This is Why They Drink

This month has made me realize why it’s so easy for performers to get caught up in drinking and sleeping pills. I am only reading two stories this evening and I had the hardest time sleeping because I kept waking up to fret. Will I do okay? Will people like it? Will people like me? I have to see the guy who’s hosting this again on Sunday at the Atwood thing. What if he thinks I’m a dork?

And then I’m going to spend all day gearing up, do it, and then feel like “Woooo, that was awesome” and probably not be able to sleep.

Either you find some way to kind of vibrate at that frequency in a healthy manner or you find some way to chase sleep effectively.

Or you don’t do that much of it, I guess. Sleep or keeping up this pitch.

Still, whew, nerves.

Allendale: A Shunned House Part 24

Our vigil began at 10 p.m. and for a long time, it seemed nothing would happen. We had, along with our weaponry, all the accoutrements fitting of a modern ghost hunter—EMF readers, voice recorders, video cameras, and motion detectors. They made no unusual noises, recorded no anomalies of any sort until they ceased to function. A weak light filtered in from the raining night, the red and green glows from our equipment, and a feeble phosphorescence from the detestable fungi within showed the dripping stone of the walls from which all traces of whitewash had vanished, the dank, foetid, and mildew-tainted hard earth floor with its obscene fungus, the damp and broken, uneven brick area, and even the someone new concrete had a sad, tired appearance. The heavy planks and massive beams of the ground floor overhead, the rickety staircase with the ruined wooden hand-rail, and the crude and cavernous fireplace of blackened brick—these thing and our austere cot and camping chairs and the heavy and intricate destructive machinery we had brought all seemed to emerge from the darkness according to the vagaries of the passing lightning.

We had, as I had done so many times before, left the basement door to the outside unlocked so that we had a direct and practical path of escape, should we be dealing with forces too great for us. It was our idea that staying overnight, continually, if necessary, would lure out whatever malign entity lurked there. And that, since we were so well-prepared, that we could dispose of the thing as soon as we had recognized it and observed it sufficiently. How long that might take, we had no idea. It occurred to us, too, that we had no idea how safe this whole adventure was, because we had no idea how strong the thing might be, in whatever form it might take. But we thought it was worth the hazard, even as we were conscious that, if we had to call for help, we would be a laughingstock and, perhaps, then, unable to secure the house from evil. The only hint we had that we were not alone in thinking that there might be some unexplainable element to Allendale was that the Fitzgeralds had given us a small statue of St. Hubert, the patron saint of hunters and the saint to whom one appeals in case of bite. I placed it near my Bible, which was tucked under the pillow on the cot. My uncle was tickled at the notion of a saint who might protect one from the bite of a supernatural being. And though we laughed at this, both of us took some comfort as well. Such was our frame of mind as we talked—far into the night, until my uncle’s growing drowsiness made me remind him to lie down for his two-hour nap.

Isaac Phillips

I can’t stop thinking about him. Or about how to find out more about him. There may be nothing, honestly. I may have worked for years to inch into a brick wall that is, at the end of the day, still a brick wall. I may have found Luke’s father, but really, be no closer to discovering… I don’t know what. On any other part of my family tree, with enough digging, whole new branches sprout out before you. The Phillips line is still just a very closed off line. I don’t know who Luke’s people are, if he moved to Michigan with siblings, to be near cousins or uncles or what.

And I guess that makes me a little bummed. And the fact that there are two Isaac Phillipses in the area, both very similar in age, means that it’s impossible for me to know how much information on either one of them has been conflated into one person on Ancestry.com.

I think I’m at the point where I need to go out there and sit in some archives and libraries, just to see what might be found.

So, that kind of sucks, because I can’t afford to make a trip to New York State anytime soon. I’m going to email the distant cousin who is a better genealogist than me and tell him what I’ve found and see if he doesn’t know better trees to shake to get information out of.

Allendale: A Shunned House Part 23

I can’t say that my uncle and I weren’t nervous on that rainy night of watching. That would be ridiculous. We were not, as I’ve said, in any sense childishly superstitious, but this house had taught us that that there were mysteries in the world. In this case an overwhelming preponderance of evidence from numerous authentic sources pointed to the tenacious existence of certain forces of great power and, so far as the human point of view is concerned, exceptional evil. To say that we actually believed in vampires or werewolves would be a carelessly inclusive statement. Rather we were good Methodists, and, as such believed that the Devil could work with circumstances to make it seem so. We were also, though, educated men and believed, no matter what we found, there would be a rational explanation, even if the Supremely irrational Player was behind it.

In short, it seemed to my uncle and me that an incontrovertible array of facts pointed to some lingering influence in Allendale, traceable to one or another of the ill-favored French settlers of two centuries before, and still operative through some malignant will. Perhaps the trauma of the massacre at Lachine set moving certain kinetic patterns in the morbid brain of one or more of them—notably the sinister coffin-sleeping Michel Deraque—which somehow survived their bodies and continued to function in some way, perhaps some kind of contagious, inheritable post-traumatic stress disorder?

Such a thing was surely not a physical or biochemical impossibility in light of recent scientific discoveries—photons which appear to be two places at once or active human stem cells found in 17-day-old corpses. One might easily imagine certain genetic mutations or even foreign bodies kept alive by imperceptible or almost immaterial subtractions from the bodily tissues and fluids of other and more palpably living things into which it penetrates and with whose genetic fabric it sometimes completely merges itself. It might be actively hostile, or it might be dictated merely by blind motives of self-preservation. In any case such a monster must be by definition an anomaly and an intruder, which must be eradicated for humanity’s own safety.

What troubled us was that we had almost no idea what we were looking for. No sane person had ever seen it, and few had ever felt it definitely. It might be pure energy, or perhaps purely a soul—a form ethereal and outside the realm of substance—or it might be partly material, some unknown and equivocal mass capable of changing at will into any form it desired—solid, liquid, gas, or some tenuously in-between state. The anthropomorphic patch of mold on the floor argued at least a remote and reminiscent connection with the human shape, but how representative or permanent that similarity might be, we couldn’t say with any kind of certainty.

We had procured two weapons to fight it, a large and still-classified electromagnetic energy weapon operated by powerful storage batteries that we hypothesized would disrupt the energy necessary for anything—living, dead, or undead to function, and a pair of military flame-throwers in case it proved partly material and susceptible to mechanical destruction—for like those more superstitious, we were prepared to burn the thing to a crisp if there was anything that could be burnt. All this aggressive weaponry we set in the cellar in positions carefully arranged with reference to the cot and chairs, and to the spot before the fireplace where the mold had taken strange shapes. That suggestive patch, by the way, was only faintly visible when we placed our furniture and instruments, and when we returned that evening for the actual vigil. For a moment I half-doubted that I had ever seen it in the more definitely limned form—but then I thought of the legends.

The Best Lead I’ve Ever Had on Luke’s Dad

Here’s what I know. Luke says on one of his marriage licenses that he was born in Marion, New York, though he could not have been, since Marion didn’t exist when he was born in 1808. He says his parents were from Connecticut. There are less than 100 Phillipses buried in what is now Wayne County, New York, where Marion now is. More importantly, in 1810, when Luke would have been two, there were only two definite Phillipses living near what would become Marion–an Isaac Phillips living in Sodus and an Isaac Phillips living in Williamson. There were two other men I think were probably Phillipses–Dorcas Phillow and Luther Philims–living in Ontario.

That’s only four potential fathers.

If I’m reading the census right, only one of them had young sons in 1810.

Here’s the census entry:

Here’s the blank page that tells you what each column means:

It’s hard to see, but the first column is free white males under 10, of which Isaac has two. Then there’s a free white man between the ages of 26-44. I think we can safely say this is Isaac, since a kid under ten is unlikely to be the head of the household. There’s a girl under ten, a girl between ten and 15, and a woman 45 and older. Probably Isaac’s wife is dead and the older woman is a relative of Isaac’s helping with the children.

By 1820, he’s gone.

But there are no other male Phillips children under 10 living near Marion in 1810. If that’s not Luke, then I am at a total loss for where to continue to search for him.

Beyond, Behind, Below

Oh, y’all, you can see why I couldn’t remember “Beyond, Behind, Below” and wanted to call it “Bed, Bath, and Beyond.” But I read it again to make sure that I want to read it on Saturday and it caught in my chest. I think it must be the most terrible thing I’ve ever written. Not in the “it sucks” sense, but in the “oh, I can’t bear it” way. It’s like being on a roller coaster whose end you can’t see, but are beginning to suspect is going to run you straight into the ground.

I’m not quite sure the end part is as smooth as the beginning. I’m also considering a title change, though to what I’m not sure.

But it’s good. Oh, damn, it’s good.

I still hate it, but I hate it in its terrible beauty. If it works live, I’ll start submitting it. I owe it that.

I’ve never written something I hated before–I mean, I’ve written things I hated because they weren’t very good. This is the first thing I’ve written that stands on its own and I can barely bear to look at it. It’s a different kind of hate. I don’t know how to explain it, exactly. It’s just horrible.

The only drawback to reading it is that it requires a little creepy singing in the middle. So, we’ll see how that goes.

I think my favorite thing about this picture from my back yard is that you can see every limitation of the iPhone camera, but it’s okay.

Phillips Family Cemeterying from Afar

I spent part of last night cataloging every Phillips in every cemetery in Wayne County in order to try to get a fresh lead on Luke’s people. The thing is that there aren’t that many dead Phillipses in Wayne county, which I didn’t really realize until I did this little exercise. I’m going to say less than 100 and, when you’re trying to get people old enough to be Luke’s parents, you’re down to three or four possibilities.

Now, it’s true that there’s no guarantee that Luke’s parents died in the area, but I think it’s unlikely that all Luke’s brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews would have emptied out of the Marion area. And, in fact, the largest number of dead Phillipses in Wayne County is indeed in Marion. I’ll have to hunt down as much of their family histories as possible and see how they fit together and whether there’s room for Luke to fit in there too.

But I also learned an important thing. It’s likely that Luke came into this branch of the Phillips family (the name, not the person) not necessarily to honor a Phillips ancestor, but to honor a highly decorated Revolutionary War veteran neighbor, for who did I find buried very near Marion? Luke Phelps.

Maybe it’s a coincidence. Maybe not.

There are two Phillips men whose names appear over and over in the early history of the Marion area–Abraham and Isaac. I need to see if either of them was from Connecticut.

Allendale: A Shunned House Part 22

After we told the Fitzgeralds that we had devised a plan to rid Allendale of its problems—we were vague about what we believed those problems to be—my uncle and I took two folding canvas chairs, a canvas cot, and some scientific equipment into the house. We placed these things in the basement during the day and planned to return in the evening for our first vigil. We had locked the door from the cellar to the ground floor; and having a key to the outside cellar door, we were prepared to leave our expensive and delicate equipment—which we had obtained secretly and at great cost—as many days as we might need to keep vigil. It was our plan to sit up together until very late and then watch alone until dawn in two-hour stretches, myself first and then my uncle, the inactive member resting on the cot.

The natural leadership with which my uncle procured the instruments from the laboratories at Austin Peay University and from locked rooms at Fort Campbell, and how he instinctively assumed direction of our venture, was a marvelous commentary on the vitality and resilience of a man of eighty-one. Elias Allen had kept himself in extraordinary health and if not for what happened later would be here in full vigor today. Only three people know what did happen—the Fitzgeralds and myself. I had to tell them because they owned the house and deserved to know what had gone out of it.  And I felt that, after my uncle’s death, they would understand and assist me if some public explanation became necessary. They turned very pale but agreed.

I can’t tell if your writing is any good or if I just like it because I’m your mom.–My mom, keeping it real.

S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night!

Elizabeth and I have been discussing our reading list all morning and I am so stoked!

Don’t get me wrong, I could read all day from A City of Ghosts to an empty room and not get tired of it. I’m really proud of that strange little book. But there’s something about reading my stories next to someone who’s taking her poems on a similar path, who also believes that this city should have a mythology rich enough to support all kinds of stories, is really exciting to me.

I’m going to debut a new short story the name of which I can’t remember. It’s something like “Beyond, Below, Behind,” but I keep wanting to call it “Bed, Bath, and Beyond,” which, weirdly enough, almost works.

Somedays, Walking the Dog is like Taking a Mild Hallucinogen

A week out from my doctor’s appointment, I tried walking the dog again. I had to, for the sake of all our sanity. No matter how old she gets, if she doesn’t get a good walk, the dog is insufferable. I don’t yet feel any soft tissue pain, and that metallic pain has not overwhelmed me, though I feel it kind of like a pipe cleaner in there. Hopefully, we can continue to walk in the mornings. We both need it.

But that is not what I was going to write you about. No, I wanted to say how the trees are not yet bare, but have lost some leaves. And the way we were coming back along Lloyd with the sun not quite up, everything at our level was in color, but all the tall trees above us were still in black and white. And there was this noise, like the ocean, but higher pitched and then the tops of the trees seemed to come off and swirl around above us, as if all the leaves had been caught in a strong wind too high for us to feel and then the leaves would all land on another tree, filling it up with foliage.

And I knew they were birds. I mean, you couldn’t not hear them squawking. And yet, I also couldn’t not seem them as integral to the trees. They looked like leaves.

And then a deer bounded across the road and I looked at the dog and she looked at me like “Wow, did you see that?”

The Historian

Holy shit! This book–The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova–is extraordinary. I wasted my whole day curled up on the couch reading it. When the Butcher came home I told him he had to not talk to me until I could finish the last three pages.

I want to high-five Kostova. This book is so good. Over at Goodreads, I see some folks think it’s ponderous. I can only assume those people have no taste.

I want to tell you all the things I love about this book, but I don’t want to spoil a single thing.

Let me just say that, if the world is a haunted house and Dracula one of its ghosts, Kostova seems to come to the same conclusion I do about haunted houses. And so the ending is delicious. It’s just exactly right.

Man, it’s beautiful.

I am so jealous.

Allendale: A Shunned House Part 21

I now visited that accursed place with increased frequency, studying the unwholesome vegetation in the flowerbeds, examining all the walls of the house, and poring over every inch of the basement floor. Finally, with the Fitzgeralds’ permission, I made myself a copy of the key to the disused door opening from the cellar out onto the country lane that circled around the back of the house and ran down to the Cumberland River, preferring to have more immediate access to the outside world than the darks stairs, ground floor hall, and front door could give. There, where morbidity lurked most thickly, I search and poked during long afternoons when the sunlight filtered in through the cobwebbed windows, and a sense of security glowed from the unlocked door which placed me only a few feet from the outside. Nothing new rewarded my efforts—only the same depressing mustiness and faint suggestions of noxious odors and nitrous outlines on the floor—and I fancy I must have been quite a sight to any hunters or fisherman that passed by.

After a while, upon the suggestion of my uncle, I decided to try the spot at night, and one stormy midnight ran the beam of a flashlight over the moldy floor with its uncanny shapes and distorted, half-phosphorescent fungi. The place had affected me curiously that evening and I was almost prepared when I saw—or thought I saw—amidst the whitish deposits and particularly sharp definition of the “huddled form” I had suspected from boyhood. Its clearness was astonishing and unprecedented—and as I watched I seemed to see again the thin, yellowish, shimmering exhalation which had startled me on that rainy afternoon so many years before.

Above the anthropomorphic patch of mold by the fireplace it rose: a subtle, sickish, almost luminous vapor which as it hung trembled in the dampness seemed to develop vague and shocking suggestions of form, gradually trailing off into nebulous decay and passing up into the blackness of the great chimney. It was truly horrible, and the more so to me because of what I knew of the spot. Refusing to flee, I watched it fade—and as I watched I felt that it was in turn watching me greedily with eyes more imaginable than visible. When I told my uncle about it he was very upset; and after a tense hour of reflection, arrived at a definite and drastic decision. Weighing in his mind the importance of the matter, and the significance of our relation to it, he insisted that we both hunt down—and if possible destroy—the horror of the house.

Scott DesJarlais Keeps Making His Ex-Wife’s Case

I don’t know Scott DesJarlais’s ex-wife, but the more he is in the public eye, the more plausible her stories of abuse become. It’s not just the “cajoling his mistress into having an abortion while trying to get out of taking her” stuff. Now his campaign is threatening to call the police on the Chattanooga Times-Free Press. This is not a man who’s used to being in positions where he can’t be controlling.

If you want people to not believe that you abused your ex-wife, you can’t really go around forcing your mistress to have an abortion, trying to gaslight voters over it, and then going thermonuclear on anyone who doesn’t go along with your made-up version of events.

At the least, it proves that you have and will deploy the skill set used by abusers when necessary. At the most, it proves that your ex’s accusations are probably true because it seems to be the only skill-set you have.

And what’s funny is that that cartoon is pretty yucky. DesJarlais had the moral high-ground here. If he’d come out and said “Wow, you know, for the media to continue to bring up and now make jokes about what was the darkest time in my life is pretty vile.” who could have disagreed with him?

But he’s just not the kind of guy who is willing to be vulnerable, even when it is obviously the stronger position. For him, it’s just continually striking out, over and over.

Like I said, the more he does, the more I believe his ex-wife.

What Makes a Haunted House Story Work?

The strangest thing about Hell House is that, by a few sets of criteria for a good story, it is one. I mean, even by the criteria I’d like to come up with, it would score pretty high. I think, partially, this is what annoys me about it.

There should be a house around which strange phenomena converge. I guess this goes without saying. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a haunted house story. It would just be a ghost story.  There’s obviously some gray area here as we move through “ghost story” to get to the specific room that is “haunted house story” but I think an important component of a haunted house story is that difference in emphasis. In a ghost story, it’s clear that there is/are some specific ghost(s). In a haunted house story, I don’t think it’s always necessarily clear what’s going on, at least at first.

There must be an investigation. This can be as simple as Laura in The Orphanage just roaming the halls of her own house trying to figure out what’s going on (and, man, The Orphanage is a great illustration of a movie that lives in the doorway of “haunted house story,” still retaining a lot of elements of a traditional ghost story). Oh, maybe this is a good way to think of the difference between a ghost story and a haunted house story. The big question in a ghost story is “Why is this happening?” In fact, there really is no good ghost story that doesn’t come with the why practically attached to the ghost. “I see my drowned sister in the conservatory.” Oh, right, because she drown. Now that I think about it, this may be why I like “Dodge City” so much, even though I didn’t have this articulated back then. The scary part of the story is not the “why” of Antwane’s haunting, though that, like in any good ghost story, is creepy in a lovely way. It’s that the “why is this happening?” of Chuck’s haunting is unresolved. It is as if we have found Chuck at the beginning of a more traditional haunted house story. His question is “What is happening?” or “How is this thing I don’t understand happening?” And that question “What is happening?” is central to a haunted house story. It’s what spurs the investigation. “Why?” is an important question, because a haunted house story is a ghost story at heart, but they “why?”s often get answered as a means to settling on the “what?” Or at least while trying to settle on the “what?”

The investigators must be engaging. This is, perhaps, where I think Hell House fell down. I didn’t feel like I was really invested in the characters. This is, perhaps, one of the things that works oddly in “The Shunned House”/”Allendale.” I don’t particularly feel bad or deeply moved by the death of the uncle himself. I mean, we barely know him. And the houses have a habit of killing people. But the manner of his death, the literal “how” he dies and how that affects his nephew? Wow. That did move me. And part of that is because Lovecraft builds up for the whole story how important this history is to the nephew. He’s faced with all the people he’s been only reading about. It really works.

It’s better for the solution to be genuinely ambiguous than to end up being ambiguous because it wraps up too neatly. I think “The Shunned House” ends up pretty okay, but if I were doing it over, like I said in the comments earlier, I’d make “Allendale” much more ambiguous at the end. Maybe let the nephew be charged with the death of his uncle by massive chemical dump in the basement in a way that plausibly recasts everything we’ve read as the ravings of a dude who can’t face the fact that he killed his uncle. But then, maybe have the later tenants’ mother die in the house, leaving it open as to whether the curse is still there. I mean, really, if the house is haunted, how does it ever honestly become unhaunted?

This is my fundamental problem with the genre. How, exactly, would a house become unhaunted in a way that would satisfy me that the unhaunting would stick? This is a question Hell House comes right up to the edge of. It even asks it. And then shies away from the obvious answer. A house, as it stands, cannot be unhaunted.

At least, not for long. Whatever allowed those ghosts to set up shop there–something about the land or the arrangement of the architecture or the number of deaths in it–is pretty fundamentally unalterable. If a story doesn’t end with the destruction of the house, you cannot be sure the haunting of that house has ended.

A ghost story is a close cousin of the tragedy. Unless everything is destroyed, you can’t be sure the story is over.

Which is not to say that every haunted house story needs to end with the destruction of the house. But if it doesn’t end with the destruction of the house, it needs to be obvious that, though our story is over, the story of the house goes on. (This is something The Red Tree does beautifully.)

Is This an Allegory about World War II?

I read Hell House today, which is supposed to be a classic of the haunted house genre. First is The Haunting of Hill House and then is Hell House. Well, let me just say, if that is the case, then the first step is a doozy.

I must talk with you frankly about this book. So, spoiler alert, a short guy does it. How is this a satisfactory ending? The short guy, who has created his own hell on earth, is dispatched merely by shouting “Bastard” at him. It is as if he read The Haunting of Hill House and said, “How can I add Jesus’ boner?”

A short guy. The bad guy is just short. Secretly. Secretly short. And a bastard. And that’s what causes him to become evil. And die in a bunker.

Is this really the second best haunted house story ever? Because The Red Tree was as good as that, if not better. Am I missing something?

Allendale: A Shunned House Part 20

How far back the curse of the garou chased the Deraques is hard to say. The records are sketchy at best. But there had been problems in Montreal after the Lachine massacre in 1689. An early Deraque, Michel, had survived the Iroquois attack but had been badly bitten. After he recovered, he went on to marry and have children but it was rumored that his wife locked him in a casket at night. It’s not clear if he was infected then or if, by happenstance, someone had managed to bite a creature so famous for its biting.

Michel’s daughter, Élodie, was rumored to spend her afternoons reading strange books and drawing strange diagrams. She appears to have been a constant source of community gossip and though the French in the Americas did not share the same witchcraft panics of their Puritan neighbors, it was freely intimated by old wives that her prayers were neither uttered at the proper time nor directed toward the proper object.  Her saints were, they said, unfamiliar to good Catholics.

I wondered how many of those who had known these legends realized that additional link with the terrible which my wide reading had given me, that ominous item in the annals of morbid horror which tells of the creature Jacques Deraque, who in 1743 was condemned to death as a demoniac but afterwards saved from the stake by local authorities who locked him in the city jail as a madman. He had been found covered with blood and shreds of flesh out in the woods, shortly after the killing and rending of a local boy by a pair of wolves. One wolf, specifically, was said to have an almost human manner. Surely a worthy campfire legend, with special significance as to the name, but I knew that it was unlikely that the people of Illinois, let alone Gallatin, Tennessee, had ever heard of it. Still the incident was enough to drive all the Deraques from Montreal and they made their way south, even as far as New Orleans and the swamps of Louisiana. The professor speculated that, when the local Cajuns warn you of the roux garoux that this is not some complete mangling of “loup garou” but instead a sensible caution against the Deraque garou who may still be in the area.

The Part I Already Hate

The afghan has three different sized squares that will all have to be matched up and put together. As much as I dread the inevitable tail tucking that must happen, I am further dreading the never-ending sewing.

I feel, right now, that not just my house, but my whole life is a stopped-up Rube Goldberg machine. I haven’t written shit on Sue Allen in three weeks. I have three books to read. I have this afghan to make and another one and a quilt to finish, someday. My house is a disaster. But I’m busy and my knee is still not up to par. It’s not as bad as it had been, but it’s not that bad because I’m basically not doing anything but sitting around with it up in the air.

And yet, this has been a good, full, exciting month. So, maybe it’s okay to be stopped up in some ways, when everything else is flowing so fast.

Anyway, if you’re wondering what dread looks like, it’s this–three different sized squares that all must be pieced together like Legos to make a large rectangle. (It took me a long time to get that stitch at the corner right, but now, man, I really love it.)