Crackpot Palace

Crackpot Palace by Jeffrey Ford Read Free Book Online

Book: Crackpot Palace by Jeffrey Ford Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jeffrey Ford
of the Pine Barrens, but, still, for whatever reason, that spirit reached out and gathered us in.
    A Note About “Down Atsion Road”
    The Jersey Devil isn’t the weirdest thing in New Jersey by a long shot. As a matter of fact, when I lived there, I had neighbors who make him look like a patsy. That creature has gotten the most publicity, though, which is a shame because there are literally hundreds of legends that exist in and around the Pine Barrens. There’s the White Stag, the Black Doctor, the Atco Phantom, Captain Kidd at Reed’s Bay, the Rabbit Woman, Jerry Munyhon (a kind of Barrens wizard who, when turned down for a job at Hanover Furnace, cast a spell and filled it with black and white crows), more ghosts from every era than you can shake a stick at, and that’s not mentioning any of the Lenape legends. If you live there for a while and keep your eyes and ears open to these tales, as I did, being a writer of the fantastic, it soon became evident that there was something about the place that engendered legend. Part of this has to do with the enormity of the wilderness, its loneliness and mazelike quality, but I think the main reason is that there is some kind of sentient energy at its heart, as if it is aware and scheming, imbuing the lives of those who live in it or near it with some kelson of its primordial consciousness. The feeling is palpable. I’ve only felt this from a landscape in one other place I’ve been, the Scottish Highlands. I spent ten days there once in a cottage near the Isle of Skye. The place was remarkably beautiful, but haunted. There was a pervasive feeling of melancholy and loneliness mixed into the spectacular views of the mountains and lochs. I definitely felt as if the place was alive, like some sleeping giant dreaming. “Down Atsion Road” is my attempt to chronicle the supernatural influence of the Barrens. Believe me when I tell you that most of this story is true, and the parts that aren’t are the incidentals. The strange wilderness has been shaping legends since humanity first set foot there. They crisscross and interconnect like a web. Through them, it communicates with us. Consider this, a vast piece of real estate in the Northeast, within commuting distance of New York City, that remains virtually untouched. Think of the money it would be worth to developers, think of the towns and malls and roads that could be cut into it. As other landscapes fall to the onslaught of “progress,” the Barrens has retained itself. Pretty damn cunning, if you ask me.

Sit the Dead
    L uke was in his room at his computer, looking at used cars. His cell phone rang. He answered with it on speaker.
    â€œDarene,” he said.
    â€œGracie died,” she said.
    He pictured the deceased, hairdo like a helmet, overweight, in flowered stretch slacks. Her earrings were disco balls; her face a half inch of powder and pale green lipstick. He’d met her at a barbecue in Darene’s backyard. “You’re in for it, kid. God bless ya,” she’d said to Luke and kissed his cheek green.
    â€œThat sucks,” he said.
    â€œIs that all you have to say?” asked Darene.
    â€œI only met her once,” he said. “I’m sorry you feel bad, though.”
    â€œMy father’s inviting you to sit the dead.”
    â€œSit the dead . . .” said Luke.
    â€œIt’s a family ritual.”
    â€œI don’t have to touch her, do I?”
    â€œDon’t be a tool,” she said. “You just have to go and sit with the body in the church for a few hours.”
    â€œLike a wake,” he said.
    â€œYeah, but nobody else but you and one other person will be there.”
    â€œYou just sit there?” he asked.
    â€œTwo members from our family have to sit with Gracie till they take her to her grave. It’s a family tradition going all the way back.”
    â€œSounds weak.”
    â€œYour shift starts at

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