing, so there was no way to tell what sort of boots or shoes the visitor was wearing. Yet the weirdest thing was that these tracks stopped right there at the door. Jim looked left, right. No one. The snow was its own light source, so it was easy to see into the night. But there was no one, nothing there to be seen.

“Where in the hell did you go?” Jim whispered under his breath.

And that’s when he heard the sounds above him. Someone was walking on the goddamn roof!

This freaked the boy out. His thoughts ran madly. How did the visitor climb up there. Was it his brother, after all, hallucinating while freezing to death?

Jim couldn’t take the wondering anymore and stepped through the open door, ran out into the deepening snow. He looked up onto the roof, but there was no one. There was a tall pine tree, however, that grew close by the roof. It dangled branches down over it. He saw little miniature avalanches of glittery snow come sparkling down from the tall tree’s branches. Because something was stirring in those branches. He couldn’t see it in the darkness of the tree, but he could see it was climbing. Then the tree grew still.

“Who in the hell are you?” Jim screamed up at the tree.

He waited in a terror he felt was skinning his heart.

Now there was only the sound of the snow, the gusts of the wind picking up and then dying off.

Just as he was ready to run back into the house, feeling all his danger sensors shrilling alarms, he heard a voice come from the darkness of the tree.

“Waaaarm,” the voice hissed out at him. The boy was shocked at how well this loud whisper (for it was a sort of creepy whisper) carried.

“You want to get warm?” Jim asked.

“Waaaarm…..” the voice sighed again ten seconds later.

Before Jim could respond, a black form flew out of the tree, and it was larger than any man, whatever it was, and came sailing down right over Jim’s head, and something touched him there, on the top of his head, as the boy screamed.

But the thing had sailed past and up into another tall tree behind Jim.

So Jim bolted inside the cabin and locked the door in triplicate.

Mere seconds later another knock came on the door. This one sounded much more polite. It sounded almost like a human knocking. Almost. But it was a dragging sort of knock.

“What are you?” Jim couldn’t stop himself asking.

“Waaaarm?” the voice hissed beseechingly.

“What do you want?”


“You want to be warm?” Jim asked, shaking now.

“Waaaarm meeeeal,” the voice whispered loudly.

“Listen. To. Me. Now. I have a poker and I’m going to beat your brains in if you don’t go away. I’m going to beat your brains in, and then I’m going to eat you. I don’t care what you are. I’m going to skin you and eat you and cook you in this fire. Then tomorrow I’ll shit you out and flush you down a toilet. So consider that before you ask for anything again.”

There came the sound of claws scratching on the other side of the door. This was a very angry sound.

Then Jim was sure he heard wings flapping, flapping away.

He returned to his makeshift bed and he stared at all parts of the cabin over and over, all night long. He paid particular attention to the windows.

Morning came. Morning finally came after that endless night of snow and winds and the unspeakable. Jim looked out the dusty windows. He saw a beautiful sunny morning.

He stared out several of the windows for another hour and then he finally decided it was time to head back out and find the path home.

He held the poker tight in his fist and his breath tight in his chest as he opened the front door.

Four raw scratch marks had gouged the wood. There was a claw stuck in the fourth raking. It was no claw or talon that Jim could recognize. It looked like the sort of claw you saw on dinosaurs in the museum reproductions of those creatures.

Three hours later, Jim heard a member of the search party calling his name. He was reunited with his brothers an hour after that.

He couldn’t say why he never showed the claw to anyone, not even his brothers. Maybe the shame of having gotten lost, of causing so much worry for everyone, was enough embarrassment to shoulder. The story he had to tell would have made it even worse.

But he kept the claw in a drawer in his bedroom for many years, right next to a pistol that he always kept with him anytime he found himself having to enter the woods, whether it was hunting season or not.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Vintage 1960s Salerno Trick or Treat Halloween Cookies Box: Haunted House

Antique Decorative Framed Tile: Witch House, Salem, Mass. (Built by Roger Williams)

Antique decorative tile featuring an image of the Witch House in Salem built by Roger Williams in 1634.  The tile measures six inches square.

Antique Hubley Halloween Black Cat - Arched Back, Green Eyes

These are always magic.

Oct 29, 1904 Saturday Evening Post with Halloween Front Cover

Amazing graphic design by Estella Rice. 

25 pages and measures 14 1/4 inches tall by 11 1/4 inches wide. 

Round Halloween Cards Dated 1932 / Witches and Full Moon

These are not the kind that open, more like a post card.  They are 4.5 inches each across the widest point.  They are mounted on old card stock that measures 11.5 by 5.25 inches.  They are in very good condition.  They have witches and full moons on them.  They each have a name and the date of Jan. 2, 1932 in pencil in the center.  

Is that really a dating of January for a Halloween card? Or does that read something else?

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Vintage Halloween Nut Cup Place Card (Pumpkins, Goblins, Cats, Owl, Grim Reaper)

Vintage Halloween nut cup. Flat as shown in the picture, it measures about 6 inches by 4 inches, so it should be about 3.5 inches tall when folded up. The pictures show the front and back. It is in good shape, there are a few little marks where it looks like a little of the ink transferred from another item.

Vintage Halloween Novelty Items

60s. 70s.

Cast Iron Black Cat Paperweight (Date Unknown)

A cast iron black cat paperweight that may or may not be antique.  No manufacturer's mark.  Arched back and an interesting curled tail--looks like a '9'!  Very minor flaking to the finish and tiny bits of rust on the bottom.  

She's a beauty.

Friday, February 24, 2017

We Got Us a Weird One: Antique circa 1900/20 Bear Animal Halloween Parade Costume Folk Art Mask

Or possum, mouse, badger… just wonderful! Flat measures 13” h x 10” wide

This one gives me the willies.

I could see someone seeing it as cute.

But not for me. It looks like something a psycho killer would wear.

Pretty cool design though. It does have that feel of the shaman to it. Maybe it's that which gives me the frisson.

(I'm trying to see it in a positive light, even though it weirds me out.)

I definitely see it as a rodent. Looks like a rat to me. Maybe it's a left-over costume bit from a performance of The Nutcracker back in the day?

If anybody comes your direction wearing this, run like hell. Just in case.

Yes! Yet More Antique Die Cut Embossed German Halloween Decorations!

Germany was the Queen of Halloweens of yesteryear.

I think these decorations are even scarier on the reverse side. Something about that negative space!

The cat musician is just delish. I want to eat that one up.

1. Black cat - arched back embossed and marked Germany. Measures approximately 4.5x6.5 inches. Pin holes in arched back.
2. Black cat playing the bass - orange and black embossing. Marked Germany. Has 2 pin holes in top and one on the foot. Crease in the other foot but not weak and no tears. Measures 7.5x4 inches
3. Pumpkin head drummer boy - no marks but exactly the same style. Black and orange color embossed. Has a couple of pins holes in top and bottom. Legs are creases a bit where they meet the body. But no tears. Also measures 7.5x4 inches.

Get in Your Time Machine and Attend Our Halloween Party

Newark, New Jersey.

34 State Street.

7:30-10 P.M.

Year unknown.

Funny, I had not thought of elves as Halloween spirits. But, hey, why not?