And as a youth I worked in the nuthouse. It’s kind of a Northwest tradition for writers (see Ken Kesey) to spend their time in that kind of institution. Only difference was (at least between Ken and me) that my nuthouse actually processed the fruit of the filbert tree. Have you eaten filberts? You did, sure you did, but you called ‘em hazelnuts. It’s the same thing.
Well, the odd part of it was in the haunting. It seems that a poor sod died of Maraschino Cherry brine poisoning, that being a rather noxious, as well as odious thing to do to a perfectly self-respecting Royal Anne cherry, and still done to this day. Take the sweet, blushing fruit and soak it in acids better left in the car battery, bleach it the color of linen, and when it’s firm as a snare drum head, inject it with sugar and cancer red dye. But anyway, a man died below stairs in the nuthouse and it was our belief (since the haunt was well known) that he bit it on the cherry line.
As I was in the habit of working nights, and taking a trenchant book to read (during the slow times), I thought that I might get through ‘The Mountains of Madness’ in no time. Unfortunately the book supplies to the reader an inordinate amount of native fear, and wouldn’t you know, the damned ghost fed upon that like a kitten takes to a tin of tuna. I think he was even peering over my shoulder, willing me on to the scary parts, since a haunt has little else to do.
Let me tell you, Lovecraft is bad enough without the likes of that, too. I took to thanking the fact that I had read Castenada and learned the trick of not allowing spirits into one's corporeal being. I must say it works, as I have attended Christian primitive services where there was much waving of arms in tongues, and from which I walked out unscathed, simply with the utilization of Carlos’ tactics. This falls under the heading of when I vowed to myself never to be possessed by any other spirit (divine or dervish) but my own. And never mind that Don Juan turned out to be a great big fake, if a body believes, then it might as well be true.
So, alternately closing off my spirit-hole to the predation of the unholy, and exposing the brain to terror, I passed an uneasy autumn. But don’t be worrying, the nuts got done to a turn, nonetheless. Now I can hear you out there, you who have never had a close encounter of the weird kind, and you don’t believe me. Rest assured I have had more than one meeting with the representatives from the Other Side, many more, in fact, than I have ever had with the God of our forefathers, angels, or even the lowly apostles returning to earth in case they need to run a holy errand or two. No, I came upon believing in haunts in the natural course of things, having suffered at their hands, which left me no doubt as to their whichevers.
If anything it was probably the worse for me since I had had a turn myself at the mixing of Maraschino Cherry brine. Something that the job safety folks would now put the foot down over, I am sure. It would be no surprise to me if his ghostness had not marked me then for special consideration, the fumes rising into his undead nostrils and all, and it being the death of him, as well. He was ever more active upon the barreling of the cherries.
And that brings me to the sadness. The nuthouse which, to my way of thinking, should have been preserved as a monument to “Industry on Parade”, was deemed outmoded, and as such, torn, unceremoniously, to the ground. I can guarantee that no thought was given to the fate of the unsanctified spirit, roaming up and down among the belts and bins, no, it was as if he didn’t exist to them that had got the smell of destruction in their noses. At times, to this day, I will go past that now-empty lot and wonder what has happened to him. Has he gone away, into the neighborhood, seeking, as it were, the fresh meat? Or does he wander, lonely, among the cars (they having paved it for parking), hankering ever after the sound of elevator buckets rhythmically dumping nuts on belts he thought would run forever?
See the sadness, never to suck fear again from foolish frightened college boys, making do only with the occasional misplacement of the magnetic key boxes that are in such vogue? Having to rely on paltry momentary discomfort when he had been used to savoring near, unbridled panic? I write this memorium for him.
If I were able I would send him gladly to his rest, so long deserved, whereby he might gain peace among the millipedes and sow-bugs, to stop his foot-less journey in a thankless spiral. I would blow away that last clinging memory, when he was overcome by a mixture of hydro-chloric acid and sulphur dioxide, that scent of death he was unable to avoid, lo those many years. I would lay him down among the cars, and after the ritual burning of the Lovecraft, say a sweet final benediction to maybe free us both, me for the forgetting and him for the getting on.
The nuthouse still stands, oh yes, on the firm and fertile shores of my past. And through its shadowed windows I still see the flicker, an unsubstantial face peering, not yet abjured to unrelenting fate. Still wishing he had zigged when all the world around him zagged, and still a prisoner to the inexorable reality of time, he wanders yet through these half-forgotten dusty cogs and mildewed screens of memory.