Nightmares Come to Life

Part I

Hallowe’en Eve. The French Quarter is alive with activity- a thumping, pulsating organism. The aerial view of Bourbon Street resembles writhing creatures feasting on a cadaver. The noise is deafening, and Willow is too tired to be bothered with it.
“Three dollar draft!” shouts a vendor with a large, white cardboard sign. Walking in the street with large signs promoting the bars is supposed to be against city ordinance, but no one really enforces it. Women and men barely draped in fabric hang in antique door frames. The Spanish stucco of many structures sits marred with scars from careless visitors and residents alike. A cacophonous and intolerable chorus of contrasting music blends, blaring from a myriad of establishments.
“Hey, hun.” A stunning tall, blonde drag queen addresses Willow.
“Hey, Louise.”
“You look irritable tonight.” She takes a drag from her cigarette and releases a cloud of smoke.
“I’m exhausted. We closed early tonight to get prep done for tomorrow, but instead the guys dragged me out here after we were only half done.”
“Don’t sweat it, sweetie. You’ll do great, just like last year.”
“I didn’t feel like we did great last year, Louise. I thought I would die.”
“We all feel that way sometimes. I remember when I first opened the club. Shit. It was tough. But you do it. People have a good time, and they come back.
Willow sighs.
“Why don’t you come in for a drink? Where’re the guys?”
Willow points to the nightclub into which her husband and brothers disappeared. Flashing lights, smoke from a machine, and drunk tourists covered in colorful plastic necklaces stream from its open doors.
“Come on,” Louise motioned with her head toward her club, The Nightingale. “Jeff, if you see Willow’s people tell them I took her inside for some peace and quiet.” She says to the doorman. “Ready, honey?” Louis asks, but Willow is rigid. Louise’s voice is lost in the resounding shriek filling Willow’s ears. “Willow? Hello?” Louise waves her hand with its long, ornate fingernails in front of Willow’s face.
“What?” Willow responds, visibly shaken.
“You were zoned out. Are you okay? You look terrible.”
“Didn’t you hear that?”
“What?
“That shriek. Didn’t you hear it?
“It’s so noisy out here. I can’t hear myself think. Let’s go inside. You’re stressing yourself to death.”
“Yeah, I guess.” Stress. Yes. It makes sense, thinks Willow. Stress can induce auditory hallucinations…can’t it?
Inside of The Nightingale is hardly different from outside in the street. The music pounds. Dancers swing and shimmy to the rhythm in the light of pulsing red and white strobe-lights. Patrons sit near the bar, at the dancers’ feet, and at round tables within booths. Some are behind the closed doors of the private areas, where-for the right amount-the women, men, and enby performers do more than dance. 
Willow follows Louise to her office. The two cross an open courtyard and separate from the din and chaos of the club. It’s strange how quiet the night is once they exit the back door and enter the cobblestoned courtyard with its sporadically placed pal consumed most of the block several years before. The locks were only slightly damaged. Louise mourned the loss of the original doors. She just couldn’t find anyone to duplicate them. Willow rests on a leather couch and closes her eyes. Louise pours them both a glass of brandy.

Fatigue quickly claims possession of Willow’s agitated brain. She finds herself in her childhood home. The surroundings are odd and out of place, but that discrepancy is minor compared to the fact that the house was destroyed a decade prior during Hurricane Katrina, and was razed to the ground like so many of its neighbors. In the dream, Willow stands at her parents’ back window, looking into the back yard. Enormous bales of hay lay rolled and placed in random order around the yard, even though in real life they’d never existed. A childlike figure appears, manifested from inside one of the bales, a small girl. She wears a red dress and has long, light-colored pigtails. Her white leggings rise from black patent-leather Mary Janes. She dances for a moment, gleeful. “What is that?” asks Willow aloud to no one. The child then turns her eyes on Willow. They become glowing white-hot coals. Willow feels intense terror as the child opens its mouth and emits an eardrum shattering screech. Willow slams the window just in time to stop the child-thing in mid-flight. Willow cowers on the floor as the monster-girl slams its body into the window, rattling the glass and surrounding walls. Willow wakes with a gasp. 
“My God,” remarks Louise. “Are you all right?”
“I had a nightmare.”
“I’m so sorry, darling. You dozed off so peacefully. I didn’t want to disturb you.” Louise hands Willow the brandy. Willow takes a swallow, the dark and warm liquid leaves a tingling trail as it travels down her esophagus. She sighs. Louise refills Willow’s glass; the latter sips her drink instead of swallowing it down. “You want to talk about it?” asks Louise.
“It’s just these stupid nightmares I’ve had since I was a kid. I’m sure they are stress induced.”
“Sorry, sweetie. I know you’re under a lot, and those men of yours are good for nothing,” Louise huffs. 

Willow chuckles.
“What? Well,” Louise grins, “I guess I could think of a couple of uses for them.”
Willow laughs, “Hey that’s my little brothers you’re talking about!”

“And your husband,” Louise takes a sip from her glass.

Willow laughs harder.
Later that evening, feeling warm and comfortable from brandy and the solace she’d found in confiding her worries to her friend, Willow walks home with Earl at her side. They cross Jackson Square in front of the historic St. Louis Cathedral, its formidable façade looming over passersby. Peddlers are taking up their tables and wares. A fire-breather stuffs her tools into a duffle bag. Earl and Willow pass down St. Peter, where most shops are already shuttered. A couple of tourists meander out of the voodoo shop next to Poppy’s Diner. They swerve around Earl and Willow, giggling as they stumble off the curb. Feeling particularly amiable, Willow smiles and bids the two a good evening. A tall, young Creole woman with purple dreadlocks and wearing black on black with white Doc Martens stands in the doorway of the voodoo shop.
She smiles at Willow and Earl. “Halloween time, right?” She points her thumb toward the meandering couple and gives an unimpressed chuckle. Her nails are painted blue.
“Yeah, but good for business, Des,” replies Earl. “Especially for y’all.
“You’re right,” she remarks, “if only I got paid overtime.”
“I’ve been telling you to come work by us,” says Earl.
“I know,” she sighs. “I would but I’m just not made for the hospitality business.”
Earl laughs. “Got to be better than selling incense, dolls, and novena candles to drunk tourists.”
Des lets out a hearty laugh. “I do have my side business,” she says, producing a tarot card in her left hand. The Temperance card. Des reaches out to Willow with it. “I have a feeling you’ll need this.”
“Ha, yeah?” replies Willow.

“All things in moderation. Even work and worry,” says Des, and her expression turns grave as she pulls another card. She hands it to Willow, The Hermit. Willow takes the card, puzzled. “Something haunts you,” says Des. “Don’t let it consume you.”
“Okay,” Willow agrees, still confused, and takes the card.
“Well, it’s time to close up,” says Des, returning to her carefree disposition. “Tomorrow should be interesting.”
“Yeah,” says Willow, examining the cards in her hand. 

“You should come by,” says Earl, oblivious to the conversation that’d just transpired between the women.
“Maybe, if I get out of here at a reasonable time,” says Des, stepping back into the shop and preparing to lock up. “Willow, don’t forget.” She points a long finger and looks into Willow’s eyes.
“I . . . I won’t.”
“Good. Happy Halloween!” She grins, slight at first but then her mouth widens more,  her teeth glisten in an unnatural way. Des knows the nightmares are back, thinks Willow. But then again, maybe not. Des is just good at reading people. It’s what makes her such a popular fortune teller. There is the possibility she can sense Willow’s feelings of impending doom, her anxiety and panic about the business. That’s probably it, Willow convinces herself.

Willow wakes on a mattress of soft, downy moss. The air is damp and cold; her skin is clammy. Shadows move in the mist, between the trees. She feels a sense of familiarity, but she doesn’t know this place. It feels like an ageless place, the place of her ancestors. 
The saturated vegetation envelopes Willow ‘s feet when she stands. She digs her toes into the soil under the surface greenery.  The dirt is warmer than the surrounding air, and Willow finds comfort in it. The atmosphere is phantasmagoric yet corporeal. Willow touches the trunk of a tree and feels its rough trunk. Gossamer moss hangs from its limbs. Tiny winged creatures, maybe hummingbirds or large dragonflies, flit about. More of them assemble, first high in the trees then lower, lower, and then right in Willow’s line of sight.
She sees now that they are not birds or insects but faeries. The radiant, miniature, winged humanoids dart and dance about Willow. The air is warmer, inviting. Not damp and chilly as before. The faeries calm Willow in this eerie place. They dance near her face, and their iridescent wings brush her nut-brown hair.
One of the creatures hovers before Willow while the others dart away, seemingly distracted by some new curiosity. The lone faerie slows its wings and transforms. While Willow watches in bemusement, the sprite’s arms and legs lengthen as does her torso, neck, and face. The faerie’s wings are hidden or have disappeared. Her hair is long and brown, and her skin is fair and still glistening with radiance. She stands as tall as Willow, smiling, no, smirking . . . The woman tilts her head and reaches out to Willow. Willow observes a reflection ball in the fay’s hand. She leans close and sees her own orbed visage.
Willow’s face smiles back at her, but then the ambience changes. No longer is it mellow and enchanting. An intense dread overwhelms Willow. She wants to back away, but the faerie holds her in place. The fay’s face has changed, from amiable to fearsome. Her eyes burn into Willow, and Willow wants to flee this place. The reflection in the ball changes. It no longer maintains Willow’s soft countenance. The face resembles Willow’s, but it is sadistic and hard. The eyes burn into her. She feels they might extract all the oxygen from her lungs to give their fire life. The eyes turn dark as onyx, and show no sign of human characteristics. In the ball, the reflection moves although Willow remains still. It grows and appears too near the silvery surface, as if it will eject itself from inside.
Willow tries to scream, but her vocal chords are palsied. No sound comes from them. Willow’s mouth is stuck open. Her flesh feels like stone, and her muscles are paralyzed. Her body is inanimate, but her brain is racing. No don’t, she begs, trapped inside her own mind. BREATHE! her mind shouts, but her lungs do not accommodate. In the reflecting ball, the face’s mouth is also open wide; its inside is black and as expansive as space. Its eyes are the same. Leave me alone! Willow screams inside her head. You can’t hurt me, she tries to convince herself. You can’t hurt me if I don’t let you.
The horrible face in the reflecting ball emits the screech Willow’s so feared, and even though she isn’t breathing, it feels as though it takes her breath away even more. Willow finally finds her voice and lets out a magnificent wail. She feels her lungs fill before she screams herself awake.
Earl is sitting beside her. He wipes the dampness from her forehead. Willow, weary, meets her husband’s gaze but stays silent.
“It’ll be alright,” he says. “It’s just a nightmare.
Willow sighs and sits. “If only I didn’t feel like I would die during it.”
Earl embraces his wife.  “You are stressing too much about tomorrow. We’ll be there, too, you know. You’re not on your own.”
“I wish I found some comfort in that,” says Willow, then regrets it. “Sorry. I trust you, and I love you. I know you will do anything for the bar, but it’s the boys. We’re only two people.”
“And with them we’re only four people. But with our staff, we’re half a dozen.”
“If they all show up.”
“Maybe we can get Des to come help out if they don’t?”
Thinking of Des gives Willow chills, remembering her vague yet disturbing forewarning. “Yeah, maybe so,” Willow answers, rubbing the gooseflesh from her arms. She doesn’t know if she wants Des there. The thought kind-of freaked her out after their previous encounter.

But then, Willow felt silly thinking Des’s fortune-telling was anything more than a creative scheme. Willow didn’t believe in psychics or monsters-or even ancient, mystic nightmare wraiths. Despite her Catholic upbringing, she wasn’t even sure she believed in an afterlife. Paranormal beings are funny things, Willow thinks. They always follow the same pattern, don’t they? Vague EVPs, EMF spikes, a cold breeze, a disembodied voice, hairs standing on the back of one’s neck. It’s foolish! 

She’s a licensed psychologist, for Christ’s sake. Her nightmares were nothing more than neurological patterns inspired by anxiety. She’d always suffered from anxiety. Hearing the shriek in the street was an auditory hallucination, as she’d previously posited. Louise’d even remarked on the clangorous noise in the street. The sound was surely anything but the actual shriek of a supernatural being. Nonsense. Still, the thought of the persistent specter terrified Willow. She couldn’t deny that.

The morning begins slowly. Willow and Earl both sleep in, but not on purpose. McFinley’s is nearly prepared for the night, but there’s still a lot to get done-organizing, decorating, food prep, making sure the inventory is stocked and… Shit! Willow jumped from the comfortable sheets when she remembered the deliveries.
“Everything all right?” Earl asks, half asleep still
“The trucks. The trucks!
“What about them?”
“It’s almost ten, Earl,” snapped Willow.
“The boys are there,” Earl replies during a stretch..
“The boys are there?” Willow repeats his statement in question form.
“I called them last night and told them to be there or else.”
“Or else what?” Willow chuckles and pulls her hair up into a disheveled bun, her hands shaking.
“Or else you’re going to kick their asses,” he laughs.
“Ha! I’m sure that worked.” Willow slips on her jeans then her favorite black and white checkered deck shoes. They’re worn but comfortable, and perfectly fit her long, slender feet. Earl grimaces. He dislikes those shoes on her. They don’t complement Willow’s elongated, sleek legs, he thinks. Willow scrunches her nose at Earl, knowing his thoughts. She doesn’t care if he loathes those shoes; they’re her favorite.
Willow doesn’t see herself in the same way as Earl, or the same as anyone sees her.  In the mirror, Willow sees a plain thirty-something whose curly brunette hair is usually unkempt and whose green eyes are encircled in dark, blooming rings from exhaustion. She rarely wears make-up. She doesn’t see a need for it since she took over the family business and left the psychologist’s practice for which she worked. It was important for her to look put together for her clients back then.. She makes herself presentable for the bar patrons, but she spends most of the night behind the scenes. In her office, in the supply room, in the freezer, in the kitchen. Willow sees little point in getting made-up for a sweltering grill or the dumpster rats or dusty cases of whiskey. The only time she dresses elegantly, does her make-up, and styles hair is for special occasions. 

Professionalism is important to Willow. During events, local media is bound to be present. McFinley’s has been a Royal St. staple for many years. The local television,  newspapers, and magazines always send a reporter to their events. On these occasions, Willow wears her best dress or pantsuit, and although her feet ache and curse her, she insists on wearing heels.
Willow dresses in costume on Halloween. This year she decides on 18th century dress, a monarch’s attire. A royal blue and eggshell colored silk and taffeta gown, a considerable bodice, and corset bejeweled with multi-colored stones. The ensemble includes an elaborate, high powdered-wig adorned with the same sapphire, ruby, emerald, and tourmaline colored jewels as the dress. A blood-red choker with red-crystalline blood drops hanging from it is tight around Willow’s neck. She also agrees to let Earl drip sticky red corn syrup down her neck to resemble even more blood dripping.

Louise arrives at Willow’s with her friends, who are also her employees, to do Willow’s make-up. Willow is famously bad at doing anything more elaborate than the basics: foundation, eyeshadow, mascara, eyeliner, and lipstick.
After a long day of moving inventory, cleaning, decorating, and sweating, Willow is ready to shower and get dolled-up. Wine flows freely, and soon Willow feels confident about the night. It will be fine, Willow thinks. Relax, and drink more wine. 

Cecilia, one of Louise’s employees, pours herself and Willow yet another glass of moscato. Louise tugs hard on Willow’s hair, pulling it up into a tight bun to fit under the wig. Willow winces. “Oh, sorry, sweetie. I’m not used to tender heads.”
Willow grins. She can recall her mother brushing her hair, yanking hard to untangle the knots Willow allowed to form in her long curls. “You wouldn’t know it, but I was used to this once,” says Willow. “I guess it’s been a while, though,” she adds.
“Come by us to get your hair done more often, and your head will be nice and tough,” says Antonia, Louise’s business partner.
“No thanks,” answers Willow, squinting as Louise continues to tug on her hair.
The door of the dressing room swings open. Earl stands in the doorway, looking stern. 

“Excuse us, sir, but we have ladies dressing in here,” says Cecilia. “Of course, none of us have anything you haven’t seen.” The women all laugh.

“I’m confident you have wild tales about what you’ve seen me seeing, and I’d love to hear them. But first, somebody needs to help me with this tie.” Earl is also in period dress. Dark pants, boots, royal blue vest emblazoned with colorful paisleys, his button-up collared shirt the same egg shell white as Willow’s dress. Its arms flow out then gather again at the wrists. His tie matches the vest, and judging by his flushed face, he’s been struggling with it for a while.
“Alright, come here,” says Willow
“Nah uh,” Louise interjects. “You are getting a royal make-over, missy. Relax and let one of the other ladies help that man.”
Willow abides and relaxes in her chair, raising her glass to indicate someone should refill it.
***
The crowd flows into McFinley’s and does not flow out. The throng of bodies surrounding the bar is rows deep.  Francine-the lone employee who didn’t skip out for more entertaining activities-Earl, Jace, Justin, and Des serve drinks to the encroaching mass of customers. Willow is at the door with the hired security. Bald, muscular sentinels stand beside Bill, the doorman, who is checking identification cards. 
The hostess is playing the part, greeting customers and pedestrians alike. Her egg-white fan, decorated with lace and colorful painted embellishments, flutters at her neck. The weather is humid for late October, and Willow’s skin is damp from the cool mist hanging in the air. She pats her powdered face with a silken cloth, dabbing as to not smear her make-up.
“Mrs. Duplantis! Mrs. Duplantis!”
Willow turns to see an eager local news personality waving her toward himself and a cameraman. She smiles and hides the handkerchief in her corset before approaching the men.
“Mrs. Duplantis, Happy Halloween,” says the newsman.
“Please, John, call me Willow,” she smiles at the camera, still fanning her moist light skin.
“Willow,” John says, complying with her request, “things are alive tonight in the Vieux Carré, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Halloween is always a spirited time,” laughs Willow.
Both laugh for the camera, but Willow’s attention is soon diverted by an austere figure looming beside a building across the street. Among the colorful, costumed revelers looms a shady being, almost a shadow, tall to a degree of ridiculousness. Willow is entranced by this figure. John is talking, but she doesn’t hear his words. She nods and waves her fan as he again wishes her a Happy Halloween before moving deep into the crowd with the camera man. Willow stares at the shadow-figure. It transforms into mist. Nobody else notices. 

A man suddenly grabs Willow by the arm, his emaciated hands are strangely strong. His skeletal fingers dig into her flesh. She yelps and tries to pull away.
“Willow!” Des shouts from inside the bar. “Willow!”
The emaciated man forces Willow’s eyes to his. She doesn’t comprehend what is happening, but she cannot look away from his emerald eyes.
“Will you give me some succor, Miss?
“What?”
“I can’t protect you unless you offer me aid,” he pleaded
“Get away,” Des growls at the man and shoves him away from Willow. “Get away from her.”
“Protect me from what?” Willow questions, ignoring Des.
“Sheeeeee,” hisses the man.
“Who?” Willow shoves past Des who is still trying to separate the man from her.
“Not who, but what,” he responds. “I can’t protect you unless you offer me succor. It’s the one caveat we are bound to…” He trails off as Des manhandles him away from the door and into the street.
“Wait!” Willow shouts and feels for something in the material of her dress, but then remembers she has no pockets. No cash on her person. “Come in,” Willow insists. “Come in and have some food.”
“What!?” exclaims Des.
“Come on, sir. Come inside,” Willow, still ignoring Des, takes the emaciated man by the arm and leads him through the crowded bar to a bench seat near the plate glass window painted with her family name, McFinley’s, in green and gold. 

Des never liked it, the way her father chose such a cliche logo. But he was correct that it brought the customers. “Customers want two things when they visit New Orleans, my dear,” her father had drawled with his lingering brogue. “They want novelty, and alcohol.” He grinned at her and lit his pipe. She inhaled the woody scent of the pipe tobacco. “McFinley’s is here to provide both, my fair Willow.”

The haggard looking man doesn’t resist Willow’s assistance. Willow waves to her brother, Jace, once the man is seated. He notices her frantic waving and makes his way to his sister with haste. “Give this man some food and a drink,” instructs Willow.
“Seriously?” Jace questions.
“Yes, seriously,” Willow answers with a scowl.
“Uh, Willow?”

“What?” she retorts, impatient.
“Your friend is gone,” Jace says.
Willow whirls round to see the man has indeed vanished. “What in the hell? Where did he go?”
“Beats me,” Jace shrugs.
“Jace!” Justin shouts from the backroom. “Get your butt in here and help me with these boxes.
“Gotta go,” he says to Willow and maneuvers through the crowd.
“What the hell were you thinking?” Des asks, standing at Willow’s side.
“He needed help,” Willow answers. She notices Des’s face is wet with sweat, but not the moist sheen one formulates outside on a balmy New Orleans October evening. Her hands are trembling. “You saw it, too. The thing across the street!”
Des’s irises, behind their purple-colored contact lenses, peer not at Willow but through Willow. “What the hell was that man talking about? What is he protecting you from?”

Willow wrings her hands and looks around, hoping to see the strange, skeletal man staggering through the street. 

“Willow!” Des almost shouts, demanding to be acknowledged.

Willow meets Des’s gaze. Still wringing her hands, Willow looks over the thickening crowds outside the bar and at the continuous stream of guests going in and out of the establishment. “You know folklore.” Willow states, not a question. “You study cultural myths.”

Des nods.  

“You know about the sidhe fae?”

“Fairies?” Des questions, amused.

“Yes… but one type specifically. Banshees, Des.” Willow shakes her head and adjusts the wig she’s wearing. It’s seeming heavier by the minute. Her head starts to throb. “Can nightmares come to life?”

***

PART 2 COMING SOON

The Flowering Man

Original costume design by artist Maria Bjornson

(Inspired by events written in Susan Kay’s novel Phantom)

The blossoms, so tenderly cared for,

lay in strangers’ hands.

The most handsome were taken away

by scavenging neighbors.

The others were left to wilt and perish.

How the buds flourished

under the care of a somber man,

a man simply trying to forget a boy-

a boy who’d blossomed under another man-

an uncompromising man.

A rigid man with little conception

of how to raise a boy to know a father,

but a man with many sectarian convictions.

And with much knowledge of

torturing a flowering man-

A sorrowful man who’d spent his days

tending the garden.

How he cherished the blooms.

And though their radiance was grand,

they were hardly enough to replace a son.

On The Farm

Angola

Louisiana State Penitentiary

 17  June, 2005

Two lumbering spindly men in black suits sit on one side of a table in a frigid interrogation room. Both wear black Trilby hats. They have the whitest skin Vincent has ever seen. Dark blue veins are visible at their temples, on their hands, and around their eyes. The corrections officers are told to beat it. Vincent guesses they’re FBI or CIA, or that they came from Area-51. Maybe they just came from the Stennis Space Center. Vincent had told no one the actual story of how his wife and her lover died. He’s curious how these men know that anything out of the ordinary happened. 

“Mr. LaRoche, you need to explain your story to us. We don’t care how bizarre it is. Just tell us.”

“Can I get a cigarette?” Vincent asks.

“We’ll get whatever you want as long as you talk to us.”

“Alright then,” says Vincent. “I’ll tell you what happened. But you won’t believe me.”

“We’ll believe you.” The man doing all the talking waves his hand toward the second man, and the second man leaves the room. “Mr. Brown is going to get your cigarettes. Please, while we wait, start your story.”

“I’ll tell you. I been waiting on my appeal for eight years. Eight years of cold steel toilets, lumpy thin mattresses, and eating slop from metal trays probably made from recycled toilets. We’re, all of us, in solitary confinement on death row at The Farm. We ain’t even got air condition. I been sweating in a cell the size of a tiny bathroom with no window for eight years, waiting to know when I’m going to die. It’ll probably happen before they ever give me the chair- me dying, I mean. They don’t really give you the chair no more. Gruesome Gertie was retired in the Seventies. The death’s supposed to be more humane now, but they can hang me for all I care. I’m dying either way, so who gives a shit?

“They got a guy just came in last week, Clyde Burser. He’s probably twenty-five, about five-eight, curly blonde hair and bright green eyes. He cries so much, his eyes remind me of when Mallory got the conjunctivitis once. Her eyes were green like Clyde’s.

“Clyde’s cell is next to mine. He prays real loud all night asking God for forgiveness. It makes me laugh. ‘God’s forgiveness ain’t going to help you,’ I holler to him. Because God don’t forgive you ‘til you die anyway, right? He better pray his appeal goes in front a sympathetic jury, I tell him. One that believes he killed his own momma in self-defense. His own momma. 

“The guy on the other side of me is Frank Aucoin. He’s been waiting on his appeal for twenty years. He’s sixty-two, got prostate cancer. One night he woke us all up hollering and screaming his spooge was bloody. Doctors gave him six months. That was two years ago. He’s six-two, weighs about a buck ten, can’t barely hold himself up, and he shits himself on the regular. He’s got a sister who comes once a week after Sunday services. She says it’s a miracle he’s still alive. I say it’s karma.

“I was twenty-one when I came to The Farm. Since then I only known one man been sent to the Chamber, and that was Howard Saucier, The Crescent City Cutter. Murdered twenty-two male sex workers by slicing them down the middle. 

“Howard wasn’t scared to die, or he pretended not to be. But he sure never let on if he was scared because he was one jovial motherfucker; that’s the truth. I used to think if Howard wasn’t deranged, he’d be a cool guy to hang with. He was lofty as a loon, and that’s the truth, too. He had clear blue eyes, the kind you think belong to Lucifer. There wasn’t no repentance in them eyes. 

“Howard wasn’t no dumb ass, either. When he got his book allowance he always picked the real big ones. I used to think of Mallory telling me I should read more. ‘If you read more you’d broaden your vocabulary,’ she said. I didn’t need to broaden my vocabulary. I did just fine with the one I got, I said. Mallory was always making like I was a dipshit. Well, maybe I am a dipshit. But it didn’t do nothing to save her in the end, so fuck her and her vocabulary.

“Howard’s people had money, and they sent him to some rich kid private boys’ school until he was sixteen, he said, and then he was kicked out for assaulting the school nurse. ‘I just wanted a taste,’ Howard said.

“He went to juvenile, but they had to let him go when he turned twenty-one. While he was locked up in juvenile detention, he got his G.E.D., and he went to college when he got out. Then he went to medical school, because he liked to dissect things, he said. He told me a story once about the first time his class cut open a cadaver. ‘I came in my pants,’ he said.

“I’m not too sure about Howard’s religion, but he read the Bible a lot. He always liked the stories where God smote mankind because He got pissed off for one reason or another. Some of the stories I remembered from Bible study, sitting in the rectory with twelve other kids and my thighs sticking to the plastic chairs in the summer. It was hot as hell because they only had one of them window air condition units. Still not as hot as it gets in here during the summer, though.  Howard told me one time, ‘I can get behind a God who persecutes His own creations. Divine retribution.’ Howard was real big on making people pay for what they done.

“He liked to fuck with the guards, too. They ignored him most of the time. Sometimes he went too far, and they had to handle-up on him. It riled everybody up when that happened. Like this once when he was let out for gate time, Howard attacked the guard and bit him on the neck- just like Dracula. Five guards jumped him and they threw him back in his cell after roughing him up pretty good. I overheard them saying they didn’t want to have to send him to medical. We was all on lock-down after that.

“Howard was little calmer when he was let out of his cell again. That wasn’t too long before he moved down the line. We didn’t know because they don’t tell us when an inmate is moved for execution. Only the warden knows, but one day Howard was taken out for his shower time, and he never came back. They could’ve plugged him and threw him out in the cotton field for the crows and turkey vultures, for all I know. I figured he went to the Chamber. We all got a little quieter after that. I guess it sounds weird to say somebody would miss a guy like Howard, but I did, a little. He never done me nothing.”

“Mr. LaRoche, could you please just get to the details about what happened the day you killed your wife and her lover?”

“I’m getting to it!” Vincent snaps. “I need a minute to remember. And I AIN’T murdered nobody. Get that right. Now what was I saying? Oh yeah. . . “ Vincent lights his third cigarette.

“Every Sunday the chaplain comes to give Communion and for confession.  I don’t trust him. Looks like he’s probably a pedo. I don’t got nothing to confess, anyway. I already gave my confession to the cops. And when the judge asked me how I plead, I said guilty because I knew I was going down either way. I don’t got nothing to say to no stupid chaplain. I tell him to go see Clyde.

“After the chaplain leaves we’re let out in the yard for an hour. I don’t keep a calendar, but sometimes I can tell what time of year it is by the weather. Sometimes. But down here it can be eighty degrees in the winter, so I don’t never know. I don’t want to know. I just know three times a week I get to go outside, and sometimes it’s hot and sometimes it ain’t. If it’s raining we got to wait for the next day. And if the sky is clear and the sun is beating us down, we sit there holding our hands over our eyes until the guards say it’s time to go back in. Some guys exercise or jog around the yard, but I rather just sit by Frank and breathe the fresh air. What I got to be in shape for?

“My lawyer, Art, usually comes once every couple weeks. It depends on how much he’s got court. He said he can’t get me off but he can get me out of the death penalty. He thinks he can, anyway. . . But I been here eight years, and I don’t want to go to general population. I don’t want to work in the fields. Besides, I don’t share my cell with nobody. I get to shower by myself, except for the guards watching me.

“I ain’t going to lie. I was real scared at first when I got here. Especially because they was giving me death, and I didn’t want to die. But now I figure ain’t nothing to live for anyway. What I got to look forward to? Prostate cancer and bloody spooge, like Frank? I might as well die here. Got to die someplace.

“‘Vince, I’m working hard on your appeal,’ Art always says. ‘I’m not giving up on you. I think I can get your charges reduced to manslaughter. With time served you might only be looking at ten or twelve more years. Louisiana has the highest rate of commuting death sentences.’

“Ten or twelve more years, like it’s a consolation. Not that I wouldn’t want to be free to walk right out of here and go home. If I had a home. But I ain’t. And I don’t think Art’s going to get me out, but my momma keeps paying him with my daddy’s social security, and he keeps taking her money. I don’t have the heart to tell my momma I’m going to die here. So, I don’t say nothing.

“I went to court about six months ago. It was summer. The needle on the outdoor thermometer was wobbling between one-ten and one-twenty. My balls was wet and hot,” Vincent laughs. “And, they was sticking to my thighs.” 

“My momma bought me a new suit because my old one didn’t fit no more, seeing as all the weight I lost. It was a tan color, and the tag said it was seersucker. It probably cost more than my momma could afford. I got cleaned up and dressed and brushed my hair and shaved and waited for Art.

“The courtroom was real cold compared to outside. My fingers felt like frozen fish sticks. Art was talking to the jury, and my momma was sitting behind me. I could hear her sniffling the whole time. I wanted to turn around, but I wasn’t supposed to. Art gave me a yellow legal pad and a rubbery, bendy pen. They make them like that for safety reasons, to make sure you ain’t going to jab it in somebody’s neck or nothing. I ain’t had nothing to write, so I scribbled some drawings like you do when you’re bored in school and the teacher won’t shut up. Plus I wanted to look busy and not like I was just sitting there doing nothing like a psychopath. Because I AIN’T one!

“I thought of Mallory. I drew her face, the way it was when we met. I colored in her dark hair. She kept it long back when we started dating. I bet that asshole Nate was the one told her to cut it. ‘He stimulates my mind,’ she said one time. It wasn’t the only thing he was stimulating, I thought. 

‘Your honor, members of the jury,’ Art said, ‘I think we can all agree that what my client Mr. Vincent LeRoche-a man with no prior criminal record-experienced on the date of June seventeenth nineteen-ninety-seven was an unconscious rage, a type of temporary insanity if you will, brought on by blind fury and the heat of passion.’

“I scratched out Mallory’s face. I didn’t want to see it no more. That wasn’t her real face. Nobody would believe it. But I wasn’t crazy, and I wasn’t lying. I can’t really say what I walked in on the day I supposedly became a murderer.”

“Yes, finally! Tell us what occurred just that day, Mr. LaRoche,” says one of the men in dark suits, peevish and exacerbated.

“I had left work early because I was feeling bad. I was feeling bad for a while, and Mallory was giving me some weird ass medicine every night. It made me real dizzy, and then I fell asleep fast. The liquid was thick and red, and sometimes it looked like it had bugs wiggling in it. Mallory told me not to be stupid. There wasn’t no bugs in it. It was just pieces of herbs. I don’t know nothing about herbs or none of that shit. She gave me the medicine. She was my wife, so I took the damn medicine. Even though it didn’t do nothing to stop my stomach from hurting and bubbling all the time.

“Like I said, I went home early that day. There was a second car in the driveway when I pulled up. I figured it was Nate’s car. I got pissed off, more mad than I ever been in my life. I took my .9mm Beretta out of the glovebox in my pickup. 

“When I walked in the house, I heard nauseating sounds coming from mine and Mallory’s bedroom. Banging sounds, squashy sounds, and growling. It sounded like two komodo dragons fighting to the death in a tub of Jell-O. I got my pistol ready and kicked in the door. 

“Two giant reptile-looking alien creatures was in my bed. They was huge. Their skin was a shiny, pitch-black color. They was covered in slime, too. I don’t know if these alien things were fucking or what. 

“I screamed ‘What the fuck!’ at the top of my lungs. I should have kept my stupid mouth shut and ran out the room. 

“The two creatures turned around on me, and I ain’t going to lie, I pissed my pants. They were snarling. They had colossal sharp fangs and teeth. Their mouths looked like panthers’ mouths except with more teeth, and loads of thick, syrupy saliva dripping out all over. It was a dark, dark red color. I noticed one of them had a gold necklace stuck to its scaly skin. It was the gold necklace I bought Mallory on our honeymoon in Panama Beach. Mallory always loved seahorses, and I found this gold necklace with a seahorse on it in a tourist shop. One that sold real jewelry. It wasn’t no kind of gold-plated fake crap. 

‘Mallory?’ I choked. The thing flung its massive long tail at me. It barely missed me. I fell back onto the wet carpet. It was sticky with whatever alien reptile slime was coming from monster Mallory and monster Nate. I was afraid it was going to eat through my skin or something. The monster Nate creature leapt toward me. I rolled out of its way just enough where it couldn’t grab me with its great big, clawed. . . I guess. . . fingers? It stood up on two legs and hissed at me so loud it sounded like a pit full of pissed off anacondas. Funky slobber landed all over my face, and my arms, which I was using to shield my face. After a second of being scared shitless, I remembered I had the .9mm. I raised the gun, shaking, and pulled the trigger. I hit the Nate thing right in its chest. It shrieked and started to bleed, and then I knew no matter what them things were, bullets hurt them. I held my shooting position and let go more shots into the Nate reptile creature. I hit it in the face with a couple of shots, and that did the most damage. The monster toppled backwards and cracked its skull open against the wall. Blood and bright yellow mucus, or whatever that shit was, poured out of the holes in its face, head, and chest. The thing’s whole body turned fuzzy, static-like. I watched it begin to disintegrate. It looked like it was turning into a trillion gnats- or black sperms swirling in the air. Then the black, swirling sperms disappeared. Like something off one of them stupid late night horror movies that you just turn on to laugh at. Then human Nate’s body was on the floor, full of bullet holes.

“The Mallory creature caught me with its long tongue. Sticky maroon slime soaked my shirt where its tongue was holding me. The stuff looked like blood but real thick. My shooting arm was still free, and my Beretta was still in my hand. Good thing I grew up shooting. The Mallory thing’s tongue was squeezing the hell out of me, crushing my lungs and making it hard to breathe. I raised my pistol, somehow my hand was steady the second time, and I emptied my clip into the monster’s head. The thick, red, syrupy liquid with tiny things wiggling in it- and some kind of  brain matter that looked like bright yellow oatmeal- splattered against the wall. Crimson and yellow streaks ran down the wall and puddled on the carpet. I thought of how Mallory always complained that she hated them white walls. ‘These walls are so bland. You need to paint them,’ she always said.  The same thing that happened with monster Nate’s body happened to monster Mallory. After a few minutes, I was looking down at my own wife’s dead body full of my bullets.

“I heard sirens and guessed the neighbors called the cops. I sat on the porch, shaking. I lit a Camel, and I waited. I already knew what it would look like. I knew I didn’t have no defense. Who was going to believe my story?

“The cops had their guns on me while I finished my cigarette and threw it over the porch railing into the grass. Two of them snuck me, and tackled me out my chair. One of them crushed my face into the wood porch with his boot while another one cuffed me. Cops were crawling all over the house. There was about twenty cop cars in the street. I just sat there until they put me in the car. I didn’t say nothing. Wasn’t nothing to say.

“Mallory and Nate’s family members got to talk to the jury after Art was finished his talking. Nate’s momma showed them pictures from when he was a baby and pictures of him when he was in school. I thought about how much she loved him, and I thought of my momma sitting behind me in the courtroom crying, and of Clyde killing his own momma. But, whatever the fuck I killed in my bedroom that day, it wasn’t Nate. 

“Nate’s sister wrote a poem she read to the jury. His dad stood up and told me I deserved to be murdered, and he wished he could be the one to do it. My momma started crying real hard then, and Art went to calm her down.

“Mallory’s parents stood up together and asked me why I did it. I didn’t say nothing. I wasn’t going to say their daughter turned into some slimy alien monster lizard beast. Mallory’s best friend, who I always hated, told the jury I condemned Mallory and Nate to death for their adulterous misdeeds. She asked them if they didn’t feel I deserved to be condemned to death, too. She had pictures and articles with headlines from the papers blown up to poster-size. She showed them to the jury. ‘Vidalia Love Triangle Ends in Murder,’ read one of them. It had a picture of Mallory and me on our wedding day with a separate picture of Nate. ‘Concordia Sheriff Describes Scene as the Most Disturbing He’s Seen in Years,’ read another one. That one had a picture of our house taped off by the cops. ‘Small Town La. Man Charged with Murder,’ read the last one, and it had my mug shot under it. Art objected, but it was too late because they already seen it. Maybe if I had told anybody what I saw, I could have got an insanity plea.

“The jury came back after about an hour. Art kept handing Kleenex to my momma while the judge read the verdict. I was afraid Momma was going to choke to death because she wasn’t breathing right. Mallory’s and Nate’s families was clapping and hugging each other.

“I stood up and turned around and said sorry to my momma. She grabbed me by my suit jacket and pressed her face into my chest. A dark, imperfect circle expanded outward from where her tears wet my shirt. ‘I’m real sorry, Momma,’ I whispered.

“‘We’ll get you another appeal, Vince. They can’t do anything as long as we keep appealing,’ said Art.

“My momma looked up at me. Makeup ran down her cheeks. I placed a hand on either side of her face. I used my thumbs to wipe away the black streaks under her eyes. Art can appeal all he wants, but I know it won’t matter. Not just because there ain’t no way any jury will decide in my favor. Because I been feeling sick again, real bad. When I go to the toilet, there’s a whole lot of thick, sticky red liquid with some kind of herbs that look like bugs wriggling in it left behind.”

A Righteous Man Out of a Murderer

I killed Frankie Costello. My friends accepted the lie when I told them I couldn’t find him the night of the murder. My account was further validated when no one found him after that night. No one found him because I tossed his body from the Intracoastal Waterway Bridge in Eastern New Orleans. The Green Bridge, as locals know it, was perhaps once a jade color but had faded to a dull gray. 

Disposing of Frankie was easy. He was hardly five feet five inches tall, and he weighed a mere one hundred and fifty pounds. It was part of the reason he victimized women, women like Giselle, which got him into the ugly predicament with me. 

Frankie was well respected in the criminal community. He had a lot of money and dangerous associates. Associates like myself. The old adage of keeping one’s friends close and enemies closer was wise advice, and it was the reason I associated with Frankie. He owned the club where Giselle danced, and he pimped his girls for extra money.

Giselle stopped working for him once I’d arrived on scene. I’d put her in my show, as a dancer and back up singer.  She was very talented but not formally trained. In her late teens, she became involved with an older man who promised to put her on stage. He’d failed to mention that the stage had a pole. He was also an associate of Frankie Costello’s, and he sold his products out of the club. He and Giselle were married for a short time before he suffered a fatal overdose. Frankie took over his business.  

Giselle’s late husband had introduced her to the finest heroin imported by the Persian market, and she was responsible for getting me hooked on the stuff. It’s why Giselle was at the club with Frankie that night, the night Oscar and Felicia found her hunched and sobbing on my porch swing with the dark purple blemish they’d originally attributed to my own unruly and violent temper. 

I didn’t like dealing with Frankie because he was a weasel, and he had more than one cop in his pocket. Giselle and I were desperate on the aforementioned evening because the DEA made a major bust at the port earlier in the month. Frankie was the only person in the city with anything.

Giselle went to the club alone. There was an altercation between her and Frankie over money he believed she owed him. Giselle, being the outspoken Creole woman she was, responded to Frankie’s accusation with outrage. Their shouting match quickly became physical.

She arrived back at my house in tears with a rosy and swollen cheek and a bruised eye. Felicia and Oscar came upon her crying on my front porch and then presented her to me. My reaction eliminated any thought they had of my being responsible. It did, however, raise fears that I would overreact.  

After I saw what he’d done, I went to the club and interrupted Frankie’s card game. I pulled him into the alley and beat him into unconsciousness. I hog-tied him before dropping his body into the trunk of my car. I drove from his French Quarter club to New Orleans East, and dumped him from the bridge. Maybe I overreacted.

I drove the interstate for hours. Partly because I’d already formulated my lie, that I’d searched all night but hadn’t found Frankie. I was so shaken, though,  I was afraid my guilt would betray me. I hadn’t taken a life in eons. Those years felt like part of a past life, intangible and surreal as a fuzzy nightmare. I’d brought the nightmare back to the forefront of my consciousness in vivid color and 3-D. 

My cell phone rang nonstop for the first hour, and after I failed to answer, it stopped. When the darkness began to fade and the sky became light again, I decided to turn around and make my way home. On the way I stopped for coffee and to stretch my legs. 

My hands shook as I poured sugar into my cup.  No one but me was sitting at the counter.. The bored, tired waitress paid me little attention. It was twelve hours since I’d shot up, and my brain and body were suffering.

My phone rang again. Felicia’s number. I contemplated answering, but I was distracted by a voice. I turned on my stool, and there stood a young woman beside me. She was wearing my band’s last tour t-shirt. I thought she wanted an autograph or something, but I was dizzy and my brain wasn’t absorbing everything she was saying. I scribbled my name on a napkin and pushed it toward her as I stood from the stool. The young lady remarked on my sallow and ashen appearance, and I mumbled something about lack of sleep and malnutrition – common maladies of life on the road. My phone rang again as I was walking out of the diner, the young lady trailing behind me. 

“Someone’s really trying to find you,” she remarked. “Your phone’s been ringing for like ten minutes.”

“Yes, finding someone. Right,” I said. She’d given me an idea.

She looked at me with a confused expression. 

“Thank you,” I said to her as I got into my car.

Again my phone rang. Giselle calling. 

“Yes?” I answered.

“Victor!” Giselle exclaimed. “Where have you been? Please come home.” She sobbed into the phone.

“I’ll be home soon.” Hearing her cry hurt me. 

“Did you do it? Did you kill Frankie?” she asked.

I remained silent.

“Victor!” she shouted.

“No,” I said. “I haven’t found him.”

“Tell me the truth,” she sobbed.

“I’m going to look in one last place then I am coming home,” I said. 

“Just come home,” she pleaded.

“Soon,” I replied.

We all knew a guy called Romeo who lived downtown. When I say we all knew him, I am referring to Giselle, Frankie’s crew, the police, and myself. I don’t know why they called him Romeo, but his real name was Antoine. His cousin knew people who knew people, and although he wasn’t always guaranteed to have the brown stuff, he was always guaranteed to have an ample supply of fine white stuff. Anything was better than anguish. Since Romeo was an associate of Frankie’s, I was able to further develop my lie. I arrived at Romeo’s apartment about an hour and a half after leaving the diner. I knocked on the door and prepared for my performance.

“Victor? I didn’t expect to see you. I was expecting Frankie,” Romeo said, opening the door.

“When did you speak to Frankie?” I asked, concerned that it was after I’d last spoken to him.

“Last night. He was supposed to be coming for a pick up but he didn’t show,” Romeo replied as we walked into the apartment.

“I’ve been looking for him all night, too. I was hoping you knew where to find him,” I said.

“Fernando heard some guy went and pulled him out of his card game, then he didn’t come back,” Romeo stated.

“Oh,” I replied, trying to sound nonchalant.

“Somebody said it was you,” Romeo added.

“Ha!” I exclaimed. “I fucking wish!”

“Why what happened?” asked Romeo.

“This!” I thrust my cell phone toward Romeo to show him a photo of Giselle’s battered face. I’d taken the photo earlier so that I could show it to Frankie before I killed him. I wanted it to be the last thing he saw.

“Oh wow,” said Romeo, taking the phone from me to get a better look. “Frankie did that?”

“Yes,” I answered while taking my phone back from him. “And if I find him, I am going to return the favor.”

“Frankie has a lot of enemies,” Romeo said. “Seems someone beat you to him.”

“Yes,” I said absent-mindedly as I was still looking at the photo of Giselle. “Seems so.”

“Hey man, you okay?” Romeo disturbed my concentration.

“Actually, I was hoping you could help me out,” I answered.

“Sorry, brother, I don’t have anything,” he replied. 

“What about the white stuff?” I asked.

“I’d love to help but I don’t have enough supply right now to…” his voice trailed off when I produced a fistfull of cash. “In that case, how much you need?”

“However much I can get with this,” I said and placed the cash on his coffee table.


Oscar confronted me as soon as I arrived home. I’d pulled into the driveway, through the gate, and around to the back of the house. He was sitting at one of the round, metal tables under the patio beside the pool. I could tell he’d been up all night. 

I walked to the table and pulled out a chair to sit beside him. Then I removed a pack of cigarettes from my pocket, took one out, and lit it. Oscar was seething.

“What did you do with him,” he said.

“What are you talking about?” I asked as I dipped the ashes off of my cigarette into a wide, round ashtray fabricated from green agate.

“Don’t play stupid with me, Victor,” Oscar replied.

“Firstly, if you are referring to Frankie Costello, I did nothing with him,” I said.

 “Oh no?” 

“No,” I answered. “I searched all night for Frankie, but I didn’t find him.”  I was nervous because Oscar could detect deceit. He always knew when I was dishonest. 

“You didn’t murder Frankie Costello?” he asked.

“I certainly wanted to! But no, I couldn’t find him.”

Oscar seemed to relax. We sat in silence for several minutes. I finished my cigarette and stood to leave.

“Victor, wait,” said Oscar as I turned to walk away.

“What is it now?” I asked.

“You really were doing so well for a while, and I really hoped that . . .” he trailed off.

“Hoped that what? I was a reformed man?” I scoffed.

“I guess you’re right,” he said. “I was a fool to think I could make a righteous man out of a murderer.” 

Oscar looked to me for a response, but I gave none. 

“I always thought I was gaining your respect and by having your respect you would be honest with me and at least afford me that courtesy,” he said. 

It was hard to look at him. I owed him so much; I owed him my life.  I knew I was wrong to deceive him. 

“You can go now if you’ve nothing more to say,” said Oscar with disappointment, as if he’d been expecting deeper conversation.. He stood and replaced his chair.

My brain was consumed by images from the night he’d put my life before his own, my rival’s blade to my throat. Oscar’s own weapon reflecting shards of moonlight. I knew I was wrong to deceive him. I owed him so much. 

“Wait,” I said. 

Oscar turned back around.

“I’ve more to say,” I said, as I sat down and lit another cigarette.

Personal Revelations

I think reading the Good Omens script book is helping me realize things about my own writing and how I’ve been sabotaging myself.

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Yes, it’s already taped in places. I really have no explanation for myself as to why that is.

Of course, I understand, reading any and all books are helpful for writers in their own writing. But honestly, I recently realized that I’ve been taking myself too seriously. Not that I shouldn’t work hard. I need to buckle down and work more, write more, read more. What I mean is until about the last year or so, I’ve been imprisoning myself in a cage where my fiction has had to be one way because that’s the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For a long time, I’ve considered trying to publish humorous essays in the style of David Sedaris. His writing taught me that embarrassing personal experiences can make for hilariously good writing. My life is steeped in embarrassing personal experiences.

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The first David Sedaris book I ever read. I bought it on a whim because of the title, telling my husband this book was for me because I was actually engulfed in flames once. (More like struck with a flying ball of flame, but still burned nonetheless.)

In the sort of “personal essays” I  write for my blog, I use humor freely. My obstacle in my fiction writing is that I have been stuck in a mindset that I can’t be too silly. And to those who know me best, Donnell being not silly, is like “What the fuck?” Because the Donnell everyone knows is silly as fuck. There have been two things I’ve been told for a long time: That I’m funny and that I am good at story telling/manipulating language in a way that makes people want to read/hear my stories. It’s just that I’ve been too stuck the last several years on different editors’ submission requirements, and trying to shape my writing to fit particular magazines’/journals’ expected styles. However, reading Neil Gaiman using a phrase like “glares glarefully” and reading in his intro where he explains he added jokes into the scene descriptions that didn’t exactly amuse the TV production folks, made me realize I’ve been going about this all wrong for too long. I have been thinking this about my writing method for months, but reading the Good Omens script book has really opened my eyes about it. Of course, as always, there’s a Queen song that goes along with my story. (Because, in case I forgot to mention it a million times, I’ve been obsessed with Queen since I was a kid.)

“Oh, don’t try so hard. Oh, don’t take it all to heart.
It’s only fools. They make these rules. Don’t try so hard.”

On the album Innuendo, recorded from March 1989 to November 1990 and released in February 1991, there is a song titled Don’t Try So Hard. Written by Freddie Mercury, when he knew he was at the end of his life. It’s an amazing song. For years I’ve listened to it and related to it in different ways depending on my current life situations. It’s been stuck in my head a lot lately. It’s been in my head on and off over the last 7 years during AJ’s illnesses and disabilities, thinking it was maybe telling me that I’m overworking myself in that arena- the role of primary caretaker. So many people tell me all the time how well AJ is doing and has done, and that it’s because of me. But, they also make sure to tell me to take care of myself, too.

In the last month or so, though, I’ve really finally opened my eyes to the idea that I’m hurting my writing by trying too hard. Don’t Try So Hard is a song written by a man who knew his life was ending, and who had one of the most prolific careers in entertainment ever. So what is the song telling me? Or more accurately, what is my unconscious telling me via Freddie’s voice right now at this point in my life? I really believe it’s that I have to relieve myself of the chains in which I’ve bound myself regarding my writing. I have to let my mind do its thing- be silly and tell stories. Not that I can’t or won’t write serious material anymore. It’s just that I’m not a dramatist. That’s not me. Comedy gets little recognition in entertainment, except from the audiences. I’m not writing for editors who want “literally fiction”, “speculative fiction”, and whichever of the other hundreds of preferred types containing some kind of deep meaningful societal dialogue; I’m writing for the audience. For you, the readers.

Monty Python has taught me that comedy can still make people think about deep shit.


You can laugh and contemplate the universe at the same time. Douglas Adams taught me that, too. And most recently, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens (because somehow I hadn’t learned of it until 2019, which I’m frankly embarrassed to admit).

Still there are times you just have to go in for the laugh, and that’s great, too. Laughing is fun. I love making people laugh. It’s probably my favorite thing to do while interacting with others.

I’ve realized I’ve been trying too hard, holding my own head under water trying to fit a model that I’m not. It’s time to remedy that.