Sunday, January 24, 2010


---For David Benjamin Piery---

“Honey!” Said Mrs. Jones from the top of the stairs. She used to be a jovial sort with jade green eyes and always wore a matching jade green jacket. Her jellying chins jutted out from below her jaw and her jet black hair jogged down and framed her face. The thick mascara on her eyelashes gave them an appearance of jagging something, perhaps the air. Perhaps her eyelashes were javelins. Her joints were getting stiff and she was always jonseing for something- a new life or maybe just a new car to jounce and jaunt through countryside roads on. Joy was leaking out of her face and you could tell if you looked at photographs from the past decade. The jubilation that was fading fast, judging by the jumble of stress wrinkles that had jumped up on and junked her complexion, was almost gone. The jury is still out on this, though, for she juxtaposes herself in moments of jocosity. She was no jackleg, mind you, just ‘losing it’. This journey to ‘losing it’ all started, she said in a jangling voice, when she got married. Her least favorite letter, she told her workout partner Jill whilst jiggling in a jazzercising class, was the letter ‘J’. Because that’s the first letter of my damned last name, she said from her janky jalopy of a body, now that I’m married. This life is a damned jail cell, she said to Jill who appeared to be suffering from jaundice. After class she clambered into her Jeep and drove home to her ‘jerry-built’ house that her husband built to prepare Jenni-o turkey and jello to Janet Jackson songs while her husband Jerry munched on turkey jerky. Jesus, she would say, some people are so annoying! That would be me right now, I jest, I jest. I will jettison this act starting now.

“Honey!” Mrs. Jones said a little louder. Her first name was Sally. She bent over the stairs a little bit for this second attempt.
“What?” Carried up a voice in response.
“What are you boys doing down there?”
“Hangin’ out.”
Hangin’ out, Sally said to herself. She sighed and turned away and headed back to the kitchen. An orange light spilled in through a small rectangular window that was built to stare out of while plodding around the kitchen. It was just the right height- you only had to look ahead. Sally opened a cupboard and took out a mug. The outside said ‘World’s Greatest Lover…’ and the bottom on the inside said ‘…Sometimes”. The white porcelain cup warmed up instantly as she poured some aging coffee onto the punch line resting on the bottom of the cup. She sat down in the dining room at the corner of the table and wrapped her small hands around the small mug. After the tingling sensation went away she picked up the phone.

After a solid hour of building and crawling, the two were finally worn down enough to stop for a second of rest. Sweating and breathing a slight heavier than normal, they exited the labyrinth that they created and climbed up on the only functional pieces of furniture left in the basement.They sat on the two chairs looking out over a mass assembly of blankets, couches, chairs, pool sticks and whatever usable item imaginable for the completed purpose.
            The two rose and headed up the stairs, making for the kitchen.

            Sally twirled the cup in a circle slowly on the dining room table with a finger on her free hand. A phone was smushed between her hair, ear, cheek and her left hand.
            “They’re downstairs again.” She sighed.
            “No, it’s not a problem, they just always make a mess, you know? And I like to keep a clean house.” Sally said into the phone sandwich.
            “I just don’t like having to keep after them like this, you know? They should know by now.”
            “Boys will be boys.” Said a voice through the phone.
            “And they are boys.”
            “Can you send mine home before it gets too late? He needs to be up in the morning. I can’t have him getting all razzed up and staying up until God knows when after I fall asleep.” Said the voice.
            Two children came tearing into the dining room, yelling indiscriminately.
            “Is that who I think it is?” Asked the voice through the phone, speaking up to catch Sallys ear.

            In the kitchen two fathers and two sons were drinking water. The sons, who made it to the kitchen first, finished their water and bolted out of the kitchen as quickly as they came.
“Brett, getting laid off was the best idea you’ve ever had.” Said Jerry.
“It wasn’t my idea, man, but I agree. Freedom never felt so… so government funded.”
“Lucky man, lucky man.” Said Jerry.
“Well,” Said Brett in a high toned reply. “not really. I got paid more when I was actually working but the, uh, paid time off and what have you is pretty nice.”
“That’s what I meant. You’re lucky for that.” Said Jerry, making for the basement.

            “We’re going to have to put this all back.” Said Brett once they got to the bottom.
            “This is the family room.” Said Jerry, knowing what Brett was getting at. “And she’s never down here. So as far as the rest of us are concerned, it’s not her room. It’s everybody else's. She says it’s like you’re part of the family so it’s part your room too, Brett. You, me, the kids, everyone that comes down here. Not her, though, she just likes to mope around the kitchen these days and talk on the phone with her jazzbo friend Jill.”
            “She just needs something to do. That’s what Jill tells me.”
            “Yeah? She has that class.” Said Jerry.
            “I mean you should take her out sometime for once. I guess Sally complains about how you don’t do that anymore. I don’t know, I’m just going off of what Jill says.”
            “That won’t make her stop overreacting about stuff like the basement being a fort.” Said Jerry.
            “Yeah, Jerry, but you know Sally.” Said Brett.
            “Uh huh. She’s a fistful, alright.”
            “Mmhm.” Said Brett.
            “Well I suppose the kids won’t wanna do it.” Started Jerry after a pause.
            “You couldn’t expect them to put this all back anyway.”
            “They’ll be happy if we leave it up.” Said Jerry.
            “Mmhm.” Said Brett.

            “Jerry needs to shape up, Jill. You know what I mean. He can’t keep acting like this.” Said Sally.
            “He acts like a child, Jill.” Said Sally as two sets of feet tromped into the room loudly and stopped. Sally looked up.
            “Mom can we go play in the fort?” Said Will, nine years old and two feet in front of his best friend, Marc. Marc was Brett’s son. Brett and Jerry were best friends, too. Like father like son.
            “The fort?” Said Sally, leaning forward.
            “Yeah…Marc and me wanna go play in it. Can we mom?”
            “When did you guys make a fort?” Said Sally, neglecting the phone that was making Charlie Brown noises at her.
            “Dad n’ Brett made it.” Said Will.
            “And we wanna go play in it.” Chipped in Marc.
            “What in the name of Christ Jesus of Nazareth?” Said Sally and she set the phone down on the table. The phone sounded like it was saying ‘wah wah wah waa-waa.’
            Sally stormed down the stairs and looked at everything her and Jills husbands had done to the family room. Brett and Jerry looked over at her. Brett gave a sideways glance to Jerry, a sort of ‘I told you so’ look.
            “What did you do to this room?” Sally barked.
            “I, uh, is this a trick question?” Asked Jerry in return, giving a sideways grin to Brett. Brett hit Jerry in the side.
            “It’s a fort.” Said Jerry.
            “You’re grown men. You’re forty-three. You don’t need to be tearing apart my family room and turning it into a fort.” Said Sally, heatedly.
            “Sally, you’re a grown woman. You can settle down about this.” Said Jerry, coolly.
            “You will be staying with Brett tonight.”
            “Sally.” Said Jerry.
            “I mean it!” Screamed Sally.
            “Let’s talk about this upstairs.” Said Jerry. Sally expressed an ambiguous level of odium when she gave out a loud ‘Ugh’ and headed up the stairs with quick and heavy feet. Jerry followed and so did Brett. Will and Marc waited for them to disappear up the stairs and shot straight into the gigantic fort.

            With Marc fighting off sleep in the backseat, Brett and Jerry drove away from the Joneses residence.
            “I’ll bring you back in the morning. You know I don’t have anything better to do.” Said Brett. “Jill is making me wake up early to go job hunting, so you’ll be my first and probably most important stop of the day.”
            “Can you believe it?” Said Jerry. “Unbelievable. I just can’t believe it.”
            “Give her time to cool down and you guys will be fine.” Said Brett. “Just fine.”

            “Unbelievable.” Said Sally into the phone. “Men. You just can’t change em’, can you, Jill? How do you put up with Brett?” The voice on the other end of the phone said something but Sally wasn’t really listening.

            “Unbelievable.” Said Jerry in the car. “Women. You just can’t change em’, can you, Brett? How do you put up with Jill?” Brett said something from the drivers seat but Jerry wasn’t really listening.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Crooked Lust

---Based on "Crooked Lust" by Bowerbirds---

            I keep reading these short stories where nothing happens. This last one I read- it’s about this couple. They move into town, the woman eventually leaves and the guy keeps waiting outside for his mail. After he gets this letter he leaves too. The end. It’s from the perspective of the postman.
            I do everything I’m supposed to do. I write 1,000 words a day. You’re supposed to do that, right? I do it. But nothing happens in these stories. I read some short stories of another guy from the late 1,800’s and nothing happens in his short stories either. Okay, in a few something happens, but not all of them. There are movies like that too.
            I’m young and I work very hard. I work hard enough. I have known you for the whole time and we’re on a first name basis. I sit there on the last page and sometimes I read the last paragraph a few times but I swear, nothing happened.

            Will you please tell me if I become a hack?

I was born a ghost- an apparition. Filled with holes and contradiction. And I fear I’m the only one. I know what you’re thinking. And you’re wrong. I don’t think he’s a hack- the one who wrote about the postman. He’s not. If I said he was I would quite literally be ex-communicated. I’m not protecting myself- I’m just telling you.
            Half of the time I’m joking. Half of the time everyone’s joking. The other half of the time you’re supposed to think I’m joking. But I’m not and I get away with it, don’t I? I do. And sometimes I feel guilty. So I wake early, watch the leaves quake, and the first light braise the trees. I hide myself in a secret place.
            Five hundred pages. Nothing happens. I mean, the plot line runs for three inches. But it’s not true when I say nothing happens. Everything happens. All three inches of it. Do you know what I’m saying? I’d try to write one of my own but I can’t right now. Everything has been pushing against itself-pressing itself into a big mountain. It doesn’t stop, either, and I don’t know how to sort it out. Or stop it.
            I’m a sycophant. A wheedler. A beguiler by trade- blanching the faces of those I prey upon. But I’m not preying on anyone. I just do it. When I think about it I see myself from the outside. And right now I’m outside. Here I know my heart, I know it’s careless.

            And I need you to be honest. Please tell me if I become a hack.

            I want to climb to the top of the mountain, maybe plant a flag. Just to say I’ve been there. It’s built out of me from bottom to top but I feel like the top is foreign- tranquil. Up there nothing happens. I swear nothing happens.
            I rise and fall every day- I imagine my body looping around and around as the month passes. Supine. Alarm. Rise. Work. Prostrate. Sleep. And you are always there. You stop to talk to me, and I think you know better, but darling, you seem like you’re fearless. And maybe you’re my perfect fix.
I keep coming back to the stories. I find the movies. Not the comedies, not the romance flicks. Those don’t do it. Too much happens. I keep coming back to the stories where nothing happens. I need to keep this mountain together and I don’t even know how I built it. It just rose up. I spot the fissures but they’re only fissures. Not very deep. Everybody’s mountain has them. Some try to patch them up. Some try to ignore them.

            But I am only worried about one thing. Please, please tell me…

It always starts the same, and believe me, it will end the same. That’s just how it goes. I don’t plan it. I write so I don’t have to think about it. Then I realize that I am thinking about it. I’m writing about it. Then I feel it. I hear it. It resonates everywhere. My conscious is an avalanche. Majestic, bewildering. And wholly careless, crooked lust, crooked lust. My conscious is an avalanche…
            It is majestic, too. Crumbling without a way to stop it. Maybe I’m shedding something. Maybe I need this. Maybe I need to fall apart so I can hold myself together. And all the while I am the animal on the side of the mountain, watching the mass speed towards me. It’s made of the tiniest, most harmless bits. And I made it. I don’t know how. It just looms over me. I began mistake the shadow of the mountain for the natural shade of daylight.
I can’t make sense of them if nothing happens. I never read them twice and I never think about them too long but I always want to know. I have a list of things to do every day. Silence imprecations. Avoid paroxysms. Stretch. But the one thing that should be on my list isn’t on my list. And I feel it now. My conscious is an avalanche…
My body loops and loops. I breathe and eat to keep it going. I worry, God I worry. And we all do. Everyone says we need to worry less, tossing it out there like a bone to the poor emaciated dog. I am not that dog. We all are. We all worry. Even if we tell other people to worry less. I know the truth.

            So I am not out of line if I ask you to be honest.

I live with the tides. I live in reverence. But do I live these days? I think about it and know the days are endless, endless. You used sound happy, but darling, you seem like you’re anxious. My conscious is an avalanche. Aware of the deadly flakes. A mountain made of crooked lust. My conscious is an avalanche…

Saturday, January 16, 2010


            His name was Guster Salazar the Third. If there was a roman numeral for "the last" he would also tack that onto the end of his name. Guster Salazar the Third and Last. It had a veracious ring to it.

Here's the thing: through a series of widespread misfortune and dumb luck, Guster became the last man on earth. Before this happened, his friends just called him Gus. Some people thought it was a generic nickname that just stuck with him, but it wasn't.

            Before the problems of overcrowding in Japan, disease and hunger in Africa, constant violent bickering in the Middle East and hate everywhere fixed themselves, Gus worked in the power plant in his small hometown. He lived there all his life. He saw nothing wrong with driving seven minutes to get to his last "class of 2019" reunion. The power plant was hydroelectric: it ran on the water that busily pushed itself through the dam right next to the plant. He enjoyed his job and he knew how to run the place, literally. If someone was sick on his days off he would be glad to come in and work doing something different for a day. When everyone was gone he decided to make the power plant his home. He could keep the power running for himself as long as the water still ran, and the water didn't look like it was going to bail out on him like everyone else did.
            He had a lot of time on his hands. He only had to worry about himself these days, but back when there was a lot of people around he preferred to worry about them. One of his biggest fears was that he was going to be seen as an egotistical person. He decided he would rather be an egoist at twenty-two; he had read The Fountainhead. Now he was faced with a large dilemma: seeing as he was the last man on earth his egoism was now egotism. But it was different now. He could be an egotist and an egoist at the same time and not be a dick. Plus nobody was around to be jealous of his immense self-interest. Sadly, nobody was around to see how good he looked, either. I mean it. He really shaped up after everyone disappeared. And who says black and brown don’t match? His black hair looked good on his brown skin. He didn’t tell himself that he looked good, though. That would be too bigheaded of him. His dying thoughts were spent worrying about whether or not he was really what he was afraid of becoming this whole time. It was a very distressful dying breath that he sighed, still caught in a battle of thoughts. If he wouldn't have died in such a hurry he would have had time to realize that if he was indeed an egotist- it was on accident, and he could not be blamed. But I couldn't tell him this, because I was not there to do that. And neither were you. In fact, neither of us exist right now. Only Gus.
            Well. Sir Caesar "the Flash" existed to Gus. The Flash was Gus' pet cat, sometimes affectionately known as El Gato. The Flash was mainly green and black. Gus loved that combination of colors. The Flash was made out of cardboard, construction paper, felt, googly eyes- the kind that have the black disc inside of them that moved around- strings and other random material he found all stuck together by property of a guy named Elmer. The Flash was very two-dimensional. Gus had a real pet cat years ago. He got the cat in a parking lot.

            "Psst!" said a dark man with a sparse black mustache. "You there!" He half whispered intently. Gus turned his head slightly to the left and glanced at the man talking at him. He was standing between two cars, slightly bent over. The passenger door of the car to the man’s left was open. "Eh! C'mere!" he said. He beckoned with a finger slightly. Gus stood looking at the man, his hands still on his cart with four items in it: peanut butter, milk, bread and some cheap 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner. "Looook" said the man as he reached into his car stealthily and retrieved a small mewling kitten, too cute to not love instantly, unless, of course, you weren't a "cat person". Gus didn't consider himself to be a "cat person" because he considered himself to be fully human. Nothing about him was very cat-like and he didn't understand why people chose to allow the label of "cat person" fall upon their heads. But Gus really did enjoy cats- a lot. Half zombified he walked straight over to the man he was previously raising an eyebrow at. He took the kitten into his hands. It shook and moved around. "Rrg-g-g-g-roww?” it asked.
            "My name's Gus, little fella." Gus said to the cat, his face maybe five inches away from the little animal, and ten inches from its normal place above his body. "You selling these little guys?" He asked the man standing in front of him with a dark red button up shirt that appeared to be made of thick cheap cotton.
            "Yes." said the man in his fast paced accent. "Ninety dollars for this one". He smiled.
            "Ninety?!" Demanded Gus.
            "Yes. Ninety dollars."
            "Well...why? It's just a cat, man" Said Gus. And then he thought to himself: no, it's not a cat man. That's just silly. I wonder what a cat man would..
            "No. It's not just a cat." interrupted the man. His jet-black hair was thick and sort of a medium short length, combed over to one side. A lock of it fell in front of his face as the man leaned forward to give his explanation. His eyes darted from side to side. "It's a gato!" Whispered the man excitedly.
            There was a pause.
            "What?" asked Gus. His eyebrow found its way back to the place it had been before he walked over. His head tipped to one side, favoring the side of his brain that was trying to figure this man out.
            "A gato! See, this is no ordinary cat you can buy here in America. This one is imported. Born in Mayheeko!" Said the man. Of course, he meant Mexico by that. Gus laughed. He produced some twenties and a ten and handed them to the man.
            "You're lucky I have so much cash with me today. I don't think a cat's worth that much money but how can I not? This thing is adorable. Look at it." said Gus as he extended his arms with the little animal cradled in his hands. He took it back a few seconds later. He was beaming like a child. "Your reason for it being so expensive made my day. That's the other reason I bought it." He put the little cat down in his cart by his bag. The cat pounced at it. Gus started pushing and the cat moved all of its legs out and looked a little scared as it tried to maintain balance. Later, Gus gave it the name Sir Caesar "the Flash" Gato because he thought it was funny and the cat could not object, plus it always made him smile when he told other people what it was. He got to tell them the story of how he got the cat- they'd always demand why it had such a strange name. Now he only had his cardboard arts and crafts day rendition of his cat. He took it with him whenever he went to a different room and propped it up against something. It was much bigger than the real one and didn't move quite as much, plus it was uninterested in jingly toys, much to Gus' perpetual disappointment.
            "Umhnnnm" said Gus' throat. He was talking to his second-generation cat, like he always did. Except what he really said was: "I just don't make coffee like they used to, Flash."
            He said it all in his brain. Saying things in his brain was a lot easier than actually voicing them, plus he didn't have to feel as crazed by loneliness as he actually was. This was how he always communicated now. He brained all sorts of things to all sorts of inanimate objects. His mouth would still stir a little and some sounds would come out when he was braining things.
            The Flash looked at him, his black disc pupils resting at the bottom of this plastic bubble eyes. "Well don't look at me!" it brained back to Gus. Gus heard it, as he always did.
            Gus had a very impressive musical collection. He drove to the closest big towns and raided the music stores. At first he collected all sorts of music he liked. Then he went on to music other people used to enjoy, even if he didn't particularly enjoy it himself. He converted one of the offices into a music room when he ran out of space in his "living room". Next to his music room was his other music room with actual instruments. He found a drum set that was so expensive one could have expected it might have a pot of gold in the bass drum. The drum company knew that would mess with the sound so they decided to make it expensive in other ways. Gus didn't understand what was so great about it, but he liked beating it up with wooden sticks. He had a variety of guitars and a few basses. He also raided the Mac store to get a mini studio set up for himself to record. He threw listening parties with The Flash. At one particular listening party he toasted: "No band in all the history of mankind has ever been so concordantly loved by the earths populous!"
            "And no paralyzed cat has ever been the fastest in the world, either!" Said The Flash with a stoic leer.
            Gus had become very fit due to his solitary confinement. He wasn't too big on health for most of his life but now he decided he should be healthy and fit if he was ever to become a-sexual somehow. Some animals and plants were a-sexual and they were quite healthy. Humanity was depending on him to find a way to let itself continue past his death! Somehow, he thought, being healthy and fit would result in mankind beyond his singularity. He ran, weight trained and sometimes swam but he still used the facilities elevators. He thought his transmogrification stratagem was a stretch but he had to take measures somehow. Being lazy wasn't his idea of progress.
            Panting, he walked into his living room, head down, and hands in fists on his hips. "How was the run?" He looked up and saw The Flash right where he left him.
            "Have you know...thought that maybe there's someone out there somewhere? I mean I don't understand how I could really be the only one left here."
            No answer from The Flash.
            "Come on. It's just that sometimes I feel like I'm being watched...not by you. And if there is someone out there...I wish they'd just come say 'hi' or something."
      “Mom, did Eve go to Hell?”
      “I don’t know, baby.” His Mother was short and losing the figure of her youth. Gus was ten.
      “I wonder who was the first. I wonder when Hell started and how long Satan had to be alone for. And how bad it was to be the only person there. All alone in Hell with just Satan to keep you company.”
      “That boy has a lot of time to think, huh?” Said Gus’ dad from behind his paper on the chair that he literally never seemed to leave, except for work.
       “Hey Guster, wanna see what’s on?” He asked with a gesture of his left hand- lifting it with his eyebrows, presenting the remote.
            Somewhere along the line he decided that he didn’t believe in God. Now everyone was gone and he didn’t know what to think. Everyone who made him hate organized religion was gone, and if there was a God, getting rid of them was a pretty nice thing to do. But it was just him now. Alone. He reached for the remote. Static.
            Gus, caught in quizzical thought, exited the room to head off to the river to bathe. Down the hallway, left at the “T” and straight to the elevator. He raised his hand to call the elevator, and right as his hand hovered over the button, a light above the elevator doors lit up and said 'bing!’
            He raised his head to watch the doors mechanically sunder and saw a man standing directly in the middle of the elevator.           
            Gus cocked his head to the side- his face a look of turbid bemusement. The man standing in front of him lifted his arm parallel with the ground. The muscles in the hand attached to his arm simultaneously contracted in a muscular prolix. The trigger of the gun attached to his hand squeezed as intended and his eyelids followed suit, but by reflex.
            Gus lay on the ground gasping for air, his mind and heart racing in tune with each other, and then, as if they had coordinated it in a protest to the pain and their flummoxed state, they stopped.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Hello, my name is Steve Winwood. If you Google my name you’re going to think that I’m some semi-famous guy. Well I’m not. I had no idea who the Steve Winwood was until someone said, what, like the Steve Winwood? And I said who?
            This isn’t about how I share a name with someone who I’m ‘in the Wiki know’ about. This is about how my house has spooks. Now, I know what you’re thinking, and that’s not the case, I assure you. I can walk around in the dark anywhere and I’ll be fine. Just not up on the second floor of my house, where the spooks work. Their job is to make me feel uneasy and like I should probably run everywhere I go when I’m upstairs. They do a very good job of this, of course. I feel like every time I reach to flip on the light switch there will be something staring me down when I snap my head around to survey the room I just walked in to.  If I walk by a bed I’m sure that some decrepit skeleton hand will shoot out and grab my ankle.
(Never mind that skeletons can’t be strong enough to do any damage to me. One stomp on an infirm skeleton wrist should be enough to cripple it past the point of inflicting physical harm.)

And you may have guessed that the times I am the most spooked by the spooks is at night. This is true. But I maintain: I am not scared of the dark. I’m scared of the spooks. Sometimes the upstairs is still scary in the daytime but it’s not quite as bad. The fact that it’s still scary in the daytime is how I know that it’s spooks and not just the dark.
I used to wonder why ghost hunters hunted with the lights off. If you were to see a ghost, wouldn’t it be easier for you to see them with the lights on? Human eyes were not created with night vision. Then I figured it out. Ghosts use the elements. They’re phantasms, nay, phantoms (!) that have become attuned to the dark because of it’s spooky advantages. What can they do to you physically? Honestly, not much. Not the ghosts that reside upstairs, at least. They could creak a door, maybe, or make me chilly, but that’s not much to have a heart attack over. Nothing to scream myself into acute apoplexy over. So once the haunting community came to terms with this I think they agreed that the proper time to haunt is the night. When things are dark- uncertain- likely harbor a forgotten and discarded artifact to trip you. In the daytime things aren’t nearly as scary. Ever seen a vacuum cleaner look like a short woman with a horridly bent nose? I have. It was at night. Then I saw the vacuum cleaner ten hours later. It was a vacuum.
Ghosts don’t have to be seen; they are felt instead. That’s why the whole upstairs is spooky. I know it’s not one oversized spook that covers the whole upstairs and spills into every nook and cranny of ever room- how preposterous! Those spooks are just everywhere up there. I can feel it. Ghosts are scariest when they wait just outside of your vision- right outside a door or right behind your head when you curl up facing the wall at night.

And, once again, I promise you that I am not afraid of the dark.

The ghost’s spooking jurisdiction ends somewhere near the bottom of the stairs. I feel the tight grip of their spooky hands releasing whatever it is in my chest and throat that makes me feel so uneasy when I’m up there. Let’s just say it’s the human’s spook nerve. When clinched properly it can affect your whole body. It can make you shake; it can make you double over, even. It can make you say the silliest things. Men: it can make you sound like a woman. Woman: it can make your man come running to you in childlike fear. It can make you gulp right after it makes your throat the Mojave Desert. This spook nerve- the one that invokes the powerful emotion of fear- can make you lie and it can make you hurt people when you’re normally as docile as a little Yorkshire Terrier and it can turn you into a scared little rabbit that can’t do anything but run in a helter-skelter pell-mell scramble for the hills or whatever you may be running to for refuge. However you may handle yourself when this nerve is grabbed or pinched and prodded varies with the day, it seems. Sometimes I make my trip down the stairs a quick one, bouncing down each step as fast as I can go without risking a fall and sometimes I walk slowly, defying each and every spook that may be trying to make sure I pee my pants on my way out.
One particular day I was feeling defiant. That day was the day that I actually encountered my first spook. I’m talking visual contact and all.
It was daytime, a perfect time to defy spooks. I started my slow descent down the stairs, not feeling very spooked at all by this trip. Halfway down the stairs I heard something and I stopped. It sounded faintly like someone blubbering on about something through broken sobs- something like this: boo… ablubbadoo-hoo… aboooooo... hoo... hoooo. All with long “o” sounds, of course. Very melodramatic and melancholic.
Galvanized by the inexplicable human notion that everything mysterious needs to be investigated, I turned around. I crept up the stairs as quietly as I could, making sure I would not lose the sound that I was in the process of tracking down. I got to the top of the stairs and craned my head down the hallway to the right- nothing. Nothing in sight, that is. The sound was still there, though, somewhere near the other end of the hall. I walked slowly, stopping sharply at the sound of any creak in the floor. It took me probably five minutes to traverse the length of the hallway. I looked in on the two rooms that I passed on my journey, but seeing as none of them contained The Sound I continued forward, slowly, slowly. Now the hallway presented me with three choices: straight into the walk-in closet attached to one of the guest bedrooms, a right which led to the aforementioned bedroom or a left which led to the bathroom, which was also connected to the first room on the left as you walk the hallway from the stairs. My upstairs is a maze, come to think of it. I know it like the back of my hand, assuming the back of my hand is spooky and implying that I only look at it when I need to. I took a left, following my ears.
It was coming from behind the shower curtain, louder than ever. Someone, or something, was definitely crying in my bathtub. I grabbed the edge of the curtain and yanked it clear to my left and gasped, fell backwards and ripped the curtain off of the railing as I watched a ghostly figure gasp, fall backwards into the wall, sobbing, and make the shower head drip lightly as a spook may do to spook the intended spook-ee. Needless to say, I was spooked. For a few seconds. Then I realized that I still heard this sobbing.
“Gh…ghost?” I said into the air, pulling the detached shower curtain over me like a blanket. A security blanket, to be exact. Don’t tell anyone, but I still have my baby blanket. It’s purple and it is the target of jealousy for many a woman wishing to snuggle with me. I’m loyal to my blankie.
“Go away!” Blubbered the ghost from inside the wall, somewhere just beyond the reaches of my human eyes.
“Is something…is there something I can help you with?” I asked the wall, still feeling a little bewildered at the whole incident.
“Go eat something you’re allergic to! Or, better yet, go find me something to eat that I’m allergic to.” Came the ghost’s curt reply, and then after a dramatic and timely pause he continued in a dragged out bleat: “Oh wait. I’m a ghost.
“What is going on?!” I asked myself out loud.
“What is going on with you?” Shot back the ghost.
“I wasn’t…”
“How come you’re not scared of me ever?” Whinnied the ghost.
“Every time I’m stuck out here on day shift you’re never scared when you’re up here. Don’t think that I don’t notice. You don’t even pretend to be scared. You could at least give me that! And the others- oh, they notice too!”
And then we were silent for what was probably seven whole seconds. Seven severely interminable seconds. And then I spoke up.
“I, um, you know that I have no idea what’s going on right now, don’t you?”
“I’m haunting you. Wooooo-ooohh” Said the most halfhearted ghost I could have ever imagined.
“Look, ghost,” I said a little uneasily. “I’m scared right now. I tore the shower curtain off.”
“That’s only because you saw me. Showing yourself is a last resort when you’re a ghost trying to scare people, and anyway, I wasn’t trying to scare you. I was on break.”
“On break? From what?”
“From spooking, what else? I’m a ghost. It’s not like I was taking a break from an intense cribbage tournament.”
“I guess.” I said, which, by the way, is something you can say to anything. Seriously. Try it out sometime. (Correct response: Alright…I guess.)
“What do you mean by shifts?” I asked.
“Shifts?” Said the ghost. “Oh. Shifts. Yes. This is the graveyard shift. All the other ghosts are asleep right now.”
“Ghosts sleep?”
“Well, yes, but only because being up all day every day is extremely boring. Especially since you don’t come up here all that often. We just stay awake in shifts. We keep the most ghosts on spooking duty when it’s dark outside.” Explained the wall.
“Yeah. And they won’t let me work the night shifts with them because they say they already have enough ghosts to cover the shift. Like there can be too many!” Whined the ghost. “The more the scarier, right? That’s how the saying goes!”
“Oh, come on, ghost. You’re scary!” I solaced the poor thing.
“Yeah? Then what was that stunt on the stairs all about? You never slowly walk down the stairs at night!”
“Yeah…well…I twisted my ankle the other day and now I have to be careful on stairs.” I fibbed like a child. It was obvious that I was lying; the ghost resumed its ululations of self-pity.
“I’m the worst ghost ever!” It wailed.
“Ah butter biscuits.” I said under my breath.
“What...did you say?” Asked the sobbing ghost.
“I, uh, said …butter biscuits.” I said feeling embarrassed at my stupid replacement words. I usually just say something random with alliteration that’s likely to make me smile after making a mistake. One time, a few years ago, I said “Aw JonBenĂ©t Ramsey!” and my co-worker looked at me kinda funny and I go “Too soon?” even though it was more than ten years after the fact. He didn’t find the same humor I did in it and it probably made the foot-in-mouth situation that I was trying to navigate out of worse so from then on I decided to just say harmless things like “butter biscuits!” and “snake socks!” and “parrot pushups!” and so on.
“B…butter biscuits?” The ghost blubbered back.
“Butter biscuits.” I sighed in reply.
And then the sobbing ghost did something you see children do when they find out that their immunization shot or their first haircut or first rollercoaster isn’t all that scary or doesn’t even hurt. The crying segued right into laughing. Hysterical laughing, choking on breaths and sniffling and I’m sure even a sore ghostly abdomen to boot. Then I started laughing a little bit too.
“Shh…shh!” The ghost said as it calmed down. “You’ll wake the others!” It warned me.
“Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad idea…” I said as a light bulb in my head flickered on.
“No, that would be a terrible idea!” Said the ghost with a plea somewhere in the tone of its not-so-spooky voice.
“Look,” I said, pulling the shower curtain to the side revealing a growing dark spot on my pants.
“Something smells like piss and asparagus.” Said the ghost from behind the wall.
“I know.” I whispered.
“You just pissed your pants.” Stated the ghost, nonplussed.
“I’m going to get up, run out of here and down the stairs. I’m going to drop my phone in the hallway and run back up to get it about a minute after I get down. Wake your ghost friends up.”
I felt cold burst through me right after I said that and I could already feel the whole upstairs getting spookier as I got up and ran as fast as I could down the hallway and tore down the stairs. I stood in the living room, panting a little bit. I walked into the kitchen, turned the faucet on cold and filled up a glass of water. It’s not often that someone will sacrifice their pride for another, but the feeling I had coursing through my veins for what I was about to do as I drank that water was one more rewarding than any I felt in literally years. I set down the glass, put on my game face and crept towards the stairs. I poked my head in the doorway leading to the stairs, mounted the small landing at the bottom of the stairs, and bolted.

Friday, January 8, 2010


There was a beast that lived in my grandparent’s basement, just past the bottom of the stairs in that big mysterious room closed off by a large dark green curtain, that come to think of it, was probably just a bed sheet. It was a gigantic rat that fed primarily on peanut butter. Sometimes cheese, but mainly peanut butter. I imagined this rat to be human enough to walk around on its hind legs. It would be hunched over as it dragged its oversized frame around the basement room it had been given. It wore a mahogany colored robe, to keep warm. Its eyes were undoubtedly green and gave off a dim light.
            When I was eight the basement of my grandparents house was a fort. It had a pool table, which was great for sneaking around and crawling under. The basement was spacious for a few kids who had yet to reach a decade in age. It was our play-place whenever our mom brought us over so she could visit her parents. You could get to the basement from the living room. Down one half flight of stairs, where a few rooms existed, then down another half flight. At the bottom of this flight was always the green curtain that we were constantly warned to stay away from. We never dared to question our grandpa- why he kept a giant rat in his basement and if it was so dangerous, how did the curtain keep it at bay? We entered our imaginary fortress the same way every time, by taking the stairs on the far right side and sliding into the room, always staying away from the rat’s domain.
            As I grew older I feared the rat less and less but never tried to peer past the curtain. I never felt the urge to look past it as I got older. The room never existed in my childhood explorations so it never existed as I became a teen.
            Imaginations are powerful things, and children are the magical wizards they imagine themselves to be any given Tuesday afternoon, and the next day they really are in a struggle for their lives as they escape one of their siblings who has turned into a swamp creature. But as the months pass by every child loses its powers. Imaginations fade. You come to realize that your hand really isn't a gun and you really didn't just shoot your brother with it, and on top of that you realize that getting shot would really suck and you have absolutely no desire to really shoot your brother. Schoolwork becomes real, and so does that cute girl you see between third and fourth hour every day on your way to your locker.
            You've grown up. Being a kid was fun, but the days of make believe are over. Right?

            "Mom. Come on- can't I just stay at home this time? I've been there billions of times and there's nothing to do there. It's so boring."
            "You're coming with me and that's final!" Everything moms say are final. Don't ask them why 'that's final' because you'll never get an answer. "Because I said so. That's why."
            Every time it’s the same seemingly involuntary act: I sigh and drag my feet around, suddenly feeling the need to walk aimlessly around the living room half as fast as I normally walk. My favorite windbreaker is waiting for me on a chair where I threw it sometime after I last came home. It's blue, white and orange. I got it on sale. Thinking about it now, I understand why it was on sale. It's ugly. But it made me feel cool when I first put it on and made my mom buy it and now I have an unspoken attachment to it- like the ratty pair of shoes that you refuse to throw away.
            We have a mini van. It's a gray Astro van, and for a van I think it's pretty awesome. It endured many trips of us kids bouncing around before we were finally buckled down, and now it endures trips of three teens staring intently at nothing through its windows.
            In the corner of the basement a variety of bean bags and blankets await our arrival. A few chairs, too, but none of us really liked the chairs that much. Bean bags fit us much better; slouching was becoming the new posture of choice.
            "Ukhh" said the back of Ryan's throat. "I don't know why mom still makes us come here. This sucks."
            "Yeah. But we'd be sitting at home doing nothing if she didn't take us with." I said in a lazy response.
            My brother used to get mistaken as my twin. We really don't look a whole lot alike. Our hair colors aren't even close to being the same. It’s my sister and I that look alike- the blonde hair- the blue eyes. We used to joke that he was the adopted child, when really it was Jacqi and me that bore the least resemblance to our parents. Ryan has brown hair and eyes that he insists are “hazel”. I tell him that they’re brown because he’s a boy and boys shouldn’t worry themselves with whether their eyes are “hazel” or not. He persists. I never understood why people thought we were twins. I guess we just act alike.
            "Apparently she thinks we still play down here?" stated our sister. She was the oldest of the three of us. She knew we were far too old to still play games and communicate across the room with walkie talkies, and if she knew something was true we were liable to believe her. She had over a year of living on me and a little over two on my brother.
            "Come on guys," I chuckled "who wants to be the sea monster this time?"
            "Ha. Not it."
            "You can say you're not it," Smiled my sister "but we can make you be the sea monster again if we want!"
            "You guys suck. And you always have." Ryan had that grin on that he's been making since he was four years old stealing moms coffee from the table top as she got ready for work in the morning. I don't know how it didn't burn his mouth but he always drank it all. And fast.
            "Well... we could go free Garatron from his dungeon." joked Jacqi. She said it like a joke but it was more of a challenge. None of us believed in the thing that came to be named Garatron (Gargoyle+Rat+Tron [we, as all kids in our generation, had a robot fixation]. This name struck the proper fear into the unknown creature that lived behind the curtain), but none of us jumped to the challenge that came up at least once every time we came over.
            "Still not it." He didn't sound excited. The joke was probably getting old to him.
            "You guys. Have you realized that we have never even so much as peeked behind that curtain? That's just silly. We all know there's nothing back there. Grandpa probably just has a bunch of old crap he doesn't want us to break back there." I always felt like mine was a voice of reason.
            "Alright. It's settled. You get to go back there and tell us what you see." Jacqi was always first in command. Whatever she said generally had to happen. When Ryan or me said something she had the power to deny it.
            Well fine. I wasn't afraid. But I wasn't getting up either.
            "Puhftt.." My diaphragm popped my stomach up for a split second as the corner of my mouth pointed towards my eye which was half squinting as I looked back and fourth between the people I had spent most of my life with. They were calling my bluff and I knew it. "fine!" I stood up abruptly; my face still holding that grin assuring myself that I thought this was ridiculous.
            "Go on!" Ryan smiled as he lazily extended his arm and flicked his hand in the direction of the forbidden room.
            "Yeah." I let my head fall back slightly as I turned to head in the direction of the room. I marched the same way as I did when I found out I had to come here earlier today.
            Jacqi started to laugh. Quietly for a second or two then more obviously. Ryan joined in. I had only walked about five steps. Without moving my feet I turned around and smiled. They both shot up to follow me as I picked up my pace and headed straight for the ugly green curtain.
            We stood there in a “V” pointing at the room, me at the tip. I stood staring at it. I had dared to do this before a few times on a few of the many trips we had been forced to make. This was about to be a trip I had only dared to think about up until this point. I reached out to grab the side of the curtain. . .

            Inside there were a lot of boxes stacked against the walls. I saw the mousetraps scattered around with peanut butter. Apparently, if the mousetraps didn't kill it the years of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils were going to do the trick. However, if they hadn't by now the chances were slim. The rat beast must have been smarter than that by now. We slowly walked around the room through the mazes of old crap our grandpa clearly didn't want us to break. I'm sure he's never going to use any of it, though.
            A noise came from somewhere behind me. My heart skipped a beat as I spun around just in time to see my brother trying to set a fishing pole back in its place. "I thought you were Garatron," I said with the quiver in my voice of a nervous laugh.
            "No. That...That's Garatron.." My sister said as she pointed behind some boxes, her mouth partially dropped open. Ryan and I looked over from where we were poking around. I was closest to her and the first to show up and peer behind the box. I saw nothing. Ryan came up and stood looking over my shoulder.
            "There! There's his tail!" he exclaimed and pointed to an edge of one of the boxes.
            "Um," I said, a little confused at the floor space of nothing I was looking at. "Guys..?"
            "He's coming after us!" Jacqi said as she fled the room.
            I looked at my brother and smiled. I looked back and there he was. Exactly as I imagined him. With a grin I was half my age again- seven, eight, and nine with my brother and sister.  "Get the walkie talkies!" I commanded as I took off with Ryan after our sister. We ran back to the bean bag area and found the walkie talkies laying around. The batteries were dead. We probably hadn't touched those walkie talkies in two years. "I'll go get some batteries," I said in a serious voice and I took off for the stairs. I stopped at the curtain and jerked it across the entry way. "I think he's still in there guys!" I called out as I pounded up the stairs.
            I calmly took a right as I got to the top of the stairs, entering the living room. I walked into the kitchen, breathing a little heavier than normal. Mom looked over as I opened a drawer with random household items that didn't really have a place anywhere else. The junk drawer also served as the battery drawer. I tested two nine volts with my tongue. It quivered a little bit as a light shock shot across the two contact points from the first one. "Dith un's gud," I said with my tongue out, ready to test the second one. "Bla. That one too." I shook my head a little. I hated testing nine volt batteries but this was a serious matter. "Bye mom!" I said in a slightly raised volume as I turned and quickly headed back to the stairs.
            "And a hearty 'Hi' to you too!" said my grandpa as he leaned back and looked for me around the corner of the kitchen. We made brief eye contact as I smiled and waved. The stairs thudded under my heavy steps as I ran back down to aid my brother and sister in the struggle we were about to embark in against Garatron.
            "Watch out! He's right there!" warned my sister.
            "Aw basketballs!!" I said as I stopped abruptly on the last step.
            "I have a plan. Wait one second." She appeared back by the stairs a few seconds later holding a pillow. "I'm gonna throw this at him and when I do..make a break for it!"
            I nodded, two batteries clutched in my right hand as I bent my legs, ready to spring forward. She threw the pillow. It bounced off of a box from behind the curtain.
            "Got him! Quick!!" she said urgently.
            I jumped from the final stair and we ran back to the other side of the basement where Ryan was waiting for us, ready to devise a plan.
            "Alright. What do we know about this thing? What can we use against it?" Asked Ryan, looking to us for council.
            "I think it's sick of peanut butter by now. If we're going to lure it, we're going to have to use something else" I said, glancing between the two other faces in our huddle.
            "Peanut butter and pickles."
            "Jacqi? Peanut butter and pickles? How will that help?" Our mom got us hooked on peanut butter and pickle sandwiches early on in our lives. I looked a little miffed at such a ridiculous plan..there wasn't any time to waste! I continued: "Ryan, got any ideas?"
            "Hold on!" She insisted. "This is a good idea. Garatron is familiar with peanut butter. You can't get sick of something if you've never had anything else to compare it with.. so the peanut butter will lure it in. The pickles, something new, will give him even more reason to go after it."
            "Alright good point. I got the batteries, though, so who's next to go up? Whoever does it has to somehow get past Garatron..twice."
            "I'll go." Said Ryan. He was always brave. Never too energetic, but rarely afraid to do something that took some guts.
            "Alright, we need to make a distraction." I said, breaking my position in the huddle to look around the room for something to use.
            "Here's what we'll do.." Said Jacqi, pulling us in with serious comportment. "I’ll get close to him and distract him by talking. I’ll keep moving back into the room every time he gets closer. He's not fast so I won't be in too much danger. You guys will sneak around the pool table, and when it's safe, Ryan, you go up and get the sandwich. Cut it into four pieces. Lee, you go into the room and find an empty box. A big one. Get back to the corner and set the box up on its side and hide behind it, behind the closed side. And take this walkie talkie. Ryan- you'd better make it quick!!"
            And we were off. I didn't think about what I was supposed to be doing hiding behind this box in the corner of Garatrons den and I started to get a little nervous when I heard my brother come back down the stairs and receive further directions from my sister.
            "Alright quick.. find Lee and put a piece right in front of the box." I heard the walkie talkie by my side static and then I heard my sisters voice more loudly: "When we say 'now', jump up and capture Garatron in the box." Then the static preceded my sisters voice again in a distant and faint volume from across the room: "Lay the other three pieces in a trail leading to the fourth. He'll take the bait, promise."

            "Lee..Lee, did you hear that?" Ryan fervently whispered.
            "Yes. And I think I'd feel safer if you guys would just give me a harpoon gun instead of this box"
            And then there was silence. I heard the grotesque smacking of ratty masticating grow nearer until it was almost directly on the other side of me.
            "NOW! NOW LEE! NOWNOWNOWNOW!" It was a sort of unisonous tumult from my siblings, both in audible shouting and staticky telephonic transmissions: an electrified galvanization for a call to action. I jumped straight up, holding the box in front of me. Garatron fell backwards because, as I later learned, his head was actually in the box and all I really had to do was tip the box forward to capture him. Unfortunately I was feeling rather valiant, hence the jump to my feet with the box. Garatron soon regained his bearings and I swear I saw those green eyes glow! He began snipping at my feet, snarling and drooling everywhere in the process. I looked up, fearful and impuissant. My brother and sister stood on, apparently unaware of the struggle that was happening between my feet and this beast. Garatron lunged forward for my seemingly palatable ankles and I saw my window of opportunity. I jumped backwards and brought the box down upon the giant rat at the same time. How the whole things fit under the box, I will never know. The box shook from its attempts for liberation so I pounced on top of the box, securing the rat betwixt the floor and the box. Panting, I called out to my brother and sister:
            "Got him!" I announced with a triumphant grin while kneeling on the box, but no sooner than my grin spread it quickly faded. I heard our secret code beeping through the walkie talkie, three short staccato beeps followed by one long one. It meant one thing: adults. Ryan was feverishly pounding out the warning signal as he looked up at our mother, who was standing right behind the two of them with a smile on her face.
            "Are you guys ready to go yet? or should I leave you be for a while longer? It looks like you're actually having fun down here!"
            "No mom, we're good..we were just..we saw a..." Jacqi stalled for a quick excuse.
            "I donno, I'm ready to go whenever" Said Ryan as he sheepishly hid the walkie talkie behind his back.
            "Don't tell grandpa?" I said with a pleading smile that could win any mom over in an instant.
            "Don't worry kids, I won't. Anyway, someone's gotta be around to keep Brutus at bay."
            "Brutus?" We all kind of said under our breaths at the same time.
            "Well whatever you call him. That's what we called him. You ready?"
            I climbed down off of the box I was still perched on, feeling invigorated but doing my best to not show it as we all walked out of our grandpas house, bidding our farewells and for the first time in years not feeling dread when he said, as he always did: "You kids should come back over sometime!"