Dead Bolts

Prompt: Eerie

scary-ghosts

Suddenly the amusing, cocktail/dinner party story about the house being haunted wasn’t so funny. I don’t know why exactly, but I’d been uneasy all day— testy and irritable when the kids’ father came to pick them up for the a weekend away camping. They even took my canine soulmate, Champ, whom the children said needed a vacation too. From me? I growled and grumbled as I closed the door on them.

Two people had been brutally murdered in this refurbished farmhouse, once isolated in the country and now on the edge of a sprawling community. Two people, husband and wife, tied up, beaten, and stabbed to death, and the killer never found and brought to justice. Which is why, according to local legend, this poor ghostly couple stayed behind. Matthew and Thomasina were sad, angry ghosts, and you could hear them creep slowly across the floorboards, sometimes smell fresh-baked bread which was on the counter when the bodies were discovered, and hear their wails when the wind blew, or so the story went.

I didn’t find it charming anymore, as I lay in bed, awakened suddenly by… what? It seemed unusually dark and cold. There was no light from the night light in the bathroom down the hall. Only a bright moon behind hazy clouds cast a dim light in this darkness, or I would have been totally blinded. There was a wind, and the old house creaked and settled, as it usually did, but somehow, something was different. I could feel it. A rush of cool air, an unfamiliar smell, a pattern of creaks on the hardwood, someone walking, someone coming nearer.

I lay in bed, the quilt pulled up to my nose, staring at the bedroom door, frozen in fear. I saw a shadow across the wall, and then, yes! A man, a large man, blurred by darkness, looming in the doorway. I stifled a gasp, I squeezed my eyes shut, and when I opened them again he was gone. I was shivering with the cold now, paralyzed, listening for movement.

My body ached with tension, but I got up out of bed, wrapped the quilt around me, and crept to the doorway. The house was silent. The wind had picked up, I could hear it rattling the eaves and send echoes down the chimney.

I stepped as softly as I could but the floor betrayed me. Where had Matthew gone? Why had he come to me in the first place?

Why was it so cold?

Then I heard the front door abruptly swing open and crash against the wall in the foyer. The wind, I thought, Matthew and Thomasina making themselves known, demanding justice!

I was wrong. Three police constables with flashlights sending laser-like beams over the walls and floors, and finally into my face, strode right into the front hallway.

“Are you ok?” said a voice.

Did I not look ok? Had my hair turned white? “I, I…”

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” said a different voice, without irony. “Your power was out, lines were cut, and we got a mobile 911 call from this house.”

I just stared at him. A 911 call? At that moment the night light clicked on, and I could hear the furnace starting up as the power was restored, and there was a bright light from the kitchen. We found the refrigerator door wide open, contents on the table and floor— milk, eggs, cheese and oranges. The constable flicked on the kitchen light. “You make this mess?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

The back door was open. A car’s taillights could be seen disappearing into the distance. “He must have heard us arrive. Barb, see if you can track that vehicle down,” said an officer. Constable Barb disappeared.

Then the officer turned to me. “You don’t live in the 1950s, Mz Waters,” he said. “You need to lock your doors properly, with dead bolts. Both doors were easily compromised.”

It was hard to speak. I couldn’t seem to take a breath. I couldn’t move.

“Want us to call anyone for you?” said the officer as they prepared to leave. “Doesn’t feel right leaving you alone in this state.”

“No, it’s fine,” I said, finally finding my voice. “It’s ok. It’s fine.”

And I put the kettle on for tea.

Movie Review from Memory: Giant

Prompt: Giant

giant-movie

I saw the movie Giant quite awhile after it was first released in 1956, and I watched it on TV with commercials, which gave all of us the opportunity to to get a snack, go to the bathroom, or look out the window and wonder how stars hang in the sky, though no one did that.

The move was in black and white, or that could just have been our TV at the time.

Without reading the IMDB summary, I will give my review by memory, and my memory sucks. But here we go: Giant, as I remember it.

It was about oil, and possibly ranching, and took place in a very dusty Texas. Rock Hudson was in it, and the alleged teen idol, James Dean, who died young. Rock Hudson played manly parts in films, which is in no way inconsistent with the fact that he was gay, but no one knew it at the time, except for Elizabeth Taylor, and really, it was no one’s business. Do you share your sexual proclivities with everyone you meet?

Elizabeth Taylor was, as usual, a luminous beauty, and the cause of conflict between the establishment type, Rock, and the rebel, James Dean. They struck oil on their land, and I remember that as a very exciting scene!– which might be on YouTube; but Rock and James had a terrible, violent disagreement, which led to their estrangement.

This is a sweeping epic spanning many long years, though I only remember the beginning and the end, in which everyone had aged. So Elizabeth, Rock, and James were all made up to look old, which never really works.

So, if you like sweeping epics, movie idols in movies (and who doesn’t?), a woman in the middle and the cause of conflict yet again, and interesting makeup decisions, be sure to catch the movie Giant.

Ok, it was in colour, not black and white.

Trivia, courtesy of IMBD:

The lead character, Jett Rink [played by James Dean], was based upon the life of Texas oilman Glenn H. McCarthy (1907-88), an Irish immigrant who would later be associated with a symbol of opulence in Houston, Texas: the Shamrock Hotel, which opened on St. Patrick’s Day, 1949. Author Edna Ferber met McCarthy when she was a guest at his Houston, Texas, Shamrock Hotel (known as the Shamrock Hilton after 1955), the fictional Emperador Hotel in both the book and the film.

The Man Who Used to be Sam

Prompt: Bridge

moonlight

Sam had sometimes carried, sometimes dragged his friend Peter for almost two hours, in the damp coldness of early morning. He wanted to reach the bridge by sunrise. Once they crossed the bridge, everything would be all right.

He was done with the war, and was pretty sure Peter felt the same way. No, Sam was a pacifist now. He’d seen enough. He didn’t know the memory of a battlefield could sear itself in his mind like a photograph. He didn’t know that death smelled so terrifyingly sweet. He didn’t realize how an explosion could deafen him for hours, in a silent prison that provided no escape or comfort. He didn’t like that the enemy had no face at all.

Peter was surely deafened by the blast, as he remained unconscious, or slept, through the heavy thuds of artillery, the screaming, and later the screeching of night creatures as they made their way along the riverbank. The bridge couldn’t be much farther. Unless he had made a mistake, and followed the river upstream instead of downstream. In a moment of panic he eased Peter to the ground and knelt over the river. The moon was reflected on its still surface, rippling near the shore where the wide stream flowed among polished stones. Sam saw a man’s reflection, too, in the moonlight. It wasn’t Sam.

Sam was gone. In his place was a thin, mud-stained, bloodied (from Peter’s blood) mass of crumpled skin and filthy clothing. He stared out from the surface of the river. He said, “Keep going.”

They reached the bridge just as the moon set and a scarlet glow oozed from the horizon in the eastern sky.

Peter stirred when he was laid gently in the soft grass on the other side of the bridge. Birds lived near the bridge. Sparrows and finches and meadowlarks. Peter hadn’t heard them in years. “Where are we?” he asked. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know,” said the man who used to be Sam. “I don’t know.”

 


  • Image: Nolan Nitschke

Just a Girl

Prompt: Rearrange

flapper-costume

I was dressed as a flapper, whatever that was, with a cloche hat and a blue fringed sleeveless dress. My older brother was a robot, a costume he made himself from cardboard boxes and silver paint. We were handed white pillow slips and told to limit our Halloween begging to a three block radius, and under no circumstances cross the busy street behind the house.

The house at the top of the block was in total darkness, as it was every Halloween, because of the owners’ religious beliefs. We got an early and annual education in the sinister side of church-going, since the idea of denying us chocolate and caramels and Tootsie Roll Pops seemed dark and ungodly.

A few doors down from them was the over-decorated house, with sheets meant to be ghosts hanging from the trees, half a dozen carved smiling pumpkins hosting flickering candles, and the black silhouettes of bats and witches on broomsticks bedecking the windows. Mr and Mrs Williams were always jovial but asked too many questions and talked to us as if we were toddlers. “Oh my goodness, what do we have here! What are you all dressed up as, little lady?” A flapper. “Oh!” Much chuckling on their part, and scowling and blushing on mine, until they move along to the next victim, who was not my brother, because he’d got his Mars bar (the full size candy bars being the only reason we bother with the Williams) and escaped from the porch.

Many houses later over on the next block was the scary place, where someone had made a graveyard out of the front garden, and the house was dimly lit inside, and you had to knock on the door in the dark, and you never could remember if the people inside had criminal records, or living children, or had somehow harmed a friend of a friend last Halloween. This night, a teenager with a scarred green face and blood dribbling from his mouth tosses packets of gum into our pillow slips. Maybe we’d skip the scary place next year.

The night wore on and there were fewer and fewer children on the street, but my brother’s stamina was legendary, and he had a special new goal: The haunted house across the busy street.

I had almost reached the status of non-girl in his eyes, as in not as dumb or as weak or as scaredy cat as a regular girl, as in almost tolerable. Was I to risk all this advancement, this near-shattering of the plastic ceiling, because I was afraid to disobey our parents, and terrified to go near the haunted house?

Hell, no.

The haunted house was only haunted late at night, when you were adrenalin-pumped and jittery, and almost ready to go home from trick-or-treating, if you could survive. By day it was a very old Victorian-style wooden house, with the requisite peeling paint and boarded up windows. Tall weeds impeded progress to a sagging front porch, which ran the width of the facade. It was a eyesore, perennially rumoured to be the new location of a Baptist church, or Harvey’s Drive In, or a pet store.

Me, my courageous brother, and his best friend, Donny, approached the house from the north, on the sidewalk, walking nonchalantly so as not to alert anyone or anything that we were possibly frightened and possibly going to do something stupid, like walk up to a house that was surely the site of past atrocities, and damned for eternity. I was trembling. Also shivering. I told my brother I was cold. “Too bad,” he said.

Donny, who was dressed as a cowboy complete with chaps and side arms, was strangely silent as we navigated through the weeds to the front door. For some reason, my brother thought it was a good idea to knock. Logic was never a strong point in my family. So he knocked on the front door. It was a cold, hollow sound.

The door flew open! There was an inferno! A scream!

Donny fell backwards off the porch and landed on his head. Blood poured from his skull. My brother ran down the stairs and dove into the tall grass. I alone stood, paralyzed with fear, on the porch, staring at what I saw was some kind of industrial-strength flashlight, wielded by a boy much older, but no taller than I was. He was wrapped in dirty bandages and his face was lit from underneath, so his yellowish face was in hideous shadow.

He grabbed my pillow case, and slammed the door. The house was dark and silent again.

My brother and I dragged the bleeding Donny to our house, where our parents cleaned him up and called his mother. “It’s not as bad as it looks,” said my mother. My dad, showing more spunk than I thought him capable, went out in the car to check out the haunted house, but no one was there. Our punishment would wait.

Donny was sniffling. His head wound probably hurt. His cowboy jeans were soaking wet. No one said anything.

My brother turned on me, “You’re just a baby, screaming like that and scaring everyone.”

“I didn’t!” I felt anger tears welling to the surface, but dared not lose face by crying.

“Cry-baby scaredy cat,” said my brother. His robot head was off, but he was still wearing a crumpled silver box around his midriff. He scowled at me and took the wrapping off a Tootsie Roll for Donny, just as his mother knocked on the front door.

Donny’s face was a smeared mix of blood and sticky chocolate as his mother picked him up in her arms and carried him out, as if he was a little baby.

My brother laid out his candy haul on the kitchen table, sorting it by weight and value. My mother told him he would be sharing his bounty with me, his younger sister, since my pillow slip had been stolen. He sighed, frowned, and rearranged the piles of chocolate and wrapped candies.

“It wasn’t me, it was Donny,” I said to my brother. “I didn’t scream.”

“I know,” said my brother. “But he would have felt bad if I knew it was him.”

I feel bad because of what you said.”

“Too bad,” he told me. “You’re just a girl.”

Our punishment was harsh. No television, no playing outside after supper, so we basically had nothing to do but meditate upon our sins. Or read, which I did, so I didn’t have to think about Donny.

My brother gave me the full size Mars bar as part of my share of the loot, but it wasn’t enough. Not by a mile.

Sugar Bunny

Prompt: Smoke

cupcake-yellow

We were making cupcakes again. This time there would be no sabotage or bullying while Lily was watching daytime TV. Isabella could put whatever stupid designs on her icing that she wanted. I wouldn’t say a word.

Our tools for icing the cupcakes were pâté knives, spoons, tiny paintbrushes, two tubs of store-bought icing, one chocolate and one lemon, and a bottle of red food colouring. “Be careful with that,” Lily told us. “Don’t make a mess.”

While we waited for the cupcakes to cool, Lily dumped the icing into two bowls for us to stir up so it would be nice and soft and smooth for frosting the cakes.

Isabella absently sang a sing-songy little verse as she stirred the lemon icing with a wooden spoon:

If you love me, show me
Show me that you want to know me
If you’re troubled go to me
Darling, don’t say no to me
Be my little sugar bunny
Be true to me, your only honey
Show me that you love me
Put no one else above me.

I said, “What is that song?”

She said, “I don’t know.”

“Is it a record?” I asked.

“I forget,” said Isabella.

What was left of the chocolate icing I had been stirring was carefully spread on the top of half of Bella’s cupcakes, and half of mine, the last one a little scant. I used the spoon to put yellow polka dots on the chocolate. There was a lot more lemon icing left, but only because Isabella didn’t like it as much as I liked chocolate.

We dipped our brushes into the bottle of red food colouring and painted animals and faces on the yellow cupcakes. It would have made a mess if Lily hadn’t put newspaper down all over the island counter.

“This tastes like strawberry,” Isabella said, touching the red-soaked brush to her tongue.

“It does?” I picked it up and took a sip. It didn’t. Even at that age, I had a better palate than Bella.

Just then smoke started seeping out of the oven, a natural occurrence since some of the cake batter had spilled to the oven floor, and Lily hadn’t turned it off  before she returned to General Hospital.

“Fire!” I said. I was teasing Isabella, but she grabbed the food colouring from my hand, opened the oven door, and emptied the bottle– probably less than an ounce– onto the bottom of the oven, on her overalls, and on the floor. A little of that stuff went a long way.

“Uh-oh,” I said, as I heard our mother coming in through the back door.

Her scream brought Lily back into the smoky kitchen, where she saw two little girls, one who looked like she had vomited blood all over the other one, and spots of blood all over the floor and walls. My mother was near hysterical, until Lily took the empty bottle of food colouring from Isabella’s hand.

“You are definitely fired this time!” my mother said to Lily.

Lily turned off the oven, opened the kitchen window to let the smoke escape, took my and Isabella’s hands, and led us to the upstairs bathroom. “Let’s get you cleaned up,” she said.

Isabella sang as Lily stood us in a tub full of soapy water and scrubbed us with a loofa:

If you’re troubled go to me
Darling, don’t say no to me
Be my little sugar bunny
Be true to me, your only honey.

Safer

Prompt: Banned


Hello Wednesday,

I once banned myself from a drugstore, which was one of a cluster of shops in the neighbourhood. You see, I was a hungry, rather stupid young teenager, who saw a huge, open display of chocolate bars, and no one around. So I very discreetly (I thought) loaded my pockets, one delicious candy treat at a time, until the owner/ pharmacist came out in his white smock and said to me, a regular customer: “Put them back.”

One chocolate bar at a time went back to its rightful spot. What was probably half a dozen treats seemed like a hundred, as that humiliating few minutes stretched into what felt like hours.

The owner did nothing else; did not call the police or try to notify my parents, for which I should have been grateful. I never set foot in that drugstore again; nor did I try and steal chocolate bars.

Now I buy mini chocolate bars to hand out on Halloween. This is a huge farce, since we rarely get children at our door anymore, so we get to eat the candy. We’ve never been “that house” that hands out healthy treats, unlike the subject of this, the first of my favourite cartoons this week:

cartoon-watermelon-halloween


I’m guessing this cartoon was banned from the pages of the New Yorker magazine:

cartoon-halloween-safe


And look at this cat’s face:

cartoon-cat-story


Happy Wednesday!

FP

I am not a Murderer

Prompt: Transformation

prism-light

I’ve heard it said that what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

But what if only a part of you is killed? What if an essential, human part of you was stabbed, set on fire, run over and then run over again, stepped on, stomped on, and spit on, but your physical body remains alive and conscious? What would that make you?

It makes me powerful and dangerous, because I care for nothing or no one but my revenge. No one can hurt me, persuade me, engage me, sway me, frighten me, or touch me.

There’s no need for me to go into the details of my upbringing. You can well imagine. Suffice it to say that I will track down my parents, and my brother. My grandparents, certain schoolmates and teachers, certain employers and coworkers, and certain people I feel don’t deserve to share with the world their hypocritical happiness.

People are foolish, and try to reach me. They try to change me. They try to love me. I don’t consider myself one of them anymore. I have ceased wondering why I was put upon this earth, and why my life has taken the path it has.

I only want satisfaction. Satisfaction gleams and dances like a spinning prism, just out of reach. It must be what happiness feels like.

I’m not a murderer. A murderer might be apprehended, and spend a life in isolation, away from those he seeks to ruin. No, I work every moment, every day of every year, to reach my goals. No-one is murdered, not by me.

Soon I will be in charge. I will be the leader. I will then, inch by inch, breath by breath, senator by senator, take hold of absolute power. I am strong, invincible, and dedicated.

The tribunals will be held every week, much as I would like them to be a part of our daily life. Weekly tribunals will keep the terror fresh and new. I may send my soldiers to find my father last. I will let him wait.