The Making of America: Old Country Baggage
by James L. Secor
We all know vampires suck the blood of the living to continue living, even though they are dead. The living dead. A curse.
We don’t know where vampires come from. They just suddenly appear in folklore. The most famous being European. Central Europe, to be exact. Though the Chinese had vampires, too, they did not travel to the West with their fabled RR builders and laundry entrepreneurs.
European vampires had not migrated to Britain before the 19th century, else they would surely have made their appearance at Salem, if not Jamestown or Roanoke Island, the Lost Colony. As it was, America had to wait for a later mass migration of Europeans.
George Calvin Brown and family and friends are prime examples of vampire baggage carriers. As always, the opening of the carpet bag was innocent, however traumatic. Very like Pandora’s box.
Ephemera Gladys Brown, George Calvin’s loving wife, died of tuberculosis one day. George and the children were crestfallen, as one would expect. Losing a caring, loving, thoughtful mother was not expected or wanted. While the family mausoleum was being built and readied, the family mourned. Mother Brown was en-coffined and discretely kept in a corner of the Ice House, which the Brown family owned and operated. With all but the carving of the alabaster monument completed, public mourning ensued with the requisite religious broodings and blessings.
And then life went on, albeit with Leonard Gardener Brown, the older son, coughing a wee bit more than usual. The grocery store side of the business suffered as Leonard’s coughing increased in frequency and intensity. In fact, Leonard was excluded from both the grocery and the Ice House. Left alone, his coughing and whitish pallor led to a drinking habit that wormed its way into the family’s profits. Eventually, he, too, succumbed to the wasting away disease and was laid to rest alongside his mother. Another name was chiseled into the alabaster and life more or less went on.
Lena Mercy Brown, the sister, was so distraught and beside herself and so very fearful of the future, specifically her future, that she became a frequent visitor to the grave site. Early in the morning just before dawn and well past the waning moon, Lena Mercy could be found at the cemetery. So regular and spectral was she, she was spoken of as a ghost. Lena Mercy haunted the graveyard with an unhealthy obsession. So said the town doctor. But Lena Mercy would not desist, even as her pallor paled and her eyes reddened. And then she died. She told her father, one day, that she didn’t feel so good, coughed once into her white, white hands and died.
The doctor said that Lena Mercy Brown also died of tuberculosis, no history of coughing notwithstanding.
What kind of curse was this laid upon the Browns?
Surely, some townies said, this was the result of a prior life-sin. Others pooh-poohed such a superstition. Still others believed that the family was particularly susceptible to invasion by minute, even unseen animalcules. Animalcules being animalcules, this was difficult to deny. Invisible things forever manifest themselves into life. People breathe air, don’t they? And they dig in the dirt. And wash and bathe in the water. Everyone does. Some few were more susceptible than others to invasion by animalcules.
George sold the grocery business. People were wary of infection. As long as he ceased operating the Ice House, he was able to hold onto it. The income was enough to keep him and his youngest, Edwin Prentiss. They could find no one to help around the house, though.
But tragedy again struck.
This new wrinkle to the family horror came via the cemetery grounds-keeper. This elderly gentleman began seeing the ghost of Lena Mercy wandering through the cemetery to end up hovering around the family vault, raising her hands and looking upward as if mourning her mother’s and her brother’s and her own demise or calling upon God. All in utter silence, of course, as ghosts make no noise, though their mouth holes be open. The old guy also reported the silence of the cemetery. That is, no scurryings of night denizens and no owl hootings. Not that owls tended to be very communicative to begin with or while hunting. The oldster’s repetitive sightings brought out the ghost hunters, ghost busters and ghost curious. The crowding of the cemetery brought about less Lena Mercy walking. This phenomenon led to a generalized exodus but for the curious, who tend to be quite persevering. Their nightly vigils paid off. Sightings were reported and substantiated. Though not by an outside, objective, uninterested individual.
Much to the discomfiture of the remainder of the Brown family, this ghostly appearance of Lena Mercy became a hot topic in the district. Curiosity seekers began visiting the Brown house. The worst of the lot were the various newspapermen. Rude and invasive, if they got no story they made one up. Eventually, George and Edwin shut themselves up in their house. Groceries and sundries were delivered, ordered by messenger. Eventually, interest flagged somewhat. At which time the true tragedy struck.
It was here that the European old world baggage was opened and spilled out its contents all over the ground. The soil was fertile. The horror grew like kudzu, choking the hell out of reason.
How could this happen?
The mind’s job, as it were, is to make sense of things. Make sense of the world. Make sense of chaos. Make sense of the senseless. For this purpose, pre-laid pathways in the neural network of the brain are activated, for your brain forgets nothing. This is how we can remember how to walk without thinking about it. The baggage that sometimes ought not to be carried with us is opened like this; that is, habit of mind. We are creatures of habit. Habit helps us cope with the world. Habit helps us find meaning. Some of these habits are deep-seated and enduring, enduring like fairy tales, folktales, folklore.
How the mind does this is by putting various happenings together and coming up with an answer. It is this solution that is most often influenced by deep cultural memories. Memories of explication. Memories that are connected to an answer and a solution. Habits of mind. Short cuts for thinking.
First were the deaths of the Brown family. Three out of five.
Second was the ghostly sightings by all and sundry of Lena Mercy.
Third was the haunting of George by Lena Mercy. She became a nightly occurrence, dancing around George in bed, George at the kitchen table. Lena Mercy was insistent. According to George, she harassed him. Eventually night and day.
Fourth was Edwin Prentiss’s illness. The same as his mother’s and his brother’s and his sister’s, though Lena Mercy had not suffered the coughing. Edwin began his coughing and increasingly wan coloring within two weeks of Lena Mercy’s haunting the house.
Surely there was a connection here.
Ghosts are not known to be benevolent.
George sought solace, sought answers with consultations of the town elders, the doctor, the various ministers and the travelling Chautauqua professors. Though not all were in agreement, those obsessed with their old baggage, those in the majority, convinced George that Lena Mercy’s hauntings and Edwin Prentiss’s advancing illness were connected. That is, Lena Mercy was responsible.
Something needed to be done. Proof was needed.
So it was that the Brown family tomb was opened. Of the three coffined bodies, only Lena Mercy’s was not decomposed.
A great cry rose up and it was decided Lena Mercy was a vampire.
What other reason could there be? Only vampires feed on the living. Edwin was declining while Lena Mercy was not. Not dying. So?
There could be but one conclusion.
The townies cut out Lena Mercy’s heart. They burned it, cringing somewhat as it sizzled. They made Edwin drink a concoction of ash of heart and red wine.
All was well. No more hauntings. No more coughing.
Edwin Prentiss died in silence two weeks later.
How could this be? Lena Mercy the vampire had been appropriately done in. Maybe Edwin Prentiss was too far gone by then. Maybe more needed to be done.
So, Edwin Prentiss’s heart had a Palo Santo wood stake hammered through it. Both the heart and the stake were burned. The remains were buried. Holy water was cast upon the ground.
Everyone waited, fretting. For lifetimes they fretted and worried.
Would it ever, really end?
Vigilance could not be relaxed.
And so it was.
Jim Secor began his adult writing career as a social activist playwright utilizing absurdism and, later, after his studies in Japanese theatre and training at the National Puppet Theatre in Osaka, alternative alternative styles. Along the way, he learned how to write bad poetry except for tanka and haiku. Short stories, longer stories and the frustrating and emotional draining novels. He has published variously. He taught English, writing and drama in China and Japan. He is over-educated and might be considered an overachiever as he was told at age 16 that he was too stupid to graduate with a BA.
by Delinda McCann
There are thin places where distance between realms collapses. –Celtic Folklore
This morning, I picked five hundred daffodils before coming inside to rest my back on the sofa. My eyes closed as I mentally reviewed my latest manuscript.
A rap on my sliding glass doors brought me upright. The man beyond the glass looked familiar. He smiled and dimples appeared in each cheek. My heart lurched as I stared. His bright blue eyes contrasted with his mocha skin and curly hair. Feeling dizzy and disoriented, I slid open the door and whispered, “Jake?”
He nodded. “Celia sent me.”
Excitement vibrated through me as I threw myself into his arms. “My sister, how is my twin?”
Jake kissed me on top of my head. His accent sounded just as I’d always imagined. “She is well and eager to see you.”
“Why are you here? How?” I refrained from reminding him he was only a character in my stories and my sister had been dead since birth. Jake felt real enough to my arms.
Jake held up his hand to show me a collection of forks wrapped in a napkin. “Celia thought these might be yours. When we discovered how they came to us, we thought we must try to see you.”
I nodded, dumbly taking the forks. They matched my set, and I’d been missing some. I absently set the forks on a table and motioned for Jake to sit. As I moved my laptop off of the sofa, I felt my heart race. “Jake, where in your story are you? Are you still president?”
He nodded. “Celia thought you might know our future. I must flee the country if Papadakos is elected.”
“You must flee before the inauguration. Carter-Bowles is a traitor. He will try to arrest and kill you.”
Jake shook his head, “No. He is Mariah’s cousin. He will win then, you think?”
Knowing the events occurring in the rough draft of my next novel, I nodded. “What does Leroy say about him?”
Jake snorted, “Leroy says he became a prosecutor in order to send that cheating scum to prison someday.”
“Trust Leroy. He knows his cousin. Mariah is too trusting. Can you escape to Celia’s home?”
Jake drew his head back as he looked at me. “I think you do not quite understand. Celia’s home is still within the reach of my enemies.”
“Oh, of course, I forgot. You won’t be safe where you are known.” I paused then added, “In time, Peter will become president then Ruben, but your country still needs you.”
Jake ran his hands through his hair. The lines at the corners of his eyes seemed to droop. “I’m old and tired.” He took a deep breath and looked toward the forest. “I will flee and let the young men have their turn at glory.” He snorted as his voice filled with sarcasm on his last word.
I felt disconnected as I watched the familiar face I’d seen only in my imagination.
Jake sighed and admitted, “Peter and Leroy agree with you that I must flee somewhere beyond the reach of the oligarchs. Celia longs to see you. It has been a lifetime since she was able to touch you.”
My eyes filled with tears at the thought of holding my sister.
“Can we come here? We are real in your world. When the troubles are over perhaps we can go home. I hope so. I long to watch the sun go down from my ridge.” Jake’s eyes focused on the wall behind me.
I suspected Jake was watching a sunset in another land. “Of course you can come.” I bit my lip. “I don’t know much about these things. Can Celia come through and be okay?”
“The two of you seem to have an extraordinary bond. As far as we know, she will be fine because she is alive at home and in your books.”
We made plans until Jake looked at his watch and pushed himself to his feet. “It’s time for me to go. We will leave before the inauguration.” His shoulders sagged as he moved like an old man toward the door.
“How do you get home from here?”
Jake’s forehead puckered. “Where you do your martial arts. I saw you there when I was exercising.”
I knew the place he meant. I’d exercised there because I liked the feel of the energy. I thought the trees made the energy. Maybe they do, or maybe the energy comes from something physics cannot yet explain. I walked Jake to the circle of trees at the edge of the woods.
Jake put out his hand to stop me. “I’ll go from here. Remember, we will come when we can.” Jake flashed his dimples at me again, turned, and in a flash of red light disappeared around a corner into a quantum collapse.
Alone in my house, I collapsed on the sofa feeling drained. I rested my head on a pillow and closed my eyes.
I awoke, smiling. I felt peaceful and thought, “What a haunting dream.” I had dreamed about my twin before and even wrote a life for her in my books, but the dream about actually seeing her touched my soul.
Hubby came in before dinnertime, kissed me, and asked, “How was your day?”
“I got all my flowers picked then took a nap. I had the sweetest dream.”
He paused and frowned at the table. “What are all these forks doing here? They look like the ones we’re missing.”
I stared at the forks in my husband’s hand as he unwrapped them from their napkin.
Clearly stitched in one corner of the napkin, I saw the state seal from Jake’s country.
Delinda McCann lives on a small farm near Seattle, WA where she raised her daughters and now runs a small organic flower business. She enjoys singing with her church choir and playing the piano—poorly. A brush with cancer made her realize that she needed to slow down, so she turned to writing fiction inspired by her behind-the-scenes experiences of advocating for and loving the people who are just a little bit different.
by Bryan Murphy
You, too, eh? Yeah, you do look a bit fragile. As you can see, I’m strong and healthy myself, but, in my line of business, that doesn’t necessarily keep you alive for very long. It’s an advantage, though, with what we’re signing up for. I mean, you’re going to snuff it in that clapped-out body – hey, no offence – but when I get the bullet they’ll bring me back in my fine physique for the duration, the very long duration, right? Don’t look like that, you don’t have much choice, do you? Better than that ancient Welshman’s long night. Just imagine if they brought that body back!
Yeah, man of letters, me. Not just a thug. Philosopher, too. Don’t laugh. Moral philosophy, ethics, religion. You ever thought about the ethics of what we’re getting involved in? I mean, at the moment, it’s only those who signed up for cryo, in the dark ages, when people laughed at them because nobody thought it would ever be possible. The first ones didn’t really have the last laugh, though, did they, what with the agony of re-birth, and the brevity of their second lifespan? Glad they got that bit sorted out. Anyway, I can take a bit of agony, how about you?
The point is, who gets to decide who else can have the treatment? Can you bring back someone who hasn’t asked for it? Now, I’m a man of religion, and if you can’t trust the Church on ethics, who can you trust? It’s just that sometimes they’re a bit technophobic, you know, and it doesn’t always do us that much good. I mean we’ve been haemorrhaging members like San Gennaro ever since that ridiculous Church of the Second Coming started up. Yeah, born in Brazil and now it’s everywhere. Even here in Turin, where we keep the Holy Shroud that they based their hologram on. Some idiot digitalised it and put it on the Goo, where anyone could copy it. How come you don’t know all this?
Out of towner, okay, but don’t you drink the news? Anyway, you know the real Church is going through a real crisis, especially since the despicable murder of Francis II. We’ll avenge that for them, don’t you worry! But every crisis is an opportunity, like they say in Sicily. And now’s the time for the Vatican to listen to us faithful and bring back Padre Pio, I mean Saint Pio, as Pope. Pius XIII, he’ll be. The greatest and last leader of the Church, couldn’t be otherwise! But they say it isn’t ethical. Like, he’s with God now, which is obviously better than being Pope in this world. Even so, I think he knows where his duty lies.
Just imagine all the things he could tell us! None of the others have said a word, have they? I guess they were in Limbo, where there wasn’t much to report on. Or the agony of rebirth wiped out their memories. Or they took a vow of silence. I can understand that! But a saint … what a story he’ll have to tell!
Anyway, trust the Church on ethics, not me. My lot, our thing is not strictly ethical by definition. I mean, we cleared the mafias out of this part of Italy, but only to fill the vacuum ourselves, which some people might find objectionable. Stop twitching, will you? I’ve never hurt a fly, myself. My task is to see how this resurrection business can guarantee my people an eternal cashflow. Hey, your number’s come up. Go sign on the dotted line. I’ll tell you how it pans out next time we meet. You’re lucky: it’ll be a long story.
Bryan Murphy is a British author of speculative fiction. You can find his work here: http://bit.ly/19vt7Ts and at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple and other major retailers. His first full-length novel, Revolution Number One, is due out this year.
by Cody Wagner
They say someone on the outside of a black hole can’t see another person getting sucked in. Light can’t break free. And what isn’t lit isn’t visible. And so the victim seems to freeze there, at the point light no longer escapes. He will appear to stay there, existing in that single moment, until the end of time. While his soul is gone, his face will live on. And on. And on.
That moment for me is when he stood at the door, dust floating in the sun around his head like a halo.
“So I’m gonna go,” he said, a bag filled with essentials – sonic toothbrush, toothpaste, hair gel, and an ancient copy of The Road – at his feet.
A red hover car parked in the drive revved its engine.
I ignored it and reached to his face.
I didn’t care, and stroked his beard for the last time.
That. That was my moment. The image etched forever in my memory.
They say that, in a black hole, time speeds up as you reach the center. The part of your body closer to that center moves faster. So your head travels faster than your feet. You’re literally stretched beyond your limits. Like toothpaste from the tube.
That happened when the messages stopped. No communication. Before that, every key was hope. Hope that I’d say just the right thing. His responses took seconds. Mine took hours. I slaved over every word.
Until I received this:
Soooooo, this will be my last e-mail. I just think, you know, our time in the sun is over. No use dragging it out, right?
Each word stretched me beyond my limits. His response so casual. And no more hope. I typed the following:
Four years is the longest sunset I’ve ever witnessed.
Plucking out the nine words, I remembered sitting with him in an old-timey boat on Lake Powell. The waves gently rocked us as we watched the sun falling. We saw images in clouds. Only there were no clouds. We were just making up invisible shapes, laughing and drinking Merlot. It was the perfect evening. Part of me hoped he’d get the reference in my message.
But I never sent it.
They say that, in a black hole, everything tries to fit into what’s called the singularity. It’s a dot or point sitting in the middle. Everything is sucked toward that point. The pressure there is so monumental, matter is squeezed and smashed to fit inside. That’s why black holes are so dense. So much pressed into so little. And that dot is so tiny, it’s one-dimensional. Three dimensions flattened into one.
My heart lives in that singularity. Crushed into an unimaginably small, one-dimensional space.
It happened when I saw the wedding announcement.
Can’t imagine spending my life with anyone else, it read.
The envelope contained a picture of the two of them. They were sitting on Lake Powell. In an old-timey boat. Holding each other as the sun set.
Cody Wagner loves to sing, mime (not really), and create. He writes about topics ranging from superpowers to literate trees (really). His award-winning debut novel, The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren, recently “came out.” See what he did there? Cody dealt with bullying as a teen and wanted to provide a fun escape for all the underdogs out there. He’s also handing out cookie dough to everyone who grabs a copy. Check out his writing and see more of his wackiness at www.wagner-writer.com or find him on Twitter @cfjwagner, Goodreads at www.goodreads.com/wagner_writer, and Amazon at www.amazon.com/Cody-Wagner/e/B016NYGV40.
by Micki Peluso
Hebrews 13: 2
“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby many have entertained angels unawares.”
More than a year had passed since we’d visited the cemetery holding the remains of 14-year-old Noelle, the daughter whose comedic, endearing antics had woven the thread that held our family together. We couldn’t bear the grotesquely beautiful tombstones and mausoleums, the quietude — the finality of death. Since I had designed the headstone — a dove in flight, holding a rose that dripped a single tear –- the caretakers called me to announce that it was ready for my inspection.
I took my three daughters with me and drove up the steep, winding narrow road to the top of the mountain to confirm that the stone was acceptable. The sunny autumn afternoon was much like the day she’d lost her life. We searched everywhere but couldn’t find where the tombstone lay. Just as we were about to give up and go home, we noticed a middle-aged man walking his dog along the side of the road. I slowed the car and called out to him. As he walked over to us a smile lit up his face, an unearthly beatific smile that mesmerized us.
“You must be looking for Noelle,” he said, in a voice that was lilting, expressing great happiness. Before I could answer, he said, ‘‘She’s right over there under the large oak tree,” pointing to an area we had passed by several times. He smiled that incredible smile and continued on his way.
The grave site was no more than 50 feet from us. The headstone was lovely, a tribute to an amazing life but none of us took comfort from its setting, nestled among trees and hills that stretched for miles. We cried. We could not remain here, did not see the beauty surrounding us, only the loss — Noelle’s spirit was not in this place. We climbed back into the car, unable to speak.
Driving down the mountainside, I asked my oldest daughter, Kim, “Who was that man? He seemed to know us.”
“Mom, I never saw him before. I thought you knew him,” she said.
“Kelly, have you seen him before, while jogging in the cemetery?”
“No, Mom, I never run this far up.”
“Well,” 11-year-old Nicole stated firmly, “I know I never saw that man in my whole life.”
“Hmm, that’s odd. He seemed to know us and Noelle. Did you ever see a smile like that?”
We rode in silence down the one-way road through the huge cemetery. The sun was setting, casting shadows across this place which held only emptiness, bleakness, and sorrow. We should have passed the man going down. We didn’t. He disappeared as strangely as he’d appeared. We sensed we’d seen an “Angel unaware” — and it would be the first of many times.
The next angel sightings began when my grandsons were born. Several of them, only the boys, either saw angels or heard and saw Noelle, usually in times of distress. The three most open to these sightings and hearings usually stopped experiencing them when they went to grade school. So many natural things are ‘taught’ out of children and this gift was one of them.
Years before, as Noelle lay paralyzed and dying, I promised her that the world would remember who she was and her vehicular homicide by a drunk driver would be known. Life issues stepped in and it was 25 years before I was able to keep my promise by writing a memoir of her life and death. It was meant to be and throughout those last six months of actually writing it, there were many paranormal occurrences.
My first book signing was quite an adventure and I was scared to death. I had just recovered from the flu and wasn’t feeling too perky; the mall was crowded and hot, filled with hordes of people intent on finding Valentine sales. The bookstore ran a sale on every best seller, offering half price, buy one, get one free –- so even I would have preferred not to buy my more expensive first book. Still, as suggested by my publisher, I set up my table, looked pleasantly classy, and had great promo stuff set up –- along with a gorgeous poster of my book on an easel, standing outside the bookstore in the actual mall. Many passed by, admiring the poster, asking if it was for sale –- few stopped to buy the book. The bargain hunters, dressed in less than their finest, seemed harried and hungry –- proven by the way they sneaked valentine chocolate hearts from my crystal bowl as they dashed past my table. The candy was free, but it entailed listening to my book sales pitch for a book they didn’t seem inclined to buy.
After an hour I was getting dejected. This was not fun. Root canal was more fun. I forced family and friends to suffer through it with me but it still did not even border upon fun. I signed and sold about a half dozen books and was getting tired and bored, when someone ran up to me, all smiles and excited. I could not tell if it was a boy, adult or teen. He introduced himself as John, still smiling that amazing smile on his elfin face. “I loved your book,” he repeated over and over. “I cried and cried and cried.”
He didn’t have his book with him so I signed a book plate for him and gave him a bookmark and a chocolate heart. He leaned over to me, with both arms stretched out to me. I reached out and hugged him, something I would never do to a stranger in a Mall.
“Don’t you dare stop writing books! You can’t not write books. You’re a good writer and you must keep on writing books!” I wondered how he knew that this was my first book and I didn’t plan on another.
“I’ll think about it,” I said, smiling at that wonderful face of his. I glanced away for just a second and when I looked back he was gone. He seemed to disappear as strangely as he’d appeared. I turned to my daughter and asked, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” She nodded. It was not the first time we had encountered an “angel unaware” concerning my book and the story it relates. There was no way to explain those beatific smiling faces both times. I had a feeling this would not be the last either. From the moment he left, my energy returned, all pain left and I was able to continue signing books for another hour and a half and sell all my books. I hope my angelic being shows up at all my future book signings. I want to tell John that I have started my next book — but somehow I think he knows.
I began writing after a personal tragedy as a catharsis for my grief. This led to a first-time-out publication in Victimology: An International Magazine and a 25-year career in journalism. I’ve freelanced and been a staff writer for one major newspaper and written for two more. I have published short fiction and non-fiction, as well as slice-of-life stories in college and other magazines and in e-zine editions. My first book was published in 2012; it’s a funny family memoir of love, loss and survival, called . . . AND THE WHIPPOORWILL SANG which won the Nesta CBC silver award for writing that makes a change in the world. Two of my short horror stories have been published in an anthology called The Speed of Dark. I am presently working on a collection of short fiction, slice-of-life stories and essays in a book called DON’T PLUCK THE DUCK.