Saturday, April 27, 2013

Shut-Eyed Stories

There is a train terminal beneath the vast halls and escalator- riddled chambers of the grand hotel. I run down one last flight of marble steps and hurry onto a train. The car is crowded. The seats are in pairs, facing forward, with a narrow aisle between them.

I’ve barely sat down when the conductor spots me. He makes his way over to me, as other passengers arrange their luggage and settle into their seats. The conductor is carrying a stack of hats. He places the stack of hats in my lap. He asks me to hold onto them until we reach our destination. It’s an inconvenience, but I see nothing unusual in the request.

What’s unusual is this: before we’ve even pulled out of the station, one hat begins to sing. I don’t recognize the tune, or
Then, an old man a few seats behind me stands up, and says in an accusing, trembling voice: “I know that voice! It’s that damned singing hat! It took me years to get rid of that hat!” He is wild- eyed and out of breath. “But now” he pants “… now, it’s yours! You’re the one that’s stuck with it!”

The hat continues to sing.

Nervously, I look at the stack of hats in my lap, searching for the one that is singing. Then I notice that there is a man crouched beneath my seat, his hand cupped to his mouth. It is he who is singing, not the hat.

They are playing some sort of trick on me …

I’d been called in to investigate an incident that happened twenty years ago.

A group of almost thirty people had been lost in an industrial accident in the lower levels of the factory. The bodies had never been recovered. No one had been down there in decades. It was a surprise to find out that the workers were still down there, and very much alive.
Those strange, cat-like creatures were down there, too --they’re involved in everything, apparently. They were rummaging around on dusty work tables, like they were looking for something, when I discovered the lost workers.

I called the people who’d hired me, using an old fashioned phone -- the kind where you hold the cup to one ear as you speak.

The missing workers didn’t mind being found. But they >weren’t coming back up, either.

Details were vague … They were in the company of a round-faced Native American boy, who they described as an “artificial being.” They said the boy was created in a laboratory in a satellite orbiting the Earth. The boy came to talk to me. I was thrilled with the opportunity to interview a being of such strange origin. The first question that came to my mind concerned music. What did he think of it? Was music of any interest at all to him? Did he enjoy music, or play an instrument?

He replied that he played guitar. He said that he only used two fingers on the fret board, and that he’d developed his own way of fingering chords.

It was true – the monkey knew how to use a gun. It was also true that the monkey was a good shot. The owner scoffed when I said the gun should be taken away from the monkey. “He never aims at people,” the owner said. That was true, too. But the monkey never considered whether any people were in between his pistol and what he was aiming at. We’d all had close calls, and I intended to complain until the owner disarmed the animal. “He’s never killed anyone,” the owner insisted. “That’s because we’ve all learned to move faster than his bullets,” I said.

Mike’s dad was driving me through the wintry streets >of Flagstaff. He was casually making the car skid and spin on the ice, doing everything short of actual donuts. We finally banged into something. Nothing serious, but I had to fill out an accident report.

I was traveling down a bleak German mountainside in a very small car, having had some dimly-remembered adventure, >higher up.

I was stopping to visit castles and historic spots on the way. In one old castle, I ran into a young girl on a dark, winding stairway. Like the stairway we stood in, the girl was dusty and gloomy-looking. I recognized her. She had been part of the adventure, higher up.

We had some sort of bond. Perhaps I’d slept with her. But I’d traveled a long distance from where she lived. It was strange and disturbing to find her there.

I expressed my surprise. She told me that she was visiting the castle with her family. They were sight-seeing. Looking out a small window, I saw a man and two other people waiting below. There was something menacing about her family, especially the father.

I was certain they had followed me.

We talked some more, and eventually the girl admitted that they had been following me. She said that she and her family had radiation poisoning. And that they were able to track me, because anyone who’d been exposed to them had the radiation now, too.

I had an image of the family following me in their cramped little truck, holding a Geiger counter out the window.

There was nothing to do but go down and face them. The father was cordial, but the sense of impending attack was palpable. He was a gaunt man with thick wild hair at the top of his head. The other two, a man and a woman, were merely shadows. The girl, too, was fading. Soon she was just barely detectable at the edge of my vision.

We were talking not far from a castle door I had not seen earlier. The father urged me to go inside, insisting I’d find something there that I’d be interested in.

Behind the door were four very old ladies drawing in sketch pads. They were sitting at a long table. They moved their pencils with stiff, mechanical movements. There was an intricately carved archway near the ceiling, above a large, dirty window. The air smelled of ashes.

They seemed to be drawing whatever it was that was on the table. I have two waking impressions of what it was:

The first impression is that it was the corpse of an old man, intact but very dry and brittle, lying face up in a pile of leaves.

The second impression is that it was the still, gray body of a rhinoceros, its legs folded beneath it.

I was in the kitchen of an ordinary-looking home. I was there to investigate a haunting. I was crouched behind a counter. Someone, a woman, was seated at the table behind me.

Suddenly, we heard the front door burst open, and the sound of someone forcefully running into the house.

I braced myself.

A harshly-lit, tormented figure exploded into the kitchen. It
seemed confused and terrified. It entered the kitchen at a full run. It stopped itself just short of colliding into the wall. My lungs were filled with scorching heat upon seeing it and I could hardly breathe. It looked like a boy with straight black hair, and glaring, flashing lights all around its eyes.

The interview was to take place outside a window on the 10th floor. There was something there that might have been called a balcony, but looked much more like a dilapidated fire escape. It hung down at a 45 degree angle from the side of the building’s gray cement wall, looking as if it could break off and fall at any moment.

But we clambered out and onto it, and sat down to wait for the interviewer. I had a place in the lowest corner, tucked precariously between two iron side rails. I’m afraid of heights, but looking out and over the streets of Manhattan’s west side, I was surprised at my lack of any real discomfort. There were four of us there to be interviewed. We waited, then waited some more.

We began to talk among ourselves. Nobody mentioned the unlikely and potentially fatal location our prospective employer had chosen for the interview. But none of us were making any sudden or unnecessary movements, either.

The man seated next to me finally made a remark about how long it was taking the interviewer to arrive. “Unless,” I responded, “the interviewer is one of us, and the interview has already started.”

A few minutes before the wedding, the rain came pouring down. I was in the caterer’s tent. The plan was to see if the rain would let up soon. If it did, the wedding would be performed on the grass, as planned.

I was introduced to a young Navajo man. I was told that a documentary was being filmed about a supernatural encounter he once had. He told me his story.

A few years earlier, he was in great despair. One night, he got drunk in his kitchen, and he decided to slit the wrist of his right arm and bleed to death. He slit the wrist. While he waited to die, a shadowy being appeared. The apparition gave him a cooking pan that was split nearly in two. It gave him a soldering iron, and told him to repair the pan. The man did as he was told. He lost consciousness just as he finished repairing the pan.

When he woke up, the shadowy apparition and the pan were gone. The slit he had made in his arm was gone. He got up, and looked at a mirror on the kitchen wall. On the mirror, written in blood, was a message. It said that if he ever tried to take his own life again, the spirit that had visited him would be back, and it would cause him horrible torment.

Something wakes me. I am in bed, facing Gudi. She’s awake too, and I ask her what’s the matter. She gestures behind me. She whispers that there’s something in the room. I find that it’s almost impossible to turn around, but I force myself to roll over. There’s some kind of ghost hovering behind my night table.

It’s made a mess there. It’s spilled a glass of water onto my things. I try to talk to it, but no words come out. Then I see that it’s spilled water onto my camera, and I get angry. “You fucked up my camera?” I hiss. “Get the hell out of here!”

I am sitting with my mother. I am aware that she passed away just over a year ago. We are discussing how impressive it is that people can calculate coordinates in space, and plan the docking of spacecraft out there in all that vastness.

As we talk, we see animated diagrams of these maneuvers.

“Those dogs can’t stay in here. There’s no room for them. Put them on the sidewalk, across the street.”

I take the three dogs outside, and paint a circle on the sidewalk. The circle is divided into three sections: red, yellow, and green. As soon as the paint dries, the dogs curl up inside the circle, one in each section.

Gudi and I are being taken to look at a new apartment. The real estate broker is leading us up fire escapes and stairways, over fences, and through people’s backyards. Soon we are climbing on rooftops to get to the place. The broker is explaining that, while the place is hard to get to, the rent is very cheap.

The apartment is being haunted by the ghost of a young woman. She had fallen out of one of its windows, years before.
My wife and I are in the apartment, with a blanket the dead woman left behind. We suspect that the blanket is keeping her spirit connected to the place.

My wife’s parents have just arrived. They've come to help us free the young woman’s spirit .

We all take hold of the blanket. My wife’s mother looks upset. “We saw her in the window as we drove up,” she tells us. “She’s still here, alright.”

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