Damien Donovan and the Widows Peak

 

halls-falls

 

 

Messr’s Brown and Thompson 

President, Vice President, Funding 

The Explorers Club 

1225 Maple Blvd 

New York City, New York 

 

 

Sirs: 

 

My name is Dr. Damien Donovan and you perhaps know my name as you co-funded the most recent expedition  in which I took part on behalf of Miskatonic University.  

Last year, 1917, per our expedition charter, I made final verification of our stores, equipment and personnel and we travelled by the most economical means, sea transport, to the northern wilds of Australia.  We performed our duties as directed and are in the process of finalizing our report, photograph logs and specimen charting.  I am happy to inform you that we were one-hundred percent successful and were in fact able to exceed our scope and reach within the financial constraints set by your gracious finding and the Miskatonic board.  That said,  we complete our field work a week early and I being expedition led, was able to leave the processing and preparation in the hands of junior staff under the direction of other senior researchers.  I thus set forth on my own excursion which is the topic of this letter. 

As you know, or may know, I am a biologist by training, specializing in tropical herpetological species with an interest in what some choose to call, “cryptids”.  By loose definition, these being creatures that though documented in various means, are not at present accepted in the scientific community as actual or real.  Some of these being creatures long thought extinct (Lazarus Taxon), creatures of legend (the northwestern American sasquatch or Tibetan Yeti) or are as yet undefined creatures spoken of in legend (sea serpents or the Japanese Kappa, likely the Andrias Japonicus).  I believe there are no such things as  “monsters” per say, merely animalia etc. that have yet to be properly observed and catalogued utilizing proper science due to the great expanse of our world and depth of our oceans. Over time, with man spreading wider and wider, these will become more and more encountered in the wilds, but until that time, I wish to search them out and preserve them from those that would cause harm to them. 

Pardon me for my soapboxing digressions. 

I had ten days free time until the ship was to arrive in Darwin for our transport back to the United States and gave instructions to the team to fly from Borroloola Northwestward as soon as they were ready.   I decided to look into a report of a smallish body of water to the East known as the Widows Bath, where a number of small Aborigine (Yanyuwa) children and one settler have died under mysterious circumstances.  I left detailed mapping of my projected route of travel with trusted colleagues and rented a motorcycle.  My satchel heavy with tools and my saddlebag full of foods and clothes, I made my way.  Three hours rough ride out, I encountered a small town where I was directed to an Aborigine village and provided with a horse for loan for a small sum as the ground beyond it to the Widows Bath was not conducive to wheeled locomotion. 

The sun was blistering hot that day and I had to stop numerous times to swig water from my skins and bottles.  I was near empty when I encountered the village.  It was squalid and unassuming but the people who populated it were both friendly and accepting. Given a stabling area with shade for my horse and a place to bunk down (free of spiders I was guaranteed as they and every other creature here wishes to kill you), I ate with the locals a food stuff I dare not describe and went to sleep after the long day’s ride. I was awoken after midnight by sounds outside my sleeping quarters and found the local chief I would assume or elder at least standing by me flanked by two solid, squat men, one of whom I knew spoke English as he assisted me earlier. 

We sat by the fire silently for a good hour and then the Chief went on to tell me a tale of his childhood,  when he and a friend went to Widows Bath (they had a different name for it) on a similarly hot day.  The body of water he described, is a deep D shaped cut into the high cliffed rocky shore of a larger brackish, ocean fed lake. Freshwater tributaries running to the sea further diluted the brackish waters flowing in from the tide fed lake to which it is attached.  They spent the day playing on the cliff edge, throwing rocks into the deep waters, drinking from the waterfall and trying to catch birds for food.  The chief went to relieve himself in a bushed area, heard a slight splashing noise and returned to find a single shoe and his friend’s hand carved wooden hunting stick halfway down a sloped embankment, the waters below calm and sedate apart from  widening ripple.  He spent the balance of the day looking for his friend, all the while feeling as if being watched.  The chief returned home in the dark, unwilling to sleep anywhere near the water. 

Following the story, the chief stood, patted me on the shoulder and wandered off into the dark toward his home, the other two in the direction of theirs I assume.  I added a log to the fire as is custom, and myself went back to my shelter to turn on the lamp, make notes and eventually go to sleep. 

In the morning, I awoke later than I had planned.  The sun was mid way up toward noon and I cursed myself for the nightcaps I had taken advantage of to help sleep come about. I stretched, found food waiting for me and began to pack my things and fill my water skins.  My horse was watered and fed as well and with a wave to my uninterested hosts I set off.  

The trek took me most of the remaining daylight hours and as planned I camped at a spot indicated on the mapping I was given in Boorloloola.  It was a small fenced in meadow along a small stream with a useable paddock and a shed utilized by researchers to protect them from the elements (not to mention the multitudes of venomous creatures that populate this god forsaken land) while on fauna documenting research sojourns in the general area.  I whipped up a fire, fed my horse, ate a meagre meal, stared at the stars while a sipped a bit of brandy.  I then headed to the shed, carefully investigated every nook and cranny for spiders and snakes and such (it was sealed and screened quite well) then bunked down for the night. 

At half past three in the morning I was awoken by a far off scream of some sort or animal in distress to the west.  I stepped out cautiously, ensure the paddock was secure and the horse was good (she was spooked but otherwise healthy) and throw a good deal of wood on the fire.  No more disturbances noted, I went back to a fitful sleep, stomping on an arachnid that trundled past the shed as I approached. 

The following morning I awoke to a brisk wind from the west that brought smells of the ocean and slightly fetid marsh-like odour that is to be expected at this time of year along the edges of rivers that have somewhat shrunken since the rains.  (I will provide you by the way with verbal verification of the location of Widows Bath following this correspondence should you wish to afford me an interview for further expeditionary consideration.  I will leave it to say it is between the Calvert River and the Pellew Islands region).  I ate, fed the horse, made a written and mental note to return as is customary and replenish the firewood stores, and headed in a general westerly direction for the remaining five miles of travel.  As I approached the location indicated on my map, the ground became more and more treacherous.  Rivers, creeks and rivulets shored by thick at times impossible forest, surrounded by cracked, bone dry land, flats and rock outcroppings.  Thankfully, a signpost had been erected with a wooden, hand painted yet now unreadable warning that was described quite well in my notes was still in place.  I took a long drink and provided the same to my horse, stowed the map and extricated both my shotgun, which I loaded, rope and my binoculars.  We approached the Widows Bath. 

We were able to traverse an ancient path that was only partly overgrown and make our way through the foliage to the edge of a large “D” shaped body of water, perhaps five hundred feet east west and double that north to southeast.  It was surrounded by a stony cliff face with a drop of perhaps twenty to twenty-five feet to the water’s surface.  I could see around the edge of the  low-lying, barren rock island that made up the center of the “D” distance flats that lead to the ocean (according to my mapping), the oceanic inlet that provided the tide driven current that cut the D into the rock and to my immediate right, a small waterfall of fresh surface water and spring derivation.  It flowed down directly into the salty ocean waters to create quite beautiful visible difference in light refraction and color, even given the discernible depths. 

At this point, what should have been a relaxing day’s expedition went sour so to speak.  Instead of dismounting, tying the horse to a nearby tree and walking over to the waterfall, whereby one could walk down the talus/scree slope to the waters below, I thought I would bring her to the waterfall to allow her to drink.  We moved forward on what seemed to be sold, stable rock (well travelled given the presence of  large mammal scat), to adjacent to the waterfall. As the saying goes, leading a horse to water and such, she was spooked and uninterested in drink.  I dismounted, thinking better of my plan and took the lead, attempting to turn her around on the rock slab so I could bring her back to the edge of the wood when a huge splashing from an unseen source below erupted, followed by a roaring bellow that echoed off of the cliff walls.  

The horse reared, my hand caught up in the straps I was pulled off of my feet and swung into the waterfall as she twisted to the left trying to turn on her own back from whence we came.  I tried to extract my hand unsuccessfully, as she tried to bolt.  I was dragged against a large jagged boulder, my progress halted, she realizing she could not continue, whipped to the right as another bellow rang out.  I was yanked free of the water and rocks but in her panic, she went over the edge, just as the straps came free.  I plunged down into the waterfall outfall, striking my head and losing consciousness, my last vision of the horse being her sliding down the rocks, a piece of the large flat stone outcropping we had been standing on coming free and following her down the slope.  Her whinnying scream and a loud cracking was the last thing I remember hearing as the world went black. 

I awoke a short time later (I assumed due to the position of sun).  As my eyes opened and adjusted to the light, I found myself on my right side, the lower, left half of my body cold and wet, my right leg trapped between two large rocks. Thankfully I was not completely immersed in the waters and the sunlight that bore down on me was dappled, passing for the present at least, through some overhanging trees.  I could see I was half way down the slope to the dark, the dark, foreboding waters farther below.  Looking downward and to my right I could see the avalanche that had occurred had also trapped the horse on her side at the water’s edge between a large portion of the flat stone we had perched on earlier and hummock of soil.  She was flopping around, whinnying and snorting but I was unable to determine her condition.  Mine, well, I was sore, my head hurt greatly from the impact, but my wedged leg seemed fine, just locked in place.   

I looked around to see if I could find a branch or pole within reach I could use to utilize as a lever to extricate my leg.  I saw nearby but not within reach, my bag, the strap torn away but otherwise intact, my shotgun and a horse blanket. Immediately I thought to remove my belt and use it too try to snag the items when I saw a curious thing.  A full-sized adult make Chlamydosaurus Kingii (Frilled Lizard) with beautiful colors was standing slightly uphill from my things staring at me.  Its eyes were locked on mine, its frill down and pressed against its neck, its breathing very, very slow, it rocked gently side to side as if in a trance.  Typically these lizards will raise their frills and hiss, open-mouthed in a defensive stance so close to a human in my experience, but no, this one was watching me intently.  I felt no personal concern as they are not a threat, only subsiding on insects and small animalia, but as one who studies reptiles, I wondered what was wrong.  I spoke to it, asking it gently as I do “what is up friend”, and in doing so, broke the spell. It waddled off uphill to climb the overhanging tree and return to what they do best, looking for food.  

My interest was detracted by a pained whinny from the horse.  I looked down and saw fear increasing in her eyes.  She was somehow being pulled against the rock and soil that held her firm.  With each movement, she screamed as only horses can.  I could not tell if she was kicking against the rock with her hind legs or if current was pulling her downward, only that she was definitely moving and entirely  voluntarily.  I turned me attention quickly to my gear. 

Not to bore you with the details, but I managed to over time obtain my shotgun and bag which contained water and much-needed food all the while distracted by the strange jerky movements and horrid noises emanating from the horse.  I ate, drank (not wishing to risk drinking the water falling upon myself from above until I ran out of my own) to prevent dehydration, and debated how best to free myself.  All the while, I kept an eye on the events below me and the lizard above who had found a comfortable perch to watch from. 

I decided as the sun moved westward, threatening to bathe me in its light,  that I needed to find a way to escape using the only available source of energy apart from my own strength.  Water.  I grasped every rock of substantial size I could and began to construct a flume of sorts to funnel the falling and flowing waters toward my leg.  Eventually, a substantial amount of diversion was made and I could feel the waters flowing along the length of  my trapped limb and between the large rocks.  I also felt a bit of a tingling sensation as it appeared that my leg though not broken was torn somewhat.  the waters pooling around below my knee darkened with blood.  My concern began to abate however as with a bit of a pulling sensation, I could tell that the diverted stream had begun to wash away some of the small rocks, gravel, clay and silt that had entombed my foot.  I could soon wiggle it and with a small whoosh, it pulled free, the pooled water shooting down between the rocks toward the Widows bath like a drain emptying. 

I pulled myself backward, gingerly examining my leg.  It was bruised and swollen, a few long though not deep lacerations along the shinbone that I could easily bandage for the trek back to the shelter.  I looked down toward the horse, plotting how to free her and most likely put her out of her misery, when the entire surface of the waters churned like a whale nearly but not completely breaching the surface of the sea. I scrabbled back up the slope toward the base of the tree just in time to see a black blue thick rubbery arm slither up the waters of the inflowing stream, slapping, seeking, probing for me.  Grabbing my shotgun and bag, I moved slowly like a crab to the shaded area, intrigued as one in my line of employ is but of course cautious, my leg made progress slow and as expected, painful. 

The arm, appendage, lifted and swung violently, thrashing the rocks and water, coming within ten feet of my position. I feared it would lift itself up onto the shore, gaze upon me with whatever eye or eyes it possessed, and better direct its aim. I slid back as far as I could, into the shady overhang at the base of the cliff, not bothering to concern myself with whatever I was dislodging out of fear for my life.  I heard a snap behind me, rolled to the side as best I could and saw that a coastal taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus), a horribly venomous angry snake with extremely long fangs (yet beautiful coppery brown colorings) had erupted from the leaves piled beneath.  It reared back to strike and I was faced with two forms of death, when the frilled lizard rushed into view, bit the snake at the base of its head and proceeded to roll down the hill toward the waters.  This as you may know is not a normal reaction between the two species, a frilled lizard generally eating only mammals and insects of relatively small size. 

I stood, knowing another snake or more may be I the vicinity and limped to the right to attempt to traverse the remainder of the ridge and make my way back whence I came.  The arm was still thrashing but dislodging loose stones and rocks upon itself.  Eventually, it turned its attention to the horse who was now herself white eyed in fear at the sight of a snake and lizard in a death battle within five feet of her head.  Knowing what I must do, I loaded a shell into the shotgun, aimed first at the probing arm that was tentatively touching the lower half of the horse, then moving a bit closer as I dared , I changed my aim for her head instead, mercy taking over my sense of fear.  I pumped two shots into her skull, killing her near instantly before the revolting rubbery arm had fully wrapped around her flanks and began to twist her free of her rocky captors, in might I say, two distinct pieces.  She slid into the waters and beyond view into the depths just as the lizard and snake separated.  Snake moved off along the shore and lizard turned to face me.  As I watched, it dropped on its side and expired. 

I rapidly as possible walked the length of the lower ledge, then up the embankment to the rocky cliff above the Widow’s Bath.  Staring into the dark , brackish abyss, I was able to discern only a modicum of movement below the surface but enough for my liking.  I took what notes I felt were important, drank my fill of water, bandaged my wounds as best possible, then walked briskly toward a small copse of trees to the west. There, what I deemed a safe distance, I set about constructing a small camp for remainder of the day, for walking in such heat was unsafe especially in my condition.  Come nightfall and the rising of the moon, I walked the five miles back to the shed and paddock, shut the gate and started a massive fire utilizing the wood I had left the night before. I cleared the hut to ensure again no snakes or spiders would interrupt my sleep, and dropped, exhausted into the arms of Morpheus. 

I awoke some ten hours later to a knock on the door and the sounds of shuffling feet.  I stood, forced myself to awaken, stood and opened the door to find the aboriginal Chief standing before me. He handed me a skin of water, a small sack of food and clapped me on shoulder looking sideways into my eyes.  He spoke no words, but for the briefest of moments, I saw his eyes for the space between blinks change to yellow with no whites. They became those of a lizard, and then, they were not. I stepped back and stumbled onto the floor of the shed as the Chief laughed uproariously, something I had not expected from someone so stern. 

He helped me to my feet as his two associates came around the corner with a new, saddled and provisioned horse in tow.  I accepted the loan, and it was made clear that it was such and that I owed them for the lost horse. I accepted, made an oath to repay them their kindness and generosity and made my way back to their village to collect my vehicle. 

There is not much more to this story to add sirs, apart from my assurance that I plan to return with a full crew of students this coming summer and would graciously accept any grants you could bestow me for provision of a confidential, fulsome account, including photographic evidence and mapping, in your hands within three months of my departure. 

 

Yours Sincerely 

Dr. Damien Donovan,

June 20, 1918 

 

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Weekly Update the Second – Timberjack, Golf Sucks and Stop Being A PhotoClown

It’s been a whole week! Or has it.  Maybe not. I’ll forget these if I wait till Friday. Enjoy.

Oh I got side tracked.. Side tracked. One word. Now you get two posts. This was supposed to be up June 16.

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Timberjack

 

Driving in the car the other day with my family and it hit me, “why do people say lumber and timber interchangeably?”. I asked my long suffering spousal unit and she promptly found a website that provides the difference between two similar words.  Apparently, Timber is fallen tree stuff ready to be cut up into Lumber.  There are regionalizations, for example people in Australia (gurus of proper language that they are) refer to lumber as timber.  I think English people do too but they don’t even have trees except ornamental ones that grow spaghetti so their opinions on word use do not count.  Hell they call arugula “Rocket” because French people call it Roquette and they can’t POSSIBLY pronounce something foreign correctly. They also call a zucchini a “vegetable marrow” which is disgusting and dumb. Anyways.  A Lumberjack is a person who cuts down trees for use as lumber but the trees they cut down are not made into lumber until they are hewn at a factory or sorts.. Therefore a Lumberjack using common word use is in fact a TIMBERJACK.  That is all.

Golf

golf-cart

THANKFULLY a golf tournament I attend annually has been cancelled.  It’s free.  Free as in free round of golf, free cart, free meal, one free drink (boozy drink).  I like free.  I used to like golf.  I don’t like golf anymore.  Now I don’t have to golf at all.

Don’t get me wrong, like darts, pool, lawn darts, beanbag toss, horseshoes, dwarf tossing, golf is an at times fun “game”.  It’s not a sport because to me, regardless of the fact you can win money at it and people keep score, it’s based on accuracy and skill not “fitness” so to me it’s just a game.  I like games, I do, don’t get me wrong (again) but to me a game is something you do for fun and riding around with one friend, two strangers, in a small car, hitting a ball, swearing, swatting bugs, watching old men flirt with uni age cart girls, getting sunburnt/stroked then when it’s all over and you want to go home you still hang around the place for drinks and speeches.. That’s a chore.

Plus, when I was a kid golf was cheaper.

Plus when I was a kid, golf had dress codes.

Plus when I was a kid golf courses were less busy.

Plus when I was kid, everyone and their drunken dog didn’t golf.

I have other hobbies and sports to do.  Golf you are dead to me.

Photoclown

clown_crime

Everyone that buys a monster lensed big frigging camera nowadays calls themselves a photographer.  That bugs me.  A friend who DOES this, and does slide a stupid “Photography by Ted Smith. Not for commercial use, copy-write 2017” (not his real name) on his pictures says to me “well, you’re a writer..”. I then remind him I may have written a few books but its not my job and I NEVER call myself a writer.  I also paint pictures in acrylics.  Some people like them. I do not call myself an artist. Sorry but unless you make a living at it, it’s a hobby.  You can make balloon animals, hang out at kids birthday parties and wear lots of makeup. That doesn’t make you a clown.  (Okay it could make you an alcoholic mom who is a bit of clown (pass the wine)..) Speaking of parties, a few years back, an in law invited their cousin to a family xmas gathering.  Small home. Small livingroom.  This person (not related to anyone else in the room) stormed around phot documenting he event with a giant SLR digital taking unplanned action shots of kids opening gifts, me generally avoiding them, people talking.  A full 70% of attendees wanted to kill them. Don’t do this.

That’s all I have.

So in summary:

  • Go ahead buy that nice camera, I would, I wish I had one that was better
  • Putting your name on the photo (especially in script font) is lame
  • Using a HUGE oversized lens when taking photos of anything mundane within 50 feet of you is lame
  • Calling yourself something you are not is lame
  • Toting a huge shoulder bag of lenses and such to a family event makes you target for a punching or at least verbal abuse.

The Christmas Tour

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Oh sister, here they come again!

Oh, oh how do I look? Are they coming up the walk this time?

No one is around.  Get inside fast.

Yes, fine Marie, fine as always.  Yes, here they are, walking up the stairs, they are very quiet mind you.

Oh, get the door, oh wait, they have it.

Welcome to our home, please, shut the door, yes, it is very blustery outside.

This place is a mess!

So dark.  Wow.  How long has it been shut up?

Decades. The most haunted house in Boston.

So you keep saying.

My name is Marie and this is my brother Jacob.  Yes, welcome to our house.  We are so happy you finally decided to come in.  We saw you looking from the street the other day.  We have so few visitors given the weather, please let us show you around.

We apologize for the darkness.  Power is out.  Oh, look Marie, they brought their own torches, so well planned young people!

Let’s go this way.

Okay but stay with me. Don’t wander off and leave me in here.

Why would I do that and let him find you?

Stop it Tom. I’ll leave right now.

Sorry.  C’mon.

Oh yes, very good, very well thought out, I would have never.

Neither I sister. Please feel free to wander, oh, yes, please go ahead, please do. Yes, this is the family room or as you may call it the living room.

Look at the furniture.  It’s just piles of rotten fabric and wood.

Smells like animals have been living in here.

Animals and probably crack addicts.

No, nobody would live in this house.

So you keep saying.

Many a night we spent entertaining others with mama and papa.  She had a grand piano right there.  She would play for hours.

And the tree went right there.  Wouldn’t it be nice to see one again like we used to have?

What is that?

An old tree in a stand, all the needles and balls have fallen off.  Wow.

It’s like an Edward Gorey drawing.

Tall, oh so tall and to the ceiling and a ladder needed to put the star on.

And we tried so hard to not break one of mother’s precious glass balls.

Yes. That was the best plan.

Look over here through the arch.  It’s some kind of dining room with chairs around an old fireplace.

Look at all the rotten books.  They would have been worth money too.  Most of them are really old.

This is creeping me out Tom. I swear it’s getting darker.

Well, yeah, farther from the streetlights.

Oh and so much comes in through the wooden slats and those rotten drapes.

Oh and here is the family room, or the sitting room if you will. A desk for writing, shelves for books, cabinets for whatever your heart desires.

I bet this is where they hooked up.

Who.

You know.

And there is of course the dining room.  Oh the meals we would have. So many people.  With the leaves, that table say all of the extended family.

And then some.

Like when Margaret came with her family.

Enough Marie.

Mister Browning.

Enough Marie. He’ll hear.

Hey, watch the hole in the floor.

Woah, this place is a death trap.

You have no idea.

I will leave Tom.

Sorry, c’mon.  Hold my hand.

Oh, you’ve moved on, sorry.  Yes, the kitchen, in need of some cleaning and the pantry as well. A dumb-waiter that leads to the upper bedroom floor. Exit to the back gardens, again in need of cleaning and weeding. Wait, no, NO you need not go into the basement.

Ah the basement.  Where they found him.

Both of them. So frigging weird.

Here help me with the door.  Its stuck.

Jacob.

No, please, no, NO!  It is unsafe!  The stairs are rotting and the light is out.

I got it open a crack but what a stench.

Oh, shut it Tom.

Ow, crap!  My fingers! Must be some window open down there or something causing a cross breeze.

Are you okay? That wind, oh god it made me gag!

Yeah, just bruised knuckles. Hey, let’s leave this last, let’s go upstairs where all the action took place.

You are so morbid Tom. Okay.

Yes, it is very windy and oh the door is stuck yes.  Please. Yes, I agree.  Onward and of course upward.

Marie, follow them please, I shall re-secure the door.  Father will not be pleased.

Of course Jacob.  What time is it?

Near three-quarters past eleven in the evening.

And it is?

Yes. Almost.

I knew that did I?

Yes. Follow them

These stairs, what a mess.  Watch your step.

Hold my hand Tom. Cripes.  What is that at the top of the landing?

A family painting but, holy crap.  The mother’s face.

Ripped out.

Help me get my headlamp out of my backpack.

What else you have in there Shelly?

Oh, nothing.  Nothing you’ll see till we get out of this place.

Meow.  Here you go,

Finally.  I can see on my own now.

Oh wait up, wait up! It’s good you have your electric torches.  Wait, Jacob are you all right?

Yes.  I’ll be there soon!

Oh, be careful on the stairs, the carpet tacks have popped out.  There are three bedrooms and the servant’s quarters. This was my room, thus the frill.  No, the wardrobes have been, oh.  I see.

This was the daughter’s room.  It looks like it hasn’t aged.

Look in the wardrobe. All these clothes look like new!

Wow. This, is, wrong. So wrong.

That is odd.  I swear they were empty. Oh the dust.  Here, over here, this is Jacob’s room.

Lets, ah, check the next one out.  The brother’s room. Holy crap.  Same thing.

Only a little dust, bed looks like it was made yesterday.

Is that a glass of water?

It can’t be.  Someone else must be sleeping in here.  The roof doesn’t look like it’s leaking and what would the odds be.

A boy room of course, all pennants and rugby balls.  Neither of us have slept in those beds since the night of the party when we returned home from school for Christmas. When father found mother with the..

Shelly, hold up!

Tom, Tom!  In here!  Look at the master bedroom!  It’s so perfectly preserved!

Okay, hold on.  Wow.  This is wrong. I’m taking photos of this.

Wait, Tom, what is that noise?

What? The Wind?

But never mind, please yes, that is the master bedroom. Oh my.

It seems to be coming from that little door in the hallway.

That’s the old servant’s quarters.

Oh.

That’s where he found them.

We should go.

No, hear? It stopped. Just the wind, probably blowing through the crack of that door.  It’s more of a hatch than a door. Doesn’t even fit the frame.

You know what that is.

Oh, yes. You must leave now, please thank you for visiting, if you wish to come back please do at a later, time, oh no, don’t go in there, that is nothing. JACOB!

No you must not enter that room.  I am sorry it is off-limits.  Marie! Help please!

Help me Shelly.

We should go.

Come On Shel!  It’ll be cool.  Nobody else has been here in decades!

And there is a good reason, AS YOU KEEP TELLING ME!

No, please leave now!

You must not, damnation!

Damn, its stuck too. Completely stuck.  The brickwork seems to have fallen and jammed the door.

Good.

That is where…

…it happened.

That is where she died.

And we found her.

This is where she wails night and day.

You know what happened right?

The father found the mother on Christmas eve in that room with another guest, the father of Jacob’s girlfriend.  There was a fight and she died.

The guest, a local merchant, pulled a penknife out of his pocket and in the scuffle that she tried to break up, she was stabbed or slashed in the side of the neck.  She dropped to the floor and her husband slammed the other man’s head against the wall.  He dragged the unconscious man away, who was never found mind you, not knowing his wife was bleeding out on the floor.

That’s horrible.

He had a history of a temper with others but never her. She however was known around town to have many, relations when he was away.

What happened to the other man?

Nobody knows.

And that why we both.

Yes.  We had to.  We had to help father.

She was.

Is.

Was.

Was not kind to him.

They have gone Jacob.

No, they are still here. I sense them.  So does he.

Oh, Jacob.  I hear the door.

The basement!

Father!

Run.

The door is open, oh no.

The door is open!  Shh, there is a light down there. Look.

Are you down here?  You must leave, I insist!

Father? Father are you?

I am here Jacob.  I am here Marie.

It’s coming from behind that shelf. Look.

It’s a door.  Help me.  Help me move it.

Father where are they?

Here, the door, I can see inside. It’s a man.  He is hunched over, crying.

In the room, with the butcher.

Is he awake as well?

Sir, sir, are you okay?  Can we help you?

He is.

Is he mad.

Shelly, you have some food. Bring it here.

But it was for later.

Shelly, listen, church bells.  It is Christmas day.  He can have what we…

The door Tom! The door!

He is never not mad child.

Is mother?

I pay no heed to your mother, the harlot.

Is she in there as well?

She may be. I hope so.  I thought I heard her and woke.

Is she mad too?

No, she is only ever sad.

Are you?

I am happy dear.  Happy we have found them.

And they? The visitors?

Sound like they have met the butcher. He sounds very hungry.

And they?

Have helped us find him. Now to finish what we started.

Merry Christmas Father.

Merry Christmas Children.

 

Frosting

 

No plans made.

No introductions.

No learning one another’s likes, dislikes, wants, yearnings, names.

They passed.

They smiled.

She whispered a hello.

She thought it stupid and forward.

He smiled.

He thought it stupid he didn’t say hello in return

She bought cake mix and sprinkles.

He liked sprinkles.

He wouldn’t ask her to coffee “I never do this, I’m sorry, I’m so embarrassed”

She didn’t invite to share her recipe “I don’t even eat cake. I take it to work.”

He would never learn her husband died the winter past.

“Playing hockey like he was seventeen once a week..”

“.. Drinking beer and eating garbage like he was forty five six days a week”

She would never learn his wife left him for her boss.

“He was married. His wife and I had revenge sex, twice..”

“… they found out. It ended very, very badly.”

He would not know she cried every night until she was asleep

In a pool of tears

She would never learn he spent every day scouring job sites

Hoping to find something dangerous far, far away.

She saw him sitting in his car after he went through the checkout.

He saw her in the produce section.

She hoped he would come back in, she would ask him to coffee.

He debated going back in, he would ask her for her recipe.

Too forward.

Too creepy.

They left alone.

And wasted opportunities frosted the loneliness that baked in their hearts

Tap!

​She looked at me with eyes that forty, maybe fifty years ago, writers would have called “rheumy” eyes. Nowadays to be polite I guess, we would call them wet, tired, perhaps aged (never old) or even teary with wisdom beyond years.  This woman however was just a rheumy eyed grump.  She looked as me, as noted.
“You DON’T know how much money is in your account?  Even an rough idea?”
I smiled.  I cocked my head to the side. “Nope!” and threw in a small laugh. “My wife does all the money stuff.”
In fact I knew roughly what was in there.  I knew exactly how much was in our chequing account on Friday at five PM.  I knew how much we spent on Saturday and Sunday (if I troubled myself to add it up) and could probably have given her an answer.  Granted, she already was treating me like I was some sort of inept scam artist so I thought I would make it hard for her, as she was making the simple task of getting a new bank card hard for me.
I had lost it Friday night past sometime after eight in the evening. I distinctly remember dropping it on a concrete floor and being amused that a rectangular ATM card could roll that well to drop flat twenty feet from me.  I picked it up, held it against the side of my book between it and my glasses case and corralled children into my car to go home.  From that point on, it’s a little blurry.  I dumped my groceries, gear and children inside and went out to start a small bonfire.  I sat in my screen gazebo and listened to old timey radio shows for an hour or so.  Toward the end of the evening I experimented with great success in sleeping right beside a fire (“Like a cowboy!” I told my amused spouse). I do not remember having it since and on Sunday pocketed (with permission) my wife’s new fancy “tap” card (no more codes!) when I ran Boy # 3 to a local mineral show.
Monday arrived and I was frantically searching for her now missing card.  I gave up eventually and promised Karen that I would run to the bank, get a new one and give her it to use until hers was located. Round about ten in the morning I rushed out of my office on a mission.  Google Maps told me that the closest bank (unnamed to protect myself from financial repercussions) was five minutes away.  It was one I had never gone to, me being one of those people that rarely speak to a human at such places voluntarily.  I drove quickly in hopes of getting a new card in the usual (this has happened before) few minutes then running Karen’s newly located card to her at her doctor appointment.  I was equally excited that all new cards were the efficient, time saving “Tap” cards!  Yay Me!
I entered the tiny branch and noticed immediately there were only two tellers.  Normally, be it a bank, retail shop or grocery store, I choose the youngest cashier/server because a) they aren’t jaded to life yet, b) they are pleasing to talk to c) they don’t smell of death.  Being a man approaching fifty, this is my prerogative.  Today however, I had no such choice. I had old, and older.  By luck, chance or curse, the older one became available.  She had (I noticed immediately) a sit down work station.  Something throws me off sitting down to talk banky stuff, but I decided to be the better man and head over, smile on my face, not trying at all to seem like I absolutely hated dealing with monetary things in person.
“Good morning how can I help you?”
She ddn’t seem pleased at all.  Her last name, which I will not state, belayed in advance her pale, dusty appearance.  Her twenty year service award on the wall told me immediately that a) nobody else sat at her special bank teller sit down old grumpy person work station and b) that she probably worked somewhere else for twenty plus years until they managed to shove her out the door as part of a “corporate restructuring” (restructuring her rheumy eyed self out the door.)
“I need a new bank card…” She smiled, kind of, as this would be a routine action for her. “..Beause I’ve been using my wife’s for a few days”.
Wrong thing to say.  I swear she pressed a button marked “scam alert” under her desk.
“I’ll need ID.”
“Of course!” I smiled, handing over my drivers licence and corporate ID card.  No I can’t tell you where from but they are unique and not copyable/forgeable.
She glared at them, then at me (I smiled toothily, rather innocently). “Do you have an XYZ Bank Mastercard?”
She looked like she was about to trip me up.  I smiled again, broadly. “Of course, I also have an XYZ corporate card in my name!” and shoved both black cards across.  She looked at them, at me, at the corporate one, then told me to insert mine into the machine.
“Enter your code.”
I did. But seeing the suspicion, I intentionally hesitated.  I wanted control of this situation.  I was no longer in a hurry. I wanted her to call her manager.
“Ah that’s it.  Same code as everything else!”
“You shouldn’t do that.”
“AH, its okay, that’s what deposit insurance is for!”
She looked like I just told her I ran a dog fighting ring on weekends.
This is when she asked me how much I has in my chequing account and I played stupid.  In all honesty, I was expecting a benefit payment for orthodontic claims from my insurer so I wasn’t one hundred percent sure what would be in there, but I played dumb anyways for reasons previously mentioned.
“Where do you work?”
I told her.  Showed her the name of the corporate entity on the other card.
“Do you know how much you get paid?”
“Every payday?”
“Yes.”
I leaned in as if it was a great secret. “Well, my wife knows accurately, I can call her, but I think its around $Z.ZZ”. $Z.ZZ likely being twice her biweekly pay.  She looked at the screen, sneered slightly and relented. Resignation on her face, she started into a spiel about new ATM cards that were “tap” ready.  “Just like the credit cards.  You tap. No codes!” and she actually smiled, kind of, again, her pearly whites being more grey and dingy than pearly.
I smiled again, cocked my head a bit.  End game.  I would suffer for my win. I knew what to say to crush her morning and make mine that much better.
“Oooh. No. that won’t do. I want a non-tap card.  Can you see if you have one left?”
“But. Why?”
“Don’t know really.  Paranoid I guess.  All that scamming going on.”
She stormed back to the filing cabinet, dug out the last one she could find and reluctantly set it up for me.
As I stood she turned on the bank person charm (finally). “I’m sorry Mister Liddle, for all the questions.  I just haven’t met you before.”
“Possibly the last time really, I don’t usually do in person banking.  Thank you!”
I left smiling, holding back from noting that she might be dead or retired by the time I went back to that branch.
 

The Wedding (part 1)

​Cough, sputter, snort, “aughkoff, koff, blughhh, koff what the fuck?”
That’s how I woke up.  I was flailing in the middle of a lake, dead of night, completely clothed, sans one shoe, sputtering, coughing. I was going to die, then I realized I was in four feet of water and stood up, my unshod right foot slipping off of a rock to enter the gooey floor of the lake only to be retracted in fear and disgust.
I looked around, arms extended into the dark as I turned.  I could see lights and a few fires along the shores and thankfully, the looming dark shape of an island about twenty yards to my right.  Carefully I walked toward it, mercifully not bumping into any denizens of the not-so deep because I would have screamed like a little girl, fallen down and probably actually drowned in the rocky shallows.  I reached shore eventually and assessed my situation while trying to remember how the hell I ended up where I was, late at night, in the middle of a cold, wet, Ontario Lake. Looking down as I did, I saw something rolling in the light wave action a few feet away.  My missing shoe.  Things were looking up.  I was about to yell for help when I heard a sound behind me.  Thinking “motherfucking bear!” I dropped down to a squat, ready to fling myself back into the safety (?!) of the water when I heard the unseen visitor speak.
“eeeoowah trrilp. Trillp flahgd. *Tick*”.
I slammed myself against a nearby tree.  “Motherfucking not-a-bear-something-else!” I thought and held my breath…
Okay. Let me rewind a bit to the week before, before all the fun takes place and I tell you the story as I remember it.  Insert the wavy lines and the “eeeoooeeooowoooeee” sound effects. Okay last phonetic noise word, I promise.
 
ONE WEEK EARLIER
I met Jane at my friend Stan’s house.  Stan is a bit of a freak, he being from Eastern Europe and I do mean east, like he hid behind the iron curtain with his family ignoring the falling of the wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union for ages. They ran a co-operative grocery and book store well past the date most everyone there had adopted the western ways. It was only after his parents died and he was offered a bazillion bucks by McDonalds to sell their property did he become the poster child for bad Euro stereotypes.  He moved to Canada, hooked up with a fellow former die-hard socialist (who started shaving under her arms only last year) Helga (German, of course) and made a bunch more money buying and selling slums to new immigrants looking for real estate investments.  He’s horrible but he adopted me as his Canadian pal a while back.  Not being all that socially adept, I hang around.  I’m honestly not all that into trying to find friends so when people gravitate to me (and they do for some reason) I entered their orbit.
Jane worked for one of Helga’s friends at the seniors’ home.  Instantly she took a liking to me (seriously, I don’t know why) and after an evening of Cards Against Humanity, crappy Polish beer and bad Euro-pop music (including some drunk dancing I am embarrassed to say) we ended up in the spare room.  When I woke, she was gone but my phone now had her number in it and a text message that read “great nite! Stan was right, we are ‘gud 2gether”! I’ll send deets on wedding by wed. xoxo (smiling lips emoticon)”
Stan was up, hungover and loud.  I ate some cereal, helped him cleanup and Helga drove me home in silence till she pulled up to my place. “You be nice to her or I gut you like a fish. We’ll be at the wedding too so you better not bail on her”.
She didn’t even look at me as exited her Camero, sputtering an “of course, thanks, where is this wedding anyways”?
‘Canoe Lake.  We will drive. Dress nice.”
And away she sped.  Stan texted me later to explain that Helga did not in fact agree that Jane and I would be “gud 2gether” and that I was an ass to women.  I disagreed and he did too, we both agreeing that I just have not found the right girl yet and that they are all crazy and that we should NEVER EVER say this to Helga or anyone else in fact because we would be spurned by all women in the future because they all talk and are in fact borderline psychopaths when it comes to men who are not all that “call you back” ish which I am not. (Sorry that should be three sentences at least. You get what I mean right?)
I spent the day recovering, went to the gym, received three clingy texts from Jane and came home to find her sitting on my front step in a pretty sundress, hair glistening in the sun, aviator sunglasses and running shoes. She said “Hi Sailor”, handed me a bouquet of flowers she had hidden in my mailbox, kissed me on the cheek and actually skipped away down the street, turning after a few houses to yell back “just passing by!  See you soon handsome”!
I went inside, checked that all doors were locked, windows locked from inside and called Stan to ask him what he got me into.  He wouldn’t answer and just texted back “just go with it stupid.  H here. Talk later”.
Thankfully the rest of the day went by without incident, as did Monday and Tuesday.  That night I decided to text her to be nice, even though she seemed whacked and because well, I am male and you know. Girls.  She didn’t respond till seven asking “Hey whatcha up to”.
“Watching TV”
“Eat yet?”
“Just some salad and popcorn”
“You need proper food. I’m bringing pizza.”
And within an hour she was with me, happily watching all my stupid shows, eating pizza (she badgered Stan till he told her what I liked on it) and sitting far too close for someone I only met a few days earlier.  Okay, Granted we already slept together and she did type “xoxo” in a text so it shouldn’t be such a surprise but still, you know what I mean right? No? Girls.
Next morning we had breakfast and I dropped her off at her place on my way to work.  She grabbed my hand and wrote the address on my palm and made me promise to meet up that night and bring wine. I drove off smiling.  She was nice enough, a tad weird and clingy but what the hell.  I spent the day slogging through my report reviews and ignoring my phone as it went BING then BUZZ (when I finally turned it to vibrate after my coworker Annie gave me the fourth dirty look over my cubicle wall). At four pm I looked at the array of messages from Jane (semi-creepy clingy but sexy nice girl things only), Stan (“she likes you. Helga is happy”) and Helga (“I am so happy YOU BE NICE TO HER OR I WILL SLIT YOUR THROAT (heart)”). I sped to the gym, then home, picked up Chinese food (smartly checked with Helga) and showed up at Jane’s.
When one hears “minimalist apartment” one might think “less than average furnishings”.  One may also think “muted colours” or “line artwork”. One does not usually think “An apartment where every single stick of the furnishings, few that they are, are either white or black.  The covers of books on the shelf are the only colours brightening up the place and would probably sport white or black covers if she could find them.” Or “An apartment where the occupant wears brilliant coloured clothing in sharp contrast to the rest of the place making her look like cartoon character superimposed into frames of a black and white movie.  It was cool, very cool. Weird but not unexpected.  She said “make yourself at home” which is kind of hard when I half expected an old school Mickey Mouse to show up being chased by Bluto on a train at some point.  She came back, hair wet, showered, in a new dress (she liked her dresses) and we proceeded to eat and discuss the wedding. 
It was “at a lake!”.  It was “at a cottage!”.  It was small(!). Helga would drive us there and back because Helga didn’t sleep in trailers or rental cottages and Stan would be drunk before he arrived most likely, being Stan. It would be “awesome” apparently and she couldn’t wait to show me off. Feeling tired from work and the gym and stupid all-you-can-eat-to-counteract-the-gym buffet Chinese food, I hung out for a while, tried to suggest I go home and let her do whatever and I just ended up in bed with her again. I’m not complaining.  I had been single for almost a year and had just started Googling “health benefits of celibacy” the day before I met her. I was a happy camper and not about to do my usual micro-assessment of the relationship at this point.  She was too hot, just the right height, she didn’t have monstrous hands of feet or a third nipple and I liked her little flirty texts and the general weird stuff.  (I gave her three months tops).
Morning came (not just the morning mind you) and I skedaddled just in time to run in the house, shower, eat some granola and cold French fries, replenish my lunch foods, gym clothes, feed the cat and walk outside to be hit in the face with a wet newspaper.  The little bastard that threw it actually said sorry but as I don’t read let alone subscribe to a newspaper I yelled “asshole” at him, laughed when he crashed his bike into a hedge trying to avoid a dog and began to wonder why the paper was wet on a sunny day like today.
Needless to say, against the will of the print mass media and my new girlfriend/cartoon character, I made it to work.
Friday came (no I won’t make the same joke again) and I did not.  I did however go out and purchase a bit of clothing for the wedding and a flask.  Yes, a flask.  I also purchased some scotch. Yes, Scotch and a flask, like an old timely cowboy or Sherlock Holmsian character.  Why?  Well, because, as much as this may shock you, I don’t really do well in crowds or social events when I am not with people I know.  It’s a kind of, well, a social anxiety thingy.  However, much like an unnamed nerdy character on a popular TV show (popular generally among non-nerdy people) who needs booze to talk to women, I find it is easier to acclimatize to a social setting if there is alcohol involved.  Not wanting my new girlfriend to think I am an alcoholic, it is easier to have a bit in my pocket I can slip into the occasional cup of “soda” than run to the bar over and over.  Go forth young psychologists, analyze me. I dare you. 
I avoided the pleas to hang out that night and spent it playing video games, trying clothes on and preparing for social conversations I would be, as a captive audience, forced to take part in.  Where I worked (“Acme Corporation! We make Anvils!”), how I knew Jane (‘We met last weekend! We boink a lot!”), what my favorite video games, books and movies are (okay this where my conversational planning went sideways). The normal things. I then had a few beer and fell asleep on the couch only to wake up in a panic as the power was out.  Scrambling around, I found my way to the bedroom and finished my fitful sleep, waking at eight in the morning, again, in a panic, because there was a warm body next to me.
When I finally explored the person’s exterior, jumping back when it snorted, a delicate girlish snort mind you, I realized it was Jane and not a dead hooker.  I had of course forgotten to lock the door in my blackout panic and she had driven over and slipped in because she was scared.  We woke, went back to sleep (no I won’t make the joke again) and we came to the conclusion that we needed to get ready.  I grabbed all of my things, clothes, wallet, phone, charger, flask (filled with decent 90 proof single malt Social Lubrication) and shoes.  Grabbing breakfast on the way, we ended up at Jane’s place. I showered, dressed and proceeded to fall asleep watching Netflix while she decided what to wear.  Occasionally I was asked for my (useless) opinion.  I liked everything she threw on, marveled at her ability to change her hairstyle for each outfit so quickly, and began to frantically look at my watch.  Finally, she popped out in a very 1940’s looking floral dress and we headed out to Stan’s.
The drive was uneventful until we reached the point along the highway where Jane said “it’s a road up ahead that we will probably miss as it’s a dirt road with no sign.”  I and Stan remained silent on this point wondering why she wasn’t using at least GPS on her phone, given that we were to be there ten minutes from then. “Oh there it is, turn”!  Helga skidded, drifted like a pro, nearly killed a hippie walking his mangy Irish setter and raising a cloud of dust that landed as I watched upon yet another Birkenstock shod antiperspirant shunner and their twenty or so amateur hobbyist bee hives.  Screaming erupted behind us as we closed the sunroof and windows and cranked the A/C. Note: Nobody should have an apiary twenty yards from a major highway.    Secondary note: Nobody who does not own proper bee farmer gear should operate an apiary. We navigated the twisty, windy, dusty road until finally we reached the cottage. 
I find it funny sometimes that people I know claim to be heading to “the” cottage when in fact it isn’t their cottage, but that of some extended family member. It’s just a pet peeve of mine.  I wouldn’t say that.  I wouldn’t say “I left my wallet in my car” if it was a friend’s car I borrowed, I’d say “the” car. I wouldn’t say “I’m going to go grab my girlfriend’s bum” if it was my friend’s girlfriend.  I also find it odd that people say they have a cottage to get away from things when in fact they are always working on something constructive every weekend they go to their cottage. There is always a long list of projects to be accomplished and they start talking about them in the winter. “Have to do the roof this year” yet they ignore the roof on their actual house.  Also, have you ever been down one of these cottage roads?  Houses in the city aren’t as close as these buildings are.  I honestly think that cottage people aren’t people who want to get away from the city and people for peace and quiet, they are folks who want an entirely different life and social network to escape to. One where you wear shorts, rarely shower, drink all day and when the kids go to bed you can bang each other in a boat.  Okay I think I just sold myself on buying a cottage. Nevermind, ignore the above paragraph.
We arrived and found we were in fact not late at all. Helga and Stand just told us two-thirty as they knew Jane would be late.  Good planning. I will remember that for the next three months till I get a less tardy girlfriend.
We walked from the car to the cottage, she adjusted my clothes three times in fifty feet, I was introduced to the bride (Natalie) and the groom (Ted) and shown where to drop off the gift and where the bar was.  Jane then proceeded to vanish with Helga, leaving me with drunk Stan who then headed to the bar and disappeared to chase a rental peacock along the shore of the lake.  I didn’t know you could rent peacocks.  I like to think there was no peacock as it suits my reality a bit better but since that day I have seen the ads.  I was alone and stood looking around at about fifty strangers in suits and ties in the hot sun. I realized I didn’t bring anything cooler to slip into afterwards but decided it was okay, it would cool down.  At this point I had no idea how wrong I was.
Just as I was on drink two, Jane appeared beside me, dragged me around to meet everyone else, decided we needed a drink (yay Jane!) and commandeered chairs where we could see people but not be central. I was happy(er) and content to continue my secret tippling.
The wedding began, vows exchanged, rings worn, kisses made, photos taken, snacks arrived, an announcement that the actual meal would be in two hours made. Sorry, I will not elaborate on that sentence because I am male and we don’t pay attention to such things. I will note that I met my future next girlfriend for two months and twenty nine days from now.  Stripy dress, blond hair and brown eyes.  I pointed her out to Jane who agreed she would be a good replacement should she be hit by a meteor or abducted by El Salvadorian rebels which was just a ridiculous idea since that war has been over for years but I didn’t point this out as it was getting dark and booze and fireworks and apparently we already ate and now I remember the meal and yeah my flask was empty.
Fireworks were lit, one guys who was also imbibing at my rate set fire to his pants apparently but they were at the side of a lake so all was well apparently.  We moved to a nice romantic dark spot near the water’s edge to watch the show and Jane snuggled up to me.   I was too far gone to be romantic so began to discuss the metals and chemicals used to create the different colours of the fireworks when the finale, five huge charges, were set off at once.
There was a huge flash! Five booms echoing across the lake!  Yelling from other cottages! Laughing from the men of the wedding! A monstrous splash in the lake and running, lots of running, I lost a shoe in the panic, there was tripping, screaming, falling and something about me getting into a boat.
Cough, sputter, snort, “aughkoff, koff, blughhh, koff what the fuck?”
As mentioned before, I’m in the lake. 
 (To Be Continued)

Saturday Morning Rap

Okay it has rained all night

And I’d like it to stop

My cats are going crazy

As it’s flooding my crop

And by crop I mean my lawn

Which is brown as a Greek

No that isn’t racist

Had spanokopita this week

I think I want souvlaki

and some ouzo too

And maybe I’m just hungry

as its breakfast time ooh!

But there’s nothing good to eat

But cereal made from quinoa

A weird hippie  concoction

That tastes all zippadee doo dah

Rainy day movie

Yes! Song of the South!

But it’s racist, you can’t rent it

Without soap for your mouth…

Sorry. It’s 8:22 and all I’ve had is three coffee. .
good morning Vietnam!

Zzz