Ghost Stories and Other Tales of Lansdowne and The Man in the Basement. Today's Sample Sunday is excerpts from his wonderful and humorous collection of stories, plays, and anecdotes, The Man in the Basement. Enjoy!
From Stories: “The Man in the Basement”:
“Tell me, Dr. Martin, you did not become afraid when Billy shouted. That was a loud and sudden bellow! Billy has frightened, at the least, the very county authorities who want him committed. Why weren’t you more alarmed?”
“Because I expected a show of territory, Mr. Thurman. I know how confinement hurts; I know the feelings, anticipated them, and sympathized.” Erin Martin was not a stranger to the sound of bellowing. She sometimes imagined herself the source of a feral, desperate howl.
“Well, I hope bellowing is the worst you have to deal with while you are here. That and the occasional power failure; I don’t know which is worse. I am used to both, and so is Mrs. Harkins, and neither of us is very tolerant. Well, come. After we have checked on Billy, I shall bid you good evening.”
“I would like to see Billy by myself, thank you. If that is all right with you, I will say good evening here.”
Mr. Thurman considered this option. He was not accustomed to being offered alternatives. “Mind the electrical power. Shout if you need help.” He nodded abruptly and left the room.
Dr. Martin called Billy’s name, rapped softly on the door, and asked if Billy would talk to her.
“What about?” came a grumbled response.
“Billy, would you open the door? Will you come out to see me?” A silence of a few moments was broken by the soft creak of the opening of the heavy door. Billy wiped his mouth as he finished a cup of something.
“Want to see my safe spot?”
“Not now, Billy. Later, I promise. Right now, I want to ask you about living here in the basement. Then, I would like you to tell me how Mr. Thurman and Mrs. Harkins treat you, and if you would like to stay here.”
“I want to go to the safe spot.”
“Do you like living here in the basement?”
“I don’t know. I guess. My safe spot is easy to find. Go out the side door straight into the woods. When you come to the tree, take the path to the right. After a while, you see the shed.”
“Are you able to keep warm in the basement?”
“I keep the door to the shed closed. You can’t tell if I am inside the shed or not.”
“Does the basement give you enough light to be able to read? What do you like to do here in the basement?”
“I like it when you can’t tell if I am inside or not.”
“Billy, I do not want to talk about your safe spot now. We can go there tomorrow. Will you answer some questions for me tonight?”
“All right, then. Do you have any questions for me?”
“May I see you tomorrow, then?”
Dr. Martin nodded, turned to leave, looked back at Billy, and closed the creaking door softly. Before climbing upstairs, she sat on the floor of the darkened cellar, wrapped her arms around herself, and rocked. She recalled times when she sat in the dark behind a locked door, silent, aware that no one would heed any cry she made.
After leaving the basement, she knocked at the door of the housekeeper’s room, but there was no answer, and she contented herself with making a few entries in her casebook, eating the sandwich left by her bedside, and going to bed. She dreamed of trapped, clawing creatures, looking for an exit. She awoke with bleeding fingernails.
From Wordplay: “Hybrids in the Animal World”:
Boxer + Wildebeest = Boxer Wilde: A remarkable writing dog, author of:
An Ideal Housepet;
The Importance of Peeing Outside;
The Hydrant of Dorian Greyhound.
From Poems: “Biological Adapatation”:
A fast, fierce carnivore,
Was once a fine captor.
None could have been apter
To have hunted and trapped her,
But to be succinct,
The old boy’s extinct,
A bad biological adapter.
From Short Plays: “Corpse”:
DETECTIVE: Oh, come, come, save your tears, Madam. You should have thought of the consequences of your terrible action before pulling the trigger of that revolver.
WIDOW: I am weeping, if you must know, because I have been sitting in that chair for ten minutes without any lines to say, while the Corpse …the Corpse!... has a jolly go sticking his lines in wherever he wants. This is the director’s fault! Sal, are you listening?! I weep because I thought I had a chance to play the beautiful innocent, the scheming seductress, the crazed killer. I could chew the scenery and enjoy standing ovations every night. But no, all the lines go to the corpse.
DETECTIVE: In the annals of justice, no one is more deserving of …
SERGEANT: Punishment, sir.
DETECTIVE: …punishment for their heinous crime than such a one as this …
SERGEANT: Sorry spectacle?
DETECTIVE: …sorry spectacle of a black widow, blah, blah, blah.