At the round earth's imagin'd corners

At the round earths imagin'd corners, blow
Your trumpets, Angells, and arise, arise
From death, you numberlesse infinities
Of soules, and to your scattered bodies goe,
All whom the flood did, and fire shall o'erthrow,
All whom warre, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despaire, law, chance, hath slaine, and you whose eyes,
Shall behold God, and never tast deaths woe.
But let them sleepe, Lord, and mee mourne a space,
For, if above all these, my sinnes abound,
'Tis late to aske abundance of thy grace,
When wee are there; here on this lowly ground,
Teach mee how to repent; for that's as good
As if thou’hadst seal'd my pardon, with thy blood.

-- John Donne

Monday, September 26, 2011

21: Waterlogged

[Excerpt from Deaduns: The Donnetown Devil and Other True Spooks of the Southeast by Rutger Frears (Barrow Press, 1989)]

A young man never forgets his first encounter with a female ghost.  Particularly when she almost drowns him on dry land.

Wednesday, May 21, 1969.  Commencement Day at PPRU was a sunny one, breaking the tradition of spring rains drenching the heads of graduating students and their miserable parents.  I was one of the hundreds assembled in the Inverted Mound amphitheatre, and was happy to have lucked out on the weather.

We all knew about Marigold Fralinder.  Two months earlier, the 19-year-old Theatre major from Aiken had tied herself to a 50-pound kettle weight and drowned herself in the Girl's Varsity swimming pool.  She delayed Water Ballet practice by an hour, and left behind some terrible poetry and an insufficient number of credits to qualify for graduation.

My alma mater was not the sort of institution that would (either from compassion for the surviving family or in an attempt to avoid bad publicity) award a diploma to a student simply because she'd died.  (They also didn't refund unused tuition.)  So, Marigold went to her grave without her BA.

I was in line behind Roger Forte, waiting my turn to walk across the podium and accept my BS in Redactive Journalism*.  (I'd also taken a minor in Dairy Science; this was a condition of my scholarship from Blackgall Creamery.)  I'd stayed up late, too excited to sleep, and now looked forward to receiving acknowledgement for years of dutiful matriculation.

As my name was called I started across the platform toward Dean Krissgouldt.  I became aware of a misty, shimmering form between myself and the Dean, standing directly in my way.  Stepping up and extending my hand for my hard-earned sheepskin, I found instead that my whole body was at once immersed in cold water, as if I were completely submerged in a cold lake -- or the Girl's Varsity pool at the Anne More Hall of Bodily Striving.

I struggled to speak, afraid to draw breath for fear my lungs would be filled with chlorinated water and I'd drown as I stood there.  At the same time, I heard an odd doleful thrumming in my ears, as if a woman were mournfully keening at the bottom of a nine-foot diving pool.

I knew then, as surely as I knew my own name, that Marigold Fralinder's restless, waterlogged spirit was on that dais, taking her alphabetical place in line and looking to claim the (sadly unearned) diploma that she would be forever denied.

I shoved past the Dean and found myself face-down upon the platform, coughing and terrified, but at least breathing air again.  My skin was drenched, yet my graduation robe was dry.  This in itself provides compelling evidence that my experience was not of this world, but of the next.**

*PPRU does not record ever offering a degree, or even a class, in anything called Redactive Journalism.  Mr. Frears at different times claimed to possess degrees in Veterinary Medicine, Restoration Drama, and Horology.  As all PPRU student records for the years 1968-1971 were destroyed by the late Prof. Jean Oubliette in 1992, we have so far been unable to assess these claims with any certitude.  -- Samantha Mead

**Darren Frilander, who was in line behind Frears that day, gives a slightly different account: "Yeah, that's ol' Rotgut Frears!  I think he'd been up for two or three nights before Graduation, drinking and popping a regular rainbow of pills.  He had this big bowl in his room, looked like a bowl of M&M's.  Uppers, downers, God knows what.  So we were up there waiting to snag our diplomas, and Frears, he was still sweating out vodka, whiskey, hash, Christ, maybe gasoline, and then he had like a seizure or a religious episode or what have you, and I'm pretty sure he pissed himself.  It was awesome.  What's he up to these days?"

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

20: Present Past

[Gretel Bosch; fifth entry]

July 9, 2006

God, this sucks.  Isn't that what the kids say?  This sucks, that sucks.  Alcohol withdrawal definitely qualifies for the category of sucking.  It's actually more dangerous than heroin withdrawal.  I'm tapering off, of course, not going cold turkey.

If I had a subject on the slab right now, I might vomit in his chest cavity.  I never spewed once on the job, unlike all three of my brothers.

But, back home, somebody (probably at least two people) has taken it into their heads to drill a cylinder all the way down through the coffin in Shanie Derfford's grave.  I can only imagine how puzzled they'll be by the sample they obtain.  Of course, being criminals they won't be in a position to use the evidence to obtain an exhumation order.  But in Donnetown, written statutes have often taken a back seat to other interests.  So, it really depends on whom our amateur achaeologists are working for, or whom they approach.

I dropped my subscription to the Elegy years ago.  The only reason I know this even happened is because Shanie Derfford herself called me.   Rather upset.

I told her to lose my number, and hoped I wouldn't remember the call.  But, I did, and it nagged at me.  Hence my current near-sobriety, my tremors, pulsating headaches and cold sweats.  Oddly enough, fear doesn't seem to be part of the mix.  I was only drinking myself to death anyway.  (Very comfortably, too.)

As soon as my eyes and hands are ready for precision work, I'll update and upgrade my body kit.  Then it's off on a road trip; probably my last.  It's been fun reminiscing, but the present requires my attendance.

Friday, August 19, 2011

19: Huck and Jim

[Herbert Sorbet's booze-stained notes, sometime in 1987 (date illegible)]

Biathanatos River -- only maybe 20 miles navigable.  Deep enough, broad enough for two kids on a home-made raft to float in the middle.  Warm dark starry night, lights on the banks distant.  Almost no commercial traffic since Taft administration.

River earned its name in 1699 (? check).  Fat naked bodies like a raft of logs, moonlight shining on white backs.  Davidt Franck (Davey) and Maarten Rooms didn't know anything about that.  D's in History, both of them.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

18: Stone Baby

[Gretel Bosch; fourth entry.]

May 31, 2006

Aggie Kleug was a big woman. I wasn't surprised to hear she lost her life in a three-legged race. Not a coronary, though -- it was another cannon incident. (That was a bad Founders' Day for a lot of people, not just her. They almost stopped doing the Eighty Years War living history thing after that. But the kids loved it.)

I used to like to poke around in there a little. I felt something in Aggie's peritoneal cavity. Do you know what it was? It was a lithopedion.

Sometime during the Truman administration, Aggie'd had an ectopic pregnancy. Fetus died at let's say six months along, based on my estimate. Fetus, too large to be absorbed, was slowly calcified inside Aggie's ample abdomen. Unborn, undiagnosed, unmissed for 35 years while her son Dietger (the one that didn't die inside her) grew up to handle the books at Blackgall Creamery.

I was young and still had ethics. (This was only '83.) I called Vern Dorn, and he came over and smiled like Father Christmas when he saw the stone baby. And nothing happened officially, but he had me put the lithopedion in a box and he gave it to Dietger Kleug.

Dietger took his brother or sister home and had it sawn in two, mounted in clear Lucite blocks. Bookends. I don't know how that could possibly be legal, but in 1983 in Donnetown, if you held the books for Blackgall, you did what you wanted, when you wanted to.

It was just me that day at Bosch & Sons. Papa and the boys were out getting blitzed (I always volunteered to work on Founder's Day. I didn't drink then.) Vern Dorn took my notes and told me not to tell anyone. And I didn't, ever. I had some awe of the M.E. and followed his instructions, right up until a few years later when he was begging me to stop cutting and I didn't stop. But now it's just me and you, Diary, and Mr. John Walker here.

Speaking of diaries and such. Dan Cant's personal journal said the Kleug will was one of the oddest he'd ever seen. No details.

A couple of years later Dietger's internal carotid blew out like a rusty pipe and drowned his brain in blood. I went to pick up the body and sneak a peek at his bisected calcified sibling. I took the bookends down and just let the World Book Encyclopedia spill off the shelf.

I couldn't see much internal anatomy; you usually can't. But there was a little round dot of gold showing in the middle of each half. Right in the thorax. I'd guess the broken-off end of a gold hatpin, circa 1948. So we've got a fetus undiagnosed and unmentioned, but maybe not truly unknown.

If you can figure out what the truth is. Shit like that came up all the time on that job, and I miss it sometimes. I can barely cut a stack of pancakes lately.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

17: Core Sample

"I don't mind the heat so much, now it's finally July." Mathilde Clerval took off her goggles and wiped her forehead. "Ninety degrees was just obnoxious when it was still June."

"You mean yesterday."

"Right you are, Toots."

Bernie Wicket looked around. Nobody else was in sight among the stones and monuments at Tolling Bell Cemetery. But, he couldn't help feeling they were a little conspicuous. He'd felt that way ever since they hauled the big motor-driven core sampler onto Shanie Derfford's grave.

"We should be doing this at night anyway. I'm pretty sure it's illegal."

"Hey, the gate wasn't locked."

"I mean it's illegal to take a core sample of somebody's grave without some kind of permit."

"Maybe it is, Baby, but would you rather dig her up with a pick and shovel?"

"No, but maybe I really should try for an exhumation order."

Mathilde laughed. He liked her laugh, a lot, but didn't want to show it at the moment because the situation bugged him. "You really don't think that's a good idea?"

"Baby, in this town? Doesn't work that way."

"That's what I keep hearing."

Mathilde pulled the goggles into place. "Okay, this bastard's going to make some noise." She pulled the line, and the four-stroke engine started. "Let's get it down four feet and core this dead bitch."

Sunday, April 10, 2011

16: The Donnetown Devil

[Excerpt from Deaduns: The Donnetown Devil and Other True Spooks of the Southeast by Rutger Frears (Barrow Press, 1989)]

In 1971 I was in the midst of my postgraduate studies at PPRU. In May of that year, the tracks appeared overnight in the fresh-laid concrete in front of the just-built Cornucopia Market. The store's owner, Marjorie Bundt, insisted on having the affected portions jackhammered and repoured, but before this was done, my contact at the Elegy got ahold of me.

I was down to the place in five minutes. (That first Cornucopia, the chain's flagship store for many years, was a stone's throw from campus. This proved convenient for generations of stoned PPRU undergrads with the munchies.)

I took photographs [facing page] and even got the construction foreman, Albie Grosser, to carve me out a three-foot square piece of the concrete.

Back on campus, in Bosch Perception Lab (in Antoniette Bourignon Hall, before it was moved to its dedicated building off the Quad), I made plaster molds of the tracks. Based on those molds, and as the artist's conception on Page 151 shows, what we were dealing with, what was causing so much mischief in its near-nightly visitations, was a very roughly humanoid creature, one which traveled, with remarkable speed and stealth, by squatting and leaping like an enormous bullfrog.

The indentations in the soft, drying concrete were left by its four-toed webbed feet (digging in as it launched itself with powerful legs), by the grotesquely cartoonish four-fingered pseudo-hands terminating its short forelimbs -- and, surprisingly, by its enormous testicles. The fact that every single set of tracks included these clearly deliniated impressions indicates a ballsack of both heroic proportions and inspiring ruggedness. I always pictured the testes bouncing like street hockey balls in a chamois purse.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

15: Deaduns

[Excerpt from Samantha Mead's Foreword to Deaduns: The Donnetown Devil and Other True Spooks of the Southeast by Rutger Frears (Barrow Press; 1989).]

The previous edition of this work engendered such a flood of letters as rarely befalls a publisher of Barrow Press' modest size. In order to forestall a second deluge, the publishers have asked me to stipulate these points:

1) "Spooks" refers to ghosts, haints, mysterious creatures, or supernatural visitations, and not to African Americans. Rutger Frears' failings did not include racism.

2) Neither Barrow Press, the estate of Rutger Frears, nor I have made or intend to make any legally actionable statements regarding the veracity of any of the accounts of alleged events to be found in this book.

3) Do not seek logical consistency between the covers of this tome. Yes, we are aware that many of Mr. Frear's statements contradict many of his other statements.

4) Yes, Rutger Frears is legally dead. This was settled in May of 1985 in a hearing attended by Mr. Frears' family, featuring testimony from James County Medical Examiner Vern Dorn. This followed on the discovery, in the Cornucopia Market frozen food section, of Mr. Frears' lungs, liver and lower jaw.