David M Morton


As Above, So Below

Around late September and into October the summer is bested, is starting to show the gray around the temples, is staggered. It is my best time because I know what will follow: Ghosts, small orchards in the woods that nobody knows, turnips hit by a frost, red leaves in a tree, sounds carried from places outside of town, sounds of owls and coyotes, old milk maids in the country singing hymns while their legs thrill by the cool air, demonic forces entering into the souls of goats, pumpkin pie.

I was walking in the woods once and I smelled cinnamon and I thought immediately, there is a witch here. Only into October would I smell such things and believe such things, know such things. My modern brain fades into the past. Come autumn, I am like an emotive infant that can hear the whispers from the graveyard in my newly psychic head.

Halloween. It arrives and goes. The buildup is made as dramatic as any story by the shift of the seasons. I look to the day with exuberance and on November 1, chagrin.

I remember the Halloween, and I remember it very clearly—my new psychic head demands me take note of it—when I was around ten years old. I had driven up with my mother to my grandparents in the country. Just before, I had filled my sack with a ton of candy, seen lots of young kids—and some of their strange parents—dressed as all sorts of plastic masked-mythological beings, Transformers, He-Mans. I was a  pirate who was interested, mostly, in what the hell was behind that foiled item that some old crone handed out to me. I said, “Thank you,” hundreds of times as I prayed my sack was filled with Charleston Chews and those tiny Hershey's Special Dark bars.

But the small town was safe. Unlike the country, it seemed to be removed from reality. I felt safe from ghosts in town. That brings me back to my visit to my grandparents.

I stood looking toward the barn behind my grandparent's home. There was a light above the hayloft door that made the dark of the country look abysmal around it. In the southeast was a near full moon. My job was simple. I was to go down and close the barn door for the nite. I stood staring down at the barn for what seemed a hell of a long time, listening to the SKREEEE of some damned thing far back in the pines that were so thick that it was dark there in the daytime.

The elemental fear of the dark held me there to behold the nite. And that alone would have kept me thinking about going down and shutting the door for a little while. No, it was the added few words that my Papaw whispered to my little chicken ear that kept me there. I kept hearing the following words repeated as I stood looking at the moon and then turning my head quick to stare at solid dark when I heard something scratch through the sticks:

“Watch out for the Booger Man.” 

Christ!

After a while I shut my eyes, sprinted down, shut the door, and sprinted back. Nothing happened. The Booger Man didn't get me.

# # #

You think, So what? Nothing happened. That's November 1 thinking. Remember October 31. Be a romantic. Believe. As being sick makes you remember that you were once well, being afraid makes you remember that you are alive. And as I write this I feel myself getting upset. It's a good upset though. I am all athrill. I want to pull a group of people together and begin a new chapter of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and write stories pertaining to death-rites and the occult, stories such as “The Monkey's Paw,” write the hell out of stories like that until I die and raise into the ether. Before that time I will finish all my talks or reply to all of the intelligentsia, “As above, so below.”     

And know this: it was not Arthur Machen or Algernon Blackwood or Lovecraft that I want to evoke at my fall ritual. It was the old boy from Waukegan that I wanted to possess me after I place a table outside at nite, light a Coleman lantern, burn hickory bark and play a mix CD of snarling and chanting and grunting and drums beating for the boy from Waukegan. I turn the volume all the way up. Owl sounds. Wolf sounds. Mostly drums. Sometimes voices in unknown tongues.

I chant, “Waukegan, Waukegan,” chant it six times.

Because Ray knew that fear of the kid, that fright from the unknown. Not an adult fear. It was as he called it: “tasting darkness.” It is pre-schooling, unintellectualized terror. It pervades his stories and I feel the prehistoric gall emit from them. This gall doesn't explain it as “just a bit of arithmetic, silly boy,” and attends figures to the chalkboard for my welfare.

This galled kid-fear says, “Your welfare be damned.”

# # #

Ray also writes of the Midwestern traveling carnival. You can read of these in Something Wicked This Way Comes (formerly the short story “The Black Ferris”). Why this imagery gets to me is kinda simple.

We used to have a fall carnival set up in Germantown, Ohio when I was a child. Just before sunset I would walk there with my parents and see the lights of the carousel and those of the whipping fair rides that seemed to be tall enough to touch the star Deneb. Before it is crushed into a small civilized place in the adult brain, everything is gigantic. When I ate popcorn, and while my parents talked to old friends, I stared heedfully at the tractor trailer that was fashioned into a haunted house. Just godawful noises—moans, chain-rattlings, screams—came from it. No matter where I was in the carnival I couldn't help thinking about it. Right next to the haunted trailer was a fun house that was painted bright pink and was pony tame in comparison. I was a timid boy and wouldn't even go up into that house of clowns.

But the image that comes to mind, the most prominent from that carnival, is my now dead dad asking me to go ride the Ferris wheel. Equally gigantic, I watched it spin as we waited. Once we walked up and was strapped in by the carny, I was taken back and up into the air. It was a fantastic change of perspective seeing the top of the small town and the ride was smooth and I could still hear the blur of sound from the rest of the carnival, the organ of the carousel mostly. It rotated us about ten times and then stopped, stopped us right at the very top.

Only then did the height get to me and just when it did, my dad  started swinging the carriage, shook it so hard that I thought he'd flip us out. I get sadistic when that memory comes to me, become like a Puritan on a witch hunt trying to spur the memory of my dead dad on, thinking, Shake that timid kid, shake some life into him. I laugh like hell thinking about it now and I thank him for scaring the piss out of me. That's all I want to be: spooked in the damnedest way so I don't meditate on life and find it a goddamn plateau of claptrap.

Yes, and to think I had read Bradbury all those years with a romantic naivete that only recently, and with Ray's passing, understood why. It was my need to get close again with my dad. Ray's sweet metaphors pulled me to him without my conscious discernment, pulled like dreams do to that nostalgic hinterland. I love Ray for that.

Ray was a magician of the highest order. He gave me the gift of enthusiasm, a sort that is just as the kind he felt when Mr. Electrico touched him and said, “Live forever!” More importantly I learned that I didn't need to feel guilty for being in an ecstatic state, for being fearful or joyful. And while I write this I meditate on why I write. Just why do it? It's damn well not fun all of the time. I can only say that I don't know why.

I only know that I had a dream the other day of a group heading out into a corn field. In the dream I knew exactly who they were. They were the new romantics, occultists, writers, artists of sorts. I heard a few incantations before a shofar was blown, and from the circle flew the fire balloons, one after another until they sky was filled with them. I knew that hundreds were needed so one sickly kid may see and know life still contains sorcery of some kind.   

I believe I had this dream because I've been thinking about Bradbury and the carnival. There was only one time I went to the carnival in the afternoon. I went straight for the moonwalk. For those who don't know, a moonwalk is an inflatable attraction at fairs and carnivals that kids get in and jump, flop around, and do somersaults and back flips. It's great fun, just like you're hopping on the moon.

My brother and I had taken off our shoes, were inside already and jumping away when I saw Jason, a friend of mine in elementary school, being hoisted in. Jason couldn't get in himself. He had muscular dystrophy and couldn't walk. While we jumped, I stared at Jason lying over there immobile like a potato. So me and my brother went over and started jumping as high as would could around him, making him fly up into the air. Jason loved it. He laughed like someone having their stomach tickled. I saw his mother outside smiling.

There was a sadness and fear in me, too, when I saw the poor boy. It was more frightening and darker than the dark of the country. And with that genius that is given while a child, me and my brother knew how to deal with that imminent black devil—we mocked it. We jumped and jumped and laughed and jumped.
     

           

 

 

6 comments:

  1. Sweet sorcercy indeed. Enjoyed this a lot, David. Lyrical bullseye. Ray'd be proud to call you his writerly son.

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  2. Thank you very much, Marcus. Made my day.

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  3. "Legs thrill by the cool air."
    "Little chicken ear."
    "Pony tame."
    I love this piece and how you tie Bradbury to the season. You show real events, people and personal tragedies, and what the spirit of the holiday means through those things. Very nice, David.

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  4. Beautiful story, David, full of wonderful imagery. I've read it a couple of times, and the moonwalk always brings tears to my eyes, bittersweet, with a wonderful final paragraph. Very nice.

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  5. Thank you very much, Joyce. I still remember Jason in that Moonwalk with the little socks on his little feet.

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