“Dead-Wood”–A flash of perfection by Joe Hill, 2017

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Dead-Wood

Joe Hill

It has been argued even trees may appear as ghosts. Reports of such manifestations are common in the literature of parapsychology. There is the famous white pine of West Belfry, Maine. It was chopped down in 1842, a towering fir with a white smooth bark like none anyone had ever seen, and with pine needles the color of brushed steel. A tea house and inn was built on the hill where it had stood. A cold spot existed in a corner of the yellow dining room, a zone of penetrating chill, the exact diameter of the white pine’s trunk. Directly above the dining room was a small bedroom, but no guest would stay the night there. Those who tried said their sleep was disturbed by the keening rush of a phantom wind, the low soft roar of air in high branches; the gusts blew papers around the room and pulled curtains down. In March, the walls bled sap.

An entire phantom wood appeared in Canaanville, Pennsylvania, for a period of twenty minutes one day, in 1959. There are photographs. It was in a new development, a neighborhood of winding roads and small, modern bungalows. Residents woke on a Sunday morning and found themselves sleeping in stands of birch that seemed to grow right from the floor of their bedrooms. Underwater hemlocks swayed and drifted in backyard swimming pools. The phenomenon extended to a nearby shopping mall. The ground floor of Sears was filled with brambles, half-price skirts hanging from the branches of Norway maples, a flock of sparrows settled on the jewelry counter, picking at pearls and gold chains.

Somehow it’s easier to imagine the ghost of a tree than it is the ghost of a man. Just think how a tree will stand for a hundred years, gorging itself on sunlight and pulling moisture from the earth, tirelessly hauling its life up out of the soil, like someone hauling a bucket up from a bottomless well. The roots of a shattered tree still drink for months after death, so used to the habit of life they can’t give it up. Something that doesn’t know it’s alive obviously can’t be expected to know when it’s dead.

After you left—not right away, but after a summer had passed—I took down the alder we used to read under, sitting together on your mother’s picnic blanket; the alder we fell asleep under that time, listening to the hum of the bees. It was old, and rotten, it had bugs in it, although new shoots still appeared on its boughs in the spring. I told myself I didn’t want it to blow down and fall into the house, even though it wasn’t leaning toward the house. But now, sometimes when I’m out there, in the wide-open of the yard, the wind will rise and shriek, tearing at my clothes. What else shrieks with it, I wonder? ~

– Joe Hill, from the Subterranean Press Newsletter, February 2005

Art by Vincent Van Gogh

Current Read: The Isle, A New England Gothic Novel by John C. Foster! (Chapter 1+Link)

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Chapter One

“I need you to bring back a body.”

Bone decided to drive off the end of the pier, but his foot had already slipped from the accelerator to the brake, a betrayal so automatic that the opportunity was missed before he could seize it.

Wind leaned against the hearse, rocking it on its springs as he sat and considered his orders. He considered corpses and the function of the vehicle he drove. He considered the drifting nature of his movements since the accident and slid out of the hearse before the spiral became inescapable, a long man wearing a black raincoat and fresh facial scars.

Dawn was a red rim of anger on the horizon as the storm gathered its strength and the wind tried to rip the door from his grip. Waves detonated against the rocks with loud explosions of white foam, the ocean matching the swirling fury of the storm clouds overhead.

“I need you to bring back a body.” Marching orders. He looked away from the hearse, remembering the last time he had seen such a car, freshly waxed and gleaming in the October sun. This one was dirt-streaked and hunched against November. He thought it more appropriate to its function. The Atlantic beckoned to him, and he touched the change in his pocket, thinking about coins for the ferryman.

“Some sonofabitch is standing out on North Pier,” old Vic said from the window inside the cramped Dock Office. His big-knuckled, arthritic hands were holding a bulky pair of binoculars he had owned since his time in Vietnam, and he adjusted the focus to see better.

“Yep,” the dock boss said from his perch at the rickety metal desk. The white paint was mostly gone and salt air had rusted the legs, but it held his ledger, dock schedule and overstuffed ticket book—he was a demon for writing tickets—and worked “well enough” as he liked to say about anything that didn’t need change. “Bastid asked to charter a boat out to the Isle.”

Vic turned away from the window with its view of fishing boats bobbing at anchor in the small bay. “Ain’t no one fool enough to run ‘im out there,” he said.

The dock boss leaned over and spit a mass of phlegm and tobacco juice into the Folger’s can he kept on the floor for just that purpose.

“Could be I mentioned that, and could be that’s why he’s standin’ over there on North Pier waitin’ on the Isle boat herself.”

Vic returned to looking out the window at the slim, black figure waiting alone. “Well I’ll be. Is that his hearse parked out there?”

The front door banged open just then and two fishermen bundled inside. “Gonna get big weather today,” a bearded fisherman in a thick sweater said as he headed over to the coffee pot and poured dubious-looking sludge into a Styrofoam cup.

“What you looking at?” the other newcomer asked, nicknamed Babyface for the obvious reason.

“Fella wants to charter a boat out to the Isle.”

Babyface and his partner exchanged looks.

“Isle folk are awfully jealous about their waters,” the bearded man said.

“Ain’t no one fool enough to run him out there,” Babyface said.

“If another body repeats that phrase, I believe I will shoot him,” the dock boss said, spitting a wad that rocked the Folger’s can. The bearded fisherman glanced in the can and gave the dock boss a nod of respect before taking a sip of coffee.

“Jesus Christ, this is awful,” he said, frowning at his cup.

“Second pot,” Vic said, and the other man nodded. The dock boss was in the habit of using coffee grounds at least twice to save money.

“Say,” Vic said as Babyface held out a hand for the binoculars. “What’d he want out there?”

The dock boss shrugged. “Didn’t rightly say, but he showed me a badge. A Federal badge no less.”

“FBI, DEA?” the bearded man asked as he put on a new pot of coffee. The dock boss ignored him.

“So you get a man with a Federal badge, which means he’s carryin’ a Federal gun, and he shows up drivin’ a hearse. Ain’t too hard to jump to a certain conclusion,” the dock boss said, not entirely sure what that conclusion was but enjoying the expressions on the faces of the two younger men.

“If Old Jenny gets her teeth into him, this Federal man might be finding himself in the back of that hearse on the return trip, badge or no badge,” Vic said.

“Yep,” the dock boss said.

“Yep,” the bearded man said.

Babyface surrendered the binoculars and echoed the common wisdom. Hell, everybody knew to avoid that stretch of the Atlantic. Boats that didn’t had a habit of not returning to port.

“Yep.”

Link

“Hunters in the Snow”—A Short Story by Tobias Wolff, 1981

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Hunters in the Snow

Tobias Wolff, 1981


Tub had been waiting for an hour in the falling snow. He paced the sidewalk to keep warm and stuck his head out over the curb whenever he saw lights approaching. One driver stopped for him, but before Tub could wave the man on he saw the rifle on Tub’s back and hit the gas. The tires spun on the ice.

The fall of snow thickened. Tub stood below the overhang of a building. Across the road the clouds whitened just above the rooftops, and the streetlights went out. He shifted the rifle strap to his other shoulder. The whiteness seeped up the sky.

A truck slid around the corner, horn blaring, rear end sashaying. Tub moved to the sidewalk and held up his hand. The truck jumped the curb and kept coming, half on the street and half on the sidewalk. It wasn’t slowing down at all. Tub stood for a moment, still holding up his hand, then jumped back. His rifle slipped off his shoulder and clattered on the ice; a sandwich fell out of his pocket. He ran for the steps of the building. Another sandwich and a package of cookies tumbled onto the new snow. He made the steps and looked back.

The truck had stopped several feet beyond where Tub had been standing. He picked up his sandwiches and his cookies and slung the rifle and went to the driver’s window. The driver was bent against the steering wheel, slapping his knees and drumming his feet on the floorboards. He looked like a cartoon of a person laughing, except that his eyes watched the man on the seat beside him.

“You ought to see yourself,” said the driver. “He looks just like a beach ball with a hat on, doesn’t he? Doesn’t he, Frank?”

The man beside him smiled and looked off.

“You almost ran me down,” said Tub. “You could’ve killed me.”

“Come on, Tub,” said the man beside the driver. “Be mellow, Kenny was just messing around.” He opened the door and slid over to the middle of the seat.

Tub took the bolt out of his rifle and climbed in beside him. “I waited an hour,” he said. “If you meant ten o’clock, why didn’t you say ten o’clock?”

“Tub, you haven’t done anything but complain since we got here,”

said the man in the middle. “If you want to piss and moan all day you might as well go home and bitch at your kids. Take your pick.” When Tub didn’t say anything, he turned to the driver. “O.K., Kenny, let’s hit the road.”

Some juvenile delinquents had heaved a brick through the windshield on the driver’s side, so the cold and snow tunneled right into the cab. The heater didn’t work. They covered themselves with a couple of blankets Kenny had brought along and pulled down the muffs on their caps. Tub tried to keep his hands warm by rubbing them under the blanket, but Frank made him stop.

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