The Night Of The Living AA’s: Report #3

Thermometer

I’m sitting on the sofa in our screened-in porch listening to the rain falling, heavily and with vigor, on our deck, roof and the new leaves of the maples.  I want another mug of Dorset tea, but that would mean going into the kitchen one more time.

I’m reluctant to do that.  There is something going on in the kitchen that causes me to suffer the most prolonged insomnia and induces the more horrific nightmares when sleep does finally come to my weary and reddened eyes.

I have only myself to blame…

I’ve always wanted to own an indoor/outdoor thermometer.  I wanted one even as a young child.  While the other boys in my neighborhood would be playing catch or stealing apples from the old orchard or riding their bikes around the block singing: “Back in the Saddle Again”, I would be dreaming of owning a device that would let me know what the temperature was both inside my home and outside in the yard. The only problem was that these instruments weren’t yet invented.  If I wanted to know how cold it was, I would have to don a coat and flannel-lined jeans and trudge out to the wall of the garage and look up at the mercury column, inside a glass tube that was attached to a Coca Cola advertisement.

Now, sixty years later, I own three of these wonderful little units.  There’s one in my “man-cave” in the lower level of our house.  There’s one still in the box, just as it was when I bought it at a Costco’s in Jupiter, Florida.

And, there is the one in the kitchen…on the narrow sill just above the sink.  It’s small.  It’s accurate.  And, it simply terrifies me.

I’ve written two posts on this Radio Shack model before (or maybe one blog and a Facebook post, I can’t remember).  So, for those who have been following me over the years, you may know what’s coming next in this particular report.  For those of you who are more recent “followers” of my stuff here on WordPress, then be afraid, be very afraid.  Do not let your children read this post.  If you’re weak of heart or a faithful church-goer, you may want to stop here.

You’ve been warned!

You see, my friends, my wife and I bought this house in 2000.  We used it as a vacation home for a number of years, renting it out to people willing to come to the Adirondacks and get bitten by black flies and deer flies and mosquitoes while enjoying the hiking, boating and swimming that the Park offers.

We were living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan at the time.  It was the perfect weekend get-a-way retreat for us when we felt the need to escape the artistic and cultural life of a vibrant city.  It was only a mere six and a half hour drive (305 miles) from our front door on W. 93rd St. to the driveway at 58 Garondah Road.

Within a month or two of buying the house, I happened to be in the Saranac Lake Radio Shack.  I was looking over the radios and kits of all sorts when I spotted it.  There it was.  An indoor/outdoor thermometer!

Naturally, I bought it and within an hour I had it up and running.  I carefully placed the outdoor sensor outside our kitchen window and behind a shutter…in the shade.  It was this very same thermometer that I glanced at one evening while we making a quick winter trip to use our new L.L.Bean snowshoes, and saw that it was -36 degrees.  This was probably the first time that I began to question why we had chosen to live this far north.

I put in two AA batteries.  It was 2000.  At first, for a year or two, everything went smoothly.  Then, I began to notice something strange…something sinister…something that has grown more terrifying as year came and went.

The indoor/outdoor kept working!

“What’s wrong with thing?” I asked Mariam.  “It should have needed new batteries by now.  Nothing made since 1957 was made to last more that a few years.”

I knew this was especially true of batteries.  Why else would places like Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Radio Shack sell them in packages of sixty?

And, this, dear reader is where the story becomes unnatural…eerie…and downright frightening.  It’s been sixteen years since I put in those two AA batteries…and they are still working!  It’s not my imagination.  I will swear to the good Lord above that I have not replaced those two batteries.  I want desperately to open the back of the indoor/outdoor thermometer and check on the brand, but I am afraid to open the small plastic door.  I’ve seen enough Steven Spielberg movies to know that when you open certain items, unholy things come, like smoke from a clay Churchwarden pipe and the demons of the Other World are released.

I have enough guilt in my heart already…I don’t need to unleash Satan or whatever into this world.  It’s already too violent, religiously insane and terrorizing…and I’m not just talking about Donald Trump here.

But, something is powering my indoor/outdoor thermometer. Something sinister and unworldly.  It certainly can’t be the AA batteries…sixteen years is fifteen and a half years beyond their expected lifetime.

I still want a second mug of Dorset tea.  I think I’ll ask Mariam to go into the kitchen to make it for me.  I can claim my back hurts.

And, it does.  I have an MRI to prove it.

My Grave Nightmare: A Halloween Story

SpookyImage

Was it a day in full blinding sun or a night in deep gloomy shadows?  Was I asleep?  Awake?  I don’t remember.  No, it was both.  I wandered about in my dream with my eyes open, my dream that quickly became a nightmare.

What I looked upon were reflections of my darkest thoughts and fears.  My sub-conscience was trapped in the dreaded landscape of the land of the dead–the churchyard, the cemetery, God’s Little Acre, the lawns and fields of the departed.

AngelOverlookingGraves

The angel stood on the rock and watched over the mute stones.

“O, What has come into this world that these once vital souls, who lived, loved and danced and sang must now repose until the Day of Judgement?”

I stood watching a man mourn the loss of his wife, lover, child, parent or self.  He cannot bear the loneliness of existence.  He pulls at the door.  It is solid and firm in its closure.  The door is thick bronze.  I touch his shoulder to offer solace.  He, too, is bronze.  It’s all metal and stone except for the dust that lies within.  He will remain in this torment until the acids of the rain reduce him to molecules.

BronzeAtDoor

I walk on.  I don’t know why I do this.  I know what awaits me behind the next tree or over the next hill.  I walk into the trees.  Roots have begun to ensnare a gravestone.  The trees will absorb the crystals in another century.  Then, who will remember?  Where will the flowers be placed?  Where will the tears be spilled?

RootedGrave

The only comfort for my eyes are the green and living leaves, mosses and lichens.  Objects with life hold firmly to the ultimate symbol of death.

True irony.

I leave the dark trees and stand to meditate the monument before me.  I read the inscription.  It’s not an epitaph–it’s a promise:

Somewhere in Mexico–when you were hurting and in despair, I sent my angel to comfort you.  You are not alone.  I will be with you even unto the end of the earth. 

ComfortAngelCaption

There is an old house with an open door.  I grew up and passed from childhood into manhood in an old house.  I must enter.  I walk into the foyer and along the hallway.  There she is.  The transparent image of a long-ago lover.  Or is she the sister I never had? Or is she my mother as a beautiful youth?  Or is she someone unknown to me–coming to hold my wrinkled hand and place her young cold lips on my warm cheek.

Instead, she passes through me and ascends the stairs to meet another shade–someone her own age to play with–someone as spectral as she.  I watch her ascend the stairs and experience an overwhelming sense of melancholy.  I wished to know her in life.  I probably would have given her my heart–the heart she would break when she passed away.  My heart breaks as easily as ancient Oriental porcelain.

SpiritGirl

I leave the house to her spirit.  I whisper a prayer for her restless soul.  Does anyone hear my words?  I walk on into a monochromatic world.  There at my feet is the grave of a man who is holding…is it his own face?  The head of someone he is longing for?  The visage of a family member?  I walk by and he continues to stare, without terror or anger into another pair of eyes.

HoldingHead

I have seen too much for a living and mortal mind to comprehend.  I want to be awake.  I don’t care if it’s just past mid-night or if the sky in the east is becoming pale.

Pale!  Enough pale! I want to be amongst the living and the breathing.  I want to mingle with lovers who embrace with a terrible passion for life.  I want to walk along flowered paths rich with bees and insects and birds singing for the company of a mate.  I want to help a lame farmer till his field, an old woman with arthritic joints knead her bread, a teacher tell his students the truth about life, calm a couples angry words, write a song a child will love, write a book that will make a man weep, kiss a wanton woman, drink a dark ruby wine, eat a mushroom in a desert, draw a picture that a blind person could see, dig a grave, speak words at a burial, pour Holy Water on an infant’s forehead, stand on a mountain peak so very sharp and pointed that the highest crystal pierces my thick boot soles and makes my foot bleed so that red stains on the heather will guide a lost soul to the low meadows.

I can feel sleep falling away.  But, I sit up in bed, still in a deep slumber and see my last vision for the night.

It’s the Angel of the Fog.  But is she fading away or growing more real?

FoggyAngel

I rise and boil water for tea.  I wrap myself in flannel.  I rub the Sandman’s leftovers from the corners of my eyes.  I am fully awake and fully alive.  I will use and live this day to its fullest.  I will live with faith and hope.  As I slowly stir a drop of honey into my tea, I begin to wonder…

What will tonight bring me as I put my book down and let the dark envelop me?

This Is Not The Scary Halloween Blog You Were Expecting

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You read the title correctly.  I’m very sorry but I just don’t have the energy, creative or otherwise, to put together a high-quality very scary blog that you have come to expect of me.  I just put the spooky image at the head of this post to grab your attention.  I know I posted something at the start of October that promised a series of totally mind-blowing blogs celebrating my favorite time of year.  But, as I’m sure many of you know, I took sick shortly after attending my 50th High School reunion.  I’m still not well and it’s been a month, three ER visits, a chest x-ray, a hefty dosage of antibiotics, a diagnosis (shown later to be a little inaccurate) of pneumonia, and all capped off by an allergic reaction to one of the drugs I was proscribed.  My flesh looks like a scary Halloween story by itself.  I have red spots on parts of my body that I forgot I had.  I’ve been rubbed with aloe vera and other lotions that you would have to travel to a cheap Bangkok brothel to find.

So, instead of something scary, I thought it would be highly entertaining to tell you about our last-minute preparations for our winter “on the road” in our R-pod RV.  Remember the late part of 2013 when Mariam and I drove across the country to visit my grandson, Elias, in Orting, WA?  I even compiled those travel blogs and published them in book form.  It’s called: “In the Middle of Somewhere”–and did I mention it’s available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle.

Anyway, here is a picture of part of the R-pod.  I tried to get some colorful trees in the frame as well to show you that its peak foliage time up here in the North Country.

RPodAutumn

Like I was saying, I am picking out the books I intend to take along.  We’re busy choosing CD’s, books-on-tape and DVD’s.  I also pack all the writing material for future projects (like a few novels, etc).  I even considered bringing along my banjo.  I googled music lessons in Fort Myers and found that I can get private lessons for a reasonable rate.  But, I’m having second thoughts about this.  It will require practice time and I just can’t see myself sitting by the door of the RV and learning chords for the banjo.  People (mostly elderly from what I hear) will think they’re in a scene from “Deliverance”.  I don’t want to frighten old people.

I’m writing this late at night on October 11.  The rain has stopped and it is very dark.  It’s nearly midnight.  I just looked out the front door and noticed a dull light shining at the end of the driveway.  I thought of the moon, but it’s too low to the ground.  Perhaps it’s a reflection of the light in the guest bedroom against the front window of my car.  Maybe someone is out for a late night walk?  Hold on while I check if it’s moved…

Nope.  The dull light is still there.  It’s not our new motion lamp because it would be much brighter.  I wonder…

Well, on second thought, maybe some of you would feel shorted somehow if I didn’t come through with some weird Halloween photos.  I must keep my contract with my readers.  If I say I’m going to do something–I have to do it!

After all, what are the “things that go bump in the night” going to do to me?  Come creeping down my driveway and walk through my dining room wall?  I doubt it.  This isn’t the History Channel.  There are no aliens on my property.  (Although, I have some doubts about our neighbor)–

So, here are a few nutty Halloween customs:

vintage-halloween-Bibendums-Montmartre-1922

vintage-halloween-costumes

Pretty scary stuff, huh?

I’m going to check on that light again–don’t go away.

I hope I’m wrong, but I think it has moved just a little–only a little–toward the house.  Let me look again…

OMG, it’s nearly passed the short row of cedar trees…just at the end of the walkway to the porch.  Who could this be at this hour?  It’s just a few seconds before midnight.  I feel that I have to type fast to finish this…what’s that?  I hear something on the front porch floor…sounds like footsteps.

I hear a voice.  It’s almost a mumble and I hear saliva helping to slur the words…”You think messing with the dark is funny?  Do you think we laugh when you pretend there’s nothing out there?”

The power is going out in the house.  Mariam has locked the bedroom door.  She’s having a nightmare.  If she’s having a nightmare…then what’s on the porch…at my door?

I must finish this quickly….I….can’t……..

My Dreams Are Made Of Iron And Steel

GoyaNightmare

I don’t dream the way I did in past years.  I miss that because those nighttime adventures were something to behold.  The visions of H. P. Lovecraft, Bram Stoker and Steven Spielberg were mere cartoons when compared to the places I would go in the hours beyond midnight…when REM sleep was most active.

Very rarely do I wake in the morning with the words, “Holy Crap” on my lips and the burning desire to tell my wife what just happened inside my brain.  But, I found I couldn’t put my dreams into words that could come close to describe the worlds I wandered in while my eyes were closed and reality didn’t exist..for those moments.

Some people claim they don’t dream, but scientists find that nearly everyone does…they just don’t remember anything.  I still remember, in vivid detail, the landscapes of the night that I found myself wandering in sixty years ago.

Some of those after images are a delight to recall…but many are places I never want to revisit.

When I was a little boy, I had a great deal of trouble falling asleep.  I still do.  But, my dreams as a child were not of lambs jumping fences or riding across the prairie, bareback, on “Old Paint”.  No, I had odd dreams of odd objects that would sometimes chase me or kill someone I loved.  We had a long hallway in our house.  I had this one frequent dream that a giant ball was rolling down the hallway and if I didn’t move, I would be crushed.

I always moved.

There was a dream (?) I had in my youth that went like this: My brother, Chris and I were walking through the woods of Beecher Hill when we pushed through the trees and found ourselves in Evergreen Cemetery.  I remember being terrified enough that Chris had to carry me like a baby until we made it through to the front gates.  The odd thing about this, is that I’m not totally sure it didn’t really happen.

As a teenager, I began to have dreams that were intensely erotic.  Most males (if not all) go through this.  As I moved into adulthood, the nature of the eroticism changed, but it still left me with sweat on my forehead in the morning.  The females in these dreams were people who I knew, sometimes.  But, more than once, these beings were goddesses, sirens and dreamy forms of feminine beauty.  Alas, these kinds of dreams rarely visit me.  Perhaps its my mind’s way of giving me a visual demonstration of my lowering hormone levels that come with aging.

Too bad, I had some good times with some naughty ladies of the night.

FairyOnCresentMoon

But often, too often, my night-time travels would take me to dark and desolate places where death sat in old wing-back chairs, layered in dust.  That image comes from a monumental dream I had in the 1970’s or ’80’s.  I found myself on the edge of a city.  I needed to pass through to the other side of town…but to do so, I had to walk through an immense cemetery…a necropolis…a stone city of mausoleums and crypts.  In these large houses, I would encounter the dead positioned in the manner of their lives.  I recall a table of gamblers, covered in cobwebs and dust.

I hesitate to describe what the rest of my trip to the far side of the city was like.  Just know it wasn’t pleasant, but it was memorable.

DarkSpookyWoods

When I went to live in England for a year in 1984, I knew I was only going to see my daughter at the Christmas holidays when she would fly over with my mother, brother and niece.  I had numerous dreams about her being in mortal danger.  Once, I was caught in a basement of a store in Owego, NY when tornadoes struck.  I looked out the windows and they appeared like black vipers, twisting and hissing and snapping at everything.  But my daughter was back at my home on Front Street.  I had to get to her and rescue her.  When I finally made it to the back door of our house I went into the kitchen and found her sitting on a stool crying.  Once, in an Owego that really wasn’t Owego, I stood and watched her being crushed by a flying Brontosaurus.

Now, that’s strange stuff, but the images are still with me.

When I moved away from New York City in 2011, I had frequent dreams of being lost in a Manhattan that didn’t look at all like the real place.  And I had these dreams over and over…so many times that I knew which subway I needed to take to get home…a home that wasn’t my home and in a city that existed only in my mind.

Well before I retired from teaching, I began to have the “teacher’s nightmare”.  It’s quite common.  I’ve spoken to a number of educators and they all say that when they dream about teaching, it’s always the same.  With me, I can’t find my class, I’m lost in the school, I’m on a field trip and something happens and I know I’m responsible for those kids.

It fills your school holidays with anxiety.  There’s no rest from a group of 5th graders.

But, the oddest thing about my dreams is that I rarely dream about the most important people in my life.  My wife shows up once in a while.  When my older brother Chris, died in 1995, I had only a few dreams about him…and in those dreams, he was almost always standing in the yard or in the room and not saying a word.  Silently, he watches.

I went through a period of intense nightmares…ones that would have me sit up in bed and scream.  Often, these involved someone or something coming toward me with a noose or a gun.  The threat was immediate.

RedonFace

Not at all like the one dream my brother, Denny, told me he had in the early 1960’s.  His nightmare was that he was being chased down Main Street in Owego, by Nikita Khrushchev who was shaking an axe at him.

No wonder he turned out to be a Republican.

But, I feel now that the nights of my truly fantastic, sometimes morbid dreams, of flying, falling toward the ocean or swimming with a mermaid are drawing to a close.

Maybe I’m all dreamed out.  Maybe the incredible visuals I experienced are spent.

Sleep, when it does come to me, is getting boring.

Ship&Moon

[Note: The title is a line from Bob Dylan’s Never Say Goodbye.  Appropriate.]

The Thing in the Claw Foot Bathtub

Go ahead, think of a childhood dream.  Make it a cuddly, warm and fuzzy dream where someone you love is with you adoring you and keeping you safe.  It’s a nice feeling, isn’t it…recalling that dream?  You awoke in the morning with pleasant thoughts that stayed with you throughout the day.  Now, think of a nightmare that drew you from sleep. You jerked, cried and maybe screamed, that someone or something was going to “get you”.  Perhaps you awoke in the pitch dark of your bedroom and no one heard you cry.  That wasn’t nice, was it?

Now, think of a memory from childhood. Something you’re sure really happened. It may have been a camping trip where spooky stories were told around a bonfire.  Or, it may have been walking through Times Square, many decades ago, and seeing the Camel billboard with the puff of smoke blowing out from between the man’s lips.  You know this was real because you can read about the famous billboard in popular culture books of New York City in the 1940s and 1950s.  But what about that memory of you standing in some unknown relative’s house, with the entire family watching you, while your father struggled to get your thick bulky snowsuit off?  And what about another distant relative your family visited one afternoon so many years ago.  Did this “uncle” really have a massive model railroad setup in his basement?  That was probably about 1954…or was it 1955?  But the question nags you; did that really happen or was it just a dream?

These dreams, good and bad, and those troubling memories can get confused in your brain. You never really know for sure.

Like the time, when I was a child and I went upstairs to take a bath.

I lived in a large old house with five bedrooms.  There were two full bathrooms upstairs and a toilet near the living room, downstairs.  My parents bought the house in 1945.  I was born in 1947, so I spent my childhood years in that big, old and drafty mansion.  It had a cellar that terrified me with its darkness.  The attic? Forget it. Up there dwelt beings that spent all their time in attics, never coming down…always staying behind the door in the hallway that led up those old wooden stairs.

To avoid confusion, we gave names to many of the rooms in the house.  Names like “The Dogs Kitchen”, the “Back Room” or the “Upstairs Back Room”.  The bathrooms were “The Blue Bathroom” which was once painted blue, but I never saw it that color, only the pink flowered wallpaper that covered the old blue paint.  The other bathroom had two names: “Dad’s Bathroom” because it was close to the room where he slept alone.  Behind a glass door at the end of the hall, he had a veritable suite to himself. The other name was the “Back Bathroom”.  It was isolated and always seemed chilly even in the summer.  It’s tiny window faced east so it lost sunlight early.  I could scrape rime ice from the inside of the window in the winter.  It also had an old “claw foot” tub.  This is where I was heading to take a bath one evening.

I pushed the door open and nearly fell backward when I glanced at the thing in the tub.  I simply could not believe what I saw. How and when it got there was beyond me.  No one had said anything.  No one prepared me.  There in the tub, was a frozen pig, sliced neatly in half from snout to tail.  It must have been there all night because it had begun to thaw. A full-size pig that had been frozen as hard as granite would take some time to go completely soft.  But it had started.  I looked at the feet, the pigs feet, and saw blood slowly run along the bottom of the tub and take a few swirls before going down the drain.

I may have run. I may have walked. But I got out of the room faster than a rat heads for its hole.

My dad took me back upstairs and explained that he had joined a food buying program at the local GLF store. If you bought things in large quantities, you’d get a hefty discount.  So he bought half a pig.

Later my brothers stood around the tub and watched the slow thaw soften the flesh. My geeky older brother, the science guy, pointed out the various organs, despite the fact that most were shown in cross-section and were represented by only 50% of the original.  I avoided looking at the head, not wanting to see the half brain.  I assume it was dead and solidly frozen when the saw began its cut. But I couldn’t help to imagine how a thought or a memory gets split like that in only a few seconds.  I knew nothing about brain hemispheres then.  Perhaps, if the half pig were alive, it could have dreamy thoughts of the sow in the other paddock, but couldn’t comprehend the swill that filled the trough in the middle of the sty.  I wondered about these things.

Months later, the body was gone.  Some of it was eaten for dinner and some of it was cut up and placed in our deep freezer…the one in “The Dogs Kitchen”  that looked like an oversized white coffin. It too was also part of the buy-in-bulk deal.

I made my father wash out the tub several times.  He assured me it was quite clean, but the tub was never the same after that.  It was years before I could take a bath in it.  Can energies of the departed occupy solid objects?  Ghosts, we all know, can walk through doors, walls and even living people.

Can a tombstone, a house, an axe, a tree, a small plot on a battlefield become “owned” by something, some kind of spirit that we cannot see or touch?

I’m middle-aged now.  One hobby is to browse antique stores for interesting objects from the past.

When I come upon a claw foot bath tub…I keep walking.

 

© 2012 Patrick Egan