12 May 2005
Tony was tuning his guitar and Courtney was adjusting her amp while Mandy was doing her warm ups and we brass were running scales. Tony had finished clearing out his garage and we could finally hold practices somewhere larger than my living room, which I'm confident my neighbors and roommate appreciate. With all the noise, I didn't hear Lori enter, and was startled when she wrapped her arms around me from behind. She had started coming to our practices about a month earlier, to be an encouragement and to hang out. It was weird at first, having someone there that wasn't really involved, but people seemed to have gotten used to it. The question was whether that was because they were fine with her being there or because we were practicing at my place.
"Lori!" Mandy yelled, setting down her sticks and running over. The rest of the brass set their instruments down and started talking among themselves about a new song we were working on. When she got close enough, Mandy stopped and rested her hands on her hips in a mock show of authority. "I heard this bum finally asked you out for real."
"That he did," Lori answered, laughing. She pinched my side and rested her head on my shoulder. "Took him long enough."
"I'm right here," I said, "and I thought you had plans with Mark and Beth today."
"Yes," Mandy replied, before pointing to the rest of the brass, "but instead of here, you should be over there working on 'Fly.'" Lori kissed me on the cheek and then let go of me, walking around toward Mandy. "Come on, I wanna hear all about it."
"They'll live without me. You have fun," Lori said, rubbing my arm. "I'll be right back." I smiled and watched them scamper off toward the drums, then picked up my trombone and went to join the others.
31 December 2004
Our band, The Mighty Morphin Power Brasstones, was one of six local punk and ska bands who went in on renting warehouse space to throw a massive New Year's Eve party and show. It was a bit of a gamble on whether or not we would make our money back, but I got a discount on food from work and we had people bring their own alcohol. The stated reason was that we were avoiding any liquor license issues, but the fact is no one had the money to shell out for that much booze on the vague hope they'd still manage to turn a profit. But the number of people who told us they were coming seemed promising, and the crowd of young folks in leather or checkerboard print milling around the neighborhood was taken as confirmation this was going to work out.
We were the third band in the line up, so we would have the 8:00-8:45 window, but there was a lot of work to do before we even opened the doors. Mandy was off talking to the other drummers about how best to ensure we can do set changes in 15 minutes, and I was pretty sure they had settled on some system of sharing drum set pieces where possible. Charles, Mitch, Karen, and I were with the other brass players that were all getting together at the end of the night to close out the show. Courtney and Tony were off tuning their bass and guitars, respectively, while answering questions from the sound guy. My phone rang in my pocket, and when I saw it was my dad, I excused myself and stepped outside to answer.
"How's your trip going?" I asked. I heard a weak laugh from the other end of the line.
"Oh, better now."
"Wait, what's going on?"
"This job was a bit more difficult than I expected," he said, before coughing, but distantly, as though he had pulled the phone away from his face first. "Sorry."
"What the hell happened? Are you okay?"
"I will be. They said they expect I'll be released in a day or two and then I can catch a flight home. I'll let you know when to pick me up from the airport. But look, son, I realized that I'm getting slower out here, and there are things we needed to talk about that I couldn't ever tell you if I die."
"Like why Mom left? You finally gonna tell me something about that?"
"Yes. And why I had to let her. And how that plays into all of this." I groaned and lowered by head, rubbing my forehead with my free hand. He was silent, as if waiting for me to respond.
"Why now? How bad was this job, Dad?"
"I said I'll be fine, dammit. You go enjoy your show. We'll talk when I get home." With that, he hung up, and I fought the urge to throw my phone. I stood and closed my eyes, turned my head to the sky, and screamed.
"Make sure you bring that energy to the stage," Mandy said from behind me. I opened my eyes and spun around.
"How long have you been there?"
"Not long enough, apparently. I just heard you were outside and assumed we were taking a smoke break."
"Well. I'm a bit tight at the moment, you know, so..." I sighed and pulled out my Newports, pulling one out for me and one for her. "Thanks! I almost thought I'd have to blow you for one again."
"Well," I said, switching the box for the lighter in my pocket, "let's see how many you bum before we settle anything." She laughed and slapped my arm.
"You ready to ring in a new year?"
"More than you know," I said, glancing at my phone before putting it away.
20 December 2004
I groaned as I reached over to the ringing phone, only barely turning my head from my pillow to be able to see the screen. It was Rick. I let out a low growl as I answered.
"Were you asleep, John?"
"It's two in the afternoon!" I grumbled and rolled onto my back.
"I had a long night," I said, pushing myself up to sit with my back against the headboard. "Were you calling for any specific reason?"
"We're on for the Devil's Church! Tony is getting some people together, they're going to meet us at the D'Onofrio's parking lot in about an hour. You coming?" Mandy groaned and rolled over, laying her arm across my waist.
"Uh, let me check. I may have to do something real quick first."
"But you'll be there? Charles and I need a ride, he's here at my place."
"Yeah. I'll come get you." I hung up and leaned my head back against the wall for a moment, before putting the phone down and grabbing my smokes and a lighter.
"Who was that?" she asked, her voice soft and still half asleep.
"Your cousin." I lit my cigarette and breathed deep, blowing the smoke toward the ceiling. "We're gonna go investigate the Devil's Church."
"Oooo, that cursed place up past Headliner's?"
"The same." She began to trace her finger around my belly button as she scooted up to lean her head on my side.
"Can I come?"
"I think we've established you can." She lightly slapped my stomach and sat up, placing herself on my lap and facing me.
"Are you in a hurry?"
"We have an hour to get dressed, pick up Rick and Charles, and be up to D'Onofrio's." She hummed, running her hands down my sides and sliding herself down to slowly ease the blanket off me.
"I think we can make that work."
When Rick and Charles came out the door on hearing my horn, they were bickering about who would ride shotgun. I had my window down in case I'd need to yell to them, and was lighting another Newport. Mandy leaned over.
"Chicks get shotgun in Alpha, you know that!" she yelled out my window. Rick jogged down and leaned against my door to peer in as Charles grumbled and moved around to climb in the seat behind her.
"Mandy! John picked you up on the way?"
"No," I said. She laughed and winked, then sat back up in her seat. He looked puzzled for a moment, then concern washed over his face. "Get in or we're gonna be late." With that, I began rolling up my window and turned my attention forward. Rick stood upright, paused, then got in the back behind me. He tried to bum a smoke off Mandy but she reminded him we were going to a store and he could get his own, and he was quiet the rest of the trip.
D'Onofrio's is a standalone grocery store on the northern edge of the business district in Hermitage, and the last real stop before 18 becomes a freeway the whole way to Greenville, or at least the last one we acknowledge. For those of us who grew up in Sharon, it was an unstated fact that our home region ended at the store, and everything north was country. When we arrived, Tony's car wasn't there. Rick and I went in to get drinks and smokes while we waited.
"John," he finally said, softly, once we were out of earshot of the car and the store, "did you fuck my cousin?"
"Yes." He clenched his fists and took a deep breath.
"It was her idea. I didn't induce her to anything."
"Fine. But, please, did you at least-"
"I'm not answering any questions about how I had sex with your cousin." We were silent the whole time we were inside, and when we returned Tony's car was parked next to Alpha and Olivia was talking to Mandy through their open windows. As we got closer we saw that he also brought Karen, Mitch, and Rob. Mitch suggested we stop by Headliner's while we were up that way, citing his belief that strippers are always more friendly to a group that includes other women. He was soundly voted down. Rick and Olivia switched cars. After Tony and I confirmed we both knew where we were going, we set out.
We joked and carried on the whole way, and judging by the way they were laughing as they got out of the car I suspected the rest of them did roughly the same. Even Rick seemed to be in a better mood. Karen went straight for Olivia and Mandy and they began talking among themselves near Alpha as the rest of us gathered next to a headstone with letters faded beyond recognition in the dying winter light.
"What's the deal with this place, anyway?" Tony asked.
"Wait, they didn't tell you?" I asked, looking to the group.
"I thought he knew," Rick said with a shrug.
"I thought everyone knew," Rob said.
"Yeah, it's haunted, right?" Mitch offered.
"More than that." Rick was nearly jumping when he cut back in. "It's called the Devil's Church because there's a real church in there, somewhere in the haunted woods! They went dark, started worshiping the Devil, hosting orgies, human sacrifices, the whole thing. They got so corrupt that the Earth opened up and swallowed them whole; and now, the souls of the people who died wander the woods, tempting and tormenting people that enter!"
"And...why are we entering?" Tony asked, his brow furrowing.
"Because! We're gonna find the church!"
"No one has ever found the church itself," Rob said. "Everyone who tries falls to the spirits, and those who die there join the ghostly army."
"They're gonna try to kill us?!" Charles blurted out.
"Only if we don't join them willingly."
"That's not better!"
"They get people to do all kinds of things," Mandy said as the girls approached us. "They say groups who go in there can be best friends, but somewhere in the woods they start killing each other, or going mad. Sometimes eating each other!"
"Some stories include rape," Rob offered. I raised my brow.
"There...some very compelling reason you guys wanted to come along?" I asked the girls.
"Oh come on, you don't really believe the stories, do you?" Olivia asked.
"Besides," Mandy said, walking over to me. "If we were gonna start believing the stories, we should also believe you can just," she started fake punching the air in front of me, "break the curse and keep us safe, right?" The others laughed.
"John's our ringer, guys," Rick said. "We're gonna be the first ones to find that church cause nothing gets by him." I sighed and pointed my cigarette toward the trees.
"Fine. Lead the way."
"I will!" With that, Rick started walking toward the woods, and we all fell into groups following him. As we got closer and closer to the trees, Karen was growing visibly more hesitant. Finally, when Rick was just past the tree line, she stopped dead in her tracks and started to shake. We all stopped and turned to face her, as Rob and Olivia tried to calm her down. She started to protest going any further, and when Rob put his hands on her shoulders and told her it'd be okay she kicked him square in the balls. He stumbled backwards and she fell to her knees, crying. Olivia and Mandy swooped down to her. I looked around.
"You know, guys," I said, "it uh, it looks like no one brought a flashlight and it's getting dark. Maybe another time?"
"Yeah," Tony said, weakly, "Another time."
"Headliner's?" Mitch offered.
"How about Denny's." We all agreed to Tony's suggestion, and started heading back to the cars.
18 december 2004
The hollow on Hogback is distinct both because of the rickety wooden one-lane bridge at the bottom and the local story surrounding the name. The former is dangerous because, with the trees and curves on the way down into the hollow from either end, you can't really see the bridge or anyone else hoping to cross it until you're dangerously close. This depends somewhat on the speed you drive through it, of course, but it's almost a rite of passage for local kids to go tearing through it as fast as they dare, and an unrelated rite to stop in the dead center of the bridge and watch for the ghost.
Thankfully, both events very rarely happen at the same time.
The story is actually fairly unimaginative and more than a little misogynistic. Dude pays a hog as dowry to a farmer up the road, marries the farmer's daughter, wife turns out to be a bitch, dude kills his wife and carries her body to the farmer demanding his hog back, road gets named in honor of that guy for reasons no one seems to know. There are variants, but the ones I've heard largely follow that formula (except one in which she kills herself because he's a bitch, which seems almost sensible in light of the other one). It probably isn't true but the fact is no one is as interested in the story as they are in the rumor that the wife's ghost hangs around the bridge. This claim is, itself, something of a disappointment, both because no one even seems to believe she does anything interesting other than hang around, and because she isn't there. People keep dragging me into these damn woods to confirm the ghost is there, and I always have to decide whether it's better to play along or tell them the truth.
"So there's nothing here?" Rick asked, rolling a blunt.
"God I hope so," Charles offered. We had actually parked in the dirt beside the road and walked out to the middle of the bridge, and Charles was leaning on the side and looking down at the creek. The light was growing dim and we were all talking quietly enough to listen for an engine coming.
"I didn't say nothing," I answered, as Rick put the blunt to his lips and got it lit, "I said there's no ghost." Rick let out the smoke as he passed to his cousin, Mandy.
"How can you be sure?" Rick asked.
"I've been here a dozen times, and there's no sign of her. Just kind of an...echo." Mandy handed off to me and I took my turn.
"What's an echo?" I signed for him to wait as I passed to Charles and then exhaled.
"It's like...there seem to be things that only exist because people think they exist. And they're only as real as the amount of people making them real. I call them echoes."
"So there is a ghost, just not a, uh, real ghost?"
"More or less."
"Your friend is weird, Rick," Mandy muttered.
"Your cousin is rude, Rick." She sneered at me as Rick smoked. He coughed a little as he visibly tried not to laugh.
"I think that still counts as a ghost," Charles said, inching closer to the group. Rick passed.
"Yeah! Isn't that ghost enough, John?"
"Well, look. I can't talk to it, it can't possess anyone, and near as I can tell it just stands over there," I gestured toward a tree on the side of the creek opposite where we'd parked, "so if you wanna call it a ghost, fine, but it hardly seems worth it." Charles quickly looked to the tree.
"Is it there now?" he asked, with a quiver in his voice. Rick laughed.
"You're afraid! Look at you, it isn't even really a ghost and you're terrified!"
"You agreed it was a ghost!"
"Guys," I said, exhaling and passing. "Chill."
"I'm going back to Alpha," Charles said. "We can smoke just fine there."
"Hardly seems like your decision." Charles waved me off as he hurried back off the bridge. I turned to the others and saw Rick was still laughing and Mandy sighed. "I guess we might as well go get some food." With that, we all headed over and climbed into Alpha. I started the engine and we listened to the music as we finished the blunt. Right when I began to pull out, a rusty Chevette came tearing out of the trees and across the bridge, honking and veering as it passed us. It just clipped the front corner of Alpha and kept going, vanishing into the woods behind us. I grumbled, turned up the music, and punched the gas.
The blog of John Matteson.