North Clarendon, Vermont: Whispers in the Dark

April 21, 2021. North Clarendon, Vermont.
Soundtrack: Bad Religion – My Head Is Full of Ghosts

We turned the widening gyre back to the airbnb farmstead. Beefer narrowly evaded Cody’s lascivious onslaught. Cody would not run. It was a plodding, relentless pursuit predation, like if Michael Meyers’s end goal were a poorly understood iteration of humping.

Which would technically describe Austin Powers, but that’s incidental, and the wrong vibe.

In Vermont, steak is dirt cheap. We stocked up on $3/lb porterhouses and stashed them in the fridge for the lean times ahead. We had rented the upper floor of the farmhouse, and had the equivalent square footage of my row home in Philly all to ourselves. It was a slipshod entanglement of rooms and hallways that didn’t lead anywhere. Single steps changed the floor’s height at random, giving the whole complex the sensibility of a McDonald’s Playplace in dark oak.

“I love it!” said the Witch.

This didn’t surprise me. The shelves were full of obscure bronze implements, faded stash boxes, and glazed ceramic mugs, inexpertly crafted and unlikely to function as drinking vessels with any degree of reliability. The Witch wandered around, vaping herbs and cooing at the scavenged Goodwill decor.

There was a daybed off the kitchen, and judging by the damage it did to my coccyx when I sat, it was made of concrete. Beefton didn’t mind. He hopped up and lost consciousness, likely from the blunt force trauma of settling his cannonball head on the “mattress”.

The walls were covered in light switches. Some worked lights in adjacent rooms, which you couldn’t see. Some didn’t seem to do anything. When bedtime rolled around, getting them all shut off was like solving a logic puzzle, and I couldn’t shake the thought that one of them turned on the host’s microwave and catalyzed the immolation of the whole desolate, wooded state.

It was around 3 AM when I woke up and stumbled down the hallway toward the bathroom. I didn’t try to turn on the lights. Why bother? I didn’t want to cause another Fukushima. Up I tottered, stripped to the waist, laboring through the dark like Theseus in the labyrinth.

Then came the whispering.

Probably a ritual. A Witch ritual. A witchual, I decided. Wasn’t 3 AM Shakespeare’s witching hour? When churchyards yawn and Hell itself breathes out Contagion to this world? Did Shakespeare even have 3 AM? How old were clocks?

This was not unusual for me. My stream of consciousness is more a chain of whitewater rapids into a Niagaran fall, and in the daylight hours, I make an effort to reconstruct and articulate whatever splinters survive the drop. At night, no such luck. Monkeys and typewriters, the full span of the synapse.

I turned one of the endless House of Leaves corners and the whispers stopped. Beefton sat bolt upright, his focus concentrated to a near physical force, staring at a wooden chair.

“What the dog doin?” I murmured.

He didn’t look at me.

I drew closer, hesitant, the boards no longer creaking under my feet, the silence whole and encompassing. Darkness swallowed us, and the single rail of moonlight cast a faint circle of illumination around me, my attorney, and the antique chair.

“Beefyboi?”

He jolted upright, whirling, eyes huge and wild.

“Whoa, it’s all right! Shhh. It’s night. You okay?”

His tail wagged once, twice, tentatively. He looked back at the chair. Beefton is an expressive creature, a full suite of emotion made available from his labrador and pitbull heritages, and I could tell a side eye when I saw one.

I filled my jug at the kitchen sink. In the rushing static of the water, I could hear the whispers again, almost voices, almost comprehensible, some impetus bleeding through the dissonance.

I turned back toward the hall. Beefy was sitting again, staring again, ramrod straight and still as a gargoyle.

“The hell are you looking at?” I asked. I squatted down next to him to follow his line of sight.

The old Victorian chair had a demon’s mask carved into the backrest, a leering, manic snarl that seemed to jump and dance in the shadows cast by the weak white light of the moon. The pupils rolled up toward the top of the eyes like the face was in some ecstatic state, a debaucherous midpoint between orgasm and death, lips pulled back to expose a toothed beak, flanked by curling ram’s horns.

Staring into the carving, I heard the whisper again, bright and pure as a bell.

“Kill them,” it said. Not from the chair, but from inside my own head. “Kill them all.”

I looked to Beefton, but he couldn’t see me. His eyes had rolled back to show red blood vessels and white sclera, mirroring the face in the wood.

“No,” I said. “The Witch is gonna do half the drive home. And I paid $300 for this dog.”

The chair didn’t answer. I decided it could spend the rest of the night on the balcony, if it wanted to be so chatty. I opened the door to put it out and a wolf howled in the chill night air.

“I get it,” I said. I tipped over the chair for good measure.

Beefton’s trance was broken and when I came back inside, he wanted to wrassle. I told him there was no wrassling at 3 AM and he followed me back into the bedroom, where he climbed his 85 lb bulk on top of the Witch and immediately fell asleep. She made a sound like being punched in the gut, but didn’t stir.

I spent the night in swirling, torrential dreams of black mazes, faint whispers, and switches that didn’t do anything.

When I woke the next morning, the chair was back in the kitchen, next to the concrete bed. Of course it was. The face was still in the daylight, but the leer remained, and the suggestion of knowledge and premeditation behind it.

I crouched next to the haunted chair, gave it my own manic leer.

“Here’s to life,” I whispered.

Then I grilled up a couple of truly formidible breakfast steaks.

Love,

B.

Dublin: The Irish Won’t Stop Singing & The Monster Club

September 28, 2019. Dublin, Ireland.
Soundtrack: Headstone Horrors – Monster Club

The hostel was a collegiate Skinner box labyrinth with a grim, cafeteria style dining hall, faux bars full of noisy Australian teenagers, and a “hammock room” full of hungover chrysalises that stank like feet. The walls were covered in elaborate murals celebrating copyright infringement, and I practiced the path back to my 24-bed military dorm by quietly muttering to myself, “Right at C3P0, down the stairs, left at the Titty Elf, door 19.”

I didn’t spend much time there. I dumped my stuff and headed back out into my first weekend in Dublin.

I’d seen the city before, but it had been the launchpad of my first sojourn into bastardly travel, and I was yet a boy, unwise in the ways of the world. I booked the worst hostel money could by and spent the weekend hiding in it from the relentless, oppressive rain.

This time around the weather was as nice as it gets in Ireland, and the whole of the country had gathered in the bars, or in the streets, to sing. There’s nowhere in the world as thoroughly pervaded with music as Dublin on a Friday. The pubs were filled to bursting, and every one was playing live music, and everyone in the audience was singing along with the live music, whether they knew the words or not.

In the streets and walkways were interlocking circles of spectators clustered around buskers playing guitars and horns, doing DJ sets and tooting away on bagpipes.

It was uncanny. There was a college town weekend vibe, if the college town specialized in performing arts and spanned miles in every direction.

I had a coffee stout at an overfull microbrewery where everyone was singing alt-rock from the 90s. In America, ours tend to stick to the Tony Hawk soundtrack. I had as much Third Eye Blind as I could stand, then hiked twenty minutes through the musical chaos and found Fibber Magees.

It was easily identifiable. Punks look like punks, no matter where you are in the world. The battle jackets leaned more toward the Adicts and GBH than I was used to, but I was still able to track the concentration of studded leather to the bar entrance.

I met up with the horror punks from the ferry. They had with them a lanky Irish metalhead who had many recommendations for me, both about metal bands and about how to improve the political climate in America.

“Ye don’t understand,” he told me. “Ye run all of it. Th’ world economy relies on ye. When ye make a decision like electin’ Troomp, the entoire warld suffers, because our leaders just blindly go along with whatever ye say.”

“The problem with my country is they don’t consult me,” I confided in him.

“How’n the hell did ye wind up with Troomp, anyway?”

I was used to fielding this one. I explained that the overwhelming majority of America is made up of People of Wal-Mart. Their terrifying biomass is barely contained by their 4XL Tweety Bird t-shirts and they highly prize family values, which means maintaining two household shrines, one to Jesus and the other to Dale Earnhardt.

“They outnumber the Americans you see on TV or talk to on the internet 100 to 1,” I said. “They are the deciders of the election.”

“Jaysus,” he said.

“And the world mourns together.”

Speaking of mourning, the first band went on.

We went outside and stood in the beer garden shared by four different bars until that ended. When it did, four oldheads went up and played some solid post-punk.

“What’s post-punk?” the horrorpunk drummer asked.

“Punk, but the drums are slow.”

He nodded his spiked head a few times.

“You’re right. None of our songs go this slow.”

The Headstone Horrors set up and the metalhead approached me, slurring heavily.

“I’m goona start a fookin’ pit fer ’em,” he said, holding onto my shoulder for balance. “These guys desarve it.”

It got silly. A bunch of fookin’ taarists or badly confused locals wandered up to the front of the edges of the pit with full glasses of beer. Of course they wound up spilling it all over the place. I was on the wrong side of a few of these unfortunate yet unavoidable accidents, and they looked on me with baldfaced shock. One nearly escalated to violence, but I smiled disarmingly even as I continued to be a hulking tower of American meat.

It got wild. One of the mutants from that first band tried to pick a fight with an elderly skinhead by hissing at him and trying to punch him, and other assorted middle-school anime girl shit. He maintained his composure, which is more than you’d expect from a skinhead.

They tore the place apart, and it was one of the greatest experiences I’d had overseas. Certainly the greatest in the United Kingdom.

They finished up, I finished my beer, and bade a fond farewell to my new friends. They cautioned me again about a fortified Scottish wine; the name escapes me, but they talked about it like it was a combination of Boones’ Farm and tequila.

The only resident Irishman in our little party grew maudlin, as they are wont to do.

“Ya’re leaving? Already? I thought we could grab a few marr drinks. Well, that’s the way it goes, I s’pose. Maybe… in anudder life… anudder time…”

I clapped him on the shoulder and thanked him for his metal recommendations, then congratulated the Horrors on their set again and made for the door.

“Wait,” the singer said. “Thanks for coming, and for dancing. Here, take this.”

And she produced their album from one of their duffel bags, on CD. I didn’t know where I would play a CD, but the gesture was magnanimous. I thanked them again and made my way back to the hostel.

And that brings the tale of my most recent overseas jaunt to a close.

Epilogue: After an uneventful return to America, I discovered that the Girl brought a stereo system from the 90s from her parent’s house. It could play CDs. And since the only CDs in our possession in this, the year of our lord 2019 were the Headstone Horrors LP and what I’m told is a collection of “marimba classics”, I set the stereo up in the kitchen and kept those spooky little punkers spinning whenever I was cooking something.

After the move, the stereo went into storage, so now I stream them on Spotify, but I keep the album in a place of honor out of a Celtic sentimentality that four-hundred years of Americanization hasn’t yet pounded from my blood.

As of this writing, we’re in the midst of a pandemic, and it might be a little while before I go on another trip worth recording.

But I’m still here, and I’ll find something to fill up the digital pages.

Thanks for reading.

Love,

B.

Reykjavik: The Dong Shrine

Saturday, September 21, 2019. Reykjavik, Iceland.
Soundtrack: Mickey Avalon – My Dick

The last installment might have been a little high-handed and self-indulgent. The subtitle of this blog is “barbarian travelogue”, and in light of the D&D renaissance, one could expect that would involve less artistic Frasierly pontification and more crushing enemies, seeing them driven before you, and hearing the lamentations of the women.

I hear you, beautiful reader. And let me just say: I do what I want. Eat a dick.

Now, if you’re having difficulty locating a dick to eat, this episode might provide you a solution. Reykjavik proudly and prominently sports the “Phallological Museum”, a ghoulish collection of severed mammalian members set up like a self-effacing cross between a curiosities shop and a Spencer’s gifts.

The little blonde clerk at the front desk is perpetually giggling, as if she’s in on a joke that you’re not, and the joke is the whole building is full of wieners. She sits next to the Viagra Scorn pole.

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Scorn pole #phallologicalmuseum #bastardtravel

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It wasn’t that scornful, though it was postmodern.

Beyond the Scorn Pole was a cabinet full of hand-carved penis-shaped accoutrements designed and painstakingly produced by the founder of the museum, Sigurður Hjartarson.

The plaque alongside Sigurður’s Freudian trophy cabinet explains the origin of his, if you’ll excuse the phrase, phallic fixation. When he was but a lad, he was a farmer out in the boonies of Iceland (Iceland is roughly 99% boonies by weight). They kept cattle, somehow, and young Sigurður was charged with driving them from field to field. To this purpose, he would use a dried, braided bull’s penis, fashioned into a whip, to scare the cows.

Don’t overthink it.

When his friends found out about his alarming serial killer origin story, they started bringing Sigurður severed penises from all kinds of animals, allegedly as a joke. Sigurður leaned hard into it and became “the penis guy”.

I stand now in a monument to this legacy.

When you stand facing the dolphin dong cabinet, the sperm whale wang looms behind you in its wet specimen tank like some kind of Lovecraftian monument.

On the other side of the room is the horse hog cabinet. I’m not going to say I felt threatened, but I was certainly given pause.

In addition to all the severed dicks, the walls were hung with inspirational poetry.

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poetry #poem #bastardtravel

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Here’s a fun little Jeopardy fact for you: the Icelandic handball team won silver in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and in celebration sent silver replicas of all their Johns Thomas to the phallological museum. Thanks, fellas.

In the mythical creature room, they attributed some chode to a native Icelandic troll, found preserved in a block of ice and thawed out like that Paulie Shore movie.

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Troll pole #troll #phallologicalmuseum #bastardtravel

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Iceland has a folklore creature called “hidden men”; they’re basically elves that can go invisible at will, and you’re not supposed to throw rocks in case you clock one of ’em.

Something terrible has happened to the Christmas Lad.

“Did you see how many people tried to donate their own junk to the museum?” Ladygirl asked, motioning toward all the signed waivers stating that, upon their death, Icelandic nobody randos would have their members added to Sigurdur’s collection. “What do you think that says about the male mind?”

“Nothing worth exploring,” I said. “At least not here in Priapus’s temple. Let’s get gone.”

On the way out, I said, “Have you ever seen The Cell? The horror movie from 2000 with J.Lo?”

Ladygirl looked at me blankly.

“Right, it’s a horror movie, so of course not. Well, the premise is somebody invents this Freddy Krueger-ass machine that lets you teleport into other people’s dreams. J.Lo is a psychologist who smokes mad weed, and she volunteers to be put into the nightmare subconscious of this comatose serial killer to try to extract the location of his victim, who’s being slowly drowned in this tank on a timer… it’s real contrived. Anyway, production brought in surrealist artists to design the dreamworld, and that’s the movie’s only redeeming quality. That’s what this place reminds me of.”

“Gross,” she said.

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I barely escaped #phallologicalmuseum #bastardtravel

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No shortage of volunteers.

We slipped out into the street. It was raining again. It’s always raining in Iceland.

“So, onward. Where next?” I said. “Maybe get lunch or something? Eat more fuckin’ smashed fish.”

“You know, weirdly enough?” Ladygirl said, “I’m even less hungry now.”

“Did you see the one letter from the guy with the 13-inch dingaling, though?” I asked.

“Yeah. They kept asking him to donate a cast or something, and he kept turning them down, for the same reason he never made a porn. He wants to be accepted on his merits as a writer instead of on something he had no control over.”

“Now that’s what I call BDE.”

Love,

B.

Providence: Animals, Art, and ACAB

May 25, 2019. Providence, Rhode Island.

We bade a fond and eventual farewell to our beloved Courtney and headed across town with no particular destination, short of eventually winding up at H.P. Lovecraft’s grave. I had grand designs to re-animate him. It’s what he would have wanted.

As the Girl and I tramped down the street, our footing growing rapidly less dependable and our voices louder as we repeatedly discussed how “everyone here is so nice!”, a man yelled at us from a picnic table that this place has the best lobster roll in Providence.

I didn’t particularly want a lobster roll, but I knew I’d be a fool to ignore this shouted wisdom. We entered a transplanted 50s style dinner with a chunky, melted disco ball rotating in a desert of checkerboard tile. The walls were lined with surreal, semiprofessional 60s-style counterculture art.

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Lobster roll #lobsterroll #providence

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The restaurant was called NicoBella’s, and the ambiance was good, if you’re into taking acid and watching Happy Days. As the food goes, a lobster roll is a lobster roll. It was good, but there’s a cult following on lobster rolls I’ve never understood. This might out me as a classless savage but I’ve never been particularly wowed by lobster and mayonnaise. It’s like chewy crab. I’d rather have not chewy crab, and then I also get to keep $10.

We settled up and continued our journey, bearing witness to Providence’s many splendors.

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Mural time 😎 #providence #art #wallmanifesto

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There was a preponderance of corporate art, which is exactly what it sounds like, and a pretty sick mural adjacent to  a building on which someone had painted a lengthy treatise on the importance of imagination. It was a real tl;dr moment, but I thought it was a cool concept, and took a picture for posterity. You can read it above if you’d like. I will eventually.

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Follow your dreams #providence #celebrity #cat

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What a glow up, folks.

I’m not sure what sentiment they were hoping to convey with this one, but I can’t imagine this is what they were shooting for.

All this sight-seeing had worked up another mighty thirst. I also needed more food. There’s another  reason I’m not particularly moved by lobster rolls: they’re insubstantial. Man cannot live by mayo and hot dog buns alone. I needed a borger, and I needed it quick.

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The Hoff beckons #lunch #providence #hassle

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We nearly made moves on Hoffburger, but wound up about a block down at a place called Trinity Brewhouse. Most of the decision was motivated by the poor lighting in the place. I’d been baking in the light of the hated Daystar for hours, and I needed to retreat into a nice, dank root cellar and replenish my reserves.

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More murals, ft: just everyone #providence

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The gang’s all here. The beer selection was impressive. I ordered the strongest thing, as that’s what I meant by replenishing my reserves. That’s generally my M.O., as I’ve found each subsequent beer is better, contingent on the strength of the previous. Still, the options gave me pause.

When the waitress came by, I ordered what sounded like the greatest concentration of meat and peppers they had available, some chipotle pepper jack monstrosity called the Firehouse. The Girl ordered nachos. I don’t know why. She ate ten chips. I didn’t even want nachos, but my fool’s honor forbade me from not finishing them.

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Borger #borger

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We weren’t long for this world after these calorie bombs. Full of meat and beer, we waddled down two or three more blocks before realizing Night Dinner wasn’t realistic, and we circled back around to the mall. We found the car without re-entering that liminal zone that level-warped us under the bridge.

Back at the hotel, we made our way through the weed fog of Calcutta Hall and into our room. I was asleep within seconds. The Girl got sick and maintains that the nachos poisoned her. If they had, I would have gotten roughly eight times the dose. Sort of a Strong Belwas situation with the honeyed locusts.

I theorized that maybe she got sick because we had been drinking a thousand beers in the sun all day. This suggestion turned out to be unwelcome.

The next morning, I realized our time in Providence was wearing thin. If I was going to reanimate H.P. Lovecraft, it had to be now.

But first, we had to do a “cliff walk”. We gathered our supplies, loaded up the car, and set out for Newport.

Love,

The Bastard

Providence: Snug benches and the Gun Totem

May 25, 2019. Providence, Rhode Island.

I’d spent too much time in the Delph and my skin was starting to itch. I’d already booked three or four flights for the summer and had a slew of weird adventures lined up, like a beer festival in Denver that I will be attending on a cocktail of whatever further psychoactive substances they legalize in the interim (don’t tell the Girl, it’ll be a fun surprise), another Left Coast voyage for a wook music festival I’m promised will be in some way shamanic, and a presumably more civilized jaunt to Iceland. Stay tuned.

But that’s then, and for right now I’m breaking my back every goddamn day, somehow using my useless degree to accrue a vast fortune destined to be converted to unmarked bills for my inevitable disappearance into Latin America.

The Girl and I loaded up the car and went to Providence, Rhode Island.

The trip was a straight shot up the highway where I wasn’t forced to kill anyone. I’ve tamed most of my frustrated adolescent rage and sublimate it into useful things, such as writing, hitting a tractor tire with a sledgehammer, and a +2 bonus to both attack and damage rolls. The only place my incandescent, white hot fury persists is road rage, and I frequently inform strangers who don’t signal when merging that I will “peel off your fucking skin and eat your insides like an avocado” while my passengers look on in mortified alarm. This was worse when I drove for Uber.

We dumped our gear at the Motel 6. We booked it exclusively for the cardboard cutout of Tormund Thunderballs in a tuxedo, which is the only amenity I consider relevant in a lodging. Unfortunately, that’s at the Super 8. Not Motel 6. Same number of letters, same division and placement of vowels and consonants, same numerical character at the end, but one has Tormund and the other has fifty stoned Indian dudes sitting in the hallway that leads to your room.

We got there around 10pm and, plumb tuckered from the drive, we fell into a merciful unconsciousness.

According to an algorithm advertisement for something called “WaterFire”, which is almost my favorite post-punk band, the move is dropping your car at “providence mall”. It was the first common noun location I’d seen on Google Maps on this side of the Atlantic.

Farbeit for me to challenge the oracle, this was the move we made.

The parking garage exits were not clearly marked, and the first door we tried set off an alarm. We pretended this was normal or appropriate, and then found ourselves in the Silent Hill bowels of the mall, trepidation mounting as we navigated the labyrinth of the flaking plaster, bare yellow hanging bulbs, and inexplicable metal painter’s scaffolding that materialized around every corner and stretched, foreboding and monolithic, to the thirty foot ceilings. We’d noclipped out of reality in the city that built Lovecraft, and I already didn’t like our chances.

Every door we found was locked, and we had gone too far into the Backrooms to follow our breadcrumbs back to the parking garage, even if I wasn’t born with crippling directional insanity. The alarm wailed in the distance, growing louder and softer at complete random, like the physical manifestation of anxiety.

Desparation was setting in when we turned another identical corner and found three iron push-bar doors. Some demon had forgotten to lock the middle one.

We emerged under a bridge near the Providence Waterfront.

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Our first stop was some sort of Veganarium that sold exotic egg sandwiches covered in dandelions. They had no cups for the mustard or hot sauce, so I was forced to use coffee cup lids as shallow condiment receptacles. This worked surprisingly well, but I am an idiot, and the liquid tabasco rolled through the tiny vent and got all over my shorts.

First meal. First meal of the day! I’d been awake for like an hour!

This tiny egg and quinoa-grain bread or whatever provided me the power to cross town for elevensies at Providence’s most highly recommended mom-and-pop restaurant, which is called “Kitchen”. That’s the whole name.

Kitchen had five tables total and a line of hipsters out the door and halfway down the block. We wound up waiting for around forty-five minutes, which sounds much worse than it was, as Girl and I wound up befriending a troupe of theater kids from the local art school. I butted into their conversation when they couldn’t think of the thing that’s “like a dragon but with just two legs and wings” (wyvern), and they proceeded to provide us with many thoughtful recommendations for things to eat and do around downtown, all of which we promptly ignored.

This slight wasn’t deliberate. We just rapidly forgot.

When our time finally came, I found I could not fit into the booth.

Kitchen is a little farm-to-table dealie that provides an excellent experience with  standard breakfast fare. I housed my own eggs, sausage, and bacon, then ate most of Girl’s eggs, which may be a contributing factor as to why I don’t fit in some chairs. I declined her leftover biscuits, however, as I deny the Demon Wheat.

We bade goodbye and good luck to the theater kids who were, unbelievably, still waiting in line. The one whose actual name was Gunner said, “We’ve been waiting for two hours now. It’s too late to bail.”

We homed in on our first destination: the Gun Totem.

When reading about this on Atlas Obscura, I assumed an obelisk made of a thousand guns would be really imposing and perhaps suggestive of the fact that we live in a society.

I don’t know if I’d call it anticlimactic, it delivered as advertised. I think Yurp just spoiled obelisks on me. They really mean it out there.

We sat on the river bank and watched a battalion of little goblin tourists try to frighten away the ducks with limited success. This gave me a mighty thirst, and we wound up at the best bar in Providence, a little street corner affair called the Malted Barley. The beer was cheap, the portions generous, and the waitress an angel given material form by the name of “Courtney”. I have not encountered a Courtney in the wild since 2006, and I assumed they went extinct.

Courtney pumped us full of beer and shared with us sacred, secret Providensi lore. I asked her about WaterFire, and her already somewhat disproportionately oversized eyes widened still further in alarm.

“Is that tonight?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Google said to park at the mall. That’s the extent of my knowledge. What is it?”

“Oh,” she said, then, “Oh! WaterFire is this big downtown event where they float burning wood on the river, and that’s the event.”

She paused, then said, “It’s a lot better than it sounds.”

She kept bringing us larger and stronger beers, and soon I was very much daydrunk and doing all in my power not to shout like a crazed animal and alarm the gentle Providencians.

It must be said, the people of Providence are very friendly and surprisingly willing to engage. Courtney theorized this was due to the nice weather. We informed her that we were Philly natives, and it is advisable to avoid interacting with strangers in Philly, as many of them smoke a lot of crack and want you to give them money for absolutely no reason.

“There’s still some of that here,” Courtney said. “But it sounds like… less.”

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rip lil mans #mrstarkidontfeelsogood

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This has been a lot of words, and this seems like a natural narrative break. More to come soon.

Love,

The Bastard

Do Attend

April 27, 2019. At 27th and Girard Ave. on the vacant lot, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

It started, as so many things do, with a call to arms. A valiant Philly native assessed the amount of food alive in his body and declared, “This jawn shall not stand.” Under cover of darkness, this unknown hero planted the following cipher in mailboxes all across the Delph:

do attend

And attend we did. This mysterious figure had tapped the zeitgeist of both Fairmountaineers and ex-first graders the world over, had given voice to their most secret, fondest wish: to be put under anesthesia and immolated in a steel furnace, only to be resolidified into an invulnerable statue, free from all pain and all food.

“Farewell,” I bid my loved ones. “My time has come. Catch me at the steel furnace thus:”

terminator

leanin p heavy on terminator references these days

I got on my bike and rode, as Freddy Mercury commanded, across the dystopian Delphscape and out to the vacant lot, eager for my metallic ascendance. And what to my wondering eyes should appear?

20190427_120541

Glorious. I shackled my faithful steed Rocinante to a rusted fence next to a dumpster full of wood and sallied forth, giddy with the anticipation of curing my body dysmorphia the old fashioned way.


what meeting would be complete without a DJ?

 

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“Excuse me,” I asked the dude on the right, cutting in front of the reporter. “Are you the anesthesiologist?”

“WHAT”

A fair question. “Will you be the one sedating us?”

He looked down at his colorful outfit, then back up at me.

“No!”

“All right, sorry to bother you.”

I moved on.

 

20190427_120950

This guy was cosplaying as a bulldozer. Not very effective, but his heart was true.

 

 

 

I believe this is what the kids call “squad goals”.

 

20190427_121301.jpg

This guy brought a grill. Sadly, not a furnace, not hot enough to melt steel, and not large enough to immolate me. Think bigger, my friend.

 

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Oh no.

OH NO!

DOG! DOG GET OUT OF THERE QUICK YOU’RE A SITTING DUCK

My heart bled for that fluffy champion but I wasn’t going to get caught in the crossfire until my soft, beautiful body had been replaced with hot, beautiful steel, so I made my way back up to the meeting DJ.

And lo, as it is foretold, so it became.

 

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my mans is prepared, come what may

 

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WITNESS ME!

 

 

To my mortification, a socialist newspaper had chosen this venue, at this moment, to attempt to discuss the Green New Deal. At least, that’s what was on the newspapers they were waving. I obviously didn’t read them. I did eavesdrop on a conversation happening nearby, though:

Dude 1: “See, but that’s why we need free college! Everyone deserves to go to college!”

Dude 2: “Are you kidding me, dude? Half the kids at college are just there to party and be fuckin’ idiots. Most of them drop out in a couple months! You want everyone to do that?”

Dude 1: “No, I just… they deserve a chance!”

Dude 2: “They have a chance! It’s called loans!”

Dude 1: “We need debt forgiveness!”

Dude 2: “Why would we need that? The job market’s already saturated!”

It got mumbly after that, and if I really wanted to hear this debate to its conclusion, I could go into literally any Facebook group. Instead, I decided to get a beer.

Crime and Punishment Brewing Company across the street had made a jalapeno double IPA to commemorate the Fairmount denizens metamorphoses into the 21st century answer to the terracotta army. Since Abba was over, it seemed like now was the time.

 

I saw this ghoul as I crossed. As you can see, in my pursuit of journalistic integrity, I got close enough that he could have swiped me with whatever the hell is going on with his left hand there.

This was the man who wrote the letter. He had transubstantiated… but at what cost?

I’m ashamed to admit it, but I was starting to rethink the invincibility. I didn’t want to carry an umbrella! Umbrellas are for wimps!

A modern Buddha like this dude must have known that, and he must have been carrying it as an ironic statement — “I can no longer be harmed, yet I embrace the trappings of wussyhood, for who could challenge me”? An inspiration without saying a word. The Flower Sermon, reborn like a phoenix in concrete.

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I waited in line for a thousand years and got the jalapeno beer. It tasted like how I remember New Mexico.

I was over it, though. The flesh husk had carried me this far, and I may as well see it through to its natural completion. Besides, it’s the future. The transhumanist movement is already surgically implanting magnets in their hands, and all of our high-profile billionaires are mad scientists hurling their limitless money at developing sci-fi tech. It’ll be the singularity in a couple years. I can wait.

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And what Philly outdoor event would be complete without somebody climbing on top of shit?

Nobody stole Rocinante. I saddled up and went home. I’d nursed all the food in my body since first grade. Another year wouldn’t hurt.

But there’s always next year.

Love,

The Bastard

(note: To anyone I may have photographed or recorded, I took your leaping in front of my camera, grinning, as consent to be featured on my world renown and widely read blog. If this isn’t the case, contact me at bastardtravel@gmail.com and I’ll be glad to take it down. You fuckin’ crybaby.)

Hell is Other People Driving

January 28, 2019. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Do you want to know why the Buddhist monks can harp on maintaining compassion for humankind? They don’t drive.

I loved road rage. It was a reminder that I was alive, like exercise, or a headbutt. It’s been burnt out of me now; the edge has dulled from overuse, so when I’m driving around the city I don’t get those bursts of life-affirming adrenaline anymore.

Instead, I get are waves of confused pity and a faint sense of betrayal that natural selection has failed. If you have doubts, I understand, and challenge you to drive anywhere in Philadelphia city limits between 7 and 9 AM.

You remember that part in Alice in Wonderland where the Mad Hatter screams “Change places!” and everyone scrambles around the table for no reason? Take that, put it in cars, and make everyone involved drunk and texting. That’s I-95 South.

How are you all still drunk at 7 AM on a Monday? And if it’s that commonplace an experience, how and why do you still have a car?

In my past life, I’d drive around West Chester with my windows down regardless of the season and hurl verbally abusive driving instruction at the trust fund kids. That doesn’t work here, because it’s predicated on the assumption that the listener can be taught. There’s no learning here, no adaptation. It’s reflexive gut-instinct stimulus-and-response bedlam.

They say we are the product of our environment, so I can’t put the full blame on these stupid animals. This city catalyzes it. It’s a vehicular manslaughter factory.

One of the most iconic things about Philly, putting aside Ben Franklin’s portly punam in every shop window and our oft-lauded habit of getting naked and climbing shit whenever the Birds go (GO BIRDS!), is the beverage tax. The county tacks an extra dollar or more onto soda and beer for that thick, juicy tax revenue, which they then use to tear giant strips of road up, then leave. The hole is unattended or covered in plywood for weeks. These are known colloquially as “graves”, due to their size, their depth, and the function they serve for cyclists.

Stop signs are a mass delusion, and summarily disregarded. Exactly one stop light is acknowledged because of the Orwellian telescreen built into it that mails $100 tickets to your house in a random interval ratio.

Philadelphia is somewhere between Death Race 2050 and Mario Kart. I spend the first half hour of every commute emoting wildly at the drivers around me, sneaking up to kiss bumpers, or playing jaunty, accusatory little ditties on my horn.

This is too ubiquitous and pervasive to fix. Butterfly stitches on an amputation. These troglodytes are driven along by thanatos, and if I’m going to be part of the problem, I’m going to be the biggest part.

You can hear me laughing, but it’s the desperate, hopeless kind of laugh you get after hours in asylums.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is Thanos was the hero of Thanos movie.

Love,

The Bastard

 

Hidden in the Moors

August 12, 2018. Brookline, New Hampshire.

I was drinking the terrible, watery coffee and eating the terrible, watery waffles in the hotel lobby, carboloading for the art gallery we had slated today. Allegedly, they had early Monets. The TV was too loud, so I had no choice but to hear every detail of developing vandal scandal wherein somebody hit Donnie Trump’s walk of fame star with a pickaxe.

Obviously, I chortled. Who didn’t? My mirth enraged a squadron of portly dads, who proceeded to talk too loud about “these goddamn Democrats”, presumably for my benefit. I do have big black glasses and a beard. You couldn’t blame them for jumping to conclusions. After they didn’t point directly at me to tell me what was wrong with my generation, they quieted down and proceeded into some light racism.

The news then heel-face turned into a story about the New Hampshire Food Truck festival that was taking place a mere 15 minutes from my very table. Well, that settled it. To Hell with Monet. Life is the true art.

The Girl eventually woke and I explained to her that culture can only be absorbed by immersion. She blinked at me blearily and said, “That’s nice.”

It was decided. We drove out to the New Hampshire Dome in Milford.

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It was an imposing structure, but the trucks weren’t in it. When you consider what the trucks are for, it makes sense to not put them indoors.

The traffic cone rope and the tiny Hampshirians in their reflective vests pointed us up the hill, into the woods. The obvious choice.

We were not prepared for what we saw.

It was around 11 AM, and the expansive selection was still setting up; the juggalo-themed art tent wouldn’t arrive for another hour or so. We made a beeline to the Indochine Pavilion.

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The critics, as you can see, were raving. The N.Y. Times called them “Good”! To maximize our food truck festivities and truly appreciate all that NH had to offer, the Girl and I decided we wouldn’t get any actual meals from these trucks. Chicken garlic on a stick are three of my favorite things, so we started there.

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it was, at very least, a three-star affair

From there we proceeded to a local breakfast favorite, the fried manicotti.

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just like mom used to fry. excuse my product placement, Asics is giving me kickbacks

And what New Hampshire foggy moor outing would be complete without the statewide signature favorite, Hot Ballz?

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a bold claim

What are hot ballz, you may ask? A reasonable question. Imagine a hush puppy. Now, instead of spicy dough, fill it with mac and cheese.

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That was about the time I had a heart attack. Bloated with cheese and grease, the Girl and I waddled back out of the moors and, unbelievably, decided our best course of action would be a hike along the Andres Institute of Art outdoor exhibit.

I liked the freaky baby head, but most of the installments looked like the little brass sculptures you find in every flea market. Not to denigrate them; that’s exactly where I found Sir Tetanus the Tintinnabulatory, and he has been a trusted friend and guardian for well over ten years.

mymans

my mans

It started to rain in earnest, and the exhibits were not arranged in an overly user-friendly fashion. If you wanted to see them all, you’d need to take the 14 mile loop. We didn’t want to see them all.

The Girl and I bade a fond(ish) farewell to New Hampshire, and marathon drove home, pausing only to hit a Dunkin Donuts and listen to a hefty local woman scream vitriol at a teenage counter attendant over their lack of donut selection. Imagine her horror if she found outthey’re just called “Dunkin Coffee” in Europe.

And so concludes this leg of the chronicle. Now that I’m financially stable, and so firmly rooted in Philly that I occasionally say “jawn”, it’s time to begin local exploration in earnest.

Love,

The Bastard

 

The Perfect Chimera

September 19, 2018. Bastard HQ.

There’s a fundamental misunderstanding of evolution that apparently reaches up the academic ladder to professional anatomists using research grants to stitch together ideal Frankensteins in their own image out of discarded Australian animal parts.

Evolution, beautiful readers, is not what Pokemon promised. It’s not an upward process culminating in an intelligently-designed paragon amalgam. It’s gradual adaptation to the present environment.

Here are the improvements presented by this stupid video, and brief yet tasteful rebuttals about why they’re wrong and I hate them.

1) Chimp Back

It was not a “flawed transition to standing upright”. We’re the best existing species for standing upright. Pursuit predation is how we became apex predators, and why we conquered the world despite our myriad physical failings.

“Pursuit predation”, for those who don’t follow the stuffy animal behavior jargon, is our ability to walk down any other animal due to the efficient design of our lungs. Most are faster than us, sure, but human beings were the Michael Meyers of the prehistoric savanna. A quadrupedal construction is clutch for bursts of speed, as in the majority of predators, and grazing animals benefit from always being about a foot from their food source, but a horse’s lungs will fill with blood if they try to outpace us for more than a couple hours.

Google it. Even the crazy horse girls say companion horses can’t go more than about 35 miles a day. An optimistic estimate would double that for unencumbered ancient horses, 70 miles, which is about how far the average Roman legionnaire would jog every day with a third of his body weight in supplies on his back.

That’s how we won.

A chimp was not designed for pursuit predation. Giving us a thick lower back would increase lower back pain. That’s it.

2) Emu legs

Emu legs are designed to move giant, heavy, stupid birds long distances quickly. Why would we need that? We don’t go quickly! We’re almost uniformly overweight and the fastest man on earth runs at about a quarter the speed of the average cheetah.

That’s evolutionary perfection, folks. We made it.

3) Thigh pumps

We already have that, it’s called the femural artery. They’re huge, man. They’re the main source of blood to the legs, and since we’ve already discussed that we have been shaped by circumstance to walk 50 miles a day waiting for a larger, more effectively defensible animal to doze off, our circulation is just fine.

4) Breastless chest

Breast size is probably a false indicator of fertility, sexually selected, sort of like a peacock’s tail. Breastlessness would require modification of the human mating that led to the runaway Fisherian miracle of prominent breasts. I wouldn’t presume to guess what that would do to us sexually, but it certainly wouldn’t maintain our present status quo. Maybe harems? Maybe serial polygyny? Any way you roll the dice, it’s hard to see how the shift would qualify as “perfect”.

5) Reliable heart of a dog

What? Why?

They’re the same hearts, aside from dog hearts beating faster (due to the size differential). Humans are more prone to heart disease because we won’t stop shoving Big Macs down our moist, fleshy gullets. Dogs are more prone to heartworms because they’re stupid and eat poop.

6) Graceful lungs of a swan

What

possible

reason

7) Marsupial pouch

Okay. All right. Our giant skulls, powerhouse brains, and rampant neotony did cause a big spike in death rate during childbirth, as compared to other species. A pouch might reduce that, and make the child more manageable during its lengthy and helpless childhood.

Except for the massive size and growth rate of human infants as compared to kangaroo joeys. Not to mention how utterly and thoroughly the construction clashes with the rest of the Greek myth monstrosity we’re building here.

8) Sensory transformation

Better hearing and vision could have helped us in prehistory, although light sensitivity would suggest that we’d be more nocturnal and there is absolutely no reason for that. We’re still small and weak. What rankles me is “this could be a human fit for the future”.

How? Justify your statement. We’re surrounded by light stimuli and noise pollution at all times, we spend our days looking at glowing screens, and we’re dying off at incredible rates from lack of exercise and inundation with calorically dense food-substitutes like sugared corn syrup that wreak absolute havoc on our suitably efficient organ systems.

How would increased  light sensitivity help a species that actively suffers from visual impairment and chronic migraines thrive in our burgeoning neon cyberpunk dystopia?

How would more efficient lungs and bony, shock-absorbing knees increase the survivability of animals that are rotting away from inactivity and overnutrition?

You funneled a bunch of grant money into designing a clickbait homunculus. It’s the academic equivalent of a selfie with one of those SnapChat dog filters that makes your eyes all freaky and big. The vanity of pushing your Catelyn Stark elf-fursona as though it were legitimate evolutionary science is misinforming the populace and cheapening the field.

And considering the present political climate, evolutionary biology can’t survive too much more cheapening. Although, it can be argued this, itself, is a form of evolution.

But I wouldn’t argue that because it’s a self-congratulatory intellectual exercise. Sort of like slapping your own face on a CGI BuzzFeed list of “Top 10 Animal Parts That Are Kind of Cool!”

Love,

The Bastard

 

 

 

Haunted Meatloaf

August 11, 2018. Nashua, New Hampshire.

The serrated jaws of madness snapped shut at our heels as we hauled ass from the cultist outpost of Portsmouth and shot down the length of the admittedly non-lengthy state, exhausting my little Korean engine in battle with New Hampshire’s rollicking hills, owing to my stubborn refusal to switch my car out of eco-mode. This is because I’m vegan.

ecofriendly

Wait, don’t stop reading yet. I’m vegan in the way that most people quit smoking. They say, “All right, that’s my last cigarette” and it continues to be true right up until their next cigarette, after which they quit again. Transpose that to ethically motivated dietary restrictions, and replace “cigarette” with “an entire chicken”. So far my record stands at 16 consecutive hours of high-octane additive-free veganism, thanks to intermittent fasting.

The rain had slowed when we arrived at the Country Tavern, alleged by Atlas Obscura to be a brazenly haunted farmhouse turned restaurant and devoting a full page of menu to the legend of the genius locii, Elizabeth Ford. I was hoping to burn enough time that night would have fallen. It was looking like I was going to have to settle for overcast, but I wasn’t quite ready to give up the ghost.

There was a brewery across the street called White Birch. A shamanic state of consciousness enhancement could only help my chances of lifting the veil. It was one of the prettier breweries I’d run across on this trip, with an open floor plan, lacquered marble tabletops, and a huge plasma screen TV mounted behind the bar. It was also as cold as meat locker.

Everyone was dressed like they had been phase-shifted in from a ski lodge. I realized I was the only human on the premises in shorts and a t-shirt. It was 80 degrees outside.

The decor spoke to me. The walls were hung with slabs of wood with delightfully redundant carvings of birch trees and Hobbit quotes. Hobbit quotes were a popular ornamentation in New England breweries, for some reason. Between these plaques were $35 White Birch sweatshirts and hoodies. They did not sell t-shirts. That explained the temperature.

I grinned widely in appreciation of their aesthetic sense and their cunning, and ordered a flight of the most heavily liquored beers they had available.

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They just flung bourbon and tequila into all kinds of shit. The bartender was an obvious dad who looked like he played linebacker in college and kept in shape. He surreptitiously warned me that they have to put “4 oz” on the menu for legal reasons, but each flight cup was actually 5 oz. I told him the secret was safe with me.

The Girl returned from the bathroom and ordered a 16 oz draft, since it was “the same price as a flight anyway”. I clucked my tongue and did not call her a rube, but I felt quietly superior.

It would be revealed that we were both, in fact, rubes. The combination of an empty stomach and 20 oz of tequila-beer would result in both of us hurling vitriol at the television during a news story about some girl with terrible squat form. It turns out the point of the story was not that the girl’s squat form was terrible, but that she had survived some debilitating disease and now squatted (poorly). Oops.

Fortunately, I choose to believe our innate charisma helped us break even with the pleasant staff vis-a-vis this high-decibel faux pas. And if I was drunk enough to Bro Out at a quaint, frozen little Tolkeinesque brewery, I was drunk enough to eat with a ghost.

The Country Tavern was a cozy converted farmhouse with old-world sensibilities, decorated like your grandma’s house, if your grandma lived in a massive 3-story restaurant. It was full of Olds, none of whom seemed to mind the advertised aura of death. We sat at the table, demolishing haunted bread. The waitress was a perky blonde woman who became very excited when I asked about the spirit-in-residence, and gave us a punctuated Midnight Society retelling, then gave us a misspelled placemat that filled in the blanks.

Elizabeth Ford lived in the farmhouse in the 1700s. She was married to an alcoholic sea captain with poor impulse control. She had a baby while he was at sea, and when he returned he was… displeased. The jury is out as to whether he thought she cheated on him, or if he was mad she churned out his baby in his absence, or if he just wasn’t ready for fatherhood. What he was ready for was serial murder. He killed his wife and chucked her down a well, then killed the baby and buried it under a tree.

“Have you had any sightings?” the Girl asked. “Like, you personally?”

The waitress frowned, then nodded. “Well, nothing big. Sometimes the cups will fall for no reason, or there will be moving shadows where there shouldn’t be. One time, I was closing, and I almost walked away without taking my tips out of my envelope. I was just about to go out the door when all of a sudden I heard a noise, and I turned around and my envelope had fallen off the table for no reason. I was like, “Oh! Thanks, Elizabeth!””

I snuck off to the bathroom. While in there, I turned the lights off and said “Bloody Mary” into the mirror three times. No spookings occurred. I clicked the light switch back on. The lights didn’t work.

I stood alone in the dark, staring into the mirror and weighing the severity of my miscalculation for three beats. The lights flickered back on.

I wasn’t alone anymore.

Naw, just kidding, I was. That’d be wild though.

I returned to the table, only crying a little, and we put in our orders.

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The Girl put in an order for the ghost’s personal chicken. I strongly considered the haunted meatloaf, but eventually went in for the haunted prime rib. It had been years and I didn’t remember if I liked prime rib. (It turns out I do.)

reset the ol’ vegan counter

It was the first really substantial meal we had eaten all trip. I was rejuvenated. I finished the Girl’s ghost’s pasta and almost ate the decorative plastic flowers by accident.

Before we hit the road, I snuck off to the bathroom again.

“Hey, Elizabeth,” I said aloud. “Liz. Can I call you Liz? Listen, that Bloody Mary thing was in poor taste, and might have been racist, and I’m sorry for it. You’ve been hanging out here for a few hundred years, and I’m just worried you’re dwelling on the past. Why don’t you come with? I’m not tryna sound all psychopompous but my place back in Philly is pretty sick, it’s got all sorts of skulls and candles and witchy shit, good ghost ambiance. Plenty of room! Give city unlife a try. It’s got to beat watching these Olds eat for the rest of eternity.”

I turned off the lights, winked at the mirror, and went out to rejoin the Girl. She had cornered an elderly server, who was pointing out the window to where the baby was alleged to be buried.

“Used to be an old elm tree there,” he said in that distinctive elderly New England man way, with the gravitas that makes Stephen King’s tertiary characters so disturbing. “Tore it up, but they never moved the body. Still lyin’ under there. Ayuh.”

The Girl and I returned to my car. I opened the back door and made a demonstrative ushering gesture.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Getting the door for Liz.”

“You invited a ghost back to the hotel?”

“Her name is Liz. And I invited her back to the house. What, you’ve never thought about a third?”

The resultant skull eye undoubtedly made Liz feel more comfortable.

“Come on,” I said, closing the door and getting behind the wheel. “She’s in the prime of her afterlife.”

“Stoooooop,” the Girl said. It was more of a drawn-out groan. “Stop talking.”

I did.

The three of us headed back toward Manchester. We had one day left in New Hampshire, and while we had originally had grand designs about going to an art gallery, fate would intervene. We were not destined to look at art. We were destined to live it.

Or peer unblinking at it from the great beyond.

spookywoman

hey boo

Love,

The Bastard