Tibbit Crow Girl and the Queen of Halloween

dedicated to the crows of Vancouver

Anyone will tell you, Halloween past is a far darker neighbourhood than Christmas past. The property values are lower and the sun never shines very brightly through the smoke of burning leaves and spent firecrackers. And it was once in the dimness of Halloween past that the Queen of Halloween cast her spell on the crows. Ever since then, the crows have never flown over a Halloween to serve themselves. Since the casting of that ruinous spell, the crows, on All Hallows’ Eve, have done only as the Queen of Halloween decrees and maraud on her behalf alone.

What is less well known is that the Queen of Halloween lives in a discarded refrigerator in an abandoned warehouse, off Terminal and Main Streets.  She often presents in the guise of an old woman, wondering back alleys by the light of the moon in search of bottles and cans and the occasional human soul. Other times, she’s a black coyote that feeds on children’s pets. Mostly, however, after dark, she will open the door of her discarded refrigerator home and emerge as a pale young woman of unrivalled beauty, dressed in a splendid flowing gown of ravenous cockroaches. And it is this ghastly writhing gown that is the source of her shadowed magic.

* * * * *

The Crow King walked the branches of the castle tree like a sea captain made mad by an unachievable horizon. His eyes, bottomless black, swallowing the dregs of chemical light at dawn. His coveted crown of shiny, found items askew. His fragile mansion on the edge of creation, tilting on the lip of a chasm. The Crow Court watched and pondered disaster.

“Bring me news,” he cawed, “bring me news. Fly out and bring back news. Find the Queen of Halloween and ask of Her demands. It is impossible to do bidding unknown.”

The flock surrounding him cawed loudly, a cacophony of assent. There was much flapping, bobbing of heads and shifting from side to side.

The Crow King’s Wizard sidled near to him with his scaled and talon feet, his taxidermy eyes too deep to be real, his told-you-so voice hissing like a maleficent snake. “Your Grace,” he rattled and cooed, “perhaps there is no bidding to be done this year. Perhaps this year we maraud freely over Halloween and take what we will to line our own nests. We have been Her slaves long enough.”

“Yes we have,” clicked the Crow King thoughtfully. “We have been her slaves too long, surrendering our plunder. But a spell was cast long ago and we still suffer beneath it. What is the remedy?”

“A child, I foretell,” the Wizard cooed. “One to challenge Her on our behalf. One to end the spell that holds us in thrall.”

“Who is this child?” the Crow King crackled.

“She sits in this castles tree, among us now,” clucked the Wizard with a conspiratory voice. “But none can point to her. She must fly as the flock flies and be divided by fortune. Only then can she face the Queen of Halloween.”

“Then let it be so. Morning breaks,” cawed the Crow King looking east. “It is time for us all to fly.”

And with that the inhabitants of the castle tree took to the sky, flying en masse toward the city.

It was a massive flock of thousands that flew into the city, blackening the sky and obscuring the setting moon before scattering to feed. The flock made a terrible noise as it flew, knowing it would wake the city below from its safe and contented sleep.

Tibbit Crow Girl flew among them, still young enough to fly at her mother’s side. And Tibbit’s mother preferred the grounds round the abandoned warehouses off Main and Terminal to feed.

“It be a good day to fly,” Tibbit’s mother cackled. “And I smell nuts and tender bits of carrion on the wind.”

Tibbit Crow Girl liked nuts and carrion just fine but also enjoyed the bread and seeds handed out by elderly humans all over the city. Devouring this free meal involved little effort and the elderly people seemed so pleased by her and the other crows. Of course the pigeons ruined everything with their gluttonous inhalation of the handouts. But occasionally, a pigeon would eat too much to fly away, and made delicious eating.

“Let’s land and see what’s to eat,” Tibbit’s mother cawed, and they banked away from the main flock and whirled and spiralled down toward the ground. They flew low over the busy intersection of Terminal and Main, over the speeding trucks and cars. And Tibbit’s mother cawed, “Be careful. Not too low. Watch the trucks.”

Tibbit had heard this before, however, and thought her mother worried too much. She’d seen other crows fly much lower than she ever did. It was a thrill and a good way to observe what tasty bits of food might be lying round on the ground. Tibbit flew lower that morning than she ever had before. She flew in and out of the traffic, laughing in the faces of the wide-eyed drivers.  Laughing, that is, until she was struck by a passing delivery truck.

The truck knocked Tibbit high in the air and she fell onto the sidewalk. When she hopped to her feet, she felt a sharp pain in her wing. Suddenly she couldn’t fly, and had a paralysing thought of the pigeons that ate too much to fly and what happened to them.

“Fool of a girl,” Tibbit’s mother cawed from overhead. “What will you do now? You be food for the rats.”

These were not the comforting and encouraging words she’d hoped to hear from her mother.  Tibbit saw the road that lead into the old industrial park of abandoned warehouses and began to hop toward it, looking everywhere for rats and humans with their big feet and unpredictable tempers.

After a long while of exhausting hopping, Tibbit was safe among the empty warehouses. There was no traffic there, only the occasional transient with a shopping cart. Tibbit’s mother landed next to her. “I can smell rats here,” she said. “They be watching us now. They be up on their haunches sniffing the air filled with the scent of wounded crow.”

“I will not be eaten by rats,” Tibbit cackled and cooed, hopping up a decaying wooden staircase. The staircase lead to a warehouse door that was opened just a crack. They both entered. It was dark and vacant except for a refrigerator. “I will take a corner here and fight all comers with my claws and beak. I will heal and fly again.”

Tibbit’s mother knew better of the plight of downed crows, how ill at ease a crow is when not in flight, how a crow should choose flight rather than fight. But she said nothing. She sidled about looking for something dead for the both of them to eat, but there was nothing.

The old refrigerator was an unfortunate 1960s shade of sky blue, and had a single door with a large handle of chrome and rust. Frigidaire said a rusting chrome name plate, hanging askew by a single remaining rivet. The refrigerator shook. Then it sat quietly for a moment, and shook once more. Then the chrome and rust handle was pulled out by an invisible force, and the door opened.

Inside, the refrigerator was completely black. It looked like a passageway into a dark incalculable recess. There was a cold wind blowing out of it as though it was still a functioning appliance. But it hadn’t been plugged into an electrical socket for decades. Screams, shrieking and human pleas for help could be heard on the cold wind emanating from within. And the smell was that of an animal so dead and far gone that even a crow wouldn’t eat it.

Tibbit’s mother hopped back from it and Tibbit sidled round for a better view. “What is it, mother?” she cooed.

“It be a human thing,” Tibbit’s mother cawed. “We should go. There be better places than this.”

Then there came a commanding voice from deep inside the blackness of the refrigerator’s interior, an evil, echoing voice. It said, “Who stands before the door to my bottomless pit without my permission? Speak now before I chew your souls in my mouldy mouth and swallow you into the abyss of my belly.”

Tibbit’s mother jumped back but Tibbit only cocked her head. “I’m hurt and in danger of being eaten by rats,” she cawed. “What difference would it make being eaten by a mob of rats or by you? I’ll fight you all and you’ll suffer for your meagre meal.”

Tibbit’s mother looked concerned when no reply came from the refrigerator’s dark interior. Then smoke began to spill from the derelict appliance, onto the floor. The smoke piled up and up into a column, and the column took on the smoky appearance of a woman. Finally the Queen of Halloween in Her grand and magical gown of cockroaches emerged and stood before them.

“Oh,” She said, wrinkling Her nose. “Crows. I’d hoped for something more interesting.”

“It be Her,” Tibbit’s mother reverently cooed. “The Queen.”

The Queen of Halloween walked around Tibbit and her mother, taking in the situation. As she did, her magical cockroach gown made crawling and clicking sounds.

“You’re the one,” Tibbit said. “The one who has placed a spell on the crows.”

“Really?” the Queen of Halloween said. “Am I? You must forgive me for not remembering. I’ve spun so many spells, it’s hard to keep track.”

“We are doomed to fly at your behest every Halloween night and place at your feet all that we find. It is a night of great treasure and we deserve to keep what we steal for ourselves.”

“Rubbish,” snapped the Queen of Halloween. “The rats, the bedbugs and all of the vermin of the world pay tribute to me on Halloween night. Why should crows be any different?”

“We are not vermin,” Tibbit cawed proudly. “We do not scramble about on the ground; we fly above the world and look down upon you.”

Tibbit’s mother felt fear but couldn’t help, at the same time, feeling pride in her daughter.

“I fly, too,” the Queen of Halloween said, and in a flash an ancient corn broom appeared in her hand. “It would appear, however,” She said to Tibbit, “that your flying days are over.”

“But you cannot fly faster than our flock,” Tibbit rattled.

Tibbit’s mother looked at her with a glint of worry in her dark eyes.

“You can try to out fly us,” Tibbit cawed. “You can try to fly faster and out manoeuvre us. You can even attempt to surpass us as marauders. But you will fail.”

“Ha!” the Queen of Halloween yelped. “Even if that were true, how would it help you with your broken wing, surrounded by a warehouse filled with hungry rats?”

“I challenge you,” Tibbit cawed. “Ride your broom tonight and try to beat my flock. And when you fail, you will use your magic to mend my wing and you will remove the spell that enslaves us.”

“And what if your flock does not out fly me,” said the Queen of Halloween. “What will I have?”

“You will have me,” Tibbit said. “To chew in your mouldy mouth and swallow into the abyss of your belly.”

Tibbit’s mother was stunned by this. “No!” she cawed.

“Yes,” cooed Tibbit.

“But I have you already,” said the Queen of Halloween. “I could chew you up and swallow you now, and be done with it.”

Tibbit thought about this and realised the Queen of Halloween was correct. “If the flock cannot out fly you, and you fly past them at dawn,” she cooed, “the crows will be your marauders every night, not just Halloween night, but forever.”

“That is an intriguing offer,” said the Queen of Halloween.

“It’s not an offer,” said Tibbit. “It’s a bet.”

The Queen of Halloween rolled her eyes and clicked her tongue as she pondered the possibilities. The crows did deliver some impressive swag every Halloween. If She out flew them, She could have it every night of the year. Forever. And She could have this impudent little crow girl for dinner. She raised Her broom and brought it down on the ground, with a loud explosion of light.

“It’s a bet,” said the Queen of Halloween. “You are protected from the rats. For now, that is. Until after we fly tonight. Assemble your flock nearby this evening and we will see who will out fly who.”

Tibbit’s mother hopped and sidled out of the crack in the warehouse door and flew away to gather the flock.

And as darkness fell over the city, the magnificent flock of crows gathered and landed round the warehouse, creating a deafening and discordant cacophony of caws. Above them, out of the darkening east, flew the Queen of Halloween on Her ancient and twisted broom, cackling a crazed and demented laugh.

Seeing Her above them, the thousands of crows took off over the city blotting out the stars and the moon as they did, swirling in circles like a vast black tornado, then rocketing forward in an infinite swarm, leaving the Queen of Halloween behind. Then the Queen of Halloween, determined in Her evil cause, raced past the flock, leaving it in Her rancid dust.

The Crow King seeing this cawed and commanded his flock forward, progressing in the night. It traded the lead with the Queen of Halloween again and again. And when She realised that She might not fly faster than the Crow King’s flock, the Queen of Halloween decided to use magic to cheat Her way forward. She created a sudden pulse of blinding light and like a supersonic bullet shot past the crows.

Meanwhile, in the warehouse, Tibbit hopped into a corner and prepared to defend herself. She saw the bright red light in the eyes of the rats around her. They sniffed the air and licked their lips. And she began to fear for the first time that the rats might disobey the Queen of Halloween.

Above the city, the race continued and the Queen of Halloween was winning. She cast spell after spell, placing obstacles before the crows. She pelted them with stones and had Her ghosts fly against them. The Crow King wondered what to do. As the flock flew and manoeuvred as best it could, he consulted with his Wizard.

“How can we beat this evil witch’s magic,” cawed the Crow King.

“She is powerful and has many evil allies,” the Wizard cawed. “But I think I have a plan.”

“What is it?” cawed the Crow King. “Tell me fast or all may be lost.”

“My magic is no match for hers, but I might enchant two or three of our strongest youngsters with the speed to catch up with Her.”

“Will they be able to fly past Her by dawn?” the Crow King cawed.

“No,” rattled the Wizard. “But by now they will be hungry and the cockroaches that make up Her splendid gown, the source of her evil magic, will be tender and tasty.”

“That might be a very good plan, Wizard Crow,” cawed the Crow King. “Do it!”

And so, the Wizard Crow endowed certain of the younger crows with the power to fly as fast as the Queen of Halloween, and sent them in pursuit of Her with instructions to eat heartily. They flew fast and soon saw the Queen of Halloween ahead. Then one of them cawed, “It’s dinner time!”

There were three of them. All that the Wizard Crow could manage with his limited magic, but they were ravenous and fell on the splendid magical gown of cockroaches with gusto. The roaches squirmed and wiggled and scrambled to escape.

“What is this,” the Queen of Halloween shouted. “The impertinence! Get away.”

But the hungry young crows continued to feed. As Her gown and its magic began to disappear, the Queen of Halloween began to slow and the flock caught up. She had cheated with Her magic, so the flock of crows saw no shame in attacking Her gown.

“Stay away,” the Queen of Halloween shouted as she slowed and the flock caught up, falling upon Her in midair. As Her magic waned, spells were being broken all over the world. “Get away, get away,” She yelled as Her unrivalled beauty began to fade, and the pitiful thing that She was under the splendid gown was revealed. Soon Her gown was completely consumed and only a skeleton rode the ancient broom. It fell to earth like a meteor.

The flock cawed and cheered. They were free of the evil spell. But the Crow Wizard was still very concerned.

“All of that evil witch’s spells are broken,” he cawed. “Including the one keeping the warehouse rats away from Tibbit. Fly faster than you ever have before. We must get to Tibbit before that mob of rodents.”

The Crow Wizard was right. In the warehouse, Tibbit was fighting a brave fight but her time was running out. The rats attacked in waves. She used her beak and claws to flight them back, but they lunged and bit. The first crow through the crack in the door was Tibbit’s mother. She attacked with abandon and she and Tibbit fought gallantly together until the flock took down the door and flew in to peck and eat the rats that didn’t escape.

Then the flock lifted Tibbit high into the air and she was taken back to the castle tree to heal and fly again, just as she had predicted. But not before the flock pillaged what it could from Halloween night. And with it, the shiny objects, choice sticks and tender morsels of food, they lined their own nests.

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Lou

the day Lou Reed died
the molasses candy burned &
the crows tapped at our windows it
was autumn & there were
firecrackers on the wind
burning holes in the day for night to spill in

I remembered a time in ‘72
doo do doo do doo do do doo…

all saints day

Last week of October. The light changes now, lends a translucence to things that never quite achieve transparency. The curtain hung between worlds never really comes down, not even now. But it’s now that the light from beyond shines through the strongest. Silhouettes and snippets of things can been seen if one stands still long enough and waits, watching. Mostly at dusk. Dusk is a room we briefly occupy as the house of the day ends and the abode of night begins. Some see better in the night. And there are others who can see through the curtain, to the other side. They see the invisible surge and manifest as October fragments in the undertow of November.

psych ward #1

At night they turn out almost all of the hall lights. But they leave some on, the ones that no one can ever turn off. The forever lights. They go on shining, no matter what. I close the door to my room when I go to bed. But when the nurses check on me, with their flashlights, they never close the door all the way again. Then the forever light across the hall shines into my room. I close my eyes tight or roll over. But sometimes I can’t close my eyes or roll over because I see something standing there, black because of the glare from behind. Mostly, the thing will disappear if I blink. But occasionally, it will stand there looking into my room until the next nurse comes round on suicide watch. Then it’ll creep away.  A hospital’s like that, I guess. There’re people that don’t make it out alive. They become ghosts like a caterpillar becomes a moth.

I have a ghost in me. The doctors, nurses and police call it suicide, the thing I keep trying. The thing I feel so compelled to do. But I call it letting the ghost out. It’s all I want to do. Not because I’m crazy. But because if I were a ghost trapped inside somewhere, I’d want out too.

The halls never end at night. It’s like they get longer in the dark, with just the forever lights shining. I notice it when I go to the toilet on the other side of the ward. Then the halls start to slope up like hills. It’s exhausting trying to get to the top where the washroom is. It takes hours to walk to the toilet, sometimes. And then it’s hours getting back. The halls are just as long and slope up the same in the opposite direction.

All along the way there’s dead people standing around in their hospital gowns and pajamas. Some with tubes still hanging out and real bad wounds that’ll never close. What’s it matter if a wound closes when you’re dead? They don’t care. They just stare with the bulging bug eyes the dead have. They all look like they’re caught in the headlights. And they’re real still. Like they’re stuck in a moment, maybe their last. But the eyes move. The eyes see. They follow me to and from the toilet at night. And they whisper. Even when they scream, it’s just a whisper. I’m always surprised at how loud a whisper can be. Even though they don’t move when you see them, some of them always find a way of following me from the toilet back to my room. Then they just stand in the door for the rest of the night. Their lips don’t move, but they whisper.

Sometimes I dream the dreams they dreamed when they were alive. They’re in the dreams, that’s how I know. They say, “This is the dream I had once. This dream gave me cancer. This dream caused my emphysema. This was the dream that made my boyfriend stab me five times and then take too much heroin.” They’re not the kind of dreams you forget in the morning. You never forget them. You never forget the screaming, the desperate scratching at the firm yet fleeting elements of life speeding past as the moments disappear into a nearly invisible mist against the empty dark. The dead in the dreams look so calm, like it’s all a matter of going through a simple series of steps toward their individual ends. But underneath it all, behind the fake calm, the acquiescence and beatific smiles, they’re screaming. Like hell.

It’s 5.30 a.m. I awake to a lab tech prepping my arm to draw blood. I hate waking up this way, and I hate it when they try to draw blood in my darkened room. They rarely hit the vein right, first time. They make a show of wrapping the latex strip around my arm and slapping my forearm at the elbow joint to bring up the vein. They leave the lights off because, they say, they don’t want to wake me.

The light coming through the curtained window is dim. Dead people move in to watch. Their eyes really bulge when they see the needle go in.

“No,” I say, still weak and groggy. “Turn on the lights.”

“It’s okay, it’s okay.”

“You can’t see what you’re doing. It hurts.”

“It’s okay, it’s okay.”

It’s because of the insulin. They give me four injections a day. Then they test and test and test. My life is punctuated by needles.

This morning I see someone standing at the foot of bed. Just her head and shoulders showing over the mattress. A little girl, maybe five. She’s dressed in a tiny stained hospital gown. “Hello,” I say as I look at her between my feet. She doesn’t respond, except to stare. “What’s you’re name?”

“Amanda,” the lab tech says.

“Not you,” I say pointing. “Her.”

Amanda looks over her shoulder and then back at me. “Ain’t nobody there, honey,” she says. She’s smiling the satisfied smile of a person whose most contented moments in life come from knowing that, despite her innate and considerable deficiencies, she is not numbered among the truly deranged. “I’ll let your nurse know you’re seeing little friends,” she says as the vacuum vial fills too slowly with my blood.

“No,” I say, a little too loud.

Amanda feigns mild shock, like she didn’t expect me to protest at her plan to inform on me. “For your own good, buddy boy,” she says. Then she wiggles the needle unnecessarily as she removes it, causing a blunt pain. She tapes a cotton ball onto my arm but intentionally misses the wound. Then she pushes my hand up to my shoulder, using too much force.

The little girl stands impassively, watching. “She’s mean,” she says. “I can push her down the stairs.”

I shake my head, imperceptibly I believe. But no. Amanda sees it. Inhales triumphantly, packs her kit and leaves the room.

“What’s your name,” I ask again.

“Ruby,” the little girl says. Her lips barely move, not enough to really form words.

“That’s a sweet name,” I say. “Don’t hurt Amanda, though. Okay?”

“She hurt you.”

“Not that much,” I say. “Not so bad that she needs to be hurt in return.”

“She’s mean to everyone,” Ruby says. “She was mean to me. She went through my things. She took a dollar and ninety-three cents out of my Hello Kitty purse.”

“That was a mean thing to do,” I concede. “Was that all of your money?”

“Every penny.”

“Were you saving up?”

“Yes.”

“For what?”

“Just saving.”

“Ah, I see.”

“Now I’m like this,” Ruby says.

“Like what?”

“Like a ghost, I guess. I guess I died.”

“Does that make you sad,” I ask. It’s hard to know what else to say.

“It’s scary. I don’t know when to go to bed anymore, and the other dead people just stand there and never say anything I can hear. They just watch me wherever I go. I guess I don’t really need my dollar and ninety-three cents now. They put all my things in a bag.”

“Will someone come for them,” I ask.

“Maybe,” Ruby says. Then, “I have to go.”

“Where?”

“Back. There’s still some of me left. They’re keeping me in the cold. I’ve never been so cold.”

“No,” I say getting up. “Don’t go back there.” But she’s gone.

The early sun is rising. Shining, for a moment, between the two curtains. The light is a narrow, vertical beam revealing particles moving on currents through the air. A lifeless galaxy of abandoned planets swirling.

psych ward #2

This part of the hospital is over a century old. It suffers the dull, monotonous ache of dissolving stone and warping timbers. There are rooms that have been sealed shut and are lost to the world. Inside of these rooms, the oldest ghosts fret and remember. I know these rooms are there when I walk past. The dark inside of them is absolute. But there’s the occasional sound of water dripping, steam pipes banging and, sometimes, there is weeping. A deep melancholic weeping for which there is no comfort. These are the ghosts with the biggest eyes, who see the most. They know Ruby’s death is a recent one, and they cannot condone her innocence. They hate her, but observe her greedily. They’ll feed on her if they can, even though she is little more than mist.

I know this like I know my own name. And I know the name of the oldest ghost, the most ravenous one. Danfort. I can’t make out when he died. Only that it was a long time ago. A century, perhaps more. When the hospital was a single granite building, some of which is still visible against the more modern, sprawling construction. Danfort was an amputee. His leg was smashed as he fell a tree. His stump went septic, then gangrenous. When they finished slicing away to the hip, and there was nothing left to cut, they injected him with ever increasing amounts of morphine. But the infection and pain grew in him like a monster. The monster thrived, and left him raving until the end. The end, when the nurses thanked Jesus that the horror was over and they were no longer required to endure in His name.

When he died, as Danfort’s ghost rose out of his body, it continued to rave and seethe. It was decades before the memories of the physical pain faded. He became a jealous ghost, envious of physical human existence. Unable to impact it, he directed his jealousy onto the newly dead and their fresh memories of tangible life. He became a predator, hunting them down and consuming them. Grinding them down with his blunt, grudging spectral molars, then swallowing them into his interior hell. There they shared his ever-growing anguish, hopelessly and without end.

I have seen Danfort in the halls at night. He chooses the darkest corners of the longest and most remote passages, avoiding the forever lights. He sees me and whispers my name, confident that human frailty will deliver me to him eventually.

I’ve watched him stalk the newly dead. They drag themselves, and the insubstantial remnants of what they left behind, an IV tower, a respirator or catheter, through the depths of the darkest corridors. I know what they’re looking for and know it’s nowhere to be found. They seek welcome and induction into their new world. Their expectations and inclinations remain, for now, the same as those they had while living. But here, there is no spiritual conduit. No hand for them to clasp that will lift them above. Perhaps that’s what Ruby hopes for. But there’s only darkness and isolation. Only immeasurable things.

“So,” Danfort says to me one night. He’s cornered me as I walk the darkness. “You speak with this Ruby.”

“No,” I say. “No Ruby. No talk.”

“Yesss,” Danfort says. “Yes, I think you do. You and Ruby, talking. She’s charming. You want to protect her. How darling. How hopeless.”

“No.”

“Oh, yes….”

psych ward #3

During the day Danfort hunkers down in shadow, gnawing on his discontent like a bone. I, on the other hand, must face those who staff the ward…

“How is your mood today,” a nurse asks. “On a scale of one to ten?”

“One,” I say.

“That’s very low,” she says looking down at my chart as though it’s some newly discovered artifact. “No better than yesterday. Any suicidal thoughts?”

“I’m swimming in them.”

“Thoughts of hurting anyone else?”

Our eyes meet, and I say, “Absolutely.”

“Hmm. That’s not good, is it?”

“Let me out of here,” I say. “My mood will improve vastly.”

“If we let you go, you’ll try to hurt yourself.”

“I didn’t say I’d hurt myself if you let me go.”

“But you just told me that your mood is one out of ten, and you’ve admitted to having suicidal and homicidal ideation.”

“But that’s because I’m here, you see. In these crappy pajamas, answering these ridiculous questions, eating the god-awful food, enduring your loathsome company.”

“The lab tech who took your blood sample this morning reported witnessing you responding to auditory hallucinations. Looks like we’ll have to increase your seroquel.”

“It wasn’t a hallucination,” I say a bit too loud. “This place has ghosts up the wazoo.”

The nurse begins to scribble. “Have you thought about ECT? Dr Myer asked you to consider it.”

“Forget it,” I say and slouch in my chair. Down the hall, Danfort steps out into the middle of the corridor. He’s smiling, displaying his considerable incisors. I sit up. “Look,” I yell, pointing.

The nurse calmly looks over her shoulder, but Danfort is gone. He’d never let her see him. She returns to her scribbling, and sighs the words, “Haloperidol injections….”

“Fuck,” I say. 

Pavilion: Ruby Night #3

It’s night again. They’ve increased my medication. I feel sedated and go to bed believing I’ll sleep straight through. The forever lights are burning when Ruby wakes me up.

“Don’t like it here,” she says.

“Me neither,” I say propping myself up on my elbows. She stands perfectly still at the end of my bed.

“My birthday’s tomorrow,” she says.

“Really? That’s November first. All Saints Day.  In honor of all saints known and unknown. That’s you, sweetheart. Saint Ruby, the unknown.”

“Huh?”

“Forget it. How old?”

“Seven.”

“A noble age.”

“You sick?”

“No,” I say.

“Why you here, then?” she says.

“I contradict conventional philosophy,” I say.

“What’s that mean?”

“Crazy,” I say. “Because I want to let my ghost out.”

“Why?”

“It says it wants out.”

“That’s stupid,” she says. “It’s better inside of you.”

“Oh.”

“You know that thing with the big eyes?”

“They all have big eyes, sweetheart.”

“The biggest eyes – and the teeth.”

“You stay away from him,” I say sitting up.

“I can’t. He finds me where ever I hide.”

“Then stay here.”

She’s quiet for a moment. Then she says, “I want to go back.”

“Where?”

“Inside of me, my body. I don’t think he can get me there.”

“Your body gave you up,” I say. “You can’t go back.”

“I’m still in that cold place. I can hide there, inside of me.”

“No, baby. You can’t. That thing in the fridge, down in the morgue, it ain’t you no more. You’re all that’s left.”

“It’s too scary here. I hate it. When do I get to go home?”

“I don’t know, sweetheart,” I say. There’s something like a tear in the corner of my eye.

She’s fading now. Perfectly still and expressionless, slowly disappearing. When she’s gone, her weeping begins. The sound of it penetrates all that’s substantial within the room, tearing it apart. I’m overwhelmed, powerless. I throw off the blankets and stand on the cold floor, weakened by the meds and staggering. I swing at the empty air like a boxer going down, and I move toward the glare of the forever lights.

* * * *

There’s an obscure logic that dictates the morgue must be in the lowest basement of a hospital’s oldest section, buried completely in the element of our ultimate end. There are tunnels here, nothing as civil as halls or corridors. Above me are dripping pipes and dim yellow bulbs strung on brittle wire. They expose the rough, unfinished century old concrete. The floor is smooth from a hundred years of gurneys conveying the dead. Somebody has written the word farewell on the wall in small cramped letters using a red felt pen. It’s the only graffiti.

I push through the double set of swinging doors at the end. Here there are white florescent tubes emitting an incomplete white light. There’s dripping in a sink, and a chemical smell that fails to mask decades of solemn human decay. Water from some unchecked source has pooled on the floor. On a counter, next to an array of electrical outlets, sits a soiled autoclave, opened with used scalpels and other sharp implements glinting in the light. Ruby stands beneath a square dingy door to a cooler. Her lips are moving rapidly now, as if she is speaking very fast. But I only hear a hiss. Danfort is here also, loitering maliciously in the bricks and concrete.

“You can’t be here, sweetheart,” I say.

“Then where,” she says, sounding strangely adult.

“I don’t know.”

“Mine,” Danfort whispers. “She’s for me.”

“No,” I shout, looking for him everywhere.

“Then intervene, weakling,” Danfort says. “Be her hero. Confront me.”

I look down at my cold bare feet on the wet yellow tiles. The blue veins conspiring to sustain a wasted life.

A bolt disengages and the cooler door swings open on its own. Somewhere a compressor begins to hum as the pallet cradling Ruby’s wasted corpse rolls out. Whatever took her life ravaged her body. It’s jaundice and skeletal; its eyes partially opened and lips parted, dried spittle on its cheek. The little gown it wears makes it seem obscene. The tiny hands are clenched into helpless fist.

“I want to go back,” she says.

Danfort laughs.

“No,” I say. “There nothing left to go back to.”

“Delicious,” Danfort whispers. Now he’s standing on the other side of the room. His huge eyes are moving wildly, back and forth and in exaggerated circles. He grins to reveals his teeth. “Come, my dear. Time for us, now.”

“No,” she says. “I won’t.”

I step in front of her, between her and Danfort. It’s a pointless gesture I know. I can only truly face him on his terms, on the other side. It’s an idea that came to me hours ago, or was it a lifetime ago? Not to end my life for my own selfish reasons, but to come to Ruby’s rescue. To find a way to guide her away from this place and out of the hands of Danfort. He appears before me and begins to walk towards us. Eyes wild but unseeing.

Scalpels in the autoclave shine through the gore. I reach over and take one. I hold it to my forearm and encounter a sudden, unfamiliar conflict. Something inside won’t allow me to apply the blade.

“Weakling,” Danfort whispers. “Yesss. Cut your wrists and take an hour to die. I will have devoured her whole by then. Go ahead.” Then he reaches out as if to take Ruby, and I see the 220 volt outlet next to the autoclave.

“I have a better idea,” I say, pushing the surgical steel knife into the outlet.

doppelgänger fantasia part 4

read part 1 here, read part 2 here, Read part 3 here

the abduction of Bethany Rafael

Trudy Parr sat at her desk with her .45 calibre M1911 pistol field stripped and laid out before her. She held the slide in her hand and studied it closely. Then she wiped it clean with a soft cloth dipped in a mild solvent. Her mind was at peace. She counted her breaths. It was a meditation on semi-automatic firearm maintenance.

The intercom buzzed.

“What is it, Gladys?” Trudy Parr said.

“Some gal named Bethany Rafael,” said Gladys. “Says she knows you.”

“Put her through,” said Trudy Parr, picking up the recoil spring. The phone rang.

Trudy Parr put down the recoil spring and picked up the gun’s barrel. She looked threw it as if it were a telescope and panned the room. She put it down gently on the fifth ring, perfectly aligning it with the other dismantled parts. On the sixth ring she picked up the phone. “Hello, Beth. What’s rattling?”

“It’s that Bittle character again,” Bethany Rafael said. “He just sits there. Sometimes I catch him staring at me. He’s giving me the creeps.”

“Want me to come down, shake the guy up?” As she said this, Trudy Parr weighed a .45 calibre cartridge in her hand. Its heft was comforting.

“No, I don’t wanna squawk. It’s just that we’ve had some eerie personalities in here before but this guy wins the prize.”

“Call the cops.”

“Can’t. The manager says it’s bad for business.”

“I’ll drive you home.”

“No, Trudy. You can’t drive me home every night. I guess I just needed to tell someone. I’ll be fine.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. I guess I can take care of myself.”

“Okay. Call if you need to.”

Woolworth’s lunch counter

Among the many things she knew, the ephemera of which waitress wisdom consists, was that the troublesome customer was never a permanent customer. He or she could not be listed among the regulars. They always grew bored of pestering the same girl, day in and day out. The troublesome customer, man or woman, might became infatuated with her, fall in love with her and bring her unwanted gifts. When she responded to them with indifference, they would wheedle and cajole. And ultimately, they would rage against her and curse her name. But even the worst of them would eventually disappear into an abyss of their own erroneous affections.

Despite her confidence in this theory, though, Bethany Rafael would always worry when a new problem customer entered her ordinary life. What if this was the one, she’d ask herself, the one who is completely uncontrollable. The one that disproves what she had comfortably come to know. The one that doesn’t disappear. The one so besotted and obsessed that he takes her along for the fatal, unknowable ride.

She looked down the lunch counter at the man who’d introduced himself a week ago as Dr Alasdair Bittle. He sat on his lunch counter stool and chain smoked. It was 5:55 pm. Five minutes to closing. His cup was full of cold coffee. There was a half eaten doughnut on a side plate at his elbow. He didn’t read a newspaper or a magazine. He only stared at himself in the mirror across the counter, in a haze of blue smoke.

“We’re closing soon, Dr Bittle,” she said.

Dr Alasdair Bittle looked up at her. His eyes were bloodshot and watery. Beth could smell the booze. He had the appearance of a thoroughly defeated man. “I’m waiting for a colleague but it seems unlikely he’ll arrive before closing time.”

“Well maybe you should pay your bill, Doc.”

“Yes,” Bittle said placing a two dollar bill on the counter. “Please keep the change. My associate may still make an appearance. He’s a tall Russian fellow named Alexei. Tell him, if he does come in, that I’ve returned to the laboratory.”

“Yeah sure, Dr Bittle,” Bethany Rafael said.

Bittle left the Woolworth’s store and Bethany Rafael closed the lunch counter. By 6:30 she was walking east on Hastings Street toward the BC Electric Interurban Line. It was dark and fellow pedestrians were few along the block in front of Woodward’s Department Store. She was aware of the heavy footsteps trailing her and she gripped her umbrella tightly. At Abbott Street, as she stopped for a red light, the heavy footsteps stopped behind her.

“Hello again,” Dr Alasdair Bittle said as he stepped out from a shadowy doorway.

“Doctor,” Bethany Rafael said, startled. She looked over her shoulder at a large man behind her, the source of the heavy footsteps. When he smiled at her crookedly, it all began to make wicked sense. She looked back at Bittle. “What’s this all about?”

A dark Chrysler drove up to the curb, its passenger door open.

“We have need of you in our laboratory,” Bittle said. “Please accompany Alexei and me in our car.”

Alexei put a hand on her shoulder and leaned over her from behind. He had beer and onions on his breath. She felt the umbrella in her hand and thought about hitting him with it. It seemed too weak a response. Instead, she turned on Alexei and shoved the blunt point of the umbrella into him like a shiv. She saw a dark patch of blood emerge and pulled the umbrella out.

Alexei looked stunned and held his hands to the wound. “Fuck,” he said and bent over.

Bittle got into the Chrysler as she turned to run down Abbott Street. The car did a u-turn in the middle of Hastings, stopping traffic, and followed after her. But by then, however, she was gone from sight.

“That bitch,” Bittle slammed the dashboard. “Turn down that alley.” Bittle pointed to the right and the driver turned.

The car stopped at the alley entrance. “You drive,” the driver said to Bittle. He was a stocky Russian with tattoos on his fists and neck. “I get out and hunt.” Bittle shimmied over when the Russian got out.

The Chrysler’s headlights illuminated the alley as the Russian looked behind trashcans and in doorways. Bethany Rafael knew then that she should have kept running. Now she knelt absolutely still in a shadow cast by a stack of empty boxes, listening as the car came closer and the Russian’s breathing got nearer.

“Come out little girly,” the Russian sang as he looked everywhere. “Come out, come out, come out. I am not Alexei. You cannot stop me. I chew the bones of little girlies like you. I am the devil. Don’t make me work so hard to find you.”

Suddenly the Russian was in front of her, scanning the other side of the alley but seeing nothing. He violently scattered trashcans and refuse. Then he turned around and looked in her direction. His fists were clenched with blue and red star tattoos. She stood and ran again and he ran after her. A car winged her as she ran through traffic where the alley crossed Carrall Street. She spun and fell. The Russian caught up and looked down at her lying in the street. Another car blew its horn but manoeuvred round them when the tattooed Russian gave the driver a stern look.

The Chrysler came to idle in the middle of Carrall and Bittle got out. He opened the rear passenger door and the Russian heaved Bethany Rafael inside.

“She’s useless to us now,” Bittle said, gritting his teeth. “She was a perfect specimen but now she’s injured.”

“It’s nothing,” said the Russian. “A bruise. If it’s worse, we’ll dump her in the ocean. But we can’t leave her here. She can identify us. Get in and drive. We must see to Alexei.”

Bittle turned onto Hastings and headed back to where Alexei had been stabbed with the umbrella. When they arrived, Alexei sat against Woodward’s below a display window where a happy family of mannequins frolicked in the latest fashions. The tattooed Russian stepped out of the car and looked down at the wounded man.

“This is very inconvenient, Alexei.”

“Please, Vlad,” said Alexei. “It’s not so bad. Dr Bittle can fix me.”

“You fool. He’s a Doctor of Theoretical Physics, not medicine.”

“Then leave me at a hospital,” Alexei said. “We were once soldiers together, Vlad. We were brothers. You owe it to me.”

The tattooed Russian looked up and down Hastings. There were still a few people on the street but no one paying attention to what must be a drunk on the sidewalk. He pulled out a TT-33 pistol.

“No,” Alexei shouted, holding up his hands.

The tattooed Russian fired two rounds in his head.

Warren Garbo’s greatest error

Prisoner Narrative Project
Kent Maximum Security Institution

 
May 11, 1978
Project Manage: Dr W.A. Armstrong
Prisoner: David H. Serving 4 to 7 years for manslaughter
Affiliation with Prisoner: Prisoner is a participant in the Prisoner Narrative Project, and has committed to providing a written narrative of his crime and the events leading up to it. We have spoken together three times as doctor/patient.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Warren Garbo

He was gifted with a way of reading a child’s mind, and he enjoyed telling stories. In fact Warren Garbo was a prodigy, a successful author by the time he’d hit twenty years old. And it was his storytelling that drew me in.

He wasn’t born evil. That evolved along the way. At first, he didn’t condescend or tell stories in an immature or tattle-tale way, the way my third grade cohorts did. He would launch into a story with ease, and made an effort to include aspects of his audience’s lives, mysteriously acquired and ingeniously conveyed.

Later, I recognised myself as the model for all of the victims in his published work. And I knew then that Warren Garbo would look back fondly on that summer when everything worked in his favour. It was before the idea of a neighbourhood pedophile crept into the minds of parents. And before it had occurred to anyone that a pedophile could be a youthful, brilliant and trusted member of the community .

I was never aware of his actual age, only that he was much older than me; nearly ancient by comparison. What he did to me took place in the late 1960s, at which time, if I had to guess, I’d say he was about twenty years old. I was seven. By then, he was already on his way to becoming an accomplished author of science fiction and fantasy novels, and a popular writer of children’s fiction. We’d meet again a decade late, in what would be less innocent times.

The Lusitania

I would never learned to play pool the way my friends had. It was never on my to-do list. Besides, each of my friends at the time ran on the agitated energy that came from being an adolescent male perceived by the world as objectionable. These were single parent raised teenagers, housing project inmates with nothing to lose but the intangible. Pool was of great importance in their philosophy. I, on the other, lived in a secure family home owned by my parents. The fact that I desperately yearned to be a ghettoised, criminal white trash pariah like my friends was never enough to in inspire me to take up the cue, except when it was required as a weapon.

The shit my pals had learned to pull off with a stick on the green was pure Cool Hand Luke/Colour of Money/sweaty, fat-ass Jackie Gleason/Hustler fuck-a-cide. From age fifteen on, they routinely separated the family grocery money from the family man down at the Lusitania Pool & Billiards Hall at Broadway and Commercial in the east end of Vancouver. Here was where Joey, Mac, Sock and The Fabulous Lagoona strutted the boards as I sat by, whacked on acid, reading Kurt Vonnegut and J. D. Salinger and drinking Italian coffee. This was where you could find us when we weren’t involved in some petty larceny or at the Marr strip pub watching peelers.

Watching strippers was something I really never got into, either. But I ran with a crowd that followed the Vegas circuit, of which Vancouver was a part at the time, like some guys follow racehorses or the NHL. Without being able to say why, and embarrassed to talk about it in detail, I was always embarrassed watching strippers. But since Joe, my best friend, had always assured me that all of the girls were working to pay their way through university, and that supporting their efforts was therefore a noble thing, I was content to sit back, drink draft beer and watch them parade across the dais.

ten years before

What happened that summer when I was seven and he was twenty went like this. Warren Garbo drew me in and treated me like a friend, an equal. I the archetypal geek-child and outcast, equipped with only an endearing and inquisitive nature with which to defend myself from the monsters of the world. Garbo showed me where he wrote his stories in the house on Eighth Avenue he stilled shared with his mother, the desk in his bedroom placed beneath a north facing window surrounded by cherry trees with a typewriter and grownup bric-a-brac on it, copies of magazines and paperback anthologies in which his stories were published and his stacks of notebooks dating from nearly a decade previous. When we spoke, he looked me in the eye, but in a gentle, constant fashion. He listened, accused me of nothing, congratulated me on my childish successes, encouraged me to pursue my interests and asked me for my opinion on matters I thought were strictly the domain of adults.

My parents saw this in bits and pieces. The full story would come out later.  They were happy for me for finding such a unique friend. They, like all of the other adults around me, were too naïve and swimming in the ambient joyous ignorance that prevailed at the time to conceive of what was about to happen. I was being sized up for the kill. The predator stalking me had lethal intelligence, but he lacked the insight to recognise the depravity of his plan. When he finally attacked, he would rip me to shreds, and, in an effort to fend off accusation, he would vilify and humiliate me. When he visualised this, he could only stand paralysed by the ecstasy of it, shaking with his face angled to the sky, his eyes rolled into the back of his head, there on the periphery of human existence, alone.

The execution of his plan would initiate my severance with the real world, resulting in my absence throughout the remainder of my childhood, adolescence and most of my adult life. Moments of clarity became ghastly visits to a past of excruciating emotional and physical agony. My psyche tried desperately to insulate me. There were huge vaults of time and remembrance made unavailable. I became an addict. Relationships with others routinely failed. I sabotaged opportunities for personal happiness. And though I could never really fully recall the events that had lead to any of this, I lived fully aware that relief could only come with my own death.

It all began with a black and white photograph, one of a little boy about my age.

Warren and I sat in his bedroom on his neatly made bed. We’d been reading comic books. Warren produced the photo out of a back issue of Green Lantern. The boy in the photo was lying naked on his back on a bed of rumpled linen, sucking his thumb. He stared blankly into space, and his legs were spread. There was a dark spot coming out from under his ass, as though he were bleeding.

“See that?” Warren said to me.

I nodded.

“See the little baby suck his thumb?”

I nodded again.

“You suck your thumb like a little baby, David?”

I shake my head knowing, even at seven years old, that ‘no’ can be the only answer to such a question.

“He’s pretty, though, isn’t he?”

I don’t respond. Instead I look at Warren, hoping there’s something more that he’s going to say. Something humorous, perhaps, that will rescue me from the impossibleness of the photograph. He says nothing, but we’ve established a strange and intense eye contact I haven’t shared with him before.

“Like looking at his puny little dick, David?” Warren says. “You do don’t you? You’re a little homo like him, aren’t you?”

“No,” I say. Homo is still a mostly alien word to me; I learned it on the playground. Older boys like to call younger boys homos. All I really knew was that it was bad to be one. I didn’t know why.

“Wanna touch his cock, don’t you? You wanna kiss him like a girl, admit it.”

“No,” I say. I look down at the floor. The pristine floor, dusted and scrubbed by his mother twice a week. Then I feel his hand on my thigh. I jump to my feet, not sure why I’m so frightened. Running to the door, I stop, turn and look back at him sitting on his bed. He’s smiling. I’ve wet myself. I’m struck by a wave of shame. He throws his head back, claps his hands and laughs. I run out of his house, across Eight Avenue and take the shortcut through Mr and Mrs Smith’s yard. When I get home, I undress and hide my wet jeans and underpants. I go find my mother who’s hanging out clothes. I ask her if I can have a snack. Then I take a rare three hour long nap. After that I avoided Warren Garbo for a week. It was a long time for me to be away from him. I didn’t have any friends to fill the space.

His mother was one of my mother’s first choices for babysitter. Mrs Garbo collected a pension and worked part-time at a Salvation Army Thrift Shop. She was always in need of extra income. One Friday night, my mother and father went to a movie and left us at the Garbo house for the evening.

When we arrived, I heard Warren using his typewriter. I was relieved, knowing that if he was working, I may avoid seeing him. Mrs Garbo sat us all down in front of the TV for the evening. We watched Bonanza, and then Mrs Garbo brought out popcorn and Coke. High Chaparral was about to come on when Warren came into the living room.

“I’ve got the new Superman if you wanna see it,” he said to me.

I don’t look at him, just at the TV and say, “No.”

“C’mon, David,” Warren says. “It’s really cool.”

“Go on, David,” Mrs Garbo says.

“Sssshhh!” says my older sister.

I get up and follow Warren into his bedroom. After I enter, he shuts the door. I’m scared. He’s no longer behaving like a friend. He’s become sinister. He stares at me as he sits on the bed.

“Come here,” he says.

“No,” I say. “Where’s the Superman comic.”

“Fuck that. Come here.”

“No,” I say again and go for the door.

He moves fast and grabs my collar, pulling me back to the bed with a hand over my mouth. I scream, but it sounds like nothing. I struggle, but it’s pointless. He throws me onto the bed. I’m on my stomach when he climbs on top. His hands are sweaty; his breath moist and smelling of cigarettes and onions. He whispers into my ear. It’s a string of obscenities. He’s telling me what he wants to do me. He tells me how I’m going to hate every second of it. I scream again, this time a little louder. Mrs Garbo taps on the door and asks if we’re okay. Warren says we are, and Mrs Garbo goes away.

“When I get off of you,” Garbo says. “You just lay still and be quiet, or I’m going hurt you really bad.” As he says this, he twists my ear hard. It’s a dull and unbearable pain. I scream again and he twists harder. “Stop squealing like a sissy,” he says. “I have another picture to show you.”

He gets off of me. I remain on my stomach, trembling. I hear him shuffling around behind me. My eyes are open wide in horror. I scan the room over and over. The line-dried sheets smell like fresh air and laundry detergent. I begin to think about the door and the possibility of escape, but he sits back down on the bed and rolls me over with a shove. He sits over me with another photograph in his hand. He shows it to me.

“Not exactly Superman,” he says.

It a black and white photo of a young black boy, naked except for his underpants, performing oral sex on a man.

“No,” I yell and squirm to get off the bed.

“Fuck,” Warren says. “Shut the hell up or I’ll cut your fucking ears off. You understand me?”

I can only stare back wide eyed.

“What are you two up to in there,” Mrs Garbo hollers.

“Never mind, mom,” Warren says. “Go watch TV. And you,” he says to me. “Get on the floor, on yer knees.” He shoves me off the bed and I fall onto the floor. I hit with a thud. “C’mon, c’mon,” he says pulling me up so that I am kneeling in front of him.

For the first time, I begin to experience a separation between consciousness and physical being. The old and familiar recede and are replaced by the bizarre and unfamiliar. I’m floating in the air above the catastrophe below me. My floating self wants to intervene, but is powerless to do anything but observe. It’s weird. My stomach is sinking into itself. Can this be death? My floating self sees Warren grab a handful of my hair. A burning pain comes from a body I no longer occupy.

“Don’t worry, faggot,” Warren says. “It’s considered good luck to suck dick in India. Now open wide and keep your teeth to yourself.”

Later, he sodomizes me for the first time. It is my introduction to a world of blood and misery, humiliation and powerlessness. No one comes to rescue me like in a comic book. Mrs Garbo, my floating self sees, is seated in front of the TV eating obsessively from a box of drugstore chocolates. Warren wads toilet paper between the cheeks of my ass to staunch the bleeding.

“Soak in the tub before bed,” he says as though he cares for me again. “But lock the bathroom door. Don’t let yer mother see, understand?”

I nod vacantly.

Then his tone changes, “You tell any one about this,” he hisses. “And I swear to God I will murder your whole fucking family, understand? I will come in the night with a knife and cut their throats, and I’ll only spare you so that you’re who everyone blames. You hear me?”

I nod again.

ten years after

It was the autumn of 1976. My friends and I had two tables at the Lusitania Pool and Billiards Hall. On this rare occasion, I was actually playing rather than watching from the side. Joe had me beat almost from the start. But there were one or two opportunities for me to sink a ball. During one of those opportunities, as I moved round the table looking for a shot, I recognised someone bent over an adjacent table, lining up a shot. It was Warren Garbo. I recognised the face. I gripped my pool cue.

He played alone, sinking entire racks without a miss. Shark, I thought. When it finally came down to the eight ball, he sank it and looked up. “Hey faggot,” Warren Garbo said. He’d known I was there all along.

“What was that?” said Joe, looking up from his next shot.

I stood paralysed. I began to feel the familiar separation of mind and body. Part of me was looking down on the meeting from above.

Joe said, “That prick just called you a faggot, David. Do something.”

“Yeah,” said Garbo. “Do something, cock sucker.”

“Watch you mouth,” Joe said. “If he won’t do anything, I will.”

“Kiss my ass,” Garbo said.

Out of body, I watched as I turned the pool cue up side down in my hands and gripped it like a baseball bat.

Garbo saw this and dismissively said, “Oh, fuck off.”

This was the greatest error in Warren Garbo’s short life. He turned his back to me. He was unaware, in the way that many who occupy the wrong end of a power differential are unaware, that his actions a decade before had changed the trajectory of my life. I’d become callous and confused about my place in the world, a world where the vulnerable endure the transgressions of the powerful without recourse. A world where victims are forced to take justice into their own hands, when they’re able.

I don’t remember how many times I struck him with the cue. Court records say between five and ten. I only recall that, after the cue broke, I stuck the resulting spear-like shard into his back multiple times as he lay prone on his pool table.

doppelgänger fantasia part 3

Read part 1 here Read part 2 here Read part 4 here

Evil Science Comes to Vancouver
BY ROSCOE PHELPS, THE VANCOUVER SUN October 28, 1949 
Ain’t it the truth, Vancouver? That beneath our rainy Pacific skies, we walk on streets of gold. We’re a city of blameless citizens confronted daily with boundless opportunity. Every family housed and fed, every woman safe and every child schooled and rosy cheeked. Government is good and the bad guys quiver in fear of our brave and robust police force.
    But maybe it’s time to grow up a little bit. Is Vancouver really the virtuous City upon a Hill that we believe it is?
    Maybe not. Up until this moment, who could have known? That our small metropolis could be home to a criminal mob of foreign spies, experimenting with the very composition of the universe. It came as a shock to this reporter, I can assure you.
    Picture, if you will, a gaggle of intellectual goons bent on inventing a machine that can duplicate matter. A gizmo that when one chicken is put in, two chickens come out. Now imagine that this machine is here now. In a Chinatown warehouse where this band of maniacal geniuses is testing it on the innocent citizenry of Vancouver.
Imagine this coven of shadowy academics creating this machine for its own wicked ends. Creating female armies of salacious hedonistic slaves from a single loose-minded harlot; or perhaps a fighting army of malicious minion warriors, each a copy of the most violent, mindless and sadistic ogre imaginable.
    Then imagine it happening here, in our quiet paradise by the sea.
    The first light shed on this evil plot came in a phone call from a distraught woman, a hysterical citizen of Vancouver, claiming that she’d been part of a depraved experiment.  An experiment in replicating matter. That’s right, dear reader, she, let’s call her Lady B, claimed to have been duplicated by a gang of seedy itinerant highbrows who have come to our home and native land to turn science on its ear.
    Lady B maintains that she was kidnapped from her work-a-day world as a waitress at a Woolworths lunch counter. Then brought to Chinatown and held for several days in a fetid cell. She was finally placed in a chamber connected to a wall of gauges and flashing lights. And it was there that she witnessed her reproduction in another chamber across from her in the same room.
    As fantastic as it sounds, Lady B and her doppelgänger escaped from their Chinatown prison and found themselves pursued by a gang of punks and thugs. Sadly, one of the two Lady Bs was murdered in a tunnel beneath Chinatown. She died alone and confused at the hands of a callous killer who snapped her neck like it was the fragile stem of a delicate flower. Her lifeless body left discarded there in the dark, beneath the weight of the ignorant city above.
    Where’s the justice in this? What have the police done? And what, dear reader, was the reason for last night’s clandestine meeting of the Godfather of Chinatown, Agustin Ho, and two of the city’s most notorious private investigators, Crispin Dench and Trudy Parr? Why did they meet in a dark lot behind the BC Electric tram garage?
    You can depend on this reporter to crack this case and expose these alien miscreants and their accomplices. That’s my commitment to you, Vancouver.

* * * *

“Dead? She’s died? How can this be?” Alasdair Bittle buried his head in his hands.

“It was a business decision,” said Wilfred Beacon.

“You’re mad,” said Bittle.

“No, just practical.” Beacon sat behind his desk, sipping a scotch and water. The two men were in his Marine Building office.

“You murdered her. We might at least have tried to reverse the experiment.”

“Are you certain you could?”

“No, of course not,” said Bittle. “This is science. It’s replication theory. Nothing is certain.”

“In that case,” Beacon said, “you’ve confirmed the correctness of our actions. We couldn’t risk the discovery of the replication. We have the interests of our investors to consider. There are several hundred patents pending. Besides, we only killed one of her. We’re almost certain it was the duplicate. And if it was the duplicate that got killed, then it isn’t really murder?”

“You’re rationalising. The replication was human, as surely as you or I.”

“Not anymore,” said Beacon.

“But what will be the future outcomes of this?” said Bittle. “You may have put the entire universe out of balance.”

“You replicated her, Doc,” Wilfred Beacon said. “All we did was eliminate an inconvenience. And since it’s almost certain that the original survives, we might have put the universe back in balance.”

“Almost certain?” said Doctor Bittle, “What if you’re wrong? What if you killed the original? What if the replication is still loose out there? We don’t know yet how stable the replications are. There are a hundred different ways that a replication could self-destruct. What will happen if it does? What if it falls into the wrong hands? What if there are bizarre physiological aspects we never considered? That only prolonged scientific observation can discover? What if the replication turns out to be a breeding ground for a deadly virus? There’s so much we do not know. That’s why we needed to keep the replication alive. Innocent lives could be at risk.”

“Then I guess we’ll have to ice the survivor, as well.”

“You’re a monster,” said Bittle.

“I’m a Project Manager, Dr Bittle. I deal with reality. And the reality is that you should never have created that replication in the first place. Not before we had trials with lower life forms.”

“It was accidental,” said Bittle.

“Accidental?” said Beacon. “You placed her in that chamber and you pulled the switch. You instigated the sequence of events that resulted in the replication, Dr Bittle.”

“I was drunk.”

“You’re always dunk, you juicer.”

“And this outcome demonstrates that the technology isn’t ready for humanity – or, more likely, that humanity isn’t ready for the technology. Either way, what has occurred proves that we cannot continue, that we mustn’t continue. I have to publish my findings and face the consequences.”

“You’ll do nothing of the kind,” said Beacon. “Your findings are Company property.”

“This company is unethical,” said Bittle.

“No more than any other, Doctor.”

* * * *

Trudy Parr let it ring seven times and then picked up the phone. “Dench and Parr Agency,” she said.

“We need to talk,” said the voice at the other end of the line. “You, me and that partner of yours.” It was Lieutenant Oly Schmidt of the Chinatown Squad. “Says here in this morning’s Sun that you were hobnobbing with known underworld types last night. You know the piece I mean, this thing Roscoe Phelps wrote? He implies that you’re in cahoots with Agustin Ho. That true?”

“It’s all the lies of a desperately lonely newspaper reporter,” Trudy Parr said. She turned round on her office chair and looked out onto Hastings Street. It was raining.

“We still need to meet.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re lying to me,” Schmidt said. “Or at least holding back. I hear you recently had Barney Polenski in your office. I hear he was shadowing the murder victim. I hear you nearly cut off his head before he spilled a ton of dope on the case.”

“You’re only partially correct,” said Trudy Parr. “Polenski played dumb under rigorous interrogation. I made the mistake of believing him. That was wrong of me. Maybe I’m going soft. But word is that he’s still in town, even though Crispin told him to vamoose. I’ve got calls out. People street side know I want him. I should get news of his whereabouts soon. Then maybe I’ll start by cutting off his smaller more delicate pieces, before I threaten decapitation. There’s a notebook of his I want to see.”

“There’s a warrant out for his arrest, Trudy,” Schmidt said. “That makes him ours, not yours. So hands off.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” said Trudy Parr. “I’m a real hands-off kinda girl.”

“Don’t push, Miss Parr.”

“You just grab a doughnut and stand down, Oly,” Trudy Parr said. “You’ll be called in to mop up and take all of the credit. Until then, stay outta my way.” She hung up the telephone.

* * * *

Crispin Dench owned and drove a white 1948 Jaguar Xk120 with red leather interior, but he left it at home that night. Instead, he borrowed a ’46 Chevrolet sedan from Hatless Andy Picard, a broad shouldered labourer for hire who’d earned his nickname for his vast collection of hats. Dench preferred the big backseat and trunk of the Chevrolet for the work he had that evening. Hatless Andy rode shotgun. It was 10:00 pm. Dench tuned the radio to a jazz station. They listened to Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli play All the Things You Are.

There was a large bundle in the backseat. It squirmed, grunted and convulsed. It was held together by a series of knotted ropes.

“Settle down back there, Barney,” Crispin Dench said. “Save your energy.”

Barney Polenski was gagged and nearly silenced. But there came a run of muffled expletives.

“We’ll be there in a minute, Old Man,” Dench said.

The soft suspension of the Chevrolet allowed the car to rumble smoothly over the railroad tracks that crossed the road leading onto the Rogers Sugar refinery wharf. When it was halfway out on the wharf, the Chevrolet stopped. The wharf was dimly lit. Dench had counted on that.

“Shall we?” he said.

“Sure, sure,” Hatless Andy said.

They got out of the car and pulled Barney Polenski from of the backseat. Then they positioned him on his knees at the edge of the wharf, under a light standard. Dench placed a noose round Polenski’s neck and Hatless Andy shimmied up the pole with the other end of the rope. He tethered it there securely.

Crispin Dench removed Barney Polenski’s blindfold. Polenski felt the noose round his neck and looked out over the open water twenty feet below. He nearly swooned, fighting to keep his balance.

“What the fuck,” Polenski said. “You can’t do this, Dench. They’ll find out if I fall over. You’ll hang for it.”

“Not before you do,” Crispin Dench said.

“I’m sorry I didn’t leave town,” Polenski said. “That Trudy bitch cut me bad. I wasn’t in any shape to travel.”

“Be nice with what you say about Trudy Parr,” said Hatless Andy.

“Yeah be nice, Barney,” Dench said. “The hatless one here believes that I should just push you over the edge and let you swing. He thinks I should do that because you’re a goon and a liar. I, however, believe you have some redeeming qualities and at least one item in your possession that might save you.”

“Name it, Dench,” Polenski said, “and it’s yours.”

“Well there’s really only one thing, Barney. Only one thing that I’d risk handling after you’ve molested it with your grimy meat hooks.”

“What? What is it?”

“It’s that notebook you took notes in while you talked to the now murdered woman in the Lily Lounge. I have a golden source that says you took plentiful notes during your chats with her. That’s what makes you a liar; you said the notes were all in your head. You lied to me Barney. What made you think I’d let that slide?”

Hatless Andy tightened the noose. Barney Polenski choked and coughed, and then he spoke. “It all comes down to this, Dench. I got myself in a real pickle. I gotta choose who’s gonna kill me, you or that bunch of foreigners with that duplicating machine. I tell you what’s what and the foreigners ice me. I shut up about it and you push me off this wharf with a rope round my neck. Maybe you can understand my reticence.”

“The time for reticence is over,” Dench said.

“Are you and that psycho partner of yours gonna protect me if I spill, Dench?” Polenski said.

“No, but maybe we can use the information in your little notebook to mop these bastards up and eliminate all the perils you face.”

“Or maybe not,” Polenski coughed. “Maybe you’re out of your league with these characters. Maybe they’re smarter than you.”

Crispin Dench bent down and looked at Polenski in profile. Polenski turned his head and faced him. Polenski’s throat hurt. The rope was burning into the open wound Trudy Parr had inflicted. “Do you really believe that, Barney?” Crispin Bench said with an uncanny calm.

Barney Polenski licked his lips and looked down at the water he’d hang over if he was pushed. “No,” he said. “I guess I don’t.”

“Is that book up in your room, Barney?” Dench said.

“Yeah,” said Polenski. “It’s in a safe in my closet under some shoe boxes.”

“What’s the combination?”

Barney Polenski hesitated, hating to give in. Dench saw this. Standing up, he said, “Alright, Andy. Kick the fat fuck over.”

“Be a pleasure,” Hatless Andy said.

“No, wait,” Barney Polenski yelped. “10 right, 4 left, 9 right.”

“Say it again,” Dench said, “so I can write it down,” Barney Polenski did.

“So now you cut me loose, right?” Polenski said. “We’re square, right?”

“What do think?” Dench said to Hatless Andy. “Should we release this lying bitch? We don’t even know if this combination’s correct, do we?”

“It’s good,” Polenski whined. “The combination’s correct.”

“I say we leave him here,” Hatless Andy said. “Let him watch the sunrise.”

“That’s a damn fine idea,” Dench said.

“No,” said Polenski. “I could slip and break my neck.”

“You should have thought of that before,” said Dench. “There’ll be some longshoremen round in six or seven hours. They’ll cut you free, one way or the other.”

“Dench, you prick, cut me loose.”

“See you in the funny papers, Barney.”

In a few minutes, Barney Polenski heard the Chevrolet start and drive away. He remained kneeling until morning, listening to the song of foghorns.