A RICH MAN gave a great feast, to which he invited many friends and acquaintances. His Dog availed himself of the occasion to invite a stranger Dog, a friend of his, saying, “My master gives a feast, and there is always much food remaining; come and sup with me tonight.” The Dog thus invited went at the hour appointed, and seeing the preparations for so grand an entertainment, said in the joy of his heart, “How glad I am that I came! I do not often get such a chance as this. I will take care and eat enough to last me both today and tomorrow.” While he was congratulating himself and wagging his tail to convey his pleasure to his friend, the Cook saw him moving about among his dishes and, seizing him by his fore and hind paws, bundled him without ceremony out of the window. He fell with force upon the ground and limped away, howling dreadfully. His yelling soon attracted other street dogs, who came up to him and inquired how he had enjoyed his supper. He replied, “Why, to tell you the truth, I drank so much wine that I remember nothing. I do not know how I got out of the house.”
One of the watershed moments for me in life was when I realized I had dreamed the exact images of a movie before I had ever actually seen it. Say what you want about that, but it always stuck with me through the years. I fell asleep one night, and witnessed what I can only describe as a scene of horror, hundreds of people screaming in a hell-like agony, and marching into the mouth of some hideous metal demon. The last I remember was an onlooker below them crying out in terror, just before seeing his back disappear through a set of heavy iron double doors. Later, while visiting relatives, an uncle brought a videotape of an old silent film for my other uncle, because he was an enthusiast for the Roaring Twenties. This was maybe 1988 or 89, so VHS cassettes were in use. As I was watching it, it was then that I realized that the thing I had dreamed was, in po0int of fact, the EXACT visual images from the “Moloch” machine explosion scene from the beginning of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” (1927).
There was once a used bookstore just off of the Marion bypass. It was located in a little cul-de-sac, beyond a gravel parking lot, catty-corner with another shop I can’t quite remember. The bookstore was called Redbeard’s books. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would, thirty years later, use a digital publishing platform on something called the “Internet” to sell books by an author named Redbeard. But, I couldn’t have foreseen that at the time.
It was the typical, cramped little place, and very dim inside. Back then, my mother use to wait patiently while I combed video shops (those carried videocassette tapes, which are now essentially museum relics. Back in those days, there were specialty shops on every corner, catering to your particular taste in VHS.) and little junky bookshops. Often, she just sat in the car. Thank God for the patience of mothers.
All I remember of it, from thirty years on, is that the screen door opened up on to two rooms, one where a sort of fat hippie sat behind a desk or counter, surrounded by books…this room leading to two additional rooms, one with heaving shelves of books, and a smaller room with a sort of bin in the center, with books and comics stacked flat. At least, this is how I remember it.
My single purchase at this establishment was a graphic novel adaptation of the movie Bladerunner. A sequel has just been released the month I am writing this; which is a nice coincidence, but has nothing to do with this story.
The other book, Deviant by Harold Scechter, was a true crime biography of Ed Gein. I didn’t know it then, but I would go on to write about Ed Gein myself in three separate books. The Deviant book had grainy, black-and-white crime scene photos that made me feel rather sick. I put the book down as if the vibes from it could poison the soul. Maybe it could, and did. I turned to the comics because they cheered me. It was very dim in that store.
The store was the downstairs of a two-story house, bright white with a cracked pavement walkway around the side to the porch. Well-kept, which was what made the single, cryptic word of graffiti that had been spray painted on the side so perplexing. Around town, I, as many others, had seen such cryptic phrases as “eat shit,” and the even more utterly incomprehensible “1,2,3 CAT!” painted in dripping, horror movie letters on various alley walls and abandoned office buildings. But, “If”? If…what, pray tell? What the hell was the meaning behind this inscrutable expression? And, why was it allowed to drip there, day after day, on that clean white house wall, without anyone ever bothering to paint over it?
That it was the first thing you saw on the way to a bookstore, one brimming full of fantasy and science fiction books, comics, role playing games…maybe it was a challenge to wonder? To fantasize. To dream. It has always struck me that that might be what the mysterious “If” was meant to convey; a sense of plunging headlong into a world that challenged you to ask, “What…if?” What if dragons really slept on piles of gold, in lonely dungeons? What if spaceships flew through the galaxy, hopping from star to star, with alien minds aboard? What if? “Ask yourself,” it seemed to be saying.
“If” is the title of a poem by Rudyard Kipling. It ends with the line, “You’ll be a man, my son.” When I first saw the ambiguous “If” as it had been put upon the clean white wall by some rascally, unknown intellect, (trying to communicate, SOMETHING to the unwary observer), I was not yet, legally, a man. I was probably nine years away from that particular malady.
Rudyard Kipling is considered “politically incorrect” in the year 2017,BTW.
“If” was the name of a science fiction magazine edited by Frederick Pohl. That, in this context, seems appropriate.
“If” is the title of a British art house film, rather obscure, starring Malcolm McDowell, who played H.G. Wells in the movie Time After Time. The film “If…” concerns a British schoolboy who perpetrates a shooting massacre. Today, we live in a world that is rotten with massacres, both shooting and otherwise. Especially at schools. But, in 1987, not so much.
There are other “Ifs”. Silent films. Bad Novels. Forgotten popular songs.
IF I had known, in 1987, how much pain was in store for me in life, I might have decided to freeze time in that bookstore, like something from a bad sci fi paperback.
IF I had known what the world of 2017 would be like, what MY world would be like, thirty years ago, I would have chose to stop the clock. I’d be in that damn bookstore forever, and Mom would be waiting patiently out in the car, for eternity.
If wishes were fishes, boys and girls.
Socialist reformer W.T. Stead was fascinated by spiritualism and psychic phenomena, so much so that when a medium told him he must not, under any circumstances, travel by sea, he went and booked passage aboard an ocean liner for her maiden voyage.
He died aboard the Titanic, April 15, 1912.
Kimberly mining camp in South Africa, in 1873, was a rough and tumble collection of shanty shacks, gambling “hells”, dens of iniquity and vice, prostitution, drunkenness; what one would expect, for the most part, from a boom town that had grown up overnight, its development driven by the lust for glittering riches, hidden in the form of diamonds buried beneath the earthen crust.
It was into one of these establishments that a young man entered, possessed of a small sum of money he was eager to multiply. Seeking out the roulette table like a lemming looking for a cliff, he sauntered up, laid down his bets, and began to play. And lose. And go again. And lose again. and, yet, for him, at least, losing only a part of his wealth was not enough.
The gambler’s mania had gripped him, and, soon, he found himself dispossessed of all but a single British pound. (Or, we at least assume it was a British pound. I suppose it could have been a single Rand. We’re unsure of this. Let’s compromise for now and just call the measly currency he proffered a “dollar,” shall we?)
Raymond Chandler has a story called “You Play the Black, and the Red Comes Up.” Raymond Chandler novels were full of desperate men and beautiful, deadly dames, all of whom lived in a world that was, essentially, amoral, predatory, rife with scoundrelism and, just beneath the aching, tired, weather-beaten and undeniably phony façade , was corrupt deep down to the core. Life is ugly, men are predators, and dames is “no damn good.”
Of course, the young man was soon divested of this money, and beating his breast in despair (or, so we assume), dragged his sorry carcass out the door of the so-good den of gambling and vice, much to the cheers and jeers of the other assembled gamblers. It was not long after that a shot rang out in the street.
“Well, I’ll be damned. The sorry bastard has went and done himself in!” someone must have shouted.
(You’ll forgive us the literary license of putting words in the mouth of a fictional bystander. We do it only toward the establishment of a dramatic effect.)
In the dusty, rutted, dirty road lay a bleeding body, the hand still gripping the butt of the pistol, a pool of crimson wetting the earth around the rawboned, grief-addled, but undeniably handsome visage of the dead young miner. A small crowd gathered to circle, like human vultures, and spit forth exclamations, mutterings, and various imprecations to the preservative power of putative saints.
They must have dragged the body off to the morgue. I suppose it was unceremoniously deposited into a cold, lonely, paupers’ grave, to be eternally forgotten, except by the windblown trees.
Soon after, as if in a cosmic chuckle at the ill-starred fate of the so-unfortunate suicided loser, a quite similar young fellow entered a gambling establishment called Dodd’s Canteen. He had only one dollar in his pocket. His name, incidentally, was David Harris.
He sauntered over to the roulette table. Should he lay down his single, hard-earned dollar, risk the only money he had, all and everything, on a simple intuitive feeling?
He finally decided to do so. Mr. Harris left Dodd’s Canteen 1,400 dollars wealthier than when he entered it. In time, he would develop this small sum of money into a vast fortune.
So turns the inscrutable Wheel of Fortune. For one man wealth and happiness; for another rack and ruin. The completely illogical nature of this seems, to us at least, to almost smack of a kind of cosmic sadism; or perhaps, it’s all one big joke, with the final joke always being on you.
Even the Prince catches up with the Pauper, eventually; in the shallow depths of a cold, hard grave.
But, still, one must surely beat his breast, raise his fists to heaven, and damn God for the inscrutable way in which he metes out destiny in the world. C’est la vie!
Note The following are, quite possibly, true events based on a ridiculous parody. Or?
The copious vomit of Abe Lincoln drip, dripped down from the theater box. Behind him, John Wilkes Booth was still trying to pull the trigger on a brace of bananas some unthinking poltergeist had replaced his pistols with.
Mary Todd bounded out of her chair, and, being exceedingly flatulent, broke explosive, ectoplasmic wind, as the people seated to the left and right of the Lincolns strained to hear the dialogue coming from the stage.
“Oh, I do wish that the President would halt that infernal racket, and Mrs. Lincoln, too. For, I have long waited to see Our American Cousin!” whispered the wife, but, loudly enough that Booth could hear them over the gagging, flatulating, and squish of his banana gun.
“Drat” cried the erstwhile assassin, and, flinging the overripe fruit aside, yelled “Sic Semper Tyrannus!” waving his fist in the air, and bounding from the theater box to the vomit-streaked stage.
Audience members, not alerted to the full tragedy that was occurring just above, exclaimed “What did that poor man yell? Did anyone catch it”
And one man said, “Sounded like ‘Sick pimple moronis.’ I suppose I could be mistake, though.”
And his wife said, “No, no, he quite clearly said ‘Distemper tie shamus.’ I heard it distinctly. Whatever THAT means!”
And one old codger, missing teeth and chewing a wad of tobacco exclaimed “Ha! You’re both wrong! What that varlit said was ‘Enter sick into my anus.’ Anus! Anus, I tells ya! That man said the word ANUS…”
And most thought the old codger was quite mad, after hearing this ejaculation.
Booth bounded to the stage. The legend of course being that he broke his ankle in the jump. However, as historians in the know know, this is patently WRONG. he actually slipped in Lincoln’s vomit, which was how he twisted the ankle, and why he limped away, into the night.
In another part of town Herold was leading another assassin, whose name the author has temporarily misplaced, to the home of Secretary of State Seward, who was healing up after trying to masticate a coconut whole.
(Which, according to the infernal logic of politicians, made perfect sense, as the coconut, being a symbol of Carribean living, was undoubtedly and indubitably there to be conquered by the noble Euro-American pie hole.)
He was laid in a contraption worthy of the Marquis De Sade, a nightmare of metal pins and leather straps, but he could manage to ask for “thinner,” and “foffee,” and, occasionally, a “Ffficar to moak!”
The men rode up to the door, Herold doing the bravest act he could muster at the time and disappearing without a trace into the night. The erstwhile assassin, Mr. Lewis Paine, rode up to the door, but was dismayed when the butler told him he couldn’t take his beloved horse inside.
Mr. Paine quietly went up the stairs, encountering only Seward Junior as he went.
“May I help you, sir?” was the curt inquiry.
Mr. Paine decided that telling the son he was here to kill his father would be rather bad form, so instead he confessed, “Oh, I’m here selling magazine subscriptions. I need to see your dad. I heard he’s an enthusiastic fly-fisherman.”
The son frowned, grimaced, rolled his eyes, clucked his tongue, puffed out his cheeks, scratched his chin, walked about in a circle, (well, really, we think you get the point about his personal tics and idiosyncratic behaviors), and said “No! No! No! I’ll have you know that papa hasn’t been fly fishing, skeet shooting, hot air ballooning, hang-gliding, or auto racing in, oh, a great many years!”
And Mr. Paine thought this peculiar. Scratching HIS chin, he said, as if in self-reflection, “Auto racing? Auto racing? What the hell does THAT mean? Outta my way, man!”
And, suddenly losing patience, he pushed past Seward Junior, bounded up the stairs, and went down to the end of the hall, where a young girl, presumably the daughter, was bent low, whispering into a keyhole.
“Papa, oh papa, what big teeth you have!”
And the muffled answer from within came:
“Feebedde do fee you wiff, by dear!”
“Papa, oh papa, what big eyes, you have!”
And the reply:
“Feebedda do daste you viff, by dear!”
“Papa, oh papa, what big ears you have–”
Mr. Paine, wondering what sort of madhouse he had stumbled into, pushed the girl aside and said, “Girl! Stand aside! I am here to kill Secretary of State Seward and strike a blow for the late, great Confederate State!
Hah! Yass ‘um! Yass ‘um! The South will rise again, missy! Now, just try and stop me!”
And, since she did nothing to try and stop him, he spat, cursed, and kicked the door open.
He was surprised when Seward himself came out, his head wrapped in bandages, and pins and screws sticking out of his face.
“Gan I elp ooo?” he mumbled.
At this, Paine reached for his gun, and was surprised when he pulled out, instead, a large kielbasa.
He paused before commenting, “Some idgit has gone and replaced my sidearm with a sausage!” But, knowing he had to make the best of things, he took the sausage and began to furiously whip Secretary of State Seward around the head and shoulders, shouting “En guarde! Take that, and that! And some of that! And some more of that!”
And Mr. Seward threw up his arms, and began to cry “Elp! Elp! Murfer! Murfer! Ohmycod, elp!”
Before falling to the floor, bot even mildly injured.
Mr. Paine beat a hasty retreat, thinkin’, “I’ll hook up with John Wilkes Booth to make my escape. It’s the safest bet.”
As for Mr. Axerodt, who was to slay Vice President Johnson, he sort of hemmed and hawed, walked around town, looked at his watch, stopped for a bite, felt his bowels grow increasingly watery at the prospect of all the trouble he was going to get into for being a presidential assassin, and got a case of the dribbling runs quite unlike anything he had ever experienced before.
And, of course, when you need to find a public restroom, one hadn’t even been invented yet.
“It all seemed like fun and games when we was planning it out of course. I remember Mrs. Surratt poking her head into out secret meetings, saying things like ‘What are you boys doing in there? You boys aren’t planning any bold historical or revolutionary acts, are you?’
“And I’d always pipe up and say, ‘Well. we sure aren’t planning on assassinating Abraham Lincoln, if that’s what you mean!’ But, of course, that’s what we were doin’!”
And, because he realized he was merely talking to himself, he suddenly shut up.
“Well, you all can take all the glory for yourselves, see. And all the grief, too. Yeah, that means you Mr. Booth, Mr. Surratt, Mr. Paine, Mr. Herold! I’m out of here!”
And, still chattering to no one in particular but himself, he climbed up on his horse and, indeed, was “out of there “.
Of course, they were all captured and hung. Mrs. Surratt, too; and she was the nation’s first female executed by federal authority. It was a historical footnote I’m very sure she would happily have done without being the subject of.
The resulting photo is intensely creepy, Mrs. Surratt being hung in her long black dress, with her legs ties together and a sack over her head. If we pull back from the scene of the conspirators getting ready to take a short dance at the end of a long rope, we might see a young man, this author, holding a copy of Bloodletters and Badmen, sitting on the porch of a friend’s house. The house was on an old Indiana road in the country, and although it had all the most modern attributes and conveniences, was quite old; and supposedly haunted, to boot.
Across a gravel drive was an abandoned cemetery, with folks buried there from before the Civil War. But all of this was twenty years ago.
During the middle of the Nineteenth Century, the most notorious tenement in the Five Points section of New York was referred to as the “Old Brewery.”
It was a teeming, filthy, squalid place of darkness, a place where poor blacks and Irish immigrants dwelt in disease-ridden rooms, unsafe conditions, crowded into a reeking misery that few people could ever imagine.
It is said (most notably by author Jay Robert Nash), that the unwanted children born in this stinking hellpit sometimes never saw sunlight or breathed fresh air for years…if they managed to survive at all.
It is also said that the place averaged a MURDER A DAY, for an entire year.
Crime was endemic there, as was poverty, prostitution, drunkeness, violence and want. A mother is reported to have left her infant child to rot in her home after it died. She finally managed to dig a grave for the poor toddler on the premises, with an old spoon.
We could go further with the sickening details, but, really, we think you begin to understand.
The building is long since gone, having been razed over a century ago to make way for an orphanange. It is easy, though, to imagine the hideous wail of ghostly infants, the strange, empty, cold feeling of the presence of those who lived and died most miserably within the decrepit walls of the Old Brewery. That is, if the building had stood until present day, which it hasn’t.
One building that HAS, reportedly experienced ghosts is the site of the former Holy Family Orphanage in Dublin, Ireland. But, to tell the tale, one must TELL IT.
The Holy Family Orphanage was a great, bleak place of massive grey stone walls, and bellies that were frequently empty, hungry. The discipline was severe, and the lives of the children who lived (and sometimes died) there, were sad and full of want. The place was finally shut down in the middle sixties, and stood empty and vacant for a long, long time.
It was in the 1980s that it was finally decided that SOMETHING should be done with the frightening old abandoned building. After all, it was just rotting there, attracting vandals and homeless people, wild animals and graffiti artists. Couldn’t it be renovated, converted into something more useful?
The answer, to a local business magnate was: of course! Why, it is simplicity itself. To that end, this businessman purchased the property, with an eye toward turning it into an upscale apartment complex.
“I plan on fetching high prices for my rentals. After all, considering the history of the building, it’s a real conversation-starter!” he told a reporter from one of the city’s morning papers.
Soon, he hired work crews to come in and start the renovation. It was not long after, however, that strange, even troubling events began to occur:
The workmen started reporting bizarre cries, whispers, laughter–and what sounded like the scampering of children’s feet. Of course, the halls were vacant.
Also, they began to experience the strange malfunction of electrical equipment, the disappearance of tools “into thin air” (often, they would find these later in the most bizarre place), and cold spots.
(One workman reported that tea that had just been brewed became ice cold, suddenly, for no discernible reason.)
Grim shadows appeared where none should be seen, and the workmen began to grumble that they felt as if they were being watched. One or two actually walked off the job and refused to return, with little in the way of an explanation.
A local spiritualist medium was finally brought in. She walked about the halls for an hour, finally pronouncing that the place was “teeming with restless spirits.”
Would anyone now care to rent an apartment in an orpahanage that was declared to be “teeming with ghosts”? The new owner of the property seemed to think–YES!
“Are you kidding me? I’m overjoyed! It’s the best news I’ve heard all day! Why, they’ll be fighting and kicking to get in here now! The publicity will be great for business!”
To that end, he called up the local news station. Since things had been rather slow lately, they decided to air a special on the alleged “haunting,” sending a camera crew to document any evidence of the ghosts–if any should happen to appear.
“I think it’s silly season, and a waste of time, but our viewing audience is declining, and this might bolster our ratings.” said the television producer.
So off the news team went.
And the rest of the story we can summarize as this:
Bill was setting up his camera to film a dark corridor. The sound man had gone to get himself a cup of coffee and a bag of sandwiches, so Bill was there alone.
He could hear the drip-drip-drip of water coming through the old, patched ceiling. Every footfall in here seemed to echo. He fancied he could hear his own heart beating like a drum.
There’s something about this place, he thought. At first, you don’t notice it, and it doesn’t really bother you. But, after awhile, it starts to close in. A feeling of being trapped, suffocated.
Indeed, Bill felt like he might like to go outside to get some air. To that end, he decided to leave his camera and make his way back out the front when all of a sudden, a little voice said, “Sir? Pardon me sir…”
Bill looked around, and then looked down. There was a young boy standing beside him.
He felt confused. What was this kid doing in here? Who had let him in?
“Yes?” said Bill, almost automatically.
The boy hesitated a moment, then said, “Well, sir, I hope you don’t mind me asking, but, I do wish you’d tell my sister Mary McLeary that I miss her, and I’ll be waiting for her right here.”
Bill was shocked to hear the name of his producer come from the boy’s lips. Why, Mary McCleary was past sixty years old if she was a day. How on earth could she have a brother that was only around eight years old or so?
Suddenly the kid turned and bolted down the hall. Bill stood there speechless for a moment, then called out “Son. Hey, son! Come back here!”
He quickly made to follow him, then was shocked, as he turned a corner, to see that the boy had seemingly disappeared. He wiped his tired eyes. Perhaps he had imagined the whole thing. He had been working awfully hard lately.
Still feeling the chill of creepiness in his bones, he went to a payphone and dialed his producer, Mary McCleary.
The tired-sounding woman picked up the phone.
Bill paused for a moment, unsure of how to proceed, then said, “Yeah, Mary, it’s me, Bill. I’m calling from the Holy Family Orphanage. Listen, I’ve just had the…weirdest thing happen to me. I, I met this young boy, couldn’t have been more than eight years old, I’d guess. Anyway, he really shook me, because he claimed to be, get this: your brother! Asked me to say hi to you, and tell you that he’d be here waiting for you.”
There was a long silence at the other end. Bill wondered if they had somehow been disconnected.
“Mary? Hello, Mary? Are you still there?”
Suddenly, in a choked voice, one that sounded a million miles away, Mary said, “Yes, Bill, I’m still here. Bill, it appears you really have met my brother.”
“What?” asked Bill, incredulous.
“Yes, you heard me correctly, Bill. That was my brother Declan. Declan McCleary. You really did meet him. He’s been there a long time. You see, he died in the orphange, fifty-three years ago.”