7-inch: Main Squeeze by Huggy Bear
1994 Famous Monsters of Filmland Trouble03; Rubber Bugger Discs Dump 019
Favorite Track: My Best Kiss
The Bob Dylan playing softly from the overhead speaker was annoying him. Normally, Stan didn’t mind Dylan, in fact, was quite a fan of Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde although he could never quite listen all the way through Nashville Skyline after his breakup with Jessi. He could hear her timorous voice behind each blast of the harmonica: why did you cheat on me? why? He never did, never even thought such a thing, but she never trusted him and the relationship couldn’t handle the strain.
And Stan was definitely feeling the strain during this chess match. His opponent was a swarthy, frizzy-haired fellow with sad, brown eyes and an aquiline nose. He hardly spoke, yet each time he put down a piece, he did it with a force that spoke volumes: you are one step away from losing. He was up a knight and a pawn, but had doubled up pawns on the king’s side and left his king trapped in the corner. Stan knew in order to win, he had to lure the stranger into making a mistake, which usually meant making a risky gambit. After drumming his fingers on the tabletop until he felt a wet patch near his napkin, he remembered to take a sip of the cold lager the relatively cute waitress has poured for him. It tasted a tad flat. He wondered if they ever cleaned the tap pipes at Arnie’s. Finally, with a sigh more held in contempt of Lay Lady Lay then his choice of retreating his bishop back to his original rank, Stan moved his piece, tried to smile, and asked, “Are you visiting our small little town? Or did you get rained out on your way to Salonium?”
The corners of the stranger’s eyes seemed to wrinkle up for a second. He flashed a stained smile that bespoke years of habit. “Before I answer your question, may I ask you one? When was the last time you told a ghost story?”
Stan laughed despite the straight-forwardness of the question. He took a healthy swig while he pondered if he ever told a ghost story. He had few friends, mostly girls, spending summers digging up worms and odd insects in the woods and solving puzzles by the fireplace in the cold autumn and winter. After a second sip, he remember a night, his first night at the university, where he had met Zoe. A rainy night where the two pink moons cast a spellbinding warm glow on the puddles scattered across the sidewalks and campus greens.
“Yes, just one. I guess you can say I’m not a scary guy.”
The stranger moved his piece, an innocuous forward-stepping pawn. “There is no tiny person in your eye. The reflection of my face bears no teeth. I would hazard you have plenty of scary stories to tell.”
Stan paused. Dylan turned into the Rolling Stones and then some British Riot Grrrl band whose guitar amps sounded like they were permanently blown-out. What in the hell? The stranger looked back down at the chessboard in concentration. He hovered his left hand over his queen and knight as if he were about to take a second move, but then dropped it by his side. The waitress gave Stan another beer and a forlorn smile.
“Now how am I suppose to take a comment like that? I see you haven’t touched your drink, so now I have to ask myself what kind of trailer park headtrip shit you are on–”
“I came here to see you. And hear your ghost story,” he said gruffly. Then when Stan tried to speak again, he cut him off: “I collect them.”
Stan crossed his arms. The room had a sharp, cold smell to it. Something medicinal; something tinged with ethanol. He remembered Zoe, sweet Zoe with her dark eye, chubby freckled cheeks, and scarred arms. He remembered the way she would hold him, how he would be afraid to fall asleep sometimes in her arms, and how he would watch the candle melt down to a small stump of hot wax until, at least, his strained eyes would close against the sun coming through the blinds.
“I only told one other person this story. It is the only ghost story I know and, I’m afraid to disappoint you, but it is not a very good one. I was born in Maine where I lived in a cabin deep in the woods near Lincolnville and the Camden Hills State Park. We called it Silverfrost Forest due to the heavy snows during the latter months. I lived with just my father, a fly-fisherman, hunter, and town annoyance. No town hall meeting was complete until my father stood on his heels and delivered thunderous sermons about the greed of the local officials, bankers, and business owners. His many trips to incite protest, and many nights in jail, led me to stay up all night in the cabin, shivering at every twig snap, every strong gust of wind, every weird chattering.
When I was seven, I decided impulsively to go outside, into the woods, and learn where all these sounds were coming from. I don’t think exactly that I trying to face my fears. I think rather like a chess game, I had to understand how all the pieces move. I wondered all among the tall spruce and pines, marveled at the bats catching insects out of the air, and even found beauty in the small purple berries among the weeds and wildflowers. It wasn’t until I couldn’t hear the creek anymore that I realized that I did not know how to return home.”
The stranger finally raised his glass and down the whole liquid contents down his throat, his Adam’s apple bobbing furiously as the tides of fermented yeast slid into his stomach.
“May you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows your dead.”
Stan nervously tittered. “I’ve never worried about the devil. Go ahead and put down that eyebrow. The devil is fearsome, in legend.”
Then he leaned close to the stranger, “It’s the witches you have to worry about.”
to be continued…