The Screaming Closet
A Story by Ralph Pitre 9/19/2017
Still you seek where the light is not, patience, for in time I will reach out from the darkest and show you the horrors of the cosmos…
Love as an element of horror, lives unknown until the knife stabs from behind…
Elsa, a Spanish name.
In Spanish the meaning of the name Elsa is:
Elsa walked the length of the hall, her steps small and gentle befitting a woman of her advanced age and still the floorboards creaked underfoot as if from a great weight on the worn yellow and red linear patterned carpet.
Reaching the far end where the wall ran perpendicular to the hall, the doors of two side by side guest rooms were left ajar. Elsa looked into the room on the right where a very tall, very pale man, bluish almost, was in the middle of fitting the sheets tightly around the mattress. He stopped as he felt the weight of her look; nodding to her and she to him. From the left hand room, room number 508, Coltrane’s “Offering” called to her, crying it’s melodic tenor from scratched vinyl on a turntable beside the bed.
The room was empty but for the muffled sound of the strong wind outside. Elsa stepped in to scan the whole room taking note of the empty wheelchair diagonally across the room by the closet door. Walking across the room to the window with the curtain partially drawn, she looked out. She could see the tree struggling against the fierce wind and rain as it grew with each body writhing, rising from the ground along its ancient skin, thunder and lightning drawing them forth.
Elsa closed the curtain and turned back to see the tall bluish man staring at her from the entry door. She looked at the wheel chair to which she crossed the room to stand at the closet door where she could hear a faint sobbing yet distant, that quickly became a frantic cry then a terrible shriek then died, to become sobbing again and then silence. Resting her head against the door, her initial expression of concern became one of endearment… she waited a moment, exhaled deeply, looking down at the tattoo drawn across the pale underside of her wrist, two forearms clutched by two hands…so little time left.
Lightning cracks the jet black sky…shattering the pane, setting the soul aflame and the world burns, fueling the fire….
The Clover Grill, a dive bar & restaurant, loud and packed with locals, No’la scored a table by the window for herself, Mat and Davida, her camera crew and associate producers, all their gear piled next to No’la sitting on the broad front window bench; however, she couldn’t score the one thing she had been searching for; answers to the Goodbody Mystery. No’la could offer nothing more than a written review of existing Goodbody myth, now decades old…
The smell of an electrical storm… the smell of wet asphalt filled the air, blowing into the grill every time the door opened at the Clover Grill & Bar, on a corner two blocks off the tourist strip out by where the locals lived, it’s old brick and worn woodwork kept its charm while guests enjoyed food, drink, company and an old record player with a shelf stacked with vinyl, new and old, jazz, stomp and zydeco of this small popular eatery on the edge of town…
No’la had eaten very little of her plate of red beans and rice letting it become lumpy paste that she randomly reconfigured with her fork…the hickory coffee, served in a demitasse was still hot enough to allow bubbles to dance randomly building a tiny sculpture from which nothing could be gleaned.
Lost and numb the lack of accomplishment that had become an unwelcome friend for life, reminded her of the day her father was arrested. No’la recalled what she perceived as a happy life in those days when her father never shunned her when he came home from work and she would jump on his lap and ask about the tattoo on his arm under his short sleeve above the elbow; a black & white drawing, a thick chain winding around his back, where a golden ankh hung to end in a hole drawn around his vaccination mark.
No”la was a good investigative journalist at the time her father was arrested. She had been looking into reports that several precincts colluded together to extort money from local businesses and move drugs when eventually it all led to a series of arrests that included her father. A bad cop, perpetuating a family belief that you’re never good enough; it wasn’t enough to be poor, but to have a thug cop for a father….
She was pulled off the story. No’la wasn’t guilty she just knew someone who was and that was enough…
Davida stared at No’la as she grabbed her phone and left the table… I’ll be right back she said…Damn him…No’la had been waiting for his call..Clyph, their boss, their lousy producer in NYC, a hard ass exploiting No’la’s talents and her weaknesses cause all he had was weakness.
Davida had met No’la several years ago soon after No’la had graduated from school… Davida had found herself with no real focus on her studies and the career she announced to family she would pursue… but there she was lost among a throng of pursuer, all running from what they perceived as commitments to their life choices…the shining light crossing the field with a focus on her goals was No’la, who seems to know what she wanted and how to pursue it…
And there was Mat, his mother named him Matador…Born in the bayou as much a modern child slave as could be, he escaped without ever reporting the kidnapping, the abuse and raised himself, hit the military hard then exposed himself to a world documenting the madness… Mat was their warrior, clearly aware of No’la’s issues and No’la and Davida as a loving but estranged couple, Mat kept the trio strong and in gear. With him, once he knew their goal he was their guide, their bodyguard and the only rock steady focus they could trust. Mat spoke little of his past; special task tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. In his stories, and there were many, bits of those tours laced the other stories, constant chatter about so much paranormal that he had taken to heart after losing the stability he thought he had as a warrior. Ghosts, monsters, aliens and all things paranormal gave his life purpose, purpose he lost.
Getting up from the table, away from the noise and the music stomping from the old turntable spinning from an upper shelf behind the bar, No’la walked outside the Clover Grill and stood beside the door, under the recessed canopy avoiding the rain. Phone cradled to speak into she spoke “Hey, what’s up? Clyph…” and the rain had finally started after all its blustering threats, it was a light rain, a drizzle really, normal for this time of year if it stayed light, which it wouldn’t if the angry sky above had anything to say about it…
“No nothing yet”…she told him
“We’re getting something to eat now and still no hotel yet…we’ve called all over…. And now this storm is approaching…”
Skin glistened from sweat and rain, a small protest march started to swell outside of the Clover Grill… Police and mob presence swarmed to bloody each other good, faces broken, blood splattered with a hit of the police club, the crash of a Colt 45 people watched, flooding the street craning their heads from inside the Clover to see what little they could…
The violence swarmed like red rain spilt…black and white bodies flailing, the violence, torrential blood and rain splattered the asphalt black…a black protester stepped from the mass and alone confronted a cop accusing him of killing his brother…
“I can’t talk now Clyph it’s getting violent out here…the march that’s turning into a riot…It’s okay, no nothing at all on this Mr Goodbody, and nothing yet on May…she’s the only victim anybody knows about… no one knew where she went after leaving the hospital…and she’s the mystery, her talk about Mr. Goodbody who seems to have imprisoned her, perhaps tortured her and why she went back to him…it is a mystery, you talk to people who deny it’s importance but it’s obvious they have knowledge and are reluctant to talk about it.”
Listening to Clyph as he spoke…overwhelming frustration…
“It’s been awhile there aren’t many left who know the story, I interviewed who I could, no the lead detective is dead, I spoke with his partner…the partner was a woman who disappeared, maybe…”
“Okay, okay fine I’ll get you an updated file when we’re out of here.”
A black man, over-dressed tatters of rags and clothes, stood aside of the march beside an overflowing garbage container preaching his brand.. looking at the throng, tears filled his eyes…the anger he could see on them, in their hearts, had gone the violence spent…
Mat steps out to stand beside No’la, as if being there would protect her from the protest that hit close to home, prompted action from him but No’la stops him, Mat no…He glared across at the cops holding a protester down on his knees…the anger throbbing fuel on fire, coursing through him until it burst. The cop feeling Mat’s glare, smiles and throws a vicious punch at the protester…Mat looked to No’la, you okay? Yeah let’s get inside…he said.
Just then the angry cop reared back holding the club, and swung…burst…and there was more…
Life is not without the comfort of pain…No’la once said in her sleep…she couldn’t recall any dream or nightmare and Davida could never tell if it was No’la actually saying those words Do you think anybody will ever understand you, No’la was once asked?
Why should they?
No’la preferred being alone, no Mat how lonely she might feel or how much she loved another, her world was solely her own and she preferred it that way, alone… relationships were invasive, a distraction. Once, at a channel party formal dinner to pitching ideas for television shows, in front of hundreds of other guests during a brutal argument, No’la called relationships cancerous, malignant viral entities that clouded one’s thoughts, stopped the heart. Everyone thought she was pitching a show and gave her a standing ovation as she walked out of the ballroom.
Davida, No’la’s best friend and lover, her co-producer and an uber-exuberant No’la supporter since their days at The News Agency was so enamored by her, she was the guardian angel in No’la’s life. Always there, she became as alone and isolated as No’la. Without doubt, Davida believed No’la would come back from her self imposed exile, from life as a significant writing talent to currently making what she called pornographic documentaries about the paranormal. No’la became obsessed with the stories, the research, the culture of believers in all things out of this world who seemed as alone as No’la, strung out on isolation she both loved and hated…
And it burned, No’la could smell it, as always, something burning that she couldn’t identify, always there… burning.
Twenty years ago…
One would hope the hate she had for her father would have died with him, but that hate was greater as a result of what he took from her, something of hers died and she didn’t know what, a lost soul in a cemetery, blank headstones everywhere and nowhere an answer…
Father was mother’s god. Beyond love her dreams saw divinity in him and like him she believed he had been possessed by demons she fought. Both broken one shattered completely. Never finding fault in themselves they believed father’s troubles was the work of demons and their belief in God was overwhelming. The demons worked overtime on father until the day he died. Mother was terrified of suicide because it was a sin instead she chose a long and drawn out method of penance suicide… it was a Mater of time after finding a job in a place doing work where death was inevitable…and it worked.
In all of this, No’la had been left alone never part of the family, part of their madness, no one seemed to care. She watched as Mother fought their demons and father submitted… she could never understand their logic and never knew if dying by their own hand or at the hands of others was victory or defeat. Either way, those same demons seemed to follow her after they were done with father..
No’la’s father would eventually put a gun in his mouth, waiting for a police escort to join the guards who lived in the apartment with them he held a cup of coffee he fired the shot seconds after taking a large gulp…as if thrown from a bucket the blood splattered across the wall mixing with the less viscous coffee, draping a slow black and red curtain…
Over the years the Goodbody Mystery passed from real life mystery to paranormal myth; is there a difference? The archives relate the following: in 1977 an unidentified woman was found roaming the streets by a 12 year old boy who said that she was looking for a place she escaped from but wanted to go back to, that didn’t make any sense but… “I’m trying to find Mr. Goodbody, he’s in a red house, can you help me find him?” Who was Mr. Goodbody? No one ever found out. Naked and wet in the city’s perennial rain storms in a desperate search for Mr Goodbody, she spoke of the big red house, with a water pump in the yard and a “screaming” closet somewhere inside the house. Tim, the 12 year old boy who found her didn’t understand and convinced her to stay where she was, out of the rain at a bus shelter while he went to find police. The police had taken the woman to the hospital where she was treated for exposure, a variety of still broken and badly set bones, bruises, festering wounds and so on… She was kept under observation by a psychologist who used a hypnotist, a blind hypnotist, go figure, to discover that her name was May, born locally in 1952, she was kept inside of a room with several other women in various states of tortured existence when she escaped by slipping into what she called the death bin with two other bodies and did so before Mr Goodbody could catch her. It was apparent that she had been kidnapped, held prisoner and tortured, with other girls some still alive and some dead..the name Goodbody wasn’t much to go on and ultimately she really didn’t know where she was kept.
“This guy often thought of killing himself I would too if I believed I was possessed for over 20 years…”
Davida and Mat sat across from No’la, Mat reading out loud from a pulp conspiracy magazine called The Truth, Deal With It! Davida barely listened to Mat’s revelations instead she nursed her cup of coffee deep in thought about No’la and her persistent issues…
“Yeah, over 20 years.”
“What are you guys talking about?”
“Mat found a story about a guy possessed by a demon for 20 years…”
“He’s been possessed by a demon for…?”
“It’s not a demon, I never said demon.”
Mandy their storytelling waitress approached the table with a fresh pour of coffee listened and wondered.
“Mandy, have you ever heard of the Goodbody Mystery?”
“You talking about that girl who was found walking the streets here in the rain, somewhere ’bout here in this neighborhood I think…”
“Yes it was…”
“Not really…word was she up and took off, disappeared.”
“I saw your video equipment…you doing a TV show about it…”
“Just a segment… a piece…”
“I think the whole thing was a hoax anyway, not really a big deal that I know of.”
Mandy rushed off.
“Well, but then he does call it a demon later on in the article but a benign demon.”
“What the hell is a benign demon, a demon without horns?”
“I don’t know, that’s what the report says…”
“Well he’s accepted the possession for 20 years…”
“Well that sounds dumb and boring.”
“I think it deserves some consideration. Not everything we cover has to be scary paranormal.”
“Well it’s no fun if it’s not scary. Anyway, this is wasting time and we need to find a place to sleep tonight…”
Outside, the storm was growing and still a number of people were out despite the effort by police to clear the crowd, No’la noticed a petite elderly woman standing in among a crowd waiting at the corner and staring at No’la. The light changed and the crowd rushed to cross the street as the elderly woman entered the Clover Grill. No’la noticed a barely visible tattoo on the woman’s arm, peeking out from the sleeve of her jacket as she passed their table, she raised her arm to close the umbrella. No’la looked in through the window to spy Davida and motioned toward the old lady then followed her into the Clover. The elderly tattooed woman walked straight back to the far end of the bar.
No’la rushed to sit grabbing her sack she shuffled through some of her papers, finding the right one…just as Mandy walked up from behind her
“You done honey?” asked Mandy.
“Yes, I am, except more coffee please actually. Sure, you know if you need a place to stay for tonight that woman who just walked in runs a small place near the hospital just a couple of blocks away, mostly outpatient guests from the hospital nearby, but she might be able to help, her names Elsa. She just walked in and sat at the end of the bar.”
“That little old lady with the tattoo…?”
“Yes…” Mandy rushes off for the coffee pot…
Across and along the length of the bar, through the growing crowd they watched Elsa, wearing a light rain coat over a heavier jacket over a light house dress with a busy floral pattern…seated on a far end bar stool she was happily ordering from a friendly and smiling bartender.
Mandy returned with a coffee pot and…”Yeah…that ain’t no tattoo, ya know not for decoration at least.”
“Then what is it for?”
“Branding, that’s a tattoo you get when you’re, entitled to someone….”
“Branding used to be what a slave owner used when he wanted to mark you as his so that everybody understood….”
“She wasn’t a….”
“No, she’s too young to have been a slave in this country, but she did belong to someone…”
“How do you know?”
“I just know, you hear things…”
And she rushes off again…
No’la couldn’t see the tattoo but she was sure Mandy had one…
“We missing something?”
“Tell me about it.”
A quick sip of hot coffee and No’la was off
“Going to the bathroom…be right back.”
No’la suddenly turned up the flame…the flame Clyph tried to stifle suddenly alight.
Even a few tourists made it this far off the beaten path mingling with the locals at the bar and the tables covered in food and drink. The bathroom, the only bathroom was towards the back hall that led to the kitchen and the back patio. A woman stood in line ahead of her. The turntable pounded out some local Cajun stomp. No’la stood in line behind the woman just behind Elsa. She stared at the bit of tattoo peeking out from under her sleeve, painted on the underside of her arm just above the wrist. She could overhear the conversation she was having with the bartender, the state of business at the hotel, her work with the woman’s health board and how they’re leading the effort to help women in town why the grill sold and advertised to attract tourists but the grill needed the business. No’la wondered if she knew the story of May and the Goodbody mystery.
No’la glances down the bar to see Mandy nod to acknowledge where Elsa is seated
The bartender approached with Elsa’s food order as the bathroom became vacant and No’la lean’s quickly into Elsa calling her May?
“Excuse me?” Annoyed.
“Oh my, I’m so sorry, it’s…”
“Elsa, yes, can I help you…”
No’la was surprised…
The tattoo was…of two arms embracing, wrist over wrist. “I love your tattoo, I noticed it as you entered.”
Embarrassed, Elsa pulls back on her sleeve, trying to hide the tattoo.
“A betrothal tattoo, something i did for my husband long ago when he was alive. Silly at the time but now he’s always sort of with me.”
Two arms embrace, forearm over forearm though one seemed to be pulling, the dominant arm pressing the other and creating shadows where the pressure would be…
“Can I help you with anything?”
“Sorry, my colleagues and I are looking for a place to stay the night and Mandy the waitress mentioned you might be able to help…that you run a hotel or inn nearby?”
“I do, just a couple of blocks from here, you stuck in town?”
“Yes the storm has shut the airport.”
“You call around?”
“I have a couple of rooms,”
“Here’s the address,” she said while writing it on a bar napkin
“Just head on over, it isn’t far from here. I’ll meet you there and so you know, it’s mostly an outpatient hotel serving the hospital across the street.”
“That’s fine, anyplace clean will do…”
“It is…better hurry…bad rains coming.”
Elsa walked off
“Thank you, Elsa.”
Elsa waved back as she left the grill and put her rain hood on…
No’la turned back for the bathroom just as someone else went in. I can hold it and she hurried back to the table.
No’la hustled back to the table….
“Guys, lets go. We have someplace to stay…”
“Awesome, the old lady?”….Mat & Davida, follow No’la out the door…Yeah.
No’la stepped out of the Clover bar, holding the door open as Davida and Mat followed. She looked up to the sky, into the rain, the drops blinding then washing away a vale that revealed a night sky without a star. A sudden instance of vertigo overwhelmed her, drawing her eyes up, into the abyss then letting go, she began to collapse, Mat caught her from behind…held her for moment asking, “Coming?”
Continuing her thought while Mat helped her stand still, “I called her May”…
“I called Elsa, May.”
“The old lady?”
“Slip of the tongue it was…”
“Perhaps…the tattoo, I’d forgotten that May had a tattoo until the moment I noticed Elsa had one as well…the same one in the same place she described…”
“Elsa might be the right age at this point but was it the same tattoo?”
“The description was similar except Elsa’s tattoo was faded…which would make sense…”
They crossed the street looking at the debris the protesters and authorities had left strewn throughout the asphalt, smeared in blood, broken signs…the war fought, the remains of the loser littered the street…
They felt like fish underwater as the rain poured down, heavy and thick to fill the already moist air…they lost sight of Elsa, looking down Dumaine, dark and nothing at first but then there she was, tiny Elsa looking even smaller now that she had walked more than a long block ahead… how did she get that far so fast?…then she turned right around the corner, into a yard?
No’la couldn’t see that any street lamps were on along Dumaine. The homes, dark perhaps empty, shuttered but more likely home to squatters hiding in plain sight…didn’t help to light the darkness to see any life…
No’la turned to look down Dumaine at the well lit streets they were leaving behind. “I think someone’s following us…”
Mat turned, peered into the darkness and yelled to the stranger, a man, alone, dark, homeless, pushing a junk filled shopping cart silhouetted against the street lights… he stopped and called to them.
“Li se prèske tan, tout bèl pouvwa wè ou, vle ou, men se chemen an ou pran ki te ranpli avèk vicieux a, unblessed a, ki pa gen okenn chemen men sa ki w ap atire … jwenn wout ou … pa leur. ..turn tounen … tout bèl pouvwa a wè ou menm ak ou gade lwen, avèg bay verite a …”
To Mat she asked, What’s he saying?
Something like, “It is almost time, glory sees you, wants you, but the path you take is filled with the wanton, the unblessed, who have no path but that which you are attracted to…find your way…not theirs…turn back…the glory sees you and you look away, blind to the truth…”
“On va bien vieux! Merci pour la bénédiction …”Said Mat, walking back on his heels.”
“Ce n’est pas une bénédiction mais un avertissement.”
“Oke di ou mèsi de tout fason … men mwen panse ke nou ka nwaye si anyen.”
No’la pauses in the rain as the others pass and recalls having once heard her father speak similar words on his worst days…but about himself…
The homeless man walked up from behind No’la, lightly grabbing her shoulder to saying something that only she could hear but couldn’t understand…
“Madame, fènwa a ap tann ou, pa pran lòt moun yo … ale pou kont li.”
Mat rushes back to take her away…and she slipped easily from the homeless man’s hand resting on her shoulder.
No’la, Davida and Mat moved on down the block…looking back, No’la suddenly felt great concern, looking for the homeless man who was know gone…
A struggling fatherless family a mother and two children whose gender weren’t apparent cowered, shielded from the torrent under a willow tree just ahead down the block, across the street from an old brick house.
The family stared at No’la and the group as they crossed the street… “This is it, this is where she turned…” she turned to look at every one…
This is the home May described..
No’la stepped sideways, staring at the house May described…a feeling of great accomplishment…she almost stood in the middle of the street, watched by the homeless family and Mat and Davida all enthralled by No’la’s amazement…
“It was the hotel May had escaped from…
“The what?” No’la said.
“French for “The Waiting.”
“Really,” said No’la. “Waiting for what…”
“Below the hotel name it says “L’endroit pour ceux qui attendent, ‘The place for those in waiting.’”
“But, waiting for what?
“Décès,” Mat turned to look at the others, “Death, I suppose…”
No’la slowly circled the house, stepping side by side the mansion, asylum and hotel as it stood now, a place for the infirmed and questionable, waiting…
“Look around the house,” No’la said. “look for the water pump she described, a fire engine red water pump.”
The District Commander had at first come to meet No’la over a drink at the hotel they first staying…”There are many secrets to keep, in my lifetime and this is one of them. I have to be careful, you understand?”
“Yes, I do sir…so there is a story?”
“There’s always a story, the trick is to verify it as more than the myth it has become.”
“I don’t understand, sir.”
“A long time ago, at that time I wasn’t the District Commander, just a captain… I assigned a very good detective to what seemed… a waste of time…” Pausing he looked away, she waited as the pause lengthened….but she waited…”Timothée, a fine detective…would still be if…let me take you to him, I have his permission…
“Ok,” she said.
“I have a car waiting outside…”
It quickly became obvious that the drive, by the Commander himself was longer than it had to be, the house kept in mystery…the car finally stopped in front of a small bungalow that had suffered water damage from the floods.
He turned to her seated in the back behind black steel mesh…”Go in, he’s expecting you.”
“Thank you Commander…”
“Be quick, we’re not young men…”
No’la shuffled across the back seat to get out and rushed through the rain, to the door… it was unlocked. The Commander, seated in the front, looked through the rain….
A voice greeted her, “You are No’la?”, as she stood inside the door, “I am.”
“Take the chair beside you,” he said softly, as if he were tired of talking and what was left were weak streams of air. She sat, without a greeting…she could barely see where the detective was seated though she could tell he was across from her hidden in the shadows cast throughout a dark house from weak exterior light.
“… I found May exactly where the boy said she would be a large red brick house with a big yard and a manual water pump in a side yard. I stood out front and felt as if there was someone at a window, watching, but I wasn’t sure.”
“You saw the house?”
“Well that’s where I first found her, right in front. Then I rushed her off to find my car and took her to the hospital. The rest of the team could never find the house, I could never find the house again…”
Across the street from the hotel where Elsa disappeared into, a family watched as No’la and the crew climbed the stoop to the hotel steps.
Of dark and dirty red brick the house was built, windows dark and stained, the art vague from a yellow film of uncleanliness; the roof covered in dirty unkempt black roof shingles gave the old edifice the feel of a tired church. Likewise a wall extended away from the front to surround the property throughout, the house angled uncomfortably suggesting that nothing made sense; something was wrong. The building at odds with the quaint style of the rest of town but for the front doors; French, unwashed stained glass covered in a wrought iron design that extended into the wood frame at the top of the front stone steps rising a few feet above the ground.
Mat looked back across the street at the homeless family who were likewise staring, back across…The mother, weighed down by bags and the weight she carried but more so grief evident on her face…three children surrounding her holding their own beside her, wanting both her strength and protect her.
Mat approached the brick wall from one side of the stoop that hid the back and side of the building. Balancing himself along a wrought iron runner he looked into the dark yard, trashed with high grass, branches fallen from trees deep in the waste he could vaguely see a very thick mass, perhaps a tree, quivering in the play of light and shadow…
“Pa ale nan…” mother said while giving the Sign of the Cross… The family watches them enter the house one by one. No’la hesitated a moment then disappear into the house and No’la takes note but still goes…Mat responds to their silent fear, looking back…they watch him walk away with concern, his countenance with the inevitable…