FOOTPRINT OF A GHOST

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Chapter 8

Ajax was a hero in Greek mythology, also known as Ajax the Great: the son of a king and the grandson of the God Zeus.

I learned about him in a collection of Encyclopedias for kids that my father bought for me. They came with a full set of Encyclopedia Britannica that he had to pay for in monthly installments because they were expensive. He felt that it was something that the family, me in particular, should have, so he bought them anyway despite the financial onus. I found the name for my Chihuahua in those books- Hector.

Also the son of a King and the descendant of a God, Apollo according to some poets and literati, Hector was a mighty warrior who led the soldiers of Troy in the epic struggle against the Greeks during the Trojan War. The aforementioned Ajax was his primary archenemy: like Lex Luthor to Superman or Sherlock Holmes to Professor James Moriarity or Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian- though I had not heard yet of course of the latter two. Even though he did not favor the war between the Greeks and Trojans, Hector was characterized by both friend and foe as a “maniac” and a powerfully explosive force.

It was by accident of course, that I even came to learn about Hector. I was looking for information about the famous Trojan horse that I’d become aware of by reading comic strips or watching Saturday morning television. What a legendary, archetypal concept right; to disguise death to your enemy as a gift! I proudly shared the knowledge that I had learned from the books he’d bought for me with my father. And he thought it was so nifty that he decided to give his new Bantam Rooster- a prize winner hopefully- the sobriquet, Ajax.

Also there was a powerful and popular cleaning product by that same name that had been around since the late nineteen forties- Ajax. Its slogan was: “Stronger than dirt”, a catchphrase my father considered a powerful appellation to describe the bearer of the equally muscular and heroic moniker. So to his mind it was both: clever and comical as well as appropriate to identify his new Bantam rooster by a popular cleaning powder and Greek hero. Surely, the fowl by being given the name would be inculcated with all the magic and force of those who preceded it.

What I did not take into account when I choose to name my Chihuahua Hector, after the greatest Trojan warrior, was that he was killed by Achilles, the Greek’s greatest warrior. And what my father did not take into account when he named his first Bantam rooster Ajax, after a great Greek warrior and popular cleaning powder, was that Ajax committed suicide because he wanted to possess the armor that belonged to Achilles after Achilles was killed and was not allowed to have it. He flew into a rage and slaughtered a heard of innocent cattle because he falsely believed that they belonged to an enemy. And when he realized the dishonor and depravity of his craven deed, threw himself on his own sword.

“We need to put a door at this end of the chicken coop,” my father would tell me as I helped him construct the pen where he would house the flock of Bantam hens that Ajax was duty-bound to dominate and inseminate. “So that we can open it up and get to all the eggs that the hens are going to lay.”

“Since Banty hens are smaller than regular chickens,” I recall asking him, “How many of their eggs does it take to make an omelet?”

“Well son,” he would say, “I suppose that depends on the size of the omelet. And that’s Bantam, not Banties.”

My father was a talented man, with his hands, but he was not a carpenter. Fortunately the coop was only about fifteen feet long and four or five feet wide and cobbled together with two by four lumber and chicken wire. I think it was mostly the chicken wire that held the thing together and the neighbor’s fence of course.

It was not a particularly expensive fence but in good repair- pressure treated pine panels four inches wide and six feet tall. And since we did not have a fence that enclosed our yard, my father figured that a portion of the neighbor’s fence, which separated our two yards, was perfect for the chicken coop’s fourth wall. So henceforth consequently, without any further ado or consideration, my father nailed his two by fours and chicken wire into the backside, which was our side, of the neighbor’s wooden fence. It was a decision that would create considerable discord and ultimately contribute to the reason we moved out of that house but not the most important detail of this chapter of my life. It was significant however in a series of events that would bring about the discovery that clarified for me what it was I was fated to... for lack of a succinct way to describe it.

“We’ll put a hasp and lock down here...” my father said, “On this door to the nesting box so Hank Kidd can’t get in here and steal the eggs or my rooster.”

The nesting box was about the size of a large doghouse and elevated a couple of feet off the ground so that if there was rain and the water rose, the chickens could get inside and stay dry. There was a brief cantilevered, wooden ramp that led from the dirt into the little flock’s fortress of solitude and sanctuary. It was also where they roosted at night. Because the chicken wire was so porous, I could throw their feed through the wire. But of course, I would have to unlock the lock and remove it from the hasp when it was my time to collect the little Banty eggs.

There was something feverish and desperate in the way my father built that coop and in the fevered assurance he seemed to ingurgitate from it. What I didn’t realize at that moment was that he was coming undone, that it was the onset of his mental unraveling.

“I don’t know how he did it,” my father said, still referring to Hank Kidd, “spent all that time on the job working with me and taking rides from me home and talking to me about personal stuff and then disappearing like that, without a trace. It was like nobody else even seems to know he ever existed.”

Daylight had already abandoned my father and me to the darkness by the time we finished the chicken coop.

“But this lock will keep Hank Kidd out!” My father said holding the thing in his hand and tugging at it to test the thing’s resolve. “As long as we make sure it’s locked and Hank Kidd doesn’t get his hands on the key.”

“How would he get his hands on the key?” I asked my father, a bit frightened at the prospect of this man that I had never seen whom my father obviously found frightful, finding a way to take possession of something that we prized and protected.

“Because he’s devilish clever!” my father would say. “I suspect he may even have abilities that normal men don’t have?”

“Abilities like what?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t know.” My father said. “There is obviously so much I don’t know about him. But I think that somehow he has the power to prevent people from seeing him. I don’t think he can make himself invisible exactly but... something. Maybe he has the ability to make himself seem smaller than he is, or something.”

It was just about then that I saw the dog.

Since our yard had no fence to separate it from the alley, I had an unobstructed view of the hound back there where the garbage cans were. He, or she, was very dark, and at first I thought it was a shadow. I would not have noticed it at all if it had not been for the eyes which seemed to flash light at me and were red. For years I thought that the eyes of animals actually emitted light because of the way that dog’s did. And his teeth... or hers...were very white and very large when it yawned at me. It would be years later before I would even hear of the fabled Chupacabra, literally translated as “goatsucker” because that’s what they do. A standup comic in a bar in Dallas, Texas would make the comment that the Chupacabra was “very rare, but easy to spot.” It was the first time I recall ever hearing of that particular cryptid and it was actually around then, the late 1990s that the Goat Sucker arrived on the scene as a “thing” in popular urban legend.

So I would come to realize years later, i.e., retrospectively, that that is what the strange canid reminded me of, or a Tasmanian tiger perhaps when it yawned, which was actually a marsupial that closely resembled a canine and became hunted into extinction for its hide by 1933. There is archived footage of the beast yawning. It had a very long snout and mouth... full of teeth.

I would dream of the dog that night, if that’s what it was. Its teeth were hollow and it managed to somehow get into the chicken coop and though Ajax put up a heroic fight, the Thylacine Chupacabra Vampire dog would sink its hollow fangs into the throat of the prize bantam rooster and drink his blood mercilessly until it shriveled like a balloon with the air screeching out.

“It is so dark here.” she said. “I’m so alone.”

I opened my eyes abruptly. She was standing over me.

She was solid; at least she appeared to be... more or less. I couldn’t see through her anyway. But she didn’t look like a real person exactly. She was naked except for her panties and extremely pale and she was grubby. She had dark smudges on her face and other places on her body: her slender arms; her ribs and stomach. And then it struck me: those weren’t smudges of dirt but bruises from when she was flesh and blood. They were dim purplish marks where the blood had pooled just below the surface of her skin when she’d been stuck or squeezed too hard.

“Please...” I heard my father say from the other room. “I’m so lonely.”

“Nobody sees me.” the girl said. “Everybody walks right past me.”

“It’s like I’m not even here.” my father said. “Or you’re not here, or something.”

“I’ve got other things on mind...” my mother said.

“What’s wrong with me!?”

“What’s wrong with me!?"

“Shhh...” my mother said. “You’ll wake our son.”

“Talk to me, please. I just need someone to talk to.”

“If I talk to you,” I said to her as softly as I could, “my parents will hear me and then come in here and tell me to go to sleep.”

“Don’t go to sleep.” she said. “Don’t go to sleep.”

“Just go to sleep.” I heard my mother say to my father. “Just go to sleep.”

“You can whisper,” she said, “or talk in your mind.”

“I can’t sleep.” My father said.

“Okay, okay.” I heard my mother say. And then I heard my father groan. It was muffled like he was he’d put his face in the pillow or something.

“He’s here!” the girl said. “He’s here!” Her tone had changed. She was frightened.

“Who’s here?” I whispered. “Who’s here?”

“The one who... touches...” the girl said and began to disappear, “and punishes...” first her body and then her face until only her hair was left- as if it were a wig on a wig head that wasn’t there.

She’d had really pretty hair, I thought, long and sort of blond when she was alive.

And then he materialized, abruptly, in her place, Scruffy Magoo!

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