eggsFiona Blaine opened her eyes and tried to focus on the glowing red numbers of the digital clock. Without her glasses, she could only barely tell the numbers were 5:29. One minute before alarm. She reached over and clicked the “OFF” button so the alarm wouldn’t wake her husband Sonny.

She sat up and fumbled for her glasses on the nightstand while giving silent thanks she was able to sleep a few extra minutes on weekends. Every morning for the past 52 years Fiona had risen at 4 AM to prepare breakfast for Sonny. Weekends meant she could sleep an extra two hours and start breakfast at 6. Not today, however. Today was the Cocke County Celtic Festival and, as he had for 49 festivals in a row, Sonny would be leading the parade with his bagpipes and full dress kilt. She would need to start breakfast earlier this particular Saturday.

Fiona slung her cream color flannel robe around her body and walked quietly to the kitchen. She clicked on the light. In the middle of the kitchen floor laid Monster, their old black lab. Monster hardly cracked his eyes as Fiona opened the refrigerator door. She would start the biscuits first and as soon as they went into the oven, she would fry the bacon and then, finally, would be the eggs.

The eggs.

She scanned the contents of the refrigerator. Where were the eggs? How on Earth could she have forgotten yesterday to pick up the eggs from the grocery store? Sonny would be up soon, expecting his usual cheese scrambled eggs before heading off to the festival.
She knew what he would say, too. He’d tell her this wouldn’t have been a problem if the door to the chicken coop hadn’t been left open a year ago September when, in the middle of the night, a fox or coyote or something had entered the coop and killed their five good laying hens. Fiona didn’t remember leaving the door open and Sonny said he certainly would never have done such a thing. It was the biggest quarrel they had had in years and Sonny finally just said to heck with it, he wasn’t replacing the chickens. They’d have to start buying their eggs at the grocery store like city people do. And that’s what Fiona would have to do this morning. Go to the all night grocery and pick up a carton of eggs so breakfast would be ready when Sonny awoke.

Grabbing her rabbit coat and the keys to the Lincoln, she quietly slipped out the door to the garage. At this hour there would be no one at the grocery store who would give one care she was still in her sleeping gown. She adjusted the car’s seat and mirrors from Sonny’s regular presets, turned the key, cranked up the heater and headed down Sussex Road.

Cooper’s 24 Hour Grocery was only 3 miles away so she had plenty of time to park, grab the eggs, and get back to the house before Sonny stirred. For a second she worried Monster might bark and wake up Sonny when she returned but then she realized it was, after all, Monster. That dog hadn’t barked at a soul in 7 years.

Fiona saw the old church cemetery and knew she was halfway to Cooper’s. Ahead, she saw an unfamiliar old wagon on the side of road. The headlights of her car illuminated a cardboard sign with the words “Ordell’s Farm Fresh Eggs” scrawled on it.
“Thank you, Lord!” she said out loud as she pulled the car over. It wasn’t unusual in Cocke County for local farmers to sell their products roadside, so she was grateful this would save her 10 or 15 minutes.

The morning blue moon dimly lit the wagon stand with the help of the car’s scarlet tail lights. Fiona approached the stand and could just make out the shape of a human figure wrapped in a blanket.

“Good morning!” she said loudly. “Lordy be, you sure did save my life! I was starting breakfast and realized I forgot my eggs! I’ll tell you what, I have never done that before. I don’t know what’s wrong with my head lately.” She looked at the dark blanket and tried to make out a face. There was no movement. “Are you Ordell? Hello? Is somebody in there?”

A hand stretched from the blanket and pointed at the eggs.

“My husband sure loves his eggs, so I’m going to take a dozen,” she said. She collected twelve large eggs and put them in a small basket. “I’m just thankful you were out here and kept me from having to go all the way to the store. How much do I owe you, Ordell?”
No response came from the blanketed figure.

Fiona placed a five dollar bill on the stand. “I’m going to put this here. You just keep the extra for your trouble, you hear? Have a good morning, Ordell.” She ignored the silence coming from the blanket and hurried to her car. “He probably doesn’t even speak English,” she said to herself. “Poor man is trying to make a living and can’t even talk to his customers.”

When she returned to the kitchen, Fiona noticed Monster had relocated to the bedroom. Breakfast preparations would need to begin immediately. She put the basket of eggs on the counter and retrieved the biscuit dough from the refrigerator. She kneaded the cold dough until it was warm from her hands and she rolled it out and cut it into round biscuit shapes. When the oven reached 425, she put them in.

She placed the iron skillet onto the large burner on the stove. She pulled off four long strips of maple bacon and laid them on the hot skillet surface. She thought about how they looked like little flesh bandages and she watched them begin their bacon dance, shrinking, wrinkling, squeaking and popping. The grease bled from each strip and bubbled in the pan. The wonderful bacon smell began penetrating all corners of the house like some savory specter. She knew it would soon seep into the bedroom and gently wake her husband, like no alarm clock could. The strips reached their perfect stage of crispiness and she placed each one on a paper towel, then carefully poured 3/4ths of the pan’s liquid into a container marked “Bacon Grease.” The remaining would provide just enough flavor for Sonny’s cheese scrambled eggs.

Fiona retrieved the basket of eggs from the counter and a plate from the cabinet. She took biscuits from the oven and placed them on the plate next to the strips of bacon. She sprinkled cheese on the plate as a bed for the upcoming scrambled eggs. Sonny was the only person she’d ever known who liked the cheese on the bottom of the eggs. He always said it made the cheese more melty.
She cracked an egg against the side of the iron skillet. Fiona was aware she wanted to scream when the first cold, slimy tentacle whipped out of the egg but she was prevented from doing so when it wrapped twice around her mouth. The second tentacle was thinner and sleeker than the first one, almost like a lizard’s tail. It ran up the back of her neck and sprouted tiny little fingers that twitched and spread across her scalp. Two of the fingers dropped down her forehead and pushed through her eye sockets. Her glasses fell to the floor and she got an immediate feeling she would never be needing them again.

From the eggshell in her left hand plopped what appeared to be a dark, bristly, ball of mucous. Without glasses one might think it looked like an semi-developed fertilized egg. An embryonic chick wrapped in a yolk sack. But, without glasses, one wouldn’t be able to see the veins and filament and pulsating fluid that, in just a few seconds, had pushed the miry mass to three times its original size.
Fiona slumped over the stove. Her consciousness began to fade and all she could think was “Where is Monster? Why doesn’t Monster hear any of this noise and come running to the rescue?” Then she realized it was, after all, Monster. That dog hadn’t heard a single noise for the past 5 years.

A large cord burst from the egg mass and pierced Fiona’s chest. It injected a yellowish liquid into her heart and pumped the liquid throughout her entire body. Almost instantly her body melted and exploded into a glob of golden bio-goo which coated the cabinets, the iron skillet and the front of the oven. The egg mass and all of its extremities liquified with the goo it had created and dissolved.
Monster entered the kitchen. He had intended to sleep on the warm kitchen tile but he noticed something dripping from the oven. He slowly waddled to the stove and licked the pool of goo in front of the oven, then the oven door itself. He walked back to the middle of the kitchen, turned in two circles and laid down to sleep.

Sonny came into the kitchen looking the way he always did before going out in Highland dress. White shirt, Prince Charlie jacket, white hose in ghillies and completely nude around his hip region. He always waited until the last moment to put on his kilt. He would usually sneak up behind Fiona and give her a hug and she’d reach around and give his bare behind a squeeze. But this morning Sonny didn’t find Fiona at the stove. Monster was in the middle of the floor and Fiona’s robe was in a pile in front of the oven. Where was his wife?
He looked in the living room and the second bathroom with no clues to her whereabouts. The car was in the garage and Fiona’s rabbit coat was draped over the rocking chair. He thought maybe she had gone out for a morning walk as she would sometimes do. “That’s probably what she was doing last year when she left open the door to the chicken coop,” he muttered to himself. Or, maybe she just went to the end of the driveway to get the mail or the morning paper. He was confident Fiona would return at any moment.

Sonny went to the stove and saw the plate of warm biscuits, crispy bacon and tasty cheese. He stirred the contents of the iron skillet and, from there, dished out fluffy, yellow eggs onto his plate. He sat down at the table in full regimental state and gave a silent prayer of thanks for the food before him. He scooped a heap of cheesy scrambled eggs onto his biscuit. The cheese was all melty, exactly the way he liked it and the eggs seemed fluffier and sweeter than usual. “Fiona had outdone herself this morning,” he thought. He looked out the kitchen window and watched an old wagon pass by the house and thought about how Fiona had made his breakfast every day for the past 52 years. “This morning,” he thought, “may have been the best he’d ever had.” He wiped his mouth and knew she loved him. “Damn good eggs!”

©2018 Rick Baldwin. All rights reserved. Written for “Kilt of Horrors 2018”

(Photo by Natalie Rhea Riggs on Unsplash)

The Scarlet Kilt

I don’t think it will spoil my story one bit if I tell you up front that I’m dead. It isn’t the fact that I’m dead that makes my tale most interesting, but the how I ended up dead. This is that story.

I started long-haul truck driving the year I was discharged from the Marines. October of ‘78 I was driving a load of “toothpicks” to the east coast. It was late Halloween night approaching 2AM so the trick or treat goblins had long gone to bed. I had just reached the other side of Whitefish, Montana when the bed of logs I was carrying, not to mention my eyelids, started feeling a couple tons heavier than they had the hour before. I was making pretty good time on my haul so I figured it was a good opportunity to pull over at the next truck stop for a cup of coffee and a cheeseburger. 

After miles of driving through pitch black, I could finally see light up ahead. A small greasy spoon, no bigger than a mobile home, sat just off the road, bathed completely in red neon light. The sign out front said “The Scarlet Kilt.” It could have been “The Purple Panties” for all I cared. I was hungry and needed some caffeine. I pulled over.

When you’ve been driving a rig for as long as I’d been, you’ve seen pretty much every type of truck stop, restaurant, diner, dive, pub and piss hole out there. They’re all mostly the same with the same heartburn-causing food, same tired, bored employees. I’d never been to The Scarlet Kilt before, but I’d seen it over a thousand times in every state in the lower 48. I walked in, lit a Marlboro and took a seat at a small, wood table in the darkest corner.

I propped a menu in front of my face and pretended to read while my eyes scanned my surroundings. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one with a late night appetite. An old cowboy-guy with filthy clothes was sucking down a brew, while a leather-faced woman, old enough to be his mom, chewed on his disgusting ear. A white-bearded biker with a huge gut stood up and fished around in his pants for his wallet. The cook, a hulking Elliot Gould look-a-like, flipped greasy beef patties and chomped on a two-inch stogie. The biker dropped a ten on the counter, walked over to the juke box and punched in Jim Stafford’s “Spiders and Snakes.” He then turned and walked out the door. Certainly no shortage of freaks in this place.

A piercing, cackle of a laugh sliced through the smoke and grease in the room. A short, middle-aged waitress skittered up to the counter, whipping a rag around like a propeller. 

EVANORA
Arnie, sugar, if your burgers get any blacker I swear we’re going to have to give these customers a coal shovel to eat ‘em with!

Arnie, the cook, continued frying and flipping without even acknowledging the waitress. She’d obviously spent a lot of time giving him shit and he seemed perfectly immune to it. She glanced my way, picked up a glass and pitcher of water, then strutted like a queen over to my table.

EVANORA
Don’t let that scare you none, doll. I wouldn’t say it to his face but Arnie makes a fantastic cheeseburger. I just love busting his balls. It’s a nightly ritual I’ve been doing for 25 years. Between you and me, he doesn’t hear too well so I’m not even sure he knows I’m doing it.

She let loose anther cackle laugh and poured some ice water.

Welcome to the Scarlet Kilt, handsome. I’m owner, CEO, and your waitress tonight. My name’s Evanora, what can I get for you?

The waitress propped herself on one arm directly in front of me and stared into my eyes. The front of her low-cut blouse dropped another few inches, exposing her flawless, freckled cleavage. A sassy, sideways smile pushed up cute round apple cheeks on her cherub face.

TOM
Well, ma’am, I think I’m going to have your cheeseburger and coffee special this evening.

I held out my hand. 

I’m your customer tonight. My name is Tom. What can I get for you?

The waitress’s smile turned into a sparkly giggle and she shook my hand.

EVANORA
Oh, honey, I think I have just about everything I need in this world, right now, but thanks for asking. Now, let’s see, I’ve got this dump, my little upstairs apartment directly behind the diner, and a non-stop steady stream of good-looking men dropping by on a regular basis ordering cheeseburgers and coffee. A girl never gets tired of that kind of eye candy, even when it’s not Halloween. And you, Mr. Tom… well, you’re the type of eye candy that would make a girl glad she has an extra-large Trick or Treat sack. Tell me, what are you doing out this way so late, sweetie?

She reached across the table and put her hand on my forearm. 

Don’t you know that only maniacs and murderers are out this time of night?

TOM
You see that big rig out there stacked full of wood? That’s mine. Driving it down to West Virginia where I guess they’re going to turn it into furniture or baseball bats or somethin’ interesting. I never know what they do with that stuff after I drop it off. None of my business, I guess.

The waitress’s hand went from touching my forearm to tugging at her necklace.

EVANORA
That sure is a lot of wood you’ve got there, Tom. Wait. Don’t tell me. Your name isn’t something ironic like “Tom Woods,” is it? Or “Tom Plank?” Oh my god, you’re not the famous porn star Tom Logg are you??

TOM
Corbett. Tom Corbett is my name. And your last name would be…?

EVANORA
Oh, sugar, there have been so many last names I’ve lost track. Don’t worry yourself about all that. Just call me Evanora.

TOM
Evanora. Let me guess… you really, really love peaches.

I took a gulp of ice cold water.

EVANORA
I’m sorry?

TOM
Your peach pit necklace there. A necklace made of peach pits is rather unique, I’d say. I figure you either really love peaches or you have a kid who excelled in crafts at church camp.

EVANORA
Hmmm, let’s just say… I’m a girl from Georgia. You know, ‘Georgia peach’ and all? I haven’t lived there since I was young but this helps me stay in touch with my roots.

TOM
A southern belle? I’d never have guessed.

EVANORA
It’s been a long time. I didn’t fit in down there and so I got out as quick as I could. I consider myself a Montana girl at heart. Listen, honey, I’m going to put your order in and check on Monty. He’s the one over there wearing the cowboy hat and the whore. I’ll be back with some hot coffee for you in a couple minutes.

Evanora scooted off to the counter. Her delightfully well-shaped ass waved goodbye to me and I felt a little tingle down below. She was the cutest thing I’d seen in quite awhile and she was obviously doing some serious flirting. So what if she was a year or two older than me. She was more than a fine-looking woman. Maybe a little loopy but that was okay. A crazy woman is a refreshing distraction from the monotony of the road. I’d been driving for three days and been longer than that without the company of a woman. The conversation and attention from Evanora was a welcomed occasion.

The cowboy-guy and his date paid their tab and staggered out the door. 

EVANORA
There ya go, Arnie, your cooking has run off another customer!

Evanora giggled, looked over at me and winked.

Let’s hope you don’t kill off this good-looking guy in the corner. Maybe he’ll hang around for awhile and I’ll get lucky tonight.

She gave me another wink. This was starting to look good.

The cheeseburger and coffee arrived and both were better than your average truck stop fare. That Arnie might be quiet but he sure knows what he’s doing. At this point, though, my cravings had shifted from burger to brunette as I watched Evanora work the room. Two other customers had come in and Evanora made them feel at home but she still visited my table regularly for a shoulder squeeze or neck rub. I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to make a move with her but I knew I had to. And soon.

I took my last swallow of coffee. Immediately Evanora skipped over, pulled out the table and sat right on my lap.

EVANORA
Look, sugar, my shift is over and I’m going home but I don’t think I want to go home… without you. You look like you could use a warm shower and a soft pillow and I have plenty of both at my place. How about you walk with me to my apartment and consider staying the night? No strings attached. I don’t need to know your address or your situation. Tomorrow, bright and early, you hit the road and you don’t even have to turn around for one last glance if you don’t want to.

She combed her fingers through my hair.

The offer is on the table, doll, if you want to reach over pick it up.

I put my hand on the small of her back and pulled her in closer. 

TOM
Absolutely. And if you don’t mind me saying so, you seem to me to be a woman worthy of at least a couple of “last glances.”

EVANORA
Listen, honey, you need to do me a favor. I have this rule around the diner that says no dating or personal mingling with the customers and, you know, I have to set an example. I can’t be seen taking some strange trucker off to my apartment. So, wait 5 or 10 minutes after I leave and then go out that front door and around to the back of the diner. You’ll see a wood staircase that goes up to my apartment. I’ll leave the door unlocked.

TOM
Got it. One question.

EVANORA
Yes?

TOM
Do I still have to leave a tip here?

EVANORA
You better believe it!

She kissed my cheek and darted off.

I waited a few minutes then paid my bill. I left a hefty tip and walked out the door and into the red neon light. Making my way around the back of the diner, I climbed the wood staircase as I was told. The apartment looked rather dark inside but I turned the doorknob. It was unlocked as promised.

The entrance went directly into the kitchen. There were a couple of lit candles on a table and on the stove, a tea pot of water not yet boiling. Dried herbs hung from hooks all around the kitchen. I walked into the living room which was cozy warm from a small fireplace. A framed photo of a smiling couple was on the mantle. It appeared to be a young Evanora sitting on the lap of a red-bearded man. Over the fireplace was a large painting of a naked man with a goat head. Creepy. A dozen or so lit candles placed around the room gave the air a waxy smell. A few stuffed birds and animals stood guard throughout the space. Lots of Native American and ancient Celtic trinkets, wall hangings, crystals and amulets made it look something like a museum.  An ash tray with a fat stalk of burnt… something sat at the center of the coffee table. 

EVANORA
I hope you’re up for a cup of tea, sugar. I make it myself. China Black, raspberry leaves, chamomile, rose hips, some other stuff. It’s very relaxing. Will help you sleep.

Evanora came into the living room tying a red satin robe around her waist. She was wearing no shoes, no bra and her peach pit necklace. She was simply stunning. I couldn’t figure out what it was about this woman that had me under a spell but I was captivated. It isn’t often a woman can make me feel off-balance but there was something about Evanora that left me ruffled. 

TOM
Tea… would be great. And if you’ll point me toward the shower, I’ll freshen up and be right back.

EVANORA
Right through that door, sweetie. Be careful, the water gets very hot. There’s a robe hanging on the door if you want it.

The hot shower felt good and invigorating. I felt revived and more focused. I put on the robe and went to the living room. Evanora was on her over-stuffed couch. The red neon light bleeding through the window illuminated her red robe and made her glow like a firehouse lantern.

EVANORA
Here’s your tea, hon. Come over here and sit next to me. Let me show you something…

She reached into an old cabinet drawer next to the couch and pulled out a small carved box. She opened the lid and produced a hand-rolled cigarette.

I hope you don’t mind, but this helps me to relax. I always smoke a little when I have my tea.

TOM
Not at all.

She lit the joint, closed her eyes and sucked in the smoke. She offered the cigarette to me, I took it and inhaled deeply. The sweet, earthy smoke instantly melted the tension in my muscles.

EVANORA
My ex, Rory, introduced me to weed. He was my first husband. The best one. He was a wild man from Scotland. The name of the diner, “The Scarlet Kilt,” came from him. He had this red kilt he believed contained the spirits of all his ancestors and when he put it on, their spiritual essence would enter his body and make him invincible. We used to get high and naked and dance all night on the rocks by the lake. He was into paganism, nature worship, magick, rituals, all that stuff. He taught me the craft. He was the first to open me up.

TOM
The “craft?” What does that mean… you’re…

EVANORA
A witch? It’s okay darlin’, you can say it. I was 19 when he introduced me to witchcraft. It isn’t what everyone thinks it is, of course. We don’t eat babies or mutilate black cats. There are spells and rituals but it’s mostly about becoming purified and perfected through nature. We each have our own gifts. “Super powers,” if you will. My gift is energy manipulation and transference. I know, other-worldly, right? People say “witch” but there’s no such thing as one type of witch. We’re all free to do our own thing.

The weed was starting to do things to my mind and I was beginning to think maybe there was something a little stronger than just tea in my cup. I looked into Evanora’s eyes and saw what looked like a flash of misty red flame. The witchy talk was making me see strange visions, I thought. I felt a surge of desire in me and I leaned in to her. I wasn’t sure how I felt about making love to a witch but I was about to find out. 

TOM
I have that same philosophy. Free to do my own thing. But right now, I’d rather do yours.

I moved in and kissed her lips. She tasted like rose hips and smelled like vanilla and herbs. Her tongue traced my mouth and I reached down and loosened the tie on her robe while she freed me of mine. Our hands explored each other as we slowly fell back into the couch.

We made love for an hour and a half, the details of which won’t be shared but it was sex unlike any I’d had before. I’d hope to continue but Evanora stood up and started slowly dancing around the living room. Her nude, middle-aged body still looked youthful and toned and she closed her eyes and slithered to her own inner music. I was thoroughly enjoying the show when she came over to me and held out her arms. 

EVANORA
Dance with me, baby.

I’ve never been a shy or overly modest person but I admit I felt somewhat self-conscious here. I’d never danced naked with a witch before and I wasn’t sure I would be a perfect partner. Still, I stood up with her and gave it a try. I started by mimicking her moves. She seemed to be hearing a musical soundtrack I wasn’t, so I had no problem letting her be the lead in this dance. She lifted her arms above her head and skipped around like some sort of wood sprite. I did my best to follow along. She rubbed her hands over her body and writhed like she was making love to an invisible partner. After what seemed like 15 or 20 minutes, I began hearing the music too. I don’t know where it came from but I didn’t question it. We seemed to have connected through the dance on a deep level and I felt like I was absorbing her presence. I felt sweat breaking all over my body and my heart was pounding faster from the workout. The music and dance accelerated and we held each other’s hands and spun around the coffee table. Evanora suddenly stopped moving. She lifted her head and arms high and whispered something in a language I couldn’t identify.

EVANORA
Naestra, finna, toldor enna candorom! Shallae umstra lammacrom!

She took the herb stalk from the coffee table and held it to the fire in the small fireplace. It lit immediately and she placed it on the coffee table where the fire extinguished but the stalk continued to smolder. She quickly ran off to a closet and brought back what looked to me like a red kilt.

Please. Put this on. Don’t ask. Just do it.

I was completely under her power now and didn’t question her instruction. I’d never put on a kilt before and didn’t know what the hell to do with all the cloth and buckles but Evanora took it from my hands and wrapped it around me while she swayed and whipped her hair side to side. She pulled the buckles until they were secure and then picked up the smoldering herb stalk and danced around me, waving smoke and embers in the air until a veil of fog surrounded me. The faster she danced, the more it seemed the scarlet kilt glowed from the red neon light. 

I looked out the window and realized the diner’s red neon Scarlet Kilt sign was no longer illuminated. The glow of red light that saturated the entire room was originating from the scarlet kilt I was wearing. My head felt cloudy and confused and I wasn’t sure if everything I was seeing and experiencing was reality or a dream. Evanora began whispering the strange language once again and the scarlet kilt glowed brighter. I decided I’d had enough of the spooky shit. I wanted out of the kilt and I reached down to release the buckles. The metal was hot and the buckles seemed to be fused closed. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get out of the kilt.

I felt the waist of the kilt tighten and constrict around my body. The rest of the kilt which was at one time open and flowing began closing upon me like a hand making a fist. I fought to pull the cloth away but I couldn’t grip it and didn’t have the strength to move it away. It felt like the thing was eating me alive. The kilt glowed even brighter, to the point I wasn’t able to look directly at it. It closed tight around my scrotum and a sensation I can only describe as a “fire orgasm” consumed me. All the energy drained from my body. I began seeing visions of ancient, Celtic pagan priests and warriors. I began melting into them. I could feel their feelings and think their thoughts. I no longer could feel my own body and became light as air and ghostly. The sights, sounds and smells that were surrounding me before had dissipated and were replaced with a vast nothingness. I had passed from the earthly plane to one of pure spirit. From the human standpoint, I was dead.

The spirit world does not accommodate regret, only awareness. One does not evaluate one’s present or past actions in this existence. One only sees actions as they are and as they were. I now know why Evanora prompted me to wear the scarlet kilt but I do not have the power to wish I had not. I did not share the ancestry of Evanora’s ex-husband, Rory, so I had no right or privilege to wear that kilt. While blood keeps an ancestry alive, in this case the ancestors could only live by stealing my own essence. Rory and his ancestors, remained alive in the weave of the scarlet kilt as long as they could either take life from others or find a an ancestor to wear the kilt and contribute to the collective ancestral pool of life. Had I been an ancestor, my life would have been spared, refined and magnified. As one of strange blood, I became nothing more than life food and another two charms on a Montana witch’s necklace.

©2017 Rick Baldwin. All Rights Reserved.

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE – This story is under the full copyright of the author who gives permission for royalty-free performance/readings of the story for non commercial purposes. This story must not be changed or altered in any way without permission of the author. Any performance of this story must credit the author, Rick Baldwin. This story may not be reprinted without permission of the author.)

Fergus MacDuff

For as long as I can remember, the name “Fergus MacDuff” has been a part of my consciousness. When I was a child, my parents used the name as a threat or motivation for correction. “If you don’t clean your plate, Fergus MacDuff will get you.” “Clean your room or Fergus MacDuff will find you in the night.” As kids, we imagined Fergus MacDuff lived under our beds, his long, dirty fingers grasping for our ankles every time we went to turn in for the night. Most of the time we would run to our beds and take a long dive onto the safety of the mattress, relieved we avoided another murderous grasping attempt by old Fergus MacDuff.

The reality was that Fergus MacDuff didn’t live under our beds but rather in an old shack a block from the abandon gas station a quarter of a mile from our house. Or at least that’s what all the kids at school said. We were all very aware of the dilapidated Fergus MacDuff house that sat it the middle of the overgrown plot of land we had to pass when we walked down to the ball field. People would tell stories about seeing Fergus MacDuff standing in the shadows of his porch, watching all of us kids playing across the street. Some people said they saw him clutching a butcher knife. Ginny Blair said she saw him holding a chain saw. Troy Bolin claimed he once crept up the weedy pathway to Fergus MacDuff’s door, only to find him sitting on his porch pulling feathers off of a bloody chicken. No matter the variety of stories, one detail was always consistent. Everyone claimed they saw old Fergus MacDuff wearing a dress. Why that old man would wear a dress, I couldn’t imagine and I don’t know why but that was the thing about him the creeped me out the most.

In sixth grade my best friend was Dewey Milk. Yes, that was his real name and no, you couldn’t come up with a new name joke that Dewey hadn’t heard a million times before. For three or four years Dewey Milk and I were inseparable. We always pretended we were Mulder and Scully, only in our fantasy world, I was Mulder and Dewey always wanted to be Agent Scully. He would always say it was because of his red hair but I knew he had more personal reasons. Dewey Milk and I would travel the neighborhood investigating all rumors of paranormal activity. It was usually just blowing the lid off of crazy tales we heard around town like Mrs. Stallings’ possessed cat or the space alien someone said the Berrier’s were hiding in their dairy barn. We never really found anything, of course, but we thought we were making some sort of difference in the safety of the neighborhood and it was all just innocent fun. Innocent, that is, until one day when Dewey Milk suggested we climb the back fence of the abandon gas station, crawl through the weeds and get our own view of Fergus MacDuff.

Sometimes in life you do things that you would normally find so terrifying, you just have to shut your mind off and do it. Like pulling off an old band-aid. Don’t think about it, just do it. That’s how I felt about Dewey Milk’s suggestion. I said “yes” without thinking much about it and I told him we should do it immediately since it was starting to get dark and I knew in a few more minutes my mom would be calling me in for dinner. But, really, I wanted to get moving before I talked myself out of it.

We quickly scaled the gas station fence and soon found ourselves on our stomachs in five foot weeds. The sky was that deep indigo glow which happens right before everything goes completely black dark. Dewey Milk was right next to me and I was sure he would be able to hear the thumping of my heart if it wasn’t for the pulsing screams of the cicadas. We laid there for what seemed like two hours. I wasn’t exactly sure what we were looking for as we stared at the silhouette of the old shack.

“I think I see him,” Dewey Milk said in a low whisper that still scared the shit out of me.

“Where?” I asked. I couldn’t see anything but black.

“Right there in the middle,” Dewey Milk said. “See, it’s a window. You can see a little orange glow coming from it.”

I stared at the scraggly black building for a few moments. I had been looking at the remaining light from the sky but when I let my eyes adjust to the blackness of the old shack, I too could see a glow coming from what looked like a window. It was the first time I really thought about what were were doing and at that moment I realized I didn’t want to do it.

“We gotta go back, Dewey,” I said. “My mom’s gonna bust my ass.”

“It’s too late, Mulder” Dewey said. “We’re in this too deep.”

Dewey Milk was right. We were engaged. It was too late to abort the mission. And before I could agree with him I heard a whimper come from him and then a low, gurgling choking sound. And before I could ask if he was okay, I felt cold, leathery fingers grab the shirt at t he back of my neck and pull tight. I couldn’t tell what was happening but I could feel my entire body being lifted from the ground. I looked over at Dewey and could barely see his face as he looked behind me. I knew from the panic on his face, the bony fingers that had me in their grasp belonged to none other than Fergus McDuff.

The next few minutes moved super fast. I don’t remember moving from the cover of the weeds to inside the old shack but in the blink of an eye, there we were sitting in front of a small, soot-covered fireplace in what I assumed was the living room of Fergus McDuff. It was difficult to really determine where we were though. In every inch of the house was piled boxes and books and paper and trash and mounds and mounds of shit. How anyone could live in that environment, I don’t know. It smelled like old water, old food and dead animals. No telling how many bodies of mice, rats, possums, raccoons, and who knows what else were rotting under the piles of garbage. It was sometimes difficult to tell if we were indoors or out doors. I guess I’m still not sure. I looked at Dewey Milk sitting next to me and noticed he too was scanning the contents of the room while at the same time trying to figure out if there might be some miracle way of darting out of the room.

I could see the silhouette of Fergus MacDuff sitting in a chair in the dark. I could hear the clunking of metal which I eventually recognized as the sound of a spoon in a can. Was Fergus MacDuff eating while holding us prisoner? After a few minutes an empty can of corned beef hash flung out of the darkness and hit me on the bottom of my shoe. I heard a hacking cough in the middle of the blackness, the crinkling of paper and chewing noises. Dewey Milk reached over and touched me on the knee and pointed at the fireplace. On the mantle I could see twenty or thirty little handmade dolls lined up in a raw. They were crudely made but each one had it’s own distinctive look. Skinny dolls, fat dolls, boys with glasses, girls with braces, one doll in a wheelchair, just a lot of different dolls. I looked at Dewey Milk and he shrugged. I knew what he was thinking. What would this creepy old man be doing with all of these dolls? I was thinking something else. Why did Fergus MacDuff bring us here and what was he going to do with us?

After about forty five minutes sitting on the dirt floor in front of the fireplace I had had enough. “Can we go home,” I asked. My mom and dad are going to worried and they’re going to start looking for me.” I waited for a response from the dark and heard only a guttural noise which I couldn’t make out to be Fergus MacDuff clearing his throat or laughing at me. “Ginny!” Dewey Milk whispered. “Ginny?” I whispered back. Dewey Milk pointed at one of the dolls on the mantle. It was a doll with curly brown hair and big wire glasses, almost as big as her entire face. He was right. The doll looked like Ginny Blair. In fact, I suddenly recognized another doll. The one with braces has to be Carol Thornton. And there was Ray Beale. Johnny Brooks was there, Renee Kincaid and the wheelchair doll was definitely Kimmy Morgan. Dewey and I looked at each other with wide eyes. We both recognized our entire class there on top of Fergus MacDuff’s fireplace. I could feel tears pooling in my eyes. I was terrified and I wanted to get out of that creepy house. I scanned the room for an exit opportunity. I was hard to see anything through the piles of trash but I noticed an open door in the room across from the living room. That was my chance. I caught Dewey Milk’s eyes and subtly ran a pointed finger across the floor toward the open door. I counted in my mind, ready to dash toward freedom. Five… four… three… two… one…

Suddenly a large pile of trash moved in front of me and blocked the open door. No. It wasn’t a pile of trash after all. It was Fergus MacDuff.  The glow from the fire let me see Fergus for the first time. He was like a mountain. His hair and beard looked like the weeds we hid in out side his house. His face was wrinkled and looked like it was made of an old horse saddle. A wet stream of tobacco juice ran down the corner of his mouth. He reached over my head and for the first time I noticed the dress everyone talked about was an old kilt like the one I saw in a book about Scotland at the school library. Only, this one looked like it hadn’t been washed in 100 years. I looked up at Fergus MacDuff as he grasped for a doll on the mantle. Holding his arm at a 90 degree angle he danced the doll over his arm and made squeaky noises. The doll was chubby with bright red curly hair. I immediately recognized it as the doll version of Dewey Milk. Fergus MacDuff cackled with a phlegmy laugh. He was obviously highly entertained at his puppet show. He slowly handed the doll to Dewey Milk but when Dewey reached out to take it, Fergus MacDuff quickly tossed it into the fire where it instantly ignited into a ball of flame. Again, Fergus MacDuff laughed with an even bigger cackle of phlegm.

I scanned the fireplace for my doll. I knew I was the next star of Fergus MacDuff’s show. I was a lanky girl with a short, bob hair style and tomboy clothes. But none of the dolls looked anything close to me. It didn’t make sense to me. Why would everyone else in our class be there on his fireplace mantle in doll form but not me? I turned to look at Fergus MacDuff and he started down at me like he knew what I was thinking. His bony fingers moved down between his legs. He fondled around on the old leather pouch on the front of his kilt until he opened it. He reached inside and pulled out a crushed, misshapen doll. He ran his fingers over the doll a bit until it smoothed out some and then he handed the doll to me. He started laughing the biggest laugh yet and turned and walked into the dark part of his house and closed a door. Dewey Milk and I immediately ran to the door and kept running as fast as we could toward my house, the laughter of Fergus MacDuff fading into a soft echo behind us.

When morning came I found myself questioning whether my experience with Fergus MacDuff the night before was real or a dream. I wanted to ask Dewey Milk, but his mom said he went with his grandparents to a church function. My dad was sitting at the breakfast table reading the paper and drinking a cup of coffee. I asked him what he knew about Fergus MacDuff. “Fergus MacDuff?” He asked, surprised. “Well, honey, I think you’re old enough to know the truth about Fergus MacDuff. There’s no real Fergus MacDuff. I mean, there was a Fergus MacDuff. A long time ago. He was a custodian at the school you go to but somebody said he was inappropriately… well, having communications with some of the kids. He was fired and he just went away by himself. Everyone started using his name as a kind of boogie man, you know? “Last one to the porch will be killed by Fergus MacDuff!” It started out as something funny but I guess it just became silly. Your mom and I always did it in a joking way. I don’t know, maybe it went too far. Anyway old Fergus MacDuff died ten years before you were born so there’s no way he’s ever going to get you.”

I never talked to my parents about the night Dewey Milk and I spent in Fergus MacDuff’s creepy living room. It was a secret Dewey and I locked away in our own minds. We never even discussed it ourselves. Even though we were so close, eventually we drifted apart. Dewey’s parents moved to Montana and we wrote each other letters for a year but that stopped eventually. There was no email or Facebook then so it was easy to just gradually lose touch. The last time I heard from Dewey Milk was five years ago after my husband Alan and our son Daniel drown in a boat accident while on a fishing trip. Dewey heard about it from his sister and he called me to tell me how sorry he was. We both cried together on the phone and promised we would soon get together again. But we never did. Then I heard last week that Dewey Milk was on a business trip in Los Angeles and along with twenty two other people, was killed in a hotel fire. I was devastated. But I was also haunted by that night when Fergus MacDuff tossed Dewey’s doll into the fire place. I couldn’t stop thinking that maybe that had something to do with Dewey’s death. And it made me wonder the whereabouts of the doll Fergus gave to me. I hadn’t seen it in thirty years or so. Last I can remember, I put it in a cigar box my dad once gave me and I stored it in my attic.

I decided to dig out that cigar box and take a look at that creepy old doll. I went into the attic and moved piles of boxes and other stored items. For a second it reminded me of the piles of junk in Fergus MacDuff’s living room. I found an old box of toys and mementos from my elementary school days and I pulled off the tape. It was mostly dusty plush toys, softball shirts and gloves and sports cards. I cleared away the layers of memories until I finally located the wood cigar box. I remember wrapping the box with rubber bands, ribbons and strings which I pulled and cut off. I opened the box expecting to see the crude, straw doll, but I was horrified. My god, the doll was not there. But what was there were two dolls I’d never in my life seen before. A doll that looked exactly like my husband Alan and a smaller doll which… Oh, my god, how could that be? Who put these other dolls in this old box? And where… where was the old doll… of me…?

©2016 Rick Baldwin. All Rights Reserved.

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE – This story is under the full copyright of the author who gives permission for royalty-free performance/readings of the story for non commercial purposes. This story must not be changed or altered in any way without permission of the author. Any performance of this story must credit the author, Rick Baldwin. This story may not be reprinted without permission of the author.)

The Old Lockhart House

(Based upon true events.)

I come from a very rural part of East Tennessee. It ain’t exactly what you’d call the “sticks” ’cause there is a large city about 20 minutes away but you could still get lost on the winding country roads surrounding the house I grew up in and it would take someone familiar with the area to help you get out and back on your way to civilization.

Behind my house was a steep incline and at the bottom of that incline was an old sawmill run by Elmer Nicely. The train tracks ran right along side Elmer’s sawmill and when a train would come through about once an hour all the windows in our house would tremble for about 10 minutes. Elmer also slaughtered hogs at his place so it was awfully nice when the train came by and masked the horrible squeals we’d sometimes hear from his small wood slaughterhouse.

There was a one-lane gravel road that cut between our house and the sawmill. I’d see cars pass through there at all hours of the day and night but when I was a kid I’d never been far down that old road. It just looked scary down there to me. The trees and kudzu was overgrown and the road looked like a path into a dark tunnel of leaves, vines, sticks and dust. I knew some people lived down that gravel road but I didn’t know anyone personally. They were mostly reclusive country people who liked to keep to themselves and I wasn’t one to go messing with them.

When I got older my parents would let me walk down the old gravel road by myself. I remember the first time I went down past the sawmill, past the slaughterhouse, and found where the old road bent to the left and crossed the railroad track. At that point I couldn’t recognize any surroundings. It was like I was in some small backwood village. There were old, broken down, rusted trailers that people still lived in,  nestled back in the brush. There were so many old houses I’d never seen before and they looked like they’d been pieced together with scrap wood and plastic and cardboard. There was an old creek that ran behind the houses I had no idea existed. Every other house it seemed had an old, mangy dog tied up to a tree or a rotting dog house. Something about the whole atmosphere made the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up.

Just past the shacks there was an old cornfield overgrown with weeds and brush. Hanging on a wood post was a pitiful looking scarecrow with only one arm raised. Like he was trying to hitchhike his way out of that place. For some unknown reason, the scarecrow’s owner had dressed it in a burlap kilt with an old piece of corn cob stuck on it as a kilt pin. Next to the corn field, sitting way back off the road was a decrepit, white, three-story wood house. All of the windows on the house were broken out and you would need a machete to get to the front door, but it was still a pretty impressive house among the dilapidated shacks. The old house looked like it had been quite something in its time and it made me want to do some research on it to find out its history.

The next day, after seeing the old house, I was telling some of my school friends about it. One of my friends said, “That’s the old Lockhart house.” Then he said with a smile, “I’ve heard it’s haunted.” Neither of us believed in ghosts or haunted houses but we’d both seen how creepy the place looked. I wanted to find out more information about it but I wasn’t sure where to go for it. I’d seen some of the Lockharts at the school and I knew they couldn’t live in that house. Or could they?

A few weeks later I was discussing the house again with school friends when I heard someone laughing at me. It was Chris Mullins. Chris was was a muscular, good-looking guy with more than a little Native American blood in him. He was one of the stars of the football team and a pretty nice guy and one of the few jocks who would actually spend any amount of time talking to someone like me. “That’s a great make-out place,” he said. “Get you a girl down there, she gets all scared, you tell her you’ll protect her… she’ll do pretty much anything you want.” Personally, I don’t think Chris Mullins ever needed a scary house to get a girl to do whatever he wanted but it was a nice tip anyway. “I’m taking Jenny Quarles down there Friday after the game,” he said. “The only scary thing she needs to worry about is in my pants!” he said. We all laughed.

The football game that Friday night was on the night before Halloween and it was against one of our biggest rivals from the next county over. We won the game easily and the celebrations went on way into the night. But I decided to head on home a bit early. It was dark and blustery outside. There was a full moon’s light that would appear and disappear behind fast moving dark clouds. I thought about what Chris Mullins said about taking Jenny Quarles to the old Lockhart house. In fact, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I thought maybe I could just drive right by the place and look over and see if I could see them there. I wondered if he really had the guts to go there or if he was just all talk. So I decided I’d drive past the Lockhart house and then circle around and come back home.

I hit the old gravel road right about the time I heard a train horn sounding in the distance. By the time I got to the part where the road curved around and crossed the track, the train was coming fast so I sat and waited for it to pass. When it was gone I listened to the silence for a few seconds. There’s nothing like the deep, dead silence of the country after a train passes through. I drove on past the trailers and shacks and up to the corn field when I noticed something very strange. That old scarecrow was gone. I could see his weathered old post still standing there in the field but the scarecrow was nowhere to be seen. Maybe it had fallen down I thought. Or maybe Chris was using it as part of his plan to get Jenny all scared and clingy. Up ahead I could see a car parked off the road in front of the house. But no one was in it. I drove past it slow and looked inside and the front and back seats were empty. Surely Chris Mullins wasn’t brave enough to take her inside the house. Or stupid enough. I pulled my car off over to the side of the road and turned off the engine and the lights. I rolled down the window to see if I could hear any voices. The air smelled like dead leaves and dirt and dogs and old engine oil. The light from the moon was starting to spend more time behind the clouds leaving everything in a deep indigo darkness.

If you’ve never heard the death scream of a hog at midnight it’ll send shivers over every inch of your body. And it’s worse when you’re far away from anything you recognize. It’s even more terrifying when you realize that the scream you just heard wasn’t a hog at all but its human and it’s coming right toward you. Jenny Quarles tried to open the passenger door while she screamed but it was locked. She jumped onto the hood of my car and pounded on the windshield like she intended to go right through it. It took me several seconds to recognize it was her and when I did I jumped out of the car. In one leap she jumped on me and her legs gave out from under her, all the while she still screaming. I tried to calm her down best I could and ask her what was going on. She couldn’t speak but she grabbed my hand and pointed toward the Lockhart house. She could only say “Chris” and pull me toward the house.

A small path had been trampled into the weeds and brush in front of the house and Jenny pulled me along the path. It was all happening too quick to think about it but now days I can’t even believe I went into all that jungle. We tripped and stumbled our way to to the side of the old house where there was a clearing under some tall, twisted trees. Jenny pointed to one of the trees and again let out a shrill scream. On the dirt, under the tree, was a scattering of straw covered in blood. Hanging from one of the trees was Chris Mullins. His throat cut from earlobe to earlobe. Stuck right in the middle of his neck, was a corn cob kilt pin.

I grabbed Jenny’s arm and ran back toward the car as faster than I’d ever run before. It was a good thing Jenny was a small girl because when we hit that tangled path of vines, I drug her along behind me even after she tripped and fell several times. We got into the car and sped off to my house where we called the police and Jenny’s parents.

It was several months before Jenny Quarles was able to fully relay the events of that night to anyone. She and Chris Mullins had left the school after the football game and drove to a convenience store where Chris’ brother was the manager and would sell them some beer. Chris told Jenny he wanted to take her to his house and then he drove to the old Lockhart house, jokingly telling her it was where he lived. They parked the car, sat on the hood and drank a couple of beers under the moonlight. After they made out for awhile, Chris suggested they walk up to the house. Well Jenny didn’t think that was such a good idea so Chris made a bet with her. Jenny had to agree that she would go up to the house if Chris could hit the old scarecrow with all four of their empty beer bottles. Even in the darkness Chris proved to be quite the athlete as each bottle landed squarely on target, the last one almost taking off the old scarecrow’s head. Jenny reluctantly went up to the dark old house with Chris and after they got up under the trees Chris began trying to scare her by pretending to run into the old weedy cornfield and then running back out. At one point he didn’t come back out and Jenny thought he may have snuck back to the car just to spook her. She wandered her way back to the car through the maze of the thicket and, not finding Chris, she sat on the hood of the car and drank another beer. When the light of the train cut through the blackness, she once again made her way to the side of the house and it was at that point she found Chris Mullins hanging from a tree.

On Halloween night, few people let their kids go out Trick or Treating and no one was in a Halloween party mood. Everyone was terrified there was a murderer on the loose so people stayed home and locked their doors. It was the first time in 18 years I’d seen my parents turn the locks on their own doors. Around 9 o’clock Halloween night one of my friends called to tell me that several guys from the football team had plans to drive to the old Lockhart house around midnight and burn it down. So a little bit after 12, I drove down the gravel road and I could see the sky glowing orange far in front of me. I crossed the railroad tracks and I could smell the smoke and I could see flames flickering high into the sky. I passed by the shack houses and rusty trailers and I could see the old wood Lockhart house was fully engulfed in flames. There were no cars and people to be seen anywhere around. And to my surprise, there, silhouetted against the bright orange light of the fire, hung that old scarecrow; kilt around its waist, arm stretched out and head held high.

©2016 Rick Baldwin. All Rights Reserved.

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE – This story is under the full copyright of the author who gives permission for royalty-free performance/readings of the story for non commercial purposes. This story must not be changed or altered in any way without permission of the author. Any performance of this story must credit the author, Rick Baldwin. This story may not be reprinted without permission of the author.)

We Were Young, Noisy Christians

Anyone who knew me from my mid-20s to my late 30s would know how attached I was to the Christian Music scene (FYI: In the 80s and 90s we officially referred to it as “Contemporary Christian Music”). For the most part, it was the music of my youth. I attended a small, Southern Baptist college in the early 80s and embraced CCM after first being exposed to it through a campus concert featuring the mighty RussTaff. It soon became the music culture that most influenced my life. Like many young music fans of the 80s, I was into “new wave” and “college alternative” bands but as a young Christian, I would always be drawn more to bands like U2 or The Alarm that had something of an added spiritual dimension to their music and lyrics.

I wasn’t a musician so the closest contribution I could make to Contemporary Christian Music was through art. In 1987, I created a comic strip called Outta Toon which ran for 20 years in CCM Magazine and Christian Musician Magazine. It was a parody of the personalities and attitudes involved in Christian music in the late 80s through the early 200os. More than anything, though, it was my love letter to a genre I loved almost obsessively.

I was recently thinking about my former obsession with Christian music and how today I rarely listen to it. There was a time I could tell you who produced or played keyboards on any random Christian album but today I can’t tell you a single band or artist currently in the Top 10. I grew up, grew apart and lost touch with the old and the new bands. At one point “Worship Music” became very popular and it pushed out the alternative bands. It also seemed (to me) that commercialism succeeded in taming creativity. Or maybe I just got old, cynical and out of touch. Yeah, that’s probably it. “You kids get off my stage!!

I don’t participate or subscribe to any organized spiritual activity anymore but, just for fun, I thought I’d revisit a few of the bands that were most influential in my growing-up years. Missing from this list are solo artists I regularly listened to like Charlie Peacock, Mark Heard, Margaret Becker and Russ Taff. I’m focusing here on the bands. These bands were my R.E.M. and The Police. Okay, I listened to R.E.M. and The Police, too, but in some ways I actually thought these bands were way cooler.

So, here’s my top 5 list of Best Alternative Christian Bands of the 80s/90s.

#5. The Choir

My introduction to The Choir was 1986’s Diamonds and Rain and I admit was due almost entirely to the fact I thought Derri Daugherty’s orange mullet was over-the-top cool. I figured the whole band must be awesome as well. Fortunately, I was correct. The smooth Charlie Peacock produced alt-pop of Diamonds and Rain rarely left my tape deck during that time but it was 1988’s Chase The Kangaroo that lifted the band to “superstar” heights in my eyes and ears. Etherial, atmospheric music with guitar solos straight out of The Edge’s playbook produced the closest thing you’re going to get to Christian Psychedelic Music. The follow-up Wide-Eyed Wonder was more mainstream and less experimental but helped give The Choir a more firm foothold as pioneers in the Christian alt-rock scene.

The Choir is the only one of my early favorite Christian bands I’ve never seen live. I can’t even find many early videos or performances on YouTube. So, for now, this video for “Someone to Hold On To” from a documentary for the album Wide-Eyed Wonder will have to do.

#4. Chagall Guevara

Chagall Guevara only released one full-length album, their almost perfect, self-titled, 1991 collection on MCA Records. I’m including them here also for the significance of guitarist Dave Perkins and, of course, Steve Taylor, the godfather of Christian Alternative Music. I saw them perform live three times, including a show at Knoxville’s now defunct “The Library” on a stage barely big enough to hold 5 people, yet still spacious enough for a Steve Taylor cartwheel.

Like everyone, I wanted more Chagall Guevara. Unfortunately we were left to scavenge for elusive singles like “Tale O’ The Twister” from the Pump Up The Volume Soundtrack. I’m not sure planet Earth is big enough to contain what could have been.

#3. Adam Again

Adam Again provided my first real “Holy Crap!” moment in Christian music with the release of Ten Songs by Adam Again. A masterpiece like nothing else that has come out of Christian music, I first listened to it driving home one night and, for an hour, had to resist the impulse to pull the car over, get out and dance. All I could think was “What is going on here??” while being slapped around by wonderful funk, soul and experimental jazz saxophone. At times it was Prince. Other times The Talking Heads. Even soundtrack composer Bill Conti is in there. I still can’t tell what all is going on in that album and it’s why it’s one of my favorites. It’s more like a sensory painting than any album I’ve ever experienced.

Adam Again was a band that, for me, was always about the music. I’ve listened to them for 30 years and still probably couldn’t pick a single band member out of a line up. Maybe the late Gene Eugene. Or Riki Michele. That’s pretty much it.

I was one of the lucky “East Coasters” who got to see Adam Again perform live. Here’s a shaky video of a live performance of “Tree House,” the first cut from Ten Songs by Adam Again. It’s about some gritty subject matter not often addressed on 80s/90s Christian music which was pretty much standard for Adam Again.

#2. The Altar Boys

Back in the 70s and 80s, there was a Christian bookstore in Knoxville called Logos Books. It sat in the middle of Cumberland Avenue (“The Strip”) and catered to the students at the University of Tennessee. I would go there often because they had a good music selection and I’d usually buy whatever was in the discount basket because I knew that meant it wasn’t mainstream enough and, therefore, most likely good Rock. I found a tape called When You’re A Rebel by The Altar Boys with three punk-looking guys on the cover. It spoke to everything I wanted in music at that time. The music was raw, a bit punkish, a bit surf, edgy and unique. Later, Gut Level Music became my album. My life soundtrack. I still consider it one of the best rock albums of the Christian alternative genre.

I once saw The Altar Boys in concert at the small, Southern Baptist college I attended. The curtains opened and there, on a stage that would normally feature Amy Grant or Rich Mullins, stood three punk guys from Southern California in leather jackets, earrings and combat boots. Before the first song was over, half the audience had walked out. This was my kind of band and they did a fantastic show for those of us who stuck around. In my comic strip, Outta Toon, I paid the ultimate respect to The Altar Boys by naming the strip’s Christian punk band, The Altar Hunks, after them. To some, maybe that didn’t seem like respect, but it totally was.

Eventually, The Altar Boys added synthesizers to their line-up, took a different musical turn and lost me. Their lyrics became too preachy for my personal tastes (although Gut Level Music was lyrically no subtle album). Still, to the young Christian kids like me who didn’t have The Clash, The Altar Boys were our The Clash for awhile and we were fine with that.

#1. The 77s / The Seventy Sevens

I discovered The 77s much later than my other bands. I didn’t even like them at first listen. I had heard rumors about this band who was picked up by Island Records and supposed to tour with U2 and even be as big, so I bought the New Wave influenced Ping Pong Over The Abyss, gave it a listen or two and didn’t get it. I filed The 77s away under “alt bands I don’t relate to.” Later I found the live album, Eighty Eight, which gave me a handle on The 77s. After that, Sticks and Stones sealed the deal (A bit backward since Eighty Eight was mostly live Sticks and Stones, but, whatever…) and I was hooked.

The 77s are the only band from the “Christian Rock” genre I still listen to today. I don’t even like applying that label to them, it doesn’t seem fair. It’s like saying Prince is Soul or Lyle Lovett is Country. The 77s pushed, stretched and bent the boundaries of the labels applied to them with varying degrees of success but they were always fun to listen to. Whatever it was that were doing back then, and let’s just say it was good, old fashioned Rock and Roll, it still survives as being vital to my ears and what’s left of my “spirit” today.

The 77s have two songs I still consider as being my “Life Philosophy” songs, “The Lust, The Flesh and the Pride of Life” and the one performed here, “This is the Way Love Is.”

Honorable Mention

elim Hall

Steve Taylor

Daniel Amos

Tonio K

scatered-few