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Xquisite Corpse

Xquisite Corpse


Do you know what Cadaver Exquis means? It is French for Exquisite Corpse or Cadaver. Lovely, don’t you think? It all began in the 1930’s at the residence of friends in an old house at 54 rue du Chateau in Paris, France. Famous surrealist artists, Marcel Duchamp, André Breton, Joan Miro, and Man Ray began a wonderful tradition that has become known as the Exquisite Corpse. Henry Miller even participated in this “parlor game” known as the Exquisite Corpse. And we have been carrying on this wonderful tradition with Scare it Forward. The concept is simple— Exquisite Corpse is a method of story telling in which words or images are collectively assembled. It can be a drawing, a painting, a story, a collection of words. Exquisite don’t you agree? Welcome to our first Exquisite Corpse endeavor formally known as Scare it Forward.


Chapter 1

Glen Middleton

The first time the gift descended on Johnnie Moon he was on Highway 25 right outside of Gilroy.  It was just him and that old ’65 Harley Panhead and that big stretch of highway bordered on both sides by freshly picked artichoke fields.  The early morning sun was peaking over the eastern horizon, the day was clear and bright and a quick, cool wind forced itself through his beard and caressed his skin and life was all it was meant to be and more.  There wasn’t another soul on the road and that big Harley could get up and get gone when it had nothing in its way.

And they were getting gone, man and bike and the sweet scent of garlic hanging in the air.  And everything was just about the way it ought to be in the world.  Everything was in its place.  This moment in time was the epitome of Johnnie Moon’s existence — A cosmic confluence of machine and nature and the human soul with a sprinkle of the holy mother of the divine thrown in for good measure.  It all was exactly what was needed at that very moment in time.   What he did not need was the gift.  He did not want it.  He did not ask for it.  Or, plead for it.  Or, beg for it.  It just came to him.  Not welcomed.  Not accepted.  Not desired.  He had no choice.  But, nevertheless, it was his, whether he liked it or not.

He had rounded a curve and gunned the Harley when the gift smacked him like a bolt of lightning out a clear blue sky.  It was a blinding-white-hot-brain-searing image that sent his mind thundering off the road outside of Gilroy and dropped him headlong into a small broken down shit-hole bar on the outskirts of Las Vegas, New Mexico.  But, it was more than a vision.  He was there.  Really there.  He could feel the worn wooden floor beneath his feet, smell the stale beer on the sticky bar and he heard the jukebox playing Morphine.  “You look like rain… You look like rain… you look like rain…”

A brass pole extended from the middle of the stage, bathed in red lights.  From up above a pure white scarf made its way down the pole circling it like a seductive snake slithering down a vine.  And when the scarf hit the stage floor, it coiled up there and he was certain he heard it hiss.  That was her scarf. He’d come to know it soon enough.  He’d come to know its touch and the scent of the perfume that permeated every thread of it.  That scarf.

She was sitting near the jukebox with her back to him.  Johnnie could see that she had an incredible head of hair.  Big, beautiful amazing Raven-like hair teased, sprayed and coaxed skyward in ways that defied gravity and the strength of her neck to hold it aloft.  It was a perfectly shaped and magnificently styled mane.  Each hair perfectly in place and the whole assemblage erected like some great observation tower.

She never turned around. Not once.  Never acknowledged him, but she knew Johnnie was there.  Johnnie could feel it.  She had just been sitting there patiently with her back to the door.  It was like she had been waiting there all night, waiting for Johnnie to step through those doors.  Sitting there listening to Morphine.  Sitting there waiting, patiently, for this moment.

She lifted one perfectly toned dancer’s leg and tapped the jukebox with a high heeled foot. The music stuttered to a stop.

“Sometimes we’re here nightly.  Sometimes we’re not. Sometimes it all depends on when you get here.” She purred, not turning around to face him.

“Just where am I?”  The words came out and bounced around the bar and rattled some glasses and dropped between the cracks in the floor but Johnnie’s lips never moved.

“You’ll find out when you get here, asshole.”

He could have sworn he saw the scarf tighten its grip around the pole.

Hurl steel and rubber against a tree in the right direction and the tree wins every time.  The Panhead smacked the tree sideways and folded violently in two.  Johnnie was thrown a few dozen yards into a nearby irrigation ditch where he landed with a splash and a thud and a groan.

The paramedics found him in the ditch face up, staring into the sky, soaking wet and, miraculously, still breathing.

Visions are a bitch at 70 miles an hour; and, he’d find out soon enough about her.

CHAPTER 2

David J. Russell

It took three months for the mending; the pain would go for ever. Johnnie Moon exited the hospital weeks back with a stiff back and a mechanical leg. He wasn’t totaled, like his bike, but his new leg reminded him that that bike ate him, chewed him up, digested him, and shit out a false leg and a permanent gimp. His shattered scarred back was wired; titanium strings wound his discs in place, swapping searing of a broken back agony for the dull ache that prescription pain killers never quite chased away. Still, he was lucky that the tree that hit him missed his face. His face was as it was: it could still talk, smoke, drink, flirt; and now his face had a million questions.

Lying on his back, back in bed in his seedy flat, alone with his new pain – his pain barely fogged in with thick Merlot mixed with meds – Johnnie ached to recall the GIFT: that vision, that omen, that too real dream that tossed Johnnie Moon to another planet only seconds before it threw him against a tree. The gift came back seeping in, in sweat streams, in wine red eddies, corklike bobbing back, borne on Throbbing Gristle – cruel brittle music for his brittle bones – skinning his memory, peeling it back, revealing that sticky stinking cesspool bar; a dive he knew he’d been in before – but had never been in before – seen and unseen; here, and then not here. In his 38 years, he’d been in a billion bars – bars are bars – another bar and another; an endless dirty cage of stinking bars; low-life shit dreams, acrid smoke, and sour putrid beer. Johnnie always felt too good for that shit but always came back for another taste.

Johnnie ached in his shattered back and his phantom leg never stopped itching, except when, too often, his foot impossibly cramped; an agonizing cramp he felt two feet beyond the end of his thigh; cramps that sent him retching and reaching out for a bottle; booze or pills, it didn’t matter. These days, he spent half his life in sweat, not sleeping, only waiting for the next pain. Lying on his back, nodding, drifting, he spied his new leg leaning against the toilet door; his new leg, his metal leg. It was a cheap prosthetic that still bit his femur; a peg leg, a knee hinge, a harness, and a gimpy shoe with a pole in between.

A pole. A spinning pole. A barber pole coiled with white bandages – blood and bandages – a striped pole, a brass stripper’s pole, the vision pole… striped… scarfed white… White Snake pole. “That goddamn scarf was alive!” Hissing, poisonous scarf; her scarf… her. Her saw her proud back and her black black hair; beautiful raven black; black cobra. A perfect stripper, no face, waiting just for him; jukebox playing… Morphine haze; fear and haze, angst; his perfect stripper beckoned: “You’ll find out when you get here, ASSHOLE!”

Johnnie Moon fell out of his vision, 86ed from his own damned dream, kicked out on his ass. Back into sober reality: the back pain, Percodan headache, wine bile, and Throbbing Gristle’s grinding Zyklon B. He thought aloud, “Some gift – some fucking gift.” Zyklon B – poison gas; Johnnie’s high school German from somewhere kicked in: “poison gas – Gift Gas – to poison – vergiftung.” GIFT GAS. An old memory wiggled itself back into his brain; an old memory of an old hangout; a tit-bar dive outside River City; a filthy red brick factory-style saloon put right near the tracks: “THE GASSER”. Gassing up at The Gasser with the old gang; what a gas; what a dump.

How much were train tickets to River City? Johnnie reached for the phone.

reached for the phone.

Chapter 3

Brian Lane

The memory of Johnnie Moon’s Harley was a ghost; one he feared would remain in the past.  He had no insurance for the beautiful beast.  Hell, he was driving on a suspended license and couldn’t even get insurance.  Insurance wasn’t something Johnnie he worried about.  Motorcycle, health, whatever.  Now a monster of debt dogged him like a Rottweiler on a pussy cat due to the accident.

He had pawned off anything of worth from his hole in the wall apartment – his guitar, a set of power tools, stereo, and even his collection of Penthouses and Playboys dating back to the early 80s.  He had to break through an eviction notice and a lock box on the front door handle to do so.  Didn’t matter.  Johnnie knew he would never be going back to that rat infested dump again anyways.

He kicked in the flimsy door to room 203 as the landlady called the cops, yelling and screeching in his ear the whole time.  She was lucky he didn’t bust her nose for good measure.  He knew her common-law husband was going to break her jaw in three places within a month, anyway, so why bother?

The clerk at the pawn shop on the corner never asked a single question as he handed Johnnie just enough dough for a one way ticket to River City.  The entire transaction went off with less than a couple words.  Johnnie didn’t even get out the door before he noticed the clerk thumbing through the magazines.  Johnnie had a quick vision of the clerk locking the shop in a few minutes due to pure lust and self-gratification.  His ‘date’ with miss November would be caught on the security camera, ultimately culminating in the termination of his job.  Johnnie thought about warning the kid, but then just pushed past the glass door with wrought iron bars and out to the dirty streets beyond the threshold.

That same night, he made his way to the train station a few blocks west.  A few passengers sat waiting for the next departure, eyes glazed over and staring into nothingness.  One woman punched busily at the screen of a smart phone of some sort.  Alice, Johnnie thought.  You’re meeting Jim for a weekend rendezvous since your husband is on a business trip.  His business trip is to meet Francis for some of the same.  Johnnie bought his one-way ticket to River City.  Again, the transaction went by almost wordlessly.

What seemed like hours later, the train arrived and Johnnie found his booth of a sleeping compartment.  It was too close to the dinner car, Johnnie realized.  He could smell the delectable aroma every time a passenger opened the door between cars.  His stomach growled.  Damn, he was hungry.  And sober.  A bad combination.

Ever since he left the hospital, “the gift” had been growing in strength and frequency.  Now, he didn’t even need to “see” a vision.  He just knew things.  Just had to be around someone to know something.  Trouble was, he never knew the good things.  Only the bad.  Some gift, he thought again.

Johnnie also knew that going to River City would be like standing on the freeway at rush hour.  He knew he had to go.  The raven-hair beauty waited.  Beckoned.  Whatever fate had in store beyond that was something Johnnie couldn’t see.

Suddenly, Johnnie had a flash overtake his mind.  He could see the engineer of the train tying a rubber strap around his bicep.  He could see a dirty blackened spoon bent over a small candle.  Small liquid boiled in the spoon, which the engineer greedily sucked out with a syringe.  Not even waiting for it to fully cool down, he shot the liquid into his bulging vein.

The vision changed again, and Johnnie was in a small VW bug.  Two teenage boys were driving home from a party.  Joe, the small Hispanic one, turned to Elmer, a plump kid with glasses.  “Bethca I can beat the train.” Joe said, pushing the accelerator to the floor and rushing towards the tracks.

The vision switched again to a woman on the train.  Susan was her name, Johnnie realized.  She was looking out the dark windows of the train.  A movie was playing in the cart.  “There’s Something About Mary” Johnnie noticed.  Susan looked out and could barely discern the VW high-centered on the tracks, two boys trying desperately to push the car to safety.  Susan watched, mouth agape, until the last minute when she began to scream.

Johnnie didn’t have any luggage.  He opened the door of his compartment and pushed past the other passengers boarding the train.  He walked right past the engineer, who had just come out of the bathroom.  The man’s eyes were sunken with dark circles etched underneath.  He looked at Johnnie.  Neither said a word.  Johnnie pushed past him and left the train.  He would have to find another way to River City.

Chapter 4

Rich Orth

A gift, what a crock, but in this present, Johnnie realized he may not survive this future! Viewing the conductor, it was time to respect the vision. To hell with this train and damn his prosthetic. Johnnie would walk  or hop to River City if necessary! As he made his way along the tracks, Johnnie found the perfect walking stick. Forward he went, trying to work his new leg.

The highway stretched ahead forever and a day. How the hell was this a good decision? Then Johnnie recalled the alternative, losing more limbs in a train wreck, well, definitively not a great idea. So on it was, praying for headlights, praying for a savior!

Minutes were hours and there were many. Johnnie knew the newspaper headlines had already broken about the train crash. Could he have stopped it? Why was he just saving himself? As the questions swirled in his head, he heard the engine in the distance. Finally, a chance at a ride.

As the powder blue 73 Roadrunner with the Starsky & Hutch stripe pulled over, happiness was more than a warm gun. Johnnie hobbled to the car. As he opened the door he was greeted by an angel. Auburn tresses and emerald eyes. He said, “Um, hi I’m Johnnie.” She smiled and said, “Nice to meet you, I’m Raven! “

Johnnie recoiled at first, envisioning the strip club pole, but this girl was so much more beautiful…so innocent Why the name?

As the door shut, she sped off. No visions, no thoughts, and such a beautiful girl. Though Johnnie had Poe & Nevermore reverberating in his brain…this could be a good thing. God, she was hot, maybe luck finally, yes finally, had come his way!

The conversation was amazing. No visions of pain. Johnnie thought, “This is what I searched for, she may be the one!” The conversation was comforting. Raven didn’t even stare at his phantom leg. The drive could have lasted ever more. This was what Johnnie truly had wished for.

As they spoke, her story unfurled. Raven’s brother had been an amputee in the Gulf War. Her sympathy had no end. This was Kismet for Johnnie. Raven may just be the one.

The drive led to River City. Raven knew the town. She said with a smile, “Just one quick stop.” Johnnie didn’t care why.

As they pulled up to the faded green house, his mind wandered to Raven. God this truly could be his escape. Then on the porch appeared a man with a young child in hand. As Raven kissed the man, Johnnie’s heart skipped some beats. He felt defeated. Raven belonged to another.

With his heart racing, Raven returned. The child waved emphatically as they pulled away. Then that damn gift, well, it waved its ugly head. That is when Johnnie saw the most horrid vision ever. That beautiful child, the angelic one, beaten, tortured, and by the man they love. Johnnie snapped back to reality and realized this too shall come true……………

As he stepped out of himself, he comprehended…he must kill Raven’s boyfriend..must..or this child shall die…………………

Chapter 5

Rickie Guthrie

As they rode, Raven asked, “So, where are you really going?”

“I don’t know,” Johnnie replied.

“That’s what I thought.”

“So, what was that all about back there?”  Johnnie couldn’t help but ask.

“It depends.”

“On what?”

“Do you want the truth, or do you want me to make up an answer, so it will all make sense?”

The drove down the road for a half hour until they came upon a filling station.. Running low on gas, Raven pulled in. “I’ll be back, in a few minutes. I need a pack of smokes. Do you want anything?”

“No, I’m fine. Thanks.”

This was not the future he wanted, Johnnie thought, as he starred at the car keys dangling in the ignition. He watched Raven walk all the way into the convenience store at the gas station. Then he slid over to the driver’s side, started the car, and headed back down that same road. This time his foot securely pressed against the gas pedal to the floor. While making his way back to what he felt was her truth, he turned on the radio. He though it might sooth his shattered nerves.  But the music was interrupted by fresh details of the recent train crash. He wiped the sweat from his brow and readjusted  his aching leg, phantom pain the call it.  Johnnie let the car glide near the faded green house. He turned to the back seat to grab his walking stick and noticed a suitcase that looked as if carried someone’s entire life. Immediately he dismissed the thought from his mind. He retrieved the stick and as quietly as he could, made his way to the house.

Despite his annoying prosthetic, Johnnie reached the edge of the house in a flash. He carefully approached the window on the far side. From here he could peer into an empty bedroom. He carefully and quietly opened the bedroom window sliding it up only about a fourth of an inch at a time. Once he had the window open far enough, he crawled through as quietly as one could keenly aware of the damn prosthetic clunking in the night. Suddenly, he heard footsteps coming up the hallway. He made his way to the bed and slid under it making every effort not to make a sound. Someone walked in the room, but he was only able to make out the dirt-covered pair of boots that paced back and forth. Knowing that he may be under that bed for a while, he attempted to reposition himself and his leg.  At that moment he caught a glimpse of a framed photo of Raven, with a man, and a small child. Suddenly, Johnnie could hear the person in the room pick up a phone and dial a number.

“Where are you, Raven! I told you I wanted that car in an hour! We’ve got things to do! What? Where are you? Ok, well come on! You’ve got exactly twenty minutes! You better not be late! I’ve got to be outta here no later than that!” The man slammed the phone down.

Johnnie suddenly realizes that his future was about to change again, and not for the better. While cramped under that bed, Johnnie wondered what ‘things’ he was talking about and wondered if she was using him for something that the two of them had already planned. The sound of a truck pulling up in front of the house broke Johnnie’s troubled thoughts.

Chapter 6

Patrick Power

The dirty boots had stopped their pacing while Raven’s boyfriend had been making his phone call, but they started heading towards the bedroom door quickly as the sound of truck doors opening came in through the window.  The sound of the redneck’s voice just reached just Johnny as the bedroom door was slammed closed.

“Shit! Of course, they HAD to be early! That bitch better get her ass back here quick, or we are all gonna be screwed!”

As the sound of footsteps receded down the hallway towards the front room of the house, Johnny was simultaneously seized by a cramp in his thigh above the prosthetic leg, and a blinding flash of light in his head.

The pain in his thigh merged into the flashes of vision careening through his mind. A flash of young girl, tied to a chain her underclothes, weeping. Another flash of a pair of gnarled male hands reaching for the little girl’s tied left hand. Yet another flash, in close up, of a shining meat cleaver slamming into the child’s fingers, severing them raggedly. Then nothing but vibrant blood, glowing like neon, fountaining against blackness as screams ricocheted through Johnny’s skull.

The fire in his thigh brought Johnny out of the near faint the visions had caused. Quickly, he began massaging his thigh, desperately afraid he would be discovered any second.

“Dammit!”, he thought, “It’s bad enough being a freaking crip, but being a crip caught hiding under the bed of a psycho child murderer just has no chance of having a happy ending!”

Even as he thought this, Johnny knew that the visions were leading him into to nothing as simple as a psychopathic killer’s path. The fact that Raven was apparently involved, the presence of at least two other people who had arrived in the truck who were also part of whatever was happening, and the fact that the little girl in the vision was not the girl in his previous vision all combined into a picture that brought nothing but confusion to Johnny.

As the cramp subsided, and Johnny tried to silently slide out from under the bed, he found himself frantically wishing for another vision. As much as he hated this “gift”, trying to piece together a jigsaw puzzle without 90% of the pieces was making him slide slowly towards panic. What had started out as him being heroic, and saving Raven and her little girl, had now turned into something much darker, and far more dangerous. Did Raven deserve to be saved? Or was she one of the bad guys too? And what of the two little girls in the disparate visions? How could he save them?

All Johnny knew for sure was that the two little girls were in dire danger, and both would die if he didn’t do something. His head was beginning to ache as badly as his phantom leg, and his body felt as if he had been beaten with a crowbar.

Johnny knew himself well enough to know he was no hero, but he also knew that there was no way he was enough of a loser to just walk away with a limp knowing two children would die if he did nothing. Maybe his life hadn’t amounted to anything before now, and maybe it never would. But, he told himself he was going to be damned if he was going to hide from the visions. Obviously, he was being chosen by some higher power to make a difference, and he realized he was just pissed off and proud enough to face up to this.

Out of nowhere, he heard the faceless stripper’s voice again.

“Really, asshole? So just how much longer is it going to take for you to get here? I am getting tired of hanging out in this shithole waiting for you!”

He decided it was time to get out of this house, and try to get his “gift” to work when he wanted it to. Maybe he could make it show him, so he could get some answers that would allow him to decide what to do next. If he could figure out how to control it, and how to get it focus in and show him something more than bits and pieces, he could get a plan of action together.

“Keep your g-string on, baby.”, he muttered under his breath.

“I’m on my way.”

He quickly moved to the window, pushed it open. Sliding first his fake leg over the window sill, and then his good leg (the one he now thought of as “original equipment”), Johnny was just starting to lower himself to the ground outside the bedroom as he heard the bedroom door open.

CHAPTER 7

Madeline Usher

The door hinges groaned, a deep, screeching cringe like something from a lame horror movie. “I’ve heard this song before,” he thought cynically. What was next? A heavy thud of footprints? The snap, slide, snap of a shotgun?

Johnnie dropped outside the window in a twisted heap of man and prosthetic. A particularly old and thorny bush broke his awkward fall. He held his breath as pain shot through his body but he almost didn’t feel it. Music wafted through the window, and the sound reverberated through his shattered nerves.

Send that horse round and round the track…”

They’re playing our song again. Morphine.

Was that her in the room? Or was she still at the bar… waiting…

Johnnie was vaguely conscious of the truck lurking nearby. Raven’s “man” could be anywhere. But he almost didn’t care. Raven’s emerald eyes, full of understanding, connection, seemed a dim and uneventful memory. Black hair swirled through his thoughts now. He had to know. Was she there?

He closed his eyes. This was not the time for “thinking,” he didn’t know where he was. But he had to try to reach the “gift,” or her, or something, anything.

Opening his eyes he realized for the first time where he was.

An unusually bright full moon lit the wide, flat stretch of dying grass before him. The stale air was filled with the scent of ancient rotting fruit trees and decaying flowers. Twisted, dead branches were scattered amongst broken wooden beams, the remnants of what was once… what was it? A tree house?

No. A snapped oar, pieces of a boat. It was a dock.

Johnnie squinted. Far in the distance, a tiny glimmer of moonlight on a still, dark, murky mirror seemed to reflect through the reeds. A moss covered cesspool that was once a lake or river, still clinging to life.

This was beautiful once.

This was someone’s garden. Someone’s home.

Black hair. A young girl with raven hair. She’s sitting by that cesspool but it’s not a cesspool anymore; it’s clear, sparkling, pure. Gentle hands are brushing that long, dark hair, setting it high above her head. But it won’t be tamed. It tumbles into curls as the girl breaks into delighted giggles, bubbling, echoing, like the lake below. Is this her voice? It’s captivating, he wants to laugh along with her, he opens his mouth and she turns to him; will he see her face…?

A scream penetrates the vision.

You look like rain… You look like rain… you look like rain…”

With a new urgency in this cursed, rotting blackness, Johnnie struggled to raise himself on his arms. Another bolt of pain strikes through both limbs. Spitting curses under his breath, he dared not speak above a whisper. With an agility that surprised him, Johnnie somehow swung his twisted body around and gripped the edge of the window sill with two dirty, determined hands. He pulled himself up and peered through the window.

Chapter 8

Michael D. Stewart

Johnnie wasn’t quite sure what he was expecting to see through the empty hole of the window he’d escaped through, but it certainly wasn’t what was in front of him.  The soft light of an old oil lantern lit the far corner, its light seeming to pulsate like a heart almost.  In the light, Johnnie could see someone sitting in the simple, old kitchen table chair.  It was a man, and the man was smoking.  The tip of the cigarette glowed a demonic red as he inhaled.

Johnnie’s eyes stealthy looked the man over.  Hair that was almost blindingly white crowned th e stranger’s head, and its length tied back in a pony tail.  A thin, pale face scowled into the shadows with grey eyes- scanning the room like a predator on the hunt.  The stranger’s pointed chin was covered in the same snow white hair in the form of a goattee… a hard face… a vengeful face.  Moving his eyes downwards, Johnnie could see the man’s dark suit.  It was black- a black so dark, Johnnie was afraid he’d get lost in it.  A white shirt and a black tie.  A glint of metal on the tie drew Johnnie’s attention.  He could see a tie pin in the form of a raven with a ruby eye.  The image of the raven somehow scared Johnnie more than anything he’d seen tonight.  Johnnie struggled to take his eyes away from the almost hypnotic glare of the raven tie pin and continue downwards.  He saw black pants and black dress shoes that shone like the moon.  Johnnie thought, Who is this bastard?  What have I gotten my sorry ass into now?

The creak of the door distracted Johnnie from the stranger, and he saw Raven’s boyfriend walk in and stand before the man in the black suit.  He seemed really nervous and agitated, “He’s gone.  He took the car.  Probably going to her right now!”  Raven’s boyfriend started pacing while the man sitting took a long drag on his cigarette.  It was then that Johnnie noticed the hand.  Fine white hairs lay in soft curls on the back of the hand, with what could only be called a “fringe” creating a line along the pinky finger.  The skin seemed leathery, and the fingers rather longer than most peoples’.  As the man knocked the ash from his cigarette into the cracked crystal ashtray beside him, Johnnie  could see the long, dirty fingernails… almost like talons on a bird.

“Relax, my good man, things will work out as they are meant to.  None  of us can escape the parts we play in this little drama.  None of us.”  An unknown accent tickled Johnnie’s ears.  Was it American?  Canadian?  British, maybe?  The stranger blew  a cloud of smoke into the air and smiled as he observed the way it drifted and twisted on the breezes in the air.  “Control and choice is an illusion we all must deal with.  You, me, even those who think they’re being clever and giving us orders.  As William Shakespeare put it: Life is a play, and we’re all just playing roles within its script.  Smart man, Shakespear.”

Raven’s boyfriend grunted and paced some more- his hands rubbing the sides of his blue jeans.  “That’s fine for you to say.  But if she gets him, we’re all cancelled- you, me… you’re precious Raven.”  He snarled out the last word as if it was curse.

A low chuckle came from the dark suited man as he put out his cigarette and he reached into his breast pocket for the pack he kept there.  Light flared as he lit it and took a deep breath.  “If that happens, then it was meant to be.  The show ends, and we get recast.  I’m hoping to wind up in something by Poe, mayself.”  His smile flashed white, even teeth.  His smile disappeared and his smokey grey eyes darted towards the window, “And speaking of Poe, I want to thank you Johnnie for rap rap rappig upon my chamber door…”

A snapping sound made Johnnie spin around, his prosthetic getting caught inthe bush and tripping him.   Then all was darkness…

Kurt Mayne

Chapter 9

Johnnie’s memories were horrible at best, yet as his motionless body lay strewn outside the house, memories came flooding back…..

Johnnie recalled that cement floor, which was either cold as ice, or hot as embers.  And then there was that smell, oh my God, that smell. It was a combination of urine, feces and vomit. Toss in the ever-flickering florescent lighting with the load as hell buzzing sound that could drive the strongest child to the brink of insanity.

These were but some of the memories Johnnie’s subconscious was spitting up, a bi-product of being unconscious. The mind hides the darkest of things from us. It’s our own personal cloaking devise. Well, for Johnnie, that devise was shut down for the time being. Up came more memories of Apple Blossom Hills Orphanage, which had previously been home to Our Father’s Path, an exile for Roman Catholic Priests who need a “break.”

Johnnie became a resident at Happy Blossom Hills due to the meanderings of his mother, Lana. She was product of the harshest form of white trash imaginable. Lana never really had a chance. Upon dropping out of high school, she high tailed it to the big city. Once there, she resorted to selling her body and soul on any available street corner. In return? A meager existence and heroin, lots of heroin. Hardly a shock, Lana keeled over one day, landing on top of Johnnie, the result of a violent overdose. The father? Don’t even ask, it could have been one of countless men Lana entertained.  Poor little Johnnie was never anything but a nuisance to his mother. He was an excuse or state funds–merely the end result of a condom gone wrong.

At first, little Johnnie was relieved to be at Happy Blossom Hills, however that sensation was short lived. The very same priests that had been with Our Father’s Path, were now in charge of Apple Blossom Hills. Life was nothing but a series of hellish go-rounds. Punishment was quick and severe for the “misguided youths”, most of whom came from backgrounds similar to Johnnie’s. Don’t eat all your meal? The Priests would send you to the basement and feed you nothing but saltines and water for days on end. The holy men concluded that if you did not eat “God’s helpings,” then you needed to be taught the value of a good meal. For the foolish that dared disagree with them, the priests found no choice but to administer a firm whipping, followed by days in “God’s Holding Tank.” A horrible contraption salvaged from the nearby dumps. It was rumored to have once been used in satanic rituals, but that was just a rumor.

As the years progressed, Johnnie, along with other children, grew more and more sexually aware. Any child found “aroused” was soon in need of a priest inflicting “God’s Correction” on them. It was upon one of these sessions that a rarely seen state inspector came upon poor little Johnnie, weeping as he received a firm dose of correction from the unclothed priest.

As is usually the case in instances such as these, the church sent that priest far away, and closed Apple Blossom Hills. The reason given was for a total makeover of the facility. That was over three decades ago. Its decaying shell still sits, awaiting that makeover.

In their rush to “fulfill God’s will” (As the morning papers quoted the Catholic Church), the children were quite quickly dispatched to any location possible, usually with no background check done on the receivers of these badly damaged youths.

Johnnie was slowly regaining consciousness outside the house, but not before one last memory seeped through.

It was so hot the on the day Johnnie (now just another ward of the state) met his new “keeper,” one would think he was in Dante’s Inferno. A woman dressed sharp as any runway model was there to collect Johnnie. Her bright red hair and sharply pointed chin gave Johnnie chills down his spine. She reached out and handed the child a green rabbits foot, telling him this was his “gift” and to never lose it.

She then placed her arm around him and said, “I am so pleased to meet you Johnnie, we shall become great friends, allow me introduce myself, I am Raven….”

Chapter 10

Gail Petersen


Suddenly, Johnny was wrenched out of his memories of childhood and back to the dark wooded yard where he lay on the ground in pain. He heard a soft hissing sound and the hairs on the back of his neck stood straight up. It couldn’t be! He squinted into the darkness and was able to see what looked like a long white silk scarf moving slowly through the brush, but as the scarf moved closer Johnny could see it had black, reflective eyes buried deep inside a triangular shadow. A head. His foot gave a little tremor and cracked a small branch and instantly the head turned directly to him and became larger. He saw the glint of fangs. The scarf began to slither and show its true nature. It was a snake and it was headed in his direction, fast. The hissing became louder. Johnny tried to move but his prosthetic leg wouldn’t cooperate. He struggled to drag himself away but all of his strength was gone. He thought of screaming but that would bring out the instant attention of Raven’s boyfriend and his evil, white-haired companion, and somehow, Johnny knew that their intentions would be more reptilian than the thing moving toward him.

The snake had reached the foot of his prosthetic leg. Even though Johnny had no feeling there, his imagination filled in the cold, slimy caress of the reptile’s skin against his. Now that it was upon him, Johnny could see its hard, black eyes rimmed in red. He could also see that the snake was not pure white but had strange streaks of green fur along its sides that resembled the rabbit’s foot of his childhood. Now he was certain this was no ordinary snake. This was a monster!

The song Morphine began to play and it sounded like it was coming from the house and being played on an ancient phonograph. Johnny could hear the scratches and squeaks of an old record. The snake seemed to undulate in time with the song, gliding past Johnny’s useless leg and sliding up his stomach. The monster’s mouth sprung open wide and its fangs were enormous. For a moment, Johnny thought of praying but he knew it was useless. He had lost God a long time ago in an orphanage… or was it… on a train ride… or… he couldn’t remember where or when.

The snake reared its head fiercely and looked directly into Johnny’s eyes. Then it bit down with an unnatural force on his left shoulder. Johnny felt the impact and a burning pain that quickly spread from his shoulder to the rest of his body. This is how the story ends, he thought, I’m going to die.

The snake raised its head again and this time its eyes looked almost human. Its mouth opened wide once more, and out poured the words “It’s time you get here asshole. All of us are tired of waiting.”

Johnny closed his eyes and opened his mouth to scream, but instead, he found himself shouting, “You look like rain. You look like rain.”

Suddenly, he was no longer in pain. Slowly, he opened his eyes and realized he was seated at the bar, that same old dump in Las Vegas, New Mexico. He could feel the worn wooden floor again and smell the stale, sticky beer. In front of him was a shot of whisky and on the Jukebox – Morphine was playing. He turned slowly and sure enough, there was the girl with the raven hair sitting with her back to him. Without looking at Johnny she said, “Sometimes we’re here nightly. Sometimes we’re here all day. Sometimes we never go home. And sometimes we wish were never born. But it always depends on you.”

“What? What do you mean?” Johnny asked.

“Whatever you want it to mean.” The bartender was speaking to him. It was the man he had seen earlier in the house with snow white hair, a goatee and a British accent.

“You’re the one who tells us what part we have to play.” Standing next to the white-haired man was Raven’s boyfriend.

“That’s right. And we’ve been waiting for you to come back for so long now. We’ve got things to do.” Sitting near Johnny on the left was one of the priests he had remembered from his childhood. “And we’re all getting tired.”

As Johnny stared at him through the dim light, a female voice interjected. “I’m getting tired of always being labeled white trash. Can’t you come up with a better excuse for someone who lives in a rural area and has no money?” asked the woman. Johnny turned to his right and could see her sitting at a small table. He recognized her. It was Lana.

“And why do women with red hair always have to be portrayed as bitches? Talk about clichés! It’s getting tedious.” The pointy-chinned woman was sitting next to Lana and giving Johnny a disgusted look.

“And we’re tired of always trying to look angelic,” said one of the two blonde twins that were now sitting on the bar in front of Johnny. The other child, this one a girl, chimed in, “Maybe we’d like to be seen drinking a shot of whiskey once in a while!”

Johnny stared at all of their faces in horror. What was going on? Why was this happening to him?

The priest moved, leaned close to Johnny’s face and smiled. “And it’s hard to believe that every single priest on earth is a pedophile! Fine, sick priest-predators are trendy right now and that may be the easy choice for you if you’re in a creative lapse, but what about how I feel? How about going back to the good old days when Spencer Tracy played a kind-hearted father who opened a home for boys and the worst thing he ever did to one of them was yell a little too loud?”

“I agree with the priest,” Raven’s boyfriend said. “I’m tired of always being the stupid boyfriend who has a really mean streak and wants to cut off children’s hands for no reason. That’s just plain ugly. If I’m going to be bad, then at least make me a three dimensional bad-guy. And you should also think about getting your so-called memories straight. You should make a decision on whether your setting is called Happy Blossom Hills or Apple Blossom Hills. Talk about confusing…”

Johnny shook his head in horrified in amazement. “How do you all know these things and why are you all here?”

“Because we have nowhere else to go.” The woman with the raven hair had now stood up and was looking at him. She was wearing the clothes of a stripper, but her face looked kind and gentle. “Johnny, don’t you know why? Has it been so long that you’ve forgotten all of us?” The woman began to walk toward him with something in her hand.

“When no one remembers you—then it’s like being in hell,” the white-haired man added.

“Or even worse,” the twins chimed in. “It’s like you never existed.”

The woman was now standing directly in front of Johnny. She held out her hand and in it was the green rabbit’s foot. “Do you see what I have in my hand?”

“It’s my lucky charm,” Johnny answered. “It’s… my gift.”

“And what is your gift?” everyone in the bar responded.

Johnny looked down at her hand again to take the rabbits foot, but now he saw that wasn’t what she was really holding. In her hands were the pages of a script. A television script. He took the pages in his hand and suddenly feeling came back to his injured leg. It wasn’t metal. There was no harness. It wasn’t fake after all. It was his leg. A real one. Bone, and flesh, and attached. He had never had a prosthetic leg.

“Don’t you remember River City?” the red-haired woman asked.

“Don’t you remember the teaser for it? River City—where nightmares begin and never end? One hour of drama on your TV set every Friday night for the last seven years.” The twins were patting Johnny on the back now showing their appreciation. The blond girl raised her arms. “See? I have my hands. Both of them.” Raven’s boyfriend chimed in, “And I never lopped them off, thank God. I told you I wasn’t that much of a bastard!”

The raven haired woman continued, “But you’ve been gone for so long now. Almost a year, and the network is thinking of cancelling the show. They can’t do it without you. Don’t you think it’s time for you to make a comeback? We’ve been waiting for you – all of your favorite characters. And I’m sure your audience is still waiting for you too. But no one can wait forever.” The raven haired woman put her arm around Johnny, “Try to remember… the train.”

Suddenly, Johnny was back on the train and this time, he stayed. He had always hated to fly and preferred to travel this way. He had a meeting with one of the network heads in New York City about the UK adapting his series and bringing it to their country with their own twist. It was going to be a long ride from LA to NYC but Johnny had plenty to keep him busy. With him was an unfinished script about a man with psychic visions who didn’t know how to use them since he was only shown bad things that would happen. And of course, the hero was from River City so he wouldn’t have any easy time solving his problem. And Johnny had given him a difficult childhood full of foster care, horrible priests, and abuse. And he had also given him a motorcycle, an accident, a bad-boy past and a bum leg.

The train was only twenty minutes into the trip when it happened. For a moment, Johnny’s eyes were drawn to the window. As the train was rounding a curve, he could see a car stuck on the railroad tracks ahead. Two boys had been trying to push the VW to safety, but the train wasn’t slowing down. It all happened too fast. Johnny stood up to try to warn the conductor but then he felt as if he were hit by a wall. In slow motion he saw sheets of metal, food, luggage, and body parts fling past him. He smelled smoke. He saw the first hint of fire. And then he felt agonizing, unrelenting pain. Next to him lay a woman crying for his help. He saw that one of her legs was torn in two and she was crying. Summoning all of his strength, Johnny picked the woman up and staggered in the direction of flashing lights that he assumed had to be medical help. The woman whispered “thank you”, as Johnny handed her to the medics. And as he began to pass out, one of the EMTs grabbed him by the waist and helped him to a gurney. He heard the woman say her name: Susan. And then he dropped into unconsciousness.

Slowly, Johnny opened his eyes. He expected to be back in the bar, but instead, he was in a hospital room with dozens of tubes and connectors attached to his body. He looked up and tried to adjust his vision. He could make out a digital sign reading “ICU”.

“He’s awake!” someone shouted. Several doctors and technicians rushed to his side and began to examine him. One flashed a light in his eyes, another tapped on his knees, and another began to ask questions while checking his femoral pulse.

“Do you know where you are?”

“I think… I’m in a hospital,” Johnny answered.

The doctor smiled. “Good. And do you know your name?”

“Johnny. Johnny Moon. But… no… that’s my… my… pen name. I write. I write… for television. My real name is John Michaels.”

“That’s wonderful. You’re doing great. Do you know why you’re here?”

“There was an accident. A crash. A train crash. I was in it.”

“That’s right.”

“And there was a woman… Her leg was torn up. She was crying.”

“Her name is Susan Raven. She’s fine now, thanks to you. We had to do some extensive surgery, but we saved her leg and you know what? She started walking on her own about two months ago.”

“How long have I been here?”

The doctor’s smile faded just a bit. “I’m afraid it’s been a long time. You’ve been in a coma for nearly a year.”

“Oh my God.” Johnny felt tears in his eyes. “Will I be all right?”

“You’re breathing. You’re talking. You almost look like you’re about to give me a smile. So, I’d say you’ll be fine now that you’re back with us. The body can absorb tremendous impact—but how it heals can sometimes be a question mark. At first, you were unconscious and then you started to sink into a coma. No identifiable reason. You haven’t shown any signs of life until right now. We were seriously losing hope here, but now it seems a miracle has happened.”

“What about my show?”

“You mean River City? Someone from the network has been here almost every week, along with your agent. When you started becoming reactive, we called her. She’s waiting outside right now and frankly I’d like you have some more time awake and talking. Can I bring her in?”

Johnny nodded.  The doctor went out the door and returned with the woman who was his agent. She had raven hair just like the woman from his visions only she had a gentle, kind-looking face and she was not a stripper, but a well-dressed business woman.

The woman leaned down and kissed him on his forehead. “Thank God, you’re alright. You do remember me?”

“Of course I remember you. Lana, you’re my agent and…” He paused, taking a deep look into her eyes—really seeing her, recognizing her. “…And you’re my girlfriend. I can’t believe you’ve waited so long for me.”

“Of course I waited. Now, the network, well, they’ve gotten pretty nervous. They were threatening to pull the plug on your series but I convinced them to hold on. And now there will be no reason to cancel River City. You’re such a gifted writer, John, and I know they really didn’t want to lose you. I didn’t want to lose you.”

She kissed her fingers and placed them onto his lips. He kissed her fingers lightly in return.

Johnny pressed himself up higher in the bed. “You know… I feel like I want to write again,” Johnny said. “In a couple of days I’ll start working on my latest script… where I left off. You know, the one with all the Edgar Allan Poe references?”

“I remember. I think the title is Nevermore?”

“That’s the one.” Johnny smiled as he now recalled that all of the people in his nightmares had only been characters from both his latest script and several others. Somehow, they had gotten mixed up in his mind while he was comatose. But he would get them all straightened out now and put them back in their rightful places. I might even let the twins have one sip of whiskey, Johnny thought playfully. They deserve that much.

The doctor came back smiling even more. “You’ll only spend one more night in the ICU and then we can move you to a regular room tomorrow. You’re definitely on the mend. A few weeks and you’ll be out of here for good.”

“Thanks,” Johnny said to the doctor. But there was one last question lingering in his mind. It was about the train crash. He had to know. “Tell me, Lana, how did the crash happen?”

“Do you really want to talk about this now?”

“Yeah, I just need an ending to my story, if you know what I mean.”

“There was a car stuck on the railroad tracks. Two kids were trying to move it but they couldn’t do it in time.”

“I remember seeing the car. I tried to warn the conductor.”

“But there was another, bigger problem,” Lana hesitated, but then decided to continue. “The train could have stopped in time, but the engineer was on something. They found out when they did his autopsy that it was morphine. Luckily, he was the only fatality from the crash.”

Johnny felt queasiness in the pit of his stomach. Had he really had a vision of the engineer shooting up or did he hear about from the doctors while his body was in a coma and his mind was playing elsewhere? No. It had to be the latter. His gift was writing, not psychic visions. He would leave that kind of talent to the character is his latest script. Meanwhile, since he had a television with a DVD player in his room he would request a great classic film to watch with Lana tonight. The Tingler. Yeah. That would be the perfect movie to take him away from the ICU, inspire some new creativity, and move him back into a world that was only reserved for novels, television, and films. Where nightmares could live forever.

15 Comments

  1. Beneficial posting. Sustain up the superb performance.

  2. rich orth says:

    MD…Poe is my other dead muse..I channel Poe as best I can, but I get to “speak” to Bill!

  3. Thanks guys for the compliments. I enjoyed it! Rich, I couldn’t resist the Poe and “The Raven” references. LOL

  4. rich orth says:

    that Raven still lives and Poe was mentioned make me his humble servant very happy :)

  5. Great story so far guys! And great job on the latest chapter Mike S!

  6. Patrick Power says:

    I love seeing my words and name on your page. :-) Thank you for involving me again. :-)

  7. Aleck says:

    You are all so incredible! It’s just wonderful to share in the experience! Thanks to all!

  8. Patrick Power says:

    Getting hyped up about writing my chapter. Can’t wait to see what the next chapter brings, and what cliff I will get to leap off of. :-)

  9. rich Orth says:

    what a rush to be involved again!

    • William Castle says:

      Always great to have you involved. Great chapter.

  10. Malcolm Orrall says:

    Ooops!…didn’t see the other chapters when I wrote the last comment…Great job, too, David and Brian!…Trains and Harleys and ghosts, oh my!

  11. Malcolm Orrall says:

    Wow, great opening!…you can feel the structure already taking shape, and so many vivid images in each paragraph…love it, Glen. And in reading the xquisite corpse set up to this page, it became clear to me just how much I learn reading this whole blog and all the research of rare and interesting aspects of the world that come to a nexus here. Who knew I would be smarter AND scared out of my wits, at the same time!…Look forward to reading more…:)

  12. Bill J. White says:

    Great opening, Glen. I love this form of writing. all this talent working together for one cause is amazing. William Castle must be smiling.

  13. Bill J. White says:

    i’m the happiest person in the world right now. I truely had a great time being part of “Scare It Forward.” This was my first attempt at writing a chapter of a horror story. if ya need me next year–count me in.

    • William Castle says:

      I am so happy to have such a great end to the story. Great work.

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