Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sunday, December 4, 2016


I am posting a few sample chapters of my upcoming novel.
Click here to read Chapter One.
Click here to read Chapter Two.


U P L O A D 

I headed straight for my car after leaving the mausoleum.

I rarely left a cemetery with pictures of only two graves, especially Eternal Faith. With over forty thousand graves and only about three thousand memorials uploaded to Resting Place, the cemetery was practically virginal. Whenever I visited it, I always strolled up and down a few rows photographing every visible monument. It seemed a waste of gasoline to leave here with only two graves to upload. However, the paranoid fear that grabbed a hold of me in the mausoleum robbed me of the sense of purpose I normally felt walking in a cemetery. I had to leave. Therefore, I did.

Normally, I would have gotten something to eat on my way home. My trusty Corolla, knowing my normal routine, seemed to find its own way into the slow-moving drive-thru lane of a McDonald’s near my one-bedroom apartment in a Towson high-rise without any conscience assistance from me. However, the sight of the glossy pictures of the items on the menu, which always looked more appetizing than the food itself, made me feel strangely nauseous. And I liked McDonald’s food. At least three or four times a week I stopped at this location for a super-sized Big Mac meal and a small hamburger. I always got a small hamburger to eat on the short drive home. Otherwise, I would eat all of the fries on the way home leaving me only with a sandwich. This time, however, the hamburger meat on the menu appeared sickly grey. Dead. Like it was tough with rigor mortis. Coughing, I felt the sharp sting of some bile at the back of my throat. That was all I needed. I pulled out of the lane and headed home. 

I had no firm plans for the day. The Baltimore Orioles were playing the Cleveland Indians that afternoon. I enjoyed baseball and followed it avidly. It was the only team sport my mother deemed safe enough for me to play, especially since my general lack of ability relegated me to the undemanding role of late-inning replacement right fielder. Still, I always looked back on those days fondly. Although I believe the guys viewed me more as a mascot than an athlete, playing on the team during my middle-school years gave me a much-needed sense of identity. Once, when some bullies tried to pick on me, a couple of my teammates rode to my rescue like the cavalry. I always appreciated that. 

For a couple of years, I had season tickets at Orioles Park at Camden Yards. Two seats. However, as my few close friends married and started reproducing, I found it increasingly hard to fill the second seat. Gina Holt, my long-suffering former girlfriend, found baseball boring and I found it too depressing going alone. My seats also sat increasingly empty as my mother’s lifetime of smoking caught up with her and she needed a great deal of my attention while she battled lung cancer during the last year of her life. In the end, I gave away most of the tickets or sold them on StubHub. It became more trouble than it was worth and I eventually let the seats go. Still, I enjoyed watching the games on television. They brought back good memories of being part of something.

I originally planned to spend hours creating dozens of memorials on Resting Place while I watched the ballgame. I thought my premature departure from the cemetery meant I would be able to watch the Orioles beat the Cleveland Indians without any distractions but I was wrong. I found myself strangely restless, shifting from my IKEA sofa to my chair. A couple times, I found myself walking toward my desk, but I always stopped myself. I knew what I would do as soon as I sat down at the desk: I would take the card out of my camera and load it into computer. Then I would I upload the dark lady’s photograph.

The thought scared me. Not just because I did not want to look into her eyes again. No, I felt something deeper there, far beyond mere flesh and bone and even mind. I felt some inchoate fear that I was no longer in control of myself: That something, or someone, was manipulating me from shadows too deep to examine.

I tried to shake off the feeling. It was crazy. Irrational. There were no shadows lingering over me. I had experienced my share of darkness; perhaps more than my share, with the deaths of both of my parents and my only brother by the time I was thirty-three-years-old. I certainly went through deep and profound moments of sadness, but it was nothing like the continual depression that killed my brother Lenny. 

I always secretly envied Lenny when we were younger. He had an easygoing charm that worked on both parents and peers. Everybody liked him, especially the girls. I would watch in amazement as he would walk up to pretty girls at the mall and have them laughing and smiling in minutes. I, on the other hand, got better grades in school. It was not a fair trade. The grades got me into college, a life experience Lenny opted to ignore much to our mother’s consternation. Lenny wanted to start living an adult life. On a whim he became a car salesman. I have to admit it was an excellent choice. He could sell anything when he was sane. The problem was that those sane periods became increasingly infrequent.

Lenny started drifting into madness in his early twenties. When we first noticed the odd behavior, we thought the culprit was drugs. After an arrest for disorderly conduct and a forced committal, we discovered the real problem was in his mind. We never got a complete diagnosis of the problem. Lenny was an adult and he never allowed his doctors to discuss this condition with us. However, Lenny used the words manic depression, bipolar, paranoid and schizophrenic to describe himself during in his lucid periods, which often lasted for months provided he took his medication. When he was off his medication, he would eventually wade into the darkness of insanity again.

It was frightening what happened to him. It was so cruelly unfair that a dark fluke of internal chemistry would send a decent, good-natured guy with prospects spiraling downward into a tortuous world of his own creation, buffeted by voices and images only he could see or hear. If I were in his shoes, I would never have survived as long as he did. We are our minds. Period. The mind is our window to the world, and our only means to process it. If we lose our ability to control our mind, we are left with nothing except the derision or pity of those around us, and I could never accept that. In the end, neither could Lenny. 

One day he jumped from a six-story balcony at a hotel in Ocean City, Maryland where we had previously stayed with our family as children. He landed head first on the concrete about two and half feet away from the edge of the swimming pool. Some of Lenny’s more optimistic friends chose to believe this death was just a crazy stunt gone awry. They said he was probably aiming for the pool, but I knew the truth. It was suicide, pure and simple. Poor Lenny was doomed. It was only a matter of time. 

I shuddered with the memory of my brother, but I could not fathom what sent my mind reeling in that direction. I was not that kind of guy. I might have been half-Irish, but I was not prone to prolonged bouts of melancholy or regret. When I mourned Lenny, I was genuinely distraught but I moved on. That’s what strong people did, and, in my own way, I considered myself very strong. I knew the visit to the cemetery was not responsible for my strange mood either. I had visited Eternal Faith dozens of times without experiencing any inordinate sorrow. It might have been different if I actually went and visited the family graves, but I was not there to mourn my family today. I was there for another family.

The dark woman, I thought.

“No,” I said aloud as I immediately dismissed the thought. 

It was just a strange day, I told myself. Things would definitely improve if reliever Darren O’Day held onto the Orioles’ one run lead through the top of Cleveland’s order. I got up from the sofa and headed into the kitchen to get a beer. When I opened the refrigerator door the smell of spoiled, rancid meat overwhelmed me. Cupping my nose and mouth with my hand, I quickly shut the door. I was stunned. What could have gone that bad that fast?

I cautiously opened the door again. This time the smell was gone without a trace. I couldn’t believe it. Had I just imagined it? Hearing the commercial ending in the other room, I decided just to grab a beer and forget about it. But as I reached for the beer, the mere thought of drinking one made me nauseous. What was going on? Was I going freaking crazy or something? Closing the refrigerator door, I headed back to the living room to watch the game.

I headed for the sofa, but instead I found myself sitting down at the desk looking at the computer screensaver, which consisted of all the family photographs I had scanned during my genealogical quest. It unnerved me. I hadn’t intended to go to the desk. Why did I? Angry, I wanted to stand up and get a beer but I became suddenly defiant. Walking away now would be giving into this absurd fear. It was better just to get my work out of the way now so I could watch the rest of the game in peace. Plus, I still had a chance to beat Tombstone Teri to the punch with the Ritter grave.

I removed the chip from my trusty Nikon camera and plugged it into my USB adapter. Using the mouse to dispel the screensaver, I quickly opened the browser and went to the RestingPlace webpage. I found the listing for Eternal Faith Cemetery and clicked on photo requests. The list still included Matilda Ritter. I wasn’t sure it meant I had really beaten Tombstone Teri, or whether the listing simply not been updated yet. Either way, I decided to proceed. 

I found the directory of my camera card, removed all the photos, and placed them in a folder with all my other cemetery photos on the computer. Then I clicked on Matilda Ritter’s memorial. If Tombstone Teri had uploaded a picture, it hadn’t shown up yet. Her loss would be my gain. I clicked on add photo then dragged and dropped my photo of her grave into the box. I didn’t add a caption. It didn’t seem necessary. 

When the photo uploaded, the memorial for Matilda Ritter refreshed. The photograph was fine, but I didn’t care much for the memorial itself. It only listed her name and the dates of her birth and death. Not even a maiden name. Had I created the memorial myself, I would have gone to the newspaper and included the death notice. Then I would have gone to the webpage of the funeral home. Nowadays they featured photographs of the deceased. Pictures of the dead are what gave a memorial life. 

And, speaking of pictures, I still had two more pictures to deal with.

I find it difficult to explain what I felt at that moment. As irrational as it sounds, part of me honestly felt some unseen force was guiding me to post Elisabetta Kostek’s photograph on for the whole world to see. The rest of me pushed back hard, very hard, against that desire. It didn’t make any sense. Why was there a conflict at all? I had posted literally thousands of photos of graves and their inhabitants on the webpage and not once did I feel like I was making a moral choice. I certainly felt sad sometimes, particularly if I was creating a memorial for a child or a suicide victim. 

I clicked on the file in my cemetery folder. The image of Elisabetta Kostek’s grave appeared on my computer monitor. It was a simple monument featuring only her name and the years of her birth and death. She was seventy-two-years-old. Not a child. Moreover, nothing on the marble face of vault or the bronze plaque indicated she died by her own hand. My misgivings seemed groundless, except that there seemed to be something strange about her face.

I clicked on another file in the directory and the close-up of Elisabetta Kostek filled my monitor. This time she didn’t creep me out quite as much. The eyes looked strangely satisfied. The smile now appeared to be a tiny gloat of victory, as if she knew I would perform as instructed. 

I went to the main page for Eternal Faith. I typed in Elisabetta’s name. It didn’t show up, which meant the grave was unlisted. I clicked on add memorial and typed in her name then stopped. I needed more information. Was she married? If so, what was her maiden name? I opened another tab on my browser and went to the death notices section of the Baltimore Sun. I typed in her name but nothing came up. That was surprising. Maybe she wasn’t local. Or maybe she was so local that her family only put a death notice in one of the pain-in-the-ass smaller community papers instead. I opened up with the hope of finding an obituary there. No such luck. I found absolutely nothing about her. Opening yet another tab, I googled her name. Nothing much came up. Just those find-a-person pay websites that you’d get when you type any name into the search engine.

That was strange. One would think a woman who earned such a wall of flowers two years after her death would have left more of an Internet trail.

I returned my attention to RestingPlace. The cursor was blinking in the slot to add her date of birth. The fear that engulfed me in the mausoleum returned. Except this time, I knew I couldn’t get away by running outside into the sun. Some wordless voice beyond the realm of logic and reason assured me that the only way to dispel the fear was to finish the memorial. Still, another voice, much quieter, warned me that I was making a dangerous mistake. 

Delete the files,” said the voice.

I highlighted the two Kostek files in the folder. My finger actually went to the delete button, but I couldn’t do it. Deleting those files would be giving into superstition. I always considered myself a rationalist. I’m an accountant. I live in a world of numbers. One plus one equals two, even if a black cat walks by or someone breaks a mirror. I must confess I never had the temperament or the tools to measure the things of the spirit or the heart.

No. I would not delete the Kostek files out of fear. That was absurd. With newfound resolve, I typed Elisabetta’s dates of birth and death into RestingPlace using the brass plaque as my sole source. Then I clicked on the add photo button. It took me right to my photo directory where I clicked on the file of the wide shot of the Kostek grave itself. I pressed add this photo and felt no misgiving as it quickly uploaded onto the webpage. That was not true when it came time to add the close-up of Elisabetta’s face.

As my cursor lingered over the button to add the photo, I felt once again I was making a moral choice between good and evil. A small voice, drowned almost entirely out by the voice of reason, told me I was making a horrible mistake. However, in the end, I couldn’t blame reason. The real reason I pushed the button was fear. I knew deep down that something dark had a hold of me, and that it wouldn’t release me until I put the photograph on the Internet.

I clicked the button and the haunting photograph of Elisabetta Kostek was added to her memorial for the world to see. I gave her one last look before I closed the browser. Her smile now seemed to reflect some happiness, as if I had freed her. And, if I did, she freed me, too – at least temporarily. When I closed the browser, I felt better than I had all day. And hungrier. I was famished.

I went to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door again. I barely remembered the horrible stench that greeted me a few minutes ago as I pulled out some containers of leftover Chinese food. I heated it up in the microwave and took it back into the living room to eat during the last few outs of the game. Happily, the Orioles won and, despite my plans to take the salsa dance lessons that night on the thirteenth floor of the Belvedere Hotel in downtown Baltimore, I found myself drifting off to sleep.

To read the next chapter, click here:  Chapter Four.

Copyright 2016 by Sean Paul Murphy.  All Rights Reserved.

Be sure to read my memoir The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.

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