Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Mansion

The Mansion by Steven Zokal
(Song by Manchester Orchestra)

We went out at midnight. The rain plastered our car making our eardrums go numb from the thundering of what seemed to be a million tiny drummers tap-tap tapping falling from the sky. The trees on both sides of the road seemed to be slowly intertwining with each other, arching over the street making a tunnel of darkness that could extinguish a lit match.
“Alright, we’re here. Get the shovels,” Danny said. I got out of Danny’s black Chevy Trailblazer and looked up at the sign that read, “Mansion Cemetery: Closed to those unrelated to the deceased”.
“Erik what the shit are you waiting for? Get the goddamn shovels; I’ll break the lock.” Danny got out a pair of bolt cutters and went to work, breaking open the lock. We walked through the cemetery struggling to keep our shoes on as each step made it seem we were sinking further and further into the ground.
“Just a bit further Erik, c’mon don’t lag behind!” We climbed up a hill, which once was covered in green grass, now only to be disfigured with sloppy thick mud. Upon reaching the summit, there stood a tombstone with the name “Andrew J. Hall: 1800-1851” engraved in it. “Okay this is it. Let’s get to work.” I handed Danny a shovel and we began digging. Shoveling through mud was like trying to empty a bottle of molasses, near impossible. My knuckles were bone white and my hands numb from the rain soaking through my skin. We dug for what seemed like days until we finally heard a loud thud and the splintering of wood.
“Fuckin’ finally; help me lift it will ya?” Danny asked me. We opened the mud stained, soaked wooden coffin and witnessed the putrid unmistakable scent of death.
“This is fuckin’ disgusting Danny…what are we even looking for?”
“A map shithead…a map of the inside of his mansion.”
“Why do we need a map for the inside of this dudes home? Can’t we just walk around?”
“Found it! C’mon bro let’s get out of here and get to this guy’s house. It’s just down the street.” We got our shovels and ran as fast as the mud would let us back to our car and drove to Andrew J. Hall’s mansion. Somehow, it seemed to be just getting darker as we loomed closer to The Mansion. We arrived at the gates and a sign that read in all caps “KEEP OUT” greeted us.
“That’s some cliché horror movie bullshit right there. Let’s go Erik” Danny was always like that, nothing could scare him. I remember when we were kids he would force me to go with him into haunted houses, brotherly bonding I guess. I would see him literally laugh in the face of zombified clown while I stood behind him trembling in fear. Anyway, we broke the lock and walked up to The Mansion. The mansion that once was a grand Victorian style home has now been slowly engulfed by Mother Nature. Wiry, twisted ivy sprawled down the porch pillars, while moss seeped up through the floor. The once pearl white brick was now chipped and grayed out like an old man’s hair. We walked up to the door with its wide window panel broken and its once emerald green door decayed into a dark brown, and pushed it open.
  We closed the door behind us and it became eerily quiet. We didn’t hear the pounding rain, no rustling from the wind. It was complete solitude. “Ok Danny we’re here. Now can we go?” I asked. The look he gave me reminded me the way our Dad would glare at us when we asked for ice cream as kids even though we just put up a tantrum. “No way…we’re gonna find it.”
“Find what exactly? You haven’t told me shit all night. What’s going on?”
“I didn’t want you to think I was crazy-“
“As if trespassing into a cemetery and degrading a man’s grave wasn’t crazy enough, c’mon…spill it.”
“Ok, ok…Jesus. There’s some legend that states Andrew J. Hall buried his fortune within this mansion, but no one has been able to find it. The map we got from his body-“
“Was the map to his fortune? But why hasn’t anyone else tried this already?”
“Looks like we need to find out.”
We walked up the old, oak-wood stairs and through the first door we saw. After we closed it however, something queer happened. The house groaned, sounding like old bones trying to move after being dormant for too long, we thought it was just the wind blowing from the outside so we ignored it and looked through the room.
“Oh shit!” Danny exclaimed.
“What is it? Oh, my…-“I threw up on the spot, Danny opened the closet door within the room and it was half decayed human body. The rotten smell of flesh invaded our nostrils making our eyes water.
“C’mon Erik let’s go!” We ran out the room out into the hallway except the staircase we came from wasn’t there anymore. It was just a solid wall.
“What the actual fuck…what’s happening Danny, I’m freaking out we gotta go.”
Danny opened the map and realized the orientation of the map had changed.
“Erik this wasn’t a map to his fortune…this was a map to get out of his house. Everything rearranges after you enter a room.”
“Well, how do we get out?”
We ran through the corridors and rooms closely reading the map until we finally found our way out.
We never came back.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Piece of Me

“NO….no no no no no no no- c’mon, LIVE…LIVE YOU SON OF A BITCH…you can’t die, not now, C’MON”, I screamed at myself as I stood in my kitchen, by the bay windows where sunlight flooded the room. I stood there bawling my eyes out, soaked to the bone with water. I fell to my knees, I couldn’t bear to look back up and face the grim reality of my wrong-doings. This wasn’t supposed to happen, not like this. I finally collected myself, took a few deep breaths, stood up, and opened my eyes. It was dead, withered like an old man’s face, and soaked with water. Tears were streaming down my face, as I silently sobbed.
“FUCK!” I yelled, and in a burst of rage, I picked up my dead plant and smashed it on the ground. I collapsed to the ground and laid in the mudded soil from my potted plant, and held the dead plant in my hands, wallowing for hours on end.
One month earlier
“Are you ready? No peeking! Keep your eyes shut okay?...Just a few more steps…okay, open your eyes!”
I open my eyes squinting from the radiant beams of sun. I let my eyes adjust for a second until I could finally see what was sitting on the bay window – a beautiful bright red tulip.
“Surprise! Happy Birthday!” my wife exclaimed
“Oh it’s beautiful Penny!”
“I picked them myself!” she boasted,
I turned around to hug and kiss her. It’s what I actually wanted for my birthday to tell you the truth, I know it’s not every day a man asks for a red tulip for his birthday, but this was a wondrous sight.
            “I know how much you wanted to start your own garden, and I thought this would be the best thing to start with! Don’t c’ha think?” Penny looked at me as if I was supposed to know the reason behind the red tulips; I tried to side step it…unsuccessfully.
            “Oh…uhh yeah totally, they’re beautiful!” I said, she rolled her eyes
            “What is it?” I said with a hint of laughter in my voice.
            “You have the worst memory John, it’s our wedding flowers!”
            “oh..OH of course they are! How lovely!” I said as if I knew all along.
She scrunched her nose, and furrowed her brow pretending to be angry at me, hugged me once more, kissed me then said, “Okay, I have to leave to pick up the rest of your present; I’ll be back later!”
            She kissed me one final time, and then left to go do her errands for me, twirling towards the door in her canary yellow sundress, she looked stunning. The beams of light glowed through our kitchen windows, reflecting off her curly blonde hair, illuminating her body in a heavenly glow, she could make Venus jealous. Her bright green eyes twinkled, reminding me of how the sun shines through branches in a forest; she pushed her hair behind her ear, grabbed her keys and left through the door.
            I made myself a cup of coffee and sat down at our kitchen table marveling at the red tulip. One single red tulip stood perfectly still, perfectly beautiful. I went over to the flower to give it a smell; at first a musky smell of dirt from the soil it sat, but I stayed longer, gave my nose time to actually smell the tulip. Pollen sat atop the black pistils, I gave the flower a big whiff; honey, a warm soft scent of honey, it was downright delightful. I examined the flower closely feeling its petals with my fingers, a silky texture that warmed my hand. The stem was perfectly smooth. The whole flower was without blemish. I went back to my chair and continued to sip on my coffee while I pored over the crimson red tulip. It was in full bloom, the petals spread apart in a twisting cyclone of beauty, shaped in a form of a women’s dress as if she twirled, round and round. The tulip was backlit from the sun pouring into the kitchen, it looked like a flower descended from God, it was the holiest flower I have ever seen.
            I sat still, admiring this angelic flower until I finished my coffee. I went around the house doing various chores until I received a phone call from a phone number I didn’t recognize.
            “Hello? Who is this?” I asked,
            “Hello, is this John Hermit?” the woman on the other side of the phone had very somber, disheartening tone of voice; it made me uneasy.
            “Uhh…yes it is, may I ask whose calling?”
            “This is Susan from Good Shepherd Hospital, and I have unfortunate news sir. Your wife Penny has been in a car crash, we’re afraid she doesn’t have much longer. We urge you to get here as fast as possible”
I couldn’t think of what to say, my mind was numb, I couldn’t muster any words from my mouth. My eyes started swelling with tears, I managed to say “thank you”, and immediately left towards the hospital, my stomach twisted in knots, grief as sharp as knives washed over me. I started to sweat, my hands could barely stay on the steering wheel, and the sun partially blinded me as I drove along.
“DAMMIT SUN” I angrily yelled thinking the sun would obey my command, but of course it didn’t; it just sat still blinding my eyes and warming my face.
I finally arrived to the ICU. I rushed in and Susan greeted me there directing me to Penny’s room. I ran to her room and found myself standing still, paralyzed in front of her door. I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t open the door, couldn’t make myself do it. I didn’t want to believe my wife who stood perfectly fine in front of me a matter of hours ago, was about to vanish in front of my eyes.
            “If you don’t go in, she’ll never know you came,” Susan whispered behind me.
I looked at her, and looked back at the door, mouth agape, tears rolling down my cheeks. From some miracle I moved my arm and extended it out to reach for the handle, it was ice cold. I stepped inside, and was hit with an eruption of sound; doctors and nurses were flying around Penny shouting various orders. I watched in silence as her heart monitor continued to slow down until it reached its monotonous beep.
            “Call it,” the doctor said
            “5:27 P.M.”
            The doctor turned around and looked at me, said sorry with disappointment in his eyes, and left me with my wife.
            The window was cracked open; I could see the sun still peering into the room, ever so slightly. I pulled up a chair and sat beside Penny, holding her now bandaged hand in mine; silently sobbing, asking myself how this could happen. She was lifeless, limp, I didn’t know what to do so I just sat there quietly crying. I looked over to the window once more and saw her canary yellow sundress sitting on the windowsill, with only a strip of sunlight illuminating it. What once was her perfect yellow sundress was now stained in blood and wrinkled like a rag. I sat in silence, remembering the crimson red Tulip sitting in my kitchen; it was the same color that stained her yellow dress.
            “No…you can’t…” were my last words,
I sat there now audibly crying, I looked back at the window and the ray of light that once illuminated her body into an angelic glow has now vanished and the room was now black.
            She was gone.

Current Day
            I laid on the floor in my kitchen for a few minutes holding my dead tulip, what was a beautiful crimson red tulip was now a browned and ugly weed. I eventually stood up, and wiped my tears from eyes, I turned around to set the dead tulip where it once stood proudly flaunting its beautiful petals, except something was already in its place; a letter with my name “John” written across it enclosed by a heart.
            I wiped my muddy, watery hands off on my shirt and careful opened the canary yellow envelope. It was my birthday card from Penny, she must have left it under the plant and forgot to tell me about it. I opened the card delicately like it might fall apart any second.
Roses are red, Violets are blue,
Tulips are pretty cool too.
So here’s a flower
From me
To You.
Happy Birthday!

I chuckled stupidly to myself, and wiped my eyes dry, looked out my kitchen window where the sun peaked through, and smiled.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Life Experiences Are Crazy

Life Experiences Are Crazy

Emotions are the strongest forces on Earth. It’s what can lead us to war, peace, anger, cheer, love, and hate. This is what I learned when I first heard my Dad cry for the first time in my life. I didn’t see him cry, so no facial expressions, no puffy red eyes, no blowing of the noise, just the sound of him over the phone. The time this occurred was 3-4 years ago, April time I believe. My grandfather (my Dad’s Dad) came up to visit us, a two hour drive one he typically never makes because he hated to put miles on the car. He came and visited with us for an amount of time with my grandmother as well, but something was off – my grandfather just didn’t seem right.
My grandfather and grandmother left after their visit, but when they finally arrived home, the call from my grandmother confirmed the thoughts of uneasiness from the family. My grandfather was constantly swerving around the road and for first time in his life got in a minor accident with a person’s mailbox, something was clearly wrong. Eventually, my grandfather was committed to the hospital, and passed away in the next few days. My brother came into my room at night to tell the news of our grandfather passing, “Oh no…okay” I said. Maybe it was being woken up in the middle of the night why I didn’t react the way normal people do when their loved ones die, or maybe it was because I just don’t know how to handle death all that well. Maybe it was ultimately because I knew that at certain points in my life the ones that I love would die; ash-to-ash, dust-to-dust. I know it sounds morbid, but sometimes at a funeral, someone might need to see someone not terribly upset to know everything will be okay.
Although I wasn’t terribly upset initially when I heard the news, it was when my Dad called me up to talk to me about the funeral and the fact I would be a pallbearer in my grandfather’s funeral. His voice sounded normal, I thought to myself that he was taking this very well. The last sentence he uttered to me over the funeral details is what got to him – and me, “Yeah so you’ll be a pallbearer and you’ll take grandpa….to his grave”. The way it was said is engraved in my head; I’ve never heard someone change their emotional tone as fast as my father did that day. I don’t know what it is about hearing someone cry for the very first time in your life. Especially when that person is your father, who has never cried, but it was enough to hang-up the phone, run to my room, and cry on my bed in the dark while no one was home for about an hour – I never told anyone about this.

Flash forward and there I was at the funeral: stoic and unemotional. I glanced over at the pictures of my grandfather from his life when an elderly woman came up to me and asked me if I always smiled in photos, an odd question to ask a stranger at a funeral but I engaged, “Yeah…all the time actually”, good was all she said to me. I never really understood it until now, but when you and I leave Earth what’s going to be shown at our funerals? Pictures of us, smiling, showing the world that even though we are gone, the happiness we endured never faded.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Church Under the Sea

The Church Under the Sea

Thunder boomed, lightning flashed and the waves landed with the weight of bricks atop of Dexter. Disorientated and bloody, Dexter held on for his life within the lifeboat. The storm loomed over him with the strength of God himself, mighty and angry – vengeful. Dexter looked around through his crimson colored lens, everything had the hue of blood. He didn’t care for the crew, the ones that kept his ship in tip top shape, the ones who actually made Dexter money on his fishing boat. There was one person he was looking for, someone who could eclipse the sun in importance.
“PENOLOPE!” Dexter shouted, “WHERE ARE Y-“
A monstrous wave fell over him before he could complete his sentence. The rain cutting into him like little needles falling through the sky. Dexter could barely keep his eyes open, but like a bloodhound sniffing out a criminal, he kept at it, kept looking, peering through the needle rain for Penelope – his daughter.
            Dexter went out shouting until his throat gave out, he would’ve cried in defeat except he stared in front of himself, and through a flash of lightning a wave taller than most buildings loomed in front him. Encroaching upon him faster and faster, the thunder has gone and all that is left are one-second glimpses of the horrific, daunting image of the mountainous wave flashing in front of Dexter’s eyes. He could only hear the wave now, the slow roar of a beast on the hunt. The feeling of putrid anxiousness has now become enraged pterodactyls fighting within his stomach itching to get out. The lightning has seized, and with the wave numbing his eardrums, he entered; the palpable obscure.  
            Dexter woke up; soaked to the bone he was somehow alive drifting across the water in his lifeboat, how did he survive? He touched his hand to his forehead and winced, a giant cut above his eyes, barely clotted over. He sat in his boat gazing out across the horizon; nothing could be seen for miles. The storm has passed yet it was still lightly raining, softer this time, the rain felt like cotton against his cheek rather than needles.  
            “Pe-…Penelope?” Dexter whimpered out, tears formed in his eyes and they started to dribble down his cheek, he sat inaudibly sad. He scratched his raggedy beard, and head, then collapsed backwards in his lifeboat with his eyes closed. Dexter was 36 years old, his wife left him with Penelope 10 years prior; Penelope was all he had. This was the first time Dexter had taken Penelope out on the boat with him; she just turned 16 last week and said she wanted to go out on the boat with her father.
            “It’d be totally rad, Dad!” purposely rhyming she’d say.
Dexter got up with a new sense of vigor; he knew he couldn’t lay around knowing his daughter could still be out there, somewhere.
            “PENELOPE?!? PENELOPE!” Dexter wailed to no avail, he didn’t care, as long as he was alive he would search for his daughter; even if it meant dying out in the ocean.
Dexter went on and on, yelling until his voice became hoarse.
            It rained throughout the day, by night Dexter couldn’t yell anymore and he was once again set to face the cruelties that nature had instore for him. The wind picked up, started to howl. The rain began whipping him in his face just like before, soon the thunder and lightning joined in for nature’s cruel symphony. He sat; bracing himself within his lifeboat hoping to God this would end as quickly as possible. He’s come to terms with the possibility of his daughter dying and prayed that if he was to die, it would be quick and painless.
The storm raged on, and once gain he heard the all too familiar deafening roar of the wave, he closed his eyes bracing for its impact, yet it never came. All was quiet besides the roar of what Dexter thought was the wave, however Dexter realized now that the rain has stopped.
            Dexter decided to make the brave attempt in seeing what was happening. He opened his eyes and peered onto what was the most incredible thing he would have ever witnessed - a church rising out of the sea, towering above him. His mouth gaped open, he was sure to be only imagining this. Yet, the church grew and grew so tall that his head couldn’t tilt back any further.
            The church itself was magnificent, gothic designs with gargoyles hanging all around the spires (10 spires to be exact), seaweed hanging, dousing the church is green. Dexter heard cracking beneath his feet, his boat was breaking! He jumped off the lifeboat into what he thought would be water, yet he landed with a thud onto a hard surface – church steps. The church finally stopped growing and stood tall in the middle of the sea, and there was an eerie silence. A silence so quiet you could hear the blood pump through your veins.
“DING- DONG” the church bell rang with a vengeance. Dexter clasped his hands to his ears the bell was piercing. It went on ringing for ten minutes straight as if it was letting all the sea creatures below it was time for mass. The bell finally rang its last toll and Dexter looked up at the top of the stairs where a door with a cross upon it split down the middle. The whole church was sickly emerald, and encrusted with sea urchins. Dexter took one-step up the stairs when the doors flung open and a man…or a man that could be resembled to Poseidon steps out. The man was emerald green, seaweed as hair, scales as flesh, piercing green eyes, a necklace made from various fish bones and eyes. He spoke with an airy twang to his voice.
            “Ahhhhh yessss….Dex-tor is it?” The green man said through his Barracuda like teeth, “And what may I do….for you?”
            “I’m… I’m trying to find my daughter Penelope,” Dexter said wondering if this conversation was actually happening or just a dream.
            “Ahhhh yessss, the girl from the land above, such a sweet, innocent girl…”
            “Where is she!” demanded Dexter
            “Why would I tell youuuu…she’s minnneee.” The green man dragged out.
            “No…..NO…SHE’S MY DAUGHTER”
            “DAD?” Penelope shouted,
Dexter looked up and saw his daughter entwined with seaweed hanging upside down atop a spire. Before he could do anything, he heard the doors to the church close, and the clunk of the lock forbidding his entry. He didn’t know what to do, yet he couldn’t give up.
            “Psst…PSSSSTTTT!” Dexter looked to the side to find a sea woman motioning to follow him. Dexter didn’t know if he could trust her, but had no choice. He followed her beneath water, below the grand cathedral.
            “This is far from over” Dexter thought to himself, and with that in mind he followed the sea woman into a passage. Unknowing of what lies ahead.