Monday, March 31, 2014
October 31, 2009.
A date that’s become synonymous with teeth-rotting candy, spooky costumes, and wanton destruction. For adults, it’s a time for giving. For the kids, it’s a time for taking. And for the restless teens looking to cause a stir, it’s a time for vandalizing.
Kevin Briggs had mapped out which houses he wanted to visit this year. He made a note not to stop by Mrs. Tremont’s house. She was giving out apples like she did every year, just as the Belton’s always gave out breath mints and mini toothpastes because the father was an orthodontist.
But Mr. Jeffries house was on the list. He had a tradition of handing out full-size Snickers and Butterfingers to all the kids.
Alissa Briggs, a single parent, made it a priority to have off from work every Halloween. It was imperative to her that she be available to take Kevin trick-or-treating. It was always his father’s duty, but after the accident, Mr. Briggs wasn’t available anymore to take little Kevin door-to-door.
So Alissa stepped up and took his place, keeping the ritual alive. Alissa was a strong-willed woman. She did what she wanted to do, even when others advised against it. Like her mother had advised her against taking her husband’s place. But it had been four years since Jay Briggs’ passing. And for four years, Alissa had carried the torch for him.
Or in this case, carried Kevin’s pillowcase full of candy from house to house.
Kevin was caught up in the whole superhero craze the kids his age had been experiencing. He had watched The Dark Knight ten times since its release and he knew what he wanted to be for Halloween this year. No, not Batman. Like so many others, Kevin had found himself enamored with Heath Ledger’s dark portrayal of The Joker.
So Alissa had taken him down to the mall and found him a purple suit and rubber mask. But the mask wasn’t to his satisfaction, so Alissa improvised. She purchased some black and white oil paints, and on the big day, painted Kevin’s face white as he sat in front of the mirror. For the eyes, she drew dark circles with her eyeliner and filled them in with black paint. For the scars, she used red lip gloss to mark his cheeks. It didn’t look as professional as Heath Ledger’s, but it did the job and Kevin was content.
Alissa, sans costume, marched alongside her fearless little Joker, never letting him out of her sight. She was considerate enough to give him his space as he approached each door with other costumed children begging for candy, so as not to embarrass or smother Kevin. But she still kept a watchful eye on her boy.
A night like Halloween brings out all the whackos and troublemakers. Alissa knew this as all the other parents of Dorchester knew. So when nine o’clock came around and the streetlamps were the only thing keeping the darkness at bay, Alissa insisted on returning home.
But Kevin, though his pillowcase was ready to burst it was stuffed with so much candy, still wanted more.
His sweet tooth had turned into a greedy tooth, and he knew the neighborhood well enough to know there were more houses on the list.
“Just a few more houses,” he pleaded. “Please, mom. Please.” She was prepared to put up a fight, but when he started in with the puppy dog eyes, she caved.
“Okay, but just a few more” she smiled and planted a warm peck on his cheek which made him go, “Yuck!”
They trotted hand and hand down the cracked narrow sidewalks that had all seen better days. “Who’s next on the list?” Alissa inquired.
“Mr. Mays. He always gives out bags of Skittles.”
“Oh, honey…Brian Mays moved out six months ago. Someone else is living there now.”
“I bet they still have candy. Can we go, mom? Please, please, please.”
“Okay,” she said patiently, still grasping his tiny hand as they walked towards the old Mays house.
She stood several feet from the grey cement porch as Kevin knocked gently and held out his bag of candy.
“Trick or treat!” he exclaimed as the door scraped open. The new homeowner stood empty-handed in the doorway. It was impossible to verify his age. He had the wrinkles of an octogenarian, but the thick black hair and vitality of a man under fifty.
He stood there statuesque with the posture of a soldier. His back straight, legs pressed firmly together like he was getting ready to salute his general. He was a broad shouldered man with chalky skin, a stout neck, and thin, pointy ears that arched back. A black cape with crimson red lining was draped around his neck and extended to the floor. Plastic fangs dripped with what Kevin assumed was corn syrup and red dye. At least that’s what he had hoped.
“Who are you supposed to be?” the man asked.
“I’m The Joker,” Kevin replied. “I’m Batman’s greatest foe.”
“The Joker, huh?” the old man growled. His posture shifted as he leaned forward so that Kevin could feel his cool breath on his face. Kevin was alarmed to notice his plastic fangs didn’t resemble plastic molding up close. “Joke’s on you, kiddo. I’m fresh out of candy.”
Kevin gulped and lowered his bag. “That’s okay,” he assured the man. “No big deal." Then he added, "Nice Dracula costume, by the way.” But his voice was trembling as he said it.
“Who said it was a costume, kiddo?”
“Alright you’ve scared him enough,” Alissa said as she ascended the cement porch. “You’ve had your fun. Now back off, creep.”
The caped man snatched the nape of Alissa’s neck and he drew her closer, his teeth sinking into her throat.
Lifeless, her body sank to the porch and the caped man wiped away the red from his lips. “I love this time of year,” he said smoothly. “Now get over here, kiddo. Let’s see if The Joker is a match for Dracula.”
A Film Review
Daniel Skye (Randy Benivegna)
Daniel Skye (Randy Benivegna)
I don’t write many film reviews, but after viewing Contracted on Netflix Instant, I feel compelled to give my two cents.
What started off slow and awkward in the first few minutes, changed rapidly as the film progressed. Samantha (Najarra Townsend) has a “one-night stand” (that’s how they phrased it in the brief film synopsis) with some mysterious creep who goes by the nickname BJ (Simon Barrett).
BJ just so happens to be the weirdo we see at the beginning of the film, committing what can aptly be described as an act of necrophilia. It should be noted that the corpse was sporting a toe-tag with a biohazard symbol. Whether or not BJ was aware of this fact is never made clear to the audience.
What is made clear to the audience is that BJ now carries whatever this unknown corpse was inflicted with. And after drugging and taking advantage of sexually confused Samantha, passes the infection along to her.
What unfolds over the course of the next three days is beyond horrific, and would send any rational person scrambling to the ER. Sam loses chunks of hair, her fingernails fall out, her body begins to rot from the inside and out, her eyes fill up with blood and turn red as crimson. If I had to categorize this film, it would fall under the sub-genre of body horror. Think David Cronenberg’s films, except this one packs a much weaker punch.
Her oblivious mother (played by Caroline Williams, who many horror nerds will remember from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2) suspects drugs are the cause in her daughters change in attitude and physical appearance. Her doctor is baffled by the cause and instead of suggesting she seek further help, insists on waiting for tests results. And this is the main problem with the film. Too many characters that are blind to what’s happening.
Her girlfriend Alice (Alice Macdonald) comes off as cold, shallow, and heartless, and is impossible to like or sympathize with from the start. You see, the night she spent with BJ was the first time she’s been with a man in over eight months. After that, she switched sides so to speak and started dating Alice. When Alice learns of Sam’s infidelity, she casts her out without batting an eye. And like many other characters in the film, Alice shows little to no concern for Sam’s deteriorating health.
Living with her mother, Sam tries to get back on her feet by waitressing. When she tells her boss she’s sick and can’t come in, he says she has to because no one else is available to cover her shift. When she arrives and he sees her bloodshot eyes, he questions it. She excuses it as pinkeye and instead of sending her home, he insists on making her work until someone else shows up to cover the shift.
“Oh, you have pinkeye? Please continue serving food to my customers. I’m sure this won’t be bad for business.” Does anyone in this movie have a brain? What showed promise at certain moments failed to deliver big-time in regards to the characters and the decisions that they make. The things these people say and do will leave you baffled.
As will the climax of the film. I won’t give too much away, but the film obviously ends with more questions than answers. And I would’ve been satisfied with that if the film had reached its full potential. Sadly, the characters were flat and clueless, the dialogue was weak, and what could’ve been a great addition to the horror genre simply fell a bit short.
On the cooler side of the pillow, the special makeup effects were on the money here. I guess that’s what most of the budget went into. It certainly didn’t go into hiring a screenwriter to polish up the script.
And Eric England showed promise as a director. As a writer, not so much. But his camera work was solid and Sam’s “transformation” was genuinely disturbing at times, and a few scenes did have me cringing.
On a scale of one to ten, I give Contracted a five.
Sunday, March 30, 2014
Genre: Drama/Dark Comedy
My father once told me it’s a give and take world we live in.
It just tends to take a hell of a lot more than it ever gives. He shared these words of wisdom with me from his deathbed. When that monitor flat lined, so did my purpose in life.
That was when my endless streak of bad luck commenced. Realistically, it’s the only form of luck I’ve ever truly been associated with. Actual, genuine luck has avoided me like some baneful plague my entire life.
Most guys don’t get fired for starting a contained fire at the company Christmas party. Then again, most guys don’t come home early to find their fiancé in bed with a Filipino dwarf named Rubin. And most guys don’t subsequently lose their spacious two-bedroom apartment to said fiancé and her new half-man.
Then again, most guys aren’t Leonard Howard.
I’ve heard the best revenge is living well. Well, whoever said that can frankly go to hell. If you call being relegated to a windowless studio apartment living well, then I guess I’m doing pretty damn well for myself. My apartment is so small there’s not even enough room to pace back and forth. I have to go outside just to get away from myself for a few minutes.
My next-door neighbor thinks her apartment was converted into a night club and so she blasts techno music nonstop. With a strand of hope, she’ll be deaf within a year. She’s the one who lives on the left.
On the right is a Lithuanian immigrant with an affinity for action movies. Did I mention he loves watching them full blast? With the volume so loud, I can actually make out all the dialogue between rounds of gunfire and explosions. Today he’s watching True Lies with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
And the girl who lives above me is a fitness buff and uses her apartment as a personal gym to do her workout. Sometimes it sounds like her and her treadmill is going to crash through my ceiling and squash me like a bug. And at this point, it would be the best thing that could happen.
I went upstairs to complain once. But she mistook my frustration for flirtation and left the door, came back a few seconds later brandishing a can of mace. I never bothered to knock again.
The other girl, the one who thinks she’s at an all-night rave, is beyond communication. I’m not sure what planet she came from, but I wish she’d go back. I asked her nicely to turn her music down. She responded by thanking me for a compliment about her blond hair. A compliment I never made to begin with. That’s when I knew she was a few beers short of a six-pack.
And I barely see the Lithuanian dude. If he wasn’t constantly swapping movies in his DVD player, I wouldn’t even know he was alive.
Javed, my landlord, is always busting my hump about the rent. I make it my mission to avoid him like you would try to avoid a case of the clap. He can’t call me because my cell phone got turned off months ago. Apparently that can happen if you don’t pay your bill two months straight.
Some days I think about leaving it all behind, packing up and starting fresh somewhere new. Then I remember I have less than five thousand dollars in my bank account and starting fresh clearly isn’t an option.
* * *
Javed, my landlord shows up five. There are no windows to sneak out of, so it looks like he’s got me cornered.
I open the door after letting him knock for five minutes straight and he looks pissed off. I make up a lie about being in the shower even though my hair is dry as a bone. “No more excuses,” he yells with his thick accent that always makes me crack a smirk. “You pay rent now, motherfucker.”
I dust off my checkbook and write him a postdated check for the rent. It’s dated three years from now. He pockets the check without noticing the date and scolds me some more with his peculiar, possibly Middle Eastern accent. “You nothing but bum. You can’t pay rent, can’t work. What good you for?”
I wait until Javed is gone before laughing it up good at our brief encounter. Then I realize I don’t have much to laugh about. Eventually he’s going to discover that check is worthless and he’s probably going to evict me.
Oh well, things can’t get much worse. If I wind up moving, I won’t have much to move. Most of my things were destroyed in storage when the place caught fire. The whole incident reeked of insurance fraud. But I did get compensated for the loss. Unfortunately all that money was spent on a lawyer and finding a new apartment when Fran gave me the boot.
All I have is a bed, a small wardrobe, and an old television that even the most desperate robber wouldn’t dare steal. I don’t even have a car anymore.
I got nailed for DWI two weeks after the little incident at the company Christmas party. My office refused to press charges against me. But the incident, combined with the DWI, forced the judge to suspend my license. The judge also made attending AA meetings on a weekly basis a mandatory requirement. I wish they had given me ten thousand hours of community service instead. The people you meet at those kinds of meetings are the reasons judges exist in the first place.
I check the mini fridge; find that it’s empty again. I have another meeting in two hours and I don’t feel like going grocery shopping. I don’t even know if I have the money to spare. I have another session with Kazarian tomorrow and he’s going to want the money upfront this time, seeing as how the last check bounced.
My friends used to call me Lucky Lenny. I don’t know if they were being ironic, but if they saw me now, they’d probably cry. Or laugh. Lenny’s luck ran out like his fiancé, and it’s not coming back.
* * *
There’s an old joke my father used to tell me. “Doctor gives a guy six months to live. He can’t pay his bills, so the doctor gives him another six months.” In my father’s case, the doctor gave him two years at best.
My old man refused treatment at first, until the cancer spread through his lungs and restricted his breathing. Out of fear of it spreading to the rest of his body, he reluctantly signed on for chemo and radiation.
He went through a range of side effects caused by the treatments. His hair gradually fell out. He lost a considerable amount of weight. His appetite diminished. Some days he was sluggish and dead to the world. Other days he was energetic and still full of zest.
We spent the last six months crossing off every notch on his bucket list. Visit the champagne room of a strip club. Free the animals from a local zoo. Go streaking. Build a fort. Visit Niagara Falls. Eat an entire crave case at White Castle. Take a ride in a hot air balloon. Go to a bar just to start a fight. Yes, these were all things on my dad’s bucket list.
Though, we did get arrested for our stunt at the zoo. Thankfully the zookeeper and the owners refused to press charges since nobody was hurt and no real damage was done to the property. I can’t say the same for the guy who had monkey shit smeared all over his windshield.
Eventually the chemo and radiation took its toll and dad was reduced to a virtual zombie. He didn’t eat. Some days, he rarely even spoke. Just sat there and stared off into space. That’s when I knew his time was dwindling.
The day he finally let go, a wave of relief washed over me. I took solace in the fact he wasn’t suffering anymore.
I wish I could say the same for myself.
My meeting starts around seven o’clock. In the real world, my name is Leonard Howard, or Lenny to those who know me best.
But in the AA world, I’m Rico. Horrible choice, I know. As a flabby thirty year old Caucasian, I look about the furthest thing from a Rico. But I did it as a joke the first night I was here, and then I realized I was stuck with it.
Everyone helps themselves to a cup of coffee and munches on stale doughnuts brought by Frank, the alcoholic who ran down his neighbor when he crashed through his fence and blew a 0.10 on the Breathalyzer.
Frank’s been sober for eight years. Five of those years were spent behind bars for vehicular manslaughter.
As everybody pulls up a chair and we sit in a semi-circle, the first timers all take turns standing up to introduce themselves.
A man in a red baseball cap stands up.
His name is Jimmy, and he’s an alcoholic.
Another man stands up, pale and emaciated. His name is Gary, and he’s an alcoholic.
Among this group of degenerates and lowlifes, I spot a new face. Since it’s her first time around, she gets up and introduces herself as Anna. Like me, she is here by order of the court.
I’ve just laid eyes on her and she already drives me wild. It might be the shoulder-length red hair. There’s something about red hair that always lights my fire.
Or it could be that she slightly resembles Fran, my ex-fiancé.
Like Fran, Anna has fair skin, a slim hourglass figure. But her hair is a much darker shade of red. The glitter of her mascara makes her eyes appear to twinkle every time she blinks. It’s almost hypnotizing.
I scan both hands for a wedding ring.
She’s single. I mean, at least she’s not married. If she has a boyfriend, he’s not here to support her. And that’s how it sort of goes for people in the program. Aside from our sponsors, we’re truly alone in this struggle.
As the meeting eventually comes to a close, I time my exit so that Anna and I reach the door at exactly the same time. My lips part and I try to speak, but no words escape.
My throat is dry and I can fell the air leaving my lungs rapidly. Not again, I think. Not another panic attack.
Outside, I lean against the wall to catch my breath and she steps ahead of me without even noticing and disappears into the night.
Five minutes later, I catch my breath and regain my composure. By then, Anna is long gone with everybody else.
This was just her first meeting, I remind myself. She’ll be here tomorrow again. You’ll have another chance. You just need to get control.
* * *
The next morning, I go to see Doctor Kazarian for my latest session. The lobby receptionist asks for two hundred dollars upfront as I anticipated. I had stopped at the bank on my walk over and withdrew three hundred – two for the session, one for the medication and groceries.
Kazarian knows I don’t have an insurance plan, so he writes me generic scripts for Xanax. They cost around thirty dollars a bottle for ninety pills.
Breathe. He repeats the word over and over, droning on like some insipid song playing on a continuous loop. Breathe, relax. Breathe, open your lungs. Breathe, take in the air. Breathe in deep, and breathe out all the negative energy.
These breathing exercises are supposed to help with my anxiety attacks. But they’re even worse than the dope he prescribes to me.
I loathe the concept the chemical dependency. It seems like half the population is dependent on some form of medication to carry them through the day. But I still take them because A. He tests me to see if I am, and B. I hate to admit it, but they do help.
The anxiety attacks were something I experienced shortly after high school graduation. It was the middle of summer, and a buddy and I were stuck in a traffic jam at the core of a hundred degree heat wave. The heat wave had started on a Monday and reached its peak that Thursday, as we were caught in the center lane of Sunrise Highway.
As traffic moved forward and we drove under a narrow overpass, I suddenly froze and my foot barely managed to find the brake. I couldn’t breathe. I felt trapped inside a tiny box. All the air had been sucked from my lungs in seconds. My chest was tighter than a snare drum and it felt like someone had their boot pressed on the back of my throat.
I managed to pull over and passed the wheel on to my buddy. He drove the rest of the way. I saw a shrink, took some pills, and after a while it went away. Or so I thought.
The attacks started again, not too long after I got shit canned at my office.
Kazarian’s face is pale and stiff as an ironing board. His green mackerel eyes are cold and lifeless. He speaks his words slowly and with such apathy it makes my stomach churn. He has the exuberance of a life-size cardboard cutout. Put a twist-tie in his hair and he could be a loaf of white bread.
There’s a brown stain on the lapel of his tweed blazer. He keeps telling me to breathe, relax, and take in all the air. And all I keep thinking about is how unprofessional it is for him to be walking around in this soiled jacket. I’m tempted to say something about it, but I let it slide as Kazarian shifts into the therapy portion of our session.
“How are you feeling today?” he asks.
“Better,” I nod.
“And you’ve been sleeping okay?”
“Yes,” I say, trying to keep my answers vague and short.
“Because you look exhausted.”
“Amorous neighbors,” I chuckle nervously. “They’re newlyweds. They keep me up a lot at night with all the noise they make.”
“I had that problem once,” Kazarian shares casually, as if I cared to know. “Had to move eventually.”
“Well, I’m not in the position to move right now.”
“How is the medication helping?”
“It helps a lot,” I say through gritted teeth. Another lie. But my lies are more than transparent to a man like Kazarian. He’s trained to see through the bullshit, and that’s about all I ever feed him. Lies and bullshit.
“I hate it when you lie,” he says concisely.
“Why, because it’s your job?” I fire back.
“I don’t lie,” Kazarian defends himself. “I ask people questions, I make observations, and I try to help them.”
“Some job you’re doing with me. I’m wondering why I sought help in the first place.”
“It doesn’t matter why you sought help. What matters is you realized that you needed it. Now if the medication isn’t helping, we can try an alternative.”
“No, it’s fine,” I say, trying to sound sincere. “I’d rather stick with Xanax then something I’ve never tried before.”
“Very well. Lenny, would you like to talk about the fire?”
“What’s there to talk about? I was drunk, I had just lost my fiancé.”
“You still started a fire in your office.”
“It was a contained fire. Just a few shredded papers inside a garbage pail. Nobody got hurt.”
“And the papers just happened to be important documents your boss was expecting on his desk that week?”
“What can I say,” I shrug. “It was there.”
“Lenny, why did you really start the fire?”
I sigh. “You know…I thought I had lost control that day. But I realize I lost control way before that. I think that day was the first time I was actually in control. I think in a way, the fire helped me free a part of myself. It helped me get some of that control back.”
“So you’re saying the fire was cathartic?”
“I don’t know what I’m saying. But I was a slave to that job for so many years. It just felt time to move on.”
“And that was your way of moving on?”
“If you want to think of it that way.”
“Where are you working now?”
“I help out a few days at my friend Jeff’s comic store.”
“And how’s that? Better than the office?”
“The job is great. The pay, not so much.”
This bland conversation progresses for another thirty or so minutes, until Kazarian looks down at his watch and says, “Time’s up.”
“Same time next month?” I ask, and he nods as he writes me out a new prescription slip. I accept the slip and he dismisses me, telling me that his receptionist will pencil me in for an appointment next month.
I walk to Morton’s Pharmacy after the session, hand in my script. It takes twenty minutes to fill. I still have an hour to spare before my next AA meeting.
As I walk down Merrick Road, I twist the cap off the prescription bottle and swallow one Xanax dry as if I’m swallowing my own pride.
At the grocery store, I stock up on bread, eggs, milk, cheese, peanut butter and jelly, spaghetti. Whatever I can afford.
It’s not much, but it will suffice. Between the medication and constant self-loathing, I don’t eat nearly as much as I used to.
My shit-box apartment is five blocks away from the grocery store. I peek around the corner to make sure Javed isn’t waiting for me. He isn’t.
Inside, I pack all my groceries away and listen to my neighbor blast Justin Bieber while the other watches Apocalypse Now at full volume. I reach for my script and twist the cap, then have second thoughts.
What am I doing here? This is no way to live. Dodging landlords. Downing pills to deal with the pressure. Attending meetings packed with recovering degenerates.
This isn’t me. This isn’t what I used to be. And shit, I think I have another meeting tonight. And I think it’s my turn to bring the doughnuts.
But right now, I’m thinking fuck the doughnuts. And fuck these pills.
I walk to the bathroom, tilt the bottle, and drop the remaining eighty-nine pills into the toilet. I breathe in deeply, and with one quick flush, I exhale and watch all my dependency swirl away and flow down the drain.
I’ll call Kazarian in the morning and tell him I won’t be back.
* * *
I show up at the meeting empty-handed and find out it wasn’t my turn to bring the doughnuts after all.
I also see that Anna has returned. This time she doesn’t say anything. Just watches quietly as everyone else goes around introducing themselves, sharing sob stories.
As the meeting comes to an end, I feel the anxiety stirring inside me. But I stand up, take a deep breath, and exhale. I brush it aside with ease and pull myself back to reality.
I approach her with an attempt at confidence. I look at this opportunity as a last ditch effort at turning my luck around. And I have literally nothing to lose at this point.
“The name’s Lenny,” I introduce myself. For this occasion, it sounds better than Leonard. Or Rico.
“Anna,” she says back.
“You’re new here. I saw you the other night. Got a sponsor?”
“Not yet,” she shook her head, her dark red hair waving from side to side.
“Maybe I could be your sponsor. We could grab a cup of coffee sometime and talk if you’d like.”
“I honestly hate coffee,” she admits. “I just drink it here because that’s all they serve. It tastes like liquid chalk to me.”
“I hate coffee too,” I say, relieved that I won’t have to down more of that disgusting crap. “You know, you’re not the only one the courts made come here.”
“Oh yeah?” she smirks. “What’d you do?”
I hesitate for a second before I confess, “I started a fire at my office.”
“Awesome,” she laughs and gives me a swift pat on the back. “I stole my boss’s car. Guy was a total perv. He always used to hit on me and say the most inappropriate things. Tried to grab my behind a couple of times. I smacked him good for that once.”
“If I’m not being too straightforward, how’d you like to go out to dinner with me sometime?”
“I could go for a drink instead,” she smiles and takes my hand.
Gripping her hand loosely, I smile back and I think to myself, maybe starting fresh is an option after all.
Thursday, March 13, 2014
Note to readers: This story is a follow-up to three previously published stories titled “Tight Spaces”, “Flat Tire”, and “Vulnerable”, which you can read by searching the blog archive on the right-hand side of the page.
DOUBLE DOG DARE
When I saw the bottle of tequila, I knew we were in for one hell of a night. It started with the four of us gathered under Community, sheltering ourselves from the rain as we ripped bongs and passed the bottle around in a circle.
Community was a local hangout for all the quote-unquote dirt bags of Westlake Senior High School. It was a wide concrete footbridge that extended from school property to an adjacent neighborhood across Route 27. If you snuck under the footbridge opposite side of the school, the bridge itself would shield you from the neighboring road. And at night, the drivers on Route 27 couldn’t see you either.
We called it Community because it was a neighborhood spot. Lots of kids from school used to gather there on a Friday night to share beers and trade stories. We even had a community bong we all shared and kept hidden under the footbridge.
Once a week, one of us would be assigned the task of changing the bong water. Though, I don’t think anyone actually ever did it. After a few months, the water was so black with ash it looked like a pitcher of cola.
It was a homemade bong I had constructed myself out of a gallon water jug and two liter soda bottle. Instead of a slide, I used the cap from the soda bottle and melted a ratchet piece through the center to pack your weed inside of. It wasn’t pretty, but it definitely did the trick.
There was me (Matt), Chris, Shane, and Chris’s boy, who introduced himself as Yardi. Not from our school. I think he was from Braxton. Though, I couldn’t care less.
“The name’s Yardi,” he said in clever fashion, leading me up to the pun. “But they call me Bacardi ’cause I always bring the party.”
“Has anyone ever called you a fucking obnoxious douchebag before?” I muttered under my breath, so low that no one could hear it but me.
In less than an hour, we polished off half the bottle of tequila. And we still had a sixer of beer and a bottle of Jack.
As Shane wandered off to relieve himself in the bushes and Yardi packed a bong with someone else’s weed, Chris asked, “Truth or dare?”
“Truth or dare?” I repeated. “That’s so lame. What are we, fifth graders? You wanna play spin the bottle, next?”
“Just pick one,” he slurred. “Come on, it’ll be fun.”
“Fine,” I groaned. “Truth.”
“Out of all the teachers in our school, which one do you want to fuck the most?”
“She’s married,” Shane said as he returned from his piss. “And she has two kids.”
“So?” I shrugged, standing by my choice. “Ok, my turn. Truth or dare, Shane?”
“You know me, man. Dare.”
“I dare you to drink some of that bong water.” I didn’t think he would actually do it, but he actually walked over, picked the thing up, tilted it, and took a sip of that black water. Of course, he puked two seconds later and we all had a good laugh.
When he made a full recovery, it was Shane’s turn. “Truth or dare, Chris?”
“Dare. Definitely dare.”
“Oh, I’ve got a good one,” he grinned, somewhat malevolently. “I dare you to take a walk in Fort Hill Cemetery.”
A sudden chill rushed down my spine just at the mention. It must’ve been contagious because all of us were quivering a bit. All except Shane, who was so wasted on tequila and bong water he was practically rolling at the thought.
“I’ve got an idea,” Yardi said, and suddenly I hated him a bit more. “How about we all go?”
“Now there’s a plan,” Shane howled.
Fort Hill Cemetery was where the police had discovered the bodies of Amelia Walsh, Todd Brennan, Georgia Nelson, and Kaylee Thompson. Their bodies found buried in unmarked graves. And with the exception of Brennan, they were all buried alive in each case.
Westlake had tried to impose a curfew since the arrival of the anonymous Gravedigger who had been terrorizing our town for months. But try keeping a bunch of potheads and hooligans off the streets after dark.
Roamers were born to roam. And as this night dictated, we were destined to roam the grounds of Fort Hill Cemetery based on a foolish dare.
It was a farther walk than I had anticipated. Luckily, we didn’t cross paths with any cops along the way. The ominous iron gates of Fort Hill were visibly locked, but not impossible to climb.
Even drunk, I managed to scale the gate in less than a minute. Shane is so skinny he managed to squeeze sideways between the bars.
We roamed the premises, Yardi making Friday the 13th noises the entire time. Ka-ka-ka, cha-cha-cha. I was just about ready to turn his lights out when he pointed out he never got a turn in our little game.
“Truth or dare, Yardi?” Chris asked.
“Dare,” he said boldly.
“I dare you, no, I double dog dare you…to grab that shovel over there, and dig up one of these graves."
“That’s just wrong,” Shane shook his head.
“Fuck it,” Yardi said, collecting the shovel that had been carelessly left about the grounds. “I’ll do it.”
“You don’t really have to,” I said.
“Nah, you guys all followed through. I gotta do the same. None of that chicken shit.”
The rain had ceased, but the downpour had loosened the soil. To make things easier on himself, he picked the freshest grave he could find. The dirt had been recently settled and there wasn’t even a headstone in place yet.
He didn’t get more than three feet before the shovel scraped the lid of a wooden coffin.
“That’s a pretty shallow grave,” Shane laughed. “Maybe the gravedigger got lazy and half-assed it.”
“Or maybe the real Gravedigger got here first,” I said, and that brought Shane’s laughter to a halt.
“HELP!” someone screamed. For a second, I thought it was Yardi messing around again. Until I heard it a second time and his lips weren’t moving. “LET ME OUT OF HERE!” the man in the coffin pleaded.
The four of us worked together, yanking and pulling until the lid snapped open. The man sat up, gasping for air as the color rushed back to his face.
It was Willy Capri, owner of Capri Bakery. Home of the best cannoli’s on Long Island. As for what he was doing buried three feet under was a story for the police.
I can’t speak for the other guys, but I felt a bit heroic. We hadn’t broken curfew, trespassed on forbidden property, vandalized a gravesite, and in the end, we had really saved a life and foiled a murder attempt. And the cops had given us a pass for it all.
Willy Capri lived to tell his story to the police. He was locking up Capri Bakery around eight o’clock when he was approached by Patrick Downey, a local police officer. Downey had clubbed him unconscious and loaded him in the back of his patrol car.
Of course the local police quickly discovered Patrick Downey wasn’t his real name. His full name was Charles Lee Gein. Whoever the real Patrick Downey was, he clearly had no use for the name anymore.
But by the time the cops had learned this, Charles Lee Gein had caught wind of it and moved on. When they arrived at his place, all that remained was his uniform, a few pair of slacks, and some abandoned dishes and utensils.
The cops put out an APB for him, but their manhunt yielded no results. Downey had slipped through the cracks, but the legend of the Gravedigger would live on forever in Westlake.
The officers made sure to note that Gein was armed and considered extremely dangerous. Though he had left his uniform behind, he had taken his service revolver with him.
A desolate highway rest stop along Route 27.
A business man named Sid Hodder.
A rusty Oldsmobile Cutlass.
Charles Lee Gein was recuperating in the men’s room, formulating an escape plan when the opportunity approached him.
“What’s your name?” Gein asked.
“Where you heading?”
“How tall are you?”
“Never mind. You look about my height and weight. I think you’ll do just fine, Sid Hodder."
Thursday, March 6, 2014
THE EYES HAVE IT
Tom Brooks was a reporter for the Daily Buzz. And as Tom would tell you, the word truth had no value in his line of work. He wasn’t paid to write the truth. He was paid to hunt down the truth and exploit it. And that’s how Tom saw the news. He saw it for what it really was: Mass exploitation.
On this rainy September day, Brooks’ editor had shipped him off to Braxton to interview a man named Ben Loomis. Loomis claimed to have new information on the Dwayne Urig case. Information he was more than willing to share… for a price.
And if this business had taught Tom Brooks anything, it’s that everyone has a price. The truth can bought just as easily as it can be molded or adjusted to sell a few extra copies.
His editor had sent Brooks along with a blank check, as Loomis had not bothered to list an official price. He just made it clear that he did indeed have one. But what that price was remained a mystery to the staff of the Daily Buzz.
Brooks’ editor instructed him to pay no more than twelve-hundred for whatever information Loomis was offering. But when Brooks arrived, Loomis avoided the conversation of money and shifted to something else.
He invited Brooks into the living room, which reminded him of something has grandmother threw together once Alzheimer’s set in. The plaid couch was sealed in a plastic slipcover. The wool carpet was purple and made Brooks ponder if Loomis was colorblind. So did the mustard yellow wallpaper, which proved to be an instant eyesore to Brooks. There was an antique armoire in one corner and an antique credenza in the other. Even the lamp that sat atop the credenza appeared ancient. Brooks couldn’t help but wonder if Loomis arranged this place himself. But he didn’t dare ask. He didn’t want to offend a potential news source.
The fragrance of stale cigarette smoke hung heavy in the air. The whole place reeked like the bottom of an ashtray.
“You know I was once premed?” Loomis said in a dry, raspy voice. His poor throat had been ravaged from years of smoking and health negligence. “I got booted out. Hand tremors. I don’t have that problem anymore. My hands are steady as a board. But none of that makes a difference. I’ve got the Big C.”
“The Big C?”
“Cancer. It started in my lungs. Spread through the rest of my body. It’s rotting me from the inside as we speak. That’s why you’re here. I need to clear my conscience before I’m dead and buried. I need to tell you the truth about Dwayne Urig’s murder.”
“Dwayne Urig hasn’t been declared dead yet. Just missing.”
“He’s dead. I can assure you of that.”
“How could you know for sure? Did you kill Dwayne Urig?” Brooks scoffed just at the thought of this old man harming a hair on someone’s head.
“I most certainly did not. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t dead.”
“You want me to show you the body? I can’t. But I can tell you things nobody but the local police are aware of.”
“So please tell me. That’s what I’m here for. To tell your story.”
“Save your patronizing attitude for the next schmuck. You’re here to do your job and make your bosses rich in the process. That’s all you’re here for. Now, as you’re aware of, Dwayne Urig isn’t the first resident of Braxton to be declared missing. Several residents have either vanished or died under questionable circumstances in the past six months.”
“Yes, I’m aware of this,” Brooks nodded his head.
“What you’re not aware of, because the police have been trying to keep a lid on it, is the fact that this is all the work of one person. They don’t know if it’s a man or a woman, but they’re leaning towards a man due to the vicious nature of the crimes.”
“Are you saying there’s a serial killer on the loose in Braxton?”
“That’s precisely what I’m trying to convey. And that’s how I know Dwayne Urig isn’t missing. He’s dead. Nobody goes missing for three weeks in Braxton and turns up alive. Not these days.”
“Why haven’t the police notified the press?”
“They’re trying to keep it under wraps. Plus I hear there’s some internal dissention in the department about what to call the killer. You know how all these psychos have a nickname? Half the department wants to call them the Surgeon and the other half is pushing for the Optometrist.”
“Yes, it’s a doctor who examines people’s eyes.”
“Where’d they get that name from?”
“This killer… apparently uses a scalpel to remove his victims eyeballs. Plucks them right out of the skull with the skill of a professional surgeon.”
“Again, how could you possibly know all this?”
“Get your notepad ready… A month ago, I was walking down Braxton Boulevard. It was late, after dark. If I hadn’t almost tripped over her, I might’ve never seen her. She was sprawled out on the sidewalk, eight months pregnant. I screamed for help, but it was too late. Her throat had been slashed, eyes ripped from her skull. Should I continue?”
“Yes,” Brooks said, gulping. He was parched, his throat dried up. He could feel his muscles growing tense. “Please continue.” Though he wasn’t so sure he wanted to hear the conclusion of this grim story.
“The miraculous thing was that the baby survived. The paramedics rushed her to the hospital and they performed an emergency C-section. It was a boy. They named him Ben, after me.”
“You’re shitting me,” Brooks said in disbelief.
“Damned if I am. They hooked the baby up to an incubator. Tubes and machines nourished the baby and pumped air in and out of its tiny frame. It was only four pounds and four ounces. It fit in the palm of your hand, like a miniature stuffed animal or something. I’ll tell you, it was adorable though. Precious. It had the lightest shade of blue eyes I’ve ever seen.”
Ben Loomis’ expression grew icy cold. Brooks saw the murderous glint in his eyes just a second too late.
“Powder blue eyes… just like his mother.”