Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Monday, December 26, 2016

RESTINGPLACE.COM: Chapter Twelve

Welcome to a preview of my new novel.  Please read the earlier chapters first.

Click here to read Chapter One.
Click here to read Chapter Two.
Click here to read Chapter Three.
Click here to read Chapter Four.
Click here to read Chapter Five.
Click here to read Chapter Six.
Click here to read Chapter Seven.
Click here to read Chapter Eight.
Click here to read Chapter Nine.
Click here to read Chapter Ten.
Click here to read Chapter Eleven.





CHAPTER TWELVE


T H E   H A R B O R



When I stepped outside I found Bob already waiting for me in his Chevrolet Malibu. His wife Barbara drove the ubiquitous mini-van that housed three car seats for the kids.

I think Bob enjoyed our lunches the best. His responsibilities as a father gave him little opportunity to socialize with his old friends in the evenings or on weekends. I rarely went to his home anymore. Not because Barbara didn’t like me, per se. She simply didn’t know what to do with me. After my breakup with Gina, she tried to fix me up with single friends four times to no avail, despite the fact that some of the women were both reasonably attractive and on the hairy edge of desperate. To her, an unmarried man approaching forty posed a threat to the natural order of things. As a result, I only found myself invited to their suburban house for large parties, but not the more intimate gatherings when my third wheel status would be more glaring.

We were only about fifteen minutes away from the Baltimore Inner Harbor, where, in theory, Mike was already getting a table for us at the Cheesecake Factory in Harborplace. Bob was worried because Mike hadn’t returned any calls or messages since about ten in the morning. That didn’t concern me. Mike was a great guy, the comedian of the group, but he was easily distracted. So distracted that I was surprised his fifteen-year marriage to Holly had survived. No woman escaped his notice: Tall, short, fat, skinny, beautiful or ordinary. It didn’t matter. He evaluated them all. What made it all the more absurd was that Mike was the head of human resources at a large corporation. You’d think he would be aware of the rules governing sexual harassment. Still, I don’t think he would ever cheat on Holly. As ladies men went, Mike didn’t rate much higher than me. He was lucky to get Holly and he knew it. 

When we arrived, we found Mike sitting at a table outside overlooking the water just as I expected. He always said he liked going to the Cheesecake Factory because it was close to work for him, but I knew the truth. He liked to sit outside during the summer months and watch the tourists walking along the waterfront promenade in their skimpy summer outfits. Always the horn dog.

Usually our lunches were light affairs, dominated by recounting our nerdy glories in our own coded language of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Everquest references, with occasional nods toward the Coen Brothers’ classics The Big Lebowski and Raising Arizona. We could spend a whole afternoon just riffing on Nicholas Cage films alone. Today, however, was not going to be our typical stress-free gathering. I caught a few worried glances between Bob and Mike. I knew what was up. They were gathering up the courage to tell me the bad news. I decided to let them off the hook.

“Hey, you’re not going to believe this, but Gina’s getting married,” I said matter-of-factly.

They both seemed shocked that I knew. “How’d you find out?” Bob asked.

“She called me yesterday and told me.”

“You guys still talk?” Mike asked.

“Sure, we’re still friends,” I replied, adding a little smile to sell it.

Mike and Bob exchanged a relieved glance. “Man, I thought we’d be breaking the news to you, Ricky,” Bob said.

“She’s all over Facebook showing off her new ring,” Mike added.

“Can I see it?” I asked.

Mike and Bob shared a quick little glance before Mike took out his cellphone and produced the photograph. He handed it to me. The picture was taken in a jewelry store. It wasn’t a selfie. From the angle, it looked like the jeweler took it. Gina and Chuck were standing happily with their arms around each other. Gina was holding up her hand with her big ring in front of herself.

Gina looked great, as usual. The warmth of her smile brought one to my lips. I remembered when I was capable of eliciting a similar response in her. Aware of Bob and Mike’s, I tried not to reveal any unhealthy emotion as I took a look at Chuck. This was the first time I saw a photograph of him. Good-looking guy. He seemed more athletic than me, but I had more hair. That was some consolation I suppose. My eyes drifted down from the photo to the comments. They were squeals of congratulations and delight. I recognized most of the names. I was not surprised to see that my sister Janet was among the chorus. They still talked, too.

I handed the phone back to Mike. “She looks good.”

“Yeah,” Mike said. “I’d do her.”

“Holly might object,” I warned.

“One question,” Bob said.

We both turned to him. “When she called you,” he continued. “Did she ask you for one last quick one?”

“Don’t you mean one last short one?” Mike asked as they both exploded into laughter. Nothing like a small penis joke to break the ice. Guys are guys are guys.

My eyes drifted toward the water. They were drawn past the tourists to an older woman standing at the very edge of the concrete pier. She was turning away from me just as I caught sight of her, but I saw enough of her face to notice her resemblance to my late mother. Even from behind, she looked like her. Same height. Same hair color. Even the dress looked familiar. I was about to comment on her to Bob and Mike, when she suddenly stepped forward and dropped out of sight with a loud splash.

“No!” I shouted as I jumped up from my seat. 

I didn’t say anything to Bob or Mike. I just started running, jumping down from the raised patio of the restaurant through the pedestrians walking along the brick promenade. The tourists all turned to me, startled and confused. I was appalled. Why were they looking at me? Why weren’t they helping that poor woman? I pushed my way through the crowd without hesitation gaining speed with every step. As I neared the edge of the pier, I didn’t see any disturbance in the water but I took a deep gulp of air and dived in anyway.

My eyes were closed when I hit the water. I had my arms fully extended in front of me out of fear I’d hit the bottom since I had no idea how deep the water was. When I opened my eyes, I could detect some light trying to push through the greenish, brown murk, but I didn’t see the old woman as I drifted lower. I wondered what had happened to her, and I also began to wonder, fearfully, how deep was the water. It seemed to go on forever.

My lungs were beginning to ache when I finally saw the woman coming up toward me from the depths. I saw her hands first, reaching up toward me. Then her face slowly came into view. It was indeed my mother, but not from the time of her death. She looked younger, her reddish brown hair swirling in the water hadn’t turned gray yet, but she was still dead. Her freckles stood out like small pox against the deathly white pallor of her skin. Her eyes were wide open and angry. I had never seen her look at me with such undisguised rage while she was still alive. 

She opened her mouth in a breathless scream. I screamed too, expelling the last of my oxygen, as I protectively put my hands ahead of me. She grabbed them, knitting her fingers together with mine. She started dragging me downwards. I struggled for a moment, but I lost my strength when I lost my last breath. As I drifted out of consciousness, I wondered how far down she would take me.

Would it be all the way to hell?


Copyright 2016 by Sean Paul Murphy.  All Rights Reserved.

Be sure to read my memoir The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

RESTINGPLACE.COM: Chapter Eleven

Welcome to a preview of my new novel.  Please read the earlier chapters first.

Click here to read Chapter One.
Click here to read Chapter Two.
Click here to read Chapter Three.
Click here to read Chapter Four.
Click here to read Chapter Five.
Click here to read Chapter Six.
Click here to read Chapter Seven.
Click here to read Chapter Eight.
Click here to read Chapter Nine.
Click here to read Chapter Ten.





CHAPTER ELEVEN


S U S P E N D E D



Monday.

The alarm clock buzzed at seven o’clock as usual. I didn’t hit the snooze. Instead I slowly inched my head up and looked around my bedroom. Under the bright, morning sunlight pouring in through my windows, the events of the previous night seemed utterly implausible. 

Maybe I had dreamed it all. A wave of relief swept through my mind and body with that thought, but I quickly pushed it aside. No. Lenny, or whoever he was, was right. Even if everything I had experienced was only a dream, it was a twisted dream that hinted at mental illness. And I knew I wasn’t mentally ill. I was completely sane, only my circumstances were insane. For some reason, a dead woman wanted to kill me, or, more precisely, wanted me to kill myself. I had to keep my guard up, but it was difficult for my rational mind to maintain that attitude in the light of day.

What struck me most about work that morning was how ordinary everything seemed to be. In all honesty, I found my job repetitive and boring, but today I reveled in its normalcy. The smiles and nods from my co-workers as I walked toward my desk were so reassuring, as were the bagels left over for us from an early morning meeting and the constant ringing of the phones. This was heaven compared to what I experienced over the weekend. My first goal at work today was to log onto RestingPlace and delete the Kostek memorial, but instead I allowed myself to be lulled into complacency by the warm camaraderie of the office. 

To make things even better, I got a call from Bob Burgess, one of my oldest friends to set up a male bonding lunch with Mike Phelan, another one of our old schoolmates. Mike recommended the Cheesecake Factory in Harborplace, Baltimore’s touristy Inner marketplace, which was close to his office in the World Trade Center. Bob, who was a buyer for a supermarket chain, said he’d pick me up on his way downtown. Great. I wouldn’t have to pay for parking. Things couldn’t be going better. I managed to put the battle out of my mind completely until I got a text from Teri. It read: “Your Kostek memorial is getting some hate.”

I didn’t respond to her immediately. I needed to see what she was talking about. I turned to my computer and went to the RestingPlace website. I was surprised by what I saw. The landing page of the website looked different. It took me a second to figure out why: I had been logged out. That was odd. I was a very frequent user. I kept myself logged onto the website on every device I used. I clicked on login and typed in my username and password but they were rejected. Thinking I mistyped my password, I tried again. Once again I was rejected. Anxious to see what Teri was talking about, I moved off the login page and went to the search page. I typed in Elisabetta Kostek and brought up her grave. I was shocked by what I saw.

RestingPlace allows users to leave digital “flowers” on memorials, usually accompanied with a message of condolence. The memorials of famous individuals were flooded with such flowers. The memorials of veterans, particularly those killed in action, were sought out and honored by a number of organizations. The memorials for police officers and fire fighters were equally honored. Generally, however, the vast majority of graves received no such recognition. That’s why I was so shocked by what I saw on my Kostek memorial. In less than two full days, she had received fourteen flowers, which was more than any of my other memorials.

More surprising than the numbers were the messages of condolences. They were negative. People called the memorial “an abomination,” and pleaded with me to “take her down” because “she’s evil.” I was dumbfounded. I had never seen negative comments about a deceased person on the website before. In fact, they were a violation of the Terms of Service. All of those people risked the termination of their accounts with their comments. Still, the messages soothed me on one level. They proved that I wasn’t alone. The photograph of Elisabetta Kostek seemed to be adversely affecting everyone who saw it.

I picked up my phone. Rather than text Teri I decided to call her. She didn’t pick up. I got her answering machine. I left a quick message: “Hey, this is Rick. Thanks for the heads-up, Teri. I think I’m just going to delete the memorial. Call me later. Bye.”

I winced as I hung up. “Call me later?” Geez, it made me sound needy.

Returning my attention to the computer, I went back to the login page of the website. After checking to make sure the caps lock wasn’t accidently pressed, I slowly and carefully typed in my user name and password. I was rejected yet again. Frustrated, I hit the “forgot your password” icon. I typed in my email address and opened up my email. I was surprised to see an email from RestingPlace already waiting for me.

“That was fast,” I said, but I quickly realized the email had nothing to do with my password request. The subject line read: Terms of Service violation.

I opened the email. It said my RestingPlace account was temporarily suspended pending the results of a Terms of Service investigation resulting from complaints about the Kostek memorial. That was total bullshit. I knew their Terms of Service rules inside out. There were three things the website would not allow: Defaming the dead, the use of copyrighted material without permission and photographs of corpses or human remains. 

Strictly speaking, I violated the terms of service all the time. I always included at least an obituary or death notice with the memorials I created. Those items were, technically speaking, the copyrighted property of the newspapers where I found them. One could also argue that my use of photographs of the deceased that I found on funeral homes webpages and social media were also copyright violations. However, there were no copyright violations on my Kostek memorial. Zero. It featured only her name and her dates of death and birth, and photographs I took myself of a grave in public view with no expectation of privacy. And, although Elisabetta Kostek was dead, the photograph was obviously taken while she was alive.

I hit reply on the email. Instead of arguing that I hadn’t violated the terms of service with the Kostek memorial, I simply apologized for any misunderstanding and offered to delete the memorial as soon as my account was restored. After I hit send, I looked at their original email again. It had been sent at 10:23pm EST. I smiled and shook my head. Had I signed on the website immediately when I got to work, the memorial would have been deleted and my account would have been suspended. But I got distracted. She had beaten me again. 

“I’m playing checkers, and you’re playing chess,” I said aloud with disgust.

“What?” Annette said from the next cubicle, thinking I was talking to her.

“Nothing,” I replied. “I was just talking to myself.”

“Well, don’t make a habit of it,” she said as she turned back to what seemed to be a game of Solitaire on her computer.

Talking to myself was the least of my problems. This was all freaking nuts. Over the course of a single weekend, I had gone from being a perfectly happy rationalist to not only believing in ghosts but even believing that a ghost could manipulate a website in order to stop me from deleting her memorial. Huh? Even if you acknowledged the possibility of her existence, why the hell would she even care about some stupid website? The flowers at her grave showed she was already getting more than her share of attention at the cemetery. 

It boggled my mind. I could see what Lenny meant, if, of course, he really was Lenny. And what the hell was up with that? I never had dreams like that before. And I never sleepwalked before either.

My cellphone rang. It was Teri. As I answered, I stepped away from the prying ears around my desk.

“Hi Teri, it’s me,” I said, wincing at both my informality and the functionality of my words. I know we weren’t, and wouldn’t be, dating, but couldn’t I have come up with something wittier?

“Sorry I couldn’t answer when you called, but I was giving an exam,” she replied.

“In June?”

“We’re making up for some snow days. We have these girls imprisoned until Thursday,” she answered before continuing: “Did you delete that memorial?”

“No, I couldn’t. My account has been suspended.”

“Why?”

“Because of complaints about the Kostek memorial.”

“No offense, but I can see why,” she paused for a long time. “There’s something wrong with it. Really wrong with it.”

“I know. I want to delete it but I can’t. It’s like something always stops me.” I hated hearing those words come out of my mouth. I was venturing a little too close to the border of Crazy Land.

Silence. “I had the worst nightmare last night,” she said.

“Did you dream about someone who died?” I asked, although I had no idea why. The words just tumbled out of my mouth on their own volition.

“Yeah, my uncle Hank,” she replied quietly.

“Did he kill himself?” I asked again, having no idea why. It wasn’t like me to pry into someone’s personal life. Not at all. Especially a near stranger.

“Yes,” she said after some hesitation. “Why did you ask?”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “But I’ve been having these really vivid dreams about my brother Lenny since I first saw that picture. He killed himself, too.”

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“I’m sorry about your uncle.”

Silence. Then she added, “Hey, I gotta go, but we’ve got to talk again later. Okay?’

“Okay,” I replied.

I hung up and looked at the clock. It was almost time to meet Bob on the street outside my building. Good. I needed some fresh air.

To read the next chapter, click here:  Chapter Twelve.



Copyright 2016 by Sean Paul Murphy.  All Rights Reserved.

Be sure to read my memoir The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

RESTINGPLACE.COM: Chapter Ten

Welcome to a preview of my new novel.  Please read the earlier chapters first.

Click here to read Chapter One.
Click here to read Chapter Two.
Click here to read Chapter Three.
Click here to read Chapter Four.
Click here to read Chapter Five.
Click here to read Chapter Six.
Click here to read Chapter Seven.
Click here to read Chapter Eight.
Click here to read Chapter Nine.




CHAPTER TEN



T H E  M O T O R C Y C L E


I headed into my bedroom to throw the dirty towels into the hamper. Then I went into the bathroom to wash my hands. There was still plenty of clean-up to do, and I fully intended to go to the electronics store to get another keyboard and mouse, but when I sat down on the edge of my bed I became deathly tired. I fell backwards and I was asleep instantly.

I was awakened by the sound of the motorcycle. Not “a” motorcycle, “The” motorcycle: Lenny’s motorcycle. 

Lenny never really owned a car. He sold cars for a living and simply borrowed cars from the dealership for personal use. On the weekends, he always rode his big Harley Davidson motorcycle for fun. It was also his primary form of transportation when he was out of his mind. The sound of that motorcycle during the middle of the week was a telltale sign that Lenny was off his meds. The roar of that engine at night always inspired dread in my mother, my sister Janet and myself. I could pick out that specific engine out of a thousand others. It was ingrained into my mind. That roar meant we would soon be wrestling Lenny to the ground and dragging him off to the hospital to be forcibly committed.

I opened my eyes just as the motorcycle pulled into the driveway. I turned to my alarm clock. It read: 3:00am. But something was wrong. That wasn’t my current alarm clock. It was the one from my bedroom in the old house. I looked around the room in the darkness. The contours of the furniture also told me that I was back in my bedroom on Rueckert Avenue, where I lived until I was thirty-one-years-old.

Bullshit, I thought. This isn’t real. It’s just another dream. I shook my head back and forth quickly and opened my eyes again. My relief was palatable when I found myself back in my apartment bedroom. I fell back in bed and pulled the blanket over me despite the fact I was still dressed from the afternoon.

Then I heard a key in the lock of my outer apartment door. I sat up. No one else had a key to my apartment except Gina, and I’m sure that wasn’t her. Probably just a drunk neighbor at the wrong door, I told myself, calming slightly.

Then I heard the door open. WTF? Who could that be? Like a scared child, I threw myself back in bed and covered myself with a blanket. A light went on out in the living room. I could see it under the bottom of my bedroom door. I heard footsteps, but they didn’t come all the way down to my bedroom. It sounded like they stopped near the kitchen. My guess was confirmed when I heard my cabinets open and close and the rattle of some pots and pans. Then the voice.

“Mom, where’s the hot dogs?”

It was Lenny, adult Lenny, with his stupid hot dogs.

When Lenny was crazy, he would disappear for days or weeks at a time only to show up in middle of night to cook some hot dogs. He’d boil them in a pot on the stove, but he invariably fell asleep before they were finished. The water would boil off and the hot dogs would start burning and the next thing you knew the smoke alarms would be ringing and the house would smell like burnt hot dogs for a week.

“Mom, where’s the hot dogs?” he shouted again, this time louder. 

“She’s dead,” I shouted back, immediately regretting it. Note to self:  You don’t shout when you’re trying to hide. It’s counterproductive to say the least.

More footsteps. This time they came directly to my bedroom door. I could see movement underneath the bottom of the door. Someone was really there because this wasn’t a dream. I had already woken up. Right?

There was a knock on the door. “You in there, man?” Lenny said.

No way was I going to answer him. My thoughts were on the door itself. Did I lock it? No. Why would I? I immediately toyed with the idea of jumping up and locking the door, but instead I just pulled the blanket the rest of the way over myself.

After another knock, the door creaked open. I heard footsteps as the person entered the room. I was shaking with fear as he stopped near my bed. “What are you doing under there, Ricky?” he asked. “Beating off?”

I stopped moving. Silence, then I heard a match being struck. I peeked out from under the blanket to see Lenny, looking more or less the way he did around the time of his death, leaning against my dresser drawers lighting up a cigarette. That was just like him. He was always so inconsiderate when he was off his meds.

“It’s a smoke free building,” I said, despite myself.

“Really? When did this stop being America?” Lenny asked, making eye contact with me as he took a puff. “I’m glad I’m dead.”

“You’re not Lenny,” I said.

“Then who am I?” 

“You’re her,” I replied: “Elisabetta Kostek.”

“The lady from the picture?”

“Yeah.”

“Ricky, you’re supposed to be the smart one. Use your head,” Lenny answered. “How would she know about The Kobayashi Maru?”

Good question, but my answer came quickly: “You can read my mind.”

“And you were thinking about The Kobayashi Maru when?”

Good point. I hadn’t thought about it since Charlie’s funeral.

“I can prove I’m Lenny,” he said.

“How?”

“Ask me something you don’t know.”

“What?”

“If you don’t know the answer to the question, I can’t be pulling it from your mind,” he answered. “Right?”

“But how do I know you’re not just going to make up an answer.”

“Ask me the question. I’ll give you the answer and tell you who can back me up.”

I didn’t necessary think this was a smart game to play with this person before me, but I couldn’t resist. “What happened to your motorcycle?” I asked. That was something I had wondered about. It disappeared a few weeks before his death and its fate really worried our mother because the State of Maryland was threatening to fine us a great deal of money over its missing license plates.

“At the bottom of the Gunpowder River about a mile east of Belair Road,” Lenny replied, and then he laughed. “I was really nuts then. Pete and me were doing some trails and I saw a little hill that looked like a perfect ramp. I bet Pete twenty bucks I could jump over the river. He said I couldn’t and he was right. It’s probably still there in about six feet of water. We tried to get it out, but it was wedged between some rocks. I’m lucky I didn’t die that night. Ask Pete.”

He took a contemplative drag from his cigarette. “You know, I wish I would’ve died then. That would have been a much better way to go. More fun. People would still be talking about it.”

“People still talk about you,” I said quietly.

“That’s cool,” he said, and then he added. “I liked that memorial you put online for me. Very touching.”

“You saw it?”

“Of course.”

Silence. 

“I have a question for you,” I said.

“Shoot,” he answered.

“If you really are Lenny, why did you try to trick me into jumping off my balcony?”

“Because you’re my brother, man, and I love you,” he said, before he turned and left the room. He called to me as he walked back toward the kitchen. “You sure you don’t have any hot dogs?”

I got up and followed him. I didn’t go into the kitchen with him. I stayed in the dining room and talked to him over the serving island. “If you love me, why do you want me to kill myself?”

Lenny stopped rummaging through my refrigerator and turned to me. “’Cause I know where you’re headed, Rick, and I’m trying to make it as painless as possible.”

“Where am I headed?”

“Insanity and death.”

“I’m not crazy,” I responded angrily. He really struck a nerve. Trust me, when you live in a family touched by multiple suicides, you constantly search yourself for any signs of madness. I had none, the last two days notwithstanding.

“Really?” Lenny said with a smile. “Then go work tomorrow and tell everyone you spent half the night talking to your dead brother. Trust me, you’ll go from employee to patient lickety-split.”

He had a point.

“Here’s the options,” Lenny explained. “One, you’re actually talking to your dead brother. That’s crazy. Two, some dead woman you took a picture of is masquerading as your dead brother. That’s really crazy. Or three, you’re sleepwalking yourself onto your balcony two nights in a row in order to jump off. That’s lock ‘em up and throw away the key crazy.”

“I’m not going out on my balcony,” I replied.

“Really?” Lenny replied. “Where do you think you are now?”

“My dining room.”

“Think again,” he replied, his expression sympathetic. “Open your eyes.”

What did he mean? I was awake. I had been dreaming, but I pulled myself out of it already. Or did I? I squinted hard, and when I opened my eyes I discovered Lenny was right. I was out on my balcony again. I was holding onto the railing and looking down ten stories toward certain death.

I backed away slowly until I reassuringly touched the outer wall of the building.

“Lenny?” I whispered, but there was no response.

Maybe he was never there, and maybe I was crazy.

Click here to read Chapter Eleven.



Copyright 2016 by Sean Paul Murphy.  All Rights Reserved.

Be sure to read my memoir The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.

Monday, December 19, 2016

RESTINGPLACE.COM: Chapter Nine

Welcome to a preview of my new novel.  Please read the earlier chapters first.

Click here to read Chapter One.
Click here to read Chapter Two.
Click here to read Chapter Three.
Click here to read Chapter Four.
Click here to read Chapter Five.
Click here to read Chapter Six.
Click here to read Chapter Seven.
Click here to read Chapter Eight.



CHAPTER NINE


W A R  I S  D E C L A R E D


I left the mausoleum a man with a mission.

Elisabetta Kostek, whoever or whatever the hell she was, had already taken up too much of my time. I was going home to delete the photos of her from my camera and hard drive, and then delete her memorial from RestingPlace. I didn’t want to be responsible for anyone else looking into those eyes. Especially Teri. She already expressed too much interest in Elisabetta after I mentioned her. I was tempted to call her and reiterate my warning, but I knew I couldn’t. She’d think I was crazy, and that would be the end of our relationship.

When I got to my car, I found a slip of paper under the windshield. It read simply: “Never come back.” It was obviously written by the mourner. There was no one else around. But what did she mean? Was her note a threat or a warning? She left no signature or phone number. I wish I had written down her license plate number. Anything. She obviously knew something. I wish she would have waited, but she was long gone.

I got into my car and headed out, passing the graves of my family along the way. As I drove I caught sight of some guy standing near the graves. From the familiar hunch of his back I knew it was Lenny visiting mom’s grave. I looked ahead again, thinking nothing of it, but then it struck me: Lenny was dead. He had never visited mom’s grave because he died before she did. I hit the brakes and turned back to the grave. As I suspected, no one was standing there. But it was too real to just be my imagination. My eyes went to the nearby willow tree, which swayed in the light breeze.

“Probably just a shadow,” I said, reason restored again.

I was tempted to back up to see if I could repeat the same optical illusion again, but I decided not to do it. I feared the implications of not being able to repeat it. It was one thing to have a bad dream. It was another thing entirely to see your dead brother in broad daylight. I was now willing to admit that something supernatural was taking place, but I didn’t want to press the point. I just wanted to get back to normal.

While driving home, I was suddenly overcome by a great hunger despite having eaten a full meal with Teri. I ordered a super-sized Big Mac meal and a cheeseburger at the McDonalds drive-thru near my house. The day before, the pictures of food made me nauseous. Not so today. I took it as a sign that my resolve had broken whatever spell the dark woman had put on me. I was free.

I ate the cheeseburger on the way home, but my fries and Big Mac were untouched as I entered my apartment. I carried the food over to the desk and sat down. I turned the monitor on. I expected to find Elisabetta’s image on the screensaver looking at me. In fact, I was hoping to see it, but instead I found a random tombstone photo for one of the memorials I had created. I used the mouse to dispel the screensaver then turned my attention to my Big Mac. I took a bite. It tasted great. Putting the sandwich down, I clicked on my photo folder and opened it up. Then I clicked on the cemetery folder, where I kept all the photos I took for RestingPlace. I knew they were the most recent files: DSC_0591 and DSC_0592. I clicked on the second one to bring up the close-up of her face. She was still smiling in the face of digital death.

“Say, bye, bye,” I said.

As I reached for the mouse again to do the deed, I took a nice big gulp of my Coke. As I did, I caught something out of the corner of my eye. I had just taken a bite out of the Big Mac, exposing those little onions, except they weren’t onions. They were wriggling. I turned to get a better look and saw that they were maggots. Tiny little maggots, and I had eaten them!

I immediately vomited out everything I had eaten and drank all over my keyboard, mouse and monitor. In the process, I managed to spill the rest of the Coke, too. I jumped out of my seat and headed for the bathroom. This wasn’t a paper towel spill. This was a bath towels spill -- plural. By the time I raced back to the desk, there was already a large puddle of Coke and half-eaten food on the floor. I dealt with the desk first. The keyboard was toast. No question about that. I unplugged it and tossed it directly into the nearby trashcan. As I sopped up the sticky liquid and half-eaten food, I turned to the now drenched Big Mac. Just as I expected, there were no maggots. It was just another mind trick, and I knew who was responsible.

I think that was the moment that I finally put aside my rational, scientific preconceptions and admitted to myself that I was involved in some sort of supernatural warfare. The hows and the whys and the parameters of the battlefield were still a mystery to me, but at least I knew the name of the enemy: Elisabetta Kostek. Everything started when I took that picture of her. No, I corrected myself. I think it actually started when I looked at her. That’s what seemed to trigger it.

Whatever.

It didn’t matter how it started anymore. I was going to end it.

I dropped the towel and turned my attention to the mouse. I didn’t need the keyboard to delete those files. When I touched the mouse, the cursor moved. Good. I moved the cursor to the close-up file and clicked on it. Or should I say I tried to click on it. Although the mouse still moved the cursor, the right and left buttons no longer worked.

“Crap!” I said as I unplugged the mouse and tossed it in the trash.

The monitor turned black and the screensaver started. Needless to say, I was greeted by the smiling image of Elisabetta Kostek. I had set my screensaver to start five minutes after I last used the computer. This time it started a mere few seconds after I unhooked the mouse. I took her appearance as a little show of force to prove that she had the power to manipulate more than just my mind. She could manipulate my electronics, too. Unless, I thought, I was only imagining seeing her on the monitor now.

Yikes. What was really real? There was a lot to consider, but I didn’t have time to wade into those weeds now. It was time to take offensive action.

“How you doing, Liz?” I asked with a smile as I turned back to the monitor.

I grabbed my camera and turned it on. I found her picture on it and turned the view screen around to the monitor.

“Recognize her?” I asked.

I pressed the little trash button on the camera. A dialogue box came up over Elisabetta’s close-up. It read: “Are you sure you want to delete this photo?”

“Yes, I do,” I said aloud. Then I pressed the trash button again. The photograph was gone, and the wider one of the grave itself appeared in its place. Two quick presses on the trash button made that photograph disappear as well.

Call me crazy, but I half-expected to hear a faint ghostly wail of pain in response, but my actions were greeted by cold silence. Elisabetta herself even left the monitor. The screensaver replaced her with a photo of my mother, my father and Lenny and myself taken before my sister Janet was born. Everyone in the photo except me was dead.  I took the photo as a warning that I would soon be joining them, but I wasn’t spooked. Now that I knew what I was battling, I expected a quick victory.

That’s how foolish I was.



Copyright 2016 by Sean Paul Murphy.  All Rights Reserved.

Friday, December 16, 2016

ChristianCinema's Top 100 Bestselling Films



I am pleased and grateful to announce that eight films I wrote made the Top 100 Bestselling Films of 2016 at ChristianCinema.com.  One of them, the always reliable "The Encounter," co-written by the mighty Timothy Ratajczak, made the Top 10.  Additionally, a film I edited but did not write also made the list.  Also, when you consider that I did some ghostwriting on another one of the films, which shall remain nameless, I had my hands in ten percent of the films on the list.

I am extremely grateful for having the opportunity to work on these films, and I want to thank all of the talented people involved.  Film making is a collaborative venture,  No one person can take all the credit, or all the blame, for a film.

Here are the titles:

#9.  The Encounter.



#20.  Revelation Road 2:  The Sea of Glass and Fire.



#32.  Hidden Secrets.



#49,  The Encounter: Paradise Lost



#56.  Marriage Retreat.



#70.  The Black Rider: Revelation Road.



#78.  Revelation Road: The Beginning of the End.



#88.  Sarah's Choice.



Here's the additional film I edited:

#39.  In The Blink of an Eye.




If you liked any of these films, you will love my memoir published by Touchpoint Press.  Be sure to check it out:

RESTINGPLACE.COM: Chapter Eight

Welcome to a preview of my new novel.  Please read the earlier chapters first.

Click here to read Chapter One.
Click here to read Chapter Two.
Click here to read Chapter Three.
Click here to read Chapter Four.
Click here to read Chapter Five.
Click here to read Chapter Six.
Click here to read Chapter Seven.



Chapter Eight





A  M O U R N E R





I was on top of the world as I drove away from the restaurant. It was hard for me to comprehend the wide range of emotions I had experienced over the last twenty-four hours. I went from haunted to heartbroken to happy. Amazing.

Despite my assurances to the contrary, I was already imagining what it would be like to date Teri, but I had no illusions. I would not violate our agreement by asking her out romantically unless she sent some very strong signals in my direction. One thing I learned the hard way during my thirty-six-years was that dating was not my strong suit. Friendship was a reassuringly open-ended thing. Dating wasn’t. Every date was an audition with a pass/fail option. I wasn’t about to risk a promising open-ended friendship with an attractive, like-minded woman for an uncertain romantic future.

That’s why I never asked out any of the women I danced with every Friday night. Now I could laugh and dance with them. There was no telling how things would work out if I asked them out on dates. It was best to leave well enough alone. Still, I couldn’t help but hope that Teri would come to Gina’s wedding with me. Going to her wedding alone, provided I was invited, was too pathetic for me to consider.

My thoughts were so focused on Teri that I didn’t put too much active thought to where I was driving. I planned to head straight home, so I was surprised when Eternal Faith came into sight as I crested a hill. I felt an instant pang of fear, as if some alien hand reached deep inside of me and twisted by intestines. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes for as long as my position in traffic would allow. When I opened my eyes, I took solace in the bright sunlight. It dispelled the evil. There were no ghosts or spirits. No undead. No haunting. No supernatural. Once again, my rational pride took over. I refused to allow myself to become a victim of superstitious fears. I decided to face the dilemma head on. 

I turned into the cemetery. There were few cars in sight. Sunday was a big day for visiting the dead, but most people made their appearances after church services. It was three-thirty now. The rush was long over. People had left their flowers and gone back to the place of the living. 

“What am I doing here?” I asked myself, but quickly dismissed the thought. I had every right to be here. After all, like it or not, one day this place was going to be my permanent home.

The road took me past the rise where my family was buried, but I ignored them as usual. My Catholic upbringing was to blame for that. I always remembered the lessons Father Isidore gave us before our first confession. He said that people who died with mortal sins on their heads, like suicide, were damned to hell. Although I had turned my back on mother church decades ago, those words still haunted me, especially after the death of my brother. What cruelty! Lenny never had a chance in this world, and, if Father Isidore was right, he was damned to hell in the next one. The fate of my mother was even crueler. She lost a husband and a son and had to deal with cancer too. And now she was damned to hell because of one decision she made in a moment of pain. A God who would do that was no God at all.

My blood started boiling, but I put those thoughts out of my mind. I couldn’t deal with those emotions now. I kept driving on the main road past the office. It was closed, but the mausoleum remained open until five o’clock. I often wondered about that. Did one of the employees actually drive into the cemetery and lock the large glass doors at five o’clock? I doubted it. I suspected that the warning signs were only posted to discourage curiosity seekers or possible vandals.

But what if they really did lock it? I shuddered at the possibility of being locked inside the mausoleum overnight. Of hearing the click of the door being locked, and racing toward it to see Jose, the groundskeeper, driving away. That would really be a nightmare. With the mausoleum looming ahead of me, I quickly checked my watch again: Three-thirty-two. Plenty of time for a quick visit,

But who was I visiting? Why had I even driven there? This was definitely not something I set out to do. 

I pushed those questions out of my head. Once again, in the light of day, my rational mind rejected my superstitious fears. Although I knew there was no rational explanation for why I had driven to the cemetery in the first place, turning away would definitely be giving into fear. I refused. Nothing in that mausoleum could hurt me. The dead were dead. 

“I should have invited Teri,” I thought to myself.

“No,” I quickly said aloud. Why would I think that? That was crazy. I had no desire to involve her in this madness. I had even stopped her from looking at the Kostek memorial online.

Things were getting out of hand. Even a rational mind couldn’t ignore the ongoing evidence that it was being played by an outside source. But who? Or what? Those were questions I didn’t dare consider. The answer to that question was the route to madness. It was unbelievable. I wasn’t even there yet and fear was already getting the best of me. I calmed down considerably when I saw a Buick parked in front of the mausoleum. At least I wouldn’t be alone inside. I don’t think I could face that prospect now, even in the bright light of day. I parked behind the Buick and hurried over to the large glass doors of the mausoleum. I saw the other visitor, an elderly woman, and, much to my surprise, she was slowly walking toward the Kostek vault. 

I stepped inside as quietly as possible. I kept my distance, feigning interest in the other graves as I slowly followed behind the old woman. The same palatable sense of gloom that I felt the day before still filled the place, although it appeared that most of the dead flowers on the floor had been safely swept away. New flowers, recently placed by mourners in the decorative bronze vases alongside the vaults today, were already withering. They would not last the day.

I discreetly returned my attention to the mourner. Gray hair peeked out from under the scarf that respectfully covered her head. She was wearing a print dress but also a coat that would normally have appeared totally out of season, but it felt quite appropriate in this marble-lined refrigerator. It made me wish I wore a jacket. As it was, I could feel goose pimples rising on my arms.

The woman walked up to the Kostek vault. She stood silently for a moment, before she knelt briefly and placed a small bouquet of roses on the floor in front of it. Standing up, she turned quickly before I had the chance to look away. We made eye contact. I’m not sure exactly what I saw in her eyes -- fear, shame or embarrassment --but she quickly turned away and hurried toward the door in a path that would bring her alongside me. It was unavoidable.

Over the course of the hundreds of hours I spent in cemeteries, I made it a point never to interfere with a mourner. Oftentimes, I had been asked by mourners to help find a grave, but I never approached someone on my own. However, I knew I had to break my rules this time. I needed to talk to someone who knew Elisabetta Kostek, and who could explain her strange hold over me.

As I started toward her, the woman pointedly turned her face further away from me. She veered toward the opposite wall, but there was no way for her to leave without passing me.

“Excuse me,” I said. “May I ask you a question?”

No response. No eye contact. But she was nearing me.

“Ma’am, may I talk to you for a second?”

No response. Now she was passing directly alongside me. I had no choice; I reached out and gently touched her shoulder. “Ma’am, please,” I said.

The woman turned to me with eyes filled with a volatile mixture of fear and rage. “Leave me alone!” she shouted at the top of her lungs, her dentures rattling, and spittle hitting my face. I immediately withdrew my hand. Practically running, she was out of the mausoleum before her voice even stopped echoing off the cold, marble walls. 

What the hell? I certainly did not expect her to be friendly or solicitous, but I was caught completely off guard by the fierceness of her rebuke. After she disappeared out of sight beyond the glass doors, I turned back to the Kostek grave. I walked forward into the overwhelming scent of roses. The number of flowers seemed about the same, but some of the floral arrangements were definitely new since yesterday. That meant she was receiving new flowers every day. Why?

I looked up from the flowers into the oval, ceramic memorial photo of Elisabetta. Today, her smile looked smug and her eyes drilled into me like she had been expecting me.

“Who are you?” I asked, and, honestly, half-expected her to answer. But she didn’t. She just continued to smile.

“I’m done with this crap,” I announced, bringing up my middle finger. “Screw you.”

She just kept smiling.

I turned and walked away. My gait was confident, but it became quicker with each step. I wanted to get the hell out of the mausoleum before someone came and locked the door. I knew I would not survive the night in that place.

Click here to read Chapter Nine.




Copyright 2016 by Sean Paul Murphy.  All Rights Reserved.

Be sure to read my memoir The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

RESTINGPLACE.COM: Chapter Seven

Please read the earlier chapters first.

Click here to read Chapter One.
Click here to read Chapter Two.
Click here to read Chapter Three.
Click here to read Chapter Four.
Click here to read Chapter Five.
Click here to read Chapter Six.






CHAPTER SEVEN



T H E   H O L Y  R E D E E M E R  L O N E L Y  H E A R T S  C L U B



Teri did indeed like Mexican food so I invited her out to lunch at The Hacienda, a fabulous Tex-Mex restaurant about five blocks away from the cemetery.

Thank God it wasn’t a date, because I made the classic first date mistake: Talking about your ex. As soon as we sat down, I just started talking about Gina and I didn’t stop for about twenty minutes. I described with surprising honesty my emotional ambiguities at every step of our relationship. To make matters even worse, I also revealed how I had essentially chosen my mother over Gina. That’s another big no, no. Girls don’t like guys who choose their mothers over them. Geez. As I was listening to myself, I was thinking, “Oh my God, you’re going the full Norman Bates.”

Still, Teri took it all in stride. She let me tell my tale of woe, and then she told me about her ex. Her ex was actually an ex-husband: Charles Allen Carson. She said they were mismatched from the beginning. She was a somewhat na├»ve Catholic high school teacher. He was a much worldlier plumber well-versed in the art of love. She met him at a bar while she was at a going away party for a friend. He swept her off her feet with flowers, romantic dinners and adventures. They went white water rafting, spent long weekends in the Bahamas and even went skydiving. With Chuck, Teri finally experienced things she had only read about in books. It wasn’t until after they married that she learned that their entire courtship was financed with credit cards. 

Things went bad soon after the wedding. Her husband feigned a back injury at work and she had to support him while he battled endlessly for worker’s compensation and disability. With only one salary, his credit card balances became a real burden. Chuck’s answer was always more credit cards and the debt grew steadily. Teri said she didn’t know how to react. She always looked down on people who let material concerns like money ruin their marriages. She considered them shallow. To her, marriage was as spiritual as it was physical. Love always trumped money, except; she sadly discovered, when she found herself in that situation. Her resentment grew daily, but divorce was out of the question. She was a good Catholic. Plus, a divorce could endanger her job at the high school. She couldn’t divorce Chuck unless he gave her a valid reason for an annulment. Fortunately, he obliged when she discovered his affair with a former co-worker that began well before their marriage. Now she was free again, maiden name restored, but not interested in marrying again anytime soon.

“I’ve always been an excellent judge of character,” she said. “I could always tell how my friends’ husbands would turn out, who’d be great, who’d be a loser, but Chuck totally blindsided me. I didn’t see this coming at all.”

Silence, then, after taking a sip of her Corona, she added, “I’m never getting married again. I can’t trust myself to make that kind of a decision.”

“I think if Gina and I got married, we would have stayed married,” I replied, “But I don’t think I would have made her happy. Not really.”

“Then its good you didn’t get married,” she said. “If happiness looks out of reach, it’s best to walk away before anyone gets hurt.”

“Too late for that,” I replied. “I definitely hurt her.”

“And now you’re hurt.”

“Yes,” I said honestly. “I guess.”

“I hurt my husband, too,” Teri replied, and she then smiled. “Or at least my lawyer did when he convinced the judge not to pile half of his credit card debt on me.”

“Maybe our expectations are the problem,” I added, more seriously. “When I look back on my family tree, I don’t see any divorce. None. Not my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and so on. They all stuck together. But you’ve got to ask yourself how many of them were truly in love the way we expect it today? No one ever wrote any romance novels about my ancestors, but you have to imagine that they at least found their niche with their spouses.”

“Would that satisfy you?” she asked, meeting my eyes seriously. “Just finding your niche with someone.”

“Yesterday, I would have said no,” I replied, “But today, I’m not so sure.”

Teri gave me a weary smile before raising her bottle of Corona. “A toast to The Holy Redeemer Lonely Hearts Club.”

I raised my bottle and tapped hers.

“To our first annual meeting,” she said. 

We both took a drink, then I added, “First annual? Does that mean you anticipate another meeting?”

“Well, Mr. Rick Bakos,” she replied, “If you’re looking for romance, you’re barking up the wrong tree, but if you’re looking for someone to document a cemetery with or discuss genealogy, I think there might be another one.”

“Good,” I replied and I meant it. It felt nice to have a new female friend with similar interests to talk to without any romantic expectations. Strangely, I always found it safer to talk about things of the heart with women rather than men, particularly safely married women who had no interest in me. I don’t know why. I guess it was because I always felt competitive with guys, even my closest friends. I never wanted to seem weak around them. I always thought I was reasonably transparent with Gina about most things, but I could never really talk to her about our relationship. When I had problems with her, I turned to a couple of married women at work who would let me cry on their shoulders. They all thought I was a fool and that I should have stayed with her. 

After the meal, I tried to pay the check myself, but Teri insisted on paying half. She didn’t want us to get off on the wrong foot. Then we took out our cellphones. She told me her phone number and I dialed her, allowing her to capture my number. Our devices were now connected. When we left the restaurant, there was no friendly kiss on the cheek or even the shaking of hands before we walked off to our cars. That was a relief.

I was happy. I had a new friend, and, in all honesty, I didn’t make them often.

Click here to read Chapter Eight.



Copyright 2016 by Sean Paul Murphy.  All Rights Reserved.

Be sure to read my memoir The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.