Sunday, February 5, 2017

That Beautiful Hippie Girl







That Beautiful Hippie Girl

One person stood out. He'd been sitting by the fire for quite a while when he suddenly stood up, turned and began walking with purpose straight toward the window that my face was framed in. I'd turned away hoping to disappear into the safety of darkness, when I felt the grip of someone's hand on my shoulder, sending me into full survival mode. How old? How big? How many? All the information I'd be needing to craft an escape plan as the encounter unfolded. Turning toward my captor, our eyes met. On the exterior, she was a soft, pretty girl. But who was that large angry looking fellow that had me by the arm? I knew then what my next move would be. "Sir, I'm so hungry," I said. His grip relaxed.

Boxing was my stress relief technique before leaving the Wall Street rat race a few years prior. I was fast, and I knew how to stun someone without really hurting them.

Staggering back a few steps wobbly legged, he just sat down. "Perfect!" I thought. I'd be gone and well on my way back to my tree house before he'd gotten his senses back. Yes, tree house. Woodstock had changed all the rules, and I was taking full advantage. On the surface, I was doing fine, stinking rich in fact. But life had lost all its luster. Something was missing. So, I abandoned my dry, lifeless existence altogether and took the advice of Timothy Leary, "Tune in, turn on and drop out."

Running, facing backwards for a last glimpse, my eyes found her. She was standing unshaken, hands on her hips, waiting for what she must have known would be my inevitable final look back. Turning back around, I increased the pace to a flat-out run, not realizing that things were about to take a drastic turn as I ran down that path through those cold, empty, moonlit woods.

Slowing now, to a rhythmic trot, each step in perfect sync with my breathing, I geared up for the long run ahead, turning from time to time to check for anyone following. The steam from my breath swirled behind me before disappearing in the chilly night air. I'd always loved connecting with the natural world around me. But when it came to people, it was never long before things simply went to hell in a hand basket. "So, this girl connection?" I reasoned,” Just some outward projection no doubt, of my own internal psychic mumbo-jumbo. "When I get home," I thought, "I'll put some fresh water in the bong, load a bowl of dried homegrown flower tops, toke up and tune out."

Just then I heard footsteps from behind me, so I sped up, rounded the next bend, ducked behind a tree and waited. She wanted to meet me, and I was letting her pass by. As I stepped out onto the path, she stopped, turned, walked up and stood directly in front of me, and inches away, placed her hands on my head and began passionately calling out, to her God on my behalf, tears streaming. She then lifted her hands from my head, stepped around my dumbfounded, statue like form, and walked away.

There was no sleeping for me that night. All I could do was relive again and again, the warmth of her voice, and the tenderness of her breath against by my face. I had to see that girl again, that beautiful hippie girl.

                             Young Dezzie

Daddy told me that nice girls don’t pick up strangers, I thought as I pulled over.

I watched him that night in the rear-view mirror as he approached, his form gradually took shape in the soft red glow of the tail lights. A limp, deformed arm dangled loosely in his flannel shirt sleeve, swinging at his side. As if it wasn’t attached.

The interior light illuminated his features as he got in. Strings of oily black hair swung across his face. His dark eyes gleamed as he looked over at me, slamming the truck door behind him.

Gripping the steering wheel I turned forward, fighting back tears as he told me where he'd be getting out. When I explained that I wasn't going that far, he said in a raspy voice, "Yes....yes you are."

The only sound was the rhythmic ka-thunk of the truck tires hitting the joints in the pavement as we silently drove down that dark, empty road.

I wondered, "Am I really hiding, here in the silence? Or, is he perfectly aware."

Dad always kept a loaded .38 revolver in the glove box of the pickup. I hoped it was there, and began waiting for an opportunity to grab it.

He nodded off asleep, then caught himself, jerking his head up before nodding off again.

“Was I over reacting?” alone, and fighting panic? Almost involuntarily, my head slowly rotated until he was in full view. A sleeping monster was beside me.

In one quick motion, I reached over him with one hand, popped open the glove box, and grabbed the gun. As he woke up and turned toward me, I stood on the brakes with both feet. With the tires screaming and the truck sliding sideways across the pavement, I pointed and squeezed the trigger. The sound was deafening—concussive. The passenger side window shattered.

His expression turn to shock. I liked that. I had the advantage and gained a defiant confidence.

As the truck slid to a stop I fired again, missing on purpose and hitting the window frame above his head. He began frantically grabbing for the door handle with his one good hand.

He threw the door open so hard that it bounced back and hit him in the face. In a blind panic, he fell out onto the pavement and awkwardly scrambled off on all fours before managing to get up and disappear into the darkness.

“Just a pathetic, broken down old hobo,” I thought.

I spontaneously put the gas pedal to the floor forcing the open passenger door to slam shut. I had no idea what Dad had done to the truck, and what it could do. But with the engine screaming, rubber smoking and tires squealing, I hung on to the steering wheel as dads old pickup spun in circles in the middle of that secluded country road. The headlights illuminated the surrounding landscape with each pass, like a searchlight. 

It was then that I saw him, running across an empty field. With delight, I parked the truck, got out and climbed up the front bumper and on to the fender. Holding the gun out in front of me with both hands, I unloaded every remaining round into a hillside behind him as he disappeared into the trees.

I lingered there for a while, basking in my victory in the warm stillness of the night, gazing up into the black sky. The low rhythmic rumble of the truck engine vibrated under my bare feet. I was free. The forest around me began to fill with sounds of the night. So alive.

"This is home," I thought. "This is the life I want."

I was leaving a part of myself behind.

I got back in the truck, and with the windows down and the warm wind in my face, continued on my way without a care, watching through the windshield as the full moon emerged from behind dark clouds.

I felt no remorse. There was no worry, no pain of any kind. Life was mine. The world was mine. I had strength. I was alone. And that was fine with me. I didn't need anybody.

A part of myself had, turned off—gone missing. But it wasn’t long until I began to feel the pain of an internal void. This deep emptiness eventually compelled me to join a convent and became a nun.

I was fairly happy there, but something was still missing, until I met a boy who lived not far away, in a tree.



The Lady in the Towel

Steadily walking and deep in thought, I was well into what I thought was the men's locker room at the gym, when my mental state seamlessly transitioned from tranquil quiet thoughtfulness, into a gripping panic.

I realized that there was a good chance that the naked person I'd just seen in my peripheral vision, standing in the shower, was that of the opposite sex. So, not looking up, and steadfastly maintaining my focus on the linoleum floor tiles under my feet, I made an abrupt and immediate about face.

I was several steps into my beeline drive for the exit door, when right in front of me, feet away, to my horror, walked a lady from the shower, drying her hair with a towel. In a desperate effort to avoid eye contact, I spontaneously ducked into an adjacent toilet stall. The next thing I remember, is seeing stars as I bounced off the closed stall door.

Dazed, I staggered backward and just as she looked up, yep, ran directly into her. We were eye to eye. "I'm so sorry," I said. I knew I'd been slipping a bit in my old age, and what with the bang on the head, I suddenly wasn't sure whether I'd spoken out loud or not.

She wrapped herself in her towel, took my arm and began slowly walking, leading me toward the exit. My face began throbbing, and I was having trouble seeing. She began calling me by name, and she spoke as if we knew one another.

Pulling my arm away I walked passed her, out of that steamy place and back into the cool, quiet hallway. I knew I'd find my way if I just kept walking, searching.

Warm light emanated from open doors as I passed, illuminating the dark, glossy wooden floorboards that creaked under my feet as I walked. I could hear voices, clear and distinct. But no matter how I struggled, I could not extract a meaning.

Feeling very tired, I stopped walking. As I stood turning my handkerchief over and over, looking for a clean spot to wipe the blood from my eye, I felt someone from behind take my arm. It was a lady, wearing a towel. She then walked around in front and looking into my eyes with a wrinkled pretty smile, removed her towel and gently pressed it against the side of my bleeding face. I began walking again, but then stopped and turned, facing her.

After a quiet moment, slowly shuffling along, she made her way over to me, and tenderly rested her head against my chest. I felt her frail warmth nestling against my heart. 


Wrapping my arms around her, I rested my chin on the top of her head, and in a moment, she was gone. I knew then that I’d found what I had lost, if only for a moment. I lowered her to the floor, and whispered goodbye, to the lady in the towel.



Introduction - The Boardinghouse

Who doesn’t like to settle back with a cup of tea or an adult beverage, and cozy up to a spooky short story now and then?

Nestled deep within the wet, dark basement levels, there lies a complex array of hidden passageways, secret rooms and closed doors, that were locked and abandoned decades ago. Absolute quiet inhabits these endless winding corridors, interrupted only by the hollow echo, of the slow rhythmic footsteps of a timeless creature, who is the sole occupant. The sound of whose voice cannot be described, and from whom there is no escape. A being that is, as some say, a human manifestation, of the living soul of, “The Boardinghouse.”

Come along with Ben and Sarah in this short story, this brief restful daydream, as they are helplessly drawn into the fight of their lives.


The Boardinghouse

BEN - After I'd opened the driver’s side car door and was about to step in, a gunshot rang out and the passenger side rear view mirror practically exploded. Then another shot went through the windshield. After that, shot, after shot, after shot had me diving for cover as the Land Rover succumbed and gradually became a useless pile of scrap metal.

Not a piece of glass remained, no tire inflated or body panel un-riddled, as the old man circled the car, reloading time after time, firing round after round after round. I was sprawled out in the cover of the tall grass when it stopped, feeling lucky to be un-hit, and alive.

After a few minutes of dead silence, I crawled around behind what was left of the car and poked my head up over the tall grass looking for the old man. No one there. 

Ducking back down in the grass I called out again and again, listening for a response. After an hour or so of lying there behind the car in the hot sun, the anti-freeze fumes and the bugs, I began to realize I was alone.

I didn't like being intimidated. Against the stern protest of my wife Sarah, I purchased a hand gun from Ron, the deputy sheriff and owner of the hardware store in town, and decided to sleep there at the site where I could keep a closer eye on things. 

It was sometime around sunset. The construction crews were gone. I'd swept out one of the rooms and created a circular perimeter of powdered boric acid to keep the roaches at bay, in the middle of which I placed my supplies.

There was no electricity other than the gas powered generators which had all been shut down.

I was all ready now, firearm holstered at my side. I’d decided to take a stroll around the grounds before dark. All was well. Except, when I got back I immediately spotted the empty space on the floor where my back pack used to be, and a hand-written note in its place. It was totally dark now, no moon, no stars—overcast. And, just as I leaned over to pick up the note, my flashlight flickered, then went out. And after shaking, and banging it on the heel of my hand, it stayed out. A sinking feeling fell over me before I even started to check my pockets for a match to light the lantern. I did think to pack spares, in the missing back pack.

Dark, does not begin to describe the thick blackness that filled the room I was in. I put both hands out in front of me and took a step toward where I'd hoped the door would be. I figured I'd make my way down the stairs and out of the building, then walk to town where Sarah and I were staying.

There were sections of the old floors and ceilings that were badly water damaged and had to be stripped to the frame, so I knew I'd need to take extra care. I took another step, and another until I felt the wall with my fingertips. Then facing it, feeling my way, I slowly sidestepped across the room until I reached the door frame, then stepped out of the room and into the hallway.

While trying to remember what obstacles or lack of flooring might be in my path, I sensed something passing by. I reached out and felt a button, then a shirt, then the warm body of someone standing there directly in front of me. I lurched backwards fumbling for my side arm. The holster flap was snapped closed, and the safety catch was on. After what seemed like an eternity of just trying to get the thing out in front of me, I finally got off four quick shots.

With each muzzle flash, the old man’s dead eyed face appeared, staring directly at me. It was as if the rounds were passing directly through him. Taking a step toward him, I fired again, and kept firing until the gun was empty. His face never moved or even changed expression. I ran, and had only gone a few steps when my head hit an overhang of some kind and I tumbled dazed through an opening in the floor and landed somewhere on the first level.

I woke up with excruciating pain. And, looking down, to my horror, a thin piece of splintered lumber was protruding out of my side. Then suddenly remembering the old man in the dark I grabbed at my waist for the firearm, only to find an empty holster. After a few minutes of gathering my wits, I pulled myself to my feet. The pain wasn't as bad if I dragged one foot rather than trying to lift it, so using a short piece of lumber as a cane, I began the slow trip, one step at a time down the hallway toward the front door.

One side of my face was swollen and bloody from the fall, so with my good eye, I noticed that objects in the hallway were becoming visible in the morning light.

I finally reached the front door. There was a fine mist falling and fog was settling in. After the last grueling step down the front porch stairs and having begun the trek across the grounds, the sound of a chuckle from behind me crackled through the cold, early morning air. As I slowly and painfully turned around, I caught a glimpse of the old man's evilly delighted eyes and toothless grin shining from behind the hair over his face. He must have blindsided me because the next thing I knew my head was bouncing along on the ground while I was being dragged away.

My next memory is finding myself lying on one side, ankles and wrists tied together, and unable to move my head from the face down position. When I did manage to look up, I was looking straight down the rail of the train track that he'd placed me across.


MARY - After an unsuccessful attempt to reach the police chief by phone, I started out on foot to look for Ben. By then the renovation would have begun for the day, I thought, and the site would be teeming with construction people. I'd be safe from the crazy old man that my husband and I had been struggling with in the renovation of this old boardinghouse.

Mounting anxiety seized my heart as images of Ben and what could have happened flashed before me. When I finally got there, out of breath, I ran up to the first workman I came to. My voice broke and I sobbed uncontrollably for a few seconds before I could compose myself enough to ask him if he'd seen Ben.

I knew something was wrong when the workman hesitated and looked down before drawing a breath to speak. Before the first word came out of his mouth I launched toward the building. There was a blood trail that began out in the yard and led to what had to have been a pint of Ben's blood pooled on the hallway floor. I ran out of the building, and for some reason straight into, and through the wooded area behind it, until I came out by some railroad tracks. 

Standing in the center of the tracks, I turned in each direction calling his name, sobbing into the emptiness of the fog and drizzle, hearing only the echo of my own voice.

BEN - I think I cracked a little smile, knowing that if Sarah somehow found me before I died, she'd probably finish me off. I was getting cold, confused, growing weaker every second, unable to move. For a moment, I thought I heard Sara's voice, calling my name.

I could hear life all around me, in what I knew was the last few minutes of my life. A barking dog in the distance, a flock of honking geese flying overhead. I would never hear the laughter of our children, or see their smiles. Life was escaping me, unfinished.

"I'm so sorry Sarah", Ben thought, as tears dripped from the end of his nose and into the stone gravel, and the cold embrace of death began rocking him to sleep.

MARY - I ran and ran, calling Ben's name, staying close to the train tracks, searching, squinting my eyes trying to see through the fog and into the woods on either side. As the tracks ahead of me were passing across my view, I saw him. But it wasn’t Ben.

There he was out of nowhere, not five feet in front of me standing silhouetted against the glare of the fog in the morning light. A mountain of a man, shoulder length tangled and dirty greying hair, his head tilting to one side.

I slid to a halt almost falling in the loose gravel and stood face to face, eyes locked with this giant of a man.

I stayed there frozen, disconnected in silent disbelief as he stepped toward me, closing the gap between us. I immediately began to feel faint and disoriented. I grabbed a fist full of the old man's shirt, clinging on as I fell backward. Stars flew as the back of my head landed on a steel train rail, knocking me almost unconscious. I remember seeing his towering form standing over me as I lay there across the track. He watched and waited for a while, then turned and walked away.

                                          ****

Shrouded in fog, not fifty yards away from Ben, Sarah's body finally surrendered and she fell asleep, dreaming of the life they had planned, knowing that it was not to be. The sounding horn of the morning train could be heard in the distance, as it slowed for a railroad crossing in the blissfully unaware town nearby.

                                          ****

Suddenly I was awakened by a pounding windblown rain stinging my cheeks, and to the sight of the dripping drenched face of the old man directly over me not six inches away, his hair draped across my face. I remembered Ben as I was dragged clear of the tracks.

I thought of something Dad told me as a little girl, as if he in some prophetic way knew I'd be right there on those tracks, though I knew that was impossible. "Never give up" he said.

As the old man disappeared, fading into the raging elements, I became able somehow to summon strength I didn't know I had, and get on my feet. Over the noise of the torrential rain and the clacking of the passing train, I began running again. And with what little voice I had left, screamed Ben's name time and time again.

My heart soared when I heard his faint reply from among a pile of railroad ties that were scattered near the woods by the tracks. He was bound hand and foot, barely conscious. As I bent down over him, I heard a voice from behind me and was shaken to the core, fearing the worst. I hesitated momentarily then turned.

It was Ron the hardware store owner who had sold Ben the gun. In a fit of conscience, he’d come back to check on Ben.

With a look of horror on his face, he cut Ben loose and carefully picked him up. And, with Ben across his shoulders began making his way through the woods until we reached the residence of a local doctor he knew. 

Ron pounded on the front door continuously until whole house shook. "He's hurt doc, hurt bad", Ron said. The doctor ushered us in, laid Ben out on a table and began frantically working.

Suddenly I heard what sounded like distant gunfire, and a small "tink" sound from the window behind us. The doctor went limp and fell dead to the floor in a heap. Then almost instantly Ron began slowly sinking to the floor after two bullets ripped through his chest and into the wall behind him. I lost hope for him as a third bullet  passed right through his big generous heart.

Terrified, I risked a quick glance outside from my kneeling position under the window. There he was, the old man walking through the drenching hard rain across the yard, rifle in hand, toward the front of the house. I frantically began crawling, making my way toward the front door to lock the deadbolt.

Just then the living room window shattered and fire spread across the floor engulfing the entire room in a matter of seconds. I had to do it before it was too late, we were going to die anyway, so pulling Ben off the table I dragged him through the back door, and outside.

Half crazed I sprang to my feet and sprinted toward the old man as he walked away, but he seemed to disappear into the fog. I did manage to wrestle Ben into the doctor's pickup and get him to the emergency room in the town. I was admitted too, and was in a room just down the hall from Ben. 

When the nurse walked in to my room the next morning, I knew instantly by the look on her face that Ben was gone. But it wasn't Ben who was gone, it was my Dad. He’d been mysteriously killed by single gunshot as he was fishing at a pond near the Boardinghouse. A stray bullet, must have been a hunting accident they said.

BEN - Call us stubborn but Sarah and I got the Bed and Breakfast up and running by December of that year.

From time to time, Sarah and I are awakened by the sound of the hardwood floors creaking in the night. And from the window we can often see the old man, standing in the moonlight, among the trees. He is a shadow, a star that went dark long ago, yet lives on.



                              The Laboratory

I was upside down, legs sticking straight up out of the top, and like a contortionist, twisted around trying to see up and under the assembly I was repairing. Occasionally I'd hear the crunch of the apple that the lab manager was munching on, after he'd parked himself in the doorway to keep an eye on me.

He was a huge guy with shoulder length hair, not much of a talker. My inquiry about what type of research it was that they were doing there was met with absolute silence and another crunching bite of apple.

It was a rickety old wooden building with bars on all the windows.

The intermittent sounding of an alarm horn started, and a red light began flashing, but then both stopped. As I climbed out, I noticed that the steel reinforced laboratory door, the only exit, was slowly closing. It locked with a metallic "clunk" that I can only describe as sounding absolutely final. After shaking the doorknob and hearing the alarm, I began to get a little worried.

I walked straight over to the lab desk and picked up the telephone. There was a dial tone for a second before it went silent. As I hung up the phone I glanced out of the window, and in total disbelief observed the lab manager pushing my car down a steep slope. Then watching with folded arms as it rolled into the lake behind the building, and slowly sank in a whirlpool of bubbles.

It occurred to me that if I was to simply disappear, there'd be no one to report the incident, no Nuclear Regulatory Commission inquiry, and no immediate and permanent closure of this lab.

At this point, all bets were off. I wondered, had I already received a lethal dose of radiation? All they needed to do now was wait for me to get horribly sick and die before joining my brand new sixty-three Rambler in that lake outside. Nobody would have a clue for days that I was even missing. Maybe weeks. The last creature to have seen me alive, I realized, would have been my German Shepard and roommate Sam.

I pulled the desk chair over and climbed up to have a look out into the hallway through a small window over the door. There were already people writhing on the floor. The people who must have been in the lab next door, I deducted, working on the other side of the wall only a few feet away from ground zero.

As I watched through the overhead window, each person went limp as the lab manager injected them one by one and rolled them away on stainless steel tables. Maybe I'll be OK, I thought. That psycho lab manager seemed OK and he wasn't much further away than I was from the source.

I began feeling a little sick, but it quickly escalated as I found myself sinking to the floor, bracing myself with one hand.

A short time later the steel laboratory door clanked open. I looked up under the looming shadow of the lab manager as he leaned over me with his syringe. I felt the burn of the needle in my arm, and immediately felt much better, wonderful really. But, I was completely paralyzed, able only to move my eyes.

I was lifted up on to a table and rolled out of the lab. Able only to watch the lights on the ceiling pass by as the table rattled down the bleak hallway.

I soon found myself in a dimly lit room full of people like me, lying motionless. I fell asleep for what felt like an hour or so and when I woke up, I was sitting in a sealed circular chamber. The thing is, I had about three weeks of beard growth, as did all the other men.

We were able only to communicate through visual contact.

The next time I woke up a few more weeks had passed. I was sitting in my kitchen at home. My dog Sam, well fed and healthy, was licking my freshly shaven face.

When I went back to the laboratory, I found only an empty, abandoned building. There was a big long-haired homeless man there. He seemed to be living in the garden shed. When I asked him if he knew anything about what had been going on there, he just looked at me and took a crunching bite of apple.

We were engaged eye to eye when I realized who he was. He smiled a snaggletooth grin through the beard and hair. Then, like a dream remembered, I recalled that he had simply walked away—vanishing—brushing my shoulder as he passed.



The Mystery of the Tramp

MARY - I was approaching the exit door of hospital ladies’ room late that night, on my way back to John's bedside, when it suddenly opened. A towering figure was looming, a man, dressed in hospital staff whites. Stars flew as I felt a blunt thud on the side of my face. Everything went black. I felt myself collapsing to the hard tile floor.

Horror and pain surged through my swollen, throbbing face when I realized as I regained consciousness, that I was stripped bare, and bound hand and foot.

In the glow of a dying campfire a pair of cold intense eyes shown out from under a tattered hat. The man under the hat stood up, approached and spoke softly as he untied me, handing me a blanket. He offered to escort me through the woods, and back to the boardinghouse where I was staying. I had little choice.

My mind was racing so, I hardly heard him. But, as we walked, he told me about how he'd been a factory worker. And, like John and I, had lost everything in the economic collapse of 1929. He said he knew the reputation of the man who abducted me and explained that among the men in the hobo camp, this man was considered to be best left alone. Most even avoided direct eye contact with him.

My mind raced on. He said that he'd like to help me further, but he had relatives he feared for. He further explained that this man would not stop pursuing me now, and I should pack my things and leave the area, tonight.

Our room was still as it was when I'd found John there just a few short hours before. I threw the blanket that the Good Samaritan had so graciously given me across one of the dining chairs and started toward the open suitcase on the bed. 

To my horror, out of the darkness the iron grip of a man’s hand clamped tightly around my shoulder and spun me violently around. Desperately grasping in all directions, I pulled down one of the window drapes. In the cold moonlight, I looked up into the face of my slayer. With finality, his hand tightened around my throat. It was not the face of the drifter who had abducted me as I feared, but to my utter dismay and heartbreak it was my husband John. I began to weaken, unable to fight. My small frame dangled limply from his unyielding hand. But suddenly, he released and embraced me.

JOHN - We were in the midst of trying to piece together what had happened, when there was a sudden, hard knocking on the door. "You have a phone call!", announced a man’s voice from the other side of the door.

"From the hospital.”

I began frantically looking around for something to use as a weapon. There were three more rapid knocks.
As my eyes met with Mary's, she called out; "Okay, thank you. I'll call them back. Can you get their name please?"

I was drawn a step closer toward the voice from the hallway. The knock on the door suddenly became a heavy pounding, rattling the room.

Desperately rigging a harness with the bed sheets, I lowered Mary to the ground from the second story window. I watched her in the moonlight as she ran across the yard and faded into the shadows.

I knew what I had to do. Grabbing a fireplace poker, I threw the door open and stepped through. But, found only the dark empty silence of the Boardinghouse hallway. In a panic I turned, knocking over a table. And, in the thick darkness, stumbled head over heels down a staircase. A large China vase bounced down behind me, shattering and cascading over my face as I lay sprawled out at the foot of the stairs.

After searching the grounds through the night, daybreak brought only despair.

I am an old and dying man now. I spend my day's sitting alone, gazing into the warm darkness of her memory. I see her face in my dreams. She haunts my heart.


Yet, I can see a light, from a place beyond myself. A light that shines without turning or shadow. That has known me from before time.

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