Third Time's a Charm

This will be the last story for a while for a variety of reasons. I will be traveling out of the country starting this Friday. I’ll have no internet connection for most of the time. Yes, I expect withdrawal symptoms. My birthday occurs during that time (Dec 11). Feel free to send me birthday wishes. I’ll be back just before Christmas, but have things I have to do. What, you think I live for this blog? After Christmas I will be traveling again until the beginning of January. Also, the quiver of stories is getting low. I still have some and a few I’m still working on. I’ve been spending a lot of time on my novel. I just added a new chapter. That thing has become such a timesuck.

I’ve got articles and books I need to read on how to write a short story. There are some online courses and local college courses I thought about taking. But, all hubris aside, I like how I write. I don’t want to change that. Only enhance it.

And an article I read said that writers should read a lot to keep their minds fresh with ideas. So when am I supposed to find time for that? I plan an operation in March that will leave me bedridden for several weeks. Maybe I can catch up on my life then. Who ever thought I’d be looking forward to being an invalid?

In the meantime, happy Christmas, New Year and/or whatever celebrations you have this time of year. I find it interesting that all religions have some sort of holiday around the winter solstice.

I mentioned here before that I got a professional review of Do This One Thing. Following the reviewer’s comments resulted in losing a good bulk of the story, but I understood. I was confusing two stories as one. However, the review said I had “hit a homerun” in my description setting the place. I hated to lose that homerun, but it didn’t factor into the story I wanted to tell. I have decided to toss out some of his notions. Even though it is primarily a ghost story, it doesn’t hurt to set the scene of who is telling it. Does the interplay of Peter Falk and Fred Savage detract from the pleasure of The Princess Bride? Does the first half of The Wizard of Oz movie cause problems with the second half? Scene setting is important. With this in mind, I resurrected my original and took the parts I liked and tacked it onto the severely cut version. The resulting story probably suits no one but me. I don’t care. I like it. And the title always seemed kind of clunky to me, so I changed that also. I decided to use a word that my granddaddy would use. The new title is a better clue to what the story is about.

As an aside, I got a professional appraisal of another story. I asked him to take a look at It Went Down Like This. His review opened with: “This is a wonderfully entertaining story. The voice is a fun, familiar noir-style narration and the plot plays out at a mostly smooth and steady pace.” He goes on with some suggestions. I’m still working on them. That’s the kind of review I like. If you haven’t read the story yet, it’s in the archives. Go take a look. I have it on good authority it’s ‘wonderfully entertaining’.

The Haint

I remember sitting on Granddaddy’s porch when I was a child listening to the adults talking. I remember in particular a Saturday evening in summer in the mid nineteen-sixties. Granddaddy’s house sat on the top of a low hill, the highest land in the area. From his front porch we could see the entire community for a half mile or more in every direction. It was twilight, what Grandma always called the gloaming. The heat of the day had dissipated, and we were outside to catch any cool breezes that might float by. The front lawn twinkled with constellations of lightning bugs providing us with our own private light show. It was a large lawn, stretching about a hundred yards down to the main highway. Granddaddy always called his lawn the avenue. His avenue was dotted with cedars, catalpas and large hardwoods.

            A couple of my cousins and I were on the steps that evening. Mama and Daddy and my cousins’ parents had gone to the city to dinner and Grandma always watched us for them. So, we sat on the porch, watching the sky turn purple, the insect light show, munching on popcorn Grandma had just popped, and experiencing the joy of being a family. As sometimes happens in these types of gatherings the conversation turned to ghost stories.  

            Granddaddy said he remembered one from when he was a young man. Grandma said, “Good Lord, don’t tell that story again, honey. You dreamed it.”

“Dang if I did,” Granddaddy declared. “I know what I saw.”
“What?” we all wanted to know. He had us then. We were spellbound.

            I pulled off my straw hat and mopped my face with my damp bandana. Squinting, I looked up. The bright August sun appeared to be nearly directly overhead. Near enough to take our lunch break, anyway.

            “Time,” I said loud enough for both Sam and Lonnie to hear. They were both within a few yards, chopping cotton like me. We were in the big field north of the Bass Woods. Off to the south, just beyond the hedgerow was Sam’s house. We could have gone there to eat, but we saw no sense in walking all that way. Closer by was Miss Alice’s home, the old Garris place. While a simple two-story farmhouse, it boasted details that made it stand out among its peers. Things like delicate curlicues on the porch columns, fresh painted clapboards and shutters, a clipped privet hedge surrounding the front yard. Old Miss Garris didn’t get around much anymore, but she made sure her home reflected the style she had always embodied. It was near sixty years after the Great War and a couple after what they were calling a World War, but Miss Garris was still the lady of the manor, ready to serve tea on the verandah. Surely, she wouldn’t mind the three of us stopping to eat lunch under the shade of one of her elms. I figured I should ask before we drew water from her well, just to be polite.

            Lonnie, my wife’s Uncle Lonnie, trudged over to sit under the shade of a tree at the edge of the yard. At 40, he was getting too old to work in the fields all day. My cousin Sam and I, both in our 20s, each did twice the work of Lonnie, but he needed to feel useful. Sam sat beside Lonnie.

            “Let me pay our respects to Miss Alice before we pump the water,” I said to them as I headed up the back-porch steps. 

Getting no reply to several raps on the door, I was unsure if I should look in. Miss Garris was a little hard of hearing and I didn’t want to alarm her. Or if she was on the chamber pot, it would be embarrassing. But she was very old and might have fallen and need some help. I knew a colored girl comes in about once a week to help with cleaning but wasn’t sure when that was.

Lonnie and Sam were near enough that I could talk to them from the porch without shouting.

“When’s the last time you saw Miss Garris?” I asked them.

“She won’t at church on Sunday,” Sam said. “Somebody said she was feeling poorly.” For some reason I suddenly felt a shiver run down my spine.

“Reckon we ought to go in and look,” I said. There are no locked doors in our

neighborhood. We all trust each other. I opened the door a crack and spoke into it.

“Miss Garris. Can you hear me? You all right?” After a few minutes with no answer, I pushed the door open wider. As soon as I got the door open, I ran back into the yard and threw up. She was definitely dead and after several days in the August heat she was smelling. As I wiped my mouth on my sleeve, I heard Lonnie and Sam muttering to each other. 

Dammit, I thought. I’m sorry old Miss Garris died, but it would also make us lose a day of work.

“I guess one of us needs to go fetch either the doc or Sheriff Stephenson,” I said, rejoining them under the elm. 

“Why break off work? Let’s finish the field and then go get the doc. The old lady ain’t going nowhere.” Sam’s comment was practical if cold hearted.

“Naw, that ain’t right,” I told him. “That old lady deserves more respect than that. Plus, I don’t think I could work knowing a dead body was just a few yards away.” Lonnie nodded his agreement. He and Sam gathered our tools to take back to my barn. I headed off to Gumberry. It was only a mile or so through the woods and there was a telephone at the general store.

            They had her funeral the very next day. The preacher told me she had been dead at least three days and was far gone. He said he didn’t know if they would ever get the smell out of the house. They even had the funeral out by the graveside instead of inside the church. Prim old lady that she was, I know she’d have been embarrassed by all the mess.

***

            That night was hotter than ever. Mollie and I didn’t have any covers on the bed and all the windows were open. We even had the front door propped open to catch any breeze it could. Mollie had insisted that I install screens in the windows and a screen door at the front of our cabin so we could open it up at night without letting in mosquitos and other varmints. On nights like this I was happy I had listened to her. 

From where I was lying in bed, I could look through the door and down the long lane to the main road. I could see low-lying mist down by the end of the lane. It just drifted back and forth with whatever breeze caught it. After a bit it seemed the mist was drifting toward the house. As I watched it, it seemed to get thicker. Suddenly it took form and I could see it was a woman in a white dress standing outside the house. I froze in terror. I saw her put her hand on the doorjamb, lift her skirt and step into the house, walking through the screen door as if it weren’t there. I immediately recognized it as old Miss Garris.

            She stood there looking at me a minute. Then she walked over to the bed and reached down and touched my hand. Her hand was so cold. I wanted to scream but I couldn’t move or make no sound. She said, “Lloyd, they didn’t find my will. It’s in the Bible in my study. You need to tell them. Do this and you won’t ever see me again. You don’t do it, I’ll be back. I’ll haint you.” She disappeared suddenly, and it released me. I set to squalling.

            Mollie said I liked to have scared her out of ten year’s growth. She said I was yelling and wrenching around; raving about ghosts. She soothed me, saying I just dreamed it.

“There ain’t no such thing as ghosts, sugar,” she murmured to me, stroking my brow as she held me. Even drenched with sweat in the hot August night, I still shivered in fear.

“But it was so real.”

“Dreams usually are, honey. Just go back to sleep. I’m here and won’t let nothing happen. You’ll see. In the morning, it’ll all be gone.”

            “But she said she’d come back and haint me,” I whimpered.

            “Shh, honey. Mollie’s here. Go to sleep.”

***

The next day, I went to the general store, and Doc Moore happened to be there. I told him a lie. I said Miss Garris told me before she died that her will was stuck in a Bible in her study. I knew he wouldn’t believe me if I said her ghost told me. It turned out there was a second will in a Bible in her study. And like she promised, I’ve never seen her again. And I want to keep it that way.

In the Midnight Hour

I have found that revenge can be a strong motivator. Like this example. With apologies to Wilson Pickett.

In the Midnight Hour

I’m gonna wait ‘til the midnight hour

That’s when my love come tumbling down

I’m gonna wait ‘til the midnight hour

When there’s no one else around

I’m gonna take you, girl, and hold you

And do all the things I told you, in the midnight hour

            I screamed with every fiber of my being. I screamed as if the very devil were after me, which in a sense he was. I screamed long and loud.

***

            I guess I can blame my parents for some of what went wrong. After all, they were the models that taught Bobby and me most of our life skills. And they were selfish and self-centered. Or are those both the same things? They put their own needs before everything else. It’s my opinion that if you have children, you at least spare a little thought for how your actions affect them. I mean, now that I’m fourteen I realize that my parents are real individuals with dreams and desires of their own, not just cardboard cutouts as stage props in the movie of my life. And I don’t think their whole lives should revolve around the kids. But there is a middle ground where you consider your actions in light of how your children will see them. Our parents never had this quality.

            When I was in first grade, Bobby was my hero. He was ten years to my six and although he wasn’t the biggest kid in fourth grade, he could soundly thump any second grader who dared to pick on me. He took his role as big brother seriously. And soon he branched out to thump the bullies who picked on my friends. All the girls swooned over my handsome brother, and as it became clear he was protecting my girlfriends, they all wanted to be my friend. First grade was rather grand. But not our home life.

            That was the year Mama and Daddy began going through a rough patch. Daddy worked at an office and Mama stayed at home. I’m not sure, but I think the trouble involved money. They would snipe for what seemed like hours, reminding me of the distant rumbling of a big storm. Then suddenly it would erupt. Both had a temper, and they had no qualms about screaming at each other, slinging invectives and accusations. I got that word, invectives, from Mary Jane Slater. She thinks she’s so cool because she’s read so many books. I think she’s stuck up, but it’s still a cool word and describes exactly what Mama and Daddy did. He would call her lazy and a spendthrift. She would call him a lowlife cheater, though I don’t know what he cheated on. Sometimes she threw cups or plates. Daddy would knock pictures off the wall. The sound of something shattering accompanied every fight.

            As you might expect it scared me. It scared me badly. I would run from my room and jump in Bobby’s bed and burrow under the covers. I’d roll myself into a ball and snuggle up to his midsection. He’d put his arms around me and whisper that it would be okay.

            “It’s okay, Joni. Don’t cry. You’re safe with me. I won’t ever let anything happen to you.” Only later did I find the wet spot on my head where his tears had fallen. He would hold me and rock me, long into the night, as we weathered the storm of our parents. He was my rock and my protection. He loved me. He said he would always protect me. And I foolishly believed him.

***

            I heard someone say hindsight is twenty twenty. That’s so true. You never notice all the little things people do as they are happening. Only looking back do you say, “Oh yeah, I should have noticed that.” Nobody ever thought anything was wrong with Bobby. I was the one to worry about. He was a perfect student, straight A’s throughout primary and middle school. I was a competent A/B student but had conduct issues. I just didn’t like being restricted and told what my role as a lady should be. I wanted to be who I was, not some character from history. Girls don’t talk like that, girls don’t do that, ladies don’t behave that way. All I heard was don’t. Well, I wanted to DO. So, they labeled me a problem.

            It only mattered to my teachers. My parents quickly forgot any notes sent home. They were too busy leading their lives to worry about school problems. The only time they met with my teachers was once when the administration dragged them in for a ‘consultation’. It quickly became clear in the meeting that the teachers knew me better than my parents. The meeting accomplished little more than getting me grounded for a week. But even that didn’t last. My parents just lost interest.

            They took a little more interest in Bobby; he was ‘the son’. However, it was only a glancing interest. They didn’t seem to notice that he had no friends. The younger boys were afraid of him because he bullied them mercilessly. His peers thought he was a jerk. At least that’s what Mary Jane Slater said. Although he was handsome, the girls avoided him because he had this permanent sneer emblazoned on his face. Everyone could sense a feeling of cold calculation emanating from him. Mary Jane said he gave her the willies. Maybe. But to me, he was just my brother Bobby.

            At home I was the problem, too. If something got broken, Bobby always convinced me to take the blame. He said that Daddy would beat him, but they would only ground me for a week. And we knew they’d forget to enforce it. It seemed reasonable, so I always went along. He remained the perfect child.

            I remember how he didn’t like it when I brought home Mr. Whiskers, a stray kitten. He said he didn’t like cats. I figured Mr. Whiskers could melt any person’s heart and tried to get him to play with the kitten. Mr. Whiskers didn’t like Bobby, though. He laid his ears back and hissed. Within two days, Mr. Whiskers had disappeared. There was a suspicious scratch on Bobby’s arm, but I never had the courage to ask him about it. I think that’s when I started to be afraid of Bobby.

            Just before the Bad Stuff happened there was a telling moment in the car. Bobby was sixteen. He had just gotten his license and Mama and Daddy would send him on errands in the car. He loved to drive around. One night, Mama sent him to the store to get her some cigarettes. She told him to take me along. It had been raining earlier, and the streets glistened in the early evening under the streetlights. He was driving Daddy’s big Oldsmobile. As we were driving through a residential section, we saw a couple out for a stroll. I tensed when Bobby sped up. What was he planning? As we roared past the couple, he swerved to plow through a puddle sending a wave of muddy, oily street water over the couple. As we kept going, I could hear them yelling. I looked back and saw we had drenched them. They were shaking out their shirts, furious at what had happened. Bobby had a satisfied looking sneer on his face.

***

            Late summer meant evening thunderstorms. A short time after the incident with the car, we were having a late-night boomer. I used to be afraid of thunder and lightning. I would go jump in Bobby’s bed and cower under the covers while he held me. I no longer needed his reassurances. The storm seemed to circle us. It would intensify and then simmer down, only to start up again a few minutes later. It went on into the night.

            BOOM

            I snapped awake. I had been dozing, not deeply asleep as the rumbling went on. I opened my eyes just as lightning flashed the room. In the brief light, I saw the outline of a man. It terrified me. I couldn’t move or speak. Another flash and I saw it was Bobby. I was so relieved. At sixteen he was almost a man, now.

            “Bobby, what are you doing here?” I whispered. He came over and sat on my bed.

            “I couldn’t sleep. I remember how you used to come sleep with me when there were thunderstorms.”

            “I was a little girl then. I know thunder can’t hurt me now.”

            “Little Sis is growing up,” he smiled as he said it. I could tell because the lightning illuminated his face. “Can I hold you for old time’s sake?” He pushed back the light sheet I had over me and stretched out next to me. He wrapped his arms around me like he used to, but we were closer to the same size, so it didn’t work like it once did. He was shirtless, wearing only his pajama bottoms, and it felt weird for him to be holding me like this. But I let him. For old time’s sake.

            When he laid down beside me, it caught part of my nightshirt under him, causing it to pull taut against my chest. The lace decorations rubbed roughly across my newly budding breasts, causing me a quick intake of breath. Each breath caused it to rub again, and I found I was breathing shallowly to avoid it. I could feel Bobby’s breath on my neck, hot and uncomfortable in the humid room. I shrugged trying to create a little distance, but Bobby wouldn’t let go.

            “Bobby, let go. I’m hot,” I complained. He relented a little. The movement caused his hand to brush across my breast.

            “Oh. Little Sister’s nipples are hard. You excited about having a man in your bed?”

            “Don’t be stupid.” Luckily, the dark kept him from seeing how deeply I flushed.

            “I don’t know. Seems kinda definite to me.” Then to my horror he began stroking my breasts. Involuntarily, the nipples became even harder. “Seems like somebody likes this.”

            “Stop it. Stop it, now, Bobby. Stop it or I’m telling.” A renewed flash of lightning illuminated an iciness I had never seen in his eyes before. He slapped my face, then grabbed both my wrists and whispered directly into my ear. “You ever say anything about this, and I will hurt you. I will hurt you so bad you will never forget.” He removed one hand from my wrist and began brazenly fondling my small breasts.

            “Don’t,” I whimpered. He stopped, then he placed his hand on my neck and began squeezing. I couldn’t breathe. I could see his still silhouette, dark against flickering light from distant lightning, his face in shadow. I tried to pull his hand away with my free hand. Then I began hitting him in the side with my fist. Nothing moved him. I began seeing sparkling lights around the edge of my vision. Suddenly he released me. I gasped as much needed oxygen returned to all my systems. I wanted to get away from him, but he still had me trapped. I feared what he might do to me.

            “Don’t fuck with me,” he hissed. “I can make you suffer.” He returned to fondling my breasts. “I can hurt you in ways you never imagined. Just like that fucking cat. Why not lay back and enjoy it?” While my anatomy had little choice but to send sensations of ecstasy, my brain interpreted them with disgust as my brother assaulted me. Tears slid from my eyes as I cried as silently as I could. He slid his arm under me up to encircle my neck, reminding me he could strangle me if he so chose. His other hand slipped under my cotton shirt and then slid down the front of my panties. I had only been having my periods for a few months. I silently wished I was having one now. He deserved to get a bloody hand. I clamped my eyes shut as he tried to slide his finger into my opening. I was dry and it hurt. At the same time, I could feel him pressing his groin into my backside, the lump in his pajama bottoms noticeable. He humped me like this for a few minutes then stiffened with a groan. We lay still for a moment. Then his arm around my neck began to close. I had both hands free and reached up pulling at it. Once he felt he had made his point, he eased the pressure.

            “Remember what I said.” Then he crept out of my room. I felt so dirty I wanted to jump in the shower right then, but how would I explain that in the middle of the night? I balled myself up in my sheet, buried my head in my pillow and sobbed until I fell into an exhausted sleep.

***

            Even my self-absorbed mother noticed my pale complexion and dark smudged eyes the next morning.

            “Goodness, I hope you’re not coming down with something,” she said accusingly. Yes, every childhood illness I had was done for the express purposes of inconveniencing you, I thought sourly. Bobby glared at me with a warning in his eyes.

            “I’m fine,” I mumbled.

            “You’ve always been so sickly,” Mama said. What the hell? I’m hardly ever sick. “Sunshine, here’s never been sick a day in his life.” Mama ran her hand over Bobby’s hair. ‘Sunshine’ beamed at her. I wished them both dead.

            Bobby didn’t return that night. I couldn’t have stopped him. My door had no lock. I considered pushing my dresser in front of it, but it turned out too heavy to move. But Bobby was not done with me yet. Not by a long shot. Every few nights, I guess when the teen-age urge got too much to bear; he came to my room. I just closed my eyes and tried to be elsewhere in my brain. That didn’t last as Bobby wanted more participation from me. I just dully looked at him the first time he said that.

            “I’m going to stick it in your butt, your pussy, or your mouth. You decide.” My first thought was the butt, so I wouldn’t have to look at him, but I considered how painful that must be. I refused to play his game, so he decided on my mouth. That didn’t satisfy him, though so he would jerk himself and then finish in my mouth.

            By this time, anyone paying attention would have noticed that my life was falling apart. I ate almost nothing, I rarely bathed, never washed my hair, spoke to no one. I had no interest in taking care of myself. I just wanted to be dead but was too afraid to do even that. Mama decided I had anorexia and lectured me on that nearly daily. She also said if I didn’t take better care of myself, she would come into the bathroom and scrub me herself. Like that would ever happen, hah.

            My few friends left at school knew something was wrong but didn’t know how to reach me. I just withdrew and shut everyone out. One of them one day texted me a magazine article about ‘Girlpower’. It was all about stepping up, defending yourself, being your own person. All the things I used to be. It brought tears to realize how far I had fallen. It also caused me to take stock. Bobby would be at home at least two more years so I could expect the abuse to go on that long. I knew there was no way I could live that way. Something had to change. The easiest way was to kill myself or failing that, him. But how?

***

Looking back, I’m surprised how long it took me to realize that there was another path out. It was brazen, Machiavellian and very much the old Joni. It was dangerous, but I had to go for it. The next time Bobby came to my room, I chickened out. He had me conditioned to submit to him. I realized it would be harder than I thought. Not knowing his schedule made it more difficult to psych myself up. Two days after my last attack, I noticed Bobby fondling his testicles in the living room when he thought no one was watching. It aroused him. I could count on a visit tonight.

            Late, after everyone else was asleep, he slipped into my room. There was a half moon, making everything in my room seem silver. I could make out Bobby’s figure with the silvered permanent sneer marring his face. He kneeled on my bed, pushed his pajamas down to his knees, and straddled me. I gathered up my courage and said I was tired of the same old thing. Why not try putting it in me? Even in the dim light, I could see his eyebrows go up in surprise. He quickly shifted his knees and laid down over me, fumbling under my shirt to strip away my panties. I had to work quickly. As soon as he sprawled on me, I wrapped my legs around him, locking us tightly together. I threw both arms around his neck and pressed as hard against him as I could. Then I was ready. I screamed with every fiber of my being. I screamed as if the very devil were after me, which in a sense he was. I screamed long and loud. I continued screaming until I heard the thumping from my parents’ bedroom. Bobby was fighting, trying to break free but could not break my hold. As my bedroom door burst open and a second before the light came on, I released him and began beating at him. My scream changed to “Get off! Get off me!”

            “What the hell!” Daddy roared. The tableau he saw was me trying to cover myself and Bobby crouched over me, pajamas down, cock erect and a guilty look on his face. Daddy was on Bobby in a second, grabbing him by the neck and actually throwing him across the room. Mama rushed to me, pulling up the sheet to cover me and shielding me in her arms.

            “In your room!” Daddy yelled at Bobby, who scurried out like the vermin he was.

            “Oh, poor baby,” Mama crooned. Maybe she had finally found her calling.

            “Did he hurt you, I mean, did he do anything to you?” Daddy asked. I made my eyes wide and round, looking fearful. I shook my head.

            “He said he’d hurt me if I said anything,” I whispered, just loud enough for them both to hear.

            “Oh, baby,” Mama cuddled me again. Daddy stormed out. In the light from my overhead fixture, I saw him turn left and head to their bedroom. He came back a moment later carrying his big leather belt. He entered Bobby’s room, across the hall from mine. Bobby would get a thrashing. Good.

            “It wasn’t like that, Daddy,” Bobby whimpered. “She wanted it.” The smack of skin on skin sounded loud even across the hall.

            “I don’t want to hear another filthy word out of your mouth! Pull those pajamas down. You seem to know how to do that well enough.”

            Mama held me tight, but she cringed with each smack of the leather across Bobby’s backside. Various cries and shrieks from Bobby accompanied each blow. It was all music to my ears. He got fifteen licks. Nowhere near enough, in my opinion. Daddy stopped at Bobby’s door as Bobby lay on his bed sobbing.

            “Don’t come out of this room until I come for you.” With that he slammed the door with all the finality of a jail cell.

            “Are you really okay, kitten?” Daddy said, sitting on my bed, morphing from avenging father to tender father in an instant. I said that I was but let them know about Bobby’s bullying at school, his implication in the disappearance of Mr. Whiskers, and all the times he had bullied or talked me into taking the blame for things broken or gone wrong. I may have added a few that actually were my fault, but I was building a case here. I also poured out a flood of tears, but these were real. I found that once they started, I couldn’t get them to stop.

            “My God! My poor child. I had no idea. How did you let this go on?” he angrily asked my mother. She was quick to take the bait, and they readied for another battle.

            “Please don’t fight. Not tonight. I’m scared. I afraid of what he’ll do to me.” I managed to say this between whimpers as my bout of crying died out. They both looked ashamed for a moment.

            “Don’t you worry, baby. He won’t ever hurt you again.” Daddy promised. Wow. Maybe military school? Daddy went down the hall to the pantry. When he came back, he had a length of cord in his hands. He wrapped one end around the doorknob to Bobby’s room and secured it. Then he tied the other end to the door to the bathroom beside my room.

            “You’ll have to use our bathroom if you need one tonight, but at least we know that little creep can’t get to you. You’re safe now. Tomorrow we’ll figure out a permanent solution. Do you think you can sleep?” I nodded, dashing tears from my face.

            “I think I’ll sleep here for a while,” Mama said. “I’ll just feel better knowing my child is safe.” Wow, Mama was in the running for Mama of the Year. She and I dozed for about an hour, then she got up and went to join Daddy. I laid there for a minute. One more thing I wanted to do. I got up and crept across the hall to Bobby’s room. I scratched softly at his door.

            “What?” came his ragged, tear-stained voice.

            “Bobby, it’s me,” I said with sympathy in my voice. “Does it hurt so awfully bad?”

            “Y-yes,” accompanied by a sniffle.

            “Good!” and I slipped back into my room.

DWTS 8

OK, technical difficulties may be a thing of the past. I am typing this on my brand-new HP Pavilion 360 touch screen. Sweet. And the space key actually works.

Now, on to more important matters. I’ve been seeing chatter online and on Facebook that people are starting to realize what I called some weeks ago. Sean Spicer is going to win DWTS unless someone does something. If the crazies can elect a nincompoop for president, they can easily elect at stumblebum as a dancer. When they get down to 4 celebrities and the bottom two are named is probably our last chance for him to be at the bottom. They will want 3 for the finale. Two will get perfect 10s and Sean will get 3 sevens. Just like Bobby Bones. Len has already said that he doesn’t belong in the competition and Carrie Ann seems to feel the same way. If only we could find a friendly producer to fudge the numbers just a bit. Or if the judges could get together and give Sean three 0s every time he’s up. I mean they say the judges’ scores count for fifty percent. Jefferson talked about this – letting the masses vote. People are stupid. You let them vote and there’s no telling what they might do. Witness Trump and Brexit. Witness Bobby Bones. If they go to the mat and let Sean take it, then that is my last day with DWTS. Someone else can write the reviews in the future. If they have a future. Allowing voting blocks with an agenda to hijack the show is making it a joke. A laughingstock. If that’s the case, why bother with the dancing? Just go right to the results. We all know what it will be. I feel they may be sealing their own doom. I have read that a lot of people are touting So You Think You Can Dance. I have a number of issues with that program starting with Nigel Lithgow. During the preliminaries a couple of years ago two men came on as what they called Male Pair Dancers. Two men, doing acrobatic and somewhat ballroom together. One said he was gay, the other said he was straight. Why a straight guy wanted to do that, I have no idea. They weren’t very good. Nigel went on a tirade and said some extremely homophobic things, being mean, and shaming them. Mary Murphy joined in. I used to respect her, seeing how she had been an abused wife and had found herself and ditched the abuser and become famous. But she showed she could be just as abusive. I was ashamed for the entire show. I think the next week Nigel came on and offered a somewhat tepid apology “if anyone was offended”. Not even owning up to what he had done. I cannot respect such a person and don’t want to watch him mouth platitudes week after week. And the try outs are annoying as hell. They bring out a couple hundred barbie dolls who come out in their Annette Funicello two piece and say “Hello, my name is Lauren and I’ve been doing tap and ballet since I was in the womb.” Apparently, she just jetéed out of Mom. Ballroom dancers rarely do well because of the screwed-up system. A ballroom dancer needs to work with a partner. SYTYCD is supposed to be all about partnering, yet all the tryouts are solos, except for the few ballroomers they let on. And then, if they have to do a dance for their life performance, it’s a solo. What the hell do they expect a ballroom dancer to do? In the past, there was a ballroom couple, husband and wife, who both made it on. When he had to do a dance for his position on one show, he got a cape and threw down a paso doble that wowed the crowd. When his wife was faced with a similar issue, she just did sets of cha cha and salsa shines. It’s kinda stacked against them. And they are always the best at partnering. And it’s reverse racist. A few years ago, a black girl who was a hip-hop dancer was on. When she flubbed the waltz, Nigel made excuses for her because she didn’t have the background. Later when a white kid had to do a krump, he was castigated because it looked “too polished”. He didn’t look “gangsta” enough. I call that reverse racism.  Or just plain old racism. It is what it is.

Maybe DTWS needs to take a page from the past. There was a dance show, Superstars of Dance. It was hosted by Lord of the Dance himself, Michael Flatley. You may remember him from Riverdance and Feet of Flame (or as I call it Feets on Fire). What most annoyed me about the program was that as it came on, they had a metal globe turning. It faded into the background as the name of the program came up. But the globe was turning the wrong way. With the thousand and one people involved in putting on the show, no one noticed that? It went on for about five weeks. They never fixed it. But on the positive side, they had a panel of judges, there were either six or eight. And they decided who the winner was. None of this letting the unlettered public decide. People who knew what it was supposed to look like did the deciding. Maybe DWTS needs to go back to that.

And speaking of TV gaffs, I remember another back in the late 70s, circa 1979. I was at the fraternity house preparing to go to a football game on a Saturday. The TV was on for ambience. And of course, Saturday morning cartoons were on. By the late 70s, animation had gone to the dogs. I grew up on the classic animation of Hanna Barberra, Wiley Coyote, Bugs Bunny, Huckleberry Hound. Not the wooden animation that was to come. I saw the writing on the wall with Johnny Quest. They went for realism with the characters, but the animation was atrocious. And looking back, the race baiting of Hadji was terrible, and what exactly was the relationship between Dr. Quest and Race Bannon? But by 1979 diversity was coming along and we had the first black superheroes. The cartoon I remember being on that morning was Superstretch, Microwoman and Baby Plaz. Yeah, it was as bad as it sounds. But every time there was a station break and they showed the title, they misspelled microwoman. They had MIRCOWOMAN. Once again, how had no one noticed that? But I have digressed far afield. Bottom line: DWTS is in trouble and I’m prepared to abandon ship.

I was not sad to see Kate leave the show. She had shown some capabilities, but I never warmed up to her. Don’t know why. And there was no big opening dance number. First, they’re chintzy with the Halloween dances and now no opening number. Budge must be very tight. Another sign they may be on the ropes.

Two dancers were disqualified for failing to dance ballroom. Sean proved that not only can he not dance ballroom, he can’t dance other genres either. As if there was any doubt.  All I could think of was that if you put him in Navy whites, he’d look just like the Pillsbury doughboy. AND JAZZ IS NOT A BALLROOM DANCE.

Sad that they wasted JVDB on a pajama dance. After the judges waxed poetic about its beauty I rewound and watched again, but still didn’t see it. Carrie Ann talked about the difficult lifts that had never been executed before. WTF. We see that stuff every time they allow lifts. Yes, the lifts were nice. But we’ve seen that before. I think the judges just got 10 happy. CONTEMPORARY IS NOT A BALLROOM DANCE.

And another thing. The highest scoring couple was supposed to get immunity from the throw down and an extra two points. By my score card, Ally and Sasha scored 30 as well as JVDB and Emma. So why did JVDB get the pass? Also cool that the two pros who got perfect scores are married.

The other two disappointments were Kate and Lauren. Coincidentally, both were jives. My eyes may never recover from Kate and Pasha’s costumes. They had more and better kicks than Lauren and Gleb but were so messy. Way out of sync many times.

And Gleb, what happened? You have a possible winner on your hands, and you give us this? It was entertaining and toe tapping, but those were the wimpiest kicks I’ve seen this side of Kate Gosselin (remember she looked like she was trying to get something stuck to the bottom of her shoe to fall off?).

Kel is bringing it now they’re down the home stretch. There was a stumble at the end. Loved the Star Trek Next Generation uniform with the side apron.

Hannah and Alan. 3 jetés? Wow! Lotsa fancy footwork goin’ on. White shoes after Labor Day? Faux pas on Alan.

Ally and Sasha. She was on fire! Where’d she find all the anger she was channeling during that dance? That was the best skirt work since Julianne Hough and maybe even better than her. It was wicked. Damn, girl. Perfect score so deserved.

Throw Down

Ally and Kel. I give it to Ally by a nose. The judges disagree.

Sean and Kate. Best laugh I’ve had all day. Kate by a mile.

Hannah and Lauren. I called it a draw. Hannah looked a bit stiff, but Lauren looked ungainly with her butt rolls. Gleb and Alan had to know they were going to take off their shirts – they were waxed (boo!) So why did they skip the spray tan? The glare was killing me.

Second place is anybody’s game right now. All but one of the deadwood is gone. The five remaining dancers can duke it out and Sean can stomp to the trophy.

HALLOWEEN!

The Hell you say. What’s the big deal with Halloween? Halloween was a big deal to us kids when I was growing up. I mean, wow, an excuse to get candy from the neighbors and eat it until you threw up. Who could pass up on that? And back then you could eat the apples and oranges you got in your bag without examining them for needles and razors. And the dressing up was kinda neat. I loved trick or treating until I was about 12. After that, a Halloween dance at school was always nice. I liked school dances. I wasn’t afraid to get out on the floor and was considered a good partner by the girls. I always had dance partners. And sometimes we’d meet in the upper bleachers or behind the bleachers. But that’s a story for another day.

All the dorms and frats had big Halloween parties in college and that’s when I began seeing outlandish and frequently group costumes. It was off the hook crazy. And I loved it. I was less adventurous. Just give me a sheet and I could rig up a toga. Twine some ivy around my head and, hey, I’m an ancient Roman. Not to mention the toga parties. But again, a different issue for a different day.

            My parents never put up Halloween decorations. Come to think of it, I don’t know anybody that did. I mean some people, like us, put a Jack o’Lantern on their front porch, but that was about it. This was the 1960s and 70s South. Everyone I knew was Baptist and they had decreed that Halloween was of the devil. Maybe they were right.

            What are we celebrating, anyway? All Hallows Eve. The night before All Hallows Day, the day all the saints are worshipped and any saint that doesn’t have a special day, well, this is for him or her. If it’s a Catholic thing, then Baptists are sure it’s a thing of the devil. In Mexico it is El Dia de le Morte, the Day of the Dead. It’s a particularly ghoulishly named celebration of our ancestors. While the whole shebang seems wrapped up in Christianity, somehow Halloween has taken on the trappings of the other side. Who wants to be an angel for Halloween when he can be a first class Satan?

            These days Halloween has morphed into a major holiday. Maybe Hallmark and Hersheys  are to blame. It seems nearly every house in my neighborhood has their trees, bushes and porches wrapped in orange lights. There are larger than life blow up black cats, headless horseman on his steed, with a pumpkin as his head, ghoulish demons or is it demonic ghouls. What is a ghoul, anyway? Ghastly and ghostly heads and streamers hanging from trees. And one house has about twenty skeletons trying to get in. Or are they trying to get out?

            Hope your neighborhood is properly decorated and hope you don’t get TPed. Remember doing that? Of course you do. Happy Halloween to all. This week my story is actually a memoir. It’s about a fun time I had on a Halloween about 46 years ago. Enjoy!

The Ghost of Halloween Past

The summer after I turned sixteen I was allowed to buy a car. We lived way out in the country so becoming self-mobile was an important step. The sudden freedom to come and go as you please was wonderful. No more asking Mom or Dad to take you “to town” to buy things. No more borrowing the family sedan for dates. It was just incredible.

            It turned out one of Mom’s friends at work had a son who was entering college and couldn’t carry his car so he wanted to sell. It was a metallic blue 1966 3-speed Mustang. Probably one of the sexiest cars ever. It’s now a classic. But back in 1973 it was just a seven-year old car. I got it for $500. I was soon recognizable far and wide by my “blue ‘stang”. And it didn’t hurt that girls didn’t mind being seen riding around in such a cool car. I can’t say that I was ever cool, but my cool factor sure moved up a few notches with that purchase.

            But this story isn’t about the car, only what the car made possible.

My friend and I were casting about for something to do on a Thursday night. It happened to be Halloween night. Two sixteen-year-olds and Halloween are usually a recipe for trouble but we were (fairly) good kids. I came up with an idea.

            First you have to understand the situation out in the country where I lived. Our community was about a dozen houses stretched along a couple miles of country road on both sides of a country church. Then there were the outliers farther out or on even further back roads. Our church boasted a constant population of about 100. The local kids wanted to be part of “trick or treat” (free candy, duh) but they had to get their parents to take them to nearby villages where they really didn’t know the people. Also, the people in our community were always disappointed that we couldn’t participate in giving out goodies because no one trick-or-treats in the country. Our church came up with a nice idea. All the members of our church who wanted to give out Halloween goodies would leave their porch lights on. All interested children would meet at the church at sundown. An elder with a pickup truck would pile the kids in the back and drive to all the church member houses so the kids could do their thing. And along the way, they would pick up information about other neighbors, not members of our church, who might also have some treats. Of course, that wouldn’t work in 2019 because it’s illegal for kids to ride in the back of a pickup, but this was a simpler time.

            So, about sundown I picked up my friend and had an old white bedspread. While the kids were inside the church for a required prayer and mini-sermon before the main event, he and I pulled up behind the church. I took the spread and went out into the graveyard beside the church. I crouched down behind a tombstone and waited.

            The kids all came filing out of the church in their various costumes. There were about ten of them ranging from about 4 or five up to about 12. They climbed in the back of the truck all excited. As the driver turned on the engine, I rose up from behind a tombstone with the bedspread over my head. I raised my arms and started loudly moaning. At the squeal from the first kid who spotted me, I began moving toward the truck. Soon all the kids were screaming in fear and glee at the Halloween ghost. The driver, seeing what was happening sped off and the chorus of squeals died into the distance.

            Totally pleased with myself, I got back in the car and drove about a half mile in the opposite direction the truck had gone and pulled off into a wooded road so my car was hidden. I stood beside the road in my white disguise. Soon I heard the roar of the old pickup coming my way. I raised my arms and waved them back and forth. The truck driver began blowing his horn to get the attention of the kids in the back. As they sped by me they were all shrieking once again in glee.

            After they had passed, I drove to an old farm house and parked behind the barn. I went out into the field beside the house and hid behind a bale of peanut vines. This was one of the last stops. As the last kid was climbing into the back of the truck, I stood up and began running toward the truck waving my arms and howling. The kids all began screaming, “Go! Go!” to the driver. He timed it and pulled away just as I was getting close. I ran after the truck a little ways still carrying on. The kids were loving it.

            That was it for the night. My friend had only gone along for the company. He stayed in the car and told me alternately I was “weird” or I was “crazy”. But he had a smile when he said it.

            On Sunday there was still a little chatter among the young kids about the ghost they saw Halloween night. My friend and I never told anyone. So, if you were a kid who saw a ghost while trick-or-treating on Halloween night in 1973 in eastern North Carolina, I’m the Ghost of Halloween Past.

DWTS 7 Halloween

Halloween. The night we all wait for. Next to Freestyle night it is the most anticipated. And this year was such a disappointment. For my money, this was one of the most iconic of Halloween pieces. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpDY5-rrck0

That had mood, it had madness. It was scary. Still gives me chills. That’s what I want. It was lacking. There was no mayhem, no joi de vivre, it lacked that je ne sais quoi. For one thing, it looked like they cut the budget. There were none of the Busby Berkley show stopping cast of thousands dances we’ve come to expect. And Sasha is still in. When he’s not tied up with a partner he usually creates a little mayhem. I miss that.  

Hell, everybody got 9s. Half of them got all 9s. Everybody got at least one nine except Sean with his three 6s. You would think with all those 9s that there was some good dancing going on. And there was. Some of it was very good, but, like I said, no show stoppers.

Kel and Witney. What a rocky horror. He was nowhere near as good as his zombie helpers. They made him look bad. And why zombies? There were no zombies in Rocky Horror. I want to see Transylvanian Transvestites. I know Witney has the IQ of a dance shoe and I guess Kel never saw Rocky Horror, but you’d think somebody involved would have noticed the disconnect. His dancing was way rocky and the horror was that they gave him 9s for that monster mash mess.

JVDB and Emma was the second best of the night for me. I usually like my VWs light and ethereal, but this dark waltz was evocative of the infernal and drew me in. It gave me chills. I loved it. And I don’t give a damn about lifts if they ain’t calling other faults such as not enough time in hold, developés, etc. I’d have given them a 10.

Ally and Sasha. Lots of roundness. I don’t usually think of tango as having a lot of roundness. Costumes annoyed me. I hate the Joker. Good tango content though.

Hannah and Alan were awarded a DNP. What do I know from jazz? It was entertaining.

Karamo and Jenna. He earned his boot off the show.

Lauren and Gleb and Argentine Tango. I absolutely adored every second of it. I have a special affinity for the song, Whatever Lola Wants. I loved the kiss of death and the reverse rise. It worked with the music and brought chills across my body. So so good. She almost fell which means they lost a point, yet they got straight 9s. I smell a 10 in the making. I think the judges were as captivated as me. There was a problem, though. While they were talking to Tom, you could see that Gleb only has one hole in his neck. Did he get bit by a snaggletoothed vampire?

Sean and Lindsay were spookily awful. Loved Len’s comment. The awfulness that is Sean continues. And what the heck was a Frankenstein’s monster doing in a coffin? Or the mummies? They were better dancers, by the way. It was a Monster Mess. They almost got him in the bottom two. I had all my fingers crossed. I’m sure they’d toss him if they could get him there. But I’m afraid the Trump crazies will keep him afloat.

Kate and Pasha. I loved the song and the singer sounded so much like Chris Isaaks. A beautiful rumba. The song at least. What happened on stage was cause for arrest. She was flashing those fat legs and hands all over the younger man. And why do they think putting him in a silver suit and soot on his face makes him a wolf. Looks more like Flash Gordon was working under the hood. She did have one very nice spiral.

Team Trick was the Dream Team. They had the best celebrities, no duds. They should

have owned it, with 10s. I was less than blown away.

Team Mistep. It was quite cute. Best part was Kate’s kickline with the boys.

Unfortunately, I didn’t particularly care for either song. Whatever happened to the big budget think pieces like this? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TP-J5fEbVrU