Nothing I do is ever without motive or means. Ever!
It is with that in mind that I am more than proud to present to you today’s guest blogger...Sam Reeves. Why? Because the man can flat-out write!
His ability to paint vistas and build cities with words is like none other I’ve read and his wit is, I hate to admit, sharper than mine. Uncertain if he would take the bait of my offer, I was so pleased that he did...because it gives me a chance to tell him, in my own personal forum...YOU NEED TO DO SOMETHING WITH THIS, SAM! WRITE!!! WRITE!!! WRITE!!!
Without further ado, please enjoy the commas and prose of my friend, Sam Reeves!
Deborah Cota is a celebrity around our house. She's a writer -- which alone is enough to launch my wife and I into nearly felonious geekitude. Tonya thinks it's cool to know a novelist. I live the author's dream vicariously through Deborah's posts. When she asked me to guest blog for "The Dante Chronicles," I reacted like John Lithgow in Third Rock from the Sun:
Then, of course, came the hard part. Writing something. How could I connect Deborah's life and mine, when we have never met? With her house in California and mine in Oklahoma, we're not exactly neighbors. Thanks to the Great Escapes and Facebooks of the world, we are sort of digital friends.
"No," I tell my wife, "she's not a virtual friend. That's something else entirely."
"Whatever, loser boy. Just write something."
Okay. My blog chronicles the mind-boggingly stupid situations I stumble into. Deborah chronicles demons. So, have I experienced a mind-boggingly stupid situation involving demons?
As for what follows, to quote Dave Barry, "I swear I am not making this up."
Demons scare the bejabbers out of me, even though I spent most of my life disbelieving in them, contrary to upbringing. Mom and dad were religious. I was rebellious. And I endured a considerable portion of childhood standing in corners after pointing out the similarities between their god and Santa Claus. (Okay, "rebellious" is probably too strong. The Hermione Granger of my family comes closer to the truth.) Innocently ironic, Mom -- although she avoided the world's "devil worshippin'" offerings, like my music collection -- was a horror movie fan, and she infected me with this eldritch fascination. It was cute seeing a 75-year-old grandma -- who loved kittens and fuzzy ducks ("doodles") -- cackle when the sheet of glass bisected the dude in 13 Ghosts. So, I grew up on The Exorcist, The Omen, and anything else Mom labeled "a good, juicy scare one."
But I didn't believe in demons.
After several decades of my mind absorbing Hollywood's most demonic, I developed sleep apnea. One did not cause the other. But these two do tie together...by way of hallucinations.
You probably know that apnea interrupts a sleeper's respiration. The doctor told me, with the same incredulous tone he might have used to diagnose me with menstrual cramps, that out of every 60 minutes I managed to quit breathing 72 times, all night, every night. (Apnea is life-threatening, and I am not trying to make light of it, but I have always believed that laughter is better than fear.) Sleep did no good against gasping for 8 hours. It might have been better simply to stay awake. The side effects started with an inability to finish a movie conscious, followed immediately by a pillow whack. (Apnea involves snoring -- LOUD.) Later, I started falling asleep listening to conversation. Embarrassment and apologies ensued, especially to one of my professors bearing a reputation for a monotone that knocked people out. With even more practice, I mastered passing out while I was talking.
The condition advanced undiagnosed for at least a year, meaning I hadn't slept for a year. Driving became dangerous since every trip involved little time jumps where the landscape was suddenly different. Sometimes I woke to the sound of gravel hitting the side of the car. Eventually, I began to hallucinate. At least, I guess they were hallucinations. You see, I stopped dreaming. The body knows it needs to dream. So, if you don't dream while you're asleep, you start doing it while you're awake. I did, anyway. It wasn't cool or funny, or trippy. It can be jarring while working up a rather awe-inspiring halo of Herbal Essences for Normal Hair then realizing that underneath the patter-splash of water you hear an old Quiet Riot song coming from the shower head.
But that was just the start. (Bear with me. The demon part is coming.)
A year or two before, I worked in a mental health facility, where a nurse told me that auditory hallucinations are the most common and that it is a-whole-nother ballgame when they go visual.
It was a 9:00 AM literature class on the second floor of Shipley Hall. The professor (not the one who put people to sleep) explained with impassioned marker board diagrams how she felt that the cut-off for worthwhile fiction was the year 1900. Anything younger than that still needed to grow up a bit. Normally I ignored these lectures, but this day, trying to wrap my brain around how Hemingway and J.D. Salinger could be considered the literary equivalent of punk, rug-rats, distracted me from the decision I needed to make about what I saw in the corner of my eye. Judging the scene turned out to be easier than I expected, however. I simply decided the black Labrador Retriever wuff-wuffing at the mop boards probably wasn't normal.
I tried to look directly at him, but the damn thing kept moving faster than I could keep up, like chasing those little black floaters you get in your eye. I surreptitiously glanced around the room to see whether anyone else saw. No one seemed to pay attention to him -- or better yet, to me. I turned my attention back to the author bashing (the prof had now switched to the RED marker), and eventually, the lab grew increasingly distant and indistinct. Looking back now and knowing what was to come, I wonder whether this phantom (demon?) dog was a kind of harbinger.
Time passed. I hid from my wife most of the goings on. I hinted, though, as with "I went to sleep around eight-thirty last night. I went to bed around midnight." She shook her head. I didn't offer any other detail. Besides, she enjoyed whacking me with pillows every evening. I couldn't admit something was wrong and getting worse. So, the demons did it for me.
They came to me in bed. When I lifted my head, I felt a chill through my sweat-drenched hair from where it had touched the pillow. I opened my eyes and looked across the room. A shape crouched in the corner. I could not see it directly. The streetlight cast a dim smear down the wall, making the silhouette visible in the dark, which could have been a cardboard cutout of Rodin's The Thinker. It was more still and silent than something alive. I doubted I was dreaming, because in dreams I never question such things; I just accept everything as real.
I tried to ask it who it was, but my throat and tongue were dead.
I tried to make some sort of noise. All I could do was exhale.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" my wife said.
"Huh?" I managed.
"You keep saying, 'Oh God! Oh God!'"
"Really?" I looked toward the corner. Nothing was there but the smear of light. My skin began to tingle, which I assumed was oxygen returning to the extremities. It was a relief, like walking into an air conditioned building from a hard August sun.
"Um, yeah," I said. "I think I had a spider on me."
I got a pretty wide evil streak, even in stressful situations. Maybe more so in stressful situations, because they usually offer opportunities to say things like, "It was on my neck. Big, soft thing. When I threw it against the wall on your side of the bed, it made this cushy thump like a grape."
Tonya said, "It's four A.M. Do you really want to sleep on the couch?"
"Nope. Done that tonight already."
"I have a headache," she said and patted my shoulder. "Right here."
We had moved to another house before the second demon came. I opened my eyes. I won't say that I woke up, because, again, I don't know.
Something filled my mouth. I could move only my eyes. Against the ceiling floated a woman as pale as a vampire and completely black and white, not even a hint of blue in the eyes. Her hair floated like she was under water, and it mixed with an inky mist that I realized was her body. The root of this mist, falling from the rest of her form, held open my mouth.
I, of course, starting thinking about H.R. Giger paintings. Some of his work contains themes of being gagged, usually in the most visceral way possible. Focusing on his imagery calmed my thoughts from the whiteout conditions of panic to something more along the lines of, "Eww." This thing was in my mouth. I didn't know where it had been. Do demons wash with antibacterial soap? What kind of soap do they have in Hell? Lava soap, of course, with pumice and scented with brimstone!
This apparently annoyed my levitating succubus visitor. I assumed she read my thoughts and discovered I was no longer appropriately terrified. Her mist had thinned enough that I was on the verge of making a noise like, "Ahem!" She didn't fade out; she just simply wasn't there, like one of those time jumps I experienced while driving. Her exiting expression had been similar to the look my cat used to give to me whenever I asked her to whistle.
Muscle control returned to me. I rolled onto my side, closed my eyes, and awaited the inevitable pillow assault.
Tonya and I lived in yet another house, when the final of my demon triad arrived. Like the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, he came in his own time. After six solid weeks of rain one July, finding our apartment floor involved diving. Hundreds of people had been displaced from their homes, so we stayed with my parents until something became available.
One night, I had just pulled the covers up over me, making sure that neither my feet nor hands lie exposed or too close to the edge of the mattress, (it's just safer that way) when Tonya said, "Did you check the doors?"
"Yes." I inhaled long and slow. "Maybe."
"You need to get up and check."
I grumbled my way out the doorway and down the hall. The bright brass doorknob on the front entrance somehow glowed even in the total darkness of the living room. I jiggled the knob. Nothing turned, and just to make sure, I gently pulled the door toward me. It was solid. Satisfied and a little bit annoyed, I turned around.
A stranger was lying on the floor, blocking the hallway. Even though I somehow knew, nothing indicated he was a demon. He wore slacks and work boots. Shirt tucked in. One knee was cocked to the side and just his forearms touched the carpet. He crawled military style. Momentarily I second guessed that maybe he was a Marine. No. Everything about him was the color of bone, even his skin and clothes and boots. His head ducked in the cradle of his arms so I couldn't see his eyes and tell whether he was truly albino. The demon showed no signs that he was aware of me, but he began to crawl in my direction.
No painters or passionate literature lectures could distract me this time. I simply needed to convince myself that my eyes were liars.
"You're not real."
I stepped forward.
"You're not real."
He crawled farther toward me. Didn't look up.
"You're not real."
I stepped forward again.
"You're not real." Bah! Humbug!
We were now nearly close enough to touch each other, and I considered simply walking through him to prove he wasn't there. Ironically, I wanted to prove to him that he didn't exist. I could not force myself to step on him, though, because I didn't want to hear him yelp. I could only move forward by picking up my foot as high as possible and stepping over him like a cartoon cat burglar clearing a tripwire. If someone only had a camera at that moment, they would have caught something YouTube worthy.
The albino demon never noticed me and I never looked back.
A couple of weeks later, the sleep study happened and the doctor ordered a CPAP machine for me. It is this thing attached by a hose to a mask that looks like an oxygen mask and goes strapped to your head. The technician warned me that the seal needed to be tight for the machine to work. She said nothing about the uncontrollable urge to raise your fist in the air and say, "If you only knew the power of the Dark Side!"
The next day I felt like a million bucks. Canine-free lectures were less annoying. Calculus is much easier to understand while you are awake. (Although, I still suck at math.) I could hold conversations, watch movies, and drive.
The demons never came back. I guess the CPAP kind of works like the Ghostbusters' trap. Those three spirits had not done it all in one night, but I was definitely changed after their visits.
I am not going to say I miss them...or even believe, but every once in a while, I stroll through Deborah Cota's novels to visit the denizens. Who knows? Maybe they are distant cousins.
Sam Reeves writes the semi-regular blog "With Both Hands and a Flashlight," which can be found at