Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Day in the Life of Tommy Jacobs

Tommy Jacobs looked like the all-American kid as he walked up his driveway. Fifteen years old, sandy blond hair, a face sprinkled with freckles and an empty canvas bag dangling from his right shoulder, he was returning from his 6:00 am paper route. He lived on Hoffman Street in the southeast section of Rockford, Illinois. He took the route over from his brother's friend and it only consisted of 20 houses. He wished he had more.

Inside the house at the kitchen table, Tommy went directly to the last page of the "Living and Arts" section and read his horoscope before leaving for school. Everyone in Tommy's class had been talking about horoscopes the day before and he wanted to see what it was all about.

Susie Schnell, a loud-mouthed, hyperactive girl in the class told him that if he read his horoscope every morning he could find out exactly what his day would be like. Tommy doubted this but what if it was true? Before he went to bed that night all his doubts had been removed.

Sitting behind a bowl of Captain Crunch cereal, the last page of the "Living and Arts" section sprawled out on the right side of the table, Tommy's eyes zeroed in on his horoscope:

CANCER: (June 21-July 22) Beware of elders who try and take advantage of you. A partner stops working bringing you greater financial gain.

Whatever, Tommy thought. He munched up the rest of his cereal, grabbed his books and headed for the door. It wasn't very cold out but there was a nip to the air. Tommy plunged his left hand into his left pants pocket and tilted his head towards the ground as he walked down Hoffman Street towards his school only four blocks away.

When he lifted his head to glance down the sidewalk he noticed five seniors sitting on the hood of a car begining to take notice of him. Rich Walsh, the center on the high school football team, and John Mcmillan walked on to the sidewalk and stood with hands on hips and legs spread apart.

"Leave the kid alone," two other seniors said. "He's not worth your time."

"I know that," Rich said. "I need the practice and something about this kid bothers me."

Tommy kept his head down and continued to walk down the sidewalk hoping that this wouldn't take too long.

When he got within a couple of feet of Rich and John, Rich grabbed Tommy's coat in the middle of his chest and Tommy spilled his books all over the sidewalk. Before anyone could say anything, Rich's right hand came flying towards Tommy's chin. He dropped to the cement instantly. Rich, John and the rest of the seniors hopped into John's Mustang and sped away.

Tommy sat up slowly and mentally floundered in that eerie feeling of tasting blood in your mouth for the first time in your life. He mumbled through his blood, "Beware of elders...?"

The second part of Tommy's horoscope was too much of a reality. He wiped the blood off his mouth and cringed with pain. He gathered up his books and was soon on his way to school again. School went by as usual except for everyone asking Tommy why his bottom lip was so swollen; he never told anyone what happened - the prediction in his horoscope had him too freaked out to discuss it.

Tommy and Bill Egan ran down the hallway towards the front doors while the last bell of the day screamed and filled the corridor. They got to the sidewalk and took their coats off. The nippy morning had turned into a beautiful afternoon and Tommy had all but forgotten what had happened that morning.

Bill Egan had the paper route on the north end of Hoffman Street and Tommy had the south end. They had become good friends over the past few months, and they were on their way to Bill's house to play a new video game. They never made it.

Walking hastily down the sidewalk, Bill suddenly turned to Tommy, "I'll race you across the street and down to my house!" Before Tommy had time to reply, Bill darted out into the street.

The driver of the newspaper van, doing well over 40 mph, never had a chance to stop. "Biiiiiillll!!!!," Tommy screamed, and for the instant before the van hit him, he looked over at Tommy and smiled. The van hit Bill with a lifeless thud. His body was thrown over twenty feet and landed at the bottom of a large maple tree with and ear-crumpling crack.

Tommy stood helpless. The van driver stepped from the vehicle, eyes bulging from their sockets. Voices were screaming. The ambulance came, the police came, the ambulance left, the police left and the life of Bill Egan was over. Tommy walked home alone in shock, went up to his room and cried.

Several hours later the telephone was ringing. Tommy walked down the hallway towards his parent's bedroom and answered the phone. It was Mr Whatif, Tommy's boss.

"I heard about what happened to Bill Egan this afternoon, and, Tommy, I just can't believe it. I'm so sorry. I know you two were good friends," he said. Tommy, still in shock, just sat there in the unbearable silence.

"Listen," Mr Watif continued, "I called to see if you would like to take over his paper route."

Tommy's eyes widened as the words filled his ears and the memory of what the horoscope said that morning came painfully back.

"I really need you Tommy. I know its short notice and it hasn't really sunk in for any of us, but in a way you would be honoring him. I wanted to ask you first and, I know it doesn't matter right now, but you would be making twice as much money." Tommy slammed the receiver into it's cradle.

He ran down to the kitchen and re-read his horoscope. It was the last time Tommy Jacobs ever read his horoscope. For years, just looking at the "Living and Arts" section on the floor, or on the table, or wherever it was, filled him with gut wrenching fear.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Nightmare

Hiding in the closet
Among the underwear,
He waited ‘till the sun went down
And still, he waited there.

Time for bed. Time for sleep.
The boy he climbed the stairs.
And now he’s done brushing teeth-
To the bed that tossles hair.

Hiding in the closet
He heard him climb in bed.
He knew that soon,very soon
He’d fly inside his head.

The boy he slipped quietly
Into the land of dreams.
As tired as a boy could be,
He slept – or, so it seemed.

Moving from the closet
He swam across the room.
A sailor dive; the boy’s ear
The Nightmare disappeared.

The boy was riding dinosaurs
Across a velvet lake.
Entranced in Dreamland’s snuggle
A thousand years from ‘wake.

He flew across the sky
Of the boy’s created dreams.
He became the dinosaur
To scare at any means.

The boy he felt the evil
Consume the dinosaur.
He dove into the clouds
Tumbling more and more.

He chased him ‘ore the clouds
The boy he’s looking back.
Running from the Nightmare
Attack. Attack. Attack.

The boy remembered love.
His mother’s warm embrace.
His father’s words of confidence
Brought a smile to his face.

The Nightmare felt the love
It’s filling up the boy!
It’s draining all his power
His weakness now employed.

The boy he slowed to turn
To face the ‘ole Nightmare,
Armed with love’s confidence
Soon he’d lay him bare.

The Nightmare tripped and tumbled
Kicking up the clouds.
Fear -he could barely mumble
The boy he laughed out loud.
The boy he kept on giggling
As the Nightmare blew away-
Thoughts of love, of Mom and Dad
Were here to save the day!

The boy he felt a hand
Brushing back his hair
He looked up waking, smiling
Into his mother’s stare.

“We heard you laughing loudly son.”
“Is everything all right?”
Dad was in the doorway.
Confidence in the light.

“Did you have a nightmare son?”
Dad – he kindly asked.
“I’m ok, mom and dad.”
And again began to laugh.

“Back to sleep- silly little man.”
Then mom she kissed his cheek.
“Sweet dreams,” said dad smiling.
And the boy fell back to sleep.


Boys Will Be Boys

Somewhere in the subterranean world of our minds lies a shadowy attraction to wandering spirits, the undead and Satan. This place, beyond the familiar landscapes of our conscious thoughts, is not all harmless fun and scary children’s games. Dennis Morgan thought it was, and Dennis Morgan is dead.

I can’t help thinking that in a few months the fresh brown dirt in front of his brand new marble tombstone will soon be covered with a cold blanket of snow while his badly burned body slowly rots away in the privacy of a walnut box.

He was one of those kids who had to try everything or see everything before he believed anything anyone told him. It was this side of his personality that eventually carried him off -six feet beyond. Boys will be boys, I suppose.

It had been the last few weeks of school at the Jesuit High School both of our parents had sent us to and what our theology teacher taught us one Friday afternoon, not long ago, excited and intrigued both Dennis and me. No one was really paying attention to Father O’Grady as he told the class about spirits of the dead roaming the earth plane, unable to accept the fact that they were dead, except for the two of us. We were captivated.

According to Father O’Grady, the souls of some dead people refused to believe that they were no longer earthly entities. They either stayed in the vicinity of the place of their passing, constantly trying to prove to the living they were still around, or they quietly huddled in the decaying carcass of their previous selves.

Throughout the ages, the momentary glimmer of someone who has recently passed on has been reported near the death site, and occasionally, but far less frequently, and almost in an innocent child-like fashion, there has been reported the momentary re-animation of an almost assuredly dead corpse.

Dennis said he didn’t believe any of this (of course), and he wouldn’t unless he did something crazy enough to provoke the spirits to reveal themselves.

What Dennis told me he wanted to do, as we walked away from theology class, scared but challenged me to do something I would never have dreamed of doing myself. He wanted to dig up a newly filled grave. It was the beginning of June and the last few weeks of weather had been unseasonably warm.

A freshman named Bill Egan had been killed when he was hit by a newspaper van a few weeks earlier. Dennis decided he wanted to go to the cemetery that very night and look at the body. Egan’s parents were hyper-religious and Dennis had heard that the casket, at his father’s unexplainable demanding, had been placed directly in the soil. Being Friday night with nothing else to do, I agreed but was getting apprehensive about the whole idea.

I picked up Dennis around 7:30 that night, two shovels and a 12-pack of cold Genesee beer in the back seat of my car. We proceeded to Cobbs Hill Park to down a few before our excursion to White Haven Cemetery. We both decided that what we were about to do (necessarily) required the calming effects of alcohol.

The beer went down our throats as quickly and consistently as the sun went over the horizon, and before I knew it I was standing over Bill Egan’s grave with a six pack of beer in my stomach and a shovel in my hand. Excitement ran through my blood.

I had parked my car outside White Haven, we had thrown our shovels over the fence and then we climbed over it ourselves. We knew exactly where the grave was having been to the place for Egan’s funeral and, buzzing heavily from the beer, we began to dig into the freshly laid dirt.

The memory of what happened on that warm night two months ago will stay with me as long as I live. I’d say it took us a good two hours before we got down to the coffin. Dennis had been laughing now and then – wondering what the hell we were doing chasing spirits in a graveyard.

Finally, after we got all the dirt off of the top of the coffin, Dennis squatted down on the lower half and unlatched the upper half of the lid. “Well,” he said, “let’s see if Father O’Grady knows just what the hell he’s talking about.” That was the last thing Dennis Morgan ever said to me.

When he opened the top half of the coffin Bill Egan’s pale, zombie-like corpse, grinning from ear to ear sat up, as if on a spring, and wrapped his stiff pasty hands around the back of Dennis’ neck. Egan’s corpse was pulling Dennis inside the coffin with him. It was then that I blacked out.

Apparently, Dennis somehow escaped the grip of Bill Egan (or Egan incorporated himself into Dennis), climbed out of the grave and made it to the car. I had left the keys in it. A hundred feet from where I had parked it, the car was found wrapped around a large oak engulfed in flames. Dennis’ body was burned beyond recognition and the police related the accident to the empty beer cans in the back seat. I don’t agree.

Dennis had less to drink than I did, he was almost twice my size and he did most of the digging for those two hours. I know, somehow, the restless soul of Bill Egan caused that accident and pulled Dennis Morgan to the other side – beyond the silent oak.

I visit Dennis’ grave now and then, usually after I’ve been drinking to dull the memory, and I wonder if he’s accepted the fact that he’s dead. Last week the strangest thing happened while I was visiting his grave – about 50 yards from Bill Egan’s.

As I was looking down at his tombstone -lost in thought –I could have sworn I heard a voice, or should I say felt a voice, slither into my thoughts and in an almost comical way it asked, “Need a shovel?” …..I spun around quickly but no one was there.