Thomm Quackenbush, author

11.07.04 12:46 a.m.

Honesty can be cultivated by transforming your inner language. For example, you might think: "I am no good" or "They are not good." Is this true? For some strange reason, people want to wallow in the idea of being either the best or the worst. What is true in this moment? How close can we get to the reality of our experiences?  

-Martine Batchelor

 



Previously in Xenology: Dave was a rock star psych professor. Xen liked scaring children.

Haunted

One by one, places that I have come to understand as personal sanctuaries turn quite impersonal. Maybe this is the ravages of slight aging; one cannot rest in the structures built in one's youth.

The Haunted Mansion has ended for the year. I meant to write, but nothing would happen worthy of note, though I egged it on with my barest urges. The Mansion, which once held the potential for the deeply mystical; the place where I touched a ghost; the place where my relationship with Jen had its foundations; the place where the end of my friendship with Nick found its foundations, is no longer a place where I have a niche.
Corpsy McCorpse  
My only friend

I arrived soon after it opened for the year, fresh from a day at the library. I was greeted by old faces, who patted me on the back and rushed busily away. Finding the girl in charge of casting, I asked for a part and was told I would be the librarian. I took this as some divine teasing, that in a place of demons and corpses, I am nothing more terrifying than a librarian. Only the first night was it suggested that I wear any part of a costume. Every other time I arrived and was assigned the library, I was told that my street clothes were costume enough. When, I ask you, did even my clothing betray what I do to pay the phone bill?

I settled into the room, too tiny for my liking. A young boy described to me the technology that would soon exist within the room. He could clearly imagine it all perfectly and cloaked it in allusions to horror movies. I knew without evidence that the room would progress no further than books cruelly sliced in half and glued to the plywood walls.

When he left, I wandered through the Haunted Mansion, setting off far too many traps to seem like a consummate and veteran professional at this scaring game. Aside from Kevin McCurdy's tour a month ago, I had not come to know any of the other rooms and their charms nor did I have the floor plan secure enough to guess where a secret passage would land me. I did not realize that first night that I would never come to have an opportunity to remedy this ignorance.

It seems that the other workers get younger and more impudent every year, the Mansion intensely lacking in any sort of retention of anyone with a driver's license of their own. I would like to believe that, while young when I began to spend my October nights within these grounds, I was better than them. My scares, at worse, were yelling. I did not deign to drool as a means to frighten, as I know the difference between provoking horror and disgust. Perhaps this is the pedantic mumblings of an old man in a twenty-three years old's body, but we did it better in the old days.

Strangers  
They sat in my chair. Bastards.
I was cast with one of these workers my second visit, though she (a rare female) did not try to harass people with her bodily fluids. She was a shy and quiet girl (neither condition conducive to much enjoyment at the Mansion) dressed in a maid's uniform. It fit her poorly, being designed for a girl four inches shorter and fifteen pounds lighter. She said not five words to me until the first group came. I directed her just to play along and wake me up from the faded pink chair in one corner. She nodded mutely. The group came in and I began ranting about the eccentricities of the libraries architecture, as it should have been built five times as large to accommodate the grand piano that would allow one to open the secret passage to the auction room (where the plot of the Mansion actually begins). There could be no grand piano in such a tiny space, so I couldn't open up the passage. As such, I needed everyone in the group to crowd together and pretend to be the missing piano. "And," I added, "you will do it because I told you to and you have no other options." If they disagreed, I made them jump up and down to amuse me.

When I had gotten everyone out of the room, the maid returned and cooed that I was very good at that.

I smiled and told her it was only because I had done this sort of things before. I don't actually consider my ability and inclination to torment paying strangers to be prodigious or unique, except by proximal comparison to the drooling ghouls.

She did not come back another night or, if she did, she was never assigned to be my assistant. I don't need one, as the room was tiny and the shtick needs to be flexible enough to accommodate the technical difficulties in the adjoining room. Besides, I am crotchety. It isn't that I wouldn't have welcomed help, if only for the company that it would bring. Spending the night alone among recorded screams, the only human interaction coming from periodic groups of people you are supposed to scare over the din, provokes the strangest melancholy. I found myself truly wishing one of the patrons would actually stay behind and be the replacement for the maid that hung herself in the hallways just before my room. No one ever did stay.

Leelee  
This has nothing to do with anything.
When the Mansion ended each night, I seemed to vanish. I would take down my hair and I wouldn't be the scary thing that was worth listening to. I wasn't much of anything. Even the long time veterans who would call me by name when I arrived were indifferent to my presence. I would approach them and croak a hello, my voice exhausted from reciting an ever changing dialogue thirty times an hour for six hours. They would grunt and turn back to conversations I had interrupted. I just want to feel wanted or that I am not a commodity replaceable with the next fifteen-year-old whose mother consents to let him be abused for six weekends a month.

Things were so different before. That first year, I had Jen, Nick, and Coley to support me. We would work together, or in adjoining rooms. We would chat and taunt the ghost of the Mansion. The following two years I had Katie until she decided that the Mansion - and subsequently, I - took up too much of her weekends. One day, I had Emily, until some drunken frat-tard attacked her and she lost interest. I no longer have anyone there. Those that remain and who have been there as long as I have no longer work as actors, opting for headsets and tech jobs.

I do not feel the charge I once did when I spent the night terrorizing children into crying and large men into using their girlfriends as shields. Perhaps my time in the dim light of the Haunted Mansion has reached its close.



Boned

Xen and Nikki  
Meatwad gets the honey, see.
Bone, Dave's band, was playing a gig at the Rondout Bay Marina and Bar. It is every bit as exciting a venue as it sounds, catering more to those docking their boats than those seeking a bottle of beer. It is on the waterfront, obviously, and is secluded from polite civilization by metal yards for mile on either side. Tina and Stevehen were vocal that we were lost up to the point we found it, though this could have been exacerbated by our having been lost in Kingston for half an hour.

We arrived to Nikki, Dave's girlfriend, greeting me in a maid's outfit. Of all the people I had seen so dressed, the outfit looked least ridiculous on her. Stevehen, Tina, and I were not wearing costumes. Nikki gave me a grateful hug. Dave's band had been upstaged by a bar up the road offering $1000 for the best costume, she explained, and our arrival had nearly doubled the number of customers in the bar.

Bone was on stage already, each member wearing clashing costumes - a Rastafarian, Space Ghost, a pig man, and a pirate. The costume pieces would migrate by the end of the night, creating Rasta pigs and pirate ghosts, but this would not be for a while.

Dave  
Space Ghost: Coast to Coast
Tina, Stevehen, and I found an empty table, though a tougher task way finding a table that wasn't. I was impressed that Bone was giving it their all for a crowd that could have dwarfed a meeting of agoraphobic bubble boys. I would have been tempted to play a short set or not do anything too challenging if I were in their shoes, but this might be why I was never a member of a band. That and I gross lack of musical talent when not in the shower.

We sat, largely mutely given that the music was still set to eleven to attract the crowds by land and sea, and watched them play. There were complimentary bowls of Halloween candy, which I slowly depleted instead of drinking. When Bone took a break, the Pigman occupied the empty seat at our table and began to speak with Tina until Stevehen returned with their drinks.

"I thought you said they weren't a cover band," Stevehen accused me.

"They're not, they merely have a broad repertoire that involves some songs you may have heard other people sing. Totally different than a cover band. No two songs are from the same group, after all," I reasoned, breaking a peanut butter cup into eighths for no particular reason. To prove my argument, Bone's next set featured a medley called "Smells Like the Safety Dance" wherein Nirvana blends rather surprisingly into Men Without Hats. No one can question the skill of any band that can manage that feat.

No one.



Soon in Xenology: Estrangement. An election party. Angela's circles. Nude free spirits.

last watched: Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town
reading: Yeats's Ghosts : The Secret Life of W.B. Yeats
listening: Underdog Victorious
wanting: Not to have to student teach.
moment of zen: Watching Space Ghost rock out.
someday I must: attend another Bone concert.

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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