Scary story week rolls on! Today we present a story made especially for MA101 by our northern Wisconsin correspondent, a gentleman and a scholar of the comments section. Do him the favor of leaving a comment of your own if you liked the story!
Something There to Remind Me
The Craigslist as seemed straightforward: Vintage Harvest Gold PRESTO Pressure Cooker Canner – 12 quart – Model CAA12, New in Box. $20.00. It did seem odd that the phone number given was in the Klondike 7 exchange, but I figured that this was in keeping with the seller’s retro theme. I was in the market for a cheap pressure cooker for some culinary experiments, and not wishing to buy Chinese goods whenever possible, thought it best to purchase on the second hand market. So I placed the call to the listed number and a chipper sounding woman answered.
“ Why yes it is still available” she replied. “Come on over. Do you know where Rustic Manors is located?”
Ugh. Rusty Manors, the nasty trailer park on the outskirts of town by the highway interchange. Not a place I would ever take a large sum of cash to meet strangers, but 20 bucks for a pressure cooker from a sweet sounding old lady seemed fairly low risk.
“It’s out by the highway” I replied
“Do you have a pen? Let me give you some directions” said the woman on the phone. “If you’re heading North, turn left onto the frontage road just before you get to the highway”
I silently chuckled. How many tales of woe begin with the term ‘turn onto the frontage road?’
“Follow the frontage road until you come to the entrance to Rustic Manors. After you enter the park, keep to the right, Pine Manor Ct. will be your second left. I’m the third home on the right; you will see my little deer in the front yard. When may I expect you?”
“Within an hour” I said “There’s a storm forecast for later”
“I look forward to seeing you” the sweet lady said, “Bye bye,” and the line went dead.
This should be and interesting experience, I thought, buying a vintage pressure cooker form a woman who lived in a lawn ornament adorned trailer. Driving north, I saw the first flashes of lightning to the west. I figured I should be home by the time the storm hit, as the warning for our area wasn’t supposed to start until 9 pm.
After several miles I turned onto the frontage road, and soon came upon the entrance to the Rustic Manors trailer park. All of the trailers were older, some quite decrepit, but the age of the park had at least allowed the trees planted when the place was new to reach maturity and give it a nicely wooded look. As I kept to the right, looking for her street, I noticed a trailer that someone had painted in large stenciled letters “Our Tornado Magnet” in addition to a cartoon drawing of a large horseshoe magnet attracting a twister with a menacing grin Bet the neighbors must have loved that. The storm seemed to be closer now, as I heard faint thunder off in the distance. Turning on to Pine Manor Ct., I immediately saw a trailer much better kept than the rest, and indeed there was a cement fawn adoring its tiny front yard.
Although of the same style and vintage as the other trailers, this one looked almost new. No rust streaks or broken screens. The aluminum trim actually shined. No sooner than I had rung the doorbell, a melodic three chime affair, than the door opened. I suppose the exterior of the trailer should have prepared me for what awaited inside, but it was startling to be greeted by a woman who looked as if she looked as if she walked off the pages of “Good Housekeeping” magazine, circa 1973. The hair, the clothes – a housedress for God’s sake! Who the fuck still wears a housedress? The décor and furnishings matched her Nixon era mien. As befitting the scene, there was the smell of cigarettes and air freshener, and an odd cooking odor.
“Do come in”
I entered and she introduced herself as Doreen Whiting.
“I’m Jim. Nice to meet you,” I replied. “I called about the pressure cooker on Craigslist.”
“Yes, I was expecting you; I only have a few left. Please have a seat.”
I had hoped to hand her a twenty and grab my goods and go, as by now the storm was fast approaching, and as is well known, a trailer park is no place to be in a storm. And yet, oddly charmed by and now quite curious about this time warp lady, I took a seat on her museum quality 1970’s style sofa. It was then that I noticed a large white cat perched on the top shelf of a bookcase. It was staring at me and did not have a friendly look about it.
“That’s Walter” she said.
Walter hissed, and instantly reminded me of Ernst Blofeld’s cat in the old James Bond Movies.
“Walter, be nice! He’s really a sweetie once he gets to know you.”
I had my doubts on about this.
“Do you do much canning?” Doreen asked.
Glad that the conversation turned to the topic at hand, my purchase of the pressure cooker, I explained my reasons for wanting it and indicated my desire to purchase it and try and beat the storm home.
“I was just about to make some Tang, you will stay for a glass, won’t you?”
Tang?! This lady offers total strangers who come into her trailer to sit and have a glass of Tang? She reached for her pack of Bel Airs, I hadn’t realized they still made that brand of smoke. She lit one with an ornate porcelain table lighter that sat next to a huge ashtray in the center of the coffee table. I was feeling the need to flee, yet felt oddly compelled to stay for at least one glass of Tang, the weirdness being irresistible. Doreen walked into the kitchen, which, as in most trailers, was open to the living/dining room. She opened the cold water tap and let the water run. A faint whiff of sulfur filled the room. Wonderful. I had just committed to drinking her Tang, and she was making it with nasty well water. She pulled a glass jar of out of the cupboard. How old can the shit be? I wondered, they haven’t packed it in glass in years. Old Tang made with bad well water being a breakfast staple on the Scout campouts of my youth, I was further drawn back into the 1970s.
She mixed the Tang in a large glass pitcher and filled two tumblers with ice. What she did next gave me pause: Reaching into the cupboard above the refrigerator, she pulled out a large bottle of Seagram’s VO whiskey. It of course had the old-school federal tax stamp across the neck of the bottle. I felt by now as if I were truly being transported back in time as one of my first experiences with alcohol was on a Scout trip: egg water Tang, mixed with booze from the back of someone’s parents’ liquor cabinet.
She poured a generous slug of VO into the pitcher, gave it another quick mix, filled the highball glasses, placed them on a tray, and brought them into the living room. Setting them down on the coffee table she reached for another Bel Air and lit it with the butt of her current smoke. I wondered how this woman can be stuck in the ‘70s and yet look so well preserved given her smoking and drinking. Turning to her Magnavox stereo console, she lifted its lid and set the turntable in motion. Dionne Warwick performing the hits Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote for her so many years ago.
“Pardon me while I freshen up” she said as she walked to the bathroom at the other end of the trailer. It seemed as if she had not fully closed the door as the sounds and soon the stench of her bowel movement filled the air. The stench was beyond description, except to say that if it were used on a field of battle, all civilized nations, and even the North Koreans, would consider it a war crime. Was she giving Satan an enema in there? I wondered. Then came the hiss of a can of air freshener. No doubt a vintage scent of Glade. The combined odors must be what it were to smell like if a diseased polar bear were to spray diarrhea all over one of those fancy soap stores at the mall, the ones where the fat chick or gay guy tries selling you an eight dollar bar of soap.
Seemingly oblivious to the evil miasma she had created Doreen walked into the living room and picked one of the tumblers of Tang off the coffee table. I took the other, and by now needing a strong drink no matter how vile the flavor, took several deep gulps of the ersatz whiskey sour. It did not taste as horrid as I expected, yet definitely had an odd flavor to it. The next song came on. “There is Always Something There to Remind Me.” My mind was swimming with long forgotten memories of the 1970s.
The drink was definitely calming my nerves, but the storm was at hand and I felt the need to leave ASAP. I took another long swig of my drink and said “Mrs. Whiting, it’s been a pleasure, but I really must be on my way.”
“I’ve noticed you have been admiring my living room set. It’s from Broyhill,” she noted.
“The game show prize furniture?” I unexpectedly heard my self exclaim.
“Why yes, as a matter of fact I won it on ‘The Price is Right,’” she replied.
How that memory stayed buried in my mind all these many years I can never know, but it dawned on me I had seen that episode when I was nine and we were visiting my Grandparents. Grandma never missed “Price is Right” and I had watched it with her that day. I then responded “Yes, I know. It was April 4th of 1974. The day that tornado killed all those people in Ohio.”
A stunned look came across her face as I continued without thinking. Must be the booze. “You lost the Showcase Showdown by overbidding by 7 dollars on the station wagon and pop-up camper. The black lady won the sailboat even though she way underbid.”
With that she let out a piercing scream, the cat hissed and jumped from its perch onto my head.
“HOW! HOW could you know?” she shrieked. “WHO? WHO are you? WHO sent you?” she wailed.
The cat was raking the back of my neck with its hind claws. The pain was excruciating, and yet an odd calm was coming over me. The Tang! She had drugged the Tang. My years as a benzodiazepine aficionado made me recognize the feeling. An old-school benzo, Valium or Librium most likely. What was her motive?
“Faster Pussy, Kill! Kill! she snarled. Despite the searing pain and the distant wail of a tornado siren, I burst out laughing; her use of the name of Russ Myers’ tawdry movie classic form to the 60s to implore her cat to savage me was just too funny. My laughing seemed to further enrage both my tormenters. The cat was now biting my ear. The crazy lady was at the door locking the deadbolt.
It was then that I saw the only weapon at hand: a vintage aerosol can of Scott’s Liquid Gold furniture polish was on the bookcase. Another memory from way back when — that shit is almost as flammable as WD-40.
I grabbed the can and lunged for the lighter on the coffee table. Closing my eyes and holding my breath I held the lighter a few inches from my forehead and sprayed the polish at the cat. I think the flame went mostly over its head, merely singing its ears, but it instantly howled and jumped off my head and into the arms of his wildly shrieking mistress. Her appearance seemed to have undergone a dramatic change, she looked much older now and quite disheveled. Dorian Gray, meet you crazy sister Doreen, I thought. I lit my lemon scented torch again, this time aiming at Doreen, causing her to let out another horrendous shriek and flee into the kitchen.
Were the drugs messing with my mind, or was this trailer no longer the tidy well kept museum piece, but now a filthy hovel like the rest of the trailer park? I managed to open the door and make my way to the car through the fierce wind and rain. No sooner had I entered my car than the crazy lady ran out the door wielding a large knife. It occurred to me that this is the point in every horror movie where the car fails to start, but mine sprang to life. I fled into the night, wondering where to seek shelter from the storm. I drove past the “Tornado Magnet” and as I passed a large branch cam crashing down onto my car and everything went black.
I awoke to the feeling of a catheter being inserted. The nurse chimed in with “glad to see you awake, Mr. Korsten” and then tapped a button on her collar and merely said, “Patient awake.”
I was immobilized on my left side by several large casts and my left arm was in traction. It seemed as if I had tubes in every orifice. Some time later, it could have been minutes or hours, several doctors walked into the room and conversed with the nurse. She said I had been semi-conscious most of the morning, but had seemed more lucid within the last half hour. I was now wide awake and aware that I had received some major injuries. I had vague memories of a trailer park and tornado, but could not quite figure out why I might be in traction in the hospital. My feeble attempt to speak was stifled by what I assumed was a feeding tube. The nurse motioned for me to be quiet and not try to speak.
“We’ll have those out later in the day if the doctors give us the OK,” she said.
I gave her a thumbs up with my functioning right hand and tried to focus my eyes on her. Everything was blurry, then I remembered that I wore glasses, and the fuzziness had little to do with my current medical condition. The nurse swabbed my lips and mouth with a large cotton swab and a liquid that tasted like Scope. She then applied some blue gel to my forehead and I fell asleep. When I awoke again the tubes were gone from my mouth and nose, yet I still had the IV and catheter in me. My left side was somewhere between a state of intense pain and completely numb.
“Where am I?” I croaked, painfully.
“Patient awake” was her reply into her collar. “Your medical team will be here in a minute”
Whatever hospital I was in it seemed as if I were the only patient. Where was my family? Why did I have no cards or flowers? Why was it so quiet? Presently three people walked into the room. The first was a tall nlack woman, with salt and pepper straightened hair. She wore a mid-length skirt. I had always felt middle aged black women in skirts to be a sure sign of a no-nonsense professional. Second was a South Asian man, middle aged, in surgical scrubs. Last to enter the room was a balding man in tortoise shell glasses. He introduced himself.
“I’m Dr. Goldblatt. These are my colleagues, Colonel, er Dr. Haggerty” he said nodding toward the Black woman.
“Dr. Khan. Dr. Haggerty is your orthopedic surgeon, she comes to us from Walter Reed Army Hospital. Dr. Khan is an infectious disease expert from Stroger Hospital in Chicago. As for myself, I’m you psychiatrist.”
Wondering why a shrink seemed to be in charge of my medical care, and what hospital would bring in top specialists for what seemed to be a broken shoulder. And why an infectious disease specialist? I started to vocalize these questions, but Dr. Goldblatt said it was best for me to get more rest. The nurse then applied more blue gel to my forehead and I again fell fast asleep.
When I awoke, a different nurse was by my bedside. She commented on how rested I looked and said Dr. Goldblatt would be in shortly. A minute or two later he walked in.
“As you have so many questions, I thought it best to bring in the briefing team sooner than we had planned. I will sit in with them”
Briefing team? He was right I had questions. Innumerable at this point. Presently two people entered the room. A non-descript middle age man in a suit that looked to be part of a package deal at one of those cheap suit stores, for those who still wore suits, but didn’t want to spend a whole lot of money on them. A government employee, obviously. The other was one of the ugliest women I have ever seen. Morbidly obese and wearing a spandex bottom, she had a face best summed in two words: Moles and unibrow. Cheap suit guy introduced himself as “Special Agent Chenowith” and the woman who had gained 400 pounds since winning an ugly baby contest as “Special Agent Gomez.”
“We’re with the Agency” he said, not indicating which agency that might be.
“We have prepared a report. Please hold your questions until the end” he then nodded to the nurse who applied a green gel to my forehead. I felt much calmer all of a sudden. He began “On behalf of the Agency, I would like to thank you for all Americans, indeed all of humanity for what you will be doing to help save us. As you may have noticed you are being treated at our institute. We have arranged for the top specialists in their fields to treat you injuries and to prepare you for what will be a difficult task ahead. As you aware you have seen no visitors. This is for your own security, and officially you are dead.”
Dead? How could I be dead? The nurse noticed my distress, looked at Dr. Goldblatt who nodded, and applied more green gel.
He continued “Several weeks ago, you encountered a woman by the name of Doreen Whiting. Had it not been for the tornado which demolished that trailer park and killed all of those people, you would have surely been killed by her. You see, Mr. Korsten, she is a zombie. Doreen Whiting killed herself shortly after the episode of “The Price is Right” on which she was runner up aired on the CBS television network in April of 1974. Agent Gomez’ work has determined that she is leader of a zombie nation, comprised of game show runners up from the 1970s who aim to bring about the apocalypse. They will kill us all by emitting an evil gas. She knew you had somehow discovered who she was that night in the trailer, and would have hunted you down by now and killed you and your entire family, so it’s for the best that you were listed as among the 84 killed in that trailer park. We have lost track of her, she was last seen impaled on a tree stump by a hipster couple, the ones who owned the “Tornado Magnet” trailer. Agent Gomez please continue”
Gomez turned on a PowerPoint presentation on a screen on the wall opposite my bed.
“Your friends threw quite a memorial party for you, they sure can drink. The Agency made a large anonymous donation in your name to the charity your parents chose. There’s to be a picnic shelter with your name on it.” She then began the PowerPoint.
The first slide was the front page of the local paper. “TRAILER PARK TRAGEDY was the headline. 84 killed as Rustic Manors demolished”. Silently she posted the next page. “TRAILER PARK HORROR” was the next headline. “Decapitated corpses buried beneath demolished trailer”.
Agent Gomez began to speak “You were to be her next victim. The heads of her 2 most recent victims were found in pressure cookers strewn amongst the wreckage. She meant to eat the brains. She has been selling pressure cookers on eBay and Craigslist for several weeks now. They have all been tampered with and several have exploded. We believe this is the signal to the game show loser zombie nation to arise and begin the slaughter of the innocents. Just yesterday a Somali family in the Twin Cities was killed by one of these devices. They were cooking goat.”
This was all too much to handle. The nurse, sensing my agitation, began to rub more of the gel on my forehead. It didn’t seem to calm me, she was rubbing it in as if she were polishing a brass bell and yet I was becoming more agitated.
“Blue Gel” Dr. Goldblatt said, and with that I once again fell into a deep sleep.
When I awoke, Chenowith was in the room. Gomez was nowhere to be seen.
“Where the hell am I” I demanded. “What the fuck is going on here, who are you people?”
“We’re from the Government and we’re here to help” Chenowith said “You’re being treated at a secure undisclosed location”
“That doesn’t answer my question. What agency? What hospital?
“You are in Chicago,” he began. “At the former Prentice Women’s Hospital. Northwestern lost its battle to demolish it and so they sold it to the Agency. Our director has a wicked sense of humor. He said nobody would ever find us in a building so hideous. He likes to hide things in plain sight. I have to agree with the director, this place looks like a fucking Commie insane asylum. It’s perfect for our purposes”
I wasn’t sure what was the most disquieting thing that had been revealed. I was officially dead. There was to be a zombie attack that I was expected to help prevent. And I was being treated in a building that looked like a Soviet mental health facility, making it perfect for whatever purpose this mysterious agency had in store for me. Where was the nurse with the soothing gels I wondered? It was than that Agent Gomez and Dr. Goldblatt entered the room.
“In order to prepare you for the mission we need to know everything you can tell us about Mrs. Whiting. You need to write a report.” She said.
“Nooooooo” I screamed as the nurse prepared more gel. “I won’t write about zombies! Anything but that.” “The only thing worse than writing about zombies is writing about vampires!”
“Vampires are handled by K unit, on the eighth floor.” Gomez responded. “We need to prepare you do to battle and in order to do so we need all the information you can provide. It’s vital! The fate of humanity depends on you destroying her. The stench will overpower us all!”
“I can’t write about zombies” I screamed “I don’t know jack shit about zombies. I don’t want to be one of those people who write about zombies. The guys who do are total derps, the sort of guys who call their ballsack ‘Mr Scrotey.’
Chenowith chimed it “Sir, it’s the only way out of this mess. Besides it’s the only way you can rejoin the living. You know, if there’s one thing history has taught us, saving humanity and coming back from the dead is the mother of all good career moves”
“Blasphemy!” cried Dr. Haggerty, who had walked into the room to check on my arm. “How’s your arm feeling today, sir” she asked. “Still numb and paralyzed” I told her.
It was then that I awoke, with my left arm fast asleep. Damn, that was the weirdest dream I had had since I was playing Canasta with the Reagans and that squirrel that spoke Portuguese.
“Honey” my wife called out “where did this funky old pressure cooker come form?”