7th Gate

They had come back early from camping at Lake Clinton but it was now dark outside.  It was late October and the autumn breeze was cool on her face as they drove the Jeep Wrangler down the highway.  She held her brown hair back as the curls whipped here and there wildly in the wind.  They were listening to Red Hot Chili Peppers.  The volume was turned up quite a bit so they failed to notice anything out of the ordinary when they stopped at the little town named Stull.  No one lived there anymore.  It was just old buildings, forgotten and faded with time. 

They had heard the rumors about this place but they didn’t care.  They were young.  Why should they care?  As they pulled into the little gravel parking lot behind the abandoned old grocery store, she looked hesitantly, however, around in the dark.  He turned down the music.  She looked off to the north past the road to the crest of the hill where the ruins of the old church sat solitary and still in the dim moonlight.  She looked again at the dark around them and she shivered a little. 

“We might want to hurry..” she said with a twinge of uncertainty.  With the music turned off, she listened for any small noises around the vehicle.  It was hard to see much past 30 or 40 feet to her right.  Everything was so dark over there, pitch black almost.  The beams of the headlights shone on the exterior back of the old store.  Once again, she looked at the church, the 7th gateway to hell……..that’s what the locals said it was.  It was a secret portal according to the rumors.  Supposedly, if you threw a bottle against the wall of the church, it would not break.  The devil’s portal….just an urban legend she thought to herself. 

He got out of the jeep and rummaged among their bags in the back looking for his cell phone. 

“I know I left it in here,” he said as he dug through a camo green backpack.  He found it and returned to the driver seat. 

“Maybe we should put the hard top up,” he said to her. 

She just shrugged, hugging herself a little.  “I’d rather not do it here.”  She smiled feebily.  “Perhaps down the road a bit.”

He smiled at her then and nodded towards the old church.  “Nervous?” he asked with a slight smile. 

She didn’t say anything.  Just shrugged. 

“Relax, there’s nothing to worry about.  It’s just a dumb story.  Nobody even goes up there anymore.  It is fenced off.” He grabbed her chin and tugged her head slightly to the left.  He grinned at her.  “Calm down.”

She smiled bigger this time and leaned in to kiss him.  She closed her eyes as she felt his warm lips on hers.  He cupped her face in his gentle hands.  She placed her hand on his waist and he pulled her in deeper.  They pulled away for just a moment, enough for her to lean her forehead against his and say softly, “I had fun last night.” 

He grinned.  “I did too.” 

They embraced again.  This time with more youthful urgency and passion.  Eventually, he pulled reluctantly away and grinned.   He licked his lip slightly and took her hand in his.  He said, “We need to get back.”

She just watched him in the darkness.  She loved him.  She knew it. 

He turned to start the ignition of the Jeep.  She looked forward to the hill once more.  She shuddered.  As the engine started up and her boyfriend shifted gears, she looked casually to the right.

That’s when she saw it…in the darkness beyond….maybe not twenty feet from the car.  There in the darkness she saw the slight red light.  It was very small.  Silently, it was there…suspended in air.  She blinked.  She looked closer.  It was still there.  She knew instantly what it was.  She watched it more intently.  She kept watching.  She was staring now without blinking and she felt a sudden fear.  And then… it moved.  The light moved with intention, as if making its presence known only to her.  It was just a slight movement but just enough to let her know, they were not alone.    

A cigarette.  It was the light from a cigarette.  Someone was watching, had been watching them silently in the dark distance as they kissed.  Someone was standing right there. 

Her eyes flickered swiftly to the church and then back to that same spot.  The cigarette light was now gone.  Her boyfriend pulled the jeep out of the gravel parking lot and back onto the main road.  She watched that spot, the spot where the cigarette light emanated briefly.  She watched for it as long as she could until Stull and its eerie presence faded into the dark distance behind them.    

Ghost?

(This a short excerpt from a story I am working on. It is based on true life. Happy spook-tober!)

“I have a story about ghosts,” Skylar said to Stein while trying to search for something meaningful to say in that awkward moment.  “I mean…I never have seen… a ghost but…..I experienced something strange one time.”  She looked at Stein and then looked around at the darkness of the forest outside their car and at the solitary rail bridge ahead. 

“I was younger.  I went to the city with my Dad.  We went to a summer festival that day.  There were festival tents all around this old Victorian mansion.  It loomed above the wide lawn. It was all brick and three stories tall. I didn’t like the house. It gave me an odd vibe I couldn’t shake. Yet, my Dad asked me if I wanted to go on the historical home tour with him.  I said yes.  We got in the house and were ushered into the living room space.  It was an elegant old home and well furnished. 

The tour guide began explaining the history of the house to us.  She talked about the owners and the number of times it had transitioned from family to family.  In the early 1920s, it had been turned into an orphanage after the Spanish Flu epidemic, for kids who’s parents had died from the flu.  It was run by nuns and priests.  Then for a while, it was supposedly a psychiatric hospital.  In the 1980s, it was turned into a historical home and they began giving tours and stuff.”

She paused and looked at Stein.  “The tour guide began telling us about the hauntings there.  Supposedly there is a Lady in Red that haunts the place, a young woman who had a botched abortion and died.  She is crying and she begs at the front door to see a priest.  There are some other ghosts there too…..children from the orphanage.  And they say there is a very malevolent ghost there too on the first floor, a psych patient that committed suicide.”

She paused again, “That day, I followed the tour group into the hallway.  I was standing in the hallway on the wood floor and I felt cold air coming up from the floor.  It felt good cause it was summer.  It was real cold like air-conditioned air.  I felt it all around me but the others didn’t seem to notice it like I did. I remember looking down at the floor thinking the cold air was coming from a hole in the floor leading to the basement. I stood there for quite a while in the cold spot.”

“We continued to the dining room and I stood off to the left of the big table.  The tour guide was talking but all of a sudden, I felt faint……..very very faint.  Not sick but like I was gonna pass out. And I was having trouble seeing…. like the room was darkening before my eyes.  I was so worried that I would faint on an antique chair and break it.  So, I rushed over to the next room to the right.  It was a library or den or something. My vision was getting worse and worse and I knew I had to get out of that house immediately.”

I stumbled my way to the front door, jerked it opened, and rushed down the concrete steps groping for the handrail.  My vision was narrowing, the blackness was overtaking my sight.  I bumped into a few people awkwardly and went around the corner of the house stumbling. With my hands in front of me reaching out to grasp air, I could barely see. My vision was decreasing to a tiny pinhole and then suddenly…… wham!  I hit my face on the concrete sidewalk.  I blacked out about one foot away from a tent spike sticking out of the ground and tied to one of the festival tents.  I didn’t just faint like they do in the movies.  I slammed my face into the sidewalk really hard as if I had been pushed by someone. When I came to, there was a crowd of folks gathered around me asking if I was okay.  I was trembling and the whole right side of my face and neck was bruised, swollen, and bleeding from cuts.”

“I had barely missed putting my face through a tent spike. If I had hit that tent spike, I would be dead for sure.”

“The cops and ambulance came.  They asked me what had happened.  I told them about the cold air in the hallway.  I told them I thought maybe there was some chemical in the air and maybe there was a hole coming up from the basement.  I asked them to check because I was worried about it. Maybe it was carbon monoxide. They checked the entire hallway.”

“There was no hole in that hallway. There was no explanation for the cold air at all.”

“I didn’t think much of it.  I figured over the years, I’d just blacked out but one day I told a friend that was big into paranormal TV shows about it.  She said…..well, she said I might be something called a sensitive.  She said maybe I was empathetic to ghosts, that I could feel things deeply…..more than others.  Starla said I experienced a cold spot in the hallway that day because I felt the presence of a ghost standing beside me, lingering around me.  I felt it but could not see it. And the others, could not feel nor see either.

My friend said it might have been the malevolent ghost. It may have been trying to hurt me intentionally and pushed me towards the tent spike on purpose…..” She trailed off.  “To this day, I still don’t really know what happened. I have never ever seen a ghost but perhaps, I felt one nearby that others did not feel. My friend said this is a gift. That I should use it, to help others so I began researching more about the paranormal world.”

The Greatest Thing You’ll Ever Learn is Just to Love and Be Loved in Return

The first tape I ever bought was Nat King Cole’s Greatest Hits. Natalie Cole had just released the song with her father called Unforgettable.  It was my favorite song at the moment.  I liked love songs back then. I liked old AMC movies about love. Especially the black and white movies like Roman Holiday or any of the kodachrome Elvis movies or anything with Cary Grant. I liked everything to do with love. I was a typical young girl full of heart and dreams. So, I went to the store when I was maybe 12 in 7th grade and I bought Nat King Cole’s tape.  I still can recall that day at the mall store.    

I learned every love song on that tape, laying on my bed with my Walkman and listening to the songs with my eyes closed and smiling.  His songs were so happy and promising and full of optimism. I played the tape over and over and over again.  I wore that tape out.  His voice was amazing.  The songs I loved the best were Walking My Baby Back Home and L-O-V-E.  A lot of people today reference Nat King Cole and probably don’t even realize it.  The phrase “to love and be loved” comes from a little known song from Nat King Cole called Nature Boy.  It actually goes like this…. “the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”  This song is also in the movie, Moulin Rouge. 

There’s an urban legend story about Nat King Cole’s wife.  Some say it is true.  Some say it is not.  Here is the story, irregardless.  This woulda been in the year 1965:

“An African-American woman is stranded on an Alabama Highway in a rain storm. She flags down a motorist who turns out to be a white man who takes her to where she can get a cab. She’s in a big hurry, writes down his address, and leaves. A week later, there is a knock at the man’s door. It’s the delivery of a giant console color television with a note from the woman he had helped on the rainy highway. She thanks him and says that because of his kindness, she was able to make it to her dying husband’s bedside. It is signed Mrs. Nat King Cole.”

There are other firsts in my life for different types of music playing.  The first 8-track tape I ever remember hearing when I was a little girl in the 80s dancing at my grandma’s house with my cousins was the Beegees.  I remember dancing to Stayin’ Alive.  It was a very happy moment. I must have been four or five.

My mother had a record player and to this day it is in her attic.  We only had three records we would play over and over again.  They were Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Joan Jett’s I Love Rock and Roll, and then Olivia Newton John.  I can’t remember the specific album from Olivia Newton John but I remember her singing I Honestly Love You. My mother liked her a lot.

My first CD, well, that was Wrecks n Effect or maybe Guns n Roses Appetite for Destruction.  To this day, Sweet Child of Mine is still one of my favorites. 

Once streaming came on board, it was pretty easy to access all sorts of songs and I honestly can’t remember what were my first ones then.  But I remember the tape of Nat King Cole the most of all. 

How about you?  What are your fondest memories of music?  What was your first 8-track or your first tape or CD?  What songs meant the most to you as a kid? 

The Little Things

If anything, the pandemic has taught you to enjoy the little things. The parks are closed. The theaters are closed. Amusement parks and various forms of entertainment either closed or very restricted. You can’t really travel much. It’s a pain to go to the grocery store now. You’d rather just stay home. Thank god for the internet, right? It is nice to still feel some human connection as you toodle away on your computer looking at endless hours of YouTube video tutorials or maybe watch Netflix movies…..or rather…. the previews to the movies.

Does anyone else do this? You decide to watch a Netflix movie but you can’t really decide for sure which one and you know Netflix films kinda have either a hit or miss ratio……so you scour over endless previews searching for just the right and perfect one. Then, after about fifteen to twenty minutes, you hopelessly give up and switch over to regular cable. You wonder if you are the only one who does this?

So, anyway, back on topic…..enjoy the little things lately. Things like buying a parakeet at the local pet store to keep you company and speculating over whether to call him Sugar Ray, Steve Miller, or your son decides on the name Paco which means in Spanish the word “free.” And, you think to yourself of the Lynrd Skynrd song “Freebird.” Yes, Paco it is. Paco it shall be. Welcome to the family, Paco.

You don’t go out much anymore. Besides, it would be smart to save your earnings…you never know what might happen coming up. The local high school football game gets cancelled cause you hear the other team has half their kids in quarantine for COVID. Then, there’s your co-worker and his wife from work. Their whole family is in lockdown quarantine for having COVID. You heard he had trouble breathing for three days and you worry about them.

And…..

You realize you’re damn lucky to still be here…….to spend your evenings listening to endless hours of Def Leppard or Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin on YouTube. You love to watch the animal videos too. Can’t get enough of the funny cute stuff on social media and the endless corny memes.

You’ve gotten used to the solitude on the weekends. You’re not only enjoying the solitude now….you are extremely grateful for just the opportunity to have it.

So, crack open your favorite drink….whatever it may be. Find some goofy pick a card tarot reading or perhaps a makeup tutorial on how to overline your lips so you too can look like them sexy models (at least at home….your 65 year old mother would still get upset with you if you posted a sexy selfie on social media. Some things never change even during a pandemic.)

Find something at home to make you smile, to make you laugh, to make you feel alive, to make you truly grateful for being here in this moment on this circling planet.

Damn you, COVID. Damn you for what you’ve done to so many heartbroken families. Damn you for your cruelty and brokenness.

But thank you too, COVID. Thank you for making us realize we need to hug and cherish our loved ones as much as possible in this brief time we have here. Thank you for making us finally appreciate all those little, little things.