Friday, July 14, 2017

These Photos of a Kirkbride Plan Insane Asylum (Warren, Pennsylvania) Give Me Chills

Maybe it's the cold, perfect emptiness of these photos (and knowing the human hell that would fill it). It wasn't exactly an enlightened time. I hate to think of the abuse and the curtailment of liberty. Just so sad.

I just learned that this building still exists and is still being used for mental health treatment. Pennsylvania has two extant Kirkbride plan buildings: this and one in Danville. Two (or possibly three) other Pennsylvanian Kirkbride asylums were demolished. Another exists in Pennsylvania but is used by a private company for "non-psychiatric purposes." One could wager a guess that there might be hauntings in all of these extant Kirkbride buildings.

There's this touching bit about the Warren hospital, too, from 2010: 

"The 954 grave cemetery at Warren State Hospital has been the subject of a restoration. Like many state hospital cemeteries, this one was overgrown and neglected until a restoration committee formed at the hospital in 2006. Employees and volunteers are just about finished with the painstaking task of identifying the deceased patients and giving each one a headstone with their name on it."

You can read more about how the Kirkbride Plan dictated a general architectural layout for insane aslyums of the nineteenth century here.  Kirkbride appears to have had good intentions and a progressive mindset. However, worse treatments would follow and the next century would see atrocities committed against the mentally ill.

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania had a Kirkbride plan asylum (Dorothea Dix was responsible for its creation) but it's on the list of demolished buildings. It was one of the earliest Kirkbride plan asylums.It was torn down in phases and replaced with the Harrisburg State Hospital, which was in use as a mental health facility until 2006. Now its buildings are occupied by several government agencies. 

Most of the information in this post came from the site to which I linked above, There's a wealth of information there about these fascinating structures.

Details on the photographs:

"Period images of Kirkbride Plan architecture, six boudoir cabinet photos (5.25 x 8.5”) signed Bairstow. Gifted from William E.M. Corson (one of three state hospital commissioners) to Cameron Corson (an engineer and likely son) dated November 19th, 1886. Small sketch on one reverse noted John Smithson inmate (perhaps by Corson) of four folky ducks. 

"Beautiful condition with occasional foxing and wear to gilt edges. Letter from a state report magazine about the overflow and patient cost included."

Oh Wow! This Old Painting Suggests Such a Dark Tale!

"Gnarled gypsies climb under an anthropomorphic moon! From an early Somerset Pennsylvania estate, likely last quarter nineteenth century. As found condition, complete with a hundred years of dirt and spots of loss. Oil on board measures 9 x 11.5 inches."

Antique Group of 8 Halloween Pumpkin Head Candy Containers German Papier-Mâché

Creepy-Happy Jack-O'-Lantern Papier-Mâché Pin

"This is a wonderful antique paper mache pumpkin pin, c.1930's, 2" diameter. Unmarked but certainly German. Adorable smiling pumpkin face surrounded by 12 paper petals.

"Wear consistent with age. Some slight wear to pumpkin face, petals show wear - soiling, folds, wrinkling and a small tear in one petal."

Antique Halloween Postcard--Kathryn Elliott (1914)

Library Amnesty Day

One rainy spring afternoon in Baltimore, a man walked into one of the city’s smaller libraries. He drew a little attention to himself since he was wearing a burnouse. It was Library Amnesty Day, which meant that patrons could return overdue library books and have the fines for those books waived. He explained that he wanted to take advantage of this amnesty. The librarian asked him for his library card but he said, “I have none.” The librarian tried to get more information, but he fled. He was in and out of the library in under five minutes, but he did leave a plastic tube on the counter of the librarian’s station. This tube was discovered to contain an ancient papyrus. Obviously, this had not been borrowed from the small library in Baltimore. It was forwarded to one university and thence onward to several others. Eventually, it was determined that the origin of the papyrus scroll was the Library at Alexandria, burned when Caesar himself strategically set fire to his own ships during the siege of that city. The fire spread from the ships to the docks and then reached the vaunted library and consumed much of it, Plutarch informs us. Other historians insist the fire (or multiple fires) happened earlier or later. But all agree that the library and its precious volumes perished by fire. Had the Library at Alexandria ever collected such penalties, the overdue fee the mystery man was seeking to have discharged would have been astronomical. Even a modern robber baron would have difficulty paying such a fine. The scroll the mysterious man dropped off contained text in ancient Greek and hieroglyphics. The title of the work, when translated, was revealed to be How to Live Forever.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Interview

Richard felt very fortunate to have been granted the golden opportunity of an interview at Praseo.

His fiancée Helen wan’t the worrying type, wasn’t really the neurotic type. But the unexpected downsizing at Richard’s firm had caught their single income household by surprise. The young engineer had been unemployed for just over two months and his severance pay was dwindling rapidly. Also, there was a wedding in the works, not exactly a minor expenditure.

The morning of the interview, Helen and Richard went out to breakfast and chatted about the fantastic opportunity that had presented itself . Helen mentioned a figure she had heard bandied about. It was the starting salary of another engineer at Praseo, a spouse of a friend of a friend. "Well, alleged salary," she specified. "You know how gossip is." She smirked and Richard pointed out some egg goo above her pretty lips. They laughed.

Richard choked a little on his toast when Helen told him that. Had the toast been particularly dry? Or was it that somewhat stupefying figure Helen had just dropped?  Praseo had hugely lucrative government contracts. Defense contractors for the military raked in big bucks. Everyone knew that.

Richard dropped Helen off at their split-level in the burbs. She gave him a kiss through the driver’s side window and showed him her crossed fingers. She gave his hair a last little mussing. She kissed him once more for luck. And then he was off.

Richard arrived half an hour early at Praseo Industries. The company occupied an imposing highrise in a quieter sector at the edge of what would be considered "downtown." 

Richard knew to expect a ridiculously high level of security. He stood on the sidewalk before the building, and saw the entire ground floor was a solid, featureless titanium wall. When he stepped forward and spoke into the intercom (which was nearly invisible at first) a voice answered him in synthesized speech.

"Good Day, Richard Ames," the inhuman voice articulated. It was a woman's voice. "Please step into the vestibule." Two titanium panels separated left and right, and Richard stepped into the vestibule. Those panels closed behind him. He could still see nothing of the building itself, its interior, since another titanium wall was before him. 

A scanning process began. He could hear the low hum. He had sent in the requisite photographs and even a requested biological sample. He knew Praseo used highly advanced identification techniques for their employees.

"Approved," the human and inhuman voice said. "Proceed into the lobby."

The titanium door before him slid to the left, taken into the wall, and Richard stepped into the lobby. It was a chamber with a lovely atmosphere. A Satie composition played quietly, subtly.
Very tall palm trees nearly reached the high ceiling, planted in twin terrarium features on either side of the large room. There was the illusion of sunlight. Illusion because there were no skylights. But you felt as though you were experiencing actual sunlight. You looked up and there were "skylights" that seemed to show blue sky. The light felt like sunlight on the skin. But it wasn't real. It was Praseo engineering magic. 

There was not a single human being in the chamber. There was an information desk placed centrally, but Richard suspected it was only helmed on certain days, perhaps when representatives of the government or other corporations visited. 

Richard heard the burble of the koi ponds and felt himself start to relax a bit. Any company that could create such a welcoming, dream-like atmosphere had to be a company with vision. He felt proud just being there, just for being considered.

"Proceed to elevator, please," the artificial female voice said. He already felt he knew her. Though she did not exist.

As Richard stepped into the elevator, he noticed there were large iron rings protruding from three of its walls. The elevator doors closed and Richard prepared to speak his floor into the audio-tech sensor. But before he could do so, the female voice (he now thought of her as Rose," for some odd reason) said, in the flattest tones, "Prepare for floor dismantle." 

As the elevator began rushing upwards, without any specification as to destination, the floor of the elevator began dropping out in phases. There were four quadrants collapsing downwards. Richard grabbed onto one of the large iron rings and was soon swinging over the void of the dark shaft as the elevator skyrocketed upwards. He tried to resist looking down but failed. He saw certain death below his dangling feet. While it might have taken just over a minute to reach his destination, it seemed an eternity. Rose announced, "74th floor. Interview with Mr. Gravesend." The floor reassembled itself beneath his feet. But Richard didn't want to let go of the iron ring. The elevator floor was no longer a friend he could trust.

He waited for the door to open, his emotions weirdly in check. His brain zapped that figure Helen had floated at breakfast back through his neurons as incentive. He waited some more for the door to open. Did Rose have a glitch? Finally, she spoke. He sensed that some sort of preparation behind the door had been taking place. He just knew this, courtesy of that sixth sense we all possess.

"When the doors open, find the high frequency whistle to control Rupert. The elevator floor will dismantle in fifteen seconds and the stability rings will be retracted. Please disembark the elevator now."

What the fuck? And the doors did open. He stepped onto the drab grey carpet of a very long corridor. He was somewhere close to the middle of it. At the far end, he saw a very large dog sitting. The dog began running towards him immediately, growling savagely. 

Richard ran and opened a door marked STAIRS directly before him. There was a brick wall behind it. A fine joke. The dog was halfway to him when he opened the next door on an empty office. He stepped inside and slammed the door. The voice spoke instantly, directly into the room. "You may not stay in any room. Gas will be released in fifteen seconds. Should you choose to remain in this room, you will wake up back in your car. In that case, you will never be employed by Praseo Industries. Or you may continue on to your interview in room 7752." Rose fell silent.

He cursed himself as he grabbed a small metal chair for defense and stepped back into the corridor, determined to have his interview.

The dog was on him instantly, but he wielded the chair effectively. He saw the fangs covered in slather, and instinctively wanted to smash its skull in, silence its wild barking. He tried another door, randomly, not really thinking rationally, and saw a meeting in session. "Get the hell out of here!" the meeting leader said, and most of the other suits laughed. He stepped back into the corridor and slammed the door.

Richard hurried backwards down the corridor, keeping the chair between him and the maniac dog. He realized luck was on his side since the numbers on the doors were leading up to room 7752. He had gone the right direction when he stepped out of the elevator. But where the hell was the high frequency whistle? He passed a door that said simply "HELP" and realized that must be his target. 

He opened the door and was surprised to see blue sky through the windows. There was no one there, but on a large executive style desk there was a whistle suspended in a little case. He grabbed it while still fending the pit bull off with the chair. He was bleeding now from one ankle where the dog had made a lucky grab. He blew the whistle. There was no sound. Well, there was no sound Richard's ears could hear. But the pit bull instantly sat peacefully on its haunches and looked up at Richard expectantly. Almost like an innocent child. 

Richard was trying to catch his breath. He refused to put down the chair, calm dog or not. He noticed then there was a set of headphones on the desk with a note attached which read, "PLAY ME." He put them on and activated them. A real human voice, a man's voice, addressed Richard now: "Congratulations! You are now ready to be interviewed for employment with Praseo Industries. Please continue on to Room 7752. No worries. No more tricks or tests. Oh, one last thing. Should you get the job, you simply have to kill your interviewer. Mr. Gravesend. There's an ax located in his supplies closet. If he confirms your employment, kindly terminate him. We look forward to working with you at Praseo Industries." The voice was gone. Muzak began playing softly in the headphones. He took them off.

Richard stepped out of the room and closed the door on the dog, who never stopped giving him a look that seemed to ask when they were going to play catch together.

He proceeded to room 7752 and knocked lightly at the door.

"Come in," he heard from the other side. Once inside, an elderly man stood up to greet him warmly. It was like shaking the hand of one's uncle, a genuinely warm and beneficent handshake.

And the interview went swimmingly. 

At the conclusion, Mr. Gravesend smiled for a moment, his folded hands under his chin.

"You're a keeper, Richard. Praseo wants you."

Richard accepted the proffered hand. He looked at the liver spots on the hand. He saw how the hand was wrinkled, the skin so thin.

Richard looked at Mr. Gravesend's kind, twinkly eyes. He looked at the door of the office supplies closet. His eyes went back to Mr. Gravesend. To the closet. To Mr. Gravesend.

“What?” Mr. Gravesend asked, befuddled, a wave of misgivings suddenly coming over him, now visibly present in his face as a deepening of the wrinkles.


As Richard parked in front of his charming little house in the suburbs, he saw Helen waiting expectantly at the door. Her nervous smile. He knew she would love him either way. That’s what made it so wonderful.

“Oh my gosh, why are you in your gym clothes? What happened to your suit?” Helen wrinkled her nose in confusion as she opened the front door for him.

“I had a messy little accident. It was nothing.” Richard smiled. “Forget the suit. I never liked it anyway. Focus instead on the fact that you’re looking at the newest employee of Praseo Industries.”

“Well, let my throw these gold digging arms of mine around you, honey.” It was all a little party suddenly. A feast where there had been famine, mere hours before.

When she finally asked about the salary, they were both sitting on their living room sofa, holding hands like children. He whispered it in her ear, sexily.

She looked at him in a childlike way. It was much more than the alleged salary of the husband of the friend of the friend.

“And here’s the best part,” Richard continued. “They might have a job for you. On the fortieth floor, there’s an opening. And I think you’d be perfect for it. It fits your skillset to a T.”

“Really?” Helen shrilled. She was tickled. She had begun to feel guilty that she was really doing nothing with the education in which she had invested so much time and money. Guilty and stultified.

“Yes, hon, but they made me swear that I wouldn’t tell you anything about the Praseo interviewing process. And I won’t. You need to just mentally prepare as best you can. And, besides, they told me every interview is different. Just bring your best game. I know you can do it. I believe in you.”

Helen kissed him again. It wasn’t every man who would feel comfortable with his future wife working for the same company he did.

Richard was special like that: a real keeper.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A New Blitzkrieg

American Airlines’ Flight AA2497 departed Atlanta in the early evening, just after six, bound for Dallas-Forth Worth. It took off into a warm July sky. No storms waited in the flight path. The passengers felt mostly relaxed. It had been expected to touch earth again at 8:33 pm. local time. But it didn’t happen like that.

At 8:33 p.m. the flight was still circling, refused permission to land or continue on to any other airport. The United States Air Force had scrambled an E-3 Sentry alongside two F-22s. These interceptors waited to see what word would come down from on high. They were fully prepared to destroy civilian aircraft and snuff out American lives.

This is because Flight AA2497 had become two Flights AA2497. As the flight approached DFW, it had morphed into a set of mirror image twins. Both flights contained the exact same crew and passengers. And both planes were in a panic, as visual contact had been made between the two planes in mid-air. That is, passengers had seen their doppelgangers looking out the windows of the plane flying next to them. Transmissions from the pilots and co-pilots of these dual cockpits were nearly identical. Nobody was sure which plane was the “real McCoy” or whether such logic could even be applied to what had happened. The air traffic controllers were bewitched into stunned silence when they heard the same pilot transmitting from two different planes, his voice overlapping his voice.

The Secretary of Defense and the President were conferring. Since a state of war existed between the United States of America and that nameless species which had lately announced its existence as an interdimensional being living with us, interpenetrating us like photons, the decision was not an easy matter. They had already attacked our infrastructure and information technologies. There had been human casualties. Nobody really knew what “they” were. We had found ways to block them, we had used the best code we could finesse. But increasingly they made new incursions. They were able to interfere with the natural progression of time. They were able to use backdoors in space. We were at war. And yet nobody had ever even seen the enemy.

Everyone knew this anomaly of Flight AA2497 had been caused by them. But nobody knew the meaning of it. The President and the Secretary had to make the call. The flight was running out of fuel and refueling mid-air was not an option. It was ultimately decided to let both planes land. The military was evacuating the airport of civilians and all other flights were diverted elsewhere.

The planes taxied down separate runways only moments apart. The passengers and crews on both airlines were told they could not deboard. They were to be quarantined for an indeterminate amount of time — until the matter could be resolved. This was depressing news, but the passengers on both craft were genuinely relieved that they had managed to reach the earth alive.

The President breathed a huge sigh of relief when he was apprised that no earth-shattering disaster had occurred when the planes landed.

“We just have no idea what to do with all the extra humans,” one general joked. And which ones are the originals and who are the copies?”

They were still laughing about this when the call came through from the military brass on the ground at DFW. It was a panicked voice that relayed the information: “Sir, it’s the worst possible scenario. Nuclear option tenable. We no longer have two identical planes. We had two….then we had four identicals..then eight…sixteen…you get the picture. They’re just materializing and destroying the airport. It appears to be some sort of virus…some sort of spatial virus! There are hundreds of them if not thousands already. I have to evacuate because….”

There was a huge crashing sound of twisting metal and a scream. Many screams. Then silence.

And the mitosis of planes went on through the landscape, that warm summer night in Texas. Flight AA2497 went on duplicating, horizontally, city to city, and vertically, jets piled atop jets up into the clouds, even to the crack of doom.

And the passengers wondered and wondered and wondered as they watched and sometimes caught a glimpse of themselves through the wreckage, looking back at themselves in terror and hoping, hoping to get off the plane as soon as possible.

Helping Hands Daycare

I can’t remember Jake. I mean I can, but I won’t. Because Em and I have two other children now. And we want them to have a normal life. They don’t even know they might have an older brother somewhere. But since you asked, I’ll tell you. I can’t talk at length about this, so I’m going to be very brief. Just the basic facts. We don’t know any more than those few “basic facts.” Probably we never will.

I told Em from very nearly the beginning there was something different about that daycare. Helping Hands Daycare. Well, you know it’s gone now. The building burnt to the ground. There’s a Goodwill store in that lot. You’d never guess there had been anything else there. There’s no trace of it left.

When we first encountered it? Well, sure, it looked fine if you took a quick glance. Fingerpaintings hung proudly on the walls. There was up-to-date and safe playground equipment and stringent supervision at boisterous playtime. A current license. Healthy food. A strict sick-child policy to protect everyone. The staff was friendly and, most importantly, they interacted beautifully with the kids. Perhaps too beautifully. I just felt something was off with “Miss Marsha.” It was her business. You know they never found her. That was some other woman’s body in the fire. They said there had been an attempt to make it appear that it was Miss Marsha’s body. Well, DNA testing put that to rest.

How it began? Jake began coming home with dirt under his fingernails. I would ask him to explain and he used to shrug me off. He’d get that nervous look. I told him it was okay, tried to turn it into a joke. So eventually he said that disturbing thing, he just came out and said, “We have to feed them.”

My wife thought it was nothing at first. She said it was typical fantasy, a story sprung up between Jake and his playmates at Helping Hands. When he told us that the things lived under the daycare, in a sort of tunnel, that Miss Marsha would take them down there and they would feed these creatures, she laughed. She just snorted and whinnied and told her friends. She thought it was hilarious. “The monsters that live under Helping Hands Daycare.” I heard her mother and her laughing on the phone about it. I distinctly remember that. They hooted.

Em actually liked to hear Jake tell the stories. She’d encourage him. Even at the dinner table. Then she would correct him, but oh so nicely. She would say that she liked to hear him tell stories, that it was good he had an imagination.That someday he could write books and tell others these stories and they would enjoy them as much as his mother did. She said imagination was something about which Jake should be proud. He would nod at her and finish combining his mashed potatoes and peas. But I saw in his eyes that he thought she was crazy.

It all happened very quickly after that. The fire at the daycare. Miss Marsha presumed dead. Everyone wondered at the time why she would have been at the daycare in the middle of the night anyway, which is when the fire broke out. They still haven’t identified that young woman whose body was found in the fire. Maybe they never will. They did determine she died by a gunshot to the head and not from the fire itself.

Obviously, no children perished in that middle of the night blaze. But four of the children, the oldest enrollees, did disappear shortly after that fire.

“Abducted” is what the media report. In a sense, that’s true. But in another sense it isn’t.

I began waking suddenly at night in the period immediately after the fire. I’d often find Jake awake and creeping around the house. At three or four in the morning. Often, I’d catch him at the windows peering out into the night. My wife thought he had become a sleepwalker because of the trauma from the fire. We didn’t enroll him in a new daycare. It was all too disturbing and we wanted to keep him close to us. Em’s sister would watch him in the daytime. In our house.

I’d always ask Jake what he was doing up and what he was looking for out the window. He told me he missed his “special friend.” I was terrified there might have been sexual abuse going on and that Jake was turning it all into some sort of surreal fantasy narrative. I really only thought this after the fire. That’s what made me think the conflagration was used as a cover-up for some serious shit at Helping Hands. But, thinking back, I remember the strange fur we would find on his clothes. We knew animals, even pets, were not allowed in the daycare. We’d drop him off there and pick him up. He didn’t go anywhere else. So where was he getting that? And what sort of animal was it? My God, when I think back at how I just shook off so many anomalies, I want to go back in time and shake the shit out of myself, and that “normalcy narrative” to which I kept clinging.

Anyway, you know the end of the story. Or what I told the police. There is no real end to the story. I say I don’t remember, but I do. In the middle of the night, when I’m lying in bed, I think of Jake. And I listen. I leave the windows open in spring, summer, even late into autumn. I listen for the sound of that…beast. If it came once, it might come again. Jake might ride it back here. The way I saw him riding it that night.

My only consolation is knowing this: that beast would not harm Jake. Even with its incredible size (where does a creature like that even hide on earth? under the earth, of course, they must be under the earth!) and even with its monstrous tusks and that barbed tail, I could see it was tame to him. I saw him run to it in the backyard. It had been patiently waiting for him. I saw the beast lay its head to the earth, in submission. I watched as Jake scrambled up its back and took its reins in hand. And then the thing let out a weird guttural cry and they were off. I chased it. I chased them in my bare feet, in my underwear. But they were swallowed up by the forest behind our house. I heard Jake calling out commands to the thing.

The police didn’t know what to make of the tracks. They said I had been hallucinating. Ambien is known to have that effect. And I had been taking that drug at the time. I won’t deny that. The wouldn’t even put that in the police report. About the tracks. The only way it got in later was when I accused the police of covering it up, of trying to make me look crazier and more like a suspect.

But then, in their hearts, the cops knew I hadn’t done anything to harm Jake. Because he was one fourth of the “Ravenswood Four,” the kids who disappeared that night. All Jake’s age. And all former enrollees of Helping Hands daycare.

Who knows who Miss Marsha really was. And who knows where those four kids are now. I think Jake still has his mount. And I think he’s still riding that beast even as he becomes a young man. If I tell you I think he’s down there, under our feet, you’ll think I’m crazy. Far, far under our feet. But I know it’s true.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The White Cat

An old man began seeing a white cat in the mirrors throughout his apartment. He had collected antique mirrors for most of his adult life, so there were plenty of opportunities for sightings in every room.

The man owned no pets. Often in these antique mirrors the cat could be seen cleaning itself or perched on a windowsill enjoying a view of the city. The old man would swing around and look, but of course there was no cat on the windowsill, no cat daintily licking its paw as in the mirror.

One day, the man awoke and looked at a large bureau mirror across the room and saw a white paw protruding from its surface. “Get away!” he yelled, and the paw retreated. He saw the image of the cat fleeing into the backwards recesses of the mirror. It hid behind the reflection of his bed, although there was no cat behind his bed itself. He had checked.

The man began worrying that he had suffered a stroke, but the medical tests he underwent all came back negative. He was in good health, despite his age.

He visited a psychic who told him that the cat was a harbinger of death. He asked if this meant his death. She said she did not know. She urged him to paint the surface of all the mirrors with black paint. She explained that if the cat did indeed come over to “our side,” it would mean death.

The man defaced all his mirrors, ruefully. He sealed them with black paint. And then he covered them with sheets. He realized he was ruining a valuable collection, and his apartment looked ridiculous to him, but the seer had told him that it was his only option. She explained that he could not simply discard the mirrors. That would be too dangerous.

One afternoon shortly after that, the man woke from a nap to see the white cat curled up at the foot of his bed, fast asleep. He screamed, but it was a muffled sort of cry and he felt his heart seize at that moment. His head fell back upon his pillow for the last time.

As the man was being zipped into a black body bag, his upstairs neighbor, a redhead actress of twenty-four, poked her head in his open apartment door. She was holding a white cat against her breast. A breeze played through the white sheer curtains of the living room. These wraiths were lifting and falling in the dead man’s open window.

“Sorry. She comes down the fire escape sometimes. I’m afraid she’s a bit of a nosy parker. I think she liked him. He seemed a nice old man. If a bit odd.”

Angela tsk-tsked the cat in her arms as she walked upstairs, saying a little prayer for the dead man under her breath.

When she got inside her apartment, she released the cat, who jumped up on her bed at the same time she sat down there. She felt a strange little sense of loss, although she had never known the man. She shuddered when she thought about the mirrors in his apartment, how they had all been painted black. Who knows what happens in the minds of the aged, the lonely. She looked across the room at a mirror hanging on her wall and saw her white cat lying behind her on the bed, already curled up, eyes squinted shut. But she also saw another white cat. It was sitting on the bed next to her pet. It was not interested in her cat. This reflected cat was making eye contact with Angela via the mirror. The young woman spun her head around fast at the jolt of that intense stare. But, of course, there was only one cat there.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Jack the Ripper

She looked down as the blade penetrated her dress.

“Oh God, please, No!” she shrieked.

“There’s no two ways about it, Missy, this is how it’s got to be done. Now be a luv and do shut your painted mouth, whore, and let old Jack do his work.”

She giggled and spun around to look at all the other dresses in the tailor’s shop. She loved Jack’s dirty mouth, loved bantering with him in this slutty way. And he did good work. When a working girl had been prospering and gaining a little weight from all those meals paid for by all those slimy clients, Jack was the one to let her dresses out, make them suitable apparel again. And he worked so quickly. His hands moved like a dream as he cut and basted and sewed. He was so good he could do it without even looking down, could tailor while carrying on a conversation and meeting your gaze.

“I suppose we shouldn’t joke,” he said. “It’s truly a dire situation with this lunatic butcher on the loose. I do hope you’re being careful, Catherine.”

“Oh, I know who to approach, love, and who to flee like the plague. Trust me, I’m not letting some complete stranger corner me in a dark alley. Not this bird! I’d sooner eat pigeon pie with a leper’s spoon.”

They chatted a few more minutes, settled the bill (with the customary discount Jack gave to the ladies in that line of work) and then the shop door chimed and she was gone into the night.

Jack loved talking to the girls. They told him everything about their lives because they knew he was discreet and non-judgmental. He knew their schedules, knew where to find them and at what hours. He knew their “dead hours” when they would be alone and hungry for business. He even knew where they lived. And, most importantly, they knew him. So should they encounter him on a foggy street at 3 a.m., they were never alarmed. It was just the dressmaker, the confidant. And should he suddenly prove himself to be thoroughly human, in need of a little attention himself, well, what a surprise, but not really. Men are men, aren’t they? And here was a chance to reciprocate that discount he offered all of them on their tailoring. A true gentleman. One deserving of a little pleasure. And so they would turn into the dark alley with him, that place they would never go with any mere stranger.

Jack walked into the back of his shop and laid the bolt of fabric back on its shelf. He looked down at a small pottery jar. He smiled as he removed the lid. He dumped the contents of it into his palm. Some liquid spilled between his fingers, then percolated down between the wooden floor boards below. Not blood but a preservative.

It was so beautiful to him. He loved holding it. Who knew a kidney could be one of the most sensual parts of a woman, almost as pleasing to feel as a beautiful mouth whose lips formed a Cupid’s bow.

He returned the souvenir to its receptacle, replaced the lid, and turned down the gaslight before leaving the storeroom. He turned down the light in his work room that fronted that busy London street, stared from darkness into darkness for a few moments, then stepped outside, locked his shop door, and disappeared into the fog.

He felt more alive as he became less visible in the fog. He never felt so charged as he did when he felt invisible. The London night was moist. It was moist with pleasure and promise. Jack passed a public clock and smiled at its glowing face. It was a countdown to ecstasy tonight. He had his tools on him. Time for some drinking and fantasizing, to whet his appetite. He couldn’t wait to see her familiar face on some desolate street corner, couldn’t wait to hear her voice chime, “Fancy running into you here!” It was just like tailoring, this night work. It took patience and the human touch. You just had to understand how all the parts fit together. If you wanted the pleasure of ripping it all to pieces later.

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.