Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Halloween Tale plus an excerpt from what one reviewer has called "page for page the scariest thing I've ever read"

Best Friend (BFF)
Do you ever feel like your life is a movie and you're just moving through it? It’s more like you're watching it, than living it, and you just wonder what's going to happen next, or how it’s going to end. That's the way it's been for me, for years. A therapist once told me it's called ‘clinical depression.’ I just call it sad and lonely. At 26 it's rough not to have anybody. My parents have passed on. Most of my family lives far away, and it’s kind of a small family anyway. My girlfriend just broke up with me, though she really didn’t want to. She's a wonderful girl actually; sweet and giving and beautiful. After going together for a few years, she just felt I wasn't any closer to being able to commit. I'm sure she's right. I have trouble doing anything. If I lived in an earlier time, back before computers, I probably wouldn't even be able to feed and clothe myself. I design computer games. I started when I was 16 years old, reviewing them on gaming sites, and then it turned out I had an aptitude to build them from scratch. Gee, a geek who can’t commit. How appealing. It's not that I can't make friends; I just don't make a lot of them. I don’t think I had many friends in elementary school. I had a pretty good friend in high school. His name was Richard and we were going to start a digital gaming business together. That was before he died of an opportunistic infection after contracting HIV AIDS. I know I shouldn’t just be walking around the streets of Brooklyn pitying myself, but I do it a lot. Walking around and thinking is all I do in my free time, and I think the walking around makes me feel better, but the thinking brings me back to worse. I miss my girlfriend. She really was the best thing to ever happen to me. I don't know why I have so much trouble committing. The thought of getting engaged makes me so nauseous, I'm sure I'd throw up all over her if I tried to slip a ring on her finger---which might, quite possibly, kill the moment. Thinking about all of this, I was overcome by sadness and I sat down on the curb and did my best not to cry. If you live, work, or have visited Brooklyn, you're probably thinking it’s not a very good idea to sit down on a curb and be so low you won’t be visible to cars. You’d be right, which is why I was about to get hit by a car that was going way too fast pulling into the parking spot where I was sitting. “Hey, look out!” A little boy cried out as he jumped off the curb next to me, and pulled me up, and we both put our hands up towards the car. The car hit its brake and shook violently to a stop. “That guy needs new shocks.” The kid said, looking at me. I stood up, and we both stepped back onto the curb, and started walking away together as the guy in the car was sticking his head out of his window, trying to park while at the same time cursing at us. “Thanks kid!” I said. “I don't know if you saved my life, but I suspect you saved a part of it anyway.” I smiled as I looked down at the kid. I'm not good at judging ages, but I figured he was about seven or eight. He had a round head with a buzz cut, a chubby round body and cute little stubby hands. He wore a faded red striped T-shirt and a pair of old looking jeans. The shirt looked a little light for a crisp fall day like today. “My name is Georgie.” He said. “What's yours?” “I'm Alan.” I responded. Something about this kid seemed very familiar. Maybe that he vaguely looked like Charlie Brown. Even the name---Georgie---Charlie--- maybe that's why even his name seemed familiar. You don't really meet a lot of Georgies, do you? “You look awful sad Alan." Georgie observed. “I am sad. I broke up with a very good girl, and I don't have a lot of friends.” “What about your family?” Georgie asked. “My parents are dead and my brother lives a thousand miles away.” “I'm alone too.” Georgie said. “My parents and my sister died when our house went on fire.” “Oh, I’m sorry Georgie.” “Me too. I sure miss them. I miss not having a friend too. I live with my grandma. She's real nice, but she’s old and sick and she tells me she won't be able to take care of me much longer and I’ll have to go live in foster care. That's where you go live with someone else's family.” Georgie explained. “You got a lot going on for such a young kid. How old are you?” “I'm 6. How old are you?" “I’m 26.” “Wow, you're old!” Georgie exclaimed. “But you still remind me of my best friend in first grade, right before the fire, and before I had to leave that school.” “So the fire just happened. I didn't realize it was so recent.” “What?” Georgie asked. “You’re six, so aren't you still in first grade? All of that happened this year” “Oh yeah…I wasn’t sure what you meant.” Georgie said a little dazed. He must still be in shock from all the terrible things that recently happened. “Where does your grandmother live?” “She lives on 67th Street between 18th and 19th Avenue.” “That's more than a mile from here.” I said suspiciously. “I like to take walks.” Georgie responded. I was starting to get worried that he was a runaway. “I like to take walks too. Why don't I walk you home?” I asked, getting ready to counter his vague excuses. “Sure that would be nice. But I don't have to go home just yet, so maybe we can hang out?” He asked sheepishly. “You like pizza?” “Sure who doesn’t?!” Georgie responded. “Then let’s go have some. I know a nice place on 18th Ave.” We started to walk and we started to talk. Georgie liked everything I did when I was his age, and truthfully I still like a lot of it now. He likes the old arcade games, he likes chess and he likes to watch science fiction movies. He loves pizza. He's practically a little ‘me’. When we were done with the pizza I looked at my watch I realized it had been three hours since I first met Georgie. Truthfully, it was the most fun I've had since I broke up with Mary. But I didn't know if his grandmother was getting worried. All she needed to do was call the police and say he was missing, and when they found the six-year-old hanging out with the single 26-year-old guy, I'd end up spending the night in jail trying to prove I’m not a weirdo. “I've got to get you home.” I said. “Aww,” he gave a dejected moan, “Can we play again?” “Sure. I have some free time tomorrow. I can meet you at your grandma's house after school, about 3:30.” “I'm free!” Georgie smiled, very excited at the prospect. “Maybe I could meet your grandmother I can bring some cookies.” “Sure that would be nice.” We walked to his grandma's house and stood outside the front gate. I offered to walk him inside, but he said his grandma wasn't used to strangers and he should let her know about me first. Then right before he went through the gate, he said something unexpected. “Did you ever think of taking a foster son?” I looked at him and for the first time a kid made my heart melt. “I don't think they give little boys to single guys,” I said. I meant to smile like it was a little bit of a joke, but it didn’t come out that way, because I honestly felt a little sad about it. “Maybe you won't always be single. You said you really miss Mary. I bet she really misses you too. I know she does. If you decide it's time to grow up, maybe you two can get married, and you could both take me in.” He smiled a little smile, and then went into the gate and started walking to the front door. I turned to leave, and then realized I should wait to make sure everything was okay, but when I turned back he must've already gone inside. I went home thinking about how strongly I felt about this little boy, and how much I missed Mary. * * * That night I had a disturbing dream. I was with Georgie in an old house, but it was not any house I lived in, and it didn’t seem to me to be his grandmother’s house either. There was a figure ahead of us wearing a hooded robe. It stuck out a hand, I think for me to shake it. Its hand and exposed forearm were a sickly blue color, with green patches, and red swollen sores all over. I did not touch it, and I pushed Georgie behind me. I said to the figure, “I thought no one was living here.” And it replied, “There is no one living here.” It let out a maniacal laugh as it held up a large wooden stick match. A flame burst out of the end, and then I heard a scream behind me. I turned to Georgie and he was as pale as a ghost, but instead of wearing his striped shirt, he was now in a fine brown suit with a white shirt and brown bow tie. He said “We shouldn’t have come here.” Then I felt a cold hand grab my shoulder and---I jumped awake in my bed. * * * The next day I couldn't believe how much I was looking forward to the afternoon, when I would be able to see Georgie again. He was one of those people, hard to explain, you feel like you've known them a long time, and even more than that, you feel like you've liked them a long time, like they're already your friend. I picked up some cookies at a local bakery, but when I got to his grandma's house Georgie was sitting outside on the steps. “What's the matter?” I asked “Nothing, just my grandma didn't feel so good and went to the doctor. She wanted me to go with her, but I told her my friend was coming over, so she let me wait out here for you because she didn’t want me to bring strangers into the house.” “Oh.” I said. “Then who’s going to eat all these cookies?” Georgie smiled and I ripped open the box, and as we started walking away from the house we both grabbed some cookies. A little later we were sitting in the park ,still eating cookies, and talking about whether we might like to go bowling, when I asked Georgie, “What exactly is your grandma's name?” “Why?” He asked suspiciously. “Because I really do need to meet her. I can't just keep hanging out with a six-year-old without anybody knowing, and giving me permission. And when I meet her, I don't really want to stick out my hand,” which I did for emphasis, “and say hello Georgie's grandma, nice to meet you.” Georgie laughed and said “Edna McDaniel.” “Thank you.” We were leaving the park when I realized Georgie was wearing the same shirt as the other day. It worried me as to whether things were worse at home than he said and maybe his grandmother was too sick to take care of him, and he wasn’t telling anyone for fear he would be taken away. I leaned in to sniff his shirt but there was no odor at all. “What are you doing?” He asked. “Georgie, I can’t help notice you’re wearing the same shirt you wore yesterday. I was concerned that maybe your grandmother was too sick to take care of you properly.” “No. This is my favorite shirt. She washes it every night for me, and then complains that I can’t keep going out of the house dressed like this.” Georgie seemed annoyed so I dropped the subject since I didn’t see any reason to continue. We did decide to go bowling and afterward, on the way to bringing Georgie home I realized; “Hey tomorrow is Halloween. What are you going to dress as?” “A ghost—but not just any ghost—Charlie Brown, like in his comic and cartoon. Lots of holes for the face, so it looks stupid!” Georgie grinned. “Cool! Good one.” I smiled. “My grandma can’t walk enough to take me trick or treating, and I don’t have many friends, so I’m not sure I really need to dress up. What about you?” He asked. “A few years ago I was invited to a costume party, and I made an entire outfit with rubber rats sewn all over it, holes ripped all through it and blood stains everywhere---a rat attack. I haven’t worn it in years, but I will dig it out---if you will let me go trick or treating with you!” Georgie’s face lit up as I said it. I dropped Georgie off at home. We agreed to meet the next day---Halloween---at his house after school. He also said I could meet his grandmother after we trick or treated, if she was up to it. He said I couldn’t meet her now, because he didn’t know how she was feeling since returning from the doctor. On the walk home I made some decisions. Though I knew it was crazy that a six-year-old was helping me work out my life, Georgie was right, I needed to decide to grow up. I would try to work things out with Mary because I really did love her, and miss her, and want to be with her. I also needed to see what was going to happen to Georgie. Mary and I were not yet in a position to say if we would ever to be able to adopt Georgie, since technically we still weren’t even a couple, and Mary didn’t know about any of this! But it seemed to me that maybe I could get a better sense of what was going on and how much time I had, if I spoke to Georgie's grandmother. Perhaps we could work out an informal arrangement if she were comfortable and trusted me, where I could take responsibility for him periodically to help her out and give her a break. Maybe that could extend the amount of time she could remain his primary caretaker, until I was in a better position to take him. I decided I would speak to Mary tonight about getting back together, and let her know that I was ready to be a grownup, and tomorrow I would go meet with George's grandmother. * * * That night I had another bad dream. Mary and I were living in a house with Georgie. The house looked old, or at least the appliances and furniture looked old-fashioned. There was a knock at the door and suddenly I realized that a fierce thunderstorm was raging. Mary opened the door and screamed. I called her name as I ran to her, to see what happened, but there was no one at the door. She said that when she opened it, there had been a horrible hooded figure at the door, but she momentarily turned away when I called her name, and when she looked back, it was gone. We decided to check on Georgie, who was supposed to be sleeping. We went to his room and opened the door and Georgie was gone. All that was on his bed was the wet robe of the hooded figure. Then, again, I felt an icy hand on my shoulder. I jumped up awake in a cold sweat. My heart was pounding as I looked at the clock and it was a little after midnight—officially Halloween---and I officially scared the crap out of myself! * * * Mary and I met for breakfast, and it was really wonderful. Mary wasn’t with anyone else yet, she was just busy missing me. We agreed to give me—and us—one more chance. Afterwards, I went off to meet with Georgie’s grandmother. I decided it was better for Georgie if I spoke with her before he got home, and without him knowing, just in case it didn’t go well. When I got to the house a middle aged woman answered the door. “May I help you?” She asked. “You can’t possibly be Edna McDaniel.” “That’s true. Is that who you’re looking for?” “Yes, an older lady, Georgie’s grandmother. I didn’t realize this is a two-family house.” “It’s not. We’re the Anderson’s, the only owners and residents. But the name Edna McDaniel does sound familiar. Let me call my husband at work. He’s better with these things.” She left me standing on the outside steps, which I could not blame her, because she didn’t know me, and then returned a few minutes later. “Of course, as soon as my husband told me I couldn’t believe I forgot, but it was years ago. Edna McDaniel was the previous owner of this house. Her family sold it when she got very ill. I think she went to a nursing home, or perhaps she moved in with her family.” “I see, thank you.” I left and went home to my computer. I started to search the internet for Edna McDaniel of Brooklyn. I could only find one and it didn’t seem likely, unless Georgie had been lying to me about almost everything. That now appeared to be a realistic possibility. I decided to seek this Edna McDaniel out and see what I could learn. She wouldn’t tell me much, because she was buried in Greenbriar Cemetery, on the other side of Brooklyn. As I drove to the cemetery I tried to figure out why Georgie would lie. Was he really living with his family, and the entire story was a lie? Or did he run away from home, and is he living on the streets, and making believe he lives with his grandmother--- just to have a convenient story while he tries to find someone to adopt him? I couldn’t know for sure, but if this was the right Edna McDaniel, I was hoping I would learn more from the cemetery office, or maybe get some other family names off the family plot, and seek out further information from there. I realized I never asked Georgie his last name, but if it was McDaniel, I couldn’t find him on the internet. The cemetery office staff, due to privacy concerns, wouldn’t give me any information about the family names, or ownership of the plot, where Edna McDaniel was buried. They did however give me directions to the actual grave, so I could see for myself. I followed the path signs and numbers, and found myself looking at her grave. Edna McDaniel Beloved Wife, Mother and Grandmother Born May 5th, 1905 – Died September 11th, 1992 Died in 1992? Maybe this was not the right person. It made no sense. I started to look at the other graves in the family plot. I was desperate to find any information to make this clear; either family names I could track down, or something that told me this was not the right woman. The grave right next to hers, gave me something: George “Georgie” Tomlinson Beloved Son, Grandson and Brother. “Rest in peace and in heaven our sweet and beautiful boy” Born May 13, 1985 – Died October 31st 1991 Icy fingers caressed my sides, and dug into my brain, as I read that over and over. Surely this was a mistake, or this kid has been pretending to be someone he’s not…. I started to run through all the possibilities in my head, when something began to nag at the very edge of my consciousness---just as I looked at my watch, and realized it was getting late. I had to go meet Georgie. * * * I was standing near the house Georgie said was his grandmother’s, when he came skipping down the street, dressed in his little ghost costume. I knew it was him because the face had about 10 holes cut into it, just like he had said it would. He ran over when he saw me, pulling up the sheet and smiling: “You’re early!” He said. His smile faded when he realized I was not in my costume, and he saw the expression on my face. “What’s the matter?” He asked, with a look more of fear than of concern. It took everything I had not to start crying like a little baby, when I said to him; “I remembered everything on my way home from the cemetery.” “What did you do?” Georgie asked, with a look of horror and anger on his face. “I visited your grandmother today. Oh, not the woman who lives in this house, though she steered me in the right direction. I saw everything. But still I was confused, until it all flooded back on the drive home. I can’t believe myself, I’m so ashamed, please forgive me. How could I not remember my best friend in first grade? And you were just about my only friend too. That is, until you died in that fire…the only one of your family that didn’t get out.” “No! Why did you have to do this? You didn’t remember! I thought we could be together. You’ve ruined everything!” Georgie began to cry, as he yelled. He seemed to be turning red from his anger, and screaming, and the air began to fill with a strange and unpleasant odor. “I don’t think I forgot, really, I guess I just blocked it out. It was such a terrible thing. And there wasn’t a lot of closure. You disappeared from school, and my mother said our telephone calls weren’t getting through at your end. Then they announced it over the school loudspeaker, after your funeral was already over. I never got to say goodbye.” Tears were running down my cheeks now. “I waited…I waited so long until you wouldn’t remember, but you would also be able to be with me. I tried so hard to get back to everyone.” Georgie moaned, as his tears subsided. “My sister saw me when I first tried, but instead of being happy---she was so upset she was put in the hospital. They gave her medicine for seeing things like me---and she still takes it, even though she hasn’t seen me in over 15 years!” Georgie shook his head, as he turned an even deeper shade of crimson. “Oh Alan…I just wanted to play with you again….” “I wanted that too…and to get to say goodbye this time.” The air around us started to get very hot, and smoke started rising off Georgie. His skin started to blister, but instead of crying out, he just started to cry…and I continued to cry…. It was a horrible sight as his flesh blackened and shriveled, but we just stared into each other’s eyes, and as I realized he was starting to fade away, and the awful tableau was almost over, ending with him showing me how his life had ended those 20 years ago, I said; “Goodbye Georgie, my first and best friend.” And though he was just about completely gone, I heard a faint whisper in my ear, “Goodbye Alan, my last and best friend too.” Another excerpt from "Join the Club" “Damn it.” He muttered, “Don’t come any closer, I’m armed.” He called into the darkness as he knelt down and started to feel around for the lantern. He found it, but could feel that the battery compartment had opened on impact. He felt one of the ‘D’ batteries was in there, but the other must have popped out. He started to feel around in the darkness for it along the floor, but screamed when his hand felt a cold piece of flesh that moved at his touch. Alan fell over backwards and started crawling and scrambling away from the spot, leaving the lantern behind. It felt like a bare foot, but it was so cold, and if those were toenails, they were awfully long and sharp. It must be one of the club members! Probably wearing some stupid plastic Halloween costume foot. Alan was sure of this, as he quickly crawled back towards his unpacked stuff, trying to find his flashlight so he could see what was going on, and find the lost battery. You can find the entire story, plus 17 others, here: Not From Around Here

Friday, October 25, 2013

An excerpt from the Halloween story "Join the Club" from the new book "Not From Around Here".

“I really like you,” she whispered. “I feel the same about you, Jessica.” “There are a lot of things I want to do with you Alan, but I don’t feel comfortable doing anything else, if you’re not a member of our club.” “Why?” “Well, for two reasons: One, we made a pact among the members. The reason we made the pact is once we join the club, we do everything we can to not be like everyone else. I’m not like other girls, and I promise you we could have a good time like you would never have with any other girl, but you need to join the club. I’m sorry to be so abrupt and demanding, but we only can arrange very few pledge nights, and one of those very few is tomorrow; Halloween.” Jessica looked into Alan’s eyes, almost pleadingly. “Why Halloween?” “We prefer special places under special circumstances. Everything has to be right, including the atmosphere. It’s all about the show, right?!” Jessica leaned into Alan and gave him another deep kiss and he pulled her tighter and wrapped his hands around her and started to rub her, over those very tight jeans. Moments later, he broke away from her to say: “Let’s do this.” “Great! Do you know Overlook Street?” “Yeah.” “The cul-de-sac at the end of Overlook and Fairview?” “Yeah, that’s where the Kensington Mansion sits.” “Yes, though it’s really just a big house. You know, it’s never been sold since the murders. No one’s lived there in so many years,” Jessica mentioned. “Yeah, I remember reading about it. Something about two drug addled vagrants, sneaking in.” As Alan said that he started to remember the things he had read and heard. The two homeless men broke into the house to rob it, but for some reason while the family slept, they killed them all; the parents, the daughter, her younger brother, the wife’s mother and the husband’s, adult autistic brother. They were particularly gruesome murders. The men said they were trying to hide everything, and some body parts were never found, including the adult brother’s head. Then Alan asked; “What happened to the murderers? I don’t remember hearing if they were ever caught?” “Yes,” Jessica answered, “a neighbor suspected something was wrong, and called the cops. The robbers got shot and killed that very night, somewhere on the property.” “So what about it?” Alan asked. “They say the house is haunted.” Jessica spoke softly. “Yeah, so? You don’t believe in that, do you?” “It matters what you think, not what I think.” Jessica said. “Why?” Alan asked. “Because you have to spend the entire night in that house; from 11pm until dawn.” “What?! Why?” “That’s the task, if you want to join the club.” Read the rest in Not From Around Here