The Land of Ghosts

1971.  California.  A California still coming to grips with Vietnam protests and a hippie commune out in the desert that decided to show society a thing or two about evil, free will and the Beatles.

May 19.  Yuba City.  Sutter County.  10 years earlier a plane carrying nuclear weapons crash landed there.  The nuclear bombs didn't detonate, but the city knows tragedy.  The city wasn't prepared for this, however.

Just outside of Yuba City, police made a startling discovery in an orchard.  It's a man.  Freshly raped and killed.  Seven days later, Juan Corona was arrested.  Because he was sloppy, this serial killer, rapist, employer and all-around eager beaver was eventually tied to 25 male bodies.  Corona, male rapist and serial killer, had survived the December 1955 flood of the Yuba River.  He believed everyone had died and that he was living in a land full of ghosts.

Maybe he was.  Maybe he was living in a Ghost World, and his actions -- the rape and the murders -- would have no consequences.  You can't kill a ghost.

Horace Walpole once said, "The world is a comedy to those who think and a tragedy to those who feel."  Truer words have never been spoken.  What was the world to someone who thought he was living among ghosts?  Obviously a slaughterhouse.  A killing field.  A playground of sex and murderous delights.

The body the police found on May 19 was in a shallow grave.  The man they found had been raped and had his head split open with a machete.  He wasn't the last they found like that.  Corona used his employees for sadistic sexual purposes.  Not the most obscene thing a boss has ever done, and it goes with the title, but Corona, a man no stranger to shock treatment therapies, had such little regard for his victims that he didn't care if he buried evidence with them.  They were drifters, alcoholics, nomads.  Nobody would miss them.  Nobody would care.  Use them and cut them.  Split them open.  Bury them.  Move on to the next one.  Corona's half-brother was even accused of sexually assaulting and beating a man.  Apple.  Tree.

Corona's ruled supreme in his land of ghosts.  He dug his graves on the farms a day or so ahead of time, picked a name in his book, entered the man's body with his penis and then with the surrogate penis of the knife or machete.  He was putting those ghosts to rest, but only after tormenting them the way he felt tormented.  Two cuts across the back of their heads in a cross formation.  Best to keep them ghosts down.  Bury them shallow.  May want to revisit later.  May want to return to make sure they stayed down.  Make sure they stayed ghosts.

Masturbate to memories.  Pick another from the group.  Take a liking to him.  Use him.  Use him again.  Dig that grave.  Early morning hours.  Before the sun gets too hot.  Look at that empty hole.  Imagine it full.  Rub.  That erection feels good.  Imagine entering the body.  Imagine the grunts.  Unzip.  Masturbate into the hole.  Imagine ejaculating into another.  Zip back up.  Throw the shovel in the back of the truck.  Drive.  Nod at the passing drivers.  Ghosts.  All of them.  Turn on the radio.  AOR drowns out the sounds.  Talk to your ghost.  Tell him you need need to see him.  You've got a job for him.  He looks worried.  He knows what you've done in the past.  He's still sore.  Drive out there a day later.  No one talks in the truck.  The radio guides you.  Does he try to run?  Does he try to fight?  Have you broken him enough?  The rape is quick.  It's always quick.  Not because you are afraid of getting caught.  No.  You are excited.  Pull out.  It always hurts a bit when you do that.  Stab.  Hack.  Grab the shovel.  Fill in the hole.  Tamp it down with the flat side of the shovel.  You can smell his alcohol sweat on your clothes.  It's like perfume.  In the days to come, while masturbating in your bed, you'll see his eyes, how they open wide when he knows.  How they tear up.  How the pupils are so small in the light.  You'll smell his breath.  Did you try to kiss him, or was he just a hole?

25 life sentences.  25 known victims.  Corona is still alive, at least as far as I know.  He's spending his days in Corcoran, minus his left eye.  Fellow inmates don't take too kindly to being bumped into.  He's approaching 80 years old.  I imagine the sex is still violent.  I don't imagine he's burying them anymore, but he's sure as hell living with the ghosts.


We Come in Peace (and Leave You in Pieces)

We knock.  We are nothing if not polite.  Once.  Twice.  Three times.  The third knock is, not to be rude, a bit harder than the first two.  Far more serious.  Anyone who were to hear that knock (obviously not you or you would've answered) would think, "They mean business."

And we do.

We've come to collect, you see.  You have an outstanding debt.  If you were to survive this night, you would tell anyone who listened that it wasn't karma that got you, but an unfortunate event, luck of the worst sort.

It's not, but let's not quibble.

What we are bringing you is a chance to go out with dignity.  The dignity you seem to avoid in your everyday life.  So normal.  So bland. Happy face of happy features hiding a world of hurt.  You try so hard to fit in and disappear that you stick out like a sore thumb to chaps like us.  We three kings be smelling you a mile away.

When you don't answer the door, we let ourselves in.  One well placed kick and what would you know?  You can't run to the bedroom fast enough.  What do you have in there?  A gun?  Doubtful.  A knife?  No.  All your knives would be in the kitchen.  Ahh, yes.  A baseball bat.  How fitting.  How totally you.

We laugh because you, in this moment of extreme fear and adrenalin, swing, on no offense is meant by this, like a girl.  You don't even aim for the good parts.  You hit our arms and stomach with all the force a nine-year-old could muster.  And what is that smell?  I do declare you've wet yourself.  You, a grown man.  A man who holds down a 9-5 like it's his life.  A man whose idea of letting loose on the weekend is to go out in public with his shirt untucked.  How bold.  How daring.  How ... you.

Your family has been awakened.  It was either us kicking in the door or you screaming as you played Babe Ruth in the living room.  Regardless, we ignore them.  Your wife considers you "good enough," and is happy to tell you that when the wine makes her brave.  And your son?  His idea of a "man" is the exact opposite of you.  We are, at the end of the day, doing them a favor.  We tell them to avert their eyes and to stay inside.  This is wet, sticky business that is best dealt with on your manicured lawn.  Pride of the block, you say.  Carefully fed.  Dutifully weeded.  Even enough not even to blemish a baby's ass.  Your Saturday morning project will be your bleeding ground.

We drag you out.  We should do it by your hair.  You deserve that.  Instead, one on each of your arms.  Me in the rear holding the bat I took from you.  Every once in a while showing you what a real swing feels like.  Was that a rib?  Snap.  Crackle.  Pop.  Scream.

And yes, you are screaming.  The block is lighting up like Christmas.  Heads poking out doors.  Curtains carefully drawn aside.  We see you all.  See?  We're waving.  We apologize that Mr. Smith has woken you up, but we guarantee that this Saturday you won't be hearing his mower at 8:30 a.m..  No Sir, Bobby Socks.  That is one noise you won't hear.  Soon you'll hear one you won't forget.

We put you to your knees.  The grass isn't as soft as you thought, is it?  No matter.  Your wife and child are gathered at the door.  Last words?  No.  Of course not.  Just pleas for someone -- anyone -- to call the police.  Nobody moves.  Even if they did, do you think they would make it in time?  Hell no.  Those taxes you voted against have stretched their numbers thin, and the two who cover this area are looking at a woman's broken nose at the moment.  She won't tell them where her husband is.  Yes, she called them to protect her from him, but all of sudden she remembers love.

So scream away.  Normally you whine and complain about things like "the weather," your "portfolio," and that "bitch who moved in three houses away who acts like a tease."  Her only crime?  She dared to smile at you while wearing something that exposed cleavage.  Mr. Smith, don't you know cleavage isn't an invite to leer?  Of course not.

We drop you to your knees.  They don't let go of your arms.  They are outstretched.  If we were ancients, you could say we were making an "offering."  We are ... in a way.  We are offering your neighbors and family peace.  In just a few minutes they will never have to deal with the likes of you again.

Listen to you.  Who would've thought your final words would be so pathetic?  "Don't hurt me."  "I have money."  "Please."  "I have a family."  We know.  We are doing this for them.

I wield the knife like a surgeon.  I've been to this rodeo a few times in the past.  My cut is swift and clean.  It bites deep into the throat.  One hand wrapped in your hair pulling you head back.  The other makes it look like I'm playing an upright bass.

We let you bleed out on your yard.  When the police arrive, they are going to ask everyone what they saw.  Everyone will give a different answer ... except when it comes to the noise.  All of them will agree: When that knife went across your throat, you could hear a pin drop.  It was screams.  Silence.  And then the sound of your body thumping onto the yard right where we dropped you.  Wham.  Bam.  Thank you, Ma'am.  You are far more impressive than pink flamingos or those black jockeys.  Soon the flies will find you just as fascinating.  So much so in fact, that your flesh will play host to the little white worms you call maggots ... just like you called the Mexicans who had 16 items in the 15 items express lane at Safeway.  "Fucking maggots can't count," you said.  Remember that?  No bother.  We do.

We don't look back as we walk down the street.  We learned our lesson long ago.  Leave someone bleeding out a gaping neck wound on their lawn, and the first people who want to kiss you and thank you are his or her immediate family.  Hallmark should have a card for this.  "Thank you for killing that brute." Believe me, folks.  It wasn't easy, but it was fun.  We make the world a little brighter.  One corpse at a time.  And we do all the dirty work for you so you don't have to worry about little things like prison and Hell.  We've done our time in both.  Neither of them scare us all that much.  In fact, we are far more scared being out here, unchained, with you.  Yes, you are sheep, but you are also herd animals, and herd animals stampede and trample.

Christmas came early this year for the Smiths.