Alas…once again a semi-finalist…. (or “Ode to the Ivy”)

shriekfest-mastheadThe 2015 Shriekfest Film Festival…considered to be one of the top up & coming film festivals is fast approaching, but…alas…I am once again a semi-finalist. But I’m neither saddened nor discouraged. In the last seven years, I’ve entered four times (always in the short script category) and have been a semi-finalist twice and finalist the other two times. I think that’s a pretty good track record and, as friends pointed out, shows I’m headed in the right direction. I just have to try again next year.

2009 Mother’s Day (finalist)

2010 Babies in the Backyard [version 1] (semi-finalist)

2012 Babies in the Backyard [version 2] (finalist)

2015 Santa Needs a New Red Suit (semi-finalist)

You’ll notice the first three entries sound familiar, especially if you’ve read my Skin and Bones horror collection available on Amazon Kindle. Or if you’ve read my Mother’s Day collection – which has since been incorporated into Skin and Bones for its third edition. In fact, the 2009 entry, Mother’s Day, is an even earlier version of the same story and, of the three, is truest to the short-story on which the trio is based. I greatly enjoyed playing around with the story and its characters, seeking to better define my “senior citizen serial killer” Mrs. Fortenberry (who doesn’t make an actual appearance in the Mother’s Day script or the original short story except for her name)…her motivations…her true nature (avenging angel or crazed executioner?) and she certainly hasn’t been forgotten, but it was time for a completely new entry to Shriekfest and my neighbor’s 8-year-old son provided just the right idea at the right time: did you ever wonder just where Santa gets…uh…that red coloring for his toys?  (Yes, an 8-year-old came up with the gem which eventually became “Santa Needs a New Red Suit,” but then I’m told that young boys tend to be rather creative when it comes to concocting bizarre methods of death and dismemberment. Parents out there: is that true??)

I haven’t decided if I’ll rewrite the Santa script or perhaps turn it into a short story. We’ll see. Meanwhile, old Mrs. Fortenberry keeps knocking at my brain. I don’t think she wants to offer me milk and cookies. Instead, she keeps whispering at me…inviting me into the jungle of tangled ivy vines that have long held dominion over the backyard of our rental house. For that is where she was born: that tangle of ivy. Mommy2_ivyYou saw the ivy if you happened to see the cover of the Mother’s Day collection when it was available on Amazon Kindle. Mrs. F was born, like baby after baby to the family in the yellow house behind mine back in the early 2000s. Hidden behind the ivy and trees and bushes, every spring (or so it seemed) I would hear the wail of a newborn for a few days or few weeks…and then nothing. I could never see signs of life between the fluttering leaves, never hear the squeals of excited toddlers. My imagination began to run wild, wondering what had happened to those babies.

And then, one morning, I stepped outside onto the back patio to find a dead mother possum, with two pinkies – who had somehow wiggled out of their mother’s pouch while still attached to their umbilical cords – squirming, covered with ants. We didn’t know what to do. The pinkies obviously were too young to survive on their own and we couldn’t get animal control to come out before they succumbed to the elements and the ants. My whirling, sometimes crazy brain, put the two pieces (never seen crying newborns & dead possums) together as Babies in the Backyard.

Those children in the yellow house did eventually appear. I’ve caught glimpses of them playing in their yard in the years since…although I’m not sure I can count as many seen as I heard crying. See…there goes my imagination again.

Alas, the ivy which has inspired two stories (besides Babies in the Backyard, it features prominently in my erotica short: Ivy League) and made brief appearances in other stories, may have reached its end. As annoying as the fast-growing plants can be, our landlord may have to remove it (or at least most of it) thanks to the neighbors in the tan house (next to the yellow house). In an effort to tear down their garage and repair their brick retaining wall, they cut the ivy from its supports and it has crashed down onto itself, the weight of its own hardy thick branches working against it, breaking and dying, and is about to completely collapse onto our back patio.

While it might be nice to gain space in the backyard for family activities…will we have to say goodbye to our urban wildlife? The birds, possums, raccoons, squirrels, more birds, more squirrels, stray cats, wandering collared & belled cats, butterflies, humming birds, roof rats, and more insects than you can count. I won’t miss the ants, or the rats…or the raccoons (which seem to look at my cats – just on the other side of that window screen – as a potential midnight snack). But I’ll miss the rest.  I’ll the miss the hum of life, the cries of newborn life…however quiet…however small.