Friday, October 28, 2005

Based On A True Story

As promised, a story plumbed from my deepest, darkest fears. You may want to huddle together for warmth and safety as you read this, and a round or two of the Lord's Prayer wouldn't be a bad idea either.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow
me all the days of my life: and I will dwell
in the house of the Lord for ever.
--Psalm 23:6

Beyond the Valley of the Shadow of Death

Please, somebody--wake me up!

Where's that alarm clock when you really need one? It should have come for me hours ago. Maybe there really was a storm, and the electricity is out. Can you hear me? Anybody? Someone really needs to come and get me out of this awful nightmare--it's gone on quite long enough.

The storm. That really happened, I'm sure. Everything seemed so ordinary this afternoon. The air was the same air and the sky the same sky and it was your garden variety Friday. An overcast sky darkened to charcoal, so suddenly that I looked up to see what had blotted out the sun. Like hot coals, a red glow cast an eerie and unnatual sheen to the sooty heavens; this wasn't like any thunderstorm I'd ever seen.

A wind came through the gorge, screeching, furious, and reeking of sulfur. "Something's on fire," a man walking his dog observed. "By the look of those clouds," I said, "I think everything is on fire."

My eyes stung from these rogue siroccos, so I ran into a cafe for cover. Others, in the middle of errands or late afternoon strolls ran in behind me. I watched the tempest from inside the crowded coffee shop, transfixed by the airborn debris and redding sky, until a clap of thunder startled me out of my trance. A woman standing near me thought a bomb had exploded--and cowered under a table, shaking, repeating, "We're all going to die."

" It's just thunder," someone said. "It'll blow over in a few minutes. You know how the weather changes so quickly here." The woman under the table drew herself into a little ball; she wouldn't be consoled.

Windows rattled and the floor vibrated under our feet. Is this an earthquake? A hurricane? What the hell is happening?

And then, I stood outside my house, as if I had never been in the cafe. Standing on my front porch, I watched my mother being loaded into an ambulance, reliving the last time I saw her alive. But now, she didn't seem to be so sick, or weak. Watching her from the porch one minute then standing next to her gurney a moment later, as she yelled at me for letting her die, but not letting her die soon enough. There would be no way to make her happy. I didn't speak to her, I didn't defend my actions. I just let her vent, and then the paramedics lifted her into the ambulance.

The storm whirred outside my dream bubble, and I didn't think to question any of these strange events. I watched the sky hemorrage, never questioning the atmosphere becoming freakish, and I watched--unfazed, as my already dead mother roll away again to her death. Maybe I could have woke myself up right then if I'd been struck by the absurdity of it all. But I didn't.

The world seemed to split apart like an egg. Deep fissures opened, swallowing terrified people, cars, and structures. Only the thunder drowned out the screaming, and noise of metal crushing and glass shattering. And maybe it was the thunder that drowned out the sound of my alarm clock trying to rescue me from this disater.

Trees uprooted and crashed to the earth, everything seemed to have been rended, dissolved, obliterated in the space of just a few minutes.

Suddenly I'm at Mall 205. There's linoleum under my feet, and I'm waiting for an elevator with a crowd of people that seemed to have just picked me up with their movement. None of them are screaming. The mall must be like a shelter, I thought. We could camp out here for a while.

The elevator seemed to take forever to land. My brother stood next to me. "I can get you in," he said. "We'll be OK. I can take one person with me." A golden glint of something caught my eye.
A necklace with a cross. I noticed a lot of them in the crowd. And fish earings, and WWJD bracelets. "Where's the elevator going?" I asked my brother.


I just looked at him, remembering all of my nightmares about the end of the world. All those dreams where I'd be running, looking for safety, searching for a place that would shelter me from God. And here I am, my born-again brother's plus one.

For an instant, I felt relieved, and safe. And smug. Then the elevator door opened, and again I was pushed forward by the movement of the crowd. The elevator doors closed, and I looked at Joe, his countenance serene and lucid as ever and an awful realization came over me.

I knew, as the elevator reached for the temperate climes of heaven, that I'd dwell forever in the hell of "I told you so."

Please, let this be a dream.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Old Goths Never Die

But they never stop thinking about it.

I am an old Goth. And never have I felt older, than in the midst of the blaclk-garbed youngsters at last night's Bauhaus concert at Portland's Roseland theater.

I was about 19 or 20 when I heard Bela Lugosi's Dead for the first time, the Bauhaus song made famous by the movie The Hunger. Bela was on a tape made by a friend, and accompanied other songs by Goth bands like Christian Death and Birthday Party, Nick Cave's band. If my Catholic, crucifix-obsessed, cemetery-visiting, horror-movie-addicted father had been alive in 1983, I could have said to him, "Dad, there are other people just like us. They're called Goth Punks." The closest thing to a tribe I've ever experienced were my friends who wore black, listened to Bauhaus, Gene Loves Jezebel, Siouxie and the Banshees, and who dared to look Death in the face constantly, as they got their eyeliner just right in the mirror.

Last night, I was surrounded by people who were my age when Bauhaus broke up. They were babies when Peter Murphy, Daniel Ash, David J, and Kevin Haskins went their separate ways. They were just tots when Rozz Williams fronted Christian Death, and still snotty-nosed kids when a world-weary Rozz hanged himself in 1998.

All of my goth friends were there, I'm certain. None of us recognized each other, so none of us spoke. But each of us knew that we were all there last night. Carrie and Ken, Keith and Craig, Glynis, and of course, Nick, my best friend at the time who introduced me to every cool band I've ever liked. OK, Keith got me hooked on GLJ, but Nick gets credit for introducing me to Keith.

I missed those days, being unemployed but beautiful, conversations revolving around bands and death, for hours. I missed the MDA and acid, drinking two bottles of wine in a sitting, and getting made up and going out.

I showed up last night in glasses--not contacts, no makeup, not a stitch of black, and in my comfy, elastic waistband 'fat pants.' I just didn't give a crap about how I looked. That wouldn't have happened 20 years ago. Or even 10. I realized last night, as I sat among the cellophaned and spiked locks, the flounce and lace, the velvet Edwardian frocks and ivory complected wenches, that I had turned into my dad.

The concert? My favorite parts were the beginning, David J's bass throbbing from the floor to the rafters as the band took their places on stage, and the encores, during which Peter Murphy honored his musical heritage of being the lovechild of Neil Diamond and David Bowie, with a perfect rendition of Ziggy Stardust, and the grand finale, Bela Lugosi's Dead.

The lowpoints--Daniel Ash blowing a sax. Maybe he actually plays the sax. I think he found the instrument backtage, left behind by another band. A goth gutairist honking the life out of a tenor sax--it was, well, upsetting. I remember seeing Love and Rockets play at the Pine Street Theater (when it was still the Pine Street Theater). Great band, but underwhelming live. Jane's Addiction opened that night. That was the nightI became a Jane's Addiction fan. I don't remember much of L & R's performance, except for the Bubblemen's comic relief.

Maybe Bauhaus just aren't a compelling live band. They still look good though--having the best cheek bones, jawlines and eyebrows in the business. Murphy isn't as imposing as I thought, but he vogues really, really well.

My last impression of the evening, as we all filed out of the venue slowly, funerarily, and spilled out the front doors onto 6th Avenue, I revisted my youth again, recalling the crappy, studio apartments I lived in, remembering how my punk friends would crash on the murphy bed, in the bathtub, on the floor. I exited the club into a squirming sea of black, and remembered the cockroaches of my youth. On their ways to parties and cemeteries, Portland's goths loped into the night oblivious to their conventional futures as soccer moms and computer programmers, and fading from black corsets to stretch pants and fleece jackets.

They'll learn to like khaki. I did.



Friday, October 21, 2005

Fresh Meat

No ghost story this week. I've selected a poem by the great master of creepiness, Charles Baudelaire. The poem I've selected is from Richard Howard's award winning translation of Baudelaire's Les Fleurs Du Mal (The Flowers of Evil). It's one of my all-time favorite poems, and should I remarry, Carrion will be worked into the vows somehow. After all, it is a love poem.

I'll finish the month next week with a very special scary story.

Happy Snails to You,



Remember, my soul, the thing we saw
that lovely summer day?
On a pile of stones where the path turned off,
the hideous carrion--

legs in the air, like a whore--displayed,
indifferent to the last,
a belly slick with lethal sweat
and swollen foul with gas.

The sun lit up that rottenness
as though to roast it through,
restoring to Nature a hundredfold
what she had here made one.

And heaven watched the splendid corpse
like a flower open wide--
you nearly fainted dead away
at the perfume it gave off.

Flies kept humming over the guts
from which a gleaming clot
of maggots poured to finish off
what scraps of flesh remained.

The tide of trembling vermin sank,
then bubbled up afresh
as if the carcass, drawing breath,
by their lives lived again.

and made a curious music there--
like running water, or wind,
or the rattle of chaff the winnower
loosens in his fan.

Shapeless--nothing was left but a dream
the artist had sketched in,
forgotten, and only later on
finished from memory.

Behind the rocks an anxious bitch
eyed us reproachfully,
waiting for the chance to resume
her interrupted feast.

Yet you will come to this offense,
this horrible decay,
you, the light of my life, the sun
and moon and stars of my love!

Yes, you will come to this, my queen,
after the sacraments,
when you rot underground among
the bones already there.

But as their kisses eat you up,
my Beauty, tell the worms
I've kept the sacred essence, saved
the form of my rotted loves!

Charles Baudelaire

Friday, October 14, 2005

Scary Is As Scary Does

I missed Survivor and The Apprentice to write this. What am I afraid of? Dead lines.



Driving in the Dead Lane

Carmel had never seen a dead body before today. In all of her 23 years, she had never stumbled over any missing joggers or attended an open casket funeral. This morning, she said goodbye to her favorite Aunt Shirl during the viewing at Reeses' Memorial Chapel.

Tossing, fitful, Carmel couldn't get the stiff and waxen visage of her aunt out of her mind. It was a mistake, she thought, to study every detail of the woman laying in her silk-lined coffin. Although it seemed like a good idea at the time, an attempt to preserve one last mental portrait of the woman who snuck Carmel into Meier and Frank to get her ears pierced against her mother's strict instruction, of the woman who always seemed more like a sidekick, a big sister than an aunt, the images twisted and taunted the grieving niece.

Carmel didn't want to let her closest friend and confidant go, and if she imprinted Shirl's expression--a mouth that wanted to smirk in spite of staples, her hair--combed back instead of parted down the middle, exposing Shirl's high forehead, her clothes--the purple seersucker tunic over black pants that made her feel polished and sexy, the cream-colored silk pillow and lining--Carmel etched every last color, texture, nuance of her dead Aunt Shirl into her memory.

Carmel directed her thoughts from the casket to the chapel, hoping to eventually 'think' her way out of the viewing and into a pleasant dream. Her attention paused at the bier, the lattice supports and wheels. The wheels bothered Carmel, but she wasn't sure what was off about them. They gave the casket a kind of go-cart kind of look, and now she envisioned Aunt Shirl driving her coffin out of the chapel, down the steps, and into the street back to her house.

Carmel chuckled, eyes still closed, at the thought.

Dozing, finally, Carmel pulled her down comforter over her shoulder and turned onto her side, expectant of deeper sleep, ignoring the low chatter of some late-night radio show. She couldn't hear the words any longer, it was just a hum on the other side of her head.

The radio had timed out, the room, quiet, Carmel fell asleep at last. She would have stayed asleep if it hadn't been for the squeaking coming from the hallway.

Mice? she wondered. It stopped-- and started again, getting louder, the squeaking came nearer and nearer to her room, wheels? she whispered. Wheels.

Squeaking passed the threshold of her open bedroom door, a long, dark box on a gurney rolled into the room, all by itself, and stopped at the foot of Carmel's bed. She waited for it to move, to roll back out. She knew who was in it--and she wasn't afraid. Until the gurney pivoted, rolling up alongside the bed. The metal casket gave off a chill Carmel could feel without even touching it.

"Aunt Shirl--are you in there?" Carmel sat up, pulling her comforter up to her chin. The coffin didn't move for a while, and neither did Carmel. "I miss you, Shirl. I remember building that birdhouse with you just a few weeks ago. Those robins and squirrels are gonna miss you a bunch. Carmen sucked back snot, dabbing tears with her comforter. "I've always wanted to be like you--ever since I was little. You've done everything I want to do. Promise you'll never leave me. Promise you'll watch over me."

Purged of her grief, Carmel's sobs stilled, and she grew sleepy again. "Good bye Aunt Shirl. I love you." The thing started rolling again, slowed by the thick carpet, but eventually working its way out of the room, down the hall, and back to whereever it came from.

Carmel awoke the next morning, surprisingly light of mood for a niece who'd lost her best friend only a few days before. "I'm so glad I could say goodbye. I think Aunt Shirl really knows how much I love and miss her. I hope I dream about her again." Carmel stretched, swung her feet over her bed, and then grabbing her clothes from a chair she noticed a dent in the door jam, and some paint had been scraped away. Carmel stood stone still--taking it in, trying to think of how she had dented the wall--then looking down, she noticed something else.

Bending down, she examined the carpet, looking first at her feet, then down the hallway. She looked, and looked, but couldn't explain away the two furrows in her carpet leading to the front door.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Keeping Up With the Boneses:
The Hottest Trends in Gravescaping

Lone Fir Cemetery in Southeast Portland is the scene for local dead folk. It's the place to see and be seen for our dearly departed, and by looking at the headstones, some departed way more dearly than others.

Portland's Old Money lies side by side with with all manner of peasantry, from pioneer families to victims of gang drive-bys. Lone Fir's terrain is uneven, and the mottley assortment of headstones jutting from the ground look like mismatched place settings. Old tablet shaped tombstones are dimpled and pitted with what used to be the legible names of persons buried there. You're likely to walk right over military stones and other markers flush with the earth.

Gone are the days of leaving a grave to grow a seamless lawn. Families make better use of the soil and our temperate climate by planting shrubbery and flowers over the grave. Newer graves are decorated with tradtitional sprays and vases of lilies, but agreived relations are pouring their hearts out in poetry and letters, cards and photos, leaving plastic-covered mementos at the site. One of the more heartbreaking displays I came across was a newly buried infant. A tiny, beaded baby charm bracelt draped off of a wire stand gushing "Welcome!" in a happy font.

Recently folks have taken to beautifying gravesites with marble chips, small statuary, stuffed animals, Mardi Gras beads, and garden doo-dads like wire bumble bees, humming birds, and dragonflies.

Traditionally, markers have been inscribed with bible verses, poetry, a short quote from the deceased, or a poignant line quantifying this particular loss, like "Taken too early," or "At rest with God, " or, as in the case of married couples, and some parents and children, a determination that they "will meet again." One cleverly worded headstone, a flat, gray granite marker, denoted the birth date as "Sunrise" and the death date as "Sunset."

Portraits of the deceased are popular now, many of these are Ukranian and russian individuals. Either engraved into the stone or airbrushed onto smooth, black, granite, phantom heads float above a grave garden, keeping a watchful eye on visitors making the rounds.

Leaving trinkets and toys and the acoutrements of the living at a grave is practiced in many cultures, and some gifts are sweet, and others are just, weird. I get the football jersey, but the Oregon Driver's Manual--not sure if that was garbage blown over the fresh mound, or left at this teen's grave as a reminder of what he had yet to look forward to. A fellow known as "Bubba Big Daddy" to his kin really loved to drink Corona, so much so that a replica of a Coronoa bottle has been engraved on his headstone, and his friends stack empties on his grave, arranging the gold caps along the cross erected by his headstone. I thought it garrish and tasteless, but this is how his friends and family pay tribute. Memorials are becoming as individual as, well, individuals.

Unfortunately this is the time of year vandals make gravel of old headstones, and Lone Fir is a favorite haunt of teenage miscreants. I walked the grounds yesterday under the watchful eye of a policeman in a patrol car. Apparently he wasnt' there during the week, as I came across several stones that had been overturned, sledgehammered, and defaced. It just made me sick.
The dead can't be insulted, but the living have invested money, time, and countless tears into their loved ones' final resting places. Maybe we're burying the wrong people.

Arresting in Peace,


Friday, October 07, 2005

Just in Time For
Weekend Slumber Parties

As promised, here is the first installment of Ghost Story Friday here at WLPF. Fiction isn't my forte, but then again, who's saying any of this is fiction?



Static Thing

Rex Stephens had let too many grand ideas and seed sentences get steamrolled under grocery lists and interruptions. Although he knew better, he’d concentrate hard on a good line or a vivid scene, thinking, “This is so great, I can remember it without writing it down.” But he always forgot. By now, he’d forgotten a novel’s worth of dialogue, story titles, character names, and setting details. Rex bought a voice-activated hand-held recorder, vowing to never again to squander little gems gifted to him by his muse.

His new toy became a battery powered appendage—Rex never went anywhere without it. He even considered buying a second recorder to leave in his car, but decided that a second recorder—an upgraded model—would be a reward for selling some of his writing. He wanted the first gadget to pay off.

Rex’s best ideas usually rained down on him early in the morning, or sometimes late at night.
Inserting a fresh microcasette into the deck, he’d try leaving it on overnight, next to his pillow, to capture impressions from dreams or maybe some brilliant Cayce-like sleep-talking.

“Batteries…check. Tape inserted-side A up…check, Record ,play on…check. Testing one, two, three.”

Rex rewound and listened to his muffled voice talk back. Other than the volume needing turning up a notch or two, “all systems were go,” Rex declared.

Over a late breakfast the next morning, Rex discovered that he snores. That’s all he got—intermittent snoring, and then his radio alarm clock. He’d try again.

Waking with a start, the writer glanced at the glowing orange numbers on his digital radio alarm clock. “2:30. It’s two-frickin’-thirty. What the hell was I dreaming about?” Rex couldn’t remember the particulars, but it felt like he had been running from somebody or something.

He grabbed the recorder. “Just woke up from a bad dream…all I remember is being afraid, being chased, some horrible thing breathing down on my neck. Even though I’m awake now, I keep looking over my shoulder. I can’t seem to shake the sensation of being pursued.”

Rex sighed, collapsed back into his pillow, and fell asleep.

“This is incredible!” Staccato keyboard clicking punctuated by occasional sighs, swearing, and sipping hot, black coffee. “It’s violent, and heartbreaking, and even sickening. I think I can sell this.” Rex was onto something, something big:

Everyone got out of the house except 15-year-old Peter. Too infirm to race down two flights of stairs, Peter leaned out of his window, coughing, waving to the neighbors to send help. Flames dissolved the old Victorian home, beam by beam, room by room, gaining on young Peter. Jumping was the only way out, but his fear of heights paralyzed the doomed teenager, who’s bed clothes blackened with soot and smoke.

Rex’s fingers could barely keep up with his racing heart as Peter’s tragedy took shape on the monitor.
“Yeah, they’re going to eat this shit up.” Control, Save. Rex bounded to the kitchen for a coffee refill. He didn’t sleep that night, but managed to pry himself away from the computer to sit in the living room, filling both sides of a cassette with scenes and background for his conflagration piece.

“Why didn’t anyone help him? Why didn't his mother and father, knowing they’re son was too sick to escape the fire, make any attempt to get him down the stairs?” The more Rex wondered about Peter’s family, the more agitated he became. Hours later, Rex wilted from adrenal burn out, falling asleep on the sofa.

Listening to his fiction-incited tirade from the night before, Rex stopped the recorder, rewound a short space, pressed play, and held the speaker close to his ear. “I don’t believe it.” He played it again, turning the volume up. “What is that?” His eyes narrowed, his focus, acute. His tape played back static, snoring, and what sounded like carpet muffled footsteps, light percussive steps increasing in volume as they seemed to get closer to the microphone. Then for not more than two seconds, something sibilant rose above the static, a whispering sound, smirking, then footsteps walking away.

“Holy Shit. No more coffee after 4;00 in the afternoon.” Rex thought he may have picked up a TV or radio broadcast. And when the same whispering and smirking turned up night after night, Rex thought he needed a better brand of cassette tape. Satisfied that the gold brand was better than the red brand, Rex pulled his covers over him, placing his recorder away from his pillow and comforter—careful not to pick up any rustling.

Checking off the list in his head—doors locked, windows shut, bedroom door booby trapped with tinkly chimes—he could close his eyes, and fall into the land of Nod.

A chill roused Rex from a sound sleep—white curtains billowed like sails over a black ocean. He froze—not breathing, not moving, retracing each step of his nighttime routine—certainly, of all the windows in the house, he didn’t forget to close his bedroom window. His eyes still adjusting to the dark, a faint tinkling sound startled Rex, making the room a little colder.
“Who’s there?” Rex’s voice quivered. “Wh—who’s there?”

“OK, there’s nothing here. I just forgot to close the window.” Rex reached up from his bed and slammed the window shut, then rubbed his arms to get warm. “Hell, I can’t go to sleep now.” He should be working on his story, but thought it better to soothe his nerves with some Bukowski instead.

Several pages into Last Night of the Earth Poems, Rex, emboldened by a brightly lit room and the uneventful minutes since waking, palmed the little silver machine and pressed play. Rustling covers and throat clearing punctuated long spells of static. Turning the volume up, the tape caught the tinkling chimes…Rex stopped the playback.

Then started it again. Chimes clanged against the door, and footsteps shuffled into the room. Rex turned the recorder off again, and looked at his bedroom window to make sure it was closed. He got up and pressed it down, to make doubly sure. “There’s nothing on the tape. There’s nothing in this room. There’s nothing in this house.” He pressed play again.

Rex heard whispering as the tape resumed. It sounded like a Sha, or Cha, or Jzha. “That sounds like a word…” Rewound, he listened closely…” Sha, sha, Ja, Ja. He couldn’t make it out, so he let the tape play on. Jaaa… Jaaaa. Jaaaa…the sound became clearer, more distinct. “Jaa, Johnny?” Rex wondered, playing word games in his head. “Jolly, Jackie, Jaaa, what?”

The tape rolled on, capturing the footsteps departing the room, then the tape ran out, clicked loudly startling Rex, and in that instant the lights went out, his window flew open and a loud voice behind him screamed, “JUMP!”

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Something Wicked This Way Comes...

The air has changed, Autumn's breath is chilled, and soured with rotting leaves; its hair is gilded, its skin, ruddy. Halloween is just weeks away.

Fall is my favorite season, and Halloween, my favorite holiday. For the month of October, every Friday will be Ghost Story Friday, instead of Morbid Poetry Friday. Get that old flashlight out the drawer, make sure the batteries work, draw your cloak tight around you, fondle the crucifix around your neck if it'll make you feel better, and prepare to have the living daylights scared out of you.

If you'll excuse me, I must depart to that very dark place inside, tiptoeing around my fears, lurking where they lurk, breathing what they breathe, dreaming what they dream, studying them as they sleep, taking great care not to stir them.

Night night.
Sleep tight.
Don't let the begbugs or the vampires bite.



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