Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

The Dentist and Other Poems

Artwork by John Federis

(Warning! If you hate going to the dentist, don’t read this poem!)

The Dentist

by Dawn Pisturino

Now I’ve got you in my chair,

You’re not going anywhere.

So open wide, let me in,

And let the painful games begin!

See that molar on the right?

It’s in the socket way too tight.

Here’s my plier. Please don’t move.

I’ll pry that sucker from its groove!

Look, there’s a cavity over there.

My drill’s all ready. Please don’t stare!

My hands are shaking, can’t you see?

I need your confidence in me.

Oops! The blood is squirting out.

I didn’t mean to make you shout!

Your bloody tongue is in my hand.

Sit down! Don’t even try to stand!

Come back! I need to suture in—-

Oh well, another toothless grin.

February 6, 2012

Published in the April 2012 issue of Underneath the Juniper Tree.

Copyright 2012-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Artwork by Ken Lamug
Poem by Dawn Pisturino

CHELSEA HAD A LITTLE LAMB

Chelsea had a little lamb,

Its fleece was black as soot. 

And everywhere that Chelsea went,

That lamb was underfoot.

It followed her to school until

The cooking class went wild

And served that lamb with mint and dill,

One chop for every child!

October 6, 2011

Published in the December 2011 issue of Underneath the Juniper Tree.

Copyright 2011-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Artwork by Jason Smith

Poem by Dawn Pisturino

DIRTY DONALD

Dirty Donald!

His hair, full of lice,

Grows down to his shoulders,

A haven for mice. 

His teeth are all rotten,

Mildewed and black,

His tongue is so long,

He could pass for a yak. 

His breath stinks of corpses

Dug fresh from their graves,

A delicate morsel

He constantly craves. 

He glares at the ravens,

Surrounding his head,

With murderous eyes,

Pronouncing them dead. 

Then yanks out their feathers

And nibbles their toes,

Lining them up

In neat little rows. 

His clothes are so tattered,

The buzzards all say,

“What a fine looking fellow!

Let’s eat him today!” 

July 3, 2011 

Published on Underneath the Juniper Tree, July 17, 2011.  

Published in the August 2011 issue of Underneath the Juniper Tree.  

Copyright 2011-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Illustration by Job van Gelder

Poem by Dawn Pisturino

Down in the Graveyard

Down in the graveyard by the old oak tree

Roamed an old mother zombie and her little zombies three.

“Fresh meat!” cried the mother. “Tastes sweet!” cried the three.

And they ripped out the intestines from the caretaker, Lee.

Down in the graveyard by the mausoleum door

Lived an old mother werewolf and her little wolfies four.

“Fresh fat!” howled the mother. “Tastes great!” howled the four.

And they tore into the belly of the visitor, Lenore.

Down in the graveyard by the rusty old gate

Hung an old mother vampire and her little vampies eight.

“Fresh blood!” squeaked the mother. “Tastes good!” squeaked the eight.

And they sank their greedy fangs into the gravedigger, Nate.

Published in the September 2012 issue of Underneath the Juniper Tree.

Copyright 2012-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Reprise: Halloween Treat

The Van Emmerick house was the most feared house in the neighborhood. For ten-year-old Tommy James, it was a dark reminder of things long ago and best forgotten; a relic of the past, old and mysterious, built by people who had lived and died many decades before he was born. He was curious about the past; fascinated with history; and the more he became aware of the house, the more he longed to explore its hidden secrets.

Tommy walked by the old Van Emmerick place twice a day, before and after school. Over the years, he had noticed many interesting details about the house. In the morning, when the sun shone full against the front of the house, two arched windows marking the second story seemed to smile at him with a “good morning!” kind of smile. The dark green paint didn’t seem so faded and cracked. The old stone porch, rudely assembled from local rocks, didn’t seem so forbidding and uninviting. The big plate glass window with the frilly white curtains seemed to sparkle in the morning light.

But in the afternoon, when the sun was low in the sky, making shadows lengthen across the old frame house, the peaked roof with the two small smoke stacks and faded red shingles gave the barn-like appearance of the house a more sinister expression. The entire structure seemed foreign and out of place. The old Victorian ornamentation, placed squarely between the two arched windows, reminded him of death and wrinkled old ladies dressed in black. The tall wrought-iron fence, set in more local rock, surrounded the property with deadly grace, effectively keeping out the curious and unwanted.

Tommy shivered, made the sign of the cross as he always did, and hurried home as fast as he could.

~

“The old Van Emmerick house, you say? Why, sure, I know all about it,” his grandfather told him one crisp afternoon in October. They were raking leaves in his own backyard while his mother prepared dinner in the kitchen. His father was still at work, and his oldest sister had left for her ballet lesson.

His grandfather had lived in Blakeville his entire life and knew a lot about the history of the town.

“Peter Van Emmerick built that house in 1880,” he recalled. “Folks around here have always called it a monstrosity. The architecture isn’t right — doesn’t fit in with the rest of the town. But Peter, being Dutch, was homesick for his own country and built the house to remind him of home. He had six children in that house by two different wives. It’s never been empty, that’s for sure. Old Amy Van Emmerick lives there now. Inherited the house from her mother. As far as I know, she’s the last of ’em. They gradually died out around here, as all old families do. The cemetery is filled with their headstones. I’ll take you there sometime to see the old graves. Would you like that, Tommy? Halloween’s coming up!”

“Sure, Gramps, any time. You know how much I like history.” But privately, Tommy wasn’t so sure. The idea of visiting a cemetery for fun, especially on Halloween, gave him the creeps.

“That’s my boy. Someday, you’ll be teaching history at the high school, just like your old granddad.” His grandfather winked at him, and Tommy stopped raking.

“Say, Gramps, how come nobody ever sees Amy Van Emmerick? I mean, how do you know she’s still alive? She could’ve died and nobody would even know it!”

“Oh, they’d know it, alright. She has a woman who comes in once a week to clean the place up and run errands for her. Selma Baintree — that’s the woman’s name. I ran into her not too long ago, and she told me that the old lady’s not doing too well, getting more frail as time goes by. It’s just a matter of time before the house will be empty, she said.”

“I’m sorry. How old is Amy Van Emmerick? I mean, you must’ve known her, Gramps!”

Yep, that’s right, Tommy. She was my first love.”

Tommy blushed. He couldn’t imagine his grandfather ever being young enough to have a first love. “Why didn’t you marry her, Gramps?”

His grandfather stopped raking and looked at him with a faraway expression on his face. “Oh, I don’t know. The Great War started, and I went off to Europe to fight the Germans. Getting married wasn’t on my mind back then. And Miss Amy went off to school in Chicago. I heard later that she was engaged to a young man from an old Chicago family, but he was killed at Dunkirk. She must’ve loved him very deeply because she came home to take care of her mother after her father died and never got involved with anybody again. She hardly left the house after that and became a regular recluse. Poor Miss Amy! She was the most beautiful girl I ever saw. The biggest blue eyes, and long golden hair like spun flax. She’d beat out the likes of Paris Hilton any day of the week!”

Tommy laughed, then stopped, when a sudden thought struck him. “Hey, Gramps, I just had an idea. Why don’t you go visit Miss Amy before she dies? I bet she’d like that a lot!”

His grandfather stroked his white-whiskered chin thoughtfully. “You know, Tommy, I never really thought about it. It seems like an invasion of the old lady’s privacy. She probably wouldn’t even know me after all these years!”

“Aw, I bet she would. She’s probably lonely shut up in that old place.”

“Maybe so,” his grandfather said. “You might just be right.”

~

“Hey, Tommy, watch this!”

Butch Abernathy pulled an egg out of his trick-or-treat bag and hurled it against the front of the old Van Emmerick house. “That’ll wake up the dead,” he shouted with glee.

The two boys hung onto the wrought-iron fence with sticky fingers, peering through the bars with eager eyes, their hearts racing with excitement. But no lights appeared. The house stared at them with black, lifeless eyes, its silhouette rising silent and dark against the cloudy night sky.

“Let’s go,” Tommy whispered. “It gives me the creeps.”

“What’re you whispering for?” asked Butch. “The fun has just begun.” He rummaged through his trick-or-treat bag and pulled out a large rock.

“No!” cried Tommy, grabbing at Butch’s arm. But it was too late. The sound of shattering glass filled his ears. His heart pounded in his chest until it hurt.

“I’m outta here!” Butch shouted; and grabbing his trick-or-treat bag, he bolted down the sidewalk.

Tommy stood alone on the sidewalk, paralyzed with fear. I never should have come here, he thought. My parents are going to kill me. And Gramps will be so disappointed . . . He couldn’t bear to disappoint his grandfather. But if he left now, who would know? Butch would never tell.

I’m going home, he thought; but as he turned to leave, the wrought-iron gate suddenly creaked open, and Tommy screamed. He ran as fast as he could to the corner, then stopped and looked back. The street was silent and deserted except for an old stray cat. A few jack-o-lanterns grinned brightly in the darkness, but the trick-or-treaters had left long ago, hurrying home before the rain started. A strong gust of wind hurled itself against him, kicking up dead leaves and dirt into his face. Coughing and sputtering, he wiped the dirt out of his eyes and headed down the sidewalk.

The old wrought-iron gate stood open before him, an invitation too tempting to resist. After all, what was the worst that could happen? He would apologize to the old lady and take his punishment like a man.

Bracing himself, he walked slowly up the weed-infested sidewalk toward the old stone stairs. There was nothing but blackness at the top of those stairs, blackness so deep and dark, it was like a giant mouth waiting to engulf him and swallow him whole. Trembling with fear, he wanted to turn around and run as fast as he could to the nearest, brightest light. But he knew in his heart that he could not face his grandfather as long as the broken window went unpunished.

Heart pounding, he trudged up the stone stairs, peering into the blackness. As he stepped onto the porch, the moon suddenly peeked out from behind a cloud, throwing a pale, silvery beam of light into the darkness and revealing a solid oak door. He raised his hand to knock on the door, when it suddenly opened with a slow, painful groan.

Tommy gasped, and his heart pounded in his ears. Breathing heavily, he stepped over the threshold, hanging onto the door for dear life. He stood still for a moment, listening hard, and waited for something to happen. But nothing did.

As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he realized he was in a large foyer. He rapped his knuckles against the door and shouted, “Miss Amy, are you here?”

Absolute silence filled his ears except for the ticking of an old clock. He pushed the door open wider and stepped cautiously into the room. He felt for a light switch on the wall but found none. Why didn’t I bring a flashlight, he berated himself angrily.

Tommy crossed the old wooden floor and opened a set of double doors to his right. The sweet scent of roses filled the air. Outside, the wind began to howl, and raindrops splattered against the large plate glass window on the other side of the room. Tommy thought he could make out the curved outline of an old Victorian sofa under the window and the globe-like shade of an old lamp next to it. Groping his way carefully in the darkness, he was about to reach out for the lamp when a loud clap of thunder split the air, making him jump, and a bright flash of lightning lit up the sofa through the gauzy white curtains.

A figure dressed in white lay on the sofa, its long white hair spread neatly over a pillow, the wrinkled old face glowing white in the lightning flash, the large, faded blue eyes open and staring at him. The mouth hung open wide, revealing a cavernous blackness, and Tommy waited for the scream that would surely come, but no sound issued forth between those dark, thin lips. The figure’s arms were crossed over its breast, like a corpse, the fingernails long and blue. It was the most horrible thing that Tommy had ever seen in his life, and he screamed and screamed and screamed as he turned and raced for the double doors, tripping over an old ottoman in his path.

But when he looked up, something blocked his exit, a tall figure dressed in white, reaching out for him with long, clawed fingers . . .

When Tommy woke up the lights were on, and his grandfather was cradling him in his arms. “It’s okay, Tommy, it’s okay.”

“It was you!”

“Yes, it was me,” his grandfather said; “And old Miss Amy. I went to visit her, as you suggested, and we cooked up this little Halloween treat for you! Here, I want you to meet her!”

He helped Tommy to his feet, remarking on the wonderful acting job Miss Amy had done. And that make-up! Could anybody else have done a better job?

But when they leaned over the sofa to tell her it was all over, and she could stop playing around now, his grandfather suddenly became silent and felt for a pulse in the old lady’s wrist. Tommy stared, horrified, into those dead blue eyes and the slack, open mouth, and the scream rose up from his tightening throat . . .

Dawn Pisturino

2009

Copyright 2009-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! Make it scary!

“This is Halloween,” performed by Marilyn Manson, from the Tim Burton movie, Nightmare Before Christmas.

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The Screaming Skull and Other Poems

THE SCREAMING SKULL

by Dawn Pisturino

The skull screams when the moon is bright,

Warning of evil a-foot in the night,

Calling to phantoms hidden from sight,

Keeping them all at bay.

Shrieking aloud when the zombies fight,

It glows in the darkness, waking with fright,

Shivering children, crying for light,

Fearful ’til break of day.

High on a shelf, when the bats take flight,

The dead skull cries with all its might,

Disrupting dreams, however slight,

Sending them all away.

September 20, 2011

THE GHOST

by Dawn Pisturino

Creeping footfalls on the stair warn me that a ghost is there.

Shivering in my bed with fright, the door creaks open . . .

I TOLD YOU HE WAS REAL!

(good night)

January 5, 2012

THE FAIRIES

by Dawn Pisturino

Deep within the forest,

Inside a magic ring,

Fairy lads pluck at their harps

While fairy maidens sing.

Queen Mab, arrayed in starlight,

Sits upon her chair,

Plotting all the dirty tricks

No other folk would dare.

Last spring they stole poor Margaret,

Sound asleep in bed.

They laid her in the Irish Sea

With stones beneath her head.

The fishes kept close vigil,

Traditional at wakes.

“Too bad,” remarked a hungry shark.

A lovely corpse she makes!”

January 19, 2012

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

 All Poems Published on Danse Macabre du Jour, October 30, 2013.

All poems copyright 2011-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

6 Comments »

Four Twisted Limericks

By Dawn Pisturino. Published on Underneath the Juniper Tree July 16, 2011. Published in the August 2011 issue of Underneath the Juniper Tree. Graphics by Rebekah Joy Plett.
By Dawn Pisturino. Published in the September 2011 issue of Underneath the Juniper Tree. Graphics by Rebekah Joy Plett.

By Dawn Pisturino. Published on Underneath the Juniper Tree July 31, 2011. Graphics by Rebekah Joy Plett.

Graphic by Rebekah Joy Plett.

The Man in Galloway Bay

A man lost in Galloway Bay,

Cried out in a very loud bray,

“Please come rescue me, hungry sharks can’t agree,

Am I breakfast or dinner entree?”

By Dawn Pisturino. Published July 11, 2011 on Underneath the Juniper Tree.

Copyright 2011-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

18 Comments »

Reprise: Bluebeard in Beverly Hills

Bluebeard in Beverly Hills

by Dawn Pisturino

My mother, having squandered a considerable fortune, resolved to marry a wealthy man. Several candidates appeared — mostly middle-aged men of diminished means eager to marry a wealthy widow. Since my mother wore her desperation as flamboyantly as a pair of designer blue jeans, she soon found herself without any prospects at all.

When the bank foreclosed on our estate in upstate New York, my mother’s tawny tresses, once stylish and shiny, seemed to wilt around her shoulders. Her lively blue eyes clouded over with despair. And in one final act of desperation, she contacted a distant cousin residing in Beverly Hills, California.

The news startled me. This cousin, I had heard, was so rich, his name regularly topped the lists of the world’s richest people. He refused to have his photo taken or to make public appearances, for he had been born with an unnatural blue beard that made him look so ugly and weird, most women and children ran away from him in fright.

“He wants to marry me,” my mother announced over breakfast one morning.

My older sister, Charmaine, exchanged terrified glances with me. The idea of our mother marrying this ugly, disfigured, middle-aged man repulsed us. But more importantly, dark rumors circulated the newspapers and celebrity gossip shows that Bluebeard, as he was dubbed, had been married several times before, and the authorities could find no traces of his former wives.

In spite of our objections, my mother booked three airline tickets to California. We were to meet Bluebeard at the dock in Marina Del Rey and accompany him on a cruise to Catalina Island aboard his luxury yacht. This should have thrilled my sister and I, but a deep foreboding troubled us both.

And what a strange and terrible creature greeted us at the dock! His eyes glittering with cruel amusement, Bluebeard scooped each of us up in his big, burly arms, brushing our tender checks with his coarse blue beard. His graying, shaggy brown hair contrasted sharply with his deeply-tanned face, giving him the appearance of being half-man and half-beast. Even his teeth seemed unusually long and sharp when he opened his mouth in a loud guffaw and led us up the ramp onto his huge, expensive yacht.

My sister and I cringed with fear, but my mother’s face glowed with youth and excitement. How could we tell her how frightened we were? She would never listen.

During the day, while my mother hung out with Bluebeard, my sister and I soaked up the sun in our colorful bikinis, flipping through fashion magazines and painting our nails. At night we savored fresh lobster tails, dripping with butter, and watched the stars twinkle overhead like millions of Tiffany diamonds spilled across a black velvet sky. Upstate New York seemed far away then, and since nothing sinister had happened, our fears began to fade away.

Two weeks later, relaxed and tanned, my mother married Bluebeard under a billowy white awning at Marina Del Rey. My sister and I were the only guests.

That should have told me something, but I no longer cared about idle gossip or our former life in upstate New York.

I had become entranced with Bluebeard’s house in Beverly Hills, which loomed against the sunny blue sky like a great castle, surrounded by ornamental gardens reminiscent of the great castles of Europe. I felt like a princess, my long yellow hair braided in a single braid and adorned with fresh roses from the garden. I stood for hours before the full-length mirror in my bedroom, applying mascara to my large blue eyes, and modeling dozens of dresses purchased from the fancy boutiques on Rodeo Drive.

One snap of my fingers brought servants that catered to my every need and desire. I hugged myself over and over again, not daring to believe it was true: I was sixteen, beautiful, desirable, and rich.

“Isn’t it fabulous, Jeanette,” Charmaine exclaimed one day, throwing herself across my pink-ruffled bed. “I’m in love, I’m in love!”

Her sing-song voice irritated me, and I pouted in response. “Beverly Hills is full of eligible young men. Robbie Ray offered to give me tennis lessons.”

“That creep! You know what? When Mom and Mr. Moneybags leave for France, we’ll throw a big party. You’ll find your Prince Charming, for sure.”

My face glowed in anticipation. After all, didn’t a princess need a handsome young prince?

A few days later, my mother and Bluebeard boarded an airplane for France.

“The servants will take good care of you,” my mother said at the airport. Bluebeard stepped forward, a great ring of keys dangling from his finger. He handed them to Charmaine and explained which key went to which room.

“But this one,” he told her, indicating a small gold key, “unlocks the closet door in the wine cellar. Explore any room in the house that you like, but never, ever go into the closet in the wine cellar. If you do, something terrible is bound to happen.”

My mother gasped. Charmaine’s face turned a ghostly white. I stared at Bluebeard, chilled by the taunting tone in his voice. He turned his gaze on me, and a slow, sinister smile spread across his face. “You would do well, Jeanette, to remember the story of Pandora’s box.”

I watched my mother walk away with this monster, and my heart cried out: Don’t go! Don’t go! But it was too late. My mother was gone.

Charmaine assuaged her fear by working on plans for a party. I suggested that we host a fancy dress ball, and she agreed. Invitations were sent, a caterer engaged, decorations put up, and the house cleaned from top to bottom by the housekeeping staff. All we needed were costumes.

Charmaine pulled out Bluebeard’s key ring and found the key to the attic. Inside a great leather trunk, we found long silk dresses and big fancy hats. Excitement overcame our fears. Our party would be the hit of the year!

The ballroom gleamed with color and light on the night of the ball. We threw open the French doors, letting in the moonlight and soft summer breezes. The sweet scent of roses perfumed the air.

Our masked guests danced beneath the fire of crystal chandeliers, their colorful figures reflected in numerous mirrors lining the walls. Couples slipped away to explore the house, admiring the exquisite artwork and collectibles from around the world. Charmaine and I puffed up with pride, convinced that we had pulled off a successful social coup.

“Everyone is so impressed,” Charmaine said. “If such wonderful treasures can be found openly around the house, how much more special must be the treasures locked up in the closet in the wine cellar?”

I looked at her in horror. “Don’t do it, Charmaine. Bluebeard warned us not to open that door.”

“Don’t be silly,” she said. “We want to keep our guests impressed, don’t we?”

Like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, we crept downstairs into the murky depths of the wine cellar, urging our guests to follow behind. With trembling hands, Charmaine unlocked the door to the forbidden room, ignoring Bluebeard’s warning. A powerful stench of rotting flesh greeted us as she pulled back the door. The floor was sticky with slime. Charmaine gasped, dropping the flashlight at her feet. I picked it up and shone its light around the room. Piled up against the wall were the dead and decaying bodies of several women. Bluebeard’s missing wives!

Charmaine fainted. The guests screamed and scrambled up the stairs. I hurried behind them to call the police.

When my mother and Bluebeard returned home several days later, Bluebeard glared at me and said, “Why so nervous, Jeanette? And you, Charmaine — your face is so white. What have you two been up to in our absence?”

Charmaine handed him the ring of keys, her hand trembling so much, she nearly dropped them.

Suspicion clouded Bluebeard’s eyes. “You’ve been in the closet!” he roared. “Now, you will join the rest of my victims! He grabbed Charmaine by the hair and dragged her across the floor to the kitchen. My mother fainted.

I ran behind, beating Bluebeard’s back with my fists. Angrily, he shoved me away. I fell to the floor, hitting my head on the hard ceramic tile. Just as Bluebeard was about to slit my sister’s throat with a long, sharp knife, Inspector Jack Barnabas and several policemen jumped out of the walk-in pantry. “Drop it, Bluebeard! You’re under arrest.”

Bluebeard made a dash for the door. Bullets rang through the kitchen, bringing him down. A pool of blood oozed across the floor. My sister screamed and threw herself into the arms of Inspector Barnabas.

The ogre of Beverly Hills was dead. Since he had no other heirs, my mother inherited his vast fortune. She shut up the house, paid off the mortgage on our estate in upstate New York, and threw herself into planning a huge wedding for my sister, Charmaine.

Six months later, I walked down the aisle in a rose-colored chiffon gown, carrying a bouquet of pink roses. Charmaine followed behind in a white designer wedding dress. Inspector Jack Barnabas, looking uncomfortable in a black tuxedo, waited impatiently for her at the altar.

Jack and Charmaine lived happily ever after, making me an aunt three times over.

Dawn Pisturino

March 6, 2013

Copyright 2013-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

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Reprise: Concert for the Dead

Story by Dawn Pisturino.

Illustration by Job van Gelder.

Dedicated to my daughter, lyric soprano Ariel Pisturino.

Ariel knelt before the marble niche holding the remains of her dead older brother and placed a bouquet of roses in the stone vase. Six months had passed since the horrible night a drunk driver had taken Jonathan’s life. She would never forget.

“Coach Willis still talks about you, Jonathan,” Ariel said, tracing the carved letters of his name with trembling fingers. “Nobody’s beaten your track record. You were the best. You always will be.”

She pulled some sheet music from her backpack. “The opera club is doing Purcell this year. I got the lead role. I’m so excited!” She began to sing:

“When I am laid, am laid in earth, may my wrongs create

No trouble, no trouble in thy breast;

Remember me, remember me, but ah! forget my fate . . .”*

The haunting elegy echoed through the halls of the Great Mausoleum, bringing tears to Ariel’s eyes. As the last melancholy note faded away, the mausoleum doors slammed shut. The lights flickered and dimmed.

Icy panic clawed at Ariel’s chest. She could hardly breathe. Then a long, agonizing scream tore from her throat.

She ran to the entrance and pushed against the heavy metal doors. Locked.  She searched for an intercom or emergency button. Nothing.

“Let me out!” she cried, pounding on the door. “It’s not closing time!”

Voices whispered all around her.

“No!” she howled, throwing her weight against the unyielding door.

The whispers grew louder. “We’ll let you out when the concert is over.”

“W-what c-concert?” Ariel stammered, searching the empty air.

“The Concert for the Dead.”

And then she saw them, gliding down the dark corridors, the eerie inhabitants of this condominium for the dead.

They crowded into the main hall, hundreds of them, the ghastly and the beautiful.

Men dressed in military uniforms soaked with blood, arms ripped away, legs shredded at the knees, and heads split open, eyeballs dangling from their sockets.

Women gowned in rustling silk, faded and torn, ringlets framing faces eaten away by worms. Pale young mothers with tragic eyes, carrying shriveled up babies in their arms.

Dead children glared at Ariel with menacing faces, their transparent fingers clutching moth-eaten ragdolls and time-worn teddy bears.

An orchestra appeared. Skeletons with shreds of rotting flesh hanging from their bones. The conductor raised his baton, and the slow, plaintive strains of a violin filled the air. He turned and looked at Ariel with one putrid eye, motioning her to begin.

I know this song. I can do it. Shaking with fear, she dug her fingernails into her palms and began to sing:

“None but the lonely heart can know my sadness

Alone and parted far from joy and gladness . . .”**

She sang until the sun disappeared and the stained glass windows lost their color. She sang until the moon ran its course and the stars began to fade. Finally, her throat too parched and raw to continue, she pleaded:

“The concert’s over. Please let me go.”

Hushed whispers rippled through the audience. Then a lone figure broke through the crowd.

“Jonathan!” Ariel cried, grateful to see a familiar face.

Smiling, he extended his arms to her. “We don’t want you to leave,” Jonathan said, drawing her close. “We want you to sing for us forever and ever and ever . . .”

Cold waxy fingers tightened around her throat. In the background, the orchestra played a quiet requiem.

* * *

When the groundskeeper found Ariel’s body the next morning, he noticed two peculiar things. Her throat was purple with finger marks, and her hair had turned completely white.

Copyright 2011-2021 Dawn Pisturino, Job van Gelder, and Asheka Troberg. All Rights Reserved.

This story is dedicated to my daughter, lyric soprano Ariel Pisturino.

Published in the November 2011 issue of Underneath the Juniper Tree. Read it here.

Published on Brooklyn Voice, February 2012.

Artwork by Asheka Troberg.

*“Dido’s Lament,” from Dido & Aeneas by Henry Purcell

**“None but the Lonely Heart,” by Pyotr Tchaikovsky and J.W. Goethe

Artwork by Jason Smith. I commissioned this Concert for the Dead artwork for my daughter, Ariel Pisturino, as a gift.

Copyright 2011-2021 Jason Smith. All Rights Reserved.

Happy Halloween! Make it scary!

Photo by Dawn Pisturino.

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Reprise: Miss Lizzie’s Tea Party

Miss Lizzie’s Tea Party

by Dawn Pisturino

Illustration by Ken Lamug

I never wanted to attend Miss Lizzie’s tea party, but mama insisted I go.

“Miss Borden is a kind and gentle lady,” she scolded. “I don’t want to hear anymore nonsense about those grisly axe murders! Rich young ladies like Miss Borden don’t go around chopping up people’s heads.”

“But Mama,” I protested. “Miss Lizzie and the maid were the only ones at home. Who else could have chopped off her father’s nose and split his eyeball in two?”

“That’s enough, Olivia,” Mama warned. “You’re going to the party, and that’s final.”

* * *

I had often seen Miss Lizzie sitting in an upstairs window, beckoning the neighborhood children inside for homemade cookies.

Every time she waved at me, my body quivered like gelatin fresh out of the mold. After all, this was the woman accused of hacking up her father and stepmother with a hatchet!

And even though the jury found Miss Lizzie innocent way back in 1893, folks ’round these parts never forget.

But I always reluctantly waved back, as Mama had taught me, and hurried home.

Then the invitation came. Miss Lizzie was hosting an afternoon tea party for all the children in the neighborhood.

Mama was so thrilled, she cleaned and pressed my prettiest, frilliest party dress and bought me a shiny new pair of shoes. “Papa’s law practice has been falling off lately,” she explained. “He needs a wealthy client like Miss Borden to get going again.”

Annie, the housemaid, curled my hair. “You can’t go, Miss Olivia, you just can’t. My mama told me never to go inside that house. I mean, never! And she should know. Bridget Sullivan, the Borden’s housemaid, told her there was blood and brains splattered everywhere. They found Abby Borden’s hair braid lying on the rug, sliced clean from her head!”

Tears welled up in my eyes. “I have to go, Annie. Mama will whip me with Papa’s razor strap if I don’t.”

“Well, don’t eat anything. She never admitted it, but Miss Lizzie tried to buy poison from Smith’s Drug Store right before the murders.”

* * *

Miss Lizzie opened the front door with a wide, toothy grin.

Every muscle in my body screamed, Run! Now! While you can!

But mama’s voice kept ringing in my ears. Miss Borden is a kind and gentle lady . . .

So I followed Miss Lizzie down the hall to an elegantly furnished drawing room — an empty drawing room. None of the other children had come. Cowards!

And then I saw it, gleaming by the fireplace, a shiny new axe!

Gold paint glittered along the sharp edge, marred by dark stains that looked like blood. I clenched my fists, trying hard to ease the queasiness in my stomach.

“You’re admiring my new axe,” Miss Lizzie said. She stepped closer, her pale blue eyes foggy with distant memories. “My father was quite skilled with an axe. One afternoon, I went into the barn and found my beloved pigeons lying on the ground with their heads chopped off. My father was standing over them, holding a bloody axe. I screamed and ran into the house.

“That night, Bridget served pie for dinner. Pigeon pie!” she said as her lips twisted into a smile.

The drawing room door opened then and a fat cook with a red face entered carrying a large pie in her hands. “Sit yourself down, my dear. The pie is ready to eat! I got lucky, Miss Lizzie. I found our special ingredient at Smith’s Drug Store.”

Smith’s Drug Store! I grabbed my reeling head, ready to faint at any moment. Pie! Poisoned pigeon pie!

Screaming, I lunged for the axe and swung it around, knocking the pie out of the cook’s hands, slicing off her forefinger. She howled in pain as blood spurted from the wound. I swung the axe around again, nicking Miss Lizzie’s ear. Fluffy brown curls fluttered to the floor, sliced neatly from her head.

Miss Lizzie tackled me to the ground and held me there while the cook bound her bloody hand with a towel and telephoned the police. My chest heaved with great, gulping sobs as Miss Lizzie’s face drew closer and closer until her lips brushed against my ear.

You see how easy it is,” she whispered.

THE END

Published in the February 2012 issue of Underneath the Juniper Tree.

Copyright 2012-2021 Dawn Pisturino and Ken Lamug. All Rights Reserved.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! MAKE IT SCARY!

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Reprise: The Punishment

“Hey, Tommy, look at this!” With fiendish fervor, Butch Abernathy hurled a rock against the front of the old Pomeroy house. “That oughta wake the dead!”

“No!” Tommy cried.

But it was too late. The sound of shattering glass splintered the night. The old Victorian house shuddered, sighed, and groaned a low, mournful cry.

Butch bolted down the street. “Sucker!” he yelled over his shoulder.

Tommy turned to run, but invisible fingers grabbed his ankles. He kicked and stomped, struggling to break free but the Hands gripped tighter. They dragged him, screaming, along the weed-infested sidewalk and up the crumbling stairs into darkness as black as molasses. Then down, down, down into the cavernous depths below. A flickering lantern revealed the awful punishment that awaited him.

The Hands shoved him onto his knees, rammed his head into a wooden cradle, and yanked his wrists behind his back.

“But I didn’t do anything!” Tommy screamed.

The blade of the guillotine came slashing down.

The End

Story by Dawn Pisturino.

Graphics by Rebekah Joy Plett. Click photo to enlarge.

Published October 18, 2011 on Underneath the Juniper Tree.
Copyright 2011-2021 Dawn Pisturino and Rebekah Joy Plett. All Rights Reserved.

Published on The Brooklyn Voice, June 25, 2012.

Troberg Punishment ill

Artwork by Asheka Troberg, The Brooklyn Voice. Click photo to enlarge.

Copyright 2012-2021 Dawn Pisturino and Asheka Troberg. All Rights Reserved.

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Jurassic Park: The Movie

Photo: Universal Pictures

(Attention! Spoiler Alert!)

Steven Spielberg’s 1993 science fiction thriller, Jurassic Park, tells a linear story using continuity editing. The movie explores the ethics of scientific manipulation of nature and introduces the concept of chaos theory. The editing, done by Michael Kahn, is seamless and flawless. There are no superfluous scenes. Each scene is designed to support the story and the theme of the movie. The pacing of the movie keeps the tension building to the climax. The editor relays the story “clearly, efficiently, and coherently” (Barsam and Monahan), leaving no doubt or confusion in the mind of the viewer. Based on the book by Michael Crichton, the camera moves smoothly back and forth between situations and scenes (parallel editing), just like a book. The opening music, written by John Williams, is ominous and primitive, implying that the viewer is entering untamed territory.

The opening scene (the master scene) shows the expert hunter standing grimly by with his gun as workers unload a metal crate. This is on the Isla Nubar, 120 miles off the coast of Costa Rica. An accident occurs, and a worker is killed when the creature inside the crate is released and grabs the worker’s leg. The viewer never sees the creature. Its presence is inferred by the creature’s movements and vocalizations, the intense and horrified expressions on the people’s faces, and the scene where the injured worker is pulled from the grip of the expert hunter. The viewer understands that something predatory and dangerous was in that crate.

A “blood-sucking” lawyer (reflecting blood-sucking mosquitoes), arrives at the amber mine at Manos de Dios (hands of God) in the Dominican Republic. There is a lawsuit now against the project. A scientist (a “digger”) views a piece of amber that was just found, containing a mosquito. From his facial expression, the viewer understands that this is a rare and valuable find.

In the Badlands near Snakewater, Montana, Drs. Allen Grant and Ellie Sadler are working hard and painstakingly on a dinosaur dig. Dr. Grant is skeptical of new technology. He dislikes kids. Dr. Sadler is more flexible and is trying hard to convince him to have children with her. The scene with the fat kid is hilarious. The camera perfectly captures the changed expressions on his face. Dr. Grant shows that he has a sense of humor.

After John Hammond, the wealthy entrepreneur, arrives and convinces the pair to go to Costa Rica with him to view his “biological preserve,” the scene cuts to San Jose, Costa Rica. We see a sweating fat man (Wayne Knight of Seinfeld fame) at a café, meeting with a suspicious-acting man. It is clear that something criminal is going on. The man offers the fat man a lot of money in exchange for some “viable embryos.” The viewer does not yet know how this scene is related to the other scenes, but his imagination is captured, and he wants to know what’s going to happen next. The director is slowly laying the groundwork for the plot of the story.

In the helicopter, Dr. Grant (a paleontologist) and Dr. Sadler (a paleontological botanist) meet Dr. Ian Malcom, a theoretical mathematician who calls himself a “chaotician.” John Hammond is not impressed with his “rock star” personality. The other doctors have not heard of chaos theory. Malcolm flirts relentlessly with Dr. Sadler.

When the helicopter reaches the island, the camera reveals a lush, tropical paradise. The music becomes uplifting and upbeat, inspiring feelings of expectation and hope. There is a promise of adventure.

As the travelers are transported in a Jeep to the main center of the island, they witness huge electrical fences equipped with 10,000 volts, moats, and large concrete walls, which are meant for the “stability of the island.” If it’s just a “biological preserve,” why do they need all of this heavy-duty protection?

The Jeep stops at a truly beautiful and peaceful pastoral scene. The camera dollies in for a close-up of Dr. Grant’s facial expression. He reaches over and grabs Dr. Sadler’s head and turns it. Both of their faces show overwhelming awe, surprise, and excitement. They are looking at a live brachiosaurus! Dr. Malcolm looks awed but concerned. The lawyer gleefully says, “We’re going to make a fortune with this place!”

The camera shows a long shot of a lake with herds of brachiosaurs and other creatures. Dr. Grant is confirmed in his theory that these creatures roamed around in herds. The viewer is also overwhelmed with awe and admiration. There is no doubt that this is a splendid park that everyone will want to visit!

At the visitor center, the doctors watch a video presentation about the “miracle of cloning.” The viewer needs this information to understand the plot and the theme of the movie. Scientists in the film extracted “Dino DNA” from mosquitoes trapped in amber, but the DNA is incomplete and filled in with DNA from frogs. (The DNA, therefore, is corrupted, or mutated.)

Throughout this segment, the doctors are so excited, they break all the rules, and John Hammond cannot control them (a foreshadowing of things to come.) Overhead, we hear the announcement that the boat for the mainland will leave soon. At the same time, the doctors are witnessing a dinosaur hatching from its shell (the miracle of life.) These dinosaurs are impure, altered, corrupted, and laboratory bred. While the lab scientist (B.D. Wong) seems completely unconcerned, Dr. Malcolm is calculating in his head all the predictability/unpredictability ratios. The lab scientist reveals that all the animals are female and cannot breed because the chromosomes have been muted (implying perfection and control.) Dr. Malcolm refutes that with an impassioned speech about the history of evolution, the power of life, and the inability to contain it: “Life finds a way.” When Dr. Grant discovers that they bred velociraptors, a close-up of his face shows his mood change from elation to deep concern. Dr. Malcolm’s speech and Dr. Grant’s mood change portend danger and chaos.

The expert hunter confirms their concerns when he says, “They should all be destroyed.” The viewer recognizes him as the man with the gun in the master scene. He explains that these creatures are calculating problem-solvers who are always watching and waiting and testing the fences to get out (a foreshadowing of the future.) The hunter is a realist who has seen these creatures in action.

At lunch, John Hammond goes on and on about the significance and legacy of his theme park, and the lawyer goes on and on about the lucrative investment. Dr. Malcolm is appalled and points out their “lack of humility before nature.” He calls them careless exploiters who did not earn the right to use this technology. As a result, they have no understanding of what they have created and take no responsibility for the results. The theme of the movie is summed up nicely here when he says that the handsomely-paid Jurassic Park scientists were so caught up in “whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think whether or not they should.” And Dr. Grant and Dr. Sadler back him up about the unpredictability of the result (foreshadowing what’s about to happen.)

The chaos elements begin to reveal themselves: the grandchildren arrive, who are knowledgeable city kids but vulnerable in this environment; a tropical storm is imminent; and Dennis, the disloyal fat man, hacks into the computer system in order to implement his nefarious plan.

When the basic tour begins, Dr. Malcolm remarks that the huge gates to the park remind him of King Kong. Richard Kylie narrates information about dilophosaurus, describing it as a deadly creature that spits poison into the eyes of its victim (foreshadowing later events.)

The scene cuts to a conversation between Dennis and John Hammond. Dennis has financial problems, which is why he is willing to sell dinosaur embryos for money, and John Hammond responds that people should pay for their mistakes (foreshadowing future events.) When his plan is in place, Dennis makes a fumbled explanation of going to the vending machines, steals the embryos, and exits the building.

On the tour, the scientists have not seen any dinosaurs except the tame and sick ones. There is an illusion of order and peace. When the storm hits, however, the chaos begins. The park systems begin to shut down, including the cars containing the scientists, the lawyer, and the children.

The best segments in the movie, in my opinion, are the scenes involving the T. Rex and the car. The editing is seamless and flawless. There is no indication anywhere that the T. Rex is not real. The acting is superb, revealing the absolute terror and horror felt by the children. The children come face-to-face with the creature, as indicated by this photo (T. Rex point of view):

As the T. Rex terrorizes the group, every character is suddenly confronted with his own mortality and feelings of powerlessness. There are several shots where the T. Rex and a character come face-to-face and even meet each other at eye level (the eyeline match cut.)

The cowardly lawyer leaves the children alone and gets his comeuppance in a dramatic scene that reveals how powerless humans are compared to these creatures.

The viewer cannot help feeling glad that the lawyer got his just reward because he just wanted to exploit these creatures for profit. The editing here is a marvel of technology because it looks absolutely real, with no obvious separation between the physical scenery and the artificial creature.

When Dennis leaves the park and gets stuck in the mud, he loses his glasses and the shaving cream canister containing the embryos. When he meets the dilophosaurus, he treats it like a dog, calling it stupid, asking it to fetch, and remarking, “No wonder you’re extinct.” He has no respect for the power and danger that have been unleashed. The creature meets him face-to-face in the car, after outwitting him, and kills him. Dennis gets his just reward, and the embryos are lost forever in the mud.

As the characters deal with varying life-threatening situations, Dr. Grant protects and rescues the children, thereby learning that kids are not so bad after all. The characters learn that everybody is necessary in a survival situation, no matter their age or gender. John Hammond realizes that human life is more important than leaving behind a fantastical legacy for the world. Dr. Malcolm is proven right. And the hunter learns that weapons are not enough against a calculating predatory creature that was able to outwit him.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

January 22, 2018

Copyright 2018-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

Spielberg, Steven, Dir. Jurassic Park. Perf. Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard

       Attenborough. Universal, 1993.

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Haunted Boy – The True Story Behind “The Exorcist”

In the summer of 1948, a young boy in Mount Rainier, Maryland began using an Ouija board with his aunt, who believed in spiritualism.  After she died, the boy and his family experienced disturbing sounds which woke them during the night: knocking, scratching, and marching feet.  The family witnessed the boy’s mattress furiously shaking, furniture moving on its own, and visitors thrown from a chair. Scratches and strange marks mysteriously appeared on the boy’s body.

Physicians and mental health experts could find no rational explanation for these events.  Finally, the family – which was not Catholic – consulted a local priest.

Father E. Albert Hughes interviewed the boy and later described his “dark, empty stare.”  He determined that the boy was possessed by multiple demons (Legions) and arranged to perform an exorcist at Georgetown Hospital in Washington, D.C.

The exorcism lasted for three nights, with no positive results.  The boy was sent home.  Not long after, the words “Louis” appeared on his chest.  The boy’s mother interpreted this as a sign to take him to St. Louis, Missouri, where she had relatives.

Father William Bowdern, a Jesuit priest, agreed to undertake a rigorous exorcism of the boy, who had suffered through months of violent behavior followed by periods of calm.

The boy was admitted to the Alexian Brothers Hospital in St. Louis and baptized Catholic.  During Easter week, while closely guarded and under restraint, the boy received confession and Holy Communion. Brother Rector Cornelius placed a statue of St. Michael the Archangel – Satan’s arch enemy – by the boy’s bed.  On the night of April 18, 1949, after hours of violent struggle and intense emotional resistance, the boy cried out, “He’s gone!”  By the next morning, Father Bowdern became convinced that the boy was indeed free from demonic possession.

The boy and his family returned to Maryland and spent the summer of 1949 as a normal, happy family.  The boy, whose identity has never been revealed, became known as “The Haunted Boy.”  With no memory of the dreadful events which had threatened to ruin his life, he grew up to become a scientist for NASA.

The fifth floor room at the Alexian Brothers Hospital, where the final exorcism had taken place, was permanently sealed.

Author William Peter Blatty, a devout Catholic, heard about “The Haunted Boy” while a student at Georgetown University.  He used the story of the boy’s ordeal for the basis of his best-selling novel, The Exorcist, one of the most terrifying and thought-provoking novels ever written.  It was later turned into a major motion picture.  Blatty wrote the screenplay.

Dawn Pisturino

Published in the Spring 2016 issue of Psychic-Magic Ezine.

Copyright 2016-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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