Saturday, March 03, 2007

Google Me Gently
Part 3: An Appeal

From a Bedford, Indiana newspaper:

Phillips - Nicole Christene Phillips of Louisville, KY, formerly of Jeffersonville, IN, died Wednesday, October 9, 2002, at University Hospital in Louisville from injuries sustained in an auto accident. Born on April 12, 1971, she was the daughter of Thomas and Jill D. (Wagner) Phillips.

Surviving are her parents, Thomas and Jill Phillips of Jeffersonville, IN; paternal grandmother, Burnettia Denny of Bedford, IN; maternal grandmother, Vera Wagner of Bedford, IN; several aunts, uncles, and cousins. She was preceded in death by her grandfathers.

She was a public defender in Clark County, IN, and a graduate of Indiana University and University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law. She was a member of the American Bar Association and was active in animal rights organizations.

Services for Nicole Phillips will be at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, October 12th, at North Chapel of Scott Funeral Home in Jeffersonville, IN. Burial will follow in Walnut Ridge Cemetery in Jeffersonville. Friends may call from 2-8 p.m. Friday at North Chapel of Scott Funeral Home in Jeffersonville. The family asks that friends consider memorial contributions be made to the Humane Society.

Oh. My. God.

That is NOT what I wanted to find. My only hope- and this is grasping at straws- is that this Nicole Christene Phillips, born in ‘71, from Indiana, was not the same person I had known. Maybe the People Search had crossed the records of two women with the same name and age. It could happen.

About all I can come up with to support this theory is that the Nikki Phillips I knew didn’t seem like someone who would grow up to be a lawyer. She wasn’t a brilliant student; she was a neo-hippie chick into partying on the weekends. I could see her dropping out to tour with the Dead before I could see her going to law school.

Of course, there’s nothing to say she couldn’t drop out to tour with the Dead, then get her shit together and go to law school. I’m sure it happens all the time. She was sixteen years old the last time I saw her. She could have gone on to become anything.

I don’t want to believe this is her, but I’m really afraid it is. Maybe part of what I saw in her - the light which drew me to her in the first place- was this spark of what she was to become. A public defender into animal rights. A person who did good, who contributed, who helped people (and animals.)

Probably the only way to 100% confirm that Nikki Phillips (who graduated from Glenwood High School in Chatham, Illinois in 1989) and Nicole Christene Phillips (who died in Louisville, Kentucky in 2002) are the same person is by shelling out the $40 for the background check. My peace of mind is worth at least that much, but I can’t really justify spending my family’s money (hard earned by my wife) on something which may or may not tell me something I really don’t NEED to know.

Plus, maybe I’m afraid to know for sure. At least now I have some slim hope that she’s still out there, alive. I wouldn’t even know how to go about grieving for her if I knew she was dead. It’s a strange situation. I never really knew her, but I did love her. The fact that my love was never requited or consummated makes little difference. She impacted my life in a huge way. A lot of who I am as a person, as a writer, and as a husband, has to do with the lingering effect she had on me.

So, here’s the appeal. If anybody who reads this (maybe you arrived here by Googling my name, or hers, or Glenwood High School, or Chatham, Illinois) has ANY information, please post a comment.

Or if anybody reading this has any suggestions on how to research this further (without spending money,) let me know that too. (The only further information I found was from the Mormon-run Genealogy web-site which, surprisingly, supplied me with NCP’s Social Security Number.) I’m not the most net-savvy person in the world, and I’ve simply run out of ideas for places to look. Maybe there’s something at the library that I could look up the old-fashioned way, I don’t know.

Or, if you read this and think “God, dude, give it up. She’s dead, all right? Why do you even care? She wasn’t your girlfriend. You’re married now, with two great kids, so just let go of a past which you never even had in the first place,” maybe I need to hear that, too.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Google Me Gently
Part 2: In Dreams

For the past twenty years, I have kept sporadic dream journals. This is a great aid in boosting dream recall, and by focusing on my dreams, I was even able to play with lucid dreaming for a while. (That’s way fun.) Throughout this time, I would occasionally have dreams about Nikki Phillips. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to get “ikky.” The dreams were never sexual in nature.

It tends to work in one of two ways. Sometimes I dream I’m back in High School and that Nikki and I are close friends. Then sometimes I dream that we meet again as adults, and “catch up” on old times (which didn’t really happen.) It’s never romantic or erotic. In fact, my wife Lea is often in the dream, too, and jealousy is never an issue. My relations with Nikki are always warm, friendly and casual. There is a sense of acceptance. At long last, acceptance.

To the extent that I analyze my dreams, I look at it in a couple different ways. Either the dream Nikki represents my “anima,” the feminine aspects of my being, or more simply she just represents my past. In either case, I think the dreams express a desire to find peace with some part of myself. Of course, I don’t claim to be an expert at dream interpretation (and generally distrust people who say they are experts,) but that’s what I came up with. I do know enough about dreaming to realize that it’s not “really” Nikki Phillips, just a dream character with her name and face. (And even her face is fading with time.)

About a week ago, I had one of these dreams. In it, Nikki came over to my family’s house for some function (reunion, birthday party, something.) We hung out and caught up, and afterwards I drove her home. That was it. Nothing much happened in the dream, but it left me with a sense of peace and happiness that lingered after I woke up. As I have several times over the years, I wondered where the real Nikki Phillips was now.

I’ve made half-hearted stabs at locating her before, but now I vowed to do everything I could, given an internet connection and a lot of time on my hands. Now I know this sounds all creepy-stalkerish, but believe me, I had no intention of contacting her or re-connecting. My wife is a wonderful, tolerant woman, but I think even she would draw the line at me sending e-mails to a woman I obsessively crushed on in high school. I wouldn’t know what to say to Nikki anyway. I was just curious where life had taken her.

I started with the obvious. Just Googling her name. Of course, there are several “Nikki Phillipses” out there, but none of the ones I found was the one I was looking for.

Then I went on those high school reunion sites. and Plus, Glenwood High School has an alumni page. These sites only have information on people who have registered on them, and Nikki has not. (I count this as further points in her favor. I felt kinda pathetic registering myself.)

Then I started searching those “People Search” pages. They’re pay sites, but they will give up some information for free. (As a tease, I suppose, for you to shell out the $40 for a background check.) Through one of these, I found a listing for Nicole Christene Phillips, age 35, with addresses in Chatham, Illinois (my hometown,) as well as the towns of Elizabeth, Jeffersonville and Memphis, Indiana, and Louisville, Kentucky.

Back in school, in a moment of stalker-boy detective inspiration, I stole a look at her Permit in Driver’s Ed class. That’s how I found out her middle name was “Christene.” I even remember the unusual spelling.

So the name was exactly the same. The age was right. It had a listing for the same dinky (pop 5000) Illinois town. Plus, I knew from talking to her that she was from Indiana, and had always thought that perhaps she’d moved back after graduation. So this was her, right? Had to be.

With this information, I searched her name along with the towns where she’d lived as key words. Maybe she’d made the local paper for some reason. Maybe she belonged to an organization with a web-site. Maybe she had an on-line profile through her job. Wedding or birth announcement. Maybe she blogged.

Well, I didn’t find any of those things. What I did find was an obituary.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Google Me Gently
Part 1: A Little Back Story

First, a confession.

During the turbulent years of my adolescence, I fell squarely into the sociological caste classification of “Nerd.” (Those of you who know me, I’m sure, find this shocking.)

But what does “nerd” mean, exactly? In contrast to the pop culture mythology of the era in question (mid-to-late 1980’s,) I:
· Did not wear glasses.
· Was not obsessed with “Star Trek” OR Dungeons & Dragons.
· Was not academically gifted.
· Was not on the Chess Club (though I did dabble in Band, Speech and Drama.)
· Knew very little about computers.
· Never built a robot.
· Did not engage in wacky competitions with my mortal enemies, the “Jocks.”
· Did not look like Anthony Michael Hall.
· Did not secretly pine for my girl-buddy Molly Ringwald, who was really in love with Andrew McCarthy.
· Was not a closet party animal who got the girl in the end.

The truth was a bit bleaker.

I was a socially retarded introvert cursed with a paradoxical combination of abysmal self-esteem and the notion that I was somehow superior to everyone else. I had the usual hormonal overload of a teen-age boy, but due to a total lack of social skills and absolutely no sense of fashion or personal grooming, girls would not talk to me. Good thing, too. I wouldn’t have known what to say to them if they had.

Girls. That was the crux of the problem (and the reason I’m writing this today.) Actually, it wasn’t girls so much as A Girl. Singular. There was really only one, at least at first.

7th Grade. Glenwood Junior High School, Chatham, Illinois. 13 years old. Enter Nikki Phillips.

In the beginning, it was a typical first-crush type of situation. Nikki was a pretty girl who played clarinet in the band. (I played saxophone, badly.) I’m not sure what about her made me single her out, but I grew very quickly fixated.

At this point, my entire concept of teen-age social interaction came from TV and movies. With this distorted view of how things really work, I arrived at the conclusion that writing her anonymous “secret admirer” love letters was the key to her heart. It might have worked on TV, or at least led to a series of comically engaging misunderstandings. Real life, of course, works a little differently.

I’m very grateful that time has obliterated the exact content of those letters from my mind. I’m sure they were mawkishly sincere, heart-on-the-sleeve declarations. I seem to recall, God help me, that I even wrote her a poem at one point.

This all culminated with the revelation of my identity and a request to meet at the bleachers during lunch to discuss the future of our “relationship.” She did meet with me for a short chat, which time has NOT obliterated. In fact, I remember it verbatim. I said nothing. She said: “I know some high school guys who will kick your ass if you don’t leave me alone.”

Good for her.

I remember at the time feeling a great relief that the whole thing was over with. My stomach had been in knots of anxiety for the entire couple weeks since I’d hatched the scheme. I could not even conceive of what I would done if she had said: “Your obsession flatters me. Will you be my boyfriend?” I knew I was doomed to failure from the start. When this failure came to pass, I was just happy I could digest food again.

End of the story? No. That was just Chapter One.

Flash forward a couple years to my sophomore year at Glenwood High School. Fifteen years old now. While many of my peers had moved on from the awkward first flush of puberty, I was still mired in geeky self-loathing. I’d crushed on several other girls in the intervening time, having seriously impure thoughts about every attractive girl at my school (and many of the unattractive ones as well.) None of them were as intense as my Nikki fixation, though. No more love letters or poetry, just near-constant sexual fantasy.

On the first day of my second year of high school, the fates governing the class schedules whacked me in the face but good. In an eight-period day, I shared five classes with Nikki Phillips. Five. It was uncanny. Nobody else was in more than two of my classes. I would have to spend more than half of every day in close proximity to my former crush. Like most teen-age atheists, I was terribly superstitious. I did not take this as a sign that Nikki and I were meant to be together, though. Just as proof that there was an intelligent force at work in the machinations of the universe, and that this force was intent on fucking with my head.

After a few weeks of this new schedule, something equally as shocking happened. Nikki talked to me. And, wilder still, she turned out to be a really nice person. She wasn’t leading me on or toying with me because she found my fawning to be gratifying. (Trust me, I know what THAT feels like.) She was just friendly. I think she might have even found me funny. (I did come on like a younger, less witty, more neurotic Woody Allen sometimes.) Best yet, she politely pretended not to have any memory of the whole mortifying “secret admirer” episode.

Emboldened by this, I did something which even today I’m proud of. I asked her out. Sort of. In those days, I would occasionally get together with friends (just as socially maladjusted as I) and make Ed Wood-ish horror videos. The immortal “Werewolf Bob” series. I offered Nikki the plum role of a Gypsy fortune teller in our next episode. Amazingly, she said yes.

A few days later, not so amazingly, she cancelled.

Rejection is amplified immeasurably by deferment. The loss of hope is made all the more crushing by having been dangled in the first place.

Still, I couldn’t blame her. In the frame of mind I was in back in those days, her turning me down was actually a point in her favor. She was President-for-Life of the proverbial Club Which Would Not Have Me as a Member.

I was at perhaps the lowest ebb of my entire life right then. Depressed beyond words. Never diagnosed as such, never even in therapy, but if there was ever a poster boy for Prozac, it was me. Problems at home, problems at school. My whole life was a problem. If life was a problem, then the solution seemed obvious.

I was fascinated by suicide. To this day I couldn’t tell you if it was attention-seeking, cry-for-help behavior or a genuine death wish. If I had to guess, I would say it was the first one, gradually moving towards the second.

Nikki Phillips became to me an alternative to killing myself. I saw in her the answer to everything that was wrong in my life. Of course, it’s very unfair to put that much responsibility on someone you don’t even really know.

The “Nikki Phillips” I had set up in my head as my personal savior had very little to do with who Nikki actually was as a human being. The fantasy I had constructed was just a projection of my needs. I knew this. I wasn’t so foolish as to believe she could really save me. Or that I had anything to offer her other than a need to be saved. I wasn’t ready for a girlfriend. I was way too wrapped up in my own pain to let anybody else in.

For the entire school year my daily mood was almost wholly dependent on her. If she said two kind words to me or smiled in my general direction, life was bearable. If she ignored me, or gave any sign that I was annoying her, I would lapse into despair. Being forced to see her for five hours every day, I was never given a chance to recover. My heart was like an open wound, the scab yanked off daily so it never had a chance to heal. Given the perspective of time and adulthood, this seems melodramatic. But adolescence has no perspective.

This got to be wearying. At the end of the school year, I decided to go live with my father in a different town. Nikki played a big part in this decision. It was just too painful to be near her on a daily basis. I knew that if I stayed, things would only get worse. Plus, she would no doubt eventually get a real boyfriend. Jealousy could possibly have been the fatal final ingredient in the already volatile stew of my emotions.

(Of course the “fresh start” with my Dad presented a whole set of new problems, but that is, as they say, another story.)

There is a post-script to the high school section of this story. In my Senior year, I wrote her a letter. I confessed my feelings for her, claimed to have moved past them (I had a “real” girlfriend at the time,) and told her that I just wanted to know that she had made a positive impact on my life. She wrote me a very cordial reply, allowed that she’d had at least an inkling of how I felt (it WAS pretty obvious,) and said she could empathize because she’d had a similar crush on another guy in our class. (That stung a little.) The whole letter had a “how nice of you to write, please don’t do it again” tone. I never saw or heard from her again.

End of story, right? Not exactly. If writing that letter had been a stab at seeking closure, it didn’t work. If it had worked, why is it that twenty years later, happily married, I still have dreams about her?

NEXT TIME: There is a point to this, I swear.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Ghost Creek 2007-2007

Aw, shucks. Is my face red? I think I'm going to discontinue my not-so-long-running serial "Ghost Creek" effective immediately. It was putting too much of a drain on my time and creativity, which could be better channeled into other projects. Like, say just for example, the "Black Monkey" revisions which are going well but with agonizing slowness. Plus, I'm not sensing much enthusiasm from the audience. In fact, I'm not sensing much of an audience beyond my sister. (Hi, Jen! Be seeing you in a couple weeks!)

I was coming to dread working on the thing. If it's boring me, I hate to think of what it's doing to y'all.

So, barring a swell of write-in protests (or strong sales of the 1st Season DVD box,) I'm dropping this project right now. The enormous relief I feel with this announcement convinces me I'm doing the right thing.

If you're starving for closure, the "deal" was aliens were planning a psychic invasion of earth. Faster-than-light space travel is a physical impossibility, but the aliens had perfected space travel via astral projection. The impending invasion was to be accomplished through our dreams. Our hero, Sean Preston (NOT Federline,) managed to steal alien technology at the age of 42. He went back in time to contact his 28-year-old self, who assembled a team of people with lucid dream abilities (called "The Frogwatchers") to combat the invasion. Sean @ 28 had not yet gained the courage his 42-yr.-old self possessed, so he bailed, going back further in time to trade places with his 10-year-old self. I had complex explanations for the abduction and for the mutant frogs and all kinds of surreal action scenes planned, but it just seems kind of pointless now.

Some good ideas there, some of which I may cannibalize for a future project, but for now let's just call it a failed experiment. (The parallel Christian Black tale "Dream Raider" is also hereby cancelled.)

Keep watching this space, though, for new rants and raves and writing news.

Sorry for wasting the time anybody may have invested in this thing.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Ghost Creek, Episode 5

PREVIOUSLY- Sean Preston, ten years old, traded places with his twenty-eight-year-old self. He awoke in a Chicago apartment, in bed with his older self’s girlfriend, Jubilee Bellefleur. Sean was completely overwhelmed by the accumulation of eighteen years of new knowledge in his older self’s brain, including the death of his mother and the truth about what Sean-at-28 went back in time to avoid.


“Sean? Sean?”

The man was limp in Jubilee’s arms. She shook him, but he would not wake. He was gone. Out of it. Completely shut down.

“Damn it, Sean.”

Laying Sean down on the couch, Jubilee stood and paced the room for a few minutes, cursing Sean for his cowardice. A deeper, more honest part of her wondered if she would have chosen a similar exit had she possessed Sean’s particular talent.

“Doesn’t matter,” she said aloud. All that mattered was what to do now.

Jubilee picked up the phone. Before she could dial, she heard the tone indicating she had a waiting voice mail message. She dialed the number and punched the code. Listened. Closed her eyes with sorrow. Today, it seemed, was a day for bad news all around.

“Let’s get you dressed, Sean,” she said to the senseless shell which had until recently contained her boyfriend. “We’ve got to go to the hospital.”


Moving Sean proved easier than she had feared. He was still silent, his eyes blank, but he obeyed her commands. “Put on these pants, Sean.” “Get in the car, Sean.” “Come with me.”

She led him easily through the hospital halls. There were four people in the room when she opened the door.

Sitting in a chair in the corner of the room was a young Japanese man reading a thick paperback book entitled “Chainsaw Moon.” His own name, Shozo Watanabe, was printed on the cover. Though he had written the book (technically, at least,) he had not yet read it all. There was desperation in his reading, a hunger, as if hidden in the book’s pages was the answer to a particularly vexing question. He did not look up when Jubilee and Sean entered the room.

A young, boyish-looking woman in a wheelchair turned from the window when they came in. She managed a weak smile. Her name was Sally Ross. She wore, as did the rest of them, a look of haunted sleeplessness. Dark circles under her eyes, a certain pallor of the skin.

The eyes of the man pacing the room were rimmed with red. He had recently shed many tears. His name was Henry Leary and he appeared ragged with desperation, like a man on the verge of total collapse. His face crumpled when he saw Jubilee and Sean, but he did not cry again. He seemed to have cried himself dry.

The fourth person in the room was the young girl unconscious in the hospital bed. Henry’s daughter, Joyce. Six years old but wearing the face now of someone ten times that age. Her skin wrinkled, her hair gray, her sleeping features conveying the weight of a lifetime of troubles.

“Oh my God,” Jubilee said when she saw her. “Is she all right?”

“The doctors can’t find anything wrong with her.” Henry sounded as tattered as he looked. “Physically. She hasn’t woken up yet, though. I don’t know if she’ll ever . . .” His voice just gave out into a dry wheeze, as if his tears had drained every bit of moisture from his body.

“What happened?”

“She’s been having nightmares,” Henry said. “So she came to sleep in my bed. She probably thought she’d feel safer. How’s that for irony?”

“Henry.” Jubilee put her hand on his shoulder.

“Thank God I woke up before . . .”

“What’s wrong with Sean?” Sally interrupted, wheeling her chair closer.

Sean was staring at the shriveled girl on the bed, jaw hanging open but otherwise displaying no emotion.

“Well,” Jubilee said. “That’s my big news. Sean has . . . checked out on us.”

Henry’s face snapped instantly from grief to anger. “No,” he said. “You mean he . . .”

“He’s gone, isn’t he?” said Sally.

“You little shit!”

Henry grabbed Sean by the shoulders. Jubilee pulled him off.

“This isn’t him,” she said. “This is the kid he used to be. He’s only ten years old.”

“What’s wrong with him?” Henry demanded.

“His mind snapped,” said Jubilee. “He couldn’t take it. He remembers everything Sean did, and it was just too much for him.”

“We need him!” Henry was frantic now. “We don’t stand a chance in hell without him.”

“We didn’t stand a chance in hell even with him,” Sally put in.

“Calm down,” Jubilee said.

“Calm down? We’ve only got six months left, Warner and Henley are both dead, and Joyce . . .”

He gestured with his hand at his daughter on the bed, waving away words too painful to utter.

“You were dreaming about Him when this happened?” Jubilee asked.

“Of course I was,” said Henry. “I dream about Him every night.”

Jubilee nodded. A presence stalked them in their dreams, taking a different form for each of them. Henry dreamed of a man with a black void where his face should be. Jubilee saw a huge dog with red eyes and flaming fur. Sean had always seen a gray alien with a bulbous head and huge black eyes. They all knew its shifting form was due to flaws in their perception. It didn’t matter what it looked like, though. It was the same malevolent being. Worse, it was but a harbinger. A single emissary sent in advance of the invasion. One was bad enough. They couldn’t imagine the terror a million would unleash.

“We have to get a hold of SAFT,” Henry said. “He’ll know what to do.”

“How are we supposed to do that?” said Jubilee. “Send a telegram to the future? He said he’d contact us again in September.”

“September?” Henry moaned. “Jesus.”

“I know it’s bad, Henry,” Jubilee said. “And I am sorry about Joyce. But we all have to chill out and try to figure out what to do next. Now does anybody have any ideas?”

“My frog turned white this morning,” Sally said. “Just pure white. That’s got to be a sign, right? That’s got to mean something.”

“I’ve given up trying to figure out what the damn frogs are trying to tell us,” said Jubilee. “Mine looks like his brains are coming right out of his head. You want to tell me what that means?”

Henry sat on the bed, near his daughter’s feet. “All right,” he said. “Let me see if I got this straight. Sean went back in time, that’s his thing, right? And he did . . . what?”

“He traded places with himself. Sent his ten-year-old self into the future and took over his own past.”

“OK,” said Henry. “So wouldn’t that change everything here in the present? I mean, if Sean went back to change his whole life around, we wouldn’t even know him, right?”

“No,” Shozu said from the corner, speaking for the first time since Jubilee walked into the room. “It doesn’t work like that. You can’t change the present by going into the past. The present already exists. It cannot be negated. Instead, a tangent is formed. A divergent reality.”

“A parallel universe?” Sally said.

“That is one way to describe it,” said Shozu.

“How can you possibly know that’s true?” said Henry.

“Because it says so, in this book,” Shozu said.

“Which you wrote.”

“The words came from my hand, but not from my mind,” said Shozu. “You know that, Henry.”

“Yeah, well, what else does this amazingly useful book have to say?”

Shozu looked up at the clock on the wall, then back down to the page open before him. He ran his finger down a column. “Today is the 12th, right?”


Shozu slammed the book shut. “It says that in ten minutes, some men are coming here to kill us.”

NEXT TIME: The maze. The morgue. The moon.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Ghost Creek, Episode 4

I know it's been a little while since I've been down to the Creek. Other projects have been competing for my attention and creative headspace, which brings me to some big news and some little news.

First the big- give me a big whoo-hoo because I have actually completed a novel! Actually, one exclamation mark doesn't quite convey how earth-shattering that is for me. So here's a few more: !!! Yes, "The Black Monkey" now officially has a beginning, a middle and an end, and those three parts more or less connect. I would feel more of a sense of completion if this first draft wasn't
quite so first-drafty. The vision part is over, and now comes a hell of a lot of revision. I actually enjoy the editing process, and I'm going to tackle it by copying the entire novel out by hand. (My fingers are cramping just thinking about it.)

The little news is that my evil twin, Christian Black (or am I the evil one? I can never remember) is posting a "shadow" version of "Ghost Creek" on the Literotica web-site. It is a parallel serial (with a lot more gettin' busy,) which might intersect with this one occasionally. (If you don't think parallel lines can intersect, you've never been at the corner of Gurley and Sheldon in Prescott, AZ.) His story is called "Dream Raider," and you can find it
here. The sad part is that it's better written than mine (at least at the start.) CB's kind of a sick puppy, but that creep can write.

(Of course, if you think erotica is "ikky," just skip it. You won't hurt his feelings.)

So, without further ado (not that I don't love ado,) here's "Ghost Creek":

PREVIOUSLY: In the basement of the mysterious house in the woods, Sean and his friends found a man claiming to be Sean’s future self- from the year 1999. Sean-at-twenty-eight made an offer which Sean-at-ten found irresistible; to trade places. This was accomplished with a kiss. Sean-at-ten awakes to find himself in . . .


He awoke. There was an overwhelming shock of dislocation. It was like being turned inside out, upside down and backwards. Sean looked through eyes which had degraded over the years. His older self needed glasses, and had been putting off getting them for years. The sudden near-sightedness was only a very small part of the incredible shift of perception. His body was different. Older, taller, heavier, post-pubescent. Eighteen years fell upon him with a crushing weight. There were bad teeth in his mouth, and fingers on his left hand which had been broken years before. He needed to shave; the rough stubble on his face itched with a maddening insistence. These appalling sensations assaulted him all at once.

He sat up in his bed with a start, as if jolted awake from a dream. He became aware, horror gradually mounting, that he was naked and lying beside another naked person. A woman. Sean’s child’s mind shrank back from her terrifying adulthood. She was a black woman, short hair molded to the pillow, eyes swollen with sleep. Sean knew her name was Jubilee Bellefeur, that she was his girlfriend, and that they had lived together for almost a year.

“Make some coffee,” she mumbled into her pillow without opening her eyes.

Sean was afraid to answer. Afraid that if he opened his adult mouth, his child’s voice would betray him.

He crawled from bed and found rumpled clothing on the floor. Sweatpants and a t-shirt with a picture of a young man on it, over the word “Nirvana.” Sean knew that Nirvana was the name of a rock band, that the man in the picture had been its lead singer, and that he had committed suicide several years before. Without even trying to, Sean found that he knew the words to several of their songs.

Far worse than the new sensations of his body was this knowing. Suddenly he knew so much. Eighteen years of new memory, stored in the adult brain, flooded Sean’s horrified ten-year-old mind. He knew about sex. He knew about disappointment. He knew about shame. He knew about disillusionment and heartbreak and failure. Emotional wounds which had long been healed for the man were fresh and new for the boy, as if every scab he’d ever had in his life were torn off all at once.

Staggering from the bedroom, Sean found himself in a cluttered kitchen in a small apartment. He knew it was the best he could afford. He knew he worked as a pizza deliveryman, and the addresses of several regular customers spilled unbidden into his head. So much of the new knowledge was utter trivia. Nearly two decades of sit-com plots and commercial jingles accumulated in his head in a deafening cacophony of useless information.

Beside the front door was a terrarium on a stand. Inside was another misshapen frog. Fat and squat, bulbous and boneless as a jellyfish, with tiny wiggling useless legs and what appeared to be its brain oozing in pulsing white bubbles from cracks in its head. The amphibian sat in a pose of yogic contemplation. It looked at Sean with sharp, intelligent eyes. Sean knew the frog’s name was Jizo. He knew where it came from; where all the mutant frogs had come from. This knowledge would have been horrifying on its own, but it was drowned in the flood of all the other new horrors Sean was suddenly aware of.

Pressing his hands against his skull as if this could contain the explosion which felt imminent, Sean stumbled into the living room. He collapsed upon the couch. Imprinted instinct compelled him to pick up the remote control and turn on the television. The set was tuned to a cable news channel. Sean saw the date posted on the screen; June 12, 1999. A cease-fire had taken effect in Kosovo (Sean-at-twenty-eight had only the vaguest concept of this conflict, so Sean-at-ten was spared at least that much.) The governor of Texas, George W. Bush, had just announced his intention to run for President in 2000 (Sean suddenly held strong political convictions which he could not begin to understand.) The new “Star Wars” movie was breaking box office records (Sean had the memory of seeing the movie, and of being bitterly disappointed by it. He knew who Jar-Jar Binks was.) An alleged serial killer named Larry Jacobs had eluded arrest in Houston, Texas, and was now the subject of a manhunt across the Southwest. (They’re looking in the wrong place, Sean’s brain told him, though how he had come about this certainty was buried too deep for him to access.)

The newscast went to commercials, for cell phones and web-sites, and Sean knew what these things were.

He turned off the TV. It was too much. Sean had been in this new world for less than ten minutes, and he already felt as if he were losing his mind.

If I haven’t already.

It did occur to him that perhaps he was not really a ten-year-old whose mind had been thrust into the body and brain of his twenty-eight-year-old self. A far more likely explanation was that he was in fact an adult man who had just suffered a cataclysmic breakdown; a complete shattering of identity. These weren’t the words Sean used. In his mind, the explanation was couched in much simpler terms:

I’m crazy. I’m completely insane.

The bedroom door opened and the woman named Jubilee emerged. She had pulled on a t-shirt which fit her body tightly, without covering much of it at all. Sean simultaneously felt childish embarrassment and adult lust.

“I thought you were going to make me coffee,” the woman said.

She flashed Sean a look of annoyance, which turned to concern when she saw he was crying.

“What’s wrong, baby?”

She came to him, sat close beside him on the couch and touched his tear-streamed cheek.

“You all right? What happened?”

Sean couldn’t answer. He couldn’t even speak. He was torn between a desire to fall into the woman’s arms and a need to bolt and run from her.

“Did you . . .” Jubilee looked deep into Sean’s eyes. Understanding suddenly filled hers.

“You did it, didn’t you?” she said. “You son of a bitch.”

“Wh . . .”

She shook her head. “Not you. Him. He did it. Or it is you, just the older you. Damn. It makes my head hurt just to think about it. How old are you, anyway?”

“Ten,” Sean managed to speak through his tears.

Ten? Holy shit. That goddamn coward.”

Sean knew then what his older self was running from. And how right he was to be terrified. More and more knowledge, burying him under his crushing weight.

“I want to see my Mom,” he sobbed.

“Oh, sweetie,” Jubilee’s expression softened, responding to the child within the man. “Your Mom died two years ago.”

And of course Sean knew that, too. He allowed the woman to hold him, falling into her warmth and softness. The man’s eyes closed, draping the boy’s tortured mind with blessed darkness.

NEXT TIME: The Frogwatchers. Chainsaw Moon. Hellhound on my trail.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Ghost Creek, Episode 3

PREVIOUSLY- Sean and his friends explored the mysterious abandoned house in the woods, finding nothing inside but a mutant rodent-eating frog. Sean led them into the basement, the place where he was kept during his abduction experience. There they found a room drenched in red paint, an anachronistic CD player (the source of the screaming which had led them inside in the first place,) and a strange man claiming to be Sean, who offers them pudding.


“What do you mean,” said Sean, “you are me?”

“Just that,” said the older man. “I am you at the age of twenty-eight. To save you doing the math, that means I’m from the year 1999.”

“Yeah, right.”

“See, I knew there’d be this whole awkward ‘trying to convince you’ thing, so listen up. When you, we, whatever, were seven, we were riding our bicycle, pretending to be Luke Skywalker in his X-wing fighter, and Dad’s Mustang was the Death Star. We got a little too close, and put a big scratch in the paint. Dad freaked out when he found it, but he thought Tommy Stipe next door keyed the car. We never told him, or anybody, the truth.”

Sean gaped up at the older man. “How did you know that?”

“When we were nine, we found a cardboard box by the side of the road with some newborn puppies someone had abandoned. We knew Mom wouldn’t let us keep them, so we hid them in the shed in the back yard. They all died within a day, and we buried them beside the garden. Again, never told anybody. You want me to keep going? Because I’ve got about a dozen of these,” he looked up at Bobby and Marcy, “and some of them are kind of embarrassing.”

“No,” Sean said. “I believe you.”


“Wait,” Bobby said. “This for real? This guy’s from the future?”

“No,” said Marcy. “I don’t believe it. It’s impossible.”

Sean-at-twenty-eight raised a finger. “You’re right, in a way. Time travel is physically impossible. But psychically, astrally, whatever you want to call it, it can be accomplished by certain talented individuals. See, I’m not even really here. This space we’re in doesn’t literally exist. The three of you are asleep on that ridge up there, dreaming this. But it is real.”

The three kids exchanged baffled looks. None of this made sense.

“So, if you’re from the future,” Bobby said, “what about me and Marcy? What happens to us?”

“Let’s see,” said Sean-at-twenty-eight. “You, Bobby, are a very successful psychiatrist. You and your boyfriend Tony . . .”


“Yeah, you’re gay.”

“I’m gay?”

“Don’t look so shocked. You told me yourself that you always knew.”

Bobby flushed red and made a slight sputtering noise.

“What about me?” Marcy said.

“You, ah, well, let’s just say you are a very good person who helps a lot of people.”

“What does that mean?”

“I really, ah, I shouldn’t have even told you that. People shouldn’t know too much about their futures. It kind of messes things up, trust me.”

“I can’t believe I’m gay,” Bobby was able to mutter.

“Look,” said Sean-at-twenty-eight. “We don’t have much time. This is a temporary state. I don’t know how much longer I can hold it. Let’s get down to business.”

“Yeah,” said Sean-at-ten. “Why are you here? What do you want?”

“Well,” said Sean-at-twenty-eight. “You ever hear people say things like, ‘if I knew then what I know now,’ or ‘if I had it all to do over again?’ This is a unique opportunity to make some changes in my life. I’m going to finish college this time, do . . . fewer drugs, and most of all I’m going to boink Nikki Phillips in my sophomore year. Plus, I went on the internet and memorized the winning lottery numbers from the week I turn eighteen. Ten million dollar jackpot.”

“What’s the internet?” said Sean-at-ten.

Sean-at-twenty-eight broke into a huge grin. “See? You’re going to have so much fun.”

“What do you mean?”

“I can’t just come back here and slip into my old skin,” said Sean-at-twenty-eight. “It’s a paradox. Two souls, or whatever you want to call them, can’t occupy the same body at the same time without a lot of complications. So this is like a swap.”

“A swap?”

“Yeah. You go into the future and take over my life. I come back here and take over yours. Everybody wins.”

“I can’t . . .”

“Ah, but you can,” Sean-at-twenty-eight interrupted. “And you will. I know you will. I’m you, remember? We’re science fiction freaks. I know you can’t pass up the chance to actually go into the future. 1999, man. There’s no flying cars or men on Mars, but there’s a lot of other fantastic things. Trust me. And you’ll be an adult! You can do anything you want. We’ve got our own apartment. A gorgeous girlfriend. I’m not going to say any more. You in?”

Sean-at-ten but his lip and considered for just a few seconds.

“What about Wilson?” he asked.

Sean-at-twenty-eight shook his head. “I don’t know. They never found him. We still don’t know what really happened. I think whoever took us did something to us to our brain, though. That’s why it’s possible for us to do this.”

“But the dream . . .”

“I sent you the dream,” said Sean-at-twenty-eight. “Another talent of ours. I’m sorry, but I had to use a potent bait to get you down here. Come on, Sean. What do you say?"

“You can’t trust this guy,” Marcy put in.

“But he’s me. I can trust myself, can’t I?” Sean looked up at his older self. “What do we have to do?”

“That’s the weird part,” said Sean-at-twenty-eight. “We have to, ah, kiss.”


“Yeah, I know. Ew. I’m not looking forward to it any more than you are. It’s like a fairy tale thing, though. Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, the Frog Prince. I guess the soul can be transferred through the breath, or something. I don’t pretend to understand, but that’s the way it works.”

“You are not going to kiss this guy,” Bobby said. “He’s probably just a child molester, messing with our heads.”

Sean-at-ten shook his head. "I'm ready," he said to himself.

Sean-at-twenty-eight took Sean-at-ten gently in his arms. He leaned down, tilting his head and closing his eyes to bestow the kiss.

“Oh, wait, one more thing,” he said before their lips could touch. “If you happen to run into the forty-two-year-old Sean, don’t listen to a word he says. The guy’s a liar.”


But then the man’s lips fastened upon the boy’s with incestuous fervor. Sean-at-ten closed his eyes and the world spun. He had the sense of being dragged into an immense whirlpool, a spiraling backwards plummet into a black void.

And then he awoke.

NEXT TIME: Party like it’s 1999. Another strange frog. Idiot box.