A Ghost Story

His phone pinged with a text. It was his problem tenant. She was living in the garage apartment that he had shared with his parents when he was a baby. Until age eight or so. His dad and grandfather, both long ago memories, had built it.

“Have an odd question”, the text said. “Do you know if your dad had a sibling that died around the age of 6-9?”

What? After reading it again, he texted, “My dad was an only child.”

“Hmmm…Odd…” came the reply. “What about your mom or grandma, did they lose a sibling young? I know it’s an odd question but I’ll explain here in a second.”

Christ, he thought, don’t answer. He put on his glasses and clicked the lamp brighter. She wasn’t his tenant, really. His mother had rented to her husband with the express instruction to keep his wife under control. It worked for a little while, then all hell broke loose. In the last six months, she had sworn out a PFA against the husband-so he was gone-and she was squatting there with her ten-year-old. Then his mother had finally died, so he had inherited it all. The good with the bad. And he wished there was more of the former.

After a few minutes he texted, “Nope.”

The bubbles appeared on the screen and hung there pulsing. He waited. Then, “Right around when your mom passed, I was awakened by a child in Olga’s room. She was still sleeping right beside me. Heard a dresser drawer slam and this kid had blonde hair with a blanket wrapped around the shoulders so I couldn’t tell if it was a boy or a girl and I watched it dissipate slowly from its head then down to the feet and it always bugged me that whoever was trying to tell me to go to your mom…to help her.”

He read it again. He hated it when she talked about his mother. She did it often-no doubt thinking it would put her in his good graces, but his mother couldn’t stand her and had spent the last two months of her life complaining that she never should have rented to them.

His phone pinged again, “No, I’m not a witch…little hexes here and there LOL but I do get visions and this one is killing me.”

He remembered a story his mother had told him from when they had lived in that apartment. She was in bed, probably in the same room as this one slept in, and she heard a cat screeching outside in the alley. The windows back there are high, so she had to stand on the bed to look out. The cat was easy enough to find; it was on a cracked fence post just outside the yellow glow of the street lamp. The cat called and howled until she saw others coming in from the darkness to join it. They all sat or lay on the alley in front of the main cat who began to meow and chirp as if speaking to them. They were attentive for a moment, no stretching, no grooming, no ass sniffing. Then, when the lecture was over, or the instructions given, the cats all scattered back into the darkness whence they’d come.

His mother told this story often. Especially when someone suggested she get a cat.

He put the phone on airplane mode and switched off the lamp.

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Hideaway

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(Continued from Shadows)

More often than not Lori would walk or bike to up to Hideaway, where she worked as a massage therapist. It was a job she had gotten almost by default. Melon, her best friend from high school, managed the spa and recommended the classes and certifications when Lori was struggling with Uncle Red late in his metamorphosis.  Which was how she took to viewing it at the time; he wasn’t dying-but changing. His rugged good looks softening-his strong arms and hands melting away…

The massage studio became her refuge. Warm stone walls, subtle sounds of tumbling water, classical music or white noise of her choosing. She took to the unencumbered physicality of massage; the intimacy with consequence. Windowless and perpetually dusk or dawn, the timelessness of the space gave her a measure of peace – the feeling that she could control the uncontrollable.  In the studio the clatter and clutter in her brain could be dulled. At least for a while.

Of course, this morning being late again added to her noise. A walk would feel good, maybe clear her head, but there was no time for that.  Melon was always there at six to open and prep for the day. Lori was supposed to be there at six thirty to set up for early appointments, but here is was, six thirty-five and she we still standing in her kitchen. Had she been on time at all this week? She headed for the car.

Melanie Patterson let her green tea sit-cooling enough that she’d have to heat it before drinking it. She was small, her hair a strawberry halo of tight ringlets surrounding a face smattered with freckles and a wide smile. To all the clients who came through the spa, Melanie’s personality was like merry go rounds and bubble gum-all fun and laughter. Those who knew her well enough to call her by her nickname, “Melon” knew there were other sides to the charming sprite.

This morning, one of those other sides was bubbling to the surface. She fairly seethed looking at the clock move languidly toward seven. It was the sixth day IN A ROW that Lori had been late. Melanie had worked hard to cover her anger in their day-to-day contacts but away from work, especially at night when she journaled and set up her checklist for the next day, the thought that Lori-one of her best friends-would be late to her job upset her. She covered for her, moved appointments, never let on that her tardiness-as well as her growing lackadaisical attitude-was becoming a chronic problem.

It was six fifty-five when the heavy stained-glass door swung open and Lori strode into the lobby to find Melanie standing in front of the reception desk.

“Finally!” Melanie spat, unable to maintain her cool façade but stopped short when seeing her friend’s face. “Holy shit girl. You OK?” She had dropped her well-lacquered spa voice and sounded like the girl from Rake Ridge Road that she was.

“Do I look that bad?” Lori asked bringing the backs of her fingers to her cheek as if feeling for a fever.

“Not if you made up your eyes to look like a racoon on purpose. If that was your intention, I gotta tell you, it works.” The anger was gone, replaced by concern. Melanie stepped toward her friend and took her hands, pausing to look at her nails. “Girl, you gnawed these down to nubs!”

“I haven’t been sleeping too well”, Lori shrugged.

“I guess not”, Melanie answered and reached up to stroke Lori’s head. “You need to tighten up the pony tail. Looks all like a squirrel’s nest.” Lori face split into a wan smile that Melanie took as a bit of a victory. She wrapped her arms around her and pulled her close. “You OK to work today? I can call Shelley in…”

“No, I’m fine”, Lori said just shy of a sniffle. She returned the hug, happy for the contact. “Just let me get back into the studio-I’ll work this out.”

Melanie stepped back slightly and grasped Lori’s arms at the biceps. “Sometimes you make me just want to shake you.”  She yanked her gently once, then back again, until pulling her close, Melanie leaned forward and whispered in her ear. “Maybe I’ll try the Uncle Red method on you”, she said quietly.

Lori recoiled slightly and felt the heat rise in her cheeks. Of course, Melon knew about Uncle Red; they’d been friends for a decade and had talked about a lot of things. She didn’t know everything of course. Lori kept some secrets-but she knew enough. Still, hearing his name coming out of Melon’s mouth set her back. And Melanie saw it-saw her friend’s eyes widen then narrow as she took a sliding step backward. Melanie settled back herself saying nothing, letting her last words echo.

On her heels, cheeks flushed a hot pink, Lori peeled the tongue from the roof of her mouth and croaked almost under her breath, “Maybe you should.”

Now it was Melon’s turn to let the silence bloom between them. But Lori wouldn’t make eye contact. They were interrupted by the phone, humming softly on the desk between them. “Duty calls”, said Melon clearing her throat. “Go, check your schedule for the morning. I moved your seven to seven-thirty.  You’re welcome. Go start the day.”

Still not making eye contact, Lori turned and walked out of her friend’s office shaken by the exchange but somehow slightly relieved. If the weight pressing her down was not completely lifted it seemed to have lessened-a bit. As she watched Lori leave the room Melanie felt a slight quiver in her chest. She picked up the phone, “Good Morning-River’s Spa…” her voice sang.

To be continued…

Shadows

(Continued from Night Lights)

Outside, half-naked, the midnight chill braced her. The clear moonless sky was dark enough that she cast a shadow in the glow from the top of the mountain. The grass was damp on her bare feet as she followed her shadow around the birdbath to the mountain laurel just short of the tree line.

The coyotes were quiet or running over the next ridge. When she was little her Pap kept chickens in a pen behind the house. Back then coyotes were worthy adversaries to be battled and beaten at every turn. Now, with no livestock to guard – not even a scruffy mutt or cat – the coyotes were no more than texture. Wonder how they would feel about that? Being relegated to deep background; being off the main stage where capable men plotted against them with guns, traps and poisons? Whatever. Times gone by. Either way, the whippoorwills’ incessant call and response were the only accompaniment to the quiet swish of her feet in the tall grass.

Choosing a spot, she turned toward the house and lifted her T-shirt. Squatting widely, she relaxed and allowed the stream to flow into the grass between her feet gently, not to splash. Her yoga practice wasn’t what it was, but she was still able to hold a squat level and clean without a shake or quiver letting the burn in her thighs build. She dipped a little deeper to feel the pleasant pull in her hip flexors. She should get back to yoga-she could sit in on classes up at the Hideaway anytime. Finished, Lori stood easily, leaving a steaming wet spot on the grass.

Pissing in the yard had started as a joke when she and Uncle Red were watching TV one night. She complained that he was lucky because all he had to do was go out on the porch when he needed to pee but she had to go to the bathroom, take down her pants, miss half the program, yadda-yadda…

“Knock yourself out girlie”, he’d said, a little drunk. “You got a whole hillside right out your door. We’re mountain people. We piss where we want.”

He didn’t look at her but had that cock-eyed smile he got when he was drinking beer. She had taken the dare and scampered off the porch and behind the fat sycamore. It wasn’t that she was afraid of him seeing anything-they were beyond that. It was just what she did. She was wearing tight jeans then and had to wriggle them down and lean in such a way that she wouldn’t wet herself. She remembered giggling as she spattered.

She put the time at between three and four. Closer to four. She tried to add the hours of uninterrupted solid sleep she had gotten all week. No more than three tonight. She couldn’t go on like this, grinding her teeth and digging her fingernails into her palms, forever. Just one cigarette, she thought. Just one, to give her that kick of nicotine that she remembered. If she’d had any, she might have broken, but she didn’t. Back at the porch Lori leaned against the rail digging the feel of the rough wood pressing into her bare thighs.

The resort which butted up against her property on the high side, glistened. Thank you Uncle Red, she said under her breath for about the billionth time. It was the house that her Mom and Red had grown up in.  After her Mom died, she stayed in the house with Red, thinking it would be temporary. It was. It only lasted ten years until he died. Well after she was old enough to move out, had she wanted to. She had stayed with him as her mother had wished and now she owned the house and seven acres.

When what would become the Hideaway Resort began buying properties years ago, her Pap – Mom and Red’s mother – wouldn’t sell. Even when the money was ridiculous for the time. Now it was hers with a standing offer of a million on the table whenever she wanted to sell. She didn’t.

Cautious

“Are the doors locked?” she asked suddenly from her corner of the passenger seat.

Jolted by the question, he caught himself feeling along the top of the door for the plunger to press to lock it. That was years ago-when he was a kid. Cars don’t have those kinds of locks anymore. Just sleek buttons and mechanisms that lock automatically at a certain speed. He knew that. Why couldn’t he tell her?

Instead he said, “What are you afraid of?”

“You don’t have to be afraid to be cautious,” she said.

Cautious. The word struck him as strange just then. He’d have said, ‘careful’ as would most people. Why ‘cautious’?

The drizzle had turned into full-on rain pinging off the roof and sheeting down the windshield. The pressing sky atop the black night made it impossible to see the woods and fields that were out there. “There’s nobody out here to be…cautious of”, he said.

“All the more reason”, she answered looking out her window as if there were something to see.

She’s too young for me, he thought. The scent of roses he thought she wore was really bubble gum-or smelled like it anyway. Maybe it wasn’t her youth. Maybe she was too smart for him. Or too dumb. Or too tall-maybe too short. Too whiny, too cold, too butch, too soft, too dark, too light. Too something, he knew that. But why worry about it now? He didn’t have to win her. Didn’t have to impress her. She was here.

His wife was right. He thought too much about everything-drove himself crazy. Last week he’d had a nosebleed right at the kitchen table. She’d said it was high blood pressure from him worrying so much over every little thing. Like she was a freaking nurse.

Back home she sat at the same table listening to hockey on the radio. She liked it better that way; watching it made her too nervous. She poured a thick toss of Sambuca into her cup – the only way she could abide decaf. Her ma had called, worried the rain was going to turn to snow. “It’s forty degrees, Ma!” she had to yell into the phone. “It won’t snow.”

He sighed and reclined the seat slightly. Fumbling, he loosened his belt and unsnapped his pants. Rising on her knees, she bent over the console and gently pulled him out of his pants; a soft crippled bird. “Ok”, she said low. “Let’s see what we can do with you.”

He closed his eyes and tried not to think about it.

Night Lights

Liking the feel of muted life in the middle of the night, Lori kept the house dimly lit with strategically placed nightlights and tiny touch lamps. She wandered into-then through-the kitchen after pausing to gaze at but not see the immaculate countertops in the shadows. Then through the small dining room dragging a finger along the dark wood table, feeling the bumps and ridges of the hand-hewn oak. She was headed to the living room in the back of the house where a camelback clock that had been her grandfather’s pulsed, whirred and dinged the hours so long as she wound it ever other day. And she didn’t miss. It was her home’s pulse.

Naked but for a T-shirt that was just long enough to reach her thighs, she peered closely at the clock seeing naught but her eyes shining back in the glare of one of her hidden luminaries. She gently opened the glass face to better see the minute hand twitch with every tiny sweep of the internal workings. She paced it and tried to steady her breathing-still not recovered from the almost forgotten nightmare.

The dream was familiar-not in the details but the feel of it and what it had left behind. It had been dark in her dream-darker than it could ever be in her house. She was on her belly and sliding down something. A hill, a tilted floor; something impossibly slippery. She heard a voice and felt a hand on her. The voice was Uncle Red’s she knew. Not him later, sick and ravaged, but him fifteen or twenty years ago-soft and clear. She didn’t know who’s hand it was, or why it was on her calf. But it had to have been his. It was trying to pull her back-keeping her from sliding into a still darker place. Maybe. Maybe it was pushing her. She had jolted awake. She breathed in time with the minute hand’s twitch; each breath deeper, less a gulp.

Her belly bothered her. Not inside, she didn’t feel sick at all. It was more the look of it. She thought it too round and puffy-she could hold it in her hands. Could rub it all over. Her reflection in the sliding door showed her no longer slender, but not fat. Tall and pale with smudges of darkness reflecting the jumble of black hair sticking out of her head and the thatch below her belly which she still rubbed and rubbed; an angst-ridden Buddha. She hadn’t always had it-the belly. When she was younger it was as flat as the girls on TV.  She wanted that belly back.

She sat on the end of the couch like she and her uncle had, facing the dark TV. Her reflection was there too. She studied it and the empty spot at the other end of the couch which was Red’s end. She glanced that way quickly as if to catch him sitting there, casting no reflection but watching her none the less. He wasn’t there. But he was everywhere.

She thought for a moment that she would lie on the couch. Just lie there on her belly for a moment and pull her shirt up. She’d done it before-lain there exposed until the jitters passed or the weight pressing down, lifted. She’d awoken that way some mornings, cold and bare-assed for anyone who could look through the door. She had decided to do it and, leaning over, felt a chill in her belly. Then she didn’t.

She watched the goosebumps rise on her thighs and pulled her T-shirt back to reveal her lap. Was it spreading? She poked at herself making tiny pink dimples which colored then filled. “Closure” was what everyone who wanted the house talked about to her. As if there was such a thing for the haunted-for those who carried the memories of past lives with them. Like moving was going to change anything. Like she wanted to change anything. The woman in the dark TV stared-giving her nothing. Not a fucking thing.

Danny – Part 2

(Continued from Danny)

We spent the day as we had the one before; fishing, swimming, canoeing and ignoring what had happened. Had someone joined us that day, they wouldn’t have noticed anything in the way we acted toward each other. At least that’s how I remember that day. At the end of it, after dinner and a late swim I was sun-groggy, playing solitaire in the main room and Danny was, I thought, reading in his. I thought nothing of it when he called, “Come here a minute”. When I got to his door, the lamp was dimmed by a red bandana over the shade and he was laying on the bed, naked on his belly, ass pointed right at the door. Right at me.

I thickened immediately-to be eighteen again-and noticed a rubber and a small bottle on the tiny square of table beside the lamp. I picked up the bottle of lube. It was brand new-unopened-bought for the weekend.

“Why didn’t you tell me you had this yesterday?”

He turned his head toward me and without looking up said, “I didn’t want to scare you off…” His face was obscured by a thick sash of dirty blonde hair, but he was smiling.

I undressed quickly and lay beside him, my stiff cock bumping and rubbing against his leg. He smelled like salt, like the river, like the Ivory soap we kept down the on the dock because it floated. There was no question what to do next-this was not the first time I’d been in bed with someone-but certainly the first time with a guy. Also, the first time with someone who reacted as warmly and lively, to every touch-to every caress. Up on my elbow I traced my hand across the wide shoulders and down the smooth muscles of his back bumping along his spine to the dimples where the deep brown of his tan faded into the soft white mounds of his ass. Below, his hamstrings were tight and practically hairless.

I paused my hand on his rear and squeezed gently, loving the feel of it.  He reached back and covered my hand with his. “Smack me”, he said. “On the butt…”

I did, not hard but hard enough to generate a nice jolt against in my shoulder. He moaned and pushed his bottom toward me. “Again.” I did, and he gasped and lifted his bottom for more cocking his leg slightly to accommodate his hardening. The air left the room as I slapped and slapped turning his bottom an all over pink.

“Use my belt”, he croaked lifting his hips.

“What?” I asked, not sure.

“My belt. Use it!” The thick leather was still in his jeans hanging on the back of the door. I pulled it out and doubled it, snapping it once.

“Right across my ass!” he was breathless, on his knees like a charmed cobra, his face in his pillow. The first lash was limp and met with a “come on…” the second better, sound cracking off the walls. By the fifth he was yipping like a coyote with every blow and my cock was bouncing like a conductor’s baton. He signaled he was finished by sliding his legs backward and collapsing on the bed. I whipped him once more as he squeezed his cheeks together like two hard red apples. I dropped the belt and rubbed his hot, dry bottom.

“This has to hurt”, I whispered.

“It burns”, he said. “Burns good…”

I pulled his legs apart and kneeled between them, back by his feet so I could lean forward and continue rubbing his tortured cheeks lightly. He couldn’t have jumped higher had I touched him with a lit cigarette when I kissed his bottom. “Jumpy?”, I said pinching lightly and rubbing my three days stubble over the heat. His movements spoke eloquently without words.

He wriggled at the sound when I tore open the rubber and gasped when I drizzled the cool liquid onto my fingers and rubbed them over and into his tight asshole. Guided by my right hand, my cock leaned against his opening for a moment. Then I pushed slowly, relentlessly until I was deep inside and lying flat atop him filling my lungs with the smell of him. I nibbled lightly and underhooked both arms trying to catch a rhythm with the old bed springs.

Danny tried to free his right arm-to pull it down. I knew what he was going for and grunted, “Here, let me.” We rolled onto our sides spooning and I took his pulsing cock in my right hand. I didn’t think the bed-the same one I was sleeping on now- would survive our thrusting what with him pushing back as I rammed forward-never slowing pumping his cock. We came close enough to the same time to call it even. He growled, and I growled, squeezing him a little harder than I’d meant to. But he took it and pushed back as we went limp together.

The next day, after washing his sleeping bag in the river, we decided to leave. Maybe we feared what might happen that night, maybe we were out of beer. But we left. The ride home was the same as the ride down: cassettes playing loud and talking about people at school. After a silence about an hour into the ride he said without looking at me. “I enjoyed you fucking me. I really liked that.”

“I did too”, I said.

“And I don’t feel weird about it.” I didn’t answer. “I don’t. Doesn’t mean anything except that it’s just something we did.”

“What about the belt?”

“I REALLY liked that…”

I smiled and tried to affect a rakish grin over the steering wheel but when I glanced in the mirror it was more of a Dr. Sardonicus rictus. But that was it-that was our conversation about the weekend. We spoke no more of it. We didn’t see much of each other too much over the summer and it seemed to be by design. Then fall came and I went to school up north and he went to work. As I understand it, he hated the job and after he got laid off Danny surprised everyone and joined the service. It was a gray September day a couple of years later when word came that he’d been blown-up in Afghanistan.

 

Danny

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(This is an excerpt from a longer piece that might actually be finished one day)

There was never a wonder about why it had happened that day of all days. Never wondered because Danny had obviously planned it, if not in every specific detail, then certainly in general. Neighbors and constant companions since fifth grade and now ready to graduate, we were unsupervised teens ready to leave our childhoods behind: chrysalises on the cusp of becoming something else.  At least one of us was. I thought I was ready, but years of following the lead of coaches and teammates had left me remarkably unable to choose a path for myself. I was the horse that, unbridled and unsaddled, still followed the steps of his master. Which is why I wanted to get away with Danny, my only friend who was not on a team with me or had an opinion to share about where I should go to college.

The cabin was great for that. We came down in the middle of the week because there was nobody around for a mile in every direction. We fished, swam, grilled burgers, now relaxed as dusk fell. We relaxed like most guys did-talking about girls, particularly about Crissy Myers. I had dated her for a hot minute and never got past first base. Danny had hit a home run with her right out of the box and never tired of ragging me about it. Except for today. He’d mentioned it but then let it lie. He seemed nervous-jumpy-his foot tapping vibrating the bench. He couldn’t sit still-got up and paced from one side of the deck to the other.

“You OK, man?” I asked him once.

“Yeah, I’m fine”, he answered but paused with his back to me. He was wearing old gym shorts and an oversize T-shirt that hung low. He wasn’t a big guy-not as tall as me-but not slight. I was on the bench with my legs apart, watching him. He turned and without looking at me, walked up and slipped just inside my knees. Too close, really. His legs were almost touching mine. I was about to say something when I noticed.

“Dude”, I said. “You have a hard on.”

“Thinking about Crissy”, he said.

“I don’t think…” I began but stopped when I looked up at his face. In that second, I saw it. I saw it in his eyes and he looked away quickly knowing that I saw it. But I’d seen it and couldn’t unsee it. It was there. I even saw it on his lips when he wasn’t looking.

“Dan?” I asked.

“It’s your choice,” he said quietly.

“What is?”

He turned away and walked to the railing at the end of the deck. Turning to look at me over his shoulder he unsnapped his shorts and allowed them to fall to the floor. He wasn’t wearing underwear and his alabaster bottom glowed in the dim sundown light. He stepped out the shorts to widen his stance and bent over the top rail.

“What are you doing?” I asked, my voice grabbing.

“It’s here if you want it”, he said.

I didn’t trust myself just then to say anything. I remembered earlier in the day when when we were swimming and he’d rubbed against me underwater. I had pushed off of him and come to the top, thinking nothing of it. But I’d spend the better part of the rest of my life trying to remember or imagine signs that might have foretold what was happening that evening.

“I want it”, he said.

The voice, that plea, rings in my ears today. I don’t know-or didn’t at the time know-if I wanted it. So, I sat. Frozen. There was a part of me that didn’t want to leave him out there in a place that had probably taken him years to get to, by himself. The trust he had to feel-or the desperation that drove him-to put himself over that railing were not to be simply dismissed.

While I thought, while I considered, he waited. Not rock still-he moved a bit-up on his right toes, then his left-arching his back slightly then settling. No matter how much I thought, considered, re-thought, re-considered, there was one thing I could not ignore. My dick was pushing hard against the seam of my cut-offs. I looked down almost relieved to have the decision made for me. I stood and dropped my shorts, stepping out of them.

His rectum grabbed me so firmly I panicked for a moment thinking I remembered stories of men locking up like this. Which would have been unacceptable. But no. Once firmly implanted inside him-tightly enough that my legs rubbed his and hipbones pressed his butt-I was able to withdraw-partly and slowly-then slide in again. Then again, picking up the pace each time.

“Oh Jesus”, he gasped over his shoulder, “I love this!”

I pushed his shirt up his back wanting to expose more of him. “Me too”, I said catching my breath and feeling the weight growing heavier deep inside me with every thrust. Me too, I repeated to myself. I stood straight, arching, and looked down, watching his ass take me over and over. Danny’s right arm was working; stroking his penis feverishly.

He came first, with a groan spattering his seed over the trees and shrubs below the deck. Cumming, his asshole grabbed me tighter than possible-a strong hand squeezing-and I shot hard and deep, driving him into the wooden railing and coming up on my toes until the spasms passed and I settled back onto my feet. Then, careful not to touch him anywhere but on the hips, I slipped myself out from between his cheeks, chastely ignoring his soft moan. We went swimming.

That night we smoked the only joint we had and drank two of the six beers we brought along. We were young-today a six pack wouldn’t last the ride down-then it was enough for three days. Neither one of us spoke of what we did as we sat there on the deck listening to the nighttime symphony of insects, night birds and frogs. I don’t think we were ignoring what we’d done by any means, but really didn’t know how to react.  The exercise had felt more athletic than sexual so we, at least I, treated it as such and spent the evening as we had the previous one: talking about school, plans, girls and playing hearts.

(Continuing…)