I didn’t post any writings over the holiday weekend because of lack of internet, which made me think of a national observatory in my home state, and the mandatory electromagnetic transmission Quiet Zone surrounding it, and of an imaginary place in my head where memory influences reality, and of some darker things which we will address at a later date.
That place in my head (and the weirdos who inhabit it) demand to be heard, and I’m finally listening. This week, I’m sharing some things from an in-development project. I don’t always recommend doing this, but…
Writing stuff down is my way of thinking out loud. Plus, I’m a sucker for peeking behind the curtain, for learning the secrets of magic tricks, and for reading the end of stories before reading the beginnings.
Remember, this is the result of what pops up as I discovery-write. At this stage, I’m exploring parts of the fictitious town, and interviewing the people I find there. You’re getting to know them as I do.
I am not good with character names. I struggle up until I literally put fingers to keyboard, then I wonder why I don’t just do that in the first place. The character with the name Harry is named Harry, not because my dad’s name is Harry (it is), or because his dad was Harry (true), but because he simply introduced himself to me as Harry, and for what it’s worth, he seems like a Harry.
Is it a coincidence that it’s also my first name (Todd is my middle name)? Probably not, since I needed to insert myself in the story and interact. My intent is to take what I find, and build a series of stories combined with images. Each story will hopefully stand on its own, but when combined, they will point to a cohesive larger story.
Until then, the place and the people want to be made known. It’s share or go insane.
_ . _ . _ . _
Visiting Hours at the Absentia Asylum and Crematoria
Visiting hours at the Absentia Asylum and Crematoria started 10AM on weekdays. Harry sat in his car with the engine running. According to the clock in his car, it was time for Bulldog to tug on the large metal handle painted black to hide rust, swing open the front door and prop it open by kicking in place a wedge cut from the end of a two-by-four.
If today was like the others, Bulldog would do a lot of kicking before the door stayed open. He struggled with wedges, and most other things. Nobody knew why he was given such responsibilities. Instead, Bulldog stood at the entrance with his arms crossed on his chest. He checked his watch and refolded his arms. In truth, Harry never knew the guard’s name. The Asylum and Crematoria resembled a medieval church, and the guard stood there like a bulldog-faced gargoyle; therefore, Bulldog.
Harry like to joke that he received his high school education at the Asylum. The truth is, the Asylum had once been the town’s old high school, only it was still called the Asylum. No one knew why the school was named the Asylum.
Harry was an Asylum Serial Killer alumni, back before an out-of-state company brought the new larger school as stacked panels loaded on flat-bed trucks. They assembled the new school overnight on the top of Dinosaur Ridge Mountain. It was actually a reclaimed strip mine. The Asylum senior high school was consolidated, along with several other small expendable schools, (all with less interesting names and mascots), and the Screaming Serial Killers were no more.
The Screaming Serial Killers wore black with blood spatter red, a trade-marked color by the Asylum School Alumni Association. That was for away games. Home uniforms were, of course, red-spattered white. The new consolidation uniform design was a middle-tone grey for home and away. The new logo for the Revisionist Historians is neatly sewn above the left breast in an difficult-to-offend size.
The transition from Asylum school to Asylum asylum was seamless. A six-week study concluded that almost any school could be transformed into an Asylum without major renovations. The classrooms were ideal for multiple beds. The lockers are popular with the inmates, as they all like to hide things, and to find them again. And the high fences topped with rolls of razor wire were already in place.
Why Crematoria? First, the name. When compared to crematory or crematorium, crematoria sounded more like a boutique shopping experience. Bottom line, it sounded pretty. “Crematoria” was a nice linguistic balance to “Asylum”. Also, the crematoria is called, Crematoria, because the Committee of Decisions believed the name to be the more visually pleasing plural form of crematorium, although this was approved without confirmation from the librarian. Why the plural form?
From boredom or excitement, the first inmates had peeled a surprising amount of wall paint, wood, and asbestos insulation out of the old furnace room. Their obsessive picking, and from obsessive itching from the asbestos, continued itching, had revealed a series of small, immaculate, never-used brick and stone kilns as part of the original structure. No one knew why they existed, or, since they did exist, why the kilns were never put in use, if only for having students and inmates bake small loaves of bread for the homeless.
Harry opened the car door and reached for the key. Before he could kill the ignition, Bulldog Gargoyle held out a palm toward Harry’s windshield, tapped his watch, and held up five fingers. Five minutes until visiting hours. Harry looked at his car’s clock: 10:10. Then he realized that his wife had driven his car last. She had set all clocks fifteen minutes fast, because she never wanted to be late for anything. She still was, but not nearly as often as when the clocks were accurately set.
“Five minutes to kill. I can do this. Just give me a dose of static and I will be fine.”
Harry pressed the radio power button, selected FM, and started a manual scan of frequencies from left of the scale to right. Everywhere along the way, at every knob setting, Harry found comfortable, predictable static. He did the same scan on the AM band. No stations. Nothing but sweet static. Peace.
Harry was not surprised when he found nothing but noise. In fact, he would have been shocked if his radio had detected the faintest of signals. The Absentia National Astronomy Observatory (ANAO) was the reason for, and the epicenter of, the largest active National Hush Zone (NHZ). Within NHZ boundaries, harsh laws strictly prohibited the transmission of electromagnetic waves of any frequency, especially across the AM/FM bands, where news and important information is normally transmitted.
That means for a 100-nautical mile radius from the precise latitudinal and longitudinal center of Absentia, no radio towers, no cell towers no, radio stations, no cell phone service. Not for a 100 miles in all directions from Absentia. The NHZ included an extra buffer zone, because (1) private punishment was combined with public humiliation through the List of Offenders posted around town, (2) the precise latitudinal and longitudinal of town was a closely guarded secret, so nobody could measure the radius out to 100 nautical miles, add a few feet just to be safe, then build a communications center there, and (3) even if they did know the precise latitudinal and longitudinal center of town, most people didn’t care to know how long a nautical mile was, so measuring 100 of them seemed like a useless attempt.
Harry sat in his car, stared at the ANAO facility along Drake Ridge, and the eight steerable deep-space telescopes and hypersensitive listening capability, and got lost in static. He longed to visit the eight massive white monolithic dishes just once more, to watch them dip and spin and whir in response to detected deep-space sounds that humans could not hear. They received who knew what from the sky’s dark corners, and transmitted who knew what back.
He had been only once. When ANAO was first built, there were nine dipping, spinning, whirring things. That was before The Great Conflagration on Drake Ridge. The next morning, there were only eight. Old number six was gone, all except for the large concrete base. Those who know what happened that night are no longer around. They aren’t dead as far as Harry knew, but they were there the night before, and gone the next morning. Nobody who remained knew why. Rumor was that the ground around the base of old number six is still charred and barren.
He thought about a singular summer night, back when Asylum was a still school and not an asylum, back when he was still young. After dropping off his date, he had driven back up to Drake Ridge and parked against the chain link fence under the ANAO Employees Only sign and security gate.
This is where young Harry had tried to kiss his date for the first time. The moon painted shadowed streaks of barbed wire across her warm pale skin. It didn’t go so well, so he took her home. On his return trip, young Harry turned off the lights and imagined that she had said yes, and was still with him. He pictured her body pressed against his, almost asleep, because she felt that safe and cared for. To set the mood, he turned up the radio and played with the only thing that comforted him. Sweet static.
That was the moment he discovered the AM radio phenomenon. Young Harry had turned the AM dial back and forth across the dial, watching how the little orange vertical indicator responded left and right across the dial. Every setting, every selection, stopping or passing, every sound of static, was under his control. Harry was King of White Noise.
Then it happened. Young Harry heard a sound from his car speakers, something non-static, a word, maybe another. He rolled the knob back a little, then forward again, trying to fine-tune. Nothing more. Then something faded in and out, almost like a whale exhaling after breaking the surface. He lowered his head to the dash speaker. There it was again.
The voice came out of the static like the ebb and flow of ocean waves. The waves crashed and morphed to the singular sound of a bumble bee trapped in a glass jar. Clarity above the noise floor,. The voice spoke to young Harry. It spoke about cartoon characters, something about meeting George Jetson, daughter Judy, Jane his wife.
Harry wanted to talk back to the voice, but he was cut off by a clear and distinct sequence of numbers and letters. At the end of the sequence, there was a long pause. Then another voice spoke so loud that Harry grabbed the volume know and spun it to the left.
“Stop that,” the new voice said. This one was more authoritative, a baritone, and it spoke with a Russian accent.
“Stop,” the voice spoke again. “Stop. Listening. Turn off. Go.”
Harry hit the power button and sat in silence for the longest time. The warmth of his imaginary girlfriend turned cool, just like the real date. Young Harry kept his hands off of his radio controls for three weeks.
To this day, Harry has told no one about the voices, about the Jetsons, about the numbers and letters, and about the command to stop. Worse, Harry had never reported it to The Powers. Through the years, he always assumed, or hoped, that they suspected nothing. He placed it in the class of an anomaly, a data point obviously in error; therefore, something to ignore.
A middle-aged Harry leaned over and kissed the head of his imaginary girlfriend after their failed attempt at love, trying to re-heat her, as if microwaved leftovers. His fingers involuntarily pressed buttons of his modern radio, scanning the dial and finding nothing but sweet static. Suddenly she was there with him, young girl, middle-aged man who imagined himself still young. She opened her mouth to speak, but what came out was a machine-gun series of deafening taps from wide knuckles against glass.
The tapping on his driver-side window was so loud that he closed his eyes to protect them from the flying shards of glass that were no-doubt raining in on him. He literally full-body flinched. Harry pressed the OFF button on the radio and lowered his window, fingers trembling.
Bulldog’s face filled the space. “You dead?”
. __ . __ . __ .
Tune in next time when Harry actually gets out of his car and goes inside…