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08.12.02 11:53 p.m.

Not buying lemonade from a lemonade stand makes me feel empty inside.

 -Matt P.  

Previously in Xenology: Melissa and Matt argued at Liz's house.

The Gospel of Matthew
A few days ago, on-line and again suffering acute writer's block, Matt IMed me and petitioned my company for a walk to Fishkill. As I was doing absolutely nothing and was decidedly unlikely to appear at some epiphany that would change that all alone in my room, I graciously accepted the invite. I had been trying to think of a way to talk with him alone, because I think he and I had a lot to share, but I didn't want to seem strange or make Melissa feel awkward since he is her friend first. Despite any camaraderie I may feel I share, I don't wish to offend or worry Melissa. We do remember how she reacted when she thought that M and I liked Evan better than her.
When he arrived at my house, he informed me that the plans had changed. Instead of walking into town to meet some of his other friends, he had a few hours to kill. As such, we ended up taking a stroll to the cemetery a mile away. Immediately, and to my joy, he began discussing his philosophy and worldview. I had not really been given much of a chance to quite figure out what he felt and believed. Every time he began to uncover his perspective on the world, Melissa was quick with a verbal jab and their long arguments would begin. In fact, a few nights before Melissa and he had come over to my home and, after watching a rather tame Ripley's Believe It or Not,
I really need a new picture of Matt.
had gotten into such a long argument during one of Melissa's smoke breaks that it eventually moved back into my room and Emily and I fell asleep listening to Melissa tell Matt how he is not properly managing his affairs. I believe the argument began with a discussion of Woodstock '99. Melissa's stance was that it was a great experience and created a sense of community. Matt chose to take the viewpoint that holding a reincarnation of a music festival centered on peace and love on a concrete military base was unintentionally sardonic and sick to the extreme. And no, I can't exactly explain how the argument changed so much. But it always seems to do so.
So, you can see why I wanted to get him alone. I am generally more passive in debates that are among several people (though when it is an argument between Matt and Melissa, it is nearly impossible for outside parties to get a word in), listening to what is being said and only interjecting when I have something of value or humor to add. This is just my personal style, because I am fond of analyzing people and their motives and cannot do that if I am busy stoking the fires. I had extrapolated from my prior encounters with Matt that he held largely liberal view and tended to be very distrustful of authority figures who assumed to know what was best for him.
As we walked, he calmly explained (without my having to exhort) how he felt about the world. I strolled silently beside him, save for the occasional word of agreement. He had been a friend of my older brother back when they were both sowing wilder oats, but he was generally rather taciturn then owing to using his mouth for other purposes. Plus, I had never wanted to be one of those clingy younger brothers simply because there was always a party outside my backdoor, so I didn't make a great effort to know Matt. He seemed like the sort of spirit with whom I rightly got along.
While walking, I spotted a white leather pouch lying by the road side. I picked it up, sniffed it in case it had been befouled, and put it in my pocket. Matt seemed almost impressed that I had spotted it (remember, this had been the day after I had my awareness lifting rollerblading session) and picked it up, insisting, "Damn, I had walked by this way and I didn't see shit." I smiled shyly and explained that I was always spotting things on the ground. When I was in elementary school, I was infamous among my peers and teachers for always returning from recess with a handful of four-leaf clovers. I insisted then that they were everywhere if one bothered to look. Though, given my speech at the time, it may have come out something like, "I thaw thome over by the thithleth." (By the way, when Emily reads that sentence, she will loudly say "aw!" and smile brightly.)
We arrived at the cemetery through the back entrance. Matt was impressed, as he had thought that there was only a rusting water tower there. He asked me as we entered what I thought it meant that the first grave his friend ever saw in this graveyard featured the friend's birthday. I shrugged my shoulders, thinking it was just one of those coincidences. We walked into the main cemetery and saw a rather twitchy man in a wife-beater translucent with sweat digging fixedly in the ground with a small spade. He saw us and greeted us in a hospitable, but paranoid, tone and inquired how we were. We said fine and picked our pace up a bit. The less we knew about what the man was seeking in the ground, the better for all concerned.
I motioned to the statue in the center of the graveyard and told Matt that there was a legend that it turned to look at one if one were in the cemetery after midnight when there was a full moon. I expounded that this was likely equal parts visual illusions caused by the low light levels and the adrenal fear caused by being in such an ominous locale at such a late hour. I wanted to see where his belief lay in the realm of the paranormal, and this seemed as good a touchstone as any. The several of nights earlier when we spent time together with Melissa, Pine Bush had been brought up. He stated then that, despite a disbelief that aliens are visiting Earth, he was completely terrified of visiting Pine Bush for fear that he would get abducted.
I have been realizing in the past week that I place a great value in my credibility. I joined or was subscribed to an e-list dedicated to paranormal events in an area of New York. I didn't mind the quantity of mail until I spied the quality. After having shared a few stories of mine about Pine Bush because the topic was brought up, I realized that this group is half full of complete idiots that cannot spell and yet fancy themselves government insiders who know all about supernatural cover-ups that would strain the realm of belief were they complete fiction. Things like orphans being abducted, trained, and killed so they could be sent back in time to be assassins. And others are discussing this gibberish as though it were real. As such, I feel that my narratives to these people, despite attempting to examine possible explanations and not jumping to asinine conclusions involving alien messiahs, are lessened by association. I want you (yes, you reading this) to have some faith that I am not about to lie to you or feed you a hyperbole to seem more interesting. I report on my failures as well as successes. But am I believed or considered a raving fool?
I wanted to show Matt, a definite naturophile, the view from the top of the cemetery. Showing a clear reverence for the dead (and the living that like not to be reminded that they, too, will share this fate), the cemetery is built on the side of a mountain, surrounded by forest. As such, the view from the topmost grave overlooks what I have been told is five counties, many other mountain in the range, and the Hudson River. It is the sort of view that is more experienced than seen. The sunsets from there make Bob Ross's corpse smile (or is that the decomposition? Oh, come on! I was in a cemetery, you expect my jokes to be fresh?).
Far too few pictures of good ol' Xen.
Behind the grave lay two paths into the forest. Technically, it is a circle, but not to the innovative. When I was much younger (actually around the time I was having an affair with Kelly and a few days after she gave me my first hickey), I discovered a bag full of dog feet at the base of the right path. I pretty much left immediately, because I had very little interest in being there if whomever did that to the dogs returned. A few days thereafter, the skinned and beheaded bodies of several expensive dogs washed up on the shore of a park in Beacon. No one mentioned the status of their feet, but I had a pretty good idea what could have been said. It was attributed to Satan Worshipers, I believe. All unexplained small town atrocities are in horror movies.
I was irritated to find that the paths had been cut off by metal guardrails and signs that read "No Trespassing" since I had last visited. As these signs were made of plastic stapled to wood, they were easy enough to dispatch with a well placed kick from my sandal. It is near sacrilege to say I am disallowed to enter the forest. There are floating graves to which I may need to pay my respects. Whenever I am confronted in a graveyard, I am always there to pay respects. I am very respectful. Except to No Trespassing signs.
We, having been freed of the scourge of the signs, entered the forest. I kept my eyes peeled for feral Satan Worshipers and feetless dogs. Neither made themselves apparent, which was wise on their parts. I may only have the physical strength to pummel plywood placards, but my bravado becomes clear in the presence of paranormal phenomena.
We quickly fell off the intended path to the floating graves. The term "floating graves" was a bit much for Matt until I explained that they were just randomly interspersed throughout the forest. Matt was ebullient to be able to be surrounded by so much largely unspoiled nature. I was a bit mournful that most people did not share his attitude, as I kicked a condom wrapper at an empty beer bottle. Really, people, there is a great deal more to our time on Earth than drinking and fucking. I know it seems hard to believe right now, but I promise. Though, if you are reading this, the chances are good that you know that already.
Ahead of us on the path, Matt spied a nide of pheasants. He commented in a perfectly reasonable fashion that, had he a knife, he would have good eating for weeks. I did have to respect that he wished to hunt his own food. He feels that one of the bigger problems with society is that we think our food comes from the supermarket and cannot connect it with the flock of birds before us. Food that is hunted is a great deal better, in his opinion, and one kill, properly used, can last for months. It is, at the very least, an honest ethic. It is more honorable that cows that are killed for one part of their leg or ass and then discarded.
We wandered though the forest for a while, just waxing on nature and society. It was relaxing and intellectual. It helped me to feel a little bit more substantial and rooted in myself. It reminded me that it was summer, something that I have evidently forgotten as I glided by on autopilot.
Before we left, I took him to see the stillborn graves. I used to openly weep seeing them, because I had always felt I was supposed to be one of them. As I think I have explained, I was supposedly dead in utero and, under the threat of termination, perked back to life. I don't think I would have even gotten a grave marker then. I would have just been forgotten, a mark on my mother's medical chart. As such, I have always felt that my entire life was in violation of Fate and that made everything so much more special. I was living on stolen time. A stolen life, almost. Everything I have done, everything that is different because of me, wasn't originally in the plan. Granted, it could have just been that the doctor's instruments missed a heartbeat, but this is the story I heard. Even if I hadn't heard the story, I think I would have felt this connection.
The markers are all tiny. Some of the letters have fallen off or faded away. The Virgin Mary that watches over these minute graves is a mass of chipping paint and broken plaster. In contrast to the attended-to, seeming newness of most of the graves, the babies are neglected.
Quite a few years ago, I briefly dated a very passionate girl who turned out to be crazy at that point in her life. As point of fact, this would be Sky, who I stole away from Kate long before I ever met Kate. I tell you this because she was the first person to whom I confessed my identification with the children in those graves. I felt a great deal for her in the moments we were together and I wanted to open up to her. Returning to these graves refreshed my memory of her and the letter I had written her a month ago but couldn't send (the e-mail address is no longer valid). I'll share it with you, instead.

Sky (are you still Sky or have you become Sara?),
It seems probable, if not totally certain, that this will not work. I have resigned myself to this likelihood, so I am largely considering this an exercise. This is [Xen]. I don't think it is overly optimistic to expect you remember me. I think I had a dream about you the other day. I don't recall an iota of it, dreams being ephemeral, I just awoke thinking about you. Don't worry, it wasn't in any scary way. Sort of the mental equivalent of a warm quilt, fresh from the dryer. I suppose this letter should have some sort of substance to it to induce you to write back, if you will indeed receive this (I am expecting it to bounce back). I think it is silly to have to start it this way, but given the terms under which we parted company lo those many years ago it seems prudent. I don't hate you (obviously, or I would not be writing this). I don't even vaguely dislike you. I think that, had we met today, we would likely get along famously. However, given that I am speculating quite a bit, we also might not. Our quarrel, if it can be called so, was largely that we were scared, confused teenagers dealing with things people should not have to and thus not the masters of our emotions (I defy anyone to show me a sixteen-year-old that can honestly be said to be the master or mistress of his or her emotions). Of course, I am speaking for myself and expecting that you find yourself stronger than you were as a teenager. By the way, I found this address by doing a search for "Sky Connelly" and finding a poem you wrote called "Ahhhh! (frazzled)" on It seems silly to try to catch you up on my life, assuming you care. Still, I will tell you a few things that I think might matter. I was very much in love with Miss Katie for two and a half years. For two years and three months of that, I was dating her. She left me because she... I think she wanted to be someone completely different and I became symbolic of her old life. As she said post break-up, I was why she got off drugs, stopped running away from her parents, and went to college. She reverted in many ways to who she was as a 15-year-old, only with the privileges of someone older and the support of self-destructive art majors. I am still very much her friend, though it may sound otherwise. There were just a few bad scenes after the break-up where I got hurt and still hurt. I am sure you can sympathize with seeing someone you love hurting his or herself. She is currently having a semester abroad in New Zealand. I think she is enjoying it and I very much hope she comes home with a stronger direction and sense of self. I do not want to be with her, but I want her to be truly happy. What else would be interesting to you? I run the Mid-Hudson Pagan Network. "Run" in the very loosest usage of the term. I plan meetings and keep them from one another's throat, but I don't have any sense of power over the members. It is their group, I merely serve a clerical role. I am currently an English major at SUNY New Paltz. I've been through numerous majors, seeking something to which I can apply myself without feeling think I am being suffocated. I hope to be a professor of English some day, but this may well change. To earn my meager keep, I am a library clerk. It is good, honest work and it helps to keep me humble. A few days ago, glowing because I had just returned from being a Residential Advisor for gifted students at Bard College and I felt more adult and responsible, I was cut down to size by a kindly, well-meaning old woman who said to my coworker in reference to me, "Oh, don't bother the little child, it is so good when they are applied to a task." My co-worker curtly informed said matron that I was fully trained and qualified, but my ego had deflated enough to return to terra firma. Well, this has been rather long for something I do not expect to be seen by other eyes. I hope against hope this reaches you well.
Anyway, may that letter eventually reach her, I suppose.
Matt and I, after dusting off a few of the graves and finding the oldest stillborn infant, set to discussing theology in the loosest of terms. He is some derivation of Mormon, in a way that seems reasonable. I tried to, unsuccessfully, tell him what I believed about thought manifesting reality and the like. However, it came out jumbled. I wished that I had Emily there to help me fill in the holes about Jung and creation myths. We work well in consort.
Matt walked me home and we parted with his word that we would hang out soon.

Soon in Xenology: A vacation in Lake George. Working at the Ren Faire. Playing at the Renaissance Faire with Wayne and Jacki and ded bob. Before Sunrise. Dezi's party: the band, trampolines, M falling on her head, car keys. Shooting stars. The Princess Bride.

last watched: Before Sunrise, Opus 'N Bill: A Wish For Wings That Work
reading: The Salmon of Doubt, Flashbacks
listening: Jesus Christ Superstar
wanting: motivation to come during daylight.
interesting thought: God is the space between you and I.
moment of zen: seeing Before Sunrise while lying next to M.
someday I must: find my own way.

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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