Earworm: Prologue

Earworm“Dreams are true while they last,

and do we not live in dreams?”

—Alfred, Lord Tennyson, The Higher Pantheism

The screeches started around midnight. They were high-pitched, like the sounds of some horrible experiment performed on a live animal.

Please. Make him stop.”

The orderly cocked an eyebrow and lowered his newspaper. “There goes Stanley,” he said, dropping his feet off the table and rocking the chair forward onto all four legs. Gary couldn’t remember this other orderly’s name, he just thought of him as the one with the bad bleach job. The guy’s coarse, spiked hair was a pale orange that, along with his thin, black goatee and array of small loop earrings, made him appear intent on looking either boy-band cool, or flamingly homosexual. The guy achieved both goals. Gary also realized, even in the limited time of being in this guy’s presence, that Bleach-head here was a concoction of annoying habits—drumming on the table, snapping wads of gum, a relentless use of nicknames. Know what I mean, Champ? Sport? Chief? Catch what I’m saying, Rookie? That was Gary’s most common address, Rookie. “We’ll just let ole Stan hang in there for awhile,” the guy said, finishing a word on his crossword puzzle. “Know what I mean, Guy?”

It was Gary’s first night at Mystic Mercy Hospital. And Gary, at times, felt like it might be his last. Something felt wrong about the place. A monstrous structure that, while housing both a mental health facility and actual medical hospital, still remained half-empty. But the whole island was like that, crowded with immaculate nineteenth century buildings that weren’t fully used for their original intent. Like a Lego village only partially populated by a child’s imagination. Even if Gary kept this job, he had already decided he would never actually move on island. Too many stories. Too many strange vibes. But he needed the job, so he guessed he could drive the mile across the bridge each day.

The screams came again. “Please stop him.”

“Shouldn’t we do something?” Gary said.

The orderly flashed his gaze from the paper to Gary. He hung his head to one side, as if saying, Don’t you think I know how to do my job, Rookie? “It’s just Stanley,” he said. “The guy’s fucking cracked.”

“Stop.”

“What’s the matter with him?”

“I don’t know. They just moved him here from the mainland. Guy thinks someone’s gettin into his dreams or something,” the orderly said, focusing on his crossword and running the pencil’s eraser along his lower lip. He looked up at Gary. “Like I said, fucking cracked.”

Another orderly, Jack, rushed into the office. Jack seemed to be in charge, like some kind of squad leader. He’d also been the most helpful so far at showing Gary the ropes. “Hey, Fred,” Jack said to Bleach-head, “you ever gonna get around to helping Stan?”

“I’m gettin to it,” Fred said, tossing aside the newspaper. “I was just filling in the Rookie here on the technical aspects of Stan-the-man’s case. So you see, Rook,” Fred said, turning to Gary, “technically speaking, Stan-the-man’s fucking cracked.”

“Just get the syringe,” Jack told Fred. Jack turned to Gary, motioning for him to follow. They strode down the halls, further and further into the frantic web of Stanley’s cries. “Actually,” Jack told Gary, “Stan’s a paranoid schizophrenic. The guy’s convinced some kid gets into his brain and messes with his dreams. You should hear what this guy says happens in some of these nightmares.” They stopped outside the room’s door. “You finished all your restraint training, right?”

“Uh, yeah,” Gary said.

“All right,” Jack said, unlocking the door, “you hold him down, and when Fred gets in here, he’ll pump Stan so full of Zyprexa it would calm a rhino.”

Gary felt he should ask a question, get a better explanation of the plan. Just hold him down? That was a little vague. But before he could say a word, or even take a breath of preparation, Jack threw open the door and plunged into the room.Gary followed.

Inside the room, Stanley was on the floor in the throes of a screeching fit. “Hold his feet,” Jack called, smothering Stanley’s back as if it was a live grenade, trying to gain control of the man’s flailing arms. Gary kneeled, straddling Stanley’s ankles, struggling for dominance over the man’s erratic legs. “Careful, he’s a kicker,” Jack called over his shoulder.

Fred and another orderly—Gary thought his name might be Steve—ran into the room. Steve grabbed one of Stanley’s arms, he and Jack stretching Stanley into a prone position. Stanley’s feet bucked, sending numbing pain through Gary’s scrotum. Gary winced, stifling a groan. He shifted to a better position and managed to immobilize Stanley’s legs. Fred sprawled over Stanley and unsheathed a needle with his teeth. He winked at Gary, dug his elbow into the small of Stanley’s back, and jabbed the needle through Stanley’s pajama bottoms. “There ya go, Stan-the-man,” Fred called.

“It’s all right, Stan,” Jack said, “You’re awake, man. You’re safe.”

“I’m not,” Stanley cried.

Fred stood from his deed, with another dig of his elbow, and Gary saw Stanley’s profile pressed onto the floor. The man’s wide eyes looked back at him with the helpless, horrific alarm of a cow about to be slaughtered.

“He’ll come again,” Stanley screamed. “It’s William. He always comes back.”

Continued in: Earworm: Part 1 — The Prodigal Son Returns

Delivery: Part 1—Can I Take Your Order?

ShopsStuart Green walked into Island Pizza. Charlie and Eddy were manning the ovens. Charlie, at sixteen, still had a chance to grow out of the go no-where-ness of the pizza shop. As for Eddy, who was almost forty, it was too late. Stuart was twenty-one. He was on the fence, but more than likely he was going nowhere. The year was 1995, and nowhere seemed plenty cool enough.

Eddy said, “You’re late, Stuart.”

There were many things about Eddy that bothered Stuart. The two main ones were: One, he hated the way Eddy always called him by his whole first name, whereas most people just called him Stu—and it was the way he said it, like his mouth had just bitten into a lemon. And two, he hated how Eddy always tried to sound like he was some wise and worldly older man-in-charge. Worldly enough to have never even been off Mystic Island. And wise enough to now be in charge of two pizza ovens. Asshole even called himself a G.M., like he was running some high-end restaurant. Eddy figured that, because out of the three of them, he was the only one with a high school diploma, he was fucking Yoda.

Stuart rushed past Eddy, saying, “Don’t even start with me today, Ed.”

Eddy watched Stu rush past him, Eddy saying, “Wasn’t starting with you there, slick, just stating a fact.”

Charlie said, in his sincere, sycophantic kind of way, “What happened at court today, Stu?” Charlie was a lost type of soul, and he looked up to Stuart’s particular brand of life-stagnancy. To him, Stu was a god of slackerdom, as if Bart Simpson had grown up to now live on Mystic Island.

Eddy, raised his eyebrow and said, “Court? Finally busted for dealing, Stu?”

Stuart rushed by Eddy again, this time in the opposite direction. He was holding two pizza boxes, and he said, “Eddy, I swear to god.” This was Stuart’s way of telling Ed to shut the fuck up.

Charlie asked, “Did you lose your license?”

Stuart ignored the boy and he finally looked at Eddy, holding up the pizza boxes. Stu said, “Where are these things going?”

“Try reading the slip,” Eddy said.

Stuart looked down at the delivery slip and said, “Oh, they’re going to your mother’s house, Ed. Good, I wanted a little anal sex to start my shift.” He turned and left the shop.

Outside the shop, he grabbed hold of a ten-speed bicycle with a paint job so faded, its color was unidentifiable. He balanced the pizza boxes on the bike’s handlebars and shakily peddled down the street.

To Be Continued

The Old Stone Church: Part 2—No Stone Unturned

ChurchContinued from: The Old Stone Church: Part 1—The Church

“Does the bell ring every hour?” Holly asked. She glanced at the church nestled into landscape, not so far in the distance.

“Mostly. But some will tell you that it rings when it wants to,” E.B. Richardson answered. This was the first time that Holly saw the playful twinkle leave the old woman’s eyes.

Holly cocked her head, about to say something, but instead, she scribbled the woman’s statement in her notebook. Holly said to the old woman, “Again, I really appreciate this, Ms. Richardson.”

“Please, call me Betty,” the old writer said.

Holly Harwich sat on E.B. Richardson’s front porch. The rocking chair she sat in was angled slightly toward the famous children’s book writer’s own rocking chair. Both chairs were angled so that they could see the Stone Church in the distance.

“Okay, Betty,” Holly said with a smile and playful twinkle in her own eyes. “Well, again, I thank you for talking with me. I can’t tell you how much of an honor it is to speak with you. My mother used to read your books to me when I was a little girl. My favorite children’s books were Quest For Dreaming Mountain: A Fairy’s Tale and The Goblin’s Song.” Holly grinned shyly, saying, “I was a bit of a late-bloomer, and I totally identified with Belinda the Elf’s plight for self-fulfillment.”

“That is sweet,” Betty said. “I’m very glad you enjoyed them.”

Holly smiled shyly again and said, “Anyway, with that out of the way, I was told that you would be able to spin the most accurate and interesting tale about the StoneChurch.”

“Well, my dear,” Betty said, “I have to tell you, most people on the island can tell you the history of the church, but to get true accuracy, you need to speak with Nathan.”

“Oh, I intend to,” Holly said, “But I feel there may be family prejudices involved in his account of things.”

“And I would most likely bring my own prejudices to the story, I’m afraid.”

“Well, I understand your friendship with Nathan may give you pause, but I also feel your loyalty to him will make you want this story to be accurate.”

“You seem like a bright girl, Ms. Harwich,” Betty said. Holly wondered why the twinkle was absent from the woman’s eyes again.

“Please, call me Holly.”

“Okay, then, you seem like a bright girl, Holly. And a nice girl. I’m not quite sure why you would want to write this book.”

“It’s an amazing story. Even you have to admit that.”

“No, I don’t,” Betty Richardson said, a little dreamily. “The church has its history, as all old buildings do. But this building, as with all old buildings with history, is not haunted. When something is around long enough, bad things happen surrounding it. The church is not haunted. It’s old. And the Stone family is not cursed. Just unlucky.”

“Well, then, Betty, I want to write this book because I am a writer, and this is a story to be told.”

“Fair enough,” Betty said. “Just know that some rabbit holes aren’t meant to go down, but seeing as you seem persistent, and it’s better you get correct information from me than legend and conjecture from others, I will do my best to help you.”

“Thank you, Betty,” Holly said with her own twinkling eyes. “Maybe we can just start with a simple background of the church.”

“Well, why don’t we start with you telling me everything you know about the church’s history,” Betty said.

Holly looked down at her notebook and flipped through the pages, saying, “Well, I only know what has been written, I want to get deeper into…”

“Just tell me what you know so far,” Betty said, “So that I know what gaps need filling.”

“Okay,” Holly said. “Well, I know The Old Stone Church was erected in 1872, built with stones from Damon’s Point.” Holly paused and said, “Now is it Damon’s Point or Demon’s Point? I heard it referred to as both.”

Betty smiled, “It is Damon’s Point, named after Captain Charles Donaldson Damon, whose ship, The Dutch Horse, wrecked off the island’s coast, but residents call it Demon’s Point. Some claim it was known as Demon’s Point before Damon’s Point. The native tribe to this area called it Mahìngan or Windigo. I believe one is their word for wolf, the other a spirit. I’m a little rusty on my Algonquin. And, like Demon versus Damon, another favorite blissful confusion for the town’s folk is that no one is quite sure if the Stone Church was named for the church’s building material, or for the surname of its builder.”

“So, it was Harold Stone that built the church,” Holly said, confirming a fact she obviously already knew.

Holly was hoping that Betty would pick up the story’s reigns here, but Betty simply responded, “Correct.” There was a brief silence. Betty said, “Continue.”

Holly said, “Harold built the church and he built the Stone family’s house next door to the church. Now, I’ve heard both the Stone family’s house and The Price House called the Stone House.”

Betty said, “Often, people confuse The Price House with the Stone’s house because The Price House was built using the same Demon’s Point stones as the church. Whereas the Stone family’s house is a wooden structure. For this reason, sometimes The Price House is referred to as The Stone House. There is much to Mystic Island’s history that is confusing. But go on with what you were saying, dear.”

Holly referred back to her notes, saying, “Harold was known around town as being very wealthy, and very eccentric. ‘Odd,’ was the word most often used for him. And, subsequently, odd would be the word used to describe most of the Stone Church’s caretakers throughout the years. Harold was also a perfectionist, another trait held by the rest of the Stone family. Harold wanted the best of everything, and he had the money to do so. The family had made their fortune building ships throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and his need for perfection could be seen in the way he built his church. From having every stone brought from Damon’s Point, to the wooden pews being imported from Germany. And he had the two stain glass windows that adorn the church imported from England. They had belonged to a 16th Century church that had burned down in 1871. The windows having miraculously survived the fire.”

“Miraculously?” Betty said.

“Well, yes,” Holly said. “They say there was no way that lead glass could have survived such heat, and that it was either miraculous or supernatural that the windows did not perish in the fire.”

“My dear,” Betty said, “We are going to deal with facts here, not legends. The windows survived the fire by luck or coincidence. You understand that?”

For a moment, the old woman’s face was set stone, and Holly said to the old woman, her voice low and penitent, “Yes, ma’am.”

“Good,” the old woman said, her features softening. She said, “Please, continue.”

“Okay,” Holly said. “Well, Harold’s odd behavior became odder and more alarming throughout the years, until, in 1893, at the age of 70, Harold was found cowering in a dark corner of his house. His body was trembling and his skin cold, and he gripped rosary beads with white knuckles. He died two days later, and it is said that the undertakers had to break his fingers to extract the rosary beads.” She looked at the old woman to confirm she had this part of the tale correct.

The old writer just nodded.

Holly paused a moment and then continued. “Despite the unspoken rivalry between churches, Harold’s son, James, buried his father in the St. Sebastian’s Church cemetery. And then James moved his own family into the Stone House, immediately taking over his father’s fortune, business, and duties as caretaker of the church. This did not bode well with James’s brother, Noah, although Noah never would have wanted to be caretaker of the church. Noah went on to start the Stone and Weston Law Firm.” Holly added, “I am familiar with the firm. I had to go through Vincent Stone to get permission for the book.”

“Mmm,” Betty hummed, allowing the sound alone to indicate her opinion for Vincent.

Holly continued. “So, it turns out that James, aside from several personal scandals in his past—including a supposed tryst with Martha Price, among other things—didn’t have much luck with the church. Some of the most tragic moments of the church’s history befalling his tenure as caretaker. Among the tragedies was the incident in 1899 when several people were injured in the church during a massive brawl that broke out during a sermon. And there was the famous jail-break, when the three men that had escaped from Springback Prison, and caused days of carnage, had all claimed a sinister force in the church had compelled them to commit their crimes. And, most tragic of all, James’s own five year old grandson, Benjamin, was found dead lying before the church’s alter. There was varied speculation as to how the boy died, or even got into the locked church, but at the time, the medical examiner swore the boy died of natural causes.”

“That is true,” Betty said.

Silence hung between the two women. Holly thought maybe the old woman was going to pick up the reigns of the story again. But she didn’t.

Holly asked, “Benjamin was James’s daughter’s son. Correct?”

“Yes. His daughter Carol,” Betty said.

More silence hung between them. When the silence became too deep, Holly said, “So, then James died in the Stone House two days after his grandson’s funeral, and his son Frederick took over the duties of the church.” She paused, reading through her notes. She said, “In 1922, Fredrick’s youngest son, Harold, began showing strange behavior, especially whenever he was in the church. Harold was sent to Mystic Mercy’s Ward 6. And at the ripe old age of fourteen, he leapt from his hospital room’s window, impaling himself on a wrought iron fence.” She paused.

“That is true,” the writer said, but then said nothing more.

Holly continued, “Well, it was now said around town that the Stones were doomed. Fredrick died when he fell off the Mystic Island Bridge, although most said he jumped, seeing as days earlier his daughter had hung herself, naming Fredrick as her sexual assailant in her suicide note. So it was now up to Fredrick Jr. to take over the church. And Fredrick Jr. was very well respected. He never married and had no children. He was quiet, but described as very friendly and helpful, and generally in good cheer. So it was a shock to most when he was found hanging from the rafters of the church’s high ceiling. Most marveled at how he was even able to have climbed up there to do it, seeing there was no ladder found at the scene, making the medical examiner’s finding of suicide greatly debated around the island. The church was somewhat abandoned for several years, until Fredrick Jr.’s nephew Nathan came of age and chose to become the new and current caretaker of the facility.”

“That is right,” Betty said.

Holly said, “I understand that Nathan has his uncle’s reputation and disposition. But several people around the island are waiting for the Stone Curse to grab him.” Holly paused, waiting for some reaction from Betty. None came. “That’s what the islanders call this series of mishaps. ‘The Stone Curse.’ And there is much argument as to whether the family is cursed with some genetic mental or physical problem, or if the curse is supernatural in nature. There are those that say the stained glass windows of the church are haunted, and if you stare into them long enough, they will steal your soul. There is another legend that the pews were salvaged from one of Vlad the Impaler’s temples, and that the wood’s stain was rendered with the ash and blood of his victims. Others say the stain was rendered from the ashes of burnt witches.”

Holly stopped. E.B Richardson’s eyes now looked as if incapable of ever holding any twinkle, or any kind of friendliness at all. But still, the writer smiled and said, “Well, dear, it already sounds like you have all the information you need for an entertaining book.”

Holly said, “So, I guess I’m hoping you will fill in the gaps. Everyone said that you know the most about the church.”

“I’m afraid I have nothing more to offer you. The Stone family is not cursed. Some of them were just unlucky, or bad natured, or both. And as far as the windows being haunted or the pews being cursed, that has about the same validity as my fairy tales.”

“So there is nothing more you can offer me, even on a personal note about Nathan?”

“Nathan is my good friend. And as for any personal notes on his character, you’ll be able to determine that when you meet him. You’re better off, I think, to just leave this story alone,” Betty said.

The women sat in silence for a moment. That silence was broken when the church’s bell rang out one distinct gong.

To Be Continued