Ooopy Spoooky

Happy All Hallows Eve, guys n’ gals.

Whether you believe in them or not, we all have a couple ghost stories. They might be for telling around a camp fire, sharing between friends, or recounting to a therapist. They have a habit of ranging from “just weird feelings” to seeing an apparition of some sort at the foot of your bed.

I won’t lie to you, I’ve never seen anything, but that’s SO MUCH for the best. I’ve heard things, felt things, and felt things, but never laid eyes on anything beyond the grave. I am completely convinced, however, that if I did, that would kick me straight into fight-or-flight mode. I realize there’s also a ‘freeze’ option there, but nope; if I see something, there’s going to be motion.

(First up, I want to remind you to check out a post from earlier this week, Lady Death, just as it’s a little appropriate for today. And what’s more, if you’re REALLY feeling a good ghost story, do me a favor and check out Episode 209: “The Scars of Eliza Gray” on the NIGHTLIGHT podcast. It was one of my first publications and remains one of my favorites.)

And now, a series of ghost- or near-ghost-experiences:

  1. The Christmas Ornament
    Little bit of backstory to start off: my father passed away when I was nine, December of 2003. As one might imagine, that had a certain impact on Christmas that year. For the first time, it was just my mother and I, and looking back, I think on it less of how I remember it as a kid and more of how well she handled it as a newly single mother – which was, for the record, very well.
    We moved house that next summer, and when December ’04 came around, as the story goes, mom had an encounter.
    I had gone upstairs and gone to bed, she was downstairs closing down the house preparing to do the same. The way the house was situated, her bathroom was at the end of a short hallway that connected it to the now darkened living room. She’s standing there, brushing her teeth, when she hears a sound coming from the Christmas tree standing at the opposite end of the hallway.
    There was a little electronic train ornament that was a staple of our Christmas decorating. It had my name written on it, and when you pressed the button on the steam spout, it would sing a little song out of choo-choo noises. Thing was, the button had stopped working years ago.
    So there she stands, toothbrush in mouth, watching this little, long-silent ornament sing its song at the shadowy edge of the bathroom light’s furthest reaches.
    As she tells it, she addressed my father by name, calling out, “Vern, you don’t live here anymore. Go upstairs and see your son, but after that, you need to go.”
    I joked the next morning that I found it pretty irresponsible to think there was a ghost in the house and have your first response basically be, “There’s a defenseless, sleeping boy upstairs. Go bug him instead.”
  2. Suddenly Awake
    This one remains my hallmark experience, and apologies up front as I still haven’t yet found that words do it justice, but here goes…
    It was a night like any other. I was maybe eighteen or nineteen at the time, fast asleep. Middle of the night, time unknown, I open my eyes. I wasn’t groggy, wasn’t sleepy or coming to consciousness. I was just suddenly awake, as if I had been for a while and was just now noticing; not startled, not scared or anxious or energetic, just suddenly conscious. I know that, because it was moments after I woke up where I began to wonder why I’d done so, that a dreaded creeping sensation came over the room.
    I didn’t hear anything, but some other sense was telling me that there was another person in the room with me. I felt myself being looked at, being observed or examined. It wasn’t sleep paralysis, necessarily. I could move if I wanted to, but chose to play possum, like if I’d looked over my shoulder at that moment it would incense whatever was in the room with me.
    The pinnacle of the experience came in two parts.
    The first was that – and as certain as I remain of this, the part of me that’s objective knows to acknowledge it may be the fault of memory – I finally heard something. There was a whisper, clear-as-fuckin’-day, right next to my ear. Couldn’t make out what it said, just that there was a voice inches from my head. And not a sound that’s half-heard, prompting a “Did I just hear something?” response; it was undoubtedly something.
    The second was that moments after the whisper, that anxious, defensive dread that had blanketed the room evaporated. It was a palpable change. As cliche as it is to describe something this way, it’s as though there was this weight to the air, and suddenly it vanished. It didn’t “lift,” it just…ceased. Right after it did, the exhaustion of sleep immediately took hold, like I’d been awake for days, and I konked out.
    Really, it was the suddenness of the experience that spooks me, here. Suddenly awake, there’s a presence, whisper, then nothing, then sleep again.
  3. “Can’t get me now, bitch.”
    I’ll be honest, this one’s more funny and a moment of pride than anything else.
    If you’ve ever seen the movie The Grudge, you’ll know that, especially for it’s time, it was goddamn terrifying. I’ve always had a weakness for horror films, and not in the sense that I can’t resist watching but in that they affected me A LOT when I was younger.
    The gist to the film, if you haven’t seen it, is that an American gal goes to Japan for reasons and gets haunted by a dead girl for other reasons.
    There’s a scene somewhere near the middle where she’s in her high-rise apartment and receives a phone call from a friend of hers, another American. He tells her he’s downstairs and wants to be buzzed in to come up and visit about something in person. She hits whatever button that unlocks the ground floor gate to let him in, and not moments later, there’s a knock on her door. She goes to look through the peep hole and sees it’s her friend who was supposedly just on the ground floor, some twenty-odd stories below her.
    She makes a joke about “why go through the antics if you were already up here?” and opens the door for him. Of course she opens the door to an empty hallway. A ghostly sound comes through the phone and lights in the hallway begin ominously going dark. So, like a responsible adult, she flings the phone to the ground, slams the door shut, runs to her bed, and hides under the covers. While there, a lump rises at the end of the bed and starts snaking towards her, and INSTEAD of wildly kicking her legs like she should, she anxiously lifts the covers and gets dragged into the abyss by the ghost only to awake an untold time later.
    I was maybe twelve years old when I saw that and found it ghastly amounts of frightful. But what did I do? I didn’t let fear get the best of me, I got creative.
    For the next two weeks, I slept on TOP of my covers in a zipped-up sleeping bag, confidently safe in the knowledge that, “Ha! Bitch can’t get me if I’m in a BAG! Winning!”

Take it easy and goodnight, everybody.

Congratulations, You’re a Time-Traveler now…

Happy Wednesday, everybody.

If you’re a fan of double entendres, you probably noticed the title of this post. So, just pretend today is Tuesday. It’s ALSO relevant today, because we’re getting back to our roots and digging up an old treasure.

Oh! Also, did you know that Australian wallabies have been observed recently eating opium poppies and then making crop circles while stoned off their gourd? What a world, down under.

So dropping right into it, today’s is an old one that was my VERY FIRST attempt at writing the horror genre, ever. It was part of an NYC Midnight Flash Fiction contest, and if you’re unfamiliar with how their contests go, you’re given a random genre, location, and item/object you have to feature in some way, all inside a word count of 1,000 or less. They’re a ton of fun and if you’re an aspiring writer in any way, I’d super recommend checking one out.

Without further adieu…

The Harvest

My nails grate against the window sill every time I hear another scream. The voices are still coming through the fog, but it isn’t really fog. At least, I don’t think so.

It was dad’s idea to come to the harvest fair. We were just supposed to “swing by” the farmers’ market here because he wanted to grab some corn to grill on the camping trip he was forcing on us. I told him I didn’t want to go, but he always thinks he knows best. He’s always babied me ever since what happened to my leg at soccer camp, then even more after mom died. Like it would fix things.

I was looking through some locally grown eggplant when the ground started to shake. We thought it was an earthquake until we looked up. If the sky was a big glass of water, it looked like someone spilled ink in it, like the night sky was webbing and bleeding across the blue. That was when we all heard this deep rumble that hurt your ears and stomach, like a fog horn in a cave. From there, people just started going nuts. They shouted about monsters, some just screamed, others started laughing. One guy had a pitchfork and was stabbing anybody who ran by and giggling about all the blood.

We tried to run with people, but we couldn’t make it to the car. With my leg, Dad picked me up and tried to make a break for it out of downtown, but there was something slithering in the road and more people screaming, so we broke into Kyoto’s.

And now we’re stuck here.

I pull out my phone and check Twitter again, but it’s all the same nonsense. There are posts of people apologizing, others filming themselves shouting “Fuck you!” at celebrities, live feeds of running away from…nothing? I scroll over another one and see a woman tied up in a chair being dragged by whoever is holding the camera. They shout “It’s you they want!” and push her out in the road. I turn it off when I see her get hit by a truck.

“You okay?” my dad asks me.

“Yeah,” I shrug. “I’m fine.”

I count twenty of us in the room. Most are hunkered down, muttering to each other and crying, but I see one in the corner by himself. He’s sitting at a booth and is hunched over something on the table. Dad must have seen my face.

“What’s wrong?” He follows my eyes to the guy then pats my shoulder and walks over to him. “Hey buddy, everything alright?” he says.

The guy doesn’t look up. “It’s funny,” he says and starts to cackle. Then I can’t tell if he’s still laughing or crying now, but he’s drooling all over the table. “We’re here selling vegetables and fruit, but we’re all made of meat. And bone! I teach science in middle school, to kids like you!” He points at me. “You see bones on skeleton models, but never think about your own!” He stands up and shows us the end of his thumb he’s cut off and squeezes the bone out of the skin. “There!” he laughs. “Just like edamame!”

My dad and another guy jump up as the man tries to tackle me. He’s shouting that it’s because I was staring. They hit him a few hard times and he stops moving, but the other guy walks away shaking his hand and shouting, “Fuck! He bit me!” He shouts about not wanting to be a zombie when the others remind him about the mist outside. We think it’s the mist that’s making people do these things. There’s almost a sense of calm after that, but not for me.

“Here,” Dad says, grabbing his pack from the bar counter. “I’ve got some disinfectant wipes.”

“That’s lucky,” says the guy.

“We were going camping before all this. Do you-”

I tug on his jacket sleeve and whisper in his ear about the hole in the window where the guy was sitting. I could see the mist slithering onto the booth where the guy was sitting.

“Tell you what,” my dad says to the guy, “I’ll trade you.” I know the tone he’s using. He always talks like that when he knows something you don’t. He’s running an angle.

“Are you serious? What the fuck am I going to-”

“You have a car? You can clean the bite for your keys.”

“You’re going out there? Don’t be insane!”

They go like that for a minute or two, and I can’t keep my eyes off the mist in the booth, but they finally wind up trading. We open the door and I hear someone shout about the window as we run out. We can hear the shouting behind us as we go, but soon it goes quiet and I start hearing singing. It’s gospel music and it sounds like my mom’s voice. I’m following my dad, but I trip and suddenly he’s gone.

“Dad?” I start shouting. “Dad, help! I don’t want to die! Dad!”

I hear his voice right next to me, but he looks different, and he’s smiling.

“’She’d still be here if you’d just let her fucking drive.’ That’s what you said about mom, wasn’t it, Casey?” I can see he has something in his hand. “Dying is the easiest thing to do, kiddo. After all, people have done it forever, it can’t be that bad.” He laughs and tries to lunge at me, but stops.

“Dad?” I ask. Then I see something with a claw sticking out of his chest. Whatever it is lifts him up into the dark and without even thinking I grab the keys he dropped and run.

It feels like forever while I’m running around clicking the remote on the keys, but eventually I find the right van. I get inside and try to start it, but a slam on the passenger window scares me. I look over and see my mom. She’s pounding on the glass and shouting something I can’t hear, so I crawl over the center console and try to unlock the door but it won’t budge. She has cuts on her face like I remember and some of her fingers are broken, but she doesn’t stop trying to get through the window. She points behind me. I look over and my dad sitting in the driver’s seat. He’s covered in blood and has a hole in his chest.

“I told you, I’m fine!” he shouts, just like last time. He sounds drunk.

I turn back to my mom and see her crying. A pair of headlights flare in the mist behind her and I hear the truck’s horn. I close my eyes, feel something slam into the van, and everything goes black.

I guess my dad was right. Dying isn’t so bad.

END

The Take: Weird, right? I remember this one was challenging for a number of reasons. First off, it was my first attempt trying to write something “scary,” and I figured one of the main components of that was to set the mood or tone of suspense, raise the stakes n’ all that; especially if you’re going for a psychological edge over straight gore porn. Pretty tough to do with that short of a word count.
The parameters I had to work with were horror (obviously), a farmers’ market for the location, and disinfectant wipes as the necessary object. And truth be told, I kind of skirted the rules a touch for the amount of time they spent in the restaurant. The way I figured it, writing in the present tense can be pretty tricky, but for the circumstance seemed like the right call if the action is happening now as opposed to a past-tense account of something. I also sort of cheated in that I included some helpful information in the following synopsis included with the submission:

“Casey’s mother died last year in a drunk driving accident that left her father Will at fault and her with a permanent limp, ruining a promising career in soccer. Now on parole, the last few months have been spent with her dad trying to reconnect while they both handle their grief, when the world suddenly becomes a cruel parody of the one they knew.”

Anyway, end of the day, I liked how it came together, but it’s not something I’m particularly proud of.

Ciao, catch you guys tomorrow.

Today’s Fable Fact source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8118257.stm
(link is being funny, apologies)

Prompt Challenge #2 – Lost in the Woods

Okay, and we’re back.

Sup everybody. Happy Tuesday to you. It’s been a busy-ass week.

But let’s skip the formalities. The last time we did this it went over pretty well, so we might as well get up to it again.

This time, the prompt (graciously given by the noble Mr. Bacchus) is as follows:

“An investigative journalist goes to a forest where people have been disappearing, and one night they’re awoken by someone breaking into their tent.”

Pfft, spoilers, right? (#kidding)

But just like last time, we’re going to set a timer for thirty minutes and just start pounding keys until it’s either done or those precious little seconds have all dripped away.

“Yaaaaas! But Evan,” I hear you cry, “how will we know you’re actually timed??”

Easy, I’m a believer in the Honor System (and you…well…you just can’t).

Anyway!

3…

2…

1…

Lost in Hoia-Baciu

Justin adjusted his camera strap. He held the straps on his backpack as he took a deep breath and filled his lungs with the fresh, mountain air. It had taken him three flights, a bus, a boat, and a rented car, but he’d finally made it.

Hoia-Baciu, nestled in the arms of Transylvania, Romania, it was known as the world’s most haunted forest was the common villain pointed to for missing persons, alien sightings, paranormal experiences, and supernatural occurrences. There was no shortage of stories ranging from the bizarre and eerie, to the ookie and strange. Urban legends even told of one where a young girl went missing and reappeared seven years later without having aged and with no recollection of her absence.

Justin hiked down the hill to the treeline. He’d been warned by his editor, the locals, and even his parents to get a story some other way, but he was set on this one. He wanted to get a lens on what all the hubbub was about. Though, for his money, he expected to spend the night, find a few tire tracks, some tags, or some other evidence of government presence, then bounce with a catchy headline. All that crap about aliens and ghosts was just…well, too easy. He stood at the edge of the dense forest and checked the time: 11:23 am.

Plenty of daylight to march to the center, set up camp, and get a good boundary before dark. So he did, and on the way saw the sights that made the woods so famous. There was a portion where the trees were strangely curved, like upside-down question marks, and arranged in neat rows. Justin always figured they might have been planted like that by someone who died a long time ago, and when the next people came around and couldn’t meet him, people cried “Aliens!”

He found a spot to set up camp and began unrolling his tent. The stories about strange lights, feelings of unease, and illusory people would probably be easier to judge once it got dark. As it was, he felt great. No lights weirder than the sun poking through the trees, no uneasiness besides a bit of an irritated colon (but that was probably the stew from earlier), and the only imaginary people were just the figments of his boss and Hot Susan from the office he normally kept around. He spent the rest of the day’s light checking his equipment and playing his harmonica.

Once dark had fallen, he ranged a bit with his flashlight. About two hours of looking for Slender Man and an alien light show, he was met with nothing, not even the quiet fart of a white-tail deer. He made his way back to his tent with a strange mix of deep-seated relief and the confidence of a debunker. He crawled into his tent, zipped up his sleeping bag, and prepared for sleep. Then he noticed something. He sat up in his sleeping bag and strained his ears.

He couldn’t hear anything.

Nothing at all, save for his own quiet breathing and small movements. There was no wind through the trees, no small brushing of leaves, or distant animal calls. The close walls of his tent suddenly felt incredibly claustrophobic.

It’s okay, he told himself. You’re out here by yourself and you’re jet-lagged. Bound to feel a little weird, but you’re by yourself – no one’s out here with you.

As he breathed a small sigh of relief, his heart leapt out of his chest.

A sound. He heard a sound.

It was distant, tough to make out. It sounded like leaves crunching. Then the sound drew closer, and Justin realized there was a rhythm to it. It sounded like footsteps- no, it sounded like someone was running.

Someone was running towards him. In that moment, the anxiety returned to the thought that was once so calming, but with a chilling new addition: No one can help you either.

He reached for his flashlight with one hand and the tent door with the other. He fumbled with the zipper as the footsteps approached faster and faster. As he hissed the zipper open, there was a splay of leaves that covered him. A figure, a person, tackled him back into his tent.

“Ah!” Justin screamed. “Get the fuck off me!”

His assailant just screamed in response, but not normally. It sounded like a loud moan, like they were screaming without parting their lips. In the fumbled light of the tent, with the flashlight flailing about in the melee, Justin scrambled and wound up on top of them. He beat his fists against the intruder until, in the chaos, the flashlight illuminated their face.

He would never forget the feeling of that moment, the regret of seeing what he saw.

The intruder was a young man with fair skin and brown hair, though it was matted with dirt and…was that blood? This observation paled in notice that they had only one eye. The rest of the man’s face was fused together, like a wax statue that had been melted and blended. The single eye was panicked and frightened, but upon being seen, seemed suddenly to turn angry and hostile.

[TIMER BUZZES]

(…nope. No, we’re gonna keep going. Adding ten minutes and restarting in 3…2…1..)

The intruder’s hands gripped Justin by the wrists. Whoever they were…whatever it was, was inhumanly strong. They wrestled Justin over and began to hit him again and again alongside his head. Justin kicked frantically and finally freed himself. He burst from the tent and ran blindly out into the dark.

He ran, breathless and without a guide of any sort. Twice he was knocked over by the trunk of a tree in the invisibly dark wood. Each time, he clawed his way to his feet. The forest that had once been so silent was now alive with sounds of all kinds: clicks, burbles, distant caws, but above all of them, the pursuing moan of the one-eyed intruder.

Then, he began to see lights. A twinkling procession of pale green lights revealed themselves between the dark forms of tree trunks. He used this as a heading as he ran with all his breath, all the time hearing the pained moans behind him. A wayward root sticking up from the ground caught his foot and Justin flew forward, landing on his face and chest. Sharp stones in the dirt lacerated his cheek and got in his eyes. He rubbed his eyes fiercely to clear them and got his left open.

With his depth-perception compromised and breathing made difficult from his bloody nose

[TIMER BUZZES]
(No! Fuck, spent some of that editing. We’re close. Five more minutes! Starting…now!)

With his depth-perception compromised and breathing made difficult from his bloody nose, he felt like a wounded deer being stalked by a wolf. Nonetheless, he made his way to the floating green lights. Behind him, he heard the furious moans of the monster in pursuit.

He burst from the trees onto a small, dirt path. The green lights lit the way like road flares. He followed these, sprinting with all his remaining strength.

The path curved, and near the end he saw something. Was that…a tent?

There were other campers here! He’d have help! Maybe they had a phone since he’d left his behind. Maybe they had weapons.

He gritted his teeth and ran. Just as he got to the tent, its door flew open and he slipped. Justin fell headlong into the stranger’s tent and the two scrambled into a twisting mess. They were hitting him and he tried to scream, but he found he couldn’t open his mouth.

Finally, a flashlight was rolled over and clicked on. He froze by what he saw.

[TIMER]
(No! Two minutes!)

Justin looked up with his one good eye and found he was looking at himself from earlier that night. He screamed, but all that sounded was a moan. This wasn’t happening. His doppleganger screamed back. There was a fight. Justin was kicked, and his doppleganger ran off into the woods. Stunned, the disfigured journalist sat there, but soon heard the rhythmic running footsteps come up from behind him and primal fear pulled him to his feet.

He ran back out into the dark of Hoia-Baciu.

END

The Take: Okay, technically the timer rang halfway into the word “dark” of that last line, but c’mon. Anyway, hey! We did it (mostly)! Even though we cheated just a little bit, this one was cool. I liked the prompt and as soon as I read it from him, I knew I was going to base it in Hoia-Baciu. Speaking of, if you’ve never read it before, it’s pronounced like ‘Hoya-Botchu,’ and least, I’m pretty sure. If you prove me wrong somehow, that’s okay. But yeah, I put you through a lot of set-up to get there, but that was mostly just me ‘blurrrrb’ing until I pieced together what was going to happen. I knew early on I wanted the twist to be “He runs into himself out there” but what to do with it once we’d gotten there was the trick.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed it this time around, catch you guys n’ gals Thursday!

Ciao!

Almost- WAIT!! If this little appetizer whet your palate for something creepy, pop on over to the NIGHTLIGHT podcast and check out my episode with them, “The Scars of Eliza Gray” because I think that would be pretty cool. If that works, then consider also sticking around the catch and interview between me and the podcast’s creator, Tonia Thompson (and tell ‘er Evan sent ya!).

‘Kay, bye!