Tag Archives: horror

Things That Go Bump in the Night

24 Aug

Things That Go Bump in the Night

By L. Stewart Marsden

Since a kid I’ve been susceptible to my imagination at night, seeing things or hearing things that weren’t there. The jacket hung on a door hangar, transformed into a ghoulish being by the dark tones of night. The darkest corner of the ceiling, harboring a shapeless “thing” that would suddenly jump out at me. Things skittering about on the periphery of my vision.

I saw “King Kong” down at the beach one summer, and was effected for life. Years later, “The Time Machine,” also at the beach, had me turning my back on the one window in my bedroom, assured that if/when I turned to look, I’d see the red eyes and white-haired blue bodies of the Morlocks staring in on me.

Karloff, Lugosi, Lon Chaney & son, Price, Christopher Lee were the men behind the monsters, and I loved them all. I devoured magazines on horror make-up, anxious to uncover the magic behind Frankenstein, the Mummy, Dracula and the Wolfman.

Like Cosby’s great schtick on the radio show, “Lights Out,” I loved being scared. Not horrified, mind you (the advent of Nightmare on Elm Street and other blood movies was not to my liking at all), but scared.

Everything was filmed in black and white, even though Technicolor was available.

Yeah. Scare me to death.

The night before I left for prep school I watched a horror film called “Blood of Dracula.” It was about a girls school where one of the faculty had somehow procured the blood of the vampire, and along with a magical pendant, could turn students into creatures of the night. I wondered if one of the faculty members – maybe the science teacher – was likewise preparing for us boys and I would meet my destiny with horror.

At prep school, I was quartered in an old wood frame dorm, House C. I shared one of the second-story rooms with my roommate who was from Savannah. The rooms were spacious. My window looked out onto the delivery court of the Walker Building, a combination dormitory, office, and dining hall structure of brick and antebellum design. Several floodlights illumined the delivery court – a large square with a loading dock along one side. It was the favorite haunt at night of dozens of feral cats, who gathered to fight over garbage and other night-time activities. When late evening fog would roll into the square, and the cats would begin to fight, screeching and growling, it was the perfect soup for my imagination.

After lights out, I would pull out a flashlight, bury myself under my bed sheets, and read from Bram Stoker’s classic horror tale, “Dracula.” The fog, the cats’ yowlings echoing  in the courtyard, were the perfect visual/aural background, and more than elicited my ripe and visceral imaginings.

As I grew older, I outlasted my childish fears. I revisit them for entertainment, as well as escape from the real and far more scary realities of this day – the things that really do go “bump” in the night.

 

Hmmm.

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Final edit: Mrs. Foy’s Koi

28 Jul

Art by Ray Ferrer

Art by Ray Ferrer

Mrs. Foy’s Koi

By L. Stewart Marsden

Mrs. Foy lived in a large Tudor-style brick house which sat on one of the largest lots in our small town. She had been widowed for many years, her husband passing quite suddenly of a heart attack while at work. But Mr. Foy was more than adequately insured, and the business passed to his partner, who ran the firm successfully for years before bowing to the pressure of cheap imports. He closed everything, put hundreds of factory workers on the street, and retired.

Mrs. Foy had assumed her husband’s title and duties as Chairman of the Board, and made out quite well despite the business failure at the end.
She came from money − old money − which was far more important than being from new money, especially among the wealthy in our town. She had no financial concerns at all. At least, that’s what I heard in our kitchen when Mom was on the phone talking to a friend.

“She makes rich seem like poor,” Mom would say.

The Foy’s yard was our playground. It was massive. What wasn’t meticulously manicured and landscaped had been allowed to become a forest of feral oak, elm, dogwood, magnolia and rhododendron. All arose from a thick carpet of ivy. Most of the tree trunks were sheathed in the ivy as well, which climbed nearly to the tops of some of the tallest trees.

This was our South Pacific; where Guadalcanal and Midway Island and the Philippines merged boundaries in the thick greenery. My friends and I spent hundreds of hours playing war − crawling, crashing, dashing and charging through the trees and undergrowth with our plastic rifles, machine guns and pistols blazing away.

In contrast, the preened part of her yard bore edged sidewalks, beds and beds of various flowers and bushes and other plantings along stone walls that bordered the rectangular back yard.

At one end of the rectangle was a cobblestone driveway and matching Tudor garage with three large car bays.

At the other end was a rectangular pool. It wasn’t for swimming. It was only a few feet deep, discovered by Billy when he crashed through the ice one winter. Lily pads covered most of the water surface, and the rough, concrete sides were coated with green slime and algae. On the bottom of the pool were layers of blackened leaves and silt, which made the pond water dark and foreboding. Mrs. Foy never had the pool cleaned.

In the center of the pool was a stone statue of a chubby nude angel attached to its pedestal by one cherub foot. Tiny wings spread from its back — hardly large enough to carry the boy’s weight. During the warmer months, a stream of water arched from the cherub and splashed into the pool.

The pool was home to many live things — peepers, tadpoles, skeeter bugs and mosquitos. And the koi.

I had always thought they were goldfish that had grown enormous because they weren’t kept in a small bowl. Now I know better. I don’t know how many koi were in the pool — there were a lot. They hung suspended a few inches below the water’s surface, barely moving, and looked upward. They were all sorts of colors: orange and white, black and orange, red and electric blues. The colors were splotchy, as though randomly daubed onto the bodies of the fish. Once in a while a koi would roll over at the surface, and sunlight revealed the brilliance of the colors that were otherwise dulled by the murky water.

Whenever I stood a while at the edge of the pool, the koi would slowly group and head my way, as though waiting for something. Waiting and watching, just below the surface. I wondered how I looked to them through the water.

“Are the fish in Mrs. Foy’s pool dangerous?” I asked my mom once.

“I don’t think so,” she said, dropping doughy corn fritter balls into the deep fryer.

“What do you think they eat?”

“I really don’t know. I’m sure Mrs. Foy has special food she feeds them. I’ve heard they can be very expensive — hundreds of dollars.”

“How old do you think they are? They’re so big! I bet they’re really old.”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“Could we get a pond and some koi?”

“No, Honey. That’s too rich for our blood. Wash your hands for supper.”

I would often think about those big fish in Mrs. Foy’s pool. Every once in a while she or her house maid would catch us hovering around the edge of the pool and shout at us.

“You boys get away from that pool! You’ll fall in and the fish will eat you!”

We’d run and jump the stone wall and disappear into South Pacific.

I’m not sure Mrs. Foy really minded us playing in her yard. Maybe — when she was cooling off on her screened porch and recovering from a hot July scorcher with a tall iced tea with a sprig of mint — maybe she would hear our voices drift up from the thick woods. Maybe a thin smile would spread on her lipsticked mouth and across her powdered cheeks. Maybe she would stare off into the woods to remember some other time and place and life.

§§§

I started feeding the koi. At first I would grab a piece of toast or a biscuit and cram it into my pockets and head out the back door, taking the shortcut through the neighbor’s yard to Mrs. Foy’s. I’d stand at the edge of the pool and wait until the koi gathered, then take the bread out and crumble it, dropping pieces into the water. The bread floated a while before one of the koi, always the one with a bright red splotch on its head, would drift up to the surface and suddenly suck in the bread. The others floated nearby, seeming to defer to him. The red-splotched koi grabbed piece after piece before finally disappearing to the bottom of the pool. Then the others would eat, in no particular order.

The red splotch looked like a drop of blood splatter onto his head. He seemed to be the ringleader, so I named him “Captain Blood.”

Over time I experimented to see what the fish would eat. They liked bread of all sorts. They didn’t like cut-up celery or carrots. They would suck those in and spew them out quickly. Torn up lettuce was fine, though.

One day I decided to see if they would eat from my hand, and lay on my stomach at the edge of the pool with bread crumbs in my hand, which I dipped slightly into the water. Captain Blood had no problem at all. He floated up to my hand, studied the bread, and suddenly sucked it in with a flick of his head. That startled me and tickled. My heart pounded, throbbing in my head from the sheer excitement of it.

The other fish weren’t so adventurous. I had to drop their food into the water for them to warily eat.

I brought other food — meat — especially for Captain Blood. It started with hot dogs. I’d put small pieces into my hand, which I dipped into the water. At first I thought Captain Blood was going to refuse the hot dog. He floated in the water for the longest time near my hand. Then he did something totally unexpected. He circled my hand — wide circles at first. He drew nearer, like a shark, then leapt and grabbed the piece of hot dog! It scared me so much I jerked my arm out of the water and stood up.

Captain Blood was nowhere to be seen. The other fish milled about like herded cows. I could see a thrashing about near the bottom of the pool, which stirred the silt and leaves into a cloudy haze, making it difficult to see anything. I wondered if I had done something wrong. Perhaps the hot dog lodged in Captain Blood’s throat! Perhaps he choked and drowned!

Can a fish drown?

I peered into the water and saw Captain Blood finally rise from the bottom of the pool. He was alive! I hadn’t killed him! He floated up slowly and began to circle in a wide swathe. All the while, he seemed to peer up at me through the water. Watching me. Waiting for me. I pulled off another piece of hot dog and put my hand into the water. This time Captain Blood made just one pass before charging and grabbing the meat. Once again he disappeared into the depths of the pool.

He’s gone to eat it by himself, I thought.

The scene repeated until Captain Blood devoured all the hot dog. None of the other fish showed any interest at all. In fact, the other fish moved away from the area.

Over time I came back with different scraps of meat from the table. I minced chuck roast, fried chicken, ham hocks, bits of steak. Each time Captain Blood feasted. He was insatiable. The other fish ate bread, which the captain now disdained. This continued throughout the summer and into the fall.

By the end of that summer I noticed that Captain Blood was a bit larger than the other koi. Must be the meat, I thought, pleased to be the source of his growth.

When the weather turned cold I quit going to Mrs. Foy’s to feed Captain Blood. School, basketball and Boy Scouts took up all my time. I thought about him often, though.

“What happens to fish in the winter?” I asked my mom when the days grew short and cold temperatures prevailed.

“Not sure. I think they sort of hibernate.”

“What about the fish in Mrs. Foy’s pool?”

“Well, if they’re like frogs or snakes, then their bodies slow down. Like I said, hibernate. They’ve survived many winters, Dear. I wouldn’t worry.”

So I didn’t worry.

When it snowed three Wednesdays in a row and got really cold and school was cancelled, some of the guys and I went to Mrs. Foy’s pool to see what we could. Billy refused to step out onto the ice again, and I didn’t blame him.

The surface of the pond was covered with snow. I went back home and grabbed a broom. We took turns and swept what we could from the thickly iced pool. It was dark underneath. Only the lily pads were visible. Just before we left, I thought I saw something red flash under the ice. Captain Blood.

In the spring the tree peepers began to sing, the dogwoods budded and the popcorn trees exploded with white blossoms. I went back to Mrs. Foy’s pool to check on Captain Blood and the other koi.

The pool was very murky, as though something had stirred the silt and leaves at the bottom continuously. Stare as I might, I could not see any fish. I stood with the spring sun warming my shoulders, my shadow cast across the pool’s surface. In the past, this was enough for the koi to assemble.

I opened my bread bag of crusts and loaf ends and crumbled some bread into the pool. Ripples from the dropped crumbs circled out and widened on the water’s surface.

No response. Where were the koi?

Then something moved down at the bottom of the pool. It was large. A turtle, maybe? I knew snapping turtles ate fish. Maybe one had moved in after the ground thawed. Maybe the turtle had eaten all of the koi in Mrs. Foy’s pool. Maybe all the fish were dead, even Captain Blood. I couldn’t see anything. Thunder rumbled overhead and a light spring rain started to fall. I turned away to go home. At that moment I heard a loud splash in the water, and turned in time to see something very large with a bright red splotch dive to the bottom of the pool.

Captain Blood!

I peered intently into the cloudy water. Something in the pool looked at me from the bottom. I neared the edge and bent over. The water moved as the bottom stirred. Circular. Slowly. Large. Shadowy. My heart beat quickly. My breath became shallow and rapid. The rain increased, and the surface of the pool was perforated with watery bullets.

I turned and left for home, sighing in relief — though I wasn’t sure why. It was as if I had escaped something ominous, something horrific. In the back of my mind I toyed with what it was, but shook the idea off as ridiculous and childish. Still, the shadow in the pool stayed on my mind.

§§§

I had a terrible dream that night.

It was dark, but a full moon was out, and I was in Mrs. Foy’s backyard. Everything was bluish-black in hue. The Tudor house rose gauntly into the half-lit sky like mountains. Its windows were black eyes and the reflected moon their pupils. Ivy hung from the brick walls like grizzled hair.

Ahead of me was the pool, its waters black. The angel statue spouted — not water — but blood from its mouth. The thick red splashed into the pool, shattering the surface. The water in the pool frothed and foamed red.

I walked to the pool’s edge. All about on the grass were splotches of red foam which blew slightly in the wind. The moon reflected in pieces on the stirred water’s surface.

I looked into the pool.

A shadowy figure rose slowly from the pool’s bottom and hovered below the surface of the water. It was large — as large as me. At its top was a bright splotch of red that changed shape as I watched. It throbbed and pulsed with a regular beat. Like a heart. Pa-pump. Pa-pump. Pa-pump.

The figure circled the pool, slowly at first, and then more quickly, more frenzied. The angel statue suddenly vanished, and an eddy formed in the middle of the pool, spinning and sucking. The whirlpool drew me closer and closer to its center, pulling and pulling. Spinning around the edge of the whirlpool the shape swam, its bright red splotch throbbing and pulsing, also pulling me.

And I fell into the water.

§§§

The smell of bacon frying awoke me. My pillow was damp.

I gulped breakfast and stuffed a biscuit and some bacon into my pockets. It was Saturday, and I was off and out of the back door before Mom could catch me and say, “You’ve got chores to do!” She shouted at me, knowing I was gone and well on my way as I cut through the neighbor’s yard to Mrs. Foy’s.

In the early morning the trees dripped rain from the previous evening’s thunderstorm.

I reached the stone wall surrounding Mrs. Foy’s backyard and stopped. An ambulance and two police cars were parked in the drive near the house, their emergency lights flashing bright blues and reds. The housekeeper stood near the garage, weeping into a handkerchief while a policeman questioned her.

I crept closer, trying not to be seen.

On the ground next to the pool an oblong shape was covered with a sheet. The sheet was stained brown-red at one end. Two men dressed in white coveralls wheeled a stretcher across the lawn, leaving tracks in the wet grass. They stopped at the oblong shape. A shoeless foot protruded from under the sheet.

Another policeman talked to a third officer.

“Musta drowned sometime during the night, or maybe yesterday afternoon. It’s hard to tell. Maybe the coroner can tell time of death. But, what the hell chewed her leg like that?”

“Snapping turtle could do that. It’d take a few hours, I think. Damnedest thing I’ve ever seen!”

The local evening news said Mrs. Foy drowned in her pool. Nothing was mentioned about her chewed leg, the missing koi, or the large red-splotched shadowy figure in the pool.

I, too, said nothing.

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 28 July, 2015
Note: This is the final edit for Mrs. Foy’s Koi. It will appear in the 2nd edition of Through the Glass Darkly, soon to be available on Amazon.com.

So, now what?

25 Jun

TheLittleRedHen

So, now what?

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

Flags of the Confederate States of America are coming down at state buildings. Statues of supporters of racism are being removed. Ads featuring top celebrities are aired with the message of no more. Twitter and Facebook and every other talk show host, news team and entertainment program are vocalizing a massive disgust of the shooting in Charleston earlier this month.

Wait and see. How long will it take until the dialogue and opinions and special programs finally die down and we return to the status quo?

Three months? Longer?

Yet deep inside each of us fears that once again some seriously rattled person is going to do something to make headlines. Perhaps those plans are being made now. Maybe the plans are in conjunction with outside resources — radical groups that seem to get their kicks by disrupting life. Maybe another movie theater. Maybe at a mall. Maybe some athletic event.

Two questions.

How do we prevent the next horrendous plan from occurring? How do we deal effectively with the elements that fuel the chronic violence in our country? Specifically, how do we treat racism and the racial divide for the insidious malady it is; and how do we better control weaponry that has grown to be the vehicle of daily manslaughter?

The “Demand a Plan” anti-gun ad that features many celebrities was good as ads go, I thought. And then I began to wonder which of the very famous participants will end up becoming a part of a larger effort to demand change, and not wait for the gears of politics to grind.

I wondered what can I do here in my own community? Why wait for an invitation to get involved? Isn’t that what we’ve been doing for the last several decades? The majority of us, I mean. You. Me. Those people over there. Have we gotten to the point that we expect everyone else to get involved and then tell us what to do?

“Who will help me plow the land?” asked the Little Red Hen of the other farm animals.

Years ago … decades, actually … I attended an organizational rally at a church in my hometown. It is in the south, and based predominantly on manufacturing. It was the world-wide center of furniture and textile production. It was 1970 or thereabouts. Organizers were making plans for the March on Washington. A class peer, the daughter of a minister, was among the head organizers. We were going to be a part of a huge demonstration in order to promote peace among blacks and whites. I thought that was ironic at the time, as in our middle-sized town peace hardly existed between the two colors. And I stood and said so.

Decades ago.

I don’t think it has changed much since that time. We seem to want to depend on elected officials off in Washington rather than pick up the sticks and stones out of our own local fields.

“Who will help me plow the land?”

I’m getting to be an old fart. I’ve got many other things that seem very important to me that I could spend most of my time on. I’ve got my children and grandchildren whom I need, and who need me. Other things to do. Other things to focus on.

“Who will help me plow the land?”

Plus, plowing the land is tough work. The plow is heavy. The blade is dull. And the ground is packed and hard, and filled with stones and sticks.

But therein is the challenge. Leave it to Washington? Or in my case, Raleigh? I’m just one person, and I’m an old fart, too. Just what the hell can I do about these overwhelming problems? Isn’t this for the young and the smart? Can’t they do it?

“Who will help me plow the land?”

Oh, I’d rather turn away. It’s not only the safest thing to do, it’s the easiest. I’d surely like one day to break bread with my fellow brethren of different color and culture. I surely would. I’d like to pass that plate of steaming biscuits down a long row of people and share stories and talk of things to be.

“Who will help me plow the land?”

Here’s the thing: the Little Red Hen has gone through these motions so many times before with the same responses, she is at the end of her patience. Like that gospel scripture, “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem …  How often I wanted to gather your children together…” (Luke 13: 34).

“Who will help me plow the land?”

So, now what?

 

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 24 June, 2015

Getting Ganglia Going

14 Jul

Getting Ganglia Going
by L. Stewart Marsden

Getting ganglia going —
Snapping synapses
Tensing tendons
Moving muscles
Coaxing cognizance
Revving recall
Fighting flight
Back to the nighthall
Harbor from horrors.
Time to awaken.