W. P. Johnson

Got Ghost?

In Uncategorized on July 14, 2012 at 11:00 pm

      Months ago I went to Gettysburg Pennsylvania and spent the weekend at a haunted bed and breakfast. There were ghost tours, haunted bridges, ice cream, and nearly a hundred taverns where wenches dressed in the period’s garb put down their cell phones so they could serve you ale, tons of carbs, and cleverly named cocktails (I had the Robert E. Lee Cooler and my girl had the Sharp Shooter). Everything had a ghost slapped on it. The slug line for most shirts was Got Ghosts? Yes my friends, it was surely paradise.

     Well, not quite.

I won’t go into every detail of me weekend there because it would be boring. But I will say this: on that very weekend, I learned that there are no such thing as ghosts.

That’s right people. I, horror writer W. P. Johnson, aka Bill, aka Billy Sprinkles (don’t ask), do not believe in ghosts. I mean, I tried to find them, I really did. I went to, supposedly, the most haunted place in America and spent a weekend at a bed and breakfast riddled with bullet holes. I set out pennies on the floor Lincoln side up in hopes that they’d be moved around come morning only to accidentally brush them aside when I took a piss in the middle of the night. Hardly the activity of specters unless said specters were squeezing my bladder.

I even took a ghost tour. I later learned while talking to a traveler stopping by on his drive through Pennsylvania that you don’t even have to pay for a ghost tour in Gettysburg. Just find one walking around and tag along at the end of the line, you’ll get it all for free. It’s kind of like every horror convention I’ve been to; walk around like you belong there and no one will ask you where your wristband is (I’ve done this four times and have only gotten caught once, after which I just played dumb).

However, on the ghost tour in question there were many obstacles in tagging along for free. For one, we were all given glow in the dark wristbands in order to clearly mark us and we met at a nearby McDonald’s at a predetermined time where we would receive our ghost hunting doo-dads; heat detector, tape recorder, digital camera, and some other thing that measures ghost cum, I don’t remember.

Millie with her ghost hunting tools.

At first we were the only members of the tour and I was half tempted to bail altogether. How else would we be able to snicker and make smart ass remarks if there weren’t other people to hide among? But then our tour guide, a man I’ll call Elmer Fudd due to the fact that he talked like him, got a call on his ghost protected walkie talkie that two more flesh bags had signed up and shelled out twenty dollars for this giant pile of horseshit.

We waited for the other two to arrive, Elmer couldn’t help but notice my tattoos (by the way, as I mentioned in One Lonely Story, I ended up getting a Cthulhu/rat hybrid on my inner arm, which is, to date, the most painful part to get tattooed).

     Anyway, Elmer, like every person with shitty tattoos, couldn’t help but notice mine and preceded to lift up his own shirt to show me his hairy back where some guy living in his basement drew a bunch of lizards blowing fire over the high school doodle of a naked woman.

“It’s a dwagon,” he said.

“Oh, cool…” I said. I thought to myself, aren’t you someone’s employee?

He put his shirt back down. “Okay, they’ll be here in a couple of minutes.”

They arrived and were summarily given their glowing wristbands, ghost cum detectors, etc. Afterwards, Elmer proceeded to play us his tape player, which had recorded a montage of spooky sounding voices hissing hey, get out, and I’m right behind you. Then there was his camera which had recorded a montage of blurry white orbs that I can only assume were ghosts jerking off in to his face. After all, what else is there to do in the afterlife but masturbate and randomly open and shut doors?

But enough jokes about sexually frustrated ghosts (I know, we get it Bill, ghosts love to jerk off, alright already!). I was skeptical, as is the case with anything I do. However I was willing to go along with this. I wanted to believe, I wanted to see something. I really wanted to be scared and was summarily delivered the first scare of the night moments before we left the McDonald’s parking lot when I heard the voice of a girl.

“Whoa…” I said.

“What was that?” someone else said.

“Let’s get out of here!”

Of course, when the voice spoke to us again, it was a girl’s voice saying, “Can I take your order?” and we discovered that it was only the take out window responding to Elmer Fudd’s voice as he instructed us on tonight’s ghost tour. We all gave a sigh of relief. All except for me. Because, you see, I was really hoping it would be a ghost.

But the night was young! We set out on our way to the haunted bridge and during the drive, my girlfriend Millie read the two page dossier on the ghost we would try to contact that night, a man only known as Tennessee who was a supposed deserter of the Confederate army and was hung for said desertion.

The dossier.

There were many stories about him, one being that if you lit a cigarette and set it on a railing, he would move it for you or smoke it. Another being that he could contact you through various forms of modern technology, such as our tape recorders, cameras, as well as something as simple as a flashlight.

It was pitch black outside and the surrounding fields were filled with an eerie fog. Perfect for ghost hunting (though if I were dead, I’d just hang out at beaches and other tropical paradises). We pulled up to the bridge, parking alongside Elmer’s truck. Already present at the bridge were a dozen college kids, drinking beer.

“Shit,” I said.

“Oh no!” my girlfriend added.

We both slowly exited the car and walked towards the mouth of the bridge with our hands full of ghost equipment, our wrists glowing. As we passed the crowd, someone shouted that we should ask Tennessee to jerk us off. Elmer, ever the professional ghost hunter, merely ignored the group and carried onward through the bridge to the other side, his arms full of ghost hunting doo dads. We tried our best to hide the glowing wristbands.

First demonstration of how full of shit ghost hunters are was the flash light experiment, during which Elmer set up a flash light on a rock, turned it on, and began asking Tennessee to turn it off if he was there.

“Turn the fwashlight off Tennessee…. if you’re here, turn off the fwashlight.”

Nothing.

“Are you confedewat Tennessee? If you’re a confedewat, turn off the fwashlight.”

“Hey Tennessee,” I said, “if you don’t like our current president, turn off the flashlight.”

Nothing.

“Um… how about a beer Tennessee,” I added. “Do you like beer?”

“Nah,” Elmer said. “Wasn’t any beer during the Civil War, but he might come out for whiskey.”

The flashlight slowly flickered off. Everyone went bananas. I was sort of weirded out at first. Following this, we asked it more questions during which it would occasionally correspond with the flashlight fluctuating between on and off. Afterwards, we left the flashlight to go do other ghost stuff, however it continued to flicker on and off regardless, which thinking on it now seemed pretty lazy of Elmer to not just place the flashlight in his pocket so as not to attract attention to the randomness of it turning on and off.

Second in the list of tricks was having Tennessee smoke the cigarette, which was easy considering there’s always at least some kind of wind if you’re outside. Hence another freak out by our companions as the embers slowly glowed from the cigarette when Tennessee “took a puff”.

Smoke the cigawette Tennessee.

I was severely non-plussed. In addition to these two dorky parlor tricks, there was the matter of the tape recorder, which seemingly played back ghastly audio of a ghost whispering, aka, Elmber’s thumb rubbing across the microphone. Then there were the glowing orbs found in all the digital photographs, and if I seriously have to explain to you why/how these aren’t ghosts, I don’t know how you made it this far in the blog post (or life).

Orbs. Yup… fucking orbs.

Okay, so you don’t have to google it: IT’S LIGHT REFLECTING OFF OF DUST!

But I digress. For all the searching I did for ghosts, I found none. I kept thinking to myself, “my entire life could change right now,” only to have some college kid shout at me that I should ask Tennessee for a blow job. Things couldn’t get worse.

Eat my ass Tennessee.

Of course, they did get worse. Allow me one last anecdote about my ghastly trip to Gettysburg? I’ll make it a short one.

The bed and breakfast we stayed at hosted a nightly séance. I had never been to a séance before, so of course I wanted to go if only to be scared. By this point I knew that it was all in good fun and that it was just a bunch of parlor tricks. But that’s okay. I just wanted someone to put on a show.

Like my ghost hunting trip, I won’t give you all the details. Only the one that ruined the séance. You see, during the introduction, a contact form was passed around and I put my girlfriend’s name in there in the event that something happened to me and they needed to call someone. That an emergency contact was needed made me excited; there was probably a history of panic attacks, heart attacks, and all other order of attacks fear can give a person. Maybe it was all fake, but it was scary enough that they needed a phone number just in case. In short, I was pumped.

However, I was wrong in my assessment. Yes, it was a contact list, but not an emergency contact list. It was, in fact, a deceased contact list. And so, without thinking twice about it, I wrote my girlfriend’s name and her phone number among a list of dead people. And yes, what followed is exactly what you thought would happen.

The medium closed his eyes at one point and said he felt a lot of friendly spirits in the room.

“There’s a girl here… a Mollie, no… Millie. Yes, Millie is among us right now, protecting us from evil spirits.”

My girlfriend stared at me. I thought to myself, “this weekend wasn’t such a bust after all.”

But enough about ghosts, or lack thereof. What about demons? Or aliens? Well, truth is, I don’t believe in them either. Nor do I believe in big foot, or vampires or werewolves. It’s weird though, isn’t it? To write so much about things I don’t believe in? You were probably wondering when I bring this around to the subject of writing…

However, I must confess that if there’s any big lesson I’ve learned in the past few years of writing it’s that genre and concepts don’t really matter. What matters are good characters. And if this is the case, why put a succubus in the story? Why not just write it straight?

I don’t have an answer. I just know that monsters are fun.

Which brings me to the second half of this blog post, that of hosting a genre writer who will be going on a “blog tour” in promotion of his next novel, something I first did years ago for Caleb J Ross when he was promoting Stranger Will. Today, I am hosting Dan O’Brien, a writer who seems intent on dipping his toe in every genre that exists (ala China Mieville)  and posted below is an excerpt from his horror novel Bitten, which a few reviewers have labeled as “genre-bending”. Sometime in the future he’ll be coming back to do a guest post. So check out the excerpt and if you like it, buy his book and check out his author blog. The guy is a beast when it comes to writing books and I have a feeling that in the years to come he’ll be a heavy hitter in this genre of speculative fiction.

In other random news, Pulp Modern III got a review on amazon and someone said something nice about my short story “White Light, White Heat”: In W.P. Johnson’s “White Light, White Heat,” a couple of college kids in Philadelphia are trapped in an apartment while a zombie apocalypse consumes the city. With its abundant pop culture references that drive the story forward, this is a horror mash-up that fits this magazine perfectly.

Not too shabby.

My second bit of news regards Mr. X. Remember the last blog post where I trashed him? Well, turns out he might have had a good excuse for not being so thorough in our correspondence. Out of respect for his privacy, I won’t say what that reason is, only that I don’t blame him for not reading my stories under the circumstances. Truth is, after we last spoke he told me he seriously wanted to get together outside of my work environment for a drink to talk about my stories and possibly collaborate on a film project. Is he sincere? Or is it just more smoke up my ass? Time will tell and I’m most likely sabotaging any chance of an actual friendship by writing about it here.

But whatever. I gotta fill these pages up somehow, right?

And now, an excerpt from Bitten by Dan O’Brien. Enjoy.

Chapter 1

     Madeline Leftwich sat at the train station every day at exactly thirteen minutes past midnight. The faded brown bench on which she sat did not often have consistent occupants as transients and hobos were sparse this far north.

But there she sat, hands crossed over her lap. The floral pattern of the thick skirt she wore was hand-made, buckles and clasps galore adorned the uneven cut and fold of the garment. Her face possessed an absent quality, not that characteristics were missing, but instead a vacancy of spirit. That bench meant a great deal to her. This was the very place that childhood was left behind.

It had been exactly thirty-nine years since her mother had placed her on that very bench, brushed back her hair and told her everything was going to be alright. She had said she would be right back. A promise to a child is a sacred thing. Even as an adult, Madeline could not tear herself away from the compulsion to come wait for her mother every day at that exact moment she had left her. The whistle blew each night as the passenger train rolled into town.

Cold air rained down upon the open station. Often, there would be sheets of ice that would expel from the track, lining the waiting area just beside the tracks on the concrete platform. Attendants had grown accustomed to her presence. Some even offered her coffee in the wee hours of the morning when they had no other friend. This night, however, she was quite alone.

Heavy bleating of the distant train horn filled the night, filtering through a cloudy fog. The susceptible and otherwise occupied Ms. Leftwich was not yet privy to the gossip of the town. Murder, a topic of great concern no matter the venue, would be especially virulent in such a small community. Distance revealed a dark object hurdling through the night, steam and precipitation sluicing from the heavy and hot steel that cascaded across the hours of darkness.

The station was empty. A half-lit banister showed the narrow, icy path that crawled back out to the blacktop just outside the front of the station. She watched the train collide with the open air of the darkness, the squeal of the tight brakes announcing its arrival with startling clarity. Heavy doors opened; artificial light spilled from the side of the train.

Madeline watched the open door carefully – waiting. Seconds passed into minutes, yet there was no sound external to the cold nature of Minnesota. Winter had a feeling, a symphony all its own. Groaning trees fought against the arctic grip of snow and ice. Lakes moving in the distance, far beneath the heavy weight of the ice that had taken residence upon them, filled the night.

Someone stepped out. Her coat was wrapped tightly around her lithe frame, her sandy blonde hair tucked beneath a brown wool cap. The scarf around her neck was braided and frayed; as though it were sewn by someone she knew well, not the simple manufacture of mass production. Brown eyes watched the empty train station with great interest and a precision that marked her immediately as more than a mere observer.

A bulge at her side revealed a weapon. The simple black bag that was slung over the shoulder of the long brown trench coat made her appear to be a woman on the run, or perhaps one who simply liked to travel light.

Seeing the frail form of Madeline, this sole occupant of the midnight train station, she made her way toward the sitting woman. Her voice was sweet, her tone full of purpose. “Excuse me, ma’am. Is this Locke? Locke, Minnesota?”

Ms. Leftwich watched the woman with wide eyes, pooling with tears. She was severely confused. Was this her mother? Had this been the person she had waited so long to see? She hesitated. This woman was younger, younger than she was. Was this possible: a mother who was younger than you?

“Ma’am, I…”

“Mother?” queried Madeline Leftwich, her voice rising shrilly.

“Pardon me?”

Madeline did not stand, but instead shuffled her purse at her waist. “Are you my mother? You left me here a long time ago. Said you would be back, said you would be back soon.”

Staring into the vacant eyes of Madeline Leftwich, it took the woman a moment of complete incomprehensibility to see that there was not much left. Where there might have once been potential for a woman, were the remnants of some sad description of what could laughingly be called life.

“No. I am very sorry. I’m not…”

Madeline stood now, her features scrunching in anger. “Why would you lie to me? Why would you leave me here? Why?”

“Ma’am, my name is Lauren. Lauren Westlake. And I am neither your mother nor a trained therapist. Can you tell me if this is Locke?”

Madeline interrupted, her face flush. Her words were filled with venomous rage. “Don’t pretend I’m a child. I know where I am. I know who I am. Just because you are my mother, doesn’t mean you can leave me behind.”

Lauren Westlake looked at the woman in a mixture of shock and horror. She resisted the urge to physically restrain the woman, concerned about the reaction she might have. “What is your name?”

Madeline’s face was the very picture of surprise. “You don’t remember your daughter’s name?”

Lauren was uncertain how much further this charade should be carried, whether or not disengaging from the woman would be simpler. Looking at the woman carefully, she noticed that her clothing was handmade. The name Madeline was sewn carefully into the breast of her outmost jacket. Stifling an irritated sigh, she continued. “Madeline. Your name is Madeline.”

And then as quickly as the madness had come, it dissipated. “Why are you talking to me?”

“Excuse me. I…”

Madeline looked at Lauren strangely and stood, gathering her belongings. She moved past Lauren and out into the night as though the interaction did not even happen. Lauren watched her go, scrutinizing the entire exchange in her own mind. Shaking her head, she adjusted the bag at her back and moved forward past the dock of the train station and into the cold area just above it.

Ms. Leftwich was nowhere to be seen. As far as Lauren was concerned, that was for the best.

The night was cold. A heavy veil of fog seemed to grow like a behemoth. She looked down the lane and saw only two endless views of darkness. The blacktop was crystalline, frozen precipitation having created a surreal sheet that seemed as though it would be better suited for ice skating than vehicular travel.

“Not exactly a warm welcome,” she muttered, drawing the top of her coat closer to her face. There were muffled sounds in the distance, voices that were muted; sounds that could originate from only one kind of establishment: a bar. Lowering her head and pulling the strap of her bag tight, she soldiered on.

* * * * *

      Madeline had made a mistake that night that would cost her life. Each night that she sat alone at that train station, she would wait for the sun to rise and then scamper home, ashamed. This night, however, her emotions had gotten the better of her. And it was in these woods that she would now find herself in the presence of a particular creature of the night, one that would come to haunt and terrorize the inhabitants of the small town of Locke.

The moon overhead stung the fog, driving the ethereal wisps from its view. Wide and threatening, it looked peaceful when viewed in the company of others, in the arms of a lover perhaps. To Madeline Leftwich, a woman lost in her own mind, it was a portent of doom.

Thick branches grew over the sorry excuse for a path that she walked each day. By daylight the intricacies could be gleaned, but at night it was a haunted maze littered with obstructions and potential trip falls.

Her shoes were a dark fabric. Not the kind of material used when hiking through the woods at breakneck speeds, though that is what Madeline would need that night. When she paused at the center of the trail to make sure she wasn’t being followed, the dead silence of the night became a far more frightening sound.

“Who is there…” she half-whispered, her voice cracking.

A branch snapped, frost claiming yet another soldier. Crack. Another sound echoed in the night; this time much heavier, like weight lingering as a fledging branch gasps for its last breath before being trampled. She pulled her bag close to her chest, her face twisting in fear. Her eyes were wide as she searched the night frantically. “There is nothing there,” she whispered, tearing her eyes from the tree line.

Continuing forward, her steps were quicker, more deliberate. The woods around her thinned the faster she walked, white speckled pines giving way to broken branches along a road of depreciating value. The trail widened in places, enough that little pockets of dirt and soil were pushed up from use.

As if something were urging her forward, she began to run slightly, her breath expelled in heavy puffs of condensed air. She wheezed then, a panicked, hiccupping sound that erupted deep from within her chest.

And that was when she heard the first growl.

There was something wrong with it. It sounded like an animal, the guttural low pitches. However, there was something human to it, a strange gargling sound. Rising in pitch, it sunk again disappearing into the fog.

Her feet were not as sure beneath her as she thought. The tips of the fabric shoes dug into the hard soil, making her wince in pain. Biting her lip hard, she forged forward, stumbling into an open area of the trail.

Trees crowded the edges of her vision and the clearing. The trail continued on the way she had been trampling and then split into two smaller trails yet. The fog hung ahead of her, pulling away as though it were an entity all its own.

Silence permeated the area, there was low rustling. And then the growl came again. It sounded hungry, desperate, the pinnacle of auditory fear. “Who is there? What? Why are you hiding…” she whimpered. “Please…please.”

It seemed to come from all around her, enveloping the cold night air. The fog stirred, deep in its belly a shadow formed. Tall and hunched, it was a mass of darkness shaped like a man. Heavy in the shoulders, spines seemed to rise unevenly from the arms and body. The head was lowered and the knees bowed as though it were ready to pounce.

Yet it did not. It stood, chest heaving, safely veiled by the fog bank. Hands that seemed to melt into long thin claws were obscured by the swirling mass of miasma ebbing and flowing within.

She was speechless.

Her mouth opened: no words.

Her mind raced. Panicked thoughts flooded her mind, erasing judgment and reason. Muscles constrained, joints locked, she watched helplessly. It took a single step forward, the heave of its heavy chest frightening.

Madeline Leftwich was not a god-fearing woman. In point of fact, until that moment she had not given much thought about death. Never had she thought about whether she wished to stay in this world: alive, mortal. Now, when confronted with something drawn from nightmares, her pulse raced and she realized, with a desperate certainty, that she did indeed wish to live.

The rain trickled then, a fat droplet striking her across her hair. Her feet hit the ground hard, her pulse racing as she abandoned her bag. Churning, her feet dug into the hard winter earth. Her breath sputtered in front of her in rapid fits of exploding clouds. She whimpered as she ran, tears running down her face as trees slapped her hard across her cold, sensitive features; some left bruises, others broke skin.

The forest was alive with sound.

Creatures hooted and hollered in the night.

They knew something was happening.

She could hear herself breathing heavily.

She would not last much longer.

Her foot caught something lodged deeper into the frozen ground, the world spun in circles as her back collided with the unforgiving earth. The groan that escaped her lips was foreign.

Frightened and defeated, she kept very still. Where she had landed proved defensible, high brush bristling with heavy branches and evergreen leaves that hid her partly from view.

The forest beat a heavy drum.

Footfalls of animals loose in the night filled the air. There was one set of footsteps that rung above the others: something primal, something large. She covered her mouth with her hand. Pressing it tightly, a shadow crept across her vision.

She peered out the side of the brush.

It stood like a man.

Up close the fur was matted, uneven, missing in some places. The legs were muscular and covered in fabrics that seemed to sluice fluid. Hemorrhaging from the torso, it moved with a predator’s grace.

Its face was covered in shadow.

Madeline felt a scream rise from deep in her chest and she pressed her hand harder against her mouth. Closing her eyes, tears streamed from them. Her chest heaved, but she tried not to move, locking her body into a paralysis.

She could not tear her eyes away from it.

Turning, the face was still well-hidden.

Long slender fingers, like dull blades, bounced against the creature’s legs. The clothing was torn and dirty. A smell emanated from it that could only be described as nausea in the depths of a septic tank. Lifting its head, it sniffed the air, a hood pressing against its mangled hair.

Her breath caught in her throat.

The slow turn of the creature and the bend of its legs as it lowered closer to the ground was more than Madeline could take. And before she could even remove her hand from her mouth to scream, it was upon her.

 

That’s it for today people. Hope you enjoyed my little story about Gettysburg, Dan O’Brien’s excerpt, and all the goofy pictures. Until then, here’s to being scary.

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  1. This was hilarious, man. I’d never read Dan O’Brien before either. Thanks on both of those accounts. Unfortunately, you have ruined my side career becoming a Ghostbuster.

    Thanks for squashing my dreams, Bill Murray.

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