Thursday, October 27, 2016

Story 158: Oblivia’s Scary Story

            Once upon a time, there was a perfectly ordinary family who led perfectly ordinary lives as peasant farmers in the perfectly ordinary Middle Ages somewhere in perfectly ordinary Europe.  Unfortunately for them, they chose to set up farm at the edge of an extremely haunted forest that did not appreciate a human family unit coming along, clear-cutting the woods and introducing their domesticated animals into the previously balanced environment, decreasing property values everywhere.  So naturally, the haunted forest swore revenge upon the perfectly ordinary family and decided to drive them insane as its method.
            The haunted forest started off slowly to prolong the suspense: disappearing linens here, cow’s milk going sour there, sudden blights upon the crops, random screams in the night, and not a single witch in the area to blame it on.  However, to the haunted forest’s chagrin, the perfectly ordinary family was also a perfectly optimistic family, constantly turning to their faith that things would get better if they just kept at it and did not despair.  This type of thinking only drove the haunted forest bonkers, so it decided to kick things up a notch.  Soon there were blood-red moon sightings, birds acting all kinds of crazy, the 10 perfectly ordinary children walking into the haunted forest and back out again without gathering a single stick of firewood, and Poppa having an unheard-of-for-its-era mid-life crisis.  Momma prayed for deliverance as Poppa neglected the fields yet again for something he called, when he was speaking in tongues, “a round of golf,” but her prayers seemed unanswered, as they always seem to be in these situations.  So, Momma decided to get proactive.
            Grinding her teeth as the morning gruel sprouted weeds for the fifth time, she herded her 10 children into the main room of their one-room abode and locked them in: she did not care what they or any possible poltergeists destroyed, as long as nobody went wandering off to be taken by the haunted forest.  Next, she tracked down Poppa lounging in a cloth that he had tied to two trees and called what sounded like “ham uck,” and she debated leaving him there but eventually could not, in good conscience.  Instead, she lured him back to the house with promises of something he called “the big game” and she locked him in there with the perfectly ordinary children and the possible poltergeists so they could all stare at each other with nothing to do.
            Momma then entered the haunted forest, but since there was no official trail head or even human-made trails she used a scythe to cut her way through the brush, knowing that she was angering the haunted forest even more and that she could not care any less than she did at that moment.  She had no idea where to go or what to do when she got there, but she assumed that the haunted forest would be in touch with her shortly.
            Sure enough, she reached a clearing that seemed the perfect place for her to state her case.
            She opened with: “Leave me and my perfectly ordinary family alone, you gits!”
            An ethereal voice answered: “Leave… first…and… you’ve got… yourself… a deal....”
          “Never!”  She retorted.  “Lord ---- gave us that land to farm for him, and we are farming it, will ye or nill ye!”
            “Lord ----… is… a dastard....” the haunted forest stated.  “We… do not recognize… his authority....”
            Momma was working on a months-long headache, so she offered: “All right, if we ask him to move our farm farther away from you – not that far, mind, but far enough – would you then cease all the curses and wicked behavior and whatever else on my family?”
            Momma had to wait a few moments for a response: “That… sounds reasonable....”
           “Done!  We move over a bit, you leave us alone forever, `tis a deal, binding for eternity, I will tell the others, farewell!”  Momma yelled over her shoulder as she ran out of the confused haunted forest.
         Over the next several weeks, the perfectly ordinary family’s farm was relocated from the haunted forest’s edge and reassembled in the middle of a meadow: not ideal, but they no longer suffered the ongoing torments of talking chickens and Poppa racing his horse and plow at all hours of the night.  The haunted forest slowly regrew the woods that had been lost, and all was well – that is, until Lord ---- decided on a whim to build a new castle in the middle of the haunted forest.  But that’s another story....

          Oblivia looked at her watch: “Would you look at the time, it’s 7:30 in the morning, I completely talked the night away, I’m sorry guys!”  She felt a big guilty for monopolizing the party.
            “7:30 a.m.?”  One of the vampires said, then opened the window shades and screamed at the early morning sunlight peeking through.  He and his compatriots transformed into bats and flapped away.
            “Wait, what happened to Lord ----?”  Dr. Frankenstein asked; he was sitting cross-legged on the floor and was clutching one of his skeletons as he leaned forward.
            “That’d have to be told at another time, I’m afraid,” Oblivia said as she stood to stretch out the kinks; the remaining listeners groaned in disappointment.  “Maybe next year?”  She suggested.
            A mummy stood.  “Seeing as we were going to destroy you for crashing our party last night, it’d be great if you came here next year, we’d love to have you again!”
            “Aw, thanks!”  Oblivia was touched by their acceptance of her, and gladly took the goodie bag they gave her on the way out.
           She emerged into the dawn of the First of November and skipped all the way home, still wearing her Creepy Clown With Creepy Child costume and freaking out only some of her neighbors.  She thought back on all the new friends she had made last night and the meaningful connection that they had shared.
            Halloween’s the best, she thought.  It’s the one day in the year you can be anybody you want to be, and have a great time with some awesome ghouls.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Story 157: A Real Halloween Party

        This year, Oblivia wanted to go to a real Halloween party: not one where people made half-hearted attempts in wearing cheap costumes and decorating the cafeteria with toilet paper pretending to be ghosts, but an actual, genuinely spooky Halloween party.  One where fake blood runs down the walls, all the food choices are labeled as gross body parts, and the guests look like they are either from a movie or they are dead.  So she was thrilled when she saw a random flyer buried at the bottom of a public trash can that read “Super-Secret All Hallows’ Eve Gala!  October 31, 9 PM Until Sunrise!  13 Elm Street! Come As Your True Selves!! Tell No One!!!”
            Oh boy, she thought, this’ll be AWESOME.
           On the night in question, she dressed up as her go-to character, Creepy Clown With Creepy Child – she liked the horrified reactions she usually received from the coulrophobes.  Cruel, she knew, but this was the one night of the year where mild cruelty was socially acceptable.
            She arrived at 13 Elm Street fashionably late at 9:10 p.m., carrying a bottle of champagne and a bag of candy corn: no uninvited guest should ever arrive empty-handed, that is just bad manners.  A ghoul answered the door.
            “Hi!”  Oblivia greeted the door ghoul.  “I’m here for the revels; where can I drop these off, kitchen?”
            The ghoul stared at her with dead eyes and groaned in incomprehension.
            “Perfect!”  Oblivia walked past the ghoul and deposited her gifts in what she assumed was the kitchen.  She could not tell which room was which because the entire house had been decorated masterfully: black light, creaking floorboards, holes in the walls, no everyday furniture in sight, real cobwebs, nesting bats, rattling chains, bubbling cauldrons, and the sudden sounds of moans and screams filling the air as a soundtrack.  At last, she thought, somebody got Halloween right.
            She was surrounded by bodies swaying asynchronously to the night music: they appeared to be in mourning, yet somehow having a blast at the same time.  Sure, it was not exactly music you could dance to, but it stirred the soul, and that is all that matters.  She swayed to the rhythm as best she could, eyes closed to the alternating glares of resentment and apathy that were sent in her direction.
            At the cauldron labeled “Essence of Suffering,” she grabbed a glass and ladled some of the steaming concoction in, letting the smoke bathe her face for a moment since she was uncertain whether that was a sign the beverage was too hot or too cold.  It was the former, so she blew on it a bit as a man in a lab coat walked over to her.
            “You shouldn’t be here,” he said without preamble.
           Oblivia coughed on some steam before answering.  “I know, I’m crashing, but I couldn’t resist, it sounded so good!”  She blew on the drink some more: why was it not cooling down like any natural drink would?  Oh, right, because it was super-natural.
            “It’s not just that, which is – rude, by the way,” the man said as she grinned sheepishly.  “It’s that you don’t belong here at all.  You’re not one of us.”
           “What do you mean?  You’re not exactly in full-out costume, so I don’t see how you get to criticize me.  At least I made an effort to be horrific.”  The With Creepy Child part of her costume briefly wailed in agreement; she patted its head.  “Hush, now.”
            “Well, I only appear ‘normal’ because I’m Dr. Frankenstein,” the man replied.  “And I don’t think you want to be my next experiment, if you know what I mean.”
            “Brilliant!”  Oblivia clapped her hand holding the glass in glee.  “And are those skeletons you’re dragging around some of your victims?  I mean, projects?”
            He glanced at the bodies she mentioned; he had them tethered to him with a long rope.  “Oh, these I got from a friend who found them in her dead aunt’s closet,” he said, then leaned in and winked conspiratorially.  “I told her they were fake.”
            “Interesting.”  Oblivia was not quite certain whether this was still part of the gag.
           Frankenstein returned to a social distance.  “Really though, for your own sake you should leave now.  You may find yourself on tonight’s menu.”
            “Ha, ha, ha, ohhhh…..”  She trailed off as she finally noticed the other guests had ceased their aimless swaying some time ago and were staring at her intensely.
            “Oops,” Frankenstein said in the way that meant he actually was glad at this turn of events, then slung the skeletons over his left shoulder and strolled to the mashed brains bar for some protein.
            Oblivia, at long last, was aware of her surroundings and of the actual danger she was in as the ghouls, goblins, vampires, werewolves, witches, warlocks, and all the rest closed in on her from every side, including above from the ceiling and below through the floor…


            “HOLD IT!”  Oblivia held up her hand, halting the guests’ forward momentum.  She knew running would only allow them to finish the job quicker: instead, she had to make them change their minds about destroying her.
            As they stared at her, allowing a few moments before they would continue their advance, she said:
            “Would you like to hear a scary story?”
            They looked at each other, then slowly sat down in the ring they conveniently had formed around her.  Frankenstein stared in disbelief as he munched on his dinner, then sat down where he was.
            “Very well then,” Oblivia said as she grabbed a nearby stool and sat, facing the crowd.  “Let’s begin at the most unpleasant beginning: ‘Once upon a midnight dreary –’”
            “No one likes The Raven, it’s been done to death,” a zombie said ironically; others grunted.
          “But I had to recite it in grade school and the only narratively acceptable reason it would be necessary to memorize all 100+ lines is so that it would save my life at this very moment!”  Oblivia argued.
            “No The Raven!”  A vampire yelled.
            “Oh all right.”  Oblivia could switch gears with the best of them.  “Then I will simply begin with: Once upon a time…”


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Story 156: Breaking Up With a Book

(Note: I have been watching a lot of Parks and Recreation lately)

(Scene: A reading room in a public library.  Reader sits at one of the tables and bites her nails while her eyes dart around; several other patrons are scattered throughout the room, reading and working.  Book strolls through the library and sits across from Reader: he is wearing an oversized book cover on his back and a long cloth bookmark is attached to the top of his head.  Reader looks guiltily at him as he sits)
Book: So.  You haven’t opened me in months.
Reader: Yeah, about that –
Book: And I see that you chose a public place to meet with me.  The very first place that we met, as I recall: this is where they held that book sale to benefit the high school chess team, if I’m not mistaken.
Reader: That’s great; you see –
Book: That was a magical moment for both of us.  You, casually skimming through paperbacks that mean nothing to no one; me, sitting in a cardboard box, waiting for that one special reader to discover me.  And then, you did.
Reader: Yes, yes, I –
Book: I even remember your first words to me were: “I always wanted to read you.”  And I always wanted to be read, by someone just like you.
Reader: Would you listen?!  (Several patrons look disapprovingly at her; Book shushes her and she lowers her voice) Look, we need to talk.
Book: Oh, do we?  Do we?!  Heh-heh, “Dewey.”  (Reader looks confusedly at him) Decimal.  (He chuckles some more, then glares at her)
Reader: Look, I tried.  You have to believe me when I say I tried so hard to finish you.  (Book looks away from her) It wasn’t you, it was me!  I just never – got – you.
Book: Hm.  Apparently not.  Some of us require more effort when the reward is all the greater.  Still, I suppose I expected too much from a modern reader.
Reader: Ugh!
Book: Yes my dear, back when I was written, it was a more enlightened time if you will, where people thought and felt things much more deeply than they do today.  I should have known better than to put my faith in a dilettante.
Reader: Excuse me?!
Book: You heard me, you’re a faux reader!
Reader: I am too a real reader!  You’re a faux classic!
Book: (Hisses) How dare you!
Reader: (Yells in a loud whisper) The only reason a total of three teachers in the entire world assign you to their classes is because they hate their students!  You take 2,000 pages to say what could have been said in 10!  You’re obtuse, I say, obtuse!
Book: So speaks someone who barely got past the introduction!
Reader: I skipped the introduction!  (Book’s jaw drops open) It’s a waste of time and it assumes that we’ve already read the story so it gives away the ending!  What’s the point?!
Book: It provides important historical background and offers a deeper appreciation of the text – what is wrong with you?!
Reader: Well, bottom line is: I tried, and I hated.  I hated you, there I said it, I’m sorry, but facts are facts and I will never get back all the hours I spent trying to decipher your narrative techniques, your constantly changing points-of-view, and your mind-boggling chronology.
Book: I was written by one of the greatest minds in Western literature –
Reader: Said no one ever; oh wait, I stand corrected, there was one person who said that: the author!  (She stands to leave) I truly am sorry it had to come to this, you seem like a nice tome and all, but you leave me no choice: I’m donating you back to the library.
Book: (Falls on his knees and clutches Reader’s hands) Wait, I beg you, don’t send me back there!  I’ll do anything – I’ll tear out all the pages you don’t like and we’ll start over again abridged, whaddya say?
Reader: (Stares coldly at Book) It’s not the length, it’s what’s on the pages that’s the problem.
Book: (Cries) Please don’t leave me here!  You’re the only Reader I’ve had in centuries!
Reader: It’s too late for all of that.  I can invest no more of my reading time on you, and absolutely nothing can be done for it.
Book: (Gasps) Is there – another book?
Reader: Of course there is, there’s dozens of other books, I read all the time!
Book: (Stands and slowly spits out) Floozy.  (Reader rolls her eyes and looks at her watch)  Those “bestsellers,” those “book club picks,” those “award winners” – they’re all arbitrary labels that signify nothing!
Reader: Are you almost finished?  `Cause this is taking about as long as trying to read your first chapter.
Book: Oh, I’m finished, all right.  (He strides to the circulation desk) Now if you’ll excuse me, I will deposit myself into the donation bin and save you the trouble.  (He jumps into the bin with a loud crash and looks at his back)  I hope you’re happy: I just cracked my spine.
Reader: Then you should thank me – somebody may buy you again now that it looks like you’ve actually been read!  (She stops a patron heading towards the bin) Never pick up a classic on a whim – it only leads to heartache.  (She exits, muttering to herself)
Book: (Sings) One book/ Book for sale/ He’s going cheap/ Only seven cents….