Ho, Ho…Humbug

Since this is the last time you’ll be reading my words here before the holidays (you are reading them, aren’t you? If not, I don’t expect you’ll be reading this parenthetical statement), I’d like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, a Joyous Kwanzaa, a Restorative Incontinence Celebration, Happy Holidays or a wonderful whatever-it-is-you’re-celebrating this season.

            Typical gifts for giving have changed over the years. Electric razors no longer just shave your face but are available with a small whisker catcher, are adjustable to handle any length of whiskers emerging from your face or any other part of your body (which then are called “hairs” so as not to be confused with the hairs growing out of your face, which are called “whiskers”), can shave your sweaters, shear sheep, mow the lawn, trim your hedges, spackle drywall, or communicate with aliens.

Some perceptive individual started a company that manufactures and sells artificial dead houseplants. These save buyers the time and expense involved in creating real dead houseplants, i.e., the watering, feeding, providing sunlight or plant lights and creating the proper atmospheric conditions, just wasting valuable time and energy waiting for the inevitable. Cut out those middlemen and all the muss and fuss. The artificial dead houseplants are very realistic in appearance and, as real dead houseplants do, have the added benefit of no chance to suddenly spring back to life one day, starting the cycle over.

There are some new Barbie’s Dream House® accessories available this season and a couple are quite practical. For Barbie’s bathroom, you can add a Barbie Plunger and rubber tube with a squeeze ball that attaches to Barbie’s toilet. When you fill the ball with water or other simulated sewage and squeeze it, Barbie’s toilet overflows. Time to grab the Barbie Plunger! Then call Chelsea to clean up the mess. Add a pink Barbie Guillotine accessory to Barbie’s Dream House for Barbie to activate in case Teresa, Nikki, Midge, etc., should get too overly friendly with Ken; it even includes a pink basket to catch the separated plastic noggin of the offending female or even Ken’s if he should succumb to their advances.

Tickle Me Elmo® was not content with just giggling, so for 2022 there’s Touch Me And I’ll Punch Your Lights Out Elmo. Depending on where he’s touched, Elmo can holler out to DCFS, while the sound of a police siren blares in the background. Touch Me And I’ll Punch Your Lights Out Elmo also includes a ten-foot pole for the more cowardly child.

Another sure-to-be-a-favorite educational toy added to the Mr. Potato Head® line this year is Mr. Potato Butt. It comes complete with various sized hemorrhoids, tubes of simulated Preparation H® (sure are a lot of these “®s” popping up), small, medium and large syringes for different types of inoculations, a combat boot that will leave a temporary boot mark on Mr. Potato Butt, all of which allow children (or sadistic adults) to make Mr. Potato Butt as comfortable or miserable as they see fit. Like Mr. Potato Head, the kit comes with the plastic potato butt or, for more realism, a real potato can be used. There is a Spoiler Alert listed on the carton stating that if using a real potato, do not eat it after inoculations (if it’s been inoculated with something other than sour cream) and even though the simulated Preparation H is completely harmless, it may cause severe lip shrinkage in some people. I don’t know about you, but these new gift ideas for 2022 make me want to ingest vast quantities of rum-laced eggnog, give fruitcakes, and see what comes to the market on Black Friday, 2023.


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The Attic

In the darkness of the small room he slept fitfully. Perspiration plastered his brown hair to his forehead. He began to moan softly. His head tossed from side to side on the pillow of his bunk. His breathing became more erratic. The moans turned to sobs as his dreams intensified.

* * *

            On a hot August afternoon in 1957, Billy Taylor and Joey Jensen, eleven-year-old buddies, stood in front of the wooden magazine rack in Mr. Barris’s drugstore. Billy sorted through the action comics while Joey picked through the horror section. Mr. Barris stood behind the counter of the soda fountain wiping long sundae spoons with a small dishtowel, impatiently eyeing the boys over the top of his wire-rimmed glasses. Every so often, Billy glanced at Mr. Barris out of the corner of his eye.

            Mr. Barris finished with the spoons and began rearranging the soda glasses stacked behind him. He watched the boys in the mirror as they pulled out one comic after another. The more they picked, the more agitated he got. He turned, grabbed his dishtowel and walked to the end of the counter near the rack.

            Mr. Barris slapped the towel on the counter. His knuckles were white as he squeezed the metal counter edge and glowered at the boys. Billy made a hasty selection and nervously turned to Joey.

            “C’mon, will ya?” he said out of the side of his mouth. “Old Barris is getting mad. He’s gonna throw us out.”

            Joey flipped through the comic in his hands. “Yeah, yeah, hang on a second. I only got enough for two and I wanna get the best ones.”

            “Okay, but just pick something.” Billy eyed the soda fountain. Mr. Barris headed for the cash register. “He’s gonna kick us out and then you’ll have nothing!”

            “All right, all right. Hey! Look at this.” Joey plucked a comic out of the rack. “Mind Monster. That’s that new movie that’s coming out. I want this one!”

            Billy tugged on Joey’s sleeve, coaxing him toward the cash register. “Come on, Joey!”

            Joey grabbed another horror comic and they walked to the register where Mr. Barris waited. They dropped their coins in his outstretched hand.

            “Thank you, gentlemen!” Mr. Barris slammed the cash drawer shut. “Please—come again!” he added sarcastically.

            The boys walked out into the midday brilliance. They chattered and paged through their comics, each looking to see what the other had purchased.

* * *

            That night, Joey lay in bed under the sheet tent he created to read his horror comics by flashlight. Petey, his little brother, tossed around in his own bed. He sat up.

            “Ma! Dad! Joey’s reading nasty comic books with his flashlight and keeping me awake,” he yelled toward the partially open door.

            “Shut up, you little jerk!” Joey said in a loud whisper. He scrambled and shoved the comics and flashlight under his pillow. From the living room he heard the muffled voices of his parents. His father’s voice got louder, angrier. Joey slipped further under the covers.

            The bedroom door flew open and banged against the doorstop. Joey peeked from under the sheet and saw the dark silhouette of his father where he swayed in the middle of the doorway. Dangling from one hand, Joey could see the outline of a heavy belt; the other grasped the neck of a brown, half empty quart bottle of beer.

            “What th’ hell’s going on in here?” He flipped the light switch and looked at Petey. “What’re you yellin’ about?”

            Petey squirmed. “Uh…Joey’s…looking at nasty comics,” he replied meekly.

            Father staggered in. He stopped when he bumped Joey’s bed. “Where’re they?”

            “I…uh…I don’t know…I don’t…ah…remember.”

            “You don’t remember,” his father mocked. He set his bottle on the nightstand, grabbed the pillow and yanked it from under Joey’s head. The flashlight went with it and bounced on the floor. The comics slipped across the sheet. Joey sat up slightly and backed across the bed, dragging the covers with him. He turned and cowered against the wall.

            “You don’t remember! Maybe this will help.” Father raised the belt and cracked it down across Joey’s back. Joey cried out in pain.

            Father grabbed the comic books and threw them at Joey. “What’d I tell you ‘bout reading this crap?”

            Joey whimpered. “I…ah…y-you told me to quit reading it.”

            “What? I can’t hear you!” He swung the belt and struck Joey across the back. Joey cried out louder than before. Petey pulled the covers up to his nose. He peeked out with one eye.

            “You told me to quit reading it!” Joey said, tearfully.

            “Right! Why’d I ask you to quit?” Once more, he cracked the belt across Joey’s back. Joey cried out and spun around. Hate filled his eyes.

            Mother called from the living room. “Frank, what are you doing?”

            “Shuddup!” his father yelled back.

            “Stop it, will you?” she replied with concern. “That’s…that’s enough.”

            “I’m not hurting him…much.” Father said “much” in a quieter voice. He raised the belt, ready for another strike. “Why’d I ask you to stop?”

            “Because I have nightmares and I wake you up,” Joey spat out with contempt.

            “Very good.” Father smiled and lowered the belt. “See? I knew you’d remember if you just had a little help.” He scowled at Joey. “Now go to sleep!” He raised the belt as if to strike again. Joey flinched, but continued to stare at him defiantly. Father picked up his beer bottle walked toward the door. He looked at Petey. “You too!” Petey pulled the covers over his head. Father flipped off the light and slammed the door.

            Joey lay back down on his side. Petey pulled his head out from under the covers. “I’m sorry.”

            Joey didn’t answer. Petey waited a moment for a response, then closed his eyes. Joey stared at the dark wall. I’ll hate that man until the day I die.

* * *

            The marquee of the small movie theater announced Mind Monster in black plastic letters. It was ten minutes before the start of the matinee on a cool Sunday when Billy and Joey slipped their quarters through the ticket window. They walked in and stood at the end of a line of children who waited to hand their tickets to the usher.

            “I heard this is a really creepy movie,” Billy said excitedly over Joey’s shoulder. “It’s about some guy who thinks about this nasty, ugly monster so hard that it really comes to life and kills these guys he doesn’t like and then goes away. But then after a while he can’t control it and it finally takes him over.”

            Joey turned to Billy. “I know. I bought the comic, remember?”

            “What would you think if that could really happen?”

            “I dunno.” Joey shrugged. “S’pose it would be okay if there’s somebody that you really hated and was bothering you and you could get rid of them.”

            Billy smiled. “Like Mr. Barris at the drug store?”

            “Yeah,” Joey answered. But he was thinking of somebody else.

            “Yeah!” said Billy. He thought for a few seconds. “Maybe it could just beat the crap out of him because we still need to buy comics there.”

            The line moved ahead. Billy got bumped from behind and stumbled into Joey. Joey winced and sucked in his breath.

            “I didn’t hit you that hard,” Billy said.

            “My back’s sore.”

            “What’d you do?”

            Joey turned toward Billy. “You know.”

            Billy was puzzled for a moment, then…”Oh, yeah.” He paused. “Hey, what’re you gonna do? One of these days your old man’s gonna kill you.”

            Joey was perturbed. “He’s not my old man, understand? Something’s gonna happen…I’ll do something…something…” His voice softened and trailed off. He turned back toward the front of the line.

            Billy stared at the back of Joey’s head, a little bit frightened by the look he had seen in Joey’s eyes. He shrugged it off when the line inched forward.

* * *

            Joey and Billy slouched in their seats. They took turns reaching into the box of popcorn Billy gripped tightly. Their eyes were glued to the flickering black and white and gray images on the movie screen.

            Two thugs are mugging a young couple in an alley. One is holding the woman, while the other beats the man. A solid punch knocks the man back against a brick wall. He slumps to the ground. His face is full of pain and anger. Suddenly his eyes begin to glow. The thug holding the woman raises his hand to strike her. From off-screen comes a loud roar. A monstrous neoprene and latex claw shoots into the scene and awkwardly grabs the thug by the head. Rubber tentacles wrap around him, and rip him away from the woman.

            The audience screamed and jumped. Startled Billy tossed the popcorn box into the air. Joey cast a mildly disgusted look at him and tried to salvage a few kernels that had fallen on his head and body.

* * *

            The crowd of children poured out of the theater. In its midst, Joey and Billy excitedly discussed what they had just seen.

            “Hey…hang on.” Joey grabbed Billy’s arm and stopped him. He reached into the pocket of his light jacket, pulled out some coins and counted. “I got just enough for a horror comic. Let’s go by the drugstore.”

            “Okay.” Billy’s tone then became serious. “You sure you want to? You told me what your old…uh…that guy does to you if you have bad dreams.”

            “Yeah, yeah, I know.” Joey shifted his shoulders around.

            “You said he told you not to buy any more horror stuff.”

            “I know, I know.” Joey started walking again. “But I’ll be careful. Besides, he can’t tell me what to do forever. Someday I’ll be big and he’ll be old and then we’ll see.”

            “I guess. You’re the one that’s gotta live there.”

            Joey smiled at Billy and darted off toward the drugstore.

            “Wait up,” Billy called and hurried after him.

* * *

            Joey walked briskly down the sidewalk on his block, comic book in hand. As he approached his house his pace slowed. He looked at the book, then unzipped his jacket, folded the comic, and stuffed it inside. He sighed, and went up to the front door.

            Joey’s father, in his undershirt and drinking beer, slouched in the easy chair watching TV. Joey tried to duck past quickly, hoping he wouldn’t be noticed. It didn’t work.

            “Hey, you,” his father called over his shoulder. “Where you think you’re goin’? C’mere.”

            Joey walked in slowly and stood by the chair, fear touched with hatred on his face.

            “I asked you a question. Where you goin’?” He slurred his words.

            “To my room.”

            “What for?”

            Joey was getting irritated with the interrogation. “To study. I got school tomorrow, you know.”

            “Watch it, smart mouth. Where you been?”


            His father leaned forward and grabbed the front of his jacket. “Out where?” He yanked on the jacket, almost pulling Joey on top of him. “Spending your allowance on crap? Like those damn comic books? How much do you have left?”

            Joey held his left arm tightly to his body in an effort to keep the comic book from falling out of his jacket. He reached into his right pocket and pulled out a nickel.

            “Five cents.”

            “Five cents!” He reached up with his empty hand and slapped Joey. “Five cents. And you just got fifty cents on Friday!” He shoved Joey away. Tears welled up in Joey’s eyes.

            “Stupid kid. You don’t care about nothing—only junk!”

            Mother stepped in from the kitchen. Petey followed and stood close by her side.

            “Frank—can’t you just leave him alone and watch TV?”

            Father whips around. “You mind your business or you’ll get some of the same.” He glared at her, then pointed at Petey. “You, too!”

            Joey backed up slowly, then turned and ran toward the hall.

            “Hey! I’m not finished with you yet!”

            Joey ran down the hall to his room. Mother stared at her husband. She took Petey by the shoulders and turned him back into the kitchen with her.

            “Stupid sonsabitches…stupid…” Father muttered to himself, took a swig of beer and stared blankly at the TV tube.

* * *

            It was well past midnight when Father had passed out in the living room. Petey, upset by the earlier confrontation, had asked to sleep with Mother. The house was dark and quiet, except for Joey’s room. Joey slept restlessly. He flopped from side to side, rolling on top of his horror comics, which lay scattered on the bed.

            The sounds began faintly at first. High-pitched squeaks from inside the closet door. Barely audible. Joey’s tossing and turning actually made more noise. The squeaks turned to shrill squeals, which gradually intensified and deepened. Joey’s sleep became more troubled. He began to mumble and moan. From inside the closet came a muffled, rattling sound—the attic access panel in the ceiling. Joey began kicking, tangling his feet in the bedsheet. The access panel banged open. The strange noises doubled in volume. Through the narrow space at the top of the closet door, a bright, blood red light painted itself across the Joey’s ceiling. A faint, raspy voice could be heard in the midst of the squeals. “Jo-ey.”

            Joey, still asleep, became frantic. He kicked wildly, muttered loudly. The red light in the closet slid downward and shone out through all parts of the jamb. The noises intensified and now sounded like an army of tortured rats. Louder at each pronouncement, the raspy voice repeated “Jo-ey” over and over. The closet door began to strain and creak as if some massive force was about to turn it into a thousand splinters.

            When the cacophony reached a peak and the door seemed ready to burst, the voice bellowed out “JO-EY!” The door flew open and smashed against the wall. Joey bolted upright, eyes wide with fear. The blood red light in the center of the closet illuminated a great beast with yellow, burning eyes, as bright as the sun. A repellent, virtually formless beast with many clawed hands and tentacles that snaked around each of its many long arms, it was some type of living flesh and blood, not latex and neoprene and rubber.

             Before a scream escaped his throat, a hand clamped tightly over Joey’s mouth.

            “Joey, Joey, sshhh!” The hand and voice belonged to his mother. She was sitting on the bed next to him. “You’re having a nightmare. Please take it easy or your father will hear you.”

            Joey breathed rapidly. Perspiration dripped down his forehead and dampened his pajama top. Mother kept her hand over his mouth until his breathing slowed. “Joey, are you okay now?” He nodded and she dropped her hand.

            “Ma, it was there!” he said breathlessly, pointing to the closet. “It came down from the attic. It was calling me!”

            “Joey, Joey, honey. There’s nothing there. It’s just your closet.” She got up and walked to the closet door.


            Mother opened the door and pulled the chain, which lit the bare bulb on the closet wall. “See, Joey? Nothing.”

            “But Ma…”

            “Just some old books and toys.”

            “But Ma, the attic…”

            She looked up at the access panel in the ceiling. “You remember, Joey. That’s where we keep all our Christmas decorations…up there in the attic with a lot of other old stuff.”

            Mother reached in the closet to the left, dragged over a folded stepladder, and leaned it against the back wall. “Remember? You help your father get our Christmas things down when it’s time to decorate.”

            She climbed the ladder and pushed up on the access panel. It slid off to the side, and she tugged the string for the attic light. “See, Joey? Nothing but our Christmas things and old junk.”

            Joey nodded but didn’t move off his bed. Mother shut off the attic light, slid the access panel back in place, and climbed down. She tugged the light chain and closed the door, then came over to the bed and sat next to Joey. Her hand touched one of the horror comics.

            “Joey, you’ve got to stop reading these horrible books like you father asked you to.”

            Joey frowned. “He’s not my father and I don’t have to do what he says!”

            “Stop it! Frank is your father now and you’d better listen to him.” She stood. “Look at this room,” she said, gesturing to the walls covered with monster pictures and horror movie posters. “I’d have nightmares if I slept in here. And you have a little brother.”

            “Mama?” Petey called from the other bedroom.

            “Alice! Where…what’s goin’ on up there?”

            Mother looked at Joey and put a finger to her lips. She took a step toward the door. “I’m just checking on the boys.”

            “Never mind! They should be sleeping.” His voice became angry, threatening. “They are, aren’t they? That damn kid isn’t having another nightmare, is he? I’ll go in there and break…”

            “No, Frank,” she interrupted. “Everything’s fine! Please be quiet before you wake them up.”

            Father muttered something and his voice trailed off. Mother ran over to Joey, gave him a kiss, and settled him down. She slipped out the door with a small wave. Joey stared at the closet door briefly, the rolled over and pulled the covers up around his ears.

* * *

            An October wind blew orange leaves up against the classroom windows where Miss Krankower doled out arithmetic instruction to the sixth-grade class. She turned away from the blackboard to her pupils. Each listened attentively—except for Joey, seated near the back. He was very involved in something on the top of his desk.

            She continued pointing at the board, then…

            “…isn’t that right, Joseph?”

            Joey heard his name. He dropped his pencil and it rolled off the desk.

            “Ahh…” He tried to think of something to say while bending down to get his pencil. As he did, he knocked his notebook off the desk, scattering papers across the floor. Miss Krankower walked slowly down the aisle toward him, lightly rapping her wooden pointer across her palm.

            “Ahhh, I…” Joey frantically tried to stuff his papers into his notebook.

            “I asked you a question, Joseph.” She stopped where he knelt on the floor.

            “I…uh…I know, Miss Krankower. I…I’m just trying to think of the answer.”

            “Don’t you mean ‘an’ answer? Because you don’t have ‘the’ answer, do you? She leaned over the top of him. “Do you, Joseph?”

            Miss Krankower cracked the wooden pointer down on Joey’s desk. She straightened up and noticed that her pointer had come to rest on top of a penciled monster picture. She looked down at Joey. There on the floor, mixed in with his other papers, lay a horror comic. Miss Krankower bent and poked the comic with the tip of her pointer.

            “I warned you about this. Take this useless rubbish and throw it in my wastebasket. I want never to see the likes of it in my classroom again.”

            “Yes, ma’am. I mean, no ma’am.”

            “And when you’re finished with this mess, you go stand in the corner by the blackboard with your toes against the wall. Do you understand?”

            “Yes, ma’am.”

            “Then move…now!”

            Miss Krankower strode to her desk. Joey set his notebook and papers on his desktop, took his picture and comic, and headed for the wastebasket. As he was about to drop it in…

            “Just a moment. I have a better idea. You leave that artwork and that awful book on my desk. I believe you parents would be very interested in your schoolwork.”

            Joey panicked. “Miss Krankower, you can’t do that!”

            “I what?”

            “You…you can’t do that!”

            “I most certainly can do that! You put those things on my desk this instant!”

            Joey reluctantly obeyed.

            “Now get over there with your toes against the wall!”

            Joey turned and solemnly shuffled toward the corner. The class, which had been silent during the ordeal, began to murmur.

            “Quiet!” Miss Krankower shouted. “Open your books to page twenty-four.” The murmuring stopped, replaced by the sound of turning pages.

* * *

            Joey lay on his bed in fading daylight. His eyes slowly moved over the monster pictures and posters on the walls. Anxiety washed through his insides as he waited for the inevitable phone call from Miss Krankower. His hand rested on a sealed manila envelope that lay next to him, addressed to his parents.

            Joey didn’t realize he had fallen asleep until the ringing of the phone in the hall awakened him. His room was completely dark. The ringing stopped. Someone had picked up the receiver. It was then Joey noticed the strange noises coming from his closet. Squeaking. Squealing. Faint at first. He turned his head ever so slightly toward the closet door. The access panel in the attic ceiling began to rattle. Joey lay frozen in his bed. The squealing noises increased; the access panel banged as it was opened and pushed aside. “Jo-ey” came the rasping voice through the closet door. A red glow shone out across the ceiling through the top of the doorjamb. It moved down until it shone out on all sides.

            Joey shivered on his bed. I’m not sleeping. This is real!

            “Jo-ey.” The voice called more loudly. The door began to creak as it strained from a force behind it. “JOEY!” The door suddenly flew open revealing the gruesome, shapeless, glowing-eyed beast from his nightmare.

            Joey bolted upright. He slid up against his headboard, too frightened to scream.

The bedroom door opened. Joey turned and saw his father. The heavy belt dangled from his hand. He had been drinking.

            Choking back a scream, Joey turned back to the beast. He only saw his closet door. Father moved into the room, swinging the belt.

            Joey gritted his teeth. He knew what was next. Barely perceptible, even in the dark, Joey’s eyes flashed yellow.

* * *

            Next to the closet, by the heat register, Joey sat on the bedroom floor. He leaned against the side of his dresser reading his worn Mind Monster comic, out of sight from any unannounced visitors. He heard footsteps coming down the hall and slid the comic under the closet door. Mother walked in, buttoning her worn, blue winter coat.

            “Joey, honey, Petey and I are going shopping for the day. Frank should be home soon. He’ll need you to help him get our Christmas decorations down from the attic, okay?”

            Joey glanced up over his shoulder at the closet door. “But Ma…”

            “Please don’t make him angry, okay, Joey?”


            “Okay, Joey?”

            Silence, then “Okay.”



            Later that afternoon Joey was still reading. A half dozen comics were scattered on the floor around him. The front door slammed. Joey tensed and listened. It’s him. He jumped up, opened the closet, and stuffed the comics in a stack of old Boys’ Life magazines. He closed the door, ran over and sat on Petey’s toy chest. Father opened the door.

            “What’re you doin’?”


            He entered the room. “Well, it’s time to do something. You’re gonna help me get the Christmas stuff down from the attic for your Ma.”

            “I…I don’t think we should.”

            Father walks over and stands in front of him. “Don’t you start any of your bullshit with me or you’ll get the strap again.” He leaned almost nose-to-nose with Joey. “Understand?”


            Father grabbed him by the front of his shirt and lifted him off the toy chest.

            “I said ‘Understand’?”


            Father dropped him. He walked over, opened the closet and pulled the light chain. Joey watched nervously while Father tested the stepladder to make sure it was solidly propped against the wall. He climbed up and began to push on the access panel.

            “No!” Joey cried.

            Father stopped and turned around.

            “I don’t want you to open it.”

            Father let the panel back down. “Get over here…now!”

            Joey didn’t move. Father’s face reddened. He jumped off the ladder, stomped over to Joey, and grabbed him by the arm. He jerked him off the chest and slapped him across the face, then dragged him to the closet and planted him by the stepladder.

            “When I tell you to do something, you do it!” He climbed up the ladder. Joey backed away. Hate replaced the fear in his eyes. A bright, intense yellow glow flashed through the tears. Joey stared at Father as he pushed the access panel open and slid it off to the side. Joey held his breath.

            Nothing happened. Father stepped up on the next rung. He was now halfway in the opening and turned to Joey.

            “Get up behind me on this ladder.”

            Joey shook his head.

            Fuming, Father cursed under his breath and started to climb down. In his haste his foot hit the stack of Boys’ Life magazines. The stack tumbled. Hidden horror comics and monster pictures scattered on the floor with the magazines.

            Father became livid, barely able to speak. “Wha…why, I’ll kill you, you sneakin’ little bastard.” He was about to jump off the ladder at Joey when a monstrous roar and a blood red light issued from the attic. Taloned tentacles uncoiled down, catching Father in mid-jump and wrapped themselves around him. He screamed as the talons tore into his flesh. A large, crab-like claw clamped itself over his head, stifling the scream.

            Joey slipped down to the floor, paralyzed with fear. The sound of cracking bones mixed with the loud, high-pitched squealing that filled the closet. More tentacles dropped down and wrapped themselves around Father’s body. He kicked wildly as he was wrenched upward. Joey began to scream, unable to turn away. Blood ran down onto the steps of the ladder as Father disappeared into the blinding red light in the opening. Something slammed the panel back in place. All was quiet except for the muted whimpering from Joey, curled into a fetal position up against the side of the dresser.

* * *

            The psychiatrist leaned back in his chair, his form dimly lit by a desk lamp, the only light in the office. The door opened and a young man in a sport coat entered. The doctor stood and extended his hand to the man.

            “I’m glad you could make it tonight, Mr. Jensen. I’m afraid your brother is worse.”

            In the darkness of the small room Joey slept fitfully. Perspiration plastered his brown hair to his forehead. He struggled against the shackles that keep him in his bed.

            “In what way?” Peter asked.

            “After you granted us permission to try chlorpromazine his nightmares had been less intense. There were even periods when he was somewhat rational. This led us to believe that eventually we might communicate with him. But the nightmares returned, and now continue even into his waking hours. The medication was no longer effective. Even shock therapy was useless. He is intractable. We’ve had to restrain him again.”

            Joey tossed his head more violently. A bright, blood red glow began to seep through his cell door. A faint, raspy voice called “Jo-ey.”

            “My stepfather must know what happened…to him and Joey…if he’s still alive after all these years.”

            Joey became more violent, the light brighter, the monstrous, raspy voice louder. “Jo-ey.”

            “Mr. Jensen, your brother may never be able to tell us. Please come with me.” The doctor led Peter out of the office. “You may want to consider having him lobotomized, for his own good.”

            Joey became frantic trying to break free from his shackles, the light outside the cell door, brighter. The squealing noises intensified. “Jo-ey.” The door creaked and strained. Joey’s squeezed his eyes tightly shut. Veins in his neck bulged. The cell door burst open. The hideous, tentacled, formless beast filled the opening.
            Joey screamed at the top of his lungs—a long scream that echoed throughout the halls of the institution.

            Peter looked at the doctor and broke into a run.

            “Mr. Jensen…,” the doctor called after him. “This is really nothing out of the ordinary.” He hurried after Peter.

            When they reached the cell, two attendants were already there, looking into the small barred window in the heavy metal door.

            “Open, please,” asked the doctor. One attendant opened the lock and pushed the door. It squeaked open. The light from the hall fell on an empty bunk. The doctor stepped in and examined the shackles. Amazed, he looked back at Peter.

            “The shackles. They’re’ still locked.”

* * *

            The windows of the house where Joey, Petey, Mother and Father once lived are boarded up, deserted for many years. In the empty bedroom the boys once shared, the closet door hangs partially open, held in place only by its upper hinge. Behind the door the access panel to the attic rattles. Bumps come from something above.

            The panel is thrown to the side. The blood red light in the attic pours over the rotted flesh of a living skeleton, which crawls into the opening. Tattered strips of fabric, remnants of the clothes Joey’s father wore the day he disappeared, still cling to the bones. Desperately the abhorrent corpse thrashes, trying to climb down, trying to escape. But two long tentacles of a monster in the attic have already wrapped around the bony neck and rib cage. It drags the flailing skeleton back through the hole where the red glow illuminates the beast’s grinning face—the mutated, hideous, distorted face of Joey.

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Writing and Self-Publishing Experiences: The School of Hard Knocks

facebook-post  http://www.thetradewindscompany.com

Now that I’ve been plastering news and pictures of my book all over the place, I was thinking that some of you out there might have stories about your writing process and your self-publishing experience you’d care to share. Maybe you’re just curious about the whole process. If so, please post on this here blog. Maybe we can get a dialog going, share some tips—or whatever. I’ll be blogging about how I started, picked up experience and went from lowly factory worker to creative director for a publisher to a self-published author, just to get things going

As you see, we can go in many directions with this, so please contribute and share your thoughts and experiences. I promise I’ll keep on top of this!

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It’s Here—Almost.

The long-awaited (by me, anyway) publication of my novel The Militarized Zone: What Did You Do in the Army, Grandpa? will take place at the end of October, 2016. I describe it this way: If M*A*S*H and Good Morning, Vietnam had an illegitimate love child, it would be this novel. The story is told by Will Jensen, a twenty-three year old, easygoing college grad, musician and business owner, intent on getting through life having a good time without causing problems for others. In 1969 Will is drafted but determined to make his time in the military pleasant. His determination is tested when he’s assigned to Eighth Army Headquarters in Seoul, Korea, where he experiences love and loss, joy and tragedy, and gets a true education about life.

I based this on my experiences in the Army at Ft. Hood and Eighth Army Headquarters. Publishers Weekly Booklife Prize in Fiction said—

             “Humor and believable characters…the author pulls them together…9.25 out of 10.”
—Publishers Weekly Booklife Prize in Fiction

It will be for sale on Amazon and anywhere else I can coerce a bookstore owner to carry it. The retail price is $14.95. I’ll eventually add a link to it on this blog. I hope you’ll take a look at it. If you like it, please tell others. If you don’t, please take your secret to the grave with you.


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The Incredible, Exploding, Jewish Santa Claus

Parents, grandparents—whatever. If your young ones are as bored hearing the same old “Night Before Christmas” as you are reciting it, here’s a heartwarming Christmas tale sure to have the kiddies buried under their blankets, screaming in terror. Enjoy!

Traverse City, Michigan marked the close of two weeks of Christmas magic shows performed twice daily by our itinerant troupe of magicians and clowns for the benefit of charitable groups across Indiana and Michigan. I was the Musical/Technical Director, doubling as Chian, Mysterious Prince of the Orient. Benjamin Hoffman and his partner Doug were the fat and skinny members of a clown team. Because Ben possessed the necessary corpulence he arranged with Hal, the show promoter, to portray St. Nick, or Santa Klausky, as he preferred to be called, for a few extra dollars. Hal provided him with a brand new, $400 crushed-velvet Santa suit.

Before each show Ben would circulate through the audience, mingle with the small fry, and accumulate Christmas wishes. In Santa attire, he delighted in broadening and emphasizing his mild Yiddish accent while performing sleight-of-hand. As clowns during the show, he and Doug did their slapstick routine. At the end, Ben was back in the Kris Kringle suit to hand out small gifts to the kiddies as they exited. Ben’s final appearance was always dramatic. As the curtains parted he entered at center stage in the midst of a small snowstorm, precipitated by a homemade snow gun. The gun was a short, triggered black pipe loaded with an explosive charge and packed with white confetti. When fired overhead, it looked like snowfall. Ben didn’t realize he was about to carve out his own niche in local folklore by way of a cataclysmic event that today is still recounted around crackling hearths over mugs of hot, spiced cider, throughout the great North Country.

From the onset of the tour, Ben had been having his share of bad luck. It snowed all the way on his drive from New York, making travel hazardous and slow. Somewhere in Ohio he had to buy four new tires for his used van he’d just purchased a week earlier. Then, late one snowy Michigan night as our caravan wound its way over icy roads to the next town, the reflection of Ben’s headlights disappeared from my rear view mirror. I swung around back down the two-lane road and saw a rather macabre sight. It was Ben, standing by the side of the road with his thumb out, his clothing in tatters. Blood dripped from various cuts and abrasions. I didn’t see Doug anywhere. I pulled over and rolled down my window. “Excuse me, but would you happen to have a three-foot bandaid?” Ben asked, grinning. I drove him and Doug to the nearest Emergency Room. Between the two of them, they sustained a sprained ankle, fractured arm, and required sixty-five stitches to close up new and non-essential openings in their bodies. The van had to be torched to pieces to remove the show equipment they carried.

Without further mishap, we arrived in Traverse City. I’d been warned that, for some unknown reason, the children here were always unruly—almost to the point of being bloodthirsty. Earlier I’d thought of using wolfsbane and a crucifix to maintain order, but missed the opportunity to pick up either. “Listen to those weird sounds, Santa,” I said to Ben. He peeked through an opening in the curtains, out into the audience. “Like something from Dawn of the Dead. I’m not going out there. That much of a crazy I’m not,” he said. “It’s showtime,” Hal called from the left wing of the stage. “Ben, you’d better get out front before they eat the seats.” “All right, already, I’m going.” He swung his trick bag up over his shoulder, smoothed his white beard, and cast a glance heavenward. “What’s a nice kosher boy like me doing in dreck like this?” he mumbled, and walked around the curtain, down the stairs, and out into the snarling, cloying juvenile mass. I took the stairs on the opposite side and seated myself at the organ. Ben squeezed through the rows of the auditorium seats while children clawed at his beard and red jacket. As he neared the end of the row close to where I played background music, one rampageous little girl kept jumping and grabbing at the hair on the back of his head. He finally wheeled around, leaned over and, in a pleasant tone with a sugary smile, asked, ”What’s your name, little girl?” “JOANNE!” she screamed. “Joanne, you little shmegegge, how would you like it if Santa Claus beat the shit out of you already, hmmmm?” She didn’t answer and slowly melted down into her seat.

The afternoon show with the out-of-control audience had tested the patience of us all and had now, thankfully, reached its finale: the always awe-inspiring reappearance of that Great Gnome from the North. Ben stood backstage next to me in my Chinese get-up, muttering and cursing the maniacal children out front, all the while stuffing gunpowder into his snowstorm cannon. “So those little creeps want to make a schlimazel out of Santa Klausky, eh?” he grumbled. “I should give them something they won’t forget. I should blow the whole bunch of them into August with this thing.” Ben stuffed in more powder, packed the pipe solid with white confetti, and walked to the center of the stage. He held the pipe in front of him at the ready and waited for the curtains to part.

The M.C. strode across the stage in front of the curtains. “Well, that’s about it for today, boys and girls. But wait a minute…What’s that I hear?…Is it sleigh bells?…Why, yes, it’s…it’s…” He was cut off in midsentence by a deafening, thunderous explosion, the apparent detonation of some unthinkable doomsday device. The front curtains ballooned outward, then belched a great cloud of white smoke and confetti onto the front rows. On cue, a stagehand pulled the rope that slowly parted the curtains. The smoke began to clear, revealing a hazy, blackened something that resembled a large, fuzzy lump of charcoal. The smoke dissipated further and I could see the fuzzy charcoal was actually Ben. He looked like a fat Wile E. Coyote whose latest scheme to catch the roadrunner in some devious trap had gone horribly wrong. His hat and eyebrows were gone. What remained of his Santa beard smoldered and stood out at right angles to each side of his head. The bright red Santa jacket was mostly a memory, save for the cuffs and some shreds around his waist, which hung down over the wide black belt. In front of his smoking chest hairs he held the charred remnants of the trigger portion of his snow gun. The rest of it had been vaporized. Burnt confetti drifted slowly down on him from somewhere up in the curtains.

The M.C. ran back to him. “What happened?” he cried to Ben. He turned to me then back to Ben. “Are you all right?” Ben cautiously began to move. His head went slowly downward as he surveyed the damage. When he saw that his chest hairs were still glowing, he dropped the trigger and frantically beat out the embers on his front. “Close the curtains!” the M.C. yelled, waving his arms. I had lost my Chinese hat and both my contact lenses in the explosion. I pushed the awe-struck stagehand out of the way and groped for the rope. I pulled the curtain closed as fast as I could. Again the M.C. asked Ben, “Are you all right?” “You should be so all right,” Ben sighed. “What happened?” “The meshuggena snow gun blew up!”

The crowd in front, dead silent since the big boom, began to murmur back to life. Gradually they started to applaud and cheer. Hal burst through the curtains, almost running into Ben. He took one look at Ben and stepped back. “My God! Are you okay?” In the instant before Ben could reply, the image of the once-beautiful Santa suit must have sprung to prominence in Hal’s brain. Reality hit. Tears welled up in his eyes. “My suit…my $400 Santa suit.” He turned to me with a glazed expression. “Did you know this suit wasn’t even two weeks old yet?” Out front, the children screamed, “Yea-ay, Santa! More! More!” Ben, still smoking, turned and painfully walked toward his dressing room. Hal followed, shaking his head, saying to no one in particular, “I picked out the fabric myself…my…my suit…”

Contrary to what his appearance suggested, Ben suffered only minor burns and the loss of some body hair. The last I saw of him was at the bus station as he and Doug boarded to head back east. “This tour was really a nightmare for you, wasn’t it?” I asked. “A nightmare? What nightmare? Just because I have a broken arm, cuts and burns from head to foot, no more hair on the front of my body, which hurts too much to grow it anyway, no more van with the new tires, and I’m about $2500 in the hole? Listen, a tour like this I don’t need every day. Not even every other day. I will tell you this. Never again will this Chiamyankel even utter the word ‘Christmas.’ And if I do, may my tapeworm develop constipation.” He stepped into the bus. “Travel well.” He smiled back at me.

I haven’t seen him since, but his legend, the legend of the incredible exploding Santa, persists. How ironically prophetic Ben was when he grumbled that he’d give those Traverse City kids something they would never forget.

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I’m Getting Tasered for Christmas

Another Black Friday is in the history books and we’re left with a lingering emptiness and a few hundred YouTube videos, evidence of the thrill and excitement of that day after Thanksgiving. I’m guessing that, for many people, standing in line for hours and then morphing into a cloying, snarling mob, similar to New Yorkers boarding a Manhattan subway at rush hour, getting punched, kicked, pepper sprayed and tasered in order to save $1.49 on some Christmas present that will be returned on 12/26 or never used, was worth skipping a crummy turkey dinner with friends and family. Obviously, these same people could have been getting punched, kicked and whacked by their relatives in the comfort of their own homes instead of by complete strangers and police in the vestibule of a big box retailer.

There were fights over toasters, towels, nose hair trimmers, catheters—you name it; if it was discounted, blood was spilled trying to get at it. Now I can maybe understand getting tasered by a security guard for using Wilshire Farms Genoa Salami to club an eighty-three-year-old grandmother in order to yank a 50” TV out of her arms, but for snatching a CD of love ballads by William Shatner? Give me a break. Many of the incidents happened in California (where it is a known fact that the majority of lifelong residents are a product interspecies breeding experiments by ancient astronauts), but no part of the USA except Disneyworld was immune. Walt had established the good-sense policy to never offer discounts, thus avoiding the unsavory spectacle of Goofy applying a hammerlock to unruly guests. 

Fortunately, Walmart announced it would soon resume selling rifles and handguns in fashionable colors with ammo for each, which will be especially useful when the firearms replace hard salamis on the next Black Friday. If you’re going to get shot grappling over a discounted Favorite Christmas Carols by Regis Philbin CD, it should be by a pink bullet fired from a Hello Kitty 9mm pistol with Swarovski crystals on the grip.

For the rest of this Christmas season, official Brawlmart greeters will now flash a smile and a stun gun just to let you know that their “Welcome to Walmart” is conditional and any person using a salami or any type of meat from the grocery department as a weapon will be mercilessly zapped as if he or she was an Amway salesperson. This gives new meaning to Flashing Blue Light Special. 

I personally observed Black Friday as Buy Not a Darn Thing Day and, glass of bubbly in hand, treated myself to YouTube videos of all the joyous shopping sprees. 

So Peace on Earth, good will toward men and 40% off to everyone else!


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Skewered by My Sewer

I’ve spent too much time in my basement these past couple of days. Basements are dark, scary places that flood and are inhabited by all manner of crawly creatures such as mice, rats, spiders that appear to be wearing Tasmanian Devil pelts, centipedes so large that when one scurries across the floor it sounds like a tribe of Zaporozhian Cossacks, and other miscellaneous alien life forms. Generally, I don’t spend my time there. If some object needs to be moved to the basement, I usually open the door and shove whatever it is down the stairs, as I did with our clothes washer and dryer, cat litter box, a dwarf, our phony Christmas tree, and assorted political canvassers. I believe that if God had wanted humans to have basements, He would have put them on the second floor where they wouldn’t flood.

But the other day, my wife said she had to tell me something that I wouldn’t be happy to hear, and she was correct. Once, again, the basement floor drain had backed up and spread its delectable contents all over the place. Now if the basement itself is nasty, the evil, foul-smelling stuff that comes up out of the sewer is about as welcome an addition as Rush Limbaugh at an Equal Rights for Women rally. Mostly it’s stuff that’s been flushed away, if you get my drift, plus other things such as random dirt, pieces of unidentifiable protoplasm and Jimmy Hoffa.

Because he’s made so many visits to our home, the sewer man is on our telephone’s speed dial. My wife called him, but he was currently indisposed since he was dressed as an artichoke in a local theater company’s production of War and Peace. Before going into full panic mode and calling another sewer man for an expensive rodding job, I thought I’d attempt to clear the blockage myself. After much plunging and performing an enema on the drain by shoving a hose down the pipe to try and flush it out, the drain cleared, just in time for my daughter to scream out from the upstairs shower that there was no hot water. With my extensive, specialized knowledge of plumbing, I figured the unclogged sewer had nothing to do with the hot water in the shower, so I wiped of my hands and checked out my hi-tech NASA-designed water heater and sure enough, the warning light was flashing away. I checked the error code in the troubleshooting section of the Owner’s Manual, more commonly known as the Answer-to Everything-Except-Your-Current-Problem Manual, and saw that the number of flashes indicated I didn’t have enough life insurance. I called a repairman and went back to cleaning up the sewer muck before it slithered away and applied for a green card.

I now have a new a new water heater, which only cost a zillion dollars because the replacement part to fix the old one would have cost me $3.00 less than a zillion, plus installation. The new water heater is gray and not as fancy as my old one, resembling a major component of a WWII German U-boat, but it’s made in America and built to last—at least until the day after the warranty expires.

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Waterline Writers Reading

For a fun evening that may be the high point of your holiday season, come to the Waterline Writers at 7:00 p.m. on Dec.21. I’ll be doing a heartwarming (!) Christmas-related reading along with some other fine authors. Waterline Writers is located in the Water Street Studios building at 160 S. Water Street (what a coincidence), Batavia , IL.  http://waterlinewriters.org


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Putting the Labor in Labor Day

The origin of Labor Day dates back to the late eighteenth century, when George Washington’s pregnant mother felt her contractions increase in frequency and, after many painful hours, gave birth to Abraham Lincoln. It was an especially difficult breech birth for her because of Abe’s tall hat. In spite of the way he entered the world, Abe went on to gain fame as a vampire hunter, whereas George’s mother just got old and spent her days reciting verses to chickens.

Later in the nineteenth century, after the body of George’s mother was discovered in an abandoned hen house, the holiday was adopted by labor and trade organizations. To show their esprit de corps, these groups celebrated with parades followed by festive events such as the Haymarket Riot (not to be confused with the Walmart Riot, which is celebrated every November on Black Friday) and the Pullman Strike. The Haymarket Riot began as a simple Tupperware demonstration but escalated into violence when the hostess insisted that all attendees change their underwear before sampling any of her cheese dip.

The birth of the Industrial Revolution, a song by the Beatles, directly led to the violent Pullman Strike. Young people with boom boxes blaring out the John Lennon tune were keeping passengers awake in railroad sleeping cars. When they were thrown off trains, these young people were intent on forming a large group sit-down strike. But railroad yards were quite dirty and strikers didn’t want to get their clothes oily, so it became a squat-down strike, which didn’t impress anybody. Jimmy Hoffa emerged to organize the strikers into a union, the AFL-C3PO. Violence erupted when police got involved by trying to sell tickets to the Policeman’s Ball and the mayhem didn’t end until the Pullman Company agreed to issue earplugs to all its riders, although there is speculation it ended because Hoffa went underground. One valuable lesson the strikers learned was that, no matter how firmly you believe in your cause, you should never waste your time reciting verses to chickens.

Because Labor Day was declared a national holiday in 1887 by President Cleveland, today all working people celebrate by taking the day off—except doctors, nurses, airline pilots, big box store employees, police, retail workers, bus drivers, golf ball divers, quickie mart employees, car dealers, mattress store employees, etc.—which leaves 38 people across America to recognize the holiday by not working. This number doesn’t include members of Congress who, in order to be any more off, would have to be embalmed. No one would notice the difference, though.

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A Fracking We Will Go

I’m sure by now you’ve all heard about fracking. It’s the process where a dentist drills into your tooth until the drill pokes out of the sole of one of your shoes, inserts a small IED and detonates it, thereby eliminating any dead tissue and, if you’re lucky, only one-third of your head. Wait. I’m confused. That’s an enema. Fracking is where a gas company drills down into shale in the Earth’s crust, blows it apart with, and these are actual figures, millions of gallons of water and thousands of gallons of 600 different toxic chemicals under high pressure, thereby forcing out natural gas. According to the company, this is perfectly safe and harmless. It’s been going on for some time in Pennsylvania and other parts of the country, more recently in Texas. Texans have begun experiencing earthquakes by the hundreds with large sinkholes opening up in various places, the scariest things they’ve ever experienced with the exception of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Could this be linked to fracking?

Anyone with the IQ of a lug nut, except for energy company executives on the quest for bigger bucks, Fox News anchors, who are trying to identify their various body parts, or others not high up on the food chain such as members of congress, who are busy learning to eat without jamming a fork into their foreheads, could figure out that in some remote way, the result of fracking might be cracks in the world, which could end life as we know it here on Earth, where a large number of people happen to live.

If you have some spare time, try this simple experiment. Fracture the foundation of your house, maybe with rap music played at 140 decibels, then go outside and shove a garden hose in the ground, down along the side. Turn the water on full blast. The water will first seep through the foundation cracks, then begin eroding the concrete, along with the other underground stuff outside, such as dirt, dog bones, and Jimmy Hoffa. Then one night while you’re asleep, you and your bed will end up down next to the furnace and hot water heater, along with the rest of your bedroom, all of which is now about two stories lower than when you went to sleep because the whole foundation has given way. So what do these industry people and politicians think will happen when you fracture the Earth’s rock foundation that holds up everything above it, such as you, me, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Chris Christie, who could, if he so desired, create a sink hole all by himself without any help from fracking? Duh.

Negativity and pessimism aside, a positive result of fracking is that, and this is true, some Pennsylvania residents have water that bursts into flame right out of their kitchen faucets. Texans could eliminate their monthly gas bill from Texas Natural Gas because the gas is coming in at no extra charge right along with their H2O. Touch a match to the faucet, put a skewer through a brat or longhorn steak and it’s a barbecue every night. Fracking could also be a boon to the gaming industry; gamblers could place bets as to where the next sink hole will occur, how many houses it’ll swallow up and how long it will take those houses end up in China.

When I heard that Illinois is considering fracking in the state, I called a downstate legislator’s office to ask if we were going to get fracked. His assistant answered the phone and she said if I was going to use that kind of language, the conversation was over and slammed down the receiver.

Intelligent Texans should seriously consider all the negatives that may outweigh the positives before their state has so many sinkholes it resembles a giant Whack-a-Mole game or toilets that, when flushed, can blow holes in ceilings. But realistically, how many of us, other than the Bush family and a bunch of armadillos, would care if the whole state disappeared into giant sinkhole anyway?

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