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Only occasional visits were permitted to be paid to Uncle. He was pretty unstable in all sorts of ways; indefinite and ever changing. Were his problems genetic? Environmental? Or was there much more to it?
Most of the family was content with, “Oh he’s crazy!” And occasionally, after a strained inquiry by myself I’d get a bit less concise but still equally as vague answer like, “He’s nuts, son. I love ’im to death, honest I do, and I believe your mother does too. Hell. . .” and at this point he catches a glance from Mother which implies that his dialect is unsatisfactory. Then he resumes: “Heck I mean, if you’ll pardon my French.
Anyways, we all love your Uncle, son. Good Lord knows we’ve got to, no one else in the world does. He’s a burden we’ve all got to bear. No, no, pardon that again; poor word choice on my part. He ain’t no burden. Good Lord just sent ‘em on down to us to test our faith and devotion. But he’s got problems, son, and it ain’t healthy for you to be gwyne down there all the time, dwellin’ in that smoky old dungeon’o his and listenin’ to his crazy fairy stories. You oughtta be spendin’ time in The Word, gettin’ closer to the Lord, ‘stead’o goin’ on down to that hospital all the time.”
Still, he was fascinating to me; an enigma. Of course human psychology is exceedingly fascinating, with all sorts of secular and rational explanations for what the spiritualists see as a basic will instilled by some divine maker. I understood psychology well enough, I took a course in High School; it was coherent enough for me to attach the fruits of these studies into everyday situations.
But not when I visited Uncle, or when I lie awake during the gray hours; about 4 AM and a couple of hours onward, if you’ve been awake at that time and are familiar with the eerie and enigmatic emotions it instills. The gray hours invoke the most fantasy, and mystery, and bleak contemplations on just what cosmic cataclysm spawned the matter and energy that is Uncle, my Uncle, the awe invoking terror. I’m a realist, and I don’t hold much belief in the soul or in any sort of immaterial entity beyond what is visible and observable; but with Uncle this rational mindset is always temporarily suspended.
At this time this suspension was in effect. Uncle’s seasoned and glassy eyes seemed to be focused in my general direction; though it’d be up to the great philosophers to debate on whether or not this could be considered “focus” at all, since he wasn’t showing interest in any object in particular. The hay-colored, greasy yarn that grew from his scalp hung over his face, creating an unintentional eloquence and individualistic air about him. He didn’t style it; Uncle would never concern himself with such things.
It only fell that way because it followed natural laws; though one could conjecture that they seemed abnormally adapted to these laws. Soda pop vending machines were to my right; the oversized image of a sweating plastic bottle just barely visible. They were unplugged, all commercial and economic activity having been ceased for the remainder of this night. On the left the wall was blank and indistinguishable in the dim light, which came only from the moon, straight ahead, through the window which Uncle was sitting in front of. We were sitting at an old card table. Visiting hours would be ending soon. As if he were aware of this urgency, he spoke suddenly:
“The Spirit World, you ever see’d it?” Of course it sounded like nonsense, no dispute there. But Uncle fascinated me; I was infatuated with his natural earnestness and his wonderful charm. I told Uncle that I hadn’t ever been by that region before.
“I hadn’t neither, old nephew of mine. Hadn’t never been there before; not before last night. But last night, yessir, I certainly did go there. I went right on up there, and I seen some things like you probly wouldn’t believe. Some real divine revelations, I witnessed. Good Lord shown me a lots’o scary things; real disturbing to the Spirit. After I came on back home, I said to myself: ‘You know what Uncle?’ And Uncle says back to me: ‘What Uncle?’ And so I tell‘im, real straight to the point and precisely, I tell ‘em that we ain’t never gonna speak of this to you.”
I was flattered that the awesome enigma who is the centerpiece of this wordy arrangement would think of me immediately upon returning to this plane of existence. “Yessir, we didn’t never want to tell you, didn’t never. But then we ‘membered you was a’growin’ on up, and we ‘membered how much of a good and graceful old lad you are. You’ve got a good head there on them slim shoulders boy, and I’m gonna shoot somethin’ on in there for you to chew on for a while, and then you can take whatever you want from it, and you can believe me, or you can’t believe me; it’s all up to you.
Most people don’t believe a God damned thing I say, forgive me Lord; that’s why they stamped my right ass cheek with the Seal of Schizophrenia and then booted me on the left one; sent me right on into the State Hospital, but that’s no matter. It keeps me from headin’ to McDonald’s in the mornin’ times, and that’s a God damned annoyance, forgive me Lord, but it sure as all Hell don’t keep me from gettin’ up nights and takin’ a trip to the Spirit World.
As I said, you’ve got quite an open mind between the ears and I figure you’ll at least listen and analyze for yourself before you just call me a nut and head out. Does that seem an accurate measurement, boy-o? Did I size you up just right, or near-abouts?” I told him I’d listen, and turn the wisdom all over, and give it a fair grade before I printed it in the books, speaking metaphorically of course. “There’s a lad, and a good lad too. Alright, then; here’s where the Holy Tales of Old Uncle begins:
“I, Old Uncle, was just a’nappin’ and dreamin’ on this last night, and was just really a’goin’ at it too. I tell ya, boy-o, nephew o’mine, I ain’t never slept ‘bout near as good as that before, and I reckon I can imagine just why I slept so, too.
“It was Providence, I bet’cha my bottom buck, which slept me so; blissful slumber neatly provided and tucked into my subconscious by God Almighty. You see, I’d be needin’ the refreshment, the clean and pure slumber; I’d be needin’ that Spiritual Whiskey, as I dubbed it, for what was a’fixin’ to come.
‘Cause, gosh, it warn’t but about, mm, 6 or so hours into it that the portal opened up, all purple and spiral-esque and ominous as it appeared, right on in the center of where I was dreamin’. I was dreamin’ good, see, enjoying me a griddle cake, all iced in grease and filled with sweet maple, and I knew right from the git that I’d regret eatin’ that griddle cake.
Hell, I go through them mental motions every time I have me one of them, bad as they are on the gut; only I was apprehensive about this here griddle for just the wrong sort’a reason. It warn’t my body, or more precisely my gut, which were to suffer from that griddle cake; it was my spirit, see, ‘cause just as I took a bite out’er that griddle, I seen somethin’ was fooly. I seen it, not with my eyes, nephew o’mine, but with my spirit.” And, just then, as the divine revelation from the Providential griddle cake was to be revealed, another curious and seemingly quirky fellow entered.
“Alright then, Uncle, alright,” he began, addressing my Uncle by his familiar moniker, “how’sit this here night? You on that tale about the Spurtual Realm, ain’tcha? Heck, Uncle, warn’t you s’posed to be tellin’ me that story?” He gave me a funny look. It seemed like he was trying to feign a scowl, but it was too forced and awkward; I figured he didn’t have much social skill and watched a lot of TV Land.
“And you’s s’posed to be in here ‘bout an hour ago, too, ya asshole. Christ, ya sorry shit, I’s in the middle of gettin’ this important prophetic content through to my nephew, before ya came barrelin’ in here scowlin’ and whinin’ on, ya smelly shit!” The odd man frowned. It seemed more natural than his scowl, by a long shot, and I began to think he was a soft and good natured fellow. “Alright, alright, you ain’t really a smelly shit. Come now, hop off the Frown Trailer, and come take a ride in the pick-up, Spirit World or bust!” At this the odd man seemed to become exceedingly excited, and he seemed to be anxious to begin.
He took a seat at my left, awkwardly close to Uncle, who suggested he sit more towards the middle of us, to balance out the spiritual energy and keep things equal. The odd man looked at me, a little apprehensively, but docilely submitted to Uncle’s stern suggestion, and eased towards me, not taking his eyes off of mine as he did so. He actually was staring more in the neighborhood of my nose, being a bit too meek to make direct eye contact.
Within minutes, Uncle had explained just who I was, and had set the story up in the general area in which he had left it. He started the “pick-up” and began driving it tellingly toward the Spirit World again, charismatically making all the correct turns; slowing at speed bumps, or explaining the more difficult parts; putting his blinker on at just the right times, or building up suspense. He used suspense sparingly, he was frugal with it; he used just enough to where it was effective but still healthy.
Uncle explained how a portal had opened up in his griddle cake, and how the manager came out from the back room of the old diner at which he had been eating it. The manager tried to confiscate the griddle, after finding out what it had spawned, but Uncle explained how he daringly fought him off. The story began to show its strange and gray mood at the introduction of the diner manager; Uncle described him as a sort of humanoid steer. He had horns, and hooves, and all the structures of a steer, though he walked upright. It was odd, and a bit disconcerting, but it was hardly the most bizarre.
Uncle, after fighting off the imposing steer, managed to escape the diner. He hid the half eaten foodstuff in his coat pocket, and hitch hiked on down a bit into a rural area of his dream. The friendly family who drove him were, “a nice enough group o’Mexicans, supposebly headed fer some kinda festival down South.
I didn’t ask many questions, I just accepted the ride gracefully.” Once the friendly foreigners had set him loose, he quickly found a nice wooded spot in which he could carefully examine his weird griddle cake without fear of being questioned or discovered. After a few minutes of analyzing, he discovered that it was a portal and was dimensionally transcendental, allowing him to enter it; first his fingers, then his hands, his arms. Finally, Uncle managed to dive in head first, the portal seemingly expanding when his broader bodily structures began to make their way inside. Here things became much too surreal for my comfort.
I enjoy organization, and structure, and coherence. Uncle’s perceptual spiritual realm was much too surreal and random for me. I tried to analyze the content of his story; categorize it, label it, store it away somewhere in my mind. There was simply no doing this. It was a metaphysical impossibility.
When his story finally began to climax, within the Spirit World, I managed to tear away from my inner interpretation of what was being said long enough to take in my physical surroundings again. Uncle’s entrancing voice, the hypnotic rhythm with which he had told the story, it had distracted me. Upon examining my immediate surroundings, I noticed that the grey hours had long since approached outside. Visiting ours certainly should have been over by this point. Why had no one come to send me home? I checked my cellular device and was received a further slight jolt when I saw that there had been no missed calls. Surely father or, more especially, mother had begun to worry. Even more peculiar was that the time wasn’t visible on my back-lighted screen. There was but a luminous blur. Why?
I began to feel a little shaken, my nerves were vigilant and I was tense. However, I was much too entranced by Uncle’s fantastical tale to dwell on it long. I was becoming more and more intrigued with each passing oddity, with each random encounter. He told of creatures which he described as beautiful, but to me sounded only abominable and horrendous. “Hairless Wendys, they call ‘em,” he said, describing one of the more fantastical beings, “on account o’they’ve got bald heads. And apart from them bald heads they ain’t got nothin’. They walk on bony and pointed structures that resemble the antlers of a buck.
No neck or torso, no sir, just a good woman’s head and a pair of antlers to help’m get around. And gorgeous creatures, they are.” It was disgusting. It was sick. “And them Wendys, they live in houses that look like great hornet’s nests. And they don’t carry keys, but ruther use their tongues to identify themselves and enter. Each tongue is different, you see.” Jesus Christ, how I wished he would stop. “And exotic parrots hung in midair, high in the sky, and they glowed, and they were as the stars in the Secular World. And at night they turned upside down to let us all know it was time to retire.” It was insane, each and every bit of it.
Only seeming moments ago, though it was probably hours, I was infatuated by Uncle. Now I began to despise him. I began to feel like father did. I was glad he was put away. He smelled offensively, he was dirty and ill, he had festering sores that he always reopened. I hated him now. And I think he began to notice. Suddenly, the telling of the story ceased. The odd man, who seemed to be in pure ecstatic euphoria at the telling of this disturbed man’s tale, looked puzzled.
“What’s it mean, Uncle, you stoppin’ the tale like so?”
“Seems Nephew don’t quite thank it’s worth listenin’ to. Got a sour look on’is face, like it ain’t believable. P’raps I underestimated’im after all. You don’t understand, do ya boy? You’re just like your father, ain’t ya?”
I was infuriated, but I was ashamed. It was the most awkward and questionable social situation I had ever been faced with. It was unlike me, indeed it was, but I rose and left. I could stand no more.
“Good riddance to ya, ya smelly shit!” the odd man shouted as I left. Imitation is common among those with low levels of intelligence. Uncle just sat grim and stone faced as I left. No more sound came from the visiting lounge as I made my way out of the state hospital.
During the walk home, in those ominous grey hours, I began to feel melancholy and despondent. I also felt physically ill to my stomach, and couldn’t walk as comfortably and speedy as I would have liked. The grey hours were strange hours, indeed, though they did hold their exclusive beauties and vague, rusted charms.
When I was finally close to my destination, my home, I remembered suddenly the strange happenings with my cell phone during visitation with Uncle. Checking the device again, I gathered that things were as they should be. The time was some minutes after 5 in the morning, and it was clearly visible on the screen. Still, however, there were no calls or text messages from my parents. I began to dread arriving at home, but still trudged along as steadily as I could manage, just for warmth and closure. Perhaps they had only fallen asleep.
Just before I entered the cul-de-sac on which I lived I passed a home which always gave me some vague sense of foreboding as I passed it. I never took time to analyze or dissect the sensation, as it had become a naturally recurring thing with me. It was nothing, though, I was sure, and I passed it with no problems.
I was only yards from my front lawn when I heard what sounded like a distant and disgruntled moo. I turned, and saw a figure approaching fairly quickly, an equal distance behind me as my home was in front. It walked erect; it seemed human, though it had an odd shape. There was a slight apprehensiveness deep within me, but a stronger state of bliss, probably because I was in the grey hours. Stronger still was my curiosity, and so I took a seat on the curb on the left side of the street, the side my home sat on
. The figure kept its steady pace on the right side, and as it came closer I saw that it seemed to have horns, like that of a steer. In the grey light, more features became distinguishable as it approached gradually. It had hooves, and a tail that hung from behind. It had short hair over its entire body, and a nose ring, and there was a greasy apron, and a name tag. The name itself remained illegible. It was almost adjacent to me now, on its own side of the street, and at this point I noticed a small figure walking alongside it. It was short, and had a bald head. Aside from this there were only two bony and pointed legs that it hobbled along with. When they were directly across the street from me, they both stopped.
It was sudden, and they didn’t turn in my direction. It almost seemed premeditated. They just stopped, and kept staring ahead as though they were only taking a casual break from an equally as casual walk. Suddenly the sky and everything else along with it began to darken. This was exceedingly unusual, as we were all in the grey hours. Normally the only changes in the lighting at this point would be in favor of the light. It was slow and gradual, almost completely imperceptible at first. Eventually it became undeniably distinguished. After the odd lighting change, sound followed. It sounded like a mid-toned note on a bag pipe.
It grew louder as the earth grew darker, almost perfectly in sync. My immediate surroundings were almost entirely blotted out at this point. Then there were voices. They were all familiar, somehow. I recognized first my mother and father’s. There were those of casual acquaintances, and then came the loudest, and the most inescapably real. It was Uncle’s. Each voice subordinate to Uncle’s spouted only non-sequiturs; complete irrational nonsense. You would think they were all insane. But not Uncle. He spoke clearly and grimly. He spoke with pride. In his voice there was intelligence and intention. He had an agenda.
There was design. Selective hearing took its course automatically, and blotted out all voices but his. I recognized his speech as excerpts from his bizarre and disconcerting story from only minutes earlier. Then, it all ceased. The darkness remained, but the voices all quit. Another moo was uttered, this one only inches in front of me. I had still been sitting on what felt like the curb, but it wasn’t visible. I noticed in my peripheral vision that a Bald Wendy was attempting to establish eye contact with me.
I craned my neck slightly, and saw a hoof offering me a griddle cake. I raised my view just millimeters more. I saw a steer. He looked sickly and I noticed festering sores on him, like I had with Uncle, when I began to hate him. The steer showed its teeth, but it wasn’t menacing. It appeared to be trying to offer a smile, but it was distorted and obviously forced. The oddest factor in all of this nonsense was the absence of any fear. I remained calm, still, and accepted the greasy breakfast item from him. They both turned gracefully and departed.
I sat for long hours with the cake. I was drained, and inwardly blank. It felt like I was dwelling, but on what I wasn’t sure. The darkness had given way just minutes after the steer and Wendy had departed, and the grey hours had long since diminished. Daylight had returned. Things should have been normal again. Why hadn’t they? I sat on the curb still, my hands soaked with putrid grease from the griddle cake. Under my hand there was a dried puddle of it. I didn’t want to eat it. I had no appetite. I sat for hours more, and the grey hours eventually returned again. Still, no one came.