Auras: Part 2 — The Mission

AurasContinued from: Auras: Part 1 — Mother Night

I awoke to a screaming alarm clock. This generally fills me with dread. But this morning was different. This morning felt good. This morning had purpose. I was eager to get this whole thing over with. I was eager to help.

I turned off the alarm and I made my way to the bathroom. The bathroom light was one of those obnoxious fluorescent bulbs that desolate the room’s landscape like a nuclear blast. I hate seeing my reflection in that atomic light. I can see my skull, each bone’s structure, the grinning teeth, the deep sockets. When I can’t see my skin like that, it makes it very difficult to shave, and I usually cut myself.

I harvested my beard, watching the massacred stubble turn to ants and scurry down the drain, and then I took a shower. There’s few things I enjoy more than a hot shower—the torrents of water exploding on my skin, the echoing sounds. It’s the most relaxed I am. Something about the water enveloping me, it’s my sanctuary. I used to like baths, submerging into the water, the world gone outside this womb, but I stopped taking them when I almost drowned.

I spent longer in the shower than usual, thinking about what I had to do. Although I knew it needed to be done, I didn’t necessarily want to do it. But it was really for his own good, and I wanted to help. It had gone black, and how could anyone live like that?

After finishing my morning routine, I left my apartment for work. The day was a whitewash of sunlight—which I love. It really brings out people’s auras. The first person I passed, this very pretty, middle-aged woman, had a glorious, pink aura. I said, “Good morning.” She said, “Good morning.” The exchanging of pleasantries has become a rarity, but courtesy is still the habit of mine.

I had to leave the sunshine for the subway. I enjoy first entering the subway, stepping through the turnstile, the clicking, spinning bars—I feel like a mechanism in a machine—but then I have to go down into the dank tunnels, and this I hate, breathing the air of exhaust, dirt, filth, urine. I scurried to the inbound platform and I watched the mice dart between the rails. One mouse stopped and looked up at me, face twitching, body quivering, a living bundle of panic, tangible neuroses. I stared back at him, feeling he had something to tell me. Maybe he knew something I didn’t. Maybe he was panicked for a reason, and the rest of us should be too. But then I realized, staring into his black eyes, that he knew where I was heading, and what needed to be done, and I think this realization calmed us both.

The train ricketed into the station, its breaks shrieking, and the mice disappeared beneath the giant steel container as it rocketed by. The container burying all of us gathered on the platform in warm, stale air. The woman standing beside me, her hair became writhing snakes, gnashing and biting at each other. As the train nestled to a stop, the snakes settled, dormant again. But dormant or not, I wasn’t going to sit anywhere near her.

The doors of the train hissed open, and when we were all safely in the car, they hissed shut. The conductor came over the loudspeaker, announcing the train’s destination. Sometimes he just talks gibberish, or even says horrible vulgarity like: you fucking clit. There’s no reason we should be exposed to that kind of language. I keep meaning to complain, but who would listen? Vulgarity is just a way of life.

I try to avoid sitting across from a window. I find the reflection of my face, hanging ghostly, seemingly decapitated through the speeding dark, disconcerting. This day, I didn’t have a choice. The only seats open were directly across from windows. I decided one of these seats was better than hanging from the handrails, swinging like a monkey each time the train lurched to a stop or start.

The train started forward, and through the windows, I watched the platform’s billboards flash by like a flipbook. I’m often nauseated on subway trains—the smell, the lack of air, the alien light, the horrible, rattling racket of wheels on rails, the sounds of people’s conversations settling over the whole train, yanking us all, unwilling, into other lives. Occasionally, I might hear something interesting, but most of the time, it’s useless white noise, dead signals on televisions.

Sometimes someone will try and strike up a conversation with me, speaking to me in some jumbled mess of a language. Then they’ll look at me like I should understand what they’re talking about. Imagine that. It’s not that I don’t like other people, in fact, I love to watch them, it’s the best way to pass the time, although some passengers become somewhat wary, and even downright belligerent, if you watch them for too long. Sometimes they’ll even yell at me.

An old woman sat across from me. She wore a battered dress with many faded flowers fastened to the worn fabric. Her eyes swam in giant, thick glasses like fish in fishbowls, and her hair was a torn cotton ball of white wisps. The skin on her legs drooped, rolling down her calves, bunching at her feet. Her aura was a dull, worn blue. She was lonely, probably spending the majority of her time fastening all those old flowers to her clothing.

A youth sat two seats down from the old woman. He crossed his arms on his chest like safety belts. A Yankees hat was pulled down defiantly over his intelligent, bright eyes. Those eyes peered from his dark skin like the eyes of the Cheshire Cat. His aura was confused, as if he wanted to be angry, but didn’t have the heart to be.

A tall, thin creature sat in the train’s back corner. He had a feeble mustache and long, greasy hair. He was vulture-like. Especially his eyes. No irises, no whites, completely black, shining in the artificial light, darting, searching for more things to hate. His face was a pockmarked graveyard of acne, and his aura was inky brown smog. I didn’t want to watch him for too long. He was the type that says: What’re you lookin at?

I heard a bird singing. I turned to find a man holding the bird to his face. He talked to it in a booming voice, taunting it, laughing at it. He liked himself very much, sitting in his suit and tie, with his well-fed body and cropped hair. He laughed at the bird, bid it goodbye, and stuffed it into his pocket.

The train burrowed through the darkness, slowing, stopping at another station. The doors opened. More passengers flowed onto the train. A young man with a guitar case. Three young girls giggling. A solid, tall woman in a business suit, her appendages slabs of meat—no distinction between wrists or ankles, her arms and legs just becoming hands and feet. A chime like a doorbell reminded people to hurry, and as the conductor said in a sharp whisper, here she is, a girl jumped onto the train before the doors shut like guillotines.

The girl sat across from me, setting a leather bag beside her feet and folding her hands in her lap. She wore a fashionable outfit. Black pants, blazer. Her white shirt unbuttoned just enough to elongate her already long neck. Her eyes were blue jewels. Her cheeks quivered with the anticipation of dimples, and I knew her teeth would just explode from that mouth in a dazzling smile. I longed to see her smile.

Her aura glowed golden, its brightness darkening the rest of the train. She seemingly floated toward me. She was an angel, and I felt the static rush through my body, tingling every nerve end. I looked away, understanding why people in bible stories averted their eyes from angels and the sort. I caught my breath and looked again. She glanced at me a couple of times.

“You’re very beautiful,” I told her.

She smiled, not a full smile where I could see those marvelous teeth, but a pressed ghost of a smile, her dimples flexing ever so slightly. “Thanks,” she said, but her golden aura flickered, and her eyes darted for something to watch out the window.

My heart raced. Beads of sweat broke out across my brow.

“Don’t be frightened,” I said. “I’m not hitting on you. I just felt like paying you a compliment.”

“Okay,” she said, careful not to make eye contact with me.

“Honestly, I mean, you’re just really pretty,” I said.

“Fine,” she said, as if talking to me was some huge chore.

I looked at the other people. The old lady regarded me with her enormous fish eyes. The youth glanced at me and looked away. The man in the suit talked to the bird again, looking at me with a cocky, knowing smile. And the tall, thin man with the black eyes stared at me. A raptor in a tree, his eyes didn’t miss a thing.

My heartbeat was in my stomach. My brow perspired. The train shrank as it shot through darkness. I felt a flash of anger, but it quickly passed.

I discovered the girl was no angel. The golden aura was a fraud, its radiance fading to a sickly yellow-green. Funny how beauty can make one seem beautiful. Thankfully, the train came to rest at my station. As the doors slid open, the conductor growled over the speakers: Get out! And so, I did.

I passed the girl, and I wanted to tell her that I knew she was a fraud. But I didn’t. Why give her more reason to think people care?

When I exited the train, the tall, thin man swooped out of the other door, and with a flash of his black eyes and a smile of tiny piranha teeth, he mumbled, “Way to go with that chick, dickhead.” He disappeared into shadows. At times, I wonder if certain people are even human.

Continued in: Auras: Part 3 — Getting to Work

Cinder and Dakar

208Cinder Jackson is a patient of Ward 6 at Mystic Mercy Hospital. Cinder is in the hospital because he has not spoken in fifty years. He is not there because he murdered a man by tearing him limb from limb. No one could ever prove that Cinder had done that anyway, even though it happened with hundreds of witnesses in broad daylight.

Cinder lived in the South when he last spoke. It was 1964, and Cinder was six years old. In 1964, Bob Dylan had a new song on the radio. In the song, Bob Dylan said that the times were changing, and Cinder’s dad had gotten himself caught up in that change. Cinder’s dad was black, and a lot of white people in the South at that time did not like the changing times, and they especially didn’t like black people getting caught up in that change.

White people had a word for black people that got caught up in change back then. White people called these black people, “uppity.”

Cinder had once asked his father what uppity meant. Cinder’s father told Cinder that the word uppity meant courageous.

A group of white men killed Cinder’s father.

These white men must not have liked courageous people, seeing as they didn’t show much courage themselves. The white men hid their faces behind white bed sheets, looking like children dressed as ghosts on Halloween, and they snuck onto Cinder’s family’s property. They tied up Cinder and his mother, and they dragged Cinder’s father away. The men then beat Cinder’s father with axe handles and the butts of shotguns, and they hung him in a tree by his neck.

A man named Harold Walker wanted to hang Cinder’s father by his pecker, but a man named George Miller said that would be uncivilized. The other men, Herbert Thomas, Frederick Lee, and George’s brother, Dick, agreed that it was important to be civilized.

Anyway, Cinder’s father was not the only member of that household that was uppity. As it turns out, Cinder was uppity too. In fact, one day in town, Cinder came across George Miller’s son, Sam. Cinder got uppity after Sam told him what he’d heard about Cinder’s father’s death.

Cinder got so uppity, that he knocked out three of Sam Miller’s teeth.

Well, the men that killed Cinder’s father began to wonder if they had an uppity epidemic on their hands, so they needed to set an even bigger example with Cinder than they did with Cinder’s father. After all, if Cinder was this uppity as a child, imagine how bad he would be as an adult.

It was on a day that Cinder walked home from his grandmother’s house that the men got him. They pulled him into the woods that lined the road he was walking on, and they beat Cinder like they beat his father. Only with Cinder, the men used belts instead of axe handles and the butts of shotguns. They did not mean to kill Cinder, they only meant to teach him how not to be so uppity.

This lesson was a service many white people felt they owed black people in the South at this time.

Again, as with Cinder’s father, Harold Walker said that he wanted to hang Cinder from a tree by the boy’s pecker. Harold Walker even went as far as stringing a rope over a tree’s branch, pulling down Cinder’s pants, and tying a noose around the boy’s penis.

It was here that Cinder spoke his last words. Actually, he screamed them. Cinder screamed, “Oh please, help me, Mommy, help me, Mommy.”

Harold Walker was a large man with a deep, low, slow drawl, and in that drawl, Harold Walker told Cinder, “I wanted to do this to your daddy, but I’m just as happy to do it to you. Say goodbye to your pecker, boy.”

Cinder screamed for his mommy as Harold Walker yanked down hard on the rope.

The men broke into laughter. They thought it was funny, because the noose was not tightened on Cinder’s pecker, so when Harold Walker yanked down on the rope, the noose slipped harmlessly off of the boy without causing any damage at all.

Lesson taught. Lesson learned.

Cinder had stopped being uppity. In fact, Cinder didn’t talk to anyone at all anymore. Except, that is, to Dakar.

Often, Cinder’s mother would see her son, when the boy thought no one was watching, talking to himself. When his mother approached him, to see if maybe his spell of silence was over, Cinder would stop. He would look up at her, in silence, with his intense eyes.

When Cinder was born, his father had given him his name, saying that the boy had eyes like two burning cinders.

During these times, when Cinder’s mother thought her son was speaking to himself, Cinder was, in fact, talking to his friend, Dakar. Dakar was a lion. There was a time when others could see Dakar, though he was not as large and as fierce as he is now. Dakar had been small enough for Cinder to carry, and Cinder carried the lion everywhere. Until, that is, Harold Walker had snatched Dakar from Cinder, and tore the lion apart. But Dakar had not died that day. And now, it was Dakar that carried Cinder.

The South held too many horrible memories for Cinder and his mom, so they moved to Harlem to live with Cinder’s aunt, Bernice. Cinder was ten years old when he stood with his mother on a Manhattan street corner. They waited for a bus.

Cinder had just finished another appointment with another doctor. Cinder had seen many doctors. And these doctors all tried to coax Cinder to talk. But Cinder never did talk. Cinder always sat in the big, comfy chair—every doctor seeming to have big, comfy chairs—the boy’s arm hanging over the chair’s side, the boy’s fingers entangled in Dakar’s thick mane. Each of these doctors would glance at the boy’s hand working in the air. One doctor even asked Cinder about this behavior—that’s what doctors call something a person does that the doctor does not understand: a “behavior”—but this doctor may as well have asked the wind why it blew, the doctor received the same answer. The doctors even gave a name to Cinder’s behavior. The doctors called it: “self-stimulatory behavior.” The doctors did not realize that it was simply a child petting his pet.

Now, at the bus stop, Dakar paced back and forth behind Cinder and Cinder’s mother. But only Cinder knew that the lion was there. The bus pulled up to them, and that is when Cinder heard a deep, low, slow drawl, say, “Negros in back,” as a large man pushed past Cinder and Cinder’s mother.

Cinder recognized the voice immediately, though it traveled from over the horizon of four years prior.

Dakar stopped his pacing and stood in a protective stance beside his friend. But Cinder felt no fear when he heard the voice. In fact, he felt something very different.

As the man pushed past Cinder and Cinder’s mother, the man stopped. Harold Walker turned and looked at Cinder’s mother, and then he looked down at Cinder. Strange is the dance of coincidence. Strange that two people separated by time and distance should find themselves together again for no other reason than fate’s amusement.

Harold Walker immediately recognized Cinder’s mother, and he immediately recognized the burning eyes of the child whose childhood he had stolen. Harold Walker recognized Cinder even though Cinder was four years older. Harold Walker recognized Cinder, even though, right there on the street corner, Cinder was changing.

Cinder’s hips lowered into haunches. Cinder’s hands swelled, his nails pushing from his fingertips. Cinder’s hair lengthened into a mane. Cinder’s face contorted, his nose pulling forward into a snout. His teeth became fangs.

Cinder had become a lion, right before Harold Walker’s eyes. Right before the eyes of everyone on that busy street corner.

And what’s more, everyone on that busy street corner could now see Dakar as clearly as they could see the bus, the buildings, the cars, and the woman whose son was now a lion beside her.

Harold Walker tried to speak. He may have actually formed words in some language, but it wasn’t English, and whatever it was, it came out in a high, choked whisper.

Cinder, after being silent for so many years, now had plenty to say, and his words came out as a deafening roar.

Harold Walker ran. He waved his arms as if swimming through the crowded sidewalk.

The lions broke into pursuit.

The people on that busy sidewalk and the people driving along the crowded streets had a difficult time making sense of what they saw. And officials and the media would have a very difficult time explaining what exactly happened on that day in New York City as a man ran screaming along the sidewalk with two lions—weaving in and out of the people in a graceful, relaxed gait—in pursuit. The two cats flanked the man, keeping pace with him, and some would say that the cats seemed, as much as cats are able to make expressions, to be smiling.

The man darted into the street. A cab almost ran him down. Several other cars were screeching to stops as motorists and pedestrians all stopped to gawk at two lions chasing a man down a Manhattan street. Some motorists honked horns. Some motorists locked their doors and cowered in their cars. Some motorists got out of their cars to watch.

Harold Walker darted down an alley. He stopped when he realized it was a dead end. Harold Walker turned to face the opening of the alley.

The two lions ran to the alley’s opening and stopped. The lions entered the alley in slow, stalking strides. The lions’ eyes burned like hot cinders.

Years ago, Harold Walker, among others, had badly hurt a young boy. Harold Walker had ripped apart a small stuffed lion.

Now, Cinder and Dakar were going to return the favor.

The End

 

 

The Old Stone Church: Part 1—The Church

The Stone ChurchThe Old Stone Church sits in its sprawling yard, seemingly watching the sea. Some of the island’s residents say this watching is not entirely seeming. The church has two windows about halfway up on its steep, gabled roof. The windows are flat on the bottom and rounded on the top like slow, rolling waves, giving them the very distinct impression of eyes. The bottom half of the church is constructed of smoothed stones. The top half, constructed of shingles, is dominated by two stained glass windows set in the A-framed walls. The stained glass doesn’t depict anything specific, prompting many to claim the patterns in the glass can change from day to day. On one corner of the church is a tall bell tower. On this day, the clock reads eleven, and the bell begins to ring the hour. Eleven slow, melodic gongs.

Continued in: The Old Stone Church: Part 2—No Stone Unturned

Beneath the Weeping Tree: Part 10 — Evaluation

The ApartmentsContinued from: Beneath the Weeping Tree: Part 9 — Guidance

Mitch, leaning against the building and taking a long drag from a cigarette, peeled flecks of dried paint from his fingers. Two new tenants were moving in that weekend, and it was his job to lay a fresh coat of paint in their apartments. It was a job he’d have delegated to Scott under normal circumstances, but in light of Scott’s recent desire for oversized women’s undergarments, Mitch was stuck with the grunt work. One down and one to go.

The descending sun was pulling long shadows across the parking lot and he looked up the access road at a cluster of school kids. He wondered why they were getting home so late. Detention, sports practice, extra help. Or maybe they were just wandering around the island like he did at that age. It’d be nice to have the life of a school kid, he thought as he watched them pass. Get home whenever and have dinner cooked and ready. Take some time to figure out math problems, write a few paragraphs, flirt on the telephone. The fleeting fantasy briefly overran his current problems—the short-handed maintenance unit, a sick dog, and a growing gambling debt.

He flicked away the spent cigarette and made a mental note to get his picks in for that Sunday’s NFL games. He was due for a lucky week.

As Mitch passed one of the apartments, he heard distorted arguing voices—the turned-up-too-loud trailer-trash on a television engaged in heated battle. As the tension climbed, their voices pitched in anger and the words became indistinguishable, but that seemed par for the show as the nearly-identical plot unraveled each afternoon. Misfits of America united onstage to banter back and forth over an issue for which it was obvious from the get-go that there was no resolution. This day’s episode profiled teenage girls with newly grown boobs spilling out of their tanktops. Occasionally a girl rose from her seat on the stage and pranced in front of her obese, tattooed mother. “I make more money in a half hour on my back than you make in a month,” the girl-of-the-moment taunted. She bent toward her shaking mother, the bottoms of her ass cheeks forced beneath the cuffs of her tight shorts for living room America to evaluate.

“But what will you do when you can’t do this any more?” The host of the show looked puzzled. He feigned concern, but it was apparent to even those with little intelligence (the majority of the viewing audience) that he was probably more worried about where he would vacation that winter than with the welfare of this young tramp.

“I have enough . . . .”

Ellen muted the television, cutting off the discourse between the overpaid-host and his under-dressed guest. She turned her attention to the new issue of TV guide that she pulled from the mail box just after lunch. Boredom had set in, as it usually did in the hours between the soaps and the night-time dramas. She rarely had the ambition to read a book and the prospect of searching for a new job seemed to have abandoned her long ago. As long as the government kept helping out, she really saw no incentive to even think about it. Why would anyone want to scrub motel toilets or run a supermarket check out, when an equal-sized check showed up every Wednesday afternoon?

A newly crowned star graced the cover of the squat magazine and she puzzled herself in an attempt to place him. She knew she’d seen him before but couldn’t decide whether his fame derived from sitcoms or dramas. In all probability, she figured, he was a sitcom star. She didn’t watch those types of shows. Instead, she paid attention to the real life “probable” story lines. Her favorites were the hospital dramas that depicted those cute young doctors who needed to balance the conflicts of their personal lives with those that sprung up in the emergency room. The consistent struggle to lead a normal life while coping with external pressure held great appeal for her. But she also enjoyed the glossy shows like Beverly Hills 90210 which explored the petty lives of all of the beautiful people whose dilemmas evolved while they crashed their sports cars, fashioned love triangles with one another, and coped with pending adulthood.

As she explored the television listings for the evening, Ellen heard a key rattle in the door. She shut the magazine, wedged it between the cushions on the couch and waited for Cooper.

He let the door fall shut behind him with caution, hoping that his mother was asleep on the couch. Waking her always proved disappointing, forcing him to stand before her, as if on trial, and field questions ranging from his day at school to his activities following the dismissal bell. This aspect of their relationship had cultivated Cooper’s ability to lie as he usually needed to sculpt an alternate version of the truth in order to satisfy her. As he climbed through adolescence, he found it more difficult to appease his mother. She expected only good things from him and needed to know that he was hanging with the right crowd. It was no matter that she spent afternoons lazing on the couch with a cigarette stuffed between her lips. He was to do something productive with his time.

“Where ya been?” she called toward the closing door.

He didn’t detect anger in her voice, but remained wary just the same. In the past she amazed him by speaking in soft toned questions that proved to be thinly disguised accusations. In short, a “where ya been” from his mother just may be a “you are late and I’m pissed”, or a “have you gotten in any trouble”, or a “why weren’t you here? I needed you to run to the store for me.” But, then again, it could’ve just been a face value “where ya been?”

Cooper walked home from school again that day. The bulge of noise from the overcrowded bus was unappealing in the first place, but he decided to see if there might be an empty seat near the front. On such a hot afternoon, band geeks and blubber-necked girls seemed better than the hooting jocks in the back. He stood at the top of the short stairwell, waiting for the line to crush its way down the thin aisle toward the rear of the bus. The fetid air seemed to grab hold of his windpipe and he imagined it as a glimpse of what it’d be like to ride in the trunk of a car. “Grab a seat,” the driver barked at nobody in particular, pus dribbling from a purple cyst above her lip, and sweat stains the size of dinner plates circling out from her armpits. Cooper then retraced his steps to the sidewalk.

He spent the afternoon wandering through the woods behind The Villas. The platform up in the tree was coming along nicely. Better than expected, in fact. But he was worried about the possibility of falling from up there, tumbling to the ground and then lying in a broken heap with nobody around to hear his cries for help. He once read about a hiker who’d taken a fall from a cliff face and broken both of his legs. The guy had to sit in a dark ravine for over a week before anyone found him, and although he lived, Cooper wanted to avoid competing with his story.

He thought about the misfortunate hiker while he searched for fallen branches that might serve as safety railings. It would be easy to take a saw out there and retrieve some of the lower branches from a few of the oak and pine trees that tangled their way through that part of the woods. But, he didn’t have a saw, and he figured that if the roles were reversed, he wouldn’t want a tree cutting one of his limbs off just to serve its safety needs. His grandpa once told him, Respect for nature is one value that people seem to have forgotten. And it was while he was thinking about the old man, who’d been the only “father” he ever knew, that he came upon the downed beech tree. It lay among a thicket of pricker bushes, its crown disheveled and lifelessly dry. The branches he needed to nail up in his platform snapped away with two or three pulls and he dragged them up into his tree to leave until the weekend when he could fix them in place.

“Just over to Bobby’s for a little basketball,” he told his mother. “He stumped me three games in a row. But that’s okay. I got him pretty good the last time.” He blushed with the embellishment of the lie and now stood before her at the couch. She looked up at him sleepily and he felt like he was now in the clear. There was no friend named Bobby, but how would she know that? She rarely left the couch and when she did, it certainly wasn’t to track him all over town to find out who his friends really were. And for that, he was grateful.

“Well, if you’ve been playing basketball, why don’t you go on and take a shower. I don’t want any Billy goats at the dinner table.”

Continued in: Beneath the Weeping Tree: Part 11— The Wolf Den

Beneath the Weeping Tree: Part 9 — Guidance

Mystic Island High SchoolContinued from: Beneath the Weeping Tree: Part 8 — Sore Knees

Steve Bender propped his feet on the windowsill and stared out at the desolate courtyard. His teeth chiseled a pencil, another nasty habit he picked up as a result of the smoking ban on school property. He longed for the times when he could smoke right there in the office. Exhale out the window to appease anyone who whined about second-hand smoke in the school. That hadn’t been a good enough measure, though, and when some parents had gotten wind of his continued smoking in the office, the administration cracked down on all tobacco use on the premises. “Sets a bad example,” those parents had bitched. He figured it was the same parents who sloshed through two martinis before dinner was finished each night.

A pair of jays darted through the yard like fighter planes swooning toward the ground on a quick mission. He watched as they landed in a large poplar and remained still on one of its limbs. The branch rocked gently in the wind and he wondered if those birds knew just how good they had it. Find a place to chill out. Dig worms or something to survive. Worms dry up or the scene just turns stale, fly the fuck away from there. Winter comes. Skedaddle southward. See old friends in the Everglades. Maybe the Mississippi Delta. He read somewhere that more than half of the birds in the country migrated to Louisiana in the wintertime. Not a bad choice, he supposed. Lots of sun. Cajun delicacies. Mammoth drinks.

And they probably aren’t so anal about the goddamn cigarettes down south, either, he thought.

“Student here to see you Steve.” Dolores popped her head inside the door. She knew he didn’t mind that. They’d grown very close over the years and although he did quite a few things “off the books” in his office, he trusted her with any dirt on him that she picked up along the way.

“Student? Is this an appointment?” Bender began shuffling through the clutter atop his desk. He piled papers neatly to one side and cleared room for the coffee cup that was lodged on the window sill. The pencil made its way from his mouth to the fold behind his ear.

“No appointment. Said he just really wants to see you.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “He looks a little stressed.”

“Okay. I’m real busy,” he smiled. “But I guess I can spare a minute or two.”

Dolores told Cooper he could go into Bender’s office. Cooper stopped in the doorway, standing there for a moment, his hands pressed against the doorframe as if he were keeping it from collapsing. When the guidance counselor swiveled in his chair, Cooper continued into the room and made way for a metal folding chair.

“Here, let me clear a space for you,” Bender said, hoisting one hand outward to prevent Cooper from sitting. “I don’t want you sitting on that old thing. It’s not even fit for my mother-in-law.”

Both of them smiled and Cooper was relieved to see Bender clearing off a padded chair similar to his own. He appreciated the humor with which he was greeted and his mind plunged into a brief fantasy of the two of them sitting there like old pals, cards fanned before there faces and chips scattered across the desk. He imagined Bender with a stogie jammed between his lips and a can of beer resting in the crook of his arm while contemplating his next move. Cooper learned a thing or two about poker from James Blow, a slick-haired jock who rode the school bus with him. But it was all secondary information that he’d been forced to steal by eavesdropping. James Blow didn’t talk poker or anything else to kids who weren’t his jock contemporaries or the cheerleaders who followed them around like mindless lapdogs. But Mr. Bender didn’t feel like any James Blow. He seemed like a normal guy who wasn’t afraid to show his human side. As his poker fantasy evaporated, Cooper clung to the hope that he might learn a thing or two from this guy during his high school experience.

“Now, there you go. That’s a real seat, my friend.” He motioned for Cooper to take the seat. “I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m Mr. Bender,” he said, extending a hand. “Or just Bender, if you please. Guidance counselor, extraordinaire!” He smiled and Cooper reciprocated.

“Cooper,” Cooper said, then cleared his throat.

“Cooper? That your last name?”

“No, sir. First name. Cooper.”

“Well, Cooper. What brings you here today?” Bender asked, taking the seat behind his desk. “Everything okay adjusting to the new school year and all?”

“Well…for the most part. There are a few things that have been bothering me, though.”

“Sorry to interrupt…but, which grade are you in, Cooper?”

“Tenth grade, sir. I’m a sophomore.”

Bender was jotting down words on a legal pad while they talked, and suddenly Cooper wished he’d never come in here. What a stupid idea. Attracting even more problems. Come to think of it, he didn’t really have a very good reason for coming down here in the first place, did he? He just didn’t want to deal with class or that bitch Mrs. Bradford or Suzie Becker and her not-so-sore knees or another day of pondering over Pythagoras or his damn measuring of triangles. Maybe everything would be okay if he just stood up and excused himself. Like he’d made some terrible mistake. A wrong turn from the nurse’s office. Perhaps misdirected by that know-it-all secretary, Waltson, in the main office. And now there it all was. Documented. Just like his mother, now he would have his life spilled out onto the page. He imagined coming home from school and the two of them—his mother and Mr. Bender—sitting there on the couch. His mom with tears in her eyes while she leafed through the legal pad and Bender shaking his head in disappointment while cramming another Little Debbie cake into his mouth from the tray that had been set out on the coffee table.

“Sorry to be writing, bud. I just want to get everything straight before we start talking. That should do it.” He set the pad on his desk blotter and inserted the pencil in his mouth. “Okay. Now, what seems to be bothering you?”

Cooper felt trapped for a moment, but decided he’d give this guy a shot. “I guess I’m just losing interest in school. That’s the main thing. You know…the reason I decided to come and see you. I mean, I used to like school. Actually like it. I mean, I was never a math guy, but I could do it. But now, it’s so complicated, and that bitch, Mrs. Bradford… I mean…”

He paused, horrified that he’d referred to Mrs. Bradford as “that bitch.” It was all over now, he thought. The suspension. A letter home. Maybe a conference with his mom. He imagined her on the receiving end of a phone call from the guidance office. Yes, that’s right, ma’m. He walked right out of class and then began to use profanities during his meeting with a counselor. That was it. He’d be forced to submit to more extensive interviewing every time he entered or left the apartment. She might even begin to investigate his friends and discover that they were imaginary. He palmed sweat from his forehead and thought about rising to leave.

But Mr. Bender stood up first.

Cooper watched as he stepped casually toward the door and pushed it shut. When he returned to the seat behind his desk, the previous guise of friendliness remained on his face. He reached into his top desk drawer and pulled out the tin of chewing tobacco. His fingers drummed on its lid, curbing the silence. Finally, he sighed and cleared his throat.

“What do you want to get out of school, Cooper? Why are you here?”

“To learn. And so that I can maybe go to college. Get a good job.” The cliché answers tasted terrible and his tongue felt like a dried-out rug.

Bender did not look impressed. “Is that the real reason? Or is it that you may want to use school just to experience life. You know… the people around you. You can learn just as much from your social interactions as you can from your textbooks. This is nothing new to you, I’m sure.”

Cooper nodded his head as if he was indeed thinking this all along. That Bender was telling him nothing new. He’d thought about these things before, but never in such literal terms. Learning “from social interactions.” He liked that.

“I bet you could tell some great stories about things you’ve observed in other students, in your family, in your teachers. That’s what school is really all about. Making you a strong thinker so that you can make some gains in every aspect of your life.” Bender pinched some chew between his thumb and forefinger, parking it between his cheek and gum. “I know that all sounds kind of corny right now, but, hopefully if you give it some time, it will all fall into place and start making some sense. Now… by the way, you don’t mind if I have a dip here do you. It’s this damn nicotine addiction I’ve developed over the past thirty years of my life. When I was your age I had pink lungs, too.” He smiled.

Cooper thought about all of the cigarettes he’d smoked.

“Oh well,” Bender said. “Now listen. You pointed out that one good reason to come to school is so that you can get a good job later on in life. Sort of a vague concept, wouldn’t you agree?”

Cooper nodded his head, realizing where this was probably going.

“Now, I want to talk specifics. In my position, I see kids throwing out all kinds of possibilities about what they might want to do when they’re adults. They get thrown off from reality a bit because, for some reason, they feel pressure that they need to make up their minds about those things when they are fourteen, fifteen, sixteen years old. Now, I’m not saying it’s a bad idea to start thinking about some of those things—gearing your interests and gauging your motivation. That type of thing. I just think that you shouldn’t try to corner yourself.”

Bender paused, holding a hand up as if to call time-out. He reached under his desk and the hand came back with a tattered Styrofoam cup, its edges pocked by teeth marks. Cooper considered that he hadn’t spoken much, but he was grateful for the fact that Mr. Bender had ignored his remark about Mrs. Bradford. He hated adult lectures, but somehow this didn’t feel like a lecture. It felt more like advice dealt out in a friendly sort of way.

“I’m not gonna bark in your ear for long about this, Cooper. But I just want to get two things straight. I want you to follow your interests without getting sidetracked by anything. Not teachers, students, family, friends. And I don’t want you to feel pressure to choose your track in life at the age of… ?”

“Fifteen.”

“Fifteen. See, when I was in school, I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do. I always thought it would be cool to be a garbage man. They have closure to their job each day. Trash is there. You pick it up. And, wham, it’s gone. I like that. But, I decided the stink was just too much for me, so I decided that I might want to be a painter. Again, you see the work that needs to be done. Do your prep work with scraping. And then slap on the fresh coat of paint. Simple as pie. Or so I thought. You see, I failed to consider the ladder aspect of it. I’m not crazy about heights, and the pain I get in my lower back while standing on a ladder… Have mercy. So, now I leave it up to my wife to give me all my pain.” He laughed.

Cooper grinned, obediently.

Bender said, “Basically, what I’m saying is to leave your options open. Follow the roads that seem important. Trouble with your math teacher? Don’t sweat it. It may really suck for the rest of the year, but then you might have the greatest experience of your life next year. Who knows? In my case, I never did make up my mind about what I wanted to do. So that leaves me here pondering your options instead of my own.”

Bender turned back toward the window and spat into the cup. He looked out into the courtyard and the two of them endured a short silence. One of the jays remained in the tree as the branches swayed in the wind. The leaves reflected sunlight like tiny mirrors.

“Ever watch birds?” Bender asked.

Cooper stood up and walked toward the window. He leaned over and looked out at the jay.

“Birds. Squirrels. Chipmunks. Foxes. You name it,” Bender said. “My favorites are the squirrels. They seem really curious about everything. Although, the birds can fly. I sort of envy them for that, Maybe that’s why I like squirrels better.”

They remained there for a few minutes. Mr. Bender added to the dark pool of saliva in his cup a few times, and Cooper imagined himself up in the tree with that jay, the wind riffling through his hair, reminding him that he was alive.

Soon the jay took flight and Cooper watched as it circled the tree, then soared upward and away from the enclosed yard.

Continued in: Beneath the Weeping Tree: Part 10 — Evaluation

Beneath the Weeping Tree: Part 8 — Sore Knees

Mystic Island High SchoolContinued from: Beneath the Weeping Tree: Part 7 — Housekeeping

“She’s on the line again, Steve. Sounds pretty fired up.”

The guidance secretary stood in the doorway while Steve Bender appraised his telephone. The tiny red bulb affixed to the console was blinking and he imagined his wife—the shrew, his rancid life companion—on the other end. He could almost hear the curses that were challenging the on-hold Muzak. It was the seventh time she’d called that day, and it was only noon. He’d taken just one of the calls, brushing away the rest of them via his secretary, leaving her on hold while he conferred with a student. She had tired of the wait after fifteen minutes and finally hung up.

“Okay, Dolores,” he finally conceded, “I guess I’ll take it.” The secretary managed a smile and it was apparent that she was relieved.

The receiver was cold in his clammy hand and he wedged it into the space between his ear and shoulder. “Steve Bender,” he spoke jovially, almost mocking her by pretending he didn’t know who was calling.

“What are you some sort of goddamn head of state? Why is it so hard to get a hold of you?”

“Oh, why it’s you dear. How nice to speak with you, as well.” His mouth stretched in a grin and he took a pinch of chewing tobacco from the tin that he kept in his top desk drawer.

“Don’t give me that shit, Stephen. I know you’ve been avoiding me. Why is it that you are so conveniently busy every time I call? I need some help over here, too, you know?”

More so than you’d ever admit, he thought. “Well, dear, it just so happens that I have a job and the principal, the superintendent, the entire friggin’ school board . . . none of those people would probably be too excited if I were to spend the entire day on the telephone discussing personal issues. Now, what is it that’s so important this morning?”

He squirted black juices between his teeth and into a ragged Styrofoam cup at the edge of his desk. Teeth marks stared back at him from the rim of the cup while he awaited her response.

“Well, Jesse has a soccer scrimmage tonight at five o’clock, and I have Garden Club with the girls at four-thirty. So, I’m not going to be able to make it to pick her up. I’m wondering if you’ll be out of there on time today so that maybe you can share in some of the responsibility of having a family. Can you pick her up?”

There was a brief silence as he worked up another gob of tobacco juices. Damn shame they keep outlawing public smoking, he thought. I wouldn’t be forced to resort to this bullshit. He picked up the small plastic snow globe on his desktop, gave it a shake and watched fake snow fall onto a fake plastic village.

“Well? You still there? Can you do it?”

“Yeah. I can do that. Will that be all?”

“Yes. That’s all. So you’ll do it. Good. Thanks, babe, I appreciate it.” She turned bubbly in a hurry, reinforcing his previous notion that there was something-not-quite-right with her. He didn’t really have a handle on it, but he had his suspicions that there was no Garden Club meeting that afternoon.

He rehooked the receiver and gave the mini-village another shake. “I’ll find out what’s up when I give a shit,” he said, like God, to the nonexistent villagers.

Bender picked up the phone again and buzzed Dolores. “No more calls, please,” he told her. “Tell them I’m at a meeting, and if they don’t buy that, then tell ’em I’m on the crapper.”

Meanwhile, in another part of the school, Cooper’s eyes chased a runaway fly around the classroom. It sputtered across the teacher’s desk, bouncing from a stack of papers to a folder file before settling on the end of a long pencil. From his desk, only two rows deep, he could read the emblem scrolled on the oversized pencil: “Pobody’s Nerfect”. How fucking stupid, he thought. One look at Mrs. Bradford reinforced his negativity. She was perched at the front of the class in her swivel chair looking as if she were ready to charge from the seat at any moment. Cooper hadn’t liked her from the first day of school when she proclaimed that today’s youth were so apathetic to learning, they alone could even make the absolutes of mathematics a forgotten art. That statement had scribbled “copout” in his mind, and she hadn’t done anything to erase the idea.

“Where is your book, Mr. O’Neil?”

She was standing now and staring at Roy O’Neil, a bubble-headed boy who wore hand-me-downs from his older siblings and looked just plain embarrassed to be alive. He began to tremble, and pulled at the cuff of his Genesis tour tee shirt. Mrs. Bradford stood beside his desk and stared down at him with her bulging, chameleon eyes.

“That will be a zero for the day, Mr. O’Neil. How hard is it to remember a book?”

Roy O’Neil’s embarrassment dissolved and made room for shame. His head hung limply on his shoulders like a lollipop on a broken stick. With hands clasped on the desk, his shoulders shrugged lightly.

Cooper shielded himself behind his own book, and he re-read the graffiti inscribed on the desk for the zillionth time. ‘Suzie Becker has sore knees!’ Cooper stole a glance toward the back of the room at Suzie. She slouched in her desk, fingers busily twisting through her hair. He’d known Suzie since fourth grade and had even danced with her a few times back at the middle school dances. His chin propped on her shoulder, scents of fresh fields of flowers massaging his imagination. Her arms were laced around his shoulders as some sappy Def Leppard power-ballad crackled through the undersized speakers. Soft red light wrapped around them like vapor. He wanted to kiss her. Imagining her plump lips mushed up against his own. But he just didn’t have the balls. What if she backed away and smacked him? Or ran? Could he stand the possibility of humiliation? The song ended. He walked away. Maybe too abruptly. They never quite became friends, but he thought he knew enough about her to know that she wasn’t one of the slutty girls. A bit ditsy, maybe. But not a slut.

Cooper pulled the eraser from his pencil and flattened down its metal holder, creating a tiny blade. Mrs. Bradford sat back down at her desk and he watched her for a moment. She tightened the sweater that draped around her wide shoulders and wheezed like a bulldog. He wondered about her life for a moment: boring, impotent husband, cats mewing about her house, the rote rituals of her daily life to and from school, nights spent with her face buried in math texts. Come to think of it, she actually struck him as a closet literature junkie, the Emily Dickinson type, maybe. He read a few Dickinson poems during his eighth grade English class. ‘There’s a certain Slant of Light’ was the line brought to mind while he imagined Mrs. Bradford’s domestic surroundings—sitting in a rocking chair, faded pictures of her aging children swarming around her in cheap frames, homely cat coiled in her lap as she massages behind its ears.

“ …think that you’re doing? Hellooooo?”

Cooper snapped from his daydream and cringed at the sight of her. He looked briefly down at his own guilty hands, which were busy saving Suzie Becker’s reputation. He’d carved away “has sore knees,” leaving long trenches in their wake. A wrinkle of sweat beaded on his forehead and he felt a flash of anger. Not for getting busted, but for taking the rap for actually undoing the damage somebody else had done. He looked back up at her. Those bulging eyes burning down on him. She’d never believe him if he began with the truth. Just like in football, he thought, the guy who retaliates always gets the flag. Don’t even bother arguing. And so he didn’t. Instead, he stood up and headed for the door.

“Where do you think you’re going now, young man?”

He snapped his glare at her.

She took a step back, and he detected a slight bulging of her already impossibly bulging eyes. Amazingly, the teacher that kids had dubbed “The Bradasauras” looked as if she was momentarily afraid of him.

Cooper looked over at Suzie Becker. Her fingers were still twisting coils into her hair and she didn’t look alarmed to see a confrontation in the front of the classroom. I hope they ain’t sore, Suzie, he thought. After gathering his books, he walked from the room, wondering if Mrs. Bradford was going to read aloud what she assumed he’d written: Suzie Becker.

Continued in: Beneath the Weeping Tree: Part 9 — Guidance

Beneath the Weeping Tree: Part 7 — Housekeeping

The ApartmentsContinued from: Beneath the Weeping Tree: Part 6 — The Counting

Cooper slid the backpack from his shoulder and knelt on the plywood floor. Although the sun had beat down throughout the day, a gusty wind chimed in at times, and a collection of sticks, leaves and pine needles were deposited in his home away from home in the tree. He brushed them away and then sat down to arrange the items he brought from the apartment—a wrestling magazine to wedge into the book shelf between the Poe collection and a brick, plastic utensils sealed up in a zip lock bag, and, as planned, a Tupperware filled with food. He’d scrounged up a box of raisins, a bag of M & M’s, and three packages of Little Debbie Choco-Squares while his mom prepared dinner.

He was surprised that she hadn’t overloaded him with questions about the school day. Usually she was relentless, giving him an impressive inquisition during the three or four minutes it took for the microwave to nuke their meals. He respected her ability to detect any lies he might throw at her. It forced him to be very careful when he did lie. That particular facet of her questioning probably stemmed from watching soap operas where there always seemed to be someone deceiving his lover while leaving some speck of detail that would ensure his discovery. It all depended on the right questions. His mom proved that watching television did have some benefit, after all.

“How did the interview go over?” she asked.

And he told her all about how he stood in front of the class to read the short biography. A lot of other kids had read about their sappy grandmas who knitted sweaters while they waited for death to show up, and a few wrote about little brothers who obsessed over Sony Playstation and McDonald’s Happy Meals. But Cooper’s seemed more real than any of them, which was sort of ironic since his subject didn’t even exist.

“I don’t know if truth is stranger than fiction,” he told his mom while she pealed back the cellophane that covered their dinners, “but it sure seemed that it was more boring.”

A long silence followed and she stirred up his carrots and cut the turkey on his cardboard dinner tray. He hated when she did that. It made him feel like a helpless little kid who needs his mommy to cut up his food for him.

“Mom. I think I can handle that,” he said.

She pushed the tray toward him, looking more embarrassed than he felt. “Sorry. Just trying to help. Old habits,” she sighed. “In the future, maybe you should try to stick to the assignment, Cooper. I’m glad that things went well for you today, but don’t push your luck fudging all of your school assignments. That’ll eventually catch up with you.”

Cooper’s mom liked to talk about things that would eventually catch up with him, and every time she did, he needed to fight the urge to point out that if anyone knew this was true, it was her. She’d been taught by the example of her own life. But he didn’t have the heart for it. She didn’t deserve to be hurt so badly by him and he didn’t even know the extent to which things had caught up to her. It seemed more like they’d caught up to her years ago and had since passed right by and left her standing in the dust.

“Yeah, sure,” he agreed lamely, stirring the processed turkey meat into the gravy that began to congeal.

Things felt a lot freer in the tree. The sun began to set noticeably earlier and he checked the batteries on his flashlight before looping it onto a rusty nail that protruded from the makeshift bookshelf. The sky was bruised over now and stars began to needle through in the distance. It was too dark to read, but the subtlety of the evening was more stimulation than any spooky story or wrestling article could provide. He munched on M & M’s and lay flat on his back, staring up at the sky. It was the closest thing to dreaming while still remaining awake, and the abyss of darkness inspired wonder about the concept of existence. He was glad that he hadn’t borrowed one of his mom’s journals to bring out there because he would’ve missed out on the beauty of the stars germinating above him. The mysteries captured in those pages could wait until he had the chance to read them during the afternoon.

After awhile, the nearly full moon was parked there above the woods, surrounded by the star-speckled blanket of darkness. Cooper remembered nights when he was just a small boy, laying on his grandpa’s lawn up in Maine. The old man would point out all of the constellations for him and try to explain the stages of the moon. “It’s like a big hole that opens a little wider each night till it reaches a certain point. Then it closes a little bit each night till you can hardly see it at all,” he’d say. Cigar smoke always laced the air on those nights, and the old man’s breath usually carried a hint of scotch. But his gravelly voice was always stable while he gave these careful explanations, and it usually put Cooper to sleep, his small head nestled in his grandpa’s lap.

Now, from his perch in the tree fort, he wondered if his grandpa was looking down on him, maybe through the hole that was the moon. It was like a knot of space gouged out of the sky and he imagined soaring up toward it, clinging to rim and poking his head through to the other side. What would he see? Perhaps there would be answers to mysteries that plagued him; the identity of his father, the details of his own future. He wished for a cable to stretch from his plywood platform up there in the tree all the way to that moon. Just one glimpse through the hole would satiate his longing. He felt that life would seem more complete when he let go of the moon and slid back down the cable toward his platform in the tree—like a trapeze artist, shoulders thrown back in confidence, unafraid to rise above the world.

After awhile, the fantasy dissolved and he arranged the bookshelves, stacking the Tupperware of food on top of the bag of utensils. He tightened the straps of his backpack and unhooked the flashlight. He needed it to guide himself down the tree and through the dark woods back to the apartment.

Continued in: Beneath the Weeping Tree: Part 8 — Sore Knees

The Skeleton: Part 1 — A Stringless Marionette

The Skeleton in the ClosetVincent Stone crouched beside the car. He coughed twice, holding down his dinner, closing his eyes, frozen as a statue, alone, scared, his heart pounding through his body. “Oh God,” he whispered. He was panicked and frightened. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever felt this way. Vincent Stone was always calm. Vincent Stone was always collected. Until now. Now, cool and calm Vincent Stone was crouched next to his car, about to puke up a $300 dinner and piss on his Armani shoes.

He stood up, rocking a little like a man who’d spent the night with Jack Daniels. But Vincent Stone was sober. And unfortunately, Vincent Stone was awake. This was no dream. He tried to take a step, his legs not responding. He was like a marionette with no strings. C’mon. Left, then right, left, right… He almost threw-up again, bending over, panting white puffs of breath. He took a deep gulp of cold air that bit at his lungs. That’s it. Slow, deep breaths. Shutting his eyes, his face slowly reassembled.

He walked away from the car, the headlights stretching his shadow ahead of him in a long, dark path, and his senses and thoughts began to return. He walked onto the old pier that jutted, suspended over the Ocean, and he leaned his forearms on the wooden rail, watching the black water. He liked the ocean. Even in the dark, the ocean was reliable. The ocean was always wet. It always tasted salty. And even if it decided to show off by pounding the coast with a storm, one could trust it to be calm again. It was definite. It followed rules. Unlike life. Who’d have guessed that when he woke up this morning, he’d run into this kind of a problem?

His hand buried into the pocket of his long, black overcoat, happening upon his lighter and cigarettes. He pulled them out, hands shaking, following the usual routine of extracting a cigarette and igniting it with the gold lighter. He welcomed the smoke into his lungs, and he watched snowflakes descend and disappear into the ocean. He blew a stream of smoke into the air and turned to look at his Porsche, the engine purring. Snow fell in the headlights and collected on the dirt road. Occasionally, the intermittent wipers would sweep across the dark windshield, snuffing another generation of snowflakes that had gathered.

To Be Continued

 

Auras: Part 1 — Mother Night

Mother Night 2David Collins sat at an old, beat up, metal desk. The desk was very similar to the one at which his old boss sat. David always thought that the desk Mr. Finney sat at was like a teacher’s desk. Now, sitting in a middle school classroom as a substitute teacher, David knew that he had been correct in this assessment. In the Mystic Island Middle School, David was not known as Mr. Collins, by the way. He was known as Mr. Grimes. Although he was not quite sure why. This day, David was filling in for Phil Abbott, an English teacher. David liked subbing for English teachers. English teachers usually left some kind of silent reading for their sub plans. So David didn’t really have to teach anything. He could just sit at the old, metal, Mr. Finney-type desk and draw. He would find classroom markers and a sheet of computer paper, and he would turn the blank sheet into a swirling array of colorful flowing images. Then, at the end of the day, he would find some random place—a classroom, a bulletin board, a kid’s locker—and fasten the picture to it. No one, other than David, knew who was leaving these drawings. Most people thought the mysterious pictures were done by Jacob Grist, but the pictures were not remotely as realistic or detailed as Jacob’s work. Just so you know, David would be at the middle school when Jacob pulled his little stunt, but David was the only person that didn’t think anything was out of place that day. He noticed a lot of fearful red auras running around him, but the stuff he saw wasn’t any more fantastical than other things he’d seen.

David Collins had not intended to be a substitute teacher. He came upon the job by accident. He was supposed to be a patient of Ward 6, the mental health division of Mystic Mercy Hospital, but somewhere along his transfer, the attendants lost track of him. David wandered into the island’s middle school hoping maybe to find a job with the custodial staff. But fate had other ideas for him. You see, when David walked into the school’s office and asked the secretary about a job, the secretary thought he was a man named Bart Grimes, who was scheduled for a job interview at that exact moment. Bart Grimes, meanwhile, had just been killed in a car accident off island. You may have seen it on Nick Bishop’s television show, but more on that later. Anyway, David sat in front of Principal Cooper, and Principal Cooper sat with Bart Grimes’s very impressive resume in his hand, thinking that it was David that had taught all those other students at all those other middle schools. David was hired on the spot. Never really asking why they kept calling him Mr. Grimes.

So when the final bell rang, and all the students flowed from the room—looking to David like a sea of multi-colored lava—David stood from his seat, setting aside his drawing. He wrote a quick note to Mr. Abbott about how he thought one of the students was possessed by evil spirits. When Mr. Abbott read the note, he would think David was making a hyperbolic joke. David wasn’t making a joke, he was quite serious. The student he was talking about was Tommy Rogers. Tommy Rogers wasn’t possessed, by the way. He was just an asshole. It would be coincidence that, as David was leaving the building, he affixed his new artwork to Tommy Rogers’s locker. David had titled the drawing, “Mother Night.” It was a picture of two figures, a mother and child. In the drawing, night was falling, and scary things were descending upon them, but the child was comforted by his mother. In David’s own life, when the scary things really did descend upon him, David had no one to comfort him, he just learned to accept it. I’ll let David tell you more about that, and what happened with his former boss, Mr. Finney.

Continued in: Auras: Part 2 — The Mission