Monthly Archives: October 2012

The Ward Angel

We always saw her drifting in and out of the ward. She came during shift change, so the same people didn’t see her enter and leave. She never imposed, you wouldn’t realize she was there until you turned and there she was, fresh and cool like a spring breeze. We figured she was an unfortunate young mother, a poor thing who couldn’t take her baby home yet, bending over the crib to coo comfort at her little one.

It was her smile that did it, the smile that that only made a dimple in her left cheek. Her and her sad green eyes and her honey-colored hair. Folks called her the ward angel.

You don’t see the cause of death on infant certificates written as SIDS anymore. SIDS stood for just about anything, from accidental smothering to coldhearted infanticide. That was usually a home disease, though.

It was a lovely spring, plenty of breezes, plenty of air. But the black mark on those days were all the babies that never made it home. Folks say they’d drop in to see the tyke and find it lying still on its back, as if sleeping.

We worried about her the most, our little angel. She moved with such a light step it was as if her feet were afraid to touch the ground and wake her infant. If you could’ve seen that woman, her smile as she bent over the crib…

Well, the whole thing boiled over when Hannah Foley comes in and sees someone else hanging over her twins. We swear on our scrubs no one came in but our ward angel, but she said the woman leaning over her boys was ugly as a walleye. When she shouted for the other woman to leave, she drew back like she was hit. Hannah ran and got one of us, but the lady was gone. So was little Benjamin Foley’s breath.

Takes a while for people to put two and two together sometimes. The most famous case of SIDS turned out to be the momma herself, but it took ‘em seven kids to reach that conclusion. Sometimes the medical industry doesn’t move as fast as it should, but we get there in the end.

We cornered her after shift change. She was leaning over a cot. She always hit a different cot, not sure how we missed that one. Jessup asks her her last name. She smiles real pretty as if she doesn’t understand. Jessup asks her again and she breaks into tears. Barbara is all set to comfort her, but we hold her back.

Even the crying is off, like she’s trying to make a pretty show out of it, just like everything. Jessup asks her her name. The crying stops. She lowers her hands and just stares at us. Maybe she never hit that response in her whole career. She ain’t prepared, but we are.

She screamed just like a real woman, that was the hardest part. Even after the fire’d been going a while, longer than it probably should. The smoke was thick and greasy, spread like molasses over everyone. Thank god for the breeze.

Needless to say mortality went down.

We stuck her at a crossroads, because no one’s sure what the protocol is for this sort of thing, and buried her with a good, flat stone in case she ever gets the idea to come and visit.

Ward’s a bit slow these days, mostly new dads coming in to peek at their wife’s hard work, grandparents arguing about whose nose he got. But there’s one woman who comes almost every day, dark as a spring wood, always with a smile.

We call her the ward angel.

Just in case.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under fiction

The Crooked Man

The crooked man came again tonight.

You said he wouldn’t.

I saw you lock the door. Only the doorknob. You told me I wasn’t being good enough for chocolate. I cried and screamed. I’m sorry if you thought it was for chocolate.

He came last night. You told me to hush. You told me a story about an old man fishing on the sea.

I told you about the crooked man. How he wound up through a crack in the earth. You thought it was a story too. You didn’t think it was a good story. I’m sorry you thought it was a story.

I begged to sleep in your bed. You said I was spoiled and my feet stank. Said mommy spoiled me and never gave me a bath. Is it spoiled to be scared? I didn’t think so.

There was creaking in the yard outside my room. You told me it was the tree. You kissed me goodnight and told me I was silly. I told you you were blind. I’m sorry you’re blind.

Now the lights are off because you don’t want to switch them on. Now you’re afraid. Now you’d want to sleep in my bed, but I’m not in it anymore.

In a minute you’ll look for me and your hand will bump into my bedpost. At least you’ll think it was my bedpost.  You won’t call for me, because it’s too silly. You’ll know I’m in my bed, that I’m just a brat who doesn’t want to sleep.

The crooked man came again tonight.

I’m sorry you missed him.

Leave a comment

Filed under microfiction

Kasprak’s Spirit Camera

The practice of spirit photography originated in the spiritualist boom of the early 1900’s and continued on well into the 20th century. The belief that the camera was “better” than the human eye, that it could pick up details not detected by the photographer was first alleged by William H. Mumler. Even his exposure as a fraud did nothing to stem the tide of demand for spirit photography.  While most “ghost photos” were produced from the development of everyday film, one company set out to change all that by patenting the first spirit camera.

Kasprak Kamera(est. 1922) consisted of only 19 members, of which founder Elia Kasprak was one. Their first and only mission statement was to manufacture a marketable spirit camera. The prototype K-100 series, however, failed to perform even the duties of a normal camera. Productions was forced to halt at the onset of World War II, but resumed quickly afterwards with the addition of a new employee.

Lazlo Eberstein presented himself as a mechanical engineer and concentration camp survivor. He approached Kasprak with a patent for a “para-mechanical” process to trap spiritual manifest on common panchromatic film stock. His patent, currently on display at Chicago’s Odditorium, , calls for a 3-filter process to laminate the “apparition” to plain cardstock. Sort of a proto-polaroid, the K-400 produced its own prints, no darkroom required. Each photo was a one-of-a-kind. The very first photo from the completed model depicted Kasprak’s secretary/fiancée suppressing a smile while an aura of undetermined origin radiates about her.

The photos became known as “the Kasprak Dozen” and are the only photographs of their kind known to exist. The first five all feature members of Kasprak Kamera(now anglicized to Kas’s Kamera) in some fashion. The timeline is as follows:

KD-1(02/17/48): Kasprak’s secretary, smiling. Slight aura
KD-2(02/18/48): Kasprak’s senior assistant, Lars, standing with arms crossed, unsmiling. Slightly larger aura.
KD-3(02/21/48): [personal info redacted] having a cigarette. The smoke appears to have twisted into a large, complex shape.
KD-4(02/25/48): Kasprak in mid-sentence, apparently addressing someone above his immediate range of sight (Kasprak writes that this photo was taken by his secretary in the middle of dictating a letter.) Small apparition slightly out of focus, leaning its head into the wall. Slight motion blur.
KD-5(02/29/48):  Taken by assistant [personal info redacted] of a mirror. The mirror reflects a “picture in picture” effect. The photographer’s skeleton is partially evident as in an x-ray. The photographer’s features do not match the assistant’s at all.

The phenomena recorded in those first five photographs are relatively benign, but the events took a slightly sinister turn with the development of the sixth photo, taken on a whim of the street scene viewed from the east corner window of Kasprak offices. In the notes, the assistant who clicked the shutter described the scene as “peaceful, a trolley about to turn the corner, and a man waiting with his hands in his pockets.” KD-6 only barely resembles this description. There is a street, but rather than fading into the middle distance it seems to stretch out beyond a typical vanishing point. No vehicles are evident. There appears to be a slight malformation in the man’s appearance, his facial features have sunk until his mouth resembles a cavernous maw. His eyes appear to have tapetum lucidum, and there is no clear distinction between pupil, iris, and sclera.

This is the first photograph taken without Eberstein present, as the research assistants were finding him increasingly distant. One of the few interactions between them was the day an assistant attempted to assess damage to the camera following a four-foot fall from a countertop. The assistant noted that the camera’s inner workings did not conform to any format he had seen, and that he could not comprehend how the camera managed to operate. The assistant received a severe dressing-down from Eberstein, who was noted as remarking that he “was the only one who knew this sonovabitch worked.” Eberstein vehemently requested the assistant be fired, but Kasprak refused his request. In his eyes Eberstein had gotten “too full of himself…strutting around ordering [Kasprak’s] assistants like they were his.”

In fact this was but the first in a series of clashes between Eberstein and the rest of the company. He was temperamental, belligerent, and displayed sociopathic tendencies. According to head researcher James Arnett, “if you weren’t a boss of something, [he] didn’t want to see you.” This nearly resulted in Eberstein’s expulsion after insulting Kasprak’s secretary one too many times.  Kasprak laid down an ultimatum: either treat the staff with more respect, or leave. Eberstein had been almost fawning in his behavior towards Kasprak up until that point, but at the perceived subordination he quickly became abusive, threatening to leave the company and his prototype camera. When Kasprak pointed out that they already had possession of his diagram, Eberstein remarked that it didn’t matter, the camera didn’t work without him. Testing continued on a tenser note, which the latter photographs seem to reflect.

KD-6(03/01/48): The street scene. “Displacement” phenomena evident.
KD-7(03/19/48) Several staff at coffee break. “Cigarette burn” phenomena evident. No noticeable apparitions.
KD-8(04/05/48): Photograph of [personal info redacted]. Cigarette burn directly over subject’s mouth. Elongated, dark apparition behind subject. Facial features of subject register pain. Background unknown.

It was around this time the entire company began to display reluctance towards operating the camera, even Kasprak himself wrote that “if [cameras] are supposed to display the thing happening right in front of your face, what the hell is going on that we’re not seeing?” The staff began to categorize the phenomena, which showed up with increasing frequency:

  • Displacement: The appearance in the frame of an object or setting divergent from the one described by eye witnesses.
  • Cigarette burns: Like the similar holes in film stock, these blotches gave the appearance that someone had rested a live ember on the photograph .
  • Apparitions: Increasingly bizarre, these were the staff’s greatest source of discomfort. From the “owl man” of KD-6 to the “spaghetti mother” of KD-9, these often appeared to interact with the photographed subjects, though the subjects said they felt no change in sensation upon the shutter click.

Through the years Kasprak had seen many clients, both paying and non-paying, but this year marked the first “real” client the company had ever seen. Edward Wilmington was the inheritor of a respectably large estate and had a passion for spiritualism that had not waned with the confession of the Fox sisters. He got wind of the K-400 through a medium acquaintance and immediately penned a letter of introduction to the company, pledging enough money to get the company off the ground if the camera worked. The announcement was met gladly by all staff, even Eberstein, upon hearing the news, was said to have laughed out loud for a number of minutes.

The next letter sent the company into a flurry, as the septuagenarian had chartered a boat(“at [my] age, a man will have little truck with aeroplanes.”) and would be arriving at their company to test the new model.  Their understandable nervousness at meeting a prospective partner was tinged with fear as the camera had been “acting up” and they worried about the impression it would make. They availed upon Eberstein to repair the camera, which he refused, assuring them that the camera was working as it should.

Their client arrived at the offices sometime in July, the staff note his momentary disappointment on viewing their sparse operations, his umbrage upon greeting Eberstein, who promptly turned and shut himself in his own office. Kasprak tried to make Wilmington as comfortable as possible while presenting the camera. One assistant’s journal notes a “childlike delight” gracing the old man’s features as he studied the camera, and requested a picture taken of himself.  Upon production of the photograph, the old man “snatched it away before anyone else could see it. His face, all the joy behind it, drained away.” According to records, the old man got up, thanked the staff politely, and promptly left America forever.

The staff, in great distress, forced open the door to Eberstein’s office. Eberstein was nowhere to be found, and in fact never seen in person by the staff again. Record search of the name Eberstein turned up a civil engineer, who had died after four year’s internment in Dachau. Search of the home address he’d given payroll turned up a gas station, whose puzzled owner produced Eberstein’s unopened payroll envelopes for the staff. The man had disappeared completely.

The staff, understandably shaken by the turn of events, attempted to continue testing the camera.

KD-9(07/?/48): Edward Wilmington. So-called “spaghetti mother” image. Heavy apparition. No cigarette burns evident. No sign of subject.
KD-10(08/13/48): a tableau of hired models, told they were doing an advert shoot. Total background displacement. Unknown object in foreground, appears to be vibrating. Subjects appear to mold together as a single apparition.
KD-11(08/13/48): same models, different poses. Dubbed “the death horse” by one of the models. Total background displacement, major cigarette burns. Tapetum lucidum effect on the “eyes” of the apparition.

The models refused further work after viewing KD-11.

All this was taking its toll on the health of Elia Kasprak. He’d had his third heart-attack shortly before the “model” photo shoot, and many employees noted how he looked aged before his time. However, he did not give up his mission of manufacturing a true spirit camera until the night of September 3rd. Testing had all but halted on the K-400, and with no plans for a new camera many employees were left idle. Kasprak was alone in the office on that day at five o’clock, and on a whim he picked up the camera.

While he had been reluctant to divulge the subject he was photographing, Kasprak maintained that it contained no other human being besides him.

KD-12(09/03/48): subject unknown. Total background displacement, resembles earlier “street scene” photograph. The man known as Eberstein is in the foreground, poised as if caught in the midst of turning. The eye that is in view shows sign of tapetum lucidum. The background is slightly visible through his body.

Elia Kasprak died of his fourth and final heart attack in 1956. The whereabouts of the camera are unknown.

Leave a comment

Filed under fiction

Dear Louise

My once-dear Louise,

How have you been? I ask this even though I know you don’t give a damn how I am, because I guess I’m still a little in love with you, even after the shit you pulled.

Where to start? Well, I knew in my heart of hearts when we started dating that it was a doomed romance from the start. My friends only rated you a 5, and only that much because you were with me. I normally go for prettier, thinner girls, but I took you to be a kindred soul, and I guess on the surface you were. But a mutual love of chicken alfredo, corgies, and Tarantino movies is no basis for a strong relationship. I was willing to hack it, even as you abandoned me for your work, your lovely family(whom never liked me) and your bitchy friends (who talked shit about you every time you left the room just fyi.)

But I digress. This isn’t about your lack of commitment or selfish devotion to everyone but me. This is about your unrealistic expectations. I’m a man, Louise. M-A-N man. I’m an individualist, and my first instinct when ordered to do something is to disobey it. So what the hell did you expect when you told me not to touch that fucking space rock? You know what I’m like, and if I didn’t know any better I’d say you wanted me to touch it, like that weird reverse-psychology trip you lay on me every time we go out.

I don’t know what you were taught growing up, but it was my understanding that relationships take work. You don’t just drop your boyfriend of six whole months the second he gets some weird alien sickness, that makes you look like a coldhearted bitch. Even if that night had been going pretty well (and believe me, it hadn’t) it really went downhill when you went all crazy and started screaming in my face. I know I’m not some buff alpha jerk with a six-pack and I know I was all covered with unidentifiable black crap that jumped off the meteor, but you could show a little class. Were you even thinking about how I felt?

Also, it was a huge blow to my self-esteem when you pulled away from sex later that night. That horrible growth hadn’t even reached my crotch by then, you hypocrite. I don’t burst out crying when you whip out your thing, and believe me it hasn’t always been all sparkles and sunshine. I realize my personal hygiene, even before all this, left a little something to be desired. But how do you expect a man constantly leaking black ichor to “wipe properly”? What is your deal with hygiene anyway? We’re clearly dealing with some unresolved issues, here.

I feel like I’ve been very understanding in the past of your little “moods” but for you to turn around and decide not to tolerate my screaming spells is just the height of hypocrisy. Why should a man who doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, never hit you suddenly become intolerable because he screams gibberish at random intervals? You tell me the words feel like someone “rubbing a rough hand over your brain,” how the hell do you think I feel when you listen to Bjork records at all hours of the night? That, and the way you say the necklace I made you gives you “nightmares” makes me think thou a bit oversensitive, milady.

And another thing, the gagging when I take my shirt off? Has to stop. PRONTO. I know my dick fell off a while ago, but goddamn it I’m still a man, a man with needs, and last time I checked you were still a woman. Let’s face it, you aren’t getting any younger, and I doubt you’ll meet anyone who wants to see those sagging teats teeming with brood as much as me. It’s all yGudluh get from someone of my caliber, trust me.

I know your girlfriends are showing their teeth and claws, trying to hook you up with some white trash loser who wears aviator shades, but he doesn’t know how you crack your knuckles or fart in your sleep. He doesn’t know you well enough to see you floss and not get repulsed by it, and maybe you’ll be able to hide your tytg side for a while. But I promise you, he’ll fn’sdr out sooner or later. Then who’ll be crying on the phone to chchüdh in the middle of ifphrt’t while eating a bucket of ice cream? All this pthïun ckryzk about nothing makes you hdr’k rchal when you jum’daal ftangui iä ruk dhu.

Look, in spite of how immature you’ve acted, I’m still willing to give you a chance. Wait out by the observatory with that green stone necklace on and prepare to be inseminated. I’ll do things to you that will make you insane.

Yours again(hopefully!)

Gary

Leave a comment

Filed under microfiction