Sunday, September 16, 2007

Old Ghosts

What a strange day...

I've been short tempered lately. Things weighing heavy on my mind. Lots of things coming into play. Joys but stresses too. Haven't been connecting lately so I took my kids out to a park today for a hike. The sun was shining brightly and the wind felt like fall knocking on the door to be let in.

We walked along the path and the sun light through the leaves dappled us in warmth and shade alike. It was a long walk through the woods, but so beautiful to be among them again. It's been too long for others... it had been too long for me.

I've always felt at peace in the woods and today was no exception. We sat and talked about school and how things were when I was a kid, and where I grew up. I enjoyed the moment as we all stopped and ate lunch, but as turbulent as my life has been of late, I knew it was too good to last.

I was right.

There's something that strikes to the very core of a parent when they hear their child scream in pain.

Drawn to the scent of our lunch, bees attacked out of the blue, sparing none of us from stings. My son got stung twice on his hand, once on his arm, and again on the back of his neck. For various reasons stemming from his early childhood, my son deals with pain on an entirely different level than most other kids his age. so by the time we made it back out of the woods again, he wasn't even complaining of the pain.

My daughter was stung in the scalp of her head, her neck, and her hand. This was her first time ever getting stung, and the pain was a very new sensation. Tears streamed down her face as she ranted about hating bees and this particular park we were in.

I got hit on a finger and on my stomach when a bee decided that beneath my shirt would be a nice place to hide. And though the pain was there, I was more pissed off than anything else.

After running our asses off to get out of the woods, I packed everyone up and drove to the closest pharmacy to grab some medicine and began applying it in the parking lot outside.

While we were there, a cop car raced by, then another, then four more on it's heels, and all of them were driving balls out fast wherever they were headed. There were other sirens in the distance and whatever it was, it was something bad; something a bit worse than a fender bender in traffic.

Since we hadn't been out that long, and the medicine was starting to dull the pain of the bee stings, I asked the kids if they wanted to go home or drive for a while and see where I grew up. They both said yes, so we hit the highway on 83 South.

A few miles later, I had the highway to myself, save for an older sedan right behind me. From nowhere I see a white sports car in the passing lane, and the driver is like rolling thunder, easily pushing 120 mph.

And right on his ass is a trail of cop cars. Whatever had went down, I suddenly found myself in the thick of it.

The driver passes me in a blur - too close for comfort. It was one of those odd, surreal moments when you know that fate has just flipped a coin and you're not quite sure yet if you're going to get the lucky toss.

The cops go by, their engines nothing but roaring stutters as they pass.

I'm roughly a 1/2 mile from the next exit off of 83 South, and I see the sports car cut lanes, swerving over to get off.

I'm familiar with this exit. Obviously, he's not.

It's a tight curve and he's going way too fast. Maybe with something else he'd have made it, one of those high end sports cars that look like they run on rails. But not today baby, not this time.

The smoke of freshly laid tire rubber spewed up in huge plumes as the car spun out and slammed straight into a dirt bank.

Cops seemed to swarm from their cars and for a moment, I was reminded of the bees that had attacked us earlier. I saw a car do a doughnut and back up the exit ramp to block it off. Two more swerved to the far side in case the driver tried to run, and by the time I made it to the exit, an officer, pistol drawn, had yanked the driver free.

And we continued on.

I drove past the elementary school I went to, saw the big yellow banner out front stating that the school was celebrating 75 years. I remembered the big Sycamore trees out front, colossal things that looked older than time. In front of those trees was the spot where I first told a girl I loved her. I was only eight but it was real enough. I told my daughter about her; a girl I had my first crush on, Ruth Koyce, and how it wasn't until gave her up, that she decided to like me back. Of course, by then, it was too late, as I was moving to Pennsylvania.

I drove down the road I used to live on and old ghosts came to me. A friend who had two horses, Pepsi and Coke. A farmer whose hayfields my grandfather used to work while I sat in the branches of a mulberry tree and read books. Another boy I got into a fight with.

I saw patches of woods that I used to wander off in, much too far for my mother's comfort. I saw a downed tree trunk still available as a makeshift bridge; amazing it's still there after all these years.

The house I grew up in though... all gone. Nothing there anymore; not even the barn that I used to play in. The entire hillside has been left to grow, split in half with a wishbone driveway of asphalt, splitting off to homes hidden far away from the main road.

In my mind I saw what used to be there... the springhouse where the water used to be icy cold and sweet as anything you'd ever drink. I used to play in the streams behind it, catching crayfish and salamanders in the summer. I recall the chorus of spring frogs announcing the change of seasons and how I used to watch heat lightning and storms roll in through the valley; already looking forward to the lullabye sound of rain on the metal roof above my bedroom.

Not even the foundation of the old barn is still there; though I close my eyes and can still smell the turpentine and hay and freshly harvested corn that used to be inside. How many days had I spent there, making forts and secret hiding spots? Finding litters of wild kittens burrowed in the straw; watching the barn swallows make their nests.

I buried my first dog on that hillside. I know where his body is, even though it's grown over with wild roses and Sumac now. To the right of the property is a wide path with stone walls, and in an open meadow is where my father buried his first hounds after one awful, pivotal night.

To the left is a white pine tree, tall and grown so much higher with time. Beneath it's branches we used to have a smoke house, and I had a tire swing on it. For a while I had a pet raccoon and the day he decided to climb up, I received a scar on my hand when he bit me.

My mother took me sledding on the hillside in the winter. The pond where I played in the summer and got stung by a catfish has long since been filled in. Oak trees and field mustard and honeysuckle have covered any footprint there may have been.

All round me it's grown up. It could be the entrance to a park or some nature preserve. Everything of my childhood is gone except for the ghosts I feel running around in my head and inside my heart.

As a child growing up there, I found my imagination.

As an adult going back, I'm not sure what I just lost or why I feel so haunted.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Moment of Zen...

At the bar, they asked Hemingway for the world's shortest story . . . "For sale: baby shoes. Never worn."

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Faith and Spare Change

I often speak of the farm where I grew up. As many fond memories as I have of that place, my family moved away when I was in the eighth grade. They had been renting the farm for as long as I could remember, (it was a 55 acre farm, and rented for the ridiculous price of $175 a month) and my parents had saved up some money to buy their first house.

The new place was a serious dump at first. My father is an extremely handy guy, very knowledgeable in roofing, decking, carpentry and all manner of construction, but even he almost laid tire streaks trying to run away from it. But my mother saw the vision of what it could be, and so she convinced him to buy it.

For about a month over summer vacation, my grandfather and I drove up every day, cleaning the place up and trying to get some things in order while my parents worked day jobs.

There had been a man living there when they bought the place; illegally, I might add. The buildings had been abandoned for a long time, and this guy just sort of... moved in. A squatter I guess you could call him. His name was Jack Lease.

But this guy wasn't just your ordinary squatter. Jack was certifiably insane and the icing on the cake was that he was enormous. Intimidating doesn't accurately describe him. The building he lived in was a small trailer, and he'd gathered up three huge oil drums to put inside. I've no idea why, nevermind how in the hell he was able to carry them inside. There was also an arrangement of six foot wooden sire spool/coffee tables, and cut off telephone poles to act as makeshift chairs. It smelled like an animal den inside his trailer; an odor like something had been hibernating for a long time and had woken up pissed at the world. You seriously could almost smell the madness.

I found roughly twenty-nine dollars of spare change in a coffee can stashed on the roof of his trailer. He had envelopes with maps of almost every state on the east coast with odd navigation lines criss crossing them,

Piles of clothes and paper and junk everywhere. Good Housekeeping would've put him in handcuffs. There were notebooks and little scraps of paper scattered around; strange drawings and lists of names with the headline: "These can be eliminated."

Jack's cheese had slid off his cracker. He was nuts. Wait... is that politically correct? We'll just say "reality challenged" and leave it at that.

My mother, whom I love and have the greatest respect for, is the person who bought me my first Monsters magazine. She bought me the original Clive Barker's Books of Blood. She didn't so much lead me, as much as let me walk the path that has put me where I'm at now. And so she has a slightly twisted sense of humor that I've obviously inherited. I now see it in my daughter as well... apple doesn't fall far from the tree and all that.

So as fate would have it, one day my mother and I were in one of the other buildings on the property (the place looked like the Waco Compound when we first got there, and we had to clear out everything). The garbage and wet clothes and other assorted trash was shin high, and as we picked it up and stuffed it into trash bags, my mother told me some of the other things she'd heard about Jack. He'd spent some time in an insane asylum in Maryland. The kind of place they don't put ad execs with nervous break downs, but instead the guys who are running through downtown cities yelling about the large white worms chasing them. A place for the really, truly crazy.

Rumors from the realtor that there used to be an old woman that lived with Jack on the property. People used to see her sit outside and watch the cars go by on warm days.

And one day, she just wasn't there anymore.

No one really pays any attention to an old lady and a crazy man watching traffic, so time went on, and no one bothered to ask, and after all this time, no one really knows what happened to the old woman.

"Maybe he ran out of groceries over the winter and ate her," my mother said.

"Maybe she's buried somewhere on the property and we'll find her skeleton." I replied.

"Or, you never know." My mother smiled. "Maybe we'll find her head in all this trash we're picking up."

She reached from the floor and made a wide sweeping gesture with her arm toward me.

And that's when it happened.

My mind saw what was coming toward me. It was a decapitated head with darkened roots of gristle and spine dangling from its base. The bleached face was bloody, and time hadn't treated it well. The skin had cured and become mottled, picking up an odd texture of whatever it had been lying against all this time. Brunette hair splayed out at odd angles away from the face, its eyes closed placidly, red lips pursed tightly shut.

And my dear, sweet mother had picked it up and thrown it at me.

I screamed like a girl in her first year of Catholic School, and dislocated my entire spine as I attempted to twist and dodg the severed head.

My heart was thudding so hard against my chest I expected to see my shirt rise and fall with the sound.

My mother was laughing so hard I thought she may need a change of pants.

The head missed me and landed in the pile of garbage behind me and I looked at it more closely.

And the magic was gone.

It was a cheap styrofoam mannequin head, complete with wig and painted lips. A mixture of rotted vegetables coated the base of the head, and I stared into it's pre-formed eyes and tight faced expression.

Along with my mother's words, my mind had made it real.

My thoughts, my faith in it, had turned it real... if only for a split second.

It's what all us "scribblers" are still trying to do – deliver some words, faith, and a little magic to make our stories real for others. Hopefully a lot longer than a split second though.

It's like that with everything else too in life.

Reality starts with your mind and heart. Let your mind think it into reality.

Have faith. Believe it'll happen. And it will be.

It will be.

And the universe will start agreeing with you and make it happen.

I never did find out what happened to that old woman though.