The Alarm: a ghost story
It’s too much. Too much for me to process all at once. The kids and I have only been in the house for a month. I’ve only known Jim for a month longer than that. You all warned me. You all heard the rumors. But I wouldn’t listen. He was everything. Kind. Dashing. Good job. This beautiful home he refurbished with his own hands endeared him even further. He and the kids hit it off as if we had been together for years. He’s a gifted storyteller—that should have been my first clue! Karen, my oldest, loved his yarn about how the upper floors of the house burned in the sixties when two star-crossed teenagers tipped over a lantern in the attic. “They died in a fire as hot and tragic as their love,” he would say. So disgusting now to remember it. But that’s where it all connects, you see? I get it. It’s implausible. Impossible. A mental fabrication. A figment of the trauma. But that can’t be! I saw her! The alarm woke me and she was there under the smoke detector above the kitchen table. Her face besmirched with char, hair burnt to the scalp, bra and panties still smoldering. I screamed in harmony with the siren but as Jim and Karen crashed naked and panicked through the door from the garage, she vanished, leaving me in the vaporous shock of his betrayal, my ears ringing in a jagged, deafening silence.
The last time I saw him was at a Christmas party for the firm. They fired him the next day for grabbing the ass of an intern we all called Glitterbarf. Now here he strolled across the park, his same awkward strut materializing as the same awkward waddle. He looked exactly the same. The same stupid mustache. The slick skullcap hair. Once he found me as I lay between the roots of the tree, my eyes above the spine of the book, I realized I had stared too long. His magical sleaze guided him toward me from the edge of the pond where the satchel under his arm nudged a small girl in a sailor dress ankle deep into the water. I returned to my book, poking myself in my minds eye for letting this happen. I snuck a glance at his splayed stance only an arms length away. Then he dropped beside me and produced a small dish towel, snapped it like a maître d' serving foie gras. Two wine glasses appeared. I looked up hoping my glare might end the performance but he already had the wine and corkscrew in hand. Our eyes met and he turned to the pond for a moment. Fun fact, he said, pivoting back to me, a duck’s penis is shaped like a corkscrew. He puckered as he torqued the tool into the bottle. Fun fact, I said, get lost or yours will be too.
Excerpt, River of Blood Part 3
What’s the goal, though?
Later, back in the confines of the garage, Ollie and Hicky and I drank. This foray into their mission had fostered a pinch of camaraderie between myself and the crew. I had labored with them that night. I had participated. Now the beers had me curious about PLA aspirations.
You guys aren’t delusional as far as I can see. But you know these operations won’t stop wars or death. Any media attention you receive is one sparkle in a bucket of glass.
Ollie’s response felt rote.
Good argument. One that I’ve had with myself many times. Ya know, once I broke free of the violence, I stepped back and saw what I had done then I saw the consequential violence around me like ripples around rain drops.
Hicky shook his head at us. I did not come prepared for a poetry contest, fellas.
Then butt out.
You see, Tower, my guilt broke me. As far as I could see, the only way forward was an ironic reversal of sorts.
So you’ve performed some sort of metaphysical accounting of your sins and hope to alleviate your guilt by subtraction?
What happens when you zero out?
Who’s to say I haven’t already, Tower?
You have done a lot. The LAPD armory. Those tanks in Russia…
And a fuckton more. Maybe enough to zero out. Maybe that’s why yer here. Maybe the violence owes me something now.
That’s a lot more anthropomorphizing than I’m comfortable with.
Look, I get it, Ollie. As an endeavor to atone, I see how one might be tempted. But your enemy is colossal. Immense. Bigger than anything. Bigger than everything.
Hicky pointed the open end of his beer bottle at me. That might be the point, Tower.
I used to feel that way.
Ollie laughed at me. There’s a pile of dead cops that says you’ve felt that way recently.
This is not a debate I wanna have right now.
Hicky straightened himself and pointed the bottle at me again. You said the enemy is colossal, Tower. You’re right. But only out of dumb luck. The enemy is gargantuan only because the enemy is in your own head. It is your head, your mind. And we both know that one mind contains the entire universe. The enemy is not the state or any singular shitbag like Cruz. They are vines to be hacked down on the journey, my friend. I think maybe you know this. The proximate obstacles are hurting you right now is all.
Proximate obstacles? That’s some pretty heavy shit, Hicky. And here you thought you weren’t a poet.
I’m an empath. It’s a curse. He paused for effect. Please don’t kill me.
This sent Ollie into violent amusement that bent him at the waist.
Cute, I said. You’re real cute.
Three years ago, he found a baby in a trash bag about a mile off the road. A young couple from Indianapolis adopted her in a storm of media a year later. He walks past the spot every weekend on his way to the river. He stops and looks and takes into account how time and growth have changed the geometry of the shadows under the scrub. He wouldn’t have seen the bag if it had happened this year. The grass is too tall. The rotten log has collapsed. This spring has been overcast. That baby girl would have died this year. A lot of things would be different if it had happened this year. The train is roaring through the valley. The wind rattles the poplar leaves above him. He would’ve been consumed in other thoughts if it had happened today. He never would have seen it. All he would have seen was the past. His wife. The tubes in her nose. He’s crying now, consumed in the slow grind of his past.
Three boys of various heights stood in stilted shock staring at the wadded lump of the pilot’s body as the deputy stood over it, speaking into the radio clipped to his lapel. The distorted tail of the small plane jutted from the jagged opening in third floor of the courthouse above them. Smoldering bricks, glass, and lumber granulated the verdant lawn of the square. An undulating intestine of black smoke bent over the top floor, the singular clue of the event for the townsfolk who had begun arriving by foot and vehicle. The deputy returned to his truck where he again directed the trio of youth to move across the street to the vacant store front. Sheriff Connery’s voice leapt from the speaker near near his ear. Jackson? Yeah, Sheriff. Tell me there ain’t a crop dusting rig on it. There is Sheriff; there’s a rig. Goddammit. Yeah, Sheriff, and Wally’s body is out here in the open, all broke up. Goddammit. I’m grabbin a sheet right now. Don’t bother, Jackson. But Sheriff—. I said leave him! he wanted this; he deserves the embarrassment! But Sheriff, there’s kids and women out here. Grow up, Jackson, just keep em off the grass!
End to End
A white raptor wing stretched from horizon to horizon. Uncle Frazier sat on the dead oak trunk, kicking at a column of red ants flowing just out in front of his foot. I think I should take time off, Uncle. His head bobbed at the sound of my voice. Not a nod. Just movement in recognition. He wiped the apple juice from his knife across a dirty pant leg. I already told you what I think. Yeah, you did. Don’t do it; you had a whole bunch of time, kid; I know it don’t feel like it but you did. He tracked the cloud from end to end with his eyes then gave me a serious glance. Go back to school; forget about anything but the present and buckle down. I wanted to point out the paradox in his worry over my future as he pressed me to stay in the present. But I could see that was exactly what he was contemplating. I wasted so much, he said, I wasted a lot of time not sticking it out when I was your age, boy. I get it, Uncle. You better. He handed me half of the apple and I took a bite. I don’t have any left, he said, all I can do is commandeer yours, you see? I hear you, Uncle. If you’re not careful, you wake up one day with memory of the time you spent and none left to spend on anything that means anything, you see? I see. You better.
Let’s consider time. Time.
The word demands a capital T.
We argue over it. We agonize over it. We long and lust for more of it. Even those of us who are told every Sunday that our Time will go on after we die frown at the thought of losing it before we die. Time is everything. I myself have argued that Struggle is all but in reality, if there is no Time on which to anchor that struggle, there is nothing at all. Without Time, our physical world ceases to exist.
“Till the end of time” is our truest cliche, our truest truth. The end of Time is The End. Each of us must realize that Time ends every day. Every hour. Wrap yourself in it. Clothe yourself in your Time. Remind yourself until it is involuntary that you must remain one with your Time. It is all you have. Spend it wisely. Time will not allow you any more than you have at this very second.
Do something with it. Use it for good.
Spend it on those you cherish.
Spend it on improving yourself.
Don’t squander the Time you have on some phantom of eternity that if truly considered is an actual horror. Mundane. Unchanging. Pascal feared we might gamble on there being no eternity. I fear we gamble there is. Trust me. Eternity is not real. Not for me. Not for you or anyone. Now is all you will ever have. Right this very instant is all you will ever have.
They killed a dude in front of my kids last week. The guy was standing in the street with this short aluminum bat. He was yelling and pointing the thing at them as if he knew each of them by name, had some unrelated beef with each of them. Before I heard the commotion, I had been sitting in the living room of my de-electrified house. Bored out of my mind, waiting for Cheryl to drop off the kids. I was gonna meet them at the curb so I wouldn’t have to argue with her about why the electricity was shut off. I was waiting at the front window, amusing myself with a flat raisin between two peanut halves, imagining it was a burger. A fat juicy angus patty burger. Then the shouting started and I made my way to the street with my neighbors. There he was. Nothing but a pair of gym socks and the bat. We all jolted back when the cops unloaded on him. It took a few moments for me to realize Cheryl’s sedan was first in the line of cars held back by the emergency vehicles on the other side of the intersection. She’s right. The neighborhood really has gone to shit.
The stink. The dark. The weight. The moment it creeps in I let it pass and I am vapor. Until it returns again. And I let it pass again. This black is comfort. Ubiquitous. Swaddling. Like a bag cinched around me. Restraining me. Restricting possible explosion. This comfort develops opposing valence when it happens to speak. I wish it wouldn’t. The fact that it whispers doesn’t help.
i wonder why they put you here?
where is here?
you’re in the singles. you must be special.
i suppose that makes you special too.
syllogisms? i should have known. i have already misled you.
i know who you are. everyone knows who you are.
who am i?
you’re the American. the cop slayer. asesino de poli.
catchy. who are you, mr special? who do you slay?
i stole a lot of money from the wrong person. then i tried to move that money through the wrong people. then I answered the wrong door. much like you, i am struggling under the weight of my own decisions.
that could be said of anyone in here. we’re not so special after all.
now, now. maybe i’m not that special. i’m rotting in here because someone—a very specific
someone—wants me rotting. you are here because everyone—aside certain people in the government—wants you dead.
you know an awful lot about me. how is it you speak such good english?
a leftover from a complex childhood.
too many riddles, special. i’m going to sleep.
you will grow lonely very quickly in here, cop slayer.
The black was here before this place. Woven in a different texture. It’s face pressed against mine like Uranus against Gaia. I was sick then. I have no idea how long I had been there although my memory of how I got there is clear. Clear as hotel mirrors. But those memories don’t linger now. And they didn’t linger then. My hands cuffed behind me. Bound to a chair. My lips cracked. My teeth loose. No sleep. I had lost weight. I had no idea if Penrose was in the next room. I had no idea of there was a next room. I had no idea if this was a place with rooms. Throughout my life I wondered how I might endure this sort of confinement. Many times and places, many scenarios and people bore odds this might happen to me. It happened to others. People I knew. People I heard about. No need to wonder anymore. I was holding my own.
I’ve always had a knack for focused resistance. Endurance is a hobby.
Then someone opened that door for the last time. Before this they had forced liquefied nutrition down my throat. Poured water over my mouth with haphazard aim. This time things changed. Removed from my chair. Dragged. A hallway. A doorway. New air. Humidity. Heat. Urban osmyrrah. The hard rug and rumble of a vehicle. Traffic. Speed. Things had changed. I shrugged the persistent time travel brought on by the jostle of the road. Bullets. Fists. Broken bones. I kicked them aside. I caressed the movement of the wheels beneath me. The darkness squirmed. The black struggled. But I held tight.
Until I couldn’t. Until it was cleaved from my grasp as if my fingers had gone with it. The light pierced deep. Burning. Cauterizing. Blood from the glare would have consoled me. The grating flame brought only anger. The gradual materialization of heads and faces hovering over me stoked my anger further. But I wouldn’t thrash. I was more than aware of the futile rewards of thrashing. I closed my eyes in an effort to reconjure the darkness.
Another chair. The cuffs rearranged through the splat. Dirt beneath my naked feet. I smelled flowers. Cleaner air but still pregnant with heat and moisture. Tropical. My closed eyes proved a delinquent replacement for the bag and I slowly allowed the light its due.
i wonder if i’m headed for the same fate as you, cop slayer.
we’re both facing oblivion, cop slayer. but i’m nagged by this feeling that maybe my fate is worse than yours. you have the luxury of staring it in the face. squaring up to it like a bull.
i on the other hand might live in fear, i think. even if i live through my sentence, life outside might be even worse. at least in here i have a reliable compass. i know the possibilities. still very dangerous but much simpler. out there, it could move on me at any moment at any time. do you know how fortunate you are, cop slayer?
fortunate? wanna know what would be fortunate? not having to listen to you equivocate things you don’t understand.
as you can see, cop slayer, you are able to tumble off to sleep at a whim while my anxiety rattles this cage. i think i’ve called it correctly. you are a most fortunate man.
So it’s gone. The one place I could walk the dog in the city without a leash. The one place I could stand in relative silence and look at the stars or the moon, the flashing lights on the jets. The one place where the rabbits might run past me as I moved through the caliche flats. Gone. Covered up with tiny homes, tiny lawns, tiny fences and tiny for-sale signs. Soon to be bought by tiny people for tiny sums. I feel small now too. Compressed. Depressed. The dog is bigger, though.
Chrysalis, a growing collection of very short fiction.
That Night Filled Mountain
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My newest novel River of Blood is available on Amazon or Apple Books.
Unless noted, all pics credited to Skitz O'Fuel.