Saturday, November 20, 2010

Dark Dreams and Synchronicity

(Originally published in Twisted Dreams Magazine, June 2008)

The summer I turned five, my parents’ first new house was being built. We made many trips to the place that would soon be home; exciting, interminable drives to the inner clockworks of a child. The route to this new world slowly became familiar – a winding road from the comfortably old to the exquisitely new. From playing around a forbidding, locked carriage house in an alley to standing on ripped and clotted amber clay, in utter awe of the neat concrete slab, pipe-and-wiring entrails and a growing skeleton of wood. I shuffled too close once, gouging my ankle on a rusty rebar snake that hadn’t yet been trimmed, and left behind a bloody trail. I can still find the scar if I look for it.

Bulldozers tore away farm and trees and almost everything that wasn’t fresh and new; just about everything that held a memory of what once was. Bright light, the scents of spackle and paint; symmetry and order, Formica and plastics replaced the must and ochre, the rich shadows and contours, the haunted cellars and mystical grape-arbors, the burdened and elder weight of the only home I’d known. It was a newborn world, and I ran with the other children in the freshly-sodded meadow behind our houses, before wood slat and wire fencing cubed-off our homes into distinctive principalities, forbidden zones and the occasional no-man’s lands.

Still, I dreamed of cemeteries. Solemn men and women dressed in black wide-brimmed hats, long coats and dark shawls. Of roughshod hills and gullies, of protruding belly-mounds of earth, of crude stone, and wooden markers. Of a silent procession in the black of night, led by torches, delivering a black casket to its grave amidst bare trees and cloud-swathed moonlight.

And the sporadic visits by the Blue People.

Facing our house: to the left, another young couple, a girl and a boy; playmates. To the right, a quiet couple, who at least seemed elderly to a kindergartener. In between, the little pink house, home.

I remember it as a balmy summer night when I was perhaps seven – it could have been spring or fall, but there wasn’t the feeling of school encroaching. It had been too quiet, too peaceful, too idyllic an evening for something not to have happened. The shriek of a woman, the sounds of clatter and activity. The insistent pounding on the door. My father, a police officer, answering the call for help from our quiet neighbors in the brick house.

Activity. Adults – raised voices followed by murmurs, soft sobs. Porch lights and flashlights, and neighbors congregating in the yard, in front of the brick house. Whispers and shushing and “Stay in the house!”

I wandered out to the front steps but dared not go any further. They were looking at something in the front yard, not far from the curb; flashlights playing over something that looked like stone. “Who could have done this?” and words like “Cruel” and “Heartless bastards” drifted over from next door.

Hurried trips in and out of the house. Phone calls. “Stay out of the way.” A police cruiser arrived, and uniformed cops peered at the object, talked to witnesses, took notes. Somewhere in there, the object was taken away. The couple from the brick house clung together. Stooped as if from a great weight, heartsick, they returned to their home. Neighbors and police left. The porch lights clicked off one by one.

Aroused by a noise, perhaps a loud dull thud, the couple from the brick house had found a grave stone had landed in their front lawn. It belonged to their son, who had been killed in the Korean War.

They were convinced that night that it had been a cruel prank. How could it possibly be anything else? What were the odds? Who could have done it?

Over the next few days, there was a thorough investigation. An old cemetery nearby was being moved to make way for another housing development. That particular night, an overloaded flatbed truck rumbled down our street. This gravestone and this one only fell off of the truck and landed in our neighbor’s front yard, past the curb and into the grass.

None of the workers knew our neighbors or where they lived. No knowledge, no intent, no malice was ever discovered.

From then on, I remember our neighbors in the brick house, who used to smile and talk across the fence, as gray and silent and broken as the slab that fell into their yard that night.

It was some time after I was married that I was told that the little pink house, and most of our neighbors’ homes, were built on the site of another old country cemetery.

About where we lived before:

Monday, October 25, 2010

Not One of Us #44

Not One of Us #44

The Seal Wife by Jeannelle Ferreira
In the Earth in Those Days (poem), by Sonya Taaffe
Catalyst by Loren Rhoads
With the Blue Heart People, by Patricia Russo
Turning a Blind Eye (poem), by David C. Kopaska-Merkel
Last, by Jamie Mason
Lost in the City of New Orleans (poem), by Kent Kruse
Myrna: San Diego #9 (poem), by John Berbrich
Fortune Cookie Mother, by Phoebe Nir
The Dementia Dimension (poem), by K.S. Hardy
Angels, by Blaise Marchesani
Traveling (poem), by M. C. Wyant

Art by John Stanton

Available at:

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Pint of Bloody Fiction

"A Pint of Bloody Fiction" - features a bloody good story by my wife Flo!

So, why not belly up to the bar and order a pint today?

Mention "Flo Stanton" when you order, and she will receive a special royalty!

Table of Contents:

“200 Words” Neil Leckman
“Pistol Whipped” Dave Rex
“The Blade Bites Deep” Stanley Riiks
“Insomnia” Pat Lewis-Bussard
“The Toy” Charlotte Emma Gledson
“Jilted” Brian Barnett
“I love my Job” Gary McKenzie
“Jars” Neil Leckman
“Crimson” Meagan Elizabeth Hightower
“The Worse Thing I Ever Did” Jason M. Tucker
“The Yearning” Sara Saint John
"A Woman of Taste” Angel Zapata
“The Idol” Terence Kuch
“Ladies Man” Pat Lewis-Bussard
“Library Of Souls” Neil Leckman
“Night Song” B.A. Sans
“Home Movies” Kevin L. Jones
“Salvation” Gary McKenzie
“Rorschach's Vampire” Jason M. Tucker
“The Door” Adam Francis Smith
“The Devil's Quest” S.E.COX
“Instruments of Torture” Flo Stanton
“Spiders” Neil Leckman
“The Lady or the Vampire” Ken L. Jones
“The Shoot” Brian Rosenberger
“Funeral at Louisiana Bayou” Theresa C. Newbill
“The Winner” Gayle Arrowood
“Water's Pity” Chris Keaton
“Little Nikita” S.E.COX
“Down a Hole” Gary McKenzie
“Gift Wrap” Neil Leckman
“In the Moment” Nandy Ekle
“The Good Husband” Christina Hugh
“Bellies Bucket” AJ Brown
“Faceless” Nate Burleigh
“Shard” Brandon L. Rucker
“Jack” Francis W. Alexander
“Three Degrees of Freedom” Theresa C. Newbill
“Lost Connection” Neil Leckman

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

God/no god

I’ve seen so many debates about religion online; even when I’m tempted to chime in with a comment or an observation, I don’t, because the structure is always the same: stylized flaming believer vs. stylized flaming non-believer.

I doubt!! exhorts the skeptic. I believe!! wails the faithful. Who cares.

How about a different premise? An idea to smack around for a few seconds:

“The issue of deity, pro or con, is profoundly non sequitur.”

Quick! Hit the pause button on emotions for a moment. Are you pissed off, or intrigued?

The above statement is qualitatively different from my or your belief in a god.

If I believe there is a god, or I believe that there is not a god, it is still a belief.

Let’s kick in one more qualifying premise: diatribes and categorical syllogisms aside, neither you nor I can actually prove the existence or non-existence of god.

Belief vs. Functional Conventionality

We need to agree on certain terms and standards if we are to get along. If you ask for a glass of water and I hand you a chunk of ice, you will probably think me an idiot, even if we both agree that the ice is composed of good old H2O. If we both obey the traffic laws, it is not an issue of social hierarchy, regardless of the respective blue book values of our vehicles, but a simple matter of physics: two separate cars cannot occupy the same space at the same time without serious legal and financial consequences.

(I live in the United States. To simplify the discussion, from now on I’ll use Christianity generically as religion, and atheism as its counterpoint.)

To a Christian, belief in god and all attendant doctrines may be a personal matter of great importance.

Conversely, an atheist chooses not to believe. That non-belief is in itself a belief: nature abhors a vacuum.

There are gradients between the two polar extremes, such as agnosticism, which in practice is more or less a “church of just in case.”

To differentiate from all three, I’ll label myself as a “nontheist.”

One more stipulation, to keep things civil: regardless of the stance any individual may take on the religious issue, let’s say we all agree to functional conventionality: within reason, we all obey the laws of man and physics, we love our families and friends, we all agree on both the similarities and differences between ice and water and steam. We all breathe, eat, sleep, crap, weep; we suffer, and we enjoy.

Beyond this “functional conventionality,” what does it matter what an individual needs to believe?

If you believe in god, if you truly believe that your due diligence has secured your place in eternity, then how can you possibly be intimidated and enraged, how can your deity possibly be insulted or diminished, by some lowly individual’s lack of faith?

If you truly believe that this is IT, that there is nothing beyond death but oblivion, then how could any opinion, in dissent or agreement, be of any value to you?

The potential—indeed, the proclivity—of tyranny and domination by both camps is precisely equal.

Allow me to believe—or disbelieve—as I need.

One of the tenets influencing my break with religion when I was a child, is its ubiquitous extortion—“believe what I believe or you will never see your loved one again.” Sorry, but no belief system owns the patent, copyright, trademark or service mark to the concept of survival; nor does an equal and opposite, adamant denial of that possibility carry any weight. If skepticism is an honest admission of “I don’t fucking know,” then sign me up. If atheism is a strident assertion of existential finality, then "to hell" with both the atheist and the true believer—both in that case being just bipolar mirrors of the same compulsive need to dominate via absolutism and adamancy; to conscript adherents, as if at some date, a final tally will be made and the issue will be decided once and for all.

I find myself in an untenable position, blackmailed by both sides. Believe what I’m told, and I’m entitled to all the benefits of membership. If I don’t join up, I’m slow-witted and pathetic, and probably amoral. It is something akin to being mugged by "metaphysical" gangbangers.

No matter how much else I share with the true believer and the skeptic, this membership issue usually becomes a deal-breaker to them.

Who can prove that groveling before a deity purchases grace, wisdom and immortality? Who can prove that a tacit denial of our own marvelous potentials and uncharted possibilities makes us practical, trustworthy and intelligent?

My son died some years ago. A beautiful child, a brilliant teenager. An accident at school, nothing dramatic; his death was just tragic and pointless, a waste.

Here, I have a problem, equally with belief and atheism. I refuse to believe that my boy is plucking a harp at the feet of some deity, and I equally reject the idea that he no longer exists. Physics asserts that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, and quantum physics posits other versions of him exist in parallel dimensions. Mathematically alone, the possibilities number beyond that which we can imagine and catalog.

Now, exactly how or why or where or in what form he continues I cannot say, but it is something I personally need to believe. Whether or not it is “true” is irrelevant. In this case, your need for me to believe, or disbelieve, any particular doctrine, concept or notion, on either side of religion, is profoundly irrelevant.

The day we lost him, I felt as if I would never sleep again, but late that night I tried, because there was so much I had to do. I dozed off for only a minute or two, and in that time I dreamed we were walking together down a gravel road, on an unfamiliar landscape, lighted eerily. He was looking down at the ground, just ambling along, dejected. Suddenly, he kicked the gravel hard, and with a sheepish grin looked at me and said, “Aw, shit, Dad!”

The next day, a friend dropped by to visit, compassionate and supportive, until I told him my dream. I had just offered the dream as above, with no beliefs or doctrines appended. Instantly his countenance changed, and he told me “that can’t happen,” and went off defending his religious beliefs. What, I can’t have a dream? What exactly had I said to make him so insecure?

Beyond that which I think that I know, beyond the dictates of “functional conventionality,” I believe what I need to. And that is subject to review and change. By me, not you.

In both “I doubt!” and “I believe!” the operative word is the great “I.”

Legions of voting believers/disbelievers won’t make the world flat, raise the dead or obliterate the soul.

Beyond the conventions we need to function in a civilized manner, if you will permit me to believe—or disbelieve—what I need, then I will be sure to extend to you the same courtesy.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Double Troubles Part 1

I think I’m an average looking guy.  Even a bald head is not such a novelty these days, so you are not as likely to notice me now as much as you might have singled me out some years ago had I been bald then.  One thing I would assume, though: if you had a friend who looked somewhat like me and at some point observed me across a street or a room, as you approached me, I am sure that you would notice enough differences not to confuse me with him for long.

I imagine something would have to be a dead giveaway.  If not directly in my face, then the color of my eyes, or my clothes, the way I move, my choice of words, the sound of my voice—something.  Even if I had an identical twin—which I don’t—there would have to be a tell.

This year marks the third time I’ve run into someone who thought I was someone else. (Fourth, if you count the first guy twice.) Not the casual mistake of an acquaintance.  Not an old friend who has changed so much I have a hard time connecting his face to his name.  Someone who adamantly and persistently asserts that I am someone whom he knows, and sees on a regular basis.

The first one on my list was a guy of average height and build; seedy, smirky, he at first thought I was playing some kind of a game with him when I politely told him he must have mistaken me for someone else.  He insisted we had been friends for years, and frequented the same watering hole just down the road.  When I told him I don’t drink, he seemed genuinely confused, even hurt.

This was about a ten-minute walk from home; I saw him twice in the space of a few days, at the same place while out on a stroll.  The second encounter was creepy.  He approached me with a broad swagger, jolly and smug, apparently sure I’d drop my “pretense” from the other day and let him in on the joke.  I again politely declined and repeated my assertion that he had confused me with someone else.  The friendly fa├žade dropped in an instant—he was getting pissed, so I got up in his face.  In one of the strangest body-language morphs I’ve witnessed, it was as if rage and fear had plowed into each other headlong, and fear had won.  In one instant, he looked as if he was just about to take a swing at me, in the very next moment, he backed away with a look of horror in his eyes.  I gave him a cold stare, and you would have thought I had stuck a knife in his gut.

As I resumed my walk, he stalked me for a block, muttering, coming closer, then backing off, as if the neurochemistry of fear and courage pushed and then pulled him.  His pattern mirrored incidents in which an angry dog circled me, growling, barking menace, working up enough rage to attack.

I watched the man in my peripheral vision and maintained my stride, just a bit concerned that if I turned or stopped, he’d charge.  Apparently fear or discretion prevailed, and he backed down.

The second incident on my list also took place while on a walk, also about ten minutes from home, but in a different direction.  In this instance, I had taken my notebook to Steak & Shake, and worked on some story notes and lists; when it was time to meet up with Flo, a short, scrawny fellow approached me.  The exchange was similar to the first encounter above, and this fellow also became quite pissed when I told him I didn’t know him.  When I insisted the second time, he snarled, “I don’t like you since you shaved your head.”

That was a few years ago.  This year, Flo and I were shopping together, and we split up to find different items, at a thrift store close to the Speedway race track.  While scanning an isle for, I believe, a flavor of mustard I favor, this huge guy came up to me.  He was friendly, like we were pals.  Like the two previous guys, he acted as if we regularly saw each other, as if it had only been a day or two since we’d last visited.  He also seemed put out that I didn’t know him, as if there were something wrong with me, or else I was playing a cruel game on him.  I calmly assured him I wasn’t who he thought I was, and he started dropping names of people we supposedly knew, as if he were trying to jog an amnesiac’s memory.  After blankly shaking my head at six or eight names I’d never heard before, he became impatient, perhaps a bit angry.  I tried to excuse myself and slip past him, but he blocked my way and became more insistent.  He threw two or three more names at me, and nothing rang a bell.  I think we got the willies at the same moment, and just parted ways.  Still curious, I cut to the front of the store, intending to stake out a place where I could watch him leave, see what kind of vehicle he got into, or which direction he took – but he was simply gone.  I grid-searched the store, but never got another glimpse of him.

In all three cases, I made a point of getting up close enough, talking enough that something should have clued them in to the fact that I wasn’t who they thought I was.  In case number two, apparently my “double” had started shaving his head around the time I did.  In all three instances, instead of realizing their mistake, not one of them could be convinced I wasn’t who they thought.  Of the three, the huge guy seemed more upset and confused instead of angry, though the choice of street names he tossed off at me added him to the other two as volatile characters I would not likely count as friends.

The one thing that puzzles me about my own behavior in each of these instances, is that in none of them did it occur to me to ask the name of my apparent double.  If this happens again, that will definitely be my first question.

See Double Troubles Part 2: The Impostor
Double Troubles Part 3
Memoriae Obscura

Doppelganger Field Guide

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Dream Hangover

Today was one of those rare days when several factors dovetailed – I didn’t have to be up early or go anywhere in a hurry, the weather was overcast and quiet and rainy, but not violent or threatening, and there was a pleasant feeling left over from my dreams. I woke up gracefully, and felt as if half of me were still connected to that inner landscape. At those times, one can shutter the left eye, and allow the right brain to dream on for a while.

Too often I awake quickly, snapping to the impinging responsibilities of life. While most are not actual demands or threats, our society has conditioned us to start our days on red alert. An austere envelope sporting the vague threat “OFFICIAL BUSINESS” turns out to be just another flier soliciting my business. Radio, television, junk mail, religious zealots at the front door, email, even the neighbor’s yappy mutt stridently demand attention.

There are those times when a nightmare is so intense, so real that it hovers over me all day, and the demands of the outside world are welcome to slap me out of the inner chaos and terror… but fortunately, those are few and far apart. You might think that someone who paints with a dark palate as I do would find nightmares a rich source of inspiration – I wish it were so, but that is very rarely the case for me. Dreams are often pointless, muddled, rife with anxiety; a redundant process-sort-file batch-job of memory, a vain attempt to impose order onto the randomly neurotic transactional quagmire of existence.

Yet, there also exists this wondrous place, where self-consciousness and hierarchies, pecking orders and politics, physics and boundaries and even the cage of the expected personality, all slip away, and everything becomes possible again. In the absence of alarm clocks and phones and knuckles on the door, this soap-bubble of synchronicity can linger near consciousness long enough to offer up possibility and poetry.

I wish for more of these days.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Table of contents for Hidden:

Hey, by Patricia Russo
The Propagule (poem), by Wade German
Gabriel, by Meredith Roe
Death Dreams (poem), by David C. Kopaska-Merkel
Grinning Like the Dead Man in His Tomb (poem), by Kent Kruse
Strawberry Ghoul, by Erik Amundsen
The Monastery, by Brent Knowles
Oneness (poem), by Erin Hoffman
Anakatabasis (poem), by Sonya Taaffe
Art: John Stanton (cover), John & Flo Stanton, Teresa Tunaley

Hidden is available from The Genre Mall.