The Ghosts of Mystic River
by Dan A Cardoza
Whoever said the undead have no sense of humor or capacity for good irony has been refuted by history, including the terminally rugged who resides at Stinking Point Cape. Stinking Point Cape cradles a slice of the Atlantic Ocean as it ebbs and flows its legacy of death and destruction. It’s here, the Atlantic Ocean insists on lapping its salty, dark tongue at the bone dry beaches of the states Maryland and Virginia. Stinking Point was given its putrefying moniker because of all the bloody bodies that washed ashore during the Civil War.
In our new age underworld, we all share an uneasy community, a community given the name Metamorphosis. As uneasy inhabitants, we refer to it as murgatory, a place neither heaven nor hell. Down here, we dwell as ghostly hunter and prey.
Of course, it’s a very complicated world that we live in. Here, those of us that have been murdered live amongst unsuspecting perpetrators, as well as well known cold blooded killers. We victims are encouraged to bond with the controlling husbands that have lost all semblances of empathy. We are rewarded for break breading with distraught lovers, the ones whose heartache has caused them to poison their men. Hanging out with the children, and teens who have killed because of displaced anger and fear is eerily common.
In appearance, we exist as we did in our previous lives and age nicely along an intended lifeline of sorts. You might say our world is a parallel universe, but in truth it isn’t. Our existence is due to a grandiose experiment, a powerful hypothesis, centuries away from yielding any tangible results.
Our ghostly undertow of consciousness is non-denominational, a purgatory watched over by dark angels of loving grace, and a self absorbed deity named Luallen. Consider us as undead, hyaline entities that have been released onto some mammoth stage of a petrel dish by a mad, celestial scientist. Like most Gods, ours has peccadilloes and asperities, hers simply grander.
Once you’ve been removed from among the living, entrance into murgatory requires that you are a victim of murder, or the perpetrator of a murder. It’s that simple. Death by natural cause has no place here. She is in charge of all things redemption.
Victims can visit their first world, but only in the form of an apparition, mostly to escape the underworlds oppressive environment. The haunted are encouraged to affect change up there, if we can. Though there are limits, our capabilities are deep and broad.
Seeking revenge is common, but frowned upon in our underworld of atonement. However, tales of payback are common themes of those that return for good. Themes we hear about too often, even when getting even is supported by lofty pitchfork piles of reasoning.
She is nothing if not about making things better.
Most of the time, our underbelly universe is chock full of bat-crazy wonder. On rare occasion, the haunted return for good and lose all ghosting privileges. Most of the time, it’s because they were vengeful, killed someone. The few that have done this swear it was worth it. Most were eventually sent off to the Nothingness.
So it begs the question, why aren’t serial killers and repeat offenders allowed to remain on earth? I give you Charlie Manson and Adolf Hitler. Remember, how I explained that She doesn’t command much control up there. It’s no surprise, there are times, She has to barter, debts paid, debts owed.
Once She has officially assigned each and every murderer to their atonement regimen, the community of murgatory becomes their official incarceration, absent the clumsy steel doors. Over time, if they demonstrate themselves to be the true monsters they really are, then She can choose to displace them the level of Nothingness. All of the killers that reside in Metamorphosis are destined to live a virtual Ground Hog’s Day in perpetuity. She uses the replays to create reform or if too much resistance, insanity. She has determined that because they hate themselves so much, part of their treatment includes a healthy dose of keeping their own company. Ironically in murgatory, there is no murder. It’s never authorized or allowed by the master, Luallen.
Everywhere and I mean everywhere, the walls are eyes. The exception is the prior earth above. Up there, Luallen commands only moderate authority and influence.
What’s cool, in our community, is that you never age. You stay just as you were above. The whole concept is quite elementary in nature, don’t you agree? Oh, by the way, it’s my understanding that not one single murderer down here has completed atonement, or have been forgiven by She.
Rumor has it, she allowed someone to question her once. God, “What is the point then?” Not pausing, she replied, “It’s none of your damned business.”
In the rearview, Cory can barely make out the high cheekbones, the elephant trunk neck, and thorny Java man brow. It’s pouring liquid obsidian outside.
Uncle Palmer appears in his blind-spot, on the passenger side, next to the glassy darkness. He’s staring through the sheen, to his right, casually, bidding his time. Cory is relieved once he realizes it’s only his uncle’s facial outline, sketched in electricity by the receding lightning strike. In the sizzle of a second bolt, there’s a flint and fire back there. Palmer’s window has short-circuited and emptied. It’s been purified in sheets of aquamarine, as viscous as anti-freeze.
Cory, a junior at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, counts the mile markers as if their anorexic headstones. Based on his streaking calculus, his toughest subject, Cory has a daunting 79 miles to go.
He goes by Cory now. His father had called him Cordite, then Cord, and finally Cory, which eventually stuck. The word Cordite refers to a smokeless explosive made from nitrocellulose, nitroglycerine, and petroleum jelly, used in ammunition. The insides of Cordite were twisted at birth, not unlike an inverted cyclone. For the rest of his life he’d be stormy weather.
It wasn’t easy living as an anatomical punching bag for his Uncle Palmer. The truth is, the deeper cuts were from all the psychological abuse, they’re nearly impossible to scab over and scar. His Uncle Palmer, step-kin, had been nothing but trouble, a failed abortion.
Cory lost both parents to a tragic threesome with Crystal Meth. That’s when it fell on Aunt Melissa to finish rearing him. He was only thirteen when he moved in the two story clapboard down on the waterfront.
Having no children of their own, Uncle Palmer had assigned Cory a seat in the front row, up close and personal. So close, he’d sit inside his Uncle Palmer’s glare and reach.
Up front, Cory became a pawn in an elaborate dark sideshow. He was a captive audience for the sociopathic maestro. Somehow, over time, everything Palmer couldn’t have was Cory’s fault. No one questioned the circus barker at first, his authority, or how he ran his sideshows. In Palmer’s big tent, Cory witnessed the most evil of acts and violence, debauchery, as well as pedestrian mayhem. To know Palmer was to wear damp scabs. He was a bi-polar Tasmanian devil. While performing his high-wire balancing act, Uncle Palmer would teeter and totter, while juggling his tortured highs and lows.
Aunt Melissa had accepted Cory’s offer to ensure their survival. He’d create a recipe or tincture using his high school Elements and Periodic Table. His warlock brew called for sweet southern tea, drips of Southern Comfort and Ethylene Glycol. According to the coroner of the City of Boston, based on his autopsy report, Palmer had died from complications of Hepatitis-C, ostensibly from his pension for low-brow, jail-house neck tattoos.
And just like that, before Cory completed high school, Uncle Palmer had boarded up the doors of the new family horror show. He’d turned into a one man magic act and disappearing in a puff of smoke. Aunt Melissa and Cory celebrated using some of his three million dollar life insurance payout, with a trip to New York City and Coney Island, the place where real conjuring and magic is made.
Immediately after Cory determined the back seat of his Accord was empty, the imp in the folds of his brain forced him to bring on a sardonic smile. The wind, he could feel the wind again as it resisted the front of the car. Relieved, he fixed his gaze again at the glistening, sutured yellows in the middle of the pavement before him. The road was famished as it swallowed up the fuel-injected Honda. There were few cars that evening.
Apparently, he can’t see me? I’m sitting directly behind him. But he can feel me, so he turns up the heather, there’s a damp, swampy chill inside now. I was Cory’s friend.
Cory can almost taste his aunts hot cross buns, pasted with organic ghee, and her fresh from the oven, goose-pimpled turkey breast. Aunt Melissa’s Thanksgiving supper had become a culinary wonder over the years. Thanksgiving was the only time of year Cory was grateful.
I’m never invited, but I always attend unannounced and imperceptible. It’s an annual ritual for those two. It’s their annual bonding, a way to reassure one another, that if one of them ever gets caught, the other won’t turn around and make a deal with the prosecutors. After all, they are family, all they will ever have in the world, if you exclude a shit-load of money.
Skittering over the slippery stitched yellows once more, in a panic, Cory turns thirteen again. He’d wanted whiskers and a Fu Manchu stash in the worse way. He couldn’t wait until he’d crashed into manhood. That day he’d shaved his face raw and bloody from effort. He’d been told by one of his punk friends at school, “The more you do it, the more it grows.” Droplets of fresh blood spattered the bathroom floor, the black and white bakery French tile.
In a panic, young Cory had attempted his own first aid, by reaching for a fresh wash cloth in the linen closet. Applying pressure would do the trick he thought. In the process, and haste, he’d slipped and fell. He’d become a macabre sleigh in the sticky resin. Next thing you know, Cory’s momentum slid him like a toboggan clear out into the sunlit hallway, where he finally settled. He lay on his back, frozen, on the new beige carpet. The gushing blood stained the rug and his meticulously ironed white Sunday shirt. Worse, he’d be terribly late.
Before he’d thought about getting up, his Mother had yanked him to his feet, lobster clawing his right elbow and upper arm. Next, she marched him out through the living room, shoving him through the doorway. As he attempted a balancing act down the length of the icy front door steps to the sidewalk, Cory had fallen into the soot stained snow. After he’d gotten to his feet and regained his bearings, in frenzy, Cory jogged all the way to Sunday mass.
At church, Cory had knelt and cinched his knuckles in prayer, making a bloody fist under his hamburger raw chin. In the midst of all the sinning and worship, and the not so muffled guffaws, Cory had opened the entrance door tent flaps to his own personal circus, welcoming any and all to join in the stick poking fun. Then he prayed that each petitioner’s head would explode in a bright red mist. He had prayed that Jesus had never escaped from his cave.
A few of his prayers had been unanswered. It wasn’t but a few short weeks after Mass that Cory’s mother overdosed. Six months later he’d moved in with Palmer and Aunt Melissa.
Invisible Sumo wrestlers shoved Cory’s Accord side to side, as he attempted to gain control. The steering wheel developed a mind of its own, spontaneously jerking right and then left.
In the swampy stench of darkness, Cory’s mother viciously tugged and jerked at his right elbow again. In an instant, Cory had been taken back to the crazy childhood bathroom, and the freakish accident. He recalled how his mother had wrenched him to his feet, up from the blood stained hallway carpet. In the orange glow of the dashboard lights, he could see her face next to his, smell the feted breath of a meth addict, the rotting teeth. Instead of eyes and nostrils, there were droplets and swirls of writhing maggots. Her mouth and voice had been stitched together with filthy butcher floor twine, each yellow stitch an infection.
And then, the deluge and another fire bolt from above. As the charring lightning ebbed, Cory’s mother vanished. He felt sad that he couldn’t remember her real face, yet thrilled that she was gone for good. Once again Cory was alone, with the exception of his painful elbow. He struggled to keep himself moving forward. There were only 37 miles to go.
Cory clutched his chest, he couldn’t believe how his heart was racing, hell he’d read the best of King and Oyeyemi, and didn’t break a sweat.
It reminded Cory how he’d loved a good scare now and then. But tonight, his fear was palatable, mercurial, and deliciously contagious.
As if an explosion was building inside his chest, from all the pain and guilt, Cory attempted to distract himself by powering his seat forward. In his discomfort and misery, I thanked him under my breath for the extra leg room.
In the betrayal that was Cory’s life, he thought it ironic that there weren’t more passengers on this bone cold November evening. He manically cursed at no one, “If I’m going to party, bring on all the God-damned skeletons.” Patiently observing his struggles, and now with the twisting steering wheel, and all the weather, I silently watched as all the dead things in his life demanded to enter.
Cory couldn’t stand the freezing cold and blazing heat that melted and burned in his head, because of his anxiety, he powered the driver’s window down. He began to feel a little crazy not being alone. He pounded the side view mirror with a fist, for whatever image it held and shattered. After, he shook his bloody knuckles up at the sky, “bring it,” he shouted, spewing a bloody mist through his red stained teeth. In all the excitement, Corry had bitten his lower lip.
Outside, raindrops flattened and slanted his way as if they’d been turned into Lilliputian guillotines.
As the ache of the storm shook the rafters, Aunt Melissa re-arranged the formal place settings on the long, mahogany dining room table. Oh, how she loved her some Brahm, especially the classically haunted lullabies. She wasn’t sure why the music made her feel so emotional. Perhaps it was from the Mephistophelian memories it evoked, the melody, or the icy ivory sound of the piano keys that created her calmness. Or maybe, it was from all the white noise it kept at bay, along with the low decibel vocabulary of all the pasts’ demons.
Piano Concerto Number 2 was her favorite, with the assemblage of Stradivarius violins fluttering their hyaline wings off. It reminded her of when Cory was very young, in the basement, during the trapping season. The time frame was between mid-octobers through February. How could she ever forget the excitement, watching Cory torture all the Monarch Butterflies in his smothering jar?
From some invisible step, half way down the stairwell, she had spied. Somehow the frenzy of the beautifully cloaked insects was exhilarating.
His auntie was wrong, but she’d felt somehow she understood his dark art. Cory knew his aunt Mellissa had been peering. Somehow, he knew I was watching too.
Cory envisioned his aunt, an Antheraea Polyphemus moth, trapped in one of his crystal funeral vases, in the shimmering reflections in the semi-transparent, butchered wings. Cory imagined his aunt a wingless wriggling at the bottom of his jar, imprisoned larva.
Aunt Melissa woke precisely at 3:00 A.M. Her face was planted in the banana squash on the baroque dinner plate. She sat straight up without wiping her face. Momentarily, she remained seated at the formal table. Brahm insisted looping in her Bluetooth speaker, up high on the redwood mantle. Wi-Fi veins in her neck pulsed signal of fear and agitation. After more than a full minute, she pushed herself upright off the table. She became a frigid and stoic Cossack soldier. She reached for Cory’s plate and marched the poisoned Horderves over to the trash and disposed of them. She set the smudged dish in the sink and rinsed it off.
Sensing that something had changed out there, and in her, and the weakling storm, she dismissed herself to the darkening salve of her bedroom suite. From somewhere very tired inside, somehow she’d known the special holiday would never be the same.
Hi, it’s time I introduce myself, I’m Bobby. Of course, it was a coincidence Cory died on my birthday. I’ll let you in on a little secret? I’ve rarely been in Cory’s thoughts. When you are a ghost, you get to know these things. Cory had a lot of passengers last night. A whole family of apparitions to entertain, and of course, that oppressive guilty conscience he had to lug about. Something had to give is the way I see it, for both of us.
It’s been fifteen-odd years since my bloody fall from the cliff top at the Nineteenth Century Rocklin quarry. I was a senior in high school way back then. My autopsy said “Death from drowning.”
Over the years, I’ve convinced myself it was an accident. But bad memories can often take on a life of their own. Eventually, you are forced to let them in. I was pushed to my death.
Why all the fuss now, after all these years? Well, betrayal is a powerful emotion first of all, that and too much time on your hands gets pretty damned monotones. Eventually, my thoughts took on a life all their own, at least the darker ones. Without exception, the vengeful memories demanded action. Otherwise, they were going to break in the doors of my skull.
Cory’s car was discovered, upside down and empty, not far from a slippery curve, at the bottom of the beautiful Mystic River, just outside of Boston. In Van Morrison’s, Into the Mystic River, the one soaked in the melody of revenge. I can hear Van singing now, and someone playing that soulful saxophone, oh my.
Over the years, Cory’s accident has weaved itself into the rich fabric of Suffolk County folklore, a real who-done-it patchwork quilt. The mystery of Cory’s death, “too complicated or too simple to solve,” they say. If Cory knew he’d become a legend, he would’ve found it pleasingly sardonic, possible an exciting reason to stick around? But Cory had little say in the matter, I know so much about him.
What I’ve learned, since he passed, is that the key to a long life is to never withhold secrets, especially from you. That’s part of my mantra these days, and that you, can only forgive yourself.
Somehow, mythology is more closely related to the truth than spoken lies. If someone or something takes your life, you will live forever, at least in some form or capacity. If you take a life, all you get is eternal darkness. Either way, you don’t have a choice, really, that’s what makes this crazy thing we call life so interesting.
Each summer, around campfires from just outside of Boston, through Medford and up to Winchester, along the banks of the beautiful Mystic River, young campers trade stories.
Some of the youth claim Cory died of a heart attack, somewhere deep in the frozen countryside. Other’s claim he’d ended up in Boston Harbor, and eventually out to Mother Ocean.
Elisa loves her ending the most. The one in which Cory’s bowels were removed, with the precision of an Edward Scissor Hand’s on steroids.
But of course, Jimmy is absolutely certain, “An unrecognizable body was in the trunk of the car. His throat was stuffed like sausage casings, full of worms, moss, and quarry mud.”
All the stories, of course are true. And all of them will draw in the vulnerable campers, each warm summer and all the summers to follow.
Now that I’ve been assigned back to Metamorphosis for good, you might ask, why was Cory allowed to remain on earth after he killed his Uncle Palmer? Well, let’s just say that there is a little nepotism down here in regard to our dark mother. Truth is, Cory was Her immaculate conception.
Y’all have to excuse me now. I’m being summoned.