The History of BigBoobenstein (Including Why I Took Out The Dumpster Fire Ending)

by Jeff O’Brien

Back in 2002 I was something of a scenester. The term “hipster” wasn’t really being thrown around back then but “scenester” certainly was. Looking back, I suppose it was the same thing. It was a term applied to someone who spent the majority of their nights either playing at rock clubs or just hanging out at them with all the other bands and fellow scenesters.

The term was always taken as an insult; no one would ever admit to being a scenester – just like the hipsters of today. I was also an “emo-boy” since I played in a band called Starla, and was skinny with a mop of emo hair on my head. That moniker, I wore like a badge of honor. Still do.

It was a different time. You could still smoke indoors at most public places. My Nokia brick phone was considered fancy. The majority of my porn was still watched via VHS. If you wanted random hook-ups but didn’t want to be social you had either Craigslist or Friendster. Maybe even MySpace if my memory of the time serves me right.

Certain derogatory terms now almost universally frowned upon and deemed as hate-speech were thrown around freely in most circles. Now, before you go getting the wrong idea, I’m not including that last bit with even the slightest hint of nostalgia. I’m embarrassed and ashamed that some words ever even came out of my mouth. I’m just painting a picture of the setting, and for good reason. Unfortunately, some of the ignorant, privileged male mentality hadn’t been fully shed and outgrown by the time BigBoobenstein came into print.

Anyhow, the point of this exposition is to bring you to the place where BigBoobenstein was unknowingly born. Well, maybe not born. In 2002 I’d at least been impregnated with the seed, and it would take eleven years for the monster to come to term.

I was friendly with a group of metal musicians who formed a comedy-gimmick band called Foam n’ Mesh. They dressed as redneck truckers and sang filthy songs. One in particular was a song called “Big Boobens Time” (sp). I misheard the title of the song as “BigBoobenstein” and felt like quite a fool when I told the band – in front of a large crowd of people – that I thought the song title was the greatest song title ever.

This sounds like a minor faux pas, but in such a shallow crowd where everyone is young and superficial and trying to be cooler than the next person, you get your balls busted something fierce when you misspeak like that. It feels almost like wearing a Misfits shirt you got at Hot Topic and being asked by a real punk to name three Misfits song and you can’t do it. I mean, I know every Misfits song, so I don’t know what that’s like. I’m just a shitty writer trying to get a point across, okay? I know how outdated that analogy was. Anyways, the point is that the ball busting in this case lasted many months.

Roughly eleven years after all that, a good friend from back then named John Davidian – whom the book is dedicated to – messaged me one day and said something to the extent of: “Hey, dipshit. Remember that time you said BigBoobenstein instead of Big Boobens Time in front of all those people? That shit was hilarious. You should use that as a book title.” In 99.999 out of 100 cases in which people suggest things like that to me, I ignore them. About two months later I was uploading the book file of BigBoobenstein to Createspace and anxiously awaiting my proof copy.

Strangely enough, in the time between me sending that file and the book making it to print, I found myself sitting before a psychic with my now ex-wife – at her behest. I had zero interest in such an affair, nor would I ever pay to experience it. But there I was.

The psychic told me that my next book would be “the one”. She didn’t specify what she meant by “the one”. She didn’t say it would bring me great fame and riches. She didn’t say it would sell 100,000 copies either. So I guess for once a psychic was spot on with their predictions. But she was also accurate about my next book being “the one”. I’ve written over twenty books, and BigBoobenstein is the only one to crack a hundred ratings on Goodreads. So I guess it’s the one.

It was also a book that spawned two sequels and what I had hoped would be a fourth, which instead turned into four short stories that are now all compiled along with all three books in BigBoobenstein: The Complete Saga, also know as BigBoobenstein: OmniBUST Edition. It’s also the only book of mine to spawn a puppet. But more on all that in a bit.

So…what is BigBoobenstein? Well, for those of you who haven’t read it – and I know there are many of you – BigBoobenstein is the tale of Adelaide De Carlo. Adelaide was 19. She was one of those kids who graduated high school and did not have college in her future. In fact, it didn’t seem there was much future in her future either. She had friends, but that was about all she had going for her. She was broke. Lived at home. Had an abusive, scumbag boyfriend. Hated the way she looked. Hated herself. Had zero self-esteem and overcompensated. Smoked and drank fiendishly.

So, in answer to the question “What is BigBoobenstein?”, the answer is that it is my most truly autobiographical book to date. To elaborate on that any further would be purely solipsistic. There’s a bunch more meta symbolism in the book too that I think is super fascinating, but I guess if David Lynch doesn’t explain that shit then why should I? I’m supposed to be writing this as a means of convincing you to buy the damn thing and read it. Not to summarize it. Maybe if I shut the fuck up there will be hundreds of YouTubers making 5-hour-long videos about the meaning behind BigBoobenstein twenty-five years from now. Why am I even flapping my big fat gums?

Anyhow, without getting too specific and telling you the whole story, BigBoobenstein is a tale of beauty. Yeah, I just called my own work beautiful. FIGHT ME! It’s a tale of hitting rock bottom, fucking yourself up to the point that your very vessel is broken beyond repair, giving up entirely, and somehow rising up when you shouldn’t ever have been able to do so.

But it’s not that simple, you see. And anyone who has lived this tale knows it. Rock bottom is a scary, desolate, and dangerous place. And while it is possible—though very unlikely—to rise back up from it, should you succeed in doing so, you aren’t the same person on the trip back up that you were before the crash. Without explaining my art and demanding that you appreciate and comprehend the sheer and utter brilliance that it is, what I mean to say here is that BigBoobenstein is an inspirational tale.

And now, the sequels…that no one really liked. I know…they are not deep and poetic and meaningful like their predecessor. Thing is, I was 100 percent committed to writing them that way. And why the fuck would I write them any other way?

Have you ever hit rock bottom and successfully turned your life around and succeeded in rebuilding yourself far beyond your own or anyone else’s expectations? And if so, did you then make the conscious decision to fuck your life up again and do it all over just for the sake of adventure and experience? Of course you didn’t, ya’ big dingus. You appreciated the beauty of the world and the people around you. You savored and cherished those things. You enjoyed your new freedom of being able to be lighthearted and fun and overly sexy. Just like the sequels.


And sure, there is some tragedy in both Groom of BigBoobenstein and Daughters of BigBoobenstein. Such is life. But after rising back up from unfathomable depths you take those tragedies and you take those close to you and hold them closer and you go forth understanding the importance of love better than you did before. For fuck’s sake I wrote the most beautiful saga to ever feature a talking, shit-drooling, anthropomorphic hernia and porn-obsessed bridge trolls and horny Martians and undead strippers and all you people care about is… wait…I don’t know what it is you people care about.

As I write this I realize I’ve let my ego completely take over. What lies have I been living all these years? I’m so lost in my own asshole that I can’t see the world around me. When Silent Motorist Media asked me to write this I thought I was some kind of interesting wordsmith as deep and dark as the chasms of Moria. I now realize I am merely another mediocre white man with a computer who can’t even come up with a decent Tolkien reference on the fly. Fuck. Hold on, I’ll be right back.

Hi. I’m back. I just had my wife do that thing with the paddle board and the hot sauce and I’m feeling much better. Now I will discuss the dumpster fire of an ending the original printing of BigBoobenstein had, and why I took it out.

In 2013, when I started writing the book, I was far from the same person I am now. In short, I was the kind of person who thought that ending a book with a man getting raped by a group of trans women is funny and/or shocking. At that point in my life I hadn’t actually met or spoken to a trans person, and had given very little thought to the idea of rape culture beyond simply believing that rape is wrong and hating it very much. I was plain ignorant. But in the following years, with all the brilliant and amazing writers and artists and poets of all cultures and walks of life I’ve come to meet, that ending I once thought was so funny and clever began to seem less and less so, to the point where I took all the BigBoobenstein books out of print until I could figure out what to do. I had to decide how I was going to be able to promote work that I’d poured my heart and soul into only to realize it was tragically/thoughtlessly flawed.

Do I just keep them out of print and pretend they never existed? Disavow them forever? Rewrite them? Add a disclaimer at the beginning of the book? Add a disclaimer at the end of the book? Well, obviously you know the answer already since it’s in the title of this post. I took the damn thing out and put a little note to the reader in its place.

The very reasons I was advised against doing this were the very reasons I finally did it.

No real artist changes their work to please other people.”

No real artist is true to themselves if they worry about offending so and so.”

Political correctness is killing comedy!”

Yeah, I heard all that shit. And the kind of people who say those things are the kind of people that brought Adelaide De Carlo to the point of jumping off a bridge (Not really a spoiler – just sayin’). Adelaide wasn’t allowed to grow because of people who feared her growth. They wanted her simple and basic, kept on a low enough level that they could appreciate her and hold power over her in their limited capacity to do so.

The art of comedy is suffering the same fate from the same “PC CULTURE IS KILLING COMEDY” morons. Actually, no. I take that back. Comedy is doing just fine and evolving and growing as it should. Just because some basic dudes created a fake war around it doesn’t mean I have to buy into that shit.

If altering my work turns those people off and away from it, then holy shit! What was I waiting for!?

BigBoobenstein is about finding utopia in a world full of alt-right fascist scum and toxic masculinity. It’s a book about fighting all the things I hate. BigBoobenstein is my utopia. Just because I fucked it up the first time doesn’t mean I can’t rebuild it, alter it, and make it better and more welcoming with fresh, new life. After all, that was literally the whole fucking point of the book to begin with.

Reading in the Age of Facebook, Analytic Philosophy and Political Insurgency

by Phoenix

It is my goal to engage with literature, philosophy, science, books. I would argue that reading is always important, because it gives us a range of ideas to work with and apply to real life. It is a space to think about things. I feel a lot of the great philosophers and writers were able to help their readers achieve this. This includes the importance of contemporary literature and research. There is so much to learn.

But in the age of Facebook, sometimes it seems as though ideas, and the importance of good ideas, has been emphasized less and less. Many people have left and are leaving Facebook, and I think that it’s partly because of a deep dissatisfaction, the failing of social media to enrich our lives. I hope that those people that leave are certainly staying off the grid, and reading good books.

We know that there have been political implications to Facebook. We know that Facebook is a political tool, just as any, and it would seem to me, that Facebook has changed the way that we disseminate ideas. Especially with the fake news phenomena and clickbait, it is easy to believe things that aren’t true, because they are so readily available. You could say this about the Internet in general, but I think with the rise of social media, this issue has increased in severity.

I would argue that Facebook can still be useful, of course. I would describe it as useful for writers, expressing their ideas in a specific medium. This is what I have learned, and it is why I use Facebook still, though I use it for different reasons, than people that just want to post memes and fake political news.

So the irony for me, is that I think Facebook is useful for conveying ideas. We may not always know how those ideas are disseminated and spread, because of the very specific algorithms that Facebook uses, but there is a potential to discuss important ideas on Facebook, in the most concise way possible, via creative writing.

But of course, I would have to argue, that Facebook is not an alternative to reading. We still need to read good books, whether classics or contemporary literature. We need to be able to engage with the great texts of civilization writ large, including the East and other provinces, and we need to know what is going on in the world of publishing today.

Another subject that might seem unrelated but is not, due to its impact on culture, is the strange elitism of analytic philosophy, and that paradigm. Analytic philosophy, as I understand it, is the dominant mode of discourse in philosophy academies.

I don’t think that there is anything wrong with analytic philosophy in a broad sense. I think analytic philosophy is important for providing a different perspective. But often, analytic philosophy is technical and specific and exclusive, and while you get this in Continental philosophy as well, it seems more pronounced in the analytic tradition, because they aren’t generally focusing on the immediate questions of humanity.

Maybe this is my bias, but I would argue that if you want to be a philosopher, you have to read all texts in philosophy, the way that many podcasts that focus on philosophy have been able to do. This includes reading texts on pragmatism, structuralism, semiotics, phenomenology, existentialism, and many other texts and movements.

In the age of analytic philosophy, it’s easy to provide too much attention to what could potentially be seen as smaller problems due to their technical nature, because they do not deal with the immediacy of human life and the human condition. Even Derrida, with all the frustrating jargon that he uses, is still writing about language, and how language affects us. I think this is important, even if we are not always aware of it. And being aware of this is political.

I learned from Bret Weinstein that the political landscape today is complicated, due to our evolutionary background, but also due to what could be called, political insurgencies. The way that I understand it, people in 2016 did not vote for the candidate that best represented their values, but rather, a candidate that would help the voters confront the political system. This was a gamble, and we have certainly seen the consequences.

I wanted to be concise and call my article, Reading in the Age of Donald Trump. I wanted to call it this, so it could help me focus on my many grievances of our current system of government. I am always hesitant to talk about politics, because it’s so emotionally charged and there is so much at stake, and though I think it’s important to speak out, I also want to be reasonable in the things that I say. But what we saw with Donald Trump was very problematic, especially when we think about how the whole movement was predicated on anti-intellectualism and promoting falsehoods.

I would say that it is very important to read in a political climate that is so very chaotic, that doesn’t make sense, and that skews our understanding of human nature and human society. I think any book that you read would be infinitely better than watching Fox News. It’s obvious that, like Facebook and other platforms, people were only talking about things that would reinforce their biases.

While I would say that biases are not always bad, I would have to say that they can still be misleading. I don’t think that it’s bad to dislike or even hate our president, but I do think that it is problematic to predicate your entire worldview on what one system of government does. This is because my general thesis about reality is that it’s open ended, that we are creative, and that we can endlessly problem solve if we are willing to.

All that said, I do think that reading is an alternative to being inundated by the callousness and cruelty of our current president. But the irony is that what you find out while reading, whether learning about Chris Hedges, or reading a history of political philosophy compiled by Leo Strauss, or reading Howard Zinn, is that the world is indeed a very complicated place, and there have always been nearly insurmountable problems.

When I think of Howard Zinn, for instance, I think of what he described as the bipartisan consensus, which is basically the consolidation of power in government. What this means for me and for my understanding, is that it really doesn’t matter who is president, whether a Democrat or a Republican, because the voters are still out of touch with being able to affect change, because of the separation between members of society and the government officials. He describes how Jimmy Carter, a progressive, was not any more conservative in his policies than somebody like Ronald Reagan or George Bush. I think this is an important point not when thinking about somebody like Donald Trump, but when thinking about how politics often works.

I have been drenched in political theory, and I have learned a lot because of it. I have learned that establishing government is very complicated, because it changes so much, and there are so many differing views of important aspects of life such as human nature. Our view of human nature definitely affects the type of people we vote for.

Now with all of this said, I do think our political insurgency here in America, has highlighted some of the cruel practices that America has always had, from the very beginning. For instance, Obama, one of the most beloved Presidents of our time, repealed Habeas Corpus, and was violent with drones.

Donald Trump has been criticized as being a president that only cares about the rich and making the rich richer, and while this is very cruel and seemingly true, there is a sense in which when you are reading somebody like Howard Zinn, you realize that it’s much more complicated, because tax cuts, for instance, have always been given out to the rich, but not the poor. Howard Zinn describes how veterans who had shrapnel in their legs or were injured in the call of duty, were basically told by the government that they could go back to work and live without social security, not taking into account their service or their injuries and pain because of service.

I think at this point, you can see the importance of reading, and having a philosophical and literary basis for viewing the world. For me, the goal has always been to see more clearly. I think it’s important to have an opinion and a perspective, even if it is a strong one. But what you don’t want to do is let your perspective eat itself up and eat its own tail, because if that is what your perspective does, you cannot really affect change.

If you work hard to try to see the bigger picture and not just say the first thing that you think of, seeing clearly will allow you to establish your beliefs even stronger, because you have a specific framework from which to work from. Reading provides that basis, it allows you to work on facts and narrative, while also strengthening your opinions and perspective.

This is why reading is important to me. On a very personal and specific level, I am crushed by what I’ve seen happen politically over the past couple of years. I am heartbroken over the kids in cages, of the way that we treat immigrants in this country. Despite the fact that this is a very politically charged issue and that I am not fully educated on it, I still feel that what has happened in that specific case, is wrong and wicked.

But there is a lot that I have been unable to do or to say about it, some of which is because of our sharp left and right partisan distinctions. In politics, it’s hard to call an evil an evil, and actually be heard, because of all the noise.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t affect change through knowledge, and for me personally, I also do it through writing. Writing gives me a mechanism by which to express my ideas, and I can do that, because I read. So for instance, in the book I am writing called X, I narrate a character, a kid, who was in a kind of migrant camp. With a rich literary tradition to draw off of, I was able to write about this character, and provide nuance to what I am feeling and to what is happening politically in our landscape.

Of course, I know that choosing to be contemplative versus impulsive is very difficult. Impulsivity is not always bad. Sometimes you have to express your anger, you have to express your dissatisfaction, you have to express your hurt. I don’t want to take a moderate position politically, nor do I want to be pushed to the fringe. But I do want to express the value of reading in an age where it seems as though our opinion doesn’t matter, and that we can’t change things politically.

We know that ideas change things, and change society. While we may not be certain how ideas work, they do spread, and if we can express patience, gratitude for life, and a demonstration of knowledge, all of which comes from reading, we can help disseminate good ideas. Part of the academic life is refining your ideas, so that way they are more accurate and more humane, it has always been the importance of something like self-criticism, which reading allows.

So I would say: Facebook in and of itself may not be an evil, analytic philosophy in and of itself may not be elitist, and with our political insurgency, there may still be hope for the future. But you can come to a rich perspective, by reading books, and by thinking about these things.

It is important to read, as I see it, because it provides that nuance that I am talking about. In the world, there is a place for immediate action, but there is also a place for contemplation, and that is why, no matter how crazy the world gets or seems to us, we must continue to search for truth, and we can do that through reading good books.

Phoenix is a prolific writer, and has written over seventy books, and published more than fifteen. He actively engages with the world through his imagination, and seeks to inspire others with his writing, no matter how dark or raw it might be. He always hopes to make a connection with his readers. Also a musician, Phoenix lives in Salt Lake City, and engages with the world as fully and as passionately as he can. Find Phoenix at

A Musical Stroke

by JL Mayne

Have you ever seen anyone who has had a severe stroke? Part of their brain starts dying. They lie there, staring at you, wondering what in the hell is going on inside of their head. Part of them tries to talk to you, but all that comes out is a jumble of words and maybe a bit of spittle. You, the outsider, don’t know what is going on either. You watch in agony as they are in agony, trying to make sense of it all.

You watch as the doctor comes into the room and tells you that this nightmare is going to require surgery, and that the surgery needed requires a specialist. You watch as the doctor walks away, and you wonder why they are walking away, you wonder why they aren’t on the phone that very instant, getting that specialist here so that everything can be ok. So that your father can be fixed, so that the miracle of science and medicine can meld into one and repair whatever it is that’s broken.

After it’s all done, after that specialist finally arrives and drills a hole into the side of their head, relieving the pressure, fixing what can be fixed. Now that eighteen hours have passed and the damage is more than it should have been, and you wonder why in the hell they weren’t there, why they couldn’t have been bothered to come sooner. After all, isn’t that their job? Their job to be there? To fix?

Now you cope.

I’ve been in a bad mood the last few days. I’ve heard that men’s hormones can cycle the same as women’s and right now I’m wondering if it’s my time of the month. I’m wondering if I’m just looking for things to be upset about because those chemicals racing in my brain don’t know how to make sense of anything at the moment.

I usually listen to an audiobook on my commute to and from work. Currently It’s book 11 of The Wheel of Time. The heroes just got done decimating a horde of monsters with fire, lightning, and one way gateways to the abyss for the monsters passing through. Perfect for my mood.

On my way home today, I didn’t feel like listening to the drone of the narrator. I blasted Infected Mushroom. A nice balance of rock and electronic with heavy bass. My subwoofer pummels the music into my body, making me feel it. I scream the lyrics, nonsensical noises forcing their way past my vocal cords for the parts I don’t know.

And I love it.

Growing up, I listened to whatever my friends were, or whatever my dad was. He lived and breathed music. It was his gateway drug. He listened to everything from Enya to Black Sabbath. For a picture once, he had the kids all scowl around a rock, crossing our arms and making the devil horns with our pinkies and index fingers like DIO.

He had a poster in his room of the DIO devil standing over a child’s bed, posing the same way we did in our picture. Tentacles slithered from under the bed and other monsters riddled the room while the child slept. My dad always said the devil in the background was actually an angel, watching over the child, making sure that she slept well. She looked a lot like my younger sister.

He used to stay up all night playing his guitar to the sultry sounds of his goth metal. Gothminister, Switchblade Symphony and others. For a time he even wrote songs. A surprise for some of us, and a release for him.

When people would ask, I would tell them I listened to all kinds of music. Then I’d remember country. I was never a big fan of country, but a few bands and songwriters were ok; Johnny Cash, but who doesn’t like him?

I mostly listened to 90’s and early 2000’s punk rock like Blink 182, Yellowcard, and any other band my friends were listening to. We’d stay up late talking about the music and burning CDs for each other of whatever new punk band we could get our hands on. My friend used to tease me about being just like the wannabe in the song Pretty Fly by the Offspring. And I loved it. And I’d listen to the bands my dad did. Rammstein, and Gary Numan. Man did Gary change over the years.

I’d listen to songs when I had a crush on a girl and just wanted to think about her. Imagining my teen self with whatever girl I decided I liked at the moment. I’d listen when my dad was a particularly exceptional douche. And then I’d fall to sleep listening to the tapes of Enya he made for me. Fall asleep the next night listening to the opposite side of the same tape, switch the tape to another Enya album he’d copied, flip it, rinse, and repeat.

I got the call after my dad was already in the hospital. I was at home with my wife, my now adult brain didn’t know what to do and went into auto pilot. I called my boss and told him I wouldn’t be in for a day or two. I drove to the hospital and found my siblings all sitting in the stiff-cushioned chairs of the waiting room. They told me what had happened, that they were all at my grandmother’s where my dad also lived. They sat on the couch waiting for him to come downstairs.

When he finally did, he couldn’t talk. He just groaned and fell onto his face in the couch cushions, drooling and trying to make sense of it all while the ambulance sped to pick him up.

I sat with him in the hospital, lying to him and to myself that it would all be ok. That they’d fix him.

He lived. The specialist finally got there and fixed him best he could. He was paralyzed on his right side. He moved to a nursing home where he would live for the next two years.

I’d visit when I could, taking my wife and my new son. Forcing my kid to give his grandpa a hug even though my tiny monster didn’t want to, even though his grandfather was now stuck in permanent grumpy-ass mode.

After a while, after we realized that he didn’t have the will or strength to get better, we started to accept it. I tried not to. I gathered up all of his old CDs and spent hours putting them onto an MP3 player so that he could listen to them. So that he could have some semblance of normality within the white walls of his room.

I got the songs ready and took them to him, and he yelled.

All it does is piss me off! Piss me off, PISS ME OFF!”

I took the songs with me when I left.

I didn’t go back as often after that. Almost never as it wasn’t often to begin with. That was the real point I knew he’d die there. He had even given up on his music.

Two years after he entered the double doors of the home, I got a call saying he didn’t have long to live. I drove to see him.

Another death came, an unexpected one. Another close relative in that awful place. Right next door to my father.

My siblings and I stood in my father’s room. He could no longer talk. We didn’t know if he knew we were there.

My brothers and sisters, grandmother and aunt went home and I sat; sleeping and watching him, occasionally talking to him. I breathed in the stink and listened to him struggle for breath.

The nurse came in and asked if I wanted him to take some morphine. We both knew it would kill him faster, but he’d die in less pain, he’d die with that slight high the morphine drip provided.

I nodded my head and she gave it to him.

I held his sweat-drenched hand, telling him it would be ok. I watched as his breath slowed, and he finally took those last gasping breaths, whispering to him that it would all be ok.

I still listen to that music. Still reminisce the nights I’d fall asleep listening to Enya. I still have his copy of Birthday Massacre, and all of the CDs he made of his own. The songs he poured his heart and soul into. I still search for new music I can listen to, and love, and scream at the top of my lungs.

And I love it.

Potential to Haunt by Nicholas Day

I’ve a story for you about the recent Hill House adaptation and a place I used to live and why I have trouble sleeping if Mystery Science Theater 3000 isn’t playing on the television.

This is a ghost story.

I do not necessarily believe in ghosts, regardless of the following confession or the scar I have but mention no further or the dreams or the sounds I heard or what I saw that last day in the house I once lived.

And I had managed to bury all of that, nice and deep, until recently. Not a total surprise, mind you. I moved on, in life, and moved out of that house, long ago.

The connection—why I play Mystery Science Theater like a lullaby—I hadn’t consciously made until last week. That’s the mark of any good piece of art, though, isn’t it? Good art is capable of giving the audience a bit of reflection, however unintentional the end results may be.

You see, my wife and I decided to watch Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix. Social media feeds buzzed incessantly with talk of the program. Some responded to the horror, to the ghosts who haunted the backgrounds and the edges of the frame.

Other people seemed to respond to the familial plot, the drama surrounding grief. Besides, the book resonated with me, personally, and I thought it would be interesting to see how the material mutated from Shirley Jackson’s slim novel to Flanagan’s 10-hour program.

Funny, then, how I rarely found myself thinking of the book. Instead, I found myself remembering what it felt like to be trapped.

Why don’t they just leave?” my wife asked.

The question is often levied at protagonists in these haunted house stories. But, like any bad relationship, it is never that simple. You are legally bound and, unless you happen to be rich, you have a loan which dictates that you keep up the relationship.

Hotels are expensive. Moving costs a lot of money. A friend’s couch is only available for so long. And have you ever had to look at someone and tell them the reason you don’t want to go home is because your house terrifies you?

I’m here to tell you that, overwhelmingly, your friends and family . . . do not believe you.

Back home you go, to the dark, to the cool spots. If you are lucky, the sounds don’t start right away. You are allowed to settle in and turn on some lights. If you are lucky, you can fall asleep before you start hearing things that you cannot explain.

But not upstairs! No, you will never sleep upstairs, not ever again. In fact, you haven’t slept in the master bedroom in almost six months.

I am getting ahead of myself.

In early 2011, I purchased a renovated two-story home in St. Louis, Missouri. I cannot say whether or not the place had been haunted before I moved in or if I had dragged the ghosts into the house with me.

At the time, my personal life was obliterated. I drank, heavily. During the day, I worked in the funerary industry as a monument dealer. Every day put me in touch with someone who lost a loved one. Every day I found myself in any number of cemeteries. When I went home, at night, I spent most evenings with a cat and a dog. As my personal life continued to dismantle, it was eventually just the dog and I.

Several months passed without any fanfare to speak of. The routine solidified and I stuck to it: wake up; shower; open up the closet door and grab a suit; off to work; wrap up the day and buy vodka; back home; suit in the closet; eventually fall asleep. Weekends were usually spent in the company of family or friends. I wrote a novella during this period of time, Necrosaurus Rex, so those weeks weren’t a total waste.

Then, I found myself startling awake in the middle of the night, usually around 3AM. I dismissed these events as simple nightmares, like any sane person. And it wasn’t as if I hadn’t experienced bad dreams, before. Often, I would immediately fall back asleep, and that was that.

But the dreams didn’t stop coming and they only got worse. I began waking up, screaming, soaked in sweat. The dreams were vivid: I was always in some part of the house; something, a child, or a child-like thing, would be hiding just out of sight, and would run at me if I dared turn my back.

The last of these terrors, I dreamed that I stood in the master bathroom in front of the mirror, shaving. I saw, in the mirror’s reflection, that child-like thing sneak into the bathroom from behind me and it ran its hands up my back.

When I woke up, screaming, I could still feel those hands.

My eyes adjusted to the dark and I could see, across the room, that the closet door stood open. That I was being watched from the darkness therein felt a certainty. The space between my bed and the light switch may as well have been a thousand miles.

I made it to the light switch, but kept going even after I’d turned the light on. I went straight down the steps. Whatever light I passed by I turned on without a thought. And I sat in the living room until the sun came up.

I stopped sleeping upstairs after that. I moved my clothes from the master bedroom to a spare bedroom and I only ever went into the master bedroom during the daytime. The couch, downstairs, became my new bed. I only ever went to the second floor to change clothes.

The screaming and night terrors ceased. In fact, I never had another once I began sleeping on the first floor. But, shortly after, the house made itself threatening in other ways.

I’d woken up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. Amusingly, I had an audience; both cat and dog sat just outside the bathroom door and watched me from the hallway. I’m chuckling to myself when I hear footsteps coming from the ceiling, as though someone were running down the upstairs hallway.

House settling,” I remember telling myself. Then it happened a second time, and this time both of the animals noticed it and stared up at the ceiling, too. The dog even growled, a little.

Back and forth, upstairs, from the master bedroom to the top of the steps, an unseen something ran. And I couldn’t move. I sat there for a long time, long after the sound had stopped. My legs were numb by the time I managed to get up and go back to my living room. I lay there on the couch for a long time and listened to nothing.

A couple nights later, I woke up to the sound of footsteps coming from the stairwell. The first floor was an open plan, so you could see from the front of the house straight to the back of the house. Of course, that was only during the day. At night, it was like looking into a cave.

The cat arched its back and growled into the dark. About then I decided to turn on all the lights. Another night of little-to-no sleep.

This went on for a while, but it became clear that the activity never made it past the stairwell, and rarely manifested anywhere but the second floor. I decided that whatever walked up there could walk by its damn self, and I’d keep to the first floor. This is the part of the relationship where you find yourself making concessions.

Sleeping with the lights on proved difficult, but more than anything I wanted to drown out the noises, so I turned on the television and put on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. I found that if I let that play, then sleeping came easy. Lucky for me, some beautiful soul loaded up episodes into a playlist on YouTube, enabling me to sleep clean on till morning.

And though I have no such fear presently, I still find myself putting on episodes of MST3K before I retire for the night. I’ve done this, now, for so long that I had forgotten how the habit began. Watching Hill House brought it all back to me.

Trauma, like ghosts, manifests in ways that are not always apparent and, like ghosts, are mysterious, however integral the manifestation is to one’s specific narrative.

I put the house up for sale, soon after. I didn’t have anywhere in particular to go, but that didn’t matter to me any longer. The concessions were exhausting and the relationship was over.

The last time I was upstairs was also the last time I was ever in the house. I had saved the master bath for last when it came time to pack up. Like any bad break-up, you save the worst stuff for last, right?

I knelt on the bathroom floor and taped the last box shut. To my left, I saw a shape, like a child, run from behind the sink and into the standing shower. I did not stop to investigate.

I stood up, box in hand, and walked out of that house.

Ghosts, like the fantasy spirits of Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House, are not something I necessarily believe in. At least, not in a way that lends itself to outright superstition. Yet, I cannot explain much of what transpired in my own home. And what I’ve relayed here is a truncated version, at best. The tale won’t be made any better by telling more. Knowing that I was terrified, I think, ought to be enough.

I’ll end this by quoting the opening of “Snow Like Lonely Ghosts,” which was the first story of mine to see print and an homage to Jackson’s Hill House. Though the tale is pure fabrication, the sentiment reflects my own:

Nobody can deny the existence of ghosts if they possess that thing called a memory, wherein the mind recalls voice, appearance, and even action. Everything that has come before has a potential to haunt… as long as one remembers. And if one is moved emotionally, or their actions easily swayed by memory, by history – because everything that has come before is history, or memory, thus ghosts – then the dead are busy at work in our living world. Many people are haunted for their entire lives, and remain so until they die. Then they have no more room for secrets and become – themselves – a memory. A ghost.”

Memoir in Woodgrain

Memoir in Woodgrain

by Gregory Von Dare

Old desk in a second-hand store beckons to me. It is dented and chipped, slightly warped, worn smooth and shiny on top from much human contact. No one can tell me who owned it, where it came from. Like a book in a foreign language, the desk has stories to tell but they are hidden, encoded in wood and varnish. Too subtle for a quick glance.

Desks like this one were made of real wood, not sawdust pressed into boards by giant dusty machines somewhere in China. They were crafted from walnut, cherry and teak. The trees held a story of where they had grown, soaking in moisture and rustling in the breeze, bending their stout limbs under the force of a heavy downpour or monsoon. Each ring in the woodgrain marks another year of life; some good some bad.

This old desk is constructed from dense boards of oak, the hardest of hardwoods, the monarch of trees. Squirrels and birds once frolicked ebulliently in its branches, feasted on the acorns it supplied. Until one day a team of men cut it down, perhaps with a long saw that rasped back and forth as the lumberjacks pushed it through the trunk, reducing nature’s pillar to a fallen resource, a commodity, an object no longer alive. They didn’t think of themselves as murderers, but harvesters.

Did you pass your days in a small, windowless garret or in a big loft, with light streaming in and the clamor of a large city outside? There aren’t many clues here in this resale store, among all the slack and worn clothes, the chipped plates, the odd colored glass from a passed generation.

I open the center drawer and a whiff of cedar drifts out like an escaping djinn. There are blobby ink stains in the bottom of the drawer; at the back, a tarnished penny caught in a crack. Also some yellowed confetti, where a punch has pierced bond paper. Made three perfect holes so that pages may be snapped into a folder; or fixed with brass brads, binding a manuscript that was sent to an agent who reads it while eating a hot pastrami sandwich on rye—with extra pickle.

A side drawer hints at floral perfume. Was this once a woman’s desk? Perhaps, a woman hoping to get respect for her talent as she pecked-out romantic novels, or a busy mother raising children on her own against all odds. It might have been a complacent housewife, paying her bills every month and keeping scent hidden in a drawer against the days her lover came to call. It might have witnessed shouted quarrels, tears and apologies. Or it might have seen a wife, a brilliant and beloved woman, die in the prime of life and the husband—shocked, shattered and nearly mad with grief—exiled her possessions, too bereft and wounded to behold them any more.

This battered old desk might have stood at the center of a political movement, a nest of radicals, certain they could and would change the world, only to disband six months later when the money ran out, or the police arrested their leaders on false and ridiculous charges. A desk like this one would have served many owners, lived many lives.

I take out my wallet. I want this old desk. Want to add my story to its anthology of love and loss.

Von dare

Gregory Von Dare is a writer and dramatist specializing in forward-leaning theatre and fiction, often with a humorous or ironic twist. He attended Chicago City College and the University of Illinois. While living in Los Angeles, he worked for Universal Studios, Disney, Armed Forces Radio and Fox Sports. He was dramaturg and head of the Directors Wing for the Classical Theatre Lab in L.A. Recently, his fiction appeared on the Soft Cartel, Out of the Gutter, 50 Word Stories, Rejected Manuscripts and Horror Tree websites. Greg is an Affiliate Member of Mystery Writers of America and a member of the Playwrights Workshop at Theatre of Western Springs. He now lives outside Chicago where certain people will never find him.

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