The Dead Man in the Garden

by Cooper Young

Late last night I loaded up the Dakota with nonessential household stuff and drove down to a little pink house on the edge of the historic district.  My brother-in-law is in the process of moving out, and since my husband’s parents technically own the house we’ll be moving in.  Knowing no one is currently living there, I went to put some things in the basement.

So I parked in the alley behind the house, hopped out of the pickup, grabbed my guitar out of the passenger seat, and jostled open the back gate.  There I stopped.  Lying just beyond the shadow which the headlights of the truck threw off me was a figure half covered in snow and tangled in a large branch.  I could quite clearly see a boot twisted around the twigs and a pair of gloves outstretched toward me.  Startled, I froze.  It didn’t move.  Slowly, I shut the gate.

“A question for you,” I said when Pat picked up the phone.  “What’s the thing in John’s yard?”

“What thing?”

“The thing lying across the sidewalk that looks like a dead hobo.”

“Oh.  Dunno.  He had a Halloween decoration that was a scarecrow in riding clothes.”

“Probably it.  Thanks.”

Tentatively, I opened the gate again.  It hadn’t moved; of course it hadn’t, it was a dummy.  I should have known it wasn’t human.  Its position was rigid and while it was snowing, it wasn’t nearly cold enough to freeze a man stiff.  Still, I thought, looking at it.  Still, though.

And with that I, a grown woman with a husband, a child, a Bachelors degree, and a novel, shut the gate, got back in my truck, and pulled around to the front of the house.  I knew I would have to parallel park.  I knew that even at ten thirty on a Sunday night it would be a pain to unload while parked on a semi-major street.  I knew that I would now have to carry everything the length of the house to the basement by the back door.  I knew that all of this would add at least half an hour to my chore.

I didn’t care.  That thing was freaky.

It could be argued that Descent is, first and foremost, about death.  The protagonist dies three times during the course of the novel: once by inverted crucifixion, once by being stomped to death, and once by evisceration in a falling elevator.  Of course, she would have died regardless, being terminally ill to begin with.  I can write death, and I can do it gratuitously.  I can write gore.  If you put me in front of a weirdly posed dummy on a dark, quiet night with some spooky shadows, however, I cease to be V Rose Dahrke: Wanton Maimer of Characters and once again become Vikki, the junior librarian who always rushed past a certain aisle containing a book with a picture on the spine of what I swear I THOUGHT was a demon rabbit (it was, in fact, a shoe full of jewels.  In my defense, it was sideways), or even little Towie, who thought the scariest movie in the world was The Little Mermaid. Yes.  The Disney one.

Writing is a form of exorcism.  I’ve heard so many people say it so many different ways, usually appended with “for me”, that I’ve begun to believe it’s a universal rather than personal thing.  While I would have a difficult time pinning down a specific demon in this case and while I’m not entirely sure whether the phenomenon is correlation or causation, I do know for sure that I write disturbing things because I am at heart a ‘Fraidy Cat.

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