FOOTPRINT OF A GHOST

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Chapter 2

I turned away from Lynette and took off running at that point, to catch up with Brazos who was already at the edge of the park and just about to step into the parking lot. I could see what he couldn’t see, one of our favorite police officers, Officer Doody we called him, cruising into the parking lot from the end of the park opposite Brazos.

“James!” I yelled loud enough for Brazos to hear but not loud enough to alert and alarm Officer Doody. Fortunately, Brazos heard me and stopped to wait for me to catch up with him. It was then that I saw Doody’s prowler rolling toward us.

“It’s the fuzz,” I think I said. Most likely that is what I said. That’s how we mostly referred to the police back in the day. I have since learned that the term originated in the 60s because a lot of police officers came straight out of the military and still had military haircuts and when they took off their hats, what they had on top of their head was fuzz.

Officer Doody, whose real name was Charles Howley, not to be confused with Chuck Howley who played linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys, didn’t wear his hair in a military cut. It was jet black and slicked down so hard all around that it almost looked plastic. He resembled that ventriloquist’s dummy, Charlie McCarthy, only we thought his name was Howdy Doody, the puppet of that Saturday morning TV show, The Howdy Doody Show, and we were stoned one night when he pulled over and to ask us all for identification and we asked him for his... being the smart assed kids that we were...

“Don’t take it personal.” he said. “I’m just doing my job.”

“Your duty...Officer Howley?” one of us said.

Somehow after that, in my little social group it became Officer Doody and then sort of spread amongst teenaged kids all over town to first Officer Howley Doody... and then of course ultimately became shortened to just Officer Doody.

He hit us with his spotlight, the one mounted on the driver’s side in front of the mirror and just below the windshield. That was enough to stop us. It wasn’t necessary for him to blast his siren which made a much different sound back then or hit us with his red lights. We knew the drill- we had been lit up before. We froze... dead in our tracks for a couple of seconds like moving shadow art... that wasn’t moving anymore... or maybe even creepy shadow puppets stuck to the wall and unable to get off... or like... never mind.

“What are you boys doing tonight? Howley Doody asked us.

“Oh you know...” I said, “The usual, chanting for world peace... protesting capitalism.” Those were both big social issues in the 60s and I was just catching up.

“Sharpening the punchlines in your comedy routine.” Howley Doody quipped.

I’m pretty sure Officer Howley actually liked us- me anyway. He once said to me that he figured that both Brazos and I were pretty good kids... until we got together.

“No seriously...” he said, “What are you two up to?” By then of course, he was out of his car and had the beam of his super huge, super bright chrome flashlight blasting in our faces.

“The sky is falling...” Brazos said.

“That’s fireworks from an event a couple of days”. Howley said looking upward and in the direction of the explosion. “They weren’t supposed to be exploding them then and aren’t supposed to be exploding them now.”

“Yeah well, we’re off to tell the king!” I said and immediately wished that I could just reel the words back into my mouth like a word trout or an utterance eel or something.

“Carol!” Brazos said. “We’ve got to go save Carol!” He turned away from Officer Howley and me at that point and started to tromp off.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa there cowboy!” Howley said.

“James...” I said, quickly catching on to the gravity of our present situation. Brazos was basically stoned out of his mind. I had never seen him so high before. And I was coming and going. Howley’s face was a multicolored, psychedelic paisley pattern that had begun to swirl into something akin to softening candlewax peacock feathers; it was like he aged fifty years right before our eyes and his jowls had dripped down to just above his collar.

Although there was no actual crime that Howley could charge us with for using LSD, he could arrest us for public intoxication and require that we go to the emergency room and get our blood tested or our stomach pumped; at least, it was so spoken in urban lore back in the day that law enforcement could charge you with possession of a drug if they could detect it in your blood stream or the contents of your stomach.

“I hear there’s some new LSD floating around town.” Howley said. “Would you boys know anything about that?”

“Boys?!” I said. “Do you call alligator’s lizards?!” And again, I’d opened my mouth to utter words that would benefit me in no discernible way.

“Let me see your eyes.” Howley said and raised his howitzer of a flashlight up as if he would shine it in my eyes.

“Police brutality!” I said. “You blinding me with that thing!”

“I’ve got a smaller one...” Howley said. “Yeah but I wouldn’t brag about it... I said... and again... immediately knew that my mouth was overloading my ass.

“I gotta go... gotta go... gotta go save Carol!” Brazos said and turned again to start away.

“Stop!” Howley said in a loud and authoritative voice... and even reached for his sidearm.

Oddly enough and serendipitously, in exactly in that coincidental instance, a fight broke out in the park next to the trash cans between the concession stand and the bleacher seats. A sophomore from a rival high school had wandered into the park and two boys from the local high school started wailing on him. He was kicking their asses however: Glen, his name was, Fraser. He had already smashed the nose of one of his unfortunate challengers, like a can of tomato soup beneath the wheel of an Austin Healy Sprite- a boy named Vincent Allred. Vinnie was certainly ‘all red’ before that night was over. And Glen’d kicked the other guy in the balls so hard that one of them went missing for a couple of days. His name was Teddy Roschon. He was puking his guts up just about the time Officer Howley rushed onto the scene wielding his nightstick and waving his giant flashlight around.

“Break it up! Break up!” Howley Doody shouted.

“Well, I guess that means we’re free to go!” I said and turned to join Brazos who was already rounding the corner at the end of the street across the street from the park. “Shit!”

I noticed, as he sprinted through the cone of light beneath the lamppost on the corner, that he looked different to me somehow. Odd at first, I quickly realized that it was because he was bare-chested. Brazos had removed his shirt and thrown it on the ground. It was a fairly expensive shirt if I recall. I actually almost tripped on it when I started after him. By the time I picked it up and ran to catch up with him, his pants were down around his ankles, like he was in a sack race or something. And then he was hoping on just one foot. And then his pants were on the ground- oddly reminiscent of a dark puddle... of oil or blood or something. And then there was writing on his body- calligraphy or Arabic cartoon letters or something that said something about a camel if I remember correctly... or his hoof or his toe. I of course could not make out the rest of the message, not being able to read Arabic.

It was then that Wayne Seton and Bobby Strobiloid came screeching to halt only feet in front of me. They were in Strobiloid’s fire engine red 1965 Buick Wildcat. I think the car actually belonged to Strobiloid’s older brother who was in the Marine Corps but Stroby would never admit it. His name was actually Strahan. I’m not certain exactly why we called him Strobiloid except for this one time at a school dance this local cover band did Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida and had strobe lights and Bobby was about half drunk and freaking out on the dance floor... for the full 17 minutes... or whatever. Everybody else had actually stopped dancing about half way through and left the floor except for Strahan. I think some had actually left the auditorium. But Bobby was still there... dancing around like a mannequin at the fingertips of a snide puppeteer. Maybe that was the reason.

Both Seton and Strobiloid had made the varsity football team, as I would’ve had I not chosen to pursue wine, women and drugs instead of the pigskin. And they were not happy, either of them, with my decision not to join them in sweaty jockstraps on the gridiron.

“Well looky here!” Seton said after dramatically throwing open the passenger side door of the Wildcat and then leaping out and rushing up to me as he was going to bulldoze me to the ground but stopping instead at the last second nose to nose with me. I could smell his breath. He’d been chewing Beemans gum and drinking Schlitz beer. I could actually detect and recognize the Beemans but the beer on his breath just smelled like beer.

“If it ain’t the hippie!” he chided. “The hippie!” Strobiloid echoed.

It’s probably helpful at this point in this biased resurrection of my good old days that I interject a bit of backstory that would precede this chosen moment had I opted to include it.

I was a tough sixteen year old simply put, somewhat pugilistic, able to take and throw a punch. Possibly because, instead of morphing into a butterfly in my prepubescent adventure or blossoming into a beautiful flower, I exploded into a fat kid; and roly poly little doughboys get bullied. Or at least they did when the bricks were being formed from mud without straw and chiseled and laid one by one into my private, personal and unenviable yellow brick memory lane.

West Texas has changed somewhat since then, like the jawline of prizefighter after years of getting smacked in the face and head a thousand times before hanging up his gloves for a jelly filled donut. Back then, and especially where we lived out in the country, the land was inhabited with tarantulas the size of a grown man’s hand and scorpions with stingers faster than a superhero. Countless times I slipped into my cutoff jeans as a fat kid and got stung inside the thigh up near my bald nut sack or just below the crack of my ass. Or I slid my foot unto my tennis shoe and got stung in the toe jam or grabbed a towel after a bath and found fire wrapped in the cotton folds. One of my personal favorites was crawling into bed at night and discovering one of the caustic little fuckers between the sheets- the hard way.

There are not so many anymore of the poignant little arachnids with their eight legs and pincers like a crab’s and that segmented whip like tail. Civilization got them, like it did the tarantula and rattlesnake and the bobcat: the spread of neighborhoods and subdivisions and shopping centers... oil wells... pushed them out of the tumbleweeds and mesquite and prickly pear into who knows where. I am certain that many a scorpion or tarantula was stomped to death by the steel toed boots of a roughneck. Progress will do that and the fuel it takes to keep progress clipping right along.

The point is, I was envenomed at an early age, not just by nurture but by nature and transformed from sensitive little ghost whisperer to tough-ass oil town kid.

So when Wayne the Wacko Seton and Bobby the Strobiloid Strahan came hauling balls and screeching to halt to get out and kick my ass for no other reason than that I had left the football team, I was perfectly capable of defending myself, even against two opponents. Except for one thing; I was as high as Benjamin Franklin’s kite on barrel acid.

“How about, I just beat you to death right here and right now?!” Seton said baring his teeth for effect. He was a bony faced dude with an elongated forehead or something. For some reason, the distance between his eyebrows and hair line seemed unnatural. And it seemed like it was increasing, like his scalp was crawling to the top of his head or something.

“Yeah!” Strobiloid said. “Right here and right now!”

I looked around. It was a nice neighborhood. None of the houses seemed to have the paint cracking and peeling off and the lawns were pretty well kept. It was well lit.

“I guess this wouldn’t be too bad a place to die.” I said.

It was then that I noticed a young woman, a girl I guess, standing a few yards from a street lamp, watching. She was slender but not skinny. Her hair was light brown I suppose, from what I could tell from where I was standing. I could not make out her facial features very well and did not recognize her... at first anyway. She seemed to be taking everything in. I wasn’t certain if she was real or if I was hallucinating. It did however; appear that I could just... almost... see through her. I had not witnessed an apparition or specter in years by that night, but I did not really consider that. It was like she and I were both trying to figure out exactly who she was at the same time.

“Well then, how about if we take you over to nigger town and beat you senseless and leave you there?”

“Yeah!” Strobiloid said. “Nigger town!”

“What the fuck is wrong with you guys?!” I said. “I’m not bothering...”

That’s when Seton popped me- right between the eyes- his doubled up fist striking me where the brow ridge meets the eye socket bones... or the glalbella as it is identified on the skull bone charts. I think he was aiming for my nose, trying to break it, and send a stream of blood gushing like geyser, but missed on account of the Schlitz beer he had consumed or maybe it was the Beemens.

The world burst into a million, gillion- tiny- gnat sized specs of colors.

It was like being in one of those space travel movies when the spaceship accelerates to quadruple times warp speed or the speed of light multiplied by some impossible integer and physical reality disintegrates into its quarks and... whatnot... gotta love that whatnot.

I almost lost consciousness. The blow was strong enough to send me flying backwards though I did not fall. I instinctively raised my hands to defend myself.

“Get the fuck out of here!” I heard a loud voice say. It was a deep voice with a heavy drawl, like it was coming from a long ways off in a tunnel and sort of metal or plastic sounding.

“I will crush your fuuuuuuckin’ skuuuuuullllls!” I heard the voice say.

I suddenly realized that it was Scotty Bob “Smitty” Smith and that he was holding a piece of lumber in his hands, a two by four, white pine I think, or maybe Doug Fur, doesn’t matter. It was about three feet long and he was swinging it like he was a Neanderthal about to beat a Saber toothed tiger to death with a stick- which was appropriate. Scotty Bobby was a sturdy little mesomorphy kind of a hominid that enjoyed long solitary walks in the desert, working on internal combustion engines and transmissions... and Kung Fu.

Seton quickly leapt to one side to avoid being struck, but Strobiloid, either not realizing the seriousness of Scotty Bob’s threat or not being nimble enough, actually stepped into the blow at the highest point of the two by four’s kinetic energy and got seriously cracked across the outside of the bicep, just below the transverse humeral ligament... at least that’s what the doctor called it.

I realized that Phil had Scotty Bob and met up somewhere and managed to find their way here somehow to my rescue in Phil’s relatively new chariot or fire. Scotty Bob actually lived fairly close, and this was, after all, the road most frequently traveled so it was not that far of a stretch of the cogent mind that they could find me.

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