dreams, Fiction, literature, notes, prose, Uncategorized, writing

campfire tales

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Three friends sat at a campfire in the dark beneath trees thrashing in the mountain wind. It was a cold night and had been a cold day during the search for the missing woman. Groups camping nearby had already doused their fires and retreated into tents for the night. The three friends by the fire took turns telling stories, huddled under blankets, with one friend recounting a tale from her youth in which she believed a ghost occupied her basement.

She said: I can’t express the doom I felt, the darkness inside my chest every time I went down there.

The second friend told a story about a small boat that set sail from her childhood town in Virginia and was never seen again. A storm had arrived just before the boat departed, and the vessel had likely been swallowed up.

She said: A handful of times through the years, and only at night, when the bay was particularly foggy, people have claimed to see the boat cutting through the water just off the shore, as if it were searching for land, searching for home, for a place to dock.

The third friend, the male in the group, spoke of an encounter that happened to him years earlier. He’d been repeatedly visited by a spirit as a child, he said.

He said: It wore a dark cloak and it was tall. Its face was always hidden in its hood. He — I don’t know why I assigned it a male identity — he would suddenly appear by my bedroom window and just stand there watching me. I was terrified in place, unable to move.

The man seated near the fire readjusted his body in the chair. He reached down for a thermos on the ground and hefted it to his mouth. Wind gusted at them, through them. The fire tossed orange ribbons and splashes of light into the air.

He said: The figure appeared at my window less frequently as I grew into adolescence. My life became more like a normal boy’s. I moved away from my childhood home and enrolled in college. Eventually I pushed those early experiences so far into the depths of my memory that I forgot about them entirely. I forgot about the figure and the terror he caused. I forgot about the nightmares, the fear of being alone in my bedroom at night.

He continued: Then on my 40th birthday, just a few months ago, I woke in the night to use the toilet and grab a snack. My feet were cold on the wood floor. I remember feeling something strange in the air of the kitchen, like an inaudible hum or threads of invisible waves pulling tight around me. It reminded me of when I was a kid, the feeling I’d have just before the cloaked figure appeared by my window. All the hairs on my body stuck out like needles from my skin. There in the half-light of the kitchen I made out the shadowy figure that had often visited me in youth. It was just as tall, just as terrifying. I acknowledged it and closed the refrigerator door, surprised to see the faint but identifiable features of a human face deep in the hood.

He continued: I wasn’t scared like I’d been as a child. I was only curious or interested as I stepped toward the figure and peered into its face. It did not move as I approached. I looked past him to the window and out to the snowy expanse of my backyard. I was close enough to smell him (he smelled like the whisper of a tree) and to feel the odd vibration emanating from him. When at last I leaned in to peer closer at the face in the hood, I realized it was a woman’s face. The room was too dark and her features too gray and indistinct, but I could tell it was a woman. Then it began to communicate with me, it spoke without words, without sound, her ideas transmitted directly to me from her mind.

The man stopped talking to wrap the blanket tighter around himself. Both women watched him with their eyes wide. One woman took a long drink from her thermos while the other bent forward to toss another log onto the fire.

Friend Two asked: What did the figure say to you?

She told me she was a witch, he said. And that she was probably two hundred years old, but she didn’t know exactly how old because she stopped counting long ago.

Friend One asked: Do you know what she wanted from you?

The man stared into the fire. Its light reflected on his face.

He said: She told me that her face would be the last I’d see in this life.

The three of them listened quietly to the wind rushing through the trees. They watched the fire dance before them, hypnotized by the heat, the flashing light, the unpredictable movement. They each thought of the missing woman and how they’d spent the day combing the mountain for her. Not one of them would speak about it, but they all thought the missing woman was already dead, that they’d likely stumble into her carcass rather than hear her crying out for help or see her waving from a distended rock. Each of them hoped secretly that it wouldn’t be them to find her.

They agreed to extinguish the fire and retire to their tents. The following day would be long and exhaustive. The man had a strange dream in the night in which the cloaked figure from his past returned to him. In the dream he was seated at the fire just as before, except his two friends weren’t there. He was alone. A noise behind him made him turn in his chair to behold the cloaked figure standing tall and facing the light of the fire. She reached an arm up to remove her hood and reveal the half-decomposed, worm-eaten head of the missing woman.

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Fiction, literature, notes, prose, Uncategorized, writing

the shrink

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I sat back in the chair opposite the shrink. I didn’t want to look at him anymore. 

How about hypnosis? he asked. 

I averted my eyes and my mind jumped from thought to thought like a frog on a pond. 

What about it? I asked. 

The shrink was an older man but not old, bald up top with a neatly trimmed beard dyed brown. His eyes wandered from my face to the tablet in his lap and back to me again. I thought of paradise and tried to picture the idea in my mind. 

Have you ever thought of hypnosis to treat some of your … symptoms? 

His eyes were gray like his hair would have been or as his beard should have been. But one could hardly see the color of his eyes through the squinty coin slots they’d become, or perhaps always were, since his childhood in the rich neighborhoods of Manhattan or Massachusetts, back when the other kids made fun of him for his briefcase — for simply carrying it with him at all times merited their ridicule, but adding insult to injury, as they say, was the appearance of the briefcase — brown mixed with green or what the kids called puke-green, the worst of all possible colors. Making matters worse yet, the briefcase was several decades old, and thus, beat up and disastrously out of style. 

I’m not sure about hypnosis, sir, I said. 

Thoughts cascaded down the vined walls of my mind. The shrink’s hands were small and weak — just as one would expect. I’d have challenged him to an arm-wrestling match but I tweaked my wrist earlier that day at baseball practice. 

I don’t believe in … histrionics, I said, proud of myself for using the word in a sentence. 

The shrink paused with an expression of consternation.

I don’t think that’s the proper use of the term, he said.  

He sat back in his chair, uncrossed, then re-crossed his legs. He leaned forward again, toward me. 

He said: Hypnosis is highly effective on younger people. 

His lips were small and pink and his mouth barely opened when he spoke. 

He said: Adolescents are highly susceptible to the power of suggestion. 

I was tired of looking at him. The window behind him opened to the vast, sun-swept city.

There’s nothing to be afraid of, he said. 

I’ve been hypnotized before, I said proudly, shifting my weight in the seat.

He leaned back. His clothes were bland and ugly and probably cost a lot of money. 

Is that so? he asked. 

I looked out the window. My friends were out there somewhere, running around aimlessly, breaking things, looking for girls. They were like me in that they did not know the world was theirs. 

Yes, I said. My mother had me hypnotized because she thought I was lying about some money that went missing. 

I realized I’d been wringing my hands, playing with them. The shrink stared at them as I spoke. 

Did you take the money? he asked. 

He looked at my face to gauge my reaction. His face was white, pale, bloodless. 

No, I said. 

He wrote on the tablet with a stylus. 

I had been seeing this girl, Elaine. She was short and dark-haired with big, brown eyes. We kissed once and I reached up to touch her chest but she pushed my hands down. I thought maybe I loved her but I didn’t know for sure. I didn’t tell the shrink any of this.

What do you want to do when you grow up? he asked. 

Elaine’s mother was also a shrink. I questioned the character of those who chose to listen to other people’s problems for a living. I didn’t tell the shrink that I hadn’t given my future much thought. I’d probably play baseball or run my dad’s print shop when he retired. I’d marry Elaine and she’d write plays and we’d have a baby or two.

I’ll probably fly airplanes, I said, without knowing why I said it.

He leaned toward the small table between us and hefted a cup of steaming tea. He sipped it. 

I didn’t know you were into aviation, he said, smacking his lips together and leaning back in the seat. 

He wrote on his tablet. His socks had brown diamond patterns and his shoes looked new, like today was the first he’d worn them. He seemed smaller after drinking the tea, as if it had shrunk him.

Why are you smiling? he asked. 

I looked down to the animal-hair carpet and out the window to the city. When I looked back at him he appeared even smaller, like a large adult child. He was shrinking rapidly, deflating, losing volume, as Mr. Potter would say.

Nothing, I said, trying and failing to hide my amusement. Nothing.

That’s okay, he said. You don’t have to tell me. 

The office was small but the shrink’s desk at the window was large. The wood was reddish-brown and looked heavy. 

He cleared his throat and continued to shrink, to biologically regress. His feet no longer touched the ground; they dangled and swung over the animal carpet. His tablet was now the size of his torso. I stifled a laugh. His face reddened.

Okay, now, he said raising his little hand with the oversized stylus.

His voice was higher in pitch, like a child’s, or as if he’d swallowed a balloon of helium. One giant shoe fell off a foot to the animal carpet. Then I laughed — I couldn’t hold it.

All right, that’s enough, he giggled, his voice that of a delighted toddler. The giggling rose to a crescendo of gut-laughter, uncontrollable and tiny.

I lost it, falling onto the animal carpet, laughing, laughing.

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Crime, Fiction, literature, prose, Uncategorized, writing

Shotgun

In the dream she rode shotgun, slouched sleeping against the window while her grandfather drove through the cloudless Montana night. The dash lit his face and he smoked while he drove, Salem after Salem, flicking the ash out the cracked window and the air howling there. The movement and vibration of the vehicle settled him. He thought he could drive a truck for a living once they were in Canada, but the thought of it was like being in a room of rising water, except the water was loneliness. The granddaughter stirred and settled back to sleep. Seventy more miles and they’d be in Critt’s Creek, bare and homely, but functional. He’d fill up the tank there and buy more Salems. Five times in the past fifty miles he saw a tent pitched by the highway. But the road was his alone, a clean gash through the valley to freedom. They were close enough that he could taste it. * The detective lay in the motel bed naked save his socks. He watched the vehicle’s movement via satellite on a tablet. The woman stubbed out her Salem and stood to dress. He thought she moved like a cat in the dim lamplight, though she’d been aggressive before. She glanced at him and tucked the cash deeper into her clutch purse. She always put her heels on last in case she needed to defend herself. She said nothing and left, closing the door quietly. He set down the tablet and dialed his boss, the sergeant. Hey boss, he said. Got lucky back in Yellowstone. They left the vehicle to hike and I planted a tracker on it. They’re headed north on 15 out of Great Falls, to Critt’s Creek. He’ll need to refuel there, and that’s where we’ll get em. He was quiet a while, listening to the voice on the other end. Yes sir, he said, and disconnected the line. He stood to dress and gather his items into the pack. He took a final blast of cocaine and washed it down with a shooter of cinnamon whiskey. Then he lit a cigarette and looked back at the room to make sure he didn’t leave anything. The fresh air was silk on his face.
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Fiction, literature, notes, prose, Uncategorized, writing

teeth

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Drums rain from the sky. Is it real?

Water flows within, disturbed. 

Only music sets me right. 

Who’s writing? Not me!

The detective carries himself with dignity, poise. He is forty, “a good age,” according to Colombian writer Evelio Rosero. Nothing is real. All the inspiration gone, dried up. I worry about writing more than I write. I worry about time and missed opportunities and money — especially money, always money, and I remember an anecdote about the infamous poverty of Cormac McCarthy, who once couldn’t afford toothpaste. Luckily I can afford to clean my teeth but they clench at the thought of the author of Blood Meridian and Outer Dark penniless, suffering the pain and indignity of decaying teeth. 

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DylanThomas, literature, poetry, Uncategorized, writing

That sanity be kept (D. Thomas)

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That sanity be kept I sit at open windows,

Regard the sky, make unobtrusive comment on the moon,

Sit at open windows in my shirt,

And let the traffic pass, the signals shine,

The engines run, the brass bands keep in tune,

For sanity must be preserved.

 

Thinking of death, I sit and watch the park

Where children play in all their innocence,

And matrons, on the littered grass,

Absorb the daily sun.

 

The sweet suburban music from a hundred lawns

Comes softly to my ears. The mowers mow and mow.

 

I mark the couples walking arm in arm,

Observe their smiles,

Sweet invitations and inventions,

See them lend love illustration

By gesture and grimace.

I watch them curiously, detect beneath the laughs

What stands for grief, a vague bewilderment

At things not turning right.

 

I sit at open windows in my shirt,

Observe, like some Jehovah of the west,

What passes by, that sanity be kept.

— Dylan Thomas

 

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Fiction, literature, prose, Uncategorized, writing

The Mexican

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Rumor was he came from Mexico. A big Mexican — the biggest I’d ever seen. But he didn’t look Mexican. He was a gringo with red hair and green eyes. A giant Mexican flag.

Hammer, he said.

I hefted the sledgehammer with both arms and handed it over to him. Wind ripped and tugged at us violently. The big man took the sledgehammer with one hand and set himself to strike the coffin. Bare branches crashed and screamed above our heads. It seemed the wrong time to ask where he was from.

The big man smashed the wood with one blow. Darkness surrounded us everywhere. We always worked by moonlight, but tonight the skies had shifted unexpectedly, veiling the moon and leading the storm’s charge. The big man tore at the coffin with his bare hands, his massive back to me. I heard a noise like a pig squeal and swung my rifle in that direction. Wind perforated my clothes, cut into my skin.

I’ve got something, he said.

I leaned over his crowded frame but could not see in the darkness.

What is it? I said.

He stood, unfolding his shoulders to stand erect. His body extended vertically so that it seemed he was being born, his head rising upward to the skeletal tree branches whipping with the gales, to the moon shrouded in the distant black. He turned and I noticed the eyes first, golden light embedded deep in the eyes of the skull, the Mexican’s hands enveloping the artifact to respect its delicacy and power.

What is it? I said again, mesmerized.

Then weightlessness, light fading to black.

I woke on my back with the Mexican standing far above me, trees surrounding him in the moonlit background. The wind had calmed. I could not move or speak, but fully sensate and aware, felt the granules of earth on my skin, felt the coolness of the dirt on my face rolling down my cheek, as the Mexican worked silently, just the rhythmic scrape of steel shovel into broken earth.

 

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Bolaño, Excerpt, literature, nonfiction, notes, prose, quote, Uncategorized, writing

Bolaño’s literary kitchen

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“In my ideal literary kitchen there lives a warrior, whom some voices (disembodied voices, voices that cast no shadow) call a writer. This warrior is always fighting. He knows that in the end, no matter what he does, he’ll be defeated. But he still roams the literary kitchen, which is built of cement, and faces his opponent without begging for mercy or granting it.”

— Roberto Bolaño

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