(Rear of St. Andrew’s Church, Staten Island – Photos by Bald Punk)
I was in the graveyard of old St. Andrew’s Church to take some photos. A broad shouldered man was also there taking photos. He was far enough away so that I could politely ignore him.
When I next looked up from the stones, he was a dozen feet from me and coming closer. I blinked a few times, trying to discern what was so odd about him. He surely wasn’t real.
His body looked like it was comprised of water vapor. Something inside me said it was the ghost of a slave named Hardy though it didn’t look like either of his previous incarnations.
I tried to step back, but my arms were frozen akimbo. I looked like a gunfighter with hands outstretched for holstered revolvers.
I wondered if a force that the ghost wielded from the nether world had me in its grip, yet looking back–perhaps it was the precognition that my body was seconds from being ripped in two, and I was terrified because there was no way to prevent it.
My eyes were jumping like fireflies. Was it night or day? Did it matter? I felt like I was caught in that space between life and death, between gut wrenching pain and the most exquisite nothing.
Death was everywhere. The names on the stones were like eyes staring at me from dark hallows.
“Don’t run away this time, boy,” the ghost whispered, and I recognized Hardy’s deep voice. A week ago he had spirited me in South Street Seaport, and he’d somehow been able to affect my thoughts and dreams since. Yet I still hadn’t a clue why he chose to bother with me.
We exchanged a few words. When I asked if he was the reason I couldn’t move, he didn’t answer.
Hardy’s eye sockets were pitch-black, flecked with what looked like white ash. He had high, bulbous cheek bones and a large nose. Though his dark “skin” had a white sheen; it was clearly the ghost in him.
He came within a few feet, and I noticed salient freckles on his cheeks. I was reminded of a Little Rascals episode in which the gang had painted dots on their cheeks to pretend they had measles in order to skip school.
In Hardy’s massive right hand was a camera affixed with a telephoto lens. He lifted it higher for me to see. “Didn’t want to startle you,” he said in a bassy voice that sounded like it had a touch of reverb.
(St. Andrew’s graveyard)
The camera fell from his hand and compressed. Before it hit the ground, it seemed like a mouth from another dimension opened and sucked it up.
“The camera was an illusion, so a stupid white boy wouldn’t notice a big black ghost,” Hardy said and reared back with a right; his fingers like Polish kielbasa. “This will only hurt for a moment.” As he swung his body turned to clear vapor, save his right arm forward from the elbow.
He hit me square in the chest, and my body imploded. My being sailed straight up. Below I could see old St. Andrew’s and its graveyard billowing up to meet me.
It felt as if Hardy’s hand had gone past my breastbone, latched onto my spine, and began to yank in an effort to separate my skeleton from its charge of flesh. I was near certain that part of my jaw had lodged in my throat.
Good God how it all felt! There was no distinction between terror and pain. Both were beyond words. I believed my ribcage had been irrevocably shattered and huge dollops of my flesh were spattered over the graves.
“That’s what it feels like when your life is not your own,” Hardy said. “It is what the Revolutionary War soldier Max Beckley went through for many years, which, as you believe, he still endures to this day.” He let me go. “Keep it up and you’ll make a future for yourself in Hell, white boy.”
My eyes rolled back and felt like they were lathered by my wet tongue. I thought, no need to call me white boy, and tried to focus. My right eye seemed to roll out upon my swollen cheek. My tongue lashed in a serpentine manner. I so wished I could close that eye.
I took a breath and looked slowly down my chest to between my legs. I was solid, unhurt. Good thing that I didn’t have to piss. A full moment passed as I gathered and composed myself.
Hardy waited, his face gnarled with anger. When he spoke, his voice boomed. “Whatever you do, stay away from the Seaport!”
“You’ve been collecting information on Max and the demons who possess him,” he said, seeming to read my thoughts.
“Before you went to that seaport bar last week, you were walking South Street, searching for traces of Max’s past,” Hardy said.
“Got off fu-king ferry and walked South Street to-da-bar,” I blurted as if I was trying to balance a mouth full of broken teen on my tongue. “Didn’t search for nothin’!”
“You don’t understand time and how it can repeat,” Hardy said, and his voice lowered as he gave the first inkling that he was actually there to help me. “Vague images of places, people, and even thoughts and dreams can linger. Some people pick up on them, if only subconsciously. You are one such person. You were taking mental notes. You’ve been doing it for longer than you’ve imagined.”
I gave a sideways nod. It was true that I’ve known about Max for a very long time. Visions of his plight came into my conscious before Benny, “the cigar store Indian” had told me about him. “So what’s the problem?”
“If the demons find out,” Hardy said, seeming to focus intently on me from his blackened eye sockets. “They might choose to make you regret it.”
(Old Mill Road behind St. Andrew’s)
“What kind of demons are they?” I asked brazenly as if all I needed to have was a few names, and I could find them and kick ass.
“The less you know the better,” Hardy said, echoing words I’ve said many a time. “I had to get you out of NYC, away from the Seaport to tell you this.”
“You afraid they might hear?” I said, smugly.
“Yes,” Hardy said, and met my gaze with his empty eye sockets in such a manner as I can’t explain.
“And what happens if these demons who have Max Beckley set their sights on me? What can I do?”
“Nothing,” he said with an air of finality.
Here are all the posts in this series: Episode Twenty-Seven – March 2010 (Feat: Ghost of a Slave named Hardy)
Church of St Andrew’s – Staten Island (Photos only)