Thursday, November 20, 2014

FictHaus8 Mortified

                       by Headley Hauser
I remember it started the Halloween my frat brothers hauled a keg out to Woodland Cemetery. While I’m as brave as the next guy – or at least some of the next guys, I spent the night in front of the tube. Why go to a graveyard on the one night of the year when the dead are supposed to rise?
The next morning I felt like a coward. Why was I shy about graveyards? What was I worried about, ghosts, zombies, vampires? I wasn’t a child anymore. I was a grad student. It was time to do something stupid.
Anyway, it was All Saints Day. Wasn’t that supposed to be an undead-free holiday?
That night Woodland didn’t look very spooky, though it wasn’t exactly tidy. Toilet paper hung limply from a marble Jesus, as it did from a massive oak tree. Beer cans leaned against William A. Mayberry’s (1870-1921) stone. That had to be high school kids. Even the dead won’t drink Coors Light.
Meeting Godfrey gave me a start. Suddenly he was just there, standing straight but not stiff. His clothes were perfect without looking metrosexual. Even the wind didn’t bother his natural-looking perfect hair.
Of course, I hated him immediately. He extended a manicured hand and flashed a cold smile.
Godfrey Hamilton.”
Stan Plotz,” I said, shaking his cold hand and feeling inferior. It reminded me of shaking the priest’s hand after mass. “You’re very nicely dressed for graveyard walking,” I said.
I was just saying something to make noise. What did I know about graveyard-walking attire? Was there a uniform, maybe from a business fashion magazine? What would that be, Graveyard Quarterly?
First impressions are important, Stanley,” Godfrey answered. “People judge you by your outward appearance. They’ll never take the time to appreciate your finer points if your presentation shows a lack of self-respect.” Pausing, he took in my flannel shirt, grass-stained blue jeans, Demon Deacon jacket, and three-year-old Nikes. So much for my “presentation.” “You’re a grad student?” he asked.
That would be MBA or law school?”
I’d been turned down for both, so I lied. “No, I decided not to go the money route. I’m getting my MSW at Wake.”
Master of Social Work.” Godfrey frowned. “Yes, I suppose it’s important to have qualified people in every field.”
I felt vindicated. Why, I didn’t know.
As long as you’re striving,” said Godfrey, “to be the best you can be each and every day.”
One never knows what to say when encountering a Dale Carnegie cultie. I hated him more, but I sucked in my gut and straightened my jacket. Then, rebelliously, I unstraightened, earning another frown from Godfrey. I’ll be damned if I’ll change my appearance to earn the approval of some upper crust Ken doll.
So, Mr. Hamilton,” I said in what I hoped was a superior tone, “why is it so important to give a good first impression to perfect strangers one meets in a graveyard?”
Godfrey showed no sign of irritation. “Well, Mr. Plotz, in some cases, hardly important at all.” He gave me a glance that made it clear I fell in that category. “However, once in a while you’ll run across a more formidable type. It’s important to keep them off balance so you can do this.”
I was flooded with a mix of sensations and emotions. Incredibly powerful hands grabbed me by head and shoulder. I felt a sharp, two-pointed stab in my neck. Racing through my head was fear, anger, embarrassment, and the feeling that this all would be a lot better for my self-esteem if Godfrey had been a hot woman.
Everything went black.

It took a few moments to realize that I was no longer unconscious. It was that dark. The air was stuffy, and I had a disgusting flat taste in my mouth. I shifted to ease a lump in my back and bumped into walls to my right and left.
That’s when I heard an odd muffled sound, like someone else’s phone conversation bleeding through the line. It seemed to be a human voice or a number of human voices. It sounded far away and close at the same time. There was a musical quality to it like singing or, more accurately, chanting. I strained my ears to hear the words, but the harder I strained, the less distinct they became. Whatever I was hearing, it wasn’t with my ears.
Did I have new sensory organ? I touched my face expecting to feel a lump or mutant zit. There wasn’t anything there, but the chanting got louder. What do you do with a new sense? I had no recollection of using my eyes or ears for the first time. Maybe that’s why babies sometimes look so thoughtful.
Reaching up, I felt cushioned fabric. I was in a pretty tight space. Normally I’d be trembling with claustrophobia. I was never good with closets, elevators, or even small cars, but I felt fine, even comfortable. I pushed against the ceiling. I heard wood cracking and metal complaining as I pushed the roof several inches. Did I just do that? I’d never been particularly strong, as every bully in my middle school could tell you. Maybe the wood was rotten? Freshly turned soil and sand poured down on my face.
The voices were clearer now, and much louder. Working my way through dirt and debris, I got to my knees, then to a crouch. I reached up till I felt a breeze on my fingertips. The earth parted above me like water, but when my hands gripped the topsoil, the ground held.
I stretched to loosen tight muscles. It was a delicious sensation. I felt both light and strong. With one heave I not only cleared the surface, but sailed several feet into the air, landing majestically on a stone.
A grave stone.
My grave stone.
So this meant what, I was a vampire?
Some might have been horrified, but I felt great. I was a lord of the night. No more fear of brawny troglodytes like those who had, a decade past, beaten me with my own violin case. I was now a creature to be feared. Gathered around me was my new brotherhood, fellow members of a mighty pack. I was secure in our mutual admiration. Why else would they be gathered to sing me out of my grave, imbue me with their mighty spirit, and… laugh?
Around me the dread fraternity of vampires rolled about, cackling like so many Shriners at a whoopee cushion trade show.
Plotz,” Godfrey said, “you haven’t any pants on.”
It was true. I was in my best shirt, tie, and suit coat, but with nothing but boxers below. I suppose I should have been grateful for the boxers, but I didn’t feel gratitude at that moment.
Who did this!” I sputtered.
The vampires laughed even louder. Godfrey, however, only snickered. “Plotz,” he said, “you might want to check with your undertaker.”
How do I do that?”
The cemetery office. You’re newly buried; there’ll be a file.”
I disliked Godfrey Hamilton, even in my newly glorified state. I was also afraid of him, but I took his advice.
The file identified my undertaker as Mr. Feeley Nuzbetch, who ran his establishment in the West End. I knew the place – up the hill from Burke Street Pizza.

There was a light burning downstairs at the Feeley Nuzbetch Funeral Parlor. I didn’t have a watch on, maybe Feeley took that too, but it felt really late or, more likely, really early morning.
I went to the door and silently broke the deadbolt. I planned to sneak in and spring on Nuzbetch. That’s what vampires do, right? I opened the door, but I couldn’t cross the threshold. I’d heard something about thresholds and vampires. Breaking into the cemetery office hadn’t been a problem, but no one lived there. Maybe this was Nuzbetch’s home.
That was sort of creepy. I tried to imagine living in a house with a continuous flow of dead bodies. Of course I was dead now, so I guess I had no reason to be judgmental.
I circled the building. Through a window I saw a pudgy man in his fifties or sixties. He was working on a body using a machine with tubes attached. The process fascinated me. It also made me hungry. Then I realized – the man was wearing my pants.
And my pants fit the guy. I couldn’t be as fat as he was. Maybe he had them tailored.
Something nagged at me. A clock inside read five-fifteen. What time did the sun come up?
I wondered if the government kept records of vampires’ mortality or re-mortality on their first dawn.
Maybe you got a mulligan if the sun toasted you on your first night out.
Maybe not.
If dawn meant certain death, or whatever it’s called when dead people expire, how much longer could I afford to stand by this window in my boxer shorts watching this pants-altering mortician? If I didn’t do something soon, Nuzbetch would find himself a matching jacket. But where could I go? I looked around me. There were plenty of homes I couldn’t get into. There were also shops and restaurants, but if I could enter those, they might not appreciate a corpse resting the business day away. Even worse, they might move my body, and once outside…
So where to go? Saint Paul’s Episcopal?
Too chancy.
Inside Feeley shut down the machine and pulled a large plastic bucket from beneath the bench. He headed toward the back of the building. Silently I moved with him. Should I cross my fingers? Crossing anything was probably not a good idea for a vampire.
Before the door opened I smelled blood in the bucket Nuzbetch was carrying. I could also smell the mortician’s blood. His was more appetizing, like prime rib holding a bucket of chipped beef. I waited for Feeley to clear the door, then I slammed it behind him. He spun around, sloshing blood from the bucket onto his pants – no – my pants.
Who are yo…?” He never finished the question, maybe because he recognized me. I could smell his fear, but he was also laughing.
I wanted to kill him; I wanted to drain the blood from his body, but most of all I wanted to scare the hell out of him. I knew I couldn’t do that partially dressed.
First of all, give me back my pants.” I tried to sound scary and mysterious, and I guess I succeeded, because he wasted no time stripping down to his green and orange boxers.
Instead of getting fancy, I put my pants on one leg at a time. With my new undead abilities I could probably jump ten feet up in the air, have my shoes off, pants on, shirt tucked in, and shoes back on and tied before I hit the ground, but I didn’t want to give Nuzbetch a chance to escape. I sure didn’t want to botch it and have him laughing at me again.
I zipped up; the pants fit. It had to be a vampire thing. No way was I as fat as Nuzbetch.
The mortician shot glances at the door and at me. I made a point of pulling the belt in an extra notch as I casually stepped between him and the door. The move might have appeared more ominous if I hadn’t burned my hands on the silver belt buckle. Wasn’t it supposed to be werewolves that hated silver?
You know, it’ll be dawn soon.” Feeley sputtered. “You can’t enter my house, so you’ll be nothing but a pile of dust unless I help you.”
The man knew his vampire lore – certainly better than I did – probably came with mortician training. Still, how certain could he be about everything? “It’s very simple, Feeley,” I told him. “After I kill you, your home will be as open to me as any other abandoned building.”
I leaned in and smelled rising terror in his blood. The scent was intoxicating. No wonder vampires didn’t just bonk people over the head and drag them off to feed.
I was glad I got my pants back before I scared him. A stream of yellow ran down Feeley’s leg, forming a puddle by his right foot.
The smell of urine, while unpleasant, did nothing to stem my appetite. The urge to kill and feed was strong, but there was another force inside me.
I never liked my great aunt Agnes. When I was a child, she used to hector me about proper behavior and table etiquette. As much as I wanted to ignore her, I always buckled to her irresistible will. I was the only kid in summer camp who ate his hot dog with a fork.
Here she was again, nothing but a dead woman’s voice ensconced in my supposedly demonic, undead brain. “Don’t slay your food,” she said. What did that even mean? Ridiculous, how could I survive if I didn’t slay?
From Nuzbetch’s perspective my inner battle must have looked ominous. The man was on the ground, his bare bony knees in mud and urine, shaking and blubbering for mercy.
Don’t kill me!” he cried. “I can help you. I’ll do anything. Please, don’t kill me!”
He was a pathetic mess. He stole my pants. But I needed his help.
I waited, feigning uncertainty. The sky was going pink in the east. As much as I enjoyed the groveling, I needed to get under cover. I grabbed the mortician by the chin and forced him to look me in the eye.
Invite me inside, Nuzbetch.”

I suppose things could be worse. Nuzbetch’s basement is dry and blocks the sunlight during the day. He set me up in a lovely coffin and asked if I wanted it lined with Transylvanian dirt. I declined; it seemed more messy than exotic. The funeral business keeps me well supplied with blood. Dead blood makes an uninteresting dietary staple, but it keeps Great Aunt Agnes quiet.
I went back to school, taking only night classes. People were pretty surprised to see me, but it raised less fuss than you’d think. My frat brothers thought it added prestige to the house. They try not to eat too much garlic when I’m around.
I make money for tuition and death’s little extras as a night watchman. The black uniform suits me. Feeley packs me a thermos each night.
I do get tired of dead blood all the time.
Maybe someone will show up and make trouble.
Great Aunt Agnes would never defend a troublemaker.

Monday, November 3, 2014

fictmcfa7 Out of Season

Out of Season
By Stanley W. McFarland

Yusuf hated camels. He hated the spitting and the ill-temper. He hated how high you had to sit in order to ride one. Most of all, he hated the smell.
Yet here he was with his wife and son. His was one of only two parties in Antiochus-the-Syrian’s caravan with a donkey, and for the first time in his life, Yusuf considered that he might be better off with a camel.
The donkey was no longer young and Yusuf was asking a lot of the beast. His wife, Mari was pregnant with their second child and young Yeshua was too little to keep up the pace. Then, there were Yusuf’s carpentry tools and camp supplies, and the family’s secret wealth of gold, incense and rich ointment. There was little enough of each, but more than enough to get his throat cut if one of these Syrians, Samaritans, or Ishmaelites knew what he had. They wouldn't care about the treasure being gifts from exotic eastern mystics. Yusuf wouldn’t believe such a story himself if he hadn’t been there to see it.
Last night, the donkey looked to be getting lame. When Yusuf mentioned it, little Yeshua fussed over the beast for a bit. The animal seemed better this morning. Yusuf had no idea what the family would do if the donkey died. Here they were, in the midst of strangers, halfway to Egypt, a place he feared only a little less than this wasteland they were traveling through to get there.
At least Mari wasn’t nearly as pregnant as she was the last time they traveled. They had barely made Bethlehem, when little Yeshua was born two years before. It seemed a miracle that the jostling of the trip hadn’t caused her to give birth on the side of the road.
Many strange things revolved around little Yeshua.
Yeshua was the reason they were taking this trip. Yusuf had dreamed that the king wanted to kill the boy. Why a king should care about a two-year-old child was hard to imagine. Yes, both Yusuf could trace his line back to King David, but so could more than ten thousand others if the census was to be believed. Yusuf wasn’t sure that half that many were of David’s lineage. There are always those who claim a royal ancestor to help cover their own short-comings. Yusuf didn't see why. Here I am, a descendent of the great King David and I’m still just a carpenter with a sharp-tongued wife and a bastard son. Whatever that odd stranger meant about Yeshua being of the spirit of Yahweh, all I know is that the boy isn't mine. Now, because of that boy, he was on the road to Egypt fleeing a king who shouldn’t know Yusuf from a host of other working men in Southern Judea.
He had to admit, he liked the little fellow. No, he loved him. Even if Yeshua wasn’t his by birth, Yusuf couldn’t have asked for a better son. He had a mind of his own and a stubborn streak like other two-year-olds, but at least he didn’t have his mother’s tongue – yet. He hoped the child in Mari’s womb would measure up to his older brother. Of course, the baby might be a girl. Imagine the shame of having some other man father a boy with his wife and Yusuf’s children all be daughters.
Mari had strange, disturbing plans for Yeshua. They could have used a camel, or a second donkey, for this trip, and they had more than enough gold to buy one. But, Mari refused to spend the gold and told Yusuf that it was for the boy’s army when he comes of age. King Herod couldn't have heard about her saying such things, could he? Maybe that’s why they were in the midst of the wilderness with an old donkey and hostile strangers all around. It never pays to stick your head up where the great will notice you. Where did Mari get these notions of exalting the lowly and making the mighty grovel in the dust?
Yusuf didn't trust this Antiochus. In Syria, Antiochus was a fine name but to a Judean it was the desecrator of the temple, the enemy of the Macabees. They were riding with a man named for the evil king, headed for the land of captivity. All they needed was a neighbor named Haman to make the trip complete.
The donkey balked. It wasn’t such a big surprise. If I were he, Yusuf thought, I’d balk too.
What do you want, old jack-ass?” Yusuf growled.
He says he’s hot and tired and thirsty and wants to rest,” said little Yeshua. He said the strangest things at times, yet that’s probably what the donkey would say if he could.
Let me down, Papa. I can walk with you.”
Yusuf guessed it couldn't hurt to let the boy down. The donkey wasn't moving.
Damn it, jack-ass, move!”
Are you sure about that dream, Yusuf?” Mari asked. “Maybe we should have stayed in Judea.”
How can I be sure of anything, Mari? With you speaking sedition at every well, it’s no wonder the king wants to kill us.”
Did the dream say Herod wants to kill us, or the boy?”
I told you,” said Yusuf. “The dream said the boy.”
Then it was a true dream. My son will change the world.”
Her son again. Yusuf wasn't the father but she still could say “our son” just to let him feel included.
The boy let out a bray that sounded for all the world like the donkey. The donkey started walking again. Little Yeshua ran over and grabbed Yusuf’s hand.
What did you say to the donkey?” Yusuf scowled.
I told him there is an oasis ahead, and he’ll have figs to eat when we get there.”
Yeshua, we ran out of figs days ago.” The boy just looked at Yusuf as if the man was a dullard. “I guess it doesn’t matter what you promised a donkey, Yeshua, as long as you got it to move.”
The boy’s legs were short but at least he didn't dawdle like other children his age. The boy walked for two hours without complaint. Maybe, he’ll be a soldier. I hope not. I want him to be a carpenter, have a family, be happy and support me in my old age.
Ahead was an oasis. Three palm trees towered over the little water hole. In front of the water hole was a fig tree. The tree had fruit on it.
Figs weren't due for months yet, and any tree on a caravan route would be constantly picked clean. The leading members of the caravan were already gathering the figs. Ordinarily, Yusuf would expect the tree to be picked bare before he got there, but somehow he knew there would be enough for his family, and even some for the donkey. Little Yeshua patted the donkey and trudged on to the oasis.

What kind of child was this?