Tuesday, July 9, 2019

An Old Story: "Disorganized Light."

I wrote a lot of short stories when I was in college, and right after.  Some of them I did more work than others.  Five of them made to "finished" and were saved on a Macintosh 3.5" disc.  I also printed them out and put them into a folder.  I made a copy of one of the stories in that folder to show a friend maybe 8 years ago.  The folder has since vanished and the Mac no longer works, so, as of now, this is the only one of the early stories to survive in its "final" form.  ( I still have their handwritten first drafts somewhere.)

Chronologically, this was the last of the five.  I started writing it in June 1990.  The girl I was dating ( I'll call her X for the purposes of this entry) at the time was going away to work for the summer, and she insisted that I write three pages a day of whatever so she would have something to read (this was pre-internet, and where she was going there were no TVs.)  I decided to make that the basis of a story.  Simple enough, right?

Unlike the protagonist, I had no issues with that output.  I wrote letters, to her and others, as well as this and another story: "Promises of Heaven," which was by far the longest of the five stories. 

The original idea was 'ghost story as metaphor.' 

Yes, I was a pretentious little sh*t back then. 

The protagonist was... not in his right mind, so I wrote him in passive voice to "create distance."  See: Pretentious little sh*t" above.  I love ghost stories, and I had books about real hauntings that I used for inspiration. 

What it became was quite different.  The relationship took a sour turn, and being me, that influenced my writing.  The story became a chronicle of my relationship with X (whom I call "Mary" in the story, obviously not her real name but also a metaphor- 'without sin' and all that.) 

After X came home from the summer, she had a new beau... and me.  Obviously, our relationship ended.  Long story short, this was one of the factors leading to my first suicide attempt in 1990. 

I finished this story, as you see it here, in May 1990.  I learned that very day that X was marrying the new guy at the end of that month.  She was 20 at the time.

X liked reading my work, as did my coworkers at TGI Fridays.  Two of them, Kim  and Beth, were particularly encouraging.  They both said they really loved this piece.  I sent a copy of to X, as she requested one.

She hated it.

Years later, as mentioned above, I showed it to a friend whom I will refer to as "Prime."  He is a writer of great talent, especially with Noir.  he told me that if I didn't re-write this, he would.  I was reluctant, as for me it was a signpost of a person long since passed.  However, there's no harm in a challenge.

So, Prime- bring it- I'll rewrite it and YOU rewrite it.  I'll post both, giving you full co-writing credit.  Lame or game?

Anyway, here, finally typed in to this computer, is that story: "Disorganized Light."


Disorganized Light   (May 1991)

He used a knife.  No one knows why.  Perhaps she had a lover, or he did.  Maybe he was insane.  We’ll never know.  All we know is that she still walks the corridors of the house, arms outstretched as if to capture the love she lost centuries before.

            No, this is garbage.  How am I supposed to write this stuff?  I don’t know what I’m trying to prove here.  Maybe I don’t have what it takes.

            But I must.

            If I am going to get her to return, I must have discipline.  Three pages a day.  That will bring her back to me.

            I’m sorry, I’m babbling.  Let me bring this up to date.  You see, Mary, the girl I love, is away.  I promised that I’d write her three pages a day.  She thinks I could be a great writer someday.  All I need is discipline (the one thing I don’t have.  That’s not true: there’s lots I don’t have.  Mostly Mary.)  Anyway, only through discipline will I get her to return.  She’s on a long trip to someplace where I’ve never been.  The where isn’t important: only her absence. 

            I’m trying to write a ghost story.  I’ve always liked them, and anyway it seems appropriate.  I’m renting a room in a really old house that I can easily imagine as haunted.  Rewrite time.

                        He killed her in 1760, yet her memory has never left the house.

                        Her lonely figure walks the night’s corridors, seeking the love that betrayed her over two hundred years before.

            I don’t know.  Maybe I should sleep on it.

                        The house isn’t old; it’s a carbon copy of all the others on the block.  Built in the post-war days, it has seen its share of domestic bliss and war.  Why bother with this house?  What makes 234 Beaver Ave. so different?  What sinister forces are at work?  Could I write more clichéd if I tried?

            I must be really tired.  I look out the window onto the street and I remember her.  It’s raining, the kind of soaking rain only a humid summer day could entice. She loves the rain.  I can’t wait for her to come back. 

            Ok.  Reality check.  What do I want to write?  Where should this story go?  I want a good introduction, but not something that will give away the show. 

            He awakens to a sound.  Not a bump or a crash, but an almost imperceptible one, delicate as a whisper.  His clock reads 2:15.  Again the sound.  A rustle of cloth, quiet as a memory.

            ‘What could it be?’ he thinks.  Quietly, he rolls from bed.  The carpet muffles the sound of his bare footsteps.

            He opens the door, ever so slightly.

                       There, in the corridor, he sees her.  Holding her arms out to embrace an invisible love.              Her face is skeletal, and her skirt rustles in a non- existent breeze.  He chokes back a scream              and quickly jumps to bed, covering himself with the blankets.

            Hmm.  I don’t know about the blankets.  Or the face.  I wish I could ask Mary for her opinion.  But she’s away.  On a trip.  But I’ll get her to come back.  Really soon.

She waited for her lover to arrive.  Instead, her fiancée appeared.  He confronted her with what he had learned, and then murdered her.  To this day, she wanders the site of the old house, waiting for her love that was due so long ago.

            This is so difficult.  America just isn’t a good setting for a good story.  England has a lock on them.  Like tea and good comedy, no one does ghosts like the British.  But I don’t know enough about their language to write about it.        

            “Eek it’s a bloody ghost!”

            So much for that idea.  I’ll try again tomorrow night.  I close my notebook, open the window and door for some air, and go to bed.  I have a long day tomorrow. 

            It feels strange being at this wedding.  Makes me feel old, though I’m only twenty four.  I can’t believe I was invited.  After all, she is an ex-girlfriend.

            At the reception, I look over the empty seat next to me.  The place I reserved for her.  Watching the smiling bride, I think of Mary, and I wish for the day when we were to wed.  The happiness: lifelong and total that we were to share.  She promised.  I look over at the empty chair, and I raise my glass to her.  I can almost see her smiling at me.

It’s only a small boat.  A small pleasure boat that silently cruises the bay on moonlit nights endlessly searching for port.  At the wheel, a woman too young for the heart attack that kept her from the arms of her married lover across the bay, and her husband sleeping at home.

            Home drunk.  As I lie in bed and sweat, I think of sweet springs of the past.  Of the sickening clichéd things that we did together.  Picnics in the park.  Walking at dusk around the block.  Little notes under my windshield wiper when I came out of work (hasn’t been one in a while.  I keep checking even though I know she’s far away.)  Making love in the hammock of her parent’s darkened porch, jumping at every headlight to come down the road.  To think of it, for the first two weeks we knew each other, we spent maybe 75% of the time naked.  I was absolutely addicted to the feel of her body.  She said my skin was “soft like magic.”  Although we cooled off a little over time, I never lost the special sensation she gave me.  And I treasured every moment and opportunity.  The thoughts don’t help the temperature of the room in the dark.  So I get up and look out the open window. 

This is the house I had in mind when I wrote this.  It's in Spring City, a couple of blocks from where I grew up

            The nights are the worst.  Especially since it’s summer.  Hazy nights when everybody has somebody.  Everybody but me.  Nights like these make it hard to write.  She left me on a night like this. 

            So I sit watching the room leap from cloud to cloud, and I wish she were here watching it with me.  Maybe she’s watching it from wherever she is now.  God knows that whenever I see the moon, I think of her. 

            However, the moon isn’t much inspiration tonight, so I go downstairs for a beer and go back to my room.  It’s not the biggest room in the house, not even the nicest.  A bed, some other furniture, a window, a hardwood floor.  I haven’t really gotten into the spirit of decorating it.  She used to live here, in this very room, except that it’s been redone since she left.  I stare out the window, like so many nights before, and I miss her.

            On nights like this, with a hazy moon cowering in the sky, I can still smell smoke.

A soft sobbing echoes through the corridors.  Quietly, almost inaudibly, it is heard on sultry summer nights.  The former owner claimed that he saw a figure drifting mournfully down the darkened halls and through a wall.

            Hmm.  Maybe. 

            I’m still looking out the window as the sun rises.  It’s strange how loneliness can make even a sunrise seem trivial.  Almost ugly.  Beauty is meant to be shared.  I close the shade, toss the empty beer bottles into the glass container, and go to sleep.

            She invades my dreams.  As if it isn’t hot enough in this room to sleep already.

            When I wake up, I look in my notebook.  Between throbs of the heartbeat paced hangover headache, I try to read what I wrote the night before.

Our bodies are just sticks and meat.  Sticks and meat.  So vulnerable, yet they have a spirit.  A spirit so strong as to transcend its mortal shortcomings.  Sticks and meat so easily blown over by the eternal wolf of death, verses the eternal brick house of the spirit of the soul.  And yet the soul can be so easily crushed by one so cherished.  Insanity.  There is no reason to it.

            Ugh.  Heavy drinking and writing don’t mix.  I must try not to write while totally slammed.  Try some more.

                        She walks the field where the house used to be.  Ugh.

            She walks the ruins of the old manor, looking like a gentle mist moving about the stone and weeds.

            A little better.  How am I going to get three pages if I can’t finish a paragraph?  No discipline.  It still echoes in my ears.

            We had just finished making love, and were holding each other.  A perfectly blissful moment, the two of us alone, not needing to say a word.  And I ruined it by saying “I love you.”  She stood up and dressed.  We started talking about my writing.

            “You have no discipline!  If you can’t get it done now, you never will.”  She paced around the room, obviously disgusted. 

            “But Mary, I don’t have time to write.  Between work and seeing you, I simply don’t have time.”

            “Oh, so it’s my fault.  You could be really great at this.  God knows that you don’t want to do anything else.  Why don’t you do it and do it right?”

            “It’s not your fault…”

            “I know what to do.  I’m going home.  I’ll see you in a couple of days.  If you haven’t written three pages every day, I’m just going to turn around and go home.”


            “And that’s the way it’s going to be.  Bye!”

            The door closed and I haven’t seen her since.

They hadn’t seen each other for almost a year.  He was at sea, but now he is home, waiting in his room.  He hears her carriage pull up, and her footsteps enter the house.  He gets up to greet her.  Her footsteps are closer and hurried: she’s on the stairs and obviously running.  A smile crosses his face.  Suddenly, a scream and a bone chilling series of thumps.  She had tripped and fallen down the stairs.  He runs out of his room to see her broken dead form at the bottom of the grand staircase. 

On still nights for years later, screams and the sound of a body thumping down the stairs could be heard echoing through the moon-lit manor.  He would never marry, and kept a lonely vigil at the top of the stairs whenever home.  Eventually he committed suicide, driven mad by the memory and reminder of his dead love.  To this day, one can hear her footsteps and fall, and the sound of his pacing the hall at the top, waiting for his love to simply climb the stairs and be with him for all eternity.

            Not a bad start.  Maybe I could expand upon this later.  Right now, I have errands to run: the bank, the cemetery, the store, and over to my friend Mike’s.  I’ll work on this later.

            Sometimes I hate life.  All that’s happened.  There can be no such thing as fate.  Yet, how can it be possible that someone can bring about so much sorrow, so much heartbreak upon themselves?

            Is it fate that grants some people blissful happiness in life while others know nothing but pain?  God, I am so sick of pain.  Yet, I can’t seem to escape it.  Or can I?

The mist forms into a woman running across the hill under the hazy summer moon, crying for the love she betrayed so long ago.

            There’s something about a summer twilight at 8:30.  It is still daylight, but the moon is taking command of the sky.  Crickets and locusts provide a light soundtrack.  Children are another day closer to inevitable school; the elderly are one step closer to inevitable death.  I wonder how many versions of the passion play are being planned are acted out on a summer twilight Friday.  How many parties are teens going to where parents aren’t home?  How many people are preparing for a night out dancing and teasing? 

            How many will God bless with the morning?

            The moon rises as the light evaporates.  Three lousy pages.  If only my thoughts could be put on paper.  Coherently.

            Should I expand that one idea?  Nah.  I’ll try some others first. 

            A jet flies overhead in the twilight.  The engine hums in placid peace as it soars.  To its passengers, even cars are too small to be seen.  Civilization is just a pattern of lights: organized lights.  If only lights would stay organized.

No sound.  No footsteps. Yet there it hangs, floating majestically above the ruins of the grand staircase.  A southern belle, her dress flowing white and cascading, like her hair, in an unseen wind.  Slowly she moves, as though showing off at her debut.  Down the stairs.  Arms outstretched, she hugs an admirer whose life ended long ago.  Smiling, she picks up a glass offered to her by unseen hands.  She lifts the glass to unseen lips to quench an eternal thirst.  Hand to throat, she dies.  How can the dead look so young?

It is said her elder sister also haunts these ruins in eternal torment for poisoning good wine to remove her only rival for a man’s attention.

            Hmm.  Not bad.  But what can I do with it?

The large H-shaped building houses a nursing home for nuns: the largest in the world.  Next to that, a building dwarfed by its huge neighbor, is a dormitory for the nuns and nursing staff who care for the elderly sisters.  One hundred yards away, opscured by a grove of pines, is a cemetery for the celibate sorority: nuns buried beneath identical stones.  It is said that at night, in the full moon, or in the mist, ghostly nuns walk from the home to the cemetery, bearing flowers for the sisters who went before them.  And that among the stones, ghostly sisters raise their arms and faces to the sky, but is it to praise their eternal father/husband or condemn him for waster barren lives?

            The answer depends upon if you’re catholic, I guess.  Nah.  Too controversial.

            I think most of us like to think of ourselves as the heroes in our own stories.  We try not to hurt others, not to be bad.  What happens when someone feels like the loser of their own story?  Or possibly the villain? 

            I go to the basement- to the new fuse box.  The fuses are still new to me.  The old ones were friends of mine.  I knew all about this house’s wiring, even before I moved in.  Mary asked me to help put a new outlet in her room, so the electrician and I put it in.  I learned a lot in those couple of days.  We had to re-route a few things in the dining room, which is right below her room.  Which is my room now.

She walks into a family room at the base of the stairs and feels a chill.  Out of the corner of her eye, she notices the closed curtains billow as if the windows were open.  She walks over and finds them closed, and hears a playful giggle behind her. 

Turning suddenly, she sees a child dressed in century-old clothing, with black eyes and her head hanging at a grotesque angle.  The child looks real enough, and she’s giggling as she floats buoyantly above the stereo.  The child giggles again and vanishes.

                        Then she hears the giggle again.

            When her husband comes home, he finds her cowering in the corner of the family room, sucking her thumb.


            There I times I think of death.  I wonder if it is truly the release I hope it would be.  Sometimes all I want for is a reason.  Hah.  Reason.  Reason is the rules constructed by fools who seek to control the uncontrollable; who seek to put a handle on lives that have flown out of control.  With the application of reason comes insanity.  Love is not a reasonable thing.  Love is truth and reason is not.  Those who try to combine the two are destined to repeat heartbreak after heartbreak as their relationships fail and their women leave them. 

            Women always make promises they never keep.  They promise loyalty and eternal love, but they lie and cheat.  Yet are men any better? Am I?  I have lied too.  Is there any hope?  Is there any reason?

            The old cliché warns me to be careful with my wishes.  I wish only for the return of my love: of what was.  I was happy.  Is that such a crime?  Why must I always find sadness?  What harm could there be with her return?  Would I take her back?

She slowly drifts along the highway.  Her expression is confused.  Why does she never reach her destination?  Where is her car or the dawn?  She never saw the truck that hit her from behind.

            God, yes.  In a moment.  I miss her more with each passing moment. 

            I open the window and let in the night.  There are sirens wailing somewhere in town.  As if this street hasn’t heard enough of them. 

The lonely traveler walks along the road.  He curses the fates and his car, which broke down a mile ago.  Ahead, he sees that the light is not a house or car, as he hoped, but simply a light drifting in the trees next to the road.  As he approaches, the light takes form: the form of a woman in colonial dress, holding a bonneted head under her arm.  He runs, but every time he turns the apparition is closer, closer, reaching for him…

            I’d better sleep on this.  I’m getting corny. 

            The night is hot and humid.  I dream of an inferno.  Being caught in a corner with nowhere to go.  I wake up with wet sheets.  I’m sweating like crazy.  No wonder: the window and door are now closed.  No cross draft.  Good God it’s hot in here!  Even the floor seems hot to bare feet.  I open the window, then the door.  The hallway is dark and the light plays tricks.  I almost think I saw a hint of movement near the stairs.  An imperceptible cough.

            The house is stone, built over a century ago as some kind of retreat for city money.  Over the years, it was sold again and again, until it was eventually converted into apartments.  The floors are wooden and creak with any weight.  Our landlady has some old pictures hanging in the stairwell.  People smiling and posing that are now dead.  Children who are long past innocence.  Narrow halls and small doorways.  For such a big house, it sure is confining.  And at night, the shadows make it smaller. 

They hadn’t seen each other for almost a year.  He was away at war, but now he is home, waiting in his room.  There are rumors that he has heard.  Whispers and looks from his servants.  About a child: her child, but by another man: a sailor.  If this is true, then everything she has been writing, all the love she promised was a lie.  She promised she would wait for him, despite her fickle past.  He hears her carriage pull up, and her footsteps enter the house.  Soon he will know.  By the way she greets him, treats him, looks at him.  He will be able to tell by the look in her beautiful hazel eyes if she has betrayed him.  No matter what, he just wants to embrace the woman he loves.  He gets up to greet her.

            Maybe I should use smaller paper.

            I hate running errands.  Seeing couples together only makes me feel lonelier.  I bump into someone I know from school. 

            “Hey Lance, how are you?” he calls.

            “I’m ok, Dave,” I say to his smiling face. 

            “Sorry to hear about what happened.  Anything I can do?”

“What happened? I’ve been so busy writing and waiting for Mary that I’ve lost touch with events.”

“What happened? The fire! Mary!  Christ, you live there.  How could you forget?”

The fire.  I can’t forget.

“I haven’t forgotten.  I thought you were talking about something else.  I mean, the fire was almost a year ago.  Around when she left.”

He gives me a very strange look.  “Yeah.  Whatever.  Look, I, uh, gotta go.”

He walks away very quickly.

Forget?  How can I?  I remember the pain.  More powerful than anything physical.  No nerve could sing of such agony as another can inflict upon the mind.  The pain of her absence burns me, and leaves me only with the fact that she is gone.

While that burns, the truth freezes me, cold as a January night.  Irrefutable, sometimes impossible to find, other times impossible to avoid.  Sometimes I hide in the warm recesses of imagination, or in the balmy comfort of self-deception.  Neither lasts too long.

And I still can’t wait for her to come home.

Her footsteps are closer and hurried: she’s on the stairs and obviously running.  What will he say to her?  Will he question her? Accept a hug and a warm kiss?  Play coy?  Accuse her?  No.  He will be content now just to hold her.  To see the sparkle in her lovely eyes.  To see the flush in her soft cheeks.  A smile crosses his face.  Suddenly a scream and a bone chilling series of thumps.  Eternal.  Finally, a last thump, then silence.  The silence lasts forever as he opens his door.  He moves, but it seems the room is endless.  She has tripped and fallen down the stairs.  A servant screams.  He runs out of the room to see her broken dead form at the bottom of the grand staircase.

I remember a fight Mary and I once had.  I had just done her a big favor and she blew it off like nothing.  Didn’t even hear her say “thanks.”  I thought she was so ignorant, and was very angry.  Anyway, that night I sat on the porch of the place I was staying, watching the rain, when Jeff, my roommate walked past.

“You OK?”

“Not really.”



“Well, don’t worry.  Things will work out.  There’s always tomorrow.”

But now I know there isn’t always a tomorrow and there might be someone or something waiting to steal away all my dreams.  I’m tired of watching my dreams disappear like smoke on a gloomy day.  Tomorrow is only important if you can make today count, because everything you love may be taken away tomorrow.  Tomorrow is as much a threat as a promise, and hope can be as fleeting as a distant siren in the night.

I wake up to the sound of coughing.  It’s so hot in this room that it seems hazy.  And the window is closed.  Dammit, I propped it open when I went to bed.  The floor almost burns my feet as I walk across it.  Things must be hot in the dining room.  Could it be?  No… I run to the door and fling it open.  The hallway is cool and clear, and the moonlight falls on one of the old dead pictures of a little girl smiling.  And I hear a cough.

I wipe the sweat from my face, and go back into my room to re-open the window.  The wooden floor is cool to my feet. 

The hardest part about losing someone special is the tender memories of happiness they leave behind.  The subtle rhetoric of simple moments. 

Smashed.  Limp.  Broken.  All the dreams he hoped for.  All the plans he made.  Gone in a lifeless instant. 

On still nights for years later, screams and the sound of an invisible body thumping down the stairs could be heard echoing through the moon-lit manor.  The spot where she lay, where he cradled her in his tear-soaked arms, would always be cold, and pets refused to climb the stairs.

“Why didn’t I meet her outside?  Why was I playing games?  Life is too short for games,” he would mutter to himself.

He would never marry, and kept a lonely vigil at the top of the stairs whenever he was home.  True, she did have an affair, he would find out, but nothing came of it, and his anger and the pain of her betrayal were snuffed by the ache of the loss.  Eventually, he committed suicide, driven mad by the memory and reminder of his dead love.  To this day, one can hear the footsteps and fall, and the sound of his pacing the hall at the top, waiting for his love to simply climb the stairs and be with him for all eternity.

Sometimes I cry because it’s so unfair.  Ours was a great relationship: everyone said so.  We seemed made for each other: perfect compliments.  Now she’s away, and I cry into any convenient drink because, try as I might, I can’t seem to get her back.  Three lousy pages.  You’d think that’d be simple, but I’m in such a frame of mind that I can’t even think about anything else but self-pity.  What am I torturing myself?  She’s torturing me already: I shouldn’t be doing it myself. 

That night, I dream of fire.  Hot, bright, crackling, roaring like distant horses.  Fire surrounds me with its disorganized light.  There is smoke, and coughing.  A familiar choking cough.

I wake up to soaked sheets and remember.  She’s away.  It’s so hot in here.  I remember jamming a book in the window frame to keep it open, but there it is on the floor.  The door is closed, and it’s so damn hot and hazy. 

I remember the sirens, wailing through the distant night, calling to me like a fleeting love.

God, it’s so hot I can hardly breathe.

I remember when she left.  A phone call.  “Could you identify…” I fall to my knees on a blazing hot floor and hold my face in my hands.  I remember the fire.

“Could you identify…”

She’s dead!  Mary is dead and she died in this room and it’s my fault because I screwed up the wiring and she’s not coming back because she’s dead and it’s my fault because I killed her!  I cry on my blistering knees as I start to cough uncontrollably.  And I hear more coughing as I look up. 

The door has opened.  There in the doorway, surrounded by thick white smoke, arms outstretched to hold the one she left behind, is Mary.  Coughing, dying again, and looking to me for the salvation that I cannot give, and will never come.


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