Thursday, July 28, 2016

SOLDIERS - a paranormal short story

Jim and I crossed the state line at noon, black Kansas thunderclouds chasing up behind and miles of highway still ahead.  Swirls of ocher powder daubed the once pale sky and tumbleweeds rolled along the highway like steel balls in a giant pinball machine.  A heavy wind whipped the car and scared pheasant and jackrabbits lolling in the ditch.
Awakening from a fitful dream, I rolled up the windows of Jim’s old beater and pulled a bandanna over my face.  Earlier that morning we’d left Omaha, stopping only once to relieve ourselves by the side of the road.  Jim’s mood, like the weather, was foul and he hadn’t spoken in two hours.  Refraining from disturbing his trance, I folded my arms, braced myself against the seat and closed my eyes to lock out the storm.  Jim’s mood and the piston drone knocking beneath the hood.
Three miles across the border, the storm caught us, turning dust into rivulets of mud on the car’s hood.  Rain blistered the windshield leaving only flashes of visibility between labored swaths of slow moving wiper blades.  Then a billboard, barely visible through the downpour, alerted us to a truck stop up ahead.  When we reached it, we found a weather-beaten filling station beside a roadside juke joint.
Jim said, “I’m tired of fighting this storm,” and eased into the gravel parking lot, but the storm hadn’t tired of jousting us.  As we ran for the front door, it bombarded us with falling missiles, thunder shuddering the walls as we entered.  We removed our wet ponchos and shook ourselves like two retrievers coming out of a pond, then gazed around the room until our eyes adjusted.
Five dismal patrons gazed back at us.  Strobe shadows, cast by neon beer signs, cloaked four dingy walls and through the pallor, a middle-aged bartender behind the counter, mindlessly polishing a glass with a white rag.
In back, a beefy man played pool alone.  The faded rose tattoo on his hairy arm matched the exact hue of his sleeveless T-shirt.  Before turning away to continue his lonely game, he gave us a a quick once-over.  A man and woman, immersed in their own whispered conversation, glanced up when we arrived.  An old man in a wheel chair watched us approach the bar, his rheumy eyes never blinking.
Jim slapped his palm against the counter, stared at the bartender and said, “Two draws, and a tequila shooter.”
“You boys old enough to drink?” the bartender asked.
Jim glared without answering but I said, “We’re both twenty-one.”
Red hair and ruddy Irish complexion melded with Jim’s high Indian cheekbones, and even when he smiled he seemed angry.  He wasn’t smiling.  With a frown on his own craggy face, the bartender glared back at him until he finally noticed our short hair and clean shaves.
“Soldiers?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Artillery?”
“Infantry,” Jim said.
Muscles twitched in the bartender’s neck and he smoothed the greasy black hair of his head and then his mustache, with his fingers.
“Guess if you’re old enough to fight, you’re old enough to drink.”
He laughed and it quickly drew into a dry hacking cough.
“Damn right,” I said.
Watching us from the corner of his eye, the sullen bartender drew the beer.  As he did, Jim stared bullet holes in his back, even as I nudged him the ribs with my elbow.  The bartender returned with two beers and a tequila shooter and Jim immediately killed the shot/ When he slammed the glass against the bar, sharp sound echoed like the crack of a small caliber rifle through the room.
After finishing his beer in one long pull, he nodded at the two empty glasses and said, “Again.”
Again, errant muscles twitched in the bartender’s neck as he drew another beer from the tap and reached behind him for the tequila.  Jim finished his second shot and glanced around the room like a stray cat in a strange barn.
“Easy,” I said, eyeing his empty glass.  “Got ourselves a long way to go yet, buddy.”
With a smirk, he said, “In a hurry, sport?”
Intent on the couple in the back of the room, he didn’t see me shake my head.  Looking like a middle-aged farmer, the man was dressed in overalls and baseball cap.  The woman’s sallow, weather-beaten face pegged her as his wife.  We watched the farmer slam his hand against the table, hard enough to rattle both of their beer mugs, and glare as if he were about to strike her.
“If you had a lick of sense, woman, you’d know what a fool question that is.”
Apparently, she didn’t and her unspoken reply filled the room with silent reverberations.  As we watched the scene unfold, Jim’s shoulders tensed and he stepped away from the bar.  Grabbing his elbow, I held on.
“Not this time.”
Halting, Jim tried to stare me down, but I stood my ground, shaking my head.  Then, immersed in our trance, we both jumped when the bartender slapped his hand against the counter.  When we wheeled around, we found him leaning over the bar with an amused look on his whiskered face.
“Didn’t mean to scare you boys. ‘Nother beer?”
“Sure,” I said.
He asked our names when he returned.
“I’m Paul and this is Jim.”
“Proud to meet you.  Name’s Ezekiel, but people round here just call me Zeke.”
I shook his hand; Jim didn’t bother.  Instead, he asked, “What’s the story on the old man in the wheelchair?”
“Rivers is his name.  We call him Old Man Rivers,” he said, chuckling at his little joke.
With a lidless stare, the old man in the wheelchair glared at us through the crumpled mass of oblique wrinkles obliterating his withered face.  Large angry gaps pitted his features, weathered and spongy as fallen white cake, and a half-smoked cigarette rested between gray lips.  Like tangles of red snakes on cold stones, broken capillaries veined his nose and eyes.  With gnarled hands clawing the wheelchair and bony arms like the plastic limbs of a child’s discarded doll, he looked like warmed-over death.
“I’m buying,” Jim said.  “Give him whatever he wants.”
After pouring a shot of bourbon, Zeke tilted back the old man’s head and dribbled liquor into his mouth, causing his blotchy tongue to wriggle like an earthworm growing desperate on a sharp hook.
Jim smiled and said, “Give him another.”
As I was watching Zeke whiskey-nurse the old man, someone tapped my shoulder.  Six inches from my nose, a pool shooter blithely invaded my space, smiling insanely and blinking one discolored eye that looked to me like a spoiled eye yolk.  I backed against the bar.  When he spoke, his stale breath smelled like battery acid gone sour.  Stumbling slowly over his words, he said, “I’m Doyle.  Was a soldier once myself.  Ol’ Man River’s my Daddy.”
I said, “That right?”
Doyle grinned and pumped his head like a long-handled water pump.  “Nah, not really, but I like to call him that.”
Noticing Jim’s amused smile, I backed even further away from the counter, but Doyle pivoted and followed me like a machine gun on a swivel turret.  Then lightning struck, shaking rafters and sucking air from the room like a giant accordion.  Doyle grimaced like a frightened child and drifted back to the red glow emanating from the swaying fixture above the pool table.  Raising an index finger, I signaled Zeke to bring more beer.
When Zeke brought our drinks, he grinned and said, “Doyle’s a little nuts.  Myra takes care of him.
“Myra?”
“Lives with the Stewarts,” he said, pointing at the couple in the back.  “Looks after Doyle and takes care of Old Man Rivers.  Brings them in every morning.  Comes and gets them every night.”
Zeke’s mention of Myra prefaced her appearance through the back door - a pretty girl with pale skin and colorless blonde hair.  Thin and wispy fabric clung in blue waves to every subtle feature of her diminutive frame.  And, like a low cloud wafting slowly in a gentle breeze, she approached the counter and squeezed in between Jim and me.  Zeke placed a glass of white wine in front of her.
“You must be Myra,” Jim said, suddenly becoming verbose.
“Yes.”
“Rain’s a little heavy outside.  We came in to drink beer and wait it out,” he said.
In a lilting, whimsical voice she replied, “Come in and I will give you shelter from the storm.”
As Jim listened to her recite the line from the old Dylan tune, his neck inexplicably flushed crimson.  As if reading my thoughts, Myra turned and studied me with pale, unnerving eyes.
“The storm is dark and frightening.”
“Yes,” I said, suddenly at a loss for words.
“Have you met Zeke, Doyle and Old Man Rivers?”
“Yes,” I said again.
Dismissing me with a coy nod, she daintily picked up her glass of wine and went to the old man, stroking his neck with cashmere fingers.  As Jim’s had done, River’s ruddy skin flushed crimson.  Static electricity, brushed up by her fingers, raised thin hairs on his head as a booming clap of thunder rocked the roof and wind whistled through the loosely fitted windows.  Again, rain blistered the outside walls and darkness began to drape the windows with muted gloom.
“Myra,” the farmer called.  “Come answer Mary for me.  Tell her what a fool question she’s asking.”
Moving fluidly away from the bar, Myra glided to their table and listened as the woman cupped her hands and whispered something into her ear.  After answering, Myra turned away, leaving the woman to rest her head on the table and weep.
When Myra returned, Jim asked, “What’d she want?”
“Her daughter Emily’s gone.  Car accident separated them.  Mary asked if I knew when Emily would join them again.
“Did they take her to a hospital out of town or something?”
“She’s where she has always been,” Myra answered.
“Then -“
Before I could finish the question lingering in my brain, Myra placed a finger on my lips and shook her head.  “You don’t need to understand,” she said.  “The storm’s not over yet.”
Excited by Myra’s perfume, Jim gently touched her cheek.  She didn’t move away.
“I wouldn’t mind getting to know you a little better,” he said.
“Forever?” she asked.
Letting his hand drop, he caressed the length of her willowy arm and said, “For as long as you want.”
“Don’t talk to her like that!” an angry voice said.
Behind Jim was Doyle, his teeth clenched in an irritated scowl.  He quickly wrapped a hairy arm around Jim’s neck and yanked it forcibly back, Jim slammed an angry fist at Doyle’s jaw, then tossed the surprised attacker over the counter and dived over after him.
A weighted club appeared in Zeke’s hand.  With a practiced swing he tapped Jim lightly on the neck, just below the base of his skull.  Jim sank, unconscious, to the floor.
“Ain’t hurt too bad,” Zeke said, glancing up at me.  “Be just fine when he wakes up.”
After helping drag Jim’s inert body to a chair, I rejoined Myra at the bar.  She was staring at the ceiling as she sipped her wine.  She seemed disinterested in the whole affair.
Glancing at my empty beer, I said, “Better have another.”
“Sure you can handle your liquor?”
“Jim didn’t start it,” I said, frowning at Doyle.
Doyle was still on the floor, grinning like an idiot as he rotated his swollen jaw with his hand.
“Maybe not,” Zeke said as he drew another beer.
Myra said, “Where have you been, Paul?”
“Afghanistan.  We just got back and finished our leave.”
“Saw lots of action, didn’t you?”
“Yes.”
“Kill many of the enemy?”
Her question, asked with a curious smile, took me by surprise.  “Maybe a few,” I answered.
“And Jim?”
“I’m sure he killed his share,” I said.  “What’s the name of this town, anyway?”
“Don’t you know?”
“Seems a bit familiar, but no I don’t.”
Zeke chuckled and said, “You’re in Inferno.  Inferno, Oklahoma.  Hotter’n hell in the summer.”
“Could you love a girl like me?” asked Myra, interrupting Zeke’s vivid description.
“Guess maybe I could,” I said.
“You love someone else?”
“Life,” I said.  “With the war and all it’s about the only thing I’ve really though about along those lines.”
“Life is a fickle virgin,” she said, her pale blue eyes suddenly glowing like cold pearls.
“And you?” I asked.  “What do you love?”
Myra licked her lips and looked at Jim.  He was conscious, but still moaning as he massaged his neck.  Without answering my question, she turned to leave, but stopped and turned as if having a second thought.  After she touched my hand, I rubbed the icy remnant her touch imparted as I watched her walk through the door, held it open and as she gazed at me.
“Wait, I called.  “Where are you going?”
“Come with me and I will show you.”
“Can’t,” I said.  “Have to get back to the post.”
“Please,” she said, extending her willowy arm.  “I promise, you won’t be sorry.”
I started to follow but remembered Jim, still lying on the floor.  Another clap of thunder struck, closer this time, shattering the trance and causing me to blink.  When I opened my eyes Myra was gone.  Quickly, I downed my beer and tossed some money on the bar.
“Still mighty nasty out there,” Zeke said.  “Better have another drink.”
“Another time.  Not today.”
Bracing Jim beneath my shoulder, I started for the front door.  Curiosity stopped me beside the couple’s table.  I stared at the weather-beaten woman until she glance up at me.
“Sorry about your daughter.  How old was she when she died?”
A single tear trickled down the woman’s face, and she said, “Emily’s not dead.”
“But what about the car accident?”
The woman’s lingering eyes held me locked in place.  “Emily wasn’t in the accident.  Just Ralph and me.”
Breaking her cold stare, I pulled Jim out the front door.  From there, he staggered alone to the car, revived somewhat by the rain.  He took the keys from his shirt pocket, tossed them to me and slumped into the seat.  I gunned the engine and hurried away before the wipers could clear away the ruthless onslaught of the rain.
A mile down the deserted highway, I glanced into the rear-view mirror and searched in vain for the squall.  No use.  It was gone, along with the two buildings, replaced only by silence that seemed to cloak damp earth around us like a shroud.
Far away, behind reality and disappearing foothills, lightning and thunder flared and crashed like distant firefights.  Further still, filtered light mingled with road dust blown up by our racing tires, streaking the waning horizon.  Then, swirling ocher powder obliterated the dying sky, reflecting pale allusions of ancient storms.
###



Born a mile or so from Black Bayou in the little Louisiana town of Vivian, Eric Wilder grew up listening to his grandmother’s tales of politics, corruption and ghosts that haunt the night. He now lives in Oklahoma, and continues to pen mysteries and short stories with a southern accent. If you liked Soldiers, please check out his AmazonBarnes & Noble, and iBook author pages.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Alcoholic Hazes in New Orleans

Many great writers including William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and John Kennedy Toole lived in New Orleans. One thing that made each of them great was their ability to create amid the cacophony and ado of the Big Easy.
I remember reading a humorous essay by a journalist that had lived there for several years. He’d moved to the city looking for inspiration, fully expecting to pen the next great American novel. Something quite different happened instead.
The semi-tropical city steams in the summer with hundred-degree temperatures and humidity through the roof. Like many cities in southern climes, life’s pace is slow, skidding almost to a halt during summer months. Lunches tend to drag on until two, and workdays often end by three or four, usually with a trip to some dark watering hole.
The journalist finally moved away from New Orleans without completing a single chapter of his proposed novel. He lamented that he’d never sufficiently sobered up, but that he did meet many interesting people and had enjoyed himself immensely. I had a similar experience during a post-Katrina trip to New Orleans.
There are so many things to see and do, and so many wonderful places to eat and drink, it is difficult finding time to write. Still, artists, writers and poets continue to fill the City. On my way to the Sheraton where I was staying, I stopped at a little bar on Decatur Street called Kerry Irish Tavern, and ordered a pint of Guinness. The bartender was a friendly young woman with a Scottish accent, her big dog snoring as he napped behind the hardwood bar.
Late afternoon, the dim tavern was almost empty except for a young man talking to the pretty bartender. His name was also Eric and we struck up a conversation. An aspiring writer, he had a manuscript in progress. Gill, a graphic artist, and his friend Tim, a poet with a distinct stutter, soon joined us. Our new group quickly became locked in conversation.
I stayed for another round, and then another, discussing Eric’s book and viewing some of Gill’s art. Realizing that I liked poetry, Tim recited several of his poems to us, never once tripping over his words because of his speech disorder.
The three men finally left, on their way to another bar. “We’ll be back at midnight for the band. Will you join us?”
“Maybe,” I said.
After paying my tab, I returned to the hotel to sober up, and never made it back to the Kerry Irish Bar.
I’ve thought about Eric, Gill and Tim many times. Did they finally finish their masterpieces? I’m betting no, and that you’ll find them in some French Quarter bar, locked in alcoholic hazes, and still contemplating the art they love to talk about but are never destined to complete.

###


Born a mile or so from Black Bayou in the little Louisiana town of Vivian, Eric Wilder grew up listening to his grandmother’s tales of politics, corruption and ghosts that haunt the night. He now lives in Oklahoma, and continues to pen mysteries and short stories with a southern accent. If you liked Alcoholic Hazes in New Orleans, please check out his AmazonBarnes & Noble, and iBook author pages.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Teenage Fantasies and Small Town Ghosts - a short story

While attending college in Monroe, my friend Larry and I decided to hitchhike to the small Webster Parish town of Cotton Valley, Louisiana. Larry’s grandparents lived in the former oil and gas boom town and had invited us down for the weekend.
The trip there was non-eventful, the trip home a story in itself. I’ll save that account for another time and tell you instead about our encounter with a ghost in the Cotton Valley cemetery.
Larry had a twin sister named Leeann that was also visiting her grandparents for the weekend. Her girlfriend Cindy had a car and don’t ask me why we hitchhiked to Cotton Valley instead of riding with them but it had something to do with sibling rivalry.
Larry’s grandparents, I’ll call them the Bloomers, had a large wood-framed house with many rooms that they had once rented to itinerant oil field workers. By the sixties Cotton Valley had a population less than two thousand. Still an oil town it was no longer a boom town. All of the Bloomer’s extra rooms were empty and Larry and I had our pick of the lot.
Like her brother Larry, Leeann was tall and dark. That’s where their appearances diverged. Leeann had the looks of a young starlet along with a Jayne Mansfield body. Tiny Cindy was as pretty as Leeann but was blonde, svelte and had a deep and lusty voice that belied her size.
In my teens, the girls could have both been homely as sin and I would still have had visions of a potential weekend liaison. Leeann and Larry, as I mentioned, had unresolved family differences and my daydreams squelched shortly after the girls arrived. I got my first clue when she and Cindy took rooms as far away as they could get from us on the other side of the large house.
Friday night and most of Saturday passed without seeing much of Cindy and Leeann as they were off in the car and we were on foot. Cotton Valley had neither a movie house nor any other form of recreation at the time and Larry and I soon grew bored. I managed to stem my own boredom somewhat by keeping a running journal written in ink on a sheet of paper that I kept in my shirt pocket
The seclusion Larry and I felt had apparently also worked on Leeann and Cindy because shortly after a sit-down dinner with the grandparents they asked us to go for a spin with them in the car. We quickly agreed.
We drove away from the grandparent’s house after dinner, Larry and I in the back seat of Cindy’s Fairlane. As I glanced over the bench at the half-hidden riches beneath Leeann’s plunging blouse and Cindy’s short skirt hiked high on her tanned thighs my daydreams quickly reemerged. They needn’t have.
We soon stopped at a house on the far edge of town and picked up Jim. Cindy and Jim, it seemed, had met the prior semester at Northeast Louisiana. After flunking out, he had moved back to Cotton Valley to work in the oil patch.
Cindy’s beau was a tall handsome fellow with a Cancun lifeguard’s tan. When Leeann climbed into the backseat with Larry and me and told me to push over to the middle of the bench seat, all my sexual fantasies flew out the car’s open window and I could tell by her frown that I should keep my hands to myself. I thought so when she crossed her legs and pointed them away from me toward the door and knew for sure when she wrapped her arms tightly around her ample bosom
It was just beginning to grow dark as we drove away from Jim’s house—a good thing as I had trouble keeping my gaze away from Leeann’s ample body. Miniskirts were the vogue at the time and the short garment barely qualified her as fully clothed. Feeling Larry’s cold stare over my shoulder I somehow wrested my gaze from her gorgeous legs and luscious breasts—except for an occasional stolen glance.
There isn’t much to do in Cotton Valley and we were soon headed out of town on a stretch of lonely blacktop. By now it was pitch dark, except for the stars and light of a full yellow moon. Jim and Cindy apparently had a bit of a tiff earlier in the day. We didn’t know it at the time but their relationship was near an end. Luckily for the rest of us, they remained cordial the remainder of the evening and Jim covered up their quarrel skillfully by becoming our local tour guide.
“Slow down and I’ll show you the hanging tree.” Cindy touched the brakes and pulled over as Jim pointed at a large oak tree on the side of the blacktop. A single large branch stretched across the road. Jim told us the tragic story of the rape of a white girl by a local black boy and the resultant retribution performed by an element of the town’s white population. ‘They buried his body in the cemetery up the road and he supposedly still haunts it, especially on a full moon like tonight.”
“Have you ever seen the ghost?” Leeann asked.
There was swagger in Jim’s voice when he said, “Lots of times. Once it waved a knife at a friend and me.”
“Did it scare you?” Larry asked.
“No way,” Jim said
As we sat on the side of the road, listening to Jim’s story, a gentle summer breeze wafted the large tree’s leaves and branches causing shadows to dance across warm blacktop. None of us commented as Cindy applied the gas and started away toward the cemetery.
As I recall the short ride to the suspected rapist’s place of internment, I realize that Jim probably had visions of mending fences with Cindy, and perhaps a romantic connection induced by her anxiety at possibly seeing a ghost. When we reached the cemetery, I’m sure the visualization we soon saw caused his thoughts of romance to disappear out the open window, along with his phony boldness.
The little cemetery lay just off the blacktop and had a small dirt parking lot. Cindy pulled into the lot and turned off the car’s lights. The night was moon bright and it took only a few moments for our eyes to adjust to the relative darkness. A fence of wrought iron surrounded the cemetery stretching before us like a silent metropolis of the lifeless.
“Hear it?” Jim asked. “The dead boy’s soul is calling out to us.”
I couldn’t hear anything except semis passing on a distant highway along with a chorus of crickets and tree frogs. Still, Jim’s words evoked a certain anxiety. Cindy also felt it as she slid toward the center of the car and closer to Jim. Leeann uncrossed her legs and grabbed my hand in a firm clasp. I couldn’t see Larry’s eyes but I knew he must be frowning. We had all just noticed something that none of us could explain.
Leeann clutched my hand even tighter when Cindy said, “Oh my God! What is that?”
Before us, an eerie blue light rose straight up from the center of the little cemetery, stretching like the creepy luminescent beam of an ethereal spotlight pointing high into the sky. A slight breeze caused the beam to vacillate like the luminous arms of a ghostly hula dancer.
We all sat in silence, waiting for the image to disappear so our minds could promptly deny what we all had seen. It didn’t happen that way.
Talk of the ghost had elicited Jim’s desired effect on Cindy. By now she was practically sitting in his lap, her arms clutched desperately around his neck. Jim didn’t seem to notice as his eyes in the reflected moonlight were big as proverbial saucers, his own arms gripping Cindy as tightly as she held him.
They weren’t the only ones caught up in the spooky moment. Leeann clamped my right hand with both of her own. She couldn’t have drawn any closer without occupying the space where I sat. What Larry was thinking about the situation briefly crossed my mind.
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” Leeann finally said.
Larry was having none of it. “No way, we need to find out what’s causing that light. I don’t believe for one minute it’s a ghost.”
When no one responded to his statement, Larry opened the back door and started for the cemetery gate. I was more interested in Leeann’s pressing warmth and tender softness than the ghost was but it quickly returned to my attention when the door slammed behind him. Concerned for her brother, Leeann released her grip and pushed me toward the door.
“You’re his friend. You go with him.”
When I glanced at Big Jim, his wide-open stare quickly told me he would be of no help. Leeann’s frown and folded arms had returned so I opened the back door and followed my friend into the night.
“Larry, where are you?” I called.
“In front of you,” he said in a whisper. “The light is coming from over that rise.”
The little country cemetery was well kept, grass trimmed around the tombs. Some of the headstones were large and ornate but most were old and crumbling, many no more than wooden crosses and rectangles of worn concrete. We had no flashlight but didn’t need one as there were few trees to block star light and bright glow of the full moon. A graveled path led up the hill toward the gleaming blue light.
Larry and I were in ROTC and both already experienced in night maneuvers. The ghostly light that continued to beam from the center of the cemetery apparently didn’t frighten my large companion and I was feeling more elated anticipation than fear. As we crested the slight rise we both saw the origin of the eerie light.
Larry halted in his tracks and held up his hand for me to stop. Moonlight was shining directly on a large piece of blue foil once used to wrap a flower pot. The light was reflecting off the foil and onto the polished marble surface of a headstone. The resultant glow shone like the beam of a spotlight, straight up into the sky.
The light wasn’t all we saw. In the darkness, just beyond the spot where the little hill began to drop in elevation, an almost indistinguishable shadowy figure came into view. It remained a moment in one spot before continuing slowly toward us, its amorphous shape wafting in the gentle summer breeze. Larry took a step forward to investigate but a shout from behind caused us to turn and look.
“Larry, where are you?” It was Leeann. Worried about her brother, she had followed us. We watched as she picked her way up the little hill. Just as she reached us she froze in place, put her hand to her mouth and said, “Oh my God!”
A vivid flash of summer lightning accompanied Leeann’s exclamation followed quickly by a clap of thunder that seemed as if it were right on top of us. Leeann didn’t appear to notice. She was staring at a spot behind us, still grasping her open mouth with her left hand as she pointed straight ahead with her right. Need I add how wide her eyes had grown?
Another flash of lightning lit the sky as Larry and I turned to see at what she was pointing. A sudden summer rainstorm had moved quickly overhead, already covering the stars and moon with dark puffy clouds. As lightning dissipated, only gloom remained, but not until Larry and I saw a shadowy nimbus floating up the hill toward us.
Before either of us could react, Leeann grabbed me from behind and screamed, trying, it seemed to squeeze the breath out of me. As she did clouds began unloading with large heavy drops of warm precipitation that lasted for no more than a minute. Dark clouds passed with the rain, again revealing clear sky complete with stars and full moonlight. Whatever we thought we had witnessed had disappeared along with the momentary storm.
“Did you see it?” Leeann asked, her long arms still wrapped tightly around my chest.
“I saw something but don’t know what it was,” I answered.
Leeann gave me an incredulous look when Larry said, “It was just a low-lying cloud.”
“My ass!” Leeann said. “It was shaped like a man and it was coming up the hill after us. You saw it didn’t you Eric?”
“I saw something but I didn’t get a good look. We turned away just as you called to us.”
“Trust me, it was nothing but a cloud,” Larry said as he led us back to the Fairlane.
Leeann had already begun to disbelieve her eyes as she followed her brother down the hill. I didn’t know what to believe but I was already missing the warmth of her breasts against my back. We had to bang on the car door for Jim and Cindy to open it.
“Did you see it?” Cindy asked.
“Yes, just before the rain started.” Leeann said.
“What rain?” Jim asked. “It’s been clear as a bell ever since you left the car.”
“Well it sure as hell rained on us, didn’t it Larry?”
“For a minute or so,” he said.
Cindy and Jim stared at him, and then at me. “You don’t look wet. Are you guys pulling our legs?”
My shirt and pants were almost dry and I could do little more than shrug my shoulders. By the time we dropped Jim off at his house, talk of the ghost had ended.
Cindy and Leeann were already gone next morning before Larry and I ate breakfast. Larry didn’t want to talk about the ghost except to say it was “bullshit” and I never spoke to either Leeann or Cindy again.
The mind plays tricks and sometimes what you think you see is nothing more than an invention of your imagination. Still, as Larry and I waited on the edge of I-20, trying to thumb a ride, I reached in my shirt pocket and pulled out the remains of my scribbled journal. My shirt. We were out of clean clothes and I was wearing the same shirt and blue jeans as the previous night was damp from sweat, crumpled paper equally moist. Something prompted me to unfold the soggy journal and look at it and I got quite a shock when I did.

Either rain or sweat had caused the blue ink to bleed on the paper and render my scribbling indecipherable—except for one word. In large blurry letters, it spelled out WRAITH.

####


Born a mile or so from Black Bayou in the little Louisiana town of Vivian, Eric Wilder grew up listening to his grandmother’s tales of politics, corruption and ghosts that haunt the night. He now lives in Oklahoma, and continues to pen mysteries and short stories with a southern accent. If you liked Teenage Fantasies and Small Town Ghosts, please check out his AmazonBarnes & Noble, and iBook author pages.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

DANCING AT THE SCORPIO

While rummaging through my closet, I found a tee shirt that evoked a treasure of old memories. The tee sported a poorly drawn picture of a scorpion and bore the name of the establishment from where I purchased it: Scorpio. Under the name were the words: dancers, pool and cold beer, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The original Scorpio was an old two-storied building located at Villa and N.W. 23rd, across the street from the Shepherd Mall. The bottom floor had a bar, several pool tables and a dance floor—a wooden structure raised about three feet off the floor. Music played while the mostly male customers shot pool, drank beer and watched the dancers perform on the raised structure.
The female dancers all wore the equivalent of a bikini with no exposed nipples, buttocks or pubic hair. That was downstairs, the action upstairs quite different—at least I had heard. Not everyone was allowed to go there. Nudity in Oklahoma City, at the time, was banned and rule breakers treated harshly by the authorities.
Most of the young men frequenting the bar were baby-boomers. Many, myself included, had survived the dirty war in Southeast Asia, partaken of the many illegal drugs so readily available there, and had visited the nightlife of Saigon and the brothels of Bangkok. Oil exploration was turning the City into a boom town, the young men of Oklahoma, and those pouring into the State because of the boom town prosperity, an adventurous bunch and ready for a change from the ways their fathers did things. The Scorpio was there to provide that change.
I remember the first time the stairway guard allowed me and my friend Mick to go upstairs. I tingled with excitement and to say that electricity filled the darkened room would be stating a stale cliche that didn’t come close to expressing the pure sexual exhilaration constricting my chest and shortening my breath. A Bob Seger ballad wailed through the darkness as a pretty blonde girl gyrated, totally naked on the stage, both exposed and swathed by the reds, blues and greens of a dancing strobe.
Upstairs was a clone to the downstairs with one essential difference—the dancers performed totally nude. Each young woman danced to the music of three songs. They performed their first song, like the downstairs dancers, in bikini-like costume. They would remove their top toward the beginning of the second song, and their bottoms during the beginning of the third song to the captivated attention of every young man in the place.
About this time, the Supreme Court ruled that nude dancing is not pornographic. After having their hands rapped by several adverse court decisions, the City removed its ban on nudity. Nude dancing soon became common in clubs around Oklahoma City, the Scorpio moving to a new location on north May.
Totally nude dancing continued in Oklahoma City until the Supreme Court ruled that cities could regulate activities that the majority of the people did not approve of. I don’t think a vote to regulate nudity ever occurred but the local police began operating as if it had. Oil prices had begun to collapse, ending the oil boom and Oklahoma City’s boom town mentality. Baby boomers were older and most, by this time had their own children. No one much protested the end of an era.
The Scorpio no longer exists, but the building that housed it remains. Ironically, it's now the home of a Vietnamese pool hall and domino parlor. I smiled as I pulled on the old tee shirt, a little too small for me now, but still in good shape. Yes, an era has ended but I still have my memory of the first time I climbed the stairs at the old Scorpio, not knowing what to expect, but spellbound with youthful anticipation.

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Born a mile or so from Black Bayou in the little Louisiana town of Vivian, Eric Wilder grew up listening to his grandmother’s tales of politics, corruption and ghosts that haunt the night. He now lives in Oklahoma and continues to pen mysteries and short stories with a southern accent. If you liked Dancing at the Scorpio, please check out his Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBook author pages.