Enter the Ghost is my first completed novel. This is the original 1990's description: Enter the Ghost is the story of a young cyclist’s search for meaning while dodging red lights, police cars, dead bodies, and love.
Below is the first chapter.
I live in a land too big to walk in, where death is closer than a Safeway or 7-11. Where months pass between breakfast and lunch; years are blinked away in the meditation of black hands with white sheets; lives lost and gained in the bags of blood slowly, surreptitiously, methodically emptied into me.
They say this is my mother, a thin, middle aged woman with worry and pain wrapped around her blue eyes, tan face. But I don’t know her. They say it’s the accident. My conception? Or my amnesia?
The-woman-who-they-say-is-my-mother admits, to the priest who wished to hear my confession when I first arrived, a week ago, before I choked on the blood, died for three minutes and was resurrected by electricity, “The odds are good. Now.”
However, the-woman-who-they-say-is-my-mother is not accepting bets, and the priest is no longer asking for my confession. Good news or bad? And which first? If you ask me, they seem to be one and the same.
The priest stands silent at the-woman-who-they-say-is-my-mother’s shoulder and nods. Seeming to agree. He looks into me as if I’ve seen things no one should. A sense of envy? Pity? I don’t know. I just want his stark-gray eyes out of mine. What? What? What?!
I’d speak, and indeed shout, but my jaws are wired shut. My tongue, what is left, what could be sewn together and back on, is barb-wired with stitches. My mouth is a concentration camp of swelling and pain. I’m the Jew and the Nazi, simultaneously. The last and only ounce of will keeps my heart from falling into the cold, deep mass-grave of my soul.
Besides what would I, could I, whisper? Say? Explain? Shout? Scream? Or, for that matter, confess?
Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t know. Again, I don’t know.
Yes, I realize they want to hear of the beatific white light, about the angelic visions at the tunnel’s end. Hear the confounding truth of deep, tranquil peace transcending through me as I lay on the forest floor dying. Wonder at the magic of Universal Understanding coursing through me when hastily lifted from the road and shoved into a car.
And what of Enlightenment? What of the Nirvana scenes when frantic hands pressed quickly stained material into my deep wounds? Were my many, many sins forgiven when the helicopter lifted from the sallow yellow stalks of the wheat field? And when rushed into the blatant white of the emergency room did I realize the atom is the sun, the electron Mercury, Venus, Mars?
Lurking behind the frantic doctors and nurses, the priest, wrapped in stillness, waited like a spectral vulture for me to give up and acquiesce, to agree with Death. Oh, I’m absolutely sure he knows the power of “Yes.”
“Yes, my son, you may go with God’s grace.”
The priest stepped forward, so very far. My eyes unable to turn away—hypnotized as much by my desire as his.
Suddenly blood and the nearing flat line scream of nothing.
Three minutes of eternity. Ceiling view. My double on the examining table. They throw salve on his chest and clear for the true god, electricity. Oh, how he shook, arched, convulsed. Beauty incarnate.
Again they plied his bare cage with shock. And somehow the pain, the joy, the cryptic kiss was enough.
How instant, how frightening, how perfect the spirit collapsed back. It gasped great, confused by the sudden collapse and return, to the time tainted mortal world.
They would wish to hear the epic tale of death and resurrection. The sordid tales of the wonderful beyond. The glory vision of the marvelous absolute, but I have none.
I am hollow.
I am empty.
I only have the bandages, and wounds, of this world for company.
There was no courage in acquiring them. There was only the luck of getting lost, of somehow returning to the twisted flames devouring the tinder dry house of my body.
And yes, there is one thing I would tell them about this voyage of the flesh. One word describes all I feel and believe; one word that coalesces the Universe into understanding and comprehension—OOOUUUCCCHHH!!!
They’ve told me, as I no longer know anything for myself, I am back in Portland,Oregon. Specifically, they add,St. Vincent’s Hospital. They did not provide the specifics of how I got here. Here to the hospital, not to this world, not this time. Specifics are not a forte of theirs. Nor is caring, presently, one of mine. I am scared, though. They have a drug that can cover up three days and two hundred miles. What scares me more is the sharp realization that here I am only an object. One they own absolutely, completely.
Another eon has passed. Another eon of anonymous hands turning, washing, jabbing, probing, feeling me—a slab of beef whose price per pound is confusing the experts—has also disappeared. A month in X-ray, listening to the hum and click of the great penetrating machine, has also finished. The decade traversing the sullen, analgesic halls on the flat, coffin stretcher has also ended.
Now the long centuries trapped motionless in the dark room, listening to the death whispers of the machines, has begun.
From this deep angle one cannot tell the time. Ten or two? What difference in this shadow land? Time is ethereal, ghostlike, except for the arrival of the night nurse who I attempt to scold with my tired, tired eyes. She shakes her head at my urine stained crotch.
“They can tend to this in the morning.” Fine. Just fucking fine. Hag. Bitch.
Vertigo, like a surrogate skin, is stitched tight around me and they have the gall, the audacity, and the ignorance to call it a day. Typical. Fucking typical.
Presently, like all mornings in this thick womb, I am propped up so I can look out the window and witness the miracle of the traffic buzzing by on Highway 26. Occasionally I’m lucky enough to see the bright arrival of an ambulance. But that is an infrequent distraction to an otherwise bland and grueling boredom.
From my vantage I am also a privy witness to the construction of the new Westside Light Rail, a commuter train for those confined by movement. The future is being built beneath my window, while the past is all that is allowed in my lap. Pitiful.
I am interrupted by a nurse in training to be witness to the extraordinary leaps and bounds that have been achieved in my recovery. Movement of my head has been restored, which has given the nurses great faith in the possibility of my dead, driftwood hands ripping her cold, knobby stick fingers off. What contentment to listen to the wailing of maimed nurses running chaotic through the hospital’s halls. If only... if only, but no... no.
So, on occasion, they come in and place their fingers in my dead fist.
“Squeeze.” She smiles that three-mosquitos-in-a-well-lit-alley-could-beat-the-shit-out-of-you smile, and says, “Squeeze,” again. We do the charade a couple more times, as if this were a play and I just needed to concentrate harder on memorizing my lines.
Here’s a line for you, and you, and you; my arms and hands and legs, everything, even my heart, are hibernating beneath six thick feet of heavy, Antarctic snow. What sun is there that could thaw this pain, this incomprehensible cold struggle?
She disengages my hand and places it loosely at my side. Then, like an afterthought, she pats my shoulder, saying, “Tomorrow.”
While I’m thinking tomorrow is spelled N-E-V-E-R.
She checks the IV and vein. Their union seems complete. She moves to the miscellaneous stitches, raps, bandages across my chest and abdomen, straightens-tightens (ouch, bitch) the harness around smashed shoulder and clavicle and announces, “Things look pretty good.” Pretty good considering losing half a lung, three ribs, a broken jaw, and a partridge (actually an eagle) in a pear tree.
Her eyes are soft and eternal, and I wish for coins that bright when I have to pay the Ferryman. They are a brown easily lost in, and remind me of someone. Someone who I should remember, but there’s only this ache of not being able to recall where, or why, or when, or who. Shit.
She smiles again, different though, and says something so extremely ironic I blink slowly, definitively. For an instant my body is coalesced into recognition. Even my toes are like marbles in my mouth.
“Don’t give up,” she says, as she turns and walks out, leaving me silent, still, and surprisingly aware of being alone.
Another thousand years have passed and I can now write my name. Hands and arms are slowly remembering this odd waltz, this cryptic dance between desire and action. What song? What tempo? What steps?
They say my “condition” has stabilized and I’m now ready. Ready for? They will only call it by its macabre and ambiguous name—“reconstructive surgery.” I’m wondering what I look like under these white sheets? What archaic form hides beneath these bandages?
I have not seen the aftermath of myself. There are, however, the oblique reflections in the television, the doctor’s and nurses’ eyes, to give odd and twisted clues to the true destruction. And those mirrors I would prefer not to look too hard in, lest I not recognize myself.
Still I do not use my tongue. The wires on my jaws will remain for another five weeks. I guess this is one way to lose those last five pounds.
So, with the liberation of my hands from the lifeless death camp of cold, I talk on paper. A small note pad is my mouth, a pencil my tongue—never before has it been this hard to lie.
They, the doctors, say I am lucky to be alive. And, as a postscript, they add I am luckier to have the possibility to walk again. The fusion of a few discs should help that process along. And the young, blond one begins his technical ramblings. I’m too red dust dry and hollow to feel anything, or care, or listen.
The doctors are infrequent visitors. They are like jackals, jackals only here when there is something struggling and dying on the desert floor.
So, they’re here explaining the surgery I’m destined for tomorrow in reverent tones from a tight shoulder-to-shoulder group. They use words like graph and fuse, tendon and bone chip, and... whatever. Then, the young one, like he’s buying a house, says, “We’ll see what it’s like when we get inside, and go from there.”
What’s he mean by “inside”? This is my head, regardless of how empty, not some hillside Tudor.
As a side note, with synchronized unison looking at their watches, they ask, “How are you doing? Otherwise—” Otherwise? Otherwise, they have patients with insurance, tee times to make, and over priced, luxury, sports cars to drive slowly through traffic.
I want to tell them of the insights into Dante—purgatory isn’t having someone eating your brains out while trapped in ice. At least you’re not alone, and you can poison them with dirty, cyanide thoughts. Hell is... again they’re glancing at their watches.
Instead I write back, ‘I am that wounded duck in the young, untrained retriever’s mouth.’ For a moment they’re confused, fearing brain damage, or latent psychosis. But finally they laugh, long, and loud, at this joke.
Perhaps thinking if someone makes a mistake, they can always confess the damage had been done—he already thought himself a duck. HaHa. HaHa.
Maybe it’s the medication. Maybe it’s the musty, white, damp smell of bandages on the collapsed half of my face. Maybe it’s the chaffing of the oxygen hose on the gorgeous red flame of my throat. Maybe it’s being fetal in a dead womb, where time is the only excuse for nourishment. Maybe it’s being dead and restored into this trampled slab of flesh. Maybe it’s realizing that there is an absence at my side and her name is Jen. Maybe it’s the five-hour reconstructive surgery I have for a castle to live in tomorrow morning. Whatever it is, I think these doctors are assholes.
The nurse, who hides her pain behind a smile, said it would help—the long, angular syringe I took for breakfast a half-hour ago. She said the clear, ominous nectar would help, but not what, nor how, or why.
“Morning pumpkin,” the nurse said, smiling sadly. I have not asked, but believe I must resemble the jack-o-lantern a nine-year-old child has carved with a dull and rusty paring knife.
I smile and agree. She smiles too.
“Sorry, pumpkin, but this is going to be breakfast.” Nestled, comfortably, in her hand was the syringe. Quickly, no time to argue, she placed the needle in the IV and pushed the mystery liquid into me.
And then she said, “It will help.” I smiled, but could not agree. She continued, “Get some rest, pumpkin, you’ve got a long day ahead. Okay?” I nodded. “I’ll be back in a half-hour and we can get this all over with. Now get some rest.” And she left. It was simple as that.
Now she is back. That was quick, too quick. It seems the drug is working. It’s working all too well. Working.
“Ready?” she asks as if there was anything I could answer but ‘Yes.’ “Good. I brought lunch too.” Again in her hand is the tame animal syringe. I smile, far more sincere than last, agreeing with everything.
She does her quick deed and waits a moment, resting familiarly in my eyes.
“Pumpkin? You okay?” Smiling, smiling, smiling. “Well, okay. Here we go.” Laugh. “Let the journey begin.” Laugh. Laugh.
Door swings open like a clown’s mouth, a long relentless corridor waiting. Casual ghosts glide by—’Hi,’ ‘Hello,’ ‘How are things?’ None of them answer.
Right turn. Left turn. Straight. Straight. Left turn. Right turn. More doors, more serious. Bright lights steal my attention. The odd sound of voices whispering, of complicated life machines, of a heavy, lingering silence.
Click sounds. Buzz sounds. “Good luck, pumpkin.” A plastic mask, full of deep gas—an honest, sincere “thank you, thank you.”
A sharp instant of emergency clad bodies hovering over a scarlet torso, then the slow, slow fade of descending through a sky so pale-gray it’s white and onto an island dark as the past....