Saturday, September 4, 2010

The House on Haunted Hill

This movie is garish, tacky, and completely over the top. It has Vincent Price, skeletons, heavy drinking, bad marriages, greed, and bubbling acid. And it is all 32 flavors of awesome. Hulu is pretty dang nifty.

I Will Haunt The Fuck Out of You - A Respectful Commentary

Everyone wants to be remembered after they breathe their last breath. I’m no exception. I’m not in bad health, and I haven’t ratted out any organized crime figures. But still, it’s always important to be prepared for death.

That’s why I want to say in a very public way, so as many people know as possible, that there are certain ways that I do not want to be memorialized. And if you do one of these things after I’m gone, if there’s any way at all that I can accomplish it, I will crawl out of my grave-hole as some kind of hideous, half-rotten, undead Nosferatu. I will find you, and I will fuck you up, freak-style.

First: No car stickers. I don’t know who started this, or what kind of person thinks that it’s appropriate to remember the dead by slapping an adhesive In Loving Memory sign right between your city tag and the bumper sticker that reads “I’m not as think as you drunk I am,” but if you and I have been friends long enough that you’re considering this kind of memorial, just know that before I step into the warm light where I can hear the Lord calling me, I will excuse myself to go back to earth and disconnect the brakes on that car of yours, just as you try to slow down at the four-way intersection so the 18-wheeler squashes you flat, you NASCAR-loving redneck son of a bitch. Even if it gets me thrown into hell, I will destroy you and your stupid fucking Camaro. How do I know you have a Camaro? I just do.

Second: murals. In the months following my death, someone may be spray-painting some giant “Look at all the dead people I can draw in a crude 8th-grade art class style” kind of sign on the security grill of a grocery storefront, and my picture will get lumped together between Princess Di and Tupac Shakur, right below the sign that says, “Stay in school, kids. Users are losers.” This is kind of a stretch, I know. But I just want it on the record, that if you do this, you will come home at night, and I will waiting in the dark, smelling of carrion and dank earth, and I will grab your arm with inhuman strength, rip it off, and beat you to death with it.

Sampling’s out too. That should be obvious. People sampling tracks from dead folk is wrong. You know how Natalie Cole did that duet with the recorded voice of her dead father? I always thought a much more dignified way of remembering him would be to have him stuffed and mounted like some Disney-style animatronic puppet and then charge people 50 cents a pop to line up and kick him in the nuts. I don't think I've actually been recorded too often. But it pays to prepare.

Memorial websites: I raise an army of ghouls who eat you alive.

T-shirts that say “We miss you!”: Your living room starts seeping blood.

You make a donation to some organization I’ve never heard of: A portal to hell opens up in the tub while you’re taking a shower.

I think I’ve made my wishes clear. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

A Contract With The Devil

This is the alleged contract entered into evidence during the 17th century trial of Urbain Grandier on charges that he made a deal with the devil. Grandier was convicted and burned at the stake. Note the backward Latin and the signatures of seven different devils at the bottom.

Wikisource Latin has the original text here. And you can read the account in Celebrated Crimes by Alexandre Dumas over at Project Gutenberg.

Hellhound On My Trail by Robert Johnson

Another classic song about damnation by the master.

Me And The Devil Blues by Robert Johnson

The video is by an illustrator named Ineke Goes. And the song is from a blues master, who -- as legend has it -- paid the ultimate price for his talent.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Scarecrow - A Short Story

In the spring of 1862, 100,000 armed men came out of Norfolk spoiling for Richmond.
They were Union troops, and they tracked the York River into the heart of Virginia. No one had studied siege warfare as thoroughly as their leader, Gen. McClellan. He aimed to level Richmond, shattering the Confederate capital and the Rebel force in a single strike.
These were religious times; the men who fought under McClellan had read their Bibles. They knew the prophecy of John the Divine – the moon blackening, the rivers filling with blood. A last decisive battle between the armies of good and evil. They laced their boots. Shouldered their rifles. And got ready for the end of the world.

“What’s that?”
“Over there,” Hull said, pointing at a thick of grass. You couldn’t see it at first in the shadow of the scarecrow hung from an old post. But down in the reeds, they spotted a flash of Federal blue.
It was a private. He was lying face up – white skin marked in the neck with a single wound the color of dried mud. His fingers were splayed out, and one leg was folded over the other, the way they used to picture knights in the Crusades. His mouth hung open in a terrible gasp that seemed to go on and on.

There were others – six more hidden in the field. Some with hands cupped over their faces like penitents, some with arms stretched out like martyrs. Some had folded up on themselves like insects on a sill.

“Strip them down,” said the captain, “Rank, papers, powder, and supplies. You, you and you, Hull. Do it. Now. The rest of you. Over there, dig.”

Private Clay and the rest of the men went across the tracks, and started to spade out shallow trenches in a clearing. The sun was high, and the heat, the smell of sweat and honeysuckle, and the steady drone of bugs in the field made him dizzy and weak. He lost track of time, spooning the dirt out, and going back for more, keeping up with the men so he wouldn’t be yelled at. The hole they were in deepened.

Clay’s unit, the Fifth Pennsylvania, had come up from Eltham early this morning. The Yankees had secured it a week ago, and seized West Point right after. The Fifth Penn had to stake out a position up the rail spur, at Cohoke, and guard it against the Texan units somewhere to the west. If McClellan could hold the spur long enough, he’d be able to move heavy artillery and supplies right to Jeff Davis’ door.

“Torpedoes all over,” Hull called out good-naturedly to Clay, “Watch you don’t blow your hands off.”
“Hull, do you want to do the rest of this job by yourself?” the captain asked, just as good-naturedly. Hull ducked down and finished his work.

They rode Clay horribly, all of them did. They thought he was thick and green – liable to get them all killed. What they hated the most was how he asked a question after everything the captain said. He always needed it cleared up for him. Clay was careful – he was so damned careful he sparked you right off, and you couldn’t help but ride him a little.

What they did most was give him ludicrous advice, just to see if he’d take them seriously. Knulty spent the first night they’d gotten to Yorktown, showing him how to cover his face with dirt so Magruder’s sharpshooters wouldn’t kill him. Garrity went to great pains showing him how to filter his drinking water through his hat so he wouldn’t get “White Fever.” Clay usually took it. He was a tailor, and he wanted to get home in one piece more than anything, and he was never quite sure it wasn’t the one thing he needed to know.
“That scarecrow is like something out of a sermon,” said Hull. It hung there in the gathering dusk – about seven feet tall, with a face white with ash, and two purple-black smudges of berry juice for eyes. Its hands were two raggedy stuffed gloves, and it held out a rusted scythe. The wind rustled it, and Hull shivered. Clay put his arms in his shirt and hugged himself against the chill. The two of them had pulled first watch, and they stood by the rail spur while the rest of the men began snoring as soon as the sun went away.
The rails were new – only a year old – and they gleamed like teeth in the moonlight. Hull suddenly had no smart remarks to say. And Clay found himself missing them.
An hour passed. Then another. Then the sound came from the rails. A low hum, so soft you could never tell for sure when it stopped or started. But it got into the bones behind your ear, and you couldn’t not hear it. They didn’t wake anyone up. Not the captain, not Knulty. Just stood there, listening, trying to figure it out. And even after they were relieved, and Clay went into his tent, he couldn’t get the sound out of his ears. When he shut his eyes, it gave him a sensation that he was traveling over ground quickly and softly – the same feeling you get when you’re drunk and trying to sleep, or when you turn in after spending the whole day on a moving train. He rolled across dark terrain in his dreams and saw strange things pass him too quickly to recognize.
The next day, an old trader came into camp. His skin was gray and his hair was a wheat-colored mess. But his eyes were a sharp blue, and his cheeks had plenty of blood in them. He brought out a couple of Mason jars of corn whiskey, and Knulty bought one. The others were dickering on the tobacco, when Clay asked him if he’d heard strange sounds making his rounds the night before.

“A lot of strange things happen in this place,” he said, “Maybe you shouldn’t be here.” Everyone but Clay smiled at the man. Clay got serious, and tried to ask him what he meant. But the captain cut in.
“Okay,” he said, “You’ve had your fun. Now’s the time to pack up and leave.”
“Of course,” the old man said, “One more thing. Here.” He handed Clay an old blanket, ripped all over, “Here, this is useless to me, and I haven’t been able to sell it. But a good hand at sewing like yourself – you should be able to use it.” Clay accepted the gift with a dumb nod. That night, just after his watch, he got back into the tent, and started stitching, when Clay and Knulty both came in, calling for the captain.
“Damnedest thing, sir,” they said, almost in unison, “Come see this.”
The captain trotted out, everyone followed, and they all stared up past the dark scarecrow in the field at the rails ahead. Up ahead through the light rain showers they saw it – a slow, steady light was coming down the rail. It was yellow-white, bright as a train lamp, and it hung in the air three or four feet up. It followed the tracks toward them, then disappeared when it was twenty feet off. Then, a few moments later, it appeared about twenty feet behind them, and continued down south and away. And the low hum was strong and even now, like an engine heard from far off.
“It’s got to be… Well, it’s just a… Damn.” That’s all the captain said. They looked at him.
“Move the camp away from the rails,” he said, “And then let’s get some sleep.”
“Captain, you could hear other things, if you really listen to that humming sound,” said Hull, “There was a melody to it or something. It…”
“Hull, if I have to tell you again, you’re going to spend the rest of the night on post.”
They moved the camp further into the field. And Hull and Knulty spent the rest of their watch, staring at the lights coming down the rails, and straining to hear what they could out in the forest. The wind slipped by the scarecrow – just a black clump of straw on the horizon – and he shook, but said nothing.
Clay went to relieve them. Just before Hull retired, he turned back to Clay, and said the weirdest thing – Clay almost thought he was trying to put some fear into him. But one look told him Hull was dead earnest.
“Do you think bad attracts bad the way like attracts like?” he asked, and didn’t wait for an answer. All night, Clay thought about it. When he came back to the tent, he started answering Hull, talking at great length. Until he realized Hull was breathing heavy and steady.
“Sorry,” he said, even though he hadn’t actually woken Hull. And he turned to give him a last look before slipping away into sleep. There Hull was in the dark, sleeping, breathing steady and heavy, long after midnight.
Only his eyes were wide open. He’d been dead asleep, staring straight into the back of Clay’s head.
The next morning they woke up at first light, and found Hull gone. Clay hadn’t heard him slip out – but his bed was packed, and his gear had gone with him. The captain marked him down as a runaway, but Clay didn’t think it was so.
“He was there when I went to sleep,” Clay said, “I think something happened to him.”
“Clay, stop stirring up the men.”
“No, sir,” Clay said, “I don’t think he ran away at all. I think something bad happened to him.” But the captain didn’t believe him, and the scarecrow shivered in the early breeze and said nothing. And Hull didn’t appear to prove either of them wrong.
“Reinforcements coming today,” he said, “Keep your pants dry, and we’ll make out fine.”
They kept close to camp all day, and tried to talk about other things besides Hull. Clay went to stitching his blanket, muttering to himself how no one listened. When the sun fell, the reinforcements hadn’t arrived yet, so they split the watch up through the night. Clay went out when it was his turn, and he was sure something would come for him. But it didn’t. All night it was just him and that scarecrow, shaking and jimmying in the breeze, with the strange sounds coming off gleaming steel.
But an hour after he tucked himself in, he heard it. Hull was just outside the tent somewhere, whispering for him. “Clay,” he said, “Come out, Clay. Come follow me.” But Clay tucked his head away, and tried not to think about it. Eventually, the noise went away, and dawn came. Whether

Clay had gotten any sleep, he couldn’t say.
But Knulty and one of the others had gone.
“I don’t think they’ve run,” Clay said to the captain, “Sir, I think we’re in danger here.”
But the captain still didn’t believe him. They were far away from camp, undersupplied, and these men were homesick. He’d seen it before. The scarecrow just stared out from the field and said nothing. And no one showed up that day to prove either of them wrong.
The men spent the day asking the captain about the reinforcements, and he just shook his head and told them to shut up. When the sky had gone dark with the sun burning up in the west, they started dividing up the watch, arguing over it more than before. Because Knulty had gotten the last watch, just before dawn. And even though they wouldn’t let themselves believe Clay, no one wanted it.
“I’ll do it,” Green said finally.
That night, just after his watch, Clay tucked himself in, and listened to the wind, and the rain misting down.
“Come with us, Clay,” said the voices outside the tent.
“Come with us and walk the rails.”
The next day Clay was exhausted. He spent all day stitching into the blanket, and cutting up his fingers with the needles, he was so jittery. The night before, Green had gone, taking Garrity and Krieg with him.
The captain wanted to march back to camp at West Point, but the rains came heavy, and the mud was thick and impossible to pass. The four of them who were left just waited inside the tent, hoping for nothing that reinforcements would somehow make it. And outside, the scarecrow hung his head low in the downpour, as if he couldn’t bear to look.
When night came, the rains cleared, leaving the air fresh and moist. Almost at once, the rails next to them started humming, louder than ever. And already, they could see lights glimmering in the distance.
“I think we should go now,” said Clay.
“Shut your mouth,” said the captain, grimly, looking out the tent flap.
“I really do, sir,” said Clay, looking up from his sewing, “We’re in danger.”
The men looked at Clay, then back at the captain.
“Clay, you’ll be quiet.”
“Captain,” said Clay quietly, “The first night, just one man disappeared. The next night two left, then…”
“Clay…” he said, low and dangerous.
“Then three, and now there are only four of us,” Clay finished quickly. The two others opened their mouths, and no sound came out. The captain looked back at them and knew he was losing control.
“That’s it,” he said, and grabbed Clay by the collars, “Out you go, Clay. You’ll be posting watch all night tonight. Fall asleep on duty, and I promise you you’ll have a court-martial coming to you.”
Clay stepped out, looked back once, and then went to watch. The breeze was waking up from the rain. The rails were buzzing even louder, making crazy patterns in his inner ear – lights flashing up north, and coming steadily toward them. And out in the blank field, the scarecrow was rustling a little more violently than before, almost like he was rousing himself from a long sleep. The air was warm, and too close. Clouds scudded across the sky. Clay waited for whatever was going to happen.
Two days later, the relief finally came up from West Point. When they reached Cohoke, they found a single tent between a field and the rail spur. The ground around the tent was strewn with shirts, caps, and linen. And in the tent, they found Clay, sewing and muttering to himself. Underneath his bunk was a box with badges, medals, and ribbons belonging to everyone in the Fifth Pennsylvania. Along with a dirty spade and a hand axe crusted with dark matter.
Clay smiled up at the Sergeant in charge.
“I told them they were in danger,” he said, “But they wouldn’t listen to me. They just wouldn’t listen.” The Sergeant had Clay dragged out into the road and shot on the spot. The troops burned his tent, and everything in it to the ground.
And though they spent the next two days searching through the area, they never found the remains of the Fifth Penn. But a few miles into the forest from Cohoke, there’s a scarecrow in a field that grows a lush green early every spring, and stays that way until late in the fall.
And if you follow the rail spur on a warm and misty night in these parts, you might still hear low sounds coming down off the rails, and see lights playing in the distance. Just don’t stay too long. Something might come out from the trees and call you by name.
Related Posts with Thumbnails