Allendale: A Shunned House Part 31

The blinding maelstrom of greenish-yellow vapor which surged tempestuously up from that hole as the floods of acid descended will never leave my memory. All along Peach Valley Drive and up toward town, people still talk about the yellow day, when a barge filled with god-knows-what leaked into the Cumberland River, but I know how mistaken they are to the source. They tell, too, of the hideous roar which came at the same time, possibly the hull of the barge tearing open on some long-forgotten building drown by the TVA—but again I could correct them if I dared.

I don’t see how I lived through it. Certainly none of the sensitive equipment we had carried into the basement with us did. All was ruined and the information on it unsalvageable. I passed out after emptying the fourth container, which I had to handle after the fumes had begun to penetrate my mask. But when I recovered, I saw that the bodies were all gone and the hole was emitting no fresh vapors.

The two remaining containers I emptied down without particular result, and after a time, I felt it safe to shovel the earth back into the pit. It was twilight before I was done, but the fear had gone out of the place. The dampness was less noticeable and all the strange fungi had withered to a grayish powder which blew ash-like all along the floor. Hell had received at last the demon soul of an unhallowed thing. As I patted down the last spadeful of dirt, I shed the first of many tears with which I have paid tribute to my beloved uncle.

The next spring, the daffodils bloomed at Allendale and shortly afterward the Fitzgeralds rented the place. The barren old catalpa tree in the yard was white with flowers, and last year the birds nested in its gnarled boughs.

I still have wolfish-dreams, dreams that I am being pursued by a thing, something like a cross between a bear and a wild hog and a wolf and a mountain lion. But my father assures me that this is another family matter, a separate problem unique to the Allens, long left in the past, nothing to worry about. And, as long as I don’t dream in French or wake to small scratches or bite marks, I shall continue to believe him.

Joel Reads You “All the Same Old Haunts”

Oh, you guys. you guys, you guys. Joel from Goat Farmer Records has recorded an audio version of “All the Same Old Haunts” and, as a Halloween treat, he’s graciously sharing it with us. Put it on repeat over your outdoor speakers to spook all your trick-or-treaters!

Listen to it in the dark. Or with one lone candle.


Thanks, Joel. This is amazing.

When I Think on it…

When I think on the ridiculousness of this afghan, I feel like nothing illustrates it as well as the fact that it takes two bags to contain all the squares. Oh, god, I hope this turns out okay, because it’s a lot.

The bigger squares still look nice.

I guess it only feels like the tiny squares are never-ending. I only have seven left.

Wayne White and How We are Nashvilles

I took the day to go down to the Nash-Up thing at the Frist which was really interesting and I ran into a shit-ton of people I knew and thought big thoughts with them, which was nice. And then Miss Beth showed up and we listened to Wayne White talk about his career and it was awesome.

But then I left because I was just done. My knee hurt and I wanted to be home with my dog.

I have some big thoughts on the whole thing, but I’ll get to them later.

The main thing I’ll say is that it’s hard for me to think of Nashville as one place. That’s just not my experience of it at all. It is better to think of it as a series of overlapping small towns–with those small towns being defined by interest or geographical location or shared work place. The folks who work at Vanderbilt sometimes say that they’re in the “Vandy Bubble,” but the truth is that the whole city is like a glass of milk some kid has put a straw in. Everyone has their own bubbles. Some touch. Many do not.

So, if that’s true, how do you talk about a “Nashville” anything? For instance, they had a panel that talked about Nashville as narrative and they had not one single local novelist on it. Which is fine. The panel was still good. But it just shows a blind spot. They did not realize they were missing a local from one of our more prominent villages. One that would directly inform what they were talking about.

Anyway, White talked some about longing and wanting to be in a world a little better than this one being at the heart of most art. It was pretty profound.

It Sure is Strange

I can’t help but feel like Donovan is one of the most under-appreciated people who seems like he’s being appreciated just the right amount. Like, I say “Donovan” and you’re like “Yep, Donovan.” But then when you start to trace his influence on other musicians, you can’t help but feel like people should be all “Oh, yeah, Donovan.”

“Season of the Witch” is a fantastic song and one that you could spend all day on YouTube listening to different versions of. But what I want to point out to you is not just that folks love to cover this song, but that they do not want to stop singing or playing it.

Donovan’s version is just about five minutes long.

Julie Driscoll’s (my personal favorite) is pushing eight minutes.

Richard Thompson’s version is nine minutes.

Bloomfield, Kooper, and Stills go on for ten minutes.

Suck is ten as well.

And Vanilla Fudge goes on for nine minutes.

You kind of get the feeling that they’re all metaphorically dancing around the fire, hands linked with shadowy figures they’ve been forbidden from consorting with, and no one wants to be the first to let go.

Allendale: A Shunned House Part 30

At 11 a.m. the next day, I began to dig. The weather was sunny and I was glad for it. I was still alone, because, as much as I feared the unknown horror, I feared telling anyone—feared they’d think I was mad, feared they’d think I killed my dear uncle. Later, I told the Fitzgeralds out of necessity, and because they were already somewhat aware of the circumstances of the house. As I turned up the stinking black earth in front of the fireplace, my spade causing a viscous yellow ichor to ooze from the white fungi which it severed, I trembled at the thought of what I might uncover. Some secrets are better left undiscovered and I worried this might be one of them.

My hand shook perceptibly, but still I dug. After a while I was standing in a large hole I had made. With the deepening of the hole, which was about six feet square, the evil smell increased, and I lost all doubt of my imminent contact with the hellish thing whose emanations had cursed the house for two centuries. I wondered what it would look like—what form it might take, and how big it might have grown, through the long ages of preying on my family.

After a while I climbed out of the hole and arranged the containers of acid around two sides, so that I could empty them into the hole quickly. After that, I dumped earth only on the other two sides and I worked more slowly. I donned my gas mask as the smell grew.

Suddenly my spade struck something softer than earth, the gentle give of rotting wood. I shuddered and turned to climb out of the hole, which was now as deep as my neck. Then courage returned. I thought back to Demonbreun’s letter— Jean Deraque, “deux fils, ainsi que quatre Indiens.” I couldn’t know which crude coffin contained the garou, but I knew I had to uncover all seven bodies. Slowly, so slowly, the layer of dead men revealed itself, some covered still with planks not yet rotted completely away, some so bare all that was left of them were bones and bits of metal—buttons, buckles, coins, and the like. One of the partial skeletons—one of the Deraques, I presume—was larger than the rest and its skull was obviously lupine, even in the dimly lit hole. Though the rest of the bones were gray and crumbling, the teeth of this one were still sharp and white. Whether it was a trick of light, I cannot say, but I swear I saw the jaw open slightly and then seem to snap shut, as if whatever vital animating force compelled the beast was not thwarted by barely having a body to animate.

Allendale: A Shunned House Part 29

The rest is so terrible. There was no one on that soaked hill and no one I dared tell. I walked aimlessly down toward the river and then back up to Peach Valley Road and out to Route 109, just to see the passing cars and have the reassurance of the continued existence of the rest of the world. Then the gray dawn unfolded wetly from the east, silhouetting the archaic hill and the old house, and beckoning to the place where my terrible work was still unfinished. And in the end I went, wet, hatless, and dazed in the morning light, and entered that awful door to the basement of Allendale, which I had left open, and which still swung cryptically in the morning light.

The grease was gone and in front of the fireplace was no remaining hint of the giant doubled-up form. I looked at the cot, the chairs, the neglected equipment, and the yellow straw hat of my uncle. I was so dazed I could scarcely recall what was dream and what was reality. But then, it all came back to me. Sitting down, I tried to remember it all, in as minute a detail as possible, in order to gather some clue as to how I might, once and for all, end the horror. It didn’t seem to be real, not solid in form, but instead some kind of emanation, some vampirish vapor, a cemetery mist. Oh, this I felt was a clue, and again I looked at the floor in front of the fireplace, this time not for the oddly shaped mold, but for how the bricks had been arranged. In ten minutes, my mind was made up, and taking only my uncle’s hat, set now squarely on my head, I set out back to town, back home, where I bathed, ate, and gave an order by phone to the military surplus store for a pickaxe, a spade, a gas-mask, and six containers of sulfuric acid, all to be delivered the next morning at the basement door of Allendale. After that, I tried to sleep, and failing that I passed the hours reading and in the composition of inane verse to counteract my mood.

The Doctor Says

–My innards are innarding away as they should.

–My shoulder is fucked, by looks like it’s improving. Keep doing what I’m doing. What I’m doing mostly is bitching about it, but let’s not overlook the power of complaining.

–My knee is fucked, and the jury is out on how fucked. Apparently with this type of injury, it starts out kind of bad, gets really bad, and then improves (where we are now) and, if nothing’s torn, we see continued improvement. If something is torn, we’ll know it because we’ll have another bout of really bad here in a week or so. If that happens, then I have to see an orthopedist.

–I got a flu shot.

–And that is all.

The Handmaid’s Tale Thingy

We watched the movie and then we went down front and talked about it for a while. I invited everyone who feared a future like that in the movie to horde copies of Our Bodies, Ourseelves and teach women of all ages how our bodies work and that they are ours.

As I said on Facebook, I really feministed it up.

I’m still feeling a little way over stimulated from the past week/month. I want to sleep or sit in a quiet room by myself for like three days straight. But I have a doctor’s appointment today and a huge, stressful meeting tomorrow, and a thing downtown all day on Wednesday, then my parents arrive on Thursday, and on Friday I get to hear whether the ceiling adventure from this summer did any damage to my HVAC unit. And I’ve got a religious vigil to keep. Plus, something has to happen with my bathroom. Either it gets clean or we just start going outside, like wolves.

My goal is to just make it through this week. There will be a moment, late Friday afternoon, when I will be able to just not give a shit about anything, when I can become like a sentient carrot. My hope is that I can reclaim this feeling–the afterglow of two excellent readings–and bask in that while I think of nothing else.

Rolls Like a River to the Sea of Your Name

Perhaps you were sitting around wondering who is the spookiest sounding musical act of the current era. You’ve been wracking (or racking? Neither look right.) your brain about whether it’s Rob Zombie or some death metal band. I would like to nominate, as an outside, long-shot contender, the Del McCoury Band.

Tom Piazza likes to explain bluegrass as the jazz of country, the place where talented musicians go to stretch convention. There’s a lot about that comparison that I like. But I would say that bluegrass is also country’s creepy attic, where winds rattle the windows and get in through the eaves. You don’t, for instance, hear a lot of country artists still singing murder ballads. It’d be a little strange to go to a bluegrass concert and not have one song death.

The Del McCoury Band has a couple of straight up scary songs. If you want to sob for, like, seven days–and I’m not judging you. Maybe you have tear constipation or something–they do a great cover of 1952 Vincent Black Lightning, a song up there for me with Puff the Magic Dragon in its ability to rip my heart out fresh every damn time.

They also have the delicious It’s Just the Night, which is lovely with the mandolin and fiddle just creeping it right the fuck up.

But I think the song that kind of gets them at their creepiest is My Love Will Not Change.

It’s not that the song is inherently creepy. All creepiness is invoked solely by the instruments (counting their voices as an instrument). I posit that, even humming the song, it would be somewhat creepy. Maybe it’s the driving relentlessness of it. Maybe it’s Del’s old-school voice that sounds like you could hear it down in the holler when he was up on the ridge. I don’t know. I just know that, when I realized I was singing this morning, this is the song I was singing.

Allendale: A Shunned House Part 28

In the midst of this demonic spectacle, I saw a fresh horror which sent me fumbling and staggering toward that unlocked door and out into the rain-damp yard, completely careless about what abnormal terrors I might be freeing into the world. In that dim light, the form of my uncle had begun to liquefy and, as it had done so, I saw play across his face such changes of identity as one can scarcely conceive. He seemed at once to be a devil and a multitude. Lit by the strange light in the basement, that gelatinous face assumed a dozen—a score—a hundred—aspects, grinning, as it sank to the ground on a body that melted like tallow, in the caricatured likeness of legions strange and yet not strange.

I saw the features of the Allen line, masculine and feminine, adult and infantile, and other features old and young, course and refined, familiar and unfamiliar. It was frightful beyond conception, toward the last, when a curious blend of servant, slave, and baby faces flickered close to the fungous floor where a pool of greenish grease was spreading, it seemed as though the shifting features fought against themselves and strove to form into my uncle’s kindly face. I like to think that he existed at that moment, and that he tried to say good-bye to me. It seemed to me that I hiccupped a sobbing farewell to him as I lurched out into the yard; a thin stream of grease following me through the door.

In the Midst of All This

I started my yearly nine-nights’ vigil. I looked back in my journals devoted to the activity and this is, apparently, my tenth year. I guess that’s the trick, folks. Find a practice/belief that sustains you and it will, in fact, sustain you.

This year had to be modified, somewhat, because of my knee. I just can’t count on being able to get down on the ground, or more importantly, being able to get back up. Everything is modified from years past, then, to be more simple and at a level I can reach without getting stuck.

Still, I’m happy with it. It’s enough to do the trick.

The East Side Story Reading

Oh, y’all, there was a charming sofa and Elizabeth McClellan read some of my favorite poems of hers. There was a lovely crowd. I read the story I hate and I am convinced that it’s really, really good. Even the singing went okay.

But I want to tell you that, if you have to have a reading in town, East Side Story has some amazing advantages. One, they have wine and themed food for guests. There were eyeballs and faces and fingers to eat.

But the other, and I CANNOT EVEN BELIEVE IT, is that they had three artists make pieces based on stories that appear in A City of Ghosts. These aren’t great pictures, but they are amazing pictures. I brought the Rachel Jackson one home with me.

I’m going to have to bring my parents in there. Holy cow. I am completely overwhelmed by the awesomeness.

Allendale: A Shunned House Part 27

I had been lying with my face to the outside door and so, when I started from my sleep, the first thing I saw was the door frame and then the flanking window frames. The windows themselves were black and yielded nothing of the outside, because the basement was lit. It was not a strong light, certainly not strong enough to read by, but it kept off the outside and cast a shadow of myself and the cot on the floor. It had an unhealthy yellowish glow, almost the color of an infection. This was what sprung to my mind, perhaps because the smell of the place, the stench, was so strong now, and my ears still rang from the horrific scream which had awoken me.

I leaped over to the equipment we had left trained on the moldy spot in front of the fireplace. As I turned, I dreaded what I was about to see, for I knew that scream had been in my uncle’s voice but I didn’t know what menace I would have to defend him and myself against.

It was worse than I could have ever dreamed. Out of the fungus-ridden earth steamed up a vaporous corpse-light, yellow and diseased, which bubbled and lapped almost to the ceiling in vague outlines half-human and half-monstrous, through which I could see the chimney and the fireplace beyond. Its wolfish and mocking eyes were the only distinctive feature I could make out. And yes, I say that I saw the damned thing, but it’s only as I write this that I can really begin to remember its outlines. At the time it seemed to me only a seething, dimly phosphorescent cloud of fungal loathsomeness, enveloping and dissolving the one thing I was focused on—my poor uncle, Elias Allen—whose blackening and decaying features leered and gibbered at me, who reached out dripping claws to rend me in the fury which this horror had brought.

Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. Blind training is all that saved me. Jesus Christ. I had drilled for this moment, imagined it before I went to sleep, played out on my drives to the store and to work—Jesus Christ—what I would do in circumstances that seemed beyond plausibility. Jesus Christ. I recognized immediately that the bubbling evil was of no substance reachable by ordinary measure—Jesus Christ—and so I ignored the flame throwers which loomed to my left.  I pulled the EMP weapon from its place and took a deep breath. Jesus Christ. I pulled the trigger and there was a noise, almost like the thud you feel in your chest at a stop light when the neighboring car has its infernal music turned up too loud.  Jesus Christ. I realized it was me saying that, praying for help without realizing it.

No help came.

Some Thoughts on the Afghan

One hundred and thirty six tiny squares is a lot of tiny squares, a seemingly endless stream of tiny squares. I have been working on tiny squares for ever and only have 64 of them.

Forget the tucking and the sewing. This may be the part that breaks me.

Margaret Atwood

S. and I went to see Margaret Atwood and we ran int Southern Beale. We did not see the mayor who missed a funny, charming speech that involved quite a bit of singing, which I was very tickled by.

She even handled the questioner who just wants to say something but it never leads to a question. If you’re in academia, I’m sure you know the type. But she handled him gracefully even while I was physically cringing.

Allendale: A Shunned House Part 26

Suddenly, his face was drenched in sweat and he leaped up abruptly, still half asleep. The jumble of French changed to a cry in English and he shouted in a hoarse voice I barely recognized as his “My breath, my breath!” Then he was completely awake and the expression on his face changed back into one I found familiar. He grabbed my hand on one of his and with the other reached under the pillow for the Bible.

“I dreamed,” he said. “I dreamed I was here, in this house, which was also not this house. It was a shelter of the most basic simplicity—some sticks and leaves leaned against a hollowed out tree in which I sought shelter from the storm. And also a small one-room cabin, which seemed also to be this house, but not quite. Imagine them all, superimposed on each other, as if you are seeing the past haunting through the present, like the underlying grain of wood through an old coat of paint. The scene kept changing, but still seemed the same. Once I was in a hastily dug open pit, with a crowd of angry faces around me. Another time, I felt myself confined to a coffin, able to see the mixed grief and relief on the faces of the mourners who gathered round me.  And then again, I was confined to a bed, tended to by a constant vigilant crowd.

“So many of them looked like us, bore the unmistakable features of the Allen family. And all the while, I felt like I was choking, as if some presence, something I could not see but only feel, had spread throughout my body and was attempting to take over.”

I shuddered at the thought of that—my uncle in his ancient body struggling against forces that have had the better of much younger, more able-bodied men. But then, I thought, a dream is only a dream, and this one might well be the result of a man trying to process all of the information we had so lately learned.

As we talked, I found that I felt less ill-at-ease and soon I was yielding to yawns and so took my turn on the cot. My uncle seemed very much awake and he said he welcomed the chance to take his turn, even though the nightmare had awoken him far ahead of his allotted time.

I fell asleep quickly and my dreams were as nightmarish as my uncles. I dreamed I was confined and alone, bound and gagged. I felt trapped, as if I had been buried far beneath the earth and forgotten. I tried to scream, but, in the suffocating dark, it was useless. It was not a pleasant sleep and, for a second, I was not sorry for the echoing shriek which had flung me to a sharp and startled wakefulness.

Just One More Thought

I think part of the reason that I feel like holding my arms out and twirling around like the hills are alive with the sound of music is that I didn’t know anyone at the reading last night. Not a single soul was someone that I knew as a person.

I’ve never read to an audience of strangers.

When you read to groups that contain your friends, you have allies in the crowd. You know, if people are being polite and quiet, it could be because your folks are setting the tone.

Reading to a bunch of people who couldn’t give a shit either way if you succeed or not? And then to have something really work?

It feels amazing. It was really nerve-wracking but amazing.

But, whew, also, I will be glad to see faces I know on Saturday.

This morning, as I was recounting my evening to the Butcher, he said, “I’m really proud of you.”

We just don’t say shit like that in our family, so it must be true.

How It Went

Some thoughts:

1. Oh, lord, it was awesome. The poetry was really great.

2. The thing I was most unsure of–the talk about slasher films–ended up being incredible. I now want to take a class from that dude.

3. The Jack Lawrence on the poster? This Jack Lawrence. I’m glad I didn’t see Jack White until after I read or I might have peed myself. Like any good Nashvillian, I noted his presence and then pretended I didn’t know who he was.

4. Okay, so I read two stories–The Ghost who Thought You Were Lying and All the Same Old Haunts. And as soon as I got to the first cuss word in the first story, a weird hush fell over the whole bar. And then I noticed people dabbing their eyes. And then I realized, “Holy fuck, something is happening here.” And then I read “All The Same Old Haunts” and there was a slight uproar when I insisted Robert Johnson hadn’t sold his soul to the devil. And then I finished and people clapped. And then a beautiful woman with dark black, perfect eyeliner told me she loved my stories and that they had caught in her throat.

5. And I got a poster! One with tape on it, so they must have known how bad I wanted one and stole me one from the wall.

6. And now I am home and I am feeling like, whoa, holy shit. How is this my life? How can one nerdy girl be so lucky?

I need to go to bed, but I am still just wanting to feel this feeling a while longer.

Allendale: A Shunned House Part 25

Something like fear chilled me as I said there in the small hours alone—I say alone, for one who sits by a sleeper is indeed alone; perhaps more alone than he can realize. My uncle breathed heavily, his deep snores accompanied by the soft thunder outside, and punctuated by the sound of dripping water somewhere in the house—the house was repulsively damp even in dry weather and, in this storm, it seemed positively swamp-like.

I studied the loose, antique masonry of the walls by fungus-light, and once, when I felt that the thick, still, putrid air would choke me, opened the door and looked around the yard and down toward the river, feasting my eyes on the ordinary landscape of a dark hill in the night rain and my nostrils on the wholesome air. Nothing occurred to reward my watching and I yawned repeatedly, growing more tired and less fearful as the night wore on.

Then the stirrings of my uncle attracted my notice. He had tossed and turned restlessly on the cot during the first hour of his nap, but now he was breathing somewhat irregularly and occasionally he would sigh and moan, almost as if he were choking. I turned my flashlight on to see if he seemed to be in any pain, but he was turned away from me. I then walked to the other side of the couch and what I saw unnerved me, as small as it seemed. It was just that he didn’t look like himself. My uncle had always been so kind, so calm, so dignified, most of all, so pleasantly happy. But now, a variety of emotions crossed his face, all of which seemed so out of character for him. I think it was the variety of those emotions that disturbed me most. My uncle, as he gasped and tossed in increasing agitation, with unseeing eyes open even though he slept, seemed not one but many man.

All at once he began to mutter, and I did not like the look of his mouth or his teeth as he spoke. The words were at first indistinguishable and then—with a jolt—I recognized that old Elias Allen was muttering in French.