Month: October 2014

This is an image of a graveyard with a blue tint.

Hold Your Breath

Old Lady Dour was reputedly known as a poor, begging recluse who only appeared at nighttime, and even then only when the moon was out. Whenever she made her rare ingressions, she donned an outfit of tattered and torn black clothing. Her eyes were a cool, stone gray…an icy silver that flickered in the moonlight…

“…and I’m telling you,” Dougie bravely affronted as he and April approached the cemetery gate, “I bet I can sit on her grave for half an hour and not run away.”

“Just make sure you hold your breath when you do,” April meekly reminded him, “so you don’t take her with you.” She was alluding to the belief that if one breathes while nearby a freshly dug and recently occupied grave, one could accidentally inhale a restless spirit that hadn’t yet accepted death.

On this night, Dougie was there at the city graveyard to challenge that superstition as well as show April how brave he was; what better way for Dougie to prove himself to April than to fight off any evil spirits that would try to possess him.

Dougie took the first step inside the hallowed space, but April wouldn’t move. Dougie then reached back and offered her his hand. She hesitated for a brief moment, and then at last reciprocated his grip. To him, her hand was soft and warm, and he felt lucky enough to catch her eyes at the same time her eyes caught his. She then joined Dougie inside, and the couple set off into the night.

The cemetery looked sullen enough. Old and new headstones for the dead glistened in the moon’s pallid hue. Dougie felt a reverent fear as the two of them tepidly trod over granite and grass. Autumn’s leaves crunched underfoot as the two made their way through the nocturnal necropolis to find Old Lady Dour’s grave – wherever it was.

“Do you even know what her headstone looks like?” April asked.

“Not really,” Dougie honestly replied. “I’m surprised she even had enough money for a real headstone.”

They looked and looked, but they found nothing. Neither one of them thought to bring a flashlight, and even with the moon giving all the light it could, it was still hard reading the names on all the different grave markers.

After half an hour or so of bending over at the right angle only to find the wrong names, they agreed that they needed a break. Dougie found an old, smooth tree stump and laid his jacket on it for April to sit, and she gladly accepted his chivalrous gesture.

Dougie stepped back to give April her space, and it was then when he realized that the earth around the stump was really soft, as if it had been freshly dug. A tremor in his blood began to race through him. He slowly crept around to the other side of the stump and froze as he saw the name DOUR carved into the bark.

He couldn’t blink as he then saw the apparition of Old Lady Dour herself hovering over April, her lithium eyes piercing the black shrouds that fluttered around her. April then, too, realized that the stump on which she was sitting was the “headstone” they had been looking for.

“Hold your breath,” Dougie managed to mutter before following his own advice. The ghost remained over April and the tree stump as Dougie’s cheeks inflated with the expired breath that desperately needed to release and replenish itself. He felt a heaviness on his chest, and he began losing his focus on reality as he thought he saw the spirit get ever closer to April…

…then Dougie fainted to the ground.

He woke up a few minutes later, still a little dizzy from holding his breath for that long. Still on the ground, he quickly patted himself all around to make sure nothing about him had changed. Dougie then let out a sigh of relief; he hadn’t been possessed.

Wanting to leave, he got up and quickly grabbed April’s hand just as she grabbed his before, but he stopped walking and his heart sank when he felt that her hand was no longer soft and warm like it was before; it had turned cold and despondent – even lifeless. He lifted his head to look into April’s eyes only to find that they weren’t April’s eyes anymore; instead, they were a cool, stone gray…an icy silver that flickered in the moonlight…

The Gray Lady

“Dave, are you up there?” Katie called as she opened the front door to the house. The lights in the house were a sharp contrast to the nighttime atmosphere outside.

The couple had bought the house just a few months earlier, and they were still getting acquainted with it and the town. Katie had a day job as a clerk in a dress store on the square, and her husband Dave was a counselor and youth minister at one of the churches in town. She usually came home first, but occasionally he would be in the attic shuffling some boxes around. They had a relatively small amount of items from their previous quarters, but the attic of this new house was so small that it was already almost full with them.

“Yeah, I’ll be down in a second,” a familiar voice from the ceiling replied.

Katie walked into the kitchen and set her things down on the table. She turned around and started walking toward the refrigerator to relieve a day long hunger, but stopped when she heard Dave enter the kitchen. He placed a musty old wooden jewelry box beside her black leather purse.

“Okay,” Dave said. “Open it.”

Katie opened it and found a circular golden locket with the image of a bird engraved on the top and a keyhole on the right side. “Oh, wow,” she said after a few seconds of gazing at it silently. “Where did you get this?”

“I found it in the attic,” Dave answered. “It must have belonged to the lady before us, some widow. She probably lost it and eventually forgot about it.”

“It’s beautiful,” Katie said as she took the locket out of the box and proceeded to fasten the golden chain around her neck.

“I thought you’d like it,” Dave said smoothly.

Suddenly, the lights in the house flickered and then shut off completely, turning everything black. Katie heard footsteps, a drawer open, and then she was blinded by a flashlight.

“Don’t worry,” Dave said, “I’ll go to the garage and check the fuse box.” After he stopped talking, the two both turned to the staircase, where they heard a horrible screeching sound. Dave shined the light at the stairs, and they both gasped as they saw an old lady.

The old lady had messy white hair that settled around her neck. Everything else about her was gray, except her angry eyes, which were more like white circles with little, black dots for pupils. She wore a tattered shawl that came down to where her knees should have been, but she didn’t have any. No knees, no legs, nothing below the frazzled ends of her shawl. She hovered silently still at the bottom of the staircase for a moment, and then she lifted a withered right arm and pointed a decrepit finger at the couple, still in the kitchen.

Dave got in front of Katie, protecting her. “What do you want?”

The spirit slowly moved through the living room, finger still outstretched toward the couple. As it got closer, however, her focus became clearer; she was pointing at Katie, who was now clinging to Dave’s arm.

“Why do you want her?” Dave asked, shaking with nervous apprehension.

The spirit didn’t respond. It moved closer to Katie, and the couple then realized that it was pointing at the locket. Katie quickly handed it to the figure. The woman took it and as soon as the locket touched her hand, she started to transform. Waves of light pulsated from the locket, and starting with the hand, the woman started to radiate a beautiful gold aura. Her decayed finger became healthy, and the health soon took over the arm, the shoulders, the head, and in seconds she was a kind-looking older woman with beautiful black and gray hair flowing in the air. She opened the locket with a key and showed the inside to Katie, who began to cry. After this, the woman vanished and the lights came back on.

“What did she show you?” Dave asked.

“It was a picture,” Katie weakly replied, “of her and her husband.”

This is an image of an outdoor archery range in a wooded area.

Searching for Better Ways: A Reflection on Eugene O’Neill and Hitting the Mark

While working backstage for the Fly Arts Center’s most recent play Daddy’s Dyin’ Who’s Got The Will, I was aptly reminded of how creatively taxing and draining being in a production on either side of the curtain is.

For the actors on stage, they were telling the story by creatively blending the playwright’s words, the director’s blocking instructions, and their own vivifying actions. They were actively listening to and watching each other to ensure everything that needed to be said and done was in fact and indeed said and done. (If anything, this is another image of how engaging live theatre is for the players as well as the audience.) The story on the spectrum of “light” and “dark” spanned all the way from comical levity and lightheartedness to antagonistic gravitas. And it takes a deep well of creativity for an ensemble cast that can constantly vary and navigate its position on that spectrum, especially while maintaining that energy in front of an audience.

I was in a wholly different world backstage. My job wasn’t to entertain and divert the audience; instead, it was my duty to help the actors fulfill that role by providing them the property – simply, the props – with which to continue to tell the story realistically. I had cues just like everyone else, except my reactions to those cues weren’t spoken; instead, my response was handing from a cup of coffee to a full pot roast dinner to an actress so she could “act” like her character has just prepared it as if she were real person bringing these food items from a real kitchen. Very engaging stuff.

We closed the show Sunday. If you got a chance to see the show, I honestly hope you enjoyed yourself. For myself, the cast, and the rest of the crew, we are worn tired and are spending this week in recovery mode.

It’s here that I want to draw attention to the words of one of modern theatre’s founding fathers Eugene O’Neill.

A man’s work is in danger of deteriorating when he thinks he has found the one best formula for doing it. If he thinks that, he is likely to feel that all he needs is merely to go on repeating himself. I certainly haven’t any such delusion. And so long as a person is searching for better ways of doing his work he is fairly safe.

Eugene O’Neill was an Irish American playwright in the Golden Age of Broadway (late 1890’s to late 1930’s) who focused his work on the gritty fringes of society as opposed to the “high life” that the rest of the Golden Agers were highlighting in their plays.

O’Neill’s words here should resonate with Christians on several levels (unfortunately including the brief blip of braggadocio). I want to focus on emboldened phrase “searching for better ways.”

The phrase alludes to a true Standard that we – not just as people in general – will often fall short while trying to meet, even though we hope to meet it with every attempt.

Imagine an archery range. You’ve got the tools you need – simply the bow and the arrow – with you on your side and the target on the other. You know that you at least have to load the arrow in the bow, but from there everything is a technique. employed to hit the bullseye. How far back “should” you pull? How high “should” you tilt your bow? How much “should” I allot my actions for undetermined gusts of wind that may or may not affect my shot?

Finally you shoot, and you either hit the mark or miss the mark. Any more shooting after this point is then determined by either the hitting or the missing. When we miss, we subsequently strive to hit, and when we hit, we subsequently strive to keep hitting. Welcome to being human: the constant struggle between hitting the mark and missing the mark.

So let me encourage you here.

Remember all the times when you have missed the mark. Remember how bad it felt to miss and how guilty you felt for missing it. Bring that to God, and let him carry it.

Now remember all the times when you have hit the mark. Remember how good it felt to hit and how fulfilled you felt for hitting it. Bring that to God, and let him increase it.