The Art Of The Word

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There is a strange misconception when it comes to, well, Art in general but writing in particular. You walk into a bookstore or look online and there’s Fiction, and Literary Fiction, and then the many types of genre fiction. It’s a strange dichotomy. The notion that a horror novel cannot be literary or a literary work not be horrific. It’s the same silliness that plagues horror films. The word ‘horror’ has such a rigged connotation that people, while they will secretly watch the movies at home, will turn their nose up at the notion that their film would be horror. No, no, it’s a thriller, naturally. Of course it is. Thriller has become code for ‘classy horror’.

Like I said, silliness.

But with fiction it’s bothersome because there’s a divide in thinking that is perpetuated by the market, the reviewers, the sellers, and the public. It’s this notion that storytelling and art-telling are not the same. It’s the idea that someone like Stephen King, who has always been prolific is nothing but a storyteller when someone like Toni Morrison, who takes years to produce a book, is an artist. Now, I love both writers. Both have influenced me. Both are amazing storytellers. Let’s not act though as if Mr. King is just a hack pushing words and Ms. Morrison a great artist. No. They are both writers, both influencers. Both geniuses of the word. I don’t like putting people on pedestals though because it makes their flaws too distant and when they do become visible they suddenly appear unforgivable. When I read Song of Solomon was in college, taught by an instructor that wept while teaching it. It’s an impactful, important book. But you know what, so too is The Shining. Now, I will never tell you that they should stand shoulder to shoulder as to their impact and message, no, but that doesn’t mean that can’t both be classic pieces of fiction. This notion of Literature versus Fiction is just silly. Literature to me means self-important and boring. That’s my bias and I admit to it. It’s high-minded and always comes with a cleared throat – AHEM, the book is Lord Blah-Blah of Blahblahberry. It’s very important. And we seem to see the rest of fiction as throw away summer reads that we hand away as soon as we’re done.

It’s odd.

We assume that writers are either artists or storytellers. They can’t be both. While I have always looked at myself as a writer and not an artist, that’s more about me and not anyone else. That’s how I see myself is all. My self-focused bias. I grant you, there’s a difference between a story and a Story, an art, but that is true of all artistic endeavors. There are books that want to tell you a story, as well as they can. Whatever else you get out of them is great. There are also books that want to do more, that have deeper layers to them and while you may not always pick up on the themes and nods they are there. These are books that are crafted and that may take longer to create because there is more to them. A story’s focus is more on the telling of a tale, and that it is that journey that draws and brings you. We need the artistic books just as we need artistic movies, to show us things we don’t always see and to tell the stories we don’t always hear. But we also just need stories. We need to see the world through other eyes to learn to better see them through our own.

I think every writer has more going on in their tales than people see, even if it’s just the influences for the story. For some reason we treat books as if they are chores we must get through. We seek out those ‘summer reads’ because they are fun but cringe at the notion of a book with more depth. Or we turn our noses up at something meant to primarily tell you a story when we feel like we’re better than that. You see it in everything. People frown at the mass-produced art because they feel it’s not as important if it’s for the masses but those people forget that part of what Art can do and should do is to inspire us and if it’s produced en masse then hey, it must be working. We can still go to a gallery and take nourishment from work and then go home and enjoy our pop art piece at home. There isn’t an either/or. There’s no one telling you to choose this or that. It’s us, restricting ourselves at every turn.

We need to let the stories tell themselves and let the people discover them. We need to stop penning these tales in and let them roam. Let that vampire story be about loneliness and loss and coming to terms with what it means to be mortal and let that story about the woman with cancer be funny and charming. Let these things be what they want to be and if there’s more to them to see then let us discover that for ourselves. Stop trying to make everything fit in a nice box. Let things be messy. For me, I focus on writing the stories. I want to tell a compelling story above all else. Are there other things going on though, below the surface? Sometimes. Sometimes a story is just a story for me, but others times there are things deeper. My novel A Shadow Over Ever has a lot of moments that have something deeper to say and the book itself has a deeper message but if people don’t see it then that’s fine. It’s still there. If I want to go read The Bluest Eye and just find a great story then that’s great too. Don’t shame me for not being moved by the deeper themes. Let Art speak for itself and stop shaming people for simply wanting something to enjoy. I know I have been guilty of judging people that read romances and why? It’s petty and silly. Just like thinking someone is wasting their time by reading a celebrity bio or a book of scary stories. It’s our time, we should spend it as we want. The joy of e-books is that you CAN delve into these works without people over your shoulder giving you grief. It allows you to simply get lost in another life or world.

Yes, there are books and paintings and poems and songs and drawings and on and on that rise above the medium. They are works that speak to the deeper parts of us and which move and inspire us. But you can also be inspired and moved by something simply being what it is and being from the heart. The faster we learn that for ourselves the better we’ll be. We make the meaning for our lives, no one else. Critics are meant to be guides, not prophets. Why should I trust their opinion about something they hate more than the layperson’s opinion about something they love?

The more time we waste trying to divide, sub-divide, and shame works that we don’t appreciate means less time for doing things we love and which enrich our lives. Our hate and disdain invests into a well that will never fill. Me, I don’t partake of the stuff I don’t have an interest in and I leave it at that. Sure, I spout off from time to time but I don’t expect people to take my opinion, my NEGATIVE opinion, over their own. Read what you want to read. Listen to what you want to listen to. Watch what you wanna watch. Love what you wanna love. There is so much stress and worry in the day to day world that we need to cling to the things that enrich our hearts and minds and make us feel better about the world, or heck, just to find the things that give us joy.

There’s too little joy in the world and we shouldn’t let some arbitrary rules of what’s good and what stinks keep us from that joy.

…c…

www.meepsheep.com

The House We Never – a story

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This is a new story as of 6.23.17.

A strange tale of northern Michigan and hidden secrets and deep woods. The story is inspired as much by a recent trip to the U.P, as we ‘troll’s call the northern part of our state, as it is the sparse, mysterious storytelling that always draws me to podcasts. I kinda dig this. I hope you will to. 

If you dig it and want to read more of my stuff check one of my books – www.meepsheep.com.

I was six when mom and dad bought the house up north. Up North was in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, about six hours away from where we lived and this new place was to be a vacation home. Mom and dad bought it after grandma died and left them what remained of money she’d invested and sat on for decades. They never could vacation before they got that money and from what I remember they argued a lot about what to do with it. It was a lot of money for them but not a lot of money ‘to everyone else’ is dad would say. It was his mother that had died and he had the final say, according to mom, though she wanted him to put it away. About three months after grandma died dad came home all excited with an ad he had found in the paper for a small piece of land with a small cabin on it up north. Imagine, he told her, imagine having a place, finally having a place where we could go to get away. Our own place. Ours. And that was what sold mom on it. They didn’t even own the house we lived in. They were paying on it and would be for decades. This though, this place, this would be theirs. Ours. They’d leave it to me one day and then it’d be mine and that was that. They bought the property. I am not sure for how much, I didn’t really understand all of that, but it was a lot, but not all of the money they were left. The rest of the money they put away in case I ever wanted to go to college.

And just like that, we owned a vacation cabin.

They bought the cabin in November, by listing, a photo, and faith alone because the year they bought it the winter came earlier than usual and made it hard for dad to make it up to see the place and he didn’t want to lose this opportunity. The man they bought it from swore that it was just as he said and that as far as he was concerned the place was sold and he’d accept the money for it the day we came up to get the keys from him. It was a strange arrangement, even to me, but it was what they agreed on. Dad was suspicious but mom told him that maybe, just maybe this time life was giving them a little luck. And she was right, in a way.

The drive wasn’t inspiring. It was beautiful but the beauty turned to squalor and ruin as we passed hunter’s cabins that had been abandoned, and areas that looked more like junkyards than anything else. There was an eerie isolation to all of it where we’d drive through a town and then see nothing but trees and trees and trees with the occasional glimpse of a river or the great lake and then more hills and mini-mountains. I started to feel homesick until we hit an area that became beautiful again where the hills were vibrant, the trees tall and proud, and where there were homes clustered together, places where people lived and loved year ‘round and didn’t just stop in to for a visit every few months. Those spots are what gave me hope and then we were there, we were at our new place, the house we’d never call home.

The cabin was small, and needed work, but it was just as it had been described. It was a two-bedroom place in need of new windows, a new roof, and a good cleaning, but it was built solidly of wood and had withstood the harsh winters since 1938. Dad said it had ‘good bones’. I just thought it was old and weird and neat. It was within a half an hour of Lake Superior, less than that to some hiking trails, and was bordered by a deep forest. Our land was small enough that dad could use the old-fashioned push mower that he had gotten at a garage sale to mow it but it had trees and some space to put a grill or tent or a bonfire or SOMETHING. There was no neighbor to the left of us, that place having burned up and being just a scorched shell, and to the right of us was a hunting cabin that a man from Ohio owned, bought from the same man we bought our place, and who only used it during hunting season. We were alone and out in the country but not so far that we couldn’t get a pizza and groceries when we needed, we just had to drive a half an hour. No big deal. It was all too good to be true but then there was the ‘ah, but’ to it all.

As soon as the man said this, Mr., uh, I forget his name but he was short and wide and smelled like a pipe, dad swore and started to put his checkbook away. The man, Mr. So-and-So put his hand on dad’s hand, shook his head from side to side slowly and then turned and started walking away from us. Mom looked at dad and dad looked at me and I shrugged and we all laughed and started to follow this strange man. He walked around the cabin and back towards the back of our lot, the area behind it being owned by a logging company that never, from what the man said, hadn’t been active in years. There was a strange fence at the back of our property and ran from the left to the right as far as the eye could see. Strange because the fence was new, tall, and chain link. The old man had mentioned it to dad when we got there, telling him not to get worried when he saw it, that it was just the way of the company, as he called the logging people. He said we might hear some work being done back there but that we wouldn’t see them. That didn’t make sense since he said they weren’t active but dad didn’t bring it up. We never had made it around back, dad just glancing back there as mom called out that there was a cellar and dad wondered aloud if anyone was buried down there. I had looked out back though and wondered what the squat building I saw was near to the forest but never thought to say anything. That was what all of this was about though, the big ‘ah, but’. The Guest House.

 

The Guest House, that was what the man called it, but it looked more like a large shed. It lay at the very back of the property and was just a couple of feet from the fence and it looked old, older than the cabin. Much older. It was made of stone and looked like it had sunk into the ground as I could have easily climbed onto the roof of the building, even at six. The windows, two on the side facing the house and none facing any other direction, were shuttered with heavy metal shutters that must have been secured from the inside. I walked around and around and around the place but could find no door, though Mr. So-and-So claimed that the door was below ground now. Dad started frowning as soon as he saw the Guest House and it seemed like this deal was dead with that frown but the man let out a laugh, clapped dad on the back and told him that it was nothing, really. This was an old hunter’s cabin that had been here for at least a couple hundred years and that it was part of the deal – if we wanted the other cabin and the rest of the land we had to take this as well under the promise not to destroy, harm, or attempt to gain entry. It was an unofficial historical place since it had been used during some war with the ‘natives’, as he called them, and the locals, whoever they were, considered the place almost holy. He told us to consider it an annoying stump we had to mow around.

 

“Hell of a goddamn stump, pal.” Dad told him, my mom swatting dad on the shoulder as he cursed twice.

 

The man laughed again and smiled at my dad and nodded then took a pencil stub and piece of paper out of his pocket and wrote something down and then handed it to my dad. Dad’s eyes got wide and he looked at the man and asked him if he was serious.

 

“Serious as the croup, sir, serious as the croup. I like you folks. This land has needed some new blood and I just don’t have the time or honestly the energy to keep up with it. If you’ll give me your word that you won’t fool with this here old eyesore then we have a deal…for the price I wrote there. Sound agreeable to you?”

 

Dad looked at mom and she shrugged. Dad looked at me and I was still trying to make some sense of the building, which, the more I looked at the more drawn to it I got. I looked over at dad and he smiled and I smiled back, forcing it because my mind was still picking at that building and according to dad my smile sold him. We bought.

We didn’t stay there that first time we were up there, the place needing too much work first, staying instead down near the bridge that took you from the upper to the lower peninsula, but dad promised that we’d be up there by the end of summer. Every weekend during that late spring and summer dad would get out of work, pack up his truck, and head up north to work on the place. He’d come back around midnight on Sunday, exhausted, hungry, and desperate for sleep but he was excited. ‘It’s coming along,’ he’d tell mom, and she’d hug him and give him a big kiss as I watched from the shadows of the hallway. As excited as I was to stay up north though the weird cabin in the back, our Guest House, was still stuck in my brain like popcorn between teeth, and I wasn’t sure why. I just couldn’t work it free from my mind. It was like seeing it awoke a voice in me that wouldn’t stop talking and I couldn’t stop listening.

The year didn’t go as planned, the weather didn’t go as planned, and life didn’t go as planned and so we didn’t make it up to our new cabin that spring or summer. When we finally did make it up north for a brief three day stay at the end of summer it rained the entire time and mom and dad put puzzles together, played records, and sat around reading and I sat by the window and looked out at the Guest House. It was the same, but, you know, not. Dad had gotten a lot done that summer, cleaning up the yard and cabin and getting a new roof on, but the Guest House was the same as it had been before. The same but different. There was a two hour stretch Saturday night where it stopped raining and mom and dad drove into town to get us some dinner and I told them I wasn’t feeling great so I stayed back to rest. As soon as they were gone though I put my coat and rain boots on and mucked my way out the back door towards the Guest House.

First I looked at the fence, which I found had hinges and a large lock just behind the cabin that we hadn’t noticed it. There was only about four feet between the Guest House and the fence and it was strange that there was a gate here. Especially one with a new looking lock. I ran my hand over the fence and it was just ordinary fence, nothing special. I leaned forward and looked through and past the fence and saw that the wood were thick but that there were paths through the trees, wide paths that lead deeper into the darkness. I saw no logging equipment back there or equipment of any kind to be honest. Just trees and strange plants that I didn’t recognize. I was startled by a loud crack deep in those forest and I quickly slid out from behind the Guest House and turned my attention to it. I put my hand against the stones and pulled it away immediately as they were so cold that they hurt to touch them. As if they were made of ice. As I was looking at the stones I noticed that the building itself looked completely dry, as if the rain hadn’t hit it. I knelt and looked at the stones that made up the Guest House, careful not to touch them, and noticed that as I got closer there were designs on each stone and the closer I got the more I realized that they had been carved into somehow, numbers, letters, words, in all manner of languages I couldn’t recognize. I scooted over slowly and saw that every stone I looked at had these same things on them. Each was carved into. Then something occurred to me and I moved back a little and I realized that the designs in the stone were part of something else, something bigger – an image. I couldn’t see it where I was and I felt like I would need to be back a ways, or really high up to see what the image was but there was a design to the way things were done that I sensed more than saw and I felt a chill run down my back and just as I did I heard something move inside the Guest House. I stood up fast and back away, tripping over myself and falling onto my butt. I was looking at the front of the building and the sun was shining but I was within the cabin’s shadow and felt the cold from it on me and with it that voice in my head seemed to get louder. It made me want to go closer to the Guest House, to put both hands on the stones and then my mouth and then…but I pushed myself backwards, butt slipping through the mud as I did, just to be back in the disappearing sunlight. I was fifteen feet away now and staring at the Guest House and heard nothing. The sound, a strange sort of guttural muttering, was gone now. As I watched though I saw one of the metal shutters that covered each window move, pushed outward once, then twice and for a moment I thought it was going to bow outward and shatter, revealing who or what was within. I got up and ran as fast as I could back into the house and locked the door and then dropped myself in front of a window to watch the Guest House. As soon as I got back inside the rains came down again but none of them touched the cabin, the place having almost a force field around it. A moment later the door to our cabin burst open behind me and mom and dad came in, soaked and laughing but they stopped as soon as they saw me, my dad rushing over to me as mom went to get me glass of water.

“Hey, hey buddy are you OK? Are you OK? Are you OK?”

I am not sure what they saw but mom later told me that I was smiling in a strange way and that my nose was bleeding. I didn’t remember that. I just remembered that I couldn’t find the words to answer dad and fell into the darkness of sleep.

 

I told my parents. I did. As soon as I was awake, about three hours later, I told them. Dad looked out into the darkness of the night and squinted but it was clear he couldn’t see anything. Neither told me to calm down and neither told me I was crazy. Mom told me they’d take a look tomorrow, before we left, and that’s what they did. The next day was warmer and overcast but dry and as I packed my stuff up and dad started closing the cabin up mom went out to look at the Guest House, our other house, the one we didn’t live in but lived with us. She was out there a while, touching it cautiously, bending down to look at it from this angle and that and after twenty minutes she made her way to the car, after dad had honked three times for her. She was white, her hands were shaking and she wouldn’t make eye contact with dad and her nose was bleeding. She wiped away at it absently before speaking.

 

“You’re right…there’s markings. Strange, strange markings. They form a, well it’s, I mean it’s funny because it’s just…well… And the stones are cold. It’s…” She trailed off. Dad looked at her but she shook her head at him and turned to look back at the Guest House that was that. Off we went for home.

 

I wasn’t sure whether they believed me or not but things seemed different after that trip. They didn’t talk about the cabin, at least to me, and we didn’t go up north for over a year. I could tell dad wanted to talk about it but whenever he talked about vacations mom would get a look in her eye and would tense up and dad would drop it so nothing really happened with it. What did happen was dad would go up there a couple times a month to work on things. From what I overheard they were trying to make the place as nice as possible to sell it. I am not sure what mom experienced when she was at the Guest House, our other house, but it changed her. Dad didn’t seem any different though and on the weekends, he was gone he came back the same as ever. I wasn’t sure that he ever went to examine the Guest House or not but if he did I never heard about it. I was just about to turn nine when dad announced, two weeks before summer was going to begin, that we were going up to the cabin. Mom dropped the cup she was holding and opened her mouth to speak but dad smiled at her and reached across the dining room table and patted her hand.

 

“So, here’s the thing…I talked to the guy we bought it from, the sorta weird older guy, well, there’s a clause in the contract that we have to keep the property for ten years before we can do anything else. On top of that we cannot touch the fencing in the back and cannot touch the Guest House at the back of the property, which we sorta knew and we don’t want to do. He wants to make sure we aren’t speculators that are looking to buy low and flip the place. He was polite while we talked but, well, different. Not nearly as cordial. Very matter of fact. He said he owns the other property around there, something that must be new or a lie or something, and he doesn’t want the wrong sort taking up the land. I even took the contract to a lawyer and it’s legal since it was part of the conditions of buying the place. I hadn’t read that and I am sorry. I even offered to sell the property back to the guy, at a loss but he just sat silently on the other end for a minute and then the line went dead. So, well, we’re stuck, for a while. Not forever, but a while. I DID do a few things up there. More than I could do last year. I cleaned up the main house and brought it up to now and not twenty years ago. I planted the property. Also, and best of all, I put a fence around the weird house at the back. It’s a six-foot-high fence that you can’t see through with a gate on it that has a big, heavy lock. I had a friend from work come help put it in. I know that place gives you two the willies but I want us to be able to enjoy that property since we own it, at least for now. Give it a chance. Please? One more chance? So, we’re heading up. No, wait. I would like to ask you both, please, can we head up there for the Memorial Day holiday? Take the kiddo out of school that Friday and head up and come back Sunday night and spend Monday together at home? Sound good?”

 

Since we had gone up to the cabin I had had strange dreams about the Guest House. Nothing specific, no witches, no monsters, no anything, just the cabin, and the forest, and the sound of someone breathing heavily nearby. The voice was there still, louder, telling me to look closer at the patterns in the stones, not to get further back, that closer was the key. The dreams didn’t last long but they always came back. I wasn’t sure what they meant and am still not sure though I think part of it is that idea that someone or someTHING was in that place and I had no idea how they ever got in there. The thing was though that as obsessed as I secretly was with that place I had no reason to be scared. It was weird, and creepy, but nothing had happened to me. My mother, my mother I wasn’t so sure about. She was different since we were up there. Different since she went to go check out the cabin. She would scare easy, startle I guess. Even if nothing had happened. She’d be sitting still and suddenly she’d whirl around and look for something or someone that wasn’t there. Or my dad would do something small, something simple like take her hand or rub her shoulder and she’d shudder. I didn’t get it and worse than me dad didn’t get it. That’s what I think was part of the reasoning behind the trip though. Sure, it was about money, he wanted to take advantage of money he’d already spent, but I think too that he wanted to see if getting us up there again he could show us that there was nothing to fear.

So we went.

The place was beautiful, dad had done a lot of work on the landscape and the cabin and just everything, just as he had told us. It barely even looked like the same place. He had cleaned and painted the cabin. He had updated the electric inside. He’d added a television and microwave. There were new beds on the frames and he’d cleaned the wood floors and installed a new toilet. There was landscaping with bushes and small trees where there had been ruts and overgrown weeds. The grass was re-sodded. There was a small pond that he’d had dug out there, not very big but big enough to put your feet into and there was a bonfire pit and chairs near to that. And then the fence. It was black and tall, about six feet, and there was a big lock that closed it off. Not seeing the Guest House gave me a feeling I can’t quite describe, almost an itchy feeling, but mom seemed relieved and as soon as she saw the fence she threw her arms around dad’s neck and gave him a kiss that lit me up red and made me look away quickly. Things were back to normal.

Friday night was amazing. We cooked outside on a grill dad had hiding in the garage. We roasted marshmallows over the fire, and we ended the night by making up stories about what was in the forest beyond the fencing at the back of our property. Dad said a silver mine. I said a colony of aliens and mom said, well, it was weird, she just said ‘they’ were back there. We didn’t understand but she laughed afterwards and then we did too and it was awesome. I went to bed that night and stared out at the stars and the black fence standing guard in the backyard and dreamt of darkness.

I was the one that heard mom. It was almost six in the morning and her screams came to me as if from a dream. I clawed my way out of sleep and then suddenly her voice was filling the world before light even did. I opened my eyes and sat up and immediately looked outside, where it seemed like her voice was coming from, and saw only the black teeth of the fence. I got up and ran out the back door and started calling for my mom, who was hysterically screaming, her voice already going hoarse. She was behind the fence and in with the Guest House. I ran to where the fence was secured with a gate and found it locked. I pulled on the handle to the door and got no movement. I pulled at the lock and found the same. I started kicking at the door with my bare foot when my dad came up behind me, he shirtless and in shorts, and he pushed me to the side and shook a red key free of the jumble of keys he had on a keychain and he put it into the lock and turned. As soon as the lock was free the door burst outward at us and mom fell onto the wet grass, shuddering and crying. Dad dropped to his knees and put his hand on her arm and she screamed.

 

“The sounds, the sounds, oh god make them stop.”

My dad looked up at me and we both looked at the Guest House and there was nothing different about it, at least that he saw. I was still looking when I felt something cold in my hand. Dad had handed me the lock so I pulled the door closed and locked it again as he helped mom to her feet and got her back to the house. Despite the warmth in the day mom was shivering so we got her to the love seat and sat her down and dad grabbed a quilt from the cupboard and covered her up. She kept looking all around the cabin, almost as if she was trying to see everything at once and dad was trying to get her to tell him what had happened. To tell him how she’d gotten back there and what she’d heard. She started to open her mouth to speak but her head turned and she looked out the window to the fence and she stopped shivering and looked back at dad.

 

“I feel tired now. I am going to lay down and go to sleep.”

 

Dad and I were confused but before we could say anything else mom turned away from us, brought her feet up underneath her legs, and was quiet.

Dad got up and walked to the window and looked out to the yard then went into his bedroom to dress before heading out to the fence. As he was heading out I went to join him but he turned and told me to stay with my mom witha look in his eye that told me not to question that so I didn’t. I looked over at mom and she was snoring softly so I pulled a chair from the kitchen table over to the window and sat in it and watched as my dad examined the fence. First he looked at the fence itself and pushed on it and pulled at it and tried to see if there was a spot where mom could have snuck through. From there he moved to the lock, which he pulled at but found it secure. Dad walked around and around the fence for ten minutes and on seeing nothing he went back to the front and fished into his pocket, pulled the key to the lock out, and unlocked the gate. Dad pulled the gate open and stepped inside the fencing and disappeared behind it. Dad was gone for several minutes and mom had gone silent and I started to get that itchy feeling again so I stood and slowly I moved closer and closer to the door until I was at it and yelling out to my dad. He appeared a moment later, sweaty and dirty and looking confused. He looked at me and shrugged then walked through the gate, picked up the lock, locked it into place, and came back up to the cabin.

 

“I have no idea how she got in there, buddy. None. And no idea what spooked her. I thought I…well, I just dunno. Hopefully she can tell us when she wakes up. It’s odd though, real odd. Odder though…well, odder is that you know that fence in the back, behind our property? Well, that gate is open. Not even just open…the gate’s just… gone.”

 

Dad had me help him cook dinner, something he never did, and we let mom sleep. When dinner was ready dad went over to wake her but she only mumbled that she wasn’t hungry and pulled the blanket over her head. Dad tried again and again to get her awake enough to eat something but she wouldn’t so he finally shrugged to me, the second time that day, and we went to the table and ate and dad watched mom the entire time. After dinner I washed up the dishes while he put the food in containers.

 

“We’re gonna head home early tomorrow, OK? I know I wanted us to do more this weekend but with your mom sick and a long drive ahead I think it’s best we just get on the road as early as possible. Finish washing up, buddy, and then let’s get packed for tomorrow.”

I won’t lie. I was disappointed. We hadn’t been able to do anything that we’d talked about, not really, but I understood. Mom was acting different. Even if I didn’t want to, I knew it was time to go home so after I finished the dishes I went and packed my things up, and then went into the kitchen and helped dad pack up the food into a tub. We talked about whether we should wake mom up or not but she seemed so peaceful on the couch that we decided to let her sleep through the night. It was only nine by this time so dad and I went outside and sat in silence under the stars, watching the sky and looking for space ships until the mosquitos got bad enough to chase us in. We went to bed just after eleven, him giving me a big hug before he trudged off to bed and patting my mom gently on the leg as he passed her. That was the last time I saw dad.

I woke up to mom’s screams again the next morning but this time they were coming from her and dad’s bedroom. I got up and hurried into the room next to mine and saw mom standing with one hand on her mouth and the other at her side clutching the quilt she’d had on her when we put her to bed. I wasn’t sure what had upset her but I immediately saw dad was gone and on the bed, where the covers were pushed back, was one single drop of blood. I still wasn’t sure why mom was so upset, dad must have hurt himself when he was outside, or cleaning up, or who knows when. Not a big deal. She slowly turned towards me, eyes wide and mouth in a silent scream and she just looked at me, almost through me, and she dropped the blanket and left the room and me behind. I turned and watched her go to the kitchen and grab a knife. She looked over her shoulder at me and then slowly faced me. We looked at each other a moment and she took a step towards me, moving the knife in her hand as she did, perhaps to get a better grip, but before she could take another step there was a cry from outside. A scream. Mom looked towards the front door, which was open, and took a step, then stopped and turned her gaze back on me. There was another cry and she ran out the door and towards the back of the house.

I slowly walked out of her bedroom and down the short hallway, bare-chested and in shorts, and walked into the living room to look out the window. She was gone, disappeared behind the fence. I walked outside and cringed at how cold the dewy grass was on my feet but moved forward slowly, looking for her. I made it to the fence and had not seen her so I started making my way around it, towards the back of it. Towards where the sounds had come from. I rounded the fence and saw the other fence, the one that was in place when we bought the property, and beyond it was forest, which had grown thick with leaves since last I’d been here. I didn’t see any sign of mom or dad so I headed for the opening in the fence and just inside, near the first tree, was the knife mom had been holding laying on the ground. Without thinking twice, I walked into the forest and found myself on a path that was tramped down and had to be nearly ten feet wide. One of the paths I had seen before. The trees here were tall and thick and the grass high and, strangely, sharp. I stopped in my tracks when I felt something cut my foot. I lifted it and saw a long slice along the heel and blood pooling then dripping onto the ground. I looked around for a piece of glass or a rock, anything that might have cut me but saw only the grass. I reached down and touched a thick blade and a thin red line formed on my finger. Whatever this grass was, it was sharp. Dangerously sharp.

I didn’t see any sign of mom or dad and knew I couldn’t make it any deeper into the forest because the path ahead was full of the same sort of grass and got darker the deeper I looked so I was stayed put and looked around to see if I could catch sight of anything. I put my hand on a tree and gently put my wounded foot back down on the ground. The tree was warm and seemed almost to be breathing. I pulled my hand away and backed up a step. There was movement to my left and I turned and saw mom, hanging impaled on the barbs of a large plant that was covered in long, thin needles. The plant was at least ten feet high and by the look of it she had wandered off the path and had gotten caught up in it and was stuck now, her thrashing sinking the spikes deeper into her. It looked like a picker bush, only much bigger and it was white, or had been, but as I watched it seemed to be pulsing and turning from white to pink to red. Mom was hung sideways, two feet off the ground and she was straining to see me, I could tell, each movement pulling a moan from her and no more since a long barb had run through one cheek and out through the other. I looked down and saw no blood pooled beneath her, just throbbing vines that were wrapped around the bush and which snaked deeper into the trees.

Ignoring the pain, I walked towards her, the grass slicing into my feet and ankles and leaving a trail of red for me to follow behind me. She was only a few feet off the trail but walking towards her made it feel like a mile. When I got to her I heard her whimper and pull away from my hand as I went to lay it on her forehead. She felt cold. I shushed her and smiled at her. She started crying. I heard something moving deeper in the forest, then something else, and suddenly the forest was awakened. I wondered if it was the scent of her blood or mine that had done it but it was clear that company was coming. I patted her head one last time and then slowly walked backwards towards the gate’s entrance. My mother started making loud noises and thrashing and I looked down the path and saw why. Oh, yes, I saw why and she was right to be upset.

I smiled, bowed to the visitors, then took the last two steps back and was onto our property again. My property. I watched the things of the forest emerge and surround my mother and then that was the last I saw of her.

I walked around our fence and to the front and put my hand on the lock and pulled once, twice, and on the third pull the lock broke and fell to the ground. I pulled the gate open and there was the Guest House, waiting. My house. My new house. The house that they would never live in is the house I would love. I walked forward and could feel the grass beneath my feet moving, squirming, sopping up my blood. I went to the cool stones of the cabin and touched them and heard a sound from within. The same sound my mother had heard. The same sound I had heard. I smiled.

The grass around the Guest House started to pull downward and I took a step back away and more and more of the house was revealed to me as the earth around it pulled back into itself and I saw that we had only been allowed to see the attic of what was a very, very large home and when the ground had stopped moving there was a long, wise stairway made of blue stones that lead down, down, down to a heavy wooden door which was waiting for me to enter.

I turned my attention from the Guest House and started the long job of pulling the fence that surrounded it down. I had a lot of work to do but this had to be taken care of first. Luckily I had help. After a bit I heard the door open and after it opened I had lots of help. As we worked the things in the forest sang to us and the ground pulsed with life. I love this place. I knew it once I had seen it and every dream only made me love it more. When I was ready I would go through that door in the Guest House and I would see, I would see…everything.

This was now my home.

My forever place.

Forever and always.

The Hopeless

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In the internet age it’s hard not to find the many potholes, dead ends, and darkened streets that litter that information highway most of us use consistently. We don’t usually mean to find out way into these places or into these potholes but playing the links can get you into trouble. With so many people on social media it gets worse because you are trusting that your colleagues, associates, friends, or family are not posting things that would lead you down darkened alleys. The internet has taken a turn in the past few years and the need to be seen and lauded has intersected with a pervasive nastiness that is spilling from the message boards and onto the streets. It’s become hard NOT to run into deadzones, to be honest. Flash ahead to a story that hit our local news last week, footage and all, and that was a hole I willing climbed into and regret wholeheartedly.

The story was about a teen girl that had been pulled from her house by several people and dragged down the porch steps and was beaten severely by several people. Possibly five or more, men and women beat this woman about as brutally as I have ever seen. The horror of it wasn’t just that this was a teen girl being beaten by other teens and adults, but that some of these people were so wound up that some would take breaks while others beat her only to come back and return to beating her. It’s hard to say it was savage in a world where people will take clubs and knives and machetes to one another but it was certainly brutal. And the worst part of it all, in an event that was only full of bad parts, was that these people, these people who participated, those that watched, and those that filmed, gave away their humanity like it was as meaningless as the life of this young woman.

If you want to deep dive into this you’ll find reasoning behind the assault, and excuses, and he said, she said, and the standard things that go along with this sort of thing. There’s always a reason. There’s always a rationale. But then you witness the act and you realize that there’s a point where reasons don’t matter, it becomes about the act itself, a sort of blood ritual that the group takes part in, as if it were a religious act. It binds one to the other through the blood of another as a sign of solidarity where there is none. These are people who have no loyalty to anything but themselves and they prove this as the act continues. And why, why the obsession to film it? As a warning. As a brag. As a statement to the world that they are tough and need to be feared. It’s part of a weird cultural shift that showed everyday people gaining fame for even the worst of behavior. Tantrums, bedroom moments, meltdowns, all those things we have seen get rewarded with fame and money. It’s funny too because I wonder if a lot of this can’t be traced to the writer’s strike of a few years ago when we were inundated with a glut of ‘reality television’, the voyeuristic viewing of people’s everyday lives and struggles that have only gotten more dramatic and false as years have gone by. Reality television may not be scripted but it’s staged and these ‘nobodies’ that got chosen to live their lives on television created an appetite for both more and for the sort of quick fame that these people seemed to find. There’s a bitterness in America that the Dream so many were promised either isn’t what we believed or was never offered to them. If you are someone of color the opportunities, you found were those that many times were the castoffs of what others didn’t want. The system isn’t fair, something that you learn at some point in your life, sometimes earlier than others. And if the system isn’t fair then you stop trying to win at it and work to beat it.

Imma get mine.

That becomes the motto of the desperate.

The table is rigged and by god, I won’t trust others to do for and my loved ones and I won’t trust that the system which so many see is broken will be fixed.

So imma get mine.

A sentiment of the street that rises from a sob to a battle cry that others can understand and appreciate, not seeing that many times that course, that path leads you directly into the way of others doing the same thing.

Our self-obsession is nothing new, our desire to take selfies and videos, it just became easier and now that both are so easy it’s made us look even deeper within to fill the emptiness we feel. We wanna be loved, and feared, and respected, and adored, and followed, and we are now under our first president that almost seems like the perfect product of that world. A caricature of America and American fame.

We spend so much time reaching for meaning, reaching for hope that we don’t see ourselves giving up our humanity to get it. We want respect so desperately that we’ll do anything to get it. Respect not being a thing earned but taken and forced and held by the fists and kept through blood. We don’t see one another by our eyes but by our fists. What can you take from me and what can I take from you?

Imma get mine.

I will beg, borrow, steal, cheat, and kill to get what I feel is coming to me.

And that’s part of it to, this strange entitlement that we feel. The feeling that we are owed, if not the dream then the affectations of it – the car, the money, the notoriety, the sex appeal, the women, the men, all of it. Because it isn’t fair that other people have things we want. It isn’t fair that we should have to suffer without. We are a nation of children who feel slighted for not getting things they feel owed. So we lash out. We rage. We hate the Them that isn’t us.

Gays. How dare they force me to accept them.

Trans people. How dare you force me to treat you as you identify yourself.

People of color. How dare you see yourselves as my equal.

Women. How dare you believe you are worth the same as a man.

And on and on.

We live in this strange world where we all believe ourselves the god of the universe and all around us should serve or get of the way. We are so angry at the effort to be a decent human that we rage at the idea of having to give away some of our control.

So you get it from both sides.

Those without power will do anything to get a modicum of it.

Those with power will do anything to keep it.

All at the cost of our collective souls.

We are a nation that spends more on our defense than our schooling. We’d rather destroy that create. It’s as simple as that.

But it isn’t.

The intricacies of the socio-economic web are a horror and beauty to take in, their creation going back for some to the birth of American slavery and stretching across the years to engulf gender equality and the freedom to be who you identify as. We would rather create red-tape that keeps people from freedom and rights than to acknowledge that our view of rights is too narrow.

But then we must zoom back in on this fight, this brutal fight where people were wantonly giving away their futures and freedoms for a vendetta because that is the most important thing in their world. They don’t believe in a future they have never been invited to. How do you care about another person when you have been taught to scarcely care for yourself? How do you try to reason things out and see consequences when you are told that you are worthless, and stupid, and are lazy and greedy if you demand clean water to drink. This is a problem about this place and in this time but it’s a problem about our America. We are watching as funding is being stripped from programs people rely on and watch as people shrug and proclaim that ‘lazy people need to get jobs’ as if it was just that easy. As if there are jobs out there for adults that treat them like adults if they don’t have a degree or training. The whys are a million-fold as to how these moments happen and why they are filmed. The problem is not in identifying them it’s in seeing your way past them because how do you help a person to reclaim their souls?

And there we have it, back to the beginning.

The American soul, a thing we have prided ourselves in for so long because it meant that we were open to others, would help others, and believed in the ingenuity and strength inherent in the nation are gone. We are at the dawn of a new era of isolationism at every aspect, where we want to deny things that have been in existence since the dawn of Man – homosexuality and transsexuality. We would rather fight one another, to have one another’s blood one our hands, than to find a common ground. So as I can look with horror at what these young people did to act as if I am shocked would be to lie to myself because the terrible fact is that we are doing this to one another day in and day out, gleeful to film it and share it. We comfort ourselves in our violence because we punched out a ‘Nazi’, or we pushed down a ‘snowflake’, happy to make up any reason for the violence and to soothe ourselves as we raise our hands in victory. But we are socializing, we are normalizing hatred, plain and simple, and when the American dream is one of getting what you feel you deserve by any means necessary because we can’t see any other way to move forward then you start to see that collectively we’ve all lost our souls and I have no idea how we start the long process of getting them back.

And that’s a pretty hopeless and bleak future to look towards.

No wonder so many of us wanna fight.

…c…