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Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Walk Up the Midway


She stood before the mirror; soft light from overused dimming bulbs that lined her reflection creating radiant beauty while lacking all function for the task at hand. She patted her face with powder, creating a cloud that gave the illusion of an otherworldly origin. The analogy was fitting for the setting, though she paid it no mind; her ritual was practiced with ease and grace borne of habit. She bent low and pulled dark stockings over her feet and up shaped calves onto her thighs where she clipped them to a garter, hidden under a black skirt. She stood before the mirror, topless, taking in her body's shape and allowing time to appreciate the curves that had taken so long for her to accept. She knew now that her acceptance didn't matter, not here, in this place; which was ironic since this very fact made it easier to appreciate. The image in the second mirror, behind her, was more difficult. Thanks to the juxtaposition of the companion mirror made her back visible and was a necessity, though it made her uncomfortable. She did not appreciate what she saw. Damaged, scarred flesh, made her shudder and curse her misfortune as she always did. She knew the scars were a necessary evil and to some, their symmetrical pattern would appear artistic, maybe even beautiful. To her mind, though, they were a reminder of the hardships that had led her here, to this place; and what had created the scarring she so despised. After a sigh she picked up her bodice and slipped her arms through it easily. She pulled it around her breasts tightly and began to fasten silver clasps in a regular pattern. With each gesture, the bodice tightened and she inhaled sharply in slight pain. Her back became more rigid as small wires inserted themselves into her skin at strategic points along her spine; these were the cause of the scarring, she knew, but she had no choice. Completing her task she stood before the mirror once more and gave herself a winning stage smile, spreading six arms before the mirror as if she were presenting a new car on a game show.

"Timothy!" the sharp voice cut the boy like a knife and he immediately blushes and quickly retracted his head from the tent, where he'd been watching.

"Timothy Clark Duncan! What in sam hell are you doing there?" Tim cursed silently to himself as he joined the fuming woman several feet from the tent.

"I'm sorry Ma," he said, "I was just watching."

"I know what you were watching, young man and you know God will strike you blind for peeping!" his mother said judgmentally. Tim ran a hand through his mop of dark hair with one hand while shoving his other into his pocket. He was handsome for his sixteen years, looking closer to twenty, with only his eyes and his smile betraying his innocence. 

"I'd rather be blind than a virgin." he quipped.

"Keep talking smart. You'll see. I bet all them monsters down in Charlotte were smart too. Look what's happening to them." In response Tim rolled his eyes.

Mother and son resumed their walk and Tim took in the sights and smells almost gleefully. He'd never been to a circus before, and had been pleasantly surprised when his mother had agreed to the trip. The midway was a bustle of activity and everything Tim had hoped it would be. A juggling clown on a unicycle rode in front of them and was rewarded with an awed stare from Tim. In spite of this, though, he wasn't deterred from his destination.

The sign read "World's Greatest Freaks!" followed by "100% Authentic! 100% Alive! 100% Creepy!" painted on the image of a ribbon wrapping around the rest of the text. Tim felt his heart begin pumping as they reached the entrance.

"Honestly Tim, I don't know why you want to go in there, those poor people."

"It's all fake, ma. Don't worry. I just saw Spider-Girl putting on fake arms." 

"I'll just bet that's what you saw." his mother said reprovingly.

"Jesus ma! Would you let it go?" he said, and instantly regretted it.

"Don't you dare take the Lord's name in vain! Now, I raise you better'n that, didn't I? Brought you to this place and that's the thanks you have?"

"I'm sorry. I'm just excited." he said.

"Well, excited about what?" his mother asked impatiently.

"That." Tim said, pointing.

The sign that read "World's Greatest Freaks" was centered above 4 painted portraits, each about ten feet tall.  The first was a smiling woman with six arms and read "The only living human arachnid! SPIDER-GIRL!" Next to this was a normal enough looking man, painted in a profile shot, wearing a black suit with a bowler hat on his head. His sign read "What cruel twist of fate can make a man become what he became? John Smith." Tim, wondered at this for a moment but shook his head, assuming there would be some gimmick. The third sign had been painted black with a banner that simply read "Removed by order of the state of Louisiana! Write your Congressman!" The fourth, though, was what had Tim's attention. The image was a man with the palest of pale skin, which appeared to be decaying; the eyes were glassy and white, lifeless and his clothes were torn and there were pieces of his body that had been worn down almost to bone. His mother gasped at seeing it but there seemed to be little surprise in her reaction. The sign read "FIRST APPEARANCE! GENUINE! CAPTURED IN CHARLOTTE! THE ONLY UNDEAD SPECIMEN IN EXISTENCE!" Tim didn't care that they hadn't bothered to name it, he intended to see it for himself, nonetheless.

"My God!" his mother breathed, "How awful!"

"If by awful, you mean amazing," Tim replied, "I agree."


"Step right up, step right up my young man!" the voice was boisterous and attached to a man who looked to be the inverse of a stereotypical ringmaster. He wore a black tuxedo, complete with tophat and tails on his jacket, his shirt was blood red with a white tie, and over his feet he wore red and white spats. His plump face was red and his bushy mustache was sculpted at the ends, rising into a curl on each side.

"Who are you supposed to be, Ringling?" Tim asked, incredulously. He made a mental note to point out on his blog that this man's appearance was so out of date that it passed nostalgic and served to take away from the ambiance of the attraction.

"If you like, good sir." Ringling replied with a smile, "We don't stand on ceremony here." 

"Whatever," Tim said, then before he could finish,

"Timothy! You're being rude!" his mother said with a smack on his head. 

"It's quite alright, madam! The boy is right to bring skepticism into the tent with him. A show like ours hasn't been seen in years and, as you can see some aspects of it have fallen before the more sensitive appetites of the modern world." he said, gesturing to the third sign on the panel before them.

"Look," Tim said, losing patience and waiting to get inside, "I already know this is all fake. There's no way you could get away with putting "genuine" freaks on display in a sideshow. Not these days. You'd get sued! It's not PC!"

"Quite so!" Ringling said with a chuckle, "Quite so, indeed. And yet, here we are. I assure you all of the attractions are guaranteed."

"Or our money back, right?" Tim scoffed.

"Not exactly. You see, you've already paid to enter and the entry fee is non-refundable. Our guarantee is something different entirely."

"Oh?" this from Tim's mother, she had moved closer to Ringling, and if Tim didn't know better, he'd think she was flirting.

"Indeed madam!" Ringling said with a flourish. "Why, if you aren't one hundred per cent assured of the bona fides of the attractions we will grant ownership of the entire show to your good selves."

Tim scoffed again, "Come on! That's hardly worth anything! If they're fake, why would we want them?"

Ringling was still undaunted, "As I pointed out, young sir, you have already paid the entry fee." he gestured to the tent. Tim admitted he had a a point. Even if the attractions were fake, a person could make money taking the act on the road.

"There's a sucker born every minute." he said walking into the tent. 

Tim blinked hard in an attempt to force his eyes to adjust to the darkness, though it didn't help. As soon as the tent flap closed all the light as well as the sounds from the Midway had vanished, and this unsettled Tim, though he assumed it was part of the show.  

"I shall be your guide on this tour of the grotesque," Ringling's voice came, more somber than before, "Please don't move until directed to do so. This is a safety precaution for yourselves. 

As if on cue, soft lights came up and Tim was able to see his mother next to him, as well as Ringling standing before a stage, cordoned off with a velvet rope, similar to a museum exhibit. Behind the rope, Tim could make out a velvet chair next to a simple wooden table. The table held several items, a pipe, a carafe of what Tim assumed was Brandy, a book of matches, and a lipstick. On a nearby wall there was a mirror, though there wasn't enough light to see a reflection.

"What we have here is the sitting area for John Smith." 

"Yeah, what's the deal with him?" Tim asked, "He isn't scary or a freak at all. He's just some guy in a bowler hat."

From further into the tent, Tim thought he could hear a low growl, and abruptly remembered why he'd been so eager. He felt fear for a moment, and wondered if the undead specimen was as genuine as promised. 

"Please, hold all your questions until the end, young sir." Ringling admonished. 

"John Smith was found north of the American border and welcomed the chance to make a home here with us. It seems that the residents where he'd come from were a bit unsettled by his countenance." Tim though Ringling had chuckled at the end of that sentence. 

As if on cue, a man appeared. He was clearly the man that had been pictured outside, he walked up to the chair and sat down, though he appeared to carefully position his back so that it wasn't pressed into the chair. He reached for the pipe and matches and deftly lit it and began puffing away.

"What's the lipstick for? Is he some kind of transvestite?" Tim asked, straining to make the normal character seem a bit weirder than he appeared.

"Certainly not!" came the appalled reply. John stood up, grabbing the lipstick from the table and began walking toward the mirror. He arrived, still facing the observers, and bent toward the mirror, backward. His back moved at an unnatural angle as he tilted toward the mirror, though what appeared as the reflection was anything but the back of his head. A blonde woman, reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe in her looks (though quite obviously not the famous actress) appeared in the mirror and began applying the lipstick.

"Oh my!" Tim's mother cried out in surprise.

"Come on! That's just a trick with the mirror! Anyone who took theater in high school knows how to do that!" Tim didn't bother to hide his disdain over the obvious forgery.

"Young man," John himself spoke now, "I appreciate a skeptical mind indeed, though I must protest at your lack of faith. Perhaps you'd like a closer look?" 

John moved up to the velvet rope, close enough that Tim could reach out and touch him. He locked eyes with the young man and began to slowly turn. The move was practiced, and he paused for just a few seconds in profile view and then completed his turn. Tim took an involuntary step back and inhaled sharply. The blonde woman from the mirror stood before him, lipstick freshly applied. She leaned over, and Tim noticed the curve of her breast in spite of himself, and swallowed hard.

"How did . . . " he stammered, "Uh, how did you do that?" 

"We didn't do anything, sugar." the woman stated, her voice soft and with a hint of sultry seduction.

"What happened to you?" Tim's mother asked.

The woman looked at Ringling, "Now, I just hate that question, don't you?" she said, "Nothing 'happened' this is how I was born."

"You were born as two people? Or as the front of two people?" Tim asked narrowing his eyes.

"Yes." came John's male voice.

John sauntered back to the chair, the female face remaining visible, and sat down, a bit more daintily than before. Tim winced at the motion, wondering how the being's knees were able to bend so flexibly in either direction. 

"It's some kind of trick." Tim said, though his voice lacked conviction.

"I assure you there is no trick. Shall we continue to the next, ahem, exhibit?" Ringling asked. His question was answered by another low growl and what sounded like a small scream. Tim looked past Ringling into the tent and took a hesitant step forward.

"What's next?" he asked, "Spider-Girl?" 

"Quite." Ringling said, ushering his charges forward.

As the trio moved forward, the lights dimmed once more, preventing Tim from looking back at John Smith and his curious "twin." He felt disoriented again as he was veiled in a darkness that was somehow thicker than any other darkness Tim could think of. his disorientation passed as pale light returned, slightly to his right, and he looked at what he knew to be the "lair" of Spider-Girl. He thought breifly of watching the woman prepare for the show and his disappointment that she was a fake subsided when he recalled her full breasts and curved hips. Before his thoughts had a chance to turn too erotic, however, Ringling spoke again.

"What you've surmised is correct, young sir. We have arrived at the Web of Spider-Girl. Now, she is not an arachnid per se, of course."

"Right," Tim said, "Let me guess. Some type of human-spider hybrid?" 

"Nothing so droll, I assure you," Ringling said, his tone indicating that he was beginning to lose patience with the boy, "No, Spider-Girl was involved in horrific accident a number of years ago. There was damage to her nervous system and she lost much of the mobility of her arms and legs. She joined our family, originally, as "The Living Dead Girl" but the effects of her appearance on the crowd was simply too catastrophic. Through a series of bizarre accidents we discovered that a prosthetic allows her to regain 100% use of her legs."

"So you admit she's a fake?" Tim asked, suspicious, "I thought you guaranteed everything was genuine."

"You'll now, I'm sure, that the chief characteristic of spiders is that they have 8 limbs. I'm sure you were expecting that Spider-Girl will as well. There are, however, other characteristics of the spider. We'll let you decide, young sir, if Spider-Girl can indeed live up to her name."

From the back of the web, Tim's eyes caught movement, and he saw Spider-Girl emerge. She did have the requisite 8 limbs, though Tim had to admit he was surprised to see her using all of them. She fairly crawled on her web, almost as a real spider would have. As she got closer, Tim was distracted by the light glinting from the web. The material was thick, but appeared fragile. No doubt it was some type of fiberglass, but it did seem odd that it bore her weight.

"She can use all 8 limbs," he began, "I'll grant you that but what-" 

He was cut off by a roar and what was unmistakably a scream this time, and he jumped back, startled.

"Pay of no mind, young sir, I'll tend to it while Spider-Girl regales you with her talents." Ringling said, disappearing into the darkness so quickly it was like he'd vanished.

"Your legs are impressive." Tim said, conversationally.

"I've never had any complaints," the arachnis replied, "You don't believe I'm genuine, I take it."

"Well, I mean, come on. How can you be?" Tim said. Spider-Girl moved closer and his mother drew back, not bothering to mask her fear. Tim knew this was due to her great fear of spiders.

"You heard the story of my accident. The legs may be prostheses but I assure you, I'm quite the Spider." her voice dripped with confidence in what she was saying. There was no question she believed every word.

"You see, when I was "The Living Dead Girl" the crowd reaction was fierce. Children screamed. Women cried. Men fainted." she said, the memory clearly drawing menace from her. Tim, was hypnotized by her gaze as she spoke.

"One day, a little girl screamed and wouldn't stop. I laid still, not wanting to scare her any further, but her mother, so appalled by my, began hitting me with her handbag. My benefactor," she gestured to where Ringling had disappeared, "Did his best to stop it. In the end, though, it was a good thing. Because I learned how to do this." she leaned in, mere inches from Tim's face, and he leaned back, so hypnotized was he, that he welcomed what appeared to be a kiss. At the last moment, however, Spider-Girl opened her mouth and a thick substance shot out and sealed itself over Tim's mouth. He reflexively reached up and pulled it away. It was sticky, but pliable and after a moment he was completely free. For her part, Spider-Girl crawled back to the top of her web.

"What the hell?" Tim's mother smacked his arm reprovingly as he swore. "What is this stuff? Spider's web?" the only response he got was the shrug of six arms.

"Ah, I see, Spider-Girl has let you in on her true nature." Ringling said, suddenly reappearing. His face was ashen, and sweat beaded his brow. 

"She caught me in her web, if that's what you mean." Tim said, then, "What's wrong with you, you look like you've seen a ghost."

"Nothing like that, young sir. It's been tended to and we are now ready to continue our tour. Shall we proceed?"


"Finally!" Tim exclaimed, no longer to contain his excitement. The other "exhibits had been cool enough, and he was intrigued about what a woman with six arms could do, but that didn't change the fact that what he'd really come here for was  the undead specimen they would now see. 

"Has the young sir not been happy with what we've seen so far?"

"Why do you keep calling me 'young sir'?" Tim asked, evading the question. The truth was he was convinced that nothing was being faked, but he could never let Ringling know that after being so certain it was. After all, for all he knew it could have been and was just far more elaborate than he had at first guessed. Either way, he had no intention of challenging the authenticity. If he lost the challenge he'd lose face in a public setting and if he won the challenge he'd win a Circus he didn't really want.

"My apologies. My intent is not to offend; we simply stand on a certain  . . . propriety."

"You can call me Tim." Tim offered carefully.

"No, young sir, I don't believe I can." Ringling said after a pause.

"Whatever." Tim rolled his eyes.

"Before we go any further, sir, madam; I must warn you that this next, er, specimen, is quite violent. You will need to stay back for your own safety."

"Is it safe?" Tim's mother asked.

Ringling met her gaze, his face still ashen. By way of reply he made a sweeping gesture.

"Shall we continue?" this time, instead of leading them on; he dropped behind them, ushering them forward. 

"He didn't answer my question." she murmured, moving forward.

"What's that smell?" Tim asked as they entered the next room. They were once again shrouded in blackness and a faint metallic smell had touched his nostrils.

"That is the smell of iron." Ringling said, "Now remember, stand perfectly still where you are and-" he was interrupted by a low growl. 

"What's that?" Tim's mother asked.

The growling increased in intensity and volume. It seemed urgent, feral, as if the source was a threatened animal backed into a corner. Tim stood still, and began shaking, suddenly afraid. He wasn't sure what was going but he knew that he wished the lights would come back up. He recalled, with the most vivid of mental images, the painting of the undead specimen he'd seen right before entering. He recalled the other times he'd heard the growl and later what he'd thought was a scream. Then, Ringling had disappeared and . . . . the thought clicked in his mind.

"Wait, is that-" 

His mother's scream was preceded by a guttural roar. Tim cried out in terror,


But it was no use. Her scream was long and loud, and eventually dwindled to a wail that sounded wet and strangled. The metallic smell from before became stronger and Tim sobbed, knowing what had happened.

"You asshole!" he screamed, at no one in particular. He wasn't sure where Ringling was due to the darkness, but he knew their guide could hear him, "You killed her!"

"I am sorry to stand on semantics, young sir." Ringling said, his voice barely above a whisper, "but I assure you I did not kill your mother."

As if on cue, the lights came up and Tim saw his mother's body, limp and lifeless; hanging over the velvet rope before the undead creature they'd come to see. The creature's mouth dripped with her blood and it's lifeless gaze turned to Tim as it growled once more. It was bound by chains, unable to move its arms and had limited motion from legs that were chained to the floor. Tim forced himself to look at his mother's body; at the damage that had been done. 

"That smell you said was iron? That was blood wasn't it?" Tim asked, softly.

"It is accurate to say that it was iron, young sir. Though I believe what you are referring to is the high concentration of iron in human blood that gives it a metallic odor."

"I'll kill you." Tim said. Either to the pathetic, chained, undead creature before him; or to Ringling, he wasn't sure.

He started at his mother's form once again and committed her wounds to memory. She'd likely strayed just close enough to the velvet rope for the creature to lunge. The bite was on her neck and her entire throat was torn out. She would have died in seconds from blood loss and oxygen deprivation, Tim knew that much to be certain. Her blood dripped from the gaping hole in her throat and onto the floor creating a pool beneath her. He breathed sharply as her finger twitched but sobbed in grief and anger as he realized he must have imagined this.

"I am sorry, young sir." Ringling said, moving between Tim and his mothers form. Tim eyes him suspiciously as the undead creature loomed behind him. He observed silently, waiting, willing the thing to lunge again. To destroy the demented tour guide that had led his mother to oblivion, but the creature only growled.

"You're sorry?" Tim said, anger overtaking him, "Sorry!?" he lunged himself, pushing Ringling back toward the velvet rope. The man stumbled and fell into the creature with a cry of alarm. The creature leaned over him menacingly, blood and saliva dripping from its open mouth as if it were taking stock of what the man was. Then, without ceremony, it stood and looked at Tim, snarling again. Ringling scurried to safety and stood before Tim.

"Young sir, I'll have to ask you to leave the premises." 

"Oh I will," Tim warned, "And I'll be back with the police." 

Ringling was on him in a flash, so fast that Tim barely had time to register the glint of metal that he next felt pressed to his throat.

"Listen to me, you sniveling shit," Ringling said, his voice suddenly a stark contrast to what it had been before, "You'll leave this place now or you'll become food just like your bitch of a mother. Savvy?" 

"I'll kill you." Tim responded, his voice choked as Ringling's hand closed around his throat.

"You'll leave us alone you bastard." Ringling chided, digging the knife in deeper. Tim winced as the blade broke the skin on his throat and he felt a trickle of blood down his neck. The undead creature jerked against its bonds, straining to break free at the smell of new blood.

"Or you'll kill me," Tim said, "Either way, one of us is dying today." and he brought his knee sharply into Ringling's groin causing the older man to jerk his arm upward, slashing Tim's cheek from chin to eye. Blood spurted from the wound and soaked half of Tim's face instantly. Ringling for his part doubled over, clutching his injured crotch. He wasn't felled for long; he fell and rolled into Tim's braced legs the motion causing Tim to stumble and trip.

Directly into the monster.

As it had done to his mother before him, the creature sank its teeth into Tim's flesh at the junction of neck and shoulder. His vision blurred and he let out a strangled cry as he fell to the floor. He thought he could see his mother, just out of the corner of his eye. Had she fallen from the rope? How had that happened? Was she crawling away? Blackness surrounded him again and as he lost himself within it, he faintly wondered what was left to see in this den of horrors.

Ringling stood over the boy, watching in fascination as gouts of blood gathered in a pool at the boys feet. He moved closer, to draw the boy closer to the undead creature, pausing long enough for the chained beast to move away from him. A second growl joined the first, guttural moans, and he heaved a sigh as the lifeless body of the young man's mother crawled toward him, a grotesque analogy of a newborn rooting for the breast.

"I'm sorry madam." he said, his voice once again proper, "But we've got no more space for new attractions." and he brought his knife down into the back of her head sharply, burying it through hair and skull into the brain underneath. He pressed it into her cranium as firmly as he could until she'd stopped convulsing and then pulled it out in one smooth, deft motion.

He turned his attention back to the boy and stopped cold. Blood was dripping from the gash he'd opened in the boy's face, but impossibly; the bite wound was getting smaller! Ringling watched, mouth agape as the hole in the boys neck slowly, steadily closed. Where the wound was spilling blood only a moment ago, there was now only fresh, pale flesh. Ringling kicked the boy experimentally, and was satisfied when he didn't move.

"Seems dead enough, anyway." he murmured, bringing his knife to bear.

In a move as sudden as it was unexpected, Tim swept his leg into Ringling's ankles causing the man to fall on his back, hard. He gasped, trying to recover the wind that was knocked out of him but before he could move, Tim stood over him holding a knife that had been Ringling's only a moment earlier.

"Victims." Tim said. He shoved the knife between the eyes of the undead creature that had killed his mother, and pulled it out again not bothering to watch the creature fall to the floor. He slowly knelt down next to Ringling,

"Aren't we all?" he asked, slicing the man's throat.

He watched silently as the blood poured out of Ringling; though it was the man's eyes that he watched closely. He gurgled and struggled for oxygen that would never come, and reached out toward Tim in a supplicating gesture. Tim didn't respond. He simply stood there watching until Ringling's eyes faded into nothing and his breath stopped. Satisfied, he dropped the knife and found his way out of the tent. He never looked back, never registered the glances of other circus goers that gasped in concern or gave him a wide berth as he walked by them, covered in blood. Some of it was his own, coming from the gash in his face, and he was thankful for that; it would be far easier if he could convince people that the blood was from his own injury; at least he could distract them from the fact that he'd just killed a man. He knew that the sheer amounts of blood didn't add up, but he forced himself to keep a steady pace; strolling up the midway as if nothing had happened. There would be plenty of time to figure things out later.

He hoped.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


I, your humble madman, began this as a project to house poetry and creative musings. I have become increasingly humbled to see that I actually have a small fan base growing, including readers in Russia, Germany and Africa. This is truly amazing and has inspired me to expand Musings of the Mad to the Book of Faces and Google Plus (URL's Below) anyone reading, anywhere, head over to those pages and give me a "Like" or a "Plus 1". What's going to be different on those pages will be insight into the ideas, additional material that was cut from final drafts, alternate endings and/or unused concepts and the like. It will be fun and interesting and who knows where this journey may lead. Thank you all!

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Friday, July 20, 2012

In Thy Image

All I can do is pray
The words, they bite; with the sting of repressed fury and sadness and emotion that one can't know what to do with and so they do the only thing they can do; the only thing that makes sense.
They look for order in chaos and for peace in war and for divinity in humanity
All I can do is pray
It tastes sour in my mouth as I ask angrily
Pray to whom? A God that could have prevented this? A God who looks upon his creations and allows such things to happen? Would this be the same God who allowed a Policeman to rush a child out of a crowded building while eyewitnesses talk about the bullet holes that can be seen in her back.
All I can do is pray?
What's the point? The ecumenical messiah is nowhere to be found during tragedy, so often hiding behind "mysterious ways" and "divine plans." Gone is the reputation for infinite compassion and love; replaced by everlasting vanity and narcissism. This is the God from whom you seek solace.
All I can do is pray.
To a God that hold his children in such ill regard that He will stand by and watch as they destroy themselves? How does this act of faith over logic help you? When fortune favors the foolish you declare divine intervention; yet when tragedy strikes you bend to his will.
All I can do is pray.
The ultimate in abusive behavior patterns, you thank him equally for the good and the bad begging him not to leave you and to save you from yourself. As you kneel on bended knee begging him not to let countless thousands suffer and die in impunity you reveal your true self
All you can do is pray.
The ultimate in manipulation, you convince everyone that you're doing something while you in fact do nothing. Putting empty platitudes over actions and true aid. Perhaps you don't know what do or how to react. Or perhaps it is true that your God created man in his own image.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Stroll Down Memory Lane


There is something going on in the world lately.  Some days I can feel it in the air like electricity; all the hair on my arms stands up and I can feel something behind me, just over my shoulder.  Simple paranoia?  Almost certainly.  Still, it has the faint aroma of a memory, something I can't quite place but something I'm sure is real and something that actually happened.  In the end, I would remember everything, but in those early days it was just a voice, something that was from a nightmare I'd had long ago and far away.

The reports came out of Florida first.  Isolated instances of cannibalism, believed to be drug induced.  It reached me in Charlotte but I didn’t think much of it, the world was a fucked up place and I was just doing my best to keep my head low and take care of me and mine.  My day job was in a cubible, attached to a desk handling calls day in and day out for people who didn’t know the difference between a computer a modem and their own assholes.  Most days I took my calls, did a lot of bullshitting online and even managed some blogging (maybe you've read some?).  Some days, though; some days you just don’t forget.  The day the world went to shit?  Yeah, that’s not one I’m going to forget anytime soon.  

Keeping my head low, as usual, I didn’t know what was happening until hours after the news hit.  I was strapped to my desk as usual but the day was slow.  No calls coming in and so I was taking full advantage of the lull to catch up on my online activities. Facebook, Google Reader and the like had me occupied for hours, and I suppose the headphones in my ears kept me oblivious.  Google and Facebook are powerful forces though, and soon enough the news hit me:

“Public Panics as ‘Zombie’ Apocalypse Arrives in Charlotte”

Intrigued by any Zombie news I could find thanks to the “Bath Salts” stories coming out of Florida; I clicked on the link.  My blood ran cold as I read the story.  No less than a dozen attacks in Charlotte.  No one knew the cause and this wasn’t something that was the result of bath salts or any other drug.  The article linked to a video that immediately caused my stomach to churn in revulsion.  There were only three in the video but they were moving slowly, and even on the grainy cell phone video their ghastly palor was visible.  The closest to the three was what had triggered my gag reflex, however.  He had a young boy, quite literally in a death grip with his arms bent in an unnatural angle.  The boy was screaming and before I could process the reality or validity of the video and its source, the boy’s arm was pulled from his body and the thing that’d pulled it free began munching on it like it was a chicken leg, fresh blood dripping onto his clothes.  There was something about the image . . . something that caused me to feel cold on the inside and hot on the outside; it was almost there in the forefront of my mind, I could feel it coming out of the dark, I just couldn't see it yet.


I jerked my head around in shock.  No one called me that, or at least hadn't in years.  In fact my mother had been the only person to call me that.  I was Steve to everyone else.  On the screen in front of me the horrors continued, the . . . thing . . . that had ripped apart the boy was gone.  In it's place were more of the monstrous creatures.  On of them, a black beard dripping with blood was standing over a woman with arms raised in a protective position. Creating a paradox of motion, he brought the flat of his fist down against her defenses in a manor that was sickeningly slow and somehow swift enough that it couldn't be deflected.  In a surprisingly smooth motion she rolled onto her stomach and began swiftly crawling away from the blood stained, bearded monster.  I leaned in closer to the screen.


The voice was male, and very deep.  It had a tonal quality that was somewhat ethereal and, as much as what was happening on the screen it made my blood run cold, though it was non threatening.

"Come on, Steven we have to go now."

It was authoritative but somewhat gentle; and in that moment the horrors on the screen faded and the walls of my office melted around me, revealing stark whiteness punctuated only by a shadow.


It came from the shadow, which was vaguely human in shape, but otherwise nondescript.  It was familiar somehow even though it was a shadow.  It said my name again in it's authoritative, deep cadence and I suddenly felt afraid.  I retreated from the form shaking uncontrollably.

"I gotta get outta here!" I screamed.

"Steve, we have to to go. NOW!"

In the office again, roused from my reverie, I saw that the cubicles were empty and people were quietly rushing out.  I looked into the face of Ethyl Mertz--who we mercilessly teased for the connected to I Love Lucy even though she spelled it differently--and a faint dawning came over me that I'd had a waking nightmare.

"Ethyl," I started, "What's up?"

"We're going, Steve. We've all been sent home for the day."

"What? Why?"

In response, Ethyl only rolled her eyes and gestured impatiently at the computer monitor nearby.  On the screen a woman walked on a turned in ankle.  Upon closer scrutiny it became obvious the that foot was broken and bone protruded between ankle and tibia.  The woman appeared not to care, her eyes were vacant. She dragged behind her a smaller form that caused my blood to run cold once again.  I idly wondered if I was in any physical danger from all of the apparent changes in my blood's temperature today.  I then immediately chastised myself that the blood itself likely remained unchanged and some other phenomenon such as adrenaline secretion must be responsible.  The bundle she dragged behind her by a tiny arm was a toddler, no more than three years of age, gurgling and growling menacingly.  I'd thought the horrors on the screen had been part of the waking dream.  I could see now they weren't.  Looking up at Ethyl, I asked the only question I could think of,

"Is that a baby?"

Rolling her eyes she gave a "come on" motion and headed for the exit.


I know I should have been more concerned about the apparently animated and/or reanimated corpses walking the street.  It would have been logical to be in shock.  Perhaps I was; who knows? I'm not a doctor.  The "shoulds" of the situation couldn't change the reality no matter how much I wanted them too.  The world around me was not what was in my mind right now.  That waking nightmare back at the office occupied my concentration.  Hours had passed and yet I remained locked away, in my apartment, watching the smoke of a cigarette dance before my eyes, it was delicate in it's simplicity; like the silken strands of a spider's web.  The quarter inch ash protruding from the end of the cigarette betrayed that I hadn't, in fact, been smoking it; just as the lit cherry popping off the burned out end and landing on my left thigh, burning betrayed my lack of focus.  My flesh blistered and I didn't move.  Instead I couldn't stop thinking about the voice calling my name.  I couldn't place its familiarity nor could I understand why I was reacting in the manner I was.  I was terrified.  I didn't want to sleep for fear that the silhouette would appear again--which was preposterously irrational since it had appeared the first time when I was awake.  

Shaking my head violently, as if to clear it, I stood and jogged in place for ten seconds.  Then, I stopped because jogging in place is one of the most foolish things I could think to do at that moment.

"Just need a distraction." I mumbled.  

Falling back into my chair while grabbing the remote control in a fluid motion; the television was on by the time I was sitting.  I didn't pay attention to the channel that was one, knowing already what I'd see.

". . . again, we are urging all viewers to stay inside, lock all your doors and windows and to not allow any visitors--even those who are friends or family--until the state of emergency has been lifted."

"State of emergency?" I asked the television.

"For those just tuning in, we're showing you now amateur footage from a viewer in Mount Airy provided by our affiliate in the north, and the WFMY-2 News team.  We must warn you, however, this footage is graphic and not suitable for younger viewers."

They appeared on the screen, then.  This time I was prepared and properly desensitized.  They moved with no organization or regard for anything in their way.  If there was a car they moved around it, a person, they ate them.  What was more shocking in this video as compared to the previous one; was the clothing they wore.  Many of them sported white lab coats and appeared to be physicians or scientists of some sort.  Others wore hospital gowns, opened in the back and short enough to reveal genitalia.  It was the last article of clothing though, that caught my attention.  There weren't many of them and the ones I saw were layered in blood, making their appearance all the more shocking.  A select few of these animated corpses wore straight jackets.  That familiar feeling of blood running cold came again and I was alarmed at how familiar it was, this cold blooded feeling; but it was merely a trifle to the straight jacketed dead I now saw methodically moving toward the screen.  My forehead was beaded in sweat and I gasped audibly as the focus on the camera shifted blurring out the dead and bringing the background to stark relief.  It was only a sign, but that's all that was needed.  It read "Whitney Payne Cooper Memorial Hospital" and it's sudden appearance transfixed me as if I'd been hypnotized.  One of the straight jacketed demons stumbled into the sign, causing the Whitney Payne Cooper Memorial Hospital to become "Bloomington Asylum."  This image shocked me to my core and I fell instantly to my knees shivering, emitting a blood curdling scream. 

"Steven, please stop screaming."

As if under a hypnotic trance I stopped and looked over my shoulder, wide eyed.

"Did I hear my name?" I asked feebly.

"Steven, please stop screaming.  We'll never make any progress this way."

The familiar surroundings of my apartment seemed to be just behind me as I turned to face the voice. The same silhouette from my earlier "episode" was there, seemingly more substantial, but the voice was the same, authoritative male voice from before.

"Who are you?" I asked, my voice small with fear.

"Come now Steven, I'm Vincent. Don't you remember me?" 

"Vincent?" I asked, "I don't know any Vincent."

I tried to stand, only to realize that I couldn't move my arms.

"What the fuck?" I screamed, looking down to see that I was bound in a straight jacket.

"Steven, I must insist that you calm down.  Now, you wouldn't like to spend the night in the quiet room, would you?"

The reference of the padded cell called the "quiet room" stilled me.  I didn't know how I knew what all of this meant.  Why was I in a straight jacket? What the hell was happening?

"I must be dreaming." I said.

"The dreams, yes. Let's start there." Vincent said.  I still couldn't see anything but a shadow, but the entire room was dominated by his presence.  Behind me, bathed in  shadows, lay the memory of my life, of sanity.

"Tell me the dream again." Vincent pressed.

I began speaking.  Mechanically, as if I were reciting something written down and then committed to memory.

"Once upon a time there was a little blonde haired boy who loved nothing more than to run and jump and laugh and play. The little blonde haired boy lived in a small house, full of toys that were all broken.  Every day when he came home from school the little blonde haired boy ran excitedly to the door and rushed in ready to play; play was never what awaited however. The blonde haired boy's evil mother awaited everyday and she stopped him in his tracks with a glare of disapproval and made him sit on a very uncomfortable wooden stool in the middle of the kitchen while she occupied herself with other, more selfish vices. For someone that loves to run and jump and laugh and play, sitting in one place is never easy and it wasn't for the little blonde haired boy either. He wished that he was somewhere else.  Somewhere people would let him run and jump and laugh and play and she never made him just sit still, except for when he was really naughty." 

Vincent held up a shadowy hand, "Stop there Steven. Do you always have the same dream?"

Paying no attention, my mechanical narrative continued.

"The weekend was the worst of all of the horrible things that happened. The little blonde haired boy tried to occupy himself with running, jumping, laughing and playing while the others in the house attempted to occupy themselves with various distractions because it was on the weekends that his father had all day and all night to drink. The little blonde haired boy was the least safe from the others because he was the only other boy. It was important for his father to have him around at all times. This particular day, a Saturday, things were worse than ever before. His father started the day with drinking. In the early afternoon he was already not himself and the shouting had begun with the little blonde haired boy's mother. The sound of loud music punctuated the little blonde haired boy's play while his father and mother shouted to be heard. His mother cried over his father's words, fear and anger coming from her form; and the next events happened so fast but the little blonde haired boy would remember them forever. His father reached for his wife and she pulled away in fear, causing a look of outrage and fury on his father's face. "Come here!" he shouted over the music. The little blonde haired boy buried his face in a pillow, but not deeply enough because he saw everything that happened next."

Vincent, making no more attempts to stop the recitation, had changed topics and encouraged me.  From the outside it was difficult to tell if this was an interrogation or a therapy session--the only clue as to which, being the straight jacket.  A thumping sound could be heard from far away and a woman's voice came faintly . . . .


"Is someone calling me?" I asked, in the same mechanical monotone?

"Steve!" the voice was a bit louder now.

"Steven, you have to go back now." Vincent said.

Just like that it was over.  I was in my apartment.  The apocalypse in front of the asylum was on the television and I could move my arms.  My face was inexplicably wet, informing me that I'd been crying during my monotoned recitation.  I moved my arms around, enjoying the full range of the motion.  On the television a body lay in the street, an animated corpse leaned over it, scooping entrails into its mouth.  My stomach rumbled letting me know I was hungry but before I could think about the inappropriate nature of the stimulus I heard my name again, followed by a feverish knocking.

"Let me in goddammit!" and I did, ignoring all the warnings of the news, I opened the door to allow Ethyl Mertz to spill inside.  Her hair was disheveled and her eyes wild as she turned around and deadbolted and locked the door.

"Escape! We need to escape." she gasped.

"Escape?" I asked, bewildered.

"Just get me out of here." she said.


"It's just awful out there." Ethyl said, swirling ice in the now empty glass she held.  I'd given her a glass of bourbon on the rocks to help with her nerves, and it seemed to have not helped.

"It's not much better in here." I muttered, glancing at where I'd been on the floor in a straight jacket mere moments earlier.  I shook my head and directed my attention to Ethyl.  The television was on, but muted, and positioned behind her as if providing a thought cloud for her terror.  

"I couldn't get home," she was saying, "The highways are congested from people getting the fuck out of town.  Those . . . things . . . are everywhere. Whatever is going on, it spread fast."

"Just calm down, Ethyl. Calm down. We'll get it figured out."

"Okay," she said, "Sure. Yeah. So, I need a bit of a distraction.  What's going on here? You said it isn't much better here?"

"That I did." I said with a sigh.  Then, mostly for my own need to get everything straight in my head, I told her everything.  I related the waking nightmares I'd been having, the mysterious Vincent shadow and the story of the dream I'd just recounted in a monotone voice.  She listened, though occasionally her eye glanced at the television when the news interrupted their coverage for new video of the disaster that had come to our town.

"What's weird about all of this," I concluded, "Is that I never knew my parents.  I grew up in an orphanage."

Ethyl, completely distracted now took my hand and said, "Steve, it sounds like repressed memory."

I scoffed, but she persisted.

"No! Seriously! I saw it on Oprah years ago, back when she was still classy. She had this doctor on talking about it, even hypnotized some audience member."

"Yeah, but it's the end of the world, apparently, so it doesn't make much sense to dredge up the past now. Best to just leave it alone."

"Yeah," she agreed, "Not much to be done when hell's outside your front door. But, what if you just thougt about it? Is there anything else you remember? Maybe you can think about it while we get some stuff packed up. Do you still have your beater pick up?"

The tendrils of memory began at the edge of my consciousness, stirred by both her words and the recitation to Vincent in the nightmare, but I said nothing of those things, answering her question, 

"Yes. I do. It's out back so we should get everything piled by the back door here and then we can head out from the patio and get into the truck." I walked to the sliding glass patio door and looked out, there didn't seem to be any of the monsters on the patio or nearby.

"Let's get to it. I'll start grabbing food." she said, heading to the kitchen. 

"I'll get my camping gear, at least we'll have some survival gear." I said to her retreating back.

"Steven." came Vincent't insistent voice.

"Aw shit." I lamented, "Not now. I can't be going crazy during the goddamn apocalypse."

"Steven, you need to tell me what happened next. What did you see?"

I couldn't handle it anymore, the world ending and here I was going insane (apparently), but I was surprisingly conscious through the whole process. What did that mean, if anything? Was I doomed to just get worse and worse as time went on with no hope for help? I began reciting my mechanical reverie as requested though it felt more like a compulsion than a choice on my part.

"The little blonde haired boy's father leaned in close to his mother as if to kiss her, but she gave him a look of angry fear and pushed him away. His father grabbed her and pulled her in close and began to kiss her. His mother screamed and pushed him away. As she struggled against him he grabbed the back of her neck but she still escaped his reach. The little blonde haired boy screamed again and buried his face in a pillow, but again it wasn't tightly enough. His father screamed at him to shut up; and the little blonde haired boy looked at him in terror with tears streaming down his face. His mother looked at him and ran for the stairs. His father reached out and snatched the back of her hair and she fell backward. He balled up a fist and punched her in the face. She rolled and got up on her knees but he kicked her in the stomach. She crawled between his legs and ran up the stairs to the safety of a locked bedroom. His father, now purely absorbed by the ale and adrenaline looked up from the bottom of the stairs and shouted "I'm coming to kill you." and as he began to climb the stairs he looked at the little blonde haired boy and smiled an evil smile, "I'm doing this for you," he said and then disappeared up the steps."

"What happened next, Steven?" Vincent prodded, his voice urgent, as if commanding me to continue.

I continued, "With the sounds of violence coming from the upper level of the house the little blonde haired boy sat and cried, not knowing what to do. He went to the bottom of the steps and looked up, immediately wishing he hadn't. He saw his mother, with his father's head wrapped around her neck, shoving her head into the wall, over and over again, until the wall gave way and there was only a hole where her head had been. She hung limply in his arms and the little blonde haired boy wondered again, what to do. His father threw her to the ground and kicked her violently and she fell down the stairs, rolling head over heels, landing at the little blonde haired boy's feet. He screamed, running to the back of the small house to hide. That's where they found him hours later."

"What happened to the blonde boy's father?" Vincent said; I made a brief observation that he was no longer a shadow, but rather had gained a form that was far more familiar to me. Once again my blood ran cold.

"The police took him away." I said.

"Did they?" Vincent asked, his tone for the first time showing emotion. He was chiding me.

"And the mother?" he asked me.

"Steve, I think we'd better go." Ethyl called from the other room, "I see some of these things outside your gate. We have to figure out a way past them to the truck!"

"He killed her." I said quietly, "The little blonde haired boy was me. This happened 25 years ago, but I can remember it like it happened just last night. It haunts me."

"Wrong! Steven, try again!" I jumped at the ferociousness of his tone, "Hell came to your house that night Steven and no one saved you, now tell me again what happened!" His eyes were aflame with intensity.

"He screamed, running to the back of the small house to hide." I said, my voice small.


"Steve! They're pushing at your fence! We have to GO! NOW!" Ethyl cried out.

"And it's time to go." I said, darting past him into the other room.  Ethyl stood, two cloth bags in her hand, filled with canned goods.

"What happened to your camping gear?" she asked.

"No time." I said with finality.

"It didn't happen that way Steven. You know it didn't. Now you must listen to me because I'm your only hope for survival." Vincent called after me.

"No!" I cried out, "No I won't listen."

"Steve?" Ethyl asked softly, "You okay?"

"You found it in the back of the house didn't you? The hammer. You found it and you went to save her. Isn't that right, Steven?" Vincent prodded me.

I gripped the sides of my head shaking it furiously back and forth.

"No. No no no no. NO!" I screamed, retreating to the kitchen.

"You found him standing over her." Vincent said, his voice soft again.

"Steve," this from Ethyl, following me in the kitchen. I looked past her to the patio beyond and I could see the fence shaking from the things on the other side. Some demons come to call and take me away.

"And you went to him and he looked at you and what did you do? What did you do Steven?"

"I hit him with the hammer." I said.

"Steve, just come on back now," Ethyl said, "You just come on back because I need you here. I need you to help me."

"Ethyl?" I asked, confused.

"That's right Steve, it's Ethyl." she said, putting a cautious arm around my shoulders.

"Then what?" Vincent asked.

The mechanical recitation came again, "I hit him over and over. He shook a lot at first and there was blood. So much blood. But then he stopped moving and I just sat there laughing because it was over. I waited there for a long time but no one came. No one ever did."

"And then what? Vincent was next to me now and I wondered if Ethyl could see him too.

"I got scared he would come back. I wanted him to go away so I made him go away." my voice was small again, pitiful in a way.

"My god Steve, what did you do?" Ethyl breathed. I looked at her, not really seeing her.

"I made him go away. I ate him. Every bit. I ate all of him until he was gone." I said with a laugh. It had been so simple, now that I remembered it. The lifeless eyes of my mother looked on as I ate the corpse next to me.

"No one ever came until after I was done. And that was good because he was gone then and I knew he wouldn't come back. 

"My god," Ethyl breathed, "That must have been days!"

"How did you know?" this was directed at Vincent, who I could see clearly now.
 "Because I am made of you," he said softly, and for the first time I saw him clearly and shock overtook me completely as I realized it was like looking in a mirror.  "I live inside you, just a shadow of memory until today. Now Steven you must listen to me." then he leaned in and whispered to me.

"No!" I recoiled, horrified at his words, "I can't do it again. Never again! They sent me away for it, they shocked me! They . . . hurt me!" 

"Steven!" Vincent shouted, while Ethyl looked on in horror, "Steven! I'll protect you, now you must do this to fool THEM!" he said gesturing at the patio where the fence had fallen away and a half dozed of the undead were now beating at the glass of my patio.

"You'll p-protect me?" I asked pitifully of Vincent.

"Steve, stop. Whatever you're doing stop. Just think." Ethyl said.

"I'm sorry." I said, "It's too late."

Before she could react I grabbed a meat mallet from a drawer she'd left open and hit her with it. Vincent smiled and gave encouraging motions. I hit her over and over and it happened just like before. She shook a loot and there was blood (my god the blood!) and then it was over and she was still.

"Now, you know what you must do." Vincent said.

"I can't." I sobbed, throwing my body over Ethyl's still and lifeless form. The creatures at the door were frantic now, probably at the smell of the blood.

"Then let me." Vincent said kneeling down with me.

He was with me then, and I could remember everything. Vincent was me and I was him. I felt myself bound as if I were in a straight jacket again as Vincent took over.  He lapped at the blood first and then began tearing at her flesh with his hands and bringing chunks to his mouth.  I whirled my head around (or was it Vincent's head? Who was I?) as the glass of the door shattered and six zombies tumbled over each other in their effort to get to Ethyl's corpse.  As Vincent ate frantically, hoping to fool them, make them think he was one of them, I assumed; two of them grabbed him (me?) from behind and dragged him off of Ethyl while the other four began to gorge themselves on her remains. Vincent struggled, licking blood from his lips and groaning as if he were one of them, covered in blood and absolutely crazed. The two that held him (me?) dropped him by the shattered door and joined their fellows in devouring the corpse.

In my head I heard Vincent laughing.

"Get to your truck, fool!" He chided me, "This is your escape."

"But the food . . ." I said with a glance at Ethyl's body and the bags of canned goods near her. I sickeningly realized that I didn't know which of them I meant when I had said it.

"Forget the food. There's plenty more." Vincent said.

Heeding his words I bolted through the door frame, now devoid of glass and ran for my beat up pick up. It started on the first turn of the key and it's diesel engine roared to life. I checked the mirrors and noted that I had a full tank of gas and there were no more of the undead in my path. Tires squealed as I sped away from the horrors behind me and the memories. I didn't lay off the gas for twenty miles. I'm not sure if I hit anything, or anyone, but the truck was still going and I wasn't stopping. As the miles ticked away between where I was and where I'd been, Vincent retreated once again to the shadows until he was once again gone completely. Once I stopped shaking I was nearly able to convince myself that none of it had happened and that it had all been part of the shock of watching the dead walking around eating people. Maybe it was. Still, there was a nagging question in the back of my mind.

Why was there a straightjacket in the passenger seat?