So here we are at Terror Con, the crew of Rhode Island Free Radio.org. Also in attendance: evil clowns, a couple of zombie Star Wars troopers, a killer car, a battered Jurassic Park jeep, and aisle upon crowded aisle of merchandise vendors, food vendors, artists, authors, and a bunch of ‘B’ movie and TV show celebrities not getting as much attention as they’d like for their 30 dollar autographs and 50 dollar photos. It does my heart good to see the clowns, dead stormtroopers, and a faux Batman and Wonder Woman getting more attention than the grizzled oldster who played Danny Torrance in The Shining once upon a time. (You remember, the kid with the stupid haircut that rode the Big Wheel and talked to his finger.) There’s also Kane Hodder (Jason Voorhees), some folks from The Walking Dead, the Cenobites from Hellraiser(minus Doug Bradley), Adrienne Barbeau, a Freddy Krueger pinball machine (Our own Tony Jones has his eye on the pinball machine), and last but not least a table full of RI Free Radio stickers, pins, CD’s and candy that needs to either be given away or thrown away by 5 pm Sunday afternoon.
Saturday, 9 am. We dose ourselves every hour with caffeine and sugar. Our self- promoting outgoing natures do not manifest without help before 2 pm. My outgoing nature threatens not to manifest at all after a conversation with the owner of Christine, the car I mentioned at the top of the first paragraph. Sad to relate, I found the present owner to be just as obsessed with the evil auto as the kid in the King novel and Carpenter’s movie adaptation. Can’t sit behind the wheel, can’t lean on it, can’t touch it. Oh, well. Just a missed photo op for Tony Jones and me and the rest of the RI Free Radio crew. My real concern is for that man’s family. I hope one of the demonologists at this event notices the state of affairs around that car and takes the proper steps.
11 am My mood revives with the arrival at our booth of two Lasik Girls. Cute, eager, intellectual. By the time they finish their pitch to restore our 20/20 vision, and the second one has discussed the conditions and problems threatening our world and their solutions, we have also been visited by robed cultists, a fanged leather-clad female vampire, Michael Myers, and Santa Claus. We give out CD’s, buttons, and stickers. I convince our Dj Psycho Eddie, a large man in prison garb and face-paint, to stop asking little kids if they want candy because it’s creeping me out. Ask the parents about the candy, I tell him. Give promo stickers to the kids to stick on mommy’s car. We try to talk somebody into slapping a RI Free Radio sticker on Christine’s back bumper, but nobody’s brave enough.
Sunday, 1 pm The day goes on. The pile of internet radio station merch in front of us goes down. We meet several possible recruits to our RI Free Radio Family. We teach you the internet radio ropes for free, we tell them, you won’t owe us any gigantic student loan amounts when you’ve finished learning. This is true. We take the commitments we make seriously. Less seriously do we take the inflatable T-rexes bopping down the aisle, or the Crypt Keeper’s voice screeching over the announcement intercom.
3 pm I have a problem of my own: for every single dollar in my pocket, there’s a Ben Franklin worth of stuff I want to leave with. Posters and Godzilla action figures, autographed books and signed pics, a set of erotic female monster stickers that stick to anything. That Freddy Krueger pinball machine (maybe I’ll talk to Tony about going halfsies on that)... Lasik eye surgery. Christine.
5 pm I settle for the erotic female monster stickers that stick to anything. For the rest, there’s next year.
(Host of The Haunted Cabaret)
Fog creeps in the small hours of morning among the old grey buildings of Providence’s business district. It halos streetlights, and the headlights of the occasional wandering car or city bus. The salty tang of Narragansett Bay has drifted in with the fog. I can taste it when I go to the door for a breath of outside air to escape the mustiness of the building lobby. I’m halfway through the Third Shift on Tuesday morning, deciding if I have the balls to leave the security desk for another trip in the freight elevator down to the basement men’s room. I don’t want to, not after what I heard earlier tonight, but I washed down a small pepperoni pizza with three Diet Cokes and a Ginger Ale just after midnight, and there’s really no question I need to answer the call of nature.
The freight elevator door slides open at basement level, and I walk along a corridor lined with trash bins and maintenance doors to the men’s room. The bathroom door is ajar and the lights are on just as I left them. If anything’s waiting in there, I want to see it from the outside corridor. Not that I saw anything the first time, you understand, it’s only what I heard. But that doesn’t prevent me from imagining the possible owner of the mouth that hellish noise came from. I cross the tile floor to the urinal and unzip. Waiting for my bladder to agree that it needs to piss more than it wants to get out of here takes a minute or two.
I transferred to the Kurd’s Head Building from the apartment complex three weeks ago and up until now everything has been peaceful. Even the water cooled, century old boilers have not overheated, and the water pit that supplies them with water has not overflowed. The shriek I heard, that turned my spine to water just after I came on duty at eleven, does not reoccur by the time I finish my business.
It’s been two months since that night, and the shriek, enraged and nearly ultrasonic in its fury, has not been repeated. The most disturbing thing in that men’s room is the stained tile from a leaking urinal. Which explains, I suppose, why weird events become stories around campfiresand at Halloween parties and not documented phenomena. They don’t operate according to schedule. People who claim to collect solid evidence like detectives of the paranormal find their cases shot full of holes in the ordered scientific laboratory. This pleases me. Not everything in this world should be correlatable like an accountant’s business figures.
I’ve found myself in the neighborhood of life’s strange and unverifiable incidents several times. Sometimes it’s disturbing, sometimes amusing, a few times downright terrifying. I blog about some of them, use others in my short stories, or as material for my Haunted Cabaret internet radio show. Sometimes I decide it’s best to keep quiet and not tell at all. I do this not because these things are unspeakable, because nothing is unspeakable in our present day culture. Political correctness deals only with social indiscretions, not atrocities. Atrocities are reported with glee, by the media and in private conversation, with an affection that used to be reserved for adolescent love affairs.
Most of what you’ll see on the news that’s described as shocking and tragic: ISIS, the shooters killing children are media created. A small factual item is taken a terrorist attack, the murder of a kidnapped or abused child and amplified and glorified until it spawns a string of sequels. We love sequels, whether it’s Star Wars, Freddy Krueger the pedophile and cultural icon, or ISIS finding new and painful ways to kill people (The people we are fascinated to watch being tortured and killed lately are Christians, gays and women in general so much for America’s progressive agenda).
It’s impossible to describe, in suitable words, the feeling of waking in the pitch dark from a nightmare, frozen with terror, and feeling the indentation that sinks down the mattress as something heavy sits down at the foot of your bed. I can tell you about it, but I can’t describe the experience to make you feel what I felt. Even though this has happened to me several times, and once, something much worse.
So maybe there is such a thing as unspeakable. Not in terms of social taboos, at least not in this country, but in terms of words being insufficient to convey the extent of terror, like the time I saw the thing in the kitchen that almost stopped my heart. I can’t tell you about that any better than I just did. Words fail me...a terrible failure for a writer to admit. But they failed H. P. Lovecraft, who often resorted to piled up adjectives attempting to describe the ultimate horror, and St John the Divine, reduced to describing Paradise in terms of white bathrobes and golden stairs, so at least I’m in good company.
(Host of The Haunted Cabaret)
Working 3rd Shift, I have experienced horrors: Walking security rounds at the apartment house of the Hissing Woman; listening to the 2 am dead voices at the burnedout Lincoln Mill Building; the shrieking in the basement men’s room of the Arab Head Building in downtown Providence.
When I got hired to work a 1st Shift sorting room job at the Christian Army building on the East Side of Providence, I thought I was leaving such experiences behind. But I learned differently the afternoon a woman at sorting table two started screaming about opening the trashbag of human body parts. You’d think a Christian institution would be less prone to horror. However, the CA is not Christian. It’s a business masquerading as a religious organization. Maybe that’s why Dora Kyle found the pieces of her dead son, or thought she did, and embarked upon her oneway trip from sorting room to Butler Hospital. I don’t know.
I got the job at the CA because I needed cheap furniture for my new apartment. I stopped by the CA’s second hand store on Central Ave. in Pawtucket. On the door I saw this sign: Help Wanted. Truck Drivers & Sorting Room. My night vision and depth perception don’t allow me to drive a big truck. Sorting room? Well, I enjoy flea markets. I told the hiring manager during my job interview the following week. She laughed and explained the sorting room was where they dumped out the bags of donations onto wooden sorting tables and separated the cloths from the shoes and the books from the toys.
She asked if I wanted to give the job a try. I said sure... and regretted it.
(To be continued...)
The Haunted Cabaret
On another 4th of July a long time ago we decided to find the best possible vantage point to watch the city fireworks display. One of my cousins suggested we sneak past the barriers and the security guards and lay up on the hill directly beneath the spot of sky where the fireworks would ascend and explode. So we did. Weed and alcohol were cheap and plentiful then, leading to great ideas. The rockets launched and the flowers bloomed and the white flashes thundered. When a smoking rocket fragment impacted next to my cousin Susan’s head, somebody, I think her friend Lisa, said maybe this is a bad idea. Somebody else said maybe we should move. But we held our places in the fallout zone because of course the falling piece of rocket had missed Susan’s head not hit it, missed by a good two feet, and the only thing actually hitting us so far was scraps of hot paper ash that didn’t even burn the skin if you brushed them off quick, not even the sensitive skin of the inner elbows as we lay with our hands behind our heads, looking up at the fireworks that flashed brighter and louder than they had any right to flash. Because that night, on another 4th of July, we were eighteen years old, and dodging the fallout, and the magic was in us and not in them.
The Haunted Cabaret
Sitting here at the security desk on third shift at the apartment complex. The elevator dings, the doors open, and out into the lobby rides Marine Bob on his motorized scooter. He takes a turn around the lobby, and pulls up next to the security desk.
“I’ve got cabin fever,” he says.
I don’t. I just got here an hour ago. “Those were good times,” he says, continuing a conversation nobody started. He looks at me.“This was down in Texas, back in the late 50s. The ranch foreman had me supervising this black work crew. He told me to make sure they called me Mr. Bob, and for me not to talk to them. You wouldn’t believe how they talked to their black workers down there. So one day I go to the store, and he sees me coming out with five sodas. He says, ‘I knew it! You’re talking to the blacks!’ Only he didn’t say blacks. You wouldn’t believe what he called them. And this was like 1958, 1960. So he says, ‘You’re staying here.’ Meaning right here at the ranch house. He puts me to work painting the ranch house.
“Now they have all these toads down there. I got bored painting the house so I started painting toads white. Pretty soon there’s all these white toads hopping around.“That night the ranch foreman says, ‘You got to get out of here!’ Turns out the family that owns the ranch is from Texas, but they originally came from New Orleans. All these white toads hopping around are giving them a fit. Something to do with Voodoo. They believe in black magic and all that stuff. They’re really superstitious...So between that,” Marine Bob concluded, “and me taking advantage of the Sheriff’s 15-year-old daughter, it seemed best to get out of town.” He waited for me to ask about the Sheriff’s daughter. I didn’t. Eventually he said goodnight, and piloted his motorized scooter back onto the elevator. Don’t worry. It doesn't matter that I didn’t ask. I’m sure I’ll be hearing the story of Marine Bob and the Sheriff’s daughter very soon.
My grandmother rushed into the parlor where I sat watching Sesame Street. She hurried to the curtains and pulled them closed even though it was a bright fall day. I had been sitting warm and comfortable in a healthy patch of sunlight on the rough embroidered rug in front of the TV.
“Shhh!” she said. “Be quiet!” My grandmother peeked through the curtains. She stepped back and made sure they were completely closed. She sat down on the couch. She got up again. She came over and lowered the volume on the television set to a whisper. This was 1970, a time before cable and remotes. I was 7 years old. She returned to the couch.“Shhh!” she repeated. “Come here!” “What’s the matter?” I asked. “Shhh! Don’t say anything. He’s coming up the stairs.”
I didn’t hear anything. What was coming? I sat, puzzled by my grandmother’s behavior. I felt... I’m not sure what. It’s all these years later. But perhaps I didn’t know then, either. I know I didn’t feel scared. She looked toward the closed curtain, an expression of contained fear on her face, then straight ahead at no particular object. Nothing seemed wrong except I couldn’t hear what Oscar was singing about on Sesame Street. This made me argumentative.“What’s the matter?” I asked. “What’s the matter?”“Shhh!” my grandmother said in a whisper.“A black boy’s outside on the porch. He’ll hear you!”
Black boy? I pictured a boy colored black, like the black crayon in my crayon box. I started to feel real impatience. I couldn't hear Sesame Street. Now I watched a silent Cookie Monster.
A knock on the kitchen door. Pause. Another knock. We sat in the drapery-filtered dimness. My grandmother fought dread. Is dread too strong a word? Substitute plain fear if you like. But I still remember the look of trapped helplessness on her face, and I deny any charge of false memory. When you’re seven, bizarre behavior from a trusted adult makes a lasting impression.
I couldn't hear Sesame Street. Finally, I grew impatient enough to stand up. My grandmother also stood. I felt her relief. The atmosphere in the room lightened. She said, “He’s leaving.”
My grandmother came over to the TV. She gave the Sesame Street muppets back their voices. Then she hurried to the kitchen. I walked to the window, parted the heavy curtains, and looked out. The boy the color of a black Crayola crayon, the dreadful thing that scared my grandmother, had gone. I’d missed it. There was nothing to see out there now except a boy a couple years older than me with brown skin knocking on the door of Aunt Clara’s house across the road.
I heard my grandmother coming back and closed the curtains. I don’t recall, but I’m sure she brought a snack, cookies and chocolate milk perhaps, to reward me for being quiet the day the terrifying black boy came to visit.
For the third time tonight I turn the corner and she’s there, glassy eyes bulging. The staring thing. Shuffling forward in green slippers and black nightgown along the stained carpet of the third floor hallway. She stops when she sees me. The right eye sees. The left eye is filmed over, like an Edgar Allan Poe story. She hisses deep in her throat. I wait until the reptilian sound fades. Finally she stirs herself, and speaks. From a dry throat, without much apparent practice at human speech. “I don’t know what’s the matter. I can’t sleep.”
Speaking, she becomes the non-supernatural resident of room 307 here at the Blessed Name apartment complex, where I work security weekends, 3rd shift. Doreen Lange. 85 years old. Lucky at Thursday night bingo. A bummer of change for the washing machine. With a strong resemblance to the dead woman in the bathtub in Kubrick’s version of The Shining.
On nights she can’t sleep, mind locked in semi-dementia, she plays scare the bejesus out of the security guard with me as I make my occasional rounds through the quiet corridors. I’m walking along, thinking of music, or sex, or maybe calling Domino’s for a pizza. Minding my own business. She likes to meet around corners.
Did I call these hallways quiet? I guess usually they are. But I’ve told you before about the noises in the small hours of morning. The voices raised in whines and pleading. Other voices raised in cadenced prayer. Not in a language I can understand, it’s not English or Spanish or Portuguese. A Russian friend stopped by long enough to tell me it wasn't Russian, then left in a hurry. “I’ll tell you: better you here than me,” he said. “You couldn't pay me.” Well, he has a pension. I need the money. Besides, it’s just old people in the hell of senility.
What do people in hell pray for? I wonder in idle moments. Eight hours of idle moments, sitting in the lobby staring at a reinforced glass door locked against the outside world. I make my round, come back to sit and
stare again. Thinking about what waits around corners. Staring like her. But at least I blink.
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