Yesterday was release day for a book I wrote called Beacon, book one of the Nation of Five series. The book is about young men and an impossible task they set before themselves. Well, I know a lot about impossible tasks. I’m a DID survivor who suffers from hallucinations. I have bipolar and Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Disorder. Getting through a day where I make dinner, hang out with my kids, be a husband to my wife, and not end the day screaming, is the completion of an impossible task. Well, it may be an impossible task that’s undertaken in the book Beacon, but it’s only even considered because of the friendship between four boys. Four teenage boys attempt this daunting feat. Got me thinking about the boys and men in my life. And so this weekend to celebrate the release of Beacon, I will be dropping upon you chapters from Reality of the Unreal Mind. These chapters are from the unreleased third volume, titled The Keep. I start at 7:30 in the evening on Friday, and will end at 9 at night on Sunday. So follow me now into the story of the men who made me possible.
Bravo found himself the first time he stepped out on a stage. I am not sure, and you all know I don’t like writing other people’s stories, but I am going to try to put together a chain of events that brought Bravo to us, and show you the kind of man we are talking about by showing you what we found in him.
I’m pretty sure it was Dracula that called him to the stage. He went to that show and felt the draw. He felt the need for a spotlight on him. Was he in To Kill A Mockingbird? I do not remember but for the sake of it all, let’s say he was. I know he was in Tell Me that You Love Me Juney Moon his senior year. I’m almost positive he was in Little Women when we did that play first semester of senior year. A matter of fact, in my senior yearbook there’s a picture of him, that some gifted photographer took, of him leaning close to a mirror as he perfectly placed the beard they had put on him. See, Bravo did not just sit for the beard that day. He didn’t just sit for the make up. When it comes to acting and it comes to the stage, Bravo doesn’t sit down for anything. Once he hit the stage, we all knew that was where he belonged.
Bravo came in hot. See, he is larger than life. When you are in a room with Bravo you are in a room with all of him. Loud when he wants to be. Hilarious all the time. The smile, part devil, part gangster. The build. Not tall but thick. Not fat but muscle. Man, muscle just likes this guy. When you shake his hand, you are holding a press. This is the kind of guy who could hurt you if he even tried a little. I never saw anybody fuck with him, but by the time we got to junior year there was none of that anyway.
The mafia was over. There were no gangs to speak of. The Vermin were leaving or gone. The Metal Building, where all the smokers hung out, was the only place in the school to find trouble, and we never went there anymore. So violence was not a factor in my life for the first time ever. I don’t think Bravo ever got into a fight that I know of, but he could have. And he would have won.
I was only at his house a few times. We spent most of our time in his basement, and I saw a set of football pads. I pulled them on and grinned.
“I bet I would have made a good football player.” This was second semester senior year. My chances at football were long over. He walked up to me and smiled.
“Good football player, huh?” he said.
“Yeah, no question. I can take a hit.”
“You can take a punch. A hit is a different matter altogether.”
He grinned at me and looked me up and down. He grabbed my shoulders, moved me slightly so I was standing about five feet from the side of his bed, and he nodded. “A bit of a hit.” He slammed his fists down on the chest of the pads.
I flew back, wind knocked out of me, landed on his bed, and immediately took those pads off. A punch is a totally different thing from a tackle or a hit of any kind from a football player.
For all you Arm Chair Quarterbacks out there who get pissed when your team gets rolled over, just for a minute look at the size of the men you are judging. Think about the sheer impact of body on body and then shut your mouth. It doesn’t matter if you played in high school. It doesn’t matter if you played in college. Unless you have stood in a stadium with seventy thousand people screaming at you and taken the hit of a running back with a bit of momentum behind them, shoulder down, braced and running, and tried to stand them up and drop them to the ground, then let’s be a little gentle in our damning of their ability.
Anyway, that was Bravo in life. Flat footed, bringing his fists down on the world and knocking it back with a grin. He was huge in spirit. Man, I hate the way that sounded. But if you know this guy, you would agree that is the best way to describe him.
He picked me up one day and jerked a thumb in the direction of the truck he drove. A little tan pickup with some sort of stripe on it. “Get in the truck. You gotta see this.”
In the truck we went and we headed down the road toward the bridge. We drove right past the cut into darkness and onto the highway. We headed toward Rolla at a pretty good clip.
“Where are we going? What do you want to show me?”
“Fuck if I know,” he said.
“Don’t know what to call it. Wondered if you could tell me,” Bravo said. “I hope you have an answer for me.”
We got off at the Jerome exit, and with a few turns, we pulled up to an arch made of stones cemented together. The arch spanned a driveway of dirt going straight up a hill into the woods. We sat there with his truck lights pointed at this thing. Near the arch, standing off to its right, was the statue of an odd-shaped man, half bent over doing something. My mind wants to tell me the statue was carrying something, picking something up. The face was warped and glaring. There was some sort of malformed animal on the other side. Both man and beast had been constructed of some sort of material that made it look like papier mâché but was obviously not.
We stared at it with no idea what it was. My skin was crawling, and the way the light hit it was nothing short of horrifying.
“We gotta get out of here,” I croaked.
“I went up there,” he said. “Few nights ago. I drove up there.”
“Get me out of here and tell me about it when we are back at my apartment.”
He backed out and we hit the road. I did not want that thing behind me and was not okay until we got onto the highway again.
“Went up that hill and it leads to a house,” he said. “It was a pretty terrible building, falling down and falling apart. The roof was caving in and it was a nightmare. The door banged open and this tall, thin man stepped out. Man, it was like watching a spider walk. The road went around the house and to the back yard, and I drove there and saw a grave was being dug with a tiny person snarling out of the bushes by the house.” He shook his head. “I got the fuck out of there.”
Silence for a long time until we got back to my house. We pulled in, sat down, and he looked terrified. “I got this,” he said.
He pulled out of his back pocket a little brush. It had a head on it the size of a silver dollar and thick black bristles that were nearly worn out. The handle was thin and beige plastic. And he handed it to me and shook his head. “I don’t want it. I don’t want anything to do with it.”
“What the hell is it?” I said, staring at the thing.
“I call it The Tall Man’s Toothbrush,” he said. “It scares the shit out of me.”
Well, I kept it. I tied it to the Demon Stick in my apartment as a way of trapping the evil soul within the stick.
Oh calm down, I will get to it.
I told everyone what had been told to me, and I took people out there as many times as I could.
One night I had the Droogs, Bliss, Misty, Bekah, and Precious at my house and the candle on. I told the story of the tall man. His tiny snarling person he had with him and the grave he was digging. I pointed to my Tall Man’s Toothbrush, and I warned everyone never to go up there.
“Well shit, now we have to go see it!” Burg said. I warned against it but no one would listen. In the cars we piled and, as a group, convoyed up to see the blasphemous construction, the monstrous man bent over and the hideous beast beside him.
We all saw the construct. We all freaked out. We did not get out, and we hit the road as soon as we could. Back at my apartment, I told the story again and told them I did not think that road led to a home at all. My guess was that when you crossed that threshold at night, you traveled to a place unseen by man, unknown by any and feared by all. I told them it was a pathway to hell, and had Bravo gotten out of his car and climbed into that grave, he would have found himself walking the Land of Torment and Loss.
We had a good story. We had a place to go and scare the shit out of ourselves. And we had found the darkest, most evil place in the entire area.
Well, Precious had to go fuck it all up. She drove up there during the day. Drove to a house, not nearly as worn down as Bravo had described, and she saw a man not overly tall and actually pretty well built. He was an old man, to hear her tell, and she asked him about the arch at the foot of his hill.
He handed her a handmade brochure and she gave it to me. This was a hill that was climbed during the Trail of Tears. His family had stopped there on their way and had stayed on the property. He hand built that arch as a way of drawing in people like herself to talk about the Trail of Tears and its impact on his people.
Perfectly good horror story destroyed by some honest conversation and some important American history. Thanks a lot, Precious.
She said a friend had been by and had grabbed a brush that he found on site as a souvenir.
The man told her that he used it to brush the dirt from the stones before he washed them and cemented them in place.
She told him she could get it back for him, but he waved her off.
“Let whoever has it keep it. Maybe they will remember this place and tell others.”
And that’s what I’m doing. Get the Jerome exit. Head right. That might be northeast. Drive slow. I don’t want you to pass it. And you’ll see the meticulous construction this man made out of love. Go there. It’s a beautiful monument made to a terrible event in our nation’s history.
Bravo and I hung out every day we could. He backed me and encouraged me all the time he knew me. He wanted this very thing for me. This book and this telling of a life he saw as magical and a mind that could create any time he wanted it to.
Bravo wanted me to write. He is coming back for a doozy. Will give me hope in a way that no one ever had before.
He was and still is one of the best friends I have and I miss him quite a bit. When last I heard, he was in Florida running a playhouse there. He got his acting degree at Culver Stockton and a Masters somewhere in Illinois. He is still on the stage. Still his life is plays.
Bravo found himself the first time he stepped out on a stage. If he hadn’t, I never would have known him.
Another gift given by Dracula.
This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 3: The Keep.