Monday, August 30, 2010

Review: Ivy the Kiwi?



Well, here’s a game I would clump in the, “It’s not for everybody” pile. It’s also a game I would clump in the "Some people are going to adore this game" pile. Ivy the Kiwi?, created by Yuji Naka, the mastermind who created Sonic the Hedgehog, is definitely a polarizing experience that some people will totally adore while others will loathe beyond belief. It really all depends on what you’re looking for in a puzzler, as this game can be extremely frustrating if you’re the type of person who wants total control of your character. Others will probably like how helpless your character is and how you yourself act as a sort of a god hand to guide your character to safety. The most direct comparison I can give it is Kirby: Canvas Curse for the DS, but that game is way more action-oriented than this one, which again, might be a turn-off for some right off the bat.

You take on the role of Ivy, a Kiwi who can’t fly and basically can’t do anything for herself but walk back and forth like an idiot. It’s your mission to string out vines (up to three at a time) that will help guide her on her way to the finish line, and the further you advance in the game, the more and more obstacles get in your way. When you first start out, your greatest perils are spikes but later on, you’ll have to deal with rats, water drops and crows that will do their best to give you a headache. Your only means of defense are the vines, which you can stretch out to stop Ivy in her tracks or even pull back like a sling shot to aim her at rats or rocks that get in your path. You’re screwed when it comes to the crows, though, as nothing can stop crows, in this game or in real life.

But what makes this game frustrating and what’s going to make some people curse out loud and wave many a fist is the fact that Ivy never stops moving, so you’re constantly in a mad dash to throw vines together in order to make her leap over a crow, or catapult past a row of spikes or any of the other obstacles that get in your way. And this is where some gamers are just going to wish that they could control Ivy herself instead of guiding her to safety. It’s certainly not the kind of game that everybody’s going to flock to. In fact, I can actually see a specific audience liking this game, and I’m going to call it the Angry Birds community. If you don’t know what Angry Birds is, it’s a puzzle game for the iPhone where you have to knock down structures and crush pigs with a variety of birds. For each level, you’re limited to what kind of bird you can use, so basically, you have to figure out the best way to knock down the structures with the birds the level gives you even though you may not like some of the birds that they give you at all. Well, for some gamers, Ivy may be that bird that you just don’t like and wish that you had a more proficient one to guide along for your journey.

Still, I’m just trying to see this game from the other point of view. After playing it for awhile and getting the hang of it, I have to say, I kind of enjoy it. There are 100 levels in here, so you won’t get tired of it anytime soon if you’re really into it. It’s still not the kind of title that I would recommend for everybody but it’s a cutesy kind of game that has a lot going for it. Give it one extra point if you’re in that Angry Birds community I was mentioning before.

Players: 1-4
Platform(s): Wii, DS, Windows Mobile
Developer: Prope
Publisher: XSeed Games
ESRB: Everyone
Rating: Three stars

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Former Marine: There's No Such Thing



John Andrews of Mendham is Commandant of the Lance Cpl. Robert J. Slattery Marine Corps League Detachment 206 in Whippany. He uses "ooh rah" in his e-mails. And when talks to people, he seems to command the respect that only a Marine could get.

That's because even though Andrews finished his active military service (1986-1993), he'll always be a Marine, and he joined the Slattery Detachment to continue helping his military brothers who are overseas or back home in New Jersey and around the country.

The Slattery Detachment is involved in a variety of activities, such as raising money with various charities or pairing up with other military-minded groups, all in an effort to help others in need.

He's been the group's commandant — the equivalent of a club president — for the past two years. The League Detachment formed after Slattery was killed in 1967 in Vietnam. He was from Whippany, so a Marine Corps League was formed in his name and honor.

"We unfortunately have added to our roles. It was as recent as 2006 that Lance Cpl. Christopher Cosgrove (of Hanover) was killed in Iraq, and his mother and father are very active members of our detachment," Andrews says.

"We partner with many different organizations," Andrews says, "and one of the organizations that we've been involved with for the last several years is Operation Jersey Cares, so I have many points of contact with them."

Operation Jersey Cares collects items such as foods and soaps to send overseas to servicement and women. A few weeks ago, volunteers with Operation Jersey Cares were in Mendham in front of the Kings supermarket, collecting donations and goods for soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The goods will be shipped overseas to those in uniform and the donations will be used for postage and shipping costs.

Other organizations that the Robert J. Slattery Marine Corps League Detachment support are the Heart of a Marine Foundation, the Family and Friends for Freedom Fund, Inc., and the Picatinny Arsenal community.

"Because it's a military community, we partner with them," Andrews says about Picatinny.

Slattery Detachment members also make trips to deliver items such as watches, razors, and gift cards to places such as the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where they visit wounded warriors, some of whom who have suffered from IED explosions.

"We do a hospital trip report, every time we come back from Bethesda," Andrews says, adding that it gets written into the group's newsletter.

Andrews is proud of his group and acknowledges how much his League Detachment likes to give back to others.

"We are one of the most active Detachments in the state, if not the country," Andrews says.

"We get a great deal of satisfaction from helping out," Andrews says, "I've dedicated a lot of time to it and it's just a worthwhile organization."

The Lance Cpl. Robert J. Slattery Marine Corps. League Detachment 206 is always looking for new members. Its monthly meeting is held at 7:30 p.m. the first Wednesday of each month at the American Legion Hall on Legion Place, just off Mount Pleasant Avenue, in Whippany. To learn more about their organization, visit www.mclslatterydet.org or www.oohrah.net.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Review: Ys Seven



I’ve never played an Ys game (pronounced, "Ees," I believe), but if they're all like this latest entry in the esteemed franchise, then they all require patience; lots and lots of patience. That’s not to say that Ys is a bad game, because this is actually one JRPG that strays away from the norm (action wise, anyway, not story wise). And I found the combat system to be surprisingly enjoyable, which is much more than I can say for some of its contemporaries, which have been rehashing turn based combat since the very first Final Fantasy.

Interestingly, the story actually takes backseat to the combat in this game, which is pretty refreshing, because the story is a total bore. It’s a real yawn inducing yarn. It’s all about this character named Adol Christin, who, after doing some research, I found out has been the in every installment of the franchise, except for one. Adol and his pal, Dogi, go on a quest with dragons and adventuring, and blah blah blah, it’s really not important. In fact, back to the whole patience issue, if you don’t have much of it, then you’re likely going to give up on this game early on as the text in the very beginning is really a slog. Trust me when I tell you this, though, it picks up later on. It doesn’t stay too boring for long.

The battle system in this game, as I keep bringing up, is pretty kick ass. It actually kind of reminds me of a cross between God of War and The Legend of Zelda, as you’re constantly rolling out of the way of attacks, and then coming in with counter-attacks, varying with your characters. Adol is more of a slasher, while someone like Dogi is more of a bruiser. The coolest thing about this is that you can constantly switch your characters during the fights with just the press of a button. It makes for some really interesting battles, especially with the bosses who have their own specific patterns. This can be a little annoying at first when you keep continuing over and over again with the bosses until you get their pattern down, but like I said earlier, this game takes patience, and it can be quite rewarding if you stick with it. I certainly did.

Luckily, you can pretty much save wherever you want in the game and don’t have to wait for checkpoints, so that’s a plus. Since the story can be so plodding at times, you can always press your way through the text and then just save the game and come back to it later, which is definitely a plus that I wish more RPGs followed. Also, this game is not too long and took me about 28 hours (most of those spent on beating the bosses), so you don’t get bored of it for too long. Overall, if you’re a fan of JRPGs and want something very different, combat wise, at least, then Ys Seven is a pretty solid title for your PSP. I recommend it.

Players: 1
Platform(s): PSP
Developer: Nihon Falcom Corporation
Publisher: XSeed Games
ESRB: Teen
Rating: Three and a half stars out of five

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hold your horses! Tavern is still the best



The Black Horse Tavern was voted best restaurant for 2010 by the readers of MCW This Week, and it's easy to see why.

With superb service, a rich history and the best prime rib you're going to find in the area, it's no wonder that so many people flock to this historic location, which is next to the Black Horse Pub.

"The Tavern always has had the image as a destination restaurant," General Manager, Gary Detaranto says, "It's a place where you would go for a holiday or to celebrate communion or a baby shower or any special occasion. This would be the restaurant you went to."

It's been a destination restaurant for centuries — literally. People have been journeying to this spot since the 1700s.

Built in 1742, the building used to be a stagecoach stop between Hackettstown and Newark. Travelers had their horses shod and the carriages re-wheeled at the barn, which is now the Black Horse Pub, and then would stay overnight at the Tavern.

The Tavern has come a long way since those early days, and for decades, the caliber of the food has remained consistent. The latest innovations come from Chef de Cuisine, Juan Rodriguez.

"The combination of spices with his use of fish, chicken, duck and steak, along with his presentation and the marriage of flavors, are making people go, 'Wow,' " Detaranto says.

Although the Black Horse Tavern could be called a steakhouse, there are so many items on the menu — from stuffed north Atlantic salmon to Tuscan chicken — that it's hard to peg it as merely one kind of restaurant.

"There's an old saying in the restaurant business — that you can tell a great steakhouse by their fish," Detaranto says with a smile. "Our fish is brought in daily, and if it is not of the highest quality, we will not accept it. The Tavern only wants the best for our guests."

He recommends the Chilean sea bass, but he says all of the Tavern seafood is phenomenal. Some customers say that the blackened sea scallops are the best they've ever had.

"I know when the food comes to the table, 99 percent of the time, our customers are happy," Detaranto says. "And to have that percentage, I'm extremely happy."

Something else keeping the customers so happy is the exceptional service. Detaranto believes that everybody should be treated like royalty when they come to the Black Horse Tavern, from the moment their car is valet parked to the time they leave the building. Detaranto believes that service is everything.

"When you come here, you're taken care of the minute you walk in that door, to the minute that you leave," Detaranto says, "And that's the key to a great, successful business."

Detaranto, who has worked at many different restaurants in his time, has come to the conclusion that a dining experience should not only be about the food and the service, but also the entire package: "We're in this business to please people. We're in a people business, so we try our best to get them whatever they need or want."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Review: Clash of the Titans: The Video Game



When I saw Clash of the Titans in the theater, I fell asleep, and after playing the video game, I had to take a nap. What does that tell you? Well, besides the fact that it says that the awful remake is even worse than the original -- which at least had Ray Harryhausen’s bitchin’ stop motion animation in it -- it also means that the game is a piece of garbage, which it is. It really is.

Now, the first impression I had on the game when watching the trailer and seeing stills of it was that it was going to be yet another God of War rip-off in a string of subpar GOW rip-offs (See Ghost Rider, Darksiders,Dante’s Inferno, etc). But no, surprisingly, it’s not a GOW rip-off at all. In fact, I wish it was a GOW rip-off, because then at least I could find it mildly enjoyable. If anything, with its crummy tap, tap, tap, hack and slash nonsense, it’s more like a Dynasty Warriors game but with about a million less enemies on screen. This is a good thing, because even fighting four enemies on screen at one time is a complete bore. Did I tell you that I had to take a nap after playing it?


Since I’ve already delved into the combat, let me continue on that path. It’s a joke, a complete and utter joke. The sole innovation in this game, if you can call it that, is that you can steal weapons from some of your enemies and then use them against other enemies…Riveting…The fact that you can acquire a wide assortment of weapons doesn’t help either as they’re all boring to use, and the enemies really don’t even take that much effort to kill (even the later ones once you’ve gotten the system down) anyway, so what’s the point? Instead of the button timed attacks in GOW, this game has something similar but much simpler in that you can wear an enemy down and then a bullseye appears on them where you can press any button to attack them, kind of like one of the meters on a free-throw line in a basketball video game. You have to hit the button at just the right moment or the enemy hits you back, which sounds like it could be pretty cool, but it’s not as it happens way too often. After awhile, you don’t even want to bother fighting anybody anymore because you’re so bored by the combat that you just want to move on to whatever’s next, which is probably more of the same as the missions have little to no variety whatsoever. Zzzzzz.

Oh, and speaking of Zzzzz, the storyline in this game, like the movie itself, is also pretty yawn-inducing. Man and the gods are fighting because man stopped praying to them and yada, yada, yada, there’s a Kraken, some skeletons along the way, some boss battles, the end. There’s also a two player mode but it also sucks. It comes a little later in the game and I really had to push myself to get to it, but once my brother picked up the controller to play, he put it back down after about five minutes because he didn’t think it was worth his time. I agree.


The graphics are also pretty pitiful, even for a movie tie-in game. Often times, I’d wander around and wonder how a game for the 360 could wind up looking so bland. And it’s not even like it looks last-gen or anything like that because the models are definitely clear enough to be considered current-gen, if not just a few years behind. But it just needs more salt or something. The dull graphics kind of mute out any sort of grand presentation that they were trying to pull off here, and it almost makes the game seem minimalistic in its scope, which is definitely something you don’t want with a title like Clash of the Titans. You want something epic. You want something like, I don’t know, God of War.

Clash of the Titans is one of those rare games that I can literally find not one redeeming quality for. If you liked the film (How?), then I don’t know what to tell you about the video game other than that it sucks. Okay, back to sleep now. I just took a peek at the back of the box and had a sudden urge to take another nap. Good night.

Players: 2 player Co-op (Sometimes)
Platform(s): Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PS3
Developer: Game Republic
Publisher: Namco Bandai
ESRB: Teen
Rating: Half a Star

Chapter Six

Marigold wakes up on the cold cement floor to the sound of a deflating balloon. It’s the sound of her womb shrinking, as every orifice in her body expels air. In her daze, she can smell the pungent aroma of menstrual blood and feel air pumping out of her body in short, punctuated bursts. It feels like a factory along the interstate, belching off exhaust.

She turns from her back to her side and puts her hand across her lessening stomach, not fully understanding what all of this could possibly mean. She groans as she raises her head and through bleary eyes, she can make out that she’s down in her basement for some reason. The closest thing to her is the yellow washer and dryer, and she drags herself over to it and pulls herself up. Once on her feet, she stumbles about the musty room as light peaks in through the window by the ceiling. But something doesn’t feel right. It’s as if something has happened to her that she can’t quite grasp yet. She staggers over to the stairs and sees splotches of blood on them, each step covered in its own circle of crimson.

She rubs the back of her head and feels the scabby hardness of dried blood on the tips of her fingers, and she looks at the residuals of it underneath her nails. None of this makes any sense to her yet and it’s all just a blur, as if she’s walking around in a dream.

BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM!

Marigold looks up at the noise and it’s coming from the door at the top of the stairs. There’s heavy knocking and the whole room shakes and rattles. Somebody is trying to get in.

“Marigold!” her husband screams from behind the door, “Wake up, baby. Please don’t do this to me. Oh, my God.”

The whole room shakes when the door is thrust into and she falls to the ground on her behind. For some reason, she can sense that on the other side of the door is her husband’s ear, trying to listen in for a heartbeat, but that doesn’t make any sense, as why would her heartbeat be on her side of the door?

“Hold on a minute, Jeff,” she says, standing back up and grabbing onto the banister, “I’m coming.”

As she raises her leg for the first step, her underwear feels heavy all of a sudden, as if blood has seeped right through and it’s sticking to her thighs. She cringes at the sogginess but continues on, touching her flattening stomach and dragging herself upwards.

“Marigold, please, please, please,” her husband cries, and she can feel teardrops hit the other side of the door now. The closer she gets to the top, the stranger it seems to her that the door might be horizontal rather than vertical, and the reason that her husband has his ear to it is because he’s listening for a sign of life. Her flattening stomach also begins to feel strange to her now, but why? What should be there in its stead? What’s going on with her body?

Three more steps to go.

“Wake up, Marigold, wake up,” her husband cries, and she can feel the shaking of the room again, as if the room itself were a body and she were just living inside of it. She grabs onto the doorknob at the top, but recoils as soon as she touches it because it’s ice cold. She puts her hand beneath a fold in her dress and opens the door with it. When the door swings open, her eyes have to adjust to a corridor of darkness that sits in front of her like a heavy shroud. Where is her living room, she wonders in a haze that assaults her eyes and nose like Hay fever. Where is her couch, her TV, and her carpet? In short, where is everything? Marigold blinks a few times and shakes her head, and by the third blink, she no longer feels hazy and dense anymore, but rather, back to her normal self, her senses returning to her like fireworks behind her eyes.
“Where am I?” she says, looking all around her as the distinct smell of mud hits her nose. She immediately turns around for the stairs only to find that the stairs are no longer there anymore, the darkness behind her seeming to stretch on ad infinitum.
As she takes one step forward, her feet sink into the soggy mud beneath her, and a sharp feeling hits her all of a sudden like hunger pangs. She grabs at her stomach and fear envelops her as soon as she realizes that she doesn’t have a baby bump anymore, but rather, the slight fat that she had before she was pregnant, which sets off an alarm in her head like a fire engine.

“Aiden?” She shouts, scratching at her stomach with both of her hands. “Oh, my God, Aiden, where are you?”

She reaches out to the wall to maintain her balance and screams.

Something just licked her.

“Oh, my God, oh, my God, oh, my God,” she yells, running headlong into the darkness. As she runs, her house slippers slosh in the wet earth and kick up mud behind her. She squeezes in her shoulders and can hear the tongues lapping beside her now like dog’s trying to cool off on a hot summer day. Where is she? What is this? What’s going on? Are the walls nothing but tongues? How can that be? What kind of place is this? She runs without swinging her arms and a sort of mania envelops her now. It’s as if the farther she runs, the deeper and deeper she delves into her own insanity, the corridor being something of a tunnel into her innermost nightmares.

As she peddles faster, lifting her legs high to not get them stuck in the mud, her foot slips on a slippery patch, and she falls face first into the muddy floor. The lapping tongues laugh at her now. They sound like wind ruffling through a paper bag.
“Shut up!” She screams at the walls, but some faint sound beneath her steals her attention. With her ear now close to the sloppy mud, she can hear what sounds like the faint noise of baby cooing. Her eyes light up with the hope that only a mother could have in a tunnel that is nothing more than mud and darkness and tongues.

“Aiden!” she shouts to the ground. She sits up and begins to claw at the floor like a starving animal tearing through a garbage bin. She doesn’t even care about the tongues anymore. She puts her ear to the floor again only to hear her child cooing even louder now, the gurgling sound rising to the surface, “Aiden, I’m coming for you, honey. Hold on.”

When she makes a big enough hole in the dirt, she plunges her hands into it only to get her arms stuck up at the elbows. She struggles and pulls her arms out only to slam them back in again even deeper this time, leaning her whole body into it until she finally feels something in her hands.

“I’ve got you,” she exclaims, wrapping her hand around a long, stiff object, “Mama’s got you.”

The object in her dominant left hand doesn’t seem like any discernable baby shape at all at first, but it has to be as what else could it be? She heard something cooing beneath her, so she latched onto it. It must be her Aiden, it just has to be.
But as she holds onto the strange arm or leg or whatever it is, she can feel that the stiff object is covered in veins, and the top of it has a rounded bulb on it that feels like a mushroom tip. Repulsion washes over her when she realizes what she’s holding and she lets out a squeal as it emerges from the mud, bringing her hand up with it. The tongues laugh at her again, finding her plight hilarious.

Even in the hardened darkness, she can make out its outline as it eases up out of the ground like a standing cobra. A single, vertical line cuts down the top of the mushroom tip and it lights up the area in front of her, waiting for her to make the first move.

“Pick one,” a stern voice in her head demands, the timbre bouncing around in her mind like a fly swarming a light bulb.

Beneath her, she hears the cooing of her child again and in front of her, she sees the image of a penis, standing up erect in her face. In the deepest corners of her mind, she understands what the strange sights and sounds in the hallway are trying to tell her, but she doesn’t know how to answer a question like that. She doesn’t even know where she is.

With her chin dug deep into the mud, she suddenly sees what looks like blue yarn in the shape of a woman walking down the hallway towards her. When the blue yarn reaches her, it lies down next to her, and now, she can feel that she is two people in the corridor—her current self, and herself as a teenager, the two of them here to make the decision whether they want to choose the baby or the penis.

For her current self, the choice is obvious as of course she would choose her child over the lust soaked indulgences of her youth, as what first time mother wouldn’t? But her younger self complicates matters, and she whispers in her ear: Why can’t you have both?

Something as thick as logic in the back of her mind asks her the same question, and she doesn’t have an immediate answer for that anymore. She’ll never touch her uncle’s penis again, as he died years ago in the Gulf War, but what about this penis in front of her now, which is obviously a symbol for something else? Why can’t she touch that? Something in her mind urges her to do so, but something else in her mind tells her not to.

The penis is the symbol of your teenage years, The girl by her side whispers in her ear, Didn’t you have fun back then, Goldie? Didn’t you like it when your panties were full of cum for a hot prick? The penis is just a symbol, babe. A symbol of your youth. What harm could it do you now?

Don’t do it, another voice in her head tells her, this one her own, You don’t want to go back to that place, Marigold. It took you years to break away.
Beyond any feeling that she can comprehend from the two voices, something like fluid goes off in her mind and all of a sudden, she does miss the feeling of lust that characterized her life before she found God and her husband. She thinks about it every day, actually, even if she doesn’t realize it.

Come, the teenager says, and all at once, as she looks into the starry eyes of her younger self, she can feel her current self retreating until she is back to being young again, in love with the idea of being wanted for her flesh and her legs. In her vision, she is back to sitting in the back seat of her uncle’s Toyota Camry, bouncing up and down as he rides over all the potholes. In this memory, he is driving her away from the hospital after her mother killed both her father and herself in a murder-suicide over an affair her father had been having. This is the first memory that she has of her uncle, and she always kept it locked away safely, right now being the first time that she’s thought about it in years.

“It’ll be alright,” he had said to her, turning his bald head back to look her in the eyes, “They’re in a better place now.”

A better place like where, though? She once asked herself this question for a whole summer and it disappointed her greatly when the only answer she could come up with was under the ground and buried.

As for her uncle, she was only with him for two years, but they were two years that changed her life forever. Early on in their relationship, he would have trouble doing something as simple as looking her in the eyes. His shyness showed front and center, even to a 16 year old girl such as Marigold. Even hugging her was difficult for him as he would wrap his arms around her as if he were hugging a tree and couldn’t get his arms all the way around it. She would sometimes feel a small poke coming from his pants when he would hug her and she would always wonder why. Is an uncle supposed to feel this way about his niece? Shouldn’t it be wrong?

She wasn’t disgusted, though, and after spending the first year with him, she began to understand his embarrassment around her and found it a little cute; especially when he would sneak glances at her from across the dinner table, looking at her above his food. This charmed her because at age 17, she was hardly what one would call a looker as she had a big forehead, small breasts, and outbreaks of splotchy pimples every week or so. Not a single boy in her high school would pay her any mind, let alone ask her to the senior prom.

So when he walked in on her when she was changing a tampon in the bathroom on that fateful day that would change her life forever, she didn’t react the way that he had probably expected her to. Instead, she acted in a way that was quite the opposite, really. It threw both of them for a loop, turning them both inside out and afraid of who they really were inside.

There she sat at the edge of a toilet, putting in a new tampon, when her uncle opened the door and walked inside, his face like that of a zombie.

“Stan!” she squealed as she clacked her knees together and pulled up her underwear to her thighs, “What are you in doing here?”

“I can’t take it anymore, Goldie,” he had told her, his face flushed and hopeless,

“I’ve kept myself away from you for two years but I can’t do it anymore, I don’t care about the consequences,” and like a man possessed, he walked right over to her and unzipped his pants, his penis dangling in front of her face, slim but long like a stick one would find in their backyard.

The troubled man closed his eyes and tilted his head up to the ceiling, as if God was going to strike him down with a lightning bolt at any moment. But Marigold liked seeing her uncle’s penis sitting before her under a mess of pubic hair and stretch marks. She had never seen a real penis up close before, and she was charmed that someone actually found her attractive enough to not be able to resist her. When she bent forward and put his penis in her mouth, she looked up at him and saw that his eyes were welled up.

Days after the incident, with him avoiding her every chance he could, she never saw him again as he enlisted in the military and wasn’t even there for her 18th birthday, when she was old enough to be on her own. It was in those years before she found God and after her uncle left her that she fell into a life of sin, drugs and casual sex, all to fill the void that her uncle left behind.

With the self-destructive and suicidal image of where the encounter with her uncle left her, the current Marigold steps out of her youthful eyes and explains to her younger self that the love she had for her uncle wasn’t love at all, but rather, the na├»ve search for emotional acceptance that she could never attain before she found God. When she tells the younger one this, she can feel the stern voice inside of her smile, and she herself is proud that she has finally come up with this conclusion.
But the teenage girl by her side leans over and whispers in her ear, But didn’t you like it for that brief moment when he made you feel special? If you accept the penis, then you’ll finally have reached acceptance, and the current Marigold chews this over with deep thought, not knowing herself well enough to know which side is right, her past or her future.

With much thought and consideration, she reaches for the penis, and thus, youth itself, and also puts her hand underneath the mud, reaching for her future. But the penis sinks back into the ground like a gopher and the cooing sounds stop all at once. All of a sudden, she is left in darkness again with the lapping tongues and when she looks up, she can see something like a square light turn on just above her. In the brightness of the light, she can see both of the walls on either side now, and they are nothing but tongues, the entire wall a vision of absolute hell.
The square light, when it brightens even more reveals that it’s a mounted television screen, and on it is a bald, old man’s face. His look is stern, showing disappointment.

“You have chosen incorrectly,” the old man says, and she instantly recognizes the voice as the one from back at her house, the image of leaping down the stairs at his command rushing back to her like a smack in the face.

“Who are you?” she asks, staring at the screen with wide eyes, “Why did you tell me to jump down the stairs before? Where am I?”

The old man looks at her as if just the sight of her makes him sick. His swarthy skin and desert brown eyes give him a Moroccan appearance and his thick wrinkles make him look as old as time itself, “I can’t believe you picked both the penis and the baby,” the old man harps, shaking his head in disapproval, “I fear more than anything in the world that I may have made the wrong choice in picking you, but my prophesy can’t be incorrect, you must be the one.”

“What are you talking about?” She asks, “Who are you?”

“I am called The Prophet,” the old man says, and she can hear in the way he says his name that he is of great importance, “You have failed a test, Marigold. You have chosen yourself over your child.”

“I would never do that,” Marigold shouts back.

“The test you were just given goes much deeper than your maternal instincts,” the old man says, looking her right in the eyes, “You still cling to your past and have not given it up for your future. What would your husband have to say about this? What about your baby, who I have brought you here to save?”

“What do you mean, save?” Marigold asks, pulling herself out of the mud, “What’s wrong with him?”

“He doesn’t want to be born and now I can see why,” the old man scoffs, “You lie to yourself that you’ve changed and found God, but you still resort to childish memories and seek instant gratification. You’re not willing to sacrifice for child or for God.”

“What’s wrong with Aiden?” Marigold asks, side-stepping his put downs, “Where is he?”

“Aiden is where all children stay before they are born,” the old man says with an acerbic tongue, “He is in the Internal Landscape, resting on the Tree of Life.”

“What are you talking about?” Marigold says, and the old man sighs as if he doesn’t have time for this.

“Inside every human being is a world deep within them that is not known to the conscious or even the unconscious mind,” the old man says, “In this world lies all that makes you uniquely you, but is also connected to the universal mind that has existed within people since the beginning of man. The archetypes of this world oversee it. I am an archetype known as The Prophet, but you know me better as Conviction, the keeper of ideas, imagination and faith. I have brought you here to save your son, because right now, he wants to miscarry himself.”

“What do you mean miscarry himself,” she asks, “What are you talking about?”

“All you need to know is that your child is in grave danger,” the old man says, “If you choose to save him, the journey ahead of you shall test you even harder than the test I just gave you.”

“Grave danger, how?” she asks, stepping up closer to the screen.

“You will find out more soon when I can see you in person, but for now, because you have failed your test, I have no choice but to send you to the Barriers of Regret. Had you answered correctly and chosen the baby like your instincts initially intended, I would have been able to send you directly to my Forest, but you have failed and thus must suffer the consequences.

The air and walls around Marigold begin to fall apart now like a house of cards until she’s outside now in the midst of fog. The TV stays suspended in the air.

“What is this?” she asks, looking all around her and feeling the warm air cloud around her.

“You are in the southern hemisphere of the Internal Landscape, Marigold; the swamps. You are in my sister’s realm now.”

“What? Swamps?” Marigold asks, the air getting cloudier around her now, almost making the TV disappear completely.

“There are four hemispheres in the Internal Landscape,” the old man says, the screen flickering now, “they are known as the Barriers of Regret and all travelers, or, somnambulists as they are called here, must travel through at least one of them if they fail the test, and you have fallen into the Swamps. My bitch of a wife, Logic, has created each one of these barriers and you must cross it to get to the Heavenly Forest, where your child resides. Do you understand?”

“No!” Marigold shouts at the TV, which begins to fade in and out now, “Where am I? What is this?”

“That’s all I can help you with now, Marigold,” the old man says with rings underneath his eyes now, “You must get across the Swamp if you want to get to the Forest where your child resides. Get to him before he miscarries himself or we’re all lost.”

“But where is the swamp?” she asks the TV, which vanishes into the foggy air. The air parts in front of her and she sees a small dock and hears the sound of water sloshing close by. She walks to the dock and looks down and sees a small boat that could fit two people, rocking up and down in what looks like black tides. She sits on the dock and lowers her foot into the boat, falling into it and rocking back and forth as the fog engulfs her. She takes the oars in her hands and rows as something in her mind tells her it’s the right thing to do. The water feels heavy and bulky as she rows, and it already begins to put a strain on her shoulders.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Chapter Five

Steve Covington

“Goodbye, Mr. Kayhill,” Steve Covington says as he trudges down the stairs with his heavy backpack and passes by the guidance councilor who’s walking up in the opposite direction.

“See you tomorrow,” Mr. Kayhill says, “If I don’t get sick in the mean time.” He fakes a cough into his fist and smiles on his way up. As he looks down at Steve, his one glass eye stays set in place forever.

Steve, a 24 year old, 5’8, black man with the shoulders of a lineman and the widow’s peak of a 40 year old, walks out the door to the parking lot and adjusts his backpack as he walks to his car. He navigates his hand around his overstuffed wallet in his pocket and pulls out his car keys when he sees his friend, Jeff Haunt, leaning against the trunk of his Civic. By his friend’s foot is a large box and Steve knows that this can’t be good.

“Hey, what’s up with the box, man?” Steve says, upturning his head as he gets closer to his friend.

“I’ll tell you in the car,” Haunt says, his face downturned so his stiff hair, like straw from a scarecrow, hangs down low on his strangely sweating forehead in this 50 degree weather.

Steve unlocks the car and throws his heavy bag in the back seat with one hand. He tosses his coat on the floor and wipes most of his old magazines off the seat to make room for his friend’s box, which is filled to the brim. When Haunt slides the box on top of an old issue of Writer’s Digest, Steve steals a look inside and sees a framed picture of his friend and his wife getting married at the top of the heap. Steve sees Haunt looking at him from the other side of the car with hopeless green eyes and he pulls his head out from the backseat and opens up his own door to the driver’s side. Haunt shuts the backdoor and sits quietly beside Steve in the passenger seat, so silent it’s as if he isn’t even there. In less than a second, Haunt’s mind wanders and gets lost in the playground beyond Steve’s windshield, and he wonders where his friend goes when as he gets to staring like that. Steve puts his car in reverse and drives out the parking lot and neither of them say a word to each other. Steve has been dying to know what happened ever since he heard Principal Jaffe’s grouchy, cowboy drawl demanding his friend go down to the office at fourth period.

Steve drives for awhile in silence, hitting the highway and turning on the radio only to turn it back off when he hears the same song on three different stations. He keeps looking in the rearview mirror at Haunt’s box until he can’t take it anymore.

“I don’t mean to broach, man, and you don’t have to tell me anything if you don’t want to,” Steve says, looking over at his friend’s collar as Haunt stares out the window, “But do you mind telling me what happened today, man? If you don’t want to, you don’t have to.”

Haunt turns his face to him, and Steve frowns, as his friend has snot dripping out of his nose.

“You got a little,” Steve says, pointing to his own nostril, and Haunt wipes his nose with the back of his sleeve, too upset, with his cherry red cheeks and dry tears, to even care what his friend might think of this.

“I’m afraid I won’t be able to pick you up tomorrow, man,” Haunt says with trembling lips.

“Why, man, what happened?” Steve asks, keeping his eyes on the road and talking to his friend like a mother might talk to their daughter who just broke up with their boyfriend, “I heard them calling you down at fourth period.”

Haunt sighs, and stares out the windshield again, and for a moment, Steve thinks his friend is going to lapse back into his daydream. But Haunt shakes his head and looks back at his friend with a face that’s more composed than it was a second ago.

“Maurice and Jaylon from 715 were fighting and they broke a computer,” Haunt says, and Steve can see his friend reliving the moment in his head, “I don’t know what else I could have done. By the time I called security, the monitor was already broken.”

“Those fucking assholes,” Steve says, shaking his head. Like Haunt, he has homeroom 715, too, and he hates them with every cell in his body. The stupid pieces of shit couldn’t tell a noun from a hole in their asses. “And what happened in his office? I heard Mrs. Davis was called down, too.”

“Yeah, that bitch,” Haunt says, shaking his head and squeezing in his face as if he’s going to sneeze, “I shouldn’t call her that, though. My wife wouldn’t like it.”

“Probably not, but you’re not with your wife now,” Steve says, patting his friend’s shoulder and thinking about the man’s wife, who is about as crazy as a Jesus freak can be, “Get it all out of you, man. Mrs. Davis is a bitch. Everybody thinks so.”

“She just sat there with her yellow notepad and kept flipping pages,” Haunt huffs, “Her and that fat piece of shit kept trying to get me to resign.”

“Please tell me you didn’t do it, though” Steve says, worried, “You wouldn’t be able to collect unemployment if you did.”

“Those assholes,” Haunt says, “I wouldn’t let them do it to me.”

“Well, that’s good,” Steve says, “They pulled that shit on Mr. Stein and he doesn’t get shit now.” Steve pauses for a moment and then says, “So, what are you going to do now? Do you have any idea?”

“What now?” Haunt says, more to himself than to Steve, “That’s the hundred thousand dollar question, what now.”

“And you severed all your ties with your previous job, right?” Steve says, hitting the brakes hard to avoid hitting another car that switches lanes without even looking, “Oh, come on, you piece of shit!” Steve yells at the car in front of him before focusing back on his friend. “I’m sorry. What was I talking about again?”

Haunt sighs and looks down at his lap, his glasses fogging up from the heat in the car. “I wish I was still young like you, man,” he says.

“Why?” Steve says, “It’s not so great. Just look at me. I could be working at a place like Entertainment Weekly and instead I’m wasting my life here at this fucking school.”

“Yeah, man, but when I was your age, I could do anything,” Haunt says, side-stepping his friend’s own problems, “I’d go right up to my old job if I was still 24 and I wouldn’t leave until they gave me my old job back. I’d even take something in the back office, if I had to.”

Haunt’s face crumples and the tears well up again. “Never get old, Steve. It’s the worst thing that could ever happen to you.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Steve says, tired of hearing his friend being such a sad sack, “You act like being young would change everything, man, but it wouldn’t, and I’m a prime example of that. I used to really care about getting the best journalism job out there but now I really couldn’t care less. As long as I can pay my internet bills, I’m happy. Well, happy enough, at least. But if you really want to go back to Wall Street, man, then do it. All you have to do is believe in yourself.”

For a brief moment, Steve sees something like a glimmer of hope in his friend’s eyes, but it disappears and turns into jaded pessimism again.

“You’ll see when you get older,” Haunt says, “When you reach a certain age, you realize that life is just a bunch of missed opportunities,” he says, “If it weren’t for Marigold, I wouldn’t have anything.”

“But you do have Marigold,” Steve says, starting to get depressed now himself, and for another brief instant, he sees a light go on in his friend’s eyes, but this too disappears after a moment.

“You know, I’ve been having these strange visions about her all day today,” Haunt says.

“What kind of visions?” Steve asks.

“Strange visions,” Haunt responds, “She was always in the shadow whenever I thought of her today.”

“Hmm,” Steve says, thinking about that, “And what about your dreams last night? Did you have any?”

“Not that I know of,” Haunt says, recollecting his thoughts, “But I’ve been daydreaming a lot today.”

“Tell me about it,” Steve says, “You’ve been in your own little world half this whole ride. We’re even almost at your house now.”

“Man,” Haunt says, and that’s all he says. He looks back down at his pants and drifts.

“What do you think Marigold’s going to say?” Steve asks, pulling onto Haunt’s street now.

“I don’t know,” Haunt says, and his face gets flush again, “I don’t think I’m going to tell her. Not today anyway.”

“You can’t keep her in the dark, man,” Steve says, pulling up into his friend’s driveway now, both of the garage doors closed.

“I know, but I don’t want to upset her anymore than she already is,” Haunt says, and he stares at the house now as if he’s never even seen it before.

“Well, whatever you do, if you ever need to call me, please don’t hesitate, man. I’m sure things will turn out alright in the end.”

“I wish I had your optimism,” Haunt says before a smile forms on his face, “You’re a good friend, Steve.”

“I live to please,” Steve says, correcting himself, “Actually, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I hate everybody.”

“You’re not as misanthropic as you think,” Haunt says, and he gets out of the car and knocks on the window of the back door for Steve to unlock it. Steve clicks the button on the side of his door and Haunt opens it.

“Thanks again, man,” Haunt says, looking in through the back door, “for listening.”

“Well, I probably did more talking than listening,” Steve says, forcing a smile as he thinks of his friend’s dismal future, “But you’re welcome.”

“Let’s keep in touch,” Haunt says.

“Definitely, man, definitely,” Steve says, and he really means it. He really intends to.

Haunt closes the door with the box itself and walks towards his front door. He digs in his pocket and takes out his keys.

As Steve puts the car in reverse, he watches his friend disappear into his house as the front screen door slams hard behind him. Steve drives down the street to the stop sign thinking of his friend, and he hopes from the bottom of his heart that everything turns out alright.

Chapter Four

Haunt

Haunt keeps seeing his wife’s face in his mind as he walks down the third floor stairs but he doesn’t know what to make of it, as her face is partly covered in shadow.

“Mrs. Davis, to my office immediately,” Principal Jaffe says over the loudspeaker, and Haunt feels something sharp and quick cut down his spine like a knife at the sound of Jaffe’s voice just above him. After seeing Mrs. Davis, the union rep, in the principal’s office last week following the rape incident, she told him that she wouldn’t be able to “fix his mess” the next time and that he had to “stop messing up,” if he didn’t want to “end up in the unemployment line.”

The image of the principal and the union rep sitting in the office together like two judges waiting for him makes him feel light-headed all of a sudden. He grabs onto the banister next to him and staggers down the stairs.

When Haunt reaches the second floor, he stops to take a breather. He puts two fingers to his neck to take his pulse and can feel the racehorses trying to gallop right out of his skin. Bending over, he takes short and heavy breaths to avoid a panic attack, and when he stands back up, the quick change in elevation makes everything go black behind his eyes. As he stands in the dissipating darkness, an image infiltrates his head and it dissolves everything else around him. In moments, he’s no longer on the second flight of stairs looking at a brick wall but rather, in his own head.

In his mind, he sees himself being released from a prison cell in medieval times. A faceless prison guard grabs his arm and throws him out of his cell. The guard forces him to march down a putrid hallway and he can feel rat tails rubbing up against his pant legs. While not much bigger than him, the guard pushes and pokes him from behind with a spear until he’s outside, looking up at the contrasting blue sky from the darkness of the tunnel below. He shuffles past a crowd of filthy onlookers and they gnash their teeth at him and begin to throw rotten fruits and vegetables his way, cursing him.

“Cut his head off,” an old woman wearing a stained apron shouts. She takes a bite out of a small whole cabbage and throws it at him. It hits him in the shoulder, throwing him off balance.

“No, we should crucify him!” a large man says beside her, his head shaped like a box,

“We don’t crucify anybody anymore.”

Haunt looks up from the road and can see the chopping block waiting for him on an elevated stage. The block, on closer inspection, is really just a tree stump, and it looks as if the stage was built right on top of it, stunting its growth. As he stares at the giant stump that’s sitting there just for him, he thinks of what crime he could have possibly committed, but all he can come up with is stealing a loaf of bread for his wife, as he would never do anything to harm another person, even in a fantasy.

The prison guard behind him starts to take shape in his head, and as he peeks over his shoulder, he can see Mrs. Davis’ large posterior behind him. Her sharp nails and small facial features look just as nasty as they do in real life.

“We’re tired of cleaning up your mess,” she whispers in his ear.

The closer Haunt gets to the stage, the more his executioner begins to take shape as well. As he walks up the steps, he can see the executioner now, and it’s Principal Jaffe. He’s not even wearing a mask. His buzzcut haircut is as sharp as the axe he proudly holds at his side, and his double chin sags beneath a grin as Haunt is pushed up onto the stage.

“I’m sorry to do this to you because you’re one hell of a guy,” Jaffe says when he’s close enough for Haunt to hear him, “But if it’s going to be you or me who’s going to get the axe, I’m going to choose you.”

“But I can change,” Haunt pleads, “I can do better,” but Mrs. Davis isn’t having that. She kicks Haunt in the back of the knee with her pointy heel, and it makes him fall to the ground.

“Get your head on that chopping block,” Mrs. Davis snarls, bending down close to his ear, and Jaffe kicks him in the butt, making him crawl on all fours. Strangely enough, when Haunt rests his chin on the stump, there isn’t a tear in his eye. Something about the sacrifice of it all, about stealing a loaf of bread for his starving wife, makes him feel as if he actually did something worthwhile with his life. He would do it all again if he could.

With his tired eyes, he scans the audience for his wife, but he can’t find her anywhere at first. There are just too many faces in the crowd, and so many of them are shouting for his head, throwing their fists up in the air in unison. But as his eyes adjust to the glob of people, he sees her there, front and center, covered in a blue light and crying. For her, he will cry, and tears begin to well up in his eyes. With his quivering chin, his face wobbles on the block, and he wants to let out a scream but his throat is too clogged with emotions to let him.

How will she ever go on without me? Haunt wonders, the shadow of the raised axe lingering in his eyes. But an even greater, more haunting concern enters his mind at the very last second—How would I ever go on without her? And he can see the shadow of the axe come down towards his neck. He shuts his eyes and—

“Mr. Haunt, you are wanted in my office immediately,” Principal Jaffe’s voice blares above Haunt again, making him jump back into reality, “Will somebody in security please see if Mr. Haunt is in the hallway somewhere? He is wanted in my office now.”

Haunt runs down the rest of the stairs two at a time and gets to the lobby. He turns right and runs a bit more to get to the main office, and takes another right to go inside. He doesn’t want to deal with anymore security guards today, especially not Mr. Dawson, who creeps him out by just looking at him

When he enters the room, two kids are sitting by the entrance with their heads down, sent out of class for bad behavior.

“Where were you?” Michelle, Jaffe’s buxom secretary, asks and Haunt rushes past her, not wanting to talk to her right now. Haunt walks into the principal’s open door, and when he steps inside the blue and yellow decorated room, he sees Mrs. Davis and Principal Jaffe sitting across from each other, a desk separating them. They both look up at Haunt with scrunched up and angry faces.

“Where the hell were you?” Jaffe snarls, “I called you down here over five minutes ago.

“I had to go to the bathroom,” Haunt lies, and Jaffe shoots a glance over at Mrs. Davis, who shakes her head. On her lap is a yellow legal pad, and Haunt knows exactly what it’s for.

“Well, close the door then,” Jaffe orders, and Haunt does so, lightly. There are three seats that sit in front of Jaffe’s desk. One of them contains Mrs. Davis, who sits on the farthest end. There are two next to her, and Haunt takes the seat farthest to the right, leaving a seat between them. In the back of his mind, he sees his wife looking up at him, the shadow of the ax meant to kill him spread across her face.

“You have two options,” Jaffe begins, leaning back in his chair in front of a large U.C.L.A. banner that sits on his wall, “You can resign or we can fire you?”

Out the corner of his eye, Haunt sees Mrs. Davis writing something in her legal pad, and her long, pink nails, which match her tight outfit, curl around her pen like a Venus flytrap ensnaring its prey.

“We should go over Mr. Haunt’s options in more detail,” Mrs. Davis says, looking up from her legal pad for only a second, “Just so he knows that we’re offering him a fair deal.”

“You want the short end of it, Jeff,” Jaffe says, looking at Haunt and spinning left and right in his chair, “You’d be better off if you resigned, it’s as simple as that.”

“Unfortunately, though, because of certain legal issues following last week’s incident, we can’t write you a letter of recommendation,” Mrs. Davis chimes in.

“I’m sure you understand,” Jaffe adds.

As much as Haunt would like to just walk out the room and accept their offer—anything to just get away from their feigned concern—the machinery in his head starts spinning and he thinks about how he won’t be able to collect unemployment if they get him to resign. So he has to play ball with them, even if it makes him sick to his stomach. It’s the only way he can go home to his wife tonight and not feel completely ashamed. His poor wife. What is she going to do about the voices?

“I appreciate your concern, but I would rather be fired,” Haunt says. A flash passes over Jaffe’s fat face and he looks over at Mrs. Davis, who Haunt can see nod in Jaffe’s direction.

“Well, I’d hate to do this to you, Mr. Haunt,” Jaffe says, sitting upright in his seat now, “being that you’re one hell of a guy and all, but if I fire you, I’m really going to have to bring down the fire on you. Do you understand what I mean?”
Haunt remains blank. Jaffe looks over at Mrs. Davis and she nods again, so he continues.

“After the black eye you gave us last week, the district, well, let’s just say, they won’t be too pleased if we get rid of you this week when we should have done it last week. I hope you understand where I’m coming from with this.”

Haunt peeks over again at Mrs. Davis only to see that she’s looking right at him now.

“I don’t know if you understand what kind of stain last week’s incident would put on your resume, Mr. Haunt,” Mrs. Davis says in a judicious tone, and Haunt nods his head.

“Yes, I understand,” Haunt says, “And I think you should fire me for it.”

“No, I don’t think you do,” Jaffe says, “Like Stacy over here says, you don’t want that kind of stain on your record. Other schools won’t hire you worth a damn. Not even another urban one like this one.”

“I’m aware of that,” Haunt says, “But I still think you should fire me.”

“Stacy,” Jaffe says, leaning back in his seat and staring hard at Haunt, “Read him some of his records please.”

“In September of this year,” Mrs. Davis says, leafing through the yellow legal pad that she brought with her last week, “A fight broke out in your classroom where a student had to go to the hospital for a broken nose.”

“Classroom management is important in every school,” Jaffe says.

“Yes, I’m aware of that,” Haunt says, standing by his convictions, “I know I wouldn’t be able to get another teaching job if I got fired here today.”

“Well, if you know that then, then I’m just curious, Jeff,” Jaffe says, his small lips smugly to the side of his face, “Where do you expect to get a job then in this economy? You expect to go back to working for the government, auditing companies or whatever you did, just like that?”

“No, I’ll probably do something else,” Haunt says, not really knowing what that something else might be, but still not letting them gain an inch in this conversation, “Maybe carpentry. I like working with my hands.”

Jaffe looks over at Mrs. Davis and he raises his eyebrows and purses his lips. She shakes her head and motions with her lips back to his desk, and Jaffe offers an angry expression. Haunt watches all this with a sort of morbid fascination at their mental strategizing, all to get him to quit on his own volition today.

“Look,” Haunt says, looking at Jaffe now whose eyebrows are all the way up to his buzzcut, “I don’t want to resign. If you want to fire me, then go ahead. But I’d be just as fine if you’d let me go back to teaching in my classroom.

Something like a fuse goes off in Jaffe’s face and he slams the desk with his fist.

“With a fucking broken computer in your room?” Jaffe explodes, and Mrs. Davis puts her hand out, telling him to cool down, but Haunt has already latched on to his boss’ anger and has him right where he wants him.

“There’s no reason to curse at me,” Haunt says, leaning back in his chair and crossing his legs. “I’m just trying to be civil here.”

“Civil?” Jaffe says, his face turning red, and Mrs. Davis keeps patting the air with her hands, but Jaffe is already into it, leaning into his desk, “After that shit last week with the district, you think we can just have a computer break in your classroom and you go back in there like business is usual, is that what you think? The superintendent will have my ass on a spit for letting someone as incompetent as you in that room. The only reason I kept you on last week is because you have a goddamn pregnant wife at home. Are you penalizing me now for giving you a fucking break? Is that what you’re doing to me?”

Haunt can see Mrs. Davis put her hand over her eyes, and he does feel a little bad for his boss, now knowing why he was kept on, but he can’t let sympathy hold him back now. He has to do this, for Marigold.

“Well, you can either put me back in the classroom, or, I can go tell the district how you’re trying to blackmail me into quitting, and I have the union rep right here in this room as a witness,” Haunt says, and Jaffe slams his table again and spins around right and left, fuming.

When he finally stops turning, he leans into his desk again and points his finger, right in Haunt’s face.

“You’re a goddamn snake, you know that, Jeff? You’re a—” he begins, but Mrs. Davis leans forward, wrapping her long fingernails around his finger and trapping it there.

“That’s enough,” Mrs. Davis says, looking Jaffe right in the face and communicating with him again in their silent talk. Haunt may not know what he’s going to do in his newly dismal future, but he does know that he’s going to be walking out of here today with a severance package, or whatever the hell they give teachers when they fire them.

Jaffe scowls but then leans back in his seat. His eyes never leave Haunt’s, and Haunt’s never leave his. The image of the executioner diminishes in his eyes now, and all he sees is a petty, fat man, one who can’t control his temper.

“You will get your wish and be fired today, Mr. Haunt,” Mrs. Davis says, her topaz eyes lingering in his mind long after she turns her attention back to the principal, “Effective immediately, Mr. Haunt will be fired and a substitute teacher will be hired in his stead to take over for him until somebody else can replace him.”

“But what about Mrs. Clevin?”Jaffe whines, throwing out his hands, and Haunt finds his old boss’ desperation pathetic. Why did he fear him again?

“We will deal with her on our own time,” Mrs. Davis says, “In the mean time, we have to prepare for Mr. Haunt’s departure.”

Principal Jaffe looks over at Mrs. Davis and then back at Haunt. He gnarls his fists and squeezes the ends of his chair handles as if he wants to rip them right off.

“You may leave now, Mr. Haunt,” Mrs. Davis says, and Haunt stands up from his seat, lowering his head almost in a sort of a bow to the both of them.

“Thank you,” Haunt says, “I’ll clean out my room by the end of the day.”

Haunt walks to the door when Mrs. Davis stops him.

“Oh, Mr. Haunt,” Mrs. Davis says.

“Yes, Mrs. Davis?” Haunt says, halfway out the door.

“Whatever it is that you’re willing to risk your career on,” Mrs. Davis says, looking him right in the eyes from her seat, “I hope it’s worth it, because like Mr. Jaffe says, we’re not going to be kind to you when we write up why we fired you.”

“It is worth it,” Haunt says proudly, and he steps out the door, closing it lightly again.

Haunt walks out the main office and all the way down the hall until he reaches the exit to the parking lot. He steps outside, and the November wind is cold on his skin. It makes him shiver all over. For a second, he bungles in his pockets for his car keys, but then he realizes that he didn’t drive today because it’s Wednesday, and his friend Steve always drives on Wednesday. Something like tears begin to well up in his eyes and he hurries over to his friend’s Civic. He sits right on the curb next to it and lowers himself so nobody can see him. He rests his arms on his knees and digs his face into his arms and he begins to cry. He cries long and hard, but they are tears of joy because he knows that what he just did he did for his wife, and he would do it all over again if he could. The thought of her gives him strength, as it always has. He thinks of her now, but instead of being front and center in the crowd as she was before in his mind, she steps backwards, deeper into the shadow that she was partly in before until she can’t be seen at all anymore, a random shape in a sea of yawning nothingness.

Breakfast, lunch, dinner — it's all Subway



Think of Subway and you'll think of Jared, the "five-dollar foot long" jingle and a menu that's uniform nationwide.

That being said, each Subway comes with its own personality, and at the Subway in Chester it's friendly and family-like.

"A lot of kids (who come here) we know by name," says store owner Rushika Patel, "They'll say 'how are you' and all that, and they'll come around and ask our name, and we'll give them a cookie for free, because a lot of kids are so comfortable with us that they know us by first name, too."

Patel prides herself on the fact that this is a family friendly shop, and that besides sub sandwiches it sells a plethora of other foods, including pizza and breakfast — but not French fries, which customers often ask for.

As for the breakfast menu, it's just starting to catch on.

"It's new, and (some people are) afraid to try new things," Patel says.

Those who do try it will be pleasantly surprised at the variety. Breakfast sandwiches, which include favorites such as egg whites, regular eggs, ham, or bacon, can be served on an English muffin or flatbread, or, if you're feeling really hungry in the morning, even on a foot-long roll. There are also hash browns, apples and coffee available so, like everything here, you have plenty of options.

Of course, the foot-long sandwiches are as popular as ever. Eight of them are only $5 each, including Black Forest Ham, Veggie Delight, and the Meatball Marinara, which is this store's most popular in the wintertime. Not every Subway has the same $5 list, and at the Chester store turkey and tuna alternate on it.

"(It all) depends on the market, but in my store, turkey has been the five-dollar foot long. Tuna comes in maybe five weeks' promo, and then comes off," Patel explains.

Patel seems as knowledgable as a long-time restaurateur but this is actually her first business.

"I bought this store about a year-and-a-half ago (October 2008), and since then I've been in the store as sole owner/employee," she says.

"It's a good investment," Patel adds, "I mean, buying a franchise is a good way to start your own business. (It's all about) learning how to get into business rather than buying something that you don't know where it's going to go to."

As for Chester, she didn't really know of the town before she bought this location after finding that it was for sale on Subway's website. But she sure is glad that she knows it now.

"Chester is a beautiful area," Patel says.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Chapter Three

Chapter Three
Haunt

Haunt keeps seeing his wife’s face in his mind as he walks down the third floor stairs but he doesn’t know what to make of it, as her face is partly covered in shadow.

“Mrs. Davis, to my office immediately,” Principal Jaffe says over the loudspeaker, and Haunt feels something sharp and quick cut down his spine like a knife at the sound of Jaffe’s voice just above him. After seeing Mrs. Davis, the union rep, in the principal’s office last week following the rape incident, she told him that she wouldn’t be able to “fix his mess” the next time and that he had to “stop messing up,” if he didn’t want to “end up in the unemployment line.”

The image of the principal and the union rep sitting in the office together like two judges waiting for him makes him feel light-headed all of a sudden. He grabs onto the banister next to him and staggers down the stairs.

When Haunt reaches the second floor, he stops to take a breather. He puts two fingers to his neck to take his pulse and can feel the racehorses trying to gallop right out of his skin. Bending over, he takes short and heavy breaths to avoid a panic attack, and when he stands back up, the quick change in elevation makes everything go black behind his eyes. As he stands in the dissipating darkness, an image infiltrates his head and it dissolves everything else around him. In moments, he’s no longer on the second flight of stairs looking at a brick wall but rather, in his own head.
In his mind, he sees himself being released from a prison cell in medieval times. A faceless prison guard grabs his arm and throws him out of his cell. The guard forces him to march down a putrid hallway and he can feel rat tails rubbing up against his pant legs. While not much bigger than him, the guard pushes and pokes him from behind with a spear until he’s outside, looking up at the contrasting blue sky from the darkness of the tunnel below. He shuffles past a crowd of filthy onlookers and they gnash their teeth at him and begin to throw rotten fruits and vegetables his way, cursing him.

“Cut his head off,” an old woman wearing a stained apron shouts. She takes a bite out of a small whole cabbage and throws it at him. It hits him in the shoulder, throwing him off balance.

“No, we should crucify him!” a large man says beside her, his head shaped like a box,

“We don’t crucify anybody anymore.”

Haunt looks up from the road and can see the chopping block waiting for him on an elevated stage. The block, on closer inspection, is really just a tree stump, and it looks as if the stage was built right on top of it, stunting its growth. As he stares at the giant stump that’s sitting there just for him, he thinks of what crime he could have possibly committed, but all he can come up with is stealing a loaf of bread for his wife, as he would never do anything to harm another person, even in a fantasy.

The prison guard behind him starts to take shape in his head, and as he peeks over his shoulder, he can see Mrs. Davis’ large posterior behind him. Her sharp nails and small facial features look just as nasty as they do in real life.

“We’re tired of cleaning up your mess,” she whispers in his ear.

The closer Haunt gets to the stage, the more his executioner begins to take shape as well. As he walks up the steps, he can see the executioner now, and it’s Principal Jaffe. He’s not even wearing a mask. His buzzcut haircut is as sharp as the axe he proudly holds at his side, and his double chin sags beneath a grin as Haunt is pushed up onto the stage.

“I’m sorry to do this to you because you’re one hell of a guy,” Jaffe says when he’s close enough for Haunt to hear him, “But if it’s going to be you or me who’s going to get the axe, I’m going to choose you.”

“But I can change,” Haunt pleads, “I can do better,” but Mrs. Davis isn’t having that. She kicks Haunt in the back of the knee with her pointy heel, and it makes him fall to the ground.

“Get your head on that chopping block,” Mrs. Davis snarls, bending down close to his ear, and Jaffe kicks him in the butt, making him crawl on all fours. Strangely enough, when Haunt rests his chin on the stump, there isn’t a tear in his eye. Something about the sacrifice of it all, about stealing a loaf of bread for his starving wife, makes him feel as if he actually did something worthwhile with his life. He would do it all again if he could.

With his tired eyes, he scans the audience for his wife, but he can’t find her anywhere at first. There are just too many faces in the crowd, and so many of them are shouting for his head, throwing their fists up in the air in unison. But as his eyes adjust to the glob of people, he sees her there, front and center, covered in a blue light and crying. For her, he will cry, and tears begin to well up in his eyes. With his quivering chin, his face wobbles on the block, and he wants to let out a scream but his throat is too clogged with emotions to let him.

How will she ever go on without me? Haunt wonders, the shadow of the raised axe lingering in his eyes. But an even greater, more haunting concern enters his mind at the very last second—How would I ever go on without her? And he can see the shadow of the axe come down towards his neck. He shuts his eyes and—

“Mr. Haunt, you are wanted in my office immediately,” Principal Jaffe’s voice blares above Haunt again, making him jump back into reality, “Will somebody in security please see if Mr. Haunt is in the hallway somewhere? He is wanted in my office now.”

Haunt runs down the rest of the stairs two at a time and gets to the lobby. He turns right and runs a bit more to get to the main office, and takes another right to go inside. He doesn’t want to deal with anymore security guards today, especially not Mr. Dawson, who creeps him out by just looking at him

When he enters the room, two kids are sitting by the entrance with their heads down, sent out of class for bad behavior.
“Where were you?” Michelle, Jaffe’s buxom secretary, asks and Haunt rushes past her, not wanting to talk to her right now. Haunt walks into the principal’s open door, and when he steps inside the blue and yellow decorated room, he sees Mrs. Davis and Principal Jaffe sitting across from each other, a desk separating them. They both look up at Haunt with scrunched up and angry faces.

“Where the hell were you?” Jaffe snarls, “I called you down here over five minutes ago.

“I had to go to the bathroom,” Haunt lies, and Jaffe shoots a glance over at Mrs. Davis, who shakes her head. On her lap is a yellow legal pad, and Haunt knows exactly what it’s for.

“Well, close the door then,” Jaffe orders, and Haunt does so, lightly. There are three seats that sit in front of Jaffe’s desk. One of them contains Mrs. Davis, who sits on the farthest end. There are two next to her, and Haunt takes the seat farthest to the right, leaving a seat between them. In the back of his mind, he sees his wife looking up at him, the shadow of the ax meant to kill him spread across her face.

“You have two options,” Jaffe begins, leaning back in his chair in front of a large U.C.L.A. banner that sits on his wall, “You can resign or we can fire you?”

Out the corner of his eye, Haunt sees Mrs. Davis writing something in her legal pad, and her long, pink nails, which match her tight outfit, curl around her pen like a Venus flytrap ensnaring its prey.

“We should go over Mr. Haunt’s options in more detail,” Mrs. Davis says, looking up from her legal pad for only a second, “Just so he knows that we’re offering him a fair deal.”

“You want the short end of it, Jeff,” Jaffe says, looking at Haunt and spinning left and right in his chair, “You’d be better off if you resigned, it’s as simple as that.”

“Unfortunately, though, because of certain legal issues following last week’s incident, we can’t write you a letter of recommendation,” Mrs. Davis chimes in.

“I’m sure you understand,” Jaffe adds.

As much as Haunt would like to just walk out the room and accept their offer—anything to just get away from their feigned concern—the machinery in his head starts spinning and he thinks about how he won’t be able to collect unemployment if they get him to resign. So he has to play ball with them, even if it makes him sick to his stomach. It’s the only way he can go home to his wife tonight and not feel completely ashamed. His poor wife. What is she going to do about the voices?

“I appreciate your concern, but I would rather be fired,” Haunt says. A flash passes over Jaffe’s fat face and he looks over at Mrs. Davis, who Haunt can see nod in Jaffe’s direction.

“Well, I’d hate to do this to you, Mr. Haunt,” Jaffe says, sitting upright in his seat now, “being that you’re one hell of a guy and all, but if I fire you, I’m really going to have to bring down the fire on you. Do you understand what I mean?”
Haunt remains blank. Jaffe looks over at Mrs. Davis and she nods again, so he continues.

“After the black eye you gave us last week, the district, well, let’s just say, they won’t be too pleased if we get rid of you this week when we should have done it last week. I hope you understand where I’m coming from with this.”

Haunt peeks over again at Mrs. Davis only to see that she’s looking right at him now.

“I don’t know if you understand what kind of stain last week’s incident would put on your resume, Mr. Haunt,” Mrs. Davis says in a judicious tone, and Haunt nods his head.

“Yes, I understand,” Haunt says, “And I think you should fire me for it.”

“No, I don’t think you do,” Jaffe says, “Like Stacy over here says, you don’t want that kind of stain on your record. Other schools won’t hire you worth a damn. Not even another urban one like this one.”

“I’m aware of that,” Haunt says, “But I still think you should fire me.”

“Stacy,” Jaffe says, leaning back in his seat and staring hard at Haunt, “Read him some of his records please.”

“In September of this year,” Mrs. Davis says, leafing through the yellow legal pad that she brought with her last week, “A fight broke out in your classroom where a student had to go to the hospital for a broken nose.”

“Classroom management is important in every school,” Jaffe says.

“Yes, I’m aware of that,” Haunt says, standing by his convictions, “I know I wouldn’t be able to get another teaching job if I got fired here today.”

“Well, if you know that then, then I’m just curious, Jeff,” Jaffe says, his small lips smugly to the side of his face, “Where do you expect to get a job then in this economy? You expect to go back to working for the government, auditing companies or whatever you did, just like that?”

“No, I’ll probably do something else,” Haunt says, not really knowing what that something else might be, but still not letting them gain an inch in this conversation, “Maybe carpentry. I like working with my hands.”

Jaffe looks over at Mrs. Davis and he raises his eyebrows and purses his lips. She shakes her head and motions with her lips back to his desk, and Jaffe offers an angry expression. Haunt watches all this with a sort of morbid fascination at their mental strategizing, all to get him to quit on his own volition today.

“Look,” Haunt says, looking at Jaffe now whose eyebrows are all the way up to his buzzcut, “I don’t want to resign. If you want to fire me, then go ahead. But I’d be just as fine if you’d let me go back to teaching in my classroom.

Something like a fuse goes off in Jaffe’s face and he slams the desk with his fist.

“With a fucking broken computer in your room?” Jaffe explodes, and Mrs. Davis puts her hand out, telling him to cool down, but Haunt has already latched on to his boss’ anger and has him right where he wants him.

“There’s no reason to curse at me,” Haunt says, leaning back in his chair and crossing his legs. “I’m just trying to be civil here.”

“Civil?” Jaffe says, his face turning red, and Mrs. Davis keeps patting the air with her hands, but Jaffe is already into it, leaning into his desk, “After that shit last week with the district, you think we can just have a computer break in your classroom and you go back in there like business is usual, is that what you think? The superintendent will have my ass on a spit for letting someone as incompetent as you in that room. The only reason I kept you on last week is because you have a goddamn pregnant wife at home. Are you penalizing me now for giving you a fucking break? Is that what you’re doing to me?”

Haunt can see Mrs. Davis put her hand over her eyes, and he does feel a little bad for his boss, now knowing why he was kept on, but he can’t let sympathy hold him back now. He has to do this, for Marigold.

“Well, you can either put me back in the classroom, or, I can go tell the district how you’re trying to blackmail me into quitting, and I have the union rep right here in this room as a witness,” Haunt says, and Jaffe slams his table again and spins around right and left, fuming.

When he finally stops turning, he leans into his desk again and points his finger, right in Haunt’s face.

“You’re a goddamn snake, you know that, Jeff? You’re a—” he begins, but Mrs. Davis leans forward, wrapping her long fingernails around his finger and trapping it there.

“That’s enough,” Mrs. Davis says, looking Jaffe right in the face and communicating with him again in their silent talk. Haunt may not know what he’s going to do in his newly dismal future, but he does know that he’s going to be walking out of here today with a severance package, or whatever the hell they give teachers when they fire them.

Jaffe scowls but then leans back in his seat. His eyes never leave Haunt’s, and Haunt’s never leave his. The image of the executioner diminishes in his eyes now, and all he sees is a petty, fat man, one who can’t control his temper.

“You will get your wish and be fired today, Mr. Haunt,” Mrs. Davis says, her topaz eyes lingering in his mind long after she turns her attention back to the principal, “Effective immediately, Mr. Haunt will be fired and a substitute teacher will be hired in his stead to take over for him until somebody else can replace him.”

“But what about Mrs. Clevin?”Jaffe whines, throwing out his hands, and Haunt finds his old boss’ desperation pathetic. Why did he fear him again?

“We will deal with her on our own time,” Mrs. Davis says, “In the mean time, we have to prepare for Mr. Haunt’s departure.”

Principal Jaffe looks over at Mrs. Davis and then back at Haunt. He gnarls his fists and squeezes the ends of his chair handles as if he wants to rip them right off.

“You may leave now, Mr. Haunt,” Mrs. Davis says, and Haunt stands up from his seat, lowering his head almost in a sort of a bow to the both of them.

“Thank you,” Haunt says, “I’ll clean out my room by the end of the day.”
Haunt walks to the door when Mrs. Davis stops him.

“Oh, Mr. Haunt,” Mrs. Davis says.

“Yes, Mrs. Davis?” Haunt says, halfway out the door.

“Whatever it is that you’re willing to risk your career on,” Mrs. Davis says, looking him right in the eyes from her seat, “I hope it’s worth it, because like Mr. Jaffe says, we’re not going to be kind to you when we write up why we fired you.”

“It is worth it,” Haunt says proudly, and he steps out the door, closing it lightly again.

Haunt walks out the main office and all the way down the hall until he reaches the exit to the parking lot. He steps outside, and the November wind is cold on his skin. It makes him shiver all over. For a second, he bungles in his pockets for his car keys, but then he realizes that he didn’t drive today because it’s Wednesday, and his friend Steve always drives on Wednesday. Something like tears begin to well up in his eyes and he hurries over to his friend’s Civic. He sits right on the curb next to it and lowers himself so nobody can see him. He rests his arms on his knees and digs his face into his arms and he begins to cry. He cries long and hard, but they are tears of joy because he knows that what he just did he did for his wife, and he would do it all over again if he could. The thought of her gives him strength, as it always has. He thinks of her now, but instead of being front and center in the crowd as she was before in his mind, she steps backwards, deeper into the shadow that she was partly in before until she can’t be seen at all anymore, a random shape in a sea of yawning nothingness.

Chapter Two

Chapter Two
Marigold

Marigold lifts her chubby face and disheveled hair from her toilet seat and wipes off her mouth with the back of her hand. The orange chunks that cling to her wrist are from last night’s chicken parmesan, which she’s been craving ever since she found out that she was pregnant these past five months. She’s held off eating it because she knows what kind of damage it normally does to her system, but last night, she just couldn’t help it any longer. She needed a comfort food, albeit, one that gives her massive indigestion, especially before giving her husband the terrible news about the, well, she doesn’t want to think about that right now. They haven’t bothered her all morning and she feels grateful for it. God must be keeping them away from her after a rough night of lunacy, all coming from inside her head and projecting itself outside of her bedroom door, laughing at her and calling her names like “cunt rag,” and “cock lover.”

Her cheeks swell up and her neck bobs before she heaves up even more vomit into the toilet. Her heart races as it splashes in the water below. When she’s finished, her entire face is now dipped in-between the toilet seat, and her hand searches the air for the lever that will send last night’s meal into oblivion. When she flushes the toilet, some of her hair is still down inside the bowl, getting wet from the twirling water. She couldn’t care less at this point.

It’s been four weeks since she started getting the dry heaves, vomiting only about half the time that she actually had to rush to the bathroom. Today is a particularly bad morning, though, as she’s been vomiting ever since she got out of bed, the smell of recycled marinara sauce clinging to her hair and pajamas. She can even feel a sliver of vomit in the slight mustache that she has at the side of her lips. She hits the toilet paper so it rolls down by her face and pulls a few sheets off to wipe her mouth. She throws the paper into the toilet and flushes it again. She’s been doing it all morning, even for just a little bit of throw-up. She can’t stand seeing the sight of it.

Her stomach gives her a respite and she tries to stand up. She holds onto the wood paneling in the sink to push herself up and as she does so, her baby bump pokes out through the bottom of her pajama top, revealing bits of hair that stand on end around her protruding belly. When she gets to her feet, the morning light peeks in through the window and it makes her feel dizzy all of a sudden. It causes her to almost fall right into the door. She grabs her baby bump with one hand and holds onto her head with the other as she stumbles on her bathroom rug. Once she has her balance, she reaches for the marble sink and her towel rack and closes her eyes. The world is spinning in front of her now and she just wants to regain some sense of equilibrium.
As she stands there, she looks down at her extended belly again and sees the stretch marks that curve around it, looking as thick as veins. She’s been wearing pajamas for the past few weeks now ever since she lost her job, but why get dressed up if there’s nowhere to go but back to bed, she keeps telling herself. She doesn’t let it bother her. She was never much into fashion anyway. While she wobbles in place, she steals a glance at herself in the mirror and sees what a total disaster she is. Heavy bags hang underneath her eyes that seem to drag down the rest of her face and she can now count at least twelve new white hairs sticking out the front of her head since last week. For the first time in her 49 years of existence, she actually looks her age, and it bothers her. Deep down though, she knows that God doesn’t like that she cares so much about her looks, especially after He blessed her with her first bundle of joy after twelve years of trying and failing.

A sharp twist hits her in her stomach all of a sudden like the tossing of the mighty ocean, and it forces her back to her knees. She lifts the toilet seat and vomits violently into it, getting it all over the seat and some of it on the floor. When she’s finished, her heart can’t stop pounding. She feels like she’s going to die.
All her life she’s hated the feeling of throwing up, and she always preferred to sit on the toilet instead for about an hour and just defecate it out, rather than taking the few seconds it would take to throw it up. Her body doesn’t think it can take much more of this as her heart knocks up against her chest. Morning sickness has taken its toll.

A lot of this is all her own fault, though, and she knows it is. This terrible morning is all because God is punishing her for her guilt, and she knows that this is true because her beliefs tell her so.

She can still feel her husband’s dry kiss on her forehead and then on her lips when he told her that he loved her this morning. Still lying in bed, she said, “I love you, too,” even though, she knew that that was a only half-truth, if not a lie altogether. Honestly, and she knows that God is upset with her because she can feel the energy in the rosary beads pushing up against her, but ever since she got pregnant, she’s loved her husband less and less, finding his once charming weaknesses appalling now. What kind of a father would he be? She often wondered. What kind of a man cries when he gets frustrated about his job, stamping his feet under the table and turning red in the face like a child when he talks about his boss? Even worse, what kind of a man cries when he makes love to his wife, babbling in tears about how much he loves her and cares for her and how he would do anything for her? Well, if that’s the case, she wonders, then what kind of a father would he be? In her own life, she’s always felt that a man should be strong and not show any weaknesses, just like her father before her mother killed him. That’s what makes him a man. Her biggest concern isn’t her husband, though, but rather, her oncoming son who she doesn’t want to grow up to be some kind of faggot or anything like that. She hates fags, just as God does, and later in their marriage, she’s spent some time wondering if her own husband was turning into one himself and not even realizing it. He’s gotten much more emotional ever since he turned 40.

Her feelings about her husband have actually been so negative lately that she’s been questioning the past fourteen years of their marriage in just these past five months. Her dislike for him has gotten worse and worse with every day that goes by. Even worse is how she feels at his side at nighttime when he unconsciously wraps his arm around her, bringing her closer to him. It makes her want to gag, and she’s been doing enough gagging as it is this morning. If not for the…well, she doesn’t want to think about that right now, so she presses it out of her mind. But something else pushes up to the front of her thoughts, and she just can’t shake this feeling, even if she wants nothing more in the world than to do just that.

It’s her dream from last night that pervades her thoughts. And as she flushes the toilet again to get rid of the odor, her mind focuses on how real it felt, as it felt more real than anything else has in her entire life.

In her dream, her eyes trailed up a large oak tree, and on this tree near the top was a single cradle, rocking back and forth. She couldn’t quite see inside the cradle because it appeared hazy to her. But something inside her told her that her baby, Aiden, was within it, and he was so high up on this tree that there were literally clouds floating behind him. The sky was cerulean blue.

In the wind, which made the cradle wobble precariously on the slim branch, she could hear the melody “Rock-a-bye Baby,” playing in the background, and everything was peaceful, even on this suspect branch. The baby’s happy cooing could be heard coming from the cradle, and all was good in the world. She felt that her child was safe and secure.

But suddenly, something in her stomach dropped, and at that moment, she could feel that something was very wrong. Her perspective moved from the cradle and traveled all the way down to the end of the branch and there stood a shadowy figure watching the baby, its hands behind its back. As she stared at the figure, she saw that it looked right back at her even though its face was devoid of any features. After a moment, the black figure walked with perfect balance towards the carriage, causing the branch to sway slightly underneath it.

“No,” she kept yelling, “Stay back,” but the figure wouldn’t stop. Instead, it walked right up to the cradle and looked down into it. The figure, in one swift motion, overturned the carriage and out of it fell an indiscernible object that she knew had to be her child.

As the baby fell, she realized that she was now looking up towards the baby parallelized. All she wanted to do was open her arms to catch her child, but all she could do was watch helplessly as the baby tumbled closer and closer to its doom. When it finally fell close enough to the ground, she turned her head and shut her eyes. She heard the sickening thud as the baby made contact with the ground, and it made her jolt up in her bed.

“What’s the matter?” she could hear her husband say outside of her when she woke up, but she never answered him. All she did was snuggle up underneath his puny arm and he was back to being fast asleep. She could feel him kiss her hair in the dark and heard distant hyena laughter. She didn’t dare ask her husband if he could hear it, too.

“It’s just like your letter,” a low, seedy voice whispers inside her head, and just then, it suddenly registers to her. She did write something like this, about only two months ago. With her weak arms, she staggers up and pushes herself out of the bathroom, and her slippers flop on the carpet as she shuffles. She drags herself into the hallway, resting her arm against the yellow wallpaper, and comes face to face with a picture of her and her husband saying their nuptials. In the picture, her chubby face isn’t so fat and she doesn’t have the extra chin she’s now carrying. Instead, she has the flat features that she’s always had since she was a child, and her brown eyes, which she’s always hated because they’re too spaced out from her nose, don’t look so bad in the picture as make-up does wonders, and her smile doesn’t hurt either. She pushes herself past this picture and takes a right into her bedroom. She rushes to the bed and sits on her flower laden blue comforter, leaning forward. Her breasts, a whole cup larger now, press into her knees as she opens the bottom drawer of her bedroom cabinet and moves her underwear to the side. She uncovers a whole stack of papers in fancy typed lettering that were sent to the Sunny Side Greeting Card Company.

She takes a whole bundle out, and leafs through them. She checks the dates in the upper right hand corner that documents when they were written. In a way, they chronicle her slow progression into insanity as they get worse the further along she was in her pregnancy. She often wondered why she didn’t just throw them out, but something deep and threatening in the back of her mind told her not to, so she kept them hidden in the bottom of her drawer underneath her underwear. Now she knows why she kept them.

October 12th, one of them near the middle of the pile reads at the top of the paper. The greeting begins on the front of the folded paper.
Friend:
If the world was small enough to fit in my back pocket.

She unfolds the creased paper.

I would journey to it and find you, living inside my head.

Marigold opens the next card, marked October 17th.

Once upon an anniversary, a very unique husband entered my life and made it more beautiful with the tender embrace of his arms, the touch of his kiss, and the understanding tone of his voice.

She opens it and reads:

I will see you again when you gather the courage to find me. I will be in the lake of hair, drowning.

Her eyes light up at the next one, and she remembers that this was the one that had the senior editor finally calling and telling her in a quiet voice that she’s worried about her and thinks she should get some help. Why she sent these out, she has no idea, because she doesn’t even remember anything being wrong with them when she initially mailed them. In her mind, they were like any of the other cards she used to write for the company. It’s as if something in her mind blinded her to her insanity, and she doesn’t have any idea why.

The next card, marked October 11 reads:

Because you mean everything to me.
Dear Mom
I love you for always being more than just a mom and being a mother to me. Somebody who will always be by my side to share in my victories and hold me in my defeats.

She opens it and reads:

The child will be in his crib on the branch waiting for the stork. The man on the branch is waiting.

What does it all mean, she wonders just as something in her head licks the inside of her forehead.

“Maaaarrriiiigggoooooold,” she can hear from the hallway, “Mararrriiiiiigggooooolllllldddddd.”

She rips the papers off her lap and shoves them back into the drawer, closing it shut.

“That’s not going to help you, Marigold,” the voice in her head says, the first time it’s talked to her all day, “You know I’d never leave you for too long, baby.”

Marigold picks up a small bronze statue of two boots off her dresser and hurls it across the room. It bounces off the door.

“What’s the matter, Marigold?” the voice says from the hallway, the image in her head that of the shadow figure from her dream, “We should be friends. Everybody needs some friends, Marigold.”

The angry mother holds on to her belly and rushes over to the door, swinging it open and yelling out at the yellow hallway, “Leave me alone!”
There’s nothing there but a smoke detector and the picture of her and her husband, holding hands.

Crazed laughter explodes behind her now from the wooden bed post, and she sprints out the room and slams the door behind her. She rushes over to the kitchen where and finds her Bible on the counter. She picks it up and opens it to the page with the red ribbon down the middle of it that she had it opened to before she went to bed.

Advice to the Community, Peter, 5:8-9

8 Be Sober minded; be watchful. You adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for [someone] to devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings.

And resist him she shall. The lion is currently in the house with her, but she will not let him get the best of her. Her will is too strong.

“We’ll see about that,” the voice now says from the refrigerator.

Marigold runs to it and opens it up only to slam it. She opens it again and slams it again, making a magnet with a picture of her and Jeff standing on either side of Mickey Mouse on it, fall to the floor. Something in her mind spurs her to bend down and pick it up, and when she looks up, she hears the refrigerator yell—

“MARIGAAALD!!!”

Marigold falls on her bottom and kicks her way away from the refrigerator, the back of her head banging the leg of the kitchen table. The voice has never been that close to her before.

“Don’t listen to him, Marigold,” another voice, a new one that is old and filled with wisdom, says to her, “The devil wants your baby’s soul, and he’s trying to get to it by going through you.”

“No!” Marigold says with tears leaking down her face, “I won’t let him.”

“I’m going to get him, Marigold,” the dark voice says to her now from the ceiling fan, the voice clinging to the blades in the propeller, “Yes, I am, Marigold, yes, I am. Because you have sinned, and sinners deserve to suffer.”

“But doesn’t she deserve repentance?” the sapient voice says, “Could she help it that she doesn’t love her husband anymore?”

“Probably not,” the sticky voice says, licking her ear lobe now, which makes her cringe and move her head to the side, “But so what?”

“God has mercy,” the old voice commands.

“But I don’t,” the dark voice now says underneath her, trying to lick her privates. She stands up quickly to avoid the slithering tongue, and the whole world goes black behind her eyes from the pressure of rising too fast. She feels sick to her stomach again and throws up on the floor.

“Stop, both of you, please!” Marigold yells, wiping the vomit from her mouth.

“I’m afraid your baby’s going to have to burn,” the evil voice says, now actually lurking inside her womb. Marigold looks down at her stomach and begins to claw at it.

“No!” Marigold shouts at it, “Get out of there. Get away from him!”

“He’s doing this because of you, Marigold,” the wise old man says, and Marigold stumbles over to her couch, putting her hands on it just to keep her balance. Her eyes survey the possessions she and her husband have accumulated over the years—the red love seat, the matching ottoman, the coffee table, the flat screen TV—and she realizes that all these material items have done is taken her farther away from God. She looks over all she has bought and wonders why they didn’t just resort to a life of simplicity after they moved from their old house in Montclair to Randolph. Instead, they bought anything they could afford with their joint bank account, and she picks up a fine, silken pillow that they bought and throws it at the TV screen. It hits the carpet without any damage at all.

“One tossed pillow ain’t gonna save your son, honey!” The evil voice barks, and she can feel his claws cupping the baby inside of her, rubbing his tiny head and smiling at it with a set of canine teeth.

“You can’t go on living like this,” the old voice says, rattling off in a staccato voice, “You must salvage your son’s soul.”

“But how?” Marigold asks, looking at herself in the TV and seeing the old man’s visage standing right behind her, a blue aura encircling it.

“Purge yourself of this evil,” the old man says, and she turns around only to find the basement door behind her rather than the old man himself.

She walks to the door, hoping to find revelation as she opens it, but all she sees is darkness.

As she looks down into it the basement, she suddenly has a moment of clarity.

“No!” the evil voice shouts, “Don’t!”

“You must have faith,” the old man says to her as she looks down the staircase that darkens by the fifth stair, “Remember, Psalm 121, Marigold, The Lord my Guardian.”

Marigold turns around and holds out her arms, closing her eyes as she recites it, “I raise my eyes toward the mountains. From where will my help come?”

“No!” the evil voice screams, now standing outside of her and floating away from her with its hands outreached, “You’re making a big mistake!”

“My help comes from the Lord!” Marigold shouts with confidence, “The maker of heaven and earth.”

And she falls backwards into the abyss, her heart at peace as she disappears into darkness.