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Theodore C. Van Alst, Jr.

Test Pattern

An Indian Painting Pots by Henry Francois Farny

It was my second call from a dead person in a week, wtf. This one was a Fishman or something, something with an old lady first name…Bernice? Or Flatula, Begonia, Garnet. Maybe Hypatia. Dang. I can’t remember. But just like the other, as soon as I googled her number, sure enough…this one, d. 1989. Shit. I hate talking to dead people. Especially when I’ve been taking a nap. We’re supposed to be the suicide hotline team, fielding calls from prospective customers, but sometimes business gets slow. And once in a while old clients remember our number. It’s a day gig I’ve had to take since the night job lost its rowdy appeal.

This is no bullshit you find out at the end I’m a ghost kind of story. I’m fucking dead right now. We can get that out of the way. I sit on your couch and watch you live your life, hope that you pick a good movie, make some goddamn pizza rolls or something. Because I can see, I can hear, I can smell, but I can’t feel, well ok, I got feelings, but I can’t feel in the physical way, so you better fill up those other senses, John Denver style, or it’s the chains and the moans for you and yours.

Actually that is bullshit. It’s how they ruined our night jobs. They don’t let us do the poltergeisting and fun stuff anymore. Some kind of big meeting a couple years back. God, Luscious Beelzebubba and his crew, the Magdalene, the Nazarene, The Archangel Michael, Iblis, Baby Jesus, Teen Jesus, the djinni, Moses, the rusul, dusty Pharisees, Peter, Paul, and Thomas, no Mary, basically all those people got together and put the kibosh on the whole scary haunting thing. It’s a total load of crap, if you ask me. Yeah, I’m a royal fuckup, and so it’s the wanagi life for me—just a ghost, still a Lakota (awesome), but not a cool spirit, not moving on, nope, and so we don’t have much out here to do. When you’re a wanagi, you’re always looking for a little something to eat, and kinda hanging around. It’s hard to get people’s attention, you know. Before the meeting I could ride a horse, throw rocks, pass gas, booo-oooo-ooo it up, but now, nothing. The order came across the one goddamn TV station we have out here. You remember in the old days when the Star Spangled banner would play and then Indian Head, and good night and ccckkkkraaackkkkcrrrrackkk static and bug races? Ever wonder what happened to that? Yup. It’s us. That’s our TV station now. It’s all that’s on on this side of the veil. The thousand-mile-an-hour pixels flying by are all the cool souls that are moving on, and we have to watch them go. And if they need to get us any info, they loop a crawl across the bottom that looks like the graphics from the first Pong game ever invented.

That day, bhoots, pretas, yurei, nu gui and ba jiao gui, Cho-Nyo-Gwishin, abambo, kehua, muldjewangk, my good buddies wana’ri, nésemoo’o, biitei, nanaikoan, cipay, and sometimes even chʼį́įdii, haha jokes, sorry my Diné cousins, all looked up in dismay at this total bullshit directive creeping across the bottom of the screen:

“From this day hence (so pompous—who the fuck talks like that?), all manner of haunting shall be limited to shadowing the living in a spirit of love and friendship. There shalt be no wailing, clanking of chains, wringing of skeletal hands, clacking of teeth, wearing of sheets, tossing of furniture, chilling of air, snuffing of candles, nay, nor indeed any other action that

might alert the quick to the presence of the dead.

Yours truly,

Father, Son, Holy Ghost, et al”

Like I said. Total bullshit.

We tried to organize, get together, pull a non-Western traditions demand to be heard, but it was like trying to get into a lit conference as a unified group. Too threatening, too cutting edge in our haunty ways, we were a threat to the spectral status quo, and so the memos. Since we refused to fragment by area and ethnicity, we were doomed, stuck with these crappy fakenice directives, and these vaguely threatening calls from long dead Naperville housewives and Long Island matrons, Simi Valley Vicodin OD’s and deader than door nails Orange County closet coke fiends.

What did we do?

Well, shit. There’s nothing we can do. Resigned to our fates, we haunt the dreams of indie filmmakers, taking our repressed ideas out on their minds. They become our voices, our vehicles to speak the words of America’s oppressed and forgotten dead.

And we’ll never let them go.

See you at the awards shows.


About the writer:
Theodore C. Van Alst, Jr. is an Associate Professor and Chair of Native American Studies at the University of Montana and the Creative Editor for Transmotion (a journal of postmodern indigenous studies). His short story collection about sort of growing up in Chicago, Sacred Smokes, will be published July 2018 by the University of New Mexico Press. His writing and photography can be found in The Rumpus, Indian Country Today, Entropy, Electric Literature, The Raven Chronicles, Literary Orphans, High Desert Journal, and Yellow Medicine Review, among others.

Image: An Indian Painting Pots by Henry Francois Farny (1847-1916). Gouache on paper. 35×53.5 cm. 1888. Public domain.

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