Posts Tagged ‘stories’

An Excerpt from My Second Novel
Subject to Editing

 

ONE

WATSON

I was killed yesterday.  It was the fourth time in four days that such a circumstance has been forced upon me.  My death, or rather the death of the body in which I resided yesterday, the body of Reginald J. Smith of the 2nd Massachusetts Regiment, remains as a clear and horrifying event in my mind.  One does not forget one’s own entrails escaping through a massive, jagged hole in the abdomen, the rope-like tubes of tissue, bloody and slippery with whatever fluids reside within the body, slipping through shaking fingers as they escape the prison of the flesh.  I prayed for death.  I begged for death.  And death came.

Regarding my death the day before last, I have no memory of the event.  Death must have come quickly for me on that particular day.  My brain, or at least the one that is currently functional, allowing my hand to dip this feathered quill in ink and scribble these words on rag paper, has a distinct record of the man I was the day before last.  His name, Thomas Robert Evans, is burned into my memory as if it were my own, which it was in actuality for nearly a day.  Mr. Evans was a native of Danville, Illinois.  He was a chaplain, a gentleman, and a captain attached to the 125th Illinois Regiment, which had been engaged in demonstrations before the Rebel forces at Rocky Faced Ridge in the Confederate State of Georgia on the ninth of May, 1864.  This date is significant to my story, and I’ll explain why that is in a little while, but first I should give you, the reader, some instruction on my background so that you might better understand my plight.

The name given to me at birth was Ezekiel Zachariah Webster.  Everybody I’ve ever known, excepting my mother, has called me “EZ.”  My mother referred to me by my Christian name, Ezekiel, although such information matters little, as my mother was taken by the milk sickness back in the summer of ’47, just after my fifth rotation around the sun.  My father, a farmer by trade, turned to the bottle and the whip for comfort, using the former on himself and the latter on his only child on a mostly daily basis.

I never once attended school.  Our farm, located on fourteen acres of hard land in Knox County, Indiana, had been left to my father by his father, a relentless, fervent Baptist who claimed that we were somehow descended from Winthrop Sargent, the very man who had founded Knox County and had named the place after General Henry Knox, the famed artillerist from the Revolution.  I never saw proof of any such relation.  Not that I could have read any documentation attesting to this matter, anyway.  You see, until I first inhabited a skin other than the one in which I was born, I was completely illiterate.

I won’t go into the difficulties of my home life at this time.  I’ll just state that few things ever came easily.  By the time I was 19 years old I was more than ready for a change of pace and a change of scenery and when the opportunity to sign a muster came along I jumped at the chance.  Generally being one to avoid confrontation, I left home without informing my father of my intentions.This is hardly the behavior one might expect from a boy with an aversion to conflict, trading the plow for the bayonet, but the Rebels with their cannon and muskets alarmed me on a much smaller scale than a drunkard armed with leather.  I left one morning before the rooster announced the dawn, signing up for a three-year enlistment with Company G of the 14th Indiana Infantry Regiment at Terre Haute, on the seventh of June, 1861.

Soldiering came easily compared to plowing a stubborn piece of land and going home every night to a violent, headstrong father.  Drilling and parading around in a smart blue suit, shooting at hay bales, and eating chow that rivaled any meal ever made back home solidified my decision to sign up as a damn good one.  That’s not to say that I was a great soldier.  I was an average shot at best, and I found marching in step to be a difficult chore, not unlike the steps of a schottische, the moves of which I’ve never experienced first-hand, but are somehow freshly engrained in my memory from the life of Thomas Evans.

A shame and a waste, the loss of Captain Evans, who had so very many reasons to survive this war, among them his beautiful wife and nine children.  A man of genuine piety and altruism, he had more to offer this world than most I’ve possessed, his faith and munificence indicative of his place among the saints.  It is truly distressing that he’s already taken his place there.

Possessed.  I sincerely doubt that your eyes moved over that word without hesitation.  Yes, I used the word that is usually reserved for Satan or his demons seizing the flesh of the human form, occupying such for their own motivations.  I don’t claim to be the devil or any of his servants.  Until recently, I would have thought possession of any form by another form to be the contrivance of an overeager imagination.  I’ve proven myself wrong, even if it is an accidental act.  I may have no control over these leaps of existence, but they’re as legitimate and as palpable as your very own heartbeat.  It is only a matter of time before the body I currently occupy dies, and I wake up in the form of another, only to repeat the ambulation again the next time death comes calling.

Sorcery, devilry, black magic, witchcraft!  Whatever label you might wish to put upon the necromancy that is behind my condition shall be considered a plausible theory.  I find myself dwelling upon those historical events occurring in Massachusetts in the 1690s, where the towns of Ipswich, Andover, and Salem experienced a mass hysteria, hanging nearly a score of their kinfolk for their bonds with the black art.  Should I be able to control my state, perhaps choosing when to leave one host for another, or maybe deciding to remain rather than migrate, then I would have little choice but to admit being guilty of associating with the infernal practice.    Should these leaps of flesh and blood continue into infinity, perhaps I shall one day be able to steer their courses.  But it is not I who has the authority, the mastery.  I am but the quarry.

I mentioned yesterday’s date – the ninth of May, 1864 – as being important to my story.  It is such only in the sense that time is no longer a factor in my own existence.  Today is not the tenth of May, 1864, but rather, the first of September, 1862, and I am a private soldier named Jeremiah Watson in General Stevens’ III Corps, which will halt the advance of Stonewall Jackson’s Corp later today in the Battle of Chantilly, at the cost of General Stevens’ life.  No, I do not claim to be able to predict future events.  I have been to Chantilly before, you see.  I have died here before.

I know what you’re thinking.  How absurd it is that my soul could leave one body for another, jumping not only through space but also through time, occupying the body of another.  You’re not wrong.  It is completely absurd.  I wouldn’t have believed you if you had spun me such a tall tale, either.  In fact, you should be able to disprove my story simply by discussing my telling of it in written form.  This very page making the leap from host to host is as impossible as the soul doing such.  I’m afraid I cannot combat this argument, as I have not the ample ammunition.

This book, leather-bound and appearing worn, is actually quite the opposite.  Its contents, primarily rag paper, are discovered each morning to be in the finest condition possible, whatever events or efforts from the day before having no bearing on its maintenance.  I would assume that the book made its debut on the day of my first manifestation in the body of another, but I have no recollection of seeing it, as I was a bit out of sorts that day.  I guess you could say that I wasn’t myself.  I have no memory of my first transition to another being.  I don’t remember dying, or being killed, or even having been in such a position to be killed on the night before my first wandering.  I simply woke up inside another person, frightened and confused, sure that I was not awake or if I was awake, certainly feverish from some ailment my profession and proximity to others caused in me.  As for these pages, well, it took several sightings of the book over several lifetimes, if you will, for me to make the connection.  At first, I thought its appearance to be a coincidence, thinking it awfully peculiar that two soldiers from two different theatres of war might have the same leather-bound journal.  Upon inspection, I found it to be void of entries, again over several lifetimes, and I began to understand that there may be something expected of me.

I rebelled.  Thinking that this book might be the very reason for my leaping from one body to the next, I destroyed it.  Then I destroyed it again and again and again.  Each time, I’d wake in the body of another to find it with me, always in the same pristine condition, the only object which belonged to both me and the next person in succession.

I must take my leave, now.  Right on cue, the bugle is sounding, calling me to duty and my meeting with the angel of death.   I shall see you tomorrow.

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Trespassing, Vandalism, and the Undead Automobile

 

I’m inspired tonight by “Ghost Hunters.”  It’s not that I watched an episode or anything, I just caught a preview of an upcoming episode with its scary sound effects and weird, green light that’s supposed to somehow authenticate the series or perhaps lure the viewer into buying into the scariness of the episode.  I wasn’t impressed, even as the principals were running away from some unseen entity that must have gone and said, “Boo.”

There’s a ghost in my house, too.  There’s been a running story going around my family for about ten years now that a ghost can sometimes be seen traversing the small hallway between the half-bathroom and the basement stairs.  Nobody takes it too seriously, however, as she has only been seen a handful of times and even then, only in the periphery of one’s vision.  I can claim to have seen her a few times, her billowy off-white clothing resembling those outfits that Stevie Nicks would proudly claim as her own.  She’d float on past, disappearing behind the wall above the steps in the one second of time that it took for me to turn my head in response to this phenomenon in my peripheral vision.  She’s never made a sound.  She’s never moved an object.  She’s never appeared in plain sight before anyone.

We don’t really believe, any of us, that there is a ghost in the house.  We all realize, especially those who have seen this ghost, that the visions are just a trick of the eye or the light or of our own imaginations.  There’s a light fixture in the basement that has a short in it, causing the light to flicker at inopportune times, sometimes adding to the illusion of it all.  My wife has her own ideas about the flickering light and the spirit that inhabits it, but this is my blog.  She’ll have to tell you that story some other time.

I think that most people can tell a good personal ghost story.  Whether or not their experience contains a real ghost or not is irrelevant.  After all, an unexplained ground phenomenon is no different from a UFO sighting.  It’s simply a situation that the witness can’t explain.   I also think that those who have the best stories to tell tend to keep them to themselves.  It is my opinion that those that are the most outspoken about these things are the least likely to be telling the truth about the matter.  These are the people whose stories are debunked.

I don’t know why people who see such things would want to go on television to tell their stories, unless it’s for the paycheck.  It seems to me, that by announcing the presence of a spirit (or an alien), you’re going to piss that entity off and it just might come looking for revenge.  I mean, who’s to say that a ghost has to stay in one building?  They might come across town to get you if you go blabbing your mouth too much.

So here’s where I’ll be careful.  I have a REAL unexplained ground phenomenon to tell you about.  Shhh.  I’m not out to wake up any dormant spirits.

When I was 14 I was messing around with a couple of neighborhood kids in an old, abandoned barn that was not far from my house.  We were engaging in general mischief, vandalizing the few leftover items that were lying around and chopping through a wall with an old, rusty hatchet we’d found.

Twenty years prior, someone had walled off a section of the barn and had put in a concrete slab, essentially turning that portion of the barn into a cozy, one-car garage.  There had once been a door that offered access from the barn to the garage, but the door and much of the drywall had been removed, leaving the skeleton of the studs exposed along the length of the wall.

What I’m about to tell you I’ve only told a handful of people, maybe as many as eight.  Certainly no more than that. At first, I couldn’t tell anyone simply because we’d been up there destroying things, engaging in chaotic and disruptive behavior.  I needed time to distance my behavior from the event, even though I’d known that nobody had set foot in that barn since.  I was careful.

When I finally did tell the story, those who listened would usually stare blankly at me before telling me something like, “Woah, that’s radical,” or, “Geez, that’s crazy…” which it was.  It was outrageous.  After telling it to those I most wanted to impress, over a period of perhaps seven years, I put the story in my pocket and left it there.  I started to realize that the story wasn’t impressing anyone.  It was so unbelievable that I wouldn’t have believed it if it had been someone else’s story.  Telling ghost stories is a good way to lose your credibility.  Even now, I fear that more than I fear any ghost.

I had separated myself from my cronies in the barn.  As I remember it, they were in the loft.  29 years have passed since this episode.  As I’m telling it now, I have no recollection of where they actually were at this moment, except that they were not with me.

I passed the open doorway to the garage with my focus on something ahead of me.  In my periphery, I caught a glimpse of something on the concrete slab to my left, pulling my gaze in that direction.

There’s that “periphery” thing again.

Only this time I had turned my head in time to see what was on the slab.

Please, don’t get your dander up.  This is probably going to be a bit anti-climactic for you.  I didn’t see a person or a body or a zombie or a vampire.

What I saw, in the split second or two that my eyes were engaged, was a light blue Volkswagen Beetle.  It was running.  I know it was, because I heard it… and the room was filling with exhaust because the main garage door wasn’t open.  I could smell sulfur and oil in the air.  The car, although visible enough for me to determine the color, was obscured like the moors in “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”

Image

In my memory of the incident now, I was walking past the doorway in slow motion, the car in my sight for an eternity.  Behind the wheel was a man who resembled Eric Bloom of Blue Oyster Cult.  He was looking at me, grinning, and revving the engine, causing black smoke to pour out of the tailpipe.  I’d apologize to Mr. Bloom for including him in my ridiculous yarn, except that I really don’t think he’d mind being part of it.

 Image

                                                                          Eric Bloom

This certainly adds allure to my story, except that I passed by that doorway in almost zero time and I know that I didn’t see anyone in the car as I passed it.  Besides, in those days I hadn’t even heard of Eric Bloom.

I did, however, become frightened.  Not because I thought that I was engaged in witnessing paranormal activity, but rather, because I thought that someone had purchased this property and had occupied it, and I was about to get caught trespassing and vandalizing their property.

I stopped, backed up, and peeked into the garage.  It was empty.  No car.  No smoke.  No Eric Bloom.

I’m pretty sure I know what you’re thinking.  Cars don’t have souls.  Cars don’t have spirits.  Cars don’t leave their ghosts behind when they go to the junkyard.

I know.

I didn’t understand anything about what I’d seen.  All I knew was that I had to get the hell out of there… so I got the hell out of there.  I never went back.

Maybe six months passed, maybe a year. Then, a story about a man who had once lived on the property containing the barn had been brought up by a friend as we played video games on his Commodore 64 computer.  Apparently this man had committed suicide sometime in the 1960’s by asphyxiating himself in a running car in the garage portion of the barn.

My friend’s older brother had discovered the man the morning after his death.  That brother was now a grown man with a family of his own, living miles away.

“Was it a blue Volkswagen,” I asked.

“I dunno.”

“Would your mom know?”

“Maybe.”  He called to his mom in the living room.  A few moments later, she appeared in the doorway.

“What kind of car did Mr. ________ have when he, you know…”  I’m paraphrasing.  I’m not sure how he asked this question.

“Why, a Volkswagen Beetle,” his mother answered.

When pressed for the color, she described it as “powder blue.”

So there you go.  Either you’re creeped out or I’ve just destroyed my credibility with you.

Either way, I think it’s a pretty good story.