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					THE LOVELY SHADOW




                                          DEDICATION

        This book is dedicated to my wife and my mother; two women who are both as insane as
can be, but in a pleasant, indefinable, and interesting sort of way.

        Without your continued support, encouragement and occasional criticisms I would likely
have given up this pet project long before making as far as chapter five!

        I love you both more than words can possibly say, fo’ sho’!




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                                         CHAPTER ONE

        Some days from my life stand out more clearly than others in my memory—I think it is
likely that way for most people—however one day from my past stands out with particular
clarity. June12th, 1990—I remember that day quite clearly. I remember it because it was a day of
revelation for me, and the day my life started over.

        It was two days after my seventh birthday and I was digging through my older brother,
Joe’s, left behind possessions looking for a treasure. I had expected that treasure to come in the
form of a comic book—of which my brother had been an avid collector. The treasure I found,
however, came in the form of Kim Basinger.

        It was a tattered copy of the February, 1983 issue of Playboy magazine. Kim Basinger
graced its cover like some kind of benevolent angel or perhaps, a goddess, promising that all the
needs of the heart could and would be met by her without any necessary actions or reciprocations
on my part.

        It was only a head shot, without any giant breasts thrust forward in a grotesque display of
sexually predative desire. No long, unclothed legs opened slightly to reveal the faintest hint of
that mystery of mysteries at the pelvis of Woman that has so entranced men through the ages that
they would commit acts of murder, slander, war, debauchery, deceit, and countless other horrors
just so they can lay a finger on the fallacy that they have somehow become the sole master of
this mystery, (this will never be however, for this mystery belongs to Woman alone).

        No, it was only a picture of her head. She was lying on her side on some kind of grey box
and staring intently at me. At me!

        There was no lusty gleam in her eyes, nor were her lips pouty and swollen, alluring and
glistening with feminine sweetness. There was none of that. She simply lay there staring at me.
And at the same time she was laying there, she did not simply lay there, she existed there!

        She existed there encompassing my entire world with her long blond curls hanging down
out of the cameras reach—seemingly to infinity—and staring at me through the tattered cover
page with blue-grey eyes that swallowed me whole and pulled me into her very soul.




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         I held the magazine with both hands at about the level of my belly button and stared
down at it. I felt weird but didn’t have the faintest understanding of the feelings that were
broiling inside my chest and stomach. My chest felt constricted while my belly twittered as
though there were millions of tiny bubbles dashing around inside it at blinding speeds and
crashing into one another which caused them to suddenly pop.

         I only stared at that magazine cover for a few seconds, but it felt like hours, lost as I was
in its dizzying allure. I was so intent on it that I never heard my mother creeping up behind me, I
never saw her already wrinkled face contort and shrink into even more wrinkles as she peered
over my shoulder and saw what I was staring at.

         I never saw her eyes shrink to the narrow slits that I had often seen, and often felt must
have been impossible to see through, nor did I see her lips pucker into a tight mass of flesh that
gave the impression of a person being forced to kiss an electric eel.

         I didn’t see any of that happening, nor did I see her arm swinging back.

         I didn’t need to see her transformation taking place; I’d seen it many times before. I
didn’t even know she was there until her open palm connected with my right ear at a speed of
roughly one million miles per hour.

         A huge noise and blinding flash of pain shot through my right ear and my head swung so
hard to the left that I nearly hit my left ear on my left shoulder as I began falling towards the
floor.

         My first thought was that my head had exploded and I could not understand how the
seemingly loving and beautiful angel I’d been staring at could be so cruel as to blow up my head
in such a painful manner, but before I hit the floor I began to grasp the situation a bit better.

         My mother’s shrill shrieking was piercing through my left ear as I fell, (my right ear was
only hearing a high pitched whine and a dull thudding sound as my heart beat). That was the
only clue I really needed to unravel the mystery of my exploding head.

         My mother’s shriek was horrible; a single note that didn’t fluctuate at all until her lungs
ran out of air. It was a note that I was certain could have easily shattered crystal if there had



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been any around, which there wasn’t. As I fell I was thankful for that, somehow knowing that my
face would have been cut to ribbons if there had been.

        Shortly after imagining the crystal, another thought struck me—if our house had been
built on top of an Indian burial ground like the one in the Poltergeist movie, my mother’s
shrieking would likely wake those long dead Natives and then I’d have much more to worry
about than plain old crystal fragments flying through the air.

        I saw the floor racing up to meet me in seeming slow motion, I saw the Playboy tumbling
away from me, its pages fluttering open as it flew. I saw a naked woman flutter by on the pages
of that magazine and I was shocked! I had no idea that women could be so beautiful; I also had
no idea that there were naked women in that magazine.

        I hit the floor on my stomach and quickly rolled over onto my side with a cry of pain and
shock finally fleeing from my lips. My mother was still screaming as I rolled onto my side, and
as I looked up at her I was frightened.

        Her mouth had left its puckered state and had opened to its widest possible limit; her lips
had peeled back like old paint on a weathered barn—curling into a vicious snarl that showed her
crooked and yellowed teeth which were glistening with a shine that was most certainly not
feminine or alluring.

        Two strands of spittle, just slightly off to either side of the center of her mouth connected
her top teeth to her bottom teeth like pillars in a roman temple. Her tongue, the tip of which
seemed to be pushing violently against the back side of her bottom teeth, was white instead of
pink. And her eyes were wide saucers, showing too much white and bulging slightly from their
sunken, purplish-black ringed sockets.

        For every ounce of love, acceptance, and desire I’d just seen in Kim Basinger's eyes, my
mother’s eyes showed pounds of fury, malice, and hate. Her dark hair was hanging limply
around her face in long, greasy, and matted tendrils. And to top it off, she was wearing her
damned wedding dress again.

        I had barely hit the floor and gotten a glimpse my mother’s bestial face before she was
leaping over me (still shrieking that horrible note) with the unnatural grace of an Olympic


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hurdler and scooping the Playboy off the floor. As she was straightening up with it in her hands
she finally seemed to run out of air and stopped screeching. I rolled around to look at her with
tears streaming down my face. My right ear could not hear properly, and I was quite certain that
the blood I felt leaking out of it was actually my brains somehow turned to jelly by the force of
her blow. The pain was excruciating. I began to wail loudly, I don’t know if it was more from
the pain or more from the fear, but either way, I couldn’t stop it.

        She stood there with her back to me for as many as thirty seconds with her shoulders
hunched and heaving up and down, as though the exertion of the screaming and jumping had
winded her terribly. She stared at the playboy she was holding in her hands, impervious to my
sobbing and pleading.

        When she turned around and stared at me, her face had returned to its normal pissed off
pucker, and though her eyes were the narrow slits that I was certain could not be seen out of I
could still feel the hate and malice shooting out of them like laser beams.

        I pushed myself up off the floor until I was sitting on my butt with my left leg out straight
and my right leg bent under the left and stared up at her, still sobbing and pleading, with both of
my arms reaching out to her. I was hoping for forgiveness; hoping to be scooped up off the floor,
held in a tight hug, and forgiven for whatever mortal sin I must have committed.

         “Please, Momma” I cried. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”

        I didn’t know what I was apologizing for, but I sure as Hell knew I needed to apologize!
I was nearly screaming now, the fingers on both hands making clawing ‘gimme’ gestures toward
her at the ends of my outstretched arms.

        “Please, Mama,” I pleaded again.

        My mother didn’t move. If she was anything, she was stoic. My wailing sobs slowly
reduced themselves to whimpers as I began to plead for forgiveness more and more quietly.

         I watched my mother carefully roll the magazine up into a tight tube while she continued
to glare at me. I dropped my arms and tried to rub my ear, but the pain of touching it made me
gasp and jerk my hand away as though I’d touched an electric fence. I looked at my finger tips



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and saw blood on them and was somewhat relieved to find that it was only blood I’d felt trickling
out of my ear and not jellied brains as I’d originally suspected.

          I had one bright shining moment of hope then. As I recoiled from touching my ear I saw
my mother’s face soften just the tiniest bit. Tears were still streaming down my face, but I was
no longer wailing. My mother cocked her head slightly to one side and a faint smile played at
the corners of her mouth. She stepped toward me with the rolled up magazine held at shoulder
height.

          “Johnny,” she said quietly as she came near. She bent toward me, her eyes suddenly
looking sad and her eyebrows arching in apparent concern. “Do you know what this is,
Johnny?”

          She wiggled the magazine around a bit and I looked at it, suddenly frightened of it as if it
were a venomous snake. “N...n...no, Muh…mah...ma...ma,” I sputtered in a sob choked voice,
shaking my head vehemently hoping to show her how innocent I was in this unfortunate incident.

          “This, Johnny,” she said compassionately while giving the magazine another little wiggle
and standing up to her full height before me, “is POISON!”

          At this last word, all the softness in her voice and face fled like deer from a rampaging
forest fire and was replaced with her former puckered malice. As she screamed the word,
“poison,” she brought the rolled up Playboy swinging down in a lightning fast arc and smashed it
directly into my already throbbing ear.

          My eyes rolled up like some crazy slot machine as fresh pain burst through my head, and
I was convinced for the second time in a matter of minutes that my head had just exploded.

          I screamed so loud that it felt like I’d just regurgitated some of those imagined crystal
fragments into my throat. My arms came up instinctively to protect my head from further
explosions. I fell to the floor for the second time, curled myself into a fetal position, and kept my
arms around my head as blow after blow landed upon me.




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         My mother was screaming at me at the top of her lungs as she pummeled me with the
Playboy, but I was only able to catch bits and pieces of what she was saying through my own
screams and the continuing whacks.

         “SMUT BOOK… WHORES AND PROSTITUTES… DEVILS OWN PLAYGROUND…
SEX FIEND LIKE YOUR FATHER… BURNING IN ETERNAL HELL... YOU SON OF A
BITCH! YOU GOD DAMNED… OF A BITCH…JUST LIKE YOUR FATHER… DON’T
DESERVE JOHN’S NAME… YOU BE LIKE JOE? JOE WOULD NEVER…SOMETHING SO
EVIL!”

         I have no idea how long she went on screaming and flogging. But when she started
screaming that “Joe would never”, I had just enough time to think, ‘The Hell he wouldn’t! It’s
his goddamn magazine you’re smacking me with’ before I blacked out. Judging from the pain I
had all around my body when I woke up, my mother’s rampage must have lasted for quite some
time.

         I was only seven years old then and I suppose the few things I came to understand that
day were probably a bit beyond my years. One; I am very fond of pretty women. Two; I would
probably be terrified of Playboy magazines for the rest of my life. Three; though the pen is
supposedly mightier than the sword, I can tell you from experience that when that mighty pen is
set to a sheaf of papers, and that sheaf of papers is rolled into a tight tube and used to bludgeon
you, then the paper is suddenly mightier than the pen. And four; (and probably most important)
my mother was utterly insane.




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THE LOVELY SHADOW




                                          CHAPTER TWO

        My mother hadn’t always been insane. The Sickness that had only rarely showed itself
before didn’t come on her in full until December 23rd, 1989. That was when my older brother,
Joe had been killed in a car accident on an icy road.

        He was 16, exactly one week shy of ten years older than me, and he had a different
Father. His father was my namesake, John, and my mother’s only true love. They had met when
my mother was only sixteen. He was three years older than her, already graduated from high
school and working in a local factory. To her that made him seem like a full-fledged man of the
world who would be able to take her under his wing, show her the world, protect her from all
harm, and provide for her fully.

        From the stories my mother told us, John had performed his duties admirably. My
mother graduated two years after they’d started dating. He took her to dinner at the local
Denny’s to celebrate her graduation and at some point during dinner, when my mother got up to
pee, John surreptitiously dropped a ring into her coffee. After returning from her trip to the
restroom, they chatted while she finished her coffee.

        When there was only a gulp left in the cup she tried to chug it and nearly choked on the
ring. In a fit of coughing she spit the ring across the table and it landed right in front of John
who deftly plucked it up, slid out of his booth and dropped to one knee in front of my still
sputtering mother. He proposed, she accepted, and bam! Life was suddenly perfect.

        Two years into nuptial bliss my mother got pregnant with Joe. John had insisted that they
name the child after his grandfather, Joseph, but my mother wanted to name the child after her
father, Martin. In the end they had compromised, and on June 17th, 1973, a wrinkled screaming
baby boy named Joseph Martin Krimshaw came bursting into the world.

        Life was good. Even the death of my mother’s parents in a tragic house fire later that
same year could not detract from the sublime perfection of her happy world.

        Sadly, the good times wouldn’t last forever. In January of 1975 John was at work in the
factory. He should have been home with his wife and son, but money was tight and there was
some overtime available on the night shift so he took it. There was an explosion. The details



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have always been sketchy, but the story that has been pieced together by various accounts runs
something like this:

            John had been running a welder in the back part of the factory, building a frame for a new
piece of equipment when his friend Charlie Patten came by on a forklift to deliver some metal
beams to him. They most likely chatted for a bit while they worked together unloading the
heavy beams and leaning them against the wall.

            They were likely still chatting as Charlie started to drive away which is why a distracted
Charlie backed his forklift into the beams, knocking them over and damaging the wall they were
leaning against about eight feet up. John and Charlie probably started standing all the beams
back up before anyone could see their faux pos, not knowing that inside that damaged wall there
ran a propane line right alongside electrical wiring, both of which had been damaged when the
beams fell.

            The inside of the wall was filling with propane; the loose broken wiring was being jostled
with the vibration the men were causing when they bumped the heavy beams against the wall.
Eventually two loose ends of wire managed to swing just close enough together to cause an arc
between them. If the resultant fireball hadn’t killed them almost instantly, the heavy metal
beams flying at them certainly would have.

            There was an investigation which proved that the building was not up to code and the
accident was a direct result of this derelict construction. From this came a nice hefty settlement
for my mother, as well as a nice chunk of money from John’s life insurance policy and monthly
Social Security checks for both her and Joe. My mother, if she was frugal, was financially set
for life.

            But money can’t buy happiness so they say, and they are right. My mother always said a
little piece of her soul was lost that day and she was convinced that she would never smile again.
But she still had Joe, and Joe was a little piece of John. And eventually, she did begin to smile
again knowing that John’s spirit was alive and well in Joe.

            I think in some ways my mother believed that Joe had become an incarnation of the man
she loved. I think she truly believed that somehow when John died, he’d managed to push Joe’s



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soul aside and insert his own soul into tiny Joe’s infant body. I think that’s when my mother’s
Sickness really began.

        My mother raised Joe as best she could and would often call him “Johnny-Joe” as a
nickname. This nickname was, I believe, a manifestation of the Sickness that had only just
begun to sink its yellowed and scaly talons into my mother’s brain, but things were okay for
them for several years. It was just the two of them and they didn’t need anyone else.
Unfortunately for my mother sometime in September of 1982 she stepped out.




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                                            CHAPTER THREE

        My mother hadn’t had much social life since John died because she had committed
herself fully to raising Joe the John Child. However she did have one close friend, Katelyn
Patten, the former wife of Charlie Patten who’d been blown to bits with John. My mother and
Katelyn had met at the hospital the night of the explosion and in their intermingled grief they
found some semblance of solace between them. In fact, I believe it was Katelyn who saved my
mother from stepping fully into madness back then.

        Over the course of a couple years, Katelyn had managed to pull her life back together and
had even begun dating again. She tried often to get my mother to join her at the local tavern for
a beer or the theater for a movie, but my mother resisted for several years. Katelyn, however,
was persistent and eventually my mother agreed to go to a movie with her. They saw E.T. the
Extra Terrestrial.

        My mother wept through a great portion of the movie, somehow empathizing with that
little alien fellow in the film; with his aching loneliness and desire to return home. She saw her
own home as being in the arms of John and understood that she could not return there. That
film, aside from breaking my mother’s heart, woke up in my mother a new feeling…hope.

        “Why, if a little heartsick spud like E.T. can have a happy ending in his life,” she’d said
to Katelyn, “then I suppose I can too.” And that was the start of my mother’s new social life.

        Throughout that summer she and Katelyn went to several movies and often went dancing
at the local tavern. Katelyn’s fourteen year old daughter, Bess would come over and babysit Joe
while the two ladies went out.

        My mother began to disassociate Joe from John and saw him again as a separate entity.
She had, in essence, started to heal. Then came a night in September of 1982 when my mother
had a bit too much to drink and began an instant spiral back into her Sickness.

        As I was growing up my mother was always telling Joe and I stories about John, and
what a wonderful husband and father he had been. After one such story, when I was around five
years old, it dawned on me that I didn’t ever come into these stories and John was not my father.
So I asked my mother to tell us about my Father.


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        Her reaction was instantaneous and frightening. It was the first time I can ever remember
seeing her face pucker into that mask of anger and hate that became so prevalent on her only a
couple years later. That horrible face only lasted for a second before she was able to swallow it
back down and resume most of her normal composure.

        When she spoke her voice was a bit strained and her eyes shone with anger and she said,
“Johnny, I’m only going to tell you this story one time, and only because as a bastard child, you
deserve to know. Do you understand?” I, of course had no idea what a bastard child was, but
did want to know about my daddy so I nodded my head up and down and stared at her with wide
eyes.

        “Okay then,” she said, speaking softly in a very controlled tone. “Your daddy was a dirty
sex fiend who fed me magic juice one night that made me fall asleep. When I was asleep he
planted you inside me and he stole a piece of me should have only been John’s, and then he ran
away. I never saw him again.”

        I was mesmerized by her story and not quite bright enough yet to see the danger in her
eyes so I asked, “What was his name, Mama?”

        Her eyes narrowed to slits and her mouth puckered and she spat her words at me like a
cobra spitting its blinding venom.

         “He didn’t deserve a name!” she screamed. “He was a filthy sex fiend who only wanted
one thing! He was poison! He was trash! He stole what was John’s and he ran away! And it
was all because of that bitch, Katelyn! She let it happen!”

        As my mother started yelling, I recoiled in fear. Joe, who was standing behind me, caught
me and wrapped his arms around me in a bear hug from behind and shouted over my head,
“Mama! Stop it! You’re scaring him, and it isn’t his fault!” His words seemed to hit my mother
like a fastball to the forehead and her countenance went blank for a second, then it softened and
looked very much the way a concerned mother’s face should look.

        She stumbled forward and reached for me, crying.




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        “Oh Johnny,” she said, grabbing me in her arms as Joe released me from his. “Johnny,
I’m so sorry.”

        She pulled me in close and nearly suffocated me between her breasts as she gripped the
back of my head and buried her face into my hair. When she released me a few moments later, I
was fairly certain that I had snot in my hair.

        She put her palms against my cheeks and turned my face up towards hers and said,
“Johnny, your daddy was bad, but Joe’s Daddy was good…so good, Johnny. That’s why I gave
you his name, Johnny. So that the goodness of Joe’s daddy could fill you up and push out the
poison that your daddy left in you. Do you understand?”

         I thought I sort of understood, was pretty certain that I somehow did not feel good about
understanding, and was definitely certain that I was ready to be done with this conversation so I
shook my head.

        “Good,” my mother said. “Now, it’s off to bed with you, Mister.”

        That night should have changed my perception of my mother, but being young and
resilient, it didn’t. I didn’t notice the subtle changes taking place in my mother, but looking back
now, I can see that Joe saw them. He saw them very clearly.

        My mother became more withdrawn from me and clingier towards Joe. She had begun
calling him Johnny-Joe again. Her sour lemon pucker face showed itself more frequently, and
her outbursts became a regular occurrence. I think there may be truth to the old statement “if you
keep making that face, it’ll stick that way” because my mother’s wrinkles seemed to increase
daily. Even when she wasn’t puckered, her face remained deeply lined.

        I seemed to be a jolly good catalyst for bringing forth her outbursts, since they were
almost always directed towards me and generally had something to do with my good for nothing,
sex-fiend, father. But after her outbursts she always found herself again and would come to me
crying, hugging and apologizing, and always trying to explain that it was just the poison that my
daddy left in me that got her so upset.




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        Joe protected me from my mother as best he could. Usually it was something as simple
as a hand on my shoulder and nearly imperceptible head nod to stop me from saying something
that would set my mother off. If subtlety didn’t work, his protection might include a hand over
the mouth, and if I seemed to be really intent on pissing my mother off, Joe would sock me in the
arm to completely distract me.

        I loved Joe dearly. He was the perfect older brother. He shared his toys, he shared his
wisdom, he shared his mother, and he shared his life with me. Most of what I know about my
mother before the Sickness took her came from stories Joe told me. I idolized Joe and I lost more
than a brother when he died on that December night. I lost my mentor, my protector, and my
only friend…I suppose I also lost my mother.




                                                14
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                                        CHAPTER FOUR

        After Joe died, my mother’s Sickness decided it was time to quit poking its talons gently
into her brain and just ram them in full force. After ripping through the grey matter, her Sickness
withdrew its talons and desecrated the sanctity of her mind by spitting venom into the gashes that
were left behind.

        The Sickness grew rapidly and manifested itself in various ways. My mother became
more withdrawn and for longer time periods. At first I didn’t mind the distance. My mother had
always homeschooled Joe and me, and as she started to withdraw after Joe died she seemed
forget about schooling me altogether. Then the distance that started out lasting only minutes at a
time began to last for hours, then days, and finally for as long as a week and I grew lonely.

        Another manifestation of the Sickness was that it seemed to take very little effort on my
part (the act of breathing seemed to be more than adequate) to send my mother into one of her
pucker-face screaming fits, and it wasn’t long after Joe’s death that the puckering and screaming
met a new friend...hitting.

        In the beginning my mother would show an almost instant remorse after striking me and
would seem to return to her normal self. Then she’d begin a regimen of crying, hugging,
apologizing, and explaining that my Daddy left poison in me. In time, though, my mother’s
ritual of repentant remorse began to come later and later after the beatings, and finally there were
no more apologies.

        The worst part of my mother’s derailment from sanity came when she started wearing her
wedding dress. She’d put on the dress and wander aimlessly through the house talking to the
dead as though they were right beside her. She’d lost so much weight and taken so few trips into
the sunshine that her pale and emaciated frame drifting through the house looked remarkably
ghost-like itself.

        Although her appearance was more than enough to scare the crap out of a six year old
kid, it didn’t seem to be enough for her, so to add to the overall creep factor she’d carry on
conversations with John and Joe, talking as though they were really there, pausing like she was
listening to a reply from them and then answering in turn.




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        Sometimes she’d laugh like someone had just said something funny or she’d toss her hair
and put on a coy expression like she was trying to be cute. Sometimes she’d even raise her voice
and wave her arms around as if engaged in some vehement disagreement with the unseen dead.

        I learned early on not to disturb my mother when she was wearing her dress. The first
time I saw her in it I was completely unprepared.

         It was nighttime and I’d awakened with a need to pee. My bedroom was at the end of
the hallway and Joe’s room was directly across the hallway from mine. In the middle of the
hallway was the bathroom and at the far end of the hall, nearest the living room, was my
mother’s room. The hallway was lit by a small night light shaped like Snoopy sleeping on his
doghouse. It was plugged into an outlet near the floor directly across the hallway from the
bathroom door.

        As I entered the hall from my dark room, the dim light in the hallway proved to be too
much for my night eyes. I squinted and rubbed them as I stumbled down the hall towards the
bathroom. When I finsihed rubbing them and started to open them again I saw a ghost not more
than four feet in front of me.

        A scream escaped my lips as I stared at the specter. A satiny, white, strapless dress was
hanging loosely on a frame of pale flesh that was barely sinuous enough to hold it up. Bony,
naked shoulders were protruding at strange angles above the cut of fabric, highlighting deep
hollows at the base of a long, corded neck. Skinny arms with long concaves beneath tiny biceps
and strange bulging elbows were held straight out, away from the body with the palms facing out
as if awaiting crucifixion. The long, gangly fingers of each hand were splayed outward,
stretching straight out as if trying to flee away from the hands that held them prisoner.

        The head that sat atop this macabre trunk was no less ghoulish. Dark, matted hair stuck
out in multiple directions, weaved and knotted together in clumps like a bird’s nest made of
black grass. This broken nest framed a shriveled pale face. Dark circles hung beneath closed,
purple-red eyelids that were set deep into sunken sockets. Hollow cheeks flanked thin, pink lips
like guards escorting a prisoner to his cell. The lips were pressed together and stretched tightly
into what was either a grin of pure ecstasy or a grimace of pain.




                                                 16
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        The entirety of this lurid wraith was given an ethereal glow by the innocently snoozing
Snoopy as he laid on his doghouse in the wall socket.

        The sound of my scream hit my mother as though there was physical substance in the
sound waves the scream produced. Her entire body convulsed like a shock wave had just ripped
through her. Her eyes popped open revealing too much white and too much pupil. Her tightly
stretched lips snapped into a pucker like a rubber band that has been stretched from both ends
into an elongated shape and then had those ends released simultaneously.

         The rebounding force from the rapid puckering was too great to hold the lips in a pucker
for more than a millisecond, and as her lips smashed together into a pucker the shockwave of
flesh slapping flesh caused them to immediately peel open into a snarl revealing rapidly
yellowing teeth.

        A shrill, unwavering note emanated from somewhere high in her throat and her arms that
had appeared to have been patiently waiting for the hammer and nails suddenly snapped forward
towards me, the formerly straight fingers bending themselves into claws.

        That was the image I saw with my eyes, but in my mind, I saw the unassuming librarian
ghost that transformed into a malevolent demon at the beginning of the first Ghostbusters movie.

        As recognition washed over me I screamed louder, for when I realized that this was my
own mother, and not a ghost, I was even more terrified. I tried to back away from her but I
stumbled and fell. My mother, still shrieking that singular note, rushed towards me. When she
reached me, she gave me a swift kick in the stomach that knocked the wind out of me.

        As I was busy folding up like a lawn chair, gasping for breath, and suspecting that I
suddenly understood how a fish plucked from the water feels, my mother finally stopped
screeching and started screaming at me.

         “YOU…LITTLE…BASTARD!” she screamed. “YOU SCARED THEM AWAY! YOU
SCARED THEM AWAY!” With that she turned and marched down the hall to her bedroom,
slamming the door after her.




                                                 17
THE LOVELY SHADOW




        I laid there for a bit, crying silently and staring at Snoopy sleeping peacefully on his little
red doghouse. Eventually my breath returned to me and I sat up and wiped my face. As I got up
off the floor I noticed that a trip to the toilet was no longer necessary but a change of clothes
was. I walked back to my bedroom to change clothes and go back to bed but paused at my door.
From down the hall I could hear my Mother sobbing behind her closed bedroom door and I felt
sad for her.

        The next day my mother seemed normal again. I was sitting at the table eating a bowl of
Lucky Charms when she emerged from her bedroom. She had bathed, combed her hair for the
first time in a week, and dressed in her normal clothes.

        Although she had dark, puffy circles under her eyes, was still far too skinny, and seemed
to be gaining more wrinkles on her face, I thought she looked beautiful. When she saw me, she
smiled broadly and came over to tousle my hair and kiss my forehead.

         “How’d you sleep, Johnny?” she asked me. I was uncertain how to answer so I just
diverted my eyes and shrugged my shoulders. She cocked her head and looked at me. “Well,”
she said, “I slept like the dead. I don’t think I’ve slept that well in ages.”

        ‘Yeah, you looked like the dead too Ma,’ I thought to myself with a certain morbid
cynicism.

        I suddenly understood that she had no memory of the previous night. I would have
thought I’d dreamt it, had it not been for the bruise on my belly. I figured it might be best not to
mention it to her and simply hope that it never happened again. But it did happen again…and
again...and again. Fortunately, I’m a quick learner and I never interrupted her dress clad
wanderings again.

        When she wasn’t wearing her wedding dress and conversing with the dead, my mother’s
behavior was erratic. Sometimes she was sweet and loving. Sometimes she was pucker-faced
and violent. Often she was simply so withdrawn that it seemed as if she’d forgotten that I
existed at all. When she went into extended periods of secession from the human race I took
care of myself.




                                                   18
THE LOVELY SHADOW




           Long before the Sickness had taken her, she’d set up bi-weekly deliveries of groceries
from the local grocer. The order never changed so she was able to pay several months in
advance.

        After Joe died we didn’t need quite so many groceries but she never changed the order
and we soon began to have a surplus of food. Once the cupboards and the fridge in the kitchen
were full I started loading up the cupboards and freezer in the basement.

           So whenever my mother withdrew, I simply spent my days watching television and
feeding myself from our stockpile of bread, and cheese, and peanut butter, and hot dogs, and
cereal, and so on, and so forth. In the end, it turned out that I was very lucky that we had such
surplus.

        That was pretty much how things went on for the majority of the time after Joe died. My
mother had a few moments of lucidity here and there, but for the most part you couldn’t trust
those moments. If you tried to talk to her while she was lucid there was a very good chance that
she was going to snap and turn suddenly and unrepentantly violent. And if you interrupted her
while she was wearing her wedding dress and conversing with the dead there was a good
possibility that you’d wind up as dead as the dead she conversed with.

        Fortunately for me, my mother had taught me how to read fairly early in my home
schooling and I had a genuine lust for it. I read every book in our house multiple times after she
went bonkers. I had discovered that reading was a good way to keep out of her way as well as
help me forget to be afraid.

        Watching television was another favorite pastime of mine while my mother’s brain was
AWOL. We were lucky enough to have cable television and I suppose that at six years old I
probably shouldn’t have watched the programs I watched, nor read the books I read, but without
anybody coherent enough to stop me I was pretty much free to do what I wanted.

        I thought life was pretty good for me during that time, actually. I only had to eat the
foods I liked, which just so happened to be foods that I could easily prepare. I could watch the
television any time I wanted, and watch any program I wanted. I could read any book I wanted
(with the apparent exception of Playboy Magazine anyway).




                                                  19
THE LOVELY SHADOW




        I didn’t know that I should have friends, or that my mother should have been taking care
of me. I had no idea that the lifestyle I was living was completely inappropriate. I simply
assumed that it was the normal way that people lived.

        At any rate, if someone had asked me what I thought of my life at that point I would have
probably shrugged and said something like, “It’s ok, I guess.” I knew I was bitterly lonesome,
but I could mostly fix that with books and television. I knew I was scared a lot, but I could also
mostly fix that with books and television. It wasn’t until June 12th, 1990—the day when
dawning realization crashed over me like tidal surf—that I understood how bad my life
was…and it was about to get worse.




                                                 20
THE LOVELY SHADOW




                                             CHAPTER FIVE

        During my mother’s rousing rendition of a starving savage clubbing a pig to death with a
Playboy magazine, I’d blacked out. When I awoke my first thought was, ‘Dear God! That crazy
Bitch knocked my eyeballs out of my head!’

        My second thought, which followed pretty close after the first, was ‘Whoa, Buddy, you’d
better cut back on that cable television talk before that lunatic finds a reason rip your tongue out
too!’ After these two thoughts finished their journey through my jumbled mind I took panicked
stock of my situation.

        I truly was blind. I blinked a few times, shutting my eyes at tight as I could and then
popping them open suddenly as if that manic action would force them to work better. It didn’t, I
still couldn’t see anything at all and I began to panic a bit more.

        I started screaming for my mother.

        “Mama…Mama!” I screamed. “Where are you Mama?”

         There was no response and I noticed that my voice sounded muffled, like it was being
absorbed into its surroundings. A thought tickled the back of my mind but I couldn’t quite bring
the thought to maturity. My panic grew.

        I started to thrash around (as if that was really going to do any damned good), and winced
as my sore, tired body protested against any sudden movement. I decided that laying still and
screaming my fool head off was a much better solution to my problems.

        I screamed louder, my panic escalating from blossom to full bloom.

        “Mama! I’m scared, Mama! Where are you?”

        My voice still sounded odd and that thought was still tickling my brain. If I had been
able to calm down and scratch the itch that the thought was creating I probably could have saved
myself from the sore throat I ended up with, but I was too busy panicking to think coherently.

        I lay on my back with my head up and screamed at the top of my lungs until I was hoarse.
I begged, pleaded, threatened, and even cursed at the top of my lungs. There was no response.



                                                  21
THE LOVELY SHADOW




          When I was too tired to make much more noise than a small scratchy whisper I finally
stopped. I laid my head back down a bit too hard and winced as it connected with a solid,
irregular floor.

         When my head thumped on the floor it seemed to knock that niggling, tickling thought
from the back of my mind to the front.

        ‘Why is the floor so hard?’ I wondered. ‘Why does my voice sound funny and yet
familiar? Why is the air so musty?’

         I put my palms against the floor and felt around. The floor was rough and cold. Small
ridges swirled beneath my palms as I dragged them across the surface. A small pile of grit built
up under my palms as I swept them across the surface.

        “Cement,” I croaked out loud with triumphant satisfaction. I had unraveled the mystery
of the floor and with that revelation several others came bursting forth like Fourth of July
fireworks exploding in my brain.

        ‘I’m in the basement! That’s why my voice sounds funny! I’m not blind, it’s only dark!’

        As these revelations washed over me they washed the last of my panic away with them. I
was going to be okay after all, I thought. All I had to do was figure out where the stairs were and
crawl up them and head out the door.

        I rolled onto my hands and knees and began to swivel my head around. Taking stock of
my situation without the blinding effects of panic worked out much better for me. For starters I
could see that it was not actually pitch dark as I had originally thought. Directly behind me there
was a very faint wash of light on one end of the small basement that originated from a bright
horizontal line of light about seven feet above my head and off to the left.

         The line of light was only about a half inch thick and about three feet long. I puzzled on
that line of light for a couple seconds before I realized that it was light shining under the door
that led out of the basement.

        I closed my eyes and visualized the basement the way I’d seen it with the light on and
figured that I was right in the middle of the small room. To my left would be the washer and


                                                  22
THE LOVELY SHADOW




drier. To the right would be a rack with several shelves filled with dry and canned goods. On
one end of that rack would be the big upright freezer where I loaded all the overflow of
perishables that wouldn’t fit in the fridge and freezer in the kitchen. The other end of the rack
pointed towards the stairs.

        Since I had turned around and was now facing towards the door and stairs, I knew that I
was facing north and directly behind me was all the storage. Boxes filled with miscellaneous
knick knacks, old clothes, Christmas decorations, and other such odds and ends were stacked
against the retaining wall on the south-east side of the basement.

           A couple old lawn-chairs, a table with a broken leg, an old wicker picnic basket, a musty
old twin mattress, and a bunch of other stuff that my mind couldn’t quite bring into focus was
piled up against the south-west and west walls.

        All around the washing machine to my left would be baskets of clean and dirty laundry,
(mostly dirty). My mother had long since given up on washing clothes and I was honestly not
that particular about doing it myself, although I had learned how to do it and did occasionally
wash a few clothes and towels when I started feeling particularly grubby.

        There was a shelf above the washer that contained all the normal things you should find
in a laundry area, soap, bleach, and drier sheets. Right in front of the Washer there would be the
small stool that I had dragged over months prior so that I could reach the items on the shelf.

        On the south side of the washer was a big cabinet filled with linens. That cabinet had not
been opened for months as my mother had stopped changing the sheets on our beds when she
went bonkers, and I really didn’t care if my sheets were dirty or not.

        Directly beside the washer, on the north side of it, was the drier, and directly north of the
drier was a large trash can where the lint from the lint screen was deposited.

        With my visualization on the basement complete I felt confident enough to stand up and
head towards the stairs. I opened my eyes and focused them on the narrow strip of light that
shone several feet in front of, and above me. I took two confident strides towards the stairs and
then tripped ungracefully over the small stepstool that I thought should have been further off to
my left.


                                                  23
THE LOVELY SHADOW




          I threw my arms out in front of me as I flew forward and caught the fingers of my right
hand on the bottom edge of the right hand banister of the stairs, bending them backwards further
than they were ever meant to go.

          The pain was sharp and sudden and I was fairly certain that I broke the middle and ring
fingers. I cried out as I continued to fall, (my fingers apparently not quite strong enough to stop
my forward momentum).

          I must have done a bit of a pirouette as I fell because I hit the stairs hard on my right side.
My right shoulder hit the edge of the third stair up from the bottom, my forearm hit the edge of
the second stair, and my hip crunched against the edge of the bottom stair.

          My head swung down on a neck that suddenly seemed to be made of rubber and smacked
my right ear against the edge of the fourth stair. When I came to rest I was all twisted up with
my left arm pointing straight out and up like a rodeo rider trying desperately to get his eight
seconds of glory, and my right arm curled beneath my body having taken a major portion of the
impact.

          The cry I had been uttering as I fell evolved into a scream of acute pain when I landed.
White light speckled with big red blotches flashed in my eyes. My arm, fingers and hip were all
forgotten. All that existed was my already damaged right ear, burning and throbbing from its
impact with the edge of the stair, it pulsed with infinite pain and I had a sneaking suspicion that I
might actually have sliced it in half.

          As I continued to scream, (a long single note fairly reminiscent of my Mother’s banshee
like screech) the thought passed quickly through my head that I had finally done what my
Mother couldn’t, I’d completely destroyed my ear.

          ‘Well, this oughtta make the old Bitty happy.’ I thought. ‘What she couldn’t knock off my
head, I’ve managed to sever on the friggin’ stair.’

          My lungs ran out of air fairly quickly and my scream faded into the padded silence that
the basement created.




                                                    24
THE LOVELY SHADOW




        I lay there for a bit trying to catch my breath, trying to think coherent thoughts, but
unable to because the all consuming pain that enveloped my body (especially my ear) felt like
the walls of an over tight womb, and it was crushing my thoughts as well as my breath out of my
body.

        I was completely wracked with pain. My throat was filled with fragments of the
imaginary crystal that my Mother’s screech had shattered. The fingers of my right hand were
bent unnaturally and were smashed against my chest, throbbing with every heart beat.

        My right shoulder and forearm felt like they were smashed against a knife edge that
radiated pain in ripples like the circular ripples on the water when a pebble is dropped into it.
Each individual ripple hit my body like a baseball bat, thumping against my arm and shoulder
and making my whole body shudder. My hip was likewise in a sea of pain. It felt like someone
had performed surgery on it but left the scalpel wedged in the socket between the bones to grind
and press against them.

        Above all this, however, was my ear. I was certain that it had been sliced in two. The
pain was indescribable. It burned, it pulsed, it throbbed, it ached. There aren’t enough words in
the English language to adequately describe it.

        With every pulse of pain, stars danced before my eyes. Flashes of red, tinged with white
auras floated randomly before me in the dark. I lay there for a second considering how nice it
would be to go visit Joe right about now and then I passed out.

        I don’t think I was out very long. When I woke up I was still lying in the same position.
I lifted my head off the stair slowly, wincing not only at the pain in my ear, but now also in my
neck. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to find that my head was not stuck to the stair in
some puddle of gory fluid that had leaked out while I slept.

        I rolled stiffly over onto my back side and sat up on the stair that had been crushing my
hip. I reached across my body with my left arm to examine my right ear, (my right arm was
hurting and I just wasn’t ready to explore that injury yet).

         I put my fingertips gently against my head just above the ear and dragged them down
very slowly until I felt the top of my ear. It hurt like the dickens to touch it but I went ahead and


                                                  25
THE LOVELY SHADOW




traced the outline of my ear anyway, swallowing the pain as I went. When I had traced the
whole outline of my ear and decided that it was all there, not turned to hamburger, and not even
bleeding, I nearly wept with joy. I had been so certain that I had lost the ear that I could barely
believe that it was all intact.

        After inspecting the ear, it was time to check my right arm which I had thus far kept
tucked against my chest. I pulled it away from my chest fully expecting to find it broken in
several places. I visualized white fragments of bone poking through the bleeding flesh while the
arm hung limp, bending at unnatural angles.

        Using the fingers of my left hand I felt along my arm. It had a tender spot and a slight
dent where the forearm had hit the stair, but I could feel neither torn skin nor blood leaking from
it. It felt as if all the angles were in the proper places. It was hurting, that was for damned sure,
but I didn’t think it was broken.

         I raised my arm above my head slowly, grimacing at the pain this caused in my shoulder.
The shoulder creaked and groaned in protest, but with a slight pop and a little grinding, it finally
loosened up and allowed the arm to move around in the socket joint with a little less resistance
and a whole lot less pain.

        I brought my arm back down and rested it in my lap. I had to check my fingers. I was
afraid to do it because I knew for sure that if anything was broken, it was them. I started with the
pinky. I figured it was the one digit aside from the thumb that had no pain and was therefore
least likely to broken. Holding my breath, I pinched the tip of the pinky gingerly between my left
thumb and pointer finger and wiggled it slowly back and forth.

        The movement caused a slight pain in the knuckle at the base of my ring finger, but no
pain at all in the pinky. I let my breath out in a whoosh of relief. I didn’t want to continue
checking the other digits but I knew I had to. I decided to move onto the thumb. Rather than
pinch my thumb with my left hand fingers, I decided I’d just wiggle it around under its own
power. I wiggled it. It wiggled freely. I really wanted to feel relieved by that, but I had already
known that would be the case and that sort of made it a nonevent.




                                                  26
THE LOVELY SHADOW




        I sat on the stair for several minutes before I summoned the courage to continue checking
my fingers. I reached out for them several times, only to pull my hand away again at the last
second. Finally, taking a deep breath and gritting my teeth, I reached over and touched my
remaining fingers.

         I brushed the pointer, ring and middle fingers of my left hand gently against their
respective twins on the backside of my right hand, starting at the lowest knuckles and dragging
them outward towards the finger tips. A small groan escaped my lips as I confirmed my fears.

        My pointer finger felt a little swollen and tender to the touch but was at least pointing
straight. My middle and ring fingers were a different story. Both of them were swollen to the size
of little sausages and extremely sensitive to the touch.

        The knuckles near the palms, at the base of the two sausage fingers had irregular lumps
protruding from them and felt to be roughly the size of walnuts. Both fingers were pointing off
towards the pinky; the wrong direction.

        I had already suspected that my fingers were in bad shape, but having discovered the
physical evidence of their injury that proved my assumptions correct did little to fatten my ego.
In fact, the knowledge made me feel a bit sick to my stomach. Actually a lot sick to my
stomach. I leaned forward and puked all over myself.

        When I was done puking I began to feel dizzy and started to shiver uncontrollably. I
could feel beads of sweat breaking out on my forehead. I had seen enough nonfiction television
programs to know that I was going into shock, but knowing I was going into shock didn’t do
anything to make it stop happening.

        For one crazy second I considered calling out for my mother, half believing that she
would come and rescue me; that she’d come running when I called and throw open the basement
door like some kind of superhero, casting me in a warm glow of light. Then she’d run in and
scoop me off the floor and hold me tight, telling me all the while that everything was going to be
okay. That thought passed quickly and I realized something else in that moment.




                                                  27
THE LOVELY SHADOW




        Once I understood that my mother was completely insane I regarded her as poison! I
didn’t want her help. I wondered briefly if I still loved her but quickly decided that this was not a
good time to ponder deep moral issues.

        ‘For God’s sake,’ I thought, ‘I’m going into friggin shock here!’

        I took a few deep breaths to try and calm myself and tried to remember what the people
on those shows had done to stop people from going completely into shock. The first thing I
remembered was that I needed to get a blanket wrapped around me, so I figured it would be a
good time to try ascending the stairs again so I could get to my bedroom for a blanket.

        I stood very carefully and reached out blindly with my left hand to find the banister. I
pawed the air like a cat pawing at a piece of yarn dangling just above its head until my hand
finally connected with the rail. Once I had it in my grasp I put a death grip on it and began to
pull myself upwards, feeling carefully with each step to make sure I didn’t miss a step. After the
day I had been having, the last thing I wanted was to take a tumble down the stairs.

        I ascended the stairs like a geriatric old man, reaching slowly out with my left foot for
purchase on the next step then pulling myself up with the aid of the banister. Using that forward
momentum I’d lift my right foot up behind it so that both feet were on the same step. There were
only twelve stairs between the basement floor and the door above that led to the kitchen but it
felt like it took half a lifetime to reach the top.

        Once I reached the top I stood for a second with my left foot resting on the topmost stair
and my right foot resting on the stair just below it, catching my breath. I was still shivering and
feeling a bit nauseous and the exertion and fear that came from climbing the stairs had
completely exhausted me.

        Fear seemed to be such a constant companion to me since Joe died that I regarded the
feeling with a certain level of reverential awe. As I sat there panting at the top of the stairs I
wondered if it was only exhaustion that kept me from reaching out and opening the door. I
decided it was more than exhaustion after all.




                                                      28
THE LOVELY SHADOW




         I turned my body carefully to the side and placed my left ear against the door and
listened intently for my Mother’s footsteps or any other sound that would let me know she was in
the vicinity of the door.

        Hearing nothing except the muted ticking of the large wall clock that hung in the kitchen
directly opposite the door, I finally summoned up enough courage to open the door. I pulled my
head away from the door and released the death grip I’d had on the banister and felt around for
the door knob. When I at last had a handful of cold brass I leaned in and listened again. Nothing
but ticking was audible on the other side of the door. I turned the knob slowly with a feeling of
apprehension growing in my chest. I wasn’t certain why I was so terrified but I was powerless to
stop the feelings.

        When the door knob turned to its maximum limit, I heard the small click of the catch
being released from its hole in the door jam. Then a tsunami of images roared through my head. I
could almost see my mother standing silently on the other side of the door, wearing that damned
wedding dress, her face puckered, glowering at the door; waiting.

        Just standing there waiting for me to open the door so she could begin her horrid screech.
I played the whole scenario in my mind. The door would open and there she’d be. She would
screech; she would raise her arms out in front of her and lunge at me. Both of her hands would
catch me square in the chest and knock me backwards down the stairs. As I tumbled head over
heels down the stairs I would catch glimpses of her standing there with her arms now crossed
over her breast with a sardonic, triumphant smile on her face.

        I would lay broken at the bottom of the stairs staring up at her and she would close the
door, leaving me yet again in the darkness. Then she would silently stand there again, waiting,
just waiting for me to climb to the top and open the door so she could push me down again.

        I blinked my eyes closed hard and shook my head violently back and forth, trying to
chase away the dark fantasy that was playing through my mind. I only partially succeeded but I
knew it was now or never. I took a deep breath and pushed the door hard and began rushing
forward, hoping that if she was standing on the other side, the force of the door swinging open
would knock her over and give me time to rush into the kitchen before she could push me down.




                                                 29
THE LOVELY SHADOW




        Instead of rushing triumphantly into the daylight of the kitchen I bashed my face right
into the door which had remained steadfastly shut. The force of the impact knocked me off
balance and I very nearly did fall backwards down the stairs but my grip on the doorknob saved
me. My sweaty palm slipped a bit, but in the end remained attached to the doorknob allowing
me to pull my flailing body back from the abyss.

        After righting myself at the top of the stairs I stood there staring blankly at the door,
breathing in big, gasping breaths. It took me a bit to shake off the fear and confusion that had
resulted from my near fatal plunge down the stairs. My fear of my Mother hiding on the other
side of the door was slowly draining out of me and being replaced with another fear.

        Hoping against all else that my second fear was as unfounded as my first, I tried the door
again. I turned the knob very slowly until I heard the click and the knob refused to turn any
further. Then I pushed gently against the door. It didn’t budge. I pushed a little harder. It didn’t
budge. I pushed as hard as I could. It didn’t budge.

        My heart sank as the realization set in. The door had a deadbolt set high up on the other
side, a cautionary device that my Mother had put in years before to ensure that us kids would not
accidentally get the door open and fall down the stairs. Now it appeared that instead of using the
deadbolt to keep me out of the basement, my Mother was using it to keep me in.

        Fear flowed up inside me like water gushing out of an artesian well, overriding my
previous state of shock. I now know that although the television shows tell you to cover a shock
victim with blankets and lay them down and elevate their feet and all manner of other inane crap,
none of this is necessary. If you simply scare the bejesus out of them it works as an instant
shock removal system.

        I was more frightened at the prospect of being locked in the dark than I had been of any
of my Mother’s irrational beatings and behavior. I gripped the knob again and shouldered the
door. It didn’t budge. I hate to admit it, but I freaked out a little bit at this point.

        I hit my shoulder against the door again and again with no results. I tried to kick it but
nearly lost my balance and tumbled down the stairs so I quickly gave up that tactic. I began
screaming a primal scream, with no words, no articulation at all, and went back to slamming my



                                                    30
THE LOVELY SHADOW




shoulder into the door. Sweat began to roll down my forehead and into my eyes. My hand started
slipping on the knob as sweat broke out on my palms, making them greasy. I could feel my eyes
bulging out of my head as they were sprung open to their maximum limit. And still I screamed
bloody murder and slammed my shoulder mercilessly into the door.

        I continued this way until my strength finally left me and I had to give up my molestation
of the door and sit down. I was too tired and sweaty to continue. I felt depleted and defeated.

        I don’t know how long I waged that fruitless assault against the door, but I know it was a
good long while. I think that during that battle I was as close as I have ever come to becoming
insane like my mother. The only thing that differentiated my mindset from hers was that in the
back of my mind I held onto a gossamer thread of sanity that told me I was acting irrationally.

        In short, I knew my efforts were useless and I was not deluded into thinking that I would
somehow get a different result by continuing to use the same course of action, whereas my
mother never knew she was being irrational. That knowledge may have been a small difference
between me and my mother, but it is a difference that saved me from being like her and I have
often thanked God since that day that I’m not insane like my mother.




                                                 31
THE LOVELY SHADOW




                                               CHAPTER SIX

        Sitting at the top of the stairs in the dark, my situation began to come into focus more
clearly. My mother had beaten me until I blacked out, then she carried me to the basement and
locked me in. She was utterly insane, with no hope of recovery; I was trapped in the dark with no
hope of escape—wounded, hurting, and tired.

        I began to cry again. That crying session was not the same as all the previous ones I’d
had that day, (I thought it a miracle that I had any tears left in me at that point, but apparently I
did). That was not a session of tears that was brought on by pain or fear; it was a session of plain
old indulgent self pity.

        I sat there crying as I marveled at how unfair life had been to me thus far. I had no father,
I had lost my brother, and my mother had become increasingly abusive as she succumbed to her
Sickness. Now I was locked in the dark, alone and broken, with puke on my clothes, and no
response from my psychotic mother on the other side of the door.

        When I finally grew tired of bemoaning every little detail of my life I decided it was time
to get moving. Since the light switch was on the other side of the door, I was going to be stuck in
the dark. And since I couldn’t budge the door, I was stuck in the basement.

        Those were very unpleasant circumstances but I knew I couldn’t just sit there at the top of
the stairs for God only knew how long, waiting and hoping that my mother would come to
release me. And besides, I was hungry. All the action from the day had made me quite ravenous.

        I stood up and felt every muscle in my body creak and groan in protest of the movement.
I turned carefully away from the door and gripped the handrail on my left in a death grip, and
slowly plodded my way back down the stairs being every bit as meticulous as I had been on the
way up.

        Breathing a sigh of relief as I reached the bottom, I decided the first order of business
should be locating that infernal stool that had caused me so much recent discomfort. I stared
straight ahead and moved forward slowly, shuffling my feet across the ground rather than lifting
them up until I bumped into the stool. I picked the stool up (no easy task with bent, sausage
sized fingers on one hand) and carried it over to the drier and placed it on top, out of my way.


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        That task done, my next task was to try and find food. I turned toward the rack with all
the dry and canned goods and was surprised to see that I could almost make out its shape in the
darkness. Just enough light was shining down from the bottom of the door to cast the rack in a
very faint grey wash.

        I looked around me and found that I could see very faintly all around. The light from the
door spilled all the way down to the floor to a distance of about six feet out from the bottom
stair. The back end of the basement was still in complete darkness, but the area around the stairs
had some light. I smiled wide; that was the best thing that had happened to me since finding, and
falling in love with, Kim Basinger. That discovery of gloomy light might have actually been
even better than the discovery of Kim.

        Still smiling, I shuffled over to the food rack and began to root around for something I
felt like eating. That was a rather difficult task because although there was enough light to make
out the general shape of the objects on the shelves, there was not enough light to actually read
the labels to see what food was contained within the packages.

        I picked up a box I guessed was graham crackers and gave it a shake. I’m not sure what
was actually in that box but it didn’t feel or sound like graham crackers so I set it aside and found
another box. Shaking that box, I decided that it likely was graham crackers, and tore it open with
gusto. It turned out that it was indeed graham crackers.

        I had pulled a pouch of cracker from the box and was just getting ready to tear it open
when I decided that there was no reason I should be uncomfortable while I ate. I set the crackers
down and made my way carefully to the back of the basement where I knew there were a couple
chairs, including a folding lawn chair that reclined back into several positions.

        Finding the wall of junk in the dark was easy enough, but finding the chair I wanted amid
the bramble of junk was less so. As I searched I began to get creeped out, feeling like I might not
be alone in the dark end of the basement, so I sped up my search as much as I could.

         After I located the chair I had to dig it out of its ensnarement within the tangle of
accumulated but seemingly unneeded possessions. With my right hand hurting so bad that it was




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virtually useless, I had to do most of my pulling, moving, and digging with my left hand only. It
was quite a chore and when I finally freed the chair I wasn’t certain it had been worth the effort.

        I dragged the chair back over by the stairs, where I could just fit it into the circle of grey
light that was filtering down and got it all set up the way I wanted. I had the back slanted
backwards and upwards, and the feet slanted up. I lay down in the chair with my head tilted
slightly back, my box of crackers in my lap, and my feet propped up and I felt amazingly good.

        I imagined I was a king laid out on his throne with a multitude of servants about me to
serve me my daily allotment grapes. It is surprising what a small modicum of comfort, a tiny
little bit of light, and a lap full of your favorite snack can do for your disposition.

        I munched contentedly on the crackers until I had eaten the whole box. I patted my belly
and smiled in the dark and thought about just how wonderful my little prison might be. Then I
noticed how thirsty I was.

        ‘Well of course you’re thirsty ya big dummy,’ I thought to myself. ‘Ya done cried out all
the water in your body today.’

        I started to get up so I could go get some water but stopped halfway through. It had just
dawned on me that I did not have a sink or any glasses down here. I could not get water.

        I slumped back into my chair with a groan. I had just a moment where I started to panic
but managed to swallow the panic back down my dry throat. I figured I’d done enough
panicking for one day.

        ‘No, Johnny,’ I thought, ‘you’re not going to panic this time. You’re going to sit here and
think about this situation logically until you come up with a solution.’

        So I sat there. I no longer felt so great and certainly did not entertain any more delusions
of grandeur as I sat.

        I sat in my chair for about 10 minutes, staring blankly at the grey outline of the washing
machine in front of me and trying to ignore the fact that I was thirsty. Unfortunately, it seemed
like the more I tried to forget my thirst, the stronger my thirst grew. Soon I felt like I couldn’t




                                                   34
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swallow. My mouth dried up like I’d filled it with cotton and absorbed every drop of moisture
that was in it.

        My tongue felt like sandpaper against the roof of my mouth. But I didn’t panic. Instead I
sat and tried to think. I was growing increasingly frustrated the longer I sat there, convinced that
I was going to die of thirst, with no ideas for solving my dilemma coming to me. Finally I gave
up being frustrated and went to being pissed off instead.

        I was pissed off at the washing machine, of all things.

        “You piece of crap old tub!” I hollered at it as I jumped up from my seat and prepared to
give it a swift kick. “You think you’re awful smart don’t you? Just sitting there waiting to dump
your precious water all over some dirty laundry while I’m sitting here dying of thirst!”

         I finished the last of my pointless tirade against an inanimate object just as I was drawing
my foot back to kick the machine, and as I finished my tirade and pulled my foot back it dawned
on me that I was an idiot. Not because I was chastising and preparing to beat up a machine, but
because if that machine could deliver water to clothes, then it could certainly deliver it to me!

        I felt an absurd impulse to apologize to the washing machine for my unfounded behavior,
but quickly suppressed it.

        ‘I’m not going to be crazy like my mother!’ I thought to myself as I approached my new
savior, (a savior that looked remarkably like a washing machine).

        I pulled the lid open and recoiled at the smell that came from it. Apparently I had put a
load in the wash quite some time ago and had forgotten to take them out again to be dried. They
had soured and the smell blasted up out of the washer and smacked me across the face.

        I recoiled at the smell and took a step back.

        ‘Well,’ I thought, ‘I’m just going to have to be thirsty a little bit longer, ‘cause I ain’t
drinking anything that comes out of something that smells like that!’

         I reached over to the drier and found my step stool which I grabbed and placed in its
proper place in front of the washing machine. I climbed the stool and grabbed the soap off the



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counter above the washer and got everything ready to wash the stink out of the clothes. I
marveled at how much my thirst had abated just from knowing that there would be water soon
enough.

        I was still marveling this psychological phenomenon as I reached over to grab the knob
on the washer and turn it on, but being as distracted as I was I grabbed at it with my right hand
and jammed my broken fingers into the control panel of the washer.

        It hurt so bad I couldn’t even scream. My chest tightened and a small groan of air
squeaked out of me that sounded similar to air leaking out of a balloon. Tears immediately
sprang up in my eyes. I jerked my arm back and banged my elbow on the top of the washer,
making a resounding ‘bong’ sound.

        That time I found a bit more voice and emitted a growl of pain. I pulled my arm back a
bit more carefully and tucked my elbow into my side just below my ribs. Every muscle in that
arm was rigidly flexed and my face was contorted in a severe grimace.

        I stayed that way for several minutes, waiting for the pain to recede and wondering if it
ever would. Eventually it did, slowly. I could feel the pain leaking slowly out of my arm and
hand and as it did, I relaxed my taught muscles in direct proportion. When the pain finally
reached a level I could bare, I used my left hand to turn on the washer and I made my way back
to my lawn chair and sat on it.

        As I was wiping the tears out of my eyes and off my cheeks I knew what I had to do and
dreaded it. I had to try and set my finger bones back into their proper places. I had seen it done
on a survival show once, where the host had fallen down and dislocated one of his fingers, so I
had a vague idea on how to proceed, but I was terrified to do so.

        It looked pretty damn painful when that guy on T.V. did it, and I really didn’t think I
needed any more pain. I sat for a bit pondering whether to actually do it or not and finally
decided that if I didn’t do it I was just going to keep banging my useless fingers around in the
dark, and that pain would outweigh the pain of trying to fix my dislocated digits.

        I steeled myself for the coming pain by squeezing my eyes closed and gritting my teeth. I
took a deep breath and held it as I reached out gingerly with my left hand and wrapped it tightly


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around my ring finger on my right hand. It hurt like Hell to grab it, but not nearly as bad as I’d
been expecting.

        I exhaled slowly and tried not to move the finger I was grasping. I sat there feeling
indecisive for several seconds before deciding it was a now or never situation. I took another
deep breath and yanked the finger straight out, away from the hand in one quick jerk. I felt the
bone sliding across the knuckle socket that it was supposed to be connected to as I pulled it.
Then I felt the bone slip into alignment with the socket.

        It’s hard to describe exactly how that felt. There was just a slight pressure all the way
around the socket of the knuckle and I knew that the finger bone was sitting on the rim of the
socket, waiting to be popped in.

        As soon as I felt that pressure I rammed the finger towards it, holding it as straight and
rigid as I could and felt it pop in. I let out a holler that was somewhere between a scream and a
growl as I thrust it in, but found that that the scream was not actually necessary as it hurt a whole
lot less than I thought it was going to. The pain relief that came after setting the finger in place
was instant and tremendous.

        I was much less apprehensive about setting my second finger and it went back in place in
much the same way, and again, the relief was tremendous.

        Now that my fingers were happily back in place I knew I needed to find a way to tape
them up or I’d just pop them out again, and God knew, I didn’t ever want to go through that
again. So I started shuffling towards the back of the basement where I’d found the chair.

         I didn’t like going to that end of the basement much because it was pitch dark and with
my penchant for scary movies and books over the last few months my imagination had a field
day with the dark.

        In my mind I could clearly see three long, black, slime covered, tentacles that were coiled
beneath the piles of clutter. The pointed tips were just poking out from the clutter, watching me.
Tasting my scent as I drew nearer, twitching like a cat’s tail does when it’s hunting. I could sense
the excitement growing within the tentacular beast as it waited patiently for me to get within
striking distance. I knew it could probably reach me from anywhere in the basement, since I


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couldn’t get out, but I didn’t think this beast was intelligent enough to know that, so it would
wait.

        It would wait for me to get within a few feet and then it would lunge out of the clutter,
spraying debris in the air as it flew towards me faster than a striking snake. I knew it would hit
me square in the face, and it would have suction cup grips on the bottom side of its tentacles that
would grip my flesh and start secreting acid. Once it had attached itself to me with all three
tentacles it would pull the remainder of its gelatinous body out of hiding.

        It would slither its slimy mass to where its acidic tentacles were slowly dissolving my
flesh and weakening me so I couldn’t fight any more, and then it would simply slide over my
body, encasing me in its slimy depths where my screams would be muffled by virtue of the
creature’s own attenuation and I would be slowly dissolved; I would, however, be alive and
aware of the slow dissolution of my body until my vital organs were dissolved. It would be
horrible.

        I stopped moving. I was too afraid to go any further and I made up my mind that I would
just go and sit happily on my chair until the end of the world, thank you very much, when it
dawned on me that I’d already braved the dark once when I came for the chair. Nothing tried to
eat me then, so why should I be so afraid that something would try to eat me now? I sighed deep
and long, knowing that I was going to go into the darkest regions of the basement and that I
would still be scared, but I would not be terrified.

        I chastised myself for being silly as I shuffled deeper and deeper into the depths of
blackness, but my chastisement did little good, for I was still scared. I finally reached the back
wall-o-junk but the journey took me a lot longer than it should have since I had stopped in fear
so many times along the way.

        Once I reached the junk I had no idea where to start looking for something as small as a
roll of tape, or how I was even supposed to recognize it in the pitch blackness, so I just stood
there stupidly.

        ‘Ok, Dummy, think!’ I thought to myself. ‘Where would you find tape in the middle of all
this crap?’ I thought for a bit and finally got a pretty good idea.



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         “In the Christmas supplies,” I shouted out loud, startling myself. “Of course it’s in the
Christmas crap. Good old clear tape, in the same box as the wrapping paper!”

        I felt around for a bit, being very careful not to bump my right hand into anything. I
pulled out and opened every box that I thought was in the same vicinity as the Christmas
supplies, and stuck my left hand blindly into each of them, feeling around, trying to discern the
contents.

        This might sound like a simple task, but it was actually a terrifying ordeal. My
imagination was acting up again. I kept imagining that I was going to stick my hand in a box
and hear a slight scuffling noise as a large, hairy hand with cracked yellow fingernails came
reaching up from the bottom of the box to grasp my hand and pull me into the box. I would find
that it was not just a box, but a magical door into another world, like Lucy’s wardrobe to Narnia.

        I was afraid I was going to be pulled into a dark cave that smelled of mildew, sweat, and
decomposing flesh. I would land on my back on a pile of human bones and the last thing I would
see before dying would be the huge, square face of a troll as he grabbed my head and twisted it
sharply to snap my neck.

        In my mind’s eye, I could see the troll’s face in vivid detail. His skin was the color of an
army convoy truck—a brownish green color. His lanky hair was brown and greasy, and was
hanging down along the sides of his huge head to his massive shoulders in wavy, stringy clumps.
As he leaned toward me to deliver the death snap some of his hair would swing across his face,
obscuring his eyes. He would toss his head to get the hair out of his eyes.

        Then he would focus his bulging eyes on mine, making certain that I knew who it was
that was getting ready to take my life. His eyes were as big as pool balls, with cream colored
irises, and big, pitch black pupils the size of nickels. The whites were not white at all, but rather,
they were yellow and had blood vessels weaving about in them like some sort of bloody road
map.

        Below his nasty eyeballs sat his flat, pudgy nose. It looked like a regular, human nose
looks when you put a finger on the tip of it and smash it down towards your upper lip, except it
was about three times larger. And his lips were almost the size and shape of bananas. They were



                                                  39
THE LOVELY SHADOW




be wet with saliva and pulled back into a wide, stupid smile revealing brown and yellow teeth,
the size of dominoes. His teeth were all crooked and chipped. A few were missing, and there
were chunks of rotting meat caught in the gaps.

        That was what I saw in my mind’s eye every time I stuck my hand into a box. Thus, just
like getting to the boxes took me a good long while, going through the boxes took me a good
long while as well.

        ‘If I ever get out of this basement,’ I thought, ‘I’m really going to have to cut back on the
scary movies!’

        Eventually, though, my perseverance in the face of possible death in every box paid off.
After boxes of old plates, outgrown clothes, miscellaneous knick-knacks, and one box full of old
books, I found the box with rolls of wrapping paper in it. I pulled all the paper tubes out and set
them aside and felt around in the box until I found two rolls of clear tape, still in the dispensers,
lying at the bottom. I pulled both of them out and quickly scuttled my butt out of the darkness
and back towards my chair.

        The process of getting to the boxes, and then going through them had taken me so long
that the washer had already run its full cycle by the time I got back to my chair. I set my tape on
the chair and headed straight for the washer. The last round of self induced terror had brought my
thirst levels back up considerably.

        I got to the washer and opened the lid and gave a cursory sniff inside it. All clear! There
was only the faint smell of detergent and no more sour stink. I carefully reached over (with my
left hand) and turned the washer knob around to the start position again and pulled the knob out
to turn on the washer.

        Water began pouring into the machine instantly. I had no cup handy so I just cupped my
hands under the flowing water and then pulled them back to my face to suck up the water from
them like a horse sucks up water from a trough. It took about a dozen handfuls of water to abate
my thirst since I always managed to lose most of it before it reached my mouth, but I didn’t care.
I was so thirsty that the water out of the machine tasted like liquid gold to me. Hands down it
was the best water I’d ever had in my life.



                                                  40
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        After quenching my thirst, I decided to wash my head and face since they were feeling
particularly grubby after a day of beatings and crying. The cold water I splashed on my head felt
marvelously refreshing. When I was all done bathing I closed the lid and let the washer complete
its cycle on the previously soured load of clothes. Not because I really thought the clothes would
benefit from a second washing, but because I was just too lazy to put them in the drier.

        I started to head back to my chair but realized that I couldn’t see it nearly as well as I
could only moments before. I looked up towards the door and saw that the light shining
underneath it was much dimmer. I only puzzled this out for a second before I realized it was
getting late in the day and the sun was going down.

        ‘Well, it’s as good a time to get some sleep as any, I suppose, but first let’s get those
fingers taped up’, I thought to myself.

        So I shuffled my way over to my chair and felt around for my tape and sat there in the
dark wrapping tape around the last three fingers of my right hand.

        With my fingers all taken care of, I unfolded the chair until it was almost completely flat,
(only the head portion was slightly raised) and lay down to get some shut eye. That was how I
ended my day on June 12, 1990, my first day in the dark.




                                                  41
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                                              CHAPTER SEVEN

          I fell asleep almost instantly; my traumatic day having worn me out, but unfortunately
didn’t stay that way for very long. I awoke after about two hours of sleeping because my bladder
was full to the point of bursting.

          I rolled over onto my back and stared up at what would have been the ceiling, if it hadn’t
been so dark that I couldn’t see it at all.

          ‘Well, crap,’ I thought to myself. ‘Here’s a problem I hadn’t considered. Just where the
Hell am I supposed to pee?’

          I lay there for several minutes trying to decide where I was going to pee, and finally
decided that if I didn’t go pee somewhere, I was going to pee wherever I was.

          I had considered going to the back of the basement to try and find an old bucket or
something, but now that the entire basement was completely dark I decided that the risk of trolls
and tentacle wielding blobs had increased significantly, and I’d rather wet myself than face those
beasts.

          With the idea of searching out a bucket shot down, I could think of no other viable
alternative. I figured I was either going to be forced to pee my pants or just pee on the floor. I
didn’t like either of those choices. I crossed my legs and kept trying to think.

          ‘Well,’ I thought miserably, ‘if I wet myself, at least I can wash my clothes in the washer.’

          As soon as that thought had finished racing through my urine soaked brain I reached up
and smacked my forehead as a symbol of my oafishness. As if to reinforce the reality of my
oafishness, I used my right hand to do it.

          “Ow! Sonofa…!” I hollered out loud. My right hand was still damned sore and did not
like impacting my forehead so violently.

          In my pain I temporarily forgot the need to pee until I realized I was starting to pee just a
little bit, though unintentionally.




                                                    42
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        “Ah crap,” I muttered as I stood and approached the washing machine. I had to move
slowly, feeling my way, because without the faint grey bloom of light shining in from under the
door, the nebulous darkness of the basement was treacherous and I knew there was a stool
nearby, waiting to trip me up.

        I managed to stem the flow of urine as I moved—but just barely—until I reached the
washer and climbed up on my stool. I flung open the lid of the washer (careful to use my left
hand this time) and proceeded to try desperately to get my fly down.

         As soon as my body was aware that it was going to get to pee soon my amazing dam-like
control over my bladder seemed to weaken by an appreciable amount, and I began losing the war
against wet trousers in small squirts.

        Finally managing to get myself freed from the prison my jeans had become, I aimed to
where I was pretty certain the opening of the washer was, (at this point I really didn’t care if my
aim was off,) and let loose. The amount of relief that came from accommodating that simple
biological necessity was tantamount to the level of pain I had endured throughout that miserable
day.

        I stood there for what felt like hours, and when I finally finished my business I kicked my
shoes off and stripped my trousers and underwear off and threw them in the washer on top of the
already thrice washed towels. I closed the lid and felt around for the knob. It was tricky to get it
set right in the dark but I finally managed, and got the washer going.

        I wasn’t about to try and go back to sleep laying there exposed, in nothing but my socks
and a tee-shirt, so I felt my way over to the linens cupboard that stood near the washer and found
a blanket which I wrapped snugly around myself.

        I had just hobbled back to my chair when I remembered that there was an old mattress
leaning up against the wall, very near the linens cupboard. I dithered for a moment on whether or
not it was worth the effort tonight to drag it over to where my chair was setting, but the kink that
was already developing in my neck from laying on the chair made me decide that it was, indeed,
worth the effort.




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        Dropping my blanket on the chair, I went and found the mattress and dragged it over near
the chair. There wasn’t enough room for a mattress and a chair so I had to fold up the chair and
slide it out of the way; no easy task in the pitch dark, I assure you.

        With that done, I plopped the mattress down in place of the chair and searched around a
bit for my blanket. Once I found it I plopped myself down on the mattress, snuggled as deeply as
I could into the blanket and fell promptly back to sleep.

        I slept through the rest of the night, but was plagued by a horrible dream. I dreamt that I
was running through an endless hallway, dimly lit by wall sconces set about five feet up from the
floor on either side of the walls. All the sconces were shaped like the Snoopy night-light in our
own hallway, only much larger. Every sconce showed Snoopy peacefully sleeping on his
doghouse and each Snoopy would have been about a foot tall if he were standing on his hind
legs.

        There were doors on both sides of the stone walls spaced at intervals of about ten feet and
set directly across from each other.

        Something was chasing me. I couldn’t see it, but I knew it was there. I could hear it
making slurping and dragging sounds behind me, leading me to believe it was the tentacle ridden
blob that I imagined beneath the boxes.

        I ran as fast as I could, but it was not fast enough. The sounds behind me kept getting
louder. I stopped and tried a couple doors—they were locked. The monstrosity was gaining on
me. I kept looking over my shoulder to see if I could see it in the dim light, but behind me was
all darkness. The Snoopy sconces were shutting off as I ran past them, leaving nothing but a
black void behind me.

        I was running out of breath, my lungs and legs were burning, but I knew if I stopped
whatever was behind me was going to get me for certain. It was already very close. I could hear
it just behind me. I looked, but saw nothing. As I swiveled me head forward again I had just
enough time to see that the hallway ended abruptly in a solid stone wall before I plowed into it
and fell down.




                                                  44
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           I landed flat on my back, but quickly rolled over and sat up, and pushed my back as deep
as it would go into the stone wall behind me.

           I could see nothing in the darkness but I could hear the monster getting closer as I
cowered into the wall, trying to scream without success.

           Suddenly the creature went silent. I had a feeling it had intentionally stopped just far
enough back so that the light from the two remaining Snoopy sconces that were still lit would not
illuminate it.

           Then the light changed. It didn’t get brighter or dimmer; it just shifted. I risked diverting
my eyes from the dark depths of the hallway for a quick glance up at the Snoopy sconce to my
left and finally found enough voice to scream.

           The light had changed because Snoopy was no longer sleeping on his doghouse. His
departure from his sleeping position caused the light to shine differently through the plastic walls
of his doghouse.

           Instead of sleeping peacefully on his doghouse, Snoopy was standing up on it staring at
me with eyes that glowed red like coals. He was shaking a paw at me like an old man yelling at
teenage kids that drive too fast up his street and his formerly peaceful smile had transformed into
a snarl.

           I glanced at the sconce on my right and saw that the Snoopy there was up and about as
well, but instead of standing there shaking his paw at me he was pacing back and forth on top of
his doghouse, evidently looking for an easy way down.

           The second Snoopy looked just like the first Snoopy with the exception of a snarl. Instead
of contorting his mouth into a snarl, he was moving his mouth as if he were trying to speak. He
made no sound.

           I watched, horrified, as the second Snoopy paced to the edge of his dog house and began
to climb down from it, hanging from the peak of the roof.

           He hung there for a second and I thought he was going to drop to the floor, but he didn’t.
Instead, he started swinging back and forth, the lower part of his body disappearing into the


                                                     45
THE LOVELY SHADOW




entrance to his doghouse briefly on each forward swing before swinging back out again on the
back swing. Every pendulous arc caused him to swing further and faster than the previous one,
with more of his body entering his dog house every time.

         When more than half his body was entering the doghouse on each forward swing he let
go and disappeared completely into his house. When I could no longer see Snoopy number two, I
looked frantically back to Snoopy number one and found that had followed Snoopy two’s lead
and was now mouthing silently at me while swinging from the gable of his house.

         Once Snoopy number one let go and flew into his doghouse I glanced back to Snoopy
two’s doghouse. It was still devoid of demonic cartoon canines so I switched my focus back to
the hall again.

         Staring down the hall I thought I saw a slight motion at the very edge of vision, right
where light and shadow collided. It was just a quick shimmer, like heat rising off the road in
summer—impossible to focus on, yet visible nonetheless.

         The motion happened so fast that I wasn’t sure I’d really seen it. I stared as hard as I
could into the dark, furrowing my eyebrows as if that would increase my vision, but saw nothing
else. Whatever was down there did not want to be seen…Yet.

         I was so focused on the darkness ahead that I almost failed to notice the small noises I on
either side of me. The noises went on for several seconds before I finally recognized that there
was something happening that I should pay attention to.

         I looked to the left and saw that Snoopy number one was now descending from his
doghouse on a thin rope, apparently tied off to something inside the house that hung down out of
the entrance and nearly to the floor. I glanced to my right and saw Snoopy two doing the same
thing.

         I was utterly terrified. I had nowhere to go; the wall was to my back, twelve inch tall
demonic beagles were flanking me on each side, and in front of me was the unseen terror.




                                                   46
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        Both Snoopy’s hit the ground simultaneously and turned towards me. They started
walking towards me, slowly; seeming to savor the incremental increase in terror that arose within
me with each step they took.

        I was trying to scream, but had lost my voice again. I was trying desperately to push
myself through the wall at my back, sitting on my butt with my back smashed against the wall,
and my feet pushing with my feet.

        The Snoopy’s stopped advancing when they were about three feet in front of me and just
slightly off to either side. They stood in front of me working their snarling mouths up and down,
glaring at me with their burning coal eyes, and pumping their fists at me.

        I sat motionless, staring at those abominations with slack jawed terror. Then I heard the
shimmering beast from the shadows start moving again.

        Slurp—drag…slurp—drag…It was coming closer. My eyes were opened to their
maximum limit, bulging out of their sockets. My mouth dried up and I began to shake with fear.

        Slurp—drag…slurp—drag…I could see the shimmer at the edge of the shadow. Slurp—
drag…slurp—drag…I could see color inside the shimmer; white.

        Slurp—drag…slurp—drag…The shimmer faded and was replaced with an indistinct
humanoid shape; more white showed.

        When the beast finally came fully out of shadow and into the light, I screamed. For when
I could see the beast clearly I saw that it was far more terrifying than the tentacular blob I’d
envisioned earlier. It was my mother; but not entirely so.

        The torso and face of the beast belonged to my mother. It was wearing her wedding dress,
but where two legs should have protruded at the bottom, there was, instead, a huge tentacle. The
tentacle was a sickly greenish grey color and as thick as my mother’s waist at the point where it
exited the dress.

        It did not taper much as it progressed towards the floor, but where it met the floor it bent
behind the beast, and then tapered sharply until it ended in a point, about five feet behind it.




                                                  47
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        The beast propelled itself forward like an inchworm, pulling the back of its tentacle
forward, arching the middle, and then pushing itself forward.

        Every time the center of the tentacle left the floor to arch upwards, it made a slimy,
sucking sound, and as it pushed itself forward it made a dragging, scraping noise. It left a slime
trail behind it as it moved, like a slug.

        Four tentacles extended from its shoulders—two on each side taking the place of arms.
They were all the same color as the leg protrusion, and roughly the same diameter as my
mother’s arms, though much longer. Each arm tentacle was about four feet long and clutched
tightly at the end of each tentacle was a rolled up Playboy magazine.

        The mother-squid-slug-inchworm hybrid kept moving towards me until it stood right
between the two Snoopies. My mother’s face, which sat atop the beast, was puckered into its
normal expression of hate and anger, but her mouth wasn’t puckered; it was mouthing something
silently, just like the Snoopies.

        I stared all three beast’s mouths for a moment and was finally able to pick out what they
were mouthing; “POISON”. All three of the monster’s mouths were in perfect sync, silently
chanting the word ‘poison’ over, and over.

        They all stepped towards me in perfect unison and broke their silence. “POISON,” they
shouted, “POISON, POISON, POISON, POISON.”

         I began trying to push myself through the wall again, but was still having no luck with
that endeavor. After about thirty seconds of them shouting at me audibly, they suddenly stopped.

        I quit scrabbling against the wall and looked at the trio in front of me. They all took one
more step towards me and the beast that was half my mother spoke to me in a sweet voice.

        “Johnny,” she said, “do you know what happens to little boys who look at smut?” The
beast wiggled all four of the Playboys it was holding. “They end up poisoned and dirty, just like
their worthless fathers, and then they have to go live in the dark,” the beast continued.

        When the beast said “dark”, the two Snoopies quit pumping their fists and instead held
their paws out in front of themselves, slightly apart. Between their paws, the air looked as if it


                                                 48
THE LOVELY SHADOW




was beginning to swirl and darken, and condense. The darkness condensed more and more until
there was what appeared to be a solid ball of dark, the size of an eight-ball, hovering in mid air,
and spinning lazily between each of their paws.

        All three beasts began chanting again, but this time their chant was “DARK, DARK,
DARK.”

        They all took one more step towards me and were now only about two feet from me. I
shrank back from them as far as I could, into the stone wall.

        The two Snoopy’s raised their paws above their heads, the levitating balls of dark
travelling with them, and then thrust them forward, releasing the balls of dark to slam on each
side of me against the stone wall I was trying to melt into.

        The balls of dark made a muffled thump as they shattered against the wall, and darkness
began to run down the wall as if it was made of fluid. The darkness began to spread out across
the wall, growing bigger every second, absorbing the light around it like a black hole, and I knew
intuitively that if I touched that darkness, I’d be drawn into it and trapped in it forever.

        I started to scramble away from the wall, but the mother-beast slithered forward and
swung all four Playboy wielding tentacles down on me, striking me with the magazines in four
places at once, and knocking me backwards into the dark.

        I half expected to hit the wall, but was not really surprised when I felt no resistance where
the wall should have been, and instead felt as if I were tumbling into a pit. The inky darkness
began to pour over me with a physical weight like water as I tumbled downwards. I was
screaming as I fell, but over the sounds of my own screaming I could hear three voices chanting;

        “POISON, POISON, POISON” echoed through the darkness from somewhere above me.

        When the darkness finally engulfed me fully and no more light could be seen in any
direction, I quit screaming. When I quit screaming, the dream ended and I slept through the rest
of the night without dreaming.




                                                  49
THE LOVELY SHADOW




                                             CHAPTER EIGHT

         I woke up the following morning sometime after sunrise. Grey light was filtering down to
my bed area from the bright golden stripe at the bottom of the door above my head. I needed to
pee again, but decided to empty the washing machine first. For one, I wasn’t sure how many
more washings in a row the towels that were in it could handle before disintegrating, and for two,
I was still mostly naked.

         The dryer was empty, which was nice, since it made quick work of unloading the washer.
With the clothes moved, I hopped up on my stool and did my business. I decided not to start the
washer for just one little pee session, but decided instead that I would wait for bedtime to do.
That way I could fall asleep to the noise of the washer rather than the imagined noises of the
monsters in the shadows.

         I closed the lid and hopped down. When I landed on the floor I winced. My body was still
pretty sore from where my mother had beat on me, and even more sore where I’d beat myself
falling on the stairs. The fingers that had been dislocated on my right handed were still swollen
and sore, but they were immeasurably better than they had been prior to resetting them.

         I surveyed the parts of my little prison that I could see in the gloom and tried to figure out
what to do. I figured I’d try the door on the off chance that my mother had unlocked it during the
night.

         I made my way carefully up the steps and tried the door…locked. I had suspected it
would be. I tried knocking a few times, but there was no response. In frustration I kicked the
bottom of the door and stubbed my toe.

         “Damn it, ouch!” I hollered out loud, while silently thinking ‘well, that was brilliant, you
dummy, wanna try it again?’

         I briefly considered hollering out for my mother to see if I could play on her sympathies
enough to let me out, but the thought of actually asking her to help me left a metallic taste in my
mouth and set my emotional dial to ‘pissed off’.




                                                   50
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        I sighed deeply and made my way back down the stairs. I plopped down on my back on
my mattress and crossed my hands upon my breast and stared up at the cobwebs in the rafters. I
knew I had to think about my relationship with my mother, in light of the fact that I now
understood that she was crazy, but I didn’t want to. I knew that things would never be the same
between us, and I wasn’t sure I ready to face that.

        I decided to think of other things. I tried to visualize Joe’s face and remember all the
times he’d tickled me to tears, or ruffled my hair while saying “What’s up, Squirt?” But those
memories just made me sadder and lonelier than I’d ever felt in my life.

        I lay there mourning my brother for a while, shuddering with the force of my tears, but
making sure to cry silently. I could not bear the idea of my mother hearing me cry, giving her the
impression that she’d somehow defeated me.

        The conscious knowledge that I didn’t want her to hear me, and the reason why, forced
the issue of my mother back into the front of my mind, so I quickly pushed it away again by
thinking about Katelyn, my mother’s only friend before I was born.

        I had never actually met Katelyn. According to Joe, the morning after I was conceived
my mother called Katelyn and let her have it with both barrels. She blamed her for leaving her at
the bar unattended. She accused her of setting up the whole encounter with my father. She called
her every filthy name she could remember, and made up a few new ones, just for good measure.

        She made sure Katelyn was well aware that she was no longer considered a friend, and
threatened her with bodily harm if they were ever to cross paths again. I marveled that if my
mother was that upset the morning after the encounter with my father, she must have really gone
nuts when she discovered she was pregnant.

        That line of thinking, of course, dragged my mother back into the light of my conscious
thinking and I decided that I must finally surrender my mind to the ugliness that had come
between my mother and me.

        I considered my mother’s illness first. She was insane. She couldn’t help that. I should be
forgiving, but as I lay locked, nearly naked, in the darkness of the basement with a bruised body,
sore ear, and swollen fingers, I found forgiveness to be beyond my reach.


                                                  51
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          I knew in my heart that I should be empathetic, but I also figured it wasn’t going to
happen, so I figured I should try to understand exactly how I was responding. I didn’t have to
think long before I understood that I was angry. Not simply angry, but really, really pissed.

          I had never done anything to her to deserve the treatment I received from her—never. I
had loved her unconditionally, accepted her tortures, and forgiven her countless times as I tried
to win her affection. I decided that I was not going to do that anymore. I was done being the
victim.

          I chewed on my anger for a bit and tried to imagine a way to get even with my mother,
but quickly realized that I didn’t want to get even, I just wanted to get away. I had no intention of
letting her torture me anymore and would do whatever I had to do to stop her in the future, but I
didn’t want her to suffer, I didn’t want her to be paid back misery for misery.

          That line of thinking led me to wonder about my feelings for my mother; whether or not I
still loved her. I guessed that I did still love her, but I was never going to trust her again. I no
longer wanted her to love me; I only wanted her to leave me.

          I figured that she would let me out of the basement soon enough, and when she did I
would leave. I had no idea where I would go, but I figured anywhere would be better than her
home had been of late.

          As I came to peace with the fact that I still loved my mother, but didn’t like her, and
didn’t want her, my anger faded and I was able to find some semblance of forgiveness. I could
forgive, for the Sickness took her against her will. I could even feel a certain level of sadness for
her—for what she had lost—but I would never forget.

          Forgiveness settled onto me like a warm blanket, fresh from the drier, and warmed me
from the inside out, bringing a certain level of peace into my heart that I hadn’t had in a long
time. I smiled contentedly in the gloom.

          As I was still lying there, basking in my own magnanimity, the drier buzzed, making me
jump nearly out of my skin, and causing an instant flash of pain throughout my broken body. I
got up and dug my clothes out of the dryer, leaving the towels behind, and dressed myself.




                                                   52
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        After dressing, I decided to occupy my time for a bit by picking my mattress up and
setting up my chair in its place. That chair was damn comfy, and the process of setting it up gave
me something to do besides sitting and staring at the darkness at the back of the basement,
wondering what evil horrors might be hiding back there.

        I glanced involuntarily towards the darkness and remembered staring into the darkness in
my dream, looking for the shimmering beast. I shuddered, and quickly diverted my attentions to
tearing down my night-time accommodations in favor of my day time ones.

        I pulled the mattress out of the way, and leaned it up against the side of the stairs. I found
my chair and set it up. With my chore done, I decided it was time for some breakfast.

        I moved over to the rack and searched out a box of cereal. It turned out to be my favorite;
Lucky Charms. I carried it back over to my chair, where I sat and ate it dry, sucking on the
marshmallows until they dissolved. When I’d eaten my fill, I realized from the pressure in my
guts that I was going to have another biological receptacle problem soon.

        I had no problem peeing in the washer, but I wasn’t about to hang my butt over the
opening and crap in there. That was my source of drinking water for crying out loud! I looked
towards the dark side of the basement in dismay. I knew I had to go find a bucket back there; a
prospect made even more terrifying after my dream from the previous night.

        ‘How much can one kid take?’ I thought forlornly to myself.

        I just stood there beside my chair trying to summon up enough courage to enter the
darkness. My belly burbled. That was all the motivation I needed to get moving. I had just got
clean pants back on and had no desire to soil them again so soon.

        I took a deep breath and cautiously shuffled out of my circle of dim illumination and into
the inky blackness. The dark side of the basement was like a whole other world, separate from
the one in the light, but somehow connected to it by an unseen force that held the two worlds
together and kept them from bursting apart and spinning uncontrollably out into the far reaches
of the universe in opposite directions.




                                                  53
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        I had remembered seeing in the past, a couple old five gallon buckets near the place that I
had grabbed the mattress the previous night, so I headed to that area, got on my hands and knees,
and felt around blindly near the floor until my hand hit a bucket.

        I grabbed it as quickly as I could and started crawling backwards towards the light,
dragging the bucket along. I was feeling rather proud of myself for having braved the darkness
and not let my imagination get too carried away.

        Just before entering the light, while still figuratively patting myself on the back for my
bravery, something leapt up from within the bucket and clawed my hand as it scrabbled for
purchase. I screamed a crystal shattering scream and flung my hand away from my body
violently, throwing my bucket back into the blackness in the process.

        I was backpedaling towards the light as quickly as I could, shrieking like a banshee the
whole way. Whatever had clawed my hand was now in my pant leg, near my left calf, scratching
me as it scrambled around. I kept screaming and crawling as fast as I could. There was no way in
Hell I was going to mess with whatever evil beast was in my pants until I was safely in the light.

        I reached the light in a matter of seconds and immediately started beating at my leg with
both hands. It hurt my right hand something fierce, but in my terror I didn’t care, I just kept
slapping myself.

        I beat myself silly for about five seconds or so before I saw a small grey mouse flee out
of my pants leg and scurry across the floor, back into the darkness. I was still screaming and
slapping myself, even though I now knew what it was that had tormented me. Eventually my
screams turned into a kind of sobbing laugh, and though I was still slapping my leg, there was no
real force left in the blows.

        It was a tiny little mouse that had scared me half to death. The idea struck me funny for
some reason, and that was what turned my screams into laughter. I think the fear and shock was
what caused me to cry while I was laughing.

        Once I had settled down a bit, but before I could stop and think about what it could have
been that scratched my hand and ran up my pants, I crawled back into the darkness as quickly as
I dared and felt around until I found my bucket again.


                                                 54
THE LOVELY SHADOW




        I dragged the bucket over by the washing machine, just to the limit of dim visibility, and
tried to hurry up and get my pants undone. My bowels were threatening mutiny against me at this
point and the need to hurry was pressing, to say the least.

        I got the pants down in time and squatted over my bucket and did my business. Although
I thought that I had been clever up to this point, I realized as soon as I had done my dirty deed
that I had not thought this process through completely. I had nothing to wipe with.

        I thought for a second and remembered the dryer full of towels. So I shuffled over there
with my feet as far apart as I could get them with my pants around my ankles. I made it to the
dryer without incident and dug around until I found a small washcloth in with the bigger towels.

        I used the cloth to clean myself and got my pants back up. Then I wondered what I
should do with the cloth. I didn’t want to throw it in the washing machine just yet because I still
needed to get water out of there and the idea of doing that with a poop soiled rag at the bottom of
the tub struck me as just a little bit gross.

        I likewise didn’t want to leave it on the floor for fear of accidentally stepping on it in the
dark, not to mention that I didn’t want my dark world to smell like an outhouse if I could help it.

        I sighed…I was going to have to go back into the dark on a guerilla raid for more
supplies. I needed the picnic basket that I knew was back there. I also wanted to find some
canning jars I could use to stockpile water, and hopefully a lid for my potty bucket.

        I stood there staring into the darkness for some time, telling myself that there were no
unspeakable monsters lurking in the dark, but my courage kept being usurped by the memory of
the horror that hid in the dark, just out of sight, in my dream.

        “Don’t be an idiot, Johnny.” I said aloud. “You’ve been back there before and the worst
thing you ran into was a tiny mouse.”

        My voice sounded strange to me in the quiet darkness, and my imagination immediately
began trying to convince me that something in the dark was going to answer my not so
convictive argument.

        Wanting desperately to not hear that response from the dark, I kept talking out loud.


                                                  55
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        “There you go again, Johnny; being stupid. There is nothing back there but mice, and
maybe a bug or two.”

        As soon as I said the word ‘bug’, I knew I’d done a great disservice to my bravery. At
once my memory brought forth an image of flesh eating beetles I’d once seen on a nature show;
Dermestid beetles, they were called.

        There was nothing inherently wicked in their appearance, they looked like any normal,
run-of-the-mill beetle; small, black, maybe a half inch long, with a hard black shell. The creepy
part was the way they seemed to swarm over their prey. Thousands, maybe millions of them, in
an undulating black mass were crawling over a dead cow.

        The cow in that show had been dead for a while. It had bloated and split open, and the
beetles were swarming all over its outer flesh, as well as traveling to and fro through the opening
that had appeared in its belly when it burst.

        The cow’s eyes were still open, but its eyeballs had disappeared, leaving fleshy sockets,
into which flies and beetles were crawling about, feasting. An occasional maggot wriggled out of
the rotting socket and fell to the ground where it ran the very real risk of being run over by the
never ending hoard of beetles that were still en route to the smorgasbord.

        The unfortunate cow’s mouth was open and its tongue lolled out and rested on the
ground. The tongue was no longer pink, but had turned a sickly brown color and had shriveled a
bit, making it look almost like a gnarled chunk of driftwood.

        The woody appearance of the tongue did not dissuade the persistent beetles and flies,
however. If anything, this seemed to add a layer of decadent delight to the feast, and the insects
munched quite contentedly on the rotting flesh.

        The program went on to show time lapse photography of the cow as the insects finished
their work. In a space of twenty seconds of real time, all the fleshy parts of the cow vanished.
The skin looked like it was dissolving; great chunks of it disappearing beneath black, wriggling
masses of beetles and white, wriggling masses of maggots, revealing pink meat beneath.




                                                  56
THE LOVELY SHADOW




        The holes in the skin spread outward in all directions at once, constantly spreading until it
was completely gone. At the same time the insects were devouring the outside of the cow, they
were also devouring it from the inside, making the shape of the cow undulate as the remaining
flesh bulged and then burst, spilling out its grizzly inhabitants.

        The beetles, flies and maggots moved about jerkily as the time lapse put them into fast
forward motion. Great chunks of the cows flesh vanished beneath the carnivorous devils until
bones began to appear through the gaps in the flesh.

        At the end of twenty seconds all the insects had gone, most likely to find another buffet,
since all that was left of the cow was a skeleton, with yellowed bones, and a few waxy brown
remnants of tattered flesh.

        With that image in my head, I stood and stared at the dark wondering how long it would
take the bugs in the dark side of the basement to strip me of all flesh, leaving my yellowed and
waxy skeleton behind. I was sure it would be longer than twenty seconds.

        “Stupid,” I said, finally gathering my resolve, and started treading into the dark.

        As I entered the dark, I transfixed my inner eye on the face of my brother. Joe had been
my best friend and my protector, and I figured if anybody or anything could keep me safe as I
traveled through the dark places in the world, it would be my brother, or at the very least, his
memory.

        As we’ve already discussed, I have a pretty powerful imagination, so when I imagined
my brother, I could actually see him standing beside me. At just shy of six feet tall, he was nearly
two feet taller than me. His blonde hair was straight and fine, all cut to the same length, and hung
down to his shoulders, without a hint of curl anywhere, and it swung about freely with the
slightest movements of his head, causing him to constantly reach up and tuck it back behind his
ears to keep it out of his face.

        Joe was thin and tall, but not lanky. It seemed to me that every feature of his body fit
perfectly together, so much so that there were no awkward parts on him, as there were on most
teenagers I had seen.




                                                  57
THE LOVELY SHADOW




        As I imagined him standing beside me in the dark, he seemed almost luminous. A light
seemed to shine forth from him, illuminating the darkness, and I was surprised to find that I
could actually see the objects in the dark around me.

        I was able to find the wicker picnic basket without any trouble at all, because I could
actually see it! The light that was shining in the darkness was not painfully bright, but it was still
brighter than the grey-filtered light that I had near the stairs.

        I grabbed the basket and smiled up at my imaginary brother. He was looking down at me
and smiling the saddest and most lovely smile I’d ever seen. His bright blue eyes sparkled with
tears that ran freely and unashamedly down his angelic cheeks.

        “Thanks, Joe”, I said excitedly. “Do you know where the jars are?” Joe pointed to a box
that was sitting on the floor right at the edge of the storage rack with all the food on it, back in
my light circle.

        I jogged over to the box with no fear of tripping because the basement was so well
illuminated. I lifted the flap on the cardboard box, and sure enough, it had about a dozen quart
jars, complete with lids and rings nestled comfortably inside it.

        Smiling at my convenient treasure, I placed my basket down next to it and turned back to
my brother. I was dismayed to see that he was growing dim. When I first imagined him, he
appeared as solid as a stone, but now he seemed to be fading slightly, and I could see through
him to the boxes stacked behind him.

        My distraction at finding my treasures seemed to be breaking my ability to concentrate on
my brother, making him disappear slowly, ‘like the cow vanished’, I thought with a mild
shudder.

        When I realized that Joe was going away, I hollered to him, “Wait, Joe! I still need a lid
for my bucket! Do you know where one is?”

        Joe, dimmer than he was even a few seconds before and still crying freely, shrugged his
shoulders and shook his head. I took that to mean that there was not one down here.




                                                   58
THE LOVELY SHADOW




        As Joe continued to dim, he walked over to me and ruffled my hair as I looked longingly
into his piercing blue eyes. While he ruffled my hair he mouthed silently to me, and I could read
his lips perfectly; “I love you, Squirt.”

        “I love you too, Joe. Do you have to go now? I’m awful lonely and scared down here.”
Joe smiled sadly again, and a fresh round of tears leaked out of his eyes as he nodded at me,
assuring me that he had to leave.

        Joe put his left hand on my right shoulder and turned his right hand palm up, and swung
it out in a horizontal arc, gesticulating towards the entire area that was encompassed by the
basement. As he did this the whole basement lit up as if there was a light turned on, and I could
clearly see that the basement was devoid of monsters, and flesh eating beetles.

        He returned his right hand from its arc and placed it on my left shoulder so that both his
hands were on me. He looked directly into my eyes and held my attention while he gave a slow
shake of his head. I understood his meaning perfectly;

        ‘There is nothing to be afraid of in here, Squirt.’

        Joe had faded to almost invisible, and the light that he brought with him faded along with
him, slowly returning the basement to darkness. “Wait Joe,” I said. “Do you know where Mama
is? Is she gonna let me out soon?”

        Joe’s nearly transparent face darkened immediately, his eyes flashed, and I could see that
he was angrier than I’d ever seen him before. He pursed his lips and shook his head slowly back
and forth in tiny movements.

        While he was still shaking his head, he disappeared completely, leaving me alone, back
in the dark, and wondering what had made him so angry and what the last head shake meant.

        I stood in the dark after he was gone, and I wondered if I had really seen him, or if it was
just my imagination kicking into overdrive. I was staring into the dark side of the basement as I
contemplated that puzzle and it dawned on me suddenly that I was no longer afraid of the
darkness before me.




                                                  59
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        With that revelation came a belief that Joe had really been there. He might have been
dead, but he was not gone, and he was watching over me, keeping me safe. That knowledge
made me smile in the dark, but at the same time made me all the lonelier, trapped as I was, in the
dark.

        Sighing, I turned around and grabbed my box of jars and my wicker basket and dragged
them over to the washing machine area where my bucket and rag sat, befouled, and smelling up
my cell.

        It was much harder to see in the gloom now, after having experienced the basement in
full light, but the light had served to flash a complete image of the basement into my mind, and I
could bring that image to the front of my mind at will, which helped me to avoid tripping over
any obstacles.

        I got my soiled rag picked up and placed it into the basket and closed the wicker lid. Then
went to the dryer and got a full sized towel to drape over my bucket. I figured that without a lid,
the next best thing was a towel.

        When the evidence of my earlier bowel movement was all taken care of, I turned my
attention to my jars and getting a water supply stored. I dragged them all over by the washer and
turned it on.

        I filled all but one jar and put a lid and ring securely on each of them and set them on top
of the dryer. I guessed that would be a good place for them. I filled the last jar but did not close
up with a lid. The morning had left me rather parched so I drank it, refilled it, and carried it over
beside my chair. I left the washer on to finish its cycle and wash away my morning urinations,
figuring that I could always start it again at bedtime.

        I wandered over to my pantry and dug up a box of Ritz crackers and a jar of peanut butter.
I returned to my chair and ate one entire tube of the crackers, dipping each one in the jar of
peanut butter.

        As tasty as the snack was, my body was craving something more substantial than
crackers and cereal, which was all I’d eaten in the last couple days. I went to the freezer and
pulled out a package of frozen hot dogs, and a frozen loaf of bread.


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          I had no way to thaw the hot dogs, and certainly no way to cook them.

          It’s gonna take hours for them to thaw out,’ I thought, ‘and by then I will have starved to
death!’

          I sat down on my chair, holding the hot dogs and bread, feeling deflated, and listening to
the washing machine chunking through its cycle. I muttered a few curse words as I sat in the
dark, lamenting my predicament.

          As I listened to the washing machine, I thought to myself. ‘It seems pretty wasteful to run
the washer with nothing in it. I should have at least washed my wipe-rag…Yeah, but still that
would have been wasteful; to wash one rag, and then throw one rag in the dryer. THE DRYER,
OF COURSE! The dryer would work to heat up my hot dogs!’

          With my sudden burst of inspiration, I jumped out of my chair so fast that I nearly lost
my bread and hot dogs. I managed to hold on to them somehow, and rushed over to the dryer. I
considered pulling the towels out, but then decided that the towels would help cushion the hot
dogs as they spun around and around, riding the sides of the dryer’s drum up to the apex, and
then tumbling back down to the bottom. I really didn’t want to have to smear my hot dogs onto
my bread when I made my sandwich.

          I started to throw my bread in the dryer with the hot dogs, but quickly realized that would
be a bad idea. For one, the heat would dry out the bread and make it crunchy, and for two, it
would squash the bread. And besides, I’d just had a better idea.

          I tossed the hot dogs in with the towels and set the loaf of bread on top of the water jars
that were on top of the dryer. I got the dryer going, (I had to move a few jars away from the
control dial first), and then grabbed my stool so I could reach above and behind the dryer.

          The dryer, having been placed below ground level in the basement, vented out the wall
behind it a few feet above the top of the dryer. The vent hose from the dryer came out of the back
of the dryer at nearly floor level, and then traveled up the wall to a pipe which then ran up the
wall a few more feet before a ninety degree elbow channeled the air outside through the wall
vent.




                                                    61
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        I climbed up on my stool so I could reach the vent hose and managed to pull it off from
the pipe. I brought the vent hose down and laid it on top of the dryer and wedged it between two
water jars, to keep it from slipping off and falling behind the dryer where I’d never be able to
reach it again.

        I put my loaf of bread in front of the hose and let the hot air that was blowing through the
hose as the dryer ran thaw it out. With that setup I could monitor the bread to make sure I
removed it from the heat before it had a chance to get dried out. I was, in fact, a genius; at least
in my own mind.

        I decided to try the door one more time while I waited for my food to warm up. I was
pretty sure the attempt was going to be futile, but having nothing but time, I figured I may as
well try.

        I got to the top of the stairs and tried the door, proving my assumptions correct. I stuck
my ear to the door and listened intently, but could hear nothing over the sound of the appliances
thundering below my feet.

        Trying not to feel disappointed, I headed back down to my chair and waited patiently for
my hot dogs to finish cooking in the dryer. I had left them in the unopened package so they
would not leak juice all over the clean towels and get the inside of the dryer dirty, but as I came
back down the stairs, I could still smell them. The smell was blowing out of the vent hose that I
had set to thawing the bread.

        I sat on my chair and waited with my mouth watering. I wasn’t sure why I was so
hungry, I’d already eaten a ton of cereal and crackers that morning, which was more than I
usually ate. I guessed that the constant fear and problem solving that I was enduring must be
creating an appetite in me.

        As I sat there waiting, I started to realize that my stay in the basement might be a long
one. I was already on my second day without a single noise from upstairs to suggest that my
mother was even in the house. Plus, Joe got pretty angry when I mentioned our mother, and I
don’t think he was angry about me bringing the subject up. He was angry at her.




                                                  62
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         I understood being angry with our mother. I had, in fact, just gotten over being angry
with her myself. I hoped Joe wouldn’t hold on to his anger overlong. I may have only been seven
years old at the time, but I already understood that constant anger was a wasted emotion that
drained the life force from the holder of it in ways that can never be replenished.

         I wondered if Joe would ever return to me. I conjured up his image in my mind, but it
lacked the same dimensional quality that it had earlier. It was only a memory this time, a
memory without physical presence.

         I decided that Joe’s first visit had been a fluke. Joe had been able to return to me for that
brief period because I had needed him desperately, to help me find what I needed, and to absolve
my fears of the dark. Once I no longer needed him, he would not (and possibly could not) return
to me.

         I sighed in my loneliness and decided to check the bread. It was already mostly thawed
out and warm so I removed it from in front of the hose and set it on the washer. I opened the
dryer and fumbled around in the towels until I found the hot dogs. They felt warm and soft to the
touch, but poking at them with a little force revealed that the centers were still frozen solid.

         I tossed them back in and got the dryer going again and went back to my chair. The
waiting around was killing me. I had only been waiting on my hot dogs for less than ten
minutes, but I was already bored to death.

         ‘My god,’ I thought, ‘what am I gonna do when I’m all done eating my sandwich? I can’t
just sit here in the dark and do nothing. If I do that I’ll go crazy, and I am NOT going to be crazy
like Momma.’

         I sat in the dark for another ten minutes or so until the washing machine finished its final
cycle and went silent. It was much quieter without the washer and I could hear my hot dogs
thumping around in the dryer.

         The sound was very rhythmic and I began singing quietly to myself in time with the
beats. “I don’t want to be here.” Thunk—kerplunk…thunk—kerplunk… “Where it’s really
dark.” Thunk—kerplunk…thunk—kerplunk… “My Momma’s off her rocker.” Thunk—
kerplunk…thunk—kerplunk… “And meaner than a shark.”


                                                   63
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        I giggled involuntarily at my own cleverness and got up to check on my thunking—
kerplunking hot dogs. When I pulled them that second time they felt nice and hot, and when I
poked at them I could not feel any frozen places in them at all.

        I was pretty excited. I never thought that I could be so excited about some lousy hot dogs,
but then again, I never thought I’d ever be locked in a dark basement nor have Norman Bates for
a mother either.




                                                 64
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                                          CHAPTER NINE

        The sandwich was a bit dry, lacking any type of condiments and therefore being
comprised solely of bread and hot dogs, but I was still pretty sure it was the best food I’d ever
eaten in my life.

        After I ate my sandwich and drank half a jar of water, I used the washer for bladder relief
and went back to sitting on my chair, listening. I still hadn’t heard any sounds from upstairs.
There were no footsteps, no T.V., no radio, no voices…nothing.

        I began to suspect that my mother had left. That thought scared me a little bit. She had
always been averse to leaving the house, so I assumed it must have been something pretty drastic
to make her leave. And if she had left, and had been gone for more than a day, then it must be
really, really bad.

        I began to wonder why Joe had gotten so angry when I asked where she was and if she
was going to let me out soon. Did his anger indicate that she was not planning to let me out? Did
it indicate something else?

        I had no way of knowing. What I did know was that sitting around in the dark speculating
on things that I could never know without some form of outside intelligence was a complete
waste of time and was only serving to bring me down.

        I had to find something to do. I had to occupy my time in a better fashion. Having gotten
my dungeon home set up, complete with day and night furniture, with drinking water and food
prep stations, and restroom facilities in place, I had little to do besides sit and think, and that
would never do. Too much time doing that would drive me crazy; just like my mother, and I was
NOT going to let that happen.

        I wasn’t sure what was in all the boxes I’d sorted through in the dark earlier, but I was
pretty certain that I had come across a box full of books at one point while looking for tape for
my fingers, though it was hard to remember exactly as I’d been terrified at that point in time.




                                                   65
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        There wasn’t much light for reading in the basement, but I thought that maybe if I went to
the top of the stairs, closest to the source of light shining under the door, I might be able to see
well enough to read.

        I looked towards the dark side of the basement and waited for the usual fear to set in but
was pleasantly surprised when it did not happen. Joe had cured me of my fear. He had showed
me that there was nothing down here except me and some dusty old boxes.

        Sure there were a few mice, and probably some spiders, but there were no monsters, no
portals to other worlds, no flesh eating beetles that were too impatient to wait for me to die
before feasting, and certainly no malevolent Snoopy night lights.

        As I entered the darkness I still tread very carefully. Just because there was no longer any
fear of the immaterial did not mean I could not trip over the material and injure myself. My hand
was still pretty damn sore, as was most of my body, and I had no desire to exacerbate my
injuries, nor incur new ones.

        I didn’t bother opening all the boxes and feeling around inside them this time around. I
figured I’d be able to tell which box had the books in it by weight. I remembered the book box as
being pretty heavy.

        When I came across a heavy box that was sitting slightly away from the rest of the pile, I
took the time to reach inside it, and sure enough, it contained books.

        I grabbed the box by the open flaps at the top and dragged it back over to my circle of
light to closer inspect its contents and see if I’d found real treasure. Unfortunately, just as the
light had been too dim down there to see the contents of the food boxes on the rack, it also
proved to be too dim to see the covers on the books.

        I grabbed up five small paperbacks and headed up to the top of the steps with them,
where there was (hopefully) enough light to read them by. I tried to sit on the very top step with
my back against the door, but this put the light source too low to see anything by it, so I had to
slip my butt down to the third step. Sitting there was not as comfortable, but it put the book
directly in the beam of light that flooded in from under the door and provided sufficient light for
reading.


                                                   66
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        I pulled the first book from my stack out and held it in the light; it was a cheesy romance
novel, of which my mother had been a big fan before she went completely loony. The second,
third, and fourth book were all of the same genre.

        I had fully expected the fifth book to fall into the same category, but was pleasantly
surprised when it turned out to be a book of a different sort. It was a tattered old copy of J.R.R.
Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

        I had heard of the book before, but I’d never read it. I was excited to find a book I hadn’t
read, since I’d already read every book we had on the other side of the basement door—most of
them more than once.

        I settled into my stair as comfortably as I could and opened the book. I read it out loud, as
was my habit. Reading aloud helped me to remember what I’d read, seeming to imprint the
words deep into the folds of my brain, where they could not be easily forgotten. Reading aloud in
the basement also helped me to not feel quite so alone.

        “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit,” I read. And from that first sentence I was
captivated. I read through nearly the entire book in one sitting, getting up once to pee, and finally
being forced to stop for the day when my light had faded so much I could not make out the
words any more.

        I stood up and tried to massage the kink out of my back. Stairs, it turned out, were not
comfortable places to sit and read for extended periods. I made my way down the stairs, yawning
deeply as I went.

        I had to find something for supper before turning in for the night. I could not ever
remember having skipped supper in my life, and just because I was locked in the basement was
no reason to start.

        Finding food turned out to be a bit difficult since the light that was dim at the best of
times had winked out completely while I was reading. I made a mental note to myself to finish
my reading earlier from that point on.




                                                  67
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          I felt around on my chair until I found my hotdogs and loaf of bread from earlier. I was
considering whether or not to heat the hotdogs with the dryer hose before eating them, but a full
body yawn convinced me that they would taste just fine cold.

          I didn’t even bother with the bread; I just swallowed down the remaining three hot dogs
cold, and decided that they did, in fact, taste better warm. With that done, I found my bread loaf
and carried it as carefully as I could in the dark and placed it on my food rack. I didn’t want to
trip over it in the dark.

          With dinner out of the way it was time to set up my bed for the night. Earlier that
morning I had relished the chore of moving the chair and mattress around to make my
accommodations, but I had been bored then, now I was just tired.

          With a little effort, a couple grunts, and a swear word or two, I got the chair put away and
the mattress set up, and laid my blanket out on it. I decided that even though I was pretty tired
and just wanted to sleep, I wanted to be just a bit more comfortable than I had been the previous
night, so I toddled over to the linens cupboard and dug around until I found a musty smelling
pillow.

          With my pillow and blanket in place on my mattress, I was finally ready. I stripped out of
my jeans and climbed into bed. It turned out that the pillow was unnecessary; I think I was asleep
before my head even touched it.

          I slept soundly through the entire night, and don’t remember dreaming at all, which was
certainly a blessing, and awoke the following day after sunrise again.

          When I opened my eyes I could see dust particles floating lazily through the beam of
light shining in from above. Spiraling and twisting, the particles appeared to be locked in some
kind of waltz, dancing to music that was only audible on a different dimensional plane.

          I lay there for awhile, watching the particles, trying to focus my attention on only one
particle at a time; tracing its course with my eyes until it danced out of the light, then finding
another to focus my attention on.

          Finally my bladder forced me out of my comfortable trance, and I had to start my day.



                                                   68
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        I took care of my morning biology, remembering to get a rag from the dryer beforehand
this time, started the washer to remove my urine, and got busy clearing out my night furniture in
favor of my day set. I was anxious to get all my morning chores done so I could finish reading
my book, but was not so anxious that I was willing to skip breakfast.

        I dug around the rack until I found some Pop Tarts. Those were a perfect breakfast treat
because I could easily take them up to the top of the stairs with me and munch on them while I
read.

        Chores done, and breakfast in hand, I ascended the stairs and took up my place on the
third step from the top where I’d left my book, and sat down to finish reading.

        Having read most of the book the previous day, it didn’t take me long to finish it, and
finishing it brought more dismay than satisfaction. Bilbo had been able to escape all the dark
places he’d been trapped in, and not just escaped, but escaped with treasure. I was apparently not
as fortunate or as clever as Bilbo Baggins.

        The dismay I felt did not just come from coveting the victories of Bilbo; I was also
dismayed because while I was reading the book, I was able to be outside of the basement in my
mind, and finishing the book placed me back into the real world where I was still stuck in the
dark basement.

        There were still no sounds from the other side of the door to indicate that my mother was
in the house. Loneliness crept into my soul like ice water, slowly spreading its chill through my
entire being. I sat on the stairs and cried for a good long while.

        When I was done crying I felt exhausted and grimy. I figured it was as good a time for a
bath as any. I climbed to the bottom of the stairs and headed to the washer. It had long since
finished its morning cycle, so I set it up to wash in hot water and got the cycle started so the tub
would fill up.

        While it was filling up, I grabbed all the towels out of the dryer and started folding them
up and getting them organized into two piles; one for washcloths, and one for towels. I figured
that would simplify my life as well as let me know when I was running low on cloths and would
actually need to wash laundry in the washer.


                                                  69
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        When I was done organizing the towels I set them on the floor in front of the dryer. There
was no room left to stack them on top because of my water jars and my heater hose.

        I reached into the washer and discovered that it was about halfway full of water, which
was more than enough, so I reached over and pushed in the knob, stopping the cycle. I grabbed a
washcloth off from my pile in front of the dryer and dropped it into the hot water in the washer.

        I had not bothered to put my pants on that morning so all I had to strip out of was my
underwear and tee-shirt. Now, stripped, I proceeded to give myself a proper washing from the
water in the washer.

        The hot water felt wonderful on my tired body and I wished desperately that I could just
climb into the washer and soak my whole body at once, but that was impossible. I could,
however, climb up and soak my feet in the drum, and that is exactly what I did.

        It wasn’t as wonderful as a full body bath would have been, and it was kind of awkward
to stand up in the washing machine, but it was still better than standing on the cold concrete floor
while I washed.

        I stood in the washer, repeatedly dipping my washcloth in the hot water and wringing it
out over my head so the hot water could run down my body until the water started to cool.
Shivering a bit I climbed out of the washer and back down onto my stepstool.

        I reached over by the dryer and grabbed a towel and wrapped it around myself while I sat
on my stool. I stared into the darkness for a bit, feeling melancholy. The bath had lifted my
spirits a bit, but not nearly so much as I’d hoped. I was fiercely lonely and I knew it. My mother
hadn’t been much for company over the last several months, but at least she’d been another
warm body. In the darkness I had nothing; just the silence.

        I was so disconsolate that I would have been happy to see even her here in the darkness.
Anybody at all would do; Jack the Ripper, Charles Manson, or even Jodie, the pig faced boy
from Amityville.

        I screamed out at the top of my lungs, “HELLO…ANYBODY? CAN ANYBODY
HEAR ME? SOMEBODY SAY SOMETHING GODDAMMIT!”



                                                 70
THE LOVELY SHADOW




        There was no reply. I really hadn’t expected one, but still found myself disappointed that
there wasn’t one. Hanging my head in sorrow, I hopped off my stool and dropped my towel on
the floor. Without bothering to dress myself, I shuffled over to the book box and dug around
until I found a large heavy book with a hard cover.

        Hoping that it would be something interesting that lasted me longer than The Hobbit, I
hauled it up the stairs and held it in the light. It was a dictionary.

        “Not very exciting,” I said out loud, “but I suppose it would do me some good to get
some kind of education down here.”

        I opened the dictionary up to a random page and started reading the entries. I found that
as I read the definitions of words I didn’t know, I also didn’t know many of the words that were
used in the definitions. I had to go through the dictionary to look up the words that were used in
the definitions, and in those definitions would be more words I was unfamiliar with.

        That little game actually proved fascinating to me and kept me busy for quite some time.
When my stomach started rumbling, I knew it was time for lunch, so I closed the dictionary and
left it on the top step. I picked up the four romance novels and The Hobbit, which I’d left there
earlier, and carried them all downstairs.

        I figured that just because I was in a dungeon, there was no reason to let my space get
cluttered up with junk. And besides, down there in the darkness, clutter could be a deadly trap.

        I tossed the romance books into the empty space behind the stairs. I had not found any
reason to enter that unused space as of yet, and figured that was as out of the way as I could get.
The Hobbit, I took more care with and set it gently on the floor, next to the food rack where it
was out of the way, but easy to find again in the dark.

        I decided that making anything fancy for lunch was far too much effort so I found a
package of Ramen noodles and ate them dry, sprinkling the flavor pack over the noodle wafer as
I ate it, and washing the whole thing down with water.

        I was still feeling low after lunch and decided that a nap was in order. I had no energy or
desire to pull out the mattress and move my chair, so I just grabbed my blanket, folded the lawn



                                                    71
THE LOVELY SHADOW




chair out flat, with the head slightly lifted, wrapped my still naked body up in the blanket like a
little burrito and lay down and went to sleep.

        I slept an uneasy sleep that was filled with dreams of darkness. More endless corridors
filled my sleeping mind, but these corridors lacked deviant Snoopies and were completely devoid
of light. There were no horrors hiding in those halls. There were, however, voices. Human
voices, so quiet that they were unintelligible, reached my ears from somewhere further down in
the darkness.

        I ran towards the voices, screaming.

        “Hey!” I screamed, “Hey, I’m down here! Can you hear me?”

        The voices kept murmuring in the distance, making no indication that they’d heard me.

        I kept running, but never seemed to get closer to the humanity that always stayed just out
of reach. I was crying in my dream, screaming; desperate to reach the people in the distance, to
find someone, to end my solitude.

        I woke up several times with damp cheeks, sorry to find that it was only a dream and
there was really no hope of finding companionship in the basement, and then I’d roll over and go
right back to sleep and fall right back into the same dream.

        I’m not sure how long I slept, but there was still light shining overhead when I woke so I
decided to get up and find the dictionary at the top of the stairs to pass some more time until it
was bed time for real.

        Before heading up the stairs, I decided to set up my bed for the night. I’d woken up with
a kink in my neck, and did not want to come to bed later, too tired or lethargic to set up a proper
bed.

        I got my bedroom set up and headed up the stairs. I tried the door when I got up top and
was not surprised to find that it was still locked. I had long since given up any hope that it might
actually open for me, but I figured I had nothing better to do with my time, so I may as well try.




                                                 72
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        I settled into my third stair with a grunt and picked up my dictionary. I flipped it open to
a random page and began my little game of chasing definitions through the dictionary. After a
couple hours of chasing words, a time in which I was mostly able to forget my predicament, I
started to encounter a new problem.

        I started running out of words in the definitions that I didn’t know. I was learning too
fast. There were still tens of thousands of entries in the dictionary that I didn’t know the
meanings of, but the simplified words that the book used in its definitions were rarely alien to me
anymore.

        I needed to invent a new game with the dictionary if I was going to have it keep me
occupied. I was wondering what game I could invent when I noticed that the light was starting to
turn reddish orange, and was growing slightly dimmer.

        “Oop, getting late, Johnny. Time to head down before total dark,” I said.

        I closed my book and set it on the top step. I got up to walk away, but saw that the book
was slightly crooked on the step, and for some reason that bugged me. I bent down and arranged
the book so that the bottom edge of the book was perfectly parallel to the edge of the step that it
rested on. Satisfied with its appearance, I headed down.

        I was not terribly hungry, but still wanted something to eat. Having had a nap earlier I
was perhaps, not as tired as I would have been without it, but was still tired enough to debate
with myself whether or not it was worth the effort to heat up some food.

        I decided it was worth the effort and went to the freezer and dug out a box with two pizza
pockets in it. I wasn’t sure how well they’d cook in the dryer vent, but I figured they’d get warm
enough to eat.

        I got the dryer going and carefully placed my two pizza pockets right in front of the vent
where they’d catch the majority of the hot air blowing over them. I laid down on my mattress
and stared up at the darkness while I waited for my supper to heat up.

        I tried to visualize Joe’s face in the darkness, but instead kept seeing pages from the
dictionary swirling around in my mind’s eye. I decided that I was going to need some different



                                                  73
THE LOVELY SHADOW




reading material. Learning new words was interesting, certainly, but did nothing for my
loneliness. If anything, the stark, unemotional pages of knowledge that I had buried myself in
throughout that day were only serving to intensify my desolation.

        I needed to find books in that box that contained people. People involved with other
people, people that had conversations, and got into situations. That was the only way I was going
to hold onto my own sanity and overcome the crushing loneliness that was enveloping me.

        I figured I would go book searching first thing in the morning, and I felt a little better
knowing that I had a game plan for the following day. Having no idea what I was going to do to
occupy my time in seclusion was just as crushing as the loneliness itself was.

        I decided that I would try to talk to Joe while I continued to wait for my pizza pockets. I
didn’t know much about prayer. My mother had insisted that there could be no such thing as
God.

        “There is no God,” she often said to me. “Because if there was, He would never have
allowed John to be taken from me, and He would never have allowed Katelyn to trick me into
letting your filthy father steal John’s treasure.”

        I never believed what my mother had said about God—even before I understood that she
was crazy. I believed in God, and always had. I did not, however know if I should talk to Him
directly, and ask Him to tell Joe what I had to say, or if I could skip the middleman and talk to
Joe directly.

        I lay there in the dark contemplating those deep theological mysteries for a bit before
deciding that God should be quite wise enough to know my intent and see to it that my words
would reach their intended recipient.

        I was still hesitant to start speaking because I had no idea what to say, but I knew I really
needed someone to talk to, and it was Joe that I was craving.

        “Hey Joe,” I said hesitantly. “How ya doin’. I’m ok I guess…kinda lonely, but I’m ok. I
sure miss you, Joe. Thanks for visiting me yesterday; I hope you can come again.”

        I paused from my colloquy and pretended that I was listening to Joe’s response to me.


                                                     74
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        ‘Hey, Squirt,’ he said in my mind. ‘I’m doing great. Heaven is pretty cool. I got your
back Little Brother, you’ll be alright.’

        I had hung on Joe’s every word while he was alive, and as a result I could hear his voice
in my head as clearly as if it was a high quality recording. As it had always been in life, his voice
was reassuring.

        “Thanks, Joe,” I said. “Do you think you’ll be able to come back and visit me soon?”

        ‘I don’t think so, Squirt,’ Joe’s voice said in my head. ‘It uses all the energy, Bro. I used
everything yesterday. But you’ll be ok. Just hang in there—June is coming, and then everything
will be ok.’

        “What do you mean, Joe? What do you mean, ‘energy?’ Joe…Joe?”

        I could not force a response in my mind, and I was really confused. I was pretty sure that
I had been making up Joe’s responses to me, but I couldn’t understand what I (he?) had meant by
using energy.

        I was also rather confounded by the statement “June is coming.” It was already June;
June fourteenth, as a matter of fact. I called out to Joe for clarification a few more times, but
there was no longer any response, except for voices I was clearly making up in my head, and
those voices had no answers to my questions.

        I was still pondering the implications of making up concepts that I didn’t understand
myself when I was nearly frightened out of my skin by the buzzer on the dryer. My pizza pockets
were done.

        The last vestiges of daylight had vanished from the door overhead and I fumbled my way
to the dryer blindly. I found my supper there and tootled back to my bed to eat.

        Although the pizza pockets had thawed out and warmed up all the way through, they had
not gotten sufficiently hot enough to melt the cheese and they were not exactly wonderful. But
they did satiate my hunger and allowed me to go to bed with a full belly.




                                                  75
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        When I slept that third night, I slept dreamlessly, but still woke on my fourth day with a
strange uneasiness in my heart. I thought hard about my night, but could not find any memory of
a nightmare or of any other dream that would cause me to wake up feeling weird.

        I set about my morning ritual of waste removal and bed removal, and hoped the unease
would pass as I distracted myself. It did not pass.

        I found another package of Pop Tarts and sat down in my chair, munching and
pondering. I finally let my thoughts wander back to my prayer the previous night, and the cryptic
things my brain (Joe?) had said.

        “What the heck do energy and June mean, Joe?” I said out loud, spitting out a few
crumbs as I spoke.

        There was no response.

        The more I considered those two mysteries, the more I was convinced that I’d come up
with an answer for the energy bit at least. I remembered a book that Joe had owned and I had
read. It was about all sorts of paranormal mysteries like mythical monsters, UFOs, witches,
Stonehenge, and the like. It also had a large section devoted to ghosts.

        According to the book, ghosts were the lingering souls of people who had died, but who
could not, for one reason or another, leave this physical realm and move on to the spiritual realm.
Many theories were presented to try and explain why these spirits hadn’t departed.

        One theory was that the ghost was not aware that it was dead. Death had apparently come
over the person so swiftly that they never knew it had hit them.

        Another theory was that the spirit had some urgent, yet unfinished business that it needed
to take care of before it could move on. Perhaps the person had been murdered, the book had
postulated, and wanted their killer to be brought to justice before they would move on.

        A third theory was that perhaps the ghost remained behind because they were too afraid
to enter into the other side.




                                                 76
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        The book presented several more theories on why ghosts existed, but presented precious
little in the way of speculation regarding how a ghost was able to actually exist.

        The only theory on the day to day existence of the ghost that the book presented was that
a ghost needed energy to manifest itself or to manipulate objects in the physical realm. The
energy required by the ghost would most likely be absorbed from the environment via
electromagnetic fields.

        The author suggested that lightning storms, running water, and even batteries could all be
excellent sources from which a ghost might draw energy, but once the ghost had depleted the
energy it had stored up from these sources, it would be unable to interact in the physical realm
again until it had replenished its stores of energy.

        There was no evidence, according to the author, to indicate how long it took a ghost to
recharge its energy supply, nor even how a ghost stored energy.

        The author went on to suggest that knockings and voices were the most prevalent form of
supernatural activity because they were forms of communication that required the least amount
of energy.

        If what was said in that book was true, that would mean that Joe had used tremendous
amounts of spiritual energy to manifest himself to me in the basement, and even more to
illuminate the space.

        Perhaps that was why he never spoke when he was present. He needed to conserve all his
energy to materialize and illuminate; two things he felt were far more important to my needs at
that moment than speech would have been.

        Those philosophies of energy consumption would also explain why he had dimmed
slowly, rather than remaining fully visible until he departed. His energy was being slowly
depleted during his entire visit, draining him of the ability to remain fully visible.

        Those same philosophies would explain why he dimmed so suddenly and disappeared
completely when he got angry about our mother. Anger is generally a wasted emotion that uses
tremendous amounts of energy.



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        It must have been a huge drain on Joe’s energy reserves to light up the basement and
show me that there was nothing to fear in the darkness.

        When it dawned on me how much Joe had sacrificed himself to help me, I was so
overcome with love for my brother that I broke down. My chest seemed to swell with warm
pressure, expanding from the inside, filling up with my love and admiration for Joe the way a
drowning swimmer’s chest fills up with water when he tries to take that last breath.

        I sat in my chair and cried for nearly half an hour, choking out broken thanks to my
brother in between giant sobs. I tried to get myself under control, but my attempts were
unsuccessful. I felt like I was going to explode if I didn’t get all my appreciative tears out.

        When I was finally able to calm myself I was more convinced than ever that my brother
had visited me in the basement two days before. I was not convinced, however, that it was really
his voice I’d heard the night before while I was praying.

        I could have very easily had an unconscious memory of what that book had said about
ghosts and energy usage floating about in my brain, planting suggestions into Joe’s imagined
conversation.

        I pondered all the information I could remember from the book for a little bit, trying to
remember each of the various theories it had presented regarding why ghosts even existed. I
couldn’t fit Joe’s appearance into any of the opinions expressed in the book.

        Joe was not a spirit with a vendetta. He did not have anybody to blame for his demise. He
had been killed when the car he was driving slid on some black ice as he came around a corner
too fast on a rural back road and slammed through the guardrail. His seatbelt kept him from
being thrown from the vehicle, but the whiplash he suffered during the impact broke his neck.

        While the broken neck did not kill him, it did cause massive swelling which slowly cut
off his air supply through his windpipe, causing him to suffocate before anybody could find him
and alert the paramedics.




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        Having died somewhat slowly, Joe was not a candidate for the Sudden-Death-Spirit-
Doesn’t-Know-He’s-Dead philosophy. Joe knew he was dead, or at least I was pretty sure he
knew.

        He didn’t seem to be puzzled at all by his own sudden appearance in the basement. He
knew he was there, he knew I was there, he seemed to know how I’d gotten there, and he knew
why he’d come there. He was a man on a mission—or a manifestation on a mission I should say.

        Joe also did not strike me a candidate for the Too-Scared-To-Move-On category. In life,
Joe had been the bravest man I knew. Always a man of action, he never let anything stand in his
way.

        I remembered the evening of Joe’s first real date with a real girl from school. He had
been terrified to go, but did not let that fear stop him from going out to pick her up and take her
to the movies. That was only two weeks before he died.

        ‘No, Joe’s not in the scared category,’ I thought to myself. ‘So where does his
appearance fit in?’ I wondered.

        I finally decided that there must either be a category from the book that I could not
remember, or one they had failed to include. The missing category should be the ‘Guardian
Angel’ category.

        Sometimes, the people who have died love the people they’ve left behind so strongly that
they keep a watchful eye on them from the afterlife, and when they see a desperate need in a
loved one, they find a way to come to them and offer whatever help they are able to.

        That category (after I invented it) seemed to me to be a perfect fit for Joe’s appearance,
and disappearance as well. Joe had moved on, this world was no longer his home and he could
not stay here.

        I was glad for Joe that he had moved on. I was so lonely that it seemed to almost cause a
physical pain in me, but I would suffer a thousand lonesome pains before I asked Joe to leave the
comfort of Heaven to stay with me. If anybody deserved a blissful eternity, it was my big
brother, Joe.



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        I had long since finished my package of Pop Tarts, and decided that I wanted the last
package that still remained in the box. Deciphering supernatural mysteries had turned out to be
hungry work.

        I grabbed the last package and dropped the empty box onto the pile of garbage that was
rapidly accumulating beside my chair/bed area.

        ‘Hmm,’ I thought, while munching on my frosted fruit filled treat, ‘I’m really going to
have to find a better way to manage my trash. I’m not a pig, and I’m not going to become one in
the dark! Besides, the trash may attract mice, or even bugs.’

        I shuddered a bit as I visualized flesh eating beetles swarming over empty Pop Tart
wrappers, hot dog wrappers, empty cereal boxes, and whatever other trash I had thrown in my
little pile. I made a mental note to clean up as soon as I was done with my ratiocinations.

        I had made logical sense of my (Joe’s) mention of energy from the previous night, but
still could not wrap my brain around ‘June’. I had no idea what it could possibly mean.

        “June is coming, and then everything will be better.”

        Saying it out loud did not help to reveal the solution to the riddle. Sighing, I got up
exasperated and decided that when the time was right, the mystery would reveal its own solution.

        I moseyed into the pitch blackness of the back of the basement and found an old garbage
sack filled with clothes I had long since outgrown and dumped it out, being careful to dump the
clothing far enough away from everything that I would not be likely to stumble over them later.

        As much as I had developed a new found need for tidiness and order in the world around
me, that need did not extend into areas of the basement into which I could not see the disorder,
and I felt no shame in making messes back there.

        I brought the bag back into my dim sitting area and picked up all my trash. I then carried
the bag over to the trash can near the dryer and emptied it into it. Since I was already near the
appliances I decided to do some laundry. I really didn’t like the idea of my soiled rags just sitting
there in that basket, drawing flies.




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        I dumped my rags, and yesterdays towel into the wash and figured I may as well throw
the clothes I had been wearing in with them. That was when I realized that I was still wandering
around naked.

        It frightened me to find that only a few days in the dark had already robbed me of enough
civilized culture to no longer notice, or care, that I was naked.

        ‘Well, I’ve been naked this long, I guess. A little while longer won’t kill me,’ I thought as
I scooped up all my clothing and tossed them in the washer.

        I climbed up and got the soap from above the washer, dumped it in, and set the clothes to
washing.

        With the washer going, breakfast eaten, bedroom put away, day room set up, and all my
garbage cleaned up, I decided it was a good time to try and find a good book in the box I’d
dragged over.

        I scooped up several books and headed up the stairs with them. I set them on the top step
and tried the door; still locked, just as I knew it would be. I had become fairly certain that my
mother was gone, and may not be coming back.

        I tried not to think of how this situation would turn out if she never returned, and instead
sat down to see if I’d dug up any treasure in the book box. The first book I picked up from the
stack was Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.

        It was another book that I’d never read and did not appear to be a romance novel, so I
was instantly intrigued. I flipped it open and read the entire book in a matter of a couple hours.

        It was marvelous. The relationship between George and Lenny reminded me so much of
me and Joe that it made me just a little weepy.

        George was always there for Lenny, no matter what stupid thing Lenny did. Sometimes
George was a little harsh with Lenny, but only when he had to be, kind of like when Joe would
have to punch my arm to keep me from opening my big mouth and getting into trouble with our
mother.




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        I had originally thought that Lenny was just retarded and I could easily imagine myself in
his role, but when I got to the end of the book and realized that Lenny was hearing voices, I tried
to disassociate myself from him because he had gone a bit crazy, and I was NOT going to be
crazy like my mother.

        As much as I disassociated myself from crazy Lenny, I still empathized with needy
Lenny. Lenny needed George just the way I needed Joe. Lenny looked up to George the way I
looked up to Joe.

        There was a little part of me that wished Joe could save me from my troubles by putting
me down like an old dog, the way George had done to Lenny. But it was only a very small part
of me. My desire to continue living was still pretty strong at that point, but I wasn’t sure how
long that desire would hold out down there in the basement.

        Deciding that I did not like the morbid course my thoughts were taking, I decided to skip
lunch and get back to my dictionary for a little while. Having lunch would only give me time for
introspection, and I had no more desire of that.

        It seems odd, in retrospect, that being unable to communicate with the world due to my
imprisonment inspired in me a passion for learning new words in order to communicate more
efficiently.

        The new game I came up with for the dictionary was finding a word and trying to guess
its meaning before reading the definition. That game kept me busy for quite some time.

        Occasionally as I randomly flipped through pages I’d come across a page I’d already
been on before. When that happened I’d test myself on the words on those pages to see if I
remembered their definitions- most of the time, I did.

        Finally, my aching back and rumbling tummy forced me to give up on word games and
head down for some food. On the way down the stairs I had one minor misstep near the bottom
and nearly fell.

        In mid stumble I reached out reflexively with my right hand and tried to grab the banister,
but succeeded only in banging my fingers on the underside of it. Having kept myself so busy



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with books, existential thinking, and chores, I had nearly forgotten how badly I was still injured.
The banister reminded me in a not so gentle manner.

         I managed to keep myself from falling, somehow, but the pain in my fingers made me
throw out a few choice words that I was fairly certain my mother would not have approved of,
even if they were directed at Katelyn.

         When I made it to the bottom of the stairs, (walking much more carefully on the lower
half while cradling my throbbing hand) I had lost most of my appetite and decided that
something simple would suffice for a meal.

         I didn’t want to go the Ramen noodle route for supper again, so I kept feeling along until
I found something truly delightful; a box of Twinkies. I sat on my chair and ate the entire box.

         I learned a valuable lesson shortly after eating the entire box. If you eat twelve Twinkies
on a mostly empty belly, it will make you very, very ill. I needed to vomit. My first thought was
to head to the washer, but I had not removed my clothes from it yet, and in my addled state, I felt
that it would be nearly sinful to puke on the laundry I had just washed.

         My second thought was my ‘Poopin Bucket’, as I had affectionately taken to calling it. I
rushed over to the bucket and bent over it. As I removed the towel I thought the moment might
be passing and I would not need to vomit after all.

         A physical force of stench punched me right in the nose as I yanked the towel off the
bucket, knocking my head backwards and dispelling any myth I may have been trying to
conceive about not needing to vomit. I lost all twelve Twinkies and some remnants of Pop Tarts
as well.

         Feeling a bit weak and shaky, I covered my bucket and went to the dryer to get a jar of
water, (the one near my chair was empty and I did not have enough ambition in me at that point
to refill it.)

         I drank about half of it. My throat was still raw from the acid that had just passed through
it, and my teeth felt fuzzy. I began daydreaming about my toothbrush that was locked just out of
reach, beyond the infamous door, out in the real world.



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        I was still feeling disoriented and queasy, and worse, I could feel the loneliness starting
its oppressive crush on my emotions again.

        Glancing up, I could see that the light was beginning to shift hues again, reddening
slightly with an orange tint, signifying the end of another day, and I still needed to get my bed set
up for the night, and throw my clothes in the drier.

        The chores of laundry and bed setting were rapidly losing the appeal that they’d had
during the first couple days of my incarceration, but I knew instinctively that I needed the chores
to keep my sanity. I intuited that if I gave in to lethargy, it would be a slippery slope that would
slide me straight into immobilized depression, and I would end up dying down there.

        The thought of dying down there in the dark, all alone, was as repugnant to me as was the
idea of going insane, and proved to be a great motivator in so far as getting my laundry dried and
my bed set up for the night.




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                                                CHAPTER TEN

          Night came and went, and morning light was shining through the gap in the door,
displaying all of the muted glory of sunlight into my world of blackness. I awoke and set about
my routine.

          Bathroom duties first, followed by breakfast, followed by cleaning up my mess, followed
by setting up my chair, followed by looking for a good book, followed by checking the door,
followed by sitting on the third step down, followed by a day spent reading fiction, and finally
followed by playing word games in a dictionary.

          It was just another day in the dark, another day skipping lunch, another day in which my
depression threatened to crush me. Every day, it seemed, was becoming an exercise of mind over
matter; trying to ‘keep my chin up’.

          I was losing my grip on what the real world was. As a matter of fact, I was forgetting
what the real world even looked like. I struggled to remember what things looked like outside the
basement, and more than once wondered if there was ever really a life outside the basement, or if
that world of light and sound had only been a dream, and the world of darkness and shadow was
the only reality I’d ever known.

          I still hadn’t gotten dressed. I had been completely naked for two full days and didn’t
care. It wasn’t like anybody was going to come rushing into my dark domicile and expose my
nudity.

          I spent a brief second wondering if I should be concerned about my sudden apathy
towards the societal chains that were supposed to separate the human race from that of the lower
species.

          I quickly decided that I really didn’t care. I was not a part of society. I was more like a
beast trapped in a cage at the zoo than I was a functioning member of society, and I had no need
to dress to impress, so to say, and besides, naked was far more comfortable and convenient than
was the bother of getting dressed, smelling up my clothes, washing my clothes, and undoing my
clothes every time nature called.




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        Lethargy, despite my best efforts was beginning to set in. I knew it was happening, but
was powerless to stop it. I began to justify it, in fact. I figured that so long as I didn’t allow
myself to go insane, I could, at the very least, allow myself a little self pity. After all, I had been
trapped, all alone in the dark by my psychotic mother for five days now, and there was no sign
that my situation was going to improve any time soon;

        The memory of Joe’s voice continued to flitter around in my head, swimming around in
my brain the way a group of moths will swarm around a light bulb, occasionally bouncing off its
surface with a slight tinking sound every time contact was made.

        I could almost hear the tink every time the memory of the words made contact with my
conscious brain. Just as I was powerless against my growing depression, I was powerless to halt
that memory from bouncing around inside my head, and was equally disadvantaged when it
came to interpreting the meaning of the words.

        I didn’t waste too much time actually pondering the meaning of the mysteries that had
been laid before me because I had daily rituals to attend to. The book I discovered from my
treasure box on that fifth day disturbed me.

        I didn’t fully grasp the themes of the book, but I understood enough of them to fear for
my own sanity. Lord of the Flies chronicled the events of a group of young boys shipwrecked on
an island.

        Without any instruction from society, the boys created their own society, and quickly
descended into chaos. They turned tribal and began infighting and murdering each other, and
discovered the horrible beast that dwells in the hearts of all men in the process.

        That beast—that Lord of the Flies—is what disturbed me most. If that invisible monster
lurks in the hearts of all men, and if the solitude of the island that separated the boys from society
was enough to bring the hidden beast to the surface in such a violent way, what did that portend
for me, marooned on my own dark and solitary island?

        Lord of the Flies took me most of the day to read, but I still managed to finish off the
waking hours of my day by playing in my dictionary. Then the day ended with my evening ritual




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of supper, bed setting, using the bathroom, (washing machine) and falling asleep while
wondering about the meaning of June.

        Day six followed day five with a ritualistic normalcy. The very fact that I had developed
a “normal” routine for any part of that abnormal existence in the basement could only mean one
of two things;

        One: I had an unbreakable spirit and determination that would seek to create order in an
increasingly chaotic world, thereby allowing me the freedom to live profitably in any
circumstance, adapting to the world around me and ensuring my survival.

        Or two: I was going insane and had no grasp on just how bad the situation really was.

        I chose not to dwell on the possibilities overlong, but simply chose option number one
and didn’t question the logic behind the choice beyond the point of telling myself that I was
NOT going to be crazy like my mother.

        But regardless of the real reasons for the routine, day six was just like day five, which
was just like day four. I had no reason to believe that day seven would be any different, and
when day seven rolled around, I was not surprised to find the striking similarity to days six, five,
and four.

        The only thing that was changing from day to day was the title of the books that I was
reading, and the incremental level of depression and loneliness that was growing inside me.

        When I had first started reading the books on the third step, I was able to associate myself
to the many characters and themes within them. As my melancholy grew, however, I wasn’t able
to do so as readily.

        I began to forget my own identity. I began to doubt my own existence. I didn’t feel real
enough to be able to associate myself with anything or anything with myself. The real world for
me had become the imagined world in all the fictional books I was reading, and the time spent
not reading was more of a dream than an actual existence.




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        I did occasionally wonder about June, and what possible implications that cryptic
statement could have in store for me, but I didn’t have enough self awareness left to give it much
serious thought.

        All my thoughts became as mist in the wind. Swirling and dancing images behind my
eyes, clouding the world around me before being carried off to places unknown by forces outside
my control.

        By day ten I was no longer leaving my dictionary perfectly aligned on the top step at
night. It was too precious to me to leave it lying unprotected so far away from me. I began
bringing it to bed with me.

        I found strange comfort in the way the plastic dust jacket that protected the hard
cardboard cover of the dictionary stuck to my bare skin as I slept. Occasionally, as I moved in
my sleep, the cover would rip at my skin, prompting me to sudden alertness, but rather than
being an inconvenience, I found it reassuring. I would wake and know instantly that my treasure
was with me.

        By day thirteen I had no more struggles with loneliness or depression. I no longer
wondered about June, I no longer cared when I tried the door at the top of the steps and found it
to be locked. I didn’t exist. Nothing existed except the dictionary and the wealth of
communicable dissemination carefully guarded within its pages.

        I had no mirror in my atramentous enclosure, but I’m relatively certain that by that time I
must have looked something like Gollum. I hadn’t bathed myself in at least a week, had been
naked for nearly two weeks, and had not even attempted to keep my hair flattened against my
scalp. My eyes were always opened to their widest limit, trying to absorb every last miniscule
photon that happened to be zooming by—or in other words, trying to see in the dark.

        I can only imagine how ghastly my appearance was with my wide eyes, wild hair and
greasy, dirty smudges covering the entirety of my naked frame. I’m sure that a glimpse of me at
that time would have been more horrifying than a glimpse of my screeching, wedding dress clad
mother in the hallway was.




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        But my abominable appearance was not enough to keep June from embracing me on my
thirteenth night.




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                                             CHAPTER ELEVEN

        As day thirteen drew to a close and darkness once again swallowed the oasis of dim
illumination at the bottom of the stairs, I fell asleep. I slept just as I had the past several nights,
with my dictionary wrapped tightly against my chest with both arms, and my blanket pulled up
over my head, protecting me from monsters, ghosts, aliens, and bad dreams.

        Not that any of those evils really mattered to me, because I no longer believed that any of
them were real, and even if they were real, it still didn’t matter because I no longer believed that
I was real.

        In reality, I had originally slept that way for the afore mentioned protection, but by day
thirteen I slept that way out of habit, and necessity for routine.

        In retrospect, routine probably saved my life down in the basement. If I had not
developed a solid routine prior to forgetting that I was real, I would likely have starved to death
because I would not have seen a need to eat in order to sustain my imaginary self.

        So, routine had me sleeping beneath my covers, naked, and cradling a dictionary on my
thirteenth night when a noise above me woke me up. By that point in my incarceration, one
would have thought that any noise from above would have filled me with hope, but instead the
noise inspired dread.

        The noise was the dull thudding of footsteps walking through the house. Floor boards
creaked in protest, crying out as if they were outraged that they also had been awakened and put
to work after so long a respite from the tortures of being walked upon.

        The footsteps eventually made their way into every room of the house, pausing in each
one, then moving about the room briefly before retreating and moving on to another room.

        The footsteps had started at the furthest end of the house—far beyond where the retaining
wall stood sentry over its piles of miscellaneous junk—at the far end of the crawlspace where the
main entry and living room were situated.




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        The footsteps worked their way steadily towards my end of the house, however, to where
the bathroom (which was right above where the washer and dryer sat) was situated, and to where
the kitchen, which was just beyond the stairs, was situated.

        The fear that the maddening approach of footsteps inspired in me was, in a way, a
wakeup call to reality. The fear brought me back into the real world instantly, bringing with it an
understanding that I was, in fact, very real, and that being real meant I could be harmed.

        I had not used my brain to think for several days and my thought process had become
slow from lack of use, but I was still able to come up with a few ideas for who it might be
lurking about in the upstairs.

        My first muddy thought was that a burglar had broken in, and was swiftly surveying the
house in order to be sure that no one was home and they’d have as much time as they needed to
ransack the joint and take all our possessions.

        That was a somewhat terrifying thought, because if they decided to check the basement
and found me in it, there was no telling whether or not they would be decent enough to release
me, or malicious enough to harm me. I certainly did not want to cry out and let them know I was
present, for fear of the second idea about their nature.

        I argued with myself on the point. On the one hand, salvation from captivity may be just
one holler away, but on the other hand, death or torture may also lay one holler away. In the end
I decided to wait and see where the situation led to on its own.

        I figured I might be able to ascertain their real intent by some sign that they may
unintentionally give me, and by that sign I might know whether to conceal my existence or
scream my fool head off until they found me.

        Of course I could not fathom one possible sign that they could give me that would reveal
their nature, short of opening the basement door and asking if somebody was trapped in there.
And that didn’t seem likely.

        The second fuzzy idea about the intruder’s identity that crawled through my brain was
even more terrifying than the first. Perhaps it was my mother. Perhaps she had returned from



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wherever it was that she had ambled off to in order to finish what she had started nearly two
weeks ago. She wanted to kill me.

        Or, perhaps, she was having a moment of lucidity and had returned in order to rescue me
from my confines, but could not quite remember where she’d left me because the Sickness had
had complete control over her mind when she put me there. That would explain the wandering
from room to room that was going on above me.

        I was highly suspicious of the second possibility for my mother’s return, for if she was
looking for me with a desire born purely of maternal love for her offspring, I would hear her
concernedly calling my name. All I could hear was someone who was making very little noise,
as if they wanted to surprise me with their presence, or conceal it from me altogether.

        I was faced with the same dilemma over whether to scream or not with the idea of my
mother above me as I was with the idea of a burglar above me. But it was worse if it was my
mother. If a burglar had come here with bad intent, I was unknown to them and they may spare
my life if they found me, for I was not their reason for being here. But if it was my mother above
me, and she had returned with bad intent, then her only purpose for being here was expressly to
kill me.

        That line of reasoning firmly cemented in my logical mind that I would be better off to
remain quiet as a church mouse until the intrusion had passed. I lay under my covers, not
moving, and only barely daring to breathe and listened to the footsteps as they came steadily
nearer to the kitchen.

        I trembled in my cotton chrysalis as the footsteps entered the kitchen and moved around
for a few seconds. The intruder was close enough now that I could hear noises other than
footsteps and complaining floorboards. I could hear the light switch click on and cupboard doors
opening and closing. I even thought I heard the tinkle of glass jars clinking together when the
refrigerator door slammed shut, but that sound may have been my imagination. I didn’t reckon
anybody had broken into my house because they wanted a ham and cheddar on rye; hold the
mayo, thank you very much.




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        I heard the footsteps approach the door to the basement and my heart sank. I had to cup a
hand over my mouth (much the way Joe used to do) to keep myself from screaming when I heard
the deadbolt on the door scraping as it unlocked.

        The door creaked open slowly. It was just like a creepy Hollywood cliché, the door
opening very slowly emitting a spine compressing squeal as it traveled the entire allowable
circumference of its hinges. Whoever was opening the door either wanted to sadistically
reinforce the fear of the trembling child lying cocooned in his blanket below them, or they were
themselves, mortified of what might lie on the other side of the door.

        It seemed to take forever for the door to open fully, and during that eternity I was able to
complete countless thoughts about all the horrible ways that I was about to die. It seemed
unfortunate to me in that instant that my brain seemed to be recuperating and was thinking more
rapidly than it had been a few minutes before.

        I could see the light from the top of the stairs even through my blanket, and it hurt my
sensitive eyes, even as filtered as it was through the fabric. I wanted to peek one eye out from
under the blanket to try and discern what evil presence awaited me at the top of the stairs, but
lacked the courage to do so.

        Even if I’d had the courage, I’m not sure I would have had the ability. My eyes had
become so accustomed to the dark, that I was unable to keep them open, even in the dim light. I
kept them shut tightly and listened intently for any sounds coming from the top of the steps.

        I could hear breathing, but nothing else. It was as if the intruder was either afraid to enter
and was trying to see as much as possible from the top of the stairs in order to determine if it was
safe to proceed, or was simply standing there, smelling my fear and savoring the scent.

        I waited; they waited. I dared not make a sound; they apparently dared not make a sound.
I’m not sure how long that muted battle of wills lasted, but the silence was at last broken by a
whisper from the top of the stairs.

        “Hello?” the voice whispered. I jumped a little at the sound but said nothing in return.
The voice returned, a little louder this time. “Hello? Is anybody down there?” The voice wavered
slightly and sounded scared, or at the very least, apprehensive, and female. It sounded like my


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mother, yet not quite like my mother. I was confused as Hell and still had no idea whether or not
to reply. I stayed silent.

        “If you’re down there, I really wish you’d say something. I’m afraid of the dark, and I
can’t find a light switch. I don’t want to come down in the dark.”

        The voice was now at a normal decibel, and had lost some of its fear, perhaps assuming
that there was nobody in the basement after all. The voice had also taken on the sing-song quality
that many adults used when talking to small children, accentuating the end of each sentence in a
slightly higher octave as if always asking a question.

        Thoughts raced through my rapidly unclouding mind. It seemed that a good scare is not
just useful for forcing someone to come out of shock, it’s also good for reuniting one’s brain
with reality when that brain had recently retreated from such a material place.

        If that person were my mother, she would not be ignorant of the light switch’s location,
but then again, if it were my mother, she could be lying. But it didn’t sound like my mother, and
yet, it did.

        I’d never heard of a woman burglarizing a home before, so I assumed that the woman
that was sing-songing about her fear of the dark from the top of the stairs could not be a burglar,
which led me right back to the ‘it’s my mother; it’s not my mother’ quandary, and I plucked
imaginary flower petals in my mind as I debated.

        The woman at the top of the stairs spoke again, and stumbled upon the only thing I can
think of that she could have said that would have made up my mind about her motives.

        “I think you’re down there, Johnny. I saw you in a dream. My name is June Devon, and I
want to help you.”

        At the mention of the name, ‘June’, I no longer had any choice in the matter of whether
or not to remain concealed. My shock was so great that I threw the blanket off of me and sat bolt
upright, staring towards the top of the stairs for a split second, before the brightness that shone
through the doorway blinded me and forced me flinch and squeeze my eyes shut.




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        The sudden brightness and the discomfort that accompanied it surprised me nearly as
much as did the mystery woman revealing to me that her name was June, and a small cry
escaped me.

         “Ahh!” I cried out as I covered my already squinting eyes in the crook of my elbow on
my right arm.

        Burnt into my retinas was an image that I was having trouble deciphering. I could see the
doorway as a bright fire of light, but in the middle of the doorway was the silhouette of what
appeared to be a woman.

        The woman was shaped creepily similarly to my mother. She shared the same height,
same build, and same general shape of my mother. I could see her shape clearly with my eyes
closed, although it was impossible to focus on the image for long, as it seemed to keep shifting
away from wherever I tried to focus my closed eyeballs.

        The sudden movement and unintentional cry that escaped me frightened the poor woman
at the top of the stairs nearly as much her sudden appearance in my house had frightened me. She
let out a blood curdling scream and reeled backwards so hard that she fell over.

        She continued to scream all the way to the floor, where she landed flat on her back with a
solid thud. She stopped screaming when she hit the floor, but not because she was no longer
frightened. She stopped because her wind had been knocked out.

        I heard the scream, I heard the thump, and I was able to intuit what had happened. The
whole scenario struck me as deliciously funny. I, who had been so longing for human contact,
was terrified at the prospect of making contact. June, who had apparently been searching for me
had been terrified when she finally found me.

        Of course my sudden appearance, rising out of the blackness with all the speed of a
trained assassin, and then hollering an instant later had not helped to put June’s mind at ease.
And now she was lying on her back in the kitchen, at the top of the stairs, making funny gasping,
and gulping noises as she struggled to recapture her breath, and I sat on my mattress at the
bottom of the stairs, giggling.




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        My giggles started small; tiny snorts of laughter escaping me through my nose. The more
I tried to contain my giggles, the more intense they became in response. Soon enough, there were
big snorts escaping my nose, and finally laughter began escaping from my mouth in loud
guffaws.

        I could not remember the last time I had laughed at anything. It was certainly before my
incarceration began, and probably quite awhile before at that. The laughter felt fantastic. It
spread through my entire body, until my whole body was jiggling like a bowl of Jell-O.

        Warmness was spreading through me with the laughter, and soon I was howling with
laughter. Not just laughing at the irony of my fear, and June’s, but laughing just because it felt so
damn good to laugh.

        Pretty soon, I was gasping for breath, just like June had been doing at the top of the stairs
a few moments before, but I still couldn’t stop laughing. I was laughing so hard, with my eyes
still closed, that I neither saw, nor heard, June descending the stairs to stand beside me.

        Suddenly, I heard a woman’s laughter beside me and a hand settled upon my shoulder.
The sudden appearance of the noise and touch scared me half to death and converted my
shrieking laughter into a shriek of terror.

        I fell over backwards and got all tangled up in my blanket as I instinctively tried to
scrabble away from my perceived pursuer. June laughed even louder and harder as I flopped
around like a fish out of water, trying to get free of my blanket.

        After a second or two, my fear locked brain unlocked and I realized who it was beside my
bed, and that they meant me no harm, and I quit struggling and flopping. I lay there panting for a
few seconds, listening to the rapturous sound of sweet laughter beside me.

        Tears began leaking from my still clenched eyelids. I was afraid to dare to dream that this
was real. That June had found me, and that the solution to my (Joe’s) odd statement, “June is
coming, and then everything will be better”, was sitting beside me on my dirty mattress.




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        As I continued to lie there, still tangled in my blanket, I felt a soft hand tenderly stroke
my naked and exposed back, and the giggling beside me began to subside. I didn’t dare to
unwrap my tangled head from the blanket and look at my new acquaintance.

        Her hand rubbed my back gently, but firmly, and it felt so amazing to have a hand touch
me tenderly, and with such apparent love that I could not help but cry. It had been so long since
I’d had any human contact, and even longer since I’d had any contact that felt like love, that I
could have died in that moment, and that would have been ok, because all of my life’s ambitions
were being met at that very moment, by a simple caress across my back.

        “Johnny,” she said gently, while still caressing my back. “Johnny, are you ok?”

        I was unable to speak because of my sobbing, but I nodded my head vigorously inside the
blanket.

        “Johnny, I need a big favor from you. Can you do me a big favor?”

        ‘Hey, Lady,’ I thought, ‘as long as you’re real, and you keep touching me, I can fly to the
moon and bring you back a Martian if you’d like.’

        I said nothing; I just nodded my head again.

        “I haven’t had a good hug in a long time; do you think you could give me a hug?” I
nodded my head for a third time, and as she removed her hand from my back, I rolled over
towards her and sat up.

        I tried to open my eyes and look at her, but the combination of light coming down the
stairs, and tear blurred eyes, made it impossible to see her, so I left them closed as I thrust my
entire body into her open arms.

        She hugged me deeply, squeezing so hard that the air was nearly expelled from my lungs,
but I didn’t care, I would die happily in June’s arms. I squeezed her back just as fiercely, and we
stayed like that; locked together in a mutually needy embrace, rocking gently back and forth,
each of our faces smashed into the shoulder of the other, and crying softly for about five minutes.

        When we ended our embrace, I was fairly certain that we both had snot in our hair.



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        She initiated our disentanglement. I personally would have been perfectly content to stay
there until Gabriel blew his horn and all the mountains tumbled into the sea. She placed a hand
on each shoulder and pushed me back to arms length and said, “Let me get a good look at you,
Johnny. I haven’t seen you since you were born.”

        That statement struck me as odd and I tried to open my eyes and look at her again but my
eyes were still too sensitive to the bright light. All I could see in the brief second that I opened
my eyes was a blur of fair skin, red lips, and big, reddish blonde hair.

        “Who are you?” I croaked in a sob choked voice. “How do you know who I am?”

        “My name is June, and I’m your aunt. I’m your mom’s sister. I was there when you were
born, but your mom hasn’t let me see you since then. She refused to have anything to do with
me. She wouldn’t even let me come to Joe’s funeral.”

        “I didn’t know Mama had a sister,” I said. “She never said anything about you. Did she
disavow you?”

        June pulled back in surprise and spoke in a shocked voice. “Disavow? Wow, that’s a
mighty big word for such a small dude.”

        I smiled proudly and said “I’ve been reading the dictionary a lot. I know a plethora of big
words.”

        June laughed warmly and pulled me back to her breast for a quick hug before releasing
me.

        “Well, Johnny, I can see that I’m gonna have to brush up on my vocabulary if we’re
gonna be friends.” She laughed again, but ended the trill with a small sad sigh.

        “But yes, your mom did, indeed, ‘disavow’ me. When John, Joe’s dad, died, I made the
mistake of trying to comfort your mom by telling her that John had gone on to a better place.
Your mom freaked out on me. She slapped me right across the face and screamed at me that
there was no better place for John than by her side.”




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        “She took his death extremely hard. In fact, I don’t think she ever recovered from it did
she?”

        I shook my head.

        “Yeah, I thought not,” June continued. “At any rate, I had apparently committed some
kind of mortal sin by accidentally suggesting that perhaps John was happier in death than he was
in life, and your mom never forgave me for that. I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that he’d been
unhappy with her, I was only trying to give her some comfort.”

        I opened my eyes a fraction of an inch, just enough to see June’s watery outline before
me, and said matter-of-factly,

        “Momma’s crazy now.”

        I could perceive June’s head nodding in agreement. “I had suspected as much,” she said.
“I tried to call, I tried to write; I even tried to come by the house a few times over the years, but
she hung up when I called, returned my letters unopened, and threatened me with bodily harm
when I showed up on her porch.”

        June laughed sadly as she finished her last sentence.

        “The only reason I was able to show up when you were born was because your mom had
a friend for awhile, Katelyn was her name.”

        “I know who that is, but I never met her,” I said, interrupting her.

        “I’m not surprised that you didn’t meet her,” June continued. “Your mom grew to hate
her, just like she hated me, and like she hated everybody else in the world that wasn’t John, or
Joe.”

        “But, at any rate, on my last attempt to visit your mom, Katelyn was just leaving the
house as I was pulling up and we crossed each other on the sidewalk. We introduced ourselves to
one another, and chatted for a moment before your mom glanced out the window and saw us.”

        “Uh-oh,” I interrupted again. “I bet that didn’t go well for you or Katelyn.”




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        June laughed and said, “You could certainly say that again! Your mom came out of the
house screaming loud enough to wake the dead. I was mortified to see how bad she looked. She
looked like she’d aged ten years when it had only been about one year since I’d last seen her.”

        “Anyway,” June continued, “She came out screaming and waving a broom around like
she was gonna beat Katelyn and me to death with it, and we both ran for our cars before your
mom could make contact with the broom or the neighbors could call the cops, assuming that we
were up to no good.”

        “Did you get away?” I asked breathlessly.

        “Oh yeah, we made it,” June said. “We both got our cars started in record time and peeled
away down the block like we were race car drivers.”

        I giggled as I pictured the scene in my head. Two women in their late twenties running
for their lives from a broom wielding maniac, and then racing their midsize sedans recklessly
down the street in the middle of Suburbia, while little old men in coveralls and plaid shirts
wearing John Deere baseball caps stood up from the work they were doing in their flower
gardens and shook their fists towards the sky shouting, “Slow down, you darned fool idiots!”

        June laughed with me, and then continued her story.

        “Well we drove like maniacs for a couple of blocks until we came to the park that’s down
the road from here. Do you know where that is?”

        I nodded. I had been to the park with Joe quite a few times back in the good old days.

        “Well,” she continued, “we pulled off there and got out of our cars, laughing like a
couple of love-struck teenage girls. We had a good chat there and shared our stories about your
mom, and we exchanged phone numbers. Katelyn and I agreed that it might not be wise for me
to try and visit again, but Katelyn said she would keep me informed of important events in your
mom’s life. That’s how I found out about her pregnancy with you.”

        I was reveling in the history that I was hearing. My mother had been so tight lipped about
any events in her life that didn’t involve John that it felt like I was only able to know her through
the remembrances of others.


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        “You said you were there when I was born,” I said. “But how did you know I was being
born? Mama had already excommunicated Katelyn from her life before that.”

        June laughed again. I loved her laugh. Then she said, “There you go with your big words
again. That’s gonna take some getting used to, my little friend. You’re right though, Katelyn
didn’t know when your mom went into labor, because your mom wouldn’t talk to her, but Joe
understood what was happening when your mom started having labor pains, and he called
Katelyn. Katelyn called an ambulance and then she called me.”

        “I got to the hospital about twenty minutes after the ambulance had dropped off your
mom, but I stayed out of the way until after you were born. I talked to the doctor that was
overseeing the delivery and asked him to alert me after you were born, and then I went to wait in
the cafeteria with Katelyn, who’d also come.”

        I listened to her story in rapt silence, hanging on every word. Learning anything about my
past was fascinating to me. I was never able to ask my mother about my past because the only
answer I would get before the Sickness took her completely was a bunch of screaming about
“poison”, and “good for nothing sex fiends”, and after the Sickness took her I was liable to get a
thrashing if I asked. And while asking Joe was a lot safer route, he didn’t have a lot of answers
for me either. He told me what he knew, of course, but he could only remember so much.

        “Did Momma know that you and Katelyn were there?” I asked.

        June shook her head emphatically as she answered. “No way! We made sure and stay out
of sight until after you were born. We were afraid that if we upset your mom while she was in
labor, it might complicate the birth somehow.”

        “At any rate,” June continued, “the doctor came down to the cafeteria about two hours
later and told Katelyn and I that your mom had delivered a healthy young baby boy, and she was
now sleeping peacefully in room 612. We decided that if she was sleeping, that was a perfect
time to sneak a peek at you without your mom freaking out on us, so we went up.”

        “We opened her door up just a little bit and peeked in; all we could see of your mom was
her feet. The way the room was built, there was a bathroom right next to the entry door, and the
rest of her room didn’t open up until about ten feet further in. But, we could see you.”


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          “Where was I?” I asked in awe.

          “You, my dear,” June said while giving my hair a little ruffling, just the way Joe used to,
“were in a crib, up against the wall, across the room from your mom’s smelly feet.”

          I laughed at joke, and waited for her to continue her story.

          “Katelyn and I walked in as quietly as we could, so we could get a closer look at you
without waking your mom up, but unfortunately, she was already awake.”

          “Uh-oh”, I said.

          “Yeah,” June laughed, “uh-oh indeed. She didn’t have a broom nearby, and she was still
too sore from having just given birth to put up much fight, but she sure could scream!”

          I laughed loudly as I said, “Yeah! She still has a special capacity for ululation.”

          June laughed and ruffled my hair again as she said, “You need to stop with the
vocabulary, Dude! I’ll never know what you’re talking about!”

          “Sorry,” I said, smiling. “I’ll try to be better.”

          I was well aware that I had no intentions of trying to be better.

          My whole life had been spent being a second class citizen, I could never hope to be as
wonderful as my namesake, and I was never going to be as wonderful as Joe, who shared a blood
connection with my namesake. But in my communicative skills, I had surpassed nearly average
citizen and had become a bit of a prodigy. I was not going to let my one advantage over the
common man go very easily. I rather enjoyed being special, even if I was only special because of
my unconventional vocabulary.

          “But, yeah,” June said, “she screamed like a banshee and threw her water glass at us.
Luckily her aim sucked!”

          I giggled again.

          “She just kept screaming obscenities at us, threatening us with death; you know…the
usual.”



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        I smiled knowingly.

        “Eventually, the doctor came rushing in and told us we had to leave. I screamed at your
mom as I was being ushered out to tell me your name, but she told me I could rot in Hell and
she’d never give me your name. Then the doctor ran us out and I never talked to your mom
again, or even tried to for that matter.”

        At this last little bit of history I cocked my head and managed to open my eyes all the
way up without so much pain. My sensitivity to light was slowly diminishing, though it was still
uncomfortable.

        I looked at June more clearly, and saw for the first time how much she resembled my
mother. Her face was similar to my mother’s, although without all the wrinkles and without the
mask of malice that my mother had worn.

        She had the same facial features; cheekbones, nose, mouth, eye shape. But her eyes were
not the same color as my mother’s. June’s eyes were a bluish grey, just like Kim Basinger’s had
been on the Playboy cover. And June had different hair.

        My mother’s hair had been dark and stringy, but June’s hair was lush, honey colored, and
hung thickly about her face in loose ringlets. Her hair was the finishing touch that accentuated
her beautiful face like the artfully crafted roses on wedding cake.

        Though June was stunningly pretty, I was suddenly beginning to doubt the veracity of all
her claims, and said, “But you knew my name when you came down here. How did you know
my name? And how did you even know where to look, and what you’d find?”

        June must have sensed the doubt in my voice because she bent down just slightly and
made sure that our eyes were locked and she said, “I told you, Johnny, I saw you in a dream. I
have had the same dream for the last five nights. In the dream, I’m always standing in darkness
and this teenage boy with long blonde hair walks up behind me and gently tugs on my sleeve.
When I turn around and look at him, he smiles and reaches out for my hand.”

        “He has such a look of…purity; I guess is the word for it, that I feel like I have to grab his
hand. Anyway, I take his hand and the darkness fades away and suddenly we’re standing on the



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porch of this house. I recognize it as this house because, as you might recall, I have a vivid
memory of being chased away from here with a broom.”

        I had to laugh at that, recalling my own imaginations of old men and flower gardens
protesting speeding idiots.

        June politely waited for me to finish snickering before she continued.

        “Anyway, in this dream, we end up on the porch and then this boy, who is still holding
my hand, reaches his other hand out and lays his palm flat against the front door. When he does
that, everything fades to black again.”

        “Then, we stand there in the dark, him still holding my hand, and he whispers two words;
‘Squirt’, and ‘Johnny’. And as soon as he whispers those two words, he disappears and I can just
make out in the darkness, the shape of a little boy who appears to be floating on his back in the
darkness. Just hovering; there in the dark. I always try to shout the words the big kid gave me,
but I can never make a sound, then I wake up.”

        “That’s how I found you, and how I knew your name. And I think the big kid in the
dream was…”

        “Joe!” I shouted at her, cutting her off in mid sentence.

        June laughed and made a big production of recoiling as if I’d scared her.

        “That’s right, Johnny,” she laughed, “I’m pretty sure it was Joe, though I wasn’t sure
before, because I haven’t seen him since his father’s funeral, and he was just a baby then.”

        “I don’t know where he was the night you were born. Your mom might have left him at
home alone, but he wasn’t at the hospital. Anyway, Joe was able to show me the house, and give
me a name. I really wasn’t sure if the dreams meant anything or if I was going crazy, but after
five nights in a row, I finally drummed up enough courage to come and see.”

        “I’m glad you did.” I said. “But I heard you looking all over the house, why didn’t you
come straight to the basement?”




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        “Well,” June said, “I didn’t know Joe had showed me the room. I thought all he had
showed me was darkness; I didn’t realize he had been showing me the basement until I found
you down here.”

        June looked a little sheepish and seemed to struggle to continue, but she eventually found
the courage and said, “I also didn’t know if you were alive or dead. From the dream I couldn’t
tell if you were sleeping or dead and I was very, very scared of finding a body instead of a boy.
That’s why I looked in cupboards and closets first.”

        June got up off the mattress and stretched, “Ok,” she said, “Now enough of my story, tell
me your story. Why are you down here? Where is your mother? What is that horrible smell? And
why are you running around naked like a little aborigine?”

        I recounted to her the details of how my incarceration started, and up to the point where
she found me as best as I could. It turned out to be harder to talk about than I thought it would
be.

        I went on to explain that I had no idea of my mother’s location, that the smell was my
pooping bucket and perhaps my own lack of personal hygiene, and that I was naked because I
had forgotten that normal people wear clothes.

        My story took a long time to recount, even skipping over most of the mundane details,
such as which books I’d read, or what I’d eaten for lunch on any given day, and I finished the
telling of it with a big yawn.

        “Oh, you poor Honey,” June said leaning down to hug me with tears in her eyes. “That’s
the most horrifying thing I’ve ever heard in my life. I don’t know how you managed to stay sane,
Johnny.”

        I’m pretty sure fire shone in my eyes as I replied, “Because I will NOT be crazy like
Mama! I won’t do it!”

        June smiled a sad, knowing smile and seemed to understand that my strength was born of
abhorrence to my mother’s Sickness, and she quickly changed the subject.




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        “Well, my little super hero,” she said, “I think it’s time to get you out of the basement,
what do you think?”

        My heart nearly exploded out of my throat and tears did explode out of my still tender
eyes in my sudden exultation. I jumped up off the mattress so fast that I nearly plowed right into
June, forcing her to step back a couple paces. I grabbed up my dictionary and started traipsing
towards the stairs.

        “Whoa, Silver!” June shouted through her laughter, stopping me in my tracks. I turned
around and saw her smiling beautifully at me. “You can’t go wandering around in your birthday
suit. Where’d you put your clothes?”

        Smiling and crying, I made my last trip over to the washer and dryer in the basement of
my mother’s house.




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                                          CHAPTER TWELVE

        The trip out of the basement and into the great big world beyond was a blur. I got dressed
quickly, and made sure I had my dictionary and ran up the stairs without my usual modicum of
caution, risking not only more broken fingers, but likely a broken neck as well.

        The bright light of the kitchen hurt my eyes, but I stared around with wide eyes anyway. I
had always thought the kitchen was an ugly little room, with its dingy wallpaper—cream colored
with images of fruit all over it—but that night the kitchen looked like the vestibule to Heaven.

        Everything seemed to shimmer with an ethereal glow; radiant warmth and glory and
beauty shining forth from every surface. I wondered briefly if the auras were due to my long
confinement in the dark and some kind of resultant light sensitivity to my eyes, but I decided
quickly that it was probably just what freedom looked like.

        Entering the kitchen had felt like wandering into a vast, ancient temple crowded with
artifacts. Each artifact seemed to have vast importance and carried with it the potential to change
the entire course of human history and needed to be treated with a certain reverence, awe, and
wonder. That was the condition June found me in when she topped the stairs.

        Such were my feelings of awe and reverence in the kitchen that I’m surprised I didn’t
bow down before the toaster to offer my most penitent confessions of guilt before turning to the
microwave to make requests for eternal life.

        June came up the stairs much more cautiously than I had and entered the kitchen several
seconds behind me. She found me standing in the kitchen, turning slow circles, looking at
everything with the wide eyed wonder of a person who suddenly finds himself surrounded by
unbelievable miracles that shatter all preconceived notions about the universe.

        She put her hand on my shoulder and stood there for a few seconds, letting me absorb all
the things I’d seen a million times before, but was suddenly seeing for the first time. When she
spoke, she spoke gently, “What do you think about getting out of here before your mom shows
up with a broom?”




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        I broke my reverie with a giggle, imagining my mother not carrying a broom as she
entered, but rather flying through the door on it. I looked up at June (who, in that light, bore a
striking similarity to both my mother and Kim Basinger) with a wide smile and said, “Yes, let us
forsake this penitentiary.”

        Laughing, June led me out of the over-bright house and out the front door into the
pleasantly dark night, never to return to that palace of horrors where my childhood had been
poisoned by my mother’s Sickness.

        We hopped in June’s car and started up the block, driving at a reasonable speed so as not
to piss off the little old men in coveralls that shouldn’t be out gardening at eleven o’clock at
night anyway.

        I looked over at June as she was driving. Her face was dimly lit by the faint glow of the
dash lights, and even cast in a green light I thought she was beautiful. I knew I loved her. Not in
a romantic way, I wasn’t in love with her, but I loved her in a way that I had never loved my own
mother.

        June was the embodiment of everything my mother should have been. Just looking at her
had a calming effect; reassuring me that everything would be ok. When she talked to me she
made me feel like I was the most important person in the entire world, and that nothing—nothing
at all—was more important in that moment than I was.

        When she laughed, the entire world inflated with her infectious joy, and when she
touched me, I could feel love flowing out of her body and into mine like some sort of radioactive
beam.

        As I was admiring June and coming to terms with the fact that she was the mother of my
dreams, a troubling thought entered my mind; ‘What if I can’t stay with her? What if someone
makes me go back to my mother?’

        June glanced down and must have seen my troubled expression, because her own
expression quickly changed from one of peaceful contentment to one of intense concern.
Furrowing her eyebrows and placing a hand on my knee she asked, “What’s wrong, Tiger? Why
do you look so upset?”


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        I was surprised by her sudden awareness of my change in mood. I was still struggling to
believe that someone actually cared about me at all, even less cared so much that they could
sense my uneasiness without me explaining it to them.

        Tears began building on the rims of my lower eyelids; part from my fears of having to
leave June, and part because I was overwhelmed by her concern for me. In that moment I knew
not only that I loved her, but also that I trusted her.

        I could be certain that no matter what I told her, she would not judge me. I could tell her
my hopes, dreams, and fears. I could tell her the deepest darkest secrets of my heart and never
have to fear that she would laugh at me, scorn me, or use that information to hurt me.

        I drew strength from the comfort of my trust and told her my fear.

        “Am I going to have to go back to my mother? I don’t want to!” I cried, “I want to stay
with you forever! Don’t ever make me go back, June, please!”

        We were just driving by the park when I began to freak out on June about the prospect of
going back to my mother, and June quickly slammed on the brakes and cranked the steering
wheel, executing a controlled slide into the parking lot of the park that any Hollywood stunt
driver would have been envious of.

        The car slammed to a halt and was still rocking back and forth from the sudden turn and
stop, but June had already managed to unclip her safety belt and was leaned over towards me
with both hands on my shoulders, turning my torso firmly so I faced her directly She had her
face bent down, inches from mine.

        “Sugar Pie,” she said desperately, “don’t you worry about that! Don’t you worry one hair
on that beautiful little head of yours about that! I’m going to make sure that you never, ever,
have to go back to live with that psycho! Do you understand me? Do you understand, Johnny?
You’ll never have to go back to her, NEVER!”

        Fire burst forth in her eyes, or maybe just reflections from the dash lights, but whatever it
was, it was striking. Her eyes sparkled with hate and anger and love all at the same time. Two
emotions were clearly reserved for my mother, and only the last was reserved for me.



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        As she spoke, her breath washed over me. It smelled faintly of cinnamon and acted like
some sort of alchemical concoction, washing away every trace of my fear, and empowering me
to accept the love and security that was being offered to me.

        I was overwhelmed with emotion.

        First of all, I had just been rescued from a tortuous tenure in a bleak cell; secondly I had
been rescued by a person who loved me for no reason other than because I was alive and needed
to be loved. My own mother had not loved me so much, and thirdly, this rescuer of mine looked
me straight in the eye and promised to protect me.

        As dust clouds created by June’s exceptional slide into the park continued to drift by the
windows, I was so overcome that I couldn’t speak, couldn’t move, couldn’t cry, and could only
barely breathe.

        The only other person who had ever loved me and protected me had been Joe, and he’d
been gone for nearly seven months. During those seven months I had stumbled through a myriad
of ways to convince myself that I would never be loved again, and likely didn’t deserve to be.

        But now, here I was sitting in the car with some kind of racecar driver who was staring
passionately into my face, bathing me in love, and promising to protect me from all the evils of
the world.

        I had been convinced during my imprisonment that I was a figment of the imagination;
that some creature in a book had more place in reality that I did. But June was here, and she had
my complete and utter attention forcing me to recognize that I was not only real, but that she
wanted me to be real.

        It had been a long time since anybody had wanted me. I didn’t know how to react. Hell, I
couldn’t react. The whole scene was too surreal. Everything still bore an aura; a shimmering
around the edges, lending a slightly unrealistic quality to a world that was most certainly real.

        In the end, through June’s continued prompting for me to acknowledge that I believed her
when she said I’d never have to go back to my mother, I did the only thing I could do with my
nearly paralyzed body; I nodded.



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        Relief washed over June’s face at my acknowledgement of trust. The fire dulled in her
eyes, and her entire countenance softened. She let go of my shoulders and turned back towards
the steering wheel.

        “Johnny,” She said quietly, “I know you’ve had a rough go of it so far, Baby, but I’m
going to try my damndest to make sure you never suffer again, ok, Hon?”

        I nodded again, still unable to speak, and completely unconcerned with the fact that she
wasn’t looking at me and could not see my acknowledgment.

        At my silent response, she turned her head and looked at me sideways. I smiled a weak
smile up at her, my paralysis softening.

        “It’s true Darlin’,” she assured me again. “If you’d like, I can try to get the courts to grant
me full custody of you, and you’ll never even have to see your mom again if you don’t want to.
Will you come and live with me, Toots?”

        The idea of living with June instead of with my mother slammed through my head like a
thousand clanging gongs. The explosion of rapturous joy was so strong that even my vision
wavered, seeming to make everything I could see vibrate around the fuzzy, glowing edges.

        I was still too dazed with bliss to respond verbally so I just nodded my head vigorously
until I nearly gave myself whiplash, tears finally finding purchase in my wide, dry eyes.

        June smiled and her eyes filled with tears that never spilled over the rims, but instead
puddled on the rims, swelling up and seeming to defy gravity. She sniffled softly, and still
smiling, said, “Good! I’m so happy Johnny! We’ll make a great team, you and me. We’ll take on
the whole world, and nothing will be able to get in our way! We’ll be like superheroes or
something.”

        We both laughed at that idea, and then June asked me if I’d like to go get some ice cream.
I thought about it for a second before deciding that as appealing as ice cream sounded, at the
moment I’d rather just get some sleep, in a real bed, in a real room, with a real night light, but
not a Snoopy night light; no, never a Snoopy night light again.




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        I told her about my desire for sleep and she accepted my preference without complaint
and put the car in drive. She drove out of the park much more sanely than she had driven into it.
She drove cautiously the rest of the way to her house, which lay beyond the suburbs, out into the
countryside, where the nearest neighbor was at least two miles away, and throughout the entire
trip, she gave no little old men any reason to complain, and I fell asleep listening to the gentle
hum of tires on blacktop instead of the clunking of laundry appliances.




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                                          CHAPTER THIRTEEN

        I slept during most of the trip to June’s modest farm and awoke only when she stopped
the car in front of the large gate that barred her driveway. June was still unbuckling her seatbelt
when I awoke and she looked over at me and smiled.

        “We’re home, Sugar Dumpling,” she said. “I just gotta get the gate, and then we’ll get
you to bed, ok Soldier?”

        I nodded my sleepy head and thought how wonderful it was to have somebody who cared
enough about me to give me nicknames. Joe had given me a nickname that I would cherish for
the rest of my life; ‘Squirt’. But my long lost Aunt June seemed to have a limitless supply of
nicknames for me, and every new name she called me seemed sweeter and more wonderful than
the one before it.

        I watched her getting the gate and wondered, not for the first time that evening, if this
could really be happening. I could only barely believe that I was really free from the basement
and free from my tyrannical, mentally unbalanced torturer; aka Mom. I couldn’t believe that
someone had come into my life who loved me every bit as much as Joe had, and they wanted me.

        After the life I’d had thus far, it was pretty hard to believe, and the fuzzy glow
surrounding everything I saw was still lending that weird, surreal element of unreality to the
whole situation.

        I gave myself a quick slap across the face before June made it back to the car to test the
theory that this might be a dream, but the immediate pain I felt in my still sore fingers, and
across my face assured me that I was really awake and everything was really happening.

        June made it back to the car as I was busy rubbing my eyes, (they had started watering
from the injured finger face slap I’d just administered).

        “You ok, Sport?” she asked. “You ain’t crying are you?”

        “No, Ma’am,” I replied. “I’m just tired; eyes are watering a bit. That’s all.”




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        June seemed to believe me. She smiled and said, “Well, Little Buddy, I’ve got a room
that’s got a bed with nice thick blankets, and a big old fluffy pillow in it, and it’s just waitin’ for
a big old Honker like yourself to jump in it and go to sleep. What do ya say we quit gabbin’ out
here and get you in that bed?”

        I smiled and shook my head in eager approval of her plan, and June drove the car up the
driveway to a garage that was detached from a big, old farm house.

        From the front, I could see that the house was a big white two story shaped like a
rectangular box with a roof on top and a big covered porch out front.

        Along each side of the house, poking out of the steeply slanted roof, were two small
dormers; one towards the front of the house on each side, and one towards the rear on each side.

        All the trim was painted gray and the main structure, which was sided with three inch lap
siding, was painted white.

        Windows ran down the length of the house, windows peeked out of the front of each
dormer, and two big picture windows flanked the bright red door that was centered in the width
of the front of house.

        The roof appeared to be a tar shingle roof and was a dark green color. Several red brick
chimneys poked out of the roof in different locations, lending a homey appearance to the entire
setting. The only thing missing was a wisp of welcoming smoke rising lazily from one of the
chimneys. If one had been smoking it would have made the house seem like something out of a
Dickens novel.

        The house sat confidently in the midst of a green sea of well manicured lawn that was
fenced in all the way around with a weather worn split rail fence. Beyond the fenced lawn
appeared to be pasture land.

        The small, one car garage sat about fifteen feet away from the house, to the left if your
orientation was directly in front of the house, facing it. The garage was sided with the same three
inch lap siding as the house and painted the same white color, with gray trim and a green roof.




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        Two four pane windows hung in the wall along both sides of the garage, one towards the
front, and one towards the back, and a normal sized entry door stood just to the right of the front-
most window. One big, wooden garage door took up nearly the whole front of the garage. The
door was not of the type that you open by lifting it up and in to the garage, but rather it was one
that had to be rolled off to the side to open.

        It was directly in front of that door that June parked her car and turned to me as I was
surveying the entirety of the scene around me in the blue light cast off by the many halogen
lamps that June had scattered about on tall poles around the house, yard and garage.

        I could feel June looking at me so I cut my visual exploration of her property short and
looked back at her.

        “You have a lot of lights.” I said matter-of-factly.

        June snickered through her nose and replied, “I told you I was afraid of the dark.”

         “Yeah,” I said, “I was really scared of the dark in the basement, but then Joe came and
showed me that there was nothing to be afraid of. I’m not afraid any more, but I still don’t like
the dark. I’m glad you have lights.”

        “Well,” said June while opening her car door, “I’m glad I have such a brave little trooper
in my family now. You can keep me safe until we get to the house, ok?”

        I smiled, knowing full well that she didn’t need me to keep her safe, but I appreciated the
patronization nonetheless.

        “Ok, I’ll do that.” I said, getting out of the car.

        June came around to my side of the car and held out her hand. I grabbed it and let her
lead me up the sidewalk to the front porch of her big farmhouse where she let go of my hand in
order to unlock the front door.

        June stuck the key in the lock and struggled for a second to unlock the door before
realizing that it was already unlocked.

        “Hmm,” she said, “that’s odd. I could have sworn I locked the door when I left tonight.”



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        June’s eyebrows had arched down and her lips had compressed tightly, slightly puckering
her face in an obvious look of concern. Though she resembled my mother in many aspects, the
slight puckering of her face did not have nearly the same uglifying effect on June’s face that it
had had on my mother’s face.

        “Maybe you only thought you locked it,” I suggested helpfully. “You know, like since
you don’t usually lock it, maybe you thought you had it locked, but it never locked all the way or
something.”

        June’s lips stayed tightly compressed, but she slid them off to the side of her face and
puckered them outward slightly. She cocked her head, squinted one eye, and raised the eyebrow
over her one wide open eye in a look of exaggerated thoughtfulness.

        “Yeah, Honeybunch, you’re probably right,” she said, giving her head a slight nod. “I
probably just messed up when I was locking it. Lord knows it wouldn’t be the first thing I
screwed up.”

        She laughed as she spoke, and as she laughed all of the confusion and apprehension
drained out of her face, and was replaced by her previous radiant cheerfulness.

        “Doing stuff like that always makes me wonder if I’m losin’ my marbles.”

        “You’re not crazy,” I said solemnly. “I’ve seen crazy before, and you’re not it.”

        June stopped in the foyer that was just inside the door and turned to me, offering a sad,
appreciative smile. She ruffled my hair and bent down and kissed my forehead.

        “Sweet Cheeks,” she said seriously, “I’m so sorry about what your mom put you through,
and I’m gonna do everything in my power to make it up to you. You are just the sweetest damn
thing I’ve ever seen in my life, and I can’t wait to get to know you better.”

        I smiled back at her weakly until a yawn forced my smile into something that must have
more resembled a snarl.

        “Ok, Toots, let’s get you to bed,” June said as she stood erect again.




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        June grabbed my hand and led me through the spacious house. Normally my curiosity
about a new environment would have been kicked into high gear by a situation like this, but I
was so tired that I paid little attention to the house as we breezed through it. All I remember is
the fuzzy haze that seemed to surround every object that came into my field of vision.

        My focus didn’t snap back to attention until we entered what was to be my bedroom. The
bedroom was on the second floor, (though I have no recollection of walking up the stairs) and
was huge. A large dormer window sat in the center of the far wall, facing east to catch the first
rays of the rising sun each morning.

        The dormer window was recessed from the main wall, sticking out towards the east about
four feet, and was trimmed in a polished dark wood. A shelf, about two feet deep was built into
the window frame, just below the window, and ran the full length of the cubicle that the window
was set into. The shelf was made of the same highly polished dark wood that framed the
window, and gave the whole area a very sophisticated appearance.

        An oak chair with a deep red velvet seat cushion sat in front of the shelf, making it look
more like a tabletop than a shelf, and looked to be a very inviting place to sit and watch the sun
come up.

        The window in the dormer had a set of wooden venetian blinds, each slat about two
inches wide. The blinds were a slightly lighter color than the rest of the wood trim in the area,
and were rolled down, offering a rich, warm, contrast to the dark wood trim that dominated the
area.

        A huge, queen sized bed sat against the wall just beside the dormer window to the right.
The head of the bed was up against the eastern wall and the foot of the bed was out towards the
center of the room, towards the entry door.

        The bed was covered with a thick, plush comforter, deep red in color, which hung nearly
to the floor on three sides of the bed and covered a mountain of pillows at the head of the bed.

        To the right of the bed, up against the eastern and southern walls sat a small night table
made of a wood that was so deeply stained and polished that it appeared black in color. The four
legs of the table were ornately carved, with shallow fins that spiraled down their entire length,


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and similarly carved cross members offered support to each leg in the center of their length on all
four sides.

        A small white porcelain lamp sat on the table, glowing softly through its stained glass
lampshade, illuminating the entire room in a warm multi-colored light. Images of wildlife
decorated the shade, as well as the porcelain body of the lamp.

        Along the northern wall, to the left of the dormer wall, a spacious closet ran nearly the
full length of the wall, with two big sliding doors made of the same highly polished dark wood
that framed in the dormer. The doors met nearly seamlessly in the middle of the closet.

        All the walls as well as the ceiling of the room were painted a soft cream color and were
accentuated by wooden moldings that ran along the bottom of the walls at the floor, as well as at
the top, against the ceiling. The wood moldings were of the same dark wood color that most of
the other wood in the room was, and gave the room a nice continuity that did not distract from
the inviting atmosphere the room created.

        The room was carpeted in a plush soft carpet; deep red in color, almost an exact match to
the color of the bedspread.

        I observed the entirety of the room in only a few seconds, but my eye was compulsively
drawn to the bed over and over. I was as tired as I could ever remember having been in my life
and really only wanted to sleep in that big soft bed.

        “I don’t have any pajamas for you, Sweetie,” June said sympathetically. “I have some big
old tee shirts that I use for P.J.’s though, would you like me to get you one?”

        I shook my head. “No thank you, June. I’ve become accustomed to sleeping nude, but I
think I’ll just sleep in my underwear, if that’s ok?”

        June smiled and said that would be just fine. Then she kissed my forehead and turned
politely away as I stripped and climbed into the bed. Once I was snuggled in, June turned back to
me and kissed my forehead again.




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        ‘If she keeps doing that, she’s gonna wear a hole in my forehead,’ I thought to myself
with a smile. ‘That’d be ok though. I’d rather lose my mind through a hole in my forehead
created by love than by the Sickness that took Mamma.’

        “Ok, Gorgeous,” June said as she started away from my bed, “you sleep tight and I’ll see
you in the morning. You want me to turn off the lamp?”

        “No!” I said sharply.

        Light was a novelty to me at this point and I figured that as long as it was in my power to
be in the light, I was never going to step into darkness willingly again.

        June smiled and said goodnight and I repeated her valediction. Then I rolled over and
snuggled in. I was already nearly asleep before June reached the door.

        Just as June was starting to close the door behind her, I bolted upright in bed, suddenly
wide awake; my eyes as wide as my wakefulness.

        “JUNE!” I shouted.

        June nearly broke herself in half trying to get her body to twist back towards me and
came back through the door, half stumbling in her urgency to make sure I was ok.

        “What is it, Dumplin’?” June asked, speaking rapidly and breathlessly in her concern.

        I felt a moment of guilt, because it was not really an emergency that caused me to scream
out in alarm; a scream that nearly made June disintegrate in her gusto to get back to me. But it
was important to me so I looked sheepishly at her and said meekly, “I forgot my dictionary in the
car. I’m sorry, but could you get it for me?”

        I had expected to see June’s countenance change into a looked of eye rolling
exasperation, or perhaps to see her features contort into a mask of thinly veiled anger, but I did
not expect to see what I did see.

        June’s expression, which was wide eyed with concern as she burst into the room and to
me bedside, morphed into a look of radiant beauty and joy. Relief spread across her face like the




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rays of the rising sun spreading slowly over the land as it creeps over the top of distant
mountains.

        A smile spread rapidly across her face and she laughed a little as she said, “Jelly Bean,
you nearly scared me half to death! Yeah, you betcha I’ll go get it for ya’. I’ll be right back.”

        With that, June hurried out of the room, and I listened to her footsteps as they thumped
down the hallway, down the stairs, and out the front door. I waited to hear the car door off in the
distance, but I fell asleep before June made it to the car.




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                                            CHAPTER FOURTEEN

          I awoke the following morning just as the sun was beginning to peek through the slats in
the blind over my window. As I sat up I found that my dictionary had been placed on the bed
beside me, and it nearly tumbled to the floor when I moved, but I reached out and caught it with
all the skill of a professional football player making an amazing one handed grab in the end zone.

          I placed the book carefully on the nightstand, making sure to line up two edges of the
book with two edges of the table, and reached over it to turn out the lamp.

          After killing the lamp, the room seemed pretty dim, so I got up and headed to the dormer
window. Finding the louver adjustment rod for the blind dangling at the left side, I spun it in my
fingers, letting the sunlight shine in and the room brightened appreciably.

          After that I headed for the door. I was eager to explore my new environs. Halfway across
the room I realized that I was still in my underwear and now that I was in the company of human
beings again, that was not an acceptable dress code for wandering about publicly.

          I went to fetch my clothes from the pile on the floor beside the bed where I’d abandoned
them the previous night, only to find that they were no longer there.

          ‘Well, that’s odd,’ I thought to myself. ‘I know last night is a bit fuzzy, but I distinctly
remember leaving my clothes here. I wonder where they’ve gotten off to. Maybe June decided
that they needed a good washing, though they were fresh from the drier when I put them on last
night.’

          Deciding that June had most likely taken them somewhere and that I could not wander
around her house mostly naked, I decided to peek in the closet in hopes of finding a tee shirt or
something that I could cover my modesty with.

          After sliding one of the large wooden doors off to the side about a foot and a half and
poking my head into the closet, I realized that the closet was like a whole other room all by itself.
It was about four feet deep and ran about ten feet down the length of the approximately fifteen
foot long wall.




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        It was uncomfortably dark in the closet and I could not see much except for what was
directly in front of me. I could not bring myself to enter into the darkness. I pulled my head back
out and looked up into the open doorway. The closet ran all the way to the ceiling, which was
about ten feet high.

        There were two shelves in the closet, one about five feet up from the floor, and another
about two feet above that. Both shelves appeared to be empty from what little I could see of them
with only one door slid only partially open.

        I pushed the already open door along its track, opening it up another foot or so and then
slid the other door open the full two and a half feet that the rail allowed. With both doors opened
to their maximum distance, the entryway into the closet was about five feet wide and let plenty
of light into the large space.

        In the fresh light I could see that there was a pull cord dangling down right in the front of
the closet, just inside the opening. I tugged the cord and the closet lit up, illuminated by three
light fixtures, spread evenly along the entire length of the closet, that were mounted on the
closet wall that faced the rest of the room, just above the doors. The lights were cleverly
mounted so that the light they generated shone into the closet, but did not shine in your eyes
while you were toiling in there.

        With the light on in the closet, I could clearly see that the closet was, in fact, empty, apart
from my clothes that had been tossed into the far back corner on the left side of the closet. I
almost didn’t see them at all, and wouldn’t have if I hadn’t thought I’d heard a faint whisper of
sound come from that direction and decided to walk in a little deeper to investigate.

        There was nothing in the closet that could have made a noise, and the noise was so slight
as to be an incomprehensible intonation and I did not concern myself with it for long, deciding
that it had probably been my imagination.

        I walked over to where my clothes had been unceremoniously crumpled into a ball and
shoved into the corner and scooped them up and walked back out of the closet to get dressed.

        I yanked the pull string for the light as I exited, and closed the two doors, still puzzling
over why June would hide my clothes like that while I was sleeping. I pushed thoughts of


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malicious intent aside and started shaking the wrinkles out of my clothes so I could get dressed
and go exploring.

        As I was shaking my clothes out, I noticed a faint odor coming from them. It smelled
similar to roses, or more accurately, similar to the rose water that my mother used to leave in
glass bowls around the house before she took leave of her senses and still concerned herself with
the appearance and aroma of her abode.

        I stopped shaking my shirt and held it to my nose and inhaled deeply. It definitely had a
hint of roses emanating from it. It wasn’t a strong smell, but just a hint of odor, like a diluted
perfume.

        I assumed that June probably wore a rose perfume and some of hit had rubbed off on my
clothes as she was moving them into the closet.

        As I got dressed, I looked around the room more earnestly than I had before. I judged
from its clean, tidy, and inviting design that June was likely obsessed with maintaining a clean
home that could be open to unexpected visitors at any time without fear of embarrassment, and
she’d probably moved my clothes as a matter of routine; viewing them as a blemish in an
otherwise perfectly clean room.

        I glanced at my dictionary that was perfectly alineated with the straight lines of the
tabletop at the lower corner and smiled. I understood perfectly June’s desire to maintain order,
and decided I would not mention the clothes for fear of offending her or sounding as if I were
accusing her of treachery.

         Once I had my clothes on I realized that I had never grabbed my shoes from the
basement. I hadn’t worn my shoes since my first night in the basement and had, quite honestly,
not even considered the need for them since taking them off in the darkness.

        ‘Well, I won’t need them unless I go outside,’ I thought. ‘Maybe June will have something
I can wear for awhile, until I can get some new ones.’

        I headed out the door into the hallway at the top of the stairs and was suddenly overcome
with the urge to pee. I stood there for a second, wondering where the washing machine was kept



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before realizing that I could actually use a toilet again. I figured there was likely a bathroom
upstairs somewhere and I set about looking for it.

        My bedroom was at the near end of the hallway, nearest to the stairs that led to the first
floor. Directly across from my bedroom door was another door that was standing slightly ajar. I
peeked into the room adjacent to mine and saw that it was almost a carbon copy of my room,
only with the dormer facing west rather than east.

        Turning to the right, down the length of the hallway, I saw three more doors. Two at the
far end of the hall, directly across from each other, just like my bedroom and the one across the
hall from it, and one more door in the middle of the hallway, on the same side as my bedroom.

        I decided that the two doors at the end were most likely more bedrooms and my best bet
for a bathroom was the middle door.

        I plodded silently down the hall in my stockinged feet and found the center door was
opened and that my assumption of the room’s purpose was correct. It was a full bathroom,
complete with a large claw-foot tub, pedestal sink, and most importantly, a toilet!

        I admired the bathroom as I stood there taking care of business. It was a pleasant room,
sparsely decorated with only two pictures hanging on the wall on either side of the large oval
mirror that hung over the sink.

         Both pictures were of landscapes, one showing a seemingly endless field of grain
flowing in the wind, and the other showing a plowed field with an old rusted tractor sitting idly
in the midst of the dirt sea.

        The large claw-foot tub had a shower installed and a circular railing hung from the
ceiling, encircling the entire circumference of the tub. A shower curtain hung from the rail and
was currently pulled open at the front, to reveal the spotless interior of the tub.

        The shower curtain was not brightly colored or gaudy, but rather a plain tan curtain with
no artwork or embossed patterns to decorate it.

        A pipe ran up from the floor at the head of the tub, and extended up about 6 feet above
the bottom of the tub. A shower head was affixed to the top of the pipe, and about halfway up the


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pipe, a basket was fastened to it. The basket held a washcloth, bottle of generic shampoo, and a
bar of white soap.

           The bathroom floor was covered with vinyl flooring, embossed with tan colored squares
that were a nearly perfect color match to the shower curtain. The squares were about six inches
on all sides and were accentuated by white lines that gave the appearance of grout around each
square.

           Aside from the two pictures, there were no other decorations to distract the busy patron of
the room.

           The room was painted high gloss white and was lit from a single bulb light fixture in the
ceiling.

           The room should have appeared medicinal, boring, or uninviting, however, with the
warm shades of tan against the white backdrop, and the two homey pictures on the wall, there
was just enough appeal to make it inviting without being too busy or distracting.

           I figured it would be a very relaxing room to poop in when the time came, and it was
most definitely a pleasant place to pee in; of course some of that appeal may have come from the
fact that this was the first time I’d used an actual toilet in two weeks.

           After finishing my morning pee, I headed out to explore the rest of the house. I started
with the two rooms at the end of the hall. The first room I looked in was the room on the
opposite side of the house from mine, (the westward facing side of the house).

           The door was opened about three inches so I didn’t worry too much about poking my
head in and finding June getting dressed or some equally embarrassing predicament. I went
ahead and pushed the door open a few more inches and stuck my head inside.

           The first thing I noticed was the smell. It was a flowery sort of smell that made me think
of the color purple. It resembled lavender, or perhaps lilac and I thought that it must be the
essence of June. The smell was a manifestation of her clean, gentle nature; fresh and inviting,
with just a hint of mystery, and full of an honest beauty that needed no cosmetics to make it
appealing.



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        The room was only barely more decorated than my own room. It was laid out just like
mine with a bed beside a dormer window and a nightstand beside the bed. The nightstand beside
the bed appeared to be a duplicate of mine and must have come as part of a pair.

        A few paintings of horses adorned the walls, and a medium sized dresser with a television
set on top of it stood beside the entry door, angled just perfectly to allow comfortable viewing
from the bed.

        The closet appeared to be an exact duplicate of my own closet, and the carpet, woodwork,
and window coverings were exactly like my room.

        The main difference between my room and June’s room was the addition of a door in the
wall opposite the closet, which I assumed led to a private bathroom, which if it had had a door
outside in the hallway, would have been directly across the hall from the public bath door. I
chose not to investigate the bathroom, since that seemed somehow like a much bigger invasion
of privacy than simply snooping through her bedroom.

        I left the bedroom without investigating further. I’d seen enough to settle in my own mind
that it was June’s room, and after all she’d done for me already, she deserved a modicum of
privacy in her own home.

        I went to explore the final bedroom fully expecting to poke my head into it and find it
similar to my own room; sparsely decorated with a simple elegance, and an inviting nature. I was
sorely mistaken in that assumption.

        The outline of the room was the same as mine, and the other three bedrooms, with the
same woodwork, closet, dormer window, and red carpeting, but the interior decorator of this
particular room seemed to be as crazy as my own mother.

        Shelves, dressers and tables lined the walls. All of the available flat surfaces on those
pieces of furniture were covered with a vast array of different items, some creepy—some
innocuous.

        A bookshelf near the bed was overflowing with at least a hundred hard cover books,
many of which appeared to be bound in leather. I could not escape the idea that some of the



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leather may have been made from human skin, and a chill shivered down my spine as I peered at
the books from the safety of the doorway.

        A small table sat beside the bookshelf and was covered with dozens of glass vase candles,
all depicting various images of the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, or the crucifixion. In the center of
the table was a black and white photograph of a middle aged Negro man. The picture was framed
in an ornate brass frame, and had a set of Rosary beads draped on it.

        There were numerous crosses and crucifixes scattered in between the candles and leaning
up against the framed picture, as well as a couple dozen brightly colored stones and a few scraps
of tattered cloth scattered about. The whole scene looked like some kind of ominous shrine.

        The impression the table gave was very busy and disturbing, but at least none of the
candles were lit, which was a great relief to me as it implied that whoever had erected this creepy
tribute had not been here in the very recent past.

        Next to the table was a medium sized hutch with glass doors on the four cupboards upon
it. There were two large cupboards on the top portion of the hutch, and two smaller cupboards at
the bottom. The top and bottom cupboards were separated by a large tabletop, or shelf. Between
the two bottom cupboards, running down the center of the hutch were three drawers. All the
wood surfaces of the hutch had been painted black.

        I could see, through the glass doors, that each cupboard held an assortment of strange,
twisted figurines. Some appeared to be ceramic, some wood, and some were made of cloth. All
were undoubtedly disturbing to look at.

        Some of the dolls were made in the likeness of humans, mostly black humans, though
some were white. Some dolls seemed to be a representation of some strange mostly shapeless
beast I’d never seen before, with large black button eyes and only a slightly humanoid shape.
The majority of the dolls seemed to be images of corpses or skeletons.

        Almost all the dolls were exquisitely dressed with bright colored silky fabrics and plenty
of shimmering metallic accents. Wild hair and oversized dark eyes were another dominant trait
that most of the dolls shared.




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        Scattered intermittently between all of the dolls were small pouches of varying size,
colors, and fabrics. Most of the pouches were tied off with black strings, concealing their
contents from my prying eyes.

        The tabletop shelf of the hutch was like a tractor beam to my wide-eyed snooping. Sitting
on the tabletop were copious numbers of various bones, mummified animal feet, and brightly
colored paper and cardboard coffins.

        Most of the bones were small and it was not possible to discern the originating animal
they came from, but I silently prayed that they were not of human origin, even though many
resembled fingers.

        There were a dozen or so mummified animal feet mixed in with all the bones. Some
looked to be monkey paws; some resembled rabbits feet, some bird feet, and one large, clawed
foot that looked like it came from an alligator.

        Scattered among the hodgepodge of bones and feet were many small skulls. Some were
undoubtedly from large birds, though many appeared to be rodent skulls. But the one skull that
served as a centerpiece to this macabre display was the large human skull that sat in the center of
the tabletop, like a gruesome sentinel, watching over all the other bones to make sure they did
not take a fanciful idea into their minds to go off wandering.

        I stared at the skull for several seconds, unable to move from the spot where I’d been
rooted in abject horror, before I saw that it was plainly not real. It was made from plaster and all
the details had been grossly over defined, giving it an almost cartoonish appearance.

        I let out a small sigh of relief and let my eyes wander upwards to the ceiling where there
were many more oddities to entertain my curiosity.

        Scattered about in a seemingly random pattern, various items hung lazily from the ceiling
on black strings. Many feathers were strung about. Some were single feathers, others were
grouped into clusters. Most of the feathers were black, but some had been dyed bright, vivid
colors such as red, yellow, and blue.




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        There were many dried plants hanging about in various locations as well, but their
species was incomprehensible to me as I’d never cared much for botany.

        I diverted my eyes from the ceiling and looked toward the bed. The bed looked just like
mine, with the exception that the bed spread was black instead of red, and had an intricate pattern
of skulls, and humanoid figures with big dark eyes, embroidered into it in bright colors.

        The nightstand beside the bed was different from mine and was nothing fancy. It was just
a plain table, about two feet square, and painted black. Upon the table there was a small lamp,
with nothing sinister in its appearance, a large open Bible, and a pair of reading glasses sitting on
the exposed pages of the open book.

        Continuing my swift visual exploration of the room, I ascertained that the rest of the
room held no more bizarre treasures with the exception of the shelf beneath the dormer window,
which had nothing on it except a small mortar and pestle.

        The room had a dark, musky smell to it. Like damp earth and dry weeds, and brought
images to my mind’s eye of muddy rivers, flanked with cattails and tall yellow grasses. The
smells coming from the room seemed almost alive and filled me with a strange inexplicable
excitement and fever for adventure.

        Deciding that I had probably been cursed by some kind of black magic that was trying to
draw me deeper into the strange, chapel like room, I decided to back out of there as quietly as I
could, fearful that too much noise in that place would not be appreciated.

        I had backed almost completely out into the hallway when I thought I saw a shadow pass
in front of the dormer window. The louvers on the blinds had been only partially opened. Just
far enough to allow a dim light to effuse into the room, offering just enough luminescence to see
by, but not so much that anything looked bright.

        My eyes had been pointing towards the window on my way out of the room, though I was
not actually looking at it. I saw a small dark shape dart past the window, from the right (near the
bed) to the left (towards the closet). By the time my brain registered what my eyes thought they
had seen and my muscles responded to the order to whip my head to the left and focus my eyes
in that direction, the shadow was gone.


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        I stood there for several seconds, looking all around the window and closet area, trying to
spot more movement. I saw nothing, but the damp earthy smell that had been dominating my
nostrils was joined by a third smell…roses.

        I backed the rest of the way out of the room and closed the door quietly. I was still filled
with an exuberant energy that I could not explain, but was now also filled with a sense of queer
awe; a sense that I’d just witnessed something out of the ordinary realm of explanation, and
something that was special and meant for me alone.

        I stood in the hallway and shook my head powerfully, trying to shake away the faint
traces of earth, rose, and weird that were still filling my head. After a nice, violent shaking, my
head seemed to be as empty as it normally was, and I was able convince myself that there was
nothing weird going on behind that door.

        Turning back towards the stairs I took a deep breath of the fresh air in the hallway and
smelled the unmistakable perfume of bacon wafting up from the downstairs. My stomach
rumbled rudely at me and I realized that I was starving. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d
eaten anything that actually required a pan to cook it properly.

        I made the snap decision that exploration could wait until after breakfast and jogged
down the hall to the stairs. I descended the stairs two at a time, gripping the handrails on both
sides of the stairs as if my life depended on it, and at the speed I was travelling it probably did.

        A quick glance around at the bottom of the stairs revealed a large living room that was
decorated sparingly, yet invitingly, with a western theme dominating the tone of the room. There
were two tan leather couches with matching overstuffed chairs flanking them. The two couches
sat facing each other with a large dark wood (possibly cherry wood) coffee table between them.

        Several pictures adorned the walls, but at the speed I was traveling in search of bacon I
could not discern what images were displayed in those pictures. Hell, I couldn’t even tell if they
were photographs or paintings.

        I blew through the living room like a small tornado ripping through a trailer park, and
woe be to anything that dared to get in my path, and headed for the double swinging, louvered
half doors that were set in an entryway in the wall furthest from the stairs.


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        I slowed down only slightly when I reached the doors, with common sense telling me that
exploding through the swinging doors could have disastrous consequences if anybody happened
to walk past those doors on the other side at that moment, but with ravenous hunger telling me to
damn the consequences.

        I came bursting into the kitchen, slobbering like a rabid dog, with bacon dominating
every thinking part of my brain. I had fully expected to burst in there and see June hovering over
the stove, looking as lovely as a spring day, but as often happens in life, what we expect is not
exclusively what we get.

        Standing at the stove was a short, plump black woman who appeared to be in her mid
fifties. She was wearing a full length black dress adorned with bright floral patterns, a white
apron, and a bright yellow and red head-wrap that was open at the top, allowing her tight black
braids to spill out of it like a bucket full of snakes.

        She was turned towards me as I entered, holding a spatula up in the air as if she was
getting ready to swat a troublesome fly with it, and smiling broadly, showing many large
brilliantly white teeth and a couple of gold ones. She must have heard me thundering through the
house like a rhinoceros, because she looked as though she were expecting me.

        Shocked by the sudden sight of something so many miles away from what I had
expected, I tried in vain to stop moving forward. Unfortunately for me the combination of
forward momentum, stockinged feet, and vinyl flooring served up a malicious cocktail of sliding
feet, flailing arms and experiments designed to test all of Newton’s theories of gravity. I landed
flat on my butt and slid right up next to the big black woman.

        I looked up at her from my position on the floor and saw that she was staring down at me,
her dark eyes twinkling joyfully and her broad smile growing even broader. She burst out
laughing. She had the loudest most raucous laugh I’d ever heard. Her laughter was rough, and
coarse, like sandpaper grinding against sandpaper, but was at the same time the purest, most
honest laughter I’d ever heard.

        She laughed so hard that tears sprang up in her eyes as she reached her hand down to help
me up. She continued to laugh as I took her hand and stared at her with wide eyes and an open



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mouth. She tried to make words as I was standing up, but she couldn’t manage any type of
enunciation and instead broke out into fresh bursts of laughter.

        When I was standing fully erect and my shock had begun to wear off I couldn’t help but
join her in her laughter. We stood together in the tidy kitchen, laughing uncontrollably together
for several minutes, until my sides ached with the revelry and my eyes were watering profusely.

        Finally we both managed to calm down to a point where we could make words. The
black woman set her spatula down on the stove and used both hands to wipe the tears off from
her big round cheeks, and said “Boy, you done slide into ‘dis room like a big ol’ swamp rat
squirmin’ into him’s mud-hole.”

        I’m not sure how describe her voice. It was as brown as her skin (if we could hear in
color, she would sound brown) and it flowed from her like liquid chocolate. She spoke with a
thick French Cajun accent and her soothing tone immediately removed any doubts that her warm
smile and infectious laughter may have left about her intentions and made you trust her.

        “You alrigh’, Child?” she asked, (she pronounced child as chy-uhl). “You din’ break
you’s self now didja?”

        I rubbed my bottom with my sore right hand and replied, “Well, Ma’am, I might have
broke my butt a little bit, but I’ll be ok.”

        The woman broke out in a fresh burst of laughter and slapped her robust thighs as she
cackled.

        “Ha ha ha ha! Da Child done bust him butt! Fo’ sho’ dat’s what him done did! Ha ha ha!”

        As the woman continued to cackle, apparently unable to stop, June came through the
swinging doors into the kitchen dressed in a very smart, professional looking outfit, consisting of
a pink blouse, cream slacks, and black shoes. She smiled as she took in the scene before her and
said, “Well, it appears the two of you have gotten off to a good start, eh Johnny?”

        I smiled and nodded my head.

        “Have you two been properly introduced?”


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        June asked. The black woman kept howling with laughter and waved one hand as if
shooing away a troublesome pest, or waving ‘bye-bye’; I shook my head and kept smiling.

        June was still smiling but cocked her head and looked quizzically at the snorting,
guffawing woman beside me.

        “Just what have I missed in here? What’s so funny?” June asked.

        The round black woman tried to regain enough composure to tell the story but only
managed to say between snorts and giggles, “Dis boy come runnin’ tru dem door like he got da
devil behin’ hisself—hee hee hee—and den him see me stannin’ here and it scare de bejeezus
outta him, an’ him done—hee hee—him done throwed on da brakes and lands hisself right on his
butt—ha ha ha—and den him done slide across da floor, an say him done busted his butt! Ha ha
ha.”

        June interpreted the string of babble much better than I ever could have and laughed
along with the black woman. After a moment though she regained her composure and introduced
us properly.

        “Johnny, this is Lillian,” she said gesturing towards the black woman. “She’s been my
close friend and part time housekeeper for about a million years now. And now that you’re
gonna live here, she’s my full time housekeeper and part time babysitter.”

        I looked up at Lillian, who was finally done laughing and held out my hand and said,
“Hello, Lillian, I’m pleased to meet you.”

        She swallowed my frail hand in her strong, but soft and meaty one and initiated a firm
handshake. I was able to hold back the grimace that wanted to spread across my face as she
squeezed my sore fingers but she seemed to sense my pain anyway and reduced the firmness of
her grasp.

        “Child,” she said smiling, “you jes’ call me Miss Lilly. Dat’s what dey all call me. An’
you not got no-ting to worry ‘bout; dem fingers ain’t broke…an’ neither is you’s butt!”




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        At the last word she broke out into a fresh explosion of laughter, released my hand and
turned back to the stove to continue cooking, muttering something about broken butts.

        When Miss Lilly went back to her cooking, June crossed the kitchen and put her hands on
my shoulders, squatted down to my eye level and said, “Hey Toots, I’ve gotta go into town today
and talk to the police about what happened at your mom’s house. Then I’m gonna go to some
other places to try and get them to let you stay with me, ok?”

        I nodded.

        “Well, the reason I’m telling you this is because I need you to stay here with Miss Lilly
while I’m gone. I don’t know how many places I’ll have to go, or how long I’ll be gone and I
can’t really take you along to some of the places. Will you be ok here with Lilly?”

        I looked around at Miss Lilly and saw her looking back at me with a big toothy smile and
knew that I’d be just fine here with her. “I’ll be fine, June, thanks.”

        June smiled at me and gave me a hug which I returned earnestly. The she stood up and
said to Miss Lilly, “Lilly thank you so much for helping me with this. I really can’t thank you
enough for all you’ve done and all you’re doing.”

        Miss Lilly smiled at June and said “Don’choo worry you’s pretty head ‘bout none o’ dat,
June-bug.”

        The way she pronounced June sounded like Zjune; pronouncing the first consonant
sounds like the name Zja Zja.

        “You jes’ get you’s self outta de house and down de street and make sure dat nobody
does nutin’ else to hurt de boy.” She reached out and patted my head as she said the last part.

        “An’ June-bug?”

        “Yes Lilly?” June responded.

        “Take some bacon witchoo. You be gettin’ too damn skinny. You be makin’ it to look
like Miss Lilly done been eatin’ all de food an’ not be savin’ none fo’ nobody else.


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         Miss Lilly handed June a paper towel wrapped around a large handful of bacon and
kissed June’s cheek. The she pushed her towards the door and said, “Now go on, get out there,
an’ do some magic on dem stuffy shirts an’ make dem keep de boy here.”

         Miss Lilly cocked her head towards me and winked before continuing, “I like de boy,
him funny; him make me laugh like a jack-o-lantern full o’ wacky weed.’

         Miss Lilly laughed at her joke that made no sense to me, and turned back to the stove to
finish cooking breakfast, while June bent down and kissed my forehead and said, “Ok Toots,
wish me luck.”

         “Good luck, June” I said while eyeing her handful of bacon desirously. June told me she
loved me, and I loved to hear it. I told her I loved her back, and with that she rushed out of the
house.




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                                        CHAPTER FIFTEEN

        Miss Lilly finished cooking only a few short moments after June left and instructed me to
wash my hands and go set at the table, which I had apparently ran right past without seeing on
my mad dash through the house to the kitchen earlier.

        I washed up in the kitchen sink and exited the kitchen through the saloon style doors and
saw that there was a nice sized dining area just beyond the kitchen, set apart from the living
room area only by décor, since it was part of the same great-room.

        I sat down and waited for Miss Lilly who came trundling out a few moments later with a
rolling metal cart that had several trays of with food on it. As she placed the food on the table I
couldn’t help staring at it like a dog begging for a treat.

        There was a veritable mountain of bacon, two dozen sausage links, a stack of toast with
strawberry jelly, orange slices, a carafe of orange juice, a jug of milk, and a big stack of pancakes
that were drenched in butter with a bottle maple syrup sitting beside it.

        Miss Lilly produced two plates, two forks, and two butter knives from the deep pocket on
the front of her apron and set them all down on the table, one setting in front of me, and the other
in front of her. Then she pulled out her chair and sat down across from me.

        I was desperate to tear into the bounty that was placed before me, but I didn’t want to
seem rude or impertinent, so I just sat there fidgeting and waiting for her to make the first move
so I could follow suit.

        Miss Lilly just looked at me, grinning. Her impish grin lit up her whole round face and
was very pleasant to behold, but did nothing to satisfy my hunger. Deciding that one of the two
of us needed to get the ball rolling I decided to offer my honest thanks for the meal set before
me, hoping that we were only waiting for pleasantries to be exchanged so we could eat.

        “Thank you, Miss Lilly, for the food. It looks delicious.”




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          Miss Lilly smiled warmly and replied, “Tanks be in order, Child, but not to me. Miss
Lilly only cook de food—she get paid to cook de food—but Miss Lilly don’ be makin’ de food.
De Lord be makin de food, Child, an’ Him de one dat we be needin’ to tank.”

          I thought about it for a second, trying to catch her meaning.

          “You mean, like… praying?” I asked.

          “Dat be exactly what I be meanin’, Child. Now you be lookin’ like you be ready to eat
de butt off a dead skunk, on account you’s bein’ so hungry. So I tink dat maybe you’s best be
gettin’ to de Lord tankin so’s we can eat; don’choo tink?”

          I was nervous. I’d only barely ever prayed, and didn’t know how it was supposed to be
done. I’d seen people on the television pray before and decided that I’d try mimicking what I’d
seen.

          “Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name…Umm…. Give us our daily
bread, and umm….deliver us. Amen?”

          I looked up at Miss Lilly hopefully. Hoping not only that I’d said enough to earn my
breakfast, but also that I hadn’t offended her with my complete lack of holy communication
skills.

          Miss Lilly was smiling so sweetly that I was pretty confident that I hadn’t offended her,
but she was not reaching for food just yet.

          “Child,” she said in a compassionate tone, “you don’ need be prayin’ like what you tink
you’s s’posed to be prayin’ like. You need to be prayin’ de truth! You need to be tellin’ de Lord
wha’choo really be feelin’ inside. You need to be talkin’ to God like Him be you’s frien’, not
like Him be a stranger. Now try again, Boo.”

          I had no idea what ‘Boo’ meant, but I liked the sound of it, and as for the rest of her
speech, I liked it as well. It made sense to me. Miss Lilly’s reassuring demeanor gave me the
courage to try again, with my own words and feelings.




                                                   137
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        “Lord, thank you for the food. Thank you for letting June find me. Thank you for my
warm bed last night. Thank you for the toilet I got to use this morning. Thank you for Miss Lilly
and her cooking. Thank you for keeping me safe. Thank you for my new home. Thank you for
June trying to make it so I can live here. Thank you for…”

        Miss Lilly cut me off, laughing as she spoke. “Child, dat’s enough tankin’ fo’ one meal
fo’ sho’! De food’s is gonna get cold an’ mushy if we don’ get to eatin’ em soon.”

        “Amen,” I said with finality and a smile, feeling exceptionally good about having finally
thanked God properly for many of the good things that had happened in my life. I still had more
thanking that needed to be done, but I figured there would be other meals for that.

        Miss Lilly looked at me very sternly and said, “Now Child, dis here’s what Miss Lilly’s
Mama say—she say dat when dey’s food on de table, it be time fo’ eatin’ an dey be plenty o’
time fo’ talkin’ when de burpin’ be done. You be gettin’ my meanin’, Boo?”

        I stifled a giggle and nodded my head. I got her meaning loud and clear, and was eager to
open my mouth only for the purpose of shoveling food into it; which I did shortly after nodding.

        Miss Lilly was true to her mama’s rule and spoke not a single word while we were eating.
She finished eating before I did and she let out a huge belch and then just simply sat quietly,
watching me eat, taking obvious pleasure in my enjoyment of her cooking.

        When I finally pushed my plate away I was afraid that perhaps I’d overdone it and might
have made myself sick. Miss Lilly sat silently across the table, staring at me and twirling her
hand in a ‘come on’ gesture.

        I didn’t get her meaning at first, but soon caught on when she started making facial
gestures to help with the charades. I let out the loudest, longest belch I’d ever burped in my life
and felt instant relief from the pressure in my belly. The burp was so loud and large that it
actually startled me and I reflexively threw a hand over my mouth as I gasped.

        Miss Lilly barked her raucous laugh and clapped her hands a few times and said, “Child,
I don’ know what I’m gonna do wit you. You keep makin’ me to laughin’ like dis an’ I’m gonna
bust a seam an’ spill my guts all over de floor.”


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        I smiled comfortably, pleased to be in the presence of such an appealing lady. Feeling
safe and comfortable with her I dared to ask a question that had been bugging me since our
handshake.

        “Miss Lilly, how did you know about my fingers when we shook hands?”

        “I could feel dem healin’ in you, Child. There be an energy dat flow through de body all
de time. When de body be healin’, den dat energy be gettin’ hotter an’ movin’ faster. I could feel
dat energy, spinnin’ roun’ and roun’ in you’s hand.”

        “But de energy be flowin’—not shakin’. When de bone be broken, de energy can no’
flow, it be gettin’ all hung up in de broken bones, makin’ de energy bounce and shake.”

        I was able to picture the energy flow clearly in my head, and it made sense that it could
get snagged up in a fracture, but I still couldn’t understand how she knew that I didn’t know
whether they were broken or not, so I asked her.

        Miss Lilly laughed quietly and said, “Dat, Child, was just a guess. Miss Lilly can no’ read
de mind, or see de future, but she make a pretty good guesser, and pretty good jambalaya too!”

        I smiled at Miss Lilly and asked what Jambalaya was. It had become pretty rare for me to
hear or read a word I was unfamiliar with, but this was a new one and I was eager to learn it.

        Miss Lilly took obvious pride in her particular recipe for Jambalaya, and though she
would not reveal the exact recipe, she gave me enough details to understand that it was a dish
containing chicken, sausage, seafood, vegetables, stock, and rice.

        Ever the curious one, I continued to press Miss Lilly for more information. “How were
you able to feel the energy flowing? I can’t feel it, and it’s in my body.”

        Miss Lilly dropped her voice and spoke in a reverential tone. “Dat, Child, be de work o’
de spirits. I pray to de spirits, and de spirits come, an’ when dey comes, dey brings dey powers
wit dem and dey share dey power wit me.”




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        I was confused. I had thought Miss Lilly was a Christian, judging from the way she’d had
me pray over the meal. I didn’t know much about Christianity, but I knew enough to know that
people didn’t usually pray to spirits. They prayed to Jesus, or to God, but praying to other spirits
was kind of taboo.

        I asked Miss Lilly, “Aren’t you Christian, Miss Lilly? I thought Christians were only
supposed to pray to God or Jesus.”

        Miss Lilly laughed and said, “Child, dey be many folks be sayin’ dey Christian, o’ dey
Baptist, o’ they dis, o’ dey dat, but dey all be missin’ sum-ting. I don’ be callin’ myself none o’
dat. I only be callin’ myself ‘Miss Lilly’, an’ dat be ‘nuff fo’ me to be happy.”

        “I don’ be needin’ to be nuthin’ mo’ den what I is; an’ what I is, is a woman who be doin’
de Voodoo an’ de Hoodoo an’ who be lovin’ de Lord too.”

        I recoiled in shock and fear. “Voodoo’s evil!” I said. “People who do Voodoo curse
people, and make zombies, and stab needles into little dolls to hurt people!”

        Miss Lilly smiled and shook her head as she explained. “No, Child, dat’s no’ de truth.
Mos’ folks is scared o’ de Voodoo an’ de Hoodoo because dey don’ understand it. If dey took de
time to understand it, dey would no’ be scared no mo’.”

        I still had my doubts, but being ever eager to learn new things, I listened as she continued
to explain.

        “It be true dat dey be some dark magic in de Voodoo, an’ in de Hoodoo, but mos’ o’ de
people who practice de Voodoo don’ never wan’ no-ting to do wit de black stuff, dey only wan’
to be doin de blessin’. Now we be doin’ de blessin’ wit de gris-gris, an’ wit de ju ju, an’ wit de
help o’ de spirits.”

        I asked her what ‘gris-gris and ‘ju ju’ were, pronouncing them the way she had as ‘gree-
gree and ju ju’.

        “De gris-gris,” She said, “is de charm dat we be makin’ for to give someone a blessin’, it
be a bag dat got’s de magic in it wit de roots, an’ herbs, an’ bones an’ such. Then dependin’ on



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what kinda blessin’ de person be needin’, sometime we need to ask de spirits to be blessin de bag
to make de magic stronger, or sometime we jes’ leave de stuff in de bag to do de blessin’ all by
itself wit de spells we done cast on it while we was makin’ de bag.”

        “Dat be de gris-gris. Now de ju ju, dat be fo’ blessin’ too, but dat be de doll dat we be
makin’ to look like de person we wan’ be blessin’. Everbody be tinkin’ dat we be stickin’ dem
pins in de dolls to be hurtin’ folks—an’ sometime dat be true—but we mos’ly be usin’ dem pins
to be makin’ de doll de same as de folks we be blessin’.”

        My confusion must have showed plainly on my face because Miss Lilly furrowed her
eyebrows slightly as if deciding how to proceed and then continued with a more thorough
explanation.

        “We be stickin’ dey picture, o’ dey name to de doll wit de pin, den dat doll be a part o’
dat person, an’ de blessin’ be goin’ right straight up to dat person an’ swallowin’ dem up in
goodness like a snake swallowin’ a rat.”

        When she told me that most of the weird stuff in her branch of Voodoo was really just for
blessing people, not for doing anything evil, I couldn’t help but believe her. There was no
darkness in this woman; only a radiant love that shone like light, and I trusted her completely. I
still did not see how Voodoo and Jesus could comingle, however, so I asked about that next.

        “Child,” She said not unkindly, “you got mo’ questions den a gator got’s teeth.”

        I smiled and nodded my head. I was well aware of my rampant curiosity.

        “Well, lemme see if I can ‘splain it in a way dat you be understandin’… Mos’ folks, dey
got de Jesus, an’ dey happy wit dat. But dey never knows dat dey be missin’ sumptin’. There’s
much mo’ to de supernatural world den just de Jesus. But if de Jesus make dem happy, den dat’s
jes’ fine as frog hair, but for we dat be doin’ de Voodoo, we know what dem folks be missin’.”

         “Why, havin’ yo’ whole world wrapped up in jes’ de Jesus, dat be like makin’ a gumbo
wit jes’ de crawdaddies. Dem crawdaddies be tastin’ good a’right, an’ dey be fillin’ up you’s
belly, but dat ain’t no gumbo, an’ it be tastin’ a whole lot better when you be tossin’ in some




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shrimp, an’ pepper, an’ Andouille sausage, an’ bay leaves, an’ all kinda other stuff. Once you do
dat, den you got youself some gumbo, fo’ sho’!”

        I asked her what she thought it was that the ‘Christians’ were missing and she began to
regale me with stories about how she can bless her dead relatives, or ask them for guidance,
about how she can get the spirits to influence blessings and curses, how the spirits can mediate
between the earthly and the divine, and of many other happenings of an invisible spirit world that
we could not see, but which existed all around us.

        I was transfixed by her explanations of Voodoo. I found it fascinating and terrifying at
the same time. I asked her if June knew about her Voodoo and what she thought of it.

        Miss Lilly’s eyes lit up with pride and adoration as she spoke about June.

        “I be knowin’ June-bug since she was jes’ a tiny bébé, crawlin’ roun’, suckin’ on her lil’
noonie. An’ even when she be dat small she was full o’ de joie de vivre—de joy of living.”

        I couldn’t help interrupting at this point. “If you’ve known her that long, then you must
have known my mother too, right?”

        Miss Lilly’s eyes darkened, as if a storm cloud passed over them. Her tone was icy when
she spoke again.

        “Yeah, I know’d her too, but she was no’ like June-bug. June was bein’ full o’ life, an’
laughter; full o’ love fo’ all de people and tings aroun’ her, but you’s mama, she be on’y full o’
herself. She not be carin’ one bit ‘bout anyting but herself. Now, I don’ wan’ be talkin’ bad ‘bout
nobody’s mama, so let’s be getting back to talkin’ ‘bout de June-bug, ok?”

        I nodded my head and said nothing in reply. I was sad to know that my mother had been
wrapped up in herself even as a small child, but was not surprised by the fact. The fact that I was
not surprised saddened me even more.

        “Now, yo’ Grand-mère and Grand-père, dey pay me to come keep watch over de children
when dey was lil’ ‘uns, and I done did fall in love with de June-bug, and I been watchin’ over her
ever since.”



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        “After her Mère an’ Père pass on in dat house fire,”

        Miss Lilly stopped speaking for a second and crossed herself in a very Catholic fashion
before continuing.

        “God rest dey souls, dey was good people. But when dey pass on, June-bug was on’y
eighteen year old an’ her was lost in de big ol’ world.”

        “Yo’ mama was a’ready married and had a lil’ child o’ her own, an’ did no’ need nobody
else to look after her, but June-bug, her was broken. My man, Louie was still alive den,”

        She crossed herself again and continued, “an’ I was livin’ wit him in our lil’ house, an’
we did no’ have any chillun’ o’ our own. I ask him to let June-bug come stay wit us ‘till she be
gettin’ her heart back up to pumpin’ right, an’ he say ‘yeah, dat be fine’. Him love de June-bug
too, you see.”

        “So June-bug come stay wit us, an’ her stay wit’ us fo’ six year while her be goin’ to de
school. Now while her at de school, her fall in love wit dis man, an’ he promise her de world, so
when her’s all done wit de school, her marry dis man and dey buy dis farm. Dey not live here
fo’ mo’ den two year before dat man done run out on her.”

        I couldn’t imagine anybody ever wanting to leave June. I’d known her for less than
twenty-four hours and already knew I never wanted to leave her.

        “Well dat done broke June-bug’s heart again, but her be a grown woman by dis time, an’
her got a strong spirit. Her did no’ wanna say dat she be hurtin’, an’ lonely, so her ask me if I
could maybe come help out aroun’ de place. Now her be tryin’ to pretend dat her’s just bein’ too
busy to do it all, but I know’d her was jes’ lonely, so I start comin’ roun’ a couple times a week
to help clean up de place, and fix her heart.”

        “Now I been doin’ dat cleanin’ up here and der for a few year, an’ June-bug—I tol’ you
her be a strong woman—her got her heart fixed up in no time, an’ her start workin’ hard all de




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time, so den her really does need me fo’ to take care o’ de place, ‘cause her ain’t got no time to
be doin’ it herself.”

        Miss Lilly nodded slightly and looked around the open room while she spoke, as if
agreeing with herself that the job of housekeeping really was too big for one woman with a full
time job to manage.

        “Den, last year my man, Louie,” Miss Lilly crossed herself, “him done got all burned up
with de brain cancer an’ him pass on. Now it be Miss Lilly who be needin’ a heart fixin’, and
June-bug, her see dis, an’ her say to me, ‘Lilly, why don’ you move in wit me. I could use de
help, an’ you could use a friend. So I packed up my stuff an’ I move in.”

        “But anyway,” Miss Lilly continued, “I be gettin’ away from de main point o’ dis whole
story. Yeah, June-bug know about de Voodoo, an’ her’s afraid o’ it, jes’ like mos’ folks is, but
her accept it, an’ her accept me too, because her be so full o’ love an’ life. Her ain’t gonna judge
nobody, because o’ what dey believe, o’ what dey practice.”

        “Have you ever used your Voodoo to bless June?” I asked.

        Miss Lilly laughed for a second and then said, “No, I ain’t never done no magic on
nobody dat did no’ ask for it. An’ June-bug, her ain’t never ask me to do no magic on her, but
her did ask me no’ to do none.”

        “An’ now I s’pose I done jes’ made a liar outta myself, by sayin’ I ain’t never done no
magic on nodody dat did no’ ask. I done did curse dat boy who be breakin’ June-bug’s heart.”

        As Miss Lilly reminisced in her head about cursing June’s ex-husband, her eyes twinkled
with mischievous delight.

        I looked at Miss Lilly through wide, fearful eyes, and asked, “You didn’t… kill him, did
you?”

        Miss Lilly broke out into a loud cackle, and slapped her thigh before she answered. “No,
o’ course I did no’ be killin’ dat man. But I did be askin’ de spirits to be keepin’ dat cheatin’
part o’ him body soft like a wet noodle fo’ de res’ o’ him life!”



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        When she finished speaking she broke out into another burst of fresh laughter. Her
laughter was so infectious that I had to laugh with her.

        Miss Lilly finished laughing and got up from the table and said, “Ok, now, Boo, Miss
Lilly got some mo’ tings her wanna talk to you ‘bout, but I don’ wanna do it wit all de dishes
bein’ dirty an’ drawin’ de flies.”

        “Oh,” I said, and got up from the table as well. “Ok, then. I’ll just go explore the rest of
the house until you’re ready then.”

        “Oh de Hell you will Child!” Miss Lilly said sternly but not unkindly, “You done ate
food off o’ dem dishes, jes’ de same as I did, an’ now you gonna help me wit de cleanin’.”

        I was somewhat shocked by Miss Lilly’s sudden sternness. I had already assessed that
she was a woman of strength and character, but I had not known that she was also strict. I was
happy to be helpful, however, since I was really enjoying her company, and I was so thankful for
all the blessings that had so suddenly been bestowed upon me that I felt anything I could offer
back as a kindness to the women who had helped me was but a small drop in the bucket of what I
owed them.




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                                           CHAPTER SIXTEEN

        When Miss Lilly got to working, she spoke very little, but she sang a lot. She sang in
French, in wild melodies that made my heart leap in my chest even though I could not
understand a single word. I soon found myself humming along to the tunes she was singing.

        The washing, drying and putting away of dishes was done quickly and efficiently and had
actually been quite a fun task. I had just put away the last dish and turned around to see Miss
Lilly wiping her hands on her big apron and staring at me, quizzically.

        I immediately felt self conscious and wondered if I had a booger hanging out of my nose.
I stared back at Miss Lilly and wiped a hand somewhat surreptitiously across my nose. Miss
Lilly still said nothing, but continued to look at me, as if trying to scry my very thoughts out of
my head.

        Finally she shook her head slightly, the way you’d do if a fly had landed on your ear, and
she took off her apron and hung it on a hook beside the double bar doors that led out of the
kitchen.

        “Come have a sit down wit’ me, Child. I wan’ ask you some tings, and don’ much feel
like standin’ on my tootsies while we be talkin’” Miss Lilly said. Then she headed through the
swinging doors.

        I followed her out the doors, past the dining area and into the sitting area with the
couches. Miss Lilly sat on the far couch, and I sat on the near one, directly across from her. She
sat there staring at me again, like she had in the kitchen and I began to feel uncomfortable,
thinking I was in trouble for something.

        I was just getting ready to ask her what I’d done wrong when she finally spoke.

        “Tell me, Child, how long you be havin’ de eye?”

        In return I asked, “Which one? I was born with both of them, Miss Lilly.”




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          She smiled at my obvious confusion and said, “Not de eyeballs you got in you head, Boo,
but de eye dat see de Shadow.”

          At the word shadow, my memory flashed a scene of the shadow that had passed in front
of the upstairs window, but I assumed that had been my imagination and certainly could not be
what she was referring to, so I said, “I don’t understand, Miss Lilly. The only eyes I have are
these.”

          I pointed to my eyes for emphasis.

          “No, Child, you got de eye a’right. I can see dat when I look at you; I can feel dat when I
touch you. De eye is inside you. You got de eye dat be seein’ de Lovely Shadow.”

          I still didn’t have the foggiest idea what she was talking about.

          “What’s the Lovely Shadow?”

          Miss Lilly paused before answering, whether to gather her thoughts to give a proper
description or wrestling with herself over whether or not to tell me, I don’t know. But at last she
focused her attention on me and said, “De Lovely Shadow, Child, be de soul o’ de dead. De soul
o’ dem dat has died, but did no’ move on to de other side o’, maybe jes’ come back fo’ a visit.
Either way dey be hangin’ roun’ here fo’ some reason’ o’ another. But nobody know dey here,
unless dey got de eye to be seein’ dem an’ de shadow be wantin’ to be seen. An’ you, Boo, you
got de eye.”

          Miss Lilly nodded gravely at me as she finished her explanation, and I simply sat there
staring dumbly at her, processing what she was saying.

          Finally, all the wheels and cogs in my brain slipped into the right places and I understood,
and I said, “So, you mean, like…a ghost, right?”

          Miss Lilly smiled, and nodded enthusiastically as she said, “Dat’s right, Child; a ghost.
But I don’ never be likin’ dat word ‘ghost’. Dat word always be givin’ me de creeps.”




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        Miss Lilly laughed as she finished speaking about the word ‘ghost’. But I was as
confused and curious as ever so I did what I do best; I asked more questions.

        “Why does that word give you the creeps, Miss Lilly? I mean, if you’re ok with saying
that the Shadow is the soul of the dead, and a ghost is just another word for the Shadow, why
should the word, ghost, be scary and the word, Shadow, not be scary?”

        Miss Lilly laughed again before answering. “I don’ know, Child. I guess de word ghost
always be bringin’ to mind someting evil, but de Shadow is no’ evil, de Shadow is lovely. De
Shadow is a beautiful ting, dat don’ belong here, but here it is anyway, givin’ us hope dat all we
believe about de afterlife be true; givin’ us proof dat de soul keep on livin’ after de body done
been fed to de worms.”

        “Do you have the eye?” I asked Miss Lilly.

        “Sometime I do, Child,” she replied, “but I was no’ born wit de eye, I got it by askin’ for
it, an’ sometime de spirits be lettin’ me have it, an’ sometime dey don’t.”

        “How did I get it?”

        Miss Lilly pondered that for a second before answering.

        “I tink, Boo, dat you were no’ born wit de eye either. I think de eye was given to you in
de darkness, to help you see dat there is still light in de world, an’ keep you from goin’ dark on
de inside, from de dark dat be shoved on you from de outside.”

        “I saw my brother when I was in the basement!” I said, suddenly believing that what she
said was true, and right. “But he didn’t seem like a gho…Shadow. He seemed like something
more real.”

        I gave her a quick account of my experiences with Joe from the basement.

        “You right, Child. You brother, him no’ bein’ no Shadow. Him done moved over to de
other side, an’ when him come see you in de dark, dat be someting special. Now maybe he be
givin’ you de eye, o’ maybe no’, but either way, you got de eye.”



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        “An’ you brother, him was no’ happy to jes’ leave you in dat dark neither! He be comin’
to June-bug in her dreams to get her to come find you. An’ when June-bug tell me ‘bout dem
dreams, her be thinkin’ dat dey just dreams, an’ I tell her dat dey soundin’ like someting else, an’
den her be gettin’ scared.”

        “I done tol’ her dat her need to be goin’ to dat house, to find de boy who be in de dark,
an’ June-bug try to get out o’ doin’ it, fo’ ‘cause her was scared. But I tol’ her der was nuttin’ to
be scared abou’, dat dis boy who be seein’ her in her sleep was no’ bad, but him was good. And
him needed her help. So her finally decide dat her goin’ to go an’ see dis house, an’ den she
come home wit you, an’ Miss Lilly be singin’ a song o’ joy in her heart when she be seein’ you
all safe an’ soun’.”

        When she finished speaking, Miss Lilly got up and walked around the coffee table to
where I was sitting and motioned for me to get up. When I did as she’d requested she wrapped
me in a huge full body hug that was warm and soft and somewhat smothering.

        Then she said, “Johnny, I know dat you be seein’ mo’ pain den is right fo’ anybody yo’
age to be seein’, but I see dat you got de same heart as June-bug, an’ I happy to see it.”

        “De world is a dark place, an’ without dat light you got inside you, it be lookin’ dat much
darker. You got de eye to be seein’ de Lovely Shadow. An’ dey be Shadows all aroun’. Most o’
dem be just as lost an’ afraid an’ trapped in de dark as you was, but you can help dem.”

        “Dey gonna come to you, because you can see dem, an’ since you can see dem, dat
means dey can see you too. Dey can no’ always see de livin’, but dey can always see de livin dat
got de eye to be seein’ dem. When dey come to you, don’ be scared o’ dem, but try to help dem,
de way you brother help you when you was in de dark.”

        I agreed to do my best, not having the slightest clue what that really meant, and Miss
Lilly said it was time for her afternoon nap. She admonished me to behave myself while she was
resting, and I again agreed, and then she carried herself up the stairs (with far more grace than a
woman of her size should have been able to) and went to bed.




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                                         CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

         I had the afternoon all to myself, and had no idea what I was going to do with it. I
wanted to go outside and explore a little as I was pretty tired of being cooped up indoors, but I
didn’t have any shoes.

         I opened the front door and looked outside. My eyes were still rather sensitive to light
and I squinted as I peered out at the big, bright world that was hiding beyond the entryway to the
house.

         The warm sunlight flowed over my body through the opened door, seeming to warm me
to my very bones. I could hear the cicadas buzzing in the distance, and the smell of fresh grass
filled my nostrils. When a large yellow and black butterfly drifted lazily past my field of vision, I
made up my mind.

         There was just no way I could stay indoors on a day like this.

         I took off my socks so I would not ruin them and headed down the steps out onto the
lawn. The grass was just about ready for a cutting and felt cool and heavenly as it poked up
between my naked toes.

         I went out to the middle of the large lawn and lay down, staring up at the sky. The warm
sun made me feel lazy, and the fresh air filled me with a new love for life. Although most people
would eventually get bored just laying in one spot and not moving, I felt like I could spend the
rest of my life there.

         There were only a few clouds drifting lazily by in the vast expanse of bright blue sky, and
they, like everything else I was able to see, were tinged with a fuzzy haze around their edges. I
wondered about my eyes as I stared at the clouds.

         I had at first assumed that the auras around objects in my vision was simply a result of
having been locked in the dark for so long; my eyes having difficulty adjusting to the world of
light that most people take for granted. But now I wondered if the auras were a result of having
been granted the ‘eye’.




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        I wasn’t really certain that I had the ‘eye’, but at the same time had no reason to believe
that Miss Lilly would make something like that up. There was no reason for her to lie to me, for
the lie would have served no purpose.

        If she were a mean spirited person, which she most certainly wasn’t, she could have made
something like that up just to try and scare me, but she hadn’t done that. In fact, she had made
sure to disseminate the information in a reassuring manner so as not to spook me.

        Also, she had nothing to gain by me going around believing that I could see phantoms. It
wasn’t as if she could hire me up for the carnival and have people toss quarters to her while I
went out looking for their dead relatives.

        Since I could not think of a single good reason for Miss Lilly to lie—and didn’t think that
the sweet old woman was even capable of such deceit—I had to assume that she was telling the
truth, and that with that truth came the very real possibility that I may have occasion to meet
some very interesting—albeit dead—people in the future.

        I struggled with the idea of seeing dead people. Part of me thought that it seemed
macabre and frightening, while the other part of me believed what Miss Lilly had said about
them needing help.

        I knew what it was to be lost in the dark and could not imagine being lost in the dark for
eternity, as the souls of the dead that hadn’t moved on would undoubtedly be unless someone
helped them, so I made my mind up to embrace the ‘eye’ and try to help when I could.

        Having made my mind up about my peculiar gift and how I’d use it, I relaxed and soaked
up as much sun as I could until I drifted off to sleep. I dreamt of shadows playing across
windows.

        I awoke when a light cool breeze brushed gently across the left side of my face. It felt
refreshing and lovely, like cool silk draped lightly across warm skin. I opened my eyes and
looked around.

        I could not see the trees in the distance swaying with the breeze, nor a single blade of
grass twitching with the momentum of moving air, but for just a second longer, the breeze


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touched my cheek, and then swirled off to wherever it is that the wind goes, carrying with it a
scent of wild roses.

        When I had fallen asleep the sun had been almost directly overhead; when I woke up it
had traveled roughly a quarter of the way towards the western horizon. I guessed I’d slept for
about two hours.

        The nap had refreshed my mind and made it difficult to think of things like mysterious
inner eyes, and Lovely Shadows.

        My need for fresh air and sunshine abated for the time being, I headed back towards the
house to search for a snack. Although I’d eaten nearly to the point of making myself sick at
breakfast, I found that I was already ravenously hungry again.

        As soon as I entered the front door I smelled something delicious coming from the
kitchen and immediately headed that direction.

        I entered the kitchen to find Miss Lilly back in her apron and hovering over the stove.
When I entered she turned around and gave me an award worthy toothy smile. Her face lit up as
she smiled, and she said, “Well it abou’ time you done waked youself up. I done thought you
was dead out there an’ I was afraid I was gonna have to give you de mouth to mouth.

        I laughed at her joke and tried desperately to glance around her to find out what was
cooking. Seeing anything around Miss Lilly’s robust frame was an exercise in futility and I soon
gave up.

        “Wha’choo be lookin’ fo’, Child? You be swingin’ you’s head aroun’ like a catfish
floppin’ out de water.”

        “Sorry Miss Lilly,” I replied, “I was trying to see what you were cooking, it smells
delicious.”

        Miss Lilly laughed and said, “You be in fo’ a real treat tonight, Boo. All dat talkin’ ‘bout
gumbo earlier got me tinkin’ dat I be wantin’ some gumbo fo’ supper tonight. Now dis gonna be




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a chicken gumbo, fo’ ‘cause we ain’t got no crawdaddies o’ shrimp layin’ ‘bout, but we does got
plenty o’ chicken.”

        My stomach rumbled at the smell of heaven that Miss Lilly was creating and she must
have seen the hunger in my eyes, for she said, “Child, you be lookin’ like you be needin’ some
grub. You jes’ go have youself a seat out there in de dinin’ room an’ let Miss Lilly whip you up a
sammich. I done got de roux done a’ready an’ de rest o’ dis gumbo don’ take much work so I
got’s plenty o’ time. Go on now, git on witch’a self, git scootin’ out my kitchen.”

        I giggled heartily as Miss Lilly pretended to chase me out of her kitchen like an old
farmer’s wife scattering the chickens as she enters the chicken coop to collect the eggs, shouting
‘shoo, shoo’ at me the whole time, and went to wait in the dining area.

        I sat at the table and stared out the large window near the entry door, watching the lazy
summer day drifting away like so much sand through an hourglass. After a few moments of
happy daydreaming I noticed a car kicking up dirt far out beyond the lawn, on the long unpaved
drive that led to the house.

        I traced its slow progress without really having much interest in it, until it got close
enough to make out that it was June’s car. My heart leapt for joy in my chest, and I was
surprised to realize just how much I’d grown to love the woman I’d only met the previous night.

        I watched the car pull into the driveway that paralleled the lawn but lost sight of it as it
neared the garage. I got up from my chair and moved closer to the door and waited directly in
front of it.

        I listened to the motor shut off, and I stared at the door. My attention was singular, like a
cat stalking its prey. If I’d had a tail it would have twitched occasionally as I waited and
watched.

        I listened to the car door slam, and a second or two later I heard it slam again a little
louder than before. I wondered briefly if it had not shut properly the first time. I crouched
slightly, waiting for my prey.




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        The time seemed to tick on for an eternity as I waited. I was eager and impatient, but I
had recently become acclimated to sitting around waiting for things to happen and so was able to
withstand the torture of waiting for June to open the door.

        My attention was so singularly focused on the door that it never dawned on me to watch
the window to see when June walked by. It was just as well, because the suspense of not
knowing when she would open the door was more enjoyable than the knowledge would have
been.

        I heard steps on the stairs, I heard the muffled murmur of a voice and wondered briefly
how often June talked to herself. Having conversed with myself rather a lot over the last couple
of weeks I didn’t hold the same bias against the act that many other people did, and did not think
it strange that June should do it.

        The door knob rattled. I crouched deeper. The door started to swing open. When it was
halfway open I launched my attack. I screamed out June’s name like a savage hunter taking on a
rhinoceros with naught but a spear and sprinted towards the opening doorway.

        “JUUUUUUUUUUUUUUNE!” I screamed as I ran. When I was still about three feet
away from her I jumped up in the air towards her, opening my arms wide, fully trusting that she
would catch me and wrap me up in the bear hug I desired.

        I was already airborne when I saw that June’s attention was not forward, facing into the
house, but rather, her head was turned to the side, looking behind her. I had only one split second
to think as I flew towards her, and the singular thought that passed through my head in that
moment was ‘oops’.

        June heard my savage cry and whipped her head around just in time to see that I had
recently defied gravity and was flying towards her at supersonic velocity. Her eyes widened
dramatically, and she let out a small scream. She threw her arms up in the air, releasing a
multitude of papers that she had been carrying as she did so.




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        June did not have quite enough time to fully brace herself for my impact but had still
managed to brace herself enough not to fall over completely when we contacted, but she did
stumble backwards a step or two.

        I landed squarely into June’s arms and she somehow caught me. As June’s arms wrapped
around me, her small scream of shock ended, but curiously another gasp of shock was emitted
from behind her.

        For just a split second I thought June’s butt had vocalized the scream. But then I saw that
a woman with a far more robust frame than even Miss Lilly was cart-wheeling her arms as she
teetered backwards, having been hit by June’s mute rump when she’d stumbled backwards.

        The huge woman fell backwards in slow motion, like a tree falling in the woods.
Beginning her topple slowly and picking up speed as she fell. She screamed during the entire
descent to the ground and landed hard on her huge bottom, making a squishy sound—like a
water balloon bursting—that was audible even over her shriek.

        June’s face was a perfect mask of shock and concern as she rapidly descended the stairs,
still holding me, and said, “Oh my God! Mrs. Fischer, are you ok? I’m so sorry.”

        I was not about to let go of June, and she managed to continue holding me with one arm
as she reached her other arm down to the recently beached Mrs. Fischer.

        Mrs. Fischer sat on the ground for a minute and had, thankfully, stopped screaming. I
stared unabashedly at her. I had never seen so large a person, even less one in such a state of
disarray.

        She was dressed in a drab gray outfit. Gray slacks, gray jacket, highly polished black
shoes, and a white blouse beneath the jacket. Her suit would likely have looked very
professional at any other time, however at that moment in time she did not have the luxury of
appearing dignified and looked very much like a juvenile elephant instead.

        In her crumpled, elephantine state, one black shoe had fallen off and lay beside her,
revealing pink socks with images of kitten faces printed on them. The legs of her slacks had
pulled up revealing large, pasty-white, lumpy calves. The crotch of her slacks had bunched up


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tightly, and I winced unintentionally at the wrinkles and folds of flesh that were outlined beneath
the tight fabric, and imagined how uncomfortable pants that were bunched that tightly would be
for me.

          Her jacket and blouse had also pulled up several inches showing off two rolls of lumpy,
puckered white flesh that hung down over the waist line of her slacks. The sloppy rolls of flesh
reminded me of a soft serve ice cream cone that had begun to melt.

          Her heavily mascara and eyeshadow dressed eyes were wide open, but still looked tiny
when set against the massive backdrop of her sagging face. Gigantic flabby cheeks appeared to
intrude into the lower rims of her eyes, the sides of her piggish nose, and her mouth all at once,
giving her face a scrunched up appearance like a pug puppy.

          She was gasping for air, opening and closing her tiny mouth in over-exaggerated
gestures, opening it wide on each swift inhale, and puckering it on each rapid exhale. Each time
she exhaled her jowls inflated and then jiggled as they decompressed.

          Mrs. Fischer’s over rouged cheeks had reddened even further, emphasizing the fact that
all of her makeup appeared to have been applied with a trowel. Her excessive amounts of
makeup gave her an overall countenance every bit as charming as that of a dead and bloated
clown.

          Her auburn hair was neatly combed and had not budged a fraction of an inch during all of
the chaos that had recently beset the poor woman, indicating that voluminous amounts of
hairspray had been applied.

          I marveled at the bromdingnagian refugee, wondering how someone who obviously put a
lot more effort into her appearance than her exercise regimen could still look so alarmingly
repulsive.

          After a minute, the behemoth squatting on her prodigious rump on the front lawn
managed to calm herself down enough to realize that June’s hand was still extended to her and
that June’s face was still agape in an expression of concern and fear.




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         Mrs. Fischer reached up and took June’s hand to pull herself up. I had a moment of fear
then, certain that we were all going to tumble to the ground together as soon as this woman’s full
weight pulled against June’s dainty frame.

        My fear proved unfounded. With a couple of somewhat unladylike grunts, and a very
unladylike fart, the gargantuan girl gained her feet once more and immediately began smoothing
out her clothing.

        “Are you ok, Mrs. Fischer? I’m so, so very sorry!” June apologized.

        Mrs. Fischer finished her primping, located her shoe, and put it back on before she could
be bothered to reply to June.

        “Miss Devon,” the woman said in a wheezy, panting voice while giving June a stern
glare, “as a social worker, I have suffered many indignities from the families I’m investigating,
and have been forcefully removed from many porches over the years. But never…never, in all
my time—in all my many cases—have I ever been thrown from a porch by someone’s ass!”

        June looked horrified, assuming that she had just committed a grievous crime against the
poor, bovine woman. I felt pretty bad myself, knowing that in reality the corpulent woman’s
tumble had been my fault, but that June was going to take the blame.

        Then, unexpectedly, Mrs. Fischer’s countenance softened and she smiled a broad smile,
eventually breaking out into a breathy laugh that reminded me of a particular cartoon canine who
hung around with a criminal.

        “I do hope I have not dented your magnificent lawn beyond repair, Miss Devon,” Mrs.
Fischer said through her raspy laughter, and her whole body undulated as she laughed.

        June’s countenance of fear changed into one of confusion, and finally into one of relief as
she understood that the woman had only been feigning anger. June began to giggle, quietly at
first, but then louder and louder until she was positively shaking with laughter, and she had to set
me on the ground to keep from dropping me.




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        I stared at the two women who were both lost in fits of laughter and had a mental image
of a cucumber and a pumpkin telling jokes to each other in the garden. The vivid image in my
mind made me laugh along with the ladies.

        Eventually the commotion and howling laughter drew Miss Lilly out onto the porch to
investigate the ruckus. She burst forth from the opened door and stood there with her eyes
opened wide revealing two huge white orbs with dark pools in the center. She was holding her
wooden spoon up like a medieval mace; ready to brain anybody who might be causing harm to
her family.

        “What in de holy Hell be goin’ on out here?” Miss Lilly demanded to know. “All dis
hootin’ an’ carryin’ on be soundin’ like de weasel done got in de henhouse!”

        The sight of Miss Lilly rushing fearlessly into what could have been a formidable fray
should have had a sobering effect on the three of us—and I was, in fact, sobered a little—until I
glanced down and saw the dent that Mrs. Fisher’s butt had actually left in the grass. At the sight
of the concave in the lawn I lost my wits all over again.

        Miss Lilly was not amused by our revelry. She crossed her arms and stood at the top of
the steps, tapping her foot impatiently. Her puffy pink lips were pressed so tightly into a small
pucker that they’d turned white, all the blood having been forced from them, and her recently
immense eyes were considerably narrower than they had been when she emerged from the door.

        “You’s all bes’ be knockin’ off dat jack-jawin’ an’ be getting’ to tellin’ Miss Lilly what
be goin’ on out here, o’ else I gonna be bustin’ some heads wit dis here spoon!”

        We did our best to mollify ourselves, and managed to pull it off after a few more snorts,
chuckles, and particularly from Mrs. Fisher—farts.

        June set about gathering all the papers she had scattered when I leapt into her arms, and
explained the events that had led to such an uproar as she did so.

        When June was done explaining, Miss Lilly just shook her head, clucked her tongue a
few times, and said, “Wit all de people fallin’ on dey butts today it be a miracle if we be needin’




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any toilet paper by de end o’ de day. Ever’body gonna bust dey butts right off’n dey backsides
afore dark, fo’ sho’.”

         We all had a laugh at Miss Lilly’s dire prediction, including Miss Lilly, and then June
said, “Well, let’s go into the house and have seat before we do any more damage. Lilly, will you
please sit with us in the living room?”

         “If dis be ‘bout keepin’ Boo roun’ here den you could no’ keep me away wit a pack o’
wild gators!” Lilly responded.

         I smiled inside and out, feeling the love of June and Miss Lilly radiating from them like
heat from a floor register. Even when Joe had been alive, I had never felt so much love directed
towards me.

         We all entered the living room and sat down. I sat in between June and Miss Lilly on one
couch and Mrs. Fischer took up nearly the entire couch opposite us, all by herself.

         After June had introduced all of us formally, Mrs. Fischer began talking in her wheezy
voice.

         “Ok, as you know, I’m here as a representative of the State of Washington, in order to
determine whether or not remaining in this residence would be in the best interest of young Mr.
Krimshaw.”

         Miss Lilly took a personal affront to the possibility that anybody might possibly dare to
think that this might not be the best place for me and said, “O’ course dis be de bes’ place for de
Johnny! Here him got’s all de love and care dat him not be getting’ from dat kooky woman dat
done give birth to him! If anybody tink dey gonna find de boy a better home den dis, den dey be
dumber den a dead fish!”

         June put her arm across me to pat Miss Lilly’s thigh and shushed her gently. “Let the lady
finish, Lilly, it’ll all be ok I’m sure,” she said.




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        June’s voice betrayed the fact that she was not nearly as sure as she professed to be. But
Miss Lilly hushed herself anyway, and instead of grumbling, she glowered across the coffee
table at the porcine geisha.

        Both June and Miss Lilly put a protective hand on my legs as Mrs. Fischer continued.

        “Normally, in a situation where abuse is so obvious, the State will sweep in and take
immediate custody of the abused or neglected child…”

        I hoped the elephantine lady would not notice that I was currently being abused right
before her very eyes, as both June and Miss Lilly were digging their fingernails absentmindedly
into the fleshy part of my thighs.

        “…however, this is an exceptional case, which would explain why I wanted to come out
here with you today, Miss Devon, to conduct the preliminary interview as quickly as possible,
and spare the child any further distress.”

        The grip on my thigh on June’s side lightened up to something slightly less than
unbearably painful. However Miss Lilly still seemed to be trying to strangle a boa constrictor
that was hidden in my jeans.

        The rotund representative of the State continued, “I have a list of questions that I was
going to ask Johnny, but…”

        The death grip returned to both thighs.

        “…after being ass-sulted on the porch…”

        I thought I might be bleeding from both thighs at this point.

         “…and then threatened by a very intimidating woman with a wooden spoon…”

        I thought I heard my femurs crumbling into dust.

        “…and further being interrupted and having my intelligence compared to that of a
deceased carp…”



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        I wondered briefly what it was going to be like to go through life as a double amputee.

        “…it is clear to me that Mr. Krimshaw is in the company of two lionesses who would
gladly forfeit their own lives to protect him. It is also abundantly clear from the leap of faith that
Mr. Krimshaw took into your arms, Miss Devon, and the tears of joy that are currently welling
up in his eyes as he sits safely between the two of you, that he is as much in love with you two as
you are with him.”

        I was fairly certain that the two women flanking me could crush a cue ball in their bare
hands, and were practicing the trick on my legs as the lady continued to talk.

        “Therefore, Miss Devon, as a representative of the State of Washington, I hereby declare
that it is the State’s position that Johnny is currently in a safe, loving environment that is
undoubtedly in his best interests, and furthermore, temporary custody shall be granted to you
until such a time as a hearing can be scheduled to determine his final residency.”

        I let out a yip of relief and let the tears flow freely down my cheeks. Not because I was
happy at the words Mrs. Fischer had just said, but because my lionesses had finally relinquished
their steel vice compressions on my legs.

        June and Miss Lilly were wearing nearly identical expressions of relief and joy and tears
streamed freely down each of their cheeks in swift diamond rivulets.

        June raised a shaking hand to her face and let her fingertips rest gently upon her
quivering lips, and tried to speak, but found she could only stammer. Finally she quit trying and
just let out a deep heart wrenching sob and turned to me, wrapping me in a full body hug.

        Her entire body was trembling as she held me, and she sobbed unabashedly into my hair.
I wondered briefly if it was necessary for every sobbing woman in my life to get snot in my hair,
but quickly decided that I really didn’t mind.

        Miss Lilly was much more reserved in her weeping, but still squeaked a couple times as
she rubbed my back.




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        I shuddered to think what might have happened to the poor dumpling that sat across from
us if she would have tried to remove me forcefully from my two new mothers.

        When all the crying was finally done, and everybody had composed themselves a bit, we
all sat up and faced Mrs. Fischer to find that she had also been crying and that her massive
amounts of eyeshadow had run down her face, making her look something like Alice Cooper
with a severe bee sting reaction.

        “Mrs. Fischer,” June said, “I can’t thank you enough. I truly can’t. But when we have a
court hearing, how likely is it that Johnny will be placed permanently into our care?”

        Miss Lilly beamed in satisfaction, understanding that June’s use of the word ‘our’ was
intentional and implied Miss Lilly’s continuing presence in our household and a place in my
upbringing.

        Mrs. Fischer smiled (which was a macabre sight indeed with her makeup in such a bad
condition) and said, “It is exceedingly unlikely that the court will grant joint custody to the two
of you.”

        She pointed in our general direction and wagged her plump little sausage finger back and
forth between Miss Lilly and June.

        “However, Miss Devon, you are a blood relative of Mr. Krimshaw and the court is
generally fond of preserving the unity of family whenever possible.”

        “With the whereabouts of Mrs. Krimshaw still unknown, and the condition of the
environment in which she abandoned him, it is very unlikely that custody would ever be granted
back to her even if she does resurface soon.”

        “In my estimation, the likelihood of permanent custody being granted to you is very high
indeed, especially considering that I’ll be recommending that very judgment, and I don’t like to
toot my own horn, but when I throw my weight around, the court generally listens.”

        Mrs. Fischer gave a slight wink and patted her belly as she used her self depreciating
humor to emphasize her point, and June and Miss Lilly laughed.



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        There seemed to be an unspoken signal that went off, as all three adults in the room rose
from the couches simultaneously, and reached across the table to shake hands. I, however,
remained seated.

         I did not think my legs had healed enough in such a short time to support my weight, and
I didn’t want to bring Mrs. Fischer’s attention to the fact that I’d just been crippled by my
guardians.

        “Lilly,” June said, “I’ve got to drive Mrs. Krimshaw back to town, and pop in at the
police station again. Would you mind keeping an eye on Johnny again?”

        “O’ course not June-bug. De boy be like a breath o’ fresh air to me. I don’ never mind
watchin’ him. An’ b’sides, I done promise him a sammich an’ den did no’ give it to him on
account o’ all dis ruckous.”

        June thanked Miss Lilly, bent down and kissed my forehead, and then headed out the
door with Mrs. Fischer.

        Miss Lilly went back to the kitchen to check her gumbo and get my sandwich, and I sat
on the couch, massaging my legs, and feeling bad about having been so mortified by Mrs.
Fischer’s outward appearance.

        She turned out to be a lovely maiden on the inside, but I could not escape the fact that on
the outside, she was a dragon.




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                                          CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

        I was still rebuking myself when Miss Lilly came back carrying a plate with two grilled
cheese sandwiches on it and a bowl of tomato soup. She set them on the table, pulled a soup
spoon from her apron and set it down next to the bowl, and told me I should come eat. Then she
headed back to the kitchen to play with her gumbo.

        I headed over to the table and bent down to smell the soup. For as long as I could
remember I had always loved the smell of tomato soup. I sniffed deeply, expecting to have my
senses bathed in the acidic aroma of creamy tomatoes, but instead I got a nose full of rose scent.

        I stood up quickly and stared at my bowl of soup, checking to make sure it was really
tomato, and not some kind of bizarre Cajun flower soup. It appeared to be tomato. I bent down
and smelled it again, but with a bit more caution. It smelled just like tomato soup.

        Shaking off the weird, I sat down and took a gargantuan bite out of my sandwich, then
reached for my spoon to wash down the bite with a bit of soup. My spoon was gone.

        I checked all over the table top, and looked around on the floor but could not find a
spoon. I was sure that I’d seen Miss Lilly put a spoon down next to the bowl, but thought I must
have imagined it, because all evidence seemed to point to the contrary. There was no spoon here.

        I chose to simply slurp my soup directly from the bowl rather than go in the kitchen and
pester Miss Lilly for another one. I did not want her to think I was insinuating that she had not
been up to snuff on her performance.

        When I was all done eating I packed up my dirty dishes and brought them into the
kitchen to wash them. I was a quick study, and had learned at breakfast that those who dirty the
dishes wash the dishes.

        Miss Lilly had apparently tired herself out with all the activity that had gone on, for she
was sitting in a wooden chair at a small table in the corner of the kitchen with her head on her
chest, snoring loudly.




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        I washed my dishes as quietly as I could and got them put away. Then I headed out of the
kitchen and went looking for something entertaining to do.

        I spent some time exploring the rest of the house, wandering aimlessly from room to
room. I found a laundry room, study, bathroom, and a family room (complete with a T.V. and
V.C.R. downstairs. There was nothing of any vast interest downstairs aside from a bookcase in
the family room that contained a plethora of books.

         June’s minimalist decorating sense prevailed in every area. Every room had just enough
ornamentation to keep the room from seeming empty, but never so much as to make the room
appear busy or cluttered.

        The scant decorations did not detract from the elegance that the builders of the house had
engineered in, but rather seemed to enhance them. Ornate woodwork appeared in every room
around doorways and windows, and also in moldings that ran along the floors and ceilings.

        The exploration of the house did not turn out to be the time sink that I’d hoped it would
be and I soon found myself restless and bored.

        I decided to head back to the family room and turn on the television. June had satellite
television and I was not familiar with the controls on the clunky remote control, but I played
around with them long enough to get them figured out.

        I flipped through the channels for awhile until I found an old Tom and Jerry cartoon and
sat there staring blankly at the T.V. for a bit, watching the mischievous mouse tormenting the
poor tomcat in at least a dozen different and entertaining ways.

        I felt lazy and somewhat depressed but did not know why. So many wonderful things
had happened to me in the last sixteen hours or so—since June had first opened the basement
door—that I could think of no reason to feel down, but there I was.

        There was something niggling at the back of my mind but I could not concentrate on it
quite hard enough to bring it into focus, and its presence seemed to weigh heavy upon my soul,
soiling me from the inside.




                                                 165
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        My mood rapidly digressed and depression began to steal over me like a cold shadow
when a cloud slips in front of the sun. On the television, the poor tomcat was currently tied to a
chair and the small brown mouse was sadistically yanking out his whiskers one by one, and I saw
no humor in it.

        I clicked off the T.V. and set the remote on the coffee table. I leaned back onto the couch,
and committed to the idea that I was going to sit there and be miserable for no good reason.

        Just when I got comfortable on the couch and uncomfortable in my soul, a quick breeze
blew gently through the room, carrying with it the scent of roses, and then dissipated. I glanced
at the window that was set in the wall directly across from me and saw that it was open part way,
leaving a three inch gap which was undoubtedly the source of the wind.

        The open window I saw, but what I didn’t see was the curtains moving in the breeze. I
was still puzzling over that phenomenon when the breeze blew by again. I was staring directly at
the curtains when it happened, and they did not move.

        I sat upright on the couch and looked around the room. Nothing appeared to be out of the
ordinary.

        I got up and went exploring the rest of the downstairs to try and discern the source of the
rose scented breeze. I checked every window and door and found them all closed. I found Miss
Lilly still in her chair with a stream of glistening drool running from the corner of her mouth,
down her chin, and onto her shoulder.

        I stood there for a second, breathing in the wonderful aroma of the gumbo that was
simmering on the stove when Miss Lilly woke with a startled snort and jumped out of her chair,
scaring me at least half way to death, if not even closer.

        I figuratively jumped most of the way out of my skin, and was convinced for a second
that I had literally jumped out of my socks until I remembered that I had left my socks near the
front door earlier in the day.




                                                 166
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           I screamed like a girl with a scraped knee at the fright Miss Lilly had given me when she
jumped up, and my scream in turn scared Miss Lilly halfway to death and cause her to scream
out in shock.

           When Miss Lilly screamed, she involuntarily jumped and tried to swivel her body around
to the source of the scream that had startled her. The jumping, swiveling, and screaming proved
to be far more than her heavy frame could pull off gracefully and she lost her footing.

           The floor trembled beneath my feet when Miss Lilly’s robust rump landed forcefully on
it. I was mortified. I was certain that Miss Lilly was going to be pissed that I had given her such
a fright.

           She sat there and stared at me for a couple seconds, and I waited tensely for her to start
hollering and threatening me with her spoon. Instead of getting angry, Miss Lilly started
laughing in the same sharp barking tone I’d heard at breakfast time.

           When Miss Lilly laughed, there was no superficial quality to her laughter. She laughed
hard and deep. It seemed that within her stout body somewhere, there was an infinitely deep pool
of joy, and her throat was a pump that tapped this well of happiness, pulling the joy to the
surface, and spurting it out of her mouth in the form of laughter, drenching everybody around her
with it.

           I began to laugh along with Miss Lilly, forgetting my sour mood and curiosity for the
time being. When Miss Lilly was laughing, it was impossible to remain dour.

           Finally, our laughter subsided and I helped Miss Lilly up off the floor. When she was
upright again and had finished smoothing out her dress and apron, she looked at me very
seriously and said, “I done told you we was all gonna be bustin’ our butts before de day were
done!”

           We both laughed again, and Miss Lilly opened her arms, inviting me in for a hug, which
was precisely what I had needed to complete my transformation from gloomy to blissfully
content.




                                                    167
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          When we broke free of our embrace a few seconds later, Miss Lilly kicked me out of her
kitchen again and I returned to the family room to see if I could find a book to pass the time until
supper.

          When I entered the room I saw a paper lying on the coffee table that I hadn’t noticed
before, and was fairly certain had not been there. It was lying on top of the remote control, and I
knew I had not placed it there when I set the remote down.

          I picked up the paper and looked at it, but could not understand what I was looking at.
There was a line of script written on the paper in a very elegant, flowing handwriting. The style
of writing on the page seemed to exude an effeminate aura and brought to mind indistinct images
of the female form, flowing and undulating in a most alluring dance that was at once exotic,
sensual, and graceful.

          Trying to clear the images of infinite beauty from my mind I stared at the handwriting on
the page and tried and make out what it said.

          La tristesse se lave l'âme, mais il peut se laver l'âme de suite.

          I was certainly not a philologist or linguist and had no idea what the words might mean,
but I suspected that perhaps Miss Lilly could figure it out.

          I grabbed up the note and headed back to the kitchen to pester Miss Lilly as she worked
diligently to get supper prepared.

          “Miss Lilly,” I said as I walked in the door, “will you look at something for me?”

          Miss Lilly looked at me suspiciously and said, “Wha’choo be wantin’ me to look at?”

          I handed Miss Lilly the note I found and said, “I found this paper in the family room and
thought maybe you knew what it said. I can’t read it.”

          Miss Lilly read the note out loud.

          “La tristesse se lave l'âme, mais il peut se laver l'âme de suite.”




                                                    168
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        As she read the words a tingle ran down my spine and in my mind I saw a flash of the
same indistinct but definitely feminine form moving gracefully.

        I must have been deeply buried in my vision, for when Miss Lilly spoke again it startled
me and I felt my face flushing, as though I’d just been caught doing something I shouldn’t have
been.

        “Dis note be written in French,” Miss Lilly said. She looked slightly puzzled as she stared
at the note in her hand.

        “But I be de only one in de house dat be knowin’ de French, an’ I know dis not be my
writin’. But it be sayin’ true fo’ sho’.”

        “Where you say you be findin’ dis letter again, Boo?”

        I explained the scenario to Miss Lilly, about feeling the breeze and not being able to
locate its source, and finding the note laying on the table when I reentered the room, but I left out
the smell of roses and the indistinct but compelling images that flashed into my mind when I
looked at it. Those two things seemed somehow private to me and I was not yet ready to share
them.

        Miss Lilly looked puzzled again, but decided that the note was probably up on a shelf and
the breeze had blown it free, where it floated down onto the table. I thought that seemed like a
reasonable explanation, but still wanted to know what the note said.

        “Well,” Miss Lilly said, “de note be sayin ‘sadness washes de soul, but sadness can wash
away de soul’.”

        I scrunched up my brow as I tried to ponder out the full implications of the phrase, but its
meaning seemed to be just out of my grasp. I understood all the words but when strewn together
in that particular sequence, the phrase seemed to be contradictory.

        “What do you think that really means, Miss Lilly?”




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        “I tink it mean dat it be okay to grieve for de people an’ tings dat be lost, but if you spend
too much time tinkin’ bout how sad you is, an’ how much you miss dem tings, den you be
getting lost in de sadness.”

        Miss Lilly handed me the slip of paper and I absentmindedly stuck it into the back pocket
of my jeans while I pondered Miss Lilly’s interpretation.

        Thinking back to the depression I had been feeling right before the note appeared, the
words on the paper made perfect sense to me; however, it made the appearance of the note seem
far less random than a breeze blowing it down off a shelf.

        I was just beginning to dwell on the matter when I heard June pull up in the driveway and
decided that the matter could wait.

        As I was headed out of the kitchen Miss Lilly hollered after me, “Supper be ready in
abou’ ten minute, Boo, so don’ be runnin’ off too far.”

        “Ok, Miss Lilly thanks.”

        I made it into the living room only seconds before the door opened up, and though I
considered doing another flying superman leap into June’s arms, I decided that it would probably
be in both of our best interests if I did not do that again.

        It was good that I had decided on restraint. When June came through the door I could
sense immediately that there was something terribly wrong. All of the joy was out of her eyes,
her shoulders were slumped, and she was dragging her feet. She looked like she had just seen her
best friend die of a heart attack while watching him kick her favorite dog.

         I could think of nothing to say in the midst of the storm of sadness that seemed to be
surrounding June, so I simply walked over to her as she closed the door and leaned back against
it, and gave her the biggest hug I could possibly deliver with my small body.

        June did not lean down to return the hug, but she reached down and stroked my hair and
began to cry.




                                                   170
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        We stood there for several minutes, until June managed to siphon back her tears and
sniffles, and wiped her face dry. Then she broke our embrace and got down on her knees in front
of me so we were eye to eye.

        One more diamond leaked out of the corner of her left eye and I watched it as it struck a
crooked path down her cheek to her chin, where it hung for several seconds before finally
dropping off.

        “What’s wrong June?”

        June inhaled deeply; apparently unsure of her ability to make words. She held the breath
in for a second before releasing it in a deep sigh. Then she said, “Johnny…Honey… I just left the
hospital. I went to the police station to talk about…well it doesn’t matter why, but they asked
me to go there to identify… well… it’s your mama, Johnny. She’s dead.”




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                                          CHAPTER NINETEEN

        I stepped back away from June in shock. I did not know what to say, or what to feel. But
I felt like my head had just exploded, which was ironic in a way. My mother had often
intentionally given me the impression that my head was exploding while she was alive, and now,
in death, she’d managed to pull off that trick one more time, though unintentionally.

        I just stood there, blinking at June and said the only thing I could, “Dead?”

        June nodded, her lower lip quivering, and whispered, “I’m so sorry, Baby. I’m so sorry.”

        “Dead?”

        June nodded again; the tears streaming freely once more down her face. I could see a
myriad of reflected lights in each tear, turning the world upside down in each reflection.

        I blinked a few more times and realized I had been holding my breath, I exhaled deeply
and nodded my own head and said resignedly, “Dead.”

        I was lost in a sea of various emotions so deep that it threatened to pull me down in the
undertow. I was so inundated with feelings that I overloaded and became desensitized and numb.
I looked at June and dispassionately said, “Miss Lilly says dinner will be ready in a few minutes.
We should go wash up.”

        Then I turned and started for the stairs. On my way, I saw my socks lying at the bottom
of the steps where I’d tossed them before heading outside earlier that day. It felt like several
lifetimes had passed between that moment and this one.

        I bent down and grabbed the socks and thought that they felt strange in my hands. I
attributed the weirdness to the strange insurrection my emotions seemed to be having, and
continued on my journey to the upstairs bathroom to wash my hands.

        I could hear June calling after me, but only faintly, as if she were a mile away on a
stormy night and the sound of her voice was only barely being carried to me on the wings of the
wind.



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        Her voice had no source and seemed to come from everywhere, and nowhere at the same
time. I did not bother to search for her. I needed to wash my hands; and maybe look for a word in
my dictionary that could accurately describe how I was feeling.

        I stopped by my bedroom only shortly; long enough to deposit my socks on my bed, and
headed for the bath.

        I closed the door to the washroom and turned on the water at the sink and began
mechanically washing my hands. I was aware of my surroundings and what I was doing, but I
felt detached, as if I was not really inside myself.

        I felt almost the way I had felt just the day before, down in the basement; as if I did not
really exist. The only difference being that I was well aware of my existence this time. I knew I
existed but I felt removed from my existence, like I was on the outside of myself, watching me,
rather than inside, controlling me.

        I finished washing and headed back downstairs for supper. I did not stop to read my
dictionary on the way because I knew I did not want to be late for Miss Lilly’s super Cajun
chicken gumbo. That would be a mortal sin on par with beheading babies and making
lampshades from the skin of dead puppies.

        When I reached the middle of the stairs I saw that the table had already been set and the
big pot of gumbo was the steaming centerpiece to the artful arrangement of bowls and spoons.
‘Miss Lilly is a model of efficiency, fo’ sho’!’ I thought to myself when I saw the table.

        When I reached the bottom of the stairs and had a broader view of the room, I could see
June and Miss Lilly standing together looking at me with concern etched deeply into their faces.

        “Are you ok, Hun?” June asked tentatively.

        “Sure, just hungry. I can’t wait to try your gumbo, Miss Lilly. Is it very spicy? I like
spicy foods, but not when they’re so hot that they blister my eyeballs.” I replied.




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        My emotionless voice did nothing to ease the concern of the ladies, nor had I intended it
to. I didn’t intend anything. I was lost inside myself and did not think that anybody would be
able to toss me the lifeline I needed to pull myself back from the void.

        Miss Lilly opened her mouth several times and then closed it without uttering a sound.
She seemed to be at a genuine loss for words, which I almost found amusing, as it was a
circumstance I would never have believed possible if I had not been there to witness it myself.

        I walked past my governesses to the table and sat down. I looked at them and said,
“Come on ladies…June, Miss Lilly, the food is going to get cold, and that would be a travesty.”

        In the back of my mind I realized that I was reverting to using large words again and
wondered for a second if it was some sort of defense mechanism, or if my brain, in its addled
state simply could not find other words to use in place of the big ones.

        The women shared a quick concerned glance, unaware that I was well aware of their
mutual concern. They walked stiffly and uncomfortably towards the table; towards me. I realized
that I was the source of their discomfort, and I felt bad for it, but I still had no idea how to snap
out of my numbness to make them feel better.

        They both sat opposite of me, where they could watch me. They had given up trying to
speak to me, and I thought with some measure of discomfort ‘I am making them miserable
because I don’t know how I’m supposed to be feeling… I don’t even know how I am feeling. I bet
they think I’m going crazy…CRAZY! I will NOT be crazy!’

        The mere idea of insanity was enough to snap me from my daze and images flooded into
my mind of all the wrongs my mother had been guilty of; the senseless beatings, the verbal
lashings, the insults, the fear, and of course the abandonment in the basement.

        I suddenly knew exactly how I felt. I was pissed! I understood that even though I had
forgiven my mother for every horrible thing she had ever done to me, and though I attributed it
all to the Sickness that had taken her, I had not allowed her Sickness to justify her actions and I
still demanded an accounting from her.




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        I wanted her to tell me, face to face, why she had allowed the Sickness to take her, why
she had allowed the Sickness to beat me, why she had allowed the Sickness to humiliate, torture,
and abandon me.

        And at that moment I understood with alarming clarity that I would never get that
accounting. I would never get an apology, and I would never be completely free from the fears
that my mother had planted in my heart; fear of abandonment, fear of the dark, and fear of
impending insanity.

        I banged my fists against the table so hard that the bowl in front of me jumped up off
from the saucer it had been sitting on and landed back on it with a loud clink. June and Miss
Lilly both let out a yelp and jumped at least twice as high as my bowl had.

        “It’s not fair!” I screamed. “She should not have died yet! She needs to tell me WHY! I
need to know WHY she did it all! It’s not FAIR!”

        By the time I had finished screaming, Miss Lilly and June were both out of their chairs
and around the table holding me tightly. Pulling me deeply into themselves, as if they were
trying to absorb my pain into their bodies and alleviate my suffering. In fact, I think that is
exactly what they were trying to do.

        Suddenly understanding that my greatest desire in life was to have my mother give a full
account for her actions, and knowing that I would never have that satisfaction was devastating to
me and I could do nothing but scream out in frustration.

        I screamed out in anger until my throat was hoarse. I had never before in my life been so
angry. My blood was pounding in my ears, my throat was lined with broken glass from my
screams, my feet hurt from stomping them against the floor beneath the table, and I’m fairly
certain that if my beautiful matrons had not been there to hold me through the fit of anger, I
would have broken both my hands punching them against the table.

        Eventually, seconds, minutes, or hours later—I’m not sure how long—my anger was
finally spent and I was out of screams. My ears quit pounding, my vision was no longer tinted
with red, and my feet and hands lost their desire to lash out. All I had left in me were tears.



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        I cried deeper and harder than I had ever cried before. I cried for my mother. I hated my
mother, I loved my mother, I realized that I missed my mother and would never see her again,
but my tears were not for my loss, they were for hers.

        I cried for her pain. I cried for the life she lost long before she died. I cried for the
husband and son that were taken from her before they should have been. I cried for the burden of
guilt that she bore in me—her unwanted son and an unwanted reminder that she had given
herself to someone she did not love.

        I cried until the food was cold, and through the entire time, June and Miss Lilly never let
me go. They held me as if my life depended on it, and in retrospect, it very well may have.

        As my tears finally began to dry up, and my mind began to return to me the thought
crossed my mind, ‘I’m getting snot on them.’

        For some reason, that struck me as immensely funny and my sobs turned into giggles. I
could not help it. I giggled helplessly until I began to hiccup, which struck me even funnier and I
giggled even more profusely.

        Miss Lilly and June finally relinquished their straightjacket embrace on me and
tentatively backed up, looking at me quizzically, most likely waiting for me to explain the
discordant cycle of emotions I’d just gone through.

        Finally regaining enough composure to speak, I looked up at them and said, “I snotted
your clothes, sorry. And I think the food is cold.”

        They were not to be satisfied with such a simple explanation of my feelings, so I was
forced to try and put into words the entire dance routine of emotion that I’d just gone through.

        When I was done explaining, and they were done trying to console me, we finally settled
in to eat our cold supper.

        Miss Lilly requested that I say grace, and though I had a shorter list of thanks than I’d
had that morning, I found it immensely comforting to realize that I had things to be thankful for.
That knowledge took some of the sting out of my pain.



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        After supper, we were all pretty exhausted and mutually agreed that it was a good time
for bed. June asked if I wanted to be tucked in, and I politely declined. I just felt too weird to
want any company at the moment.

        I hugged and kissed June and Miss Lilly both goodnight, told them I loved them and
thanked them for everything, and then stumbled off to bed. I was utterly exhausted—emotionally
and physically—and wanted nothing more than to go to sleep.

        When I got to my room I saw my socks lying on the bed and briefly wondered how they
got there, but then had a vague recollection of having tossed them there before supper. I picked
them up and tossed them into the corner where they clunked against the wall.

        ‘What the… Socks don’t clunk,’ I thought. Tired as I was, my rampant curiosity kept me
from going to bed and instead sent me off to the corner to investigate why my socks had clunked
against the wall.

        I picked up one sock and found nothing at all unusual about it, but when I grabbed the
other one I could feel that it had something in it, giving it an unnatural weight.

        I opened the top of the sock and stuck my hand in it, grasping the object concealed
within. When I pulled my hand back out I found a spoon clutched in it. Wrapped around the
handle of the spoon was a piece of paper.

        I unwrapped the piece of paper and looked at it.

        La tristesse se lave l'âme, mais il peut se laver l'âme de suite.

        I was confused. It was the same piece of paper that I had encountered earlier in the day,
but I was fairly certain that I had stuck it in my back pocket when Miss Lilly gave it back to me
in the kitchen.

        I thrust my hand into my pockets one by one, searching for the paper that I was holding
in my hands. As I had expected, all my pockets were empty.




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        I looked at the paper once more and spoke the translated version out loud, “Sadness
washes the soul, but sadness can wash away the soul.”

        I had very much appreciated June and Miss Lilly’s attempts to comfort me before, but I
had not found comfort in their words beyond the knowing that they loved me, I loved them and
that I was in a safe place.

        But the note in its simple elegance and infinite wisdom comforted me on a deeper level. I
understood from it that it was right and proper for me to be sad, but if I chose to wallow in self
pity for long enough, I ran the very real risk of sharing my mother’s fate.

        I put the note on top of my dictionary, stripped down to my underwear, and crawled into
bed. I reached over and shut the lamp off and felt a breeze brush past me just as I clicked the
switch. The breeze brought with it the familiar scent of roses.

        I smiled in the dark, and whispered, “Thank you,” and went to sleep.




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                                             CHAPTER TWENTY

          Although it took a long time to get June to grant me specific details about my mother’s
death, I did eventually get the story—or at least as much as she was able to piece together—out
of her.

          After my mother locked me in the basement on June12th, she apparently left the house
and went in search of John. Having taken full leave of her mental faculties, she was likely
convinced that she could find him down at the factory.

          Behind the factory, at the far end of the lot the factory occupies, is a storage pond that the
factory uses to maintain a cold water supply for cooling the machines inside. The water is
pumped from the pond, into the building through a large network of pipes, where it enters
various water chillers, and once chilled, is then pumped through water lines in the machines.

          After flowing through the machines and cooling them off, the water is then pumped back
out of the building via more pipes, and eventually ends up back in the storage pond in back of the
building.

          On June 19th, about a week before June told me of my mother’s demise, the water pump
at the factory abruptly stopped working. Maintenance personnel were sent to the pump-house to
see what the problem was and discovered that the drive control box for the pump had
overloaded, and shut down.

          The workers reset the drive, and started the pump again. The pump started up, and the
motor appeared to be functioning correctly but the drive box overloaded again after only a few
seconds.

          The workers moved from the pump-house down to the pond to see if there was an
obstruction at the water inlet. There was. My mother’s bloated corpse was stuck in the water
intake lines, keeping water from entering the pump, thus overloading the drive.

          The police were called, and my mother’s body was collected. The workers were all
interviewed, but nobody had seen the woman enter the property.




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          My mother was autopsied and the medical examiner was fairly certain that she had
perished from drowning on or around June12th or June13th.

          Her heavy water logged wedding dress had pulled her to the bottom of the pond and left
her submerged there for almost a week until the gasses released during her decomposition
bloated her body enough to make it buoyant, and she was eventually pulled into the water intake.

          For about a week the police worked diligently to try to identify her body with no success.
She had never been fingerprinted, she carried no I.D., there had been no missing persons cases
reported that matched her description, and they were still waiting on the return of dental records.

          Then June entered the police station to talk to them about my mother, and me, and our
situation. The police asked her for a description of my mother, which she gave them, and then
asked if she would mind terribly coming down to the morgue to identify a body.

          June went, though she desperately did not want to, and found that although my mother
had decomposed a bit, and bloated a lot, she had more than enough of her recognizable features
left intact for her to be able to make a positive identification.

          We would never know if my mother entered the pond on purpose or on accident, and we
would never know whether she committed suicide or suffered a mishap. We would never know
why she died, but at least we knew how she died.

          The day after June told me of my mother’s demise we had to start making my mother’s
final arrangements. June was an angel and tried to spare me as much grief as possible during the
ordeal.

          June paid for a burial plot for my mother that was right beside John’s. Joe’s plot was a
little further away, but in the same line as John and my Mother’s plots. We decided that we
would not have a funeral, as we did not have anybody to invite besides ourselves, and possibly
Katelyn, and we had already said our good-byes in prayers.

          June was made the executor of my mother’s estate, and she set up a stock portfolio for me
and placed all my mother’s assets into it, dispersing the funds through dozens of start-up




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technology companies that were just beginning to gain popularity in those days, as well as into
several mutual funds.

        After asking me if I wanted to keep the house, and me deciding that I never wanted to see
it again, it was sold, and the proceeds were added to my portfolio.

        With the money my mother had in the bank, the sale of her car, and house, as well as the
sale of the majority of the furnishings from her house, all placed into a rapidly growing stock
portfolio that could not be touched until I turned eighteen, it was not likely that I was going to
starve any time in early adulthood.

        Two months after my mother’s interment, we had our court hearing to determine custody.
The court had tried unsuccessfully to determine who my father was, but since my mother had not
added a name to my birth certificate nor ever mentioned his name to anybody that was a nearly
impossible task.

        With no father or other family member to object to the ruling, and Mrs. Fischer’s weighty
declarations that I was safe in June’s house, the court had no objection to June taking full and
permanent custody of me, and we went home to celebrate.

        About two weeks after our custody hearing, I had my first real day of school. By the end
of that day, I was ready to be done with school and just spend my life as a bum, panhandling
money on a street corner.




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                                        CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

        School was pure unadulterated Hell for me. I had never been around other kids, and had
no idea how to relate to them. All the kids at school seemed so terribly childish. Their interests
were juvenile, their vocabulary was appallingly mediocre, and they were, for the most part, mean
spirited, over privileged little whelps that were in for a really big surprise when life finally
decided to show them just how tough it could be.

        I did not make any friends that first year of school, and I did not really blame the other
kids for their indifference towards me. I could not blame them for the fact that life had not yet
kicked them in the teeth and showed them what pain and suffering was.

        I also could not blame them for the fact that I already had an education that was far
superior to theirs, through my lust for reading, and likewise, it was not their fault that I was more
intellectually mature than they were.

        The one thing I could, and did hold them accountable for was their cruelty. It was not as
if I had not already suffered enough abuse in my life at the hands of my mother, I really did not
have the patience to put up with their abuse as well.

        Within the first six months of the school year I had been in seven fights. I’d love to be
able to say that I won every one of them and taught those mischievous little devils a lesson they
would not soon forget, however, they did not call me Scrawny Johnny for nothing, and I
generally got the worse end of the beatings.

        The one thing I did have going for me at school was that the staff were compassionate
towards me. I got along quite well with the adults; the teachers, principal, custodians, even the
lunch ladies were all my buddies.

        I tried to be around the adults whenever possible to help alleviate the taunting that I
would endure if caught alone.

        For the first two months of the school year I had begged June to let me quit school and
just teach myself. I promised her that I would study all day, every day while she was at work.




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          That line of reasoning didn’t work with June, as she informed me that there were certain
policies that the State had in place regarding education, and not one of them said a seven year old
boy could stay home and educate himself.

          With that approach going down in flames, I changed tactics. I tried to convince June to
quit her job as the head veterinarian at the local clinic to stay home and teach me. I tried to
convince her that if she did that, then she would have time to take care of all the animals she’d
always dreamed of having but had never had the time for. That approach also surrendered itself
to the flames when June coolly informed me that we would all starve to death if she quit her job.

          I spent awhile trying to think up my next tactic. I was desperate. I was not gaining any
education at school, aside from mathematics which I was fairly certain I was never going to
need, and I felt trapped there. I needed a way out, and I was pretty sure I’d found one.

          Knowing how much June loved me, and knowing that she knew how much I loved her in
return, I was convinced that my newest approach was bound to be a sure-fire winner.

          One day, as soon as June walked in the door from work I greeted her with big tears
running down my face. “Oh, June,” I cried in a miserable voice before the door was even closed,
“I missed you so much. I need you to stay home and spend more time with me, June.” I sobbed
and slobbered, and was relatively certain that there should be an Academy Award in my near
future.

          June set down her purse and leaned down towards me and said very sincerely, “Oh
Johnny, I missed you too. I love you so much that it hurts me to go to work every day, Baby.
And I would love nothing more than to give up working and stay home with you.”

          I threw myself in her arms and gave her a huge hug to emphasize how much I loved her,
and hide the grin I couldn’t suppress as I saw some modicum of success with my newest tactic.

          June hugged me back and continued speaking. “The only problem, my Darling, is that
you smell like onions, and you still have to go to school. Now, go throw away the onion in your
pocket and wash up for supper.”




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        I was flabbergasted. Not only did June know I faked my tears with onions, she saw
straight through my ruse to the heart of the matter and knew that it was really all about getting
out of going to school. She deserved an Academy Award of her own for the little ruse she put me
through that night.

        Eventually I realized that June was too smart for me and I gave up trying to get out of
school. Since I couldn’t escape, I changed my perspective, and instead of hating everything
about school, I decided to only hate the social aspect of it.

        I poured myself into my education. I loved learning, and over the course of the school
year my teacher did touch on a few things outside the realms of mathematics that I did not
already know, and those morsels of knowledge were enough to feed me through that year.

        I never did learn how to socialize with my peers that first year, nor did I try to learn, but I
did eventually learn how to silence the bullies with my words rather than attempting (and failing)
to do it with my fists.

        Towards the end of the school year my principal, Mr. Tinken, called for a meeting with
me and June. I figured I was in some deep trouble for something, though I couldn’t think what,
and June did not believe me as I tried to convince her of my innocence in all matters as we drove
to the school for the meeting.

        My heart was pounding in my chest as we entered the principal’s office for the meeting,
and the first words out of June’s mouth after the cordial greetings were done were, “What has
Johnny done?”

        I was hurt, offended, disgruntled, and galled that June would assume that I had done
anything, but I listened very carefully to what Mr. Tinken had to say next, because I really
wanted to know what I’d done as well.

        Mr. Tinken laughed and said, “No, no, Miss Devon, Johnny hasn’t done anything wrong.
Here, please, have a seat and I’ll tell you why we’re here.”




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        June and I sat in the chairs in front of Mr. Tinken’s desk, and he sat in the chair behind
his desk. He leaned forward slightly and placed his hands on the desk in front of him with his
fingers intertwined.

        “Miss Devon,” he said, “Johnny has been tested in all areas according to his age group
and grade level, and he has passed far beyond any scores I’ve ever seen during my tenure at this
school; except for math. While he is not scoring exceptionally well at math, he is still above
average and is picking it up much faster than his classmates.”

        June’s tight face relaxed as the tension drained out of it and she finally believed that I
was not a hoodlum. I’m fairly certain that my face relaxed as well. She reached over and patted
my leg and gave me the proudest smile I’d ever seen.

        “That’s really wonderful news Mr. Tinken…but why are we here?” June asked.

        “Well, Miss Devon, we are here because Johnny doesn’t belong here.”

        My heart leapt inside my chest. When the faculty says you don’t belong in school then
your guardian has to listen to them, I thought, and wondered for a second why I’d never tried the
‘I don’t belong there’ approach earlier in the year.

        June gave Mr. Tinken a quizzical look and he continued, “I’m afraid his intellectual
maturity, and vast knowledge of subject material far beyond his grade level, serves only to place
him at a distinct disadvantage in the classroom. He is not really ‘learning’ anything here, and he
is not able to communicate well with the other students because, quite frankly, they are from
different worlds.”

        I was so elated I was shaking. Here I was, having finally conceded victory to June in
regards to my going to school, and my defeat was now being handed back to me as a victory by
my principal, simply for being a good student.

        “So, what do you recommend, Mr. Tinken?” June asked, in a concerned voice.

        “Well, Miss Devon, we have three options as I see it. The first option is to do nothing. If
we do nothing, and we leave Johnny where he is, he will suffer socially and intellectually. The



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second option is to move Johnny ahead several grades next school year so that his grade level
matches his performance level, but that would be putting an eight year old boy in the eighth
grade, and while this may satisfy his intellectual needs, I fear it would not do much for his social
needs.”

          My heart was sinking as Mr. Tinken kept talking, I was silently willing him to either shut
up or mention homeschooling as a viable option.

          June looked distressed. “What is the third option?” she asked, in a voice that hinted that
she was certain the third option would be equally horrible.

          “The third option is the Rising Star Academy. It is a private school for exceptionally
gifted children, and they will not accept a student until the age of eight at a minimum so Johnny
would not be able to attend until next school year anyway.”

          “They are prohibitively expensive, but they do have a scholarship program, and I hope I
have not overstepped my bounds, Miss Devon, but I already sent in an application for Johnny,
along with his test scores and a letter of recommendation.”

          “And…?” June asked, looking more hopeful than she had a few moments ago.

          “And they accepted him, full scholarship, for the entirety of his tenure there!”

          Mr. Tinken was positively beaming, and June was squealing with delight, and I was
sinking deeper into my chair feeling sorry for myself. Victory had been so close I could taste it,
and then it was snatched away, leaving a bitter taste in my mouth.

          June turned to me in rapturous joy and grabbed my thighs, shaking them wildly, “Isn’t
this awesome, Sugar?” she squealed.

          “Yeah, great,” I mumbled in return.




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                                       CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

        I finished out the last few weeks of the school year with all the normal glumness that had
accompanied the first part of the year and looked forward to the summer break with great
anticipation.

        As miserable as I was at the prospect of starting all over in a new school, I was
determined not to let it ruin my summer vacation.

        Summer had taken on a new beauty for me. The previous summer had seen my
deliverance from the dank darkness of my mother’s basement (and the dank darkness of her
twisted mind), and the current summer was seeing my deliverance from the Hell known as
‘elementary school’.

        I was not about to take a moment of the summer break for granted. I spent great amounts
of time sitting in the shade of a great willow tree that grew beside a natural pond that sat about a
hundred yards away from the house reading books.

        I became great friends with Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn that summer. I also revisited
Bilbo Baggins several times. I was introduced to Tom Joad and his family as they traveled West
during the Great Depression, and I spent some time getting friendly with a misfit named Charlie
Gordon and his good friend Algernon, the mouse.

        I did not only spend my days that summer in lackadaisical relaxation around the pond.
June taught me to ride horses, and Miss Lilly taught me how to cook. I explored every square
inch of June’s fifteen acre property, watched countless hours of television.

        I also taught myself quite a lot of French with the help of a French/English dictionary that
June bought for me, though I was beginning to doubt that I would need that knowledge. There
had been no more strange occurrences since the night I learned of my mother’s death and I began
to suspect that everything that had happened was either my imagination or had a perfectly
rational explanation.

        But through it all, in the back of my mind there was a certain fear of the unknown. A fear
that grew considerably the closer summer drew to an end.


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        I desperately did not want to start all over at a new school. I had only barely learned to
manage the bullies at the public school, and now was going to be sent off to a place where rich
bullies could torment me as well.

        June was empathetic to my fears of the new school, but after listening to all my whining
the previous school year she was not willing to tolerate any of it for this new academic year.

         “Johnny, Honey,” she said to me with a firm but gentle tone in her voice when I began to
attempt to get out of going the first day, “you have endured horrors and tortures that no other
person—man, woman, or child—should ever have to endure. You not only endured them, but
you managed to pull through them unscathed with your incurable optimism and amazing wits. I
will not allow you to become a coward and a failure now. Do you understand?”

        As clever as I thought I was, June was far cleverer. She managed in one breath to make
me feel proud, smart, and ashamed. I hung my head in shame. The idea of letting June down in
any way was not something I would ever be able to cope with. I would have faced a thousand
bullies before I let her down.

        “Don’t be ashamed, Baby,” June said to me, while gently lifting my chin with her
fingers—forcing me to look her in the eye. “It’s ok to be scared, Doll, but true bravery comes
from being scared and going into battle anyway. And you, of all people, are the bravest man I’ve
ever met. You’ll be awesome, just like you always are.”

        I smiled at June. I couldn’t help myself. She always made me feel amazing inside. I was
still afraid, but knowing that swallowing my fear would make June proud was more than enough
to get me motivated.

        “Let’s go,” I said cheerfully, and jogged through the door and out to the car.

        As it turned out, my fear was completely unnecessary anyway. The Rising Star Academy
was nothing like the public school had been. The class sizes were considerably smaller; the
individual attention that each teacher was able to lavish on each student was considerably more.

        The curriculum at the Academy was actually challenging. We, as students, were not
simply challenged to memorize facts, we were challenged to think.


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        For every major event in history that we covered, we had to write a paper discussing how
we thought the present might have been affected if those major events of the past had not
happened or had turned out differently.

        We were introduced to many classical novels and had to write reports about each one,
discussing not only the plot lines and major characters in each book, but also the themes that
were present in the novel; overt themes as well as more covert underlying themes.

        We had to form debate groups where current events and politics were heatedly argued
back and forth. We played weekly quiz show style games where the only reward was having
your name prominently displayed on the wall through the following week.

        The other students at the Academy were unlike the students in public school as well.
Simply having money was not enough to ensure a student a place at Rising Star; a superior
intellect was also required.

        The preliminary testing included not simply facts and figures that needed to be
regurgitated, but also more than a few essay questions that revealed a potential student’s ability
to think through complex situations, and also a bit about how the candidate viewed the world
around them and responded to various situations.

        The testing assured that only the most intelligent and morally sufficient students were
allowed into the Academy, which meant the student body was comprised almost entirely of
decent kids. There were no bullies to be found anywhere on campus, and in fact, any bragging or
other type of behavior that remotely resembled condescending or insulting behavior towards
another student was swiftly dealt with, generally in the form of “marks”.

        The major tenets of Rising Star Academy were Respect, Honor, and Sagaciousness.
These were highly esteemed ideals that the Academy took very seriously, and any flagrant
disregard towards any of these tenets resulted in a mark.

        Marks followed a student through their career at Rising Star; not for one semester or one
school year, but through a student’s entire tenure at the Academy. If a student accumulated five




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marks during their tenure they were expelled from the Academy with no hope of having the
judgment overturned.

        At the Academy, all students were made to feel that they had value to themselves, each
other, the world at large, and the Academy. Every student wanted to be a part of the school and
the idea of being punted was repugnant to each and every student.

        During my entire tenure at Rising Star—which lasted nine years—there was not a single
student who ever accumulated more than two marks.

        I thrived at Rising Star. I remained a little introverted, though and did not really develop
any close friendships, but I did develop casual friendships, and got along quite well with
everybody I encountered there.

        My favorite course at the Academy was a once-a-week workshop style class where we
were given a grab-bag filled with all kinds of different items, and then presented with a
theoretical ‘situation’ that we had to resolve, using only the items in the bag.

        Often the items in the bag were mundane items like staplers, duct tape, scissors, and a set
of playing cards. On other occasions, especially as I got older, the items became a bit more
complicated and exotic and included things like a baggie of zinc oxide, hydrogen peroxide,
cannon fuse, and a “ticket” allowing me to use the Bunsen-burners, or other lab equipment that
was readily available in the classroom.

        I truly loved attending the Rising Star Academy, but still looked forward expectantly
towards the day when I would graduate, and be completely free of all the structure and rules that
the Academy imposed upon my life.

        I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life as I was learning and growing at school,
but I knew I had no desire to be a professional student. If I had known where my life would lead
so soon after graduating, I might have been more open to the idea of never growing up and
staying in school forever.




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                                      CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

        Although one summer of my life had been jaded by some very painful memories, in the
end that summer had become a season of triumph and joy, and every year I looked forward to
summer breaks from the Academy with all the wide eyed excitement of a fat kid in a candy store
where everything is free.

        Summers were mine to control and to conquer. As it turned out, summers also seemed to
be when the strangest events of my life took place.

        By the time the summer rolled around in the year I turned fourteen I had pretty much
completely forgotten about Miss Lilly’s declaration that I had ‘the eye’. I had seen no shadows,
smelled no roses, and had no odd events happen in my life for nearly seven years—not since the
summer of 1990.

        The summer of 1997 was a summer of changes though. Not only within my body, as
puberty took hold of me and began to run wild, but also in my sensitivity to the weirdest parts of
the world. The parts nobody understands and most people don’t believe in.

        The weirdness began on the first day of that summer break. I came into the kitchen
around seven-thirty in the morning to grab a banana and a glass of milk before heading out to the
pond with a new book. Miss Lilly had long since stopped trying to force us all to eat a good
breakfast and had instead gotten in the habit of sleeping in rather late.

        When I came into the kitchen, Miss Lilly was already awake and was standing by the
sink, staring out the window with tears running down her face.

        “Miss Lilly,” I said, my voice cracking from puberty and honest concern, “What’s the
matter?”

        Miss Lilly jumped when I spoke. Though I had not been quiet on my entry to the kitchen,
she had been so lost in what she was looking at outside that she had not heard me enter.

        “Oh, Boo,” she said when she turned around and saw me, “you like to ‘bout done scare
me to death, Child.”



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          She turned back towards the window and resumed staring out without saying anything
else, so I approached her and stood beside her, wrapping one arm around her back, and looking
out the window to see what she was staring at.

          The kitchen window looked out towards the pond and the willow tree where I still
enjoyed sitting and reading. At first, I saw nothing out there that seemed out of the ordinary, but
then I noticed that one of the residents of the pond—a large gray goose that spent his summers
lounging at the pond much the way I did, and whom I’d named Howard—was running circles
around the base of the willow tree.

          “What the Hell is that crazy goose doing?” I muttered, more to myself than to Miss Lilly.

          Miss Lilly diverted her attention from the window to look at me for a second and said,
“You don’ see, Boo? You keep watchin’ you be seein’ in time.”

          I glanced back at Miss Lilly and wondered what that cryptic sentence was all about, but
quickly shrugged it off and returned my gaze to the crazy goose that was running circles around
the tree.

          The longer I stared at the goose, the more I began to think I might be seeing things. There
appeared to be a shadow—albeit a dim one—chasing the goose around that old willow tree. I
blinked hard a couple times and rubbed my eyes, but when I looked again, not only was the
shadow still there, but it was darker and more prominent than it had been only a few seconds
before.

          The longer I watched the more material the shadow became, until it was no longer a
shadow, but a fully solid man that was chasing that old goose. I looked at him in wonder and
tried to figure out how I had not seen him to begin with.

          The man was hard to make out from a distance, but he appeared to be an older black
gentleman, in his mid fifties or early sixties. He wore a red and white checkered shirt, with the
long sleeves rolled up to his elbows, a pair of blue denim overalls, and brown work boots.

          His hatless head revealed a somewhat bushy salt and pepper afro that covered his entire
head except for one small shining bald spot on the back, near the top of his head. I could see


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from a distance that he wore a neatly trimmed beard, of the same salt and pepper colors as his
hair.

        The man was running rapturously behind the poor goose, every movement of his body
displaying a pure unadulterated joy, as he lunged and grabbed for the goose over and over again
with his long outstretched arms.

        Occasionally, the man would leap into the air and click his feet together with all the grace
of a ballerina, and seemed to hang in the air for just a fraction too long to look completely
normal.

        I was mystified by the man. For one, why was there a strange old black man running
around on my aunt’s property? For two, why in God’s name was he chasing a goose? For three,
how in the Hell was a man of his age able to keep up with the goose and perform his lunges and
jumps with a dancers grace and agility? For four, why didn’t I see him to begin with? For five…
well, in other words, the situation completely baffled me.

        As I have mentioned previously, since my salvation from the basement I have seen a
shimmering aura around all physical objects. This aura extends only about an inch or two around
the entire perimeter of the object I am looking at and appears to be primarily silver in color,
though it has a multitude of other colors swirling through it, like oil on water.

        The single most baffling thing to me about this strange man in the yard was the fact that
he had no aura. To anybody else, not afflicted with my peculiar vision disorder, the man would
appear completely normal, but to me, he just looked…wrong.

        “Miss Lilly, who is that and why is he chasing Howard?” I asked, trying to sound casual
rather than fearful or weirded out, which was exactly how I was feeling.

        Miss Lilly turned to me, still with tears running down her chubby cheeks and decided to
remain cryptic. She said, “You don’ know him, Boo, but Miss Lilly knowed him long ago. I ain’t
been seein’ him fo’ a long stretch o’ time, but now him back, now him done find me at last.”




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         Having successfully confused the crap out of me, Miss Lilly returned her gaze to the
window. I stared at her with my mouth agape for several seconds before snapping it shut with an
audible pop.

         I looked back out the window and that saw the man was sitting down beneath the tree,
with Howard in his lap. The man was looking towards the house and appeared to be petting the
goose.

         “Well,” I said, frustrated with Miss Lilly’s apparent desire to be mystifying, “I’m going
to go talk to him, and see what he wants.”

         Miss Lilly turned to me with a broad, toothy grin and one arched eyebrow and said, “You
go right on ahead an’ do dat, Child. But I gonna told you right now, him ain’t gonna be talkin’
back.”

         “Oh?” I asked incredulously, “Why’s that?”

         “Him on’y jes’ learned how to be showin’ hisself, he ain’t had no time to be learnin’ how
to talk yet.”

         Miss Lilly was driving me crazy with her asinine half-answers and I decided it was time
to tell her as much. “Ok, Miss Lilly, I love you to death, but you are driving me bat-shi…crap
crazy right now! Can you please explain just what the heck you’re talking about?”

         Even though Miss Lilly was driving me bat-shit crazy, I still respected her far too much
to curse much in her company.

         Though I felt I’d pulled the punch at the last second by not cursing, I still must have said
enough to get my point across because she finally gave me a direct answer; I almost wished I
hadn’t asked.

         She looked at me with her cheeks still wet from her tears and said, “Him dead, Johnny.
Dat be my dead Louie. Him done lost me when I move here, an’ though I been to de old place
lookin’ for him many time, I never find him, because him been out lookin’ for me, an’ now him
done found me.”



                                                  194
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        “When we done lost each other, him din’ know how to make hisself visible, but sometime
him could make hisself into a shadow. Now him done learned to control his energy enough to
make hisself visible, but him got a long time b’fore him be learnin’ how to talk yet.”

        I stared at Miss Lilly with my mouth agape for the second time in as many minutes, and
turned my gaze back to the man at the pond. I was just getting ready to challenge the honesty of
Miss Lilly’s answer when I watched the man fade rapidly from sight.

        When I say fade, I don’t mean to imply that he walked slowly away until he was so
distant that he was no longer visible. I mean what I said; that he was sitting there, petting a
goose, and suddenly he just faded away until he was no longer visible and the goose that had
been sitting contentedly on his lap suddenly found itself dropping about eight inches to the
ground, with nothing beneath it to hold it up any longer.

        I gasped audibly and stepped back away from the window, turning towards Miss Lilly as
I did, and asked, “Where’d he go?” In my panic, and my ever inconveniencing puberty, my voice
came out rather more falsetto than I would have liked in that instance.

        Miss Lilly smiled, even as she still cried, and replied, “I tink him comin’ to say ‘hi’, an’
meet de fam’ly, Boo.”

        I wanted to tell Miss Lilly that I really didn’t think it was a good idea for me to be
meeting dead people so early in the morning, but was distracted by the sudden overpowering
smell of pipe tobacco.

        “Miss Lilly, do you smell that?” I asked with a breaking, wavering voice that was
bordering on panic.

        Miss Lilly gave me one of the sterner looks she’d ever given me up to this point in our
relationship and reached up to pinch her nose as she said, “Smell what? You bes’ not be fartin’ in
my kitchen, Boy, else Miss Lilly be findin’ a way to plug up dat hole!”

        “No I didn’t fart! I smell pipe tobacco. I smell it real strong. You don’t smell that?”




                                                 195
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           My panic was growing as I suddenly remembered back to my first summer at June’s and
the smell of roses that accompanied many odd happenings during that time. Although those odd
events had all been benign, that certainly didn’t necessitate that any odd happenings that might
occur under the scent of pipe tobacco would not be more malignant.

           Miss Lilly’s eyes widened as she exclaimed, “Pipe smoke! You be smellin’ pipe smoke?
Louie, Louie? You be in here, Louie?”

           Miss Lilly began frantically searching around the kitchen for the invisible man, but
evidently could not see him, for she kept looking and calling. I, on the other hand saw him, but
was far too frightened to speak.

           I suppose that to say I saw him may be a bit misleading. What I saw was a shadow of
him, right next to Miss Lilly. I saw him appear there suddenly, right after I told Miss Lilly I had
not been letting off butt bombs in her kitchen.

           His shadow was not as dark as a shadow caused by the sun and a solid object, but was
instead, just a light gray transparent form, in the distinct shape of a human being, standing right
next to Miss Lilly, with one transparent arm wrapped familiarly around her back.

           Miss Lilly finally quit calling for him and instead looked at me accusingly and said,
“How you be knowin’ my Louie smoke a pipe, an’ why you be pullin’ my leg like dat—like you
be smellin’ him? Ain’t nobody done never smell de Shadow b’fore anyway. I should’a knowed
you were joshin’ me! Dat were a mean-hearted ting you just done right there, Johnny
Krimshaw.”

           I was frozen with fear, and unable to make a sound beyond the briefest “ahh…tss...
ahh…derr…” until I saw big angry tears leaking out of Miss Lilly’s eyes. She truly thought I was
poking fun at her about her dead husband, and she was deeply hurt to think that I would do such
a thing.

           That shocked me out of my stammer and at last allowed me to talk. “Miss Lilly, no! I am
not lying, or teasing! I can smell him! And now, I can see him too; well sort of see him anyway.




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He’s beside you; his arm is around your back… and now he is nodding, like he’s agreeing with
me.”

        And indeed the Shadow of Louie was nodding, and offering me a thumbs-up gesture that
was rather difficult to make out, since it was devoid of any features or depth, and was mostly
transparent.

        Miss Lilly continued to stare at me doubtfully, not quite convinced that I was not trying
to prank her, until the Louie Shadow stepped in front of her (she did not see him, but continued
to stare through him, at me) and started picking at her hair, lifting her bushy braids up in the air
one at a time and then dropping them.

        Miss Lilly’s eyes widened once more as she reached up and grabbed at her hair, and her
gaze shortened, her eyes nearly crossing, as she tried to focus on the invisible phantom only
inches away from her face.

        She obviously could not see him as well as I could, but she must have seen something,
because she finally broke out in a huge smile and began slapping the air in front of her, like she
was batting away a swarm of gnats, and said “Louie, you ol’ devil, you bes’ be knockin’ off dat
horseplay, or I gonna go pee on you’s grave…again!”

        Apparently Louie believed her, for he immediately let go of her braids and stepped off to
her side once more. Miss Lilly broke into a deep laugh, puking her joy into the kitchen in her
usual way that always made me joyful right alongside her, and said “C’mon, ol’ man, let’s go
walkin’. We got us some catchin’ up to do fo’ sho’!”

        As her and Shadow Louie walked by me, Miss Lilly stopped and touched my cheek
tenderly, and said “Boo, I am so sorry dat I thought bad of you, an’ said you was bein’ mean-
hearted. I was no’ thinking right. I know you are de best young man in de world an’ I love you
wit’ all my heart. Please fo’give me.”

        I smiled honestly at Miss Lilly and moved towards her and kissed her cheek, which was
still moist with salty tears and told her there was nothing to forgive. Then I turned towards




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Shadow Louie and said “Louie, you better treat this young lady right, and have her home before
midnight!”

        I offered the transparent shadow a wink and expected no real tangible response, but for
just one split second, like the flickering of a fluorescent light when you first turn it on, Shadow
Louie pulled his energy reserves together and became Solid Louie again.

        Solid Louie looked at me with a huge smile, his eyes twinkling with joy and mischief,
and gave me a quick wink and slight shake of his head before flickering back into Shadow Louie.
That brief glimpse was enough to convey to me that though he might be dead, he would still
ravage Miss Lilly in a most un-gentlemanly way if only given the chance.

        I immediately liked the old man and was able to see why Miss Lilly had fallen in love
with him. As they walked out of the kitchen together, I said a silent prayer for them, “Lord,
please give him the chance. Amen.”




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                                         CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

         I stood in the kitchen staring out the window towards the pond for several minutes,
thinking about a lot of different things.

         Mostly I wondered about the ‘eye’ that Miss Lilly had told me about. I could not discredit
her claim that I had the gift since I had been able to see the dead guy in my kitchen even more
readily than she had, but I did wonder what it would mean for the rest of my life.

         As I considered the gift it seemed to me that its potency might be increasing as my body
raced towards maturity. When I had been younger, I had seen glimpses of shadows, and
experienced some rather uncanny events, but I had never had an experience as real and material
as the one I had just had in the kitchen that morning.

         My thoughts eventually drifted towards the rose smelling spirit and the note that had been
left to me so long before. I realized that I had a strange longing in my heart for that particular
spirit to manifest itself again.

         Though I had never seen the spirit responsible for the note and the scent, I was convinced
that it was the spirit of a young lady and could still recall the impressions of supreme femininity
that had pressed upon my mind as I read the note that she’d left behind for me.

         I stared out the window for only another minute before deciding that the chances of
encountering that Lovely Shadow again were slim. It had been seven years since her last
investigations into my life, and it seemed that she must surely have moved on by now.

         Sighing, I grabbed up my book off the counter by the sink and headed for the door,
forgetting all about the banana and water that I’d originally been seeking. I had seen enough of
the dead for one morning and decided that some time spent in my book would be time well
spent.

         When I got to the pond I looked around the base of the willow tree, searching for
footprints or other evidence of Louie’s presence but found nothing aside from some goose
droppings on the far side of the tree.




                                                 199
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        Across the pond, at the furthest edge of the property I could see Miss Lilly walking
beside a shadowy form. As usual, she appeared to be having a wildly animated conversation and
was using her arms as much as her mouth to get her point across. I smiled at the strange couple
in the distance as I sat down beneath the tree.

        I opened my book and stared at the pages. I read nothing. I looked up towards the house
and saw movement in the kitchen window. Assuming it was June getting ready to start her day I
went back to staring at my book.

        I tried in vain to read for at least thirty more minutes before giving up completely and
heading back to the house. As I entered the front door, June was just coming down the stairs,
with her hair looking frighteningly Medusa-like and her eyes still squinted mostly shut.

        “Morning Babe,” June stammered out in a yawn choked voice.

        It was obvious that June was only just getting out of bed, and Miss Lilly and Louie were
out walking the far corners of the property, which led me to wonder about the movement I’d seen
in the kitchen.

        After offering a very distracted—and squeaky—good morning back to June, I headed for
the kitchen to investigate. Nothing appeared to be out of place, or out of the ordinary. There were
no shadow figures walking around, and no traces of any odors besides the fresh brewed coffee
that Miss Lilly had made earlier in the morning.

        I was sorely disappointed, which confused me. I could not understand why I should be
disappointed that there were no dead people in my kitchen.

        June entered the kitchen only seconds behind me and distracted me from thinking much
about the reasons for my disappointment. She grabbed a cup of coffee and headed over to the
small table in the corner to sit down and enjoy it. I grabbed a cup and joined her there.

        Over the previous seven years, June and I had developed a ritual in the mornings. The
ritual had been one of my favorite things on earth. The ritual was simply sitting with June at the
kitchen table and chatting, early in the morning, before the worries of life had a chance to intrude
for the day.


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        I had been afraid that as I grew older I would find the morning ritual tiresome or less
pleasant than I did when I was younger and would eventually give up on it altogether, probably
hurting June’s feelings in the process. That did not seem to be the case however, and as I grew
older, I found that, if anything, I had grown to enjoy our morning ritual more than ever.

        Occasionally Miss Lilly would join us for morning coffee, and that was always a
wonderful time, but I think she felt that the morning ritual should be a private time for June and
I, and more often than not she chose to take her coffee in the dining room where she could “read
de paper an’ find out what kinda trouble all dem dum-dums in de gov’ment was gettin’ into.”
That is, when she actually got up early enough to have an opportunity to join us.

        On the morning I met Louie, June was able to sense right away that I was distracted and
immediately began trying to get to the source of my discomfort. I tried in vain to brush it all
aside, not knowing how she would feel about having Miss Lilly’s dead husband for a new
roommate or my longing for a shadow girl I had not even thought about for years. But June’s
concern for me was deep enough that she would never be content to just let me have a problem
without her knowing exactly what it was.

        Finally I just decided to come out with it, or at least part of it. “Do you believe in ghosts,
June?” I asked seriously, proud that my voice had not cracked one time during the question.

        June cocked her head to the side a little and looked at me before responding, as if she was
trying to discern whether or not I was honestly getting to the real reason for my discomfort.
“Yes, Johnny, I do. I’ve never seen one, but I reckon they exist. Why?”

        Figuring that her belief in the walking dead was a good enough reason to continue I went
ahead with the rest of my story about how I’d found Miss Lilly that morning, and Louie, and the
goose, and the walk that Miss Lilly and Louie were currently on.

        After spilling the whole story—with the exception of my longing for the girl I was calling
Rose—I sat back and waited for June’s response. I have no idea how I was expecting her to
respond but I know that I had never considered that she would respond the way she did.




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        “Oh, how wonderful!” June said, smiling broadly and clapping her hands together. “I’m
so glad that he finally found her. They haven’t seen each other since she moved here, you know.”

        I closed my eyes and shook my head, completely shocked by June’s response. “Wait!” I
said incredulously, “You knew about Miss Lilly’s husband being a ghost?”

        June looked at me like I was stupid and said, “Of course. Lilly told me about Louie
before she moved in here, she was afraid that he might get lost trying to find his way here. Turns
out she was right to worry.”

        I was completely flummoxed. “You…You’re ok with the idea of a dead guy living here?”
I asked.

        “Well, it’s not as bad as all that, Hon. He’ll come and go of course. He’s not entirely
trapped in this world like so many other ghosts, or at least that’s what Lilly says, but it’s not like
he’s gonna be watchin’ us every minute. Fear not, Soldier, you can still shower without
voyeurs.”

        June could see that I was shocked by her complete acceptance of the supernatural and
reached across the table and grabbed my hand. “Johnny,” she said, “It’s ok to be a little afraid of
ghosts. They’re beyond our complete comprehension, but I promise you they are not to be
feared. Besides, you have a gift—the ability to see them far more so than most other
people…Yes, Lilly told me about your eye a long time ago—so you among all people need to be
ready to accept them for who they are.”

        I wanted to tell June that I was not afraid of the ghosts but I had been afraid of how she
would respond when faced with one. But I decided that it would be kinder to let her think that I
had been afraid of the supernatural, and that she had assuaged my fears.

        So I thanked her for the talk and told her how much better I felt. And that was true, I did
feel better, but only because I understood that life was getting weirder and weirder and it was a
comfort to know that June was ok with that.




                                                  202
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        I still had Rose on my mind and felt like I needed a little time to myself in order to fully
process what was rapidly becoming the weirdest morning of my entire life, so I excused myself
from the table and went upstairs to think.

        When I got to my room I sat on my bed and went to my dresser where I kept my old
battered dictionary. I had not used the dictionary for several years, but had never forgotten its
importance in my life. It was bound to be a priceless treasure that I would keep until my dying
day.

        I opened up the dictionary, not to find a word, but to find a note; a note that I had stuck
inside of it years before. Because the note had been kept for so long inside the dictionary, it was
still in remarkably good condition.

        I took the note and placed the dictionary back in the drawer. Then I walked over and sat
on my bed. I sat there for quite some time just staring at the note, reading aloud softly, over and
over.

        La tristesse se lave l'âme, mais il peut se laver l'âme de suite.

        Having studied French on my own and at the Academy, my French had gotten rather
good and I could have translated the note verbatim even if I had not already known what it said.
As it was, I was able to read it aloud in French with very little accent.

        After reciting the message several times, but being unable to conjure up the sensual
imagery that had accompanied the note in my youth, I lay back on the bed and stared at the
ceiling feeling glum.

        I whispered to the ceiling, “Where are you, Rose? Where did you go? I want to see you
once more.”

        Deciding that lying around feeling sorry for myself because I could not see nor contact a
dead girl that I was not even certain existed was a bad idea, I got up and set the note on my night
table and headed back downstairs.




                                                  203
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        I still had a new book to read, summer still belonged to me, and I did not intend to spend
it pining away on imaginary romance.

        By the end of the day I had managed to read most of my book, take in a few hours of
television, cook supper for the family (Miss Lilly seemed to be pretty busy that day), and almost
forget about the yearning I had been overwhelmed with earlier that day.

        Louie apparently had decided not to join us for supper, or perhaps had been unable to join
us, for Miss Lilly was alone when she came to the supper table.

        She seemed to be in a strange wistful, yet joyful mood through supper, but she did not
say much. June and I had enough courtesy not to pester her with questions about her day, and
instead we began discussing our favorite books, many of which all three of us had read at some
point in our lives.

        After supper Miss Lilly and I did the dishes together and she opened up a bit more about
her day, telling me about the talk that she’d had with Louie, and how he’d managed to
materialize for her three more times that day, though only for a few seconds each time.

        I had developed a new fascination for how the spirit world worked and had a million
questions for Miss Lilly as she washed and I dried.

        Miss Lilly seemed happy enough to answer my questions as best she knew how and I
learned many things about ghosts—or Shadows as Miss Lilly referred to them.

        One thing I learned was that a wandering soul is not always trapped here; she used Louie
as an example.

        “Now my Louie,” she said, “him is no’ stuck here in dis world. Him be able to come visit
often, but him free to travel between dis world and de spirit world. But him not be able to stay
long in dis world. It use all him energy to be here, an’ him has to go back to de spirit world
sometimes to charge up him batteries, cause him not be learnin’ how to charge up all de way
here yet.”




                                                 204
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        I also learned that it takes a spirit, or soul, ghost or Shadow—whatever you choose to call
it—a very long time to learn how to control the energy in their new spirit body.

        The spirit body is pure energy, and just as it takes an infant a long time to learn to control
their physical body, it takes the dead a long time to figure out how to control their new spiritual
body.

        Generally the spirits learn to manipulate objects first, then they learn to manifest
themselves into a physical appearance, and finally they learn to communicate vocally, but it
takes them a very long time to achieve all three steps. And it takes a tremendous amount of
energy to achieve any behavior that would alert us to their presence.

        I was fascinated by all the information that Miss Lilly was giving me and I considered her
to be quite an authority on the subject, so it startled me a little bit when she suddenly stopped
washing dishes and started asking me questions.

        “Boo,” She said, “dis mornin’ you done told me dat you could smell my Louie, even
b’fore you could see him.”

        “Yes, that’s right,” I replied, “I could smell pipe tobacco, really strong. It was almost like
someone had actually just lit a pipe right next to me and had blown the smoke into my face.”

        Miss Lilly put on a contemplative countenance and said, “Hmm. Den you says you seen
him when I could no’ see him?”

        I pictured the scene from the morning in my mind and answered, “Yeah, I could see…
like a shadow of him, standing beside you with an arm around your back. But I could not see any
features or anything. He was just a transparent one dimensional form of a man, kind of gray
colored.”

        “I ain’t never done heard of no one wit’ de eye also havin’ a nose for de Shadows, Boo.
An’ I always been considered strong in de eye, but I could no’ see nothin’ dis mornin’ when you
could. I tink, Boo, dat you eye be de strongest eye I ever done hear tell of, an’ you gonna have
great power with de Shadows. You gonna be helpin’ many o’ dem where others can no’ help.”




                                                  205
THE LOVELY SHADOW




        I didn’t know what to say. I was uncomfortable with the idea of being better than
anybody at anything, and especially when it came to the supernatural and Miss Lilly. I did not
think I wanted the responsibility of having some strange gift that let me see the dead where
others could not, and certainly did not want the responsibility of helping the dead.

        I had not decided what I wanted to do with my life after graduation, but I was fairly
certain that it had nothing to do with chasing dead people around trying to pull splinters from
their toes so they could have a happy afterlife.

        Miss Lilly must have seen my discomfort for she dried her hands on a dish towel and
placed her hands gently, but firmly on my shoulders, forcing me to look her in the eye and said,
“Child, don’ be afraid of you gift. You not ready yet, but one day you be ready, an’ when dat
happen’ you gonna be doin’ de greatest ting a man can do with him life; helpin’ de helpless with
problems dat have eternal consequences.”

        I was not completely convinced of my desire to hang out with ghosts for the rest of my
life, but I did take a liking to the concept of a purposeful existence that helped others to find rest
for eternity.

        Eternal blessing seemed to me to be a much grander concept than simply feeding a poor
man. Feeding a poor man was a blessing to that man, no doubt, and a noble endeavor that should
not be overlooked; however, when you bless the living, the blessing can only last for a season.
The hungry man that you fed will be hungry again the following day.

        If you are able to bless the dead, however, the life span of that blessing is eternal. It will
not be a moot blessing in a day, week, month, or millennia. It will bless them forever.

        I thanked Miss Lilly for her answers and for my pep talk as we finished up the dishes. I
gave her a kiss goodnight and excused myself to go to bed. I had much to consider and was
already weary from having considered so much that day.

        I met June in the living room and kissed her goodnight as well and went off to take a
shower and go to bed.




                                                   206
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        I stopped by my bedroom on my way to the shower to grab some pajamas and noticed a
very faint trace of a familiar rose smell in my room when I entered. My heart leapt into my throat
and I looked excitedly around the room with expectations of seeing Rose standing somewhere.

        My heart sank, however, as my scan of the room revealed nothing out of the ordinary. I
figured that the hint of scent was likely just a trace that had been left behind on the note I’d
pulled from my dictionary and left on my table.

        I grabbed my pajamas and headed for the shower, chastising myself for being so foolish.
I really needed to come to terms with the fact that Rose either did not ever exist, or if she had,
she was long gone.

        After my shower I felt even more tired than I had before, so I had planned on going
straight to bed; forgoing my usual habit of reading in bed until I grew sleepy. As I entered my
room I saw the note still sitting on my night table and figured I had better stow it back into my
dictionary before I managed to destroy it somehow.

        I grabbed it up and was halfway across the room to my dresser when I happened to
glance at it and notice new words written on it.

        I was so surprised by the discovery that I dropped the note and let out a small holler of
surprise. I recovered quickly and dived for the note so I could read it properly.

        Pas Rose. Je suis Elle… J'ai été en attente.

        “Not Rose. I am Elle… I have been waiting.” I translated out loud.

        The words were written just below the original message in the exact same neat, feminine,
and flowing script. Looking at it filled my mind once again with images of an indistinct female
form, flowing and dancing, indeed undulating in an expression of pure beauty that inspired
longing rather than lust to fill my heart.

        I was confused about the message however. It appeared to make no sense. I carried the
note back to bed with me and stared at it for a long while, trying to decipher its meaning.




                                                   207
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        After awhile I grew too sleepy to think clearly and was not any closer to grasping the
meaning of the note than I had been when I started, so I laid it on the table and clicked off my
lamp.

        Just as I was drifting away into the realm of dreams I was struck with the note’s meaning.
It was a direct answer to questions I had asked aloud earlier that day!

        Just that morning as I lay on my bed I had whispered aloud “Where are you, Rose?
Where did you go? I want to see you once more.”

        The note was a response. Her name was not Rose, it was Elle, and she had been waiting!
I sat up in bed, suddenly feeling less tired, fueled by the sudden knowledge that Elle was not a
figment of my imagination, and she was not gone.

        But waiting? I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what she had been waiting for. I tried
asking her what she’d been waiting for aloud, hoping that since that tactic had worked once it
might very well work again.

        I got no direct response. I waited for nearly half an hour for some kind of contact, but
none came. What did come was the return of my fatigue, and I finally drifted off to sleep.

        The following day seemed to be a harbinger for the rest of my summer. There was no
response from Elle, and there were no earth shatteringly weird events that rocked the foundations
of my world. The day was mundane and nothing at all unexpected that happened that day; or for
the rest of the summer.

        Throughout the summer I had taken up the habit of leaving a pad of paper and a pen on
my night stand, and tried asking Elle many questions every night before I went to sleep, but I
never got another response on my pad of paper.

        I was disappointed, of course, that I got no reply, but somehow I had the impression that
she was hiding, just beyond the limits of my ability to notice her, and she was listening. And
with that idea in my head I was able to comfort myself with the hope that I was still developing a
relationship with her.




                                                 208
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        I knew that if I had tried to tell anybody about my evening habit of talking to someone I
believed to be listening, but who was hiding and who was either dead or non-existent, they
would assume I was crazy. But I had long ago made up my mind that I would never be crazy,
and had already self analyzed my behavior to death and decided that I had more than enough
evidence in the form of two notes to justify and validate my behavior.

        Louie popped in regularly through the summer, sometimes completely visible, most of
the time, however, just as a shadow. Sometimes Miss Lilly was aware of his presence and
sometimes she wasn’t.

        Often Shadow Louie would make gestures to me indicating his desire to remain
unnoticed, and he would just spend the entire day following Miss Lilly around without her
knowledge, rubbing her shoulders or with a hand on her back, evidently blissfully content just to
be in her presence.

        Louie had mastered the art of object manipulation early in his second life and I often sat
at the kitchen table with him playing cards. His company was always a pleasure to me, though I
suspect that he cheated at cards, because I never beat him—not one time.

        And so the summer of 1997 drew to a close. Only one day from the whole summer had
seemed extraordinary to me, but there had been joy and pleasure to be found in each and every
day of the summer, and as school started up again I was happy to go back, knowing that I had
managed to make the most of my break and had fully conquered the summer.




                                                209
THE LOVELY SHADOW




                                        CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

        Two full years passed before I had any encounters with Elle again. By that time I had
almost begun to believe once more that she was simply a figment of my imagination—an
amazing, lovely figment—but a figment nonetheless.

        School had continued to progress wonderfully during those two silent years. I excelled in
every course, including mathematics, and found myself on the honor roll over and over again.

        June and Miss Lilly were constantly telling me how proud they were of me, and though I
pretended to be tired of their praise and was continually telling them it was unnecessary, I
secretly loved every single syllable of it.

        I loved them both so much and appreciated all the love and blessings they’d poured on
me over the course of nine years that I truly loved to make them proud. It was not in arrogance
that I loved their praise, but a feeling that I was in some small way paying back a certain measure
of their kindnesses to me by making them proud.

        On my sixteenth birthday Miss Lilly baked me the most wonderful cake I had ever eaten.
It was truly a piece of Heaven on earth and I was almost reluctant to share any of it with the
ladies who had saved my life and my sanity and had made me into a better person.

        After the four of us finished supper and cake at the dining room table (Louie had decided
to join us for the celebration) June asked me to go out to the garage and bring in a box of her old
records so we could spend the evening listening to them together.

        It is a testament to how much I loved and respected June that the idea of sitting around
the front room on my sixteenth birthday listening to old music with a woman who for all intents
and purposes was my mother, was actually an appealing idea.

        There are just not enough words in the English language to explain the depth of my love
for June and Miss Lilly. They were both my mother, they were my safe place, (yes, even at
sixteen years old a man needs a safe place) and they were my best friends and I enjoyed their
company tremendously.




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        When I opened the side door to the garage, I nearly fell down from the shock. Sitting in
the usually empty space in the middle of the garage was a brand new Honda Accord with a big
red bow on top.

        I screamed and whooped and hollered several times and must have aroused Louie’s
curiosity because he came out of the house, right past Miss Lilly and June who were standing on
the porch, and stood beside me in the doorway to the garage, where I was still standing and
jumping around and screaming like a contestant on Let’s Make A Deal.

        Louie had gotten much better at making himself visible by that point in time (though June
could still not see him even when he did fully materialize) and he chose to become fully visible
in that moment; most likely so he could mock me.

        He stepped directly in front of me so I would be forced to look at him, opened his eyes as
wide as they would go, and opened his mouth wide—as if he were screaming—and waved his
hands around wildly.

        After a few seconds of wild arm waving, Louie put his hands on his cheeks and kept
mock screaming while jumping up and down in place. I couldn’t help but laugh at his little
display.

        Laughing at Louie’s antics only seemed to fuel his desire to be more obnoxious. He
began spinning in circles and stomping his feet, while still holding his hands against his cheeks,
and then ran over to the car and leaned over the hood, spreading his arms over it as if he were
giving it a hug.

        Suddenly he jumped up in the air and landed on his feet on the hood. He placed his hands
on his hips and wiped the mock shock look off his face and instead put on a stern emotionless
face and began dancing a Russian jig on the hood of my new car.

        Tears were leaking out of my eyes and I was doubled over with laughter watching Louie
being a nut. Though June could not see Louie, I could see him as solidly as if he were a physical
man and it was a hilarious act that he was putting on for me.




                                                211
THE LOVELY SHADOW




         Eventually Louie grew tired of performing and leapt down off the car and landed silently
beside me and extended his hand. I grasped his hand—which was awkward for me because I
could only barely feel it in my own hand, and it felt cold and damp—and he gave me a furious
hand shake while clapping me on the back before returning to the porch to stand beside Miss
Lilly.

         I looked back to the porch and saw the three of them beaming at me and the tears that
were leaking out of my eyes from Louie’s dance began to flow much more freely.

         “Do you like it, Jelly-Bean?” June asked.

         “I love it!” I replied enthusiastically. “And I’m pretty sure Louie likes it too.”

         Louie laughed silently on the porch and gave me a thumbs-up signal before fading back
into a shadow.

         “Well, Boo, you gonna be givin’ us a ride to town in dat contraption o’ what?”

         I smiled broadly as June, Miss Lilly and Louie descended the porch and came towards
me. When June was still about fifteen feet away she reached in her pocket and withdrew the keys
and tossed them to me.

         I caught the keys one handed, almost as if I had some athletic ability to speak of which
was certainly not the case, and jogged out to the front of the garage to open the bay door. By the
time I got the door opened up and headed back into the garage, my three amigos were already
sitting in the car; June in the front and Miss Lilly and Louie in the back.

         I checked my pocket to be sure my wallet which contained my learner’s permit was with
me before sliding into the driver’s seat. I took my time adjusting my mirrors and my seat before I
clicked my seatbelt into place and stuck the key in the ignition.

         Because my driver’s education teacher had been so adamant about checking mirrors, it
had become second nature to me to check my rearview mirror before actually allowing the car to
move.




                                                   212
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        When I looked in the mirror I saw that Louie had materialized again and was currently
making a big production out of looking terrified and biting his nails.

        I laughed as I said “What do you have to worry about, Louie? I can’t possibly kill you
any deader!”

        Before I had finished my joke Louie had pulled his knees up to his chest and had put a
two-handed death grip on the grab-handle that hung from the ceiling of the car. When I finished
speaking he let go of the handle and settled back into his seat. He gave me a big cheesy grin and
shrugged his shoulders as if to say “good point”.

        Miss Lilly reached over and slapped Louie on the shoulder and said, “Knock it off you
ol’ Rascal! You be good an’ let de boy drive. Get dis car out on de road, Boo. You gonna do jus’
fine, an’ we all gonna get home alive, no matter what dis ol’ rat say.” She jerked a thumb
towards Louie as she said “dis ol’ rat”, and I couldn’t help smiling.

        “Well, all except Louie, that is,” June said, and we all had a good laugh, even Louie.

        I drove the car cautiously on the way to town, checking my mirrors frequently and always
staying at least three miles per hour below the speed limit. The drive to town usually only took
about twenty minutes and I made the drive in just under thirty minutes.

        During the journey I chatted with June and Lilly chatted incessantly to Louie. I looked
into my rear view mirror every three or four minutes and could see Lilly was talking as
animatedly as ever, waving her arms around like crazy.

        Louie, who had remained visible for the duration of the trip was smiling and pretending
to dodge Miss Lilly’s hands every time they swung near to him.

        When we finally got into town I asked June where she wanted to go and she innocently
suggested stopping for an ice cream cone. Ice cream was one of June’s secret weaknesses that
she thought nobody knew about, but everybody knew.

        I glanced in the rearview and winked at Miss Lilly who had stopped gesturing for the
time being and saw her smiling weakly and winking back halfheartedly.



                                                213
THE LOVELY SHADOW




        I pulled up to the ice cream shop and barely had the keys out of the ignition before June
was already out of the car, urging us to hurry up. I laughed and started to get out, but noticed
Miss Lilly hadn’t moved.

        “You coming, Miss Lilly?” I asked.

        Miss Lilly wiped a hand down her face from her forehead to her chin and blinked a few
times before answering. A thin sheen of sweat had accumulated on her forehead, giving it a shiny
appearance.

        Waving me on with a hand gesture she said, “No Child, go on ahead. I think I gonna sit
dis one out. I jus’ ain’t feelin’ so good all de sudden.”

        I felt concern creeping into my veins and said, “Are you sure, Miss Lilly? We can just go
home instead, and get you to bed.”

        “Ha! You tink June-bug gonna get dis close to de ice-cream an’ go home empty handed?
We could no’ do dat to her anyway, it be cruel. No Boo, I be jus’ fine out here. Now get goin’
b’fore June-Bug eat herself sick wit’ nobody to baby-sit her.”

        I reluctantly followed June into the ice-cream parlor where she had already ordered
herself a cone and told her about Miss Lilly’s sudden illness.

        Concern washed over June’s face, and she headed swiftly for the door, ignoring the clerk
who was standing there holding out a triple scoop of strawberry ripple with a chocolate sauce
coat.

        We could see that there was something wrong before we even reached the car. Miss
Lilly’s face was pressed up against the window, smashing the side of her face into the glass. Her
eyes were wide open and her skin was ghastly pale and a trail of drool was flowing from her
opened mouth and was running slowly down the glass.

        June broke into a run with me close at her heels, and threw open the door, barely catching
Miss Lilly as she tumbled out of the car. Louie came spilling out of the car right behind Miss
Lilly, the look of terror in his normally twinkling eyes real this time.



                                                  214
THE LOVELY SHADOW




         June and I worked Miss Lilly out onto the sidewalk and laid her on her back. Her
breathing was shallow and irregular. Perspiration was running down her face in streams as thick
as the stream of drool that was still running from her mouth.

         Louie had dropped to his knees at Miss Lilly’s head, one knee on each side of her head,
and was cradling her face between his hands. He looked up at me with tears running down his
cheeks and worked his mouth silently a few times.

         I already knew the situation was bad, but I suspected that it might be worse than bad
when on the fourth or fifth try, Louie managed to scream out “LIIIIILLYYY!” in the most heart
wrenchingly sorrowful voice I had ever heard.

         June was already running back into the ice cream parlor to call the ambulance when
Louie screamed, so she did not hear his cry and I doubt she would have heard even if she had
been there still.

         I was glad she hadn’t heard it. The cry had shattered me. I was paralyzed with fear, and I
could literally feel a tearing sensation in my chest as my heart broke for Miss Lilly and for
Louie.

         The ambulance arrived within four minutes, but it was four minutes too late. Miss Lilly
was pronounced dead at the scene; all resuscitation attempts had failed.

         Miss Lilly died of a cerebral aneurysm, while lying on her back on the sidewalk in front
of an ice cream parlor on my sixteenth birthday.

         I was utterly devastated. My own mother’s death had filled me with turmoil and
confusion in regards to my emotions, but Miss Lilly’s passing did not breed any such confusion.
It brought with it the deepest and most painful sadness I had ever known, and that sadness was
acute, distinct, and focused.

         As the paramedics draped a sheet over Miss Lilly’s body and prepared to load her on a
gurney, June and I held each other and wept. I did not want to watch the men hauling Miss
Lilly’s body away, but was powerless to look away.




                                                 215
THE LOVELY SHADOW




        I watched the men load the gurney into the ambulance and close the door. Then they
walked wordlessly to the cab of the ambulance and got in. They started it up and drove away,
leaving June and I standing alone on the sidewalk.

        I stared blankly at the place on the sidewalk where Miss Lilly had died and cried all the
harder. I closed my eyes but could still see her lying there in my mind’s eye.

        Suddenly I felt cold fingers lifting my chin and opened my eyes. Louie was standing in
front of me, looking me directly in the eye and smiling. Now that his lover was no longer
frightened and hurting and had gone home, he had regained the twinkle in his eyes.

        He leaned over and whispered in my ear in a deep raspy voice, “Her love you Johnny.
Her done told me ev’ry day dat her love you. An’ her know dat you love her too. Her goin’ home
now, an’ I got’s to go an’ meet her there. Au revoir, Johnny. We be seein’ you when we can.”

        With a wave of his hand, Louie winked out of my sight and out of this world to go be
with his angel on the other side, and June and I stood together, intertwined tightly in our sorrow,
weeping in the rapidly fading light of the saddest day I had ever known.

        June and I didn’t get home until after ten that evening. When we were done weeping on
the sidewalk we decided to finish what we’d started and go have an ice cream cone. Neither of us
would admit it, but we just did not want to have to face going home without Miss Lilly.

        We understood that we were a team—the three of us—and June and I were not certain
how we’d be able to keep playing the game when we were one teammate short.

        Eventually we got tired of bawling in public and having people cast their pitying looks in
our direction, so we went home. June drove on the way home, and though she normally drove in
such a manner as to make little old men shake their fists in her general direction, it took her
longer to drive home than it had taken me to drive to town.

        We said very little on the way home. We both knew exactly how the other was feeling,
and we both knew that there were no words to be spoken that would make either of us feel better,
so we were content to simply be together in our sorrow and draw comfort from each other’s
presence.


                                                 216
THE LOVELY SHADOW




        When we arrived home we each retired straight to our bedrooms after hugging once more
and offering a good night kiss to each other.

        I kicked my shoes off as soon as I entered my room and lay down on top of my covers. I
reached over and clicked the bedside lamp off and laid there in the dark, weeping and praying
quietly for a safe passage for Miss Lilly’s soul from this world to the next.

        After I’d been laying there for several minutes I felt something poke me in the ribs and
was overcome by the strong scent of roses.

        I knew Elle had come to me in my sorrow but rather than be grateful for it, I was
annoyed. I sat up and turned on the light. I saw that my notepad was lying on the bed beside me
and was what had poked me in the ribs.

        There was writing in the familiar flowing script on the top page, though it was written in
English now instead of French.

        The sadness is deep. Do not drown in it, Johnny.

        “Really, Elle?” I barked out sarcastically. “Gee I’m awfully glad to know that you can
finally show up now, after I’ve been calling for you for two years, just to tell me that my heart is
broken and I’m really effing sad! I already know I’m sad! I just lost someone who matters more
to me than life itself! And why the Hell did I go through all the trouble of learning French if you
knew English? Why didn’t you just start off with English, huh?”

        I flung the notepad across the room and buried my face in my arms and wept. I knew Elle
had only come to try and comfort me and I was lashing out unreasonably at her, and I felt bad for
it, but was so deep in my sorrow that I couldn’t care.

        I felt a hand stroking my hair as I wept and the smell of roses grew stronger than I’d ever
smelled it before. I opened my eyes but could see nothing out of the ordinary in my room. I knew
Elle was there, I could feel her stroking my head, but she chose to remain completely invisible to
me.




                                                 217
THE LOVELY SHADOW




        I tried to mutter an apology through my tears but was startled out of trying when I heard a
whispered “shh” in my ear.

        I felt my head being pulled gently into the cold softness of Elle’s invisible bosom, and
heard her whisper, “Johnny, I know it hurts. It will always hurt, but you will heal. Lilly is in
Paradise. Have peace in your heart, Johnny. Do not let your grief swallow you.”

        Elle’s voice was as soft as a butterfly kiss, and the thick French accent added a level of
intimacy that I did not think could have possibly been achieved in any other way. While her
words did little to alleviate my sorrow, I was glad she was there, and I allowed myself to fall into
her embrace.

        After weeping into her chest for ten minutes or so I finally felt all cried out and sat back
away from her. “Thank you Elle, I needed that,” I said. I reached a hand out where Elle had just
been but found only empty space.

        “I’ll never understand why you hide Elle; I don’t want you to go. I want you to stay.”

        My request for her to stay had no impact; the scent of roses slowly dissipated from the
room and I eventually drifted off to sleep, still fully clothed, on top of my blankets, and with the
lamp still shining.

        When I woke up the next morning I had no need to dress and instead went straight
outside. The sun was shining brightly in a cloudless azure sky, and there was only a breath of
wind outside; just a breeze as soft as a baby’s breath exhaled across its mother’s face. Butterflies
were flitting to and fro in the pasture and birds could be heard chirruping happily from the
willow by the pond.

        The air smelled as clean and warm as fresh baked bread, and the grass was a brighter
green than I could ever remember having seen it. The morning dew was still sparkling upon each
blade and looked like a million diamonds twinkling in the early sun.

        Everything was beautiful. The sight was not diminished by the shimmering auras that I
still saw outlining everything, but was instead, enhanced by the shimmering silver outlines.




                                                 218
THE LOVELY SHADOW




        I looked towards the sky and wondered if Miss Lilly was looking back at the same
beautiful day that I was seeing, albeit from the other side of the mirror. I walked down to the
willow and sat in my favorite spot and spent some time reminiscing.

        In my mind’s eye I could see hundreds of different memories of Miss Lilly flashing by all
at once. The time she taught me how to make a cake, and smashed an egg on my head when I got
distracted; the time she caught me melting army men in a frying pan on the stove and beat the
Hell out of me with a wooden spoon; the time she hid in my closet at bedtime on Halloween and
burst out after I turned out my lamp, screaming like a banshee and scaring me so bad I fell out of
my bed and hit my head on the table.

        Those memories and hundreds more like them flashed through my mind, and every
memory ended exactly the same way; with Miss Lilly smiling, holding me in a gargantuan hug
and telling me how much she loved me and how special I was.

        I wept and prayed silently beneath the great willow, begging God for every blessing that
could possibly be served up for Miss Lilly in the afterlife.

        I knew that there was going to be a void in my heart for the rest of my life that could
never be filled, and a small part of me longed to join Miss Lilly in death, rather than face life
without her.

        I looked back towards the house and saw June staring out the kitchen window. I knew
that on this morning, of all mornings, she needed me to maintain our morning ritual at the
kitchen table, and I knew I needed it as much as she did.

        As it turned out, June and I spent the entire day sitting at the table, telling stories about
Miss Lilly, and finding the beginnings of healing in ourselves by celebrating the memory of the
life that Miss Lilly had lived.

        The rest of the week was punctuated by frantic activity as June worked tirelessly to
organize a funeral, find Miss Lilly’s will, and contact friends and relatives of Miss Lilly’s back
in Louisiana to give them the sad news.




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        Nine days after Miss Lilly’s death we had the funeral. As per the desires she had set forth
in her will, her body was cremated and her ashes were added to the urn that held Louie’s ashes,
which was kept in her bedroom.

        The funeral was held in a small Baptist church on the edge of town and only about
seventy people were able to attend, with dozens of other friends and family back in Louisiana
unable to finance the trip.

        The service was beautiful, full of singing and stories. At least fifty different people got up
to tell stories about times that Miss Lilly had either lifted them up, or beaten them down, and
then lifted them up.

        The one theme that dominated every story that was told was that of Miss Lilly’s
unconditional love for everyone she came into contact with. It was abundantly clear that Miss
Lilly did not simply live her life; she gave her life to all the people around her.

        I had always known that I was exceedingly fortunate to have had Miss Lilly as a major
influence in my life, but until her funeral I had not really understood just how lucky I truly was. I
had been blessed beyond all measurable value to have had her in such a prominent position in
my life, and would gladly have spent several lifetimes trapped in a basement if I could only have
her back for a short while.

        Miss Lilly had very little in the way of assets and personal possessions and what she did
have she did not leave to anybody specifically. Instead she left a provision in her will stating that
all of her possessions were to be sorted through by her friends and family, and anyone who
wanted anything could have it, providing that everyone that took any items was responsible for
making sure that all of her possessions were removed from June’s house in order to spare June
and I the trouble and heartache of sorting through the leftovers.

        The only items that were specifically given were given to June and I.

        To June, Miss Lilly left her oversized Bible that was always on her nightstand beside her
bed and inside that Bible was a letter for June that I never had the nerve to ask to read. And to




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me she left a special gris-gris that she had made for me, though she did not indicate what
blessing the bag was supposed to bring.

        Miss Lilly also indicated in her will that it was her desire for me to take possession of her
and Louie’s ashes.

        It is my desire that Johnny Krimshaw become the custodian of my remains, and those of
my husband, Louie.

        Johnny, you know your gift, and I know you will not shy away from the responsibilities
your gift will force upon you.

        It is my desire that every time you put your gift to use successfully, that you would
sprinkle a pinch of our ashes in the place where you succeed.

        I knew after reading Miss Lilly’s instructions for me that there was no longer any way for
me to weasel out of using my ‘gift’ for the greater good of dead humanity. Even if I could have
found a way to lie to myself and ignore the gift with a clear conscience before the reading of the
will, there was no way I could do so after the reading. I could not allow myself let Miss Lilly
down.

        I decided it was time to fully embrace my gift and start planning my life around the
consequences such a gift inevitably brought with it. Though I must admit, I was still pretty
relieved when I considered that I still had two years of school left, and possibly college after that,
before I could really try to put my gift to use.

        After the funeral we held a reception at the farm. Miss Lilly’s family and friends were
welcomed into our home as if they were our own family and friends. It was a heartwarming
occasion and I began to realize that Miss Lilly’s impact on everybody she touched was similar to
the impact she’d had on me.

        Not one person at any point during the reception launched into a case of the poor-me’s.
Nobody tried to convince anybody else that the loss of Miss Lilly was somehow greater in their
own life than in anybody else’s. Everybody had enough love for, and understanding of, Miss




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Lilly and her impact in people’s lives to know that everybody was equally impacted; nobody
more so or less so than anybody else.

         Though many tears were shed by many people throughout the entirety of the reception,
the general atmosphere was one of gaiety and jubilant celebration rather than a somber and
mournful affair, for which I was truly glad. I felt that Miss Lilly would prefer to be remembered
with laughter over tears any day.

         When the reception was over, the house was remarkably clean. Although June and I had
protested, the guests had insisted on seeing to the chores; the full garbage’s were taken out, the
food was put away and all the dishes were washed and put away.

         Miss Lilly’s room had been gone over with a fine tooth comb. Not like a group of
vultures had descended upon it, but with the tenderness and grace of those who were honoring a
dead friend’s request to help with the painful chore of cleaning up. The only items that remained
after the reception were the large heavy pieces of furniture.

         When the reception ended and silence finally descended upon the house again, June and I
sat together at the kitchen table and discussed the general feeling of happiness that had been so
prevalent through the reception, and how much it warmed our hearts to see that Miss Lilly’s love
had not been reserved solely for us, but had been distributed equally among everybody she had
known.

         Finally, after chatting about Miss Lilly and life in general we had exhausted ourselves
enough to find comfort in sleep and we kissed each other good night and headed off to bed.

         When I entered my room I immediately saw that my notepad was laying on my bed
again, and also detected a faint trace of rose scent still lingering in the air. I knew that the
intensity of the smell was faint enough to mean that Elle had been there recently but had already
departed, so I did not bother looking for her, but instead went for the notepad.

         It is good to hear you laugh, so many lose their joy in the face of sorrow.

         Elle




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        It was the first note I’d ever received from Elle with a personal signature on it, and it was
the signature that I focused on, more so than the message. I couldn’t help wondering if the fact
that she’d added a personal touch to the note in the form of a signature meant that we were
finally growing closer.

        I knew it was foolish of me to fantasize about having some kind of relationship with a
dead girl, but I couldn’t help it. Elle seemed to embody all of the qualities that make a woman
wonderful.

        The faint images in my mind were enough to convince me that she was beautiful beyond
compare. The deviousness of hiding my clothes and hiding a spoon in my sock all those years
ago showed that she possessed a humorous streak and enjoyed mischief. And the notes, along
with the cradling I’d received from her showed a streak of love and compassion at least a mile
wide in her. And I wondered if her desire to remain just out of sight might indicate that she was
shy or unsure of herself, and therefore not prone to narcissism.

        I thanked Elle out loud as I was getting into my pajamas, put the new note into my
dictionary with the other ones, clicked out the lamp and fell into sleep almost as soon as my head
hit the pillow.

        I will never know if the gentle kiss that I felt on my cheek as I drifted into dreamland was
real or imagined, but either way, I went to dreamland smiling at the end of a day that had been
full of sorrow and joy.

        By the summer’s end, June and I had begun to find our new rhythm in the house without
Miss Lilly there. We never quite got over the fact that we felt like a band without a drummer, but
we still managed to keep the music flowing and found our way in a world that seemed a bit
darker without Miss Lilly’s light shining forth, illuminating our path.




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                                         CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

          I have never been one to spend much time brooding. Up to the age of sixteen I had
always assumed that I would be able to handle anything that life threw at me without spending
an undue amount of time complaining—silently or out loud—about the curveballs, spitballs,
fastballs, and inside pitches that were hurled my way.

          After Miss Lilly’s death and the year that followed, however, I did seem to find myself
spending more than usual amounts of time considering just how unfair life could be, and how
cruel a master Time could be to us, His humble servants.

          Time flows relentlessly forward like a river, sometimes serenely but always powerfully;
eroding our defenses, changing the course of our lives in ways we never expect, and often
carrying us places we have no desire to go. But like a boat without oars caught in the swift
current of that river, we are powerless to change the direction that Time has decided we must
travel.

          June and I had thought that good old Father Time had played his dirtiest trick on us on
June 10th, 1999—my sixteenth birthday and the Dia De La Meurte for our dear Miss Lilly. I truly
wish that Time had been finished serving up bad cards then, but as it turned out, Time still had
several more decks to deal from, and the hand He dealt next was was one that even dead Louie—
who had nothing to lose—wouldn’t have bet on.

          The new school year brought with it some new challenges. Testing was heavy that year
and college prep was the dominant theme through the entire school year. Each day I came home
bedraggled and weary.

          It just didn’t feel right coming home after a hard day at school and not having Miss Lilly
there, offering me snacks and practically begging to hear how my day went. It was the hardest
part of life without Miss Lilly for me to adjust to.

          On top of a heavy course load at school, I tried to pick up as many of Miss Lilly’s
responsibilities around the house as I could so that June would not have to. As tired as I was each
day when I got home, June was usually flat out exhausted when she got home. I just wouldn’t



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have felt right if she would have had to come home and cook and clean and powder my butt for
me.

        I had a long way to go before I was as good a cook as Miss Lilly had been, but I had been
an attentive student in her kitchen and I could do a passable job at it. June was never one to
complain about a meal she didn’t have to cook so we at least managed to avoid starvation in
Miss Lilly’s absence.

        Once or twice a week I would go through and vacuum the house and dust the flat
surfaces. I also mowed the lawn every weekend during the growing season, but that had been my
chore since I was old enough to push a mower.

        June and I did our own laundry individually. I had no desire to see her unmentionables,
and I had far too many track marks in mine to be comfortable with her seeing them.

        To make a long story short, school was more challenging than ever the year after we lost
Miss Lilly, and home had become more challenging as well. The new responsibilities at home
beat the Hell out of being locked in a basement eating dryer cooked hot dogs, fo’ sho’, but it was
still challenging.

        Whenever I felt my stress levels rising to a point where I thought they might just kill me,
or cause me to kill someone else, I would go to my room and pull the gris-gris that Miss Lilly
had made for me out of my treasure drawer. It was the same drawer that contained my dictionary
and several notes from Elle, as well a couple photographs of Joe and my mother.

        Gris-gris in hand, I would sit at the chair in my dormer window staring out at the scenery
and rubbing it gently between my fingers while thinking about Miss Lilly’s big round smiling
face. I didn’t know what charms Miss Lilly had imbued the gris-gris with, but it was comforting
to hold it.

        More often than not I would cry while I fingered it, but the tears were not soul wrenching
tears of depression. They were instead, somehow cleansing; washing away my burden of stress
and polishing me up for the challenges I still had to face.




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        On more than one occasion, while I was lost in memory and trying to unwind, I sensed
Elle’s presence in the room. Sometimes I could sense her only by scent, but other times by a
scent and a gentle hand on my shoulder.

        At first I looked for her when I sensed her, but she remained completely invisible to my
eyes and eventually I quit trying to see her. She was growing closer to me, of that I was sure, but
she was still too unsure of herself to reveal herself to me in any type of visible form other than
the occasional fleeting glimpse of her shadow which I could only see from the corners of my
eyes.

        I tried repeatedly to make contact with her but our relationship seemed to be frustratingly
decided on her terms, not mine. But usually when I found myself in the grip of despair or
depression she would reveal herself in subtle ways, though never visually.

        Elle seemed to be particularly tuned in to despair and I often wondered if she had
suffered great tragedy in her life, or perhaps succumbed to the pitfalls associated with the deepest
levels of depression and taken her own life.

        I figured it was something like that but I also figured I would always be left wondering,
for I doubted she would ever grow comfortable enough in my presence to tell me anything about
herself. But I hoped that given enough time she would become confident enough of my love for
her to open up.

        Time; that cruel master that forces us forward with all the unrelenting ferocity of
Pharaoh’s toughest taskmasters. Driving us forward with the whip and with the truth that the
greatest reward we can hope to gain by following along placidly is a peaceful and painless death,
while at the same time imbuing us with the truth that death may come to us at any time;
unannounced, and far from peaceful or painless.

        June had been weary all that summer, and I had taken up as much responsibility as I
could to allow her more time for rest after work, but as our cruel taskmaster marched us ever
onward, I began to become concerned with June’s weariness.




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        It wasn’t only her weariness that concerned me. June had begun complaining of lower
back pain, and was eating like a bird, trying to convince me that she just wasn’t hungry. I also
noticed that she seemed to be making an awful lot of trips to the restroom.

        Every month that went by seemed to leave her weaker and more worn out than the month
before and by November I began pestering her to go to the doctor. She resisted, of course. She
was convinced that it was just the heavy workload she was bearing at work, and the fact that she
was growing older.

        Dinner had always been a special time in our family, similar to June and my morning
ritual around the kitchen table. When Miss Lilly was still with us, the three of us used to sit
around the dinner table, laughing, telling stories, talking about our day, and life in general.

        I was afraid that our evening soliloquies might be dampened by Miss Lilly’s passing, but
if anything, June and I became more engaged with each other and grew even closer during the
dinner chats. Possibly because we realized in the face of Miss Lilly’s death that the only thing
either of us had standing between us and a life of lonely solitude was each other.

        It was nearly always at the dinner table that June and I had our most serious discussions,
and it was where I most often brought up the topic of her going to see the doctor.

        “I’m just gettin’ to be an old bitty, Baby,” June said to me one night at supper as I
pestered her about going in for a checkup, “I’m going to be forty-five soon you know. It ain’t
like I’m a spring chicken.”

        I chose to turn her reasoning against her. Normally, even as clever as I was, June could
usually beat me in a battle of wits, and always beat me in a battle of wills, but I was determined
not to let that happen this time.

        “Yes, June,” I said emphatically. “You are getting older, which is exactly why it is so
important for you to get yourself checked out. Even if it’s just old age creeping up on you, at
least we’ll know that that’s all it is and not something worse.”

        “Oh, Johnny, you’re bein’ dramatic. All I need is a week or so off to relax and I’ll be
right as rain. Maybe this spring when you have your two week break from school I’ll get the time


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off from work and we’ll take a trip to the beach or something, get a little R and R then, okay?
Now stop pestering me to go to the doctor.”

        I exploded. I didn’t mean to explode, and wasn’t even aware that I was going to explode
until I jumped up from my chair and words came gushing out of my mouth. “GODDAMMIT
JUNE! Don’t you get it? You are the only goddamn thing I’ve got left in the world! You…that’s
it…nothing else, I can’t lose you too, June.”

        As my flash flood anger subsided tears began to well up in my eyes, and I could say
nothing. All I could do was stand there, with my muscles tensed and my fists curled into tight
balls, staring at June as the tears spilled over my lower eyelids and ran down my cheeks.

         June got up and came to where I stood and held me as I lost all composure and sank into
her, sobbing some incoherent string of jabber about being alone into her shoulder. I hadn’t
intended to cry, but was glad I did.

        Turning on the eye faucets has been a reliable tactic that women have employed against
men for millennia to get their way, and I found it to be an effective weapon against June’s
stubbornness—albeit a weapon that I hadn’t used intentionally.

        “Ok, Baby,” June cooed as she rubbed my back with one hand and held the back of my
head with the other. “Shh, shh, ok… I’ll go…I’ll go… ok? You’re right, it’s time. I’ll go.”

        Once I realized that the tears were working wonders, (much better than my fake, onion
induced tears from years earlier) and appeared to be the one weapon I could use effectively
against June’s stubborn will, it became difficult to focus on what she was saying because I was
busy wondering how many past battles I might have won if I’d been able to cry on command
without the pervasive smell of onions accompanying my tears.

        When I finally stopped my mind from trying to figure out new and exciting ways to use
tears to my advantage and began paying attention to June again, I was devastated to see that she
was feeling horrible about the “trauma” she’d put me through by being so “selfish” and never
stopping to think about how “terrified” I must be at the prospect of being left alone in the world.




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        In some ways she was right, I was terrified of losing her, but I didn’t feel that she had
been selfish, and I was fairly certain I hadn’t been traumatized by her inaction—just frightened
and exasperated.

        Even in light of my victory in our battle of wills, the resultant guilt I felt for feeling like I
had somehow misled June or misconstrued my true feelings was enough to convince me that
using tears to one’s advantage was a dirty trick, and one that I’d never employ again.

        Two weeks later June had an appointment with her doctor. Her doctor was not certain
what was bothering her but he was fairly certain that it was a lot more than heavy workloads and
old age so he ordered some blood work and asked June to come back in a week later to go over
the results.

        The following week when June went to the doctor, his prognosis was not at all
encouraging. The blood tests had come back showing a significant increase in white blood cell
counts as well as elevated CA 125 levels.

        He suspected, but had no concrete evidence that June may have ovarian cancer. He
assured her that elevated blood counts and CA 125 levels could have many different causes and
certainly were not the signature on a death warrant.

        He performed an initial gynecological examination and detected several masses in her
uterus and decided that it would be prudent to send her on to a specialist for further evaluation.
He set up an appointment with a local gynecologic oncologist for the following week to do a
thorough physical examination on her.

        June was terrified of what the oncologist might find and it was all I could do to keep my
own fear swallowed down in order to be able to support and encourage June.

        The old gambler known as Time was marching relentlessly forward in November of 1999
and He had stacked the cards against us, no doubt smiling as hope and joy were being
systematically removed from our lexicons.




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        The oncologist’s discoveries were not good. June was diagnosed with stage-four ovarian
cancer which had already metastasized into her lungs and liver. The five year survival rate for
women diagnosed at this stage was only around eleven percent.

        If June was going to have any hope of survival she would have to have a complete
hysterectomy, as well as have part of her liver and pieces of both lungs removed in order to
remove as much of the malignancy as possible (the oncologist called this process “debulking”)
before starting chemotherapy and drug regimens in hopes of getting the cancer under control.

        At the tail end of November, 1999, winter was descending on the farm with unusually
cold temperatures and unusually distressing news. June came home from the doctor looking as
pale and as weak as I had ever seen her and I knew the news was grim before she even said a
word to me.

        Before she was even halfway done disseminating all the information the doctor had given
her, Elle breezed into the room and put her cold hand on my shoulder. As usual I could not see
her, but I could smell her as well as feel her.

        I was glad to know that she was there, but her cold touch did little to warm my heart in
the face of the grim prognosis that June was delivering to me.

        June was able to deliver her message without tears. And until she was done talking I
withheld my own tears, but when she finished her dialogue we both broke into tears and
practically leapt into each other’s arms. Both of us were holding onto the other for dear life, as if
by holding on tightly in that moment, we might never have to let go.

        When June and I finally broke our embrace and stepped away from one another I was
somewhat startled by her appearance. The faint shimmering outline that I saw around all physical
objects was suddenly much brighter around June.

        It shone much brighter and had a much greater depth of colors swirling about it in it, and
they swirled at a much more frantic pace than they ever had before. Her aura also extended
further out from her body than it previously had. Instead of the normal inch or two that the aura




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normally extended, it now extended at least six inches and seemed to be vibrating along the outer
edges of its perimeter.

        By that point in my life I had already began to suspect that my gift was increasing in
power as I matured. At that moment, while staring at June’s much more powerful aura, I began
to suspect something about the nature of the auras that I was able to see, and I prayed silently
that those suspicions were wrong; dead wrong.




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                                      CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

        June’s oncologist had scheduled her surgery for the middle of December which gave June
and I only two weeks to prepare ourselves for a major change in lifestyle.

        I wanted to drop out of school so June could recover quietly in the comfort of her home
with me as her caretaker, but of course June wouldn’t hear of it. We argued about the topic
incessantly. Both of us were so worried about the other that we were constantly on edge. It was
like we were walking a constant tight rope, constructed of fear, tensioned by stress, and ready to
snap at any moment, sending us tumbling helplessly toward the ground at death inducing
velocity.

        During all of our arguing I never resorted to tears. Although I was close to real tears a
few times from the raw emotion of love and concern, I managed to keep my eyes dry so I would
not feel like I was being dishonest with June.

        June did not, however, have a desert in her tear ducts like I did, and was constantly
weeping when we’d argue.

        I have never considered myself to be a cruel person, nor selfish or unsympathetic, but
looking back at those arguments with June, I can see that I was far crueler, more selfish, and had
less sympathy than all the great monsters that had come before me. My own shortcomings made
Charles Manson and Ted Bundy seem like tender hearted Samaritans by comparison.

        Having recently discovered the power of tears as a weapon for winning a disagreement, I
immediately assumed that June was turning on the water works in order to get her way, which
infuriated me for the simple fact that I had risen far above those dirty tricks and I expected her to
treat me with the same level of respect that I bore for her.

        In my anger I accused her of being selfish. I told her that she was trying to manipulate me
so she could get her way, and that she was completely insensitive to my needs. I told her she was
cruel to treat me with such disregard.

        I was an idiot. In my selfishness, in my cruelty, in my voided empathy, and in my own
preposterous self righteousness, I had never once stopped to consider that June’s tears were real.


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I had never stopped to consider that she was as terrified as I was, but not only for herself, but
also for what might happen to me if she should die. She was doubly frightened, where I had only
been frightened for her.

         I hate who I was during that time in my life. It was not someone I’d ever been, and I have
taken great pains to ensure that I never become that person again. I am also terrified when I
consider that I might have never known that I was becoming a creature of evil if it had not been
pointed out to me by Elle.

         Two days before June’s surgery, we were having our same argument and I was making
some particularly biting remarks about how selfish June was being by trying to keep me out of
her recovery by planning to stay in a nursing home, and was just opening my mouth to tell her
how much she obviously didn’t love me anymore when I was suddenly slapped—hard.

         I was so shocked by the sudden pain that flared across my cheek that I was rendered
speechless for the moment. During that moment of silence I heard Elle whisper in my ear in an
unmistakably seething tone of anger and disgust.

         “Johnny Krimshaw, you are making me SICK! You stand before this terrified woman and
belittle her love for you when she is facing these horrors simply to spare you grief. Do you think
it would not be easier for her to give up and die?”

         “Are you so blind to human suffering that you cannot see that her tears are real, and that
in them is the sum of her hope for your future? I can see not only your body Johnny, I can see
your soul, and what used to be bright is growing dark. You are becoming less the man I fell in
love with and more like the one I died to forget. If you continue on this path, there will be no
hope for either of us, or for June. You have been my hope for these nine years, Johnny... and
hers.”

         I felt a breath of wind blow past me as Elle whisked herself out of my presence. I was
dumbfounded by the revelation that she had imparted to me. I stared at June who suddenly
looked small and frail, and I opened the dams in my eyes and fell into her—begging for
forgiveness.




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        I was overwhelmed by the sudden and complete knowledge of all I’d done to hurt her
over the past couple weeks and I could not bear to look her in the eye, as I suddenly knew how
undeserving I was of the love that she’d been pouring out to me unceasingly since rescuing me
from my mother’s basement.

        June held me through my tearful apologies until I quit sobbing and finally she pushed me
away and looked me straight in the eye, I tried to turn away, too ashamed to hold her gaze, but
she grabbed my head and turned it back towards her, forcing eye contact.

        “Baby Doll,” she said, “I love you. No more apologies, ok? We’ll make it through this
together.”

        You would think that at sixteen years of age I would resent being called ‘Baby Doll’, and
probably, I would have if anybody but June or Miss Lilly had called me that, but at that moment
in time I found the term of affection to be deeply comforting, like medicine for my sickly soul.

        When we were done forgiving each other for all the wrongs we had honestly committed
and the wrongs we only thought we had committed, we were finally able to sit and talk through
the situation without arguing.

        Having pushed my own desires to be close to June at all times aside I was able to
understand that a nursing home would be the best solution, for a while at least. June helped me to
see that I could not just give up on my own life simply because hers was in peril. I needed to
finish school and become whatever it was that I was going to become.

        We both understood that June’s chances for a full recovery were slim, but we both had
hope that she would end up in that elusive eleven percent range. As we talked I became aware
that June had no fear of death. She had a fear of pain and suffering, no more profound than your
average person might have, but death itself was not a threat to her.

        Although June was not afraid of death, she did not want to die. She understood that she
was the only tether I had left in this world and she was in no hurry to see me hurt by the severing
of that thin rope.




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        She did not know about Elle. I knew how crazy it was for me to be infatuated with an
invisible dead girl and had never told June about Elle’s presence in her home. As understanding
as June had always been, I just wasn’t sure how well she’d understand that situation.

        As for myself, I was terrified by the prospect of June’s death. She really was the last
tether I had to this physical world. Even though Elle was still in this world, she wasn’t supposed
to be, and I didn’t think she’d stay here forever. Besides, I didn’t think I could exist in the
physical world for long if the only person I had left to love was in the ethereal.

        June and I discussed the future late into the evening, with as much hope as our bleak
despair and fear would allow, and finished the conversation with hugs and uttered declarations of
love; much the same way we finished many conversations, and we went to bed.

        I was exhausted. Seeing your shortcomings in alarming clarity—in the glaring light of
truth and face slaps—can be a crippling experience. Furthermore, finding the strength to admit
that you were horribly wrong and apologize honestly is no less debilitating, and I still had one
more person to apologize to before going to sleep.

        I entered my darkened bedroom and left the light off as I prepared for bed. I was
intending to apologize in the dark, thinking it would somehow be easier to do if I could not see
anything.

        Instead of slipping beneath my covers, I sat down at the edge of the bed before starting
my dissertation to the dark.

        “Elle,” I started, speaking weakly and uncertainly, “I’m sorry. I mean it from the bottom
of my heart. I can see now just how wrong I was and I want to thank you for showing me that I
was being an ass. Please forgive me, Elle.”

        I was answered only by the wind blowing frigidly outside my bedroom window. I got up
and raised the blind at my window and sat staring out into the dark night. It was snowing again
and the numerous lights around the house illuminated the swirling snow into frantic patterns as it
rushed by the window on its way to its final resting place on the ground where it would sit
quietly, waiting for its transformation to groundwater in the spring.



                                                  235
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        Sitting in the dark, staring into the dark and watching the lonely snow falling to the
ground filled me with a loneliness that ached deep inside me. I knew that I had hurt June, I knew
that I had offended Elle, and I knew that I had been untrue to myself by allowing myself to
become a monster in my fear.

        I decided that I deserved the loneliness. Elle did not need to forgive me and I did not
deserve to be forgiven. June had forgiven me, but I was not worthy of her forgiveness either. I
did not think that June had the capacity within her huge heart to carry a grudge and would have
forgiven me even if I had been Charles Manson or Ted Bundy, but Elle was a mystery to me.

        I knew she had love to spare. She had shown it by coming to me every time I needed her
most; making her presence known when I most needed a friend. But I didn’t know if that love
would be able to transcend a mountain as high as my own selfishness had built.

        And what was that she had said about “The man I fell in love with”? Did she mean me?
Without her forgiveness, I’d never know. It seemed to me that Elle had finally reached a point
where she trusted me enough to begin to reveal herself to me in a more poignant way, and then
I’d blown it by becoming a selfish beast.

        As I stared out the window I felt an uncanny urge to write my feelings down, somehow
intuiting that leaving them bottled up would result in a cancer in my soul that was every bit as
black and destructive as the cancer that was currently ravaging June’s body.

        I always kept writing supplies at the window bench as it was where I liked to sit and do
my homework and so had no need to get up and find supplies. The light shining in from the pole
mounted lamps outside was adequate to write by and so I wrote.

                                            WINTER’S CHILL

                                    The snow drifts down in lazy flakes,

                                       It lands upon the frozen lake.

                                  The doe steals down in search of food,

                                        I sit alone in solemn mood.



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                                    Trees now naked dance with breeze,

                                      Raspy witness of cold’s disease.

                                     Their tangled fingers grasp for sky,

                                          I sit alone with silent cry.

                                      Mice in burrows eat winter store,

                                   But still come out to search for more.

                                       At any noise they hide in fear,

                                        I sit alone with frozen tears.

                                       Winter starves the barren land,

                                       Frozen lakes and buried sand.

                                        Snowflakes blanket over all,

                                       I sit alone and watch them fall.




        I finished the poem and felt a bit better. I still had a chill in my soul and the aching
loneliness was still pinching my insides, but some of the pressure seemed to have abated since
putting my emotion on the page.

        Apparently, writing my feelings had an effect not just on my own emotions, but on Elle’s
as well, for just as I was reaching down to pick up the page with the poem on it and put it away, I
smelled roses and felt a cold hand grasp my own, pushing it away from the page, and a voice
whispered urgently in my ear, “Wait!”

        I was so startled by Elle’s sudden appearance that I gasped and jumped, banging my knee
on the underside of the bench in the process.

        “Ouch! Sonofa…” I growled as I reached down to rub my damaged knee. “For God’s
sake, Elle, you scared the holy crap out of me.”




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         I don’t know what reaction I was expecting from Elle at that point but it was certainly not
the reaction I got. She laughed! Elle actually laughed at me. Her laughter sounded like music to
me and brought forth the mental image of water bubbling over stones in a small stream in the
forest, with moss covered banks and slivers of warm sunlight shining through gaps in the
branches of majestic trees.

         The last shadows that remained in my soul were chased away by the light that Elle's
laughter brought forth within me. “You think that’s funny, Elle?” I asked, smiling. “I’m sitting
here with a broken knee and you think it’s funny?”

         Elle continued to giggle and I could almost see in my imagination the image of a pretty
young lady covering her mouth with one hand, trying to stifle her giggles while staring at me
with merry, twinkling eyes laced with faux guilt.

         I couldn’t feign mock anger for long and soon began to giggle alongside my invisible
guest. As I began to giggle I saw movement from the corner of my eye as a shadow crossed over
the page in front of me.

         I shifted my gaze quickly towards the shadowed page and the shadow vanished, but the
page, which had been turned slightly askew from the force of my knee impacting the bench, was
turned straight again, seeming to move under its own power.

         Elle’s giggles subsided as she read the page in front of me. I began to feel awkward in the
silence. I had never been one to mask my feelings well, and I was generally pretty forthright in
telling people how I felt, but somehow this little poem felt much more private and I wasn’t sure I
was ready to share those feelings with anybody.

         After a silence that lasted about two minutes, I felt Elle grasp my hand again and her
voice again graced my ears as she administered a gentle squeeze to my hand.

         “All is well Johnny. The darkness has passed from you, but darkness lies ahead. Keep
your strength, keep your light. I will not forsake you in the sadness; you will forever be my
hope.”




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        With those words she let go of my hand and I felt her depart the room, leaving me
confused. I was pretty sure the words meant that she had forgiven me, but I could not fathom
what she meant by me being her hope, and I was afraid to contemplate what further sadness and
darkness was still laying ahead.




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                                       CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

        On December 17th, 1999, June went in for surgery. The procedure took six hours and I
spent all six of them waiting in the aptly named waiting room. I had brought several books but
could not concentrate hard enough to read them.

        I kept opening a book and staring at the pages trying to make sense of the jumbled text
that swam before my eyes. I may as well have been trying to read hieroglyphics for all the sense
I was able to discern from what I stared at.

        My mind raced through the entire time and I could feel my overacting brain sucking
energy from me at an alarming pace. June had not been allowed to eat or drink for twenty-four
hours prior to her surgery and I had been so nervous and upset that the very idea of eating had
induced acid to form in my belly and so I had not eaten for twenty-four hours either.

        I had not been able to sleep the previous night, had not eaten and could not turn off my
mind and the resultant fatigue was making me twitchy. My eyes burned, my belly burned and my
muscles were beginning to ache.

        I briefly wondered if a situation like this could actually force a person to go insane. I
quickly discounted that idea as I had already promised myself countless times that I would
NEVER be insane, however that process of thinking did get me to thinking about things I hadn’t
thought about in many years.

        I first thought about my father. I had never known my father and wondered if he was still
alive. I had forgiven my mother for all the wrongs she had inflicted upon me, but found that I
still struggled with this one. I wanted to have a father.

        Next I thought about Joe. I thought about Joe more often than I thought about my
unknown father and quite a lot more than I thought about my deranged mother. I missed Joe
terribly and often wished that he had not perished at such a young age.

        I wondered if it was a selfish desire that led me to wish that Joe had survived that car
crash. If he had survived he might have been forced to go through life disabled, he would have
had to witness our mother coming completely unhinged, he would have been stuck with the


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responsibility of raising me after our mother died, and who knows how many other horrors Time
would have dealt him if he had survived.

        It might have been a sick idea, but I had an idea that Joe was probably better off having
died before Time could abuse him than he would have been if he had survived.

        That line of reasoning is a slippery slope that leads one nowhere but downward into a
bottomless pit of despair where Snoopy nightlights rule kingdoms of darkness with iron scepters
and tentacular armies, but I could not resist the temptation to wallow in my own despair of life at
that moment.

        After allowing myself to become properly depressed I finally thought about my mother. I
had managed to resist the urge to think about her much over the years, fearing that dwelling on
her would remind me of painful memories that I’d rather forget.

        I wondered at her insanity. I wondered if it was caused by a genetic malformation or
whether it was induced simply by her inability to deal with tragedy in her life. From all accounts
she’d had a happy childhood with loving parents and a delightful little sister, yet according to
hints that Miss Lilly had given me, she was distant and self absorbed even then.

        June had told me countless stories about the grandparents I never knew, and they sounded
like they were absolutely delightful people, full of love and understanding. I might have
considered June’s interpretations of her parents to be skewed by personal bias, but Miss Lilly had
confirmed June’s assessment.

        When my grandparents died, my mother had been twenty-one years old, married, and had
already given birth to Joe. When she attended her parent’s funeral she had appalled most people
by neither shedding a tear nor showing any type of grief at all. Instead she spent the entire day
parading herself around the gathered friends and family with Joe in her arms showing him off to
everybody, as if the gathering was a family reunion rather than a funeral.

        The first great tragedy in her life had not fazed her in the least. She had already outgrown
the needs that her parents had filled in her youth and they were, therefore, disposable. She was so




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wrapped up in her perfect life with John and Joe that the rest of the world didn’t matter; she
already had everything that she wanted.

          Then John died. At that point I think my mother began to realize that her perfect world
was a house of glass and Time stood beyond the walls with a slingshot and pocket full of pea-
gravel.

          She began to come unhinged then. Her selfish nature had for her entire life up to that
point, assured her that she would always get her way. When tragedy proved that assumption
wrong, she went a bit crazy and began building up defenses that would insulate her from the rest
of the world. She wrapped herself in a little mackinaw of security where she had complete
control over all events. She drew comfort from the skewed idea that nothing could take anything
from her unless she wanted it to.

          Then I came along. One bad night for her; one night where she let her defenses down and
drank herself stupid and found comfort in the embrace of a stranger. Time slung another stone
through her glass house.

          She unhinged further, and became more determined than ever to control every aspect of
her life. Unfortunately for her I was a constant reminder that she did not have complete control. I
was a reminder that things would not always go her way, and when she looked at me she saw
only the leering face of Time, waving back at her with a slingshot in his hands.

          The final nail in the coffin of her sanity was Joe’s death. Already she’d been struggling to
keep the Sickness contained, flitting back and forth between her strictly regulated reality and the
realms of delusion that threatened to engulf her, and Joe’s passing pushed her into the void.

          I honestly believe that the only reason she had resisted the sickness in the first place was
because she understood that it would strip her of complete control, and she cherished control
above all else. Control was the one way to ensure that she always got her way.

          When Joe died, however she let go of her control and instead dived headlong into a world
of insanity where everything was perfect, John and Joe were alive, and I was the only
imperfection on the otherwise spotless walls of her glass house.



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        As I sat in the waiting room ruminating on my past and coming to revelations about my
mother’s Sickness, I still had no way of knowing if the sickness was a byproduct of her
selfishness or whether it was congenital. But I was more firmly resolved than ever, not to control
my world, but to control my sanity, no matter the cost.

        After six hours of introspection, no sleep, no food and constant stress and worry, I began
to wonder if sanity was really worth the effort of maintaining. I was beginning to think that life
would be a whole lot easier if I were to become a drooling idiot, swatting at invisible bats while
singing Amazing Grace to the tune of The Star Spangled Banner.

        Finally a nurse came into the room and told me that June had come through the surgery
just fine and was currently recovering from the anesthesia in a recovery room and that I’d be
alerted when she was moved to her private room in another hour or two.

        In my hazy mind I understood what was happening and thanked the nurse in a voice that
sounded distant and hollow to my ears, and sat back down to wait another hour or two. I had
only vegetated on the couch for a few minutes when I was suddenly pulled back into the real
world by the overpowering scent of roses.

        It should not be odd to smell roses in a hospital since everybody seems to think that
sending flowers to the sick and dying somehow brings them back to good health and fortune, but
this was a particular rose scent with which I was comfortably familiar.

        I was sitting on a couch in the waiting room and though to the eye I was the only person
in the room, I knew I had been joined. I felt the cushion beside me sink down as if someone had
sat on it, though there was no visible evidence that the cushion was occupied.

        I smiled, in spite of my misery, and said, “Hello, Elle. It’s nice to see you out of the
house. Well, not see, exactly, but you know what I mean.”

        “I have not left that house for over one hundred years, Johnny. I sat at the very window
that you so often sit at and watched the men haul my body away, and in that house I have
remained ever since. It is good to be out, though I am uncomfortable.”




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        I was amazed by the amount of details Elle was suddenly giving me about herself, since
she had previously remained so reclusive.

        “I’m glad you came, Elle,” I said, while daring to reach a hand across to where I assumed
she sat and laying it on her invisible and impossibly cold leg. “I could use a friend right now.”

        Elle remained silent for a time and I had the impression that she was summoning courage
to speak and so I remained silent as well, not wanting to interfere with whatever she was
struggling to say.

        “Johnny, I died in sadness. I lost all hope that the sun could ever shine in my life. The
man I had pledged my heart to, and to whom I gave the one gift that a woman can give only
once, fled from me into the arms of another as soon as he gained the gift he sought from me.”

        “My father disowned me when he discovered my promiscuity with the man I meant to
marry and he blamed me for our severance. But he maintained good relations with the young
man because the man’s father had considerable influence in the community.”

        “My mother died while giving birth to me and so I had nowhere to turn in my despair. I
had many friends but was too ashamed of my own shortcomings to turn to any of them. In the end
I decided that life had no hope of redemption for me and I…I lost the will to live, and so I died.”

        I understood what Elle had not been able to say. She had killed herself. In guilt,
loneliness and despair she had lost all hope and decided that she did not deserve to live, nor did
she desire to. My heart broke for her.

        “I went crazy with despair before I…died. I lost all sense of who I was, who I hoped to
be, and who I should be. I have no memory of dying. My last living memory was my father
coming to me in a rage, screaming at me; telling me that I ruined his hopes for prosperity by
breaking the heart of the son of the biggest landholder in the county. He called me a whore…that
broke me, and I have no memory of anything after that until I died.”

        “When I died, I found myself in what appeared to be an antechamber with exits on each
end. Each exit distorted the view of what lay on the other side, like looking through a waterfall to




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see the world beyond, but I could see clearly enough to know that one exit led to eternity, and the
other led back to this world.”

         “And you chose this world over eternity?” I asked, somewhat incredulously. “This world;
with your uncaring father, with the man who stole your virginity and then ran out on you; this
cold, hard, cruel world, Elle. Why?”

         I could see no sign of Elle’s presence but I could imagine her as she sat beside me, baring
her soul, struggling to get all her words out before she lost the nerve to tell the story of what had
happened over a hundred years before.

         “Because I was afraid… When I found myself in the antechamber, I was not alone.
Beside me sat an infant. A baby girl who had my eyes, my nose, my lips…I understood that I had
not killed only myself that day, but I had also killed an innocent who had not yet even been
born.”

         “The innocent one looked up at me and smiled. It was the purest, most sincere smile I
had ever seen. Then she looked towards the entrance to eternity and she got up and walked
through the doorway. I was too ashamed of myself, and too afraid to follow. I knew I deserved an
eternity of hopeless despair for all my transgressions, which now also included the murder of an
innocent babe.”

         I didn’t know what to say as Elle went silent. Her story was pitiable and sad. I didn’t
know how to make her understand that she was not responsible for the death of the innocent, nor
was she responsible for her lover fleeing her, or her father’s selfish wrath. She was guilty only of
loving too much and bestowing that love upon an undeserving man.

         “Elle,” I said as tenderly as I knew how, “you can’t be held responsible for things that
were beyond your control. The man you gave your heart to did not deserve you, your father’s
anger was not a result of your actions, but of his own selfish ambitions coming to ruin due to the
boy who used you. Your heart was too big, too trusting, for their selfish ways. It is not surprising
to me that you lost your mind in the face of such betrayal.”




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        Elle placed her cold hand over mine, which was still resting on her cold thigh, and as she
spoke I thought I detected a slight warming in her invisible flesh.

        “You are kind Johnny, for saying such things. But the fact remains that in my despair, I
killed the innocent girl who had only just come to live in my womb. And that is a sin for which I
have never forgiven myself, and never will. The door to eternity follows me, always in my sight,
always within reach, but I fear that I shall never enter it.”

        “However, though I may never go through the door, you have offered me the hope that I
may one day forgive myself for my other transgressions.”

        “Me? How, what have I done?” I asked, honestly perplexed.

        “When first you entered my home, nearly ten years past, I saw your soul long before I
saw your flesh, and it shone brightly. Dear God it shone so sweetly. It was the purest light I had
seen since entering the darkness. June and Lilly had souls of light as well, but even theirs did
shine so bright.”

        “Then, as time went on and you began to profess your feelings to me, I could see your
soul and knew there was no deceit in your words. Lies create dark spots in the soul of those who
tell the lies, and you never had a dark spot. Your love for me gave me hope. You loved me when I
found myself unlovable, and because of you, I have been less frightened and ashamed, but…”

        “But what, Elle?” I asked. When I got no reply I pushed the issue. “Elle, you’ve told me
so much already, so much that I desperately wanted to know, but couldn’t ask. Don’t stop now.
Get it all out, purge yourself of all your guilt and find joy.”

        “I have been less frightened and ashamed, but I have been afraid that when you discover
me for who I really am, when you know my past, when you know that I am a whore, and a
coward, and a murderer of helpless babes…I have been afraid that you will abandon your
feelings when I confide in you. That is all.”

        I felt Elle pull her hand off mine, and I thought I could feel tension building in the
ethereal muscles of the invisible leg beneath my palm, as if Elle was preparing to flee at the
slightest hint that things were not going to go her way.


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        I took a moment to gather my thoughts before I spoke, knowing that this one moment
was going to be the one chance I had to make a difference in Elle’s life.

        I could imagine spending a lifetime in misery, I could not, however, imagine spending an
eternity in grief, and I wanted to make sure that I said just the right things to Elle in order to
make her as happy in her afterlife as was possible.

        “Elle, look closely at my soul right now and know that I speak only the truth. I love you.
You are The Lovely Shadow in my life. You are guilty of nothing except love. You need not fear
the door, and as much as I want you to be in my life, I think you will only find true joy and peace
on the other side of the door.”

        I was surprised to find that I had started crying as I spoke, for I did not realize that my
feelings for Elle were quite so strong. I was even more surprised to hear a choked and muffled
sob coming from Elle.

        There was nothing more for me to say and I knew I would have to wait for Elle to
respond to my words before I would know whether or not my words had had a positive impact
on her or were instead detrimental—whether I could scatter ashes in this place or not.

        Elle and I sat beside each other silently for several moments before she placed her hand
back over mine one more time. There was no mistaking the warmth of her touch this time. Her
hand felt as soft and as warm and as real as any living human being’s hand had ever felt in mine.

        I was still waiting for her to speak when I was startled by another voice. I had been so
focused on Elle that I had almost forgotten that I was in a hospital waiting room, waiting for June
to get out of the recovery room so I could visit her.

        “Mr. Krimshaw?” the voice repeated.

        Elle whisked away so rapidly that I could almost imagine a swirl of dust or smoke slowly
dissolving from the place where she had sat. I blinked at the empty space for another second
before turning towards the nurse that had been calling me.




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        I rubbed a hand down my face and blinked my burning, bloodshot eyes a few times
before replying. “Yeah, sorry, I kind of zoned out there for a minute I guess. Is everything ok?”

        “Yes, Mr. Krimshaw. Everything is fine. I’ve just come to inform you that they’ve moved
Miss Devon to room five-one-seven, and you may go see her, though I must warn you that she is
still groggy from the anesthesia.”

        I leapt to my feet, suddenly feeling rejuvenated and positively buzzing with nervous
energy. I barely had time to thank the nurse as I bolted past her on my way to the elevators. I
looked down the hallway and saw the elevator doors closing.

        ‘Damn it!’ I thought to myself. I didn’t have patience to stand there and wait for the
elevator to make its slow journey floor by floor until it could come back and carry me up a few
stories so I turned left at the elevator and kept running down to the end of the building, where a
nondescript door stood closed. Beside it, a small blue and white sign declared “STAIRS” in
letters, raised Braille bumps, and a pictograph depicting a flight of stairs.

        I burst through the door and ran up four flights of stairs until I reached the fifth floor. I
burst out of the stairwell, nearly killing the poor nurse who was standing perilously close to the
door as I slammed it open.

        I apologized breathily as I ran past him and rapidly looked left and right for a sign that
would tell me which direction room five-seventeen lay.

        I saw a sign on the wall to my right that declared that rooms five-ten through five-thirty
lay directly ahead and I ran in that direction. I was receiving contemptuous looks from all the
hospital personnel I encountered but I didn’t care.

        At that moment I was too pumped up with emotion to give a great green rat’s ass what
they thought. I ran all the way to June’s door and stopped outside it, panting and trying to catch
my breath before entering.

        As I stood there wheezing it dawned on me that I was in horrible shape, and for all the
time it was taking me to catch my breath again I probably could have walked to June’s room and
still been able to go in sooner.


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        Finally I regained enough composure to feel ok about going in. I pushed the door open
quietly and stepped into the room. The curtains were closed and the lights were off, giving the
room all the shadowy ambiance of a tomb.

        In the center of the room June was laying on her bed, propped up at an angle with her
eyes closed. Her skin was pale and looked damp and her hair was pulled back tightly away from
her face making her forehead appear far too large.

        Every wrinkle that had just begun to appear in June’s still lovely and young looking face
over the last couple years had suddenly grown into full blown trenches of age, increasing her
perceived age not by single years, but by multiples.

        Tubes and wires appeared to be everywhere. There were tubes running into her nostrils,
there were tubes running into each of her arms, there was a wire attached to a clamp on her
finger, racks containing the I.V. bags and equipment stood sentinel beside her bed with tubes and
wires hanging off from them and running towards June in tangled masses.

        Everywhere I looked there were tubes, wires, gadgets, and gizmos some with silently
flashing lights and some that beeped quietly in the gloom of the room.

        June managed to open one eye halfway up and she raised an eyebrow slightly when she
saw me and tried to give me a weak smile. I wondered for a brief second if it was normal for a
young man that was pushing seventeen years of age to weep as often as I did as I smiled back at
June through the tears that were running out of my eyes.

        June tried to speak and I shushed her, telling her to go to sleep and that I’d be here for her
when she awoke. She nodded almost imperceptibly and immediately closed her half open eye
and went to sleep.

        I sat down in the large chair beside her bed and fell asleep myself. It was about four-o-
clock in the afternoon when I dozed off in the chair and I didn’t awaken again until eight-thirty
the following morning.




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                                       CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

        When I awoke I looked immediately to my left to see if June was awake. She was, and
she looked horrible. Her face appeared lumpy and swollen, large black bags hung sloppily
beneath her heavy lidded eyes and her mouth was slack, allowing a slight trail of spittle to run
from the corner.

        She was staring at me when I woke. I jumped up and went to her and gently grabbed her
hand. She gave me a weak smile and a weaker squeeze on my hand.

        “Hey June,” I said quietly, “How are you feeling?”

        I know it was a stupid question but I didn’t know what else to say.

        When June replied, her voice was thick and slurred and I figured the morphine drip that
she was hooked up to had fueled her answer more than her mind had, for she said, “Like a truck
squashed turd, fried in butter, served with parsley on rye bread please.”

        Then she closed her eyes and went back to sleep. I continued to stand at her bedside,
holding her hand for several more hours. I had a feeling that the road to recovery would be a long
one indeed.

        June’s stay in the hospital lasted only seven days and she was released on Christmas Eve.
She was still sore and weak, but she was able to travel and the doctors convinced her that she
would recuperate better in the comfort of her home than she would in a nursing home, especially
considering that I still had another week and a half of winter break and could help her until the
worst of her soreness passed.

        I got June home that Christmas Eve and tried to convince her to get straight to bed, but of
course the stubborn mule-headed woman refused, saying that it can’t really be Christmas Eve
unless she sits in front of the fireplace in the front room sipping a cup of cocoa.

        Seeing as I had forced myself into the position of her caretaker against her wishes, for the
time being anyway, I felt obliged to see to her desires for cocoa and roaring fires. So I set out for




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the woodshed beside the house and gathered an armload of wood. I started a kettle of water to
boiling on the stove and then started the fire.

        By the time the water was boiling, the fire was just beginning to flare up nicely,
illuminating the living room with the ethereal flickering glow of its dancing flames. June was
engulfed in a heavy comforter in her favorite overstuffed chair waiting patiently for her cocoa.

        I stood in the doorway to the living room surreptitiously watching her, and wondering
how different and possibly short my life would have been without her. I felt tears welling up
again but suppressed them. I was really getting tired of crying all the damn time.

        I supposed one of the side effects of being raised solely by women with no father figure
to speak of is that you learn to weep at everything, but I feared that once I made it out in the real
world that habit would be seen as a sign of weakness and I would probably find my ass getting
kicked regularly, or else find myself getting hit on by gay men. Neither of those scenarios
seemed overly pleasant to me so I decided that I’d just try to stop crying instead.

        As I watched June I saw the firelight playing off her eyes. The twinkle and sparkle and
glow of firelight reflecting off her eyes was like a fountain of youth for her. Years seemed to slip
off her and she looked to me to like a little girl, huddled in her blanket waiting expectantly for
Santa to drop down the chimney on Christmas Eve and fill her stocking with special treats.

        Perhaps she felt that way herself, perhaps not. I’ll never know because at that moment the
kettle began whistling and I went to the kitchen to get her cocoa. By the time I got back with it,
she had fallen asleep in her chair so I couldn’t ask how she was feeling.

        Instead of waking her and sending her to bed I lowered the arm on her recliner as slowly
as I could so I wouldn’t wake her and pulled the back of the chair down. Without waking, June
immediately stretched out into a more comfortable position in the chair, extending her legs out to
the leg rest and snuggling her body into the dropped back of the chair.

        I sat on the couch and watched her sleep. I drank her cocoa and prayed silently, thanking
God for the salvation He had brought me in the form of this woman who had been a better




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mother to me than my mother had been, and pleaded desperately for Him to spare her from the
horrors of a cancerous death.

        June remained weak over the next few weeks but was showing signs of improvement as
her body healed from the ravages of surgery. By the time I had to return to school she was able
to get around the house by herself—slowly—but unassisted.

        She was scheduled to start chemotherapy treatment on the first of February, which was a
Tuesday, and I prearranged with my teachers to let me have the necessary days off from school
to drive her to and from her appointments.

        The last four months of my junior year at school proved especially difficult for me due to
my efforts to take care of June and get her to her appointments. She did not handle chemo as well
as we might have hoped and suffered several side effects.

        The most disturbing side effect for me to deal with was the hair loss. Without her hair,
June looked like a shaved cat. Tiny and frail are the words that came to mind when I looked at
my hairless Aunt.

        She struggled to keep foods down and nausea became a constant companion to her.
Nausea was not her only companion during her six months of chemotherapy though; she also
made an acquaintance with pain and anemia.

        Frail, sick, weak, and in constant pain June remained in good spirits and rarely made a
complaint. She chastised me anytime she thought I pitied her and let me know that she would not
trade a single day of her life to get out of the suffering she was going through.

        “Look here, Toots,” she said to me, “if life hands you lemons…”

        “You make lemonade; yeah I’ve heard that old cliché before.” I interrupted rudely.

        “Shut up, Dummy, that’s not what I was gonna to say,” June retorted, not unkindly. “I
was gonna say when life hands you lemons your best bet is to take a big old bite out of that
lemon and chew it up—even though it’s sour as hell you chew it up—then you spit it right back
out and into the eye of the life that handed it to you.”



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        “There ain’t one day of my life I would change in the hopes of gettin’ out of this crap,
Babe, because if I’d changed anything—anything at all—it might have meant less time with you.
And there ain’t nothin’ in this world more valuable to me than you are.”

        “You’ve been my hope, my strength, and my inspiration when I’ve been tired or lonely or
bitter. You’ve managed to overcome more pain and hardship than anybody I’ve ever known and
you did it without complaint, and without askin’ for pity from the people around you.”

        “You, Johnny, are my inspiration to make it through this illness with dignity, and now I’ll
either beat it or it’ll beat me, but I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let it beat me down and I’ll be
double damned if I’m gonna let anybody pity me.”

        I didn’t know how to respond when June said things like that. I likewise didn’t know how
to respond when Elle had declared that I was her hope either. Similarly when Miss Lilly had told
me that I would be the personification of hope for the lingering dead I didn’t know how to handle
it.

        I am Johnny Krimshaw; regular dude and nothing all that special. I have never been a
hero and I have never performed any feats of superhuman endurance in the face of great peril. I
have managed to escape some traumatic experiences without being destroyed by them, but not
by any conscious effort on my part. I simply don’t know how to carry a grudge, and have always
found forgiveness to be less exhausting than anger. If anything, I have endured due to laziness,
not strength of character.

        I must admit that I found the experience of trying to care for my mulish Aunt to be one of
the more difficult and trying experiences of my life. Although I never considered giving up, I did
have a few moments when I thought I might have benefited from a little pity. But somehow I
managed to hold it together until school let out in early June and from there we only had two
more months of chemo to deal with.

        Repeated trips to the doctor showed that the cancer appeared to be in remission and June
and I dared to be hopeful. June’s final chemotherapy session was at the end of July and we
celebrated by doing absolutely nothing more strenuous than watching a movie together in the
comfort of our living room.


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        June had been miserable for seven straight months and I’d done my best to keep her
spirits up even as my own spirits were plummeting. There are few things more difficult than
watching the person you love most in the world suffering and knowing that you are completely
powerless to help.

        On top of trying to take care of June, keep my grades up and maintain the house
throughout that long winter and spring I had an ache in my heart. I had not heard from Elle since
I poured my heart out to her in the hospital.

        I was left to assume that she had either taken my advice to walk through the doorway to
eternity without saying goodbye, or I had said exactly the wrong thing and had hurt her deeply,
chasing her away and dooming her to be miserable forever.

        As June and I sat on the couch watching The Mummy, a special effects heavy movie that
lacked any substantial plot as far as I was concerned, my mind began to drift and finally I dozed
off.

        I was awakened by a long missing but familiar scent and a kiss on my forehead. I opened
my eyes blearily and expected to see June still cuddled in her favorite chair and the movie half
over, but instead I saw that I had slept for a lot longer than I could have imagined.

        The T.V. was off and June was gone to bed. The wall clock told me it was nearly one-
thirty in the morning. All those things surprised me because I felt like I had only barely dozed
off, but none of those things surprised me as much as the fact that not only had Elle finally
decided to visit me, but she had decided to let her shadow become visible in my presence!

        “Elle!” I cried out in surprise.

        I had previously wanted to blast her for her extended absence and the subsequent guilt I
felt, fearing that I had hurt her, but I was so fascinated by the definitively feminine shadow that
loomed before me that I couldn’t remember why I had been pissed off and what I wanted to
complain about.




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        “Shh, Johnny, be still, my Love. I am sorry that I have not come to you sooner, but I
needed time to build my courage. Your words when last we spoke have been tormenting me and
granting me hope simultaneously. I have been confused and did not know which way to turn.”

        If she thought she was confused she should have spent some time in my head at that
moment. I was pretty sure I could show her what true confusion looked like. I was still struggling
to come to terms with the fact that I was really awake, that her shadow was truly visible to me
for the first time, and that she had called me her “Love”.

        Since I am often a blithering idiot when faced with serious emotional moments I did not
surprise myself when I simply stared at her amazing shadow and said, “Oh yeah?”

        “Yes, Johnny. I have been confused, but I know my place now. I know where I belong. I
have found peace. I am whole.”

        I assumed this meant that she would be crossing the threshold of eternity now and I was
happy for her but it was a bittersweet joy because I had already decided in my heart that I would
love her until I died. Even though I could not have her in a regular sense, I would never settle for
another and I would miss her presence in my life.

        “So, you are…going then?” I asked, hoping that my voice did not betray my deep feeling
of impending loss.

        “Yes, my Love. I will be going, but… not yet. I have the courage now. I know that I
belong in eternity, but I have waited for so long that waiting longer will not kill me.”

        I couldn’t help smiling at her pun, but I didn’t have a clue as to what she might be
waiting for, so I had to ask, “What are you waiting for?”

        “For you, of course! I will enter the door when I can hold your hand and we can enter
together. You have saved me from my past, and I would have you for my future if…if you would
also have me.”




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        Under normal circumstances having somebody tell you that they are going to happily sit
and patiently bide their time waiting for you to die would be rather insulting, but it brought me
great joy. Maybe I’m just weird.

        “Elle,” I said uncertainly, “are you sure that you want to spend your time waiting on me?
I mean, don’t get me wrong here, I want nothing in this world, or in any world for that matter,
more than I want to be with you, but I want you to find peace and joy and rest, and I don’t know
that you will find that here.”

        “If I am with you, I will have those things, and eternity will never shine brightly for me
until I have you there with me. I will wait. Will you have me?”

        Being a young man of seventeen I briefly considered the fact that by spending my life in
union with a hundred-something year old dead woman meant that I would never be able to have
sex, but that was only a fleeting thought and was quickly chased away by the idea that there must
be sex in the afterlife, and there it was likely to be something far more amazing than any physical
union on earth could ever hope to be. I could wait.

        “Elle, I love you. I am less when you are not with me, I would have you.”

        Elle positively squealed with delight at my words and rushed forward to embrace me. As
she rushed forward her full form became fully visible to me for the first time. I did not have
enough time to see her clearly before she was on top of me and planting a kiss directly on my
lips that felt as warm and real as if she were a physical person, and not merely the insubstantial
manifestation of a soul.

        As she kissed me passionately, and I kissed back just as passionately, I wondered briefly
just how long a man could wait for sex without going insane.

        After a first kiss that seemed to last for an hour, Elle stepped back and allowed me to see
her clearly. Her expression was anxious as I looked at her and I knew she was insecure about
revealing herself to me. Even fully clothed as she was, this experience was to her, very similar to
revealing our naked bodies to our new lovers for the first time—hoping they won’t be repulsed
by what they see.



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        She had nothing to fear, for she was absolutely stunning. All the indistinct images of
alluring feminine beauty, the sensuality, the absolute perfection of female form that I had seen in
my mind’s eye failed to do justice to the woman who stood before me.

        She appeared to be about eighteen to twenty years of age. Her auburn hair hung
majestically down to the middle of her back and cascaded over her slim shoulders. Her bright
blue eyes sparkled behind her long eyelashes. Her somewhat sharp nose was nestled perfectly
below her eyes and between her smooth, rosy cheeks. Her puffy red lips were of a quality that is
rarely, if ever, found naturally and usually can only be achieved with surgery or collagen.

        Her neck was long and slender and she held her head high, not showing any of the
insecurity that had plagued her for so long, but instead projecting an air of self assuredness that
spoke volumes for her true character before life beat her down.

        I will stop my description at her shoulders, for to describe the rest of her would seem to
be disrespectful, but I will say only this—the rest of her body was as pleasing to my eyes as her
head and shoulders were.

        I told her just how beautiful she was and she blushed, though she was confused when I
told her she was more beautiful that Kim Basinger. From that night on, Elle was my constant
companion, except, of course, for my eternity in Hell. That was an experience I faced alone.




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                                             CHAPTER THIRTY

        Life had never seemed so good for me by the time September rolled around in the first
year of the new millennium. June’s cancer was in remission, her strength was returning, albeit
slowly, and Elle was finally an important (and visible) part of my life.

        I was starting my senior year of school and would be graduating in only nine months,
freeing me up to do whatever I wanted with the rest of my life. From time to time I considered
what I would do after school, and considered my unusual gift and the responsibilities that came
with it, but I couldn’t really fathom spending my life sitting around waiting for the spirits of the
dead to find me so I could help them.

        I figured I would take a year off from school, live off my inheritance for awhile and then
go from there. My inheritance, which had been wisely invested in start-up technology companies
in the early nineties, had grown to an unbelievable sum over the subsequent decade, and it was
not likely that I would ever be able to spend all the money I had earned, as long as I didn’t try to
fund a ridiculously extravagant lifestyle.

        I knew that just because I was financially stable for life did not mean I should kick back
and enjoy a life of leisure. I had never respected people who did not work for a living, and I fully
intended to do something with my life, I just had no idea what that something might be.

        June had not returned to work yet, as her limited physical endurance would not allow her
to do any type of physical labor. Fortunately our financial situation at home was not affected
much by June’s lengthy illness.

        She had wonderful long term and short term disability insurance policies and had always
been financially wise, and thus she had accumulated a healthy savings account that we could
draw from when the insurance proved to be insufficient.

        Her appearance was getting better by the day. She had regained color in her skin, and no
longer looked like a corpse. She had begun to pack on some pounds again, and her hair was
beginning to grow back.




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        The biggest sign for me that health was returning to June was the gradual reduction in her
aura.

        Through all the trials of chemotherapy, June had refused to purchase and wear a wig,
even though her doctor tried to convince her that doing so would boost her self confidence and
help her to heal faster.

        That doctor was painfully unaware that June possessed more self confidence than Hitler
and she did not suffer any bruises to her ego when she wasn’t looking her best. Her self
confidence had never been built around her appearance and it was unlikely that she was suddenly
going to change that perception of herself simply because she was bald and skinny.

        Since June was not working, she developed new hobbies, one of which was looking up
every college in the damn country and ordering brochures from them.

        At least a half dozen of them would come in the mail every day and at supper time June
would spend the entire meal going over the benefits and drawbacks of each institution, trying to
convince me that I really needed to consider this school or that school.

        The college suppers were annoying, but I never told June that I found them so. As
annoying as it was, it was nice to see her being passionate again. Though her self confidence had
not suffered during her illness, some of her fire had burned itself out and it was great to see the
coals slowly being fanned back into flames.

        Time seemed to have put His slingshot away, pulled all His cards off the table and
decided to step away complacently, allowing us to simply drift safely along in the currents of His
river, enjoying the slow moving placid waters instead of paddling frantically and uselessly away
from whirlpools and whitewater.

        September rolled into October which rolled into November. Thanksgiving was a special
event at our house that year, and June invited several of the women she had met during her
chemotherapy sessions to join us for supper. We all had things to be thankful for that year.

         Elle rarely joined us at the dinner table. For one she did not need to eat, nor could she
even if she wanted to, and for two, she understood that dinner, as well as our morning time, was


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an important ritual for June and I that we both cherished and needed. Elle was not jealous of the
time I spent with June, but she was slightly envious of the fact that I had such a wonderful
mother figure in my life, which was something she’d never been blessed with.

        However, I did ask Elle to join us for our Thanksgiving dinner that year. I had never told
anybody about Elle, and she agreed with me that it would likely be best if I kept that part of my
life private, if for no other reason than to remain free of institutional life.

        She politely declined my offer to be given a seat at the table but did agree to stay nearby
where she could see me, and I her, and thus we could both feel like she was a part of the
festivities.

        I spent Thanksgiving Day slaving away in the kitchen, trying to prepare a grand meal for
nine people. By the time the dinner was all prepared, the guests had already been there for about
an hour and I was fairly certain that the chatter of eight women who had been through similar
trials of ovarian cancer and chemotherapy, and who now found their cancer in remission was a
similar racket to what one might find when a fox slips into a hen house.

        I struggled through the dinner, listening to the ladies chittering and chattering, clinking
and clanking, and making more ungodly noise than I would have thought possible for women
who had been at least as sick and weak as June had been.

        By the time supper ended, I had a splitting headache and politely excused myself from
the remainder of the incessant chatter and went to bed. I loved June enough to die for her, but
apparently that love did not extend to the torture of sitting through the equivalent of a women’s
social club meeting.

        Thanksgiving had come and gone, and soon it was time for Christmas. Fortunately, June
wanted to spend Christmas alone, which we did. Elle was present but June did not know it. And
then, before we knew it, it was New Year’s Eve.

        June and I spent the night sitting on the front porch staring out at the moonlit snow, and
discussing how much hope we had for the future, and how different this New Year’s Eve was
from the last.



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        While the rest of the world had been terrified of Y2K the previous year, June and I had
been only scared of losing one another in the blackness of death. The Eve of 2001 was filled with
hope, rather than despair.

        That was New Year’s Eve. That was the last time I knew what hope of any kind felt like.
On January third of 2001 June had a doctor’s appointment for a checkup. We were both so
convinced that her cancer had been beaten that we were doubly devastated when the doctor
found that June’s cancer had recurred; she was no longer in remission, but in the throes of an
aggressive second attack.

        Her aura had begun to grow again as well.

        June’s options the second time around were limited and she chose none of them. She had
been a fighter her entire life, and had never backed down from a fight, but she was not willing to
step into the ring with Chemo again.

        “I’ll either beat it by the grace of God, or I’ll go visit Him personally and punch Him in
the nose if He decides not to cure me.” June said, on the few occasions that I tried to dissuade her
from a course of inaction.

        June’s health deteriorated alarmingly fast. Although many years have passed since her
struggle, I still try to block the memories from that period of time from my mind. They are too
painful.

        Through the entire ordeal, June never whimpered or complained, at least not when she
thought I would hear it, but some nights, when the pain was particularly bad for her, I could hear
her whimpering from her bedroom.

        Elle tried to console me through the process, but I was pretty much inconsolable. June
stubbornly refused any type of medical treatment, and had come to peace with the fact that this
would probably kill her. I found no peace in the prospect of her death.

        On June third, 2001, one week before my eighteenth birthday, and one day after I
graduated high school at the top of my class, June lost her painful struggle with ovarian cancer,
and I lost everything.


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                                     CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

        On the morning that I found June lying cold and stiff in her bed I went numb. Elle
followed me around talking to me, but I have no idea what she said. I couldn’t hear, I couldn’t
see, I couldn’t feel, and I couldn’t think.

        At some point I must have dialed nine-one-one because an ambulance pulled up the
driveway at about nine-thirty in the morning and I led the men to June’s room. I turned away as
they did the gruesome work they had to do.

        I vaguely remember one of the men clasping a strong hand on my shoulder and asking me
if I was going to be ok, and I think I gave him a vague reply indicating that I’d make out all right,
I just needed some time to settle into reality of her death.

        The men loaded the gurney into the back of the ambulance and drove down the long
driveway. I watched them pulling away and Elle stood beside me, with her head on my shoulder,
offering me all the comfort she could and watched with me.

        June had been determined to see me graduate. She was far too weak to make it to the
ceremony the previous night but I brought home a video-tape of the ceremony and sat on the
edge of her bed with her while we watched it together.

        When the tape revealed me in my cap and gown, shaking hands with the Dean and
claiming my diploma, June wept openly.

        “I am so proud of you, Baby,” she said in a weak and tear choked voice. “You are so
special to me Hon, I hope you know that.”

        I looked at her frail, skeletal face, and wept just as freely as she was weeping.

        “I know, June. I really do know. And I love you more than words can ever say. You are
my hope, my salvation…My true Mother. I would be either dead or worthless if it had not been
for you June.”

        “I love you too Sugar-Pie. I love you too.”




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        With those words she let her head sink deeper into the pillow and fell asleep. I leaned
down and kissed her feverish forehead and whispered to her that I loved her, and I crept silently
out of the room, closing the door behind me.

        The dust cloud that the ambulance had kicked up had already settled when I snapped
back from my memory and I wondered how long I had been standing there staring out the
window but not seeing the world.

        Elle was still beside me, trying to comfort me, trying to snap me out of my daze, trying to
save me from drowning in the deep lake of despair that had welled up suddenly inside me.

        I understood that June had held on longer than necessary, suffering the pain willingly,
just so she could see me off into adulthood. Once she saw me safely across that threshold, she let
go.

        I was lost. I wasn’t even sure where I was at. I wandered through the empty house, room
by room and marveled at the silence that pressed in on me from the oppressive walls and high
ceilings.

        Elle followed me and I could see her lips moving but I seemed to have become deaf, for I
could not hear her words.

        I wandered into Miss Lilly’s bedroom and stared at the empty space. I wept for her. I
missed her. Next I wandered into June’s room. The smell of death still hung in the air, June’s
body having voided itself when her muscles relaxed in death, but I could only barely smell. I
called her name and was strangely surprised when she did not reply.

        I heard Elle screaming at me to stop, to look at her, to snap out of my grief before it
consumed me, but I wasn’t listening. I wanted the grief to consume me.

        I wandered through June’s bedroom and confirmed to myself that it was really and truly
empty before I crossed the hall to my own room. I sat at my window and stared outside.




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        Spring was just beginning to make way for summer and all the flowering bushes, shrubs
and trees were wearing their most regal outfits of the year, ushering in the summer with all the
pomp and circumstance of a royal coronation.

        As I sat and stared out the window, Elle seemed to have given up trying to speak and
instead just stood behind me with her hands on my shoulders, weeping quietly. I reached up and
put a hand on one of hers and stared blankly out the window for awhile before speaking.

        “The blooms are beautiful, Elle. It’s like nature sent a bouquet for June’s funeral, isn’t
it?”

        Elle responded but all I heard was a murmur.

        I turned and looked at Elle.

        “You are beautiful too, my Love. You are the most beautiful, precious person that has
ever graced this world, Elle. I am glad I have you. I’m truly glad, my Dear.”

        I heard another murmur from Elle.

        “Elle, did you know that June was the last physical thing in this world that ever mattered
to me? My brother…dead; my mother…dead; Miss Lilly…dead; June…dead; and you, my
Love…dead. What is left for me here my Love, but emptiness and sorrow?”

        Elle murmured.

        I looked at Elle and said, “Of course, Dear,” even though I had no idea what she had just
said. Then I said “Well, my Sweet, I’ll see you in the antechamber.”

        Then I jumped onto the window shelf and leapt through the glass panes of my second
story window. I plummeted to the ground and landed squarely on my head, breaking my neck
and dying instantly.




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                                         CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

        From Elle’s description of the events following death I had fully expected to find myself
in an antechamber with exits on either end. I was certain that I would be able to see Elle standing
through one blurry exit, and I would go the her and grasp her hand, and together we’d walk hand
in hand into the antechamber and through the other blurry doorway and find ourselves in
eternity, happy and carefree, surrounded by loved ones.

        Instead, I found myself in the dark. I was surrounded by absolute darkness without so
much as a single photon to illuminate even a tiny speck. The darkness seemed to have a physical
presence to it and I found it suffocatingly familiar. I was in the basement, in the pitch darkness of
the dead of night.

        I screamed in terror. I could not imagine a worse fate. My voice carried no weight, but
instead sounded hollow. The darkness seemed to absorb my scream even as it flew from my lips.

        I began to panic. Although I had never been claustrophobic before, I was suddenly
overcome by the sensation that I was being pressed in upon from all sides at once, trapped in a
shrinking box.

        I tried to relax, tried to calm myself, tried to assure myself that this wasn’t real. My
assurances carried no more weight than my voice had. I knew where I was and what had
happened with absolute certainty.

        Although I was in the basement, I was not really in the basement. I was in Hell.

        Hell is not, it turns out, a fiery lake of burning sulfur. At least it’s not for me, and I
imagine that for millions of other souls trapped in the pits of eternal suffering, Hell does not
resemble fire and brimstone either.

        Hell is the eternal embodiment of those things which we fear the most while we are alive.
It is different for each person. For one man, Hell may be a pit filled with giant, hairy spiders, and
glass smooth walls that can never be climbed, for another it may be a pit of snakes. I imagine
there is probably some poor lost soul who’s Hell is a small room filled with leering clowns.




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        For me, Hell is darkness; darkness and silence and caustic loneliness. And this is the Hell
I found myself in shortly after committing suicide.

        Another interesting note about Hell; Hell exists outside the flow of Time. While in the
physical world, Time is a cruel master to whom all mankind finds themselves enslaved. Humans
will never, in the physical world, find a way to overcome the ravages of Time and exist happily
or eternally.

        I think, perhaps that when Adam took a bite of the fruit in the garden, he unleashed much
more than knowledge and death; he unleashed the demon, Time.

        The irony is that in the physical world the existence of Time is merciless, causing much
grief and sorrow throughout all humanity but in Hell, it is the absence of Time that causes much
sorrow.

        In the absence of Time, a minute lasts a thousand years, and a day is infinity. There is
simply no way to comprehend how long one has been imprisoned in the pits of despair and every
moment—if moments exist at all—is an incomprehensibly immeasurable unit which intensifies
the hopelessness.

        I struggled in the dark to understand just why I had entered the darkness instead of the
antechamber. The only answer that came to me was that it was because I had committed suicide,
which apparently was, as the Catholics had been proclaiming for centuries, an unforgivable sin.

        The problem with my suicide theory was that Elle had also committed suicide, and yet
instead of Hell she had found the antechamber and eternal bliss was only a doorway away for her
at all times.

        Unfortunately her fear had left her incapable of entering that bliss.

        As the centuries passed every single second, I had plenty of time to unravel the mysteries
of death and of ghosts.

        In death, the consciousness seems to expand, allowing more comprehension of all things,
physical and spiritual, than is possible while tethered to our earthly bodies.



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        Suicide, I decided, was the reason I’d been sent to Hell. The reason Elle had not been sent
was because she had gone insane prior to killing her flesh. By releasing her sanity, she had also
released her consciousness, and had, in reality, already died, even though her body was still
functioning.

        The body is a biological specimen that exists in three parts: the physical, the spiritual and
consciousness.

        The physical body is easy to explain; it is the flesh and blood and tissue and water.

        The spiritual is also easy enough to explain, it is the soul. The soul is the battery that
powers the body.

        The consciousness is more difficult to explain, but it is to the soul what the brain is to the
body.

        When one gives way to insanity, they separate their consciousness from their soul and
body. Most of the time the consciousness and soul—both being ethereal—will reunite after the
death of the body releases the soul from its fleshy captivity.

        They are drawn together like magnets which have their opposite poles turned towards one
another. I’m not certain if the consciousness and soul are even aware that they were separated or
that they have been reunited.

         Once reunited, the spiritual being is once again whole, and unless they would have
already been destined for Hell before their insanity set in, they will find themselves in the
antechamber and faced with a choice.

        When a consciousness is unable to reconnect with a soul after death, the consciousness is
doomed to remain trapped in the physical world until Gabriel blows his horn and all bits and
pieces of all humans who have ever existed are called forth from all realms in order to stand
judgment before the throne of God.




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         At that moment, souls, consciousnesses, and bodies will be reunited and reassembled, but
until then, a lost consciousness is an alien wanderer in the physical realm—or, in other words, a
ghost.

         A ghost is not the soul of the deceased, but the very essence of the deceased; an essence
separated not from its physical body, but separated from its spiritual body.

         Perhaps it would be easier to describe the consciousness simply as the soul of the soul
and allow you to assume that a ghost is a lost soul.

         A soul that has lost its consciousness and does not reunite after death becomes a
poltergeist. Many assume poltergeists to be malevolent spirits, but they aren’t. They are simply
masses of ethereal energy without a consciousness to guide them. As a result they become
destructive, unable to control themselves.

         A poltergeist is like a car. A car is not malevolent, but a car in motion without a driver
to control it becomes a destructive force that is best avoided.

         In short, for every ghost that is trapped in the physical world, doomed to wander
restlessly until it either finds its soul or hears Gabriel’s mighty horn, there is also a poltergeist
wandering about blindly, causing destruction without knowing it.

         Since Elle had separated her soul’s soul from her physical body before killing herself, she
was no longer responsible for anything that her physical body and soul did in the physical world.
Her soul no longer had a brain—or a soul of its own, rather—and was therefore no longer
controlled by Elle in any way. That lack of control made her innocent of suicide, unlike me, who
knew full well what I was doing when I jumped out of the window.

         Had I been insane I would have been allowed to stay behind as a ghost and could have
walked into eternity hand in hand with Elle.

         Dear God, how I wished I had been insane.




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        Instead, I am afraid I remained completely sane, and well aware of my actions.
Despondency is not nearly the same as insanity and therefore my moment of selfish weakness
cost me my life as well as an eternity of bliss and doomed me to an eternity in the dark.

        Even worse, my actions had cost Elle an eternity of joy as well, for I was certain that she
would not find the courage to enter into eternity alone.




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                                      CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

        A hundred thousand years in the darkness, or perhaps only a second. I’m not sure, there’s
no Time in Hell.

        The more presence one has in Hell, the more terrifying it becomes. I must call it
“presence in Hell” because one does not spend “time” there.

        Eventually (however long it was really was I can’t say) I was no longer alone in the
darkness. I felt the tiny feet of Dermestid beetles scurrying across my body. One does not wear
clothes in Hell and the beetles had plenty of places where they could taste my flesh.

        I swatted and scratched incessantly but could not ever seem to scrape the little bastards
off of me. I could feel them biting me. They clawed, they squirmed, they bit and scratched
without ceasing, for thousands of years in the darkness, or perhaps only a second. I’m not sure,
there’s no Time in Hell.

        Eventually, along with the sound that millions of chittering beetles were making while
chewing on my flesh, there came another sound. Distant voices that came from everywhere and
nowhere reached my aching ears.

        Even with the beetles that were squirming deep inside my ears, slowly chewing their way
into my skull where they could feast on my brain, I could hear the voices.

        “Poison… Poison… Poison… Poison”

        The chanting continued unceasingly for millennia; the beetles chewed my agonized body,
and finally wormed their way into my skull after a million years of gnawing through the tough
cartilage of my inner ears, and at the same time they began forcing their way up into my nostrils,
and after another millennium I felt them squirming behind my eyes.

        Another hundred thousand years passed and the beetles discovered that they could chew
off my lips and enter my mouth where they found easy access to my throat and easy passage all
the tasty morsels that lay at the bottom of my esophagus.




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        Or perhaps it only took a second. I’m not sure. There’s no Time in Hell.

        The voices chanted and the beetles chewed. The voices never grew tired or hoarse and no
matter how much flesh the beetles consumed, it seemed that they never removed a single ounce
of flesh from me so there was always an available banquet for them to dine upon.

        There is no time in Hell and I’m not sure how long these torments continued; thousands
of years, perhaps, or maybe only a second.

        For a million years I scratched and clawed and slapped myself in the darkness, flinging
countless beetles off my body, screaming silently and suffering a mouthful of beetles every time
I opened my mouth to scream. In the darkness the voices continued to tell me I was poison.

        My God, how I wished I had been insane.

        After several billion years of torment, or perhaps only a second, something changed.
Screaming, scratching, choking, and listening to the deafening cries of “Poison” in the tar black
pits of Hell I perceived a light!

        The light blinded me in its intensity, even though it seemed to be miles away. It was just
a speck in the distance and it illuminated nothing of my surroundings.

        I continued to scratch and scream, and choke, but kept my eyes focused on the light. I
didn’t dare to hope that the light meant anything other than a new and more destructive torment.
But in the infinity of dark torture, hope comes more easily than it does in the world of light and
shadows that I had left only seconds before; or perhaps it was billions of years before, and I
found myself hoping against all odds.

        The light seemed to take centuries to reach me and as my eyes grew accustomed to the
brightness of it I could see that it appeared to be a translucent bubble, roughly the size of a
bowling ball, with rainbows swirling on its surface, giving the impression that the bubble was
rotating slowly left to right and top to bottom.




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        The swirling, shining sphere floated directly to me and stopped. When its light fell upon
me in full force, the millions of beetles that had been eating me for the past infinity scurried
away like cockroaches across the linoleum when the light switch has been tripped.

        From my flesh, from my nostrils, from my mouth, and ears they fled. I felt them racing
up my throat and out of any available orifice in my head that they could find in their desperation
to flee the light that had stopped mere feet away from me.

        My eyes never left the orb in front of me but my attention was still divided between it and
the last of the bugs as they fled from the light. When the final bug tried to scurry away I saw it
from the corner of my eye and stomped my foot upon it, crushing the wicked life out of the
tormenting devil with a satisfying ‘crunch’.

        When I heard the beast crunch beneath my foot I realized that I was surrounded by
silence for the first time in…well I don’t know how long. The accusing voices had fled along
with the beetles.

        I stared at the luminescent orb and tried to find my voice to thank it. I didn’t know
exactly what was in front of me, but I was certain that it was most definitely good.

        I had spent enough time—centuries or seconds—in the presence of evil that I had an
acute sensitivity to the feel of it. The orb projected a completely opposite aura to that of the evil
that had invaded me.

        The orb flooded me with light, warmth and an indisputable feeling of love.

        Even though the bubble emitted a powerfully bright light, the light illuminated only me.
There was only blackness where the floor should have been, there were no walls, and I cast no
shadow.

        The whole scene gave me the impression that I was floating in space and I suffered a
moment of vertigo as I realized that what I had thought was floor was really just more blackness.




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        I continued struggling to find my voice for several seconds… seconds! I had regained a
sense of time in the presence of this benevolent being and the realization of that fact pushed my
voice even further down my throat.

        Finally, after perhaps realizing that I was speechless, or perhaps after finding its own
voice after an internal struggle of its own, the bubble spoke to me.

        “Hello, Johnny. Have you missed Mommy?”




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                                           CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

        I was unaware that is was possible to pass out when you were dead and trapped in the pits
of Hell, but that is exactly what I did.

        When I came to I had fully expected the whole thing to have been some kind of
nightmare. I figured that I was going to wake up and find myself back at the farm, with June still
alive, her cancer still in remission, and Elle waiting happily for me to die.

        When I opened my eyes, I saw a glowing bubble silhouetted against a curtain of
impossible darkness.

        I sat up from the nonexistent floor where I had tumbled to and stared at the orb. The orb
pulsed in response, as if it were acknowledging my look with a slight head nod.

        Somehow I managed to find my voice and I croaked, “Mama?”

        “Yes,” the orb replied.

        I knew in that moment that it was my mother’s consciousness that stood before me; her
soul’s soul so to speak. My voice took on an acerbic edge when I next spoke

        “You’re in Hell, Mama. With me…Am I your Hell, Mama?”

        Feelings that I had repressed since the age of seven—for millennia, or perhaps only for
years, I’m not sure which—bubbled to the surface and I was unable to keep the anger from my
voice as I spit those words at her.

        Instead of striking back with a spiteful comment of her own, my mother’s orb simply
seemed to deflate slightly. The projection of love that I had felt did not diminish, and did not
transform into anger. If anything, the sense of love that I felt grew only more poignant.

        “I thought you were, once. I was wrong. I was my own Hell, you could have been my
salvation if I would have allowed it, but I was blinded by my own selfishness.”




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        “Why, Mama,” I asked, with tears rising in my eyes, (I was as unaware that a person
could cry in Hell as I had been about fainting in Hell) “Why did you let the Sickness take you?
Why did you let the Sickness beat me? Why did you let the Sickness torture me? Humiliate me?
WHY DID YOU LET THE SICKNESS ABANDON ME IN THE DARK?”

        I had assumed that I would never be allowed a proper accounting for my mother’s actions
in my youth, and now, faced with an orb that spoke in a voice that was undeniably my mother’s I
had an opportunity to get the answers I had sought.

        My mother’s orb diminished in brightness with every question I threw at it, and
eventually grew so dim that it would have been invisible anywhere else but in the utter darkness.

        “Johnny, please forgive me. There is no acceptable answer to those questions. I was lost
in despair and when the Sickness came, it felt like relief. I didn’t understand that the Sickness
filled me with Poison.”

        “Ignorance of my actions does not excuse my actions, my Son. Yet I have no better
answer to give you. I am so sorry.”

        I stood in the darkness glaring at my mother’s deepest soul and was overcome by the
realization that the deep soul (or consciousness) can not lie.

        When my mother told me that she did not know what she was doing, when she begged
forgiveness, and when she apologized, she meant every word of it from the very deepest part of
her being—her soul’s soul.

        I felt my anger melt, and true forgiveness entered my heart at last. For years, or centuries,
I’m not sure which, I had lived (and died) with the assumption that I had forgiven my mother,
but I had not really.

        I’m not sure I ever could have forgiven her fully without this moment of realization that
she was honestly repentant. For a brief glimmering second (yes just a very, very brief second) I
was happy to have met my mother in Hell, so I could finally find full forgiveness for her.




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        It also helped that she’d managed to chase away the Dermestid beetles that had been
eating me alive for eons.

        “I forgive you, Mama. For real this time. From the bottom of my heart, Mama, I forgive
you.”

        My mother’s orb shimmered and vibrated in front of me and I had the impression that she
was weeping, though she made no sound and had no bodily features to prove my theory.

        “Thank you Johnny. You have granted me the one thing that I have always needed, but
never deserved. I can disappear into the void now, at peace.”

        “What do you mean disappear?”

        My mother’s orb drifted towards me and hovered only inches from my nose. In its
shimmering, swirling surface I caught a glimpse of my mother’s young face, before the Sickness
took her, smiling at me with tears streaming down her cheeks.

        Her lips moved as she whispered to me, “I love you more than existence, Johnny.”

        With those words her orb made contact with me and seemed to enter into me. I felt like I
was being electrocuted. My entire being convulsed with the charge that was flowing through me.
I lost all control of my muscles and fell backwards, stiff as a board.

        Instead of impacting the invisible floor as I had when I passed out I felt myself hovering.
Every muscle was tensed; my arms and legs pointing straight out away from my torso.

        I began to rotate slowly and I opened my mouth to scream in terror. I didn’t know what
my mother was doing to me, and it didn’t hurt per se, but it wasn’t exactly as pleasing as a deep
tissue massage might have been.

        When my mother entered me I was once again engulfed by darkness, when I opened my
mouth to scream, a beam of light shot out of it rather than a stream of sound. I could sense the
same blinding light behind my eyes, which caused my vision to become tinted with a red haze.




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          Light shot out of my nostrils and my ears, and finally burst out of my eyes as well. I
began to rotate faster. I spun so fast that I could feel the centrifugal force pulling desperately at
all my extremities, creating unnatural pressure in places where there had never been pressure
before.

          Eventually the tips of my fingers burst with the pressure, but instead of flinging blood,
beams of bright white light shot out of the wounds. My toes were the next thing to burst with
blinding light, and finally my head exploded, illuminating the entirety of Hell with infinite
streams of blinding light that I could still perceive, even though I had no eyes left to see with.

          I think this was the point at which I passed out again.




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                                         CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

         When I came to again I found myself squinting against the brightness of a summer sky
and the immeasurably beautiful face of Elle staring down at me.

         “YOU IDIOT!” she screamed at me, “You could have been killed!”

         Knowing that it was not going to go over well, but unable to contain myself in spite of
the danger, I laughed out loud. I laughed long and deep, and the more I laughed, the more Elle’s
face twisted and contorted into shapes of unimaginable depths of anger, and the harder I had to
laugh.

         I’ve got to hand it to Elle, though she was absolutely furious with my recklessness, and
even more so by my laughter, she never moved away from me, which was wonderful for me, for
as my laughing fit finally subsided, I was able to raise my head only slightly and plant a big,
sloppy kiss squarely upon her lips.

         “Hello, Darling,” I said after removing my lips from hers. “Did you miss me?”

         “Johnny Krimshaw! You infuriating, sonofa…you…I should kill you just for surviving!”

         Elle was so angry that she could only barely make coherent words, which I found vastly
amusing. Everything was vastly amusing.

         The sun was warmer, the grass greener, the sky bluer, and my love for Elle sweeter than I
had ever known them to be. But I suppose after spending a billion years—or perhaps only
seconds—in Hell, everything is bound to seem wonderful by comparison.

         I did not dare try to explain to Elle where I had been or what I had been up to, for if she
knew the truth of how close we had come to being eternally separated she would likely never
forgive me.

         Perhaps when she reads this manuscript she will have calmed herself down enough to
find forgiveness for me, or perhaps even amusement, but whether she will or not doesn’t change




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the fact that I was not a brave enough soul to tell her about my experience on that day, and have
not found the courage to do so in all the years since.

        I sat up and dusted myself off. I was covered with shards of glass and had some serious
grass stains on my hands and knees, and, according to Elle, on the top of my head.

        “Come on Darling,” I said casually, ignoring Elle’s anger for the moment, “let’s take a
walk to the pond.”

        Elle gave me the most exasperated look I’d ever seen on a person, either living or dead,
but consented to hold my hand as we walked silently towards the pond.

        We sat beneath the great willow and I basked in the contrasting sensations of warm
sunlight that shone on my body through gaps in the branches, and cool shadow where the sun
was unable to penetrate the canopy.

        As we sat there, I explained to Elle how I had first seen Louie beneath that very tree, and
how it had seemed so odd to me that he did not have an aura around him like every other
physical object that I saw in this world.

        I further went on to explain my interpretation of what the auras really represented, and
how I had begun to suspect the nature of the auras when I saw June’s aura expanding when she
grew sicker.

        “The auras that I see,” I explained as well as I could, “are a disruption in the fabric that
separates the physical world from the spiritual world, or to put it differently, the other side. All
physical objects in this world had their origins in the spiritual world, as creations of God.”

        “Man-made structures have an aura because they have been fabricated using physical
materials that God created in the spirit world. The disruption around all physical objects is
similar to a magnetic field. The field is normally invisible, but the magnetic draw is always
present.”

        “Just as magnets are drawn together when their opposite poles are positioned towards
each other, the physical, which had its origin in the spiritual, is compulsively drawn back



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towards the spiritual. The pull of physical against spiritual causes a disruption in the fabric, and
it’s this disruption that I see as an aura.”

        “When June was getting sicker, the pull of her physical existence towards her spiritual
creation point was growing ever stronger, thus creating a bigger disruption in the fabric and
causing me to perceive that her aura was growing.”

        Elle seemed fascinated by my new understanding of spirit versus physical and was
particularly interested by my interpretation of the consciousness being the soul of the soul, and
she thought I was a genius for dreaming it up; I resisted the urge to tell her that I’d had millions
of years to come up with the theory…or perhaps only seconds.

        As Elle and I sat beneath the great willow, passing the day, mourning the loss of June, I
was filled with conflicting emotions.

        I had grieved for June in Hell, for countless centuries, but was still filled with grief for
my loss. I was simultaneously filled with joy. Joie de Vivre, as Miss Lilly might have said, ‘the
joy of living.’

        I am fairly certain that unless a person has spent an eternity suffering in the darkest pits
of Hell, they will never be able to appreciate just how amazing and wonderful life can be, with
its moments of simple pleasure, like a sunset shared with a lover, and its bitter losses, such as the
death of a friend.

        As the day waned, and the sun began to set in the western sky I silently thanked my
mother for the opportunity she had given me to live once again. My own selfish mother who,
during her life was never able to honestly care for anyone but herself, who would have gladly
sacrificed a busload of orphaned children if it meant she could get something she wanted, had
sacrificed more than just her life to grant me another chance at life.

        My mother had sacrificed her very existence! She surrendered her existence to the void.
All the energy that was once her consciousness she transferred to me, in order to return a life
force to me.




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         Her consciousness no longer exists in any realm; not Heaven, Earth, or Hell. She
sacrificed more than anybody could be expected to sacrifice in an attempt to atone for her sins of
selfishness while she had been alive.

        Understanding my mother’s sacrifice, understanding the sacrifice that Elle had made in
delaying her walk to the other side, understanding the sacrifices that June had made—staying
alive through unimaginable torment when she could have let go of her physical tether at any
time—in order to ensure that I would graduate and have a happy and prosperous life, I felt
bitterly ashamed of my little stunt at the upstairs window.

        Perhaps my trip to Hell had not had anything to do with conscious suicide after all, but
instead had much more to do with the ungrateful and selfish heart that was beating blackly in my
dark chest at the moment I chose to jump.

        So many sacrifices had been for me, by so many people, and I had looked away from all
of them and had, in all reality, spit on their sacrifices and chose the path of darkness instead.

        I suppose I deserved the Hell that I had been thrust into, and I quietly dedicated my new
life to ensuring that I would never again follow a path of selfishness but would instead live
unswervingly for others, whether they were alive or dead.

        “So, where do we go from here?” Elle asked, breaking me out of my rumination.

        “I’m not really sure, Elle.” I replied, “I suppose I’ll have to get that window repaired, and
get June’s funeral arranged, but after that I was thinking about maybe heading to Pennsylvania.”

        “What on earth do you want to see in Pennsylvania?”

        “Gettysburg,” I replied casually. “I hear there are a lot of ghosts there and I think it’s time
to take this gift of mine and put it to good use. You want to come with me, Elle?”

        “I would follow you into the very depths of Hell, Johnny.”




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          I laughed out loud at her comment. I wondered if she would be so willing if she knew
what evils truly lay in wait in the depths of Hell, but I was reassured by her declaration of love
for me.

          The sun sank quietly behind the distant Cascade Mountain range and I sat beneath the
great willow, holding hands with my true love looking towards my future on a day that had
proven to be a day of revelation for me, and the day my life started over.




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                                    NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR

        If you are reading this note then there is a fairly respectable chance that you are holding
in your hand either a printed book, a smart-phone, a tablet, an e-reader (such as a kindle), or a
computer mouse.

        Also, since I intend to place this note at the end of the story, there is a reasonable chance
that you have just finished reading The Lovely Shadow.

        I sincerely hope you have just finished reading it, and I also sincerely hope that you have
enjoyed reading it.

        The Lovely Shadow is the first novel I have ever written. I have written short stories,
poetry, children’s books, songs, and essays in the past—all for pleasure—but have never taken
on a project of this magnitude before, and hadn’t written anything for pleasure for about ten
years prior to this.

        I wrote this book mainly because the only item I have ever had on my bucket list was to
write a novel. “Well,” I decided, “I’m not really getting any younger and if I am going to get this
thing done, then I’d better get cracking on it.”

        I truly enjoyed the writing of this story and was very surprised at the way it turned out. I
didn’t bother with storyboards or character development sheets or any of that. I simply had an
idea that went something like this: “Gee, I’d like to write a story about a guy who falls in love
with a ghost.” Everything else in the book came about as I wrote it—forming the story in order
to lead up to that one plot line.

        It has been a great adventure, and I honestly thank you for taking this trip with me.

Sincerely,

Cory Hiles

March 18, 2012




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