Books, Dreams and Nightmares, Experimental, Fiction, Hardboiled, Murder, Short Stories, surreal, Uncategorized, Urban Legends, Young Adult

The Road Hog (2014?)

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(One from a few years ago.)

The surrounding countryside was scrubby arroyo. The highway cut through it, rendering it vast and empty and dead on one side, sparsely populated by a low skyline of dusty, lonely, intermitten buildings on the other. He found “Skyline Hotel” quite easily. The setting sun was burning up the landscape in a dry was of brilliant orange and pink and bold black shadow-fire.

He got out of the convertible. It wasn’t his. The owner was leaking what was left of her brains out of a hole in her skull, stuffed into a drainage culvert a hundred miles away. For right now, all was well.

He went inside, not liking the faux Western decor, but immensely satisfied with the faded black and whit portraits of dead gunslingers hanging, some of them crookedly, from the wall. Between those pictures was standard thrift-store fair such as clowns, ships, etc.

A fat man with curly red hair and a moustache sat behind a counter in the lobby, which smelled of mildew and unwashed laundry and bad food and stale smoke and something even more unpleasant he couldn’t quite put his finger on. The little man had a black-and-white old-fashioned tube television set in front of him, an item that looked, for all the world, more like a prop than anything. It was apparently playing old porno flicks, to judge by the sound.

“Excuse…excuse me?” he said, approaching the seated figure. Suddenly, a small jolt of recognition tickled his spine. Goose walked over his grave.

“Damn,” he said to himself, “this guy’s dead!”

He thought perhaps the man had had a heart attack while sitting there. perhaps overstimulated by his porn films. If so, he had died with a curious, wide-eyed expression on his face, a sort of Howdy Doodey grin frozen in time across his fat kisser. He put out a gloved hand, experimentally, to feel the figure.

A voice said, “Oh, he’s mine. I was just testing my replacement.”

A little man with a bald head (“A little crawfish of a man,” he would laugh to himself later) walked thoughtfully up to the counter, eyed him warily, and then went behind.

He grabbed his “replacement” by the neck, at which point the air began to hiss out of him

“Just a dummy…dummy.”

he made no reply.

He waited, said, “I need a room for the night. Maybe a couple nights.”

The little man looked down at his feet, but his lower lip (his face was splotchy, as if he had a perpetual case of bad nerves) quivered a little as he said, in an off-hand way, “Oh sure. That’ll be two hundred bucks.”

He goggled.

“Two hundred bucks? For a night in this dump?”

The little man looked as if he didn’t exactly know how to reply, but said anyway, “That comes with the entertainment. Take it or leave it.”

The little man shrugged his shoulders in boredom. The Road Hog took out a battered brown wallet, forked out a couple of bills, laid them on the counter.

“Where do I sign?”

A huge plastic ledger was picked up from beneath the counter.

He carefully scrawled in a fake name. If the little dope wanted some ID, he’d just leave.

“Okay. You need a wake-up call? Room service?”

The little man laughed bitterly.

“How about fuckin’ filet mignon?”

“How about a snifter of brandy and some caviar? Maybe we’ll just forget it, huh?”

The Road Hog exited stage left. Outside, burning on the hot tarmac, his car sent off waves of heat exhaust. He went around, opened the door enough to pop the trunk, and went aound to get his luggage. In a faded, tan overnight bag, he had a human head wrapped in plastic.

He went back inside, put on his best “don’t fuck with me if you want to keep your spleen” face, and looked over at the clerk or whatever. The little man said, “Here’s your room key. Two-oh-one. I’ll buzz you on in.”

He certainly did. With the sort of loud electronic buzzer that is more commonly used in fun house attractions. The Road Hog wasn’t sure, for a second, if he was in a hotel or at a rodeo, getting ready to ride a bucking bronc.

He took the door handle, walked down to the elevator, saw the “Out of oardur” sign, neatly and legibly scrawled across a cardboard boxtop affixed to the door, and then realized he would have ot take the steps.

The sound of drip-drip-dripping seemed to permeate the hollow, echoing stillness of the place. The walls were yellow, peeling, with a few scrawls of absent-minded graffiti here and there.

He made it, not even out of breath, to the second floor. It looked typical and rundown and dull as paste. It looked like roaches went there to die.

The room was sparsely furnished. The smell of the hallway (which had approximated insect spray, cigarette smoke, must and boiled cabbage) was less strong here. There was more a stagnant water smell of old pipes…the building, he realized, could probably get up and crawl away by itself.

“This bed,” he said, talking to himself, “I don’t really want to use this bed.”

He pulled the covers off. He took out some plastic garbage bags he had stuffed in his valise, spread those across the surface of the bed. Then he picked up the remote.

It was an old-fashioned tube TV mounted on the wall. All the channels were fuzzy, except for the one showing porn; probably showing it 24/7. It looked like some loop he had once paid twenty-five cents to see in some grimy little bookstore in Des Plains.

There was a brief commotion out in the hall. He went to the door, unlocked it, careful to keep the chain fastened. Outside, he could see a few guys milling, drunkenly, around a battered hotel room door. One of them seemed, unfortunately, faintly familiar. Shit. The last thing he needed was to be recognized, placed here.

One of them said, “We’re going out for more beer. Be right back. Anyone need smokes?”

Poetry.

Young guys. Party time. Bill and Ted. Excellent.

He shut the door again with a mui of disgust on his lips. On the television screen, a porn star calling herself “Aunt Peg” was being jack hammered at both ends. He would have turned it off, but it was all he had for company right at the moment.

He sat down on the bed, his throat so dry it seemed to be crawiing. He had given up the smoking habit years ago, but right now he wished for all the world for a butt. Something to take the edge off.

The walls felt as if they were crawling with bugs. In the light fixtures, the curling, browning little bodies fried in the sickly yellow glare of the exposed bulbs.

“They commit unintentional suicide. They can’t help it.

They’re attracted to the light, drawn to it magnetically. But then, they can’t get out of the light fixtures. Can’t climb out, even though, oddly enough, they can fly…I can’t see any logic in it. So they die, slowly, we must assume, agonizingly, transfixed next to the source of their great fascination. Dying next to the bright white flame of their light bulb god.”

He didn’t know who he was addressing, and wasn’t sure why he was speaking at all. His voice fell flat, echoless against the bare walls. Those walls looked like they might be a cheesecloth of roaches, infested down to the very rocky, fibrous surface.

He heard the buzzer downstairs.

He waited.

In a few moments, she would be at the door. The whole thing choreographed down to the grim specifics. He knew. He always knew.

A few seconds later there was a knock at the door.

He opened it, keeping the chain securely fastened. A slightly puffy, bruised face peeped in at the crack. It was a woman’s face.

Mascara smeared around the eyes. Face too pale; lips thin and colorless.

“Hey.”

She paused with pregnant . As if that had been a question, almost.

“Hey,” he returned. He wasn’t altogether sure of how to respond.

He undid the chain. She sauntered in. He saw she was wearing a cheap denim miniskirt, a pair of plastic slippers, and a bad strapless top. Yellow.

Her arms were covered in bruises and bad tattoos. She wore no hose; her legs were pale, skinny, the skin was splotchy. She kept scratching absentmindedly at bug bites.

“Yeah, so anyway, I’m Sabrina. You look like you’re new around here. I mean, I haven’t seen you before or anything. Lot of people just passing through I guess. Not so many now, though, since they changed the highway. So yeah…”

She trailed off, sat down in one of the cheap plastic chairs lining the wall.

“Hey, mind if I smoke? I know it bothers some people. Some guys really hate it, I mean, They hate of a girl smokes, smells like smoke. One guy I was with wouldn’t kiss me. said it was just like kissing an ashtray. He still elt me blow him, though.”

She finished this last with a great guffaw, as if it had been the height of hilarity. He sat down on the edge of the bed, eyed her warily.
“No,” he said, as if she had actually been asking his permission. “Go ahead and smoke if you like. It won’t change anything.”

Her eyes narrowed. She began to roll a skinny joint with shaking, dirty fingers. Her fingernails were corroded with pink polish and grime.

“Um yeah, okay. I don’t guess that it will. Anyway, I usually charge a hundred bucks for a hand job. One-fifty for a bj, and another hundred gets you the works. So–”

She toked in, held her breath for what seemed an interminable moment, and then tried to pass the reefer to him. He held up his hand, palm upward, as if to say, “no thanks,” and then smiled. A smile that was perhaps too wolfish, too predatory to make her feel comfortable.

After a moment she asked, “What’s a matter? Don’t you like to talk? Awful quiet.”

She tried to sound disarming, but he could hear the hint of suspicious unease creep into her voice. Her eyes darted to the door, and he thought, She’s judging how long it would take for her to bound over to it, undo the chain, and get out of here.

“No,” he said slowly. “I don’t guess I’m much of a talker.

People should work on being good listeners, don’t you think? It’s much more to their advantage.”

She said,

“Hey, if you want me to come back some other time, I, like, totally understand.”

He knew she was suddenly eager to be out the door, whether or not she made any money or not. He sighed, got up from the bed, went over to the window, pulled back the sash, Outside, the sun was a thin sliver of fiery peach behind a cresting hill. Miles beyond, the lights of the city gave mute testimony to the presence of a civilization they seemed perched just on the edge of. In between, concrete overpasses, railroad trestles, vacant industrial parks (opened like the cancerous maws of toothsome old crones), and miles and miles of dusty scrub alienated this desolate way station of hell from the rest of the world. Here, time froze like the semen in a dead man’s balls.

“Have you ever though about time?” he finally said, turning toward her. He interrupted himself, saying, “I’m talking now. You should be happy that I am.”

Silence.

“Anyway, I’m sure you’re not going to believe what I have to say. In fact, I’m not sure, given your obviously limited capabilities, that you could even understand it. But, you see, we’ve been through this before–”

Silence. Then–

“Yeah, well, okay man. I don’t really have time for this. I mean, I’m going to go ahead and go, okay? Maybe–”

“No, really, just hear me out. No, sit down. I won’t take very much of your…valuable time. I promise. Anyway–”

She seemed curious enough to listen to him. Or, maybe she just thought that this was his come-on. Either way, she remained in her chair.

“You see, everything moves…in circles. Like in cycles. DO you follow me? You do follow me, don’t you?”

He said this last with a thin veneer of hostility. His voice had an icy, cool edge to it he knew could slip out, like a whirling blade, and slice their good feelings as easily as slicing a jugular. She fidgeted in the cheap plastic chair, leaning forward, obviously needing a fix. Her eyes were wide, puffy; bloodshot. Mascara was caked in ugly circles around her swollen lids.

“Yeah, you’ve been bruised. You’ve been battered. Desiccated and dissected again and again. Tell me: who hurt you? Who was it?”

He leaned in close, the smell of her breath making a noxious counterpoint to his rapidly rising interest.

Why do you keep hurting me? he thought she whispered.

But, with tears streaming down her face from formerly dry eyes, he realized, suddenly, that she said nothing.

It was in a bright blue hotel, a wide, spacious place the likes of which had never been built before. A flight of short stairs lead up from a lobby that was cool and carpeted and, also, surprisingly, even shockingly blue.

Blue, blue–blue everywhere. The stumbled their way inside from the street, drunk and with another couple. Up the stairs then, through the glass doors, and into the darkness beyond. The Sanctum Sanctorum.

Up the stairs again (couldn’t they have taken the elevator? But, alas, that would have been too easy.) to the darkness of the upper floor. The four of them stumbled down the hall, into the spacious suite, into the darkness.

Then, stripping off eachothers’ close. Flesh against flesh, tongues entering mouths, fingers groping and plying and pressing.

The young couple fell to the floor laughing, the woman baring her naked breast, the flap of her blouse pulled open and the buttons popped. The man she was with gyrated on top of her, trying to get his pants off, too drunk to do much of anything but stumble across the floor on his hands and knees.

But the moaning and the movement in the shadow old him that the man had found his mark. He could hear the chippy moaning and gasping.

He turned to his own date. The Starlet. The Ingenue.

“You ought ta be in pictures!” he sang softly, sweetly, mockingly.

The dame had fiery red hair. Or maybe it was just some trick of deceptive lighting (how? It was as dark as the tomb in here.) He put out his quivering fingertips, stretching toward her as she reclined her back against a fusillade of pillows. She still had her hat and boa wrapped around her.

“Did…did you ever…did you ever?” he couldn’t get the words out.

She looked at him quizzically. Suddenly, the young couple grinding away on the floor disappeared entirely, and the spotlight seemed to be on the two of them.

“Did I ever what?” she trailed off suspiciously.

He paused, laughed suddenly, said “Did you ever…fuck Clark Gable?” He couldn’t stop laughing, snickering. But she had the queerest, most serious expression come across her.

“Gable? No. ‘Fraid not. Next question.”

She dragged reflectively on her cigarette, held it away from her face at an angle, turned upward. The air in the room suddenly felt twenty degrees cooler than it had previously. All external sound sources seemed to fade being in this damnable hotel to him felt like being digested, slowly, in the belly of the beast.

Cut off from the rest of reality, they were. The world outside ceased to be. Her face was suddenly a cool, placid surface, a sort of living painted surface or waxen effigy. It seemed timeless. No wonder audiences ate up her image up there on the screen. You couldn’t stop looking at those cool, grey eyes, those high, heavy cheekbones, flaming red hair pulled into quizzical and stylish buns. Skin was milk-white porcelain, but she exuded anything but weakness.

She opened her red, red lips (they almost shined black), said, “Why do you keep hurting me?”

He retracted, physically; he felt himself pull away, losing his sensual idolatry, retreat into a cool, husky little ball. He wasn’t certain about the question, but it had the pregnant weight of prophecy connected to it. He started to blubber a lame response, felt his voice catch in his throat.

It was when he came back later he was told he had been banned from the hotel. A little woman in what looked to be a red marching band outfit but was probably some uniform for bellhops told him that his starlet had expressly forbidden anyone without proper identification (whatever that might be) from entering beyond the glass doors, into the cool, otherworldly darkness…

“She’s rented the whole hotel for the next few weeks. She can decide who comes and goes,” yadda yadda yadda.

He considered for a moment how he might slip in anyway, but then thought better of it. House detectives and hotel psychics and snoops and hidden microphones all meant he would, most likely, get caught. And a place like this would certainly press charges.

The little woman in the bellhop uniform or whatever it was shifted from one foot to another. She looked tired, and her nose fidgeted.

“Oh, by the way Mister, she DID give us something to give to you, though. A package. You see how she is? She gave our manager here a whole mess of beautiful flowers for his birthday…”

He was so fascinated by the birthday bouquet, but he said, “I’ll jut take the package and go.”

She looked as if his rudeness irritated her marginally, but reached back behind the counter (curiously, several women with hot plates seemed to be preparing room service with wads of money bulging in one fist, and spatulas in the other), and produced a cardboard box.

He placed it under one arm, went out the sliding glass doors into the busy street.

Later, in the dark of his dingy room, with stink beetles dying slow, brilliant deaths trapped int the light fixtures, he opened the small cardboard box with trembling fingers.

He thrust a hand inside. It was filled with a large passel of photographs. Shocking stuff.

Crime scene. And pornography of an indescribable filth. There were other photos, stuff made on the spot, obviously: women in lingerie, garters, bound and gagged with nylon stockings, posing lasciviously with legs spread, tied down to iron bedsteads; posed with animals, blank stares and bored, hollow cheeks and bad teeth and puffy, swollen eyes.

And then there were the dead women, posed in faux erotic semblance; arms and legs amputated, entrails wrapped around icy ankles and flesh frozen in time.

Severed heads on bedspreads…

His fingers trembled as he dragged shakily on a cigarette. That phrase came back to him again–

Why do you keep hurting me?

And, on each of these photographed faces, these erotic atrocities, he could see the image of his ingenue, his starlet, reflected, like the shattered fragments of a mirrored reflection. And he wondered about time, and the cycle of things.
***

He brought the heavy suitcase out to the boot of car, wheeling it on a little board mounted on roller skates. The desk clerk barely acknowledged his going, seemingly catatonic with his fuzzy, filthy head resting on his skinny, nicotine-stained fingers. he wondered if the man were dead, asleep, or if it were another of the mysterious inflatable dummies the prankster had foisted on him last night.

Outside on the walk, he stopped at a newspaper dispenser and reached inside. He didn’t bother to pay; the door was broken.

He leafed through, reading by the dim orange glow of the crime lights. He finally found an article, buried back a few pages, about the infamous interstate killer the FBI were actively searching for, the fabled murderer the press had dubbed the “Road Hog.” He smiled. That was him.

He was happy that they were taking notice of his handiwork.

But it made things that much more dangerous for him. Obviously, he couldn’t continue like this forever. But there was no turning back, turning away from what he was.

“Big deal,” he said, mimicking the words of one man. “Death always came with the territory. See you in Disneyland.”

He pulled the little rope, wheeled the heavy luggage out to the trunk of his car. The asphalt seemed hot enough to cook eggs on, he fancied he could see thermal exhaust coming from it. A few dire insects pestered him, but they were easily dispatched with a slap. The air was so close you could barely breathe.

He hefted the thing into the trunk. He was lost, momentarily, in a fantasy of what he had heard happened in such hotels as these.

A young couple checks in. Maybe they’ve just had their honeymoon. Who knows? They begin to make love, thinking they are luxuriating in the lap of it. Their sex is really hot stuff, all over the heart-shaped waterbed, sweaty sodden sheets thrust to the floor.

Moaning, groaning, screaming and crying imprecations to God–that kind of shit.

So they go away and forget about it for a few years. And then, maybe ten years goes by, and the man says “Honey, let’s relive all those old memories of our honeymoon night. Remember that old hotel we stayed at? Heart-shaped waterbed and making love all night?”

And she says “Oh, yes! That’ll be just the sort of thing to put the spark back into our flagging romance.” Okay, so maybe she didn’t put it quite like that. Whatever.

So they find that place again, and they go in. And they realize that the place has really gone downhill since last they were there–which was probably ten years.

So they go into their room,and the husband says, “Man, this place looks like it’s turned into a real fleapit since we were here last. Sorry, honey.”

And the wifey forgives him of course, as he didn’t know. And she is unpacking her curling iron or whatever, and he lays back on the bed, and says, “Hey, they have a TV. I bet we can find some dirty movies!” And he flips on the TV, with a glass of wine in his hand.

A few minutes later he drops the wine.

“Oh, me Tarzan, you Jane–aaahhaaa, aaa!”

Oh my god, he thinks, that couple on the screen, in the porno movie–that’s us on our honeymoon night!

And so they both cringe in horror, realizing they’ve been secretly films. He reminds himself that eyes are everywhere, all the time. The walls see, even if they do not speak.

Why? Why do you keep hurting me?

Had he? Did time circle back in on itself, like a great loop or wheel, instead of a flat, angular plane? “Maybe time is a goddamn Moebius strip,” he laughed bitterly. He could see her face still, clueless and terrified, I-can-do-anything-you-want-me-to face. She could be whatever he needed, her and her pockmarked, ugly little visage.

Would he stuff her body under the bed. In the box springs? There was a legend about that, too.

No. He went back inside. The eyes had walls. The walls had eyes. He went back through the automatic door, the high, torturous rude electric buzz announcing his presence to no one, to the darkness. To the flies dying in the light fixtures, to the tics and nits dying on the mildewed sheets.

“Hey, hey bro!”

A darkened voice at the end of the hall. As if in a dream, or maybe a Fellini picture, a stumbling, skinny dweeb looked over at him from the shadow by a half-open doorway. He was talking to a smaller man, holding a beer. There was faint talking from inside. Radio music.

“Hey, hey bro! Damn, imagine seeing you here! Long time no see!”

Whoever this was, Hog needed to lose him. Quick. He wanted to be out of there and down the highway. But, like a bad dream, someone from the past steps in, unexpectedly, haunting you like a walk-in in a bad foreign art film.

“Wow man,” the skinny, taller man sidled up to him in the gloom, said, “it must be like, damn. Twenty years? since high school? When we use to run around together.”

The Hog didn’t know how to respond. He stalled, said nothing, looked blankly at this guy. He knew full well, suddenly, which it was. A high school drinking buddy, a guy he use to bird dog chicks with. He had dumped such garbage long ago, had purified himself. Now, it had returned to haunt him. It and the bad odor.

“Yeah, well, I’m not really. I mean, I don’t have time right now.”

His buddy held out one skinny, twitching hand. In it was a ten dollar bill, a shot glass of what was probably hundred proof alcohol, and each finger was crowned with nails that were skinny, black with dirt.

His friend looked at him blankly. His eyes watered a little. He looked as if he were in there with his boyfriend getting high. Getting stoned. Getting wasted.

The skull beneath the skin twitched It sensed rejection, the face scruntching up until pain could be read on the outlines of the head. The sudden flash of hatred, brought about no doubt by a sense of rejection could be read in every line.

There was a long pause, but like an unstable recording device, the voice jumped forward. Warbled, said–

“Oh, hey buddy, I completely understand. Sure. Right. We’ll have to get together sometime, relive old memories.

“Sure, we’ll do that Bob. Er, I mean George.”

“Jeff, old buddy. Just plain old Jeff.”

It was a terrible name, he thought. Like Todd, or Scott. It denoted a frat guy who might wander around the dorm in his boxers, with a stogie, flunking college English, fantasizing about porn
models, and planning his future as an accountant

But not THIS Jeff, of the dirty fingers and shot glass. He had lost himself in the fabled “Roman Wilderness of Pain” that Jim Morrison had sang about. He had been steam shoveled under his own sense of defeat, his passion for being purposeless. He was a victim of himself.

“See ya,” he said, the smile stretching across Hog’s plastic, too-perfect face as he hefted the heavy luggage out in both hands.

Thorough the plexiglass door, he buzzed to get out. Out into the sleeping hallway, where time was an illusion, hiding like the arched back of a cat in the dark.

On the television an inscrutable dialog proceeding thusly:

“So we go downstairs, to the crook of the stairs.”

“The crook? You mean the first floor landing?”

“Right, right. Some sort of landing where there is a window. And she’s sitting there in a Victorian dress, drinking an iced tea, or whatever. And the guy turns to me, say, ‘We haven’t figured out yet if she’s alive or a ghost. Nobody speaks to her; she’s always there, it seems.”

“Great. I’m betting she’s a former tenant, committed suicide by eating a combination of cough syrup and ant paste. Just like Florence Lawrence.”

“Florence Lawrence? Isn’t she like a cook on TV?”

“No. First movie star. Died in 1938. Today she’d be 129. Say, you want o know how stupid I am? I forgot to water my pussy.”

“Sounds like a personal problem.”

“No, ignoramus, my cat. I didn’t leave any water out for my cat. I come home, she’s on the point of literal death. From hunger, also.”

On and on it went. What was that sitcom? At the desk, the real clerk was sitting, with his deflated alter-ego in his lap, nodding off over a crusty back issue of Hustler. He went outside, carrying his luggage in front of him, not knowing if he was leaving little droplets of red in his wake.

Outside, heat lightning flashed over the hardscrabble earth, the dusty desert landscape disappearing into darkness beyond, with naught but pinpoints of city lights and man-made fires in the distance. In the distance, and up ahead by the never ending march of the boots of TIME, was an ugly strip of bleak fast-food chains, down-at-the-heels strip malls, movie theaters, gas stations, little mini-marts staffed by Pakis named Abdullah. Was this hell? He often wondered.

He opened the trunk, placed the leather carrying case inside, slammed shut the creaking boot. The asphalt was dark and hot, bugs buzzing past his ears. They would die by the thousands in the sleek electric polish of his headlights.

Hot, it was stifling hot. He fancied he could see thermals projecting p like the hideous, shapeless forms of forgotten phantasms–despite the fact that it was still too dark.

The moon overhead, watching him. The newspaper he had nicked on the way out had had a story.

Hog Strikes Again. Nationwide Manhunt. No Suspects. No Discernible Pattern. POLICE FRUSTRATED AND BAFFLED.

He liked that last bit. A foldout in the newspaper (What? Was this their equivalent of a Hustler gate fold?) showed a petty blonde victim. Her face was ice cream cold on the newsprint, her hair fanning out about her in a moment frozen in time, some happy instance that would be imprinted on the memory of whomever she had been with–but not her. Or, maybe?

Did he believe in ghosts?

Why do you keep hurting me?

He slid behind the wheel. Ahead, darkness and the road invited the hog to move onward. To the next great adventure.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot see the falconer…

What was that?

What rough beast is this? Its hour come ’round at last.

Slouches.

“Toward Bethlehem?”

Well, he was headed somewhere. But not there.

Standard
Books, Fortean, Ghosts, Hauntings, Mystic, Short Stories, short-short, Spiritism, Urban Legends, Weird, Young Adult

“DIG UP MY BODY AS PROOF!”

Mario Bocca could speak with the dead. Or, at least, so he claimed. The Italian researchers who gathered around him on a night in 1950, in the small city of Camerino, Italy, wanted to verify, for themselves, if that were indeed true.

Sometimes, of course, the dead do not rest easy. Something draws them back, again and again, to the scene of their tragic, final act, the time when they, quite literally, “gave up the ghost.”

In this case, however, the ghost never gave up.

“My name is Rosa Spadoni. I was put into my casket alive! Please, so that others can be spared this terrible fate, please, DIG UP MY BODY AS PROOF.”

The medium, presumably through his “control,” vocalized the desire of the departed Rosa. Attendant was the intrigued doctor, Dr. Guiseppe Stoppolini, a distinguished professor of anatomy at Camerino University. Under his direction, it was a short order of work to demand the exhumation. The problem being: they could find no “Rosa Spadoni” in the town of Castel-Raimondo, where the spirit had purported to have died and been interred.

Further communications revealed, of course that she was buried under her married name of MENICHELLI, and had been so buried on September 4th, 1939, after apparently dying of an infection. She was 38.

It was grim work, exhuming the body. But, how much more macabre could the condition of the corpse have been, when the lid of the casket was finally opened?

Imagine the terror of being trapped in the dark, coming to consciousness, being unable to turn over, and putting your arms out to feel a hard, unyielding surface of solid wood. Screaming!–but there is NO ONE to hear your screams.

You writhe in terror, your mind cracking, knowing that you have been delivered into a trap from which there is NO escape–that you have quite literally been BURIED ALIVE. Perhaps you gnashed your teeth, bit through your tongue. The blackness was pervasive and all-encompassing. In the darkness and despair, you might have hallucinated the face of your own dear mother. Or Jesus. A saint, an angel, or Lucifer himself might come to greet you! It is hot, stifling, and the air is getting thinner and thinner…

Breathe in, breathe out…not many breaths left.
***
The condition of the body proved that, like Poe’s sister character in “House of Usher,” Rosa Spadoni Menichelli did, indeed, show signs of having been interred too soon. Her spine was arched in agony, her skeletal hand affixed to the lid of her coffin, as if in a hopeless attempt to push it open. She might have prayed for a miracle at this point, but, most probably, she just went mad until the oxygen ran out.

A general reform in burial practices across Italy and all of Europe are said to have followed in the wake of this strange, supernatural event. If so, we find no record of association, between one and the other.

So, did this prove the power of the medium, and survival after death? YOU DECIDE.

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Dreams and Nightmares, Experimental, Fiction, Short Stories, short-short, surreal, Uncategorized, Weird

Customs

I was standing on an upper floor of what could have been a cheap, dirty hotel room in a foreign port.

Perhaps I was somewhere in South Asia. I think the weather felt tropical, humid against my skin.

Bugs frittered away and died in the light fixture, their sizzling bodies sending up wafting clouds of stink as the crisped and crumbled in a suicidal urge to penetrate the core mystery of the burning sun, the incandescent wonder of the All-Seeing light bulb.

At any rate, the oily, noxious smell of their deaths penetrated the room. Outside, I could hear music, many voices,a nd the banging of what I took to be drums and gongs, tambourines, and the blowing of horns. I went to the window, pulled back the stiff, musty drapes,a nd peered down into the streets.

Outside, I saw that the streets were filled with shuffling throngs of natives. There seemed to be some sort of festival or parade going on, and I wondered that I had managed to alight on the island (if that is what it truly was) during carnival season.

A number of puzzling, colorful floats came sailing by in the streets. The roar of the music and the shouts and imprecations of the onlookers grew deafening as my mind focused with a sharper intensity on the scene below. The sights of the carnival, and, most especially, the smell of sweat, oil, frying corn, heavy incense and other, more exotic aromas, did much to drive the musty, oily and sick stench of my bug-infested room from my mind.

It was then that I spied the most curious display. A massive green float, in the shape of a toad, or, perhaps, what I take might be some local legendary beast or even deity, was topped in front by two faces, females, who were lying inside the thing with only their heads and long, thick, oily black hair hanging down at the sides of their heads. Either they were acting, or they were in a great deal of pain and discomfort, for tears streamed down their faces, and they were moaning and weeping profusely.

On each side, as if to drive the beast forward. two men in dirty tshirts and shorts stood in the steets, barefoot, and beat the back of the frog-like float with what I took to be bamboo rods. At each stroke, they would cry out in anger, and the twin faces at the front of the float would scream and moan in pain. Later, it was expalined to me that the women inside the float had their backsides exposed to a board filled with nails. This was connected to the outside of the float by a little target marked with tape, so that at each fall of the bamboo rods, the nails or spikes were driven into the backsides of the captive women, causing them intense pain and making them yell out.

This brought shouts and cries of laughter from the crowd, who threw rice and rotten vegetables, lit firework, and danced. Children carried colored paper dragons and puppets to and from, running in and out of the way of the strange float.

I never found out whether this was a performance, a religious ritual, passion play, public rite, tradition or punishment. I don’t suppose it really matters. Such customs can have no place in a rational world.

Standard
Books, Dreams and Nightmares, Experimental, Fiction, Hardboiled, Hauntings, Holographic Universe, Murder, Short Stories, surreal, Uncategorized, Weird

The Road Hog

The surrounding countryside was scrubby arroyo. The highway cut through it, rendering it vast and empty and dead on one side, sparsely populated by a low skyline of dusty, lonely, intermitten buildings on the other. He found “Skyline Hotel” quite easily. The setting sun was burning up the landscape in a dry was of brilliant orange and pink and bold black shadow-fire.

He got out of the convertible. It wasn’t his. The owner was leaking what was left of her brains out of a hole in her skull, stuffed into a drainage culvert a hundred miles away. For right now, all was well.

He went inside, not liking the faux Western decor, but immensely satisfied with the faded black and whit portraits of dead gunslingers hanging, some of them crookedly, from the wall. Between those pictures was standard thrift-store fair such as clowns, ships, etc.

A fat man with curly red hair and a moustache sat behind a counter in the lobby, which smelled of mildew and unwashed laundry and bad food and stale smoke and something even more unpleasant he couldn’t quite put his finger on. The little man had a black-and-white old-fashioned tube television set in front of him, an item that looked, for all the world, more like a prop than anything. It was apparently playing old porno flicks, to judge by the sound.

“Excuse…excuse me?” he said, approaching the seated figure. Suddenly, a small jolt of recognition tickled his spine. Goose walked over his grave.

“Damn,” he said to himself, “this guy’s dead!”

He thought perhaps the man had had a heart attack while sitting there. perhaps overstimulated by his porn films. If so, he had died with a curious, wide-eyed expression on his face, a sort of Howdy Doodey grin frozen in time across his fat kisser. He put out a gloved hand, experimentally, to feel the figure.

A voice said, “Oh, he’s mine. I was just testing my replacement.”

A little man with a bald head (“A little crawfish of a man,” he would laugh to himself later) walked thoughtfully up to the counter, eyed him warily, and then went behind.

He grabbed his “replacement” by the neck, at which point the air began to hiss out of him

“Just a dummy…dummy.”

he made no reply.

He waited, said, “I need a room for the night. Maybe a couple nights.”

The little man looked down at his feet, but his lower lip (his face was splotchy, as if he had a perpetual case of bad nerves) quivered a little as he said, in an off-hand way, “Oh sure. That’ll be two hundred bucks.”

He goggled.

“Two hundred bucks? For a night in this dump?”

The little man looked as if he didn’t exactly know how to reply, but said anyway, “That comes with the entertainment. Take it or leave it.”

The little man shrugged his shoulders in boredom. The Road Hog took out a battered brown wallet, forked out a couple of bills, laid them on the counter.

“Where do I sign?”

A huge plastic ledger was picked up from beneath the counter.

He carefully scrawled in a fake name. If the little dope wanted some ID, he’d just leave.

“Okay. You need a wake-up call? Room service?”

The little man laughed bitterly.

“How about fuckin’ filet mignon?”

“How about a snifter of brandy and some caviar? Maybe we’ll just forget it, huh?”

The Road Hog exited stage left. Outside, burning on the hot tarmac, his car sent off waves of heat exhaust. He went around, opened the door enough to pop the trunk, and went aound to get his luggage. In a faded, tan overnight bag, he had a human head wrapped in plastic.

He went back inside, put on his best “don’t fuck with me if you want to keep your spleen” face, and looked over at the clerk or whatever. The little man said, “Here’s your room key. Two-oh-one. I’ll buzz you on in.”

He certainly did. With the sort of loud electronic buzzer that is more commonly used in fun house attractions. The Road Hog wasn’t sure, for a second, if he was in a hotel or at a rodeo, getting ready to ride a bucking bronc.

He took the door handle, walked down to the elevator, saw the “Out of oardur” sign, neatly and legibly scrawled across a cardboard boxtop affixed to the door, and then realized he would have ot take the steps.

The sound of drip-drip-dripping seemed to permeate the hollow, echoing stillness of the place. The walls were yellow, peeling, with a few scrawls of absent-minded graffiti here and there.

He made it, not even out of breath, to the second floor. It looked typical and rundown and dull as paste. It looked like roaches went there to die.

The room was sparsely furnished. The smell of the hallway (which had approximated insect spray, cigarette smoke, must and boiled cabbage) was less strong here. There was more a stagnant water smell of old pipes…the building, he realized, could probably get up and crawl away by itself.

“This bed,” he said, talking to himself, “I don’t really want to use this bed.”

He pulled the covers off. He took out some plastic garbage bags he had stuffed in his valise, spread those across the surface of the bed. Then he picked up the remote.

It was an old-fashioned tube TV mounted on the wall. All the channels were fuzzy, except for the one showing porn; probably showing it 24/7. It looked like some loop he had once paid twenty-five cents to see in some grimy little bookstore in Des Plains.

There was a brief commotion out in the hall. He went to the door, unlocked it, careful to keep the chain fastened. Outside, he could see a few guys milling, drunkenly, around a battered hotel room door. One of them seemed, unfortunately, faintly familiar. Shit. The last thing he needed was to be recognized, placed here.

One of them said, “We’re going out for more beer. Be right back. Anyone need smokes?”

Poetry.

Young guys. Party time. Bill and Ted. Excellent.

He shut the door again with a mui of disgust on his lips. On the television screen, a porn star calling herself “Aunt Peg” was being jack hammered at both ends. He would have turned it off, but it was all he had for company right at the moment.

He sat down on the bed, his throat so dry it seemed to be crawiing. He had given up the smoking habit years ago, but right now he wished for all the world for a butt. Something to take the edge off.

The walls felt as if they were crawling with bugs. In the light fixtures, the curling, browning little bodies fried in the sickly yellow glare of the exposed bulbs.

“They commit unintentional suicide. They can’t help it.

They’re attracted to the light, drawn to it magnetically. But then, they can’t get out of the light fixtures. Can’t climb out, even though, oddly enough, they can fly…I can’t see any logic in it. So they die, slowly, we must assume, agonizingly, transfixed next to the source of their great fascination. Dying next to the bright white flame of their light bulb god.”

He didn’t know who he was addressing, and wasn’t sure why he was speaking at all. His voice fell flat, echoless against the bare walls. Those walls looked like they might be a cheesecloth of roaches, infested down to the very rocky, fibrous surface.

He heard the buzzer downstairs.

He waited.

In a few moments, she would be at the door. The whole thing choreographed down to the grim specifics. He knew. He always knew.

A few seconds later there was a knock at the door.

He opened it, keeping the chain securely fastened. A slightly puffy, bruised face peeped in at the crack. It was a woman’s face.

Mascara smeared around the eyes. Face too pale; lips thin and colorless.

“Hey.”

She paused with pregnant . As if that had been a question, almost.

“Hey,” he returned. He wasn’t altogether sure of how to respond.

He undid the chain. She sauntered in. He saw she was wearing a cheap denim miniskirt, a pair of plastic slippers, and a bad strapless top. Yellow.

Her arms were covered in bruises and bad tattoos. She wore no hose; her legs were pale, skinny, the skin was splotchy. She kept scratching absentmindedly at bug bites.

“Yeah, so anyway, I’m Sabrina. You look like you’re new around here. I mean, I haven’t seen you before or anything. Lot of people just passing through I guess. Not so many now, though, since they changed the highway. So yeah…”

She trailed off, sat down in one of the cheap plastic chairs lining the wall.

“Hey, mind if I smoke? I know it bothers some people. Some guys really hate it, I mean, They hate of a girl smokes, smells like smoke. One guy I was with wouldn’t kiss me. said it was just like kissing an ashtray. He still elt me blow him, though.”

She finished this last with a great guffaw, as if it had been the height of hilarity. He sat down on the edge of the bed, eyed her warily.
“No,” he said, as if she had actually been asking his permission. “Go ahead and smoke if you like. It won’t change anything.”

Her eyes narrowed. She began to roll a skinny joint with shaking, dirty fingers. Her fingernails were corroded with pink polish and grime.

“Um yeah, okay. I don’t guess that it will. Anyway, I usually charge a hundred bucks for a hand job. One-fifty for a bj, and another hundred gets you the works. So–”

She toked in, held her breath for what seemed an interminable moment, and then tried to pass the reefer to him. He held up his hand, palm upward, as if to say, “no thanks,” and then smiled. A smile that was perhaps too wolfish, too predatory to make her feel comfortable.

After a moment she asked, “What’s a matter? Don’t you like to talk? Awful quiet.”

She tried to sound disarming, but he could hear the hint of suspicious unease creep into her voice. Her eyes darted to the door, and he thought, She’s judging how long it would take for her to bound over to it, undo the chain, and get out of here.

“No,” he said slowly. “I don’t guess I’m much of a talker.

People should work on being good listeners, don’t you think? It’s much more to their advantage.”

She said,

“Hey, if you want me to come back some other time, I, like, totally understand.”

He knew she was suddenly eager to be out the door, whether or not she made any money or not. He sighed, got up from the bed, went over to the window, pulled back the sash, Outside, the sun was a thin sliver of fiery peach behind a cresting hill. Miles beyond, the lights of the city gave mute testimony to the presence of a civilization they seemed perched just on the edge of. In between, concrete overpasses, railroad trestles, vacant industrial parks (opened like the cancerous maws of toothsome old crones), and miles and miles of dusty scrub alienated this desolate way station of hell from the rest of the world. Here, time froze like the semen in a dead man’s balls.

“Have you ever though about time?” he finally said, turning toward her. He interrupted himself, saying, “I’m talking now. You should be happy that I am.”

Silence.

“Anyway, I’m sure you’re not going to believe what I have to say. In fact, I’m not sure, given your obviously limited capabilities, that you could even understand it. But, you see, we’ve been through this before–”

Silence. Then–

“Yeah, well, okay man. I don’t really have time for this. I mean, I’m going to go ahead and go, okay? Maybe–”

“No, really, just hear me out. No, sit down. I won’t take very much of your…valuable time. I promise. Anyway–”

She seemed curious enough to listen to him. Or, maybe she just thought that this was his come-on. Either way, she remained in her chair.

“You see, everything moves…in circles. Like in cycles. DO you follow me? You do follow me, don’t you?”

He said this last with a thin veneer of hostility. His voice had an icy, cool edge to it he knew could slip out, like a whirling blade, and slice their good feelings as easily as slicing a jugular. She fidgeted in the cheap plastic chair, leaning forward, obviously needing a fix. Her eyes were wide, puffy; bloodshot. Mascara was caked in ugly circles around her swollen lids.

“Yeah, you’ve been bruised. You’ve been battered. Desiccated and dissected again and again. Tell me: who hurt you? Who was it?”

He leaned in close, the smell of her breath making a noxious counterpoint to his rapidly rising interest.

Why do you keep hurting me? he thought she whispered.

But, with tears streaming down her face from formerly dry eyes, he realized, suddenly, that she said nothing.

It was in a bright blue hotel, a wide, spacious place the likes of which had never been built before. A flight of short stairs lead up from a lobby that was cool and carpeted and, also, surprisingly, even shockingly blue.

Blue, blue–blue everywhere. The stumbled their way inside from the street, drunk and with another couple. Up the stairs then, through the glass doors, and into the darkness beyond. The Sanctum Sanctorum.

Up the stairs again (couldn’t they have taken the elevator? But, alas, that would have been too easy.) to the darkness of the upper floor. The four of them stumbled down the hall, into the spacious suite, into the darkness.

Then, stripping off eachothers’ close. Flesh against flesh, tongues entering mouths, fingers groping and plying and pressing.

The young couple fell to the floor laughing, the woman baring her naked breast, the flap of her blouse pulled open and the buttons popped. The man she was with gyrated on top of her, trying to get his pants off, too drunk to do much of anything but stumble across the floor on his hands and knees.

But the moaning and the movement in the shadow old him that the man had found his mark. He could hear the chippy moaning and gasping.

He turned to his own date. The Starlet. The Ingenue.

“You ought ta be in pictures!” he sang softly, sweetly, mockingly.

The dame had fiery red hair. Or maybe it was just some trick of deceptive lighting (how? It was as dark as the tomb in here.) He put out his quivering fingertips, stretching toward her as she reclined her back against a fusillade of pillows. She still had her hat and boa wrapped around her.

“Did…did you ever…did you ever?” he couldn’t get the words out.

She looked at him quizzically. Suddenly, the young couple grinding away on the floor disappeared entirely, and the spotlight seemed to be on the two of them.

“Did I ever what?” she trailed off suspiciously.

He paused, laughed suddenly, said “Did you ever…fuck Clark Gable?” He couldn’t stop laughing, snickering. But she had the queerest, most serious expression come across her.

“Gable? No. ‘Fraid not. Next question.”

She dragged reflectively on her cigarette, held it away from her face at an angle, turned upward. The air in the room suddenly felt twenty degrees cooler than it had previously. All external sound sources seemed to fade being in this damnable hotel to him felt like being digested, slowly, in the belly of the beast.

Cut off from the rest of reality, they were. The world outside ceased to be. Her face was suddenly a cool, placid surface, a sort of living painted surface or waxen effigy. It seemed timeless. No wonder audiences ate up her image up there on the screen. You couldn’t stop looking at those cool, grey eyes, those high, heavy cheekbones, flaming red hair pulled into quizzical and stylish buns. Skin was milk-white porcelain, but she exuded anything but weakness.

She opened her red, red lips (they almost shined black), said, “Why do you keep hurting me?”

He retracted, physically; he felt himself pull away, losing his sensual idolatry, retreat into a cool, husky little ball. He wasn’t certain about the question, but it had the pregnant weight of prophecy connected to it. He started to blubber a lame response, felt his voice catch in his throat.

It was when he came back later he was told he had been banned from the hotel. A little woman in what looked to be a red marching band outfit but was probably some uniform for bellhops told him that his starlet had expressly forbidden anyone without proper identification (whatever that might be) from entering beyond the glass doors, into the cool, otherworldly darkness…

“She’s rented the whole hotel for the next few weeks. She can decide who comes and goes,” yadda yadda yadda.

He considered for a moment how he might slip in anyway, but then thought better of it. House detectives and hotel psychics and snoops and hidden microphones all meant he would, most likely, get caught. And a place like this would certainly press charges.

The little woman in the bellhop uniform or whatever it was shifted from one foot to another. She looked tired, and her nose fidgeted.

“Oh, by the way Mister, she DID give us something to give to you, though. A package. You see how she is? She gave our manager here a whole mess of beautiful flowers for his birthday…”

He was so fascinated by the birthday bouquet, but he said, “I’ll jut take the package and go.”

She looked as if his rudeness irritated her marginally, but reached back behind the counter (curiously, several women with hot plates seemed to be preparing room service with wads of money bulging in one fist, and spatulas in the other), and produced a cardboard box.

He placed it under one arm, went out the sliding glass doors into the busy street.

Later, in the dark of his dingy room, with stink beetles dying slow, brilliant deaths trapped int the light fixtures, he opened the small cardboard box with trembling fingers.

He thrust a hand inside. It was filled with a large passel of photographs. Shocking stuff.

Crime scene. And pornography of an indescribable filth. There were other photos, stuff made on the spot, obviously: women in lingerie, garters, bound and gagged with nylon stockings, posing lasciviously with legs spread, tied down to iron bedsteads; posed with animals, blank stares and bored, hollow cheeks and bad teeth and puffy, swollen eyes.

And then there were the dead women, posed in faux erotic semblance; arms and legs amputated, entrails wrapped around icy ankles and flesh frozen in time.

Severed heads on bedspreads…

His fingers trembled as he dragged shakily on a cigarette. That phrase came back to him again–

Why do you keep hurting me?

And, on each of these photographed faces, these erotic atrocities, he could see the image of his ingenue, his starlet, reflected, like the shattered fragments of a mirrored reflection. And he wondered about time, and the cycle of things.
***

He brought the heavy suitcase out to the boot of car, wheeling it on a little board mounted on roller skates. The desk clerk barely acknowledged his going, seemingly catatonic with his fuzzy, filthy head resting on his skinny, nicotine-stained fingers. he wondered if the man were dead, asleep, or if it were another of the mysterious inflatable dummies the prankster had foisted on him last night.

Outside on the walk, he stopped at a newspaper dispenser and reached inside. He didn’t bother to pay; the door was broken.

He leafed through, reading by the dim orange glow of the crime lights. He finally found an article, buried back a few pages, about the infamous interstate killer the FBI were actively searching for, the fabled murderer the press had dubbed the “Road Hog.” He smiled. That was him.

He was happy that they were taking notice of his handiwork.

But it made things that much more dangerous for him. Obviously, he couldn’t continue like this forever. But there was no turning back, turning away from what he was.

“Big deal,” he said, mimicking the words of one man. “Death always came with the territory. See you in Disneyland.”

He pulled the little rope, wheeled the heavy luggage out to the trunk of his car. The asphalt seemed hot enough to cook eggs on, he fancied he could see thermal exhaust coming from it. A few dire insects pestered him, but they were easily dispatched with a slap. The air was so close you could barely breathe.

He hefted the thing into the trunk. He was lost, momentarily, in a fantasy of what he had heard happened in such hotels as these.

A young couple checks in. Maybe they’ve just had their honeymoon. Who knows? They begin to make love, thinking they are luxuriating in the lap of it. Their sex is really hot stuff, all over the heart-shaped waterbed, sweaty sodden sheets thrust to the floor.

Moaning, groaning, screaming and crying imprecations to God–that kind of shit.

So they go away and forget about it for a few years. And then, maybe ten years goes by, and the man says “Honey, let’s relive all those old memories of our honeymoon night. Remember that old hotel we stayed at? Heart-shaped waterbed and making love all night?”

And she says “Oh, yes! That’ll be just the sort of thing to put the spark back into our flagging romance.” Okay, so maybe she didn’t put it quite like that. Whatever.

So they find that place again, and they go in. And they realize that the place has really gone downhill since last they were there–which was probably ten years.

So they go into their room,and the husband says, “Man, this place looks like it’s turned into a real fleapit since we were here last. Sorry, honey.”

And the wifey forgives him of course, as he didn’t know. And she is unpacking her curling iron or whatever, and he lays back on the bed, and says, “Hey, they have a TV. I bet we can find some dirty movies!” And he flips on the TV, with a glass of wine in his hand.

A few minutes later he drops the wine.

“Oh, me Tarzan, you Jane–aaahhaaa, aaa!”

Oh my god, he thinks, that couple on the screen, in the porno movie–that’s us on our honeymoon night!

And so they both cringe in horror, realizing they’ve been secretly films. He reminds himself that eyes are everywhere, all the time. The walls see, even if they do not speak.

Why? Why do you keep hurting me?

Had he? Did time circle back in on itself, like a great loop or wheel, instead of a flat, angular plane? “Maybe time is a goddamn Moebius strip,” he laughed bitterly. He could see her face still, clueless and terrified, I-can-do-anything-you-want-me-to face. She could be whatever he needed, her and her pockmarked, ugly little visage.

Would he stuff her body under the bed. In the box springs? There was a legend about that, too.

No. He went back inside. The eyes had walls. The walls had eyes. He went back through the automatic door, the high, torturous rude electric buzz announcing his presence to no one, to the darkness. To the flies dying in the light fixtures, to the tics and nits dying on the mildewed sheets.

“Hey, hey bro!”

A darkened voice at the end of the hall. As if in a dream, or maybe a Fellini picture, a stumbling, skinny dweeb looked over at him from the shadow by a half-open doorway. He was talking to a smaller man, holding a beer. There was faint talking from inside. Radio music.

“Hey, hey bro! Damn, imagine seeing you here! Long time no see!”

Whoever this was, Hog needed to lose him. Quick. He wanted to be out of there and down the highway. But, like a bad dream, someone from the past steps in, unexpectedly, haunting you like a walk-in in a bad foreign art film.

“Wow man,” the skinny, taller man sidled up to him in the gloom, said, “it must be like, damn. Twenty years? since high school? When we use to run around together.”

The Hog didn’t know how to respond. He stalled, said nothing, looked blankly at this guy. He knew full well, suddenly, which it was. A high school drinking buddy, a guy he use to bird dog chicks with. He had dumped such garbage long ago, had purified himself. Now, it had returned to haunt him. It and the bad odor.

“Yeah, well, I’m not really. I mean, I don’t have time right now.”

His buddy held out one skinny, twitching hand. In it was a ten dollar bill, a shot glass of what was probably hundred proof alcohol, and each finger was crowned with nails that were skinny, black with dirt.

His friend looked at him blankly. His eyes watered a little. He looked as if he were in there with his boyfriend getting high. Getting stoned. Getting wasted.

The skull beneath the skin twitched It sensed rejection, the face scruntching up until pain could be read on the outlines of the head. The sudden flash of hatred, brought about no doubt by a sense of rejection could be read in every line.

There was a long pause, but like an unstable recording device, the voice jumped forward. Warbled, said–

“Oh, hey buddy, I completely understand. Sure. Right. We’ll have to get together sometime, relive old memories.

“Sure, we’ll do that Bob. Er, I mean George.”

“Jeff, old buddy. Just plain old Jeff.”

It was a terrible name, he thought. Like Todd, or Scott. It denoted a frat guy who might wander around the dorm in his boxers, with a stogie, flunking college English, fantasizing about porn
models, and planning his future as an accountant

But not THIS Jeff, of the dirty fingers and shot glass. He had lost himself in the fabled “Roman Wilderness of Pain” that Jim Morrison had sang about. He had been steam shoveled under his own sense of defeat, his passion for being purposeless. He was a victim of himself.

“See ya,” he said, the smile stretching across Hog’s plastic, too-perfect face as he hefted the heavy luggage out in both hands.

Thorough the plexiglass door, he buzzed to get out. Out into the sleeping hallway, where time was an illusion, hiding like the arched back of a cat in the dark.

On the television an inscrutable dialog proceeding thusly:

“So we go downstairs, to the crook of the stairs.”

“The crook? You mean the first floor landing?”

“Right, right. Some sort of landing where there is a window. And she’s sitting there in a Victorian dress, drinking an iced tea, or whatever. And the guy turns to me, say, ‘We haven’t figured out yet if she’s alive or a ghost. Nobody speaks to her; she’s always there, it seems.”

“Great. I’m betting she’s a former tenant, committed suicide by eating a combination of cough syrup and ant paste. Just like Florence Lawrence.”

“Florence Lawrence? Isn’t she like a cook on TV?”

“No. First movie star. Died in 1938. Today she’d be 129. Say, you want o know how stupid I am? I forgot to water my pussy.”

“Sounds like a personal problem.”

“No, ignoramus, my cat. I didn’t leave any water out for my cat. I come home, she’s on the point of literal death. From hunger, also.”

On and on it went. What was that sitcom? At the desk, the real clerk was sitting, with his deflated alter-ego in his lap, nodding off over a crusty back issue of Hustler. He went outside, carrying his luggage in front of him, not knowing if he was leaving little droplets of red in his wake.

Outside, heat lightning flashed over the hardscrabble earth, the dusty desert landscape disappearing into darkness beyond, with naught but pinpoints of city lights and man-made fires in the distance. In the distance, and up ahead by the never ending march of the boots of TIME, was an ugly strip of bleak fast-food chains, down-at-the-heels strip malls, movie theaters, gas stations, little mini-marts staffed by Pakis named Abdullah. Was this hell? He often wondered.

He opened the trunk, placed the leather carrying case inside, slammed shut the creaking boot. The asphalt was dark and hot, bugs buzzing past his ears. They would die by the thousands in the sleek electric polish of his headlights.

Hot, it was stifling hot. He fancied he could see thermals projecting p like the hideous, shapeless forms of forgotten phantasms–despite the fact that it was still too dark.

The moon overhead, watching him. The newspaper he had nicked on the way out had had a story.

Hog Strikes Again. Nationwide Manhunt. No Suspects. No Discernible Pattern. POLICE FRUSTRATED AND BAFFLED.

He liked that last bit. A foldout in the newspaper (What? Was this their equivalent of a Hustler gate fold?) showed a petty blonde victim. Her face was ice cream cold on the newsprint, her hair fanning out about her in a moment frozen in time, some happy instance that would be imprinted on the memory of whomever she had been with–but not her. Or, maybe?

Did he believe in ghosts?

Why do you keep hurting me?

He slid behind the wheel. Ahead, darkness and the road invited the hog to move onward. To the next great adventure.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot see the falconer…

What was that?

What rough beast is this? Its hour come ’round at last.

Slouches.

“Toward Bethlehem?”

Well, he was headed somewhere. But not there.

Standard
Experimental, Fortean, Hardboiled, Short Stories, short-short, Uncategorized, Urban Legends, Young Adult

The Miracle of Self-Trepanation

There is a legend about a movie, called Heartbeat in the Brain. The movie was made by a grad student in London, in the sixties, who was deeply involved in the occult.

It was featured in the book Apocalypse Culture. At any rate, this grad student, a woman, actually made a film of her trepanation–that is, she drilled a hole in the top of her head, so she could see God.

They say the film doesn’t exist anymore. They say all copies disappeared after it was screened to shocked audiences at a film festival. I don’t know. I’ve only seen purported bits and pieces of it.

Anyway, the story I have to tell is about someone who drilled a hole in their head, clean through to their brain. Because they swore they heard a heartbeat–a tell-tale heart, pounding away in their skull. And that it was driving them mad.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

A woman that was dying of cancer heard about a new treatment, south of the border. Something that wasn’t legal in the US. In desperation, she went down there, and was unenthused when she realized she’d stumbled into the filthy hacienda of a psychic surgeon–a person who, reportedly, could heal terminal illness with psychic powers and rusty scissors.

She was dubious about the whole thing, bit, deciding she had come too far to turn back, she let the man do his stuff.

He made her lie down on a table, and, making some strange passes over her, and uttering weird incantation-like phrases in Spanish, he put his fingers on her forehead, and, seeming to dig into her very scalp, began to retrieve the tumor.

She could feel a cold, wet feeling, like pouring blood and fluid course down her cheeks. But, there was no pain. Finally, the surgeon stepped back from the table, and held up a dripping lump of grey matter that looked like a little slab of beef liver.

“Here is your tumor,” he said simply. “Now, you will live.”

He stepped forward, his fingers going to her forehead again, to “seal up” the wound, and then she was directed to get up. She did so, carefully cleaning the blood (which she secretly thought might actually be chicken’s blood) off of her forehead with a rag.

She left Mexico, and, upon returning Stateside, waste no time in seeking out a doctor to see if, indeed, her tumor was really gone. To her shock and amazement, the doctor gave her a clean bill of health, adding that it must have been a miracle.

The woman, overjoyed at the news (for she had been told she had only a short time to live) wept tears of gratitude,a nd vowed never to doubt the powers of the occult again.

But, unfortunately for this woman, her story most decidedly did NOT have a happy ending.

You’ve heard of the “hum”, right? That sound that some people claim they can hear, that nobody else can hear. I haven’t actually heard anyone talk about it for years, but scientists theorized it had something to do with Ultra Low Frequency tests caried out by the US military. Skeptics predictably claimed it was all hokum. At any rate, the woman began to hear a weird, thumping sound. It was tiny at first, like the ticking of a clock.

“It’s like the beating of a baby’s heart. In my head,” she told her husband. It seemed to make the top of her head throb. Soon, she could hear it all the time.

It grew louder and louder.

She tried taking painkillers for the headache–it only helped a little. She tried stuffing cotton in her ears, wrapping wet towels around her head, and tying pillows to her–but the beat-beat-beating of the hear persisted.

She started drinking. Her eyes became red, bleary; she was always pale, and she thought she might be losing her mind.

That was when she started clawing at the thumping drumbeat in the top of her head. At first with her fingers, ripping out chunks of her hair. Then, with a pick. Finally, with a pair of scissors.

One day her husband came in and found her crouched ina corner, sobbing and clawing at her bloody, barren scalp, screaming and gnashing her teeth and ripping at the flesh of her head. Chunks of skin and locks of hair clung to her bloody fingers, as she cried, “It’s in there! Oh, dear God help me, it’s in there! It’s beating, clawing, desperate to get out! To be BORN!”

He called an ambulance. She was heavily sedated. It was only a matter of time before she was confined to a sanitarium, in a padded cell, where she continued to pound her head, insensible, tortured, driven to agony, her eyes twin pits of suffering, her mouth hanging open, dripping saliva and blood where she bit her tongue and gnashed her teeth.

Exploratory surgery found nothing that could account for it.

Finally, the woman died. An autopsy revealed a hitherto undiscovered mass. It was of an unusual nature. Doctors swore it seemed to be made of fetal tissue.

It was shaped like a tiny, sleeping infant.

Like Pallas Athena was born from the cranium of Zeus, was this IT waiting to be born from the woman’s head? How will we ever know?

Her body was cremated. The incident was swept under the rug, forgotten, by all but a few.

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Fiction, Short Stories, short-short, Young Adult

The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allen Poe (Adapted by Tom Baker)

Fortunato I had learned to live with, even when he was at his worst–but when he insulted me in public, I vowed that he would never have the ability to do so again.

It was during the heighth of the carnival, when all the city was in a state of celebration, that I decided when and how I would go about getting my revenge. I would do it so as to not get caught–that would bo the only way my revenge would really be complete. Also, as I made him suffer, he would go to his end knowing it was me that did him in.

I was walking through the streets, wearing my cloak and a black domino mask. Fortunato was wearing a jester’s outfit: a tinkling little hat with bells and a striped costume.

Now, you must understand that, up until that time, I had given Fortunato no reason to suspect me–I had smiled in his presence, and had always been kind and gracious to him when we were together. Deep inside though, I was forever plotting his doom.

Knowing his one weakness, then, it is little surprise that I was finally able to take advantage of it, and make it part of my plans.

Fortuanto fancied himself an expert when it cam to fine wines. Most Italians are frauds when it comes to these things, trying merely to fool British or French experts. Fortunato was just like all the others: he knew nothing about art or the finer things in life, but acted just as if he did. But, when it came to wine, he really did know what he was talking about.

So this is why, when I ran into him one night during the wild carnival season, I said to him, “Ah Fortunato, you are looking so well! And, it must be luck that has brought us together. You see, I’ve just bought a few bottles of something that is supposed ot be Amontillado–but I’m not sure.”

At this, Fiortunato, a little man that, as I said, was dressed in the costume of a jester, sputtered and spat and bugged out his eyes like a toad. He said, “Amontilaldo? During the carnival season? Impossible!”

I was almost to the point of starting to laugh in his face, but instead I told him, “Well, as I’ve said, I have some doubts about it. I thought of goign and finding Luchesi. He is not as good at testing these things as you, of course, but, I knew that you would be busy, and–”

He spat, “Luchesi? He cannot tell Amontillado from sherry! Come! To your cellars! I will try this for myself, and tell you if it really is Amontillado after all!”

I smiled, trying to appear as if I was really putting him out by asking him ot come to my cellars and taste my wine, as if it were all really MY idea.

“Come then! The servants, I know, will be out.”

They were. I had instructed them not to leave my chateau during the carnival, knowing that they would all leave and go the carnival anyway.

We entered the old dark mansion, and I lead him through the empty, echoing darkness to a doorway in a back coridoor. Grabbing a light, I threw open the door to the cellar, revealing a winding staircase going down, down, down into the black.

“Enter,” I said, thrusting out my hand. He did so, swaying a little as he was quite drunk still. I followed him down, closing the door behind us.

We went down, down into the dark catacombs below, the crypts wherein generations of Montresors had been buried. We passed piles of old bones, and it was very dar, and damp and cold, In the corners, we could hear scurrying rats.

I had the torch in my hand, and I could see hat Fortunato was drunk and ill. It was far to mouoldy and damp down here for him, and he was coughing and hackin like a man with a serious illness.

“Come, my friend,” I said, “Let us go back. You have a terrible cough, and it is far too mouldy and damp down here for you!”

He grew angry when I suggested this, and spat (between coughs),”No! It is nothing. Just a little cough. Bah! I will not die of a cough! Come! Amontillado! Let us go!”

And so we went down, deeper and deeper into the catacombs. We began to discuss various things, and he asked me what the Montressor family arms were.

“Oh, it is a snake, with a boot crushing the snake’s head. That is the family crest!”

He must have liked that, for he smiled while considering it. Then, he made a curious sign, and I surprised him by understanding it.

“Ah, you are a Freemason! I am one, too!”

When I said this, he grew a little suspicious.

“You? A brother Mason? Impossible!”

But I assured him it was true.

“We Montresors are an old and dignified line,” I reminded him. Whatever that was supposed to mean.

Deeper and deeper we went, into the winding darkness, past the heaped piles of old bones–those poor unfortunates who had been imprisoned and buried down here, so long ago.

Finally, we came to a dark recess in the stonework. I shined the torch in there, saying, “It is in there! The cask of amontillado! Perhaps you should go in and investigate for yourself!”

And the drunken fool, so eager to taste the wine, went in, somewhat cautiously though, the little bells on his hat jangling as he walked upon the uneven stones of the floor.

“Yes, yes…well, where is the wine?” he suddenly asked, confused.

I leapt forward, and with a speed few could probably have ever guessed I possessed, clasped a heavy chain around him, fixing him to the wall, where he turned about in shock, in the deep darkness.

“Eh? What is this? Some sort of game?” he blustered, fear coming into his voice.

“No!” I said, “No game!”

And that is when I produced the trowell, and went to a pile of old bricks in the corner. That is where I hid the cement.

I slowly, oh so slowly, began to lay the bricks, forst one, then another, then another, across the face of the recess in the wall. All the time, Fortunato is chained and cannot move, watching as, slowly, he is bricked in, into the darkness…

He kept up a steady, senseless rambling, but I just ignored him.

Slowly, oh so slowly, the wall that would seal his doom began to take shape.

Finally, after a few hours toil, I had but one brick to lay. I shined my lantern in the opening. Therein sat Fortunato, sad and confused, bound in chains. Suddenly, realizing I was looking in at him, he said, “Come! Enough of this joke! Let us return to the carnival. We will have quite a laugh about this when we are gathered together at the carnival! Yes, quickly, undo these chains, and we will both hasten at once back to the carnival!”

And then he was quiet. And then, after a long moment…

“For the love of GOD, Montressor!” he wailed, in a voice quite unlike any I had ever heard come from him before.

“Yes,” I anssered him, “For the love of God!”

And I placed the last brick in the wall, sealing him up in darkness and certain death. Then I rode away, into the night.

That was fifty years ago, and, tot he best of my knowledge, he is down there to this day.

Rest in peace.

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Art, Books, Fiction, Short Stories, Young Adult

The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allen Poe (Retold by Tom Baker)

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The stark white lips of the judges moved, speaking hideous things. However, I couldn’t hear what they were saying, nor could I see their dark, hooded faces; only their lips I could see.

Upon the table in front of them, seven golden candles provided light. At first, I thought this comforting, but, soon, the evil sentence was laid down, and I swooned, and darkness and insensibility descended upon me like a cloud.

I awoke as I was being carried forth by powerful hands. What was happening to me? I felt myself fall back to insensibility again, and, when I awoke once more, I was in a dark and troubling place.

I came to, and, my eyes quickly adjusting, I reached out with one hand and found a pitcher of water and loaf of bread beside me. These I took greedily, as I was parched and famished. I then turned my attention to my dark cell.

I got up slowly and went to the wall, carefully placing my hand upon its uneven surface. The heavy masonry was pitted and cracked in several places, and I suddenly realized how I could ascertain the dimensions of my cell. I tore a fragment of cloth from the garment they had forced me to wear, and stuffed it in a chink. Then, marking that as a place to begin and end, I slowly, carefully, went around the wall, feeling the uneven surface with my hands as I went, counting out the paces.

(You may think this ridiculous, but, really, for some reason, it seemed of the uptmost importance to me.)
Finally, I came back around to the filthy bit of rag. Aw, fifty paces! And, calculating from that I came to the conclusion that I was in a prison cell that was some fifty feet wide. Elated at this, I soon resolved to cross the slimy, disgusting floor, and began to do so when, for some reason, I became entangled in the ripped portions of the garment I wore.

I fell flat on my face, and would have broken my nose I suppose, had a mysterious discovery not prevented me from doing so. For, though my miserable, aching body lie prone on the floor, my chin, nose, and forehead were suspended over…nothing. Apparently, I had stopped just short of falling into a sort of stone pit–just by sheer luck!

In a moment, I had secured a loose piece of stone, and thrown it down the pit, hearing it go down, down, trying, as best I could, to sort of sound out how deep the pit might have been. It was a short interval before I heard it crash below. Then, I heard a curious scuttling sound.

So, this was the fate the cruel monks of the Inquisition had in store for me, eh? I rolled over on my back, breathing in and out heavily in the stifling air, and soon found myself unconscious. When I awoke, the same pitcher and loaf were beside me, and I took them greedily again, being much famished and dying of thirst. I then realized they must have been drugged, for I grew drowsy.

When I again came back to hellish consciousness, I found my situation horribly changed. I was bound, head and foot, to a wooden rack, a huge sort of bandage wrapped all around me and secured to the frame. Only my left arm, up to the elbow, was free. I soon realized there was a pot of meat beside me which I could just barely reach and get to my mouth with my left hand. But now there was no pitcher.

I smiled at this through cracked lips. The meat was very spicy, and so I realized part of my new torture was to be fed spicy food, but given no water to slake my thirst.
 
I then heard the scuttling.
 
Rats–thousands of them! They must have come up from the circular pit! They were scurrying all about, and I was horrified and repulsed to see their beady eyes shining in the near darkness. I say near darkness because now there was a weird, glowing light that provided illumination to the scene! And how terrible a scene it was!

The images of devils and demons, obscure tortures, and hellish retribution–the fantasies of the deranged monks of the Inquisition, were painted on the ghastly walls, as high as the ceiling (which was, I should estimate, some forty feet), giving testimony to the deraged beliefs of the sadistic men who had formed these horrible dungeons of terror and pain. I was at first chagrined to see that I had grossly underestimated the size of my prison, and wracked my brain as to how this could have been possible. Also, I saw now that far from being a prison of stone masonry, my death cell was, indeed, formed of what seemed to be iron plates. Curious, I thought. But I did not ponder it long.

Looking above, I saw what I took to be an imge of Father Time, holding his scythe. However, in place of the traditional scythe was what appeared to be a long, sleek pendulum, like one would find in a great clock. I could not at first believe it, but, as I adjusted my eyes to the weird sight, I realized that the pendulum held by Father Time was no mere painting upon the wall, but a real and actual pendulum, swinging to and fro, and seemingly coming closer to me, closer and closer, slowly, oh so slowly…

I saw that the curved end of the thing was as thin and sharp as a razor. Slowly, oh so slowly it swept to and fro, coming down…down…down…

…Soon, it would be on top of me, and then, with one fell swing or swoop, would slice me in half, leaving me dying in a torrent of blood, in an agonizing and hideous death few men could ever imagine!

Down it came, closer and closer. I struggled against the great bandage that wrapped me in solid as a mummified body–to no avail! Closer swept the pendulum, closer and closer!

I felt my mind begin to crack. I blacked out.

When I came to, the thing was even nearer to me! The terrible rats that crawled up from the pit were crawling all over me, waiting greedily for my death, biting and scratching me with their little rodent snouts. It was then that an idea came to me.

I struggled to reach the very spicy meat that the cruel judges had left, stretching out in agony with my one arm. Finally, I got a handful of the stuff, what was left of it, and I began to rub it across the great bandage.

This greatly excited the hungry rats, who began to gnaw at the bandage as the hellish pendulum swung ever more near.
The pendulum was now so near that I could hear it swish across my chest. The rats began to nibble at my bonds, and finally, I felt them come loose! I struggled and strained, and, with a terrible wrenching, and with the razor-sharp blade of the pendulum just inches from my chest (it had actually swept a few of the rats away with one stroke), I managed to break free of my bonds and roll out of the way just in time!

A moment later, and I would have been cut in two by the pendulum, and suffered a cruel, painful death.

My suffering was not over though! No, for the demonic faces on the wall began to glow a fiery red, and the heat in the chamber became unbearable. It was as if I had died and gone to Hell! The eyes of the painted demons and skulls began to glow, and I realized there must be some sort of great, terrible furnace hidden within the walls.

But, as if this were not enough, those walls soon began to slide inward, closer and closer, meaning to push me into the pit, to fall to my death. I retreated from the walls and the terrible heat, my hands going up before my face. I turned in panic, stumbled, fell–

My face was inches above the pit. I looked down into the darkness, which I could now see more clearly due to the terrible flame of the demonic eyes in the paintings. I could not believe what I saw down there!

Oh those cruel judges! How could they? The walls grew closer and closer, the heat grew more and more intense–

It was then that I heard a shouting and commotion from somewhere above me. Oh! Merciful God, the walls began to slide back, the searing heat cooled, and I understood from the mingled voices that the army had entered Toledo. They had captured the Inquisition! I was saved! I was saved!

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