The Thing About Leaves

They enter our lives in the spring

and greeted with great fanfare.

In the brilliant pastels of the season.

A promise of re-birth.

New life.

And better days ahead.

A reminder of the life cycle that we are all part of.

Spring leaves, heralding the arrival of

summer’s warmth and breeze.

We soon take the leaves for granted,

with the distraction of summer’s endless splendor,

even while seeking shelter in their shade.

Before we know it, summer fades into fall,

and we return our attention back to leaves,

who cry for attention with their vibrant cornucopia of color.

Our world is once again filled with color,

but a warmer palette to blanket us from the cold.

An echo of the distant spring from which they arrived.

And we embrace them with wide-open vigor.

But then one by one, they drop from their limbs.

And we mourn both their sudden absence,

but the oncoming dead of winter.

And then we rake and we rake

and we moan and we moan,

now seeing what was once so beautiful as a burden,

fallen from their heavenly loft,

as they lay in their mortal slumber on earth.

Only to be disposed of. And forgotten.

Something that was once so young…

…so comforting.

And so beautiful.

Santa’s Swan Song

There are few greater barometers that mark the end of childhood than the realization that there is no Santa Claus. For some kids, it’s as simple as a switch being turned off. One moment they believe. The next moment, they don’t. For others, it’s a slow evaporation coated in the frost of denial. One way or another, it’s an inevitable part of growing up, like losing baby teeth, or learning how to ride a bike.  

For parents, the notion that the magic of Santa Claus would one day run out was always a sobering reminder of how quickly youth and naïve innocence fades. It is easy to take for granted the finite nature of childhood and become complacent about the inevitable truth. That it is a necessary and rational transition into the next phase of life – a foreshadowing that life is full of letdowns and disappointments, often at the hands of the things we most cherish.

Nick Frost knew this better than anyone. 

His daughter, Lucy, stopped believing just short of reaching 10. It was probably only a matter of time before she slipped and spoiled it for her little brother, even though she promised not to (unlike some kids who seemed hellbent on running Santa for their younger siblings). Charlie was six.          

If there was any saving grace, it was that Charlie’s deep devotion to the man in red hate was like Teflon. His patented stubbornness only made him cling harder to his unwavering belief.  

Though Nick was initially hopeful that his kids would believe as long as he did (he was 12 ), he knew he was being naïve, especially in the digital age. Also, he knew that 12 was simply too old for a kid to still believe. He remembered how badly he was teased and taunted by his heathen classmates who had stopped believe two, three, or even five years before. He was the last kid standing. And he refused to back down. Especially when motivated by the irrational fear that he wouldn’t be able to get presents anymore if he no longer believed. It was becoming increasingly evident that the sugar plum doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Ever since his first born, Nick actually was Santa at their extended family’s annual “Dago Christmas” party.

At the peak of his Santa duties, 15 believers eagerly awaited for their present to be hand-delivered from Santa himself. It was the closest he would ever feel to being a superhero.  

As the years went on, each child stopped believing, one by one. And when you actually are Santa, you can’t help but feel your powers being drained – and there is nothing you can to stop it. And even though each child would eventually realize that Santa was really Uncle Nick, they knew not to tell those who still believed. And in return, they still got a present.

 And before long, there was just one: Charlie. He wasn’t even the youngest, but the two younger ‘uns had stopped believing the previous year.

Though he had no way to be sure, Nick couldn’t help but feel that this was the last year.

He knew that it was inevitable that this day would come, nothing could prepare him for the sadness he felt. Being the neurotically nostalgic person that he was, it was consistent with the other things he “clung” to. Giving up the Santa “lie” was no different than giving up the crib, the toddler bed, the pacifier, the stroller, and even baby teeth. This was the same man who never threw away a ticket stub and saved candy wrappers from his high school girlfriend.  

 From the moment he found out his wife was pregnant with their first, there were three things he as most excited for: first baseball game, movies, and most of all, Christmas.

Christmas was such a big deal in his family and he wanted to impart the tradition onto his children. His wife, not so much. It wasn’t that she disliked Christmas. But to her, Christmas meant more clutter in the house (many of his beloved holiday décor remained in boxes year after year). There were many times she threatened to get rid of them all together.

In fact, for his daughter’s first Christmas, “Santa” went totally overboard and bought a smorgasbord of presents behind his wife’s back. On Christmas morning, she was shocked beyond disbelief to see the heaping pile of presents that he blamed on Santa. She knew better. And he should have. It almost ruined his marriage. He never made that mistake again. But his holiday spirt would soon payoff: when the family’s elders decided to incorporate a visit from Santa at the annual Christmas party, it was an anonymous decision to appoint Charlie.

Year after year, none of the kids ever seemed to notice that Uncle Charlie was conveniently missing during Santa’s visit. But if they did question it, the answer would be simple: Uncle Charlie was in the bathroom. Nobody would be surprised.

This year, Charlie had a sad, sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. It was the feeling that a chapter was coming to an end that he wanted to see last forever. And there was nothing he could do to stop it, short of stopping time. Not even Santa himself could do that.

After dinner, Charlie slipped into an upstairs bedroom and put on the Santa outfit (which had certainly seen better days based on both sight and smell). He couldn’t help but wonder: would this be the last time he donned the suit?  Soon, it would be hidden away in storage, like so many toys brought by Santa that now sat collecting dust in the basement, or had already been donated or given away.

Waiting for him in the corner was a garbage bag filled with the presents that parents brought for their children. He realized he never did get a real Santa sack. It was all but too late now.  

  After slipping into Santa’s boots, it was showtime!

  “Ho, ho, ho!” Nick shouted with glee, as he made his way down the steps and into the basement where everyone was gathered.

With his son being the lone believer left standing, he no longer felt obligated to make eye contact with every child as he made it a point to do so in the past, and was therefore able to keep most of his attention on his son, who stood transfixed, brimming with delight as he did every year with visions of sugar plum fairies dancing in his head.

If only he could stop time. Nonetheless, it was a moment that would exist in the photo album of his mind.

And then it dawned on him. Just maybe he would get another year out of this after all. But even so, this much was certain: time was running out.  And he continued to have a hunch that this year would be it. Either someone would spill the beans, or Charlie would figure it out on his own.

He took solace in the idea that someday, he might have grandchildren and he could relive these memories all over again. But he didn’t exactly want to get old.

 But for now, he still had this moment. And a kid who still believed. Nothing could take that away from him. 

Well, except time, of course.

As much as he wanted to embrace this moment, he couldn’t help but think of the sadness hangover he would feel when it was all said and done, especially as he lay wide awake at night wondering where the time had gone.

But in this moment, he was Santa Claus. And to remain jolly, he had to cast these melancholy thoughts behind and get to the task at hand.

He passed out all the gifts to the non-believers who still believed in the magic of Christmas presents. He saved Charlie’s present for last.

“And last, but not least, Charlie, who had been waiting ever-so-patiently. Here ‘ya go, Charlie!” Santa said handing his stars-struck son his gift, knowing full well that there was no way he could ever possibly make this son this happy minus the suit.

Charlie opened the gift. A stuffed Curious George – his favorite character. He gave it a giant hug. In that moment, there was nothing more special for either of them. Unlike other toys, he had a feeling that this one would be cherished for the rest of his life.

And just like that, the moment was over, as all the gathered for their annual picture with Santa. And though the magic was gone for everyone but Charlie, the tradition wasn’t.

It was finally his son’s turn to jump into lap.

“Have you been a good little boy?” Santa asked.

Charlie nodded his head.

“You always are!”

“Sometimes, I get in trouble, though.”

“But you are always sorry. And that’s important.”

 “I love you, Santa,” Charlie said. “And I will always believe in you. I’ll never stop believing.”

With that, he gave Santa an enormous hug. Bigger than the one he gave to Curious George even.

Thank God for a big white beard to both conceal and sop up the tears.

“I love you, too,” Nick said.

Charlie jumped off his lap. Nick watched him run off to join his non-believing cousins, for whom the magic had ended. But for one more year, it didn’t end for Charlie. He hoped to God nobody would spoil it. At least, not on this night. Then again, the moment was already preserved for all time no matter what happened.

It was the type of magic that could be live forever.

  If you let it.

Wrapper

Joe Smith was the kind of man who lived his life by a strong moral code. He didn’t have an ego about it. It was just how he was wired. He was a devoted family man, only drank for social occasions (and never too much), always said no to drugs and most importantly, never cheated on his wife. In fact, his only vice was a voracious sweet tooth, but otherwise ate clean and healthy. And his once vice was the very thing that nearly did him in!

“What is this?,” his wife stormed into the room, holding what looked like a torn, gold piece of a wrapper.

“Looks like some sort of wrapper.”

“I found it in your pocket when I was doing laundry.”

“Sorry. At least it wasn’t Kleenex this time.”

“Don’t play dumb.”

“I’m sorry,” Joe said, confused. “But I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t lie to me.”

“What is this all about?”

“ It’s a condom wrapper.”

“It’s a candy wrapper!”

“Bullshit.”

“I can prove it!”

  “How?”

He remembered eating Haribo gummy bears the other day. Their packaging did have the same look of a Trojan condom wrapper, he supposed.

“I ate a package of gummy bears the other day.”

“You and your damn candy.”

“I’ll get another bag and you will see it’s the same color!”

“How would that prove that it’s not a condom?”

There was only way to prove it.

By first going through the trash. He opened up the cupboard where the trash can was stored, before realizing he had already taken the trash outside. Which would mean it would be in his building’s dumpster. At least trash pick-up wasn’t until tomorrow.

He headed outside and proceeded to go through his apartment building’s dumpster. At least it was cold enough to keep things from stinking too much.

Through process of elimination based on bag type and color, he narrowed it down to likely candidates before finally finding the right bag. He immediately began sorting through it until lo and behold: Eureka! He struck gold (wrapper)!

He quickly threw his mess back into the dumpster, then raced back inside to prove his innocence, like the prince with Cinderella’s shoe.  

The pieces were a perfect match. He was acquitted and praised for his efforts to prove his innocence in order to save their marriage.

He was just that sort of guy.

Enya 4-Ever

Everyone has embarrassing dating stories. Some of us just have more than others. I have enough for an entire book.

 Among the highlights: following a break-up with my high school girlfriend, the first girl I asked out in college was a lesbian. In fact, my entire college dating resume involved one gaffe and foible after another – like having a crush on someone who invited me out with her friends, which included a boyfriend that she had never mentioned. And finally asking out a barista that I had a crush on by writing her a note asking her to go out with me – complete with checkboxes! She was married. And though not certain, I presumably became a laughingstock at my favorite coffee shop.

Yet, I have never lost hope.

My checkered college dating life was further hampered by the fact that I didn’t go away for college. Instead, I attended a commuter college in my hometown. So, it was sort of an extension of high school, especially taking into the fact that I was still with my high school girlfriend – who was literally still in high school for my first two years of college.

Then came along Sara, who I met in my linguistics class. This class was by far my least favorite class in my English degree. As I quickly realized, linguistics is the math of English. And I suck at math. So naturally, linguistics was a struggle. As it was for Sara, of whom I had a raging crush on. And per usual fashion, I had no way of knowing if she had a crush on me. If I could do the math right (which I couldn’t), chances are she didn’t. And chances are, I would end up in the friend zone. Always the bridesmaid…or, more like the straight “gay best friend” – the perpetual guy girls felt safe around because I would never attempt to make a move.

We quickly became good friends, bonding over being in class neither one of us wanted to, combined with our mutual love for Detroit techno.

After floundering in class for several weeks, we decided to have a study session (operative word: session – not date).

Maybe things would be different this time. Maybe it wouldn’t only be a study session, even though my parents would be home. I couldn’t have been more wrong. But not for a lack of trying!

 She came over on a chilly October Sunday night. The fact it was a Sunday should have been my first clue of my chances. That didn’t stop me up from dressing up way more than necessary. As in, I wore a tie. She, on the other hand, came in sweatpants and an old, tattered sweatshirt.

 Dressing up was one thing…but lighting way more of my mom’s Yankee candles than necessary was a whole other thing. Looking back, not even one candled was necessary. I lit at least five.  But the cherry on top was putting on Enya’s “Orinco Flow” album – not my mom’s mind you. Mine.

All of this while my parents in the next room. And did they try to stop me? Nope. Just like they didn’t try to stop my Sea-Monkey and Grease II obsession.

When Sara arrived, I awkwardly introduced her to my parents, then lead her to the back room where my study pleasure palace awaited, aglow with candles (which on second thought, was not enough light to study with) accompanied by the otherworldly sounds of Enya.

How could she possibly resist?          

“Is this for me?” she asked, quivering with appeared to be fear.

“For us. To help us study.”

She responded by bursting into laughter.

“Oh, my,” she added.

And just like that, I knew my chances were over. It was clear that her emotions were split evenly between disturbed and amused.

“So, do you like Enya?” I asked.

“No. She fucking sucks.”

I shut the music off..

“Also, these kind of candles trigger my allergies.”

I promptly blew out the candles.

Apparently, she was also allergic to cats. We had two of them.

When it was all said and done, we did manage to study. And we both passed the test. So, all wasn’t lost.

We never hung out again after that night. Nor, did I blame her. Adding insult to injury, she even stopped sitting next me in class.

If only I knew now what I know then. Wait. What am I talking about? I could totally see myself doing something like this today.

But I have no regrets. I was true to myself – a hopeless romantic. With an unabashed loved for candles. And Enya. (I mean, could any two things go more hand in hand?)

 Till this day, I still have Enya in my master playlist. In fact, I am listening to her as I write this.

Got a problem with it?

The Witch in the Field

Credit: Phil McMullen

Ever since I was a little boy, I have had a recurring dream where I am approaching a witch standing on the edge of a field. An old-fashioned Halloween witch. Pointy hat and all; a cauldron by her side. Her back is always turned away from me. And I never see her face.

Each time I have this dream, I seem to get one step closer to her. And each time, she slowly begins to turn around, but I always wake up before I can see her face, drenched in sweat and with a feeling of nausea I couldn’t shake for the remainder of the day.

Would I ever see her face? Part of me sure hoped not – the mere thought of which filled me with a level of dread I had never quite felt before – in both waking life…and dream life. Yet, there was a part of me that wanted to see her face. Maybe that would put an end to the dream once and for all.

The fact that I would have a recurring nightmare about a witch shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise. Ever since I first saw Wizard of Oz at the age of four, I had a phobia of witches. This fear was compounded by seeing a live stage version of Snow White. I was so afraid of the witch, my grandma had no choice but to leave the play before intermission. The only thing more frightening to me are clowns – a fear of which I could be traced back to being paed into the hands of one at the age of two at my hometown Memorial Day parade.

The field itself featured in my dream was a real location I knew all too well – a campground my parents would take us to every year until our teenager years took away the ability to appreciate what we had.

The field from my dream was situated next to a bathroom on the edge of the camp. I dreaded going to that bathroom, but it was the closest one to our campsite. Every time I approached it, I would try not to look toward the field, as I truly believe I would actually spot the witch in reality. Sometimes, I wondered if I were actually dreaming all along. Even as I entered adolescence, the fear of the witch did not diminish.

Every year, my family gathered in that field to watch a parade of dozens of hot air balloon soar past just on the horizon.  It was a spectacular sight, but it was marred by the threat of the witch. Just sitting in that field made me nauseous. In fact, one year, I threw up from the stress. I was too afraid to head to the bathroom.

As I have become older, the dreams have become less frequent, but the witch still visits me on occasion. And each time, I still wake up overcome with nausea. It is one of the few things from my childhood that still remain. I still get sick if I so much even think about it.

The camp itself has been long-since abandoned. However, a headline caught my attention a few years back that chilled me right to the bone. The body of a missing child was found in that field, strangled to death. No arrests were ever made. In fact, there wasn’t even a single suspect.

Recently, following a rough year both personally and professionally, I decided to go on a nostalgic journey back to my roots, re-tracing my steps back to stomping grounds that used to make me happy.

On a crisp, grey autumn day, I headed back to the site of campground. Hardly anything remained. It was mostly just empty land, peppered with the occasional rusty piece of playground equipment. I realized coming here was only making me more depressed. I wasn’t even quite sure what I even expected to accomplish by coming back here.

Though I tried to avoiding it, I found myself drawn to that field. Though most of the landmarks surrounding it were gone, I knew the route like the back of my hand. All that remained of the bathroom was its footprint. And the moment I saw the field, I could feel the same sense of dread I felt as a kid. With each step, I grew more sick to my stomach.      

I noticed something on the horizon. A small, red dot. I knew exactly what it was: a hot air balloon. Then another one appeared. Followed by an another.

Then I saw it – the witch. Her back was turned to me as usual. I wanted to turn away, but I felt drawn to her like a magnet, against my will, until I was mere inches from it. It smelled of rotting flesh.

I threw up.

And then it began to slowly turn around.

I finally saw its face.

And then there was black.

Home Security

Shortly after Tommy turned six, he became obsessed with making sure all the doors and windows in the house were locked. He would go around the entire house checking several times a day. His parents tried their best to assure him that they always made sure the doors were locked every night, but it was no use.

Nor, was it any use when they reminded him that they lived in a safe neighborhood and that they didn’t have anything burglars would want, as they were not rich.

Somewhere along the way, the concept of burglars got into Tommy’s head – another notch toward a child’s inevitable loss of innocence. Though his parents shielded him from the local news, he presumably came to an understanding of his concept from the shows he did watch.

Each night after he was tucked in, he would insist on going around one more time to double – and sometimes triple – check the doors.

Over time, he added a fear of being kidnapped. Once again, he was reminded that they lived in a safe neighborhood.         

It got the point that every time he saw a car he didn’t recognize parked in the street – or even in a neighbor’s driveway – he would assume the worst, begging his parents to call the police. Once, he was so insistent on his parents doing something about it, they pretended to call the police just so they could get assurance that the cars belonged there.

Then began his demands for a watchdog – a no-go since both of his parents were allergic to dogs. Though, they did consider getting a home security system to mollify their son’s peace of mind – as, well as theirs by extension.

But after pricing it out, they decided to see if this phase would pass any time soon. But it wasn’t looking likely.

Weeks passed by. Then months. And his obsession worsened. Lately, he had been fixating on a particular car that was often parked across the street. He found it odd that a man was sitting in it. His parents reassured him that there was nothing to be worried about.

 A few weeks later, while driving home from a family function, Tommy fell asleep, which he used to all the time, until it became a thing of the past. Playing with his cousins must have wiped him out!

He was so passed out, they couldn’t even wake him up when they got home. His father carried him upstairs to his bed. Just like old times! (only now, he was so much heavier).

The next morning, Tommy was still asleep after 8, which was a big shock considering that he normally woke up before six on weekends (which was earlier than he usually did during the school week). Though he was probably just worn out from the family gathering, they couldn’t help but wonder: was he getting sick?

When 9 o’clock rolled around, Tommy’s parents went up to check on him. But he was nowhere to be seen. They frantically called his name, looking around the entire house to no avail. He was gone.

And then they realized something that made them freeze in their tracks: the door leading to the garage had never been locked. When they opened the door, they realized that the garage door had been left open all night. They must have gotten distracted when they carried Tommy inside.

They never did find their son.

They also never forgot to lock a door again.

If only they installed that security system.

Or, got a watchdog.

Where Do the Neighbors Go When They Move Away?

On a corner lot, across the street from the Johnsons, is a house that has had more new owners more than any house should. As to why, nobody knows for sure. It was just one of those things.

The usual pattern was as follows: new owners would move in. And within a year, a for sale sign would pop up, and the occupants would be gone without a trace. If it weren’t for the sign, one might easily assume that the house was listed as a short-term rental.

Over the years, owners from all demographics came and went – singletons, couples, families, and the elderly. But the one thing they all had in common was that they were gone almost as quickly as they arrived.

What made things even more peculiar was how rarely the inhabitants would be seen once they moved in. Not even children were ever seen playing in the yard.

 The Johnsons made it a point to welcome the new neighbors with a customary cherry pie, but nobody ever come to the door. So, the pie was always left on the porch, with no acknowledgment that it was received. Other neighbors would report similar experiences.

 And before anyone ever got a chance to know their new neighbors, a for sale would arrive. And then presumably overnight, they occupants would vanish without a trace. Nobody ever saw anyone move out, but they always saw them move in.

 There was another thing that always struck the Johnsons as odd: every so often, a steady stream of cars would come and go, always driving slowly as they approached the house, as though they weren’t quite sure where to find what they were looking for. They would eventually  park in front of the house for a few minutes, or on the side, then drive away. Usually, the frequency of traffic would increase just before the house was go back up for sale.

 The Johnsons could never make any sense of it. They thought about approaching one of the cars, or even calling the police, but in the end, decided it wasn’t really their business.

 The newest neighbors were a lesbian couple with a baby – a surprising, but welcome change of pace for the rather conservative neighborhood.

But as usual, they were never seen again once they moved in, though shortly after they moved in, a pride flag and a Black Lives Matter sign appeared.  Maybe they would actually stick around. Maybe things would progress and finally be different.

 Ten months later, the mystery parade of cars appeared began. And then overnight, the flag and sign were gone and in its place, a for sale sign.   

It had been almost a year since anyone has lived there. This sometimes happened. But eventually, someone else would move in.

And then out again.

Seance

After my wife passed away, I waited – prayed – for some sort of sign from the great beyond that she was okay. As a moderately-raised Catholic, I always had a firm belief in the afterlife and after she lost her long battle with cancer, I found myself wanting to believe in it more than ever. It is human nature to cling on to the hope that death isn’t an ending, if only because of the alternative. Even avowed atheists can’t help but ponder the possibility of an afterlife when a loved one passes away.

And even though nothing could change the fact that Carolyn was gone from this earthly realm, the urge for a sign becomes even stronger when you have spent your whole life believing in the afterlife.

But days passed without a sign. Then weeks. Followed by months.

And for the first time in my life, I found myself losing faith.

  “Maybe you could attend some sort of séance?” my friend Kim suggested.

“I don’t know…” I said with maximum trepidation.

What I really needed was a therapist.

Though I was admittedly intrigued with her suggestion, I was never comfortable with the idea of conjuring spirits. As a kid, I was taught that it was against God’s will and was convinced that only evil spirits could be conjured. I wanted no part of that. I had seen enough movies. And I truly believed in it. So much so, in fact, that when I was 10, my mom had to pick me up from a Halloween party when everyone gathered around a Hasbro Ouija board.

Now, I was desperate enough to give it a shot.

More time passed and I began to see it as a silver lining: perhaps this meant she was at rest? Weren’t wandering souls often lost and trying to resolve unfinished business on earth, or perhaps had a message to deliver to a loved one?

But then Kim left her little choice when she got her a gift certificate for a séance.

 She made me an appointment for Friday, October the 13th of all days. And why not? What could go wrong?

When the day finally arrived, I began to get cold feet. I couldn’t help but think that if she was at rest, why risk stirring her soul? And if conjured spirts were troubled spirits, would I really want to find out she was one of them? Unless, of course, a conjuring might help put her at rest.

“It will be good to get out and do some socializing,” Kim said.

“Socializing with spirits. Sounds like a great plan.”

“Okay, I’m in.”

She was right. I did need to socialize and get out this rut. Séance or not.

Kim picked me up, because we both know it would make it harder for me to cancel once she arrived. Even though Kim and I had been friends since high school, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed with guilt for even riding in a car with another woman. Carolyn was always slightly jealous of Kim, even though we had never been romantically involved (unless you count going to a Homecoming dance sophomore year and one awkward, misguided kiss that landed on her ear, rather than her mouth).

I had to change my way of thinking. I was doing nothing wrong. And what we were doing was directly about Carolyn, anyway. Besides, the mere thought of dating seemed light years away. I just had to keep reminding myself that it hadn’t even been a year (though, I was hoping that I would be turning a corner by the one-year anniversary of her passing). But it didn’t feel that way. At all. But why rush it? Going out tonight was a huge step forward. Conjured spirit, or not.

To be honest, I was looking more forward to the beer afterward than the séance itself. My anxiety was trying to convince me to pull the plug.

“What the worse that could happen?” Kim asked.

I knew that answer to that question.

We finally arrived at the medium’s house, located in a bad part of town. Kim waited in the living room, while I was lead directly into candle-lit basement dwelling like you see in just about any movie where there is a seance. All that was missing was Whoopi Goldberg. She was even dressed like her character in Ghost. How could this not be a hoax? Part of me sort of wished it was.

After taking a seat at a small table, the medium took me by the hands hand closed her eyes, urging me to do the same, before instructing me to channel all of my energy into memories of Carolyn. Yet, she felt more distant than ever.

The medium assured me this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It meant that Carolyn was either at peace…or, unavailable. She didn’t elaborate what “unavailable” meant. And I didn’t want to ask. Just what would she possibly be up to?     

Several minutes passed and dead silence as the medium strained herself trying to channel something. But if you asked me, it just appeared that she was trying to take a shit. Just how much did Kim splurge on this waste of time?

But just before the medium pulled the plug on the whole operation, she began to sway back and forth, while humming an eerie chant.

“There is someone here,” she said.

How convenient.

“Is it her?”

The medium closed her eyes even more tightly and concentrated even harder – becoming the human equivalent of a nearly empty toothpaste tube, or nearly fully-squeezed lemon.

“A child.”

“A child?!”

“Yes. A boy. Maybe 5 or 6 years old.”

“Who could it be?”

She began to concentrate even harder. At least she made it look convincing.

“Someone from your past.”

 “Who?”

“Have you ever lost a child? Your own? Or, maybe one you were close to?”

I suddenly became paralyzed with fear.

It couldn’t be…

…could it?

“No,” I barely managed to utter.

But I knew better. I knew exactly who it was.

And just like, the child spirt was gone.

            I had Kim drive me straight me home. I had no interest in going to the bar after what I had just encountered. I just wanted to go to sleep and forget this night ever happened.

But sleep wouldn’t come easy that night.

At some point, shortly I finally fell asleep, I woke up to a child saying something that chilled me to the goddamn bone.

“Daddy?”

And standing there in the darkest corner of my room.          

My child.

My unborn son.   

Our unborn son.

Home at last.

Ghosted!

Samantha was used to being ghosted. Ever since high school, when Facebook was still in its infancy and social media as a whole was still a toddler. She was now 32 and had been ghosted on just about every social media platform. Not to mention every real-life stage.

At least her dark sense of humor remained intact (though most replied to this statement in pity), “I could take you on a ghost tour,” she would often to say, “Of all the men who ghosted me.”

She took comfort in the silver lining that she still had a lot of “good” years left, but based on her track record, it probably just meant many more years of rejection and heartbreak. Yet, she somehow still remained a hopeless romantic. She was simply wired that way.

Samantha was always open to new experiences and just when she thought she had tried them all, something new would come along. But nothing could prepare her for her next tryst – for lack of a better word.

Of course, it came when she had least expected it. She wasn’t even looking for anyone at all. In fact, she had just recently got rid of all of her dating apps – not just deactivated them, but deleted them completely, so that it would require a major effort to start over, which in turn would make it less tempting to get on the social media saddle.  

She was flat out tired of the “wild goose chase” (a phrase she always pointed out to her freshman English students was invented by Shakespeare) of dating life – the false leads, the bad dates, and even the good dates that mean recycling the same conversations over and over again. It was so fucking time-consuming and tiresome. She had seen so many dick pics, to the point that she couldn’t stomach the idea of ever seeing a real dick again, no matter how horny she was (though she did recently spend $100 on new sex toys – none of which resembled dicks).  For one fleeting moment, she considered pursuing a same sex partner. It was really the only frontier on the sexual front yet to explore.

She was determined to re-focus her energy on her work and re-connecting with old friends she hadn’t seen in awhile – while she was too busy chasing geese.

Part of her believed that taking a break would open up the possibility of finding the man of her dreams when she least expected it.

What Samantha wasn’t expecting to do during this time was having to move. She had been living comfortably in a rental home for the past five years. Though it was always meant to be temporary, she had never felt more at home and had planned on staying put for as long as she was allowed to. She also knew she could never beat the price. But the owners informed her that they were moving back from out of state and that she would have to move out. Of course, she didn’t bother asking if she could continue living there (though, she was certainly tempted – she spent most of her time in the guest room any way, where there was a better view with better lighting).

She had one week to move out. Did two weeks-notice even apply to housing? The owners made it clear they were in a bind, so she didn’t feel like she had much wiggle room.

And just like, that was not only desperately single, but desperately homeless.

She began searching for a new place immediately, but the pickings were slim. The silver lining was that she wouldn’t have to mull over options. She thought about moving back in with her parents, but it would have felt too much like an act of regression. She finally settled on a dwelling on the edge of town. It wasn’t nearly as nice as her previous place, but the price was comparable and she couldn’t afford much more than that. It also had just the right amount of seclusion that she desperately needed.

            The move went surprisingly smooth. She didn’t have a bunch of extra stuff, which helped tremendously. Being a recovered pack rat finally paid dividends.

As soon as the movers left, the first thing she did was order a pizza. She had a feeling it would be going to bed. When she finally did, she noticed a few odd noises that one would hear in any new dwelling, but didn’t think much of them and quickly fell asleep. She never woke up once.

 The next night, she woke up to what she thought was a loud moan, but chalked it up to a dream. She had trouble falling back asleep. She heard the same noises as the night before, but they seemed louder. Eventually, she drifted back to sleep.

The third night, she heard the moan again. Though she wasn’t certain, it sounded more like pleasure, than pain. But neither one was welcome.

The fourth night, she felt what she could only describe as a presence. She didn’t see anything, but certainly felt something. And was beginning to truly wonder if her new abode was haunted.

She tried to set aside thoughts that the house was perhaps buried on an old Indian burial ground, chalking up all of her paranoia to all the horror films she watched over the years, despite never liking horror films.

By the fourth night, she was having sex with a ghost.

Or, at least, she dreamt it. Though, it was so fucking amazing, she hoped either she would have the dream again, or the same ghostly encounter. Though, the ghost concept seemed much more fascinating to her.

She still didn’t see anything, but heard the same moan she had heard the night before at the same moment she came.

And the next night, it happened again. And she was certain it wasn’t a dream this time. Because unlike the first time, she wasn’t asleep when it began. This time, she was wide awake when the presence came to her – in her. There was no question this was a very well-endowed ghost dick. Or, at the very least, brandished a well-endowed dildo.

And to be clear, it was fully consensual because she wanted it (though she did wonder, if she refused, would the spirit abide? She hoped she would never have to find out). It felt too fucking good to pass up. And it wasn’t like she was having much luck in the physical world.

Instead of a single, powerful orgasm she had the night before, this time, she had three, powerful orgasms, accompanied by a simultaneous, ghostly moan in perfect harmonization with her . At least that mystery was solved now.

The next night, she awaited eagerly for her ghost lover, even slipping into her sexiest lingerie. But he never came. And by default, neither did she.

She gave him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he was taking a night off? Some much needed me time? Had other plans? They never established any boundaries such as seeing other people, or – in this instance not seeing.

Mr. Ghost Lover didn’t show up the next night, either. No noises. No moans.

Nothing.

In fact, he never showed up ever again.

Samantha never got the chance to know what he looked like, what its name was, when and how it died, and – most importantly – a why it chose her.

And then it dawned on her.

She was ghosted once again.

By a fucking ghost.

Some things never change.

Especially when it comes to dating.

Specifically men.

Dead or alive.

Amnesty Day

“Well you’ve cracked the sky, scrapers fill the air
But will you keep on building higher
‘Til there’s no more room up there?
Will you make us laugh, will you make us cry?
Will you tell us when to live, will you tell us when to die?

I know we’ve come a long way
We’re changing day to day
But tell me, where do the children play?”

-Cat Stevens

Tragedies either bring couples closer together, or they can drive them apart. Rarely is there a middle ground. Following a miscarriage, Ava and Steve found themselves in the latter category. Things weren’t exactly going great before the pregnancy, the arrival of which had taken them both by surprise. After all, they tried the fertility treatment route for two full years (not to mention most of their savings) in an effort to bring new life into this world. It brought no shortage of strain to their relationship. There were times when both thought about ending things and starting fresh, but usually one would talk the other out of it, or at least do something that would persuade the other that they could make it work. They both had a growing sense that it was only a matter of time before someone pulled the plug. But then lo and behold, she was pregnant. And just like that, their relationship was given the fresh start the were hoping for. Their united front became stronger than ever.

But six months into the pregnancy, they lost it.

Their little boy.

Stephen III.

They would rather have never have gotten pregnant at all, then to do so, only to have it taken away. Both fell into a lingering depression that manifested itself in disparate ways, further deepening the divide between them. And in their own individual suffering, they drifted further apart than they ever had before any point in their relationship. Though neither one said it out loud, going separate ways felt like the only option left at this point.

The summer passed, giving way to fall. And the thought of facing another long Michigan winter seemed suffocating. Any semblance of a happy relationship at this point was usually a temporary mirage A faint echo of what used to be. Like a ghostly visit from the past. Though they both wanted to grab on to these moments and never let go, they were elusive. Like a phantom fading away into the night.

On a perfect mid-October Saturday afternoon, in what was perhaps a last-ditch effort to save their marriage, Steve proposed that they return to the town where they had their first date – the affluent, sleepy town of Yarmouth on the outskirts of metro Detroit. Though they could never afford to live there, they would visit there frequently, though not since before the tragedy. In fact, the last time they had been there was to celebrate their pregnancy.   

Yarmouth was the perfect autumn town in the perfect autumn state – a last hurrah before winter stored in like a lion, destroying everything in its wake. The cloudless blue sky was punctuated by the red, yellow, and orange leaves still on the trees, showing off the height of their beauty before turning to rot.

After an early dinner downtown at their favorite restaurant, they proceeded to take a stroll into the park smack dab in the middle of downtown, holding hands like the old days. In fact, they couldn’t remember the last time they held hands. It felt like putting on an old pair of comfortable slippers that you forgot you had.

They grabbed a coffee, then ventured into a nearby neighborhood. The Victorian-era homes were decorated with an abundance of Halloween dec0rations, which came as no surprise. Yarmouth was a very kid-centric town. If one were to take an educated guess, at least one child resided in every two out three homes.

Ava and Steve both lived for Halloween. In fact, it was one of the things about parenthood they were most looking forward to. But with or without a child, they would always love Halloween. Nothing could take that away from them. Though, it did cross that mind that maybe this town wasn’t the best place to be – surrounded by children – reminders of what they didn’t have. A neighborhood where everybody had it all. It was difficult to fathom that miscarriages could exist in a place like this.

            Something rather peculiar immediately caught their eye. Enormous piles of “trash” along the curbside of just about every house – mostly big items that weren’t typically picked up by sanitation services. They assumed it must be the city’s amnesty day, where anything that normally wouldn’t be taken away by trash collectors would be. But that wasn’t what struck them as most odd: most of the items left behind on the curb were children’s stuff: cribs, beds, tables, toy boxes, swingsets, bikes, scooters, clothing, potties, sandboxes, etc. At least two out of three houses had kids’ stuff at the curb.

            “Why is there so much kid stuff?” she asked.

A perfectly rational question.

Furthermore, why did so much of it look so new and not trash-worthy? Steve couldn’t help but think about the classic, hauntingly succint Hemingway story:

            “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Sure, these were people with disposable income. Throwing away perfectly good stuff wasn’t that unusual in communities such as thesel. But why not donate it? And why was there so damn much? For block after block?

Ava pointed out another rational oddity. Where were all the children? It was a perfect, 65-degree autumn Saturday. The Wolverines had a bye week. Swingsets (the ones not left at the curb) stood silent. And where were the adults for that matter? Perhaps if they saw one, they would definitely ask some questions.           

Where were the children?!

Upon further inspection, the curtains and shades appeared to be drawn in every window of every house. Though it had just turned to dusk, not a single light was on – interior or exterior.

They both had a sudden urge to head back home. They were getting an awful vibe and they had seen enough.

As they headed back to their car, they noticed several ramshackle trucks pillaging items from the curb. Christmas had come!

One man’s trash…

When they got home, they both retreated into their own separate corners of the house. Though they couldn’t quite put their finger on it, there was something about their experience that just didn’t sit well with them. They just wanted the day to end.

Halloween arrived and, on a whim, they drove back to Yarmouth. Not a single kid could be seen trick-or-treating. Nor, was there a single porchlight on.

Over a relatively short period of time, the town of Yarmouth went through a tremendous transformation, in the form of an unexplained mass exodus. Schools shut down in what used to be one of the top districts in the state. Those that stayed behind let their homes fall into disrepair, as did new resident who moved in by taking advantage of plummeting property values. Many homes remained uninhabited. Eventually, it became a modern-day ghost town.

Ava and Steve never did find out what happened to the children. Urban legends soon emerged, but nothing that could be substantiated with fact. And before long, the original inhabitants had all vanished without a trace.

Soon after, Ava and Steve went their separate ways, where they would remain childless for the rest of their days.

But they would always love Halloween.