Skip to content

17. quilt

JEFF ARMANDO

I’m eating a tuna sandwich.  Made by a Satanist named Hilda Leek.

Or, well, a spiritualist, Father Salat said.   Someone who just might as well be a Satanist, Father Salat also kind of said.

She’s working on setting up the old movie projector at the other end of the table from where Father Salat and I are eating.  Father Salat and I are seated across from each other, in oddly-comfortable black wooden chairs.  “I’ll have this ready in a minute or two, so enjoy your meal.  I should be done by the time you are.”

I was going to say ‘no thanks’ to Hilda’s offer of tuna sandwiches as an early dinner, but Father Salat could tell what I was going to do and shot me a look that said he wouldn’t tolerate me being rude like that.

And he trusts her enough to eat his sandwich.

So I’m eating mine.  And it’s a good sandwich. Really good. Especially for being made by a Satanist.  Which is part of what makes it all so wrong.  Because I’m sitting here at this creepy black table — in a bomb shelter below the basement of Pawn and Ponderer — and yet I’m just eating a tuna sandwich with swiss cheese on it, too.  And  I’m too hungry not to eat, even with that weird feeling in my throat still there.  And the sandwich tastes good; really good.  And not at all like almonds, as I was freaking out thinking I’d taste the minute I took my first bite.  I read a book once, called e-Haunted.  I forget who wrote it.  In the story, a killer puts cyanide into someone’s food and they only save themselves because they were in chemistry class one time and smelled almonds that day because the professor was teaching about poisons.  Ever since then, I’ve been scared of food with almonds.  Or that even smelled like almonds.  And then, one day, Carter Pace tells everybody at work — in the lunchroom, no less — about how he saw a documentary about how even regular almonds have cyanide in them, even just as a natural nut people eat every day.  And how we’re all eating poison all the time whenever we eat any kind of almonds.  Carter Pace was always sharing rotten facts like that.  Making good things turn bad.

And, even then, there’s still the book on the table, wrapped in that garbage bag, like that’ll protect us.  And that crawling feeling is all over me now.  Deep in my throat, like I said, but all over the rest of my skin, too.  Making my head itch so much.  I keep reaching up to scratch it.  It’s like how your skin tingles when you stand too close to a fire and you hit that point where the heat starts to make you sweat all over your body at once.  But my sweat feels cold as it drips down my chest and the back of my neck. Except I’ve managed to push most of the bad thoughts of reading it away, by focusing on the others. Company has helped.

They come back.
Shit on the walls.
Shit that’s being eaten.
By sick people.
The urge to read the book.
Chris Laddow grinning at me.
I see a hand.
Chris’ hand.
But it’s like it’s my own hand.
Like I’m looking down at the back of Chris’ hand.
Dirty fingers.
Fingernails chipped.
Muscles stretching,
Fingers reaching up toward me.
Like someone begging for help.
Chris’ face again.
The open-mouthed smile.
His mouth full of bits of chewed-up egg-salad.
I push the thought out of my head away again.

“It’s almost done,” Hilda says, but it’s like she’s only talking to herself.  Her voice is quiet, but also bright, which seems strange to me.  That combination, I mean.  And now, she’s plugging the projector into a socket on the floor near her feet that I didn’t notice earlier.  “Almost done,” she murmurs again, almost merrily. Songlike; it’s a hum, with a tune to it. Everything is humming. I don’t understand the song.

I’m confused.  These things all … they just shouldn’t go together, should they?  Satanists and sandwiches, comfortable chairs and old enemies, priests and old movies – they don’t go together. And me.  I don’t belong here. And yet, here I am, chewing up another bite of a delicious sandwich. It’s good. The deliciousness doesn’t feel right because it’s so normal, in the middle of all these things that aren’t normal at all.  And, as I watch Father Salat eating his own sandwich silently, I find myself wondering if maybe I’m wrong about trusting him on all this.  And then I’m dismissing the idea as soon as it comes to me.  Because Father Salat is a good man who’s fought hard his whole life to protect people and do good works.  And I’m questioning him over eating a sandwich?  And then I’m wondering what kind of faith that shows if I can’t trust Father Salat, the best man I know.  And what kind of person it makes me.

“I’ll have the projector ready in a minute,” Hilda Leek is saying to us now, in a much louder voice.  “You two finish up.”  She looks over at me.  “Mr. Armando, you looked positively famished when I came in.  I won’t tolerate hunger from my guests.”

I nod.  A few more minutes pass in silence after that, except for the grinding of my jaw as I chew up the last of the sandwich.  That grinding sound — you know the one, inside your head when you chew something like bread — is especially loud to me right now, for some reason, and it’s making me upset.  And it’s doing battle with that scratching sound that’s still in my head from earlier.  So everything is noisy.

Hilda flips a switch, and the projector comes to life and startles me.  Which is strange, too — because I was watching her.  I saw her working on it.  I saw her plug it in.  I saw her flip that switch.  And yet the sound surprises me.  As if part of me were expecting the projector never to work.  Or maybe I was just hoping for that?  Hoping we could just go home and promise to come back when the projector was working.  She flips that same switch again, and the projector dies down.  “And that’s that,” she murmurs, sounding satisfied.

“That was delicious, Hilda,” Father Salat says.

“It was,” I agree, weakly.

“Yeah.  You know, you just can’t beat homemade,” Father Salat chuckles.

“Good, good,” Hilda says with a little smile, and then a nod toward each of us.  Then, her face darkens a little as she looks toward me.  “In this life, it’s important to be balanced,” she says in a much more serious voice.  “Hunger imbalances a person in mind, body and spirit.  When your body needs something it doesn’t have, your mind justifies getting it more and more.”

“And It’s no different with the spirit,” Father Salat observes with a chuckle, leaving me unsure if he’s noticed how serious Hilda sounded.  He folds his hands together in front of him on the table, leaning forward toward Hilda.   “Sinning once makes it easier to sin twice.”

“Wrong beget wrong,” Hilda says, looking in the cardboard box and withdrawing a series of three metal pieces.  “And wounds to the mind or the spirit can stay around a lot longer than physical scars.  Then she retrieves a tube of what looks like fabric that’s as long as the box was wide.  “If you could help me set up the screen, Reverend?” Hilda asks.

“Ah!” says Father Salat, rising to his feet.  “Of course.”  He walks over to help her, and starts putting together the three pieces of metal.

I realize they’re constructing the stand.  And the fabric is a small rolled-up movie screen.  I think about getting up to help them, but something makes me stop.  It’s like … I don’t know.  It’s a thing they’re doing together, and it seems somehow right that they do it without me.  I get feelings like that sometimes.  When groups of people are doing something together.  Like when I helped out with building the church.  Like I shouldn’t be there.  Like I shouldn’t interfere with what other people are doing, even when I think they could use my help.  Like I’d mess it up if I participated.  It’s why I think so much about being alone in my house, with my basset hound.  I’m going to get one.  I’ve decided it, here in this basement.  I’m going to get a basset hound.

They finish constructing the screen.  It’s small, so it’s no surprise when Hilda puts it pretty close to the table.  “I’m afraid this is the best I’ve got.  I’ve used this for my study.”  She turns to look at me, and she’s got that strange almost-smile again.  “I didn’t think I’d have to show it to you like this.”

Father Salat’s looking over at me, now, too.  “Jeff — do you remember, in my book, when I said a friend of mine found the material for me — about TK Wanderlad?  Because the television station had destroyed their copies?”

At the mention of that TV show’s name, I get a little dizzy spell.  I quickly recover from it, though, and nod toward Father Salat.  “Yeah,” I say.

“Well — these film reels are that material.  Hilda’s held on to the film I got from that friend for a long time, now.”  Father Salat casts a thankful look toward Hilda, and then he’s looking back at me again.  “I’ve trusted her to hold on to it.  In case I ever needed it.  And — well, today — I think we do.  It’s an original film of a TK Wanderlad episode.”

“I’ve kept it safe, and away from prying eyes, Reverend,” Hilda says.

I’m confused again — this time, about a lot of things all at once.  Why Hilda would be the one Father Salat would want to have holding on to the film.  Why Father Salat would entrust something that could be Satanic to someone who wasn’t part of the Church.  Why he didn’t just lock it up in his secret room.

“And I think you need to see it, Jeff,” says Father Salat.

“I think it will help,” says Hilda.  “I think a lot of people — maybe everyone — might need to see it.”

Except I’m not one of them.  I don’t want to see it.  But it’s like when Chris talked to me about the news show, all over again.  The more I try to think about how I don’t want to see it, the more I feel like I need to.  The more I feel like, if I walk away now, and never get past it, it’ll stick in my head forever.  Like Chris’ story.  Like a disease.  “Let’s watch it, and I’ll try to help with whatever I see,” I say, with a dry throat.

“I need to caution you, Jeff — it’s the episode I described,” Father Salat says, leaning back in his chair.  “So on the one hand, you’ll know what to expect from the worst of it.  Or what I hope is the worst.  I haven’t seen it all.  I … you know, until I reread that part of the book, I thought I had.”  That last part, he says so quietly that it disturbs me.

“It’s a little bit under half-an-hour long,” Hilda says, holding the reel up in front of her face.  She turns it around in her hands, and I notice a little piece of tape on one side with writing on it that I can’t read.  Hilda turns the reel around to the taped side, narrowing her eyes like she’s having trouble reading whatever’s on the tape.   She moves it back and forth to different distances from her eyes.  “S3 – E79,’” she reads.  She fits the film into the projector.

There’s a long silence in the conversation while Hilda works.

Father Salat leans over toward the candelabra and begins gently blowing out the lit candles one by one.  He’s blowing the smoke my way.  It smells like something green and, I don’t know, acidic maybe.  It’s like ripe fruit.  It makes me feel even dizzier than I did earlier.  And this time, it doesn’t seem to go away.

And then Hilda turns on the projector.

I feel another chill as the projector makes that roaring mechanical sound, and another wave of even greater dizziness washes over me.

Father Salat has blown out the last of the candles, so it’s dark except for the bright stream of light on the screen from the projector; he’s propping his chin on his open palms, now, with his elbows on the table.  The light is reflecting in his glasses.

Hilda takes a seat just ahead of Father Salat on his side of the table.

I hear more than just mechanical noises now.  The film’s sound is coming out of the projector itself, sounding like it’s coming out of a tin can — pops and crackles and beeps now, as numbers appear on the flickering screen.  A countdown.

10 … 9 … 8 …

I’m starting to feel sick.
Really sick.

… 7 … 6 … 5 …

Thoughts racing in my head.
Shit on the walls.
Father Salat, beheaded.
My throat tightening more and more.

… 4 … 3 …

I folds my hands together in front of me on the table. I say a prayer to myself, silently, in my own head: ‘God, help me do what you’ve brought me here to do. Help me prove I’m here for a reason. Help me keep it together. Please. Amen.’ It’s a simple prayer, but it helps.

… 2 … 1 …

Then, there’s a loud beep, and a storm of pops and crackles accompany a single word:

START

And then the picture goes black. At first, I think there’s a problem with the machine or the film, but then the black is replaced by old, yellowish film footage, like you see in the opening of TV shows that were made in the late 1960s or early 1970s. It’s a field of flowers with a mountain in the background, and a blue sky. There’s a boy running through the field in slow motion. Music swells, jerky and stuttering the way old films sometimes do that.  The music is all violins and flutes and high-pitched, suggests the opening of a musical. Then, white words appear onscreen in a blink, a mass of cursive letters all at once cover much of the picture.

PETER X. BRUN
&
MALCOLM BELL
present

The music builds, and the words disappear.  The camera pulls in closer to the boy.  He’s white, and he looks like he’s ten or twelve or so; I don’t know how you’d tell.  He’s got the kind of weird, messy hair kids had around the 60s and 70ss on TV.  It’s sticking out at weird angles from under a pale yellow-and-red hat.  The whole outfit is that same odd pale yellow-and-red with white piping all over it.  To me, it kind of looks like a of circus ringmaster outfit.   When the camera gets close enough, I notice there’s a logo on the hat, because the kid’s looking right into the camera and waving now.  And now the logo is popping off the kid’s hat and covering the whole screen.  The logo looks like the planet with the rings.  I forgot the name of that one.  Except it’s not just a planet, because now a cartoon hand is sticking a pinwheel through the middle of the planet and then making a ‘peace’ sign with its fingers before titles appear over that, each part of the name accompanied by a bombastic trumpet blare.

TK
WANDERLAD

And then the boy is back on the screen, running to an old log shack near a riverbed.  There’s a paddlewheel and then he’s running again, this time at regular speed.  And the music gives way to a jaunty, uplifting kind of song that sounds almost like one of those old church songs that I think they call revival songs:

“In a magical forest,
there’s a boy named TK,
and he helps the folks in town,
Even though they put him down.
And the magic is waiting!
You can find it every day!
There’s a love we all can share,
If we all join in and care!
TK Wanderlad,
Maybe someday soon he’ll visit you!”

Images accompany what’s obviously the show’s opening theme song. The images are mostly of the boy talking to various characters.  As different characters appear onscreen, credits for the character name and who plays them appear near their faces.  The theme song takes just exactly long enough for these introductions.

First, the boy in the yellow-and-red suit is introduced, with an image of him running into the log cabin from before.

starring
Stuart Malcolm Rainbird
as TK WANDERLAD

Then, the boy is talking to an old woman. She’s got little round glasses and looks a little bit like Santa Clause’s wife in those soda commercials. Except she’s dressed in a big green-and-yellow dress and apron.

also starring
Felicity Marwell
as GRANNY OSSITY

This image is followed by a man who’s dressed all in royal purple gowns, who’s also wearing a puppet-like snake mask that’s motionless except for its mouth which is opening and closing like it’s talking.

and
Graham St. Sedgewick
as LORD HISSYFITZ

And that’s when I start laughing.  I don’t know why.  But there’s something about the face of the snake-man — the bouncing puppet-head with its flapping mouth — that strikes me as funny.  And I’m giggling to myself, trying to contain it.  This isn’t a time for laughter, I know, but I can’t help it.  I’m laughing so hard, I’m not paying attention to some of the names that go by as the theme song plays.  I miss them.

“Be quiet,” I hear Hilda Leek say, as the theme song ends.  And even though I can’t see her very well, in the dark, I can tell she’s staring at me now.  And in those two words, I feel so much frustration and even anger from her.  And then I’m feel another chill, and a flush of embarrassment to go along with it, thanks to Hilda.  And more dizziness now, too; another wave of it, much worse, this time.

I try to focus back on the screen, but the opening credits have come and gone and the actual show is starting, after another fade to black.  As the titles come up, a little girl is who I don’t think was in the opening credits is playing what looks like it’s meant to represent some kind of otherworldly hopscotch.  There are weird rocks and stones all over the ground in a circle that’s been divided into segments, and the little girl is jumping, seemingly at random, between the segments. She’s wearing a long red-and-blue dress and her hair’s in flowered braids that bounce as she jumps. She’s saying a little rhyme as she jumps:

“If you should find the Forest Key, don’t keep it for yourself, and just give it to me,” the girl says.

A block of text appears:

Chapter 249:
the rail man returns

My heart feels as if it’s slowing down at seeing those words onscreen.  The Rail Man.  That figure from Father Salat’s book.  I look toward him.  I can barely make him out, across from me in the dark   He sees me looking and he nods and quickly gestures for me to look back to the screen.

By the time I look back, the girl is still talking and jumping onscreen — but whatever she’s saying gets abruptly overwhelmed by an announcer, who has a thick British accent of some kind:

“As you no doubt remember, TK had just rescued Friendlietta Flowergirl from the Cavern of Lost Wigs.  Friendlietta was relaxing after her ordeal, playing a game of Cosmic Hopscotch in the woods with Trio of the Crystals.  For the moment, the Cosmic Circus and its people are all safe.  But Friendlietta and Trio are also quite unaware that a mysterious force is even now watching their every move … “

More names appear onscreen over the image of the braid-haired girl, who I’m assuming is Friendletta, talks to a tall adult woman who’s wearing what looks like rainbow-colored plastic wrap all over her body and whom I have to believe is Trio:

guest-starring
Octavia Burrell
as FRIENDLIETTA FLOWERGIRL

The camera shifts to the left, revealing the aforementioned ‘mysterious force,’ I’m presuming.

It’s a man — I think.  The figure is dressed in red robes, with a hood covering the figure’s face.  But it looks like a man, to me.  Broad-shouldered and menacing, hiding in the shadows.

And my tension grows.

Another name appears:

and
Carlton Stanford
as THE PRINCE OF BEDTIME

My heart beats faster.  Memories of what Father Salat described in his book flood back to me.  I’d forgotten, for a moment, with all the show’s veneer of innocence, that we’re watching this for a reason.

And then another name is flickering on the screen:

special guest-star
Melody M. Perdue
as TRIO

The British-accented narrator continues to speak: “Who is this mysterious figure?  Will this be the day that TK’s secret is revealed?  And what did Professor Owlsalot really mean about the townsfolk being in more danger than they knew?”

And we watch, but it’s weird, because things start to get a little strange after that, and I start to feel … light.  And dizzier and dizziewr.  And then Hilda is saying something to me, or maybe she’s talking to Father Salat.  But I’m not hearing it, I guess, because he’s resting his head on the table or something.  And the dizziness has gotten a lot worse, and very suddenly.  And my ears are ringing.  And the images on the screen keeping going faster and faster, more and more colorful, and I see children and puppets and singing.  There’s a song about

“We’ve got to find them,” someone in the show says.  I think it’s the boy.  TK.

Someone else on the show says “You have a lot of things to do.  Will you do them, TK Wanderlad? Will you help us?”

And I’m lowering my head on the table, too.  My head feels so heavy, even though the rest of me feels light.  But I don’t want to disappoint Father Salat, so I’m turning my head to the side to keep watching.

Someone on the show says: “The Rail Man returns!”

And some time must have passed now, because I’m seeing the people in the red hoods, and the screen is flickering, and the golden ‘Y’ is there, shining in flickering torch light on the old film, and the figures in the hoods are standing beneath the skylight.

Someone says “It’s time.  It’s time.”  But those words don’t sound like they’re coming from a tin can.

“The Rail Man returns!” shouts someone on the show.

And my head is too heavy to move, like I’m floating in reverse, under the table and on top of it.

“In the end, Good will always overcome Evil.  Because evil is made of hate, and good is made of love,” says the boy on the TV.

And there’s Hilda, and she’s looking at me now, with a sad look of I might call sympathy, and I try to gesture for her to get out of the way so I can keep watching, except I’m scared now and I don’t want to keep watching, because I feel like I can’t move.

More voices from the show: it’s a little girl’s voice “I love you, Prince.  I love you.  And we’ll be together when you come back.  You’ll see!”  That’s the voice of the girl who was singing the rhyme. Her name … was that Friendlietta Flowergirl?

I think to myself that there are so many weird names on the show.  For the actors and the characters, too!  And then I remember how scared I am again, and I’m trying to lift myself up off the table.  I’m straining muscles that won’t respond, no matter how much I want to leap up and run up those stairs and back out of this place.

“Now — begin the ceremony!” shouts someone from the show.

I want to look at the screen, but I can’t.  All I can see Hilda Leek.  She’s bending down to look at me, and she’s taking hold of my chin and lifting my head up, and pushing open my eyes.  I can’t stop her.  My eyes were closed.  I didn’t realize.  I don’t even know when I closed them.  I’m not sure about how much time has passed, or is passing.

But Hilda helps me, turns my head to I can look at the movie screen, and her hands are warm.

My eyes stay half-opened.  They burn.  I want to blink.  I can’t seem to force myself to do even that.

And then Hilda reaches into the burlap bag and pulls out a knife.  And she’s moving closer to me.  And then I feel something hot on my cheeks.  And I know it’s blood that I’m feeling drip down, but I can’t see because my eyes are closed again I can’t open them.

But I know she’s cutting me.  And I can’t stop her.  And I’m awake, inside my head, but my body won’t move.  And it hurts.  It hurts so much.  And I hear the tin-can voices and I hear Hilda and she’s singing to me, the theme song we just heard a moment ago.  And I’m hearing sounds, like liquid being poured into a cup, and the blood is tickling me now, and she’s trailing the knife down my back, and someone is screaming and I don’t know if it’s Hilda or the show or me and I’m seeing myself trying to turn a big clock backward because I want to go back to when I was driving and I want my basset hound and then I’m falling into a deeper warmth and it feels good like the cozy living room I always imagined I’d have when I retired and I’m all wrapped up in that big blanket my mother made for me out of all the pieces and I forget what they’re called but sort of empty too and I don’t like how it’s empty and there’s a fire roaring I think but I can’t see it and I’m feeling a dog’s tongue licking my cheek and then it’s like the dog’s tongue falls apart everything is spilling and then the room and the the world and everything outside of it turns to dust and it hurts and hurts and hurts then everything is dark.

Click here to continue reading the story

Published inpart 2

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Solve : *
9 ⁄ 3 =