The March Featured Writer is Michael Wolf
Please feel free to email Michael at: firstname.lastname@example.org
THE DEAD WALL
I get a kick out of it, you know? No one ever gets onto me, no one that matters, anyway, and I’m making a hell of a living. I perform a live stage show of “talking to the dead,” using a form of sleight-of-mind called cold reading. Some of these poor bastards actually believe they’re talking to their croaked grandfather, aunt, puppy, or whatever—and that’s okay. They seem happy. Happy enough to unbend their wallets, so everyone’s prancing in daffodils.
So this girl came on to me after the last show. She was a cute brunette with three short lengths of beaded hair on the left side of her head and a killer body. She learned of my “supernatural abilities” from the television commercials I run before arriving in each town. She couldn’t have been more than twenty-three, but these were the fruits of being a celebrity. I’m just cruising the profiteering band-wagon of the ‘80s. Women just throw themselves at me like I’m a Rock star or something. I have lost count in the last couple years.
She wanted to talk to her deceased brother. My assistants ran her credit card information to find the funeral industry had recently bilked her for an extremely expensive burial. Looking through the obituaries of her hometown, they deduced her brother had committed suicide.
My well-oiled lines for this kind of thing soothed her pleas for details of why he killed himself. She gave me his name and he “spoke to her through me.” He assured her he was in a joyous place surrounded by loved ones at peace with happy memories of her.
Yeah. And all good dogs go to Heaven.
Later, I had her backstage for a private reading. Hey, if the mortuary business can take advantage of her grief, why can’t I? It’s amazing what a little fame can do for you.
So I’m heading to a gig on Texas Highway 37. Out of nowhere, the engine begins making this clanging sound like a monkey wrench in a Laundromat dryer. Dammit. I just dropped a sultan’s salary on this rig.
I need to get off the road so I take the next exit where a bent and shot‑up sign announces the town of Finnigan, Texas. It didn’t say Finnigan was seven more miles off the highway.
By the time I limp into town, the wind is picking up and I’m stuck while the local mechanic—Goober, I could swear his name was—looks at my ride.
I shield my face from blowing sand and see the only place I can wait is a bar named Gary’s. I walk into the place noticing it is like an Army barracks, a lot deeper than wide, but deceptively large. I’m feeling a little nausea lately like I have the flu or something, so I figure I might get something to eat to settle my stomach.
About a dozen good-old-boys are lolling in cheap rotting upholstery to the sound of outdated country music. They tended their interests, from dominoes to two tired pool tables and the liquor bar.
A wall of plaques with photographs hanging from them ran to the far end of the building. There, the light bulbs were unlit, leaving the long wall fading down into darkness.
Avoiding a broken stool, I sit. At the other end of the bar is a slight, girlish form in a mocha tan sundress billowing with white flowers. Her back is to me and slight movements reflect a shivering luster off her satin black hair. She is transfixed to a TV wedged above the bar.
I had to see her face, so noticing her empty drink I ask, “Can I buy you a refill?”
“Hi.” She turns and flashes a youthful smile. “You surprised me.”
My surprise far outweighs hers. Her crystal Caribbean-blue eyes offset by lavish indigo hair staggers me to the core. She is a diamond amongst the dirt clods in this drunk-hut.
“I think I might get in trouble for buying a drink for an underage cutie,” I say, because she is definitely a minor.
She blushes and takes a stool closer to me. “S’ok, I’m eighteen, nobody cares I’m here—I’m just drinking pop.” She glances across the room. “That’s Dale, the chief of police, over there.” She tilts her head toward a chubby, uniformed man absorbed in a game of dominoes.
I motion to the bartender, point to her drink, and look around. “So this is the local hotspot, huh?”
“Hotspot? More like a warm stain.”
I smile and offer my hand. “I’m Ricky. Ricky Peterson.”
She takes it with a cool softness. “I know who you are. I seen your commercials on the TV.”
She pronounces it “Tie-Vie” but that’s the way they talk around here. I couldn’t help but notice her being a perfect mark for a psychic reading and old enough for some “quality time” with me.
“You look thinner in person.” She says.
I froze. Time to reroute this seduction. “Well, you know television adds ten pounds.” Truth be told, in the last six months I’ve been dropping pounds like loose change, but I figure I’d gain it back after the stress of the tour.
“What’s your name, farm girl?”
“Does your Dad live around here, Amy?”
“Used to before he died. Now he’s over there.” She didn’t look up or down but over my shoulder with a sour expression to the wall covered with plaques.
“No, I mean his spirit—his soul,” I say, turning to look at the wall. It showed a variety of small brass memorials. They were all just names with a year inscribed below, mostly men. “What is that, anyway?”
“The Dead Wall,” a baritone voice says from behind me.
I turn to see a tall lean man, holding a pool cue straight up by his side like a castle guard’s pike. He is dressed in complete Old West attire. All black except for silver filigree around the edges. He had an Adam’s apple sticking out like an internal elbow.
“The Dead Wall? What are you saying? I had you all pegged for Christians,” I say, “Heaven or Hell, you know.”
“Even Hell has its standards,” goes the cowboy and spits into a floor spittoon with uncanny accuracy.
Amy snickers sourly, beyond her years. “Besides, I ain’t got a post card or phone call from Heaven yet.” She points her chin up at the trophies. “Up there, that’s something different.”
So I turn around and I’m looking especially at a plaque with borders painted red and blue in the sloppy motif of a toddler. The pictures of four young children and a teenage girl adorn its edges. The inscription is simply “Jim Cadistro,” dated this year. A distant bell rings from the boundaries of my brain.
“This Jim fellow must have been a father or a teacher of some kind,” I say as I reach out to touch the memorial. “You have to admire people like this because—”
When I touch the placard, something wonky takes place. My hand goes into the brass, breaking the skin of the metal as if it was perpendicular liquid. Something else happens. Happens to my mind. I am hearing someone.
Someone else. Someone thinking.
Animals. That’s all they are.
Someone who is angry.
Yeah, they’re the future of the world and all that other crap, but to me they’re just life-enders.
I’m in this miserable cracker-box home a ways outta town, with a wife who insists on taking in foster children.
We need the money we get for them. I can’t think of a better solution, so I shut up and sit in the smell of dirty laundry and cat piss enduring the situation. For now.
Always squalling, bawling and needing. They’re like pigeons. Disease infested vermin swimming in bacteria, that’s all they are.
There are five. My two slack-eyed imbeciles, two booger factories whose names I can never remember, and Courtney, she started it all.
Courtney. So fresh and nubile. Fifteen years old and she don’t have a clue how sexy she is. The way she talks, the way she moves, the lines of her body, all cry for the wild. But when I come to her room at night, she only pushes me away. Why doesn’t she want me? And now my wife is getting suspicious.
Been a long time in the thinking and more than a few beers before I am out in the yard at three a.m., dousing the siding with gasoline. They’re all asleep. I quietly fixed long screws in all the doors and windows, sealing them in.
One match is all it takes the fire to embrace the house. The screaming comes a few minutes later. I have my gun in case one gets out, but I’m going listen to the shrieks until they stop before I put the barrel in my mouth.
I stand outside Courtney’s bedroom. I laugh while she begs and claws at her window for help.
So I’m there in the light of the fire, thinking of what they’ve done to me, listening to their pleas, when I see the damnedest thing. A huge image of a sitting woman, overlaid on the flames.
The woman’s image competes with the fire for reality. Soon the blaze and the screams are flying away and a different world comes flickering to the forefront.
I’m at that bar. The bar in Finnigan, Texas.
“He’s back,” booms the cowboy, chalking his pool stick in front of himself. He makes a mocking face. “Did you have a ‘ghostly experience?’”
Dizzy and out of phase with plain sight. Covered with the poison film of Jim Cadistro’s insanity, I stumble to the nearest stool and accidentally put my head down in the middle of an ashtray. I raise spitting and batting the butts off my face.
Jim Cadistro. Something important about that name. Jim Cadistro. I shake my head and remember. The girl with the three short beaded braids on the left side of her head. He was her brother.
But we’re a hundred miles from nowhere. This doesn’t make sense, so I point to the memorial and ask, “How did you get a plaque to this guy? Did he live around here?”
Amy shrugs. “New ones appear all the time, and the rest just move back down to the end of the building.” She points to the blackness swallowing the far end of the lengthy room. “We don’t ask questions and we sure as hell don’t touch ‘em like you did.” I watch her and the cowboy bow in private laughter.
“She had a name, you know,” Amy says, who is definitely on the dark side of thirty now, “Do you even remember?”
I turn to her with a stupid grin feeling a cigarette butt fall from my chin. “What?”
“Her name. The girl with the braids. You spent last night with her.”
This is impossible. Amy’s hair is now more pewter-grey than sable. She is aging before my eyes, and what’s with the mind-reading routine?
“The girl’s name is Twila Somers,” Amy says into what now looks like a whiskey sour. “She works for a place called Rozer Pharmaceutical. I guess she’s some kind of undiscovered genius. In five years, she’s going to find a cure for AIDS. Well, she would have if you hadn’t killed her.”
“What are you talking about?” This is too much. “I didn’t kill her!” As I speak, I watch Amy age into her nineties or even one-hundred. Her skin cracks and I see one of her fingernails fall into her drink. The cowboy by her side, who seemed fine a minute ago, now wears the sagging skin of a dying Basset hound.
“You have AIDS, Ricky Peterson,” she rasps while standing. “Why do you think you’ve been ill lately?”
Smiling nervously, I get the schtick. “Oh, okay. This is some kind of mentalism-spook show here. You really had me going,” I say, edging away. “You ought to take this on the road.”
Amy grinned at him, a tooth falling out of her wilting face and rattling onto the bar. Her eyes, dancing in the light of youth not a half hour before, were now milky and blind.
I back toward the door as she speaks, her skin falling away in filthy, decayed rags. “In fact you will kill dozens because for the last two years, during the most sexual time of your life, you have been spreading this disease.”
A jolt of 200-proof panic and my wise-guy image is gone. I crack. Running back to the door, I fumble for the exit. Realizing it had changed to a realistic mural on a solid cement wall, I slump in disbelief.
I turn and suddenly see living, glistening eyes in Amy’s dead skull. “And those dozens you will kill will also kill others, unaware of their condition. The numbers will keep doubling as they infect more innocents.”
I look to the bartender for help but he is now only a heap of a darkly webbed substance. Frantically searching the room, I see an emaciated woman eating the guts out of a reclining Officer Dale who is unconcerned; as if he is pondering his next dominoes move.
The cowboy is standing aside with the meat of his body dropping away, splattering onto the floor in slimy chunks. Now a near-skeletal form, he says, “Time for his walk, Amy.” He snatches my arm above the elbow.
I try to scream at his cold, wet touch but could only expel a squeaky chirp. Amy’s peeled cadaver quickly moves forward. I try to kick at them, but it is like punching marble statues. In a blink, Amy grabs my other arm.
They drag me toward the far end of the building. Toward an inky howling nothingness. Loose paper flies by into the suction of the icy void. I screech and bawl until my face is a sheet of bubbling snot but they only join in clattering laughter. As they pull me screaming to my fate they stop and briefly point me toward something on the wall.
A plaque inscribed “Ricky Peterson” and today’s date. Attached to its edge hanging sideways is a photograph of Twila Somers, smiling with life’s promise.
Michael Wolf was conceived in the 1960s during a heated game of Twister. In the fourth grade, when other children were enjoying The Hardy Boys or Pipi Longstockings, Michael was reading The Collected Works of Edgar Allen Poe. He spent all of his free time and money at theaters being scared out of his mind watching Count Yorga the Vampire, The Crimson Executioner, The Conqueror Worm and every other Hammer Films monster production possible.
Eventually he became a rock-n-roll guitarist, an Air Force computer technician, comic book letterer, and then a syndicated cartoonist. Returning to his roots, he is now a horror and humor writer, although some people say he achieved his scariest and most bone-chilling efforts when he attempted to sing in his band.
Though his work has appeared in scores of publications in both fiction and non-fiction from The Washington Post to Rip-Off Press, the horror genre is where he finds his home. Michael currently resides in Richland, Washington where he lives in fear of vampires, existing on Pez and hot dog water.