Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts
“I think I need some help.”
Right now I’m talking to poor Patricia on the phone with one hand, and with the other I’m fondling the crust of last week’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Somewhere during the staling process the brown bread shreds began to curl up into themselves, hardening into contorted forms. On the plate next to my bed they look like a banshee’s claw or writhing children, twisted in a desperate attempt to find their interior. I think about these things when I get fucked up.
“Seriously, Ouija, I don’t know if I can handle this.”
My name isn’t Ouija, but it’s my working name and I like it, so it might as well be. For three-ninety-five a minute people like Patricia call me up and ask me some of the most ridiculous questions you’ll ever hear. I like to put on this deep voice I learned how to do in college—this rumble just an octave or two lower than usual. I’m a growling motherfucker, and I like to think it’s sexy. I’m Ouija right now, yeah?
“Patricia, it’s okay. Something new is just interfering with your life force.”
During the course of the past two weeks, I’ve already ‘seen’ this girl’s dead grandmother, and I’ve been making up excuses for her father pretty much since we started. He abandoned her, I reason, because he was a free-spirited cowboy in his past life. She loved that; who doesn’t want a hero for a father? Odds are he was a drunk bastard.
She’s lonely. Of course she doesn’t say this, but you have to be either messed up or absolutely terrified to call one of these hotlines. The suggestion comes in the form of a pop-up ad or a cheap commercial right in the middle of the 3 AM softcore porn circuit. You’ve probably seen them —bad classical, racing clouds, and the dude with the creepy eyes suggesting that you “Phone a Psychic!”
In the right mood, anyone can fall for it. Seriously. Sometimes I get really rational, happy people. One of my once-a-week clients is a big name, some hedge fund manager. This man, this smarmy prick holding people’s fortunes and futures in his Ivy League head, uses me to pick between companies. The best part is, he’s doing fantastic. Believe me, it isn’t magic. I flip a coin usually. It’s just because he’s got confidence —no other manager has the spirits on their side.
It’s all about getting them at that perfect time. The house is empty, the heat isn’t on enough, and there is this chill, this static in the air. Something is in that place with you, but it isn’t some malicious slasher-flick type. You feel it in your skeleton and you feel small.
The first time she called me, Patricia was sobbing. There was obviously some serious shit weighing her down, so I spun a line with it.
“Calm down! I can… I can feel something around you, some presence. It’s heavy—it just won’t leave you alone.” I was growling into the phone like that and she went all quiet, as if I gave her a good hug. I felt bad about it at the time—while I was talking I was actually sitting on the computer and watching some pretty girls work a dude’s junk.
“I keep trying to picture you in my head, but there is a body, something in the way, standing right in front of you.” I said, watching with a little hunger as the girls went at it.
“Like a ghost!” she exclaimed, obviously lapping this all up.
“Yes,” I said, taking a gamble right as the man hit his peak, “and I think it’s female.”
“Nana!” She exploded back into tears.
We went on for twenty minutes—it took her that long to realize she’d spent almost a hundred dollars. Still, I apparently brought her some serious closure. I told her that her “grandmother’s spirit was interfering with the color of her life force.” Shit you not. I had never used that line, and they didn’t ever say anything about “life forces” in training. I don’t know, sometimes you’re struck with true genius. I told her to visit the grave, to consider all of her memories, and to call me back when she might have laid the spirit to rest. It helped her out.
I like to think I help people. I like to think there are more people I could help.
It was some guy’s dream to have a pool full of Jell-O. People are stupid, I don’t know. Anyway, this article I cut out from the newspaper talks about how big of an undertaking this is; you can’t just dig a big hole, fill it with water and then fill it with powder, as it would all congeal on one level. So this guy spends hours and hours to dig this hole and painstakingly fill tiny amounts of heated water and powder into it. It took seven years. At the end of all this time he spent playing with water-to-Jell-O ratios, this fine churchgoing man finally has a rainbow-colored ditch. In the middle of the night he jumps in, realizes you can’t swim in Jell-O, sinks to the bottom, and drowns.
At this point, the article stops to ask the really important question: Why?
Apparently his mother muttered something about it right before she died.
I like to think I could have prevented that atrocity from happening. Instead of one stomach and two lungfulls of Jell-O, I could have gotten him into astrology or something. But just think of him at the bottom— what was running through his head? I mean, other than “Eat up!”
I’m fucked up, I know.
“Ouija, no. I just don’t feel any better… I don’t know what’s wrong with me!”
Her voice is breaking even worse than the first time she called me. If we were friends, I would probably recommend a generous application of alcohol, followed with whatever treatment the closest male body is willing to give her. Unfortunately, I’m her pseudoscientific therapist, so I have to make her ignore the hunger instead of try and satiate it.
“Do you have any other family? It might help to spend some time with them. Put your spirit into balance.” I say.
“I had brothers… Oh god, I was supposed to take care of my brothers…” She’s really breaking down now, and before I can say anything back she hangs up on me.
I take a moment to nod at the rusty metal crucifix that hangs next to the article. I found it in a dumpster, and hell, some of the spirit in this room has to be holy. I don’t know if she’ll call back.
Sometimes this shit gets me tired. Tired like the second time I was sitting in the hospital, right next to my own withering ghost of a father. I’m very, very good at convincing these people they’ll get better. In many cases, all that needs to happen is for someone to really listen to what they’re saying, tell them that yeah, their dead so-and-so is standing right there, but they’ll be gone if you just do this, and bang, they believe you and feel better. The mojo falls right in place; they can ignore the things that stare back at them every time they blink.
For some people, though, there are just too many other problems stuffed in the closet for a ghost. Some people can’t afford a tomb to put their spirits and curses in, a pretty white thing in a graveyard somewhere. My favorite kind of person is so poor, dirty and vile that the only thing they can do is pick up whatever skeletons people left for them and carry them around on their backs. These people don’t make babies behind white pickets; they get fucked up and try to crawl out of the pavement cracks with weedy fingers, living in an unseen world of self-medicated madness. They’re all my family, these hungry half-whisps. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t believe in ghosts. I just see them all the time.
See? This is why I shouldn’t smoke.
Sprawled out on my bed, I realize that I have all the groceries I need. Three-room apartment, reasonable rates. I can pay for cable, Internet, the occasional video game. I’m chill with the college kids next door, and sometimes we party on the weekends. They get me all the drugs I need, all the pussy I could ask for—as long as it doesn’t ask for more than a one night stand. Really, the only problem I have is a gimp knee I picked up after a night of angry celebration. My life is a twentysomething wet dream.
He stood up, my father, and told us he was getting some ice cream. He stood up and walked to the bank and then tried to do it, even while we sat there waiting for him with dinner.
I have everything I could want or he could want or anyone could.
So, right now, I’m thinking about it like this: I’ll smoke this bowl and take this call, and then I have two options—look up Natalie Portman on Wikipedia and beat off, or kill myself.
The phone rings—my last call for the night.
“Hello, fellow hungry spirit. You’ve reached the Serenity Hotline Network. I’m Ouija, and I hope I can help you.”
“Isaac, it’s Abraham!” The familiar, ragged voice greets me and I break into a small grin.
“You vicious rat bastard. Call me by my name!” I say.
“Alright. Start over!”
Grinning more than I have in the past year and a half, I start my spiel over again in an even deeper voice, just to make fun of myself. I love this man.
“Hello, fellow hungry spirit. You’ve reached the Serenity Hotline Network. I’m Ouija, and I can help you.”
“Oui-motherfucking-ja, it’s Abraham. I got you a job with the Christians!”
My knee (a rusty, chafing little joint), is equal parts product of my father and Abraham. The night my father told us he was going to get ice cream, I stayed calm until the hospital told us what had actually happened. There were three cans of black spray paint and a good bat in my basement. Perfect.
He was there too, Abraham. A wild-eyed boy, pale skin and ginger hair covering his massive frame. He was painting all over the same church I was, eyes slick like he had just been crying. We both, I figure, wanted to break something beautiful. He heard me come up from behind him, but turned around slow, like he didn’t care what kind of authority I might’ve been. Big hands like that, I realized, big hands like that could drag open a masoleum’s granite, or even break open the huge wooden doors of the church. He showed me a new pink circle on his arm from his father’s smoking habit, I told him what mine had just tried to do. We smoked. A massive rock fell from the ceiling onto my knee, having been shaken loose from just the sounds of our tiny rebellion.
I injured myself; I was injured.
We stayed friends. I hobbled through school, getting a nearly worthless BA in English Literature with a minor in Theology. Combined with three years worth of being a phone psychic, apparently that’ll be my credentials to become, of all things, a Christian radio show host. For good luck, my dumpster crucifix is hanging from the rearview mirror.
Racing down the highway, the sunset hits my neck and the lingering taste of Jack’s No. 7 finally slides all the way down my throat. I feel warm, even with the windows open, and the rust on the front of my car looks just right in the light, it looks like gold. He told me to (since it would also be good luck) meet him at a club called God’s Basement.
We got high that night and—before the rock came down on me—vowed to never pray again, to never be parented again. We could be each other’s parents and everyone else’s. That’s how someone winds up in a room, telling other people about their ghosts and spirits. For the past couple of years I just imagined him doing something similar.
He tells me I have to do it. That we’ll get better if I do. Not that we’ll become constructive members of society, but maybe we could feel less hollow. It’ll fix everything, he said.
I told him I was fine, the judgmental bastard. Told him I was healthy, fiscally sound, and well nourished.
Still. I’m on the road anyways.
I pull up into the middle of a Philadelphia street, the Old City kind with the smokestack sewer caps and a siren song of cops in futile pursuit. Close enough to the Liberty Bell to have obnoxious ‘historical’ cobblestones, far enough away to be grimy and dangerous. Slaves might’ve walked around on these stones, I figure. I empathize and I like it.
The address he gave me is for a church. It’s a gothic monstrosity, the bulky kind characteristic of our new world. The first two floors have broken windows everywhere, and the wooden planks on the front doors tell me no one has been saved there for a while. This is not what I expected from some hip Philadelphia club.
Car parked. The entire street is quiet. Two forms are huddling around their cigarettes, sitting on the steps of the church. I hear the occasional warm chuckle come from the murmured conversation, the kind of sign I hope means they won’t kill me.
“Hey boys, I’m looking for God’s Basement,” I say while limping up.
It’s worth mentioning here that while I’m a kinda big dude, my main protection is this leather jacket that my parents gave to me. It’s pretty legitimate-looking, and no matter what the situation I like to think it makes me seem a little harder. These things aren’t in fashion, but if you wear a dead animal on your shoulders who the hell is going to say something to you?
“Not yet you’re not,” one of them replies, looking up at me with a grin.
They’re both smiling, pretty obviously on something—heads turning to pick up more of the passing breeze, fingers running over and over through their own hair. I like them already.
“You need to look more like a ghost, man,” the other says.
Standing in front of them, I notice that they’re both covered in some kind of powder. It looks like ground up chalk.
“Believe me, you’re the last one to be talking about ghosts. You look young… aren’t you a little far away from the campuses?” I say, trying to joke a little with them.
“Fuck that, dude. Not enough money for school yet. Old man’s gotta kick it.” The first one says this with a massive grin on his face.
“Until we get that will, we’re on a grand life vacation. If you’re trying to get in, you want the back entrance. We’re here at the band entrance.” He nods to the boarded up doors.
My first instinct is to not believe them. The doors look pretty tight, and they look pretty fucked up. Abraham is also the type to send me to a nonexistent club the night before a job interview… no surprise. But as we stop talking for a second, I can actually feel the earthquake rumble of heavy bass under my feet. I think of catacombs, of a hundred withered souls turning hungrily over and over at once. There is a graveyard under this steeple, and the residents are having a massive rave.
I shrug at their invitation to go right in, a little intrigued by the pair—this might be the kind of thing Abraham was talking about when he said I’d “get better.” Story seems oddly familiar, after all.
“How close is this man to croaking?” I ask.
Curiosity always hits me when I’m talking to artists, anyway. They tend to be good people in that they are, nearly universally, coming from awful places and going to only slightly better ones. They have magnificent perspective.
“Saw him have a heart attack once.”
“I was there. Dude didn’t let us call ambulance, just got up after a few minutes. Wanted us to be watching.”
I laugh. They’re grinning too, shaking their heads at the grit of the man.
“What were either of you doing in that house? Shit’s cursed,” I say.
I was right. You’d be amazed how many times I’ve heard this story.
“The man was practically my father, too. I spent a lot of time there.”
“He was everybodys’.”
“That makes us brothers, then. You can get me into here?” I say.
“Ah man, you’re going in. Just gotta get ready first.” Flicking his cigarette away, he stands up and grabs a small black plastic bag out of his back pocket. It’s got some kind of label, so I figure it’s safe.
“Just not on my jacket,” I say.
He sprinkles a bunch of the powdered stuff on me, and I close my eyes like it’s holy water. It was raining before I came here, so there is a humidity in the air and the sky is running—clench-fisted clouds moving at the sort of pace that you can’t keep up with or outdo. Things, I realize, are going to start happening. There is very little I can do about them. I should maybe call a psychic hotline.
“Now you’re haunted too, man.”
I shake hands with them, the bags under our eyes winking in mutual understanding right as the doors swing open—apparently the planks were fake. They make up a line about how I’m part of the band, the good guys that they are, and I get into this little mess for free.
I wake up in someone’s bed. The wallet’s missing, but there is a note in my pants. Pants. Pants are a good sign.
I take it out. An address with a time on it. What the fuck does that mean?
I was covered in the powder like everyone else, weaving through the crowd and feeling like the only real thing was the jacket I was wearing. Under the blacklight, the powder glowed vibrant hues of green, blue, yellow. Everyone’s eyes were dark, safe from the powder. They seemed to be moving slowly—the flashing lights shifting sluggishly, everyone on their toes to the rhythm of the music and brushing into, through one another, only fingertips seeming to actually touch.
I had never been more at home.
Everyone should know this crowd at least once in their lives. They’re good people, and they’ll get you fucked up for free. Just as long as you look dirty, scarred and hurt enough, they’ll trust you like a cousin. They know it’s a fucking miracle that they’re still alive. Give you a sense of destiny.
The girl was rocking back and forth slowly, standing by herself in the corner. She looked nice, so I approached.
“Pardon me, pardon me… Do you know Abraham?” I said. She was cute, so I sounded like a preppy idiot. Trying to be polite, gentlemanly or something.
Shit. The boys gave me a pill before we went in.
Shit —I swallowed it.
“Who doesn’t know Abraham, man?” She leaned in and her lips were cold on mine.
A yellow light passed over us once, and then again, before we broke. I could feel the music in the place as I came up—less sound and more vibration—running through her body and into mine. No one noticed our little drug-induced prayer.
I noticed a crucifix around her neck.
“Ironic?” I ask, pointing at the crucifix. Abraham could wait; like the band boys, she seemed to be important to whatever therapy he had planned.
She shook her head, talking over the pounding. “Of course. You offended or something?” She leaned in to kiss me again.
I dodged. “No, just worried for you. I don’t believe, but I’m certainly a God-fearing man.”
She shook her head, suddenly seeming less interested in me. I look down at my arm and it’s glowing, glowing just like hers, and a chill ran through the room. I feel closer to our Father than most, so I figured helping out was worth a shot.
“What, did He do something to you?” I asked.
“He hurt my brother a lot,” she said. It was more an accusation than anything. She was asking me, me of some faith, where my God was for her brother.
Couldn’t do anything. It is was question too. Where was my Father when my father was behind a bank? On the bridge? For me, even, as the rock came down on my knee? We kissed some more but stopped after a while—I don’t get gross with family.
She took me around, introducing. That one’s a millionaire, actually. He ran his hands, covered in gold rings, through my hair and it felt great. The girl over there has been to every continent without paying a cent. The boys, from Kentucky I hear, are playing their songs well. Those two walked to Alaska and back. She actually knows my hotline. Her sister used it once. None of them knew what they were doing next or why they would be doing it. Drowning in lights-flashing, bass bodies sweating Jell-O. If I was less fucked up, I might’ve been able to help one or two of them.
One boy fell over, his eyes wide the fuck open. Someone checked his pulse, but he just stared up at the ceiling of falling plaster, getting us all deeper and deeper. Then, surrounded by worried people, he got up as if he hadn’t been laying there doing the best cadaver impression I’ve ever seen.
Panic attack, he says. Bullshit, I say.
No matter what they had done, where they had gone, who they knew, they were all glowing, pale around the eyes, and thin from the aching need.
I met so many people last night. I feel like I was hit by lightning.
What the fuck this note?
I saw him there, I remember, but can’t remember what he looked like. He got me a cab, a place to be, and suggested I stop doing drugs. Bastard.
My knee hurts, my jacket’s a little bit of a mess, so far I don’t feel any better. The people soon to interview me, I feel, won’t particularly like these stories. What the fuck Christian radio?
I step into the dirty Philadelphia Denny’s: broken souls and frayed denim, a hangover nursery where people wish the waffles were all the sustenance their spirits needed. Hurt and injuries worse than a bum knee. Shoulda named it God’s Basement.
Abraham is sitting right there by himself. He’s grown a righteous beard, like old wild-eyed Tolstoy (whom he loves), and there are more little black hot needle and ink tattoos in his hands than when I saw him last. They sit on him like my jacket, just a little more real than all of this. He’s got the bags, the wrinkles, and the twinkle in his eye of someone who thinks they’ll live forever, but doesn’t actually care either way. I like to think looking at him is kinda like looking in a mirror.
“Abraham! How are you doing?” I sit across from him.
He takes a long drag of the cigarette that he was smoking, for bravery, I guess, and then begins.
“So look, Isaac, I have something to confess.
“The only thing in my stomach right now is Denny’s coffee and some pussy. Frankly, it’s totally nauseating, but my omelet hasn’t shown up yet, and the mixture might be better than just the pussy.
“I didn’t start to notice it or think about it until recently. My erection is long gone, and all that’s running through my head this moment is how, three hours ago, while attending to my sacred work with this girl, something semisolid got in my mouth.
“I tried to store it in my cheek, but it accidentally snuck down my throat. Realistically, this is just lint. It’s just some tiny shit and isn’t that big a deal, but you stop to think that your stomach feels cold and empty except for some pussy bits and the coffee warming it up, damn you’ll get nauseous too.”
He takes a moment to somberly sip at his coffee, trying to give me a break, but the irony of the sip makes my cheeks hurt even worse. I’m laughing, the people immediately around us are chuckling, and the waitress is giving us suspicious looks. He grows serious, staring straight at me.
“Why, Ouija, why did I eat this girl’s pussy in the backroom of a shitty club called God’s Basement?”
I ponder this.
“Because she said she’d give you head back?”
He slaps me, I laugh harder. There is a little bit of some kind of chemical hangover running through my veins from the night prior, but this man is exactly what I need.
“Fuck you,” he says.
Out of respect, I put on the same seriousness he had a moment ago.
“I don’t know. I should probably say something about your dad. It’s what I would do if this were my phone line. Your spirit is hungry.”
“Mm. Bullshit. I just read a book that said it is all my mother’s fault.”
“This could well be.”
“Mm. Bullshit. This book said I want to fuck and hurt my mother. Why do I want to fuck my mother, Ouija?”
“Anger. Didn’t protect you from your father.” I nod to the cigarette burns on his arms.
“I want to do the same kinds of things my father did, just because he did them?”
“Fuck it, you’re hired.”
If you ever want a job in Christian radio, I highly recommend drugs.
It also helps if your childhood friend owns the station, but hey.
The story is apparently this: Abraham was hired out of school to work technical junk. He befriended the main radio personality, feeding the man’s drug habit with his quickly-made connections to the rave scene. This got him promoted to the position of Chief Editor, a position where he sat in a separate booth, played with volume, and occasionally put in his input. Once introduced to the public, Abraham had no difficulty making himself the guest host when the main personality had to take a break. In one such case, the host of the show never came back. Something about a funeral in the family.
In two years, he was a popular Christian radio show host. No one listening saw his pale skin, his scars, his jutting ribs on the massive skeleton frame. After all, he was closer to God, even if out of anger, than most. His family left him money, and, fond of his new place, he bought out the station. Now wanting to move to a management position, he’s called in me.
I have a cup of coffee. I have my parent’s jacket. I have those huge earmuff-looking things, a booth to myself, some kind of soundboard that must be there to make me feel more professional because I have no fucking clue what to do with a soundboard, my dumpster crucifix, and a mighty fine looking microphone.
What the fuck Christian radio?
They tell me “You’re on in five, four, three” and then count down the rest with their fingers. I wish I was fucked up again. Better yet, I wish I was back at home on my bed, eating a sandwich and not pissing off the holy. I’m not better yet. Still don’t even totally know what’s wrong.
I choke for exactly half a second, then I remember.
“Good afternoon folks, I’m Isaac Ouija.”
I’m a growling motherfucker. This is sexy.
“And you’re listening to ‘Dear Sons and Daughters of Our Lord.’ Every afternoon from one to six, I’ll be trying to get you closer to our Father…” And I go on.
This job is easy.
“Dan, how can the Lord help you today?” Tag line right there.
“Well, Isaac,” this poor bastard Dan speaks to me in the deepest backwoods nothing accent I’ve ever heard, “I’ve been thinking and praying a lot… And I’m feeling like it might be the right time to divorce my wife.”
“Of course you know that the Bible tells us this is wrong.”
“Well, Isaac, that’s just it. I know the more I stay doing what I’m doing, the more I’m going to fall into sin. I’ve been drinking heavily, Isaac… looking at women.”
“Well, sometimes our Father wants us to give him something that we can’t give. Here, we must make a choice.” I stop.
Usually right now I would tell the person to run off and enjoy his or her own life. But, of course, I forgot I was talking to the holy. They don’t like feeding the hunger.
“And it’s the hardest test to face. But you know what he wants, and you know what you must give him. It’s time to be strong, Daniel.” I say “Daniel” like I’m his dad. Fuck, I might as well be. He could be mine, too—all he would have to do is scold me a little, tell me to ignore what my ghosts have done to me.
“We all have an angry Father, Daniel. He wants us to be hungry.” Five dollars says his dad left his mom. Poor Dan. Make it ten.
I finish the show sticking to scripture. That was some weird stuff to say to the holy, so I can’t fuck my new job up being a jerk to everyone that calls. One girl called in, a little bit of fear in her voice. She asked if we can see people who have died once we go to Heaven. The obvious answer was yes—had to calm down the upset young girl. Then she asked if it’s possible to avoid them somehow. Not going to lie, it was tough to not beat her around a little. No wait, someone probably got there first.
Abraham is waiting for me outside my radio booth, looking a little crazier and grungier than usual.
“You stupid motherfucker.”
“I’m sorry, man. I don’t believe in this shit anymore. How can I pitch it to someone else?”
“Make something up. Just believe in something! Do you want to get well or not?”
It’s the first time he’s said it since he first pitched the idea. I take a moment to look him over, and he looks tired. Suddenly it makes a little more sense—him buying a Christian radio, I mean.
“Fine. What do we need to do?”
He told me I needed to feel magic again. I told him that I hadn’t felt like I was alive without being dead for a while. He asked when the last time was.
I told him it was the night that my father first tried, right behind the bank. His father had just hurt him, and left the next morning. We reacted the best way we knew how: we went to that church covered in moss, gave up on painting in retaliation against forces beyond us, and instead climbed up the stairs to that shrine for the Virgin that looks like a tomb. We broke in with the bricks fallen off the steeple and smoked until we didn’t feel alive anymore. Breaking that glass, though, I was alive and I felt alive and my body was exhilarated. That was the last moment of my faith, my life.
He says we need to do something like that again.
So here we are, on the road, the evening on my neck and Jack’s No. 7 washing down whatever drug it is he gave me. It’s well past sunset and clouds are moving in for a thunderstorm, so the rust on my car just looks like rust and in the rearview mirror I don’t look wise at all; I just look dirty.
He’s talking about his latest tattoo. It’s a crucifix on his knuckles— upside down, he tells me, when he’s flicking someone off, and right side up when he’s punching a sinner in the face. We like to think we’re clever sometimes.
This church he takes me to is no God’s Basement, and not the moss-covered tomb we put ourselves into. He tells me, “The magic, it’s all about how we leave.” I tell him we’ll see.
It’s just a normal fucking church with pretty pillars and prettier glass and row after row of pews. It doesn’t even have the bulky charm of our Founding Fathers trying to make their own awkward little holiness, a pretty Jell-O ditch to drown in.
I come up, but doesn’t feel that good. He’s walking behind me with a baseball bat for some bizarre reason, but hey, he’s rolling as hard as I am. Yeah, there is a little sensitivity around here, maybe some static, but what do you expect from all of these polished, anguished marble and gold Saviors littered around? Theoretically he’s dying for my father, all nails and wood and everything, so I don’t have to.
A penny for the old guy, I still feel fucking hollow.
I walk right up to the pulpit and stand there a second, kinda looking pissed and kinda looking like I’m on drugs.
“There’s no magic in here.” I say it as loud as I can to the invisible audience. “No one to perform for!” No one listens.
I turn around right as Abraham hits me in the gut with the bat.
It hurts. He’s roaring and he climbs right on top of me, slapping me around in the face once or twice. It’s open-handed, like he was pissed when he hit me to begin with, now he’s losing the nerve. I let him hit me, pretending it’s fingers running through my hair. Some of that ghost powder from the night before is still on me. It gets in my eyes.
Getting up off of me, his face is going ballistic. He’s shaking, muttering to himself. Lips are flapping behind that washrag beard and he picks up the bat again, suddenly going stiff.
I don’t know why, but I laugh and the blood from my nose gets in my mouth.
He brings the bat down on my kneecap, and we both scream. He’s probably in pain, too, but mine’s the kind with spots in my eyes.
I roll while he’s dancing, spinning in a screaming circle. I’m trying to get away from the podium, get down the nave. The marble is cold. My knee hurts. I don’t know where he is, but I feel absolutely every single part of my body with perfect drug-fog clarity.
I crawl for a minute, tears slowly coming to my eyes. There is breathing, heavy panting, coming from behind me. I see Abraham standing there, holding the bat high as if he was about to bring it down in ritual, but totally frozen. Suddenly I actually care. Suddenly I don’t want him to hurt me. He can do absolutely anything he wants, and hell, my Father (this is his house after all) can do anything he likes too. This is all, all of it, out of my control. I have to stop running.
Instead of bringing the bat down, he suddenly tosses it aside as he sees the fear crawling through me. His big hands force open the doors, and the thunder hits the ground seemingly right in front of us, green and purple and angry. He drags me out into the rain, and the warm shots litter all over until it’s a blanket of relief. The last of my powder comes off, I shed my jacket, I sweat, I am not dead when I should be dead, and oh good God please stop this pain in my knee.
“So. Can you host this show?” he asks.
“Yeah. Are you going to be okay?”
“Probably. Are you?”
“I think so. I do feel kind of hungry, though.”
Andrew Thurman is a reader, writer, and telephone psychic. His work has previously appeared in the book of Genesis (scrawled in the margins of chapter 22), and on the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. He currently resides in Yonkers, New York. You can reach him through www.eso.tv.