Lifting a Curse Part 4

Truth be told, the whipping set me back a lot worse than I thought. It always kicks in afterwards. People love to say, “You’ll feel THAT in the morning!” But it was more like a car wreck, the stiffness set in and lasted a week.

Anyhow, my instructions were clear. Go to Confession, make amends with two of my enemies, and avoid the third. As for the Confession…ah, well, if I recall right, the Priest always ends that with “Go and sin no more.” Let’s face it, that’s problematic, for any number of reasons that aren’t hard to figure out. That box remains unchecked.

As for the first two enemies? Well, this is where it gets interesting.

The first hates me because I bought something at an estate sale that should not have been for sale, and I ended up selling it for two grand. She’s been making my life hell ever since with nuisance lawsuits. The second one I must have rubbed wrong, which is really only a problem because she’s an assistant county prosecutor with some ambitions.

The first thing I did was go out on eBay and noodle around. I pulled up some old records, and was able to track down the gentleman who had bought the item in question. For the sake of the story, we’ll just call it a moss-covered three-handled family gradunza. The buyer is apparently undergoing a change in life, and is now selling off his gradunza collection. And out there for sale is the specific gradunza that has been the point of contention with the librarian, with like three days four hours and 23 minutes left on it. And apparently interest in gradunzas is falling, because it’s out there with zero bids on a starting price of $474.99, with only 2 people watching. So I was beside myself; couldn’t believe my luck. I had long since lost the two grand and then some on legal fees, but I was going to be able to get out of this for a lot less than the next visit to civil court.

I can’t tell you the mental agony, weighing the “Buy it Now” price of $699.99. I finally decided to put in a low bid and see what happened. One thing, I try to never panic. The other thing, the pain and anxiety of watching this thing was kind of an extension of the whipping the Hex’nmeisterin administered. It ended up coming to me for the minimum bid.

It arrived in good shape, and now came the question of how to deliver it. Take it to her house? No knowing whether she would be there, answer, or call the cops. And the latter might bring me into the clutches of enemy number two. Mail it to her? No, that would be too impersonal, and possibly show cowardice. Without context, what would she think?

Arrange a meeting at her lawyer’s? Not bad, but I really wanted to put her at ease, and that wasn’t going to happen at her lawyer’s. Plus no knowing if that prick was going to charge some billable hours to me. Call her and ask to meet her in public? It just seemed dodgy. So I decided to go that night to the library, and if she was working, give it to her right before the library closed. And if she wasn’t there, keep coming back until she was. That was her home turf, and everyone knew she was a librarian. It wasn’t really stalker-like.

So I found myself in the parking lot, out of sight under a tree, watching moths and bats flitting around a light. At 8:45, people were starting to leave. I gave one last look at the gradunza in its box, carefully picked it up off the car seat, and went in. She wasn’t at the checkout desk, so I circled around. No one gave me a second look. I found her in the children’s section, tiredly shelving returned books.

I looked at her for a little while, and she just looked defeated, like she was having a terrible day. And very possibly, this was her every day. A life of regrets or longing or empty dreams. Bad pay at a county job, a minor functionary in a dying institution. I couldn’t believe I had such animosity for someone who looked like life had kicked the sh1t out of them and sent them a dry-cleaning bill for the blood stains.

“Excuse me, Ms. XXXX?”

She looked up, smiling expectantly, and then frowned and stepped back when she saw me. “You!”, she spat.

I held up the box to show her, then set it on top of the low kids’ book shelf and took a step back, “This belongs to you.”

She looked back and forth between me and the box, uncomprehending.

“The box,” I said slowly, “Look in the box. It’s your gradunza.”

With a look of a woman in a dream, she stepped towards it and looked in. She started, obviously stunned, then gently lifted the gradunza out. She held it up, and slowly turned it around, inspecting it. Then she turned to me, and stammered, “Thank you!”

I smiled back, and said, “You’re welcome.” I took a deep breath, wanting to just walk away, but needing to say more. “I also want to apologize. I knew how much that meant to you, yet sold it anyway. It wasn’t the right thing to have done, and it’s put you through a lot. Now that I’ve tried to make amends, I was hoping we could just bury the hatchet. We don’t have to be friends, but at least let’s not be enemies any more.”

A tear slipped out, and she brushed it away, “Mr. Daley, I’d like nothing more than stop fighting!” She took another look at the gradunza and smiled, “This means more to me than you know. It’s…it’s…never mind. It’s just something that means a lot to me.”

She straightened up, “Now how much do I owe you?”

“Nothing! It’s yours!”

“No, no, I have to pay you back. It must have cost a fortune!”

“Not really. Prices have gone down, and I still made money on it.”

This went back and forth for a bit, and she finally insisted on paying me what I had bought it for years ago at the estate sale. There did seem to be some rough justice there, and she didn’t want charity, so I agreed. She went to get her purse, and somebody announced over the loudspeaker that the library was now closed. I made my way out front, and she came out, leaving someone else to lock up.

“Mr. Daley, can we at least go to Starbucks or something? I’d love a cup of coffee, and frankly it will be easier to write out a check on a table in a well-lighted place.”

“Sure! But you have to call me Finnegan.”

So we went around the corner to Starbucks, and had an amiable chat over venti mochas. She had left the gradunza in the car, and her gaze kept going out the window. She was distracted by the thought of her gradunza, and before long we were running out of words. We finally parted ways with a handshake, exchange of business cards, and a friendly wave. She really looked much better than she had at 8:45.

I drove home the back way, window down and the air ruffling my hair, the screeching of the katydids in the trees louder than the road noise. There was a huge weight lifted, as if the curse were breaking down around the edges, getting ready to crack and fall away.

And soon my thoughts turned to the time I had spent out on {DATING APP FOR CASUAL HOOKUPS}, setting up a profile, scoping out a certain prosecutor. As I drove, I worked through some details of my plan to fix things with her. Tonight was a great success, and I felt the promise of better things to come.




Lifting a Curse (Part 3)

Yesterday I woke up early, thinking about the upcoming appointment with my Hex’nmeisterin. I reviewed the last few days’ events to make sure I was ready. I packed everything up in a duffle bag, filled my day with purposeless motion and a late nap, and then finally took off after dinner for the WalMart agreed upon with the Messenger.

I was strangely loathe to speed, and ended up pulling into the parking lot later than expected, though still on time. I parked way out in a row with little cars, lined up with the entry to Outdoor Living. Several rows over, under some trees, there were a number of pickup trucks and old sedans with a bunch of teenagers milling about. The smell of tobacco and the sound of carefree laughter drifted over on the wind. It took me back thirty plus years, to happier days, which was a small but welcome blessing.

This part about going to the bathroom to await the call was weird, but after the long drive, worked out pretty well. I took a leak, washed my hands, and then went into a stall to wait. Since this wasn’t travel on the low-low, I had my smart phone with me, and spent some time catching up on emails. Finally, my phone rang, and the Messenger told me to exit by the grocery area and stand there.

A brown Dodge pickup rolled up as I stepped outside, the passenger window rolled down. “Finnegan?”

I nodded, “Messenger?”

He smiled, “You can call me Isaac. Hop in. Let’s get the supplies from your car.”

Once we transferred the bag, we drove on a bit in companionable silence. “So you’re not going to blindfold me?”

Isaac laughed, “No! Why would you ask that?”

“Well, because you’re driving me to see the Hex’nmeisterin. I assumed it was some kind of secret. Like you couldn’t give me the address or something.”

“No, it’s not like that. The Hex’nmeisterin doesn’t want visitors chust dropping by. It’s invitation only. And she finds people respect her wishes if they have not been invited directly to her place.”

I nodded. That made sense in an old-fashioned way.

In less than 15 minutes we were there, the clouds up high glowing pink while twilight gathered down below. Gravel crunched under the tires as we slowly made our way up the driveway.

The Messenger smiled at me, and patted me on the shoulder. He said, “Go on inside. No need to knock. Now, have heart. Your troubles will soon be over. I’ll wait here.”

I did as he said, and walked into a simple kitchen illuminated by candles. The Hex’nmeisterin was at the table, facing the door, her lips moving as she read to herself. I stood respectfully a moment, waiting with my fedora in my hand.

She finally looked up, “You are Finnegan?”

I nodded, finding it hard to say anything, feeling for all the world like a naughty school kid sent to the principal’s office.

“Have a seat, and tell me your troubles.”

The words came out haltingly at first, but then picked up steam. The Hex’nmeisterin mostly listened, uncannily intent, but would ask follow up questions about timing, location, and dates. She was clearly paying attention, but not just to the surface, but to something below. As I mentioned different specific days, she would consult a battered leather-bound manual full of tables and charts, and make small notes in a newer leather-bound book.

After perhaps half an hour of talking, she had heard enough. She abruptly interrupted, and asked to see the items I had gathered for the breaking of the curse. She inspected each Mason jar carefully and grunted, “I like that you put everything in a jar. It shows the proper respect for the power. And it seems somehow more fitting.”

I blushed at the compliment and mumbled my thanks.

“Now for the mementoes.”

Those were in an age-mellowed wooden cigar box. She opened the lid and carefully inspected the contents without touching them. She smiled and nodded in satisfaction, and pushed the box back over to me.

“Follow me,” she said as she stood up, turned away, grabbed a lantern, and walked out the back door. I quickly grabbed everything and put it all back in the duffle bag, striding double-time to catch up with the Hex’nmeisterin. The sun was completely down now, although the glow of the moon was starting to show against the clouds and in snatches between the trees. Cicadas and katydids were buzzing and chirping, the occasional sound of a bullfrog breaking through the cacophany. We headed out to an old barn. As she opened the door, a wave of heat hit me, along with the smell of smoke. We went to a wooden picnic table nearby, and I set down the duffle bag.

“Pick up some stones, and put them in a pile right here,” pointing to a spot on the table. Bemused, I complied.

“Now pick up another handful, and put them here, however many feel right,” pointing to another spot. I complied. “Now another one, here,” and this went on for some time, until there were sixteen groups of stones.

“Your knife has tasted blood?”

I thought about it a bit, “It was my Dad’s. I’m not sure.”

“The you need to cut yourself. Not a lot, just a little slice.”

I shook my head, not sure whether to be impressed or annoyed, and knicked my left arm against the bone. In a few seconds, blood welled up.

“Now use the tip of the knife to pull stones away from this first group in twos.”


“So take the knife, and push two stones from the group. Like this,” taking my hand and sweeping away two stones, “Now you do that until there is either one, or two, stones left.”

“Am I supposed to be counting the stones?”

“No,” she said, smiling, “Chust push ’em away by two until there is either one, or two, left.”

In a moment, I was done, and said, “Two left.”

She took a note, and said, “Now the next pile,” and this went on until all sixteen piles were down to either one, or two stones.

She drew up a chart that looked like dominoes of some sort, and then went on to draw some rows below those, and fill out a complicated chart that was a diamond inscribed inside of a square, with a bunch of lines breaking it up into twelve parts; eight of which were triangles and four of which were diamonds. She filled each one with the domino symbols, which were basically four lines with either one or two dots. She would periodically sigh, or laugh, or shake her head, or cluck her tongue. It was a very impressive series of calculations, but I had no idea where the dots and triangles and diamonds were coming from.

Finally, she said, “This confirms what I thought when you showed me what you brought.”

I waited in expectant silence.

“The objects you brought from the lady adversaries were ephemeral, and passing. A hair and dead flowers. Yet the object you brought from the male adversary was metal. And even though it was old and rusty, it was still strong and did what it had been set to do thirty years ago.”

“So he’s the culprit?!?”

“Indeed he is,” she replied, nodding her head gravely, “And a powerful curse it is that he has placed upon you.”

“What do we do to break it?”

“Let’s go into the barn, and I’ll show you.” The Hex’nmeisterin grabbed her lantern, and we went in. The heat had died down a bit, but it was still stuffy, and soon sweat started on my brown and under my clothes. I looked around, and there were curtains hanging up from the rafters to the right and the left. The heat seemed to be coming from the left. The Hex’nmeisterin walked over to the right, and pulled the sheet to the side, revealing a small altar with a simple cross above it. She did the same to the left, and I jumped in surprise as she revealed a small cast iron Franklin stove that was wrought in the shape of a monstrous Baphomet. Red light glowed from the eyes and thin lines of smoke streamed from the nostrils as well as up the chimney pipe.

She led me to the simple altar, although I couldn’t help but keep looking back at the Baphomet. That motherfuc7er looked ready to attack. She had me open the Gideon’s Bible up to Psalm 109, and then copy it out line by line onto a piece of vellum. When I was done, she said, “Kneel before the altar and read the Psalm, like you mean it.” And I did so, with all my heart poured into it, asking the Good Lord to take away this persecution and turn it upon its author.

“Now we go to Baphomet,” she said, and picked up the vellum that I had so carefully written. She rolled it up, opened up the door to the Baphomet stove, and threw the paper in, intoning, “Oh mighty Baphomet, nothing pleases you more than mischief. Wreak mischief upon Finnegan’s tormentor in the same measure as he is trying to wreak it upon Finnegan!”

She led me back to the altar, and pulled my shotglass out of the cigar box. A bottle of homemade hooch appeared out of nowhere, and she filled the shotglass, “Drink to your health, and to freedom from torment.”

I raised the glass, and complied, “To my health, and to freedom from torment!” It was some kind of homemade distilled liquor, strong with a hint of fruit, and it burned on the way down.

She filled the glass again, and said, “Pour a libation on the floor before Baphomet, to the malady and torment of your enemy.” And I did as I was told.

The Hex’nmeisterin pointed at the rosary and asked, “So you’re Catholic?”

“I am.”

“Do you go to Church?”

“For weddings and funerals. Baptisms. Sometimes at Christmas, or Easter. And now and again when the mood strikes me,” I said, a bit embarrassed, “Oh, and also, if I’m in the slammer, I’ll go to the chapel there on Sunday. Doesn’t matter if it’s Catholic or not.”

The Hex’nmeisterin smiled, “So, you are not completely blameless in the matter of this curse, or in the matter of your enmities. You are motivated by greed, lust, anger, gluttony in liquor. And you’re slothful. If I catalogued the seven deadly sins, you’d have eight or nine of them.”

I hung my head in shame, unable to argue, and she continued, “So I suggest you go find a priest and offer your confession. Especially confess the sins that have generated this enmity with these three. Oh, and don’t forget apostasy, since you don’t go to Church regularly. Now take off your shirt.”

“Beg your pardon?!?” I asked, sure I had misheard.

“Your shirt,” she said with slow and careful enunciation, “Take it off.”
I unbuttoned it, and following her gesture, hung it up on a peg.

“Your priest can free your soul of the weight of your sins, performing a spiritual service. But you also need temporal relief from your sins. And it would be just like a priest to let you wallow in the misery you have caused. I intend to expunge the guilt and punishment you have earned here on earth.”

She reached into the cigar box and pulled out my belt. It was black leather, supple and faded after all these years, and it made a sharp cracking sound as she doubled it up and pulled the ends, “I see you are covered in scars on your body. I trust you can hold still as I administer thirteen lashes?”

“I can, if it will end this torment!”

“Then kneel before Baphomet, and put your hands behind your head. It will probably be easier if you link your fingers together.”

She administered the lashes, shouting my crimes at me between blows, “And THIS ONE is for your greed!”, “And THAT ONE is for tearing apart your family!” “That’s for abandoning your children!” On and on it went, the truth of her indictments hurting worse than the cuts and welts that were forming on my back. As a matter of pride, I never cried out, never flinched, never tried to protect my back. Just let her rain the blows upon me.

When she was done, my back was wet from a mixture of sweat and blood. As I put on my shirt, I knew it was ruined. That made me sad, because it was a cowboy shirt embroidered with a steer skull that my sister Mary had bought for me when we were on a trip out to Wyoming a few years back.

I winced a little at the pain, and joked, “So what now? Do I go and sin no more?”

She shook her head, and said, “Maybe your priest will tell you that. But I tell you to go and be no more the fool. You have made enemies unnecessarily, accumulating ill will throughout the decades, across several continents. And now that you’ve settled down in one place, you’ve nowhere else to go unless you run from your troubles again. But something tells me you can’t do that no more?”

“True,” I agreed, “I have fourteen children that I’ve been a horrible father to. I’m trying to make it up to them, by being here for them until they are grown.”

“Then think long and hard on how you live, and how you have made enemies. As for the man, I would recommend avoiding him, and leaving him to the power of the Psalm and the malice of Baphomet. As for the women, you would do well to try to make things right again with them. Barring that, at least turn away their hate. Both have it in their power to harm you.”

We went back to her kitchen, and I gladly gave the Hex’nmeisterin gold and silver ingots in payment for her work breaking the curse and setting me back on the right path. That woman had a spiritual gift, and it was something else to watch her confidently use the objects I had brought to bring me to see the truth. She was almost like a jazz musician, just riffing along with whatever the spirit world brought her.

It wasn’t even ten o’clock when Isaac collected me and drove me back to the WalMart parking lot. I considered going in for some Red Bull and beef jerky, but figured the bloody shirt would attract attention. There was a McDonald’s in the parking lot, so I went to the drive-through instead. Got two double cheeseburgers, pickles only, an unsweet ice tea, and then on the spur of the moment, an Oreo McFlurry. Figured I deserved it after all the pain of being cured of the curse.

And home I drove, the full moon now fairly high in the sky, guiding me home to scotch straight up, a hot shower, a warm bed, and facing a tomorrow with my curse broken and a better life before me.




The Shower

He stood with his head against the bathroom door, anxious sweat coursing down his back. He listened to his mother in the shower, singing along to the radio, working up his nerve. Just do it!

The impulse, like a stab, hit him again, and he knew he had to do it before it was too late. He slowly opened the door a crack, and continued as the singing continued uninterrupted. He crept forward on tiptoes, shifting his weight and moving as slowly as he could.

He saw it there, across the room, and he he felt a sudden lifting of his spirits. If I do this right, no one will ever suspect. No one will know what happened.

Slowly he reached out and picked it up, pivoting slowly, looking at the shower. The singing continued.

Resolutely, he marched forward, and out the door. Once it was shut behind him, he ran to the downstairs bathroom, butt-cheeks clenched in an agonizing spasm, and dove in with the extra roll of toilet paper in hand.

Pride Before A Fall (short story)

The sun was starting to turn red in the sky over the trees on the other side of the quarry as Sherrie led Dan along the edge of the cliff.  There were still families swimming at the far end, where the quarry had flooded years ago. You could ignore the ugliness of the man-made hole if you looked above the scrub weeds and scrap metal littering the bottom eighty feet below.

Sherrie turned and let go of Dan’s hand.  She went up on her toes, put her arms around his neck, and kissed him smartly on his lips.  “I’m so happy!”

Dan grunted agreement, kissed her a bit roughly and caressed her breast through her sweater.  Sherrie blocked his hand from further forays with her elbow.

“We have to talk,” she said, suddenly serious.

“About what?” Dan asked suspiciously.

“Something serious…”

“Yes?” When no immediate response was forthcoming, Dan continued, “It’s not about my drinking again, is it?”

“No, not really.  But I think your drinking may be affected by what I’m gonna say.”

“Didja catch religion?” He sneered, “Are you gonna catch religion like the first time I put my hand up your shirt?  Like the..”

“Why do you have to say it like that?”  Sherrie’s voice was bitchy and whiny even to herself and she hated it.  She tried to gather her voice.  “I don’t ‘catch religion’, I just…”

“You just turn on me after we’ve gone too far.  After.  You go along, and you like it.  Hell, you even start it, start kissing me, telling me you love me, let me touch you, you start liking it, and when we’re through you give me these damn guilt-trips like it was my fault.”

He took a short, mean slug from his Schlitz can and interrupted Sherrie’s stuttered protests.  “I don’t want to hear this again.  You’ve got no right.  You just play this game, play along.  I touch you,  you move your hand.  I put it back, you move it again.  I touch you again.  Third time’s the charm.  Same with “no”.  You say no a coupla times, let me do it, then afterwards everything’s all my fault.  Damn!”

Dan took another swig of beer, this one bigger.  “This religion’s a great thing, isn’t it?  Preacher’s daughter, sixteen years old, does what she wants.  Then falls back on religion afterwards, blames it all on the big bad boyfriend.  Damn it, I’m eighteen, Sherrie Ann.  Eighteen.  Why can’t you be like me and take responsibility for what you do, huh?  Instead you catch religon…”

“Well, I caught pregnant this time, Dan.  Pregnant.  Not no religion.  I’m pregnant.”  Her voice broke from a startling yell to sobs.

Dan didn’t do any of the things she dreamed or feared he would.  He didn’t hug her or propose, didn’t hit her, didn’t cry.  He just took a step back, shaking his head in disbelief, saying softly, “No, no, oh no.  Nuh uh.”  He held his head in his hand and was silent for a minute.  Then loudly, distinctly, “How can you be pregnant, Sherrie Ann?  Huh?  We always used rubbers.  I always wore them.  I did what you have to do to prevent pregnancy.  So how you gonna tell me that YOU went and got pregnant?”  He finished off the last of his beer in one long gulp.

“I don’t know, Dan.  Those things aren’t perfect, you know.  They could have holes…”

“Holes?!?!” Dan fairly shouted, “And how could they have gotten there?  How come you know they had holes in them, Sherrie Ann?”

“Dan!” Her voice was out of control again, sobbing, whining like a girl’s.  She wished she didn’t sounds like a child.  “It didn’t have to be holes.  It could be from us laying together after, or…or it slipping or something.”

“You go and put the holes in the condoms and you expect me just to shrug it off, oops, no big deal, Sherrie Ann’s pregnant, oops these things happen?  Bullshit!  I bet you had this all planned, all figured out.  You probably got a white dress in your closet right now.  You probably got a little bridal registry set all picked out at stores all over.  All I gotta do is get you pregnant.  Well, it won’t work.  It’s bullshit.  It’s not fair.”

“Dan!  Don’t do this to me.  I can’t make it alone.  I swear it’s not like that at all.  Please, Dan.  Just be a friend.  Let’s not talk about this right now.  We got time.  Let’s not…”

“Not talk about it?  Not talk about it?  How the hell we gonna not talk about it?  Jesus Christ!”  He threw his empty disgustedly over the cliff and pulled a new one from his jacket pocket.  He popped the top, took a sip.  “I ain’t going along with your happy games.”  In a vicious mimicry, “Dan!  I’m pregnant!  Dan!  Let’s get married!  Dan!  Let’s not talk about it!”  He shook his head.  “Jesus H. Christ!  What do you expect me to do?”

“Please, Dan.  God, oh please, just don’t be like this.  Don’t be angry, I didn’t try for this.  Oh, please, can’t we just not talk about this when you’re upset?  We can talk tomorrow, or in a week, or…”  She broke off into sobs, sniffed, “I’m just scared, we have to think and I can’t tell my parents, Lord no.  They’ll throw me out.  There’s no one I know, Dan, just you.  So please let’s not talk about it now, ok?  Just hold me and we’ll think of something.  Please, Dan.”

“Just hold you?!?  How do you think this all started in the first place?  You make me sick!”  He shook his head bitterly.  He looked out over the quarry at red and yellow sky where the sun had just dipped below the horizon.  Damn, he should have joined the Army when the recruiter had called him, should have just gone far far away from this little shithole town.

Sherrie breathed deep, started to calm down and stand up straighter.

“Here I am, eighten.  Eighteen years old, and here you come saying you’re pregnant.  Well that’s just grand.  Just fine and dandy.  Little sixteen year-old, getting a little growed up.  Thinks she knows everything, thinks she’s got the man of her dreams.  So it just happens there’s holes in the condoms.  Gee whiz, she just happens to catch pregnant.  Gee whiz, she has a husband.  Well, it won’t work.  I got too much going for me.  Too much to see yet for you to go screwing it all up with this little baby of yours.”

Dan walked to the edge of the cliff, spat over, and moved back away.  Another sip of Schlitz.  “Well, you’re wrong.  Dead wrong.  It won’t be like that.  You get into a mess, you gotta get out of it.”

Dan took a long sip of beer, was silent briefly.  Then, his voice softer, “If you want to maybe go to a doctor, you know, a clinic like up in Pittsburgh, well, I could help out.”

Sherrie said nothing.  Dan started to warm up to his topic, caught up in his generosity.  “I’ll drive, and pay half and all.  Except you don’t have a job, so maybe I could pay for all of it.  Yeah, I’d do that for you.  But you g….”

“I knew it would be bad, but not like this.”  Dan turned suddenly at the sure sound of her voice, the strength and resignation.  “I’m just glad I told Heather.”

“What are you talking about?” Dan spat, “You told that loudmouth about it?  Oh Gawd!”

“Yes, I told that loudmouth about it.  I also told her that when I told you I was pregnant, you went berserk, said you weren’t the daddy.  You were so mad you said you could kill me.  Told her you invited me up here, told her…”

“You got that backwards.  YOU invited ME to the quarry.  You never said anything to me before now.  What are you getting at?”  Dan looked around, suspiciously.  He stepped back a pace.

“I told her you were just furious.  Swearing up a storm.  Acting crazy.  I told her how my life was ruined if my parents found out. Told her how I’d have to drop out of school, told her you wouldn’t support the baby.”  She shook her head, snorted, “My life is ruined, Daniel Herron.  Ruined.  I…I knew it would end this way, knew as soon as I missed my period.  But I thought maybe I could talk some sense into you.  Thought, well..thought maybe you loved me.”  She smiled sadly and stepped towards him.

Dan took a step back, asked nervously, “What are you talking about, Sherrie?  What are you saying?”  He stepped back.

“My life’s ruined, Daniel.  Over.  Over, don’t you see?  And I could have maybe just have made it if you loved me or even offered to stand by me.  I was half at fault for this, but I’m doing all the paying.  I’m the one pregnant, and you worry about yourself.  I’ve lost my family and all my friends from church and I can’t even graduate from high school.  I can just find a place to stay and collect welfare and raise my child for eighteen years.  And I ain’t but sixteen.  And you just worry about poor old you.  Well, I can’t take it, Daniel.”  She took two steps towards him.

He edged back, hands in front of himself.  “Sherrie, look, don’t act crazy.  I know you’re mad at me now…”

“Oh, Daniel,”  she said, suddenly softening, “I’m just upset.  I took it out on you.  I’m sorry.  Hold me and tell me you love me.”

They embraced.  Sherrie looked up at him, moved her head close.  She kissed him long and slow.  He kissed her, ran his hand through her hair, slipped his tongue into her mouth.  They both began to breathe heavily.

She suddenly kneed him in the crotch.  He bent at the middle, grimacing in pain.  She grabbed the sides of his head in her hands and tore her fingernails across his face and neck, gouging deep into his skin.  He fell to his knees, one hand holding his crotch, the other barely waving her away.  He was unable to defend himself.  She reached out and scratched his hand, drawing blood, then punched his head twice, bruising her knuckles.  He fell to his face.

When nothing happened for a moment or so, he looked up off the ground at her, “OK…I deserved that…”

He looked up at her, breathing raggedly, as she stood by the edge of the cliff, radiant and smiling.  “Goodbye, Daniel,” she whispered.

Then she screamed aloud, a terrifed and anguished shriek.  She doubled over with the effort, screamed loud enough that the people loading the last of their picnic goods into their cars at the parking lot could hear, “HELP!!  Help!! Oh my God no!  STOP IT!  DAN!!  Help!  HELP!!! SOMEBODY SAVE ME!!!!!”

She rushed over the edge of the cliff and hurled herself down.  She screamed until she and her unborn baby and the skin under her fingernails and her bruised knuckles smashed against the rocks below.

The Ouija Board

We all live out in the country; me, the ex-wives, the kids, Squirrel, Fat Danny, Reggie, Stinkfinger, the ex-wives friends, everyone. Except Little Tony. He lives in a single room apartment over the only bar in {NAME REDACTED}. So we all got together in costumes with the kids and drove the 45 minutes towards the city and hit one of the big developments with a bunch of cul-de-sacs. There were about 50 of us, and we parked at the community house.

This neighborhood was something else. The houses were pretty big, but they probably ran in the $300K range, so these were working people who were doing well. Not a bunch of rich pricks. Almost half of the houses were decorated, and more than that giving out candy. Several of the cul-de-sacs had the whole group sitting around a fire-pit, like ten adults drinking beer and having a table covered with bowls of candy for the kids to pick from. At first, they were handing out candy and admiring the costumes. Later on they were sitting there, laughing and joking, only oohing and aahing over good costumes, or little kids. On the bigger streets, you’d have a few people doing the same in the driveway. Less than half the time did the kids have to actually walk up to a door to get candy. This was good for us, because with us we had some in strollers.

Best of all, some of the groups were passing out beer or jello shots to the adults. Those of us who weren’t driving had a bottle or Solo Cup in our hand pretty much the whole time. After the kids finished trick-or-treating, most of us went back to my armed compound to count the candy, let the kids watch movies, and let the adult party begin. There were blow-up mattresses strewn about, for when we all finally crashed, and Reggie had brought his RV for his family to sleep in.

It was a beautiful night, and once the kids were settled we sat on the screen porch with the outdoor fireplace roaring. We eventually fell to swapping ghost stories, and it seemed about half of us had some kind of unnatural ghostly or psychic experience to share. Reggie’s wife, LuAnn, shared one where her mother had an unnatural premonition of doom before a water-skiing trip back when her mother was in high-school, and begged out at the last minute. The boat ran into another one at high speed, and two of the five people on her friend’s boat were killed. Plus, one was paralyzed. Reggie used to work night shift at an old folks’ home as a janitor, and he saw no end of spectral old folks wandering around and sighing, wringing their hands and waiting for visitors who never came. I pulled out my stories of haunted hotels in Austria, and the band of Micmaw warriors who strode through my hunting camp years ago in Maine, their feet six inches off the ground. And on and on the stories went.

Fat Danny’s new girlfriend, named Laura like the wife he is now separated from, has never had any such experience. She is awful young for him, but she carries her buzz well and is a lot of fun. She also really wanted to have some kind of supernatural experience. So much so, that she brought a Ouija Board for us to consult. Squirrel really wanted to talk to his uncle, who had died the week before Squirrel graduated from high school, falling off a roof at a construction site. That was like 30 years ago, but they had been close, and Squirrel had some unfinished business to discuss.

The seance didn’t go well. Kids kept popping in and out, and the surroundings weren’t at all solemn or spooky. We tried my basement, but that has no real atmosphere. Just cast concrete with food stored in it and my close-combat pistol range. In the end, Fat Danny said, “You know, there’s an old church with a cemetery right up the street from my house. The stones go back like 200 years. There’s gotta be some spirits there.”

Well, no one was in any condition to drive, but just then Rebecca’s friends dropped her off in her Little Bo Peep costume. She’s a good kid, very studious, and most importantly, she can drive. So we saved her from baby-sitting duties and dragooned her into being our chauffeur. She balked a little when she found out what our destination was, but finally agreed once she had grabbed a Crucifix, strung a few cloves of garlic around a rosary and put it on her neck, and took my silver-plated Bowie knife out of it’s display case. She strapped that on her hip, and hung a ball peen hammer on the other hip. She checked her purse, and confirmed that her flashlight, bear spray and Tazer were in there. Like I said, she’s a good kid. No need to worry much about her taking care of herself.

We filled a cooler with a suitable mix of refreshments, piled into the 15-passenger van and headed out. The ex-wives weren’t having any of this non-sense, and agreed to be in charge of the brood back at the compound. Within ten minutes we were parked behind the church. We left our cell phones and any other battery-operated or electronic devices in the van, so as not to interfere with the spirit world. We had two propane camping lanterns to see by. As we filed through the cemetery gates, Rebecca said, “If anything goes down, I’m leaving as soon as I get the van started up. Anyone not with me can go to Mr. Dan’s house. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!”

We wandered a bit, looking at the old gravestones, remarking on the dates and inscriptions that were still legible. It was sobering. We finally settled on the ground in front of a mausoleum. LuAnn spread out a blanket, and we sat in a circle. It was a ridiculous assembly, as we were still in costume. Little Bo Peep was armed to the teeth. Reggie was in drag. LuAnn was a pirate. I was Wolverine. And so on.

It went downhill from there. Fat Danny tried to invoke the spirits, asking for their guidance and beneficence (yes, he actually said “beneficence”) in our inquiry. It all sounded like a really bad prayer. LuAnn dropped the Ouija board, and the contents spilled in the grass. None of this was adding to the solemnity of the occasion. In the end, Squirrel was obviously pushing the planchette around the board. We let it pass without comment, knowing it would make him feel better. Rebecca had long since stashed the Crucifix in her purse, and was looking bored.

We ended up sitting on the kerb of the mausoleum and the flagstones in front of it, letting Squirrel tell stories of his uncle while we drank in the gloom smoking cigars, and supported him. Once that died out, we reached back into the recesses of our minds for more ghost stories, to either recite long-forgotten tales, or just make them up.

Finally, Reggie asked, “Hey, does anyone know what the inside of a mausoleum is like?”

No one did.

“Well, there’s some kind of peep hole there. Anyone want to look?”

I shone the lantern on the door. He was right. The mausoleum had a red-painted steel door with a massive padlock, and a rectangular hole about 5 by 3 inches. I put my tumbler of Macallan down, stood up, and got close. “Hmmmm…” I said, an idea beginning to form in my mind, “You can’t really see anything. The light from the lantern hits your eye and blinds you.”

Everyone humphed in disappointment, and luckily no one mentioned going to the van to get a flashlight. I brightened as if suddenly having an idea, “Hey, I’ve got a lighter! If you put your arm in there and get the flame up, you should be able to see.”

Everyone kind of looked down or around, until Reggie finally said, “You first.”

So I stuck my arm in, glad there wasn’t enough light for anyone to see me snicker. I struck the flame and sighted down my arm. Pitch black. You couldn’t see anything.

“Oh, wow!” I said, “Holy sh1t! You should SEE this thing!”

“What?” “What is it?” “Let me see!” came bubbling up as they all crowded around, jostling for a turn.

“It’s…” I started to say, and then said, “What the hell?!?!” Then I jumped forward towards the door, sticking my arm in to the shoulder, and slapped the door with my left hand, making a loud booming noise as if my head had struck it. “Help! Help!” I screamed in a nicely feigned panic as I rammed myself over and over against the door, pretending that my arm was being torn from its socket by the Devil himself, “It’s got me! It’s got me! No! No! Let go! Let go! Help me! Help!!!!!”

Total pandemonium broke out. Everyone was screaming, yelling. Squirrel set off across the graveyard in the dark, and you could hear him banging into head stones and screaming. Fat Danny had his hands up over his ears, and he was running in place, wide-eyed and gibbering. Anna grabbed the lantern and made a bee-line for the car. Only Rebecca jumped in to save me, deftly pulling out the Crucifix and bear spray, jumping between me and the mausoleum and driving forward like a linebacker. She is only like 115 pounds, but she caught me unawares and ripped me free right away, the lighter getting knocked from my hand as it came out of the hole.

She dropped down to one knee and whipped around, the bear spray shooting in a straight and true line through this little hole until it ran dry. God, I love my children.

She dropped the pepper spray, and tried to pull me up by my arm as I lay there rolling on the ground, gasping for air as I laughed. “Dad! Dad! Get up! GET UP!!!!!!”

She tugged on my arms, but I was dead weight, lost to hysterical laughter, “Oh, oh, oh God!” I gasped, “You should have seen yourself. Sh1t! You took that son of a b1tch out! You… you…” My stomach was cramping from laughing so hard and tears were streaming from my eyes.

Rebecca slowly stopped tugging, and dropped my arms. The sounds of my laughter were the only thing to be heard, as Fat Danny and Reggie and LuAnn slowly calmed down. Some looked relieved, while others looked p1ssed.

Rebecca stood over me, hitting and slapping me about the head and shoulders, “Dad! You are such a b@stard! D@mn you!” She finally relented, and dropped down to her knees, crying as I gasped for air, “I was so scared! I thought I had lost you.”

I stopped laughing, and began to hate myself for being such a b@stard. Here I was, the worst father in the Daley family for probably the last 5 generations. Marrying women, impregnating them, then leaving them for overseas adventures and drinking bouts and whore-mongering and nights in Third-World lockups. Only to touch down stateside and start the cycle all over again. Having had a minor epiphany one lonely night-watch on a boat in the Caribbean, had finally come back into their lives and uprooted them all to move to some strange town in the American South, and here I was, abusing their trust and making a mockery of their feelings. A feeling of self-hatred and despair welled up inside me, and all positive feelings from the prank just dissolved in the terror of knowing that the well of poison within me was too deep, too broad, and too ancient to overcome. I was going to not only destroy my own life, but also the lives of everyone around me, anyone I touched.

I sat up and hugged Rebecca, who was kneeling with her eyes over her face, shaking with sobs and looking completely broken. “There, there,” I murmured to her, “I’m so sorry! I never should have done that. It was wrong. And thoughtless. And selfish, so selfish. Please, Rebecca, just forgive me. I’ll make it up to you somehow…” I struggled to think of how this could be made right, and was coming up with nothing. Nothing. “Look, I can’t think of anything now, but please give me a chance. I’m sorry, so sorry.”

Her sobs grew in intensity, but were silent, her body just shaking and shaking as if her soul were being shredded from the inside. Squirrel and Anna came back, looking mightily relieved, but then became concerned as they gazed down upon the spectacle. Rebecca bent over double, quivering as I held her, looking around helplessly at the faces of the friends around me. They were looking downcast and embarrassed, no one knowing what to say.

After minutes that seemed like hours, filled with self-loathing and silent recriminations, Rebecca finally rolled on her side, and gales of laughter began to break out of her, “Oh god! Oh god! You should hear yourself, Dad! Oh, sh1t! I had you going! You…you…” She looked up at me, dry eyes sparkling in the lamp light, and mimicked me in a high-tone, “Oooh, I’m sorry! Oooh, forgive me! Oooh, I’m a bad daddy!” She dissolved in laughter, “It hurts, it hurts! Oh my stomach. My stomach. Oh…oh…”

All our anxiety melted away, and everyone began laughing. Squirrel handed the Ouija board to LuAnn and folded the blanket by me, “Sorry I ran, Finnegan.”

“Squirrel, that was the smart thing to do. I’m sorry I played a joke on you.”

“That’s okay.”

Once Rebecca pulled herself together enough to stand up, we headed back to the car by lamplight, chattering excitedly about both pranks. We all agreed that Rebecca’s was better. Back at my place, we could barely get the story out to those who had stayed behind. We were talking over each other, and the story was told all out of sequence. We all agreed that it was a great experience, and we were glad we had gone.

Afterwards on the screen porch, Rebecca and I had a chance to talk alone. She admitted that she had been terrified at first, then enraged when she found it all a joke, but then she started laughing in relief. However, she ran with the thing when I thought she was crying. She said we were even, that we each got one over on the other. “And Dad,” she said seriously, “All those things you said, they show you care. And the reason I stayed to save you was because I’m just glad you’re here, glad you’re back with us. I didn’t want to lose you. Please promise to stick around this time, ok?”

“I promise,” I said solemnly, meaning it from the bottom of my heart, and thanking the powers that be silently for giving me the best family in the world, one much better than I deserve.