Friday, August 5, 2016

The Continued and Dark Career of a Writer: A Tale of Revenge

l can hear them from far away in my cell at St. M_______'s, can almost chill to the cacophony of whippoorwills a hundred miles off in ____ville. Soon all their tremulous autumnal screeches will end in concerted silence and engrave that town's fate into the unreviseable but completely forgettable tablet of time.

Long ago I had ended my apprenticeship in writing under the tutelage of certain nameless societies in Bloomington to resume residence in ____ville, where I had grown up as as a thin shadow haunting the paper-smelling grocery stores, the dog-patrolled alleys and the schools dank with the unending sweat of students ambitious, moronic and perverse.  I took up residence in the garret apartment of a turreted house where I glued black card to the solitary window's panes and slept days. I plied my abhorred trade by night, reliving my childhood by darting between lightless spaces in the old neighborhoods, sometimes visiting sleepy coffee shops--those happy inventions that commonly cropped up since my boyhood--but I usually remained holed up with my books and retorts, my inks and alkaloids that aided me in writing.

The first years brought their challenges. There were other nocturnal wanderers, lowlifes, peepers, burglars who crossed my path. l remember particularly an inebriate who stank up an alleyway near the piled stone ledges and sills of the courthouse, one who turned out to be a delicious fellow. In his cups could sing the Egyptian Book of the Dead. But it was the gendarmerie that proved the most troublesome, discovering my shade behind abandoned churches, questioning me in the fields next to the library, shining spotlights as I jumped spiked fences, my grey duffel weighted with crowbar and mallet. But any writer can dispense quickly enough with the constabulary--a story's all police really need and they're back asleep in their cruisers--then it's again to the writer's unholy struggle to author that first masterpiece.

| had mine on a night of much like this in 1992. I could hear the rattle of maple leaves on my apartment's slate and conical roof. The whippoorwills frantically called from the black shrubs below. l applied the appropriate salts and drew the proper sigils in powders of base metals. In my meagre dwelling I performed the master stroke on my hideous masterpiece--silencing the infernal birds at once--by breathing life into my namesake's milk-eyed corpse recently disinterred from Crownview. I had at long last become an artist in my own right. Do I regret meddling with my own dead cousin? We all have our undoing.

One might lead such a lugubrious and clandestine existence for two, maybe three years in a small city without discovery, but eventually one is shown to be a writer. From then on survival depends upon the aura of fear the writer can conjure. Without it one is the object of pity, considered no better than those other denizens of the witching hours who normally wind up incarcerated. How often an author shares their fate! However a writer survives it is a dreary existence of cloudy nights and sidelong glances from respected members of the community. That existence suited me just fine, especially in _____ville, where I had even greater works planned than my inaugural masterpiece. No, I might have lived much longer there--though not, in this mortal world forever--had it not been for my local graverobbing... and for The Hand.

The Hand was a monster that took up residence in my favorite coffee shop, a dreary, shambling bit of would-be satire that barely rose to the level of grotesque farce. Once, I was entertaining an old friend, when Bertha, one of _____ville's multi-chinned common scolds, shoved The Hand over to me stiffly by his shoulders, and she scowled, "Are you responsible for this, this thing?" Why I would necessarily be responsible, I'll never know; after all, I wasn't the only writer in town. And the insult! This contemptible insinuation that I authored such a hackneyed figure: potbellied, in denim bib overalls and a straw sombrero, teeth stained by Mail Pouch, and expression of stupidity that was an idiot's impression of stupidity! As if any ill will I had for my small town roots would be wasted in this trite conceit! And couldn't Bertha tell I was seated with none other than Tennessee Williams, whom I had just reanimated? Didn't she at least find it remarkable that my ice-cream-suited companion drank a large tumbler of gin and not Brazilian bayberry or whatever the hell was that night's grind?

"No," l rejoined, "and I don't know who made this," though I had immediately suspected that R_____ was the culprit: R_____, a poseur, a mere illusionist, a plagiarist, a pretender at things stygian. Once a high school simpleton but now a braggart about town, I had some vague memory of offending him during our junior year. Who keeps track of such things? I could prove nothing of R_____'s culpability though, and gossip pasted me with responsibility for this ridiculous spectre from that moment on. Even Tennessee slowly shook his head in sloshed admonishment. From then on my aura of fear, my very means of survival as a writer lay in jeopardy.

Insults, no stranger to any writer, heaped upon me more frequently. There were the raps at my apartment door at odd ours of the day that discovered only the hurried escape of footsteps. Then came the hangup calls. One day, after a knocking at my door, I discovered a crudely-wrapped package on my welcome mat: within it something unspeakable.

The Hand persisted for years in its oafish existence, and the pathetic rumor my authorship spread from high school to graveyard. At this sad chapter of my career | might have been well advised to leave town, but I had more work to do and the internet provided easier access to salts, shavings and various organic fixings I needed to continue my writing, even under the glare of the moral indignity and between the laughter of cretins. No, popular disgust could not bar me from completion of my crowning masterpiece.

It is never what we see that undoes us, but the invisible strikes its blow. The Hand drew extra suspicion and hatred toward me, but it was my first true work that set in motion my final departure from _____ville. Certain citizens, the ubiquitous Bertha and the eternally inept R______ among them, snooped around and found the grave of one John Melvin disturbed and put two and two clumsily together. Their evidence caused even the sleepy police to wake up when they remembered my nighttime visits to the cemetery, and at last I was afoul of the local law. Writing is a moral offense. Creating bad satire is a disgrace. Reanimating the famous is incomprehensible to the uncultured. But digging up a town ancestor causes offense requiring legal action.

I heard them stumbling up the stairs, the police and the inflamed citizenry. I'm shocked they didn't arrive with torches and pitchforks. In any event they gave me time. No sooner than you can yell "POLICE! SEARCH WARRANT!" I had smashed a vial of metal tinctures into the center of a chalked circle of summoning just etched on my garret floor. The door burst in under the blow of a battering ram. It was more than a rising mephitic cloud of gas they found upon intruding that night. The remains of literary experiments stashed in my apartment, some fresh, some preserved, most unknown to anyone, were enough to put their author away for a quarter century.

The staff at St. M_______'s are very congenial. They let me dabble in literature. They even smile sweet smiles and let me mix Epsom and table salts together, though they would probably frown at the mummified hand of a playwright I keep under my bed, if they ever thought to look.

Tonight is Halloween, and the work of art set in motion on the night of my arrest a year ago is about to come to fruition. Tonight, amid the ululation of whippoorwills, a door will open between this world and another, one full of great and malevolent beings older than the Milky Way. The whippoorwills will cease chiming at that final opening when the old ones return and set to work on _____ville. They will destroy everything and dispense with all life there.

Here, in my cozy little cell, the screams of the guilty and the innocent will reach my ears--and the screams of R_____ and the screams of Bertha--and, oh, I will hear all their terror, and I will fly, fly, fly!

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