Thomm Quackenbush, author

" Little Orphan Annie

The Unveiled Woman "

11.05.07 11:28 p.m.

Dark One, hear me, I am mad with visions. Eaten up by separation, I wander from place to place covered in ash and clothed in skins. My body is wasting all because of you. Distraught and desperate, I go from forest to forest. Immortal and Unborn One, visit your beggar. Extinguish her pain with your pleasurable touch. Mira says: "End this coming and going. Let me forever embrace your sweet feet."  

-Mirabai

 


Black Wings and Sylvia Plath

Emily was not emotionally prepared for Samhain, the Pagan holiday honoring the dead, so we opt to have Halloween instead. She waited until the last moment to decide what we should do to honor this holiday of disguise and sugar, letting the task fall into my lazy hands. To my surprise, there is a dearth of fun, seasonal activities for anyone over the age of fifteen in the Hudson Valley. As I had requested the evening off during the first week of school, I wasn't about to waste my Halloween ignoring the bratlings in the dorms. That left us to go to New Paltz to try to make the best of what would otherwise be a wasted evening of candy-fueled snogging.

This is not to say that Emily condescends to wear anything like a costume for Halloween, dressing nicely and normally. While I wear something involving both skulls and metal hooks, in addition to a velvety jacket, nothing on me constitutes a costume either. I simply have a different perception on what constitutes normality.

We arrive just after the annual parade ends, as most of the crowd slowly pours into the narrow backyard of the Bakery to inspect the pumpkin carvings. Emily and I had not intended to look at these but, in trying to get into the Bakery to accomplish our first objective and find Jacki, the throng forces us in that direction, so we make the best of it, oohing and aahing at the rather cleverly mutilated gourds.

Outside again, we see Jacki's estranged lover Kevin, clad in black wings of a fallen angel. Ordinarily, given that he broke her heart months ago and I had to help her find some of the squishier pieces under the bits of furniture she had to move out of the house they shared, his presence would have been willfully ignored in misguided fellowship with her. However, Jacki had warned me that he would be there and made me promise that I would not punch him in the face, literally or metaphorically. Emily was quick to point out that she had made no such vow, but this was not a loophole I imagined Jacki was eager to have me exploit. He had apparently realized the egregious error of his ways in dumping her so unceremoniously, citing that they were so different, and now sought to win her again and do his sincerest to make amends for the sin of taking her for granted. I remained unconvinced and suspicious of the reconciliatory gestures she described over the phone to me until she further explained that he had worked for weeks to buy her a French Sylvia Plath publication that was so rare as to not be listed in any bibliography Jacki had ever seen. One hundred were made during Plath's short life, ninety six or so made it to the public, far fewer survived the decades. I insisted that this book still wasn't enough and I wanted her to be careful, but I was impressed. It was hardly a bouquet of flowers that would be seeing the dumpster inside of a week, but rather something that showed the keenest awareness for the priorities of my darling Jacki. That he worked for this item of contrition added several underscores to his find.

Given the warning and promises I made, I greeted him as nicely as I could, as though I had forgotten the vulnerability of Jacki's heart bruise and the months when he was an unwitting bete noire. Emily followed suit, always better at maintaining pretense than me, and we asked him to direct us to her.

Once before our objective, I search Jacki, dressed in a yellow sweater and a skirt, holding a book. "What are you supposed to be?" I finally ask once I have given up all hope of arriving at the answer on my own. I doubt she is a 1950's housewife, especially as she had previously made mention of having to give a blonde wig a haircut.

"Sylvia Plath," she answers with her customary puckish grin, holding up a copy of Ariel and a can of oven cleaner to hearken to our favorite poet's suicide by gassing. I still insist that it was intended to be an attempt, a cry for attention not caught in time by a tardy maid, but history does not back my interpretation.

I hug her shoulders tightly and purr, "Never before have I so much loved someone... dressed as Sylvia Plath."

Emily smirks from her seat at the table. "I wasn't sure how you were going to end that."

I take my own vacant seat. "Well, it is technically true."

Joann, next to me, is dressed in a skirt with a calendar on it and yellow dishwashing gloves.

"Who are you supposed to be, then?" I asked, watching Emily playing with the platinum blonde Plath wig Jacki refused to wear, petting it like a pupal Cousin Itt.

"I'm Anne Sexton," she assured me. I had thought she might be a bit frosty toward me - Jacki had likewise warned me that Joann was suffering from the pangs of her own heartbreak and did not take kindly to men at present - but she was friendly as usual, to the point of good-natured flirtation. I therefore further accept her proclamation, until she corrects that she really is not dressed as anyone, just a mish-mash of objects she found.

"You should have gone with it," I chide her, "I would have believed you. Just tell me the calendar apron is some sort of allusion to her poetry and I will stupidly nod. Really." I would have and was prepared to; I only know Plath's poetry well enough that I alone caught on that the button on Jacki's lapel quoting "The Mad Girl's Love Song" had one word wrong. This sort of thing impresses literary women, but is otherwise a pedantic talent at best.

Outside the unisex bathroom later waiting for Jacki - as I still titter that Kevin looked at a pile of rubber intestine and exclaimed, "That's offal!" - I score a more obnoxious lit points by knocking on the door and yelling, "We should have loved a thunderbird instead, they are faster in the bathroom!" Jacki comes out and casts an annoyed, but amused, look my way that says, "If I didn't happen to like you so much, I would absolutely murder you and stuff your body in the crawlspace."

We make our way to the first of the two haunted houses we will be visiting this evening. The wooden playground in New Paltz, one of those awesome ones with castle spires and broad boats, is wrapped in black plastic like garbage bags as if by Christo, turning it into Die Pfaltz. Condemned to suffer the plague, the volunteers writhe and moan, threatening the guests with all manners of curses and threats. Outside, there is a man playing with fish guts and acting quite mad. As a nice bit of authenticity, the fish guts are real and reek. I found the house hilarious and adored it, talking with the amateur actors. The high points for me - aside from Emily clinging to me as though any of this was going to be scary - are the burning witch who could keep up with my affectionate jabs and the large silver dragon constructed entirely of oven supplies. When its head comes near me, I shout to its handlers, "Sylvia Plath is behind me with some cleaner. She'll sort you out."

Our next haunted house is at the teen center and I do not imagine it will be quite as good and so am not disappointed. They charge us, though the man taking admissions assures us that he doesn't much care but takes our $2 each. We wait in line behind Bo Peep, I reflecting how much I love women dressed as storybook characters. Halloween is something of a boon for something with such proclivities.

We begin commenting that Emily could have easily gotten in as a teenager at a reduced rate, leading me to suggest that she should be Lolita from Nabokov's eponymous novel next year.

She considers this. "How would we do that, exactly?"

"The book says you will have to be four foot ten in one sock, so we'll just write that on one sock," I reason.

"I have about six inches on Lolita," Emily boasts.

Not missing a beat, I say, "I would, too."

Jacki rolls her eyes and Kevin just laughs, earning him a few more points. I will, of course, need an original printing of some exceedingly rare occult and/or literary work to tender him any more praise than that, but I do like someone who so quickly laughs at the banter Emily and I share.

I can understand Kevin's position. It must be horrid to realize that you have made a grave error, that you have cast aside an amazing woman for reasons even you can't make total sense of anymore and now have to run through a gauntlet of your own devising to feel worthy of her again. You lose sleep over what her friends and loved ones now think of you, if they need to be gently reminded not to punch you in your treacherous nose because they have always known how marvelous the woman in question is. The anxiety terrifies you more than any teen wearing bad face paint in a haunted house ever could, because it is a cage you constructed with your own carelessness and selfishness, because you were so wrapped up in your internal melodrama that you can't see the pain you are causing to the person who should otherwise shine more brightly than any star in the heavens, enlightening every moment of your day in ways beyond your comprehension. Now that she is considering taking you back, slowly learning to forgive and trust you again, every beautiful second you ever spent together, every sleepy Saturday breakfast and moonlit kiss takes on an edge of fearful urgency because you nearly gave them up forever and lost the person who completes you as no one else ever has. Or so I imagine.

The volunteers at our final haunted house just wear masks and shout truly random things. Having done this sort of thing more than a few times and better conditions, I am prepared for them to jump out and push myself to the front of out small group to protect Emily from the element of surprise. I am less prepared for a thirteen-year-old to pop out and scream "You stink!" I just stop and stare at him. The poor boy didn't even have a rubber mask, just a stupid top hat. "I stink? Really? That is the absolute best you can manage? Just... just scream next time, kiddo. No words," I lecture him. He does not seem to appreciate my well-intentioned advice.

I knew we should have found a Hell House so at least we could learn the evils of premarital sex and drug use, or maybe witchcraft and poetry. Or we could visit the world of pain poor Kevin may think he is in for, but his demons may prove even less substantial than pubescent imps in nylon cloaks and, from an outsider's perspective, certainly less terrifying. He will come through the darkness of the house and into the night air again, with Jacki at his side.

Or so help me gods, I will have to punch him in the nose.

Soon in Xenology: Officiators

last watched: A Scanner Darkly
reading: The Night Listener
listening: Mirrormask

" Little Orphan Annie

The Unveiled Woman "

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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Works by Thomm Quackenbush

The Night's Dream Series

We Shadows by Thomm Quackenbush

Danse Macabre by Thomm Quackenbush

Artificial Gods by Thomm Quackenbush