|“GILBERT, DEAR, THIS IS NOT OUR CAR” by Christopher A. Lay|
My name is not Gilbert. Hopefully this will be accepted as “the gospel truth” throughout my account. It’s important that I be believed. It really is…
My name is Melville Scaramouch. I lived in Hohocus, New Jersey. I am still there. Once upon a not so distant yesterday I drove a 71 Dodge Polara four door. It was baby powder blue, with matching interior, huge as a Yacht, solid and virtually indestructible as a rhinoceros. I loved that car. It was the first car I ever owned and so I resolved upon its purchase that— if I had anything at all to say in the matter—it would also be the last car I ever bought.
And so it happened.
I bought the car with my meagre tax refund and a bit of savings, in 1982. I paid five hundred bucks for it and ultimately wound up sinking over 5 grand into its maintenance. All told it was a strong hearted car which only required a bit of care to make it dependable as well. Upon that first day of ownership my best friend and I searched under the front cushions, in the trunk and finally the tight space beneath the long back seat to find a grand total of $2.85. We proudly carted our stash of coinage to the 7/11 and bought a cheap six pack of Schmidt’s with which to christen my new mobility. It was a truly perfect late spring evening, the warm air ripe with promises, possibilities and sly innuendos. We dubbed her, The Phoenix, rising as she did from the ashes of my very near poverty level existence to provide me with unlimited freedom of movement henceforth. I would come to make out with two…, no, three women in that spacious backseat, one of whom I married in August of that year and subsequently divorced 15 years later.
I loved that car. My first wife hated it. I loved that car because it was my first car, purchased when I was poorer and infinitely happier than I became once I was no longer poor. I was better off when I was poor. I was lonelier; that much is certain, but I was most definitely better off because when I was poor my only care and concern was working Tempo, a day labour employment agency, long enough each week to cover my meagre expenses; the rent on my solitary, sparsely furnished room, a miniscule phone bill, a roll of Laundromat quarters and my non-perishable food stuffs. Whatever I made above that, I would completely blow over the weekends hanging out at the bar and having a good time with my small number of peers. We were all of aimless demeanour, slight of pocket, full of revelations and epiphanies which lead nowhere special and were, for the most part, pretty damn content with our lot in life.
Then suddenly from out of nowhere something possessed me to return to college, which in turn obliged me to excel, which inexorably directed me towards a respectable job, my second and infinitely happier marriage, a house (with a hefty mortgage I might add) and all THAT entails. Seemingly overnight I was suddenly a man of means and responsibility. I was called upon to perform domestic chores and home repairs. I became a yards-man and I’ve always loathed yard work.
When I happened to glance back over my shoulder, one mirage hot July afternoon as I toiled behind the weed whacker, I saw from a great distance that the old tavern was empty and all my friends had also moved on. As I focused, right through the transparent walls, I watched the lights dim steadily, winking out one by one and soon, as I stared spellbound, the tavern of my better times was torn down in the space of a few heartbeats more. A bank was erected there; the very bank which ultimately granted me a loan to start my own business and which also holds the mortgage on our home.
Nothing lasts… Well, almost nothing does!
We lived rather well, my second wife and I. Our combined tastes were eclectic and yet compatible. We were flush and we were foul during the first 10 years of our union. I lost jobs and she found new positions for herself, always better than the last. Then I went into business, opening a successful comic book shop, a childish passion which nevertheless brought me peace of mind and a decent income.
My lady drove an unpredictable beast of a Mazda RX8 while I maintained my beloved Phoenix. Belinda never said a disparaging word about the battleship that overwhelmed our short driveway. She knew I loved the car and I knew she loved me so that was pretty much the end of the discussion. We actually had a little game we played whenever I had to go somewhere while she was home. She’d raise the garage door and watch me climb in behind the wheel of my tank and start her up. Then she’d blow me a kiss and make an obvious display of snickering behind her hand. I’d rev the powerful, 8-cylinder engine, toot the Gabriel-like horn a few times and be on my merry way. Great memories! Great times! Very great lady…
So anyway, one bright, fine, late November morning my wife is saddling up for work. She had an outside sales job which required that she dress up like a girl each day, so I generally dogged her heels as she selected her skirts and blouses. When we were first married I colour coordinated her walk-in closet to make it easier to find the outfits I loved watching her put on. She has great legs. She still has great legs. I especially liked her wearing anything tight, which naturally she couldn’t do on sales calls unless she wanted to be confused with selling something else entirely. But still, she always wore these types of attire for me at home.
So after I handed her a bagged lunch and smeared her lipstick annoyingly with a prolonged goodbye kiss I shuffled her along towards the garage where her soul stealing demon car resided (simply because mine wouldn’t fit), waiting to claim my lovely wife’s essence.
My wife loves hot cars. For as long as I’ve known her she’s always driven some sort of sports car. She boasts and brags about her vehicles and cajoles our combined friends out into the garage to proudly gesture at her newest acquisition. You can almost hear her going, Ta Da, even though she doesn’t. In turn, they smile at me over the top of her head when she isn’t looking. We all found this attraction of hers to be extremely silly, fun and all the more endearing because it was her.
But this RX8 rapidly became a horror story. Supposedly the top of the line as far as sports cars go the damn thing had stranded her by the side of the road more times than we could rightly count anymore. It stalled in traffic and it refused to start for no reason that any mechanic could ascertain. Driving home one dark, autumn evening she was rear ended at the base of our very driveway as the car stalled into the turn. Whenever I drove in it with her I invariably felt an evil presence and I told her so. She grew to despise the creature after a time as much as I had from the onset.
Now Phoenix, she was dependable. She could hurtle through the worst winter storm fronts and she could swim the deepest flooded back road with an ease that kept me (and Bruce Springsteen on the tape player) singing confidently. So it came to pass that we simply forfeited on the car loan payments, filed a Lemon Law Suit, won it to the tune of nearly 3 grand and I began driving my wife forth and back to work. I didn’t mind and neither did she. I was my own boss, with a two-person reliable crew at the store, so playing a willing house maid, launderer and chef was a hoot. We were in no hurry to acquire more debt and besides, she was quietly leaning towards purchasing a domestic Chevy Aveo and hadn’t made the leap from a sports car mentality yet. I was patient, however, because I knew I’d win in the end regardless. She possesses far too much common sense and business savvy to take on more than our budget could handle.
Sometimes we’d leave earlier than necessary in the mornings, park somewhere along the way and make out on the queen sized back seat. I’d smear her lipstick even worse and she’d laugh as she repaired the damages in the rear-view mirror. Twice I met her for lunch, drove to the river and parked out of sight from the world. She was late getting back both times.
In the evenings I was so eager to have her home I’d sometimes leave to pick her up thirty minutes before I had to. I missed her when she wasn’t around.
Time passed without the acquisition of the Aveo. As gas prices continued to climb Belinda took a sales position closer to home, for a radio station, WHOE 69.9 FM, selling advertising. Phoenix was a mammoth gas guzzler after all was said and done so my wife simplified the problem by securing a better paying situation within a few miles of the house. I drove her there on that first day and told her I’d see her at 5. I handed out her lunch bag and I handed her the water bottle she always nursed in route. I passed her the paperback she was inhaling and lingered with my fingertips touching hers. I watched her sashay towards the front doors of the building, knowing that she knew I was watching her like a starving bird of prey. I leaned over and rolled down the passenger side window, made the appreciative noise which she knows so well and shouted, “See you this evening.” She waved back at me as the electric doors closed behind her and I watched until she disappeared into the elevator. I sighed and pointed my blue behemoth towards home.
My name isn’t Gilbert. We’re clear on that fact, if nothing else, correct? Okay, so, to proceed.
The radio station sits atop the highest point in Hohocus, with nothing around it but trees and woodland life. A mile long, steeply winding road levels off quite suddenly onto a bluff, a tightly packed, 22 car parking lot and a two-story brick building dating back to the flood. The looming, spectral, grid work tower itself shades the sun and throws spider web work shadows over the parked vehicles. The trees shriek and cry on blustery days, cats fight to the death in the dense shrubbery and the throat of History herself seems to be choking slowly, gasping helplessly under the pressure of huge, iron hard thumbs beneath a predatory, Lugosi-like face. I learned later on that some little known, but fierce battle of the Civil War had been fought for two days all about the hill top and around the wooded descent. Hundreds of men bled to death, men of both sides; grim and dedicated young men, the desperate old men, broken men with families and men who died weeping for their mothers, wives and sweethearts. Their spirits will wail throughout eternity. There is no end to their suffering cries.
From the city below flickering specks of light, like fireflies can be seen dotting the hill sides at night, as young people congregate, for good purposes or ill. Along the sides of the absurdly narrow, poorly maintained road packs of homeless dogs roam, their feral eyes gleaming in the twilight.
I observed and indescribably felt all of this as I drove there, way too early, to pick her up on that first day of her new position; a financially superior move she had chosen merely to save us some gas money and I resolved then and there to work on her to resign.
I was about 40 minutes early. There were no flood lights in the parking area and what sickly weak illumination there was spread outwards from a flickering yellow bulb above a side entrance. Over the double front glass doors most of the neon bulbs which spelt out the radio stations call sign were dead or dying, leaving only the symbolically appropriate, HO 69. I chuckled sardonically and buried my face in the book I had brought along; Neil Gaiman’s collected short stories, “Smoke and Mirrors.” Nervously however I kept glancing up from my reading every few seconds, scanning the area, for what I don’t know. Yet something was making me very uncomfortable and I could neither isolate nor identify the cause. All I knew for certain was that there was movement all around my vehicle and I didn’t like it one bit. I felt agitated and breathless, as though I were having some sort of anxiety attack or something like.
“Gilbert, dear, this is NOT our car,” the aged, crackling voice from behind me said. Startled, I flicked my eyes to the rear-view mirror even as I whipped my head around for a full look. Behind me, sitting very erect, an elderly woman regarded me with a confused frown upon her wrinkled features. She wasn’t transparent, but she wasn’t entirely solid either, reminding me immediately of those nuisance visits to the eye doctor and the tedious process of acquiring new glasses; picture one, or picture two… She was that kind of blurry, while her apparently ancient dress, buttoned up to her lizard-like throat hung limp and grey from her emaciated body. She wore a kerchief that restrained the thread thin, white-grey hair which remained atop her tiny and nearly bald head while her pencil thin fingers kept tugging at the hem line of her long dress, insuring I supposed that she remained decorous and lady like at all times. I can assure you I had no interest in her willow branch legs.
“GILBERT, DEAR, please, this is most definitely NOT our car,” she plaintively spoke.
“Ah…” I stammered. “Ahhh… with all due respect, mum, ahhh… this is MY car and I have no idea how you got into it when all the doors but this one here are locked.” I gestured at the driver’s side door with my thumb. “Can you please tell me what I can do for you?” I thought for a moment that perhaps she had wandered away from one home of the sparse dispersal of houses ranging outwards from the base of the hill. Maybe she had escaped from a nursing home. She was hardly dressed for prolonged exposure to the damp and chilly autumn weather we were having. For all I knew she might even have been bare foot. I couldn’t see her dainty feet, but I was sure they weren’t encased in warm boots or shoes.
She became very agitated then, striking the seat back with clenched fists, yet making no impact impressions or noises. It was as though she were a mime who deigned to speak but not physically act.
“Gilbert, why are you behaving like this? Take me home this instant. I don’t care if this is our car or not…which it isn’t.” She crossed her arms in a posture of pouting defiance, sat back in the seat and glared at me like my grandmother used to do when I got caught doing something I wasn’t supposed to. Curiously, as I stared at her face, her aged features seemed to shift and meld into the youthful countenance of a very attractive woman before melting back into the crone once again.
From my top jacket pocket I took out my cell phone. “Look, I’m just going to call my wife, okay and then I’ll take you home, alright?” I commenced punching in Belinda’s cell number, all the while keeping a wary eye on this nut case. Why could I almost see directly through her? How did she get into my locked back seat? Was she potentially dangerous? Who the hell was Gilbert and why am I asking you? You don’t know either…
All I heard was static, an ear vibrating, almost howling static that instantly produced a headache which in turn ripped full blown into my skull. Then I realized it wasn’t the phone. I had no bars and no charge, a totally dead instrument that I knew damn well had a full battery that morning. I dropped the useless thing onto the passenger side and covered my ears against her onslaught of sound. The old woman was shrieking, with an electronic sort of crackling, cackling cry that ranged higher in pitch and intensity the further her mouth opened wide until at last her chin came to rest, mid-chest, between her non-existent bosom. It was a horrible sight, staring into that toothless, black, cavernous maw as she groped towards me with clawing hands.
“Gilbert, dear, THIS IS NOT OUR CAR.”
I quickly started Phoenix, threw her into drive and went careening down the hill side. It was dark, nearly 5 p.m. Belinda would come out shortly and not see me. I had to dump this nasty old woman at the base of the hill even if I had to force her out of the car. Then Belinda and I would call the police.
I hadn’t put my lights on. The woman of antiquity continued to berate me in her horrid voice, repeating her dirge, droning on and on, in decibels of volume which no human throat could rightly produce. I pulled my light switch on, but the knob retreated to the off position. Narrowly missing a hairpin turn disaster I pulled them on again and hit the high beams. The car shimmied sideways, almost as if taking a hop step. The lights extinguished and the last thing I saw alive as the glow faded away was the massive tree I hit at 45 miles an hour. The back end of my beloved Phoenix fishtailed around and together we all rolled and tumbled down the hill; Phoenix, me and the old spectral woman who continued her lament, sounding like a scratched and warped LP. So the lot of us finally came to rest, upside down, against a small stone wall. Phoenix and I had already died somewhere during the merry free for all roller coaster ride down the hill side.
“Gilbert, dear, I told you this was not our car.”
And so I died.
It’s a strange thing to attend one’s own funeral; kinda like watching a soap opera because there is nothing else decent on any other channel so you just veg-out and stare blankly at the screen until NCIS or Law and Order comes on in fifteen or so.
Belinda must have rifled my desk and accessed my lap top because she found my letter of final wishes and followed it completely. She barred all hypocrites at the funeral parlour doors and I watched her kick a former boyfriend squarely in the basket when he showed up uninvited and attempted to put an arm around her shoulder. We both knew that her mother was behind the ex’s arrival at my services. The woman had hated me from the onset because I wasn’t rich and he was. But Belinda loved me, in spite of my…financial retardation, so my lady phoned her mother from the lobby and told her to go fuck herself. Good girl!
So, when everything finally quieted down and my carcass was dropped into the hole and covered up, Belinda and I went home together and I watched her pace around the empty house. She answered the phone two or three times, then just unplugged the thing. She ignored the doorbell and the entreaties for admission which filtered through.
That night, as she prepared for bed, she began talking to me as if I were still wrapped up in a body and sitting on the edge of our marriage bed, like I used to do in the mornings when she got ready for work.
“What happened, Mel?” She whispered. “Why were you going DOWN the hill? The police told me that over a dozen people have died on that spot in the last 30 years. What the HELL happened?” Her voice breaking at last, she cried out into the night, “Mel, WHERE ARE YOU? Where… where…where?”
And so it went for a week or so. She wandered through her days like a sleepwalker, absentmindedly drinking coffee, setting the cup down and pouring another without finishing the first, or even remembering where she had left the mug. She ate buttered noodles or nothing at all. I’m really not sure of the time lapse. I had other things on my mind. Suddenly I was aware of the fact that my very attractive wife was legally single again. I began to realize that virtually all of the sympathy calls she was receiving were coming from single men (and even a married one or two). She politely refused all invitations, but they continued to be offered. The ones that got me the most came from some of my own former peers who plied her with such nonsense as, “surely Mel wouldn’t want you to mourn your life away. He’d want you to be happy.”
I found the presumptuousness of these people to be incredibly ill timed. How in the hell could they know what I would have wanted? They had never truly known me when I was alive, yet all of a sudden they knew what I want in death. Incredible! While it was true enough that I didn’t want my beautiful Belinda to shrivel up and die behind drawn blinds and locked doors I certainly didn’t want her pairing off with those no counts either. I’d rather have seen her with some boy-toy, stud muffin whom she could at least train. I knew my old friends and I found that I knew them even better in death. I listened in on their conversations at my eulogy party and I eavesdropped on them in their hotel rooms and down in the bars. I found out just what these so-called friends truly had thought of me and I learned which ones merely wanted to bend my wife over a table and bang her in a sort of macabre victory dance before my bones had even settled into the ground.
But my greatest revelation of all came when my anger finally boiled over and, three weeks following my demise, I slammed impotent fists down on my wife’s computer key board. The computer responded, the screen saver disappeared and I suddenly realized that I had the means to communicate.
It was very late at night. Belinda was finally snatching some much-needed sleep, snoring soundly, under the covers on my side of the bed. When I struck the key board and the computer chimed into readiness, Belinda sat up, straight as an arrow and called out my name. She threw back the covers, wearing one of my t-shirts and slid over to the edge of the bed, feet dangling off the floor by some inches and called out again. By the bright light of the screen she moved towards her desk, shaking from the sudden night chill and by my own energy sapping presence as I drew the warmth from around me in order to remain there. She wiped her eyes and brought the Micro Soft Word program up onto the screen.
I typed in three words, sort of: I lov u
One thing was infinitely clear, even to my selfish, Time greedy eyes; I simply couldn’t remain on the mortal plane. I knew that there was more to accomplish, somewhere, some place, but whatever that More truly was, or whatever it entailed I would never learn while I clung like a pit bull to the here and now. I could no longer dog Belinda’s heels as she prepared for work, or watch her emerge from the huge closet of our bedroom wearing a new red nightgown. I was dead and whatever becomes of the dead would ultimately happen to me. I had to move on to it, even though I had no clue exactly what it was.
I can tell you this, however. There are no revelations. There is no “instant knowing,” or “sublime realizations.” There’s no light show, no choir of angels, not even Charlton Heston reprising his role as Moses. You’re dead and that’s about all there is to it. You see other spirits wandering around who don’t want to accept any more than you do that their time on this plane is up and the game’s been called due to unforeseen death. Yup, they’re floating around with unfinished business and repetitive behaviours which only prevents them from moving on.
Belinda and I discussed all of this. It took over a week just to share with her how I had met my untimely end. She spoke aloud and I laboriously typed brief, misspelled replies. It was a tedious, time consuming and frustrating way to communicate, but it was all we had. I told her about the old woman in the back seat and how her banshee cries had driven me half insane before I ever ploughed into that tree. I told her that I had my own Unfinished Business now and that I would never move on until I tallied up with the old woman who had murdered me. She simply had to be stopped. For some, as yet unknown reason she had chosen to remain behind and become this malicious, murderous entity.
So Belinda took a job with a newspaper and spent a lot of time in the archives. We agreed that I would need to know my enemy if I was going to take her on. Belinda went back nearly 60 years before she finally stumbled upon what happened to set the stage of the morbid play which ended my full life.
In 1945, following the end of the second great war, a young man grown horribly old named Gilbert Devoy, 1st lieutenant, US Army Honourably Discharged with a Silver Star to his long list of heroic accomplishments came home from foreign war zones to Hohocus New Jersey and walked into the home where he had been raised and where he had married his wife, Matilda Focushearst. From the Hohocus train station he made his way down Main Street at a brisk, almost cadenced pace. He breathed in familiar smells and heard familiar birds. He waved to the barber and he waved to the druggist. He returned the salute of a one-legged man, begging on a street corner and then gave the man 20 U.S., a small fortune back then.
The bulging, heavy duffle bag slung low over his shoulder was an effortless weight to bear; he had been hauling the battered satchel of all his necessary possessions throughout Europe for 4 years. He paused at the stoop of the family home, looked around himself quickly and detached the house key from its hiding place under the swing seat. He dropped his duffle and with shaky hands fitted the key in the lock and opened the front door. He was sweating profusely with anticipation and joyous homecoming.
His folks were long dead, Otis and Jillian, but they smiled down at him from their wedding photo, hanging on the foyer wall, just as it had hung when he’d gone away. His brother had died in a tragic bus accident in route to Parris Island, Marine Corps boot back in ‘42, yet he also grinned mischievously from his High School graduation picture, his board cap cocked at a jaunty angle. His sister’s boot camp graduation picture was close to his own. She was still serving as an Army nurse at a hospital in Paris. Gilbert slowly closed the door on the street noises and paused to breathe deeply the safe, unobtrusive odours of HOME; the house had always smelled like baking, even when mom wasn’t so engaged and now hadn’t been for many a long year. Gilbert didn’t know if Matilda baked or not, but he rather doubted it. There was the smell of flowers when none had been brought in from the garden in quite some time. There was the smell of the fire place wood and the leather furniture. From the very top of the stairs ascending directly in front of him he heard the grandfather clock tolling 3pm and he decided to go find his wife.
And he did find her. He found her in bed with the two neighbour boys from right next door, who couldn’t have been more than 16. He stood in the doorway of his parents’ bedroom, now theirs and watched his wife Matilda shove her heavy proud breast into the eager mouth of the boy beneath her while the other one came up behind her and…
As quietly as his training had made him he glided back downstairs and noiselessly opened the front door. Leaving it ajar, he rummaged deep down into his duffle bag, dropping underwear, shirts and souvenirs onto the porch as his fingers sought for the all too familiar pistol grip.
He went back up the stairs like a cat, almost reliving the night he had earned his Silver Star creeping up on a squad of German riflemen holding 8 of his own men prisoner and awaiting the morning exchange— six privates and two corporals for a full bird colonel. No way would that EVER happen while Gilbert was alive to do something about it. He crawled through the underbrush and he waded the river. He bellied his way through a cow pasture and slithered up an embankment. Within inches of his men and their guards he drew his bayonet and his pistol.
Six German soldiers were dead and two critically wounded before they were even certain they were being attacked by one lone, berserker of a man. Gilbert cut his men free with a gore drenched blade and led them back to their own lines.
Gross embellishments turned the account into complete fiction, but one thing was for certain; Gilbert Devoy was nobody to mess around with.
Matilda was about to learn this first hand.
Gilbert shot both boys in the head then scooped up his unfaithful wife around the waist and hurled her bodily into the closet.
“Dress, bitch,” was all he said. A short while later she exited the closet wearing the clothes she ultimately died in. Her face appeared whiter than the lace dress she had thrown on.
He clouted Matilda across the head with his gun butt to keep her quiet, slung her across his shoulder like he would his duffle and carried her effortlessly down stairs and outside. Tossing her into the front seat of his neighbour’s car, he hotwired the engine and started to drive away. When the owner, the father of her boy lovers, leapt from his porch rocker to protest, Gilbert unhesitatingly shot the man in the head.
“That’s for not raising better children,” Gilbert shouted out the car window as the man’s body crashed into the gutter. He drove his moaning wife up the hill which overlooked Hohocus. A metal collection depot had functioned on the bluff during the war but was now silent and deserted. Before embarking for the war, he had asked her to marry him on that very spot. The view looking out across the tops of the tree line was just spectacular. Gilbert always felt that such sights as that could give a person hope in even the darkest of times. He had watched the wind playing with her radiant, silver blond hair and her green eyes seemed to blaze brighter than the full moon of that night when she said yes. He had carried that vision of her throughout his trials and tribulations. When he had been cold, her image had warmed him and when he knew fear her face gave him the courage to go on. Now she was nothing more than an ugly, old sack of rotting potatoes, sprawled out on the seat beside him, semi-conscious and mumbling aloud, “Gilbert, dear, this is not our car,” over and over in a numbing sort of chant.
He had wanted security and had been given only deceit. He had wanted peace and had found only turmoil. He had wanted to be a father and instead had found his wife screwing children. He had wanted an end to his war and instead found himself thrust back into one all over again. Had he ever left Germany? Had he ever been aboard the troop transport which had brought him home? Home to what, he wondered and looked at his wife for the last time. She had been radiant to him once, she had glowed with the inner light of joyfulness. He had been enthralled by her. He had watched her sleep and he had watched her laugh. Now he had also watched her fuck other men; no, not men, mere boys and suddenly he looked upon her with clear eyes. She was hideous and she was foul. She was everything he despised in the world when he had hoped she would represent everything great and beautiful.
He drove the stolen car to the summit and turned it around again. He extinguished the lights. Matilda moaned, groaned, bounced and jostled about like a rag doll before the rough handling brought her back to awareness. Next to her, Gilbert sat like a massive stone. He looked through her, rather than at her and when he gunned the engine she knew what he was going to do so she tried to get out of the car. But he grabbed her in a vice grip with his right hand and drove with only the left. She began screaming, pleading, begging and all the while the car accelerated and all the while Gilbert steered the hairpin curves nonchalantly, looking at her and smiling a bitter smile.
“I thought we’d grow old and die together, Matilda,” he said in almost a whisper. The engine was protesting loudly and the screeching of the over taxed tires matched her own cries of terror.
“I believed you could shield me from horror,” he told her, “and instead you brought it to my very bedroom. Goodbye, beloved. Go to hell.”
The car exploded into a plume of fire visible for dozens of miles around. When it hit, the impact actually tore the tree up out of the ground some, so that when it finally resettled again in the years to come it did so with the blood of vengeance deep within its roots.
Gilbert Devoy was never seen again. He felt himself to be properly avenged and so passed from this plane with scarcely a backwards glance. Where he went I cannot add, for I simply do not know.
Unfortunately the same could not be said of Matilda as I was to discover too late.
In the ensuing 60 years, a total death count of 29 people, including me, were attributed to that spot. It was a town legend which I had simply been ignorant of, never having ventured up that way before and not being especially into local gossip. Once she tapped into the media accounts however, Belinda and I learned quite a bit, all of it macabre.
Outdoor séances have been performed, conducted by reputable paranormal investigators and proven psychics. TAPS, The Atlantic Paranormal Society out of New Brunswick set up their detectors and cameras. Even unbelievers and debunkers came away with stories of intense cold, paranoia, vertigo and the tale of a disembodied voice which appeared to be droning on and on about Gilbert and a car. The most shocking evidence was even picked up by the tabloids, worldwide, in the shape of three, time lapsed photographs revealing a full body apparition, clearly a woman, clothed in white with flowing wisps of hair, walking down the winding road and disappearing into the wood. Federal, State and local authorities were hesitant to admit the area was an authentic haunted site, however potential renters and subsequent buyers of the building on the bluff were encouraged to, reconsider. Everyone who thought the stories quaint or embellished were also found to vacate within a month or two at most and all with some tragedy befalling a male employee.
Autopsies revealed that not one of the victims were discovered to have drugs or alcohol in their systems. The other strange fact was that all the victims were men, which is no doubt why Belinda’s co-workers at the radio station had fared so well and for three years untouched; most of them were women and the few who weren’t either walked to work or were picked up by wives or girlfriends.
Cultist groups of every shape, size and proclivity flocked to and congregated on the location, performing silly rituals and ultimately flying away in fear, robes dragging around their ankles, shrieking and discarding cumbersome props as they fled down the hill. One fellow, forewarned about the fate of male drivers, scoffed at the stories and parked his battered pickup truck on top of the bluff. He was number 24.
Mementos and obscure paraphernalia like rocks and tree bark and even demolished car parts wound up on e-bay, Amazon and the most absurd late night shopping networks, which I had Belinda tune into for me to watch. Were I capable any longer of laughing my ass off I surely would have. Instead I got angry and so together we began writing this account, with me painstakingly typing one awkward word after another, while she deciphered my mistakes, correcting them and putting the entire story into a readable format.
As for myself, I didn’t tell her right off that I was planning a revenge of my own against that murderous, adulterous witch…
There was no rhyme or reason behind her attacks that we could determine by the accounts. For example, there was the space of an entire year, back in ‘67 where she didn’t cause a death, then another period, in May of ‘82 wherein she took three during that one month’s time. I supposed rightly that it would depend considerably on when her male victims showed up, but we also discovered accounts of normal, everyday type guys driving up individually to the bluff with telescopes in order to watch the stars (or play voyeur, which would have been me) and then driving down again without mishap or adventure. She was apparently quite pattern-less and I was as frustrated as a dead person can get without any of the benefits for release which you mortals take so much for granted. Christ, I’m starting to sound like old Bill Shatner in the Star Trek episode where he, Spock and McCoy land on the planet inhabited by the self-proclaimed god Apollo. Poor, Puny Mortals… Ya gotta laugh, or you’ll cry along with me because my Belinda is 8 inches away from my lips and I can no longer kiss her forehead goodnight. Goodnight… Goodnight!
I finally opted to just “camp out” so to speak on the bluff. I didn’t tell Belinda what I was going to do. I could see for myself that my continued presence was taking a terrible toll upon her nerves. She wasn’t sleeping or eating. She spent every free moment either retyping my jumbled notes, or else lying to the sincere well-wishers about how she was faring. She turned down dinner invitations and turned friends away from our door whom I knew she dearly loved. One evening, about 6 months after my murder she and I were working on this tale when she just slammed her fists down onto the desk top and let out with every expletive we both knew did not appear in any civilized dictionary.
“Why can’t I see you?” was her standard complaint. She would collapse into fits of hysterical crying from which I could provide no comfort. My presence was killing her by degrees and her love for me was preventing either of us from moving on. While I still didn’t know what this instinctual, “Moving On” entailed for me exactly, I knew from a sort of inner sense that it was what I needed to do. I needed to allow her to get on with her life. As much as the thought killed me, she was, after all, still young and highly attractive. I followed her almost everywhere and I watched men watching her. I tortured myself needlessly with visions of the two of them in bed together and her deriving more pleasure from him than she had from me or worse, hearing her SAY that to the guy in question. At that point I’d probably send the guy’s car off the road.
I knew I was being masochistic. Was I perhaps already condemned? I had never taken much stock in either locale, not since my first, conscious teenaged decision to rebel at the mandatory church attendance with my parents, but I had to confess I was pretty miserable on this plane and isn’t that what the comic books depict hell as being, our worst-case scenarios realized for all eternity? I hated the very idea of leaving her and that kept me rooted to the place; that, of course and my Unfinished Business with Matilda. So it was time to tally up.
I became the second spirit to haunt the bluff overlooking Hohocus, New Jersey. I did not know how to appear to others, but Matilda eventually saw me and she was pissed as hell that another entity was usurping her position as resident spook. Male clients came to the radio station, foregoing any cautionary warnings down below or feigning disbelief at the grisly stories of Murdering Matilda. In turn, she would materialize in their backseats while I would prevent them from even getting into the car at all. I would shove them backwards, sometimes even going so far as to boot them down the road. Her power seemed to totally fade once they were off the bluff and she raged and stormed, slamming doors and howling through the woodland like a drunken longshoreman that I was damned, damned, DAMNED for interfering.
“SOOoooo, you witch, you can say something other than, ‘Gilbert, dear, this is not our car?’ How very interesting.” I bellowed out a ghostly laugh and she hovered above me, her white shroud dress billowing around her while her incredibly long hair trailing straight out behind. I saw that she was indeed old and young simultaneously, her lined and creased face shifting to suit her whims. I saw through her alright, but in a different manner than when I had been alive. Now I saw through her into a dense fog and in that fog a gleaming black orb shone. Whenever I stared into the orb’s ebony heart I felt as if I were merging into it, being sucked into it even, so I averted my spirit eyes and rose up then myself, to meet her flaming gaze. My spectral left fist swept up and went right through her jaw with naturally no ill effect. But her head snapped from side to side as if I had indeed pasted a good clout in her teeth.
“You sow,” she shrieked at me, “you loathsome breeder. How dare you interfere with my prey? I do with men what I please. It has always been so and will always be so.”
“Not any more, lady.” I scoffed at her. “Not while I’m around. You’re being evicted. I won’t permit you to murder anyone else.”
I watched her rampage about the bluff, spiralling upwards and hurling back down again to within inches of my face, her features never remaining constant, always ugly and fearsome. Even when choosing to adopt the prettier visage of her youth there was yet hardness in her demeanour which could be seen, felt and so revealed as foul. I listened to her cries coming from every direction within the wood and I watched the small, innocent creatures which live there scattering. I tried as hard as I could to likewise toughen myself, meanwhile giving off no… emissions of potential danger to these already frightened animals.
And so our conflict has raged on for a timeless time. I’ve lost track of how long because how long has no applicable meaning to me anymore. I have all of Matilda’s powers now. I can manifest myself as a full body apparition and I can speak to the living just as she can. I can frighten them away long before she has a chance to murder them. I can also think myself from place to place in the blink of an eye. Whatever Matilda chooses to do I can anticipate and counter it. I have even stopped her from harming the triple A tow truck drivers when they are dispatched to pick up the abandoned vehicles of Matilda’s would be victims.
I can even be elsewhere, from time to time and for just a bit, like home for example. I can know in a heartbeat if a man has fallen into her web up there on the bluff. I can instantly be back there to protect him. I can save lives. I can make a difference. No other victim before me has ever willingly chosen this spiritual martyrdom. I imagine I might well be the first, but— of course— I cannot ever leave here to verify that, not so long as Matilda haunts the bluff, waiting for her next chance to kill. I must remain close by, always, forever and a day until she both tires and moves on or the world as we know it ceases to be. I suppose then that this is my own “moving on” destiny which I imagined was out there for me at the end.
I have visited Belinda from time to time, but always when she is asleep. It’s been a long while since I was there last, but that’s all I can say because I’ve pretty much lost all sense of real time for the spectral world I willingly inhabit. Even staring at a clock face and watching your mortal time ticking away has no real correlation or importance to me anymore.
I admit however that I have also gone to our home while she is at work. I’ve typed messages and I’ve shared confessions. I’ve put the finishing touches onto this, Unfinished Business episode and I told her just recently that once this account is ended I will never trouble her again. I’ve told her what I need to do. I’ve told her no one else will die. “It’s my choice, Bel,” I typed, “one I’m willing to make.”
How long I will wage this battle I have no idea. But this I do know. No one else dies where I once whispered out my last breath calling my lady’s name. No one…